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Tuesday, February 24, 2009
A new life for the 'Slumdog' kids
From the London Daily Mail:

The poverty stricken child stars of Slumdog Millionaire are set to be property tycoons after being promised new homes by the film’s Oscar winning director Danny Boyle and by Mumbai officials.

Boyle and producer Christian Colson told the Daily Mail that Azharuddin Mohammed Ismail and Rubina Ali and their families will be moved to apartments worth £20,000 each in the coming months.

But in an astonishing turn of events, officials from the Maharashtra Housing and Area Development Authority - a Mumbai housing association - have now also said they want to gift the children a new flat each.

There was a public outcry after pictures emerged of the child stars living in squalor, despite the fact the film had grossed £70million worldwide.

One showed ten year-old Azharuddin sleeping on a rotting makeshift mat - a bed he shared with his parents - while another featured him crouched down by rubbish, washing in dirty water.

The shack that Rubina, who plays the young heroine Letika, calls home is just yards from an open sewer.

Not anymore... Question: didn't the kids get paid for the film? I should hope so!

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posted by JReid @ 7:02 PM  
Thursday, July 17, 2008
American gothic
The sharp decline in America's standing the in the world since the Bush administration came into power is bad enough, but a new study suggests that the real, and breathtaking, American decline after nearly eight years of Robber Baron era politics has been in our status as a developed nation. From the Guardian:

Despite spending $230m (£115m) an hour on healthcare, Americans live shorter lives than citizens of almost every other developed country. And while it has the second-highest income per head in the world, the United States ranks 42nd in terms of life expectancy.

These are some of the startling conclusions from a major new report which attempts to explain why the world's number-one economy has slipped to 12th place - from 2nd in 1990- in terms of human development.

It gets worse. According to the The American Human Development Report, which is funded by groups like Oxfam America and the Rockefeller Foundation, countries that are beating us in things like long life and infant mortality are doing it with far lower levels of government spending.

Japanese, for example, can expect to outlive Americans, on average, by more than four years. In fact, citizens of Israel, Greece, Singapore, Costa Rica, South Korea and every western European and Nordic country save one can expect to live longer than Americans.

More findings that will curl your hair:

  • The average Asian woman lives to be 89 years old, while the average African-American woman can expect to live until 76, a 13 year gap. For men, the gap between Asians and African-Americans is 14 years.

  • One in six Americans has no health coverage. That adds up to 47 million people.
  • The US ranks 42nd in global life expectancy and 34th in terms of infants surviving to age one. "The US infant mortality rate is on a par with that of Croatia, Cuba, Estonia and Poland. If the US could match top-ranked Sweden, about 20,000 more American babies a year would live to their first birthday."
  • "The US has a higher percentage of children living in poverty than any of the world's richest countries. In fact, the report shows that 15% of American children - 10.7 million - live in families with incomes of less than $1,500 per month."
  • 14% of Americans (40 million people) - "lack the literacy skills to perform simple, everyday tasks such as understanding newspaper articles and instruction manuals."
  • American enrollment of three and four-year-olds in preschool is at 50%, while most of Europe, Canada, Japan and Russia are at 75%.
  • In terms of human deveopment, "some Americans are living anywhere from 30 to 50 years behind others when it comes to issues we all care about: health, education and standard of living. For example, the state human development index shows that people in last-ranked Mississippi are living 30 years behind those in first-ranked Connecticut."
  • "The richest fifth of Americans earn on average $168,170 a year, almost 15 times the average of the lowest fifth, who make do with $11,352."
  • The U.S. is "far behind many other countries in the support given to working families, particularly in terms of family leave, sick leave and childcare" but first among the 30 richest countries in terms of the number of people in prison, both in absolute and percentage terms. The U.S. "has 5% of the world's people but 24% of its prisoners."


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posted by JReid @ 12:52 PM  
Tuesday, August 21, 2007
Barack Obama has an op-ed piece appearing in today's Miami Herald, in which he calls for unrestricted travel and remittances to Cuba for Cuban-Americans and Cuban nationals living in the United States. Reports the Herald's Beth Reinhard:

Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama is calling for ''unrestricted rights'' for Cuban Americans to visit and send money to family in Cuba, just days before his first pilgrimage to Little Havana as a presidential candidate.
President Bush clamped down on family travel and remittances to Cuba in an effort to squeeze Fidel Castro. The policy has become a flash point in the Cuban-American community, which traditionally leans toward the GOP.

''Cuban-American connections to family in Cuba are not only a basic right in humanitarian terms, but also our best tool for helping to foster the beginnings of grass-roots democracy on the island,'' Obama wrote in an opinion column published in today's Miami Herald. ``Accordingly, I will grant Cuban Americans unrestricted rights to visit family and send remittances to the island.''

Obama is expected to repeat his message Saturday at Miami-Dade County Auditorium, a site laden with nostalgia for Cuban exiles. It was there that President Ronald Reagan declared ``Cuba sí, Castro no'' during a landmark, anti-communist speech in 1983 that emboldened a Cuban-American community then on the political fringes.

About 1,100 tickets have been sold so far to Obama's speech, with the proceeds going to the Miami-Dade Democratic Party. The $30 entry fee is a fraction of the $2,300 donation typical of presidential fundraisers.

''This speech has so much symbolism and value, coming in the heart of the Cuban-American community,'' said the local party's chairman, Joe Garcia. ``Sen. Obama has come to the conclusion that the majority of Cuban Americans have come to, which is that more travel is good for freedom and good for democracy.''

A Florida International University poll in March of 1,000 Cuban-Americans in Miami-Dade found that 55 percent support free travel to Cuba. But some exile groups argue that easing the restrictions would be a mistake.

''We regret that Sen. Obama has been so ill-advised as to assume that lifting sanctions against Cuba's dictatorial regime will bring about change,'' read a statement issued by the non-partisan Cuban Liberty Council. ``It is sad that he does not apply the same principles used to bring about change in South Africa where blacks were victims of the same apartheid as Cubans on the island.''

Obama's stance puts him at odds with Republican presidential field and could open the door for his Democratic rival, Hillary Clinton, to continue a foreign policy spat that began during a televised debate last month. ...
Or could Barack be looking to peel off Cuban-American voters who were outraged by the increased restrictions imposed by President Bush in an election-year ploy in 2004? That clamp-down caused some Cuban-Americans to revolt, and even to quit the GOP. Yet, at the end of the day, Bush still carried Florida's Hispanic vote.

Obama could have in mind the 30 percent of the Cuban-American vote won by Bill Clinton, along with the state, in 1996. But Clinton accomplished that, not by liberalizing toward Cuba, but by cracking down.

Time will tell if Barack's strategy will help or hurt him in the Sunshine State.


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posted by JReid @ 6:49 AM  
Wednesday, August 08, 2007
Fight the power
It's rare -- very rare -- when Miami-Dade's "strong mayor," Carlos Alvarez, its board of county commissioners, and local activists (for low income housing and the poor) agree, on anything. When they do, one should take notice. 

In this case, all of the above agree, as do I, and many observers in South Florida, that the Bush Department of Housing and Urban Development's move to take over the Miami-Dade Housing Agency is both precipitous and unnecessary.

How is it that, two years after the scandals detailed in the Miami Herald's "House of Lies" series occurred, the agency charged with overseeing the spending of federal housing funds by the county-supervised agency, only now decides its time to take over? Where was HUD when these scandals -- many of which involved federal, meaning HUD, funds, were taking place? Where was their oversight? It's clear that the county agency was a playground for scandal, fraud and abuse. It's true that the agency squandered tens of millions of dollars giving sweetheart deals to insider contractors and developers who never intended to build a single unit of low income housing -- and who in many cases simply flipped the properties for personal gain, while never repaying the loans. It's true that the agency was a disgrace, which should become the target of multiple prosecutions. And its true that the county commission did little, or nothing, to stop or catch the abuses. You might even say they deserve a healthy share of the blame, and shame.

However, the House of Lies scandals are the agency's recent past. It's currently under new management, and from all that I hear from housing advocates who are on the ground, working with the very people bilked by MDHA, making progress. And for HUD to now move in, citing of all things, the possibility that poor people were getting too much Section 8 money, is outrageous.

Further, the man pushing the takeover, Orlando Cabrera, a crony of both Jeb and George Bush, and the Latin Builders Association, cannot, and will not, promise that he will not pursue the tried and true Bushian policy of privatization. Look for him to do exactly that, with some of the last arable, unoccupied land in South Florida. And who stands to benefit? The aforementioned LBA and Jebbie's development firm, the Codina Group. 

Sound cynical?

It should. Especially since the man who runs the agency that is purporting to save Miami-Dade from itself, HUD Secretary Alphonso Jackson, has been caught red-handed, using a partisan litmus test for the awarding of federal contracts. He plays by the Bush rules, and there's no reason to assume he'll stop doing so now. And among those rules is the following: thou shalt pursue public policy with as little basic competence as possible, for as long as you can get away with it. Ring up some friends in New Orleans, Philly or Detroit, and ask how their HUD-run public housing agencies are doing. For that matter, ring up Riviera Beach.

You'll forgive me if I take a dim view of the Bush administration's latest land and power grab in the 27 electoral vote state of Florida. I've had seven years to become this cynical.

Meanwhile, Mayor Alvarez is vowing to fight the HUD takeover in court, as he stated in a defiant press conference yesterday. His argument: the agency cannot prove that Miami-Dade is still in a state of default -- it's allegations are true, but they're past history. And as for the boogeyman of Section 8 certifications? Alvarez expects them to be completed, in their entirety, next month. In fact, the newfangled MDHA is already working closely with the community most affected by the House of Lies scandals: Liberty City, a mostly black enclave where poverty and want outrun hope and possibility far too often. Bringing HUD in as the big stick will likely sideline those community workers, placing the Bushies and their cronies firmly in charge.  And as for the financial scandals -- with a strong mayor now in place, and the direct accountability that he has mandated to all department heads, including the new head of MDHA, Kris Warren, the buck actually stops somewhere today, something that wasn't true when the Herald was earning that Pulitzer. 

By the way, the Miami Herald -- the agency who informed a credulous HUD that its $275 million was being flushed down the toilet (and without whom apparently Mr. Cabrera would have been none the wiser...?) Their editorial board agrees with me.


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posted by JReid @ 6:06 PM  
Tuesday, August 07, 2007
They'll do a heckuva job

The Department of Housing and Urban Development moved today to take over Miami-Dade County's troubled housing agency, following months of scandal uncovered in a Pulitzer Prize winning Miami Herald series:

The federal government seized control of the Miami-Dade Housing Authority Tuesday morning, fulfilling a months-old threat and ending months of attempts to negotiate an amicable settlement.

The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development notified county leaders about 9 a.m.

Top agency leaders have been determined to take over since at least February, citing the vast mismanagement of housing programs exposed last year in The Miami Herald's House of Lies series.

Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Alvarez pledged earlier this year to fight HUD in court, and the county's lawyers went before a judge in May when the department took its first steps toward a takeover.

HUD's press release on the takeover can be found here. It reads in part:

The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development announced today that it will take possession of the Miami-Dade Housing Agency (MDHA) in 10 business days, saying the agency had demonstrated a pattern of financial irresponsibility and mismanagement of its Section 8 rental housing voucher and public housing programs.

“For several months, we at the federal level have reached out to local leaders to work in partnership to get the agency back on track,” said HUD Assistant Secretary of Public and Indian Housing Orlando Cabrera. “HUD tried without success to get Miami officials to enter into what is known as a cooperative endeavor agreement that would have allowed us to work together as partners to restore the Miami community’s faith in its housing agency. Local official have rebuffed us, claiming they are making progress. Notwithstanding these claims of progress, HUD has verified that the problems identified by HUD are getting worse, not better,”

“A takeover has always been our last resort,” he added. “We, like the people of Miami, continue to hear about MDHA’s plans to improve, but plans on paper are meaningless to families and communities waiting for decent housing and action. It would be irresponsible to wait any longer.”
In implementing the takeover, HUD faults Miami-Dade County for the following major failures:

Failure to annually re-certify Section 8 tenants. Failing to do annual re-certifications can cause truly needy families not get the assistance they need because some tenants may be receiving more housing subsidy than they are eligible to receive, or there may be tenants who may no longer qualify for the program.

• Numerous and gross accounting errors in annual financial statements from 2002-2006 -- in the tens of millions of dollars.
Back up a taste: the county agency's principle failure was that it might have allowed tenants to get too much Section 8 money? Come again? The problem, as we've found out through the painstaking work of the Miami Herald though its House of Lies series, is that the agency failed to build housing for needy families, including those who were moved out of housing that was then demolished, and nothing built in its place. Not to mention the developers who were given county land for the purposes of building low income housing, but who instead flipped the land for the development of high priced condos ... The problem in Miami-Dade is not "welfare queens," it's an abject failure on the part of the housing agency to give them adequate assistance. Meanwhile, the county gifted friendly, connected developers with millions of dollars in no-look loans for which they built absolutely nothing. But typical of the GOP, they start by asserting that too much was being done for the poor. All of that scandal -- which filled more than a dozen isses of the Herald -- is boiled down to "gross accounting errors." Not a good start.

HUD is already in control of seven of the nation's 4,100 public housing authorities. The list won't give you much hope: Riviera Beach and Sarasota, Florida, Detroit, MI, East St. Louis, Ill., New Orleans, La., and Wellston, Mo., as well as the Virgin Islands Housing Authority. Quick: close your eyes and picture the public housing projects in Detroit, St. Louis and New Orleans! Feeling better yet?

And then there are the men who will now be in charge...

As at least one commenter on the Herald points out, the takeover places the Bush administration -- of Hurricane Katrina fame -- in charge of the scandal-ridden Miami-Dade housing authority, where no-bid contracts, sweetheart deals to contractors who built no housing (except for themselves) and failed to repay millions of dollars in loans. Anyone who has perused HUD's history in New Orleans, even before Katrina devastated Louisiana, won't have much confidence in the Bushies' ability to turn things around. Another commenter, calling themselves "Bigfoot," smells a nasty portent of things to come:

The same guy (Asst Sec. of HUD, Orlando Cabrera) who was the General Counsel for the Latin Builders Assn. is the orchestrator of this entire takeover.

The South Florida developers (LBA) will be rewarded for there efforts again....They will undoubtedly get federal contracts from the same agency that is screwing up so bad in New Orleans. These contracts will displace current public housing residents and of course build brand new facilities with the federal contracts.

Displaced residents and developers getting paid....sounds so familiar! Anybody that cheers for this Federal Administration, whether it?s for the war, the environment, the US Attorney firings or Katrina, has got it head stuck up in the clouds of disillusionment.
In fact, Mr. Cabrera, a crony of former governor and big-time developer Jeb Bush, and who served as Jebbie's housing administrator during the good old days of politicized FEMA payments to help ensure big brother George's re-election, and who also is a friend of the LBA, will now have discretion to steer millions of dollars in contracts to build affordable housing in the county to whomever he wishes, and one would have to assume that he will wish to bless the Latin Builders Association, which maintains close ties to Jeb -- Jeb of the long track record of cozy ties to Big Real Estate, and who is now himself a full-time, big-time real estate developer in Miami, in a position to grab some of that booty as well ... We all know how business is done in Bushworld...

As for the man who will now administer the agency, his name is Donald J. LaVoy: a Marine Corps veteran and former head of HUD's E-government organization, called the REAC, or "Real Estate Assessment Center," which does affordable housing assessments, among other things. Nothing negative stands out in his background, but he's not really the main concern. That honor goes to Cabrera.

At the end of the day, the county deserves a mugging, given its governance of the housing agency. But this is no step up. We've had seven years of experience with the Bush way of doing business, and that doesn't bode well for Miami-Dade. Some people are about to get very rich -- or richer -- from this deal. And the poor, already accused by HUD of getting too much, can look forward to getting little if anything at all.

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posted by JReid @ 9:51 PM  
Tuesday, July 17, 2007
Another Dunbar Village
The Palm Beach Post has an excellent story about Dunbar Village -- the housing project that has become infamous as the site of a horrifying case of gang rape and child exploitation. But though the housing project has always been intended as a place to stowe lower income Black people, Dunbar, named for the famed poet Paul Lawrence Dunbar, hasn't always been a hell-hole. Here's the story.


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posted by JReid @ 8:36 AM  
Wednesday, February 28, 2007
Quick take headlines: hump day edition
Is Iraq in a civil war? According to the new director of national intelligence, Mike McConnell, it most certainly is.

And will the Bush administration reverse course and talk to Iraq's neighbors, Syria and Iran? Yes ... and no ... Condi Rice continues her turn as spin-mistress, attempting to explain how we're going to sit down in the same room with the two bad actors in the Middle East, but only because the Iraqis invited them. I can just hear the negotiations now:

U.S.: "Could you please tell the Syrian ambassador that I said he's a horse's ass?"

IRAQI: (sitting between U.S. and Syrian reps): "Certainly, madam." (turns to Syrian, sitting beside him.) "she says you're a horse's ass."

SYRIAN: "Kindly tell the lady to bite me."

IRAQI: "Quite."

Meanwhile, that hellified market correction yesterday (which extended in Europe and Asia today) has spooked everyone, but there's more bad news out there, starting with the mortgage market, where it's about to get a lot tougher to get a loan. Also, America's homeless population is growing and hardening, at a time when the Bushbots are claiming we have the best economy ever...

A groundbreaking survey of homelessness being released today found that 704,000 people nationwide sought shelter at least once in a three-month period.

Families with children accounted for one-third of those seeking emergency shelter or transitional housing between February and April 2005, the most recent period studied, according to the report by the Department of Housing and Urban Development. The rest were individuals, mostly adult men. Nearly half were black.

The count covered only those seeking shelter, not people living on the street, so the total number of homeless people would be higher.

"This first-of-its-kind study is a huge leap forward in our understanding of not only how many people are homeless, but also what their needs are," HUD Secretary Alphonso Jackson says. The report says, for example, that at least a quarter are disabled.

HUD, which briefed USA TODAY on the report Monday, says it is the most comprehensive government estimate ever of homelessness. Previous counts looked only at the number of people homeless on a given day or week.

The three-month figure — equal to the population of South Dakota — is an estimate based on a sample of 80 communities. It will serve as a baseline for annual reports to Congress and may be expanded to include people living on the street.

And about that economy: it isn't nearly as good as the righties say it is...

On a much lighter note, could anything or anyone have saved Anna Nicole Smith? Quoth Travolta, Scientology.

The Largo, Florida city manager who wants to go from Mr. Manager to Mrs. Manager is about to get fired.

And last but certainly not least: nothing says "hit stage play" like showing off your Harry Potter...

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posted by JReid @ 8:03 AM  
Monday, February 26, 2007
Quick take headlines: Monday, Monday
America: You'll come for the Bush administration, you'll stay for the poverty.
A McClatchy Newspapers analysis of 2005 census figures, the latest available, found that nearly 16 million Americans are living in deep or severe poverty. A family of four with two children and an annual income of less than $9,903 -- half the federal poverty line -- was considered severely poor in 2005. So were individuals who made less than $5,080 a year.

The McClatchy analysis found that the number of severely poor Americans grew by 26 percent from 2000 to 2005. That's 56 percent faster than the overall poverty population grew in the same period. McClatchy's review also found statistically significant increases in the percentage of the population in severe poverty in 65 of 215 large U.S. counties, and similar increases in 28 states. The review also suggested that the rise in severely poor residents isn't confined to large urban counties but extends to suburban and rural areas.

Kentucky's deep poverty rate increased 26 percent from 2000 to 2005, adding 59,305 people to the ranks of the severely poor according to the study. Kentucky's poverty rate, 16.8 percent, and deep poverty rate, 7.1 percent, for 2005 are both higher than the national averages of 13.3 percent and 5.7 percent, respectively.

'Permanent underclass'

The plight of the severely poor is a distressing sidebar to an unusual economic expansion. Worker productivity has increased dramatically since the brief recession of 2001, but wages and job growth have lagged behind and the share of national income going to corporate profits has dwarfed the amount going to wages and salaries. That helps explain why the median household income of working-age families, adjusted for inflation, has fallen for five straight years.

These and other factors have helped push 43 percent of the nation's 37 million poor people into deep poverty -- the highest rate since at least 1975. ...

Meanwhile, across the pond, the British government considers classifying an 8-year-old boy as abused, because his parents have allowed him to balloon to 14 stone -- that's 196 pounds in America-speak.

If you want to feel really bad about what's going on in Iraq, read this.

And how FUBAR is American foreign policy in this hemisphere? Colombia, on whom we've pinned all our hopes of avoiding a totally leftist region, turns to an old card that will be familiar to the Bushies: death squads.

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posted by JReid @ 9:42 AM  
Sunday, February 25, 2007
Quick take headlines, insomniac edition
Christian leaders begin to doubt their party of choice's presidential contenders...

Fidel's innermost thoughts from nearly fifty years ago revealed.

Hillary throws down the gauntlet on the subject of her husband's impeachment. Mention Monica in public at your own risk...

A new study finds that poverty has reached record numbers in the U.S. over the last six years:
The percentage of poor Americans who are living in severe poverty has reached a 32-year high, millions of working Americans are falling closer to the poverty line and the gulf between the nation's "haves" and "have-nots" continues to widen.

A McClatchy Newspapers analysis of 2005 census figures, the latest available, found that nearly 16 million Americans are living in deep or severe poverty. A family of four with two children and an annual income of less than $9,903 -- half the federal poverty line -- was considered severely poor in 2005. So were individuals who made less than $5,080 a year.

The McClatchy analysis found that the number of severely poor Americans grew by 26 percent from 2000 to 2005. That's 56 percent faster than the overall poverty population grew in the same period. McClatchy's review also found statistically significant increases in the percentage of the population in severe poverty in 65 of 215 large U.S. counties, and similar increases in 28 states. The review also suggested that the rise in severely poor residents isn't confined to large urban counties but extends to suburban and rural areas.
A bit more, if you can take it:
The Census Bureau's Survey of Income and Program Participation shows that, in a given month, only 10 percent of severely poor Americans received Temporary Assistance for Needy Families in 2003 -- the latest year available -- and that only 36 percent received food stamps.

One in three Americans will experience a full year of extreme poverty at some point in his or her adult life, according to research by Mark Rank, a professor of social welfare at the University of Wisconsin, Madison.

An estimated 58 percent of Americans between the ages of 20 and 75 will spend at least a year in poverty, Rank said. Two of three will use a public assistance program between ages 20 and 65, and 40 percent will do so for five years or more.

Lastly: is allowing your child to become fat a form of child abuse? That question is being asked in Britain in the case of the 14 stone boy:
AN eight-year-old boy who weighs 14 stone, more than three times the average for his age, may be taken into care if his mother fails to improve his diet.

Connor McCreaddie, from Wallsend, near Newcastle upon Tyne, has broken four beds and five bicycles. The family claims to have a history of intolerance to fruit or vegetables.

On Tuesday his mother and grandmother will attend a formal child protection conference to decide his future, which could lead to proceedings to take him into care.

Connor could be placed on the child protection register, along with victims of physical and sexual abuse, or on the less serious children in need register.

And speaking of abuse, that's what I'm doing to my brain right now. It's way past time to go to bed.

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posted by JReid @ 3:44 AM  
ReidBlog: The Obama Interview
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