Sunday, May 28, 2017

Slumlords, Spies, and Subterfuge

 Jared Kushner, jack of all White House trades and master of none, is the latest topic of the official narrative conversation. He "is said to" have established back-channel communications with those damned Russians during the transition period. According to experts on such things, this might not have been totally illegal, but it was certainly unethical and outside the norms of how corruption gets done in official Washington.

Don't get me wrong - I think that Jared is a perfectly loathsome human being. But it's just too bad, and actually kind of silly, that the FBI's investigation is not instead aimed squarely at his serial financial assaults on the poor tenants of his multitude of substandard rental units. An exhaustive investigation published last week by journalist Alex MacGillis reveals that Kushner has amassed a team of lawyers whose sole purpose is to hound tenants for back rent, late payments, and alleged damage to their units. In many cases, the harassment continues for years after they have left his premises.

One of Jared Kushner's goals in life seems to be the financial and emotional destruction of the most vulnerable members of society -  some of whom were and still are Trump supporters. MacGillis reports:
In 2011, Kushner Companies, with Jared now more firmly in command, pulled together a deal that looked much more like something from the firm’s humble past than from its high-rolling present. That June, the company and its equity partners bought 4,681 units of what are known in real-estate jargon as “distress-ridden, Class B” apartment complexes: units whose prices fell somewhere in the middle of the market, typically of a certain age and wear, whose owners were in financial difficulty. The properties were spread across 12 sites in Toledo, Ohio; Pittsburgh; and other Rust Belt cities still reeling from the Great Recession. Kushner had to settle more than 200 debts held against the complexes before the deal could go through; at one complex, in Pittsburgh, circumstances had become so dire that some residents had been left without heat and power because the previous owner couldn’t pay the bills. Prudential, which was foreclosing on the portfolio, sold it for only $72 million — half the value of the mortgages on the properties.
His slumlord enterprise has grown exponentially, with much help from federal subsidies and tax breaks readily available to wealthy real estate moguls.  Kushner coldly describes his low income tenants as "an asset class" with  money-making potential deriving from evictions, withheld security deposits, and other legal finagling. MacGillis continues,
 There is a clear pattern of Kushner Companies’ pursuing tenants over virtually any unpaid rent or broken lease — even in the numerous cases where the facts appear to be on the tenants’ side. Not only does the company file cases against them, it pursues the cases for as long as it takes to collect from the overmatched defendants — often several years. The court docket of (one case) forinstance, spans more than three years and 112 actions — for a sum that amounts to maybe two days’ worth of billings for the average corporate law firm associate, from a woman who never even rented from JK2 Westminster. The pursuit is all the more remarkable given how transient the company’s prey tends to be. Hounding former tenants for money means paying to send out process servers who often report back that they were unable to locate the target. This does not deter Kushner Companies’ lawyers. They send the servers back out again a few months later.
But forget about that. It is because gentrification, and the privatization of this nation's public housing stock, and the deliberate absence of a federal guaranteed housing policy are bipartisan enterprises that it's more expedient to get rid of Trump and his clan by the tried-and-true scapegoating methods perfected during the Inquisition and later during the McCarthy era. If we can only learn to fear and loathe Russia and its treacherous Trumpian stooges more than we fear and loathe the all-American policies leading to the worst wealth inequality in history, perhaps we won't take to the streets in protest of what is really rotten in the state of Neoliberalism.

We'll be so shocked and awed by the treason at the highest levels of the Trump administration that we might forget that our rent payments are eating up greater and greater chunks of our monthly incomes. We might forget that the abusive rental market is the natural outgrowth of the subprime mortgage market, and that unprosecuted banksters now act as landlords on the same housing they so recently foreclosed. Oligarchs like Kushner have discovered that the extraction process can go on, and on, and on. Poverty is such a lucrative industry for them.

Right before he left office, President Obama secretly gifted the private equity giant Blackstone with another massive government bailout. This gift subsidizes any losses that investors might suffer as a result of evictions and neglected repairs of their plundered housing stock. It does nothing to help the victimized tenants of predatory "rent-to-own" scams. As a matter of fact, the bailout ensures that Blackstone slumlords can continue gobbling up distressed properties at no risk to themselves with the added benefit of artificially inflating real estate prices for regular home-buyers (just another "asset-class") faced with ever-dwindling choices.

It also perpetuates the class resentments that gave rise to Donald Trump. Since Blackstone and other real estate investors now control whole swathes of foreclosed and distressed properties, the resulting increases in rent ensure that manufactured competition between low income and medium income people will continue to grow.

For his own sleazy part, Trump continues to feed these class resentments through what Hannah Arendt has called "negative solidarity." We the teeming oppressed masses are invited to join him, a billionaire demagogue, in common cause against mutual enemies.

In his latest fundraising email, slugged "Kicking and Screaming," Trump writes:
 This month... the media tried to stop us.

...The establishment tried to stop us.

...The bureaucracy even tried to sabotage us from within.


The Washington elites will go kicking and screaming until they’ve all been dethroned.

Right now, we’re just $142,693 away from hitting our FEC end-of-month goal. Will you contribute any amount -- I mean it,
Karen, any amount you can -- to help us end the month so strong that the Fake News Media Machine falls into a complete panic? Can you donate $1 to Drain the Swamp?

Meanwhile and ever so coincidentally (of course) Trump and Kushner are solidly and intimately involved with Blackstone, which plans to invest some of "its" excessive cash into a joint Saudi Arabian venture to loot even larger chunks of crumbling American real estate and public infrastructure. This glaring scandal, too, is taking a back seat to the more pressing concern of nefarious "Russian back channels."

I wonder why that is.

Maybe I'm reading too much into this, but it seems quite odd that the media would launch into its latest phase of Russophobic mania within days of the shocking revelations that Kushner is taking total advantage of thousands of poor people, and that a new breed of Robber Baron owns and controls us, thanks to socialized risk-taking for private gain. Channeling the official conversation away from the escalating war on the poor back to #RussiaGate has the added bonus of protecting oligarchs and Uniparty politicians who indulge their own predatory appetites in a more circumspect fashion than the boorish Trump family seems capable of.

Like father, like son-in-law, like unfettered capitalism itself. The umbel never falls too far from the parental hemlock plant. It takes root and multiplies like the noxious weed that it is.


Jamie said...

A back channel? As opposed to what? A front-channel. Should Trump's people have to call the main switchboard in Russia? Should any number a Russian offical gives them be scrawled on a public bathroom wall?

It appears for snowflakes that Republicans can't even exchange phone numbers with Russia, but Hillary can exchange 20% of our Uranium assets for millions in bribes:

"Long walks in the woods helped with election loss. I won’t lie. Chardonnay helped a little too."

- Crooked Hillary

Nonni Muss said...

Thank you for sharing the gift of "asset class". Did he really say that out loud? And here I thought that the Emancipation Proclamation had put an end to that sort of thinking! It seems clear that politicians think that it's their job to serve us up to plutocrats who see us as profit centers. The endgame no doubt has them buying our bodies for blood and organ harvesting.

Carol S. said...

Lord, Jared Kushner is truly odious. Thank you for that, Karen

I agree with you that plutocrats may, in fact, be bolstering the so annoying "Russia-gate" story on Kushner in part in this case to minimize the hideous real estate mess he is creating, to serve their own interests.

Coincidentally, I have been reading and after that, listening to an interview on Rima Regus' blog, of Economic Policy Institute Research Associate Richard Rothstein, who recently published a book entitled, "The Color of Law, a Forgotten History of How Our Government Segregated America", as part of the New Deal, and that by regulation, it did it unconstitutionally. All this has been hidden from the public narrative and from most history books used in schools.

During the interview, Mr. Rothstein states very eloquently and clearly, that while he was not surprised by Chief Justice Roberts in a fairly recent decision in which a landlord prevailed over a tenant, even Supreme Court Member Steven Breyer, who wrote the dissenting opinion, was unaware of this fact.

He states that the government granted subsidies to white people to buy homes in the suburbs, where industries were being located. Blacks were explicitly excluded and were relocated to projects in cities where jobs were dwindling.

So it wasn't just acts of prejudice that oppressed and segregated blacks (keeping them poor and their children in inferior schools, etc); it was governmental regulation.

Also, home ownership was a means of fighting Communism; homeowners, by definition, are not Communists.

There's so much daughter just ordered the book.

The link is below.

paintedjaguar said...

Nonni Muss,
That endgame is already here, has been for a while. A large new commercial plasma collection facility just opened up in one of the semi abandoned shopping centers near me, but that's nothing new. My dormmate and I used to give blood for pocket money back in the 1970's. I've also been a paid medical research subject, which is a lot like being confined in jail for up to weeks at a time with the added frisson of getting your blood drawn multiple times per day.

kevinschmidt said...

According to the article, it was Obama who bailed out the slumlords and that is what made Kushner's deplorable behavior possible.