Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Malefactors of Great Wealth

" Too much cannot be said against the men of wealth who
sacrifice everything to getting wealth. There is not in
the world a more ignoble character than the mere
money-getting American, insensible to every duty,
regardless of every principle, bent only on amassing a
fortune, and putting his fortune only to the basest
uses —whether these uses be to speculate in stocks and
wreck railroads himself, or to allow his son to lead a
life of foolish and expensive idleness and gross
debauchery, or to purchase some scoundrel of high
social position, foreign or native, for his daughter. Such
a man is only the more dangerous if he occasionally
does some deed like founding a college or endowing a
church, which makes those good people who are also
foolish forget his real iniquity. These men are equally
careless of the working men, whom they oppress, and
of the State, whose existence they imperil. There are
not very many of them, but there is a very great number
of men who approach more or less closely to the type,
and, just in so far as they do so approach, they are
curses to the country.”

Theodore Roosevelt. February, 1895

have been having a continuing dialogue with some Republican friends of mine, ardent defenders of our capitalist system.  And so they should be.  It is a system that has provided, all throughout the 20th century, a nation with probably the grandest middle class and the greatest lifestyle the world has ever known.  But that lifestyle was not easily won, and is now again under threat by individuals and corporations not unlike the description voiced above by, can you imagine, a Republican President of the United States, who must now, by even the narrowest stretch of any imagination, be spinning in his proverbial grave.

These Republican gentlemen, having achieved considerable wealth on their own or by whatever device, now strain mightily to justify their unimaginable insensitivity to the problematic society in which we now live.  One of them said that he wished he had an airplane, four homes instead of two, and other needless accoutrements of decadence.  I have no problem with that, because he did not achieve it at the expense of the poor.  However, such a mentality enables a “scorched earth” policy and a sanctioning of Congressional refuseniks who have been purchased by lobbyists to protect governmental subsidies of banking, corn, oil, and other interests too numerous to catalog in this meager column.

We now live in a country that no longer has a growing middle class. The American dream has, through a darkly lit tunnel, departed the station. We live in a country that is increasingly plutocratic, where those inhabiting the strata of the upper one percent control more of the wealth than ever before.  The figures, staggering and depressing,  advanced by a party that has lost its moral compass, looms as a guillotine over the heads of working people who have lost their homes, been evicted in the street, cannot afford health care, and can no longer buy food. Forty six million Americans are now living in poverty.  People are taking to the streets.

Nightly news shows a litany of neighborhoods, such as in Cleveland, where Cuyuhoga county has decided that abandoned homes should be demolished, rather than bring lower the homes of those people who, either conscientiously or stupidly, make mortgage payments to banks that will not readjust their financing, even though they are “under water.”  These souls, representing the essential staunch character of the American middle class, choose to stay in homes valued at $50,000 carrying $100,000 mortgages.  They are faced with banks, which would choose to foreclose, evict and leave the home vacant, subject to scavengers and vandals thereby depreciating the entire neighborhood rather than adjust the financing based upon their diminished value since the housing bubble burst.  

Of course, banks are in the business of making a profit.  But in times like these, does it not make more sense for a bank to collect a lower payment rather than no payment at all? And with no one to whom the house may be sold?  These are the same banks, bailed out by taxpayer dollars, too big to fail, that are sitting on hoards of cash and are refusing to lend any money.  These are the same banks (Bank of America/Countrywide) that faces Justice Department fines that it charged African-Americans a higher interest rate than whites, purely based on race.  

The Bank of America's Countrywide Mortgage was required today to pay $335 million in fines for discriminating against Black and Latinos who were steered to higher interest rates than white borrowers.   Anthony Monzillo, the CEO of Countrywide earned $531 million during 2003-2008 based upon his misdeeds. This criminal has, to date, escaped prosecution. Countrywide did about 49% of all adjustable rate mortgages in the U.S. in 2008 and engaged in systemic fraud.

Republican politicians should fear the next election.  People are now aware that they have been hoodwinked by a congress that is not responsive to the needs of its people and are dedicated solely to obstruct the present inhabitant of the White House, who, despite all his faults, including timidity, some pandering, some absence of courage to confront obstructionists, and who, may in this election year, find some way to bring a message to the people that their cause will not remain hijacked.  Hijacked by the Malefactors of great wealth.