Day: October 29, 2008

Obstacles to Amazonian Conservation in Ecuador

The most biologically diverse place on earth is a portion of the Amazon rainforest known as Yasuni. Environmentalists have targeted the region for an innovative and internationally recognized conservation project, and the populist President Rafael Correa seems to be on board. However, Correa has many obligations to social movements and businesse alike under Ecuador’s constitutional referendum. Can Ecuador’s government juggle multiple budgetary obligations in order to conserve biodiversity in the Amazon, and at what point does a remarkable environmentalist proposal fall apart under the weight of intensive social and economic programs? The Yasuni stretches over approximately one million acres. Biologists studying the biodiversity of the region remark on the more than 300 species of trees than inhabit areas smaller than two football fields. More than 500 species of birds can be found, and 40% of the Amazon’s mammal species are protected within Yasuni’s bounds. The Ecuadorian government declared Yasuni a national park in 1979 and a wildlife sanctuary in 1989. Subsequent designations in 1999 and 2006 made Yasuni an “untouchable zone” where no type of extractive activity is allowed. However, the government, which has depended on oil revenues to repay foreign debts over the past 25 years, has largely ignored these designations, even following the 2003-2006 court case against Texaco for the “Chernobyl of the Amazon,” environmental damages caused by sloppy oil drilling and repeated oil spills. Further, a...

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Undocumented Immigrants: Supporting or Threatening Public Safety?

Austin’s Chief of Police, Art Acevedo, has made the following statement about undocumented immigrants: “The vast majority of these people are not criminal aliens, they’re economic aliens. They are not a threat to our public safety.” Chief Acevedo has a point. Over the past 15 years, the United States has experienced the largest wave of immigration, both authorized and undocumented, in our history. During this same period, crime rates have declined. Violent crime has decreased by 34%, and property crimes have fallen by 26%. There are an estimated 12 million undocumented immigrants living in the U.S., yet crime rates are diminishing. Seen in this light, the Criminal Alien Program (CAP) in the Travis County jail is a misguided policy. Promoted as an initiative to deport dangerous criminals, CAP is a voluntary agreement between local law enforcement agencies and the Department of Homeland Security. CAP is designed to boost collaboration between Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and local law enforcement, and moves individuals from incarceration to deportation proceedings. Under CAP, ICE agents visit local jails and check the immigration status of foreign-born inmates. An ICE “detainer” is issued to undocumented immigrants as well as lawful permanent residents convicted of a removable defense as defined by the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA). Immigrants that come into custody under CAP can be deported even if the charges are dismissed. If convicted, immigrants...

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McCain’s Solution to our Financial Crisis… Seriously?

Once he locked up the Republican primary, Senator John McCain spent several months building a narrative for the general election. His operatives spent countless hours reciting Mr. McCain’s willingness to politically stand on principle. Television ads paired Senator Barack Obama with flimsy celebrities and mocked his followers as naïve idol-worshippers. In the process they cast their pitch for the election: Mr. McCain would take his duties seriously as President, and Mr. Obama wouldn’t. But that was eons ago. Today we live in a state of financial emergency, and America cries out for someone who takes this crisis seriously in the White House. Yet thanks to McCain’s unsteady economic proposals over the last few months, the groundwork he laid to take advantage of this situation has crumbled. The first hint that McCain’s economic proposals fell short of serious came this summer with his proposal of a “gas tax holiday” to offset high gas prices. Quickly the economist community, both right and left, reached the consensus that a “gas tax holiday” would not lower gas prices. The structure of the oil market insists that demand dictate the price of gasoline. Lowering the gas tax wouldn’t significantly change user demand, so gas prices would stay the same and oil companies would reap the difference in profits. The only explanation for McCain’s policy is that it sounded good to those of us uninitiated...

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