House Shopping VII – “[I’ve] Got to Get Out of this Place”

Herd of CatsImage via WikipediaWhoever says house shopping is fun is lying. Yikes, it’s a mine field. First I had to sell my mobile home. It’s in a park which means I don’t own the land. A sharp “shrewdster” who claims to be a born-again Christian owns the land. When he came through the house he asked about the washer-dryer among other things. I told him he could only have the washer-dryer if I buy a house that has these appliances. After waiting weeks for my purchase agreement he has written the washer dryer in on the agreement. Now I can’t sign it. We have to go through more before we have an agreement. How many weeks will it be this time? Maybe the deal will fall through.

When I moved in this park was overrun with feral cats left by previous occupants. One of the cats was an old Tom cat who I called, originally enough, Tom. Tom was a wily old cat and an excellent patriarch. He ruled the troops and there were rarely fights. But Tom lost all his teeth. So, stupidly, and in best good Samaritan tradition I started to feed Tom, outside. Pretty soon I was feeding Tom’s whole tribe (probably 15 cats). Then someone abandoned two orange and white cats here, probably a sister and a brother. The minute I saw them I knew they were trouble. They were not feral. Feral cats never come in the house. These two came in every time I opened the door. The whole thing just escalated out of control. I asked for help. No one could help. I wrote an editorial in the paper. Still no help. Finally an older man in the park complained and then the town mobilized their forces and came to collect the cats. I did not inquire too closely but they said they saved all cats that could be socialized and did not have feline leukemia. Now my landlord also wants me to clean any cat leavings from beneath the trailer. In my mind these were his cats, but he wanted us to ignore them (which was almost impossible). It must be true that no good deed goes unpunished.

I will have to pick my battles, fight for the washer-dryer – clean up the cat crap myself. Never feed any cats outdoors. Everyone will hate you if you do it. It will cost you lots of money and you will win no points.

Hopefully the events in this newest chapter of my house-hunting saga will get ironed out and I can move onward in the world of house shopping, a world that is so unfriendly to consumers (about which I will have more to say later).

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Enough Jobs

RICHMOND, CA - JULY 17:  Job seekers use compu...Image by Getty Images via @daylifeIt is clear that there are just not enough desirable jobs (a desirable job being one that pays a living wage) to go around in America. This, is partly due, of course, to the economy and the changing face of business. But it may be true that the number of workers who want to be employed has increased and this factor must be taken into account also. We have teens, high school drop outs and graduates, college students, college drop outs and graduates, most women, most men, and seniors who must work longer because their retirement funds are inadequate. In short, just about everyone 16 or older needs to work.

So the pool of workers has grown drastically just as the jobs have gone away. Will everyone need a college education? Perhaps. Will America have enough jobs to go around? Perhaps not. Maybe we’ll have a constant unemployment rate of 10% or so whose members will shift in and out of employment at great personal toll. Maybe seniors won’t be able to keep jobs until they are 75 or 80. Maybe some new thing will come along and we’ll have an explosion of jobs with not enough worker to fill them. “We live in interesting times.”

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The New Economy – How Far Away?

If, for the foreseeable future, American workers are not going to manufacture things on anywhere near the scale we once did then this is a tectonic shift in our economy. What kinds of jobs will we have? High tech, retail and service jobs? We will truly be separating the rich from the poor, the high tech sector being the rich and the retail and service people being the poor, in this kind of economy.

I can see why we are looking to small business to drive the economy. It holds out the best possibility of moving up the “success ladder.” It injects back into the mix that element of mobility that has always been a hallmark of the American Dream. But trying to grow an economy one small business at a time may make the pace a bit too glacial for most of us. Still, at present, except for energy businesses we have few alternatives. We will, most likely, just have to put our noses to the grind stone and look up in five years and see where we are. Maybe our recovery will run on brains, someone will come up with the next new thing, but it will have to be big, possibly cosmic, in scope.

Hold Your Nose

After all the bad mortgages, after all the foreclosures, financial institutions are acting like consumers are criminals who caused these financial problems. They are punishing us by making us jump through hoops to get loans. Suddenly they are meticulously analyzing our bonafides. They are raising interest rates. Get a grip! We may have spent too much but we were encouraged to do so to keep the economy propped up. We made the mess together but when it started to stink you walked away and left us standing guiltily by the steaming pile. Then you held your nose and looked down at us. You got a bailout, but we didn’t. You owe us.

Now we have beautiful empty homes sitting all over America that no one can afford. Why aren’t prices coming down? I realize the people who already own houses don’t want this, but if they sat tight prices would go back up. Why isn’t there money for small business? I don’t think this is the time for our lenders to sit on their principles. Obey the rules of banking, but find a way to have a little heart without breaking the bank. We rescued you, now you should rescue us (which would in turn rescue you all over again.)

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If I Had Money

If I had money would I be a Republican? Is the partisan divide actually between the “haves” and the “have nots”?

There’s rich and there’s really rich. If you’re only rich you would tend to be against a government that wants to get its mitts on your money. If you are really rich you would probably have a plan so that the government doesn’t put its mitts in your pockets. If you are just rich, if you were only a lifetime of hard work away from being poor, you might not feel like giving your earnings to others who you feel could have earned as much if they had tried as hard. If you are really rich, so rich you could never spend what you have, then shame on you if you feel this way. I have never seen a country where everyone is rich, except maybe Kuwait or Dubai.

Republican ideas about business and taxes (money) seem to favor the really rich. You must have a balance. If the government takes too much money from this really rich group they will go elsewhere or send their money elsewhere and it will not profit anyone in the country. There has to be a climate that makes the really rich want to do business and pay taxes and even contribute to the communities in which they do business. They have to be taxed enough to make it fair to citizens who are not as affluent. These really rich people think they are doing their part in taking care of others because they employ them. That’s all that is necessary. Health care began as a ploy to attract employees and then it became a responsibility. Pensions too were offered in lieu of raises, but then people expected them to be real. What were once considered assets by the rich have become liabilities. So the really rich have built, through successive Republican administrations, a tax structure that favors them. They have found ways to profit despite rising health care and pension costs by doing business elsewhere. The gap between the really rich and the poor, or even the really rich and the rich (the middle class) has widened. Health care, jobs, pensions – all changing, morphing into forms that allow the profits to flow to the top if your business is large enough.

If I became rich, not necessarily even really rich, and wanted to be able to hold on to my bucks would I become a Republican? Do the really rich listen to Rush Limbaugh and Glenn Beck? Would being rich completely change my political perspective? At least one Republican would probably say, “you betcha”.

Exclusion or Inclusion?

After I got home last Thursday from my very diverse home owner’s class I turned my TV on in time to hear an interview with a member of the National Socialist Party. This is old name of the Nazi party in Germany, although this person claims he is not a Nazi.

Rick Sanchez on CNN asked this NSP party member if he believed that all non-whites should be barred from American citizenship. He agreed that this is Point #4 on the NSP platform or manifesto or whatever, and that he does wants a white America. He, in fact, would like all non-whites to go back to their country of origin. I guess he forgot that some of our ancestors hauled people out of their native lands in chains and forced them to come here. I guess he forgot that these same ancestors systematically forced these people to forget their native lands and people. These people are Americans. Where would they go? The reporter said that this guy is patrolling our border in Arizona. One-race solutions sound like they simplify human relationships, but they really just polarize them.

We do need a dialogue about race but the issue may be too volatile still. I think that having an African American President allows some of these issues to come to the forefront, but that we are still not sure how to talk about them without shouting at each other or worse. It is my hope that we use this opportunity to address continuing areas of injustice in American society. Maybe we don’t need any more dialogue, maybe we need more inclusion. Our current recession has been very difficult for many minority groups who find their toehold on the middle class disappearing once again. White Americans lost their jobs, but, I think, many non-white Americans lost their opportunities.

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If a Tree Falls

Do we have cameras everywhere? I can’t believe someone has a video of the whale that tried to come on board that sailboat off South Africa, but there was the whole episode on the evening news.

If something happens and no one takes a picture or video of it, did it really happen?

Katie Couric mentioned that it was believed that the people used their boat to harass a whale. There was no video of that so I assume it’s deniable, although, I believe the report said they did get ticketed. What was the charge? Is there a law against boating too aggressively near giant wildlife? Well there should be.

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House Shopping VI – Sort of

I went to take a series of Home Ownership classes from my local Home Headquarters, a division of HUD. These consist of five two-hour classes about topics like your finances, your credit reports, ID theft, finding a real estate agent, finding an inspector, appraiser, lawyer, getting a mortgage and the home closing.

Since I am retired I am taking the morning series. They also offer the classes in the evening. These classes are for people with lower incomes and, sadly, the majority of participants are still people who do not classify themselves as Caucasians. But this has allowed me to be included in some interesting discussions.

One discussion has nothing to do with real estate. It was about the census. Several people said that they returned their forms but someone still came to their door and insisted that they be interviewed. They complied but they were not happy. What they were most upset about were some of the category titles for describing race. They were astonished to see “Negro” still listed, for example. I said that I remembered hearing in a news story that some people asked for that descriptor. The consensus was that it was wrong, that it seemed racist and outdated.

Then we started talking about all the new development projects in the city, all the new lofts and apartments, all for people who make enough money to invest in an expensive property. We talked, in other words, about the issue of “regentrification.” This topic got little response since these properties are so beyond the reach of all of us in the group that I don’t think we have even considered living downtown. Besides, our downtown is a work in progress. There are few or no services like grocery stores. There are no longer any department stores. Bars and restaurants abound. But we may care someday.

Shirley Sherrod never once came up in all of this discussion but it was nice to hear two or three points of view rather than the single point of view I usually get in my suburban neighborhood. Maybe we do need a national dialogue about racism, but I’m not sure all can be healed with talk. We should be way beyond these racial and ethnic divides, but we are not. All the hidden emotion, often anger, makes it difficult to want to approach the subject. The emotion is on every side.

On Strike

My dad worked for General Electric. This was considered a very good job and, basically it was. Dad was also a union steward. He was a very loyal union member. He believed that without the union to protect the workers, GE might not be such a great employer.

Several times in the 50’s and early 60’s the workers at GE went out on strike. While Dad was on strike he did not get paid. He had no savings. There were ten of us. These were pretty grim times. At the grocery store Dad would buy the dented cans or the cans with no labels. We had mystery meals. We learned to make our own potato chips. We froze corn and Mom canned tomato sauce. People gave us clothes. Dad had a series of horrible cars which required hours of attention to serve as the most basic of transportation.

But he had a job to go back to. Eventually the strike would end. Insurance policies may have been cashed in, loans taken out, funds given as charity by the union. The house remained ours. I am not sure how but Dad always kept the house. So I can understand the depression and the fear that is felt by the long term unemployed. Perhaps they use up their savings first. They load up their credit cards. They can’t borrow because they have no jobs. They cash in bonds, they cash in 401K’s, they cash in their insurance policies, they lose their houses, they eat less. They may even have to move in with their families if possible. It’s bad enough losing a job when there are jobs, but to lose a job when jobs are scarce must fill you with a terrible dread. How far down the “ladder” will you, or even worse, you and your children, go.? Where will you end up? What will your life be like? Not everyone is out of work. You become part of this “underclass” of unlucky people who have lost their jobs. Your self-image suffers which makes it harder and harder to get a job. If there are any jobs.

This sounds like an old circular refrain from my teen years?

“What’s Life?”

“A magazine.”

“How much does it cost?”

“It costs 20 cents.”

“But I only have a nickel.”

“That’s Life.”

“What’s Life?”

Please settle your issues soon, Washington. Get a plan, because, we need jobs.

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Nostalgia v. Reality

We’ve been talking a lot in my family about the old days since Mom is turning 93 in August. The old days means all the family history since my Mom was born in 1917. She does not know much family history before then. My Mom’s mom defied her well-off (not rich) family to marry a poor man of Scottish descent who apparently was very entertaining, but never earned enough to lift the family above the poverty level. He was a mason but would not join the masons because he was not a “joiner”, I guess. Mom’s mother worked very hard and seemed to produce delicious meals out of thin air and water. Some of these meals were probably not quite so wonderful, however, because there are still foods my mom won’t eat (like fish, which her Dad caught and her Mom cooked). As if the family was not poor enough along came the Depression. Mom tells stories of walking with her dad all across Onondaga County. She says her dad used to work at Onondaga Lake (probably for a park’s project) and walk to and from work every day. But she holds no rancor towards her father. She always speaks of him fondly as though they are still walking by the side of some dusty old Syracuse road hand in hand. Her parents, her sister and her brother all died quite young. Where her long-life genes come from is a mystery to her.

My dad also came from a very poor, and apparently dysfunctional family. His mother put the fear in him and leaned on him a lot. He had two sisters and three brothers. One brother spent his life in a mental institution, one died in a bicycle accident, but the others grew up and had families. My dad didn’t stop supporting his parents until he was 30. Then he married my mom and they started their own family.

Although my dad only had an eighth grade education, he was very smart. He was an electrician and he taught himself calculus. Every one of us, all eight, finished high school and many went to post secondary school.

So they climbed the “ladder” of American success as high as they could go given their circumstances.

Mom remembers how poor we were but she doesn’t really seem to resent it. My dad did leave her with her house, free and clear, and a small pension. She certainly can’t fly to Majorca or shop for much except groceries and gifts. But she is quite content at almost 93. I, on the other hand, feel I would have been miserable living my mother’s life.

When my mother experienced this it was happening to everyone. Rich and poor alike felt the sting. It was a no blame, no fault situation, although people did experience personal shame. This 2010 recession has not hit everyone. People are pointing at the jobless as if they have done something wrong. There is more stigma attached. So, in spite of all this nostalgia about poverty, I am not suggesting that any one should enjoy this recession, or unemployment, or scary financial insecurity, or foreclosure or bankruptcy. These stressful things that made good memories for my mom, probably contributed to the early deaths of her parents. We need to do all we can to create enough jobs so that everyone who needs a job can get one. I would rather see employers whistling for employees, than employees whistling for jobs.