CHILDREN OF THE FINANCIAL HOLOCAUST

I think Bob Herbert of the NY Times wrote today what will be eventually seen as the most important article on the financial crisis. We’ve seen it before — the children of the great depression, children of the holocaust, returning veterans from WWI, WWII, Korea, Vietnam, Iraq, Afghanistan. Now it’s the financial meltdown.We ignore it at our peril.
All these events have one inescapable thing in common — damaged children, the extent of which was not easily discernible until years later. Damaged children lead necessarily to a dysfunctional society, and that is what we have.
TODAY CHILDREN ARE GROWING UP WITH A HISTORY OF BEING TORN FROM THEIR HOMES, THEIR LIFESTYLES AND THEIR PRECIOUS HOPE AND TRUST IN THEIR PARENT’S PROTECTION IN A WORLD THAT IS NOT FAIR OR JUST. (It is this point and this point alone that I publish this blog, my writings, my public appearances and my seminars).
EXACTLY HOW MUCH BRAIN POWER DOES IT TAKE TO REALIZE HOW THESE CHILDREN WILL PERCEIVE THE WORLD WHEN THEY GROW UP AND START RUNNING THE WORLD? MAYBE WE SHOULD START PAYING ATTENTION TO THEM. MAYBE WE SHOULD GIVE THEM THE MESSAGE THAT THEY MATTER MORE THAN ANYTHING ELSE. MAYBE WE CAN MODEL HOW TO MAKE THE WORLD A LITLE BETTER FOR THE NEXT GENERATION.
But that’s just my opinion. I could be wrong.
November 28, 2009
Op-Ed Columnist

Stacking the Deck Against Kids

Every year at Thanksgiving, parts of the Upper West Side of Manhattan become like a paradise for children. There’s the exciting preparation of the balloons and floats for the Thanksgiving Day parade, and then, on Thursday morning, the parade itself.

The weather isn’t always kind. I’ve seen the kids out there in snow, in freezing rain, in winds that threaten to send the balloons and their handlers soaring to distant venues. It doesn’t seem to matter. The children come into the neighborhood in waves, holding the hands of adults or riding atop their shoulders, smiling, laughing, playing hide-and-seek among the police barricades. Finally, inevitably, they end up staring in absolute open-mouthed, wide-eyed awe as the mammoth, colorful helium-filled creations of their favorite characters begin making their majestic way down Central Park West.

We have an obligation and an opportunity at this special moment in history to do right by these youngsters, and all the rest of America’s kids. It’s a special moment because we’ve seen so clearly the many things that have gone haywire in the society, and while it may not be easy to articulate, we have a sense of what needs to be done.

The American economy is broken, ruined by the greed and irresponsibility of fabulously wealthy corporate chieftains and their shabby acolytes and enablers in government. While Wall Street is handing out billions in bonuses, American families are struggling with joblessness, home foreclosures and rampant debt. The economic woes are exacting a fierce toll on family life, and children are taking a big hit — emotionally, psychologically and otherwise.

One effect of the Great Recession, according to a recent series in The Times, has been a big jump in the number of runaway children, many of them living in dangerous conditions on the street.

Family homelessness is also up, and poverty is increasing. More than a third of all black children in America are poor, and that tragic percentage is expanding. The outlook for America’s working classes is bleak. A few weeks ago a New York cab driver nearly broke down in tears as he told me he’d had to apply for food stamps to continue feeding his family.

A sense of urgency may be starting to emerge. With President Obama’s jobs summit approaching, representatives from labor and progressive organizations gathered in Washington to warn of the lasting damage being inflicted on the prospects of young Americans by the continuing employment crisis.

Millions of youngsters like those who were suffused with such delight at the Thanksgiving Day parade are being buffeted by an economy that is eroding their quality of life, curtailing their educational opportunities and undermining their prospects for economic success as adults. That more attention is not being paid to this growing disaster is criminal.

Groups represented at the meeting in Washington, which was sponsored by the Economic Policy Institute, included the A.F.L.-C.I.O., the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights, the N.A.A.C.P., the National Council of La Raza and the Center for Community Change. Among other things, they urged the administration and Congress to provide substantial additional relief to economically distressed state and local governments, to invest in much more widespread infrastructure improvements, and to engage in some direct government creation of jobs.

All of that, in my view, would amount to just a first step. We remain stuck in an economic model that not only permits but encourages the continued existence of financial institutions that are too big to fail, which means that when one or more of them fail — as will surely happen at some point — we’ll again be rushing to “save the system” by bailing them out at taxpayers’ expense.

The system remains grotesquely unfair, with the deck stacked against working people, even as we’re desperate to have them sustain the economy with nonstop consumer purchases. Keep in mind that at the start of the recession the collective wealth of the richest 1 percent of Americans was greater than that of the bottom 90 percent combined. The economic and political clout of that bottom 90 percent has only weakened since then.

We still have a hideously dysfunctional public education system, one that has mastered the art of manufacturing dropouts and functional illiterates. We have not even begun to turn that around.

We still keep fighting tragic, futile, stupid wars, squandering lives and resources and creative energies that could be put to use right here at home, where the need for nation-building is beyond critical.

The U.S. should be a paradise for young people. We need big changes in this country, approaches that are constructive, creative and fundamentally new, if we’re going to give those smiling kids I saw on Thanksgiving Day the kind of society they deserve.

6 Responses

  1. Had I read Abby’s whole post, I would’ve seen that she recommends the very same article I just did….Interesting that a piece by Robert Reich on the Huffington Post carries this title:

    “The Housing Crisis And Wall Street Shame (Or Lack Thereof)”

    Apparently the “social management” techniques that work so well on a lot of us (but a lot less of us than was previously the case)–i.e., shame and embarrassment–have zero effect on the titans of Wall Street, according to Reich (and any other even casual observer):

    “Shame? If we’ve learned anything over the last year, it’s that Wall Street has none. ”

    These Wall Street criminals are always being held out as models of success due to qualities they possess that we’re encouraged to emulate. It’s now apparent that one of the most important qualities they possessed was shamelessness, or chutzpah. So let’s all take a cue from these very successful Street people and cultivate some chutzpah!

  2. Anybody see this article:

    “Professor advises underwater homeowners to walk away from mortgages”

    It’s from the LA Times–Google that headline (I’d post a link but then my post will be delayed in appearing on the site).

    The article makes some of Neil’s points exactly, like this quote below identifying the real owners of the Notes and exposing the true nature of the pretender lenders:

    “How does White’s 52-page manifesto go over with mortgage lenders? Predictably, not well. Officials at Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac — INVESTORS WHO FUND THE BULK OF ALL NEW MORTGAGES IN THE COUNTRY– disputed White’s characterization of how quickly after foreclosure a walkaway borrower can obtain a new loan.”

    It’s great that the article acknowledges that “investors…fund the bulk of all new mortgages,” but the article makes it sound as though it is Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae that are the investors, when we know it is retirement funds, foreigners, etc. that are REALLY the investors buying certificates from mortgage-backed securities (backed by mortgages that the pretender lenders know, or reasonably could know, will go into default).

    The article also interestingly delves into the “social management” aspect of, well, our whole society, pointing out that shame and embarrassment are supposed to keep us in line and keep financing our own indebtedness, i.e.:

    “The main point, he said, is that too often people’s emotions get in the way of clear financial thinking about mortgages, turning them into what he calls “woodheads” — “individuals who choose not to act in their own self-interest.” Most owners are too worried about feelings of shame and embarrassment after a foreclosure, and ignore the powerful financial reasons for doing so.

    Buttressing these emotions is a system that White labels “the social control of the housing crisis” — pressures and messages continually sent to consumers by the “social control agents,” namely banks, government and the media. The mantra that these agents — all the way up to President Obama — pound into owners’ heads, White said, is that “voluntarily defaulting on a mortgage is immoral.””

    Very interesting. Of course, the whole premise of the lawyer’s paper–that people in underwater mortgages should just walk away from their homes–goes against the Garfield Continuum and the American fighting spirit. But some of his points are still valid and applicable to a lot of us here.

  3. Crikey!! My grown son has problems dealing with what has happened to his mom and the foreclosure.

    I think he does not truly understand that it is not his mother’s fault. It is as if he almost blames his mother.

    Maybe this is from the fabricated ‘stigma’ much publicized by the big banks, government and media.

    Today on Huffington Post there was an article about a
    paper by Brent T. White, a University of Arizona law school professor, titled “Underwater and Not Walking Away: Shame, Fear and the Social Management of the Housing Crisis.”

    A good read.

    I cannot imagine the harm to children uprooted and even worse maybe becoming homeless.

    This is no less than ‘trauma’!! Trauma with a capital ‘T’

    I hope folks turn their fear & panic into anger and
    then ‘scream’ at our government.

    RE: our schools….I agree….what an embarrassment.
    We pay more to care for prisoners per year, in some places 3X what we pay for students.

    The governments ought to make the prisoners (not hard core killers) work to repair and build schools in the middle of the night and to build small homes for the homeless. They call also be growing/tending gardens for their own food and for homeless shelters. Then they get locked up during the daytime.

    If prison was not so nice….and they had to work…maybe more would think twice about doing crimes. Plus, some might learn a new trade.

    Whack Whack Whack goes the axe for school monies in California. Up Up Up goes the cost of tuition at UC.

  4. Our Children have been deprived of their home and education for over two years. Why? And I am represented? We should be in our home. This has gone on for so long. Thank you Neil for posting articles, and giving us all HOPE. Please help get us moving forward.

  5. Neil Garfield and Friends,

    I have a great son that has been effected by this more than you could ever imagine. My husband, my son and I are all victims of mortgage fraud. He has, unfortunatley, had lived this nightmare with us. I am so ashamed as a parent to have him involved in such a painful and horrible experience. My son now see’s me as scared (not brave at all). Scared to speak, scared to not speak, scared to act or not act. I’m afraid to do anything that is the wrong move to make. I’m scared that the couple people that I do trust and I’m not scared of will be disappointed in me. It’s so sad that I’m down to just a handful of people that I’m not scared to talk to or open up with. The bigh problem now is that those are also the people I don’t want to disappoint the most. My son bites his nails now (so do I), sleeps horrible (so do I), has panic attacks (so do I), and the one question he just wants to know is “If you and dad seperate will the mortgage fraud stop? Does it follow both of you, or just one of you? Because mom I think I want to go with the person it doesn’t follow?” This is the question my wonderful 10 year old has to worry about. Not what park to go to, who to play with, but how to escape the mortgage fraud.

    Thank you for reading.

    Todd, Heather and Sam Hess
    o heatherhess123@gmail com

  6. Actualy, I think adversity can create a generation of strong yong people. It’s affluence and privilege that create a sense of laziness and entitlement. Our parents, the children of the Great Depression and World War II, are often called the Greatest Generation. I admire their perseverence, courage, and grit.

    I wrote a blog post on this subject a while back—take a look: “Finding a Job in a Tough Economy” http://www.positionu4ife.wordpress.com.

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