Thursday, September 26, 2013 12:00 AM
By Abby J. Leibman
The Oct. 1 deadline is approaching for Congress to finish work on what is commonly called the “Farm Bill.” However, for millions of Americans, it’s actually the “Food Bill” — the difference between being able to put groceries on the table and going hungry.
And lawmakers seem content to let those folks go without enough food. The Senate has tentatively approved a $4-billion reduction in funding for food stamps — formally known as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). This month, the House passed a bill that slashes 10 times as much. Both courses of action are unconscionable.
Rather than shredding the food stamp program, Congress must bolster its funding. That’s the only way to ensure that all Americans, including the 50 million who struggle to get enough to eat, can enjoy what should be a right in this country - freedom from hunger.
For 40 years, food stamps have been an integral part of the federal Farm Bill. SNAP’s inclusion represents a frank acknowledgment that too many Americans go hungry in spite of the huge bounty our farms produce.
But in July, for the first time, the House of Representatives turned its back on those in need and stripped food stamps entirely from the bill.
The chamber’s leaders promised to deal with SNAP separately. But they don’t mean to do any favors for the nearly 47 million Americans who receive critical assistance from SNAP.
The House’s recent approval of $40 billion in cuts to food stamps is double the $20 billion reduction it sought back in June.
The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities analyzed both proposals: $20 billion worth of cuts would kick nearly two million Americans out of SNAP; the newly approved cut of $40 billion will turn away as many as six million.
Defenders of the cuts claim that they are trying to preserve the program for “families who truly need help.”
But there are many more folks who “truly need help” than SNAP presently reaches. Indeed, we should be doing more to eliminate hunger in America — not less.
According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Economic Research Service, nearly 50 million Americans live in “food-insecure households, “unable to afford sufficient food for themselves and their families. These households include more than 16 million children.
Worse, the food insecurity crisis is growing. From 2007 through 2011, the number of people unable to afford adequate food increased by more than 10 million. Those living in food insecurity now represent the highest share of the population since the agency began tracking in 1995.
In the wealthiest country in the world, such widespread hunger is unacceptable.
It was also unacceptable more than 70 years ago, when President Franklin Roosevelt delivered his historic “Four Freedoms” address to Congress, asserting that Americans had a right to “freedom from want.” He understood that a lack of access to basic nutrition undermines a person’s ability to enjoy other fundamental rights.
It’s a scandal that our lawmakers have done so little since then to make good on that promise of “freedom from want.”
The right to food was included in the United Nations’ Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which was ratified in 1948. More than 140 countries have approved an international agreement directing states to enshrine this right into law. Many have amended their constitutions to acknowledge their citizens’ right to food, including India, the world’s largest democracy, and South Africa.
Yet U.S. leaders have gone the other way - stubbornly refusing to address growing hunger in the United States.
No country is better equipped to guarantee its citizens a right to food than the United States. What’s needed now is not the means but the political will to ensure that all Americans have enough to eat.
Unfortunately, the uncertain fate of food stamps on Capitol Hill casts grave doubt on whether our leaders possess that will.
Lawmakers must understand how much is at stake. More than one in seven Americans deals with hunger every day. Congress must spare SNAP from any cuts and protect the millions of low income Americans - children, seniors, military families, working poor, and unemployed - who are in desperate need of a just “Food Bill.”
Abby J. Leibman is the president and chief executive officer of Mazon: A Jewish Response to Hunger (www.mazon.org).
Saturday, September 21, 2013 12:23 AM
BY U.S. SENATOR
This week, the United States Senate began to debate a bill I introduced called the Energy Savings and Industrial Competitiveness Act. This bill—the first major piece of energy legislation to come to the Senate floor in six years—is the next step in the all-of-the-above energy strategy we need to achieve energy independence.
We were reminded again over the past few weeks why that energy independence is so important. The Middle East, where much of our energy comes from, is often a volatile and unstable region. Since our economy depends on cheap, reliable sources of energy, disruptions in places like Syria have consequences far beyond their borders, often leading directly to an increase in the price of oil, with effects throughout markets of every kind.
We should not be held hostage to events happening a world away. Instead, we should find ways to produce more energy here at home, while practicing good stewardship of the resources we have. For instance, I have been a vocal proponent of domestic production. Technology has opened new areas to exploration, including the Marcellus and Utica Shale in Northeast and Eastern Ohio, which we should support. And I have advocated for common-sense, environmentally sound projects like the Keystone XL Pipeline. But I also believe there is room to improve in the area of energy efficiency.
That’s where the Energy Savings and Industrial Competitiveness Act (ESIC) comes in. By encouraging smart, common-sense techniques that will not increase federal spending, we can help manufacturers to cut costs and conserve energy while also forcing the largest energy user in the world—the United States federal government—to tighten its belt and save taxpayer dollars.
The proposals contained in this bill are common-sense reforms that we’ve needed for a long time. ESIC doesn’t contain any mandates on the private sector. In fact, many of its proposals come as a direct result of conversations with people in the private sector about how we can help them become more energy efficient while also saving money that they can then reinvest in their businesses and communities.
This legislation helps manufacturers. It reforms the Advanced Manufacturing Office by providing clear guidance on its responsibilities, one of which is to help manufactures develop energy saving technology for their businesses. It instructs the Department of Energy to assist with onsite efficiency assessments for manufacturers. It facilitates the already existing efforts of companies around the country to implement cost-saving energy efficiency policies by streamlining the way government agencies in this arena work together. And it increases partnerships with national laboratories and energy service and technology providers to leverage private sector expertise towards energy efficiency goals.
This legislation also establishes university-based Building Training and Assessment Centers, modeled after existing Industrial Assessment Centers located around the country, including one in Dayton, Ohio. These centers will train the next generation of workers in energy-efficient commercial building design and operation. Not only will these programs save resources, but they will help provide our students and unemployed workers with the skills they need to compete in the growing energy field.
This legislation will save taxpayers money. It makes the largest energy user in the world—the United States federal government—practice what it preaches by requiring it to adopt energy saving techniques that make its operations more efficient and less wasteful. This bill directs DOE to issue recommendations that employ energy efficiency on everything from computer hardware to operation and maintenance processes, energy efficiency software, and power management tools. It also takes the common-sense step of allowing the General Services Administration to update building designs to meet efficiency standards that have been developed since those designs were finalized. The government has been looking for places to tighten its belt; energy efficiency is a good place to start.
Energy legislation can sometimes be controversial, as it can include provisions that hurt employers and restrict economic growth. This energy bill is different. This is a bill that helps to create jobs, not destroy them. It is a bill that is supported by more than 260 businesses, associations and advocacy groups, including the National Association of Manufacturers, the Sierra Club, the Alliance to Save Energy, and the United States Chamber of Commerce. According to a recent study of our legislation, by 2030, ESIC will save consumers $13.7 billion a year in reduced energy costs by 2030.
All this adds up to a piece of legislation that Americans across the spectrum can support. This bill makes good environmental sense. It makes good energy sense. And it makes good economic sense, too.
I look forward to seeing it become law.
Saturday, August 31, 2013 12:26 AM
By LARA JAKES
The Associated Press
WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama is poised to become the first U.S. leader in three decades to attack a foreign nation without broad international support or in direct defense of Americans.
Not since 1983, when President Ronald Reagan ordered an invasion of the Caribbean island of Grenada, has the U.S. been so alone in pursing major lethal military action beyond a few attacks responding to strikes or threats against its citizens.
It’s a policy turnabout for Obama, a Democrat who took office promising to limit U.S. military intervention and has cited the 2011 withdrawal of troops from Iraq as one of his administration’s top successes. But over the last year he has warned Syrian President Bashar Assad that his government’s use of chemical weapons in its two-year civil war would be a “red line” that would provoke a strong U.S. response.
So far, only France has indicated it would join a U.S. strike on Syria.
Without widespread backing from allies, “the nature of the threat to the American national security has to be very, very clear,” said retired Army Brig. Gen. Charles Brower, an international studies professor at Virginia Military Institute in Lexington, Va.
“It’s the urgency of that threat that would justify the exploitation of that power as commander in chief — you have to make a very, very strong case for the clear and gathering danger argument to be able to go so aggressively,” Brower said Friday. “He needs partners, and he needs to be able to make that clear to have the legal justification.”
Obama is expected to launch what officials have described as a limited strike — probably with Tomahawk cruise missiles — against Assad’s forces.
Two days after the suspected chemicals weapons attack in Damascus suburbs, Obama told CNN, “If the U.S. goes in and attacks another country without a U.N. mandate and without clear evidence that can be presented, then there are questions in terms of whether international law supports it; do we have the coalition to make it work?” He said: “Those are considerations that we have to take into account.”
But lawmakers briefed on the plans Thursday indicated an attack is all but certain and Obama advisers said the president was prepared to strike unilaterally, though France is prepared to join the effort.
The U.S. does not have United Nations support to strike Syria, and U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has urged restraint. “Diplomacy should be given a chance and peace given a chance,” he said Thursday.
Expected support from Britain, a key ally, evaporated as Parliament rejected a vote Thursday endorsing military action in Syria. And diplomats with the 22-nation Arab League said the organization does not support military action without U.N. consent, an action that Russia would almost certainly block. The diplomats spoke anonymously because of rules preventing them from being identified.
France has said it is ready to commit forces to an operation in Syria because the use of chemical weapons cannot go unpunished.
“Presidents always need to be prepared to go at it alone,” said Rudy deLeon, who was a senior Defense Department official in the Clinton administration.
“The uninhibited use of the chemical weapons is out there, and that’s a real problem,” said deLeon, now senior vice president of security and international policy at the liberal-leaning Center for American Progress in Washington. “It can’t be ignored, and it certainly creates a dilemma. I think (Obama) had to make the red-line comment, and so Syria has acted in a very irresponsible way.”
The nearly nine-year war in Iraq that began in 2003, which Obama termed “dumb” because it was based on false intelligence, has encouraged global skittishness about Western military intervention in the Mideast. “There’s no doubt that the intelligence on Iraq is still on everybody’s mind,” deLeon said.
Both Republican George H.W. Bush and Democrat Bill Clinton had U.N. approval for nearly all of their attacks on Iraq years earlier. Even in the 2003 invasion, which was ordered by Republican George W. Bush, 48 nations supported the military campaign as a so-called coalition of the willing. Four nations — the U.S., Britain, Australia and Poland — participated in the invasion.
The U.S. has relied on NATO at least three times to give it broad foreign support for military missions: in bombarding Bosnia in 1994 and 1995, attacking Kosovo with airstrikes in 1999 and invading Afghanistan in 2001.
Only a few times has the U.S. acted unilaterally — and only then to respond to attacks or direct threats against Americans, such as the 1993 missile strike that Clinton ordered in retaliation against an Iraqi plot to assassinate the elder Bush.
Saturday, August 31, 2013 12:25 AM
BY U.S. SENATOR
There is no greater friend of conservation and no greater protector of the natural treasures of our country than America’s sportsmen. Every year, sportsmen pump billions of dollars into the economy. At the same time, they provide the money through taxes and fees that fund wildlife officers and conservation efforts in national parks, wildlife sanctuaries, and on private land.
Despite all these contributions, there is still much that we need to do to protect the rights of sportsmen and to ensure that our nation’s natural resources remain open and available to future generations of those who love the outdoors. The Sportsmen’s Act—legislation I am cosponsoring in the United States Senate—is designed to do just that.
Countless Ohioans enjoy hunting and fishing, but not all of them have access to private land where they can partake in these activities. It’s not surprising that access to public lands is the number one issue for America’s sportsmen, and loss of that access is the number one reason people stop hunting and fishing. Reports by the Department of Interior have found that large amounts of public land have inadequate access for sportsmen.
The Sportsmen’s Act helps to address that problem. This legislation would protect the public right to engage in recreational hunting, fishing, and shooting on public lands. It requires that all lands managed by the Bureau of Land Management and the U.S. Forest Service remain open to outdoorsmen. And it provides legislative support to Executive Order 13443, which directs federal land management agencies to facilitate the expansion and enhancement of hunting on federal lands, and ensures sound scientific management of wildlife and their habitat.
This legislation also removes some of the regulatory barriers that make taking advantage of our public lands so difficult. It removes the arbitrary limitation that allows firearms to be transported across national parks but not bows. It codifies that the Environmental Protection Agency does not have the ability to regulate ammo and fishing tackles, leaving that authority to state fish and game agencies and the Fish and Wildlife Service where it has always resided. And it requires that 1.5 percent of annual Land and Water Conservation Fund dollars be made available to secure access to existing federal public lands that have restricted access to hunting, fishing, and other recreational uses.
We must ensure that the lands we have available for public use are open to the American citizens they are meant to benefit.
As generations of Americans know, our nation has no greater resource than our natural treasures. If we don’t keep them open for everyone to enjoy, we risk having a generation that doesn’t appreciate how precious they are and the importance of good stewardship.