<\body> Stories in America: December 2007

Saturday, December 29, 2007

As the $15 Billion occupations in Iraq and Afghanistan continue...

The number of people hungry and homeless in US cities rose dramatically again in 2007, according to the annual report on hunger and homelessness from the US Conference of Mayors. The 23-city Hunger and Homelessness Survey was released in late December.

Requests for emergency food increased in four of every five cities. Among 15 cities with quantifying data, the median increase in requests for food was 10 percent and in some cities it was much higher. Detroit and some other cities reported seeing more working poor among those seeking food.

In Detroit, emergency food requests shot up 35 percent over the 12-month period ending in October. Officials there noted that “due to a lack of resources, emergency food assistance facilities have had to reduce the number of days and/or hours of operation.”

Thirteen of 19 survey cities reported they could not meet the demand for emergency food. Los Angeles was one of the major cities reporting difficulties in serving the growing need.

An official in LA said: “Emergency food assistance facilities have to turn away people. According to the LA Regional Foodbank, over 30 percent of their food pantries have had to turn clients away and pantries that don’t turn clients away are providing less food.

“In 2002, a food pantry would provide an average of eight to ten different USDA commodities per distribution. This holiday season, food pantries are providing three USDA commodities. Food pantries are tasked to serve more clients with the same amount of resources they had six years ago. Twenty-one percent of overall demand for emergency food assistance goes unmet.”

Across all cities, an average of 15 percent of families with children looking for emergency food must be turned away. Nine in 10 of the cities sampled for details on the urban hunger crisis say they expect increases in food requests next year.
City officials said specific factors exacerbating hunger over the past year were the foreclosure crisis, the high prices of food and gasoline, and the lack of affordable housing. Decreased social benefits such as public assistance and the eroding value of food stamps were also listed as particularly acute problems. Lack of donated food and commodities and insufficient funding were listed as the most important reason for turning away the hungry.

Economic issues such as unemployment and poverty along with high housing and medical costs were most cited by responding cities as the major causes of chronic hunger. Substance abuse and mental illness were the least cited.

Friday, December 28, 2007

Men dominate UK newsrooms

From the Guardian:
The journalists making key editorial decisions at newspapers and broadcasters are overwhelmingly male, according to a survey published today.

The Fawcett Society, which campaigns for equality and published the research, said the media was missing out on a "huge pool" of female talent.

Its study showed that only two out of the 17 national newspapers editors were women - the Sun's Rebekah Wade and Tina Weaver of the Sunday Mirror - while there was just one female deputy editor, Jane Johnson of the News of the World.

It also found that while 15 out of 34 radio and TV presenters were women, just one out of 17 news programme editors were female.

The study said the problem extended to reporting at Westminster, where one in five MPs are female.

Only 26% of political journalists registered at the House of Commons - 104 out of 395 - were women, the society said, while just two out of the 16 political editors of national newspapers were female.

Katherine Rake, the director of the Fawcett Society, said viewers, listeners and readers were "missing out" because women were under-represented in the media.

"Women must not only be presenting the news, they must be making the decisions that determine what gets broadcast in the first place.

"We now need to see positive steps taken to make sure that women can break through the glass ceiling and fulfil their potential at the highest level.

"We know that women are more dissatisfied with politics and feel more disengaged from the political agenda.

"Women need to play an equal role in setting the political agenda, both in parliament itself and within the political media. This research shows just how far there is to go until that is achieved."

Thursday, December 27, 2007

This is what democracy in the United States looks like...

From MediaBistro:
We couldn't help but notice that, during yesterday's press conference by President Bush, he did not (for the first time in a weally long time) call on CNN, making CNN's Ed Henry and Helen Thomas (who almost never gets called on by Bush) the only two front-row journos not to be called on.

Any reason why? Who knows (an email to the White House went unreturned), but the conspiracy theorist in us wonders if it the snub is perhaps punishment for CNN's tough questions to Dana Perino in recent days over the CIA videotape case.

Take a look at this transcript at cnn.com of Henry's Wednesday package (one day before the president's presser, by the way) about how Perino is handling questions about the CIA tape case.

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

I'm mad as hell...

I love this clip. Happy Holidays...

Sunday, December 23, 2007

Lakota Indians withdraw from U.S. treaties

The treaties signed with the United States are merely "worthless words on worthless paper," the Lakota freedom activists say on their website.

The treaties have been "repeatedly violated in order to steal our culture, our land and our ability to maintain our way of life," the reborn freedom movement says.

"We have 33 treaties with the United States that they have not lived by. They continue to take our land, our water, our children," Phyllis Young, who helped organize the first international conference on indigenous rights in Geneva in 1977, told the news conference.

The US "annexation" of native American land has resulted in once proud tribes such as the Lakota becoming mere "facsimiles of white people," said Means.

Oppression at the hands of the US government has taken its toll on the Lakota, whose men have one of the shortest life expectancies -- less than 44 years -- in the world.

Lakota teen suicides are 150 percent above the norm for the United States; infant mortality is five times higher than the US average; and unemployment is rife, according to the Lakota freedom movement's website.

"Our people want to live, not just survive or crawl and be mascots," said Young.

"We are not trying to embarrass the United States. We are here to continue the struggle for our children and grandchildren," she said, predicting that the battle would not be won in her lifetime.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Alive in Baghdad

This is a great site giving average Iraqis a voice. It seems as if Iraq has all but disappeared in the American media, even on the 'progressive' blogs.

Sites like Alive in Baghdad are more important than ever. Listen to Iraqis tell their stories and donate if you feel like assisting Iraqi journalists.

Sadly, Ali Shafeya, a journalist for Alive in Baghdad, was killed on December 14th, two days before his 23rd birthday.

Iraqi Refugees at Work in Syria:
Damascus, Syria - Although there are many reports of Iraqis returning to Baghdad, there are still hundreds of thousands of refugees and resident Iraqis struggling to get by in Syria. This week Hayder Fahad brings you some of their stories.

There are so many refugees still in Syria, that the UNHCR has just begun distributing financial aid to refugees as of Sunday the 16th. Alive in Baghdad has written stories previously about Iraqi refugees in Syria, this week we focus not on the reasons why they have left, but how they get by. It is illegal for Iraqis to work in Syria, but the underground economy of Iraqi workers is thriving.

Despite this, many Iraqis are still without work, and many more cannot afford to pay their bills even with the small incomes they do make. Iraqis are filling some of the traditionally least desired jobs, particularly that of janitors, and others are forced to engage in sexwork and prostitution. Many Iraqis are choosing to remain in a desperate state in Syria, despite reports from Baghdad that unemployment is down and refugees are returning.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Liberal Media

From the Center for Economic and Policy Research:
A new study has found that C-SPAN overwhelmingly favors conservative think tanks in its coverage by a three-to-one margin over all left-of-center think tanks. The paper, “Tilting Rightward: C-SPAN’s Coverage of Think Tanks,” by the Center for Economic and Policy Research (CEPR), found that conservatives received 44 percent of total think tank coverage, while conservative/libertarian received another 7 percent, for a right-wing majority of 51 percent. Everything left of center received only 18 percent, with center-left and progressive think tanks garnering 13 percent and 5 percent, respectively. Centrist think tanks got the rest of the coverage.

“C-SPAN is failing to live up to its mission of providing ‘a balanced presentation of points of view,’” said Mark Weisbrot, Co-Director of CEPR and co-author of the study. “In a significant amount of its coverage – events and analysis by influential organizations shaping policy – C-SPAN is presenting opinions that, most of the time, are far to the right of most Americans. It is also lopsided by any common definition of the political spectrum, with a very large bias toward the right.”

The media on torture

Isn't it amazing that the media are still asking if the U.S. tortures? I'd like to read the psychological assessments of the torturers:
Today, a Democracy Now! broadcast exclusive. A victim of the CIA rendition program-kidnapped, held in secret jails and tortured-speaks out in his own words. His name is Mohamed Farag Ahmad Bashmilah, one of hundreds of men to have passed through the CIA's so-called "black sites." Today, he tells his story.

"When we arrived at the airport, they took me to a hall. And without any precautions or anything, I felt that I was being pulled violently by some other people. They took me to another room. They started tearing down my clothes, from above all the way down. And I was being stripped completely naked. They started taking pictures from all directions. And they also started to beat me on my sides and also my feet. And then they put me in a position similar to the position of prostration in Muslim prayer, which is similar to the fetal position. And in that position, one of them inserted his finger in my anus very violently. I was in terrible pain, and I started to scream. When they started taking pictures, I could see that they were people who were masked. They were dressed in black from head to toe, and they were also wearing surgical gloves."

Monday, December 17, 2007

Life on earth

"Nothing will benefit human health and increase chances of survival for life on earth as much as the evolution to a vegetarian diet."
-Albert Einstein, physicist, Nobel Prize 1921

Thursday, December 13, 2007

New Jersey abolishes the death penalty

From Human Rights Watch:
The New Jersey General Assembly today passed legislation abolishing capital punishment and replacing it with life imprisonment. Governor Jon Corzine has said he will sign the legislation, making New Jersey the first US state in more than 40 years to legislatively abolish the death penalty.

David Fathi, director of the US program at Human Rights Watch, is available for comment.

“This is an historic day,” said Fathi. “The elected representatives of a US state have definitively rejected the death penalty. We urge other states to follow New Jersey’s example and abolish this cruel and archaic punishment.”

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

A Wal-Mart Christmas

Thanks to the National Labor Committee for their amazing work:
At Wal-Mart, Christmas ornaments are cheap, and so are the lives of the young workers in China who make them.

The Guangzhou Huanya Gift company describes itself as being “among the top three Christmas ornament producers in mainland China,” with “long term, friendly, collaborative relationships with industry leaders Wal-Mart…” There are 8,000 workers in the factory.

At the Guangzhou Ornaments factory, every single labor law in China, along with internationally recognized worker rights standards, are being systematically violated on a daily basis.

Grueling Hours:

Ten to 12 to 15-hour shifts, seven days a week are the norm during the long, eight-month busy season. Workers can go for months without a single day off. At a minimum, workers are at the factory an average of 84 ¼ hours a week, while toiling 77 hours. However, at least half the workers, some 4,000 people, are routinely at the factory 105 ¼ hours a week and working 95 hours, including 55 hours of overtime, which exceeds China’s legal limit by 562 percent. Any working daring to take a Sunday off will be docked 2 ½ days’ wages as punishment.

Workers were pressured to sign a “voluntary” Overtime Application Form in which they “agree” to work more than three hours overtime a day, to work on Saturdays, Sundays and holidays, and with no guaranteed minimum wage or overtime premium.

Cheated of their wages:

The legal minimum wage in Guangzhou, China is 55 cents an hour, but factory management respects neither the minimum wage nor the mandatory overtime premium. Workers are paid by a piece rate, with some workers earning just 26 cents an hour, which is half the legal wage. Wage documents smuggled out of the factory for a ten-day period (June 21-30, 2007, which included two Saturdays and one Sunday) show the workers earning a median wage of 49 cents an hour, while by law they should have been earning at least 68 cents an hour. For working a minimum of 110 hours in the ten day period, the workers were paid just $49.29 instead of the $74.77 they were legally owed. On average, the workers were cheated of $25.48—one third of the wages legally due them. Only eight percent of the workers in the sample earned at or above the legal minimum wage, with 92 percent falling below that.

Management also illegally withholds one month’s wages from each worker, making it almost impossible for workers to leave the factory without forfeiting that month’s wages.

High School Students Blow the Whistle on Wal-Mart:

In the summer of 2007, the Guangzhou Huanya Ornaments factory hired 500 to 600 sixteen-year-old high school students, who were promised they would never be required to work more than 10 hours a day, six days a week, while earning more than 1,000 RMB ($132.63) a month. Once in the factory, the teenagers found themselves forced to work 12 to 14 hours a day, seven days a week, for wages nowhere near what they were promised. After a few weeks, many students were so exhausted they could barely walk.

The students had had enough and went on strike on July 8, also filing a legal suit against the company. Student representatives went to the local labor bureau not only to denounce the grueling hours, seven days a week, for payment below the legal minimum wage, but also to inform the labor officials that several children, some as young as 12 years of age, worked in the plant. The high school teenagers were able to quickly recognize and document gross human and worker rights violations, including child labor, at the plant, while Wal-Mart—the largest retailer in the world—was apparently unable to discover any such abuses over the course of years.

The 12 and 13-year-old workers hired during the summer were required to work the same 10, 12 and 15-hour shifts, seven days a week, as the older workers, including the all-night shifts from 5:45 p.m. until 6:30 a.m. or later the following morning.

Workers Handling Potentially Dangerous Chemicals:

Workers in the Spray Paint department lack even the most rudimentary protective gear—going without gloves or the cheapest disposable respiratory masks—while handling potentially dangerous paints, “gold” dust, thinners and solvents. Workers who develop serious skin rashes or sores have no choice but to leave the factory, as management will not pay medical bills or for days missed.

The Real Ornament is China’s Labor Laws:

The Christmas ornament workers are in a trap. Few workers know the labor law, and even if they do they have no idea what avenues to pursue to seek their rights. Nor are there independent unions to help them. Local labor bureaus are passive at best, and sometimes corrupt. Either way, there is little aggressive monitoring of factories known to be engaging in illegal behavior.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Even more progress in Iraq

The Iraqi government has ordered all policewomen to hand in their guns for redistribution to men or face having their pay withheld, thwarting a U.S. initiative to bring women into the nation's police force.

....Critics say the move is the latest sign of the religious and cultural conservatism that has taken hold in Iraq since Saddam Hussein's ouster ushered in a government dominated by Shiite Muslims. Now, that tendency is hampering efforts to bring stability to Iraq by driving women from the force, said U.S. Army Brig. Gen. David Phillips, who has led the effort to recruit female officers.

Monday, December 10, 2007

Michael Vick gets 23 months in prison

Speaking of animals, I thought this was a great quote (forgot the origin...I read it a few weeks ago).

Thousands of people were shocked about the oil spill and did what they could to save the birds, yet on Thanksgiving, they had no problem slicing a turkey with a knife.

Saturday, December 08, 2007

Made in China

According to Jeff Ballinger, a labor studies professor at Webster University and an expert on sweatshops, Chinese workers only earn about one percent of the retail price of the clothing they produce. The Chinese workers who produce a Nike sneaker that costs $70 in American stores earn only 60 to 80 cents per sneaker, Ballinger said. He added that doubling that wage would bring Chinese workers up from that subsistence level to a “living wage” by Chinese standards. If Nike passed that wage increase on to U.S. consumers, the retail price of that sneaker would increase from $70 to no more than $71. Just like Obama said, a “little bit” more.

Ballinger calculates that Nike could afford to double the wages of the estimated 160,000 workers who produce its sneakers around the world — about 40% of them in China — without raising the consumer price at all. Nike sold about 280 million sneakers, cross-trainers and running shoes last year. Doubling manufacturing workers’ wages in China would cost Nike, which last year had revenues of almost $14 billion a year, only $210 million a year.

During the 1970’s, most Nike shoes were made in South Korea and Taiwan. When workers there gained new freedom to organize and wages began to rise, Nike moved most of its production to China, Indonesia, and Vietnam– countries with weak labor laws and where workers are easily abused.

Nike products are made in giant factories owned by contractors, who operate under standards set by Nike management in Oregon. Nike tells its contractors what designs and fabric to use, and how much they’ll pay for each sneaker. Nike knows in advance what Chinese workers will earn under that arrangement. Nike sets the rules.

If Chinese workers earn only 60 to 80 cents of a sneaker that sells for $70 in U.S. stores, who gets the rest of the money? The contractor in China pays for the materials, machines, overhead, and earns a profit. The U.S. retailers (dominated by large chains like Wal-Mart) pay for shipping, overhead, and advertising, and take a big slice in profits. Nike, of course, pays for designing the shoes, marketing and publicizing the brand so that every American recognizes the swoosh, and makes a huge profit. The Chinese workers get the scraps.

“Labor costs in the Third World are so small as a percentage of the retail price of products, and as a percentage of the revenues of US corporations, that the wages of overseas sweatshop workers could be doubled or tripled with little or no increase for American consumers,” explained Scott Nova, executive director of the Workers Rights Consortium, a nonprofit labor rights group. “The corporations have made it very clear, however, that they will not pay a living wage - unless consumer pressure or public regulation compels them to do so.”

Thursday, December 06, 2007

Iraq vet commits suicide on Thanksgiving

Two weeks before his death, he told his former wife, Randi Sencabaugh, that it wasn’t the fact that he had to shoot people that bothered him most, the Sun Journal of Lewiston reported.

“It’s the fact they had a brother or a sister,” she remembered him saying. “I can’t imagine somebody — my sibling or my parents — dying.”

"He sees bodies every day"

In a story that contrasted the everyday lives of Iraqis with President Bush's September statement that normal life is beginning to return to Baghdad, she interviewed half a dozen residents, including a 28-year-old Shiite in Sadr City. "Two days ago, his friend Mustafa was kidnapped from his computer shop," she wrote. "He was later found dead, shot in the head. It wasn't unusual. In his neighborhood -- controlled by the Mahdi Army militia, loyal to cleric Muqtada al Sadr -- he sees bodies every day."

Religion & Politics

Last weekend in New York, I saw "Rebel Voices," Howard Zinn's new play, and the amazing separation of church and state activists of the 1800s and early 1900s would be appalled if they were alive today.

The three cable stations carried Mitt Romney's speech about religion today in which he blasted "the new religion of secularism," referring to those us who believe in a strict separation of church and state. And then there's this:
"Freedom requires religion, just as religion requires freedom. Freedom opens the windows of the soul so that man can discover his most profound beliefs and commune with God. Freedom and religion endure together, or perish alone."

Here's Article IV of the Constitution:

The Senators and Representatives before mentioned, and the Members of the several State Legislatures, and all executive and judicial Officers, both of the United States and of the several States, shall be bound by Oath or Affirmation, to support this Constitution; but no religious Test shall ever be required as a Qualification to any Office or public Trust under the United States.