Archive | December, 2011

A Victim Treats His Mugger Right

31 Dec

from NPR:

March 28, 2008

Julio Diaz has a daily routine. Every night, the 31-year-old social worker ends his hour-long subway commute to the Bronx one stop early, just so he can eat at his favorite diner.

But one night last month, as Diaz stepped off the No. 6 train and onto a nearly empty platform, his evening took an unexpected turn.

He was walking toward the stairs when a teenage boy approached and pulled out a knife.

“He wants my money, so I just gave him my wallet and told him, ‘Here you go,'” Diaz says.

As the teen began to walk away, Diaz told him, “Hey, wait a minute. You forgot something. If you’re going to be robbing people for the rest of the night, you might as well take my coat to keep you warm.”

The would-be robber looked at his would-be victim, “like what’s going on here?” Diaz says. “He asked me, ‘Why are you doing this?'”

Diaz replied: “If you’re willing to risk your freedom for a few dollars, then I guess you must really need the money. I mean, all I wanted to do was get dinner and if you really want to join me … hey, you’re more than welcome.

“You know, I just felt maybe he really needs help,” Diaz says.

Diaz says he and the teen went into the diner and sat in a booth.

“The manager comes by, the dishwashers come by, the waiters come by to say hi,” Diaz says. “The kid was like, ‘You know everybody here. Do you own this place?'”

“No, I just eat here a lot,” Diaz says he told the teen. “He says, ‘But you’re even nice to the dishwasher.'”

Diaz replied, “Well, haven’t you been taught you should be nice to everybody?”

“Yea, but I didn’t think people actually behaved that way,” the teen said.

Diaz asked him what he wanted out of life. “He just had almost a sad face,” Diaz says.

The teen couldn’t answer Diaz — or he didn’t want to.

When the bill arrived, Diaz told the teen, “Look, I guess you’re going to have to pay for this bill ’cause you have my money and I can’t pay for this. So if you give me my wallet back, I’ll gladly treat you.”

The teen “didn’t even think about it” and returned the wallet, Diaz says. “I gave him $20 … I figure maybe it’ll help him. I don’t know.”

Diaz says he asked for something in return — the teen’s knife — “and he gave it to me.”

Afterward, when Diaz told his mother what happened, she said, “You’re the type of kid that if someone asked you for the time, you gave them your watch.”

“I figure, you know, if you treat people right, you can only hope that they treat you right. It’s as simple as it gets in this complicated world.”


The right Republican

31 Dec

Although the presidency is theirs for the taking, America’s Republicans are in danger of throwing it away

Dec 31st 2011 | from the print edition

IN JANUARY the battle to become the world’s most powerful person begins—with small groups of Iowans “caucusing” to choose a Republican nominee for the White House. It is a great opportunity for them. Barack Obama is clearly beatable. No president since Franklin Roosevelt has been re-elected with unemployment as high as it is now; Mr Obama’s approval rating, which tends to translate accurately into vote-share, is down in the mid-40s. Swing states like Florida, Ohio and even Pennsylvania look well within the Republicans’ grasp.

Yet recent polls show the president leading all his rivals: an average of two points ahead of Mitt Romney, eight points over Ron Paul and nine points over Newt Gingrich, according to No doubt some rather flawed personalities play a part in that; but so does the notion that something has gone badly wrong with the party of Abraham Lincoln, Theodore Roosevelt and Ronald Reagan. Rather than answering the call for a credible right-of-centre, pro-business party to provide independents, including this newspaper, with a choice in November, it is saddling its candidate with a set of ideas that are cranky, extreme and backward-looking.

That matters far beyond this election—and indeed America’s shores. Across the West nations are struggling to reform government. At their best the Republicans have combined a muscular foreign policy with sound economics, individualism and entrepreneurial pragmatism. It is in everybody’s interests that they become champions of such policies again. That is not impossible, but there is a lot of catching up to do.

Please sign on the dotted line

Optimists will point out that the Republicans, no less than the Democrats, tend to flirt with extremes in the primaries, then select an electable moderate (with Mr Romney being the likely winner this time). America is a conservative place; every Republican nominee, including those The Economisthas backed in the past, has signed up to pretty uncompromising views on God, gays and guns. But even allowing for that, the party has been dragged further and further to the right. Gone are the days when a smiling Reagan could be forgiven for raising taxes and ignoring abortion once in office. As the Republican base has become ever more detached from the mainstream, its list of unconditional demands has become ever more stringent.

Nowadays, a candidate must believe not just some but all of the following things: that abortion should be illegal in all cases; that gay marriage must be banned even in states that want it; that the 12m illegal immigrants, even those who have lived in America for decades, must all be sent home; that the 46m people who lack health insurance have only themselves to blame; that global warming is a conspiracy; that any form of gun control is unconstitutional; that any form of tax increase must be vetoed, even if the increase is only the cancelling of an expensive and market-distorting perk; that Israel can do no wrong and the “so-called Palestinians”, to use Mr Gingrich’s term, can do no right; that the Environmental Protection Agency, the Department of Education and others whose names you do not have to remember should be abolished.

These fatwas explain the rum list of candidates: you either have to be an unelectable extremist who genuinely believes all this, or a dissembler prepared to tie yourself in ever more elaborate knots (the flexible Mr Romney). Several promisingly pragmatic governors, including Mitch Daniels, Chris Christie and Jeb Bush, never even sought the nomination. Jon Huntsman, the closest thing to a moderate in the race (who supports gay marriage and action to combat climate change), is polling in low single figures.

 Explore our interactive map and guide to the race for the Republican candidacy

More depressingly, the fatwas have stifled ideas, making the Republican Party the enemy of creative positions it once pioneered. The idea of requiring every American to carry health insurance (thus broadening the insurance pool and reducing costs) originated in the conservative Heritage Foundation as a response to Clinton-care, and was put into practice by then-Governor Romney in Massachusetts. All this Mr Romney has had to disavow, just as Mr Gingrich has had to recant his ideas on climate change, while Rick Perry is still explaining his appalling laxity as governor of Texas in allowing the children of illegal immigrants to receive subsidised college education.

On the economy, where this newspaper has often found the most common ground with the Republicans, the impact has been especially unfortunate. America’s commercial classes are fed up with a president they associate with big government, red tape and class warfare. A Republican could stake out a way to cut the deficit, reform taxes and refashion government. But instead of businesslike pragmatism, there is zealotry. The candidates have made a fetish out of never raising taxes (even when it involves getting rid of loopholes), while mostly ignoring tough decisions about cutting spending on defence or pensions. Such compassionless conservatism (slashing taxes for the rich and expenditure on the poor) comes with little thought as to which bits of government spending are useful. Investing in infrastructure, redesigning public education and maintaining unemployment benefits in the worst downturn since the Depression are hardly acts of communism.

We didn’t leave you; you left us

Elections are decided in the middle. If the Republicans choose an extreme candidate, they can hardly be surprised if independents plump for Mr Obama, or look to a third-party candidate. But there could be two better outcomes for them.

The first would be if Mr Romney secures a quick victory, defies his base and moves firmly to the centre. In theory, there is enough in his record to suggest that he may yet be the chief executive America needs, though such boldness is asking a lot of a man who still seems several vertebrae short of a backbone (John McCain, a generally braver man, flunked it in 2008). The alternative is that the primary race grinds to a stalemate, with neither Mr Romney nor one of his rivals able to secure victory. Then a Bush, Daniels or Christie just might be tempted into the contest. It is a sad commentary that this late in the day “the right Republican” does not even seem to be running yet.

from the print edition | Leaders


Click here to find out more!

Obama’s Climate Betrayal

30 Dec

The New Yorker
Daily Comment
December 30, 2011
Obama’s Climate Betrayal
Posted by Elizabeth Kolbert


Some international disputes are significant for symbolic reasons, others for substantive ones. The current conflict between the United States and the European Union over airline-emissions limits is both. Unfortunately this means that the U.S. is doubly on the wrong side. The Obama Administration ought to be applauding the Europeans. Instead it’s threatening a trade war.

The conflict over the limits, which are scheduled to take effect on New Year’s Day, has been brewing for nearly fifteen years. In highly condensed form, it runs as follows:

Back in 1997, when the Kyoto Protocol was drafted, it included a directive for nations to work together to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions from air travel. (Currently, aviation emissions account for only three perc ent of global CO2 emissions; however, that figure is expected to grow dramatically in coming decades.) The International Civil Aviation Organization, or I.C.A.O., was asked to come up with rules that its membership, which includes virtually every nation in the world, could agree to.

Perhaps not surprisingly, given the generally dismal record of such negotiations, the I.C.A.O. failed to come up with such rules. Several years ago, it officially gave up trying. At that point, the E.U. decided to step up to the proverbial plate. The European Parliament passed a law requiring airlines that fly in and out of Europe either to live within an emissions allotment or to purchase credits on Europe’s carbon market. (Essentially, the E.U. is just adding the airlines to its existing emissions trading system.) When fully implemented, the requirements should reduce greenhouse-gas emissions each year by the equivalent of taking thirty million cars off the road.

Obviously, European carriers will be the ones most significantly affected by the new requirements. Still, even the marginal costs that the rules would impose on U.S. airlines were deemed—by them, at least—to be too high. In a wonderfully cynical move, U.S. carriers worked particularly diligently to ensure that the I.C.A.O. would never issue emissions limits, then turned around and challenged the E.U.’s rules on the grounds that only the I.C.A.O. should be able to issue such limits. United Airlines, American Airlines, and the Air Transport Association of America went so far as to challenge the E.U.’s rules in court, but, in a decision handed down earlier this month by Europe’s highest court, in Luxembourg, they lost.

That should have been the end of things—were the positions reversed, the U.S. would clearly expect the Europeans to abide by a Supreme Court ruling. But no. Two weeks ago, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Transportation Secretary Raymond LaHood wrote a letter to E.U. commissioners, demanding that they suspend the rules, or else.

“Absent such willingness on the part of the E.U., we will be compelled to take appropriate action,” the pair wrote. It’s not clear exactly what “appropriate action” they meant, but the transportation secretary possesses the power to impose retaliatory sanctions on foreign airlines. Meanwhile, the House of Representatives has approved a bill forbidding U.S. airlines from complying with the E.U. rules; the Senate is considering a similar measure.

It’s bad enough—more than bad enough, really—that the U.S. has failed to lead the fight against climate change. This is very nearly as true under President Barack Obama as it was under George W. Bush. As former Senator Tim Wirth, now the president of the U.N. Foundation, put it recently, “I don’t know who and where the climate leadership in the Administration is. It doesn’t exist.”

Now, by trying to block others’ attempts to tackle the problem, the U.S. is behaving in a manner that seems best described as unforgivable. Last week, in a letter to Secretaries Clinton and LaHood, the heads of several of the nation’s leading environmental groups noted that the Administration is “actively thwarting other countries’ efforts to effectively and efficiently reduce greenhouse gas emissions,” a position that is incompatible with the Administration’s own stated commitment to avoiding “a dangerous rise in global average temperatures.” The groups urged the Administration to abide by the European court’s decision, “just as the Administration would wish other nations to respect the decision of the U.S. Supreme Court.”

It’s pretty much impossible to imagine how the world can reduce the risks of climate change without imposing some sort of emissions limits, and airline emissions seems like as good a place to start as any. If the Administration disagrees with the European plan, then it would seem to be under a heavy obligation to propose its own. All it’s doing now is shilling for the airlines. Is this any way to run a planet?

Read more

Read more

India: In One Slum, Misery, Work, Politics and Hope

30 Dec

MUMBAI, India — At the edge of India’s greatest slum, Shaikh Mobin’s decrepit shanty is cleaved like a wedding cake, four layers high and sliced down the middle. The missing half has been demolished. What remains appears ready for demolition, too, with temporary walls and a rickety corrugated roof.

Articles in this series are examining the messy and maddening road to progress in India.

Adam Ferguson for The New York Times

An extended family of 15 people lives in a Dharavi house with 180 square feet of space. More Photos »

Yet inside, carpenters are assembling furniture on the ground floor. One floor up, men are busily cutting and stitching blue jeans. Upstairs from them, workers are crouched over sewing machines, making blouses. And at the top, still more workers are fashioning men’s suits and wedding apparel. One crumbling shanty. Four businesses.

In the labyrinthine slum known as Dharavi are 60,000 structures, many of them shanties, and as many as one million people living and working on a triangle of land barely two-thirds the size of Central Park in Manhattan. Dharavi is one of the world’s most infamous slums, a cliché of Indian misery. It is also a churning hive of workshops with an annual economic output estimated to be $600 million to more than $1 billion.

“This is a parallel economy,” said Mr. Mobin, whose family is involved in several businesses in Dharavi. “In most developed countries, there is only one economy. But in India, there are two.”

India is a rising economic power, even as huge portions of its economy operate in the shadows. Its “formal” economy consists of businesses that pay taxes, adhere to labor regulations and burnish the country’s global image. India’s “informal” economy is everything else: the hundreds of millions of shopkeepers, farmers, construction workers, taxi drivers, street vendors, rag pickers, tailors, repairmen, middlemen, black marketeers and more.

This divide exists in other developing countries, but it is a chasm in India: experts estimate that the informal sector is responsible for the overwhelming majority of India’s annual economic growth and as much as 90 percent of all employment. The informal economy exists largely outside government oversight and, in the case of slums like Dharavi, without government help or encouragement.

For years, India’s government has tried with mixed success to increase industrial output by developing special economic zones to lure major manufacturers. Dharavi, by contrast, could be called a self-created special economic zone for the poor. It is a visual eyesore, a symbol of raw inequality that epitomizes the failure of policy makers to accommodate the millions of rural migrants searching for opportunity in Indian cities. It also underscores the determination of those migrants to come anyway.

“Economic opportunity in India still lies, to a large extent, in urban areas,” said Eswar Prasad, a leading economist. “The problem is that government hasn’t provided easy channels to be employed in the formal sector. So the informal sector is where the activity lies.”

Dharavi is Dickens and Horatio Alger and Upton Sinclair. It is ingrained in the Indian imagination, depicted in books or Bollywood movies, as well as in the Oscar-winning hit “Slumdog Millionaire.” Dharavi has been examined in a Harvard Business School case study and dissected by urban planners from Europe to Japan. Yet merely trying to define Dharavi is contested.

“Maybe to anyone who has not seen Dharavi, Dharavi is a slum, a huge slum,” said Gautam Chatterjee, the principal secretary overseeing the Housing Ministry in Maharashtra State. “But I have also looked at Dharavi as a city within a city, an informal city.”

It is an informal city as layered as Mr. Mobin’s sheared building — and as fragile. Plans to raze and redevelop Dharavi into a “normal” neighborhood have stirred a debate about what would be gained but also about what might be lost by trying to control and regulate Dharavi. Every layer of Dharavi, when exposed, reveals something far more complicated, and organic, than the concept of a slum as merely a warehouse for the poor.

One slum. Four layers. Four realities.

On the ground floor is misery.

One floor up is work.

Another floor up is politics.

And at the top is hope.

“Dharavi,” said Hariram Tanwar, 64, a local businessman, “is a mini-India.”


The streets smell of sewage and sweets. There are not enough toilets. There is not enough water. There is not enough space. Laborers sleep in sheds known as pongal houses, six men, maybe eight, packed into a single, tiny room — multiplied by many tiny rooms. Hygiene is terrible. Diarrhea and malaria are common. Tuberculosis floats in the air, spread by coughing or spitting. Dharavi, like the epic slums of Karachi, Pakistan, or Rio de Janeiro, is often categorized as a problem still unsolved, an emblem of inequity pressing against Mumbai, India’s richest and most glamorous city. A walk through Dharavi is a journey through a dank maze of ever-narrowing passages until the shanties press together so tightly that daylight barely reaches the footpaths below, as if the slum were a great urban rain forest, covered by a canopy of smoke and sheet metal.

Traffic bleats. Flies and mosquitoes settle on roadside carts of fruit and atop the hides of wandering goats. Ten families share a single water tap, with water flowing through the pipes for less than three hours every day, enough time for everyone to fill a cistern or two. Toilets are communal, with a charge of 3 cents to defecate. Sewage flows through narrow, open channels, slow-moving streams of green water and garbage.

Adam Ferguson for The New York Times

Drawn by hopes for a job, migrants from rural India crowd into Dharavi, a vast slum in Mumbai. More Photos »

Getting Ahead in Dharavi
 At the slum’s periphery, Sion Hospital treats 3,000 patients every day, many from Dharavi, often children who are malnourished or have asthma or diarrhea. Premature tooth decay is so widespread in children that doctors call them dental cripples.

“People who come to Dharavi or other slum areas — their priority is not health,” said Dr. Pallavi Shelke, who works in Dharavi. “Their priority is earning.”

And that is what is perhaps most surprising about the misery of Dharavi: people come voluntarily. They have for decades. Dharavi once was known for gangs and violence, but today Dharavi is about work. Tempers sometimes flare, fights break out, but the police say the crime rate is actually quite low, even lower than in wealthier, less densely populated areas of the city. An outsider can walk through the slum and never feel threatened.

Misery is everywhere, as in miserable conditions, as in hardship. But people here do not speak of being miserable. People speak about trying to get ahead.


The order was for 2,700 briefcases, custom-made gifts for a large bank to distribute during the Hindu holiday of Diwali. The bank contacted a supplier, which contacted a leather-goods store, which sent the order to a manufacturer. Had the order been placed in China, it probably would have landed in one of the huge coastal factories that employ thousands of rural migrants and have made China a manufacturing powerhouse.

In India, the order landed in the Dharavi workshop of Mohammed Asif. Mr. Asif’s work force consists of 22 men, who sit cross-legged beside mounds of soft, black leather, an informal assembly line, except that the factory floor is a cramped room doubling as a dormitory: the workers sleep above, in a loft. The briefcases were due in two weeks.

“They work hard,” Mr. Asif said. “They work from 8 in the morning until 11 at night because the more they do, the more they will earn to send back to their families. They come here to earn.”

Unlike China, India does not have colossal manufacturing districts because India has chosen not to follow the East Asian development model of building a modern economy by starting with low-skill manufacturing. If China’s authoritarian leaders have deliberately steered the country’s surplus rural work force into urban factories, Indian leaders have done little to promote job opportunities in cities for rural migrants. In fact, right-wing political parties in Mumbai have led sometimes-violent campaigns against migrants.

Yet India’s rural migrants, desperate to escape poverty, flock to the cities anyway. Dharavi is an industrial gnat compared with China’s manufacturing heartland — and the working conditions in the slum are almost certainly worse than those in major Chinese factories — but Dharavi does seem to share China’s can-do spirit. Almost everything imaginable is made in Dharavi, much of it for sale in India, yet much of it exported around the world.

Today, Dharavi is as much a case study in industrial evolution as a slum. Before the 1980s, Dharavi had tanneries that dumped their effluent into the surrounding marshlands. Laborers came from southern India, especially the state of Tamil Nadu, many of them Muslims or lower-caste Hindus, fleeing drought, starvation or caste discrimination. Once Tamil Nadu’s economy strengthened, migrants began arriving from poverty-stricken states in central India.Later, the tanneries were closed down for environmental reasons, moving south to the city of Chennai, or to other slums elsewhere. Yet Dharavi had a skilled labor force, as well as cheap costs for workshops and workers, and informal networks between suppliers, middlemen and workshops. So Dharavi’s leather trade moved up the value chain, as small workshops used raw leather processed elsewhere to make handbags for some of the priciest stores in India.


Photographs Readers shared their thoughts on this article.

During this same period, Dharavi’s migration waves became a torrent, as people streamed out of Bihar and Uttar Pradesh, the teeming, backward northern states now at the locus of rural Indian poverty.

“After 1990, immigration was tremendous,” said Ramachandra Korde, a longtime civic activist commonly known around Dharavi as Bhau, or brother. “It used to be that 100 to 300 to 400 people came to Dharavi every day. Just to earn bread and butter.”

Leatherwork is now a major industry in Dharavi, but only one. Small garment factories have proliferated throughout the slum, making children’s clothes or women’s dresses for the Indian market or export abroad. According to a 2007 study sponsored by the United States Agency for International Development, Dharavi has at least 500 large garment workshops (defined as having 50 or more sewing machines) and about 3,000 smaller ones. Then there are the 5,000 leather shops. Then there are the food processors that make snacks for the rest of India.

And then still more: printmakers, embroiderers and, most of all, the vast recycling operations that sort, clean and reprocess much of India’s discarded plastic.

“We are cleaning the dirt of the country,” said Fareed Siddiqui, the general secretary of the Dharavi Businessmen’s Welfare Association.

Mr. Asif, the leather shop owner, is a typical member of Dharavi’s entrepreneur class.

Now 35, he arrived at the slum in 1988, leaving his village in Bihar after hearing about Dharavi from another family. He jumped on a train to Mumbai. He was 12.

“Someone from my village used to live here,” he said. “We were poor and had nothing.”

Mr. Asif began as an apprentice in a leather shop, learning how to use the heavy cutting scissors, then the sewing machines that stitch the seams on leather goods, until he finally opened his own shop. As a poor migrant, Mr. Asif could never have arranged the loans andworkspace if Dharavi were part of the organized economy; he rents his workshop from the owner of the leather-goods store, who got the order from the supplier for the briefcases for the bank.

Today, nearly all of Mr. Asif’s workers are also from Bihar, one of the myriad personal networks that help direct migrants out of the villages. Mohammad Wazair earns roughly 6,000 rupees a month, or about $120, as a laborer in Mr. Asif’s workshop. He sends about half home every month to support his wife and two children. He is illiterate, but he is now paying for his children to attend a modest private school in their village. He visits them twice a year.

“In the village, what options do we have?” he asked. “We can either work in the fields or drive a rickshaw. What is the future in that? Here, I can learn a skill and earn money. At least my children will get an education.”


“Now the place is gold,” said Mr. Mobin, the businessman.

He is sitting on the top floor of his building, surrounded by men’s suits in the apparel shop. His family began in the leather business in the 1970s and has since moved into plastic recycling, garments and real estate. Slum property might not seem like a good investment, but Dharavi is now one of the most valuable pieces of real estate in Mumbai. Which is a problem, as Mr. Mobin sees it.

“People from all over the city, and the politicians, are making hue and cry that Dharavi must be developed,” he said. “But they are not developing it for the people of Dharavi. They will provide office buildings and shopping for the richer class.”

As Mumbai came to symbolize India’s expanding economy — and the country’s expanding inequality — Dharavi began attracting wider attention. Mumbai grew as Dharavi grew. If the slum once sat on the periphery, it now is a scar in the middle of what is a peninsular, land-starved city — an eyesore and embarrassment, if also a harbinger of a broader problem.

Photographs Readers shared their thoughts on this article.

Today, more than eight million people live in Mumbai’s slums, according to some estimates, a huge figure that accounts for more than half the city’s population. Many people live in slums because they cannot afford to live anywhere else, and government efforts to build affordable housing have been woefully inadequate. But many newer slums are also microversions of Dharavi’s informal economy. Some newer migrants even come to Dharavi to learn new skills, as if Dharavi were a slum franchising operation.

“Dharavi is becoming their steppingstone,” said Vineet Joglekar, a civic leader here. “They learn jobs, and then they go to some other slum and set up there.”

Dharavi still exists on the margins. Few businesses pay taxes. Few residents have formal title to their land. Political parties court the slum for votes and have slowly delivered things taken for granted elsewhere: some toilets, water spigots.

But the main political response to Dharavi’s unorthodox success has been to try to raze it. India’s political class discovered Dharavi in the 1980s, when any migrant who jabbed four posts into an empty patch of dirt could claim a homestead. Land was scarce, and some people began dumping stones or refuse to fill the marshes at the edge of the Arabian Sea.

Rajiv Gandhi, then India’s prime minister, saw the teeming slum and earmarked one billion rupees, or about $20 million, for a program to build affordable, hygienic housing for Dharavi’s poor. Local officials siphoned off some of the money for other municipal projects while also building some tenements that today are badly decayed. The proliferation of shanties continued.

Three decades later, the basic impulse set in motion by Mr. Gandhi — that Dharavi should be redeveloped and somehow standardized — still prevails. But the incentives have changed. Dharavi’s land is now worth hundreds of millions of dollars. Private developers do not see a slum but a piece of property convenient to the airport, surrounded by train stations and adjacent to a sleek office park.

A sweeping plan approved in 2006 would provide free apartments and commercial space to many Dharavi residents while allowing private investors to develop additional space for sale at market rates. Many Dharavi civic and business leaders endorsed the plan, even as critics denounced the proposal as a giveaway to rich developers.

For now, the project remains largely stalled, embroiled in bureaucratic infighting, even as a different, existential debate is under way about the potential risks of redeveloping Dharavi and shredding the informal networks that bind it together.

“They are talking about redeveloping Dharavi,” said Mohammad Khurshid Sheikh, who owns a leather shop. “But if they do, the whole chain may break down. These businesses can work because Dharavi attracts labor. People can work here and sleep in the workshop. If there is redevelopment, they will not get that room so cheap. They will not come back here.”

Matias Echanove, an architect and urban planner, has long argued that Dharavi should not be dismissed as merely a slum, since it operates as a contained residential and commercial city. He said razing Dharavi, or even completely redeveloping it, would only push residents into other slums.

“They are going to create actual, real slums,” he said. “Nobody is saying Dharavi is a paradise. But we need to understand the dynamics, so that when there is an intervention by the government, it doesn’t destroy what is there.”

HopeSylva Vanita Baskar was born in Dharavi. She is now 39, already a widow. Her husband lost his vigor and then his life to tuberculosis. She borrowed money to pay for his care, and now she rents her spare room to four laborers for an extra $40 a month. She lives in a room with her four children. Two sons sleep in a makeshift bed. She and her two youngest children sleep on straw mats on the stone floor.


“They do everything together,” she said, explaining how her children endure such tight quarters. “They fight together. They study together.”

The computer sits on a small table beside the bed, protected, purchased for $354 from savings, even though the family has no Internet connection. The oldest son stores his work on a pen drive and prints it somewhere else. Ms. Baskar, a seamstress, spends five months’ worth of her income, almost $400, to send three of her children to private schools. Her daughter wants to be a flight attendant. Her youngest son, a mechanical engineer.

“My daughter is getting a better education, and she will get a better job,” Ms. Baskar said. “The children’s lives should be better. Whatever hardships we face are fine.”

Education is hope in Dharavi. On a recent afternoon outside St. Anthony’s, a parochial school in the slum, Hindu mothers in saris waited for their children beside Muslim mothers in burqas. The parents were not concerned about the crucifix on the wall; they wanted their children to learn English, the language considered to be a ticket out of the slums in India.

Once, many parents in Dharavi sent their children to work, not to school, and child labor remains a problem in some workshops. Dharavi’s children have always endured a stigma. When parents tried to send their sons and daughters outside the slum for schooling, the Dharavi students often received a bitter greeting.

“Sometimes, the teacher would not accept our children, or would treat them with contempt,” said Mohammad Hashim, 64. “Sometimes, they would say, ‘Why are you Dharavi children over here?’ ”

Mr. Hashim responded by opening his own school, tailored for Muslim children, offering a state-approved secular education. He initially offered the curriculum in Urdu but not a single parent enrolled a child. He switched to English, and now his classrooms are overflowing with Muslim students.

Discrimination is still common toward Dharavi. Residents complain that they are routinely rejected for credit cards if they list a Dharavi address. Private banks are reluctant to make loans to businessmen in Dharavi or to open branches. Part of this stigma is as much about social structure as about living in the slum itself.

“They all belong to the untouchables caste,” said Mr. Korde, the longtime social activist, “or are Muslims.”

But money talks in Mumbai, and Dharavi now has money, even millionaires, mixed in with its misery and poverty. Mohammad Mustaqueem, 57, arrived as a 13-year-old boy. He slept outside, in one of the narrow alleyways, and remembers being showered with garbage as people tossed it out in the morning. Today, Mr. Mustaqueem has 300 employees in 12 different garment workshops in Dharavi, with an annual turnover of about $2.5 million a year. He owns property in Dharavi worth $20 million.

“When I came here, I was empty-handed,” he said. “Now I have everything.”

Dharavi’s fingerprints continue to be found across Mumbai’s economy and beyond, even if few people realize it. Mr. Asif, the leather shop owner, made leather folders used to deliver dinner checks at the city’s most famous hotel, the Taj Mahal Palace. The tasty snacks found in Mumbai’s finest confectionaries? Made in Dharavi. The exquisite leather handbags sold in expensive shops? Often made in Dharavi.

“There are hundreds of Dharavis flourishing in the city,” boasted Mr. Mobin, the businessman. “Every slum has its businesses. Every kind of business is there in the slums.”

But surely, Mr. Mobin is asked, there are things not made in Dharavi. Surely not airplanes, for example.

“But we recycle waste for the airlines,” he answered proudly. “Cups and food containers.”

Five innovations working to empower women

30 Dec

Women produce more than half of the world’s food but face unique challenges as farmers. Five innovative programs are helping them – and strengthening the world’s food system.

By Dana DrugmandNourishing the Planet / December 28, 2011

A woman carries a bundle of cut sugarcane as she helps to harvest a field outside Gove village in Satara district, about 161 miles south of Mumbai, India. Female farmers produce more than half of the world’s food. Five innovative programs are helping them succeed.

At a time when world resources are dwindling and global population is growing rapidly, finding sustainable solutions to nourish people and the planet is more important than ever.

Research has shown that women may play a key role in the fight against global hunger and poverty. Worldwide, roughly 1.6 billion women rely on farming for their livelihoods, and female farmers produce more than half of the world’s food.

Although women comprise 43 percent of the agricultural labor force in developing countries, they typically aren’t able to own land. Cultural barriers also limit women’s ability to obtain credit and insurance.

Strengthening women’s rights can help strengthen the global food system. According to the World Food Programme, allowing women farmers access to more resources could reduce the number of hungry people in the world by 100-150 million people.

Today, Nourishing the Planet highlights five innovations that are helping empower women farmers around the world:

1. Vertical Farming: Although most farming is mostly associated with rural areas, more than 800 million people globally depend on food grown in cities for their main food source. Considering that women in Africa own only 1 percent of the land, a practice called vertical farming gives these women the opportunity to raise vegetables without having to own land.

Female farmers in Kibera, Nairobi’s largest slum, have been practicing vertical farming using seeds provided by the French NGO Solidarites. This innovative technique involves growing crops in dirt sacks, allowing women farmers to grow vegetables in otherwise unproductive urban spaces. More than 1,000 women are growing food in this way, effectively allowing them to be self-sufficient in food production and to increase their household income. Following the launch of this initiative, each household has increased its weekly income by 380 shillings (equivalent to $4.33).

Vertical Farming in action: This innovation has already proven successful in providing food for urban residents during a time of dire need. During the food crisis that hit Kenya in 2007-2008, there was a blockade of food supplies coming into the Nairobi slums. People in Kibera who grew their own food with the vertical farming technique were self-sufficient and did not go hungry.

2. FANRPAN’s Theater: Women comprise 80 percent of small-scale farmers in some parts of sub-saharan Africa, and female labor accounts for a majority of food production across the continent. Despite the fact that women make up such a large percentage of the agricultural workforce, they still lack access to important resources and inputs. Men control the seed, fertilizer, credit, and technology, and have the access to policymakers that women lack.

The Food, Agriculture & Natural Resources Policy Analysis Network’s (FANRPAN) WARM Project seeks to advocate for agricultural policies in the two focus countries of Malawi and Mozambique. FANRPAN hopes to later extend the program to other Southern and East Africa countries. WARM (Women Accessing Realigned Markets) uses theater to engage communities to meet the needs of women farmers.

FANRPAN’s Sithembile Ndema, the program manager in charge of the WARM Project, explains that the aim of the project is to empower women who lack resources and a voice in farming communities. “What we’re doing is we’re using theater as a way of engaging these women farmers, as a way of getting them involved and getting them to open up about the challenges that they’re facing.”

FANRPAN’s Theater in Action: After each performance, community members engage in a moderated discussion about issues raised in the performance. This gives them an opportunity to raise their concerns, especially the women farmers who typically do not have access to policymakers.

3. Self Employed Women’s Association (SEWA): In developing countries like India, women are commonly disenfranchised and not afforded the same opportunities and rights as men, such as access to credit and land ownership, for example. The Self Employed Women’s Association, a female trade union in India that began in 1992, works with poor, self-employed women by helping them achieve full employment and self reliance.

SEWA is a network of cooperatives, self-help groups, and programs that empower women. Small-scale women farmers in India have particularly benefited from this network that links farmers to inputs and markets.“We organize the women as workers, try to build their collective strength, their voice, their visibility, explains Reema Nanavanti, Director of Economic and Rural Development at SEWA.

SEWA in action: SEWA not only provides organizational support, but also brings resources to women who lack access to them. By building what Nanavanti calls “capitalization,” SEWA is providing tools and equipment, as well as access to licenses and to land. Furthermore, SEWA empowers women by building their leadership capacity, giving them a voice that otherwise might go unheard.

4. Women’s Collective: Also in India, women’s subordinate position in society makes them easy targets for domestic and sexual violence. For example, landless women who rely on agricultural landlords for employment, for example, are often sexually harassed. Poor rural women additionally face issues with food and water insecurity.

The Tamil Nadu Women’s Collective (WC) focuses on advocating for women’s rights and improving food and water security. The collective reaches more than 1,500 villages spread across 18 districts in India’s Tamil Nadu state. Environmental protection, alternative farming for food security, and women’s rights, including protection against domestic violence, are some of the major focus areas the WC has undertaken. In addressing violence against women, for example, the WC provides counseling and support for female victims.

Women’s participation in local government is another initiative the WC has taken up. By empowering women, giving them a voice at the household and political level, and helping women strengthen local food systems and employ natural farming methods, the WC is actively addressing issues of food and water insecurity and improving rural livelihoods.

Women’s Collective in action: Beginning in 1998-1999, Women’s Collective members were educated about natural farming techniques. The concept of natural farming maximizes natural inputs, or inputs derived from the farm itself. Natural farming can increase soil’s water retention, leading to better yields under rain-fed conditions.Shanta, a single mother from the Vellanikkottam village, started practicing natural farming with help from the Women’s Collective. Since transitioning to natural farming, Shanta has benefited from increased crop yields.

5. GREEN Foundation: Studies have shown that women farmers typically have lower crop yields than their male counterparts. A study conducted in Burkina Faso, for example, has found that women’s yields were 20 percent lower for vegetables and 40 percent lower for sorghum. Rural women farmers’ lower productivity compared to male farmers may be due to women lacking access to high-quality seeds and agricultural inputs. The GREEN Foundation has partnered with NGOs, including Seed Saver’s Network and The Development Fund, to create community seed banks in India’s Karnataka state.

Women run these seed banks, thereby gaining leadership skills and acquiring quality, organic seeds that yield profitable crops. Landless women farmers are encouraged to grow indigenous vegetables in community gardens. The gardening project, which improves women small-scale farmers’ food security and economic status, involves training women in agricultural methods and encouraging them to grow a variety of fruits, vegetables, and medicinal plants for their families.

Part of the GREEN Foundation’s mission is to empower women and enhance women’s leadership skills. The foundation has successfully touched upon different dimensions of sustainable agriculture that have helped farmers secure seed, food, and better livelihoods.

GREEN Foundation in action: The foundation’s kitchen-gardening project is an important innovation that promotes agricultural biodiversity while empowering women.

Mahadevammais one example of a rural Indian woman who has improved her food security and her family’s income by growing crops in a kitchen garden. She uses waste water from her house to irrigate the crops and employs vermicompost for manure and fermented plant extract for pest control. She has gotten good yields and she sells any excess vegetables and seeds to make a profit. Mahadevammma has earned 2,000 rupees ($44.61) just from her kitchen garden.• Dana Drugmand is a research intern with the Nourishing the Planet Project.

This article originally appeared at Nourishing the Planet, a blog published by the Worldwatch Institute.

The Housing Bubble and the Big Lie

30 Dec

By Kevin Drum

| Sat Dec. 24, 2011 10:37 AM PST

As longtime readers with good memories will remember, Peter Wallison of AEI has spent several years pushing the preposterous idea that Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac were responsible for the subprime bubble. (See here and here for background.) After Wallison’s latest jeremiad, Joe Nocera has finally decided he can’t take it anymore:

So this is how the Big Lie works.

You begin with a hypothesis that has a certain surface plausibility. You find an ally whose background suggests that he’s an “expert”; out of thin air, he devises “data.” You write articles in sympathetic publications, repeating the data endlessly; in time, some of these publications make your cause their own. Like-minded congressmen pick up your mantra and invite you to testify at hearings.

….Thus has Peter Wallison, a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, and a former member of the Financial Crisis Inquiry Commission, almost single-handedly created the myth that Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac caused the financial crisis….Allies? Start with Congressional Republicans, who have vowed to eliminate Fannie and Freddie — because, after all, they caused the crisis! Throw in The Wall Street Journal’s editorial page, which, on Wednesday, published one of Wallison’s many articles repeating the Big Lie. It was followed on Thursday by an editorial in The Journal making essentially the same point. Repetition is all-important to spreading a Big Lie.

What’s most remarkable about this is how brazen it is. As Nocera notes, Wallison’s latest piece is about the charges the SEC brought last week against six former Fannie and Freddie executives. That’s a plausible hook for Wallison’s hobbyhorse, but even a casual reading of the case shows that the SEC isn’t claiming that government mandates for affordable housing drove Fannie and Freddie headlong into the subprime market. Just the opposite: Starting around 2002, Wall Street banks started their subprime binge and Fannie and Freddie began to lose market share. A few years later, when Fannie and Freddie joined the subprime orgy, they were doing it to compete with their private sector rivals, not because Congress or anyone else was forcing them to.

How brazen is this? Just look at the chart on the right. In 2002, Wall Street banks start the subprime bubble. That same year, Fannie and Freddie see their market share start to plummet. It’s not until 2005, at the tail end of the bubble, that Fannie and Freddie get back into the game.

This is butt simple stuff. All you have to do is look at one simple chart to see exactly what happened. And yet, conservatives don’t care. As Paul Krugman says, this “isn’t just a case where different people look at the same facts but reach different conclusions. Instead, we’re looking at a situation in which one side of the debate just isn’t interested in the truth, in which alleged scholarship is actually just propaganda.”

Fannie and Freddie were bad actors in a lot of ways, and that makes them an easy target for conservatives who are desperate to absolve the private sector of any blame for the financial crisis. But when it comes to assigning blame for the housing bubble, the evidence against them is laughably thin. Like it or not, this was Wall Street’s fault.

Kevin Drum

Political BloggerKevin Drum is a political blogger for Mother Jones. For more of his stories, click here. RSS | Twitter

Mitt Romney slams the Chevy Volt

29 Dec


Republican presidential hopeful says the plug-in hybrid is an ‘idea whose time has not come.’

Wed, Dec 28 2011 at 5:16 PM EST
mitt romney Photo: gageskidmore/Flickr
When it comes to the American auto industry, Mitt Romney believes its investment in a fuel-efficient future is a joke.
The 64-year-old Republican presidential candidate and former governor of Massachusetts responded with dismissive laughter last week when asked what he thought of the Chevy Volt, adding that the plug-in hybrid is an “idea whose time has not come.” His campaign later went on to defend the statement as reflective of the car’s slow sales — but critics were quick to pounce.

United Auto Workers Local 22 President George McGregor says Romney should think before bashing innovation born in Detroit. “It’s not an idea that is ahead of its time,” he said on a conference call with reporters. “It’s behind its time. It should have been here (years ago), so we wouldn’t be dependent on foreign oil.”

“We want to promote innovation like the Chevy Volt,” he said. “We want to promote manufacturing and innovation. We don’t want to look at ways to criticize it and stifle it.”
Former Michigan Gov. Jennifer Granholm, a Democrat, also responded, posting on her Twitter account: “My blood is boiling: Romney attacks the Volt, a FANTASTIC U.S. car made in his home state by American workers.”
As Autobloggreen points out, Romney has long been critical of President Obama’s support for Department of Energy loans to companies like Nissan, Ford and Tesla Motors, despite the fact that the program was started under President George Bush.

“So sad,” wrote one commenter on The Huffington Post. “What does anyone running for President have against a car that is Made in America, by American workers, and uses almost exclusivel­y Made-in-Am­erica fuel. I’ve had a Volt for over 7000 miles, and I have only gotten gas twice. It is the best car I have ever owned