To the malcontents who are convinced the mainstream media is in cahoots to give the government control over our lives without oversight, I give you the Washington Post.
Specifically, I point out the stellar job the Post has done in exposing an appalling abuse of homeowners by the District of Columbia government and the piranha investors who destroyed the world those homeowners had spent a lifetime building.
What happened, the Post brilliantly and poignantly has reported over the last two weeks, is this: Some people could not pay their tax bills. Sometimes, those tax bills were for an absurdly low amount of money – less than $150. The city would sell the debt to an outside company, which would then impose all sorts of fees and penalties the homeowners could not pay. The private companies then foreclosed on the homes, throwing out people whose only crime was a failure to pay a bill that is less than what real estate lobbyists pay for dinner at D.C.'s tonier restaurants.
Take the case of Bennie Coleman, a 78-year-old Marine Corps veteran who failed to pay a $136 tax bill in 2006. It was understandable; Coleman was suffering from severe dementia. Did anyone check up on Coleman to see what the problem was – or even just let the small bill roll over? No. The city turned the lien over to an investor who demanded nearly $5,000 in legal fees and costs for Coleman to keep his Northeast duplex. Coleman couldn't pay, so he lost his home. To add indignity to the loss, the veteran had to endure armed U.S. marshals showing up at his place to evict him.
After that, a neighbor told the Post, Coleman would continue to sleep on the front porch of his old home, sometimes flagging down police and firefighters to let them know he had been locked out of his home. I'll say he was.
The experience is horrific for anyone to suffer. It is especially heinous when the victim is an aged veteran with dementia. Most of the victims of the abusive practices were in poor neighborhoods.
The Post's series has done what newspapers have traditionally offered, what a lot of so-called new media has been unable to do. It spent the time and resources to investigate a terrible wrong, to expose the perpetrators, to speak for the victims and to embarrass the city into taking action. Already, the city council has moved to establish safeguards for vulnerable homeowners, and U.S. senators are demanding a formal investigation. As the Post reports today, a class action suit has been filed in Coleman's name to stop such foreclosures.
The next time government skeptics want to know who's reining in government abuse, they should go to the newsstand. It's the institution they call the lamestream media.
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