CHIEFTAIN: Cutting food assistance too harmful and saves little

CHIEFTAIN: Cutting food assistance too harmful and saves little

With a devastating economic recession cutting a painful swath through American life in 2008-2010, the Obama administration and public-spirited local leaders encouraged out-of-work families to make appropriate use of the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, popularly referred to as food stamps.

Before the housing crash, about 26 million received food stamps. This summer, the total reached almost 48 million, or one out of every seven Americans. The cost has swelled at the same time. Even with some paring-back now in progress, the program is expected to cost $74.4 billion this fiscal year. In comparison, fiscal year 2014 defense spending is expected to total about $832.2 billion, or about 11 times as much.

On Nov. 1, a temporary boost in food stamps benefits came to an end. It had been part of the Obama economic stimulus plan of 2009. This will reduce the program’s overall cost by $5 billion in the 2013-14 period. A family of four receiving the maximum benefit will see a $36-per-month reduction, from $668 to $631. Individual maximum benefits will fall by $11.

This isn’t a big reduction. But it’s easy to see that $36 may easily represent a family’s entire food budget for a day or two. At a time when science points to life-long developmental impacts from childhood nutritional gaps, it’s no small thing to ensure some essential baseline for meals every day.

Now, both to begin reining in the federal deficit and out of a philosophical wish to make sure people practice self-sufficiency, the Republican-controlled U.S. House aims to trim an additional $39 billion for the program over the next 10 years. Senate Democrats look for saving of about one-tenth as much.

It’s understandable from a budgetary standpoint to worry about all expenses. But cutting food stamps – even the short-term boost in them from 2009 – is premised on a different view of reality, one that may exist only within the U.S. capital Beltway. In the majority of the nation, the lackadaisical recovery still feels like a depression to many working families. Perhaps it would be more accurate to call them “formerly working.” Old jobs have gone away and new jobs aren’t being created very fast.

As federal aid dwindles, community volunteers and civic groups are struggling to fill gaps – for instance by sending backpacks of basic food supplies home with schoolchildren on Fridays. Local charity is wonderful and can be an efficient way of delivering calories where they are needed at low cost. But is it sufficient to feed millions? Almost certainly, the answer is no.

If we are to cut back on food assistance – and allow emergency unemployment benefits to lapse on Jan. 1 – we need at the same time to greatly improve job re-training and perhaps provide direct federal jobs to the long-term unemployed, as the Works Progress Administration did in the 1930s.

Together, cutbacks in food stamps and jobless benefits could easily shave half a percent from our economy this winter. Our fragile recovery – and fragile working families – can’t withstand this.

There are many things America should cut first, before we start carving holes in our minimal social safety net.


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LETTER: Tapeworm’s deadly disease not easily caught

LETTER: Tapeworm’s deadly disease not easily caught

To the Editor:

Hunters, hikers and dog-huggers can hang-up their hazmat suits. Despite Connie Dunhams’s claims, the “wolf-born” tapeworm, echinococcus granulosis, is unlikely to infect anybody.

A moment’s reflection, without recourse to scientific data, shows that if it was as easily caught as Connie implies, hunters, campers, wildlife biologists, and curious kids would be falling victim to this parasite throughout those parts of Alaska, Minnesota, Yukon, NW Territories, British Columbia, Alberta, Saskatchewan, Ontario, Quebec, Labrador, and the Canadian Arctic where wolves have always abounded. But cases of infection in these places are no greater than in the USA as a whole, where there were 41 echinococcosis-associated deaths from 1990 through 2007.

US infections are closely associated with sheep ranching, which is why cases are most often in the Southwest, Utah and California (where many cases were in foreign-born persons, especially shepherds, and were probably brought with them from their country of origin). The infection was via sheep and dogs (the dog-sheep cycle is globally the most important as far as human disease). Echinococcus arrived in America around 1900 via imported pigs and by 1920 had spread throughout much of the South.

Oregon’s first echinococcus cysts were confirmed in 1973 from a Grant County deer. The parasite is likely maintained here in fox, coyote, dog, cat, and wolf populations. Most cervids, domestic and wild sheep, even rodents, participate in the echinococcus cycle.

So wolves have not brought this parasite to our state or to any other, and wolves haven’t increased anybody’s chance of infection by echinococcus. Enjoy our wildlands as always, but worm your dogs, cook well your game and, as advised by a hunter, don’t eat canid or cat poop on the trail.

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LETTER: Tapeworm’s deadly disease not easily caught

LETTER: Tapeworm’s deadly disease not easily caught

To the Editor:

Hunters, hikers and dog-huggers can hang-up their hazmat suits. Despite Connie Dunhams’s claims, the “wolf-born” tapeworm, echinococcus granulosis, is unlikely to infect anybody.

A moment’s reflection, without recourse to scientific data, shows that if it was as easily caught as Connie implies, hunters, campers, wildlife biologists, and curious kids would be falling victim to this parasite throughout those parts of Alaska, Minnesota, Yukon, NW Territories, British Columbia, Alberta, Saskatchewan, Ontario, Quebec, Labrador, and the Canadian Arctic where wolves have always abounded. But cases of infection in these places are no greater than in the USA as a whole, where there were 41 echinococcosis-associated deaths from 1990 through 2007.

US infections are closely associated with sheep ranching, which is why cases are most often in the Southwest, Utah and California (where many cases were in foreign-born persons, especially shepherds, and were probably brought with them from their country of origin). The infection was via sheep and dogs (the dog-sheep cycle is globally the most important as far as human disease). Echinococcus arrived in America around 1900 via imported pigs and by 1920 had spread throughout much of the South.

Oregon’s first echinococcus cysts were confirmed in 1973 from a Grant County deer. The parasite is likely maintained here in fox, coyote, dog, cat, and wolf populations. Most cervids, domestic and wild sheep, even rodents, participate in the echinococcus cycle.

So wolves have not brought this parasite to our state or to any other, and wolves haven’t increased anybody’s chance of infection by echinococcus. Enjoy our wildlands as always, but worm your dogs, cook well your game and, as advised by a hunter, don’t eat canid or cat poop on the trail.


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LETTER: Shutdown wasn’t a balancing act

LETTER: Shutdown wasn’t a balancing act

To the Editor:

I simply can’t let Mark Dawson’s ridiculous and patently false statement slide by as though no one noticed (letter, Oct. 30 issue). Responding to an earlier letter, Mr. Dawson wrote: “If he [the letter writer] didn’t notice, we had a government shutdown caused by trying to balance a budget.”

Whatever veracity might have been contained in the remainder of Mr. Dawson’s letter was open to a huge dose of skepticism after that whopper in the second sentence! Mr. Dawson is entitled to his own opinion, but he is not entitled to his own “facts.” The Tea Party wing of the Republican Party gave numerous reasons for orchestrating the shutdown, revising them almost hourly as it became obvious it was an unpopular position, but even those folks didn’t ever pretend it was “to balance a budget.” Mr. Dawson was not only out to recess (his reference to the earlier letter writer), he was apparently on a neighboring planet during the shutdown.

And just for the record, that shutdown cost the government (that means, we taxpayers) 24 billion dollars. That’s “billion” with a “B,” according to an estimate from Standard & Poor’s. The financial services company said the shutdown, which ended after 16 days, took $24 billion out of the U.S. economy, and reduced projected fourth-quarter GDP growth from 3 percent to 2.4 percent.

Even on Mr. Dawson’s planet, I suspect that isn’t considered a successful outcome.

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LETTER: Shutdown wasn’t a balancing act

LETTER: Shutdown wasn’t a balancing act

To the Editor:

I simply can’t let Mark Dawson’s ridiculous and patently false statement slide by as though no one noticed (letter, Oct. 30 issue). Responding to an earlier letter, Mr. Dawson wrote: “If he [the letter writer] didn’t notice, we had a government shutdown caused by trying to balance a budget.”

Whatever veracity might have been contained in the remainder of Mr. Dawson’s letter was open to a huge dose of skepticism after that whopper in the second sentence! Mr. Dawson is entitled to his own opinion, but he is not entitled to his own “facts.” The Tea Party wing of the Republican Party gave numerous reasons for orchestrating the shutdown, revising them almost hourly as it became obvious it was an unpopular position, but even those folks didn’t ever pretend it was “to balance a budget.” Mr. Dawson was not only out to recess (his reference to the earlier letter writer), he was apparently on a neighboring planet during the shutdown.

And just for the record, that shutdown cost the government (that means, we taxpayers) 24 billion dollars. That’s “billion” with a “B,” according to an estimate from Standard & Poor’s. The financial services company said the shutdown, which ended after 16 days, took $24 billion out of the U.S. economy, and reduced projected fourth-quarter GDP growth from 3 percent to 2.4 percent.

Even on Mr. Dawson’s planet, I suspect that isn’t considered a successful outcome.


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CHIEFTAIN: Fed’l lawmakers add extortion to their racket

CHIEFTAIN: Fed’l lawmakers add extortion to their racket

The real business of Congress is not lawmaking or oversight of federal agencies. The real business of Capitol Hill is fundrasing and celebrity. That is not new. Fundraising has been the top priority for at least three decades. Now we may refine the list to include another activity: extortion.

The shakedown has been a time-honored fundraising method among congressmen and senators. People who want big things from the federal government make campaign contributions to lawmakers who can help them gain a federal contract or subsidy.

Writing Oct. 21 in The New York Times, Peter Schweizer describes in considerable detail the ways in which House Speaker John Boehner and President Barack Obama have used the extortion racket to raise campaign funds by threatening the future of the nation’s largest industries.

It is odd to think that a funder would invest in shutting down the federal government or even defaulting on the federal debt. But that’s clearly what went on during the recent congressional showdown. Tea party funders such as Heritage Action and the Koch Brothers invested in that destructive cause, out of some ideological conviction.

A “conservative” group led by former Attorney General Edwin Meese months ago hatched the strategy to hold the government hostage as a way to defund Obamacare. It was an ill-conceived game. But even when serious Republican voices such as The Wall Street Journal pointed out its essential flaw, some lawmakers maintained the charade until the very end.

Recriminations for the debacle are falling on former Sen. Jim DeMint who has steered the Heritage Foundation into an ideological cul de sac. Anger in Utah is also falling on Sen. Mike Lee, who went along with the game until the end. Utah is a Republican state, but the state’s business leaders are reliably pragmatic. The idea of shutting down the federal government was not appealing. Thus Utah GOP leaders are looking for a new Senate candidate.

Shaking down funders in order to damage the American economy is perverse. But that is exactly what a number of congressmen and senators have done.

In 1935, Marine Corps Major Gen. Smedley Butler wrote War is a Racket. For too many lawmakers, Congress has become a racket.

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CHIEFTAIN: Fed’l lawmakers add extortion to their racket

CHIEFTAIN: Fed’l lawmakers add extortion to their racket

The real business of Congress is not lawmaking or oversight of federal agencies. The real business of Capitol Hill is fundrasing and celebrity. That is not new. Fundraising has been the top priority for at least three decades. Now we may refine the list to include another activity: extortion.

The shakedown has been a time-honored fundraising method among congressmen and senators. People who want big things from the federal government make campaign contributions to lawmakers who can help them gain a federal contract or subsidy.

Writing Oct. 21 in The New York Times, Peter Schweizer describes in considerable detail the ways in which House Speaker John Boehner and President Barack Obama have used the extortion racket to raise campaign funds by threatening the future of the nation’s largest industries.

It is odd to think that a funder would invest in shutting down the federal government or even defaulting on the federal debt. But that’s clearly what went on during the recent congressional showdown. Tea party funders such as Heritage Action and the Koch Brothers invested in that destructive cause, out of some ideological conviction.

A “conservative” group led by former Attorney General Edwin Meese months ago hatched the strategy to hold the government hostage as a way to defund Obamacare. It was an ill-conceived game. But even when serious Republican voices such as The Wall Street Journal pointed out its essential flaw, some lawmakers maintained the charade until the very end.

Recriminations for the debacle are falling on former Sen. Jim DeMint who has steered the Heritage Foundation into an ideological cul de sac. Anger in Utah is also falling on Sen. Mike Lee, who went along with the game until the end. Utah is a Republican state, but the state’s business leaders are reliably pragmatic. The idea of shutting down the federal government was not appealing. Thus Utah GOP leaders are looking for a new Senate candidate.

Shaking down funders in order to damage the American economy is perverse. But that is exactly what a number of congressmen and senators have done.

In 1935, Marine Corps Major Gen. Smedley Butler wrote War is a Racket. For too many lawmakers, Congress has become a racket.


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