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The Army of the Lost

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It is a strange little world that I inhabit, caught between the old south and the new. Its conservative ruling majority strictly adhering to the policy that private enterprise rules the day. So there is no municipal garbage collection; it is instead handled strictly by a handful of private companies. Problem is that with this system these private companies can be pretty selective about what they pick up. They want household garbage only, no appliances, no furniture or even Christmas trees to dull their profits.

The sad reality is that because of this policy, every ravine or tall bunch of bushes in the county is likely to have an old couch at the bottom of it or a junk window air conditioner under it. No one should litter, but by the same token, government has some obligation to make services readily available. The previous county where I lived had drop off points, no charge. Several times per year the county would offer "Anything Day" and appliances, furniture, and computer hardware could be dropped off in shopping center parking lots.

Our local officials aren't made of wood; they have devised a new plan. Residents will be assigned a for profit refuse collector if they do not already have one. Instead of one fleet of trucks running a pick up route, five or six fleets of trucks run a route picking up three or four trash cans per street, ignoring all the trash cans of the wrong color or different label. They will pick up their customer's recyclables, of course, because they want to protect the environment. Then when their trucks are full, all of these private sanitation crews head for the same city landfill.

This strange little aerie that I inhabit; this crag in the rocks is a microcosm of our American life. On my walks to the local library, I cut through another industrial park much like the one where I reside, only newer. In it there are two kinds rental units: some have "For Rent" signs in the window, while others still have signs from the businesses that have recently shut down. Out of thirty units, only three or four still have businesses operating in them.

As I sojourn through these silent empty stacks of brick and capital I think to myself, "somebody is taking a financial bath here." I laugh to myself with irony when I see the center's dumpster padlocked and surrounded with defensive fencing that would make the Berlin Wall envious. Because these businesses went out, the workers were laid off, and because the businesses went out, the landlord's going out. Because the landlord's going out, the bankers are being bailed out. The bankers can for $2.50 borrow $1,000 and invest it in the stock market. That means that they can borrow one million dollars for $2,500.

The problem with this little arrangement is that the actual cost of this borrowing is added to the national debt in the form of treasury bills issued paying 2.625 percent interest or $26,250. You don't mind helping your local banker buddies out to the tune of $23,750 per million dollars borrowed, do you? Of course it won't put any workers back to work or help the landlord to rent his empty units. Around the corner from this concrete canyon of empty workshops where silent hammers reign is a gas station that has shut down.

Its trash cans overflow as those who fill them justify their actions by saying, "it counts, it's not dumping if I put it in a trash can." Yet the station is empty. They have no private collection service to come pick up the trash, not even the couch that hangs precariously over the seven foot fence with three strands of ribbon wire on top of it surrounding the locked dumpster gates .

But there is something going here on that is counterintuitive, you would think that with times as hard as they are people would be holding on to their possessions. Here at least the opposite is happening; people are shedding their belongings. Our own dumpster dilemma at the industrial park where I live attracts old tires, scrap wood, and paint cans. Vandals broke the combination lock off the gate and since then, hell's a poppin! Last month left inside the gate was a new futon, a desk and a dresser. When you sleep on a love seat as I do, a futon can look mighty attractive but I had nowhere to put it.
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Neither did the original owners, behind it was a like new mattress and box springs. This wasn't trash being discarded this was somebody's lives being unloaded. Just one more recruit stacking their belongings on the pyres of poverty serving bravely in the army of the lost. Where only money has value everything else becomes worthless; when no one has any money nothing has any value. My neighbor has three sections of roller conveyor; new, it cost him $1,000 per section. He put it on E-bay and got one bid of $26.00 for all three pieces and then the guy backed out on the deal.

I helped my friend down the street put his 2007 custom S&S Harley Davidson motorcycle on Craigslist. The bike has every bell and whistle available, custom paint and the best of everything. He paid twenty grand for the bike three years ago and he started at twelve thousand, then two weeks later he lowered the price down to ten thousand, but has received no offers - not even a phone call. It is a luxury item, a toy for those with both money and leisure but now he has neither as he is trying to sell the bike to keep his own business open. Trying to keep from adding one more empty building to the menagerie or one more foot soldier in the army of the lost.

Recently we've lost three tenants and gained one as the red and black "For Rent" signs peak out from behind the empty windows. Yesterday when I took the trash can to the dumpster, the entire area was filled with more than a dozen expensive display cases like those you might find in a luxury jewelry store. These are heavy oak cabinets with expensive, thick, leaded, tinted glass tops and sides with stout locking drawers in back. Their condition is like new, no scratches or breakage, and apparently they are worthless in this market.

Cabinets once designed to display diamonds, gold and Rolex watches ended up dumped behind an industrial park in the dumpster area. Display cases that someone once paid dearly for someone has now taken a bath on. Who would have expected it? Who could have seen it coming? One more dream on the junk pile as their wealth is expended and its wrapper thrown into the trash. One little town, one little grain of sand under the microscope repeated each day in ten thousand other little towns and ten thousand other grains of sand.

If the owner of these expensive fixtures dumps this as trash, then what then can be expected of the workers who once worked for them? How can they pay their trash bill if they can't keep their house because there are no jobs? How can the free market help us if there is no way to profit from us? The question answers itself, they can't! The army of the lost grows and grows with irresistible force and marches up hill conquering all those who once swore that it could never happen to them, but now discover that, yes, it can.
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"We must lay hold of the fact that economic laws are not made by nature. They are made by human beings." Franklin Delano Roosevelt

It is wrong to say, "I will plant a seed and wait to see what happens" because while we wait, millions go down as casualties in this army of the lost. They are not mere dressers or futons nor are they display cabinets or motorcycles. They are men and women and children and their lives have value. They cannot be abandoned to dark places like discards; they cannot be cast aside and asked to wait in the name of some pragmatic economic policy waiting game.

Any government that can't keep the trash picked up ain't worth much. Any government that can't pick up its people ain't worth nothing.

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I who am I? Born at the pinnacle of American prosperity to parents raised during the last great depression. I was the youngest child of the youngest children born almost between the generations and that in fact clouds and obscures who it is that I (more...)
 

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