Now that that this year's Oscars are history, imagine if you will, an awards ceremony honoring not the best of the best but the worst of the worst, not just spinoffs like the "Razzies" (the Golden Razberries) for movies. Who should we single out as the biggest slime balls and sleazoids who caused the most damage to our society in the year gone by?
Can you envision an Academy Award-like statuette to "honor" the people we should be despising the most?
The political among us will immediately visualize potential awardees among our own devil incarnates. On the liberal left, perhaps it would be that dick Cheney or even Bill O' Reilly; on the right that ever evil Bubbaman, Bill Clinton, or the liberal media's NY Times might be pounced on by the "wingers," like red meat, at least before the recalls.
Others would conjure up offending glitterati, easy targets like Paris Hilton or Lindsey Lohan, and others among the most photographed famous for being famous non-functionals among us.
We all have our personal top ten lists of the big enchiladas we love to hate. Bashing Bush as a recreational sport is fading across the spectrum, as his approval ratings continue to fall and his "power" is seen more and more as a joke.
My guess is that few among us would know who to name among the real decision makers, the truly powerful-financiers, traders, corporate honchos-who have taken our once prospering economy and flushed it down the toilet. Why not honor the investment banker who lost the most, the predatory lender who stole the most, and the regulators who were asleep at the switch? If we can't put Wall Street on trial, we can at least shame the masters of the universe with scorn and satire.
For reasons that have everything to do with proclivities of our press, our distracted culture, and the persistence of traditions among the politically active, most of us think that the White House is the only epicenter for change. We focus on political change and ignore the economic interests and wheeler/dealers who set the parameters -and limits---for what politicians can accomplish.
Look around. Check out your rising credit card bills with their ever rising fees and interest. Inflation is driving prices up, not only at the pump but at grocery stores and shopping centers. Jobs are harder than ever to find in part because of outsourcing and layoffs, in part because a decline in investments in industries that hire and pay well. Travel abroad and you'll weep at how little your dollars can buy.
While economists worry about "staving off" a recession, some parts of the country are already -wash my mouth out with soap for saying this---in a depression. (Analysts at investment banks say the recession is here!) Please forgive my use of "the 'D word" even if economists are looking back to 1933 to come up with ideas for how to stem the free fall in housing values. Already, former Treasury Secretary says this may be the "worst crisis in housing finance since the Depression."
Fear of economic collapse is replacing fear of terrorism. The real homeland insecurity these days is to be found among the two-to five million (yup, the number has been expanded) American families who are in danger of having their homes foreclosed. Add in all their tenants and their neighborhoods---because when one house goes, property values decline next door and the tax base quickly erodes.
California is among the hardest hit states, a reality not mentioned at the Academy awards, of course, probably because Beverly Hills and Manhattan real estate are not feeling the pain yet. Home ownership is part an industry that sells the American dream, and Hollywood is known as the Dream Factory. Marion Cotillard, the French actress who won for Best Actress said her award showed that "it is true there are angels in this city. " LA is known as the "City of Angels."
Oui, ma chÃƒ©rie, mon amour, there are good guys, but also bad institutions. Very bad!
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While she was having a beautiful emotional moment in front of a global audience, 650,000 foreclosed properties were for sale in California according to RealyTrac, the company that is tracking this slow-motion disaster. That was an increase of 177% over the year before. 9821 California homes went into foreclosure just this past January, says another research firm, representing about $8 billion in value. Over 25,000 homes are in pre-foreclosure in Los Angeles alone as of Oscar Sunday. Nationwide, 1.7 million homes defaulted last year.
Most of these homes were owner -occupied, so we are not just talking about an abstraction but millions of real people, disrupted lives and dreams for families affecting schooling and even voting because most registrations are residential. This problem has been called a "50-State Katrina."
And most of these homeowners are likely in deep debt now that they can't use their homes as ATM machines to pay off their credit card bils. Even as credit cards are being talked about as the next bubble to burst, the Oscar telecast on ABC hyped credit cards as marketed by Master Card. They were a major advertiser among all the talk of the greater glory of American entertainment.
Many of our media outlets themselves have taken in millions in ad revenues from ads for deceptive lenders and get rich quick schemes. The media has been encouraging Americans to shop till we drop and go more deeply into debt. Even a recent Superbowl broadcast ran cool but misleading ads by Ameriquest, a loan company that has since imploded along with credit card companies and mortgage hustlers. And now the Oscars lend their "credibility" to the plastic prison.
Many of those who borrowed themselves into a modern form of serfdom didn't realize how much they would have to pay. They are the new victims of downward mobility. No wonder most marriages break up under this kind of stress. Late night TV is filled with commercials for debt consolidation because these companies know how much anxiety and sleeplessness afflict those in debt. This is the pervasive personal nightmare that the media profits from. Maybe they should win one of our anti-Oscars.
Two years ago, I began researching a documentary IN DEBT WE TRUST (Indebtwetrust.com) to explain the growing debt burden that Americans are buried under. The film warned of the crisis to come and spotlighted subprime lending as one of its causes.
Few distributors were interested. The subject was considered "boring." When it came out last year, it was marginalized; now it is being hailed by some as prophetic. Initially, a San Francisco newspaper dismissed it as "alarmist," but later, one cable channel compared it to the movie Carrie, suggesting this subject is even scarier. Many schools, organizations and community groups are now screening the DVD to spread awareness of the problem.
While we imagine the kind of awards show that might call more attention to the rogues and scammers in our midst, one of the world leading business newspapers, The Financial Times suggests that movies on this subject are welcome. In an editorial titled "CREDIT SQUEEZE - THE DISASTER MOVIE," the FT compared the credit "squeeze" to "the plot of a hundred disaster movies," writing, "the longer this goes on, the greater the risk to the real economy."
Sadly, it is still going on and deepening with no signs of abating.
"News Dissector" Danny Schechter blogs for Mediachannel.org. His film In Debt We Trust spawned the action website StopTheSqueeze.org. He's written a new book on the crisis called "We Are Screwed" and is looking for a publisher. Comments to Dissector@mediachannel.org