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The Grim State of the Nation

February 24th, 2010 · No Comments · Culture, Economics, energy, Health Care, jobs, Politics

As we are about to enter the third month of 2010, the nation is in its worst financial and economic condition since, perhaps, 1939. We have large-scale unemployment, foreclosures, bankruptcies, homelessness, hunger, lack of living essentials, and many working families with huge credit card debt. The Neoconservative Republicans who control the Republican Party, have decided to align themselves completely with the top 5% of income earners and with huge international corporations. The Democrats have aligned themselves with the People. And the people are hurting.

If we are not in a depression, then certainly we are in a condition that closely mirrors the conditions coming out of our Great Depression. We have about 15% effective unemployment. As the country came out of the Great Depression of the 1930s, it also had 14-to-15% unemployment. Now we are in a situation where people who had unemployment and COBRA protection are coming to the end. And the Republicans do not want to extend it. It has to be done soon to extend unemployment benefits for another period beginning on March 1st.

That is causing anxieties but so is the housing situation. The housing market is down drastically. An anticipated 3.5% increase, that economists thought would result from the extension of the $8,000 new homes tax credit to April 2010 did not materialize. Instead the numbers fell by 11.2% in January to the lowest number since these kinds of records have been kept. Overall, since home prices began to fall in 2007, they have dropped by 36%.

When home prices fall and the value of the mortgage exceeds the home’s price, there is often trouble for the homeowner. There were 2.8 million foreclosures in 2009, and another 3 million are on track to foreclose this year. That means a lot of people out of their homes. That has caused another problem.

Tent cities have grown up in many areas of the country. They have sprung up in Columbus, Ohio and Springfield, IL. They have been around a while in Seattle, Los Angeles, Chattanooga and Portland. Outside Disneyland people have set up tent cities in the woods in several counties with 8,000 adults and 1,500 children living there. In Reno an area recently opened that has about 150 people.

A report by the nation’s largest domestic hunger-relief organization—yes we do have one—published early February 2010, says that about 5.7 million people receive food each week from a food pantry. This is an increase of about 54% over the last survey of this kind. In all, about 37 million people—one in eight Americans, including 14 million children–received food from a private hunger-relief service last year.

If Congress does not act in time, although they are expected to, there will be 1.2 million people whose unemployment and COBRA benefits will expire. With only a week to go, it is the worst kind of anxiety-ridden “chicken” that the government is playing with 90% tax-paying, law abiding citizens who need and should have every expectation of that assistance….without having the additional burden of wondering if it will expire.

To top it all off, Alan Greenspan who has sat at the head of the table on economic affairs for the last 30 years, studied conditions and been more agreeable to let both public and private economics play themselves out…this most qualified observer…now says that this is the most serious financial crisis in our history.
But, frankly, we hear much less about it than we should.

While much of American media simply ignores the seriousness of the economy, another group is actively trying to diminish its effects. An unintended consequence of a decision made by President Clinton in the mid 1990s, meant to expand media into new areas resulted in the control of large segments of our media by small groups of people. Some of those people already had a political agenda. Some were ultra-conservative oil men from Texas. Others were simply large corporations.

And finally there was one man, Rupert Murdoch, who decided to not only control a large commercial television network, Fox Broadcasting, but also many other Right Wing media. He began a cable news network which has little to recommend it from a news standpoint, but he hired the former head of the Republican Party, an extremely Right Wing, Conservative, partisan and propagandistic individual, Roger Ailes, to run it. It became the unofficial media arm of the Republican Party.

Today there are almost no Liberal or Progressive radio commentators on the air. There are almost no radio stations or networks, fewer than ten percent of all radio stations, owned by Liberals or Progressives. The 90% that are owned by Conservatives are hyper-political and spend as much as 24-hours attacking, literally attacking Progressive legislation and leaders. This means of course that they attack things like jobs and labor, health care reform, tariffs on imported products and people who object to sending jobs abroad.

Of course, now that Democrats are in power, and now that they have the American worker on the ropes, they object to higher deficits that would be caused temporarily by stimulating the economy. So to keep the American worker from regaining ground and keep them continually falling economically, they are hammering on all these media outlets about “fiscal conservatism.” They cannot scream loud enough or fast enough about how the stimulus (that created between 700,000 and 2 million jobs already) has failed, even though many have no problem standing for photos about the 10,000 jobs here or the 25,000 jobs there created by stimulus grants in their area. Then the next day they deny that any jobs were created.

So here’s the problem. Nationwide, 85% to 90% of the people are employed. We have 10 to 15% out of work and really hurting. But the media is owned by the corporations. Corporations fund their lobbyists on K-Street. The lobbyists, who were basically not allowed to hire any Democrats from 2000 on, fund both the Neoconservative members of Congress and the Neoconservative groups like Heritage Foundation, Cato Institute, American Enterprise Institute and untold others. They simply will not let the truth get out, or, if it does get out, they immediately run seminars and ad campaigns against it.

At least 70% of Americans, in the beginning, said that they were in favor of health care reform. The Republicans (and a few Democrats) took the $400 million that the health care industry put up to fight it. Newt Gingrich and Richard Armey left what they were doing to start two independent groups to fight health care with a variety of methods. Gingrich, who dedicated himself to defeating the Clinton health care bill, for purely commercial, lobbyist-pandering, campaign funding reasons, started a new group, called The Center for Health Transformation. It is much slicker and more subtle than his previous efforts and probably more secretive than necessary, given that we know he’s out to kill any kind of reform.

Dick Armey’s group FreedomWorks, funded by the Koch Family foundation, became the tea party groups. The idea that these were spontaneous groups is belied by the fact that their “convention” attracted only 600 attendees. The group that elected Scott Brown was the hard Right of the Republican Party, the hard core Neocons who went up there or put money into the campaign when they saw they had a chance because of the miserable job the Democratic candidate was doing. There has been a lot of pushing and shoving about who the tea baggers are and Americans for Prosperity claims a piece and others. But the fact is that they are by and large a bunch of Right Wing racists. You only have to go to YouTube and look at some video. You’ll get it in about 30 seconds.

We’re not hearing about some of the solutions because the opposition is running a counterattack on a steady basis in the media. Like the shortage of oil and gas and our dangerous dependency on foreign oil. The oil industry lobby is running a continuous campaign talking about how we must fund more drilling and how healthy it is for us to put more drilling rigs in the Gulf of Mexico or your backyard. And then they fund anti-conservation groups and members of Congress to kill alternative energy legislation. Everything that the big corporations do not want is referred to as that “job-killing” bill of whatever kind.

We know that the green energy jobs bill put forth by Senator Boxer and Senator Kerry will easily—easily—employ as many as five million Americans in jobs that simply cannot be outsourced. It will improve the atmosphere. It will enable electric and flex fuel vehicles. It will be the single biggest defense measure we could initiate because it will eliminate the power of the Arab cartel.

We need more wind, solar and other sources of electricity and a new grid to distribute it. It is a major investment that will pay dividends for fifty to one hundred years. So where are the jobs? Where is the investment? Until now, the Republicans have been holding up this kind of legislation in the Senate. On any given bill like these…health care, energy, etc…the Republicans use a technique to require the Democrats to put up 60 votes. Thus far they have been able to pick off certain Democratic Senators who are not fully committed to the people they represent, but certain interests who fund them.

Senators Blanche Lincoln of Arkansas, Ben Nelson of Nebraska, Evan Bayh of Indiana and Independent Senator Joe Lieberman of Connecticut have held up a lot of progressive legislation. So now the Democrats may try to abolish that rule and act on what is called “reconciliation” in the Senate but what most people would simply call a “simple majority.” All the Democrats will need is 50 Senators and the Vice President to vote on a bill and it passes.

If Democrats could begin to pass legislation with only the “reconciliation” numbers of 51 votes in the Senate, we could have five million energy jobs, work on the energy grid, social safety net in place for a year, SBA investment in jobs, health care available and costs coming down, and labor laws that would allow unions to come back into the marketplace again to take up job issues like denying corporations the complete ability to send jobs overseas at will or cut wages and benefits to the bone.

It is a grim picture right now, and that is before the fall elections when, thanks to the Supreme Court, elections will not be fought on television. Corporations can wipe out any attempt by the Democrats to compete in the media. They have from ten to one hundred times more money and can bring it right down to election eve, dumping ads in a market. They can buy any House member or Senate member who wants to be elected badly enough.

But there still is hope. Everyone, Republican or Democrat, who really is concerned for even the diminished middle-class existence that so many have experienced recently should be working towards one thing….encouraging, threatening, cajoling and supporting Democratic Senators to use reconciliation now to pass health care, jobs, energy and long-term fiscal planning programs. The people must see that the government can work for them. If they do, the corporations…Supreme Court or no Supreme Court…will not take over this country.

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