12/22/2010

Help to the helper? Aid to the aider?


1 in 7 Americans rely on food stamps

CNNMoney.com

The use of food stamps has increased dramatically in the U.S., as the federal government ramps up basic assistance to meet the demands of an increasingly desperate population.

The number of food stamp recipients increased 16% over last year. This means that 14% of the population is now living on food stamps. That's about 43 million people, or about one out of every seven Americans.

In some states, like Tennessee, Mississippi, New Mexico and Oregon, one in five people are receiving food stamps. Washington, D.C. leads the nation, with 21.5% of the population on food stamps.

"The high unemployment rate caused the high participation rate," said Dottie Rosenbaum from the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities, a think tank.

But it's not just the nation's stubbornly high unemployment rate of 9.8% that's driving the increase in food stamp use. Some states are expanding their definitions of poverty to include more people.

At the same time, the 2009 American Recovery and Reinvestment Act boosted annual funding to the nationwide food stamp program, known as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, by $10 billion.

The average recipient receives $133 in food stamps per month, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. That amount varies from state to state; in Hawaii the average is $216, while it's $116 in Wisconsin.

But the Recovery Act funding increased the maximum food stamp benefit by 13.6%, which translates to about $20-24 dollars per person per month.

The U.S. government considers food stamps to be effective stimulus for the economy, because the recipients usually spend them right away.

Idaho saw the biggest increase in its food stamp program, with a spike of 39% compared to last year, followed by Nevada, at 29%, and New Jersey, at 27%.

New Jersey's food stamp program expanded at least in part because the state raised its poverty level in April, according to Nicole Brossoie of the state Department of Human Services. That let the state add 35,000 people to its food stamp rolls, an increase of 5%.

Also, Brossoie said that program has been made more accessible to poverty-stricken residents.

"Through newsletters, posters, counseling and other outreach, the stigma associated with food stamps has diminished and more individuals and families are seeking assistance," she said.

What happens when the jobless give up?
The government is also beefing up unemployment benefits. The unemployed will get a 13-month extension to file for additional unemployment benefits, which can last as long as 99 weeks in states hit hardest by job loss.

As the job market continues to dog the economy, the increase in food stamp funding is set to remain in place for nearly three years.

Dottie Rosenbaum said the hike in food stamp benefits is set to expire Nov. 1, 2013. Typically, food stamp funding increases every year to match inflation. But if Congress does not extend the stimulus funding beyond the 2013 cutoff, then food stamp benefits will revert to their original levels, but still be adjusted for inflation.

She said the budget office is forecasting a potential drop of $49 a month in food stamp benefits for a family of three, or $59 for a family of four, if the stimulus program is not continued.

President Obama, while signing a child nutrition bill on Dec. 13, said he was working with members of Congress to extend the food stamp funding.

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What a very rare time it will be when those who lend will themselves be in great need of the things that they used to lend to others. What a day like no other day it will be when those who give aid will themselves be in need of the things that they used to give to others.

He who used to lend time to others shall be given enough time by them. He who gave blessings to others shall in turn receive from others blessings. Those who lend troubles to others will gain a manifold increase of troubles.

Though the branches will be cut off, yet the Lord will preserve the trunks and the roots so that in time there may be new young branches that will sprout. In the winter, no one who toiled in the field during the season of plenty should curl cold in a barn full of chaffs, for the Lord will honor their labor; and there will be aid to the aider, and help there shall be to the helper.

12/09/2010

What's Going On?

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What happened to this case? Where is justice?

A highly encrypted video document such as this which is supposedly under the watch and safe keeping of one of the world's most advanced military and intelligence agency, all of a sudden is in the hands of some group of whistle-blowers and they were able to decrypt it? There must be something going on here than what seems to be a case of security lapses.

Woe to those whose fingers twirl the devilsticks!

12/07/2010

Who Really Are Behind WikiLeaks?

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video

With the way the information are selectively released, some people have now started to become suspicious of WikiLeaks. The mere fact that until now no one from WikiLeaks has fallen into the hands of authorities raises serious doubts as to who really are the masterminds behind this group of the so-called "online whistle-blowers". With these doubts and suspicions, it has now started becoming difficult to believe that it is the noble motive of Julian Assange to help keep governments open.

More than meets the eye, it is now beginning to appear that this whole thing is not merely leaking "secret/confidential" information for the purpose of government transparency.

Woe to those whose fingers twirl the devilsticks.

12/05/2010

Diplomacy After WikiLeaks

By Randy David
Philippine Daily Inquirer

For some people, ethical diplomacy is an oxymoron, a self-contradicting idea. Foreign policy, of which diplomacy is but an instrument, is supposed to be driven by the self-interest of nations, not by any notion of what is good for the world or for humanity. Accordingly, no one should be surprised or find offense in the ruthless selfishness with which the United States pursues its interests, as shown by US embassy cables released by WikiLeaks. It is just the way foreign relations are conducted by nations everywhere.

I would argue that the average individual would find this view too cynical. While one expects nations—like persons—to keep secrets, he would nonetheless expect them to pursue their interests with decency, in a way that is worthy of the respect and trust of those with whom they deal.

In many ways, this is the burden of diplomacy. Indeed, this will not be appreciated by countries that treat their diplomats as no more than glorified shopping guides for traveling politicians and their spouses. But the work of diplomats, who are the public face of their people in the countries to which they are sent, is crucial to maintaining peace and harmony in the world.

I recently came across a lecture delivered by the British ambassador to the Vatican, Francis Campbell, before an audience in Newcastle, United Kingdom, in which he reflects on what he claims is the often misunderstood art of diplomacy. “When one mentions diplomacy many negative images can spring to mind. Perhaps none more so than Sir Henry Wotton’s description of an ambassador as ‘a man of virtue sent abroad to lie for his country’.”

This witty description of the diplomatic function seems so benign compared to what diplomats actually do, if one goes by the accounts that American ambassadors write and send to Washington. It leaves out of the picture the equally important task of interpreting what’s happening in a country, and why its leaders and people are acting the way they do, from the particular vantage point of one’s own nation. Such information is essential to any government that seeks to persuade another to act on the basis of mutual interests.

“At heart,” says Campbell, “diplomacy is about a relationship—it is about building, managing, deepening and maintaining a relationship.” From the embassy cables released by the WikiLeaks website, one can conclude that a good number of America’s diplomats fulfill this function in a way that does credit to their jobs and their government. But, when these cables are read by the very people who are the topic, the consequences can be unpredictable.

These cables, sent from 274 US embassies and consulates all over the world, were written for very specific readers—mainly the heads of regional desks in the foreign office and other high government officials. Most are cast in dry and tedious bureaucratese, while a few can actually pass for literary gems. Some are artfully anthropological, others profoundly psychological. One can imagine how the boredom of an ambassador in a hardship assignment may be greatly relieved by the writing of a report that mixes imaginative gossip with dry empirical facts, political analysis with cultural interpretation. What has made these cables especially controversial however is the attitude they seem to embody—a condescending “orientalism” (in Edward Said’s sense of the word) that can only erode the trust that diplomats are supposed to build.

This is the effect that US President Barack Obama and State Secretary Hillary Clinton are now doing their best to neutralize. When allies and leaders of friendly nations are depicted in disdainful and mocking language by US diplomats in their memos, not even a personal call from the American president may suffice to repair the injury that has been done. Out of politeness, America’s allies will likely dismiss these incidents as insignificant. No formal diplomatic protest will be lodged by anyone, except by politicians who like to perform before the peanut gallery at home. Still, the US would be greatly mistaken if it takes this to mean that all is well among friends.

This is one time when America’s diplomats may need to summon all their skills in cultural interpretation if they are to get past this crisis. In many places in the non-Western world, as they may know, trust is everything. Lacking the hard information they need to make rational choices, people in these societies tend to rely mainly on their instincts—that is to say, on the relationships of tacit trust they build with other people—to make decisions. It is this kind of trust that has become the first casualty of WikiLeaks’ disclosures.

Perhaps it is just as well that small nations that have tended to conduct their foreign relations on a foundation of personal trust are getting a good education in modern diplomacy. It is probably to them that WikiLeaks speaks when it claims that its work is inspired by this quote from James Madison: “Knowledge will forever govern ignorance; and a people who mean to be their own governors must arm themselves with the power which knowledge gives.”

The WikiLeaks cables are supposed to span the period 1966 to February 2010. That’s a long time. Many transitions happened in the Philippines during those years, and we know that more than any other nation, the US played a big role in those events. We don’t know the full extent of that role. Information of this sort will not allow us to undo the past. But it may lead us to a better understanding of the persistent problems that have troubled our nation, and what we need to do to overcome them.

12/04/2010

Utillizing Media for Goodness

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"Humanity in every age, and even today, looks to works of art to shed light upon its destiny... The Church is called to use the mass media to spread the Gospel." --Pope John Paul II

12/03/2010

Diplomacy. Anyone?

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"Ground zero... So this is where the first guy got aids?" --Peter

I laughed hard watching this segment of a TV cartoon "Family Guy". This is one hilarious way (for people who are against the U.S. foreign policy) of bashing the U.S. for relying on a poor intel in persuading its allies into taking part in the invasion of Iraq.

In relevance to the confidential U.S. "intel" documents recently being leaked by WikiLeaks, it may be pathetic but the documents give ordinary people (including the likes of the cartoon character Peter) a glimpse of how most leaders of supposed great democratic nations have mastered the art of political hypocrisy which they insist to call "Diplomacy".

Unable to properly digest the tons of leaked confidential information, there is a possibility that some leaders of some countries affected by the leak may misinterpret the huge volume of info and may fail to correctly connect some dots. In their confusion, some leaders might arrive at a wrong conclusion.

In the video clip, an overwhelmed Peter, in his innocence and confusion wrongly concluded and exclaimed, "So you're sayin' we need to invade Iran?" I laughed even more hearing Peter's last line.