Stories We Will Still Have to Write in 2012

 

by WALTER and ROSEMARY BRASCH

 

In January 2009, with a new president about to be inaugurated, we wrote a column about the stories we preferred not having to write, but knew we would. Three years later, we are still writing about those problems; three years from now, we’ll still be writing about them.

We had wanted the U.S. Department of the Interior to stop the government-approved slaughter of wild horses and burros in the southwest, but were disappointed that the cattle industry used its money and influence to shelter politicians from Americans who asked for compassion and understanding of  breeds that roamed freely long before the nation’s “Manifest Destiny.”

We wanted to see the federal government protect wolves, foxes, and coyotes, none of whom attack humans, have no food or commercial value, but are major players in environmental balance. But, we knew that the hunting industry would prevail since they see these canines only as competition.

We wanted to see the Pennsylvania legislature stand up for what is right and courageously end the cruelty of pigeon shoots. But, a pack of cowards left Pennsylvania as the only state where pigeon shoots, with their illegal gambling, are actively held.

For what seems to be decades, we have written against racism and bigotry. But many politicians still believe that gays deserve few, if any, rights; that all Muslims are enemy terrorists; and publicly lie that Voter ID is a way to protect the integrity of the electoral process, while knowing it would disenfranchise thousands of poor and minority citizens.

We will continue to write about the destruction of the environment and of ways people are trying to save it. Environmental concern is greater than a decade ago, but so is the ignorant prattling of those who believe global warming is a hoax, and mistakenly believe that the benefits of natural gas fracking, with well-paying jobs in a depressed economy, far outweigh the environmental, health, and safety problems they cause.

We will continue to write against government corruption, bailouts, tax advantages for the rich and their corporations, governmental waste, and corporate greed. They will continue to exist because millionaire legislators will continue to protect those who contribute to political campaigns. Nevertheless, we will continue to speak out against politicians who have sacrificed the lower- and middle-classes in order to protect the one percent.

We will continue to write about the effects of laying off long-time employees and of outsourcing jobs to “maximize profits.” Until Americans realize that “cheaper” doesn’t necessarily mean “better,” we’ll continue to explain why exploitation knows no geographical boundaries.

The working class successfully launched major counter-attacks against seemingly-entrenched anti-labor politicians in Wisconsin, Ohio, and other states. But these battles will be as long and as bitter as the politicians who deny the rights of workers. We will continue to speak out for worker rights, better working conditions, and benefits at least equal to their managers. We don’t expect anything to change in 2012, but we are still hopeful that a minority of business owners who already respect the worker will influence the rest.

There are still those who believe education is best served by programs manacled by teaching-to-the-test mentality, and are more than willing to sacrifice quality for numbers. We will continue to write about problems in the nation’s educational system, especially the failure to encourage intellectual curiosity and respect for the tenets of academic integrity.

Against great opposition, the President and Congress passed sweeping health care reform. But, certain members of Congress, all of whom have better health care than most Americans, have proclaimed they will dismantle the program they derisively call “Obamacare.”

During this new year, we will still be writing about the unemployed, the homeless, those without adequate health coverage—and against the political lunatics who continue to deny Americans the basics of human life, essentials that most civilized countries already give their citizens.

We had written forcefully against the previous president and vice-president when they strapped on their six-shooters and sent the nation into war in a country that posed no threat to us, while failing to adequately attack a country that housed the core of the al-Qaeda movement. We wrote about the Administration’s failure to provide adequate protection for the soldiers they sent into war or adequate and sustained mental and medical care when they returned home. The War in Iraq is now over, but the war in Afghanistan continues. The reminder of these wars will last as long as there are hospitals and cemeteries.

We had written dozens of stories against the Bush–Cheney Administration’s belief in the use of torture and why it thought it was necessary to shred parts of the Constitution. We had hoped that a new president, a professor of Constitutional law, would stop the attack upon our freedoms and rights. But the PATRIOT Act was extended, and new legislation was enacted that reduces the rights and freedoms of all citizens. At all levels of government, Constitutional violations still exist, and a new year won’t change our determination to bring to light these violations wherever and whenever they occur.

The hope we and this nation had for change we could believe in, and which we still hope will not die, has been minced by the reality of petty politics, with the “Party of No” and its raucous Teabagger mutation blocking social change for America’s improvement. We can hope that the man we elected will realize that compromise works only when the opposition isn’t entrenched in a never-ending priority not of improving the country, but of keeping him from a second term. Perhaps now, three years after his inauguration, President Obama will disregard the disloyal opposition and unleash the fire and truth we saw in the year before his election, and will speak out even more forcefully for the principles we believed when we, as a nation, gave him the largest vote total of any president in history.

We really want to be able to write columns about Americans who take care of each other, about leaders who concentrate upon fixing the social problems. But we know that’s only an ethereal ideal.  So, we’ll just have to hope that the waters of social justice wear down, however slowly, the jagged rocks of haughty resistance.

 [Dr. Walter Brasch is an award-winning social issues columnist, former newspaper investigative reporter and editor, and journalism professor. His latest book is Before the First Snow, a social issues mystery novel. Rosemary Brasch is a former secretary, Red Cross national disaster family services specialist, labor activist, and university instructor of labor studies.]

 

 

 

The Older Unemployed and Social Security Reform

But that does not seem to matter, not for her and not for a growing number of people in their 50s and 60s who desperately want or need to work to pay for retirement and who are starting to worry that they may be discarded from the work force — forever...Of the 14.9 million unemployed, more than 2.2 million are 55 or older. Nearly half of them have been unemployed six months or longer, according to the Labor Department. The unemployment rate in the group — 7.3 percent — is at a record, more than double what it was at the beginning of the latest recession. - New York Times

One of the least covered issues facing this country is the growing number of older workers who are now unemployed and who because of it have gone through their savings, investments, and retirement accounts and who may never become employed again. Many of these workers had planned to retire with their savings and retirement accounts to supplement their Social Security and now they will have to rely entirely on the government for their retirement and medical needs. While this is a tragedy in and of itself, the real calamity is that not only will these people be old and poor but they have become the means by which the wealthy has decided to balance the budget. The really sad thing is that many of them will also be highly in debt and will spend their golden years struggling to survive.

As a nation we have decided that our best years are behind us and we are determined to repeat them especially the “Gilded Age”. If the wealthy and the wing-nuts have their way not only will there be no retirement accounts for many but there will also be little if any Social Security to sustain them. Folks this isn’t about class warfare, this isn’t about being envious or hating on the rich, and this isn’t even about taxes, this is about what is the fundamental character of this country. Many of these workers through no fault of their own have found themselves unemployed through downsizing and the “great recession” created by the same folks who want to displace them from the only thing that will separate them from elderly poverty the likes of which we haven’t seen since prior to Social Security.

The insidiousness of what the wealthy are trying to do with Social Security reform is that they recognize that not only is America getting older, but also the aged are going to have fewer resources. Prior to the real estate bubble crashing many of these workers had already racked up tremendous debt using their homes as credit cards which they will be carry into retirement. This environment will cause many people to have to continue to work beyond retirement and thus increasing the pressure to extend the retirement age for Social Security. I suppose the thinking will be since they can’t afford to retire anyway we may as well hold off on their government checks. The unfortunate aspect of all of this is that the wealthy through their minions have convinced a number of Americans to believe that these programs have become obsolete and a waste of taxpayer money. The main impetus of this strategy is to blame the poor and the elderly mantra casting them as lazy and a drain on society.

These were the same folks who lambasted this administration for “pulling the plug” on grandma during the healthcare reform debate. I guess they want the elderly to live, but only in poverty. The strategy is the same in all of their proposals. They fight for the unborn until they are born then they are on their own. They refuse to provide for their education, to stabilize their families, or offer a pathway out of poverty besides their bumper sticker rhetoric. It is obvious they see the writing on the wall and realize that in order to address the long-term structural problems of this nation revenues will have to be increased so in their usual preemptive fashion they are laying the groundwork to minimize their portion or to shift those obligations to others. It is becoming painfully clear that reducing spending will not be enough but I guess they have adopted a scorched earth policy to squeeze as much from the most vulnerable as they can before we even begin to discuss increasing revenues.

I predict in the coming years that poverty amongst the elderly will increase dramatically as they watch their investments being looted, their homes being devalued, and their pensions disappear. These won’t be people who were marginally involved in our economic system but people who had worked hard and played by the rules but who have become expendable like so many before them. These people will be the collateral damage of globalization and free trade. Those who have profited from these strategies will continue to obstruct and demonize any policies to help those they have sacrificed for their own gain. We can continue to ignore the coming catastrophe by clinging to the fear and uncertainty being propagated by the wealthy or we can take a cue from our European brethren and demand that the system begin to work for the 98% for whom it no longer does.

If we refuse to act then many of our parents and relatives who have been replaced way before their time will become the new faces of poverty. Millions of workers will be too young for retirement and too old to work in a shrinking job market. They will have no healthcare, no savings, and plenty of debt as they float in this purgatory of not knowing what their future will hold. In this backdrop the true character of America will emerge and to be honest I am not sure what that character will be. The more I read comments from folks extolling the virtues of giving the wealthy more the less hopeful I am for the future.

“You know, if I listened to him [Michael Dukakis] long enough, I would be convinced we're in an economic downturn and people are homeless and going without food and medical attention and that we've got to do something about the unemployed.” - Ronald Reagan

The Disputed Truth

Weekly Audit: The Hidden Casualties of the Great Recession

by Annie Shields, Media Consortium blogger

The June labor market report announced that the unemployment rate is down from 9.7 to 9.5 percent and 83,000 private-sector jobs were created in June. Unfortunately, the situation isn’t quite so rosy. As Annie Lowrey reports for The Washington Independent, the real cause of the drop in unemployment was not more jobs, but fewer workers. Hundreds of thousands of unemployed Americans have now been reclassified as “discouraged” workers who have not actively searched for work for four weeks. As such, they are no longer part of the system.

Unemployed and disenfranchised
What’s worse, the unemployment crisis is hurting some more than others. Among the discouraged workers that have simply dropped out of the labor market, 65% are women. People of color have also been hit especially hard, as have young people that are just entering the labor market. As Katherine S. Newman and David Pedulla of The Nation write:

“The Great Recession is reminding us of how unequal the distribution of damage can be. While virtually everyone other than the top 1 percent is suffering in some fashion, the depth of the fallout varies a great deal by race, education and gender.”

The economic disparities are stark. The unemployment rate for African Americans is nearly twice the rate for whites, while the rate among people 16 to 24 years old is nearly double the rate for all workers. And the disadvantages for these particular groups are expected to persist. According to The Nation:

“Young black men are the most disadvantaged of all in the job tournament, but young workers across the board are in terrible shape in this labor market. If previous recessions are an indication of what’s to come, we can expect these stumbling entries into the world of work to translate into long-term disadvantages, relative to those who come of age in a climate of opportunity.”

Foreclosed and forgotten
The recession is also continuing to devastate homeowners, as Seth Freed Wessler explains for Colorlines. Wessler documents “the country’s long failure to address systemic racial inequity through public policy eventually threw the whole economy into free fall.”

According to a recent report from the Center for Responsible Lending, nearly 6 million homes are at imminent risk of foreclosure right now. It’s estimated that by 2014, 13 million homes will be gone. The report shows that Black, Latino, Asian, Native American and Alaskan Native/Pacific Islander borrowers are all at greater risk for immediate foreclosure than White borrowers.

One of the most startling findings is that between 2009 and 2012, “Black and Latino communities will be drained of $194 and $177 billion, respectively, because of the plummeting home values in the high foreclosure neighborhoods,” Wessler writes.

Unfortunately, there’s little relief in sight for these communities. Wessler explains that the Obama administration’s attempt to help prevent foreclosures, the Home Affordable Modification Program, or HAMP, has done more to help mortgage servicers than struggling homeowners. The recent defeat of an unemployment benefits extension only makes matters worse. Some advocacy groups are calling for a moratorium on foreclosures as a temporary remedy. Obama supported such a measure during his 2008 Presidential campaign.

Silver lining, but no silver bullet

If there is a silver lining to this ominous economic raincloud, it might be found in recent changes to to the Home Mortgage Disclosure Act (HMDA), an anti-redlining measure from 1975. As Kat Aaron and Mary Kane report for The American Prospect, these changes are one result of a long fight against discriminatory lending practices, and could prove to be invaluable for “consumer activists, regulators, and researchers trying to identify egregious lenders and their loans.” The American Prospect has more about the revisions to HMDA and what they might mean for the ongoing fair-lending debate.

Many Americans are also turning to timebanks as an alternative to the down economy. Timebanks provide a cooperative, egalitarian system for sharing skills and trading services with others, free of charge. As Mira Luna reports for Yes! Magazine, the trend might be a result of tough times, but it has an upside.

“Instead of paying professionals who we may never see again to provide services, we can use time exchanges to find neighbors who might provide service in exchange for hour credits, thereby saving scarce U.S. dollars for things like rent and medicine.

In the process, people get to know and trust their neighbors, establishing caring relationships that can help reweave the fabric of our communities, and replace our culture’s over-reliance on individual financial security.”

Diaries

Advertise Blogads