Tuesday, January 27, 2009

The Cost of the World's Cheapest Gasoline


By Humberto Marquez
The world's cheapest gasoline is available in Venezuela due to the subsidy program that benefits car owners while keeping investing money from the oil industry. Since 1998, gasoline has cost between three and four cents per liter. A bottle of water costs 25 times that amount. The subsidy is estimated to be $12.5 billion based on the difference between domestic and export prices. Essentially, over $3000 a year in gasoline is being given away to every consumer leaving oil company's without money they could use to help with fuel distribution. Only the middle and upper class can afford private vehicles, which consumer 80 percent of the fuel, leaving the lower class, which makes up 80 percent of the population with 20 percent of the fuel for public transportation. Smuggling of gasoline has become an issue as well since the prices in the countries surrounding Venezuela are significantly higher. The cheap prices have contributed to more cars on the road, and a subsequent increase of traffic jams and decrease of road maintenance.

Nightmare for Civilians Uprooted by Conflict

By Ashfaq Yusufzai
Disease, unclean drinking water and lack of electricity are just some of the plights affecting those displaced into camps by the military operation launched by the Pakistani army against Taliban militants. UNICEF and the World Food Program have been working to better the conditions in the camps but relief is still distant. The worst affected are children who have been suffering from scabies, diarrhea, unexplained fever and malaria.


The Secret of the Grain
Jenny Halper

A half hour into Abdel Kechiche’s Cesar winning family drama, The Secret of the Grain, my father leaned over and asked, “What is this movie about?” After all, we were still watching a family cooking, eating, and fighting. And cooking, and eating, and fighting. Writer/Director Kechiche’s domestic rhythms are very familiar and therefore easy, initially, to reject.

But I’d recommend hanging in through all two and a half (plus) hours of the film, which tells the story of Slimane Beiji (Habib Boufares), a 60-year-old patriarch trying to segway into a career as a restaurateur with the help of his ex-wife’s fish cous cous. And that’s basically the basis for the story. Although his pipe dream sounds fairly simple – he owns a boat and can simply serve customers on it - government administrators don’t think he has the stamina to run his own business. Determined to prove himself, he plans a huge dinner party and invites the high-level head-shakers who remain skeptical that his floating, couscous-serving restaurant could turn a profit. His family wants to help, but so do his new girlfriend and her daughter.

Meanwhile, the huge extended family squabbles —a two-year-old grandchild won’t use the potty, a husband cheats routinely on his wife, a daughter tries to convince her mother to forget shame – but Kechiche’s wonderful eye and ear for detail make the typical seem anything but. The family, Arabs living in Southern France, works hard to maintain their distinct culture, but the movie implies rather than stresses culture clash.

At the movie’s center is Boufares, who, in his feature film debut, resembles a still, serious Steve Martin with wonderfully expressive eyes. The film is at its most effective when focusing in on his tense silence – he’s usually the calm center of a family dysfunctional in the ways all families are, but their dysfunction could risk him his career. Watching the potential crumble of his dreams is like watching the demise of your own, and the almost unbearable tension Kechiche ultimately creates is the antithesis of his atmospheric but slow start.

Boston's Intellectual Elite Examine the Isreal-Gaza Conflict

By Julia Waterhous
The Palestine Cultural Center for Peace brought together a panel of three speakers last Wednesday, January 21st to address Israel's recent ceasefire in violent attacks on Gaza. Noam Chomsky, professor, linguist and political activist, Assaf Kfoury, professor at Boston University and Ahmed Shawki, editor of the International Socialist Review all shared their opinions on Israel. Chomsky spoke of the legitimacy and reasons for the U.S. Israeli invasion and how the U.S.'s reasons for occupancy are questionable. Kfoury pointed out that through the tragedy people have come together in protest, and Shawki, an Egyptian, described what it means to be Arabic in the U.S. and emphasised that the tragedies must be confronted and talked about.

What Next for Guantanamo?

By Adam Forrest
With hundreds still detained in Guantanamo, the new administration and civil rights groups are looking for ways to deal with the prisoners. Civil rights activists agree that the system of military commissions that allows detainees to be tried outside of international and domestic standards must be put to an end. The remaining prisoners can be tried on federal or military courts. Around 150 prisoners who have already been cleared to leave are refugees and returning to their home countries would put them in danger. Portugal and Albania have accepted a few refugees but no other country has so far. Which leaves one category of detainee left to deal with: those considered too dangerous to release but who lack the evidence against them to be charged. Overall, with the new administration the U.S. is looking to turn around its civil justice system.

The Harvest Food Pantry

By Robert Sondak
The Harvest Food Pantry not only distributes food but offers cooking demonstrations as well. Located at the Cambridgeport Baptist church on Magazine Street, HFP opens its doors two Saturdays a month from 10 am to noon. Families from around Cambridge can come to shop for fresh and canned vegetables, fruit, meats, pasta, bread, pastries, milk and juice. Since January 2007, the Nutrition Outreach Project has sponsored four cooking projects, the last of which was held in October. The demonstration in October showed how to prepare green beans and a kidney bean chili and highlighted the nutritional values of each.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Following Obama, Black Iraquis Run for Office


By: Mohammed Abbas

The Free Iraqi Movement will be the first to put black candidates on the Iraqi ticket for the provincial elections on January 31st. The election will be the first held under Iraqi law since the US overthrew Saddam Hussein in 2003. There will be eight black candidates in the running. Obama's election in the US gave many black Iraqis hope for an end to the discrimination they often face.

History of slavery and the issue of ancestry often leave black Iraqis in a position of degradation, and very few have decent jobs. "Abd" is the Arabic word for slave and is still often used, although not always with the intention of being insulting.

The Free Iraqi Movement wishes to ban the word "abd" as it perpetuates the idea of the black as a slave. The movement also is looking to have blacks labeled as aminority which would grant them benefits.

Light skinned Iraqis fail to see the discrimination taking place and believe that blacks are on equal ground.

Time to View Affordable Housing as an Economic Stimulus

By: Paul Boden

Despite promising to instigate the largest public works construction project "since the creation of the federal highway system in the 1950's" President Barack Obama has yet to address the issue of homelessness. The plan is speculated to cost between 400 and 700 billion dollars and Obama has so far mentioned working on "schools, sewer systems, mass transit, electical grids, dams and other public utilities as well as green jobs dedicated to creating alternative fuels, windmills and solar panels; building energy efficient appliances or installing fuel-efficient heating or cooling systems." But these words as well as Obama's website fail to give more than a nod to homelessness. Affordable housing should be integrated into the plan and would help to ensure everyone had a roof over their heads.

Nutrition Education Outreach Project

By Robert Sondak

The Nutrition Education Outreach Project began ten years ago with a regional hunger assessment study. The study rated the quality of nutrition programs for children in school based on how well they improved overall health. The project gathered a list of clients from the study and began distributing recipes that utilize all the food groups and provide proper nutrition. Eventually the program grew to include nutrition workshops, cooking classes, and by 2007 were doing demonstrations and taste tests at farmers markets. The program has expanded to five other cities and 15 communities.

Preventing Homelessness

By James Shearer

After Boston's homeless census showed an 11 percent increase throughout the city, the state decided to give Housing First more money to help with homelessness.

But where Housing First deals with homelessness as it is, the answer may be more in preventing homelessness to begin with.

Homelessness is more than lacking money. To prevent homelessness, mental illness and substance abuse must be addressed. Most importantly, we must abandon our cliched ideas about who falls into the patterns of substance abuse or who ends up out on the streets. It can happen to anyone.

Domestic violence should also be confronted and it should be recognized that many escape domestic violence by heading to the streets.

Boston's Longest Night Vigil

Snow and freezing rain pelted Saint Paul's Cathedral the night of December 21st, but the little brown paper bags with their electric candles still glowed brightly.

Many people gathered on the night of the winter solstice to remember the homeless men and women who had passed away in the previous year.

Reverend Kathy McAdams, executive director of Ecclesia Ministries Common Cathedral, had personally known three people who passed away. She said that many homeless find it difficult to transition into housing because it feels lonely after shelter life, and many lose meaning in their lives once they no longer have to search for food or shelter.

Many in attendance had known someone who passed away from homelessness, and everyone paid their respects.

New Meaning In Life for Young Colombian Shantytown Dwellers

For the past four decades, Colombia has been, and still is, a war torn nation where violence and hardship are simply a way of life.

Numerous youth gangs roam the streets, exacting revenge on those who killed their friends and family.

Tempers are quick to flare and many take out their anger through hurting or killing others.

One organization has made the lives of Colombian youth better. Legion del Afecto is a project for youth meant to give them alternate activities such as dance, gardening, sports, art, and music to keep them out of danger and give them an emotional outlet.

Participants receive pay for community service and "socialization." The project also works to rebuild confidence and hope where there may be little left.

Piracy Threatens Aid Effort in Somalia

The number of Somalians who seek food aid from the U.N. has risen by 75 percent since 2007 to 3.25 million, equivalent to 40 percent of the population. The warring Ethiopian army and Islamist militants have upset the agriculture and put many out of their homes.

To add to the turbulence, pirates have been intercepting the relief vessels carrying food that the U.N. has been sending.

The European Union responded by sending military escorts to protect the relief vessels. So far no ship has been attacked while under escort.

When escorts are not available, small ships are used to bring in food because they are targeted less by the pirates. The pirates usually look for the larger ships which they can hold for up to $1 million in ransom.

The smaller ships can only bring so much food, and the decline in the use of large vessels has impacted the amount of food that reaches Somalia.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Arnie King's Sentence


At the age of 18, Arnie King was convicted of murder and given a life sentence which he has been serving for the past 35 years.

Through his years in jail, King has co-founded and directed various organizations that help youth, parents and educators deal with life in prison and build a life that keeps them out of jail. He has also brought together 20-30 fellow prisoners to write poetry about their experiences and share them with the public. Not to mention the three college degrees he has received while incarcerated.

By a unanimous vote in 2007, the Massachusettes Board of Pardons decided to free King. However Governor Patrick made the final call. This past week, he decided not to let King walk.

Many, including King's brother Kazi Toure, were infuriated, calling the decision that of a white supremacist. Pastor Jason Lydon of the Community Church agreed that King should have been freed.

The US has more people in jail than any other country, and 70 percent of those are colored, while 70 percent of those outside of jail are white.

Year's End Reflection and Hopes

Despite a difficult 2008 spent on the streets, Edward J. Portella Sr. is hopeful for the coming year.
Ideally, 2009 would bring an end to his homeless life along with a flat screen TV and a balanced checkbook, but if nothing else Portella simply wishes for patience and peace of mind.

The struggles encountered in the past year have strengthened and focused him. Many mornings seemed bleak at first but in the end Portella found that life is now more clear and bright than ever.

Healthquest: Vendor Loses 140 Pounds, Gains Vast Nutrition Knowledge

Thirty years ago, Robert Sondak moved to Boston from New York 140 pounds overweight. He decided something had to be done about the spare pounds for health reasons and became a vegetarian.

He first entered into the macrobiotic vegetarian diet which use rice and grains as a base and incorporate vegetables and legumes too. He also started yoga, but Sondak still developed some food- related health issues.

He switched to a lacto-ovo vegetarian diet which incorporates dairy and eggs while still eliminating meat. This brought about the health and happiness he sought.

Through his journey Sondak discovered the Boston Area Gleaners and Food For Free, two organnizations that help to end hunger.

Dr. William Julius Wilson on Poverty, Race and the New Administration

Dr. William Julius Wilson, Lewis P. and Linda L. Geyser University Professor at Harvard, director of Joblessness and Urban Poverty Research Program agreed to be interviewed by Spare Change News.

He commented on how Boston's degree of poverty seems to be less than in his previous place of residence, Chicago. He said this may be because Boston seems less affected by the influx of blacks from the south in the 1960's, and by the inner city white population moving to suburbs in the 1970's.

He also spoke to the issue of segregation, and how cities with higher housing demand have less segregation because when housing is more difficult to come by people don't leave their homes as readily.

Dr. Wilson also knows President Barack Obama and says his top priority should be to concentrate on the economy and creating more jobs. He also said we need more health care and a higher minimum wage to help end homelessness.

Homeless on Beason Hill Continue to Struggle


Beacon Hill is known for its wealth and prestige as one of Boston's more glamorous neighborhoods. But it is here that a huge population of homeless reside as well. Many frequent the nearby Boston Common, sleeping on benches and eating at churches and shelters in the area. George Caponigro, a graduate of the University of Virginia, and previous restaurant owner, husband and father lived in the Common for three years. It has been 15 years since he's been on the streets, but he says he'll never forget it. Last year's census in Boston showed a 4 percent rise in the number of homeless and the average age of the homeless is 8 years old. Family homelessness is one aspect rarely talked about, even though it is currently growing faster than any other homeless population. Boston's family homelessness increased by 17 percent from last year. St. Francis House, ticketed as the largest multi-service day shelter in New England, serves over 800 homeless per day. The homeless there embody all types of people, including some who are so well put together that one would hardly guess they were struggling. Boston also has the largest health care center for the homeless in the country.