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Food stamps and priorities

Updated: Thursday, November 28, 2013
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KALAMAZOO, Mich. (NEWSCHANNEL 3) – Food banks across the country are struggling to help millions of Americans put holiday meals on their tables for Thanksgiving and Christmas.

On Thanksgiving eve, Tom Van Howe has a few thoughts about priorities and the growing gap between the rich and just about everybody else.

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It’s probably not the best time to have slashed food stamps by five billion dollars.

Most of us, at one time or another, see – or think we see – people taking advantage of the system, but for the most part people use those stamps to put food on their tables, simple as that.

The U.S. Agriculture Department says 15 percent of Americans, roughly 50 million people are considered “food insecure.”

Food banks are astonished at the demand, they’ve fallen behind, they’re scrambling like never before to catch up, and we’ve reduced food stamps by five billion dollars.

Just for the sake of perspective, this is coming from a government that lost nearly seven billion dollars in the early years of the Iraq war. Not misspent, although there was a lot of that too, but lost. Gone. Lining someone’s pockets. The Pentagon said, given enough time, they’d find it, but they never did.

The cash had been flown into Iraq in 20 C-130s in shrink-wrapped bricks. There was no accounting for it, presumably a lot of people got very rich.

Did anyone’s head roll? No. Did anybody go to prison? No.

We brought $55 billion in cash to Afghanistan, $55 billion to win the hearts and minds of the people. Nobody is certain where it all went. We just don’t know.

Over the past decade, tens of millions of dollars of cash has been regularly delivered to Afghan President Hamid Karzai. It arrives in suitcases, backpacks, and shopping bags. We don’t know how much in all, certainly enough to keep him in fancy hats and robes and we don’t know how it’s been spent. Mind you, these were regular deliveries.

Ostensibly the money was meant to buy influence for the CIA, but some of it instead fueled corruption and empowered warlords, many of whom have ties to the drug trade or the Taliban.

Anybody called to the carpet? Not as far as anyone knows.

JP Morgan-Chase just agreed to pay a fine of $13 billion for the fraudulent way it bundled and sold bad mortgages and securities leading up to the great recession six years ago. The company lied repeatedly in an effort to cover its losses and JP Morgan wasn’t alone; all of Wall Street was lying, cheating, stealing and paying themselves bonuses.

Remember AIG and Lehman Brothers? Goldman Sachs, Morgan Stanley, Bank of America, all of them, they were embroiled in an obscene scandal that left millions impoverished, that destroyed trillions of dollars of the world’s wealth.

Anybody pay for this? Anybody go to jail? Nope.

For the record, in the case of JP Morgan-Chase, the longtime chairman and CEO is still the chairman and CEO. JP Morgan’s stock is up 23 percent for the year and the $13 billion fine will most likely be paid by stockholders, but what gets everyone into a dither is food stamps.

None of this is to suggest that law enforcement in general doesn’t still have a grip on things. Last week a 24-year-old trouble making McDonald’s worker up in Iron Mountain was convicted of spitting into a snack wrap and serving it to a cop.

He got two-and-a-half years.

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Last Update on December 19, 2014 18:50 GMT

SONY HACK

WASHINGTON (AP) -- The FBI says it has enough evidence to conclude that North Korea was behind the hack attack against Sony Pictures Entertainment.

An FBI statement cites, among other factors, technical similarities between the Sony break-in and past "malicious cyber activity" linked directly to North Korea.

The Sony attack, reported late November, involved the use of destructive malware that caused the studio to take its entire computer network offline and left thousands of computers inoperable.

The breach resulted in the disclosure of tens of thousands of leaked emails and other materials. It later escalated to terrorist threats that promoted Sony to cancel the Christmas release of the movie "The Interview," a comedy about a plot to assassinate North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.

The FBI statement says North Korea's actions "were intended to inflict significant harm on a U.S. business and suppress the right of American citizens to express themselves."

SONY HACK-MESSAGE FROM HACKERS

NEW YORK (AP) -- Hackers have sent a new email to Sony Pictures Entertainment, praising the studio as "very wise" to cancel the release of "The Interview" and saying Sony's data is safe "as long as you make no more trouble."

The email was confirmed Friday by a person close to the studio who requested anonymity because the person wasn't authorized to speak publicly about the matter.

The message warned to "never" release the film "in any form," including on DVD. The email was sent to several employees of the Culver City, California company.

The Obama administration on Friday formally accused the North Korean government of being responsible for the devastating hacking attack.

T-MOBILE-CRAMMING SETTLEMENT

WASHINGTON (AP) -- T-Mobile US will pay up to $90 million, mostly in refunds, for billing customers for cellphone text services they didn't order, under a settlement with federal regulators.

The Federal Trade Commission announced the agreement Friday with T-Mobile over billing for unauthorized charges, a practice known as "cramming." T-Mobile, the fourth-largest U.S. cellphone company, is paying refunds to affected customers plus $18 million in fines to the 50 states and the District of Columbia, and $4.5 million in fines to the Federal Communications Commission.

The FTC sued T-Mobile in July, accusing it of billing customers for subscriptions to text services like $9.99-per-month horoscopes or celebrity gossip updates that they didn't want or authorize.

T-Mobile collected 35 percent to 40 percent of the charges, the FTC alleges.

FED-VOLCKER RULE

WASHINGTON (AP) -- Former Federal Reserve Chairman Paul Volcker is criticizing a decision to delay full implementation of a rule that bears his name and aims to curb banks' risky investments.

The Fed said Thursday that it would delay until July 2017 the deadline by which U.S. banks will have to sell off potentially volatile holdings in private equity, venture capital and hedge funds.

In a statement, Volcker calls it "striking that the world's leading investment bankers, noted for their cleverness and agility in advising clients" need to take so long to reorganize their own activities.

Volcker says the banks' real aim may be to delay implementation of the law until they can get it changed. Congress passed the Volcker Rule in an overhaul of financial regulations after the 2008 financial crisis.

STATE UNEMPLOYMENT

WASHINGTON (AP) -- Unemployment rates fell in 41 U.S. states in November and were unchanged in six more, reflecting healthy job gains across the country.

The Labor Department says unemployment rates rose in only three states: Connecticut, Louisiana, and Washington state.

Solid economic growth since the spring has encouraged more employers to step up hiring. The U.S. has added nearly 2.7 million jobs this year, the most since 1999. That has lowered unemployment rates in most of the country.

North Dakota's 2.7 percent unemployment rate was lowest in the nation. Mississippi's 7.3 percent rate was the highest.

The biggest job gains occurred in California, which added 90,100 jobs in November, followed by Florida, which gained 41,900. Texas added the third-most jobs, with 34,800.

GAS PRICES

CHICAGO (AP) -- The average price for a gallon of gas has fallen below the $2.50 mark for the first time in about five years. Oil analyst Patrick DeHaan of GasBuddy.com says the price of gas has dropped 41 cents over the last month with the average now at $2.46 a gallon.

According to GasBuddy.com, Texas features the lowest gas price with a station in Keller selling fuel for $1.69.

DeHaan says while the price of gas should continue to fall as the year comes to a close, the rate will not be as dramatic since gas prices have just about matched the steep decline in oil prices.

CHRYSLER-PICKUP RECALL

DETROIT (AP) -- Chrysler is recalling nearly 257,000 older Ram pickup trucks because the rear axle can seize or the drive shaft can fall off.

The recall covers Ram 1500 pickups from the 2005 model year.

Chrysler says in documents posted Friday by U.S. safety regulators that the rear-axle pinion nut can come loose. That can cause problems that make the trucks spin out of control.

The recall comes after an investigation by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration that began in June.

The agency found 15 complaints, including seven drivers who reported that the wheels locked at speeds over 50 miles per hour. At the time, no crashes or injuries were reported.

Dealers will install a fix at no cost to owners. The recall will begin in February.

CARAMEL APPLES-DEATHS

WASHINGTON (AP) -- Health officials say prepackaged caramel apples are linked to five deaths and more than two dozen illnesses in 10 states.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says investigators are trying to determine the specific brands that were involved. But consumers are being warned not to eat prepackaged caramel apples until more is known.

The CDC says it knows of 28 cases in which people were sickened by a form of bacterial food poisoning called listeria, with 26 hospitalized. They got sick between Oct. 17 and Nov. 27. CDC said it's possible other illnesses have occurred since then.

Two of the deaths were in Minnesota, according to state health officials. The CDC said the illnesses also occurred in Arizona, California, Missouri, New Mexico, North Carolina, Texas, Utah, Washington, and Wisconsin.

JUNO THERAPEUTICS-IPO

NEW YORK (AP) -- Shares of cancer treatment company Juno Therapeutics Inc. are surging 60 percent in their stock market debut.

Juno genetically engineers a patient's own white blood cells to find and kill cancer cells in the body. It says its clinical trials have shown evidence of tumors shrinking.

The Seattle-based company raised $264.5 million after selling more than 11 million shares at $24 per share. It plans to use the cash raised to continue trials and studies. The stock is listed on the Nasdaq stock market under ticker symbol "JUNO."

EARNS-BLACKBERRY

NEW YORK (AP) -- Blackberry reported an adjusted profit for its fiscal third quarter, surprising Wall Street.

The Canadian company's stock climbed almost 3 percent in Friday premarket trading.

For the period ended Nov. 29, the company lost $148 million, or 28 cents per share. That compares with a loss of $4.4 billion, or $8.37 per share, a year earlier.

Stripping out some charges, earnings were a penny per share.

Analysts polled by Zacks Investment Research predicted a loss of 6 cents per share.

Revenue declined to $793 million from $1.19 billion. Analysts were looking for $927.8 million, according to Zacks.

Blackberry Ltd. said that it continues to target sustainable adjusted profitability some time in fiscal 2016.

AMAZON-MACMILLAN

NEW YORK (AP) -- Another major publisher has reached a multiyear deal with Amazon.com.

Amazon and Macmillan CEO John Sargent confirmed this week that they had agreed to terms for both print and electronic books. The deal will allow Macmillan to set prices for e-books, an arrangement known as the "agency model," and appears similar to agreements Amazon reached in the past two months with Hachette Book Group and Simon & Schuster. Authors at Macmillan range from Jonathan Franzen and Hilary Mantel to Oprah Winfrey and Bill O'Reilly.

Both Macmillan and Hachette have had public feuds with Amazon over terms for e-books. In 2010, Amazon briefly removed "Buy' buttons for all Macmillan releases. For months in 2014, the retailer restricted availability and reduced discounts for numerous Hachette books.

THAILAND-US-BUMBLE BEE

BANGKOK (AP) -- Thai Union Frozen Products is acquiring Bumble Bee Seafoods, a major seller of canned tuna in the United States, for $1.5 billion.

The Thai company says Friday that the purchase of Bumble Bee, which is owned by private equity firm Lion Capital, should be completed by the second half of 2015,

Its statement said Thai Union has annual sales exceeding 100 billion baht ($3 billion), and San Diego-based Bumble Bee Seafoods generates annual sales of approximately $1 billion.

The Thai company already owns Chicken of the Sea, another major U.S. provider of packaged seafood.

CUBA-CIGARS

MIAMI (AP) -- The Cuban cigar is set to make its first legal appearance U.S. in years, with relaxed guidelines allowing travelers to return with a few in their suitcases. But the cigars won't roll into stores just yet, and owners say they aren't worried about business.

Some tobacco shops owners in Miami's Little Havana say most customers can't afford to travel to Cuba for cigars and won't do so regularly.

Licensed American travelers can return home with $100 in alcohol and tobacco products. Experts say that's three to 20 cigars.

Cigars brought back to the U.S. must be for personal use, not resale. If the U.S. embargo with Cuba is eventually lifted, many tobacconists say they'd welcome the change. They could add Cuban tobacco to their blends, and many believe they interest in cigars would increase.

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