mardi 13 décembre 2011

The forgotten ones

The nearly 14 million unemployed people in this country are a constant reproach to the Republican economic doctrine of shoveling as much money as you can into the pockets of a few already ridiculously wealthy people. For all that the GOP is trying mightily to restrict voting so that those without automobiles or a stable address, or those whose skin pigmentation or age indicates a possible vote against their party, cannot vote; there's still this stubborn reality that there's only so much you can steal an election when a majority of Americans have had enough of waiting until corporate CEOs think they are finally rich enough to trickle some largesse down to the peons by deigning to hire them to do something at their companies. What that something would be when no one other than the 1% can afford to buy anything remains to be seen, but that's the Republican doctrine and they're sticking with it.

I keep thinking of that notion put forth on Up With Chris Hayes last weekend, that this is now a nation of wasted resources -- 13.3 million of them, in fact. But rather than blame the GOP (and to a lesser degres, the Democrats, who are willing to be bought more cheaply), and the people who finance them and turn Congressmen from rural backwaters into multimillionaires simply by demanding legislation in exchange for campaign contributions, it's so much easier to demonize those who are unemployed due to outsourcing, appeasing Wall Street through massive job cuts, changes in technology, or simple obsolescence. After all, if they can just keep those of us who still have jobs separate from those who don't, perhaps enough votes can be squeezed out of the middle class to elect enough Republicans to completely demolish our way of life more quickly than the piecemeal efforts we've seen over the last thirty years.

The easiest way to do this is to paint the unemployed as somehow different from those of us lucky enough to still have jobs. So what the GOP is trying to do is turn all of the unemployed, no matter what their age or race or work history, into "the new n----rs" -- lazy, shiftless, drug-addicted leeches on society. Newt Gingrich advocates that anyone receiving any kind of federal aid (such as extended unemployment benefits) be drug tested. So does Congressman Jack Kingston.

All this brings us to word this morning of a "compromise" that may be reached today in the budget stalemate that threatens to shut down the government on the 16th of this month. When I hear "compromise" in the context of negotiations on Capitol Hill, what that means is "Democratic Capitulation", because the Democrats have shown again and again that there is no Republican plan to which they won't eventually capitulate, because if they don't, Chuck Todd and Bob Shieffer will paint them as obstructionist. Of course history has shown that capitulation doesn't change the media spin one iota, but that doesn't stop them from doing it. And of course there might be some trickle-down largesse from lobbyists as a consolation prize as well.

Today an editorial from the New York Times breaks down the Republican plan, just so you know what's coming when the Democrats blink, as we all know they will:
At last count, 13.3 million people were officially unemployed and 5.7 million of them had been out of work for more than six months. At no time in the last 60 years has long-term unemployment been so high for so long.

But Republican lawmakers would have you believe that the nation cannot afford jobless benefits and that many recipients are not so much needy, as lazy, disinclined to work as long as benefits are available. When was the last time any Republican lawmaker tried to live on $289 a week, the amount of the average benefit?

Under current policy, federal benefits kick in when state-provided benefits run out, typically after 26 weeks. The duration of the federal payouts depends on the level of unemployment in a given state. Currently, workers in 22 of the hardest-hit states — including California, New Jersey and Connecticut — qualify for up to 73 more weeks of aid. In five other states — including New York — up to 67 more weeks are available. In the remaining 23 states, maximum federal benefits range from 34 weeks to 60 weeks. The cost to continue the program for another year would be about $45 billion.

The Republican plan would cut $11 billion of that in 2012 by slashing up to 40 weeks from the program, reducing by more than half the maximum 73 weeks now available. Because of the way the program is structured, the biggest cuts would come in the states with the highest unemployment. Millions of jobless workers would be quickly left without subsistence, and the weak economy would be weakened further by the drop in consumer spending.

The bill would also impose onerous — and gratuitous — requirements on people who apply for jobless benefits. It would allow states to drug test applicants and would require recipients to be high-school graduates or working toward an equivalency degree

Don't look at your neighbor who does construction and hasn't worked in a year. Don't look at your spouse who can only get contract work for half the pay he used to get and no benefits, paid holidays, or vacation time. Don't look at the sixty-year-old down the street who's spent his own money on courses to keep his skills up to date and can't find a tech job because the industry is "too fast-paced" for him. Don't look at the machinist on the next block who would be happy to retrain for something if he only knew what kind of training would net him a job where he could supplement his wife's pay as a waitress at iHOP and maybe get their home out of foreclosure. Just convince people that all of those people are lazy, shiftless drug addicts -- just like those black people the GOP used to demonize when it was OK to do so (and if you're Newt Gingrich, you think it still is) and that unemployment can't happen to them.

This tactic of pointing people's attention down the economic ladder to the boogeyman of choice while the people up the ladder take the last few bucks out of our back pockets has worked for thirty years, convincing Americans that THEY are somehow different, that poverty will NEVER affect THEM, because THEY aren't LIKE those OTHER PEOPLE.

Except that in the Great Recession of the Oughts, yes, they are. The only question is how many of them know it, and how long it will be before they join them.

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