View From Table 9

July 10, 2016

The Power of Accountability

Filed under: Uncategorized — table9 @ 2:06 am

I’ve spent a good part of the last few days ruminating on current events. Black Lives Matter. All Lives Matter. Blue Lives Matter. Don’t take sides, but be defensive and outraged at different viewpoints. What’s behind all this?

Then it came to me. Accountability. Transparency. Consistency.

See, there’s been a problem for a very long time: Convictions of innocent people. It’s been going on for decades, either because of poor representation, poor police work, poor handling of evidence or maybe all of these. There are organizations dedicated to exonerating the innocent and there is a registry as well. Numbers vary depending on who’s doing the research but it happens.

Is that the Police’s fault? No and yes. There are officers who have behaved poorly. Knowing that there are ‘dirty’ cops out there, cops who would not be truthful, would plant evidence, would “lose” evidence exonerating a person creates an element of mistrust. They are not always on your side, and more often than not they don’t get caught.

Is it the victim’s fault? We say we shouldn’t blame the victim, but then we say oh, well he was a felon, a bad guy, look at him, he’s homeless, he’s been arrested a zillion times, to the point that with Phil Castile, having a lot of traffic violations somehow makes him a ‘bad guy’. Well, he was speeding in the past. Driving without a muffler. Really? But we like to find comfort in that the person who was killed was somehow deserving of it due to their character, that they were bad apples and the world was better anyhow.

Now we live in a world of video, where anyone can use their phone to record, even ‘live broadcast’, We’ve watched in sheer horror as people are chased and gunned down. Thrown to the ground. We’ve watched as they, completely incapacitated, have been shot at close range. We’ve watched them say “I can’t breathe” until they died. We watched as a man was chased down and shot in the back, then evidence planted by his corpse, followed by a falsified report that would have been accepted except for that video. On and on, and in more cases than not, exoneration of the officers involved. Innocent. How can that be?

With each finding of innocence, not guilty, there is a sense of empowerment. I did it, I was right, it’s OK to shoot in this situation, we will be found innocent. Society, our community, says this is right and OK, so we will keep on. They are given a certain amount of impunity, indemnity, an exception from the law that others would not get. They are getting away with murder.

This is not good.

More than anything, people want fair treatment. We learn this as toddlers.  “That’s not fair!”  We learn that rewards and punishments should be based on behavior and should be consistent, transparent and unbiased. You get the gold medal because you’re the fastest. The A because you answered enough questions correctly.  When someone is being seen as being treated as ‘favored’ or ‘unfavored’, resentment begins to grow. When things are handled unequally, outrage results.  Why did you give him a gold medal when I was faster?  That is unjust.

When those who are supposed to restore fairness do not, when they become a big part of the problem, things fall apart. Because if we can’t just those we give our power to use it wisely and come up with just, fair treatment, then we look to take that power back and resolve it ourselves.  That is also learned in childhood and carries through life.  Revenge, it’s often called.  Vigilante justice.  Settling the score. Righting a wrong.

It was, sadly, only a matter of time before someone would become unhinged, say here and no farther, we’re damned if we do and damned if we don’t and it doesn’t matter because the cop can kill in cold blood and be found innocent, so that’s it. They can kill us without reason, we kill them without reason. Dallas was that place, and I fear it may not be the end. Because “Lives Matter” and taking sides creates conditions for combat, for battle. This is how wars start. I fear the end.

The only way to truly end this is to demand transparency and accountability. When you kill someone, whether you are a police officer or not, you must be held responsible for that, and there must not be a different standard no matter how ‘tough’ your job is. Doctors whose patients die to often are charged with malpractice, can go to jail, lose their license. Pilots who make too many errors in flight or who crash an airplane due to error face charges, go to jail, can lose their license. We need the same standards for our police.

People make mistakes. People react badly. People have pre-conceived notions that drive behavior. That does not mean they are not accountable, no matter what their role. Our officers are not military. Their job is not to eliminate combatants. Their job is to protect and to serve. They are supposed to be peacekeepers. Let’s make sure they get back to this role. Require transparency. Require accountability. Think creatively. Stop, please stop choosing sides and shouting. It solves nothing and costs so much more.

** Full disclosure: I have been employed as a dispatcher for a university police department. Police work is not alien to me.

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May 17, 2016

What Do Bernie and Donald Have In Common?

Filed under: Uncategorized — table9 @ 7:30 pm

What? How could Bernie Sanders, longtime Senator from Vermont and voice of social democracy and Donald Trump, icon of capitalism possibly have in common?

 

  •  They are both political outsiders. Sure, Bernie’s been the Senator from Vermont forever, but until now nobody’s listened to him.
  • Every time they win, everyone tells tell us they can’t win.
  • We are regularly told we are stupid, crazy, throwing away our vote, and that the election of this candidate will mean the end of everything as we know it.
  • The Traditional Party Power Structure is either not understanding or ignoring what the voters are truly expressing in these votes.
    • We are tired of the status quo
    • We don’t trust any professional politician anointed by the status quo
    • We are tired of being screwed

I am glad that Bernie and Donald are in it, because as long as they are, people are forced to confront issues they’d rather not.

Issues like the fact that there is little to no middle class left standing.  That a High School Diploma is basically worthless and that in order to actually get a job beyond minimum wage, you either have to have hundreds of thousands of dollars or you have to borrow hundreds of thousands of dollars to get a college degree.

That even that degree is no guarantee you’ll get a decent job.

That unchecked influence of unfettered dollars influences the few at the expense of the many.

That democracy is not a zero-sum game.  You can create equality and support a middle class.  To do that, though, you have to stop engendering fear and hate and start creating policies that allow both.

Policies that restrict the amount of tuition a taxpayer-supported college can collect from a student.

Policies that restrict campaign contributions.

Policies that fund long ignored infrastructure maintenance and improvement, which itself provides an ecosystem of good jobs and growth.

Policies that support rather than punish the poor.

Policies that allow us all to have dignity.

First they ignore you.

Then they laugh at you.

Then they attack you.

Then you win.

and I don’t give a hoot who did or did not say that.

March 11, 2015

The Secret Life of Homework

Filed under: Uncategorized — table9 @ 2:38 pm
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Recently, a young man, my son’s age, left his home, walked maybe three or four hundred yards, and ended his life. Newspapers report that shortly before this happened, he had gotten an e-mail message about some late homework that, if not done, would result in a poor grade. This young man had all the advantages – parents clearly well off, father a successful businessman, top private school enrollment, and parents so desperate to find him that they made their search very public, sending messages through the media that he had the ‘ultimate free pass’, and that ‘all was forgiven, absolutely everything’, just please, please son, come home.

Because this search was so public, and probably also because this child had so many advantages in life, many have connected the pretty-obvious dots here and surmised that the high stakes, high pressure academic environment, combined with his parents’ likely intense desire for him to do well, were the main drivers behind this desperate act. There seemed to be no ‘mitigators’ – substance abuse, mental health issues, not even a love of violent video games – that would explain such a definitive response.

So how does a young man living a seemingly charmed life do this?  This has been the topic of many posts, blogs, articles, and even a petition to the President of the United States. Likewise, so many parents, likely terrified of what this could mean for their child and their parenting, have questioned whether we should put any pressure on our offspring to succeed, what the point of all this is. Make sure your child knows he is loved no matter what he does, good or bad, it doesn’t matter. Homework doesn’t matter. Grades don’t matter. Except when they do, because let’s face it, Harvard doesn’t accept the child who most clearly proclaims to the world that he is loved no matter what. Harvard wants the grades.

Suicides by teenagers are not a new phenomenon. Romeo and Juliet, after all, were teenagers. There are countless studies out there about the immature, impulsive, highly hormonally charged teenage brain. How we can’t fully access our executive functioning, decision making parts of our brain until we’re in our twenties. How teenagers will end their lives because they’re made fun of, or because they’re different, or because their hearts are broken by the end of a romance, or because of abuse by adults, or because of grades.

Academic pressure is not a new phenomenon either, nor is parenting pressure to succeed academically. Look at the 1985 movie “The Breakfast Club”. One of the students in detention is characterized as a ‘nerd’. Brian Johnson, portrayed by actor Anthony Michael Hall, is seen being dropped off by his mother who chastises him that he better study, and when told he wasn’t allowed to study, hears “you better figure out a way to, mister.” He belongs to the math club and the physics club. And, he reveals in the confession scene that he was in detention because he brought a gun to school with the plan to kill himself because a failing shop class grade would mess up his perfect GPA.

So, we’re aware of both of these phenomenon. The knee jerk is to ‘end bullying!’, ‘don’t put so much pressure on kids to succeed!’, ‘it gets better!’ Persevere, life is long. I think we know intrinsically, somewhere, that many these activities won’t really do much except make us feel we’re doing something.    In some cases, the messaging may help, such as when a child shunned for being different realizes that there is life beyond high school (thank God) and that it really does get better.  Not pressuring your progeny to do well in school/sports/whatever? Fat chance.   None of us wants our child living in our basement at age 35.  We want them to get good jobs and secure their own future. That means get a good education. Good education means good grades.

What we haven’t really examined is…why homework? There are likewise countless studies showing that homework is of little academic value. Kids hate it. Parents hate it. Teachers spend so much time grading it. It adds hours to the academic day with diminishing returns from that exhausted hormonal brain. Absolutely nothing being created contributes in any way to the world. Seriously, nobody cares about what you say in your worksheet on the Yellow Fever Epidemic of 1793. What matters is that you did it, you did it correctly and it was reasonably understandable. So, why do we persist in expecting it, demanding it, assigning it? What value does it have anyway?

What is missed is that our education system isn’t designed just to educate, it’s also designed to produce future workers. Workers who have the knowledge needed to perform the work of industry. Workers who are used to sitting or standing for long periods because they’re told to. Workers who will generate the quarterly income and expenses report and 37 page PowerPoint discussion of market penetration and sit through the 2 hour grindingly dull meeting and will fill out the form in triplicate without question and mere grumbles of complaint. Homework, lectures, forms, standardized tests, these are all training tools for future employees. Be bright. Be good problem solvers. Be creative thinkers. Be able to do seemingly useless, pointless activities over and over again without complaint because that’s what the boss (teacher) demands for you to succeed. Sit still regardless of how dull the experience is, because that’s what the boss (teacher) requires of you. Change the world, except don’t challenge the meaningless parts of work. You have to do it to succeed. To make the grade.

We can’t eliminate homework unless we also are willing to eliminate the need for these activities in the workplace. We can’t insist on only unleashing potential unless we have no need for rote complicity and tolerance for that which we find personally pointless. This is not possible as our society is constructed. What I might find pointless someone else finds valuable. We are cogs, and that’s not a bad thing always, because we need cogs to turn wheels.

What I would suggest is that we all acknowledge this simple fact: Homework prepares you for real work. Yes, it is silly. No, it’s probably not helping you learn all that much. It’s also not. Because while you personally won’t always see the point, in modern workplaces, the point may not be seen by you. That doesn’t mean there isn’t one. Do it, because it’s asked. Care about doing it well, because that makes your time doing it well spent. Trust that we’re not putting you through this just because, that there is value beyond what you can see. Because I love you, because I want so much for you, I ask, require, insist, that you do things that are uncomfortable and seem pointless or stupid sometimes. Maybe understanding now the value later will help you get through it. I don’t know. Remember though that we’re playing a long game here. Believe in yourself and everything is possible.

February 9, 2015

Singing through the Veil of Dementia

I spent a good couple of hours tonight putting together a playlist for my mother. Researchers say that music reaches the dementia patient long after recognition fades and language fails. The important thing is to be sure that the music selected be relevant, important, enjoyed by the person who is becoming increasingly distant. That music is the most soothing, brings the most joy, provides the best experience.

The process of building her playlist was full of so much emotion for me. Joy, excitement, melancholy, sadness and hope, all rolled up. I noticed how different her musical tastes were from my father’s and that he bought most of the CDs they had. He is all jazz and crooners. Cleo Lane. Roy Orbison. Preservation Jazz Hall. That was never her music. She loved show tunes, Rogers & Hammerstein, some opera – Pavarotti, Domingo, and Gilbert & Sullivan. Catholic hymns, not to be confused with traditional gospel, which was never her speed. Some of her favorites from the St. Colman’s Guitar Mass days. Tom Lehrer. Andrews Sisters. Glenn Miller. What would reach her? What would move her? What would give her joy?

As the list evolved, I found myself planting little messages to her – do you remember? Summer Stage, the King and I, Shall We Dance, Mom? How about Sweet Mystery of Life, Young Frankenstein, banishing us from the living room because we laughing so hard you couldn’t hear the Jeanette McDonald original being sung? Could I, though this work, not only reach her, but could I communicate with her, tell stories to her, through these choices? It is my most fervent hope, perhaps asking too much, that this be so.

Scrolling through my musical library, I wondered, what would my son pick for me, should I be captured by this beast called dementia? What music would he choose out of the hundreds…ok thousands of titles I have stored in one form or another? How would he tell our story, a story of a mother and child, through song and sound? Could I even choose myself which pieces spoke to my very core, the vibration of my existence? I’m not honestly sure I could curate that list, and I don’t ever want him to have to do for me what I am doing for my mother. I would love to hear that play list one day, though.

For now, I bring her this offering, stored away in a tiny music player, no bigger than a domino. I will give them an armband, a set of good headphones, a charge cord. I will cross my fingers as they press play, hoping that she will understand – why this tune? Oh, remember that song, or at the very least, that the sounds bring smiles for both of us. A mother drifting away, a daughter sending love through the songs sung for her. Soothing the grief felt as mom disappears into the mist. Praying for peace.

February 28, 2010

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February 6, 2009

What the #$*(P&? Enough Already!

Filed under: musings,Uncategorized — table9 @ 3:16 pm

Like hundreds of millions of folks in the country, I watched with hope and awe the inauguration a few weeks ago. It was one of those times when I really truly thought an era was ending, we had collectively pulled our heads out of…wherever…and were finally going to change course and fix what is so clearly broken in our economy.

This, after the ‘great bailout’ which (no surprises) turned out to be the great big Christmas bonus from us taxpayers to fatcat bankers and Wall Street bigwigs via their Republican buddies. You know, the guys who then took those ‘critically needed to save us’ trillions of dollars, then managed both to layoff thousands AND still give themselves ‘great job’ bonuses and continue fueling their private jets and ‘team building’ exercises in the Bahamas using our tax dollars.

I figured (hoped) that those payoffs/paybacks/lovely party gifts were the last gasp of a 30 year failed economic theory that if you cut taxes at the top, it spurs investment and that if you regulate less, the market takes care of everything. We can all see how that one turned out, right? (Lots of investment dollars channeled into suspect mortgage schemes and more and more Ponzis that then begat more and more suspect mortgage schemes and more and more Ponzis meanwhile real jobs eroding and pop! goes the economy).

Then we’ve had a succession of black Mondays, as they’re being called, as more and more employers ‘shed’ jobs (like a dog sheds old fur? These are PEOPLE, not things to be ‘shed’) and more and more people sink into unemployment and debt and despair and desperation.

Then comes Mr. Obama and his idea to take those dollars previously directed to fund private jet fuel and Bahamas massages and $30 Million bonuses for running us into the ground and use it to, well, fix our aging creaking water systems, our bridges that are falling down (remember Minn 35W?), and our schools that house our future and are becoming dangerously outdated. Sounds good to me. At least I get a better water system, safe bridges and good school facilities out of it. Maybe even some more energy independence. Under the previous plan, I got to read about how great it was to steal us all blind AND still maintain my standard of living AND get great bonuses for doing so.

So, OK. Obama makes a critical mistake though: He thinks that good ideas should be acknowledged, especially when so many of you have royally blown it (and don’t even pretend to be surprised that this happened since we all know you very well saw it a looong time ago and ignored it because it was making you rich as Rome was burning).

Imagine my surprise to read though that some are either more delusional than I thought OR they really don’t give a crap about the rest of us and are just looking for any way to derail their ‘opposition’ just for spite or because they want a return to the days when they’re lining their pockets with our tax dollars while we drown.

Because Republicans are now looking to ‘trim’ the rescue package, take tax dollars out of infrastructure spending (stuff we really need) in favor of tax cuts designed to ‘stimulate spending’ – give us our tax dollars back to spend any way we like. Um, if we don’t have jobs, and don’t even have the prospect of getting jobs, we don’t pay income tax and we don’t get any tax dollars to spend, geniuses. What dollars we do get we’re saving like newly evangelized recovering grasshoppers who’ve just realized the storm is coming and we’re not ready.

Companies who make stuff for us to buy with our newly-freed-non-existent tax dollars aren’t investing either because, well, nobody’s buying their stuff (because we either don’t have income, are getting our income cut, or are terrified we’ll lose our income and are now socking away every extra dime). So, not much room for investment when you don’t have customers.

See, before any tax cuts ‘stimulate’ anything there have to be tax dollars generated, and without jobs, people don’t pay so much in taxes. So what you’re really doing here is ‘rescuing’ all those who would still pay taxes even without jobs -those with trust funds, massive investments, large pots of money. You know, the ones who don’t actually work and are having to downsize from their Bentley to their Benz but will never lose their house or their family or worry about feeding their kids. Yeah, they’re the ones who really need help. Truly.

So, my advice for Mr. Obama? Quit looking to make peace in the sandbox. Don’t look to create ‘bipartisanship’ with those who clearly are not interested at all in the ‘common good’ unless the ‘common good’ is only the top 5% of earners. These are the folks who think (truly) that another Great Depression would be ‘good’ for us as it would allow the market to ‘fix’ itself and rid ourselves of all this unnecessary spending and teach us all a ‘lesson’ in how to be self-reliant and strong. End the welfare state! Let them all starve and let only the strong (rich) survive. That’s the right stuff! It’s time for us all to say no more, folks. It just doesn’t work and what you’re proposing is not going to fly.

Enough, already.

December 19, 2008

Survival Guide for Veterans

Sad that an independent gourp has to come out with this, but hey, it’s out!

December 19, 2008
Editorial
Survival Guide for Veterans

Far too often, military veterans find themselves desperately short of the information they need as they make the torturous quest for benefits within one of this country’s most daunting bureaucracies, the Department of Veterans Affairs.

Officials say help is on the way, but administrators are forever promising to streamline procedures for an era of conquered paperwork that never seems to come. That is why it is heartening to see that one promising form of help has indeed arrived: a 599-page guide to veterans’ issues, from educational help to vocational rehabilitation, from housing to citizenship.

It’s called “The American Veterans’ and Servicemembers’ Survival Guide,” and it comes, unsurprisingly, from outside the system. It is a publication of the nonprofit advocacy group Veterans for America, available as a free download at veteransforamerica.org.

This electronic book is a descendant of “The Viet Vet Survival Guide,” which was published a decade after the end of that conflict — when veterans were still being routinely and shamefully denied their rights. The new book was written by veterans and lawyers for a new generation of soldiers with old problems, like post-traumatic stress, and new ones like traumatic brain injury, the brutal legacy of Iraq’s and Afghanistan’s roadside bombs.

The authors caution that while the guide will help a veteran understand what’s going on, it is not a substitute for a good lawyer or other advocate. And it isn’t the only source of information: The government, too, has vast Web sites explaining things — for example, how officers help veterans through the disability evaluation system. (In military acronyms, it’s how the Physical Evaluation Board Liaison Officer, or Peblo, helps with the D.E.S.)

The “Survival Guide” does this, too, but with a difference: It also warns veterans to “pay careful attention to what you say to your Peblo,” because the Peblo is not required to act in their best interests the way an attorney is, and things told to a Peblo are not necessarily confidential.

No book will ever defeat a bureaucracy this large, but a book can help people to subdue it. Veterans and their families often praise the dedication of health-care providers, but at the same time express utter frustration over incomprehensible thickets of rules and the glacial pace at which benefits and appeals are decided.

Unless and until the government significantly improves its treatment of veterans — and our hopes are high for progress under Gen. Eric Shinseki, President-elect Barack Obama’s nominee to run Veterans Affairs — they will have to keep looking to one another for help, as they always have. This veterans’ guide looks like a powerful updating of that old tradition.

Copyright 2008 The New York Times Company

November 18, 2008

Things Looking Bad? Try being a Wounded Veteran

Dear Wounded Vet,

Thank you for fighting for us in our ‘war on terror’. Thank you for sacrificing your time, your family, your health and your freedom so that we may enjoy ours.

Now we’re not going to give you a job, we’re going to fire your spouse for being with you while you’re wounded, we’re going to reposess your house and we’re not going to pay you anything for a really long time (if ever) for the injuries – physical and mental – you sustained for us.

When you complain, we’ll remind you that you ‘volunteered’ and that this was what you signed up for and besides, you’re probably faking your injury/illness so you can ‘live off the Government”.

By the way, those of us who made like $400 Million a year to run the economy into the ground, making things worse for you, get to keep all their money and don’t go to jail.

Love,

A Grateful Nation (not really).

Honestly, we should be ashamed….

November 18, 2008

New Veterans Hit Hard by Economic Crisis

After a mortar sent Andrew Spurlock hurtling off a roof in Iraq, ending his Army career in 2006, the seasoned infantryman set aside bitterness over his back injury and began to chart his life in storybook fashion: a new house, a job as a police officer and more children.

“We had a budget and a plan,” said Mr. Spurlock, 29, a father of three, who with his wife, Michelle, hoped to avoid the pitfalls of his transition from Ramadi, Iraq, to Apopka, Fla.

But the move proved treacherous, as it often does for veterans. The job with the Orange County Sheriff’s Office fell through after officials there told Mr. Spurlock that he needed to “decompress” after two combat tours, a judgment that took him by surprise. Scrambling, he settled for a job delivering pizzas.

Mr. Spurlock’s disability claim for his back injury took 18 months to process, a year longer than expected. With little choice, the couple began putting mortgage payments on credit cards. The family debt climbed to $60,000, a chunk of it for medical bills, including for his wife and child. Foreclosure seemed certain.

While few Americans are sheltered from the jolt of the recent economic crisis, the nation’s newest veterans, particularly the wounded, are being hit especially hard. The triple-whammy of injury, unemployment and waiting for disability claims to be processed has forced many veterans into foreclosure, or sent them teetering on its edge, according to veterans’ organizations.

The problem is hard to quantify because there are no foreclosure statistics singling out veterans and service members. Congress recently asked the Veterans Affairs Department to find out how badly veterans were being affected, particularly by foreclosures. The Army, too, began tracking requests for help on foreclosure issues for the first time. Service organizations report that requests for help from military personnel and new veterans, especially those who were wounded, mentally or physically, and are struggling to keep their houses and pay their bills, has jumped sharply.

“The demand curve has gone almost straight up this year,” said Bill Nelson, executive director for USA Cares, a nonprofit group that provides financial help to members of the military and to veterans. Housing, Mr. Nelson said, “is the biggest driver in the last 12 months.”

Congress has recently taken small steps to help, banning lenders from foreclosing on military personnel for nine months after their return from overseas, up from three months, and ensuring that interest rates on their loans remain stable for a year. Another relief bill to prevent certain injured veterans from losing their homes while they wait for their disability money was signed into law in October. The protection is good for one year.

“We owe these men and women more than a pat on the back,” said Senator John Kerry, Democrat of Massachusetts, who introduced one of the bills.

But the short-term measures do little to address the underlying economic difficulties that new veterans face, beginning with the job hunt. Veterans, particularly those in their 20s, have faced higher unemployment rates in recent years than those who never served in the military, though the gap has shrunk as the economy has worsened. (Veterans traditionally have lower unemployment rates than nonveterans.)

Recently discharged veterans, though, fared worst of all. A 2007 survey for the Veterans Affairs Department of 1,941 combat veterans who left the military mostly in 2005 showed nearly 18 percent were unemployed as of last year. The average national jobless rate in October was 6.5 percent.

A quarter of those who found jobs failed to make a living wage, earning less than $21,840 a year.

“You fill out a job application and you can’t write ‘long-range reconnaissance and sniper skills,’ ” said Mr. Spurlock, who searched a year for a better-paying job than delivering pizza, finally finding one as a construction supervisor.

The situation is especially troubling for the injured, whose financial problems begin almost immediately.

“The wife drops everything to be by his bedside,” said Meredith Leyva, founder of Operation Homefront, a nonprofit group that provides emergency money and aid to 33,000 military families a year, including the Spurlocks. “She stays at the nearest hotel to make sure he is alive. They live that way for months. She either has to quit her job or she is fired. This bankrupts people.”

Some injured veterans cannot work at all and must rely on disability checks and other government payouts. The wait for a disability check from the Veterans Affairs Department averaged six months in August, enough to financially crush some families.

Those who can work struggle to find employers willing to accommodate their injuries, including mental health problems. The Labor Department recently started a Web site, America’s Heroes at Work, that prods employers into hiring more wounded veterans and explains that post-traumatic stress disorder and traumatic brain injury are manageable conditions and not necessarily long-term.

Some believe that the government has to do more.

“There have to be incentives for employers,” said Thomas L. Wilkerson, a retired Marine Corps general who is chief executive of the Naval Institute, an independent nonprofit group.

Active duty troops who switch installations also find themselves struggling. Many of those forced to sell their homes this year are finding a scarcity of buyers, or even renters, particularly in states hit hard by the mortgage crisis. Military spouses must choose between taking a loss on their homes or riding out the housing slowdown and facing another separation from their loved one.

Although the government offers safeguards for some federal employees in similar circumstances, it will not help service members make up the difference if they are forced to sell a home at a loss.

What is worse, foreclosure or excessive debt can damage a service member’s career by leading to discharge, the loss of security clearances or, in extreme cases, jail.

A 2007 California task force reported that in the Navy, the number of security clearances revoked because of debt increased to 1,999 in 2005, from 124 in 2000.

“It’s the crash in the market,” said Joe Gladden, managing partner of Veteran Realty Service America’s Military, who sees families in extremis out of Northern Virginia. “It’s not that they have made stupid decisions.”

Mr. Gladden said e-mail messages and phone calls to his office had become so routine that he encouraged military families to share their stories anonymously on his company Web site, vrsam.com.

“I am about sick over this situation,” one woman wrote. “Our two young boys have to go without seeing Daddy until we can sell our house. Not only that, but we face the possibility of Daddy deploying to Iraq again. Shouldn’t we be able to spend as much time together until that happens?”

For the Hatchers, the financial decline began after Roger, a Navy reservist and father of four, returned from his first tour of duty in Iraq. When he got back to Ventura, Calif., in 2004, his job as a groundskeeper for a school district was gone. He was offered a custodial job for less pay. Mr. Hatcher decided to find another job. He looked for several months, then was redeployed to Iraq. By then, the family had moved to Bakersfield, to a cheaper house near relatives.

His second tour was tougher. Iraq had grown more violent, and in late 2006, Mr. Hatcher was blown out of a Humvee after it hit a roadside bomb. The blast injured his shoulder, arm and neck. Back home, Mr. Hatcher, 49, fell prey to nightmares and rages. He drank heavily, said Tami, his wife of two decades. The pain in his shoulder never let up.

It took Mr. Hatcher eight months to find a job, and the family fell behind on their house payments. A disability claim filed in 2007 was still pending in August, Mrs. Hatcher said.

Mr. Hatcher wound up hospitalized for post-traumatic stress disorder three times. “We noticed there was a change after the first tour, but not as drastic as this time,” Mrs. Hatcher said. “The person comes back a different person, and then you have financial issues on top of it.”

His new employer, a construction company, welcomed him back after each medical absence. Still, weeks off the job meant weeks without pay.

Meanwhile, the mortgage company ratcheted up the pressure. Feeling cornered, the Hatchers signed a forbearance agreement, which significantly increased their monthly payment. “They knew about my husband’s situation,” Mrs. Hatcher said of the mortgage company. “They wouldn’t work with us.”

The Hatchers borrowed from friends and relatives but still came up short. Then two nonprofit groups stepped in to help. One of them, Operation Homefront, negotiated with the lender to keep them in their house.

Mrs. Hatcher, a purchasing agent, tried her best to shield her husband from their financial troubles. “It’s putting a big strain on me,” she admitted. “But only one of us can lose it at a time right now, and it’s his turn.”

The Spurlocks, back in Florida, were not so lucky. Operation Homefront managed to stop foreclosure proceedings, but the couple had to agree to a deed in lieu, turning over their house to the bank. Their debt was forgiven.

The family moved into a rental house and whittled down its credit card debt to $26,000.

“It feels impossible right now to pay off our bills,” said Michelle Spurlock, 28, her voice breaking. “I had to get my mom to bring diapers over. We couldn’t go grocery shopping. As soon as we turn a corner, it’s something else.”

Copyright 2008 The New York Times Company

November 8, 2008

Reality has Strangled Invention

That’s what Philadelphia Inquirer columnist and blogger Dick Polman wrote this week, himself channeling sportswriter Red Smith (writing about an improbable baseball climax).  Yep, that about sums it up.   In a way, every presidential election is historic.  This one, though, is special not just for the ethnicity and personal histories of the candidates (first former POW, first bi-racial American).  It is special because it shows we’ve finally woken up from our daydreamed collective fears of imagined boogeymen destroying ‘the American way of life’ and realized that while we were sleeping, that’s exactly what the tale-spinners who enchanted us with these stories were doing all along.  While they were scaring us with stories of terrorists and gays and the Godless and the immoral they themselves were robbing us blind, proof once again that greed is the worst sin of all.

So now we’ve got hope, and boy does that feel good.

Some reality:

We will not be able to exit Iraq and Afghanistan for some time.  Why?  Because a significant portion of our nation’s income is made in defense.  Like it or not, we are a Warrior Nation.  Don’t believe me?  Watch the movie Why We Fight.

Deficits are going to get bigger.  And, really, given the state of the mess we’re in, they are the least of our worries.   Balanced budgets are for future administrations, ones who have a more stable economy not so highly dependent on consumer spending without supporting industry to pay those consumers living wages.

See, that’s the thing we deluded ourselves into thinking we could get away with – more spending without more income.  Spending without industry. We exported our earning power while keeping our spending power, creating basically a large house of cards (no pun intended).  Now, once again, we know that’s not sustainable nor is it desirable.

Lastly, we won’t see wholesale changes in our healthcare system for some time.  Again, this is a significant source of employment for our country.  What I hope we’ll see is improvement in the insurance rating systems to improve the insurability of many – something modeled on community rating where all employers in an area can secure insurance at the same rates regardless of their individual group experience.  This allows better access with fewer cost barriers for those who are the sickest.

Oh yeah, and those Bush Tax cuts due to end in 2010?  I’d be surprised if they’re not repealed in 2009.

Hope.

What I hope is that we’ll use this time to develop a more progressive tax system that ensures that those who benefit the most pay in the most, fueling this democratic society properly.

I hope that we’ll turn our attention back to creating and sustaining real industry, rather than exporting industry and importing debt.  Perhaps built on sustainable, domestic energy rather than petroleum?  That alone guarantees our freedom and creates employment infrastructure more than any oil drilling can.

Lastly I hope the boogeymen are finally vanquished to their closets for a while. These are serious times and they demand serious people with serious solutions.   Let’s hope that the purveyors of these scary fairy tales of gay terrorist atheists who hate NASCAR’s 15 minutes are up.

Hope.  What a wonderful feeling.

October 31, 2008

The Math is not the Point

It’s amazing how quickly a good idea spreads, isn’t it?  Take the We Deserve it Dividend.  What started as a simple post somewhere has spread quite far.  Far enough of course that some have decided to nit-pick the concept – for instance revealing the mathematical error in the OP’s calculations that mean there would be a lot less going to each individual.  OK, but that’s not the point.

See, the problem with the whole bailouts and loans scheme cooked up by the Treasury is that pretty much no one has any idea how the deals proposed would address the problems at hand: namely the fact that the economy’s in the crapper, people are losing their jobs left and right, and now, just for special fun, they’re also losing their houses and even people who didn’t jump on the Happy Free Money Bandwagon are screwed (yes, Virginia, we really are a community and we are all affected at times by the actions of a few).

Unfortunately, they’re not, and of course we’ve been lied to yet again about not only that but how the loans we’re making are actually being used.  For instance, the NY Times did an article on what AIG has done with the $123 Billion they were loaned:

A.I.G. has declined to provide a detailed account of how it has used the Fed’s money. The company said it could not provide more information ahead of its quarterly report, expected next week, the first under new management. The Fed releases a weekly figure, most recently showing that $90 billion of the $123 billion available has been drawn down.

Of the two big Fed loans, the smaller one, the $38 billion supplementary lending facility, was extended solely to prevent further losses in the securities-lending business. So far, $18 billion has been drawn down for that purpose.

An estimated $13 billion of the money was needed to make good on investment accounts that A.I.G. typically offered to municipalities, called guaranteed investment contracts, or G.I.C.’s.

For $59 billion of the $72 billion A.I.G. has used, the company has provided no breakdown. A block of it has been used for day-to-day operations, a broad category that raises eyebrows since the company has been tarnished by reports of expensive trips and bonuses for executives.

Why should we care?  Because it’s our money that’s being loaned.  It’s not only ours, it’s the money of our children and grandchildren and great grandchildren.  We have the right, in fact the obligation, to ensure that the debt we’re incurring is used as we intended it – not so that banks can buy other banks and make more money for themselves (without loaning a dime to anyone or re-negotiating even one mortgage) or so that Executives receive their good-job performance Bonuses that they don’t deserve.

Goldman Sachs, which is getting $10 billion US from Washington’s stunning $850-billion rescue plan to help prop up the battered financial system, is to pay out $6.85 billion in bonuses, according to media reports.

That’s $210,000 per employee. And that’s despite a 47% drop in its profit and 53% drop in its share price.

Goldman Sachs, by the way, also prospers from Washington’s $85 billion rescue of AIG, the world’s largest insurer — since it would lose up to $20 billion if AIG failed.

Morgan Stanley, which is also getting $10 billion from government, is doling out $6.44 billion in bonuses or $138,700 per employee, even though its profits tumbled 41% and its shares are off by 69%. And Merrill Lynch, which the Federal Reserve forced to merge with Bank of America, is paying out $6.7 billion.

Even employees at bankrupt Lehman Brothers are getting bonuses. And employees at Bear Stearns, which was bought by JP Morgan Chase after the Federal Reserve loaned it $29 billion, employees already got bonuses, according to reports.

How is it that the guys who created this mess get to use our tax dollars to give themselves bonuses for good performance?  Is it just me or is that insane?  That the White House is defending all this is just disgusting.  Clearly, they’re missing the real point:  We’d like for that huge debt to mean that things get better for us, not the White Collar Gangsters on Welfare.

Here IS the point:  How about putting that money where it really will make a difference?   Give it to every Citizen Taxpayer directly.   I think we’d all do better than these guys.  We could not do much worse.

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