On whistleblowers and government threats of investigation


No healthy democracy can endure when the most consequential acts of those in power remain secret and unaccountable

James Clapper, the US director of national intelligence.

James Clapper, the US director of national intelligence, who called the Guardian’s revelations ‘reprehensible’. Photograph: Michael Reynolds/EPA

We followed Wednesday’s story about the NSA‘s bulk telephone record-gathering with one yesterday about the agency’s direct access to the servers of the world’s largest internet companies. I don’t have time at the moment to address all of the fallout because – to borrow someone else’s phrase – I’m Looking Forward to future revelations that are coming (and coming shortly), not Looking Backward to ones that have already come.

But I do want to make two points. One is about whistleblowers, and the other is about threats of investigations emanating from Washington:

1) Ever since the Nixon administration broke into the office of Daniel Ellsberg‘s psychoanalyst’s office, the tactic of the US government has been to attack and demonize whistleblowers as a means of distracting attention from their own exposed wrongdoing and destroying the credibility of the messenger so that everyone tunes out the message. That attempt will undoubtedly be made here.

I’ll say more about all that shortly, but for now: as these whistleblowing acts becoming increasingly demonized (“reprehensible”, declaredDirector of National Intelligence James Clapper yesterday), please just spend a moment considering the options available to someone with access to numerous Top Secret documents.

They could easily enrich themselves by selling those documents for huge sums of money to foreign intelligence services. They could seek to harm the US government by acting at the direction of a foreign adversary and covertly pass those secrets to them. They could gratuitously expose the identity of covert agents.

None of the whistleblowers persecuted by the Obama administration as part of its unprecedented attack on whistleblowers has done any of that: not one of them. Nor have those who are responsible for these current disclosures.

They did not act with any self-interest in mind. The opposite is true: they undertook great personal risk and sacrifice for one overarching reason: to make their fellow citizens aware of what their government is doing in the dark. Their objective is to educate, to democratize, to create accountability for those in power.

The people who do this are heroes. They are the embodiment of heroism. They do it knowing exactly what is likely to be done to them by the planet’s most powerful government, but they do it regardless. They don’t benefit in any way from these acts. I don’t want to over-simplify: human beings are complex, and usually act with multiple, mixed motives. But read this outstanding essay on this week’s disclosures from The Atlantic’s security expert, Bruce Schneier, to understand why these brave acts are so crucial.

Those who step forward to blow these whistles rarely benefit at all. The ones who benefit are you. You discover what you should know but what is hidden from you: namely, the most consequential acts being taken by those with the greatest power, and how those actions are affecting your life, your country and your world.

In 2008, candidate Obama decreed that “often the best source of information about waste, fraud, and abuse in government is an existing government employee committed to public integrity and willing to speak out,” and he hailed whistleblowing as:

“acts of courage and patriotism, which can sometimes save lives and often save taxpayer dollars, should be encouraged rather than stifled as they have been during the Bush administration.”

The current incarnation of Obama prosecutes those same whistlelblowers at double the number of all previous presidents combined, and spent the campaign season boasting about it.

The 2008 version of Obama was right. As the various attacks are inevitably unleashed on the whistleblower(s) here, they deserve the gratitude and – especially – the support of everyone, including media outlets, for the noble acts that they have undertaken for the good of all of us. When it comes to what the Surveillance State is building and doing in the dark, we are much more informed today than we were yesterday, and will be much more informed tomorrow than we are today, thanks to them.

(2) Like puppets reading from a script, various Washington officials almost immediately began spouting all sorts of threats about “investigations” they intend to launch about these disclosures. This has been their playbook for several years now: they want to deter and intimidate anyone and everyone who might shed light on what they’re doing with their abusive, manipulative exploitation of the power of law to punish those who bring about transparency.

That isn’t going to work. It’s beginning completely to backfire on them. It’s precisely because such behavior reveals their true character, their propensity to abuse power, that more and more people are determined to bring about accountability and transparency for what they do.

They can threaten to investigate all they want. But as this week makes clear, and will continue to make clear, the ones who will actually be investigated are them.

The way things are supposed to work is that we’re supposed to know virtually everything about what they do: that’s why they’re called publicservants. They’re supposed to know virtually nothing about what we do: that’s why we’re called private individuals.

This dynamic – the hallmark of a healthy and free society – has been radically reversed. Now, they know everything about what we do, and are constantly building systems to know more. Meanwhile, we know less and less about what they do, as they build walls of secrecy behind which they function. That’s the imbalance that needs to come to an end. No democracy can be healthy and functional if the most consequential acts of those who wield political power are completely unknown to those to whom they are supposed to be accountable.

There seems to be this mentality in Washington that as soon as they stamp TOP SECRET on something they’ve done we’re all supposed to quiver and allow them to do whatever they want without transparency or accountability under its banner. These endless investigations and prosecutions and threats are designed to bolster that fear-driven dynamic. But it isn’t working. It’s doing the opposite.

The times in American history when political power was constrained was when they went too far and the system backlashed and imposed limits. That’s what happened in the mid-1970s when the excesses of J Edgar Hoover and Richard Nixon became so extreme that the legitimacy of the political system depended upon it imposing restraints on itself. And that’s what is happening now as the government continues on its orgies of whistleblower prosecutions, trying to criminalize journalism, and building a massive surveillance apparatus that destroys privacy, all in the dark. The more they overreact to measures of accountability and transparency – the more they so flagrantly abuse their power of secrecy and investigations and prosecutions – the more quickly that backlash will arrive.

I’m going to go ahead and take the Constitution at its word that we’re guaranteed the right of a free press. So, obviously, are other people doing so. And that means that it isn’t the people who are being threatened who deserve and will get the investigations, but those issuing the threats who will get that. That’s why there’s a free press. That’s whatadversarial journalism means.

 

Socioeconomic Inequality in Disability – A Multi Country Study


 

A Multicountry Study Using the World Health Survey.
disability-discrimination1

 

Ahmad R. Hosseinpoor, Alana Officer, Emese Verdes, Nenad Kostanjsek, and Somnath Chatterji are with the World Health Organization, Geneva,Switzerland. Jennifer A. Stewart Williams is with the University of NewcastleNewcastle, New South Wales, Australia. Jeny Gautam is with Dianella Community Health, Melbourne, Victoria, Australia. Aleksandra Posarac is with the World Bank, Washington, DC.

 

“……We compared national prevalence and wealth-related inequality in disability across a large number of countries from all income groups.

Methods. Data on 218737 respondents participating in the World Health Survey 2002–2004 were analyzed.
A composite disability score (0–100) identified respondents who experienced significant disability in physical, mental, and social functioning irrespective of their underlying health condition. Disabled persons had disability composite scores above 40. Wealth was evaluated using an index of economic status in households based on ownership of selected assets. Socioeconomic inequalities were measured using the slope index of inequality and the relative index of inequality.

Results.
Median age-standardized disability prevalence was higher in the low- and lower middle-income countries. In all the study countries, disability was more prevalent in the poorest than in the richest wealth quintiles. Pro-rich inequality was statistically significant in 43 of 49 countries, with disability prevalence higher among populations with lower wealth. Median relative inequality was higher in the high- and upper middle-income countries.

Conclusions.
Integrating equity components into the monitoring of disability trends would help ensure that interventions reach and benefit populations with greatest need. …”

DOWNLOAD FULL STUDY HERE

(Am J Public Health. Published online ahead of print May 16, 2013: e1–e9. doi:10.2105/AJPH.2012.301115)

North Korea 101: Are We Really Primed for War?


Salon,  By Tim shorrock, Alternet

America’s current policy toward North Korea is an utter failure — here’s how we got here.

We all know it’s a crisis. Every night this week, NBC, CBS and every other media outlet in the country have led their evening newscasts with increasingly grim news out of Korea.

It’s gone like this. A state of war has been declared between North Korea and the United States by Kim Jong-un, the North’s 27-year-old hereditary dictator. North Korea has battle plans to attack Washington and other U.S. cities, including, of all places, Austin, Texas, with atomic weapons. The Kaesong Industrial Zone, the last demonstration of North and South Korean cooperation just above the DMZ, has been temporarily shut down after the North refused entry to South Koreans who work there. Pyongyang has threatened to restart its Yongbyon nuclear power plant, mothballed since 2007 under a nuclear proliferation agreement with Washington and other regional powers, and begin producing bomb-ready plutonium again. And on Thursday, North Korea was allegedly moving missiles to its east coast facing Japan.

The sense of hysteria and impending doom has been magnified by the Obama administration and the Pentagon. In a show of force not seen in East Asia for decades, the United States, as part of a series of war games with South Korea, dispatched B-52 and stealth B-2 bombers capable of devastating nuclear and tactical strikes screaming across Korean skies. F-22 warplanes, perhaps the most advanced in the U.S. arsenal, are there too, along with two guided-missile destroyers. A new THAAD portable missile defense system is being deployed to nearby Guam as a “precautionary” measure against possible North Korean missile strikes, and plans are underway for a massive expansion in U.S. missile defense systems in Alaska and the West Coast. Meanwhile, U.S. and South Korean troops practice simulated nuclear attacks and even regime change in their massive military drills, which both governments described as “defensive.”

The rhetoric has ratcheted up too – to alarming levels. “We formally inform the White House and Pentagon that the ever-escalating U.S. hostile policy toward the DPRK and its reckless nuclear threat will be smashed” by “cutting-edge smaller, lighter and diversified nuclear strike means of the DPRK,” a spokesman for the Korean Peoples’ Army (KPA) declared this week, using the formal name for the North – the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea. Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel responded in kind, calling the DPRK a “real and clear danger and threat” to the United States and its allies. “They have nuclear capacity now,” he added. “They have missile delivery capacity now.”

And then, out of the blue, President Obama and his military leaders came out on Thursday and sought to calm the waters – and the skies. “The White House is dialing back the aggressive posture amid fears that it could inadvertently trigger an even deeper crisis,” the Wall Street Journal reported in Thursday’s editions. It quoted a “senior administration official” explaining that the concern was “that we were heightening the prospect of misperceptions on the part of the North Koreans, and that that could lead to miscalculations.” U.S. officials, the Journal added, didn’t believe the DPRK had “any imminent plans to take military action.”

What the hell is going on? Are we really as close to war as this sounds? Why all the buildup if North Korea was bluffing? What’s up with the “dialing back” of U.S. forces? And what brought us to this point?

Before getting to those questions, everybody should take a deep breath. First, as anyone familiar with North Korea knows, any attack by the DPRK on the U.S. or its allies would be suicide for the country of 30 million: It would be met by a relentless counterattack by the most powerful military force the world has ever seen. Threats sound ominous, but at this point that’s all they seem to be: threats, designed to trigger a response in Washington that, in the mind of Kim and his military advisers, might lead to direct talks. (Remember his plaintive request to Dennis Rodman? “Obama should call me.”)

Second, contrary to Hagel’s assertion about DPRK’s nuclear and missile capabilities, there is no evidence that North Korea has the means to lob a nuclear-armed missile at the United States or anyone else. So far, it has produced several atomic bombs and tested them, but it lacks the fuel and the technology to miniaturize a nuke and place it on a missile (many of which have failed in tests anyway). North Korea’s problems in this area were clarified this week by Siegfried Hecker, one of America’s preeminent nuclear scientists, who has been invited to visit the DPRK’s nuclear facilities several times.

“Despite its recent threats, North Korea does not yet have much of a nuclear arsenal because it lacks fissile materials and has limited nuclear testing experience,” Hecker said this week on a website run by Stanford University’s Center for International Security and Cooperation, according to the Associated Press. And whatever U.S. intelligence knows about the actual capabilities of North Korea – which is more closely watched by U.S. spy satellites and planes than any country on earth – is highly classified.

Beyond that, the answers to our questions about the current situation lie deep in the history of U.S. involvement in Korea, which dates back to 1945 and the terrible war that engulfed the peninsula from 1950 to 1953. That war, in which over 3 million Koreans and some 60,000 Americans were killed, ended in an armistice, not a peace agreement (signed, incidentally, by the United States and the DPRK). North Korea also remembers it as a hellish time when the U.S. Air Force bombed the country into cinders – literally.

But for now, let’s go back just a few years. We’ll start in the waning days of the Clinton administration.

It’s hard to believe today, but in 2000, Kim Jong-il, dispatched his second-in-command, Vice Marshal Jo Myong-rok, to Washington. There, Jo met in the White House with President Clinton as well as the secretaries of State and Defense. At that time, Clinton officials later said, the United States and the DPRK were on the verge of an agreement in which North Korea was going to end its missile production and testing program in return for guarantees from Washington that the United States would recognize the DPRK and respect its sovereignity. Those talks grew out of Clinton’s 1994 accord with Kim Il-sung – the current leader’s grandfather. North Korea shut down its Soviet-era nuclear power program and the United States, South Korea and Japan agreed to help build a light-water reactor for civilian use and supply fuel oil to fill the gap.

The 1994 agreement, in turn, set the stage for South Korean President Kim Dae-jung – at one point that country’s most famous dissident – to initiate a broad “Sunshine Policy” with the North designed to build political and military trust and lead eventually to normalization and a form of unification. During the sunshine era, Kim’s successor as president, Roh Moo-hyun, reached an agreement with Kim Jong-il to build the Kaesong industrial zone – now the only thread remaining of this brief period of glasnost on the Korean Peninsula. The warming was symbolized in late 2000, when Secretary of State Madeleine Albright flew to Pyongyang and met with Kim Jong-il in the highest-level meeting in U.S.-North Korean history.

But Clinton’s missile agreement was never completed, and in 2000 incoming President Bush declared that North Korea could not be trusted as a negotiating partner and stopped all talks with the DPRK. Then, after the 9/11 attacks, Bush decided to place North Korea in the company of Iran and Saddam Hussein’s Iraq as partners in the “Axis of Evil.” That ended any chance of rapprochment. The hostility only deepened when Bush invaded Iraq and installed a pro-U.S. government – a move that Pyongyang understood as a clear statement of Bush’s intentions in Korea. This was followed in 2002 by U.S. accusations, denied at the time by the DPRK, that it was running a secret uranium facility to build bombs. After that, the earlier Clinton agreement completely unraveled. In 2006, North Korea shocked the world by testing its first atomic bomb (for a detailed timeline of North Korea’s program, click here).

By 2007, however, Bush began to rethink his policies as the costs of the U.S. wars in Iraq and Afghanistan escalated. Prodded by Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, who was edging out Dick Cheney as Bush’s chief foreign policy guru, the administration participated in a series of negotiations involving China, Japan, Russia and North and South Korea. The so-called six-party talks ended in an accord that extended Clinton’s 1994 agreement, shut Yongbyon for good, and set a timeline for deepening U.S.-North Korean ties. That agreement ended what historian Bruce Cumings called at the time “the most asinine Korea policy in history.” The DPRK even broadcast video of the Yongbyon cooling tower being blown up (those images were replayed on U.S. television this week when the North threatened to restart that plant).

A year later, Barack Obama, running in part on a platform that promised U.S. talks with countries like North Korea and Iran, was elected president. Shortly into his administration, a new Korea policy began to evolve under the stewardship of Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. It was called “strategic patience,” and was designed on the premise that Kim Jong-il was about to die and that the Kim dynasty, torn by internal power struggles, was bound to collapse. Clinton and Obama also made it clear that they would not reopen any talks with the North until it turned away from nuclear weapons and opened itself to change. That policy turned out to be a strategic miscalculation: Kim did die last year, but the transition to his third son, Kim Jong-un, has gone smoothly. The regime is still there, as strong as ever.

One incident from 2010 underscores how little Obama was interested in negotiations. That fall, a delegation of former high-ranking U.S. officials visited Pyongyang and met with senior officials in Kim Jong-il’s government. As I reported shortly after their return, the delegation was told “that Pyongyang is prepared to ship out all of its nuclear fuel rods, the key ingredient for producing weapons-grade plutonium, to a third country in exchange for a U.S. commitment to pledge that it has ‘no hostile intent” toward the DPRK.”  Joel Wit, a former State Department official who was part of the delegation, recalled last week that the offer “would have been a first step toward permanently disabling the [Yongban] facility, making sure the reactor would never again be a threat.” The offer, he added, “was dutifully reported to the Obama administration in briefings for the White House, the State Department, the Department of Defense, and the intelligence community.” But the Obama White House “didn’t even listen,” Wit said.

There was another complicating factor in Obama’s policies. After 2008, South Korea’s president was Lee Myung-bak, a conservative. Lee strongly opposed the “sunshine” policies of his predecessors and began to take a much harder line on military issues with the North. Relations across the DMZ took a nose-dive in March 2010, when Lee’s government blamed the North for blowing up a South Korean warship off Korea’s west coast, killing 46 sailors. The DPRK denied it, but a South Korean commission and an international team of investigators held the North responsible (many in the South still question those conclusions).

That incident kicked off the last big confrontation that had the Koreas and the United States talking of war. In November 2010, the United States and South Korea staged another major naval exercise on the west coast near where the Korean warship had gone down. The DPRK issued a series of warnings, saying that if any shells landed on their side of a disputed North-South maritime border, they would retaliate. Some did, and the North struck back ferociously by shelling the island of Yeonpyeong, killing several civilians.

South Korea, stung by this cruel attack on a non-military target, vowed to continue the exercises; the North issued more strong warnings. With several dozen U.S. soldiers on Yeongpyeong as observers and thousands more participating in the exercises, any clash was bound to draw in the United States. For a few days the world held its breath to see if war would break out. Lights were on 24/7 at the crisis center at the Pentagon (I explained what led up to that crisis in a long interview on “Democracy Now”).

Then something unusual happened. At the height of the crisis, on Dec. 16, 2010, Gen. James Cartwright, the outspoken vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told reporters that he was deeply concerned about the situation escalating out of control. In words designed to be heard in Seoul, he made it clear that the Pentagon wanted to ratchet down the situation. If North Korea “misunderstood” or reacted “in a negative way” by firing back, he said, “that would start potentially a chain reaction of firing and counter-firing.  What you don’t want to have happen out of that is for the escalation to be — for us to lose control of the escalation.” Cartwright, and the Pentagon, had no desire to be drawn into a war that was not of their own making.

Few noticed the significance of these words – but I did. Four days later, I tweeted: “When Gen. Cartwright warned of a ‘chain reaction’ that would cause the United States to ‘lose control of the escalation,’ he was talking to SK -not NK.” The morning the military drills were scheduled to restart, many reporters and Korea-watchers on Twitter were predicting that a second Korean War was about to begin. Then, as the time came close for the first live-firing to commence, the South Korean military put out the word that the exercises would be “delayed” because of weather. They were – and then were scrapped altogether. Cartwright’s warning apparently worked. The crisis ended. But a year later little had changed – except that Kim Jong-un was now in charge of the DPRK.

The current crisis began last December, when Kim’s military defied global warnings against his weapons program and successfully launched a rocket that actually placed a satellite in orbit. The move was quickly condemned by the United States and South Korea, but this time the criticism also came from China and Russia. Then, in February, North Korea carried out its third test of a nuclear weapon that was nearly twice as large as its last one. A few days later, the U.N. Security Council imposed deeper sanctions on North Korea. Its government lashed out again, but this time the rhetoric had changed. In the past, the North had always blasted South Korea as its primary antagonist, but early in January it began to frame its problems in the context of its decades-long confrontation with the United States.

As I explained to “Democracy Now” on Feb. 12, in recent weeks North Korea has “increasingly been focused on the role of the United States, the role of the United States military in South Korea and the whole Asian region. And they’ve been talking a lot about these massive war games that the United States and South Korea take that take place almost every year, and which one took place last week. And they see the United States and these war games as very hostile and as a threat to their sovereignty, as they put it.”

In other words, their “primary enemy” had shifted from the South to the United States. Since then, the DPRK has said again and again that Washington is to blame for the ongoing tensions in Korea, and that until those tensions are resolved, the region will remain in crisis. That position was summed up by the KPA official quoted earlier. “The U.S. high-handed hostile policy toward the DPRK aimed to encroach upon its sovereignty and the dignity of its supreme leadership and bring down its social system is being implemented through actual military actions without hesitation,” he said. “The responsibility for this grave situation entirely rests with the U.S.”

And that’s basically where we are today. The Obama administration has a choice: It can continue a policy of sanctions, military pressure and no talks until North Korea agrees to abandon its nuclear weapons; or it can try something that’s been tried, with varying success in the past: negotiate, possibly with the assistance of China and other regional powers, toward a peaceful solution that benefits everyone in the region, including the DPRK. But two things are clear. One: America’s current policy toward North Korea is an utter failure. Two: Another Korean War is unthinkable. With the latest statements from the Pentagon today about “dialing back” tensions, those lessons may be sinking in.

_

 

West at its duplicitous worst in wooing Narendra Modi


DNA 18FEB2013

 

English: Narendra Modi in Press Conference

 

Shastri Ramachandaran

 

The ardent overtures to Gujarat chief minister Narendra Modi by Europe, the UK and the US tell us more about these states betraying their own constitutional values than about Modi’s appeal abroad. Even the BJP has prudently desisted from crowing about the party’s “growing international appeal” as some admirers of Modi are prone to doing in private.
The impression gained from conversations with some retired and a few serving officials in the ministry of external affairs (MEA) is that Europe and the UK have not earned any diplomatic brownie points for making a beeline to Modi, under whose watch Gujarat witnessed the massacre of nearly 1,500 Muslims in 2002. Not long before the carnage, these very western governments were fuming over churches being torched and attacked and Christians being targeted in Modi’s Gujarat. The US, in contrast, has played its cards more shrewdly.
Long before the much-publicised British high commissioner’s visit, in October 2012, re-opened the communication channel to Modi, the Danish ambassador was already talking to him. As one diplomatic observer pointed out, “Denmark probably did it out of pique or spite – because the Government of India had consigned the Danish embassy to the diplomatic doghouse”. The Danish government – because the ambassador was unlikely to act on his own in this matter – wanted to show the UPA government its displeasure at being isolated.
The reasons for Denmark being isolated include its executive’s refusal to appeal a judicial order against the extradition of Kim Davey, who is wanted in the Purulia arms drop case. The cartoons of the Prophet (which Indians and New Delhi found objectionable) and Danish state broadcasters telecasting films shot in violation of visa conditions were just two of the many issues that had soured relations.
Worse than the transgressions was the Danish government’s defence of these offending acts. So, it came as a surprise when the Danish government — which cited India’s atrocious human rights record and abominable prison system to justify its refusal to extradite the terrorist Kim Davey — went out of the way to court Modi. That Modi was chief minister during the massacre of 1,500 Muslims, and for this reason barred from getting a visa or travelling to Europe, the UK and the US, seemed to hardly matter as an issue of diplomatic concern.
It is possible that the Danes were used to test the waters before biggies, such as the UK and Germany, took the plunge. Not long after the UK foreign office asked its high commissioner in India to build bridges to Modi, envoys from EU countries queued up to meet the man who is projected by influential sections as a potential prime minister.
The West, which never misses an opportunity to berate or slam India for human rights violations and is forever preaching about democracy, religious freedom, rule of law and respect for judiciary, seems to have admitted that these are at best nonsense; and, at worst, instrumental in negotiating better terms of trade.
The EU ambassadors rationalised their cosying up to Modi by arguing that he had not been “judicially arraigned yet” for the massacres in Gujarat; and that making up with Modi was proof of their respect to India’s democratic institutions, electoral system and judiciary. The countries which barred his entry are now falling over each other to invite him to Europe; and, he is to be feted by not only European business but also the European Parliament.
As for the US, its ingenuity will be severely tested when it comes to inviting Modi for a visit because its law bars foreign government officials who have “committed particularly severe violations of religious freedom”. However, this would be a minor hurdle when Washington chooses to roll out the red carpet for Modi.
What emerges from these developments is that the West, for all its protestations about human rights and democracy, couldn’t care less about either M – Modi or the Minorities. The only M that spurs the West is Money. It is the cynical pursuit of financial profit – investment opportunities and defence contracts — that guides western governments when it comes to the “lesser people” and “lesser nations”.
One of the most jarring developments in the aftermath of the 2002 riots was that, contrary to general expectation, a delegation led by the US Commerce Secretary did not put off its visit to Gujarat. It was business as usual for Washington.
Whether Modi becomes prime minister or not, there is no doubt that the West has earned his contempt, rightfully.
The author is an independent political and

 

Mothers Are Taking Leadership on Gun Control


By Allison Stevens

WeNews correspondent

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

The day still haunts me–from 25 years ago–when my junior high school went into lockdown after a mass shooting at the nearby grade school. Now, after Newtown, women with children are taking responsibility for getting something done.

Stand Up Washington, a march and rally in Seattle to ban assault weapons and call for gun control laws.
Stand Up Washington, a march and rally in Seattle to ban assault weapons and call for gun control laws.

Credit: sea turtle on Flickr, under Creative Commons (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0).

 

(WOMENSENEWS)–In the hours after the massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn.,Shannon Watts, a mother of five, founded One Million Moms for Gun Control in Indianapolis.

The group is holding demonstrations in New York City on Jan. 21 and co-sponsoring a march on Washington on Jan. 26 to build momentum for legislation to restrict access to guns.

MomsRising, a national grassroots advocacy based in Seattle, is urging its members to petition Congress and the National Rifle Association to stop blocking common sense gun regulations. The group is also calling on Wal-Mart, based in Bentonville, Ark., and the largest gun dealer in the country, to stop selling assault weapons and high-capacity ammunition magazines. Yesterday its members rallied at the Wal-Mart in Danbury, Conn.–minutes from Sandy Hook Elementary School–to ask the retailer to stop selling such weapons.

Veronique Pozner, a mother of one of Sandy Hook’s slain first-graders, has said she wants to play a part in the discussion about the federal response to the rampage.

Moms, in other words, are speaking out as President Barack Obama and Vice President Joe Biden try to build consensus for a controversial gun-control package that could include a push for background checks for all gun buyers and a ban on assault weapons and high-capacity magazines. Obama is also reportedly considering using the power of his executive office to restrict access to guns.

When mothers speak about slain children, they awaken the primordial parent in all of us, and we are collectively driven to protect our young–at all costs and against all odds.

Compounded Fear

I’m a mother now, and for me the fear is compounded. I don’t want my own children to go through the kind of mass-shooting ordeal that I did.

Twenty-five years ago in my hometown of Winnetka, Ill., a deranged babysitter opened fire at our local elementary school and shot six first graders, killing one, a little boy named Nicholas Corwin. That day is scorched in my memory. I was in junior high school, and my school was in lockdown until we were told that it was safe to emerge because the murderer–Laurie Dann–had shot herself. (Yes, ours was one of the rare mass shootings by a female, the one that must always be cited as the exception to discussions of how young men, with untreated mental illnesses, are the usual perpetrators of these horrific crimes.)

Obama is calling on us, as a society, to come together to make all our children safer.

“We bear responsibility for every child, because we’re counting on everybody else to help look after ours, that we’re all parents, that they are all our children,” Obama said in a memorial service after the Newtown shooting, wiping away tears throughout the speech. “This is our first task, caring for our children. It’s our first job. If we don’t get that right, we don’t get anything right. That’s how, as a society, we will be judged.”

If history is any guide, mothers’ powerful advocacy role may turn out to be crucial to our national response to Newtown.

Historical Responses

Back in 1903, Mary Harris “Mother” Jones, a prominent labor activist, launched the fight for child labor laws with a famous march of “mill children” to the Long Island home of President Teddy Roosevelt.

In the 1980s, Candace Lightner founded Mothers Against Drunk Driving and sparked a national movement that has lowered drunk-driving related fatalities by more than 40 percent, according to the Department of Transportation.

Dennis and Judi Shepard started an organization to combat hate crimes after their son Mathew was beaten and left to die because he was gay.

Jeanne Manford founded Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays (PFLAGG) after her openly gay son was beaten and hospitalized; and Cindy Sheehan led the anti-war movement in the last decade after her son was killed in the war in Iraq.

The list goes on.

Mothers, of course, have been pushing for gun control for years.

Rep. Carolyn McCarthy, a Democrat from New York whose husband was killed and whose son was severely injured during a shooting on a Long Island commuter train in 1993, won a seat in Congress on the issue and ever since has been the leading voice for gun control in the U.S. Congress.

In 2000, hundreds of thousands of mothers descended on Washington, D.C., to participate in the Million Mom March, which took place about a year after the tragic school shooting at Columbine High School in Colorado.

Now, the bereaved mother Pozner could emerge as a key leader in what happens next.

“As the mother of a 6-year-old victim of a cold-blooded massacre of school children, I am puzzled and disappointed by the fact that I have had no information or opportunity to be heard regarding the upcoming legislative proposal in Washington,” she said in a recent statement.

I have a hunch that if we give moms like Pozner the space to tell their painful stories, people will listen, and act, to prevent more gun violence. I know I will.

Allison Stevens is a writer in Washington, D.C. She works for a public relations firm whose clients include MomsRising.org. These opinions are her own.

America elections – Winning #Obama


#winning

Posted by Melissa McEwan at Wednesday, November 07, 2012, at http://www.shakesville.com/
image of First Lady Michelle Obama, President Barack Obama, Vice President Joe Biden, and Dr. Jill Biden onstage at the Team Obama victory rally last night, raising their arms in celebration as red, white, and blue confetti falls around them
WIN: President Barack Obama was reelected.

WIN: Relatedly, terrible plutocrat Mitt Romney lost.

WIN: Voters in Maryland, Maine, and Washington (projected) break a 32-state losing streak and legalize same-sex marriage by popular vote.

WIN: Voters in Minnesota vote down a proposed amendment to the state constitution that would have defined marriage as a union between one man and one woman.

WIN: The 113th Congress will have a record number of female senators: 20. Sixteen of them are Democrats; four are Republicans.

WIN: Elizabeth Warren (MA) is one of them. Elizabeth Warren won.

WIN: Mazie Hirono (HI) is also one of them. She is the first Asian American female senator!

WIN: Tammy Baldwin (WI) is also one of them, defeating popular Republican Tommy Thompson in the Wisconsin Senate race, making her both Wisconsin’s first female senator and the first openly gay member of the US Senate. Said Baldwin: “I am well aware that I will have the honour to be Wisconsin’s first woman US senator, and I am well aware that I will be the first openly gay member of the United States Senate, but I didn’t run to make history. I ran to make a difference. But in choosing me to tackle those problems the people of Wisconsin have made history.”

WINClaire McCaskill (MO) is also one of them, defeating the loathsome anti-choice rape apologistTodd Akin.

WIN: In Indiana, Democrat Joe Donnelly beat the loathsome anti-choice rape apologist Richard Mourdock in their race for the US Senate.

WIN: In Washington, Democrat Suzan DelBene beat the loathsome anti-choice rape apologist John Koster in their race for seat in the state congress.

WIN: In Illinois, Tammy Duckworth beat the loathsome anti-choice rape apologist Joe Walsh in their race for the US House of Representatives. Duckworth, who lost both legs serving in Iraq, is the first female war veteran with disabilities elected to the US Congress.

WIN: US voters chose women of color, women with disabilities, women who are gay, pro-choice women, and rejected men who minimize rape.

WIN: New Hampshire became the first state in the nation to have an all-female Congressional delegation: Two female senators and two female representatives. Their newly elected governor is also a woman.

WIN: Colorado and Washington voters legalized marijuana for recreational use. Massachusetts voters legalized marijuana for medical use.

WIN: A majority of US voters support legal abortion, and voted accordingly.

WIN: A majority of US voters rejected bigotry and reelected our African American President.

WIN: US voters rejected voter suppression efforts and often withstood long lines and shady disincentives to vote. vote. vote.

That is not a comprehensive list. And there were also some disappointments. Some state initiatives passed that are shitty. Indiana’s new governor is Mike Pence, and we certainly aren’t the only state who elected a gross conservative to a statehouse or Congress in a hard-won race.

But it was a big night. A big night for progress. A broad mandate.

I hope the President hears the roar of his progressive base. I hope he knows what a difference it made when he spoke out in favor of marriage equality. I hope he governs like a person who won because of people who expect more.

I hope we all muster the strength and sustain the will to urge him ever forward.

 

Two US states back legalizing gay marriage #Gender


AP | Nov 7, 2012, 12.11PM IST

Voters a continent apart made history on Tuesday on two divisive social issues, with Maine and Maryland becoming the first states to approve same-sex marriage by popular vote, while Washington state and Colorado legalized recreational use of marijuana.

The outcome in Maine and Maryland broke a 32-state streak, dating back to 1998, in which gay marriage had been rebuffed by every state that voted on it. They will become the seventh and eighth states to allow same-sex couples to marry.

“For the first time, voters in Maine and Maryland voted to allow loving couples to make lifelong commitments through marriage – forever taking away the right-wing talking point that marriage equality couldn’t win on the ballot,” said Chad Griffin of the Human Rights Campaign, a national gay-rights group.

Washington state also was voting on measures to legalize same-sex marriage, while Minnesota voters were considering a conservative-backed amendment that would place a ban on same-sex marriage in the state constitution.

The marijuana measures in Colorado and Washington set up a showdown with the federal government, which outlaws the drug.

Colorado’s Amendment 64 will allow adults over 21 to possess up to an ounce (28 grams) of marijuana, though using the drug publicly would still be banned. The amendment would also allow people to grow up to six marijuana plants in a private, secure area.

Washington’s measure establishes a system of state-licensed marijuana growers, processors and retail stores, where adults can buy up to an ounce (28 grams). It also establishes a standard blood test limit for driving under the influence.

The Washington measure was notable for its sponsors and supporters, who ranged from public health experts and wealthy high-tech executives to two of the Justice Department’s top former officials in Seattle, U.S. Attorneys John McKay and Kate Pflaumer.

“Marijuana policy reform remains an issue where the people lead and the politicians follow,” saidEthan Nadelmann of the Drug Policy Alliance, which opposes the co-called “war on drugs.” ”But Washington state shows that many politicians are beginning to catch up.”

Estimates show that pot taxes could bring in hundreds of millions of dollars a year, but the sales won’t start until state officials make rules to govern the legal weed industry.

In Massachusetts, voters approved a measure to allow marijuana use for medical reasons, joining 17 other states. Arkansas voters were deciding on a similar measure that would make it the first Southern state in that group.

Maine’s referendum on same-sex marriage marked the first time that gay-rights supporters put the issue to a popular vote. They collected enough signatures over the summer to schedule the vote, hoping to reverse the outcome of a 2009 referendum that quashed a gay-marriage law enacted by the state Legislature.

In both Maryland and Washington, gay-marriage laws were approved by lawmakers and signed by the governors earlier this year, but opponents gathered enough signatures to challenge the laws.

In Minnesota, the question was whether the state would join 30 others in placing a ban on gay marriage in its constitution. Even if the ban is defeated, same-sex marriage would remain illegal in Minnesota under statute.

Heading into the election, gay marriage was legal in six states and Washington, D.C. – in each case the result of legislation or court orders, not by a vote of the people.

In California, voters were deciding whether to repeal the state’s death penalty. If the measure prevailed, the more than 720 inmates on death row there would have their sentences converted to life in prison.

While 17 states have ended capital punishment, most did so through legislative action. Only in Oregon, in 1964, did voters choose to repeal the death penalty; they later reversed themselves to reinstate it.

In all, there were 176 measures on the ballots Tuesday in 38 states, according to the Initiative and Referendum Institute at the University of Southern California.

Other notable ballot measures:

- Maryland voters approved a measure allowing illegal immigrants to pay lower in-state college tuition, provided they attended a state high school for three years and can show they filed state income tax returns during that time. About a dozen other states have similar laws, but Maryland’s is the first to be approved by voters.

- In Oklahoma, voters approved a Republican-backed measure that wipes out all affirmative action programs in state government hiring, education and contracting practices. Similar steps have been taken previously in Arizona, California, Michigan, Nebraska and Washington.

Man orders TV online at Amazon , gets Assault rifle #WTFnews


Amazon customer Seth Horvitz was shocked when he received a gun instead of a TV.Amazon customer Seth Horvitz was shocked when he received a gun instead of a TV. Photo: Wired

This post was originally published on Mashable.

A Washington man got a surprise package at his door after ordering what he thought was a television from Amazon.

Instead, Seth Horvitz opened the large box on Tuesday evening to find a military-grade assault rifle, according to Wired.

“When I saw some metal parts inside the box, I thought, ‘Maybe this is a TV stand or mount or something,” he told the magazine. “When I realised it was an assault rifle, it was pure shock and disbelief.”

Horvitz had ordered a Westinghouse 39-inch LCD television from the ecommerce retailer for around $US320. But after discovering the weapon, he contacted local police, who then confiscated the box. Officers told Horvitz the Sig Sauer 716 patrol rifle was illegal in Washington, Wired reported.

An invoice for $US1590 found inside the box revealed that it was addressed to Independence Gun Shop, a Pennsylvania-based business, from online retailer Gunbuyer.com.

After contacting Amazon, the company’s customer service department gave Horvitz “the standard line of sending a dispute claim for sending the wrong product”, he said.

Horvitz also contacted the third-party Amazon seller, who denied any knowledge of the weapon.

UPS, which delivered the package, likely caused the mixup, Horvitz said. The box had two different address labels on it — one with his proper address, and one with another.

“UPS puts the name label on and then they put a second small sticker — a redundant sticker with the tracking information on it,” Horvitz said. “There were two different small stickers as well. There was a small sticker that matched the label under mine, and a small sticker that matched mine.”

Amazon and Horvitz did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

Image courtesy of Wired

Mashable is the largest independent news source covering digital culture, social media and technology.

Early Death Assured in India Where 900 Million Go Hungry


By Mehul Srivastava and Adi Narayan – Jun 14, 2012 12:00 AM GMT+0530

The death certificate for 3-year-old Rashid Ahmed hides more than it reveals.

It lists his name, misspells his mother’s and says he died of malaria. What it doesn’t say is how little he weighed when he was brought to hospital with the disease in New Delhi one August night, how his ribs jutted from his chest, or how helpless his doctor, 28-year-old Gyvi Gaurav, was in trying to save him.

Mohamed Hafiz Khan, left, eats lunch along with his wife, middle bottom, and four children in their rented home iin the Dharavi slum area of Mumbai, India. Photographer: Dhiraj Singh/Bloomberg

June 14 (Bloomberg) — Gyvi Gaurav, a doctor at St. Stephen’s Hospital in New Delhi, talks about the case of a 3 year-old patient that died of malnutrition, which left him unable to fight off a case of malaria. In the 2005 National Family Health Survey, when India last measured its children for signs of hunger, it found 46 percent, or 31 million, weighed too little for their ages. That’s almost an entire Canada of malnourished under-three-year-olds. (Source: Bloomberg)

Clothes are hung out in a small alley in the Dharavi slum area of Mumbai, India. Photographer: Dhiraj Singh/Bloomberg

Children hold bowls of sprouts outside their home in the Dharavi slum area of Mumbai, India. Photographer: Dhiraj Singh/Bloomberg

Shabana Khan makes bread for her husband and four children at their rented home in the Dharavi slum area of Mumbai, India. Photographer: Dhiraj Singh/Bloomberg

A roadside vegetable vendor arranges brinjal in the Dharavi slum area of Mumbai, India. Photographer: Dhiraj Singh/Bloomberg

“It was hunger that killed him,” said Gaurav, who worked the night of August 15 at St. Stephen’s Hospital and was on watch when the toddler died. “He was so weak, so malnourished, that he would have died the first time he ever got really sick – - from malaria, diarrhea, anything.”

For Rashid’s mother, Nazia, the three-decade road from her birth to the death of her son ran alongside a slow collapse in India’s elemental struggle to feed its people. More than three- quarters of the 1.2 billion population eat less than minimum targets set by the government, up from about two-thirds, or 472 million people, in 1983. India’s failure to feed its people came as the economy accelerated, with gross domestic product per capita almost doubling in the past decade.

“I cry every night,” Nazia said on May 15, speaking through sobs after being told her child may have lived had he eaten better. “For my wasted life, for my dead child, for the hunger in my stomach. What could I give him? I had nothing, nothing to sell.”

Calories V. Nutrition

While nutritionists and economists debate the importance of targets defined solely in calories, other data shows gains in nourishment also stalled. In the 2005 National Family Health Survey, when India last weighed, measured and counted its children for signs of hunger, it found 46 percent — 31 million — weighed too little for their ages, almost an entire Canada of malnourished under-three-year-olds. In 1999, that number was 47 percent.

Some indicators worsened: 79 percent of children had anemia, against 74 percent in 1999; 19 percent were wasted — weighed too little for their height — up from 16 percent. Anemia prevents the absorption of nutrients; as do the diarrhea and other diseases caused by poor hygiene and sanitation.

In sheer numbers, 4 out of 10 malnourished children in the world are Indian, more than in all of Africa. War-torn Sudan and famine-struck Eritrea had smaller percentages of malnourished children, at about 32 percent, according to the Washington-based International Food Policy Research Institute.

Cognitive Deficit

India’s hungry children are likely to have lower cognitive skills, grow up to be weakened workers, suffer from chronic illnesses and die prematurely, according to the United Nations Children’s Fund. Hunger stalks them into adulthood too: 21 percent of all Indians are undernourished, according to Ifpri, up from 20 percent a decade ago. All of which costs the country about $68 billion a year, or almost 4 percent of GDP, according to Veena S. Rao, who heads nutrition initiatives for the government of Karnataka, the Indian state that encompasses the city of Bangalore.

“The problem of malnutrition is a national shame,” Prime Minister Manmohan Singh said in January, in one of about 50 public speeches where he has mentioned the subject. “Despite impressive growth in our gross domestic product, the level of under-nutrition in the country is unacceptably high.”

India has collected reliable and consistent national data on nutrition since 1972, soon after setting minimum daily intakes of about 2,100 calories a day for city residents, who are assumed to be less physically active. The level for rural- dwellers was pegged at 2,400 calories on the basis that tilling fields, harvesting crops and drawing water require greater exertion.

Counting Error

Only in 1999-2000 did the average urban Indian meet the target — and that may have been due to a counting error, according to the National Sample Survey Office, a branch of the statistics ministry. Rural Indians never have, and have seen their intake slide to 2,020 calories in 2010, from a high of 2,266 calories in 1973, according to Bloomberg calculations based on data from the office.

A National Nutrition Monitoring Bureau study in nine states that make up the majority of India’s malnourished population showed a steeper decline, with average rural calorie counts falling to about 1,900 in 2005 from 2,340 in 1979. Daily protein intake dropped to 49 grams (1.5 ounces) from 63 grams.

The global average is 77 grams, according to the UN’s Food and Agricultural Organization. The worldwide average daily caloric intake is about 2,800 calories a day.

Neither the diets of Nazia nor her two surviving children meet the averages.

Hard Life

A hard life outside Nagpur city in central India, where her husband died of tuberculosis and a failing cotton crop meant work dried up in the fields, was followed by a hard life in a New Delhi slum. After arriving in the Indian capital 10 years ago, Nazia begged on the streets before landing work as a day laborer on construction sites. Her third son, Rashid, was fathered by a different man.

At 5 feet and 3 inches (1.6 meters), Nazia weighs 43 kilograms (95 pounds). Her hands, rough and torn from years of lifting bricks and balancing them on a small turban over her head, move feverishly as she rolls wheat dough into a type of unleavened bread called rotis for dinner on a recent weeknight.

Sitting on the floor in their 7-foot by 8-foot home, she and her sons, Aslam, 12, and Akbar, 14, eat a hurried dinner, a bare lamp providing the only light. The brick-built room, topped with a patchwork corrugated metal roof in a small, illegal shanty-town between the Old Delhi railway station and the tourist spots of the Jama Masjid and the Red Fort, smells of old sweat and fresh sewage.

Daily Diet

Three rotis each, a gruel of potatoes and curry powder, an onion and a chili make up a typical dinner. Once a week in summer, they share two mangoes, with Nazia sucking on the flesh left around the seed after the boys eat most of the fruit. Lunch is the same, which the boys serve themselves cold from a small steel container, and breakfast is tea and two slices of coarse white bread. It all adds up to a daily consumption of 1,500 calories to 1,600 calories of mostly carbohydrates.

That places the family in the poorest quarter of Indians in terms of nutrition, with the group averaging 1,624 calories a day, according to Bloomberg calculations based on National Sample Survey data. The poorest 10th on average consume 1,485 calories — a little more than a McDonald’s Big Mac with large Coke and large fries.

‘Blunt Tool’

Calories are a blunt tool for understanding malnourishment, according to Angus Deaton, a Princeton economist who has studied India closely. While gains against malnourishment largely stalled between 1999 and 2005, two earlier surveys showed dropping calorie counts even as nourishment indicators improved, he said.

That suggests “the real focus should be on improving health, not just improving calorie counts,” Deaton said in a May 21 interview.

Indian lifestyles have changed since the early 1970’s, he said. More people in rural areas own bicycles, saving energy moving around and transporting things. Farm machinery is more widespread, cutting down on tilling and planting by hand. Ailments like malaria and diarrhea are less common as the supply of potable water improved.

“If you’re doing less manual labor, if your children are falling sick less often, then you need fewer calories,” Deaton said. “This is a natural progression of the Indian diet. Focusing just on calories is misleading.”

‘Republic of Hunger’

Not everyone agrees. Utsa Patnaik, a professor at New Delhi-based Jawaharlal Nehru University and author of “The Republic of Hunger,” said that the decline in calorie consumption is the result of a shortage of food availability, and a capitalist economy that hasn’t spread the benefits of India’s economic boom equitably.

Her research shows that per-capita availability of rice, wheat and other food-grains in India has fallen from 177 kilograms in the early 1990s to 153 kilos in 2004 — about what it was in 1934. Much of the deterioration in food security has come after Singh began opening India’s economy to free-market competition.

“Forty years of efforts to raise how much food-grains Indians are able to eat has been destroyed by a mere dozen years of economic reform,” Patnaik said.

Riddled With Graft

The government has expanded subsidy programs, spending about $11 billion in 2011 — about 5 percent of the central government’s $231 billion budget — to buy and distribute food at below-market prices to people officially designated as poor.

More than 30 investigations by the National Human Rights Commission, the Supreme Court and anti-corruption agencies such as the Central Bureau of Investigation have concluded that the public distribution is riddled with graft. As much as 40 percent of food purchased for the poor doesn’t reach them, according to the UN’s Standing Committee on Nutrition.

“Subsidies don’t reach the poor. Trickle-down doesn’t reach the poor. Nothing reaches the poor,” said Yogendra Alagh, an economist in Gujarat state who first proposed in 1972 the calorie guidelines that still govern food policy in India. “In the past two or three decades, we’ve regressed backwards into a country that can’t even guarantee a poor, pregnant woman a glass of milk so the next generation isn’t born stunted.”

At the same time, the number of rich is swelling. Households with more than $1 million in assets jumped 21 percent in the past year alone, a May 31 Boston Consulting Group report shows.

Efforts to improve sanitation are struggling to keep pace with a growing population and the spread of urban slums.

Fecal Matter

More than half of India’s population defecate daily in fields, bushes, beaches and other open spaces, according to a 2012 report by the World Health Organization and Unicef. Diarrhea among children younger than 5 years accounts for more than 47 percent of the total health-related economic impact of contaminated water and untreated fecal matter, according to a 2010 report by the World Bank’s Water and Sanitation Program.

Nazia’s family must pay to use a communal toilet. The queues are often so long, the stench so overpowering, that the boys defecate in an open sewer not far from the slum.

Every third night Nazia cooks dal, a curry of lentils common across north India, their calorie intake increases slightly, and the boys get some protein. On Fridays, after visiting a nearby mosque to pray, she makes a curry of eggs. Once a year, to mark the end of the month of day-time fasting called Ramadan, she buys some mutton.

“You should see how happy they are that day,” she said. “They talk about it for weeks before, and weeks after.”

Country Life

Nazia recalls when she first moved to Delhi she thought, if nothing else, she and her children would be eating more, if not better. Instead, recounting the meals she was able to pull together — with spinach from a small plot of land behind her hut, carrots when they were in season, coarse brown rice and yoghurt from the milk of a family goat, Nazia realizes that for her family the escape to Delhi has been a nutritional disaster.

A detailed description of her meals in the country yields an intake of about 1,800 calories a day, and far more nutrients — calcium, vitamin A and protein — than her diet in Delhi.

“If you had told me in the village that I wouldn’t get to eat any yoghurt in the city, I would have called you a liar,” she said, during one of eight interviews at the family’s home.

Richer, Hungrier

Instead, her move to New Delhi made her among the country’s biggest losers in terms of calories. The greatest drop in consumption, on average, is for village dwellers who migrated to the cities in the past 30 years. They’ve seen their intake fall to about 2,000 calories a day from about 2,200 calories in a village in the 1980s, National Sample Survey Office data show.

At the same time, Nazia’s income has doubled. She remembers living on 20 to 30 rupees (40-50 cents) a day in the village, where she didn’t have to pay rent. It’s a common trajectory, as traced out by the nutrition data: Indians like Nazia have seen measurable increases in income, with real GDP per capita almost doubling to 48,734 rupees ($873) a year in the past decade. And like Nazia, on average, they now consume fewer calories and less nourishing food.

These meals eat up almost a third of the 80 cents a day Nazia earns from her work at a construction site near the Old Delhi railway station. Nazia said she is too weak to labor more than four hours at a stretch. Because her children are young, they work only around the house, sometimes helping neighbors with chores in exchange for handfuls of uncooked rice.

The reasons behind the decline in urban calories are unclear.

Urban Costs

One theory argues that much of the increased income from moving to cities is spent on expenses forced upon slum-dwellers. Their children fall sick more often from dirty water; they must pay for transportation to work sites; they must pay rent rather than live in huts they built themselves.

“These are the costs of participating in the urban economy,” said Madhura Swaminathan, an economist at Kolkata’s Indian Statistical Institute. “Your increased income is canceled out by increased expenditure. In the end, you have even less left for food.”

That’s what happened to Mohamed Hafiz Khan, 40, and his family of five. In 1992, they moved to Mumbai, joining the economic refugees who flock to the city at a rate of one person every eight minutes. Most end up in slums, like the one where Khan lives with his wife Shabana and their four children.

Kerosene Prices

Khan, who works as a tailor, spends almost $90 out of the $150 he makes each month on food and kerosene for the family’s stove. In 1992, he paid $6.40 a month from his $38 wage for their 12-foot by 8-foot home in the Dharavi slum. This year, rent is $36 a month. His children fall sick almost twice a month, and the doctor’s fees add up. Their diet deteriorated as the price of kerosene in the slum’s black market soared.

While Singh’s government subsidizes the fuel, the Khans said corrupt local officials are siphoning off their allotment, forcing them to buy on the black market. Benchmark Asian prices of Kerosene in Singapore have risen fivefold in the past decade.

The four children used to drink Complan or Horlicks, enriched supplements their mother would mix with milk. They no longer do. The Khans used to eat rice, which used up more kerosene to cook. They no longer do. They used to eat as many rotis as they wanted to. Now they share 12 because they can’t afford the kerosene needed to roast them. They eat fruit maybe once every two weeks. The few vegetables the local market provides are withered and old.

Fresh Food

Across India, the percentage of daily calorie needs being met by fruit and vegetables dropped between 1993 and 2010, according to the National Sample Survey Office. Rural families get 1.8 percent of their energy from those foods, from 2 percent in 1993, the data show. For city-dwellers, the share fell to 2.6 percent to 3.3 percent.

In the weeks before he died, Rashid tasted his first ice cream. Older brother Akbar was given one by a foreign tourist at the railway station, and he ran back home before it could melt so he could share it with Rashid.

“It was the sweetest thing I’ve ever had,” said Akbar, describing how he and Rashid licked the inside of the cardboard container, and then saved it as a reminder.

Immune System

Both Rashid’s brothers survived malaria, common in Delhi’s slums during the monsoons, when rain water pools in potholes and open sewers for the Anopheles mosquito to breed. Rashid was weaker. Aslam, in an old picture taken for an identity card when he was three, appears to have rounded cheeks, and his arms were thicker than Rashid’s, his mother said. That may have been the result of two years when he lived with his grandparents in the village. When Akbar was 3, his father had been alive, and food was not that scarce.

Staff at St. Stephen’s Hospital weighed Rashid when his mother brought him in, shivering from eight hours of malaria- induced fevers. He weighed 12 kilos and his arms were “thin as sticks,” said Gaurav, the doctor.

Malnourishment had left his immune system too weak to fight the parasitic disease. He struggled with the richer hospital food and wasn’t able to properly absorb the chloroquine he was given for the malaria. A saline drip helped his condition a little, said Gaurav, who said he recalled the night so vividly because Rashid was the first child to die under his care. Gaurav gave the listless toddler medicines to lower his temperature, while mother Nazia tried to cool his skin with dampened rags.

To boost Rashid’s energy, Gaurav tried a trick that had worked with other children in his care: he gave an orderly the equivalent of 50 cents to buy ice cream.

“He ate three in three hours,” said Nazia.

On August 16, at about 3 a.m., Rashid died in his sleep.

In the refrigerator under the night shift nurse’s desk, surrounded by fresh syringes and medicines, a fourth cup of vanilla ice cream sat uneaten.

To contact the reporters on this story: Mehul Srivastava in New Delhi at msrivastava6@bloomberg.net; Adi Narayan in Mumbai at anarayan8@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Ben Richardson at brichardson8@bloomberg.net

Monsanto’s Deep Roots In Washington


seedling.jpg

By Russ Choma

 
It’s planting season, which brings to mind one of the most ubiquitous names in agribusiness: Monsanto

Love it or hate it — and there are plenty of people on either side — the company controls much of the agricultural market, and also sells products for the suburban yard such as the weed-killer Roundup. Roundup is the core of Monsanto’s agricultural breakthrough: The company produces genetically modified seeds that are resistant to the herbicide, making it easy for farmers to spray whole fields of soy or corn and kill only the weeds. Food production made easy.
On the flip side, environmentalists and organic food fans maintain there are too many unknowns and potential dangers involved with genetic modification. Monsanto, which last year had revenues of $11.8 billion, has become their bogeyman.

But such efforts as grassroots petitions and proposed legislation to require at least the labeling of genetically modified food have thus far withered on the vine next to Monsanto’s deeply rooted Washington presence, which has proved resistant to most lines of attack.

According to OpenSecrets.org data, in the first three months of this year, Monsanto spent$1.4 million lobbying Washington — and spent about $6.3 million total last year, more than any other agribusiness firm except the tobacco company Altria.

Monsanto’s interests in Washington are diverse. It lobbied bills ranging from the American Research and Competitiveness Act of 2011, which would extend tax credits for companies doing research, to several bills that would change the way the Department of Homeland Security handles security at chemical facilities — chemicals being a big part of Monsanto’s product portfolio.

And just as important as Monsanto’s legislative agenda for 2011 and 2012 is its regulatory one: the company’s lobbying reports list the departments and agencies it visited to talk to federal bureaucrats and appointees as they wrote rules to implement and enforce Congress’ handiwork. That explains why Monsanto reports having lobbied the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the Food and Drug Administration, theEnvironmental Protection Agency and many other executive branch offices.

The FDA currently is the target of a petition signed by more than 1 million people, according to a sponsor known as Just Label It, asking the agency to require that genetically engineered food be labeled as such. The petition, sponsored by a coalition of environmental and food groups, is an attempt by activists to make an end-run around Monsanto’s Washington operation — a necessity because their lobbying dollars pale in comparison to the cash spent by Monsanto and others in the industry. For instance, one of the coalition members, the Environmental Working Group, has spent just $82,000 on lobbying this year — or about 5 percent of Monsanto’s total.

“The power of Monsanto, whether in the halls of Washington, or in farm country, should not be ignored,” said Environmental Working Group spokesman Alex Formuzis. “Monsanto comes armed with some of the deepest pockets and a bench of influential lobbyists, which makes the coalition’s efforts over GMO labeling on behalf of consumers a very tough fight indeed.”

Another upcoming matter of great interest to Monsanto: the new farm bill, an omnibus piece of legislation that sets the nation’s agricultural policy and deals with nearly every aspect of the country’s farming and food industries. The current bill expires in 2013; when it went through Congress, Monsanto filed more lobbying reports on it than any other organization. The process of piecing together a new proposal is already well under way.

The company’s access to members of Congress who are likely to be key in shaping the final legislation may be eased by the contributions of its very active PAC, the Monsanto Citizenship Fund. Already this cycle it has spent $383,000. The biggest recipient of that money so far is Rep. Frank D. Lucas (R-Okla.) who has received $20,000 from Monsanto’s PAC — $10,000 for his campaign committee and $10,000 for his leadership PAC. Lucas happens to be the chairman of the House Agriculture Committee – no farm-related legislation is passed without his say-so.

Monsanto has hedged its investment with the agriculture committee, though — it also gave $13,500 to Rep. Collin Peterson (D-Minn.), the top-ranking Democrat on the committee. So far this election cycle, Monsanto’s PAC has given $77,500 to 17 members of the House agriculture committee, or their leadership PACs.

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