Unlike the rest of the country…

John and I were listening to the radio the other day and I heard something that left me laughing so hard, I couldn’t breathe:

“Unlike the rest of the country, Florida is in a recession, folks. Unemployment is up, the gap between the rich and the poor is so wide, and the real estate market is in baaaad shape.”

Unless Florida is “unlike the rest of the country” in that it’s only in a recession, this statement had me laughing very cynically, very hard. You see, in the past 8 months, John and I have seen many wonderful things, but the thing we’ve seen the most is this: Times are tough everywhere. We’ve driven through towns on Route 66 that are utterly deserted. We’ve parked next to houses that are functionally abandoned, except for the landlord’s mentally ill son, who is squatting in the dark in a house that’s been on the market to sell forever. We’ve been in areas where, when told we’re camping on a Civil War Battleground, the appropriate response is “which civil war?”

Our own home is still on the market in California. It’s been on the market for 10 months. Just when we thought we might have a sale, the Feds lowered interest rates and both the seller and our backup offer fell through. Heartbreak. And frustration– we can be on very strong financial ground once it sells, but until then, we have put ourselves into a risky lifestyle, financially speaking.

Diesel fuel is what powers boats, trains, and all the freight trucks that carry your fruits and vegetables from point A to point B in your grocery store (or Wal-Mart, since that’s what everyone has these days), as well as all the gasoline that goes into your car, no matter how fuel-efficient it may be (except Dave. Dave gets a pass on this, because he drives an electric car). Diesel is also what powers Steggy, our apartment on wheels, and so we periodically take note of diesel prices. When we left California (the state with among the highest gas prices in the country), diesel was hovering around $3.30/gallon and was just a little higher than gasoline, because gasoline had started to drop a bit (those halcyon days are over, of course). As of this week, gasoline is near the $3.80 mark, while diesel is $4.11 per gallon. Please understand: diesel is a lower-grade fuel than unleaded gasoline. It is easier and cheaper to manufacture, even with the new requirements that it not give cancer to low-income kids living next to the Santa Monica freeway. And while diesel vehicles are, pound for pound, more fuel-efficient than gasoline vehicles, the big rigs are operating close to our 8-10 miles per gallon. Which means prices everywhere will rise. Will wages rise to meet them? Oh, possibly there will be an election-year attempt to bump the minimum wage up another 20 cents, but in the overall scheme of things, I think we all know that things are bad. Real bad. For everyone except the very rich.

We’re all poorer, but where did the money go? We all know the answer. It went into the pockets of the top 1%, the Bush cronies and other billionaires (let’s be fair– the Democrats have the same money-backed problem as the Republicans, and President Clinton, much as I loved him, was very good for businesses and not always for the little guys). And the prevailing message that I get from how these billionaires continue to get disgustingly wealthy is that the path to financial gluttony lies through practices that would make baby Jesus weep. From war profiteering to outsourcing to marginal and unfair factories to employing prison slave labor here in the US– it seems like there is no way to profit in a way that’s karmically justified.

Put another way, what companies do you know of that have, top-to-bottom, excellent business, labor, ethical, and environmental practices, and which have managed to become one of the “big boys” in the profit-making engines of big business?

I can’t think of many, and the ones that do come to mind beg me to do some research before tossing their names around. After all, if it sounds too good to be true.

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