10/19/2016: "Conversation with a Brooklyn Conservative" by Rich Florentino


Last week I went to a candidates’ forum in Brooklyn.  Because of my questions [about public financing of campaigns, single-payer health care, etc.] one gentlemen came over to me at the coffee table, stood nose to nose, pointing at my chest and said, “Are you a socialist?”  As usual in a situation like that, I answer a question with a question, saying, “What do you mean by socialism?”  He just proceeded to recite, “Venezuela, Russia, Greece... they were all socialist – they all collapsed.”  People were beginning to shush him at that point and he went back to his seat.

After the meeting was done, I saw him sitting alone at a table in the adjacent room. I asked a friend about him and he said, “Oh, Jim, he's the most conservative guy – ever.”  Immediately, of course, I think, I've got to talk to this guy.  I pulled up a chair and asked if I could join him.  He nodded, slightly, and I sat across from him at the table.  I started the conversation by asking him what he thought of the candidates.  His choice, the Republican, had not shown up so he told me how the other two, one Dem and one Green Party candidate – just want to raise taxes.  I said I thought they had their reasons – there is a lot that needs doing. He went on about how the gov't can't do anything right and they just waste money, that's why the economy is so bad.  He also took the opportunity to again explain how socialism never works and it always fails – and that's where we're headed.

Anyway about an hour later – I'm not kidding, he slowed down.  I had listened intently and he was glad to say his piece.  I agreed that 'things' were worse than they used to be.  I told him how my father a single working man supported me, my two brothers and my mother on one income, buying a house, cars, going on vacations – the whole 'middle class' bit.  And everybody in the neighborhood was basically the same, the bricklayer next door, the steam fitter on the other side, the teacher, the garment worker across the street. 

He asked where I lived then – I told him and it turned out he grew up around there too.  So we spent a while talking about mutual places we knew, schools, schoolyards, movies, pizzerias, etc... and then about how things have changed.

One thing I like to bring up is how much tougher it is for kids today than it was when I started out: student debt, lack of jobs, rents/housing prices. He started in on the government. I waited a while longer and then interjected with my usual, “Yeah, but”.  Sometimes it takes more than once but that eventually elicits a response - something like, “but, WHAT!”  And, voila, FINALLY I get to make my case.

“It's not really the government – it's big businesses and even worse big banks. There's plenty of money around it's just that we don't have it any more and neither does the government – you know how much debt they're in. What is it - about $18 trillion, and students start out in the hole maybe $50,000, we're all paying interest to the banks.  And they're the guys that blew up the whole economy in 2008. And what did we do then we gave them billions of dollars – we – like me and you.”

At this point he said, “Well the politicians gave it to them - it's their fault.”  To get hold of the conversation again I jumped right back, “Yeah, but, but, but, but...”.  “Do you know how this downtrend started from when we were kids? Businesses got big, dumb and happy during WW2 and after – let's face it – the United States – basically ruled the world!  We even rebuilt Europe – you know, the Marshall Plan an all that.  But then other countries began to catch up – and American companies did not see it coming. Cars were coming from all over. Then steel, then TVs – shit EVERYTHING.”

“And what did American businesses do – they started to take it out on the workers – so the F'n guys on top could keep their profits. When that wasn't enough they threatened to leave.  You remember when New York was the garment capital of the country?  Well, then you remember they moved south – to like North Carolina or something.  Remember when you used to see all those guys pushing racks all up and down 6th Avenue with dresses, cots, whatever? Not anymore – not for 40 years.  Gone. The workers, the union – all gone.  And you know what they aren't in the South anymore it's all overseas. But before they left the country they went to the local politicians and said help us, please – we're dying here. So they helped – tax breaks, less regulations, the whole bit. And you know what – they left anyway.  And it was the same story with the steel industry. They threatened to leave – got tax cuts, subsidies, less regulations from the local or state pols.  And the Unions had to go along because – what else could they do – what else could the politicians do?”

“Towns and gov't lost taxes – besides what they had given away – they started going into debt. Workers lost good paying jobs, maybe even their houses, health insurance – everything. They went into debt – even though everybody's wife had to work too. The banks were happy to lend everybody money – after all they just kept collecting interest. The guys on top though they still had their money. They now invested in China, Mexico, everyplace but here. Because that's where the action was – and wages were – let's face it - much lower.”

“So what happens then?  “Free” trade deals are all of a sudden a good idea - so we can sell our stuff in other countries – Nooooo, that's complete and total bullshit, man! Are you kidding me? --- it was to make sure we the good ole USA, didn't put taxes on IMPORTS to prevent more goods from coming here!  You get it?  The overseas factories, like Nike, now and Apple, etc. they're just branches of American companies. The profits are still going to the central headquarters, with its CEO's, lobbyists, lawyers, whatever. And the biggest shareholders which by the way are usually the same guys, CEOs with their stock options and all that.”

“At this point, the big boys - they got it all.   Non-union workers, low taxes – hell, tax subsidies, the threat to blow-up the economy again if we don't stay in line – including politicians – and maybe even more important the judges.  It's like who the f#@k died and made these guys the boss of everything? They get to tell us how it' gonna be – and we pay them – big time.  You know when you get your paycheck, and you see all these deductions for taxes, taxes, taxes; a lot of which goes to them anyway – well what you don't see is all the money that comes out before you even see your gross pay.  Where do you think the money comes from for CEO pay, boards of directors, a million VPS, lawyers, lobbyists, PR guys, oh and don't forget campaign contributions...?  It comes from us – it all comes from US.”

I definitely have him nodding at this point.  He even brings up stories about banks fees.  And mentions Wells Fargo – pushing all those extra 'services' on their customers.  And I tell him, “Yeah, and all those people who were actually doing it – they were just glad to have jobs – and I'm sure they were getting pressured from their bosses about selling more – probably the guys with the lowest sales got fired – all the while knowing they were just taking advantage of other people just like them. THIS is the world THEY'VE created for us. THIS is how we have to live. It's not right – no way – it's just totally f&^ked up. They get to call the shots and we just get to go along – it's like we're not even Americans anymore!”

By now my new friend Jim is with me.  Hell, I should have signed him up for UUJEC.  Not really.  But I did talk to my friend who arranged the candidates’ forum – maybe we could arrange another forum with me and Jim.  I think it would be a revelation for the audience to see a Lib and a Con discuss Income Inequality AND the whole weird deal of Economic Power running and ruining the whole country.  With both us regular citizens AND “our” supposed government under their thumb.

Could be interesting. I'll let you know if it pans out.


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