Senator Elizabeth Warren once again slammed financial regulators in a speech Tuesday saying their complacency has allowed “Too Big to Fail” banks to continue to flourish five years after they sent the economy tumbling.
“Who would have thought five years ago, after we witnessed firsthand the dangers of an overly concentrated financial system, that the Too Big to Fail problem would Sen. Elizabeth Warren questions regulators at a Senate Banking Committee hearing. (Image: C-SPAN)only have gotten worse?” Warren asked, speaking at an event organized by progressive think tank the Roosevelt Institute and Americans for Financial Reform.
“Today, the four biggest banks are 30% larger than they were five years ago,” she continued. “And the five largest banks now hold more than half of the total banking assets in the country. One study earlier this year showed that the Too Big to Fail status is giving the 10 biggest U.S. banks an annual taxpayer subsidy of $83 billion.”
The speech was given to promote passage of the 21st Century Glass-Steagall Act put forth by Warren along with Senators John McCain (R-Ariz.), Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.), and Angus King (I-Maine).
The Act, according to Warren, would “make banking boring” and reinstate many of the protections found in the original Glass-Steagall legislation including walling off many of the riskier banking activities like investment banking, swaps dealing and private equity activities as well as eliminate banks’ ability to rely on federal depository insurance as a “backstop for high-risk activities.”
Further, the legislation would dismantle the “behemoths” so they would no longer be “too big to fail, or for that matter, too big to manage, too big to regulate, too big for trial, or too big for jail.”
During the speech, Warren went on to explain how, despite the passage of Dodd-Frank, little has been done to alter the Too Big to Fail status of many of our financial institutions. Fingering regulation agencies’ failure to miss many of the rule-making deadlines, Warren urged them to set a timeline to address the problem of bank concentration.
We should not accept a financial system that allows the biggest banks to emerge from a crisis in record-setting shape while working Americans continue to struggle. And we should not accept a regulatory system that is so besieged by lobbyists for the big banks that it takes years to deliver rules and then the rules that are delivered are often watered-down and ineffective.
What we need is a system that puts an end to the boom and bust cycle. A system that recognizes we don’t grow this country from the financial sector; we grow this country from the middle class.
Warren’s comments come amid a speculative fervor over whether or not she will run as the progressive contender to Hillary Clinton in the 2016 presidential election following the publication of an article by Noam Scheiber in the New Republic Sunday.
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Elizabeth Warren challenges Obama to break up ‘too-big-to-fail’ Wall St banks
Amid speculation that she might run against Hillary Clinton in 2016, firebrand senator attacks regulators for multiple failings
Warren said: ‘We have got to get back to running this country for American families, not for its largest financial institutions.’ Photograph: Jacquelyn Martin/AP
Senator Elizabeth Warren cemented her growing reputation as a darling of the political left on Tuesday with a wide-ranging speech challenging the Obama administration to take on Wall Street and break up its biggest banks.
“We have got to get back to running this country for American families, not for its largest financial institutions,” said Warren, who said the issue was an indictment of how little had changed since the 2008 banking crash.
The four biggest Wall Street banks are 30% larger than before the financial crisis, she said, while the five biggest institutions hold more than half the bank assets in the country.
Warren claimed this amounted to an $83bn-a-year taxpayer subsidy for some Wall Street institutions, because they were so large that they could safely rely on a government bailout in the event of a future crisis, and were therefore able to take bigger risks than rivals. She also cited research suggesting the crash had cost up to $14tn, or $120,000 for each American household.
The Obama Administration has indicated it will propose a new regulation that could give many unions a break from one of Obamacare’s new fees. This one hits health plans with a $63 per person charge next year.
But many “self-insured, self-administered” plans would be exempt from this fee in future years, thanks to the new suggested regulation—and that could apply to a lot of union plans.
Meanwhile, people across the country are seeing their plans canceled or premiums increased. For people shopping in the Obamacare exchanges, premiums are going up in at least 42 states.
While hard-working Americans are suffering, the Administration is nodding to unions that it will give them a little break. Obamacare is not only unworkable and unaffordable—it’s unfair.
As Heritage expert Alyene Senger has said, “Rather than unions or other politically influential groups receiving special treatment, all Americans should get a reprieve from Obamacare and its erroneous consequences.”
The reason is simple. Offering plans on the exchanges is a bad business deal.
This past week the White House took some additional steps to make that market even worse for big insurers (on top of the problems with the web site). The Obama team seems to be going out of its way to squeeze the insurers. These measures make sure that 2015 will be an even more dismal experience for Obamacare than 2014.
A survey of 36 federally run exchanges (plus six state exchanges where data was available) found that Aetna [NYSE:AET] was offering health plans in just eight states and was even more selective in the counties where they chose to play. In Florida, for example, Aetna was only operating plans in 23 of the state’s 67 regions.
Cigna [NYSE:CI] only entered five states. United Healthcare [NYSE:UNH] (the nation’s largest insurer) entered just 12.
Humana only went into 14 states. In Colorado it’s offering plans in just 2 of 11 regions and in Florida, just 12 of the 67 state regions.
The result? According to one recent analysis, just one or two insurance carriers are serving exchanges in more than half of the country’s 2,500 counties.
The problem is that the law was tilted against the health plans at its inception. These challenges are being magnified by the Obama team’s present day decisions that will discourage plans that sat out of the market in 2014 from entering in 2015.
The decision was laid out in a letter sent by the Department of Health and Human Services to Representative McDermott (D-WA) indicating that the Obama team does not consider qualified health plans purchased through insurance exchanges to be “federal healthcare programs.” This includes plans purchased through state and federal exchanges, as well as plans for which consumers receive advance payments of premium tax credits and cost-sharing reductions.
This means that exchange plans are not subject to federal anti-kickback rules. So manufacturers can offer direct support to exchange enrollees. Most interpreted this to mean that drug companies can provide financial assistance to help offset drug co-pays. But the impact of the decision probably extends much further.
Drug companies, for example, can probably help offset the costs of plan premiums, under the ruling, and not just the costs of individual drugs. Simiularly, hospitals could help subsidize the cost of buying health coverage for a local population of uninsured individuals who are frequently admitted to their institutions. This would reduce the hospital’s bad debt (from unpaid bills) by getting these chronically ill individuals into insurance schemes. Even if these local residents were very sick, so long as they are young and poor, then purchasing entry-level coverage for them could cost very little (owing to premium subsidies and favorable age-based rating).
This ruling is clearly good for some consumers. It’s also good for the President. The decision will encourage the use of private-market subsidies to help more people purchase coverage (boosting the dismal enrollment numbers). The Obama team is trying to stuff as many people into the exchanges, as quickly as possible. Once these exchanges grow big enough, they become politically inevitable.
Even when a bare bones “bronze” plan saddles a lower-income beneficiary with hefty cost-sharing (that could go unpaid), to a local hospital, the covered portion of the hospital stay will still be worth the negligible cost of purchasing the plan for the consumer.
But you can see how the decision could spell trouble for health plans, which are already worried about adverse selection of a mostly older, sicker population of patients into the exchanges as a consequence of Obamacare’s failed launch.
A document obtained by several news agencies last week shows Democrats preparing to target tax breaks for the wealthy and corporations as part of congressional negotiations to meet a Dec. 13 deadline for a budget deal.
(Photo by Neil Parekh/SEIU Healthcare 775NW) Not on the list of Democrats’ targets: tax breaks for the fossil fuel industry.
In addition to closing what Democrats call the “John Edwards/Newt Gingrich loophole,” the party’s list of options includes carried-interest treatment that allows hedge fund managers and private equity advisers to pay a 20 percent tax rate on their income instead of the nation’s top income rate of 39.6 percent. Ending that break would save more than $17 billion over a decade, according to the Democrats’ estimates.
Another lets U.S. companies deduct their expenses when they send their plants overseas, which Democrats say encourages offshoring of American jobs. It would raise $200 million. Ending preferences for corporate jets and subsidies for yachts and vacation homes, combined, would bring in another $19 billion.
“The list makes clear that Democrats believe they can win public support by targeting tax breaks that they can portray as subsidies for the rich,” according to Reuters.
Republicans have been demanding cuts in Social Security and Medicare in exchange for changes to sequestration spending cuts, and that has failed to be met by a widespread Democratic pushback.
Progressives like Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) have called for an “End [to] tax breaks and subsidies for oil, gas and coal companies to reduce the deficit by more than $113 billion over the next 10 years”—a call echoed by the Congressional Progressive Caucus’s “Back to Work Budget,” which calls for an elimination of corporate tax subsidies for oil, gas, and coal companies.
But preserving tax breaks for the fossil fuel industry appears to have widspread bipartisan consensus.
The fact that fossil fuel companies are not on the list of targets may be a result of Democrats’ “embrace” of fossil fuels, the Financial Times reported.
James Politi reported at the Financial Times that the omission may “point to an increasing willingness among Democrats to embrace America’s domestic energy boom as a source of economic strength.”
The FT also quotes the American Petroleum Institute as saying there is “growing bipartisan opposition” to taxes that target oil and gas industries.
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Stefan Selig, executive vice chairman of global corporate and investment banking at Bank of America Merrill Lynch, speaks at the Reuters Consumer and Retail Summit in New York, September 11, 2013. … more
Obama Nominates BofA’s Selig to Oversee International Trade
By Matthew Monks – Nov 7, 2013 11:01 PM CT
President Barack Obama nominated Bank of America Corp. (BAC) executive Stefan Selig to oversee international trade as he seeks to jumpstart the economy by appointing a Wall Street veteran to the Commerce Department.
The White House announced the nomination yesterday, subject to confirmation by the U.S. Senate. Selig, Bank of America’s executive vice chairman of global corporate and investment banking, would report to Penny Pritzker, the Chicago businesswoman confirmed in June as Commerce secretary.
Selig, 50, would replace Francisco Sanchez as undersecretary for international trade, a job that involves promoting American industry at home and abroad as head of Commerce’s International Trade Administration. Sanchez said in September he would resign from the post he has held since 2009.
“Stefan Selig is a tremendous talent and we’ll be lucky to have him join the Commerce Department,” Pritzker said. “He has the global experience, management skills and understanding of how to put deals together to ensure that we will be able to continue our critical work to expand trade and exports, grow our economy and create jobs.”
Selig was lured to the position by Pritzker, who decided a Wall Street dealmaker could help the U.S. narrow its trade deficit by convincing companies in developing economies to buy more goods and services from the states.
The U.S. trade gap was little changed in August at $38.8 billion, the Commerce Department reported in October, as imports and exports stalled. The president announced an initiative in 2010 to double U.S. exports between 2009 to 2014, to $3.14 trillion. They totalled $2.2 trillion last year.
Selig, known in banking circles for his tailored suits and fashion sense, has been giving companies merger advice for 29 years. He advised Time Warner Inc. on the spinoff its AOL Internet unit in 2009 and also helped coordinate L Brands Inc. (LTD)’s sales of Express LLC and New York & Co.
We had called out President Obama for going back on yet another one of his campaign promises by not allowing lobbyists into his administration, to stop the revolving door that lets lobbyists go work for the federal government which often results in a conflict of interest. It wasn’t just a campaign promise rather the president in fact signed an executive order barring former lobbyists from joining his administration to work at agencies they recently lobbied.
via http://www.agreenroadproject.org US state and federal government agencies are now outsourcing jobs to Communist China. How far can this go? Can we outsource politicians too? Can we move the White House to China? Why outsource all US government jobs on a federal and state level? How much money could we all save? (sarcasm) Source; ABC News clip..
AGreenRoad – Who is Behind Outsourcing Of US Jobs To China, India, Phillipines?
Published on Nov 10, 2013
Shane Larson, Communication Workers of America joins Thom Hartmann.
The U.S. call center industry has lost 500,000 jobs over the last six
years thanks to corporations like bank of America, Well Fargo, and
t-mobile outsourcing Americans jobs to foreign countries where they can
exploit low-wage workers. The big four wall street banks have all moved
their call centers to the Philippines in the last few years, laying off
hundreds of thousands of American workers who bailed out the banks to
the tune of a couple hundred billion dollars back in 2008. Well on
Tuesday, republicans in the house had a chance to put an end to this
giant sucking sound by passing the u.s. call center worker and consumer
protection act. The bill cuts off federal loans and grants to
corporations that outsource American call center jobs. Unfortunately for
Americans workers, the bill failed as house republicans lined up
against it – voting it down, while most democrats supported the bill. So
now, corporations once again have free rein to outsource as many call
center jobs as they like to stimulate the Filipino economy – while
turning their backs on the American economy? So what does Tuesday’s vote
say about the republican party and how they really feel about
hardworking Americans? Time to call your member of congress – especially
if they’re a republican – and ask why they support stimulating the
Filipino economy over the American economy.
Over the last 12 years more than two million Americans have been deployed to fight in Iraq and Afghanistan. But for thousands who return home with injuries, another battle is just beginning – this time, with the Department of Veteran’s Affairs (VA).
Upon enlistment service members are promised that, should a service-related injury occur, the US government will provide them with care and financial compensation. The VA is responsible for providing this care but have been unable to render these services in a timely manner. The average time a veteran waits to receive his or her benefits from the VA is one year. The growing backlog of veterans waiting for their compensation has severely tarnished the department’s public image.
In August 2010 President Obama stated it was the country’s “moral obligation” to provide veterans with timely compensation. Under VA Secretary Eric Shinseki, the Obama administration promised that all claims would be processed within 125 days and with a 98 percent accuracy rating by the year 2015.
Since the President made that promise, the backlog grew and reached its peak in March of 2013 when the number of pending claims reached nearly 900,000 with 70 percent backlogged. This past August, the numbers dipped slightly: nearly 800,000 pending claims with 63 percent backlogged.
The VA points to the August numbers as a sign of improvement, but reports of processing errors reveal a poor quality of work. The VA makes a mistake in 30 percent or more of the claims that they process. When a mistake is made, the veteran must appeal. Once an appeal is filed, the average waiting time for the veteran is another four years.
About 4 minutes.
Produced by Amanda Winkler. Camera by Joshua Swain and Winkler. Narrated by Todd Krainin.
Thousands of people rallied in the town of Quimper in France’s Brittany region on Saturday calling for a complete end to the controversial “ecotax.” Police fired tear gas after demonstrators hurled stones and iron bars.
Farmers, food sector workers, fishermen, and others attended the protest, voicing concern over continuous layoffs and high taxes in the country.
Some demonstrators reportedly threw stones and iron bars at police as they gathered for speeches before marching into the city. Officers responded by firing tear gas and water cannons.
According to authorities, 10,000 people came out for the event. However, a protest organizer told French media that 30,000 people took part in the rally.
French protesters wore red caps resembling the 17th century revolt against King Louis XIV’s fiscal policies.
Protesters wearing red caps, the symbol of protest in Brittany, throw objects at a barricade held by French riot police during a demonstration to maintain jobs in Quimper, western France, November 2, 2013 (Reuters / Stephane Mahe)
Demonstrators came out despite the government’s Tuesday decision to “indefinitely suspend” the green tax on heavy goods vehicles transporting over 3.5 tons of commercial goods. The move followed public outrage from farmers and food sector workers in Brittany. Prime Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault stressed that the move was “a suspension, not a cancelation” of the tax.
As the northernmost region has less rail infrastructure than the rest of France, local businesses and farmers claim they are being unfairly penalized because most goods there have to be transported by road.
Residents of Brittany are angry as layoffs continue in their largely rural region. The majority of cutbacks are focused on the agricultural sector.
“How are we supposed to produce products that are made in France, made in Brittany, with all these taxes? It’s impossible,” a market gardener told France 24.
France is battling high unemployment and increasing taxes. The latest data revealed that at least 3.2 million people are now looking for work in the country.
Meanwhile, Francois Hollande has become the most unpopular French president on record, according to an opinion poll conducted in October. Major complaints against the leader include tax hikes, unemployment, and immigration policy.
Hollande’s approval rating dropped to 26 percent among those questioned in the BVA poll – the lowest level of any French president in the survey’s 32-year history.
As Farm Bill Talks Resume, Who Will Fight for the Nation’s Hungry?
Proposals in both the House and Senate would see nutrition assistance to the nation’s neediest cut
- Jon Queally, staff writer
A food pantry at the United Methodist Church of Worth in Chicago. (Photo: Phil Velasquez/Chicago Tribune)
And while Republicans have continued to attack the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (or SNAP), which provides food assistance to the nation’s poorest families and individuals, the Democrats have played along by proposing less aggressive, but still damaging, levels of cuts to the essential program.
And because the last adjustment to the SNAP program expires at the end of this week, the pain caused by a feuding Congress willing to put hungry children and the elderly in the crosshairs amid an ongoing series of budget battles is about to get very real for some.
As Greg Kaufmann, poverty correspondent for The Nation, writes this week:
This Friday, 48 million people—including more than 21 million children—will see their food stamp (SNAP) benefits reduced. Instead of receiving an average of a buck-fifty for a meal, individuals in need of food assistance will get about $1.40. For families of three, the cut means they will receive $29 less in food stamps every month. [...]
The SNAP cuts come at a time when 49 million people—about 14.5 percent of all US households—are food insecure. That means they don’t have enough money to meet their basic food needs, and don’t necessarily know where their next meal is coming from. The Institute of Medicine already demonstrated the inadequacies of the SNAP allotment for hungry families even before this cut.
What are we to make of this—the timing of the cut, the lack of discussion about it on the Hill, and the fact that it will deliver yet another blow to people who are already among the most vulnerable citizens in our nation?
It all points to the same hard truth we see time and again: when it comes to responding to the struggles of the more than one in three Americans who are living below twice the poverty line—on less than about $36,600 annually for a family of three—we prefer to look the other way.
But as the conference committee comes together Wednesday, as McClatchy reports, deeper cuts seem likely:
The Republican-controlled House passed a bill that would cut food stamps by $39 billion out of a projected $800 billion over 10 years. In addition, the House SNAP provision would require able-bodied adults without children to work or volunteer for 20 hours a week to receive federal assistance.
The Democratic-held Senate’s farm bill also would cut food stamps, but by $4.5 billion over a decade. The Senate plan wouldn’t add work requirements.
As Willy Blackmore, food policy editor as the TakePart.com, writes:
We won’t know anytime soon which terrible cut will prevail: the $4 billion cut to Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program preferred by the Senate or the $39 billion thrashing of food stamps passed by the House. But one thing is certain: Funding for SNAP will drop starting on Friday, and all recipients will receive fewer benefits.
Among the progressive lawmakers trying to avert the disaster, Rep. Jim McGovern confessed to Blackmore that there were no good legislative options given the current climate in Washington. And because the current elevated funding for SNAP was written with a vague sunset clause when the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (or stimulus) was enacted in 2009, McGovern says those reductions are now an “inevitable reality.”
“What we absolutely should not do is make the situation even worse by piling on additional cuts in the context of the farm bill,” he adds. “As a member of the farm bill conference committee, I will fight with every ounce of energy I have to prevent additional cuts from happening.”
For Blackmore, however, Democrats should receive a large portion of the blame the current mess. For not better securing the improved funding for SNAP when they had the chance and because now they have capitulated by agreeing with Republicans that some level of cuts are warranted, he argues a great disservice to the nation’s poor has been done.
“The loss of stimulus funding,” writes Blackmore, “will amount to a $5 billion reduction in SNAP in 2014, and $6 billion in 2015 and 2016 combined. Congress’s epic $39 billion cut would be spread out over the course of 10 years, if it somehow manages to become law. And that would come on top of this reduction, which is, in essence, a Democrat-approved cut that’s 1/3 of the size of the House’s slash-and-burn approach to SNAP.”
Across the country, poverty assistance organizations and food pantries are bracing for the cuts, but in Washington, DC, it remains unclear what powerful voices will take a stand for the nation’s hungry and most vulnerable.
As Kaufmann laments, the drive to cut food stamps
all points to the same hard truth we see time and again: when it comes to responding to the struggles of the more than one in three Americans who are living below twice the poverty line—on less than about $36,600 annually for a family of three—we prefer to look the other way. Even as the interests of low-income people and the middle-class converge—for example, the need for good jobs and fair wages, access to continuing education, a more equitable economy where 95 percent of the gains don’t go to the top 1 percent, and a safety net that is available in tough times or when jobs pay lousy wages—we still find that a SNAP cut like this can occur with hardly a whisper of protest (outside of the advocacy community) at a time when hunger is widespread.
In the 22 years that Swami Durga Das has managed New York’s River Fund Food Pantry, he has never seen hunger like this. Each Saturday, hundreds of hungry people descend on the pantry’s headquarters, an unassuming house on a residential block. The first people arrive around 2 am, forming a line that will wrap around the block before Das even opens his doors.
“Each week there’s new people,” Das told MSNBC.com. “The numbers have just skyrocketed.”
The new clients are diverse—working people, seniors, single mothers—but many of them share something in common: they represent the millions of Americans who fell victim to food insecurity when the Great Recession hit in 2009, but didn’t benefit from the economic recovery.
And the worst may be yet to come.
Food activists expect a “Hunger Cliff” on November 1, when automatic cuts to food stamp benefits will send a deluge of new hungry people to places like the River Fund Food Pantry, which are already strained.
“I thought we were busy now; I don’t know what it will be like then, because all of those people getting cut will definitely be accessing a pantry,” said Das. “It definitely will be a catastrophe.”
Those cuts were never supposed to be catastrophic; instead they were intended to gradually wind food stamp spending back down to normal levels, after boosting them in response to the 2008 financial collapse.
In the aftermath of that collapse, as employment stagnated and poverty increased, food stamp use exploded: From a little over 26 million users in 2007 to almost 47 million in 2012, an increase of 77%. At the same time, the average benefits per person rose from $96.18 to $133.41.
The 2009 stimulus bill raised the cap on food stamp benefits and pumped an additional $45.2 billion into the program over the next several years. But as provisions of the law expire, the program is scheduled to receive a $5 billion cut over the next year alone. Those cuts will reduce monthly benefits for every single food stamp recipient in the country; a family of four will receive $36 less per month, on average.
Billions more in cuts are scheduled to occur in the following two years, despite the fact that food insecurity in America has not even begun to return to pre-recession levels.
“I believe we have a hunger crisis,” said Rep. Jim McGovern, who sits on a House committee responsible for the food stamp program. “When 50 million people in the richest country on the planet are hungry, that’s a crisis.”
There’s little sign that McGovern’s colleagues in Congress will step in to stave off the crisis. In fact, some Republicans in Congress are pushing further cuts to the food stamp program as part of broader budget negotiations that could bump an additional 4 million people off of the food stamps rolls by the end of next year.Those cuts may be a political winner for a few politicians, but for people like Winsome Stoner, they could be devastating.
Stoner was among those to start collecting food stamps during the post-crash era. She was unemployed at the time, and her husband’s salary as a security guard was not sufficient to pay the rent and feed their five children. Now working full-time at the Bed-Stuy Coalition Against Hunger food pantry in her neighborhood of Bedford-Stuyvesant, Stoner still collects $640 per month in food stamps. Even that, combined with her income and her husband’s income, is not enough.
“It does cushion me a bit, it helps,” she said. “But we still run out of food by the end of the month. The middle, sometimes.”
When there’s no more food left, and no more money to buy new groceries, Stoner and her husband go to food pantries. At the Bud-Stuy pantry, the largest emergency food pantry in New York City, Stoner is both an employee and a regular client.
Visiting food pantries is a common practice for those who can’t stretch their food stamp money, also known as SNAP benefits, until the end of the month, according to Lisa Davis, senior vice president of government relations for the national food bank network Feeding America.
“Right now SNAP benefits are not overly generous,” Davis told MSNBC.com. “They average out to be about $1.49 per person per meal, and we know from our food banks that many of the clients coming to them are those who are receiving SNAP, but the benefits aren’t getting them through the entire month.”
For Stoner’s seven-person household, a monthly SNAP benefit of $640 per month translates to about $1 per meal, assuming everyone in the family eats three meals a day. Thanks to the expiration of the stimulus package’s food stamp provisions, Stoner has already received word that she might soon receive even less—and without knowing how big the cut will be, she’s terrified.
“I don’t know if we’re going to get anything,” she said, her voice rising in agitation. “We’re not sure if we’re on it. I’m really worried, I really am.”“The death knell of the food stamp program”
On the same week that SNAP recipients are expected to lose $5 billion in benefits, members of both chambers of Congress are meeting to negotiate another potentially massive budget cut to the program.
This week, a committee will attempt to reconcile the House and Senate versions of the farm bill. The Senate version includes $4.1 billion in cuts to food stamps over the next decade; the House version includes no language related to food stamps, but House Republicans are expected to insist on including language from a separate House bill, which would slash $39 billion out of program over the course of the next ten years.
“I’m sad to say that we’re constantly putting out fires wherever Republicans try to light them,” said McGovern, D-Mass., a member of the Agriculture Committee and one of Congress’ leading advocates for more robust nutrition programs. As a member of the Farm Bill conference committee, McGovern will be conducting “damage control,” trying to limit the scope of the cuts.
McGovern believes that nutrition policy in the U.S. should be overhauled as part of a plan to end hunger entirely. But instead, “what we’re doing is body blocking this cut and that cut,” he said. Recalling that Barack Obama promised during his first presidential campaign to end child hunger by 2015, McGovern added, “we haven’t done a goddamn thing to do that, to be honest.”
The U.S. food-stamp program is set to shrink in the months ahead. The only real question is by how much.
The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) currently costs about $80 billion per year and provides food aid to 14 percent of all U.S. households — some 47 million people. Those numbers swelled dramatically during the recession.
A farmers market in Roseville, Calif. advertises its acceptance of EBT (electronic benefit transfer) cards, which are used for food stamps. (Rich Pedroncelli/AP)
But the food-stamp program is now set to downsize in the weeks ahead. There’s a big automatic cut scheduled for Nov. 1, as a temporary boost from the 2009 stimulus bill expires. That change will trim about $5 billion from federal food-stamp spending over the coming year.
And that’s not all: The number of Americans on food stamps could drop even further in the months ahead, as Congress and various states contemplate further changes to the program. Here’s a rundown:
1) The end of the stimulus boost. First up is a big automatic cut to SNAP scheduled for Nov. 1. This is happening because the food-stamp program was temporarily expanded in 2009 as part of the Recovery Act. That bill spent $45.2 billion to increase monthly benefit levels to around $133, on average.
That bump will end on Friday, and benefits will shrink by around 5 percent on average. The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities has a short report calculating what this will mean for individual households:
So, for instance: The maximum monthly benefit for a family of four will drop from $668 per month down to $632. The maximum monthly benefit for an individual will drop from $200 per month to $189. (“The cut is equivalent to about 16 meals a month for a family of three based on the cost of the U.S. Agriculture Department’s ‘Thrifty Food Plan,’ notes CBPP)
Those snips add up: The end of the stimulus program will reduce federal food-stamp spending by $5 billion in 2014. Every state will be affected: California, for instance, will see a $457 million drop in spending over the upcoming year, while Texas will lose $411 million as a result.
2) Congress could cut food stamps even further. The stimulus lapse isn’t the only cut on the horizon. This week, the House and Senate will resume their haggling over a five-year farm bill. The main point of contention, as before, is over how much to pare back the food-stamp program.
The Senate approved a farm bill that would make only minor changes to the food-stamp program, saving $4.5 billion over 10 years (compared with current law).
House Republicans, meanwhile, went even further, voting on a bill that would cut $39 billion from the program over 10 years, largely by tightening restrictions on who could qualify for food stamps:
Russell Brand doesn’t think a revolution is coming… he knows it. ‘I ain’t got a flicker of doubt. This is the end—it’s time to wake up.’ (Screenshot: BBC)The British left weekly New Statesman has taken a chance on an up-and-coming rogue editor, but the actor-comedian and newly welcomed progressive-minded firebrand Russell Brand seems so far to be a brilliant and elegant choice.
Tapped to guest-edit the magazine’s ‘Revolution’ issue this week, Brand is making waves both for his feature-length essay on the topic but also with a televised interview that aired Wednesday night on the BBC with veteran Newsnight anchor Jeremy Paxman. In the ten-minute interview, the 38-year-old Brand points at the futility of voting in a corrupt democratic system determined to serve the interests of the ruling class and not only predicts, but guarantees, that the “disenfranchised, disillusioned underclass” created by the current economic and political system—both in the UK and worldwide—will rise up in popular revolution against the failings of the current corporate-controlled paradigm.
Paxman questioned why a comedian such as Brand, especially one who doesn’t vote, should be trusted to offer his views on the political system.
“I don’t get my authority from this preexisting paradigm which is quite narrow and only serves a few people,” Russell responded, himself questioning why voting or not voting in a corrupt lopsided system should provide moral or intellectual authority. “I look elsewhere for alternatives that might be of service to humanity.”
Additionally, he said: “It is not that I am not voting out of apathy. I am not voting out of absolute indifference and weariness and exhaustion from the lies, treachery and deceit of the political class that has been going on for generations,” said Brand.
In response to Paxman asking if he saw any reason for hope, Brand jumped at the question “Yeah, totally. There’s going to be a revolution. It’s totally going to happen,” he said. “I ain’t got a flicker of doubt. This is the end—it’s time to wake up.”
The interview is worth a complete viewing:
Asked to outline the possible revolutionary scheme, Brand explained: “I think a socialistic egalitarian system based on massive redistribution of wealth, heavy taxation of corporations, and massive responsibility for energy companies and any companies exploiting the environment. I think the very concept of profit should be hugely reduced. [British PM] David Cameron says ‘profit’ isn’t a dirty word. I say profit is a filthy word, because wherever there is profit there is also deficit. And this system currently doesn’t address these ideas.”
Further pressed for specifics on the mechanics of this post-revolutionary world, Brand called out Paxman for the ridiculousness of the demand. “Jeremy, don’t ask me to sit here—in a interview with you in a bloody hotel room—and devise a global utopian system.”
“I’m merely calling for change,” he add. “I’m calling for genuine alternatives.”
Later, Brand acknowledged there were many brilliant people in the world offering wonderful and specific solutions to humanity’s problems, but that those voices and their ideas are repeatedly excluded from popular debate and ignored by elected officials.
Best known in the United States for his roles in film comedies such as ‘Get Him to the Greek’ and ‘Forgetting Sarah Marshall,’ Brand has increasingly emerged as an astute observer of both politics and culture. An admitted (but recovering) drug addict, in his sobriety Brand has been passionate and insightful in his comments about celebrity culture, substance abuse, and a growing number of other social issues.
As Adam Taylor, at the Business Insider,points out:
Brand’s transformation from an outrageous comedian know for puerile jokes, a history of drug abuse, and one-night stands with Hollywood starlets to one of the U.K.’s most popular essayists was certainly an unexpected turnaround.
And The Independent’s Simon Kelner (no sympathetic left-winger himself) gave the political and philosophical sparring trophy not to the establishment journalist Paxman, but to the revolutionary-minded comedian:
Brand, who sounded like the love child of Stanley Unwin and Will Self, was goaded to genuine anger by Paxman’s patronising assertion that he was “a trivial man”. Whatever Brand may be, he’s not trivial. His call for revolution may be Spartist nonsense, but Brand definitely articulates a strain of thinking among a growing number of young people who feel disenfranchised, disenchanted, disengaged and, most important, disinterested in the idea that politics can change the world.
Most politicians don’t lay a glove on Paxman. Brand made him look uncomfortable and faintly ridiculous. And his retort to Paxman’s consistent sneering was priceless. “Jeremy, you’ve spent your whole career berating and haranguing politicians,” he said, “and when someone like me says they’re all worthless, and what’s the point in engaging with them, you have a go at me for not being poor any more”. A bit of verbal slapstick it may have been, but there was just the sense, when Jeremy met Russell, that some of the old certainties may be shifting.
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