The “Election 2012 Housing Health Check,” issued by the online real estate marketplace RealtyTrac in October, reported that 65 percent of local housing markets nationwide are worse off today than they were four years ago. Since January 2009, more than nine million homeowners have entered the foreclosure process or lost their homes outright. Over 12 million more are seriously underwater, owing at least 25 percent more on mortgages than their properties are worth. Behind these statistics are struggling households facing personal ruin, households that are unable to contribute to the nation’s elusive economic recovery.
By all accounts, restoration efforts for homeowners in the United States have been underpowered. Other countries have shown greater audacity in responding to the housing meltdown, and their economies are already enjoying the fruits of early and astute interventions. Iceland’s economy and its housing market have substantially recovered since the government implemented widespread debt forgiveness for homeowners, easing the debt burden for more than 25 percent of its population.
The Obama administration’s latest initiative to assist homeowners, a revision of the Home Affordable Refinance Program, known as HARP 2.0, is showing promise. But more creative initiatives would be welcome, and more pressure needs to be applied on banks to expedite loan revisions.
At press time, the nation was still juggling presidential prospects. Whoever wins on Nov. 6 needs to stop pretending that the “worst” of the housing crisis is behind us. Millions of U.S. homeowners know that is not the case; they can see it each month in boldface type right at the top of their mortgage statements.
War Against Want
In 1963 the late Senator George S. McGovern put forward a novel idea. By cutting the military budget by 10 percent, the government could expand the program known as Food for Peace. Senator McGovern was the first director of the program, which sought to distribute U.S. food surplus to impoverished nations abroad. He was also a strong critic of runaway defense spending. As early as 1963 he spoke against the buildup of U.S. military forces in Vietnam. His antiwar stance did not prove popular with the American public, who soundly rejected his candidacy in 1972 in favor of President Richard M. Nixon. Yet his stands against defense spending and on behalf of the world’s poor were prophetic.
Annual U.S. military spending now stands at nearly $700 billion. Meanwhile, aid programs both at home and abroad are threatened by Congressional plans to cut discretionary spending. These programs could be saved by reductions in the defense budget, but the military fiercely resists any cutbacks. Late in his public life Senator McGovern spoke against both the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. A B-24 bomber pilot in World War II, he was an unlikely leader of the antiwar movement. Yet he knew from experience how war undermines the fiscal and moral health of a nation.
After losing his Senate seat in 1980, Senator McGovern continued to lobby on behalf of the world’s poor. He helped set up the United Nations World Food Programme and, with Senator Bob Dole, established an international school feeding program. With time, perhaps, the late senator will be recognized not for a historic election loss but for these momentous gains.
Now the Scouts
The following statement about perpetrators of the crimes of sexual abuse may sound familiar to Catholics: “That was a different time.... That was a time when people thought—the medical community thought—there was a potential for rehabilitation.” This is not a bishop apologizing for a priest. It is Wayne Perry, the president of the Boy Scouts of America, apologizing after the release of a cache of documents detailing accusations of abuse of “many thousands of victims,” according to The New York Times, allegedly committed by 1,247 scout leaders between 1965 and 1985. The parallels between the Catholic Church and the Boy Scouts are striking. Both of these institutions were seen as moral institutions charged with caring for children; both were organized in clear-cut hierarchies; and both instinctively tried to prevent the documents from being released. The B.S.A. called these records the “perversion files.”
The terrible revelations about the scouts, however, do not let the Catholic Church off the hook. Nor do they let Penn State off the hook. Child abuse occurs in a variety of settings: families, schools, social service agencies—indeed any setting that includes children. Even organizations that do not deal directly with children are prone to cover-ups: the British Broadcasting Company is embroiled in a case of ignoring the abuse of hundreds of young girls by a popular television host. The scope of these crimes points to the need for greater vigilance, continued transparency and further education about sexual abuse. The Catholic Church has made great strides in the prevention of abuse, but much work remains. In the future, the “perversion files” of every organization should be empty.
The current comment, “War Against Want,” has been revised to reflect the following correction:
An earlier version of this current comment misidentified the nature of the late Sen. George S. McGovern’s military service during World War II. Mr. McGovern served as a B-24 bomber pilot, not a fighter pilot.