A recent report released by Feeding America, which operates a nationwide network of food banks and other programs (such as providing school kids with lunches during the summer), shows that the number of people using food banks and reporting "food insecurity" has increased dramatically.
Here are some findings from the report (I urge you t read more at the link):
After a year-long, bitter, rancorous debate--if you can call it debate, considering the epithets, falsehoods, and accusations being thrown around with abandon--some sort of health care reform has been signed into law. But health begins with nutrition. You can't be healthy if you can't get enough to eat, or if you can't get enough of the proper food to eat. Yet, according to Feeding America's study, one in four children is food insecure. ("Food insecure" is governmentese for not being certain where you'll find your next meal.) Since 2004, the number of children receiving food from Feeding America's food pantries has increased by 50%.
But people of all ages are finding that they have to turn to food pantries and other sources to get enough to eat. I know that food stamp use is at a record high, and this is true for the clients that seek help at food pantries as well (the number of their clients receiving food stamps has increased by 64% since 2006). Feeding America reports that over a third of their client households incude at least one employed adult, but the household income is so low that even the most basic necessities are difficult to afford. Ten per cent of clients are homeless. For all clients, the average monthly income is just $940.
What is wrong with a country that forces people to choose between heat and food, or medical care and food? What does that say about our social policy?
There are a lot of officeholders who don't seem to regard adequate food, shelter, and, yes, health care, to be basic human rights. Just recently several GOP Congress members have claimed that extending unemployment benefits would just discourage people from looking for work--this at a time when there just aren't enough jobs to go around. I suppose feeding children just encourages them to be layabouts who won't take responsibility for getting their own food. Or maybe it creates a bad habit, the habit of eating.
Please consider contributing to Feeding American at the above link, or seek out a local food bank. Money goes farther than donated goods, but any kind of donation is welcomed. If you are planning a garden this year, consider planting extra that can go to a local food pantry--fresh produce is always needed.
And here's something else you can do: ask Congress to increase funding for emergency food assistance, especially for children. Every five years Congress must reauthorize--and, one hopes, improve--government-funded child nutrition programs. Go here to sign the petition asking Congress to increase funding at this crucial time when we've seen such an alarming increase in hunger.
Yeah, we were invited to one on Saturday last, and did attend.
What can I say? It was like every other Midwestern wedding I've ever attended. Nobody keeled over, had a seizure, heart failure, or stroke when the brides kissed, and in fact the traditional clinking of silverware on glasses proceeded apace at the reception, just as at any other (read: heterosexual) wedding.
The ceremony was held at an Episcopalian church, and while the church does not officially recognize same-sex marriages, believe me, it was a wedding, complete with vows of being faithful unto death. The brides, having a sense of fun and lightheartedness, included a reading penned by Sandra Boynton, and the priest (a woman) did refer to the one Bible reading as the "token" Bible reading. So in that sense it was refreshing, to say the least. As we left the church, I said something to the priest on the order of "what a nice ceremony," and she replied, "Yes, wasn't that fun? I'm going to have to repeat that penguin reading ..."
The reception was very classy, with a guest book of fabulous photos of the brides--I mean really, really professional, fantastic photos--great food, and oh, okay, the wine wasn't that great but who cares. Most people seemed to be drinking cosmos, anyway...
As at every other wedding worth the celebration, I ended up removing my shoes so I could dance, etc. (See/hear "Sweet Old World" on that one.)
My point here is, what the fuck is wrong with people who are against same-sex marriages?? We were all pretty weepy at the beauty of it all, the brides were happy and radiant, and nobody seemed scandalized. Well, one of the brides' uncles was an asshole who refused to attend the church ceremony, but apart from that, it was all pretty usual.
Jim and I just felt completely befuddled as to why people get all foaming-at-the-mouth about same-sex weddings. We were so happy to be part of the celebration, and so happy to see these two women--who have been together over a decade--finally declare their commitment to each other in front of family and friends. They were ecstatic, and so were their guests.
And any time I can dance to the B-52s at a wedding reception, I got no complaints.
Naomi Klein writes:
It's time. Long past time. The best strategy to end the increasingly bloody occupation is for Israel to become the target of the kind of global movement that put an end to apartheid in South Africa.
Amen to that.
The carnage in Gaza should appall anyone with a conscience, and yet, as Free Learner points out, our own Senate--on a voice vote, so there's no record of who voted which way--passed a resolution expressing unequivocal support of the Israelis.
The Israelis have shelled ambulances, schools, and hospitals. They have refused to let humanitarian aid through to the wounded in Gaza. They have rounded people up into a single house and then shelled the house. Humanitarian workers have found emaciated children left for days, without food or water, near the corpses of their parents. The Israelis have used white phosphorus, which burns deep into tissue and, because the phosphorus is absorbed by the body, can cause multi-organ failure.
Yet Hamas is to be condemned as entirely at fault and Israel is to be lauded for "defending" itself.
Claims of genocide are said to be inappropriate, yet there is evidence that Israel's intentions are nothing short of genocidal. Yet we are never to say the word, never to levy the charge; there is a collusion of silence on this topic. John Pilger on the silence of "the Anglo-American intelligentsia":
They know that the horror now raining on Gaza has little to do with Hamas or, absurdly, "Israel's right to exist." They know the opposite to be true: that Palestine's right to exist was canceled 61 years ago and the expulsion and, if necessary, extinction of the indigenous people was planned and executed by the founders of Israel. They know, for example, that the infamous "Plan D" resulted in the murderous depopulation of 369 Palestinian towns and villages by the Haganah (Jewish army) and that massacre upon massacre of Palestinian civilians in such places as Deir Yassin, al-Dawayima, Eilaboun, Jish, Ramle and Lydda are referred to in official records as "ethnic cleansing." Arriving at a scene of this carnage, David Ben-Gurion, Israel's first prime minister, was asked by a general, Yigal Allon, "What shall we do with the Arabs?" Ben-Gurion, reported the Israeli historian Benny Morris, "made a dismissive, energetic gesture with his hand and said, ‘Expel them'. The order to expel an entire population "without attention to age" was signed by Yitzhak Rabin, a future prime minister promoted by the world's most efficient propaganda as a peacemaker. The terrible irony of this was addressed only in passing, such as when the Mapan Party co-leader Meir Ya'ari noted "how easily" Israel's leaders spoke of how it was "possible and permissible to take women, children and old men and to fill the roads with them because such is the imperative of strategy … who remembers who used this means against our people during the [Second World] war … we are appalled."
Pilger quotes Israeli historian Ilan Pappe, who wrote on January 2:
It seems that even the most horrendous crimes, such as the genocide in Gaza, are treated as desperate events, unconnected to anything that happened in the past and not associated with any ideology or system … Very much as the apartheid ideology explained the oppressive policies of the South African government, this ideology – in its most consensual and simplistic variety – has allowed all the Israeli governments in the past and the present to dehumanize the Palestinians wherever they are and strive to destroy them. The means altered from period to period, from location to location, as did the narrative covering up these atrocities. But there is a clear pattern [of genocide].
So, as Naomi Klein says, the time has come--or came quite a while back--for boycott, divest, sanctions.
(As I was writing this, I just saw a diary on Daily Kos that says Israel has now banned Arab parties from running in next month's election. So much for any idea that Israel is a democracy.)
In fact, the Palestinians called for BDS back in 2005. Israel has ignored UN resolutions and the rulings of the International Court of Justice, building a wall to sequester the Palestinians, refusing them food, fuel, and humanitarian aid, and condemning the Palestinians to misery and death.
Visit this site to endorse the call for BDS and for more information.
Go here to find out how you, personally, can boycott Israeli-made products. A barcode of 729 indicates that the product comes from Israel. In addition, you can learn more about what companies draw on Israeli technology and components. In addition, some Western companies manufacture equipment used by the Israeli military against the Palestinians. It's time we educated ourselves about how we are complicit in the slaughtering of the Palestinians.
According to Naomi Klein, support for BDS is growing worldwide. The recent events in Gaza should intensify this movement. I hope my readers will do their part to join in this movement to make Israel understand that the enormity, unacceptability, and immorality of its actions have consequences.
A while back I posted on Burger King's refusal to join McDonald's and Yum! Brands (owner of KFC, Taco Bell, and other chains) in agreeing to pay Florida tomato pickers an extra penny per pound. The Coalition for Immokalee Workers has put pressure on fast-food corporations to increase pay and working conditions for these farm workers, who suffer under some of the worst working conditions in the U.S.
Burger King has now bowed to pressure and joined the other fast-food giants in agreeing to the extra penny. Nation editor Katrina van den Heuvel writes:
This victory is testament to the tenacity and discipline of the Coalition,a community-based worker organization, which has exposed a half-dozen slavery cases that helped trigger the freeing of more than 1000 workers. It has also advocated for better wages, living conditions, respect from the industry, and an end to indentured servitude. In this last year, CIW scored victories in negotiating a penny-per-pound surcharge--so workers would receive about 77 cents per 32-pound bucket--with McDonald's and Yum! Brands (owner of Pizza Hut, Taco Bell, KFC). (The corporations also agreed to work with the Coalition to eliminate slavery from the fields.) And the corporations --not the tomato growers--agreed to pay the 40 percent salary increase. Astonishingly, Burger King, until today, refused to go along with a deal that will cost them less than $300,000 annually; last year, the corporation raked in $2.23 billion in revenues.
But, as van den Heuvel notes, this is no time for complacency: not only are conditions in the field appalling, but the Florida Tomato Growers Exchange is opposed to the penny-a-pound increase, even though that increase comes directly from the fast-food companies, not the growers themselves [link]:
As some growers began to implement the Yum/McDonald's agreement – an extra paycheck cut to the farmworkers by the buyers, not the growers, mind you – the Florida Tomato Growers Exchange (FTGE), representing 90 percent of the state's growers, said any members who adopted this policy would be fined $100,000 per worker benefiting from the agreement.
At the hearing, Reginald Brown, Executive VP for the FTGE, tried to justify opposition to the agreement on the grounds of "legal concerns." Unfortunately for him, Senator Bernie Sanders
entered into the record a letter from 26 legal professors specializing in labor law, including antitrust dimensions of labor standards, writing that "the ostensible legal concerns of the Growers Exchange are utterly without merit." (In fact, the experts concluded, the only real antitrust issue might be several growers agreeing amongst themselves to reject the deal.) He noted that McDonald's and Yum! Brands also entered letters into the record stating that there are no legal problems with the extra penny deal and that they want it implemented.
"I gather that McDonald's and Yum have some money to hire some pretty good attorneys," Sen. Sanders told Brown. "You might want to reconsider the attorneys you are using and rethink this issue."
The FTGE looks the other way when slavery occurs in the field, professing shock, yet somehow never uncovering such cases--while the CIW has uncovered several. It's thought that for every case of slavery that comes to light, there are others still concealed.
So while the Burger King victory is cause for celebration, it's only the beginning. The CIW's next step may well be to begin pressuring supermarket chains, including Wal-Mart and Whole Foods. If so, we can do our part by letting supermarkets know we support the CIW and by boycotting where appropriate. Those who buy tomatoes from Florida growers are in a position to insist on better pay and working conditions for tomato pickers, lest they take their business elsewhere.
Constant readers will know that I don't give any fast-food "restaurants" my business. But I'm hoping to persuade any Burger King customers out there to give up their Whoppers, even if that means buying a Big Mac (shudder).
Let me give you some background, courtesy of Eric Schlosser (author of Fast Food Nation):
The Student/Farmworker Alliance and an affiliated nonprofit, the Coalition of Immokalee Workers, have for years been urging the fast-food industry to accept some responsibility for the plight of Florida migrants who harvest the tomatoes for its hamburgers and tacos. . . . The wages of these farm workers, adjusted for inflation, have declined by as much as 70 percent since the late 1970s. And hundreds, perhaps thousands, of migrants have been enslaved by labor contractors and forced to work without pay. The McDonald’s Corporation and Yum Brands (which owns Taco Bell, Pizza Hut and KFC) have agreed to subsidize a modest pay raise for their tomato pickers and work closely with the coalition to eliminate slavery from the fields.
The "modest pay raise" is a penny per pound of tomatoes picked. Schlosser's use of the word "enslaved" is not metaphorical: we are talking about actual slavery, people forced to work without pay. Last month a Senate committee hearing was held on the issue of working conditions for tomato workers. An investigator for the Collier County Sheriff's Office, asked by Sen. Bernie Sanders whether there was human trafficking occurring in Florida agriculture, replied,
"It's probably occurring right now while we sit here," Frost said. "Almost assuredly it's going on right now."
The Coalition of Immokalee Workers (CIW) and the Student/Farmworker Alliance have fought some tough battles on behalf of the farm workers. For their efforts, they are now being spied upon by the Burger King corporation.
At first the company denied using such tactics. Now, however, a Burger King executive has admitted to using a private security firm, Diplomatic Tactical Services, to spy on the Alliance--ostensibly to prevent acts of violence.
“It is both the corporation’s right and duty,” a company spokesman later wrote in an e-mail message to [Schlosser], “to protect its employees and assets from potential harm.”
Neither the CIW nor the Student/Farmworker Alliance has ever been guilty of any form of violence. Burger King spied on this group in order to learn of its plans in hopes of undermining those plans.
Additionally, a Burger King official
Burger King's actions are unjustifiable and unconscionable. Publicly, officials say they want to work with the coalition to improve working conditions for tomato pickers, while privately they engage in actions seeking to discredit the coalition. Disinformation campaigns and spying are despicable acts, particularly when directed against efforts to improve workers' lives. A penny a pound would certainly not greatly erode Burger King's profits; McDonald's and Yum Brands have found it possible to reach an agreement with the CIW. In fact, Eric Schlosser has said that the penny-a-pound increase would cost Burger King only about $300,000 a year. Burger King reported $2.2 billion in revenues last year, and its CEO made $4.1 million. It's extremely hard to understand why they are balking at that extra penny.
The CIW presented, or tried to present, Burger King officials with a petition signed by 80,000 people promising to boycott the company if it doesn't do the right thing. You can sign the petition, and you can promise to stop patronizing Burger King.
While the fast-food companies haven't been the only beneficiaries of shockingly low wages and outright slavery--the Florida Tomato Growers Exchange is a particularly loathsome organization that has so far blocked that extra penny provided by McDonald's and Yum from reaching the workers--pressuring these companies, as the buyers, is a place to start. The buyers have the power to insist on decent treatment of workers and to look elsewhere for tomatoes (like Mexico) if growers refuse to be accountable.
Tomato workers have not had a raise in over twenty years. They average 45 cents per 32-pound bucket of tomatoes picked, about $50 per day. I hope that any Burger King customers reading this (and do follow the links for the whole story) will boycott the chain and urge others to do the same. Use your buying power to send a message.
On April 4, 1968, Martin Luther King was assassinated. Perhaps, like me, you're old enough to remember the shock and grief this news brought.
Perhaps, like me, you had the misfortune of hearing an expression of triumph. My aunt, whom I'd never thought was an overt racist, burst out, "Good! I'm glad they got the sonofabitch!"
That was nearly as shocking to me as King's murder.
This diary over on Kos marks the tragic occasion by recalling a speech given by King exactly one year before his death. That speech was "Beyond Vietnam -- A Time to Break Silence." Sadly, it is still sharply relevant today, when the US is embroiled in Iraq, still raining down carnage on innocent people it views merely as "collateral damage."
I urge you to read both the diary and the speech itself. Let me leave you with this, from near the end of the speech, after King's call for a "revolution of values" that shifts America from being "thing-oriented" to being "people-oriented":
A true revolution of values will soon look uneasily on the glaring contrast of poverty and wealth. With righteous indignation, it will look across the seas and see individual capitalists of the West investing huge sums of money in Asia, Africa, and South America, only to take the profits out with no concern for the social betterment of the countries, and say, "This is not just." It will look at our alliance with the landed gentry of South America and say, "This is not just." The Western arrogance of feeling that it has everything to teach others and nothing to learn from them is not just.
A true revolution of values will lay hand on the world order and say of war, "This way of settling differences is not just." This business of burning human beings with napalm, of filling our nation's homes with orphans and widows, of injecting poisonous drugs of hate into the veins of peoples normally humane, of sending men home from dark and bloody battlefields physically handicapped and psychologically deranged, cannot be reconciled with wisdom, justice, and love. A nation that continues year after year to spend more money on military defense than on programs of social uplift is approaching spiritual death.
We still have a choice today: nonviolent coexistence or violent coannihilation. We must move past indecision to action. We must find new ways to speak for peace in Vietnam and justice throughout the developing world, a world that borders on our doors. If we do not act, we shall surely be dragged down the long, dark, and shameful corridors of time reserved for those who possess power without compassion, might without morality, and strength without sight.
I'm afraid that thanks to the corrupt, venal, mendacious sociopaths who have been running this country, we will indeed suffer a legacy of shame--and worse.
But Dr. King never gave up hope, and neither should we. Yes, I often despair; but you can't work for change if you're paralyzed by despair.
Despair is a luxury we can't afford.
Have you heard of this facility?
In May 2006, the Department of Homeland Security opened its first prison for immigrant families 30 miles north of Austin. It is the first family detention center in the country to be based on the penal model, though plans were quickly made to build more.
The T Don Hutto facility holds men, women (some pregnant), children, and infants, none of whom have a criminal past. Administered by the Corrections Corporation of America (CCA), the country's largest for-profit corrections company, Hutto lacks proper licensing and medical facilities, and has been proven to traumatize families.
Until a settlement resulting from the action of the ACLU, all of the "residents" (actually inmates) wore uniforms, even the infants. But let me quote from the ACLU itself on the improvements that occurred only after a lawsuit was brought against CCA:
Conditions at Hutto have gradually and significantly improved as a result of the groundbreaking litigation. Children are no longer required to wear prison uniforms and are allowed much more time outdoors. Educational programming has expanded and guards have been instructed not to discipline children by threatening to separate them from their parents.
In addition to making those improvements permanent, the settlement also requires ICE to provide, among other things:
- allow children over the age of 12 to move freely about the facility
- provide a full-time, on-site pediatrician
- eliminate the count system which forces families to stay in their cells 12 hours a day
- install privacy curtains around toilets
- offer field trip opportunities to children
- supply more toys and age- and language-appropriate books
- improve the nutritional value of food
ICE must also allow regular legal orientation presentations by local immigrants’ rights organizations; allow family and friends to visit Hutto detainees seven days a week; and allow children to keep paper and pens in their rooms. ICE’s compliance with each of these reforms, as well as other conditions reforms, will be subject to external oversight to ensure their permanence. [my emphasis]
Remember, all of these improvements happened only because of litigation. CCA couldn't have cared less about providing such necessities had they not been threatened. I suppose we shouldn't really be surprised that when a prison-operating corporation runs a facility, it tends to be, well, a prison.
The ACLU's suit was settled in August. But way back in February, there had been enough disgust and protest that the prison conducted a tour for news media to show that
Once all the barbed wire comes down, Gary Mead, an Immigration and Customs Enforcement official, said, “it’s going to look more like a community college with a very high chain-link fence.”
Look at this and tell me what you think about this statement. Worse, let me quote from a report by the Women's Commission for Refugee Women & Children and the Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service, "Locking Up Family Values: The Detention of Immigrant Families":
In the medical wing, for example, pregnant detainees were X-rayed with no lead screen; detainees received dental work without anesthesia; pregnant women were not allowed milk and were shackled when taken outside the facility for checkups. Additionally, the report reveals that overheated water scalded children at times. To punish children deemed unruly, guards "would turn up the air conditioning so that the room became very cold" and would turn off hot water for bathing, the report states. But the worst offense was that so-called errant parents and their children lived under the threat of being separated.
There has been at least one documented case of a sexual assault of a detainee by a guard, and in an irony not really that surprising, undocumented workers have been proven to work for the CCA at Hutto. Apparently, Williamson County's only concerns revolve around possible liability issues stemming from these outrages.
Don't kid yourselves: with the rabid anti-immigrant sentiment today (anti- brown immigrants, of course), we'll see more of these "residential facilities," and they'll all be sold to us as ways to keep families together. In reality, they are just one more way to intimidate the brown hordes and play to the nativist, xenophobic elements of the far right. I am frightened and chilled to think that the United States of America has sunk so low.
You can help. Sign the petition. Visit the Texans United for Families action page. E-mail your elected officials and ask them to agitate for a more humane way to deal with families whose immigrant status is in limbo. And please tell everyone you know about this horrific reality in today's America.
It is heartbreaking, but the writing of it and the reading of it are necessities. We do not take to heart enough the reality of the ongoing Palestinian crisis.
Just read it.
Yes, that's right--the US is now ranked at number 53 in the world, along with Botswana, Croatia, and Tonga, when it comes to freedom of the press.
The press is freer in Mozambique than it is in the United States, according to the latest Worldwide Press Freedom Index, published by the Paris-based press freedom body, Reporters sans Frontieres (RSF - Reporters without Borders).
The RSF index gives each country a score, based on the degree of freedom for journalists and media organisations. . . .
But the United States has been falling steadily. In the first year the index was published it was in 17th position. Last year the US was in 44th position, and this year it is ranked as number 53 alongside Botswana, Croatia and Tonga.
RSF explains that this decline arises from the deterioration in relations between the Bush administration and the media "after the President used the pretext of "national security" to regard as suspicious any journalist who questioned his "war on terrorism".
RSF also points out that US federal courts refuse to recognise journalists' cherished right not to reveal their sources. This includes "even threatens journalists whose investigations have no connection at all with terrorism."
RSF notes, in particular, the cases of freelance journalist Josh Wolf, imprisoned by the US authorities when he refused to hand over his video archive; of Sudanese cameraman Sami al-Haj held without trial at the US military base of Guantanamo since June 2002; and of an Associated Press photographer, Bilal Hussein, held by the US in Iraq since April this year.
Let me remind you that we have heard calls for charges of treason against the New York Times and its reporters for publishing facts that the Bush administration finds inconvenient, and that, for the first time ever, the Justice Department (make that "Justice") is mulling over the possible use of the Espionage Act against journalists.
Yes, it's come to this. We're jailing people for telling the truth, because that truth casts the Emperor in a bad light.
Remember, under the recently passed Military Commissions Act, Bush has the power to call anybody he wants an "unlawful enemy combatant" and to arrest and detain said combatant forever, with no charges being brought and no right to legal representation, cut off from all help and subject to torture. Does anyone doubt that such power can be brought to bear against journalists? Um, make that, does anyone doubt that such power has already been brought to bear? We know it has.
According to CPJ, at least eight journalists have been detained for weeks or months by Iraqi and coalition forces. They include employees of CBS News, Reuters, the AP and Agence France-Presse among others. At least four of the detentions have exceeded 100 days, Campagna said.
Freedom of the press is crucial to maintaining any semblance of a democracy. I'd say that here in the US, we've lost any claim to being one. Just as horrifying is the fact that the media have been willing, even eager, to surrender their independence and become, instead, propagandists. They barely protest when their own reporters and photographers are threatened or detained.
American democracy, R.I.P.