All Rights Reserved © 1999 Thomas W. Day
Because I wasn't smart enough to apply for financial assistance when I was young, poor, and scratching out a living, my kids didn't get much of a role model when it came their time to look for handouts. Just like me, they are working their way through times of no money without asking for much help from anyone. So, I'm getting a second hand view of what it's like to be poor in America in the 1990's. My oldest daughter's taking the most risk, as a single mother and a freelance writer, so she's getting the most experience at living on the edge.
Her recent run-in with the systems that keep the rich, rich, and the poor, poor, has taught me a lot about what puts and keeps people in poverty. The number of "systems" aligned against poor people is astounding. The protection offered to the powerless, from the abuse of the powerful, is non-existent. As I see the trials she suffers, I'm constantly hearing the theme song from "Falcon and the Snowman." ("This is not America, oh no!") It is truly a wonder that anyone ever survives poverty, let alone escapes it. There must be a lot of profit in keeping fellow citizens underfoot and downtrodden.
Recently, she was robbed by two different rental property owners. One, illegally, took a large deposit on an apartment as security, rented the apartment to someone else, and kept the deposit. The other inspected the apartment she was leaving, signed off on the inspection, only asking for $20 in damages, and, a month later, sent her a bill for $200 additional repairs while keeping her original $700 deposit. No surprise here.
Landlords are often evil bastards. Everyone who's rented a place for less than $2,000 a month has a tale of the hell that living in a rental can be. The surprise came when she exercised her legal options to get the money back. Small claims court, where lawyers who can't comprehend the law pretend to be judges, is where citizens are supposed to go for protection when they can't afford civil court. For all I know, there isn't even a GED requirement for the clowns who masquerade as small claims court judges, let alone a law degree. Based on my daughter's experience, I'm not sure a small claims judge even has to be able to read.
On the same day, the two sets of scumlords slithered into the court house on, essentially, the same issue; is it legal to steal from a renter?
My daughter was well prepared with receipts, dates, names, and an honest description of the transactions' events. The first scumlord didn't bring anything but his lying butt into court. After an unconvincing tale of blundering and illegal activities, he was told to return the money in 30 days. No punishment for attempted theft, no punishment if he decided to ignore the court's order. He wasn't even reminded that taking a full deposit as security is illegal in this state.
The second set of trust fund-baby-scumlords was even more blatant. They, also, brought nothing but their bloodshot eyes for evidence. However, they were a lot more creative. Before their case was presented, in the hall outside the court, they tried to bully my daughter into dropping the suit. The courts are so busy protecting themselves from the civilians they abuse, they don't have the resources to protect victims from the criminals that might have been brought to court. Under slightly worse conditions, my daughter might have been intimidated into abandoning this suit in fear for her and her three year old son's safety. Luckily, my wife and a bailiff managed to move these clowns into the court and the court system barely avoided total injustice. The judges probably like to deal that out themselves.
In the courtroom, the scumlords invented their testimony as it occurred to them. While every piece of documentation refuted their fable, somehow, the judge decided to reward them with $200 of my daughter's $700 deposit. They, also, had 30 days to decide if it was convenient to obey the court order to return approximately $500. So, for the price of an hour's time and a trip to downtown Minneapolis, these rich boys made $200 for violating the terms of their own agreement and telling a few tall tales. Clearly, the moral here is "lie, cheat, and steal, and you will be rewarded." A message that this country's ruling class has always held near to its cold and shriveled heart.
While this was going on, my daughter was out somewhere around $1200 for three months. That is about 15% of her gross income from the year, so it mattered. A lot. Between the crooks and slow paying magazine accounting departments, she bounced some checks. One of those checks was the deposit on her new apartment.
She is not alone or friendless and the banks were paid back, quickly. Still, as far as banks are concerned, a couple of bounced checks and you are history. USBank closed her account and she was left with no economical way to cash the many out-of-state checks she receives from her customers. No way to pay many of the bills that required non-cash payment. Without her family and friends, she would have been in a very difficult financial and physical position.
Because bad isn't bad enough, she discovered that she couldn't open an account with any other bank. Her driver's license and social security number were illegally used to do a credit check, without requesting her permission, and other banks wouldn't even allow her to open a savings account.
With all of the publicly provided protection and financial liberties banks are given, you'd think that some public service would be required of them. You'd be wrong. Apparently, we cover their brainless investments, criminal accounting activities, and basic incompetence with taxpayer subsidized insurance so that they can offer low interest rates on deposits and high rates on loans. No wonder shutting down welfare for the poor was so important, the rich and powerful need that money so they can keep being rich and powerful.
I know this doesn't even illustrate the tip of the iceberg that sinks poor people into chronic poverty. This is the kind of stuff that happens to you when you can afford to get into an apartment, in the first place. When you have a good enough education to know how to deal with small claims courts. When you have enough freedom to be able to waste a day with the over-paid, under-motivated public servants who administer the injustice. When you have enough money to be able to want to put some of it into a bank. And on and on.
This system isn't a conspiracy against the poor. It isn't smart enough to be a conspiracy. It's a collection of mindless rules and regulations designed to protect those in power from having to earn and deserve that power. There has got to be a way to write a piece of software to replace these drones. It couldn't take more than a couple dozen lines of well-written code.