Blog postings by CEPR staff and updates on the latest briefings and activities at the Center for Economic and Policy Research.

As Paul Krugman might say. the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget (CRFB) is very, very confused.

At issue is this chart.  What this figure presents are two policy choices (among many).  One choice is to extend the tax cuts for upper-income taxpayers and cut Social Security benefits.  Another possibility is to let those upper-income tax cuts expire as specified under current law, and fully fund Social Security.  What we find is that with either option, the national debt in 2085 is the same.

The CRFB argues that although present-value calculations "are an important way to measure out fiscal obligations" it must be that "cash flow matters too."  In other words, even if we do get to exactly the same level of debt in 2085, it matters how we get there.  If we choose to extend the tax cuts and cut Social Security, for example, we will have higher levels of debt every year for the next 75 years, but the difference will slowly shrink back to zero.

It may certainly be preferable to have higher debt today and pay later when the economy is much more productive and workers have much higher incomes than they do currently.  But even 75 years down the road, few workers will make the equivalent of $200,000 this year.  According to the projections of the Social Security Trustees, the average worker will earn a little more than $105,000 per year in 2085 compared to $43,000 today.  This means someone earning almost twice the average in 75 years (and getting a cut in benefits) will have income less than those who would get tax cuts next year. Add a comment

Expanding on David's last post about the Heritage Foundation's newfound interest in family leave, it's also worth noting that Heritage's claim that "for the vast majority [sic] married moms, the workplace is not the top choice of where they want to spend their days" is a somewhat imprecise summation of the survey data they cite. What the survey data cited by Heritage really show is a plurality of married women with children (46 percent) would prefer to combine less-than-full-time employment in the paid labor force with less-than-full-time care work in the household. When combined with the 18 percent who prefer full-time paid work, this means that the "vast majority" (about 64 percent) actually prefer either full-time or part-time paid work to full-time unpaid care work. This isn't particularly surprising given that the employment rate for married women with children was 67.8 percent in 2009.

Given, as David noted, Heritage's opposition to narrowly targeted, means-tested income supplements for at-home child care (at least for single parents), it does leave one wondering what policies they have in mind when they say that "taxpayers and policymakers should work to promote policies that would enable moms to make the choice to stay at home and care for their children." Of course, there's always the all-purpose conservative policy fix of tax cuts for the well-off, but there's no evidence that tax cuts increase at-home care. In fact, the last several decades of increasing female labor force participation have been accompanied by cuts in marginal tax rates.  A solution that would actually work (i.e., have the intended effect of increasing the time parents spend with children) would be to provide moms and dads with paid family leave and increased workplace flexibility so that they can combine work and family duties.

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In a post today titled "Mothers' Intuition Trumps Feminist Ideology," Collette Capara at the Heritage Foundation blog concluded "Taxpayers and policymakers should work to promote policies that would enable moms to make the choice to stay at home and care for their children."

Interestingly, there used to be just such a program to help mothers stay at home and care for their children.  That program was Aid to Families with Dependent Children (AFDC).  The reason AFDC no longer exists is because organizations like the Heritage Foundation insisted that these mothers should work rather than raise their children.
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The conservative "welfare reform" law enacted in 1996 is most commonly associated with the block granting of means-tested income support for extremely low-income parents and children (the program formerly known as AFDC and now as Temporary Assistance to Needy Families or TANF), a move that has rendered it largely ineffectual during the current recession. But the law also included some especially harsh restrictions on most means-tested social insurance benefits for immigrants, including basic disability benefits like Social Security Income (SSI) and basic health benefits like Medicaid. What's particularly notable about these restrictions is that they applied not only to undocumented immigrants (who were already ineligible for nearly all forms of public assistance) but also to many immigrants who were lawfully residing in the United States.

Perhaps the cruelest cut was a provision that rendered refugees and other humanitarian immigrants who have fled persecution, often including violence and torture, in their home countries ineligible for SSI after the had lived in the United States for seven years. Under the law, refugees can regain eligibility by obtaining U.S. citizenship, but as a story in yesterday's Miami Herald reports, some 4,000 refugees haven't been able to obtain citizenship within the timeframe, and are scheduled to lose SSI on October 1. Another 37,000 refugees could lose SSI over the next 10 years. 

One fix involves giving refugees more time to obtain citizenship, an approach first put forward by the last Bush Administration, and adopted temporarily in 2008, when Congress approved a two-year extension for most refugees facing the cutoff. However, as the Herald's story shows, this approach hasn't worked for many elderly or disabled immigrants. 

Instead, Congress and the Obama Administration should eliminate the SSI citizenship requirement altogether for elderly or disabled refugees.  Refugees, like other legal immigrants and all citizens, pay taxes, are subject to all state and federal laws, and can be required to serve in the U.S. military. Moreover, making subsistence benefits contingent on naturalization incentivizes (and effectively compels) naturalization for the wrong reason (a financial one) rather than the right ones (loyalty and the desire to participate politically in the United States by exercising the one other benefit that is contingent on citizenship, the right to vote in U.S. elections). 

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Women have increasingly played a significant part in the unionized workforce in recent decades. In 2009, almost half (46%) of unionized workers were women, compared with 38% in 1989. John Schmitt makes a point that at this rate, women will exceed the share of men in the unionized workforce by 2020. Zeroing in on the matter, CEPR occasionally looks at a more specific group of workers represented by unions. For example, here, we seek to examine women in one of the fastest growing ethnic groups in the U.S. workforce, the Asian Pacific Americans.

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With today's news that jobless claims are up, Dean Baker points out that "employers are already hiring more than 4 million workers a month. The problem is that roughly 4 million workers a month are also leaving their jobs, half voluntarily and half involuntarily."

So while it's important to reduce jobless claims, the unemployment rate would also be lowered by working on the other side of the jobs equation -- by preventing some of the 2 million layoffs that happening every month.

This is where the idea of work-sharing comes in.  As the NY Times noted in a recent article on Germany's quick rebound from the recession,"A vast expansion of a program paying to keep workers employed, rather than dealing with them once they lost their jobs, was the most direct step taken in the heat of the crisis,"

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The following comments were submitted by CEPR to the National Commission of Fiscal Responsibility and Reform on August 11, 2010:

The Center for Economic and Policy Research (CEPR) is a non-partisan think tank in Washington, DC, that was established in 1999 to promote democratic debate on the most important economic and social issues that affect people's lives. CEPR is committed to presenting issues in an accurate and understandable manner, so that the public is better prepared to choose among the various policy options.

Since its founding, CEPR has conducted analyses of Social Security and the federal budget.  Here is a summary of our most recent work on federal deficits and Social Security, which we hope will be useful to the Commission as you continue your deliberations.

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Yesterday's release of the annual Social Security Trustees' Report caused a flurry of media coverage and commentary, including Dean Baker's observation that this year's report predicts much higher future wage growth than prior reports.  In fact, the new report forecasts that annual wages will be 47.8% higher in 2040 than in 2010 (adjusted for inflation).

In the month leading up to the report's release there's been, as CNN describes it, a "red-hot debate over raising the retirement age" for Social Security.  CEPR is helping inform the debate by busting certain myths.

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In response to a find by Dean Baker and myself, the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) today issued a correction to their recent Long-Term Budget Outlook.  The issue at hand was the unusually large crowding-out of investment reported by CBO.  As deficits crowd out investment, this leads to slower economic growth as seen in the original CBO figure shown below:



As Dean Baker pointed out last week, the deficits in the Alternate Fiscal Scenario had hardly changed since the previous long-term estimates last year.  Thus, the deficit costs to economic growth implied in this graph could not be consistent with the smaller costs reported last June.  The updated figure from CBO released today shows much smaller effects on GDP.

 cbo_revised2 copy

 CBO should be commended for its rapid response in addressing this error.

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Following several weeks of meetings and internal deliberations, a special “high-level commission” has presented the General Assembly of the Organization of American States (OAS) with a long-awaited report on Honduras.  Mandated by a June 8 resolution agreed to at the OAS ministerial meeting in Lima, Peru, the report presents an analysis of the current situation in Honduras and a series of recommendations on how to address the enduring political crisis and the attacks that target media and activists associated with the political opposition.

Honduras’ membership in the OAS was suspended following the military coup that illegally removed the government of President Manuel Zelaya from power on June 28th of last year.  A number of member countries – including most of South America’s governments – are still opposed to the lifting of the suspension and the implicit objective of this new report is to chart a course for Honduras’ full reincorporation into the hemispheric body.

More than an accurate description of the situation on the ground in Honduras, the report provides a fascinating snapshot of the political tug-of-war still taking place between key Honduran and regional actors.

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“Pajama people are boring me to pieces
They make me feel like I am wasting my time.”

-- Frank Zappa, “Po-jama People

Now comes Larry Rohter of the New York Times, with a 3,000-word, hyper-ventilating yet boring diatribe excoriating Oliver Stone and especially me, and defending his previous 1,658-word attempt in the Times to discredit our film, South of the Border. Rother writes with the old-fashioned arrogance of someone who has spend most of his journalistic career in the pre-Internet age, when it was not so easy to find out when someone is flat wrong, or blowing smoke, with just the click of a mouse on a hyperlink.

Today, you can click here and here. That takes care of at least 80 percent of Rohter’s “argument.”

As for the rest: if you scrape away the insults (there are quite a lot of them, Rohter is an angry man!) and the 1950s McCarthyite rhetoric (“loyal stenographers” of [insert official enemy here])—well, there isn’t a lot of substance there.

But wait: hold the Joomla!! I have discovered an “egregious error and specious claim;” in fact it makes Rohter’s latest response “so riddled with errors, misrepresentations, fabrications and fraudulent statistics as to be useless except as an example of over-the-top propaganda.”

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Our friends at the Economic Policy Institute have already done a pretty good job burying the claim from Reinhart-Rogoff that high ratios of debt to GDP will lead to lower growth, but in DC, no bad theory stays dead for long. With that in mind, let's throw a little more dirt on the grave.

The Reinhart-Rogoff analysis is conducted entirely in terms of GDP growth. Back in the old days, economists used to focus on per capita GDP. The idea being that what mattered is output relative to the population. The people of Denmark are much richer on average than people in China even though China's GDP is more than 20 times higher. The reason is that China's population is more than 200 times as large as Denmark's. 

As many critics of R&R have noted, their sample of developed countries with high debt to GDP ratios is very small. Many of the obvious cases (e.g. Japan in the 90s and the 00s) can be readily explained as countries where slow growth led to high debt to GDP ratios. However, in many of the cases, such as Japan and Italy in recent years, the high debt countries are also countries with little or no population growth.

This means that we would expect a slower rate of GDP growth, other things equal. While there is undoubtedly some endogeneity to population growth (e.g. higher GDP growth leads to more immigration), we should still expect the benefits of growth to show up in higher per capita income.

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It has been generally standard fare in the media to refer to Venezuela’s Globovision as the “sole opposition-aligned television channel,” as the AP has put it.  Rarely, if ever, is the actual reporting of Globovision put into context, which makes yesterday’s Los Angeles Times article all the more amazing.  Chris Kraul and Mery Mogollon write:
The Caracas-based opposition news and opinion channel's newsreaders and reporters — who make no pretense of impartiality and remain undeterred by harassment and threats of a takeover — regularly blast the president with obviously slanted coverage while giving opposition politicians free and usually unchallenged rein to vent.
The article goes on to mention some of the regular fare that a viewer comes across while watching Globovision. An opposition leader calling for Chavez to be “investigated for treason”, or equating the exhumation of Simon Bolivar last week to witchcraft, and calling it a "pornographic spectacle." Even broadcasting calls to “rise up against the government.” 

While the article is impressive for its accurate description of the bias and slant in Globovision’s coverage, it could be strengthened by adding more historical context, and by pushing back on the myth that it is the “last independent,” or “only opposition” TV station in Venezuela.

During the coup in April 2002 almost all of Venezuela’s private media actively participated in overthrowing the democratically elected Chavez. This included manipulating footage to make it appear as though Chavez supporters were responsible for the killing of innocent civilians, and airing cartoons rather than covering the mass mobilization that brought Chavez back to power. In fact, the day after the coup on the opposition station Venevision, a number of coup supporters appeared, with one explicitly thanking the media, including Globovision and other private stations for their role in overthrowing Chavez.

Globovision is frequently referred to as the last independent television station that is critical of Chavez and, though the LA Times doesn’t state this explicitly, it does leave the reader with the sense that Globovision is the last remaining independent station.  However, there are a number of other independent stations both local and national and these account for a much larger share of the overall market than the country’s state owned television and radio. Nationally there is Venevision and Televen, for example.

Although the Los Angeles Times article is a real breakthrough in the coverage of Venezuelan media, it only scratches the surface of some of the broader issues around the behavior of the private, opposition media in Venezuela

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CEPR Fights Deficit Hysteria, Both Here and Abroad

CEPR’s latest paper, “Alternatives to Fiscal Austerity in Spain” by CEPR Co-Director Mark Weisbrot and Research Assistant Juan Montecino shows that Spain, under pressure to cut spending and raise taxes while its economy is barely recovering, might be better off with a continued stimulus. "The planned budget cuts and tax increases in Spain are not only unnecessary, but socially and economically destructive," said Weisbrot. "They also could easily leave Spain with a worse debt problem than they would have with a continued fiscal stimulus." Mark points out that there are no convincing economic arguments against further global stimulus in his recent Guardian column.

CEPR Co-Director Dean Baker has also been busy countering the deficit hawks and fighting the anti-stimulus talking points. This recently released issue brief notes how the Congressional Budget Office has changed its modeling to worsen the potential impact of deficits and debt on private investment.  Dean also uses his Guardian column to point out the absurdity of addressing the deficit when so many are unemployed.  On Amy Goodman's Democracy Now, he talks about the deficit hawks and their desire to cut Social Security. In this video, he debated Douglas Holtz-Eakin on the expiration of the Bush tax cuts (he also discussed US tax policy on NPR’s On Point.). And on CNBC, he explains what the July jobs report means for economic recovery.

CEPR Responds to Critics as South of the Border Opens Across the US

Oliver Stone’s latest documentary, "South of the Border", co-written by Mark Weisbrot, is showing to large audiences in various US cities and recently opened in Dallas, Houston, Phoenix, and New Orleans. This coming weekend, the film opens in Seattle, Minneapolis, Santa Barbara and Portland, OR. Mark traveled to Chicago and the San Francisco bay area earlier this month to talk about the film. You can hear him talk about the film here, here, here and here.

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This isn't true for older workers: while women's labor force participation has risen dramatically over the past half century, the difference between overall male and female employment rates is still about 10 percentage points. During the current recession, however, younger workers have seen that gender gap disappear.

Employment to Population Ratios of Workers Aged 16-24, by Gender, 1948-2010

Above is a picture of monthly employment rates for young men and women -- the proportion of those between the ages of 16 and 24 who had jobs. Where the two lines in the picture cross, in late 2009 and early 2010, employment rates for both groups became essentially the same.

During the 1950s, around 65 percent of young men were employed, compared to about 40 percent of young women. Huge increases in female labor market participation in the 1960s and 1970s more than halved the employment gap. By the late 1990s, additional employment of young women brought the gap to less than 5 percentage points. Employment opportunities shrank for both young men and women after the recession of 2001, and during the current recession, employment for young men plummeted faster than for young women.

Why did the employment gap disappear for younger workers but not for older ones? One reason is that the housing bubble burst in 2006-2007 and took construction jobs with it. Many of those jobs were held by young men. During the peak of housing bubble, about 13.7 percent of employed males, young or old, had jobs in the construction industry. In 2009, that figure had fallen to 12.2 percent for older males, but to only 9.2 percent for young males. Female construction employment fell too, of course, but less than 2 percent of females had construction jobs even during the bubble.

Now suppose we magically added those lost construction jobs back into the 2009 economy. Not much would change for female employment rates. They would stay the same at 55.8-55.9 percent for older women, and at about 47.0-47.3 percent for younger women. Older male employment rates would rise from 68.1 percent to 69.6 percent, but young male employment would jump from 46.7 percent to 50.0 percent. That is, the young male employment rate would rise from being about the same as to well above the female rate.

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Yes Saturday Night Live fans, Emily Litella is back! For those too young or too old to remember, Emily Litella was the frumpy commentator on Saturday Night Live’s “Weekend Update.” She would go invariably go into a tirade over some misunderstood word or phrase. Ms. Litella would then be corrected by Jane Curtin, the news show’s impeccably dressed anchor (e.g. that’s endangered “species,” not feces), and then conclude with, “never mind.”

It appears that Ms. Litella has been reincarnated in the form of America Speaks. America Speaks is an organization that was funded by the Peter G. Peterson Foundation to host a series of town halls around the country to discuss the country’s long-term budget problems. The format was rigged so as to force people to support cuts to Social Security and Medicare.

For example, America Speaks told participants that health care reform was off the table so that the only way to save budget dollars was to cut back programs like Medicare and Medicaid. So that participants would not get ideas about taxing Wall Street, the America Speaks budget booklet underestimated the revenue potentially available from a tax on financial speculation by an order of magnitude.

In spite of the rigged deck, the event did not turn out quite as planned. Progressive national organizations like the Campaign for America’s Future and, along with many state level groups, worked to get supporters at the town halls. As a result, cutting Social Security and Medicare proved to be relatively unpopular routes for reducing the deficit, whereas cutting defense spending and higher taxes on the wealthy and Wall Street proved quite popular.

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A high-level meeting in Venezuela earlier this month, in which senior Latin American and Caribbean diplomats from 32 countries discussed the creation of a new forum for regional concertation, slipped under the radar of the entire U.S. media.  Indeed, the only English-language report on the event that appeared in the mainstream media was filed by the French press agency AFP which informed its limited US readership that the meeting participants had decided that Venezuela and Chile would be heading “a new regional bloc that will include all countries in the Americas except Canada and the United States.”  This and other concrete steps agreed to at the Venezuelan meeting – including the Caracas Plan of Action - provided a clear demonstration that the 32 governments were determined to push ahead with the project for a Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (Spanish acronym CELAC).

Let’s go back for a moment to February 23rd when the CELAC project was first hatched at a summit in Cancun to which every Latin American and Caribbean government was invited with the exception of the de facto government of Honduras.  Mexican President Felipe Calderon convened the summit in a context of mounting frustration with US policy and with the Washington-based Organization of American States (OAS), particularly around the issue of the Honduras coup.  For instance, while regional groupings like UNASUR (the Union of South American Nations) and the Rio Group announced late last year that they wouldn’t recognize elections held under the Honduran coup regime, the US blocked any resolution of this sort in the OAS and unilaterally announced its decision to recognize the November elections several weeks before they occurred.

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Today's most e-mailed article on the New York Times website is "Biggest Defaulters on Mortgages Are the Rich" -- in a nutshell, homeowners with loans over $1 million are more likely to have stopped paying their mortgages than those with more modest homes.  As law professor Brent White states, the wealthy "may be less susceptible to the shame and fear-mongering used by the government and the mortgage banking industry to keep underwater homeowners from acting in their financial best interest.”

As argued in the New York Times, businesses and banks -- and now we know, also the wealthiest homeowners -- make such decisions in their own financial interest regularly, so "to put the onus for restraint on ordinary homeowners seems rather strange."  And as pointed out in the Wall Street Journal, homeowners who give up their mortgages for cheaper rental payments end up with extra cash to spend each month, a "stealth stimulus" for the economy. 

CEPR co-director Dean Baker's Right to Rent (R2R) proposal would provide path for ordinary homeowners to escape underwater mortgages, while being able to stay in their homes and communities -- preventing neighborhood blight.  Under R2R, those facing foreclosure would have the option to remain in their homes for a substantial period of time as renters paying the market rent. There are also numerous advantages in enacting R2R: it is simple, it can take effect immediately, it requires no taxpayer dollars, and it creates no new bureaucracy.

Reps. Grijalva and Kaptur have introduced an R2R bill in Congress, and publications including The Nation, LA Times, Washington Post, and New York Times have published pieces about the concept.  Bloggers, including Baseline Scenario, Felix Salmon and Ezra Klein have pointed out that even conservative economists agree that R2R makes sense.

Helping underwater borrowers stay in their homes?  Check.  Prevent the blight of abandoned homes?  Check.  Stimulate the economy?  Check.  Let's hope good commonsense ideas like Right to Rent can be implemented to help the millions of Americans facing foreclosure.

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The NYT devoted a long story to touting the work of Ken Rogoff and Carmen Reinhart on financial crises. At one point the article comments that:

"Although their book is studiously nonideological, and is more focused on patterns than on policy recommendations, it has become fodder for the highly charged debate over the recent growth in government debt."

Actually, much of the fodder for the public debate has been over a separate paper that claims that economies perform more poorly once their debt to GDP ratio exceeds 90 percent. Mr Rogoff and Ms. Reinhart have declined to adhere to standard ethics within the economics profession and have refused to share the data on which they base their conclusion with other researchers.

Later, the article asserts that:

"In the years before and during Mr. Rogoff’s tenure [as chied economist with the IMF], critics including the prominent economist Joseph Stiglitz accused the I.M.F. of having a cold-hearted, doctrinaire approach to its work in poorer countries. Some of that criticism still clings to Mr. Rogoff. For his part, he contends that the I.M.F. did what it could for countries with intractable problems, and that the critics’ approaches would have made troubled economies even weaker."

Mr. Rogoff's critics did not just accuse him of being cold-hearted. During his tenure at the IMF, Argentina went from being an IMF poster child to being an outlaw when it defaulted on its debt in December of 2001. In the years prior to its default, the IMF consistently erred on the high side in its projections of growth for Argentina. In the years after it defaulted the IMF's projections consistently underestimated Argentina's growth by large amounts. It would be almost impossible to produce this pattern of errors if the IMF was not using political criteria in its growth projections for Argentina. 


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Larry Rohter, whose attempt to discredit our documentary “South of the Border” took up most of the front page of the New York Times Arts section last Saturday, is not backing down. We responded by showing that every one of his alleged “questions of accuracy” was actually a mistake on his part. But facts apparently do not mean much to this guy. In a letter posted June 29, he writes that the filmmakers:

“are offended and embarrassed at having their many errors and inaccuracies disclosed. Rather than owning up to those mistakes, they’ve chosen to double down and up the ante. Where they might merely have been mistaken before, they are now lying outright, the letter you link to below being the prime example.”

He is digging himself a deeper hole. Let’s look at the claims he is stubbornly defending, just so there is no ambiguity here about who is completely wrong, and being dishonest in this debate.

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Oliver Stone’s new documentary, “South of the Border” – co-written by CEPR’s Mark Weisbrot – opened in U.S. theaters last week, starting with New York last weekend where it had the highest average theater earnings for a U.S. film in the country. Now audiences in LA, Pasadena, Santa Ana and Northern Virginia will get a chance to see the film, with Q and A sessions with Stone in LA today and Mark in Arlington today and tomorrow.

The film explores themes familiar to readers of Mark’s op-ed’s and columns: the new independence of South American nations from Washington, most notably from the U.S. State Department and international financial institutions (most importantly, the International Monetary Fund). The film also focuses on why U.S. relations with the region have deteriorated to such a degree; U.S. involvement in the 2002 coup d’Etat against Hugo Chavez – documented in the film and the film’s website – is contrasted with statements from leaders such as Brazilian president Lula da Silva and Ecuadorian president Rafael Correa on their request for respect and treatment as equals by the U.S.

This background, meanwhile, is complemented by a number of clips from major U.S. TV news programs that refer – in many cases in straight reporting (not opinion) – to Chavez and Bolivian president Evo Morales as “dictators”, assert that Chavez is a “declared enemy” of the U.S., and other jingoistic statements. As the audience sees these clips, Stone ponders why the U.S. seeks to “create enemies”, with a short summary of the U.S. media’s complicity in allowing the Bush administration to mislead the country into war as a reminder of how the State Department sets the tone in international relations. The parallels between this event and relations with Venezuela are further explored in an interview of Chavez in which he suggests that both the U.S. invasion of Iraq and U.S. support for the 2002 Venezuelan coup had the same motive: oil.

Not surprisingly, the film is not a favorite of many major U.S. media outlets so far, but interest in the film is growing, with new theater showings being booked and several recent TV and radio interviews with Oliver Stone, Mark, and other filmmakers taking a closer look at the film and the important issues it covers. As some reviewers and commentators have noted, the film explores a topic that the major U.S. media has largely missed so far: the new and enduring independence of much of Latin America from the United States. Go see the film and decide for yourself whether you think this is a story worth telling.

Follow this link to see when South of the Border is playing near you.

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