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
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
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.
people pushing these proposals are being called ‘courageous”
and “realistic” by the major mass media and leading political
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
“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
“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.
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
Editorial Board member 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. Click here
to contact Mr. Bloice.