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Zer Netmouse
June 3rd, 2008
11:21 am

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Where can I get numbers on starvation in Detroit and Flint?
Is anyone studying poverty in Michigan? Or would these numbers show up in county 'cause of death' statistics? Is starvation an official cause of death? Possibly would hospitals and doctors have numbers on how many patients they've treated for malnutrition? (I'm guessing not unless someone was studying and tracking it)



As an aside, if you want to see real answers from the Obama campaign about how he'd deal with poverty and economic problems, some are posted on MOMocrats. So go read them. :)

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From:tlatoani
Date:June 3rd, 2008 03:47 pm (UTC)
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I don't know how common it is. You might ask figent_figary, as she works in emergency medicine and is also involved in public health research.
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From:mjwise
Date:June 3rd, 2008 03:55 pm (UTC)
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And how exactly are we going to pay for all of the senator's proposed largesse? Tell the Iraqis to get bent? A return to the personal income tax brackets from 1954? What?

And, for the record, I'm opposed to mortgage bailouts. It rewards the irresponsible and provides unwarranted insurance to people who were speculators and got caught up in the frenzy. Sorry, investing does sometimes lead to losses.
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From:hearth_spirit
Date:June 3rd, 2008 03:55 pm (UTC)

From what I understand...

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It's at least partially the case that there's rampant malnutrition, but not much starvation. Urban poor in America are often getting plenty of calories, but lacking in nutrients.

Thanks, Coca-Cola Corp and Frito-Lay...
From:tlatoani
Date:June 3rd, 2008 04:17 pm (UTC)

Re: From what I understand...

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That's my understanding too.
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From:netmouse
Date:June 3rd, 2008 07:11 pm (UTC)

Re: From what I understand...

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I can believe that.
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From:elizilla
Date:June 3rd, 2008 04:04 pm (UTC)
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I'm sure there are heaps of sorely malnourished/starving but still living people. But starving *to death* is a different level entirely. Before someone starved to death here due to simple poverty, they'd end up in a hospital or jail and get fed there, after they passed out somewhere or got caught stealing food.

If you find a death certificate that lists the cause of death as "starvation", I would guess there's more to the story. Perhaps the person was anorexic. Or a drug addict. Or an abused child locked in a closet by their evil parents.

Which is not to say that there's no need to worry about poverty. If someone is in such dire poverty that they'll starve to death if they don't get themselves arrested, that is a pretty sad thing.
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From:atothek
Date:June 3rd, 2008 05:07 pm (UTC)
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I'll put you in touch with Jared. He's the Development Director at the Ann Arbor homeless shelter -- he will be able to tell you where to get the data.

If I forget, send me an email.

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From:netmouse
Date:June 3rd, 2008 05:11 pm (UTC)
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ok, thanks!
From:nicegeek
Date:June 3rd, 2008 07:01 pm (UTC)
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Okay, I like the guy - and I think that there would be some real foreign policy benefits to having him as President, but let's take a look at the promises he's making:
  • ...increase the supply of affordable housing. The Affordable Housing Trust Fund would use a small percentage of the profits of two government-sponsored housing agencies.
  • ...restore cuts to public housing operating subsidies
  • ...ensure that all Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) programs are restored to their original purpose.
  • ...expand the EITC
  • ...extend affordable, quality and portable health insurance coverage to every American
  • ...invest $1 billion over five years into transitional jobs and career pathways programs
  • ...put a middle-class tax cut worth $500 per person or $1000 per family
  • ...eliminating income taxes for seniors making under $50,000
  • ...an immediate tax cut of $250 for workers and their families and a temporary $250 bonus to seniors in their Social Security checks.
  • ...introduce legislation that would convert risky mortgages to stable, fixed 30-year mortgages
  • ...providing every American with a world-class education from birth to college
  • ...expand the Family Medical Leave Act to include more businesses and millions more workers
  • ...require employers to provide seven paid sick days each year
  • ...provide a $1.5 billion fund to assist states with start-up costs [for family friendly programs]
  • ...reform the Child and Dependent Care Tax Credit by making it refundable and allowing low-income families to receive up to a 50 percent credit for their child care expenses.
Go through the above list, and really think about how much some of those promises will cost. More affordable housing, healthcare and education for everyone, tax cuts, extra sick time...it all sounds utopian...but now let's take a look at what he says about paying for it:
  • ...use a small percentage of the profits of two government-sponsored housing agencies, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac
    • These two agencies have already shouldered a tremendous amount of default risk from the current housing collapse. And now he's proposing tapping their profit margins to build more homes in a housing market that already has an oversupply? He's risking one or both of these companies collapsing and dropping their debt load on the federal government, which itself already has record debt levels.
  • If my administration finds that one of its anti-poverty programs is not working, that program will be eliminated and funds will be routed to more effective uses.
    • That sounds great, but it's also been said before. It's way easier to create new government programs than it is to get rid of them. Before taking this at face value, I'd like to see him demonstrate that he can stand up to his fellow Democrats and oppose spending on their pet projects.

...and that's all he says about paying for it. Right now, I just don't see how the numbers add up. Don't get me wrong...I'd love to believe in his vision, but I think that it's going to have a pretty hard collision with financial reality when he tries to implement it.

I also want to comment on one specific item he mentions:

...I won't wait ten years to raise the minimum wage - I'll guarantee that it goes up every single year.

I presume he's talking about indexing the minimum wage to inflation. This is a phenomenally bad idea; the expectation of increasing wages is one of the primary causes of inflation. If you also make increasing wages the effect of inflation, you'll have created an inflationary feedback loop. Sure, wages will keep going up every year, but the resulting inflation will make every dollar worth less, negating the wage gains and also destroying the value of whatever money people have in their bank accounts in the process. I'd really rather not have that happen, thanks.

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From:netmouse
Date:June 3rd, 2008 07:10 pm (UTC)
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How do you suggest we establish policy to curb and control inflation? Do you really think it's the expectation of increased wages for the lowest earners in the country that's pushing inflation? or other people?

Why is it better to jump the minimum wage multiple dollars at random times than to have a program that increments it on an annual basis?

It seems to me that simply regretting inflation isn't going to go away, and I don't think it's driven by minimum wage. I think it's driven by the corporate investment structure and the pressure to increase profits in order to appear healthy.

As to paying for all this, if you streamline efforts in places like Iraq to stop pouring billions into useless companies such as Cheney's associates run, there's billions of dollars to be pulled. Apart from that, why is it ok to go trillions into debt in order to engage in stupid war and not to endure some debt in order to address domestic poverty, health, and quality of life issues?

Most of the programs he's talking about sound like miniscule or small proportions of the federal budget, but things that might be significant benefits to low-income and working families.
From:nicegeek
Date:June 3rd, 2008 09:10 pm (UTC)
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How do you suggest we establish policy to curb and control inflation?

Balancing the Federal budget would certainly help. Getting rid of the non-cellulosic ethanol subsidies would help the price of food too.

Do you really think it's the expectation of increased wages for the lowest earners in the country that's pushing inflation?

It's wage expectations in general. I can't say with certainty how much is attributable to low-income earners, but one would expect that those wages make the most difference to retail sales prices (groceries and other basic needs), since they have a lot of min-wage workers. Thus, any inflation generated is going to disproportionately harm those who buy those products - i.e., the lower income brackets.

Why is it better to jump the minimum wage multiple dollars at random times than to have a program that increments it on an annual basis?

Because it bakes inflation into employment law. When min wage hikes are nonpredictable, people don't usually build them into their budgets or prices. But once it's a locked-in part of the system, employees are going to plan for their mandated annual raise, and companies are going to build in regular prices increases to handle those raises. Since those price increases become the next year's inflation, they then trigger higher raises, which means the companies plan larger price increases....etc...etc... That's called an inflationary spiral, and it's a Really Bad Thing.

The most likely result, IMHO, is that wages spiral up to the point where it becomes cheaper to invent an automated system to do the job. Then the workers all end up getting fired anyway.

The illusion is that a macroeconomic free lunch exists; that a government can just mandate that more money should go in a particular direction, or to particular people, without side-effects. But economics is so cross-connected that there are always second, third, and higher-order consequences. Often, these take several years to show up, which means it's easy to blame something else. This, of course, makes economic "quick-fixes" very tempting to politicians who don't see past the next election, and who cause immense harm when they mettle without doing a deep enough analysis.

It seems to me that simply regretting inflation isn't going to go away, and I don't think it's driven by minimum wage. I think it's driven by the corporate investment structure and the pressure to increase profits in order to appear healthy.

If that were true, it would cause the stock market to climb, and that certainly hasn't been happening this year. While corporations are greedy by nature, there's enough competition out there in most industries that corporate profits, as an overall percentage, aren't excessive (yes, there are certain companies, like Microsoft, and cartels like OPEC, but they're the exception, not the rule).

As to paying for all this, if you streamline efforts in places like Iraq to stop pouring billions into useless companies such as Cheney's associates run, there's billions of dollars to be pulled.

It's important to note that the Iraq war isn't actually being paid for. China (amongst others) loaned us the money for it, and we're going to be in debt for it for a long time.

Apart from that, why is it ok to go trillions into debt in order to engage in stupid war and not to endure some debt in order to address domestic poverty, health, and quality of life issues?

Just because the last President sent us trillions into debt with military spending does not mean that it's a good idea for the next President to send us trillions further into debt with domestic spending.

Most of the programs he's talking about sound like miniscule or small proportions of the federal budget, but things that might be significant benefits to low-income and working families.

Some of them may be, and I'd support measures that make financial sense. But some of those promises are definitely not low-budget.
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From:nicegeek
Date:June 4th, 2008 04:11 am (UTC)
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Yep, I agree on the inflation/debt/war=bad idea part.

I also agree, at least in principle, with educational assistance; if done well, it creates far more economic value for the country in the future than it costs today.

Some types of health care (mostly preventative) are similarly cost-effective, but the problem there is that not all health care is that way, and I'm skeptical that a politician is going to have the will to draw a line between them. Many types of chronic and elderly care, for example, cost far more than the economic benefits they'll ever create. But what politician is going to tell the AARP that they're going to fund more preventative health care, but not chronic care for seniors, even if an objective assessment says that's the best plan for the country in the long-term?

And, "expanding the EITC"? That's insanely vague.

The original article didn't actually expand the acronym, but it's the Earned Income Tax Credit. If you want to provide direct cash assistance to the poor, the EITC is actually one of the better ways of doing it; it's effectively a negative income tax on the first X dollars of someone's income.
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From:nicegeek
Date:June 4th, 2008 01:57 pm (UTC)
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One thought I've had is that it might help if the EITC became a line-item on people's paychecks, like FICA. That way people might be less likely to use it to splurge on nonessentials.

I'm in favor of social assistance where people qualify based on more personal circumstances than just how much money they make.
The problem you run into is that the more you try to individualize the decision, the more administrative overhead it takes. Eventually it hits a point where it's not cost-effective anymore.

So many people work part time, even though they can do better if they want to, just because they know if they make too much, they won't get their huge tax refund.
That's an strong argument in favor of raising the EITC income ceiling, and I'd agree; the ceiling should either be eliminated, or should be high enough that by the time it kicks in, the relative value of the EITC is negligible.

One could apply a similar argument in favor of a flat income tax. I'd like to see us move to such a system, with the EITC used to provide the desired level of progressivity instead of having different tax brackets.
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From:nicegeek
Date:June 5th, 2008 02:07 am (UTC)
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And making it that simple puts hundreds of thousands of people out of work.

I assume you're referring to tax preparers like yourself. I'm entirely mindful that there are people making a living off of the fact that our tax code is complex, but I don't find that a compelling justification to avoid simplifying it. If everyone could do their taxes in five minutes, it would put a lot of tax preparers out of work, but when you add back in all the time and money saved by everyone else, it's a net gain for the country. If necessary, some of the savings could be diverted to help retrain those whose jobs were lost.

As an aside, this is an example of something I'd like to a President do: Have the will to tell a constituency straight-out "I'm making this policy decision, and it's going to be bad for you. I'm sorry about that, but the benefit to the rest of the country outweighs that harm, so it's the right thing to do."

We need progressive taxes, not regressive taxes.

There's different points of view on that, but my point was that the EITC is a simpler and less distortive way of making the tax code progressive. You can play with the amounts and the caps to make the system as progressive as desired, while still keeping the baseline taxes flat.

I don't think the FICA should be capped at 90k. Why should people who make less than that amount pay FICA on 100% of their wages, while people who make tons of money pay FICA on only a small portion of their wages?

It's 102k now, BTW. I'm going to demur on trying to explain the rationale for the FICA cap, as I haven't studied the theory behind it.

Why can't we just limit the assistance to a set number of years, and after that, you're out of luck?

It would require society to be willing to truly cut off people who hit the limit. I suspect that if this were tried, the media would focus attention on the most sympathetic cases, sparking a public outcry that would eventually force the politicians to soften the limits and create loopholes. I refer back to my above commentary on political will.
From:nicegeek
Date:July 14th, 2008 01:59 pm (UTC)

An unfortunate follow-up

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...use a small percentage of the profits of two government-sponsored housing agencies, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac

These two agencies have already shouldered a tremendous amount of default risk from the current housing collapse. And now he's proposing tapping their profit margins to build more homes in a housing market that already has an oversupply? He's risking one or both of these companies collapsing and dropping their debt load on the federal government, which itself already has record debt levels.

Sadly, this appears to be happening now.

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From:netmouse
Date:July 14th, 2008 03:45 pm (UTC)

Re: An unfortunate follow-up

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I don't see the "building more homes" you predicted in your comment. I would presume instead that a plan would be to help make existing homes affordable to buyers. I haven't read the plan. But I encourage you to write up alternative solutions and send them to the obama campaign.
From:nicegeek
Date:July 15th, 2008 01:38 am (UTC)

Re: An unfortunate follow-up

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Sorry, I was unclear; the prediction that came true is that the two government-backed lenders (Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac) are teetering on the edge of collapse, and the Federal government is already having to step in to save them. Thus, Obama's plan to tap their profits to fund an affordable housing program is untenable; they have no profits to be tapped.
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From:grimfaire
Date:June 3rd, 2008 08:50 pm (UTC)
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I can ask at work on those number or just run a query as we have all the data from about 70% of the ERs in SE michigan for the last 15 years.

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