The senate voted last week to approve a bankruptcy bill that will allow credit card companies to recover from people even if they file from bankruptcy. They did this, despite evidence that the majority of bankruptcies arise from real crises in people’s lives—like job loss or catastrophic illness. In fact, medical bills are behind nearly 70 per cent of middle-class bankruptcies.
Before the senate approved this bill, they stripped from it two amendments designed to help out ordinary folks. One would have raised the minimum wage by more than two dollars, and the other would have prevented persons from filing bankruptcy in the event of a legal judgement against them for vandalism as well as raising the minimum wage. Chalk up one for the credit card companies, and businesses like Wal*Mart, who do not have to pay a living wage to employees.
The president is currently pushing tort reform and a revamping of Social Security. Social Security has problems that are relatively easy to fix, but the president proposes a solution much more comprehensive than the problem. The solution involves placing individual retirement accounts at risk, which basically takes the Security out of the program.
With tort reform, the plan is to place caps on the amount of damages a jury can award in various kinds of lawsuits. The proposal removes the whole idea of due process from the picture.
Then there is the matter of prisons. The United States has the highest incarceration rate of any country in the world. In many prisons around the country healthcare is sorely wanting and sometimes negligent to the point of causing death. Many prison hospitals are run by for-profit private businesses that submit a low bid, get a contract, and then figure out how to come in at the designated price. Cutting corners is almost inevitable. Publicly funded healthcare in prisons is not much better. Does conviction of a crime strip a person of all human rights?
Prison has become an all-purpose remedy for people we don’t want to deal with. One in four prisoners is mentally ill; half or more are in prison as a direct or indirect result of alcoholism or drug addiction. When people with problems other than breaking the law end up in prison populations, they often have problems. We address these problems with a prison-within-a-prison—lockdown, also known as solitary confinement. This kind of confinement has been shown to exacerbate many mental illnesses, but we continue to use it.
We keep large numbers of “enemy combatants” incarcerated for extended periods and prevent them from contacting family, legal counsel, or even knowing the charges and evidence against them. We make sure they are not on U.S. soil, so that our laws do not apply to them or their jailers.
Locally, the department of Mental Health and Mental Retardation was forced to close its crisis unit for lack of funding. When someone has a mental health crisis in Brazos County, there are no options for residential treatment; when hospitalization is required, patients are transported long distances to state hospitals.
Army recruiters are relentless in their pursuit of high school seniors. Kids whose prospects for college are dimmed by finances are particularly vulnerable to them and the large cash enlistment bonuses they offer. When they join the service and ship off to Iraq, they leave with great fanfare; when they return in flag-draped coffins, we keep it a secret—after all it would make it difficult to recruit more kids to replace them. To their parents, we pay a pittance, and give them their children’s last month’s pay, prorated for the number of days they missed because they died.
Young soldiers surviving horrific wounds that would have killed soldiers 30 years ago, are sentenced to life with disabilities, medical problems, and the mental stress of battle. Even the soldiers who escape death and injury are damaged goods when they return; many of them will have nightmares about the things they saw for the rest of their lives.
Because many of them are not members of the regular armed services, but rather members of the National Guard, their medical problems receive limited attention and then become their own responsibility. They receive no services from the Veterans Administration.
Meanwhile we, the people who have asked so much from them, drive around with yellow magnetic ribbons on the backs of our cars that say “Support Our Troops,” as if that were any help to anyone at all.
Where is the compassion we owe all these people? Have violent movies and video games corrupted us so much that compassion has gone out of style, or are the people running the government sufficiently safe from needing compassion themselves that they can afford to withhold it from those less fortunate? Those supporting these policies will continue to act without compassion as long as those who disagree with them remain silent.
© 2005 Ann Weaver Hart
Monday, March 14, 2005
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