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.

Business News

Last Update on July 29, 2015 07:23 GMT

DAY AHEAD

WASHINGTON (AP) -- The National Association of Realtors releases its pending home sales index this morning and Federal Reserve policymakers convene for their second and final day of a meeting to set interest rates. The Fed is expected to release a statement in the early afternoon.

Quarterly earnings reports continue, with Anthem, MasterCard and Goodyear announcing results before the market opens. Facebook and Whole Foods will report quarterly financial results after market close.

FEDERAL RESERVE

WASHINGTON (AP) -- The Federal Reserve is moving toward raising interest rates from record lows -- just not likely yet.

When it ends its latest policy meeting today, Fed officials will issue a statement that will be parsed for clues to just when the first rate increase since 2006 might occur. But no news conference with Chairwoman Janet Yellen is scheduled.

Many economists foresee the first hike coming in September, but they don't expect this week's policy statement to clearly signal the timing. Yellen has stressed that the decision will be driven by the latest economic data.

Yellen has left little doubt that the Fed is preparing to raise short-term rates by year's end from the near-zero lows it set during the 2008 financial crisis. With the U.S. economy and job market now steadily rising, the need for ultra-low rates to stimulate growth is fading.

The economy still faces an array of threats, from subpar U.S. manufacturing and business investment to troubles in Europe and Asia.

Yellen has stressed that when the Fed begins to raise rates, it will do so gradually.

WASHINGTON (AP) -- The House is scheduled to vote today on a three-month highway spending bill. The measure includes nearly $3.4 billion to fill a budget hole for the Department of Veterans Affairs. The department claims that without the boost, it will have to close hospitals and clinics nationwide.

The money would come from the new Veterans Choice program that pays for private health care for veterans. The VA could use up to $500 million from the Choice program to cover costs of treating the deadly hepatitis C virus.

The VA has told Congress that it may close hospitals unless it receives flexibility to make up a $2.5 billion shortfall from a sharp increase in demand for health care. That includes expensive treatments for hepatitis C. A single pill used for the liver-wasting infection can cost $1,000.

The Choice program makes it easier for veterans to receive federally paid medical care from local doctors. Congress approved $10 billion over three years for the Choice program. It's one of several programs the VA uses to provide medical care for an estimated 9 million veterans enrolled in its health care system.

EXPORT-IMPORT BANK-5 THINGS

WASHINGTON (AP) -- The Export-Import Bank will stay shuttered at least into the fall, when Congress returns from its annual August recess. The House did not include the bank in its highway bill.

The bank's charter expired at the end of June, but it continues to service more than $100 billion in outstanding loans and guarantees. The agency itself is funded through Sept. 30.

Supporters of the bank include the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the National Association of Manufacturers. They say it will be harder for U.S. companies to compete overseas if their competitors are supported by their governments and they aren't.

Opponents, however, argue the bank mostly helps big businesses. Among those who want to see the bank permanently shuttered include tea-party conservatives in the House, the Club for Growth, Heritage Action for America and the Koch brothers.

PUERTO RICO-ECONOMY

SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico (AP) -- U.S. Treasury Secretary Jacob Lew said yesterday that creating a path as soon as possible to allow Puerto Rico's government to file for bankruptcy would help the U.S. territory recover from its economic crisis.

Lew also stressed that no federal bailout is planned for Puerto Rico despite concerns its government might default on several upcoming payments as it struggles with $72 billion of public debt.

In a letter to the Senate Finance Committee chairman, Lew said Puerto Rico's fiscal situation is urgent and requires the immediate attention of Congress.

Lew said the federal government has a critical role to play in Puerto Rico's situation, including "a tested legal bankruptcy regime that enables Puerto Rico to manage its financial challenges in an orderly way."

Leading House Republicans have said they worry that allowing such access would not solve Puerto Rico's financial difficulties.

TWITTER-REVENUE GROWTH

NEW YORK (AP) -- Twitter failed to add users at a quick enough pace for investors in the second quarter even as revenue grew sharply, feeding concerns about whether it can ever become a mass-market service like Facebook or Google.

The beleaguered company is searching for a permanent CEO to replace Dick Costolo, who stepped down at the beginning of this month. Co-founder and chairman Jack Dorsey is serving as interim CEO.

Dorsey said yesterday that while the results show "good progress in monetization," the company is "not satisfied" with the growth of its audience.

On average, Twitter had 316 million monthly active users in the second quarter, up 15 percent year-over-year but up less than 3 percent from the first quarter of this year.

Twitter's finance chief, Anthony Noto, said in a conference call that the company doesn't expect to see "sustained, meaningful growth" of its user base until it reaches the mass market. He did not say when that would be, only that it would take a considerable amount of time.

SAVING GREEN CHILE

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) -- Green chiles, the signature crop of New Mexico, are in danger.

As this year's harvest begins, labor shortages, drought and foreign competition have hurt production in the state.

Farmers and producers say shrinking acreage set aside for the crop also highlights the need for changes in the industry that has helped define New Mexico for generations.

To rejuvenate production, investors and inventors are testing machines that would harvest and de-stem the crop.

The delicate chiles are now picked by hand, and problems with bruising and the removal of stems have made it difficult to make the change to machines.

Ed Ogaz, owner of chile wholesaler Seco Spice Co., prefers the old ways and believes farmers need more laborers to improve production.

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