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Pulitzer Center Update April 15, 2013

This Week in Review: Bracing For Budget Cuts

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Britain's government is engaged in the steepest deficit reduction of modern times. A team of...

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Rob Mason stacks shelves in his local store. Image by Charlie Bibby. UK, 2013.

BUDGET BLUES

As budget hawks in the US argue for deep cuts in federal spending, Britain's Conservative-led government has already implemented a package of austerity measures aimed at reducing one of the largest deficits among the industrialized nations. An in-depth examination by a team of Financial Times journalists and experts from Sheffield Hallam University has found that the cuts fall disproportionately on communities that can least afford them—and will likely snuff out any hope of economic regeneration in these areas. The FT's multi-part series, funded in part by the Pulitzer Center, reports that "the cuts to welfare payments will hit the local economies of the northern towns and cities five times as hard as the Conservative heartland southern counties." The ground-breaking project has drawn the attention of many in Britain, including Prime Minister David Cameron who went on television and defended his government's policies.

CHILD LABOR ON YOUR SUPERMARKET SHELF

Fifteen years ago, Lahad Datu, the capital of Sabah province in Western Mayalsia, was a scruffy backwater of potholed roads and cracked sidewalks. Today, it's a bustling mini-metropolis of sparkling new business-class hotels and fast-food franchises. Local real estate prices have quadrupled. All due to a spectacular boom in palm oil.

As Pulitzer Center grantee Jason Motlagh reports in The Atlantic, the export of palm oil and palm-based products earned Malaysia $27 billion in 2011: "A five-fold increase over the past decade—thanks to brisk trade with China, the European Union, India and the United States, which is now importing record levels for its low price and long shelf life. Today, more than half of all products sold in U.S. supermarkets, from cosmetics to candy bars, contain palm oil."

But according to Jason, Lahad Datu's new-found prosperity has been built on the backs of stateless child laborers. An estimated 50,000 Indonesian children and thousands more from the Philippines are working in Sabah province, most of them born to workers that have arrived in waves since the 1970s to fulfill a demand for cheap labor. These children work for meager wages and rarely attend school or see a doctor.

DIVIDED JERUSALEM

To the casual observer, the East Jerusalem neighborhood of Sheikh Jarrah is nothing special. "A series of fifty-odd homes set on more-dirt-than-concrete streets, festooned with spray paint, and overrun, like much of the city, with scrawny feral cats," is how Pulitzer Center grantee Sarah Wildman describes it in her piece for The New Yorker. She tells how this nondescript neighborhood has become "a tripwire to peace" as a small group of Jewish settlers mount a determined campaign to evict Arab residents. "Sheikh Jarrah is one of the most contested strips of ground in a city that doesn't lack for controversy," says Sarah.

THE CRUELEST WEAPON

Rape has been used as a weapon of war throughout history. Today, this brutal tactic is employed with disturbing regularity and rarely goes punished. Pulitzer Center grantees Pete Jones and Fiona Lloyd-Davis, in a story and photo gallery for The Guardian, document a case in the Democratic Republic of Congo in which Congolese soldiers were allegedly ordered by their commanding officers to rape the very women and girls they were supposed to be protecting.

"I didn't rape because I am angry, but because it gave us a lot of pleasure," a 22-year-old soldier told Pete. "When we arrived here we met a lot of women. We could do whatever we wanted." Fiona also reported on this subject for BBC's Newsnight, in a segment wholly funded by the BBC.

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