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Millions Using Food Stamps—The Functions Of Social Welfare Programs

The New York Times reports that 36 million Americans are using food stamp programs. Here is a portion of the what the story on this subject says—-

“It has grown so rapidly in places so diverse that it is becoming nearly as ordinary as the groceries it buys. More than 36 million people use inconspicuous plastic cards for staples like milk, bread and cheese, swiping them at counters in blighted cities and in suburbs pocked with foreclosure signs….Virtually all have incomes near or below the federal poverty line, but their eclectic ranks testify to the range of people struggling with basic needs. They include single mothers and married couples, the newly jobless and the chronically poor, longtime recipients of welfare checks and workers whose reduced hours or slender wages leave pantries bare….While the numbers have soared during the recession, the path was cleared in better times when the Bush administration led a campaign to erase the program’s stigma, calling food stamps “nutritional aid” instead of welfare, and made it easier to apply. That bipartisan effort capped an extraordinary reversal from the 1990s, when some conservatives tried to abolish the program, Congress enacted large cuts and bureaucratic hurdles chased many needy people away.”

Here is the full story.

I made a point to use the part of the story that talks about the role former President George W. Bush and Republicans played in making the program more available. I was not aware of this and it was not what I expected to read.

I don’t have any illusions that President Bush and the Republicans who ran Congress for much of his time in office were very nice folks, but sometimes in life you get surprised.

Of course, you never know what people’s motives are.

A book I read some years ago about the history of public benefits for people in need was Regulating the Poor: The Functions of Public Welfare by Frances Fox Piven and Richard Cloward.

Below is an assessment of this book by an Alice Chang. Ms. Chang is an activist and author in Oakland.

I believe that Frances Fox Piven and Richard Cloward’s Regulating the Poor: The Functions of Public Welfare, first released in 1971, is perhaps one of the most important books to read for anyone trying to understand the relationships between welfare policy, poverty and coerced labor. Piven and Cloward expose how welfare policy not only does not give poor people “relief” from poverty, but forces them to accept low-wage, exploitative, dead-end jobs. In fact, Piven and Cloward suggest, poverty policy and practice have historically been coupled with labor practice to accommodate local employers’ demands for cheap labor, particularly in service work and in agriculture. Poverty policy is designed and implemented to serve two basic functions. In times of economic downturn, welfare can be expanded to prevent or quell uprising by unemployed masses. Or, in times of relative economic and political stability, welfare can be contracted to expel people from the rolls, thus ensuring their availability to do low-wage work for local employers. Piven and Cloward describe this second function of welfare policy as ‘enforcing’ low-wage work, and the term is just as useful today in describing the use of so-called ‘welfare-to-work’ policies to coerce working poor people into ever more exploitative low- and no-wage jobs.”

The paragraph above is from the web home of the AFL-CIO. It is from a page on the website called–Books, Films, Plays, and Lessons that Change Lives.

36 million people in a lot of folks. And that is not all the people who would qualify for this program under full enrollment.

I hope President Obama soon takes a more active role in addressing the economic concerns of Americans.

It would be good to hear the President speak about how he thinks Americans will find work in a time when technology is helping employers shed jobs, working people have little money to spend to help fuel the economy, and other nations in the world are entering the global economic mainstream.

November 30, 2009 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Iceland Elects Openly Gay Prime Minister

File:Johanna sigurdardottir official portrait trim.jpg

Iceland has elected the world’s first openly gay leader. 

Prime Minister Johnanna Sigurdardottir is gay.

She also has a last name with 14 letters.  

Above you see a picture of Prime Minister Sigurdardottir.

Here is some information about Prime Minister Sigurdardottir from a London Times article— 

….a historic milestone for the gay and lesbian community worldwide. She lives with a journalist, Jonina Leosdottir, with whom she was joined in a 2002 civil partnership, and has two sons from a previous marriage. It is also a significant personal triumph for a politician who managed to retain, and even increase, her popularity while much of Iceland’s political class were pilloried over the financial crisis engulfing the country. …The new leader is known for allocating generous amounts of public funding to help the disabled, the elderly and organisations tackling domestic violence, and she is seen by many as a unifying character capable of solving tensions in Iceland….After acting as a union organiser when she worked as a flight attendant for Loftleidir Airlines, now Icelandair, in the 1960s and 1970s, Ms Sigurdardottir was elected to Iceland’s parliament in 1978. She served as social affairs minister from 1987-1994 and again from 2007.

Here is a web site about Iceland with many good facts and pictures. 

Please click here for a report on the election from the Seattle Gay News.  

It is true that Seattle, with a population of 582,000, has more people than does Iceland. Iceland has 304,000 people.

No matter—Iceland is a nation and Seattle is only a city.

(Below–Iceland’s capital city of Reykjavik. Here is information on visiting Reykjavik. ) 

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Prime Minster Sigurdardottir was appointed to her post last February after the collapse of Iceland’s economy led to the demise of Iceland’s right -of-center government. The main issue in Iceland is the impact of the global financial collapse. Iceland took a big hit last year and there were large street protests.  Please click here to read about economic and political troubles in Iceland.

Prime Minister Sigudardottir’s Social Democrats won 20 seats in the 63 member parliament in the April 25 election. The Greens won 14 seats. A coalition government was formed.

The Icelandic parliament is called the Althing. It literally means the “all-thing” of Iceland. It can trace it roots back to the year 930. Here is the web home of the Althing. 

It seems that for many years the Althing met on the big rock you see drawn below. The Speaker would sit on a high point of the rock.

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Should they meet, will Prime Minster Sigudardottir ask President Barack Obama why he opposes gay marriage?

It is excellent that we are making progress and that we are seeing world leaders that are more like the people they represent.

Yet progress is still far away in many nations. ( Including the United States in a number of respects.) Here is a link to Global Voices where you can read about issues of gay rights around the world.   

(  Below–An Icelandic Horse.  This breed was developed in Iceland.


May 15, 2009 Posted by | History, Politics, Uncategorized | , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Boston Consulting Group Says A Tsunami Might Be Good For You

I recently came across a book called Globality—Competing with Everyone From Everywhere For Everything.

The book is about, as you might guess, the global economy.

The three authors are from something called the Boston Consulting Group. 

Contract with these people and they will help compete all the time, everywhere, and against everybody.

Isn’t that just the life you want to live?

In the dust jacket of this book you read the following—

“Globality is a business and economic force that, like a giant tsunami,, is rapidly crashing over world markets–for better or worse—and is intensifying with incredible power and speed.”

These authors say this tsunami is coming “for better or worse.”

Who exactly does a tsunami help? Funeral home operators? People competing against others who are dead or crippled after the tsunami?  

If you go to the Boston Consulting Group’s webpage, you see that it is a top company for working mothers. 

It’s flex-time if you work for BCG, and a tsunami for others.

Below you see a picture of people who survived a tsunami. Maybe the deal is that simple survival will make you a winner.

For many, just getting by will be all that is left.


June 5, 2008 Posted by | Books, Uncategorized | , , , | 4 Comments

The Free Trade Agreement With Colombia & Free Trade Agreements In General

I watched a U.S. Trade mission to Colombia a few days ago on C-Span.  

You can watch it by clicking the link that says Vignette on U.S.-Colombia Free Trade Agreement. The video will remain up on C-Span for another week or two.

The roughly half-hour I watched of the show involved U.S. Trade Representative Susan Schwab and nine members of the U.S. House of Representatives touring Medellin, Colombia and meeting with various officials. 

The photo above is of Medellin. 2.4 million people live in the city and 3.2 million people live in the area of the city. Here is a brief history of the city

My friends at the AFL-CIO oppose this agreement. They say that union workers are routinely killed in Colombia and that the deal will result in lost American jobs.  

This blog, Plan Colombia and Beyond, is opposed on human rights grounds.

I have little doubt that the right-wing government of Colombian President Alvaro Uribe is on the wrong side of many basic human rights questions.

Here are arguments for the pact from a government web page dedicated to trade agreements.

Currently, the deal is stuck in disagreement between the Democratic House and President Bush.

Of the nine House members on the trip, there were seven Republicans and two Democrats.

I was intrested in the presence of the two Democratic House members in the trade delegation.   

The two were Rep. Bob Etheridge of North Carolina and Rep. Hank Johnson of Georgia.  

In his profile in the 2008 Almanac of American Politics , Rep. Etheridge is portrayed as slightly left-of-center on economic issues. He is also listed as a Democrat in the minority in his party in that he reliably supports free trade agreements. He was elected to Congress in 1996. 

Mr. Etheridge represents some agricultural areas and some of the Raleigh-Durham high-tech research areas. The Almanac says that some farmers and high-tech executives have supported trade agreements. Mr. Etheridge says North Carolina has lost some jobs from these agreements, but that  “we’ve been a net winner.”   

Many in North Carolina feel that many textile and furniture making jobs have been lost to foreign competition. 

Is Mr. Etheridge sincere, or is he simply responding to powerful forces in his district? Who can know? He may not even know himself. 

Hank Johnson represents a majority Black portion of the Atlanta suburbs. He is a freshman member of the House. He is also one of two Buddhist members of the House. ( More on the two Buddhist members in an upcoming post.)

Mr. Johnson opposes the deal.  Here is what it says on his House web page–

Hank opposes the deal due to President Bush’s refusal to sign into law trade adjustment assistance for Americans threatened by international trade, the FTA’s insufficient labor standards for Colombian workers, and the deal’s potential effects on poor Afro-Colombians who may be driven off of their land as multinational companies seek to exploit Colombian natural resources.

Here pictures of the trip on Mr. Johnson’s House web page.      

Mr. Johnson seems like a peaceful man from what I saw of him on C-Span.

I have mixed feelings on our international trade agreements.

On one hand, I have zero faith in the Bush administration to protect rights of workers and the environment in the countries we do business with.

Nor I do I believe the Bush people or Republicans in Congress have any real concern for American workers.

On the other hand, we are a big powerful country in an interconnected world. As such, we have both an obligation and a practical need to help others live decent lives and to be part of a world economy. 

Also, we can’t blame people in other countries for the fact that don’t educate out kids well and that we often seem to live far beyond our means.  

I wish I could trust the people in the United States who negotiate these deals to be both economically just and socially moral. Hopefully, some trust will be possible if a Democrat replaces President Bush next year.

Here is a BBC overview of the current political situation in Colombia.   

April 23, 2008 Posted by | Politics | , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Robert Reich’s Views On The Economy & Income Inequailty

Former Labor Secretary Robert Reich recently wrote an opinion column in the New York Times about the current recession. He said Americans have over the last three decades sent women into the work place, worked longer hours and borrowed against their homes to make up for an ongoing decline in wages and buying power.

Mr. Reich suggests that this has all finally caught up with us and that steps must be taken now to address permanent declines in wages and purchasing power.

Here is Mr. Reich’s home page.

Mr. Reich proposes changes in the tax code to assist moderate and low income Americans, stronger unions, and better education as possible solutions to these problems.

Here as some excerpts from the column. You can click the link at the top for the full piece—      

WE’RE sliding into recession… and Washington is turning to the normal remedies for economic downturns. But the normal remedies are not likely to work this time, because this isn’t a normal downturn.

The problem lies deeper. It is the culmination of three decades during which American consumers have spent beyond their means…. 

The only lasting remedy, other than for Americans to accept a lower standard of living…, is to give middle- and lower-income Americans more buying power…..

Much of the current debate is irrelevant. Even with more tax breaks for business… companies won’t invest in more factories or equipment when demand is dropping ….temporary fixes like a stimulus package that would give households a one-time cash infusion won’t get consumers back to the malls, because consumers know the assistance is temporary. The problems most consumers face are permanent…

The underlying problem has been building for decades. America’s median hourly wage is barely higher than it was 35 years ago, adjusted for inflation. … Most of what’s been earned in America since then has gone to the richest 5 percent.

The problem has been masked for years as middle- and lower-income Americans found ways to live beyond their paychecks. But now they have run out of ways.

The first way was to send more women into paid work. Most women streamed into the work force in the 1970s less because new professional opportunities opened up to them than because they had to prop up family incomes. 

So Americans turned to a second way of spending beyond their hourly wages. They worked more hours…

But there’s.. a limit to how many hours Americans can put into work, so Americans turned to a third way of spending beyond their wages. They began to borrow….they turned their homes into piggy banks by refinancing home mortgages and taking out home-equity loans…. .

The binge seems to be over. We’re finally reaping the whirlwind of widening inequality and ever more concentrated wealth.

The only way to keep the economy going over the long run is to increase the wages of the bottom two-thirds of Americans. The answer is not to protect jobs through trade protection. That would only drive up the prices of everything purchased from abroad. Most routine jobs are being automated anyway.

A larger earned-income tax credit, financed by a higher marginal income tax on top earners, is required. The tax credit functions like a reverse income tax. Enlarging it would mean giving workers at the bottom a bigger wage supplement, as well as phasing it out at a higher wage. 

We also need stronger unions, especially in the local service sector that’s sheltered from global competition. Employees should be able to form a union without the current protracted certification process that gives employers too much opportunity to intimidate or coerce them.

Over the longer term, inequality can be reversed only through better schools for children in lower- and moderate-income communities. This will require, at the least, good preschools, fewer students per classroom and better pay for teachers in such schools, in order to attract the teaching talent these students need.

These measures are necessary to give Americans enough buying power to keep the American economy going. They are also needed to overcome widening inequality, and thereby keep America in one piece.

February 14, 2008 Posted by | Politics | , , , , , | 2 Comments

How A Global Economy Impacted Colonial America

The following is from American Colonies: The Settling of North America by Alan Taylor. It tells about the global economy in the 18th century as it impacted American colonists. 

The effects of war, the easy movement of goods across the seas and immigrant labor have long made a difference in how people live. It also seems veterans have always been easy to discard when their service is completed.  

From Taylor—

“……the growing number….. of urban poor alarmed contemporaries. The poverty seemed especially glaring  because it was such a contrast with the increasingly conspicuous wealth of the lawyers, merchants, and government officials in the seaports. According to tax records, in 1771 the wealthiest tenth of Bostonians owned more than 60% of the urban wealth, while the bottom three-tenths owned practically virtually nothing. 

The growth in urban poverty reflected the greater transatlantic integration of the British Empire in the three ways. First, the imperial wars swelled the numbers killed, incapacitated or rendered alcoholic by military service. War widows, orphans, and cripples strained poor relief, especially in the cities, which attracted the most desperate people. Second, after 1763, emigration surged from Europe….flooding the seaports with poor newcomers, depressing wages ans swelling unemployment for all. Third the freer flow of credit, goods, and information across the Atlantic linked the colonies with the mother country in a shared market.

Increasingly tied to the metropolitan economy of Britain, the colonial seaports became more vulnerable to a boom-and-bust economic cycle. Market-driven unemployment compounded the more traditional cycle of cold-weather job loss. More entwined in a far-flung capitalist economy, the urban colonists could lose work at any time–whenever British creditors felt obliged to curtail credit and call for their debts, imperiling colonial merchants and artisans, and their laborers.”

November 21, 2007 Posted by | Books, Colonial America, History | , , , , , | Leave a comment

Las Vegas Democratic Debate With Bonus Information On 1976 Ford/Carter Debate

I watched the Las Vegas Democratic Presidential debate. (Except for when I went out to get a lottery ticket.)

I generally don’t watch these things because this has gone on for so long and I get tired of it all. But with baseball season over I figured what the hell.

From a conventional standpoint for a liberal, you can say this is a good group of candidates. Or at least they are good at saying what the feel primary and caucus voters want to hear.  Or, maybe, what they are saying reflects a slight shift to the left in the country that has been discussed of late.

Still, I persist in the belief that none of the Democratic candidates have substantive answers to the issues of climate change and globalization as it effects American workers. I feel these are the most important issues by far. Either they don’t know what to say or the solutions are so off-the-table at the moment that they can’t be politically discussed.

I’ve been a supporter of former Senator John Edwards of North Carolina to this point because of his focus on economic issues as they impact the poor and middle classes. I have to admit that in my heart I want to move to Senator Barack Obama of Illinois.

But I’m not there yet.

Here is good column by Roger Cohen of The New York Times discussing the positive impact Senator Obama might make in other parts of the world as President of the United States. I know I very much agree with Mr. Obama’s assertion that we should talk with all nations. What does it hurt to talk?  

Since all things are connected, Here is some information about the 1976 Presidential debates and the election contest between President Gerald Ford of Michigan and former Governor Jimmy Carter of Georgia.

This cycle of three debates is most known for a 27 minute audio failure where the candidates stood pretty much motionless for the whole time, and for President Ford seemingly saying that Poland was not under the control of the Soviet Block. (Which always struck me as a dumb issue because whatever you thought about President Ford, he clearly knew the political reality of Poland at that time)

Here is a transcript of one of the Ford/Cater debates.

Here is an interview with President Ford and President Carter in which each looks back at the 1976 debates. 

Here is the C-SPAN overview of the 1976 election.

Here is a link to Marathon by Jules Whitcover. It is the best book I’m aware of on the 1976 campaign.

Here is an analysis of the 1976 Election from the Eagleton Institute of Politics at Rutgers University.

You can consult David Leip’s excellent Atlas of Presidential Elections for 1976 results. 

Here is the Jimmy Carter Library in Atlanta. 

Here is the Gerald Ford Library in Grand Rapids. 

November 16, 2007 Posted by | Books, Campaign 2008, Political History | , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

I Voted Yes On Houston School Levy So Kids Can Take More Civics Classes And Question Legtimacy Of Political Structure Unable To Address Global Economy And Climate Change

I voted this morning in our Houston city elections. I voted just a few minutes ago. I did not get the sense of high turnout.

High turnout would require voters that care, a Republican Party that thought Houston was worth fighting for, and a Democratic Party that had the competence and imagination to make at least some effort to generate turnout of Democratic voters.

We don’t have any of those things in Houston.

For Mayor of Houston I voted for Amanda Ulman. I posted about this last week. Bill White did not need my vote and voters deserve options.

Can you imagine that not one Republican in Houston cared enough about his or her city to run and offer competing ideas in contrast to Mayor White to our citizens? 

I voted forJolanda Jones for Houston At-Large Position 5. Hopefully she’ll make it to a run-off and the sneaky Zaf Tahir will not. Please click here to read about Mr. Tahir and the things he has been up to as a candidate.

I voted for Melissa Noriega and Peter Brown in other at-large Council races. I’m looking forward to Mr. Brown’s possible candidacy against Annise Parker for Houston Mayor in 2009. I think Mr. Brown will offer a hopeful vision for Houston in sharp contrast to the deadening business-as-usual pragmatism that characterizes Ms. Parker’s type of politics.     

In addition to the city candidates, there were a number of important school levies, county bond issues and Texas statewide matters on the ballot.

I voted yes on the Houston school levy because we need to prepare these kids to have the civic awareness to realize that both major parties are selling them down the river on the global economy and climate change.

I think that with a few more social studies, civics and history classes, kids might begin to ask questions about the basic legitimacy of a system that either cannot or will not address the most important issues of the future.     

November 6, 2007 Posted by | Houston, Houston Council Election '07, Politics, Ways We Hate Children | , , , , , , , , , , , | 7 Comments

As Liberal As I Am, If Hillary Clinton Is The 2008 Democratic Nominee I Will Give Her My Strong Support


If Hillary Clinton is the Democratic nominee for President in 2008, she’ll have my strong support.

I say this though Mrs. Clinton is not my first choice for 2008. I support John Edwards because of his focus on economic issues as they impact the middle class and the poor. I’m also interested in the candidacy of Barack Obama.

In my view, Mrs. Clinton’s soft center-left focus and the Clinton legacy of moving the Democratic Party to the middle are not great recommendations for her White House bid.

So why will I support Mrs. Clinton if she wins the nomination?

It is because our problems today are so great that we must give a Democratic President serving with, hopefully, a Democratic Congress, a chance to find solutions to these challenges.     

In these times, I can’t sit on my hands because the Democratic nominee is not the person I wanted.  

In a normal campaign, the issues of the War in Iraq and how to get health insurance to all Americans would be dramatic enough concerns.  

Yet in 2008 , there are even greater problems before the American people. 

The issues of climate change and the effects of the global economy on how Americans will live are matters as pressing as the dilemmas that faced America between the Stock Crash of 1929 and the end of World War II. 

To this point, neither party has taken leadership on these questions. 

I don’t know that either party knows how to respond. There must be policy analysts and thinkers within the political structure who see the perils we face. I don’t think they have any answers. Or at least I don’t think they have any answers they believe the American people will accept before things get even worse.

Many Americans saw the Civil War coming years before it occurred. Nobody had a solution. Or least nobody had a solution that could pass political muster.

I’m not going to pretend I’m overly hopeful that Mrs. Clinton and a Democratic Congress will strongly take on climate change and the impact of the global economy.

Still, I feel we must give out traditional political structure a chance to work before reaching the point of saying our system is as broken and hopeless today as it was in the final years leading up to the Civil War.        

Since I’m certain Mrs. Clinton reads Texas Liberal each day as she reviews the blogs, I’ve run a picture of the great Eleanor Roosevelt with this post. I feel this picture will inspire Mrs. Clinton to confront the toughest issues with candor and courage.         

October 30, 2007 Posted by | Campaign 2008, Political History, Politics | , , , , , | 6 Comments