jueves, 30 de octubre de 2008

For many American families, economic crisis is nothing new

The current state of the American and World economy has become the main topic of news coverage and the most important issue on the campaign trail for several weeks now. As Dean Baker regularly points out in his excellent blog, Beat the Press, much of this coverage is erroneous and overly focused on the recent decline in the stock market and not enough on how the crisis is truly affecting American families. No doubt this reflects the pervasive elite bias of even the most "liberal" segments of the mainstream media. Whether accurately describing the current crisis or not, what much of the recent coverage on the economy misses is that under the current neo-liberal political economy in the United States, a startlingly large share of American families are constantly faced with economic crises, in good times and bad.

The Economic Policy Institute, a labor-affiliated Washington think tank that, to its credit, proclaims that "spreading the wealth around" is one of its main goals (EPI's mission is "To inform and empower people to seek solutions that will ensure broadly shared prosperity and opportunity") has just released a report showing that nearly a third of American families don't earn enough income to achieve a basic standard of living. The report is EPI's latest installment in its long-standing research on family budgets. In essence, using a variety of data available from governmental and non-governmental sources, EPI has for many years aimed to calculate exactly how much a family needs to make to fulfill their basic needs, based on family size and geographic location. The number they come up with for the cost of life's basic necessities is what they call a basic family budget. It is a welcome alternative to the current measure used by many public and private institutions to measure basic needs, the Federal Poverty line, which is quite out of date, does not adjust for differences in cost of living throughout the country and is thus largely meaningless in today's economy.

The items included in the Basic Family Budget include: Food, Child care, Transportation, Health care, Taxes, and other necessities such as: "clothing, entertainment, personal care products and services, reading materials, educational materials, and other miscellaneous but mostly necessary items". On average, EPI finds that a 2-parent, 2-child American family needs an annual income of at least $48,778 to meet their basic needs, over twice the official poverty line for a family of that size, $21,027. However, Family Budgets vary widely throughout the country. According to EPI:
In major urban areas, expenses for this four-person family range from $42,106 in Oklahoma City to $71,913 in Nassau/Suffolk, N.Y.; families in small towns and rural areas start from a low of $35,733 in Marshall County, Miss. to $73,345 in Nantucket and Dukes Counties, Mass.

Using income data from the 2007 census, which it should be noted, was the best year for the economy under the Bush Administration, EPI found that 29.8% of American families don't earn enough to meet the basic family budget. That number jumps to 43.7% for families with only a high school degree, 53% for African-Americans, 57.4% for Latinos, and 74.7% for single-parent, two child families. Given that most observers expect the economic situation in the United States to continue to get worse for at least another year, it is highly likely that the percentage of American families that fail to make ends meet will increase in 2008 and 2009. Nonetheless, the point I'm trying to make, which is clearly borne out by the data, is that even when the economy is performing well in the aggreggate (ie a high rate of GDP growth), 1 in 3 Americans suffer from privation.

Obviously the current economic crisis is terrible for nearly everyone involved, but I hope that something positive will come from it. As Naomi Klein has been saying a lot recently, I, hope that the current crisis causes us to fundamentally rethink the economic model we've adopted in the United States since Reagan and cast it, like Soviet-style central planning, to the dustbin of history. Our current unregulated, bubble-driven, and highly financialized economy clearly does not provide for the basic human needs of the American population. I'm not certain what an ideal alternative economic model would look like, but I am sure that it would little resemble the model we've lived under for the past 30 years, which has yielded stagnating wages and skyrocketing inequality, as well as even greater corporate dominance of our lives. I hope all Americans will come to the same conclusion I have that we are not experiencing a temporary bump in the road, but the manifest failure of an economic model and ideology. This crisis calls for the charting of a new course economically. That, my friends, would be change we can all believe in.

viernes, 24 de octubre de 2008

Ask for a paper ballot!

Hey, I was just watching Democracy Now and I learned that voters in several states, including voters in the key swing state of Ohio, have the option of requesting a paper ballot at the polls, rather than voting on an electronic machine. I know very few people read this but if anyone happens to catch this blog post, please ask for a paper ballot at the polls if you don't have the option of voting on an optical scan machine and tell your friends! Electronic voting machines which lack hard, paper records of voter intent CAN NOT BE TRUSTED! So please, exercise your rights and make your vote count!

These things are bad!

jueves, 23 de octubre de 2008


Like most Americans, I really wish elections were based more on issues and substance, rather than ridiculous discussions of candidates' personalities and other nonsense. I also wish the media's coverage of elections, which is pretty much abysmal, was based more on issues than such trivialities. It's the candidates' positions on issues and their record on issues that truly matter, in my humble opinion. As a result, even if McCain/Palin had run an incredibly clean, principled, and substantive campaign, I would still, without a doubt, urge people who live in swing states to vote for Obama/Biden. If you happen to hail from a deep blue state like myself or a deep red state like my best friend in the whole wide world, certainly feel free to cast your votes for truly progressive candidates like Nader or McKinney, but regardless of your decision, issues ought to be up front and center.

Given that I feel this way, I am reluctant to pay too much attention to the daily campaign drama and back and forth attacks which receive so much media attention. Although to be honest, inevitably I end up paying a lot of attention to this stuff. When I do so, it makes me feel guilty that I enjoy it. You know, similar to the feeling I get when I catch my self reading the covers of celebrity tabloids in the supermarket. Nonetheless, the McCain campaign has been so incredibly dirty, so willing to lie and exploit xenophobia, racism, regionalism and any and every force which potentially divides us, that I have to delve into the murky waters of process stories and say something.

Many Obama supporters likely got this email this morning. When I read it, my reaction was just, wow...I simply cannot believe these people. Apparently the RNC sent out a mailer last week that looks like this:

Image courtesy of Huffington Post

This attack reaches new heights of dishonesty, as well as fear and hate mongering. There are more problems with it than I could possibly list, not the least of which is the implication that negotiating with our perceived enemies in the Middle East will make us less safe. In reality, it is a demonstrable fact that the naked imperialism of the Bush administration has not minimized but drastically increased the threat of terrorism worldwide.

McCain/Palin and the GOP are evil, plain and simple.

miércoles, 22 de octubre de 2008

Is this what democracy looks like?

Whew, I haven't written a blog post in quite some time but I really need to get back on the ball and write more frequently. The issue that has gotten me so riled up, which has forced me to emerge from my multi-week blog slumber, is that of the legitimacy of our electoral process. Several issues have recently come to my attention, thanks to the investigations and reporting of many patriotic men and women, which raise the real possibility that the Republican party has systematically stolen numerous elections in recent years, including the 2004 presidential election, and plan to do the same this year.

To be frank, I think any truly informed, honest observer of American politics would agree with me when I say that there are many aspects of American elections which are fundamentally undemocratic. For one, in the year 2008 we still elect our president through an electoral college, rather than a straight popular vote. As a result, candidates for president can and have received a majority of the popular vote and still lose! I explained this to my Costa Rican host mother and my French host sister the other day and they were simply baffled, as they should have been. Additionally, there are essentially no real controls or limits on the role of money in our elections, which is inevitably, in my humble opinion, corrosive. The role of money and the influence of the wealthy over our elections has reached dizzying new heights this year, I might add. Further, the mainstream television media, which remains the principle means by which Americans get news (although its role is certainly shrinking) is a corporate-controlled institution that is basically in the hands of three companies, Time Warner, General Electric, and NewsCorp. The print media features a similarly concentrated, corporate ownership structure as well. As such, the information presented to us by the media regarding our political system is inherently biased. For more on the bias of the media, read Noam Chomsky. In fact, for your own sake, for the sake of the country, and for the sake of the world, read anything by Noam Chomsky.

All of these issues aside, up until a couple weeks ago I was under the impression that the people, albeit under the influence of the biased corporate media, at least got to push D or R every few years. I believed that their decision mattered. How could it not? Why else would so many people dedicate so much time and effort to explaining how Bush and the most crazy, far right batch of Republicans in history won, against all odds, in 2004? Unfortunately, this doesn't seem to be the case. On the contrary, it turns out that the Republican party has for years been using a series of tactics, each more vicious than the next, which seem designed to systematically suppress the voting of core Democratic constituencies, namely ethnic minorities and low income persons. There have been several terrific pieces on this issue which have come out recently, including an article by Robert Kennedy Jr. which appeared in Rolling Stone, a column by Democracy Now! host Amy Goodman, a short film by Robert Greenwald of Brave New Films, and an interview by Amy Goodman of NYU's Mark Crispin Miller on today's Democracy Now!.

RFK Jr. informs us that, under the pretext of preventing voter fraud, which for all intents and purposes never happens, the GOP have: "creat[ed] new barriers to registration, purg[ed] legitimate names from voter rolls, challeng[ed] voters at the polls and discard[ed] valid ballots." As a result:

Since 2003, according to the U.S. Election Assistance Commission, at least 2.7 million new voters have had their applications to register rejected. In addition, at least 1.6 million votes were never counted in the 2004 election - and the commission's own data suggests that the real number could be twice as high.

Here are some examples of some of the means they've used to do this:

Obstruction of voter registration drives
, including fines as high as $1000 per violation in the state of Florida for tiny administrative errors like failing to turn in application forms on time. As such, the League of Women Voters was forced to abandon its efforts to register new voters in Florida.

Purging eligible voters from the polls
. The 2002 Help America Vote Act (HAVA) stipulated that "[voting] records be centralized, computerized and maintained by secretaries of state - partisan officials - who are empowered to purge the rolls of any voter they deem ineligible". In numerous states, Republican officials have used this legislation with reckless abandon. The consequence?

All told, states reported scrubbing at least 10 million voters from their rolls on questionable grounds between 2004 and 2006. Colorado holds the record: Donetta Davidson, the Republican secretary of state, and her GOP successor oversaw the elimination of nearly one of every six of their state's voters. Bush has since appointed Davidson to the Election Assistance Commission, the federal agency created by HAVA, which provides guidance to the states on "list maintenance" methods.

Requiring unnecessary voter ID's: Also as a result of HAVA, voters must now present a government-issued ID at the polls in order to vote. The problem is, there are many low income Americans who don't travel abroad and don't drive and thus have no passport or driver's license. In total, 10% of white voters and 20% of black voters lack government ID's, effectively barring them from participating in politics.

If these efforts at voter suppression shock you, then you'll be utterly dismayed by the charges of even more heinous crimes made by Mark Crispin Miller, a communications professor from New York University. He contends that, on top of the myriad efforts to suppress voting, the GOP has engaged in systematic computer fraud to straight up steal elections throughout the country. In his interview with Amy Goodman, Crispin Miller (or just Miller?) claims that the GOP used a common computer hacker technique, the Middle Man Setup, to steal the election from John Kerry. On top of that, the guy in charge of the theft operation apparently now works for none other than John McCain:

AMY GOODMAN: When you talk about the computer setup for 2004, explain further.

MARK CRISPIN MILLER: Well, what happened was, with the election results that were coming into Ken Blackwell’s website, right, in real time—

AMY GOODMAN: The former Secretary of State of Ohio.

MARK CRISPIN MILLER: The former Secretary of State.

AMY GOODMAN: The former chair of the Bush-Cheney campaign there.

MARK CRISPIN MILLER: And co-chair of Bush-Cheney and a big-time election thief and an ardent theocrat, by the way. The election returns went basically from his website to another computer that was in a basement in Chattanooga, Tennessee, under the control of Spoonamore and a guy with another private company, another evangelical. The data was shunted through that computer and then back to the Secretary of State’s website.

Spoonamore says that this Man in the Middle setup has only one purpose, and that is fraud. There’s no other reason to do it. And he believes that such a system is still in place in Ohio, it’s in place in a number of other states. And the crucial fact to bear in mind here, since we’re talking about John McCain attacking ACORN and so on, is that Mike Connell is now working for John McCain.

Now, on the strength of Spoonamore’s testimony, right, it’s driving a RICO lawsuit in Ohio. On the strength of his testimony, Connell has been subpoenaed. He was subpoenaed last week for a deposition, so that he can answer questions on the record, under oath, about what he’s been up to. He and a bevy of Republican lawyers have been very, very vigorously fighting this subpoena, because, of course, they don’t want him to testify ’til after Election Day

If Barack Obama somehow loses this election in two weeks, Crispin Miller points out that many people will contend that the Bradley Effect theory has been validated. The Bradley effect theory claims that Black candidates perform better in pre-election polls than they do in actual elections because in the privacy of their voting booths, Americans are more likely to illustrate racist voting behavior than when speaking with pollsters, when they wish to appear politically correct. I, for one, have claimed this as a possible explanation for an Obama loss in my conversations with many people. However, he contends that evidence for this theory is rather lacking, which I'd never heard before. Regardless of the validity of the theory, we would all be quite naive to immediately rule out the possibility that if Obama loses, it is because the election was stolen from him. Crispin Miller claims it happened in Ohio in 2004 and many Americans are already convinced the election was stolen in Florida in 2000. As I said above, the political system of the United States, the so-called beacon of democracy, exhibits many anti-democratic and authoritarian characteristics but I have never seriously questioned whether the U.S. was at least a formal democracy, where votes did matter. If Obama loses, given his enormous lead in the polls, even that must be called into question.

lunes, 6 de octubre de 2008

Go G-Men!

Photo courtesy of The New York Times

I haven't been able to watch a single game since I've been down here, but how bout those Giants? They're playing spectacularly well and far exceeding my expectations. It's still a bit of a mystery how well they'll do once they get deeper into division play later in the season, as most regard the NFC East as the toughest division in football.

Nonetheless, it's very exciting to see them get off to such a good start, particularly in light of the Yankees highly disappointing season this year, and it's a shame that I can't watch the games on tv (I'm going to need to rectify this, albeit without dropping the $120 bucks or so to watch the games on NFL.com). Go G-Men!

jueves, 2 de octubre de 2008

Pretty cool ad from WakeUpWalMart

In case my readers were unaware, I'm not the biggest fan of Barack Obama, particularly in light of his enthusiastic support for the atrocious Wall Street bailout (although I recognize that many respectable and progressive economists supported it, albeit reluctantly), his bizarre opposition to including bankruptcy reform in the bailout, and his utterly disappointing performance at the debate last week. Nonetheless, for all his flaws he is much better than his opponent, Saint John of Maverick, as my friend Scott likes to refer to him.

Via Drowning Man Politics I have learned that my former employer, the WakeUpWalMart campaign, has just released a great ad that will air tonight during the VP debate, which emphasizes just how bad McCain is. Check it out!:

miércoles, 1 de octubre de 2008

More thoughts on the bailout

An interesting economic recovery/bailout plan from the Institute for Policy Studies, which came to my attention via Progressive Democrats of America.

The IPS plan calls for a broad economic stimulus for the real economy as well as a rescue of Wall Street. The proposal contains some interesting and quite attractive specifics on how to pay for the plan--IPS argues that Wall Street, being the main culprits of the crisis and main beneficiaries of any bailout, ought to have to foot its bill themselves--and how to regulate/re-regulate the financial industry in order to ensure that this doesn't happen again.

The plan is weak on specifics regarding the taxpayer equity issue, which most economists seem to regard as an essential sticking point. Personally, I think if we're going to be offering any sort of taxpayer money for these firms, we really ought to nationalize them and take full control of their operations. In that sense, we should be following Iceland's lead. For an interesting and, readers beware, explicitly leftist proposal on what we could do with these financial firms if in fact we nationalized them, as well as other steps to take moving forward, check out this interesting piece by David Schweickart, which appeared in yesterday's ZNet.