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December 13, 2009

The Particular Darkness of Our Great Recession

Apartment evictions.jpg

What gives our Great Recession its particular darkness … is the disconnect between the corporate culture that is dictating the firing and the rest of us. In the shorthand of the day, it’s the dichotomy between Wall Street and Main Street, though that oversimplifies the divide. This disconnect isn’t just about the huge gap in income between the financial sector and the rest of America. Nor is it just about the inequities of a government bailout that rescued the irresponsible bankers who helped crash the economy while shortchanging the innocent victims of their reckless gambles. What “Up in the Air” captures is less didactic. It makes palpable the cultural and even physical chasm that opened up between the two Americas for years before the financial collapse.

The private-equity deal makers who bought and sold once-solid companies like trading cards, saddling them with debt, never saw the workers whose jobs were shredded by their cunning games of financial looting. The geniuses in Washington and on Wall Street who invented junk mortgages and then bundled and sold them as securities didn’t live in the same neighborhoods as the mortgagees, small investors and retirees left holding the bag once the housing bubble burst.

Those at the top are separated from the consequences of their actions.

The words above, from this morning’s Frank Rich column inspired by the movie “Up in the Air,” seem to speak directly to this photo by Getty’s tireless recession watchdog, John Moore. In this instance, Boulder resident Harvey Lesser –  an unemployed software developer with chronic health problems related to obesity — was woken up on Friday by Sheriff deputies with a court order to evict him. Having burned through his savings, Harvey had stopped paying rent.
With Larry Summers schmoozing the unemployment numbers, and with the administration jawboning the banks to somehow self-police themselves while otherwise enabling them to maintain business as usual, the fallout continues desperately, disasterously and mostly under-the-radar.
Slide show here.

(photo: John Moore, December 11, 2009)

  • Marie

    This is both heartbreaking and angering. And homeless numbers continue to rise…

  • Ursula L

    I’m curious about your choice to describe Lesser as having “burned through” his savings. “Burned through” suggests a level of recklessness, while what I expect you’re describing is someone living, fairly frugally, off of their savings when out of work and having no other sufficient source of income to meet their expenses.
    Portraying the jobless as somehow reckless and irresponsible is too common.

  • crabby

    and the sheriff officers kicking him to the street deserve no mention? They are the good germans that are tending the ovens… just doing their job. They would be better off quitting or putting a bullet in their own head.

  • Norm

    Earlier I was just reading, at another site, a piece about Senator Lieberman blocking health care reform because he says he’s concerned about the impact on the country’s deficits. This is a guy who rushes to vote for hundreds of billions for endless wars but gets all upset about a few billions spent to help Americans get adequate healthcare.
    Just after reading that I got an email from my sister that my 87 year old mother was admitted to the hospital for a serious problem. Because the state healthcare program that covers her doesn’t cover this particular health problem she has to switch over to medicare until it is resolved. Then back to the state program. My sister, who lives nearby, is a CPA and is handling all this but finds it time consuming, confusing, and frustrating.
    Joe Lieberman and the rest of the pompous windbags who pass for leadership in this country don’t give a damn about my mother, your mother, or this poor guy being evicted from his home. It’s all a game to them. A game played for money and power. And the sheep in this country just go along with it. We get the government that we deserve.

  • kate mckinnon

    This is a particularly heartbreaking photograph.

  • Stella

    Why, oh why is there a photographer?

  • pragmatic realist

    This man should have been in a HUD subsidized senior citizen apartment with an SSI disability pension. I am sure there is a long sad story about why he was not. The trip to the hospital may have saved him if the hospital social workers take up the case and help him get what he needs.
    I will hope that this happens as it is the only way I can stop thinking about these pictures.

    And if you do good to those who do good to you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners do the same.
    And if you lend to those from whom you hope to receive, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners, to receive as much again.
    But love your enemies, and do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return; and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High; for he is kind to the ungrateful and the selfish.
    Be merciful, even as your Father is merciful.
    “Judge not, and you will not be judged; condemn not, and you will not be condemned; forgive, and you will be forgiven;
    give, and it will be given to you; good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, will be put into your lap. For the measure you give will be the measure you get back.”

  • Norm

    You express the teachings of the Buddha with a quote from the bible. Very clever.

  • Norm

    To document. To show.

  • Norm

    The job of the police is to protect the interests of the state. The job of the state is to serve the interests of the ownership class. Our job is to work hard, pay our taxes, and not criticize. To be good little sheep. And we are very good at performing that job.

  • Michael Shaw (The BAG)

    Ursula, I understand your point. My intention, however, was to be nothing less than empathetic.

    • Pastafarian

      Michael, Wall Street burns through money.

      Main Street tries to keep from getting immolated. 

      Your empathy is surely proven by your long record on this blog. I do agree with Ursula however. It is in little moments such as that that we discover how our imagic and linguistic universes have been structured to cast reality in subtle ways in particular directions. 

      It’s the same reason (as I’ve noted elsewhere in comments) that it’s worse to call a woman a “cunt” or to take unflattering pictures of her eating a corn dog, than it is to call Angelo Mozilo a predatory banker. We’d think at this point that the latter would induce projectile vomiting and mass outbreaks of pitchforks-n-torches. But “thief,” “speculator,” and “banker” just doesn’t do that. 

      Many thanks for your work; BNN is one of my liferings. FSM bless you.

  • Emjay

    I am weeping as I look at those pictures – can’t someone do something. Those Wall Street thieves has no conscience. What is the answer?

  • Emjay

    “have” no conscience. Sorry! :=(

  • Kit (Keep It Trill)

    So sad…

  • low-tech cyclist

    “Calling it your job, old hoss, sure don’t make it right
    But if you want me to, I’ll say a prayer for your soul tonight.”
    -Mellencamp, “Scarecrow”

  • statusquomustgo

    this is beyond heartbreaking…

  • yg

    from dawn teo:

    PHOENIX–As reported by a local ABC affiliate earlier today, an embittered homeowner shot himself in the head Tuesday on the outskirts of town as SWAT members entered his home to evict him due to an impending foreclosure.
    When deputies arrived around mid morning to evict the homeowner, the man left a pleading voice message with the police department, telling them he had no where else to live and asking them what he should do.
    Foreclosure and eviction-related suicides and attempted suicides are becoming all too common during our nation’s economic crisis. Last year, a woman faxed a note to her lender before committing suicide on the day her home was to be auctioned saying, “By the time you read this, I’ll be dead.” Her note said that she had simply run out of options. An retired couple in Oregon filled their house with carbon monoxide, killing themselves and their four Golden Retrievers after they were unable to negotiate with their mortgage lender to get out of foreclosure.
    Losing a home is one of the most stressful and traumatic events that can happen to a person. A home is part of who a person is. Success is often measured by the worth of one’s home. Hardworking Americans own their own homes. So much of what a person owns in a home is an emotional investment — a feeling of security, the status that accompanies it, the self-worth that a homeowner feels.

    more if you google: eviction swat teams.

  • Aurora

    In my case, I held on by my fingernails for the Disability Application, Initial Rejection (automatic in the early oo’s) and then a hearing. I was lucky, and was approveda after 1 hearing. Then I get a lumpsum for all the months I should have been on SSD and that makes me ineligible for the ring of care: food pantry, food stamp, Medicaid that has helped me stay afloat. So, am actually worse off, but at least have hospital coverage.
    And the health went south all those 2 1/2 years waiting, especially my teeth…not dental coverage with Medicare…and you never get out of the hole…My thoughts and prayers for all of us in the cesspit. Feeling like it’s time to get mad…

  • Aurora

    HUD housing lines were 3 years in the waiting, nothing for a single adult.

  • R.K.

    Harvey’s sister, Sue Mandell, and mentioned in the slideshow, saved the day.
    Here in her own words is her posting on the slideshow “Discuss this Story” from’s Newsvine: I am Harvey’s sister and I want to thank everyone for the very kind thoughts. This has been a very difficult time. Harvey’s neighbors, Emily, Ruthie and Brad moved all of Harvey’s belongings into an empty garage to keep them safe and out of the snow. God Bless Them. I don’t know how I could have handles finding a place and moving his things when I arrived from CA. They made a horrible time a little easier.
    Harvey will be coming to my home and my husband is graciously trying to figure a way to build some privacy into our living room for him. This is no one’s ideal situation, especially financially with this economy. We are struggling too, but at least we will all have a roof over our heads.
    With regard to donations, they are not necessary, but of course would be appreciated. If you care to do so, you can reach me at [email protected]. My office number is (909) 987-5005 ext 250. WeTip, PO Box 1296, Rancho Cucamonga, CA 91729. God Bless you.
    It is up to us from now on to take care of each other, as the aid agencies are simply overwhelmed and Goldman Sachs has completed its coup de etat of the federal government.
    There can’t be two Americas like this for much longer. The people will get pissed and fight back. No wonder Goldman Sachs execs are arming themselves.

  • Michael Shaw

    Your welcome. I appreciate your thoughts.

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