2/27/2009 6:18:54 PM
Amid all the talk about what the stimulus bill will do for homeowners facing foreclosure, the latest issue of Left Turn contains a timely observation: “In the 30 years since the federal government’s move to deprioritize low-incoming housing led to the modern homelessness epidemic, homelessness has become a separate issue from housing.” The insight is part of a great, manifesto-like article (not yet online) coauthored by “a bunch of folks” at Picture the Homeless, a grassroots advocacy group founded and led by homeless people in New York City.
The stigma attached to homelessness, the coauthors argue, only serves to segregate the very poor into two groups—those who have housing, and those who don’t. “Frequently, we find our demands at odds with organizations. . . who on the surface would be our allies,” they write. “Housing groups organize tenants to fight eviction and block rent increases, but their demands for the creation of ‘affordable housing’ are targeted at income ranges well above the poverty level. . . . Long-term community residents fighting against gentrification and displacement frequently fail to feel any solidarity with homeless people who already have been displaced from those communities.”
As the feisty folks at Picture the Homeless tell it: “There is not a homeless crisis, but there is a housing crisis, with homelessness being one result.” It seems like their approach is gaining traction, too. Over at Change.org, Shannon Moriarty chronicles some of the decidedly housing-oriented ways that cities plan to spend their share of the $1.5 billion allotted to homelessness prevention.
Sources: Left Turn, Change.org
2/27/2009 1:29:49 PM
China may be surpassing the U.S. in its tolerance and acceptance of transgender people, TransGriot author Monica Roberts reports for Racialicious. With an estimated transgender community of 400,000, the Chinese government has adopted policies that grant transgender citizens civil rights under the law, allow them to change their identification cards, and legally recognize their marriages after sex reassignment surgery. Roberts cites popular Chinese transsexual public figures like Jin Xing and Chen Lili as helping to open up public attitudes. Jin is a former colonel in the Chinese army who is now an internationally acclaimed ballet dancer, while Chen was the first transgender contestant to win the Miss China Universe pageant in 2004 before being banned from participating in the international competition.
Sources: Racialicious, TransGriot
Image by ernop, licensed under Creative Commons
2/26/2009 4:12:24 PM
Thousands of Africans have flocked to China in recent years, seeking to tap into the country’s meteoric economic rise. With the United States and Europe stifling immigration, many Africans see China as a more promising alternative. That’s beginning to change, Tom Mackenzie and Mitch Moxley write for Global Post, as the global economic downturn is hurting business and Chinese immigration officials have begun cracking down on African immigrants.
The epicenter of this tension may be the city of Guangzhou, China, where an area filled with African markets known as “Little Africa,” or “Chocolate City” has become the target for immigration raids. According to Evan Osnos in the New Yorker, local newspapers have estimated that there are some 10,000 immigrants in the city known to police as “Triple Illegal Persons,” who entered, live, and work illegally. Osnos profiles one such immigrant, a Nigerian business man he calls Joseph Nwaosu, as he navigates the culture of commerce, religion, and illegality.
Sources: Global Post, the New Yorker
Image by Eric Chan, licensed under Creative Commons.
2/23/2009 1:35:29 PM
Last week North Korea once again took a defiant stance toward the world by declaring its right to test what is widely believed to be a long-range missile. Given the pugnacious rhetoric exchanged between the U.S. and North Korea over the years, it’s easy to overlook the non-governmental Korean organizations doing important work to heal the fractured peninsula and bring peace to the region.
The National Human Rights Commission, for example, is an advocacy institution for human rights protection established in 2001. It has developed a clear position on addressing North Korean human rights that recognizes the fundamental rights of Korean citizens while taking into account “the uniqueness of inter-Korean relations.”
Also, the Korean Democracy Foundation, a non-profit dedicated to enhancing Korean democracy, includes in its efforts not only future-oriented organizing but also memorializing the history of Korea’s human rights struggle. The organization’s website contains a “Modern History of Democracy and Democratization Movement in Korea,” a primer on contemporary Korean politics from an alternative, grassroots perspective.
Both of these organizations highlight the vast cultural knowledge that is often missing from the U.S.-North Korea debate.
2/20/2009 4:37:21 PM
Many Americans consider Hitler’s rise to power and Germany’s subsequent transformation into a fascist state to be a unique historical phenomenon. “That can’t happen here” still hails as an oft-repeated bias. Naomi Wolf, author of The Beauty Myth, challenges this logic head-on in her new movie from her best-selling book of the same name, The End of America, and illustrates how any nation can go from a democracy to a dictatorship in 10 foolproof steps.
“The great dictators learn from one another,” Wolf reveals, from having secret torture prisons to restricting the press and operating a paramilitary force—compare Bush’s Blackwater to Mussolini’s Black Shirts, for example. This film provokes anxiety and anger, but promotes faith in Obama’s promise of transparency. Wolf encourages us to value our rights in the Constitution as rights and not mere privileges.
Distributed by IndiePix Films.
2/19/2009 2:19:33 PM
Yesterday, the Utah legislature killed the last of the bills proposed as part of the Common Ground Initiative, which sought to extend civil rights to same-sex couples, according to the Salt Lake Tribune. HB160 would have granted same-sex couples inheritance rights and the power to make medical decisions for one another. Other bills in the package would have expanded health care coverage, offered employment safeguards, and amended a resolution banning gay marriage to allow civil unions.
Despite the defeat, Equality Utah, the LGBT advocacy group which drafted the initiative, has resolved to reintroduce the bills again. “We are not giving up on these issues,” said executive director Mike Thompson. “The Common Ground Initiative is not a 2009 legislative agenda.” And they have some reason for hope: Public opinion has favored expanded rights for same-sex couples, and last week Daily Herald reported that conservative Governor Jon Huntsman announced support for Common Ground’s aims.
(Thanks, Religion Dispatches.)
Sources: Daily Herald, EqualityUtah.com, Religion Dispatches, Salt Lake Tribune
2/18/2009 12:12:57 PM
In our continuous search for helpful reporting on the stimulus package, we’ve discovered ShovelWatch, a joint effort by investigative news organization ProPublica, morning news program The Takeaway, and New York public radio station WNYC. This highly-recommended website features accessible, detailed, and down-to-earth information on the most relevant components of the stimulus, including a state-by-state spending breakdown, a detailed list of stimulus provisions, and an interactive U.S. map that shows how infrastructure money will be dispersed. Also includes a handy aggregate of updated reporting on the stimulus from around the web. The website is still evolving, so check back regularly to watch where the money goes.
Sources: ShovelWatch, ProPublica, The Takeaway, WNYC
2/17/2009 10:13:04 AM
Bipartisanship is en vogue under the Obama administration. Even though politicians aren’t working together yet, they’re accusing each other of not being bipartisan enough. That spirit of cooperation is effectively killing the far right and the far left wings of American politics, Jack Ross writes for the American Conservative, and destroying the political principles that people once stood on.
When movements such as the liberal netroots of Daily Kos are integrated into mainstream politics, according to Ross, they lose their opposition voices and fail to truly challenge the political establishment. The problem is that without a vibrant fringe, politics tends to sacrifice principles in the name of compromise.
If the recent stimulus package is any guide, that spirit of bipartisanship hasn’t swept Washington DC just yet. After the bill past in spite a near-total lack of support from Republicans, Senator Lindsey Graham responded saying, “If this is going to be bipartisanship, the country’s screwed.”
Source: American Conservative
2/16/2009 5:05:33 PM
While rocket attacks in Gaza have subsided since a ceasefire was brokered in late January, the devastation for those living in the war zone has hardly ebbed.
Writing for the New Statesman, Sami Abdel-Shafi describes post-ceasefire Gaza as “almost exactly as it was before the war.” Abdel-Shafi continues that, “[d]esperation and hopelessness are now soaring to new levels,” and despite the death and destruction incurred by the fighting, “[t]here seems to be no victor in this war.”
Blogging for the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting’s Untold Stories, Elliott Woods, an American reporter, describes a state of persistent fear that continues to shroud Gaza:
When I first arrived, my Gazan hosts practically wet their pants laughing when they saw how I shuddered at the sound of nearby explosions. But one of them—middle-aged, thick-necked Mahdi—later admitted to me, "We're all scared, all the time."
Now that I have been here for almost a month—mostly during the so-called cease-fire—I can feel the continual threat in my bones. It's an ever present unease, like a headache or a hangover that doesn't keep you in bed, but keeps you conscious of the fact that something isn't quite right.
Israeli attacks aren’t the only source of that “ever present unease.” According to the Guardian, Hamas has been conducting a “new and violent crackdown” on “all perceived internal opponents,” supposedly out of concern that the war weakened its grip on power in the Gaza Strip. Amnesty International alleges dozens have been murdered, beaten, or shot, though not killed.
“People are afraid to live normal lives, to express their opinions freely,” one activist told the Guardian. “There is no freedom of speech, of movement, of travelling or having real healthcare. Hamas is raising George Bush's policy: those not with us are against us.”
The United Nations reports that, according to the Palestinian Ministry of Health, Israeli attacks killed 1,440 (pdf), injured 5,380, and displaced hundreds of thousands in Gaza. Additionally, some one million Israelis had their lives “disrupted” in some way by Hamas attacks. But post-ceasefire, getting aid to Gaza—where it’s desperately needed—has been particularly difficult (pdf) due to restrictive and inconsistent access.
Image by Al Jazeera, licensed under Creative Commons.
Sources: New Statesman, Untold Stories, Guardian, United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs
2/13/2009 1:07:37 PM
Most Americans are going through hard times, but our shaky economy is hitting Latino immigrants with particular force, according to a new analysis by the Pew Hispanic Center. Using Census data, the center found that between late 2007 and late 2008, unemployment among foreign-born Latinos rose 2.9 points to eight percent, while unemployment in the overall workforce rose only two points to 6.6 percent. The report didn’t include data on how many of these workers were documented or undocumented.
The ripple effect is already being felt by families in Latin America who depend on money sent home from relatives working in the U.S. For the first time in 13 years, remittances sent from the U.S. to family members in Mexico declined in 2008.
Source: Pew Hispanic Center
2/11/2009 9:25:37 AM
Every year, pharmaceutical companies spend some $23 billion trying to convince doctors to prescribe their drugs. The industry employs about 90,000 drug reps, also known as “detailers,” to make friends with the doctors, dole out gifts, and make the case for drugs personally. Some drug companies even engage in data-mining to target specific doctors who might be susceptible to marketing efforts.
To combat drug company bias, states have begun employing “academic detailers,” according to John Buntin in Governing, providing “independent, evidence-based information on how best to treat complex medical conditions.” Pennsylvania, a state that spent $2.5 billion last year filling prescriptions, hired the first academic detailers, and South Carolina, Massachusetts, and Washington D.C. quickly followed suit.
Other states have gone further, forcing drug companies to disclose gifts to doctors. Others have tried to ban data-mining, and some doctors aren't happy. “The government is saying that you can have a license to prescribe narcotics, but we can’t trust you with gifts of pens and paper,” Dr. David Stein of Primary Care Associates told Governing. “That’s the way we’re being treated. The best term I can use is we’re being treated like whores.”
2/9/2009 3:38:52 PM
Desperate times call for desperate measures and, hopefully, desperately good reporting. But when it comes to the stimulus package—the crucial tonic, we’re told, for our ailing economy—are we getting it?
I’ve been on the prowl for solid, digestible treatments of the strengths and weaknesses of the multi-billion dollar plan, because frankly, I need some help wrapping my head around it. But the stories that seem to be everywhere—those detailing the demise of Obama’s honeymoon (starts around 3:15), accounts of partisan gamesmanship, and analyses of who’s winning the spin wars—make good fodder for gossip sessions, but do little to help us understand how we got into this mess and form educated opinions about the best way out of it.
Here are a few things we found helpful (and have enjoyed) so far:
From the New York Times, lessons the U.S. can learn from Japan’s stimulus spending in the ‘90s, which included heavy infrastructure investments.
Two stories from This American Life and Morning Edition describe the Keynesian approach of the stimulus package (starts around 36:15) and evaluate its merits. TAL has also done great, compelling reporting on the housing and financial crises.
NPR’s Planet Money blog has some handy maps that act as visual guides to the stimulus plan’s expected state-by-state impact.
Marketplace’s “decoder” series translates econ-speak into language normal people can understand.
Keep it coming, people: If you’ve come across particularly good stimulus coverage, let us know about it in the comments section below.
Sources: New York Times, This American Life, Morning Edition, Planet Money, Marketplace
2/9/2009 12:32:16 PM
In 1979 there were 44 beer breweries operating inside the United States, and the American palate was dominated by Budweiser, Pabst, and other colored water masquerading as beer. Today there are more than 1,400 breweries pumping out new chocolate stouts, double bocks, and other craft brews. Greg Beato writes for Reason that this renaissance in beer making was made possible by the repeal of some prohibition-era laws that regulated home brewing.
One brewery riding this wave of great beer is Dogfish Head, a company that tries to create brews that can’t be judged on regular beer standards. “We are trying to explore the outer edges of what beer can be,” Dogfish Head’s 39-year-old owner, Sam Calagione told the New Yorker. The company creates beers that are far more bitter and alcoholic than the stuff found in most supermarkets, though Calagione rejects the term “extreme beer” as a pejorative. Dogfish Head's swashbuckling approach, including a quest to create the biggest wooden barrel since prohibition out of an obscure Paraguayan wood, has catapulted the company from being the one of the country’s smallest beer makers to the thirty-eighth largest.
Dogfish Head may be helping the United States make up for lost beer time, but north of the border, the connection to beer may run a bit deeper. As evidence, see this Beer Map of Canada from Geist.
2/4/2009 4:05:34 PM
In 1920 one in seven U.S. farms was operated by black farmers. By 1992 that number had dropped to a mere one in 100, a decline due partly to the USDA’s pervasive racial discrimination in providing loans and subsidies and foreclosing on farms, Jessica Hoffman reports for ColorLines.
Compounding the problem, the USDA’s system for processing civil rights complaints “continues to be deficient despite years of attention,” according to a May 2008 report by the Government Accountability Office. Recalling a farmer who lost his farm to foreclosure before his civil rights claim was reviewed, former USDA civil rights department director Lloyd Wright acknowledged, “We found that the Department of Agriculture was guilty, but we really couldn’t compensate him because his land was gone.” In his first week as Secretary of Agriculture, Tom Vilsack highlighted the department’s ongoing struggle with civil rights as a challenge he will prioritize in his new position.
Meanwhile, black farmers have been working for reform. A coalition led by the National Black Farmers Association successfully lobbied for several provisions important to black farmers in the 2008 Farm Bill, including improved outreach to black farmers and a suspension of foreclosures on farmers with pending discrimination claims against the department. Fueling many of these farmer-activists is the knowledge that, in order for the black-owned family farm to endure, they must show young people that it’s possible to make a decent living as a farmer.
2/3/2009 1:58:58 PM
In the month following the Oscar Grant shooting on the Bay Area Rapid Transit, the Oakland police force has come under intense national scrutiny. There’s reason to believe the attention will continue: According to the Oakland Tribune, the FBI recently launched investigations into an alleged police cover-up of another civilian death back in 2000. Capt. Edward Poulson is accused of beating Jerry Amaro III, who later died of his injuries, and directing other officers to lie about it. Though the department conducted its own internal investigation into the matter, it resulted in only a brief suspension for Poulson, who not only kept his job but was later promoted to head of Internal Affairs. The Center for Investigative Reporting notes that the case is being revisited as part of a larger FBI inquiry into problems on the force, including accusations of sexual harassment and a scandal over falsified search warrants.
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