The staggering on going count of NON-BIODEGRADABLE plastic bags at the above is the up to date indicator of the plastic bags given to the U.S. shoppers, beginning January 01, of this year across the United States. - Each year a shocking quantity of 916,981,973,789 plastic bags are trashed, in U.S. alone, polluting and poisoning Land-fields, the Air and our Waters.

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Bill Moyer's Journal: Bread for the World - April 11, 2008

BILL MOYERS: The present farm bill expires next Friday with all those subsidies in it. The White House, the Senate, and the House of Representatives are trying to resolve their differences over a new bill to replace it. Every one of you will be affected by what happens in the next few days. Let's talk now with someone who can help us understand what's going on. You met David Beckmann last week when our subject was world hunger. An economist and minister, he spent 15 years at the World Bank overseeing projects to end poverty. For the last 15 years he's been president of Bread for the World, a Washington based coalition that advocates changing farm policies for the purpose of eliminating hunger. Welcome, David, back to The Journal.


BILL MOYERS: We've just seen in this broadcast two different reports. One on hungry people lining up for food stamps, going to the food pantries. Then we saw this report done with the Washington Post on abusive farm subsidies. How do you explain that contradiction?

DAVID BECKMANN: The main thing is that the people who are getting- who have their hands in the cookie jar are well organized. And according to the Wall Street Journal, they spent eighty million dollars last year lobbying Congress to defend those subsidies to affluent people.

DAVID BECKMANN: Commodity growers, the corn growers, the cotton growers.

BILL MOYERS: Rice growers. We saw rice growers in that film.

DAVID BECKMANN: Absolutely. So they're well organized. A group of church and environmental groups went to see Senator Reid, the majority leader of the Senate, about this issue. He came in and the first thing he said is, "Look, I've been here 35 years." He said, "I think the two best organized interests in the United States are the insurance companies and the commodity groups." He said they have very powerful friends on both sides of the aisle. It's going to be very difficult for us to do anything about this.

BILL MOYERS: It seemed for the last several months, before the last several months that you were going to get some reform of the subsidies.

DAVID BECKMANN: Well, we may still. The farm bill is being negotiated right now at the highest levels between the House and the Senate and the administration. So, I still think we have a good chance to get reform. And we've won the argument.

DAVID BECKMANN: All year long, over the last fifteen months, I've talked with a number of the legislators who are our main opponents. And only one of them has ever said- has ever tried to convince me that I was wrong.

Our opponents, what they'll say to me is, you know, David, I appreciate what you're doing. We just can't do that. So we, you know, there is no argument anymore. It's just raw power. Now, the, you know, the people who are getting these payments, I'm going to say that they're not bad people.

I come from Nebraska. My cousins, I've got cousins who are farming corn and soy beans. And you know, they've built their business on the system that we've got. But if you go into a small town in Nebraska and have coffee with farmers in the morning, it's the richest guy in town who's got a big spread and has money in the ethanol plant; he's getting the check, the big check.

And the people who are really struggling, you know, the couple- an elderly couple where they're still farming, they're still feeding some hogs. They're not getting a nickel out of the farm bill

BILL MOYERS: Grain prices are soaring. Farm income is at record levels. Our federal deficit is out of sight. And yet, Congress is thinking about passing a new farm bill that according to the Wall Street Journal will be the most lavish subsidies in American history.

DAVID BECKMANN: Yeah. It's just absolutely crazy. But these people are well organized. They push hard. So far, the House wasn't willing to cut a nickel from subsidies to land holders, big land owners.

DAVID BECKMANN: And in the Senate, they want to increase payments to wealthy affluent land holders. And the choice couldn't be clearer. Because the food stamp program and government assistance to food banks is in the farm bill.

You know, so we have 25 million of the poorest people in America on food stamps. And we now know because it's all computerized that ninety percent of the benefits are gone by the third week of the month

And the fastest most direct way to reduce hunger in America would be to make it possible for those people to eat for the whole month.

And so far, Congress has not been willing to cut a nickel from the payments to land holders in order to strengthen the food stamp program. Or do things for rural Americans who are really struggling.

It's not just the food stamp program. The rate of poverty and hunger is higher in rural America than in urban America. So there are ways in the farm bill that they can help rural people who are small farmers and other rural people who are struggling. But shifting money from the commodity payments to the land owners, into those programs that help the whole rural community. So far, Congress has not been willing to budge.

BILL MOYERS: This is a little bit of repetition. I want to be sure my audience understands it. At the moment, the gridlock is over the fact that the House, led by the Democrats, wants to keep the subsidies for rich farmers, even while raising the amount of money that goes to food stamps and minority people in rural areas, right?


BILL MOYERS: The Senate wants to increase-


BILL MOYERS: The subsidies going to the rich folks.

DAVID BECKMANN: And they want to do more for food stamps.

BILL MOYERS: Do more. But the President wants to cut the subsidies to rich folks, but he doesn't want to provide more money to pay for the food stamps and other.

DAVID BECKMANN: Right. He's told them if you increase taxes I'll veto this thing.

So if we could get a compromise, I think we could have a farm bill in two weeks.

BILL MOYERS: So what would a good bill look like to you and your coalition?

DAVID BECKMANN: Let's just start to move in the right direction. Start to shave some of the payments to wealthy people.

For example, there was an amendment in the Senate to cut payments to a farmer to no more than $250,000 per farmer. You know, cut payments, you can't get a payment if you make a million dollars a year.

Those are fairly reasonable proposals. And if we just start to turn that direction, it would free up substantial money to strengthen the food stamp program, strengthen our food banking system, strengthen assistance to rural America. And get out of the way of farmers in poor countries who are trying to make a living and don't have subsidies.


DAVID BECKMANN: Because poor farmers in Africa and other parts of the developing world don't get these big subsidies.

They're competing against cotton that's farmed in Arkansas and Texas and Georgia on big spreads with big subsidies from the federal government. So our cotton with taxpayer dollars goes all over the world. And those poor guys in Africa are trying to compete against that. And it's crop after crop.

BILL MOYERS: But the people are saying now, well, this is a good bill because the boom could go bust down the road. So we'd better build these subsidies in because farmers are always subjected to the vagaries of weather and--

DAVID BECKMANN: You know farming is a risky business. So it is appropriate to have a federally funded revenue insurance program to help farmers especially farm- small farmers deal with the risks of agriculture.

BILL MOYERS: So we get the food we eat.

DAVID BECKMANN: Right. That is an appropriate form of assistance. But the farm bill is riddled with subsidies that make no economic sense. That are not providing help to the people who really need help.

You know, right now, food prices are up. The food banks don't have enough. The food stamp program is a good program. It's right there. The federal funding for the food banks is down.

So, you know, they could put a little bit more money there. That's the fastest most direct way to reduce hunger in America. In fact, if we would do enough to just- I think if we would make it possible for food stamps- families who are already on food stamps to eat for the whole month, just doing that would be enough to cut hunger in half within a year in this country.

BILL MOYERS: Why are so many people on food stamps?

DAVID BECKMANN: Well, in this decade, we've seen an increase in poverty. So, that has driven up the participation in the food stamp program. We need a stronger food stamp program so the kids get to eat. But we also need a broader array of policies that make it easier for people to earn a living. That's a bigger topic. But we need to reverse the gradual increase of poverty that's going on. That's what's really driving the food stamp participation.

BILL MOYERS: So help me to understand how the policy makers rationalize the morality of a program by which farmers can get subsidies, even if their annual gross income is as much as two and a half million dollars.

DAVID BECKMANN: I don't hear any argument. It's naked interests.

DAVID BECKMANN: You know, lots of times, in the Mississippi River Delta, you have lots of poor people, mostly African Americans.

And then, the check comes in to the big land holders who are mostly white and affluent. Some of them live in Houston. You know, they don't even live there anymore. And over the years, the agriculture committees have attracted members of Congress who are basically beholden to their interests.

BILL MOYERS: The agricultural committee is really stacked, right?

DAVID BECKMANN: Absolutely. So it's very difficult to break that. And this year, over the last fifteen months, what we've seen is the religious community, the press, environmental groups, groups like Cato Institute, the taxpayer groups have come together to say, this is abusive.

It is- there is no rational moral argument. Now, there is really strong rational moral argument for assisting rural areas. There is real- there are problems in rural America. There are a lot of really poor people. There are farmers who are struggling.

So, there are things to be done in rural America. But the current system is not designed to help those people. It's designed to serve particular interests that are well organized. And it's got to be changed.

BILL MOYERS: There's a Danish proverb that one bag of money is worth two bags of truth. And the agri-business industry last year spent eighty million dollars on lobbying.

BILL MOYERS: And that's what Congress listens to, right?

DAVID BECKMANN: Well, both. A bag of truth is pretty powerful. And I think the abuses have been are now widely understood by American voters. So if I were a politician, either a Republican or a Democrat, I would start to distance myself from these groups. Because American voters get it. Their dollars are going to wasteful expenditures on people who don't need help. And those expenditures actually do damage.

BILL MOYERS: How many people are at risk in this country of hunger?

DAVID BECKMANN: 35 million people live in households that struggle to put food on the table. 35 million people.

And we know that for little kids, even the kind of moderate under nutrition that's characteristic of poverty in America, stunts the intellectual and personal development of those children. You know, a two year old ought to be a learning machine.

But kids who aren't getting quite enough to eat are dulled by that experience. So the damage that letting all those kids go, the damage that that hunger among children in America is doing to our future is just untold and inexcusable.

It's very fixable. You know, if very poor Chile has reduced hunger among children from something like 37 percent of their kids to 2 percent of their kids. Chile. So what about Ohio? In this country, we've sort of lost hope in making progress against hunger and poverty. But it's very doable.

I think we could cut hunger in half in America in a year. It wouldn't cost very much. And then, once we cut hunger in half, then let's deal with the other issues that can help people make a living, so they're not reliant on food assistance.

BILL MOYERS: Don't progressives in particular have to ask the question when we're talking about more money for this and more money for that. Where is that money going to come from?

DAVID BECKMANN: Right. But this is a case where we want our government to spend less money. They're spending money on-

BILL MOYERS: What do you mean?

DAVID BECKMANN: They're spending money on these commodity payments to wealthy people that is not only a waste of money, but it's doing damage. Because it's doing damage to the global trading system and the poor people around the world. So we're in fact- we're a progressive group that's working with the CATO institute to try to-

BILL MOYERS: Libertarian group. Right.

DAVID BECKMANN: Right. To try to get them to reduce those payments that are doing real damage. What we want to do, Bread for the World wants to use some of that money to do good in the food stamp program, in rural development, in help for small scale farmers.

So we want to see- we're not asking for more money. We're asking for the Congress and the President to use the money that they've got to redistribute it in a way that'll do more good in the world.

BILL MOYERS: You're wearing two hats. Economist and minister. What's your answer? Your own personal answer to why we haven't made any progress.

DAVID BECKMANN: The fundamental problem is political commitment. We need leadership from the federal government so that the states and the counties and the cities and charities across the country together, we don't need to have millions of hungry kids in the USA.

BILL MOYERS: You work- your coalition works with Muslims, Jews.

DAVID BECKMANN: Muslims, Christians, everybody.

BILL MOYERS: Humanists.

DAVID BECKMANN: Everybody cares about hungry people. Well, everybody- nobody wants to see kids go hungry.

BILL MOYERS: But you're saying our system is so fouled up, it can't do the right thing?

DAVID BECKMANN: Is that a surprise?

BILL MOYERS: No, it's not.

DAVID BECKMANN: But on the other hand, what we see is that even small numbers of concerned citizens who tackle an issue like this can make a big difference in political decision making.

We may get some new direction in the farm bill by the time they wrap it up. If Congress and the President, if the two parties compromise, we'll get a better farm bill than what we've got now. It depends on whether people weigh in this month.

BILL MOYERS: David Beckmann, thank you for being with us on the Journal. We'll be watching this debate as it continues through some resolution one way or the other.

DAVID BECKMANN: Thank you very much.

BILL MOYERS: As you just heard, the showdown over the new farm policy could come next week. At the moment our own sources in Washington say the proposed new bill isn't likely to touch payments to the biggest farmers; taxpayers could still be shoveling money to them for years to come regardless of market conditions. There's also a provision to protect American sugar growers from foreign competition -- so much for free trade and lower prices. And the Republican leader in the Senate, Mitch McConnell, of Kentucky --I'm not making this up - has slipped into the bill a tax break for owners of race horses. The subsidized steeplechase shades of Marie Antoinette.

That's it for THE JOURNAL. Go to our website at for more on the farm bill. And then join us next week, when we will report on nurses who think that what's good for Dick Cheney is good for you.

Bill Moyer's Journal: Hunger in America - April 11, 2008


Food is the big story this week. We're paying a lot more for it, a lot of people don't have enough of it, and Washington may be about to make a bad situation worse.

First, the price of food. Rice alone has shot up by more than half in just two weeks --double its price a year ago. But corn, wheat, and other grains are sky-high, too, creating a crisis for poor people around the world.

Here at home milk prices have soared over the past year by 26%, eggs by 24%, bread by 13%. Add rising grocery prices to the higher cost of gas and electricity, throw in disappearing jobs and home foreclosures, and you can understand why people are struggling to keep food on the table. Our government figures 28 million Americans will be using food stamps this year --the highest level since the program began in the 1960s.

So what do you do if you are working every day but don't earn enough to keep up with the rising cost of living? Or you're retired and living on social security? Or you've lost your job, your home, or you get sick, your bank account is as bare as your cupboard? You turn to food banks and food pantries. But the world-wide demand for food is squeezing them, too, as we learned when we visited some of the food assistance centers here in the New York area. I'll wager that what we heard can be heard where you live, too.

ROSABELLE WALKER: I was a very independent woman. You couldn't get me to come stand in line to get no food free from nobody. Because I was always used to working and taking care of myself.

The first job I had was 16, I was the section hand on the railroad during the second world war. I worked in the steel mills in Pennsylvania. When I came to New York, I did housework 'cause that's all women got in New York was domestic day work.

I worked in the laundry. Then I managed the Laundromat. I'd work right now, even though I'm over 80, I'd go take care of somebody that's 75 or 80. And stay with them in their home, and get paid for it. I don't like lazy. But then I got to the place where I was retired. No money.

VOLUNTEER: Hi, Rosabelle!

ROSABELLE WALKER: No income coming in.


VOLUNTEER: Here you go.

ROSABELLE WALKER: And finally in desperation, I said, "Well, if everybody else can go get it, I will, too."

ROSABELLE WALKER: Come on, Matilda.

ROSABELLE WALKER: And that's what started me to coming to the pantry.

TOM MCGARRY: Good morning, sir. How are you?

VOLUNTEER: Yup. Gotcha.

TOM MCGARRY: Client: I lost my job because of defense cutbacks.

TOM MCGARRY: Thank you very much.

VOLUNTEER: You have a good day.

TOM MCGARRY: You too. Thank you.

TOM MCGARRY: And I've been lookin' around here for jobs. I want to work. I want, I want to provide for myself. I always did.

TOM MCGARRY: Is she coming back?

TOM MCGARRY: I've been doing that since I was 18. And, I don't like this. Not at all.

VOLUNTEER: Here you go.


VOLUNTEER: Have a good day.


KATIE BROCCONE: I was once told by a man that if he ever got in my position that he hopes somebody would shoot him. And I said, "That's pretty extreme." Because it's not that I'm just laying back and I'm lazy. I worked my whole life. I supported my four children and then I had gotten sick. And these are the positions that people don't realize.

REVEREND MELONY SAMUELS: When you think of food pantries, you think of the homeless. You think of shelters. You think of substance abuse. You think of just outright people who are down and out. But now the faces have changed.

REVEREND MELONY SAMUELS: We're short on fresh vegetables. There is -- we have onions.

BILL MOYERS: Reverend Melony Samuels directs the Bed-Stuy Campaign Against Hunger.

REVEREND MELONY SAMUELS: You want some canned vegetables?

REVEREND MELONY SAMUELS: Now, we are seeing more families, mothers with children, working families coming in. We're seeing people that have graduated from high school, people who are making a fairly good income, but they have told us over and over again that the cost of food is unbelievable. The cost of living, finding housing, that has pushed them into food pantries and they don't only come to this food pantry, but they go to several food pantries, trying to see if they accumulate enough food for a week.

BILL MOYERS: She can't provide as much food as she once did --food donations to her pantry have dropped by half, even as the number of people needing food has increased 70 percent in one year.


REVEREND MELONY SAMUELS: The food bank is not delivering as they used to. We still get a weekly delivery and sometimes it is so sparingly. It's unbelievable, when you see exactly what comes off the truck. You're disappointed. People are disappointed, because once the truck drives up, then the neighborhood knows, and they start coming. They are coming because they figure food is here.

A child told me a story recently, and she said, "Well, when my mother prepares food, we get such a small amount. But then there is some left and I would ask for more, and she would tell me. 'You cannot have anymore, because what is left is for tomorrow, and if you eat it today, you will go hungry tomorrow.'"

BILL MOYERS: Just a short drive away, another pantry is struggling to keep its shelves full.

REVEREND MELONY SAMUELS: We just simply do not have enough food to go around.

BILL MOYERS: Tamar Auber heads the Hanson Place Campaign Against Hunger in Brooklyn.

REVEREND MELONY SAMUELS: So, the amount that we're offering to each client has decreased. The quality of food has decreased. We're offering more carbohydrates, less protein. If you look at it right now you'll notice that everything is canned, which means that everything is high in sodium. We don't have a lot of fresh vegetables coming through. We have a complete absence of dairy products which means that we have cereal, but we don't have any milk to put on the cereal.

BILL MOYERS: The city's food pantries and soup kitchens rely on the food bank for New York City to supply much of the food they give out. But now this resource is drying up.

TYRONE HARRYSINGH: We used to have a lot of vegetables, a lot of protein, a lot of beans, pasta. Those items have basically disappeared.

BILL MOYERS: Tyrone Harrysingh is the food bank's chief operating officer.

TYRONE HARRYSINGH: I have never seen this in all the time that I've been here. This year is essentially the worst in terms of the food shortage that we have seen. There used to be aisles and aisles of food.

BILL MOYERS: Like many American jobs, food is also heading overseas. Much of what was once donated to food banks is now sold to consumers abroad.

TYRONE HARRYSINGH: It's, you know, it's a trend that we hope is not gonna continue. But, you know, we don't know where this is gonna take us.

BILL MOYERS: Up the Hudson River from Manhattan is Westchester County, one of the ten wealthiest counties in the U.S. But just a few blocks away from the opulence food is running short. The volunteers of New Rochelle's Hope Community Services have less every week to pack up for their clients.

JIM MCGEE: We offer the folks bread, beans, rice, cold cereal, tea, pasta, tuna fish, meal in a can, tomato sauce, fruit and vegetables but sometimes we run short of bread. Vegetables can get tight. Sometimes-- we can only offer one of something instead of three of something. You know it's the volume that's significantly decreased.

ANNE AVENIUS: When I started here we were stuffing between 200 and 300 bags. Now we're making 450 bags. The need is just becoming so tremendous.

KATIE BROCCONE: We used to get-- fruits and vegetables. We used to get eggs. We used to get butter. We used to get cheese. Not all the time, but we haven't gotten something like that in a very, very long time.

I'm on disability right now. I've been on it for a long time. And, the money is just not there for the food. It's just not there.

I mean there might be a few days out of the month that I'm eating okay, and then the other days I just have to, you know, I do what I have to do.

ROBERT TENNYSON: I was working as a super and they sold the building and new owners -- I lost that job. And, you can have a full-time job and still just come up short. Money comes and goes, you know. You could spend $200 a week on groceries and depending on how many people you're feeding, it's sometimes just not enough.

Whatever I get, whether how big it is, you know, I'm blessed to get that, you know? And I just thank God for that And then when you get home you just got to cut the portions smaller, when you get home, you know? Sometimes I don't even eat, you know. I'll just give the food to the kids

ROSABELLE WALKER: I am on a fixed income. And I have to live on my social security check alone. I have no other income. When I have to go to my primary doctor, I have a co-pay. When I get my medicine every month, I have a co-pay. Plus my living expenses and with all of it combined, when I get my check on the third of the month, by the seventh, I have nothing.

TOM MCGARRY: I used to be able to buy anything I wanted. I had every credit card known to man. And I had a plenty of money every week. And I'd buy the best meats, the best vegetables, the best this and that. Now, they give me hotdogs or something. I cook them. I get peanut butter, crackers, and things. And sometimes I'll get a can of beef stew or something like that. And some or maybe a can of soup and I use those things. And I eat but the foods I'm eating are simple foods. A lot of them are poor man's food. I was used to that when I was a kid. And I've gotten back to that. But it's a struggle and some days I'll really go hungry.

ANNE CAREY-COLORADO: Tonight we're having hot dogs and scalloped potatoes and vegetables because that's what we had available today.

BILL MOYERS: Anne Carey-Colorado directs the Hope Community Services food pantry and soup kitchen.

ANNE CAREY-COLORADO: If a parent can't put food on the table to feed their children, and their children go to school hungry, the parent feels worthless. And that impacts on your-- your ability to function on a daily basis. It impacts on your children's ability to perform at school. Or, If you can't feed yourself, and take care of yourself, it's very hard to feel good about yourself.

ANNE CAREY-COLORADO: And we're glad to see you back. You haven't been here in awhile.

WOMAN: A long time, yeah.

ANNE CAREY-COLORADO: A couple of months?

ANNE CAREY-COLORADO: A year ago in the kitchen, on a nightly basis, we'd have anywhere from 50 to 75 people. Now, we're averaging anywhere from 85 to 120 a night. Last Thanksgiving, in the kitchen, a year ago we had 150 people in for dinner. This year, we had 225. We now have more families using the kitchen than in previous years. Previously it was primarily singles, whether its seniors or adults. Now the number of families has increased.

ROBERT TENNYSON: I see more and more people coming in here. Even people with jobs, that I know from out on the street, with jobs, with 9 to 5s, that still come here to eat.

TOM MCGARRY: For a while, I was very cynical. And I looked down my nose at a lot of people. But now I'm one of those people that I looked down on. And so I don't look down on anybody anymore.

ROSABELLE WALKER: I went to the supermarket and I left the supermarket and didn't buy anything because they had hamburger, there wasn't a package of hamburger in the whole meat thing that was less than four dollars. None of it! And every week you go to the market to buy food, they up the price, up the price, up the price, but nobody's upping nobody's salary. Right now at home in my house, my check is coming tomorrow to go marketing with. I got two halves of a green pepper in my freezer. Period. No food -- I got some canned goods on the shelf -- no food in the house. No money to go buy it. That's the condition. And if there was no pantries, you would find a lot of us wouldn't even have a green pepper in the freezer.

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