Monday, August 20, 2012

Safe As Houses

That aphorism is obviously a slap in the face to the millions of people who've lost their homes to foreclosure, thanks to the greed of the Wall Street sociopaths. But back in 1874, during the so-called Long Depression, one John Camden Hotten defined the term thusly: "An expression to satisfy a doubting person; 'Oh! it's as safe as Houses,' i.e., perfectly safe, apparently in allusion to the paying character of house property as an investment. It is said the phrase originated when the railway bubbles began to burst, and when people began to turn their attention to the more ancient forms of speculation, which though slow were sure."

But home ownership as the linchpin of the American Dream  has proved to be one more feeble, rotting illusion, imploding through the speculation of the global financial system. Hotten did not foresee derivatives, collateralized debt obligations and subprime loans. The banksterism of the robber barons culminating in crash of '29 and the Great Depression was at least partially ameliorated by Glass-Steagall and the New Deal recovery programs -- and then World War II, followed by a tax rate on the wealthy approaching 90% during the Eisenhower years that gave birth to the middle class. Home ownership was taken for granted.

Fast forward to the repeal of Glass-Steagall during the Clinton years and a resurgence of casino banking and the crash of '08. Safe as Houses? What a cruel joke that turned out to be.

The New York Times today is running a rather lengthy piece by Binyamin Applebaum in the form of an Obama Apologia. Three-plus years in office, and the president is now admitting his administration didn't do enough to help keep people in their homes. Maybe it started to dawn on him that he could have done more when his campaign operatives began having trouble tracking down the people who voted for him last time. Disconnected phones with no forwarding addresses hampered Team Obama's outreach efforts. Minority voters he'd taken for granted were nowhere to be found. Millions of families had been evicted by the same banks the government gave a pass to. And so, says The Times, the president is now "haunted" by his slow response to a humanitarian crisis. The article doesn't say much about how haunted the foreclosure victims are by their own fate. It doesn't delve at all into the crony capitalism at the root of the crisis. And now, the president's re-election is in jeopardy. Waaaah. (Yves Smith has a good smackdown of both the article and the Obama housing policies here.)

In any case, the sudden regret of the White House is just so much bullshit. One novel solution to the housing crisis that's been getting a lot of press lately is the eminent domain option. A handful of local governments, most notably in California and New York, are fed up with the inaction from Washington and aim to take matters into their own hands. They want to wrest control of the mortgages of underwater homeowners in their communities from the predatory banks.

This plan, of course, has the financiers of Wall Street howling with rage. Rahm Emanuel, Obama's former chief of staff and now mayor of Chicago, has given it a big thumbs-down. Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner has given it his usual wishy-washy passive aggression. In other words, the White House will again pretend to mull it over while doing nothing. From The Hill:
This is just completely against what is the national interest in terms of mortgage finance,” said Chris Killian, a managing director for the Securities Industry and Financial Markets Association (SIFMA). “It’s just completely wrong in our view.”
Joseph Pigg, vice president and senior counsel in mortgage finance for the American Bankers Association, said the idea could have “devastating” consequences.
“If they were to exercise eminent domain, you’re going to just completely destroy the securitization market,” he said.
These guys are completely and appallingly convinced that the only interest in this equation is their interest. And you can bet they have the full faith and credit of Geithner and Co. These are people who regret rien. Empathy is sorely lacking in their DNA. But aren't you grateful for your American freedoms anyway?


Denis Neville said...

Geithner ‘foaming the runway’ for the banksters:

Geithner’s ‘foam’ consisted of home owners struggling under massive debt.

The lying elf’s (aka ‘Tax Cheating Timmy’) ‘foaming the runway’ destroyed lives. Neil Barofsky, in his book “Bailout: An Inside Account of How Washington Abandoned Main Street While Rescuing Wall Street,” writes about a business owner who could have sold his home at a loss, while retaining some savings and his credit history, but was lured into a HAMP modification that was supposed to cut his house payment in half. Instead he lost his home, his savings, his credit, and his business because of HAMP.

The Obama Administration didn’t give a rat’s ass about protecting taxpayer money or protecting homeowners. They only cared about the free money bazooka for the rich asshole banksters.

"American Express alone received more TARP money than struggling U.S. homeowners." - Neil Barofsky

“If you're in trouble, or hurt or need - go to the poor people. They're the only ones that'll help - the only ones.” - John Steinbeck, The Grapes of Wrath

Denis Neville said...

They feel they worked very hard; they believed in the American dream.

But, the American dream filled with gas, went bang in the noonday sun.

“The Money River, where the wealth of the nation flows. We were born on the banks of it - and so were most of the mediocre people we grew up with, went to private schools with, sailed and played tennis with. We can slurp from that mighty river to our hearts' content.

“Thus did a handful of rapacious citizens come to control all that was worth controlling in America. Thus was the savage and stupid and entirely inappropriate and unnecessary and humorless American class system created. Honest, industrious, peaceful citizens were classed as bloodsuckers, if they asked to be paid a living wage. And they saw that praise was reserved henceforth for those who devised means of getting paid enormously for committing crimes against which no laws had been passed. Thus the American dream turned belly up, turned green, bobbed to the scummy surface of cupidity unlimited, filled with gas, went bang in the noonday sun.” - Kurt Vonnegut, God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater, or Pearls Before Swine

Valerie said...

We elect our politicians - especially our presidents, senators and representatives to Congress BECAUSE we expect them to be exceptional. We expect them to be highly intelligent and wise with the capacity to see the big picture. We understand issues of foreign policy and the economy are very complex which is why we know that it takes exceptional people to be our leaders. We have every right to hold these people responsible for the bad decisions they make. OK - the Republicans have elected some real dumb bunnies, the dumbest being W. But the Democrats elected Clinton and Obama. Both these men knew exactly what they were doing. There were voices in their administrations who advised against Free Trade, knowing how it would ultimately hurt the working and middle classes, and who said we needed to re-instigate Glass-Steagal. How many senators and reps in Congress tried to introduce legislation limiting the power of the banks to take tax payer money that was meant to help small businesses and home-owners and use it for themselves? Did Obama support any of this? He did not. And he cut the limb Elizabeth Warren was out on with his own saw! Now Obama is sorry? PLEEEEEASE! First, I don’t even trust that it isn’t a ploy – another Obama lie. Second, TOOOO bad! We didn’t elect Obama to take the side of the bankers at every turn and to make stupid mistakes. If we wanted stupid mistakes and corporate hacks we would have voted for McCain/Palin. It didn't take a genius to work out what would happen to people who lost their jobs, couldn’t find meaningful employment, pay their mortgages and couldn’t rely on their banker to re-organise their mortgage debt!

Quite honestly, I think the only thing Barry is haunted by is the fact that he kicked his base to the curb and bet on the wrong horse.

And once again, the perfect quote, @Denis. It is true – all the rich people I know are selfish and cheap – unless they are spending on themselves. Maybe the more giving spirit of those with the least to share is because poor people understand that we are all in this together and that people can fall on bad times, not because of their own bad judgement or laziness but because they have just had a run of bad luck.

Jay - Ottawa said...

A week or so ago, Jill Stein of the Green Party stood in the path of a foreclosure, got arrested, then spent the night in jail. In stepping away from the line of pure talkers, she won me away from Rocky Anderson and his Justice Party.

For whatever reasons, Rocky Anderson seemed content to speak eloquently on the TV shows that would have him. He and his organizers never found a way, as a third party, to break out of the main stream media silent room.

I'm so damn tired of dudes who stay cool, no matter what. They don't represent us. They must have no skin in the game. For them it's just talk and money, money and talk whether Democrat, Republican or Third Party – until Stein stepped out of line, in person, to put herself between the bank's sheriffs and foreclosures.

After all that has happened over the past decade, can one or two established politicians not find a rationale to denounce their party (Eugene McCarthy style), not find the time to walk beside strikers on picket lines or demonstrate before banks or identify in some other bold way with the poor and near poor who are being systematically squeezed by our great institutions?

The 1% and their willing technocrat-collaborator-servant class are taking no prisoners. Nevertheless, resistance has been slow, timid and leaderless. If OWS taught us anything, it's that leaders and leadership are not optional.

As others here have said repeatedly, Obama is either dim or deceitful. Whether his incompetence is real or feigned doesn't matter. Either way, he should go. As Karen says, he'll have to put up with the haunting problem by studying the coping strategies of the millions of Americans his policies will haunt for years.

Some of us have noticed there's a war on, a class war. It's being pressed by the 1% and managed by the vast bureaucracy now at its disposal. So far on the campaign trail, Jill Stein is the only candidate to put up her dukes.

If she talks like a resister and acts like a resister, well, maybe she's a resister. That's why she's got my vote.

Jay - Ottawa said...

I meant to include a link to this article, which helped me through my conversion from Rocky to Stein:

Valerie said...

I'm with you, @Jay. Rocky had my support up till now but, like Obama, there has been too much talk and not enough action. So colour me Green.

I regret to say, I didn't vote for Ralph Nader. When he ran against Bush and Gore the Democrats were still pretending to care about the 99% - and Clinton's terrible deregulation and Free Trade policies hadn't come back to bite us. But now we know the truth and we should all realise that Ralph was correct, there is very little difference in substance between the two parties.

For the first time in my life, I am voting Third Party. And until Americans wake up and start realising that the Democratic Party is too corrupt to save and vote against BOTH heads of the corporate party, we have no chance turning the political momentum of the plutocracy around.

Karen Garcia said...

Brooks outdid himself in his first column since the Ryan coronation, in what he calls "A Guide for the Perplexed". My response:

Imagine, if you will, a pundit who has raised spreading the gospel of Social Darwinism to brand new heights. The nihilism is usually presented in a shiny package of pseudo-intellectualism and phony bonhomie. Compared to the usual right-wingers, he seems at first to be a quite reasonable chap.

Now, let's say that when his soul-mate Paul Ryan becomes the Chosen One, he decides to ditch the false gentility. Tossing the poor, the old, and the sick in the gutter becomes "rampant pragmatism". Through a "dynamic process of discovery" the Ryanistas will save the world for those ephemeral generations yet to be born. The literature of creative destruction, R&R style, makes its turgid debut. A nihilist's guide to the galaxy. Brooks goes to the Outer Limits. Ayn Rand meets Philip K. Dick.

Deep within the purple prose is the hazy plot, involving thundering Third Way herds of Wall Street moguls run amok, slashing away at the poor masses with their fiscal machetes, and moaning the same phrase over and over again: "Mine, mine, MINE!"

Postscript: the columnist wakes up from his pleasant dream only to find that he'd totally missed the successful Mars landing, and that for a country in such sorry decline, we have some pretty dynamic equipment and investments up there, scooting around taking pics, and blasting rocks open with lasers.

But never mind. The R&R crowd lives on its own dark and frozen planet, where they just can't wait To Serve Man.

Suzan said...

Like Jay and Valerie, I also am considering Jill Stein as the only true viable candidate at this time.

Many of my readers agree.

Wonder if the turnaround in consciousness has really started?

The Obama people are back in campaign mode fulltime and looking exactly like the fast-talking frauds they've been acting since 2008.

Thanks for all your fine reporting, Karen!

Glad to see your regular increase in readers.


Denis Neville said...

“Money is human happiness in the abstract; he, then, who is no longer capable of enjoying human happiness in the concrete devotes himself utterly to money.” - Arthur Schopenhauer

More “caring” tin pot sociology from David Brooks:

"Entitlement [very serious pundit speak for Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid] spending is crowding out spending on investments in our children and on infrastructure."

Brooks sees surprising passion in the robotic Mittens’ plan to restructure Medicare and is so impressed: “Romney-Ryan is the only train leaving the station.”

Brooks can hardly contain himself: “The government would give senior citizens a payment equal to the second lowest bid in each region to buy insurance. This system would provide a basic health safety net. It would also unleash a process of discovery.”

Indeed! During this process of discovery, seniors would discover that, unlike Brooks’ wet dream, there would be no secure safety net of affordable health care. Instead Brooks’ premium support would eliminate traditional Medicare with its defined benefits and substitute it with a fixed contribution that, over time, will cover less health care at a time when many will be needing more, not less care.

Unlike this old Irish blessing, “May you have warm words on a cold evening, a full moon on a dark night and a smooth road all the way to your door,” Brooks and his ilk offer only cold words and darkness and Sisyphean obstacles from their “own dark and frozen planet,” as Karen commented.

Postscript: Don’t know how many saw Eric Laursen, "The People's Pension: The Struggle to Defend Social Security Since Reagan,"on BookTV this weekend, but I highly recommend watching it here:

Pearl said...

But remember, this power of the people on top depends on the obedience of the people below. When people stop obeying, they have no power." -- Howard Zinn

Will said...

Love the quote from Howard Zinn, @Pearl.

Reminds me of the song "Already Gone" by the Eagles:

Well I know it wasn't you who held me down
Heaven knows it wasn't you who set me free
So often times it happens that we live our lives in chains
And we never even know we have the key

James F Traynor said...

I have no use for Obama and a lot of respect for Stein. So why am I thinking seriously of voting for Obama? To repeat what I've already said here, I live in Florida, a toss upstate. The lesser of two evils gambit means something here. If I lived in a relatively safe 'blue' state I would definitely vote for Stein; it would send a warning to the Democratic Party and be encouragement for those within the party to rid themselves of the Clintonistas and blue dogs.

I learned a long time ago that you have to go with what you've got. Also you must be reasonably sure you have a chance of beating the enemy and are prepared and willing to take it to the streets. It's the winners who write the history books. Guys like Zinn are great, but they only get to write the foot notes, if that.

Jay - Ottawa said...

Here’s an old inside joke or parable among French Catholics. It can still be appreciated by people of other backgrounds and beliefs. It certainly has something to contribute, I hope not too obscurely, to the above TLOTE discussion.


There once was a French priest who pronounced all the Latin words of the mass as if they were French words. The bishop and his brother priests were concerned. His heavy French accent upon the Latin prayers wasn’t exactly scandalous or sacrilegious, but something had to be done.

A few priests who were his friends took him aside and drilled him in Latin pronunciation. After all, it was a different language, had its own ways of pronunciation, and it even preceded French in its existence on earth. Furthermore, God had chosen Latin, not French, for mass around the world. The French Academy, for all its magnificence, must not presume to overrule the Latin of Rome.

At last, the French priest was ready to say the mass in a Latin unadulterated by French pronunciation. He was doing beautifully. His friends and tutors among the cloth nodded to each other as the mass proceeded in a Latin perfectly intoned by the old French priest. But then, at the moment when the priest leans over the host and intones the words of consecration, the old priest slipped back into heavy French pronunciation of the Latin. The words of consecration over, the priest returned to the perfect pronunciation of Latin to the end of mass.

After mass his friends, deeply puzzled, approached him: “You were doing fine until the consecration. You reverted to your old habits. What happened?”

The old priest did not have to think long about it: “Oui, oui," he said. "But don’t you see, the moment of consecration, it is too important.”

So many Obama critics say they will, despite their misgivings, give him their TLOTE votes, especially in contested states. Why? Because it’s too important. Welcome back to Team Obama.

Kat said...

I especially loved the second paragraph of your reply to Brooks.

Yes, he would be recognized as the latter day Edmunde Burke that he is if only he did not live in such an era of national decline!

Pearl said...

"I learned a long time ago that you have to go with what you've got. Also you must be reasonably sure you have a chance of beating the enemy and are prepared and willing to take it to the streets. It's the winners who write the history books. Guys like Zinn are great, but they only get to write the foot notes, if that."

James: I feel sorry that you are going through such turmoil about whom to vote for. But until and unless we recognize that there are times when we must take a chance and upset the applecart, the Howard Zinns will remain in the shadows instead of becoming more than footnotes. And if by going with what you've got has not given us what we need and want, one has to recognize it isn't working and try something else. It is becoming more and more urgent that we stop the destruction around us which is already reaching the irreversible point.

It is not for myself that I will vote for a Jill Stein, who has the right handle on what needs to be done, but for my grandchildren who do not yet realize what they will be facing in their futures, even in Canada. They have been celebrating the life of Jack Layton here, the late head of the NDP who had the courage of his convictions and has made a difference for Canadians. His memory may hopefully lead to a change of leadership in Canada where Prime Minister Harper is following the same scorched earth policy rampant in the U.S.

Kat said...

@Zee (and others)
David Cay Johnston has a new book coming out:

Denis Neville said...

2L4Os and Shallow-enders

What’s left of our values? What have we become?

Crossing Rubicon lines…excerpts from a phone conversation between Jonathan Turley and John Cusack:

Jonathan Turley:

“The question, I think, that people have got to ask themselves when they get into that booth is not what Obama has become, but what have we become? That is, what’s left of our values if we vote for a person that we believe has shielded war crimes or violated due process or implemented authoritarian powers.”

“There’s a great desire of many people to relieve themselves of the obligation to vote on principle. It’s a classic rationalization that liberals have been known to use recently, but not just liberals. The Republican and Democratic parties have accomplished an amazing feat with the red state/blue state paradigm. They’ve convinced everyone that regardless of how bad they are, the other guy is worse. So even with 11 percent of the public supporting Congress most incumbents will be returned to Congress. They have so structured and defined the question that people no longer look at the actual principles and instead vote on this false dichotomy.”

“[Voters] have an obligation to cast their vote in a principled fashion. It is, in my opinion, no excuse to vote for someone who has violated core constitutional rights and civil liberties simply because you believe the other side is no better. You cannot pretend that your vote does not constitute at least a tacit approval of the policies of the candidate…the argument that Romney is no better or worse does not excuse the obligation of a voter.”

“How [do] we ever hope to regain our moral standing and our high ground unless citizens are prepared to say, “Enough.” And this is really the election where that might actually carry some weight — if people said, “Enough. We’re not going to blindly support the president and be played anymore according to this blue state/red state paradigm. We’re going to reconstruct instead of replicate.”

h/t to Vastleft,

Would you rather be:

A "Shallow-ender," indulging a
little such criticism that is a sufficient catharsis before voting for more of the same, i.e., Obama Not-Mittens


A “2L4O,” Too Liberal for Obama / Too Left for Obama

Me? I’m a 2L40. Unfortunately, I will not be able to vote Green as the Green Party missed Kansas Petition deadline by a few hours. Kansas has already descended into the apocalypse, massive tax cuts for the wealthy and big corporations at the expense of seniors, the disabled and public safety.

Denis Neville said...

Change safe homes to unsafe as foreclosed houses and rentcroppers

The Wall Street gold rush in foreclosed homes, the continued free fall of the American middle class, moving their homes to the top one percent.

Yves Smith: private equity landlords/bulk sales of foreclosed homes/fortunes will be made/suburban absentee landlords plan to make tenants responsible for maintaining properties/creating a second sharecropper society – rentcroppers and debtcroppers:

The middle class doesn't sing like it used to. They seem to be losing their carefree good humor. One hardly knows them anymore. They’re becoming so glum and serious that the plutocrats are starting to get afraid of them.

Maybe the ever-shrinking middle class will finally say, “ Enough!!! We’re not fighting for a scrap of rentcropper/debtcropper immortality with the strings hanging off it like Mafioso spaghetti.” Just maybe they will get their communal backs up and fight the way a raccoon will fight a fucking dog.

Denis Neville said...

f/u on my comment from previous thread about generational warfare, “Will old people vote to destroy Medicare for younger people? They just might.”

John Quiggin commented on the marketing of the “generation game” here:

In response, Josh G. made some interesting comments:

“The Baby Boomers were never really as liberal or monolithic a group as media portrayals indicate. They were always about evenly divided between Democratic/liberal and Republican/conservative views, and this continues to be the case. What you are probably thinking of as “baby boomers” in the Tea Party context is actually in large part a previous cohort, the Silent Generation (born 1925-1945). This is the same group that spearheaded the “tax revolt” in California and later nationwide, and that today forms the Fox News demographic and the backbone of the Tea Party. Yet everyone seems to insist that they’re “boomers” even though they very clearly are not, either demographically or culturally. This is the “keep your government hands off my Medicare” crowd.

“Too young to fight in WWII, too old for Vietnam. With the exception of early childhood (where some of them went through the Depression), they basically lived a charmed life, entering the job market when wages were skyrocketing far faster than inflation, even for workers with only a high school diploma. And if they did want to go to college, it was usually cheap or free. They bought houses when they were dirt cheap and interest rates were low, and got to sell them at far higher prices once they moved into their empty-nest phase. But, like most people, they convinced themselves that their success was all their own doing (nothing to do with the New Deal and Keynesianism!) As soon as they were done with the universities, they voted to de-fund them for the next generation. They gladly accepted two-tier labor deals that would screw over younger workers. They voted for Ronald Reagan. They outsourced jobs and jacked up credential requirements, forcing their successors to work harder for lower pay than they ever had.

“No wonder the Republicans think they can pull their “over-55” switcheroo with Medicare; the Silent Generation has been willing to sell out their children and grandchildren every other step of the way...if you want to blame one generation, don’t blame the boomers or the Greatest Generation, blame the in-between group that basically got to have their cake, eat it too, and then make damn sure no one else could get a bite.”

Valerie said...

That Jonathan Turley is amazing! Thanks Denis for yet another amazing quote!

I agree with those who say this is the line we must draw in the sand and we need to do it at this election.

Two reasons -

First, Obama has been especially heinous in his total disregard for the people who put him into office. From the get-go he condescendingly ignored them – breaking campaign promises - and finally when they got too loud in their questioning and complaints, ridiculed them as ideological purists. He and his "team" arrogantly assumed that in the end, they could pull out the Lesser of Two Evils card, and we liberals would fall into line. This tired old line has worn thin, particularly since it has allowed Obama and most of the Democratic Party to think they can do whatever the hell they want and still get re-elected by those too afraid of “the other” to stand against them. Understand this – if the Republicans had the most mild, decent candidate, THIS would still be the card the Democrats would play.

Second, when HAVE the Republicans ever put forth a presidential candidate that wasn't totally horrible? Last time it was McCain/Palin and before that it was the fear of re-electing Shrub. Next time there will also be a terrible, demonic Republican candidate. The Democrats will use it as long as people continue to fall for it.

The truth is if all those people who genuinely believed in a Third Party candidate had voted their conscience in the past handful of elections, we might actually have a strong Third Party today. As it is, continuing to vote for either party has only allowed both parties to become more corrupt. It is no longer a good idea to vote along party lines. The parties don’t represent the interest of their constituents. They represent the interests of their big campaign donors. Those ultra rich donors aren’t donating out of the goodness of their hearts. They expect payback and to maximise their investments. Guess who is going to pay for that? And let’s not fool ourselves – we paid PLENTY under Obama.

Whether Obama wins or loses, we need to send a strong message to Washington and to ALL politicians: represent our interests or you won't get our vote.

Zee said...


Thanks for the "heads-up" on David Cay Johnston's new book. I can't begin to count the number of people that I have referred to Free Lunch for a lucid explanation as to how our government is ripping off we, the taxpayers.

I'll look forward to reading The Fine Print.

Valerie said...

Excellent comment from Josh G - again, thanks Denis for sharing it with us.

I had never really thought if it that way. That the Silent (who should be renamed the Selfish) Generation was different from the baby boomers. There is a group of seniors that we assume worked hard and paid their dues, but now upon closer inspection, didn't work as hard or sacrifice as much as they would have us believe.