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Published: Saturday, 12/31/2011 - Updated: 2 years ago

COMMENTARY

What will it take for the 99 percent to be heard?

BY MARILOU JOHANEK
BLADE COLUMNIST

Some years can't end soon enough, and 2011 was that kind of year. Next year, with its heated race for the White House, has all the earmarks of being the same.

To be sure, there were welcome highlights in 2011, including the deaths of notorious despots and the infamous al-Qaeda leader who was No. 1 on America's most-wanted list. Another appreciated turning point came with the quiet conclusion of the Iraq war.

The bloody pre-emptive invasion, launched almost nine years ago on blatantly false premises, officially ended with little shock and awe. Whether the heavy price of that war -- nearly 4,500 Americans killed, 100,000 Iraqis dead, and tens of thousands wounded on both sides -- was worth the cost is debatable.

If Iraq devolves into another dictatorship with escalating sectarian violence and destruction, will the awful sacrifice paid to stabilize the country have been in vain? The answer will be revealed in historical hindsight. Time always has the final say about war and peace.

And prosperity. What history says about the upheaval of financial markets around the globe is also certain to stir lively debate.

A major part of 2011 was about money, or the lack of it. Ditto for 2010, '09, '08, and '07. As time ticks into 2012, it's again about the economy, stupid.

The burden of surviving the Great Recession has fallen squarely on the shoulders of the 99 percent. We are enduring reduced wages, unemployment, foreclosures, bankruptcies, and tuna instead of steak.

Yet we soldier on, taking checkbook stress in stride. Sometimes financial setbacks are the least of our problems.

In 2011, my family mourned the travails of dear friends whose suffering and deaths eclipsed anything that was going on in Washington or the world. Far too soon, these wonderfully unique souls left us after facing terminal diagnoses.

We close a rough year clinging to mutually held memories. The loss of loved ones makes us wince with regret. It also makes us keenly aware how fortunate we are to have health, happiness, and each other.

But 2011 tested our mettle with myriad hardships and stretched our patience with man-made pitfalls. As the new year dawns, we remain stuck in a frustrating economic morass wrought by greed.

Wages continue to slip, squeezing disposable income from a drop to a drought. Consumer confidence waits to be upgraded from critical condition, but that could take awhile.

We're still battling chronic apprehension about future earnings that puts a damper on present spending. Compounding matters is the stubbornly sluggish housing market.

A persistent drag on the economy, housing has yet to rebound. Unsold houses, especially foreclosed and bank-owned properties, are a steal. But homeowners who are eager to take advantage of record-low mortgage rates can't sell.

So the housing recovery stays on hold and the nation's economic engine continues to idle. Those people lucky enough to have jobs -- however unappealing -- are staying put. Who can retire or walk away from any paycheck, with prices rising on everything from groceries to gasoline and health care to college tuition?

Even a four-year degree has been devalued. Whole generations of college kids are graduating with dismal job prospects and mountains of debt.

Many now belong to the boomerang generation -- adult children forced to move back home with Mom and Dad until they can afford to live on their own. The middle class muddles along, trying to maintain a roof overhead and food on the table.

Yet as the middle class falls farther behind, the wealthiest Americans enjoy an uninterrupted bounty. With political puppets doing their bidding on Capitol Hill, people with an abundance of riches not only protect their lifestyle but make it more luxurious, with tax cuts and benefits tailored to serve their interests.

In the House of Representatives, the people's business barely made the agenda in 2011 and likely will be omitted in 2012. In the new year, the sole agenda will be to deny re-election to President Obama.

Next year should be a banner year for confrontational politics, rancor, and incivility. But who will confront the economic quicksand that is pulling Americans under?

Will anyone in Washington or Columbus listen to our lingering grievances? Or will it take a clean sweep at the ballot box for the 99 percent to be heard?

Marilou Johanek is a columnist for The Blade.

Contact her at: mjohanek@ theblade.com



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