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Letters Published in January 7, 2009 Issue
January 7, 2009 - Letter submitted by Kathy Guillermo, Director, Laboratory Investigations Department, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA)
The passing of former FBI official Mark Felt—better known as “Deep Throat”—is a reminder of the crucial role played by whistleblowers in America. PETA deals with whistleblower calls every day. They may never lead to the downfall of a president, but they are important because they reveal violations of the law and sickening animal abuse. In the past year, PETA has released video footage documenting egregious cruelty to animals. At a turkey-breeding company in West Virginia, for example, our undercover investigator witnessed workers punching live birds, bludgeoning birds with pipes and pieces of wood, stomping on birds’ heads, and deliberately breaking birds’ bones. Several workers who were caught on video abusing birds have since been fired.
Without the courage of whistleblowers and undercover investigators, employees in the laboratories that PETA has investigated in the last quarter century would still be beating rabbits to death with their fists, bashing the heads of baboons and then making fun of the brain-damaged victims, blinding kittens and monkeys by sewing their eyelids together, killing pigs in automobile crash tests, and much more. Let us all be thankful for Mr. Felt and for anyone who tells the truth about injustice.
January 7, 2009 - Letter submitted by Bill Stanczykiewicz, Indiana Youth Institute
While national economists have confirmed that the U.S. economy is in a severe recession, many Indiana kids could have warned us years ago.
Hoosier children were among the first people to feel the effects of the nation’s economic downturn. According to the updated Kids Count in Indiana Data Book published by the Indiana Youth Institute, the state has experienced increases in the percentage of children living in poverty, the monthly average of food stamp recipients and the percentage of Hoosier children who qualify for free and reduced-price lunches.
During this decade, Indiana’s child poverty rate has increased by 43 percent, from 11.6 percent in the year 2000 to 16.6 percent in 2005 (the most recent year data are available). The number of children receiving free or reduced price lunches at school also has increased by 43 percent, from 26.3 percent in 2000 to this year’s figure of 37.7 percent.
Meanwhile, the number of Hoosiers receiving food stamps has nearly doubled since the start of the decade to almost 600,000 in 2007.
The causes of poverty are as numerous as they are complex. While Indiana’s economy has been more resilient than the economies of surrounding states, disheartening job losses have increased Hoosier unemployment and poverty. Immigration also has an impact, since many immigrants enter the job market on the lowest rungs of the state’s economic ladder.
Another important factor involves family life. Children in single-parent homes are more likely to live in poverty. Notably, Indiana’s nonmarital birthrate has increased 19 percent since 2000.
As for solutions, reducing the number of people in poverty depends upon the number of people willing to help. Individual donations of money and time help social service agencies and faith-based organizations deliver hope and possibility.
While people in poverty need immediate help with everyday needs, longer-term solutions center on education. Low levels of academic achievement are matched by low levels of economic opportunity.
That is one reason why education is a top priority as the Indiana General Assembly returns to work this month. Legislators will craft the first state budget written under Indiana’s new property tax law – a measure that moved most K-12 funding from local property taxes to the state’s general fund.
The legislature’s budget writers are encountering grim numbers. While poverty and the need for public assistance go up, state revenues are going down, with the latest estimate showing a shortfall of nearly $1 billion.
“The decrease in state revenues is troubling especially with the extra responsibilities we’ve taken on to fund K-12 education,” said Sen. Vi Simpson (D – Bloomington). “I can tell you we have a really serious issue in the budget. The debate will not be on how much we spend, but on where we place our priorities.”
Former state legislator Stan Jones, who now leads the Indiana Higher Education Commission, observed, “The slogan we’re going to be hearing is, ‘protect education, preserve what we have.’”
But Simpson pointed out that when accounting for inflation, level funding really is less funding. “Flatlining is a cut, and a 2 percent increase is flatlining,” Simpson said. “Where we’re going to get 2 percent, I don’t know.”
Sen. Teresa Lubbers (R – Indianapolis) emphasized that education funding cannot be viewed in isolation from other challenges. “There’s only one way to get dollars for schools, and that’s to take money out of the pockets of taxpayers,” Lubbers said. “These are hard times and people are struggling. We need to balance the financial needs of schools with the financial needs of families. The two are not separate.
“And I speak as one who believes education is our top priority,” she continued. “There is not a legislator who doesn’t care about the schools in their district.”
This year’s General Assembly features 23 freshmen, legislators who will be serving their first term during one of the state’s most dire fiscal crises. Former state legislative leader Pat Kiely, who now heads the Indiana Manufacturers Association, explained why so many of his former colleagues decided against seeking re-election, opening the way for so many newcomers.
“Why do we have so many freshmen legislators?,” Kiely asked. “Because the old folks saw this coming and got out. So good luck, and welcome to the Indiana General Assembly!”
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