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.”
Buying Your Honor
Money Tips the Scales of Justice
It’s safe to say most people have few illusions about the sanctity of the judicial system, where the rich at least get a shot at buying justice. But even in this already corrupt setting, it’s becoming more and more costly to get a good deal—especially if your judge is running for state office. A recent Frontline documentary on PBS exposed just how money works in campaigns for state judgeships, in which judges, like any other politician, employ pollsters and seek campaign funds. The thing is, these judges may be deciding cases argued by their biggest contributors—lawyers representing well-to-do corporate clients. “The problem is once you get into this campaign business and begin to have a lot of money, then the person on the bench begins to think, ‘What’s going to happen if I decide the case this way or that way?’ ” Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer told Frontline. Campaign spending for a judgeship has dramatically increased over recent years. Two candidates for the Pennsylvania state supreme court raised just over $523,000 in 1987; by 1995, two candidates raised almost $2.8 million.
For a corporation facing untold millions in environmental cleanup costs or trying to skirt other inhibiting regulations, buying a judge can be a quick and, compared with years of legal expenses, relatively cheap way to fix the problem. Frontline recounts a case in Louisiana, where last year a business group financed a campaign against Pascal Calogero Jr., the chief justice of the state supreme court, whom they viewed as unsympathetic to their industry’s concerns. But when Calogero backed down on environmental regulations and supported curbing a law clinic that had successfully represented poor people in cases against oil and gas companies, he was able to secure enough of the business donors to win another term.
It certainly is ironic that following the Frontline documentary and its interviews with two sitting Supreme Court judges, the vaunted federal judiciary took a step backward to make it appear that even this superior—not to mention well-paid—group of federal judges has something to hide. In a decision issued December 14, the Committee of Financial Disclosure of the Judicial Conference refused to provide copies of all 1600 federal judges’ 1998 financial disclosures to APBnews.com . The committee’s decision appears to make it illegal to post judges’ financial disclosure statements—which are public documents—on the Internet.
Love Knows No Boundaries
Mark Mathews of Carl Junction, Missouri, gave British TV viewers a shock when he led his wife, Pixel, out to his trailer and made passionate love to her. “She’s gorgeous,” Mathews said. “She’s sweet. She’s loving. I’m very proud of her. . . . Deep down, way down, I’d love to have children with her.” Trouble is, Pixel is a horse. Missouri is one of 26 states that do not ban humans from having sex with animals. “There’s a very big underground community here,” says Sheila Rilenge of the Missouri Alliance for Animal Legislation, a not-for- profit group in St. Louis pushing to see laws passed during the next legislative session that would, at the very least, make intercourse with animals a misdemeanor.
All fired up by genetic experiments, human beings this millennium season are reaching out to see what makes the rest of the animal kingdom tick. In Albany, SUNY Ph.D. student Erik Sprague, 27, wants to find out more about life as a reptile. He has had his teeth sharpened, bumps implanted into his forehead, and green scales or swirls tattooed across his face and body to make himself look more like a lizard or snake. “I like reptiles, especially sea crocodiles,
although many of them don’t make great house pets,” Sprague told Reuters. Sprague’s previous attempts to determine the meaning of life have consisted of swinging bar stools from his ears and picking up car batteries with chains attached to his nipples.
Additional Reporting: Kate Cortesi