U. S. elections are notable for the wealthy elite paying out hundreds of millions of dollars to support candidates of both major political parties. Additionally, presidential elections have been marked by low voter turn-out. In 2008, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, only 63.6 percent of the voting age population actually voted.

Low income directly correlates with reduced likelihood of voting. The 67.4 percent of registered voters who cast ballots that year earned the United States a 55th place ranking among 86 nations surveyed.

Many have good reason not to vote.

Candidates end up sowing confusion, division, and fears rather than deal with people’s serious problems, which, as long as they are neglected, undermine human survival and basic rights. Below we note a few recent news reports and analyses in order to highlight the gap between candidates’ words and tasks at hand. Issues crop up that ought to be agenda items in future struggle. They include:

U. S. women’s life expectancy is falling.

The journal "Health Affairs" in August reported that, "In 2008 white US men and women with 16 years or more of schooling had life expectancies far greater than black Americans with fewer than 12 years of education—14.2 years more for white men than black men, and 10.3 years more for white women than black women."

Data say it’s not just race. "We found that in 2008 US adult men and women [black and white] with fewer than twelve years of education had life expectancies not much better than those of all adults in the 1950s and 1960s." Life expectancy for white women not graduating from high school dropped from 78 years in 1980 to 74 years in 2008; that for white men dropped three years.

Yet college – educated white women lived more than three years longer than they did in 1990. The authors point out that 43 percent of undereducated white women dying early had no health insurance. They say: "Education and its socioeconomic status correlates are associated with lifelong health and survival outcomes that transcend the independent effects of race." By 2010, the United States placed 41st place in worldwide rankings for female life expectancy.

Education, for some children, is written off.

A study released September 19 by the UCLA Civil Rights Project shows that, despite the Supreme Court’s desegregation decision in the 1954 Brown v. Board of Education case, public schools remain sharply divided by race and students’ economic circumstances: "80% of Latino students and 74% of black students attend majority nonwhite schools (50-100% minority), and 43% of Latinos and 38% of blacks attend intensely segregated schools (those with only 0-10% of whites students) …Fully 15% of black students, and 14% of Latino students, attend ‘apartheid schools’ where whites make up 0 to 1% of the enrollment."

The researchers say, "Most students who do graduate from schools segregated by race and poverty lack the skills needed for college success." Warning of a return to "separate but equal" schools of the pre-civil rights, they add that "Segregated black and Latino schools are, in the great majority of cases, segregated by poverty as well as race or ethnicity."

Prisons are used to enforce racial divisions.

Historian Avi Chomsky was interviewed recently in Montevideo, Uruguay (the transcript having been translated into English.) She observed that, "Marginalization of the black community has worsened…The United States claims 25 percent of the world’s prisoners, yet accounts for only five percent of the world population…Almost 2.4 million persons are in prisons and another five million are sentenced to probation or conditional liberty. Of the total, 40 percent are African-American and 20 percent Latino despite these groups accounting for only 12 and 16 percent of the population, respectively." 

She explains: "The justice system uses "war on drugs" as its principal tool for continuing discrimination. In 2005, for every five detentions for drugs, four were for possession, one was for selling. Of those imprisoned, eight of ten were black… In less than three decades the prison population grew by a factor of eight, mainly through increased penalties relating to drug use…. While studies show that U. S. people of varying races consume illegal drugs in proportion to their population share, black imprisonment rates for drug crimes are forty times those for whites."

Students are fair game.

On September 8, 2012 New York Times reporter Andrew Martin observed that that almost 6 million people nationwide have fallen at least 12 months behind in making payments on government backed student loans. "In all, nearly one in every six borrowers with a loan balance is in default. The amount of defaulted loans — $76 billion — is greater than the yearly tuition bill for all students at public two- and four-year colleges and universities…In an attempt to recover money on the defaulted loans, the Education Department paid more than $1.4 billion last fiscal year to collection agencies and other groups to hunt down defaulters."

He explains: "Unlike private lenders, the federal government has extraordinary tools for collection that it has extended to the collection firms. [They include] tax refunds seized, and … paychecks or Social Security payments garnisheed. Over all, the government recoups about 80 cents for every dollar that goes into default [while] most lenders are lucky to recover 20 cents on the dollar on defaulted credit cards…Student loans have become a silver lining for the debt collection industry."

Industrial agriculture "heats the climate."

Silvia Ribeiro recently accused multinational corporations of endangering the future of humanity. The social ecologist writing for Spanish language websites showed how agri-business conglomerates promote carbon emissions leading to climate change. According to Ribeiro, "Deforestation and changed soil use causes up to 20 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions (GGE). From 70 to 90 percent of that, however, comes from the expanding agricultural frontier which involves invasion of savannas, grasslands, forests, and wetlands so that trans-nationals can produce monoculture commodities like soy, sugar cane, palm oil, industrial corn, and canola.

Therefore, between 15 and 18 percent of the emissions assigned to deforestation really belong to the agro-industrial system." He blames the "huge transportation network by which the food – producing system transferring harvests to centralized depots, processing centers, distribution points, and stores" for 5-6 percent of greenhouse gases. In addition, "the food processing and packing industries account for [another] 8-10 percent; energy required for refrigeration, 1-2 percent; and big stores, 1-2 percent.

Ribeiro points out that "this industrialized form of production, distribution, and consumption [leads to] gigantic food waste." Half the food produced is thrown out, he says, and most of it decomposes in giant trash deposits that account for 3-5 percent of total global emissions of which 90 percent derives from rotting food. The author concludes: "the industrial system accounts for between 44-57 percent of emissions provoking climate change. Stories like these passing by in silence tell of dreadful situations. The already victimized are hit with insults cutting off any realistic hopes for their future.

Capitalists – foxes in the henhouse – have no notion of making things right.

According to their job description, greed is accepted; accumulation, honored; and capitalism, equated with democracy. Prospects for the poor, marginalized, and oppressed are slim unless assumptions like these lose their sway.

The need is for a new political movement, one that fights on behalf of working people for the sake of rescue now and, eventually, basic change. The first task is to insert the idea of an alternative to capitalism into political contention.

That would entail political education, agitation, fight over emblematic causes, and electoral participation. The mere presence of an alternative would be as useful now as labor and left organizing was in the 1930’s when reactionaries were persuaded to accept the New Deal as a lesser evil than revolution.

Likewise, the U.S. civil rights movement discovered that international media attention to socialist countries’ practice of racial equality served as a useful tool for corralling U.S. government leaders leery of enemies gaining propaganda advantage.

November 5, 2012