October 13th, 2010 11:00 EST
There is No Mortgage Crisis, There is a Corruption Crisis
Politicians of every stripe are selling us a bill of goods "and filling their pockets
Ignore all that Tea Party crap about taking government back and flushing the scoundrels out of Washington. Focus on Florida, that mountainless thumb of the United States, where developers have played havoc and where ordinary people are trying to take their state back.
Back from the same people who all over America have corrupted local and regional government, sent property taxes through the roof, and blamed it all on Washington. Too bad the rest of us can`t vote on Amendment 4, because it`s the most positive thing going on in American politics today. And "surprise "the national press is treating it like a local story. That`s the way it flushes important stories down the toilet.
Amendment 4, the so-called Hometown Democracy Amendment, would require local voters to approve any significant changes to a county or city land-use plan. Such plans are the way communities shape themselves, for better or worse. The measure needs the support of 60 percent of the voters. If it passes, no massive housing subdivisions or commercial developments could be built without appearing on a local ballot. That`s the way it should have been all along everywhere.
Homebuilders are fighting the amendment bitterly. They have the support of their co-conspirators in overdevelopment and environmental rape, the banks. And the banks are using taxpayer bailout money to kill the amendment. Now that`s your tax dollars at work. You help them out and they stab you in the back.
Carl Hiaasen, the novelist and popular newspaper columnist, has written that the developers and vampire banks are scared because they know Floridians are sick of watching elected officials cave in again and again to developers, making a farce of land-use regulations. "But mostly they`re scared because, if passed, Amendment 4 has the potential to disrupt the influence-peddling and outright corruption that`s made it so easy to subvert the will of the public."
But license to keep on screwing Floridians and turning the state into an environmental emergency is hardly the only reason the predators are up in arms about Amendment 4. They know that if it is passed other states might follow suit. Remember many of the Florida builders and banks are national businesses.
What the Florida initiative is about is a public awakening that the American economy has been built on toothpicks by con artists. The press has sold the public a bill of goods, namely that the health of the economy can be measured by housing starts. The opposite is true. If we have an economy based on home building and more malls to kill downtowns, we have a sick one-horse economy. That is the truth the developers, the banks and the press have created illusions to hide. Why the press? Because it has been bought off by advertising revenues from the predators, just like local politicians.
But an even more deadly disease thrives at the core of this issue. Government across the nation has been corrupted by this bogus economy. We have two million empty homes in the nation. Politicians riding tides of inchoate Tea Party rage claim that federal taxes are killing us, but in fact the taxes they could have done something about all along "property taxes "are killing us.
The French have a term for it "trompe-l`oeils. It means creating an illusion to trick people. Pinning the blame for all our ills on Washington is a cheap trick, and most Tea Party members have fallen for it. So have many others. Bad government, over-priced government, corrupt government starts at home when developers put local government in their deep pockets. They buy off opposition to their often unneeded and reckless projects. They pose as rescuers of the community when in fact they`re pillagers. And when they`re done the community is left with services and infrastructure it can`t afford and so inexorably it raises taxes, driving out the young and the old and crushing what`s left of the middle class.
What usually enables them to get away with it is the public`s zeal for protecting individual property rights. Nobody is going to tell us how to use our land, property owners often say. If we want to sell our land to a developer, we`ll damned well do it. To hell with zoning and comprehensive planning.
Typically politicians are bought off by hiring connected lobbyists. The lobbyists glad-hand a receptive commissioner or city council or town board member, probably someone who owes them a favor. Oh yeah, by the way, if you don`t support this project we probably won`t be able to donate to your next campaign. And that`s just for starters. Sometimes there is just an outright bribe passed under the table.
There may be 300,000 vacant homes and condos in Florida, and the state leads the nation in foreclosures and mortgage fraud. This is no accident. It is the result of collusion among public officials, developers and banks. Florida is not a victim of a bad economy, as the press would have us believe, it is the victim of local corruption.
Oh, but development broadens the tax base and creates jobs, the developers claim. Yeah, and they`ve been peddling that chestnut around the country for decades. The press by and large bought it because the developers buy advertising. But you`ve got to be eerily uninformed to believe it. Sprawl jacks up taxes by overcrowding schools and jails, choking roads, causing water shortages and prompting costly waste disposal systems. It pollutes the environment, overburdens public safety providers and, not least, steals local government from the citizens.
The Republicans` ownership society " scam got us into this even deeper. The press never bothered to investigate the premise. Who really benefited? Not the economy, not the middle class, but mortgage scammers, the same banks that, having bilked the public, had to be bailed out by the public. And now they`re using the bailout money to kill Amendment 4. The American press should be deeply ashamed of never having examined the true nature of the housing boom. It is as culpable as the banks, if not more so.
This disgrace did not start in Washington. It started in our hometowns, the very hometowns where Republicans are usually in charge. And many of the politicians, Democrat and Republican, who are squawking about big government and over-taxation were in this scam and did nothing to lower local taxes. Their attitude has been that all development is good. All development is not good. Just as all government is not good. And now, instead of admitting their failings, they`re blaming faraway Washington, Nancy Pelosi, Barack Obama, Harry Reid and any other scapegoat they can think of "blaming them for problems they could have solved all along.
Over-development means over-taxation and malfeasance. Not just in Florida, but everywhere. And guess what, Tea Party, that`s not about immigration or Washington or Barack Obama or health care reform. It`s about crooked banks and developers and local politicians and the press. Can you dig it?
Djelloul (jeh-lool) Marbrook was born in 1934 in Algiers to a Bedouin father and an American painter. He grew up in Brooklyn, West Islip and Manhattan, New York, where he attended Dwight Preparatory School and Columbia. He then served in the U.S. Navy.
His book of poems, Far From Algiers, won the Stan and Tom Wick Poetry Prize from Kent State University in 2007 and was published in 2008. His story, Artists Hill, adapted from the second novel of an unpublished trilogy, won the Literal LattÃ© first prize in fiction in 2008. His poems have been published in The American Poetry Review, Barrow Street, poemeleon, The Same, and other journals. The pioneering e-book publisher, Online Originals (UK), published his novella, Alice MIller`s Room, in 1999.He worked as a reporter for The Providence Journal and as an editor for The Elmira (NY) Star-Gazette, The Baltimore Sun, The Winston-Salem Journal & Sentinel and The Washington Star. Later he worked as executive editor of four small dailies in northeast Ohio and two medium-size dailies in northern New Jersey.
Del`s book, Far From Algiers: http://upress.kent.edu/books/Marbrook_D.htm
New review of Far from Algiers: http://www.rattle.com/blog/2009/05/far-from-algiers-by-djelloul-marbrook/
Artists Hill, Literal LattÃ©`s fiction first prize: http://www.literal-latte.com/author/djelloulmarbrook/
His blog: http://www.djelloulmarbrook.com
His mother`s art: http://www.juanitaguccione.com
His aunt`s art: http://www.irenericepereira.com