Did Racism Help Cause the Mortgage Crisis? Part One

I am honored to present the work of Ralph Brauer.  For some time I have marveled as I read his research and reflected upon his work.  Today, this author of note shares with readers at BeThink.  I welcome Ralph Brauer.  May I invite you to peruse his prose.  Please ponder; then share your thoughts.

copyright © 2008 Ralph Brauer. The Strange Death of Liberal America

There is an elephant in the room no one wants to mention when you bring up the housing crisis.  It is the same elephant that has occupied the room since the very beginning of this nation.  Yes, it was there that hot Philadelphia summer when they drafted the Constitution.  Maybe that is what Ben Franklin is gazing at as he sits in the center of the famous painting of the signing of the Constitution by Howard Chandler Christy that hangs today in the House of Representatives east stairway.  Certainly the elephant had haunted Franklin much of his life causing him to call it “a constant butchery of the human species” in an anonymous letter written in 1772.  That elephant that haunted Franklin and continues to haunt us today is racism.

The economic crisis we face today has produced countless essays analyzing its origins and proposing all manner of cures, but almost no one has dared to mention the elephant in the room.  As I researched this topic I found only one person who seemed to be on to it: John Kimble, who wrote an excellent op ed piece in the New Orleans Times Picayune in October that should be required reading for everyone.  One sentence gets to the heart of the matter:

What few today remember is that one of the government’s central goals in undertaking mortgage market reform was to segregate American cities by race.

That such a piece should come from New Orleans does not surprise me; that few have sought to connect what to me seem rather obvious dots is more of a mystery to me.  But that is the power of that elephant in the room.

Perhaps now with an African American President we will finally have more open discussion of the elephant in the room and that discussion should begin by acknowledging that the elephant played a significant role in causing the mortgage crisis which in turn has toppled financial giants as if they were a row of dominoes.  To understand why we need to go back to the years immediately after the Second World War when the housing boom began.

The Creation of the Suburb

The discussion of the role of racism in America should begin by confronting the most important social, cultural and political reality of the past half century: the American suburb is largely a creation of racist loan policies that came from none other than the federal government.  The suburban migration stands as one of the largest freely-undertaken, government-subsidized mass social movements in history.  It accomplished by democratic means what dictators over the ages have tried to accomplish by force: alter the physical, economic, and social environment to create a unique culture.  As Kenneth Jackson writes in Crabgrass Frontier, his history of the American suburb:

Suburbanization was not an historical inevitability created by geography, technology, and culture, but rather the product of government policies.  (p. 293)

Through a variety of government subsidies, the creation of the suburbs allowed people of modest means to attain what real estate ads have christened the American dream.  The immensity of this achievement is only beginning to dawn on us, for it constituted the kind of land and social reform that governments everywhere still try to accomplish.  Kenneth Jackson notes:

Single family housing starts in this country rose from 114,000 in 1944 to 937,000 in 1946, 1,183,000 in 1948, and 1,692,000 in 1950.  (p. 233)

The federal government financed this growth through the Federal Housing Administration, an agency created during the New Deal to help spur the growth of home construction.  During the postwar housing boom Jackson points out:

The main beneficiary of the $119 billion in FHA mortgage insurance issued in the first four decades of FHA operation was suburbia.

Drawing the Color Line

A half century before the creation of suburban America, W.E.B. DuBois had written in the very first sentence of The Souls of Black Folk the immortal and prescient words:

HEREIN lie buried many things which if read with patience may show the strange meaning of being black here at the dawning of the Twentieth Century.  This meaning is not without interest to you, Gentle Reader; for the problem of the Twentieth Century is the problem of the color-line.

Little could DuBois have predicted that the color line would become a red line drawn around the American suburb by none other than the FHA.  The name redlining actually dates back to the 1930s when the FHA first began using color codes to designate areas where they should not invest.  Red areas were off-limits.  Jackson states:

FHA also helped to turn the building industry against the minority and inner-city housing market, and its policies supported the income and racial segregation of suburbia.

Even as the suburbs mushroomed across the American landscape, a few were asking questions.  In 1955 Columbia Professor Charles Abrams charged:

From its inception, the FHA set itself up as protector of the all white neighborhood.  It sent its agents into the field to keep Negroes and other minorities from buying houses in white neighborhoods.  (Jackson, pp. 213-214)

In what has become the classic source on FHA discrimination, The Politics of Exclusion, Michael Danielson quotes an FHA underwriting manual:

If a neighborhood is to retain stability, it is necessary that properties shall continue to be occupied by the same social and racial classes.  A change in social or racial occupancy generally leads to instability and reduction in values.(p. 203)

FHA policies also required appraisers to determine the probability of people of color moving into a neighborhood and even forced homeowners to agree not to sell their property to someone of another race.  According to one commentator,

“[T]he most basic sentiment underlying the FHA’s concern was its fear that property values would decline if a rigid black and white segregation was not maintained.

With the rise of the Civil Rights movement in the 1960s, the FHA began to make some attempt to right these wrongs, but with the election of Richard Nixon in 1968, the so-called “Southern Strategy” soon put a stop these efforts.  Chris Bonastia documented Nixon’s dismantling of FHA’s residential integration efforts in his paper, “Hedging His Bets: Why Nixon Killed HUD’s Desegregation Efforts.” Nixon’s refusal to back HUD’s reform efforts would have an impact on American society that ranks right up there with the decision by President Rutherford B. Hayes to abandon the South to the segregationists, essentially ending Reconstruction.

Yet to see one man and one decision as a historical lynch pin is to take an outmoded view of history, for the truth is that by 1968 the die had already been cast and DuBois’ color line had been drawn like a moat around the suburbs designed to keep people of color from entering. It would have taken considerable political will–and perhaps even federal law enforcement–to desegregate the suburbs by then.  Dr. Martin Luther King, jr.’s infamous march into the Chicago suburb of Cicero, where he was met with bricks and catcalls, showed the depth of that moat. There is a moment in the video of that march when you hear what sounds like a shot and King turns suddenly as if wondering where the shot came from.

This does not excuse Nixon’s actions, which at best were misguided and at worst cowardly and racist. While historians debate how much Richard Nixon personally bought into the Thurmond catechism, his elevation of Thurmond aide Harry Dent to the White House staff after the election sent a clear signal of his alliance with Thurmond. Dent was the one who sat outside the Senate chamber with a pail in case Thurmond needed a quick bathroom break during his record-setting filibuster. Nixon himself put it bluntly:

I am not going to campaign for the black vote at the risk of alienating the suburban vote.

For the federal government to go further than the law, to force integration in the suburbs, I think is unrealistic. I think it will be counter-productive and not in the interest of better race relations. [quoted in Charles M. Lamb, Housing Segregation in Suburban America Since 1960, p. 4, p. 9]

Still, as Lamb would point out in a footnote, two decades later a University of California study found that 44% of white Americans favored encouraging African Americans to move to the suburbs.

The Creation of the Subprime Market

Yet the FHA did not just discriminate against people of color who sought to live in the suburbs, it also made  it more difficult for them to obtain loans, period, by refusing to insure loans in areas with high concentrations of people of color.  The systemic impact of this is still reverberating through America’s inner cities.  Without FHA insurance, no reputable bank would issue a home loan to someone living on the other side of the “color line.” This in turn had a host of social and cultural impacts, from resource-poor schools to lack of jobs because businesses would not build where the FHA would not write loans.

You don’t need to be a systems modeler to see how each of these came to feed on each other. In the last decade scholars have begun to refer to this as “structural racism,” by which they mean a convergence of forces and policies that conspires to sustain the color line. Just imagine one systemic loop: you cannot get a good job because you live in a neighborhood with substandard housing and were educated in a substandard school and so you cannot qualify for a loan for better housing which in turn further reinforces the substandard housing. Structural racism is also not a bad metaphor, either, for it suggests the immense weight of these multiple factors that presses down on people living inside those red lines drawn by the FHA.

Where legitimate businesses and institutions are prevented from entering, illegitimate ones will grow. Since regular banks would not lend to people of color in inner city neighborhoods and FHA policies kept them from lending to the few people of color who could afford suburban housing, there obviously was a need for someone to supply these loans and so we have the growth of the so-called subprime market, only back in those days they were known as loan sharks and other unprintable words and had reputation to rival check cashing operations, greedy landlords and take and bake furniture renters. Anyone who has grown up in the inner city can tell stories not only about price-gouging home loans, but high-priced loans for everything from cars to buying furniture or clothes on credit.

What Is Subprime Lending

Subprime lending is a mixture of old-fashioned altruism and blatant thievery with an American twist. Some entered into the business of making loans to people of color because they genuinely believed people deserved an equal opportunity, others saw a chance to make a quick buck. The reality of the situation was that without FHA insurance even the most well-meaning lenders still had to charge more than they would have for a white suburban home-buyer.

A 2003 study for the Lawyers Committee on Civil Rights Under Law reported:

While red-lining has served to exclude poor and minority residents from the benefits of mainstream mortgage lending, purveyors of predatory lending (or so-called “reverse red-lining”) practices have targeted many of the same poor and minority households that traditional lending institutions have ignored or excluded.

In testimony before the House Committee on Banking and Financial Services in 2000 Bill Brennan of the Atlanta Legal Aid Society outlined how subprime lending works for lenders:

Here is what these companies do, the predators. They overcharge on interest and points, they charge egregiously high annual interest and prepaid finance charges, points, which are not justified by the risk involved, because these loans are collateralized by valuable real estate.

Since they usually only lend at 70 to 80 percent loan-to-value ratios, they have a 20 to 30 percent cushion to protect them if they have to foreclose. They usually always buy at the foreclosure sale and pay off the debt and sell the house for a profit.

As for those taking out the loans, Gary Gensler, Undersecretary for Domestic Finance at the treasury Department, told the same Committee:

Borrowers in these markets often have limited access to mainstream financial services. This leads to two things, as the Senator said earlier. Some borrowers who really would qualify for prime loans-we estimate anywhere between 15 and 35 percent of the subprime market could qualify for prime and cannot get that prime loan. Second, the rate and term competition is limited. Subprime lenders don’t tend to compete as much on price.

Beyond preying on vulnerable populations, beyond the limited access to mainstream financial services, is that abusive practices tend to be coupled with high-pressure sales tactics, whether by a mortgage broker, a home improvement contractor, sometimes a lender themselves in the local community.

Perhaps the most extensive and longest longitudinal study of predatory lending practices has been the Woodstock Institute’s periodic reports on Chicago.  It’s 1999 report “Two Steps Back” was among the earliest to blow the whistle on predatory lending.  They found:

Documented cases of abuse include fees exceeding 10 percent of the loan amount, payments structured so that they do not even cover interest (resulting in increasing principle balances), and flipping a loan numerous times in a couple of years.

At the same time, lending to lower-income and minority communities is often viewed as an isolated line of business, in which the focus is on the short term transaction and associated fees. Lenders active in such communities tend to be mortgage and finance companies subject to much less regulation than banks and thrifts. The increased scale of the subprime industry itself has resulted in a larger number of abuses. Moreover, there has not been a proportionate increase in regulation or regulatory resources devoted to this new industry.

As usual, graphs and tables tell the story in black and white:





The date on the graph may be a little difficult to see. It is 1998. On the first table, the percentage of subprime loans going to African American communities is 53%. Only 9% went to predominantly white communities. The Woodstock study went on to deal with the obvious question: is it race or income that is the strongest determinant of who receives a subprime loan? They found it was the former:

Thus, whether a neighborhood is predominantly African-American explains the greatest amount of variation in subprime lending,

The Final Results

In 1997 Bill Brennan could tell the New York Times:

We have financial apartheid in our country. We have low-income, often minority borrowers,  who are charged unconscionably high interest rates, either directly or indirectly through the cover of added charges.

Three years later Census data would confirm Brennan’s charge. The Lawyers Committee on Civil Rights Under Law found:

The typical white person lives in a neighborhood that is overwhelmingly white, with a few minorities (80.2% white, 6.7% African American, 7.9% Hispanic American, and 3.9% Asian American), the typical African American lives in a neighborhood that is mostly black (51.4% black, 33.0% white, 11.4% Hispanic American, and 3.3% Asian American). By comparison, the typical Hispanic American lives in a neighborhood that is more evenly Hispanic American and white (45.5% Hispanic, 36.5% white, 10.8% black, and 5.9% Asian American); and the typical Asian American lives in a neighborhood that is mostly white (17.9% Asian American, 54% white, 9.2%  black, and 17.4% Hispanic American).

In a study released this year by United for a Fair Economy, the authors note:

According to federal data, people of color are more than three times more likely to have subprime loans: high-cost loans account for 55% of loans to Blacks, but only 17% of loans to Whites.

This is a decade after the Woodstock study identified a similar pattern in Chicago.

Reflections

This history makes you wonder what kind of country we might have become had racism not pervaded the home mortgage market. The United for a Fair Economy study puts it eloquently:

While the housing crisis has affected all sectors of society, it has disproportionately affected communities and individuals of color. For them, the dream that Martin Luther King, Jr. once spoke of has been foreclosed.

Now the injustices white America heaped on black America for half a century have come home to roost. The sobering thought to ponder is that what you have read so far is merely the very tip of a rather large iceberg, for there are literally dozens and dozens of books and countless articles on racism and housing. If you enter “racism” and “housing” in Google you will find over four million entries. Yet despite over half a century of studies, reports and papers about discriminatory lending, little was done about it.

The most damning piece of evidence in this entire story is not that racism fostered predatory loans, but that like organized crime going from petty bootleggers and drug dealers to big time operators, the practice of predatory loan sharking expanded and went mainstream– moving from being the providence of small-time shady operators to mainstream banks. Essentially, loan-sharking cast off its sleazy past and the bigger it became the more people looked the other way.

That is until it suddenly threatens to take down the entire American economy. Now like the figures in that painting of Constitution Hall, fingers are pointing and people are staring.

If racism played a big role in creating the mortgage crisis, the solution to our current problems will prove tougher to deal with than what the so-called experts have been telling us. We could be witnessing the fourth American revolution. The first was the war for independence, the second the Civil War, the third the Great Depression and now the present crisis which combines the themes of the previous two–race and economics.

The next essay in this series focuses on how we got here and why, for only by understanding that journey can we see a way out of the current morass. What is clear so far is that this crisis is not merely the fault of a few misguided CEOs, but rather the culmination of decades of discrimination in which all of us are culpable.

Now the time has come to stop pretending there is no elephant in the room and deal with it.

Resources

For a good bibliography on the subject click here.

Crossposts: The Strange Death of Liberal America, My Left Wing, Progressive Historians, The Wild, Wild Left

Katrina’s [America’s] Hidden Race War



Katrina’s Hidden Race War: In Aftermath of Katrina, Vigilantes Shot 11 Blacks in New Orelans (1 of 2)

copyright © 2008 Betsy L. Angert.  BeThink.org

Racism, in reality, is fear of the unknown.  It is apprehension for what is alien to us.  A bigot is often one who claims to be colorblind.  However, indeed, he or she is more likely colormute.  Rarely do persons who think themselves tolerant speak of the scorn they feel for those who differ from them.  Often the intolerant are not aware of the rigidity that rules their lives.  Few amongst Anglos in America, since most appear as they do, consider what the life of one whose complexion is cause for rejection experience.  However, in an exposé, A.C. Thompson muses of what most rather not mention.  The author addresses “Katrina’s Hidden Race War.”  

Through the tales told, after a tumultuous tempest, readers learn of what they may know, and just not discuss freely.  In this land of the free and home of the brave, few people of color are truly free.  Yet, these same individuals are genuinely brave.  They have to be.

It is common to hear Caucasians say, “Some of my best friends are Black, Brown, Yellow, or Red.” People hope to create an impression.  Most wish to prove they willingly accept those unlike themselves.  However, the acquaintance they speak of may be the one and only person of color that they know.   People may think the person that they associate with is the exception to the rule.  He or she is a good gal or gent.  All other folks who do not don a pinkish hue are not to be trusted.

In this country, to publicly proclaim a hatred for a person whose complexion is dark is just not done.  That is unless a person can conceive of a circumstance that allows for a reasonable abhorrence.  Hurricane Katrina afforded such an opportunity for white residents of Algiers Point, Louisiana.

Algiers Point has always been somewhat isolated: it’s perched on the west bank of the Mississippi River, linked to the core of the city only by a ferry line and twin gray steel bridges. When the hurricane descended on Louisiana, Algiers Point got off relatively easy. While wide swaths of New Orleans were deluged, the levees ringing Algiers Point withstood the Mississippi’s surging currents, preventing flooding; most homes and businesses in the area survived intact. As word spread that the area was dry, desperate people began heading toward the west bank, some walking over bridges, others traveling by boat. The National Guard soon designated the Algiers Point ferry landing an official evacuation site. Rescuers from the Coast Guard and other agencies brought flood victims to the ferry terminal, where soldiers loaded them onto buses headed for Texas.

Facing an influx of refugees, the residents of Algiers Point could have pulled together food, water, and medical supplies for the flood victims. Instead, a group of white residents, convinced that crime would arrive with the human exodus, sought to seal off the area, blocking the roads in and out of the neighborhood by dragging lumber and downed trees into the streets. They stockpiled handguns, assault rifles, shotguns, and at least one Uzi and began patrolling the streets in pickup trucks and SUVs.

The newly formed militia, a loose band of about fifteen to thirty residents, most of them men, all of them white, was looking for thieves, outlaws or, as one member put it, anyone who simply “didn’t belong.”

The Nation Magazine, in the January 5, 2009 issue, recounts tales as told by those foreign elements who, while residents of the broader community, were shot as though they were criminals.  Their crime was perhaps only their skin color.  

The way Donnell Herrington tells it, there was no warning. One second he was trudging through the heat. The next he was lying prostrate on the pavement, his life spilling out of a hole in his throat, his body racked with pain, his vision blurred and distorted.

It was September 1, 2005, some three days after Hurricane Katrina crashed into New Orleans, and somebody had just blasted Herrington, who is African-American, with a shotgun. “I just hit the ground. I didn’t even know what happened,” recalls Herrington, a burly 32-year-old with a soft drawl.

The sudden eruption of gunfire horrified Herrington’s companions–his cousin Marcel Alexander, then 17, and friend Chris Collins, then 18, who are also black. “I looked at Donnell and he had this big old hole in his neck,” Alexander recalls. “I tried to help him up, and they started shooting again.” Herrington says he was staggering to his feet when a second shotgun blast struck him from behind; the spray of lead pellets also caught Collins and Alexander. The buckshot peppered Alexander’s back, arm, and buttocks.

Herrington shouted at the other men to run and turned to face his attackers: three armed white males. Herrington says he hadn’t even seen the men or their weapons before the shooting began. As Alexander and Collins fled, Herrington ran in the opposite direction, his hand pressed to the bleeding wound on his throat. Behind him, he says, the gunmen yelled, “Get him! Get that n*gg*r!”

Persons who were presumed guilty, merely by their presence, were neighbors from another section of town.  The poorer people sought safety and shelter after the storm placed them in a precarious situation.  Contrary to reports, the Black population did not loot or engage in thievery.  African-Americans did as the Anglos who were also chest-deep in floodwaters.  They “found” food and fluids to drink from a local grocery store after Hurricane Katrina destroyed all they had.  However, trepidation distorts perception.  Frequently, white Americans are apprehensive when they consider African-Americans.  

From birth, children are taught not to talk to strangers.  Little ones are cautioned to beware.  Different is dangerous.  Perchance, the Associated Press Reporters or Editors who covered the Katrina story were Anglos.  Hence, when Journalists, just as the residents of Algiers Point, saw persons who look as they do, they defined their actions as honorable.  However, the sight of a Black individual in a similar situation was not viewed through a clear lens.  The question might be asked, in America will it ever be.

Please ponder the images.  Then, consider the captions.



38725768_16c66eb58b-1

Shared By Dustin

Some, of every complexion, did take possession of life’s littlest necessities.  In a few neighborhoods, not Algiers Point, white persons were benevolent towards those “others” of color.  However, Caucasian citizens might contemplate the reality that, before Katrina, the plight of Black Americans was hidden, and it is again.  

The depth of poverty experienced by many African-Americans, the people whose ancestors physically built this nation, was not realized until a natural storm churned up a crisis so critical.

White Americans acknowledge that in some areas, a bridge was built.  Yet, few wish to admit this association only appears in a time of crisis.  While a scant few channels were opened another, many more were closed.  In other locales, where dark skinned persons were presumably welcome, the Anglo inhabitants roared with resentment.  Reports offered the rationale for what in America is the conventional wisdom of an apprehensive Anglo populace. Karina victims are to blame for an increase in Houston crime.  Certainly, these same “undesirables” would propagate misdeeds wherever they may be; hence, we have Algiers Point.

Granted, pinkish persons in other neighborhoods, even in New Orleans, opened their hearts.  A restaurant proprietor, aware of the depth of destruction, 80 percent of the city was under water, opened their eateries to anyone in need.

Tommy Cvitanovich, co-owner of Drago’s Seafood Restaurant, is but one of what might be many.  This sympathetic fellow spoke of the reason he, his family, and his staff felt they must serve all survivors.  For the entrepreneur, there was no reason to fear.  Mister Cvitanovich, when confronted with the circumstances of his fellow man, felt he could not turn away.  Nor could he, his kin, and the folks they worked with grab a gun and shot at persons who sought food and a safer shelter.  The tale is beautiful and worth a peek.

“For eight weeks we gave away meals.  People were waiting in line,” he says.

For five weeks, the meals were given outside the restaurant.  When the restaurant reopened, Drago’s moved the effort to Lakeview where the need was greater.

“There were no fast food restaurants, no convenience stores or grocery stores open,” he says.  “Most people brought food (from outside the area) Food sources were non-existent.”

In a moment of horror, what is often hidden, good, and bad is revealed.  Honorable Americans such as Tommy Cvitanovich are to be thanked for what their endeavors can teach.  Some persons pale of skin felt the pain of the poorer, less protected population.  However, when the waters receded, might residents of the United States inquire; would benevolence still prosper.  

Several, such a Tommy Cvitanovich might show compassion as they had done in the past.  Yet, we cannot be certain.

In America, sweetness is often subdued by racism.  Much is restrained, not realized, or hidden from view when consternation is prevalent.  When people react to anxiety, rather than act and discover we are not that different, we have what we had in Algiers Point, guns ablaze

Inside and outside of a New Orleans enclave, Caucasians are challenged to conceive that persons of color did not seek to violate the law.  Indeed, white vigilantes victimized those who have, for centuries, been casualties in a civilized American society.

What received less attention from the press and from the paler people is Whites Sought More Katrina Aid Than Blacks.  African-Americans, too often buried by the burden of bigotry, did not know that they might be able to apply or appeal a decision for inadequate assistance.  Nor did some have the means before the tempest to secure property or proper insurance.  What also was and remains out of sight are the financial abuses brownish-purplish persons are victim to.  Credit is not colorblind.

In America, privilege is a white man’s prerogative.  Prosecution is reserved for “other” races.

Tulane University Historian Lance Hill, who runs Tulane’s Southern Institute for Education and Research, has studied the city’s racial divide.  He understands why Algiers Point gunmen have avoided arrest.  “By and large, I think the white mentality is that these people [the Anglo lawbreakers] are exempt–that even if they committed these crimes, they’re really exempt from any kind of legal repercussion.” People of color only commit crime, in the mind of many.

Professor Hill ponders and proclaims; “It’s sad to say, but I think that if any of these cases went to trial, and none of them have, I can’t see a white person being convicted of any kind of crime against an African-American during that period.”  Such is the sound of silence.  When people are blind, or white, racism becomes a more colorful spectrum.

The stories of Algiers Point, and the plight of Katrina, tell a tale too terrible to imagine.  Perchance, that is why in America people prefer to remain colormute.  To report as The Nation did is to attest to what most prefer to hide.  Racism remains rampant in the land of opportunity.  In a country considered great, bigotry is not criminal.  Fear is not a felony.  Trepidation, even with a gun in hand, and shots fired, is fine in United States.  

Apparently, as long as Caucasian citizens transgress only against the unfamiliar, the supposed unruly, persons whose only crime is that his or her skin color is not white will suffer fates so ghastly, even storm waters will not wash the stain away.

Please peruse the portrait of America, “Katrina’s Hidden Race War.”  Ponder what might be too true.  If Americans do not love thy neighbor, if fright rules, no one is authentically free and fewer are brave.

References for Racism . . .

Did Racism Help Cause the Mortgage Crisis? Part One

I am honored to present the work of Ralph Brauer.  For some time I have marveled as I read his research and reflected upon his work.  Today, this author of note shares with readers at BeThink.  I welcome Ralph Brauer.  May I invite you to peruse his prose.  Please ponder; then share your thoughts.

copyright © 2008 Ralph Brauer. The Strange Death of Liberal America

There is an elephant in the room no one wants to mention when you bring up the housing crisis.  It is the same elephant that has occupied the room since the very beginning of this nation.  Yes, it was there that hot Philadelphia summer when they drafted the Constitution.  Maybe that is what Ben Franklin is gazing at as he sits in the center of the famous painting of the signing of the Constitution by Howard Chandler Christy that hangs today in the House of Representatives east stairway.  Certainly the elephant had haunted Franklin much of his life causing him to call it “a constant butchery of the human species” in an anonymous letter written in 1772.  That elephant that haunted Franklin and continues to haunt us today is racism.

The economic crisis we face today has produced countless essays analyzing its origins and proposing all manner of cures, but almost no one has dared to mention the elephant in the room.  As I researched this topic I found only one person who seemed to be on to it: John Kimble, who wrote an excellent op ed piece in the New Orleans Times Picayune in October that should be required reading for everyone.  One sentence gets to the heart of the matter:

What few today remember is that one of the government’s central goals in undertaking mortgage market reform was to segregate American cities by race.

That such a piece should come from New Orleans does not surprise me; that few have sought to connect what to me seem rather obvious dots is more of a mystery to me.  But that is the power of that elephant in the room.

Perhaps now with an African American President we will finally have more open discussion of the elephant in the room and that discussion should begin by acknowledging that the elephant played a significant role in causing the mortgage crisis which in turn has toppled financial giants as if they were a row of dominoes.  To understand why we need to go back to the years immediately after the Second World War when the housing boom began.

The Creation of the Suburb

The discussion of the role of racism in America should begin by confronting the most important social, cultural and political reality of the past half century: the American suburb is largely a creation of racist loan policies that came from none other than the federal government.  The suburban migration stands as one of the largest freely-undertaken, government-subsidized mass social movements in history.  It accomplished by democratic means what dictators over the ages have tried to accomplish by force: alter the physical, economic, and social environment to create a unique culture.  As Kenneth Jackson writes in Crabgrass Frontier, his history of the American suburb:

Suburbanization was not an historical inevitability created by geography, technology, and culture, but rather the product of government policies.  (p. 293)

Through a variety of government subsidies, the creation of the suburbs allowed people of modest means to attain what real estate ads have christened the American dream.  The immensity of this achievement is only beginning to dawn on us, for it constituted the kind of land and social reform that governments everywhere still try to accomplish.  Kenneth Jackson notes:

Single family housing starts in this country rose from 114,000 in 1944 to 937,000 in 1946, 1,183,000 in 1948, and 1,692,000 in 1950.  (p. 233)

The federal government financed this growth through the Federal Housing Administration, an agency created during the New Deal to help spur the growth of home construction.  During the postwar housing boom Jackson points out:

The main beneficiary of the $119 billion in FHA mortgage insurance issued in the first four decades of FHA operation was suburbia.

Drawing the Color Line

A half century before the creation of suburban America, W.E.B. DuBois had written in the very first sentence of The Souls of Black Folk the immortal and prescient words:

HEREIN lie buried many things which if read with patience may show the strange meaning of being black here at the dawning of the Twentieth Century.  This meaning is not without interest to you, Gentle Reader; for the problem of the Twentieth Century is the problem of the color-line.

Little could DuBois have predicted that the color line would become a red line drawn around the American suburb by none other than the FHA.  The name redlining actually dates back to the 1930s when the FHA first began using color codes to designate areas where they should not invest.  Red areas were off-limits.  Jackson states:

FHA also helped to turn the building industry against the minority and inner-city housing market, and its policies supported the income and racial segregation of suburbia.

Even as the suburbs mushroomed across the American landscape, a few were asking questions.  In 1955 Columbia Professor Charles Abrams charged:

From its inception, the FHA set itself up as protector of the all white neighborhood.  It sent its agents into the field to keep Negroes and other minorities from buying houses in white neighborhoods.  (Jackson, pp. 213-214)

In what has become the classic source on FHA discrimination, The Politics of Exclusion, Michael Danielson quotes an FHA underwriting manual:

If a neighborhood is to retain stability, it is necessary that properties shall continue to be occupied by the same social and racial classes.  A change in social or racial occupancy generally leads to instability and reduction in values.(p. 203)

FHA policies also required appraisers to determine the probability of people of color moving into a neighborhood and even forced homeowners to agree not to sell their property to someone of another race.  According to one commentator,

“[T]he most basic sentiment underlying the FHA’s concern was its fear that property values would decline if a rigid black and white segregation was not maintained.

With the rise of the Civil Rights movement in the 1960s, the FHA began to make some attempt to right these wrongs, but with the election of Richard Nixon in 1968, the so-called “Southern Strategy” soon put a stop these efforts.  Chris Bonastia documented Nixon’s dismantling of FHA’s residential integration efforts in his paper, “Hedging His Bets: Why Nixon Killed HUD’s Desegregation Efforts.” Nixon’s refusal to back HUD’s reform efforts would have an impact on American society that ranks right up there with the decision by President Rutherford B. Hayes to abandon the South to the segregationists, essentially ending Reconstruction.

Yet to see one man and one decision as a historical lynch pin is to take an outmoded view of history, for the truth is that by 1968 the die had already been cast and DuBois’ color line had been drawn like a moat around the suburbs designed to keep people of color from entering. It would have taken considerable political will–and perhaps even federal law enforcement–to desegregate the suburbs by then.  Dr. Martin Luther King, jr.’s infamous march into the Chicago suburb of Cicero, where he was met with bricks and catcalls, showed the depth of that moat. There is a moment in the video of that march when you hear what sounds like a shot and King turns suddenly as if wondering where the shot came from.

This does not excuse Nixon’s actions, which at best were misguided and at worst cowardly and racist. While historians debate how much Richard Nixon personally bought into the Thurmond catechism, his elevation of Thurmond aide Harry Dent to the White House staff after the election sent a clear signal of his alliance with Thurmond. Dent was the one who sat outside the Senate chamber with a pail in case Thurmond needed a quick bathroom break during his record-setting filibuster. Nixon himself put it bluntly:

I am not going to campaign for the black vote at the risk of alienating the suburban vote.

For the federal government to go further than the law, to force integration in the suburbs, I think is unrealistic. I think it will be counter-productive and not in the interest of better race relations. [quoted in Charles M. Lamb, Housing Segregation in Suburban America Since 1960, p. 4, p. 9]

Still, as Lamb would point out in a footnote, two decades later a University of California study found that 44% of white Americans favored encouraging African Americans to move to the suburbs.

The Creation of the Subprime Market

Yet the FHA did not just discriminate against people of color who sought to live in the suburbs, it also made  it more difficult for them to obtain loans, period, by refusing to insure loans in areas with high concentrations of people of color.  The systemic impact of this is still reverberating through America’s inner cities.  Without FHA insurance, no reputable bank would issue a home loan to someone living on the other side of the “color line.” This in turn had a host of social and cultural impacts, from resource-poor schools to lack of jobs because businesses would not build where the FHA would not write loans.

You don’t need to be a systems modeler to see how each of these came to feed on each other. In the last decade scholars have begun to refer to this as “structural racism,” by which they mean a convergence of forces and policies that conspires to sustain the color line. Just imagine one systemic loop: you cannot get a good job because you live in a neighborhood with substandard housing and were educated in a substandard school and so you cannot qualify for a loan for better housing which in turn further reinforces the substandard housing. Structural racism is also not a bad metaphor, either, for it suggests the immense weight of these multiple factors that presses down on people living inside those red lines drawn by the FHA.

Where legitimate businesses and institutions are prevented from entering, illegitimate ones will grow. Since regular banks would not lend to people of color in inner city neighborhoods and FHA policies kept them from lending to the few people of color who could afford suburban housing, there obviously was a need for someone to supply these loans and so we have the growth of the so-called subprime market, only back in those days they were known as loan sharks and other unprintable words and had reputation to rival check cashing operations, greedy landlords and take and bake furniture renters. Anyone who has grown up in the inner city can tell stories not only about price-gouging home loans, but high-priced loans for everything from cars to buying furniture or clothes on credit.

What Is Subprime Lending

Subprime lending is a mixture of old-fashioned altruism and blatant thievery with an American twist. Some entered into the business of making loans to people of color because they genuinely believed people deserved an equal opportunity, others saw a chance to make a quick buck. The reality of the situation was that without FHA insurance even the most well-meaning lenders still had to charge more than they would have for a white suburban home-buyer.

A 2003 study for the Lawyers Committee on Civil Rights Under Law reported:

While red-lining has served to exclude poor and minority residents from the benefits of mainstream mortgage lending, purveyors of predatory lending (or so-called “reverse red-lining”) practices have targeted many of the same poor and minority households that traditional lending institutions have ignored or excluded.

In testimony before the House Committee on Banking and Financial Services in 2000 Bill Brennan of the Atlanta Legal Aid Society outlined how subprime lending works for lenders:

Here is what these companies do, the predators. They overcharge on interest and points, they charge egregiously high annual interest and prepaid finance charges, points, which are not justified by the risk involved, because these loans are collateralized by valuable real estate.

Since they usually only lend at 70 to 80 percent loan-to-value ratios, they have a 20 to 30 percent cushion to protect them if they have to foreclose. They usually always buy at the foreclosure sale and pay off the debt and sell the house for a profit.

As for those taking out the loans, Gary Gensler, Undersecretary for Domestic Finance at the treasury Department, told the same Committee:

Borrowers in these markets often have limited access to mainstream financial services. This leads to two things, as the Senator said earlier. Some borrowers who really would qualify for prime loans-we estimate anywhere between 15 and 35 percent of the subprime market could qualify for prime and cannot get that prime loan. Second, the rate and term competition is limited. Subprime lenders don’t tend to compete as much on price.

Beyond preying on vulnerable populations, beyond the limited access to mainstream financial services, is that abusive practices tend to be coupled with high-pressure sales tactics, whether by a mortgage broker, a home improvement contractor, sometimes a lender themselves in the local community.

Perhaps the most extensive and longest longitudinal study of predatory lending practices has been the Woodstock Institute’s periodic reports on Chicago.  It’s 1999 report “Two Steps Back” was among the earliest to blow the whistle on predatory lending.  They found:

Documented cases of abuse include fees exceeding 10 percent of the loan amount, payments structured so that they do not even cover interest (resulting in increasing principle balances), and flipping a loan numerous times in a couple of years.

At the same time, lending to lower-income and minority communities is often viewed as an isolated line of business, in which the focus is on the short term transaction and associated fees. Lenders active in such communities tend to be mortgage and finance companies subject to much less regulation than banks and thrifts. The increased scale of the subprime industry itself has resulted in a larger number of abuses. Moreover, there has not been a proportionate increase in regulation or regulatory resources devoted to this new industry.

As usual, graphs and tables tell the story in black and white:





The date on the graph may be a little difficult to see. It is 1998. On the first table, the percentage of subprime loans going to African American communities is 53%. Only 9% went to predominantly white communities. The Woodstock study went on to deal with the obvious question: is it race or income that is the strongest determinant of who receives a subprime loan? They found it was the former:

Thus, whether a neighborhood is predominantly African-American explains the greatest amount of variation in subprime lending,

The Final Results

In 1997 Bill Brennan could tell the New York Times:

We have financial apartheid in our country. We have low-income, often minority borrowers,  who are charged unconscionably high interest rates, either directly or indirectly through the cover of added charges.

Three years later Census data would confirm Brennan’s charge. The Lawyers Committee on Civil Rights Under Law found:

The typical white person lives in a neighborhood that is overwhelmingly white, with a few minorities (80.2% white, 6.7% African American, 7.9% Hispanic American, and 3.9% Asian American), the typical African American lives in a neighborhood that is mostly black (51.4% black, 33.0% white, 11.4% Hispanic American, and 3.3% Asian American). By comparison, the typical Hispanic American lives in a neighborhood that is more evenly Hispanic American and white (45.5% Hispanic, 36.5% white, 10.8% black, and 5.9% Asian American); and the typical Asian American lives in a neighborhood that is mostly white (17.9% Asian American, 54% white, 9.2%  black, and 17.4% Hispanic American).

In a study released this year by United for a Fair Economy, the authors note:

According to federal data, people of color are more than three times more likely to have subprime loans: high-cost loans account for 55% of loans to Blacks, but only 17% of loans to Whites.

This is a decade after the Woodstock study identified a similar pattern in Chicago.

Reflections

This history makes you wonder what kind of country we might have become had racism not pervaded the home mortgage market. The United for a Fair Economy study puts it eloquently:

While the housing crisis has affected all sectors of society, it has disproportionately affected communities and individuals of color. For them, the dream that Martin Luther King, Jr. once spoke of has been foreclosed.

Now the injustices white America heaped on black America for half a century have come home to roost. The sobering thought to ponder is that what you have read so far is merely the very tip of a rather large iceberg, for there are literally dozens and dozens of books and countless articles on racism and housing. If you enter “racism” and “housing” in Google you will find over four million entries. Yet despite over half a century of studies, reports and papers about discriminatory lending, little was done about it.

The most damning piece of evidence in this entire story is not that racism fostered predatory loans, but that like organized crime going from petty bootleggers and drug dealers to big time operators, the practice of predatory loan sharking expanded and went mainstream– moving from being the providence of small-time shady operators to mainstream banks. Essentially, loan-sharking cast off its sleazy past and the bigger it became the more people looked the other way.

That is until it suddenly threatens to take down the entire American economy. Now like the figures in that painting of Constitution Hall, fingers are pointing and people are staring.

If racism played a big role in creating the mortgage crisis, the solution to our current problems will prove tougher to deal with than what the so-called experts have been telling us. We could be witnessing the fourth American revolution. The first was the war for independence, the second the Civil War, the third the Great Depression and now the present crisis which combines the themes of the previous two–race and economics.

The next essay in this series focuses on how we got here and why, for only by understanding that journey can we see a way out of the current morass. What is clear so far is that this crisis is not merely the fault of a few misguided CEOs, but rather the culmination of decades of discrimination in which all of us are culpable.

Now the time has come to stop pretending there is no elephant in the room and deal with it.

Resources

For a good bibliography on the subject click here.

Crossposts: The Strange Death of Liberal America, My Left Wing, Progressive Historians, The Wild, Wild Left

Location – Location – Location; Superdome or Qualcomm Stadium?

copyright © 2007 Judith Moriarty

Booker Harris and his wife Allie are not household names.  There has been no round the clock coverage of Mr. Booker, age 91, who was deposited in a lawn chair, in front of the Superdome, during Katrina.  Mr. Booker died there of dehydration, shock, neglect, and racism of the first order.  Allie, age 93, his frail wife, sat at his side munching on crackers, unaware of her surroundings, or the death of her husband.

They’d survived wars, the Great Depression, the KKK, segregated water fountains/restaurants, schools, housing, red neck Southern sheriffs, numerous floods, and hurricanes.  What they didn’t survive was the contemptible corruption, and gentrification by disaster, of the 21st century.  What they didn’t survive, was a nation that boasts of dancing amongst the stars, visiting distant planets, yet is incapable of building a levee here on earth?

What Allie and Booker did not survive, was the hypocrisy of the media,  that showed some fool who ripped off a plasma TV, making his way through the flood waters (over and over).  To date,  we have not seen similar video footage of duffel bags filled with multi-billions that have gone missing in Iraq?  We have seen local TV cameras,  chasing a recipient  of food stamps down the street,  daring to obtain more than her one allotted book.  To date,  there has been no rational explanation, as to where the $2.3 trillion,  that Donald Rumsfeld reported was unaccounted for on Sept 10-2001.  There’s thievery and then there’s plunder.  It’s a black and white thing.  The poor go to jail, while the rich get dream teams, have convenient heart attacks, or get executive pardons.

What the Harris couple didn’t survive was a nation with a non-existent disaster plan (absent bunkers for the elite/chosen politicians).These are the photographs that the media did not  show over and over again on TV. 

Location – Location – Location: If one were to be given a choice, of where they might want to experience a disaster, they would definitely want to reside in an area of the wealthy/famous.  Disaster has its own class act – as does greater society.  It’s something not spoken of – this class issue.  Better to instigate turmoil and chaos pitting victims against victims., thus excusing the corporate hucksters (rich and the shameless); of their insatiable greed and depraved indifference.  The majority of folks, who lost everything during Katrina,  were the working poor, the dispossessed, the handicapped, and elderly.  Ordinary people.

The media presented the gullible masses with rumors of rapes, murders, and mayhem.  This was proved to be false by military personnel who entered  days later.  Naturally, this did not make headline news.  Why the subterfuge?  Maybe because such reports were a perfect excuse to send in the military and Blackwater mercenary forces, to evict the unwilling (homes not flooded) and to confiscate legal firearms so that citizens couldn’t defend their homes?

The fires in California (2007) saw the multi-million dollar mansions, seaside homes, and gated communities of Orange County, threatened by fire.  Fire, that is a known threat in this area of heavy brush and yearly windstorms.  Nobody blamed the residents (except George Carlin) for bringing this disaster upon themselves.  Most of the nation is unfamiliar with the great disparity that exists in California.  No homeless people reside on the streets of San Diego.  There are no unsightly tenements, clinics, or trailer parks.

Orange County is a place of exclusive homes, in gated communities, with their own schools, shopping and security forces.  Gated communities, next to gated communities.  Who are they gating out?  Robert Bellah, who wrote Habit of the Heart, states, “The underclass gives people something to define themselves against; it tells them what they are not; it tells them what it would be most fearful to become.  And it gives them people to blame.”  The gated communities of today are a powerful tangible symbol of the division between the underclass and everyone else.  To be upper middle class – wealthy is to be trustworthy, law – abiding and in need of protection from violent scavenging poor people.  Or conversely, to be poor, is to be violent and depraved – a threat to the rich.  Such construction of class differences paints poor people in a highly distorted manner.  This is deliberate.  Easier to blame the poor than those in designer suits and $400.00 haircuts, for one’s problems, lack of employment etc.  Besides,  the poor are more readily available to blame and attack.  You’ll not be welcome with your petitions or protests  in gated communities, country clubs, or the headquarters of gluttonous, corporate CEOs.  They keep themselves far removed from the unsavory things of life (namely the poor).

These gated communities are a tangible symbol of the fear and ignorance that divides upper class people from the working class and poor.  This fear is expressed with fences, walls, guards, dogs, alarms, private bodyguards etc.  In other areas of the country, this bias is less visible.  Instead, exclusive towns, tourist meccas, and post card villages, exclude the unwanted by cost, no affordable rentals, zoning restrictions  etc.  We are fast becoming a nation of isolated islands.  The poor and working class (needed as mechanics, laborers, maids, waitresses, parking valets, carpenters, brick layers, roofers etc) are kept out of sight, in trailer parks or poorer – socio – economic areas.  It is to these places that the wealthy send their refuse to be burned or dumped, build their coal plants, nuclear facilities, chemical plants, and incinerators.

An incinerator will never be built in downtown San Diego, Jackson Hole Wyoming, or in downtown Kennebunkport, Maine etc.  All animals are not equal.  Some are identified as ‘acceptable risks’ or ‘collateral damage’.  Their purpose in life (unspoken) is to serve the greater good.  Mainly to make life more amenable and lucrative for the obscenely wealthy.  Only the children of the working poor  (East Liverpool, Ohio) would be subjected to a toxic incinerator situated next to a schoolyard.  Imagine the outrage if an incinerator was located next to a private school with its soccer fields, or an exclusive yacht club, or golf course  etc?  Part of an ‘Inconvenient Truth’, is that Al Gore (running for election with Clinton) promised these folks that such an outrage would never happen.  He promised  (if elected) to  stop it.  Clinton got elected and they both forgot East Liverpool, Ohio.  What a shock!!

I noticed that during the catastrophe of the California fires, that those attempting to escape were not forced back into the flames.  Many watching the disaster in New Orleans wondered why people didn’t just leave on  foot (those who were able)?  The Louisiana Superdome is less than two miles from a bridge that leads over the Mississippi River out of the city. 

The answer: Any group of people attempting to do so were met by police who fired their guns to disperse the group and contain them.  Around 500 people stuck in downtown New Orleans banded together in self-protection making sure that the oldest and youngest were taken care of.  Two San Francisco paramedics who had been attending a convention were with this group and  reported their trauma on CNN (once).

They made their way on foot over Highway 90, which crosses the Mississippi River from New Orleans to the suburb of Gretna (not flooded).  This is an upscale community for professionals etc, who work in New Orleans.  Much like Greenwich, CT, is to New York City.  The crowd had grown to approximately 800 people.  As they approached the bridge, the police fired their weapons over the people’s heads, driving them back into the floodwaters.

When the paramedics (white) questioned the sheriff as to why they were not being permitted to cross the bridge to dry ground, he replied that Gretna was not going to become a New Orleans and there would be no Superdome in Gretna.  Gretna Police Chief Arthur Lawson, in an interview with UPI stated, “If we had opened the bridge our town would have looked like New Orleans..”  Months  later, after the flood and the news crews had left, seven New Orleans police officers were indicted by a grand jury on charges of murder and attempted murder for shooting unarmed citizens  as they attempted to cross a bridge to dry ground.  One of those killed was mentally – retarded, the other was a young student,  who had become separated from his parents.  No such shootings of civilians attempting to escape in California were reported.

The New Orleans Superdome was chaotic.  People fled there to escape the floodwaters (broken levees).  The heat was intolerable.  There were no lights, the toilets all backed up (sewage treatment plant not working) and were overflowing.  There was no food and no medicine.  Many elderly, in need of heart medicines and insulin, etc, were left stranded.  Babies were without formula and nourishment.  While we have all watched reports of our feats in space – it appears, that here on earth, with all our ingenuity, we were unable to reach New Orleans for days!!  Dogs were seen eating the bloated bodies, floating in the snake infested polluted waters.  In California, efforts were made to save the animals.  A special shelter area was set up to attend their needs.  The animals in California fared much better than any human in New Orleans & Mississippi.

The federal, state, and local officials spent their time blaming one another, as the people died in attics, drowned in floodwaters, or were being shot at by police.  Here it is two years later and New Orleans is still a wasteland (areas where the working poor once lived).  There is no affordable housing, schools, or hospitals.  Truth is, the hundreds of thousands of New Orleans citizens, scattered across the nation will not be going home.  There’s nothing being done to welcome them!  Most likely, the wealthy will have their way and realize a New Orleans Mardi Gras theme resort, with high-end condos, hotels, casinos, and convention centers.

Imagine yourself being born and raised in the bayou and finding yourself shipped off to Idaho, Maine, or the streets of Washington D.C. etc?  This is what happened to tens of thousands.  We have become desensitized to the traumas of others outside our own narrow interests.  There is no civilization when people have lost their sense of outrage or are without conscience.

Meantime a stadium in San Diego saw the difference in response to a crisis.  In the case of the California fires, citizens weren’t left in the inferno.  They weren’t gunned down trying to escape.  They weren’t blamed for their stupidity for living in an area known for its disasters.  They weren’t parked on nearby highways and told to wait for days for assistance.  No, instead, the Qualcomm Stadium had a carnival like atmosphere about it.  Citizens (well insured) weren’t being bussed off to distant states.  While New Orleans, citizens sat in stadium seats, in the dark, with rain pouring in from a damaged roof, the folks in California had cots, showers, and an infirmary.

There were three bands, a ‘Kids Zone’, stacks of diapers, baby wipes, formula, and gallons of water, with gourmet meals served up by local restaurants.  Massage, counseling, and acupuncture, were offered to those traumatized and stressed out.  Tents were set up to assist people in contacting their insurance companies, lawyers and contractors.  One woman stated, “Now we have to deal with our insurance company and lawyers We Californians are a resilient people.  We’re going to rebuild and have the biggest house on the block.”  They went on to complain of the inconvenience of having to stay in a luxurious hotel.

What wasn’t shown (brief reports) were the hundreds of homes that were saved, due to contracts that homeowners had with private fire companies.  These private companies respond in such emergencies with a fire retardant gel (new to the market) that protects homes in the most intense of fires.  Afterwards, power washing, washes away this bi-degradable protection.  Cost of premiums for this is $10,000 a year.  Many on the Gulf Coast, from Mississippi to New Orleans, two years later, are still fighting for insurance payments.  They are told that the damages they received were from wind and not flood damage, and therefore they cannot collect.  Some had every insurance under the sun and are still being jerked around.  Those in California, with the winds blowing embers for miles, and thus igniting their homes, were not told, “Sorry folks it was the winds not the fire.”

All animals aren’t equal nor are all disasters.  The citizens of the Gulf Coast were discarded much like refuse.  Traumatized, homeless, and penniless, they’ve had to battle on alone.  Meantime President Bush promised the citizens in California that financial help was on the way.  One group of people suffered a disaster of untold suffering.  Another (white) for the most part, experienced an adventure in gourmet-serviced deprivation. 

And Condi Rice?  What advice did she have for the victims of government bungling in New Orleans?  ” The Lord is going to come on time – just wait.” Oh The Humanity.

President Bush. Katrina Aftermath; Tornado in Alabama

© copyright 2007 Betsy L. Angert


Please view the scene in Huge Storm Slams Midwest

Pardon the commercial prologue.  Please observe Tornado Tears Up New Orleans  March 1, 2007

Today ravaging tempests are wreaking havoc in the Southeast.  Tornadoes Kill at Least 14 in 2 States.  Eighteen months after another deadly storm, Hurricane Katrina, President Bush travels to New Orleans reassuring the public that he all is well.  The Midwest is reeling; devastating snowstorms hit the heartland.  The ground is giving way in California.  A San Francisco landslide displaced sleepy residents. A wide swath of the North Beach hillside came thundering down on buildings below.  Unusual tornadoes are swirling in the skies above Southern Florida.  Hail and freezing rains are falling in many regions.  America is not alone.  Severe weather is everywhere!

Humans waited too long to heed the gentle warnings of Mother Nature.  She has been speaking to us for years.  Now she is screaming; “Help me!  Help yourselves!”  Our sweet Mother is no longer politely asking us to care for her.  She is demanding we do so.  This gracious, gentle, and loving spirit hoped we would treat her with reverence.  We did not.  She gave and we took.  Mother Nature can bequeath no more.  She is depleted and desperate.

We have a lesson to learn, as does the Bush Administration.  When we do not attend to the needs of nature, or do so belatedly and half-heartedly we pay the price.  People worldwide are realizing the cost of defiance.  Citizens had ignored the harm they did to this planet for decades.  Only late in the last century were people beginning to clean their globe. The Bush Administration took office in 2001 and reversed the trend.  The President, the Vice, and their Energy Commission denied that humans had a substantial effect on the environment.  They declared global warming a myth.  Industry was once again allowed to reap it’s bounty more recklessly.  Now we sow and see what was always evident.  Nature can only take so much abuse before it reacts.  Witness the winter storms everywhere on Earth.

Weeks ago our President relented, perhaps, humans are responsible for climate change. His proclamation was feeble.  George W. Bush states there is a problem.  Pretends to have a plan and then, does nothing.  The President turns his projects over to private industry, passes his work onto government agencies, and then declares he is done.  He has done all he can, and life is good.  Perchance life is good for Mister Bush; however, common citizens are struggling to survive.

Facts continue to elude this “environmental” President and “compassionate conservative.”  We witness this again today,  March 1, 2007. Weather continues to rape the land; red tape rankles the residents.  Nothing has changed. Yet, our President says, it has.

“Times are changing for the better.  People’s lives are improving.  And there is hope.”
~ George W. Bush [March 1, 2007]

There is so much pretense and more posturing.  Today President George W. Bush is traveling to New Orleans.  He is looking over the wasteland, explaining how he contributed to the cleanup.  He sent Billions of dollars.  He decrees the people need to do their part; they need to bring the area back to life.

In an interview on National Public Radio, when asked why he neglected to mention Hurricane Katrina and the Gulf Coast region, President Bush stated . . .

Well, I gave a speech that I thought was necessary to give. On the other hand, I had been talking a lot about Katrina and about the fact that I worked with the Congress to get about $110 billion sent down to both Mississippi and Louisiana to help them on their reconstruction efforts. Obviously, there is more work to be done. But to take the housing issue, for example, we have sent money down to the Louisiana folks, Louisiana Recovery Authority, to fund their plan. And the money is there and the money is available. And now it’s up to the folks down there to get this plan implemented so people can start rebuilding their houses.

If there’s bureaucratic slowdowns in Washington, we’ve got a man named Don Powell who is working to address them. But no, our response to the Katrina recovery has been very robust.

Robust; perhaps for a few.  The President only observes what he wishes to, hopeful circumstances.

Bush Tours Katrina-Ravaged Areas
President Reassures Victims And Taxpayers Of Commitment To Rebuild
Long Beach, Mississippi, March, 1, 2007

AP) President Bush on Thursday returned to the battered Gulf Coast, declaring “there is hope” for the Hurricane Katrina-ravaged region where his administration was widely accused of botching the initial recovery efforts.

Mr. Bush toured five homes in a neighborhood still recovering from the devastating hurricane 18 months earlier and is scheduled to meet with Mississippi officials before continuing on to New Orleans, a city whose population dropped by about 50 percent in the wake of Katrina and which is reeling from a surge in crime and a lack of social services.  Large numbers of New Orleans residents are so frustrated they are thinking of leaving for good.

“I want the taxpayers of the United States to see firsthand what their money has done to help revitalize a series of communities that were literally wiped out,” Bush said.

The taxpayers do see what the President again purposely avoids.  Mister Bush is not traveling to areas still untouched eighteen long and miserable months later.  George W. continues to ignore what he chooses not to know.  He paints a Presidential picture; it pretty.  Yet . . .

The Katrina Index, a monthly report by the Brookings Institution research group, says many indicators suggest the recovery effort is moving slowly.  The report for February [2007] says demand for essential services continues to overwhelm supply, with overfilled emergency rooms and waiting lists of students for public schools.

The report said 56 percent of public schools remain closed in New Orleans.  It called on decision-makers at all levels to remove excessive bureaucracy that hinders repairs to housing and infrastructure.

Democratic leaders of the U.S. Congress are pushing for legislation to help get federal aid money to residents faster.  House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Majority leader Steny Hoyer said in a statement that Hurricane Katrina was a natural disaster compounded by a man-made disaster.

Mister Bush, if there is hope to be found it will not flourish as long as your Administration disregards reality.  Anticipation and eagerness are not gifts from a government that tells the citizens all is well when they know it is not.  I beg and plead.  Please venture out.  Travel to the areas still in ruin.  Then listen to us.  Let us know that you feel our pain.  We cannot continue to pretend all is well.  The weather outside tells us it is not.  As you visit homes rebuilt, more are being buried under the weight of snow, winds, and water.

The stormy weather and the strident Mister Bush . . .

  • Tornadoes Kill at Least 14 in 2 States, By Brenda Goodman. The New York Times.  March 1, 2007
  • pdf Tornadoes Kill at Least 14 in 2 States, By Brenda Goodman. The New York Times.  March 1, 2007
  • San Francisco landslide displaces residents.  Associated Press.  MSNBC News.  February 27, 2007
  • Snow, ice create chaos for the holiday, By Andrea Stone.  USA Today.  February 18, 2007
  • Hail damage delays next US shuttle launch.  ABC News Online.
  • Tornadoes kill at least 19 in Florida.  Cable News Network.  February 3, 2007
  • Ice storm prompts emergency in Oklahoma. Cable News Network.  January 12,2007
  • England in grip of severe weather.  BBC News.  February 8, 2007
  • Bush Vows to Speed Up Aid for Gulf Coast, By Robert Pear and David Stout.  The New York Times.  March 1, 2007
  • pdf Bush Vows to Speed Up Aid for Gulf Coast, By Robert Pear and David Stout.  The New York Times.  March 1, 2007
  • Agency Affirms Human Influence on Climate, By Andrew C. Revkin.  The New York Times.  January 10, 2007
  • pdf Agency Affirms Human Influence on Climate, By Andrew C. Revkin.  The New York Times.  January 10, 2007
  • Bush attacks environment ‘scare stories’,  By Antony Barnett. The Guardian  April 4, 2004
  • Hurricane Preparedness.  The White house.  March 1, 2007
  • President Bush Meets with Gulf Coast Grant Recipients  The White house.  March 1, 2007
  • President Bush Visits Hurricane-Battered US Gulf Coast By Voice Of America News. 01 March 2007
  • The Katrina Index,  Brookings Institute.
  • George Cares about New Orleans, and All God’s Creatures ©

    As Katrina cut through the Eastern seaboard George gelled at his Crawford Ranch in Texas.  He chopped wood, played golf, and worried not.  Life was good. Why worry of a hellish hurricane or those that might be hit by it.

    The storm approached the Gulf Coast and George cared not.  He, the nation’s leader was safe and secure.  The President of the United States heard that people were dying; and he said, how sad.  However, he knew, he need not attend to these people.  They are the poor, the powerless, and few would care or so he thought.

    George relished the thought of what the waters would bring, recreation.  George would and did go fishing.  He showed that he cared for those living in New Orleans; he cares for all God’s creatures, though in different ways.

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    You might enjoy another’s perspective, Unconformed Sources, The News You Can’t Use though many are.  The title is George W. Bush Returns to New Orleans and Goes Fishing.