Friday, September 22, 2006

Social Justice Anti-Distraction Cure: Just Focus

Ill: Web Daily Planet

~ or relatively modest things state and local governments can do to ease burdens on working Joes ~

It’s about time, and I know it. Like everyone else, it seems, I’ve allowed myself to get distracted from the domestic issues I firmly maintain the collective “we” need to hear candidates’ views concerning before we vote in November, and that I, for one, believe need remedying after so long a period of neglect.

Instead I’ve gotten caught up in the ongoing drama that is the daily—lately hourly—contentious arguments & hairpin turns in what’s become a media-hogging three-ring circus over the tone and tenor of national thwart-the-terrorists legislation.

I suspect that neither the neglect of domestic matters—more precisely, for want of a better term, social justice issues--nor the timing of the ferocious battles between Bush & Congress over that proposed legislation is accidental. It’s no secret that the GOP strategy this year is to emphasize what the polls say is their slight strength in national security issues, aside from the imbroglio that is Iraq itself.

Thus the noise and hubris over issues that are really better left to be decided after the election, when the motivation to grandstand and blow thick clouds of smoke up our collective asses solely for the benefit of political kabuki theatre will have dissipated and we can all think with clearer minds and investigate the claims calmly, both pro and con. Like that’s gonna happen.

I sometimes think I resent nothing about Rovian politics so much as its calculated strategy of capitalizing on disastrous events to push through legislation with a forced sense of (manufactured) urgency such that nobody even knows what they’re voting for (e.g. the Patriot Act), nor is there provided enough accurate information to the public, or time to have a meaningful public debate.

It’s all theatre now—the illusion of good governance with none of the substance. In that, we’ve been hijacked.

But that’s not really the core of my intended topic today, which is (a stab, anyway) at domestic matters all the smoke and mirrors on the big national stage are intended to distract us from. I can’t possibly address all of the issues I believe need attention in what’s intended to be a rather short (*readable*) post, so I’ll have to begin somewhere, and nowhere better than with a story I saw aired on the Seattle-area news several days ago.

This story continues to haunt me, speaking so eloquently to the facts that-- despite the modern American economy of outsourced jobs, (still) relatively high unemployment rates, increasing tax burdens (if you’re not wealthy) and the intentional funneling of federal government dollars away from anything that could be seen as a “social safety net” in favor of the hollow rubric of “privatization” coupled with egregious examples of corporate welfare-- there really are some relatively simple and modest fixes available that our own state and local governments can do—that is, without having to make them national issues. Although the latter would be nice, they’d be much harder to get passed in the current contentious and divisive political climate.

Have we become so entranced with political events on the big national stage that we’ve forgotten that “all politics is local”?

The story, (title bar) details the experiences of two families whose homes were lost in scams.

"Rosa and Reginald Beck used to own a split-level home in Puyallup. They bought it using an adjustable rate mortgages, or ARM, a kind of loan that has been touted as a way to buy a house at ultra-low interest rates. They were popular when interest rates were low, but now the rates are being adjusted upward and it's leaving people vulnerable not just to bankruptcy, but to scam artists who promise to offer a solution to their problems.

"The Becks' ARM payment went sky high just as Reginald was laid off and the two were looking for solutions. 'It went from $950 for the first mortgage all the way to about $1500 plus, just for the first mortgage alone,' Reginald Beck said.

"Facing foreclosure, the Becks responded to a flyer in their mailbox from a company called Pierce County Residential Credit Advisors. The company promised to buy their house, take the mortgage out of their name and lease the house back to them with an option to buy down the road.

"Rosa Beck says a man named David Gintz pressured them to sign a 'quit claim'" a legal document that releases someone's interest in a piece of property.

'I was really upset and I didn't want to sign the paper but the guy was basically pushing us to sign the forms,' Rosa Beck says.

"With a stroke of a pen, the Becks lost their house and $70,000 in equity. Their mortgage wasn't paid off. They were evicted and were homeless for 15 months.

'We have children and we had to separate from our children. We couldn't take care of them and we had to send them to Florida to get taken care of because we couldn't provide for them,' Rosa Beck says."

After this story aired, I heard of yet another like it. So that's three families' reports & counting.

It seems obvious to me that when people have fallen behind on their mortgages, they quite understandably become desperate, and, as this article illustrates, easy prey to fast-talking con men, with (in this hot housing market) predictable results.

In that most families have most of their wealth tied up in their homes these days, it’s an especially reprehensible crime to steal that from them, dispossess them, and turn them and their families out into the streets. Although that sort of fraud should be a prosecutable matter in most states, this particular scam is so very reprehensible punishment for it should be escalated and be made more than usually sticky.

There should also be a fast-track way to avoid foreclosure under the circumstance where a victim is told the mortgage is going to be paid off--and if that conflicts with the new draconian national personal bankruptcy laws, all the better—we have to be able to force cases that show, in high, bright relief—how unfair the law really has become, and how truly inimical it now is to the notion of a “fresh start.”

For another example, when astronomical medical expenses force one into bankruptcy, which has become an increasingly common experience for a lot of Americans. It is now officially the most common cause of bankruptcy—not, as the Neocons and their credit-card campaign contributors would have it, “irresponsible” credit card spending for frivolous items avaricious, well-trained consumers merely want, but don’t really need.

Second, outlaw the practice of employers pulling credit reports and denying applicants work based on that alone, unless the employer can show that a credit report is relevant to the job. In this anecdotal case, for instance, the man worked in a high tech position—unless it was related to handling cash, or bookkeeping—what the hell did his credit report have to do with his capacity to do the job? Which, by the way, would have enabled him to avoid, or at the very least, fight back against the fraud perpetrators.

A friend in Massachusetts tells me that’s already the law there, but they also have universal health insurance that nobody can be denied, and which spreads the risks evenly among the population (unlike what we have here in Washington, which segregates the riskiest to a pool with premiums and deductibles so high that nobody can afford to carry it—that is, those who really need it, and can’t afford to drop it despite the fact they can’t use it, since if they do, they’ll never be eligible for health insurance in the private market again.)

Is it just me, or is it more than obvious that what we’ve got going on in this country are cataclysmic changes in the American job market and its traditional benefits-- besides the obvious peace of mind that comes from a regular paycheck---together with a lot of difficulty making the transition?

A truly moral “fair shake” would be greatly welcomed, and that, to me, is what has been so disastrous about public policy under the Bush Administration, which feeds us political theatre and propaganda about the imaginary booming economy in lieu of meaningful solutions.

Here in Seattle we’ve suffered one of the highest unemployment rates in the entire nation for more than three years, and the much-vaunted “recovery” has been counted in teeny numbers--only occasionally spiking before falling flat again. Circumstances are such that employers no longer even bother to acknowledge applications while demanding near-impossible qualifications and wages drift downward. Of course, unemployment benefits weren’t set up to last long enough to see the unemployed through it.

The federal government continues to starve programs of every and any stripe that formerly relied on those dollars to retrain workers, across the board. Even Worksource, the Washington state agency supposedly in charge of helping the unemployed to help themselves, until very recently hasn’t even been able to consistently provide training in what should have been the minor matter of learning Microsoft suite computer programs in which all employers demand (at the very least) proficiency. Is the financial titan Microsoft itself helping in that at all? (It is common knowledge that they don’t bother to respond to resumes submitted externally--that is, without benefit of an insider drawing it to their attention--no matter how qualified an applicant may be.)

Aside from that, the only advice is: everybody retrain for careers in the medical field, fast—while the gravy train is still running on a somewhat reliable schedule. Even if the sight of blood causes you to faint, nurse’s aides jobs go begging, or you can go to work for a biotech and torture small animals to death in the name of science. When the medical industry implodes of its own weight and outrageous expense to consumers, watch out! Your other choice is to retrain for a career in high tech. If those limited options don’t appeal to you, too bad. There aren’t enough public resources to help you advance in fields in which you may already have a long working history.

It seems to me that whole swaths of the country are undergoing changes something very much like conditions this nation has not seen since the Great Depression. Bad as it's been here, I really feel for people in & around the Motor City after the recent announcements of layoffs there (even while the CEO's of those comanies, who ran them into the ground, bail with multimillion dollar gold parachutes.)

And the GOP is not going to acknowledge it. As I once said here, in my blog: “What the GOP stands for on domestic issues is nothing so much as ‘I got mine and I’m slamming the door in your face.’” No signs from the Grand Old Party that things are going to improve anytime soon.

The most viable option is to start agitating for significant change on the local level. Start asking candidates the hard questions about where they stand on social justice issues like the ones presented here.

It’s a start, and a great way for local candidates to draw attention to and differentiate themselves from the heartless and immoral policies of the GOP.


Anonymous Jet Newal said...

It makes you wonder what they expect to do, and who do they expect to sell to, when the middle class implodes, doesn't it?

6:52 PM  
Anonymous Windspike said...

Sounds like business as usual for the GOP.

7:17 PM  
Anonymous Tor Hershman said...

Just I just say you listed at an 'Enimies of Hey Zeus' site soooooooo moi stopped in to say howdy do.

Stay on Groovin' Safari,

7:20 PM  

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