It was just a routine call to set up the logistics for weekend football watching and I was somewhat stunned by the response I got from my friend when I asked him how he was. “I am angry,” he said. About what? “Those (explicative) are not going to extend unemployment insurance.” I recalled that I had recently sent out a couple emails that used another expletive to describe the first vote in the lame duck Congressional session which didn’t reach the two-thirds majority needed to take emergency action to keep benefits going to nearly 2 million people unsuccessfully looking for work. “They really going to do it,” he said, reflecting the sudden, shocking awareness that that one third of the members of the U.S. House of Representatives were prepared to allow all those people – victims of an economic crisis not of their making – to face the holidays with no income.
The number of people who have been out of a job for more than six months is now 6.2 million. Congress has never cut off extended benefits when the unemployment rate was above 7.4 percent. It’s now at 9.6 percent.
“It is hard to believe, as the holidays approach yet again amid economic hard times, but Congress looks as if it may let federal unemployment benefits lapse for the fourth time this year,” the New York Times said editorially last week.
That’s something to get really mad about.
Any shrink will tell you that there’s not necessarily bad about being angry; in fact; trying to repress being damn mad might not good for you. Still, we are heading into the holiday season and the pressure is on to “be of good cheer.” Yet, all over the North “Atlantic Community,” situations are being described as “dickensonian,” a reference to Charles Dickens’s “A Christmas Carol.” The problem is despite being repeatedly reminded of our Judeo-Christian heritage, Scrooge seems to be getting the upper hand on Santa, the Maccabeen insurgents and the Nazareth carpenter’s son.
The richest and most powerful nation on the planet somehow can’t afford to maintain an adequate educational system. College tuition costs go up, classes are cut and secondary school teachers are laid off while many of those who remain find themselves using their own money to buy reading materials and school supplies. More than 2.3 million homes have been repossessed by banks and mortgage lenders over the past three years; more than one million American households expected to have been foreclosed upon this year 2010. About 40 percent of families facing eviction are renters whose landlords were foreclosed upon and the number of children displaced from their homes, schools and neighborhoods steadily increases.
Meanwhile, people with huge amounts of money of their own are organizing campaigns aimed at telling working people nearing retirement (and the retired): you’re going to have to make do with less – both in Social Security and Medicare. Jobless women and men are being told to drop dead.
Meanwhile, we are told, corporate profits are up, banker bonuses rising and on Wall Street, they’re partying like there’s no tomorrow.
We’re going to be hearing a lot over the next few weeks about “peace on earth and goodwill toward men.” The problem is, both qualities are in quite short supply these days. As year’s end approaches, a nation which, to one or another extent, had entertained the idea that the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan would by now be coming to an end, realizes that under current policies, that is not about to happen. And so, the carnage goes on at a cost of more lives. And, it continues to erode the nation’s economy.
The wars are the biggest contributing factor involved in the Federal budget deficit, seconded only by tax benefits for the most well-to-do amongst us. So, along come the “deficit hawks” swooping in with their talons aimed at the elderly, the disabled and the young. The people pushing these proposals are being called ‘courageous” and “realistic” by the major mass media and leading political pundits.
What would Jesus say? Don’t ask.
“Extreme inequality is already contributing mightily to political and other forms of polarization in the U.S,” wrote columnist Bob Herbert in the New York Times last week. “And it is a major force undermining the idea that as citizens we should try to face the nation’s problems, economic and otherwise, in a reasonably united fashion. When so many people are tumbling toward the bottom, the tendency is to fight among each other for increasingly scarce resources.”
“What’s really needed is for working Americans to form alliances and try, in a spirit of good will, to work out equitable solutions to myriad problems facing so many ordinary individuals and families,” continued Herbert. “Strong leaders are needed to develop such alliances and fight back against the forces that nearly destroyed the economy and have left working Americans in the lurch.”
Over in Ireland, working people are facing a similar but much direr situation. A harsh austerity program is being imposed that will mean hardship for many in a country already hard hit by capitalism’s most recent economic crisis and enduring high unemployment. Like us, the Irish have been shellacked by their country’s banksters who in their avarice and irresponsibility put the country into hock to the big banks of Europe. Now, Irish workers are being told they must pay the cost.
“The middle and poorer strata will be told that their suffering from austerity policies (in addition to that stemming from the crisis itself) is part of “everyone’s burden,” writes Richard D. Wolff, professor of Economics Emeritus at the University of Massachusetts. “The austerity is thus portrayed as a democratic community-wide necessity. Meanwhile, employers and the rich – the small minority of Europeans with enough wealth to lend to the EU and member governments – will collect the interest and repayments extracted via the austerity programs. ‘Community-wide’ will not characterize the beneficiaries of austerity; that is reserved only for its victims.”
“The crash has been sobering and shaming.” writes David Gardner in the Financial Times. He goes on to quote Brendan Halligan, veteran former general secretary of the Irish Labour party: “The generation of me, myself and I is going to be replaced by the generation of we. You’re dealing with a society that has looked at itself in the mirror.” And, Labour party leader Eamon Gilmore “invokes the spirit of the Meithel, the tradition of collectively bringing in the harvest – a sort of Gaelic ‘Yes we can’.”
Maybe things haven’t gotten bad enough here at home for this kind of reaction to take hold and for the kind of alliances Herbert talks about to take shape (though a lot of good people are working on it). We should be under no illusion, however, that things are going to get better on their own any time soon.
So, I’m off to buy the poinsettia, the rosemary and the thyme, and there will be pig feet in the pot when the New Years comes. Come hell or high water the season will be gaily celebrated with friends and family but like for a lot of people lurking in the background, there will be a feeling of outrage.
Carl Bloice is a writer in San Francisco, a member of the National Coordinating Committee of the Committees of Correspondence for Democracy and Socialism and formerly worked for a healthcare union.
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