April 6, 2009 in Opinion

Outside Voices: Friends in need

In tough economic times, Salvation Army donations are up

About this column

Outside Voices is a weekly roundup of excerpts from recent editorials published in newspapers around the nation. They do not necessarily reflect the views of the editorial board of The Spokesman-Review.

Chicago Tribune, March 28: The Salvation Army has rolled out its red kettles for holiday fundraising since 1891. But it has never had a year as successful as 2008. At a time when need was skyrocketing, so was generosity.

Donations across the country reached $130 million, up 10 percent from 2007. That’s the biggest single-year jump since 1997.

Yes, the economy had an impact. More people went online to contribute to the red kettle fundraising than ever before, but the average gift fell. While people may not have been able to help as much as they used to, they still gave what they could.

Cashless kettles contributed to the fundraising success. A pilot program instituted in Texas, Colorado and, at the last minute, Southern California, allowed givers to use a credit card at the kettles. The Salvation Army doesn’t yet have final numbers on how much cashless kettles contributed to the overall donations, but public relations director Melissa Temme said that, at a minimum, the publicity from the cashless kettles raised awareness of the need.

The news wasn’t all good. The Salvation Army keeps money in the communities where it is raised. And some of the places where the need is greatest – such as Houston, Detroit and Las Vegas – were slammed by a shortfall in donations.

Still, the overall picture is positive. As times got tough, people responded.

San Jose Mercury News, April 1: A conservative Catholic group has organized an online petition protesting the University of Notre Dame’s invitation to President Barack Obama to give the commencement address next month. It’s collected more than 200,000 signatures, and the bishop of Fort Wayne-South Bend is on the bandwagon. He says he’ll boycott the ceremonies because of Obama’s support for stem-cell research and the freedom to choose an abortion.

Notre Dame’s president, the Rev. John Jenkins, must not waver on the invitation, and Obama should have no second thoughts in accepting. The graduating seniors deserve the privilege of hearing the president, sure to give a memorable speech, and the university should relish the prestige.

Obama would be the ninth president to get an honorary degree from Notre Dame. None of the previous eight was flawless in the church’s eyes. Ronald Reagan was divorced; George W. Bush permitted torture.

World-class universities should not be applying ideological litmus tests in choosing graduation speakers. Notre Dame should uphold the important principle of respect for differences of opinion.

St. Louis Post-Dispatch, April 2: Smokers began paying dramatically higher prices Wednesday. The federal cigarette tax jumped by 62 cents a pack to $1.01. Levies on other tobacco products also rose.

Obviously, smokers are upset. But this is an excellent opportunity to do what most tobacco users consistently say they want to do: quit smoking.

Because money raised by the higher cigarette tax will fund health care for poor children, many smokers say they’re being forced to subsidize services for others. But the truth is that the rest of us subsidize them. We’ve been doing it for years.

Even with higher federal taxes, smokers don’t come close to covering the costs they impose on society. Cigarettes would have to sell for $10.28 a pack to recoup all that money.

In the United States, the direct medical cost of tobacco-related illness – what we pay for doctors, hospitals, surgery and extras like oxygen – is nearly $97 billion a year. The cost to Medicare is about $19 billion, while Medicaid programs shell out about $31 billion.

No other preventable cause of illness and death – not drinking, obesity or even illegal drug use – comes close to the toll inflicted by tobacco. It kills nearly 440,000 Americans every year and sickens millions more.

Of course, most smokers already are aware of those grim statistics. What they don’t know is how to stop.

Nobody likes to pay higher taxes. But they will provide a new incentive for many smokers – and especially many young smokers – to quit.

Los Angeles Times, April 3: Well, of course Queen Elizabeth II already had an iPod. She’s the queen. Doesn’t she have everything?

The British press, which pilloried President Obama last month for giving Prime Minister Gordon Brown a set of American film DVDs that don’t work on British players, responded somewhat kindlier to the video iPod he gave the queen. Although the Daily Telegraph hastened to point out that she already has a silver iPod mini that her grandson coaxed her into buying four years ago, others noted that this is an upgrade, loaded with 40 Broadway show tunes and footage of the queen’s 2007 trip to Virginia, and accompanied by a rare songbook signed by “The King and I” composer Richard Rodgers. Some U.S. media reported that the queen actually had requested the new iPod. We don’t claim to be experts on royal protocol, but we’re pretty sure the queen is too polite to ask for a gift. This is, after all, a woman who carries a handbag to a meeting in her own home.

We feel for the Obama administration over these early gift issues. Who hasn’t been there, right? Maybe we never gave Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov a red plastic button that said “overcharge” instead of “reset,” but is there anyone who hasn’t given at least one lame present?

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