Nation

Food Bankruptcy
Excuse Me, but . . .
Money Tips the Scales of Justice
Love Knows No Boundaries
Genetic Engineering

New York's Hunger Machine
Food Bankruptcy

More than half a million people went hungry this year in New York City. Despite the boom on Wall Street, where instant tycoons throw around millions of dollars in bonuses, nearly 10,000 families come close to starving every week. Cuts in food stamps, the end of welfare, and Giuliani's harsh workfare program put all the pressure on the city's privately run food pantries and soup kitchens. Meanwhile, farmers go bankrupt because they produce too much food, and politicians in Washington get ahead by figuring out ways to help them throw it away.

The city's 1200 emergency food pantries, where in general families can go to obtain three days' worth of food (nine meals) every month, get a large portion of their supplies from Food for Survival, the big food bank at Hunt's Point. It, in turn, gets food from corporations that make donations and the federal government surplus program, or it buys food with contributions from individuals and organizations. Many of the pantries are run out of churches by volunteers.

Throughout the '90s, this system of private welfare has grown as the Republican Congress—with the acquiescence of the Clinton administration—has scaled back food stamps and shut down welfare. The resulting system is precisely that advocated by Republicans like George W. Bush. (Hillary Clinton, always vague about what she stands for, supports workfare as well.) These people push for a private welfare system run by churches and supported with public and private grants, essentially transforming the old New Deal project into a Libertarian wet dream.

The new system doesn't work. As people under Clinton (and Giuliani) are forced off welfare and join the working poor in low-paying jobs, they can't make ends meet. Most are working Latino families trying to hold things together. The number of people requesting emergency food assistance has jumped by more than one third this year.

To make matters worse, the private food banks, which are supposed to prosper with the largesse of people made instantly rich by the free market, are getting fewer and smaller contributions. The more people make, the less they give. The New York Coalition Against Hunger, in its last complete survey, reported that pantries and soup kitchens turned away 74,000 people last January alone, and virtually all the programs did this due to lack of food. Sixty percent of those sent away were kids.

As for the free market, here's a lesson in how it works: In the mid '90s New York food vendors donated to city food banks tons of lesser-quality produce, which upscale markets had rejected. But as the demand for profitability tightened, these food vendors found buyers for their aging lettuces and cabbages. A secondary market sprang up to buy produce earmarked for resale in poorer neighborhoods, especially for use in Asian food markets. The 5.8 million pounds of produce given to Food for Survival in 1995 declined to 3.9 million pounds in 1998, with nearly one quarter of that total so old it could not be eaten.

Stepping into this situation is the federal government's emergency food surplus program, an adjunct of the still-powerful food industry and the Department of Agriculture. Politicians love to bellyache about this remaining fixture of Kremlin-style agriculture. But in New York at Christmas, this tiny speck of socialism is helping feed people who otherwise would starve.


Are You Carrying a Bomb?
Excuse Me, but . . .

With Customs Bureau officials on high alert at all 301 ports of entry into the U.S., and National Security adviser Sandy Berger promising the government is working at "full tilt," the Clinton administration hopes to rout terrorists before they can strike at year's end.

In the words of one former antiterrorist official, the administration is "concerned" about what might happen. Last week customs agents arrested an Algerian man with alleged connections to a terrorist organization called the Armed Islamic Group. The man crossed from Canada into Washington State with more than 100 pounds of bomb-making supplies and a sophisticated detonating device in a rental car. The State Department has issued a worldwide warning to travelers of possible terrorist attacks. Pakistani authorities arrested at least 80 people they fear may attack U.S. citizens there and are stepping up precautions at airports hoping to stop followers of Osama Bin Laden, whom they think may have ties to the man arrested in Washington.

But after reading the Customs Bureau's "Bomb Threat Check List," published last month in the Washington Times, one can only wonder how effective the bureau's state of "high alert" can be. When someone calls in with a bomb threat, the bureaucrat is supposed to grab the checklist and ask 10 questions, beginning with "When is the bomb going to explode?"

Next question: "Where is the bomb?"

Then, quickly: "What does it look like? What kind of bomb is it? What will cause it to explode? Did you place the bomb? Why? Where are you calling from? What is your address? What is your name?"

The bureaucrat then is asked to describe the caller's voice—"sincere" or "squeaky" or "giggling." Finally, he or she must say whom the caller's voice sounds like, listen for "background sounds" like "house noises" or "animal noises," and determine if the caller is "irrational" and "foul," or "well-spoken" and "educated."

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