I was out meeting folks last week, seems that no matter where I go; while the accents may change the stories they tell stay the same. I met a man named Tom; he was an electrician and a sort of jack of all trades. He told me, "The more jobs you can do the more work you can get." I could relate to his feelings as they were mine as well.
Tom's fifty six years old and since he lost his house he splits his time between his mother's couch and his girl friend's house. Like millions of other Americans he once knew prosperity, raised a family and looked towards the future. Now like me, he catches as catch can. We were working on a job together rehabbing a 19th century farm house. Tom was sleeping at night on a dusty old couch in the corner of the room. I asked just out of curiosity, "Where are you eating?" This country house is stripped bare with only a refrigerator in the garage.
"There's some ham and some bottled water in the refrigerator out in the garage," he explained.
"What are you doing about the mosquitoes?" I was compelled to ask this because them critters were fierce in the shade even during the day and moved in ravenous waves at night. He answered with a sly hint of a smile, "you stay close to the fan and fight the good fight." Then he added, "I hope we get paid today, I'm almost out of smokes."
As we worked we talked, he had worked for the railroad and had lost that job when the Burlington-Northern had merged. They had bought him out and he had used the money to open an electronics repair business. He added, "There isn't any electronics to fix anymore, it's all plug and play or throw it away." I just nodded in understanding, I'd heard his story so many times before. I've even lived a chapter or two of it myself, with me it was the industrial engine business, but I've heard the story told before with the printing business or the painting business and the contracting business or the landscaping business until the stories begin to rhyme.
There was another fellow on the site and his name was Don, he lived in a camper at the back of the property. Don wouldn't speak to me; he sensed that I was hired as his replacement. There is no doubt about it, Don was twice the carpenter that I was, but Don had drug and alcohol issues. Mickey Mantle was one of the greatest baseball players of all time but if he didn't show up for the game it didn't matter how good he was.
The boss had bought Don's house from him to keep him from losing it in foreclosure and then let him stay in the camper on the property. Don had cleared almost twenty grand from the sale of the house but had drank and pissed it all away in a year and a half. Don came out of the camper around ten thirty unshaved and hung over. He grabbed a beer from the garage refrigerator and went back into the camper to drink it.
Around lunch time the boss arrived and asked if I had met Don yet? I explained that I had, I had stuck my hand out in friendship and that he had answered, "No habla English," and had walked past me in formal hostility. Being from the south there are certain rules of conduct that are immutable, if a man sticks his hand out in fraternity and you slap it away they'll be no second chance without an apology.
When the boss showed up Don came out of his trailer and began framing a window opening in the back of the house. The boss explained, "He's got problems and we're trying to get them worked out, anyway, I've got another job to put you on."
This other job was at Don's former home, the boss had given him the opportunity to finish the basement and to live there, rent free. The job was half done and a mess, Don couldn't get along with the tenants upstairs and that was the reason that he was living in the camper. He had written nasty messages on the walls and left the floors filled with trash and beer cans but" this was a four bedroom three bath brick home on six acres of land.
Don had built this house himself and had paid cash for it, but that was before he had lost his job as a cabinet maker when the company had shut down. Then a divorce and then the splitting of the equity in the house, so Don took out a mortgage and then he lost it. In one stall of the three car garage was his woodworking shop. It was filled with top quality American made woodworking tools, it had the best of everything but like the rest of Don's life it was in complete disarray.
"And when they've given you their all some stagger and fall after all it's not easy,
banging your heart out against some mad bugger's wall." Roger Waters
Realty Trac estimates another 1.17 million homes will receive a notice of foreclosure this year, that's one in every 111 homes in the country. Twenty percent of all homes in America are already paid for so that number shrinks down to one in every 89 homes in America with a mortgage are in foreclosure. This is the sixth year! We are looking at staggering totals, upwards of forty or fifty million American's who have lost homes, careers, husbands, wives and families.
If this were some deadly virus or horrible storm reeking vengeance upon the American landscape would this government still do nothing? You see, Don is sixty one and if he lives, he still has a union pension aside from his Social Security. That is a vestige of a time long since gone in America, a part of the vanishing mirage of retirement, replaced by the 401K which replaces the unemployment checks when that fountainhead dries up.
We've no jobs for our people, they've lost their pensions and then they lost their homes. They've lost skilled careers in craft trades and jobs in industries that no longer even exist in this country and their government answers, so? What do you want us to do? Nearly every state in the union is making drastic cuts to education, New York City alone is cutting 3,000 school teachers. That's not fat, that's meat, so who will educate the children? Where will the next generation work when they get their printer fed diploma which reads, Little Johnny has passed a comprehensive battery of government tests designed to measure his ability to remember meaningless dates and facts but has not trained him to think about his place in the world.
Where will those school teachers work? What trade can the next generation learn that will provide them with a decent income for a lifetime? The latest report from the bureau of labor statistics shows that wages in this country are falling even in financial services. The hours worked are falling as this economy comes staggering towards a precipitous fall.
Earlier this year I wrote about an Obama administration program which connects college students with participating corporate employers such as Old Navy, Banana Republic and McDonalds. This is what this administration considers job training, hamburger flipping and jobs at the mall. It reminded me of the old adage, you can be poor on your own, you don't need any help. Can an assistant manager at Old Navy or McDonald's ever buy their own home? Can they raise a family or build a pension?
What is the answer here, more of the same? How far can we ride this pony towards the brink? Can we sentence our children to this future and still sleep at night? What is to become of the land of opportunity? Who took our greatness and who dug this moat to cut us off from it? A moat filled with the tears of the damaged and the lost and how is it our leaders cannot understand that the greatness of our nation is wrapped up in the greatness of our people?
After the 9/11 attack in 2001 the government responds by stripping the public of their civil liberties through the Patriot Act. In 2005, the Congress of the United States passed the Bankruptcy Reform Act and twenty four months later the economy collapses. The Supreme Court affirms corporate personhood and then affirms the right of police to kick in any citizen's door if they believe a crime is being committed. Probable cause is anything, a noise; not answering the door fast enough or even silence can be construed as probable cause.
Is it to be believed that these events are all random? Just coincidence in a random universe? That after a smirking, snarling, dry drunk creates two wars, tanks the economy while re-inflating the banking largesse that along comes Mr. Obama out of the blue. Mr. Obama speaks in lofty blue sky platitudes of "Hope and Change" he supports card check legislation and single payer health care reform. He is paired off in the election against an elderly Republican known for his ill tempered responses.
At the Democratic Party convention Mr. Obama is in a dead heat with John McCain, McCain goes to Florida and gives a speech against Social Security to a room full of senior citizens. Then at his own convention McCain picks Sarah Palin as his Vice Presidential running mate, she then calls it a trick question when asked, "What newspapers do you read?"
Obama wins in a cake walk and names banking officials to the Treasury Department, he names a woman who cut health care in Kansas to Health and Human Services. He keeps the Bush Defense Secretary, keeps the Bush bailout in place. Drops card check and single payer, sides with the Republicans and against the unions in the GM bailout. Continues the Bush wars and the Bush policy on torture or maybe these are all just random coincidences as well?
We are being herded down a road towards where the sunshine ends, that line between darkness and light. Where progress is measured in profits and where jobs are measured in quantities and not qualities. Slaves have jobs, but slaves have no civil rights, they have no health care or pensions and they do not own homes. Their children are poorly educated and have no opportunity to improve themselves. Slaves lives as victims in someone else's world. They have no hopes or aspirations only the master's hopes and aspirations, they have no children of their own they have the master's children.
There are worse things than death and prison is a state of being not of location.