The Dark Side

     A girl who works at Famima, the Japanese-owned convenience store across from our office, is a waitress on weekends at a small cafe in the area. Her clientele is generally older folks.
     She says there are fewer customers and they are tipping much less, and a couple customers were spotted taking from the tables what tips had been left by others.
     It made me think about a world of desperation that is creeping in on us, as the job losses keep racking up.
     Most people would rather not contemplate pain. So it takes some self-reminding that a lot of folks are in great fear of losing their jobs and, with them, health care and the means to pay the rent.
     The statistics bear out the spread of misery. Advance word on the job reports due out later this week is that they will document the loss of another 600,000 jobs on top of the 500,000 lost in January.
     That is a lot of pain.
     On Monday, I was telling the folks at work about a run on a bank in Ukraine that I had read about in the morning newspaper, on top of the failure of Iceland’s banks and the worry that those of Ireland may soon follow.
     A run on the bank, I told them, is something that seemed out of a black and white movie, like Frank Capra’s “It’s a Wonderful Life” or part of the passed-on memories of the Great Depression. My dad had told me about going to bed hungry lots of nights during the Depression, after a meal of stale bread and gravy.
     And later on Monday, the stock market fell again to what is now a 12-year low.
     I guess I see the dark side as easily as the light, and the dangers in a world-wide economic meltdown are different from the dangers of the planet heating up, but they pose a similar threat of upheaval to the way of life that many in the world have become accustomed to.
     As the economic pain radiates through the nations of the world, it will bring a reaction. And while demonstrations have been so sharply suppressed in the U.S. that even generally peaceful events can cause the police to run amok, as they did in Los Angeles at May Day demonstration last year, that is not true in much of the rest of the world.
     Demonstrations that shut down business are part of the political culture in Latin America and Europe, and they threaten in China and Russia.
     Ramped up sufficiently by economic pain, such political upheavals can easily lead to radicalism and from there to instability. From there, it’s anybody’s guess.
     It’s like a Santa Ana wind that gets put on a parched land. Because the flashpoints are all set up. Israel and Gaza are most certainly one. Egypt another. Iran as well. Pakistan another. Russia’s border regions yet another.
     Blow a hot wind of economic hardship on those babies, and they can flare.
     Here at home, the hard times are coming on us more slowly. A grinding down more than a conflagration. The paradox in the process is that these times have forced a fundamental change in the nation’s direction — a change in governing philosophy that would pull up the weak and provide some protection from the roulette wheel of birth station and the vicissitudes of fortune — while at the same time taking away the money to pay for it.
     Just like I heard a story long before the fall crash of a long-time postman saying he had never delivered so many unemployment checks, and I knew that it was a warning, so now I hear of the folks at the neighborhood café holding back on tips and sometimes taking them, and that sounds worse.
     It sounds like a break down.

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