Saturday, October 29, 2011

Bring Jobs Back

            When I started on this post, my mind went almost instantly to consumerism and, while I see unbridled consumerism as related to the exporting of manufacturing jobs, the issue here is more straightforward: how do we turn off the faucets that are pouring money out of the country, so I’ll save my rant against consumerism for a future post.
            Did you see the recent series, ‘Made in America’, on ABC’s World News Tonight with Diane Sawyer? A crew went into the home of an American family and removed everything that wasn’t manufactured in the US. When they were through, the house was completely empty. Well, almost. There was one lonely little bouquet of artificial flowers – not the vase, just the flowers.
            A friend who shares my concern about the state of affairs in our nation told me that there are fewer than twelve million manufacturing jobs in this country. The population of the US is about three hundred million. Yes, there are other types of jobs, but manufacturing jobs have been shipped overseas. As manufacturing jobs were being taken, we were assured that other types of jobs, especially technical, computer related jobs, would replace them. That hasn’t happened. It’s unlikely that it will.
            The effect of this wholesale exporting of jobs has been to impoverish us. 1) The incomes of millions of people disappeared, along with the taxes they used to pay. 2) The property taxes formerly paid by the businesses to local governments, taxes that helped support law enforcement, emergency personnel and schools, dried up. 3) The money people spend on goods manufactured overseas, everything from clothing to major appliances, leaves this country and no longer circulates within the community. 4) People who want to work cannot find jobs.
            What happens when we ship off our tax base? A recent TV show chronicled the sorry condition of our infrastructure: roads, bridges, water lines, sewer lines, etc. are falling apart and there’s no money to repair them. The deterioration of the infrastructure seems to parallel the exporting of jobs. Are they related? I can’t say for certain that they are, but it sure is an interesting parallel.
            Why were jobs shipped out in the first place? Personally, I wonder if they weren’t shipped out to punish and, ultimately, to destroy labor unions. I’m not a big fan of labor unions. In my view they occupy the same position as big business, big finance and government on every level – they are necessary evils, necessary because people seem incapable of controlling the compulsion to screw other people for profit.
            Anyway, we were told that manufacturing jobs were shipped out to save money, so that we, the consumers, could save a dime here and there. Well, we saved those dimes – where are they? We aren’t richer; we’re poorer. We’re poorer because jobs and the income they provided have vanished, poorer because the taxes that used to help support local services have departed, poorer because what money we do have is spent on foreign goods and, therefore, cycled out of our communities forever.
            What’s the downside to bringing manufacturing back? For the life of me, I can’t think of one thing. It may slightly increase the cost of manufactured goods, but the few studies I’ve seen are split on that issue. American workers do make more per hour than their foreign counterparts, but American workers are famously efficient. A recent study said that Chinese workers are 30% as efficient as American workers. In practical terms, for every 100 finished parts an American worker turns out, his Chinese counterpart turns out only 30. But does it matter that we pay a little more for American-made goods? It is, after all, bringing jobs and income, investment and taxes back home where they will benefit us and our posterity. And it will put people back to work. People want to work. As I understand it a woman’s sense of self-worth revolves around her family, but men peg their sense of self-worth to employment. A man with no work will soon question his worth as a man. I’ve been there. I know. Put him to work.
            What can you and I, individually, do to bring manufacturing jobs back? We can stop buying foreign made goods. Christmas is coming. How many gifts can you purchase that were made in the US? We can tell the managers at the big box stores that we want, nay, demand, American-made goods. Don’t tell them once. Tell them repeatedly.

            Light a candle.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Turn off the petroleum faucet

            There’s still a lot of wealth in this nation. A part of me wants to focus on the real wealth in the US: freedom of speech, freedom of assembly, freedom of religion, right to trial by peers. You know the list. This is the true wealth of this republic.
            But my focus here is on financial wealth, of which there is still a huge amount. I want my children, step-children and grandchildren to have access to the benefits I’ve enjoyed all my life. I have no problem with sharing wealth with nations and peoples in need. It would be unchristian not to do so. What concerns me is that the wealth of the nation is being squandered. We’re flushing the financial hopes of the next several generations.
            Every day we send billions of dollars out of our economy to purchase foreign crude oil. Yes, it’s essential to the modern world, every nation needs it, but it is a finite resource. There’s no question but that if alternative fuels aren’t developed, we will find ourselves at war with China and/or India for access to crude oil.
            Will my grandchildren pay with their lives because I refused to remove my blindfold or was just was too damned lazy either to curtail my use of petroleum or to help find alternatives?
            Petroleum is a necessity, but are there viable alternatives? Gasoline may be the most obvious petroleum product, so let’s focus on that. Can we either control our insatiable appetite for gasoline or find a viable alternative? The answer to the first is, probably not. We’re addicted to the freedom gasoline gives us, so controlling our appetite will be difficult, but the good news is, there are workable substitutes.
            One has to applaud the advances made in developing alternative fuels. You’ve heard that some are converting used frying oil from the local fast-food joints to diesel fuel. Some are trying to produce gasoline from algae – pond scum. Electric and hybrid vehicles are more common. Very cool, but is that where we want to be down the road?
            I remember the gas crisis of the early 70s when OPEC turned off the faucets. There was near panic worldwide. The US felt the crunch immediately and we only imported about 25% of our petroleum needs at the time. Today we import 75-80%. Ordinary people complained and moaned but, when OPEC turned the taps on again, we went back to our previous uncaring attitudes. But one nation felt the pain and decided to do something about it. Brazil turned to ethanol. Today, ethanol powers the majority of Brazilian automobiles and they don’t have to import it. They grow it and refine it, keeping their money at home. I don’t know if Brazil is energy independent, but it’s a lot closer to it than we are. And as a little side note, your gasoline engine could be converted to use ethanol with a few minor modifications.
            There is a movement in the US to use more ethanol, but the effort seems half-hearted and, I believe, misguided. It’s half-hearted because ordinary people aren’t behind it. It seems that the prevalent attitude is, so long as there is gas at the pumps and enough money to buy it, most people don’t give a hoot. It’s misguided because when we think of ethanol, we think of corn, and corn is a poor choice for ethanol. First, it creates competition for a staple food item which drives up the price of the thousands of food products made from corn. Second, it’s inefficient. For every unit of energy used to convert corn to ethanol, only one and one-half units of energy are produced. The net gain is only one-half unit. In Brazil they use sugar cane. The benefits are: first, it doesn’t create competition for a staple food item and, second, for every unit of energy used to convert sugar cane to ethanol, seven units of energy are produced. The net gain is six units. That’s incredible.
            So, why don’t we grow sugar cane and refine it? Yes, it grows here. My dad grew it and had it made into molasses. We don’t grow and refine it because there’s no one behind the effort. We can’t import ethanol from Brazil because the US government import tax is so high that it removes the economic viability. I guess that’s done to protect the interests of big oil, who only care about their bottom line and don’t give a sick rat’s behind about you and me, or about our country, so we are forced to continue depending on foreign oil.
            But is ethanol is the answer? It might be used as a short term measure, but the long term answer, in my opinion, is hydrogen.
            This isn’t science fiction. Hydrogen powered vehicles are being driven already. They don’t pollute. The exhaust emission is – water. You could order one tomorrow. The problem is, you can’t refuel it. Critics say it would be too costly to set up the necessary network of hydrogen refueling stations. It’s a Catch 22. So long as there are no hydrogen powered vehicles, no refueling stations will be built and so long as there are no refueling stations, no one will buy a hydrogen powered vehicle. I say it’s too costly not to set up those refueling stations.
            How can it be done? Here’s a thought. Every state in the nation has a fleet of vehicles. What if a state could be persuaded to convert, as much as possible, to hydrogen powered vehicles and to set up the necessary refueling stations state-wide, stations which would also be available for public use? And what if the US postal service changed over to hydrogen powered vehicles and set up refueling stations, also available for public use?
            What are the benefits? 1) We decrease the demand and competition for crude oil, which means it’s less likely that your grandchildren and mine will be sent to die for it. 2) We keep our mobile lifestyle. 3) We cut way back on the amount of pollution entering the atmosphere. 4) We keep our money at home to benefit us, our children and our grandchildren and, if we build the vehicles here, we create jobs. 5) We can look back on our lives and say we stopped being part of the problem and became part of the solution.

            Light a candle.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Light a Candle 2

            I watched a nature show about seasonal cycles in some part of Africa. The rainy season brings such huge amounts of water that the rivers flood and water spreads out over vast stretches of land. The fish do what fish do: they follow the water looking for food. Then the dry season sets in and the water in the wet-season lakes drains back toward the main rivers, and every year, large populations of fish are cut off and stranded in small, rapidly evaporating pools. There were pockets of drowning fish packed gill to gill in three inches of mud. Their fate was to bake in the sun or become easy meals for any passing predator.
            I remember the late 50s and the 60s and the sense of pride and optimism shared by the majority of US citizens. That was when the US was the major manufacturing nation in the world. We made all manner of things, and made them with pride. Moreover, the US was the major farming nation in the world.
            Money used to flow in. Now it flows out.
            Whereas huge amounts of money used to flow into the US and smaller amounts flowed out, now the trend has reversed. Huge amounts of money flow out for foreign petroleum. Huge amounts of money flow out for apparel and other manufactured goods. Huge amounts of money flow out for illegal drugs. Yes, I’m including that because the amount of money flowing out for illegal drugs is staggering.
            Not only does this huge outflow serve to impoverish us, it goes into the pockets of groups and individuals who have no love for the US. We’re funding the wars against us. I saw an interview several years ago with a cocaine exporter from Colombia. He said he was happy with his work because he hated the US and hoped he was helping to bring it down.
            That’s the big picture. The local picture is similar. Every US town has a multitude of national chain stores: Walmart, Kmart, Wendy’s, McDonald’s, Home Depot, Office Depot, and the baker’s dozen of grocery stores. The bulk of the money we spend at these stores flows out of the community. Yes, they pay wages and property taxes which puts money back into the local economy, but that is a trifle in comparison to the amount of money that leaves the community, never to return.
            Isn’t one remedy to stop sending our money out of our communities? Can’t I buy at least a portion of my groceries at the locally owned grocery store or from the farmer parked on the side of the road? Can’t I buy shoes and clothing made in the US, if I can find any? Can’t I buy goods that are manufactured locally, or regionally or nationally? If I can’t find it made in the US, do I really need it? And why am I supporting businesses that outsource their customer services to foreign countries?
            Don’t be sidetracked by the claim that we’re a global economy. We’ve always been a global economy. That used to mean that wealth flowed in. Now it means that wealth flows out. We need to turn off those faucets before they drain us dry.
            Remember the rainy-season illustration above? I have this fear that, if we don’t turn off those faucets, my children and grandchildren will be like those fish, trapped and drowning in an economic mud puddle. It’s already happening in small towns nationwide. It doesn’t have to be that way, does it?
            In future posts, I’m going to give my two cents worth about the three gushing faucets I mentioned: petroleum, manufacturing and illegal drugs. You and I can save this nation, we can turn the tide, but we have to wake up.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Chains of Events

            I’m one of those people who believes that things in life happen in the correct sequence. Whether we label them good or bad, fortunate or unfortunate, they happen in the sequence which will be most beneficial for the inner person. I don’t know if that sounds fatalistic. I don’t think of myself that way. I’m upbeat and optimistic. I believe we have to work our butts off to achieve what we want and although what we get may not be what we envisioned, it will be what is most beneficial for us.
            I was reminded of this again recently when a friend with the right connections agreed to put a copy of “What Rough Beast” into the hands of the book reviewer for a major newspaper. And I mean a major newspaper, as in a circulation of a million or so and possibly a nationally syndicated circulation of several times that. Do you have any idea what impact a favorable review from such a person would mean? In short, a favorable review would mean, WOW! And that’s putting it mildly.
            My friend was careful to remind me that there are no guarantees. I know that. First, there’s no guarantee that the book reviewer will actually read the book. Book reviewers, especially those who work for major publications, are inundated with requests to be reviewed. They have to set priorities and decide what they will read and when. She may or may not decide to read “What Rough Beast”. Second, there’s no guarantee that, if the reviewer reads the book, she will like it and publish a favorable review.
            You know what? I’m not worried about either of those two things. I’m not worried that the reviewer might not read it, and I’m not worried that she might not like it. I am thrilled to death that a friend is going to bat for me. That’s a very special feeling.
            I may have shared this next bit before. If I did, I’ll repeat it. Repetition is one of the privileges of age. I wrote “What Rough Beast” twenty years ago. Yep. Twenty years ago. It was the first of four novels I wrote between 1989 and 1993. A number of people read “What Rough Beast” and liked it. I sent it out to publishers but it didn’t get any traction, as they say. After awhile, I put it down. The mid 90s was a time of spiritual, emotional and financial turmoil in my life, and I stopped serious writing. The stories didn’t stop telling themselves to me, I just stopped trying to write them down. But the urge to write, the urge to tell stories, is something that can grip you relentlessly, and three years ago I started writing again.
            This sequence of events spanning twenty plus years is not what I would have chosen, but it is what it is, and I believe it will turn out to be the most beneficial one for me as a person. And that’s a really good feeling.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Light a Candle

            I’ve been around for a few years, and I don’t remember so many people being so put out with the state of things. Many aren’t just ‘put out’; they’re down-right mad. I’m trying not to join the cadre of the angry, but it’s hard. I believe the current mal ease which is so prevalent among us is the result of frustration, frustration and the intuitive fear brought on by the realization that we, as individuals, are not nearly as self-sufficient as we thought we were.

            You and I are totally dependent upon outside forces. Operative word: totally.
            We have so little control over those forces that we can only admit that we are little better off than the flotsam that drifts upon the sea, carried wherever the tides would take it. We’re told that we have control; that we can vote. Well, I’ve voted for forty years and the same empty smiles and empty promises that were in office forty years ago are still in office today. Yes, the faces have changed, but that’s about all. The average person in this country is not better off today than forty years ago. We’re worse off. And the scary thing is - worse still is in the offing.

            We’ve been led all our lives to believe that the powers that be are kindly disposed toward us, but we see with increasing clarity that they are utterly disinterested in the wellbeing of us as individuals or in the wellbeing of that class of millions of hard working citizens we call ‘the middle class’. They are interested in one thing and one thing only: their personal bottom lines, and if you don’t contribute to that bottom line, well, then you can go to hell.
            For my part I believe the real purpose of the recent soap operas in the halls of congress between the one side and the other is to divide the people and to focus our attention on peripheral issues so that we won’t see the real problem with this country.

            What is the real problem with this country? The problem is the scarcity of men and women in positions of power who hold dear the precepts of justice and equality which were espoused by our founding fathers. The problem is the scarcity of men and women in power who actually care about the people of this country. Personally, I’m convinced that we could fire every member of Congress, go town to town across the country picking people at random to fill their positions, and those chosen at random would do a better job for the people.
            Abraham Lincoln said, in his Gettysburg Address, that this is a nation of the people, by the people and for the people. I don’t know if that was true in 1864. Today we are, more and more, a nation of the very rich, by the very rich and for the very rich.

            Here I am, doing what I didn’t want to do. I’m cursing the darkness. It’s better to light a candle that to curse the darkness. I want to view the present situation as an opportunity for relevant change which will benefit my children and grandchildren and raise anew this nation as a symbol of justice, freedom and equality. But what can one person do?
            I can be a squeaky wheel. With this post, I just started on that road. Maybe you’ll be a squeaky wheel, too. When there are enough squeaky wheels, when the noise gets loud enough, someone will have to listen. There is a fundamental truth that we must understand and take to heart. Those in power over us may disrespect us, disregard us and discourage us. They may try to divide us against each other and divert our focus to trivial things, but at the end of the day, they deeply fear an unhappy populace. An unhappy populace is not good for the bottom line. So if the sound of squeaky wheels gets loud enough, things will change.

Monday, October 3, 2011

Changing gears

            That grinding sound you hear is the sound of me changing gears.
            First, a brief update. I received the proof copy of “What Rough Beast” and put it into the hands of a proofreader. Errors and typos will be corrected, it will be resubmitted to the publisher and, if things continue on track, the book will be available in October. Also, my website is under construction. I don’t have a completion date but I expect it will also be in October. Now. Changing gears.
            I’m a writer and I want what every writer wants. I want you to read what I write. The whole point of starting this blog was to allow you to get to know me and my style of writing. It was to give you glimpses of my personality and of the way I view the world so you could decide whether or not you want to spend your valuable time and your hard-earned money on books that I write. Obviously, I wanted you to decide that you did.
            I’ve been holding back on you.
            I’ve spent a lot of energy during my adult life in constructing and presenting a certain image. What I’ve created is a Chris who cares too much what people think of him. When I was a child, a teen and a young adult, I didn’t care if you liked me, I didn’t care what you thought of me. I was who I was and you could take it or leave it. I changed when I entered the ministry. Ministers are required to think too much about their public persona. As the ‘face of the church’, ministers often find it necessary to dial back some of the intensity and be what people want them to be. That transformation required a lot of energy from me because I had to put a damper on my intensity. That was difficult because I’m a man with intense and passionate feelings about certain things.
            I feel passionately about meaning. I am incapable of going about my life and not digging into what it means to be a living creature. And I am equally incapable of allowing other people who don’t know ‘where I’ve been’ to impose upon me their definitions of meaning.
            Meaning cannot be divorced from the divine. I have an intense interest it the divine, and the divine has an intense interest in me.
            Relationships cannot be separated from either of the above. Our relationships with others are the reflections of ourselves in the mirror of our hearts.
            And I love people. Every human interaction is an opportunity to catch a glimpse or hear a whisper of the divine. Every human interaction is an opportunity to be a glimpse or whisper of the divine.
            I also have passionate dislikes. I hate people who use guilt and fear to manipulate others. I hate injustice; I hate its every face and form. I hate greed, in particular greed that is hidden behind a fa├žade of benevolence. And I hate apathy, especially my own.
            What’s the point of this? I’m changing gears. I’m tired of hiding behind the mask of myself. I’m going to let you see the unapologetic Chris, what he likes and what he doesn’t like. I feel compelled to do so. Originally, I just wanted to entice you to buy my books, but there are more important things than selling a few books.