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    • The Wages Of Embarassing Elites Are Death
      Everyone remember the Panama papers? A leak of bank records showing that the ultra-rich are hiding massive wealth, tax-free and often breaking the law to do so? A rather weak set of laws designed to allow tax avoidance by rich people, at that. Found out the other day that the reporter who broke the Panama Papers story was killed by a car bomb. Coincidence, n […]
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About those school lunches

Last night, I watched the kid inhale a chicken wrap and a gob of fries while we were out during dinner time. She’s not usually a fries person because she prefers healthy food, like lots of fruit, veggies and unfried stuff. So, I asked her why she was so hungry. It’s not like we have a shortage of after school snacks.

She told me its the school lunch. There’s not enough of it. Yesterday’s lunch consisted of a single slice of whole wheat pizza and a tiny side of sliced carrots. She’s taken to sneaking an extra side on her tray, hoping the cashier won’t notice.

As it turns out, she’s not alone in feeling famished after lunch. There are school districts all over the country that are opting out of the federal school lunch program. Too many kids were complaining of the small portions and unappetizing healthy options that school districts are losing money. Kids are starting to bring their lunches. It’s not just the size of the portions that is problematic. The cost of lunch has increased significantly even while there’s less of it.

Now, I will be the first one to jump aboard the healthier options bandwagon. We don’t drink soda in my house and we’re not into high fat lunchable type meals with bags of potato chips etc. And who the hell knew what was the mystery meat covered with red sauce that was advertised as chicken Parmesan? But I made the kid’s lunch everyday during the summer with a sandwich (usually roasted chicken, Swiss, lettuce and tomatoes with mustard), carrots, sliced peppers, hummus dip and fresh fruit and she never complained of being hungry.

This is disturbing, especially for a fit, slim kid who metabolizes well. She’s putting on inches in height during a growth spurt now and must be thinking about food all the time. I can only imagine how the male version of her is fairing. How can you concentrate when you’re hungry?

Maybe this is part of the plan to cut back on spending on the federal lunch program. If it was just a matter of healthier options, there shouldn’t be a problem increasing the carrots or adding another side. The fact that some districts are allowing kids to have a yogurt AND a banana, not one or the other, indicates that the pendulum has swung too far. Especially during this period of food insecurity, the last thing a school kid needs to be doing is counting calories.

Michelle Obama needs to stop assuming that everyone lives in an affluent suburb where childrens’ feet are never engaged in walking because their terrified mothers are afraid they will be snatched by omnipresent sexual predators. Some of us live in walk able cities and our kids are not obese. They go to school with kids from the inner city who are (or were) on food stamps and need something more substantial than a single slice of pizza and a couple of nuggets of veggies.

As for my kid, I roasted a chicken last Sunday…

Saturday: Keep on the Sunny Side

“When righteousness withers away and evil rules the land, we come into being, age after age, and take visible shape, and move, a man among men, for the protection of good, thrusting back evil and setting virtue on her seat again.”  -The Bhagavad Gita recited by Phillip Glass, Lincoln Center, November 2011.

Hi guys, it looks like a beautiful day in the NYC area.  I’m headed up to Manhattan shortly to cover the day’s activities in Zuccotti park, where an interfaith group will be celebrating Occupy Wall Street.  There are also musical events in the city.  You can find them at 50th and Broadway, last time I looked (but Occupiers move in mysterious ways so you never know where they will pop up next).


Yesterday, my daughter told me that in order to buy lunch at the cafeteria now, a student has to show an ID.  She says this is a new procedure.  Before, students just needed to provide their student ID number if they couldn’t find the actual picture ID card.  The cafeteria lady punches the number into the machine and checks the picture on the screen against the kid with the pile of french fries.  (This is high school, BTW).  I couldn’t figure out why the picture ID was absolutely necessary now and then it hit me that it might have something to do with reduced or free lunches.  Could it be that some students were providing their cards or numbers to other students so that they could get lunch if they had forgotten their money?  The kid says that the lunch ladies never used to check the pic with the kid but now they are required to.  Veddy interesting, no?

Then, I found this.  This is a recent article about some asshole state congressperson in NJ who wants to have a clear accounting of WHO exactly is getting a free lunch because, by golly, there might be people (ie *children*) ripping off tax payers for the cost of a free lunch.  Can we get him on Atrios’ “worst person of the day” list?  Here’s some of the grusome details:

Speaking before a group of Tea Party supporters on Nov. 3, Doherty, a member of the Senate Budget and Appropriations Committee, insisted that 37 percent of all school lunch recipients are ineligible, according to The Star-Ledger.

After fielding criticism that his numbers exaggerated the potential fraud, Doherty recently said he stands behind his math. “The amount of fraud in the free and reduced school lunch program is massive and the cost to the taxpayers is enormous,” the senator stated, according to a statement on his website. “It runs in the hundreds of millions of dollars.”

In New Jersey, in order to receive a free lunch, a family of four needs to have an annual income of less than $29,055. Families of two are eligible if their income falls below $19,123, according to documents from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, which oversees the national program. The thresholds are not as restrictive for reduced lunch plans: $41,348 and less for families of four, $27,214 and less for two-person families.

The New Jersey Auditor reported earlier this year that approximately 428,000 students in the state are enrolled in the lunch program. Of those student applications, 3 percent are verified by officials, as is mandated by the federal government. Those applications deemed “error prone” are the first to be verified. From this test pool, approximately 37 percent were deemed ineligible.

Despite the seemingly high error rate, New Jersey is actually in line with the rest of the nation. Across the United States, approximately 40 percent of verified applicants are found ineligible.

“Income and household composition reporting inaccuracies lead to significant eligibility error rates in the department’s National School Lunch Program, which would impact funding for other state programs,” the auditor noted.


“Federal regulation mandates local education agencies verify 3 percent of the applications approved,” Fisher wrote the auditor in a letter dated June 23. “The audit report acknowledges this regulation is being met. Federal regulation requires remaining applications be accepted at face value.”

Doherty claims that “face value” is not enough.

“Under New Jersey’s system for funding schools, enrolling a student in the free and reduced price lunch program triggers an ‘At Risk’ designation for the student, which results in about an additional $5,000 of state school aid under New Jersey’s school funding formula,” the senator reported. “It’s a lot of money that could be used to reduce property taxes statewide.”

Ok, let me jump in here for a second.  Mr. Doherty, a Republican, seems to think that there are scads and scads of kids in places like Camden and Newark who are ripping off the state because every time a kid applies for the lunch program, the district that kid is in is eligible for $5000 in state aid.  And Mr. Doherty is appealing to his Fox News loving constituents with Acquired Stupidity Syndrome who think they are being ripped off by little welfare princes in Jersey City.  Some of those kids might have parents who work but in NJ still can’t get enough to eat because this is a very high cost of living state but let’s penalize them anyway for their parents fudging the numbers on the reduced cost lunch program form.  This kind of mean spirited self-righteousness and indignation from the Fox crowd just sickens me.  Pile on people at the bottom of the economic ladder.  They’re nothing, right?

Now for the confessional part.  I am not on the school lunch program but if I don’t find a job soon, next year my income will allow me to qualify for it.  I have every expectation that this will not happen but it could.  I keep telling people that the research industry in this area is in Great Depression mode but no one will believe me.  As long as I live in this house, I will have to pay astronomical property taxes.  And I have paid about $20,000 in taxes just on my severance bennies, which ended recently.  These Tea Party people have a lot of nerve accusing people like me of being deadbeats.  We didn’t ask to be unemployed.  But unemployment is no excuse for not paying the tax man.  My total tax bill for 2011 would be scary to a Tea Party person. Plus, I will have to pay COBRA soon.  You don’t want to know how much that is.  It’s ugly.

Now, if I, a regular suburbanite in a middle to upper middle class suburb where the median income is $106,000/year (that’s not plush in NJ where mortgages eat up 40% of income), am in this kind of predicament, I know damn well there are thousands of other families in my town that are in the same place.  And next year, THEY might very well be applying to the reduced lunch program.  I don’t know how many people saved as carefully as I did.  I have a bit of money to live on along with unemployment so money’s tight but the panic level is being kept in check.  But when I think of how many people I have seen in the past running around my town in their Lexus SUVs, carting their kids to soccer practice and ballet lessons on Saturday, I have to wonder how long they have before they’re in real trouble.  From my survey of the parking lot at the local mall, it looks like it won’t be very long.  The Sunday after Thanksgiving, it looked half empty and traffic inside the mall was indistinguishable from a Thursday afternoon in July.

So, Mr. Doherty, bring it on.  In the next couple of months, I expect to see the number of kids applying for the school lunch program to jump right here in good old middle class suburbia.  And with every applicant, there’s $5000 more to our district.  Cha-Ching!  That should offset property tax hikes for a couple of years, for which I shall be profoundly grateful.

Be careful what you wish for, Mr. Doherty.  You might just find the ugly truth.

Wednesday: Collateral damage

Even the GOP can't attack the lunch program. Or can they?

The NYTimes reports today that the number of children on the reduced cost school lunch program has spiked recently due to layoffs and homelessness in the family.

That’s just great.

On a related note, Nicolas Kristoff wrote a post last Sunday on how we’re being too hard on Obama.  He’s worried that the recent elections in Spain and other European countries under pressure demonstrate impatience with socialist and other more liberal political parties.  Why that should affect Obama is a mystery.  He doesn’t appear to have a liberal bone in his body.  Then Kristoff goes through the presidential campaign talking points:

In this economic crisis, Obama will face the same headwinds. That should provide a bracing warning to grumbling Democrats: If you don’t like the way things are going right now, just wait.

President Obama came into office with expectations that Superman couldn’t have met. Many on the left believed what the right feared: that Obama was an old-fashioned liberal. But the president’s cautious centrism soured the left without reassuring the right.

Like many, I have disappointments with Obama. He badly underestimated the length of this economic crisis, and for a man with a spectacular gift at public speaking, he has been surprisingly inept at communicating.

But as we approach an election year, it is important to acknowledge the larger context: Obama has done better than many critics on the left or the right give him credit for.

He took office in the worst recession in more than half a century, amid fears of a complete economic implosion. As The Onion, the satirical news organization, described his election at the time: “Black Man Given Nation’s Worst Job.”

The administration helped tug us back from the brink of economic ruin. Obama oversaw an economic stimulus that, while too small, was far larger than the one House Democrats had proposed. He rescued the auto industry and achieved health care reform that presidents have been seeking since the time of Theodore Roosevelt.

{{rolling eyes}}

I noticed that Kristoff was careful to say that Obama signed a fair pay act into law.  That must mean that they have discovered that women are onto the Lilly Ledbetter maneuver.  Raise your hands, ladies, if you feel like your pay with your male colleagues has been equalized.  Don’t worry that you don’t know what their salaries are.  Everything can be quantified.  Compare the cars you have, the houses you live in, working spouse or stay at home, how many kids you have.  Are your male colleagues living your lifestyle?

Then there are things Obama has actually made worse.  Like, setting an example in the White House for the way the Old Boys Network works and then not holding anyone accountable for it.  Don’t think there aren’t guys out there who are now comfortable screwing with their female colleagues’ career in order to get ahead. It happens ALL THE TIME.  Obama is a master of it.  It’s part of the reason why he won the nomination in 2008.  We witnessed it.  Maybe Kristoff doesn’t think this is important.  I notice that he spends a commendable amount of time detailing sex slavery in the developing world.  But what would he find close to home if he started to delve into gender inequality at work?  Nick?  You want to take that on?  Or do you just want to wring your hands in growing panic over Obama’s re-election prospects?  I suppose women are going to hear that their concerns are not that important now that the economy is falling.

Anyway, we’re not that impressed with Obama’s “achievements”.  By the way, Nick, did you know the COBRA subsidy that was to help those of us unemployed afford to cover our health insurance costs expired in September?  Yup.  Do you have any idea how much COBRA costs these days when all you get is unemployment?  Health care reform isn’t going to make those costs disappear, Nick.  There’s no fricking competition from a public option.  Oh, and while he was putting together that pathetic Affordable (you’ve GOT to be kidding) Care Act, he was busy ignoring the recommendation of his economic advisor Christina Romer to dedicate $100 billion to put the unemployed back to work.  Do you know how many scientists in NJ could be put back to work discovering new drugs on even 1% of that money?  And let’s talk about how he handled the termination of the Bush Tax Cuts for the wealthy.  Oh, that’s right, he *didn’t* terminate them.  And he didn’t help families stay in their homes with HAMP.  And he didn’t arrest the bankers.  He didn’t appoint Elizabeth Warren to the agency that she created.  And he hasn’t helped protect womens’ reproductive rights.  Jeez, the list goes on and on.  Some of these things are fairly simple fixes and would have cost very little political capital.  But he didn’t do them anyway.  Why, Nick?  WHY??

Kristoff goes out of his way to blame the circumstances into which Obama’s presidency was born for his failure to really accomplish anything.  Oh, wait, doesn’t that contradict the rest of this column that lauds Obama’s achievements?  Whatever.  As I recall, Obama wanted this job bad.  He wanted it so badly that he was willing to abandon all scruples to get it.  The DNC put itself out for the money men so it could elect pliant, docile Democrats who would do as they were told.  But it was Obama who with a paltry 142 days on the job in Washington, DC decided that he was supremely qualified to be president in the aftermath of the disastrous Bush years.  And let us not be stupid about this, the collapse of the subprime market started to happen in 2007.  You didn’t have to be a Wall Street banker to know that the crash was going to happen.  You just needed to check the real estate section of the local paper.  There was no way in hell that wages were keeping pace with house prices.

But Obama had to have this job.  It’s not like we didn’t have options.  There was another candidate who was more suited to handle an economic catastrophe.  She got the shaft, along with the voters in the big, reliable Democratic states and Obama took the prize.  The Democrats should not be surprised that working class voters in swing states like Pennsylvania are not enthusiastic about voting for him.  They *had* their champion and she was stabbed in the back.  What did they get in return?  How has Obama improved their lives? He was supposed to be the better candidate, right?  Otherwise the party wouldn’t have nominated him, right?  You can’t really expect those voters to believe that now.

Presumably, Obama’s voters were convinced that he was the creme de la creme.  There wasn’t anyone better.  The Democratic party really pulled out the stops when it nominated Obama.  He is the most Democratic and bestest and excellence personified. It simply can not get better than Obama.  He is the most-ut.  If that’s the way they truly felt, they had an obligation to put as much pressure as they possibly could on him to get him to perform.  After all, they stomped all over Clinton voters and women practically screaming, “Shut up and DIE, you stupid, old, uneducated, working class idiots!”  Those Clinton voters were tossed aside and their concerns were ignored in the wake of Obama’s “historic” victory.  He ought to have paid more attention to them and his supporters should have stopped the funky-chicken-in-the-endzone back in 2008.  (Note to Kristoff google + commenters, one of the biggest problems Obama has to deal with is his own obnoxious supporters.  Drop the sarcastic “magic Hillary” remarks.  They’re in extremely poor taste or haven’t you learned anything yet.)

Giving him a pass and making excuses for his poor performance was not the best strategy for winning friends and influencing people.  Nor was writing the non-Obama voters off.  Or calling them racists, or stupid, or uneducated.  Instead of treating him with kid gloves, his supporters should have been whacking him like a piñata in 2009 to make him conform to Democratic party principles.  They would not and he didn’t.  Now, he can do pretty much anything he pleases and data mine the precincts, tweaking his message to squeak a teeny advantage here and there.  Will it be enough?  Does it matter if he doesn’t resemble the president you thought you voted for the first time?

I guess it’s our fault as voters that we do not appreciate him.  We shouldn’t have gotten ourselves unemployed and foreclosed.  We should have taken better care of his legacy.  But it’s a funny thing that happens when you lose everything.  Suddenly, someone else’s hyperbolic frenzy to retain power just doesn’t seem very important anymore. Maybe Obama should have been paying greater attention to the bottom layer of Maslow’s pyramid.  Oh, well, too late now.

Kristoff closes with:

I’m hoping the European elections will help shock Democrats out of their orneriness so that they accept the reality that we’ll be facing not a referendum, but a choice. For a couple of years, the left has joined the right in making Obama a piñata. That’s fair: it lets off steam, and it’s how we keep politicians in line.

But think back to 2000. Many Democrats and journalists alike, feeling grouchy, were dismissive of Al Gore and magnified his shortcomings. We forgot the context, prided ourselves on our disdainful superiority — and won eight years of George W. Bush.

This time, let’s do a better job of retaining perspective. If we turn Obama out of office a year from now, let’s make sure it is because the Republican nominee is preferable, not just out of grumpiness toward the incumbent during a difficult time.

I completely agree with Kristoff here.  There is a choice.  If the Democrats are starting to worry about their chances in November 2012, they could choose to change their lineup.  That would be the sensible, bold, leaderly thing to do.  We Democrats in Exile do not want four more years of Obama.  That is what those poll numbers are telling you, Democrats.  The party that wins next November is the one that has the most motivated voters.  Right now, the Republicans are chomping at the bit.  They’ll fall into line once they have a nominee.  That’s what Republicans do.  They’re good at following orders.

Democrats?  Ehhhhh, not so much.  Right now, I can’t think of one reason why I would voluntarily go to the polls to cast a vote for a guy who doesn’t take a firm stand for *anything* I believe in.  Do I want the Republicans to win?  Of course not.  But that assumes that the Democrats are not going to offer me a better choice next year.  And that infuriates me.  If they aren’t going to offer me a choice, they deserve to lose.  This is a no-brainer, guys.  The Democrats have to motivate the party and give the public options.  Take Obama out of the game and put in another player.  Obama is not the best you can do.  There are at least three candidates I can think of off the top of my head who would be better.  Choose one and stop the hand wringing.  Otherwise, I’m going to find a third party candidate and vote for that person.  I understand the strategic implications of this decision for the Democrats.  The question is, do the Democrats understand that I and millions of others are serious?  What’s important to them?  Maintaining power at any cost and risking it all if they lose or actually doing what is right?

This is not a game.  I’m getting sick of the psychological manipulation techniques and the guilt trips.  All I can see is the number of people I know who are out of work, including me, in a high technology industry that is being decimated by the same smug bonus class that forced Obama down our throats.  And that school lunch program applicant increase?