The (American) Exception to the Rule?

Photograph by Nathaniel St. Clair

I pruned some tomatoes. I reviewed some stuff from a local planning board meeting last night (where nearly 200 manufactured houses were proposed for planting in farm fields across town). I checked the weather forecast. Then, as I sometimes do, I checked the UK Guardian newspaper on-line.

I’ve seldom found big US media terribly useful in understanding how the world works. Coming of age during the Vietnam “conflict” encouraged a certain skepticism of the dominant media “narrative.” There was a history if one looked and, perhaps more impressive to we —-the impressionable— were the stories told by vets returning from “The Nam.” Guys we knew.

There was something else going on.

So, yeah, I look at the foreign press and other underfunded domestic sources. It’s just another reflection of my notoriously “bad attitude”—— an affliction which has rendered me largely unemployable over the years. We subsist on modest income from small-scale farming and (pre-Covid) some ad hoc bar-band earnings.

The Guardian has offered better coverage of the ongoing global heating issue than most. But lately, like US media, it’s gone full-tilt-State Department-berserker on the Ukraine matter. So I check less often.

Today’s (5/19) US edition headlined: “…..Starbucks fired over 20 union leaders in recent months.” That’s just business being business really. Perhaps that’s why, according to a quick search, no US publication was on the story so far. Still, just recently the baristas at the local Biddeford Starbucks coffee “store” announced an attempt at unionization. Their push even made the papers here.

According to the Guardian, “The news comes as Starbucks workers have filed petitions for union elections at more than 250 stores, spanning 35 states in the US. Starbucks’ chief executive, Howard Schultz, has led a campaign against the union movement calling it ‘some outside force that’s going to dictate or disrupt who we are and what we do.’ ”

Howie, Howie, Howie: Go easy, man.

One of the recently fired pro-unionists, Missourian Ashlee Feldman,  filed an unfair labor practice complaint with the NLRB.  She told the Guardian, “I’m shocked at this firing and all I can think about is my eight-year-old autistic son who needs therapy and care that costs money…. These higher-ups don’t care about us. They aren’t in the stores busting ass like we are.”

In Starbucks’ Corp-Speak, waged workers like the terminated Ms. Feldman are referred to as “Partners.”  Take that for what it’s worth. “According to the NLRB, as of 13 May, 69 Starbucks stores have voted to form unions, nine have voted against, and six …. are pending…” (Guardian)

On May 15th, the Guardian headlined, “US Covid deaths hit 1 million, a death toll higher than any other country;  Virus has laid bare America’s fragmented healthcare system and corrosive racial and socioeconomic inequality.”

Stateside, the flags were lowered to half-staff but otherwise  it was business-as-usual. Typically, the US death rate —— higher per 100,000 residents than in any other country except Brazil—— didn’t seem worth analysis or discussion. America, we’re told, is meant to lead the world. We kinda do.

“While the sheer number of deaths from the coronavirus sets the US apart, the country’s large population of 332.5  million people does not explain the staggering mortality rate, which is among the highest in the world,” the Guardianemphasized. “Staggering?” For US media “consumers,” not so much apparently. Nothing to see here.

The deaths are of course primarily among those at the bottom of the wealth pyramid: The “intended or unintended consequences of policy decisions,” wrote the Journal of the American Medical Association.

Further; “Concepts fundamental to US governance also proved problematic in the pandemic. In just one example, the US Constitution makes public health the responsibility of the individual states, creating a patchwork of different pandemic responses.” Of course, some see the “Originalist”  patchwork’s proven lethality as Freedom. But I digress.

Thanks to the union movement, Farmer/Labor political parties, and a working class unwilling to be bullied, the middle years of the 20th century featured a general rise in living standards with decreased wealth inequality. Corporate CEOs generally made about 20 times more than their average workers (“partners”??) in 1965 (20-to-1). By 1985, as federal policy turned against organized (and disorganized) labor,  the ratio had risen to 58-to-1. By the year 2000 the ratio was 368 to one. It’s only gotten worse.

A 2020 Pew Research Center report notes that: “Not only is income inequality rising in the US, it is higher than in other advanced economies….. and inching closer to the level of inequality observed in India.”

India of course is known for its 2,000-year-old Hindu caste system of social hierarchy where one’s position in society is fixed at birth and where destitute farmers commit suicide by drinking pesticide. Farmers here crawl into their balers and combines. So there are still differences.

But don’t blink.

Richard Rhames is a dirt-farmer in Biddeford, Maine (just north of the Kennebunkport town line). He can be reached at: