Daily Archives: November 5, 2011

Privileges of China’s Communist Party Elite Include Purified Air


A man walked through a street in Beijing in November. Peter Parks/Agence France-Presse – Getty Images

NY Times | Nov 4, 2011

By ANDREW JACOBS

BEIJING — Membership in the upper ranks of the Chinese Communist Party has always had a few undeniable advantages. There are the state-supplied luxury sedans, special schools for the young ones and even organic produce grown on well-guarded, government-run farms. When they fall ill, senior leaders can check into 301 Military Hospital, long considered the capital’s premier medical institution.

But even in their most addled moments of envy, ordinary Beijingers could take some comfort in the knowledge that the soupy air they breathe on especially polluted days also finds its way into the lungs of the privileged and pampered.

Such assumptions, it seems, are not entirely accurate.

As it turns out, the homes and offices of many top leaders are filtered by high-end devices, at least according to a Chinese company, the Broad Group, which has been promoting its air-purifying machines in advertisements that highlight their ubiquity in places where many officials work and live.

The company’s vice president, Zhang Zhong, said there were more than 200 purifiers scattered throughout Great Hall of the People, the office of China’s president, Hu Jintao, and Zhongnanhai, the walled compound for senior leaders and their families. “Creating clean, healthy air for our national leaders is a blessing to the people,” boasts the company’s promotional material, which includes endorsements from a variety of government and corporate leaders, among them Long Yongtu, a top economic official who insists on bringing the device along for car rides and hotel stays. “Breathing clean air is a basic human need,” he says in a testimonial.

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Amid toxic food scandals, China’s political elite fed specially prepared organic diet

In some countries, the gushing endorsement of a well-placed official would be considered a public relations coup. But in China, where resentment of the high and mighty is on the rise, news of the company’s advertising campaign is fueling a maelstrom of criticism. “They don’t have to eat gutter oil or drink poisoned milk powder and now they’re protected from filthy air,” said one posting on Sina Weibo, the country’s most popular microblog service. “This shows their indifference to the lives of ordinary people.”

News that Chinese leaders are largely insulated from Beijing’s famously foul air comes at a time of unusually heavy pollution in the capital. In recent weeks, the capital has been continuously shrouded by a beige pall and readings from the United States Embassy’s rooftop air monitoring device have repeatedly registered unsafe levels of particulate matter.

But those very readings, posted hourly on Twitter or through an iPhone app, have prompted a public debate over whether the Chinese government is purposely obscuring the extent of the nation’s air pollution. Unlike the American Embassy readings, Chinese environmental officials do not publicly release data on the smallest particulates, those less than 2.5 micrometers, which scientists say are most harmful because they are able to penetrate the lungs so deeply. Instead, government data covers only pollutants larger than 10 micrometers —a category that includes sand blown in from the arid north and dust stirred up from construction sites.

Environmental officials prefer to focus on air quality improvements of recent years, largely achieved by replacing coal-fired stoves with electric heaters and closing heavy industry in and around the capital. Driving restrictions have slightly eased the environmental injury of the 700,000 new vehicles that last year joined the capital’s jammed roadways.

But when pressed, those same officials acknowledge that their pollution metrics willfully ignore the smaller particles, much of them generated by car and truck exhaust. In fact, the American Embassy’s monitor has become an unwelcome intrusion into China’s domestic affairs, according to a diplomatic cable released this year by WikiLeaks, which said a Foreign Ministry official had requested that the Americans stop publicizing the data.

The director of the Institute of Public and Environmental Affairs, a nonprofit organization in Beijing, said many government officials feared that publicly revealing such data could stymie development or dent the image of cities that had been trumpeting their environmental bona fides.

“I don’t agree with this philosophy,” said the director, Ma Jun. “The government’s more urgent priority should be to warn the public when the air quality is dangerous so people susceptible to poor air quality, like children or the elderly, can make decisions to protect their health.”

The government does appear to be moving in that direction. In September, the Ministry of Environmental Protection said it planned to amend the nation’s air quality standards to include the smallest particulates, although it has not released a timetable for adopting the new standards.

Officials in Beijing, however, are apparently not quite ready to embrace it. In response to criticism over the heavy smog of recent weeks, a spokesman for the city’s environmental protection bureau, Du Shaozhong, assured the public that they should feel secure in the government’s own readings, which termed the city’s air “slightly polluted” even as the embassy monitor found it so hazardous that it exceeded measurable levels. “China’s air quality should not be judged from data released by foreign embassies in Beijing,” he said.

According to the Broad Group’s Web site, it did not take much to convince the nation’s Communist Party leaders that they would do well to acquire the firm’s air purifiers, some of which cost $2,000. To make their case, company executives installed one in a meeting room used by members of the Politburo Standing Committee. The deal was apparently sealed a short while later, when technicians made a show of cleaning out the soot-laden filters. “After they saw the inklike dirty water, Broad air purifier became the national leaders’ appointed air purifier!” the Web site said.

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Tip of the iceberg: NYPD Detective Found Guilty of Planting Drugs


Jason Arbeeny, left, a Brooklyn narcotics detective, was found guilty Tuesday on several charges. Robert Stolarik for The New York Times

NY Times | Nov 1, 2011

By TIM STELLOH

The New York Police Department, already saddled with corruption scandals, saw its image further tainted on Tuesday with the conviction of a detective for planting drugs on a woman and her boyfriend.

The bench verdict from Justice Gustin L. Reichbach in State Supreme Court in Brooklyn stemmed from acts committed in 2007 by the defendant, Jason Arbeeny, a 14-year veteran of the department who worked in the Brooklyn South unit.

Before announcing the verdict, Justice Reichbach scolded the department for what he described as a widespread culture of corruption endemic in its drug units.

“I thought I was not naïve,” he said. “But even this court was shocked, not only by the seeming pervasive scope of misconduct but even more distressingly by the seeming casualness by which such conduct is employed.”

The case against Detective Arbeeny was rooted in a far larger tale of corruption in Police Department drug units: several narcotics officers in Brooklyn have been caught mishandling drugs they seized as evidence, and hundreds of potentially tainted drug cases have been dismissed. The city has made payments to settle civil suits over wrongful incarcerations.

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During the trial, prosecutors described the corruption in the drug units that Detective Arbeeny worked for. One former detective, Stephen Anderson, who did not know the defendant, testified that officers in those units often planted drugs on innocent people. Mr. Anderson has pleaded guilty to official misconduct over a 2008 episode involving drug evidence and now faces two to four years in prison.

Detective Arbeeny was convicted of official misconduct, offering a false instrument for filing and falsifying business records. Charles Guria, a prosecutor, described this latest case of police corruption as an abuse of power.

“It’s a sad day when a police officer misuses his authority,” Mr. Guria said.

On Jan. 25, 2007, prosecutors said, Detective Arbeeny planted a small bag of crack cocaine on two innocent people.

The detective’s lawyer, Michael Elbaz, tried to discredit the most important prosecution witnesses, Yvelisse DeLeon and her boyfriend, Juan Figueroa. Ms. DeLeon had testified that the couple drove up to their apartment building in Coney Island and were approached by two plainclothes police officers. She said she then saw Detective Arbeeny remove a bag of powder from his pocket and place it in the vehicle.

“He brought out his pocket,” Ms. DeLeon told the court. “He said, ‘Look what I find.’ It looked like little powder in a little bag.”

Later in 2007, the detective was accused of stealing multiple bags of cocaine from the prisoner van to which he had been assigned; Justice Reichbach found Detective Arbeeny not guilty of those charges.

Though there had been conflicting testimony during the trial about the existence of quotas in the department’s drug units, Justice Reichbach said, a system of flawed procedures in part led to the charges against Detective Arbeeny.

In the department’s Brooklyn South narcotics unit, for instance, drugs seized as evidence are not counted or sealed until they reach the precinct and can be handled by multiple officers along the way, Justice Reichbach said, adding that such unacceptable practices “pale in significance” to the “cowboy culture” of the drug units.

“Anything goes in the never-ending war on drugs,” he said, “and a refusal to go along with questionable practices raise the specter of blacklisting and isolation.”

Sentencing is scheduled for January. Detective Arbeeny faces up to four years in prison.

School children subject to tasering by cops


For years, the NAACP has been fighting the use of tasers in American schools. (FLORIDA COURIER FILES)

Flagler school children subject to tasering by cops

NAACP branch fights school board decision

FLORIDA COURIER | Nov 3, 2011

BY ASHLEY THOMAS

FLAGLER-PALM COAST – A decision by the Flagler County School Board allowing resource officers to carry tasers has angered Black residents and prompted the local NAACP branch to file a petition against the decision.

Circulating via e-mail and also found online, the petition requests that the board prohibit the use of tasers in Flagler County schools and reverse its October vote allowing school resource deputies to carry the equipment.

The controversial tool was taken out of Flagler schools in 2007 after garnering negative attention following the deployment of a taser on an exceptional education student.

Deputy hurt

However, the discussion of again allowing tasers in schools came before the board after a fight broke out between two Matanzas High School students in August, leaving a school resource officer pummeled and head-butted after stepping in to break up the altercation.

According to board minutes, law enforcement professionals and school board staffers provided board members with information during a September workshop that led to discussion about whether school resource officers should be carrying tasers in schools to counter threats against them and others.

Board members were told that the taser is an additional intervention tool that falls between the ultimate use of deadly force – a firearm – and other non-lethal interventions. Law enforcement professionals consider tasers to be more appropriate under some conditions when compared to chemical agents such as mace and pepper spray or a baton. They believe that tasers are less dangerous to bystanders especially when used in a crowd.

Tasers are carried and used by other members of the Flagler County Sheriff’s Office as an additional weapon who are trained in their use. The board discussed the pros and cons of tasers being added as an additional weapon to be used by the school resource officers.

Resource officers are scheduled to begin carrying tasers in Flagler County Schools after the Thanksgiving holidays. They already carry handguns as well as pepper spray.

50,000 volts

According to information provided to the board, tasers or similar stun guns work “by pressing a pair of electrodes against the victim in order to create an electric circuit.” Either 9-volt or AA batteries supply power to the devices.

Tasers are connected to insulated wires and fired from the weapon with a burst of carbon dioxide that can hit someone from 20 feet away. “Once the electrodes hit their target, the taser sends a pulse with about 50,000 volts and a few milliamps. On its standard setting, the pulse cycles for five seconds before shutting off,” the board was told.

Health risks note

Citing health risks to students and the need of proper training for resource officers, the Flagler County NAACP branch disagreed with the use of tasers in the school system. Members feel there is a better alternative to dealing with unruly students.

In a statement on the NAACP branch’s website, branch president Linda Sharpe Haywood states that “Tasers do not have a place in Flagler County High Schools. They do not replace the training that all deputies are required to have to protect themselves and others.”

“Adequately-trained LEOs (law enforcement officers) should be able to physically take down adults,” said Haywood. “With the understanding that the use of more substantial force may be necessary in some cases, it should never be used in a school setting.

“Medically, there are numerous reasons why tasers could be detrimental,” Haywood said. “Without knowing an individual’s health history, deputies would be taking a great risk in using a taser on a student. Cardiac and neurological side effects may occur, causing extreme illness or possible death.

“There must be a more acceptable way to deal with disruptive students. After all, they are still children,” Haywood asserts.

Handguns, pepper spray

According to the Palm Coast Observer newspaper, Sheriff Donald Fleming supports deputies carrying tasers in schools following the August altercation. Fleming believes that tasers give the officers another option for dealing with situations that could spiral out of control and endanger students and resource officers in Flagler.

Palm Coast resident Jeanette Wallace has a different opinion. After signing the online petition sponsored by the Flagler NAACP branch, Wallace wrote, “The law stopped us from disciplining our own children. Just so they can get electrocuted at school? What disciplinary measures will be in place for their children? (A BULLET?) Let’s sit down and discuss this. We can do better than the alternative.”

Flagler City resident Nanci Scarci also signed the online petition.

“Because tasers are thought of as ‘non-lethal,’ one might be more willing to use one,” she wrote. “Taking the police out of the schools really isn’t the answer nor, in my experience, are security guards a perfect solution. Some combination of the two might be a better solution but NO TASERS.”

‘Pre-crime’ human profiling system inaccurate, infringes personal privacy


Minority Report/Fox/Dreamworks

ZDNet Asia | Nov 4, 2011

By Ellyne Phneah

The U.S. government’s experimental system using algorithms to profile and predict whether a person is likely to commit a crime carries inaccuracy in determining future and potential criminal behavior, psychologists warn, noting that it also intrudes personal privacy and will be difficult to implement in Asia-Pacific.

Reports last month unveiled that the U.S. Department of Homeland Security was testing a prototype screening system that profiled people, based on algorithms, to detect mal-intent through factors such as ethnicity and heart rate.

Termed Future Attribute Screening Technology (FAST), the system is designed to track and monitor various inputs such as body movements, voice pitch changes, body heat changes and breathing patterns. Factors such as occupation, age, blink rate and pupil variation will also be considered.

The Homeland Security also suggested that FAST could be used at security checkpoints such as border crossing or large public events and had been tested at an undisclosed location in the north-eastern part of the U.S. The U.S. government body said such pilots were “entirely voluntary” and would not store any personally-identified information from participants once the tests were completed.

Tommy Tan, a Singapore-based consultant psychiatrist at Tommy Tan Psychiatrist Clinic, noted that the FAST system would be “absolutely inaccurate” because the factors determining the various parameters in the profiling were simply too numerous and impossible to account.

He told ZDNet Asia that there is also no correlation between physiological parameters and criminality. Psychopaths, for example, exhibit “very normal parameters” and have passed polygraphs with “flying colors” on many occasions, Tan explained.

Elaborating, Peter Eckerley, technology projects director at Electronics Frontier Foundation (EFF) said measurements of biological variables such as heart rate, galvanic skin response and eye movements would only be able to detect whether people were stressed, or even whether they were angry or nervous.

Studying the relationship between these variables and crime was interesting from a purely academic perspective, but it would be “deeply alarming” if it was applied as a guide for the Homeland Security’s operational activities, Eckerley said in an e-mail.

According to Nelson Lee, medical director and psychiatrist of The Psychological Wellness Centre, the FAST system is still in a very early stage of development and, hence, it would be too early to tell if it can successfully pick out potential criminal behavior.

However, he told ZDNet Asia that the vast number of variables that may have to be observed and used for mal-intent prediction may render this a “very challenging and difficult task”, if it were to be used with any reliability.

“The problem with trying to predict behavior, even in good hands, would be either too low a sensitivity or too low a specificity,” Lee said. “Both make such tools an [unreliable] predicator of human behavior.”

Privacy of individuals breached
In addition, FAST swerves “dangerously close” to eugenics, or social movements that advocate practices aimed at improving the genetic composition of a population, Simon Davis, director-general of Privacy International, noted in an e-mail interview. He added that civilized countries with a respect for human rights generally would refuse to implement such programs.

Most of the work conducted in pre-crime analysis “raises more questions than answers”, Davis remarked.

“Profiling individuals, especially on a voluntary basis, has thrown up so many false positives that the research becomes useless,” he said. “Even when some partially accurate indicators have been found, there has been an unacceptable level of false accusation and discrimination.”

Apart from privacy issues, Lee added that there will also be concerns about prejudice being formed with regard to individuals or certain groups of people as a result of such profiling.

EFF’s Eckerley added that there will be “many intrusions” into people’s lives and only on rare occasions will these measurements be useful.

He noted that people will be subjected to monitoring devices that detect emotions of anger or nervousness, and police and security forces worldwide will be “scrambling a team” every time something happens that triggers anger or nervousness among visitors.

Hard to implement in APAC
The sheer number of differences in ethnicity and cultural nuances will also make profiling visitors by algorithms a challenging project to pull off in the Asia-Pacific region, noted Lee of Psychological Wellness Centre.

He explained that culturally, even people with the same ethnicity who have “naturalized” to a new environment may still be very different from people who are origins of that place. This can make algorithm profiling even harder to be of any true predicative value, Lee said.

Yet, Davis of Privacy International warned that there was a possibility Asian countries might be “seduced by false claims” of the U.S. researchers to implement such systems.

“[These countries] must understand that pre-crime profiling carries the risk of creating social division and a breakdown of trust in the government,” he said.

Asked if the Singapore government would consider implementing programs similar to FAST, an Immigration Checkpoint Authority (ICA) spokesperson simply said: “Law enforcement agencies calibrate our security measures based on intelligence and observations from frontline officers, based on various behavior and risk indicators.”

Thomas See, a Singaporean who frequently travels for business, told ZDNet Asia: “If this is implemented in my country or any country I visit, clearing customs is going to take a long time and it is going to cause me inconvenience. I can already foresee custom officers catching people who get nervous or upset easily. I myself might even be stopped for no reason.”

Jacintha Lee, a Singapore-based student, said: “This is absolutely ridiculous. How can people judge us based on my biological making and my background? Besides, there have been so many criminals out there who came from clean backgrounds and seemed like normal people.”

China hospital disposes of live baby


Photo illustration. A hospital in south China has suspended four medical workers for mistakenly diagnosing a stillbirth and disposing of a baby that was alive, state press said Friday

AFP | Nov 4, 2011

Health authorities in south China said Friday they were investigating a hospital medical team for mistakenly diagnosing a stillbirth and disposing of a baby that was alive.

The probe is taking place at the Nanhai Red Cross Hospital in the Guangdong provincial city of Foshan where the incident occurred on October 26, the Nanhai district health bureau said in a statement faxed to AFP.

According to the statement, Liu Dongmei — eight months pregnant — had been rushed to the hospital with internal bleeding and stomach cramps.

She later had an emergency birth, but the baby was neither breathing nor crying after leaving the womb and its skin had turned purple, it said.

Believing it was dead, the medical team disposed of the child but did not follow proper hospital procedures, the statement added.

The Foshan News, a local website, reported that when Liu’s sister-in-law asked to see the body around 30 minutes after birth, she was handed a yellow plastic bag containing the infant and found it was still alive.

“I opened the plastic bag and saw the baby’s hands and feet moving, the stomach was going up and down and air bubbles were coming out of his mouth,” the paper quoted her as saying.

She was further shocked when she saw the baby was a boy — not a girl as the family had been told, it said.

According to the Foshan News, nurses had told the family the child was a girl in an effort to blunt the blow of its death.

In China, baby boys are often viewed as more precious than girls, as many families can have only one child as part of the nation’s population policy and desire a male heir.

Following the discovery, the newborn was rushed to intensive care where he remains in a stable condition.

Officials at the hospital refused to comment on the incident when contacted by AFP.

China’s healthcare system — once widely praised for improving the health of millions — is now panned as costly, underfunded and providing shoddy treatment, especially in poorer regions.

Liu and her husband are seeking to sue the hospital for 300,000 yuan ($45,000), the Beijing News said.

The head of the maternity ward, a doctor and two nurses have been suspended pending the results of the investigation, it added.

Poorest poor in US hits new record: 1 in 15 people


In a Thursday, Sept. 16, 2010 file photo, a man who did not wish to be identified, who lost his job two months ago after being hurt on the job, works to collect money for his family on a Miami .

About 20.5 million Americans, or 6.7 percent of the U.S. population, make up the poorest poor, defined as those at 50 percent or less of the official poverty level. Those living in deep poverty represent nearly half of the 46.2 million people scraping by below the poverty line. In 2010, the poorest poor meant an income of $5,570 or less for an individual and $11,157 for a family of four.

Associated Press | Nov 4, 2011

By HOPE YEN and LAURA WIDES-MUNOZ

WASHINGTON (AP) — The ranks of America’s poorest poor have climbed to a record high — 1 in 15 people — spread widely across metropolitan areas as the housing bust pushed many inner-city poor into suburbs and other outlying places and shriveled jobs and income.

New census data paint a stark portrait of the nation’s haves and have-nots at a time when unemployment remains persistently high. It comes a week before the government releases first-ever economic data that will show more Hispanics, elderly and working-age poor have fallen into poverty.

In all, the numbers underscore the breadth and scope by which the downturn has reached further into mainstream America.

“There now really is no unaffected group, except maybe the very top income earners,” said Robert Moffitt, a professor of economics at Johns Hopkins University. “Recessions are supposed to be temporary, and when it’s over, everything returns to where it was before. But the worry now is that the downturn — which will end eventually — will have long-lasting effects on families who lose jobs, become worse off and can’t recover.”

Traditional inner-city black ghettos are thinning out and changing, drawing in impoverished Hispanics who have low-wage jobs or are unemployed. Neighborhoods with poverty rates of at least 40 percent are stretching over broader areas, increasing in suburbs at twice the rate of cities.

Once-booming Sun Belt metro areas are now seeing some of the biggest jumps in concentrated poverty.

Signs of a growing divide between rich and poor can be seen in places such as the upscale Miami suburb of Miami Shores, where nannies gather with their charges at a playground nestled between the township’s sprawling golf course and soccer fields. The locale is a far cry from where many of them live.

One is Mariana Gripaldi, 36, an Argentinian who came to the U.S. about 10 years ago to escape her own country’s economic crisis. She and her husband rent a two-bedroom apartment near Biscayne Bay in a middle-class neighborhood at the north end of Miami Beach, far from the chic hotels and stores.

But Gripaldi said in the past two years, the neighborhood has seen an increase in crime.

“The police come sometimes once or twice a night,” she said in Spanish. “We are looking for a new place, but it’s so expensive. My husband went to look at a place, and it was $1,500 for a two-bedroom, one bath. I don’t like the changes, but I don’t know if we can move.”

About 20.5 million Americans, or 6.7 percent of the U.S. population, make up the poorest poor, defined as those at 50 percent or less of the official poverty level. Those living in deep poverty represent nearly half of the 46.2 million people scraping by below the poverty line. In 2010, the poorest poor meant an income of $5,570 or less for an individual and $11,157 for a family of four.

That 6.7 percent share is the highest in the 35 years that the Census Bureau has maintained such records, surpassing previous highs in 2009 and 1993 of just over 6 percent.

Broken down by states, 40 states and the District of Columbia had increases in the poorest poor since 2007, and none saw decreases. The District of Columbia ranked highest at 10.7 percent, followed by Mississippi and New Mexico. Nevada had the biggest jump, rising from 4.6 percent to 7 percent.

Concentrated poverty also spread wider.

After declining during the 1990s economic boom, the proportion of poor people in large metropolitan areas who lived in high-poverty neighborhoods jumped from 11.2 percent in 2000 to 15.1 percent last year, according to a Brookings Institution analysis released Thursday. Such geographically concentrated poverty in the U.S. is now at the highest since 1990, following a decade of high unemployment and rising energy costs.

Extreme poverty today continues to be prevalent in the industrial Midwest, including Detroit, Grand Rapids, Mich., and Akron, Ohio, due to a renewed decline in manufacturing. But the biggest growth in high-poverty areas is occurring in newer Sun Belt metro areas such as Las Vegas, Riverside, Calif., and Cape Coral, Fla., after the plummeting housing market wiped out home values and dried up construction jobs.

As a whole, the number of poor in the suburbs who lived in high-poverty neighborhoods rose by 41 percent since 2000, more than double the growth of such city neighborhoods.

Elizabeth Kneebone, a senior research associate at Brookings, described a demographic shift in people living in high-poverty neighborhoods, which have less access to good schools, hospitals and government services. As concentrated poverty spreads to new areas, including suburbs, the residents are now more likely to be white, native-born and high school or college graduates — not the conventional image of high-school dropouts or single mothers in inner-city ghettos.

The more recent broader migration of the U.S. population, including working- and middle-class blacks, to the South and to suburbs helps explain some of the shifts in poverty.

A study by the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies found that the population of 133 historically black ghettos had dropped 36 percent since 1970, as the U.S. black population growth slowed and many blacks moved to new areas. The newest residents in these ghettos are now more likely to be Hispanic, who have more than tripled their share in the neighborhoods, to 21 percent.

Just over 7 percent of all African-Americans nationwide now live in traditional ghettos, down from 33 percent in 1970.

“As extreme-poverty neighborhoods emerge in more places, that is shifting the general makeup of those populations,” said Kneebone, the lead author of the Brookings analysis.

New 2010 poverty data to be released next week by the Census Bureau will show additional demographic changes.

The new supplemental poverty measure for the first time will take into account non-cash aid such as tax credits and food stamps, but also additional everyday costs such as commuting and medical care. Official poverty figures released in September only take into account income before tax deductions.

Based on newly released estimates for 2009, the new measure will show a significant jump in overall poverty. Poverty for Americans 65 and older is on track to nearly double after factoring in rising out-of-pocket medical expenses, from 9 percent to over 15 percent. Poverty increases are also anticipated for the working-age population because of commuting and child-care costs, while child poverty will dip partly due to the positive effect of food stamps.

For the first time, the share of Hispanics living in poverty is expected to surpass that of African-Americans based on the new measure, reflecting in part the lower participation of immigrants and non-English speakers in government aid programs such as housing and food stamps. The 2009 census estimates show 27.6 percent of all Hispanics living in poverty, compared with 23.4 percent for blacks.

Alba Alvarez, 52, a nanny who chatted recently in Miami, said she is lucky because her employer rents an apartment to her and her husband at a low rate in a comfortable neighborhood on the bay. But her adult children, who followed her to the U.S. from Honduras, are having a tougher time.

They initially found work in a regional wholesale fruit and vegetable market that supplies many local supermarkets. But her youngest son recently lost his job, and since he has no legal status, he cannot get any help from the government.

“As a mother, I feel so horrible. There’s this sense of powerlessness. I wanted things to be better for them in this country,” Alvarez said. “I (recently) suggested my youngest go back to Honduras. It’s easier for me to help him there than here, where rent and everything is so expensive.”

Himalayan villages suffer winter deep freeze conditions three months early

Sonam Lama, of Darcha village, said, “Icicles are suspending from water taps. Sides of river Bhaga are freezing the way it does in winters during January. Our faces are burnt due to direct exposure to cold winds.”

Himalayan villages freezing unusually

TNN | Nov 4, 2011

by Suresh Sharma

MANALI: Many Himalayan regions are likely to face one of the coldest winters this year as water in taps has already started freezing in some high altitude areas. Also, a thick layer of frost has covered highways across Lahaul-Spiti, causing traffic disruption.

Darcha, the last village of Himachal Pradesh on the Manali-Leh axis, is already freezing with minimum temperature dipping below minus 3 degrees Celsius. Yoche, Marbal, Yangrang, Naingar and Telangbe villages of Lahaul-Spiti are shivering at sub-zero temperatures.

People living in Manali, Kinnaur, Lahaul-Spiti and other hilly areas have stopped driving two wheelers. They say they have never experienced such cold weather in the beginning of November for a long time.

Sonam Lama, of Darcha village, said, “Icicles are suspending from water taps. Sides of river Bhaga are freezing the way it does in winters during January. Our faces are burnt due to direct exposure to cold winds.”

Spending their days around bonfires residents of Naingar village think despite delay in snowfall, this November is colder than last year. Ram Singh, an elderly resident, said they have witnessed only one spell of snowfall in past four months but the weather is abnormally cold. “Last year’s October and November had witnessed frequent snowfalls but water taps froze only after December,” he said.

Keylong, the district headquarters of Lahaul-Spiti, is freezing at 0.2 degrees, while Sissu recorded -2.8 degrees and Kalpa in Kinnaur recorded 1.5 degrees.

But mid and lower hill stations are recording above normal temperatures. With minimum temperature of 10 degrees, Shimla recorded 1.8 degree above normal. Bhunter (8.1), Una (12) and Mandi (15.3) recorded higher than normal temperatures of 2.1, 4 and 6 degrees, respectively.

Shimla met office director Manmohan Singh said high altitude hills were recording temperature below normal for this period of season but some mid and lower regions were unusually warm. “Temperature on high hills might be many notches below the freezing point,” he said.