Tuesday, November 27, 2007


Our N.C. House Rep. Cullie Tarleton reports that foreclosures on homes in our state went from 16,630 in 1998 to 46,510 foreclosures in 2006. By August of 2007, 32,300 homeowners had already filed for foreclosure in North Carolina ... putting the state well along the road to breaking all records this year for the number of people losing their homes. That's tens of thousands of the state's citizens on metaphorical if not literal suicide watch.

There's no descriptive power in mere words to capture the misery of working people thrown out of their homes.

My new working-class hero Joe Bageant calls the whole economic shell-game, which ends in these foreclosures, "the American shelter racket":
At the top end ... you have the new monster-bellum estates. At the very bottom are the people paying off the single-wide trailers sitting on rented space. The trailer is worth practically zilch the day it is sold and the owner has to pay for space to park it. This is the polar opposite of equity building. In fact, legally speaking, the mobile home owner is living in a vehicle and paying for a parking space, which is why trailers are titled like cars and have no deed. It says something about these working Americans that the absence of a deed to their home never strikes them as a drawback.... ["Deer Hunting with Jesus," p. 106}

Bageant cites a friend, "Tommy Ray," who got a loan to purchase a $79,000 mobile home, which after all the loan fees and interest points in lieu of a down-payment ended up costing him $130,000. That mobile home was worth a little more than half what he paid for it the day after he signed the contract, and it will end up costing him $260,000 before it's finally paid off.

We should all be nervous about the bursting of the housing bubble (not to mention that the U.S. dollar is in free fall abroad). Despite the great Christmas imperative to buy more and more STUFF to feel like worthy citizens, a looming recession in 2008 may swirl us all into the same toilet bowl. Bageant gets ruefully apocalyptic about the possibilities:
...Letting go of the very thing that is sinking us is impossible ... to imagine. How could we ever get loose of such an America: the cineplexes, outlet stores, trilevel overpasses, eight-thousand-square-foot "Tyvek houses," disposable double-wides, imported vitro ceramic gas ranges for the doctors' wives and Wal-Mart barbecues for the guys..., Hummers and Hondas and Game Boys and Dale Earnhardt memorial crockpots and twelve-bucks-a-pair Chinese-made fake Birkenstocks, the big box stores and Olive Garden ... the entire buzzing, blinking, digital phantasmagoria.

It has been an orgy so glorious and unholy, so mindless that we have now eaten our seed crop in our spiraling consumerism. Our political masters look the other way. The Republicans have proclaimed the entire disastrous mess to be the lifestyle we are entitled to as Americans, and therefore nonnegotiable. The Democrats, even when they do have power, remain terrified of proposing any real change that would release us from our oil and sprawl addiction.... ["Deer Hunting," pp. 112-13]

Thousands of foreclosures on ordinary working Americans seems like the leading edge of a wave we won't see the top of for months.

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