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09.29.10

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A Fireside Chat

Cozy up to a little angry unemployment invective

By Will Shonbrun


Estimates of jobs lost since the beginning of the recession in 2007 range between 8 million and 11 million, depending on the source. Whatever the actual number, there is no doubt that the cause for the most massive unemployment since the Great Depression can be laid directly on the doorstep of the banking industry's bad loans and Wall Street's fraudulent practices.

Having no work is one of the worst things that can happen to a person. We all know we can't survive economically without a job, at least in some modicum of comfort. There is, thanks to those who fought for it, a safety net, but such a bare subsistence level is nothing one wants to have to face. And yet far too many of our fellow countrymen and –women are in this camp.

But work is so much more than a job or wages. For many, it's a part of self-identity, a sense of self-worth or even one's reason for being. For many of us, work gives us meaning, no matter the task. It can be our source of pride, of fulfillment, a deep sense of usefulness. Even if and when one no longer needs to earn a living and can retire to a life of pure self-indulgence, it seems all too often that without the need to work at something, one withers and dies. It could be said that the human need to work, to engage with life at some level, even if it's cerebral and intellectual, is as hard-wired into our DNA as other imperatives.

Goofing off is great—and I speak here with some authority—and vacations are splendid, but sooner or later the urge to be doing something, to be working at something, arises, and one gets back on the wheel and picks up a hammer or a broom or a pen and sets about some task. It's an integral part of being a human. The need to feel useful is what drives volunteerism.

The government's primary tack at this time is to get Americans working again, not just for the sake of the economy—that amorphous concept we all talk about and barely understand—but for our people to feel whole again.

Millions of us—individuals and families, whole communities—were mugged, rolled, robbed and left for dead by a bunch of venal crooks in Armani suits and Gucci loafers, well-dressed con men, but fraudulent cheats nonetheless, many of them the same high-paid hucksters to whom Bush gave tax breaks. Why aren't our jails overflowing with these low-life miscreants?

It's no wonder people get apoplectic, don ridiculous costumes and rail against government, even when the administration in power wasn't the one to blame. And it's not funny when hate-mongers and the political stooges who fan these flames further incite the unhinged and the violence-prone among them. It's a dangerous time in our country when the deranged and the closet racists are easily manipulated and their furor turns to violence.

If President Obama wants to restore our country to some semblance of normalcy, he'll follow in the footsteps of FDR when he took the wheel and got the masses of unemployed working and productive again.

And then, if he's half the man FDR was, he'll come down really hard on Wall Street and the big corporations that have been screwing the public with reckless abandon since the restrictions and regulations were shit-canned by Reagan in the '80s and Clinton in the '90s. But that's for another little fireside chat.

Will Shonbrun is a writer who lives in Sonoma. Read more at www.shonbrunreport.blogspot.com.

Open Mic is a weekly feature in the Bohemian. We welcome your contribution. To have your topical essay of 700 words considered for publication, write openmic@bohemian.com.


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