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Easter Eggs & Tube Hogs, Part One
April 13, 2004: Easter was once a holiday without much public decoration. Construction paper bunnies in school windows were pretty much it. I generally don't like the push to decorate extensively for every holiday since it helps reduce every holiday to another exercise in spending. But I do like Easter egg trees. Particularly when people decorate the trees in their yards. The trees are still bare of leaves but the colored eggs hanging in the grey, or just greening branches speak of things to come. How Easter hopeful is that?

Though I frequently write about the neo-noir side of life, I'm actually a very hopeful person. If I weren't, I'd retire to my study and contemplate play-for-pay pols, screw-the-public vendors and unreal real estate with philosophical detachment. Though I might muster a sneer or two before reaching for the Marcus Aurelius. Or a vintage copy of "Confidential". I bitch because I believe.

Every society in the world has flaws. Attempts to make human society perfect produce horror. Thanks to the great totalitarian blow outs of the 20th Century we don't have to say unimaginable horror. But to try for reasonable improvement is just that. Reasonable. Success is possible though not guaranteed. Unforeseen consequences can turn intentions into their opposite. Outside the merely political, human souls slide downward but also move upward. Neither trajectory is inevitable or always consistent. The uncertainty adds drama and meaning to every moment of human life.

Certain trends in present day USA are decidedly negative. But the USA is still remarkably flexible and free. Social trust and belief in law are still common. Yet since I started QT 3 years ago, I've heard from a number of people across the country who've lost both things. Some were defrauded in mortgage or home improvement deals. Often some type of federal program was involved somewhere along the line. Ones that offered a helping hand-- as opposed to a hand out.

When these people took complaints to local political representatives they often found a stacked deck built on conflict of interest. Federal programs trickle down to individual recipients through local political channels, either directly or via related agencies and financial institutions. Complaints about the quality of the end result are not welcomed: they might cause the federal spigot to dry up. Some of my correspondents' local officials went beyond non-response to vengeance. The political kind big frogs in small pools practice. And occasionally situations became downright threatening. Particularly when some link in the food chain had a hint of organized crime.

Some of my correspondents took complaints higher than the local level, to federal agencies or national representatives. There the response was typically dead silence or a form letter fob off. Some became entangled in labyrinthine court battles, where they received ho hum legal representation from attorneys who back slapped buddies on the other side. In the latter instances, the quest to obtain redress for the damaging, destruction, or loss of their homes turned peoples' lives into Bleak House.

You could say my correspondents were not representative, just hard cases who couldn't accept bad luck. If the numbers of other people with similar experiences were few, you might be right. But as an example of how unexceptional such events are, consider the well publicized Title I fiasco of the late 90's. Where several linked contractors working across Pennsylvania and Ohio hustled homeowners with poor credit into getting home repair loans backed by the US Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD).The loans were financed by what was then the largest Title I lender in the nation. The contractors wrecked rather than repaired, or skipped out and left work unfinished. Leaving homeowners in deep debt with liens on homes worth less than before the "improvements" began. With refinancing impossible.

One hundred sixty four of the scammed homeowners joined a class action suit. Last year they received a tiny portion of what they lost. A typical result. And class action suits have a socially destructive aspect. They make public officials and the business community timid to the point of absurdity. Encouraging more fudging of mistakes and malfeasance. But what many of those who sign on to class action suits seek is not money but justice; an official acknowledgement they were wronged. White collar crime is hard to prove and expensive to prosecute in criminal court. White collar criminals have good lawyers and good friends. Class action suits are justice unions for the less wealthy and less prominent.

It would be best if class action suits were unnecessary. Tougher laws targeting white collar crime might help. As would the social will to prosecute and punish white collar criminals to the max: ditching the double standard separating equity strippers from muggers. But what's also needed is greater skepticism by citizens regarding the government's "helping hand". Federal funding of home ownership and improvement programs is a transfer of income. One which flows through the helping hands of multiple middlemen. It establishes a chain of dependency. Those higher on the chain profit the most and will naturally not welcome complaints from lower links. It also behooves potential recipients of the helping hand to realize that no matter how much government officials use the word "investment" they see individuals (as opposed to corporations or developers) who sign on for government assistance as beggars not choosers.

On the silver lined Easter Egg front, many who've experienced the flip side of the hand have taken to the Internet. Which is now chock full of sites with domain names ending in "sucks" prefaced by the names of assorted lenders, contractors, developers and government agencies. People who once didn't know a GSE from a hole in the wall (the one made by a HUD bucked contractor) are becoming highly knowledgeable about the band of the hand. And are sharing that knowledge with others across the nation.

Speaking of shared knowledge in public places, stay tuned for part 2 of "Easter Eggs & Tube Hogs". Chronicling the perilous adventures of those who seek slots on public access TV. See tube hogging pols blow the public off the air with gaseous gales! See maniacal mayors cut horrific cable contracts! See how gaining admittance to studio facilities can be as tough as a trek through Mordor! See the truly intrepid press on in Hudson County, New Jersey and find new ways to keep Talking Politics! And in Brooklyn, New York, see Borough President Marty Markowitz share his sweet potato pie with the masses. You'll laugh, you'll cry-- you'll reach for the Cool Whip.

Carola Von Hoffmannstahl-Solomonoff

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Copyright (c) 2004 by Carola Von Hoffmannstahl-Solomonoff. This material may be freely distributed subject to the terms and conditions set forth in the Open Publication License. This license relieves the author of any liability or implication of warranty, grants others permission to use the Content in whole or in part, and insures that the original author will be properly credited when Content is used. It also grants others permission to modify and redistribute the Content if they clearly mark what changes have been made, when they were made, and who made them. Finally, the license insures that if someone else bases a work on this Content, that the resultant work will be made available under the Open Publication License as well.

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