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Do Pro-business Policies Reduce Poverty?

President Calvin Coolidge once said, “… the business of the American people is business”.  He was quoted out of context at the time.  His remarks were aimed at newspaper reporters who were inept at covering business news, but this intentional misquotation seemed to sum up his economic policies.

Today this misquote seems prophetic. Political leaders from both parties speak as if whatever benefits business benefits the people.  State governments offer tax breaks and business friendly regulations to attract companies that might bring in more jobs.  This is especially true in less wealthy states where poverty rates are high.  President Lyndon Johnson’s “War on Poverty” has been transformed into pro-business politics and the promise of work for the worthy.

It is true that the poor need jobs, but the causes of poverty are more complex.  There is little regard for other factors such as the need for quality daycare, health care access, job training or transportation. Journalists rarely asks politicians how they plan to help the poor.  When they do, candidates talk about their plans to grow the economy.  This has some become an acceptable answer.

The insurgent idea that serving business interests is the best way to fight poverty arguably arose in the mid 1970s when corporate interest groups were forming and the business lobby became a powerful influence on Congress.   This was the high water mark of American unions as organized business groups launched campaigns to turn Congress and public opinion against them.

At the same time, these industry lobbying groups began fermenting hysteria over the growing “welfare state.”  The poor were poor, they argued, because anti-poverty programs make people dependent on government handouts while government regulations restrict the ability of companies to create jobs for those willing to work.  According to their narrative, government needed to spend more resources supporting commercial interests and deregulating markets.  President Reagan road these pro-business, anti-union, anti-government sentiments to the White House in 1980.

The success of the pro-business movement is evident.  In this past election Mitt Romney’s entire presidential campaign centered around the idea that business prosperity was key to growing jobs and the economy. The California Republican Party explicitly incorporates this thinking in their core beliefs:

“” each person is responsible for his or her own place in society. The Republican philosophy is based on limiting the intervention of government as a catalyst of individual prosperity” Republicans believe free enterprise has brought economic growth and innovations that have made this country great. Government should help stimulate a business environment where people are free to use their talents. “[California Rep Committee Philosophy http://cagop.org/inner.asp?z=585A]

In other words, it is the role of government to facilitate the business economy but each individual’s responsibility to avail themselves of the opportunities businesses provide.

The sufficiency of robust commerce to lift all boats isn’t just a conservative or partisan idea. It is expressed and pursued often by Democrats as well. In this last election even President Obama avoided talking about the poor by referring to them as “those aspiring to be middle class.”  There was almost no mention by either party of how they would accomplish this beyond trying to grow the economy.

So how well is our pro-business politics working out for the poor? This should be an empirical question that can be tested by examining the data. Are business interests and the interests of the poor perfectly aligned? Are there points of departure where the needs of some folks cannot be met without compromising some business interests?  Most importantly, does the data show that when businesses are doing well there are more jobs and better wages?

Profits, Employment and Wages 

Corporate profits are a measure of how well businesses are doing, so conventional wisdom would say wages and employment should rise and fall commensurate with corporate profits.    The hypothesis is that when companies do well there are more good paying jobs and therefore less poverty.  Is there evidence to the contrary?

In June of 2012, the St. Louis Federal Reserve released data showing a number of economic indicators over the last 71 years.  Using their report, the graph below plots corporate profits (CP) as a percentage of gross domestic product (GDP) from 1940 to 2011. GDP is total value of all the goods and services sold and a good measure our economy. The shaded areas represent periods of recession.  This graph shows that corporate profits rebounded since the 2007 recession and are at the highest level since 1940. The recession is clearly over for corporate America.

Corporate Profits to GDP by St. Louis Federal Reserve

Does it therefore hold true that robust corporate profits mean more jobs?  The next graph plots the number of employed Americans as a percentage of our population. This graph uses an employment per population percentage because the population doesn’t stop growing during recessions.  A fair comparison over time has to incorporate population growth for the same reason dollar comparisons over time have to factor in inflation.

Civilian Employment to Population Ratios by St. Louis Federal Reserve

This above graph shows that there are actually fewer people working today as a percentage of the population than at any time in the past thirty years. Last June, in an article related to this graphs, Business Insider magazine speculated that one reason corporations are so profitable is that they aren’t employing as many Americans.

Does it also hold true that robust corporate profits means better wages?  The next graph depicts the total amount of U.S. wages paid as a percentage of the value of all goods and services sold (GDP). It shows that wages are at an all-time low relative to the wealth being generated.  If jobless recoveries are one reason for record corporate profits, the decline in wages pictured in this next graph may be the other.

US Wages as a percentage of GDP by St. Louis Federal Reserve

It turns out that the null hypothesis is true.  Corporate profits are at a record high, employment and wages are at a record lows and the notion that what is good for business is good for people is false. The stock markets have recovered.  Corporate profits have recovered, but the financial well-being of families have declined. Median incomes are shrinking and prospects for the poor are increasingly dismal.

Are Measures of Business Competitiveness Compatible with the Interests of Individuals? 

When considering what factors make businesses more competitive it’s best to take a broad global view. A global survey of business competitiveness was recently conducted and released by the World Economic Forum. The study on global business competitiveness ranks 144 nations according to indicators grouped in 12 general categories.

Overall, the United States is very competitive, ranking 7th out of 144 countries. When you drill down in some of the 12 categories, however, you find indicators favorable for business that are clearly at odds with worker interests.  For example, In the area of “Labor Efficiency” the U.S. labor “redundancy” costs are low, which means it doesn’t cost as much here to fire employees.  This makes us more competitive (12th place) on this measure. This variable includes the estimated costs of providing advance layoff notices, severance payments any penalties that other countries might impose on employers for terminating “redundant” workers. The U.S. may be more competitive in this measure, but is this factor good for individual workers?  Does it reduce poverty?

The U.S. also did well (8th) when it comes to the ease of hiring and firing people. All of this makes for a “flexible” work force, which is good for business, but does it stabilize the workforce or encourage employers to try and weather out minor economic storms?

Are the states with the most competitive business environments doing better at lifting people out of poverty?

Every year for the past five years CNBC has scored all 50 states on 43 measures of business competitiveness.  This survey was developed with input from business groups including the National Association of Manufacturers and the Council on Competitiveness. States receive points based on their rankings in each factor and the factors are organized into broader categories. I was unable to locate a detailed list of factors within each category, but  CNBC has published general descriptions of each category. In the category of “Workforce” for instance, they indicate that the prevalence of unions in a state is a negative factor for business competitiveness, while lower costs of doing business is a positive factor. Among the factors creating low costs for doing business are lower tax rates and tax incentives or tax abatement for business.  The general category findings for each state are published.

The hypothesis, again, is that when companies are doing well there are more good paying jobs and less poverty.  So it follows that the states with the most competitive business environments should also be the states with the lowest rates of poverty.

To test this I used the CNBC business competitive findings to compare ten states with the highest poverty rates and ten states with the lowest poverty rates. The high poverty states, starting with the highest poverty rate, are Mississippi, Arkansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, New Mexico, West Firginia, Oklahoma, Texas, Alabama, and South Carolina. The ten states with the lowest rates of poverty, starting from the top, are New Hampshire, Mariland, Alaska, New Jersey, Hawaii, Connecticut, Wyoming, Utah, Minnesota and Massachusetts.  The results of this analysis are found in the table below.

State poverty levels and business competitiveness by Brian Lynch.  Business Competitiveness Rankings are from CNBC’s Top States for Business Special Report: ttp://www.cnbc.com/id/100000994 

It is striking that states with the highest poverty levels are also states that are more business competitive. The average rank in “Overall Business Competitiveness” for high poverty states is 7 points higher (more business friendly) than the rank for low poverty states.  In the “cost of business” category, high poverty states have an average rank of 18 versus 37 for low poverty states.  In the “workforce” category, which includes the prevalence of unions in a state, the high poverty states have an average rank of 20 versus 32 in low poverty states. 

Despite being “business friendly”, the ten high poverty states have over eight million poor citizens while the ten low poverty states have just over three million poor. There may be some political asymmetry as well since 7 out of 10 states with the high poverty rates have conservative Republican governors, while 6 out of 10 low poverty states have Democratic governors.


It is clear that pro-business politics, which puts commercial interests above the individual’s interests, isn’t working for the poor or for most Americans.  While a healthy economy is necessary for individual prosperity, it is clearly not sufficient.   What is best for business may be good for some, but not for all of our citizens.  There are certain business interests at odds with individual interests. Our political leaders need to acknowledge this when making policy.

The total dominance of pro-business politics has successfully crowded out meaningful debate on how to help the poor, the ranks of whom are swelling every year.  The poor are more marginalized and invisible than ever.  Almost no one speaks for them.  There is no hope for them in the more competitive business policies being proposed.  In fact, business prosperity is no longer well correlated with job growth or adequate pay, so plans to grow the economy ring hollow. The social contact that once pegged wage increases with increased productivity is broken. As a result, big business can flourish while the welfare of workers and the poor decline. This is unacceptable.

The ascendance of pro-business politics has given rise to commerce without conscience and too many ordinary citizens are being left behind.  We need to change the dialogue and strike a better balance.  We need to reclaim the role that government must play in meeting the needs of all our people.


Tragedy in Newtown and Our Changing Culture

The slaughter at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut has fundamentally altered the public debate on gun regulations. This change is long overdue.  Ultra-lethal guns are the instruments that make these acts so deadly.  Assault weapons and extra-lethal types of ammunition have no place in our communities. We must have meaningful gun regulations.

We can’t stop there.  The existence of assault weapons alone don’t explain these violent rages.  We concurrently need to strengthen our system of identifying and treating people with mental illness and anti-social conditions. And we need to do this without letting it distract us from pursuing better gun regulations. Effective mental health treatment is incredibly labor intensive. Building helping relationships with other human beings takes time and commitment. It is therefore also expensive.  Decades of budget contraction for mental health services has created a history of having to do more with less which has lead to service gaps and poor outcomes.

But we can’t stop there either. Significant weaknesses in our mental health systems don’t explain societies growing fascination with guns and violence or our loss of empathy towards “others”.  While we press for better gun regulations and improved mental health systems, we need to examine the social factors that are shifting our American cultural in a dangerous direction.

Identifying connections between shifting cultural attitudes and extremely rare events is difficult. Scientific methods are not suited to the study of rare events, yet connections between cultural shifts and extremely rare behaviors are no less real.

This last point is very important.  It is easy for those who oppose change to challenge the influence social factors might have on culture or to manipulate these factors for self-gain.  Whether we are speaking about violent content in video games or the proliferation of guns in American homes, the influence of each on culture is subtle and hard to measure.  We can easily see how being raised in a home where religious values are prominent effects development, but we don’t often consider how social development is influence in homes where deadly weapons are prominent features.  Additionally, it is always difficult to perceive cultural changes as they occur. To help explain why this is so a little though experiment might be helpful.

Start by picturing a normal “bell curve” depicting the aggressive tendencies of every person in the country.  The vast percentage of us would always fall within the normal rage.  The very middle of the bell curve is the median, or average value.  So in this case the middle represents people who have an average level of aggression.  But there are always a few extraordinarily passive or aggressive individuals at the far ends of the bell curve. Statistically, these are called outliers, but if we are plotting aggression, the furthest outliers on the aggressive end might represent those who commit mass murders.

Now, imagine that social conditions shift the national average in a more aggressive direction. The whole bell curve would move slightly in that direction.  Most people within the normal range wouldn’t notice the change.  Their own aggressive tendencies and those of everyone around them would be changing in unison. It’s difficult to perceive change when there is no fixed reference point. What everyone might start to notice, however, is what happens at the statistical extremes. As average levels of aggression increases in society, the frequency of rare acts of violence also increases.

To illustrate this last point, consider an analogy to climate change.  Suppose there was no scientific or public awareness of climate change or its impact on weather prior to Hurricane Katrina or super storm Sandy.  After these events the public might reasonably demand to know why such bad storms are becoming more frequent.  Answering that question by simply studying each storms would not be very fruitful. It could improve our knowledge of the particular weather patterns that produced each storms, but it wouldn’t answer the question of why these preconditions were happening so often.

Fortunately, scientists have been studying climate change for decades, so we know why super storms are becoming more frequent.  We also know how we can respond to this threat even though convincing those with conflicting interests is another matter. It sometimes takes a super storm to form a consensus for action.

The same logic holds true for trying to understand what happened in Newtown, Connecticut.  Studying what made Adam Lanza snap might be helpful from a mental health perspective, but it won’t explain the preconditions in his life.  The killing efficiency of his weapons helps explains why the shooting was so deadly, but it won’t explain why his mother and others are so drawn to deadly weapons. It is our changing attitudes towards guns and violence that we must understand. The study of cultural change is far less advanced than the study of climate change, so we are ill prepared for the challenge.  This needs to change.  In fact, it is clear that we all need to change if we ever hope to end the rash of senseless violence in America.

A Simple Guide to American Capitalism

  • Give a starving man a fish and you’re a sucker. 
  • Teach a starving man how to fish and you’re a socialist. 
  • Sell a fish to a starving man for profit and you’re a capitalist. 
  • Tax a starving man for the fish he catches and you’re the government. 
  • Buy the lake, sell off all the fish in it for a quick profit and you’re a “private equity” capitalist (What man? I didn’t see a man!).   
  • Rent the lake for $1 from the Department of the Interior, sell all the fish in it to an international fish cartel that sells a fish back to a man for more than he can pay and you’re a petro-capitalist. 
  • Stock the lake with GM “franken-fish”, then sue a man when he accidentally catches one and you’re an agro-capitalist. 
  • Ignore a man trying to fish, pump all the lake water into plastic bottles, sell it by the case and you are a “Nestles” capitalist. 
  • Buy up all the shoreline around the lake, sell dock space through an owners association to a man so he can fish and you are a real-estate capitalist. 
  • Buy up the prettiest shoreline, sell fancy dock space to a man, charge him to fish from his fancy dock space and you’re a time-share capitalist. 
  • Buy and sell a man’s fish before he catches it (call it “fish futures”) and you’re a commodities trader.  
  • Sell insurance policies (call it “swaps”) to those who buy “fish futures” so they make money even if a man’s fish are tainted and you’re a hedge fund manager. 
  • Bundle a man’s tainted fish into “fish-backed” securities, disguise the smell, sell the bundles to pension fund managers, invest heavily in “swaps” payable to you when  everyone discovers the fish are bad and you are WALL $TREET.
http://www.DataDrivenViewpoints.com: Original post: January 10, 2012
Permission to reprint is hereby granted – Brian T. Lynch

Voting Rights, a State by State Analysis

What voting rights do you have in your state? 

This is an uncommon question.  We mostly assume that voting rights are contained somewhere in the US Constitution, but this isn’t true.  What the Federal Constitution does say, in several different amendments, is that states cannot use race, religion, gender or the age of anyone 18 years old or older as a means to disqualify a US citizen from voting.  The actual right of suffrage, or the “franchise” as the election process is sometimes called, isn’t a federal right at all. Elections and the voting process are the purview of each sovereign state.

There is a table below which lists the basic voting rights spelled out in our state constitutions.  You will see how voting rights differ significantly from one state to the next.  Before reviewing the table, however, it is important to acknowledge that most states honor a host of voting “rights” and privileges beyond what is articulated in the constitutions. These unarticulated voting rights are often expression in state chapter laws or in the states voting procedures.  

Many of us have come to view voting rights as “unalienable”, but they are not.   Unlike explicit constitutional language, laws passed by legislatures and voting procedures established by the state executive branches of government can be changed or reinterpreted in novel ways. When elections run smoothly no questions are raised.  But should something ever go unexpectedly wrong we need explicit state constitutional protections to redress our grievances. A discussion of each basic voting right contained in the table below will follows, along with a table that summarizes how common these rights are in America. 


Basic Voting Right Articulated in State Constitutions


RIGHT TO HAVE EVERY VOTE COUNTED –  The first voting right listed on the table above is the right to have every vote counted. California is the only state that has this protection in their constitution. This right may seem obvious or unnecessary at first,  but there are documented instances where absentee ballots have gone missing and uncounted.  One example took place back in 2008 in Santa Fe, New Mexico, when garbage bags believed to contain missing ballots were impounded by police but not opened because it was unclear if the missing ballots had to be counted.  This right, then, isn’t about hanging chads or undecipherable ballots, but about the obvious expectation that ballots properly cast are ballots properly counted, even if doing so doesn’t change who won. 

GENERAL RIGHT OF SUFFRAGE –  Many state constitutions have high sounding language about how all power is derived by the people, but only 9 state go on to guarantee the right of suffrage.  Suffrage, according to Wikipedia, is the civil right to vote gained through the democratic process, It is the political franchise, or simply the franchise, which is distinct from mere voting rights. A  right of suffrage forecloses the possibility of a state one day declaring a state of emergency and suspending elections.  This is a seemingly remote possibility, but not so remote that 9 states have included this protection in their constitution. 

RIGHT TO FREE AND FAIR ELECTIONS – “In any State the authority of the government can only derive from the will of the people as expressed in genuine, free and fair elections held at regular intervals on the basis of universal, equal and secret suffrage.”  So said the Inter-Parliamentary Council at its 154th session in Paris26 March, 1994.  Here in the US, the State Department was actually very helpful in sharing their view on Free and Fair Elections with nations whose democracies are less advance than our own.  They provide the following guidelines:   

Free and fair elections require:

— Universal suffrage for all eligible men and women to vote – democracies do not restrict this right from minorities, the disabled, or give it only to those who are literate or who own property

— Freedom to register as a voter or run for public office.

— Freedom of speech for candidates and political parties – democracies do not restrict candidates or political parties from criticizing the performance of the incumbent.
— Numerous opportunities for the electorate to receive objective information from a free press.
— Freedom to assemble for political rallies and campaigns.
— Rules that require party representatives to maintain a distance from polling places on election day – election officials, volunteer poll workers, and international monitors may assist voters with the voting process but not the voting choice.
— An impartial or balanced system of conducting elections and verifying election results – trained election officials must either be politically independent or those overseeing elections should be representative of the parties in the election.
— Accessible polling places, private voting space, secure ballot boxes, and transparent ballot counting.
— Secret ballots – voting by secret ballot ensures that an individual’s choice of party or candidate cannot be used against him or her.
— Legal prohibitions against election fraud – enforceable laws must exist to prevent vote tampering (e.g. double counting, ghost voting).
— Recount and contestation procedures – legal mechanisms and processes to review election processes must be established to ensure that elections were conducted properly.


Many of our soverign states could learn a lot from what the State Department has been preaching abroad. Only 44% of Americans can claim Free and Fair Elections as a constitutional protection in their state. It is ironic that the government Website from which the above information comes contains the following disclaimer: 

NOTE: The America.gov website is no longer being updated.


RIGHT TO VOTE BY BALLOT – There are many ways to vote if you think about it.  You can have a show of hands.  You can call for the yeas and nays and judge the outcome by the volume of shouts.  You can even draw straws.  Ballots, on the other hands are unique to each voter, often secret and never shared by more than one voter. They are usually pre-printed paper, but increasing voting is by electronic ballot.  This is a pre-programmed selection on an electronic device.  Hopefully the results aren’t also pre-programmed (see Blackboxvoting.org for much more on this scary thought)  Originally, voting was conducted using black or white balls, black being no and white being yes.  The voter would pick up the ball of his choice and drop it into a container (or ball lot?).  An important point about ballots is that they can be secret, unlike other methods.  Voting by ballot is a protection found in 26 of 50 state constitutions.

RIGHT TO SECRET VOTING –  The secrecy of our vote is among our most cherished rights, except it isn’t a right at all for more than 146 million American citizens, or at least it isn’t a constitutional right.  Secret voting is essential to assure that how we vote can never be used against us, yet only 21 states have explicit constitutional language to guarantee secrecy in voting.  Several other states guarantee the right to vote in private, but that’s not quite the same thing, is it?


RIGHT TO PUBLIC VOTE COUNTING – Stalin has been credited with saying, “The people who cast the votes decide nothing. The people who count the votes decide everything”.  This speaks volumes for both the right to have our vote counted and the necessity to have all vote counting conducted in public view.  This is especially true when ballots are cast is secret or when they are electronically invisible.  Public vote counting is even more important as we rely more and more on private corporations to count our electronic ballots.  They claim that the software they use to count or votes is so proprietary that even state election officials are not allowed to peek.  Coupled with a trend among election officials to view with suspicion any voter who wants to observe the process, it is shocking that only 3 states constitutionally protect this essential right.

FREQUENCY OF ELECTIONS –  It is one thing to guarantee that the government will hold elections and another thing to actually schedule them.  Ask anyone from a parliamentary democracy about this and how it can be manipulated to benefit incumbents.  Perhaps more to the point there should be a performance standard by which to judge whether we have a right to suffrage.  That standard for 15 states is some clear constitutional language about when, or how often elections are to be held.  While 100% of Americans know when to expect their elections, only 30% of them have this guarantee in writing. 


PRIVILEGE FROM ARREST AND EXCEPTIONS –  Imagine yourself heading out to perform your civic duty on election day.  You show up to vote and notice a police presence out front.  Maybe you have some outstanding parking tickets or a warrant for not paying child support.  Maybe you missed a municipal court date on some trivial matter.  Do you walk past the police and risk arrest, or do you give up your vote to right out of fear of being arrested?  This is the predicament that a privilege from arrest is designed to resolve.  Unless your crimes are so felonious or treasonous, or unless you cause a public disturbance at the polling site, a  privilege from arrest while going to, coming from or being at the polling place is constitutionally

guaranteed in 21 states.  It should be all 50 states because this scenario is all too common.  We should not see a police presence at or near the polling places.  We are all presumed innocent unless actually convicted of an offense.  No law enforcement authority should prevent anyone from exercising their right to vote.  The absence of this constitutional privilege can have a disproportional impact on minorities and the poor, yet only a third of our citizens are covered by this protection. 


RIGHT TO ACCESSIBLE POLLING PLACES –  “… polling places shall be easily accessible to all persons including disabled and elderly persons who are otherwise qualified to vote,” says the New Hampshire State Constitution.   Is this right necessary?  After all, don’t we have the Americans with Disabilities Act?  Yes we do, but does the Americans with Disabilities Act strictly apply?  It’s an open question.  More broadly, do we have a right to expect adequate polling places and voting machines in every community without undo commutation hardships or excessively long lines?  We could do better.  Only New Hampshire has this provision but something more broadly stated would be a good idea for every state constitution.

 Here now is a summary of findings regarding state constitutional voter rights:



Number of States With This Right

Percent of US Population WithThis Right




Right to Have Every Vote Counted



General Right of Suffrage



Right to Free and Fair Election



Right to voting by ballot



Right to secret vote



Right to Public Vote Counting



Frequency of Elections Right



Privilege from Arrest during voting



Privilege from Arrest Exceptions



Right to accessible polling place




Number of States With This Right

Percent of US Population WithThis Right




Must be A US Citizen



Must be Registered to vote



State’s Deployed Solders Can Vote



Felony Exception



Treason Exception



Incarceration Exception



Mental Capacity Exception



Moral Conduct or other Exception



Restoration from Exception



No quartered solders



Right to Appeal Voter Ineligibility



Can a Convicted Felon Vote? And other voting oddities…

Voting rights in America are mostly defined by state constitutions, not our federal Constitution.  A look at all 50 state constitutions finds considerable variation from state to state as to which voting rights are actually protected by explicit constitutional language. All state constitutions include some language which specifies which individuals can and cannot vote.  For example, 49 states say you must be a citizen to vote and 46 states require citizens to be registered before voting. On the other hand, only 20 states constitutionally guarantee that their residents in US military service retain a right to vote in their state when deployed elsewhere.  The other 30 states may well have statues that grant this privilege to solders, but the right isn’t locked into their state constitutions.  Below is a table which shows how common various voter qualification and disqualifications are in the state constitutions.  The article is just another example of how confused we American’s are when it comes to our voting rights.

Number of States WithThis Right
Percent of US Population With ThisRight
Must be A US Citizen
Must be Registered to vote
State’s Deployed Solders Can Vote
Felony Exception
Treason Exception
Incarceration Exception
Mental Capacity Exception
Moral Conduct or other Exception
Restoration from Exception
No quartered solders
Right to Appeal Voter Ineligibility
The greatest variation among state constitutions involves voter disqualifications.  Thirty-seven states don’t allow felons to vote and twelve states also include treason as a voter disqualification, but there are differences in how broadly or narrowly these exceptions are defined.  In Alabama, for example, the Constitution states that a person cannot vote if they have been convicted of a felony “involving moral turpitude.”  Next door In Mississippi, a person who, “has never been convicted of murder, rape, bribery, theft, arson, obtaining money or goods under false pretense, perjury, forgery, embezzlement or bigamy” may vote.  Some state simply state felons can vote and leave it to the legislature to define what this means.  Other states constitutions give their legislature the right to define voter disqualifications, such as in Ohio’s state constitution, which states, “The General Assembly shall have power to exclude
from the privilege of voting, or of being eligible to office, any person convicted of a felony.”
In thirteen states the loss of voting rights for felons extends only while they are incarcerated or on parole.  Another twenty-three states have some language regarding the reinstatement of voting to felons (or those found to be mentally incompetent).  In some cases the restoration process is simple, or unspecified while in other state the bar is very high.  In Massachusetts a convicted felon cannot vote only while incarcerated while in Louisiana the voting rights of a convicted felon can only be restored by a Governor’s a pardon.
There is a great deal of confusion about voting rights because our national dialog tends to gloss over the differences between states.  This confusion apparently  even carries over to discussions of voter rights within a state, as the article below demonstrates.
The author’s intent is to clear up misconceptions about Indiana’s voting rights for those with felony convictions.  In doing so the article actually reinforces some common misconceptions.  In discussing a felon’s right to vote the author implies that the Bill of Rights and the US Constitution somehow apply.  The US Constitution is actually silent on this category of voter disqualification. The US Constitution doesn’t apply here.  Secondly, the article doesn’t make clear  what the Indiana Constitution actually says, which is, “The General Assembly shall have power to deprive of the right of suffrage, and to render ineligible, any person convicted of an infamous crime.”  Instead, readers are told that, “Indiana law restores a person’s right to vote after he or she is no longer incarcerated.”  This may be so, but this isn’t a state constitutional guarantee.  The people of Indianarely on the beneficence of their legislature in granting that privilege.  Nevertheless, the article below reflects the widespread misconceptions about our voting rights.  At some point America should address the larger question of why anyone not actually under state control in a prison should be denied a right to vote.

Felons’ voting rights restored
Gilbert Holmes

Recently, I took it upon myself to conduct an unscientific poll.

I’ve asked colleagues, political activists and friends whether a Hoosier convicted of a felony can vote.

Most said no, and others were uncertain.

That tells me that it’s likely that the majority of Hoosiers are under the impression that if you’ve committed a felony, when it comes to voting it’s one strike and you’re out.

That mistaken impression has led to thousands of disenfranchised voters in Indiana who think that because they’ve been incarcerated, they can no longer take advantage of the voting rights guaranteed them by the Bill of Rights and the U.S. Constitution.

This de facto voter disenfranchisement ripples across generations and communities, creating entire classes of people who don’t exercise their right to vote.

Indiana law restores a person’s right to vote after he or she is no longer incarcerated.

One reason it’s so common to think that former felons are permanently barred from voting is that 35 states have stricter voting restrictions than Indiana for felons, and in 13 of those states, a felon can permanently lose the right to vote.

But in Indiana, the loss of suffrage applies only during the actual time of incarceration.

Why should you care? People who vote are more likely to volunteer, give to charities and attend school board meetings.

Former felons who vote are less likely to be rearrested, because voting helps people connect and become part of something positive.

The disproportionate number of blacks affected by voter disenfranchisement, more than 1.5 million across the nation, is an even more stunning number when you consider that one in every 15 black men age 18 and older is incarcerated, and the zero-tolerance policies in our schools have created a pipeline straight to prison for many black teenage dropouts in our communities.

When such a large portion of the community is locked in the criminal justice system, you can be sure their interests are not represented either at the polls or in the halls of power.

If you’re a felon, and you’re no longer incarcerated, you have the right to vote.

If you’re on probation, or on parole, you have the right to vote. If you’re placed in a community corrections program, or subject to home detention, under Indiana

law, you still have the right to vote. Voting is a constitutional right, and it’s one all Hoosiers should be proud to exercise.

Gilbert Holmes is executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Indiana. He wrote this for Indiananewspapers.

Evidence That Juvenile Jails Don’t Work

What follows  is important information needed to understand our juvenile justice system and how it is failing us in many ways.  The evidence suggests that jailing juveniles doesn’t rehabilitate and appears to cause more harm than good.  This was originally posted earlier this year, but in light of renewed discussions on how to curb violence in America, a review of our Juvenile Justice system is appropriate.

No Place for Kids: The Case for Reducing Juvenile Incarceration

The Annie E. Casey Foundation’s new report, No Place for Kids: The Case for Reducing Juvenile Incarceration assembles a vast array of evidence to demonstrate that incarcerating kids doesn’t work: Youth prisons do not reduce future offending, they waste taxpayer dollars, and they frequently expose youth to dangerous and abusive conditions. The report also shows that many states have substantially reduced their juvenile correctional facility populations in recent years, and it finds that these states have seen no resulting increase in juvenile crime or violence. Finally, the report highlights successful reform efforts from several states and provides recommendations for how states can reduce juvenile incarceration rates and redesign their juvenile correction systems to better serve young people and the public.


State-level data:


Download the Map of Recurring Maltreatment in Juvenile Correctional Facilities in the U.S. (2.17 KB)

How Public Schools Came to Be and the Fight to Dismantle Them

Publicly funded local schools are a universally accepted social norm.  Abandoning them would be almost unthinkable.  When we stop to consider what we value in our  communities, local public schools are almost always a top consideration and a source of civic pride.

This isn’t just true in the United States.  Publicly funded education has become a global norm in all advanced societies for nearly century.  But a hundred years isn’t very long in the sweeping arch of history, is it?  Public schooling has fundamentally altered American society, yet few of us can recount how this radical change came about.  How did public schools come to be?

The fight to establish public schools is almost lost history.  There is very little content or comment about it on the Web or in our public media.  What we do hear lately are a great many lively debates about burdensome public school taxes, failing schools, voucher programs, charter schools, and making public funds more available for private schools and colleges.  Lost to our comprehension in these debates is how these arguments follow the exact fault lines in what was an incredibly contentious battle, waged over the course of a generation, to establish public schooling. The political struggle for public education has been compared as second only to the fight for the abolition of slavery in its intensity and divisiveness, but who remembers any of that today?

The battle to undo public education is already underway.  If we fail to grasp the fact it is because we have no historical context to recognize the attacks for what they are.  If we hope to retain and strengthen our system of public education in America, we need to place the current arguments against it in historical context.  We need to reclaim our history.

To this purpose I recommend a book copyrighted in 1919 by Ellwood P. Chubberly entitled, “Public Education in the United States, A Study and Interpretation of American Educational History.”  It is a text book, long out of print, but the entire book can be downloaded or read on line.  Much of the book is obviously dated, but the early chapters on the history of public education provide the valuable context we need to understand the political arguments today.

Of particular interest to our purpose here is Chapter V., “TheThe Battle for Free State Schools”, beginning on page 118.  Read this chapter first for some quick insights.  Below is the full URL addresses and links to the book and its Table of Contents.


Full URL Addresses:




Table of Content


Mental Health Screening in Schools – In the Wake of Newtown

The horror of the mass killings of six faculty and twenty Sandy Hook Elementary School children is still painfully fresh, but it isn’t too soon to begin thinking about what needs to change to try and prevent this from happening again somewhere else.  Much of the discussion following this tragedy will rightly focus on adopting some sensible gun regulations.  But there are other areas that we need to focus on as well because our propensity for social violence is a broad and multifaceted problem.  Our mental health system is another important area to address.  Particularly with respect to children, our ability to identify and treat behavioral problems and mental illness needs to be strengthened.  One aspect of this involves early mental health screenings.  What follows here is a brief and partial list of articles, studies and references on the topic.    It’s not too soon to start educating ourselves.

American academy of pediatrics



Summary: The purpose of Health, Mental Health and Safety Guidelines for Schools is to help those who influence the health and safety of students and school staff while they are in school, on school grounds, on their way to or from school, and involved in school-sponsored activities. The guidelines recognize that the primary mission of schools is to educate students. Schools also have a responsibility for students’ health and safety while they are at school. By addressing health, mental health, and safety issues (including transportation and motor vehicle safety), schools can improve students’ academic performance today and contribute to their increased longevity and productivity long after they leave school.

Excerpt: Early identification of students with, or at risk for, transient or on-going mental disorders, followed by early intervention can mitigate the severity and duration of these problems and reduce personal, social, educational, and financial costs to the student and family and the educational and health systems. Up to three-quarters of U.S. children receiving professional care for a mental health problem obtained services through a school-based program.

Citations: Suggested citation, prior to written publication:
Taras H, Duncan P, Luckenbill D, Robinson J, Wheeler L, Wooley S: Health, Mental Health and Safety Guidelines for Schools. (2004); Available at http://www.schoolhealth.org 

Mental Health Screening in Schools


Summary: This article discusses the importance of screening students in

schools for emotional/behavioral problems.  Elements relevant to planning and implementing effective mental health screening in schools are considered. Screening in schools is linked to a broader national agenda to improve the mental health of children and adolescents. Strategies for systematic planning for mental health screening in schools are presented. Careful planning and implementation of mental

health screening in schools offers a number of benefits including enhancing outreach

and help to youth in need, and mobilizing school and community efforts to promote

student mental health while reducing barriers to their learning. When implemented with appropriate family, school, and community involvement, mental health screening in schools has the potential to be a cornerstone of a transformed mental health system.

Excerpt: “Youth with internalizing disorders such as depression, anxiety, or suicide ideation are not as easily identified as those with acting-out or externalizing disorders. Individuals with internalizing conditions comprise a significant population; the 2003 Youth Risk Behavior Survey, a nationally representative sample of more than 15,000 high school students throughout the United States, found that in the 12-month period preceding the survey, 16.9% had seriously considered attempting suicide, 16.5% had

made a plan for attempting suicide, 8.5% had attempted suicide 1 or more times, and 2.9% had made an attempt requiring medical attention.

Citation: Weist MD, Rubin M, Moore E, Adelsheim S, Wrobel G. Mental health

screening in schools. J Sch Health. 2007; 77: 53-58.

Screening Mental Health Problems in Schools


Summary:  This brief highlights the following issues:

• How appropriate is large-scale screening for mental health problems?

• Will the costs of large-scale mental health screening programs

outweigh the benefits?

• Are schools an appropriate venue for large-scale screening of mental

health problems?


• Advocates for large-scale MH screening in schools see major benefits to individuals and

society of finding many more students with problems in order to treat them before the

problems become severe. In citing benefits for screening children and adolescents, the

assumption is that those identified will receive effective treatments. Based on this

assumption, key benefits claimed are preventing problems from becoming worse and

enhancing student success at school, which generates other benefits for students, their

families, and their teachers and for the society in terms of future productivity and which

reduces costs because there is less need for intensive treatments and special education.

In citing benefits for using schools as a venue for public health programs, as compared to

other community venues, matters of ready access and reduced costs are stressed, as well

as the benefits to schools of having students with problems treated.

• Those who oppose large-scale screening raise a host of concerns (i.e., potential costs). For some, there is a fundamental fear that society will mandate such screening and thereby interfere with what should remain a personal family matter and will violate rights to privacy,  consent, and parental control. Others are concerned that screening will increase referrals for nonexistent treatment resources and that the dollars budgeted for screening will reduce the dollars allocated for treatment. Still others point to the evidence that available screening methods used in schools produce too many errors (e.g., false positive identifications, inappropriate over-identification of subgroups such as some ethnic groups and boys with externalizing problems and girls with internalizing problems). Relatedly, they argue there will be insufficient follow-up assessment resources to correct for false positive identifications.  And, some argue there are significant costs resulting from selffulfilling prophecies and stigmatization.

In arguing against using schools, there is the social philosophical argument that mental

health is one of those matters that should remain a domain for family, not school,

intervention. More pragmatically, it is argued that scarce school time and resources should not be used for matters not directly related to teaching. Others point to the lack of enough competent school personnel to plan, implement, and evaluate large-scale screening.

Examples of documents covering the issues:

Screening Aimed at Preventing Youth Suicide (2005)

by Ellie Ashford for the National School Board Association’s School Board News

http://www.nsba.org/site/print.asp?TRACKID=&VID=55&ACTION=PRINT&CID=682&DID=36189  Provides a quick overview for school boards of some of the controversies and places them in the context of current events.

Screening for Depression: Recommendations and Rationale (2002)

by U.S. Preventive Services Task Force for Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality

http://www.ahrq.gov/clinic/3rduspstf/depressrr.htm  and

Screening for Suicide Risk: Recommendation and Rationale (2004)

by U.S. Preventive Services Task Force for Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality



Citation: The Center is co-directed by Howard Adelman and Linda Taylor and operates

under the auspices of the School Mental Health Project, Dept. of Psychology, UCLA,

Write: Center for Mental Health in Schools, Box 951563, Los Angeles, CA90095-1563

Phone: (310) 825-3634     Fax: (310) 206-5895    Toll Free: (866) 846-4843

email: smhp@ucla.edu website: http://smhp.psych.ucla.edu

Mental health screening in schools


Summary: This article discusses the importance of screening students in schools for emotional/behavioral problems. Elements relevant to planning and implementing effective mental health screening in schools are considered. Screening in schools is linked to a broader national agenda to improve the mental health of children and adolescents. Strategies for systematic planning for mental health screening in schools are presented.

Excerpt: When implemented with appropriate family, school, and community involvement, mental health screening in schools has the potential to be a cornerstone of a transformed mental health system. Screening, as part of a coordinated and comprehensive school mental health program, complements the mission of schools, identifies youth in need, links them to effective services, and contributes to positive educational outcomes valued by families, schools, and communities.

Citations:  Weist MDRubin MMoore EAdelsheim SWrobel G.

Division of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, Center for School Mental Health Analysis and Action, University of Maryland School of Medicine, Baltimore, MD 21201, USA. mweist@psych.umaryland.edu


Study pushes early identification of kids’ mental health problems


Lisa Chedekel, Conn. Health I-Team Writer

Publication: theday.com

Published 09/14/2012 12:00 AM

Updated 09/15/2012 12:13 AM

Josue, 15, was born to a 12‐year‐old mother. Exposed to domestic violence and abuse, he struggled in school early on and received a special education evaluation in Grade 4 that found weaknesses in reading, math and writing.

By 13, he had been diagnosed with symptoms of bipolar disorder, depression, learning disabilities and attention deficit disorder. Yet, he started high school with limited support services and ended up suspended from school and referred to the juvenile justice system.


“Red flags for mental and behavioral health problems are often clear before the end of second grade,” said Andrea Spencer, educational consultant to the Center and dean of the School of Education at PaceUniversity, whose work was funded with a grant from the Connecticut Health Foundation. “It is imperative that we improve screening and identification, so support for these children can be provided before their academic careers are at risk.”

Please go to the above URL address to continue reading.

Gun Homicide Rate 22 Times Higher Than Other Advanced Nations

The following was just published in October.  Given the events of yesterday it is worth going back to read this again.  Clearly we need to reconsider some sensible changes to our gun laws to keep them out of the hands of people who are emotionally unstable, domestic abusers and criminals.  We should also have a national law against gun trafficking (crazy that we don’t).

From: John Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health

October 25, 2012

Restricting High-Risk Individuals from Owning Guns Saves Lives

On July 20, a gunman in Aurora, Colorado, used an assault rifle to murder 12 people and wound 58 others. Although this was one of the worst mass shootings in U.S. history, all mass shootings account for a small percentage of gun violence that occurs in the U.S. every day. In the past 100 days since the Aurora shooting, an estimated 3,035 Americans have died as a result of gun violence.

new report by researchers at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health examines policies and initiatives for reducing gun violence in the U.S. by reforming current gun policies. The report, a synthesis of prior research and analysis conducted by researchers with the Johns Hopkins Center for Gun Policy and Research, includes the following key findings:

  • Easy access to firearms with large-capacity magazines facilitates higher casualties in mass shootings.
  • “Right-to-carry” gun laws do not reduce violent crime.
  • Prohibiting high-risk groups from having guns–criminals, perpetrators of domestic violence, youths under age 21, substance abusers, and those with severe mental illnesses–and closing loopholes that enable them to have guns are integral and politically feasible steps to reduce gun violence. 

Please go to the new report (above) or the full News Release.

Another Dark Day Passing

I am sick, and angry and so sad all at once.   The news of the shootings at Sandy Hook school in Newtown, Connecticut, is deeply disturbing.  Twenty little children murdered.  My heart breaks for the parents whose children won’t be there for Christmas, for the families of the faculty who died in service to their community and to every person who must bear the burden of what they witnessed in Newtown today.  This moment is reserved for those most devastated by the tragedy.   The rest of us can only imagine joining with them in their grief and profound loss. 

But when these days of mourning are over, and a time for sober reflection emerges, don’t let our insane national gun control dialogue crowd out all the other important areas to which our attention must turn:  Our failing  mental health systems;  cyber violence and violence in our entertainment media;  child abuse and neglect;  bullying;  aggressive models for  problem solving and the unrestrained hostility in our very public  discourse.  There is, unfortunately, always a smoking gun in mass shootings but there is never a single direction to look for answers.  If we can muster the patience, the  persistence and the discipline to look both broadly and deeply into our propensity for violence we may come away with a better understanding of how to change.  Let this be the legacy of the children we lost today in Newtown.