November 30, 2009
Members of the public are to be given £500 to spy on their neighbours and tip off officials if the address is being sub-let to illegal tenants.
Ministers are setting up hotlines so that people who suspect that illegal letting is going on can report their suspicions to housing officials.
The first 1,000 people who turn in their neighbours and help housing chiefs repossess an unlawfully occupied house or flat will receive a £500 cash reward.
But the initiative has been attacked by civil liberty campaigners who warn that it is another example of ministers creating ‘an army of citizen snoopers’.
People are to be offered a £500 bribe to tip-off the authorities about suspected illegal sub-letting
It is believed that as many as 200,000 addresses in England - around five per cent of the town halls’ housing stock – could be home to unauthorised tenants.
Apart from hotlines, whistle-blowing neighbours will be encouraged to pass on their secrets to special websites and email addresses.
Ministers say they are determined to act and return illegally-let homes to desperate families at the top of council waiting lists.
Ministers believe their campaign against illegal letting will also help clamp down on other social problems – such as prostitution, cannabis factories, fraud and illegal immigration.
Dylan Sharpe, from the organisation Big Brother Watch, said: ‘This shows the Government is creating an army of citizen snoopers.’
While there are around 1,800,000 families on waiting lists, only 60,000 social homes have been built in England since 2007.
The moves to clamp down on illegal sub-letting are due to begin this week with investigations being launched into 8,000 suspected tenancy cheats.
The initiative involving more than 140 local councils comes after a check on council records carried out by the Audit Commission.
In parts of Britain, tenants who break the rules and sub-let are raking in four times the amount of rent they pay to their town hall or housing association.
One London housing association is investigating 56 cases of suspected illegal occupation - including one tenant living in France who has pocketed 32,000-pounds from subletting over the past three years.
Housing minister John Healey said: ‘We can’t allow cheats to hang on to the tenancies of council houses they don’t need and don’t live in.’
He added: ‘Public tip-offs are vital in tackling this problem. So I am also offering £500 to anyone who information leads to us recovering one of the first 1,000 homes.
‘We can’t allow cheats to hang onto the tenancies of council houses they don’t need and don’t live in.
‘I want people to feel the system for housing families who need homes is fairer and that’s why I’m launching this national crackdown on tenancy fraud.
‘This could free up as many as 10,000 homes for those on council waiting lists.’
Housing officials will be particularly targeting homes in prized city centre locations where some of the most lucrative sub-letting is thought to go on.
They will begin making snap visits to these properties during the run-up to Christmas.
November 30, 2009
By Jill Pengelley
Under draft legislation proposed by the State Government, someone with swine flu, measles or meningococcal disease could be forcibly held, examined and treated.
It is one of several wide-ranging powers sought to protect the public.
The Public Health Bill also would, for the first time, give authorities the power to override parents who refused treatment for their children with infectious conditions.
Other diseases that could be controlled include AIDS, polio, rabies, salmonella and cholera.
The tougher enforcement powers would come with a substantial increase in fines – up from $60,000 to $1 million and 10 years’ jail – and relate to any serious risk caused to public health. SA Health public health director Kevin Buckett said the new legislation would give authorities wider powers to act more quickly.
“There’s nowhere on Earth that is more than 36 hours from anywhere else and where people go, bugs can go,” he said yesterday.
“We have to have legislation that can respond in that sort of time.
“The idea would be that we get them out of circulation, where they can’t infect other people.” Dr Buckett said there were many reasons people refused treatment, including mental health issues, language barriers and even malicious behaviour.
Non-communicable diseases, such as cancer and diabetes, could also be declared, allowing the Government to introduce codes of practice for certain industries or the community. Opposition health spokesman Duncan McFetridge said he supported powers to protect the public from infectious diseases but feared parts of the Bill – to be debated next year – would allow the Government to control people with chronic conditions.
“It’s bordering on nanny-state legislation,” he said. “It’s understandable but how far do we go?”
Australian Medical Associat- ion state president Andrew Lavender said he welcomed most of the changes. as important to protect the public.
November 30, 2009
A New Jersey blogger about to stand trial on charges he made death threats against federal judges apparently was paid by the FBI in its battle against domestic terrorism, according to a published report.
The Record of Bergen County reported Sunday that Hal Turner received thousands of dollars from the FBI to report on neo-Nazis and white supremacist groups and was sent undercover to Brazil.
Turner also claims the FBI coached him to make racist, anti-Semitic and other threatening statements on his radio show, but the newspaper also found many federal officials were concerned that his audience might follow up on his violence rhetoric.
The newspaper reviewed numerous government documents, e-mails, court records and almost 20 hours of jailhouse interviews with Turner.
He goes on trial Tuesday in New York, accused of making death threats against three Chicago-based federal appeals judges after saying in Internet postings in June the judges “deserve to be killed” because they had refused to overturn handgun bans in Chicago and suburban Oak Park.
The postings included the photos and work addresses of the judges — Richard Posner, Frank Easterbrook, and William Bauer — along with a picture of the Dirksen Federal Courthouse in downtown Chicago and notations indicating the placement of “anti-truck bomb barriers.”
Turner’s FBI connections began in 2003 with the Newark-based Joint Terrorism Task Force and continued on and off until this year, according to the newspaper. He claims his postings and other inflammatory statements were part of an undercover operation to ferret out violent left-wing radicals.
His lawyer, Michael Orozco, has subpoenaed Chris Christie, the former U.S. Attorney for New Jersey and the state’s governor-elect, to testify on Turner’s behalf.
In an affidavit filed with the subpoena, Orozco says Christie knew of Turner’s activities between 2002 and 2008 while Christie held his federal post. Orozco says Christie issued a letter saying he would not prosecute Turner for his statements.
It was not known whether Christie would be called to testify.
He said last week that he had not yet seen the subpoena, but said “any advice I gave as U.S. attorney regarding prosecutions is something I am not going to talk about publicly.”
Federal prosecutors and FBI officials declined comment on Turner’s claims.
“We do not comment on matters before the courts, and will not address Mr. Turner’s allegations in the press,” said Weysan Dun, who runs the FBI’s Newark field office.
Turner said he feels double-crossed by the bureau after his June arrest.
But other documents show federal agents growing more anxious about his extremist views while valuing his ties to right-wing hate groups, the newspaper said. It noted one memo that stated Turner “has proven highly reliable and is in a unique position to provide vital information on multiple subversive domestic organizations.”
In a separate case, Turner was charged with “inciting injury to persons” for urging blog readers to “take up arms” against Connecticut lawmakers who proposed legislation to give Roman Catholic lay members more control over parish finances.
November 30, 2009
By Elizabeth Gorman
Rushed into law by Congress just weeks after Sept. 11, 2001 three controversial provisions of the Patriot Act granting officials far-reaching surveillance and seizure powers in the name of national security, are due to expire this New Year’s Eve.
Two differing bills passed by the House and Senate judiciary committees in recent weeks will have to be reconciled in Congress, but only when the Senate isn’t backlogged by health care, Democratic aides told ABC News.
“This critical legislation protects our national security, as well as our civil liberties, and the clock is ticking,” said Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner, R-Wisc., an author of President Bush’s 2001 Patriot Act and former chairman of the House Judiciary Committee under the Bush administration.
Sensenbrenner urged the House and Senate to act quickly in reauthorizing the provisions before they expire at the end of this year.
That timing is unclear. With so few weeks left in the year and the health care debate just beginning in the Senate, it’s possible that Congress will first vote for a temporary extension to prevent certain Patriot Act authorities from sunsetting, according to an aide.
With full support from the Obama administration, the Senate Judiciary Committee passed a bill last month reauthorizing the law that has in recent years sparked much controversy over rights to privacy protected under the Constitution, with some minor tweaks.
But House Democrats in the Judiciary Committee went much further reigning in executive authorities and raising the threshold of proof needed to legally seize Americans’ personal records and conduct wiretaps on their phones. It also slapped on more restrictions, and required more government auditing, and reporting showing how the process could be modified to enhance civil liberties.
“We have the opportunity to fix the most extreme provisions of that law and provide a better balance,” said Rep. John Conyers, Jr., D-Mich., who introduced the House bill, which allows one provision of the Patriot Act to expire.
In renewing only two of the three sunsetting provisions, the House version has defied the White House, quietly pushing Congress to totally renew its predecessor’s law.
This is not a new debate. Four years ago, then Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill., who taught constitutional law, voted down the same provisions along with all Senate Democrats who insisted on changes to the bill that better protected libraries, limited clandestine search warrants, roving wiretaps, and FBI gag orders.
The end product was a compromised package that Sen. Obama said was far from perfect, but that was better than what was passed by counterparts in the House, which in a role reversal voted to renew President Bush’s historically intrusive surveillance policies.
“This compromise does modestly improve the Patriot Act by strengthening civil liberties protections without sacrificing the tools that law enforcement needs to keep us safe,” he said in a speech on the Senate floor.
If passed again as the Obama administration has signaled it wants, the next Patriot Act reauthorization won’t be until 2013.
November 30, 2009
The Washington Times
By Stephen Dinan
Hundreds of thousands of illegal immigrants could receive health care coverage from their employers under the bills winding their way through Congress, despite President Obama’s explicit pledge that illegal immigrants would not benefit.
The House bill mandates, and the Senate bill strongly encourages, businesses to extend health care coverage to all employees. But the bills do not have exemptions to screen out illegal immigrants, who usually obtain jobs by using false identities and are indistinguishable from legal workers.
A rough estimate by the Center for Immigration Studies suggests that the practical effect of the mandates would be that about 1 million illegal immigrants could obtain health insurance coverage through their employers.
Democrats who wrote the House bill said that employer coverage for illegal immigrants is not intentional, but rather the outcome of people breaking the law.
“It’s possible an employee could deceive an employer with a fraudulent document, just as under current law, to gain employment, just as it’s possible for all sorts of criminal activity to occur, and why we have law enforcement,” said Nadeam Elshami, a spokesman for House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, California Democrat, who wrote the final House bill.
Republicans said that loopholes in the bill could allow coverage to just about any illegal immigrant who wants to cheat the system.
“This is a complete cover-all-the-gaps federal health insurance for illegals, whether it be under Medicaid, the refundable tax credit or whether it be under their employers who would not be able to verify their employers unless we fix E-Verify,” said Rep. Steve King of Iowa, the top Republican on the House Judiciary Committee’s immigration subcommittee.
How to deal with immigrants, both legal and illegal, remains one of the thorniest issues in the health care debate. In his address to a joint session of Congress in September, Mr. Obama specifically challenged Republicans who said his plans would extend coverage to illegal immigrants.
“This, too, is false — the reforms I’m proposing would not apply to those who are here illegally,” Mr. Obama said.
That statement elicited an outburst of “You lie” from Rep. Joe Wilson, South Carolina Republican.
Most of the focus has been on whether the bills in the House and Senate go far enough to screen out illegal immigrants applying for public benefits. The Senate bill is generally considered to have stronger provisions than the House version to exclude participation by illegal immigrants.
The employer mandate could play a major role in coverage for illegal immigrants, but the effect has not been widely understood.
Steven A. Camarota, research director for the Center for Immigration Studies, said about 6.5 million illegal immigrants work in the United States, though nearly half do so off the books and wouldn’t be counted for purposes of employer-sponsored health insurance.
Of those who work on the books, about 2.3 million already have insurance through their employers. That leaves at least 1 million who would need insurance and could obtain it from an employer under the proposed mandates.
“It’s definitely significant,” Mr. Camarota said.
Democrats said their bill doesn’t change eligibility for benefits for illegal immigrants but it does change laws on who must provide insurance. Any employer with a payroll higher than $500,000 would be required to provide insurance for employees.
The House bill offers tax credits for two years to help small businesses provide insurance, including businesses that hire illegal immigrants.
But Mr. Elshami said businesses are already prohibited from hiring of illegal immigrants.
The Senate bill is more complex. It would urge companies to provide insurance, then penalize them for each employee who applies for credits for the health care exchange.
Jim Manley, a spokesman for Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, Nevada Democrat, said the bill includes a screening process to keep illegal immigrants from getting credits in the health care exchange. But even illegal immigrants would be counted in the penalty against employers, so companies would be paying for having hired them.
“In this scenario, an employer would have to provide a responsibility payment for an undocumented worker. But that undocumented worker wouldn’t be getting coverage through the exchange,” Mr. Manley said.
Robert Rector, a senior research fellow at the Heritage Foundation, called the debate “an absolute charade” because Mr. Obama and Democratic leaders have signaled their intent to try to pass a bill legalizing illegal immigrants next year.
Once their legal status is secured, Congress would have to decide their eligibility for public benefits. Democrats have been pushing for broad inclusion, and their health care proposals give equal treatment to legal immigrants and citizens.
Republicans say the government should do more to push for a legal work force in the first place.
“If it was not bad enough that illegal immigrants take jobs that rightfully belong to citizens and legal immigrants, now they will get health care benefits that should go to Americans,” said Rep. Lamar Smith of Texas, the top Republican on the House Judiciary Committee. “If they were not in the country, we wouldn’t have to worry about emergency room or health insurance costs at all. And Americans would have these jobs.”
A Congressional Research Service report notes that the House Democrats’ bill does not expressly prohibit illegal immigrants from getting health insurance and, in fact, would mandate that they obtain insurance if they meet the “substantial presence test.”
That test calculates U.S. residency based on the number of days per year a person is in the country.
November 30, 2009
By John F. Harris
Presidential politics is about storytelling. Presented with a vivid storyline, voters naturally tend to fit every new event or piece of information into a picture that is already neatly framed in their minds.
No one understands this better than Barack Obama and his team, who won the 2008 election in part because they were better storytellers than the opposition. The pro-Obama narrative featured an almost mystically talented young idealist who stood for change in a disciplined and thoughtful way. This easily outpowered the anti-Obama narrative, featuring an opportunistic Chicago pol with dubious relationships who was more liberal than he was letting on.
A year into his presidency, however, Obama’s gift for controlling his image shows signs of faltering. As Washington returns to work from the Thanksgiving holiday, there are several anti-Obama storylines gaining momentum.
The Obama White House argues that all of these storylines are inaccurate or unfair. In some cases these anti-Obama narratives are fanned by Republicans, in some cases by reporters and commentators.
But they all are serious threats to Obama, if they gain enough currency to become the dominant frame through which people interpret the president’s actions and motives.
Here are seven storylines Obama needs to worry about:
He thinks he’s playing with Monopoly money
Economists and business leaders from across the ideological spectrum were urging the new president on last winter when he signed onto more than a trillion in stimulus spending and bank and auto bailouts during his first weeks in office. Many, though far from all, of these same people now agree that these actions helped avert an even worse financial catastrophe.
Along the way, however, it is clear Obama underestimated the political consequences that flow from the perception that he is a profligate spender. He also misjudged the anger in middle America about bailouts with weak and sporadic public explanations of why he believed they were necessary.
The flight of independents away from Democrats last summer — the trend that recently hammered Democrats in off-year elections in Virginia — coincided with what polls show was alarm among these voters about undisciplined big government and runaway spending. The likely passage of a health care reform package criticized as weak on cost-control will compound the problem.
Obama understands the political peril, and his team is signaling that he will use the 2010 State of the Union address to emphasize fiscal discipline. The political challenge, however, is an even bigger substantive challenge—since the most convincing way to project fiscal discipline would be actually to impose spending reductions that would cramp his own agenda and that of congressional Democrats.
Too much Leonard Nimoy
People used to make fun of Bill Clinton’s misty-eyed, raspy-voiced claims that, “I feel your pain.”
The reality, however, is that Clinton’s dozen years as governor before becoming president really did leave him with a vivid sense of the concrete human dimensions of policy. He did not view programs as abstractions — he viewed them in terms of actual people he knew by name.
Obama, a legislator and law professor, is fluent in describing the nuances of problems. But his intellectuality has contributed to a growing critique that decisions are detached from rock-bottom principles.
Both Maureen Dowd in The New York Times and Joel Achenbach of The Washington Post have likened him to Star Trek’s Mr. Spock.
The Spock imagery has been especially strong during the extended review Obama has undertaken of Afghanistan policy. He’ll announce the results on Tuesday. The speech’s success will be judged not only on the logic of the presentation but on whether Obama communicates in a more visceral way what progress looks like and why it is worth achieving. No soldier wants to take a bullet in the name of nuance.
That’s the Chicago Way
This is a storyline that’s likely taken root more firmly in Washington than around the country. The rap is that his West Wing is dominated by brass-knuckled pols.
It does not help that many West Wing aides seem to relish an image of themselves as shrewd, brass-knuckled political types. In a Washington Post story this month, White House deputy chief of staff Jim Messina, referring to most of Obama’s team, said, “We are all campaign hacks.”
The problem is that many voters took Obama seriously in 2008 when he talked about wanting to create a more reasoned, non-partisan style of governance in Washington. When Republicans showed scant interest in cooperating with Obama at the start, the Obama West Wing gladly reverted to campaign hack mode.
The examples of Chicago-style politics include their delight in public battles with Rush Limbaugh and Fox News and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. (There was also a semi-public campaign of leaks aimed at Greg Craig, the White House counsel who fell out of favor.) In private, the Obama team cut an early deal — to the distaste of many congressional Democrats — that gave favorable terms to the pharmaceutical lobby in exchange for their backing his health care plans.
The lesson that many Washington insiders have drawn is that Obama wants to buy off the people he can and bowl over those he can’t. If that perception spreads beyond Washington this will scuff Obama’s brand as a new style of political leader.
November 30, 2009
By Craig Torres
Federal Reserve Chairman Ben S. Bernanke said curbing the central bank’s authority to supervise the banking system and tampering with its independence would “seriously impair” economic stability in the U.S.
“A number of the legislative proposals being circulated would significantly reduce the capacity of the Federal Reserve to perform its core functions,” the Fed chairman said in a commentary in today’s Washington Post. The measures “would seriously impair the prospects for economic and financial stability in the U.S.”
Bernanke has presided over the most expansive use of Fed powers since the Great Depression. While the 55-year-old Fed chairman has said he averted a financial meltdown, lawmakers have voiced concern about taxpayer-sponsored bailouts and proposed the most sweeping dismantling of Fed authority since the creation of the institution in 1913.
Bernanke’s commentary is his first comprehensive answer to proposals in the House and Senate that would limit the Fed’s supervisory powers and exert more political oversight in the setting of interest rates. The issues are likely to be discussed when he faces the Senate Banking Committee on Dec. 3 for a hearing on his nomination to a second term as chairman.
“In the current environment with so much borrowing by the government, the political pressure on the Fed is out there,” said James Glassman, senior economist at JPMorgan Chase & Co. “I don’t think you can totally dismiss it.”
Senate Banking Committee Christopher Dodd, a Democrat from Connecticut, has criticized the central bank for lax supervision and introduced legislation this month that would strip bank oversight from the Fed and create a single bank regulator. Dodd would also limit the central bank’s ability to loan to individual companies.
“There is a strong case for a continued role for the Federal Reserve in bank supervision,” Bernanke said. “Because of our role in making monetary policy, the Fed brings unparalleled economic and financial expertise to its oversight of banks.”
The Fed chairman pointed to capital adequacy tests the Fed performed in May which helped restore confidence in the banking system. The Standard and Poor’s 500 Financials Index has increased 34 percent since May 1, outperforming the S&P 500 by about 10 percentage points.
“The Fed has done a very remarkable job managing the financial crisis and the recovery of the financial markets is a testimony to that,” Glassman said. “Of all the things to ‘fix,’ why would we tamper with the one that actually has worked well?”
Dodd and Representative Barney Frank, chairman of the House Financial Services Committee, want to take away the Fed’s rule- writing power on consumer financial products and give it to a new Consumer Financial Protection Agency.
“The Federal Reserve, like other regulators around the world, did not do all that it could have to constrain excessive risk-taking in the financial sector in the period leading up to the crisis,” Bernanke said. The Fed has reviewed its performance and “moved aggressively to fix the problems,” he added.
As the subprime mortgage crisis began to trigger losses in bank portfolios, Bernanke used emergency authority last year to purchase securities from Bear Stearns Cos. and facilitate its merger with JPMorgan Chase & Co.
The Fed chairman said that the government’s actions, while in some instances “distasteful and unfair,” were necessary to prevent “a global economic catastrophe that could have rivaled the Great Depression in length and severity.”
Bernanke pushed the Fed’s backstop lending beyond banks, setting up programs to support the commercial paper and asset- backed securities markets. The Fed Board approved the bank- holding-company applications of Goldman Sachs Group Inc. and Morgan Stanley, giving them access to the Fed’s loan window.
The former Princeton University economist and Great Depression scholar has more than doubled the Fed’s assets to $2.21 trillion and become the lender of last resort to government bond dealers, banks, Wall Street firms and U.S. corporations. The central bank has also propped up markets for mortgage-backed and asset-backed securities that support credit to consumers, small businesses and commercial real estate.
Support for Attack
“Congress has a lot of public support for an attack on the Fed,” Allan Meltzer, a Fed historian and professor at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, said in an interview Nov. 23. “They bailed out everybody in sight.”
A financial regulatory reform bill proposed by Frank, a Democrat from Massachusetts, would limit Fed emergency lending to broadly available credit programs.
The Frank bill preserves the Obama administration’s proposal to make the Fed the lead regulator of risk across the financial system.
The central bank’s independence is also under fire from both chambers of Congress. Frank’s committee advanced a proposal this month to remove a three-decade ban on congressional audits of Fed interest-rate decisions. The proposal was offered by Representative Ron Paul, a Republican from Texas, and based on a bill with more than 300 co-sponsors.
Bernanke said studies show that central banks independent of political influence tend to keep inflation and interest rates lower than their less independent counterparts.
“The general repeal of that exemption would serve only to increase the perceived influence of Congress on monetary policy decisions, which would undermine the confidence the public and the markets have in the Fed to act in the long-term economic interest of the nation,” Bernanke said.
Under the proposal by Dodd, commercial banks would lose their power to appoint directors of the 12 regional Fed banks. Instead, directors would be chosen by the Fed’s Senate-confirmed governors, and each board chairman would be appointed by the president of the United States and subject to Senate approval.
The proposal would increase political oversight of the Fed bank presidents, who are among the most vocal proponents on the Federal Open Market Committee for keeping inflation low.
“Now more than ever, America needs a strong, nonpolitical and independent central bank with the tools to promote financial stability and to help steer our economy to recovery without inflation,” Bernanke said.
Policy makers cut the benchmark lending rate to a range of zero to 0.25 percent almost a year ago and this month reiterated a pledge to keep the policy rate low for “an extended period.”
While the economy expanded at a 2.8 percent annual pace in the third quarter, unemployment jumped to 10.2 percent in October. The Fed’s challenge is to support growth without unleashing expectations of higher inflation prompted by aggressive monetary stimulus.
“The ultimate goal of all our efforts is to restore and sustain economic prosperity,” Bernanke said. “Our ability to take such actions without engendering sharp increases in inflation depends heavily on our credibility and independence from short-term political pressures.”
November 30, 2009
By Paul Louis
A new congressional report from the Government Accountability Office (GAO) reprimanded the FDA for failing to properly monitor drugs approved under the FDA’s 1992 accelerated approval process. The report focused on 90 drugs.
The accelerated approval process was ostensibly enacted to rush minimally tested cancer and AIDS drugs that were urgently needed to assist those with life threatening situations. In exchange for accelerated approval by the FDA, drug manufacturers agreed to provide the FDA with post-marketing reports to determine if the drug is safe and effective.
Yet most drug makers were not complying with post marketing follow-up reports. And the FDA has never removed a drug approved by the accelerated process from the market. Some of the drugs approved have gone 13 years without post marketing reports!
The GAO report states, “. . . the FDA has authority to expedite the withdrawal of a drug from the market if a sponsor does not complete a required confirmatory study with due diligence, or if a study fails to confirm a drug’s clinical benefit, [yet the FDA] has not specified the conditions that would prompt it to do so.”
This indicates that the FDA has never created a procedure to remove fast track drugs even if they are dangerous. This precludes quality control on drugs fast tracked for public consumption. Pre-market proposals based on theory and limited testing have been the only basis for continued use. Therefore the public becomes part of a medical experiment.
Some drugs that never reported were big money makers for over a decade. And the FDA never bothered to inquire about their follow up reports. The GAO report requested the FDA “clarify” under what circumstances it would voluntarily remove potentially dangerous or ineffective drugs from the market.
The FDA balked. They claimed there was no need for clarification.
FDA officials asserted that these fast track drugs are “. . . life-saving drugs for which there are no replacements.” Yet there is little or no documented proof of “life saving” efficacy or safety because post marketing reports have, for the most part, never been conducted.
It appears that the FDA’s requirements for post market reports from drug companies in exchange for accelerated approval were window dressing. The FDA’s lack of enforcement speaks for itself. Meanwhile many drug makers have made a lot of money dispensing often ineffective and sometimes dangerous drugs to desperate people.
November 30, 2009
According to a recent study, nearly half of all U.S. kids will receive government food stamps at some point during their childhood, reports the Associated Press.
The study’s numbers have opened up a proverbial can of worms in the public debate regarding how this data should be interpreted and what it says about the direction of the country.
The study, conducted by a team of sociologists from Cornell University and Washington University, appeared this month in the journal Archives of Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine.
The researchers examined 30 years of data from around the country and found that U.S. children actually face a significant risk of experiencing poverty at some point during their youth — a fact which they say puts their health and well-being in danger.
Though food stamps were originally an initiative of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the programs themselves are actually carried out by state governments.
Recent annual reports from the USDA stating that more than half the states have not been able to help some of the nation’s neediest citizens have further exacerbated concerns over the study’s results.
The USDA also reported that 15 percent of American households did not have what it calls “food security” in 2008 — up by 4 percent over the previous year and the highest level observed since the agency first began keeping records in 1995.
Yet in a country where the lowest earning classes also statistically suffer from the highest levels of obesity, the various reports have also stoked a debate over how we define “poverty.”
Policy analyst Sarah Meadows believes that the various statistics are highly probable but also cautions that people should keep in mind that they don’t mean that half of all American children are always in need of food stamps.
“While there may be a group of children who are persistently exposed to poverty, many move in and move out,” she told AP.
Statistician Andrew Gelman of Columbia University offered a similar analysis, stating that the recent study sheds light on the common misconception “that people are either on welfare or they’re not.” The reality of the situation is that while some families are more or less permanently on welfare, many more utilize government assistance for short periods of time, often during professional transition periods or other instances of temporary financial hardship.
Senior research fellow for the Heritage Foundation, Robert Rector, claims that while the research’s figures are technically correct, the parameters and definitions used to define and measure “poverty” are largely subjective and tend to exaggerate the seriousness of families’ situations.
According to Rector, the report creates “a picture of alarm that is just not justified by the facts.”
For example, to be eligible for food stamps, a family of four must have a net annual income below $22,000. While not necessarily ‘living the high life,’ the majority of these families often enjoy a number of modern amenities — such as televisions, internet, and automobiles — that would be considered luxuries in a majority of the world’s countries.
Others, like family welfare specialist and former employee of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Olivia Golden, have a different perspective on the matter.
According to Golden, U.S. children can lack “economic stability” even if they aren’t necessarily suffering from destitute poverty.
“There are several levels of economic disadvantage and we should worry about all of them,” Golden told AP.
Social policy professor at the University of Washington Marcia Meyers, takes a similar line, admitting that while most of the poor in the U.S. “are not on the verge of literal starvation,” they may nevertheless be getting poor quality, unhealthy foods.
This, she believes, likely helps explain why many of the nation’s poorest often see the highest rates of obesity.