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Bob Franken: Politics of hunger

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The latest action in the tea party-controlled House of Representatives makes it abundantly clear that the conservatives care only about the mega-wealthy corporations that produce food and not a whit about the 47 million people who need help to afford enough to eat. How else to explain their insistence on pulling the food-stamp program out of the $195 billion farm bill subsidies for massive agriculture conglomerates?

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It was necessary, they argued, because the harsh right that controls House majority Republicans is intent on gutting what's now called SNAP -- Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, as in food stamps. For decades, SNAP was cobbled together with the farm legislation to create an urban-rural bloc that was unstoppable -- until now. But the extremists insisted on cuts so brutal that the coalition shattered. In effect, they brushed aside any concerns about malnutrition as the price the poor pay for poverty. They have their anti-government ideology, and that's that. Of course, that agenda doesn't apply when it comes to fattening the fat cats who dominate the food industry and dominate Congress with their army of lobbyists and showers of campaign bribes (excuse me, contributions).

Much has been said about GOP efforts to rebrand after an election showing how badly the party had been hurt by deeply offended constituencies like Hispanics voting against it and its hateful policies. So a great deal of the focus has been on immigration and efforts by a few Republicans to work with Democrats toward more-inclusive approaches, most notably the so-called path to citizenship. They succeeded in the Senate in concocting and then passing a bill that would set up ridiculous border-security standards. In return it would allow the 11 million or so undocumented to struggle along an arduous path out of the shadows that could lead to finally becoming full-fledged Americans. But now the measure has slammed into the barrier of insular intolerance.

Let's see ... "tired and poor, huddled masses yearning to be free." Forget it, huddled masses. And as for the poor, they can starve before any taxpayer money is spent on them. The fact that millions of our country's children go to bed hungry at night is not a scandal for the tea partiers. They have other priorities.

They want to focus on sabotaging health-care reform and any initiative by President Barack Obama. If they have to cause a financial crisis to get the president, so be it. Socially, they direct their energies at demonizing gays and denying them basic rights. As always, they continue their assaults on abortion. The battleground has shifted to the states where the GOP controls the government. One after another, they have passed laws that severely restrict access for those who want to terminate a pregnancy. Even if their handiwork is repeatedly rejected by the courts, they don't care. It's their war of attrition on the Roe v. Wade decision. It's also the chance for the politicians of the right to pander to their base. Texas is just the latest state to join the backward parade.

The late comedian George Carlin was onto something when he riffed about conservatives: "They are all in favor of the unborn. They will do anything for the unborn, but once you're born, you're on your own." That is certainly the case if you're poor and need government help just to feed a family. Because of the recession, there are millions more brought to desperation as the result of the machinations of the super-wealthy. While the rich get richer -- and get more subsidies -- the have-nots have to make do with even less, particularly if the House Republicans get their way. Their ideology is one that's starved of any compassion, which is bad enough. Even worse is the reality that it might cause real starvation.

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