Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Spell-Check, Radio Interview, Eastern Market Travails, Che’s Nephew on Fidel, Stratfor on Cuba/Venezuela, Sudan Referendum

Mea culpa, I misspelled Michelle Rhee’s last name last time, why? Because a former sister-in-law, also of Korean descent, has the last name “Rie.” Spellings of similarly pronounced names can vary, just like my own Korean last name, Joe, which could’ve as easily been Cho if my late father-in-law had decided to spell it that way

On Sept. 21, participated in an interview for a program broadcast on a public radio station out of Baltimore (2boomerbabes), unfortunately, not accessible in DC. But when I get a notice of when it will air, will post it here in case any reader is within range.

Got my comeuppance at Eastern Market last weekend, trying to talk up the Peace Corps and sell my book to a middle-aged couple. “No thank you,” the wife said emphatically, “our daughter was in the Peace Corps in Bulgaria, went into kidney failure and had to have a kidney transplant.” “Oh dear,” I exclaimed, “was it from anything that she ate or drank or was exposed to there?” They said no, that no one knew why it had happened, but it understandably made them wary of the Peace Corps. I guess so, even though the corps was probably not at fault.

That same morning, a current Peace Corps volunteer in Costa Rica, assigned to environmental protection, was on medevac in Washington for kidney stones, one of which he had passed just the night before, he said. In that case, again, the Peace Corps experience was not to blame, since such stones do take a while to form.

Another man in his 60s, who also declined to buy a book, nonetheless gave me quite an earful. He had asked to be sent to Bulgaria, but instead was offered Ukraine, which he refused. After that, he was not offered any other assignments. I promised to inquire, although I know that Peace Corps usually doesn’t approve of applicants who request a particular country, suspecting that they have some hidden agenda or are demonstrating an inflexibility counterproductive in a PC volunteer.

Still another non-buyer stopped to give me an earful about how Hondurans and other Central Americans are bringing bedbugs into this country, another reason to keep out immigrants from that part of the world. Yes, there are bedbugs in Honduras and other critters too, but I’m not sure that is the reason for reported infestations in this country. It’s interesting to talk with a cross-section of America, including visitors from out-of-town, at my sale table. I did sell three books that morning, but not to any of those mentioned.
I’ve often held that progressives, among which I usually count myself, are too often apologists for Fidel Castro, believing his propaganda about the glories of the Cuban revolution and perhaps also influenced by a desire to bash the United States. As Che Guevara’s nephew, Martin Guevara (Miami Herald, September 19, 2010) who lived for years as an exile in Cuba, has put it: When Orlando Zapata, a Cuban dissident, died in a Cuban prison on March 9 after going on a hunger strike, many of the intellectuals who had spent their lives defending or ignoring the brutality of the Castro government said, “Enough.” They could no longer give Fidel the benefit of the doubt just because he had declared himself a champion of the poor of the world.

This must have bothered Fidel, because throughout his life he has been able to behave badly without risking the disapproval of the progressive intellectuals of the world. Their declarations against his treatment of Zapata must have been worrisome for his government's image. In this day of instant communication, image is of the essence to a government that wishes to also become a family dynasty.
Why is it so difficult for us to condemn any excess, crime, violent act or abuse committed by self-proclaimed leftists, revolutionaries or communists? What part of our brain falters or becomes anesthetized when the time comes to protest against these injustices?

A reader has sent me a link to a report from STRATFOR, a self-described geopolitical analysis organization, that has posted a provocative report on the relationship between Cuba and Venezuela:
Clinton pushes Sudan on referendum
Associated Press
Tuesday, September 21, 2010

NEW YORK -- Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton is urging Sudanese authorities to make up for lost time in preparing for an independence referendum early next year for the Southern Sudan.

On the sidelines of the U.N. General Assembly in New York, Clinton met Tuesday with Sudan's Vice President Ali Osman Taha to impress upon him the need for a well-organized and peaceful vote in January. With just over 100 days until the referendum, preparations are far behind schedule. There are also fears that a vote splitting the south and north will re-ignite a bloody civil war that ended in 2005.
Clinton's talks with Taha come ahead of a high-level U.N. session on Sudan that President Barack Obama will attend on Friday. Taha and the President of southern Sudan Salva Kiir will also participate in the meeting.

In the meeting with Taha, Clinton "reinforced steps Sudan needs to take" on implementing the peace deal that ended the war, including holding the referendum, State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley said. He said taking those steps "could lead to better relations" between Sudan and the U.S. Sudan is currently designated a "state sponsor of terrorism" and subject to U.S. sanctions.

Crowley said Clinton also raised the Sudan issue in meetings on Tuesday with Libyan Foreign Minister Moussa Kosa and the Emir of Qatar.

Sudan activists have warned that urgent international diplomatic intervention is the only way to prevent renewed civil war.

Underscoring the concern, Clinton and the foreign ministers of Britain and Norway released a letter Tuesday that they sent to Taha and Kiir last week appealing to them "to take swift action to ensure" a peaceful vote that recognizes the will of the people.

"There remains an enormous amount to be done and work must be accelerated to make up for lost time," they said in the letter.

Southern Sudan, which is predominantly animist and Christian, is scheduled to vote on independence Jan. 9. But the group charged with organizing the vote has not yet set a date for voter registration. The Obama administration has said it is "inevitable" the south will declare independence. Given the south's substantial known oil resources, many worry that the predominantly Muslim north will find it difficult to accept an independent south.

Friday, September 17, 2010

DC Mayoral Primary, Facebook, Obama Keeps Cuba Embargo, Fidel’s Surprise, Cuban Doctors

We’ve had our Democratic mayoral primary in DC, after which the November election is usually just a formality, since well over 90% of DC voters are registered Democrats. Unfortunately (in my opinion), incumbent Mayor Adrian Fenty lost to City Council Chair Vincent Gray. Fenty was a no-nonsense guy who plowed ahead, usually without consulting others, but a reformer who got a lot a done. He was of bi-racial heritage, like Obama, and appointed many non-blacks to high positions, including a white woman as chief of police and, the most controversial and nationally well-known, an Asian woman, Michelle Rie, as education chancellor. Rie dared to get rid of non-performing or even harmful teachers. Gray, a long-time council member, is a pretty traditional political type who had the backing of most African American voters, still a majority in the city, though a slightly shrinking percentage; the vote was pretty much divided along racial lines. I think it’s a step backward to have elected Gray, a sign of the anti-incumbent fever or fervor sweeping much of the nation in the wake of the economic recession. People seem to be thinking: let’s go back to the way things were; it was better then. An ironic wrinkle in the mayoral primary is that among the miniscule number of registered Republicans who voted, Fenty won as a write-in candidate, so, theoretically, he could run as a Republican to challenge Gray, a risky strategy that could well backfire and forever ex-communicate him from the Democratic Party.

Someone told me about a Peace Corps volunteer in her 60s working in Africa more than 20 years ago who was murdered by a radio thief. It happened in Zimbabwe, no longer a PC country, but something like that, regrettably, could happen elsewhere. I can’t help remembering with a shudder the robber who came in through my roof in La Esperanza while I was sleeping and planned to steal my radio, among the loot he’d assembled on the floor before I woke up screaming and scared him away.

Not surprised to read in the Washington Post (Sept. 13, 2010) an article headlined “South Sudan sovereignty at risk.” Sounds like Khartoum is trying to raise issues about the dividing line between north and south in order to delay (and undermine) the vote, since it’s obvious that southerners will want to secede.

Facebook can be a fun way to connect with friends old and new, but I got a jolt recently when someone posted a message, supposedly from me, saying that I had gotten a coupon for a free laptop from some promotion or other and they should do the same. Well, I never posted that message and never got a free laptop. How was my system invaded? Who knows? I reported it to Facebook, changed my password, and dumped a few iffy names from my “friends” list. Still, I was shaken, as my previous password was rather esoteric. However, these invaders apparently can read keystrokes, so no matter how convoluted the password, they can copy it. Kind of scary. Electronic communication is a two-edged sword, so easy to use, so easy to have your privacy invaded and your system hijacked.

You may already know that Obama signed a renewal of the Trading with the Enemy Act regarding Cuba, despite our best efforts in Amnesty International. Apparently in this mid-term election year and with all the other problems, that was an issue he wasn't willing to tackle. However, HR4645, to effectively lift the full US travel ban to Cuba, is still in play and probably would not be vetoed by the president.

Below from AP, Sept. 8, 2010, is a remark heard round the world.

Jeffrey Goldberg, a national correspondent for The Atlantic magazine, asked if Cuba's economic system was still worth exporting to other countries, and Castro replied: "The Cuban model doesn't even work for us anymore" Goldberg wrote Wednesday in a post on his Atlantic blog.

What did Castro mean? He said later that he was misunderstood, that he meant that capitalism doesn’t work anymore. Is the guy senile, sending a signal, or what?
Sept. 9 — At least 10 of the political prisoners out of the odd 20 still in prison refuse to accept traveling to Spain because they wish to remain in the island or want to go to the United States, Elizardo Sánchez, president of the opposition’s Cuban Commission of Human Rights and National Reconciliation, affirmed. That group forms part of the 52 dissidents included in the agreement between the Catholic Church, Madrid and the Cuban government, reported IPS.
Cuba's Cash-for-Doctors Program
Thousands of its health-care missionaries flee mistreatment.
Wall Street Journal, AUGUST 16, 2010

For decades, Cuba has "exported" doctors, nurses and health technicians to earn diplomatic influence in poor countries and hard cash for its floundering economy. According to Cuba's official media, an estimated 38,544 Cuban health professionals were serving abroad in 2008, 17,697 of them doctors. (Cuba reports having 70,000 doctors in all.)

These "missionaries of the revolution" are well-received in host countries from Algeria to South Africa to Venezuela. Yet those who hail Cuba's generosity overlook the uglier aspects of Cuba's health diplomacy.

The regime stands accused of violating various international agreements such as the Trafficking in Persons Protocol and ILO Convention on the Protection of Wages because of the way these health-care providers are treated. In February, for example, seven Cuban doctors who formerly served in Venezuela and later defected filed a lawsuit in Florida federal court against Cuba, Venezuela and the Venezuelan state oil company for holding them in conditions akin to "modern slavery."
They claim the Cuban regime held the funds Venezuela remitted for their services and then paid them—an arrangement they say is a form of "debt bondage." They also say they were forced to work extremely long hours in dangerous areas, including urban zones with high crime rates and the jungle. (The Venezuelan government and its oil company are challenging the court's jurisdiction to hear the case; Cuba hasn't responded.)

Starting in 2002, Hugo Chávez agreed to pay—mostly with subsidized, cheap Venezuelan oil—for Cuba to provide health care to marginalized populations in Venezuela at no cost to patients. But in the past several years he has expanded the effort to other countries, helping to build support for his regional Marxist agenda while keeping the Cuban economy afloat.

Cuba won't release its agreements with host countries, but details have emerged in open sources, including in Cuba's official media. These show that typically the host country pays Cuba hard currency for each health worker and provides accommodations, food and a monthly stipend generally between $150 and $350. Cuba covers airfare and logistical support, and it pays salaries to the health-care workers out of the funds it holds.

Cuba's global health projects also receive support from the developed world. In 2005, at least $27 million was donated to Cuba's Haiti mission, including from France and Japan. International goodwill also translates into direct aid. In 2008, Cuba received $127 million from OECD countries. These transfers explain the recent rise in Cuba's export of services, to $8.6 billion in 2008 from $2.8 billion in 2003. Representing 75% of GDP, they generate far more income than any other industry.
Cuban doctors go abroad because at home they earn a scant $22-$25 a month. When they work in other countries, they typically get a small stipend in local currency while their families back home receive their usual salary plus a payment in hard currency—from $50 to $325 per month.

But with the state as sole employer and the citizens forbidden from leaving the country without permission, the system is tailor-made for exploitation. Several Cuban doctors who have served abroad tell me that in addition to very long hours they may not drive a car, leave their dwellings after a certain hour, or speak to the media. In some countries they are only allowed to associate with "revolutionaries." Thousands of Cuban health professionals have deserted world-wide. Almost 1,500 have made it to the U.S. alone since 2006, according to a Department of Homeland Security report in March.

Cuba's profitable global business has ramifications for its own health-care system. It's been extensively reported, by Cuba's independent journalists as well as by the occasional Westerner who ends up in a hospital for the common people, that Cubans face a chronic shortage of doctors and dilapidated health facilities. Patients or their families must even bring their own food and linens to the hospital.
Meanwhile, the mass production of Cuban doctors for export has led medical associations in host countries such as Bolivia, Paraguay, Uruguay, Brazil and Portugal to question their experience and credentials. Some Venezuelan doctors have complained of being fired and replaced by Cuban missionary physicians. And a few years ago the Bolivian press reported that the country's medical association was complaining about thousands of unemployed health professionals who were earning considerably less than what Mr. Chávez was paying for Cubans.

Humanitarianism cannot be selective. Cuba's health workers deserve full protection of local and international laws, its citizens deserve access to adequate health care, and patients everywhere deserve accountability from their health-care providers.

Ms. Werlau is executive director of nonprofit Cuba Archive, a human rights organization

Sunday, September 5, 2010

50 yrs of PC & AI in 2011, Bad Day at E. Mkt., Films, Fidel in Uniform, Dogs in Iran, Iktar, Son’s B’day, Reich on Economy, Chavez' Popularity, Palmer

Amnesty International and Peace Corps both will be celebrating their 50th anniversary in 2011, putting me a something of a time bind, as I’m involved in promoting both. I’ve been with Amnesty for 30 of those 50 years, but with the Peace Corps for only 11 years, first as a volunteer in 2000, then as an advocate. I know I’m juggling too many balls, but am reluctant to drop any of them.

Returned to my bookselling post at Eastern Market after a 3-week break, taken while the folks who have kindly supplied me with a table and umbrella were away. However, things did not go smoothly. First, they forgot the umbrella, which meant I was subjected to the blazing DC sun, 90+ temps, not only quite uncomfortable, but book covers started curling up. Furthermore, I only sold a single book in three hours. Someone who stopped by told me a story about an older woman volunteer in Zimbabwe 20 years ago (when Zimbabwe had PC volunteers) who was murdered by someone stealing her radio. I shuddered, remembering the would-be radio thief who came through my ceiling when I was sleeping in La Esperanza, Honduras, as my book readers know.

A middle-aged couple carrying small American flags stopped by, saying they were teabaggers from Colorado, in town for the Glenn Beck rally. Needless-to-say, though we chatted, they did not buy a book. Beck, as you know, had a sizable, largely white-folks rally at the Lincoln Memorial, while Al Sharpton presided over a smaller counter-rally of mostly black folks marking the anniversary of MLKing’s “I Have A Dream” speech, which I actually heard in person lo those many years ago.

The final blow to my bookselling efforts occurred during a conversation with another returned PC volunteer, also in her 60s, just back from Ethiopia, a country she had fallen in love with, much as I have with Honduras. She said she couldn’t buy my book because all her spare cash must go to Ethiopia. I understand completely. My donations to entities outside of Honduras are few and far between because I feel I must concentrate whatever resources I can, including book proceeds, to my projects there. While we were talking and comparing notes, her dog had a bout of diarrhea right in front of my table. Not only did that discourage any other customers, but it definitely led me to start packing things up for the day. The only saving grace was that a librarian working at the Library of Congress who has read my book passed by, saying she felt it really is an excellent book that a major publisher should pick up. A very nice sentiment, but there have been no major publishers knocking insistently on my door. I fear that the contents and style alone would not impress them. The only thing that might would be big sales on Amazon, provided they felt that an even bigger market was still out there. In these economic hard times, the bottom line has become ever more important. No more coddling of a promising new author by providing editing and advice—a book has to be ready to go with minimal staff investment.

Next time I tried selling at Eastern Market, the wind was so fierce that it almost blew me and my books away. I sat there, holding my books and pamphlets down; it was not possible to open up my umbrella. People were rushing by, holding onto their hats. I sold only 2 books before I gave up. One buyer was a carpenter from Choluteca, of all places, someone who has lived in the DC area 20 years. I promised to look up his mother next time I go there. A reader who had gotten my book previously came by and told me how much she’d liked it, “I couldn’t put it down—I read it straight through.” I’d never thought of it as page-turner, but it was nice that she did.

On August 30, we held a successful showing of a slightly updated version of the Cuba documentary, “Women in White,” at George Washington University. The timing was difficult because we had little advance notices and that was the first day of classes. However, we were taking advantage of the presence of Norwegian director Gry Winther, who was escorting her daughter to the university for her junior year. Nonetheless, we had a very good turnout and lively discussion afterward, moderated by Professor Antonio Gayoso of the Elliot School of International Affairs, himself of Cuban origin. I spoke about a couple of Urgent Actions on Cuba issued by Amnesty International, my meetings with a couple interviewed in the film, and answered questions. Winther told of how she had to enter Cuba as a tourist, with her cameraman carrying just a small tourist camera. She stayed only 5 days. The professor said he had it on good authority that over one million Cubans have visa petitions pending at the US Interests Section in Havana (out of a population of 11 million). Obviously, most will be rejected, but all have to be processed.

Later, someone sent me a video from the Human Rights Foundation, (212) 246.8486, of an interview with the Ladies in White declaring that they will continue protesting every Sunday until all of the Black Spring prisoners have been released. In the video, Laura Pollan, their spokeswoman, says the following (in translation): The government states that there's a lot of freedom in Cuba, that it's a paradise. I'd invite those people who believe that Cuba is free to come and live here; to come and live here like a regular citizen, without bringing dollars; to come to work, and make what a regular worker makes; to come and live in a humble house, buy their food with a ration book, and express themselves here as much as they do in their own countries against their governments and other individuals, so that they see what the outcome is in Cuba.

On the next day, Aug. 31, we held a showing at Freedom House of Winther’s second film her series on women activists, this time on women in Iran. She was in Teheran last year before and after the elections as a Norwegian news reporter and sandwiched her documentary filming in between that (as with Cuba, staying only 5 days), with election events providing a dramatic setting for her documentary, “Lion Women.” Both the Cuba and Iran documentaries have been seen in Europe, but no US distribution to date.

That same evening, at the local Amnesty office, we held a Muslim Iktar dinner, breaking the fast after sundown, first with a sweet date for each, then with food. We had a big crowd and a speaker who had just come back from an extended mission to Gaza. He showed us video footage and talked about the people's many deprivations, both of basic necessities and freedoms, as well as the deathly flotilla incident. Gaza, with about 1.5 million inhabitants, is restricted to a very small, narrow strip of land. But he did not let Hamas off either, saying their security forces also often brutalize people and that there is a lot of domestic violence against women within families. All in all, a very difficult and contentious existence.

I’ve received a clipping from the NYTimes, “A Failure to Communicate,” 8/29/10, from an alert reader. Apparently, an accent makes a speaker seem less trustworthy to listeners (and not speaking English at all must be even worse).

Again, Fidel Castro has appeared in public and given a foreign policy speech, but this time in full military dress. What does that mean? The guy has nine lives and is an unpredictable as a cat!

Here is what my anonymous Cuban-American commentator has to say: From today's front page news in the Miami Herald, [Castro in military uniform, giving a 35-minute speech] guess while Fidel remains alive it is foolhardy to bet on any development that threatens to make peace and better relations between Cuba and the US. That guy has the anti-Midas touch! Everything he touches he converts into dung! And he exercises this gift very skillfully!

I guess his double allusion to a coming prisoner swap [between US-jailed convicted spies “the Cuban Five” and American Alan Gross held in Cuba since December 2009] had the purpose of signaling the danger to his right-wing partners on the other side of the Florida Straits so that they could come out against it and embarrass the Obama administration just before the elections when they could least afford it. In this way he sabotaged the ongoing negotiations and undercut his brother's results in office without having to assume direct responsibility for it. He uses his enemies very skillfully to do his dirty work for him.

Actually the desire to avoid better relations between both countries is of common interest to him and his right-wing opponents and results in a de facto indirect alliance between both groups to keep US-Cuba relations in their present state. Fidel Castro knows that as long as the conflict persists he can count on Cuban nationalism to bolster his group's hold on power and the Miami right-wing is very aware that it can continue to count on US government financing while present conditions continue.

Given present developments, we can probably expect that Fidel and his under-the-table allies in Florida will find some new and innovative way to screw up whatever arrangements are planned once more, much to the chagrin of the prisoners to be exchanged, the innocent Cuban population, and Raul Castro who will once again find himself undercut and sabotaged by his own brother who always winds up controlling him directly or indirectly!

In another news item, the Mexican birthrate is falling and soon may even fall below the US rate. That will greatly reduce illegal immigration and probably leave the US without sufficient laborers at the lower end of the income scale. “Birth tourism,” which right-wingers rail against, is apparently uncommon. Out of 340,000 babies born to illegal immigrants in the United States in 2008, 85% of the parents had been in the country for more than a year, and more than half for at least five years. Furthermore, children cannot apply for residence for their parents until they reach age 21and then only through a lengthy process. I cannot imagine a Latino couple engaged in intimate relations telling each other, “Let’s try to make a baby so that in 25 years, maybe he or she can get us legal residence.”

The government of Iran, according to an NPR story, is now taking aim at dogs, imposing fines on people who take their dogs outside. Apparently, this push is based on the notion that the Koran considers dogs unclean. Yet, apparently many Iranians still have dogs. I recall once having a Muslim housemate, back when my kids were young, who avoided touching our dog, which made living with us rather awkward for him.

Probably teachers are well aware of this technique, but a recent school interpretation was when I first saw it demonstrated. The hearing-impaired child’s hearing aids are outfitted with special receivers while the teacher wears a microphone that goes only to that child’s ears, very ingenious, allowing the child to participate in class with normal-hearing students.

Last week, my MRI patient just could not tolerate being inside the tube (which is large and open at each end), so the test had to be halted. Despite having been given a tranquilizer beforehand, this person shook too much to allow clear images to be made. It was only the second time that a session had to be cancelled in my experience as an interpreter for MRI patients.

On Sept. 3, an NPR staff member, who had lost both his sons in an auto accident last year (didn't catch his name), commented on his profound loss, then reported on portions of the annual conference of The Compassionate Friends held in Crystal City in July and said how much TCF and the conference had helped him and his wife feel less alone and desolate. Part of the TCF "credo," recited at every local meeting, was repeated on the air. His commentary came just in time for me, as my late son’s birthday was the next day, Sept. 4. I got through that day pretty well. I’m always glad when it’s over. It’s strange how anniversaries have such significance, even though, of course, they are, in cosmic terms, just like any other day.
(The following article made sense to me.)
September 2, 2010
How to End the Great Recession
Berkeley, Calif.

THIS promises to be the worst Labor Day in the memory of most Americans. Organized labor is down to about 7 percent of the private work force. Members of non-organized labor — most of the rest of us — are unemployed, underemployed or underwater. The Labor Department reported on Friday that just 67,000 new private-sector jobs were created in August, while at least 125,000 are needed to keep up with the growth of the potential work force.

The national economy isn’t escaping the gravitational pull of the Great Recession. None of the standard booster rockets are working: near-zero short-term interest rates from the Fed, almost record-low borrowing costs in the bond market, a giant stimulus package and tax credits for small businesses that hire the long-term unemployed have all failed to do enough.

That’s because the real problem has to do with the structure of the economy, not the business cycle. No booster rocket can work unless consumers are able, at some point, to keep the economy moving on their own. But consumers no longer have the purchasing power to buy the goods and services they produce as workers; for some time now, their means haven’t kept up with what the growing economy could and should have been able to provide them.

This crisis began decades ago when a new wave of technology — things like satellite communications, container ships, computers and eventually the Internet — made it cheaper for American employers to use low-wage labor abroad or labor-replacing software here at home than to continue paying the typical worker a middle-class wage. Even though the American economy kept growing, hourly wages flattened. The median male worker earns less today, adjusted for inflation, than he did 30 years ago.

But for years American families kept spending as if their incomes were keeping pace with overall economic growth. And their spending fueled continued growth. How did families manage this trick? First, women streamed into the paid work force. By the late 1990s, more than 60 percent of mothers with young children worked outside the home (in 1966, only 24 percent did).

Second, everyone put in more hours. What families didn’t receive in wage increases they made up for in work increases. By the mid-2000s, the typical male worker was putting in roughly 100 hours more each year than two decades before, and the typical female worker about 200 hours more.

When American families couldn’t squeeze any more income out of these two coping mechanisms, they embarked on a third: going ever deeper into debt. This seemed painless — as long as home prices were soaring. From 2002 to 2007, American households extracted $2.3 trillion from their homes.

Eventually, of course, the debt bubble burst — and with it, the last coping mechanism. Now we’re left to deal with the underlying problem that we’ve avoided for decades. Even if nearly everyone was employed, the vast middle class still wouldn’t have enough money to buy what the economy is capable of producing.

Where have all the economic gains gone? Mostly to the top. The economists Emmanuel Saez and Thomas Piketty examined tax returns from 1913 to 2008. They discovered an interesting pattern. In the late 1970s, the richest 1 percent of American families took in about 9 percent of the nation’s total income; by 2007, the top 1 percent took in 23.5 percent of total income. It’s no coincidence that the last time income was this concentrated was in 1928. I do not mean to suggest that such astonishing consolidations of income at the top directly cause sharp economic declines. The connection is more subtle. The rich spend a much smaller proportion of their incomes than the rest of us. So when they get a disproportionate share of total income, the economy is robbed of the demand it needs to keep growing and creating jobs.

What’s more, the rich don’t necessarily invest their earnings and savings in the American economy; they send them anywhere around the globe where they’ll summon the highest returns — sometimes that’s here, but often it’s the Cayman Islands, China or elsewhere. The rich also put their money into assets most likely to attract other big investors (commodities, stocks, dot-coms or real estate), which can become wildly inflated as a result.

Meanwhile, as the economy grows, the vast majority in the middle naturally want to
live better. Their consequent spending fuels continued growth and creates enough jobs for almost everyone, at least for a time. But because this situation can’t be sustained, at some point — 1929 and 2008 offer ready examples — the bill comes due. This time around, policymakers had knowledge their counterparts didn’t have in 1929; they knew they could avoid immediate financial calamity by flooding the economy with money. But, paradoxically, averting another Great Depression-like calamity removed political pressure for more fundamental reform. We’re left instead with a long and seemingly endless Great Jobs Recession.

THE Great Depression and its aftermath demonstrate that there is only one way back to full recovery: through more widely shared prosperity. In the 1930s, the American economy was completely restructured. New Deal measures — Social Security, a 40-hour work week with time-and-a-half overtime, unemployment insurance, the right to form unions and bargain collectively, the minimum wage — leveled the playing field.
In the decades after World War II, legislation like the G.I. Bill, a vast expansion of public higher education and civil rights and voting rights laws further reduced economic inequality. Much of this was paid for with a 70 percent to 90 percent marginal income tax on the highest incomes. And as America’s middle class shared more of the economy’s gains, it was able to buy more of the goods and services the economy could provide. The result: rapid growth and more jobs. By contrast, little has been done since 2008 to widen the circle of prosperity. Health-care reform is an important step forward but it’s not nearly enough.

What else could be done to raise wages and thereby spur the economy? We might consider, for example, extending the earned income tax credit all the way up through the middle class, and paying for it with a tax on carbon. Or exempting the first $20,000 of income from payroll taxes and paying for it with a payroll tax on incomes over $250,000.

In the longer term, Americans must be better prepared to succeed in the global, high-tech economy. Early childhood education should be more widely available, paid for by a small 0.5 percent fee on all financial transactions. Public universities should be free; in return, graduates would then be required to pay back 10 percent of their first 10 years of full-time income. Another step: workers who lose their jobs and have to settle for positions that pay less could qualify for “earnings insurance” that would pay half the salary difference for two years; such a program would probably prove less expensive than extended unemployment benefits. These measures would not enlarge the budget deficit because they would be paid for. In fact, such moves would help reduce the long-term deficits by getting more Americans back to work and the economy growing again. Policies that generate more widely shared prosperity lead to stronger and more sustainable economic growth — and that’s good for everyone. The rich are better off with a smaller percentage of a fast-growing economy than a larger share of an economy that’s barely moving. That’s the Labor Day lesson we learned decades ago; until we remember it again, we’ll be stuck in the Great Recession.
Robert B. Reich, a secretary of labor in the Clinton administration, is a professor of public policy at the University of California, Berkeley, and the author of the forthcoming “Aftershock: The Next Economy and America’s Future.”


Chavez's popularity down in Venezuela, polls finds
Associated Press
Wednesday, August 25, 2010

CARACAS, Venezuela -- President Hugo Chavez's allies launched their campaigns Wednesday for crucial congressional elections that come just as recession, crime and inflation have pushed the socialist leader's popularity to a seven-year low.
A survey by the Venezuelan polling firm Consultores 21 indicates just 36 percent of Venezuelans approve of Chavez's performance, the lowest figure since 2003, when Chavez survived an opposition-led strike that devastated the economy, pollster Saul Cabrera said. The results suggest Chavez allies could face a difficult struggle to keep control of the National Assembly in the Sept. 26 election.

The survey of 1,500 people nationwide in late June and early July had a margin of error of plus or minus 2 percentage points, said Cabrera, who is vice president of the polling firm. He said the poll was financed by a group of private businesses, which he declined to identify. Chavez's popularity has suffered a decline of 12 percentage points over the past year and a half, Cabrera told The Associated Press.
Critics accuse Chavez's government of severe incompetence and corruption, and many people are unhappy that Venezuela's oil-driven economy remains in a recession while all other South American countries are seeing growth. Venezuela's inflation rate, at more than 30 percent, is the highest in Latin America. Cabrera said other problems such as unchecked violence also are contributing to disenchantment with the government.

The new poll indicates Chavez is still popular among the poorest segment of Venezuelans, garnering about 60 percent support in that group, but he no longer has a majority in the other four income categories, Cabrera said. The pollster said that in spite of Chavez's low popularity level, the president remains a "formidable political competitor" against an opposition that - while it has made some gains - still has not shown sufficient strength to fully capitalize on the situation.
Chavez, who is up for re-election in 2012, has warned his supporters that opposition control of the National Assembly would undo some of the government's efforts toward socialism. The National Assembly has been predominantly pro-Chavez since the opposition boycotted legislative elections in 2005.

Opposition parties took to the streets along with Chavez supporters Wednesday as the election campaign officially began. Several opposition candidates campaigning near the National Assembly building in downtown Caracas were scattered by National Guard troops who fired tear gas at them for purportedly causing a public disturbance. There were no injures or arrests reported.

Larry Palmer, ambassador to Honduras during part of my Peace Corps service there, is still on the outs with Hugo Chavez, because he suggested that Chavez was supporting the Colombian guerrillas and predicted that “Cuba’s influence within the Venezuelan military will grow.” Chavez has asked the US to withdraw Palmer, but the State Dept. may prefer to just leave the position vacant. (See photo of me with Palmer on p. 92 of my book.)