Politics in Photography

Christmas Reunion


Debbi K. Swanson Patrick

While terrorists and airport security issues are dominating the news this week, I have to end the year on a happy note. There is probably no one in the United States that isn’t aware of this story. David Goldman has been trying to regain custody of his son Sean for five long years. In the process he has made more than a dozen trips to Brazil, established a foundation for returning abducted children, and been on the Today Show more times than I can recall. All because in 2004 his Brazilian wife Bruna Bianchi flew home supposedly for a two-week vacation, the called David to tell him their marriage was over and he would need to fly to Brazil and relinquish custody if he ever wanted to see Sean again.

She married lawyer Lins e Silva who works in his prominent father’s family law practice. The battle was on. And when Bianchi died last year in childbirth, gloves came off when Silva refused to return Sean to his biological father.  Politicians including U.S. Rep Christopher Smith and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton have been vocal in their condemnation of Brazil’s refusal to return Sean.

In mid-December, ABC News reported that when Brazil issued a stay to prevent Sean’s return, New Jersey Sen. Frank Lautenberg placed a hold on a bill renewing a trade deal that allows Brazil and other countries to export some products duty-free to the United States. Brazil received about $2.75 billion in benefits last year from the agreement, according to Smith.

That did it. The federal appellate court ruled Sean should be returned home, and the Brazilian Supreme Court then concurred.

NBC negotiated an exclusive deal with Goldman, paying for Goldman’s final trip to Brazil and chartering the plane to return Sean, which may explain the dearth of photos available of the reunion and of the father and son together since. Goldman has also said he is trying to keep a sense of calm and privacy during this time. We do know that their first stop on the way home from Brazil was Disney World. This photo of David and Sean boarding the jet, courtesy of Getty Images, has been used extensively.

You can read more background at http://bringseanhome.org. There’s also a Facebook    page, and, no doubt, an NBC special coming up soon. Happy new year–and let’s hope more families are reunited this year.


Copenhagen Results?


Cophenhagen Climate Talks

Debbi K. Swanson Patrick

Hopes were high. Squabbles were plentiful. Meetings were tedious, boring, and secretive. Until U.S. President Obama swooped in to the United Nations climate change talks and got things cooking. At the end, well, most agree that it was not the greatest of outcomes, just a direction; unenforceable by law. Until Obama’s arrival and series of meetings with various leaders, it looked as if most attendees were ready to pack their bags in disgust, with each one blaming the other for no results. With results slight, everyone agrees there are no easy answers. Finding agreement among so many disparate nations is a tough battle, requiring changes in philosophy and economics.

Here is a link to a New York Times analysis.

Question: How much progress do you think we’ll make in 10 years? 20?

Image: Getty Images


Polipics: Hunger for Thanksgiving

Poverty in Afghan

“What do you think the effect that 2 million Afghans martyred, 70 percent of Afghanistan destroyed, and our economy eliminated has had on us? Half our people have been driven mad. A man who is 30 or 40 years old looks like he is 70. We always live in fear. We are not secure anywhere in Afghanistan.”

That is a quote from Azim Mohammad of Nagharhar, Afghanistan, cited in a report out this week from the aid agency Oxfam International and a group of Afghan organizations citing poverty –not the Taliban–as the real source of conflict. This as Afghan President Hamid Karzei is inaugurated.

One of the key reasons for poverty is the crackdown on opium fields in the past two years. AP reported in August that the country that has produced 93% of the world’s opium has been decimated by its own government’s destruction of family-owned fields, the fields that provided their only income.  As distasteful as supporting a family on opium crops may be to the world, having the government eliminate 95 percent of the industry without providing alternatives is a recipe for disaster.

Why has Afghan done this? Because of international pressure to stem the flow of money to the Taliban. Yet AP says it hasn’t worked. In fact, 70 percent of Afghans surveyed see poverty and unemployment as the major cause of the conflict in their country. Ordinary Afghans blame government weakness and corruption as the second most important factor behind the fighting, with the Taliban coming third, followed by interference by neighboring countries.

The report, “The Cost of War,” paints a grim picture of a country shredded by three decades of war. The survey of 704 Afghans reveals:

  • one in six Afghans are currently considering leaving Afghanistan;
  • one in five Afghans have been tortured since the wars began in 1979;
  • three quarters of Afghans have been forced to leave their homes since then.

For more on how the Afghan people see their lives and future, read the whole story at http://bit.ly/29yqyd

To learn some sobering poverty stats, such as almost half the world’s population lives on less than $2.50 a day, check out http://bit.ly/BxHj

Hunger and poverty aren’t limited to Afghanistan, of course. Another report on California and the U.S. is stunning: The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Economic Research Service (USDA) reported that 12% of residents of California are “food insecure,” meaning that they lack consistent access to adequate amounts of nutritious food. In total, 49 million Americans, including nearly 17 million children, are food insecure. The 2008 report on Household Food Insecurity in the United States paints an alarming picture of the pervasiveness of hunger in our nation.

Food banks, such as the L.A. Regional Foodbank, have seen demand spike 34 percent in the last year. But that’s where you can help. If you have a little extra this holiday season, provide a good meal to someone else. Check out your area agencies and food banks, or donate online to sites such as TheHungerSite.com. Then your Thanksgiving dinner will be even more satisfying.

But what I want to know, is why we aren’t solving this problem?

To see an archive of historic images of hunger and poverty, visit The Borgen Project.


Polipics: Fort Hood Tribute


Fort Hood Tribute

Debbi K. Swanson Patrick

This photo was taken by Martin Howard, a retired Lt. Col. and pathologist from the US Army in Mississippi. I saw it on Flickr and felt it instantly conveyed the feelings of the Fort Hood rampage last week that left 12 soldiers, one civilian, and one unborn baby dead—and the shooter in the hospital. The questions are endless about the making of this tragedy—Who missed the signs? What was the final straw? How long had this been building? Were there terrorists ties? What is the Army and other armed services going to do about it?  In the meantime, there are soldiers, husbands, sons, brothers, daughters, wives, and a soon-to-be-mother, to mourn.

Here is retired Lt. Col. Howard’s story:

I served in the US Army in Iraq in 2004 with the Mississippi National Guard. I was briefly at Fort Hood during my Reserve duty in 1999. I look upon all soldiers here and abroad as my brothers and sisters. These VOLUNTEERS are the finest people I have ever known in my life. I am continually amazed at the sacrifices these young people make on our behalf. The tragedy touched me as it occurred here in America, on a base, where they should have felt safe one last time. Their loss is no less tragic than those a world away but it reinforces the resolve we must have even at home.

As for the photo, I took my boots outside to compose a tribute for the troops to post on Flickr to remind everyone to pray for the victims. The sun was just rising as I set the boots and flag on the ground to get my camera. The scene just made itself. I used a small flash on the boots but the whole shot was done in 3 or 4 takes.

Martin Howard, MD


Here is a list of the deceased.


Polipics: Native American Experience


Native American Experience

Debbi K. Swanson Patrick

Time to showcase some stellar work. I’m taking a page from the great NY Times blog on photojournalism, Lens, to bring to your attention Aaron Huey. His work on the Pine Ridge Indian reservation in South Dakota, site of the Wounded Knee massacre, documents the results of destruction of a culture.

Viewing these riveting photos of the Lakota that Huey has taken over the past five years will elicit any number of responses. Huey, 33, was stunned himself to see the poverty that overwhelmed him. He sent himself on assignment to document poverty in America, and couldn’t stop documenting this culture. Huey drives home the tragedy of seeing what was a mighty and proud nation reduced to trash heaps and desperation.

Huey is not one to choose the easy way. In 2002, he walked across the U.S. with his dog Cosmo and recently won an award from National Geographic Expedition Council Grant to walk across Siberia. He’s racking up a long list of awards while shooting for National Geographic, Smithsonian, the New York Times and several other high quality publications.

Always on the move, Aaron was heading to NYC when I caught up with him, so comments to come. Check out his work at Lens, and his website.

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