Thursday, December 23, 2010

Cut Spending, Cut Taxes, Jobs, Jobs, Jobs

The 2011 NH legislative session will begin on January 5. Our new state legislature will have plenty of work to do. As I write this, 888 LSRs have been filed. An LSR is a legislative service request, which is another way of saying a potential bill that might go before the legislature, after it’s been looked at by Legislative Services and examined for compliance with our state constitution, etc. The cost of each LSR filed, by the way, is approximately $1500. Good thing that 124 of the LSRs already filed were withdrawn. As it stands right now, the approximate cost to NH taxpayers for the 888 LSRs already filed is $1, 332,000. Remember, this new legislature ran on the promise of “cut spending, cut taxes, and Jobs, Jobs, Jobs.” This new group had plenty to say about the “nanny state” as well. Bearing that in mind, we should expect to see no frivolous legislation, and no gummint interference in our “personal freedoms.”

As is so often the case, what we expect to see is very different from reality. The mantra of “cut spending” seems to have been a load of tainted baloney sold to gullible voters. Our new majority in Concord seems to be focused on a very narrow social agenda., and some seem to think they were elected to Congress. Welcome to the Teabaglican nanny state. There are at least 4 LSRs that call for the repeal of NH’s marriage equality law. Interestingly, Rep. David Bates of Windham’s name is on most of them. Apparently just one bill is not enough for David Bates. He wants at least $4500 worth of assurance that gay couples are not treated equally in our state.

LSR# 0013 would repeal the Dept. of Education’s rule making authority for home education programs. In other words – eliminating standards for home schooling. This would be good news for those who would teach their kids that Noah had dinosaurs on the ark, but not necessarily good news for those kids who might want to get into a reputable college some day. Liberty University has yet to produce any Nobel Prize Winners.

Rep. Al Baldasaro of Londonderry has his name on several of the marriage equality repeal bills, too. He also is sponsoring #1168, which concerns permitting the audio and video recording of any public official while in the course of their duties. The available text reads as if he’s in favor of permitting this sort of taping, which is rather amusing, given that last year he was taped testifying before a legislative committee. In his testimony, he stated that the state of NH sells babies to gay couples for $10,000. He was forced to publicly retract that statement, because he was caught on tape.

LSR #0075 would require that all persons elected to the US Senate and House of Representatives shall take the oath of civil officers prescribed by the constitution. Al Baldasaro, Jennifer Coffey, and Dan Itse sponsor it. I’m not clear on where this fits in to “cut spending, no taxes, Jobs, Jobs, Jobs”, but I’m pretty sure it’s not worth $1500. How about LSR 0394: Ordering our federal senators to vote against the Law of the Sea Convention, sponsored by Dan Itse, who must not have any jobless folks in his district. Then there’s 0079, which concerns establishing a permanent state defense force, also sponsored by Dan Itse. I’m certain that will actually increase state spending. Given that in LSR 0223, Rep. David Hess wants to repeal all increased taxes and fees that have occurred since 2007, one wonders where the money will come from for this permanent state defense force.

With 0274, Jerry Bergevin, Kathleen Souza, Phil Grazzo, and Connie Soucy want to turn NH into a referendum state. Given that being a referendum state has destroyed California’s educational system, one can see why they’d want to emulate it. With 0806, Jonathan Malz calls for repealing the requirement that all school districts offer public kindergarten. The new legislature is also bringing back the fight over school funding.

In LSR 0629, James Summers would require random drug testing of food stamp participants. As of September, there were 51, 391 NH residents enrolled in the food stamp program, an increase of 10,000 over the previous year. A similar bill was filed last year, and NH DHHS found that each urine test would cost $55. Representative Summers proposed bill would cost the state $2,836,505. No word on where that fits in to “cut spending, cut taxes, Jobs, Jobs, Jobs”.

Locally, new legislator (and member of the John Birch Society, a designated hate group) Norm Tregenza is wavering in his commitment to “cut spending, cut taxes, Jobs, Jobs, Jobs.” He’s filed 0684, which calls for a return to the gold standard and phasing out the Federal Reserve System. With 0685, he’s one of the many, many filing a bill that opposes the new health insurance reform bill. In 0687 he would urge Congress to withdraw from the UN. Are any of those worth $1500? I hope the voters of his district will ask him how those bills will create jobs in NH.

There are also the predictable bills restricting voting. LSR 0714 would eliminate same day voter registration. #0717 simply states, “relative to eligibility to vote.” Both are sponsored by Gregory Sorg. Republicans are always in favor of making it as hard for people to vote as possible. When they win, it’s because they have a mandate. When Democrats win, it’s because of voter fraud. Just ask a Republican.

One of my favorites is 0392, “relative to official oppression,” sponsored by Dan Itse, Dan McGuire, Jack Barnes, and Paul Ingbretson. Who would know more about oppression than a bunch of white guys?

All of the LSRs filed so far are available for viewing at the NH General Court website, where you can also peruse the LSRs that have been withdrawn. Read them. Call your representatives to find out where these bills fit into “cut spending, cut taxes, Jobs, Jobs, Jobs.” Is a proposed bill worth the $1500 it will cost you, the taxpayer?

“There can be no daily democracy without daily citizenship.” Ralph Nader

© sbruce 2010

This appeared as an op-ed in the December 24 edition of the Conway Daily Sun newspaper.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Carpentry Not Recovering in Las Vegas

Building trades not experiencing recovery in Las Vegas. From WaPo:

In past recessions, it has been an article of faith that as the economy revives, the work will return. But after the profound recession that began in December 2007, jobs in some industries aren't coming back.

This creates what economists call "structural unemployment," the result of a mismatch between the skills of the workforce and those needed by employers. It is feared because it causes longer unemployment spells as workers struggle to transition from one trade to another.

Economists and other know-it-alls often tell the long term unemployed folks that they need to move, to go where jobs are. Anyone who has ever relocated knows it isn't that easy; it's expensive, and it may be impossible for families to sell their homes in this market.

Moreover, the carpenters are reluctant to abandon their trade to start as a rookie in another field. Union carpenters in Nevada train as apprentices for four years. Many have had fathers or uncles in the trade. And several said they simply like to build massive projects - bridges, memorials, high-rises - and watch them "come out of the ground."

Some of these guys are getting on toward middle age, which means they're at risk for staying unemployed.
This is the part that isn't mentioned often enough:

Exactly how much of the unemployment is "structural" is a matter of debate among economists. But it evokes deep concern because it is resistant to stimulus efforts and other quick policy measures.

Already, long-term unemployment has become one of the defining aspects of the recession. The incidence of people who have been unemployed for more than six months is much higher than it has been in 60 years.

The long-term unemployed are seldom mentioned in the media, or in policy discussions. We need a better lobbyist.

cross-posted at MainSt/

Those Lazy Jobless Bums

David Sirota examines the persistant myth of the "lazy jobless" in truthout:

During the recent fight over extending unemployment benefits, conservatives trotted out the shibboleth that says the program fosters sloth. Sen. Judd Gregg, R-N.H., for instance, said added unemployment benefits mean people are "encouraged not to go look for work." Columnist Pat Buchanan said expanding these benefits mean "more people will hold off going back looking for a job." And Fox News' Charles Payne applauded the effort to deny future unemployment checks because he said it would compel layabouts "to get off the sofa."

First: as a NH resident, I'd like to apologize to all of you on behalf of my state, for sending Judd Gregg to the US Senate.

Second: Judd Gregg started working hard before he was born, thereby ensuring he was born into a very wealthy family. He knows what hard work REALLY is.

The idea is that unemployment has nothing to do with structural economic forces or rigged public policies and everything to do with individual motivation. Yes, we're asked to believe that the 15 million jobless Americans are all George Costanzas -- parasitic loafers occasionally pretending to seek work as latex salesmen, but really just aiming to decompress on a refrigerator-equipped recliner during a lifelong Summer of George.

Have you noticed that the folks who spread this myth are all comfortably employed and/or independently wealthy?

Narcissism is also a factor. In a nation that typically dehumanizes the destitute Other with epithets like "welfare queen" and "white trash," our self-centered culture leads the slightly less destitute to ascribe their own relative success exclusively to superhuman greatness. The myth of the lazy unemployed plays to that conceit, helping the still-employed experience potentially scary unemployment news as a booster shot of self-aggrandizement. You remain in a job, says the myth, because you are better than the jobless.

This explains why the comment sections in online stories about long term unemployed and/or homeless people are filled with such horrifying comments. Many working people realize they're about 2 paychecks away from homelessness. They're scared to death of losing everything, AND being labeled lazy bums.

The trouble, though, is that the whole narrative averts our focus from the job-killing trade, tax-cut and budget policies that are really responsible for destroying the economy. And this narrative, mind you, is not some run-of-the-mill distraction. The myth of the lazy unemployed is what duck-and-cover exercises and backyard nuclear shelters were to a past era -- an alluring palliative that manufactures false comfort in the face of unthinkable disaster.

transitive verb

1: to reduce the violence of (a disease); also : to ease (symptoms) without curing the underlying disease

2: to cover by excuses and apologies

cross-posted at MainSt/

Saturday, December 18, 2010

The Future of Pell Grants

From the NY Times:

With the lame-duck Congress winding down and a $5.7 billion gap in financing looming for next year’s Pell grants — and a further $8 billion gap for the following year — there is growing uncertainty about the future of the grants, the nation’s most significant financial-aid program for college students.


Earlier this year, Congress passed legislation that provided an extra $36 billion over 10 years to the Pell grant program and increased the maximum grant to $5,550, up from $4,050 five years ago. But with a new Congress arriving in January and determined to cut spending, it is unclear whether that expansion is sustainable.

If Congress does not cover the gap in financing, millions of students could see their Pell grants reduced by more than 15 percent, with the maximum grant shrinking by about $845.

Financial aid officers are starting to worry about a program that is supposed to provide more than $30 billion next year to college students.

This is scary news for families of college students - and a story we'll be keeping an eye on as the new Congress convenes.

cross posted at MainSt/

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Stubborn Denial

Mitt Romney, former Governor of Massachusetts, is believed to be considering another presidential run. He recently wrote an opinion piece on the Obama tax deal for USA Today. One has to almost admire the stubborn refusal to believe what is painfully obvious: the Bush tax cuts were a failure. They did not create jobs. But Mitt is clinging to that denial, like a drowning man:

Of course, delay now is better than an immediate tax hike. But because the extension is only temporary, a large portion of the investment and job growth that characteristically accompanies low taxes will be lost. When entrepreneurs and employers make decisions to start or expand an enterprise, uncertainty about tax rates translates directly into a reduced propensity to invest and to hire. With only a two-year extension, investors know that before their returns are realized, tax rates may be jacked up to the levels favored by President Obama. So while the tax deal will succeed in temporarily putting more money in the hands of consumers, it will fail to deliver its full potential for creating lasting growth.

Those tax cuts have been in place for a decade. If they were going to work, they would have by now.

What Mitt has to say about unemployment insurance is particularly frightening:

The indisputable fact is that unemployment benefits, despite a web of regulations, actually serve to discourage some individuals from taking jobs, especially when the benefits extend across years.

He must be referring to all those jobs created by the tax cuts...?

The system is also not designed for a flexible economy like ours in which some employees move from job to job for short periods, and are therefore ineligible for unemployment compensation when they are faced with a protracted spell without work.

To remedy such problems we need a very different model, perhaps establishing individual unemployment savings accounts over which employees would exercise direct control when they lose their jobs, or putting in place financial incentives for employers to hire and train the long-term unemployed. One thing is certain: While we cannot rebuild our flawed system overnight, we are surely not required to borrow the funds to pay for it. In spending $56.5 billion to extend benefits, the deal is sacrificing the bedrock Republican principle that new expenditures be paid for with offsetting budget cuts.

Individual unemployment savings accounts? Just like the health savings accounts that so many of the free marketeers love so much! The fact that wages have been stagnant for decades while the costs of everything have increased sharply doesn't seem to be a consideration for this type of thinker. Of course multi-millionaire Mitt doesn't have to worry about these things. He's living quite comfortably in the top 20% of wage earners in the US, who received 49.4 percent of the income generated in the U.S. last year, according to the census.

The average working family is struggling to make ends meet as it is. That anyone is even considering the idea that these folks should have to pay into an unemployment fund is both ridiculous and frightening.

cross-posted at MainSt/

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Updates from the Economy

In September the National Bureau of Economic Research notified us that the economic recession in the US was over. The actual economy apparently wasn't listening. The unemployment numbers haven't changed. Businesses are still closing, and bankruptcies are still being filed. Cities and states are still making tough choices.

Lake Oswego, OR is pondering tough choices:

The committee recommended closing three of the district's nine elementary schools and moving all sixth graders into the district's two junior high schools. Those would then become middle schools.

In Pennsylvania:

West Pharmaceutical Services Inc. said it will lay off 170 workers and close its plant in Montgomery, Pa., that makes molded plastic components such as stoppers and vials for injectable drugs.

In Wisconsin:

NewPage Corp., the operator of the former Stora Enso North America paper mills in Wisconsin, said Wednesday that it will close its mill in Whiting at the end of February 2011, affecting 360 employees.

In Beltsville, MD:

Baxter International Inc. will close its Beltsville production facility, cutting 106 jobs effective Dec. 15.
The Deerfield, Ill.-based bioscience giant decided in late 2009 to transfer to European facilities the local production of a meningitis vaccine that's sold internationally, said spokeswoman Deborah Spak.

In Ohio:

Worthington Precision Metals, a Mentor manufacturer of parts for hydraulic steeling and other automotive components, has closed its doors.

Representatives from the company on Wednesday directed all questions about the matter to its attorney, Seth Briskin, who confirmed the closure. The company, at 8229 Tyler Blvd., has been around since 1946, according to its website

There's more:

"It's like any lender situation that's happening every day. When your lender forecloses, that's what happens."

Worthington had about 90 jobs. The employees were informed of the news about 2 p.m. Wednesday.
(Dec. 8)

In Florida:

WESTOVER -- A tomato packing business that has long been the center of the village of Westover will close in early February.
About 103 full-time workers at the Custom Pak facility will lose their jobs as part of a company consolidation plan, state officials confirmed Wednesday.

The non-recession is even affecting gun manufacturers. In New Hampshire:

ROCHESTER — Springfield, Mass-based Smith & Wesson Holding Corp is relocating its Thompson/Center Arms operations from Rochester, N.H., to its Springfield, Mass. facility, according to the City biz Real Estate website.
The closure will effect approximately 250 employees, some who may be offered the opportunity to move the company's Springfield operation.

In Maine:

Congresswoman Chellie Pingree's office says a firearm manufacturing company is shutting down its operations in Windham next year.
Bushmaster Firearms International, which employs 73 people, will be closing its doors on March 31. The company is owned by Freedom Group.

I keep hearing we're in an economic recovery, but after reading all these stories, that's hard to believe.

The reason it's hard to believe is because it's not true. Check out the video available through this link from truthout. The video is a short analysis from Richard Wolff, an economics professor, who has a PhD in economics from Yale, as well as degrees from Harvard and Stanford. Dr. Wolff puts the alleged recovery into perspective. There's a long, long road ahead - unless you're a banker or a Wall St exec.

cross-posted at MainSt/

Friday, December 10, 2010

We Deserve Better

New Hampshire has lousy media. This is not news. Regular readers have heard me say that before. I’ve been thinking about it a lot recently. There really isn’t any decent statewide media coverage. Oh, if something terrible happens, we might hear about Colebrook, or Lebanon, but otherwise, you’d think the whole state revolves around Manchester, with an occasional assist from Concord and Portsmouth. Keene is visible, sitting on the bench. The rest of the state is mostly invisible. Given our status in the presidential primary, it’s especially odd that we have only one network television station. That’s a media monopoly that should make us uncomfortable.

I read a lot of newspapers online; NH papers for my life as a NH blogger and papers from all over the country for my life as a nationwide blogger. It is amazing to be able to access so much information, and see what is going on around the country. The downside to this is (because there is always a downside) is the commentary. The internet provides a cloak of anonymity that gives people the opportunity to say ugly things. That ugliness is prevalent in the comments following nearly every story in the NH Union Leader.

Over the last two months there have been a series of stories about the purchase of the Fraser Paper Mill in Gorham. When the mill closed down, 250 people lost their jobs. This was a devastating loss to an area that is already devastated by the systematic loss of manufacturing jobs that’s taken place over the last 20 years. Arguing about what elected officials and community leaders should have done is pointless. The reality is stark – 250 people lost their jobs. When it seemed that Governor Lynch had helped find a buyer for the mill, you’d think folks around the state would be happy – a company would stay open, and people would go back to work. The comments on the pages of the UL were not happy. One commenter pointed out that those jobs should go to the southern part of the state where “people really need them.”

Many people who live in the southern, most densely populated, part of the state seem to believe that the area above Concord is a vast wasteland populated by colorful natives who engage in ritual pastimes of skiing and gathering maple syrup, and who, once winter has ended go into a dormant state for the rest of the year. One reason for this disconnect is the lack of decent statewide media. Our one network TV station is located in Manchester, and that’s mostly what they cover. They don’t venture into the vast wasteland very often. The top half of the state is not at all well served by this. The NH UL claims to be a statewide paper. It’s a propaganda arm for the GOP. Again, the state is not well served by this. There is no media that pulls the state together, connects the dots, and unites us. Instead, most people have a vague, if any, idea of what is going on in other parts of the state. This, by the way, trickles down into the legislature, and contributes to what doesn’t happen up north.

There’s precious little investigative journalism going on in our state. Investigative journalism is expensive. We don’t have any real statewide newspapers. The weeklies certainly don’t have the budget for it. The dailies don’t do much of it either. Print journalism is hanging on by a thread. No one has figured out how to make money combining newspaper and internet. The NY Times tried putting their op-ed columnists behind a paywall. It didn’t work out. Salmon Press has an online paywall for their network of newspapers. I don’t know how it works for them financially, but I do know that it discourages readers from outside their basic circulation area. Some papers are trying a charge for stories that are archived. I’m not sure how that works out either – but it seems unlikely that they make enough money to stay afloat doing that.

There are certainly some nationwide blogs that have gotten so big that they attract advertisers, and can afford to pay writers, but they’re the minority. Most blogs don’t make money. Most bloggers are unpaid. Some do a little paid blogging and a lot that is unpaid. (That’s the category I fall into.) Then there are the fortunate ones who actually make a living blogging. I don’t think that there’s a freestanding NH blog that has reached that level of success at this point in time.

After a lot of rumination, I don’t know what the answer is. I do know this much: we deserve better media than we have. Other states would like to take our first in the nation primary status away from us. Our “cheap media buys” have been an advantage in the past – but moving into the future, having only one network TV station and no statewide media is not any kind of advantage to candidates any more. Most of the coverage of the NH primary comes from out of state media outlets. NH should have a bigger slice of that pie. NH media should be a big deal.

As it stands now, the lesser known/lesser moneyed candidates don’t get much coverage at all. That’s another disservice, since the NH primary is supposed to be a place where everyone gets to learn about all of the candidates. Instead, we hear a lot about people we already know plenty about. We may want to rethink that, if we want to keep the primary here.

“It is extremely important for some part of the electoral process to permit new ideas and new candidates and fresh blood and new thinking, to revitalize parties and revitalize politics. [New Hampshire], states like mine and others, are the fountains from which change and progress can be made in this country.” Senator Gary Hart, winner of the 1984 NH primary

published as an op-ed in the December 10, 2010 edition of the Conway Daily Sun

© 2010 sbruce

Wednesday, December 08, 2010

Voices From the Right

Last week, Tea Party Nation chairman Judson Phillips expressed his thoughts on who should be able to vote. From ThinkProgress:

PHILLIPS: The Founding Fathers originally said, they put certain restrictions on who gets the right to vote. It wasn’t you were just a citizen and you got to vote. Some of the restrictions, you know, you obviously would not think about today. But one of those was you had to be a property owner. And that makes a lot of sense, because if you’re a property owner you actually have a vested stake in the community. If you’re not a property owner, you know, I’m sorry but property owners have a little bit more of a vested interest in the community than non-property owners.

This must be a popular topic in conservative circles right now, because Rush Limbaugh made a similar point, only less diplomatically:

On a day when the US unemployment rate rose to 9.8%, Rush Limbaugh used his radio show to argue that poor people should not be allowed to vote. While commenting about a piece in the Atlanta Journal Constitution about people lining up for housing assistance, Limbaugh asked, “ If people can’t even feed and clothe themselves should they be allowed to vote? Should they be voting?”

In the face of millions losing unemployment benefits (just before Christmas) Glenn Beck dismissed poverty on his radio show. From Politicususa:

Then Beck attacked the poor, “We’re often told about the plight of the poor in America, and there is poverty in America, but let’s put it into perspective here. The poor in America 97% of them have television sets, 25% of those television sets are big screens. That’s poverty? 89% have a microwave. 80% have an air conditioning unit. 73% of the poor in America have a car. 64% have a washer. 57% of have a dryer. We have been sold a lie that that’s not enough. How much is enough? What is economic justice? Do I need to remind Americans what poor really looks like? I got news for you in other countries they’re not washing their clothes and sitting in air conditioning watching their big screen TV’s. They’re dying. That is poor.”

Does any of this sound familiar? It should:

Notice how Beck didn’t present any actual statistics about hunger and poverty? In the 1980s and 1990s the myth used to demonize the poor was that of welfare recipients driving Cadillacs. In 2010, the big screen TV has replaced the Caddy in the attack on the poor. The reality for the poor is something that Glenn Beck and Republicans don’t want to discuss. The poor in this country face a daily struggle for food and shelter. If they are lucky enough to have a job, it is probably at somewhere like Wal-Mart where pay is low, overtime is often not compensated, and benefits are non-existent.

So, only property owners should have the right to vote, poor people should not only be disenfranchised, they should be dying.

That's the view from the right. Merry Christmas!

cross-posted at MainSt/

Tuesday, December 07, 2010

Over 1 Million Have Lost Benefits

While Washington fiddles and holds extending unemployment benefits hostage unless tax cuts for millionaires are extended, over a million Americans are still unemployed and have lost their benefits.

From the BBC

"I thought I'd be back on my feet before I could blink my eyes," muses Theresa Iacovo, who has been out of work since September 2008.

The 49-year-old, who lost her job at the start of the economic downturn is one of the so-called 99ers - who get their name from the fact they have claimed 99 weeks of payments but are still unable to find a job.

She still hasn't found a job, and her extended benefits were cut off.

Now she has no income at all. She stays with a friend in New York and goes to food pantries to eat.

Theresa is one of an estimated five million Americans who have exhausted all their unemployment payments, and are no longer supported by any welfare.

In the Concord Monitor:

Karen Morgan already has no TV and no internet. She doesn't budget for food, instead picking it up at the local pantry she walks to from her apartment in Contoocook. This week, the cancer survivor skipped a doctor's appointment because she didn't have money for gas.


On Wednesday, Morgan became one of thousands in New Hampshire no longer eligible for unemployment benefits after the expiration of a federally funded extension of the program.


Until this past week, emergency jobless benefits lasted as long as 99 weeks for people in the hardest-hit states. But with five people unemployed for every job available, 99 weeks might not be long enough.

Since the 1950s, the federal government has consistently extended emergency unemployment benefits whenever the jobless rate has been more than 7.5 percent. On Capitol Hill, lawmakers are using unemployment benefits as a sweetener for a deal on the Bush-era tax cuts, working on a compromise that would temporarily extend both policies.

Sustained high rates of unemployment could result in an unemployed underclass disconnected from the workforce, economist Kevin Hassett says


"The longer somebody doesn't have a job, the harder it is to get a new job," Hassett says. "The reality is that if you're out of [a] job, and you're looking for a job, then the new employer's going to say, 'Well, why don't you have a job now? What's wrong with you?' "

Hassett warns that sustained cyclical unemployment could become a "structural problem" if the number of unemployed people isn't cut soon."

Meanwhile, job creation is at a near standstill, the unemployment numbers are going up - and many in Washington find blaming the unemployed for being jobless is easier (and more politically popular) than actually addressing the problem. Over a million people have lost their benefits in the last week - yet very little reporting is being done on the people actually being affected. Unless the issue of long term unemployment is faced head on, Kevin Hassett's fears of a permanent unemployed underclass will become a solid reality.

Cross-posted at MainSt/

Wednesday, December 01, 2010

Taking Food From the Mouths of Children

Raj Patel on why we shouldn't cut food stamps to pay for school lunch programs:

In the dying days of this Congress, food activists face an awful choice: Should we support the increased funding of children's school lunches, even if it means taking money from a family's food stamps? That is what's on the table in a version of the Child Nutrition Reauthorization Bill passed by the Senate, in which an improved school meal program will be paid for by cutting back $2 billion in funding for food stamps in 2013.

No one disputes that poor children need to be better fed, but government food stamp entitlements are the last tatters of a safety net for many millions of people. Evidence? Earlier this month, the U.S. Department of Agriculture announced that 50.2 million Americans were food insecure in 2009, a mere 1 million more than the year before. Although that's still one in six people, the figure was a victory. Given the soaring rates of poverty and unemployment in 2009, there could have been considerably more food insecure people.

You'd think we'd be ashamed of those numbers.

We need to expand both SNAP and school lunch programs. That means rejecting the Sophie's Choice between families and children. Behind the logic of paying for school lunches with food stamp funding is an assumption that, if poor families are sinking, "save women and children first." The trouble is that cutting the food stamp program will hurt women more than men. Look at who goes hungry in the U.S.: over a third of all single-female-headed households who have children are food insecure. No other household demographic is as likely to be going hungry. So, cut SNAP and who gets hurt? America's poorest women.

You'd think we'd be ashamed of that, too.

To put this all into perspective, we know from the OMB that the cost of extending the Bush tax cuts will be $5 trillion over the next ten years. American children are being hurt by hunger. Their families are too. The idea of choosing between them would be morally repugnant if, indeed, it were a choice—but what becomes increasingly clear when you look both at the economics and sociology of hunger is that you can't save one group without saving the other. There is no Sophie's Choice here—there are simply degrees of harm that we allow to be inflicted on the poor.

Our legislators are huffing and puffing to extend those tax cuts - while soberly shaking their heads and expressing their faux-sorrow that in these perilous economic times that we must all tighten our belts and accept some suffering. Will Congress really take food from the mouths of children so as not to inconvenience the rich?

cross-posted at MainSt/