28 December, 2009

Bloody Ashura

My thoughts are with friends in Tehran at word of ten killed as government forces used live ammunition on protesters Sunday and arrested opposition leaders and scores of others. Here's coverage from Juan Cole and the L.A. Times.

23 December, 2009

ما همه مجید توکلی هستیم We are all Majid Tavakoli

While the major news from Iran this week was the death of opposition cleric Grand Ayatollah Hossein Ali Montezeri, another story almost got by me. What's with all the men in hijab? Here's an explanation from the L.A. Times. It's pretty awesome.

19 December, 2009

Copenhagen - FAIL

Even before this thing started, I sort of knew this is where it would lead. It's still very disappointing. Some called it a "sound beginning". A little late for beginnings, no? Getting two people to agree on pizza toppings causes enough hand wringing (nobody else likes anchovies?). Getting nearly 200 countries to agree on the future of the planet...? Basically, we have a document agreeing that there's a problem and there's a line we shouldn't cross related to said problem, but we'll all have to trust each other with how each of us keeps from crossing that line.
Copenhagen closes with weak deal that poor threaten to reject (The Guardian)

Highlights of the climate accord (NYTimes)

The grim meaning of 'meaningful' (The Guardian)

Climate activists declare Copenhagen a disaster (AFP via Grist)

Climate scientists underwhelmed by Copenhagen accord (AFP)
"From the evidence of the last two weeks, I would say we have a heck of a long way still to go if, as a species, we are to avoid the fate that usually afflicts populations that outgrow their resources," said Prof. Andrew Watson, East Anglia University

05 December, 2009

One year down & one to go

Quote for the moment: "When you start to doubt yourself the real world will eat you alive." - Henry Rollins (who was so great this season on my favorite show - especially in facing his end)
In Heavy Rotation on the iPod: Dead Kennedys, Sleater-Kinney, The Clash, Black Flag, Rollins Band, Sex Pistols, Dropkick Murphys

Hard to believe I've been back in the U.S. for a whole year. Hard to believe I just finished my first full year of graduate school. It feels much, much longer and that old familiar itch to move has crept into my bones and blood, a feeling not helped at all by what turned into a rather difficult semester full of fighting the powers that be to wrench my higher education back onto the road toward my desired future. I figured it would be the workload that would get me, but I was wrong.

It's actually a bit complicated, but I'll try to parse it out. The end-result is a bit easier to state: depression, anger, frustration, rage, lots of questioning my decision-making, wanting to burn The System down more than ever, terrified that I am formally being trained to be part of he Problem and NOT The Solution. Good times. A dear friend here who I had a serious talk with about all this said she loved that I feel things so strongly. I suspect not many share her sentiment.

I didn't want to sign on for just a technocrat's degree and I sure as hell didn't want to be a counselor or therapist, but at this point Social Work is feeling an awful lot like a psych or therapy program. Pat disclaimer to calm folks down: While I laud mental health professionals (some are buddies of mine) for their valuable work, I have no background or interest in the matter and certainly no business treating anyone or coming close to it, which is a lot of what direct service feels like at this point. As I've previously noted, I am a big picture girl. As one of my favorite professors in my program recently told me, "You're so macro your almost meta." However, I believe viscerally that a bunch of technocrats and do-gooders cannot end poverty without actually speaking to and working with those in poverty. The times I've worked with communities on the ground have been some of my favorite experiences in life and something I hope to continue in the future. There is a vast gulf between "educated" and "intelligent". I love the big agency I was placed at. The folks there want me to run with my ideas, projects and partnerships. They want this to be my learning experience. And, in shooting for a U.N. internship (I'm like Mulder - I still want to believe!) getting some experience at a big public agency can't be bad.

So, what's the rub? It's not my learning experience. It's not oriented to my goals at the moment in any way. When I lay out how I feel I could fix the situation, I feel like I've been ignored until recently. The future I once could envision at the end of this 2.5 year road is evaporating like a mirage while I rack up a hefty student loan debt. I am not able to see how this will get me to any of the places I want to go and I wonder why in the hell I made this decision. I have not been challenged intellectually at all this semester. There's no going elsewhere at this point and I don't really want to. I just want to make this work, for me and for those down the road.

I didn't mind that this program was not as internationally oriented as I'd hoped. It's given me a great chance to dig in and work with the faculty who are trying to move it that direction and get involved in pushing the change. I didn't mind that I didn't fit into either our program or the global public affairs program entirely. I never really fit in anywhere anyway and it gave me a chance to dive in a work on finding a solution for the next poor soul who falls between the two. And may give me a chance to serve as Guinea pig for a new internationalist dual degree if I push hard enough. I don't like to just bitch. I like to rumble and I like to solve things. I don't even think the problems lay just with the school or program. I have developed some great relationships amongst the faculty and admin, enjoyed a few great courses, so I don't mean to insinuate the whole place is a total loss. However, I believe the profession on the whole and the Council on Social Work Education need a swift, substantial kick in the ass. What happened to the radical traditions of social work? What happened to focusing on social issues?

I've been told the mantra pushed on those who question our department is "trust the system". No, sorry. I don't. Granted, now that I've completed my work for the semester in the last 48 hours, my urge to find a match and some gasoline has gone down considerably. I have a few weeks off now, to read what I please and do some thinking and planning for the coming year. I may have eased off for the moment, but I remain uncompromising about my future and the fight to get there.

12 November, 2009

No man is an island, but Helwan University might be

I'm just going to put this out there....
I am trying to get in touch with the School of Social Work at Helwan University in Egypt regarding their 2010 social work conference, to be held March 10-11, which I would like to submit a paper for it and attend. My department may even help send me to the conference. The problem has been that emails have bounced back and fax numbers turned out to be wrong or just wouldn't connect. I've had a great deal of trouble even just confirming there would even be 2010 conference. One of my professors, who has attended the conference in the past, has been working his contacts, so far to little avail. So if ANYONE out there can help me make contact with ANYONE in the Helwan University School of Social Work, please let me know!

09 November, 2009

Song for being a poverty wonk

Running the World
by Jarvis Cocker
In heavy rotation on the iPod of late.
We have to keep a weekly journal of our internship experience and for last week's we were asked to write about a work of art that a particular person we've worked with (I refuse to use the term client, but that's another post in and of itself) may have reminded of us. Sadly, this one came to me too late. For me, it's not one person, it's all the people and all the issues and all the seemingly eternal systemic injustices that lead these people to our door. And for some reason this song seems to nail the whole thing. It's not one to play for the kiddies, though. The term he uses to describe who runs the world is used as a term of absolute frustration, not in some misogynistic way, at least in my opinion. And it's all wrapped up in sparkly, Brit Pop sonic wrapping that manages to suck you right in.

26 October, 2009

What to say?

There's really nothing to say about Sunday's bombing...or, at least I can't come up with anything. It's being analyzed, denounced, reported on by others...
Is it worse, aside from the number of fatalities or especially that the number includes children from two on-site day care centers, than too many other days in Iraq? I suppose that depends on if you lost someone yesterday. I didn't, but it still bothers me. Then again, that's not the right word for the feeling. Maybe it's because I've lived with and been friends with people fleeing this chaos, but I don't believe you have to have lived in the region or known a single Iraqi (or Afghan) to have those images and stories tear at you. I hope it's simply a human response. I'm just not so sure, though.

22 October, 2009

Philip Spooner Schools Us All

This got me.
Thank you, Philip, for your decency, courage and clarity.

20 October, 2009

What the heck is social work anyway?

In my quest to patch the gaping "international" holes in my grad program, I went over to our school's public affairs department to see about taking some of their international affairs/international development courses to augment my program of study. I've suggested a dual degree with their international division, but that'll take years to pull together for reasons best illuminated by the following:

The grad adviser was nice enough, but puzzled as to why I was in the School of Social Work and not his department, given my background and goals:

"Social work? I thought all you guys did was help old people or something."

Yes, that's me. Helping the oldsters with their old people stuff. *sigh*
(Did I mention one of my favorite films is Soylent Green? No? Well, it seems the thing to bring up here...)

As with so much else in life, I feel I don't entirely fit here and I don't entirely fit in his department either. So I'll just keep plugging along, advocating my tail off for myself in my department and trying to fill those holes.

I now want a t-shirt emblazoned with the words, "Social Workers: We don't just take your children away and help old people!"

15 October, 2009

You Might Be a Macro Wonk If...

You may be more community, organizational and macro-level systems-focused in your social work if:

Your social work professor mentions the word "development" and you immediately assume she's referring to organizational or community capacity development, not personal psychological development.

You are watching a short film in class about a grandmother raising her grandchildren. The camera pans across the name of the hospital where her grandson is being treated. You immediately pop open your laptop to find out if it's public or private, if it's covered by Medicaid and related budget & stimulus financing analysis on that state's medicaid system.

You have to fight the urge to somehow organize the people who come to see you for assistance at your internship placement into a coalition or front to fight the systemic inequalities that landed them at your agency at the first place.

Off to yet another class...

29 September, 2009

The rich get richer and the poor get what exactly?

In completely unsurprising news, inequality in the U.S. got worse, according to recently released Census data.

Most mornings at the social service agency I intern for there is a line of people wrapped around the building waiting for the doors to open. It's first come, first serve for appointments with case workers, who can connect people to the direct assistance programs our department offers, and those appointments are filled within minutes. If you weren't able to be seen, you'll have to come back early the next morning and maybe the next and maybe the day after that. Hopefully, in the mean time, you won't be put out on the street, or your utilities won't be cut off, and maybe you can find another food pantry and not go hungry. My criticism isn't of the department, but of the larger system. And the fact that the people we see everyday don't make the news cycle and have yet to crack the reality of too many people in this country.

It's one thing to help people escape poverty, but why not enact programs to keep them out of poverty in the first place? Why do we talk about poverty alleviation, but not eradication? I know, I know...radical, lefty, do-gooder nonsense. Or, if your some of our fantastically frightening uber-right wing pols in this country: "Socialism!" One of my greatest pet peeves is when people use an important sounding word when they have no idea what it actually means. For one of my favorite examples, see the "plethora of piñatas" scene from the film The Three Amigos. I digress...as usual.

14 September, 2009

Getting my sea legs

I am two weeks into my school year-long internship with public social service agency that provides individuals and families with basic needs - food and utilities and rental assistance, primarily. I'm working with the on-site social worker as part of my graduate program. The case workers let people know that they can also meet with the social workers and some of the clients agree to see us. While the caseworkers have a set menu of programs, we get to work with clients to unpack some of what's going on in their lives and help connect them to other services in the community.

Being a very meso- and macro-oriented person, this direct service world is totally new to me.
First, despite not being therapy, it's a therapeutic model, which given my total lack of grounding in anything close to therapy makes me nervous. Also, it'll be hard not to try to organize clients into coalitions or send them off to advocate. Not that those are impossibilities, but that's not what I'm there for really.

I guess that's another source of anxiety at the moment. Everyone's been very welcoming and helpful, but being very much out of my comfort zone I can't help but suffer little panics. Based on our accompanying classwork we're using a therapeutic model, and I've no interest in being a therapist. Not that it's a bad thing, it's just not my thing. The people who come to our center are in crisis and I worry about screwing up for people who are already screwed on so many levels.

First impressions are that I am a cog in the big, public social service machine; that the safety net is tattered, frayed and the provision of help is dependent on so much hoop-jumping as to turn a person in need into Sisyphus; that a little compassion goes a long way; that we could be doing so much more but that we won't unless there's a major paradigm shift around poverty and the poor.

I have an office: tiny, windowless, drab, but mine. It's like something out of the film Being John Malkovich. There's a sign on the door that says it's "the room with no number." Inevitably certain people on the phone ask for my room number and I have to explain. I've stuck some photos up, got some hand-me-down toys and books from a friend for when clients bring little ones, and just tried to make it a more pleasant space. I start seeing clients later this week. Cue panic.

I am also buried in work. My idea of 5 classes and internship and job seems a bit silly now, but I still believe I'll make it. I did spend literally all weekend at my desk, though. At least a self-imposed quasi-quarantine will save me from H1N1. We have these stickers up around my internship site with a Jabba the Hutt looking mass of green phlegm who shouts, "La gripa te busca!" (The flu is looking for you!) It's become this cryptic thing I like to toss off to friends, like some sort of warning from the oracle.

I've emailed the professor overseeing our internship group as to how to handle the thing on this blog. Hopefully, I can pull together something interesting over the next two semesters.

22 August, 2009

Ramadan 2009 Begins

Ramadan kareem to friends here and out in the wide world. I miss those neighborhood drummers!

15 August, 2009

By the way...

Be sure to take a few minutes and read The Great Hargeisa Goat Bubble by Julian Gough.
Don't worry, it's a short story. Well worth your time, I promise.

On Your Mark...

I am about to begin my third semester of grad school here in Tejas, so I decided to change things up a bit. I love José Guadelupe Posada, so I went with his Don Quixote. Seems fitting for a student of social work. I need to get out and start shooting some of my wonderful neighborhood, but the summer heat makes the idea of venturing forth to wander the streets a bit unpleasant. Of course, I soon won't have a choice. School starts the last week of the month and this semester will be a bit hectic: three classes in my program, Arabic III at a different school, a 20-hour/wk. internship as part of my program and a 10-hour/wk. teaching assistant position with a favorite professor. Just returned from a brief reboot in Florida where I dove, kayaked and swam myself ragged in the ocean. We'll see how the coming months shake out on this blog.

25 June, 2009

Update from Iran

Here's some of an email I received today from friends in Iran...

"Thanks God we are all OK physically, but emotionally we are disturbed by the militias' brutal attack on people and the lives that are lost. We have our ups and downs for example based on a speech here and there given by some officials, and just listening to their nonsense lies is enough to make you insulted and agitated for hours.

At the same time observing the bravery of our people, especially women who are very active in the movement brings ray of hope to our hearts for a brighter future. We know that for a reformed Iran we must remain patient & keep our unity to continue the path that many of our innocent citizens lost their lives over it."

They also forwarded an image of a man's body on a table with a gaping lateral wound across the middle of his left breast and down his left side. The accompanying description accompanying the image states:This is an axe wound, just one, doled out by the regime's thug basiji animals on Saturday, June 20, 2009.
This was a brutal murder of an assuredly unarmed protester of the up-close-and-personal variety. An act, and one not isolated, which requires the presence of inhumane malice and aggression and the absence of humanity. The traits required for massacres upon the unarmed. There is no nuance, no logical approach, no deft explanation that covers near silence and inadequate, tepid condemnation of the meekest sort. To decline any mention of possible repercussions on the regime for these acts "because we don't know how this is going to turn out" is moral cowardice of the highest order.

I feel it important to state that cannot verify the image or description. There were reports of militia members wielding axes against protesters yesterday, however that is far from verification. The last line is interesting. I've heard no similar complaints directly from my friends.

23 June, 2009

The Islamic Republic Bans God

Richard Engel on NBC is reporting that the takbir, "Allahu Akbar/God is great!", the rallying cry of the opposition in Iran, which has been shouted during demonstrations in the daytime and from rooftops at night, has been banned by Iranian government and neighbors are to inform on those who still take part in the nightly calls.
If this is true, it's pretty unbelievable.

22 June, 2009

Nokia, Siemens and Iran

Very good report in the WSJ today about the technology used by the Iranian government to monitor communications and who sold some of it to them. Also a related piece from the Guardian.
"Asked about selling such equipment to a government like Iran's, Mr. Roome of Nokia Siemens Networks said the company 'does have a choice about whether to do business in any country. We believe providing people, wherever they are, with the ability to communicate is preferable to leaving them without the choice to be heard.'"

My question is are there telecom firms that have refused to sell this type of technology to repressive regimes? And, does this story make anyone else want to toss their Nokia phone?

20 June, 2009

The Latest

I finally received an email at about 4am Tehran time from my friends and they are alright. Worried, weary and unsure what's next, but o.k. and I am so very thankful.

Not everyone was so lucky. Supposedly the young woman whose death was captured on video and spread around the world today was named Neda. Someone elsewhere pointed out that Neda means "voice or call" in Farsi. Whether that is her name or not, she was someone's daughter and grand-daughter, perhaps someone's sister, girlfriend or wife. I simply cannot quite come up with satisfying words...

I have no idea what today (about 8a.m. there now) will bring for people there, but my friends, their families and friends, and really the whole country are in my thoughts.

Regime violates own constitution...

Article 27 of the Constitution of the Islamic Republic of Iran

Public gatherings and marches may be freely held, provided arms are not carried and that they are not detrimental to the fundamental principles of Islam.

(The movement has been non-violent and fully in compliance with the principles of Islam)

Articles of the Cairo Declaration on Human Rights in Islam

(d) Safety from bodily harm is a guaranteed right. It is the duty of the state to safeguard it, and it is prohibited to breach it without a Shari'ah-prescribed reason.

11(a) Human beings are born free, and no one has the right to enslave, humiliate, oppress or exploit them, and there can be no subjugation but to Allah the Almighty.

18(a) Everyone shall have the right to live in security for himself, his religion, his dependents, his honour and his property.

(b) Everyone shall have the right to privacy in the conduct of his private affairs, in his home, among his family, with regard to his property and his relationships. It is not permitted to spy on him, to place him under surveillance or to besmirch his good name. The State shall protect him from arbitrary interference.

(c) A private residence is inviolable in all cases. It will not be entered without permission from its inhabitants or in any unlawful manner, nor shall it be demolished or confiscated and its dwellers evicted.

22(a) Everyone shall have the right to express his opinion freely in such manner as would not be contrary to the principles of the Shari'ah.

(b) Everyone shall have the right to advocate what is right, and propagate what is good, and warn against what is wrong and evil according to the norms of Islamic Shari'ah.

(c) Information is a vital necessity to society. It may not be exploited or misused in such a way as may violate sanctities and the dignity of Prophets, undermine moral and ethical Values or disintegrate, corrupt or harm society or weaken its faith.

23(a) Authority is a trust; and abuse or malicious exploitation thereof is explicitly prohibited, in order to guarantee fundamental human rights.

(b) Everyone shall have the right to participate, directly or indirectly in the administration of his country's public affairs. He shall also have the right to assume public office in accordance with the provisions of Shari'ah.

Article 20.1 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights

Everyone has the right to freedom of peaceful assembly and association.

(Iran is a signatory to the UDHR)


Violence in Iran

Word is trickling out of violence in Tehran, including a supposed bombing - announced by the government, so very suspect - at the tomb of Imam Khomeini in southern Tehran. No word on the rest of the country. Most importantly for me, no word from friends.

Video from BBC Persian service
Pitney's live blog on Huff Post

May never watch CNN again since they are relying on Iranian state-controlled Press TV for their "information". Idiots. Reminds me of when I lived in Syria and was invited to a friend's home: "We're easy to find, right across from the Ministry of Information." Knowing the part of town they lived in, I was a bit confused, but upon arriving I had a good laugh when I looked across the street to see the offices of al-Baath newspaper.

This video, reportedly made last night, has made the rounds but is none-the-less very moving.


19 June, 2009

More from Iran

Here's more of the latest from friends in Iran, again edited to protect them. Everybody is very worried of what will happen at Saturday's march and thereafter. I agree with my friend here, hard to believe this has all unfolded in one week....
I can't open sites such as....and of course many other sites. We can use some proxies of course but it changes daily and sometimes it is time consuming if you want to get unbiased news fast.

I read your blog and it is very thoughtful of you to write about Iran.

As you know the leader Ayatullah Khamenei delivered his speech in Tehran University Friday prayer this morning and he confirmed he is on Ahmadinejad's side and there should be an end to opposition rallies otherwise the demonstrators and their leaders will face God's punishment!!!! (you know what he means by that). Also he said the only way for Mousavi is through Guardian Council if he wishes to complain about the election result.

Tomorrow there will be another massive rally by the opposition group and we have to wait and see how the guards will react after the disappointing but threatening speech today.

It is a very confusing situation now. We have serious conflict of interests between the clerics in power plus a newly formed opposition movement which soon will either be demolished completely or leads to a bloody civil war.

Oh I am so tired of watching news and reading and not having a normal life for the past week. I still can't believe it all happened in one week. Last Friday at exact same time I was voting with high hopes ......... Unlike some people I am still hopeful but worried as well.

I love you and thank you again for all you do. I am attaching few pics from the rally last evening; a silent walk to mourn for those killed in the protests. Mousavi himself was among the people and said he will continue and won't give up ..... we'll see!!!!

17 June, 2009

Words Direct From Iran

I finally received word that my friends in Iran are o.k., for now. They allowed me to share what they wrote, with some editing to protect them. Any notations from me are in light green.
Keep following Nico Pitney's live blog over at HuffPost. Also check out this blog.
Thanks so much for your concern about us here, we are OK somehow feeling excited and hopeful, but at the same time expecting harsh reactions soon from the other side. Also that's so thoughtful of you to go green :)

Tomorrow (Thursday) is going to be the biggest rally by Mousavi supporters to condemn the killing of some protesters and continue showing their opposition to the vote result. On Friday Ayatollah Khamenei will lead Tehran Friday prayers congregation and have a speech for the crowd who are mostly Ahmadinejad's fan. This will most likely lead to additional clashes towards Mousavi's supporters and an order to ban further protests and severe punishment & imprisonment for the demonstrators. They have already asked other countries to stop interfering, blocked most sites and asked the foreign journalists and reporters to leave the country.

Please keep praying for a positive outcome and by the way I don't mind you use my words or pics in your blog (of course as you said no reference to who I am).

"YES WE ARE OK and hoping for a real reform after 30 years...

The internet connection is very slow at some hours due to the recent events. Most sites are blocked, sms text messaging is blocked and mobile phone communication is literally blocked after 4 pm. Every day we have huge demonstrations backing Mr. Mousavi...(regarding protests Wed.) just called me and said probably millions were there. Pro-Mousavi protesters either have silent walk wearing black with green flags or ribbons to show respect to the people who were killed by riot police during Monday rally. Tomorrow (Thursday) Mousavi asked for a mass rally...

It is the most exciting and different time in Iran since my childhood when the revolution happened. This time most people voted because they were fed up with lies, bad economy, lack of jobs and all the promises that Ahmadinejad never kept.

The 85% turnout was unbelievable and prior to election date Iranian were so united and all over big cities you could see a lot of young people campaigning for Mousavi and the friendship and unity which was lost for years and years among our people was once again witnessed. All streets and many cars were covered by green banners, ribbons and the excitement was unbelievable. People who haven't voted for the previous election terms were so hopeful this time. Mr. Mousavi is an architect and before election was the president of "Iranian academy of arts". His wife is an artist and has Phd in political science and is his political advisor.

When the interior ministry announced the results ONLY after few hours and declared Ahmadinejad as the president without even giving the results of each province people went crazy. Of course he had the vote of the villages, deprived parts of Iran and military staff, BUT he never could have the vote of the province which Mousavi was born there and they just lied to people's face and thought people are stupid. But this time due to the unity of pre-election among young and old, and the other candidates' disagreement to the strangely low number of votes they got ..... the fire started and it is getting bigger and bigger. I still can't believe how it hasn't stopped. Every night from 9-10 pm people go on the roofs or streets and say "Allah o akbar" or GOD is the greatest, drivers honk and people do things to show their hatred and protest.

Well, I was never good at politics and still am not, but every single moment I find I am either watching TV and getting news from different international channels or search websites.

Whatever the results will be .......... one thing is for sure ...... people are not silent anymore and the present system can't keep them silent as before. Also the world is watching now and those who didn't know much about us and saw us through our government may see us differently.

What do you hear among Americans?
Please keep following the news and keep all these many people in your thoughts.

What Do Iranians Want? A Seven-Point Plan From Iranians

Here's something emailed to me from friends in Iran
The message of the protestors in Iran:
Yesterday in Tehran, fliers were handed out among protesters. The text of one of these fliers is as follows:
1) Disqualification of Ayatollah Ali Khamenei due to his lack of ability of righteous leadership.

Disqualification of Ahmadinejad due to election fraud and illegitimate occupation of Presidency.
3) Temporary appointment of Ayatollah Montazeri as Supreme Leader until revision of the Ground Law.
4) Acknowledging Mir Hussein Mosavi as the elected president of Iran.
5) Building an interim government for managing the day-to-day business of government and as well revision of the Ground Law.
6) Free-giving of all conscious political and minority prisoners.
7) Disbanding all suppressive organs of the regime under any name.

16 June, 2009

One Image

A backer of Mir Hossein Mousavi helps evacuate an injured riot-police officer during riots in Tehran on June 13, 2009. (OLIVIER LABAN-MATTEI/AFP/Getty Images)

Of all the images coming out of Iran, this is one that has really, really stuck with me. It speaks to so many things...


UPDATE: It seems YouTube has, thankfully, relented on this!

It looks as if YouTube is removing some of the videos making it out of Iran due to violent content being against their terms of use agreement. I am not a fan of extraneous violence. These images are not and the clips are an international public service in the face of the Iranian government's lockdown of media.
Come on YouTube, let the truth be seen and heard!

Celebrate World Refugee Day in Austin Saturday


The World is Watching... or really trying to!

Universal Declaration of Human Rights
Article 20.1
Everyone has the right to freedom of peaceful assembly and association.

Article 21 looks likely to apply, as well: the right of people to participate in their government through free, fair and universal elections.
Trying to stay atop the news from Iran and worried about friends there...
Yes, I realize that lots of citizen journalist outlets are down at the moment and professional journalists are being prevented from reporting on everything, but why is this not a major news story in the U.S.? Yes, I know the concept of sustained, quality coverage of vital things actually happening beyond our borders is a radical one but come on..
This whole thing is lessening my dislike of Twitter significantly, especially their decision to delay their service outage.
Nobel Prize winner Shirin Ebadi, who I had the honor of hearing speak twice recently at my university, spoke out today from Switzerland about the arrest of her human rights colleagues in Iran.
Global Voices
Juan Cole
Nico Pitney's live-blogging/collecting of information
Checking the Iranian blog rolls as well...
And the hunt for good, instant information continues...
YouTube, Twitter, even Flickr is serving as a news outlet...
The power of all these relatively new information outlets only leaves me thinking of past actions and movements and how different they might or might not have been if these tools had been available.
A rather chilling, but useful blog here.
For now, we're going green in solidarity.

02 June, 2009

News Scanner

The term human rights encompasses more than the political and legal.

"Government doesn’t provide services to rich people. It doesn’t even really provide services to the middle class. You have to cut where the money is.”
(Oh, really?!)

Instead of Dr. George Tiller, assassinated in his church Sunday, Randal Terry, Bill O'Reilly, and the like would rather have women subjected to this sort of scenario.

Don't even get me started on the absurdities that are the charges of racism against SCOTUS nominee Sotomayor. Yes, Rush, she's just like former KKK leader David Duke! My God, it's amazing! *sigh* You know things are screwy when Texas Sen. John Cornyn is a relative voice of reason. Wait...never mind. He chickened out.


Guns on Campus: Dead for Now

The 81st Session of the Texas Legislature closed yesterday with a lot of important business left unfinished. However, the bills that would have allowed concealed handgun license (CHL) carriers to bring weapons into college and university buildings is, thankfully, dead for this session. Some of us may no longer be students when the next session opens, but we'll continue to fight this along with the other members of the growing coalition opposed to guns in schools.


22 May, 2009

Guns in Classrooms O.K. by Texas Senate, On to House

SB 1164 passed the Texas Senate and is now moving through channels in the House. It is on it's way to the House Calendars Committee, so if you do not want guns on your college campus, let the members of that committee know, especially Rep. McCall, the chair. You can find the members here. The session will end on the 27th, so there's no time to lose.


14 May, 2009

Guess the Story

A few questions to go with this photo from the NYTimes:
1) How old are these individuals?
2) What are they doing?

Here's a link to the story.

While a program to open up careers in law enforcement and the military to young adults doesn't bother me that much, what does is the idea of running kids - yeah, 14 year-olds are still kids, regardless of what they think - through military-style, tactical drills involving immigration raids and terrroist attacks. Nothing like developing the fear and loathing of the other at an early age. One drill involved someone wearing "traditional Arab dress" another involves chasing down "illegal border crossers". It just bothered me on a lot of levels...


13 May, 2009

Recent Input Streams

Utterly Addicted to: Philosophy Bites podcast by David Edmonds and Nigel Warburton (available free on iTunes or at their website)

Reading: Poverty, Justice, & Western Political Thought by Vaughan;
Challenges in Human Rights: A Social Work Perspective ed. by Reichert
Just Finished: Unfaithful Angels: How Social Work Has Abandoned Its Mission by Specht & Courtney
On Deck: World Poverty & Human Rights by Pogge; Human Rights in Arab Thought, ed. by Jayyusi; Global Justice: Seminal Essays, ed. by Moellendorf & Pogge; Banker to the Poor by Yunus; Out of Poverty by Polak; Poverty & Power by Royce; reports on implementing a rights-based approach to development and US foreign aid reform by Oxfam America

Listening to: A fair amount of John Tavener, especially The Protecting Veil; Lou Reed; The Photographer by Philip Glass; Le Voyage de Sahar by Anouar Brahem; Nina Simone; Chet Baker; Waylon Jennings

Just Watched: the new Star Trek in IMAX (LOVED it!); The Thin Man (Where's my Nick?); Metropolis; Modern Times; Rashamon; The Bicycle Thief


End the Food Stamps Ban on Drug Felons

Here is an op-ed I wrote with a friend and fellow grad student, Rebecca Tulis, in support of a bill in the Texas legislature that would remove the ban on food stamp benefits for former drug felons. We tried to get it published with several papers, but apparently hunger and food stamps for those reentering society aren't as sexy as other topics. I hope Rep. Naishtat will introduce a similar bill in the next session. Stuck in the House Calendars Committee, the bill is likely dead for this session.

The woman, dressed in a tank top and shorts despite the sharp grey chill of the waiting room at the Human Services Commission office snapped to attention, following the movements of the man behind the desk.

“Don’t call my name,” she chanted beneath her breath, “Don’t call my name.”
Another woman leaned over and asked what was the matter.

“I won’t get it,” she said, not taking her eyes off the man behind the desk, her face morphing from hardness to desperation. “They got signs all over about background checks. I just got out,” she said. “Dope charge.”

Texas is one of 17 states that maintain the lifetime ban on food stamps for those convicted of a drug felony. No other felony charge prevents an individual from receiving food stamps. With little debate in Congress, the ban was included as part of the Welfare Reform Act passed in 1996. States have the option to alter or abolish the ban, but must pass legislation to do so.

House Bill 612, authored by Representatives Naishtat (D-Austin), Walle (D-Houston), and Allen (D-Houston), would remove the ban for those convicted of a drug felony who are currently enrolled in or have successfully completed community supervision following release and/or a drug treatment program.

The lifetime ban is absolute. It does not matter if a person has served their sentence. It does not matter if a person has completed drug rehab and managed to stay clean. It does not matter if a person has done everything society has asked of them. It does not matter if that person is later employed then laid off. That person will never be able to receive the help they need to prevent them from going hungry.

The ban on food stamps hurts women and children. A 2005 report from the General Accounting Office regarding denial of federal benefits to drug felons states that women are more affected by the food stamps ban than men. According to the GAO, of all drug offenders released in 2001 in states with the full ban, 27% of women and 15% of men would have otherwise qualified for food stamps.

According to statistics from the Texas Health and Human Services Commission (THHSC), of the 3 million Texans who received food stamps benefits last month, over half were children under the age of 18. While the children of those excluded from receiving benefits under the ban may still receive food stamps benefits, the loss of a parent’s benefits affects the whole family by forcing them to stretch their tight budget even further. Thus, the ban effectively punishes innocent children.

By preventing people from getting the help they need legally, the ban increases the chances for recidivism and a return to dangerous lifestyles, including returning to abusive partners and relapsing into drug use. Overcoming drug addiction is difficult enough and proper nutrition is important in the treatment process. If our legal system is truly based on the idea of rehabilitation, then reentry must be recognized as a part of that long and difficult process. Passing this bill will greatly assist people to fully reintegrate into society.

Redirecting people denied food stamps under the ban to churches and food banks is not an answer. They are already stretched too thin. Food stamp benefits are 100-percent federally funded; states pay only administrative costs. Unable to get help from federal programs, people will turn to state programs, creating an additional burden on state resources. In addition, the switch from paper coupons to electronic debit cards and other measures reduce the risk of fraud.

It may come as a surprise to many, but providing food stamps is good for the economy. According to the USDA, every $1 in food stamps benefits generates nearly $2 in economic activity. Passage of the bill would extend food stamps benefits to an additional 7,000 people each year. According to THHSC statistics, the average monthly benefit payment to households in April was roughly $300. Based on that figure and the USDA estimate, about $4.2 million dollars could be pumped into our state’s economy each month courtesy of the feds – with no strings attached.

When he signed the bill ending the food stamps ban in California in 2004, Republican Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger wrote: “With my signature California will assist individuals in becoming self sufficient, provide care for their children and overcome their drug addiction while adding millions of federal dollars to our economy. For these reasons I support this measure.”

HB 612 has broad support in Texas, including The Travis County Reentry Coalition, The Texas Criminal Justice Coalition, The Center for Public Policy Priorities, The Capital Area Food Bank, and The Texas Catholic Conference.

This bill is not about rewarding criminal behavior or irresponsibility. This bill is about helping people who have paid their dues feed themselves and their families and to reenter society.

“Just because someone isn’t eligible, the hunger doesn’t go away,” said Nancy Walker, Legislative Director for Rep. Naishtat.

Back at the food stamps office, the woman sitting anxiously in the waiting room finally heard her name called.

“De-NIED,” she said, walking past the others in the waiting room with a sigh and pushing her way out the door.

The other woman shook her head. “It doesn’t matter what she did,” she said. “If she needs help, she should get help.”

Hopefully, someday in Texas she will.

12 May, 2009

The Texas Death Penalty: Is Justice Served?

Another great film made by friends - Scott Davis, Jessica Cohen & Amber Murray-Zarr - for our social policy course this semester. Well worth your 10 minutes.


Person With Legos Bests the Fourth Estate

My roommate sent me a link to this piece from Wired regarding the work of Legofesto, which is so many things rolled into one big, angry, creative and ultimately wonderful response to the media's failure to adequately cover the issue of torture and other matters. Be sure to check out Legofesto's Flickr page, which includes recreations of the death of a protester, which involved police use of force, at recent the G20 summit in London.


House Bill Awaiting Vote, Senate Bill on the Move

Though HB 1893, which would allow concealed weapons to be carried on college and university campuses, is on the House agenda for a floor vote it did not come up for a vote today. However, the legislation's Senate twin, SB 1164, made it out of the State Affairs Committee today. This means that if you oppose the idea of guns on campus, including child care centers on our campuses (as confirmed by a response to my last post), then call your Representative and Senator and tell them NO on HB 1893 and SB 1164.


10 May, 2009

Shame on you, Texas

Really, the idea that allowing people to bring guns into school is one thing, charging rape victims for their rape kits - evidence that must be collected for their case - is a whole other level of awful. Shame on the Attorney General and anybody else in power who thinks this is acceptable.


Guns in Our Schools Coser to Reality

House bill 1893, which would allow concealed handgun licensees (CHL) to carry concealed guns into classrooms and buildings at our state's colleges and universities, will go to a vote Monday in the Texas House of Representatives. If it passes there it will go to the Senate for a vote and then on to Governor Perry, who has vowed to sign it into law.

If you care, please come down on Monday and make your voice heard. We'll be going door to door educating House members about issues not considered under this sweeping legislation. What about the elementary school on our campus (and undoubtedly others)? What about the child care facility in my department's building? What about chemical labs, where you are not even allowed to bring your mobile phone for fear of causing a spark? There is a bar on our campus, will the existing ban on concealed weapons in a bar apply or not? What about the dorms? How will a resident in a dorm store their gun? Will visitors be allowed to keep their gun on them or have to turn it in at the desk? Will residence hall advisers, students who live in the dorm and oversee students, be trained on how to deal with gun issues?

We'll also be sitting in on the House session in the gallery, wearing our school colors, to hopefully remind the Reps. that it will be students, and the currently-gagged faculty and staff, who will be affected by this bill. If you are studying for finals, come study in the gallery with us. Please come down to the Capitol and join us!

This is bad policy at its worst.
Call your Representatives - find their contact info at the Texas Leg website - and let them know that guns do not belong in our schools. Tell them NO on HB 1893.


07 May, 2009

Guns on the Radio, Not on Campus

Upstream Radio, produced by my fellow students in the Social Justice and Action Coalition, a grassroots organization in our very own School of Social Work, featured the concealed weapons on campus issue on tonight's show. We'll be meeting down at the Capitol at the 8 a.m. tomorrow to start working the halls again. There's still much to do, so if you have time, please join us.


Beach Reading

The budget's out! Happy wonky, geeky reading everybody! I'm starting with the Social Security Administration...Nobody spoil the fun and tell me how it ends, please.


06 May, 2009

Food Stamps Suck... Or Do They?

This excellent film was produced by a four of the students in my Social Policy course for their term project: Erika Gonzalez, Chris Babb, Adriane Clomax and Caroline Christian. These guys did an excellent job, so take a few minutes and watch.

03 May, 2009

Torture, Plain and Simple

It's been mentioned a good deal and I kept meaning to link to it here...
If you haven't read this piece by Mark Danner in the New York Review of Books, please be sure to do so. Yes, it's long, but very well worth your time.

Also, worth your time, in regards to the torture - yes, t-o-r-t-u-r-e - policies of this country is Scott Horton's breakdown at Harper's site of former Secretary of State Dr. Condoleeza Rice's comments to a student at Stanford this week.

To those of you who say all this was worth it for the intel, what kind of intel do you think somebody gives you after being forced to stand shackled for a month at a time or having their head repeatedly smashed against the wall? What would you be willing to admit to in order to end such treatment?

This isn't about revenge against the former administration. If the other party did this - if my mother did this - I would want at the very least an investigation. This is not about politics. We are better than this.

And, where is the organized, official outcry from the social work profession, with human rights supposedly at the core, since all of this starting coming to light years ago? I suppose this will go the way of the profession's response to the international sanctions against Iraq and slip quietly past. You should read an excellent article on that issue from Dr. Scott Harding of the University of Connecticut.

A Brief History of the Act Formerly Known as Waterboarding

Hence to be referred to by its rightful name: suffocation by water.
Any questions?

02 May, 2009

Capitol Friday

Our rag-tag band of students continued lobbying against guns on our campuses yesterday. Several staffers asked us for business cards and I had to explain that we are the grassroots of the grassroots, simply a bunch of students trying to make our voices heard. No expense accounts, no business cards, unlike the NRA & TxRA folks.

As it stands HB1893 is out of the in the House Calendars committee who will schedule it for a floor vote soon. There are just over two weeks left in the session and we learned the bill has been fast-tracked. There are enough co-authors on the committee to get it to a floor vote without any effort.

On the Senate side, SB1164 is currently under consideration in the State Affairs Committee, who some of us testified before this week. Again, there are enough co-authors on the committee to bounce it right to a floor vote.

Seriously, everybody and their mother signed on as an author of these bills. I'm all for bipartisanship, but this is ridiculous.

If you are a student, call your Rep. and Sen. You can find out who that is at http://www.fyi.legis.state.tx.us/

Have your PARENTS call and have them call Sen. Robert Duncan, who chairs State Affairs and who wants to hear from parents: (512) 463-0128 or Toll Free (800) 322-9538

If you are FACULTY at a Texas public college or uni and are hamstrung by the gag order, have your FAMILY and FRIENDS call!

Seriously, a call takes a few minutes, people.
I've had a lot of folks tell me "Don't worry. It'll never pass." That is not the vibe I get when lobbying, so please speak out.
No guns in our schools.

27 April, 2009

A Day on the Hill

Not a bad day at the Capitol today. Difficult to get a sizable student turnout at the end of a semester, but our side was well represented. The Senate committee had just started discussing the bill we oppose, SB1164, when they had to recess for the regular Senate session. That gave us time to lobby Senate offices before the committee reconvened.

Actually spoke to a legislator, one of the authors of the bill, Sen. Estes, who took time to hear my opposing arguments and was quite gracious, thanking me for bothering to come out and be a part of the process. A few of us had the chance to give testimony to the committee, which was interesting. I did have to gently scold Sen. Wentworth, sitting beside me when I gave testimony, for making assumptions about those opposed to his bill. I asked him to please hear us out since we'd taken the time to listen to him. I think he was a bit taken aback. I even took time to have a civil conversation with two of those testifying in support of the bill. We were readily able to agree that though we disagreed we all need to remember how to treat each other with respect.

The best part was that today was lobby day for members of the Texas branch of the National Association of Social Workers, so there were social workers all over the Capitol dressed in turquoise. I introduced myself to a few as a social work student and they sprang into action, as social workers do, and rounded up the majority of their group in the rotunda. So there I was shouting marching orders to maybe a hundred people about what to lobby against (concealed weapons on campus) and what to lobby for (closing the mental health loophole in gun licensing). I even got a round of applause.

So, we'll keep on with our little grassroots lobbying and consciousness raising effort.
Again, if you're in Texas and don't think concealed weapons have a place in classrooms, contact your Representative (NO on HB1893!) and Senator (NO on SB 1164!). Please, no guns on our campuses.

26 April, 2009

Full Frontal Assault on Texas Senate - NO GUNS ON CAMPUS, PLEASE!

If anybody reading this is A) in Texas B) thinks concealed weapons on a school campus is a crazy idea C) has some free time Monday and D) can make it to Austin please, PLEASE come down to the Capitol in the morning! The Senate State Affairs Committee is holding a public hearing on SB1164, the Senate component of HB1893, both of which seek to allow concealed weapons to be brought onto university campuses throughout the state. Private schools would be able to opt out; public universities, mine included, would not.

I do not have a problem with guns. I can enjoy an afternoon at the range as much as the next person. I do not want to repeal the second amendment. Though I would love to reincarnate the "Founding Fathers" and take them to a gun show and hear what they have to say about all this.

I do not want to take anybody's guns. All I ask is that you leave your weapons at home when you come to class.

If you can make it, join me at the Capitol tomorrow and let your voice be heard. Last time some of us tried to sit in on a public meeting, the NRA managed to twist arms and shut it down. Hopefully, this time they will allow those of us opposed to this legislation our part in the process.
See you under the dome.

Y'All'll Miss Us If We Go!

You+All+Will= Y'all'll

20 April, 2009

Lone Star State of Mind

Despite some recent confusion at the U.S. Department of State and Gov. Rick "Le Coif" Perry's recent endorsement of secession, I am happy to report that I was not required to go through passport control upon returning to Austin from Atlanta this weekend.


16 April, 2009

If I Only Had a Gun

I'm off to the state capitol today to protest HB 1893, authored by Rep. Joe Driver (R- Garland), which would allow students and faculty with the proper concealed carry permits to carry their weapons on campus. My favorite part of the bill, perhaps showing where our priorities are, would bar concealed weapons from campus sporting events. But not our classrooms?

The idea put forward by some supporters is that just one person with a gun in a classroom could prevent a Columbine or Virginia Tech-type massacre. Last week ABC News all but refuted that claim on 20/20. Watch "If I Only Had a Gun" here; it's well worth it. I hope a copy makes it to the Texas Lege.

Campuses and classrooms should be places of diverse, open, supportive discourse. Several professors, though prevented as state employees from commenting officially for or against the bill, have admitted it would likely change the way they grade and teach. Fellow students have talked about how they simply would be as comfortable engaging in debate or speaking out in class. I hope enough students take part in today's walk out to send the message that guns and fear have no place on campus.


Vocabulary Lesson

Favorite new word, courtesy of yesterday's silly, muddled riff on tea and taxes by the right-wing:
Astroturf (adj): Used to describe a sociopolitical movement that is top-down organized by media, corporate or other large interests; the opposite of a Grassroots Movement.

Only it's not a movement, but rather a bunch of manipulated and confused folks wielding tea bags. Yes, these working class heroes are protesting taxes right after the largest middle class tax cut in U.S. history. Brilliant. And they are protesting taxes in general. So, I guess they don't much like roads, police, schools, and parks (which Anna Marie Cox pointed out last night is where many of these protests took place), to name just a few tax-funded extravagances.
And, most enjoyably, it's a bunch of conservatives who who have no idea that calling themselves "Teabaggers" has given many of us something to laugh heartily about this week.

Here in Texas, Gov. Rick Perry joined the teabaggers at a few tea parties in the state yesterday. Who knew Rick's a teabagger? Here's yet another reason he should be booted in next year's election. Yes, Rick, you stick it to The Man! Viva El Coif! Oh, wait...The Man is sending you billions to deal with wildfires and hurricanes and such? Well, down with him after the check clears! Wait...The Man sends more back to our state from taxes than most? Eighty eight cents on the dollar? Um....

And yes, my household hearts Rachel Maddow big time.

08 April, 2009

A Statistic to Chew On

According to UNICEF, 90% of people killed in recent conflicts are non-combatants and of those, half are children.

I read this a few weeks ago and I can't get it out of my head.

03 April, 2009

No, Pink Stormtroopers Do Not Create Change

I agree with Mackey in the NYTimes Lede Blog this morning. Raising consciousness is important, but it has to be combined with sweaty, dirty, often unsexy hard work. Street theater is a blast, sure, but is it an effective way to mobilize people other than your already dedicated base? If you watched the video from the New Yorker Conference below, he talks about the need to understand people's very different value systems to craft an effective message and campaign. And, how do we know when we've succeeded? What does a socially and economically just, environmentally sound world look like? I have as much trouble as the next person with this, but definately understand that we have to have a concrete vision to sell.


27 March, 2009

Really Interesting Lecture Video (I Swear)

My International Social Work prof showed this to our class a while back and it's been stuck in my head since. It's from the 2007 New Yorker Magazine conference and though the title is "Morality: 2012" there is a lot here that relates to politics, policy, international development, and a lot of other things. The player can be a bit slow to load, though.


26 March, 2009

E is for euphemism

Always a fan of a good euphemism, I appreciated this one from Eugene Robinson on Countdown with Keith Olberman last night:

"Dude, the guy just made you his companion*!"

*Replace companion with a five letter word for female dog.

Robinson and Olberman were discussing the way Pres. Obama ably handled a silly muddle of questions from CNN's reporter at the press conference. The CNN reporter later wrote that he had really cornered the president with his choice questions, which really couldn't have been farther from the truth. Obama's response was pretty cool, calm, and collected: "It took us a couple of days [to respond] because I like to know what I'm talking about before I speak."
Boo-yah, sir.


Getting My Nerd On

I wonked out and downloaded the stimulus bill in its entirety. It's more convoluted than a DVD manual, less so than your insurance plan's fine print. It's not beach reading and I'm not sure it's actually written in English. This may be that Esperanto language I've heard so much about. I would love to find out if any of the members of Congress actually read more than an extensive brief on this. I'm just trying to take it in chunks. Or, as we say in Morocco, "Little by little we eat the camel."


AIG May Not Be Most Egregious Bailout Begger

As the old Buffett song goes, "If we couldn't laugh, we would all go insane."

I am a huge Mad Men fan and now love Jon Hamm even more.

Senator Cassandra (D-ND)

24 March, 2009

Another Great Read

Listening to: Beth Hart, Lou Reed, Nina Simone
Fighting: a head cold
Missing: My roommates from Saturday night - "Lucy and Ethel"

Just finished another great book, courtesy of my professor:
The Lost Children of Wilder by Nina Bernstein (2001)

The book tracks the lawsuit brought by the NY Civil Liberties Union in 1972 against NYC and the religious organizations they were paying to serve orphans and foster children. Only problem was the predominantly Catholic and Jewish agencies were only really adequately serving white kids, mostly of their same denominations. The case started as a first amendment violation, but was really more about skin color and would drag into the nineties with questionable results. To read that nuns at one home would take children to the Museum of Natural History for a consult if they couldn't determine the "amount of Negro blood" gives you some idea. Shirley Wilder was the young woman who served as plaintiff. She'd suffered enough in the system by the time she turned 15 and gave birth to a son who also ended up lost in the system. The book tracks all three stories: those of the case, Shirley, and her son Lamont. It's a masterfully written book. Heartbreaking, maddening, and certain parts should move anyone to profound anger. I can't recommend it enough.


Go Texas!

No, I'm not talking March Madness. According to a new report from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, Texas has the largest percentage (28%) of uninsured workers in the country. Well, we're tied with New Mexico. Way to go Tejas! Nationwide, about one in five U.S. workers lacks health insurance. While the economics of a potential fix must be considered, how about we start talking about health as a basic human right and go from there with this discussion? Anyone?
As was pointed out in my policy class, it's all well and good that Pres. Obama has gathered another working group on this, but only LBJ, master politician and strongarmer, was able to bring about any change in the system. Maybe change requires The Treatment, not another working group.


13 March, 2009

Another $21 Down

Yesterday was my second shopping excursion for the food stamps project. Surprisingly, I did a lot better this time. I didn't spend anywhere near as much time dithering over choices and made a concerted effort to buy more crunchy produce, which I was sorely lacking last week. Here's the rundown:

1 1/2 gallon of milk
32oz. of plain yogurt
1.5 lbs. of oats
1 green pepper
1 cucumber
0.7 lbs of carrots
2 apples
1 box whole wheat spaghetti
6 eggs
1 packet of tomato paste
4 bananas
1 large yellow onion
2 potatoes
1 8oz. block of cheese
1 pkg. wheat bread
1 top round steak
TOTAL 20.90


Who really needs $555 million anyway?

Our esteemed governor, Rick "The Coif" Perry, has pulled a Marie Antoinette and said "No" to $555 million in stimulus bill funds because the state would have to broaden the qualifications for unemployment benefits:
(from today's Austin American-Statesman)
"To get any of the money, the state would need to adopt a new method for determining whether a worker has earned enough in wages to qualify for benefits. About 30,000 workers would become eligible with this change, which would make $185 million available, according to the National Employment Law Project.

Of the four other possible changes, only two need to be enacted to get the remaining $370 million. The two least-expensive options — and the ones most likely to be enacted — would extend eligibility to people looking for part-time employment and those who quit their jobs to move with a spouse for a new job or for "compelling family reasons," such as family illness. About 16,000 workers would be affected by the change."

Actually, this was my favorite line in the article:

"Perry said he and his staff will continue to review the stimulus package to see whether there are other aspects of it that they want to fight."

The image I get is of a petulant child. Well, Rick, you and Bobby and Haley can skulk off to your clubhouse and congratulate yourselves on jobs well done.


06 March, 2009

Food Aid from Ian

My roommate's girlfriend and her two young kids came over for dinner last night. Her very bright and funny 10 year-old son, Ian, and I got to talking about the food stamp project. He anticipated my food wouldn't hold out and began offering up ideas to keep me from "starving," as he put it. Luckily, I'm sure I'll more than survive because his ideas included eating roommate Robin's cat (an awful cat that nobody likes, so not really a loss if it came to that). After they finished their dinner he came up to my room, hit me up for some paper, and sat down to write. He essentially wrote an op-ed against hunger; a slightly cracked op-ed written in chicken scratch with a Sharpie on scrap paper, but enjoyable none the less. It ended with this:
"I propose we ask people, 'Aren't you hungry, Dana? Wouldn't you like to eat, Dana?' This will lead to a fatter and happier world. By the way, Dana is a made-up name I invented."
I'm extremely tempted to show it to my professor.
He also left a half eaten bag of Cheetos on our kitchen counter with a note attached:
"Eat this Dana or you'll starve!"
I declined the offer.

05 March, 2009

$21 down, 7 days to go

The funny thing about only having $21 to spend on groceries for the weak is that even though you can only buy a few things with it, you'll have to spend a lot of time figuring out how to spend it. I think I was in HEB for two hours. I can't be sure; colorful packaging, florescent lights and my endless recalculating made the time blur. It was darker outside when I left, though.

I thought I would breeze through this. I've lived in developing countries, in villages where the only market set up shop once a week. I don't eat out anyway and don't eat packaged stuff.
Great in theory, but meaningless here. I do suspect I would have been able to haul home more fresh produce is I was back in the ME, though.

I walked in the store and, as is my habit, I started with fruits and vegetables. However, once I started weighing things and figuring prices I thought I should go for my main meal items first. That's a huge difference right there: fruits and vegetables essentially became "garnish" for this weeks diet. And, I never really realized how much that stuff weighs.

At first I thought I could nail this by shopping from the bulk foods, but they're still not the norm in stores. I did get some green lentils and some oatmeal. I knew there could be no compromise on a filling breakfast, lest I kill somebody by noon.

Within about ten minutes my head began to hurt. This is not shopping , I thought, this is chess. Pick up a gallon of milk and think you're so smart because this will last you over two weeks and then realize that the $4 it costs means you can't buy rice, so you replace the gallon with a half gallon. You pick up the cheap wheat bread and wonder what the hell to buy to put on the bread that will last the week. Peanut butter is certainly out - my cousin recently had a homeless man turn down the peanut butter crackers she'd offered him: "That stuff'll kill you!" So, I wandered around pondering that for a while before I decided that a $0.99 bag of garbanzo beans would go far if I made another batch of my hummus (sans tahini, sadly). I wavered quite a bit on whether to spend the $4.50 on chicken, but really couldn't quite make it fit with everything. Luckily, I'm not a big meat eater anyway. I kept stopping, using my mobile phone to keep track of my tab, and stealing glances at the baskets of other shoppers and trying to extrapolate meaning from their purchases. One young family with three small, round girls went by with what looked like a side of beef in their cart. Another woman with a toddler in her cart had just eight loaves of cheap, white bread. At this point I was hungry and more than a little annoyed.

Here's what I got for $21:
1/2 gal 1% Milk
32 oz. Plain Yogurt (I blame the Turks for my addiction, but it does wonders mixed with lentils or beans)
1 5oz. block of cheese
1 32oz. bag of brown rice
1 can black beans
1 1lb. bag of garbanzo beans
2 cans of diced tomatoes
1.4 lbs. of organic steel-cut oats
0.81 lbs of green lentils
1 bag frozen, chopped spinach
1 bag frozen chopped broccoli
I loaf whole wheat bread
3 bananas
1 box black tea

I'm trying to be quite literal with this, only eating what I buy...or find or steal. I think I did pretty well, actually. Let's see how I feel next Thursday. Saturday morning I plan to hit the downtown farmer's market, which advertises as accepting food stamps, to see what somebody could actually purchase there. Based on what I've seen, I suspect not much.