Inequality now! Seriously, it's gotten to the point that licking your finger to test the direction of the sociopolitical wind is liable to reward you with one less appendage and a pretty nasty infection. Blame the inclement political weather on the Super PAC ad buys polluting the periphery of our psyches, if you will, but don't let it distract you from the fact that there's real trouble brewing out there for real people.
Stick your head out of your window for a minute (but don't lose it!) and just beyond the white picket fences of anesthetized social climbing at the city's core, living, breathing people – not just the ones playing the part in political ads – are falling apart. Blame Obama, blame Romney, blame your state legislature or your municipal overlords, but the fact remains: Something must be done for the real people now. Right?
Well, at least on one of the more distressing fronts, it appears that something is about to be. The Orlando Sentinel reported on Thursday that Florida had risen once again – for the first time since 2005 – in the ranks to top all other states in foreclosures (one in every 117 houses is being foreclosed upon here, a 14-percent increase over last year), bucking the national trend of a 13-percent improvement. It was a fact on the tip of everybody's tongue at the inaugural Home Defenders League event held at the Englewood Community Center on the evening of Oct. 11, where a roomful of presumed homeowners of varying ethnicities gathered to voice their complaints to a panel of political hopefuls.
Take, for example, homeowner Stephanie Rose. In her speech to the crowd of aggrieved homeowners, she detailed a familiar nightmare: Her house, which she purchased in 1989 and upon which she still owes $50,000, fell into the cat's cradle of foreclosure bureaucracy – and all of the assistance programs that implies – when she fell on hard times. "These programs are written in black and white," she said, somewhat meekly. "Life is not that way."
The federal Hardest Hit Fund has $1 billion earmarked for Florida (an additional $300 million from a national settlement is currently being disputed by Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi and the state legislature). Hardest Hit funds are meant to be used to assist homeowners in renegotiating their mortgages, paying them off or transitioning out of their homes without significant penalties. Rose had been participating in another program that accepted her money while still piling months of default upon her record. She finally applied for Hardest Hit dollars, only to be told that she didn't qualify because she was 23 months behind on her mortgage, due in part to her involvement in the other program. She called the whole experience "demoralizing."
Laura Johns, who is leading the grassroots charge of the Home Defenders League, concurs. "There are definitely a lot of scam artists out there," she says. "One family at the meeting had fallen victim three times. They sent the money to the scammers instead of the bank. It's definitely targeted."
Johns hopes that the Home Defenders League will shine a light on the cruelties of our new reality by going after the offending banks and scam artists, setting up "phone trees," rallying around victims and working with politicians and candidates to foster some sense of decency in the whole debacle. In other states, similar initiatives have included mass occupations of foreclosed homes leading to negotiated acquiescence from lenders. Here, the movement is still in its infancy, a fact evidenced on Thursday when only four of the 12 confirmed political hopeful (plus inbound state Rep. Victor Torres, D-Orlando) showed up to handle the tough questions.
"That was the most disappointing thing about the night," Johns says. "We showed that people in East Orlando care about this. How can voters be assured that [their representatives] are going to be on the side of the homeowners if they won't come out and show them?"
Speaking of showing things, our throbbing undercurrent of depression was only further rattled when former Congressman Tom Perriello, D-Va., popped into our headquarters on Oct. 12 to rattle through a wonkish deconstruction of now-"winning" Mitt Romney's ever-changing economic plan. Perriello currently leads progressive think tank the Center for American Progress' Action Fund, which means that he's been riding the fact-checking train of late, scratching numbers from his head in the wake of the October Surprise of Romney's grand bait-and-switch.
Specifically, Perriello was here to provide the "facts behind the facts," he said, as they relate to struggling Floridians. In order for us to reproduce the entirety of his mathematical message, we would need about four hours of your time and an economics degree. But, clearly, if Perriello is to be believed, Romney's cloudy vision could be a huge wet blanket for average Floridians.
Much of Perriello's message revolved around the now-notorious $5 trillion tax cut that Romney's been occasionally peddling – to be fair, Republicans are calling foul on that, saying it's merely a $3.8 million tax cut – and its fiscal favoring of fatcat millionaires. Casino magnate (and Romney's number one donor) Sheldon Adelson, by Perriello's calculations, would benefit to the tune of a $2.3 billion kickback over four years via a series of celebrations of wealth and outsourcing, while an average police officer in Tampa would end up paying an additional $1,480 in taxes.
It's not just taxes. Under Romney, the Center for American Progress found that Florida would suffer an average cut in federal grants of $11.7 billion (or $117.5 billion over a decade), leaving our already inept state legislature to fill the gaps by cutting programs that benefit the middle and working classes (hello, education). But perhaps the worst affected would be seniors. If Obamacare gets the knife on "day one," as Romney has promised, and Medicare is eventually reformed into a voucher system, current seniors would pay an average of additional $11,000 to ride out their retirement – for healthcare alone. And don't think you're immune. A 49-year-old could pay $124,626 more; A 29-year-old, $331,170. Getting old could get really expensive.
"Mitt Romney is asking everyone to pay more, and doing this not to pay down the deficit or to make a major investment in America's competitiveness, but for a tax code that allows his largest donor to get a $2.3 billion tax cut," Perriello concludes. "We think it's not cynical to suggest that we should take a candidate at his word, take our word against his, and let people know."