April 13, 2004: Easter was once a holiday without much public decoration.
Construction paper bunnies in school windows were pretty much it.
I generally don't like the push to decorate extensively for every
holiday since it helps reduce every holiday to another exercise
in spending. But I do like Easter egg trees. Particularly when
people decorate the trees in their yards. The trees are still
bare of leaves but the colored eggs hanging in the grey, or just
greening branches speak of things to come. How Easter hopeful
Though I frequently write about the neo-noir side of life, I'm
actually a very hopeful person. If I weren't, I'd retire to my
study and contemplate play-for-pay pols, screw-the-public vendors
and unreal real estate with philosophical detachment. Though
I might muster a sneer or two before reaching for the Marcus
Aurelius. Or a vintage copy of "Confidential". I bitch because
Every society in the world has flaws. Attempts to make human
society perfect produce horror. Thanks to the great totalitarian
blow outs of the 20th Century we don't have to say unimaginable
horror. But to try for reasonable improvement is just that.
Reasonable. Success is possible though not guaranteed.
Unforeseen consequences can turn intentions into their opposite.
Outside the merely political, human souls slide downward but
also move upward. Neither trajectory is inevitable or always
consistent. The uncertainty adds drama and meaning to every
moment of human life.
Certain trends in present day USA are decidedly negative. But
the USA is still remarkably flexible and free. Social trust and
belief in law are still common. Yet since I started QT 3 years
ago, I've heard from a number of people across the country
who've lost both things. Some were defrauded in mortgage or home
improvement deals. Often some type of federal program was
involved somewhere along the line. Ones that offered a helping
hand-- as opposed to a hand out.
When these people took complaints to local political
representatives they often found a stacked deck built on conflict
of interest. Federal programs trickle down to individual
recipients through local political channels, either directly or
via related agencies and financial institutions. Complaints about
the quality of the end result are not welcomed: they might cause
the federal spigot to dry up. Some of my correspondents' local
officials went beyond non-response to vengeance. The political
kind big frogs in small pools practice. And occasionally
situations became downright threatening. Particularly when some
link in the food chain had a hint of organized crime.
Some of my correspondents took complaints higher than the local level, to
federal agencies or national representatives. There the response
was typically dead silence or a form letter fob off. Some became
entangled in labyrinthine court battles, where they received ho
hum legal representation from attorneys who back slapped buddies
on the other side. In the latter instances, the quest to obtain
redress for the damaging, destruction, or loss of their homes
turned peoples' lives into Bleak House.
You could say my correspondents were not representative, just
hard cases who couldn't accept bad luck. If the numbers of other
people with similar experiences were few, you might be right. But
as an example of how unexceptional such events are, consider the
well publicized Title I fiasco of the late 90's. Where several
linked contractors working across Pennsylvania and Ohio hustled
homeowners with poor credit into getting home repair loans backed
by the US Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD).The
loans were financed by what was then the largest Title I lender
in the nation. The contractors wrecked rather than repaired, or
skipped out and left work unfinished. Leaving homeowners in
deep debt with liens on homes worth less than before the
"improvements" began. With refinancing impossible.
One hundred sixty four of the scammed homeowners joined a class action suit. Last
year they received a tiny portion of what they lost. A typical
result. And class action suits have a socially destructive
aspect. They make public officials and the business community
timid to the point of absurdity. Encouraging more fudging of
mistakes and malfeasance. But what many of those who sign on
to class action suits seek is not money but justice; an official
acknowledgement they were wronged. White collar crime is hard to
prove and expensive to prosecute in criminal court. White collar
criminals have good lawyers and good friends. Class action suits
are justice unions for the less wealthy and less prominent.
It would be best if class action suits were unnecessary. Tougher
laws targeting white collar crime might help. As would the social
will to prosecute and punish white collar criminals to the max:
ditching the double standard separating equity strippers from
muggers. But what's also needed is greater skepticism by
citizens regarding the government's "helping hand". Federal
funding of home ownership and improvement programs is a transfer
of income. One which flows through the helping hands of multiple
middlemen. It establishes a chain of dependency. Those higher
on the chain profit the most and will naturally not welcome
complaints from lower links. It also behooves potential
recipients of the helping hand to realize that no matter how
much government officials use the word "investment" they see
individuals (as opposed to corporations or developers) who sign
on for government assistance as beggars not choosers.
On the silver lined Easter Egg front, many who've experienced
the flip side of the hand have taken to the Internet. Which is
now chock full of sites with domain names ending in "sucks"
prefaced by the names of assorted lenders, contractors,
developers and government agencies. People who once didn't know
a GSE from a hole in the wall (the one made by a HUD bucked
contractor) are becoming highly knowledgeable about the band of
the hand. And are sharing that knowledge with others across
Speaking of shared knowledge in public places, stay tuned for
part 2 of "Easter Eggs & Tube Hogs". Chronicling the perilous
adventures of those who seek slots on public access TV. See tube
hogging pols blow the public off the air with gaseous gales! See
maniacal mayors cut horrific cable contracts! See how gaining
admittance to studio facilities can be as tough as a trek through
Mordor! See the truly intrepid press on in Hudson County, New
Jersey and find new ways to keep Talking Politics! And in
Brooklyn, New York, see Borough President Marty Markowitz share
his sweet potato pie with the masses. You'll laugh, you'll cry--
you'll reach for the Cool Whip.
Carola Von Hoffmannstahl-Solomonoff
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