Sunday, February 27, 2005

Children Going Hungry

Connect the dots. Children are going hungry in the most powerful nation of our world. And some of these same children end up in prison after reaching or even before reaching their adulthood. Connect the dots. The current Bush Administration's reluctance in investing for the long-term sustenance program in favor of short-term gain, and more children shall be going or remain hungry.

American children are going hungry, and the neocons claim to bring democracy and liberty for the more poverty and war stricken children around the world.

Connect the dots to irrational absolute!


Children Going Hungry

By David K. Shipler

Sunday, February 27, 2005; Page B07

If you spend a day in a malnutrition clinic, you will see a dismal parade of babies and toddlers who look much younger than they are. Underweight and developmentally delayed, they cannot perform normally for their ages. Some are so weak that when you hold them in a standing position, their knees buckle. When they lie on their stomachs, they cannot push themselves up. Long after they should be able to roll over, they can only flop around listlessly.

Doctors describe these conditions as "failure to thrive." If President Bush's budget is enacted, there will be many more children in America who fail to thrive.

The most direct reason is his proposed cut in food stamps. But there is another cause of hunger, less obvious and no less damaging: his budget's diminished housing subsidies, which will leave more families exposed to escalating rents.

It may seem odd to think of housing causing hunger, but the link becomes clear when you talk with parents who bring their children into a malnutrition clinic. They usually lack government protection against the private market's steeply rising housing costs. They can't get into public housing; they are languishing on a long waiting list for vouchers that would help pay for private apartments. Or they are immigrants ineligible for government programs. As a result, some find that rent alone soaks up 50 to 75 percent of their earnings.

They have no choice. They have to pay the rent. They have to pay the relentless electricity and telephone bills. In most of the country, they need automobiles to get to work, which means car loans and auto insurance. None of these can be squeezed very much. The main part of the budget that can be squeezed is for food. What happens then is documented by a soon-to-be-published study in which nearly 12,000 low-income households in six cities were surveyed. It found an increased incidence of underweight children in families without housing subsidies.

There has been a lot of talk since Sept. 11, 2001, about the need to "connect the dots" to share intelligence and combat terrorism. It's about time that the country did the same to fight poverty. The factors that retard children's futures are interrelated; connecting the dots is the clearest way to see the lines of cause and effect.

Housing costs contribute to malnutrition, and malnutrition affects school performance and cognitive capacity. It weakens immune systems and makes children susceptible to illness, which diminishes appetites and thereby increases vulnerability to the next infection. The downward spiral can lead to frequent absences from school and expensive hospitalization.

Even when hungry children are able to go to school, they don't do well. "Learning is discretionary, after you're well-fed, warm, secure," says Deborah Frank, a pediatrician who heads the Grow Clinic at Boston Medical Center. She treats infants who look like wizened old men, and older children who are bony and listless.

What is not visible may be more serious. Inadequate nutrition is a stealthy threat, because its hidden effects on the brain occur long before the outward symptoms of retarded growth. Several decades of neuroscience have documented the impact of iron deficiency, for example, on the size of the brain and the creation and maturation of neurons and other key components. If the deficiencies occur during the last trimester of pregnancy or the first two or three years of life, the results may last a lifetime.

Long after malnutrition ends, such children have lower IQs. In adolescence, they score worse than their peers on arithmetic, writing, spatial memory and other cognitive tests. Parents and teachers see in them "more anxiety or depression, social problems, and attention problems," according to a volume of studies compiled in 2000 by the National Research Council and the Institute of Medicine.

Practically every factor that contributes to malnutrition is worsened by a lack of cash. A child's food allergies are harder to address if a family can't afford to offer an array of choices, buy high-nutrition baby formula or live in a neighborhood with stores that stock fresh fruits and vegetables. Eating problems are compounded when working mothers have to pass their children among multiple caregivers who don't provide healthy diets. Malnutrition is also exacerbated by welfare caps and time limits, Frank and other pediatricians observe.

Youngsters who cannot succeed in school usually drop out and go on to fail in other ways. So the Bush budget exchanges a short-term gain for a long-term loss, overlooking the simple fact that the less we invest in children now, the more we will have to invest in prisons later. Connect the dots.

David K. Shipler won a Pulitzer Prize in 1987. His most recent book is "The Working Poor: Invisible in America."

Saturday, February 12, 2005

American Nun Shot to Death in Brazil

Though the investigation still is in its infancy, this gruesome murder of an American nun who fought for the voiceless peasants against the powerful loggers and ranchers tells the story of courage of an ordinary person doing extraordinary works among the oppressed and forgotten. Let's hope that Brazilian government takes necessary steps to apprehend the culprits behind the murder.


American Nun Shot to Death in Brazil

Filed at 7:01 p.m. ET

SAO PAULO, Brazil (AP) -- An American nun was shot to death in northern Brazil on Saturday, less then a week after she accused loggers and ranchers of threatening to kill rural workers, authorities said.

Dorothy Stang, 74, was shot in the face three times near the town of Anapu, about 2,100 kilometers north of Sao Paulo in the Amazon region, federal police officer Fernando Raiol said.

Stang, who had lived in Brazil since 1996 and worked in the region for more than 20 years, was headed to a meeting with local peasants when her group was attacked, police said.

Two suspects had already been taken into custody, police said.

Stang, of Dayton, Ohio, had lobbied forcefully against efforts by loggers and large landowners to expropriate lands and clear large areas of the Amazon rainforest.

``She was basically protected by her status as being an old lady and being a nun. She also recently became a Brazilian citizen, and she thought that would help but it obviously didn't,'' said her niece Angela Mason, who lives in Dayton, Ohio. She said Stang had told them there was a price on her head.

The early morning attack came less than a week after Stang met with Human Rights Secretary Nilmario Miranda to report that four local farmers had received death threats.

``This is extremely serious,'' Miranda told reporters. ``We cannot allow this murder to go unpunished.''

Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva ordered federal police to conduct a thorough investigation into Stang's murder.

About 15 federal officers were immediately dispatched to the crime scene, police said. Miranda and Environment Minister Marina Silva also were sent to Anapu to oversee the investigation.

Stang was a member of the Congregation of the Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur, an international Catholic religious order of about 2,000 women in five continents.

Last June, Stang was honored by the state of Para for her work in the Amazon region. In December she received an award from the Brazilian Bar Association for her work helping the local rural workers.

``She was awesome. A little old bundle of joy. She was the happiest person,'' Mason said. ``She needed nothing. She just loved the people down there.''