by Joe Shea
November 4, 2010
MOURNING IN AMERICA
BRADENTON, Fla., Nov. 4, 2010 -- After seven hours in the Florida sun greeting voters for the Democrats, I left to get breakfast and ran out of gas as soon as I left the parking lot. Stuck in the median gap, I crossed myself and said a prayer for help; in about 30 seconds, Crystina Page stopped in her old blue van. She steered as I pushed the car across the busy street into a quiet driveway.
Crystina's a divorced mother of three young kids, 11, 8 and 7 years old, whose husband has not paid child support and after he beat her up now has a restraining order against him. She's going to school at Manatee Technical Institute and has just nine months to go for her nursing certificate. On top of that, she pays $1,100 a month in rent for a 3-bedroom house to shelter her family. With all she does, where does she find time to worry about someone like me?
"Did you ever see the movie 'Pay It Forward,' she asked, referring to the tale of a boy who repays a favor by doing one for someone else and inadvertently starts a national movement. I said I did. "That's what I believe," she said. "I know someone would do the same for me."
I would - if I could.
I told her I had put a dollar's worth of gas in the car the night before and thought I had enough to get to the polls at MTI, just three-quarters of a mile from my place.
She got me into the van and drove me a half-mile down the street to get some gas. She had a can, and when I pulled out my last two dollars she turned it down and filled the can. She drove me back to my car and poured a couple of gallons in and drove away, leaving me with my two precious dollars.
I put that $2 in my checking account last night to spare me a $35 overdraft fee from Bank of America. My balance had fallen $2 after my outstanding $18 check to an AR Correspondent (they get 90 percent of any revenues from resale of their work to subscribing publications), and a $35 fine would bust me for good.
That leaves me today with $0.74 in checking, $0.01 in the AR business account and a penny each in the HHO Games accounts. When I picked up my mail Tuesday night I got a $138 bill for electricity with a Nov. 5 turnoff threat. On Nov. 10 I'll get my Social Security check for $412, pay FPL and all or most of the rest in critical bills and a trucker friend's $10 loan the same day; on the 14th will come my $200 food stamp allotment, so for another month I'll eat - if I can get the car to a store.
I earned $11 over the past month from this newspaper and $25 more from an online piece I'd sold in early June. I woke up and went to bed hungry almost every day of the past week, something that hasn't happened for so many years it almost feels good.
It was just a few days ago that a toothless black kid and his friend and a short, heavy-set Mexican man with six people - his wife, kids and mother - in the cab of his pickup stopped on busy Cortez Road and pushed me to safety while the black kids got a can and brought me gas on their own dime.
I owe my very survival to other poor people like myself: in the past month, I've become spiritually indebted to an off-duty clerk who swiped her Wal-Mart credit card for $6 worth of groceries I couldn't pay for; to an 86-year-old retired NYPD detective who bought me $14 worth of gas; to a Sysco salesman who bought me a gallon of gas when I ran out at a Chevron station three weeks ago; to that unemployed truck driver friend who loaned me $10; and to a host of strangers who, with so little of their own, reached out and gave me some of it. I have tried to do the same.
That's my experience of Sarah Palin's "Morning in America," the borrowed (from President Reagan) theme of her new presidential campaign video I saw on CNN this afternoon. The Americans I know, regardless of origin, are as broke as I am, but generous and compassionate to a fault. Those two kids who brought the gas can must have had four or five gallons in there, and I had to stop them from pouring it all in. Crystina's gift left me with a quarter tank, which is a bonanza to me.
As Sarah Palin and the Republicans celebrate their capture of nearly 700 statehouse legislative seats, six U.S. Senate seats and a healthy 52-seat majority in the House of Representatives, they promise to repeal our non-existent national health care system before it can start, to end extensions of unemployment benefits, and ensure the indefinite extension of $700 billion in tax cuts for those who earn more than $250,000 a year, I am puzzled by the perceptions people have that led them to restore the Republicans to a greater measure of power.
I can only guess that seniors, who seemed by far to be the majority of some 250 voters I greeted on Tuesday, are deeply fearful for their own futures. All of their generous pensions from civil service jobs and vanished automakers and busted banks, schools, police and fire departments are in jeopardy.
The IRAs, Keough plans, 401-Ks, home values and self-directed investments they rely on in retirement have been heavily depleted by the stock market crash that followed the sub-prime mortgage bust-out - and by the appeals for cash that came from their kids as they lost their jobs and homes.
As many passed me by at my table near the polls, they looked neither left nor right, peered angrily down at the sidewalk, or held their hands up as if to block my entreaties (for a favorite school board candidate) in a non-partisan race. It always bad for someone when the voters don't stroll but march to the polls.
"I've made up my mind" was the most common thing they said. Those who did stop and listen to my pitch for a science professor who is chair of our school board were responsive, and when they emerged from the auditorium where the voting took place often told me they'd voted for her. It gave me confidence and hope.
In the course of 10 unpaid hours, I felt sure I'd turned up at least 50 additional votes for her, but her 54-46 percent defeat on election night was worse than the 237-vote loss she'd suffered in the August primary; a real estate agent with more than $100,000 from real-estate developers had overwhelmed her financially and otherwise.
My favorite candidate, an extremely hard-working and able painting contractor running for county commission, lost by a huge margin, as did another man, a lawyer who'd toiled without ceasing in his independent race for a statehouse seat; another lawyer, a Georgetown Law grad of Arab descent running for the Florida House with a well-organized campaign and selfless heart, shared the same losing margin. The 61-39 percent blowout was the only thing the losers had in common.
So, as President Obama gamely vows to move the American agenda forward, and Sarah Palin's view of the Russian seashore brightens in the Alaska morning, I have come to the end of my rope. Fortunately, there isn't enough left to hang myself. I have no idea how I will survive into old age, and it surely won't be from the largesse of Republicans.
Correspondents Ron Kenner of Los Angeles and Walter Brasch, a regular writer for us, each sent me $100 in August when things were also very tough; they can't do that on a regular basis, and neither can any of our Correspondents - and neither should they. I'm behind $1,450 in debt to my condo association, and it's only the starving real estate market that keeps it from filing a lien, selling my place for a third of what I paid and leaving me homeless.
It's not useful to dwell on my plight as anything more than a microcosm of what tens of millions of Americans suffer now. As the Wall Street Journal reported, the Chinese in particular cried hooray when the Republicans won.
If recent history is any guide, they poured tens of millions of dollars into the elections on behalf of Republicans through independent campaigns and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, which accepted at least $61 million from the foreign parent companies of U.S. subsidiaries and an unknown amount from other nations.
By putting all their money in an unsegregated general account from which their checks for ads were written, they avoided any accountability at the hands of our federal elections officials, who were able to enforce laws barring foreign contributions until a Supreme Court decision earlier this year.
And what did the Chinese want? One big prize for them was the punishment GOP leaders promised, again according to the Wall Street Journal, to mete out to Wal-Mart, one of America's largest employers and the world's biggest retailer. The Chinese can squeeze Wal-Mart through the myriad of indirectly controlled corporations China now owns in the United States, and even safely charge Wal-Mart even more for the junk sometimes made by slave labor they've been selling them for years.
Was it just a coincidence that the lead item on the news tonight was the sharp rise in eggs, meat, wheat and dairy products that is coming later this week? China is growing affluent in the wake of the legal transfer of our American wealth to that country, always aided by the Republicans, and the demand for those products has risen with its economic health. You would think these supposedly patriotic Republicans who marched to the polls Tuesday in such a dour, angry mood would have questioned themselves a little harder before they made up their minds so completely. You would have been wrong.
I can only hope that in the ensuing years of gridlock, they will question themselves once again. As Congress continues to do nothing, focusing instead on undoing everything Obama and Clinton did, we will slide further into the orbit of the Chinese. Republican conservative and former presidential candidate Steve Forbes' eponymous magazine - two days after the elections - revealed that they had named Hu Jintao, China's premier, as the most powerful man in the world, followed by President Barack Obama of the United States of America. You figure that out.
You decide whether Forbes magazine is owned by Chinese investors that control its editorial content, or whether Steve Forbes and his editors have just given up on the United States. Maybe it's true; maybe we have sold so many arms and weapons systems (like Loral's) to China that they have an edge over us in the event of war. And wonder how far that kind of thing goes, why don't you?
It may be too late for America. It's not so much what we owe to China, or how big a portion of our debt that amounts to, as it is the very momentum of that debt joined to the weight of our indecisive Congress and national lack of direction that is propelling us to a day - possibly not very far away at all - when China's economic power humbles our own. That will be a sad, sad day, and the mourning, in fact, can already begin.
You can reach Joe Shea at email@example.com.