Saturday, November 10, 2007

First Lady elected President of Argentina

By Evelyn Sigot Pavón

ENTRE RIOS PROVINCE, ARGENTINA -- Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner, First Lady of Argentina, was elected president of the country on Sunday, Oct. 28, and will take office on Dec. 10, 2007. With more than 44 % of the vote, Fernandez de Kirchner is the first woman to be elected in the history of Argentine presidential elections.

It’s not a secret that Argentina suffered a very serious political and economic crisis in 2001. By December of that year, the effect of neo-liberalism on Argentine politics involved a financial crisis.

Unemployment and poverty were rising. The country had to face up to an increasing devaluation of money caused by inflation. Public sector salaries were not paid; the country's foreign debt was growing while payments were suspended. According to INDEC (National Institute of Statistics and Census), as of October 2001, more than 35 % of the population of Buenos Aires was below the poverty line.* In 2002 that number increased to 50 %, and the rate of unemployment was about 22%.

Nestor Kirchner, now president of Argentina, took office in May 2003. In that year, the country showed a reduced unemployment rate; and the poverty line decreased from 54.3% (Oct. 2002) to 51.7% (May 2003).

Four years passed. In July 2007 Kirchner decided not to run for the presidency again: His wife announced her candidacy. Many people thought that it was a strategy.

Another election took place on Oct. 28, 2007. That event had been a hot topic of conversation for months. The atmosphere was tense, and the opposition leaders have questioned the validity of the elections. They accused Nestor Kirchner’s government of probable fraud to guarantee a victory in the first round for the official candidate, Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner. Under Argentina's election law, a second round (ballotage) may be held between the two candidates who receive the highest percentage of votes in the first round. When a candidate obtains a majority of 45 % of the votes or 40% with a 10% lead over the closest rival, there is no ballotage. A 21 percent lead over her closest rival, Elisa Carrio, allowed Fernandez de Kirchner to win in the first round of voting.

More than 27 million Argentines voted on Oct. 28 and had to decide among 14 candidates for president.

Polls indicated three favorites among the candidates:

· Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner. Lawyer. 54 years old. Leader of the Front for Victory. She proposed, if elected, to go on with the economic model of industrialism, economic accumulation -- based on Argentina's internal market growth, exports and social inclusion. This accumulation must favor people and fight against poverty. She also proposed to continue with the State benefit policy. (The government subsidizes companies in order to benefit the consumers and control the cost of services.) The benefits are given to private- and state-owned companies to alleviate the electrical, agricultural and transport crisis and make it possible for companies to satisfy the increasing consumer demand for their services. She assured people that she will control prices in an attempt to slow down inflation.

Cristina has promised to fight against poverty and social injustice and to reinforce democratic institutions like the Congress and the Court System.

· Elisa Carrio (22.9% of votes). 50 years old. Lawyer. Leader of the Civic Coalition. She denounces corruption and looks for transparency. She proposed to restructure the INDEC (The present government was accused of manipulating statistics). She wanted to change the State benefits system so that every mother would receive money according to the number of children. Her aim was to fight against drug consumption. She promised to guarantee the independence of judges.

· Roberto Lavagna (16.8% of votes). 65 years old. Ex-Minister of Economy under the Kirchner government between 2003 and 2005. He said he planned to fight against crime, poverty and unemployment. He promised to dismantle the Kirchner government's price controls that aggravate inflation instead of solving the problem.**

It is perfectly understandable that people chose the First Lady as President of the Republic. People expect her to go on with the policies of Nestor Kirchner, improving the country's productivity and economic growth as her husband did when Argentina went into the worst recession and economic crisis of its history in 2001.

In fact, in the last few years, Argentina's economy has improved, but not for all social sectors. In September 2007, Argentina's economy expanded 9.2% compared to the same period last year.*** However, basic consumer goods registered an increase of prices. People all over the country accuse INDEC of being manipulated by pro-government forces trying not to blemish the First Lady's presidential campaign.

Employees that resigned from INDEC have confirmed actual inflation that is not being shown by the Institute of Statistics.

Under President Nestor Kirchner, Argentina has undergone development but has not overcome poverty, public crimes and violence. Citizens are worried about insecurity. They filled the streets of many cities in the country, demanding more effective governmental action to stop government corruption, inequality, violence and crimes.

More than 40% of Argentines have chosen the same kind of government to handle the destiny of our country for the next four years. The people will have to face increasing inflation and insecurity.

Recently I watched our new president, Cristina, on a TV program on Argentina's Channel 7. Convinced of what she was saying, she argued that there was an increase in consumption and a decrease in the poverty index.

I do agree about the development of Argentina in comparison with a few years ago, but I think that when Mrs. Kirchner talked about consumption she was referring to consumers spending hours shopping in commercial centers in middle- or upper-class neighborhoods.

You only have to travel across the country to see misery -- millions of families under the poverty line, with no guarantee of health or education benefits. It seems to be a country of privileges and inclusion for some and exclusion for others. While poor people don’t have insurance, food or a safe place to go, upper-class Argentines build their ostentatious castles in private neighborhoods.

Goods consumption has increased but is paid in monthly installments. Salaries have increased, but inflation is reflected in salary adjustments.

It’s time to learn more about ourselves before we vote again. Certainly, there is something to do in all this. Make efforts and do not be afraid of changes. Think rationally and realize that voting is a way to exercise politics, but not the only one. Demand, participate in public issues, discuss. Democracy is a political and social construction, and we are the essential part of it.

* Click here for source of these statistics.

** Information taken from Reuters.com (Argentina)

*** Click here for these statistics.

Editor's note: Keweenaw Now guest author Evelyn Sigot Pavón is a student at the National University of Entre Ríos (Universidad Nacional de Entre Ríos) in Argentina. She is completing a degree in Social Communications with a specialization in Cultural Process. Evelyn is also working on ecology issues with M'Biguá, a non-governmental organization in Paraná, in Entre Ríos Province, Argentina. See her previous article for Keweenaw Now, "Pulp mill built by Finnish company stirs controversy on Uruguay-Argentina border," posted on this blog Oct. 8, 2007.

Thursday, November 08, 2007

MTU Prof. James Mihelcic Named to EPA Science Advisory Board Committee

HOUGHTON -- Michigan Tech University Professor James R. Mihelcic of the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering has accepted an invitation from EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) Administrator Stephen Johnson to serve a three-year appointment on EPA's Science Advisory Board Environmental Engineering Committee.

The Science Advisory Board -- comprised of non-governmental expert scientists, engineers and economists -- provides scientific advice to the the EPA administrator and several Congressional committees, including the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works and House of Representative Committees on Science and Technology, Interstate and Foreign Commerce, and Public Works and Transportation.

James Mihelcic, MTU professor of civil and environmental engineering and former co-director of the Sustainable Futures Institute (SFI) , chats with Qiong (Jane) Zhang, post-doctoral researcher and SFI operations manager, during the September 2006 SFI poster session. (Keweenaw Now file photo © 2006 Michele Anderson)

Mihelcic was a founding member of the Sustainable Futures Institute (SFI), where he served as co-director for several years. He has directed the Peace Corps Master's International Program in Civil and Environmental Engineering since its creation in 1997. He is also a founding member of the Michigan Tech Engineering Development for Humanity "D80" Center, which is dedicated to assisting the most vulnerable 80 percent of humanity in meeting their basic needs for food, water, shelter, sanitation, waste disposal, energy, income and education.

He researches ways in which biological processes can be applied to natural and engineered systems, green engineering and sustainability, water scarcity and its impact on human health, and water/sanitation/hygiene issues of the developing world. Read more on Tech Today.

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

(Updated) Hancock City Council to meet Nov. 7 (meeting date changed)

By Michele Anderson

HANCOCK -- The Hancock City Council will hold its regular November meeting at 7:30 p.m. on Wednesday, Nov. 7, in the City Hall council chambers. The date was changed from Nov. 21 to avoid interfering with deer hunting season. The meeting will be preceded by a work session at 6:30 p.m. and, at 7 p.m., the Annual Organizational Meeting, which will include election by the Council of a mayor and a mayor pro-tem for a one-year term.

The present Mayor, Barry Givens, and the present Mayor Pro-tem, Bill Laitila, are both eligible for re-election.

The public is invited to address the Council with any concerns during the public comment period at the beginning of the regular meeting.

At the Oct. 17 City Council meeting, the administrative report included mention of a legal Opinion on City Park Land Description in the form of a letter from City Attorney Don Hiltunen. City Manager Glenn Anderson sought the legal opinion in response to comments and letters from local residents concerned about a potential sale of city-owned acreage in Government Lot 5, which includes land along Swedetown Creek and waterfront property on the Portage Waterway. Many residents have addressed the Council with the request that the area of Government Lot 5 near Swedetown Creek be preserved as a public park and recreation area.

The letter from Hiltunen states, in part, "Section 14.3 of the Charter indicates that all property purchased or sold by the City must be approved by 5/7 of the Council. This section also states that no existing park after adoption of this Charter (August 2, 1988) may be sold unless approved by the majority of electors."

Noting that no new parks have been created by the Council since Aug. 2, 1988, Hiltunen also points out that since the Charter or Ordinances do not mention "how land is to be a park," a majority vote of the City Council would be needed to determine this.

Potential park at Swedetown Creek offers community stewardship opportunities

Evan McDonald, executive director of the Keweenaw Land Trust, has offered comments at recent City Council and Planning Commission meetings concerning the possibility of establishing a nature park at the mouth of Swedetown Creek. At the Oct. 17 City Council meeting, he addressed the Council with several suggestions for community stewardship of such a park.

"I am pleased to learn that there may be a simple and effective way for the City Council to establish a nature park at the mouth of Swedetown Creek," McDonald said. "I hope you can begin your deliberations to accomplish this goal. Establishment of a Swedetown Creek Nature Park with broad community involvement could be a tremendous cooperative success. With the City's commitment and partnership, the Council could accept the offer made by the Copper Country Audubon Club to provide financial support and volunteer assistance to effectively steward that nature park."

Terry Monson, a member of the Hancock Planning Commission, said it appeared to him that the Council has tabled the potential land sale and he was glad to hear of the Audubon Club’s offer of funds and stewardship.

"I voted against the sale of the property and the compromise division of the property," Monson said, "and I’m hopeful that the Audubon Club takes it on as a project."

McDonald also mentioned other community resources for stewardship of a City nature park.

He noted a proposal by the Western UP Center for Math, Science and Environmental Education and the Copper Country Intermediate School District to establish the Lake Superior Stewardship Initiative.

"This effort would establish community partnerships with the K-12 schools to learn about and protect natural resources in the area," McDonald explained. "Students could learn about important habitats like the Swedetown Creek and the fragile wetland habitats nearby and then take action in partnership with community organizations to restore or enhance those habitats to contribute to the overall health of Lake Superior."

McDonald also mentioned The Michigan Tech University Wetlands Society, a student organization looking to raise public awareness about the importance of wetlands. A nature park at Swedetown Creek could be a community project that would offer their group opportunities for resource stewardship, habitat restoration and public education, he said.

Noting the Keweenaw Land Trust recently hosted the regional Boy Scouts Rendezvous, with special emphasis on learning about the stewardship needs of nature preserves and parks in the area, McDonald indicated the Hancock troop might also be interested in participating in stewardship at Swedetown Creek.

"Learning about proper trail construction and maintenance, controlling invasive plants and restoring vegetation is a way the Scouts can help the public enjoy natural areas in a sustainable way," McDonald said. "Our hope is that the Hancock Scouts will adopt the Nature Park at Swedetown and apply their new skills to benefit the entire community."

Council to research documents related to Swedetown Creek issue

At the Sept. 19 City Council meeting, Pat Toczydlowski addressed the Council concerning a 1941 deed from the State of Michigan that conveyed the property to the City for $1 with the understanding that it be used solely for park and recreational purposes. The deed included a reversion clause that provided for returning the land to the State of Michigan should it not be used for these purposes.

Toczydlowski also noted that while a May 2003 Quit Claim Deed reversed the reverter clause of the original deed, the City, in accepting the deed, is bound to use the land for recreation while owning it, sell the property for fair value only when the city no longer needs the land and report to the State how sale proceeds are to be handled by the County Treasurer.

"Need is not defined and could serve as a basis for a lawsuit regarding a sale for other than park and recreational purposes," Toczydlowski added.*

So far the Government Lot 5 land sale issue does not appear to be on the Agenda for the Nov. 7 meeting.

Lisa McKenzie, councilor at large, explained that the City needs to research the issue with professional assistance.

"The Council members are interested in finding out what all the documents mean (including the two deeds and the City Charter) and what the City’s responsibilities are in regards to these documents," McKenzie said.

Old Business to be discussed at the Nov. 7 meeting includes, among several items, a design update on the Water Project, a Leak Detection Report, and information on the MSHDA (Michigan State Housing Development Authority) Rental Rehab Program.

Under New Business, the Council will consider adoption of a Resolution declaring intent to issue Revenue Bonds and a declaration of Intent to reimburse for $3,550,000 the Water Bond issue at 2.5% interest. Council members will also consider appointing Bill Laitila, councilor and present mayor pro-tem, as City Council Representative to the Portage Lake Water and Sewer Authority Board to fill the unexpired term of Barbara Clark.

* See our Oct. 16, 2007, article "Hancock's Swedetown Creek area may become public park, following 1941 deed."


Sunday, November 04, 2007

Citizens for Progressive Change to show film Nov. 8

HANCOCK -- Copper Country Citizens for Progressive Change is sponsoring a film titled What a Way to Go: Life at the End of Empire: how a middle class guy came to grips with Peak Oil, Climate Change, Mass Extinctions, Population Overshoot, and the demise of the American lifestyle.

It will be shown at 6 p.m. Thursday, Nov. 8, at the Daily Grind Coffee House, located at the Finlandia Portage Campus in Hancock. Free admission. For information call 482-3270.