Littwin: The real war on Christmas

[dropcap]I[/dropcap]t’s the time of year again when we gather round the big-screen hearth with those near and dear to share in traditional Christmas movie fare. These movies, of course, are meant to teach us the important lessons of the season.

A crummy tree is every bit as good as a grand one. Scrooge is happiest when Tiny Tim wins Christmas. If you really truly believe, a man who may be Santa gets you a nice house in the suburbs. If you’re a good enough man, angels get their wings and the banks won’t foreclose on your friends. If you play the frozen-orange-juice game properly, you get to take the greedy rich guys’ money. And, of course, in the end, you can win a major award and your kid will get his official Red Ryder carbine-action two-hundred-shot range model air rifle with which to shoot his eye out.

It’s all about the happy ending unless, that is, you carelessly switch to one of the cable TV news stations, at which point the game is up.

[pullquote]In Washington, there’s no war on Christmas; there’s a war on what Christmas is supposed to be about.[/pullquote]

In real life, we’re not so much into happy endings, particularly for the less advantaged (read: poor). Which is why, at or about Christmas time (officially, Dec. 28), we will cut off long-term unemployment benefits, so that 1.3 million people who have lost their jobs and can’t find new ones now lose their emergency benefits. By the end of 2014, another 3.6 million get kicked off the list.

There is some talk, though, about voting next year to restore at least some of these benefits. I’m not sure how vulnerable Republican Mike Coffman would vote, but Democratic-leaning Public Policy Polling surveyed his district — the Colorado 6th — and found that voters wanted an extension by a convincing 63-33 margin.

But in more real life, there are also deep cuts coming to the SNAP food stamp program, which (snap) kept 4.7 million people out of poverty in 2011, including over 2 million children. According to one analysis, it also kept 1.5 million children out of what is known as deep poverty, which is defined as one half the official poverty line, which, it turns out, is quite deep indeed. A Harvard study shows there are real long-term health benefits for those children who begin on food stamps by age 5.

Still, the House has passed a bill calling for $40 billion in food stamp cuts. The Senate wants $4 billion. Negotiators seem to have settled on $8 billion, but many believe the House won’t agree to such an, uh, low number.

I’m not an expert on the “What Would Jesus Do?” question, and yet I’m pretty sure that Jesus, along with white Santa, Linus and the reformed Scrooge, would think at least twice about failing to feed the hungry or to end benefits for people who can’t find a job in a depressed job market at Christmas time.

Maybe Bill O’Reilly could chew on this for one show: It doesn’t seem as if there’s a war on Christmas so much as there is a war on what they tell us Christmas is supposed to be about.

There are explanations for these actions, of course, from some of our more helpful congressional leaders. According to Rep. Paul Ryan, who just negotiated the budget deal with Sen. Patty Murray, we need to cut back on these benefits in order to save the poor from the risk of becoming lazy. In explaining his 2012 budget, he said he feared turning “the safety net into a hammock that lulls able-bodied people to lives of dependency and complacency, that drains them of their will and their incentive to make the most of their lives.”

The hammock people, just so you know, draw an average of $1,116 monthly from unemployment benefits. That fat paycheck is apparently enough to condemn you to a life of complacency and drain you of your will. It’s funny, but just typing that sentence nearly drained me of my will. And if Ryan is talking about SNAP recipients, nearly two-thirds happen to be children, the elderly and the will-drained disabled. About 700,000 are hammock-swinging veterans.

And yet we must persevere. Because here is how Rand Paul explained the unemployment cuts on Fox News: “I do support unemployment benefits for the 26 weeks that they’re paid for. If you extend it beyond that, you do a disservice to these workers. When you allow people to be on unemployment insurance for 99 weeks, you’re causing them to become part of this perpetual unemployed group in our economy.”

Some have called Paul heartless for his stand. In fact, he sounds brainless. To begin with, no one gets 99 weeks of unemployment anymore. In all but three states, the maximum is somewhere between 40 and 63 weeks. And he’s taking his point from the fact – sadly – that the longer you’re unemployed, the harder it is to get work. So he wants to take away unemployment benefits so people won’t be tempted to stay unemployed, even though there are many more unemployed — three to four times more — than there are jobs. So, is Christmas time a time for lack of logic and lack of heart?

I don’t know which is worse – the unemployment cuts or the food stamp cuts. Neither is about saving the federal government much money. If we want to cut subsidized food money, why not, as I read somewhere, just cut out the expense-account lunch deduction?

The Washington Post recently did a story about Raphael, whose SNAP money is being cut from $290 a month to $246. According to the story, eight days after getting her check, she had already spent the money on two carts at the grocery store.

What would she do for the other 22 days?

“Mama’s version of ‘The Hunger Games,’ ” she tells her children. She has six. Five still live with her, ages 11 to 22.

And so as we next gather round the Yuletide TV, we will think of Raphael, her kids and this: Who could have guessed that “The Hunger Games” would ever become a Christmas-season sequel to “It’s a Wonderful Life”?


  1. What a wonderful thing the conservatives have done to this country. They have been controlling things for over 3 decades, now, don’t kid yourselves that they haven’t been. What they can’t destroy outright they will block through political obstruction and grandstanding. For the life of me I can’t figure out what they are trying to conserve, since destruction seems to be the only way they know.

    We used to be the greatest country on the planet, now we’re just the stingiest. And towards our own people, too. Truth is that there is plenty of money, but we’re letting the wrong people obtain and use it for the wrong reasons. We spend on empire rather than our own lives. We spend money to “rebuild” countries we destroy in illegal wars, but don’t even bother to keep up with our own infrastructure maintenance. We let the rich rob us blind, in the clearly foolish idea that they will “trickle” it down on us, what ever the hell THAT is supposed to mean. Meanwhile, they hoard it and use some of it to make sure they can continue to screw us for even more of what we no longer have.

    Ever since Reagan, this country has been on the wrong path, maybe even before that. Probably since the day JFK was murdered. We give to those who already have too much everything not nailed down, and let them steal everything else they can. And then we wonder why we can’t even feed our own people, anymore. And the political classes say that’s how it’s SUPPOSED to be? Well, sure, it’s easy to say that if you’ve made a multimillion dollar fortune out of $167,000 a year in 5 years making deals that would land any of thee rest of us in prison, but you’ve written laws to make legal. But for those of us who are acting HONESTLY and trying to play by the rules only to get screwed by the crooks you let run our lives, it rings a little hollow.

    This is not a country, anymore, it’s an organized theft ring acting for profit above everything else. We are no longer a society, we are just empty pockets to be picked for the sociopathic rich.

    Welcome to conservative America.

  2. It seems like just days ago that Mr. Littwin was applauding Republican Speaker of the House John Boehner for his efforts in orchestrating a bipartisan budget bill that helped avoid another government shutdown. A compromise bipartisan bill that, as Mr. Littwin noted, included “slashing of benefits for the long-term unemployed.”

    Wait, it was just days ago, December 13th to be exact. At that time Mr. Littwin described the compromise as “lousy for liberals” but expressed no great concern for those who it was really lousy for: the long-term unemployed. Apparently politics trumps compassion.

    Now, less than two weeks later, Mr. Littwin seems overwrought at the prospect of long-term unemployment benefits being terminated on December 28th. So what brought about this sudden surge of sympathy? It would appear that Mr. Littwin’s concern for the unemployed was triggered by a Democrat-leaning Public Policy Polling survey suggesting the cutoff of benefits would hurt Representative Mike Coffman’s reelection bid. So, again, politics trumps compassion.

    One of the things Mr. Littwin fails to mention is the 163 House Democrats who voted in favor of the bipartisan budget bill. Are these Democrats heartless and brainless Scrooges, as well?

    Despite being a bipartisan bill Mr. Littwin appears to hold responsible only Republicans for failing to extend unemployment benefits. Does Mr. Littwin believe scuttling the entire bipartisan bill to preserve unemployment benefits is worth another government shutdown? As is usually the case, he doesn’t say.

    And Mr. Littwin also fails to mention that according to the Denver Post in September the Democrat-leaning PPP “held off on releasing a poll ……….. that showed a wide margin of voters intended to recall Sen. Angela Giron, D-Pueblo.”

    And why were the results held off? According to Tom Jensen, director of PPP, “We did a poll ………in Colorado Senate District 3 and found that voters intended to recall Angela Giron by a 12 point margin, 54/42. In a district that Barack Obama won by almost 20 points I figured there was no way that could be right and made a rare decision not to release the poll,” 

    That’s right, the PPP didn’t believe the results of its own poll!

    You can’t make this stuff up.

  3. Mr. Lopez is what you might call a troll. He says you can’t make this stuff up, but then he does. He says I show no great concern for longterm unemployed in a 12-13 column. And yet I wrote in that column: ” … and this was a vote to express dissatisfaction with the unacceptable slashing of benefits for the longterm unemployed.” Just sayin’.

  4. First, a clarification:

    When I said “You can’t make this stuff up” I was referring to a Denver Post article which reported that Public Policy Polling held off releasing one of its own survey results because it didn’t believe it. You gotta admit, PPP not believing the results of its own poll is pretty hard to make up not to mention mildly amusing.
    I did say “At that time Mr. Littwin described the compromise as “lousy for liberals” but expressed no great concern for those who it was really lousy for: the long-term unemployed.” However, I did NOT say he had expressed no concern and I did NOT say he had never expressed any concern. I simply said he expressed “no great concern” and I stand by that. To refute this Mr. Littwin published the following quote from his December 13th column, “… and this was a vote to express dissatisfaction with the unacceptable slashing of benefits for the longterm unemployed.”
    Let’s examine that quote in context, “A few liberals voted against the bill — because they could. It was going to pass anyway, and this was a vote to express dissatisfaction with the unacceptable slashing of benefits for the longterm unemployed.” Mr. Littwin was not expressing his concern but rather the concern of the few liberals who voted against the compromise budget bill and even then only voted against it because they could. By the way, what does Mr. Littwin think of the 163 House Democrats who voted in favor of slashing benefits for the longterm unemployed?
    Until Christmas Eve Mr. Littwin appeared more concerned with retaining long term unemployment benefits as a wedge-issue than actually extending those benefits to the long term unemployed.

    But beyond all that, I’ve always been amazed at how thin-skinned and hypersensitive some columnists are. Especially those who, like Mr. Littwin, make a living mocking, marginalizing and ridiculing those who either cannot or choose not to respond

    When these so-called journalists find themselves in the spotlight they fold-up like a cheap suitcase and assume a thumb-sucking fetal position while crying for mommy. But mommy’s busy now.

    I can understand Mr. Littwin’s frustration. The trajectory of his, well, career has been sharply downward since March, 2012. So at this point you might think he’d be happy to have any readers whether troll or toady.

    But I hold no ill will towards Mr. Littwin. Well maybe a little: Troll? Really?

    Anyhow, I wish him nothing but the best in 2014.

    Thanks for playing.

  5. Ha. Look who is thin-skinned. How “great” would you measure my concern? Fifty percent? Seventy-five percent? What percentage would qualify as “great”? And I’m the one who characterized the slashing as “unacceptable.” Of course, as you note, I’ve written about these topics many times before, and no one — but you, apparently – would ever wonder whether I actually favored assistance to the long-term unemployed.

  6. “How “great” would you measure my concern?”

    Fair question. Let’s see: your concern for assistance to the long-term unemployed occupied part of one sentence that was buried in a column where you devoted as much space to the results of the Broncos/Chargers game. OK, 5 percent on a scale where 95 percent would qualify as great.

    If, as you claim, your concern is greater than that your December 13th column sure didn’t show it.

    Now let me ask you a question: If your concern for assistance to the long-term unemployed is as great as you claim why blame only one party for stopping that assistance when discontinuance was part of a bipartisan budget bill that attracted the votes of 163 House Democrats?

    And for the record, my response was not driven by thin-skin but rather flattery. I couldn’t believe that a former journalist would take the time to respond to someone he considers to be a troll.

    Who’da thunk it?

    Anyhow, God Bless and good luck and good health in 2014.

  7. You ask a fair question. In negotiations, Democrats wanted to extend longterm unemployment and Republicans didn’t. The Democrats will try to introduce an extension as a solo bill. No Democrat (that I noticed) said he was reducing unemployment for the good of the unemployed or mentioned a hammock. I’m not a big fan of most Democrats, but, on the whole, they’re better friends to working (and unworking) people than Republicans.

    On an unrelated topic, I find it funny that it makes you feel good to call me a former journalist. Just so you know, I’m working. I don’t need anyone’s unemployment check. My column is running in five Colorado newspapers as well as the Colorado Independent. It also runs in several papers across the country. And even the poor Denver Post — which seems not to be doing any better financially without me — periodically asks me to write a column.

    But if it makes you feel good, then it makes you feel good. Have at it. It’s a strange enough world as it is.

  8. “I hold no ill will towards Mr Littwin. A little maybe”. I think when you imply someone is a cheap suitcase and thin skinned there’s ill will lurking and not just “a little” but a lot.

    I agree with MIke. Have at it Mr Lopez and please do us all a favor. Can the disclaimers. They make you look like a “TROLL”.

  9. Thanks for your candid response to my question and thanks, too, for allowing me to continue to use “former journalist” even though it obviously bothers you. A lot. To reciprocate, you can continue referring to me as a troll if you think that would make us even or if it would make you feel better.

    If you’re curently as busy in journalism as you say—and, no, I’m not questioning it—why doesn’t the Colorado Independent include that information in the “About the Author” section at the end of all your columns. It only lists four accomplishments and uses the past tense to describe all four. Just sayin’.

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