Wednesday, October 22, 2008

PATH TO WAR will be shown/The Rising Body Count on Main Street - The Human Fallout from the Financial Crisis

The Hiroshima-Nagasaki Commemoration Committee is hosting its latest FILM & SOCIAL CONSCIOUSNESS VIDEO SERIES.  The next film, PATH TO WAR, [U.S., 2002], will be shown Fri., Oct. 24 at AFSC, 4806 York Road [three blocks north of Cold Spring Lane].  Doors open at 7 PM, and the video starts at 7:30 PM.  There is no charge, and refreshments will be available.  Call 410-366-1637.

 Director John Frankenheimer casts Michael Gambon in the lead in this film inspired by author Robert A. Caro's biography of Lyndon Baines Johnson.  The film retraces the events occurring between LBJ's inaugural in 1965 and his dispirited decision not to seek another presidential term in 1968. At the crux of these three years is the war in Vietnam. His advisors are the hawkish Robert McNamara (Alec Baldwin) and the dove-ish Clark Clifford (Donald Sutherland).  Clifford warns Johnson that "escalation will ruin you, and all the great good you want to do." McNamara presses for a continuation of the war lest America lose face. The story is a Shakespearean tragedy.  

The Rising Body Count on Main Street

The Human Fallout from the Financial Crisis


By Nick Turse

(submitted by the author to portside)


TomDispatch - October 19, 2008


On October 4, 2008, in the Porter Ranch section of Los

Angeles, Karthik Rajaram, beset by financial troubles,

shot his wife, mother-in-law, and three sons before

turning the gun on himself. In one of his two suicide

notes, Rajaram wrote that he was "broke," having

incurred massive financial losses in the economic

meltdown. "I understand he was unemployed, his dealings

in the stock market had taken a disastrous turn for the

worse," said Los Angeles Deputy Police Chief Michel R. Moore.


The fallout from the current subprime mortgage debacle

and the economic one that followed has thrown lives

into turmoil across the country. In recent days, the

Associated Press, ABC News, and others have begun to

address the burgeoning body count, especially suicides

attributed to the financial crisis. (Note that, months

ago, Barbara Ehrenreich raised the issue in the Nation.) (1)


Suicide is, however, just one type of extreme act for

which the financial meltdown has seemingly been the

catalyst. Since the beginning of the year, stories of

resistance to eviction, armed self-defense, canicide,

arson, self-inflicted injury, murder, as well as

suicide, especially in response to the foreclosure

crisis, have bubbled up into the local news, although

most reports have gone unnoticed nationally -- as has

any pattern to these events.


While it's impossible to know what factors, including

deeply personal ones, contribute to such extreme acts,

violent or otherwise, many do seem undeniably linked to

the present crisis. This is hardly surprising. Rates of

stress, depression, and suicide invariably climb in

times of economic turmoil. As Kathleen Hall, founder

and CEO of the Stress Institute in Atlanta, told USA

Today's Stephanie Armour earlier this year, "Suicides

are very much tied to the economy." (2)


With predictions of a long and deep recession now

commonplace, it's not too soon to begin looking for

these patterns among the human tragedies already

sprouting amid the financial ruins. Troubling trends

are to be expected in the years ahead, especially as

hundreds of thousands of veterans of the Iraq and

Afghan Wars, their families often already under

enormous stress, are coming home to scenarios of

joblessness and, in some cases, homelessness. Consider

this, then, an attempt to look for early anecdotal

signs of the fallout from hard times, the results, in

this case, of a review of local press reports from

across the nation, some tiny but potentially indicative

of larger American tragedies, and all suggesting a

pattern that is likely to grow more pronounced.


Extreme Evictions


In February, when a sheriff's deputy went to serve an

eviction notice on a home owner in Greeley, Colorado,

he found the man had slashed his wrists and was lying

in a pool of blood. Rushed to a nearby hospital, the

man survived, while the Sheriff's office tried to

downplay economic reasons for the incident, saying,

according to the Denver Post, that "it wasn't linking

the suicide attempt to the eviction because the man had

known for a week that he was to be kicked out." (3)


In March, Ocala, Florida resident Roland Gore killed

his dog and his wife, set fire to his home which was in

foreclosure, and then killed himself.


In April, Robert McGuinness, a 24-year-old process

server, arrived at the Marion County, Florida doorstep

of Frank W. Conrad. According to an article in the

local Star Banner, the 82-year-old Conrad was

reportedly "cordial" at first. When McGuinness produced

the foreclosure notice, however, Conrad got angry and

left the room. He returned with a .38 caliber pistol

and announced, "You have two seconds to get off my

property or you will go to the hospital." Marion County

sheriff's deputies later arrested Conrad. (4)


On June 3rd, agents of the Federal Emergency Management

Agency (FEMA) set out to inform New Orleans resident

Eric Minshew that he would be evicted from his

"Katrina" trailer. After Minshew threatened them, the

FEMA employees called the police. When they arrived,

Minshew allegedly threatened them as well and "locked

himself in his partially-gutted home, adjacent to his

trailer." A SWAT team was called in and tear-gassed the

man. Interviewed by the Times-Picayune, local resident

Tiffany Flores said, "Some SWAT members told my husband

they had never seen anyone withstand that much tear

gas." The standoff went on for hours before "an assault

team of tactical officers" invaded the home. Though

Minshew opened fire, they eventually cornered him on

the upper floor. When -- they claimed -- he refused to

drop his weapon, they gunned him down. (5)


That same day, in Multnomah County, Oregon, sheriff's

deputies served an eviction notice on a desperate

tenant. According to Deputy Travis Gullberg, the

Multnomah County Sheriff's Public Information Officer,

the evictee promptly pulled a gun from his pocket and

pointed it at his head before being disarmed by the deputies.


Hard Times


Recently, according to the Los Angeles Times, Rich

Paul, a vice president at ValueOptions Inc., which

handles mental health referrals, said that over the

last year stress-related calls arising from

foreclosures or financial hardship had gone up 200% in

California. Similarly, Dr. Mason Turner, chief of

psychiatry at Kaiser Permanente's San Francisco Medical

Center, reported "a fourfold increase in psychiatric

admissions at his hospital during August, with roughly

60% of patients saying financial stress contributed to

their problems."


Of course, many victims of the linked economic crises

never receive treatment. In July, Sacramento County

Sheriff's Deputy Mark Habecker told the Sacramento Bee

that twice this year "homeowners about to be evicted

have committed suicide as he approached to do a

lockout." In another case, he said, "a fellow

Sacramento deputy found a note in the home that told

him where to find the foreclosed homeowner's body." The

Bee reported that such cases "received no publicity

when they happened," which raises the question of just

how many similar suicides have gone unreported nationwide. (6)


In July, when police delivered an eviction notice at

the Middleburg, Florida home of George and Bonnie

Mangum, the couple barricaded themselves inside.

Eventually, George Mangum was talked into surrendering

and was arrested. "He did the only thing he knew to do,

protect his family, all he did was sit on the other

side of the door and say I have a gun, I have a gun and

that's why he's going to jail because he threatened the

police," said Bonnie. The couple's daughter Robin

added, "This is my home, this is all our home and I

don't think it's right. My dad was a Green Beret, he's

sick, how are you going to kick him out?" (7)


Pinellas Park, Florida resident Dallas Dwayne Carter

was a 44-year-old disabled, single dad who lost his

job, fell into debt, and was faced with eviction. "He

always talked about needing help -- financially and

help with the kids," neighbor Kevin Luster told the St.

Petersburg Times. On July 19th, Carter apparently

called the police to say he was armed and disturbed.

When they arrived, Carter fired his pistol and rifle

inside the apartment, before emerging and pointing his

weapons at the officers on the scene. Police say they

ordered him to drop them. When he didn't, they killed

him in a 10-round fusillade.


On July 23d, about 90 minutes before her foreclosed

Taunton, Massachusetts home was scheduled to be sold at

auction, Carlene Balderrama faxed a letter to her

mortgage company, letting them know that "by the time

they foreclosed on the house today she'd be dead." She

continued, "I hope you're more compassionate with my

husband and son than you were with me." After that, she

took a high-powered rifle and, according to the Boston

Globe, shot herself. In an interview with the

Associated Press, Balderrama's husband John said, "I

had no clue." His wife handled the finances and had

been intercepting letters from the mortgage company for

months. "She put in her suicide note that it got

overwhelming for her," he said. In the letter, she

wrote, "take the [life] insurance money and pay for the house." (8)


The day after Balderrama took her life, 50 miles away

in Worcester, Massachusetts, a 64-year-old man, who had

already been evicted, barricaded himself inside his

former home. Police were called to the scene to find

him reportedly prepared to ignite four propane tanks.

"His intention was to burn the house down with him in

it," Sgt. Christopher J. George told the Telegram &

Gazette. With the man becoming "even more despondent"

as "a moving van arrived on the street," police stormed

the house to find him "holding a foot-long knife to his

own chest" as a piece of paper burned near the propane.

The man was disarmed and the fire extinguished. (9)


That very same day, in Visalia, California, a Tulare

County sheriff's deputy tried to serve an eviction

notice to Melvin Nicks, 50. Nicks responded by stabbing

the deputy with a knife and barricading himself in the

house for several hours. He later surrendered. (10)


No Way Out


Bay City, Michigan residents David and Sharron Hetzel,

both 56, "lost their home to foreclosure and filed for

bankruptcy protection. But they did not follow through

with the Chapter 13 proceedings." On August 1st, say

police reports, David Hetzel mailed a letter of apology

to his family members. Later that night, according to

the local police, he attacked his sleeping wife,

striking her in the head with a golf club and

repeatedly stabbing her with a kitchen knife. After

that, he began setting fires throughout the house

before crawling into bed beside his wife and killing

himself with "a single, fatal wound to his torso." (11)


On August 12th, sheriff's deputies arrived at the

Saddlebrook, New Jersey home of 88-year-old Beatrice

Brennan, another victim of the mortgage crisis, who had

refinanced her home and fallen behind on payments.

Refusing to stand idly by while his mother was put out

on the street, her 60-year-old son John pulled a .22

caliber handgun on the lawmen. That sent the movers,

waiting for a court-imposed 10 a.m. deadline, scurrying

for their van. Brennan was able to delay the eviction

briefly before a SWAT team arrested him and his mother

lost her home. "I'm heartbroken over this," Vincent

Carabello, a longtime neighbor, told the local paper,

the Record. "How could this happen?" (12)


Roseville, Minnesota resident Sylvia Sieferman was

under a great deal of stress and beset by financial

difficulties. She worried about how she would care for

her two 11-year-old daughters. On August 21st,

according to police reports, Sieferman "repeatedly

stabbed the girls and herself." "She reached her

limit," her friend Carrie Micko told the Star Tribune.

"She couldn't cope anymore... she felt that her

daughters were suffering because she was failing to

provide for them." As Micko further explained, "After a

series of financial mishaps, she just couldn't see her

way through. She was under extreme financial, emotional

and spiritual distress and didn't want to fail them." (13)


By Any Means Necessary


The Boston Globe reported that, on September 5th, "[f]

our protesters trying to prevent the eviction of a

Roxbury woman from her home were arrested...after they

chained themselves to the steps of her back porch." As

40 protesters chanted in the street, officials from

Bank of America ordered Paula Taylor out of her house.

"This is our eighth blockade and the first time there

have been arrests," said Soledad Lawrence, an organizer

with City Life, a non-profit organization seeking to

halt the large numbers of foreclosures and evictions in

Boston neighborhoods. "They can be more aggressive and

we'll be more aggressive," she added. (14)


On September 25th, as politicians in Washington tried

to hash out a massive bailout package for financial

institutions, six Boston police officers confronted

about 40 City Life activists in front of the home of

Ana Esquivel, a public school employee, and her husband

Raul, a construction worker, both in their fifties. The

Globe reported that four protesters were arrested as

police shoved their way through in order to allow a

locksmith into the house to bar the Esquivels from

their home. "We've been destroyed by the bank," Ana

Esquivel said, sobbing. "The bank is too big for us."

While the Esquivel blockade failed, Steven Meacham, a

City Life organizer, told a Globe reporter that "the

protests have helped to stop about nine evictions. In

the successful blockades, the homeowners were given

additional time by their mortgage holders to negotiate

alternatives to foreclosure." (15)


Two days earlier, Los Angeles County sheriff's deputies

came to the Monrovia home of 53-year-old Joanne Carter

and her 67-year-old husband John to serve an eviction

notice. Joanne Carter refused to accept it. According

to "Monrovia spokesman" Dick Singer, as reported in the

Pasadena Star-News, she "told deputies she had guns in

the house and showed them a shotgun." The next day,

Monrovia police officers showed up at the home after

being informed that the woman "may have made threats to

a workers compensation agency." Police Lieutenant

Michael Lee said that Carter told them if they "tried

to come in, she would defend her house at any means

necessary." She and her husband then reportedly

barricaded themselves inside, after which a shotgun was

fired. Police from other local departments were called

in. Following an hours-long standoff, the Carters

surrendered and were arrested. (16)


That same day, in northern California, Cliff Kendall,

Petaluma's chief building official, shot himself with a

rifle. A week earlier, Kendall had learned that he was

being laid off. "He was afraid we'd lose our home, and

we probably will because I can't afford to keep it,"

his wife Patricia, who is on disability with a back

injury, told the Press Democrat. "He was extremely

upset about it and hurt." (17)


On October 3rd, the day before Karthik Rajaram's mass

murder/suicide in Los Angeles, 90-year-old Addie Polk

was driven to extremes by the financial crisis. With

sheriff's deputies at the door, Polk evidently took the

only measure she felt was left to her to avoid eviction

from her foreclosed home. She tried to kill herself.

Her neighbor Robert Dillon, hearing loud noises from

her home, used a ladder to enter the second floor

window. He found Polk lying on her bed. "Then she kind

of moved toward me a little and I saw that blood, and I

said, 'Oh, no. Miss Polk musta done shot herself.'"

While she was in the hospital recovering from two self-

inflicted gunshot wounds, Fannie Mae spokesman Brian

Faith announced the mortgage association had decided to

forgive her outstanding debt and give her the house "outright." (18)


On October 6th, in Sevier County, Tennessee, sheriff's

deputies, with police in tow, arrived to evict Jimmy

and Pamela Ross from their home. They heard a shot and

entered the home to find 57-year-old Pamela dead of a

self-inflicted gunshot wound to the chest. Neighbor

Ruth Blakey told WVLT-TV, "I know she really hated to

leave that house. She did not want to leave that house." (19)


Wanda Dunn told neighbors she would rather die than

leave her home. On October 13th, the day she was to be

evicted, the 53-year-old Pasadena, California native

apparently set fire to the home "where her family had

lived for generations" before shooting herself in the

head. "We knew it was going to happen," neighbor Steve

Brooks told the Los Angeles Times. "It was nobody's

fault; it was everybody's fault." (20)


Outsourcing Suicide


In September, readers at Slate's "Explainer" column

asked the following question: If the financial crisis

was so dire, "how come we aren't hearing about

executives jumping out of windows?" Writer Nina Shen

Rastogi dutifully answered:


      "Because the current situation hasn't had

      nearly as devastating an effect on people's

      personal finances. The Great Crash of 1929 --

      and, to a lesser extent, the crash of 1987 --

      did lead some people to commit suicide. But in

      nearly all of those cases, the deceased had

      suffered a major loss when the market

      collapsed. Now, due in large part to those

      earlier experiences, investors tend to keep

      their portfolios far more diversified, so as to

      avoid having their entire fortunes wiped out

      when stocks take a downturn."  (21)


Perhaps this is true. So far, at least, Wall Street's

suicides seem to have been outsourced to places that

its executives have probably never heard of. There, on

the proverbial main streets of America, the Street's

financial meltdown is beginning to be measured not only

in dollars and cents, but in blood.


Right now, there are no real counts of the many extreme

acts born of the financial crisis, but assuredly other

murders, suicides, self-inflicted injuries, acts of

arson and of armed self-defense have simply gone

unnoticed outside of economically hard-hit

neighborhoods in cities and small towns across America.

With no end in sight for either the foreclosures or the

economic turmoil, Americans may have to brace

themselves for many more casualties on the home front.

Unless extreme economic steps, like mortgage- and debt-

forgiveness, are implemented, the number of extreme

acts and the ultimate body count may be far more

extreme than anyone yet wants to contemplate.


[Nick Turse is the associate editor and research

director of His work has appeared in

many publications, including the Los Angeles Times, Le

Monde Diplomatique (German edition), Adbusters, the

Nation, and regularly at His first

book, The Complex: How the Military Invades Our

Everyday Lives, an exploration of the new military-

corporate complex in America, was recently published by

Metropolitan Books. His website is Nick]


Copyright 2008 Nick Turse




(1) Associated Press


    ABC News

    The Nation























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