Posts Tagged ‘hope’

Obama and sealPresident Obama’s State of the Union address was his most potent, well crafted and well delivered work of sheer eloquence that he has conveyed to the American people since his soaring prose moved a nation to elect him and caused the world to learn his name.  He did what Barack Obama has done since his very first days, he took the center lane and tore off the mirrors, because like in the classic racing movie, The Gumball Rally, “the first rule of Italian racing? What’s behind you doesn’t matter” and what possible good could ever come from following any curb too closely.
He started by acknowledging decades worth of long rooted anxieties and he swiftly pivoted to a theme he would hammer home later on, the fact that we can not afford to be a casualty of partisan gridlock, not now.  He reminded us of America’s proven stubborn resilience in the face of adversity and he framed it with his ever present hopefulness.  It would be the first time the audience would come to their feet in loud unison, but not the last.  He reminded us that fear and division will not break our sprit and then he came to the first course, the economy.
This is where we will hear the first calls of criticism, because any word of criticism for anything he said up to this point would be impossible for anyone that would even try to call themselves a patriot.  Here the boo-birds that are in a froth to find something to nitpick will say, how could he make a joke when he’s talking about the economy, doesn’t he know how much people are suffering, well I’d say that his roots in community organizing should make it a pretty fair bet that he knows exactly how people are suffering right now, so just to nip this in the bud, let me say that it was a perfect binding mechanism to show how we can unifiy to face a common threat, even if it was about being unified by hate over the bank bailout.  He didn’t like it, they didn’t like it, we didn’t like it, nobody liked it, and he rightfully likened it to a root canal.  Love a root canal?  Any takers?  But, I’d bet there were more than a few advertising magnates out there wondering how they could possibly harness that disarming smile.
Then he told America in no uncertain terms what his recovery bill did.  It saved a banking system teetering on the brink of collapse, it initiated 25 different tax cuts for the middle class, for home buyers, for teachers, for parents paying college tuitions … for people just like you and me.  He said point blank that not a single person pays a single dime more in income tax and that the recovery bill saved 2 million jobs from unemployment.  It also created 200,000 jobs in the clean energy sector, it hired 300,000 teachers and it is on track to add 1.5 million more jobs, all an impact from the recovery act, better known as the oft’ hated stimulus bill.
Then he touched the current of  America’s heated third rail, J-O-B-S.  With an ever present eye on the ideal we all hold on to as the American Dream, he made sure to let us know that he does listen, that for every success story the resolute steel of American ingenuity produces there are many more stories of anguish.  So tonight, he called for a new Jobs Bill that will start putting Americans back to work and try to rekindle the dreams and dignity that come from a descent job and a living wage.  He stressed the need to change tact in the modus operandi of our lending institutions, he stressed that their current practice of lending primarily only to big institutions is choking the great American engine that leads to most jobs, the small businesses that are bleeding themselves dry because they can’t get the credit they need to competitively expand their businesses and provide those new, much needed jobs.  I’m a victim myself, so I can certainly attest to the veracity of this particular problem.
Then he began hitting more than one note at a time and started with more complex chords.  He used a bass line of putting Americans to work by building the infrastructure of tomorrow and then added the mid range notes of asking how long we should put America’s future on hold, while reminding us that China’s not waiting, Gemany’s not waiting,  nobody else is waiting, why should we? The he artfully plucked the high tones of American pride, “I do not accept second place for America!” and neither should we or those responsible for governing.
And after his recent rollout of banking fees he made sure to make clear that his interest is not a partisan shot to punish banks, but a non-partisan attempt to protect the economy.  He also showed some long awaited moxie by drawing a clear line in the sand, if a bill made it to his desk that does not meet his test of serving the American people, he will send it back until they get it right. He sent a clear signal that rolling over would not be part of any equation.
He talked about creating new jobs building state-of-the-art clean nuclear power plants and as an olive branch for bipartisan support he talked about expanding to new offshore areas for oil and gas development, as well as biomass and clean coal,  and yes a comprehensive clean energy bill that will make clean energy the profitable kind of energy, all the while beating the drum we all want to hear, that America should lead the world in these fields of tomorrow, adding the needed emphasis with the hammer that the nation that leads the green energy economy will be the nation that leads the global economy.
Then he expanded on his plans for America in the global marketplace by setting a goal to double American exports in the next five years and add 2 million new jobs in the process.  On the note of maintaining our competitiveness in the global marketplace, he also talked about investing in the skills and education of our workforce and crystallized his ambition to do it by telling us that the best remedy for poverty is a world class education.  How do we get there?  We start by redistributing the money from those unnecessary fees imposed by banks on student loans and applying it to give a $10,000 tax credit for 4 years of college, because “no one should go broke because they chose to go to college.”
Then he got to the crown of thorns that has been the talk of the chattering class for the last few months, Health Care Reform.  Knowing that this is the bully pulpit’s strongest hour by far, he started off by trying to finally clear the misconceptions about his agenda that have been stretched and skewed by everyone from the Rush Limbaughs and Sarah Palins of the far right to the Blue Dog democrats staking conservative ground in democrat’s clothing.  Howard Dean even had a lot of, let’s say imaginative, thingsto say from the left. So he started with this simplistic plea about his ambitions for Health Care Reform, “Let’s clear some things up.”  He fully accepted the blame for not explaining his case for Health Care Reform clearly enough to the American people and did his best to rectify that shortcoming.  He went on to say that he didn’t decide to take on this problem that has been lingering unfixed in our nation for decades for any kind of notch on his belt or because, as he jokingly said, that it was good politics, he is pursuing it because of the countless stories of desperation he has heard from all over the country.  He vowed to never walk away from this challenge and threw the gauntlet to the halls of congress for them not to walk away from the American people on this paramount issue either.  Then he opened the floor for partisan obstructionism to put its money where its mouth is, if anybody has a better idea on how to achieve a better health care system that will ensure quality care for every American, he’s all ears.  You have a better idea? He’s listening.  All he asks is just don’t walk away from reform, let’s find a way to come together and finally serve the will of the American people.
Then he got into the realities of the budget numbers that he is being so critically judged on by the media and the American public.  He started with the $200 billion surplus that was the legacy of the Clinton administration, then he talked about the multi-trillion dollar mess he had waiting for him before he even walked in the door.  He told us that he knows that many Americans are suffering and have tightened their belts to the limit to try to weather the storm.  He said government should be responding in kind and if anyone was thinking of testing his resolution on this, he vowed that if he has to enforce this discipline by the power of his veto, he will, and just for good measure he also vowed to overturn a recently failed bill by executive order, so if anyone is thinking about trying to strike this guy out, they better bring a pretty strong bull pen of pitchers with them because he wants to take a novel new concept for a spin on capitol hill, common sense.
Then we got to see President Obama in his natural element, that of a constitutional law professor.  Those were indeed some sour faces on the supreme court justices when they were getting publicly flogged by the President in the hottest spotlight that an address to the American public can offer, and getting admonished on that stage for changing a century of law by their decision to open the flood gates of limitless influence in American political elections by any deep pocketed special interest group, or even any foreign entity for that matter, must not have made for a pleasant evening for five of them.  I have a pretty strong feeling that he is going to own this ground before all is said and done on this catastrophic decision.
Then he finally did what I’ve been waiting for someone to finally do, loudly and publicly, he took to task the monstrosity that partisan politics has become.  He looked congress square in the eye and told them that legislation can not be reduced to things as meaningless as old grudges between senators, and that while blindly saying no may be good politics for self preservation, it is certainly not a wise path to choose to good leadership. 
Then he closed with in his patented Obama’esque fashion.  He talked about our connected destiny with those beyond our shores, he talked about doing the right things because we know that they are right by virtue of the long held values that forged our nation, the fundamental decency that is the core of the American people.  He rekindled that spark of enduring hope.
And if you were looking for a “read my lips”, or a “the buck stops here” moment for the history books, here is one from his closing sentence and an ample portion of American spirit that should fit the bill:
Ladies and gentleman, the state of our union is strong, but it will take something from all of us to make it even stronger.  I hope for all our sakes that everyone from Joe the plumber to the chosen few in the halls of power that have the opportunity to wield the power of change were listening.

invisible_manWhat’s the first thing on your mind when you wake up in the morning? Getting your kids ready for school? The big project you’ve been slaving over that is in its final stages? How you are going to ask for a raise to pay for Johnny’s braces? How you are going to pick up your dry cleaning, make it to the grocery store, attend that PTA meeting, prepare a meal for the family and still have time to talk to your spouse about something important, revolving it all around your work schedule of course?


These are indeed times of frantic multi-tasking and it can leave you exhausted, but if that sounds anything like a typical day to you, count yourself blessed, your world is moving forward.


Every day there are millions of Americans facing a very different wake up call, and keep in mind that what I am about to tell you is far from the mind boggling trauma of the worst case scenarios, it is simply an example of what it means to be one of the invisible unemployed.


Life used to be good. A steady paycheck was always coming in and you could stand tall against fate because the power over your future was largely in your own hands. You could actually make plans like getting that new car, or taking a family vacation, or hosting a dinner party for your friends. You knew just how many weeks it was going to take to get that flat screen TV, or new bedroom for the kiddies. You could make an occasional impulse buy, or splurge on a night out at a family restaurant. You could sock away a little money for retirement and you could fulfill your dream of owning your own home. Catching yourself humming a tune while you were working on your hobby or even singing in the shower were not out of the ordinary. You could smile. But for some, that world implodes.


You get to work one day and say good morning to your co-workers, like you have a thousand times. There is usually a smile and quick exchange about something or other as you head to your desk, but this morning just feels different. Mary is looking at you like she is going to cry and Steve avoids eye contact as he shuffles past. Something’s up but you can’t put your finger on it, so you just make your way to your little home-away-from-home and get ready to take on the tasks of the day. That’s when your extension rings. It’s your boss, “Could you come to my office for a minute?, we need to talk.” His tone was placid and you just know that it is some kind of bad news. Your stomach starts to tickle. You walk in, close the door and take a seat. The next few moments are a gut-wrenching experience that leaves you pale like a sheet with a seemingly unfocused stare, but it’s a stare that is actually focused squarely on the unknown. Your company lost one of its biggest contracts to an overseas competitor and they are left with no choice but to cut back. As swiftly as that, the executioner’s axe has fallen.


You don’t remember the drive home, you don’t know how you negotiated all the lights and traffic because you can’t recall seeing any. It was just one long “What am I going to do?” As you hit the driveway and turn off the car you find yourself not getting out. How are you going to tell your spouse, your kids? How are you going to find work? How are you going to survive? How long is that money in the bank going to keep us afloat? The stream of hows is endless.


Your wife had quit work a few years ago to stay home with the kids and take care of an ailing mother, she also had some medical concerns of her own, so it all made sense. You had made enough to afford that luxury and it felt good inside to be able to do the right thing. It was the traditional family setting that you had grown accustomed to in your own childhood, not everyone’s cup of tea of course, but it worked for you. Everything and everyone was taken care of. You were a provider.


As you sat at the dinner table unloading the day’s news to those you love, you found yourself choking up. You felt inadequate now, you felt like a failure. Even through all of the loving encouragement your family heaped on you after sensing your distress, you can’t shake that feeling. You tell them not to worry. You tell them everything is going to be OK. You tell them what you want to hear.


You finally manage to stop the spinning in your head and fall asleep in the early a.m. When you wake up, for one split second everything is normal, but then a shock goes through your body like an electric current and you are wide awake. You realize you had only been asleep for a couple of hours and you turn to find your cherished wife next you, still cloaked in the peacefulness of slumber. You sit silently, watching her, and pray that you won’t let her down. The whole house is quiet. You look out the window and see the paper being delivered, so you make your way to the door while making a mental note that you better cancel the paper for now.


You have one more paycheck still coming and you try to convince yourself that you will be able to secure a future in short order. You go straight to the classifieds, thankfully missing another front page story about unemployment hovering near 10%. It looks like one sales job after another. Telephone work, outside sales, inside sales, no experience necessary – those same jobs that you were circling when you came right out of high school, those jobs that are minimum wage at best, dressed in a fancy ad. But there is nothing about an experienced widget designer. Everything with a decent salary seems to require a degree that you don’t have.


It has now been a week. You have been to the only three interviews you could find. They all wanted new blood, someone younger, someone with a pedigree of higher learning, someone that you could never be no matter how hard you tried. Experience in life and work does not seem to be a valued commodity. Hopelessness is setting in and you can feel the vigor ebbing from your soul like the sands of the hourglass in your mind that is counting down the hours to catastrophe.


Today your last paycheck arrives, along with the next set of monthly bills. You panic and call a family meeting. They had all tightened their belts and stopped doing a lot of the things they used to enjoy to try to help and to save money, but today it doesn’t feel like enough. You find yourself shouting about buying a soda, about how the generic brands of everything are good enough, about things that used to seem so trivial and inconsequential.


Now you’re over a month in. You had already checked your ego at the door and filed for unemployment which has slowed the bleeding, but has come far short of stopping it. As the bills keep coming you see your bank account dwindling. The heater broke last week and needed to be replaced. Where there used to be five digits in your account balance there are now only four, soon to be three. Still no job.


Another month passes and every door you’ve tried has been firmly closed. You haven’t seen any of your friends in weeks. They keep calling to check on you, but you have long quit picking up the phone when you recognize the number out of shame. You skipped your niece’s birthday because you couldn’t afford to get her even a small gift. The disconnection notices have finally started rearing their ugly heads and your account is now so low that you can’t even take the eight dollars left out of an ATM machine, but you’ll use it at the grocery store for another bag of potatoes and some hamburger meat.


Your kids have made new friends at school, more out of necessity than desire. these new friends are part of families that are going through the same thing and are the only ones that don’t belittle and demean them. Their phones have been long confiscated, their game accounts long closed and every little perk that you could afford them in the past is now just a memory. Your wife wants to work again, but you only have one car and her chances are even smaller than yours at this point after having been out of the work force for awhile.


Right about now is when things start going exponentially bad. Your wife’s condition has flared up and you have been uninsured for awhile now. She suffers through it and every painful move she makes is a searing hot dagger thrust into your heart. You are wracked with worry about what will happen if it gets worse, or if one of your children should be stricken by an illness or injury. You had been driving out to an abandoned lot lately, where you used to see the near homeless and worse hopping into trucks. You knew those trucks were the last salvation for the hopeless and now you were among them. They would roll in, honk their horn and pick out able bodies from the tattered crowd to do some random daily labor job for minimum wage or less, but now the clutch that you had been meaning to have checked months ago finally gave out and you can’t even get there anymore.Your phone and Internet have been disconnected and the foreclosure notice has finally arrived along with the note that your power will be turned off next week.


After another near sleepless night you awaken again. How do I look for a job? How do I call to arrange an interview? How will I get there? How do I make myself presentable? How do I print up another resume? How will I move my family out of our home? How can I face them again today? The endless stream of hows just keep coming.


You can read the news about skyrocketing unemployment every day, but unless you are part of their ranks you can’t even begin to imagine that life. I would say the story I told ranks at about a 5 of 10 on the misery of unemployment scale and it is playing out in millions of homes every single day. I implore you to consider the plight of the stricken out there that find themselves caught in the sinister web of joblessness and shame, seeing Murphy’s Law materialize day after day. Because like me, none of us can know when fate will call our number.


The suffering and despair are staggering and that desperation will lead some to do things they could never even fathom in the past. There will be those that give up in the most ultimate way and there will be those that persevere and find a way through it, and there will be many shades in between, but until you are among them they will remain invisible to your eyes. Their shame will drive them to find comfort in that invisibility, but the numbers show that 1 in 10 now find themselves afflicted and most won’t have the more comfortable starting point of having at least some money in the bank, most will be sharing the pole position deep in the red because times have been tough for awhile now.


So, if you are one of the fortunate ones with the means and power to help, please do. If you are an employer that is about to drop the axe, please make sure you’ve thought through every possible alternative before you strike that lethal blow, you may find that thinking outside of the box doesn’t only save a soul from despondence, but you may just happen on to a venture that proves ultimately profitable. If you are neither wealthy nor connected, give of yourself and make your voice heard in the halls of power and make them understand the plight of so many that is ravaging the fabric of the American Dream. Unemployment is not a tale of the unwilling, it is a tale of the forgotten and invisible, it is a tale that will need something out of all of us to rewrite.