The Debt Ceiling Crisis: Let’s Get Personal

 

 

by WALTER BRASCH 

 

You have a credit card with a $25,000 limit.

Because you have a good job, you only have $6,000 on the card, and routinely pay the monthly statement and a little extra on the principal.

But then you decide you need a 52-inch high-def LCD TV screen to go into your “man cave,” and your family rightfully decides they need a vacation. So, you add a few thousand to the credit card. But, it’s all OK since you just got a promotion at work.

A couple of months later, your 2008 Honda begins puffing smoke. By the time repairs are done, it’s another thousand on the card.

And then your boss calls you into her office. Your work has been excellent, she tells you. You have made numerous contributions to the company, she says. But her boss has figured out he can make even more money for himself and the nebulous apparitions known as stockholders, so he is sending much of the company’s manufacturing needs overseas, where labor (and often workmanship) is much less of a financial burden. Besides, he won’t have to deal with unions overseas. Oh, yeah, says your boss, you’ve been replaced by some guy in Pakistan who’ll work for a tenth of your salary.

But there’s good news, says your boss. Because of your long and dedicated service, you’ll get four whole weeks salary—and health care benefits for two full months. You’ll surely find work in that time, you believe.

Three months later, you’re still unemployed. The mortgage is due. Bills pile up. But, you’re optimistic. You have a good work record. You’ll find another job. Besides, your wife (who had quit her job to spend full-time taking care of the home and raising the three children) just got a job at $7.80 an hour as a clerk at a big-box department store to help out. It’s only temporary, the two of you believe. You’ll get a job soon; she’ll be able to quit her job. A few more months go by, and both of you are now working—she as a near-minimum-wage clerk; you as a part-time customer service representative for a hardware store at two bucks over minimum wage. That’s all you could find. You don’t have health benefits; hers, which cover the family, are significantly less than what you once had.

You’re depressed, but there’s no money for social workers or psychologists. You and your family are a bit testy, snapping out for no apparent reason; there’s no money for marital counseling.

The bills pile up. There’s unreimbursed medical costs, a couple of unexpected veterinary bills for your two dogs, clothes for the kids, gas for the cars so you can get to your jobs. And then that variable interest mortgage hits a new high. You put a few more necessities onto the credit card and are now are at $24,950 of your $25,000 debt limit.

So, you go to the bank—the one that sold you the house, and which gladly gave you a mortgage when times were good and it could make a lot of money—and ask for a raise in the credit limit.

But times aren’t that good right now, and the bank refuses to raise your credit limit. After all, says the banker, there’s no way you could make monthly payments.

You plead that if the bank doesn’t raise the credit card limit, you won’t be able to survive, that you’ll have to default. That means you’ll lose your house and, probably, your cars. Your credit rating, once among the best, will plummet even further. Too bad, says the banker. Get another job, he says. One that pays better. Or, maybe work two jobs. Of course, there’s no jobs at the bank, or anywhere else. But that’s not his problem.

You again plead for help, but the banker isn’t interested. It’s your fault you’re in this mess, he tells you. You spent too much, he coldly explains. Cut spending, and you’ll be able to meet your minimum monthly payment—you know, the one with the 13.5 percent interest that goes to the bank—and, well, figure out something. He has no compassion and won’t help.

But there may be hope. Another banker comes into the office, hears your story, and wants to raise your debt limit, but the other banker has taken a stand. With you in the office, the two of them talk, argue, and shout loud enough so the other bankers and customers can hear them. It’s now 3:55 p.m., and the bank closes in five minutes, at which time the credit card, because of steadily rising interest, will be maxed out.

Finally, the two bankers agree to provide a miniscule amount of help. They will temporarily raise your credit limit, but will now dictate exactly what you can spend, and how you’ll spend it.

Since you like hunting, and they like hunting, they’ll let you buy all the guns and ammunition you want. But, they can’t help you on your health bills, or even lower the insurance premiums and co-pays. And, they can’t do much for that inflated mortgage payment. Or to help you find another job.

You will have to wear old clothes, used clothes, or lower your clothing expenses, they say, but there’s a solution. They give you a catalogue of very nice clothes—men’s, women’s, children’s. The pictures of the clothes, in full color on glossy paper, is just what you need to reduce your costs so you look presentable at the next job interview. And no one notices that the clothes the banker wants you to buy are all made in Pakistan.

 

[Water Brasch’s current book is Before the First Snow, the story of a ’60s “flower child,” and the reporter who covered her life, and that of America, for more than three decades. The book is available at www.greeleyandstone.com]

 

 

Our Hope for Change is Still Not Fulfilled

 

By WALTER BRASCH

 

After significant compromise with the recalcitrant Republicans who want to continue to give the wealthy tax advantages while cutting significant social programs, President Obama has finally taken a stand on debt ceiling negotiations. However, in labor, wildlife management, and the environment he is still compromising rather than coming out forcefully for the principles he and the working class believes.

 The Republican presidential candidates have torn into the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) for a recent decision supporting organized labor. Mitt Romney claimed President Obama packed the NLRB with “union stooges.” Newt Gingrich wants Congress to remove all NLRB funds and President Obama to stop the NLRB actions. Tim Pawlenty called the decision “preposterous.” Michele Bachman not only said the NLRB is “way out of bounds,” but declared if she were president she would appoint “free-market conservatives who believe in job growth,” thus making the NLRB a political arm of her beliefs rather than the independent agency that was created to protect workers from management exploitation.

Sen. Jim DeMint (R-S.C.), who isn’t a presidential candidate but is strongly anti-union, declared the decision “is nothing more than a political favor for the unions who are supporting President Obama’s re-election campaign.” Other Republican senators have claimed they will block the nomination of NLRB acting general counsel Lafe Solomon to a permanent post.

 At issue is an NLRB decision that Boeing violated federal law by trying to stop a production line in its Seattle-area plant that manufactures the Boeing 787 Dreamliner and opening a new facility in South Carolina, an anti-union “right-to-work” state. The NLRB agreed with a complaint filed by the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers (IAM) that Boeing’s decisions was retaliation for the actions of the Seattle workers. In both public and internal memos, Boeing stated it didn’t wish to deal with unionized workers in Seattle. The NLRB suit is currently in federal court.

 At a recent press conference, President Obama sidestepped support for both the NLRB and unions by claiming, “I don’t know all the facts,” and that he didn’t wish to interfere in the process. However, he did state that corporations “need to have the freedom to relocate . . . . and if they’re choosing to relocate here in the United States, that’s a good thing.”

 When Barack Obama was campaigning for the presidency, he promised to support the working class. If there was a picket line, or if the workers were being threatened, he promised to “put on a comfortable pair of shoes” and walk side by side with them.

 That has not happened. He never spoke out in defense of the workers in Seattle during their two year fight against Boeing, nor after they filed their complaint in April. Nor has the President given support to the millions of of citizens in several states where conservative governors and legislatures have launched campaigns to break unions, while giving special benefits to the business and executive classes.

 Giving Mr. Obama the widest possible excuse, perhaps the Secret Service declared it would be dangerous for a president to be in a crowd of protestors, no matter how peaceful it is.

 But, there is no excuse for President Obama’s weak record on environmental and wildlife protection, something he placed high on his list as a candidate, but failed to defend as president.

 Strong words as a candidate turned to “compromise” and then near-abandonment when confronted by extremists who refuse to read or understand any of thousands of studies about the effects of global warming.

 To please the oil lobby, the same one that dominated the previous administration, President Obama approved deep-water drilling – just weeks before the BP oil disaster in the Gulf coast. And then, months after the disaster approved continued deep water drilling.

 His wildlife management policies, while based on good intentions, are not something he has rolled upon his sleeves to fight for.

 Confronted by the cattle industry lobby, which believes 10,000 wild horses and burros are threats to the existence of more than 92 million cattle, President Obama has virtually abandoned protection of the few wild horses and burros left in the country.

 And now his Department of the Interior is about to allow Wyoming to begin the wanton killing of gray wolves, including pups in dens, outside of Yellowstone national park. 

The plan yields to extremists who see wolves as threats to cattle. But, numerous research studies show that wolves seldom attack cattle. And, when they do, the government pays the rancher, even if the steer is new born or headed to a slaughterhouse the next day. But the cattle industry is as dominant in American politics as is the NRA.

 And that leaves hunters. Wolves cull the weakest animals from the herd. And that’s the problem. There are only 5,000 wolves in the continental United States. But a few million hunters see the wolf as competitors for 20 million deer, 250,000 moose, or any animal that can be killed and then mounted as a trophy in someone’s den.

 Although the mean-spirited and uncompromising vindictiveness of the ultra-right has blocked much progress, it is the President’s own actions in labor, environment, and wildlife that have deteriorated into compromise and retreat. His inability to defend the principles he believes and campaigned for threatens any chance he will be remembered as a great president.

 

[Walter Brasch is an award-winning syndicated social issues journalist. His current book, Before the First Snow, looks at an energy company that lures citizen consent because of jobs in a depressed economy, but which may threaten health, safety, and environment.]

 

 

 

Our Hope for Change is Still Not Fulfilled

 

By WALTER BRASCH

 

After significant compromise with the recalcitrant Republicans who want to continue to give the wealthy tax advantages while cutting significant social programs, President Obama has finally taken a stand on debt ceiling negotiations. However, in labor, wildlife management, and the environment he is still compromising rather than coming out forcefully for the principles he and the working class believes.

 The Republican presidential candidates have torn into the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) for a recent decision supporting organized labor. Mitt Romney claimed President Obama packed the NLRB with “union stooges.” Newt Gingrich wants Congress to remove all NLRB funds and President Obama to stop the NLRB actions. Tim Pawlenty called the decision “preposterous.” Michele Bachman not only said the NLRB is “way out of bounds,” but declared if she were president she would appoint “free-market conservatives who believe in job growth,” thus making the NLRB a political arm of her beliefs rather than the independent agency that was created to protect workers from management exploitation.

Sen. Jim DeMint (R-S.C.), who isn’t a presidential candidate but is strongly anti-union, declared the decision “is nothing more than a political favor for the unions who are supporting President Obama’s re-election campaign.” Other Republican senators have claimed they will block the nomination of NLRB acting general counsel Lafe Solomon to a permanent post.

 At issue is an NLRB decision that Boeing violated federal law by trying to stop a production line in its Seattle-area plant that manufactures the Boeing 787 Dreamliner and opening a new facility in South Carolina, an anti-union “right-to-work” state. The NLRB agreed with a complaint filed by the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers (IAM) that Boeing’s decisions was retaliation for the actions of the Seattle workers. In both public and internal memos, Boeing stated it didn’t wish to deal with unionized workers in Seattle. The NLRB suit is currently in federal court.

 At a recent press conference, President Obama sidestepped support for both the NLRB and unions by claiming, “I don’t know all the facts,” and that he didn’t wish to interfere in the process. However, he did state that corporations “need to have the freedom to relocate . . . . and if they’re choosing to relocate here in the United States, that’s a good thing.”

 When Barack Obama was campaigning for the presidency, he promised to support the working class. If there was a picket line, or if the workers were being threatened, he promised to “put on a comfortable pair of shoes” and walk side by side with them.

 That has not happened. He never spoke out in defense of the workers in Seattle during their two year fight against Boeing, nor after they filed their complaint in April. Nor has the President given support to the millions of of citizens in several states where conservative governors and legislatures have launched campaigns to break unions, while giving special benefits to the business and executive classes.

 Giving Mr. Obama the widest possible excuse, perhaps the Secret Service declared it would be dangerous for a president to be in a crowd of protestors, no matter how peaceful it is.

 But, there is no excuse for President Obama’s weak record on environmental and wildlife protection, something he placed high on his list as a candidate, but failed to defend as president.

 Strong words as a candidate turned to “compromise” and then near-abandonment when confronted by extremists who refuse to read or understand any of thousands of studies about the effects of global warming.

 To please the oil lobby, the same one that dominated the previous administration, President Obama approved deep-water drilling – just weeks before the BP oil disaster in the Gulf coast. And then, months after the disaster approved continued deep water drilling.

 His wildlife management policies, while based on good intentions, are not something he has rolled upon his sleeves to fight for.

 Confronted by the cattle industry lobby, which believes 10,000 wild horses and burros are threats to the existence of more than 92 million cattle, President Obama has virtually abandoned protection of the few wild horses and burros left in the country.

 And now his Department of the Interior is about to allow Wyoming to begin the wanton killing of gray wolves, including pups in dens, outside of Yellowstone national park. 

The plan yields to extremists who see wolves as threats to cattle. But, numerous research studies show that wolves seldom attack cattle. And, when they do, the government pays the rancher, even if the steer is new born or headed to a slaughterhouse the next day. But the cattle industry is as dominant in American politics as is the NRA.

 And that leaves hunters. Wolves cull the weakest animals from the herd. And that’s the problem. There are only 5,000 wolves in the continental United States. But a few million hunters see the wolf as competitors for 20 million deer, 250,000 moose, or any animal that can be killed and then mounted as a trophy in someone’s den.

 Although the mean-spirited and uncompromising vindictiveness of the ultra-right has blocked much progress, it is the President’s own actions in labor, environment, and wildlife that have deteriorated into compromise and retreat. His inability to defend the principles he believes and campaigned for threatens any chance he will be remembered as a great president.

 

[Walter Brasch is an award-winning syndicated social issues journalist. His current book, Before the First Snow, looks at an energy company that lures citizen consent because of jobs in a depressed economy, but which may threaten health, safety, and environment.]

 

 

 

"Community Unionism"

TNR has a new blog: The Study, aggregating academic papers and thinkers.  For all my efforts to avoid TNR, I'm a sucker for this stuff, and so far, it hasn't disappointed.  Clicking around, I stumbled on this post by Georgetown's Michael Kazin on the revival of "community unionism" in the fallout of Walker's attack on public workers in Wisconsin:

[...] the massive support the unions drew from students, faculty, small farmers, and immigrant rights groups, among others, imparted an old lesson that progressives often forget: to advance its interests, labor needs to look less like an interest group and more like a moral cause that appeals to allies from outside the wage-earning class.

...

A century ago, the horrific Triangle fire helped garment workers make a case for unions as well as safe workplaces. In the 1930s, auto and steel workers gained public sympathy when they struck for “industrial democracy” against autocratic employers. In the 1960s, the plight of low-wage, mostly Mexican-American farmworkers became a favorite cause of liberals.

This year at Georgetown University, another such labor moment occurred—in a modest but still instructive fashion. After a campaign that began in the muck of July, the roughly 200 men and women who work either at the student cafeteria or at one of a handful of campus fast-food outlets (including a Starbucks) are close to winning recognition from Aramark, their employer, whose $12 billion annual revenue makes it one the largest service providers in the nation. The workers, most of whom are black or Latino, have become members of Unite Here, the leading union in the culinary trades.

But they have not done it alone.

Kazin describes a "community union" coalition grown out of frustration, aligning '90s era organizations, College Democrats, the student chapter of the NAACP, and minority workers in a strategic move to tell the personal stories of university service employees to the community (culminating in a MLK day "testimonial" at a local church). 

After a more than a decade fighting for better conditions, just a few weeks ago, according to Kazin, nearly 80% of employees signed in support of representation by the international service union Unite Here.

The fight in Wisconsin has breathed new life into the ideas behind unionization and workers rights.  But to turn the energy into a movement, it's going to require reinforcing the connection between unions and the dinner table.  Conservatives have succeeded to some extent at numbing the country to workers rights, and the dominance billionaires enjoy in the dialog.  Progressives need to take back the frame, and remind the country that, just like the 1930's, unions provide a voice not as easily shouted down by Supreme Court sanctioned corporate "persons." 

What's happening at Georgetown is a microcosmic example that better coalition building between workers and the broad "organizational left," tying the framework to simple dignity and personal experience, is an opportunity to drive the message home.

 

"Community Unionism"

TNR has a new blog: The Study, aggregating academic papers and thinkers.  For all my efforts to avoid TNR, I'm a sucker for this stuff, and so far, it hasn't disappointed.  Clicking around, I stumbled on this post by Georgetown's Michael Kazin on the revival of "community unionism" in the fallout of Walker's attack on public workers in Wisconsin:

[...] the massive support the unions drew from students, faculty, small farmers, and immigrant rights groups, among others, imparted an old lesson that progressives often forget: to advance its interests, labor needs to look less like an interest group and more like a moral cause that appeals to allies from outside the wage-earning class.

...

A century ago, the horrific Triangle fire helped garment workers make a case for unions as well as safe workplaces. In the 1930s, auto and steel workers gained public sympathy when they struck for “industrial democracy” against autocratic employers. In the 1960s, the plight of low-wage, mostly Mexican-American farmworkers became a favorite cause of liberals.

This year at Georgetown University, another such labor moment occurred—in a modest but still instructive fashion. After a campaign that began in the muck of July, the roughly 200 men and women who work either at the student cafeteria or at one of a handful of campus fast-food outlets (including a Starbucks) are close to winning recognition from Aramark, their employer, whose $12 billion annual revenue makes it one the largest service providers in the nation. The workers, most of whom are black or Latino, have become members of Unite Here, the leading union in the culinary trades.

But they have not done it alone.

Kazin describes a "community union" coalition grown out of frustration, aligning '90s era organizations, College Democrats, the student chapter of the NAACP, and minority workers in a strategic move to tell the personal stories of university service employees to the community (culminating in a MLK day "testimonial" at a local church). 

After a more than a decade fighting for better conditions, just a few weeks ago, according to Kazin, nearly 80% of employees signed in support of representation by the international service union Unite Here.

The fight in Wisconsin has breathed new life into the ideas behind unionization and workers rights.  But to turn the energy into a movement, it's going to require reinforcing the connection between unions and the dinner table.  Conservatives have succeeded to some extent at numbing the country to workers rights, and the dominance billionaires enjoy in the dialog.  Progressives need to take back the frame, and remind the country that, just like the 1930's, unions provide a voice not as easily shouted down by Supreme Court sanctioned corporate "persons." 

What's happening at Georgetown is a microcosmic example that better coalition building between workers and the broad "organizational left," tying the framework to simple dignity and personal experience, is an opportunity to drive the message home.

 

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