Bill Gates on Immigration and Outsourcing

Some very interesting comments from Bill Gates this week, testifying before Congress on the H-1B visa.  For those of you who don’t know what that is, its a visa designed to bring specialized workers to the United States.  Businesses must prove first that no American (who applied) was qualified for the job, and second, that they are paying the foreign national the same rate or more than an American citizen would be paid.  The Visa is for a maximum of 6 years.  Congress has placed strict annual caps on the visas.  Read more below:

Tight US immigration forces outsourcing: Bill Gates

WASHINGTON (AFP) — US high-tech firms are forced to outsource jobs overseas because of immigration restrictions, Microsoft chairman Bill Gates said Wednesday as Congress debated a visa program for skilled workers.

Gates, echoing a longstanding complaint from the technology sector, told a congressional panel that the US immigration system “makes attracting and retaining high-skilled immigrants exceptionally challenging for US firms.”

“Congress’s failure to pass high-skilled immigration reform has exacerbated an already grave situation,” Gates said in remarks prepared for delivery to a hearing of the House of Representatives Science and Technology Committee.

“As a result, many US firms, including Microsoft, have been forced to locate staff in countries that welcome skilled foreign workers to do work that could otherwise have been done in the United States, if it were not for our counterproductive immigration policies.”

Gates said the limits on so-called H-1B visas aimed at highly skilled professionals are far too low for the rapidly growing tech sector.

He said the current cap of 65,000 H-1B visas “is arbitrarily set and bears no relation to the US economy’s demand for skilled professionals.”

The Microsoft founder noted that all the 65,000 visas for the current fiscal year were snapped up in one day last April and that employers are now waiting to apply for visas for fiscal 2009, starting in October.

“Last year, for example, Microsoft was unable to obtain H-1B visas for one-third of the highly qualified foreign-born job candidates that we wanted to hire,” Gates said.

“If we increase the number of H-1B visas that are available to US companies, employment of US nationals would likely grow as well. For instance, Microsoft has found that for every H-1B hire we make, we add on average four additional employees to support them in various capacities.”

Launched in 1990, the H-1B visa program allows foreign scientists, engineers and technologists to be employed for up to six years, at the end of which they must obtain a permanent residency or return home. A large number come from Asia, especially India.

Although the tech industry has long pressed to ease visa limits, some labor advocates and other analysts argue the program depresses wages for the sector and that the worker shortage may be exaggerated.

Gates argued that the US economy benefits from these skilled immigrants. He cited a study that found that one quarter of all start-up US engineering and technology firms created between 1995 and 2005 had at least one foreign-born founder.

“The United States will find it far more difficult to maintain its competitive edge over the next 50 years if it excludes those who are able and willing to help us compete,” Gates said.

“Other nations are benefiting from our misguided policies. They are revising their immigration policies to attract highly talented students and professionals who would otherwise study, live, and work in the United States for at least part of their careers.”

Earlier this week, Republican Senator Charles Grassley of Iowa said the H-1B program was riddled with abuses and fraud and that he would vote for an increase only if it were accompanied by better enforcement.

“The fact is most H-1B visas are going to foreign based companies,” Grassley said in a letter to the Department of Homeland Security.

“Businesses that need highly skilled workers are getting the short end of the stick. Americans are seeing ruthless tactics by some companies to bring in foreign workers, pay them less, and increase their bottom line.”

Grassley added, “Despite continued fraud and abuse in the H-1B program, I have yet to see one thing from the administration to address the problem.”


News of the Weird…

Of the really weird. I have a hard time wrapping my brain around this one…I almost expect someone to jump out and yell “April Fools.” If only it was April.

Kansas Police: Woman Pried From Boyfriend’s Toilet After Sitting on It for 2 Years

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

WICHITA, Kan. — Deputies say a woman in western Kansas became stuck on her boyfriend’s toilet after sitting on it for two years.

Ness County Sheriff Bryan Whipple said it appeared the 35-year-old Ness City woman’s skin had grown around the seat. She initially refused emergency medical services but was finally convinced by responders and her boyfriend that she needed to be checked out at a hospital.

“We pried the toilet seat off with a pry bar and the seat went with her to the hospital,” Whipple said. “The hospital removed it.”

Whipple said investigators planned to present their report Wednesday to the county attorney, who will determine whether any charges should be filed against the woman’s 36-year-old boyfriend.

“She was not glued. She was not tied. She was just physically stuck by her body,” Whipple said. “It is hard to imagine. … I still have a hard time imagining it myself.”

He told investigators he brought his girlfriend food and water, and asked her every day to come out of the bathroom.

“And her reply would be, `Maybe tomorrow,”‘ Whipple said. “According to him, she did not want to leave the bathroom.”

The boyfriend called police on Feb. 27 to report that “there was something wrong with his girlfriend,” Whipple said, adding that he never explained why it took him two years to call.

Police found the clothed woman sitting on the toilet, her sweat pants down to her mid-thigh. She was “somewhat disoriented,” and her legs looked like they had atrophied, Whipple said.

“She said that she didn’t need any help, that she was OK and did not want to leave,” he said.

She was taken to a hospital in Wichita, about 150 miles southeast of Ness City. Whipple said she has refused to cooperate with medical providers or law enforcement investigators.

Authorities said they did not know if she was mentally or physically disabled.

Police have declined to release the couple’s names, but the house where authorities say the incident happened is listed in public records as the residence of Kory McFarren. No one answered his home phone number.

The case has been the buzz Ness City, said James Ellis, a neighbor.

“I don’t think anybody can make any sense out of it,” he said.

Ellis said he had known the woman since she was a child but that he had not seen her for at least six years.

He said she had a tough childhood after her mother died at a young age and apparently was usually kept inside the house as she grew up. At one time the woman worked for a long-term care facility, he said, but he did not know what kind of work she did there.

“It really doesn’t surprise me,” Ellis said of the bathroom incident. “What surprises me is somebody wasn’t called in a bit earlier.”


Midweek Freebie Deals!

This week there are:

(All at Target)

free string cheese–print target coupon for .50 off 2 Market Pantry cheeses.  Target sells string cheese individually for .25 each.  Buy 2, get both free!

free animal crackers–Print the Target coupon for $1 off 2 Nabisco cookies.  Use on 2 boxes animal crackers @ .50 each.

free excedrin–Target has it on sale this week for $1.97, with $2 off coupons in this weekend’s paper.

free tylenol–$1 off Tylenol printable, Target has them for .97 each in the trial sizes.

free condoms–$2 off Any Durex product, Target and other stores have them in trial sizes under $2.

All of these Target coupons can be printed at Target or HotCouponWorld.

Looks like its time to stock up on some basics!

Stockpiling is a key ingredient to really saving big $$ with coupons.  When you see a deal on something you use regularly–cheese (which freezes), cookies, medicines, cereals, shampoos, etc, stock up on it.  My rule of thumb is:

25-40% off–get a few

50-70% off–get 6 months worth

75-100% off–get a year’s worth

For example, several months back Kellogg’s cereal was on sale at Target for $2.33 a box.  There was a manufacturer coupon for $1 off any box, and a Target coupon for $1 off any box.  That brought my total down to .33 a box.  Now, that’s a substantial savings on Fruit Loops, Apple Jacks, Raisin Bran, etc.  I bought 20 boxes at that price–$6.70 plus taxes–enough for about 6-8 months.  Enough to last through their expiration date.  Recently there were baby wipes for free at Target–I have enough for a year or two.  I have stockpiles of laundry detergent, dish detergent, fabric softener, cat food, toilet paper, paper towels, juice, diapers, wipes, cake mixes, candy, soda, boxed potatoes, spaghetti sauce, shampoo, toothpaste and more.  I have enough of each of those things to last me 6 months.   I didn’t buy all of those at once–instead, it was a month by month, week by week collection.


Decisions, Decisions…The OH/TX countdown…

Who to vote for?  That’s a decision being made by millions of Ohioans and Texans tonight.  For the nomination hangs in the balance of tomorrow’s primaries.

I get asked a LOT for my opinion.  And I have to say that while I have a lot of opinions, I have no defining one on whom to vote for.

Obama, Obama, he makes my heart go pitter patter when he speaks.  He whispers all those sweet nothings that idealists and Democrats love to hear.  He is a gifted speaker than can sweep the crowd under his spell.  And when he speaks, I too am under his spell.  However, when I wake the next morning, and reason begins to creep in, I have several questions.  Who is Tony Rezko to you?  And if he’s such a good friend, a known lobbyist and fundraiser, and someone you have no trouble doing business with, how can you say you are against the ‘status quo?’  Obama, darling, you make lots of great speeches and wonderful promises, you condemn when it comes to Iraq, yet what have you actually done to change it?  Speeches are nice, they’re lovely, but they are not action.  You ran for Senate on a promise of changing things.  You’ve been there three years–what have you done to change things? Show me these things, my dear, and I will happily give you my token, my vote.

Yet, Obama, he gives me hope.  I had long ago lost  hope that the masses would again care about politics.  That young adults would ever be swept along into making a difference, away from their apathy.  And what do I see?  Masses out for Obama.  Its simply stunning, its beautiful!  It makes me dream again!   But I’m not sure its enough.

Hillary, I don’t want to like you.  I’ve respected you for many years, since 1992 when I met you in a parking lot on a campaign stop.  There I was, an idealistic 20 year old, volunteering on my first campaign ever, and eagerly awaiting just a glimpse of you and Bill.  And what did you do?  You picked me out of a crowd, you talked with me, woman to woman, as if it was the most natural thing ever.  You treated me like a woman instead of a girl holding a sign, and that wasn’t something that happened too often in the political realm.  And since then, I’ve respected you.  But, your campaign annoys me.  I cannot explain it, but the assumptions made early on really annoyed me.

Still, when I put aside my annoyances and listen to you, when I listen to reason, I can’t help but be swayed by you.  You are warm and caring, yet tough.  You have amazingly great ideas.  And while others were just dreaming of making a change, you were out doing it.  I remember back to that meeting in 1992, when we talked about families and children, about health care and feminism.  And when your husband was elected, you took your opportunities to make a difference in those worlds.  I was proud that you were my first lady, even when I wasn’t so proud of our President.  I remember the trip to China to talk about Women’s rights.  I remember the attempt at Health Care.  I remember the trips around the world when you represented all the men and women of America, teaching the world who and what we were.  Yes, you may have “only” been first lady, but the action you took with that “only” job, is well, frankly impressive.

And since January, I’ve been impressed with your campaign.  You’ve been frank, you’ve been positive, you’ve been clear, and you’ve been direct.  You’ve shown that you will not be easily knocked down, or back, and that false “spin” or innuendos will not stand.  You have been the kind of woman who I want my daughter to know more about.

While you’ve been an insider, you’ve used every year of your “insider” status to change things for the better.  As I review who you are and what you’ve done, I can see that you’ve used your status to slowly change things from the inside out.

So on paper, Hillary is my choice.  But a vote is much more than a paper, intellectual decision, isn’t it?  A vote is something more, its my saying “I believe in you.”  And Hillary, as much as I agree with her and think she’d be an excellent choice, I find myself hoping its Obama.  Because there is a hope and an optimism that surrounds his campaign.  A hope and an optimism that I haven’t seen in my lifetime.  And I hope that it continues, regardless of the outcome.


Idiots–Bill Cunningham. Enough said.

Plain and simple. Whomever at the McCain campaign decided that it was a good idea for Bill Cunningham to open for McCain, they’re an idiot. There is no way that McCain and Cunningham ever belong within 10 miles of each other–they are total opposites. In fact, if I didn’t know what an attention hound Cunningham is, I would be absolutely amazed he even agreed to be in the same airspace as McCain.

For those of you unfamiliar with Cunningham, think of every bad right-wing radio shock jock you’ve ever heard, then dial it up a notch or two and you’ve got Cunningham. Think UN conspiracies. That’s this wacko. He lives off making controversial statements.

So, here’s what Cunningham said at the rally in Cincinnati yesterday:

[kml_flashembed movie="http://www.youtube.com/v/URmQWS5jDg0" width="425" height="350" wmode="transparent" /]

Now, in McCain’s defense, he did denounce and publicly apologize for Cunningham’s remarks. I’m guessing he wasn’t in the room at the time Cunningham made them, because he didn’t apologize until after the rally was over.

Here’s Cunningham’s response:

[kml_flashembed movie="http://www.youtube.com/v/ROJIOEgQdn4" width="425" height="350" wmode="transparent" /]

He’s eating this up. He’s enjoying the national spotlight, and the fact that McCain looks bad. At least in his eyes.


Obama in Ohio, part 2

Here’s the second wonder I have about Obama…

If he’s raising this much money, and drawing in unheard of crowds at every rally, why the heck isn’t he blowing away Hillary on election day?

The man came to speak at the University of Cincinnati yesterday.  Lines were enormous.  Apparently 12,000 people showed up.  And its like that wherever he goes.  So, who are these 12,000 potential voters?  When Hillary has a rally, she has them in much smaller venues–say a few hundred people.  Same with McCain–a few hundred, maybe 1000 people at his rallies.  Its boggling–if this many people will stand out in the cold and snow to see Obama, why isn’t this race locked up anymore?

I know, I know, I sound like I’m not a fan of Obama’s.  Truth is, I’m not a big fan of Hillary’s either.  I want to vote for Obama, but something just isn’t right.  What he says is fantastic.  The man is a communication director’s dream.  Seriously, I watch him and think “Wow!!!  We got another one!”  (His speechmaking skills remind me of Bill Clinton’s–not in style, but in ability to draw in the listener into agreement with his ideas.)  Its a rare talent, and one I’m impressed by.

Hillary–well, I like Hillary.  She’s a woman fighting for causes I believe in.  She seems to know how to play the game.  But again, I come back to the idea that her candidacy was created by the media, and I just don’t like being manipulated by the media.  I come back to the fact that there are conservatives out there licking their lips, salivating at the carnage they will feed on when she becomes the nominee.

One last thought (more rambling, I know)–I like that Obama draws such large crowds.  That shows that large numbers of people are being drawn into the political process.   That makes my little heart go pitter patter, thinking of all the new voters, all the new activists drawn to the idea of Changing the world for the better.  If only I could believe that he will deliver…

The election is a week away.  I wonder what will happen…..


Lies, truths, and half-lies….the political game

I am a jumble of frustration this morning, and for once it isn’t directed at a particular candidate.   I’m frustrated with the news media, and with both candidates.

I know, that’s no surprise, but I’m fed up with the way they are manipulating americans.  We know better, yet we buy into their garbage hook line and sinker.

Forgive me if I ramble, but I’m annoyed.  At many things.

First, I do not know who I’m supporting.  First Richardson drops out, then Edwards.  So I’m left with Obama or Hillary.  I’ll start with Hillary–I like her, always have, but I have felt from the beginning that her campaign was created by the media 6 years ago, with their constant bleating that she would be running.  I feel that they created her candidacy in the first place, with their never-ending stories on how much the party insiders loved her.  Well, duh, of course we like her–she went to bat for us on Health care and other issues back before it was popular to be on the health care bandwagon.  But, and this is a big but, there are so many people who love to hate Hillary.  I have never felt her candidacy had much of a chance beyond the Democrat primaries.  And I have said from the very beginning (I said it here a year ago) that the media has planned this from day one–build up her candidacy, make her legitimate through the constant reporting on her candidacy (long before anyone else was even in the race, she was the “front runner”), just so they could watch her fall.  They wanted the feeding frenzy that is going on now.  Again, I’m not a Hillary supporter.  But to watch how they are tanking her candidacy right now, sickens me.  As Obama has risen, they have taken great pleasure in telling you over and over again how she is going to fail.  They no longer report evenly–its how Obama is soaring, and then how the stars must align just so for Hillary to win.  They dissect every nuance to make it appear a lot more important than it is.  This is the media, I’m used to it.  But, its seriously skewing the elections.  People who otherwise would have a choice to make, feel that they would be wasting their vote on her.  No one wants to align with a loser.  We all want to say we voted for the winner!  I feel sorry for her.  Because she is running a great campaign–she is talking about the issues, she is answering questions directly and forthrightly.  She isn’t taking abuse lying down, and she is being positive at the same time.  Its quite the campaign, and doesn’t deserve what its receiving.

Obama, Obama, I don’t know what to say about Obama.  I like his speeches.  He says the right things.  I’ve said here before that we are due for a President who will cast vision and bring the nation together.  This doesn’t mean agreeing on everything–that’s never happened before in our country.  But vision casting–that happens about every 20 years, and while we may disagree on the details, we agree on the vision.  And I think Obama is doing that.

My qualms come in wanting to know if he will deliver what he is promising.  And from what I’m seeing, I don’t know that he can.  He’s promising quite a lot.  I’ve sent out inquiries to his campaign and others, to know his record.  The best predictor of future behavior is past behavior.  So, I want to know, will he deliver?  Has he promised change before, and has he delivered it?  Give me specifics.  Frustratingly, no one is answering.  Or if they do, they tell me I’m asking them to predict the future, dodging the nuts and bolts of my question.  Here’s my counter–let’s say we elect him.   He swears the oath of office, and takes off running to accomplish his goal.  Obama, meet the brick wall.  See Obama slam his head against the brick wall over and over again.  Welcome to Washington, DC, the Pennsylvania Avenue end.  Now, if Obama is inexperienced, that is as far as he will get.  But, if he is experienced, if he’s built coalitions before, he will know how to go over the wall, how to go around it, how to dig tunnels under it, and how to knock holes in it.  Experience will give him those tools.  So, does he have experience?  I don’t know–no one will tell me!

There’s more, which I will continue tomorrow…..

If the Obama campaign would like to contact me, feel free.  I have 1,000 readers a week in the state of Ohio–I’ll let my readers know what I find!


NAFTA and Illegal Immigration

Hmmm, a very interesting article in the USA Today this week. It basically points to how NAFTA and political reforms via Vicente Fox (demonized by the conservatives) have improved the economy of Mexico, reducing the numbers of illegal immigrants coming into our country. Economic opportunity at home is beginning to rise above the economic opportunity here, the main draw for millions of hispanics coming into our country.

Its an interesting debate to have right now, considering how unpopular both NAFTA and illegal immigration are amongst unions, a large political force in the Democrat party. Looks like one evil (NAFTA, to them) is helping to solve the other.



In Mexico, an energized economy raises hopes


Manager Crescenciano Montiel supervises the installation of a fountain at the Valle Paraiso water park in Ixmiquilpan, Mexico. “Little by little, things have improved” in Mexico, he says.


Construction workers apply stucco at the 7,000-home Paseos de San Juan housing development in Zumpango, Mexico. The country is experiencing a housing boom as lenders make it easier for the growing middle class to get mortgages.
Construction workers apply stucco at the 7,000-home Paseos de San Juan housing development in Zumpango, Mexico. The country is experiencing a housing boom as lenders make it easier for the growing middle class to get mortgages.


</STRONG> A wasteland once used for evaporating chemicals from groundwater is now the site of the Las Americas mall in the Mexico City suburb of Ecatepec.

Shopping malls have multiplied: A wasteland once used for evaporating chemicals from groundwater is now the site of the Las Americas mall in the Mexico City suburb of Ecatepec.

IXMIQUILPAN, Mexico — As Mexicans risk their lives to illegally emigrate to the USA and shootouts among drug lords continue to dominate the news, it’s understandable why Mexico might be perceived as a place with little hope.

Yet in places such as this tourist town that caters to the burgeoning middle class outside Mexico City, many Mexicans say their future looks brighter than it has in generations.

On weekends, a line of Chevrolet hatchbacks and other inexpensive new cars snakes into parking lots at the town’s water-slide parks. There, tourists munch on $2 corn dogs, snap pictures with digital cameras and spend some of their modest incomes. Every year, their numbers grow, the town’s tourism department says. And every year, they have a little more to spend.

“The last five or six years have been good for Mexico,” says Crescenciano Montiel, 34, manager of the Valle Paraiso water park. “Little by little, things have improved.”

Such stories abound, involving Mexicans of all income levels. The economy is growing steadily, and poverty rates are declining significantly. Crime is down, public health and education levels are improving, and Mexico’s democracy is more robust than at any time in its history.

FIND MORE STORIES IN: United States | Arizona | San Diego | University of California | Chevrolet | Mexico City | Border Patrol | U.S.-Mexican | Institutional Revolutionary Party | Chiapas | National Autonomous University of Mexico | Wayne Cornelius

“The country is stronger than ever,” says Leon Krauze, a political author and television host in Mexico. “We have managed to overcome many of the political and economic tempests that used to threaten us.”

As the debate over illegal immigration percolates in the USA, there are hopes on both sides of the border that Mexico’s improving economy eventually will provide enough jobs to encourage significant numbers of Mexicans to stay and prosper in their country.

There are signs that’s starting to happen.

The brighter economic outlook in Mexico is one reason the number of migrants caught by U.S. border agents has declined 20% during the past year or so, although tighter border enforcement and the slowing U.S. economy also are factors, says Wayne Cornelius, a University of California, San Diego, specialist in Mexican migration.

Continued improvements in Mexico would be good for the U.S. economy, says Eduardo Lorà­a, an economist at the National Autonomous University of Mexico. Mexico bought $126 billion in U.S. goods between January and November last year, up 25% since 2004. Mexico likely would continue to buy more if its economy continued to improve, he says.

Reduced Mexican emigration and an increasingly stable government here also could ease turmoil along the U.S.-Mexican border, Krauze says. Immigrant smugglers have brought violence to the U.S. side, engaging in shootouts in the Arizona desert, attacking Border Patrol agents and kidnapping each other’s clients on U.S. soil.

“In terms of the tensions that are very evident as far as migration and the turmoil along the border, I would hope that, in a decade, if Mexico continues along this path and begins to see these microeconomic benefits, the United States would see a reduction in those areas,” Krauze says.

For now, though, problems remain.

Corruption and a feeble legal system are constraints on growth here, and there is still an acute shortage of well-paying jobs. And Mexico’s dependence on the United States for exports and cash remittances could leave it especially vulnerable to a U.S. recession.

Even so, Mexicans such as Montiel cite increasing examples of how their country is undergoing a slow but dramatic transformation.

Born into a farming family of 14 siblings in Ixmiquilpan, 70 miles north of Mexico City, Montiel says he could have headed to the USA like many of his relatives and neighbors.

Instead he went to college with a small scholarship, got a business degree and worked at a bank and insurance company. Montiel and his wife have one child, a 2-year-old daughter, a reflection of how Mexican families have become smaller in recent years, thanks in part to better planning. The fertility rate is 2.1 children per woman, on par with the U.S. rate and just enough to keep population levels stable.

In 2003, Montiel persuaded his family to build a water park on a corner of their 25-acre farm, using water from a thermal spring formerly used for irrigation. The park has five swimming pools, three water slides, a restaurant and a nine-room inn, and is visited by 800-1,500 people a month.

 

“We’ve been subsidizing it with our crops, but I think this year we’re going to break even,” Montiel says as he supervises installation of a faux-rock fountain topped with a fiberglass dolphin. “This is going to be the new family business.”

A stabilizing economy

Such displays of entrepreneurship and optimism were uncommon a decade ago, when Mexico was reeling from an economic meltdown and an armed uprising in the southern state of Chiapas. Banks collapsed nationwide under a mountain of unpaid loans.

Politically, Mexico was monopolized by the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI), which had used payoffs, intimidation and election fraud to rule the nation under a virtual one-party system since 1929.

But change was in the air.

The 1994 North American Free Trade Agreement opened a huge market for Mexican-made goods, spurring the construction of factories along the U.S. border.

Meanwhile, a new generation of government technocrats, many of them Ivy League graduates, began to tame the runaway public spending and inflation that had locked the Mexican economy in bust-and-boom cycles for generations.

In 2000, the conservative Vicente Fox became the first president from outside the PRI in seven decades. Under Fox and his successor, Felipe Calderà³n, inflation has averaged about 4% a year with no major financial meltdowns.

“The stability of the past decade-plus has allowed financial markets and banks to grow up. Mortgages exist now. People can get loans. There has been a birth of a middle class in Mexico,” says Gray Newman, head economist for Latin America at Morgan Stanley investment bank in New York.

Economic growth has been modest, averaging about 3% per year, but the greatest improvement in living standards among Mexico’s 103 million people has been seen among those of humble means — surprising, perhaps, given the historic gap between rich and poor.

“All of the international indicators show improvement,” Lorà­a says. “And it’s not just improvement in poverty. There’s improvement in equality as well.”

Mexico’s economy created roughly 950,000 jobs last year, according to the government.

That is a major improvement from a decade ago, when job growth was nearly flat, but still not quite enough to absorb the 1.1 million Mexicans who entered the workforce in 2007.

That disparity, plus the fact U.S. jobs often pay five times as much as those in Mexico, is a major reason why migrants continue crossing into the USA, Newman says.

However, if Mexico’s economy keeps growing at similar or slightly better rates, and if population growth continues to level out, then within a generation there might not be enough working-age people to fill its labor force, says Leonardo Martinez-Diaz, a Mexico specialist at the Brookings Institution, a Washington-based think tank.

Mexico “could go over the next 20 years from being an exporter of people to an importer of people,” Martinez-Diaz says. “That would be a pretty remarkable change.”

The emerging suburbs

Perhaps nothing is more emblematic of Mexico’s transformation than the rows of identical, low-cost houses growing like corn on the dusty plain in places such as Zumpango and Tecamac, north of Mexico City.

At the 7,000-home Paseos de San Juan subdivision, construction workers move in waves across the ground, seemingly unable to meet demand fast enough — one team pouring concrete, others applying stucco, running cable and installing windows.

At the sales office, former schoolteacher Manuel Navarro waited to pick up the keys to his new retirement home.

Navarro built his first house the traditional Mexican way: He saved a little money, bought some blocks and mortar and built it himself, one room at a time, over 15 years. Mexican cities are full of such half-finished homes.

Navarro’s new home — a two-bedroom, two-story concrete town house — cost him $41,200 with financing through a housing fund for government employees. “Who wants to wait 15 years for a house anymore?” he says.

In all, 1.2 million homes were purchased using mortgages in 2007, up from 476,788 in 2000. Most of the mortgages were arranged through Infonavit, a government-backed fund that has doubled its lending in seven years.

Navarro credits Mexico’s move to a multiparty democracy for the change.

“When the PRI was in power, you could get housing credit from the government, but only if you were a party member or from a PRI town,” he says. “Things are more transparent now, more open to everybody.”

After decades in which big-ticket items had to be purchased with cash, credit is available for other purchases at terms more typical of developed countries.

At Abamex Chevrolet in Mexico City, supermarket clerk David Galvez, 20, and girlfriend Priscilla Torres were shopping for their first new car.

“I’ve pretty much decided on that one,” he says, pointing to a burgundy hatchback called the C2, which sells for $7,300.

Chevrolet was offering interest-free, 30-month financing to any buyer who supplied a 35% down payment.

A rapid transformation

At places such as Las Americas shopping mall, which opened two years ago on the site of an old chemical factory in the suburb of Ecatepec, many of the shoppers are a generation or two removed from peasants who lived the same way for centuries.

Its movie theater buzzes with people lining up to see the latest Will Smith flick, families shop for puppies at the pet store, and the food court is full of shoppers eating McDonald’s and Chinese fast food.

The transformation has been so rapid that some people — particularly those who lived through economic meltdowns in 1982 and 1994 — fear the prosperity could vanish just as quickly.

“People have houses and cars and things, but they’re in debt,” says Susana Hernà¡ndez, 34, between bites of an ice cream cone in the food court of the mall.

“I’m afraid a lot of people are going to be out on the street because they don’t know how to manage credit,” she says.

Some Mexicans are cynical about progress because of their country’s long history of high hopes followed by devastating crises, Krauze says.

“We are a country that loves its historical scars,” Krauze says. “People don’t listen to the good side of the story.”

Crime may be an example of how public perceptions have yet to catch up with reality.

The nationwide crime rate has been dropping steadily since 2001, according to the independent Citizens’ Institute for Studies on Insecurity. The murder rate has fallen 23% during the past decade.

Such good news, though, has been overshadowed by the drug war in cities along the U.S. border.

Beheadings, shootouts in daylight and a wave of police killings have convinced many Mexicans their country is not safe.

“The middle class has grown, and the political situation is a little better,” says Csar Sumano, whose wife was carjacked outside a grocery store last year.

“But it’s still a hard country to live in. We’ve got a long way to go.”

Hawley is Latin America correspondent for The Arizona Republic and USA TODAY. Contributing: Brian Winter in McLean, Va.


Favorite Snow Day Recipes

This is one of my favorite recipes to make on snow days–Triple Mushroom Bisque–which we’ve had a lot of, recently.  This is hearty and warm and really fills you up with a lot of work.  One of my friends was asking for the recipe, so I’ve simply cut and pasted my response to her.

————

Easy Peasy–looks like a lot, but very simple. Even my brother in law can make it to impress the ladies, and he’s the tv dinner type. Here’s the link to it out of the magazine–below is my version from memory.

http://find.myrecipes.com/recipes/recipefinder.dyn?action=di
splayRecipe&recipe_id=224681

1 bunch of fresh thyme
2-3 small packages of gourmet mushrooms (ie, cremini, porcini, shitake, baby bellas, whatever you find)
1 block of cream cheese, light
1 cup of chicken stock
1/2 cup of red wine
1 tbsp balsamic vinegar
1 pkg wild rice mix (the microwave kind–or 1 cup boxed wild rice mix)
The dark meat off one roasted chicken (I roast chicken all the time and set aside the dark meat in the freezer for this recipe.)

Heat a stew pot/paella pan (those deep, rounded pans) with a tbsp or two of olive oil, and add the sliced mushrooms and the thyme. Saute until a sauce forms–the liquid will come out of the mushrooms and make this wonderful brown mushroom stock. Takes about 5-7 minutes. (it will smell really good at this point.) Add the balsamic vinegar and stir to coat the mushrooms with the sauce. Add the red wine, let reduce for a couple minutes, then add the chicken stock and the chicken. Let simmer on low/medium-low for about 30 minutes. Add cream cheese and stir. It will be blotchy (lots of little pieces floating)–let it simmer some more and stir every few minutes, the heat will dissolve the cream cheese. Add the wild rice mix and serve.

If its the microwave rice mix, add it five minutes before you serve. If its a regular rice mix, add it at the same time you add the cream cheese, and let it heat for 20-30 minutes.

The regular recipe calls for milk and flour–I never need it. This is a thick stew, especially as the rice absorbs broth and releases starch into the liquid.

Rule of thumb, the liquid should cover the mushrooms–just by a quarter inch or less. If you need more liquid, feel free to add equal parts wine and stock.

Serve with a hearty bread, like a Rosemary Focaccia, and a salad and you’ve got a meal.


Saturday’s Savings!

I’m adding a Saturday’s Savings because I’ve found three great coupons or deals I want to share with you! 

Before I do, let me offer a hearty welcome to all my ladies over at Cincymoms.com!  We here at Truthinpolitics made the front page!  Woohooo!!

Okay, back to the deals. 

 First–Visit BabiesRUs for a coupon for $5 off a $25 purchase, either online or instore.

Second–visit Sears.com and register for their email alerts and they’ll send you a $5 gift card in the mail!

Third–print this coupon for $2 off Live Active Cheeses.  Most are between $2.50 and $2.75, so this makes for some pretty cheap cheese!

Fourth–Free tokens at Chuck E Cheese–go to www.chuckecheese.com and sign up for their coupon offers–include your kids birthdays.  You’ll get an email for 20 free tokens for each kid.  And I’m told, that if you close the email and click the link again, it will give you more of the same coupon….with new expiration dates!  Also, check out this link for 20 free valentine tokens.

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Now, a repost of Friday’s Freebies:

A couple of small deals this week:

First, get a coupon for Free Flat Earth Chips .

Second, check out Meijer’s or Kroger’s for free Tostino’s Pizza Rolls.  They have them 10/$10 right now.  At www.coupons.com there is a coupon for .55 off one package.  It doubles at those stores to $1—making the pizza rolls free!  Score one for the kiddos in your life!

Enjoy!

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