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The Things You Don’t Think About When You Can Afford To Feed Yourself

Lo these 20 years ago, when I was in high school, I worked as a cashier in a grocery store (it was the stone age, when scanners were just coming into wide use; I had to ring things up by hand).

One of the things I had to learn was how to ring up customers who used WIC checks to pay (I lived in an affluent suburb and we didn’t get too many of those, but we had some). There were only certain items that were covered by the WIC checks; I definitely remember that milk, juice, baby formula and certain other rather limited items were covered by the checks. But since I left the grocery business in 1988 or so, I haven’t really thought about WIC checks in any kind of detail — after all, I haven’t needed them.

So I was a little surprised to realize that they hadn’t, until now, covered fruits, vegetables and whole grains.

WASHINGTON – The grocery shopping list for the far-reaching Women, Infants and Children program is getting its first significant update since the 1970s. Fruits, vegetables and whole grains are being added to the program, which helps feed more than half the babies born in the U.S. To cover the cost, WIC will pay for less of the juice, eggs, cheese and milk that have been staples of the program.

The changes to the low-income nutrition program were proposed Friday and will be finalized next year. Anti-hunger groups are enthusiastic about the additions.

“Overall, we’re really happy about this food package. We think, for WIC clients, this is going to make a huge difference,” said Geri Henchy, director of early childhood nutrition at the Food Research and Action Center.

“We like the idea that there are choices, that clients go to the grocery store and can pick the fruits and vegetables they want,” she said.

One thing you hear people sniffing about when they see poor fat people is, well, why don’t they eat more fruits and vegetables? Well, aside from the fact that they’re often not available in the shops in the neighborhoods where the poor fat people live, they have not been covered by programs like this.

Kudos for the change. Anything that will help get better nutrition into the hands of those who struggle to make ends meet is a step in the right direction.

The “Ghetto Tax”

The Brookings Institution has issued a report documenting what people who live in the “ghetto” already know: it’s expensive to be one of the urban poor:

Drivers from low-income neighborhoods of New York, Hartford and Baltimore, insuring identical cars and with the same driving records as those from middle-class neighborhoods, paid $400 more on average for a year’s insurance.

The poor are also the main customers for appliances and furniture at “rent to own” stores, where payments are stretched out at very high interest rates; in Wisconsin, a $200 television can end up costing $700.

Those were just two examples among several cited in a report Tuesday showing that poor urban residents frequently pay hundreds if not thousands of dollars a year in extra costs for everyday necessities. The study said some of the disparities were due to real differences in the cost of doing business in poor areas, some to predatory financial practices and some to consumer ignorance.

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Solving the Homelessness Crisis

Jess sends on this article about a controversial Seattle program which gives homeless alcoholics a place to live — and allows them to drink in their rooms.

These are the “unsympathetic homeless” who beg, drink, urinate and vomit in public — and they are probably the most difficult to get off the streets, said Bill Hobson, executive director of the Downtown Emergency Service Center, the nonprofit group that owns 1811 Eastlake.

In 2003, the public spent $50,000, on average, for each of 40 homeless alcoholics found most often at the jail, the sobering center and the public Harborview Medical Center, said Amnon Shoenfeld, director of King County’s division of mental health and chemical abuse.

Mr. Hobson’s group expected the annual cost for each new resident of 1811 Eastlake to be $13,000, or a total of $950,000. It cost $11.2 million to build and is paid for entirely by the City of Seattle and county, state and federal governments.

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It’s the Birth Control, Stupid

Give women the tools to prevent unintended pregnancy and they will. The problem is, a lot of women aren’t getting those tools.

A new statistical analysis, published this month, shows that poor and uneducated women have fallen farther behind their more affluent peers in their ability to control fertility and plan childbearing.

The nation’s overall rate of unintended pregnancies held steady from the mid-1990s through 2001, the most recent year such data is available. But that stability masked huge disparities between demographic groups, according to the new analysis by the Guttmacher Institute, a research group affiliated with Planned Parenthood.

Teenagers, college graduates and women in the middle or upper class dramatically reduced unintended pregnancy and abortion rates. Among poor women, though, the unplanned pregnancy rate jumped nearly 30%.

As a result, poor women are now four times more likely to face an unintended pregnancy than those who are better off. They’re also three times more likely to get an abortion.

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So, What Were You Planning on Doing in the DR With That Viagra, Rush?

So Rush Limbaugh was caught at the Palm Beach airport on the way back from the Dominican Republic with Viagra in his suitcase, for which he did not have a prescription (it was made out by his doctor to another doctor, probably to hide the fact that he’s using it). And while it’s fun to snicker about this little development, here’s something that should give us all pause. From commenter amyc at Tbogg’s place:

The Dominican Republic apparently has a booming sex trade (or rape trade, if you’re like me and don’t believe 13-yr-old girls really consent to be whores for rich tourists). As nightmare-inducing as the answers might be, I think The American People need to ask why an unmarried Christian man would take a suitcase full of dick drugs on a Third-World sex tour. (Although perhaps we shouldn’t rule out missionary work.)

Indeed, the DR is one of the world’s biggest destinations for sex tourism:

“There is always a demand for sex,” said one Dominican prostitute as she lounged at one of the town’s waterfront bars. “Men will always pay for it, especially in here … where they can get anything they want at a discount.”

Indeed, the Dominican Republic is one of the biggest sex tourism destinations in the world, thanks in part to Internet sites that extol the country as a “single man’s paradise.”

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Promises, Promises

5,000 units of public housing are to be razed in New Orleans, and there doesn’t appear to be any firm plan to ensure that the residents of those units are guaranteed spots in the new housing units that are planned but not yet underway.

Smells fishy to me.

The announcement, made by Housing and Urban Development Secretary Alphonso R. Jackson, provoked strong criticism from low-income tenants and their advocates, several of whom noted that thousands of public housing apartments had been closed since Hurricane Katrina. But local officials have for months said they do not want a return to the intense concentrations of poverty in the old projects, where crime and squalor were pervasive.

I agree in principle that this might be a great opportunity to break up the concentrated poverty of the old housing units with mixed-income housing. New York’s public housing is mixed-income and has been more or less free of the problems endemic to some of the massive low-income public housing blocks in other cities. And I wouldn’t be surprised if the buildings are just so damaged that they simply have to come down.

But follow-through has never been the strong suit of the Bush Administration. Without a rock-solid commitment to house every last resident of the projects who want to return, I look at this plan with a very jaundiced eye.

His announcement appeared to heighten the fears of many displaced tenants that they would be pushed out in favor of higher-income families.

“Right now, we feel it’s not the time to start huge building projects because there are lots of people who are displaced as we speak and need a place to stay,” said Lynette Bickham, who was evacuated from the St. Bernard project. “We’re going to continue to fight for our homes.”

This month, former residents began demanding the right to return, setting up a tent city outside the St. Bernard project, the largest of the developments. Local and federal officials refused to open the developments, saying they were unsafe.

Mr. Jackson outlined the first official plans for the projects since the storm, and they were incomplete. He did not specify how many units in the new developments would be set aside for public housing or whether there would be units for all the low-income residents who had such housing before the storm. Planning for the new developments, which are to be financed by bonds, tax credits and federal housing money, has not begun, he said.

Mayor C. Ray Nagin responded to Mr. Jackson’s announcement enthusiastically.

The proposed demolitions have renewed a debate about the future of the city’s enormous poor population, most of which remains displaced.

“I think the people who’ve been planning the recovery process never wanted poor people to return to the city in the first place,” said Lance Hill, the director of the Southern Institute for Education and Research at Tulane University. “And they haven’t made it easy.”

Study Finds Female Genital Mutilation Can Increase Risk that Mothers or Their Babies Will Die In Childbirth By 50%


The first large medical study of female genital cutting has found that the procedure has deadly consequences when the women give birth, raising by more than 50 percent the likelihood that the woman or her baby will die.

Rates of serious medical complications surrounding childbirth, such as bleeding, also rose substantially in women who had undergone genital cutting, according to new research being published today in The Lancet, a British medical journal.

“Reliable evidence about its harmful effects, especially on reproduction, should contribute to the abandonment of the practice,” wrote the study’s authors, all members of the World Health Organization Study Group on Female Genital Mutilation and Obstetrical Outcome.

And just so we’re clear on the what’s involved in the practice, the World Health Organization classifies the types of female genital mutilation thusly:

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More Fat (Politics)

This is a follow-up to my post on fat jokes in the liberal blogosphere, in which I shamelessly ripped off the far more eloquent Chris Clarke. But I only addressed part of Chris’s post; the rest I will discuss here. In the beginning of the post, Chris slammed those in the liberal blogosphere who will attack a conservative opponent’s weight or other physical characteristics as a cheap shot rather than the rather more satisfying target of their politics or shit-stupid ideas. Such focus is counterproductive, Chris argued, not only because it provides them with a legitimate complaint against the tolerance of liberals, but also because it alienates those of us who are also struggling with our weight. Our allies would never dream of making cracks about, say, Jewishness or blackness, but fatness? Fair game.

But here’s where Chris’s post switched gears, and because of that, I wanted to address it in a separate post:

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