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Government shutdown played havoc on the food supply

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I had resisted the temptation to write about the government shutdown. This obviously one-sided battle was being masqueraded as an “Obama shutdown” once it became unpopular (which happened pretty quickly). The olé style of U.S. cable news allowed for the question: “Whose shutdown was this?”. The scores should have been along the line of “Which direction does the sun rise in the morning?” Then again, these days, you might only get 65% of Americans to tell you the sun rises in the east.

I even resisted writing about the shutdown in terms of the food supply for our sister blog, since the whole idea of shutting down the government over not winning on Obamacare (which can help cure those suffering from obesity, as an example) seemed so clueless.

But after the allegation that Homeland Security actually shut down a farmers market for fear of protesters (that never happened in reality), well, couldn’t stop my fingers from typing fast enough.

Even if some of the stories felt invisible, the government shutdown affected thousands of lives, from salmonella victims to those who have trouble accessing food stamps money to South Dakota cattle ranchers who suffered an early blizzard and couldn’t get federal help.

For more on this 2+ weeks saga into our food supply in a government shutdown, check out this column from our sister blog,


Written by democracysoup

October 18, 2013 at 7:10 am

The uphill battle mayors have to fight to remove soft drinks from SNAP assistance

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The following column ran June 25 on our sister site, Getting rid of soft drinks from purchase with SNAP assistance should be a snap. Thanks to corporate pressure, and the politicians bought with such clout, the tasks of big city mayors will be that much tougher.

If soft drinks didn’t contain high-fructose corn syrup, would you be able to buy them with food stamps? Of course, you can also buy diet drinks on food stamps, but the primary reason for why you can buy soft drinks on food stamps is corporate pressure.

18 big city mayors are fighting to limit those receiving SNAP assistance from buying soft drinks with SNAP funds.

The mayors should have the liberals and conservatives on their side in the fight. Liberals don’t like the idea of buying soft drinks on food stamps because they’re not healthy. Conservatives don’t like the idea of buying soft drinks on food stamps because they’re cheating the government.

Yes, conservatives wouldn’t like the government to tell people what they can buy and not buy on food stamps, but the government already does this.

“It is time to test and evaluate approaches limiting SNAP’s subsidization of products, such as sugar-sweetened beverages, that are contributing to obesity,” — from the letter from the mayors to House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA).

In the battle for a better food system, not being able to buy soft drinks with SNAP assistance is a no-brainer. So why does the chances of this happening are highly slim?

Conservatives, especially those in the House of Representatives, don’t like food stamps at all. We’ve seen this in the votes on the Farm Bill.

Some of them wouldn’t like SNAP even if it worked better or more efficient. Even though we believe heartily in food stamps, we know they can work better.

By spending more money on actual healthy food, the food assistance can work smarter to improve the lives of those who have suffered a setback. More work should be done to help people spend SNAP assistance at farmers markets in a true win-win. Well, a true win-win except for large corporations and the politicians that love them more than their constituents.

Many of these politicians in the House believe heavily in food spending to go to large farms that don’t need the subsidies, including literally their own pockets.

Rep. Stephen Fincher (R-TN) has been the most egregious of those who are willing to subsidize rich farmers instead of people struggling to eat, though Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-MN) is more famous of those who personally get large subsidies from the farm bill and vote against SNAP assistance.

Rep. Fincher, in responding to Biblical verses from Juan Vargas (D-CA) on taking care of the least of the brothers and feeding the hungry, responded with his own Bible quote from the Book of Thessalonians, “The one who is unwilling to work shall not eat.”

Fincher is quoting from a letter from Paul, not from the Gospels. The reference in the Bible is to people who gave up their jobs to wait for Christ’s Second Coming, certainly not applicable here. On top of that, the verse he quoted was exalted by socialists, including Vladimir Lenin.

We should also point out to Rep. Fincher that 80% of those on SNAP assistance are working.

The Environmental Working Group notes that Fincher has received nearly $3.5 million in federal subsidies from 1999-2012, nearly $560,000 in one year alone. Fincher reportedly got about $70,000 last year as a farm subsidy.

Fincher also supported a proposal to expand crop insurance by $9 billion over the next 10 years, a bill where he would literally personally benefit.

A couple hundred people in the House — not all of them Republican, but most of them. Let’s say half of the Senate, another 50 people. The thousands of people directly affected by the potential sales of soft drinks, though the factory worker won’t get as much out of the deal as corporate executives. Let’s be generous and say that adds up to 300,000 people. That’s 300,000 out of 300 million people who are in favor of people on SNAP assistance buying soft drinks. But they have the power.

Big city mayors are the politicians who see the impact of soft drinks in poor neighborhoods. They know what is at stake. Those in Washington? Honestly, not so much.

Conservatives cry out that Washington can’t run things as well as states can, because the states are closer to what the people want. Well, city mayors are closer than states. And the reason why Washington isn’t up to speed on this isn’t because Washington can’t do so. Lift the corporate pressure on politicians and you’ll be amazed at what Washington can do.

President Obama takes the ‘Bush tax cuts’ and makes them his own

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The Bush tax cuts are dead. Long live the Obama tax cuts?

Even if the Obama tax cuts are retroactive, the millisecond(s) in between mean that the deficit-running, economy-collapsing Bush tax cuts are finally done and gone. And they are replaced by the deficit-running, economy-collapsing Obama tax cuts.

When Sen. Barack Obama ran for president in 2008, he ran against the Bush tax cuts. Sen. Obama had a convenient record in that he wasn’t in the Senate when the tax cuts came down. Obama ran against the tax cuts, even before the economic collapse in September.

Obama was elected with a Democratic-controlled House and Senate, though the Senate was bogged down by the insistence that bills needed 60 votes. Yet, the Bush tax cuts remained. The Obama team extended the tax cuts when they were set to expire.

In running for re-election in 2012, Obama set a threshold of keeping said tax cuts for the “middle class,” putting that at $200,000 (single filers) and $250,000 (joint filers). Even if you believed in extending some of the tax cuts, those figures were significantly higher than were necessary to protect the middle class.

In December 2012, after winning a convincing electoral victory, President Obama negotiated with himself to set a more ridiculous level of $400,000 (single filers) and $450,000 (joint filers).

So as we go into the second term of Barack Obama as president, the tax cuts will live on at least two more years if not more for 99% of the country.

And how are we getting that prosperity back?

Obama’s opponents aren’t just trying to make him look bad. They don’t want job growth; they want the legacy of Barack Obama to be ineffectual economic leader. They want to compare him to Jimmy Carter. And Obama is helping them every chance he gets.

The middle class that Obama and the Dems were trying to protect got hit with a “tax hike” in that the payroll tax cut expired. While that should disappear at some point, the cruel irony is that once you reach about $109,000, you don’t pay any more into Social Security and Medicare.

Obama should have set the threshold of the tax cuts with the payroll tax cut. Either raise the level where people contribute to Social Security and Medicare or lower the level for the new Obama tax cuts.

Obama “protecting the middle class” at $200,000 was far-fetched given that in the words of Barack Obama in May 2008, 94% of Americans make under $100,000 a year. This was before the economic crash. $400,000 is even more incredible.

Obama had the momentum on his side, and he gave away part of the store. He could have waited for a better Congress with fewer teabaggers and more Dem senators — and had a much better deal. If compromise was that important, then start low. Obama never said, “Hey let’s get rid of the Bush tax cuts entirely.”

What is it about Democratic presidents and their insatiable desire to compromise with Republicans? Those on the left grew frustrated in watching Bill Clinton would take Republican ideas and use them as his own. Obama has taken a page or two from Clinton.

When Dems wanted single-payer, Obama brought out Obamacare. When Dems wanted no Bush tax cuts, Obama kept them and has now made them his own.

The best way to help the debt is to raise tax revenues from the people who did well in the last four years and the eight years before that. The threshold of $400,000 and $450,000 fails that mission. Even if somehow the Dems get back the House in 2014 and keep the Senate, President Obama isn’t eager to get these rates back to the Clinton era, the talking point Obama pounded into our heads during the campaign.

If those rates were so great, and they were, Obama wanting an exception for approximately 96% of the country never made any sense.

President Obama has proven to be a strong leader in many cases and has shown puzzling leadership on economic issues. He almost lost the election in 2012 because of the economy. Obama’s response was to blame Bush, which was true to a point. But President Obama took one of Bush’s signature moves and made it permanent. That is failed leadership and sells short his base and those who are suffering as a result of the failed economic policies.

Ontario is better destination for jobs thanks to Michigan’s ‘right to work’ status

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Ontario isn’t in the best shape these days. Huge debt, teacher problems, and a premier with a minority government who is still in office but not for long.

Compared to the folks across the border in Michigan, Canada’s most populous province is singing Hallelujahs.

Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder has been signing bills right and right (not left and right) taking away worker rights, access to birth control, overriding voters insistence on getting rid of the takeover-a-city law. Snyder would have signed a bill allowing for guns in schools and day care centers, but the Sandy Hook school shooting made that virtually impossible to do right now.

Snyder was worried about competing for jobs with Indiana. He should have worried about Ontario.

For more on this story, check out this column from our sister blog,

Michigan needs jobs, ‘right to work’ won’t even bring in crappy jobs

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We’re trained with a cynical mind not to believe what politicians have to say, Even in that world, Rick Snyder sunk himself to a new low, and dragged down the state of Michigan with him.

In lightning fast speed, the Republicans in Michigan put together and Snyder signed legislation making Michigan the 24th state to be “right to work.’ Or as the liberals have put it so well, “right to work for less.”

The statistics are consistent: “right to work” (RTW) states consistently have lower wages, more poverty, and less access to healthcare. Why wouldn’t Michigan be any different? The state may not even get the crappy jobs other RTW states get.

One of the proposals on the Michigan ballot in November tried to strengthen the resolve of unions, and voters rejected that proposal. For having the “audacity” to try and strengthen unions — this is one of the reasons why Snyder and his GOP cronies pushed through the RTW legislation so quickly. Except that this was in the planning stages for some time. Why let facts stand in the way of a good story.

We know this is about politics, about Michigan once again voting for a Democratic president. The last Republican to win Michigan? George H.W. Bush in 1988.

Like most legislation where Republicans claim is about jobs, let’s pretend this is about jobs. Someone has to care about jobs, especially in Michigan, even if much of that hasn’t happened in Lansing in the last couple of years.

State Senator John Proos, a Republican who backed the RTW bill, predicted that the public anger would subside because jobs would be coming to Michigan.

“As they say in sports, the atmosphere in the locker room gets a lot better when the team’s winning,” Mr. Proos told The Associated Press.

This gets to the crux of the legislation. “Unions are the reason why Michigan has failed to generate jobs,” goes the argument. As soon as jobs come, regardless of the wages and conditions to follow, they will shut up and be glad they have a job.

This isn’t Alabama, this is Michigan.

As it turns out, I sort of know Proos. I went to the same high school as Proos — he was a few years back. He might remember me, I might remember him. Others that we know know him and me better than we know each other.

The idea that a crappy job is better than a good job is an attitude that plays well in the South, the dominant region of RTW states. Michigan has a stronger tradition that Proos and his fellow colleagues will find more difficult to switch over.

Proos should have learned in school, though I can’t remember if we learned it there, the words of Henry Ford. He was smart enough to realize that if his employees were going to buy his cars, they needed to earn enough to buy them. With the escalating costs of college education, parents need to be able to save money to help put their kids through school. Of course, since costs have skyrocketed, they can’t afford to repay their loans, even if they could find good wages. Since lower wages are coming to Michigan, if those magical jobs suddenly appear, a whole new generation can’t afford to live, buy a house, or reproduce.

The salaries of Snyder, Proos, and the other GOP politicians aren’t shrinking, so they don’t have to worry. And they’ll get plenty contributions from business that suddenly have more money because they won’t have to pay that cash to the workers.

Why hasn’t Michigan generated jobs?

Let’s started by quoting from a Salon article by someone I know better than Proos: Edward McClelland, a Michigan native now based in Chicago.

Fifty percent of Michigan State students now leave the state immediately after graduation. That ratio doubled in the 2000s, which is known in Michigan as “The Lost Decade.” In those 10 years, Michigan dropped from 30th to 35th in the percentage of college graduates, and from 18th to 37th in per capita income. (Michigan was also the only state to lose population in the last census.)

Brain drain is definitely a factor. And through my own experience, Michigan State isn’t the only university being affected. Chicago is filled with graduates of many Michigan universities. Go to a Red Wings or Tigers game in Chicago to get a sense of the love for the Michigan teams.

Even if you think Michigan made a wise choice by becoming a “right to work” state, ask yourself this simple question, “Why would a company pick Michigan over the other RTW states?”

This is a state where its citizens get upset if you are seen driving a “foreign” car, as in not a car with a stamp of a “U.S. company.” They don’t care if the car was “made in America” — the make has to be USA.

In the other 23 states, their attitudes toward unions and union labor aren’t as strong or intense. Most of these states, the majority of them in the South and West, have better weather, better kept roads, worse education, and an attitude that accepts lower wages as “God’s will.”

Even those who are vehemently against the concept of RTW can understand objectively why Southern states would go that route. Lower wages plays along with the anti-establishment mood.

Michigan has generations of people who had middle-class jobs with just a high school education. This may seem long ago to some Michiganders, but having that memory makes people less likely to settle. Employers might break that down in a generation or two, but that won’t help Michigan residents who want a job.

We’ve heard that Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder wasn’t that bad before this RTW vote. Consider, though, that Snyder pushed through and signed legislation limiting unemployment insurance from 26 weeks, the standard minimum, to 20 weeks. In good times, this action is cruel, but in a state that has suffered economically, even in good times, the cruelty is downright unconscionable.

Even though all this legislation is about “jobs,” the GOP and Snyder got around to passing a bill that severely restricts abortion and access to women’s healthcare in the state.

The voters said no to Snyder’s ridiculous notion of seizing control from local officials. Funny how Snyder only picked cities with predominantly African-American populations. And if Snyder did that in cities with mostly white populations, the same people who voted for Snyder would scream for his head.

Voters took that power away from Snyder. Snyder got that power back with a bill passed by his GOP buddies. And like the RTW legislation, Snyder put a provision that makes it impossible for the voters to rescind the law.

Style does say something about a politician. If you deliberately pass a law with a provision that voters can’t turn around that law, you don’t have much faith that what you passed has any legitimacy or usefulness.

Kelly Ayotte working with McCain and Graham to show younger face on GOP foreign policy

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When you needed conservative, war-hawkish, hungry for any sense of TV exposure senators, you could always rely on the 3 musketeers, Supremes, Nirvana, the power trio of old and scared of the world around them: John McCain, Lindsey Graham, and Joe Lieberman.

McCain is the leader of the group, the lead singer who wrote the lyrics. Graham adds background vocals and writes a few songs. Lieberman was the quiet one at least when they are assembled after whatever big meeting they had about nothing. Lieberman would sing the occasional song, a la Ringo Starr, but added “Democratic” cred to the argument.

But the 3 nirvana musketeers ran into a problem. Lieberman was going to leave the group. Oh, Lieberman wanted to stay but knew he was going to get kicked out of the overall group (McCain and Graham still love him). So Lieberman quit the band.

McCain and Graham needed a third member. Oh sure they had enough propensity and hot air to keep the group going for a long time. But they needed symbolically that third body to hold down the fort.

The two hawkish senators held auditions. Plenty of old crotchety white men to pick from, each angrier and more scared than the rest. Saxby Chambliss, Bob Corker, Roger Wicker — the list is literally too long to mention.

As the auditions were going nowhere, McCain and Graham wondered if maybe, just maybe they should try something different. After all, they needed a third person on the stage to do the things that Lieberman did. But what about someone younger and maybe someone from one of those minority groups they kept reading about in the liberal media.

They looked around for someone of color. Marco Rubio was a possibility. Actually, Marco Rubio would have been the only possibility. The GOP has only had one elected African-American senator, and he was liberal enough to have an affair with Barbara Walters.

“Well,” they may have wondered, “What about a woman?” Because nothing looks more odd than a woman standing next to two cranky older men. McCain and Graham ignored that image and went to see if they could find a woman to join the group.

Kay Bailey Hutchison was a good prospect, but she hadn’t really cared about foreign policy and besides, she was retiring. Olympia Snowe was retiring and she was too liberal.

If they were going to pick a female, they didn’t have many choices left. They were literally down to Susan Collins, Lisa Murkowski, and the newcomer Kelly Ayotte.

Collins was seen as too liberal (from Maine, after all). Murkowski had the third-party cred that Lieberman sort of brought.

Ayotte came to the Senate from being New Hampshire’s attorney general, not a bastion of foreign policy concern. But Ayotte had one advantage: she had similarly good looks in the vein of Sarah Palin and Michele Bachmann without the desire to say something extremely stupid.

That met the low standards set by McCain and Graham.

McCain is the person who introduced the world to Sarah Palin and still thinks she would have done a good job as vice president. When Ayotte speaks, she doesn’t make a whole lot of significant points but hasn’t upset the apple cart. Right now, that makes her a potential GOP leader down the road.

The GOP will be down to 19 women, including Bachmann, in the House come January. The GOP women in the Senate in January will be 4: Collins, Murkowski, Ayotte, and the new kid on the block, Deb Fischer (R-NE). Ted Cruz (R-TX) will join Marco Rubio (R-FL) as being the only GOP men of color in the Senate.

With the defeat of Allen West, Tim Scott (R-SC) of the 1st District will be the only African-American in the GOP caucus.

These statistics would get a slight bump if South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley appoints herself or Scott or a woman to the Senate to replace Jim DeMint, who is resigning to run the Heritage Foundation. (South Carolina native Stephen Colbert would have been an awesome pick.) Scott’s 2 years in the House isn’t a whole lot of experience, but if Haley does appoint Scott, he will be the only current African-American senator, regardless of party.

No wonder that Ayotte and Rubio are being groomed by some as part of the GOP future, even if they are extremely symbolic.

The Mitt Romney/Paul Ryan campaign was a contrast to previous GOP campaigns in that foreign policy wasn’t a big deal. Romney’s key message in the foreign policy debate was “I agree with President Obama.”

At some point, foreign policy will matter and when that time comes, the GOP wants Kelly Ayotte to be ready to say something. We’ll have to wait and say whether that will be something of significance.

President Obama needs to end Bush tax cuts for everyone

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“I make under $250,000 and I don’t want the Bush tax cuts to continue, even for me.”

In today’s political world, that would be considered a brave and foolish statement. Why would you turn down a chance to have your federal taxes lowered?

Chances are that if you are a Barack Obama supporter and you make under $250,000 (the vast majority of Obama supporters make under a quarter million dollars), you don’t want the president to keep the Bush tax cuts for anyone, much less yourself.

In today’s political world, going against the vast majority of your supporters is brave and foolish. In not-so-olden times, political capital was spent to make bigger, broader decisions to help the country, even at the expense of one’s supporters (Civil Rights Act leaps to mind).

Extending the Bush tax cuts into a potential second Obama term doesn’t qualify as a bigger, broader decision.

These cuts were bad news when they were passed in 2001. The surplus in the Clinton years was taken away and given to the rich. One unjustified war and one questionable war, both of which went unfunded, made a bad situation even worse. During the 2008 election, those in Obama’s camp wanted all the Bush tax cuts gone in 2009, the first year of a potential Obama Administration. They stayed around like a rotting fish, but the smell is getting worse. The Bush tax cuts have stayed around for four more years at a time where the country could use the money, especially from the wealthy.

To Obama’s supporters, the president has two crucial problems on this issue. Obama can’t seem to make up his mind on how long these tax cuts should last. In his latest proposal, President Obama is asking for one more year. He sounds more like a whiny child wanting to stay up another half-hour. In another year, Obama will ask for another year, assuming he gets elected. No one believes it will be one year and out.

Obama’s other credibility issue goes to his definition of wealthy and the middle class. Candidate Obama pointed out in 2008 that 94% of Americans make under $100,000 a year, well before the economic collapse in fall 2008. His definition of wealthy as less than $250,000 is rather insulting yet fits in well with the Beltway mentality. Couples who live in the DC area point out that, for them, $250,000 as a couple isn’t that much, but they shouldn’t be dictating tax policy for the 99%. They live in an expensive area, but they are still better off than most Americans.

Obama is a pawn in the Democratic Party’s drive to appeal to the middle class, at least to define them as far richer than the middle of our economy actually is. Obama’s definition is bad, but better than the Democratic House version that extends the tax cuts to those making less than $1 million. While those under $100,000 tend to vote Democratic, this is despite what the party stands for, not because of it.

Now, President Obama does want the wealthy to pay more, and by more, we mean the rate they paid under President Clinton, when this country was in a lot better shape.

The Republican House and Senate leadership want the tax cuts to be permanent. Even as that stance is horrific economic policy, they have been remarkably consistent. President Obama is trying to do what he thinks is the right thing yet he hasn’t convinced anyone that this path is good, and he has lost this battle every time he has gone into the ring.

Who is President Obama fighting for? His claim is anyone making under $250,000. This is approximately 98-99% of the country. Yet very few outside of the inner White House circle are on his side.

Obama’s supporters aren’t against a tax cut in itself, just not now, just not these cuts. If the president were smart, he would come up with a wiser tax plan that could be the “Obama tax cuts.” Imagine a President Romney or a potential GOP president fighting to get rid of the “Obama tax cuts.”