The turmoil’s turned up, blowing the lid off simmering pot

Let’s take a look.

Over the past year, we’ve witnessed a range of economic jolts that seem vaguely related to the worldwide Covid outbreak, though I’d say the virus only precipitated troubles that would have been inevitable even without it.

The pandemic simply turned up the heat, as it were.

Among the headlines:

  • Soaring prices of houses, many of them going to buyers from California or New York, sight unseen. Who can afford these mortgages? None of us in our old neighborhood could have moved in today.
  • The relocation from big cities to small towns, for those whose jobs can be done from home. Will they stay or fit in? What will their impact be, especially in places that have been economically struggling?
  • A retail apocalypse in the face of rising online shopping – what’s the future of downtown or the malls? (If you’re “going to work” on Zoom, you don’t need to dress up in new clothes, for one thing.)
  • Superrich and corporate takeover of American farmlands – and mobile home parks. Another blow to the middle and lower classes.
  • Systemic problems in the nation’s health-care system, including the uneven distribution of medical services. A fourth of Americans, mostly rural, have no primary physician, and many others are afraid to use the system because of serious past racial abuses. (These appear to be the leading reason many people have not been vaccinated.)
  • The failure of “just-in time,” including the supply-chain issues that have plagued retailers and manufacturers alike. It’s also exposing the vulnerabilities of offshore sourcing to places like China and Indonesia, as well as looming national security weaknesses. (I blame the Walmart influence in shuttering American factories.)
  • While automakers have shut down assembly lines because of the unavailability of computer chips, what we found most striking was all the empty shelves during a run to IKEA, the home design line built on its international flair and savvy. Row after row, empty. So much for our shopping list and research.
  • Inflating food prices. Fuel and weather are only part of the problem. (Well, we should note climate change somewhere in here, though it has nothing to do with Covid.)
  • Customer and voter nastiness, no doubt intensified by the isolation and resentment.

~*~

More telling is the shift in the workplace, with all of the help-wanted signs for jobs that go begging. It’s not that people are lazy, but rather they’ve realized the positions are demeaning, or meaningless, and it costs them more to work than they’re paid. It’s time to admit that minimum wage is insufficient. Many apparently discovered during Covid that their jobs were costing more than they were earning, once child care, transportation, and related costs were factored in.

Add to that the fact that a certain percentage of the populace is, candidly, unemployable – in the old days, you could give them chores around the farm, but even those have been mechanized. So what can they do to still be contributing members of the wider society?

There has been a serious breakdown in the social contract that underpins democracy. And in the work ethic – or ethics, for those who look closer.

For decades now, employers have demanding loyalty but offering none of their own. Sometimes, there’s even a requirement of noncompete agreements, no matter that the worker has paid for the needed education and career. In reality, in a big company, you work for your immediate boss and colleagues and whatever satisfaction you can find – not the remote layers above. The fact is, nobody entering the workforce today will be at the same enterprise at the end of their career. Maybe public service – especially education – will remain the rare exception.

One of the more shocking reports I saw in the past year noted that only a minority of American males between 18 and 65 hold fulltime jobs – I think the figure was just a third of the total. What are the rest doing? School, prison, early retirement, or – as I’m suspecting – under-the-table ventures. They’re not all stay-at-home dads, are they?

~*~

My new community is an interesting place to watch all of this play out. The place has long been stressed economically, with few adequately paying jobs to sustain families, and that’s led to a population outflow.

Qualified contractors, on the other hand, have been booked out solid, as has been the case nationally. (See above housing sales.)

Our new old house needs tons of renovation, but we’re stymied. As my wife says, “I have money I want to give to somebody but just can’t find anyone to take it.” Well, if we had a crew lined up, there would have been the problem of getting building supplies, and then at prices twice what they’d been just months before.

We’re hoping that will all change in the months ahead.

~*~

These are all things that need to be examined closely in the months ahead, especially in the public arena like the upcoming elections, not that I expect much of it will come coherently from the candidates. The fixes, after all, aren’t easy or painless.

In a way, it’s reflected in the matters of even wearing a mask (or not) or getting the vaccine (or not). I’d say Covid has simply made more obvious the deep polarization at work in our nation – and the wider world.

We all have some important and difficult work to do ahead. We can start with small steps.

 

Passing the plate 102

The Wabanaki people of Maine and the Maritime Provinces have been working since the 1990s on legislation and public policies to combat racism and colonialism in the educational system. All I’ve been able to dig up so far using the plate, however, is a research paper by Rebecca Cardinal Stokbeson, “Cibenuk Red Hope: Weaving Policy Toward Decolonization & Beyond,” based on research in Alberta. I’m hoping to learn more.

 

Truly subversive

After his conversion in prison, Charles Colson held aloft Francis of Assisi and the early Quaker George Fox as his two examples of what happens when a person devotes his whole life to Christ.

Earlier, when Colson was in the White House, he oversaw the FBI creating subversives’ files for Fox and fellow Quaker William Penn, founder of Pennsylvania, and anybody else whose name they found on public Quaker Meeting newsletters.

Yes, beware of true religion.

 

Let’s see how this fits in reverse

About four or five years ago, I returned to my car in the supermarket parking lot and found a magnetic strip attached to the door. Mine wasn’t the only one. Many other cars had them.

The message deeply offended me. Still does.

For perspective, let me change one word – and then a few others to match – to see how the logic flows, or doesn’t. Here goes:

So you support Trump-Pence. This means you …

  1. Are stupid (which can’t be cured)
  2. Have been duped, indoctrinated or brainwashed (curable!)
  3. Actually believe in class warfare, white supremacy or the failed concepts of Capitalism, self-made man, etc. (which makes you a domestic enemy of the Constitution and the U.S.A.)
  4. Are ignorant of the facts – which are readily available. So if you have no desire to get the facts or once learned, you refuse to change your ways – please refer back to 1, 2, or 3.

“If we lose freedom here, then there is no place to escape to. This is the last stand on Earth” – Ronald Reagan.

~*~

The original, however, accused me of supporting a Socialist, along with an entitlement mentality, Collectivism, and Marxism, all because of my Bernie sticker.

The hit-and-run messenger was cowardly, of course. Presumptuous. Prejudiced (this person knew nothing about me, after all, except for a campaign sticker). A bully, trying to intimidate me or stifle my freedom of speech.

But I’m still deeply miffed about the bigger problem of a blinding power of labels to obstruct civil discourse and thoughtful consideration of public issues.

Socialist, after all, does not necessarily mean Marxist. To the contrary, it was an element of early Christianity, if you read the book of Acts and New Testament epistles closely.

Old soldiers never die, as we used to sing

My novel What’s Left began percolating as I considered the dimensions of the hippie movement and realized it had never really died but continued disguised in many streams of action. Yes, I’d published my Hippie Trails series but so much still felt unfinished.

And, as a consequence of Cassia in the new novel, I went back and transformed the others into Freakin’ Free Spirits.

Looking at the world today, what pressing issues do you consider unfinished?

~*~

My novel is available at the Apple Store, Barnes & Noble’s Nook, Scribd, Smashwords, Sony’s Kobo, and other fine ebook distributors and at Amazon in both Kindle and paperback.

Within a daughter’s own living Greek drama