Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Too Small To Survive

Today's world presents a surreal mixture of the way things are on the ground - in our neighborhoods and cities - and the way the world seems to our legislators. I'll admit I've always had an overdeveloped sensitivity to fairness and this isn't even remotely fair by anybody's definition.

While Congress frets and worries about saving huge multi-national corporations that are perceived as, "too big to fail," nobody gives any serious attention to the rank and file American who is, "too small to survive," let alone too insignificant to bother with.

The perception that continually propping up and kissing up to big business and Wall Street - the piranhas who have played fast and loose over the past 20 years - will somehow insure more jobs and better prices for Joe and Jane American is fatally flawed. Even if it were possible, making these kinds of concessions (hiring American workers or lowering prices) is not in line with the primary goals of big business: to make as much money as possible, pay as little taxes as possible, make their stockholders happy and charge as much as the market will bear. And, enabled by the government, businesses naturally choose to offshore production where it is cheaper and target the most upscale and wealthy customer when it comes to housing, entertainment and personal services.

There's never much accountability. Nobody asks these people to sign a meaningful contract before taking money, building, speculating, bilking. Nobody says, "Hold on a minute, if we give you this money or these concessions, then you must guarantee that you will hire yeah many people at living wages and keep your business within the continental United States or pay a penalty." So, of course, they don't. And they laugh all the way to the bank as they pay big bonuses, award golden parachutes and drizzle money down upon the stockholders.

This must be why we see programs like Cash for Clunkers in which auto manufacturers are the chief beneficiaries. And the "no public option" health care plan where the health care industry makes no changes other than grudgingly agreeing to cover some surgeries that they had denied in the past (at prices, no doubt, that many would still not be able to afford). And why our own City of Portland lavished incentives and offset property taxes for sports stadiums and more and more luxury condominiums that continue to stand empty while paying nothing more than lip service to sustaining or bolstering affordable or low income housing. In the few instances when buildings offering "affordable" or "low income" housing are heralded, the prices are not even remotely affordable or within the reach of the low income, illustrating that those involved in promoting these programs do not have the faintest idea of what it is like to try to live on one or two minimum-wage-to-$10/hr jobs.

It explains why Congress dithered a year on health care reform without even bothering to address, in any meaningful way, Americans' chief concern which is about price, first, and accessibility, second. Congress did not even suggest that a system be considered that would offer a fair deal to consumers and a reasonable profit to pharma and the medical industry . . . one that would at least allow consumers who lose their jobs to continue to maintain insurance coverage into which they had paid thousands, and at a reasonable rate, rather than lose every bit of their investment.

The people I know in tough economic straits (including myself) are not looking for a free ride. We'd just like the playing field to be a little leveler and for those who are making policy decisions to see our struggle for what it is and to understand that propping up the comfortable, wealthy and corporate and giving them more power and rights doesn't help us. They don't care about us, except to the extent that they can coax money from our pockets. And a healthy country needs a healthy citizenship.

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