Down and Out in Muncie

You know things are bad when you drive into a small Indiana town and the first thing you see is a billboard that says, “Make $240 a month selling plasma.” Whoa! I should have hit the brakes and taken a picture that I could post, but I had two kids in the car and we were on our way to a swimming pool on a hot summer day.

Many people who watch Late Night With David Letterman are familiar with Muncie because it is the home of Ball State, and Letterman often mentions his alma mater on the show. Letterman always gets a laugh by mentioning Ball State, probably because some folks in the audience are old enough to remember when “ball” was the slang du jour for sex.

I have friends who live in Muncie and work for the college. If you stay in the vicinity of the campus, you might imagine that everything is O.K., though there are quite a few homes for sale.

But drive to the country club, where there’s no one in the pool or on the golf course because few people can afford the modest fees to join the club, and you start to get the picture. Go to the mall and see the empty storefronts.

Or pick up a paper and read the panic-infused stories about the closing of a Borg-Warner plant that makes transfer cases for the Ford F-150 truck and Explorer sport-utility vehicle. The 500 or so jobs at the plant are being transferred to Mexico, which offers lower wages and has special trade privileges under the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA).

I Googled Borg-Warner and learned that the company’s roots in Muncie date back to 1901, when its predecessor, the Warner Gear Co., was founded. This is not just a random factory closing; this shutdown strikes at the heart of Muncie’s industrial bedrock.

Where is Ross Perot when you need him? That “sucking sound” of jobs moving to Mexico that he talked about is louder than ever. As Bruce Springsteen wrote, “Those jobs are going boys and they ain’t coming back, to your hometown.”

Even before the subprime mortgage disaster, Indiana had one of the highest home foreclosure rates. The homes being lost are owned primarily by workers in the auto parts industry, one of Indiana’s leading employers. A lot of auto parts production has moved to China and Mexico because of lower wages.

I wonder when this country is going to figure out that there’s no such thing as “free trade.” I’m not a protectionist by any stretch of the imagination, but I think we need to move to a system of managed trade where the losers are compensated. We can’t afford to write off whole towns like Muncie. Meanwhile, farmers in Mexico are starving because NAFTA has brought them into direct competition with U.S. agribusiness, which enjoys big government subsidies.

For those free marketeers who believe Adam Smith’s “invisible hand” will take care of everything (not that any of them are reading an astrology blog), let’s recall that government helped prime the pump for those Ford Explorers whose parts were made in Muncie.

How? By giving tax breaks to small-business owners who bought SUVs and used them “exclusively” for business. I’d heard about the SUV tax breaks, but never believed it until I saw them with my own eyes when I started doing my taxes with TurboTax three years ago. (My husband’s Jeep Wrangler didn’t qualify for the deduction because it wasn’t heavy enough, by the way.)

Government has the power to influence consumer and corporate decision-making by offering incentives. Let’s say the local or state government in Gloucester, Mass., where there has been a surge in teen pregnancies, set up full college scholarships for high school girls who don’t have babies. This probably would be hard for government to do under laws that prohibit discrimination based on gender, but a private group might pull it off. Four years from now, the pregnancy rate will have fallen, I guarantee you.

Of course, students who have children shouldn’t be denied scholarships. I know that. But I’m trying to make a point here about the power of financial incentives to change lives. All the evidence shows that the more education a mother receives, the better the life of her child will be. Of course, if a woman spends the majority of her child-bearing years earning postgraduate degrees and working, she may run into fertility problems when she finally does decide to have kids, but that’s another post.

Human beings respond to economic rewards, whether it’s deductions for small-business SUVs, scholarships for at-risk students, or the tax breaks that California has enacted for zero emission vehicles (See “Tesla Motors: California’s Gain is New Mexico’s Loss”. It’s a fact.

Along those lines, how about setting up economic redevelopment zones in Indiana, Ohio, and Michigan? Would conservatives who happily spend $12 billion a month or more on the war in Iraq brand efforts to bring new jobs to the industrial Midwest as “socialism”?

I was talking to a friend whose husband is involved in the Beltway media business. She was telling me that in the early Eighties, when we were both in journalism school, she didn’t have a lot of sympathy for workers who were losing steel industry jobs. “I thought they should just move to another town, retrain, and get new jobs,” she admitted.

Now, as she’s watching neighbors and friends get laid off at the Washington Post (see “Wassup with the Washington Post?” ), she says she finally understands the economic pain that job loss inflicts on families. Maybe now that the chattering classes are being affected by downsizings, we’ll be hearing more in the media about the plight of displaced workers.

At the United Astrology Conference in May, astrologers were predicting that this final passage of Pluto through Sagittarius, which ends on Nov. 25, will coincide with the last wave of media cutbacks. And then the ax will fall in banking and financial services as Pluto, which governs restructuring, moves through financially-oriented Capricorn.

Question: How does an out-of-work journo retool? No, this isn’t a joke.

Wassup with the Washington Post?

I got an e-mail from an old friend of mine earlier this week who lives in the Washington D.C. area. I’ve been subjecting her to my telethon-like pleas to click on Astrology Mundo and she’s been obliging. Now it’s time to return the favor.

She wants to know if it’s possible for a newspaper like the Washington Post to have a natal chart? Yes, indeed it is. My friend asks whether this natal chart yields any clues as to why so many people were laid off from the paper and its sister publication Newsweek on May 31, 2008.

Now, some folks would cast the chart for the founding of the paper, back in 1877.

But I don’t think that’s the right date because the Post went into bankruptcy, meaning it “died” from a financial standpoint and was reborn when it was purchased by financier and Federal Reserve Board governor Eugene Meyer on June 1, 1933. Interesting that my friend’s e-mail arrived on June 2, quite close to the anniversary of this purchase, and that many of the latest layoffs tooks place around this “birthday.”

Birthdays and anniversaries often bring about news or change as the Sun returns to its original position, lighting up the chart.

Most readers may not be familiar with Eugene Meyer, but many have probably heard of his daughter, former Washington Post publisher Katharine Graham. A socialite who ended up at the helm of the family-owned paper after her husband committed suicide, Graham took on the Nixon Administration by exposing the Watergate break-in in a series of articles written by Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein in the 1970s.

One of my favorite anecdotes about Graham was how Nixon’s Attorney General, John Mitchell, warned Bernstein in 1972 that if the Watergate stories were published, “Katie Graham’s gonna get her tit caught in a big fat wringer.” Boys will be boys, even when they’re sitting in the White House.

Graham, who died in 2001 at Herb Allen’s Sun Valley media conference, wrote a poignant biography that won the Pulitzer prize called Personal History. Graham captivates the reader early on with her naivete. She doesn’t realize her family is rich, she doesn’t understand that she’s considered Jewish because her father is a Jew, and she doesn’t acknowledge her mother is an alcoholic. But her masterful recounting of her life lets you mature and ripen along with her.

Somewhere in Personal History, it may mention the time of the bankruptcy auction on June 1, but I lent my copy to somebody who never returned it. I searched the Web but I couldn’t find a time for the auction so I set the chart for the Washington Post’s “birth” for noon.

Here’s the chart with transits to May 31: http://www.astro.com/cgi/chart.cgi?cid=41laaaa19347-s971800598&lang=e&gm=a1&nhor=247&nho2=12&btyp=24&mth=gw&sday=31&smon=5&syr=2008&hsy=-1&zod=&orbp=&rs=0&ast=

I could spend a lot of time analyzing this chart, especially its connections to the U.S. chart and how those were being activated during the early 1970s. But alas, I’m a dilettante and I have a day job.

However, from a cursory glance, I can see that the natal Pluto of the WaPo chart opposes the U.S. Pluto and conjuncts natal Mercury, promising powerful (Pluto) communication (Mercury) concerning secrets (Pluto) like Watergate.

What’s happening now? Saturn in Virgo is eliminating the excess in the the paper’s operations. While a changing of the guard is taking place and many familiar bylines are moving on, I don’t think this is the end of the paper’s influence by any means.

My friend talks about readers feeling as if they are losing old friends. That leads me to believe the bankruptcy auction took place before noon and that transiting Saturn may be closer to the natal Moon than it appears from this chart. Saturn/Moon is about separation and saying good-bye.

Saturn is on the paper’s South Node and is heading for conjunctions with the WaPo’s natal planets in Virgo, including Mars, Moon, and Jupiter, and a square to the natal Sun, Mercury, and Venus conjunction in Gemini. Transiting Uranus is past a square to natal Venus, but will return as it moves retrograde in Pisces.

Keep in mind this isn’t the incorporation or first-day trade chart of the Washington Post Co., which encompasses a wide variety of media interests. Still, looking at the chart of the paper, I wouldn’t be surprised to see changes involving technology, perhaps an expansion of its Internet presence and the acquisition of other Web sites.

Also, when Saturn reaches Jupiter later this year, there could be a real estate transaction, perhaps the sale of the paper’s headquarters. I know nothing about what’s happening in Washington real estate right now, but Saturn/Jupiter conjunctions often mean property is being bought or sold.

If anybody has any thoughts on this chart, I’d love to hear them.