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I guess you’ll get involved once you’ve “lost your backpack and lunch money,” one too many times.

If you want to know why we are experiencing an all-out assault on the part of banks in the form of abuses with respect to credit cards, CNBC’s production, “House of Cards,” provides an excellent introduction to this subject, at least partially (greed).  Wall Street, and its regulators, failed.  A period of exuberance, during which banks engaged in some of the riskiest behaviors imaginable, led to the fall-out we are now seeing:

In one sense, this story is already well known, at least by virtue of its observable impact.  We have seen it in neighborhoods across America: foreclosures, short-sales, and a devaluation of property values.  Speculators and house flippers were understandably giddy over profits that seemed at the time, easy and never-ending.  But this period of exuberance did end, badly.  Those of us who are concerned with credit card company abuses, are paying the price.  Taxpayers are paying the price.  Investors from around the world are paying the price.

In essence, the mortgage industry sold “instant gratification” to buyers.  Yes, buyers “signed the dotted line,” and certainly, many knew (or should have known, if they lied about matters such as their income and obligations on “stated income” loan applications — that’s why the slang, “liar’s loans,’ came into being), that they too, were taking a risk.

Everyone was gambling.  But in common, the core belief that drove this scenario was the notion that housing prices would continue to rise.  Refinancing, to take “cash out” of real estate investment gains (or otherwise leverage the cash from appreciation in property values), enabled people to buy even more.  They used that money for anything under the sun: vacations, home improvements, adult toys (and “toy haulers”).

We now know this was a fallacy.  Anyone who may be watching squirrels gathering nuts on the ground for the coming winter can use this as an analogy for what many people did not do.  There are many adages which capture this failing, but perhaps the one (which in history seems to repeat itself) that best captures the miscalculation is this one: “What goes up, must come down.”

The “House of Cards” production does a great job of explaining, how we who are fighting credit card company abuses got where we are today.  Banks bought bad investments.  They want to recoup their losses by dipping into other sources of cash.  First, it was the bail out money: your money, and that of your children and grandchildren.  Second, it is every dollar and quarter, dime, nickel and penny, from fees, interest rate increases, and payment increases that banks can impose on the backs of people who still take pride in trying to pay their bills and fulfilling their obligations.  (But for how long?  Most people who walk away and “leave their keys on the counter” have simply given up, knowing that they can never pay.)

Obviously, the lax regulation that allowed Wall Street to profit and party on what we now know are toxic assets (I’m not an accountant, but it seems to me that a so-called “toxic asset” is a bad debt!) enabled a complex scheme with many participants to arise.

Unfortunately, as banks squeeze those of us who are still standing, more and more “able bodied borrowers,” including small businesses which account for much of our economy, suffocate.  Layoffs and fear have led to the destruction of consumer confidence — so spending slows to a crawl.  Here we are.

I personally found that one of the most interesting interview questions that was posed to various participants in the CNBC piece had to do with “feeling guilty,” for having been a part of this debacle.  The body language told a different story than the words that were uttered, slowly and carefully, in several instances, consistently along the lines of “just part of the food chain.”  Well, I already know where I am in the food chain: near the bottom.  However, when these banks try to “eat” what’s left of the rest of us, I want to make sure that we at least leave a very bad taste in their mouth.

Just a Few More Notes

This present post is very difficult to write.  I am separated from my family by virtue of real estate.  I have a house that has not sold, even though it is well cared for and in a decent middle-class neighborhood.  I have debts that are primarily associated with a decision to go to graduate school, trying to help others by becoming academically qualified to teach.  Those who walk away from their own homes (or who are forced to leave by eviction); those who enabled this to happen (see the documentary for the entire “food chain”); and I, along with my wife and children, are entangled.

Credit card companies (i.e., the banks that run them), are dealing with issues such as losses and liquidity pressures.  Nevertheless, because the banks are equivalent to “Goliath,” and we could be likened to “David,” naturally, and its supporters are in a position such that if we don’t throw “sticks and stones” to defend ourselves in any way that we can, we will be destroyed.

Sadly, I could be sympathetic to the banks’ problems, if they weren’t so mean and uncaring about what happens to others.  The most typical response to consumers (some of whom are the entrepreneurs we desperately need to nourish for a recovery) when they call to “negotiate,” just as appears to be the case with distressed homeowners, is that banks don’t want to work things out.  Rather, they just want to take everything that they can get, forcibly, mercilessly, and immediately, no matter what the consequences may be for individuals — and when taken in the aggregate — for the economy and this nation’s citizenry as a whole.

This behavior on the part of banks is sure to lead us all down a path to further destruction, I predict, unless we “work things out.”  How do we do that (those of us who are on the receiving end of banks’ callous, greedy, untenable dispositions)?  That’s really quite simple.  Anyone who has survived a schoolyard bully knows that the only way to prevail, is to make him or her very afraid of you.  If you are a small person, then you may need to assemble an army and gang-up on that bully.

I actually have a post in draft mode on the subject of “somebody should do it.”  Here’s what it boils down to: all of us “little people” must band together (this is a tiny example, but I sometimes get frustrated: why have I written several times, trying to get someone to print-out a free protest T-shirt, and send me a picture for the site?  Scared; too busy; afraid to raise a “stink” in public — I can understand all of these, because they describe me, but I still fight).

The formula for returning to a period of economic stability is also fairly simple.  Banks are in the business of taking in deposits, and lending at a profit.  Profits are a function of “time and terms.”  If they wanted to do it, they could institute all kinds of creative workarounds, because that’s what ends up happening in settlements.  Why they don’t want to work with people until the situation becomes such that a settlement is for “pennies on the dollar” (with the losses being shifted to those who are still standing, financially), is hard to fathom.  I suppose it’s because enough people have not has yet boycotted media for running credit card companies’ ads; written to affinity partners; threatened the reelection prospects of representatives; or gone “viral,” like the Debtor’s Revolt video.

If you aren’t willing to combine forces and join the fight, then you can count on being fleeced, beaten, and terrorized by such a bully.  We have already seen that this bully’s greed is insatiable.  I guess you’ll get involved once you’ve “lost your backpack and lunch money,” one too many times.