Economy


Someone asked me that tonight on Twitter. It’s a fair question if you don’t know me because, while I have a fairly consistent set of core values, I am not easily categorized in everyday terms.

I think he was annoyed that, despite my following Green people and sometimes tweeting green causes and issues, I am not green enough to not question things that don’t make sense or don’t match up.
But I am not any more liberal than I am conservative. I am not green because of my pragmatism or a socialist because I was raised by Depression Era parents. I subscribe to no particular worldview because there is validity to be found everywhere – if you keep an open mind and you can’t do that when you’ve picked a side. I learned that in Catholic school.

Yeah, I know.

I don’t believe in a god or gods, but I don’t discount the probable reality of a purpose driven universe and the immortality of that some of us call a “soul”.

I think religions have done more harm than good but don’t think people who practice a creed are necessarily bad or deluded.

I am a progressive though I don’t belong to the cult of “progress”. Science fiction will not save us.

And  I do believe in being accountable; earning your own way as much as possible is good for you and that a lot more issues than people realize are nothing more than distractions to keep us from paying attention to what is really important.

The economy, for example, is a distraction. Or at least all the hyperbolic rhetoric and mock warfare and shell-game math that gets tossed at us by the main stream (and off the beaten path) media, politicians and activists.

Justin Trudeau (infamously and to his likely dismay now) once said that “the economy/budget will take care of itself” or something close to it.

His opponents far and wide mocked and continue to mock such “naiveté”, but he is really not that wrong.

Budgeting has to be done. By everyone. Households, businesses and governments. But it is a lot less quantum physics than you think.

And for the most part that which is the free market – from which economies and government budgets are birthed – does take care of itself as it is largely outside the influence of even those who try to influence or manipulate it.

It grows, contracts and collapses and staggers back to its feet again. Driven a tiny bit by us but it’s mainly dependent on the fact that humans have needs and those needs are met via consumption.

We consume therefore we must work and have a system for bartering.

It’s kind of simple.

Even if everything imploded tomorrow morning with the bell on Wall Street (as likely a place as any), we’d still need things. We’d still have skills to ply. The economy would just flex to accommodate the new reality.

Whatever. Most talk of the jabbering about the economy and budgets is nonsense. Political parties can’t grow economies anymore than they can save jobs that are naturally migrating to newer, cheaper emerging countries. Politicians are impotent forces in terms of doing much good on a large-scale. They can (and have) managed to muck up a lot of things though. Leafing through any history book can tell you that.

But they’ve done great things, you will argue.

I will grant you that, but mostly by accident or as a by-product of something that was probably self-serving and turned out better than anyone could have dreamed.

So do I know who I am?

Do you know who you are?

You’ll give me a list of things you believe in. Groups you belong to. Things and people you love. Tell me about your causes – passionately, I am sure. Assure me that you aren’t a whole host of things.

The way you dress, wear your hair, your markings and piercings, taste in music, food, books and movies/tv will all scream something that probably isn’t you at all.

And in the end, you still won’t come close to telling me anything about the real you.

People’s natures can only be known through real time experiences. Whether that’s via intense conversation or adventures or just hanging out (and yes, it can be virtual).

But getting to know someone is intentional and time consuming.

Unlike my Twitter or Facebook feed, or even this blog.

If who we really are was so easily divined, people would get along better and the world wouldn’t teeter on so many brinks and we wouldn’t be worrying about economies or climate change to the extent that many of us are at actual or virtual war with so many others.

I just finished Justin Trudeau’s “memoir*” and the only thing I know for sure is that he held back. I still have no idea who the man really is but he probably isn’t the anti-Christ and Canada will survive him just like it’s surviving Harper or would survive Mulcair or May.

Look, just because I find this or that news article worthy of sharing or commenting on and just because in your eyes my thought pattern seems contradictory doesn’t mean I don’t know what I am doing or where I would like to go or have forgotten where I have been.

That which is me has survived more ups, downs, and twisty turns than you know or I could ever blog about.

My favorite Father of Confederation is Thomas D’arcy McGee.

He was born in Ireland. A gifted writer and a silver-tongued little devil who began his career at the tender age of barely 18 when he left Ireland for the United States to preach to the immigrant masses about freeing their homeland from British occupation.

He was an activist who eventually became a full-fledged terrorist and wound up in Canada solely because he needed a job and couldn’t go home to Ireland where an arrest warrant and deportation to Australia awaited him.

He ran the gamut from near apostasy to fundamentalist Catholic.

He was an alcoholic and a born again teetotaler.

An Anglo – Quebecker, he worked with McDonald to birth a united Canada and ended his life dreaming of a multicultural society of Canadians.

He died at the hands of a terrorist organization he once believed in with all his soul. They killed him because he knew their vision threatened his Canada.

Along the way, he changed his mind and rhetoric and ways so many times that his critics’ most consistent argument against him was that he never seemed to know what it was he stood for.

But he always did. In the moment and going forward, he knew who he was. He was, like everyone else, a work in progress.

His progress lead him on quite a journey. Mostly because he had an open mind (though he lacked the interest in ever admitting he’d changed it or had been wrong about anything ever).

I am not who I was thirty, or even ten, years ago. I won’t be of the same mind always as I go forward.

That which is me is always me, and it’s only for the privileged few to know. But who I am in this life changes as I learn and grow, as it should, and when I am in a growth spurt – as I am – is not the best time to try to pin me down.

I am just rambling, you think.

No. I’m thinking. On paper. If you’d been paying attention, you’d have figured that out about me already.

And you should try that sometime. You might learn something.

 

*Memoirs should be saved until one is old enough that one no longer worries about the fall out of being frank and having opinions about one’s one life and experiences. Just my opinion, mind you.


So, I probably haven’t brought it up but my old school district sent out prelim lay-off notices last Friday. 300 teachers received letters informing them that their positions were being cut. These aren’t “pink slips”. Schools aren’t required by state law to issue those until April 30th. The letters are a heads up. In twenty years, I don’t recall the district tipping its hand in writing or on such a scale.

I went through two “reductions” personally and I was also informed in person and then reassigned once the state legislature approved the education budget – something they typically do in March or early April.

These letters then are the district’s way of saying – don’t hold your breath because the state will not be relenting on the cuts. There’s no money and none is on the way.

One of the easy fixes to budget dilemmas is to cut from the outside in which means get rid of everything that is considered “extra” to save the core subject areas. Stuff like music, art, PE, school nurses, after school activities, sports, field trips though not in that order.

Here in Canada a lot of what is being cut now in Des Moines doesn’t exist. Dee’s school doesn’t have a lunch program, school nurse, counselor, PE or art teacher. That’s standard for elementary and with the exception of the last three – it applies to junior/senior high too. In addition, kids who open enroll to schools outside their designated areas have to pay for busing or find their own transportation. Sports are largely outside school as is music where learning to play instruments are concerned though there is band and whatnot at the upper levels. Canadians fund the core first and expect parents to pick up a lot of slack.

But here’s what struck me, the days following the cuts, I see all these Facebook statements decrying the lay-offs and bemoaning the fact that music in particular will cease to exist in the form of a designated teacher at the elementary and middle schools. I see people starting Facebook “protest” groups – probably to “raise awareness” among the choir folk but I don’t see anyone offering a solution or organizing real life protests or even rationally dealing with the fact that – there really is NO money.

And then by last night, Facebook statuses are back to gushing about Survivor or the Bachelor because …?

The second time I was reduced it was because I stuck my neck out and to save the librarian – who never thanked me but she’s welcome anyway.

It was after Will had been diagnosed and I knew he was going to die. I’d put him in the nursing home that fall. I was in grad school. I was insanely strapped for cash most of the time and by this time, Will had been dying for so long that most people had forgotten that my life was not “back to normal” though I am sure it appeared so on the surface to most of the people I worked with.

Zee, our principal, announced that he had x number of staff to cut and that one of the positions would be the librarian and the rest of the folk would just be assignment shuffles because there were retiring folk to make up the remainder of the body count.

The librarian was distraught, but no one really liked her. Her personality precluded any great out-pouring of support beyond – “well that’s going suck for us because we use the library a lot”.

The nature of what we were doing at the time in terms of instruction meant the library was in use constantly. It was not a little thing to give up. No librarian would mean chaos in terms of scheduling and checking materials in/out. We needed the librarian.

So I wrote an email stating the case for keeping her and cutting somewhere (one) else. I hit send. I campaigned door to door  – really. The admin relented and decided to cut my position instead. I knew that this would probably happen when I wrote the email. I also knew it was logical and in the best interests of the students.

But I needed that job in that building. Going to another school, which I would have been easily reassigned with my seniority, would have broken me. I didn’t have the reserves to start fresh or to cajole new co-workers and admin into assisting me prop up my precariously arranged existence. Fortunately, Zee knew this to and juggled things so I would simply be moved to another position. He had to inconvenience a few teachers to do it. I am grateful still for what he did for me.

I am not advocating for anyone to offer themselves up in the present scenario. There will be no transfers and the vast majority of the 300 will not be working next fall. But it seems to me that Facebook groups and indignation are pointless in the face of reality. The whole “no money” thing. The state doesn’t have it and the Feds are not likely to supply it without strings.*

It’s easy to start a Facebook protest – or even organize a march on the state legislature with signs and speeches and the local media (they generally do that over the up-coming Spring Break which means that only those without vacation plans will attend – if the weather isn’t too cold or rainy).

What’s harder is facing reality and deciding what kids really need in the long-term and what is just extra and can be shouldered by families. Families can actually shoulder quite a bit, but American society is not in the habit of ponying up anymore.

My siblings and I walked to music lessons every Wednesday afternoon for a couple of years. My father paid for it and we were by no stretch well-off. Our sports were largely league and hot lunch was a twice a year treat sponsored by the women’s prayer society. We walked to school. We didn’t have a librarian, shop teacher, art teacher and we only had a music teacher when the sisters happened to have someone to spare for the duty. After the last music teacher died, in the middle of my 8th grade year, there wasn’t another one for years.

What’s important? What are you willing to personally sacrifice – a step raise? insurance? take a pay cut? go to a shorter school week or have regular furloughs like they’re doing in Hawaii? Will you give up contracts and go to salary or hourly wages? There are fixes. There are always fixes. But they will require some kind of sacrifice.

No one makes sacrifices anymore. They start Facebook groups.

*The strings are closing “failing” schools and firing “ineffective” teachers. No mention is made of what is to be done with the poor quality raw material or their parents.


Something happened last week that made me stop, again, and ponder the American landscape. More specifically, the people who litter the landscape with their ignorant misguided views on the economy, health care reform, Sarah Palin and President Obama – just to pick a few out of the multitude of things they whine worry about.

First, I got unfriended on Facebook. Again? That’s hardly new and earth-shattering. True, many of my old high school acquaintances find my political and social views to be of the radical bra burning sort. Given that I don’t wear bras, perhaps I am more old school femi-nazi than I think, but my position is that they are willfully misinformed wusses. Fox News is no substitute for reading and thinking, and in these interesting times, only the informed and forward thinking are going to emerge the least scathed. Our old Civics teacher, the wonderful Kenny Herbst, must rue the time he wasted trying to instill democratic principles in some of us.

My old acquaintance is a tea-bagging sort though he lazily tweets the revolution via his home page rather than take the time away from his middle class pursuits to walk Glenn Beck’s talk.

Like so many of what passes for middle class Americans anymore, he views life entirely from the viewpoint of a toddler.

How does this affect me? What’s in it for me? If my life isn’t in a constant state of material growth – then my government isn’t doing its job! Where’s the expansion? What happened to my prosperity?! It’s the liberals’ fault! Socialism, Will Robinson!!  Socialism! Vote them out! Vote them out!!

I am too harsh? Here is a quote I found via Andrew Sullivan’s Daily Dish. Jill Dorson is a writer, and a former small business owner  thanks to the recession, who voted for Obama and now has buyer’s remorse.

It was clear after just 90 days what a mistake I’d made. My taxes have gone up and my quality of life has gone down. Hope has given way to disgust and I see now that change is simply a euphemism for “big government.”

Like many others, my view is narrow. I vote for the candidate I think will be best for me. I often define myself as a fiscal conservative and a social liberal. But above all, I want to feel safe and I don’t want to feel that I am being ripped off. I want a president who inspires me and cares about my contribution to the fabric of the country. I want a president with experience and savvy, a Commander in Chief who puts our country and its citizens first.

I only hope the Republicans can find him the next time around.

Sullivan deemed her a big baby. One of the hordes of the “gimme, gimme” types that make up the lunatic fringe that passes for the Republican party and infects many Independents these days. Newsweek wonders if Americans haven’t become “ungovernable”, a population screaming for change as long as it comes at someone else’s expense.

Ask them not to do for their country because the country exists only to do for them. And that’s not socialism. No sir. Funds and programs directed at the unworthy are socialist. Tax cuts for smallish sized businesses and hard-working middle class ( it still puzzles me how they can ALL be middleclass) people is the American capitalistic way of the Founding Fathers. It says so in The Constitution.

Sullivan points out that there isn’t much one can say to people who view the current economic realities from an enraged teenaged-like narcissism. And Dorson admits that she is just like most people in that she really only cares about how things affect her and what is important to her. Like most of my fellow adults, she has no concept of the greater good or that the long-term is just that. Long.

I am no fan of Obama. I was a Clinton supporter. I still resent the way the Obama campaign never made a play for us, simply expecting us to suck it up and follow him. I never for a minute expected him to swoop into Washington and change the system. The White House changes its occupants, not the other way around. But he was all there was by way of viable options, and I hoped he’d be more of a leader than he’s been so far. Set an agenda. Follow through on more than a few of his promises. If this were “normal” times, I would not be worried. It can take time to find one’s presidential feet, but he has never had the time luxury, and he’s rapidly approaching “time’s up”, I fear.

Why?

Because of my former FB buddy and people like Julie. They don’t have the stamina required to adjust to harder times that are likely to deteriorate a lot bit more in the coming year.

FB Bud threw regular status bar fits about gasoline prices. Clueless about what drives prices, or that gasoline is not oil’s only end product, all he knew was that the cost curtailed his leisure spending. The boat couldn’t be out on the river as often and visits to the casinos were less frequent. His middle-class entitlement lifestyle took a hit.

It was Obama’s fault or Nancy Pelosi’s or the health care reform bill, that “no one needs or wants because health care is something a person needs to take care of himself”. And when he wasn’t thanking God for Glenn Beck and the access to real news at Fox, he harassed those who supplied him with facts by labeling them liberals, whether they were or not. Being informed is a one of the Four Horsemen of the Socialist Apocalypse. News gleaned from factual reporting might be contagious and spoil the milk or kill the neighbor’s cow. Salem nonsense from a constituency that thinks Dan Brown is a great novelist.

Simply being realistic and pragmatic marks a person as liberal or socialist. Or a Nazi.

Expecting the government to keep up entitlements like the Bush tax cuts, Medicare, Social Security or that the states  support services without raising taxes is different. Different indeed. American Infantile Entitlement Syndrome.

This was Sullivan’s summary:

What you have here is big babyism. After the worst downturn in memory, bequeathed a massive and growing debt, two failing wars, a financial sector threatening to bring down the entire economy, Obama has betrayed this person by preventing a Second Great Depression.

We will hear more of these non-sequiturs; the 24-hour news cycle prevents any memory past the last six months; the easy, lazy meme of Obama-the-lefty will be pressed home by FNC/RNC and the MSM will grab onto it because it’s a narrative they can understand and that helps insulate them from charges of bias. That none of this has any direct relationship with economic and political reality is barely relevant.

Tea-baggers, Palinites, ordinary “folk” who believe that if their fair share is dwindling than somehow the system has abandoned them and gone socialist. Americans have gone toddler. Look for it in the straight to DVD section soon.


Rob came home for lunch yesterday with news.

“All the employees slated for reduction have been notified according to my boss, and since I haven’t heard anything personally, I think that means I still have a job.”

This is good in my opinion although Rob is indifferent. His job is still a source of tedium when it isn’t out right irritating him.

“An engineer who has been on mat leave the last two years is back on the job this week,” he told me as we ate. “She was one of the rising stars once but given her skill set, it was largely a gender promotion thing. She cackles and is loud, and I had to shut my door and plug myself into my iPod.”

And no, he isn’t a closet sexist, but he does see gender promotions of marginally talented females as a practice that should cease. 

My immediate family hasn’t been affected yet by the frenzied downsizing, which ironically is probably more than a little to blame for the sharp drop in consumer spending which is fueling the layoffs in some measure. The business world never seems to really get the whole supply/demand thing and how consumers fit into the ecomonic circle of  its life.

The girls are still employed but they can’t job hop like they used to, so they are stuck for the moment where they are at and that is in service industry jobs which are the first affected when economies grind to a halt.

As far as I know DNOS and her husband are safe and my mother, god bless her 76 year old self, still puts in a 32hr week. BabySis and LawnMower Man still have jobs, I think. He milks cows and she does laundry. Things that always need doing in their Wisconsin neck of the woods. Even CB is working which is something short of miraculous given that he was threatening to drop off the edge of sanity again right before Christmas. He has to travel pretty far from his home base because the construction jobs are not plentiful in Nevada or California these days, but he has a reputation that, despite his sometimes erratic behavior, still manages to work in his favor. Even my MIL in B.C. is still working despite the fact that it is retail and it was supposed to only be seasonal.

I guess we’ve shed enough blood as a family this past year that the Angel decided we were square. If only he felt the same way about our investments.