As thousands of visitors wine and dine each other during convention week, here’s a statistic that ought to inspire more than a little reflection: More than 500,000 New York City kids are going to bed hungry every night. That’s over 25 percent of our city’s children.
Even as we celebrate the city’s recovery from the 9/11 attacks, even as we count the cash brought in by Republican delegates and the media, we have to face the terrible fact that poverty is growing in New York, and that kids aren’t getting enough to eat. New York prides itself on its compassion, but these statistic conjure images not of a big-hearted, progressive city, but of Dickensian London.
According to a report in the Daily News , more and more children are showing up in the city’s food pantries and soup kitchens. One telling-and chilling-quote came from Julia Erickson, executive director of City Harvest, an anti-hunger group. She noted that some of the city’s soup kitchens now feature high chairs.
The grim statistics and appalling anecdotes don’t stop there. Nearly 18 percent of the nation’s children are poor, which is the highest percentage in a decade. The number of hungry children has gone up by more than 1 percent since last year. The Children’s Defense Fund ranks New York State at No. 13 for child poverty. We’ve moved up three positions since 2002-hardly an encouraging sign.
The poverty figures have inspired the usual sort of finger-pointing. Democrats blame Republicans, and vice versa. And yes, the national economy has not recovered sufficiently to help the poor, whose incomes are down. What’s undeniable, however, is that these statistics tell us that all is not well in New York, despite all the good (and deserved) press the city has gotten in recent years. Yes, the city is safer. Yes, vagrants no longer threaten us. Yes, the Mayor is making progress in education.
But still: One in four kids in our city won’t have enough to eat tonight.
That is simply unspeakable.
Pete Peterson Knows His Stuff
When John Kerry hits the campaign trail after the Republican National Convention, one of his trusty campaign aides ought to be carrying a copy of Peter Peterson’s new book, Running on Empty: How the Democratic and Republican Parties Are Bankrupting Our Future and What Americans Can Do About It , in which the author concludes that George W. Bush and the Republican Congress have “presided over the biggest, most reckless deterioration of America’s finances in history.” Mr. Peterson, the former chairman of the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, doesn’t let the Democrats off the hook, however: Lacking discipline and foresight, politicians of both parties have abandoned their duty to oversee the country’s long-term financial health. As a result, the country’s economic horizon is distinctly dark. For instance, Mr. Peterson writes, the deficit has risen steeply since 2000, despite the fact that the baby boomers have been working full steam and the number of senior citizens who need to collect benefits has been relatively low. Very shortly, many of those baby boomers will be reaching retirement, and will likely start asking their elected officials why nothing was done to make sure the economy could support them in their golden years.
Neither Democrats nor Republicans will have a good answer. As Mr. Peterson reports, Democrats implement expensive spending programs the country cannot afford, while Republicans offer foolhardy tax cuts. Voters mull which of these two baubles they prefer but overlook the fact that neither party is minding the store, as the $6 trillion government debt ratchets ever higher. The U.S. now has the lowest rate of savings in the developed world; a third of our public debt is held abroad; and benefit spending takes up an eighth of the gross domestic product. Moreover, the annual current-account deficit is $540 billion, or 5.1 percent of the G.D.P. And our net financial liabilities to foreigners are at $2.6 trillion; in 1980, that number was zero.
George W. Bush has taken fiscal irresponsibility to a new level by cutting taxes and increasing spending at the same time. Mr. Peterson’s writes that the President’s Medicare drug plan will end up costing $2 trillion a decade, as his preposterous tax cuts drain the treasury of badly needed funds.
But if John Kerry is elected, does he have the political will to make the necessary choices to pull the country back from the brink? As Mr. Peterson points out, politicians of all stripes have been making reckless promises to voters, promises which will be paid for in increased debt, satisfying the immediate needs of voters but leaving an unstable financial future for our children and grandchildren.
The Fishy Mr. Novak
It wasn’t too surprising a few weeks back when right-wing syndicated columnist and CNN commentator Robert Novak inserted himself into the Swift boat veterans controversy. Mr. Novak cheered with enthusiasm the unseemly spectacle of Vietnam vets heaping scorn on a fellow former soldier, John Kerry. After all, the veterans’ tainted message and discredited book, Unfit for Command: Swift Boat Veterans Speak Out Against John Kerry , were red meat to Mr. Novak’s conservative audience. And so he pumped the book in his column and on television, referring to the writers as “real patriots.” Mr. Novak has always come across as a sanctimonious paragon of virtue, telling people what’s right and wrong, but now we learn that this paragon of virtue has a fishy side. It turns out that his motives in praising the Swift boat book were not purely partisan: His enthusiasm didn’t extend to informing readers and viewers that his son, Alex Novak, happens to be the director of marketing for the conservative publisher Regnery. And as you may have guessed by now, Regnery happens to be the publisher of Unfit for Command .
When questioned why he didn’t reveal the conflict of interest, the morally righteous Mr. Novak arrogantly replied that there was no conflict: “I don’t think it’s relevant,” he said. “I’m just functioning as a columnist with a point of view, and a strong point of view.”
It seems that Mr. Novak believes that a columnist’s point of view, if passionately held, overshadows any need to come clean with his readers. One can only imagine the column he would write, and the TV diatribe he would deliver, if Mr. Novak learned that a left-leaning peer who was pushing an anti-Bush book had a familial relationship with the publisher of that book.
Mr. Novak’s predictable part in the Swift boat non-scandal simply offers more proof that the President’s surrogates and lap dogs are more than a little on edge about their chosen candidate, and are barking at anything that moves.