Friday, October 24, 2008

Help Obama win from home

If you can not make it out to Ohio, Nevada or any of the other battleground states, consider this option, as a way to help those of us who are out here, from your own home.

photo © DMoodyPhoto 2008


From: Nicole Holland
Subject: Have you heard about Neighbor to Neighbor?

I just learned about Neighbor to Neighbor, an exciting new tool that allows us to print off lists of voters in key battleground states, to contact about this campaign and this movement.

I know sometimes the political process seems impossible, superficial, and gridlocked. But we're changing that. We're building a campaign of the people, by the people, and for the people.

So please take a moment to learn more about how you can help with our new Neighbor to Neighbor tool, here's the link to our training page:

Thanks for getting involved - we can't do this without you.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Ohio rally

Photos © DMoodyPhoto 2008

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

© DMoodyPhoto 2008 ~ Obama in Columbus OH.

From: Rosa Goldensohn

Dear friends and family,

I'm working on the Obama campaign in Ohio and we need your help getting out the vote. The race is completely tied here. In 2004 George Bush won Ohio – and therefore the White House – by 118,601 votes. That's only 9 votes per precinct. With the help of an unprecedented number of volunteers on Election Day, we can and will win this thing.

Please check out this video to see what we’re doing and why

It will take thousands of people to get out the vote for Barack Obama on Election Day. The most important days to come to Ohio are Friday, October 31st – Tuesday, November 4th. Come for one day, one week—we only have 15 days left! We will put you to work turning out votes for Barack Obama in Ohio. We need thousands of lawyers for election protection, too.

No Republican has ever won the country without winning Ohio. We are the tip of the spear. And we don't yet have the manpower we need.

Click here to see how you can help

or just email me directly:

Let's win. We can do it together, and it will take you and everyone you can get.


Rosa Goldensohn
Director of Out-of-State Volunteers
Ohio Campaign for Change

Monday, October 20, 2008

Full Story by Kennedy and Palast

Block the Vote
Will the GOP's campaign to deter new voters and discard Democratic ballots determine the next president?


Posted Oct 30, 2008 11:10 AM

• Video: Behind the Story With Kennedy Jr. and Palast:

These days, the old west rail hub of Las Vegas, New Mexico, is little more than a dusty economic dead zone amid a boneyard of bare mesas. In national elections, the town overwhelmingly votes Democratic: More than 80 percent of all residents are Hispanic, and one in four lives below the poverty line. On February 5th, the day of the Super Tuesday caucus, a school-bus driver named Paul Maez arrived at his local polling station to cast his ballot. To his surprise, Maez found that his name had vanished from the list of registered voters, thanks to a statewide effort to deter fraudulent voting. For Maez, the shock was especially acute: He is the supervisor of elections in Las Vegas.

Maez was not alone in being denied his right to vote. On Super Tuesday, one in nine Democrats who tried to cast ballots in New Mexico found their names missing from the registration lists. The numbers were even higher in precincts like Las Vegas, where nearly 20 percent of the county's voters were absent from the rolls. With their status in limbo, the voters were forced to cast "provisional" ballots, which can be reviewed and discarded by election officials without explanation. On Super Tuesday, more than half of all provisional ballots cast were thrown out statewide.

This November, what happened to Maez will happen to hundreds of thousands of voters across the country. In state after state, Republican operatives — the party's elite commandos of bare-knuckle politics — are wielding new federal legislation to systematically disenfranchise Democrats. If this year's race is as close as the past two elections, the GOP's nationwide campaign could be large enough to determine the presidency in November. "I don't think the Democrats get it," says John Boyd, a voting-rights attorney in Albuquerque who has taken on the Republican Party for impeding access to the ballot. "All these new rules and games are turning voting into an obstacle course that could flip the vote to the GOP in half a dozen states.

Suppressing the vote has long been a cornerstone of the GOP's electoral strategy. Shortly before the election of Ronald Reagan in 1980, Paul Weyrich — a principal architect of today's Republican Party — scolded evangelicals who believed in democracy. "Many of our Christians have what I call the 'goo goo' syndrome — good government," said Weyrich, who co-founded Moral Majority with Jerry Falwell. "They want everybody to vote. I don't want everybody to vote. . . . As a matter of fact, our leverage in the elections quite candidly goes up as the voting populace goes down."

Today, Weyrich's vision has become a national reality. 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. To purge registration rolls and discard ballots, partisan election officials used a wide range of pretexts, from "unreadability" to changes in a voter's signature. And this year, thanks to new provisions of the Help America Vote Act, the number of discounted votes could surge even higher.

Passed in 2002, HAVA was hailed by leaders in both parties as a reform designed to avoid a repeat of the 2000 debacle in Florida that threw the presidential election to the U.S. Supreme Court. The measure set standards for voting systems, created an independent commission to oversee elections, and ordered states to provide provisional ballots to voters whose eligibility is challenged at the polls.

But from the start, HAVA was corrupted by the involvement of Republican superlobbyist Jack Abramoff, who worked to cram the bill with favors for his clients. (Both Abramoff and a primary author of HAVA, former Rep. Bob Ney, were imprisoned for their role in the conspiracy.) In practice, many of the "reforms" created by HAVA have actually made it harder for citizens to cast a ballot and have their vote counted. In case after case, Republican election officials at the local and state level have used the rules to give GOP candidates an edge on Election Day by creating new barriers to registration, purging legitimate names from voter rolls, challenging voters at the polls and discarding valid ballots.

To justify this battery of new voting impediments, Republicans cite an alleged upsurge in voting fraud. Indeed, the U.S.-attorney scandal that resulted in the resignation of Attorney General Alberto Gonzales began when the White House fired federal prosecutors who resisted political pressure to drum up nonexistent cases of voting fraud against Democrats. "They wanted some splashy pre-election indictments that would scare these alleged hordes of illegal voters away," says David Iglesias, a U.S. attorney for New Mexico who was fired in December 2006. "We took over 100 complaints and investigated for almost two years — but I didn't find one prosecutable case of voter fraud in the entire state of New Mexico."

There's a reason Iglesias couldn't find any evidence of fraud: Individual voters almost never try to cast illegal ballots. The Bush administration's main point person on "ballot protection" has been Hans von Spakovsky, a former Justice Department attorney who has advised states on how to use HAVA to erect more barriers to voting. Appointed to the Federal Election Commission by Bush, von Spakovsky has suggested that voter rolls may be stuffed with 5 million illegal aliens. In fact, studies have repeatedly shown that voter fraud is extremely rare. According to a recent analysis by Lorraine Minnite, an expert on voting crime at Barnard College, federal courts found only 24 voters guilty of fraud from 2002 to 2005, out of hundreds of millions of votes cast. "The claim of widespread voter fraud," Minnite says, "is itself a fraud."

Allegations of voter fraud are only the latest rationale the GOP has used to disenfranchise voters — especially blacks, Hispanics and others who traditionally support Democrats. "The Republicans have a long history of erecting barriers to discourage Americans from voting," says Donna Brazile, chair of the Voting Rights Institute for the Democratic National Committee. "Now they're trying to spook Americans with the ghost of voter fraud. It's very effective — but it's ironic that the only way they maintain power is by using fear to deprive Americans of their constitutional right to vote." The recently enacted barriers thrown up to deter voters include:

1. Obstructing Voter-Registration Drives
Since 2004, the Bush administration and more than a dozen states have taken steps to impede voter registration. Among the worst offenders is Florida, where the Republican-dominated legislature created hefty fines — up to $5,000 per violation — for groups that fail to meet deadlines for turning in voter-application forms. Facing potentially huge penalties for trivial administrative errors, the League of Women Voters abandoned its voter-registration drives in Florida. A court order eventually forced the legislature to reduce the maximum penalty to $1,000. But even so, said former League president Dianne Wheatley-Giliotti, the reduced fines "create an unfair tax on democracy." The state has also failed to uphold a federal law requiring that low-income voters be offered an opportunity to register when they apply for food stamps or other public assistance. As a result, the annual number of such registrations has plummeted from more than 120,000 in the Clinton years to barely 10,000 today.

2. Demanding "Perfect Matches"
Under the Help America Vote Act, some states now reject first-time registrants whose data does not correspond to information in other government databases. Spurred by HAVA, almost every state must now attempt to make some kind of match — and four states, including the swing states of Iowa and Florida, require what is known as a "perfect match." Under this rigid framework, new registrants can lose the right to vote if the information on their voter-registration forms — Social Security number, street address and precisely spelled name, right down to a hyphen — fails to exactly match data listed in other government records.
There are many legitimate reasons, of course, why a voter's information might vary. Indeed, a recent study by the Brennan Center for Justice found that as many as 20 percent of discrepancies between voter records and driver's licenses in New York City are simply typing mistakes made by government clerks when they transcribe data. But under the new rules, those mistakes are costing citizens the right to vote. In California, a Republican secretary of state blocked 43 percent of all new voters in Los Angeles from registering in early 2006 — many because of the state's failure to produce a tight match. In Florida, GOP officials created "match" rules that rejected more than 15,000 new registrants in 2006 and 2007 — nearly three-fourths of them Hispanic and black voters. Given the big registration drives this year, the number could be five times higher by November.

3. Purging Legitimate Voters From the Rolls
The Help America Vote Act doesn't just disenfranchise new registrants; it also targets veteran voters. In the past, bipartisan county election boards maintained voter records. But HAVA requires that 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. Ironically, the new rules imitate the centralized system in Florida — the same corrupt operation that inspired passage of HAVA in the first place. Prior to the 2000 election, Florida Secretary of State Katherine Harris and her predecessor, both Republicans, tried to purge 57,000 voters, most of them African-Americans, because their names resembled those of persons convicted of a crime. The state eventually acknowledged that the purges were improper — two years after the election.
Rather than end Florida-style purges, however, HAVA has nationalized them. Maez, the elections supervisor in New Mexico, says he was the victim of faulty list management by a private contractor hired by the state. Hector Balderas, the state auditor, was also purged from the voter list. The nation's youngest elected Hispanic official, Balderas hails from Mora County, one of the poorest in the state, which had the highest rate of voters forced to cast provisional ballots. "As a strategic consideration," he notes, "there are those that benefit from chaos" at the ballot box.
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.

4. Requiring Unnecessary Voter ID's
Even if voters run the gauntlet of the new registration laws, they can still be blocked at the polling station. In an incident last May, an election official in Indiana denied ballots to 10 nuns seeking to vote in the Democratic primary because their driver's licenses or passports had expired. Even though Indiana has never recorded a single case of voter-ID fraud, it is one of two dozen states that have enacted stringent new voter-ID statutes.
On its face, the requirement to show a government-issued ID doesn't seem unreasonable. "I want to cash a check to pay for my groceries, I've got to show a little bit of ID," Karl Rove told the Republican National Lawyers Association in 2006. But many Americans lack easy access to official identification. According to a recent study for the Election Law Journal, young people, senior citizens and minorities — groups that traditionally vote Democratic — often have no driver's licenses or state ID cards. According to the study, one in 10 likely white voters do not possess the necessary identification. For African-Americans, the number lacking such ID is twice as high.

5. Rejecting "Spoiled" Ballots
Even intrepid voters who manage to cast a ballot may still find their vote discounted. In 2004, election officials discarded at least 1 million votes nationwide after classifying them as "spoiled" because blank spaces, stray marks or tears made them indecipherable to voting machines. The losses hit hardest among minorities in low-income precincts, who are often forced to vote on antiquated machines. The U.S. Commission on Civil Rights, in its investigation of the 2000 returns from Florida, found that African-Americans were nearly 10 times more likely than whites to have their ballots rejected, a ratio that holds nationwide.

Proponents of HAVA claimed the law would correct the spoilage problem by promoting computerized balloting. Yet touch-screen systems have proved highly unreliable — especially in minority and low-income precincts. A statistical analysis of New Mexico ballots by a voting-rights group called VotersUnite found that Hispanics who voted by computer in 2004 were nearly five times more likely to have their votes unrecorded than those who used paper ballots. In a close election, such small discrepancies can make a big difference: In 2004, the number of spoiled ballots in New Mexico — 19,000 — was three times George Bush's margin of victory.

6. Challenging "Provisional" Ballots
In 2004, an estimated 3 million voters who showed up at the polls were refused regular ballots because their registration was challenged on a technicality. Instead, these voters were handed "provisional" ballots, a fail-safe measure mandated by HAVA to enable officials to review disputed votes. But for many officials, resolving disputes means tossing ballots in the trash. In 2004, a third of all provisional ballots — as many as 1 million votes — were simply thrown away at the discretion of election officials.
Many voters are given provisional ballots under an insidious tactic known as "vote caging," which uses targeted mailings to disenfranchise black voters whose addresses have changed. In 2004, despite a federal consent order forbidding Republicans from engaging in the practice, the GOP sent out tens of thousands of letters to "confirm" the addresses of voters in minority precincts. If a letter was returned for any reason — because the voter was away at school or serving in the military — the GOP challenged the voter for giving a false address. One caging operation was exposed when an RNC official mistakenly sent the list to a parody site called — instead of to the official campaign site
In the century following the Civil War, millions of black Americans in the Deep South lost their constitutional right to vote, thanks to literacy tests, poll taxes and other Jim Crow restrictions imposed by white officials. Add up all the modern-day barriers to voting erected since the 2004 election — the new registrations thrown out, the existing registrations scrubbed, the spoiled ballots, the provisional ballots that were never counted — and what you have is millions of voters, more than enough to swing the presidential election, quietly being detached from the electorate by subterfuge.

"Jim Crow was laid to rest, but his cousins were not," says Donna Brazile. "We got rid of poll taxes and literacy tests but now have a second generation of schemes to deny our citizens their franchise." Come November, the most crucial demographic may prove to be Americans who have been denied the right to vote. If Democrats are to win the 2008 election, they must not simply beat John McCain at the polls — they must beat him by a margin that exceeds the level of GOP vote tampering.

Contributing editor Robert F. Kennedy Jr. is one of the nation's leading voting-rights advocates. His article "Was the 2004 Election Stolen?" [RS 1002] sparked widespread scrutiny of vote tampering. Greg Palast, who broke the story on Florida's illegal voter purges in the 2000 election, is the author of "The Best Democracy Money Can Buy." For more information, visit No Voter Left Behind: and Steal Back Your Vote.:l

Related Stories:

Video: Kennedy Jr. and Palast Go Behind the Story:
Was the 2004 Election Stolen? By Robert F. Kennedy Jr.:
Make-Believe Maverick: The Real John McCain:
[From Issue 1064 — October 30, 2008]



(ask your media sources why they won't cover this story along side the Acorn story)

Friday, October 17, 2008

California Ballot recommendations

I'm in Ohio until the election, but I did want to pass on these California ballot recommendations by Bill Magavern, whose judgment I found to be excellent for past elections:


Bill Magavern's Recommendations for November California Ballot

These are strictly my personal opinions, for whatever they're worth. Feel free
to forward them or post to web, but please do not add the names of any other
individual or organization by way of identification or affiliation. And get
ready for some change we can believe in. -- Bill

Proposition 1A --Yes
Safe, Reliable High-Speed Passenger Train Bond Act.
If you’re wondering what happened to Prop 1, the Legislature replaced it with
1A, which is still a high-speed rail bond, but with significant improvements in
both fiscal accountability and environmental safeguards. This bond measure calls
for borrowing almost $10 billion, which is no easy sell, but creating a clean
and fast rail line linking most of the state’s population is a goal worth that
kind of investment. We need clean transportation alternatives to freeways and
airplanes, and if we don’t pass 1A it will be a long time before we have another

Proposition 2 -- Yes
Standards for Confining Farm Animals. Initiative Statute.
The Humane Society has a simple proposal: farm animals should have enough room
to actually turn around. Decreasing the density of confined animals will also
decrease pollution and help family farmers. The additional cost will be less
than one penny per egg.

Proposition 3 -- Yes
Children’s Hospital Bond Act. Grant Program. Initiative Statute.
Public borrowing for private institutions should have to pass a high threshold
of worthiness, and I think children’s hospitals meet that standard.

Proposition 4 -- No
Waiting Period and Parental Notification Before Termination of Minor’s
Pregnancy. Initiative Constitutional Amendment.
Sure, it would be great if minors discussed all important life decisions with
their parents, but having government require it is not going to make it happen.
A more likely result of passing this measure would be an increase in dangerous
amateur abortions.

Proposition 5 -- Yes
Nonviolent Drug Offenses. Sentencing, Parole and Rehabilitation. Initiative Statute.
Treatment and rehab programs for nonviolent offenders are more effective than
the lock-‘em up policy that the state has relied on in recent decades. These
programs will cost money, but will save higher amounts over time.

Proposition 6 -- No
Police and Law Enforcement Funding. Criminal Penalties and Laws. Initiative
Does anybody really think that our prison populations are too small, or that
sentences are too short? This measure would throw a lot of money into the
prison-industrial complex without accountability for how the money is spent.
State money that now goes to schools and healthcare would be shifted to building
jails and funding other local responsibilities.

Proposition 7 -- No
Renewable Energy Generation. Initiative Statute.
A billionaire had a good idea – ramp up renewable energy standards. But he got
really bad advice, then his team refused to listen to experts who suggested
changes in the proposal, or to recognize that the Legislature and Governor are
already moving toward the nation’s highest and best clean-power requirement. So the ballot language
would actually obstruct development of the small-scale solar and wind projects
we need. Just about all the state’s newspaper editorial boards and major
environmental groups are opposed.

Proposition 8 -- No
Eliminates Right of Same-Sex Couples to Marry. Initiative Constitutional
Why is it that the proponents of this constitutional amendment are so worried
that their marriages will be threatened if gay people are allowed to keep the
right to marry?

Proposition 9 -- No
Criminal Justice System. Victims’ Rights. Parole. Initiative Constitutional
Amendment and Statute.
This measure’s billionaire sponsor, Henry Nicholas, is under indictment for
fraud, drugs and prostitution, but he poses as a champion of victims’ rights.
Victims already have a bill of rights under the state Constitution, and Prop 9
would duplicate existing laws and cost the state hundreds of millions of dollars
a year.

Proposition 10 -- No
Alternative Fuel Vehicles and Renewable Energy. Bonds. Initiative Statute.
Another billionaire trying to make energy policy through the ballot, but this
one – Swift Boat campaign funder T. Boone Pickens – knows exactly what he’s
doing: trying to enrich his natural gas business. Like Prop 7, Prop 10 also has
drawn opposition from just about all the state’s newspaper editorial boards and
every environmental group that has weighed in, along with taxpayer and consumer
groups. Natural gas vehicles are relatively clean, but shouldn’t be subsidized
by long-term state borrowing and shouldn’t be favored over cleaner alternatives
like battery electric vehicles.

Proposition 11 -- Yes
Redistricting. Initiative Constitutional Amendment and Statute.
CA needs to take redistricting away from the legislators, who have a conflict of
interest, and give it to an independent commission, as this measure would do. I
don’t buy many of the arguments of supporters – redistricting reform will not
make the Legislature more centrist or less partisan, which are over-rated virtues anyway. But it will make legislators
more responsive to their constituents, and will yield districts that are drawn
for their communities of interest and geographical compactness instead of the
self-interest of the politicians. Prop 11 isn’t perfect: it doesn’t cover
Congress, and the system of choosing the commissioners is overly complicated.
But it’s a lot better than the status quo, and is probably our best shot at
reform for a while, which is why the League of Women Voters and Common Cause

Proposition 12 -- Yes
Veterans’ Bond Act of 2008.
This system of financing veterans’ home purchases has worked before, at no
direct cost to taxpayers.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Are you confident now?

When Hank Paulson, former head of Goldman Sachs and the current Treasury Secretary for the Bush administration went on ABC's This Week with George Stephanopoulos on Sunday, September 21st to sell America on the need for a 750 billion dollar "bailout" for the financial industry (the freest of all free market institutions), he explained that it was absolutely essential, in order to instill confidence in the market and that if congress did not approve these funds so that the tax payers could relieve these investment bankers from their "illiquid" assets (that means assets no one else will buy), this crisis threatens to inflict serious damage on the economy, and that would hurt not just Wall St., but Main St. also. He ensured us this, and only this government solution would stabilize the economy.
When Mr. Stephanopoulos asked "what will you do if this does not work?", Mr. Paulson's response was "it's got to work!". Of course that's not an answer, but it does tell you that they 1) don't have a clue, and 2) they have no plan B.
When Congress failed to pass the first bill, the market lost over 700 points, which some argued was evidence of the need for this government solution to a free market problem. Well congress passed the bail out, and it looks like the market is going to crash anyway.
If you've had enough of trickle down solutions, here are some more rational voices:

on what's really happening....

Doomsday warnings of credit collapse are lies

Ari J. Officer,Lawrence H. Officer

Sunday, October 5, 2008

There's only one reason that Congress passed the financial bailout measure this past week: Wall Street and politicians kept warning of an impending credit collapse that could be solved only by rescuing some irresponsible investment banks and by purchasing securities that have become "bad paper."

Don't believe the lies!

Pouring money into the investment banks at all - and especially by buying up their bad paper - is not a good way to maintain liquidity and credit. Fed and Treasury money should be used more directly to avert any potential financial collapse.

If the Fed needs to inject liquidity into the market, there is a conventional way to do that: providing funds for the money market by making loans or buying good (emphasize "good") securities of commercial banks and similar financial institutions. To begin by providing $700 billion to risk-taking financial institutions is an indirect, inefficient and inequitable solution to any impending "credit crunch."

Perhaps the most confusing thing for us on Main Street is the supposed link between the mortgage-backed credit securities and the regular credit that affects our everyday lives and American businesses. What's the direct connection?

There is none! We repeat: There is no direct connection between the credit represented by mortgage-backed securities and the other credit markets that affect our everyday lives. The normal credit extended by banks to businesses and households in good credit standing has nothing to do with these "credit derivatives" - the bad securities that Congress has authorized the Treasury to purchase.

It is true that some large institutions lost a considerable amount of money. However, it is a fact that they lost that money on mortgage-backed securities. Most of these instruments represented pure gambles against homeowners' defaulting on their mortgages. As far as the public should be concerned, one can just as well think of these financial institutions as having lost the money betting on mortgage defaults in Las Vegas. Today, however, having suffered such massive losses, these banks are unwilling to extend normal loans to businesses and households.

Or so the banks claim!

The mortgage credit crisis has put some investment banks at a huge loss over the derivative investments, and has made them less willing to make conventional loans because of it. That overly risk-taking institutions lost money on "credit derivatives" is irrelevant; again, there is no direct connection between the credit of mortgage-backed securities and other credit markets.

The so-called rescue plan does not address liquidity directly. Instead, it seeks mainly to bail out some irresponsible financial institutions. The rationale for the bailout measure is that, if the government buys up these sour securities, the banks will no longer be operating at an enormous loss and will once again be willing to make loans. But not all the banks are failing, and the Fed has better ways to inject liquidity into the market so that banks will still give sufficient loans to individuals and institutions in good credit standing.

Saving a few financial institutions - at American taxpayers' expense - will not necessarily help the credit situation. There is no guarantee that the rescued institutions will even participate in the loans customarily made to people and businesses.

The only thing the Fed will be sure of accomplishing is buying up crummy paper!

Ari J. Officer, son of Lawrence H. Officer, has completed his master of science degree in financial mathematics at Stanford University. Lawrence H. Officer is professor of economics at the University of Illinois at Chicago. Contact us at

and on what we should be doing for our economy...


Bottom-up economic theory

Robert B. Reich

Sunday, October 5, 2008
Robert B. Reich, UC professor of public policy, former se...

The Mother of All Bailouts may be necessary to unfreeze our capital markets, but it won't unfreeze the American economy.

Bailout or no bailout, we're heading into deep recession. One of the first initiatives that Congress and the next administration will need to take will be an economic stimulus package. But not even this will remedy the underlying problem: The earnings of most Americans haven't kept up with the cost of living. That means there's not enough purchasing power to keep the economy going.

Adjusted for inflation, the incomes of nongovernment workers are lower today than in 2000. They're barely higher than they were in the mid-1970s. The income of a man in his 30s is now 12 percent below that of a man his age three decades ago.

Per-person productivity has grown considerably over the past three decades and has continued to rise even in the lackluster recovery of this decade.

But most Americans haven't reaped the benefits of these productivity gains. The benefits have gone largely to the top.

The top 1 percent of American earners now take home about 20 percent of total national income. In 1980, the top 1 percent took home just 8 percent. Inequality on this scale is bad for many reasons, but it is also bad for the economy.

The wealthy devote a smaller percentage of their earnings to buying things than the rest of us because, after all, they're rich and already have most of what they want. Instead of buying, the very wealthy are more likely to invest their earnings wherever around the world they can get the highest return.

The last time the top 1 percent took home 20 percent of total income was 1928. After that, the economy caved in.

The underlying earnings problem has been masked for years as middle- and lower-income Americans found means to live beyond their paychecks. The first coping mechanism was to send more women into paid work. The percentage of American working mothers with school-age children has almost doubled since 1970, to more than 70 percent. But there's a limit to how many mothers can maintain paying jobs.

So Americans turned to a second coping mechanism - working more hours. Americans have became veritable workaholics, putting in 350 more hours a year than the average European, more even than the notoriously industrious Japanese.

But there's also a limit to how many hours Americans can work. So we turned to a third way of coping. We began to borrow. With housing prices rising briskly through the 1990s and even faster this decade, we turned our homes into piggy banks.

But now, with the bursting of the housing bubble, we're reaching the end of our ability to borrow, just as lenders have reached the end of their capacity to lend.

That means there's not enough purchasing power in the economy to buy all the goods and services it's producing. 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 real earnings of middle- and lower-middle-class Americans.

The answer isn't 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.

Nor is it to give tax breaks to the very wealthy and to giant corporations in the hope they will trickle down to everyone else. We've tried that and it hasn't worked. Nothing trickled down.

The long-term answer is for America to invest in the productivity of our working people - enabling families to afford health insurance and have access to good schools and higher education, while also rebuilding our infrastructure and investing in the clean-energy technologies of the future. We must also adopt progressive taxes at the federal, state and local levels.

Call it bottom-up economics.

It would be a sad irony if the Wall Street bailout robs us of the resources we need to invest in average Americans and rebuild America from the bottom up.

Robert B. Reich is a UC Berkeley professor of public policy, former U.S. secretary of labor and author, most recently of "Supercapitalism," now available in paperback. E-mail us at

This article appeared on page G - 2 of the San Francisco Chronicle