California’s Newly Poor Push Social Services to Brink


The worst financial crisis in seven decades is forcing thousands of previously middle-income workers to seek social services, overwhelming local agencies, clinics and nonprofits. Photographer: Tony Avelar/Bloomberg News

Feb. 26 (Bloomberg) — In California’s Contra Costa County, 40,000 families are applying for just 350 affordable-housing vouchers. Church-operated pantries are running out of food. Crisis calls have more than doubled in the city of Antioch, where the Family Stress Center occupies the site of a former bank.

The worst financial crisis in seven decades is forcing thousands of previously middle-income workers to seek social services, overwhelming local agencies, clinics and nonprofits. Each month 16,000 people, including many who were making $60,000 to $100,000 annually just a few years ago, fill four county offices requesting financial, medical or food assistance.

“Unless we do things differently, not only will we continue to be on life support, but the power to the machine is going to die,” said county Supervisor Federal Glover, who represents Antioch and the cities of Pittsburg and Oakley about 50 miles (80 kilometers) east of San Francisco.

Read moreCalifornia’s Newly Poor Push Social Services to Brink

Food banks report 30% increase in demand

Food banks toss out food linked to peanut recall

CHICAGO – Food banks nationwide are chucking thousands of pounds of food containing peanut products recalled in the salmonella outbreak — a particularly painful process as those same pantries struggle to meet a growing demand to feed families in a floundering economy.

Foods like granola bars, cereals, cookies, nut mixes and peanut butter have long been a mainstay of pantries because of their durability and long shelf life.

“It’s just been rotten. It’s just been a problem for us,” said Betsy Ballard, spokeswoman for the Houston Food Bank, which already has discarded 3,000 pounds of recalled products.

Millions of U.S. families depend on charity organizations to put food on the table, and the nation’s largest domestic hunger-relief organization, Feeding America, says food banks across the country reported a 30 percent increase in demand in December 2008 compared with the previous year.

Read moreFood banks report 30% increase in demand

Panasonic orders staff to buy £1,000 in products

Its electronic gadgetry is gathering dust on the shelves of high street stores, nobody is buying new fridges and the mountain of unsold plasma televisions is growing by the day.

However, in desperation, Panasonic has hit on the perfect counter-attack against the consumer slump: it has ordered every member of staff to go out and buy £1,000 of Panasonic products.

Large swathes of corporate Japan are expected to follow suit, either by directly commanding or indirectly “pressuring” employees to divert part of their salaries towards the goods that their employers produce.

Toyota has already tacitly applauded a “voluntary” scheme in which 2,200 of its top brass decided to buy new Toyota cars, and the president of Fujitsu recently e-mailed 100,000 staff and gently pointed out how nice it would be if “employee ownership rates” of Fujitsu PCs and mobile phones were a little higher.

The 10,000 Japanese staff affected by Panasonic’s unorthodox strategy do not have long to consider their purchases.

Management insists that staff buy their Panasonic goods – whether they need them or not – by the end of July.

Read morePanasonic orders staff to buy £1,000 in products

Filmmaker Michael Moore seeks bankers help for Wall Street expose

Controversial filmmaker Michael Moore is calling for current and former Wall Street bankers to help him make a film about the financial crisis, which he describes as the “biggest swindle in American history”.



Mr Moore posted a letter on his website yesterday urging people who work or had worked for banks, brokerages and insurance companies to “step up as an American and do your duty of shedding some light” on the crisis.

The implosion of the banking system has already forced banks globally to write down almost £1 trillion and driven many of the world’s major economies into recession.

The filmmaker, whose documentaries include Farenheit 9/11, which dealt with the September 11 terrorist attacks in New York, is in the middle of shooting the film, according to his Web site. He claims to have heard from a “few good people” already.

“Based on those who have already contacted me, I believe there are a number of you who know ‘the real deal’ about the abuses that have been happening,” Mr Moore said. “You have information that the American people need to hear. I am humbly asking you for a moment of courage, to be a hero.”

Read moreFilmmaker Michael Moore seeks bankers help for Wall Street expose

India to launch cow urine as soft drink

cow '9504' after she was milked on a farm in Stellenbosch
(Sasa Kralj/AP)

Does your Pepsi lack pep? Is your Coke not the real thing? India’s Hindu nationalist movement apparently has the answer: a new soft drink made from cow urine.

The bovine brew is in the final stages of development by the Cow Protection Department of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), India’s biggest and oldest Hindu nationalist group, according to the man who makes it.

Om Prakash, the head of the department, said the drink – called “gau jal”, or “cow water” – in Sanskrit was undergoing laboratory tests and would be launched “very soon, maybe by the end of this year”.

“Don’t worry, it won’t smell like urine and will be tasty too,” he told The Times from his headquarters in Hardwar, one of four holy cities on the River Ganges. “Its USP will be that it’s going to be very healthy. It won’t be like carbonated drinks and would be devoid of any toxins.”

The drink is the latest attempt by the RSS – which was founded in 1925 and now claims eight million members – to cleanse India of foreign influence and promote its ideology of Hindutva, or Hindu-ness.

Read moreIndia to launch cow urine as soft drink

Champagne, lobster and caviar: Robert Mugabe plans binge in land of hunger


It is the 85th birthday of President Mugabe this month and the zealots of his Zanu (PF) party are determined that it should be an occasion that their great leader will never forget.

In recent days they have been out soliciting “donations” from corporate Zimbabwe and have drawn up a wish list that is scarcely credible in a land where seven million citizens survive on international food aid, 94 per cent are jobless and cholera rampages through a population debilitated by hunger.

The list includes 2,000 bottles of champagne (Moët & Chandon or ’61 Bollinger preferred); 8,000 lobsters; 100kg of prawns; 4,000 portions of caviar; 8,000 boxes of Ferrero Rocher chocolates; 3,000 ducks; and much else besides. A postscript adds: “No mealie meal” – the ground corn staple on which the vast majority of Zimbabweans survived until the country’s collapse rendered even that a luxury.

Read moreChampagne, lobster and caviar: Robert Mugabe plans binge in land of hunger

Personal bankruptcies hit new record

Firms dealing with Britain’s debt problems warned tonight that one in 60 people were facing insolvency after the latest government figures showed that a collapsing economy led to record personal bankruptcies and a 50% jump in company failures late last year.

Industry specialists said the sharp rise in individual and corporate financial distress reported by the Insolvency Service for the last three months of 2008 was “the tip of the iceberg” and that rising unemployment and the credit crunch would deepen the debt crisis this year.

Official figures released today showed that the steepest economic decline in almost 30 years led to 19,100 people being declared bankrupt – a 22% increase on the fourth quarter of 2007.

Read morePersonal bankruptcies hit new record

City police sued over strip search

Civil suit seeks $210 million

A Baltimore man filed a $210 million civil lawsuit yesterday against the city Police Department, a former commissioner and several officers in connection with a 2006 incident during which he says a band of rogue cops held him at gunpoint in the street, stripped him and searched his rectum in front of about 30 onlookers.

The federal suit is the second filed since March in U.S. District Court in Baltimore alleging “widespread and persistent” civil rights violations by police officers who belonged to an elite “Special Enforcement Team” that worked mainly in the southeastern part of the city.

The SET unit was dismantled and its officers reassigned in 2006 after allegations of misconduct surfaced, leading the city prosecutor’s office to dismiss more than 100 Circuit Court cases the officers had investigated in the previous two years.

Read moreCity police sued over strip search

Court rules that private school can expel lesbian students

Relying on the 1998 state Supreme Court ruling which allowed the Boy Scouts of America to deny admittance to gays and atheists, a San Bernardino, California court has ruled that California Lutheran High School does not have to follow anti-discriminatory laws.

California state law forbids anti-gay bias in public schools, but the court determined that California Lutheran is actually a “social organization” and is not subject to such laws.  It was decided, therefore, that the school was within its rights to expel two students for admitting to their sexual orientation.

You can read the court’s ruling by clicking here.

The case came about as a result of two 11th grade girls who were questioned by the principal about their sexual orientation.  The principal was ‘alerted’ by another student who saw comments written on the girls’ My Space page.

The girls were suspended as a result of the answers given to the principal.

Read moreCourt rules that private school can expel lesbian students