I have written extensively both here and elsewhere about our economic woes in this 21st Century Depression that has paralyzed the developed world since the end of 2007, the latest watching Europe caught in the throes of what I call the Grecian Formula, and I don’t mean that tube of goo that makes your hair less grey. I have seen in my law practice too many commercial real estate owners now struggling with portfolios that resemble the upside-down cruise ship in the 1972 action flick: The Poseidon Adventure.

I have watched our Congress in gridlock over healthcare while swooning from the attention of financial industry lobbyists, paid beyond handsomely, to stonewall any kind of financial regulation, which could prevent an even worse crisis, ending any further off-the-books gambling by the Masters of the Universe on Wall Street. I have watched our national unemployment hit 10% and now hover just below (9.7% again last Friday), while our California figures are significantly higher and those of the teens and twenty-year olds and some racial groups are, frighteningly, even higher. But, it didn’t truly hit home for me until the last couple of months, during which I have been recovering from a bit of surgery to greet the new year (hence my recent absence as a contributing ‘Hound’ for F&HD).

I grew up back in New England, together with my sister, and, for a goodly portion of my teen years, a cousin. My sister, at 61, about one year older than me, was nearly a 24-year employee of Big Blue on the East Coast – she was a worldwide troubleshooter for one of their mainframe software products. My cousin was a dedicated healthcare professional, also about 61 years of age, who had helped more Vietnam-era veterans get their lives back over his 20-something years with the VA than he could count. A couple of weeks ago, my cousin wrote that he had “retired,” abruptly – sounding to me like he had been ‘pushed out.’ My sister called me earlier last week to inform me that she too had also been unceremoniously and abruptly “laid off,” coming ironically on the eve of the day of her 24th employment anniversary.

Remember back when you worked until 65 and then they gave you a Going Away Party, a gold watch and some plane tickets to somewhere tropical, and you retired with dignity and respect for your contribution to the enterprise for whom you had devoted your productive adult life working? Fahhgettabout it! Today, when you work long enough to get to the beginning of what used to be called your Golden Years, they dropkick you through the goalposts of life and out the back door. There is always somebody younger and cheaper to replace you . . .

My sister, who I talk regularly with either by phone or email, said that Big Blue distributed a list of those who were laid off – she has survived waves of layoffs since the early 90’s when Big Blue stopped being the cradle to grave ‘family’ of employees. She said she was the only 61-year old, but that there were two 62-year olds listed – no names of course, just enough to satisfy the federal laws on RIF’s – not jazz solo’s, Reductions in Force, the newspeak name for this sort of thing.

I asked if there were other younger ones in their 50’s and 40’s who were laid off – she said that there were and there were also some in their 30’s and even in their 20’s on the list of newly laid off. Good luck to the 40- and 50-somethings with spouses, kids, mortgages and all of life’s expenses in finding any kind of employment that matches what they had with Big Blue.

My cousin had built up a nationally recognized expertise in treating ex-military personnel with PTSD (post-traumatic-stress-disorder) from their Vietnam experiences; as the new century rolled along, I am sure that his patient population was increasingly becoming veterans of our two current wars. Nice time to push out the door somebody with all that experience . . . right when it will be needed for all those Vets coming back from three and four, or more, tours of duty being shot at, blown up and watching their buddies die in their arms.

Remember a time when older people were respected for their knowledge and experience and what their maturity and yes, even wisdom, could add to an enterprise? Well, that has all been scrapped in this new young century for the lowest-cost, lowest common denominator, best bean counter’s approach to tweaking spreadsheets and financial statements to tell even more lies than they already tell. Out with the old and in with the new!

If I sound angry in telling this tale, it is because I vacillate between being heartbroken and furious on behalf of both my sister and my cousin. My sister was offered the consolation prize of a year’s salary, which would take her to 25 years in the arms of Big Blue, and she had planned to retire next year anyway; my cousin was just plain burnt out on dealing with the labyrinthine VA bureaucracy (which makes that guy continually pushing the same rock up the same hill in the Myth of Sisyphus look like Kindergarten naptime and all their infinite madness that a hidebound bureaucracy can muster – neither will miss a meal and both have been prudent with their money- my cousin’s three kids are all beyond college tuition age and my sister has no kids to support and is now (I keep telling her) free as a bird to do whatever she chooses. That’s me; finding the silver lining in every cloud.

But, what does this say for our once proud nation? Did we get to our level of advanced civilization and productivity by sacrificing our best, most experienced people like a burnt offering to some pagan God of money? I wish us all a lot of luck as the blind now truly lead the blind in businesses and institutions across America, without mature, wise and experienced hands to guide them. Scotty, you can beam me up now.