Friday, October 10, 2008

How Hood Street Connects with Main Street Cuz Both Got Fucked by Wall Street

It was so obvious that Weird Wally almost blew it off...

About New York

The Crisis, as Seen by the Have-Nots

Published: September 30, 2008

This article first appeared in the New York Times a few days ago.

On a chair outside Johnson’s Barbecue on Tinton Avenue in the Bronx, Keith McLean had thoroughly considered the $700 billion bailout of Wall Street.

“That’s for C.E.O.’s,” said Mr. McLean. “And I am a P-O-O-R.”

Mr. McLean, who helps out in the barbecue stand, lives in one of the poorest Congressional districts in the country, a half-hour subway ride to Wall Street. On Monday, José E. Serrano, the Democrat who represents the district, voted against the bailout package. He was the only member of Congress from the city to do so.

In a walk through parts of the district, it was easy to find people who, while indifferent to the outcome of the vote, were intensely interested in the machinations leading to the drama of closed banks and astronomical bailouts. For many, the financial package was another in a series of manufactured crises.

James Jacobs, who cuts hair at Six Corners Barbershop, said he felt that an atmosphere of paranoia had been deliberately cultivated, leading to the war in Iraq and now to the financial alarm.

“They scare people with bomb threats,” Mr. Jacobs said.

Edwin Mitchell, who works in a car dealership, was sitting alongside him. “We got stuck up,” he said.

“It’s corporate America doing what corporate America does,” Mr. Jacobs said.

“Organized crime,” Mr. McLean said.

“It’s the new organized crime,” Mr. Jacobs said.

“Ain’t nothing new about it,” Mr. McLean said.

“We’re not going to see none of that,” Mr. Jacobs said. “Not one red cent. Whichever way it goes. We ain’t going to see it, we ain’t going to feel it. If we do it feel it, its going to be negatively, and a few of us might lose a few jobs.”

Mr. McLean had tracked the news carefully. “Washington Mutual, he was on the job three weeks, he got $11 million,” he said.

Actually, it was more. Three weeks before Washington Mutual failed, it hired Alan H. Fishman as its chief executive officer, and paid him a signing bonus of $7.5 million. He is also eligible for $11.6 million in cash severance.

For the men in front of Johnson’s, there was plain symmetry between the Iraq war and the financial crisis: Young people shipped out to a trillion-dollar bloodbath in the Middle East, in pursuit of nonexistent weapons of mass destruction; and banks collapsing on top of mortgages handed out to people without enough money for a bag of groceries. And how, Mr. Mitchell wondered, could it be that Osama bin Laden had not been captured? “You can look down from outer space and see a dime on a city street, and you can’t find him?” he said.

From personal experience, he said, he knew that credit cards were another species of mirage.

“How does a person get credit that never had a regular job, no bank account, no sign of being a respectable person, and he winds up with three or four credit cards?” Mr. Mitchell asked. “I was out of work there for a couple of years, and I ended up with three credit cards. American Express. Visa. I forget the other one. And the banks give all these loans to people knowing they can’t pay, but they get a commission. Let them pay their commissions.”

If disgust, or horror, at the bailout was universal, there was not unanimity on what had to be done. The owner of the barbecue stand, Dwayne Johnson, 50, said he was outraged that many members of the Congressional black caucus had voted against the bailout.

“They voted no, they don’t have that right,” Mr. Johnson said. “The only way you can help the community is get it passed. If you’re the president and you can’t get 10 votes to pass it, then that’s bad. If you’re Obama, you can’t get 10 votes, that’s bad.”

Midaglia Rodriguez, 60, said that she worried that a new Depression was just over the horizon, and that she believed the bailout was necessary. “It should go through, to fix the situation,” she said.

Regardless of the outcome of votes in Congress, Mr. Mitchell said, he would still face the daily struggle to make a living and keep a roof over his head.

“I love this country, the best country on the planet. I love this city, best city in the world,” he said. “I don’t see a change that is going to affect me. I’m going to do what I always did. Survive. The best way I could.”

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