Dave Krepcho, director of the Second Harvest Food Bank, looks over a supply of goods that have arrived at the food bank warehouse in Orlando, Fla. Since the start of the recession, food distribution to 500 pantries, shelters, and other relief agencies in the area has jumped about 60 percent. Krepcho estimates about 30 percent of those seeking help are first-timers. (AP Photo/John Raoux)
Millions of American families say they have trouble putting food on the table and the economic recovery has done little to provide them with relief. Despite our relative prosperity as a nation, the percentage of Americans who, at some point in a given year, cannot afford to eat sets us apart from other wealthy countries.
Last month, the Pew Research Center used International Monetary Fund data to analyze the “levels of deprivation” across various countries, including our own. When the data is compiled in a chart (as it is below), it’s clear that the U.S. is an outlier: We are by far the richest country included in Pew’s study, but nearly a quarter of our population – over 78 million people — live in what’s called a “food insecure” household. In Canada, the second richest country Pew looked at, only nine percent of people had difficulty; in China, it was eight percent. MORE
Sallie Mae protest over student loan debt; Photo via Greg Kaufmann
An update appears below.
Nearly 200 students, parents, community members and union leaders rallied at Sallie Mae’s annual shareholder meeting in Newark, Delaware, last Thursday. On the agenda: first, demand that the nation’s largest private student loan lender meet directly with students to discuss their crushing debt burden; and second, introduce a shareholder resolution calling for disclosure of the corporation’s lobbying practices and membership in groups such as the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC).
Outside of Sallie Mae’s corporate headquarters, the activists were met by “dozens of police, blockades and K-9 units,” according to participants. Sarita Gupta, executive director of Jobs with Justice – American Rights at Work, urged the crowd to confront Sallie Mae executives and board members “about their role in America’s student debt crisis.”
More than 38 million people now owe over $1.1 trillion in student debt; Sallie Mae owns approximately 15 percent of that debt, or $162.5 billion. Students owe an average of $27,000 when they graduate from college and many have a debt load several times greater than that amount. Nearly one in ten will default on their loans within two years.
Gupta noted that Sallie Mae “spent $16 million on federal lobbying from 2008 to 2012 and has more than sixty state lobbyists.” The corporation has lobbied at the federal level “to block student loan reform,” and at the state level “for reduced public investment in higher education, forcing more students to rely on private student loans.” MORE
Even the very programs designed to prepare the American workforce for high demand jobs — another Congressional favorite, at least rhetorically — are being squeezed.
Focus: HOPE's "Earn & Learn" graduates pose for graduation photos in March 2013. The E&L program is expected to be discontinued later this year because of funding cuts.
Since 1968, Focus: HOPE has served the people of Detroit and its suburbs through career training, neighborhood revitalization and fighting hunger. The training programs have placed nearly 12,000 at-risk men and women in family-supporting careers, including machining, advanced manufacturing, information technology and engineering.
But according to Steve Ragan, chief development and external relations officer at Focus: HOPE, just as employers are ready to hire again in the Detroit metropolitan area, sequestration is limiting the organization’s ability to help those looking for work. MORE
Last year, Moyers & Company aired the “United States of ALEC,” a report on the American Legislative Exchange Council, a corporate-backed political powerhouse that’s bringing profit-driven legislation to a statehouse near you. ALEC brings together lobbyists and state legislators to create “model legislation” that could benefit corporate interests — laws, for example, that would serve to weaken collective bargaining rights, limit corporate liability and increase the populations at for-profit prisons. And it all takes place behind closed doors. The goal is to get ALEC legislators to pass versions of model laws in their home states. And pass them they do — ALEC boasts that some 200 of its bills become law each year.
2013 legislative sessions are in full swing in state capitols across America, and ALEC has once again managed to fit its sticky fingers into scores of legislative cookie jars. This year, renewable energy, state-funded education and your tax dollars are among the many items poised to be gobbled up.
ALEC makes no bones about its opposition to state Renewable Energy Standards (RES), which require that states derive a certain percentage of energy from renewable sources. Todd Wynn, the director of ALEC’s energy task force, told Bloomberg News outright that ALEC is opposed to such mandates, going as far as to say: “Natural gas is a clean fuel, and regulators and policymakers are seeing how it’s much more affordable than renewable energy.”
ALEC’s anti-renewable rancor has had a powerful effect. This year, several states have considered corporate-friendly efforts to reduce or repeal renewable energy targets. And more often than not, the sponsors of these bills turn out to be verifiable members of ALEC. (Which isn’t to discount the unverifiable ones. ALEC’s legislators tend to keep their membership hush-hush, and ALEC discloses no membership lists.) But the keyword to keep in mind here isn’t “energy,” or “renewable,” or even “law” — it’s “profits,” the real driver behind ALEC’s legislative agendas. With corporations like Exxon Mobil, Chevron, the American Electric Power Company and Marathon Oil schmoozing lawmakers at ALEC conferences, it’s no wonder these anti-renewable energy bills have become a staple of the ALEC agenda.
Some states are fighting back, however: just last week, North Carolina defeated an ALEC-inspired bill that would have severely weakened the state’s Renewable Energy Standard. It remains to be seen if other states will follow in its footsteps. MORE
During his recent speech on national security and counterterrorism, Obama introduced The Re-Obamulator, the latest in presidential technology. See what’s new in executive power! A Mark Fiore political cartoon.
Those of you who read Jane Mayer’s article in The New Yorker about PBS, David Koch and Alex Gibney’s documentary might be interested in watching the film at the center of the controversy. Park Avenue: Money, Power and the American Dream originally aired on public television on November 12, 2012, but is available to watch in its entirety online. In it, the Academy Award-winning director makes the argument that America’s richest citizens have “rigged the game in their favor” and created unprecedented inequality in the United States. MORE
The first caller was indignant. “This bill is anti-consumer!” he bellowed because, he insisted, it would raise prices. I thought, no, this bill is pro-citizen, helping out people, many of them in extremis — and just when did we stop being citizens and become merely consumers? When did access to material goods and low prices become a right more important than public health and welfare? When did our celebration of profit take precedence over fundamental fairness and justice?
I thought of this again the other night while attending the ceremony for the Hillman Prizes in Journalism, named after the late union leader Sidney Hillman, once the influential president of the Amalgamated Clothing Workers of America. One of the awards went to ABC News for its coverage of a deadly fire at a garment factory in Bangladesh where Tommy Hilfiger clothing was being manufactured. Deliberately locked in and unable to escape, 29 died. MORE
Senate Agriculture Committee Chair Sen. Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich. speaks on Capitol Hill in Washington, Tuesday, May 14, 2013, during the committee's hearing on the Farm Bill, officially known as the Agriculture Reform, Food and Jobs Act of 2013. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)
I always expect the worst from the House Republicans when it comes to SNAP (food stamps) and the Farm Bill. So while much attention and anger has been focused on the $20.5 billion cut proposed by the House Agriculture Committee — which would take food stamps away from nearly 2 million people and result in several hundred thousand low-income children no longer receiving free school meals — my reaction was more along the lines of… yeah, what did you expect?
I was actually more disturbed that the Democratic Senate Agriculture Committee would vote for a $4.1 billion cut in food stamps — even though the average benefit is about $1.46 per person, per meal, and a recent Institute of Medicine report demonstrates that benefit levels are already too low to stave off hunger. The cut “would mean $90 less a month for 500,000 families already struggling to make ends meet,” according to Joel Berg, executive director of the New York City Coalition Against Hunger. Berg noted that an amendment by Senator Kirsten Gillibrand would have prevented the SNAP cuts “by instead cutting subsidies for crop insurance companies, many of which are foreign owned.” MORE