Hunger in the North and South

You can view this post and others at the Worldwatch Institute's Nourishing the Planet blog.  

As a North American traveling and doing research on hunger in sub-Saharan Africa, I'm often struck by the contrasts between the United States and whichever country I happen to be in. The abundance and cheapness of food in the U.S. is something, I have to admit, I miss.

In Ethiopia, Kenya, Uganda, and Tanzania, where I've spent the last month, drought has exacerbated already high food prices, millions of livestock have starved to death, and 23 million people in the horn of Africa are at risk for starvation. But when I opened the paper on Monday, I was struck by the irony of just how similar Africans and Americans can be.

According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, food insecurity in the United States, the richest country in the world, is at a 14-year high. Forty-nine million people in the U.S. lack what the USDA calls consistent access to adequate food. This increase of 13 million over the last year, according to the New York Times, was more dire than even the most pessimistic predictions about how the economy was impacting peoples' daily lives.

While Americans aren't starving because of lack of access to food, it's troubling that poor families are cutting back on food purchases, which can have a whole range of impacts on child health. Single family homes headed by women, says USDA, are the worst off--another reminder that, just as here in Africa, women and children tend to suffer the most from poverty and food insecurity.

Meanwhile the World Food Summit is wrapping up in Rome this week and very little has been said, so far, about environmentally sustainable ways of alleviating hunger and poverty in rich and poor countries alike. As the effects of climate change become more and more evident and the global economic crisis continues, the world needs better ways of producing food that nourish both people and the planet.

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Are children of immigrants becoming needless statistics in the child welfare system?

From Restore Fairness blog.

Guest Blogger: Emily Butera from the Women's Refugee Commission

What if I told you you could permanently lose custody of your child because you are undocumented? Or because you do not understand English? Or you are unable to communicate with the child welfare system and family court from immigration detention? What if I told you you might have to leave your child behind if you are deported because you may not have time to get the child a passport or will not be able to coordinate the flight arrangements? You might tell me that these kinds of things do not happen in the United States. Sadly, you would be wrong.

With immigration enforcement increasing, my inbox has been flooded with stories such as Encarnación Bail Romero's. Encarnación is a Missouri mother whose son was adopted by total strangers - against her will, without her consent and despite her efforts to oppose the adoption - while she was in custody following a raid on her Missouri worksite. Encarnación was not adequately represented in family court, and was unable to read the court documents notifying her of the pending adoption and her right to appeal because they were in English, a language she does not speak. She is now fighting to regain custody of her son. However, she is scheduled for deportation to Guatemala in February and her attorneys do not know whether they will win her case - or win it in time.

Almost everyone who contacts my organization, the Women's Refugee Commission, with a story of separation asks for help finding a family law attorney for the parent or for guidance on helping detained parents communicate with the child welfare system. Unfortunately, the assistance we can offer them is limited, and there are no easy answers.

Immigration law and family law intersect in a capricious manner. Family courts and the child welfare system have a responsibility to reunite a child with his parents whenever possible. However, family courts do not always look favorably on reunification in cases where a parent is detained or likely to be deported. The situation is further complicated by the tremendous difficulty child welfare workers and family courts have in locating detained parents, and the significant challenges parents face in complying with family reunification plans and participating in family court proceedings from detention.

In some cases, like Encarnación's, judges base termination decisions on the fact that the mother does not have legal status and may be deported. In others, child welfare workers oppose family reunification because they think that a U.S. citizen child should not live in another country. Certainly, in cases where there is evidence of abandonment, abuse or neglect the child welfare system and family courts have an obligation to protect children. But in so many of these cases the parent's only fault was being in the wrong place, with the wrong nationality, at the wrong time.

Because it is difficult to gather accurate data about the undocumented population it is impossible to know how many children have already been affected. What we do know is that hundreds of thousands of children may be impacted by their parents' apprehension and that there is no effective or enforceable policy for preventing it.

When Encarnación told her story during a briefing in the House of Representatives last week you could have heard a pin drop. A number of attendees listened with tears in their eyes. Stories like Encarnación's turn the numbers into faces for a moment, and I hope that Encarnación's visit to Washington will help her reunite with her son. But action on an individual case is not enough. We need enforceable, nationwide screening protocols, with a statutory preference for release of parents and caregivers, to increase the likelihood that women like Encarnación can care for their children throughout their immigration proceedings and can make the best decision for their family if they are ordered removed. We also need to ensure that when parents must be detained they can remain in communication with their children, can comply with reunification plans, and can participate fully in their custody case.

The U.S. government has an obligation to enforce immigration law, but it also has a responsibility to protect parents' fundamental right to custody of their children. The preservation of family unity is a legal and moral duty, but it is also smart social policy. As we go about immigration enforcement we must ensure that the children of immigrants do not become another needless statistic in the child welfare system.

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Are you an authentic American?

From Restore Fairness blog

"Police officers giving drivers $204 tickets for not speaking English? It sounds like a rejected Monty Python sketch. Except the grim reality is that it has happened at least 39 times in Dallas since January 2007....All but one of the drivers were Hispanic."

Reporting on the issue, a New York Times editorial asks the question - is racism alive and kicking in America? If this were a one off incident, it could be an aberration. But 39 times makes it a growing pattern of injustice.

So how does one question who or who is not an American? Does it have to do with language, race, ethnicity, how long one has been in the United States - or is it about the more legal aspect of possessing citizenship.

Recently, an incredible achievement by Meb Keflezighi's, winner of Men's NYC Marathon, kicked off a number of doubts about whether this is truly an "American" achievement, or one imported in from outside.


"Meb Keflezighi, who won yesterday in New York, is technically American by virtue of him becoming a citizen in 1998, but the fact that he's not American-born takes away from the magnitude of the achievement the headline implies."

Comments from a CNBC Sports Business Reporter who half apologized in a post the next morning.

"Frankly I didn't account for the fact that virtually all of Keflezighi's running experience came as a U.S. citizen. I never said he didn't deserve to be called American."

Keflezighi came to the United States when he was 12 from war torn Eritrea. Is that enough time for him to be an American? Ironically the last American to win the marathon was also born in another country - Cuba. Alberto Salazar's comments from a New York Times article are insightful.

"What if Meb's parents had moved to this country a year before he was born? At what point is someone truly American? Only if your family traces itself back to 1800, will it count?"

The same article talks about the racial stereotypes that seem to be emerging to the surface.

"The debate reveals what some academics say are common assumptions and stereotypes about race and sports and athletic achievement in the United States. "Race is still extremely important when you think about athletics," said David Wiggins, a professor at George Mason University who studies African-Americans and sports. "There is this notion about innate physiological gifts that certain races presumably possess. Quite frankly, I think it feeds into deep-seated stereotypes."

So are we heading for a "clash if cultures" figuring out where the identity of America lies. This Huffington Post article has a few answers.

What's been missing from our national discourse on "is it race or isn't it?" is the distinction psychologists and neuroscientists have made for over two decades between conscious and unconscious (often called "explicit vs. implicit") prejudice.

Asking what the difference may have been if over the last 25 years, a half million Englishmen a year had entered the U.S., it wonders if

"what turns up the volume on Americans' feelings about immigration is that immigrants are not white, English-speakers from London but brown-skinned Mexicans who may not speak our language well and don't share our Anglo-American culture."

Demographers now place it around 2040 when whites may be in the minority in the U.S. And so it seems, the best way to deal with this reality may be -

"There's nothing shameful about admitting that you're among the majority of Americans - of every color - who has sometimes judged another person on the color his skin instead of the content of his character - and then realized it wasn't fair. The best antidote to unconscious bias is self-reflection. And the best way to foster that self-reflection is through telling the truth in a way that doesn't make people defensive or point fingers - except at those who wear their prejudice proudly and deserve our scorn."

New York Times: America Plagued By Toxic Drinking Water

The main reason I am an environmentalist is not that I care about wildlife or preserving a pristine wilderness, but that I care about people. When we hurt the planet, we hurt ourselves. You would never consider putting toxins on display in your own home, and yet that's exactly what we do every time we put chemicals in our water, smog in our air, or asbestos in our soil. You would never run a grocery store without ordering new stock each week, and yet that's exactly what society does every year as it harvests unsustainable levels of resources from our limited forests, oceans, and mines.

This link is a bit dated but still amazing. The New York Times had an important story on Sunday called "Clean Water Laws Are Neglected, at a Cost in Suffering" making just that point while also exposing the federal regulators and law enforcement officials who are failing to do their jobs. I have rarely seen an article with such a perfect balance of expert quotes to explain an issue, statistics to show its size and scope, and anecodtal stories to provide perspective. Surely this article will be a candidate for a Pulitzer Prize.

An estimated 19.5 million Americans fall ill each year from drinking water contaminated with parasites, bacteria or viruses, according to a study published last year in the scientific journal Reviews of Environmental Contamination and Toxicology. That figure does not include illnesses caused by other chemicals and toxins...

The Times's research also shows that last year, 40 percent of the nation's community water systems violated the Safe Drinking Water Act at least once, according to an analysis of E.P.A. data...

Finally, the Times's research shows that fewer than 3 percent of Clean Water Act violations resulted in fines or other significant punishments by state officials. And the E.P.A. has often declined to prosecute polluters or force states to strengthen their enforcement by threatening to withhold federal money or take away powers the agency has delegated to state officials.


Reporters Charles Duhigg and Karl Russell have done a masterful job of highlighting the links between environmental health and human health. I recommend the whole article, but there's a second, more personal/emotional excerpt below the jump to whet your appetite.

Also posted at Blue Moose Democrat.

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Hey NY Times, How About the "Palestinian Hanging" Torture?

It's pretty clear the media strategy in this torture thing is to limit the coverage to the more milquetoast-ee tortures like pouring cold water on guys and making it look like they were trying to be careful about it.  This is why newspapers are losing circulation and going under: there's no news.  The Internet has emerged the supreme source of information.  Why pay for a paper when I can find out a lot more at work surfing DKos every now and then (Ha!  Caught you guys!  Get back to work!)

Hey New York Times, what about the Palestinian Hanging?  You need look no further than Major General Anthony Taguba's definitive report to find out about it.  You are hung with your arms behind you often causing dislocation of the arms from the sockets.  A tweaked version was to put your feet on an electrified drum through which to deliver shocks.  Since Obama will not release the torture photos, this is what it looks like:

This is the position in which al-Jamadi died, the prisoner in the famous Abu Ghraib photo of his body packed in ice.  The torture causes pulmonary damage.  As the guards released the shackles and lowered al-Jamadi, a witness said, blood gushed from his mouth "as if a faucet had been turned on."

Then you've got the plain bloody murder, but we won't talk about that, will we?  The media has ignored the large number of interrogation subjects who were "interrogated" until lights out.  At least 51 of these have died since Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld was informed of the abuses at Abu Ghraib on January 16, 2004.

Oh yes, then you have the child rape.  Sy Hersh said:

   

" Some of the worst things that happened you don't know about, okay? Videos, um, there are women there. Some of you may have read that they were passing letters out, communications out to their men. This is at Abu Ghraib ... The women were passing messages out saying 'Please come and kill me, because of what's happened' and basically what happened is that those women who were arrested with young boys, children in cases that have been recorded. The boys were sodomized with the cameras rolling. And the worst above all of that is the soundtrack of the boys shrieking that your government has. They are in total terror. It's going to come out."

Republican Senator Lindsey Graham said at the time:
"The American public needs to understand, we're talking about rape and murder here. We're not just talking about giving people a humiliating experience. We're talking about rape and murder and some very serious charges."

A compilation in November2008 of other evidence of alleged incidents involving children at the time recounts:

-- Iraqi lawyer Sahar Yasiri, representing the Federation of Prisoners and Political Prisoners, said in a published interview there are more than 400,000 detainees in Iraq being held in 36 prisons and camps and that 95 percent of the 10,000 women among them have been raped. Children, he said, "suffer from torture, rape, (and) starvation" and do not know why they have been arrested. He added the children have been victims of "random" arrests "not based on any legal text."

-- Iraqi TV reporter, Suhaib Badr-Addin al-Baz, arrested while making a documentary and thrown into Abu Ghraib for 74 days, told Mackay he saw "hundreds" of children there. Al-Baz said he heard one 12-year-old girl crying, "They have undressed me. They have poured water over me." He said he heard her whimpering daily.

-- German TV reporter Thomas Reutter of "Report Mainz" quoted U.S. Army Sgt. Samuel Provance that interrogation specialists "poured water" over one 16-year-old Iraqi boy, drove him throughout a cold night, "smeared him with mud" and then showed him to his father, who was also in custody. Apparently, one tactic employed by the Bush regime is to elicit confessions from adults by dragging their abused children in front of them.

-- Jonathan Steele, wrote in the British "The Guardian" that "Hundreds of children, some as young as nine, are being held in appalling conditions in Baghdad's prisons...Sixteen-year-old Omar Ali told the "Guardian" he spent more than three years at Karkh juvenile prison sleeping with 75 boys to a cell that is just five by 10 meters, some of them on the floor. Omar told the paper guards often take boys to a separate room in the prison and rape them.

-- Raad Jamal, age 17, was taken from his Doura home by U.S. troops and turned over to the Iraqi Army's Second regiment where Jamal said he was hung from the ceiling by ropes and beaten with electric cables.

Keep it up, NY Times! Bloggers want the advertising rev you are losing every time your circulation goes down!


Call the Office of the Attorney General, "NO WHITE WASH!" at (202) 353-1555. Then email the Justice Department.

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