Letter on Offensive Language…

Dear Reader’s Name,

First of all, let me assure you that I do not think you are a “nut,” nor would I ever “ignore or cuss” a comment such as yours.  Secondly, I want you to know that I do take very seriously the phrase “God damn” something, as I do consider it as being serious, and I do not use it lightly.  In fact, prior to the events of this past year, I don’t believe I used such a term very often if at all.  And I hope you’ll bear with me so I can explain my apparent and growing anger that has led me to say things that understandably offend.
I started writing about the meltdown in the housing market two years ago, and perhaps even longer by now.  I started out writing about what was happening from an economics and Wall St. point of view, but very quickly, as a result of the Wall St. PR machine blaming the emerging crisis on “irresponsible sub-prime borrowers,” I changed.  Yes, believe it or not, at one time I was pro Wall St. banks, although it does seem like so long ago, at this point.
I am someone who throughout my life has fought for the underdog, if you will.  I’ve spent my career writing to make complex subjects understandable to those who might not otherwise fully understand them.  And hopefully, I make them entertaining enough to make them readable.
I saw, from the beginning that blaming this crisis on irresponsible sub-prime borrowers was a very dangerous thing for the following reasons:
1. It’s wasn’t true then, and it’s not true now.  It’s like confusing the fuse with the actual bomb.
2. It inspires racist undertones, as it leads people to the belief that some mysterious underclass is to blame for their troubles.
3. It makes it impossible to fix the problem, as the lack of political support continues to prevent us from putting programs in place to stop the free fall.
4. It leads a less educated segment of our population to believe they were at fault, which leads to feelings of shame and causes much unseen pain.
5. It shifts the blame from where it should truly be placed onto a group that is defenseless, has no voice and cannot fight back.
As a result, I started writing on behalf of this segment of our population, placing the blame for the crisis where it should be placed… with the banks and Wall Street bankers who defrauded the world by breaking the bond market and creating an economic situation that we will live with for perhaps 50 years.  These “bankers” of Wall Street have changed the world my 13-year old daughter will now be forced to live in for much of her adult life, and that is something to be abhorred by every parent in America, at the very least.  These acts of these “bankers” have also permanently altered the last years of life for millions of seniors in this country… people who placed their trust in our banks, our rules and our government, and have been deceived and let down.  Nothing will change what has been done to them.
Still, I realized along the way that mine would, for sometime anyway, be a lone voice in a media world dominated by corporate financial interests and influenced by a very well funded and entrenched banking lobby, so I tried very hard in every article, to say things in the strongest possible terms, take creative approaches to topics I’d discuss, and always above all be honest with my readers.  I am someone who has never and will never lie to my readers.  I prize truth over all other virtues, although I don’t want to imply that I would literally want to rank virtues, as they are all important.
Anyway, as the crisis grew, I lost faith in my government under President George W. Bush, a man I voted for twice, if you can believe that.  He did nothing to stop the meltdown and failed to even acknowledge that the foreclosure crisis was destroying American families like nothing this country has seen since the Great Depression.  I decided that since no one back then was paying much attention to what was really happening, I would produce a documentary program on the foreclosure crisis, and so funding it myself with 42,000 of my savings, I began spending my weekends driving around Southern California with my film crew and interviewing the homeowners in the neighborhoods that were being destroyed on a scale that would make Hurricane Katrina’s impact look moderate.
I listened to their stories, sat with them in their living rooms, hugged them when they wept, and played with the children that they tried to protect from everything that was going on around them.  I went to “tent city” in Sacramento.  I found places like Murietta, Moreno Valley and Menifee, which is outside Hemit, CA, and looks like a ghost town in many places.  I even went to Las Vegas to see the thousands of vacant homes that line the 15 Freeway on the way out of town in either direction.  It was and continues to be a tragedy that will leave near permanent scars on our country’s citizens, and one that harms children and families in a way that touches my life in the most personal way possible.
Last April 10th, while I was in London consulting for Lloyd’s of London, I received news that changed me forever.  My best friend in the world, someone who I grew up across the street from, had walked to school with, had come to California with… best men at each other’s weddings… Godparents to each other’s children… took his own life.  I would have bet you anything that such a thing was not possible.  Do I blame the meltdown?  No, I do not.  Suicide is a complex issue and there is no single cause.  But I can tell you that many of us were raised to feel a great deal of responsibility for taking care of our families and when the meltdown leads to financial problems that place a provider’s home in jeopardy, it can be the straw that breaks everything.  I myself, have had nightmares about having to tell my daughter that she has to leave the safety of her own room from which I wake in a cold sweat.
So in September of 2008, although at first I had not done so, I supported Barack Obama for President, and I did so based primarily on one thing: he would do something to stop the housing crisis that was already in free fall, and would be much worse by Inauguration Day.  I really believed he would do something and he has done nothing.  The crisis is only worsening.  And to top it off, he’s embarked on a campaign to eliminate the private sector firms helping people obtain loan modifications, and because I’ve traveled to 100+ homes to interview homeowners, I know there are both “scams” and  legitimate firms out there.  But the way to stop scammers is not to reduce the number of choices people have to turn to for help.  You stop scammers by increasing the available options for homeowners, because it’s panic that creates scammers, and when people have plenty of options, they don’t panic and the scammers have no prey.
Yet, to my complete astonishment, the banking lobby has proven itself to be in almost complete control of our government.  The mass media had only recently begun to cover what’s really going on.  The banks lie about their performance related to loan modifications.  The government programs are not effective and their current designs doom their future contribution to solving the problem.  The foreclosures will not stop on their own, regardless of what the government or media may want people to believe.  Soon the Alt-A Option ARMS will be defaulting in numbers much larger than the sub-prime loans.  Already prime loans outnumber sub-prime foreclosures.  Commercial loans will soon dwarf all previous losses.  And this to say nothing of auto loans and credit card defaults that have barely made the news to-date.  The “green shoots” of which Mr. Bernanke speaks are a lie.
As of today, 40 U.S. banks have failed this year alone.  According to RBC Capital Markets, as many as 1,000 U.S. banks will fail related to losses on commercial real estate.  The FDIC, which now classifies 305 banks as “problem institutions,” estimates that “U.S. bank failures through 2013 may cost $70 billion,” and they are the optimistic source of data.  While we’re subjected to “happy talk” about the economy’s recovery, the latest Fed Flow of Funds Report for the first quarter of 2009 shows that things have only worsened and worsened significantly.  For example:
  • Open Market Paper – Instead of growing as it has in almost every quarter in history, dropped at the annual rate of $662 billion.
  • Credit Markets – Collapsed by $856 billion per year, the largest drop ever.’
  • Nonbank Lending – Dropped by $468 billion, the largest drop ever.
  • The only entity borrowing money was the U.S. Treasury, which borrowed $1.5 trillion, leaving no credit available for anyone else.
  • Excluding borrowing by government entities, private sector credit in Q1 of 2009 was reduced by $1.85 trillion per year.
  • U.S. households have lost $13.87 trillion in 2008 and 2009, $1.33 trillion of that amount was in Q1 of 2009.
Nothing is better.  Nothing is getting better.  And nothing in place today even has the potential to make this nightmare get any better.  I’m not trying to be a doom and gloomer… I’m actually nothing like that as a person.  I’m only telling you what the actual numbers are, as published by our own government and the U.S. Federal Reserve.  What I am trying to do, not at this moment but in general, is get the people the truth so they will understand that they must get involved, they must participate in our democracy like never before, because only the people can stand against the financial oligarchy that is the banking industry in the United States today.  (My article “The People of the United States v. Wall Street’s Bankers delves into this topic in greater detail.)
I only tell you all of this so you can know from where my anger comes.  None of what I’ve said is meant to excuse my language.  I can tell you that I remember the first time I used that language in an article.  It was last year and I was writing about a 90 year old woman in Ohio, Addie Polk was her name, who had shot herself as the Sheriff’s Deputies were coming to evict her from her foreclosed home that she and her husband had purchased in 1970.  She lived, which should give you the picture of how much her hands must have been shaking when she pulled the trigger TWICE.
Her balance was $48,000 and change, and a man named Brian Faith from Fannie Mae had made a statement to the media that read something very close to: “Fannie Mae has decided to forgive her balance and allow her to remain in her home.”  And I swore.  I said the phrase you found offensive.  And I suppose I have to tell you that I meant it in its most literal sense.  And I prayed that God would damn such an act because of its total lack of humanity.  It brings tears to my eyes as I describe it today.
I was raised to understand exactly what your email to me said.  That people use words such as those to cover up the weakness of their skills as a writer, and I think it’s true in many instances.  I also thank you for your email, because I think it gets easier each time to use such terms, and as a result of your message, I will immediately stop myself and check my thoughts and feelings before making such a statement again.  Like I said, it does get easier each time, and I need to guard against such a slide towards mediocrity.
That being said, I cannot promise to never use such profanity, because as a writer and lover of language, I do believe that there are times when such language is the only way to convey my honest thoughts on a subject or an event.  Addie Polk was one such example, but there are others as well.  I feel that I have to be honest with my readers above all else because I believe they appreciate and value that they can trust in what I write as being the unaffected truth.  And, although I do recognize that at times that level of honesty will result in losing some, which I regret and wish would not happen, the alternative is equally unacceptable to me.
I can promise you this… if in the future, I do use such a phrase, I will label the article with a disclaimer at the top in the heading indicating that I have used such terminology, so that my readers may know in advance that I have chosen something that, while it may offend, was not chosen lightly.  And as I said, I will re-set my sensibilities to where they were when I first used the phrase to describe how I felt about what Fannie Mae did to Ms. Polk.
Most of all, I want you to know that I very much appreciate your email to me, and I agree with your thoughts on such statements.  It is my mission to never use such words without them coming from my deepest thoughts and from my heart.  And that’s the most I can promise anyone.
Thank you for allowing me to respond and explain my thoughts and feelings on this issue.
Yours truly,
Martin Andelman
Mandelman Matters
The Niche Report
P.S. If it’s okay with you, I would like to publish my response to your email… without including your email or name, of course… only because I want everyone who reads my column to know my position on this sensitive issue.  However, I will only do so with your permission, so please let me know if that would be acceptable.  I will post in under a heading about my use of language.
I am writing to you after reading another of your articles in which you continue to request God to damn this thing or that. After seeing those words I cannot have any respect for the value of the rest of the article. I believe, as do many others, that having to use words of profanity and taking God’s name in vain, simply shows the weakness of the writers skills. You would be better served by increasing your journalistic skills to learn how to emphasis your points than to continually call upon God to condemn or destroy something or someone.
I am not a religious “fanatic” , just a person who takes offense in reading articles laced with profanity. I learned as a child that only weak and uneducated people use profanity when talking or writing because they do not know the English language or how to express themselves with proper verbiage. You can think I’m a nut, ignore me, cuss me, or whatever, but you would do well in pondering what I am saying. I no longer wish to read anything that you write because I do not see the value or truthfulness in it, unless you clean up your writings. I also question the decision of the ml-implode website to publish your writings with profanity.
Hoping you see this as a positive to increasing your writing skills.



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