Tuesday Morning Open Thread

What’s up?

First, a good Disney rant. Out of nostalgia, my husband recently ordered the kids a few Disney movies from the 1990s: A Little Mermaid, Beauty and the Beast, and Aladdin. I did not know this, but Disney releases its classics every so often to maintain their value, so the movies can be hard to find. We ordered the movies from different vendors online, and so far, have only received A Little Mermaid.

Anyways, after all these years, my husband and I — and now the kids! — love A Little Mermaid. We watched it at least two times this weekend and sang along. Then DH and I got into a discussion on what the hell happened to Disney. They used to make such great movies and if it weren’t for Pixar their animated films would suck. Then the credits of A Little Mermaid started rolling and I realized I did not recognize a single name from the credits. Back then, they had no big-name celebrities doing the acting — just really kick-ass singers, and of course, catchy tunes. This is just an observation…What do you all think?

In case you missed it, Pennsylvania Rep. John Murtha died yesterday after complications from gall bladder surgery, according to the Associated Press. He was 77.

Newsweek ran a good story on how young people are most likely than any other group to be uninsured and most likely to support healthcare reform. If the Dems don’t deliver on their campaign promise to insure them, they may not show up to the polls in November. Also from Newsweek: Anna Quindlen — I love her! — wrote some great food for thought in an article about protesting teabaggers and President Barack Obama. I especially appreciated her succinctness in describing the contradictory nature of the American electorate:

Over and over again some Americans say they want lower taxes and smaller government. Yet somehow, in a recurrent bit of magical thinking, they also expect those things that taxes are used to pay for and that government delivers. The result is contradictory: vote down the school-board budget, then complain that Johnny can’t read.

Another political buzzword, “productivity,” has come to stand for the proposition that you can always do more with less. There’s little evidence that that’s accurate. And it’s hard to believe that even the most zealous tea-party types would shrug philosophically if a bunch of kids died of E. coli because we hadn’t hired enough food inspectors. The old dictum stands: you get what you pay for.

MSN Careers doled out advice on what not to include in a resume.

Here is more on the children who were temporarily in the care of Baptist missionaries now in detention, according to the Associated Press.

Retired Army Gen. Colin Powell, who was responsible for the U.S. military’s “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy, has changed his position, according to the Washington Post. He said that attitudes towards gays and lesbians have changed so they should be allowed to serve openly.

Here is a disturbing story out of India. India has one of the highest suicide rates in the world and about 40 percent are adolescents, according to CNN. The culprit? Academic pressure.

Damn, these are some good genes. Juana Rodriguez, of Havana, Cuba, turned 125 years old today, according to the Agence France-Presse. (The article is in Spanish.) She has six grandchildren, 15 great grandchildren and four great-great grandchildren. Can you imagine??

What else is in the news? What’s up with you?


Cell Phone Use Among the Homeless

Cell phones are helping the homeless stay connected to the world and even helping them find work, according to an article in the Washington Post.

Check it out:

“Having a phone isn’t even a privilege anymore — it’s a necessity,” said Rommel McBride, 50, who spent about six years on the streets before recently being placed in a city housing program. He has had a mobile phone for a year. “A cellphone is the only way you can call to keep up with your food stamps, your housing application, your job. When you’re living in a shelter or sleeping on the streets, it’s your last line of communication with the world.”

Advocates who work with the District’s homeless estimate that 30 percent to 45 percent of the people they help have cellphones. A smaller number have e-mail accounts, and some blog to chronicle their lives on the streets.

When Laura Zeilinger, deputy director of program operations for the D.C. Department of Human Services, conducted housing assessments of a couple of thousand people living on city streets last summer, she was surprised by how many gave her cellphone numbers and e-mail addresses.

“Phones are really a lifeline for many people,” said Adam Rocap, director of social services at Miriam’s Kitchen, a nonprofit drop-in center for the homeless. During a string of attacks against homeless people sleeping downtown in the fall, two victims called 911 for help after they were assaulted, he said.

As the article pointed out, some people grumbled when homeless people shot a photo of Michelle Obama with their cell phones — as if a home and a phone cost the same thing. You can get a pay-as-you-go mobile phone for less than $30, according to the Post.

And this is hardly a phenomenon in the United States. The other night, my husband and I were watching the Amazing Race and he pointed out all the cell phone advertisements in this impoverished section of India. Not even the poor can escape the prevalence of wireless technology, which sounds like a good thing.


Indians Still Prefer Boys

This is surprising — and disappointing. Despite increased modernization and the growth of a college-educated middle class, couples in India still prefer baby boys, according to an Associated Press report. Sex-selected abortions are actually on the rise as families make more money and scale down on the number of children they have, said AP. (Thanks to Salon’s Broadsheet for the tip!)

According to UNICEF, about 7,000 fewer girls than expected are born every day in India. According to the British medical journal The Lancet, up to 500,000 female fetuses are being aborted every year. This in a country where abortion is legal but sex-determination tests were outlawed in 1991 — a law nearly impossible to enforce, since ultrasound tests leave no trace.

For a recent report, the group ActionAid sent interviewers to 6,000 households in five north Indian regions. In Punjab state, researchers found rural areas with just 500 girls for every 1,000 boys, and communities of high-caste urbanites with just 300 girls per 1,000.

Around Morena, in an increasingly urbanized part of Madhya Pradesh state, the 2001 census found a total of 851 girls per 1,000 boys — a number ActionAid found had dropped to 842.

Researchers say pressure for smaller families is the most immediate problem.

Ironically, India’s growing middle class has used its newfound wealth in the worst way: gaining access to ultrasound tests to abort baby girls. Meanwhile, it’s cultural biases and prejudices remain unchanged.

Boys don’t need the dowries that can cripple a family financially; boys stay home after marrying and help care for aging parents; Hinduism dictates that only boys can light their parents’ funeral pyres.

Over the past decade, the government and aid agencies have spent millions of dollars on everything from poster campaigns to television ads to soap operas, all urging families to accept daughters. Governments have repeatedly vowed to crack down on clinics that perform sex-determination tests, yet these remain readily available.

Around here, they cost about $60, or five times the cost of a legal ultrasound. Prosecutions are extremely rare.

The number of lost girls is almost sure to increase.

This last anecdote is heartbreaking and infuriating:

Clusters of grandmothers stand outside the delivery room, waiting to carry their newborn grandchildren to the recovery rooms.

When it’s a boy, their faces are lit with a protective gaze.

But if it’s a girl the grimness is often palpable. And the mothers-in-law plod behind the mother’s gurney, walking unlit hallways scattered with litter.

This is effed up. What does it take to reverse a centuries-long injustice?


Baby Girl Born With Two Faces

I hope this family finds the resources it needs to help their baby girl live a normal life. A poor farmer and his wife in India just had a baby girl with a rare condition called craniofacial duplication, according to the Associated Press.

As you can see from the photo, the little girl has a single head, but two faces. Except for her ears, she has two noses, two pairs of lips and two pairs of eyes.

The north Indian village in which she was born is so superstitious that she is being worshipped as the reincarnation of a Hindu goddess, according to AP.

Village chief Daulat Ram said he planned to build a temple to Durga in the village.

“I am writing to the state government to provide money to build the temple and help the parents look after their daughter,” Ram said.

Lali’s condition is often linked to serious health complications, but the doctor said she was doing well.

“She is leading a normal life with no breathing difficulties,” said (Dr. Sabir) Ali, adding that he saw no need for surgery…

(Vinod) Singh said he took his daughter to a hospital in New Delhi where doctors suggested a CT scan to determine whether her internal organs were normal, but Singh said he felt it was unnecessary.

“I don’t feel the need of that at this stage as my daughter is behaving like a normal child, posing no problems,” he said.

Lali is the first child of her parents who were married in February 2007.


Season’s Greetings: Junk Mail and Sweatshops

‘Tis the season for a zillion catalogs to choke my mailbox, tastefully or garishly blaring the same messages: Gift Ideas! Hurry! Give! Celebrate! Decorate! My name has been sold to so many mailing lists and catalog companies, you’d think I was Ivana Trump with a royal flush of flexible credit cards. There’s a new game in town for those of us who want to cut down on our waste mail: Catalog Choice. For free, I get to determine which mailers I want and which I wish to disappear. Take me off your list, Boston Proper and Potty Barn! No need to slay old growth forests to advertise your wares to me. Catalog Choice has a clean, usable website. It launched a couple of weeks ago and already has about 100,000 users. Check it out. Save some trees and trips to the recycling bin.

Christmas is in the air, and manufacturers are cranking out the goods in anticipation of the consumer frenzy. Unfortunately, child labor is rearing its ugly head to put a reality check on our impending binge.

The Observer ran an exposé on a filthy sweatshop in India filled with child workers, some as young as 10, sewing beads on Gap children’s blouses for 16 hours a day. The conditions are squalid, and the arrangements approach slavery. The quotes the reporter obtained from the Indian children are gut-wrenching:

‘I was bought from my parents’ village in [the northern state of] Bihar and taken to New Delhi by train,’ he says. ‘The men came looking for us in July. They had loudspeakers in the back of a car and told my parents that, if they sent me to work in the city, they won’t have to work in the farms. My father was paid a fee for me and I was brought down with 40 other children. The journey took 30 hours and we weren’t fed. I’ve been told I have to work off the fee the owner paid for me so I can go home, but I am working for free. I am a shaagird [a pupil]. The supervisor has told me because I am learning I don’t get paid. It has been like this for four months.’

Jivaj, who is from West Bengal and looks around 12, told The Observer that some of the boys in the sweatshop had been badly beaten. ‘Our hours are hard and violence is used against us if we don’t work hard enough. This is a big order for abroad, they keep telling us that.

‘Last week, we spent four days working from dawn until about one o’clock in the morning the following day. I was so tired I felt sick,’ he whispers, tears streaming down his face. ‘If any of us cried we were hit with a rubber pipe. Some of the boys had oily cloths stuffed in our mouths as punishment.’

Manik, who is also working for free, claims – unconvincingly – to be 13. ‘I want to work here. I have somewhere to sleep,’ he says looking furtively behind him. ‘The boss tells me I am learning. It is my duty to stay here. I’m learning to be a man and work. Eventually, I will make money and buy a house for my mother.’

In the early 90s, Kathie Lee Gifford was brought to tears when labor activists revealed that her line of Walmart clothing was produced by 13 and 14-year-olds in Honduras working 20-hour days. After that, a flurry of big businesses (The Gap among them) promised to make big changes in the form of audits to their factories. Over a decade later, those audits have been proven ineffective at staving off child labor and other forms of worker exploitation and abuse.

A report from the Ethical Trade Initiative found that most companies announce visits ahead of time. Only a quarter of Wal-Mart’s inspections in 2006 were surprise visits, for instance. The advance notice gives factories time to coach workers for inspectors’ questions and send their child laborers home. In China, some consultants will ready a factory for inspections for a fee of $5,000 by whipping up a batch of fake records, among other things.

Gap is going on the offensive, promising to eradicate sweatshops from their business. I wonder if it is possible for a company of its ilk to do so. The Gap already has a relatively large team of auditors checking their overseas factories.

Outsourcing has turned out to have some unforeseen costs. I wonder at which point the cost of constant surprise auditing of oversees subcontractors will make domestic production look good again… It would require an incredible feat of stealth to employ a child labor force in the US like the one revealed by The Observer.

A forthcoming study from the Worker Rights Consortium examined 50 factories serving these top companies and found major problems at each location, like verbal abuse, lack of access to drinking water and bathrooms, and the inability for workers to organize. In 84 percent of those factories, workers didn’t understand how their salary was determined. Employees reported long shifts and regular overtime; in Kenya, employees worked an average of 39 extra hours a week.

I brushed up my memory of the Kathie Lee Gifford kerfuffle and was struck by the celebrities’ reactions at the time. Although Gifford became a very reluctant champion of workers’ rights, she also argued that it wasn’t fair or feasible to expect her to know where and by whom her clothes were made. Her contract stated one contractor, but that contractor subcontracted to another, which subcontracted to another, etc.

When asked if he knew about the working conditions of those people making Air Jordans, Michael Jordan told the AP,  “I don’t know the complete situation. Why should I? I’m trying to do my job. Hopefully, Nike will do the right thing.” This was a typical attitude of the celebrities at that time. It was, hey, I’m just a celebrity. Don’t expect me to know anything about the products I endorse, except what I’m gettin’ paid.
I wonder if that would fly nowadays, with celebrities vying to outdo one another with charitable engagement and advocacy for issues bigger than their own bank accounts.


Indian Government Opens Adoption

Wow. It’s rare that I read about a new country opening up for inter-country adoption. But, yesterday I read the first news reports that the Indian government has decided to open up their inter-country adoption procedures to make them more attractive to prospective adoptive families from other countries.  Until now, inter-country adoption was often restricted to those of Indian ethnic heritage.

Such adoption usually drags on for more than a year but New Delhi’s proposals call for a maximum wait of 45 days. Ministers say the process must be accelerated so homes can be found for the babies before they become institutionalised.

Why now? India has been on an economic surge, growing its middle class, becoming a center for IT and outsourcing….yet

Sadly, while India may have a lot of call centers, it also has millions of orphans. Orphaned girls in particular.

The Indian government is looking at inter-country adoption because there
There are more than 11 million abandoned children in India, where a growing number of babies are dumped in cots outside orphanages in an initiative to deter infanticide.

About 90 per cent of those abandoned are girls whose mothers cannot afford to keep them. They face a bleak future as beggars, prostitutes or menial labourers if not adopted. Last year only 4,000 such children in India were adopted, of which 1,000 were placed abroad.

Of course, adoption is not going to solve the core problems — poverty, women’s status, cultural preferences for sons.  For now, the babies keep arriving at under-funded orphanages that the Times likened to prison cells

At the Cradle orphanage in Delhi, five newborn girls are dumped in a “street crib“ outside the security gate every week. A bell attached to the crib rings in a doctor’s room as soon as a child is left and the babies are rushed into one of two crisis wards where they are assessed, dressed, fed and treated.

Last week there were 10 girls and one boy in carrycots on the floor of one crisis ward, happily gurgling, sucking their thumbs and sleeping. Half of them will be adopted by families overseas who pay the orphanage £250.

The Times explained another reason the government is looking to families outside of India to adopt orphaned girls. Indians do adopt domestically, but race can play a role in whether a child will be adopted:

….but the remaining babies will face sometimes insurmountable problems in being matched with an Indian family.

According to staff at the home, the darker-skinned babies suffer from a common prejudice in favour of fairer skin. Many will want the baby’s complexion to match their own, so that they can deceive relatives and pretend the child is their natural offspring.

An especially pretty two-year-old girl called Devika has been at the home since she was left in the street crib shortly after she was born and no Indian family has come forward to adopt her.

“She has dark skin,“ explained one of the orphanage “ayahs“, or nurses. But she has now found a foreign family and will be leaving the orphanage in the next few weeks.

This is good news for people in Britian, the US and elsewhere. Many countries have restricted adoptions (China),  suspended inter-country adoptions (as is their right) (Cambodia, Thailand, Romania) and other countries (such as Guatemala) threaten to do so. Those wanting to adopt, domestically or internationally, in the UK face a several years-long process. International adoption from the UK can take up to 3 years. To contrast, my son’s adoption, from Guatemala, took just 7 months.

The new procedures are expected to allow single people and married couples up to age 55 to adopt. Mittal, the government adoption official, provided a lovely quote

“But the basic requirement is love – they must be able to love and care for the child.”

but it’s not quite true. Same sex couples won’t be able to adopt.