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TBR News July 31, 2020

Jul 31 2020

The Voice of the White House
Comments, July 31, 2020:Now Trump is of the raddled opinion that he can cancel the national elections in November! His chances of winning are tanking and he is getting frantic at the thought of being kicked out of the White House. Even the Republicans in the Senate are against this idiot scam so he might well barricade himself in his bedroom, refuse to come out and scream all night for his Mommy to come and help him. The padded room looms sharply on the horizon!

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The Table of Contents

  • Facts about Covid-19
  • Trump floats idea of delaying election, congressional Republicans reject idea
  • US election: Does Trump have power to delay it?
  • California landlords are locking out struggling tenants. A ‘tsunami of evictions’ may be next
  • Millions of Americans risk homelessness if the $600 unemployment benefit ends
  • The Great Mortgage Swindle
  • Presumptuous Pompeo Pushes Preposterous ‘Peking’ Policy
  • The Encyclopedia of American Loons

 

Facts about Covid-19

July 2020;

Fully referenced facts about Covid-19, provided by experts in the field, to help our readers make a realistic risk assessment.

Swiss Policy Research

“The only means to fight the plague is honesty.” (Albert Camus, 1947)

Overview

  • According to the latest immunological studies, the overall lethality of Covid-19 (IFR) is about 0.1% and thus in the range of a severe influenza (flu). For people at high risk or high exposure (including health care workers), early or prophylactic treatment is essential.
  • In countries like the US, the UK, and also Sweden (without a lockdown), overall mortality since the beginning of the year is in the range of a strong influenza season; in countries like Germany, Austria and Switzerland, overall mortality is in the range of a mild influenza season.
  • Even in global “hotspots”, the risk of death for the general population of school and working age is typically in the range of a daily car ride to work. The risk was initially overestimated because many people with only mild or no symptoms were not taken into account.
  • Up to 80% of all test-positive persons remain symptom-free. Even among 70-79 year olds, about 60% remain symptom-free. About 95% of all people develop at most moderate symptoms.
  • Up to 60% of all persons may already have a certain cellular background immunity to the new coronavirus due to contact with previous coronaviruses (i.e. common cold viruses). The initial assumption that there was no immunity against the new coronavirus was not correct.
  • The median age of the deceased in most countries (including Italy) is over 80 years (e.g. 86 years in Sweden) and only about 4% of the deceased had no serious preconditions. The age and risk profile of deaths thus essentially corresponds to normal mortality.
  • In many countries, up to two thirds of all extra deaths occurred in nursing homes, which do not benefit from a general lockdown. Moreover, in many cases it is not clear whether these people really died from Covid-19 or from weeks of extreme stress and isolation.
  • Up to 30% of all additional deaths may have been caused not by Covid-19, but by the effects of the lockdown, panic and fear. For example, the treatment of heart attacks and strokes decreased by up to 60% because many patients no longer dared to go to hospital.
  • Even in so-called “Covid-19 deaths” it is often not clear whether they died from or with coronavirus (i.e. from underlying diseases) or if they were counted as “presumed cases” and not tested at all. However, official figures usually do not reflect this distinction.
  • Many media reports of young and healthy people dying from Covid-19 turned out to be false: many of these young people either did not die from Covid-19, they had already been seriously ill (e.g. from undiagnosed leukemia), or they were in fact 109 instead of 9 years old. The claimed increase in Kawasaki disease in children also turned out to be false.
  • Strong increases in regional mortality can occur if there is a collapse in the care of the elderly and sick as a result of infection or panic, or if there are additional risk factors such as severe air pollution. Questionable regulations for dealing with the deceased sometimes led to additional bottlenecks in funeral or cremation services.
  • In countries such as Italy and Spain, and to some extent the UK and the US, hospital overloads due to strong flu waves are not unusual. Moreover, this year up to 15% of health care workers were put into quarantine, even if they developed no symptoms.
  • The often shown exponential curves of “corona cases” are misleading, as the number of tests also increased exponentially. In most countries, the ratio of positive tests to tests overall (i.e. the positivity rate) remained constant at 5% to 25% or increased only slightly. In many countries, the peak of the spread was already reached well before the lockdown.
  • Countries without lockdowns, such as Japan, South Korea, Belarus and Sweden, have not experienced a more negative course of events than many other countries. Sweden was even praised by the WHO and now benefits from higher immunity compared to lockdown countries. 75% of Swedish deaths happened in nursing facilities that weren’t protected fast enough.
  • The fear of a shortage of ventilators was unjustified. According to lung specialists, the invasive ventilation (intubation) of Covid-19 patients, which is partly done out of fear of spreading the virus, is in fact often counterproductive and damaging to the lungs.
  • Various studies have shown that the main routes of transmission of the virus are neither long-range aerosols (i.e. tiny particles floating in the air) nor smear infections (i.e. on surfaces), but direct contact and droplets produced when coughing or sneezing.
  • The effectiveness of face masks in healthy and asymptomatic individuals remains questionable. Experts warn that such masks may interfere with normal breathing and may become “germ carriers”. Leading doctors called them a “media hype” and “ridiculous”.
  • Many clinics in Europe and the US remained strongly underutilized or almost empty during the Covid-19 peak and in some cases had to send staff home. Millions of surgeries and therapies were cancelled, including many cancer screenings and organ transplants.
  • Several media were caught trying to dramatize the situation in hospitals, sometimes even with manipulative images and videos. In general, the unprofessional reporting of many media maximized fear and panic in the population.
  • The virus test kits used internationally are prone to errors and can produce false positive and false negative results. Moreover, the official virus test was not clinically validated due to time pressure and may sometimes react positive to other common coronaviruses.
  • Numerous internationally renowned experts in the fields of virology, immunology and epidemiology consider the measures taken to be counterproductive and recommend rapid natural immunization of the general population and protection of risk groups.
  • At no time was there a medical reason for the closure of schools, as the risk of disease and transmission in children is extremely low. There is also no medical reason for small classes, masks or ‘social distancing’ rules in schools.
  • The claim that only (severe) Covid-19 but not influenza may cause venous thrombosis and pulmonary (lung) embolism is not true, as it has been known for 50 years that severe influenza greatly increases the risk of thrombosis and embolism, too.
  • Several medical experts described express coronavirus vaccines as unnecessary or even dangerous. Indeed, the vaccine against the so-called swine flu of 2009, for example, led to cases of severe neurological damage and lawsuits in the millions. In the testing of new coronavirus vaccines, too, serious complications and failures have already been reported.
  • A global respiratory disease pandemic can indeed extend over several seasons, but many studies of a “second wave” are based on very unrealistic assumptions, such as a constant risk of illness and death across all age groups.
  • In places like New York City, nurses described an oftentimes fatal medical mis­manage­ment of Covid patients due to questionable financial incentives or inappropriate medical protocols. On the other hand, early treatment with zinc and HCQ turned out to be effective after all.

The number of people suffering from unemployment, depressions and domestic violence as a result of the measures has reached historic record levels. Several experts predict that the measures will claim far more lives than the virus itself. According to the UN 1.6 billion people around the world are at immediate risk of losing their livelihood.

NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden warned that the “corona crisis” will be used for the permanent expansion of global surveillance. Renowned virologist Pablo Goldschmidt spoke of a “global media terror” and “totalitarian measures”. Leading British virologist Professor John Oxford spoke of a “media epidemic”.

More than 600 scientists have warned of an “unprecedented surveillance of society” through problematic apps for “contact tracing”. In some countries, such “contact tracing” is carried out directly by the secret service. In several parts of the world, the population is being monitored by drones and facing serious police overreach during lockdowns.

A 2019 WHO study on public health measures against pandemic influenza found that from a medical perspective, “contact tracing” is “not recommended in any circumstances”. Nevertheless, contact tracing apps have already become partially mandatory in several countries.

 

Trump floats idea of delaying election, congressional Republicans reject idea

July 30, 2020

by Steve Holland

Reuters

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – President Donald Trump on Thursday raised the idea of delaying the Nov. 3 U.S. elections, an idea immediately rejected by both Democrats and his fellow Republicans in Congress – the sole branch of government with the authority to make such a change.

Critics and even Trump’s allies dismissed the notion as unserious and simply an attempt to distract from devastating economic news.

Trump’s statement on Twitter comes as the United States is enduring the greatest crises of a generation: a coronavirus pandemic that has claimed more than 150,000 lives, a crippling recession sparked by the outbreak and nationwide protests against police violence and racism. On Thursday morning, the government reported the worst U.S. economic contraction since the Great Depression.

Trump, who opinion polls show losing ground to and trailing Democratic challenger and former Vice President Joe Biden, also said he would not trust the results of an election that included widespread mail voting – a measure that many observers see as critical given the coronavirus pandemic. Without evidence, he claimed that mail voting would be rife with fraud.

“With Universal Mail-In Voting (not Absentee Voting, which is good), 2020 will be the most INACCURATE & FRAUDULENT Election in history. It will be a great embarrassment to the USA,” Trump wrote on Twitter. “Delay the Election until people can properly, securely and safely vote???”

The U.S. economy contracted by 32.9% in the second quarter, as the fast-spreading coronavirus sparked widespread lockdowns.

The United States has held elections for more than 200 years, including during the Civil War, the Great Depression and two world wars. Article II of the U.S. Constitution gives Congress the power to set the timing of elections, and the 20th Amendment ends a president and vice president’s term in office on the Jan. 20 following a general election.

Multiple congressional Republicans – including Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and top House of Representatives Republican Kevin McCarthy – rejected the idea.

“Never in the history of the federal elections have we ever not held an election and we should go forward with our election,” said McCarthy. Senator Lindsey Graham, a Trump ally, said, “Delaying the election probably wouldn’t be a good idea.”

Democratic U.S. Representative Zoe Lofgren, who chairs the House committee overseeing election security, rejected any delay.

“Only Congress can change the date of our elections,” Lofgren said in an email to Reuters. “Under no circumstances will we consider doing so to accommodate the President’s inept and haphazard response to the coronavirus pandemic, or give credence to the lies and misinformation he spreads regarding the manner in which Americans can safely and securely cast their ballots.”

‘JUST CAN’T HELP HIMSELF’     

Trump’s tweet came without warning and surprised some White House staffers. The White House referred questions about the Tweet to Trump’s re-election campaign, which in a statement said the president was simply raising a question.

“The President is just raising a question about the chaos Democrats have created with their insistence on all mail-in voting,” said Hogan Gidley, the campaign’s press secretary. “Universal mail-in voting invites chaos and severe delays in results.”

A Republican close to the White House was stunned at the tweet, noting that it followed a period of stability in which Trump has stayed on message in response to advice from new campaign manager Bill Stepien and senior campaign manager Jason Miller.

“Obviously he just can’t help himself. This is starting to look like a real campaign, and then he does this,” the Republican source said. “It’s awful. It’s starting to look like he doesn’t even want to win.”

Trump had previously suggested he would not trust election results – complaints similar to those he raised going into the runup to the 2016 election – but had not so directly suggested changing the Nov. 3 date.

Trump without evidence has cast doubt on the legitimacy of mail-in ballots, which have been used in far greater numbers in primary elections amid the pandemic. He has also made unsubstantiated allegations that voting will be rigged and has refused to say he would accept official election results if he lost.

Many states earlier this year rescheduled primaries due to the fast-spreading coronavirus.

Ari Fleischer, who was White House press secretary under Republican President George W. Bush, said Trump should delete the tweet.

“This is not an idea anyone, especially POTUS, should float. Our democracy is based on elections in which everyone knows the rules and they apply to all,” Fleischer said. “Mr. President – please don’t even pretend to mess with this. It’s a harmful idea.”

‘DON’T LET IT HAPPEN’   

Democrats, including Biden, have already begun preparations to protect voters and the election amid fears that Trump will try to interfere with the November election or dispute results – particularly if the final result is delayed by late-arriving mail-in ballots.

Polls have shown that U.S. registered voters oppose the idea of election delay. When Reuters/Ipsos in April asked voters if they thought the election should be rescheduled due to the coronavirus, 59% opposed the idea, including a majority of voters in each party.

A Biden campaign official said Trump’s tweet was not a legitimate threat because he has no power to change the date of the election, and that it was an obvious ploy to distract from the awful GDP numbers.

“We’re going to keep our eye on the ball,” the Biden campaign official said.

“A sitting president is peddling lies and suggesting delaying the election to keep himself in power,” Democratic Representative Dan Kildee wrote on Twitter. “Don’t let it happen. Every American — Republican, Independent and Democrat — should be speaking out against this President’s lawlessness and complete disregard of the Constitution.”

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo sidestepped the issue at a Senate hearing, saying, “I’m not going to enter a legal judgment on that on the fly.”

Dale Ho, director of the American Civil Liberties Union’s voting rights project, likewise said Trump lacked the authority to reschedule an election.

“This is America,” Ho said. “We are a democracy, not a dictatorship. The Constitution sets the date for the election in November. Nothing President Trump says, does, or tweets can change that fact.”

Reporting by Steve Holland; additional reporting by Rick Cowan, David Morgan, Patricia Zengerle, Susan Heavey, Michael Martina and Joseph Ax, writing by Scott Malone; Editing by Chris Reese, Nick Zieminski and Jonathan Oatis

 

US election: Does Trump have power to delay it?

July 30, 2020

Anthony Zurcher North America reporter

BBC News

President Donald Trump has generated a political firestorm after he sent a tweet raising the possibility of delaying November’s general election.

His message – structured in the form of a question – comes after the president has spent months alleging that mail-in voting, which a growing number of states are turning to due to risks of coronavirus exposure at in-person polling places, is susceptible to fraud.

There’s little evidence of widespread illegalities in mail-in balloting, even in the states that hold their elections exclusively by post. The president, however, is suggesting that fears about the practice, and about polling-place safety, could necessitate a delay.

Such an outcome is extremely unlikely, but the coronavirus has already had a significant impact on US politics. Primary contests have been delayed or disrupted, with in-person polling places closed and absentee balloting processes thrown into doubt. Politicians have engaged in contentious fights over the electoral process in legislatures and the courts.

In November, voters are scheduled to head to the polls to select the next president, much of Congress and thousands of state-government candidates. But what could Election Day look like – or if it will even be held on schedule – is very much the subject of debate.

Could President Trump postpone the election?

Under a law dating back to 1845, the US presidential election is slated for the Tuesday after the first Monday of November every four years – 3 November in 2020. It would take an act of Congress – approved by majorities in the Democratic-controlled House of Representatives and the Republican-controlled Senate – to change that.

The prospect of a bipartisan legislative consensus signing off on any delay is unlikely in the extreme.

What’s more, even if the voting day were changed, the US Constitution mandates that a presidential administration only last four years. In other words, Donald Trump’s first term will expire at noon on 20 January, 2021, one way or another.

He might get another four years if he’s re-elected. He could be replaced by Democrat Joe Biden if he’s defeated. But the clock is ticking down, and a postponed vote won’t stop it.

What happens if the election is delayed?

If there hasn’t been an election before the scheduled inauguration day, the presidential line of succession kicks in. Second up is Vice-President Mike Pence, and given that his term in office also ends on that day, he’s in the same boat as the president.

Next in line is the Speaker of the House – currently Democrat Nancy Pelosi – but her two-year term is up at the end of December. The senior-most official eligible for the presidency in such a doomsday scenario would be 86-year-old Republican Chuck Grassley of Iowa, the president pro tem of the Senate. That’s assuming Republicans still control the Senate after a third of its 100 seats are vacated because of their own term expirations.

All in all, this is much more in the realm of political suspense novels than political reality.

But could the virus disrupt the election?

While an outright change of the presidential election date is unlikely, that doesn’t mean the process isn’t at risk of significant disruption.

According to University of California Irvine Professor Richard L Hasen, an election-law expert, Trump or state governments could use their emergency powers to drastically curtail in-person voting locations.

In the recently concluded Wisconsin primary, for instance, concerns about exposure to the virus, along with a shortage of volunteer poll-workers and election supplies, led to the closure of 175 of the 180 polling places in Milwaukee, the state’s largest city.

If such a move were done with political interests in mind – perhaps by targeting an opponent’s electoral strongholds – it could have an impact on the results of an election.

Could states contest the results?

Hasen also suggests another more extraordinary, albeit unlikely, scenario. Legislatures, citing concerns about the virus, could take back the power to determine which candidate wins their state in the general election. There is no constitutional obligation that a state support the presidential candidate who wins a plurality of its vote – or that the state hold a vote for president at all.

It’s all about the Electoral College, that archaic US institution in which each state has “electors” who cast their ballots for president. In normal times, those electors (almost always) support whoever wins the popular vote in their respective states.

It doesn’t necessarily have to work that way, however. In the 1800 election, for example, several state legislatures told their electors how to vote, popular will be damned.

If a state made such a “hardball” move today, Hasen admits, it would probably lead to mass demonstrations in the streets. That is, if mass demonstrations are permitted given quarantines and social-distancing edicts.

Will there be legal challenges?

The recent experience in the Wisconsin primary could serve as an ominous warning for electoral disruption to come – and not just because of the long lines for in-person voting at limited polling places, staffed by volunteers and national guard soldiers in protective clothing.

Prior to primary day, Democratic governor Tony Evers and Republicans who control the state legislature engaged in high-stakes legal battles, one of which was ultimately decided by the US Supreme Court, over whether the governor had the legal power to postpone the vote until June or extend the absentee balloting deadline.

In March Republican Ohio Governor Mike DeWine had a similar court battle before his successful move to delay his state’s primary.

A federal judge in Texas on Wednesday issued an order that made fear of contracting the coronavirus a valid reason to request an absentee ballot in November. The state’s requirements for mail-in voting had been some of the most stringent in the nation.

What changes could reduce the risk?

In a recent opinion survey conducted by the Pew Research Center, 66% of Americans said they wouldn’t be comfortable going to a polling place to cast their ballot during the current public-health crisis.

Such concerns have increased pressure on states to expand the availability of mail-in ballots for all voters in order to minimise the risk of viral exposure from in-person voting.

While every state provides for some form of remote voting, the requirements to qualify vary greatly.

“We have a very decentralised system,” Hasen says. “The states have a lot of leeway in terms of how they do these things.”

Five states in the western US, including Washington, Oregon and Colorado, conduct their elections entirely via mail-in ballot. Others, like California, provide a postal ballot to anyone who requests it.

Why don’t some states like postal-voting?

On the other end of the spectrum, 17 states require voters to provide a valid reason why they are unable to vote in-person in order to qualify for an absentee ballot. These states have faced calls to relax their requirements to make absentee ballots easier to obtain – although some leaders are resisting.

Mike Parson, the Republican governor of Missouri, said on Tuesday that expanding absentee ballot access was a “political issue” and suggested that fear of contracting the virus is not, by itself, a reason to qualify for an absentee ballot.

Republicans in other states, including North Carolina and Georgia, have expressed similar sentiments.

Congress could step in and mandate that states provide some minimum level of absentee balloting or mail-voting system in national elections, but given the existing partisan gridlock at the US Capitol, chances of that are slim.

Do the parties agree on how to protect the election?

No. Given the intense polarisation of modern politics, it shouldn’t be surprising that whether – and how – to alter the way elections are conducted during a pandemic have become an increasingly contentious debate.

Donald Trump himself has weighed in against expanded mail-in voting, saying that it is more susceptible to fraud. He also has suggested that increased turnout from easing balloting restrictions could harm Republican candidates,

“They had levels of voting, that if you ever agreed to it, you’d never have a Republican elected in this country again,” he said in a recent Fox News interview.

But the evidence that conservatives are hurt more by mail-in voting is mixed, as Republicans frequently cast absentee ballots in greater numbers than Democrats.

Is US democracy at risk?

The coronavirus outbreak is affecting every aspect of American life. While Trump and other politicians are pushing for life to return to some semblance of normalcy, there’s no guarantee all will be well by June, when many states have rescheduled their primary votes, the August party conventions, the October scheduled presidential debates or even November’s election day.

In normal times, the months ahead would mark a drumbeat of national political interest and activity that grows to an election day crescendo. At this point, everything is in doubt – including, for some, the foundations of American democracy itself.

“Even before the virus hit, I was quite worried about people accepting the results of the 2020 election because we are very hyperpolarised and clogged with disinformation,” says Hasen, who wrote a recent book titled Election Meltdown: Dirty Tricks, Distrust, and the Threat to American Democracy.

“The virus adds much more to this concern.”

 

California landlords are locking out struggling tenants. A ‘tsunami of evictions’ may be next

As Covid-19 continues to pummel the state, hundreds of thousands of renters are at risk of becoming homeless

July 30, 2020

by Sam Levin in Los Angeles

The Guardian

Christopher Borunda’s landlords locked him out. Theresa Ribeiro’s landlord left vulgar voicemails threatening to remove her. Denise Briggs’s landlord said he was selling her house and she couldn’t stay.

Some California tenants have faced increasingly aggressive eviction efforts over the last month, despite emergency protections meant to preserve people’s housing during the coronavirus pandemic. And although advocates have urged state officials to strengthen the rules, key renters’ protections are set to expire without new state plans in place.

The result, experts say, could be catastrophic.

Amid rising coronavirus infections and a worsening economic crisis, hundreds of thousands of renters are now at risk of becoming homeless in California, potentially exacerbating the state’s dire housing crisis. In addition, advocates fear the lack of protections will embolden some landlords to resort to hostile methods to get their renters out, at a time when many Californians have nowhere to go.

With so many families facing huge rent debt, advocates are urging the state to act. The only viable solution, some activists say, is rent relief – a move that elected officials have so far resisted.

“When talking about the scale of eviction and mass displacement, it’s pretty unimaginable,” said Ananya Roy, director of the Institute on Inequality and Democracy at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA). The state, she said, was headed towards even more dire conditions than the shanty towns or “Hoovervilles” of the 1930s. “This will be worse than the Great Depression.”

A crisis becomes a ‘catastrophe’

When California became one of the first states to shut down in March and millions lost their jobs, Governor Gavin Newsom ordered a statewide delay on imposing evictions for people who could not pay rent. Some local jurisdictions passed their own measures – Los Angeles and some Bay Area governments gave tenants one year to pay back the rent they owed, while the city of Oakland barred landlords from evicting people due to non-payment during the crisis. One of the most critical protections came from the state court system, which stopped processing evictions in April.

The protections were not comprehensive or strictly enforced – landlords continued to pursue evictions across the state, in some cases successfully. But the emergency rules did delay total mayhem.

That could soon change, though. The state’s judiciary council announced last week that it was considering rescinding its halt on eviction processing, a move that would reopen the courts to enforce removal cases against tenants. At the same time, Republicans in Congress are seeking to cut extra unemployment benefits, which could be particularly hard on California, where the jobless rate has hovered at 15%.

Experts are now predicting a “tsunami of evictions”. UCLA researchers have estimated that 495,000 households are at risk of eviction in Los Angeles county. In Silicon Valley, one of the wealthiest regions in the world, 43,000 households are at high risk of eviction, and even if just 10% of them end up homeless, that could triple the region’s unhoused population, one recent report estimated.

“We were in a crisis before. Now we are in a catastrophe,” said Trinidad Ruiz, an LA Tenants Union (LATU) organizer.

Some landlords, meanwhile, are not waiting for the disappearance of protections to try to remove their tenants with aggressive means.

The tenants under threat: ‘A frightening way to live’

The demands from Theresa Ribeiro’s landlord in Castro Valley, a city in the San Francisco Bay area, in recent months have become increasingly hostile. Ribeiro said the owner of her house, Jon Souza, has required her to deposit part of her rent in the mail and another portion at the bank in person, a stipulation the 61-year-old said has been difficult to follow due to her work schedule and reduced bank hours during the pandemic.

When she has been slightly late, Souza has responded with a steady stream of profanity-laden voicemails, recordings show.

“Get my rent in the fucking checking account, I don’t care what the fucking issue is,” Souza said in one voicemail in June reviewed by the Guardian. “I don’t give a fuck if you’ve got to leave work.” In other voicemails, the incensed landlord told her she wasn’t behaving like a “mature woman” and said he was raising the rent by $315. If she couldn’t afford it, he added, “you need to buy your own house”.

He also dismissed Covid rules, shouting in one message: “I’m going to evict you, I don’t give a shit about this virus thing … These rules are not applying.”

Ribeiro has continued to pay full rent and said she is trying to move out but has struggled to find a place amid the pandemic: “Emotionally, I’m a mess. It’s frightening for me, and it’s a scary way to live.”

Reached by phone, Souza said he was threatening to evict Ribeiro because he was having financial difficulties. He acknowledged that she did not currently owe him rent, but said she previously had agreed to pay early on the 20th of each month and he became frustrated when she missed that date. He defended his voicemails, saying they had previously had a good relationship and he was “disappointed” in her: “The way I talked to Theresa was as an angry friend.”

Anne Tamiko Omura, director of the Eviction Defense Center, which is representing Ribeiro, said her organization was assisting many tenants facing eviction who have no income, nowhere else to go, and doctors advising them not to look for new apartments due to their Covid-19 risks: “People are calling all the time who have no money for food. Nannies, Uber drivers, restaurant workers, they are all out of work.”

Denise Briggs, 55, has been struggling to find a new home. Her landlord, Edward Zeltser, told her he was selling the home she rents in the city of Richmond, and that she had to move out. Briggs lost her job at a not-for-profit, has mobility issues and suffers from respiratory conditions that make her high risk for Covid. Landlords are asking tenants to pay first and last month’s rent upfront and a deposit, she said, costs she can’t afford. “I am completely stressed out,” she said.

Briggs said she shouldn’t have to fight to maintain her housing during a pandemic and that she wished there was more support for tenants: “People are down and they need help.”

Zeltser declined to comment.

New eviction methods: lockouts and electricity shutoffs

Beyond initial threats, some landlords have found more direct ways to try to force out tenants. Some have physically prevented tenants from entering, according to the LA Tenants Union, which has organized “eviction blockades” to defend tenants immediately threatened with losing their homes.

Housing lawyers said they have also seen an increase in landlords resorting to filing “restraining orders” against their tenants, using a process typically reserved for stalking and harassment cases. Other property owners have delivered paperwork to tenants that appear to be formal eviction lawsuits, when in reality the documents lack legitimate court summons. In at least one county, the sheriff’s department has directly carried out evictions and the local courts have allowed them, despite statewide orders.

Some landlords have made the rental units unlivable for renters who refuse to leave.

In south LA, Jessica Zabaleta, 41, said her landlord for months has been trying to force her and her 12-year-old son out of a converted garage. She filed a complaint with the city, which informed her landlord, Candelario Cejas, that it was unlawful to evict her due to Covid-19 protections. But soon after, according to Zabaleta, the landlord told her again in person that she needed to move out and then shut off her hot water.

On a recent afternoon, when she tried to take several activists and a reporter inside her home, several men showed up, confronted the group and physically blocked them from entering. Their relationship to the landlord was unclear, but Zabaleta said this was the kind of harassment she regularly faced.

“There is nowhere for us to go,” she said in Spanish, adding that the water was eventually turned back on. (Cejas did not respond to inquiries.)

Navigating the legal system can be daunting for renters, even if the violations are blatant, activists said. Last month, Christopher Borunda, 33, was told he had seven days to vacate his East Hollywood apartment, even though he is covered by the Covid-19 tenant regulations and standard renter protections, his attorney said.

After he did not immediately move out, his electricity was shut off, the locks were changed, and his landlords began demolishing the kitchen and bathroom, making it uninhabitable, according to photos and his legal complaint. Borunda, who had been attending city college nearby and lost a number of freelancing jobs due to Covid, had to enter through a window to get back in and is now trying to rebuild the inside of the unit himself.

“They took my internet and now I can’t even apply for jobs,” said Borunda. “I’m just barely surviving and I’m out of options.”

Reached by phone, Steve Fleischmann, of My Management Co, which manages his building, said Borunda was a subtenant of one of his renters who moved out, and that he didn’t know he was still living there until he learned of his complaint. He said the previous tenant was responsible for the electricity, and that he would relocate Borunda while he continues renovating the property, though Borunda said he had not heard from him.

Can California ‘cancel rent’?

Activists say these harsh tactics are on the rise and they fear they will only become more common as more tenants fall into debt. In the meantime, advocates and experts are trying to wrap their heads around how to solve the collapse of an entire system when hundreds of thousands of people simply won’t be able to make payments.

State lawmakers are looking at one proposed California law, AB 1436, that would prohibit evictions until April 2021, or 90 days after the emergency ends, whichever happens first. The law would also allow tenants to repay debts through the state via their tax returns in subsequent years. It could also potentially allow the lowest-income tenants to apply for rent forgiveness.

The measure has drawn support from a coalition of “small neighborhood property owners” who spoke out last week about the importance of avoiding evictions.

Even if that measure is adopted, people with rent debts would continue to suffer, which would worsen income inequality in the state long-term, noted Marques Vestal, a South Central LATU organizer: “This is an entirely new financial class and condition we haven’t experienced in at least two generations.”

“The solutions provided by local municipalities and the governor don’t even come close to addressing the depth of the issue,” said Ruiz, the LATU organizer.

Tenant groups and some housing experts have rallied around the demand to “cancel rent”, arguing that erasing renters’ debts and ensuring they stay housed is the only reasonable way out of this crisis. As the government continues to rescue industries hurt by the pandemic, a bailout for tenants and small property owners is possible, supporters argue.

State officials have balked at that idea, dismissing it as unrealistic and not within the state’s powers.

Roy, the UCLA professor, said that although politicians have brushed aside rent cancelation demands, the severe wave of displacement could make it impossible for officials to ignore tenants: “Mass evictions have always led to mass mobilizations. This moment will lead to an extraordinary housing justice uprising.”

 

Comment: Revolutions do not begin suddenly; they grow. Eventually, those thrown out of their rental or mortgaged homes could retaliate by burning the house down. Missing from this article are those with mortgages that must be paid.

 

Millions of Americans risk homelessness if the $600 unemployment benefit ends

If Congress fails to reauthorize the full $600, the economy and the fight against the virus will take a turn for the worse

July 30. 2020

by Nathan Tankus

Reuters

On 27 March Donald Trump signed the Cares Act into law, Congress’s main sweeping response to the economic depression which was induced by coronavirus. There are many problems with it, but one truly exemplary part of the legislation was the federal addition of $600 a week to unemployment benefits. The United States historically has very ungenerous unemployment benefits. With tens of millions of people becoming unemployed, many households would be facing foreclosure, eviction and worse on those skimpy unemployment benefits. Instead, for those actually able to receive their benefits, the additional $600 a week has made unemployment compensation a livable income and helped many people survive these difficult times.

This policy is all the more amazing because it was accidental. The original proposal for increasing unemployment insurance was to increase the “income replacement rate” of unemployment compensation to 100%. In other words, Congress initially intended to simply make sure that everyone was paid unemployment compensation equal to their previous average wage income. Congress changed the proposal to adding $600 a week when it became clear that increasing the replacement rate was not something that state unemployment insurance systems could implement with their ageing, understaffed and underfunded information technology systems. Six hundred dollars a week is approximately the amount of money it would take to bring the “average worker” up to 100% replacement of their income.

Congressional Republicans claim that this policy has actually increased unemployment by providing a strong “disincentive to work”. However, the reality is this policy has mainly helped businesses plan for the future and provide their customers income so they keep coming back. The additional $600 a week has been especially beneficial to precarious gig workers with volatile incomes at the best of times. Like the minimum wage, the minimum benefit level in unemployment compensation helps set standards in the labor market.

Unfortunately, the last supplementary unemployment benefits went out last weekend because Congress has failed to reauthorize them. Even if they reauthorized the $600 a week immediately, which seems unlikely, it would take one to five weeks for state workforce agencies to reprogram their computer systems to send out the additional benefits again according to the National Association of State Workforce Agencies. System adjustments would probably end up at the higher end of that range if the number is slashed to $200 a week, as congressional Republicans are proposing. Any attempt to skip straight to boosting replacement rates would take months to implement.

This unconscionable withdrawal of support comes as the federal eviction moratorium on federally backed properties has expired, while a number of state and local eviction moratoriums are set to expire soon. These two expirations are threatening to collide and make millions of people homeless in the middle of a global pandemic. In other words, Congress’s failure to extend both of these policies is not just economic malpractice but could make coronavirus impossible to suppress. Housing is always a form of healthcare, but it is an especially important form of healthcare during the spread of a very infectious airborne virus.

In order to avoid these disasters, Congress must immediately extend the federal eviction moratorium until the public health emergency is over, extend the $600-a-week unemployment benefit until the unemployment rate is below 5% again and provide generous federal funding for eviction legal assistance. Over the medium term, the state unemployment insurance system must be federalized to ensure efficient delivery of benefits and relieve the fiscal burden of unemployment insurance from state governments. More generally, state and local governments need far greater federal fiscal support in order to facilitate their response to coronavirus and prevent their budget cuts and tax increases from sinking our fragile economy.

By accident, Congress has stumbled on a great and innovative economic policy which by itself greatly improves our social support system. It discovered the $600-a-week supplement just in time to diminish the worst economic effects of the coronavirus depression. It is already an unacceptable failure that these benefits have expired, leaving millions of households in immediate danger. If Congress fails to reauthorize the full $600 a week soon, the economy and the fight against the virus will take a turn for the worse. Congress still has the power to head off this looming disaster, it simply needs to act. If Congress won’t act quickly and sufficiently, the public must force it to.

Nathan Tankus is the research director of the Modern Money Network. He writes the Notes on the Crises newsletter covering the coronavirus depression

         

 

 

The Great Mortgage Swindle

“Although only bankers are aware of it, there is a second wave of economic disaster starting to build up that will make the earlier one pale into insignificance. Let us start out with MERS, shall we?

MERS = Mortgage Electronic Registration Inc.holds approximately 60 million Amerrican mortgages and is a Delaware corporation whose sole shareholder is Mers Corp. MersCorp and its specified members have agreed to include the MERS corporate name on any mortgage that was executed in conjunction with any mortgage loan made by any member of MersCorp. Thus in place of the original lender being named as the mortgagee on the mortgage that is supposed to secure their loan, MERS is named as the “nominee” for the lender who actually loaned the money to the borrower. In other words MERS is really nothing more than a name that is used on the mortgage instrument in place of the actual lender. MERS’ primary function, therefore, is to act as a document custodian. MERS was created solely to simplify the process of transferring mortgages by avoiding the need to re-record liens – and pay county recorder filing fees – each time a loan is assigned. Instead, servicers record loans only once and MERS’ electronic system monitors transfers and facilitates the trading of notes. It has very conserbatively estimated that as of February, 2010, over half of all new residential mortgage loans in the United States are registered with MERS and recorded in county recording offices in MERS’ name

MersCorp was the created in the early 1990’s by the former C.E.O.’s of Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac, Indy Mac, Countrywide, Stewart Title Insurance and the American Land Title Association. The executives of these companies lined their pockets with billions of dollars of unearned bonuses and free stock by creating so-called mortgage backed securities using bogus mortgage loans to unqualified borrowers thereby creating a huge false demand for residential homes and thereby falsely inflating the value of those homes. MERS marketing claims that its “paperless systems fit within the legal framework of the laws of all fifty states” are now being vetted by courts and legal commentators throughout the country.

The MERS paperless system is the type of crooked rip-off scheme that is has been seen for generations past in the crooked financial world. In this present case, MERS was created in the boardrooms of the most powerful and controlling members of the American financial institutions. This gigantic scheme completely ignored long standing law of commerce relating to mortgage lending and did so for its own prsonal gain. That the inevitable collapse of the crooked mortgage swindles would lead to terrible national reprecussions was a matter of little or no interest to the upper levels of America’s banking and financial world because the only interest of these entities was to grab the money of suckers, keep it in the form of ficticious bonuses, real estate and very large accounts in foreign banks.. The effect of this system has led to catastrophic metldown on both the American and global economy.

MERS, it has clearly been proven in many civil cases, does not hold any promissory notes of any kind.. A party must have possession of a promissory note in order to have standing to enforce and/or otherwise collect a debt that is owed to another party. Given this clear-cut legal definition,  MERS does not have legal standing to enforce or collect on the over 60 million mortgages it controls and no member of MERS has any standing in an American civil court.

MERS has been taken to civil courts across the country and charged with a lack of standing in reprossion issues. When the mortgage debacle initially, and invevitably, began, MERS always rotinely broght actions against defauilting mortgage holders purporting to represent the owners of the defaulted mortgages but once the courts discovered that MERS was only a front organization that did not hold any deed nor was aware of who or what agencies might hold a deed, they have been routinely been denied in their attempts to force foreclosure.  In the past, persons alleging they were officials of MERS in foreclosure motions, purported to be the holders of the mortgage, when, in fact, they nor only were not the holder of the mortgage but, under a court order, could not produce the identity of the actual holder. These so-called MERS officers have usually been just employees of entities who are servicing the loan for the actual lender. MERS, it is now widely acknowledged by the courty, has no legal right to foreclose or otherwise collect debt which are evidenced by promissory notes held by someone else.

The American media routinely identifies MERS as a mortgage lender, creditor, and mortgage company, when in point of fact MERS has never loaned so much as a dollar to anyone, is not a creditor and is not a mortgage company. MERS is merely a name that is printed on mortgages, purporting to give MERS some sort of legal status, in the matter of a loan made by a completely different and almost always,a totally unknown enitity.

The infamous collapse of the American housing bubble originated, in the main, with one Angelo Mozilo, CEO of the later failed Countrywide Mortgage.

Mozilo started working in his father’s butcher shop, in the Bronx, when he was ten years old. He graduated from Fordham in 1960, and that year he met David Loeb.. In 1968, Mozilo and Loeb created a new mortgage company, Countrywide, together. Mozilo believed the company should make special efforts to lower the barrier for minorities and others who had been excluded from homeownership. Loeb died in 2003

In 1996, Countrywide created a new subsidiary for subprime loans.

At one point in time,Countrywide Financial Corporation was regarded with awe in the business world. In 2003, Fortune observed that Countrywide was expected to write $400 billion in home loans and earn $1.9 billion. Countrywide’s chairman and C.E.O., Angelo Mozilo, did rather well himself. In 2003, he received nearly $33 million in compensation. By that same year, Wall Street had become addicted to home loans, which bankers used to create immensely lucrative mortgage-backed securities and, later, collateralized debt obligations, or C.D.O.s—and Countrywide was their biggest supplier. Under Mozilo’s leadership, Countrywide’s growth had been astonishing.

He was aiming to achieve a market share—thirty to forty per cent—that was far greater than anyone in the financial-services industry had ever attained. For several years, Countrywide continued to thrive. Then, inevitably, in 2007, subprime defaults began to rocket upwards , forcing the top American bankers to abandoned the mortgage-backed securities they had previously prized. It was obvious to them that the fraudulent mortgages engendered by Countrywide had been highly suceessful as a marketinig program but it was obvious to eveyone concerned, at all levels, that the mortgages based entirely on false and misleading credit information were bound to eventually default. In August of 2007, the top American bankers cut off

Countrywide’s short-term funding, which seriously hindered its ability to operate, and in just a few months following this abandonment,  Mozilo was forced to choose between bankruptcy orselling out to the best bidder.. In January, 2008, Bank of America announced that it would buy the company for a fraction of what Countrywide was worth at its peak. Mozilo was subsequently named a defendant in more than a hundred civil lawsuits and a target of a criminal investigation. On June 4th, 2007 the S.E.C., in a civil suit, charged Mozilo, David Sambol, and Eric Sieracki with securities fraud; Mozilo was also charged with insider trading. The complaint formalized a public indictment of Mozilo as an icon of corporate malfeasance and greed.

In essence, not only bad credit risks were used to create and sell mortgages on American homes that were essentially worthless. By grouping all of these together and selling them abroad, the banks all made huge profits. When the kissing had to stop, there were two major groups holding the financial bag. The first were the investors and the second were, not those with weak credit, but those who had excellent credit and who were able, and willing to pay off their mortgages.

Unfortunately, as no one knows who owns the title to any home, when the legitimate mortgage holder finally pays off his mortgage, or tries to sell his house, a clear title to said house or property cannot ever be found so, in essence, the innocent mortgage payer can never own or sell his house. This is a terrible economic time bomb quietly ticking away under the feet of the Bank of America and if, and when, it explodes, another bank is but a fond memory.

 

Presumptuous Pompeo Pushes Preposterous ‘Peking’ Policy

July 30, 2020

by Ray McGovern

TomDispatch

Quick. Somebody tell Mike Pompeo. The secretary of state is not supposed to play the role of court jester – the laughing stock to the world. There was no sign that any of those listening to his “major China policy statement” last Thursday at the Nixon Library turned to their neighbor and said, “He’s kidding, right? Richard Nixon meant well but failed miserably to change China’s behavior? And now Pompeo is going to put them in their place?”

Yes, that was Pompeo’s message. The torch has now fallen to him and the free world. Here’s a sample of his rhetoric:

“Changing the behavior of the CCP [Chinese Communist Party] cannot be the mission of the Chinese people alone. Free nations have to work to defend freedom. …

“Beijing is more dependent on us than we are on them (sic). Look, I reject the notion … that CCP supremacy is the future … the free world is still winning. … It’s time for free nations to act … Every nation must protect its ideals from the tentacles of the Chinese Communist Party. … If we bend the knee now, our children’s children may be at the mercy of the Chinese Communist Party, whose actions are the primary challenge today in the free world. …

“We have the tools. I know we can do it. Now we need the will. To quote scripture, I ask is ‘our spirit willing but our flesh weak?’ … Securing our freedoms from the Chinese Communist Party is the mission of our time, and America is perfectly positioned to lead it because … our nation was founded on the premise that all human beings possess certain rights that are unalienable. And it’s our government’s job to secure those rights. It’s a simple and powerful truth. It’s made us a beacon of freedom for people all around the world, including people inside of China.

“Indeed, Richard Nixon was right when he wrote in 1967 that “the world cannot be safe until China changes.” Now it’s up to us to heed his words. … Today the free world must respond. …”

Trying to Make Sense of It

Over the weekend an informal colloquium-by-email took pace, spurred initially by an op-ed article by Richard Haass critiquing Pompeo’s speech. Haass has the dubious distinction of having been director of policy planning for the State Department from 2001 to 2003, during the lead-up to the attack on Iraq. Four months after the invasion he became president of the Council on Foreign Relations, a position he still holds. Despite that pedigree, the points Haass makes in “What Mike Pompeo doesn’t understand about China, Richard Nixon and U.S. foreign policy” are, for the most part, well taken.

Haass’s views served as a springboard over the weekend to an unusual discussion of Sino-Soviet and Sino-Russian relations I had with Ambassador Chas Freeman, the main interpreter for Nixon during his 1972 visit to China and who then served as US ambassador to Saudi Arabia from 1989 to 1992.

As a first-hand witness to much of this history, Freeman provided highly interesting and not so well-known detail mostly from the Chinese side. I chipped in with observations from my experience as CIA’s principal analyst for Sino-Soviet and broader Soviet foreign policy issues during the 1960s and early 1970s.

Ambassador Freeman:

As a participant in that venture: Nixon responded to an apparently serious threat to China by the USSR that followed the Sino-Soviet split. He recognized the damage a Soviet attack or humiliation of China would do to the geopolitical balance and determined to prevent the instability this would produce. He offered China the status of (what I call) a “protected state” — a country whose independent existence is so important strategically that it is something we would risk war over.

Mao was sufficiently concerned about the prospect of a Soviet attack that he held his nose and welcomed this change in Sino-American relations, thereby accepting this American abandonment of the sort of hostility we are again establishing as outlined in Pompeo’s psychotic rant of last Thursday. Nixon had absolutely zero interest in changing anything but China’s external orientation and consolidating its opposition to the USSR in return for the US propping it up. He also wanted to get out of Vietnam, which he inherited from LBJ, in a way that was minimally destabilizing and thought a relationship with China might help accomplish that. It didn’t.

Overall, the maneuver was brilliant. It bolstered the global balance and helped keep the peace. Seven years later, when the Soviets invaded and occupied Afghanistan, the Sino-American relationship immediately became an entente — a limited partnership for limited purposes.

In addition to its own assistance to the mujahideen, China supplied the United States with the weapons we transferred to anti-Soviet forces ($630 million worth in 1987), supplied us with hundreds or millions of dollars worth of made-to-order Chinese-produced Soviet-designed equipment (e.g. MiG21s) and training on how to use this equipment so that we could learn how best to defeat it, and established joint listening posts on its soil to more than replace the intelligence on Soviet military R&D and deployments that we had just lost to the Islamic revolution in Iran. Sino-American cooperation played a major role in bringing the Soviet Union down.

Apparently, Americans who don’t see this are so nostalgic for the Cold War that they want to replicate it, this time with China, a very much more formidable adversary than the USSR ever was.

Those who don’t understand what that engagement achieved argue that it failed to change the Chinese political system, something it was never intended to do. They insist that we would be better off returning to 1950s-style enmity with China. Engagement was also not intended to change China’s economic system either but it did.

China is now an integral and irreplaceable part of global capitalism. We apparently find this so unsatisfactory that, rather than addressing our own competitive weaknesses, we are attempting to knock China back into government-managed trade and underdevelopment, imagining that “decoupling” will somehow restore the economic strengths our own ill-conceived policies have enfeebled.

A final note. Nixon finessed the unfinished Chinese civil war, taking advantage of Beijing’s inability to overwhelm Taipei militarily. Now that Beijing can do that, we are unaccountably un-finessing the Taiwan issue and risking war with China — a nuclear power — over what remains a struggle among Chinese — some delightfully democratic and most not. Go figure.

Ray McGovern:

This seems a useful discussion – perhaps especially for folks with decades-less experience in the day-to-day rough and tumble of Sino-Soviet relations. During the 1960s, I was CIA’s principal Soviet analyst on Sino-Soviet relations and in the early 1970s, as chief of the Soviet Foreign Policy Branch and Presidential Daily Brief writer for Nixon, I had a catbird seat watching the constant buildup of hostility between Russia and China, and how, eventually, Nixon and Henry Kissinger saw it clearly and were able to exploit it to Washington’s advantage.

I am what we used to be called an “old Russian hand” (like over 50 years worth if you include academe). So, my not being an “old China hand” except for the important Sino-Soviet issue, it should come as no surprise that my vantage point will color my views – especially given my responsibilities for intelligence support for the SALT delegation and ultimately Kissinger and Nixon – during the early 1970s.

I had been searching for a word to apply to Pompeo’s speech on China. Preposterous came to mind, assuming it still means “contrary to reason or common sense; utterly absurd or ridiculous.” Chas’s “psychotic rant” may be a better way to describe it. And it is particularly good that Chas includes several not widely known facts about the very real benefits that accrued to the US in the late 70’s and 80’s from the Sino-U.S. limited partnership.

Having closely watched the Sino-Soviet hostility rise to the point where, in 1969, the two started fighting along the border on the Ussuri River, we were able to convince top policy makers that this struggle was very real – and, by implication, exploitable.

Moscow’s unenthusiastic behavior on the Vietnam War showed that, while it felt obliged to give rhetorical support, and an occasional surface-to-air missile battery, to a fraternal communist country under attack, it had decided to give highest priority to not letting Moscow’s involvement put relations with the US into a state of complete disrepair. And, specifically, not letting China, or North Vietnam, mousetrap or goad the Soviets into doing lasting harm to the relationship with the US

At the same time, the bizarre notion prevailing in Averell Harriman’s mind at the time as head of the US delegation to the Paris peace talks, was that the Soviets could be persuaded to “use their influence in Hanoi” to pull US chestnuts out of the fire. It was not only risible but also mischievous.

Believe it or not, that notion prevailed among the very smart people in the Office of National Estimates as well as other players downtown. Frustrated, I went public, publishing an article, “Moscow and Hanoi,” in Problems of Communism in May 1967.

After Kissinger went to Beijing (July 1971) – followed in February 1972 by Nixon – we Soviet analysts began to see very tangible signs that Moscow’s priority was to prevent the Chinese from creating a closer relationship with Washington than the Soviets could achieve.

In short, we saw new Soviet flexibility in the SALT negotiations (and, in the end, I was privileged to be there in Moscow in May 1972 for the signing of the Antiballistic Missile Treaty and the Interim Agreement on Offensive Arms). Even earlier, we saw some new flexibility in Moscow’s position on Berlin. To some of us who had almost given up that a Quadripartite Agreement could ever be reached, well, we saw it happen in September 1971. I believe the opening to China was a factor.

So, in sum, in my experience, Chas is quite right in saying, “Overall, the maneuver was brilliant.” Again, the Soviets were not about to let the Chinese steal a march in developing better ties with the US And I was able to watch Soviet behavior very closely in the immediate aftermath of the US opening to China.

As for the future of Sino-Soviet relations, we were pretty much convinced that, to paraphrase that “great” student of Russian history, James Clapper, the Russians and Chinese were “almost genetically driven” to hate each other forever. In the 1980s, though, we detected signs of a thaw in ties between Moscow and Beijing.

To his credit, Secretary of State George Shultz was very interested in being kept up to date on this, which I was able to do, even after my tour briefing him on the PDB ran out in 1985. (I was acting chief of the Analysis Group at the Foreign Broadcast Information Service (FBIS) for two years … (an outstanding outfit later banned by Robert Gates.)

Some Observations

1 – Unless Pompeo had someone else take the exams for him at West Point, he has to be a pretty smart fellow. In other words, I don’t think he can claim “Invincible ignorance”, (a frame of mind that can let us Catholics off the hook for serious transgressions or ineptitude). The only thing that makes sense to me is that he is a MICIMATTer. MICIMATT for the Military-Industrial-Congressional-Intelligence-MEDIA-Academia-Think-Tank complex (MEDIA is all caps because it is the sine quo non, the linchpin) For example: Item: “Officials cite ‘keeping up with China’ as they award a $22.2 billion contract to General Dynamics to build Virginia-class submarines.” December 4, 2019

2 – I sometimes wonder what China, or Russia, or anyone thinks of a would-be statesman with the puerile attitude of a US secretary of state who brags: “I was the CIA director. We lied, we cheated, we stole. We had entire training courses. It reminds you of the glory of the American experiment.”

3 – If memory serves, annual bilateral trade between China and Russia was between $200 and 400 MILLION during the 1960’s. It was $107 BILLION in 2018.

4 – The Chinese no longer wear Mao suits; and they no longer issue 178 “SERIOUS WARNINGS” a year. I can visualize, though, just one authentically serious warning about US naval operations in the South China Sea or the Taiwan Strait. Despite the fact that there is no formal military alliance with Russia, I suspect the Russians might decide to do something troublesome – perhaps even provocative — in Syria, in Ukraine, or even in some faraway place like the Caribbean – if only to show a modicum of solidarity with their Chinese friends who at that point would be in direct confrontation with US ships far from home. That, I think, is how far we have come in Pompeo’s benighted attempt to throw his weight around at both countries.

Three years ago, I published here an article titled “Russia-China Tandem Shifts Global Power.” Here are some excerpts:

“Gone are the days when Richard Nixon and Henry Kissinger skillfully took advantage of the Sino-Soviet rivalry and played the two countries off against each other, extracting concessions from each. Slowly but surely, the strategic equation has markedly changed – and the Sino-Russian rapprochement signals a tectonic shift to Washington’s distinct detriment, a change largely due to US actions that have pushed the two countries closer together.

But there is little sign that today’s US policymakers have enough experience and intelligence to recognize this new reality and understand the important implications for US freedom of action. Still less are they likely to appreciate how this new nexus may play out on the ground, on the sea or in the air.

Instead, the Trump administration – following along the same lines as the Bush-43 and Obama administrations – is behaving with arrogance and a sense of entitlement, firing missiles into Syria and shooting down Syrian planes, blustering over Ukraine, and dispatching naval forces to the waters near China.

But consider this: it may soon be possible to foresee a Chinese challenge to “US interests” in the South China Sea or even the Taiwan Strait in tandem with a U.S.-Russian clash in the skies over Syria or a showdown in Ukraine.

A lack of experience or intelligence, though, may be too generous an interpretation. More likely, Washington’s behavior stems from a mix of the customary, naïve exceptionalism and the enduring power of the US arms lobby, the Pentagon, and the other deep-state actors – all determined to thwart any lessening of tensions with either Russia or China. After all, stirring up fear of Russia and China is a tried-and-true method for ensuring that the next aircraft carrier or other pricey weapons system gets built.

Like subterranean geological plates shifting slowly below the surface, changes with immense political repercussions can occur so gradually as to be imperceptible until the earthquake. As CIA’s principal Soviet analyst on Sino-Soviet relations in the 1960s and early 1970s, I had a catbird seat watching sign after sign of intense hostility between Russia and China, and how, eventually, Nixon and Kissinger were able to exploit it to Washington’s advantage.

The grievances between the two Asian neighbors included irredentism: China claimed 1.5 million square kilometers of Siberia taken from China under what it called “unequal treaties” [they were unequal] dating back to 1689. This had led to armed clashes during the 1960s and 1970s along the long riverine border where islands were claimed by both sides.

In the late 1960s, Russia reinforced its ground forces near China from 13 to 21 divisions. By 1971, the number had grown to 44 divisions, and Chinese leaders began to see Russia as a more immediate threat to them than the US…

Enter Henry Kissinger, who visited Beijing in July 1971 to arrange the precedent-breaking visit by President Richard Nixon the following February. What followed was some highly imaginative diplomacy orchestrated by Kissinger and Nixon to exploit the mutual fear China and the USSR held for each other and the imperative each saw to compete for improved ties with Washington.

Triangular Diplomacy

Washington’s adroit exploitation of its relatively strong position in the triangular relationship helped facilitate major, verifiable arms control agreements between the US and USSR and the Four Power Agreement on Berlin. The USSR even went so far as to blame China for impeding a peaceful solution in Vietnam.

It was one of those felicitous junctures at which CIA analysts could jettison the skunk-at-the-picnic attitude we were often forced to adopt. Rather, we could in good conscience chronicle the effects of the US approach and conclude that it was having the desired effect. Because it was.

Hostility between Beijing and Moscow was abundantly clear. In early 1972, between President Nixon’s first summits in Beijing and Moscow, our analytic reports underscored the reality that Sino-Soviet rivalry was, to both sides, a highly debilitating phenomenon.

Not only had the two countries forfeited the benefits of cooperation, but each felt compelled to devote huge effort to negate the policies of the other. A significant dimension had been added to this rivalry as the US moved to cultivate better relations simultaneously with both. The two saw themselves in a crucial race to cultivate good relations with the US

The Soviet and Chinese leaders could not fail to notice how all this had increased the US bargaining position. But we CIA analysts saw them as cemented into an intractable adversarial relationship by a deeply felt set of emotional beliefs, in which national, ideological, and racial factors reinforced one another. Although the two countries recognized the price they were paying, neither seemed able to see a way out. The only prospect for improvement, we suggested, was the hope that more sensible leaders would emerge in each country. But this seemed an illusory expectation at the time.

We were wrong about that. Mao Zedong’s and Nikita Khrushchev’s successors proved to have cooler heads. The US, under President Jimmy Carter, finally recognized the communist government of China in 1979 and the dynamics of the triangular relationships among the US, China and the Soviet Union gradually shifted with tensions between Beijing and Moscow lessening.

Yes, it took years to chip away at the heavily encrusted mistrust between the two countries, but by the mid-1980s, we analysts were warning policymakers that “normalization” of relations between Moscow and Beijing had already occurred slowly but surely, despite continued Chinese protestations that such would be impossible unless the Russians capitulated to all China’s conditions. For their part, the Soviet leaders had become more comfortable operating in the triangular environment and were no longer suffering the debilitating effects of a headlong race with China to develop better relations with Washington.

A New Reality

Still, little did we dream back then that as early as October 2004 Russian President Putin would visit Beijing to finalize an agreement on border issues and brag that relations had reached “unparalleled heights.” He also signed an agreement to jointly develop Russian energy reserves.

A revitalized Russia and a modernizing China began to represent a potential counterweight to US hegemony as the world’s unilateral superpower, a reaction that Washington accelerated with its strategic maneuvers to surround both Russia and China with military bases and adversarial alliances by pressing NATO up to Russia’s borders and President Obama’s “pivot to Asia.”

The U.S.-backed coup in Ukraine on Feb. 22, 2014, marked a historical breaking point as Russia finally pushed back by approving Crimea’s request for reunification and by giving assistance to ethnic Russian rebels in eastern Ukraine who resisted the coup regime in Kiev. [Surprisingly, China decided not to criticize the annexation of Crimea.]

On the global stage, Putin fleshed out the earlier energy deal with China, including a massive 30-year natural gas contract valued at $400 billion. The move helped Putin demonstrate that the West’s post-Ukraine economic sanctions posed little threat to Russia’s financial survival.

As the Russia-China relationship grew closer, the two countries also adopted remarkably congruent positions on international hot spots, including Ukraine and Syria. Military cooperation also increased steadily. Yet, a hubris-tinged consensus in the US government and academe continues to hold that, despite the marked improvement in ties between China and Russia, each retains greater interest in developing good relations with the US than with each other. …”

Good luck with that, Secretary Pompeo.

 

 

The Encyclopedia of American Loons

Thomas Lacovara-Stewart

 

The last couple of years Larry Klayman has made himself notable for trying to instigate some kind of “second American revolution” (his words) based on tinfoil-hat conspiracy theories and incoherent delusions, and he’s attracted some interesting followers. Thomas Robert Lacovara-Stewart, for instance, is an Oath Keeper, “a true son of liberty, born into it by my own bloodlines direct,” and keynote at Klayman’s November 2013 rally. In his speech – given against a backdrop of patriotic music – Lacovara-Stewart argued the Department of Homeland Security “blew up Boston” (with reference to the Boston Marathon bombings) and committed murder to hide it. Apparently they did so as part of their strategy to destroy American liberty through multiculturalism. It is a bit hard to get a firm grasp of the means-end relation here, but progressives – “another word for communists” (no, not really) – are sneaky.

Lacovara-Stewart has his own website, Libertyimprovementandcare.org, which also calls itself The Holy Order of the Sons of Liberty, where you can read about a variety of conspiracy theories Lacovara-Stewart buys into. In addition to the Boston bombing being a “false flag” operation, there are of course the usual suspects – Zionism, the Rothschilds, the Federal Reserve – but also some more novel ones. Did you know that Lyme disease is biological warfare being carried out by former Nazis that were allowed entrance into the U.S, for instance? And fluoride conspiracies: “Does it not bother anyone that the German people submitted to Hitler? Well here is why. The Nazis fluoridated the water of the people. And it made them passive and not able to do more than whine and complain but never have the nerve to do anything when faced with hard choices [which doesn’t really sound much like the Nazis as we know them, but then again, Lacovara-Stewart doesn’t have time for subtleties]. Oh and by the way, they fluoridate ours too.”

In particular, Lacovara-Stewart warns us that “[w]e must realize that these devils exist among us … continuing their one world government Nazi/Soviet Socialist bankers dream!” Yeah, those ruthless Soviet Socialist … bankers. It’s almost as if the expression was a pretty blatantly anti-semitic euphemism for Jewish people.

He has also promoted Sandy Hook trutherism.

Diagnosis: Further evidence that there must be some toxins in those tinfoil hats, perhaps? Not really, though: this is just run-of-the-mill cryptofascist conspiracy mongering. Idiot.

Raúl Labrador

Raúl Rafael Labrador is the U.S. Representative for Idaho’s 1st congressional district since 2011 –previously representing District 14B in the Idaho House of Representatives – wingnut, goldbugger and anti-science activist, probably best known for his recent comment that nobody dies because they don’t have access to health care.

Politically Labrador is generally known for wanting to withdraw the US from the UN, returning to the Gold Standard, eliminating the Department of Education and repealing the 17th Amendment and end the right of voters to elect their Senators, since that is “the constitutional position to take” and the only way to make sure “that US Senators are actually beholden to the people” (wtf?). He also thinks the ACA is a betrayal of the US, wish to stop the federal government from enforcing gun laws and – the usual stuff – wants make the federal government “provide for the presence of God in the public domain,” and opposes same-sex marriage rights. His mission to rewrite the Consitution has earned him the firm support of the American Family Association, and Bryan Fischer is an avowed fan.

But ok: the official reason for including Labrador in our Encyclopedia, is that he is a firm climate change denier. Says Labrador: “It’s interesting that about a decade ago there was a lot of talk about ‘global warming.’ Thirty years ago we were talking about ‘global cooling’ [This is false]. Now all we hear about is ‘climate change’ [well … ]. There has been evidence throughout history of cycles when the earth gets warmer and cycles when the earth gets colder [which is irrelevant to the issue]. We should always be wise stewards of the earth and all of our natural resources. But as a policymaker, I won’t be guided by the global warming propaganda machine. Al Gore [who got things mostly right] – we need you to return your Nobel Peace Prize!” In 2010 Labrador signed a pledge sponsored by Americans for Prosperity promising to vote against any Global Warming legislation that would raise taxes.

Diagnosis: Liar or idiot. Those are not mutually exclusive. And of course: Labrador is only one of many wingnut climate change denialists in Congress, though that’s hardly an excuse.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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