Saturday, March 12, 2011

Eating Our Own Tails

I was watching Cheyenne at the beach the other day where she found a leathery piece of something dead and nasty and very tasty. My theory in these situations is to let chewing dogs chew, after all she is a dog and it is in her nature to hunt and chew and she might as well be a happy dog. Besides, putting my hand into her slavering jaw with all that smelly dead stuff is out of the question.This business of chewing stuff to pieces put me in mind unaccountably of our own economic situation and more especially the fate of cafeteria workers in the local school district, or all people. The schools' superintendent announced unilaterally he is privatizing the cafeterias and putting them out to bid by July 1st. And in fact teams of hungry cafeteria corporations have been seen prowling various schools eager to sop up the service. The school board then announced that the superintendent had violated protocol by not consulting them ahead of time, but shows no sign of stopping the process. Here's the really funny thing- the cafeteria service turned a profit of a quarter million dollars last year! The theory is that the 47 workers may get rehired by the private contractor with a pay cut and no benefits, this despite their profitability. I don't get the point of killing jobs especially in a small isolated communities like Key West. Wayne was talking to me the other day about where he sees the US economy going and he sees us all at a crossroads. We can either follow the path of tearing down all jobs and wages and destroying benefits, or we consider aspiring to raise wages and benefits to at least the levels of the public sector unions. Which incidentally is not a wage scale that will make you wealthy. The question is: if the private sector prefers to pay dividends over paying a living wage, who benefits? If there is no secure retirement, how does the younger generation get a foot in the employment door? If we have no health benefits, if insurance companies can deny us at will, how do we build financial security for ourselves and our families? I guess my question in the end, is what is the point of it all if corporations don't do their part for the common good? And at the same time they do their damnedest to kill off locally based small businesses that are rooted in our communities. What is the good of that? I find it amazing that in all the debate about budget cuts there is never a mention of military expenses in maintaining war and death in the Far East. Empires have collapsed repeatedly in their efforts to subdue the Afghans and none have succeeded. It has to be pure hubris for our leadership to think that can do what non have done since Timur Leng marched through there. And he came and went without doing too much nation building, smart man. We meanwhile spend billions on these wars and shut down social services at home as though our own people are worth less than a wrecked Afghan village. And all this with no public debate. Talk about eating our own tails!On the business of eating our own tails I read with interest the proposal that Arizona's Republican Governor be recalled. Among her many sins she proposed cutting state medical funding to the tune of 51 million dollars to balance the budget. That went over like a lead balloon among needy Republicans who suddenly felt the need for government hand outs to pay for meds to stay alive over the esoteric political posture of supporting budget cuts. This recall effort leads me to believe budget cutting is going to be a tricky proposition in a nation not quite ready for the realities of personal sacrifice for the greater good. In Florida our wild eyed governor has lost the backing of his Republican party legislative majority who are extremely skittish about cutting taxes to the tune of billions when the budget deficit needs to be made whole. A deficit of four billion in a budget of 70 billion doesn't seem that bad really, especially considering Florida's state pension system is the most financially sound in the nation... but the sheeple don't want to hear that so demonic budget cutting plans continue to be aired. Closing state tax loopholes would do the job but who wants sound common sense when demagoguery is on tap?The situation Up North seems so much worse in so many ways considering how high property taxes are already in states like Illinois and New Jersey. In Florida we pay one sixth the taxes, there is no personal income tax and sales taxes are less than 8 percent. So you'd think there would be some room to maintain services in the state. Quite aside form the fact we don't need to buy heating oil in the winter to survive. But we face cuts across the board, and I suppose in our era of no leadership, short sightedness and lack of vision we should expect nothing more. And yet when we look back at the Great Depression of the 20th century our forebears used the crisis to invest heavily in public works and create jobs. It's fashionable today to criticize the Works Progress Administration but you don't have to look far to see the benefits even today- roads, waterways, public art work and in Key West the benefits of the government sponsored tourist trade are still felt. It would have been nice to see those trillions poured down the rat hole of unregulated finance spent to give Americans work in creating a better future for us and the fact that my wistfulness sounds so esoteric is measure of how cynical we have become in that doing good and doing the right thing seem so alien. And so it goes. I was out with some rather more gregarious friends than myself and they got into a conversation about, of all things cement buildings. The gist of the conversation was the habit locally of those who prefer building using seawater to mix cement thus creating cement buildings that rust out the iron rebar and split in spectacular style. All to save money buying expensive and increasingly scarce fresh water. A classic example of eating one's own tail.Human nature makes no sense to one observing from the outside, yet each of us knows that taking stupid short cuts, trying to save a penny foolishly, putting one over on the competition is what life is all about. We just seem to be taking it to an exasperated level. The drive to the bottom seems to be wrecking all hope of sustaining a middle class, as we demonize unions, benefits and pensions. We read in a BBC report that (free) preventative care leads to better overall health in the UK as opposed to the US. That this country is far wealthier is cold comfort as the gap between the extremely wealthy and everyone else widens immeasurably.That's as may be but for the 75,000 of us that call the Keys home we have better weather and some really nice dog walks. I spent the afternoon ruminating on the fallibility of human nature, my dog chewed the fat and thought her own thoughts and didn't share either fat or thoughts.We went home, my dog and I. She looked happy, I was ruminative. The more I see people, the more I like dogs.