A tribute to the 99ers: We are not invisible.

Friday, December 31, 2010

Happy New Year

I have been a Funeral Director for most of my professional life. Occasionally I help a friend with his business. Such was the case this week when I assisted him with two services. In both cases the deceased was single. One of the deceased was about my age, the other about 1/2 my age. Neither had married. Both died unexpectedly, at home, alone. Family members had to go to the apartment, meet the police and see their loved one taken away. No matter what happens, these two people had died too soon. Their story is concluded.

When I joined the cause for a Tier V, Al had nothing left to give.  There were 99ers like Al that had no fight left before he died, there were more suicides after he died and unfortunately there will be more yet in the upcoming year.  The situation is beyond frustrating or sad or mad. There shouldn't be 99ers.  Extending a safety net for the long term unemployed is good social policy and sound economics. Still, common sense and compassion do not always rule and so it goes.

This has been a miserable year for 99ers. Yet, if you are reading this you've had an infinitely better year than Al or the two people that died alone at home. If you're reading this, you still have possibilities.  Possibility is what we live for. I still count my blessings and hope you can, too.

2010, over and out. Tomorrow brings a New Year, full of possibility. Happy New Year.

Monday, December 27, 2010

The 99ers blueprint for success is already written and available.

It's the last week of 2010 and 2011 can't get here fast enough. Unfortunately I said that in 2008 and 2009 as well. At least I've had the good fortune to ruminate on 2008, 2009 and 2010 from the same address so I am luckier than many. I'll revisit these thoughts at the end of 2011 and hopefully not have to schedule the same review for 2012.

Congress has gone home to spend Christmas with their families.  Enjoy your eggnog, Senator Kyl. 99ers are still trying to make a point with some powerful imagery. Here are just two examples, the latest from Donalee King (aka Paladinette) and a poignant tweet from @suzeyQ41.  I know that the 99er community is moved by these portraits of anger and despair.  Unfortunately if only 99ers are moved, 99ers are moving into tent cities. So what do the 99ers (and those soon to gain 99er membership) do? Well...

Sarah Robinson of Escaping Mediocrity teaches learning to swim by jumping into the pool and suggested anything by Seth Godin. In "small is the new big", the post "Bluegrass and the Cello Player",  page14 Seth writes: "If your target audience isn't listening, it's not their fault, it's yours. If one story isn't working, change what you do, not how loudly you yell." It's time for 99ers to change the message.

99ers also have to change the message delivery. Jane Hamsher from Firedog Lake laid out the new blueprint for 99er advocacy while discussing the plethora of legislation from the111th Congress on "The Last Word with Lawrence O'Donnell":

00:07:34Number two, it was the groups who would not take no for an answer.
00:07:39Get equal, the 9/11 health care.
00:07:41The first responders who came here, who demonstrated, chained themselves to the white house, who followed the president around and heckled and absolutely would not take no for an answer, who got their issues addressed.

The plan of taking it to the streets, peacefully but aggressively is a time tested success and the only path to survival for 99ers.

I'm not claiming it's easy to gather the long term unemployed with family obligations and no money to march on the White House.  The 99es need help with organization and funds. Hopefully, some of the working class advocates (NELP, U-Cubed, Working America) will take.  If not, 99ers will have to organize them(our)selves.

If I appear to be preaching, it's because I see no other way.  I am open to suggestions, can you make any?

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

#99ers: As long as we remain alone, we will be alone.

Minor surgery is surgery that occurs in someone else's family. If my flesh and blood is involved even a liquid suture is a major procedure, worthy of the same worry as open heart surgery. Over reaction? Not when my family is involved. This is a major problem for 99ers. As long as the 99er isn't in your family, the problem is minor.

Simply put, 99ers need to make others understand exactly what is happening to the 99ers. How do you make others feel hunger, homelessness, bone numbing fear? It's not easy, but I have an idea.

As a start, violence is never, never, never an appropriate or allowable response.  Any idea I suggest or endorse will not include violence or a threat to some one's personal safety. With non-violence an expressed requirement here's my thought:

I would take last night's candle light vigil and add some flash mob mentality. Imagine a group of people with only boxes for shelter blocking the entrance to a US Representatives office at opening time. How about a human blockade of 99ers with signs, blocking an expressway off-ramp at rush hour?  A mass of rags-for- clothes protesters impeding access to a civic cafeteria (or maybe fast food restaurant) at lunch time? No one talks, chants or moves. Press coverage is essential, but the local TV station should be called (prepaid cell phone) moments before the protest comes together. The protest lasts a specific period of time (15 minutes - hour) and breaks up as quickly as it assembles. A fax or call to the local media explains the significance of the protest as soon as it concludes.

This type of advocacy is not simple. It requires organization and money. It requires lawyers on site to represent the protesters when they get arrested. Ideally these attorneys would use the bond hearing as a soapbox. This advocacy requires the participation of the very same groups (NELP, U-Cubed, Working America) that have yet to make the 99ers a priority.

You might think I espouse extreme measures. Perhaps, but ask yourself if the Viet Nam War would be over if  the only protests were calls and letters to Congress? I'm just saying.

Monday, December 20, 2010

The 99ers political clout score is...

As the 111th Congress is waning 99ers still have hope for relief. However, until any legislation for a TierV  emerges from committee, assume weeks of unemployment benefits beyond 99 weeks are unlikely. Since unemployment benefits are the most effective way to stimulate the economy why are the 99ers excluded from any legislative initiative with a reasonable chance of passing?  The answer is simple: 99ers have less political clout than almost any group.

It's nice to think that politicians follow their hearts to represent their constituency and legislate for the good of America. Unfortunately, that's rarely the case. Politicians always have to consider reelection. Reelection takes gobs of money and easily understood defensible policy decisions. 99ers and gobs of money are mutually exclusive. Defending extension of unemployment benefits beyond current historic levels requires detailed explanation: multiplier effect, job shortage, downward pressure on property values and wages, etc. Given nationwide employment at 75% or more and an electorate with a short attention span TierV is toxic. At least the 99ers can make a point at election time, right? No!

Republican 99ers are voting against their economic self interest and can be counted on to do the same in the future. If Democratic 99ers stay home or vote Republican, (see the recent compromise on tax cut extensions) clout is reduced so they're stuck voting for Democrats.  Independent 99ers can choose from the above. Big deal. Lisa Murkowski's write-in election is not the norm. Usually an independent 3rd part candidate is a spoiler, not an option.

The message is 99ers need to find an option to block voting. I have a thought that builds on last week's reframing the message theme. I'll explain tomorrow. In the meantime, what do you think 99ers can do to keep the message in the public eye?

Thursday, December 16, 2010

99ers, it's time to change our message

It appears 99ers are the gangrenous little toe of the body politic. Just as a diabetic would amputate the little toe for the sake of the entire body, so too are the 99ers being cut off from the conversation on assistance for the long term unemployed. Consider the National Employment Law Project (NELP)'s statement about the compromise extending tax cuts for all:  nothing about the 99ers. Rather than being angry or frustrated (although both are appropriate and well-earned), I have a list of do's and don'ts, ending with a suggested change of message.

Don't beat up friends like Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Sen. Debbie Stabenow or other legislative friends for not accomplishing all needs of the 99ers.  If Pelosi had the votes in the House, there would already be TierV.  If she had nearly enough votes, she'd have twisted arms and there would already be TierV. As for Sen. Stabenow S3706 hasn't gone  far,but she took a shot. Along with the McDermott/Berkley proposal in the House of Representatives, the total proposed TierV pieces of legislation in the entire 111th Congress was 2. Do not target failed attempts when at least these legislators (imperfect as they may be) tried.  If we 99ers did not generate enough public support to move these bills along, we share the failure.

Do continue to reach out to Congress, no matter how frustrating the endeavor.  The best time to call, fax, email elected officials is right now.  The second best time to reach elected officials was yesterday. Lather, Rinse, Repeat.

Don't threaten to vote for politicians that will never advocate for 99ers to punish lawmakers that did not support 99ers sufficiently. Worse yet, don't withdraw from the process as a way to motivate Congress.  Apathy is the antithesis to motivation.  Voter disinterest did not gain leverage for 99ers.  99er detachment helped create a tax compromise with unemployment funding that does nothing for 99ers.

Do stay involved in the political process. It's easier to achieve policy objectives by stating what you'll do as opposed to threatening to withdraw. Withdrawing from activity creates a vacuum. This political vacuum will be quickly filled by other advocates with diametrically different goals. The results will be a disaster.

Don't continue admonishing those that ignore 99ers. It's time to stop screaming at President Obama, Congress and labor organizations that have thrown the 99ers into the trash.  It's not that elected officials don't deserve to be lambasted. Unfortunately the verbal attacks of incredulity have failed to produce results. 99ers continue to be ignored by elected officials, going on 9 months. It's also time to move the 99er stories of personal disaster to the back burner. This is not to diminish the countless tragedies of the long term unemployed but the populace doesn't give a damn.

Do reframe the discussion. The CBO says the best way to stimulate job creation is unemployment benefits. Put a human face on the fact that unemployment insurance goes beyond helping the unemployed..  Testimony needs to come from small business in areas of high unemployment. These business owners need to express their fear of business failure as extended unemployment benefits discontinue because the unemployed can longer buy from these businesses. Similarly, homeowners groups in areas of high unemployment need to talk about plunging neighborhood home values as foreclosures skyrocket (again) because extended UI dollars are no longer available.

It appears the tax compromise is going to pass with nothing for the 99ers and little to slow the increasing growth of 99ers.  The only way continue the fight for 99ers is to tell stories from non-99ers affected by discontinued unemployment benefits.

Friday, December 10, 2010

#99ers: Expect no help.

President Obama did not received sufficient Republican concessions in exchange for extending the Bush tax cuts for everyone, including millionaires. House Democrats obviously feel similarly. Do not think this bold act by House Dems holds any significance for the 99ers. Nancy Pelosi has never had the votes to add a TierV. Until Speaker Pelosi, Steny Hoyer, Jim Clyburn or any Senate Dem mentions TierV as a requirement to pass an extension of tax cuts, assume 99ers are still left out in the cold.  15 shopping days left until Christmas.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

This is compromise? I'd hate to surrender.

I am sure that had there been a network interview of Robert E. Lee after his surrender at Appomattox, Gen. Lee would have talked about the need to compromise to avoid holding the populace hostage via partisan bickering.  "Sure, I gave up some things but I got to keep my sword.", General Lee would have said. Since President Obama is a fan of history perhaps this was his model for accepting the "compromise" on tax cuts for the rich.

Monday night's agreement to extend tax cuts for all for two years and unemployment benefits to 99 weeks for 13 months is truly bipartisan. There is plenty for anyone to dislike:

1. Rich folks can dislike helping the lazy unwashed masses that refuse to find a job.
2. The working poor can dislike that they received nothing from this agreement. Their earnings leave minimal tax burden. The burden of the working poor is working and still being poor.
3. Small businesses can dislike that for all the agreement has to offer it will have minimal effect in stimulating demand. Demand more than anything drives small business and the economy.
4. Same for the middle class. Whatever benefits they derive from this agreement, without growing demand and growing American manufacturing, the middle class continues to shrink.
5. Future generations can dislike paying for the always burgeoning bank accounts of the wealthy.  This agreement make the bill for future generations more expensive.
6. 99ers can dislike the whole agreement.

Ezra Klein points out the real good in this compromise is it creates a framework of future bipartisan agreements. Mr. Klein has a great point but that thought goes in the wait and see column.

There is loads of bad in this compromise with the Republicans. Most obvious is the contempt this agreement shows for the long-term unemployed. With 5 job seekers for each job, if you're unemployed for longer than 99 weeks,  you're on your own. For those with reinstated unemployment benefits, if you've received more than 43 weeks of benefits, you'll probably be a 99er sooner than you think. If you'll still be eligible for benefits in 13 months, you'll be back in this fight after Thanksgiving, 2011.  If you think job search statistics will improve significantly over the next 13 months, God bless your optimism.

The to do list is simple: scream loudly and scream often.  To simplify this call to action, here are some easy suggestions: Click the link on the right side of the blog and sign the petition. Here are links to 2 other petitions. (if you're not on Twitter you can cut and paste to Senator Reid and Speaker Pelosi). After you've signed these petitions, pass them along to your friends. Call, fax and email your Representatives and Senators. Request extended funding and additional weeks of unemployment benefits. Without these two improvements ask them to vote against the bill. Do not go quietly into the night, some will not make it to the morning.

Monday, December 6, 2010

More of the same.

It appears Congress and the White House have reached a compromise on extending expiring tax cuts that would includes funding current unemployment extensions for 13 additional months. 99ers will be left to fend for themselves.  Why have the 99ers been abandoned by everyone except Ed Schultz?

To understand the predicament of the long term unemployed during the Great Depression of the 21st Century, it's important to review some pertinent facts:

1. The unemployment rate is somewhere between 9.8% and higher. That makes the employment rate 77% or higher. It is very hard for the 77% employed to fathom why anyone is involuntarily unemployed for greater than 99 weeks, even in a weak economy.

2. The current model of issuing unemployment benefits via "weeks" is inadequate given current economic conditions. With five seekers for each job and an unemployment rate predicted to hover above 8% through 2012, a safety net for the unemployed should be tied to the unemployment rate.  Benefits should continue until the unemployment rate is down to 'X' not an arbitrary designation of weeks.  Unfortunately no one will commit to structuring unemployment insurance accordingly.

3. The argument in favor of adding a TierV has too often been made from the POV of the 99ers. (These people need the safety net to survive.) Unemployment advocates (I include myself) should have jumped on the Republican meme that small businesses are the primary creators of jobs.  The success of small business depends more on demand than tax cuts. Therefore it is vital that the unemployed have a minimal amount of money to support these small businesses.

What is left to do? The aforementioned compromise has not net been voted on in Congress.  Now, more than ever is the time to bombard elected officials. It is also important for all unemployed to stick together. Given the statistics above there are going to be more 99ers each week. Attrition (death and  homelessness) will reduce the amount of 99ers but not nearly by the numbers joining the ranks of the 99ers.  Eventually, something will be done. I am hoping for the best.

Friday, December 3, 2010

Oh, Joy.

Yesterday I criticized NELP, Working America and UCubed. These organizations with budgets and paid professional staff have failed miserably in assisting the 99ers. Their inability to be proactive brings us to December 3,2010 and the 99ers ignored again in an attempt to re-establish extensions for the unemployed in weeks 27-99.

What should NELP, Working America and UCubed be doing? Watching Joy Behar. Last night, Ms. Behar opened her HLN talker reminding everyone that Sen. Scott Brown was the latest Grand Obstructionist Party member to block a vote on funding unemployment extensions. She then suggested that all effected by Sen. Brown's vote drop in on his $100 a plate holiday dinner funder on Friday Night, complete with time and address. I have Joy, deep in my heart.

In summary, in a 30 second intro to a show that included an update on a Hollywood murder and an interview with the Hasselhoffs, Ms. Behar offered an idea that is more creative than anything 3 worker advocacy groups have done in 2 months. NELP, Working America and UCubed are you listening?

Finally, as you head out to do some holiday shopping this weekend, don't worry about the malls being crowded with 99ers.  Unless of course NELP, Working America and UCubed get off their ass.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Here we are again.

Day 2 of the unemployed held hostage and the 99ers are ignored. Again. For the third time this year.  At least extending tax cuts will continue to spur the economy.  What? Unemployment benefits are more effective than tax cuts? So why do we continue to engage in counterproductive economics? It's the American way.

99ers should not be surprised at our current plight.  99ers have been ignored since (before) Jim Bunning staged his one man show of arrogance. Sen. Bunning's show was so successful, it reappeared in summer stock. As we approach Christmas,"Waiting for Congress" has been made into a winter holiday special. The common theme of these three extravaganzas? Nothing about the 99ers, which means nothing for the 99ers. This is like going to the Emergency Room for a cough. The Triage Nurse mentions your intestines are hanging out and you choose to treat just the cough. How did we reach reach this nadir of lunacy? There are many directions to point a finger, I am aiming at NELP, UCubed and Working America.

99ers should not be surprised we have reached this point. Except for occasional whispers to the contrary, Congress has been shouting opposition to TierV since spring. It's easy to suggest 99ers should have organized more effectively. There have been great grassroot groups, UWAG and Unemployed Friends are just two of many. These are primarily volunteer organizations. NELP, UCubed and Working America have professional staff and budgets. The staff may be small and the budget limited, but 99ers budget? 99ers are trying to keep the utilities on in a house they might lose to cook food they can't afford to buy. NELP, UCubed and Working America should have been doing more this whole time.

The One Nation Working Together rally was great.  That rally was two months ago.  Since then there have been call rallies, fax rallies, email campaigns. Obviously these attempts have been ineffective and done nothing to generate public opinion. 99ers are told time is dear and unemployed between 26 and 99 weeks need all efforts to continue to fund their benefits. NELP, UCubed and Working America should have never let it come to an either/or decision. As soon as Jim Bunning started his one man show in March, NELP, UCubed and Working America should have been screaming every day that 99ers be included in any extensions. These professional organizations were neglectful and now claim they must concentrate their efforts for those with extensions previously approved.  Okay, what about the rest of us.

I don't know how this will wind up.  I fear it will end with discord between 99ers and less than 99ers. Unemployed eating their own.  Which makes sense, because it's the only food many of us can afford.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Holiday shopping list.

Last night at midnight 800,000 exhausted unemployment benefits. The benefits should be restored by act of Congress but Congress rarely acts as it should.  Those 800,000 join 5 million+ 99ers.  Some 99ers have been without an unemployment insurance safety net since March, 2010. If corporations are sitting on tons of cash because of uncertainty (although no thesaurus lists greed as a synonym of uncertainty) what about the 5.8+ million of us that don't have an ounce of money? Happy holidays.

Channukah begins tonight at sundown.  Thanks to my wife's wizardry, we have stuff for the kids.  I'd love to help spur demand during this season but I lack the resources. Therefore, the rest of my list must suffice with non-monetary items.

So here is my "shopping list" for this holiday season:

Congressional Republicans -  a conscience

Congressional Democrats - a spine

President Barack Obama - a beer summit with Candidate Barack Obama

The Tea Party - the realization that a patriot is not a xenophobe and liberty does not include fear-mongering

Sarah Palin - a copy of Mein Kampf and an understanding of irony

Those that voted Republican out of spite or did not vote because you did not get enough from Obama -        nothing, you're already getting all that you deserve

The 99ers - a job for each and everyone. (I'd include fair paying job with benefits, but this blog is not fantasy)

Me - I've got supportive friends and family in every sense of the word. I want for nothing.

With 24 shopping days left until Christmas, this list is short and likely incomplete.  Please add recipients and the gift(s) you would bestow. Whatever you choose, please keep the gift in your price range.