Foreclosure is Silent Protest, #OccupyWallStreet – Letter to Editor
Today’s Sun Sentinel printed Florida Foreclosure Defense Attorney Roy Oppenheim’s 300 word commentary :
The South Florida Law Blog shares the longer version with its readers.
A Letter to the Editor:
As the Occupy Wall Street demonstrations continue to grow, and the news embargo concerning such demonstrations has lifted, there seems to be a pervasive and pernicious sense that something is wrong with the State of Democracy, and from this several themes have developed within the protests. While various interest groups are now using these demonstrations as an attempt to bring their particular issues to the forefront, the two issues that are of most interest to me are the following:
If corporations are now to be treated under the eyes of the law more and more like people, thus having similar free speech rights and rights to contribute to political campaigns, then the legal system must adapt and morph to make sure that when corporations, as an enterprise, commit fraud or a crime that not only are individuals punished, but that effectively the corporation, through its bondholders and management, are punished too. In the past, most of the criminal liability has been centered upon individuals within a corporation, and thus a particular individual was removed from the corporation for criminal actions. However, the modern trend within corporations makes this less effective, such as for big banks and Wall Street, which have committed systemic fraud and criminal activity. Such institutions have a sense of arrogance that they are too big to fail, and too big to be governed. The polity needs to re-evaluate what methods and mechanisms are available as a legal and political matter to reign in and govern clearly systemic corrupt behavior either by an entire enterprise or by an entire industry. Obviously what comes to mind is the whole foreclosure fraud crisis that is systemic in nature and has infected and polluted our entire political system. Thus, the question arising is what to do with corrupt enterprises where punishing a few individuals is no longer effective.
The second issue which is intertwined with and a by-product of the first issue is whether or not the influence of big money has become so pervasive that it literally has undermined the integrity of all three branches of government both at the federal and state levels. Particularly if corporations continue to be treated as individuals and have the right to shower our elected officials with unbridled cash for re-election, and further are allowed unfettered access to the executive branch and influence over the judiciary by spending hoards of cash on judges that are elected, the question is how does one control within a political process that latent sense of corruption that undermines the integrity of our entire system of democracy.
Most interesting to me is that I do not perceive these problems within a left or right continuum or with any Democrat or Republican Party paradigm. Rather, I think that the parties themselves have become corrupted and are infected with the very same issues as our respective government structures. Thus, as I have said for years, there will continue to be demonstrations both on Wall Street and Main Street until such time that the public no longer feels that the deck is stacked and that the system has been created and manipulated to only protect the political and economic elites. One cannot have true capitalist economy where losses of large companies are socialized and profits stay with the fat cats. Heads I win, tails you lose is for bullies not democracies. I believe our founders expected more from our country, and from our countrymen, and thought that once individuals became elected officials they would leave their personal parochial economic interests at home and turn into true statesmen with the notion that their responsibility in governing the nation was such a monumental responsibility that they would be able to distinguish between latent cronyism and corruption from their true obligations.
I have tremendous confidence in the true democratic process and the traditional American notions upon which our nation was founded. At times, however, I believe the founders did anticipate that the public would rise up and that such protests would manifest in different ways. Here, particularly, protests in my mind are arising in two distinct ways. One, we have the physical protests which will continue to grow and become a regular staple in the news, and we have the silent revolution, the silent protest that has been going on for months if not years and is continuing to grow. The silent protest consists of individuals who have decided that for whatever reason they will challenge the banks as it relates to their monthly mortgage payments. Whether one calls it a strategic default or a foreclosure defense, by definition it is a sign of protest.
Years back when individuals were underwater and had the resources to pay back a mortgage, at closing there was no question that someone would write a check to the bank for the difference. There was a sense of obligation, honor and a consensus that it was the right, and only, thing to do. Today, however, that is not the reality. Many experts have speculated that this is due to a loss of trust, and true disappointment in Wall Street, banks and Congress, a loss of trust that has been self-inflicted due to blatant corruption and pure personal gain. Had the economic crisis not unfolded the way it had whereby trillions of dollars of value in the economy was wiped out, where entire industries were lost, and where individual’s homes were destroyed, I do not believe that we would have this silent protest.
Thus, when we see the Occupy Wall Street demonstrations, on T.V., in your local newspapers, just remember that in my mind, this is the tip of the iceberg, an iceberg that I have been talking about in these columns for three years where there is a sense of extreme disillusionment and disenfranchisement in the political process, the economy and the lack of leadership in many institutions in our society.
I just hope that the Occupy Wall Street protesters will not be co-opted by any party or organization as the Tea Party was so quickly by the Republican Party. For these thought movements to take hold and become part of this nation’s history, they must remain focused and true to their cause.
From the Trenches