Underwater Mortgage? Walk Away!

by Davis Fleetwood (e) NoCureForThat {at} gmail {dot} com

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It is the American dream: get married, have children and own a home. Indirectly, one can make the argument that that dream, and the corporately sponsored accoutrements that come with it, are killing us all. But for nearly 1 in 4 homeowners who are “underwater”, owing more on their mortgages then their homes are worth, the dream turned nightmare is quite literally strangling them.

Let me help you with the solution: Stop paying your mortgage. Stop right now.

Listen: Even if you can afford the monthly note, if your mortgage is higher than your home value, stop paying your mortgage now. Default. Take the money that you would have been giving the big bank and deposit it in a locally owned bank or credit union. Wait as long as you can – you will have about one year- before you are evicted, then go rent somewhere.

Moral qualms? Get over it. Under Obama administration directives, counselors at the US department of Housing and Urban Development urge homeowners to follow the “responsible course” and pay their mortgage. This same administration is eager to give bailout money to companies like Morgan Stanley, who recently stopped making payments on five San Francisco office buildings. Morgan Stanley is able to pay back the TARP funds precisely because it makes cold business calculations and walks away from “obligations” when they are no longer financially profitable.

Real Estate developers do this all the time. Just this week, the owner of New York City’s Stuyvesant Town complex made a sound business decision: he stopped paying the $3 billion mortgage on his little square on the monopoly board.

Big Banking, the status quo, your government all have a great deal invested in you hanging on to your mortgage, honoring your commitment, and living the dream. The machine serves them. The wheels of the bus go round and round, round and round, making regular deposits for the wealthiest of the wealthy who constantly adjust the vise on your neck. It is not just underwater homeowners, but all of our relationship to this dream is akin to the ten dollar whore to her pimp, or a battered wife to her abusive husband.

I’m here to tell you honey: you don’t have to take it anymore. You can dream bigger. You can dream different. You are better than that.

If you are an underwater homeowner. Stop paying your mortgage now. If you know someone who is underwater, share this video with them and support them in their decision to walk away from their mortgages.

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Top Ten News Stories Of The Decade

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The Y2K scare, the 9/11 attack’s, Crocs, a stolen election, Twitter, Hypercapitalism, and just when you thought it was all to much, along comes Sarah Palin.

As NCFT prepares a full launch in January of 2010, The Hermit with Davis Fleetwood looks back and bestows some honors for the best in what was the worst decade ever. A decade that saw the Bush doctrine rolled out, Capitalism went on steroids and then crashed in an ugly way, China emerges as the #1 world economic superpower, music- sweet music, natural disasters, and oh yes: the United States of America elected an African American President.  All of these stories captured our attention this decade. Was it, as Time magazine declared recently, THE DECADE FROM HELL? Take a gander at The Hermit with Davis Fleetwood Top Ten News Stories of the Decade and decide for yourself.

What stories did we miss? Leave your comments below and share this with your people. (Share)

#10 Major Labels: The End of an Era

written by Vin Novara (see bio at bottom of this post)

The music industry has seen a major shift in the past ten years away from executive offices in LA and New York and back into the basement apartments and group houses of independent labels – and the industry seems less likely to regain the influence over newer sustainable artists than ever before.

Despite the best and worst efforts of the majors, the independent labels refuse to vanish. They tried luring their bands away with extra zeros, they tried partnering with indie labels by “investing” (or taking over), and they even tried ridding the world of the evils of file-sharing.

None of these tactics had any lasting effect. It must boggle the minds of the suits that the likes of Arcade Fire (with a fifth of the budget in promotion and production) can sell ten times the records of the major’s latest new Nirvana prospect. And yet, there’s Arcade Fire sharing a stage with Bowie, Bono, and the Boss. Someone needs to get this type of chaos under control.

Sulfan Stevens returned to the model of start your own damn label and sell hundreds of thousands records and maintain complete artistic control. Feel like making albums about each of the 50 states? Go ahead. Feel like writing an album of Christmas songs? Go ahead. Want to release a multi-media box set about the BQE? Why not?

Worse yet, Clap Your Hands Say Yeah have proven that you don’t even need a label to get up and running, corporate or indie. Just be an early adapter of the latest social networking software and sell your songs directly to your audience.

It’s not likely that Radiohead allowing listeners to set the price they’d pay for In Rainbows made any of the executives too thrilled either. Just what the hell is going on?

What’s going on is the end of an era. Major label music is going to be relegated to the likes of Hannah Montana and/or aging dinosaurs striking distribution deals with the likes of Wal-Mart and Target, while true artist development is going to happen away from the control and influence of executives with about as much interest in music as the Wall Street traders care about whatever is they’re shouting about.

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# 9: HURRICANE KATRINA

The claim that Hurricane Katrina- one of the deadliest Hurricane’s on record in the history of the United States- was a “natural disaster” has just been disproven. From a legal standpoint, at least.

In November of this year, a landmark court ruling blamed the Army Corps of Engineers’ “monumental negligence” for some of the worst flooding from Hurricane Katrina. The federal judge’s harshly worded decision also served as vindication for residents of St. Bernard Parish and the Lower 9th Ward in New Orleans who have long argued that Katrina was largely a man-made disaster, caused by the federal government’s failure to maintain the levees protecting the city.

Not only did the US government forsake the people of New Orleans in the days, weeks, months and years after the hurricane, but also their willful negligence created the disaster in the first place. In his 156-page ruling, Judge Duval referred to the corps’ approach to maintaining the channel as “monumental negligence.” He said he was “utterly convinced” that the corps’ failure to shore up the channel doomed it “to grow to two to three times its design width” and that “created a more forceful frontal wave attack on the levee” that protected St. Bernard and the Lower 9th Ward.

The channel became a “hurricane highway” that funneled storm surge into New Orleans. Without the wide channel, the court agreed, the flooding would have been minimal.

Repeat: The flooding would have been minimal. Shazam.

Even as cable news broadcast a constant barrage of images that looked as if they were being beamed from some third world country- the conditions were so horrific- the memory of those images is now tainted with the knowledge that this was no act of God, if you are inclined to think such acts exist, but born of the willful negligence of the Army Corps of Engineers.

And charges of systemic racism should be answered by asking yet another question: If Katrina had hit a community like West Palm Beach, would the aftermath of the Hurricane have made Katrina a top story of the decade?

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#8: THE KING OF POP DIES

Idiosyncratic even in death, Michael Jackson’s will stipulated that he be cremated and that his remains be recycled and used as plastic shipping bags the gift shop in one of his favorite places – Walt Disney.

Had this provision passed MJ would have remained in death what he was in life: white plastic and dangerous to small children.

Ok- requisite MJ joke out of the way. I know that he was white because he was obsessed with his Vitiglio. But that obsession, combined with all the plastic surgery (I mean, come on, did his plastic surgeon grant him frequent flyer miles or what) made him look like a grad school special effects project: a moc up of a character in the yet to be filmed sequel to Close Encounters of the Third Kind

All that said, for better of worse, he was my generation’s ELVIS.  While he had the talent to lay claim to the more authentic title of the next godfather of soul- inheriting that crown for James Brown, his penchant for landing in the middle of headline grabbing scandals, the invention of a dance move that defined an era- he was the first and only king of POP.

And- alleged criminal or alien activity aside- his achievement and power as an artist is undeniable.

His achievements are so monumental- the joy his music brought to the world so legion that it makes the following question worthy of debate:

Say, for the sake of argument, that Michael Jackson had a sexual relationship with a few little boys. Now stack that up against all of the good that his music poured out into the world. Now pretend that you have the power to turn back time, and make the decision, with the magic wand made available to you in such hypothetical scenarios, and you get to make the decision: you can give the world Michael Jackson, with the full knowledge that their will be some collateral damage- a few little boys will be violated at Nederland- or you can save those few little boys the pain they would endure- the emotional suffering, etc – but to do so you would have to deny the world the future king of pop.

What would you do?

I mean, the U.S. invaded Iraq. Collateral damage there is near 1 million innocent dead. And do we even get so much as a moonwalk from that fiasco?

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#7: ECONOMIC MELTDOWN

Lucky winners on a cocaine infused hedonistic incredibly hot Las Vegas style winning streak, citizens in the Unites States of America and much of the countries driven by the dollar spent the 90s and first half of the 2000s acquiring McMansions driving hummers, smoking cigars and stuffing c notes gratuities down the g string of the world.

Run out of cash? Print some more bitch! Besides, what happens in VEGAS stays in Vegas- and this party is not over.

And then, of course, seemingly overnight, it was.

In September of 2008, Insurer American International Group Inc struggled for survival a day after the financial tsunami swept away investment bank Lehman Brothers and forced the sale of rival Merrill Lynch in the biggest financial industry shake-up since the Great Depression.

By the fall of 2008, AIG had lost 92% of its value in the year- and we were then to learn, that all of our McMansions and Hummers and cigars and fancy ho’s and second homes, and credit cards; our very way of life- everything it seemed was somehow tied up with AIG. The insurer was deemed to big to fail. The United States government- ostensibly the richest in the world (but don’t tell that to the residents of New Orleans or the 50 million American citizens without healthcare) would have to save the company.

But who could have seen this coming?

Ralph Nader could. During his presidential run in 2000, Nader penned an editorial in warning of a potential taxpayer bailout similar to the savings and loan crisis, urged lawmakers to cut government benefits to mortgage-market giants Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac — which he called ‘poster children for corporate welfare.'”

We have hindsight to tell us that the housing bubble burst brought on by the failure of Fannie and Freddie was the tectonic plate shift that brought on the ensuing economic meltdown & financial Tsunami. With that kind of prescience, one would think that Obama would have people like Nader advising him on how to wade out of the troubled waters we are in.

Think of it this way:

TARP FUNDS committed: 700 billion
U.S.  Debt owned to China: 1 Trillion
Federal Reserve Rescue efforts to benefit corrupt corporations: 6.4 TRILLION

The American Dollar versus all foreign currencies: Priced – LESS
Cash is for pussies.
For everything else there is MASSA CARD: the official card of your financial slavery.

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#6: 2004 TSUNAMI

With 230,000 dead and 10 million left homeless in an instant, the December 2004 Tsunami that struck Southeast Asia is perhaps the most humbling of our top ten stories of the decade. What is there to analyze, and who is there to blame?

Tectonic plates shift a few hundred miles displace massive amounts of water send a series of 2 foot waves hurtling at speeds approaching 500 mph until they reach the coastline – without warning- where they explode onto shore- racing inland and- in this case take whole towns with them back to sea.

If you were not already wandering around in an existential crisis because man has made clear since Hiroshima and Nagasaki, that through our own folly or greed we could wipe out an entire people than you spend a moment or two contemplating what havoc mother nature can wreak.

And she does not discriminate; rich tourists alongside indigenous locals- the death toll counts among its numbers people from all over the world.

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#5: THE STOLEN U.S. PRESIDENTIAL ELECTION OF 2000

Ask Al Gore if he, like most people who had their eyes open in the fall of 2000, thinks that Presidential election that went to George Bush was stolen. In a piece for New York Magazine in 2006, John Heilmann posed that very question.

Gore pauses a long time and stares into the middle distance. There may come a time when I speak on that, Gore says, but it’s not now; I need more time to frame it carefully if I do. Gore sighs. In our system, there’s no intermediate step between a definitive Supreme Court decision and violent revolution.

In the same article, the question of Gore’s views on the matter was put to David Boies, his lawyer in the Florida-recount battle. He thought the court’s ruling was wrong and obviously political, Boies says. So he considers the election stolen? I think he does and he’s right.

Given that the person who was the beneficiary of said stolen election, George Bush, leveraged the fear and anger in the wake of the 9/11 attacks to hop on his horse and launch us into a crusade against evil- making us all- willingly or no, characters in the book of revelations 2.0 – (think of a nightmarish end of days scenario played out as a reality TV show), while treating the constitution like a gun slinging cowboy might treat a cheap whore. Add to that the fact that Bush and his administration did more to engender hatred against the United States across the globe than all previous administrations combined and then sprinkle, on top of this list of accomplishments- 1 million dead innocent civilian Iraqis.

I can agree with Al Gores assessment that there’s no intermediate step between a definitive Supreme Court decision and violent revolution. Given histories unfolding events after the 2000 election.

My regret is that it was a step not taken.

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#4: ELECTION OF OBAMA TO U.S. PRESIDENCY

Just as little orphan Annie comforted herself with the coda “the sun will come out tomorrow” citizens in the United States who buried their head in the sand and told themselves they were doing something during the horror show that was the Bush Administration by placing a 1/20/09 bumper sticker on the back of their Prius got to experience the catharsis of a the end of an error.

The rallying cries of ‘hope’ and ‘Yes, we can!’  Delivered in the iconic ways to follow Sheppard Faery agit prop resulted in the historic election of an African-American to the US presidency.

Parenthetically- or perhaps just pathetically – it is a particular blow to independent thinkers that an artist like Sheppard Fairy- who made his career as a culture jammer a graffiti artist whose famous “OBEY” images w. Andre the Giant staring at you were at least a tiny spoke in the wheels of Hyper capitalism and corporate culture- was now co-opted to make us OBEY and get in line behind CHANGE.

Change, so far, has turned out to be the Bush doctrine delivered with the careful application of a thesaurus from a man who looks better in a suit than the village idiot now serving a lonely retirement in Texas.

But for a country built on the backs of slaves, a country that sent a women to jail not so long ago because of the color of her skin and where she sat on a bus- for a country that in the 21 century let a whole city drown and die slowly because the victims of the flood induced hurricane were primarily low income African Americans -

That’s right- don’t tell me that the Katrina aftermath would have played out the same way if Katrina touched down on Key West.

For a country with so much blood on her hands when it comes to issues surrounding race, the election of Barack Obama is without a doubt: History Book material. Where were you when material?

I myself was lucky enough to be in the nations capitol on election night, soaking in history at campaign party where the candidate himself was the guest of honor. I even got to toss one back with the candidate-

Of course, the candidate was Ralph Nader, and about 84 people attended the party, but nevertheless – the night was undeniably historic. And, even at the after party of one of the loosing candidates the mood was, if I remember correctly: hopeful.

#3: THE AGE OF HYPERCAPITALISM

written by Allison Kilkenny (see bio at bottom of this post)

No other economic system in the history of the world has done so much damage to the environment, society, culture, and the lives of billions of human beings.

While Capitalism has been with us ever since humans first determined labor should be compensated with pay, Hypercapitalism is a fairly new phenomenon that involves massive overleveraging by financial firms and widespread deregulation by the government. Hypercapitalism is also known by another name: Corporatism, or Fascism, which simply means the combination of a radical and authoritarian nationalism with a corporatist economic system.

Put more simply: Hypercapitalism, Corporatism, and Fascism, all share the trait of promoting the interests of private business corporations in government over the interests of the public.

Such reckless acts like overleveraging and deregulation alone would be irresponsible – at worst, temporarily dangerous. However, the Cult of Hypercapitalism infests not only Wall Street, but also the US government with revolving door appointments (Paulson, Geithner, Rubin, etc.) who invaded D.C. in order to uphold the very broken system they worked to expand.

For decades, Hypercapitalism has been taught as a virtue in our country’s “finest” educational institutions. The cream of the crop from Harvard and Yale are trained not only to bolster Hypercapitalism, but to make as much money as quickly as possible. These graduates go on to lead some of the largest financial firms in the world.

So when the whole system collapsed during the bailout crisis, there were no fresh minds to hypothesize a solution outside of the current system. The solution to a problem has never come from the set of mistakes that caused the problem in the first place, and yet the same Hypercapitalist Sentinels were employed – again – to brainstorm solutions to arguably the worst financial disaster since the Great Depression.

Except, this isn’t the only time since the GD that the economy has tanked. There has been a multitude of failures, on average, once every three years, according to Larry Summers. Such a woeful track record might give smart economists pause. What kind of system fails every three years?

The obvious answer is: a broken system. At the very least: an under-regulated one that has encourages and breeds reckless, immoral behavior.

Wealth disparity is increasing in America and in the world. The bottom half of the world’s adult population owns barely 1% of global wealth. People are starving and dying from preventable diseases, while the CEOs of taxpayer bailed-out institutions reward themselves with lavish bonuses. For what? Failing?

And that’s the crux of Hypercapitalism: failure. It’s an economic system that fails every three years and fails to provide for 99% of the planet’s population. It’s fueled by the bottom line – a never-ending quest to slash expenses and maximize profits – no matter what the human toll. If the race to the bottom entails destroying the planet, union busting, exploiting cheap labor, and destroying indigenous cultures, so be it. At least a few CEOs get to buy another summerhouse – or a yacht.

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#2: 9/11 & “THE WAR ON TERROR”

The attacks of September 11, 2001 have taken on metaphorical, mythical proportions in the lives of many people in the United States and around the world.

But on 9/11/01, John and Kathy McAlister were not thinking of metaphor.

Married for 10 years- John and Kathy McAlister worked together at a small storefront business they owned in Tribeca.  On the morning of Sept. 11th, they dropped their 7 year old daughter off at school went to work together. Before their second cup of coffee, the towers came down.

They were not thinking of terrorists attacks. They were not thinking of conspiracy theories. Biological instinct had kicked in: they were thinking of their daughter.

A desperate dash to the elementary school.  Hugs.  Sighs of relief- and John and Kathy were reunited with their daughter- 7 year old Cassandra.

Rising from the rubble: "W"

As fall turned into winter, Cassandra was confused to see her parents occasionally burst into tears. Her father sat numbly in front of the TV while her Mommy tried to distract her.

At dinner one night, feeling awkward by how silent her parents were, Cassandra changed the subject in a way only a seven year old can:

How can SANTA deliver presents in one night to children all over the world? How a fat man can fit down a chimney?

She was full of questions.

Why don’t we have a chimney? Do reindeer drink a magic potion to fly? Can I have a horse for Christmas? How does SANTA teleport himself from store to store to street corner to street corner? How does Santa know if a child has been good, or if I have been bad?

Grateful for the distraction from the news of the day- John and Kathy shared a chuckle. They knew this day would come-and had prepared to ease Cassandra gently away from the myth of Santa Claus- but Kathy looked at John and shook her head “no” and John made a decision right then, a promise he would keep, that, no matter what it took, SANTA would deliver everything on Cassandra’s list that year.

Santa, Kathy told Cassandra, is magic.
Santa, John told his daughter, is real.

After tucking in Cassandra- John and Kathy joined every other adult who owned a television in watching the continuing news reports of the season. Before they went to bed, they saw the towers come down another 200 times.

They would not believe it if you told them 9/11 had already been seized to run a political agenda. An agenda that would has set America on a course of pre-emption that would lead to the devastation of a country that had nothing to do with the attacks while destroying our own constitution.

They sat and watched TV and saw citizens of their own city leap from skyscrapers.
They would not believe it if you told them about the Patriot Act that would make criminals out of patriots, of a President who would boast of illegally wiretapping his own citizens, among the many invasions of privacy and deterioration of civil liberties that civilians in the United States would endure.

They learned the unfolding story of 9/11 just as it was meant to be understood.

Kathy’s mind drifted back to her daughter, blissfully ignorant and asleep.

“Reindeers really do know how to fly,” she said, squeezing John’s hand. “Reindeers really do know how to fly.”

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#1: CHINA EMERGES AS WORLDS LEADING ECONOMY

Americans, and citizens of other western countries are in denial.

To read Martin Jacques new book “When China Rules the World: The End of the Western World and the Birth of a New Global Order” is to be alarmed. As Jaques makes clear, China’s emergence as the undisputed #1world leader as an economic world power has implications that dwarf the economic ones that are obvious to anyone within arms reach of any “mad in” tag.

Quick – look at the first ten things around you and ask yourself: where were they made?

Western Countries assume that, as China assumes world domination, she will become more like us. But Jaques argues that “we stand on the eve of a different kind of world” and that common assumptions in the West — China will become increasingly like us, and the international system “will remain broadly as it now is with China acquiescing in the status quo” are far off the mark. He asserts that China’s “impact on the world will be as great as that of the United States over the last century, probably far greater.”

Listen: Tiananmen Square and the repression of the Tibetans not withstanding, China has done her best to keep a low profile: playing the submissive, laying the foundation for her massive economic growth with a coy smile on her face. Now that China is emerging as the most powerful country in the world, she will be in a position to ditch the polite geisha girl act and release her inner dragon.

Is this change we can believe in?

The Generation coming of age in America right now will face a moral and existential crisis. Will we hold onto the American dream- itself an outgrowth of a super entitled manifest destiny – one of infinite expansion and growth that we can literally no longer afford (did in mention that we are 1 trillion in debt to China?) or do we go the way of Denmark, Holland or Norway- Countries rooted in Socialist leaning democracies that cannot boast world domination, but can boast a citizenry that is, according to the Economist quality of life index, much happier than those of us in America.

To achieve this, we would need to euthanize or at least re-invent, the American dream.

My advice for Westerners in the next decade is to listen to the immortal words of Bruce Lee:

“Empty your mind. Be formless. Shapeless. Like Water. You put water into a bottle, it becomes the bottle. You put water into a teapot, it becomes the teapot. Water can flow, or it can crash. Be water my friend.”

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Written by Davis Fleetwood, except for #10: Major Labels: The End Of An Era (by Vin Novarra) and #3: Hypercapitalism (written by Allison Kilkenny).

Vin Novara is a musician and performing arts archivist in the Washington, DC area.

Allison Kilkenny is a radio host and political humorist, a fancy way of saying writer, who makes shitty world news funny. She is a regular contributor to the Huffington Post, the Beast, 236.com, Alternet.org, and Wiretap Magazine. Her work has also appeared on The Nation and she is a regular guest on SIRIUS radio. Allison’s essay “Youth Surviving Subprime” appears in The Nation’s new book, Meltdown: How Greed and Corruption Shattered Our Financial System and How We Can Recover beside essays by Ralph Nader, Joseph Stiglitz, Barbara Ehrenreich, and Naomi Klein.

Davis Fleetwood was a writer & media consultant for Dennis Kucinich’s 2008 presidential campaign & a 2007 “Best of YouTube” nominee for his work as writer/ performer on The Hermit with Davis Fleetwood.

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