Saturday, November 23, 2013

Manning v Brady




This is Brett Dykes' take on the matchups this week for all you Fantasy Footballers.  Two people in my family should make plans to watch this game in different sports bars.  Good luck!


Week 12 N.F.L. Matchups


                                                                         Steven Senne/Associated Press

Of the 13 games Tom Brady and Peyton Manning have faced each other, Brady has won nine times, and Manning has thrown for more yards, touchdowns and interceptions.

By BRETT MICHAEL DYKES

Published: November 22, 2013

Broncos (9-1) at Patriots (7-3)
8:30 p.m. Sunday Line: Broncos by 3

This game’s alternative title is “Manning vs. Brady XIV.”

It’s sort of astounding that this is the 14th time Tom Brady and Peyton Manning will square off. Of the 13 games that have been played, Brady has emerged as the victorious quarterback nine times, and Manning has thrown for more yards, touchdowns and interceptions. Those statistics serve as sort of a microcosm for their respective careers, no?

This game comes with a little subplot: Wes Welker’s return to New England and whether he will be healthy enough to play for Denver after sustaining a concussion against Kansas City in Week 11. Although speculation has been abundant, the quarterback who doubles as a spokesman for Uggs has little doubt that his former favorite target who doubles as spokesman for Old Spice will play.

“I’ve been around him long enough to know what he’s all about,” Brady said of Welker in a radio interview. “He loves playing football, and if there’s a chance for him to play, especially coming back here, he’s definitely going to be out there. I’ve got no question about that.”

Pick: Patriots

Jaguars (1-9) at Texans (2-8)
1 p.m. Sunday Line: Texans by 10

How is it possible that pitiful Houston, which has lost eight straight games, is favored by double digits. It speaks to the respect some people apparently still have for a team that was viewed as a Super Bowl contender before the season.

Why anyone still respects the Texans is beyond reason, as their resemblance to a Dumpster fire seems to enhance with each passing day. Against Oakland in Week 11, Coach Gary Kubiak pulled Case Keenum in favor of Matt Schaub, who probably should have been ushered out of Houston in the dead of night weeks ago for his personal safety. Then Kubiak told reporters that he had “total confidence” in Keenum. Um, yeah, sure.

Jacksonville is bad. But not that bad.

Pick: Jaguars

Colts (7-3) at Cardinals (6-4)
4:05 p.m. Sunday Line: Cardinals by 3

It’s hard to figure out what to make of Indianapolis. On one hand, the Colts have beaten Denver, Seattle and San Francisco decisively. On the other hand, they have looked awful in losses to Miami, San Diego and St. Louis, not one of which has a winning record.

Being a Colts fan in 2013 must be like dating someone who is great at your parents’ house during the holidays but who spills pasta and red wine all over your furniture when you stay in on a Friday night to snuggle and watch rom-coms.

But Arizona is 6-4. Wait, the Cardinals are 6-4? How the heck did that happen?

Pick: Colts

Cowboys (5-5) at Giants (4-6)
4:25 p.m. Sunday Line: Giants by 3

Matchups between Dallas and the Giants are almost always entertaining, but just a few weeks ago it looked as though this particular matchup would be about as meaningful as a romantic relationship with Warren Beatty from 1956 to 1991. The Cowboys looked like a lock to win the division and the Giants appeared to be competing for the top pick in next year’s draft after starting 0-6.

But alas, they play in the N.F.C. East, where nothing apparently is too ridiculous or improbable. And so it is that this Giants-Cowboys matchup actually means something in the grand scheme of things, something the players are keenly aware of.

“Games like this, you can throw the records out,” Giants defensive end Justin Tuck said. “I can honestly say that we don’t like each other, and it shows up on the football field, so I think it’s going to be another one of those drag-out type of games where you get in for four quarters and try to find a way to win it.”

Pick: Cowboys

Buccaneers (2-8) at Lions (6-4)
1 p.m. Sunday Line: Lions by 10

After starting the season 0-8, Tampa Bay has suddenly won two in a row, including a 41-28 thrashing of Atlanta in Week 11. And in the Buccaneers’ last loss, they forced overtime against Seattle, probably the N.F.C.’s best squad. So perhaps the team that looked to be imploding like the N.F.L.’s version of Mayor Rob Ford has turned a corner.

Detroit has the N.F.C. North title within easy reach, with Chicago’s Jay Cutler and Green Bay’s Aaron Rodgers plagued by injuries. But the Lions seem either unwilling or incapable of claiming their first division title in 20 years.

Pick: Lions

Steelers (4-6) at Browns (4-6)
1 p.m. Sunday Line: Browns by 1

A recent thread on Reddit.com asked, “Have you unfortunate encounters with Ben Roethlisberger?” Many of the responses revolved around his treatment of women. The Reddit user SnipeyMcSnipe wrote that Roethlisberger “jumped really high into the air, formed a pencil shape with his body, and dove into the ground...disappearing. The next week he was playing football.”

You just can’t believe everything you read on the Internet.

Pick: Browns

Vikings (2-8) at Packers (5-5)
1 p.m. Sunday Line: Packers by 5

Can Green Bay essentially tread water while starting little-known humans at quarterback until Aaron Rodgers returns and still hope to backdoor its way into the playoffs? Yes!

But a team can’t effectively tread water in the N.F.L. without winning a game here and there, and the Packers have lost three straight, their longest losing streak since losing five straight in 2008. Winning this game at home would obviously help in their effort to stay afloat.

Pick: Packers

Chargers (4-6) at Chiefs (9-1)
1 p.m. Sunday Line: Chiefs by 4

Has there ever been a regular N.F.L. starting quarterback who has led more consistently boring offenses than Alex Smith? If ever Smith were going to air it out and light up the scoreboard a little, it was last Sunday against the Broncos, but instead he and the Chiefs stuck to their plodding, methodical offense mannerisms in losing, 27-17. Watching Smith play quarterback is about as entertaining as watching a tollbooth operator work for three straight hours.

That said, Kansas City looks like a team that could have trouble whenever the opponent is capable of building a lead of more than a touchdown. San Diego is such an opponent, but the raucous home crowd should propel the Chiefs to victory.

Pick: Chiefs

Panthers (7-3) at Dolphins (5-5)
1 p.m. Sunday Line: Panthers by 5

With Miami’s offensive line in shambles, just about any other team would probably give Dolphins quarterback Ryan Tannehill fits. But Carolina, with its brutish and relentlessly aggressive defense, could present a nightmarish challenge.

Toss in a grinding running attack coupled with Cam Newton’s clicking through the air with Steve Smith and Greg Olsen. and the Dolphins, well, they better “ice up.” Look for the Panthers to continue breathing heavily down the Saints’ necks in the N.F.C. South.

Pick: Panthers

Bears (6-4) at Rams (4-6)
1 p.m. Sunday Line: Rams by 1

Josh McCown is the only quarterback selected in the 2002 draft to take a snap this season. He has performed so well filling in for the injured Jay Cutler that a mild quarterback controversy is brewing in Chicago.

McCown’s coach during his first two N.F.L. seasons with Arizona was Dave McGinnis, the current St. Louis assistant head coach. In an interview with The Chicago Tribune, McGinnis beamed with pride over McCown’s perseverance.

“I love Josh and really respect what he has done,” McGinnis said, “so it’s not surprising to me that people are finding out the depth of his football character. He has had it since he stepped into the league.”

Pick: Bears

Jets (5-5) at Ravens (4-6)
1 p.m. Sunday Line: Ravens by 4

When the Texans played in Baltimore this season, Ed Reed saw limited action after coming off an injury. Reed had a quiet game, registering three tackles and making none of the spectacular ball-hawking plays he has become famous for. He probably never guessed he would have the chance to play against his former team in their home stadium again. But Reed was released by Houston and signed with the Jets, and he will back in Baltimore on Sunday. He should see significant playing time; in his first game with the Jets in Week 11, Reed was on the field for 61 of the 69 defensive snaps, so look for him to make an impact in this game.

Still, the Jets have been downright abysmal on the road this season, outscored by 165-76 in five games. Expect that trend to continue.

Pick: Ravens

Titans (4-6) at Raiders (4-6)
4:05 p.m. Sunday Line: Titans by 1

A few weeks ago, Terrelle Pryor was the trendy quarterback pickup on the fantasy football waiver wire. Now Oakland has benched him in favor of the undrafted rookie Matt McGloin. This sort of situation is why fantasy football is bad for one’s mental health.

Pick: Titans

49ers (6-4) at Redskins (3-7)
8:40 p.m. Monday Line: 49ers by 6

Remember last season, when the read-option quarterbacks Colin Kaepernick and Robert Griffin III were ripping apart defenses every week? Now, the struggles of Kaepernick and Griffin have prompted many questions. Griffin’s completion percentage is down and he has thrown 10 interceptions, twice the number he had as a rookie last season. The situation in Washington is so bad that the former Redskins greats Darrell Green and Sonny Jurgensen have recently questioned Griffin’s leadership and whether he should be benched in favor of Kirk Cousins. Some of Griffin’s teammates have also spoken critically of him to reporters.

In San Francisco, Kaepernick doesn’t have quite the firestorm brewing around him that Griffin does, but he is competing just 56.2 percent of his passes and has tossed four more picks than he did all of last season. The 49ers’ offense has struggled to move the ball at times.

Maybe the victorious quarterback in this game can win a pony or something to make it all better.
Pick: 49ers


Should We Give Eli Another Chance?


This is for my family, fantasy football competitors all.  We need a break from all the not-so-fun news, anyway.


Fantasy Football: Week 12 Matchup Breakdown

Eli Manning has disappointed fantasy owners this season.



Tim Clayton for The New York Times

By JASON SABLICH and JUSTIN SABLICH
Published: November 20, 2013 
Eli Manning, we just can’t quit you.

Despite calling off our fantasy relationship with the consistently frustrating Manning after Week 10, we’ve decided to give him one more chance, because everyone deserves a second chance, or sometimes seven.

Manning opened the 2013 N.F.L. season with a bang, with 450 passing yards and 4 touchdowns against the rival Dallas Cowboys. He has averaged just 11 fantasy points per game since. But he is quietly coming off his best game since the opener (71.4 completion percentage, 279 yards and a touchdown versus Green Bay), and the Cowboys have allowed 261 standard fantasy points through the air this year, the most in fantasy football.

In a crucial game for the red-hot Giants, we expect Manning, who has thrown just two interceptions in his last four games, to come through, as he often has against the Cowboys.

Friday, November 22, 2013

Do We Need A New Constitution for the Future?


Have you seen any of the Intelligence Squared Debates?  They are so informative!  IQ2 tackles issues of the day and invites panelists who are qualified to debate these issues on a night with an audience.  The audience votes at the beginning of the debate and again at the end.  The team who changes their vote the most wins.  This debate is "Has the Constitutional Right to Bear Arms Outlived Its Usefulness?"  This is a long video, so you may want to watch it in stages.  Not everyone has the time to sit in front of their computer like I do.

If you are able to keep an open mind and listen to both sides argue, you will learn something.  I must admit that I agreed with some of the arguments against the proposal, and, as much as I know I should hate Alan Dershowitz, I can't help but love him!  He could convince me that sand is wet and water is dry!


Enough With The Princesses!


This is something I hope all school teachers will show in their classrooms.  I am so sick of buying "princess" stuff for the little girls in my life, and I am also tired of all the iPad apps that appeal to girls by letting them put makeup on princesses.  My little 4-year-old granddaughter is obsessed with "pretty" so her mother and I are looking for ways to get her to admire something else about girls and women besides their looks.  I am putting this video on her You Tube playlist and hope she hears the words in the song.




Thursday, November 21, 2013

CROWDSOURCING PROJECT BY SLATE



IMPORTANT CROWDSOURCING EFFORT - PLEASE READ AND SHARE WITH ALL YOUR FRIENDS.

“Help Slate Dig Deeper Into Gun Deaths in America


A crowdsourced analysis of the 10,000-plus people killed by guns since Newtown.

by Chris Kirk andDan Kois

Since we published our interactive on the number of gun deaths in America since Newtown, hundreds of readers have asked how they can help - and hundreds more have asked for a more detailed parsing of the data. After all, the lesson of this project is that we simply don’t know enough about the circumstances of America’s deaths by gun.  As we approach the one-year anniversary of the shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary, how can we learn more?

Well, now you can help.  Sorting through the 10,000-plus gun deaths reported by the media in the United States since Dec. 14 would be more than any one person could accomplish (that says a lot right there), but through the power of Slate readers and crowdsourcing, we can crunch the data very efficiently.  Just as the crowdsourced GalaxyZoo project has successfully classified hundreds of thousands of deep-space galaxies through the help of individual visitors, so we hope to classify thousands of gun deaths.  Using our interactive below, please classify a death as murder, suicide, accident, shot by law enforcement, shot by civilian in self-defense, or other/unclear.  We’ll use a consensus of votes on each death to classify it.

Classify one death, or two, or 10, or more.  Every bit helps paint a clearer picture of the toll guns take on American lives.”

I am not able to embed the Slate interactive in this blog, but simply go to Slate and do your part.  The government, because of the NRA, does not allow the CDC to collect data on gun deaths.  Armed with this data, citizens can demand that Congress act to stop the senseless killing of Americans on American soil, before foreign governments decide to intervene. 

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Daddy Bloomberg



You have to love Michael Bloomberg.  I think he's what we all want in a mayor - someone who wants to be a Dad to everyone in his city.  He's tried to help New Yorkers lose weight by limiting the amount of soda they can buy, and now he wants to keep kids from taking up the cigarette habit.  Maybe it will help, maybe not, but you can't fault his intentions.  This article was published in the Euronews today.
New York City’s outgoing mayor Michael Bloomberg has signed into law a ban on tobacco sales to anyone under 21, raising the age from 18.
It makes the Big Apple the first large city or state in the US to prohibit sales of cigarettes to young adults.
A former smoker himself, the mayor was unrepentant in the face of criticism.
“This century a billion people will die from smoking in the world and we don’t want any of the people that die to be New Yorkers. That’s the one thing we can do,” Bloomberg said.
New York City’s Health Commissioner Thomas Farley backed the move – saying that since more than 80 percent of the city’s smokers start before the age of 21, the ban may stop them from taking up the habit.
New York City residents have long been aware of the planned changes to the law.
“Twenty-one is probably a good age I mean you can’t drink anyway until you’re 21, technically. So, as long as they can enforce it . . . I don’t know how they will. It’s pretty hard. I’d think it’d be a great idea to move it along outside of New York as well,” said one young woman, a smoker.
“What I notice is that they’ll find somebody else older to pick them up for them and I notice a lot of stores still don’t check,” said a male non-smoker.
Tobacco companies and some retailers opposed the age increase, arguing it would just drive teenagers to the black market.
The new law sets a minimum price for all cigarettes sold in the city at 10.5 dollars – or 7.75 euros – a pack.
The legislation also prohibits the sale of small cigars in packages of less than 20 and increases penalties for retailers that violate sales regulations.
Both bills were passed by the City Council late last month, and will take effect in 180 days from the bills being signed.
Copyright © 2013 euronews

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Domestic Abuse + Guns Equals Death



George Zimmerman is just determined to go to jail.  If killing Trayvon Martin won’t do it, then he will just keep assaulting women til finally a court wakes up and puts him away.  Isn’t George Zimmerman one of the bad guys we don’t want to have a gun?  Here’s an article in Slate today.  


In another unsurprising development in the George Zimmerman saga, Zimmerman was arrested and charged with domestic battery and domestic aggravated assault with a weapon on Monday. During an argument with his new girlfriend, Samantha Scheibe, Zimmerman allegedly forced her out of the house by pulling a shotgun on her and barricaded the door. She gave the police her key, but they had to shove open the barricaded door. Since being acquitted of murdering Trayvon Martin, Zimmerman has had a number of run-ins with the police, including another domestic disturbance call during a fight with his wife after she filed for divorce.

Guns are routinely advertised in this country with hypermasculinized power fantasies, even going so far as promising to restore your supposedly lost manhood. Little wonder then that abusive men, who are the epitome of those who use violence and control to establish their masculinity, frequently turn to guns as weapons to hurt and dominate their victims. Harvard researchers have discovered that batterers who own guns frequently use them to threaten their partners into compliance. Having a gun in the mix when there is an abusive relationship makes the relationship way more dangerous for the victim. A woman is five times as likely to be killed by an abuser if there's a gun in the house, leading to 46 women a month getting shot to death by their partners or former partners. Notice I say "in the house." Conservatives often like to tout gun ownership as a solution for women enduring domestic violence, but it's distinctly bad advice to tell a woman who is being routinely hurt and threatened to bring a gun in proximity to a man who is very likely to use it.

However, tightening up gun laws is known to make it better for victims of domestic violence. States that pass laws requiring a background check on all handgun sales have 38 percent fewer gun murders of women at the hands of current or former partners. A quarter of a million domestic abusers have tried to buy guns in this country, only to be unable to pass the background check. 

Unfortunately, the Zimmerman situation demonstrates why even having more comprehensive background-check laws may not be enough to keep legal guns out of the hands of angry, belligerent men who are eager to pull them on anyone they feel entitled to control. Despite a history of frequent run-ins with the police and one dead teenager, Zimmerman hasn't been convicted of the kind of crime that would make him ineligible for gun ownership. Is there a way to make it easy to get as many guns as you want without making it a gun bonanza for people who find them attractive as totems to express their unjustified paranoias and their desire to instill fear and obedience in the people around them? It doesn't really seem that there is, which is why so many other countries have decided to lower their murder rates with extensive bans and gun buyouts, to great success. To be blunt, there's a problem with any legal regime that allows a George Zimmerman, after all that has happened, to still have a gun with which he can threaten his girlfriend. This country needs to get to fixing it. 


No Comfort Food for Mental Illness






This is a heartbreaking story I saw on Slate.  Written by  .  I admire Mr. Lake.  It takes courage to publicly announce that someone in your family is suffering from mental illness.  Will we ever reach the point where we are not ashamed to talk about depression, drug abuse, alcoholism, bipolar disorder, and all the rest?  Stories like this will help, I'm sure.


"When my wife was diagnosed with breast cancer, we ate well. Mary Beth and I had both read the terrifying pathology report of a tumor the size of an olive. The surgical digging for lymph nodes was followed by months of radiation. We ate very well.

Friends drove Mary Beth to her radiation sessions and sometimes to her favorite ice cream shop on the half-hour drive back from the hospital. She always ordered a chocolate malt. Extra thick.

Our family feasted for months on the lovingly prepared dishes brought by friends from work and church and the neighborhood: chicken breasts encrusted with parmesan, covered safely in tin foil; pots of thick soup with hearty bread; bubbling pans of lasagna and macaroni and cheese. There were warm home-baked rolls in tea towel–covered baskets, ham with dark baked pineapple rings, scalloped potatoes, and warm pies overflowing with the syrups of cherries or apples.

Leftovers piled up in the refrigerator, and soon the freezer filled up too, this tsunami of food offerings an edible symbol of our community’s abundant generosity.

Although few said the word breast unless it belonged to a chicken, many friends were familiar with the word cancer and said it often, without flinching. They asked how we were doing, sent notes and cards, passed along things they’d read about treatments and medications, emailed links to good recovery websites and the titles of helpful books, called frequently, placed gentle if tentative hands on shoulders, spoke in low and warm tones, wondered if we had enough food. The phrase we heard most was: “If there’s anything I can do ... ”

In the following months, after Mary Beth had begun speaking in full sentences again and could stay awake for an entire meal, the stored foods in the freezer ran out, and we began cooking on our own again. Our children, Nick and Maggie, sometimes complained jokingly about our daily fare. “Someone should get cancer so we can eat better food,” they’d say. And we actually laughed. 
* * *
Almost a decade later, our daughter, Maggie, was admitted to a psychiatric hospital and diagnosed with bipolar disorder, following years of secret alcohol and drug abuse.

No warm casseroles.

At 19, she was arrested for drug possession, faced a judge, and was placed on a probation program. Before her hearings, we ate soup and grilled cheese in a restaurant near the courthouse, mere booths away from the lawyers, police officers, and court clerks she might later see.

No scalloped potatoes in tinfoil pans.

This question is rarely heard: “How’s your depression these days?” Maggie was disciplined by her college for breaking the drug and alcohol rules. She began an outpatient recovery program. She took a medical leave from school. She was admitted to a psychiatric hospital, diagnosed, released. She began years of counseling, recovery meetings, and intensive outpatient rehabilitation. She lived in a recovery house, relapsed, then spent seven weeks in a drug and alcohol addiction treatment center.

No soup, no homemade loaves of bread.

Maggie progressed well at the treatment center. When the insurance coverage on inpatient treatment ran out for the year, she was transferred to a “partial house” where she and other women slept at night then were returned by van to the facility for full days of recovery sessions, meals, volleyball games, counseling, and horticultural therapy. This daughter who once stayed as far away from my garden as possible lest I catch a whiff of my stolen whiskey on her breath was now planting a garden herself, arranging painted rocks around an angel statue donated by a counselor, carrying buckets of water to nurture impatiens, petunia, delphinium, and geranium.

Friends talk about cancer and other physical maladies more easily than about psychological afflictions. Breasts might draw blushes, but brains are unmentionable. These questions are rarely heard: “How’s your depression these days?” “What improvements do you notice now that you have treatment for your ADD?” “Do you find your manic episodes are less intense now that you are on medication?” “What does depression feel like?” “Is the counseling helpful?” A much smaller circle of friends than those who’d fed us during cancer now asked guarded questions. No one ever showed up at our door with a meal.

We drove nearly five hours round trip each Sunday for our one weekly visiting hour. The sustenance of food, candy, and fiction were forbidden as gifts to patients at the treatment center. Instead, we brought Maggie cigarettes, sketchbooks, colored pencils, and phone cards. Any beef roasts or spaghetti dinners we ate were ones we’d prepared ourselves or bought in a restaurant on the long road to the center.

Then, late one night in June, Maggie and another patient were riding in the treatment center’s van on the way back to their house after a full day of the hard work of addiction recovery. The number of patients in the partial house had diminished from six a few days before, after a scandal involving small bags of ground coffee some smuggled from the house to the center and sold as though it were cocaine to addicts craving real coffee. (The center, like many, served only decaf.) Dozing off and comfortable in the seat behind the driver, Maggie might have been thinking of those coffee dealers who had been returned to the main facility or dismissed. Or maybe she was thinking about the upcoming wedding of her brother, Nick. A light pink bridesmaid’s dress waited in her closet at our house. Her release from the center was scheduled for two days before she and Mary Beth were to fly to Wisconsin for the wedding.

That night, an oncoming speeding car hit the van head-on.

The medics radioed for helicopters, and soon the air over Chester County, Pa., was full of them, four coming from Philadelphia, Coatesville, and Wilmington, one for each patient. The accident site was soon a garish roadside attraction of backboards, neck braces, IV tubes, oxygen tanks, gurneys, strobing lights, the deep thumping of helicopter blades, and the whine of turbines.

A newspaper picture later showed five firefighters, all in full gear, lifting a woman from a van—only her feet and an edge of the backboard visible. The van’s roof, dark and torn and jagged in the picture, had been removed by hydraulic cutters while the huddled victims, Maggie unconscious among them, were carefully covered with blankets. One of her front teeth lay in a puddle of blood on the ground.

When we saw her in the hospital, her face was a swollen mass of stitches, bruises, and torn flesh. Brown dried blood was still caked in her ears. Mary Beth carefully cleaned it with a licked paper towel, as if she were gently wiping Maggie’s face of grape jelly smudges or white donut powder just before Sunday school. At first, Maggie only remembered headlights, but soon she would mention “a cute EMS tech waking me up,” and the muffled chattering of helicopters.

The day she was released from the hospital, Maggie insisted on returning to the rehab center to complete her program, a heroine in a wheelchair among heroin addicts and alcoholics. On the way there, we stopped at a restaurant for lunch,  where Maggie ate mashed potatoes, a little soup, and sucked a mango smoothie through a straw held carefully where her tooth was missing. Back at the center, we rolled her out to see her garden.

While Maggie was in the hospital, cards and letters filled our mailbox at home. For the two weeks that Maggie remained in rehab, and even while she flew to the Midwest, then wore her pink dress at Nick’s wedding and danced triumphantly with her cousins, offers of food crackled from our answering machine and scrolled out on email: “If there’s anything I can do ... ”



Monday, November 18, 2013

Childhood Obesity Rates Drop





To Fight Obesity, a Carrot, and a Stick

New York Times
November 16, 2013, 2:35 pm


Childhood obesity, at long last, may have peaked — even among the poor, where the problem is most prevalent. Between 2008 and 2011, according to a study from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 19 states and territories saw a small but significant drop in obesity rates among low-income preschoolers.

This is a problem that many people assumed would only get worse. So how has this small bit of success been achieved?

One factor is certainly an extensive behavior-change campaign; official America is now bribing, cheering and badgering us to eat fruits and vegetables, exercise, drink water instead of soda and cut down on screen time. Another is that cities and civic groups are doing creative things to bring healthier food to poor neighborhoods. These changes help. But there may be a more direct reason for the progress against child obesity.

The C.D.C. study focused on preschool-age children, from 2 to 4 years old, most of them enrolled in the federal Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children, known as WIC. WIC provides vouchers to pregnant and nursing women, and mothers of children under 5 to buy specific foods.

In 2009, WIC changed its rules. There are new vouchers specifically for produce, for example. Milk must be reduced-fat, and bread and rice must be whole-grain. And stores participating in WIC must carry these items. You can see that change in corner stores and bodegas across the country, including, for example, Luciano Espinal’s Deli Grocery, on Lehigh Avenue in North Philadelphia.

Mr. Espinal’s store has two aisles and a deli counter in the back. There are similar stores all over the neighborhood, their shelves filled with snack cakes, chips, soda, white bread. The only fresh foods are the iceberg lettuce and tomatoes needed by the deli counter, and maybe potatoes and onions.

But Mr. Espinal’s store accepts WIC vouchers. So he carries things non-WIC stores do not: apples, oranges, green peppers and bananas. He also carries the WIC-required whole-grain bread, brown rice and 2 percent milk.

Of course, people could buy more of the unhealthy stuff with their own money. But the evidence says they don’t. Yale’s Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity looked at purchases by WIC participants in Massachusetts and Connecticut, including what they bought with their own cash. After the WIC changes, participants bought significantly more whole-grain bread and brown rice and reduced-fat milk, and far less white bread, whole milk, cheese and juice.

Attitudes are changing. Access to healthy food is increasing. But that doesn’t address what is probably the most important problem: cost. On a limited budget, people buy cheap and unhealthy food. Community groups and cities can’t solve that problem — not for more than a handful of people at a time, anyway.

But the federal government can. The success of the WIC reforms proves it. The program matters: half of all infants and a quarter of all children under 5 in the United States will be on it at some point. But with nine million participants, it is dwarfed by the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP — commonly known as food stamps — which reaches more than 47 million people. Food stamps keep people from starving. But you cannot buy fresh produce on $1.40 per meal. (Let’s contemplate the extra medical bills we’ll be paying because of Congress’s decision to let the Recovery Act’s increases in food-stamps benefits expire.) SNAP needs some help.One strategy is to provide financial incentives to buy fruits and vegetables. This is happening in many farmers’ markets; Philly Food Bucks, for example, gives people a $2 coupon for every $5 in food stamps they spend on produce at participating markets. Food stamps sales at these markets have increased by nearly 400 percent. In some states, eligible produce must be locally grown, a change farmers appreciate.

The idea is spreading to supermarkets. This summer the Agriculture Department released results of its Healthy Incentives Pilot in Hampden County, Mass. Supermarket shoppers earned 30 cents for each food stamp dollar they spent on fruit and vegetables. Those in the program bought 25 percent more produce than the control group, at a cost of 15 cents per day.

These programs are lovely, but they reach relatively few people, and they are expensive. Another strategy is harsher: Copy WIC and limit the foods that food stamps can buy. Such a change could cover the whole country in one administrative stroke. And, of course, it is virtually free. With even more cuts in food stamps looming in the farm bill,that’s important. Minnesota, Mississippi and New York asked the Department of Agriculture for permission to take soda or candy out of SNAP. Mississippi later withdrew its request. The department said no to New York, saying the program was poorly designed. It told Minnesota that the state could not change the federal program’s definition of what could be covered.

None of the obstacles to limiting food stamps to healthier foods seem insurmountable. It is administratively simple to draw a line. But not politically simple. It’s not just that people on food stamps are an enormous market for soda and junk food. Big Soda has unusual allies. Restricting purchases is not controversial with WIC, which exists to supplement nutrition. But it is with food stamps, which exist to supplement income.

“There are people in the anti-hunger community who support a soda tax in general because it affects everyone, but they oppose banning soda from SNAP because it affects only poor people,” said Marlene B. Schwartz, director of the Yale Rudd Center.  “Their philosophical argument is, if it’s the right thing to do for everyone, then make it for everyone.”

Other approaches exist. A portion of food stamps benefits could be set aside for produce. Or states could use the guidelines they already follow — to little controversy — with sales taxes. More than half the states tax soda or junk food at a higher rate than the food tax rate — in effect, they do not consider them food.“Instead of arguing about healthy versus unhealthy, I would almost rather say what counts as food,” said Ms. Schwartz. “States already figured out what is and isn’t food.”

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Insane Food Policy



This is such an important article, and it may be the single piece of information that will determine how I vote in the upcoming elections.  The Republicans seem hell-bent on destroying this country.  Joseph E. Stiglitz explains the disastrous farm bill and its consequences with great clarity.  I will try to summarize what he says because this is a long article.  You can read the entire thing at  http://opinionator.blogs.nytimes.com/category/the-great-divide/

Briefly, American food policy makes no sense.  We spend billions to subsidize huge commercial operations to plant crops we don't need, while millions of Americans suffer from hunger.  We have a food stamp program that gives most recipients about $4.00 per day.  (You try feeding your family on that.)  Now the Republicans, rather than tackling the "third rail" parts of the budget, want to cut $40 billion over 10 years from food stamps.  But, they aren't going to cut back on the farm subsidies they give to the fat cats who finance their campaigns.  Here's what Stiglitz says: "It takes real money, money that is necessary for bare survival, from the poorest Americans, and gives it to a small group of the undeserving rich, in return for their campaign contributions and political support. "

So you might ask, how can this be?  We're the richest country in the world and produce more food that we can possibly use.  How can anyone be hungry in this country of plenty?  Stiglitz explains: "The Nobel Prize winning economist Amartya Sen has reminded us that even famines are not necessarily caused by a lack of supply, but by a failure to get the food that exists to the people who need it. This was true in the Bengal famine of 1943 and in the Irish potato famine a century earlier: Ireland, controlled by its British masters, was exporting food even as its citizens died of starvation.

A similar dynamic is playing out in the United States. American farmers are heralded as among the most efficient in the world. Our country is the largest producer and exporter of corn and soybeans, to name just two of its biggest crops. And yet millions of Americans still suffer from hunger, and millions more would, were it not for the vital programs that government provides to prevent hunger and malnutrition — the programs that the Republicans are now seeking to cut back. Taking from the poor to subsidize the rich."

Many of us lead sheltered lives: we have enough money to not only buy food, but buy "black bean and sea salt" chips, prime rib roasts, good California chardonnay, and Ben and Jerry's ice cream.  We cannot imagine having to feed our families on food stamps.  But, more and more Americans are becoming dependent on government aid to just stay even with the poverty line.  Stiglitz finishes his argument with these paragraphs: 

"The adoption of the House Republicans’ plan will reverberate in our economy through several channels. One is simply that poor families with diminished resources will tamp down growth. More pernicious is that the Republicans’ farm bill would deepen inequality — and not just through the immediate giveaways to wealthy farmers and corresponding cuts to the poor. Children with poor nutrition — whether they are hungry or ill because of bad diets — do not learn as well as those who are better fed.

By cutting back on food stamps, we are ensuring the perpetuation of inequality, and at that, one of its worst manifestations: the inequality of opportunity. When it comes to opportunity, America is doing an alarmingly bad job, as I’ve written before in this series. We are endangering our future because there will be a large coterie of people at the bottom who will not live up to their potential, who will not be able to make the contribution that they could have made, to the prosperity of the country as a whole."

If you want to read the entire article, here it is:


THE GREAT DIVIDE November 16, 2013, 2:30 pm 
The Insanity of Our Food Policy


American food policy has long been rife with head-scratching illogic. We spend billions every year on farm subsidies, many of which help wealthy commercial operations to plant more crops than we need. The glut depresses world crop prices, harming farmers in developing countries. Meanwhile, millions of Americans live tenuously close to hunger, which is barely kept at bay by a food stamp program that gives most beneficiaries just a little more than $4 a day.

So it’s almost too absurd to believe that House Republicans are asking for a farm bill that would make all of these problems worse. For the putative purpose of balancing the country’s books, the measures that the House Republican caucus is pushing for in negotiations with the Senate, as Congress attempts to pass a long-stalled extension of the farm bill, would cut back the meager aid to our country’s most vulnerable and use the proceeds to continue fattening up a small number of wealthy American farmers.

The House has proposed cutting food stamp benefits by $40 billion over 10 years — that’s on top of $5 billion in cuts that already came into effect this month with the expiration of increases to the food stamp program that were included in the 2009 stimulus law. Meanwhile, House Republicans appear satisfied to allow farm subsidies, which totaled some $14.9 billion last year, to continue apace. Republican proposals would shift government assistance from direct payments — paid at a set rate to farmers every year to encourage them to keep growing particular crops, regardless of market fluctuations — to crop insurance premium subsidies. But this is unlikely to be any cheaper. Worse, unlike direct payments, the insurance premium subsidies carry no income limit for the farmers who would receive this form of largess.

The proposal is a perfect example of how growing inequality has been fed by what economists call rent-seeking. As small numbers of Americans have grown extremely wealthy, their political power has also ballooned to a disproportionate size. Small, powerful interests — in this case, wealthy commercial farmers — help create market-skewing public policies that benefit only themselves, appropriating a larger slice of the nation’s economic pie. Their larger slice means everyone else gets a smaller one — the pie doesn’t get any bigger — though the rent-seekers are usually adept at taking little enough from individual Americans that they are hardly aware of the loss. While the money that they’ve picked from each individual American’s pocket is small, the aggregate is huge for the rent-seeker. And this in turn deepens inequality.

The nonsensical arrangement being proposed in the House Republicans’ farm bill is an especially egregious version of this process. It takes real money, money that is necessary for bare survival, from the poorest Americans, and gives it to a small group of the undeserving rich, in return for their campaign contributions and political support. There is no economic justification: The bill actually distorts our economy by promoting the kind of production we don’t need and shrinking the consumption of those with the smallest incomes. There is no moral justification either: It actually increases misery and precariousness of daily life for millions of Americans.

FARM subsidies were much more sensible when they began eight decades ago, in 1933, at a time when more than 40 percent of Americans lived in rural areas. Farm incomes had fallen by about a half in the first three years of the Great Depression. In that context, the subsidies were an anti-poverty program.

Now, though, the farm subsidies serve a quite different purpose. From 1995 to 2012, 1 percent of farms received about $1.5 million each, which is more than a quarter of all subsidies, according to the Environmental Working Group. Some three-quarters of the subsidies went to just 10 percent of farms. These farms received an average of more than $30,000 a year — about 20 times the amount received by the average individual beneficiary last year from the federal Supplemental Nutrition Assistant Program, or SNAP, commonly called food stamps.

Today, food stamps are one of the main support beams in our anti-poverty efforts. More than 80 percent of the 45 million or so Americans who participated in SNAP in 2011, the last year for which there is comprehensive data from the United States Department of Agriculture, had gross household incomes below the poverty level. (Since then, the total number of participants has expanded to nearly 48 million.) Even with that support, many of them experience food insecurity, that is, they had trouble putting food on the table at some point during the year.

Historically, food stamp programs and agricultural subsidies have been tied together. The two may seem strange bedfellows, but there is a rationale: There is a need to address both sides of the economics of food — production and consumption. Having a bounteous supply within a country does not ensure that the citizens of that country are well fed. The radical imbalance between farm subsidies to the wealthy and nutritional assistance to the neediest — an imbalance that the farm bill proposals would directly promote — is a painful testament to this established economic fact.

The Nobel Prize winning economist Amartya Sen has reminded us that even famines are not necessarily caused by a lack of supply, but by a failure to get the food that exists to the people who need it. This was true in the Bengal famine of 1943 and in the Irish potato famine a century earlier: Ireland, controlled by its British masters, was exporting food even as its citizens died of starvation.

A similar dynamic is playing out in the United States. American farmers are heralded as among the most efficient in the world. Our country is the largest producer and exporter of corn and soybeans, to name just two of its biggest crops. And yet millions of Americans still suffer from hunger, and millions more would, were it not for the vital programs that government provides to prevent hunger and malnutrition — the programs that the Republicans are now seeking to cut back. Taking from the poor to subsidize the rich.

And there is an extra layer of irony to America’s food policies: While they encourage overproduction, they pay little attention to the quality and diversity of foods our farms produce. The heavy subsidization of corn, for instance, means that many unhealthful foods are relatively cheap. So grocery shopping on a tight budget often means choosing foods that are not nutritious. This is part of the reason that Americans face the paradox of hunger out of proportion to their wealth, along with some of the world’s highest obesity rates, and a high incidence of Type 2 diabetes. Poor Americans are especially at risk for obesity.

A few years ago, I was in India, a country of 1.2 billion, in which tens of millions face hunger on a daily basis, when a front-page headline blared that one in seven Americans faced food insecurity because they couldn’t afford the basic necessities of life. Indian friends I met that day and in the following week were puzzled by this news: How could it be that in the richest country of the world there was still hunger?

Their puzzlement was understandable: Hunger in this rich land is unnecessary. What my Indian friends didn’t understand is that 15 percent of Americans — and 22 percent of America’s children — live in poverty. Someone working full time (2,080 hours a year) at the minimum wage of $7.25 would earn about $15,000 a year, far less than the poverty threshold for a family of four ($23,492 in 2012), and even less than the poverty level of a family of three.

This grim picture is a result of political decisions made in Washington that have helped create an economic system in which the undereducated must work exceptionally hard simply to remain in poverty.

This is not how America is supposed to work. In his famous 1941 “four freedoms” speech, Franklin D. Roosevelt enunciated the principle that all Americans should have certain basic economic rights, including “freedom from want.” These ideas were later embraced by the international community in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which also enshrined the right to adequate food. But while the United States was instrumental in advocating for these basic economic human rights on the international scene — and getting them adopted — America’s performance back home has been disappointing.

It is, of course, no surprise that with the high level of poverty millions of Americans have had to turn to the government to meet the basic necessities of life. And those numbers increased drastically with the onset of the Great Recession. The number of Americans on food stamps went up by more than 80 percent between 2007 and 2013.

To say that most of these Americans are technically poor only begins to get at the depth of their need. In 2012, for example, two in five SNAP recipients had gross incomes that were less than half of the poverty line. The amount they get from the program is very small — $4.39 a day per recipient. This is hardly enough to survive on, but it makes an enormous difference in the lives of those who get it: The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities estimates that SNAP lifted four million Americans out of poverty in 2010.

Given the inadequacies of the existing programs to combat hunger and poor nutrition, and given the magnitude of poverty in the aftermath of the Great Recession, one might have thought that the natural response of our political leaders would be to expand programs enhancing food security. But the members of the Republican caucus in the House of Representatives see things differently. They seem to want to blame the victims — the poor who have been provided an inadequate public education and so lack marketable skills, and those who earnestly seek work, but can’t find any, because of an economic system that has stalled, with almost one out of seven Americans who would like to find full-time employment still unable to obtain it. Far from alleviating the impacts of these problems, the Republicans’ proposal would reinforce privation and inequalities.

And the calamitous effects of the Republicans’ proposal will reach even beyond our borders.Viewed from a larger perspective, the farming subsidies, combined with the cutbacks in food stamps, increase global poverty and hunger. This is because, with American consumption diminished from what it otherwise would be and production increased, food exports will inevitably increase. Greater exports drive down global prices, hurting poor farmers around the world. Agriculture is the main source of livelihood for the 70 percent of the world’s poor living in rural areas, who overwhelmingly reside in developing countries.

The adoption of the House Republicans’ plan will reverberate in our economy through several channels. One is simply that poor families with diminished resources will tamp down growth. More pernicious is that the Republicans’ farm bill would deepen inequality — and not just through the immediate giveaways to wealthy farmers and corresponding cuts to the poor. Children with poor nutrition — whether they are hungry or ill because of bad diets — do not learn as well as those who are better fed.

By cutting back on food stamps, we are ensuring the perpetuation of inequality, and at that, one of its worst manifestations: the inequality of opportunity. When it comes to opportunity, America is doing an alarmingly bad job, as I’ve written before in this series. We are endangering our future because there will be a large coterie of people at the bottom who will not live up to their potential, who will not be able to make the contribution that they could have made, to the prosperity of the country as a whole.

All of this exposes the Republicans’ argument in favor of these food policies — a concern for our future, particularly the impact of the national debt on our children — as a dishonest and deeply cynical pretense. Not only has the intellectual undergirding of debt fetishism been knocked out (with the debunking of work by the Harvard economists Carmen M. Reinhart and Kenneth S. Rogoff that tied slowed growth to debt-to-G.D.P. ratios above 90 percent). The Republicans’ farm bill also clearly harms both America’s children and the world’s in a variety of ways.

For these proposals to become law would be a moral and economic failure for the country.