3/31/2010 11:21:32 AM
It’s ridiculous that the topic of menstruation still makes most folks squeamish. Women feel obligated to conceal this often-dramatic monthly occurrence—and it’s no small effort.
For those of us in the developed world, there are many options for concealing our shame. They range from conventional pads and tampons, to a vast array of more eco-friendly products, to what Jezebel cheekily dubs “the ‘period undies’ you didn’t know you needed.”
For women in the developing world, the consequences of menstruation can well exceed embarrassment and discomfort. As Elizabeth Scharpf and Rachel Kauder Nalebuff note in The Huffington Post, “Ten percent of school-age African girls miss school because of a lack of access to affordable sanitary products.” In Rwanda, “half the girls are missing school due to menstruation and the main reason given is that sanitary pads are too expensive. For women, 24% miss work—up to 45 days per year—for the same reason. This not only limits girls' educational and women's professional achievement, but leads to a significant economic loss for nations.”
There is an organization working to alleviate this burden. Sustainable Health Enterprises (SHE) helps women in developing countries manufacture and distribute sanitary products made from sustainable, locally available materials.
“Thirty years ago,” write Scharpf and Kauder Nalebuff, “Gloria Steinem published one of her most famous essays, If Men Could Menstruate. There would be no taboos. Men would brag about how long and how much. And sanitary supplies would be federally funded and free. It's time we do a better job helping our sisters around the world.”
Sources: Jezebel, The Huffington Post
Image by Stephanie Glaros.
3/30/2010 5:24:34 PM
Leave it to the 83-year-old White House correspondent Helen Thomas to give the progressive media grist for a great story about an America in denial and at war.
In early January, after a press conference in which President Obama addressed the attempted bombing of a Northwest Airlines flight, Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano and former chairman of the National Counterterrorism Center, John Brennan took their place at the podium to answer questions about terrorism, Thomas, who is now the star of her very own bio-pic, asked about motive. “What is really always lacking for us,” she said, “is you don’t give the motivation of why they want to do us harm.”
For the next few minutes, despite being asked “Why?” twice more, Napolitano and Brennan avoided discussing cause and effect. When asked later if she intended to keep asking the question, Thomas pledged vigilance, then quipped that the real question was: “Will I get an answer.”
The editors at In These Times decided to put Thomas’s query to 11 academics, activists, and policymakers and print their answers in their 33rd anniversary issue (April 2010). The resulting cover package—which includes commentary from linguistics professor Noam Chomsky, author Carol Brightman (Total Insecurity: The Myth of American Omnipotence), and Chicago-based comic Azhar Usman—should be required reading at the White House.
In his essay, Imam Zaid Shakir, founder of the website New Islamic Directions, writes:
Maybe “they” are rotting in a slum in Casablanca or Cairo, or festering in a classroom in Lagos or Lahore, and “they” have seen images from Iraq, or Afghanistan, or Gaza. When “their” anger is combined with the angst generated by globalized economic forces “they” cannot understand, forces that have marginalized and in some cases rendered irrelevant their lives and their religion, the two sources of meaning in the world “they” thought “they” had inherited from “their” forefathers, “they” are easy prey to skilled recruiters who promise “them” both meaning in this world, and a free pass to Paradise in the next by mindlessly striking out as what “they” are led to believe is the source of “their” misery.
While specific policies are cited in a number of the pieces—from the United States failed efforts to fairly broker peace between Israel and Palestine to its morally bankrupt energy policy—what sticks with the reader throughout is the sense that until America learns to empathize with the worlds citizens, it is destined to remain calamitously estranged.
“Perhaps the easiest way for America to understand why people want tot do it harm would be for it to sit down with the television personality Dr. Phil,” writes Usman. The opening monologue would no doubt go something like this:
So America, we all know you are rich, powerful, and beautiful, but you’ve also done some pretty horrible things to various people around the world for decades now—many of which have been covert operations. And now some disturbed individuals with a political vendetta and radical religious ideas are blowing back like crazy chickens with their heads cut off, coming home to roost, and your proposed solution is to invade more countries, drop more bombs, kill more innocent civilians, and make more enemies. How’s that working for you?
Source: In These Times
3/30/2010 4:27:19 PM
“It rewards work. And here’s the thing, it lifts more children out of poverty than any other social program.”
Wait a second, what?!
The Earned Income Tax Credit holds up the floor for modest-income working families by issuing a cash return on income that parents earn. But many more families are eligible than file for it. This season, New Jersey could be the first state to decrease this tax credit.
Nixon imagined it, Clinton enlarged it, twice, and Obama recently bolstered it again. In this RadioWorks podcast, an American Public Media economics correspondent clarifies the Earned Income Tax Credit, reminding listeners that one half of all American families with children receive it. If more families knew about it, and knew how to go about filing for it, many more children would see this money.
Last week New Jersey Governor Christopher Christie revealed a revised budget that drastically cuts that state’s Earned Income Tax Credit to help reach state budget needs, a decision that has immediately met much criticism in Congress and in the press.
3/30/2010 10:46:04 AM
Photojournalist Louie Palu is back at Guantánamo this week (his fourth trip to the island), blogging for Virginia Quarterly Review about how the camp has changed, what the military does and doesn’t allow photographers to do, and how to snap a good photo despite serious restrictions.
It is after 1 a.m. and the end of the first day of shooting in the camps. My Operational Security (OPSEC) Review took four hours and two photographers are still having their photographs reviewed by military officials. This is the process at the end of each day: your work is scrutinized and if it does not meet the guidelines is permanently deleted from your camera’s memory cards. The main issue is showing the face of any of the detainees as well as some security features of the facility and base. I lost a few photos I would have liked to keep, but then anyone who has worked here knows that you are going to lose photos during the review.
Sometimes you take photographs which land in a gray area of the rules by way of focus and angle. In the end you try to argue for and keep as many images as possible. One photographer lost up to half of his pictures. It is a complex process; depending on where you are in the camps, detainees can appear without warning escorted by guards in some sections. In other areas, detainees need only complain to the guards and the photography is stopped. Some detainees smile and wave at the camera and try to communicate with us, but we are not permitted to communicate with them. Since my first tour here in 2007, the detainees seem more empowered. On my first two tours the detainees never complained about the media, now they need only to wave us off or cause a commotion and we are whisked away to keep the peace. Some of the access is blocked by the military, and some photography is made difficult or blocked by the detainees as well. Some days you can’t win.
I was surprised to learn that photographers on these tours can get very competitive—because the entire trip is so circumscribed by military officials, they’re all seeing the same people, places, and things, competing for the best shot. “Sometimes I let the other three photographers walk ahead of me,” Palu writes, “so I shoot something behind them that they did not notice and are too focused on what is ahead of them to look back at what I am doing.”
We can’t roam on our own here and are always escorted by Public Affairs Officers (PAO). When in the camps we are also joined by several guards, many of whose identity we cannot show. We sometimes shoot through several fences, including tinted windows, making focusing and exposure a nightmare. All the while making sure we follow the list of rules and guidelines.
Palu will be writing for VQR for another couple of days; check in at VQR's blog for additional posts.
Congratulations to Virginia Quarterly Review, a 2010 Utne Independent Press Award nominee for international coverage and general excellence.
Source: Virginia Quarterly Review
3/23/2010 4:05:07 PM
The Texas Observer’s Melissa del Bosque has been doing some excellent reporting on the many broken pieces of our immigration system, and she has another must-read report in the current issue of the Austin-based biweekly. In “Point of No Return,” del Bosque investigates the astounding lack of legal representation among immigrants in detention: More than 80 percent of immigrant detainees do not have a lawyer.
This is due, in many cases, to poverty, but also to the transfer-happy officers of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), who frequently shuffle detainees to rural facilities far from their homes and families. “On average, 52 percent of ICE detainees—whether legal residents or illegal immigrants—are transferred at least once before they are released or deported,” del Bosque writes. She interviews one man, Rama Carty, who spent time in seven detention facilities over the course of 21 months.
Like Carty, many detainees in Texas have been relocated from urban areas in the Northeast, where detention beds are scarcer. This brings them under the sway of the 5th U.S. circuit court of Appeals, which has earned a reputation as the most conservative in the nation regarding immigration rulings—a conveyor-belt to deportation. (See “Pleading With the Fifth.”) Since most detention facilities are in Southern states like Texas, Mississippi, and Louisiana, ICE is sending an increasing number of detainees to the 5th circuit. When they arrive at these largely rural facilities, far from home, they find few immigration lawyers available or willing to help.
For more on the subject, read “Jailing the American Dream,” Tom Barry’s in-depth investigation into the private-prison companies profiting from immigrant detention centers. Originally published in Boston Review, the piece ran in our March-April issue.
Congratulations to The Texas Observer, which is nominated for a 2010 Utne Independent Press Award for political coverage.
Source: The Texas Observer
3/22/2010 3:25:30 PM
In “The Shrine Down the Hall,” a photo essay for the New York Times Magazine, Ashley Gilbertson takes us inside the bedrooms of young Americans killed in the Iraq War. According to the Brookings Institution, almost 4,400 U.S. soldiers have died since 2003. Some 9,400 Iraqi military and police have perished, as well as 108,000 Iraqi civilians. Gilbertson is the author of Whisky Tango Foxtrot and “The Life and Lonely Death of Noah Pierce,” an essay from Virginia Quarterly Review that we had the good fortune to reprint in our March-April 2009 issue.
Sources: New York Times Magazine, Brookings Institution (pdf), Virginia Quarterly Review
3/22/2010 2:42:39 PM
Not everyone would champion the arrival of a Walmart Supercenter in their town, but Joe R. Lansdale boldly argues in The Texas Observer that the mega-retailer isn’t all that bad. He tells the story of how his Texas town of Nacogdoches was revitalized when the regular Walmart was transformed into a Walmart Supercenter. Lansdale’s not advocating for child labor, unethical work practices, unfair wages, or outsourcing—he’s just in favor of convenience and practicality when it comes to small-town life. Here’s his take:
Let me tell you, the late downtowns in East Texas burgs were usually small stores run by locals. They generally priced things three times more than they were worth. Maybe they had to, but I don’t care. I don’t want to pay $30 for a hammer and a fistful of nails. If I wanted a banana, I had to go to another store. If I wanted to pick up a pair of shoes, another store.
If you worked, by the time you got off work, many of the stores were closed. Saturday, they might be open, but Sunday they were closed again. So for the working individual, the mother or father who had a kid wake up in the night with aching gums from teething, and you wanted something to make it all better, you had to wait until the next day.
With Walmart in town, lots of people can be put to work, far more than downtown ever employed. Someone has to run a 24-hour store, check people out, sack groceries, push carts, place stock, work at the McDonald’s sequestered in the back. The workers have all skin colors, not something I saw a lot of downtown, except for immigrants unloading trucks.
If you’re poor and barely making it, or even if your income is middle-of-the-road, it’s good to get what you need at slashed prices, anytime of the day, seven days a week, in a big, ugly, over-lit store that closes only on Christmas and half a day on Christmas Eve….now in our downtown are specialty stores that provide things we can’t get at Walmart, like maybe a stuffed deer head for that special place over the mantle.
Source: The Texas Observer
Image by jason.mundy, licensed under Creative Commons.
3/22/2010 8:25:05 AM
From Jonathan Chait at the New Republic:
Let me offer a ludicrously premature opinion: Barack Obama has sealed his reputation as a president of great historical import. We don’t know what will follow in his presidency, and it’s quite possible that some future event—a war, a scandal—will define his presidency. But we do know that he has put his imprint on the structure of American government in a way that no Democratic president since Lyndon Johnson has.
From Andrew Sullivan at The Atlantic:
Yes, in the end, he got all the primary delegates House votes he needed. Yes, he worked our last nerve to get there. But, yes, too, this is an important victory—the first true bloodied, grueling revelation that his persistence, another critical Obama quality, finally paid off in the presidency. He could have given up weeks ago, as the punditry advised (because they seem to have no grasp of substance and mere addiction to hour-to-hour political plays). But he refused. That took courage. And relentlessness.
From John Nichols in The Nation:
The rancorous debate over President Obama’s reform proposal was portrayed by much of our historically-disinclined media as an ugly degeneration of the body politic. In fact, the fight over health care reform has been no more difficult or disturbing than past fights for needed federal interventions.
Consider the battle of the mid-1930s over Franklin Delano Roosevelt's Social Security Act, which created what is now one of the most popular federal programs.
House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, D-Maryland, recalled during Sunday evening’s debate that critics of Social Security denounced the reform as “the lash of the dictator.”
“Those slurs were false in 1935. They were false in 1965. And they are false in 2010,” declared Hoyer, as he argued that the similar slurs against Obama’s health care plan will be proven equally false.
Chris Hedges at Truthdig is not moved:
This bill is not about fiscal responsibility or the common good. The bill is about increasing corporate profit at taxpayer expense. It is the health care industry’s version of the Wall Street bailout. It lavishes hundreds of billions in government subsidies on insurance and drug companies. The some 3,000 health care lobbyists in Washington, whose dirty little hands are all over the bill, have once more betrayed the American people for money. The bill is another example of why change will never come from within the Democratic Party. The party is owned and managed by corporations.
Finally, Paul Waldman at The American Prospect:
Over the course of this debate, progressives have gotten used to beginning their comments on the various reform plans by saying, “It's not everything that I'd want, but…” And of course the bill that finally passed isn't perfect, which is why we should continue working to improve it in the coming months and years. But it is something extraordinary nevertheless, The passage of health-care reform is a huge benefit to lower- and middle-class Americans; finally, there is something resembling health security for all of us. Some of the most despicable misdeeds of the insurance companies have been put to an end, and a raft of programs have been put in place to help rein in costs. And that's just a few of the legislation's achievements. Millions upon millions of American lives will be improved by what Congress and the White House just did.
Sources: New Republic, The Atlantic, The Nation, Truthdig, The American Prospect
3/16/2010 4:21:43 PM
The Tea Party isn’t a coherent political party. It’s united by the fact that it’s “loud, self-regarding, incoherent, and endowed with a bottomless confidence that it speaks for real Americans,” according to The American Conservative. The unquestionably conservative magazine came out swinging against the Tea Parties in the latest issue:
Despite the real idealism of some of its activists both inside and outside the Beltway, the Tea Party is nothing more than a Republican-managed tantrum. Send the conservative activists into the streets to vent their anger. Let Obama feel the brunt of it. And if the GOP shows a modicum of contrition, the runaways will come home.
Source: The American Conservative
Image by ProgressOhio, licensed under Creative Commons.
3/16/2010 3:53:16 PM
Professors on film were once the bumbling experts or snobs, but now a certain malaise has set in and we see more of the gloomy, hapless types. In a recent article for The Chronicle of Higher Education, Jeffrey J. Williams traces the evolution of professors, as portrayed in films:
It seems as if professors have become depressed and downtrodden. For example, two well-regarded 2008 films, The Visitor and Smart People, center on aging, later-career professors who are disengaged from their work and exhibit obvious signs of depression. The Visitor depicts an economics professor, played by Richard Jenkins, who is going through the motions, teaching syllabi from years before and avoiding research.
The celebrity professor might seem to counter the image of the downtrodden professor, but he is merely the flip side of the coin. He represents the “winner take all” model that governs businesses and, progressively more so, professions. Like the CEO who receives 300 times what the person on the shop floor is paid, these professors reap the spoils….The celebrity professor exemplifies the steep new tiers of academic life, in a pyramid rather than a horizontal community of scholars.
Source: The Chronicle of Higher Education (subscription required)
3/15/2010 9:25:03 AM
From The New Republic:
While the U.S. financial system has a long tradition of functioning well with a relatively large number of banks and other intermediaries, in recent years, it has been transformed into a highly concentrated system for key products. The big four have half of the market for mortgages and two-thirds of the market for credit cards. Five banks have over 95 percent of the market for over-the-counter derivatives. Three U.S. banks have over 40 percent of the global market for stock underwriting. This degree of market power brings with it not just antitrust concerns, which this administration has declined to act on, and a huge amount of economic risk—but great political influence as well.
Source: The New Republic
Image by David Prior, licensed under Creative Commons.
3/12/2010 12:29:07 PM
The 2010 World Cup is just a few months away, and violent tensions are simmering under the Coca Cola and Anheuser-Busch branded landscapes of South Africa. South Africans have been evicted and displaced to make way for the games, government officials have cracked down on vendors and informal trade, and there have even been rumors of state-sponsored assassinations. According to Utne Visionary Dave Zirin on his blog The Edge of Sports, these actions are an echo of apartheid. Zirin reports:
In a normal month, South Africa has more protests per capita than any nation on earth. But when you factor in the World Cup crackdown, a simmering nation can explode. Over 70,000 workers have taken part in strikes connected to World Cup projects since the preparations have begun, with 26 strikes since 2007. On March 4th, more than 250 people, in a press conference featuring representatives from four provinces, threatened to protest the opening game of the Cup unless their various demands were met. These protests should not be taken lightly, A woman named Lebo said to me, "We have learned in South Africa that unless we burn tires, unless we fight police, unless we are willing to return violence on violence, we will never be heard." Patrick Bond from the Center Civil Society in Durban said to me that protests should be expected: "Anytime you have three billion people watching, that's called leverage."
Source: The Edge of Sports
3/10/2010 3:37:42 PM
Barack Obama’s administration has not yet passed a health care bill. Nor has it passed a climate change bill. Nor has it closed Guantanamo Bay. There is, however, one progressive issue where the Obama administration has been extremely productive: regulation.
Under previous Republican administrations, John B. Judis reports for the New Republic that the alphabet soup of federal regulation agencies—the EPA, OSHA, SEC, FCC, and others—were systematically dismantled. Industry representatives were chosen to regulate the industries they represented, and budgets were strategically cut. Obama is turning the tide, appointing actual regulators and increasing funding, even in the midst of the recession. “In doing so,” Judis writes, “he isn’t simply improving the effectiveness of various government offices or making scattered progress on a few issues; he is resuscitating an entire philosophy of government with roots in the Progressive era of the early twentieth century.”
Source: The New Republic
3/4/2010 11:36:35 AM
Racist hate groups are operating at unprecedented levels in the United States right now, according to a new report by the Southern Poverty Law Center. Hate groups in general grew by 40 percent last year, according to the report, with anti-immigrant “nativist extremist” groups growing by 80 percent and “Patriot” groups surging by 244 percent. Though the “tea parties” aren’t considered extremist groups, the SPLC found “they are shot through with rich veins of radical ideas, conspiracy theories and racism,” adding fuel to the fires of hate.
For more on the Southern Poverty Law Center, read Hate Ink., and for a counterpoint, read The Paranoid Center, both from the January-February 2010 issue of Utne Reader.
Source: Southern Poverty Law Center
Image by dbking, licensed under Creative Commons.
3/1/2010 5:26:04 PM
Dairy farms in the eastern United States are not immune to the problems described in “The Dark Side of Dairies,” the High Country News article excerpted in the March-April Utne Reader. Just like their counterparts in the West, many eastern dairies are financially strapped, rely on the labor of illegal immigrant workers, and have unsafe working conditions, Barry Estabrook reports in a blog post at The Atlantic.
Estabrook, a former dairy worker himself, writes about the death last December of José Obeth Santiz Cruz, a young Mexican man, after he was caught in a manure conveyor at the Vermont farm where he worked. Because Santiz Cruz didn’t have documentation, it took officials more than a week to determine his identity and where he came from. Writes Estabrook:
Vermont likes to promote itself as a verdant, wholesome state with picturesque black and white Holsteins grazing on hillside pastures. But the postcard image hides an ugly truth. Santiz Cruz was one of 1,500 to 2,000 immigrant workers, most lacking legal papers, who toil invisibly behind the scenes in the Vermont’s beleaguered dairy industry, working 80-hour weeks and living in total isolation, often sleeping in the very barns with the cows they tend.
“Vermont’s dairy farms depend on migrant workers,” said Brendan O’Neill, coordinator of the Vermont Migrant Farmworker Solidarity Project. “But there is no dignity in performing important work for that amount of time and having to hide yourself, never seeing the light of day. These people live and work in the shadows.”
The Vermont Migrant Farmworker Solidarity Project helped raise money to take Santiz Cruz’s body back to his hometown, San Isidro, in the Mexican state of Chiapas. If there’s doubt in anyone’s mind that Santiz Cruz’s death was a deeply tragic loss, the Solidarity Project’s description of his mother’s reaction ought to erase it:
“He is the fourth son I’ve lost,” she explained, wiping tears from her face. “Two from diarrhea and one died at birth. He went so far and suffered so much getting there only to come home in a box.”
Santiz Cruz’s mother, father, and sisters explained that José Obeth was forced to migrate, as so many others are in his community, because his family couldn’t sustain themselves without outside income to supplement their Tojolabal agricultural community.
“It took José 20 days to cross the desert, he barely ate. He arrived to Vermont much thinner than he’d left San Isidro and in a lot of debt. It took him 6 months to find work once in Vermont,” shared Zoyla.
The independent news website Vtdigger.org (“nitty, gritty in-depth news for Vermont”) reports that the Vermont Occupational Safety and Health Administration will not investigate Santiz Cruz’s death because the farm where he worked employed fewer than 10 workers, and the agency has jurisdiction to probe cases only on dairy farms with 11 or more workers. VOSHA, Vtdigger notes, is the only government agency with the authority to investigate the case.
Source: The Atlantic, Vermont Migrant Farmworker Solidarity Project, Vtdigger.org
Image by www.bluewaikiki.com, licensed under Creative Commons.
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