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 March 05, 2015 18:48 GMT

UNEMPLOYMENT BENEFITS

WASHINGTON (AP) -- The number of people seeking unemployment benefits rose last week to the highest level since May, though the level of applications remains at a level consistent with steady hiring.

The Labor Department says weekly applications rose 7,000 to a seasonally adjusted 320,000. The four-week average, a less volatile measure, increased 10,250 to 304,750, a six-week high.

The number of applications tends to reflect the pace of U.S. layoffs. The four-week average has remained near or below 300,000 since September, a historically low level that typically signals healthy job gains.

There are some signs that heavy snow and unseasonably cold weather have played a role in increasing the number of layoffs. Several states said two weeks ago that applications had risen because of bad weather.

PRODUCTIVITY

WASHINGTON (AP) -- U.S. worker productivity was even weaker than first thought from October through December while labor costs rose at a faster rate.

The Commerce Department says that productivity declined at an annual rate of 2.2 percent in the fourth quarter, weaker than the 1.8 percent drop that was estimated a month ago. Labor costs rose at a 4.1 percent rate, faster than the 2.7 percent increase first estimated.

Weaker productivity and higher labor costs could spell inflation troubles for the economy. But analysts say that the changes in the fourth quarter are temporary and not an indication that inflation is about to be a problem.

FACTORY ORDERS

WASHINGTON (AP) -- Orders to U.S. factories fell again in January but a key investment category showed a gain.

The Commerce Department says orders to factories edged down 0.2 percent in January following declines of 3.5 percent in December and 1.7 percent in November.

In an encouraging sign, orders in a category viewed as a proxy for business investment showed an increase of 0.5 percent in January following declines of 0.5 percent in both December and November.

MORTGAGE RATES

WASHINGTON (AP) -- Average long-term mortgage rates have fallen for the first time in four weeks and remain near historic lows reached in May 2013.

Mortgage giant Freddie Mac says the national average for a 30-year, fixed-rate mortgage fell to 3.75 percent from 3.80 percent last week.

The rate for a 15-year mortgage, popular with homeowners who refinance, fell to 3.03 percent from 3.07 percent last week.

A year ago, the average 30-year mortgage stood at 4.28 percent and the 15-year mortgage at 3.32 percent. Mortgage rates have remained low even though the Federal Reserve in October ended its monthly bond purchases, which were meant to hold down long-term rates.

EXXON MOBIL-SETTLEMENT

TRENTON, N.J. (AP) -- New Jersey has announced a settlement with Exxon Mobil that it says is the largest environmental settlement in state history, even though it is far less than the state initially sought.

Acting Attorney General John J. Hoffman said in a statement Thursday the $225 million settlement over refinery sites in Linden and Bayonne is separate from Exxon Mobil's obligation to clean up the sites.

The settlement has been criticized by Democratic lawmakers who note that the state initially sought $8.9 billion in damages. A judge found the company liable but no damage amount had been determined.

Last month the two sides told the judge to delay his ruling because a settlement was imminent.

The case was brought in 2004 and charged that Exxon's petroleum refining plants contaminated the land and water.

OFFSHORE DRILLING-SEISMIC

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. (AP) -- Marine scientists are raising concerns about the Obama administration's decision to move ahead on use of seismic air guns in the Atlantic Ocean for oil and gas exploration.

Seventy-five scientists from around the globe on Thursday sent a letter to President Barack Obama saying the use of the guns, which create canonlike air blasts underwater, represents a "significant threat to marine life throughout the region."

The air blasts fire every 10-12 seconds for weeks or months at a time, which can harm marine mammals that rely on hearing to survive.

Nine permits are before the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, which must also be approved by NOAA Fisheries before being finalized.

The government says no seismic applications will be approved without measures meant to mitigate harm to marine life.

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