Making US food aid more Methodist?


When we collected an Offering o f Letters (OL) at Woodridge United Methodist Church on April 28th, I shared that writing to support food aid reform put us on the cutting edge; that we were helping Bread for the World try out a new focus for OLs.  Food aid reforms in President Obama’s Fiscal Year 2014 Budget proposal help 2 to 4 million more hungry people get the food they need at no additional cost simply by tweaking the rules governing US food aid, making them more efficient. The reforms also have the long-term benefit of making local farmers and markets more sustainable by allowing aid providers to purchase locally grown food.

Our people responded with 120 letters to our Senators – a record for our congregation!

This week the Chicago Tribune stepped up next to us out on that leading edge.

Two editorials in Thursday’s edition – one, a combined effort by John Kerry (secretary of the Department of State), Tom Vilsack (secretary of the Department of Agriculture), and Rajiv Shah (administrator of the U.S. Agency for International Development), the other from the Trib editorial board – support the arguments we made that April morning and provide further information and examples .

How cool is that?

I really hope you’ll take a few minutes to read both articles in full, but here’s a taste from each.

Kerry et al. provide examples of the increased efficiency:

The current program limits our ability to use the appropriate tool for each humanitarian situation — tools we know will help people faster and at a lower cost. This year, 155,000 fewer children in Somalia will receive support because we do not have enough flexibility to use cash to address the ongoing emergency in areas where our food aid cannot go. In eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo, we will not be able to reach 34,000 vulnerable children. Each one of these children is three to four times more likely to die than a well-nourished child.

Buying food locally can speed the arrival of aid by as many as 14 weeks — precious time when every day can mean the difference between life and death. It can also cost much less — as much as 50 percent for grains. [read the rest]

The Trib board points out the political realities:

In the Obama proposal, more than half of U.S. food aid still would be earmarked for the purchase and transport of U.S. commodities, and shippers would receive a government subsidy. There is no sound financial reason for either subsidy, except as a concession to politics. The farm lobby is powerful. A who’s who of farm and food organizations already have petitioned the president to keep the status quo for the sake of “stimulating” farm and transportation industries at home.

So here’s a test for Congress, particularly for farm-state Republicans and Democrats. The federal government, thanks to sequestration, is finally seeing some serious belt-tightening. Aid programs such as Food for Peace aren’t immune from the pressure on spending. They, like all government programs, have to prove they can be done with maximum efficiency.

So, members, take your pick: This reform can feed millions more people at the same cost to taxpayers, feed the same number of people at significantly lower cost, or find some comfortable mix of both goals. But members of Congress who block this reform will expose themselves as wasteful spenders (emphasis mine).

To sum up:

Food aid can help to lift developing nations out of poverty, promote political stability and economic growth. It must be structured efficiently to achieve its objective. As is, the Food for Peace program doesn’t work well, except for the benefit of a privileged few. Reforming food aid would enable America to do justice to a large taxpayer outlay — and to save lives. Read the whole editorial.

“Make our food aid more efficient and sustainable,” we asked. In a way, we’re asking the federal government to take a page from our United Methodist playbook. Our relief efforts already follow these sustainable practices. (Here’s one example.) It’s time for our government to become a little more Methodist. 🙂

Remember, it’s not too late to join our OL! You can still write a letter and sign the petition to President Obama. Information and instructions available on our OL page.

Finally, as I wrote last week, if you’re in the Chicago area, make plans to join the public screening of A Place at the Table. It’s a superb documentary on hunger in America. WUMC youth and leaders will be at AMC Showplace 16 in Naperville on Wednesday, May 15. Showtime 7:30pm. Tickets available online. Hope to see you at the movies!

Why my children will never play football

This opinion piece by Ken Reed from a recent Chicago Tribune is brilliant, scary as all get out, and right on every point. To wit:

There aren’t enough safety measures we can implement to overcome the fact that the brain isn’t built to withstand the repetitive brain trauma inherent in a game built around violent collisions.

According to the Brain Injury Research Institute, in any given season, 20 percent of high school players sustain brain injuries. More than 40.5 percent of high school athletes who have suffered concussions return to action prematurely, which can lead to death from second impact syndrome, a condition in which the brain swells, shutting down the brain stem and resulting in respiratory failure.

It’s not just concussions we’re concerned about. Purdue University researchers recently compared changes in the brains of high school football players who had suffered concussions with the brains of players who were concussion-free and found brain tissue damage in both. [read the rest]

Given all that we now know about the effects playing football has on players’ brains and on their health in general, I don’t understand why we’re still allowing our children to play this game.

Of course when I say “our” I mean “your.” My children aren’t playing football and they won’t. Ever.

That impassioned, emphatic stance of mine is ironically funny and makes me a hypocrite. It’s funny because when I was a kid and wanted to play football, my dad wouldn’t let me. I’m sure at some point I uttered some version of the childhood staple, “I’ll never be so mean to my kids!” Despite my protestations, my dad wouldn’t let me play football. When I was, um, stocky and football might have done me some good,* my dad wouldn’t let me. Even when I got to junior high and my best friend’s dad – who was also my dad’s best friend – was the coach, I thought I’d found a way into the game. But my dad wouldn’t let me. His response was always the same, “When the league will sign the waiver and take responsibility for all the injuries you incur, you can play. Until then, you’re not playing.”

Needless to say, I never played. Now I’m so very grateful for his stubborn determination.

But I’m also a hypocrite. I’m glad other people’s children play it for my entertainment. The NFL season started yesterday (we’re just calling that dog of a Wednesday night game extended preseason, amiright?), tonight is the first Monday! Night! Football! of the season and I’m sure that, as usual, many millions of people will be watching. I won’t be among them. Not because of this moral objection, though. I just have other stuff I have to do. I’m interested in the action because I’m in two fantasy football leagues and several of my players play tonight.

Actually, there is one line from that Tribune op-ed I don’t agree with: “I enjoy watching football — at all levels.” I can’t say the same. The sexual abuse of children at Penn State has really opened my eyes to just how unhealthy the relationship with college football is for many of us. I didn’t go to either school, but I’ve always rooted for Iowa and Nebraska. I understand the devotion and how the football team can overtake a school. These first couple weeks of the college season I’ve discovered I can no longer stomach caring about it so much. And I have no interest whatsoever in watching the teams of children that play all over the neighborhood, some of whom practice practically in our backyard.

But NFL players are somebody’s children too. I haven’t given that up yet. I guess I know what I need to work on next…


*Don’t get me wrong. My parents didn’t let me be a sloth or anything. I played a bunch of sports and seems like the neighborhood kids were always playing a pick up game of baseball, basketball or football. While I was decent at most sports, I was never great at any of them. So I convinced myself that football would have been the one in which I could have been a star. There’s no way that ever could have been the case…but that’s how I romanticized it anyway.

Celebrating Freedom

Happy Independence Day to all my USAmerican readers!

It’s been a while since my last post on human trafficking, so what better day to rectify that than today, the national holiday celebrating freedom? Ok, sure, most of us just use today as an excuse to blow stuff up. Doesn’t mean we can’t try to redeem ourselves a little, right?

English: Photograph of an FBI agent leading aw...
English: Photograph of an FBI agent leading away an adult suspect arrested in the “Operation Cross Country II”. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

One of the most exciting developments in the fight against modern-day slavery came on June 25 when the story of Operation Cross Country broke. The nationwide FBI sting netted two results worth celebrating: 104 pimps arrested and 79 children rescued from sex slavery. Though my friends at CAASE rightly point out that both of those stories I linked to (MSNBC and Chicago Tribune/Reuters) have a language problem: There is no such thing as a child prostitute or a teen prostitute.

There are only prostituted children, victims of sex trafficking. Legally that’s the case here in Illinois. But even in states whose laws haven’t yet caught up with reality, it’s still clear morally. Consider this from the Tribune article:

The teenagers, aged from 13 to 17 years old, were being held in custody until they could be placed with child welfare organizations. They were all U.S. citizens and included 77 girls and two boys, the FBI said. One of the minors recovered in the sweep reported being involved in prostitution from the age of 11, according to Kevin Perkins, acting executive assistant director of the FBI’s Criminal, Cyber, Response and Services Branch.

Or this from the MSNBC article:

The average age of a child targeted for prostitution in the United States is between 11 and 14 years old, FBI assistant director Kevin L. Perkins told the Senate Judiciary Committee in March.

If an adult were found having sex with an 11 or 13 year old, would you arrest the child?? Of course not! Because we know that, legally and morally, children can’t consent to sex. So why in the hell would we treat that same child differently just because some pimp is making money off of her?? Clearly our country is still in need of a lot of education about this.

“We asked men in our survey, ‘What would you tell men under 18?'” Durchslag said. “They said, ‘That (buying sex) will change forever how you relate to women. You will never look at a woman as a full human being again.'”

My town of Naperville make for a good example. It seems Naperville was involved in Operation Cross Country, but here it only resulted in the arrest of four prostituted women. No children rescued, no pimps arrested. I hope that means there just weren’t any children here to find. But it seems highly unlikely that there were no pimps involved with those four women. Why were there no arrests of pimps here? Why were there no johns, no customers arrested here? I wish I knew, but nobody seems to be saying.

How about a little good news? Some education is happening. And it is working. I was thrilled a couple of weeks ago when the Tribune’s Barbara Brotman wrote a column on CAASE’s prevention curriculum. Last year I participated in a training Caleb led on this curriculum. He is an engaging teacher and it is terrific material. I haven’t yet had the opportunity to share this curriculum in schools out here in the western suburbs, but I still hope to do so. But I have taught it to the teenage boys at my church. Why start that young?

The program arose from its 2008 study of men who had purchased sex in Chicago. More than half of them had started doing so between the ages of 18 and 23.

“So if most of them were purchasing sex in their college years, we couldn’t do a prevention curriculum in college; it would be too late,” Durchslag said. “We had to reach them in high school.”

I don’t have data for the impact on my church kids, but in the schools where CAASE has taught, boys are changing their attitudes.

Probst hears from teachers. After he spoke at one school, a social worker there told him she overheard a boy saying he was planning to wear a “wife-beater” to an upcoming social engagement.

Another boy stopped him. “You mean a tank top, man,” he said.

“It makes you think about those young girls and how bad they have it,” Alejandro Barragan, one of the Rauner Prep students, said after the last session. “I don’t even like joking around anymore. I don’t even think it’s funny.”

How about one more piece of good news? Nestlé did something right.

“Our investigation of Nestlé’s cocoa supply chain represents the first time a multinational chocolate producer has allowed its procurement system to be completely traced and assessed. For too long child labor in cocoa production has been everybody’s problem and therefore nobody’s responsibility,” said Fair Labor Association President Auret van Heerden.

It means Nestlé is the first chocolate-maker to comprehensively map its cocoa supply chain – and can work on identifying problems areas, training and educating workers and taking action against child labor violations.

Read the rest on CNN’s excellent Freedom Project blog.

Good Tribune article on human trafficking

Yesterday’s Chicago Tribune had one of the better articles I’ve read on local efforts to fight human trafficking. Our friends at CAASE (Chicago Alliance Against Sexual Exploitation) even get a shout out!

Annie Sweeny: New task force targets traffickers who force children into sex trade

Inside the Harrison Police District station, the officers sat in a semicircle to be briefed about the shift ahead in one of Chicago’s most beleaguered areas.

But on this recent day, the topic was not the shootings and murders on these West Side streets, but a crime often pushed far back into the shadows — the thousands of young girls and women who are prostituted, pushed into the violence of Chicago’s sex trade.

FBI Special Agent Jonathan Williamson and Chicago police Sgt. Traci Walker were there to announce a new joint effort by the FBI and Chicago police to target child traffickers in the city.

“Our main goal here is to go after guys pimping out juvenile girls or putting any underage juveniles into the sex trade,” Williamson said. “Certainly, most, if not all, (investigations) are going to start with you guys on the street.” Read the rest.

Money wins, natch

Hollywood Sign
Image via Wikipedia

Over two weeks ago (which I’m pretty sure makes it about 100 in blog years), Tim Swanson wrote an interesting retrospective on “Boyz N the Hood” which appeared in the Chicago Tribune. (Weirdly, it doesn’t seem to exist on the Tribune website.)

What I found most interesting was this paragraph, which was the third-to-last one (pen-penultimate?? ante-penultimate?? tertiultimate??  I need a ruling here):

And while the movie helped to spotlight the struggle in places like South-Central, it ultimately did little to change the habits of Hollywood, which seemed more interested in tapping the financial potential of a new sub-genre than further democratizing the filmmaking process.

Hollywood creates movies in order to make money, not to create a fair and justice society. Now, I often use thoughts, ideas, soundbites, clips, retellings, quotes from TV shows and movies to make or illustrate a point in a sermon or a lesson. So I’m well aware of the power of story – especially the power of stories well-told.

But that ‘graph has me thinking: Are we guilty of expecting Hollywood to be something it’s not?

And perhaps more importantly: Do we do the same thing with the church? Is the church really interested in democratizing the leadership process? Or does she just trying to tap into the latest fad in hopes of boosting collections?