Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Who Are the 400 Poorest?

We all know who the 400 Richest Americans are, and who are the world's billionaires. We know where they vacation, what kind of homes they live in, the cars they drive, their marital status, the yachts they go yachting in.

Our obsession with and lionization of the wealthy Cloud Minders (see David Korten) is obscene.

Do we know who the 400 poorest Americans are? Who are the 400 poorest in the world? Do we know their names? Do we know what each one eats, where they sleep, what kind of work they do?

We don't, but we do know about the injustice of wealth distribution: these top 400 richest Americans in Forbes own more than world's 2.5 billion poorest combined.
As Barbara Ehrenreich so eloquently put it:
The ‘working poor’ as they are approvingly termed, are in fact the major philanthropists of our society. They neglect their own children so that the children of others will be cared for; they live in substandard housing so that other homes will be shiny and perfect; they endure privation so that inflation will be low and stock prices high. To be a member of the working poor is to be an anonymous donor, a nameless benefactor, to everyone else.

More on Poverty

Monday, November 27, 2006

Eliminate Violence Against Women

Saturday was International Elimination of Violence Against Women Day, and the first of 16 Days of Activism Against Gender Violence.

In the GTA, 13 women have been murdered by their husband or partner so far this year. One was Malini Thayakumar, stabbed to death by her husband on Nov. 5. Kathiravelu Thayakumar, who killed their daughter before killing himself, had been convicted in 2002 of assaulting his wife.

The province as a whole fares even worse than the GTA, according to StatsCan, with three to six women a month being a victim of domestic homicide. (From The Star)

There's a very strong tendency is marginalize, ignore, or outright deny the extent of violence against women. One of the most important things to do is to keep the issue out there, in the public eye. Here are 16 more ways to help.

Truly, this issue is not just for women. Lots of great resources for men here and here (excellent sites).

More on Women's Rights.

Friday, November 24, 2006

Media Void

Swedish human rights worker viciously attacked by Jewish extremists in Hebron: Story Not Covered in Major Media

"If 100 Palestinians chanting anti-Christian slogans had smashed a 19-year-old Swedish girl in the face with a bottle, breaking her cheek bone, it would be headlines in much of the US media." Via IfAmericansKnew Group.

Well, Israeli extremist settlers did just that, and nary a peep from the major Western news outlets.

Please contact your local media, tell them you have a news tip.

To see if our agitaging has yet made a difference, visit Google News. Today's screenshot at left shows only 7 pieces of coverage, none of which are from major Western media.) Today we only read about the oldest Palestinian suicide bomber who injured 2 Israeli soldiers (also awful, but both stories are equally deserving of coverage).

From International Solidarity Movement
A 19-year old Swedish human rights worker had her cheekbone broken by a Jewish extremist in Hebron today. Earlier the same day at least five Palestinians, including a 3-year-old child, were injured by the settler-supporting extremists, who rampaged through Tel Rumeida hurling stones and bottles at local residents. Palestinian schoolchildren on their way home were also attacked. The Israeli army, which was intensively deployed in the area, did not intervene to stop the attacks.
The incident was the latest attack by extremist Jews in Hebron. The small group of Khannist settlers in Tel Rumeida regularly attack and harass Palestinians in the area. The violence sometimes spills over to the international human rights workers who accompany Palestinians in an attempt to protect them from settler attack.

Here is the response by the spokespeople for The Jewish Community of Hebron, suggesting to the Swedish Foreign Ministry that, "in order to avoid any other unpleasant incidents in Hebron, all Swedish citizens, including members of TIPH and others, such as Ms. Johansson, be requested to stop their politically provocative anti-Jewish activities, leave Hebron immediately and stop interfering in internal Israeli affairs."

Topics: Media Issues, Middle East

Friday, November 17, 2006


From ZNet:
One of the most devastating consequences of unearned privilege -- both for those of us on top and, for very different reasons, those who suffer beneath -- is the death of empathy.

Too many people with privileges of various kinds -- based on race or gender, economic status or citizenship in a powerful country -- go to great lengths not to know, to stay unaware of the reality of how so many live without our privilege. But even when we do learn, it's clear that information alone doesn't always lead to the needed political action. For that, we desperately need empathy, the capacity to understand the experiences -- especially the suffering -- of others. Too often in this country, privilege undermines that capacity for empathy, limiting the possibilities for solidarity.
This was a great article for me to read today.

Invalidating someone's experience and judging them is easy when you are in a position of privilege. Blaming the victim, a topic I have definitely written about before, is one example of the consequences of lacking empathy.

Examples: Those who condemned the people of New Orleans, calling them "whiners" (don't believe me?). The dude I was conversing with the other day about the Palestinians (comments on this post) - he made a lot of very well-reasoned arguments, but this always seems to be accompanied by an unwillingness to really take in the pain and suffering of the Palestinian people. Recent articles like this one dismissing date rape, or those who deny the prevalence of violence against women and children also show a willful lack of empathy.

As Rabbi Michael Lerner wisely said - men didn't know patriarchy even existed until women told them. We need to listen more and judge less.

I think that's one reason I admire Amy Goodman so much. Her stories are not just news - they are truths, they allow the voiceless to be heard, and they are delivered with empathy.

More Solidarity and Reflection

Thursday, November 16, 2006

Microcredit and Women Empowerment

Are the microcredit programs that everyone is abuzz about overrated? Apparently this is a hotly debated issue.

My first inclination is to dismiss microcredit because it doesn't change the structural causes of poverty. Microcredit brings poor people into the existing global system of exploitation, and might even mask that very real exploitation, putting even more onus on the poor to get themselves out of the hole others have dug them into. It doesn't speak to social justice at all.

BUT, as I was reminded by The Rebel Sell, something that actually works shouldn't necessarily be dismissed so quickly, for solely ideological reasons. It is important to also look at the real and measurable results. Our fight for justice can, and does, occur in parallel to all sorts of development activities; indeed, as people rise out of the most devastating of poverty, they may have more resources and power with which to fight.

So microcredit needs to be examined on a functional basis: does it work? Does it help alleviate poverty? Does it empower women financially and/or within the family?

The answer is not so clear.

Increasing the burden of debt is one potential problem. As long as microcredit is managed by NGOs like Save the Children, this is a fairly small risk, as there are a whole host of additional helpful programs that accompany the actual money lending transaction. Unfortunately with high interest rates, especially when the private sector gets involved for profit, there can be grave consequences.

If not necessarily effective at improving poverty levels, what about the situation of women? Improving women's equality is vital to so many other progressive goals, that this alone might validate microcredit. If it could improve women's economic position, reduce the birth rate, and improve health, then there might be something to it.

Proponents of these micro-loans list the ways they help women, but results are mixed. According this journal article, "the effects of interventions such as microcredit loan programs—which empower women economically and socially—on domestic violence are ambiguous. Participation in such programs can, on the one hand, reduce a woman's risk of domestic violence by making her life more visible and by increasing her perceived value in the family; on the other hand, if the woman's economic empowerment results in her acting more assertively, her husband may respond with violence."

There does seem to be some preliminary evidence that involvement in one of these microcredit programmes does improve contraceptive use by women, which is a fairly significant marker of progress. There are a lot more articles here.

I can't claim to make a definitive conclusion. Although I would prefer to see the end of the disastrous SAPs and an expansion of important social programs, if microcredit energizes a discouraged development sector and elicits more money for the groups on the ground, then for that reason alone, it is worth pursuing.

More on Poverty and Women's Issues

Monday, November 13, 2006

U.S. Again Stands in the way of Justice for Palestinians

Despite the massacre in Beit Hanun, the recent shooting of Palestinian women at a demonstration, and other egregious acts, the US once again uses its veto power in the UN Security to prevent justice. (10 of the last 11 vetoes have been cast by the United States. Almost all of those were to do with the Israel-Palestinian conflict.)

How is it possible to imagine this is moral? The devastation of the lives of people trapped in Gaza is appalling. Reality is so disturbing. How many people, if they are aware of what is happening, can morally justify standing by while these acts take place? Is it that we don't really see what is going on? Let that not be the excuse: Here are some photos and some more (warning, graphic content).

More on The Middle East

Friday, November 10, 2006

Friday Funday!

Only two days until Sunday Sinday. And boy, are there a lot of sins! 667 according to this sin list.

I'll confess, I'm guilty of many things, including #611, "Women wearing mens' clothes". Damn those devilishly comfortable big t-shirts I sleep in! I wonder where unisex clothing falls on the sin spectrum?

I have also been known to quarrel occasionally (#483) and I believe in evolution (#181). I also have crafty (#92) or foolish (#100) conversations whenever I can. At least I don't smoke (#545).

Speaking of sinners, I like these Chickenhawk cards. Very convenient and portable.

What's with the head rubbing? Does he think it's good luck?

More Funny

Thursday, November 09, 2006

Challenges to CanWest's Attempt to Overturn Drug Ad Ban

Ah, CanWest, publisher of fine corporate media products such as the National Post, has hit a snag in their battle to advertise drugs directly to Canadians. But it's not over yet.

From PR Watch:
A coalition of unions, women's and health groups have been granted intervenor status in a case in which CanWest MediaWorks is seeking to overturn the Canadian government's ban on direct-to-consumer advertising (DTCA). The groups argue that if CanWest is successful it would push up healthcare costs and undermine the sustainability of the Canadian healthcare system. CanWest is arguing that the ban on DTCA is a violation of their right to freedom of expression. In an analysis of the case, Colleen Flood and Michelle Zimmerman from the University of Toronto Faculty of Law, warn against assuming that the court won't decide in the media giant's favour. "In order for the current legislation to be upheld, courts will need to be persuaded that nothing short of the existing limits on DTCA would allow the federal government to achieve its other pressing societal concerns, such as protecting patient safety. This will be a difficult task," they wrote.
SOURCE: NewsWire, November 6, 2006

Drug ads generate billions of dollars in the USA, but at a cost to the public. Running the ads in Canada will benefit only the corporate interests of pharmaceutical companies and the giant media conglomerates who profit off of the advertising revenues. Let's hope the public interest wins out instead.

Monday, November 06, 2006

Friday, November 03, 2006

Child Abuse: As American as Apple Pie

The United Nations recently came out with a comprehensive global report on child abuse, the first of its kind from what I understand. It details widespread violence against children, and what I found surprising was just how much of it is socially accepted and even legal. The main findings include:

  • It estimates that some 150 million girls, 14% of the planet's child population, are sexually abused each year, as well as seven percent of boys, or 73 million children
  • There were 218 million child labourers in 2004, of whom 126 million did hazardous work, and 5 million children live in slavery
  • There are as many as 250,000 child soldiers around the world
  • 53,000 children were murdered in 2002
  • More than one million children are imprisoned worldwide (100,000 of these children are in the U.S.)
Download the complete report in 6 languages.

The U.S. and Canada are certainly not immune from these problems. For example, child abuse kills more than 3 children in the U.S. every day - source).

From ZNet, Lucinda Marshall writes in Child Abuse: As American as Apple Pie: "If we truly valued families and the lives of children, these are the issues we would address."

Unfortunately somehow "family values" has some kind of twisted Orwellian meaning. "Family values" apparently means a very narrowly defined family (nuclear), but not necessarily a safe one. Proponents of "Traditional Family Values" oppose abortion but have little to say about protecting the most vulnerable among us from, say, poverty or parental neglect (except maybe to pour scorn on teenage single mothers). Poverty is the most frequently and persistently noted risk factor for child abuse (here and here), and it is something that is within our power to change.

Social welfare, decent wages for the working poor, subsidized housing, nationally run child care, improved labour laws, well-funded public schools, easily accessible & high quality health care, community programs for children... these do so much more for children than banning same-sex marriage or criminalizing abortion, or a $1200 taxable child care allowance (which ends up as only $301 net for lower income families).

Topic: Family & Children