American Justice: The Divide Between Rich and Poor

In 2008 I was 18 years old and a senior in high school. During that year I was chasing girls, shaving for the first time, lifting weights, getting ready for college, and trying to endure my last bout of public education. Life was good and I had no idea what was going on in the world around me. Besides randy teenagers, most people were aware of the financial crisis that was taking place in 2008. This collapse in our economy was arguably the second worst financial disaster in United States history-second only to the Great Depression. In only a year, this financial crisis wiped out 40% of the WORLD’S wealth which equated to trillions of dollars of loss. Huge banks like Lehman Brothers imploded while lucky others like Bank of America and Chase were bailed out by the government. What caused the Great Recession? This question was explained to me in the amazing book, The Divide: American Injustice in the Age of the Wealth Gap by Matt Taibbi. Go read this book! This is one of the top 5 books I have ever read and honestly it has changed my perspective on the world. With that said, the book contrasts the Financial Crisis of 2008 with the current state of how the poor are treated in America. The juxtaposition of stories about the rich and poor classes is eyeopening in respect to the unfairness of the current judicial system. This blog post only scratches the surface of this books details, points, and moving anecdotes.

The 2008 Financial Crisis was first and foremost caused by illegal activity on Wall Street. Leading up to the crisis, major banks and lending agencies were addicted to subprime mortgages. A subprime mortgage is a home loan for individuals who have bad credit, have little to no down-payment, and limited knowledge of interest rates. The banks specifically targeted poor individuals to take on these high interest loans even though their financial history was dismal and their likelihood of paying the loan was extremely suspect. These loans were obviously a disaster waiting to happen but the real kicker is that the banks bundled these as secure AAA investments for other institutions (including the government) to invest in. This toxic combination lead to a housing market collapse and subsequent banking collapse because these institutions were leveraged based largely on the subprime mortgages. In the end, these fraudulent practices by America’s leading institutions destroyed countless pensions, wiped out retirement savings, and initiated the loss of hundreds of thousands of jobs over the next five years. What was the punishment for the people who caused this collapse? NONE! No single person was brought to trial or prosecuted. Banks were fined but none were forced to admit that they did anything wrong. Added to that, the banks’ fines amounted to such small amounts that they recouped their losses in a matter of weeks.

This total lack of justice for the ultra wealthy has become the norm in America. There is a ridiculous amount of evidence against bank executives which is not being pursued by the justice department. This is contrasted in the book by the ridiculous police methods being enforced on poor individuals. New York has search and seizure laws that essentially allow police to detain anyone (almost always blacks) for no reason at all. The nation as a whole has laws that don’t allow immigrants any due process of law and the right to hold these individuals indefinitely. Welfare recipients have forced home searches where officials can rummage through all their belongings to ensure they are actually poor enough to receive benefits. If you are an immigrant or poor, the American justice system looks much different then if you are a rich bank executive on Wall Street. Of course we all know this to some degree but the author’s point is that our country’s justice system has to be in a vacuum; treating rich and poor alike. We roll over and let the ultra-rich get away with crime while systematically imprisoning more people (mainly poor) then any other country in the world. This injustice needs to be addressed and we need to at least try to change the system for the better. Again, this book is a must read and goes into these topics in much greater detail. America is currently an oligarchy that is run by very wealthy individuals and institutions. Does this mean we should role over and take it? No. It means we need to be aware of the injustices of the system so we can slowly bring back the balance of equality. Success doesn’t come over night but the sum of small efforts overtime can make America a great place no matter how much is in your wallet, no matter where you live, and no matter what you look like in the mirror.

The Confederate Battle “Cry”-ing

On Friday, I went to see the fireworks in Baroda, Michigan to celebrate the Fourth of July. To my dismay, I saw several large Confederate flags flying in the back of excessively large pickup trucks. I found this perplexing because these were Michiganders who, during the Civil War, fought against the south; in one example, the entirety of males in Flint, MI, with the mayor as their commander, signed up do defend the union during America’s bloodiest war. What does the Confederate Flag represent in today’s age? State’s rights? Racism? Heritage? Pride? I believe it is a combination of all those things with groups emphasizing certain meanings to suit their agendas (think the KKK with racism and the state of South Carolina with heritage).  I wanted to know more about the Confederacy and the Civil War in general so I read The Civil War by Geoffrey Ward. I highly recommend this book because it not only goes over the war in understandable detail but it also has essays that explain why the war came about, who freed the slaves,the politics of war, the views of the men who fought, and what the war did to shape US history.

The Civil War began on April 12th, 1861 when Fort Sumter in South Carolina was taken by the Confederacy. The first shot of the war occurred in the first state that seceded from the Union. Actually, South Carolina seceded on December 20th, 1860 as a direct result of Abraham Lincoln being elected one month prior; seven states would secede before Lincoln was even inaugurated. Why did these state’s hate Abraham Lincoln so much? The answer is complex but Lincoln was the first president in the history of the United States who had a political agenda to prevent the spread of slavery. He did not want to initially abolish slavery but he did not want it to spread to the new territories acquired by the Mexican-American War. Lincoln believed that slavery would eventually extinguish itself in the south and that there was no need to abolish it during his term. The South, felt threatened by this very moderate platform and believed that a Republican administration would lead to a world where slave holding would be stigmatized as morally wrong, slaves would be encouraged to rise up against their masters, and racial equality would exist. The newly formed Confederate States of America adopted the US constitution but made one major amendment-slavery could never be abolished. This one fact makes it quite obvious that the Confederacy was formed because of slavery and nothing else. The argument of State’s Rights is a hard sale because the Confederate government made no concessions in their adopted US constitution to increase State’s Rights and it actually infringed upon State’s Rights by enforcing the first draft in history. Furthermore, the North had just as many “State’s Rights” transgressions related to slavery with the enforcement of the Fugitive-Slave Act and the Dred Scott decision which essentially said slavery could not be prohibited in any of the “Free States.”

To simply put it, 11 southern states ran away from the union, crying like spoiled children, because they “believed” they wouldn’t be allowed to enslave people anymore. This tantrum led to the death of over 600,000 people to restore the Union and to finally force the end of slavery. So what does the Confederate flag represent? It represents the continuation of slavery at all costs-including the death of it’s citizens and the once great Union that it broke from. Is this the “Heritage” that Confederate flag supporters are talking about? Are you proud of a heritage of ignorance, political paranoia, and innumerable-citizen deaths for the continuation of slavery? I’m not, and that is why the Confederate flag should not be associated with any government institution today. We are the United States of America and the only flag we should be flying is the one with 50 stars-promoting the idea that we are a synergistic union of states which strives for freedom and equal treatment of all its citizens. Happy Fourth of July 🙂