Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Protesters marched from the Common to Copley Square in response to corporations laying off low-wage workers to cut costs.

Union members protest layoffs of janitors and service workers in Greater Boston.

Photos by Alexis Hauk

Minutemen: Neighborhood-Watch Over Our Border?


By: Amanda Fakhreddine

The Minutemen are a military-like group formed in 2005 that help patrol the U.S.-Mexican border. The Minutemen outfit themselves in camouflage and night vision goggles and patrol the desert around the fence that divides the two countries. The Minutemen practice on shooting ranges and force themselves to learn to endure various harsh climates. They meet at a certain spot each night and then split up to look for anyone sneaking across the border. Lieutenant Anthony Salazar of the San Diego County Sheriffs Department of Alpine Station emphasized that the Minutemen are not part of the military, they are civilians who simply draw on military tactics. Former President George W. Bush tried to discourage the "vigilantes" but they truly believe they are protecting America and can't be dissuaded. Groups have been formed in opposition to the Minutemen, saying they are trying to prevent the unnecessary deaths of those who attempt to cross the border.

DSS: Helping Children Lost in the System

By: Kore Van Baldwin

The Department of Social Services does it's best to place kids who have been pulled out of violent or unstable living situations into foster or adoptive families. However there are so many kids in the system that many continue down an unhealthy path and end up on the streets or abusing drugs anyway. The DSS is well meaning but not as helpful as they could be. What kids need is to be re-taught how to be social, how to fit in, how to move forward and how to motivate yourself. Many of the kids are psychologically and socially scarred, and above all they need to be taught to hope again, that they do have a future ahead of them. 

Downturn, Debt Dulls Diamond Sector Sparkle

By: Philip Blenkinsop

The diamond industry is experiencing a recession due to less demand, falling prices and lender reticence. Since a few diamonds are worth an large amount of money, the industry operates on debt, and the debt is crucial to funding $50-60 billion of trade in the stones. But the debt is becoming more than the industry can bear as trade levels are at one-tenth of their usual levels. Diamond industry leaders are discussing possible joint marketing efforts to ease the problem. The market of the super-rich has completely dried out, while jewelry sales in the U.S., which accounts for 45 percent of the market, have fallen by 20 percent. 

Food Contamination, part II: How You Can Shop Locally and Rest Peacefully

By: Robert Sandak

It is important to buy locally grown food to get the best quality, put money back into the regional economy and support farmers. All Whole Foods stores carry locally grown food; they even have signs that inform the consumer as to where it's from and if it's commercial or organic. Whole Foods also invites local farmers to their stores to do demonstrations. The Harvest Cooperative Market (in Cambridge and Jamaica Plain) also carries local produce. The Porter Square and Sidney Street Star Supermarkets have the largest selection of local produce. From June through October, local produce and fruit is also available at the 30 Middlesex Farmer's Markets across the state. 

Thai Community Organizer Kovit Boonjear on Squatter Communities, Housing Rights and Community Empowerment.

By: Katherine Foo

Kovit Boonjear is a native of Thailand who works to organize squatter and scavenger communities that deal with housing rights and self-sustainable income. He works to help the poor by emphasizing participatory education. Boonjear said that homelessness in Thailand is caused by the fact that the government solely supports the industrial sector, completely ignoring the agricultural sector. So people are selling their land and moving into the city to find jobs. Once in the city people find that land is extremely expensive, so they squat on the public land owned by the Railroad Authority of Thailand (RAT). Since the land is government owned, it is only available for rent, which is expensive. It is helpful for the people to come together and form groups, but there are no shelters available for the squatters who can't afford rent. The Assembly of the Poor helps to organize the squatters into groups. Boonjear is currently on a trip in North America to talk about his experiences and share them with others. 

Cambridge Census Reveals Sharp Increase in Homeless Families, Individuals

By: Julia Waterhous

The recently released tenth annual 2009 Cambridge Homeless Census Report, a joint report between Cambridge and Somerville, showed a 33 percent increase in the number of homeless in Cambridge since a year ago last January. The number of homeless families increased significantly while the  number of homeless individuals dropped 7 percent. In January, seven teams led by CASPAR's First Step program went throughout Cambridge and Somerville in the early morning to find as many unsheltered homeless as they could. Fred Berman, planner with the Cambridge Department of Human Service Programs acknowledged that the numbers were unsettling but said they could be misleading too. The number of homeless families in Cambridge may have appeared to increase because the state has been housing homeless families at the Cambridge Gateway Inn; so there are more homeless families in Cambridge.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Food Contamination: Everything You Should Know


By: Robert Sondak

In the three years from 2006 to 2009 there have been three major food- borne illnesses that have taken a toll on the U.S. food system. In 2006, California bagged spinach tested positive for E-Coli; in 2008, the United States Department of Agriculture issued a food advisory on salmonella contamination in tomatoes; in March 2009 the Food and Drug Administration's Center for Nutrition and Food Safety issued a recall of all Peanut Butter Corporation of America peanut butter products due to salmonella. E-Coli, as found in the California spinach in 2006, is a highly toxic bacteria strain that can cause severe food poisoning or death. The E-Coli was found to be a result of growing the spinach in the same region where cattle was farmed. The 2008 finding of salmonella in tomatoes was found to be the result of cross contamination with peppers from Mexico. The FDA website and Whole Foods website have more information on the peanut butter recall and past recalls.

Mauritians Also Competing for Land in Africa

By: Inter Press Service

Mauritius, a net food importing country, has had to start growing its crops in other African states where there is more land and labor. Some are turning to Mozambique where it is easier to find people for hire. Mauritius traditionally grows vegetables, its top products being potato, onion and garlic. Mozambique also provides a climate where food can be grown year-round. What stands in the way of Mozambique accepting the Mauritians are political instability and poor sanitary conditions, but the two countries have ancestral relations that make them more open to each other.

China's Jobless Migrants Loath to Return to Countryside

By: Simon Rabinovitch

The economic downturn has affected the number of jobs available in China, and those that flock to the cities in hopes of finding riches are being disappointed. The government is offering funds and training to the unemployed migrants in the country to start their own businesses in the hopes of keeping throngs of jobless migrants from wandering about the cities. Around 20 million rural migrants have lost work and don't know where to turn. The provincial government has attempted to help by providing information on where jobs might be found while simultaneously encouraging migrants to start their own business. 80 percent opt to look for employment in the cities.

State Budget Cuts, National Stimulus Poorly Timed

By: Abby Elizabeth Conway

The Patrick administration has proposed changes to the state's emergency shelter program as a result of a $3.4 million deficit in the budget due to an increase in families seeking shelter. The changes include more restrictions on the families that would have access to shelter's, imposing regulations and narrowing the eligibility of families. Two years ago the Patrick administration promised to end homelessness in Massachusetts, and now when more people than ever are seeking shelter, the administration is making cuts. President Obama's recently signed American Recovery and Reinvestment Act will help the state and provide almost $46 million over the next two years to programs that help with homelessness.

A Question of First Amendment Rights

By: Amanda Fakhreddine

On February 25th a court hearing was held regarding a motion for a protective order to keep Boston City Councilor Chuck Turner from speaking with the media about bribe accusations held against him. In various television interviews Turner had spoken openly about the accusations, a fact that prosecutor John McNeil argued made it difficult for jurors to remain unbiased and unexposed. McNeil argued that the motion was not for a gag order and that Turner could still speak independently of the case; the order would simply keep further information from Turner out of the public realm before trial. Barry Wilson, Turner's defense attorney argued that this went against Turner's First Amendment rights.

Homeless Man Recounts Unwarranted Brush with Harvard Police

By: Julia Waterhous

On February 27th, around 9pm Kenneth Thomas had an encounter with the Harvard Police outside the Harvard Square shelter while waiting for a meal there. The policemen pulled up in front of the shelter and asked for Thomas by name. He identified himself, and the police told him they had a default warrant for his arrest. The police proceeded to wrestle Thomas to the ground and put him in the squad car to take down to the station where they discovered that there was no warrant for his arrest.