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1. Foods Tamps
Maybe that headline is a little bit unfair. In voting providing more than half of the margin of victory for the “Nutrition Reform and Work Opportunity Act,” it’s not necessarily that Congressmen Royce, Rohrabacher, Campbell, and Issa want children to starve — it’s just that they think that it’s good for the rest of us if they do. (And, of course, less dietary fiber is good for moral fiber — or something like that.)
Regardless, they’ve just voted to cut $40 billion (about 5%) out of the budget for the Supplement Nutritional Assistance Program, abbreviated as SNAP and better known as Food Stamps — a result that will, without a doubt, lead to more starvation and malnutrition, suffering and desperation, if it comes to be enacted.
Look on the bright side, though! Not only does cutting SNAP save money, so long as you don’t count the costs of the hunger and malnutrition — guess what this does to kids’ attention spans at school, for example! — but it teaches people important moral lessons about the importance of work. That is: you’d better work, or rather your parents (since only those with children get SNAP benefit) had better — for whatever pay and whatever assistance is around.
Are no jobs available for you, because the Republican House majority has blocked efforts for job creation? That’s your problem — and the prospect that the drug trade and prostitution industry may be your only choices is your problem too. (Be reasonable, though — the logic appears to be that we have to keep those better-off in ample supply of drugs and prostitutes. We just can’t be candid about it.)
So, anyway — the kids gotta not eat.
No Democrat voted for the cuts. Fifteen Republicans voted no – including former OC Rep. Gary Miller, trying to get re-elected in a Democratic district – for a final margin of 217-210. One must expect that if their votes had also been needed to take food out of the mouths of babes, most of them would have gone along with it.
I’ll cannibalize some other sources for commentary. First, from the New York Times:
The bill, written under the direction of the House majority leader, Eric Cantor, Republican of Virginia, would cut $40 billion from the food stamp program over the next 10 years. It would also require adults between 18 and 50 without minor children to find a job or to enroll in a work-training program in order to receive benefits.
It would also limit the time those recipients could get benefits to three months. Currently, states can extend food stamp benefits past three months for able-bodied people who are working or preparing for work as part of a job-training program.
According to the Congressional Budget Office, nearly four million people would be removed from the food stamp program under the House bill starting next year. The budget office said after that, about three million a year would be cut off from the program.
The budget office said that, left unchanged, the number of food stamp recipients would decline by about 14 million people — or 30 percent — over the next 10 years as the economy improves. A Census Bureau report released on Tuesday found that the program had kept about four million people above the poverty level and had prevented millions more from sinking further into poverty. The census data also showed nearly 47 million people living in poverty — close to the highest level in two decades.
And this from Politico, starting with a quote from Democratic Sen. Debbi Stabenow of Michigan:
“We have never before seen this kind of partisanship injected into a Farm Bill,” she said of the vote. “ Not only does this House bill represent a shameful attempt to kick millions of families in need off of food assistance, it’s also a monumental waste of time. The bill will never pass the Senate, and will never be signed by the President.”
Members held up photographs of low income beneficiaries entitled “The Face of Hunger” for C-SPAN cameras. When Rep. Steve Southerland (R-Fla.) invoked Genesis —“God created Adam, placed him in the Garden to work it” —Fudge shot back that the Bible also mentioned the “poor and hungry over 200 times.”
“It is terrible policy wrapped in a terrible process…It was just cooked up in the majority leader’s office as some sort of Heritage Foundation fever dream,” said Rep. Jim McGovern (D-Mass.). “It is a rotten thing to do.”
“It is just unconscionable that they would think this is the road to prosperity,” said California Rep. George Miller, the ranking Democrat on the House Education and Labor Committee. “That you get to the road to prosperity by attacking the most vulnerable in our society.”
And there’s this excerpt from an essay by a combat veteran:
My Name Is Jason, I’m A 35-Yr-Old White Male Combat Veteran…And I’m On Food Stamps
My name is Jason. I turned 35 less than a week ago…. I just spent the last three years in the military, one of which consisted of a combat tour of Afghanistan.
Oh, and I’m now on food stamps.
Why am I on food stamps?
The same reason everyone on food stamps is on food stamps: because I would very much enjoy not starving. I mean, if that’s okay with you:
Mr. or Mrs. Republican congressman… Mr. or Mrs. “fiscal conservative, reason-based” libertarian.
I do apologize for burdening you on the checkout line with real-life images of American-style poverty. I know you probably believe the only true starving people in the world have flies buzzing around their eyes while they wallow away, near-lifeless in gutters.
The whole concept is un-American. People living here, in the greatest country on Earth, with the most abundant resources, should be forced to go hungry because of the intellectual notion of fiscal conservatism and the ideological notion of self-reliance.
Anyone who genuinely supports cutting food stamps is not an intellectual or an ideologue – they’re a bully. And nobody likes a bully. Except other bullies.
It’s time for regular Americans to stand up to these bullies. Not cower in the corner, ashamed of needing help. Because if there’s one thing life has taught me, it’s that you never know when you’ll be the one in need.
My colleague Egberto had this to say:
Many in the Republican Party have falsely claimed that food stamps create a welfare dependency. The problem with that analysis is that all parameters in the economy point to a middle class that is stressed. It points to a growing poor. It points to a system where wages are falling or at best stagnant.
Newt Gingrich even had the audacity to call President Obama “the food stamp president.” What is ironic is that all the Republican fears of creating a welfare state have been realized. Unfortunately it is the rich that benefit from the welfare they feared.
The unnecessary purchase of military hardware is welfare for corporate shareholders. The use of private contractors provides lucrative profits for corporate owners and shareholders. The privatization of government services transfers profits (an inefficiency when a government service is provided by a private entity for no reason) to the corporate shareholders. Farm subsidies that go to corporate farms is a transfer of tax receipts to a few shareholders. Even the food stamp program that feeds many is a boon for corporate shareholders given that a percentage of food stamps provide ample profits. Personal welfare is a pittance when welfare is redefined to include all those sourcing their revenues from the government.
But, of course, he’s a hothead. It does sound strangely familiar in our fine county, though.
2. I hate to do this, but it’s got to be done
One aspect of this debate that has been grabbing a lot of attention is, somewhat to my surprise (although I don’t know why I am surprised at this point, except for the whole “feed the hungry” theme in the New Testament) is Rep. Stephen Fincher’s Biblical analysis of 2 Thesalonians 3. Take it away, St. Paul!
2 Thessalonians 3:6 In the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, we command you, brothers, to keep away from every brother who is idle and does not live according to the teaching you received from us.
2 Thessalonians 3:7 For you yourselves know how you ought to follow our example. We were not idle when we were with you,
2 Thessalonians 3:8 nor did we eat anyone’s food without paying for it. On the contrary, we worked night and day, laboring and toiling so that we would not be a burden to any of you.
2 Thessalonians 3:9 We did this, not because we do not have the right to such help, but in order to offer ourselves as a model for you to imitate.
2 Thessalonians 3:10 For even when we were with you, we gave you this rule: “If a man will not work, he shall not eat.”
2 Thessalonians 3:11 We hear that some among you are idle. They are not busy; they are busybodies.
For a retort, let’s go to my colleague Stephen, who first notes that Rep. Fincher “received more than $70,000 in farm subsidies in 2012 alone and has racked up over $3 million in taxpayer loot in the last decade.” (I shouldn’t interrupt the Sunday Bible Study, but I just can’t resist that fact. On to the commentary.)
There are many interpretations of this. … [M]ost scholars agree that it was a specific recommendation to Christians made in a specific place by the Apostle Paul, some of whom were apparently running around sticking their noses in other people’s business all day long, causing arguments and other problems between members of the congregation, instead of just minding their own. It’s a practical solution offered by Paul to resolve a problem in a Christian community when its charitable mission is being taken advantage of by a few assholes; keep the gossiping busybodies working and they can’t plant rumors and fuel discord.
These people causing the problem weren’t poor children or scam artists in a booming economy, they had work available. Based on the time and place Paul spoke, they presumably just blew some of it off because they liked playing Machiavellian games. Back in those days, with no social media or Internet, no phones, not even mail, if you wanted to be an irritating social butterfly, or the modern day version of an Internet troll, you had to spend hours trudging around from one farm or market to another to get the juiciest stuff and pass it on, to serve up the subtle backhand compliments and quietly stab others in the back, leaving little time for your own house and work.
What’s important to under stand is working was secondary in this context, this is not so much a moral decree about work, the main message is a warning not to take advantage of the Christian obligation to feed the hungry, especially if you are screwing up the church and community tasked with doing that by behaving like a twelve year-old socialite. A more modern version might read like this: ‘Yes, normally the Church and your Christian neighbors have a responsibility to feed you if you are hungry. But if you keep this divisive shit up you’re gonna go hungry this time around as a punishment, because I hereby relieve the local church and the entire community of its standard Christian obligation to help you out if you come up short, at least until you quiet down and get back to your own business’.
And, in some of the great Biblical analysis found in some of your better progressive websites, another writer chimes in:
What is Paul really teaching, when context is taken into account? Let Paul explain:
2 Th 3:7 For you yourselves know how you ought to imitate us; we were not idle when we were with you,
2 Th 3:8 and we did not eat anyone’s bread without paying for it; but with toil and labor we worked night and day, so that we might not burden any of you.
2 Th 3:9 This was not because we do not have that right, but in order to give you an example to imitate.
Paul is reminding the Thessalonians that when he was with them, he did not accept gifts or charity from church members, but paid a fair price for even his meals. He did this even though he was entitled, as a preacher of the gospel, to have the church supply his room and board. Paul goes on to explain why he was doing this:
2 Th 3:10 For even when we were with you, we gave you this command: Anyone unwilling to work should not eat.
2 Th 3:11 For we hear that some of you are living in idleness, mere busybodies, not doing any work.
2 Th 3:12 Now such persons we command and exhort in the Lord Jesus Christ to do their work quietly and to earn their own living.
2 Th 3:13 Brothers and sisters, do not be weary in doing what is right.
In the previous chapter of his epistle, Paul warned about those who were teaching that the second coming was imminent (2 Thes. 2:2), and this had apparently misled some in Thessalonica into ceasing from earning a living, since they expected the Lord to return at any moment. Paul made it quite clear in chapter 2 that such teaching was in error, and he details events that must first take place before Christ could return (2 Thes. 2:3-12). This is why Paul did not live off the resources of the church in Thessalonica, because he was setting an example, to reinforce his teaching that the second coming was not near (v. 9 above).
Paul now restates and enlarges on what he said in verse 6:
2 Th 3:14 Take note of those who do not obey what we say in this letter; have nothing to do with them, so that they may be ashamed.
2 Th 3:15 Do not regard them as enemies, but warn them as believers.
Paul was reminding the Thessalonians of how he conducted himself when he was with them; he was self-supporting, working diligently to be productive and earn an income to pay his own way, and this, in context, is the tradition Paul speaks of in verse 6, that is in contrast to the idleness of some:
2 Th 3:6 Now we command you, beloved, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, to keep away from believers who are living in idleness and not according to the tradition that they received from us.
The very same principle is taught in the parable of the idle servant (Matt. 25:14-30, Luke 19:11-27).
To make this whole thing deliciously ironic is that Stalin when he corrupted the Soviet system turned this into a motto for his perverted socialism.
Teabaggers and Stalinists, united in irony.
We shouldn’t have to be discussing this here, as it pertains to a policy to prevent hunger, but that’s how things are these days. Public policy requires Biblical exegesis. (At least we’re not governed by Sharia law, though!)
3. Starvation and Salvation
I hope that people will put to Reps. Royce, Rohrabacher, Campbell, and Issa (and in Campbell’s case, those who would replace them) why they think that this cruel parsimony — in the midst of huge giveaways to banks and defense contractors and private prison owners and such — is justified, either as a matter of public policy or a matter of religious morality. Will it cost us less? Ultimately, no. Will it give people jobs? No, and not even “ultimately.” It will make people more desperate, though, and desperate people pipe down.
I expect, though, that much or all these cuts will not make it into the final budget, though. Why? Because the SNAP program is good for agribusiness and good for low-end food retailers like Walmart. These guys may not listen to flesh-and-blood citizens, but they listen to corporations — and so their PR stunt to make it seem like they’re budget hawks (as many of them call for war in Syria and Iran) will eventually run its course.
And that is the salvation that may prevent starvation.
UPDATE: Here’s a video from the Daily Show to cheer you up!