For the past 2-3 weeks my wife and I have been making one of our frequent cross-country automobile trips.  The routes are the same ones, the scenery the same, the pre-scheduled stops the same, but this time there is a difference we hadn’t noticed before.  People everywhere are outspokenly upset with the way things are, not only the government, but everything.  Some of the upset comes from the right, some of it from the left.  And, the degree of upset on both sides is so strong - and at such variance, one with the other - that there appears to be no way to reconcile things.    

 Beginning in Kentucky, one fellow - the owner of a small-town heating and cooling business - had as his opening remark a glowing “How about those elections!”  He is dead set against continuing unemployment compensation because “there are plenty of minimum wage jobs out there.  Force the unemployed to take them!”  He has high hopes that the recent election will get the government, with its rules and regulations, out of his life.  (Ironically, he was very happy to use the federal energy tax credit of $1500 as part of his spiel to sell us a new furnace.)

 One of our hosts during the trip, a friend from the left, has concluded that defense contractors, financiers and bankers, the military, Zionists, big business, almost all media, and crooked politicians have joined in a vast conspiracy to run the country for their personal benefit or ideology.  The best solution in his mind is a one-time ‘wealth tax’ of sufficient size to both equalize the playing field for all Americans and pay off the deficit.  He wants the world leveled and he knows how to get it done!

 We ran into a fellow who claimed to be a journalist for ‘USA Today’ at a rest stop in Missouri.  Once he got started there was no stopping him.  He has his own conspiracy theory:  the Jews - abetted by the Christian Right and some political leaders - are determined to keep the Mid-East in an uproar.  According to him there will be no peace in the region until that situation changes.  (To understand why the Christian Right and their ‘captive’ politicians are involved requires an understanding of certain beliefs concerning the Second Coming, the conversion of the Jews, and other End Time tenets.  I’ll let someone else handle those.)     

 Can you image these three guys sitting down in the same room and charged with formulating a plan to address the country’s needs?  I fear our new Congress will be made up of the same sorts.

 Out in Texas, just west of Amarillo, we passed the cattle feedlots that have always been there, but this time they seemed to go on for a mile or two farther.  Thousands of cattle were herded into their designated areas producing what my somewhat fastidious sister calls ‘compost.’  I wanted to think good thoughts - The Omnivore’s Dilemma comes to mind - but all I could think was Ph. D. (piled higher and deeper).  Is this good for us? 

On Veterans Day a Vietnam War-era vet stopped me at the Albuquerque Wal-Mart to ask if I had served.   As it turned out, we had both been Marines, but at different times.  Thinking that he had a kindred soul at hand, my new friend launched into his litany of woes, which included Agent Orange-caused throat cancer, the government’s refusal to provide disability payments, long delays at the VA treatment center, an earned Silver Star not yet received, a stripe lost because he had too warmly embraced a returning astronaut aboard the carrier USS Hornet, and the fact that his 13 broken bones suffered in an automobile accident a year earlier weren’t healing properly and no one cared!  Taking all of that as the gospel truth, I joined him in being mad at everyone and everything.     

 Driving through the immense agricultural area in the Yuma, Arizona, region makes it abundantly clear that Americans are fed by the sweat of Latino - mostly Mexican - field laborers.  There are miles and miles of lettuce fields, row-crop vegetables, vineyards, orchards of all kinds, and even sod farms - all tended by thousands of Latino hands.  I am guessing that most are here legally, but surely some are not.  Yet for those of us who eat the plants they labor over, their legal status makes no difference at all.   You want to eat, you need these folks!  And don’t even ask the ethnicity of the drivers of several cars pulled over by the police in Arizona as we were driving by.  You already know the answer.

 Then we arrive in the Los Angeles suburbs and the complaints start.  “Why don’t these people learn English?” one gringo asks.  Another woman answers the question “Where do you live?” with the word “Mexico.”  We all understand that she lives in a part of LA that is like a foreign country to her.  (Affordable, yes, desirable, no.)  My son ponders the question of public schooling for our granddaughter in a very ethnically diverse, but largely Latino, school system.  A friend of his is more direct with “Why would anyone send a child to school with a bunch of gang bangers?” 

 This dilemma - the whole immigration question - is crying out for a solution but with two adamantly opposing factions in the mix, who is going to come up with a workable solution.  What ever happened to the ‘middle ground’?

Perhaps the most depressing news heard on our trip has to do with California’s dreadful budget situation - a $20-billion-dollar shortfall in a budget that by law must be balanced.  A reputable research company did a massive canvass of Californians to find out what the citizens thought should be done.  The result: very large majorities were dead set against raising taxes, and this position was held by folks from the left and the right, by old and young, and by every important demographic.  The voice of the people was loud and clear.

Another result: very large majorities of the same people were also dead set against cutting any programs (and in fact wanted some increased).  Again the people spoke out loud and clear with general agreement across demographic and political lines.  OK, Jerry Brown, what do you do now?  (Maybe our education system is sorely lacking, at least in the teaching of logic.)

 Is the situation any different at the federal level, other than the fact that the feds don’t have to balance income and outgo?  It appears that no one of either party dares recommend tax increases, and the heated rhetoric about cutting spending is woefully lacking in details.  Yet both are necessary, according to credentialed economists of all persuasions.  (Question for Leo: Is that statement correct?) 

 I recommend that everyone get a copy of The New York Times ‘Week in Review’ section for November 14 and complete the exercise that requires you to fix the Federal Deficit.  It is an eye-opening exercise that defines the problem in a very clear way and offers choices (both spending cuts and tax increases), which one must make to do the job.  (The exercise can also be found on The Times’ web site.)

 Well, how about that for a bit of gloom and doom?  Still, that’s how I see the situation right now.  I’m are up in the mountains around Kernville, California, sitting out a rain storm and writing this blog instead of conquering the wooded peaks surrounding.  Maybe if the sun comes out tomorrow my usual rose-colored glasses will be more comfortable and things will look better.