Economy Batters Anti-Violence Programs

Victims of domestic and sexual violence are getting left behind by state governments that are slashing funds as the recession forces budget cuts. California led the way, as Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger cut $20.4 million earmarked for domestic violence programs from the state budget, according to news reports. Statewide, the governor’s action is affecting 94 domestic violence centers, and has already caused three to close, according to Camille Hayes of the California Partnership to End Domestic Violence. Hayes told the Redding Record-Searchlight that state funds were “really what kept [the centers’] lights on and doors open.” The U.S. Justice Department gave a last-minute reprieve to six California programs that got $3 million in grants, the San Francisco Chronicle reported.

Prison Labor out of the Box, and in

Labor by prisoners is complicated enough — but it doesn’t get any easier once an offender’s sentence is complete. In difficult economic times, it’s that much harder for ex-prisoners who have to check off the “yes” box on job applications that ask, “Have you ever been convicted of a felony?” Nationwide, an array of reform organizations decry the question, which they say unfairly punishes former offenders who have already served their time. In Florida, the Orlando Sentinel reports that the American Civil Liberties Union wants to ban the felony question from state employment applications. “Once you check that box in this tight market, it’s fatal,” Orlando attorney Glenn R. Leong, told the newspaper.

Consumers Feel the Credit Card Slam

With new federal credit-card regulations on the horizon, banks and card providers are boosting interest rates, fees and minimum payments, according to news reports. Before the Credit Card Accountability, Responsibility and Disclosure Act takes full effect in February 2010, credit-card issuers are “raising annual percentage rates, slashing credit limits and hiking minimum payments,” writes Dallas Morning News columnist Pamela Yip. She also cites a loophole on a regulation set to kick in Aug. 20, requiring companies to issue a notice 45 days in advance of any rate increase. Yet the law only applies for cards with fixed rates; variable rate cards, which account for two-thirds of all cards issued, are excluded.

After Sotomayor, Puerto Rico's Big Question

The nomination of Sonia Sotomayor to the U.S. Supreme Court has focused attention on her Puerto Rican roots — at a time when the question of the island’s political status is turning up in Congress and the United Nations. Sotomayor is regarded with almost universal pride in Puerto Rico, Inter Press News Service reports — and many there also hope her time in the spotlight will impact the ongoing debate over U.S. statehood or independence. Puerto Rico Gov. Luis Fortuno took his case in favor of statehood to Congress in June, when he endorsed a bill to hold an island-wide vote on the question, the Latin American Herald Tribune reported. Almost simultaneously, the United Nations special committee on decolonization approved a resolution in support of Puerto Rico’s right to self-determination and independence, the Daily Kos notes. That resolution was proposed by Ecuador, Venezuela and Cuba, a long-time advocate of Puerto Rican independence.

Overweight and Undernourished in America

Obesity among young people is a growing problem in the United States — and so is malnutrition, according to two new studies that look at how children eat, and how they don’t. In 30 states, nearly one out of every three children is obese or overweight, according to a study released July 1 by the Trust for America’s Health and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. The study finds similar concerns and rates for U.S. adults. On the same day, another report was made public with a different set of numbers — in 13 states, one out of every five children under the age of five go hungry. That report, released by the nonprofit Feeding America, documents the impact of hunger not just on the child, but on the whole nation.

Banks Take Aim at Student Loan Plan

Opposition is emerging to President Barack Obama’s plan to take private banks out of the student loan business. Student indebtedness has grown to an average of nearly $23,000 per individual, and student loans remain a lucrative business for U.S. banks, earning $85 billion annually, according to news reports. The White House plan would cut out the middleman and let students borrow directly from the government, with the hope of making more money available for loans, while saving an estimated $94 billion over the next decade. Citigroup has already begun an e-mail campaign urging its borrowers to write Congress to oppose the plan, notes Talking Points Memo. And executives for Sallie Mae, the biggest provider of student loans, said if the plan is adopted as proposed, an undetermined number of banking jobs could be lost.

Guerrilla Girls Go Mainstream — Again

Famous for wearing gorilla masks in fine-art settings, the arts-activism group Guerrilla Girls has decided to archive its work at the Getty Research Institute in Los Angeles, reports The Independent. Forty boxes containing photos, fan (and hate) mail, sketches and other memorabilia will be kept at the decidedly mainstream Getty facility. The Guerrilla Girls got started in 1985, putting up vivid posters around New York City and elsewhere that charged mainstream art figures and institutions of racism and sexism. A decade later they began targeting politicians, sexual harassment and the religious right. Although their underground status has been parlayed into exhibitions in major art institutions, one anonymous Geurrilla Girl told the newspaper that “none of the organization’s members will directly profit from the sale of the archives.”

Pigs Used in Roadside Bomb Tests

The Pentagon used live pigs and rats to test body armor used against roadside bomb attacks, reports USA Today. The tests included almost 200 blasts, and measured brain and body trauma. Animals that weren’t wearing body armor died in about two days; those with armor survived “significantly higher blasts,” according to a spokesperson for the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency. Pentagon officials noted some similarities between pigs and humans, but critics said the two were not comparable, and called for an end to the testing. According to the newspaper, roadside bombs are “the top killer of U.S. troops in Iraq and Afghanistan.”

Bartering Begets Business in Difficult Times

From Buenos Aires and Sao Paulo to Chicago and Seattle, bartering and swap meets are back in style, as businesses and individuals look for new ways to get what they want in a cash-strapped world. In Argentina, bartering is a 14-year-old custom, an outgrowth of another time when the peso went bust, according to a report in Inter Press Service. Argentines have formed 500 barter clubs, where people go to exchange everything from home-cooked meals and home repairs to a medical or dental exam. Corporate giant Bayer AG is taking a different approach in neighboring Brazil, where it is accepting coffee, corn, cotton and soy from farmers in lieu of cash as payment for agrochemicals. A company spokesman told Reuters that Bayer considers bartering “a good way” of doing business in uncertain economic times.

Lawsuit Launches Same-Sex Dating Web Site

The online dating service eHarmony has launched a separate site for gays and lesbians as part of a settlement in a New Jersey civil rights case filed against it. The Press of Atlantic City reports that eHarmony’s Compatible Partners site went live in April for those seeking same-sex relationships. The launch is part of a settlement of a 2005 New Jersey discrimination complaint filed against eHarmony for catering solely to people looking for partners of the opposite sex. A similar complaint was filed against the company in California in 2007. –Ronnie Lovler/
“N.J. man’s efforts push eHarmony to launch gay site”
The Press of Atlantic City, April 3, 2009