15 February 2009

Xenophobia and Water

Last week in Fresno, Judge Wanger of the US District moderated a debate between farmers and environmentalists over water exports from the Delta.

Although the debate included the typical give and take, the part that got everyone's attention was this comment by Lloyd Carter, who represented the environmentalists. When asked about job losses that may result from a reduction in water exports to the southern San Joaquin valley, he said:
They're not even American citizens for starters. Do you think we should employ illegal aliens? What parent raises their child to be a farm worker? These kids are the least educated people in America or the southwest corner of this Valley. They turn to lives of crime. They go on welfare. They get into drug trafficking and they join gangs.
To view this quote in context, watch this video, but -- even after watching the video -- I do not think that Carter's comment was either appropriate or an accurate description of farm workers. Yes, they are poor, but their criminal activities are probably at/below the criminal activities of people in that income class. Further, job losses are only likely to increase criminal behavior...

I asked Lloyd to explain his comments, and he gave me two references: the apology in his blog and a working paper that he is submitting to a law journal. The apology says:
My comments were directed at the exploitation of farmworkers in the southwestern corner of the valley, which is the poorest place in America but, as worded, implied that ALL farmworkers turn to lives of crime or gangs, which is obviously not true. My remarks were intended to focus on the social costs of exploiting an immigrant worker population which is denied adequate pay, housing and education.
The paper (which I said I would not post) makes the important point that poverty in the Westlands area is much higher than elsewhere in the Valley (West versus East side), and that those who are in poverty are more likely to turn to violence, drugs, etc.

While I agree with him (Westlands is NOT interested in the welfare of its workers), I DO have to say that his comment is not helpful.

There are plenty of xenophobes who blame "immigrants" for budget, water, and economic problems. Those racist bigots are hypocrites (with few exceptions, we are all immigrants) and useless analysts: The poor, by definition, use far fewer resources than the rich. Their "foreign" nature makes them easy targets and scapegoats, however.

Carter should have been more careful with his words.

People who lose their jobs suffer, and we should take care to help them find other jobs. Some may turn to crime, but that's not often their first choice, and there are far bigger criminals (cf. Wall Street, Sacramento and DC) who get off with far less punishment.

Bottom Line: If water were allocated by markets instead of bureaucrats (Carter calls them the hydraulic brotherhood), we'd all be better off.

7 comments:

  1. Excellent post David. It was just a matter of time until someone would muster up the audacity to write on such an important yet contentious topic. It is xenophobia that exacerbates the quality of life for these farm workers. If they lose their jobs, sure there is a probability that they'll engage in criminal activities but right now the focus is on securing access to clean water- both for irrigation and farming (economic) and sanitation and health (social).

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  2. It's hard to disagree that Carter was guilty of bad judgment, although I'm not sure a few poorly chosen words make him a xenophobe. What does one call Congressman Radanovich who is fond of phrases like "eco-terrorists"? See -----

    http://www.modbee.com/columnists/dunbar/story/600256.html

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  3. Jerry -- I wasn't calling Carter a xenophobe; I was pointing out that problem...

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  4. At minimum he is somewhat sexist. There are quite a few women in the "brotherhood".

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  5. You people have not done your homework. I have not, and have never been, a xenophobe or a racist. Many, many venerable stalwarts of the social justice movement in this Valley have come to my defense, including George Ballis and Gloria Hernandez, who were intimately involved in the UFW movement, which I covered as a newsman. Hundreds of people who have known me for decades can vouch for the fact I am not racist nor a Xenophobe. Hell, I marched for Cesar in 1968. I have a 40-year track record. Have the professional people I work with are Latino. NOT ONE OF THEM thinks I'm a xenophobe or racist.

    Read the Congressional Research Service Report of September 2005 about the major social problems in the San Joaquin Valley as the result of the annual influx of hundreds of thousands of undocumented workers hired by agribusiness. It is everything I was saying, which got left on the cutting room floor.

    The agricultural economy of this valley BREEDS poverty and crime.
    Furthermore, the TV reporter spliced separate quotes together and excluded the contextual material to brand me a "racist."
    Not surprising, since her family is one of the biggest growers in the Valley, receiving over $10 million in subsidies since 1995 and she has received 355k in subsidies between 2002 and 2006.

    Everyone who knows me, Latino, Anglo, or any other race, knows I am not a racist and never have been. My "bad judgment" as one of your commenters labels me, was in permitting myself to be ambushed by an obviously biased reporter.

    This Valley is the poorest place in America, has incredible crime rates, 30,000 to 40,000 gang rates, phenomenal welfare rates, teen pregnancy rates off the charts, high school dropout rates from 50 to 80 percent in some schools, rampant obesity and diabetes and one out of six children with asthma.

    On any giving day in Fresno, there are 3,500 hundred in the county's detention facilities (adult and juvenile) and about 1,500 of them are gang bangers, according to the Fresno County Grand Jury Report for 2006-2007, which you can google and check for yourself. These gang bangers cost the county 75k to 100k A DAY for housing, food, medical, etc. You think that figure is deducted from the gross profits of AG.

    Dan Walters of the Sacramento Bee recently wrote a column and said nondocumented workers in California (the politically correct term) are now costing California $5.5 billion a year. 19,000 of them are in California prisons at a cost of hundreds of millions of dollars a year.

    Are you going to blame that on Lloyd Carter, who thinks we ought to talk about the issues?
    I didn't make the mess. The Congressional Research Service report says it is the result of the increasing corporatization and internationalization of agribusiness and the need for an army of low wage migrant workers (an estimated 250,000 a year) who are denied decent house, clean drinking water, adequate schooling for their children, and, until very recently, even minimal shade for the 100 degree summer temperatures they labor in.

    And you think the growers and self-serving politicians who rushed rush to the aid of these farmworkers to defend them against me, who has a 40 year history of support for them, don't have their own agenda, which is to silence me on water issue? How gullible can you people be? Can you name any legislation Reps. Radanovich and Nunes are pushing to help these workers get decent house, clean water, decent schools and a living wage?

    Read Fresno Bee columnist Bill McEwen's recent column that says I am not a racist (although he still buys into the perception I meant to slander all farmworkers). McEwen wrote in a column on Feb. 9 that nearly 59,000 families in Fresno County are on food stamps, another 27,0000 are on the welfare-to-work program and 88,0000 peole receive Medi-Cal benefits. for the year ending May 2008 the Fresno County DA's office filed 91,000 charges, 27 percent of them felonies. Is McEwen a xenophobe or racist for reporting those facts?

    Here are some more "facts": Between 2001 and 2006 gang membership in Fresno County (overwhelmingly Hispanic gangs) rose 33 percent and is now five times the national average per capita and still growing rapidly.
    Rep. Nunes is now claiming ALL enviros in California hate farmworkers. Here is a quote from his most recent tirade: "Beyond the fundamental wrongness of choosing fish over people, environmentalists have taken their attack to valley residents in a very personal way. The insults hurled by these activists were not an isolated occurrence. They are part of a pattern of hate speech used by environmentalists against anyone who stands in their way.

    For years, farmers have been publicly attacked. Now, farm workers and San Joaquin Valley communities are in the cross hairs." TALK ABOUT MCCARTHYISM. Notice how Nunes speaks in the plural, even though he doesn't name anyone beside me, who is clearly not a racist, if you talk to anyone who knows me. Not a single member of the news media has challenged Nunes on his blatantly untrue attacks on the environmental community.

    The Congressional Research Service paper I have repeatedly referred to is identified by the order number, RL33184, and is entitled "California's San Joaquin Valley: A Region in Transition" published on December 12, 2005.

    Your armchair psychology assumes the inaccurate out of context quotes were my views. They were not and the reporter knew it. None of the local mainstream media in this Valley has thought it worth reporting that a TV reporter knocking down a 100 grand a year in farm subsidies has any ethical dilemma in covering farm stories.
    You are supposed to be economists.

    Turn on your brains and turn off your willingness to believe everything you hear on local TV news. I assumed you were smarter than that. This is a smear campaign and character assassination to shut me up on water issues. It will not work.

    Get out of your ivory towers and come down here to the Valley to see what dirty politics is really like. You tell the truth down here about Ag-induced poverty and the resulting social problems, they go after you.

    I never said all farmworkers are criminals. Look at the transcript on my website. I said "some."

    Do your homework before you throw stones.

    -- Lloyd Carter

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  6. Here is what you wrote in your Xenophobia comment: "When asked about job losses that may result from a reduction in water exports to the southern San Joaquin valley, he said:
    They're not even American citizens for starters. Do you think we should employ illegal aliens? What parent raises their child to be a farm worker? These kids are the least educated people in America or the southwest corner of this Valley. They turn to lives of crime. They go on welfare. They get into drug trafficking and they join gangs.

    To view this quote in context, watch this video,When asked about job losses that may result from a reduction in water exports to the southern San Joaquin valley, he said: They're not even American citizens for starters. Do you think we should employ illegal aliens? What parent raises their child to be a farm worker? These kids are the least educated people in America or the southwest corner of this Valley. They turn to lives of crime. They go on welfare. They get into drug trafficking and they join gangs.

    To view this quote in context, watch this video,

    You did not say the "quote" was conflated from two different comments several minutes apart, and was made to look like one outburst, which it was not. Nor do you accurately quote what the actual question was that was asked. Remember, her actual question to me was not on camera. Instead, the anchorman summarized, incorrectly, that I was asked about job losses. Re-broadcasts of the misleading "quote" were later prefaced by claims I had "shocked" Valley farmworkers by branding them all as criminals. I ask you to view the transcript carefully, where I make it clear I am referring to "some" farmworkers. How did that get translated into "all" farmworkers. This whole episode has taught me a lot about how easily people are taken in and how unskeptical they are of things they see on TV.

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  7. "The agricultural economy breeds poverty and crime". Yes, it does, and as long as someone is getting rich, that will not change. Thus the Grapes of Wrath are sown, grown, and harvested. Washington State shares similar problems--migrant education is spotty, gangs are thriving, and the undervalued labor of picking apples, grapes, and cherries can't compete with the big bucks to be made off drug dealing and chop shops. Harvesting fruits and veggies is actually highly skilled labor. They pick the crops (to spec: stems, no leaves, etc.) precisely at the right time very very quickly and without damage. They endure bugs, hot sun, and constant exposure to pestdicides and herbicides. Without migrant labor, our crops don't come in. This happened last year when the Bush Administration scared many away and rounded up the rest for deportation. It is not a sin to be poor, but it sure is a challenge.

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