Crapitalism – Fire Edition…

I live in the Wine Country of Northern California – known, for now, as “Fire Country.”  Parts of the city I’ve lived in most of my life went up in flames.  Everyone I’ve spoken to knows someone – often many “someones” – who got burned out and lost everything.  I have family who escaped with their lives but nothing else.  I was luckier.  I was without gas for a week.  No heat, no cooking, no hot water.  Comparatively, I can only say, “big deal.”  Layers kept me warm and, in the best Daniel Boone survival tradition, I bought a hot plate, solving problems 2 and 3.  Some people weren’t touched at all.  Well, at least, that’s what they think right now…

People keep using the word “surreal” and I can’t think of a better one.  The fires have been pushed away from the cities and are slowly burning out.  The local media covered every minute of the first couple of days.  Then, the “regularly scheduled programming” began to creep back in.  Now we’re pretty much just a mention each day.  We get our own graphic, ‘The North Bay Wildfires’!  The fires are still burning but the “news cycle” is moving on…

I was struck by the camaraderie being exhibited by most people.  Everyone pulled together for a short time.  All conversations ended with “Stay safe.”  In many ways, the fires brought out the best in many of us.  Many of us – myself included – didn’t know what to do.  We hunkered down, stayed out of the way, and provided shelter to those ordered to evacuate.

The fires will serve as a new “timestamp” on when people came to Santa Rosa.  I can “date-check” people by asking where they were during Loma Prieta or if they know where the old Holiday Bowl was.  This will be a new one.  It will also be a timestamp on when people came to the end of their ropes and were forced out, once and for all.  The way I see it, we have bigger problems looming on our horizon than the fires still burning in the distance.

I mentioned how most people pulled together during the actual emergency.  But the cops caught one asshole stealing a pair of sunglasses out of a burned-out car.  When they investigated, they found equipment that had been stolen from the very firefighters who were working so ridiculously hard to save everybody else’s…everything.  I imagine he just fancies himself a clever opportunist.  Our society has named that kind of a person – “looter” – but it doesn’t feel…strong enough.  Picking through the ashes of other people’s lives to see how HE can profit before the victims of the fire get a chance to see if anything – even a pair of sunglasses – remains from their lives “before” seems, to me, to be among the basest of behaviors.

But at least it’s straightforward.  The next thing I expect we’ll see is the metaphorical “looters.”  Santa Rosa was already struggling to house it’s citizens, for example.  Now we’ve lost thousands of homes.  Rents are going up; more “clever opportunists.”

One of our supervisors, Susan Gorin, pointed out that Sonoma and Napa counties are tourist destinations meaning, they create jobs – but they’re low paying jobs.  The people who work those jobs were already struggling to make ends meet.  We already have a huge homeless problem here.  Now…rents will go up.

Supply and Demand, right?  Simple Capitalism.  Demand for housing has soared, the price for housing should be expected to soar with it.  Eventually, Capitalism dictates, “the market” will balance everything out.  SO many people will be forced out, not enough people will be seeking housing so the prices will drop.  It’s true.  I guess we’re just supposed to ignore the wreckage the process leaves in it’s wake.  This kind of thing is my strongest argument for a “living wage” law.  In my mind, actual realities always outweigh economic theory…

Civilized people know the Capitalists are going to take advantage so laws intended to prevent price gouging are in place.  One can’t raise prices more than 10% in the aftermath of the emergency.  But a sudden 10% increase on top of an already overpriced rent right after your job has been burned out just guarantees the pain keeps coming for most.  Oh, and the gouging laws don’t prevent someone from accepting offers over the 10% threshold.  That means people with resources will simply outbid workers for available housing leaving those with the least – literally – out in the cold.  THEN, the next “area review” of prevailing rents will build in those increases – all legal and proper.  Income inequality in action…

There are, of course, laws of Physics working against us as well.  A house can only be built so quickly.  Again, I imagine people with resources will get theirs first.  But leaving low paid workers to fend for themselves is going to have a ripple effect on the two counties – and so the entire north bay itself – for, perhaps, years to come.

The fires might well represent a timestamp but they also represent a “last straw” for many.  Housing will simply be unavailable and if one does find a place, it will be too expensive.  Workers in the area will have no choice but to “evacuate”…again.  This time, MUCH farther away and this time…permanently…

Aside from the living wage I mentioned earlier, I don’t have a solution on offer.  The current state of our once-great nation doesn’t provide for those who fall between the cracks and it seems the entire goal of our economy, these days, is to force as many people to fall between the cracks as possible.  “The Land of Opportunity” is increasingly becoming a “Land of Desperation.”  Until the fires, it’s been a bit of an abstract reality to me.  Now I’ll watch it play out in real time with real people’s lives.

I’ll tell you this: Surviving the actual flames in no way indicates one has survived the fires…

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