Friday, May 14, 2010

Housing as a human right

By Bill Quigley, Counterpunch

May has seen an upsurge in local organizations exercising their human rights to housing.  Most people recognize that international human rights guarantee all humans a right to housing.  With the millions of homeless living in our communities and the millions of empty foreclosed houses all across our communities, groups have decided to put them together.

Organizations across the US are engaging in “housing liberation” and “housing defense” to exercise their human rights to housing.   Here are a few examples.

Madison

In Madison Wisconsin, the grass-roots organization Operation Welcome Home helped Desiree Wilson, 24, a mother with small children to move into a vacant house, hook up utilities and change the locks, according to nbc15.com in Madison.  The home was vacant due to foreclosure.  Bank of America owns the home now.   “It's not against the law, “said Ms. Wilson. “This is above the law.  It's just so much bigger than me.  Housing is a human right.”

Operation Welcome Home held a press conference criticizing the billions of dollars in bailouts to mortgage lenders.  “We're asking them to turn over the property to the community whose tax dollars are funding what they are doing.”  One of the spokespersons for the group, Z!Haukness, reminded people that “housing is a human right, no matter what income, no matter what rental history.”  The group plans more “liberations” of other vacant property.

A local land trust, Madison Area Community Land Trust, says if the activists convince the bank to donate the home the trust can find the resources to turn it into affordable housing.  Taking over the vacant foreclosed property is “a brave move” says Michael Carlson of the Madison trust.  Carlson told the Madison Cap Times “They're compelling the citizens of Dane County to confront the very real contradictions in the way we provide housing – massive surpluses in the market that led to a collapse in credit and simultaneously people without shelter and permanent affordable housing.”

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The Great American Bubble Machine

By  Matt Taibbi, Rolling Stone

The first thing you need to know about Goldman Sachs is that it's everywhere. The world's most powerful investment bank is a great vampire squid wrapped around the face of humanity, relentlessly jamming its blood funnel into anything that smells like money. In fact, the history of the recent financial crisis, which doubles as a history of the rapid decline and fall of the suddenly swindled dry American empire, reads like a Who's Who of Goldman Sachs graduates.

By now, most of us know the major players. As George Bush's last Treasury secretary, former Goldman CEO Henry Paulson was the architect of the bailout, a suspiciously self-serving plan to funnel trillions of Your Dollars to a handful of his old friends on Wall Street. Robert Rubin, Bill Clinton's former Treasury secretary, spent 26 years at Goldman before becoming chairman of Citigroup — which in turn got a $300 billion taxpayer bailout from Paulson. There's John Thain, the asshole chief of Merrill Lynch who bought an $87,000 area rug for his office as his company was imploding; a former Goldman banker, Thain enjoyed a multi-billion-dollar handout from Paulson, who used billions in taxpayer funds to help Bank of America rescue Thain's sorry company. And Robert Steel, the former Goldmanite head of Wachovia, scored himself and his fellow executives $225 million in golden-parachute payments as his bank was self-destructing. There's Joshua Bolten, Bush's chief of staff during the bailout, and Mark Patterson, the current Treasury chief of staff, who was a Goldman lobbyist just a year ago, and Ed Liddy, the former Goldman director whom Paulson put in charge of bailed-out insurance giant AIG, which forked over $13 billion to Goldman after Liddy came on board. The heads of the Canadian and Italian national banks are Goldman alums, as is the head of the World Bank, the head of the New York Stock Exchange, the last two heads of the Federal Reserve Bank of New York — which, incidentally, is now in charge of overseeing Goldman — not to mention …

But then, any attempt to construct a narrative around all the former Goldmanites in influential positions quickly becomes an absurd and pointless exercise, like trying to make a list of everything. What you need to know is the big picture: If America is circling the drain, Goldman Sachs has found a way to be that drain — an extremely unfortunate loophole in the system of Western democratic capitalism, which never foresaw that in a society governed passively by free markets and free elections, organized greed always defeats disorganized democracy.

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