Nel's New Day

February 13, 2014

Activism with Fences for Fido

Filed under: Uncategorized — trp2011 @ 11:17 AM
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My partner and I share many things in common. We both like to read and write, we both like to walk the beach, and we both want to change the world. But our journey toward our goals sometimes diverge, as Robert Frost describes in “The Road Not Taken.” Together we edited a cookbook, along with another friend, but my partner writes lesbian mysteries and I write this political blog. I read books for youth and with LGBT content for the purposes of evaluating and reviewing while she reads for pure pleasure. At the beach, she sees the surrounding details—fossils and tiny creatures, for example—as I look at the horizon and throw a ball for our standard poodle.

Something that we’ve had in common for our 44+ years together is activism. While we taught in Phoenix (AZ), we tried to make lives and learning better for our students. Once retired, I turned to politics with a vengeance, occasionally irritating people with my obsession. My partner supports me in my projects, but again she follows her own path.

Recently, her road “less traveled by” has taken her to Fences for Fido. At 80 years of age, she can no longer do much of the building and remodeling that so engaged her for many years, but in this project, she can continue to make life better for creatures that have no voice.

Fences for Fido began on May 23, 2009 when a small group of people built a fence for Chopper, who had been chained to a tree for six years. The dog’s person had no idea that Chopper was unhappy. When he started playing with Chopper in the fenced yard, their relationship became rewarding for both of them.

Chained dogs are either listless or violently aggressive. They are 2.8 times more likely to bite than unchained dogs and become a threat to the neighborhood if they get off their chains. Pack animals need companionship and a social life. When their persons understand this, they either give the dogs new lives or surrender them to people who can provide the love that the dogs need.

At this time, the wind chill is 8 degrees in Portland (OR) with snow and sleet coming tomorrow. This is a miserable situation for dogs who are chained outside in all weather. Fences for Fido provides not only fences but also raised wooden dog shelters with shingled roofs and dog beds.

The small group of people that built Chopper’s fence has expanded into a number of volunteer groups throughout northwestern and central Oregon and southwestern Washington. There is no government funding for Fences for Fido; it is a volunteer nonprofit group of activists who want to change the lives of dogs tethered outside with no company and no comfort.

Activities include cutting ground wire, tying fence ties, transporting dogs for health needs, delivering and/or assembling dogs’ houses, checking up on dogs, and providing foster homes. Each “build” costs about $600. The project has about 1,700 donors of money and new or gently used fence materials, such as welded wire fencing, pressure-treated 4-by-4 posts, 6-foot chain-link gates, and 60-pound bags of concrete. Donors can e-mail info@fencesforfido.org.

Volunteers go beyond building fences and dog houses. Annual visits to the dogs allow them to see that the dogs are still unchained, the fences are still intact, the doghouses have beds, and dogs have enough water and seem healthy. As co-founder and co-chair Kelly Peterson said, “This is our commitment. Our promise is that we don’t build a fence and then walk away after the fence is built.” Volunteers also deliver bags of flea medications, treats, and bedding as well as help connect the dog’s person with veterinary care, spay/neuter surgeries, and dog food if needed.

People can request a fence by filling out an application on the website for Fences for Fido or call 503-621-9225. Anonymous referrals for dogs that seem to need help are also accepted.

Joining 13 other states and the District of Columbia, Oregon now has an anti-tethering law that limits tethers of unreasonable length that might cause the animal to become entangled or a collar that pinches or chokes the animal when pulled. Animals cannot be tethered more than ten hours in a 24-hour period. Yet that’s still a long time for an animal chained outside with no company.

Chopper recently died of cancer after several years of happiness, but his legacy lives on. Since that first unchaining, over 650 dogs have had their lives changed through fences and dog houses.

chopper

While I read about the problems of the world and write my blog, my partner makes plans about how to makes lives better for dogs. To volunteer, she emailed volunteer@fencesforfido.org. As she said, “What a good feeling to know this group is really making a difference. I am proud to belong!” That’s just one of the reasons that my partner is so special.

If you live in an area with Fences for Fido, you can volunteer to help chained dogs. If you don’t, you can start a chapter.

Sometimes my partner’s and my activism merge. This was the case after we read about the lunch workers in both Utah and New Jersey throwing out food in front of children because their parents had unpaid balances at the cafeteria. Just as bad are the number of children afraid to go through the lunch line at school because they are afraid that this will happen to them.

Kenny Thompson in Houston (TX) had a very simple solution: he paid the delinquent accounts for all the children at an elementary school where he was a tutor. Thompson said, “These are elementary school kids. They don’t need to be worried about finances. They need to be worried about what grade they got in spelling.” You can donate school lunches at his foundation, Feed the Future Forward, so that children in all schools can get meals.

My partner and I took a simpler approach. We went to the neighborhood school and zeroed out the unpaid balances there. We agreed with Thompson when he said, “When I left the building knowing that they were getting fed, they didn’t have that stress … the best money I ever spent.”

Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton has another solution. After schools in that state threw away hot lunches in front of children whose parents had not paid the school, he is calling for $3.5 million to purchase hot lunches for all children. “We cannot expect our students to succeed on an empty stomach,” Dayton said. Until there is funding in our states, however, individuals are forced to care for vulnerable children who need nutritional meals to participate in their education.

February 7, 2014

Farm Bill: Poor Lose, Wealthy Win

Filed under: Uncategorized — trp2011 @ 7:52 PM
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After more than two years of partisan squabbling, Congress passed a five-year farm bill that costs people $100 billion a year.  In the House, 89 Democrats joined 162 GOP members to pass the bill that then received a 68-32 vote in the Senate with 9 Democrats opposing the bill. It’s a bipartisan law that takes from the poor and gives to the rich and the first time that Democrats even considered cutting the food-stamp program.

The $8.6 billion cut in food stamps promotes greater hunger in what citizens like to consider the world’s richest country. The bill also promotes a diet of processed food—or food substitutes—with high levels of sugar, fat, and salt leading to serious health problems. The cut comes on top of the $11 billion lost with the expiration of stimulus funding, the first $5 million at the end of October 2013. Cuts were determined by home-heating assistance. Households must receive at least $20 per year before they automatically qualify for food stamps instead of the $1 threshold now in some states.

Last November, people lost almost $30 dollars a month from benefits; now they lose another $90. Even Walmart noticed the effects of lost funding for food stamps and predicted that the last quarter of 2013 will not meet its sales projections. As studies show and conservatives refuse to believe, each SNAP recipient dollar adds an estimated $1.70 to the economy. Food stamps create jobs from farmer to truck driver to shelf stocker and beyond. The working poor, many of whom work for Walmart, are now many of the people who rely on help to keep them from hunger.

Conservatives always say that they want cuts to make up for programs such as food stamps, but a proposal to cap (not eliminate) the profits of the ten largest farm insurance providers to free up funds to eliminate the cuts to the SNAP program was defeated 2 to 1 in the Senate. Insurance companies pocket profits taken from taxpayers’ risks.

Past changes that kept President Obama from signing a farm bill stayed in the bill that the president now has signed. Instead of a $50,000 annual limit on the primary payments (or double that for married couples), Congress approved a $125,000 limit (again, doubled for married couples).  They also decided not to adopt the House and Senate-passed provisions to close the loopholes that currently allow large, wealthy farms to collect many multiples of the nominal payment limit.

The $5 billion in direct payments for commodities, payments whether farmers grow anything or not, was largely eliminated, but the new insurance “reforms” are largely a bait-and-switch effort that continues giveaways to agribusiness and wealthy investors. A few limited reforms to help both organic and diversified farm operations didn’t stop the crop insurance program from using taxpayer money to protect profits of large farms that produce commodity crops while doing little to protect small integrated farmers who actually grow food. The program pays $1.4 billion annually to 18 companies to sell policies to farmers and then pays 62 percent of the farmers’ premiums. A coup for these companies is the provision that the Agriculture Department cannot renegotiate lesser payments during the five-year term of the bill. Previous negotiations have saved billions in dollars in government savings.

The bill also removes an income cap for receiving crop insurance; thus large farming operations can win more subsidies by claiming additional people are actively engaged in farming. Some of these people are members of Congress who no longer have to disclose the crop insurance money they get from voting for this bill.

Dow succeeded in adding a provision to reverse the prohibition of sulfuryl fluoride despite EPA’s 2011 proposal to phase out its use as a food fumigant. Massive tax subsidies go to corporate agribusiness and wealthy investors, again promoting unhealthy food, genetically engineered crops, confined animal feeding operations, and monoculture farming. Seed and pesticide corporations such as Monsanto, DuPont, and Dow will benefit from the farm bill’s provisions. The result includes ongoing vulnerability to floods and droughts, aquatic “dead zones,” and fouled drinking water caused by fertilizer runoff from fields, and more. Conservation programs to mitigate these problems were slashed by $6.1 billion, the first decrease since Congress started funding these programs in 1985.

Federal nutrition programs stay the same except for the Pulse Health Pilot Program which adds plant-based protein sources to school meals. That means the National Lunch Program, food stamps, and WIC will continue to push junk foods like processed meat and cheese that fuel epidemics of obesity, heart disease, and diabetes.

More money went to higher rice and peanut subsidies for Southern farmers. People who need the least help get more “aid” through $5 billion in taxpayer funds for livestock farmers when their animals die during natural disasters, another subsidy for the meat and dairy industry.

The almost-1000 pages of the bill show the favors that legislators provide to their constituents—sugar producers, catfish farmers, etc. William Frenzel, a former Republican congressman from Minnesota and a budget analyst at the Brookings Institution, said, “The agriculture industry simply does not need all of these supports.”  He described the farm bill as “bad budget and agriculture policy.” Even current GOP members of Congress were disgusted. “It seems that catfish is one bottom feeder with friends in high places,” Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) said.

The farm bill has a few advantages: $100 million to help bring healthy food to underserved communities; initiatives to encourage purchases of fruits and vegetables by SNAP consumers at retail outlets, including farmers’ markets and food hubs; support for food banks; allowing SNAP recipients to use their benefits to purchase a Community Supported Agriculture share; and a pilot program to support bringing local food into schools. Good programs cut last year were restored: Beginning and Disadvantaged farmers, farmers markets, community food projects, support for local food systems, etc. These, however, are just a few million dollars in an annual $100 billion bill. Conservation requirements were also relinked to the receipt of crop insurance subsidies.

Notable is the rejection of the “King amendment” that would have prevented hundreds of state laws defending food safety, farm workers, animals, and the environment. Also gone is the amendment in the last farm bill from Sen. Roy Blunt (R-MO) that protected companies like Monsanto that produce GMOs from being sued.

The farm bill is an excellent example of “cognitive dissonance” that results in Selective Deficit Disorder. Republicans said that they were decreasing the deficit by reducing funding for the food-stamp program, but they ignored the deficit when they handed over billions of dollars to corporate special interests. This is not a continuing phenomenon in politics: ten states made draconian cuts to retiree benefits, pleading poverty, but in a report, “Good Jobs First,” in the same states, “the total annual cost of corporate subsidies, tax breaks and loopholes exceeds the total current annual pension costs.”

The five-year farm bill is largely a win-lose situation: the wealthy and corporations win, and the poor lose.  Basically the law cuts food stamps, gives wealthy farmers more money, and hides the way that farmers pollute the ground.The one great advantage is that the Tea Party opposed it. Republicans ignoring the extremists may not be a trend, but it is happening now. 

September 23, 2013

GOP House Saves $29 per Taxpayer to Starve Children

Filed under: Uncategorized — trp2011 @ 8:17 PM
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People should not eat if they don’t work. That’s the conservative mantra that I talked about yesterday. Welfare is bad for freedom: it takes away their independence. Where do we find welfare in the United States?

One place is in Congress, where GOP legislators give money to themselves, money that they have not earned. GOP Rep. Stephen Fincher represents Tennessee, one of the ten poorest states where the population gets $1.10 of federal funding for every $1 that they send into the government. He’s one of those who quoted Thessalonians out of context this week during a debate about food stamps: “The one who is unwilling to work shall not eat.” He also  got $3.5 million in farm subsidy welfare during the past four years.

Giant agricultural firms will receive $939 billion in welfare over the next decade if Republicans like Fincher get their way. Farm welfare recipients include 374 people on the wealthy Upper East Side of New York City and others who own farms such as Bruce Springsteen, Bon Jovi, and Ted Turner. Wealthy heir Mark Rockefeller got $342,000 in welfare to NOT farm.

Republicans in Congress get $172,000 each year, but they refuse to work. They vote over and over to defund a law that helps people and decreases the deficit and refuse to do anything about the sequester that they agree is bad for the country. According to what these GOP legislators say, they shouldn’t receive a salary.

While GOP legislators don’t do any work, each family in the United States pays an annual average $6,000 welfare subsidy to corporations. These are the same companies that doubled their profits and cut their taxes in half during the past ten years while sending 2.9 million jobs out of the country. It’s true that the poor don’t pay that much in taxes, but any household making over $72,000 pays more than $6,000 of welfare to these corporations. Here’s how you pay welfare for these corporations:

The federal government spends $100 billion on corporate welfare, an average of $870 for each one of the country’s 115 million families. The Cato Institute notes that the money includes “cash payments to farmers and research funds to high-tech companies, as well as indirect subsidies, such as funding for overseas promotion of specific U.S. products and industries…It does not include tax preferences or trade restrictions.” Welfare in the form of fossil fuel subsidies, possibly greatly underestimated, can be from $10 billion to $41 billion. This sum doesn’t count the $502 billion in fossil fuel welfare subsidies, almost $4,400 per U.S. family, from “the effects of energy consumption on global warming [and] on public health through the adverse effects on local pollution.”

Business incentives at state, county, and city levels cost each family another $696 in welfare. The $80 billion in welfare business benefits are from “virtually every corner of the corporate world, encompassing oil and coal conglomerates, technology and entertainment companies, banks and big-box retail chains,” according to a New York Times investigation.

More welfare goes to banks, $722 per household. According to the Huffington Post, the “U.S. Government Essentially Gives The Banks 3 Cents Of Every Tax Dollar.” The taxpayer welfare subsidy to banks when they borrow, through bonds and customer deposits and other liabilities comes to $83 billion in welfare. The wealthiest five banks—JPMorgan, Bank of America Corp., Citigroup Inc., Wells Fargo & Co., and Goldman Sachs—get three-quarters of the total welfare subsidy.

Another $350 per household goes to welfare because of retirement accounts. Over a lifetime, bank fees can “cost a median-income two-earner family nearly $155,000 and consume nearly one-third of their investment returns.” Fees are well over one percent a year. The Economic Policy Institute notes that the average middle-quintile retirement account is $34,981. A conservative one percent annual management fee translates to about $350 per family. Many families have no retirement account, but many others pay far more than 1 percent in annual fees.

Another $1,268 welfare subsidy per household goes for overpriced medications. Monopolies provided to drug companies raise the costs of prescription drugs by almost $270 billion a year compared to the free market price. People in this country pay almost twice the average cost of Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) countries who pay an average of $460 per person.

Special tax provisions for corporations cost taxpayers $100 billion, $870 for each household. That welfare comes from Graduated Corporate Income, Inventory Property Sales, Research and Experimentation Tax Credit, Accelerated Depreciation, and Deferred taxes. Another guess at this welfare is $181 billion, which would be $1,600 per family.

Welfare for corporate tax havens adds another $1,026 per family. Assuming that each household has 1.2 taxpayers of the 138 million in the U.S., the total welfare costs assigned to families is $1,231.

The GOP Congressional legislators refuse to touch any of the above welfare to save taxpayers money. Instead, they voted to cut $4 billion in food stamps, which costs each taxpayer less than $29. That’s less than 2 percent of what Congress could save if they decreased the $6,000 welfare that each family provides to corporations.

Ever since Ronald Reagan’s war on food stamp recipients, conservatives have made false claims about them. Demographics show that the overwhelming majority of those who receive food stamps are white and many of them are Republicans. Mitt Romney won 213 of the 254 counties where the number of food stamp recipients doubled between 2007 and 2011.

Kentucky’s Owsley County, which gave Romney 81 percent of its votes, had the largest proportion of Romney’s food stamp communities. More than half the county’s population, 52 percent, received food stamps in just 2011, and the county is 97.6 percent white. The median household income of $19,344 is far below the national one of $52,762; four in ten of the county’s residents live below the poverty line. The county’s U.S. representative, Hal Rogers, won with 84 percent of the vote and joined the GOP majority in cutting food stamps—for more than half his constituents in this one county.

Two-thirds of the 39 legislators who represent the country’s 100 hungriest counties voted to cut food stamps. The bill passed 217-210.

Conservatives always talk about food stamps taking away people’s freedom. As Paul Krugman wrote, conservatives believe “that freedom’s just another word for not enough to eat.”

Why has this safety-net program grown so rapidly in the last five years? The 2007-2009 recession was the worst economic disaster since the Great Depression that began in 1929. The recovery has been weak because controlling Republicans supported the austerity measures that stopped economic growth. Food stamps have actually saved hundreds of thousands of jobs for people who grew and produced and transported and sold the food obtained by the government program. Every $1 in food stamps results in $1.70 added to the economy.

As I pointed out last week, only the very small percentage at the top of the nation’s food chain sees any financial improvement. The income of the top 1 percent rose 31 percent from 2009 to 2012 while the real income of the bottom 40 percent actually fell 6 percent. The food stamps, which Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI) calls “a hammock that lulls able-bodied people to lives of dependency and complacency,” provides $4.45 a day, mostly for children, elderly and disabled, and adults with children.

In addition to cutting out corporate welfare, the U.S. could save money by eliminating a few other things:

  • The F35—Joint Strike Fighter: It costs $1.5 trillion, it hasn’t been affected by sequester cuts,–and it flies only in good weather.
  • War on Drugs: The $15 billion cost each year is about $500 per second.
  • Nuclear Arsenal: The U.S. plans to spend between $620 billion and $661 billion on nuclear weapons and related programs over the next decade. This arsenal of 7,700 weapons will never be used because they could destroy the Earth hundreds of times over. Billions could be saved by reducing the nuclear submarine fleet and land-based intercontinental ballistic missile force from 420 to 300.
  • ‘Tax Breaks for the Rich: By capping the amount that the rich can save tax-free in IRAs at $3 million would save $9 billion over ten years. Taxing hedge fund managers like nurses would save as much as $100 billion.

In studying the impact of food stamps during the 1960s and 1970s, economists Hilary Hoynes and Diane Whitmore Schanzenback found that children with early assistance became healthier and more productive adults—and less likely to need the government safety net.

Hunger results in depression, listlessness, inability to concentrate, apathy, and social withdrawal. Serious mental changes in hungry people cause impaired decision-making skills. In children, hunger delays development in reading, language, memory, and problem-solving capabilities. Children who experience hunger early on are more likely to perform poorly academically, repeat a grade, and/or require special assistance while in school. Hungry children can have a lower IQ and less developed brain than well-nourished children have.

And 217 GOP members in the House are willing to do this to children for less than $30 per year per taxpayer.

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