Issue September 6, 2011

Divided we howl

“Anybody who could do that to a dog could do anything,” Mom said Thursday. We cringed as we watched a news report: a beagle whose neck was raw due to an embedded collar; a pit bull found burned, shrieking, paralyzed in pain; three furless dogs found decomposing in a house allegedly abandoned by a blonde 30-year-old whose mug shot was shown.

“I hope she doesn’t have kids,” Mom added, followed by the refrain I’m hearing more often: “I’ve outlived my world.”

Increasingly, the world seems unlivable for a loving woman who survived the Great Depression, a global war, a husband, a son, most of her friends and two forms of cancer only to have her purse snatched on two occasions. White hair and a curved back telegraph extreme vulnerability in the Age of Shamelessness.

And yet at 92, she’s still independent, lucid, cheerful, witty and resilient.

Nevertheless, I wish she hadn’t seen the images of those starving, hysterical, naked canines. The montage of horror coincided with news of 9.1 percent unemployment reflecting 14 million Americans whose suffering is mostly untold. Combined with 8.8 million part-timers seeking full-time work and 2.6 million who’ve given up, 16.2 percent of working-age Americans are withering — like 27.6 million raisins in the sun.

As I walked Mom’s schnauzer on grass as brown and brittle as Rice Krispies, I could almost see the American Dream sizzling on the sidewalk. If the triple-digit heat and Ohio Valley humidity wouldn’t kill us, I thought, the stress and the fear surely would. A raft of research links joblessness to obesity, substance abuse, divorce, depression, suicide and homicide. Equally disturbing, many employers view the long-term jobless as damaged goods and advertise that they need not apply.

Poverty is also bad for children and animals. During heroic efforts last week to rescue Mr. Kitty, who was panting on a branch upwards of 50 feet in a tree, nobody stated the obvious: He was trying to get to heaven. Yet amid this spectacular socio-economic, political and health crisis, there is comic relief. I returned to find Mom perusing the newspaper — and concerned for my health.

“Are you going to join the Mayor’s Hike, Bike and Paddle?” she asked.

“No, I can’t get too close to the mayor, because I write about him.”

“You lie about him?”

“No, Mom, I write about him.”

“Oh, so that’s your excuse.”

As a lifelong liberal Democrat and civil rights activist, she likes the mayor, the governor and the president.

I was glad she lived to see a black man residing in the White House. But we’re sorry the torch Dubya passed proved to be a stick
of dynamite.

A wise 61 percent of voters blame Dubya for our recessive distress. Maybe they realize he added $6.1 trillion to the debt before Obama added $2.4 trillion.

Yet hope is going astray for the president who told us that hope is on the way. He’s alienating his base. Organized labor and African-Americans, two groups squeezed tightly by the jobs crunch, feel taken for granted. Amid a regional air-quality alarm on Saturday, an environmentalist at the Douglass Loop Farmers Market was still fuming 24 hours after he postponed stricter ozone standards to defer “regulatory burdens” and “uncertainty” for the sake of jobs.

“What good are jobs if the planet is toxic to inhabit?” she asked me. “I’ve been giving him the benefit of the doubt, but this is the last straw.”

As I drove home, I agonized at the proposition that what’s good for the environment is bad for business. But I took comfort in the fact that the green movement has advanced light years. When Jimmy Carter promoted energy innovation in the late 1970s, most of the nation thought he was smoking granola. Then I remembered what I’d heard on “The McLaughlin Group”: Not since 1944 has a U.S. president been re-elected when unemployment exceeded 7.2 percent — and almost half of Americans think we’ll face another Depression within the next year.

During that interval, few expect the jobs picture to improve.

So expectations are low for his presidential address on Thursday. The smart money says the kind of bold, sweeping program we need won’t pass a dysfunctional Congress. His best bet is to push a smart one anyway — and shame the nay-sayers into support.

If the usual suspects don’t relent, let the people say, “Anyone who could do that to their fellow Americans could do anything.”