Saturday, November 28, 2009

Who the hell are you?

Greetings good citizen,

Often we are confronted with issues that define who we are. Are we really on our own or are we members of something larger, something bigger than what our feeble individual efforts can achieve?

And it is there that we encounter the basic fracture that splits ‘liberal from conservative’, that fracture begins with the never-ending argument over the superiority of individual effort or if teamwork matters more?

You’re a conservative if you value individual accomplishment over teamwork and you’re a liberal if you acknowledge that even the most gifted of individuals has merely built upon the work of those who came before them.

The bad thing about ‘generalities’ is it’s easy to say off track. tonight’s offering provides us with the ‘slap in the face’ brought to us by Reagan’s ‘Morning in America’ ideology…which gave us GW Bush’s ‘ownership society’.

[Hat tip: Cryptogon]

UN meets homeless victims of American property dream

There were not many people packed in to the Los Angeles "town hall" meeting who had heard of the foreign woman with the unfamiliar title who had come to listen to their tales of plight. But many took it as a good sign that she had worried the last American government enough for it to keep her out of the country.

Deanne Weakly was among the first to the microphone. The 51-year-old estate agent told how a couple of years ago she was pulling in $80,000 (£48,000) a year from commissions selling homes in LA's booming property market.

When the bottom fell out of the business with the foreclosure crisis, she lost her own house and ended up living on the streets in a city with more homeless than any other in America. She was sexually assaulted, harassed by the police and in despair.

She turned to the city and California state governments for help. "No one wanted to listen. They blame you for being homeless in the first place," she said. [Ironically, nobody ‘helps’ for the same reason nobody, er, ‘acknowledges’ protests, if ‘protests’ worked, we’d be besieged by countless ‘counter demonstrations’ and nothing would get resolved. Um, helping the homeless would entail helping the unemployed but helping either party would result in poking the employer class in the eye with a sharp stick. We return to the idea of solving a problem that powerful people don’t want solved. We could house the homeless tomorrow, but the price of that move would be the housing and the banking industries would collapse…which wouldn’t necessarily be a ‘bad thing’.]

Others followed, recounting in English or Spanish, sometimes Korean, their personal crises. Some shouted their anger, others laboriously recounted details of losing homes, families forced into overcrowded shelters, life on the streets.

The United Nations special rapporteur, Raquel Rolnik, listened to it all patiently, occasionally taking notes, nodding encouragement.

Rolnik had waited more than a year to tour cities across the US to prepare a report for the UN's human rights council on America's deepening housing crisis following the subprime mortgage debacle.

UN special rapporteurs are more often found investigating human rights in Sudan and Burundi or abuses of the Israeli occupation than exposing the underbelly of the American dream. George Bush's administration blocked her visit, finding itself in the company of Cuba, Burma and North Korea in blocking a special rapporteur. [Isn’t it ironic that conservatives are quick to call liberals ‘commies’ while their own actions prove they are fascists…it’s not the words but the deeds.]

"I was asking for almost a year before I was allowed in," Rolnik said.

When Barack Obama came to power she was welcomed to range across America talking to those who have lived on the streets for years and the newly homeless forced out by the foreclosure crisis. [and guess who will get blamed for the bad press the Bush administration is responsible for…]

Rolnik, a Brazilian urban planner and architect, said administration officials were genuinely interested in what she might find, if not embracing of her raison d'etre that everyone is entitled to a decent home.

"One of the first meetings I had at the state department they clearly told me: here, adequate housing is not a human right," she said.

"I was shocked when I realised that the US, and countries in Europe – England – as well, had a solid housing policy for many years that worked pretty well. That was dismantled and the situation became worse throughout the nineties. Then we had this financial crisis and a real crisis in housing. It's all tied together," she said.

"But I didn't expect to see what I have seen. In some ways the situation is worse than I expected."

Rolnik traveled from New York and Chicago to New Orleans and South Dakota's Native American reservations, talking to the homeless, the desperate, the foreclosed, and the officials who run housing policy.

Her final stop was Los Angeles, the homeless capital of the nation. Up to 100,000 people are sleeping on the streets or in shelters on any given night. Some have been living like that for years. Others found themselves suddenly destitute as the bank seized their home or they lost a job and couldn't pay the rent.

Two years ago about 1,300 people were evicted from properties in central LA. Last year it was 15,500. Across the wider Los Angeles region 62,400 people were thrown out of their homes. [Worse good citizen, ¾’s of them are armed.]

"There is a predictable path for those who lose their jobs and can't pay the rent or the mortgage," Gary Blasi, a University of California law professor, told Rolnik. "First they live with friends and relatives, but they're poor, too. Then they live in their cars until the cars get towed or break down. Some live in tents. Almost all the camping grounds within 100 miles of Los Angeles are now filled with people living in them."

A single person on welfare living in Los Angeles receives $221 a month – an amount that hasn't changed in a decade. The rent for one room is typically nearly double that. Too often the newly destitute end up on the streets.

"I had a job as a cashier in K-Mart and shared a house with other women," Deborah Burton told Rolnik. "But then I lost my job and when you lose your job you lose your home. You can't pay the rent."

Burton, 57, found herself sleeping on the streets. She explained how the tents go up on Skid Row in central LA after dark but must be down before dawn.

"If you aren't up and moving by 6am, the police arrest you for sleeping or sitting on the sidewalk. It goes on your record and makes it very difficult to get [public] housing," she said. "Not many think of us as people. Don't criminalise us because we find ourselves in a certain situation. No one wants to be homeless."

Doris Tinson certainly doesn't but she is on the brink of losing the house she bought in 1964 for $29,000. She paid off the mortgage several times as she borrowed against the house to supplement her pay as a nurse and send her children, and then grandchildren, to college.

Then a few years ago, a man came knocking offering her a cheap mortgage, a fraction of the value of the house by then put at $750,000. Tinson took out the $87,000 loan but along the way the monthly payments quadrupled to $2,324, nearly her entire income and they are set to rise again. [Worse, nothing ‘criminal’ was done here because usury is legal, thanks to the GW Bush administration.]

"The mortgage went up because the interest rate went up. I still don't know how that happened," she told Rolnik.

On Los Angeles' own Wall Street, in the poorer, mostly black and Hispanic, south of the city, the "for sale" signs hang outside the boarded and secured foreclosed homes with warning notices against trespass. On average homes have lost two-thirds of their value in south central LA. [Gee, you don’t hear that from the fuckers peddling the false economic recovery! According to them, home prices are rising!]

At the end of 2008 about 2% of Los Angeles homes had been foreclosed on. Housing activists told Rolnik that was mostly because of sharply increasing unemployment and predatory lending that exploited the vulnerable.

Rolnik takes it all in. Later she describes herself as disturbed that a country so rich is in many ways is so deficient and indifferent in dealing with its poor and vulnerable.[It was all about ‘exploitation’, they used the mortgage backed securities to drain the cash out of the worker’s pension funds!]

She says that the more recent conservative philosophy of dismantling the old policy of providing affordable housing to those with smaller incomes in favour of the illusion that everyone can, and should, buy their own home played a central role in not only creating the housing crisis but the financial one.

"Part of the financial crisis has to do with these housing policy options because one of the main ideas of this policy is to promote home ownership to those who never got access to property. People who never had credit finally had banks provide them credit and they can buy a home. But it didn't work for the poor. [Understand, putting ‘poor people’ into houses wasn’t the goal of the sub-prime debacle. It was about creating enough MBS to swap for the cash ‘trapped’ in pension funds, this is why Wall Street didn’t care if these bogus products blew up, they didn’t have to work forever, they only had to work ‘long enough’.

"So now we have a new face of homelessness – people who had homes, were not living in public housing, were not living in assisted housing, but now are in a position of asking for assistance because they're homeless. But the public housing has been destroyed," she said.

Rolnik held a town hall meeting in every city she had visited. They were always packed.

At the Los Angeles meeting, the queues quickly formed at the three microphones.

Toni Matthews has been homeless for nearly nine years. "I wrote to Washington but nobody ever answered," she said. [She could have called her congressperson but I think we already discussed what a ‘fool’s errand’ that would have been.]

A Spanish-speaking veteran of the Korean war steps up. He is the angriest of the lot. He is not a communist, he says, but in Cuba nobody goes homeless. He fought for America and now he is left to live on the streets. [Just how ‘damning’ an indictment is that good citizen? What does a nation owe its people…if you’re a conservative, the answer is nothing.]

Others tell of being evicted by unscrupulous landlords, of living in dangerous and filthy buildings and how the city council doesn't force landlords to obey the law. The frustration is mixed with a sense of powerlessness. [Yeah, good citizen, who do you extract justice from when the law protects your oppressor? Which is to say the civil service sector is long overdue for a good douche.]

"Anyone can end up in this situation, living on the streets. Don't imagine it can't happen to any of you," shouted a man.

Away from the microphone, Deanne Weakly says she had never heard of a UN special rapporteur but she's glad Rolnik turned up. [Um, I’m guessing Deanne isn’t alone, I’d never heard of such a thing either.]

"I am grateful for the spotlight on the homeless. The spotlight of attention on what people don't think exists here. These people have no voice. They're afraid. Not everyone has a big mouth like me," she said.

Deborah Burton thinks it is a shameful reflection on America that Rolnik should be in the US. [You can bet that the Bush Administration wholeheartedly agreed with that sentiment!]

"America is one of the richest countries in the world. For me as a citizen and a person of colour I think it's important to let the rest of the world know what's going on here," she said.

"American politicians come and listen but they don't do anything. The question we have to answer is why this has been going on so long." [Why do you suppose this question has gone unanswered for so long?]

Rolnik doesn't pretend she can change the situation. All she can do, she tells the crowd at the meeting, is to draw their problems to the attention of their government and warn others of the dangers. [Not that this is particularly ‘productive’, providing genuine ‘relief’ to those society cheats out of their just share would mean erecting barriers to the exploitative behavior the privileged few use to wax rich at our expense.]

"The US has exported this an economic model with the idea that everyone can organize themselves under that model. It's very important for the rest of the world to know who fits in to this model and who is excluded," she tells her audience.

Understand good citizen, this model has indeed been ‘exported’ and what do you suppose most of the ‘importing’ governments have done with it? They followed the blueprint scrupulously and created ‘Banana Republic’s’. It is the same ‘model’ we exported to both Russia and China…only China ‘discarded’ the ‘democratic illusion’ part as being too dangerous.

Which leaves us with another unanswered question…how long will the ‘ballot box’ survive here in the US now that it threatens the rule of the oligarchs? Mr. Obama may well be the last president because his election has failed miserably to change anything…but they have three years before there’s another general election and a lot can happen in three years.

Left to your imagination is whether or not there will be change for the better or if the changes will serve to make things worse?

I think it is extremely damning to see that the Clinton State Department ‘regurgitated’ the ‘conservative’ point of view regarding the welfare of the, er, residents of this nation. In the final analysis, we were screwed regardless of which candidate won the oval office, they may as well have run Karl Rove!

Okay, I’m done kicking those people who pass themselves off as Democrats in the shins. It seems to me that nobody ‘worthy’ of the title Democrat can pass the party sniff test set up by our corporate overlords…

Thanks for letting me inside your head,


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