It’s pitchfork and torch time
by Kelvin Wade
In a little town in Tunisia, 26-year-old Mohamed Bouazizi found himself with a college degree but out of work. So he set up a fruit and vegetable stand to earn a living. The authorities confiscated his scales and wares because he didn’t have a permit to run the stand. Bouazizi went to the authorities to complain but they wouldn’t listen. So he took a gas can, poured it over himself in the middle of a busy street, shouted, “How do you expect me to make a living?” and burned himself to death.
Bouazizi’s death sparked the so-called “Arab spring” of protest that went from country to country and recently resulted in the overthrow of Libya’s Moammar Kadhafi.
I mention this because we could use an American spring here.
Everyone is talking about jobs. I’m no economist. But if I had to look at what’s wrong in America right now, I’d say, “It’s the housing market, stupid.” It’s been the pachyderm in the parlor for quite some time. It’s the housing bubble that burst and dragged down other industries.
In a nation of foreclosures and empty houses, there’s not a big demand for construction workers, home improvement stores, furniture stores, and lawn maintenance.
Where’s my bailout? How come the government never came to the aid of homeowners? While the public saw high profile bailouts of the banks and the auto industry, homeowners twisted in the breeze. Can a brother get a hand up? I didn’t say “out.”
Then there’s this from Bloomberg News recently: Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke’s unprecedented effort to keep the economy from plunging into depression included lending banks and other companies as much as $1.2 trillion of public money, about the same amount U.S. homeowners currently owe on 6.5 million delinquent and foreclosed mortgages. Say what?
So banks and other companies (including foreign companies) received secret bailouts from our tax dollars while homeowners have been left to fend for themselves. My head may very well explode. My tax dollars can go for some fat cat’s Caribbean vacation but I can’t get a single dollar? Can I get a re-fi? Can I get a principle adjustment?
My lovely better half and I purchased our home in 2004 for $237,500. We’ve never had trouble making the mortgage payment. We’ve done everything we’re supposed to do. But because many people on our street bought homes they couldn’t afford and were foreclosed upon, their misfortune has killed our property value. Currently, the appraisal website Zillow says our house is worth about as much as Dick Cheney’s word.
Washington could’ve required banks to help homeowners, not suggested that they do. He who pays the piper calls the tune. If the banks were willing to take those public loans, the federal government could’ve attached whatever strings they wanted. Reductions on the principle are what will help underwater homeowners, not tinkering with interest rates. But Washington’s excuse for not directly helping out homeowners has been that they didn’t want to reward irresponsible behavior.
What? Like what the banks did by pushing cheap loans, selling worthless assets and playing complex economic games that one has to be an MIT grad to understand, wasn’t irresponsible behavior? Yet, they were bailed out.
And what of homeowners like me, who weren’t irresponsible? What about the millions of homeowners who have just been collateral damage in all of the financial shenanigans? We’re just roadkill on the way to some banker’s house in the Hamptons.
Millions of homeowners like me are going to keep paying our mortgages. After all, it may be underwater but it’s our homes. Some are going to grow frustrated and walk away from their underwater homes. Its frustrating that you work your whole life to achieve the American Dream and it’s all for nothing.
Why aren’t you mad? Tea Partiers, why are you just mad at the government? Can’t you see the collaborative hosing you’ve been getting? Arabs are fighting for the most basic of rights and what are we doing to improve our lot? Why aren’t we in the streets?
Where’s our Mohamed Bouazizi?