Save America, Throw the Landlords Under the Bus

The Cowshed review | MCLC Resource Center

            We can save the economy.

We have to throw the landlords under the bus to do it.

            At this writing, 26.5 million Americans have lost their jobs to the national lockdown necessitated by the COVID-19 pandemic. Added to those who were unemployed before the coronavirus crisis, we will soon face jobless numbers equivalent to or greater than those at the height of the Great Depression. What’s going to happen to them? More specifically, where will they live?

            Drawing from the experience of the collapse of the USSR in 1991, the droll writer Dmitri Orlov mused on what would happen here in a similar scenario. Surviving the fall of the Soviet Union, he concluded, would be easier than it would be to make it through the then-future implosion of the United States of America.

“In the United States,” Orlov wrote in 2011, “very few people own their place of residence free and clear, and even they need an income to pay real estate taxes. The real owners of real estate in the U.S. are banks and corporations. People without an income face homelessness. When the economy collapses, very few people will continue to have an income, so homelessness will become rampant. Most people in the U.S., once their savings are depleted, will in due course be forced to live in their car, in some secluded stretch of woods, in a tent or under a tarp. There is currently no mechanism by which landlords can be made not to evict deadbeat tenants, or banks prevailed upon not to foreclose on non-performing loans.” Residents of apartments in the former Soviet Union faced hardships, but no one evicted them for nonpayment of rent. Private property rights were valued less than human lives.

Avoiding a mass-eviction scenario must be the top priority of American political leaders.

Aside from mass human misery, the downsides of allowing banks and municipalities and landlords to evict large numbers of people became evident after the evictions and foreclosures of millions of homes following the 2008-09 housing crisis. Every foreclosure drags down the property value of neighboring homes. Abandoned houses become meth labs.

But let’s not forget about mass human misery. Even if you’re rich and not a humanitarian, the thought of tens of millions of homeless people wandering streets and highways, desperate and hungry, can’t possibly make you sleep soundly. Property crimes and violence designed to separate people from their possessions will soar unless we keep people in their homes, safe, fed and warm. And don’t forget about the coronavirus. Even after two years from now, when there may or may not be a vaccine, many of the poor will be uninsured and won’t be able to afford medical care. Kicking them out of their homes will spread the virus.

America needs a rent and mortgage holiday, not a lame moratorium that kicks the can of mass evictions down the road for a few months. That includes commercial rent. Empty storefronts become targets for burglary and squatters. Some become drug dens. Arson fires consume them and neighboring homes. Until COVID-19 is in our rearview mirror, we need everyone and everything to stay put for health reasons. Afterward we want to give the economy a chance to recover. We don’t need blight. We want restaurants and other businesses to reopen. We want individuals to return to work, not starve in the streets. Individuals and businesses who can’t afford it should withhold rent from landlords and mortgage payments from banks, without penalty, until both the public health and the economic crises are over.

What about the banks and landlords? I’m not suggesting that they should be stuck with the whole tab for COVID-19. Municipalities should waive real estate taxes. They should receive relief to cover their utility and maintenance expenses. Lobbying organizations for property owners point out that their members often have underlying mortgages themselves; those mortgages too should be subject to the payment holiday. Banks should receive infusions of interest-free cash from the Fed. But the U.S. can no longer afford to let these entities continue to collect real estate profits as usual.

Landlords should take the biggest bath for the simple reason that they are social and economic parasites. Value is added via the production process; landlords add no value whatsoever. If a revolution were to turn renters into homeowners by transferring titles, and abolish bank liens and property taxes and so turn homeowners into full owners, no one would miss landlords. Former renters and mortgage borrowers could easily assume the cost of maintenance that they currently pay to landlords and banks for pennies on the dollar.

You probably know a nice landlord. My father-in-law was one. I used to sublet a room in my apartment so I could make the rent, which made me a sub-landlord. But part of the reason my rent was too high was that I could sublet that room. Landlords are unnecessary at best, pernicious at worst.

In part, eviction is a remedy: it allows a property owner to try again with a new tenant. In a broader sense, it is a threat to remaining renters: unless you pay me, I will throw you out. That threat is the ultimate expression of the enclosure of the commons. I own this. You do not. Therefore I can force you to leave.

A depressionary spiral during a pandemic is no time to prioritize property rights. Eviction is a national suicide pact.

In 2014 a boy broke into what he thought was an abandoned house in my hometown of Dayton, Ohio. In a closet he found the mummified body of the homeowner, who committed suicide five years earlier out of despair that his $10,000 house had been foreclosed upon. He needn’t have bothered.  The bank was so overwhelmed with newly acquired properties due to mass foreclosures that it never bothered to send anyone to investigate or take possession.

The guy died for nothing.

The last thing we need now is a million more like him.

(Ted Rall (Twitter: @tedrall), the political cartoonist, columnist and graphic novelist, is the author of the biography “Bernie.” You can support Ted’s hard-hitting political cartoons and columns and see his work first by sponsoring his work on Patreon.)

The Speech Trump Must but Cannot Give

Trump's Oval Office speech did the opposite of what it was ...

Some of my commentary about politics is presented in the form of “advice” to the ruling classes. Please understand: I don’t really expect them to take my advice. My advice is not really directed toward them. It is a theoretical exercise.

I am really speaking to you, the people. My goal is to set a standard of behavior and policy to which we ought to expect the ruling class to conform. I set a minimal bar. I know that the ruling classes will not meet the minimum standard to which we are entitled. I want our rulers’ failures to be placed in the sharpest possible relief so we can judge them accordingly and take the next logical step, getting rid of them.

If I were a speechwriter, I would advise President Trump to deliver something like the following from the Oval Office on national television. He will not. He cannot. The system won’t allow it.

But he has to. And he won’t. Which is why the regime is on the way out.

“My fellow Americans,

“I know you are scared. I’m scared too. Anyone who is paying attention is frightened.

“We will lose some of our sons, our daughters, our spouses, our parents and our friends. Even after the coronavirus has been eradicated, it will take years to recover from the economic shock. Pain, suffering and death are inevitable. We will lose many of our best people.

“But I want you to know that we will get through this. America survived the Civil War, which killed 2% of the population at the time, the Spanish Flu epidemic and the Great Depression. The COVID-19 pandemic will be remembered as a challenge on par with those horrors, but not greater.

“Today I want to assure you that no American will come out of this economically ruined. It will be tough. But no one will lose their home to eviction or foreclosure. No one will go hungry. The United States government has ample resources to meet the basic needs and necessities of every American. This assurance goes beyond the end date of the present crisis. No one will be asked in 6 or 12 or 18 months when we come out on the other side of this, to pay back rent or back mortgage or giant medical bills.

“This assurance extends to noncitizens. The COVID-19 virus does not care if you are a native-born citizen, naturalized, a permanent resident or an undocumented worker, so neither do I. We are all in this together. COVID-19 is a lowest-common-denominator problem; neglect of the physical and medical needs of the most disadvantaged among us will increase the rate of transmission throughout the entire population. For the time being there are no Americans, there are only people who happen to live in the United States.

“This and many other decisions I will be making in the coming days, weeks and months may be unpopular. I take full responsibility. If you disapprove of my policies, please vote against me in the coming election. Which I personally guarantee you will take place even if most votes are cast online.

“There are no Democrats or Republicans, only the people of the United States. This is not a time to promote conservative, moderate or liberal values—only intelligent, fact-based decision-making. I am open to any and all suggestions of how to address the healthcare and economic challenges that lie ahead of us. For that reason, I am setting up a special White House telephone hotline and website in order to encourage academics, experts and ordinary citizens among our extraordinarily talented people to contact us with any and all ideas that might help.

“Because this is a global pandemic, I am asking leaders along with top medical and economic experts from every country to join me via teleconference at the United Nations next week for an open-ended international discussion of what the world can do to slow and eventually stop the spread of COVID-19. To those countries with whom the United States does not have diplomatic relations like Iran, North Korea and Cuba, we wish to restore full diplomatic relations now.

“It never hurts to talk. Nations with whom we have fallen out should know that our attitude has changed, that we want to engage with them on every level and to help them as much as we can. I am personally reaching out to the leaders of countries that have been hit hardest by COVID-19 such as China, Iran and Italy. High-level liaisons will keep lines of communication open at all times.

“As you know, I have been personally criticized for failing to take the coronavirus threat seriously enough early enough and for failing to order the manufacturing of disease testing kits. Harry Truman, who sat at this desk 75 years ago, said that the buck stops here and he was right. I screwed up. I am sorry.

“As president I am powerful. But I can’t make the clock run backwards. All I can do now is learn from my mistakes, roll up my sleeves and give you my very best, as well as the very best leadership at all levels of government. Toward that end I will provide you with daily press briefings during which I will accept many questions from journalists from around the world, during which I will let you know what your government is doing on your behalf.

“My goal is to get every American tested for the novel coronavirus and for the antibodies that show whether you have ever had COVID-19. I will keep you informed about the development of the tests and their distribution and where and how you will be able to get them.

“No one should suffer or die because they cannot receive medical care, whether for coronavirus or other afflictions, due to an overwhelmed healthcare system. We will create a state-of-the-art referral system to transport everyone who needs care to a facility where they can get it.

“The $2 trillion stimulus package that I signed into law after a bipartisan vote in both the House and the Senate is merely a start. We are going to issue regular payments to citizens and businesses to make sure that they can meet their expenses as long as the crisis continues. Those payments will also be put into the hands of noncitizens including undocumented workers, despite my belief that Americans should always come first because leaving out the undocumented means endangering Americans too. Special outreach efforts will make sure that the homeless not only receive their payments but are provided with proper long-term shelter.

“We will get through this. We will defeat the coronavirus. Then we can mourn our dead and resume—as we must—the vibrant political debate that makes our country great.

“Good night.”

(Ted Rall (Twitter: @tedrall), the political cartoonist, columnist and graphic novelist, is the author of the biography “Bernie.” You can support Ted’s hard-hitting political cartoons and columns and see his work first by sponsoring his work on Patreon.)

 

SYNDICATED COLUMN: We Learned Nothing From 9/11

Ten Years Later, Americans Still Stupid and Vulnerable

They say everything changed on 9/11. No one can dispute that. But we didn’t learn anything.

Like other events that forced Americans to reassess their national priorities (the Great Depression, Pearl Harbor, Sputnik) the attacks on New York and Washington were a traumatic, teachable moment.

The collective attention of the nation was finally focused upon problems that had gone neglected for many years. 9/11 was a chance to get smart—but we blew it.

First and foremost the attacks gave the United States a rare opportunity to reset its international reputation. Even countries known for anti-Americanism offered their support. “We are all Americans,” ran the headline of the French newspaper Le Monde.

The century of U.S. foreign policy that led to 9/11—supporting dictators, crushing democratic movements, spreading gangster capitalism at the point of a thousand nukes—should and could have been put on hold and reassessed in the wake of 9/11.

It wasn’t time to act. It was time to think.

It was time to lick our wounds, pretend to act confused, and play the victim. It was time to hope the world forgot how we supplied lists of pro-democracy activists to a young Saddam Hussein so he could collect and kill them, and forget the “Made in USA” labels on missiles shot into the Gaza Strip from U.S.-made helicopter gunships sold to Israel.

It was time, for once, to take the high road. The Bush Administration ought to have treated 9/11 as a police investigation, demanding that Pakistan extradite Osama bin Laden and other individuals wanted in connection with the attacks for prosecution by an international court.

Instead of assuming a temperate, thoughtful posture, the Bush Administration exploited 9/11 as an excuse to start two wars, both against defenseless countries that had little or nothing to do with the attacks. Bush and company legalized torture and ramped up support for unpopular dictatorships in South and Central Asia and the Middle East, all announced with bombastic cowboy talk.

Smoke ’em out! Worst of the worst! Dead or alive!

By 2003 the world hated us more than ever. A BBC poll showed that people in Jordan and Indonesia—moderate Muslim countries where Al Qaeda had killed locals with bombs—considered the U.S. a bigger security threat than the terrorist group.

In fairness to Condi Rice, Don Rumsfeld and Bush’s other leading war criminals, everyone else went along with them. The media refused to question them. Democratic politicians, including Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama, cast votes in favor of Bush’s wars. Democrats and leftist activists ought to have pushed for Bush’s impeachment; they were silent or supportive.

9/11 was “blowback”—proof that the U.S. can’t wage its wars overseas without suffering consequences at home. But we still haven’t learned that lesson. Ten years later, a “Democratic” president is fighting Bush’s wars as well as new ones against Libya, Somalia and Yemen. Now he’s saber-rattling against Syria.

American officials correctly inferred from 9/11 that security, particularly at airports but also in ports where container ships arrive daily from around the world, had been lax. Rather than act proactively to close gaps in transportation security, however, bureaucrats for the new Department of Homeland Security created a gauntlet of police-state harassment so onerous that it has threatened the financial health of the aviation industry.

“Aviation security is a joke, and it’s only a matter of time before terrorists destroy another airplane full of innocent passengers,” wrote Barbara Hollingsworth of The Washington Examiner after the 2009 “underwear bomber” scare. As Hollingsworth pointed out, the much-vaunted federal air marshals have been removed from flights because the TSA is too cheap to pay their hotel bills. (This is illegal.) What’s the point of taking off your shoes, she asked, when planes are still serviced overseas in unsecured facilities? No one has provided an answer.

Ten years after 9/11, there is still no real security check when you board a passenger train or bus. Perhaps the sheer quantity of goods arriving at American ports makes it impossible to screen them all, but we’re not even talking about the fact that we’ve basically given up on port security.

While we’re on the subject of post-9/11 security, what about air defenses? On 9/11 the airspace over the Lower 48 states was assigned to a dozen “weekend warrior” air national guard jets. Every last one of them was on the ground when the attacks began, allowing hijacked planes to tool around the skies for hours after they had been identified as dangerous.

Which could easily happen again. According to a 2009 report by the federal General Accounting Office on U.S. air defenses: “The Air Force has not implemented ASA [Air Sovereignty Alert] operations in accordance with DOD, NORAD, and Air Force directives and guidance, which instruct the Air Force to establish ASA as a steady-state (ongoing and indefinite) mission. The Air Force has not implemented the 140 actions it identified to establish ASA as a steady-state mission, which included integrating ASA operations into the Air Force’s planning, programming, and funding cycle. The Air Force has instead been focused on other priorities, such as overseas military operations.”

Maybe if it stopped spending so much time and money killing foreigners the American government could protect Americans.

On 9/11 hundreds of firefighters and policemen died because they couldn’t communicate on antiquated, segregated bandwidth. “Only one month away from the 10th anniversary of 9/11,” admits FCC chairman Julius Genachowski, “our first responders still don’t have an interoperable mobile broadband network for public safety. Our 911 call centers still can’t handle texts or pictures or video being sent by the phones that everyone has.”

Because the corporate masters of the Democratic and Republican parties love the low wage/weak labor environment created by illegal immigration, American land borders are intentionally left unguarded.

A lot changed on 9/11, but not everything.

We’re still governed by corrupt idiots. And we’re still putting up with them.

What does that say about us?

(Ted Rall is the author of “The Anti-American Manifesto.” His website is tedrall.com.)

COPYRIGHT 2011 TED RALL

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