Something Must Be Done

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Jonathan Slack

From The Week:

Over the holidays, when 7-year-old Jonathan Slack saw a destitute woman in Chicago with a sign that said she had no place to live, he was moved to tears—and then to action. He wrote a letter to his community of Orland Park, Ill., asking residents to help the homeless, distributing photocopies around the neighborhood. Within 10 days, Jonathan’s neighbors responded with four trucks of food and toys, which he sent to Chicago’s Su Casa Catholic Worker homeless shelter. “I’d like to think it was divine intervention,” said his mother.

On the flip side:

A San Antonio councilman has proposed making it a crime to give money to beggars. Councilman John Clamp says residents are tired of “aggressive panhandling,” and that prosecuting those who give to the homeless is the best solution. “If there’s no money for panhandlers,” Clamp says, “the panhandlers will go away.”

Prisons or Universities

I mentioned recently that the US incarcerates a larger fraction of its citizens than any other country in the world. Yesterday I came across a couple more tidbits:

  1. The state of Michigan spends more on prisons than it does on public universities
  2. Spending on prisons takes approximately 20 % of the state's general fund.

So sad. Something has got to change.

Now Liberia

Even more reason to be depressed about the plight of Africa. From an article titled "Liberia sex-for-aid 'widespread'" on

Young girls in Liberia are still being sexually exploited by aid workers and peacekeepers despite pledges to stamp out such abuse, Save the Children says.

Girls as young as eight are being forced to have sex in exchange for food by workers for local and international agencies, according to its report.

The agency says such abuse is continuing as people displaced by the civil war return to their villages.


From an AP article on

The U.N. humanitarian coordinator in Liberia, Jordan Ryan, said the survey was outdated because it was conducted nine months ago and much has improved since then. The camps that are the primary subject of the report are now closed, he said.

Foreign Aid Face-Off

From an op-ed grudge match (yep, that's what they call to love that name) in the LA Times about "Foreign Aid".

William Easterly says "Foreign aid feeds poverty":

This push has been underway for four decades now — and has resulted in the movement of $568 billion in foreign aid from the rich countries to Africa. The result: zero growth in per capita income, leaving Africa in the same abysmal straits in which it began. Meanwhile, a number of poor countries that got next to no aid had no trouble escaping the "poverty trap."

Where did all the aid money go?...

The way it works is that a large aid bureaucracy such as the World Bank (with its 10,000 employees) or the United Nations designs a complicated bureaucratic plan to try to solve all the problems of the poor at once (for example, the U.N. Millennium Project announced last year laid out 449 steps that had to be implemented to end world poverty). The aid money is then turned over to another bureaucracy in the poor country, which is asked to implement the complicated plan drawn up by out-of-country Westerners. (How complicated? Tanzania — and it's not an unusual case — is required to issue 2,400 different reports annually to aid donors.)

In the best case, the bureaucracy in the poor country is desperately short of skilled administrators to implement complex top-down plans that are not feasible anyway — and report on their failure to do so. In the worst, but all too common, case — such as that of the corrupt dictator Paul Biya of Cameroon, who will get 55% of his government revenue from aid after the doubling of aid to Africa — the poor country's bureaucrats are corrupt or unmotivated political appointees...

Bureaucrats have never achieved the end of poverty and never will; poverty ends (and is already ending, such as in East and South Asia) by the efforts of individuals operating in free markets, and by the efforts of homegrown political and economic reformers.

What are the better alternatives? If the aid agencies passed up the glitzy but unrealistic campaign to end world poverty, perhaps they would spend more time devising specific, definable tasks that could actually help people and for which the public could hold them accountable.

Such tasks include getting 12-cent doses of malaria medicines to malaria victims; distributing 10-cent doses of oral rehydration therapy to reduce the 1.8 million infant deaths from dehydration due to diarrheal diseases last year; getting poor people clean water and bed nets to prevent diarrheal diseases and malaria; getting textbooks to schoolchildren, or encouraging gradual changes to business regulations to make it easier to start a business, enforce contracts and create jobs for the poor.

True, some of the grand plans include some of these tasks — but to say they have the same goals is like saying that Soviet central planning and American free markets both aimed to produce consumer goods. These tasks cannot be achieved as part of the bureaucratically unaccountable morass we have now, in which dozens of aid agencies are collectively responsible for trying to simultaneously implement 449 separate "interventions" designed in New York and Washington to achieve the overall "end of poverty." That's just nuts.

The end of poverty will come as a result of homegrown political and economic reforms (which are already happening in many poor countries), not through outside aid. The biggest hope for the world's poor nations is not Bono, it is the citizens of poor nations themselves.

Jeffrey Sachs says "Foreign aid skeptics are wrong":

Those who contend that foreign aid does not work — and cannot work — are mistaken. These skeptics make a career of promoting pessimism by pointing to the many undoubted failures of past aid efforts. But the fact remains that we can help ensure the successful economic development of the poorest countries. We can help them escape from poverty. It's in our national interest to do so.

The first step out of rural poverty almost always involves a boost in food production to end cycles of famine...

A second step out of poverty is an improvement in health conditions, led by improved nutrition, cleaner drinking water and more basic health services...

The third step is the move from economic isolation to international trade...

Today, the skeptics like to claim that Africa is too far behind, too corrupt, to become a China or India. They are mistaken. An African green revolution, health revolution and connectivity revolution are all within reach. Engineers and scientists have already developed the needed tools...

Aid skeptics such as professor William Easterly, author of the recent book "The White Man's Burden," are legion. Instead of pointing to failures, we need to amplify the successes — including the green revolution, the global eradication of smallpox, the spread of literacy and, now, the promise of the Millennium Villages.

The standards for successful aid are clear. They should be targeted, specific, measurable, accountable and scalable. They should support the triple transformation in agriculture, health and infrastructure. We should provide direct assistance to villages in ways that can be measured and monitored...

n this fragile and conflict-laden world, we must value life everywhere by stopping needless disease and deaths, promoting economic growth and helping ensure that our children's lives will be treasured in the years ahead.

By the way, John Stossel is on the case too.

Millions of Children Still Hungry

From an article by Nick Watt on

Despite several high-profile international initiatives, the number of children in the developing world who go hungry has barely fallen in the past 15 years, the children's advocacy group UNICEF said today.

More than a quarter of the children in the developing world are still critically undernourished, according to a new report from the group. It also found 146 million children go hungry every day and 5.6 million kids die every year because they are not getting enough to eat — a figure that corresponds to 10 children every minute...

Almost half of the world's underweight children live in just three countries — India, Pakistan and Bangladesh. Apparently, the dire situation in South Asia is not caused by a shortage of food but by food that is low in quality and nutrients.

Social issues also contribute to the problem. In many places, women receive little education and don't know how to best feed and care for their kids...

UNICEF said that fighting child hunger requires more than food deliveries. The organization continues to promote breast-feeding and emphasizes good nutrition for kids in their first two years of life. The group also calls for more vitamin A capsules and food fortifiers, such as iodine and iron. Apparently, vitamin A capsules already save 350,000 children each year. UNICEF has also launched the "Unite for Children. Unite Against AIDS" campaign to bring care and support for those hit by the epidemic.

The World Food Program, another branch of the U.N., has planned a global lottery to raise money to combat child hunger. WFP hopes to raise $500 million a year selling scratch cards at about $1.25 a pop.

Newborn Survival

From an AP article on

America may be the world's superpower, but its survival rate for newborn babies ranks near the bottom among modern nations, better only than Latvia.

Among 33 industrialized nations, the United States is tied with Hungary, Malta, Poland and Slovakia with a death rate of nearly 5 per 1,000 babies, according to a new report. Latvia's rate is 6 per 1,000.

"We are the wealthiest country in the world, but there are still pockets of our population who are not getting the health care they need," said Mary Beth Powers, a reproductive health adviser for the U.S.-based Save the Children, which compiled the rankings based on health data from countries and agencies worldwide.

The U.S. ranking is driven partly by racial and income health care disparities. Among U.S. blacks, there are 9 deaths per 1,000 live births, closer to rates in developing nations than to those in the industrialized world...

In the analysis of global infant mortality, Japan had the lowest newborn death rate, 1.8 per 1,000 and four countries tied for second place with 2 per 1,000 — the Czech Republic, Finland, Iceland and Norway.

Still, it's the impoverished nations that feel the full brunt of infant mortality, since they account for 99 percent of the 4 million annual deaths of babies in their first month. Only about 16,000 of those are in the United States, according to Save the Children.

The highest rates globally were in Africa and South Asia. With a newborn death rate of 65 out of 1,000 live births, Liberia ranked the worst.

The Daily Kos asks the provocative question: Do "Christian Nations" Let Their Newborns Die?:

Somehow I sense this issue will not get the traction the overheated fetus debate gets with the fundamentalist crowd. There's just something not quite as alluring about discussing health care provisions for pregnant moms and their offspring compared with telling your neighbor what to do with her womb...

So are we to expect Falwell, Robertson and Dobson to froth up the political waters on behalf of single-payer health insurance and longer paid leaves from the workplace? I'm not holding my breath.

The well-being of mothers fares poorly as well, according to the report, with the U.S. tied for last place among industrial nations on indicators such as "mortality risks and contraception use."

Perhaps it's time for Mullah Dobson to live up to his organization's name and focus on the family - which as he endlessly wants to remind us, means state intervention in the mother-child reproduction wars. It's hard to see the logic in how a soul that's stainless when it's enwombed does not deserve the best resources of a wealthy nation to make sure the physical body that accompanies it into life is healthy.

Right on.

Zimbabwe Nightware

125px-Flag_of_Zimbabwe.svg.pngWhat a mess there is in Africa. Something has to be done. From an article by Isaac Phiri in Christianity Today:

It still feels like last night to Newton Mudzingwa. Seven months ago, Mudzingwa, a security guard in an affluent suburb of Harare, Zimbabwe's capital, had a much-appreciated night off-duty.

He spent the evening in one of the city's burgeoning slums, in the one-room shack he had rented—with him, his wife, and his two young children crammed into a single bed. It was to be their last night at home together.

Around midnight, the blare of loudspeakers jolted them out of sleep. Police and military officers cheered by President Robert Mugabe's political activists swooped down on the slum to demolish "illegal" structures. Operation Murambastvina (meaning "Drive Out Trash") had begun. Mudzingwa quickly threw together whatever goods he could save. His wife bundled blankets around their children. As temperatures plummeted to biting levels, they rushed outside. The family then watched as bulldozers reduced to rubble the only home the children had ever known...

The government says that only 700,000 people were relocated and that urban renewal was long overdue. Other reliable estimates put the figure at 1.7 million displaced people. Either way, the Mudzingwas were among tens of thousands of locals suddenly without shelter, proper food, and clean water...

On the ground, away from the media, churches located in the slums felt the first brunt of the government's action. Thousands sought help...

Churches responded by delivering food, water, and blankets, as well as by housing many of the displaced—at least until they, too, were forcibly moved. The government put many families into holding camps in remote areas...

The government eventually succumbed to local and international pressure and halted the destruction. But by February, the beginning of the rainy season in Zimbabwe, thousands were still living out in the open or under plastic sheets. The government had promised earlier to build 200,000 new homes by the year's end. But the deadline came and went without much being done. Some media reports say the few houses that were constructed crumbled under the first heavy rains...

Everything about Zimbabwe nowadays is bleak. Harare is gloomy. Potholes cripple the already rickety public transportation system. Water shortages occur daily. Power outages are frequent and will get worse. The utility company says it needs u.s.$9 million per month to pay its bills for imported power.

People line up for basic necessities—food, gas, medicine—if they can be found, that is. Even cash is scarce. Banks run out. If you can get cash, you need a wheelbarrow to carry it home. Gideon Gono, the country's reserve bank boss, said inflation would be at 800 percent by March. "We are all millionaires," laughs a trader of foreign currency outside a Harare bus stop. He offers 1 million Zimbabwean dollars for u.s. $10.

Pessimism reigns. In Mbare, a high-density slum township near Harare, the poverty is glaring. Garbage gathers. Burst sewage pipes gape and spill. Street children roam. Residents struggle to make ends meet by peddling anything and everything.

Grim Forecast for Young Black Men

From an article by Michael E. Ross on

At a time when the U.S. economy is on the upswing and more people are finding work, young African American men are falling further behind.

That’s the grim portrait painted by three new and forthcoming books by scholars at Columbia, Georgetown and Princeton universities. The picture isn't new, but the depths of its despair and pathology are.

The U.S. Census Bureau estimates there are about 5 million black men in America between the ages of 20 and 39. The new books, and an earlier one from Harvard, find them losing ground in mainstream American society, despite advances made by black women, presumably part of the same socioeconomic experience.

This vexing problem, caused by a variety of social ills, is equally vexing when scholars consider what causes it.

Among the studies' findings:

  • Rates of imprisonment for young black men escalated throughout the 1990s and continued climbing well into the current decade. About 16 percent of black men in their twenties who were not college students were either in jail or in prison.
  • African Americans are seven times more likely to go to prison or jail than whites.
  • Almost 60 percent of black male high school dropouts in their early thirties have spent time in prison.
  • The percentage of young jobless black men continues to increase, part of a trend that generally hasn't abated in decades. In 2000, about 65 percent of black male high-school dropouts had no jobs, either because they couldn't find work or because they were in jail. By 2004, the studies found that number had grown to 72 percent. The numbers for young black men were higher than for whites and Hispanics similarly affected.


From an article titled "Water policy 'fails world's poor'" by Mark Kinver on BBC News:

Almost 20% of the world's population still lacks access to safe drinking water because of failed policies, an influential report has concluded.

The UN World Water Development Report also blames a lack of resources and environmental changes for the problem.

The study calls for better leadership if a goal of halving the proportion of people without proper access to safe water by 2015 is to be achieved.


How God's People Spend Their Money

This discussion is on at I don't know what the answer is. I don't think the answer for me is to ignore the needs that are out there and savor the comfort of my rich life. I don't think the answer for me is to give it all away tomorrow. Those aren't the only two options, and we shouldn't let the tension between them paralyze us. Let's be thankful for what we have. Let's be aware of the needs. Let's give generously and liberally as we are moved to meet them.

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