Saturday, May 18, 2013

A Balanced Approach to Sadism

Studies show that government austerity policies are actually killing people, and that record poverty is immiserating at least one in five American families. Most, if not all of them, qualify for some sort of government aid. So, what do you think the House of Representatives will do about the crisis of poverty in America?

Believe it or not, Democratic leaders are willing to compromise with th GOP majority in a move to cut more than $20 billion from the food stamp program (now known as SNAP, or Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program.) This is on top of the $4 billion cut already approved by the Senate. Those upper-crust Dems certainly saved the day, given that Tea Party sweetheart Rand Paul had hoped to destroy the food stamp program altogether.

 If snatching food from the mouths of children is what it takes to ram another agribusiness-subsidizing, corporate welfare farm bill through Congress, then so be it. Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi has reportedly signalled her willingness to whip her caucus into a balanced approach to cruelty, in order to meet the GOP Hate Machine halfway. Hungry people will be put on the table rather than having enough food on their table.

 Meanwhile, about 400,000 tons of refined sugar will continue to be subsidized by taxpayers. The politicians must reckon it'll help the austerity medicine go down, or something. Who knows what they're thinking, or even if they're thinking at all.

 And in order to sweeten the deal with the Republican nihilists even further, Democrats are also willing to decouple home heating assistance from food stamp approvals, thus forcing applicants to jump through more hoops to qualify for both programs. (currently, acceptance in one program automatically enrolls you in the other.) This will steer more federal dollars away from the poor,  because fewer people will even realize that they're qualified for both programs.

 Putting one over on struggling people is, unbelievably, giving our supposedly liberal politicians deficit bragging rights.That the austerity prescription has now proven to be snake oil for economic growth is a moot point, because the sadism is not only addictive, it has a long half-life. It produces a toxin that is very slow to excrete from the collective political brain, be it Democrat or Republican.

And so it is that Agriculture Committee Ranking Member Collin Peterson (D-MN), considers it "indefensible" that some of his fellow Democrats selfishly don't want to cut "even a penny" of SNAP benefits during this time of record unemployment and underemployment and wage stagnation. "I think that's a ridiculous position," he peevishly snapped at a press conference on Friday.

Very silly indeed, when you take a look at some of Peterson's campaign contributions in the past year: (source: Center for Responsive Politics.)

Contributor                                           Total      Indivs      PACs

American Farm Bureau$17,500  $0$17,500
National Rural Electric Cooperative Assn$12,500$0$12,500
American Crystal Sugar$12,000$2,000$10,000
Land O'Lakes$10,500$500$10,000
AG Processing$10,000$0$10,000

Top 5 Industries, 2011-2012, Campaign Cmte

Crop Production & Basic Processing$207,818$53,986$153,832
Agricultural Services/Products$159,000$5,000$154,000
Food Processing & Sales$47,500$1,000$46,500
Forestry & Forest Products$34,500$0$34,500

When you consider that the Farm Bill is worth $940 billion, those campaign contributors to Rep. Peterson are certainly getting a lot of bang for their relatively puny bucks, wouldn't you say? I mean, only $12,000 from a sugar company that stands to share in an $80 millionbailout from the American taxpayer? Sweet. (sorry, I couldn't help it)

Meanwhile, from the Feeding America public policy group,  here are the grim statistics which show that cutting "even a penny" from SNAP will cause a world of pain for the struggling people who depend on it:
76% of SNAP households included a child, an elderly person, or a disabled person. These vulnerable households receive 83% of all SNAP benefits.
SNAP eligibility is limited to households with gross income of no more than 130% of the federal poverty guideline, but the majority of households have income well below the maximum: 83% of SNAP households have gross income at or below 100% of the poverty guideline ($19,530 for a family of 3 in 2013), and these households receive about 91% of all benefits. 61% of SNAP households have gross income at or below 75% of the poverty guideline ($14,648 for a family of 3 in 2013).
The average SNAP household has a gross monthly income of $744; net monthly income of $338 after the standard deduction and, for certain households, deductions for child care, medical expenses, and shelter costs; and countable resources of $331, such as a bank account.

It's pretty despicable that Pelosi and the Democrats are negotiating any food stamp cuts at all, given that sequestration has already threatened the Women, Infants and Children nutrition program (WIC) and other anti-poverty programs. And, the fact that so many liberal politicians and celebrities have taken what's called the "food stamp challenge" and discovered that it's very hard to survive on an average $30 weekly grocery stipend, makes it downright stupefying that they are not demanding that benefits be increased. Most people run out of SNAP benefits by the third week of every month. They go hungry, or if they're lucky enough to live near a food bank or soup kitchen that hasn't closed, they avail themselves of that shredding safety net as well. 

The stupefaction doesn't end with both parties merely bickering over whether people should literally starve, or simply go on a starvation diet.

Here is a scandal the corporate media are not talking about: JP Morgan Chase, which administers the EBT card program for SNAP recipients in some states, is just one of the corporations mightily profiting from the poverty of others. CEO Jamie Dimon even has the chutzpah to charge a quarter every time clients check their dwindling balances, making sure there's enough money left in Week Three for a quart of milk for the kids. In New York State alone, this too-big-to-fail/jail bank was awarded more than $125 million for handling SNAP debit cards. In Montana, for some strange reason, defense contractor Northrup Grumman was awarded the debit card food stamp contract. If I were a betting woman, I'd wager that some level of bribery was at play in order to magically transform a defense contractor into a safety net facilitator.

Naturally, not one politician is suggesting that these profiteers of penury take a cut of their own. And that's the unkindest cut of all.


Denis Neville said...

400,000 tons of subsidized refined sugar to help the austerity medicine go down…

The forgotten wisdom of George McGovern…His life was a testament to peace, truth, and the promise that everyone should eat well. His Select Committee on Nutrition and Human Needs defied the sugar lobby by trying to set up national dietary standards. As Mark Bittman said, “George McGovern’s impact on food policy could have been greater, but not through more effort on his part.”

“A bone to the dog is not charity. Charity is the bone shared with the dog, when you are just as hungry as the dog.” - Jack London

“Unrespited, unpitied, unreprieved. Ages of hopeless end.” – John Milton, Paradise Lost

A Tsar rules the world, A Tsar without mercy, And his name is Hunger. (Russian traditional)

Honor, nobility, truth, ethics, integrity. These values of true human greatness have become such a rare commodity in American leadership.

Neoliberal idolatry.

"We have created new idols. The worship of the golden calf of old has found a new and heartless image in the cult of money and the dictatorship of an economy which is faceless and lacking any truly humane goal." - Pope Francis

WWJC? Would Jesus cut food stamps? Republican and Democrats argue about where Jesus Christ would stand on food stamps.

Jesus as a political tool!

Nanny state politicians have money for war and corporate welfare, but can’t feed the poor.

"Christians in Name Only" give more credence to Ayn Rand's writings than Jesus.

"The great scandal of Christians is the way they have persecuted fellow Christians, driving out heretics, shunning them, burning their books, burning them.” - Gary Wills

"I like your Christ. I do not like your Christians; they are so unlike your Christ." - Mahatma Gandhi

Fred Drumlevitch said...

This Democratic political willingness to horse-trade with regard to basic sustenance is indeed sadistic; one can't get more fundamental than whether poor people get enough to eat. Democrats such as Pelosi and Obama disgust me. I'm tempted to say that they disgrace the Democratic Party, but then I remember that such behavior has become the norm for most Democrats, who have become political eunuchs, one testicle cut off by the Republicans, the other one negotiated away so that they can remain at what passes for government these days inside the beltway. Inside the beltway allright, but nothing below the belt.

As far as the banks or "defense" contactors being paid ANYTHING to administer benefits for the poor, that is beyond rip-off. The large banks were rescued by the government from an insolvency caused by their own imprudent actions, while "defense" contractors have been gorging from the government nipple for decades, sucking it dry. The LEAST that both could do would be to underwrite banking services and the mechanics of benefits cards for the poor at no charge. Creative accounting notwithstanding, my guess is that both sectors have ample unused computer capacity, and could do these tasks at little cost to themselves, and also perhaps take a tax write-off. Of course, performing such tasks as a public service would require that these corporations have some sense of civic duty and appreciation/thankfulness for what they have received from the nation --- when in fact they have none, instead viewing it all as their entitlement.

Pearl said...

Karen: Please print your comment to Maureen's column in our comments
section. You are the only one who tackles the basic problems and basic
people in power as most of the readers are bamboozled by all the
distractions going on and can't focus their comments on the realities. And
these are many of the progressives writing these columns who can't face what is really threatening the country. I think Maureen could have done a better job but at least she tried to describe the circus going on. Wish she had more comments about how it all came about.

Karen Garcia said...

Here is my Dowd comment, buried deep with the usual indignant Obama Defense League commenting avalanche (my response to the Douthat follows):

President Obama is the poster child for presidential term limits. Had he been elected to one six-year term, he could have started pulling his Bulworth for all it was worth, calling out GOP bull right from the get-go.

He might have campaigned to overturn Citizens United instead of embracing it, spending the last half of his first term licking the Prada shoes of millionaires in what turned out to be a billion-dollar campaign. He might have prosecuted the banks without worrying if Wall Street would get its feelings hurt and hire another corporatist to primary him. He might have given a thumbs-down to endless wars and kill lists without worrying what Dick Cheney would say about his machismo on the military-industrial complex-funded Sunday shows. He might have actually had Cheney and the rest of the torturers prosecuted!

In any case, mulling over the the trials and tribulations of one politician won't heal a country torn apart by unfettered capitalist greed, chronic unemployment, the worst income disparity in history, a suicide rate that's increased by 30% in the past decade. Let the media start paying attention to the problems of ordinary, everyday people for a change; stop the Hollywood-ization of the political class.

That being said, I'd rather Obama channeled Chris Christie instead of JFK or Warren Beatty. Nothing would be so cathartic to an inattentive, bored, sick nation that the president going on national TV and treating a joint session of Congress to a barrage of F-bombs.


Re Douthat on lonely desperate people who "retreat" from life (one of his more disgusting efforts, disguised as concern):

"That’s exactly what we’ve seen happen lately... a retreat from family obligations, from civic and religious participation, and from full-time paying work."

That paragraph in particular and this whole column in general has a "blame the victim" subtext reminiscent of Mitt Romney's infamous makers v. takers remarks, when he smarmily sniped that 47% of us care nothing for our own lives.

Adhering to the right wing script, Ross also uses the old canard of "structural unemployment" (plenty of jobs, too few skills!) to explain away the fact that his party has voted against every single government jobs program introduced by Democrats. There's unemployment because of lack of demand, period.

He similarly implies that suicide victims are deadbeats who "retreat" (selfishly surrender!) instead of being illegally foreclosed upon, aged out, and made redundant by profit-hoarding CEOs who typically make 300 times as much as the average worker. No mention of the fact that job loss equals health insurance loss. Who has the money to seek professional help these days? The deficit hawks have defunded the very mental health clinics that help prevent people from giving up in despair. Austerity kills. Literally.

And it wouldn't be a Ross Douthat column without his blaming lack of religion for all that ails us. Take a cue from Pope Francis, Ross -- start blaming the capitalist predators instead of their victims. Empathize, don't moralize.

Denis Neville said...

Douthat on lonely desperate people…into the Douchehat…empathy?

“We must learn to regard people less in the light of what they do or omit to do, and more in the light of what they suffer.” - Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Letters and Papers from Prison

Judith Shulevitz, “The Lethality of Loneliness We now know how it can ravage our body and brain,”

“Who are the lonely? They’re the outsiders: not just the elderly, but also the poor, the bullied, the different. Surveys confirm that people who feel discriminated against are more likely to feel lonely than those who don’t, even when they don’t fall into the categories above. Women are lonelier than men (though unmarried men are lonelier than unmarried women). African Americans are lonelier than whites (though single African American women are less lonely than Hispanic and white women). The less educated are lonelier than the better educated. The unemployed and the retired are lonelier than the employed.

“…loneliness research forces us to acknowledge our own extraordinary malleability in the face of social forces. This susceptibility is both terrifying and exhilarating. On the terrifying side is the unhappy fact that isolation, especially when it stems from the disenfranchisement of the underprivileged, creates a bodily limitation all too easily reproduced in each successive generation. Given that we have been scaling back the kinds of programs that could help people overcome such disadvantages and that many in Congress, mostly Republicans, have been trying to defund exactly the kind of behavioral science research that could yield even better programs, we have reason to be afraid.”

Ross Douthat is not religious.

“I call him religious who understands the suffering of others.” - Mahatma Gandhi

Anonymous said...

I'm curious about the issue of food stamps as welfare. It's basically subsidized sustenance, right? Then I think about the other things that are subsidized by the government. Specifically, I get stuck thinking about fuel subsidies. Which are regularly employed by people driving huge new SUVs with very low gas mileage. "Status" vehicles which are contributing to global warming.

I've been trying to figure out how this balances out. Say a family, or say even an individual, is getting the maximum food stamp allocation per month. For an individual living in the inner city who walks everywhere, this can be as much as $200 in food stamp benefits (don't ask how I know), which though it sounds like a lot may actually be necessary given that a person poor enough to qualify for that $200 a month may not have kitchen facilities or even a refrigerator. Many of the remaining affordable places to rent in the city do not allow you to cook, or even to keep food in your room. Don't ask about city food prices.

I have this weird feeling that if you crunched the numbers, even the $200 a month food stamp individual would be receiving a lower subsidy than the average SUV driver, because fuel is so expensive to process/procure and involves so many additional variables. Whereas for frozen peas and unfrozen avocados, the price has been relatively stable for the last few years, and we don't have to occupy other countries for it.

So once again, we are horrified by the food stamp user, but we don't even question our neighbors and friends, who are driving huge Mercedes SUVs.

It's really strange. I think the guy in the inner city who is walking everywhere should get food stamps, period, as a compensation for the government subsidy he "sacrifices" by not driving.

We really need to get a handle on our weird car infrastructure.