Monday, March 1, 2021

We must temper the pandemic’s class warfare

 

As we’ve seen throughout the long history of our great nation we can be a people divided. It’s nothing new to the social media era.

 

From the British sympathizers and revolutionaries of early America to the secessionists and nationalists of the Civil War to the hawks and doves of the Vietnam War, Americans have shown they can be split over significant sociopolitical issues.


Such public disagreements aren’t necessarily limited to matters of defense and war. Other divisions – internal and bloodless wars, if you will – have always occurred in communities across the United States. Class warfare – both the real and the assumed – has always pitted the poor against the rich, the “haves” against the “have nots” and the classes – lower, middle, and upper – against each other.


The face of class warfare is changing, though, as the pandemic has made it apparent that a new chasm exists amongst our populace.

 

But, it’s not where you think.


As the lockdowns and their economic impacts have lingered, the unemployed and the underemployed have found a new target: Those who work in the public sector…not just the politicians but everyone who punches a clock or earns a salary from a municipality, school district, or federal office.


It’s common knowledge that those individuals have been spared the struggles that befell private sector breadwinners. Policymakers decided to call their own “essential” and allowed them to work remotely, even if their jobs were front-facing to the people and/or relied on administration or oversight of private sector activities that had been put on the back burner.


That disparaging gap in job security has fed the envy monster that exists in all human beings. Many people who work in or became unemployed by the private sector now look at their public sector friends and family with disdain, seeing them as leading a life that goes on unaffected by unemployment woes. Other factors beyond job security alone contribute to that jealousy, including the public sector’s benefits which include many things that have been cast aside by businesses during this crisis like raises, strong health care, and pensions.

 
That hatred only grows stronger as the pandemic goes on. There’s no light at the end of the tunnel for many market sectors, confounding job seekers. For most it looks like the one (or no) income household will be the norm for quite some time. So, they see themselves as the “have nots” and the government workers as the “haves.”


It can become a powerfully negative way of thinking. How soon will it be before parents start outright hating their children’s teachers before they ever get a chance to know them because they are, in their eyes, overpaid leeches? How soon will it be before the stressed, jobless families who need social services turn on their providers, seeing them as fat cats?


It’s unfortunate, for a good number of public sector employees didn’t join their ranks for the pay and benefits. I’ve never known a cop who risks his life every day for the money. No, he does it because he wants to make a difference. I’ve never known a social worker to work with a broken family because she likes her pension. No, she, too, does it to make a difference. The same could be said for most teachers and others of responsibility.


How do we temper this wealth envy that pits friends against one another?

 

Private sector workers can start by not hating the person. For most, their very act of being and their outcomes are “above their pay grade”. Instead, hate the unaffordable and unreasonable system that was created by and is run by politicians and bureaucrats. Get those in power to change it, to adjust their enterprise to the enterprises around them. If they fail, find and empower leaders who understand that crises need harder decisions and strength to follow through.

 

Public sector workers can help by making accommodations and sacrifices. When their bargaining units fail to make concessions or threaten inactivity or lawsuits at the very mention of the suspension of a raise they are insulting others. Likewise, when metropolitan teachers unions push back against reopening, it doesn’t carry weight for those who need jobs or those who have been working every day through the event. You’ll hear so many say, “we’re in this together.” Show it.


Class warfare is two-sided affair and it takes both sides to end this ugly, divisive practice before it gets out of hand and divides our communities even more. Times are tough, and it takes a shared humanity and shared sacrifices to weather the storm. Let’s not despise others because of the situation they’re in. Let’s together change the situations that impact all of us. Life’s too short to harbor hate and resentment of others -- but it is long enough to foster love and respect for others.   

 

 

From the 01 March 2021 Greater Niagara Newspapers and Batavia Daily News

Tuesday, February 23, 2021

Inflation gone wild

The Covid crisis, and the government’s handling thereof, has led to a tale of two economies.

 

While the service and hospitality economies have tanked, there is a booming economy for manufacturers and distributors who are making and delivering products to consumers since vast amounts of discretionary income has been diverted from experiences (like vacations and concerts) to the purchase of things. 

 

That has up-ended industry and distribution, both here in the United States and abroad at competing nations like China. Demand is strong and supply is low, not only for manufactured items, but also for their inputs. This has driven many costs to unprecedented, if not unconscionable, heights.

 

In response to those market conditions, which will be ongoing for the foreseeable future because of the pandemic and, then, perchance, the bettering of the economy as a whole, I told Confer Plastics’ customers last week that we will be instituting pricing hikes. Letters like ours are going out all throughout the food chain in multiple industries.

 

You have been and will be seeing the impacts.

 

Take for example, what has happened with lumber. There’s an explosion in demand because the stuck-at-home handyman wants to take on home improvement projects while sequestered, e-commerce retailers need more pallets to store and ship goods, and housing starts show no signs of letting up even in a strange economy because people are leaving cities. In April of last year, lumber was $350 per thousand board feet. Last week, the futures market had it pegged at just over $1,000.

 

Or consider plastic, which is in everything you buy and use – not only durable goods, but also the packaging in which you get your foods and beverages and the bottles that hold your Covid cleaning solutions. Those who produce material are being overwhelmed by domestic demand while at the same time they are being courted by foreign entities to provide its building blocks like ethylene. Because of that explosive growth in needs, high density polyethylene (the most common of materials) has doubled in price since last April and it could top out at two-and-three-quarters times the prices of last March in the coming weeks.

 

As ubiquitous as plastics are, the same can be said for corrugated. The boxes in which businesses ship or sell products, individually or in bulk, have seen relentless price increases in recent months totaling 25%. There’s an economic war underway for cardboard and the paper used to make it because of the incredible growth in e-commerce as an outcome of the pandemic. Disinterested in venturing into public and stuck at home with money to spend, consumers are having retailers like Amazon and Wal-Mart ship the world to them. Some believe that this will become the new norm, especially as the pandemic has sped up the demise of malls and brick-and-mortar stores.

 

Then, add the costs of getting goods from Point A to Point B. In this column I’ve often addressed America’s trucking crisis. For most of this century there have been too few drivers and trucks on the road. That situation has been compounded by e-commerce – there are many more shipments, large and small, to make. Bringing in resources and shipping goods are now at the mercy of intense bidding and lower availability. And, it’s at the mercy of diesel prices at the pump. You’ve seen it personally when filling your car with gasoline (diesel’s cousin): The national average of $2.64 per gallon is up 40 cents, or 18%, since Christmas, with experts anticipating $3 by summer.

 

Add to the mix labor costs which, unlike the others, are independent of Covid’s impacts. You are well aware of the ongoing fight to make the federal minimum wage $15 an hour. That’s old hat here in New York, where legislation was passed in 2016 with the goal of reaching $15 in various parts of the state in the early-2020s. It’s also old hat to many corporations that made a quantum leap in starting wages over the past couple years to create a $15 wage without government edict.

 

All these increases are leading to unsettling inflation for things that you want, but what about the things you need? 

 

We may not need the latest and greatest toys and creature comforts, but we all need food. US consumers paid, on average, 3.7% more for food in January of this year than they did in the first month of 2020. Year-over-year increases in grocery costs have surpassed 3.5% every month since last April, the longest stretch of such heights in a decade. Kraft Heinz and Conagra are the latest food producers to warn that even more increases are coming.

 

All of these factors are contributing to what could be an absolutely frightening 2021 for consumers, producers and policymakers. Just when you think that there might be some normalcy on the way with vaccines and immunity, the reality of the dollar can really dampen the day. Those lucky enough to have jobs will see discretionary income cut, while the jobless will have to pinch even more pennies.

 

This out-of-control inflation gives me the “feels” of 2007 and early-2008. Those were the dawning days of the Great Recession. Let’s hope I’m wrong. We don’t need an economic collapse making the dark days of 2020-2021 even darker.  

 

From the 22 February 2021 Greater Niagara Newspapers and Batavia Daily News

 

Monday, February 22, 2021

Winter kill: Coming to a pond near you

 

The winter of 2010-2011 was not kind to local landowners who have bass ponds on their property. Most ponds in the area froze over on Thanksgiving and didn’t thaw until Easter. We weren’t blessed with the periodic thaws and rains that keep smaller local waters ice-free or a little open on occasion in the winter months.


That ice cap resulted in significant winterkill and many disappointed anglers that spring as carcasses of fish, large and small, washed up on shore. The ponds on our farm were hard hit – our walleye population was completely decimated and trophy-sized bass in excess of 5 pounds littered the shoreline.


It was really heartbreaking. You do everything you can to manage a decent recreational fishery for your family and then Mother Nature has her own plans.


In the decade since, ponds faced with that adversity had recovered. It takes a while to grow trophy bass in this area as our “growing seasons” are too short. But, we were finally getting back to the glory days (the only setback being a far less potent winterkill in 2014-2015).


But, as close as landowners were to revitalizing their fisheries, this winter happened.


This hasn’t been a drawn-out freeze (most local ponds didn’t glaze until Christmas), but the severity of the cold, the depth of the ice and the amount of snow cover atop the ice all mean that a winterkill is in the cards, and one that will likely rival 2015’s and maybe put it in the same league as 2011.


How does winterkill happen?

 

Fish, like all animals, need oxygen. The oxygen they breathe in the water comes from two sources: The byproduct of photosynthesis of algae and weeds growing in that pond and the oxygen that enters the water from the air. Winterkill occurs when ice and snow together cover a pond and prevent both of those from occurring.


Ice cover will, of course, prevent oxygen from entering the water from the air and wind agitation. And, looking at the long term forecast and trends, we’ll have ice on small local ponds non-stop for two-and-a-half to three months.


But that’s not the primary cause of winterkill. If it was, most area ponds would have significant die-offs every year.


It’s the snow that’s the killer. Unlike a normal winter (whatever “normal” may be), we’ve been besieged with a lasting snowpack. Depending on where you are in Western New York, most ponds have been under snow for 4 to 6 weeks now. A good melt – especially in the lake snow belts -- might not happen until March.


That snow prevents sunlight from entering the pond. Sunlight is necessary for photosynthesis which still occurs even in the coldest months. So, when the plants can’t get what they need, they don’t grow (and create oxygen) and then they die. Plant decomposition then consumes the oxygen that was needed by the fish. Smaller, shallower ponds without deep holes or underwater springs and with a high density of plants and bass and panfish will be especially hard-hit.


The fish die a miserably slow death. Basically, they suffocate.

 

It’s likely that you already have dead fish in your pond. You won’t know it until two or three weeks after ice out. Their corpses are somewhat preserved by the cold water now, but as the water warms and oxygen is introduced to the water, decomposition will speed up, the fish will become buoyant and they will end up on shore. Their bodies will be white, maybe even fuzzy, which is a fungus created by rotting.


Winterkill can be prevented, allegedly, with small commercially-available windmills. But, they don’t work well in frigid winters like this as their wheels freeze over with ease. Some folks also suggest that you periodically run a small outboard motor for a few hours at a time every few days. With the likelihood of freeze over on a daily basis, that’s also an impractical option.

Good long-term pond management can also cut down on winterkill rates by ensuring there is not too much plant life in your pond which consumes a lot of oxygen when it dies. To do that, you would have to use a weed rake in the summer and/or introduce grass carp to the pond. But, you can’t remove all plant life, because you still need those oxygen producers to do their thing in the winter.

 

Regardless, for most of us, it’s too little, too late to save this winter.


If you are a fisherman it will be yet another depressing event from a winter that’s been made depressing enough by Covid and government’s response to it. This spring and summer, fishing on your pond might not be the cure for cabin fever that you had hoped it would be.

 

From the 15 February 2021 Greater Niagara Newspapers and Batavia Daily News