23 January 2013

The Trouble’s Still the Banks

Tonight, editors and letter writers will read selections from The Trouble is the Banks: Letters to Wall Street, the latest small book from n+1, at St. Mark’s Bookshop in New York. For the occasion, we’re sharing a few of those letters here.

All profits from the book go toward printing additional copies and to campaigns for housing or economic justice. You can buy the book in our store, or donate a copy to the banker or politician of your choice.

I Didn’t Buy a House

I knew I couldn’t afford a house, but I hoped that someday if I kept working hard, I’d be able to. Those zero-money-down, everybody-qualifies loan offers flooded my mailbox, but I didn’t bite because I knew my income couldn’t carry that much debt.

I’ve been a renter my whole life. Thanks to the actions of a greedy few, the economy has tanked and living the American Dream is farther out of reach for people like me than ever.

When people play by the rules but don’t get rewards, and see others cheating and being rewarded despite the harm they cause, deep, seething anger is the result.

This social movement to hold financial institutions accountable for wrongdoing and to create a system of economic justice for all is just getting started.

We will create change because we’re not just disaffected hippies. We’re the disaffected middle class. And we’re huge.

Like a large majority of the middle class, I don’t have a ton of money in one of your banks, but I have a regular paycheck and savings that I cultivate consistently. Very soon, I’ll be closing my accounts and moving to a credit union or a small community bank. I’ll do everything I can, socially, politically, and economically, to help move the society I live in out of corporate domination and into a state of proper democracy where citizens can play by fair rules and reap earned rewards.

I’m willing to wait for my house. I’m willing to work for a better future not just for myself, but for future generations as well. There’s a lot of people like me out there.

How many of you are there? What are you willing to work for?

Pamila Payne

Los Angeles, CA 90068


Please Don’t Harass My Father Any Further . . .

To: Lloyd H. Dean, Wells Fargo

Dear Lloyd,

In May 2007, I became the first person in my immediate family to get a degree, at age 38. I graduated owing more than $100,000 in private student loans. Payments were more than $1,100 per month. My 74-year-old retired father is the cosigner for most of these loans, but in September 2008, my dad lost $70,000 of his pension with the banks’ collapse.

In December 2009, after just one year in the workforce, I was laid off due to cut-backs. For most of 2010, I wasn’t able to find steady employment. In January 2011, I ran out of deferment with my private student loans. The banks began chasing my father as the cosigner. They have wrecked his line of credit and called in his home equity loan on which he never missed any payments.

In June 2011, my father saw a lawyer to try to get the payments reduced to something proportionate to his fixed income. In October 2011, he got word that the lawyer failed to get payments reduced enough. My dad wrote me a letter saying he had to sell his life insurance and rearrange his will to protect my sister and stepmom.

The letter arrived last Saturday.

He had a stroke on Sunday.

Now Wells Fargo is harassing him for payment of another student loan.

I am asking you to please suspend collection actions against my father until I have a job that will pay me enough to make the payments myself.

I always believed getting an education was the only way to succeed in life. Now I regret it every single day.

Sincerely,

Deena DeNaro

Durham, NC 27701


Foreclosures

A young couple purchased a new high-end home across the street for almost $600,000. They had only one income, from the husband who worked as a parochial high-school teacher. The wife was a stay-at-home mom. All the neighbors wondered how they could afford such a house. Answer: they couldn’t. He did not lie on his application. Yet Chase granted him a mortgage with a monthly payment higher than his take-home salary. He was told he could refinance and magically get money from the home’s appreciation. This, of course, led to foreclosure. More bank bungling of a legitimate offer, and ultimately a sale price of $285,000. This depressed the value of all nearby homes. And this gets repeated over and over, depressing our whole economy. Banks must be held accountable!

Darlene Stille

New Buffalo, MI 49117


Our Mortgage Modification Hardship Letter

To whom it may concern:

As the son of a plumber with fifty years of perspective, and as a plumber himself with thirty-five years of experience, my husband always reassured me that his profession was “recession proof.”

He said that in good times there is new construction. In hard times there is the steady need for repairs.

But his work experience and the wisdom of his father did not prepare us for the economic meltdown of the California building and trades industry beginning in 2008.

My own parents told me stories of their struggles in the 1930s and how they lost everything. And only through the creative programs of the Roosevelt Administration were they able to awake from the nightmare of the Great Depression to work for the American Dream. The message was that if you worked hard and saved and were frugal you could raise a family, educate your children, and provide for your retirement.

I began my first job at 14 in a bakery and delicatessen. I worked each summer, after school and on weekends. Later I trained with a designer in high school and was sewing professionally by the time I was 16. My skilled hands and art talents during child-rearing years brought in additional income to augment my husband’s steady paycheck.

We wisely invested in a home of our own right from the beginning with a significant down payment nearly twenty-five years ago. Neither of us has ever owned a new car. Bob’s skilled hands could put new life into our modest vehicles and we could be content and mobile. Our vacations were usually camping locally except for an occasional motel stay to visit family for a wedding or funeral. Dinner out was saved for birthdays or anniversaries. And we’ve been to the theatre three times together in twenty-four years. I say all of this with great love and appreciation because we have been very proud and contented that we have found joy in supporting three children into adulthood, and two out of three have completed the college education that neither of us had the privilege to enjoy. And even that was with having raised responsible, ethical children who worked hard to share the burden of their own education. With this record we never figured we would have to ask for assistance to keep our dream alive.

So what happened? Why can’t we do this now?

It began slowly. Like most middle-class people our wages did not keep up with the cost of living. As a self-employed contractor, Bob was facing skyrocketing material costs. Gas prices (due to the speculators) hit the roof, a significant burden in rural service work. Insurance costs quadrupled.

The “experts” advised us to “fall back on” the equity in our home. We listened and though reluctant, we were forced to refinance. When we were told not to worry because the value of our home was secure, we listened and believed.

When homeowners ask Bob to assess a plumbing procedure, they depend upon his “expertise” and honesty to help guide them. We did the same with our financial advisors. And I believe that what was told us was said in good faith.

But what has happened in the economy went beyond what responsible people could have known. The recent meltdown could be compared to an in-home plumbing job being very sound. But when the Federal Dam broke upriver and the whole village is under water, then the home owner (mortgage lender) holds the local plumber accountable for the water in his house.

The consequences of the “Federal Dam” began two years ago. New housing stopped. And the phone ringing for service calls — that absolutely stopped. If people had a broken toilet, they stopped using it and availed themselves of the other bathroom. No work. This had never happened as long as I’ve been a plumber’s wife. I used to worry that my husband would work himself to death. We attended several funerals last year of men in the trades. I was told by friends that I needed to tell Bob to slow down and take care of himself as they recognized him as such a hard worker. But honestly, this year I have worried more about him as I watched his blood pressure rise when the work stopped! At the moment some has trickled in but some economists have warned that this is a recession with a recovery in the pattern of a “W” and that we cannot take comfort in the promise of a steady upward shift.

To complicate matters, I was diagnosed with breast cancer four years ago. Having paid into the same insurance company for twenty-one years, as fate would have it, one month before my diagnosis, our plan was changed (due to the fact Bob is the sole proprietor of his company) and the rates skyrocketed while the out-of pocket expenses went off the charts (four shots for $4,000 each, two pills $480, needed four times). These expenses on top of time away from work to be with me through sixteen weeks of chemotherapy, bilateral mastectomy, and seven weeks of radiation took its financial toll and decimated our savings. And though I’m grateful to have survived, the surgery has left me with lymphedema in my left arm and hand. Before the recession I had contributed to our income with my painting skills — fine art and mural work. It only requires the use of my right hand and arm. Since the recession/depression art sales have dried up, I’ve not had a commission for two years. I can’t fall back on my sewing skills as my left hand, used almost as much as my right, is confined to a medical compression sleeve that goes up to my shoulder. And my left fingers lose feeling, cramp up, and turn blue. I even considered going back to the bakery/deli work that I did fifty years ago, but was denied because of sanitary considerations with the rubber glove and sleeve. I will continue to be on oral chemotherapy for two more years.

The cost of this is an incredible burden in an already difficult economic environment. So I’m sorry to have to burden the poor person whose job it is to have to read this. It is not by complaining that we have made it so far.

We have a few things in our favor. We are in the process of creating multiple revenue streams. One is by renting out rooms in our home. If we can save it, we can share it with others, bringing in additional income toward the mortgage. Another is that we are working to rent out a small country cottage to bring in more revenue.

Some work has begun to come in for me and for my husband. We both have had to “earn a degree” in marketing. We are working on a new networking plan and have started a new advertising campaign and website to generate more work and I’m happy to say that there is some improvement. I have a dental office to showcase my mural work in starting next month and Bob has begun to see his work pick up also.

We are hardworking and optimistic people. And so far we have not ever asked for help.

But today we must appeal to you to ask for a modification in our loan in order to continue to stay in our beloved home.

I will leave you with the image of my last painting called “A Vision of Hope and Optimism.” 

Carol A. Salomon-Bryant

[Carol A. Salomon-Bryant. A Vision of Hope and Optimism. 20” × 48” acrylic (color) on canvas. See manifestationsonline.com]

Sometimes a picture says it all. Hopefully this letter will be the seed that will sprout into a better future. Thank you for your attention. God Bless.

Sincerely,

Carol A. Salomon-Bryant & Robert A. Bryant

Petaluma, CA 94954


The Game of Monopoly

We used to play Monopoly a lot as kids. Eventually one player would amass almost all the houses, hotels, and cash in the game — and the game would come to a halt. At that point we had two options. Either we could quit and go do something else, or the holder of all the loot could redistribute the wealth so we could all continue to play.

You and yours have evidently not learned that lesson. You play, not with tokens and toy money, but with the resources of the earth and the lives of people. You are coming very close to hoarding all the property and money, and just as in Monopoly, the game is grinding to a halt. The problem, of course, is that in this particular version of the game, there is no quitting because there is nowhere else to go and nothing else to do. Good planets are rather scarce.

My brother used to insist on being banker in our Monopoly games. I finally figured out why he always won. Money paid out by the bank came out of the bank. Money paid into the bank somehow ended up in his personal stash — a lot like what you have been doing these past decades.

That puts us, the 99%, in a difficult position. Since quitting means lying down and dying, our only option is to wrest from you, the “winners,” some portion of what you have taken from the rest of us. In economic parlance, you have internalized the benefits and externalized the costs. Those of us who pay the costs on a daily basis are reaching the end of both our ability to pay (again, the game is winding down) and our patience. We really don’t think your continued affluence is worth dying for.

Trouble is, you have now expanded your empires to the point that those externalized costs are causing the breakdown of the entire planet. There are upwards of 3 million species whose survival depends on the continuation of a functional planetary ecosystem (think climate change). There are now 7 billion humans who also depend on that functional planetary ecosystem.

Even you, having hoarded almost all the natural and economic wealth in the world, need a functional planetary ecosystem to continue to live. Like the rest of us, you need air to breathe, clean water to drink, and productive land on which to grow the food you need.

It’s time for some serious reassessment and reevaluation of your goals, purposes, and values.

Marianne Edain

Langley, WA 98260


The Declaration of Independence Had Twenty-Seven Grievances

Don’t criticize the protesters for not having a single cause. The founding fathers had twenty-seven, and look what happened.

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