Sharpening My Pen
A perfect storm is brewing in the United States made up of several converging factors; an aging Baby Boomer population, a crashing economy, the draining of Social Security to pay the government's bills combined with the rise of ageism in the workplace. All of these factors are coming together to create a new demographic of poverty among those that are too old to work and too young to retire.
More and more blogs, news sites, newspapers and magazines are publishing stories about older Americans losing their jobs in the worst economy since the Great Depression. These stories are about people in their fifties and sixties that have had their 401Ks and retirement funds wiped out and have frequently worked for the same companies and corporations for the bulk of their working lives. They are laid off and, despite years of experience, proven track records and skill sets that are far beyond anything most younger people have, cannot find a job. Many of these people are also supporting either young adult children who cannot find jobs themselves or their even more elderly parents.
Some of the publications write only about bits and parts of it.
Recently, the Wall Street Journal published an article about older people simply not being able to retire. http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424053111903639404576520772216559438.html This story ignores the fact that if an older person loses their job, chances are very good they may not be able to get another and will never work again for the rest of their life. It seems to assume that no matter how old someone is, as long as they can work they can find a job.
The AP ran an article about the fact that Social Security Disability (which is separate from regular Social Security Retirement) is on the verge of insolvency.
According to the article, a great deal of the pressure on the system is coming from aging Baby Boomers, with disabilities related to aging, who are applying for disability benefits as a last resort when they can't find a job. Applications are up over 50% from a decade ago due to this phenomenon. This is despite the fact that disability payments are roughly only half of what full retirement would be if the worker were allowed to work and continue to contribute to the system. The Director of Social Security, himself, calls this the result of "economic desperation". This problem is becoming so bad that Congress recently allocated $4 Billion to Social Security to invest in programs to comb it's rolls and drop people being overpaid and who no longer qualify.
Compounding this problem are the calls by the GOP to raise the retirement age to 70. This isn't based on any evidence that people are working longer and don't actually need it, but on the fact that people are living longer and draining from the fund longer than in years past. In fact, the real belief is that many who have to retire before 70 will do so for health reasons on truncated benefits and die before they ever reach 70, thus saving the system money. Those few that actually can and do work until 70 will continue to pay into the system, so it's a win/win move. Added to that is the fact that earners in the top half of the economic strata have a longer life expectancy than those in the bottom half and have a far greater chance of making it to 70 and drawing full benefits.
Saddest of all are the personal stories showing up daily on the internet of older people falling between the cracks; able to work, need to work and cannot find jobs due to the rising ageism of employers. Employers are reluctant to hire older workers who may not be with their company more than a few years and are seen as costing more, due to years of experience, than younger prospective employees who are willing and eager to work for less money over a longer period of time. Simply put, in a society that translates everything into business terms, older workers are seen as a "bad investment". This ageism is insidious and, despite the fact that it's illegal, virtually impossible to prove. These people are draining savings and retirement accounts, if they have anything left after the market roller coaster of the last few years, simply to survive. And their money is running out.
In an article around a year ago in the Washington Independent (http://washingtonindependent.com/87333/too-young-not-to-work-but-too-old-to-work) it was stated that the unemployment rate for those over 55 is the highest it's been since 1948. The government is aware of the subtle ageism in this rate and the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights has held hearings about it. Laurie McCann, a senior attorney at the AARP Foundation Litigation and expert on age discrimination, stated, "...the phenomenon is so prevalent that discrimination simply seems like reality. As a society, we’re willing to tolerate age discrimination, more so than other kinds of discrimination. People sense that, and it gives older job-seekers a sense of futility. Why even bother applying for jobs, or bringing a discrimination case? I won’t win.”
To date, the U.S. Government has been very lax in addressing this problem and there doesn't seem to be much hope that it will be in the near future as the economy continues to deteriorate both at the public and governmental levels. The most that can be done is that those who work with the poverty stricken prepare for a social storm that has every possibility of reaching hurricane proportions; an unprecedented upsurge in poor elderly that has the chance of being monumental in scope.
In the end, the ones that may be sacrificed on the altar of economics will be society's oldest and frailest. This is the true "death panel" and the older worker faces it with every job interview.
(This is the final draft of an article I wrote to be published in a professional political blog as a guest post. You get to read it here first.)
"Over three terms in office, Mr. Perry’s administration has doled out grants, tax breaks, contracts and appointments to hundreds of his most generous supporters and their businesses. And they have helped Mr. Perry raise more money than any politician in Texas history, donations that have periodically raised eyebrows but, thanks to loose campaign finance laws and a business-friendly political culture dominated in recent years by Republicans, have only fueled Mr. Perry’s ascent. "
Sam Brownback was the only outside governor to attend Rick Perry's Prayer Rally in Houston; a clear sign that they are political bedfellows and, at the very least, engage in the same style of politics. I would really like to see a newspaper, any newspaper, thoroughly examine our Governor's campaign finance reports and actually tell us (and the rest of the state) just exactly from where Mr.Brownback's true financial support emanate's. I would also like to know which of those supporters have subsequently received state financial support in the form of contracts, grants, tax breaks and appointments.
Some have been glaringly apparent, especially in the office of Social and Rehabiltation Services, as that office has been recently put under what amounts to a Klieg spotlight due to the recent attempt to shut down an office that serves over 10,000 clients. However, this doesn't take into account other appointments, grants and contracts.
There is also the question of Kansas' campaign finance laws, their differences from Texas' and what, if any, possibility there may be that Mr. Brownback has violated those laws, or even skirted close to the edge.
Ultimately, this speaks to accountability and the citizens of this state will not know the truth unless that accountability is forced. But the real truth cannot be found out without help. Most citizens simply don't have the skills to ferret out these things. Most of us don't even know how to file a FOIA request much less even where to start to request campaign finance information (which is supposed to be open by law).
Therefore it's up to the independent press to do it for us. And I wonder, just how much of the press in this state truly is "independent"?
Agnostick's blog post, "Abortion in Kansas: “It’s A Trap!” " has been up since 4:50 PM on 7/29. It's not showing up on the blog post listings on the website's home page ("Community Perspectives")
I'm not sure if this is a glitch or a deliberate case of censorship. Either way, it's annoying.
Don't give us blogs to voice and post our thoughts and then edit, either deliberately or by default, what we say. I would sincerely appreciate that this gets "fixed". In the meantime I will do what I can to ensure that Agnostick's voice is heard. http://www2.ljworld.com/weblogs/agnostick/2011/jul/29/abortion-in-kansas-its-a-trap/
This is my official kudos to Scott Rothschild on his recent investigative reporting on the Brownback administration.
I named my blog, "Sharpening My Pen", after the adage, "The pen is mightier than the sword." It's attributed to a play written by Edward Bullwer-Lytton, however it has roots going all the way back to a play by Euripides, where he states, "The tongue is mightier than the sword." It is a small bit of wisdom in which I believe and I think that Mr. Rothschild has shown the truth of it in his recent articles for this paper.
Investigative journalism has a long and respected history. However, I'm not sure that Mr. Rothschild would have taken this path had it not been for something that occurred at the beginning of the SRS closure controversy. Mr. Rothschild requested documents from SRS and they stonewalled him. Mr. Rothschild then filed a Freedom of Information request under the Open Records Act and received the information he initially requested. I believe this act set off alarm bells for Mr. Rothschild. At the very least it was obstructionism. At it's greatest, it was an indication that the administration actually had something to hide. In doing this, the Brownback administration violated a cardinal rule of politics; don't ever give a reporter reason to believe you are hiding something.
Without a doubt, the quality of the statehouse reporting in the past few weeks has been unparalleled. Keep it up, sir. You may actually find yourself waking up one day to the news that you've won a Pulitzer nomination, if not the prize itself.
Joanne Rowling, (she has no middle name, the "K" is a nomme de plume) is one of the wealthiest women in the world, the first person to ever become a billionaire from writing books. Her work has spawned a multibillion dollar empire. She was also, at one time, a victim of domestic violence.
But I'm not writing this to be a biography of a "successful person", someone that "pulled themselves up by their bootstraps". I'm writing to tell you about the politics of a most remarkable woman. You see, despite the incredible wealth she has created solely from the use of her imagination and unlike most people in her position; the ones with money that in some ways simply fell into their hands from being "clever", Joanne Rowling is a Socialist.
The roots of that Socialism go back all the way to when she was in college at Exeter and her great aunt gave her a book to read by another remarkable woman; "Hons and Rebels" (published in the US as "Daughters and Rebels") by Jessica Mitford. She was so impressed with Mitford's writing and came to love her so much that her first and only daughter was named for her.
But her commitment to Socialism didn't gel and become hardened until her husband beat her up and threw her out of their apartment in Porto,Portugal. With no where else to go, she took her months old baby daughter and fled to Edinburgh, a victim of domestic abuse, to the one person left in the world she felt cared about her; her sister.
Once in Edinburgh, a single woman with a tiny infant and no way to support herself, she applied for the dole, the British equivalent of welfare. Once on the dole, she couldn't find a job to support herself and her daughter and also pay for daycare. She had nothing and, in her own mind, was nothing, to the point that she slipped into depression and actually started to have suicidal thoughts.After a conversation with her sister, she realized what she wanted to do, more than anything, was to write.
Every day she would walk the streets of Edinburgh with the baby in her stroller. Usually, it was aimless; simply an exercise to help the baby go to sleep. Then she started taking pads of paper with her and with cheap Bic style pens, she began writing the first Harry Potter book, in long hand, sitting in coffee shops with her baby asleep beside her. Being out was a lot better than sitting alone in her one room studio, bed sitter with the walls closing in around her. Eventually she found a cheap, used manual typewriter and started transferring everything she wrote. When the book was done, she started shipping it to agent after agent. Most didn't even bother to read it. When, on the thirteenth try, she found one that accepted it, he told her, in what would become a bit of irony,"Don't give up your day job. Children's books don't sell well." The rest is pretty much history.
But it was in those cold, damp and dark days in Edinburgh that her commitment to Socialism hardened and became a solid thing. Fame opened doors to her and through that she met and became close friends with Sarah Brown, the wife of Labour leader Gordon Brown.
In 2008 she gave one million pounds to the Labour Party with this statement: "I believe that poor and vulnerable families will fare much better under the Labour Party than they would under a Cameron-led Conservative Party. Gordon Brown has consistently prioritised and introduced measures that will save as many children as possible from a life lacking in opportunity or choice. The Labour government has reversed the long-term trend in child poverty, and is one of the leading EU countries in combating child poverty. David Cameron's promise of tax perks for the married, on the other hand, is reminiscent of the Conservative government I experienced as a lone parent. It sends the message that the Conservatives still believe a childless, dual-income, but married couple is more deserving of a financial pat on the head than those struggling, as I once was, to keep their families afloat in difficult times."
In 2000, Rowling established the Volant Trust, named for her mother, Mary Volant Rowling. It has an annual budget of 5.1 million pounds (over 8 million US dollars) and is used to fund organizations that support children in poverty and single parents.
Like most wealthy people, she puts her money where her heart is. But unlike most, her heart isn't in making more money.
ETA: I redrafted and expanded this post into a full article. It was picked up and published as a guest post by Jennifer Dowling Liles at her political blog. You can see the expanded article at: http://walkingupstream.blogspot.com/2011/07/guest-post-woman-of-magic-personal.html
I think people need to understand that, not just on a national level but on an international level, Kansas is being viewed as the "laboratory" of the right.
I have friends all over Europe; Britain, Ireland, Germany and the Netherlands among them. You would be surprised how often the name of Kansas shows up in their major newspapers (often unfavorably).
Brownback's governance is being scrutinized, not just by the left, but by the right as well. Not only do I think that Brownback is highly aware of this, I think he is actively participating in it.
There is a difference in this state. Walker's doings in Wisconsin have very little that are "faith based" about them. Same can be said for Perry, at least in his governance. The traditional "right wing" states (i.e. TN, GA, KY, SC, NC and the like) have actually moved into a more centrist position as the right itself has pushed further to the right. Some have even rejected their Tea Party candidates.
Why was Kansas chosen for this dubious "honor"?
First, we have one of the most consistently and thoroughly "red" states in the union. Douglas County is the only county in the entire state that doesn't vote Republican. People need to realize that, given the same "grading poll" that Lawrence was given by the LJWorld, the results in places like Goodland, Garden City and Fort Hays would be far different. These are people with a totally different mindset. Voting Republican for them takes no thought and is simply a kneejerk reaction.
Next is Brownback himself. The fact that he successfully won three terms in Congress was an indication to the right wing "powers that be" (and I'm actually not including the RNP in this) that they could hand this state to him on a platter.
Brownback has an agenda and I am convinced it isn't his own. That agenda is to see just how far a state can be pushed; not just to the right, but the religious right, and be tolerated before it breaks. He has been put in the position of being "innovative" and "setting precedent" for the religious right. He is a "point man". The frightening thing is that, to date, he has been successful.
I think, for the right, this is the wave of the future. Depending on how successful Brownback is in Kansas (and to date he has been very successful) other states will begin to follow. I believe Texas will be next. It's a huge state with a kneejerk Republican population (similar to Kansas), a wildly popular governor and it's ripe for takeover.
Am I being a conspiracy theorist? I don't think so at all. I think that Brownback's "prayer meeting" with Perry, under the aegis of The Family, is far more than just a "prayer meeting". It's a summit meeting.
God help us all.
I thought living in Kansas under Brownback was bad. I'm not sure even he would tolerate a judge going this far.
In a nutshell, Mississippi Justice Court Judge Theresa Brown Dearman was suspended for thirty days without pay, publicly censured and ordered to pay court costs by the Mississippi Supreme Court for judicial misconduct. Amazingly, in two different cases when she set bail she ordered that not only did the accused have to post bond, as a condition of their bail they also had to ATTEND CHURCH, in one case once per week and in another twice per week. Um, can we say First Amendment violation?
The Honorable Dearman went so far as to PLEAD IGNORANCE. She is not an attorney and, under Mississippi law, state justices are not required to even be conversant with the law, much less hold an attorney's license.
And people seriously wonder why there are parts of the population who mistrust the courts to mete out anything close to justice.
In a story that's hit the internet like a bombshell (but not the LJ World), Kansas Rep Pete DeGraaf from Mulvane compared separate "abortion only" insurance to having a "spare tire on a car".
Considering that one in four women in the US will be sexually assaulted at some point in their lifetime I guess it's perfectly OK for the "free market" to cash in on these assaults and their unintended consequences. At the same time the far right social conservatives can piously put their hands together and look skyward and say they had nothing to do with it. One more salvo in the war on women. Welcome to Kansas.
Once more the LJWorld shows it's inherent political bias in refusing to publish information that very well may have far reaching consequences for the national Republican Party.
Day before yesterday, the US House of Representatives passed House Resolution 3, the "No Taxpayer Funding for Abortion Act". (Link to the full text of the bill is here: http://www.govtrack.us/congress/billtext.xpd?bill=h112-3 )
In the body of this bill is language that redefines the meaning of the word "rape". No longer will women be able to say they were raped just because they said "No" and were forced into the act anyway. No longer will rape be defined by age or the ability to consent. No longer will ten year old girls, impregnated by their fathers, stepfathers or soccer coaches, be able to get an abortion despite the fact that having a baby will ruin their bodies, much less their souls. Well, they won't be able to get an abortion and have the GOVERNMENT pay for it.
Also buried within the language of this bill is the investment of powers to the IRS that will permit tax auditors to force women that were raped to prove that they were raped. This means detailed signed statements with descriptions of the actual assault and supporting photographic documentation along with copies of the police report and all legal action. And if her rapist plea bargains to a lesser charge or, for some reason, is found guilty of only a lesser assault the burden of proof will not be met.
Passage of this bill was largely symbolic. It's already known that the Senate will reject it and if, by some gruesome twist of fate, it actually made it past the Senate, Obama will never sign it. But it is an indication of the cultural mindset of the GOP. It's one that a large majority of people, thankfully, are reacting to in horror.
The draconian legislation coming out of the Kansas House is a microcosm of that coming out of the Nation's House. In a backlash that was awaited for with bated breath, the GOP swept in last November on a platform promise of jobs and to fix the economy. Since then they have acted like kids in a candy store passing every pet piece of social legislation, each successive act crazier and more outre in what appears to be a competitive war as to who can bring up the most socially right wing bill. This act is just one such piece of grandstanding.
I looked out my window this morning and saw a pig fly by.
First FOX News fires Glenn Beck, then Bill O'Reilly comes out in defense of Obama. Now, for the first time since Murdoch took it over, the Wall Street Journal has won a Pulitzer Prize. What's next? FOX will finally be allowed to broadcast in Canada?
Seriously, I'd like to know what's up with Murdoch. Has the man developed a conscience and ethics in his old age? Or has he finally become old enough that someone else is making his decisions for him? (He is 80 years old, after all.)
No matter what the reason, I think it's signaling the close of an era in this country; the end of "hate TV" and pseudo "news". I also sincerely hope it signals something else; the growth of a citizenry with a collective conscience and a group brain. Hey, I can hope for it, can't I?