Women reject foreclosure, austerity, debt


On Friday March 21, Linda Tirelli, an attorney defending homeowners from foreclosure, and Kevin Whelan, of Home Defenders League in Minneapolis, were interviewed on Democracy Now about recent revelations concerning Wells Fargo’s shady dealings in foreclosures.

A recent internal Department of Justice document disclosed that the DOJ deemed mortgage fraud as low and often no priority. Its claims of success were wildly overstated, and its claims of concern were flat out false.

At the same time, a recently revealed Wells Fargo internal document, issued just one week after the allegedly historical national mortgage settlement, shows that Wells Fargo instructed its lawyers to fabricate documents that would lead to homeowners’ foreclosure on homeowners. This program targeted primarily people of color and the most vulnerable.

At one point in the Democracy Now interview, Juan Gonzalez asked Kevin Whelan, “Can you put this in a national context of the mortgage crisis? Here we are now, six years into the home mortgage crisis that crashed the entire economy.”

Lenders’ mortgage fraud did far more than produce a mortgage crisis. By means of a manufactured crisis, the neoliberal approach of crashing economies increased and expanded the financial grip on civil society. Austerity measures led to the foreclosure of entire countries like Greece, and especially the foreclosure of women. Women’s organizations in Europe have demanded to a clear assessment of the impact and logic of austerity measures.

Wells Fargo lawyers fabricated false documents in order to plunge the most vulnerable into dependency and debt.  Entire, vibrant communities were thrust into poverty and desperation. Likewise, austerity measures were fabricated to form false promises to resolve a “crisis” that have hurt women first and foremost and have also moved many into destitution.

Across Europe, women have been marching against the austerity measures and crying loudly that precariousness is not their societal projects.

Since 2012, Femmes d’Europe en route contre la dette et l’austerité  (European Women in route against the debt and austerity) have organized events to denounce the privatization of public services. And they are still demonstrating. Health care, reproductive care and women’s health have been particularly viciously targeted. These various forms of privatizations are being felt heavily by women in Great Britain, Hungary, Greece and elsewhere. Moreover, the failed US model of private health care is being pushed in places where the public system was efficient and better served its purpose.

Women against Austerity have not received the attention that they should for the same reasons the subprime crisis and the criminal manipulations of the financial sectors in the United States have been underplayed. The illegitimacy of the foreclosures and the austerity measures are the expression of the same ascending power of debt: “Debt constitutes the most deterritorialized and the most general power relation through which the neoliberal power bloc institutes its class struggle.” And, I would add, its gender struggle! The struggle continues!


(Photo Credit: CADTM)

What’s happening in Baltimore? Incarceration

Governor of Maryland Martin O’Malley just announced the building of a new juvenile detention center specifically for youth charged as adults. It will cost a hefty $100 million dollars … at least. All this is supposed to ensure the safety of Baltimore and its youth.

Revisiting Maurizio Lazzarato’s recent argument that debt is the neoliberal condition, let’s think about the penal debt imposed here on women and men. But not just any women and men. In Baltimore’s Detention Center, eight out of ten women and nine out of ten men are black (Jail Daily Extract, division of Pretrial and Detention Services).

Baltimore’s Detention Center is part of the surge of incarceration that has taken place in the United States within the past thirty years. As sociologist Loic Wacquant has noted, in “the stingy social state and the gargantuan penal state,” three determinants make people more likely to be incarcerated: class, race and place. That’s how the state cares for the poor, for minority men and women.

Baltimore is one of the few cities in the United States that lost financial control of its detention center. In 1991, following a budget crisis, the city relinquished management of its detention center to the State, at the behest of then Governor Donald Schaeffer. The State’s agenda included the construction of Central Booking, opened in 1995. For many in Baltimore, Central Booking became the place to stay. Previously, one stayed in one of nine district police stations, which were more integrated into neighborhood communities. But neighborhood and community facilities were insufficiently “tough on crime,” and so they had to go.

In the logic of creating a penal debt, targeted populations have to be put into a position where they owe their freedom to the authorities. In Baltimore, the police have intensified their activity, thanks to the war on drugs, the war on the poor, the various wars on women, including the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Act and the welfare reform of 1996.

Central Booking was hailed  as a model of “efficiency”. That efficiency meant the increasingly robotic incarceration of the increasingly impoverished populations of Baltimore, where 63% of the population is African American.  As a result of intensified and broadened police activity, 90% of people incarcerated in Baltimore City are awaiting trial compared to 63% nationally (Division of Pretrial Detention and Services Daily Population Report, January 4, 2010). 89% of the incarcerated are African Americans. Once in the system, your penal credit score drops. And that, in Baltimore, is called efficiency.

With 12 million “bodies being processed” every year by Central Booking institutions across the country, one wonders why the State is so invested in this form of manipulation of bodies. In the current ownership society, the penal credit score is now clearly attached to faster rates of prison recidivism, thanks to programs that keep track of the lives of former prisoners. For instance, Johns Hopkins (both the university and the hospital) demands a background check, criminal and financial, for any applicant to any job, including that of volunteer. This system of background checks has become so routine that its threatening panoptic dimension has been into “keeping Hopkins safe”. “Tough on crime” morphs into “safe” at work.

What is happening in Baltimore? Debt through incarceration. The impoverished youth of Baltimore is going to incur more penal debt through a project that invests scarce social welfare money into a prison that will have to be filled … with the impoverished youth of Baltimore. The circle is closed … efficiently.


(Photo Credit: Baltimore Sun)


The unmaking of the indebted woman

In this season of hollow political American presidential campaigns, The Making of the Indebted Man: Essay on the Neoliberal Condition, by Maurizio Lazzarato appears as a work of resistance. The book explores contemporary financial power and the debt crisis that comes with it, a crisis that has shaped our current political situation.

Maurizio Lazzarato sees the debt system as a political project that means to engage the individual for the future. Debt creates a system of efficiency/ profitability that tends to control all individuals, unemployed or employed. As Lazzarato points out, the economical origin of the current crisis, the subprime crisis, has been rendered invisible. In fact, the couple debt-fault is only applied to individuals while the debt crisis, as the failure of the entire neoliberal system, is left untouched, unmentioned.

The creation of mechanisms of debt has been the central action of neoliberal political economy. This new world order begat a dynamic of work subjectivity in the post-industrialized economy, thanks to the neoliberal turbine: the differential of power between the lender and the borrower. According to Lazzarato, Michel Foucault’s The Birth of Biopolitics expounded on the historicity of incipient neoliberal governance, but neglected to incorporate the power-function of debt-money finance in neoliberal governance. Lazzarato relies on Gilles Deleuze’s Postscript on the Societies of Control to argue that as capitalism moved from production to service, social control moved from disciplinary control to market based control with the fluctuation of interest rates as the basis of the production of indebted citizens.

In this world, debt political economy is the real global controlling power.

In his conclusion, Lazzarato calls for new solidarities and a new cooperation, reminding us that neoliberalism has also legitimized a debt toward the planet itself.  There’s global debt, and there’s planetary debt, and the two are intertwined and mutually reinforcing. Nevertheless, I wonder if the title, the making of an indebted man does not carry a singular and restrictive vison. After all, the making of the indebted woman started way before the advent of neoliberalism.

In “The political economy of vulnerable”, Dan Moshenberg recently highlighted a transnational reality of the fate of the indebted woman, showing that this “in debt” status now has a widely recognized name: the vulnerable. Moshenberg showed how predatory rates of local banks rendered a woman desperately vulnerable and isolated until she finally killed herself. Debt is part of the recently installed system of domination that will continue to control women, as our lives (including sexual and reproductive) will be even more dependent on this global financial order. Now is the time for women to strengthen and intensify our resistance. The unmaking of the indebted woman is the beginning of the end of the neoliberal condition. Cancel the debt … now!


(The Making of the Indebted Man: Essay on the Neoliberal Condition, by Maurizio Lazzarato, translated by Joshua David Jordan, will be released in the United States by Semiotext(e) next month.)


(Image Credit: aspoonfulofsuga)