John Queally

'Americans aren't serfs': House Democrats unveil bill to 'keep corporate investors out' of housing market

To help address the nation's housing crisis while at the same time confronting Wall Street greed, three California members of Congress on Saturday touted new legislation to target rent-gouging in the U.S. by private equity firms and investment giants who have gobbled up huge numbers of single-family home and residential units in the years since the 2008 financial crash.

"Wall Street should not be any family's landlord."

Co-authored by Democratic Reps. Ro Khanna, Katie Porter, and Mark Takano, the Stop Wall Street Landlords Act aims to "deter future institutional investments" in the Single Family Residential (SFR) market by ending taxpayer subsidies to profit-seekers as a way to help struggling families battling housing costs amid rising inflation.

If enacted into law, the proposal would impose "a tax on existing and future acquisitions of SFRs" by large institutional investors, a statement from the lawmakers explains. The legislation would also prohibit federal lending institutions Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac, and Gennie Mae from purchasing and securitizing mortgages held by Wall Street firms who leverage their size and ability to purchase large numbers of single-family homes with debt in order to turn around and rent them out for exorbitant profit—a tactic that by itself pushes rental prices ever higher.

Private equity firms and Wall Street rarely if ever strayed into the single-family housing market prior to the 2008 crash, but the market exploded when large firms were given access to trillions in low- or zero-interests dollars over the last decade and as regulators at the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) and the Federal Housing Finance Agency (FHFA) offered subsidies via federal programs such as Fannie and Freddie. In 2015, Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) was among those blowing the whistle by telling HUD that it had no business colluding with Wall Street in such a way.

"These Wall Street investors made money by crashing the economy, got bailed out and now they're back to feed at the trough again, scooping up these loans at rock-bottom prices so that they profit off them a second time—and it is up to us to stop that!" Warren said to a cheering crowd during a Washington, D.C. rally in 2015.

In remarks posted online Saturday, Khanna said there may have been a time following the 2008 financial crash where it made sense for private entities to step in to buy residential units as a way to stabilize the housing market, but that in the decade since it has become clear that Wall Street investors have exploited government policies and a lack of oversight to fleece millions of renters who find themselves at the mercy of a housing crisis they did nothing to create and have no way to combat.

Khanna said that with 25 percent of single-family homes in the U.S. being bought up by profit-seeking investors, these firms are "hurting the American dream of home ownership" and the economy overall.

"We need to stop the financialization of housing," Khanna said. "Americans aren't serfs. We're not suppose to pay money to Wall Street to go live in a home. What we need is more American families to own their own homes."

"When I was on the front lines of the foreclosure crisis, I saw firsthand how corporate special interests take advantage of families to line their pockets," said Congresswoman Porter in a statement. "The Stop Wall Street Landlords Act promotes affordable homeownership, so that our kids can live in the same communities they grew up in. I am proud to work with Representatives Khanna and Takano to hold Wall Street accountable."

Takano said, "Wall Street should not be any family's landlord."

“As the housing crisis continues to plague the country, America's middle class is acutely feeling the constraints of our nation's low housing stock and increasing prices," added Takano. "Meanwhile, wealthy investors drive these costs up by monopolizing ownership of single-family residences. The Stop Wall Street Landlords Act takes the urgent steps needed to keep corporate investors out of the single-family housing market."

According to Khanna, "Low- and middle-income families in my district and across the country are being pushed out because of profiteering and unfair practices by large corporate landlords. This legislation will help level the playing field and put a stop to rent gouging in America."

Critics: Republicans will 'deliver nothing good' and 'accelerate climate disaster' if GOP sweeps midterms

Progressive leaders and Democratic Party supporters are raising last-minute alarms over the unparalleled catastrophe that would result if the Republican Party—an organization many see as a creeping fascist force in the United States and on the world stage—manages to win control of one or both chambers of Congress in Tuesday's midterm election.

From their economic and ideological commitments that make Republican lawmakers the most enthusiastic supporters of continued corporate dominance of American society to their open embrace of anti-democratic policies designed to disenfranchise voters, suppress civic participation, and disembowel the power of the working class, this year's slate of GOP candidates and the party apparatus taken as a whole, say critics, will deliver "nothing good" for the financial wellbeing of most working families while setting the stage for a future where roadblocks to even modest progressive change in the United States become more deeply entrenched than ever.

As polls consistently show the economy as the key issue for most voters this election season, business leaders and Democratic Party supporters David Rothkopf and Bernard Schwartz explained in a Daily Beast op-ed Friday that the GOP's record on management of the U.S. economy has been consistently horrible over recent decades. Compared to Democrats, Rothkopf and Schwartz write, "History tells a very stark tale." They continue:

Ten of the last 11 recessions began under Republicans. The one that started under former President Donald Trump and the current GOP leadership was the worst since the Great Depression–and while perhaps any president presiding over a pandemic might have seen the economy suffer, Trump's gross mismanagement of Covid-19 clearly and greatly deepened the problems the U.S. economy faced. Meanwhile, historically, Democratic administrations have overseen recoveries from those Republican lows. During the seven decades before Trump, real GDP growth averaged just over 2.5 percent under Republicans and a little more than 4.3 percent under Democrats.

Beyond such macroeconomic trends, Jacobin's Branko Marcetic warned in a Friday column of the "all-out assault on the working class" that Republicans are planning if they win. That plan includes attacking the ability of workers to organize, targeting key programs like Social Security and Medicare for draconian cuts, provoking war with China and others, eviscerating abortion rights at the federal level, and further deregulating both Wall Street and the fossil fuel industry even as inequality soars alongside the planet's temperature.

"Though both parties are hostile to a working-class agenda," acknowledges Marcetic, the GOP plot "to hobble worker organizing, stoke war, accelerate climate disaster, and tear apart what's left of the U.S. social safety net will, without serious resistance, herald major suffering and setbacks for working Americans."

In the state of Wisconsin, where Democrat Mandela Barnes is facing off against incumbent Republican Sen. Ron Johnson, Sen. Bernie Sanders said Friday night that the key swing state offers an example of why the midterm choice for voters nationwide is "very clear" in terms of which party is on the side of workers.

"I hope people come out in large numbers to vote," Sanders said, "especially young people, working people, to understand that this is the most consequential midterm election in our lifetimes."

Reproductive choice as economic freedom

Defenders of reproductive rights, meanwhile, are trying to make sure that voters recognize the direct connection between access to abortion care and economic mobility, especially as a federal abortion ban looms if Republicans take Congress in 2022 and then regain the White House in 2024.

"Denying a woman access to abortion tends to harm her economic security and well-being," notes political activist Trudy Bayer in a Saturday op-ed for Common Dreams. "And the long-term economic impact on the lives of women denied access to abortion includes not only the expense of raising a child but doing so with significantly lower lifetime earnings, compared to women able to abort an unwanted pregnancy. Lower-income women and women of color bear the most severe economic effects of being denied an abortion."

"Corporate greed and private profit"

Rev. Dr. William J. Barber, co-chair of the Poor People's Campaign, and Karen Dolan, a fellow at the Institute for Policy Studies, argued in the Guardian this week that despite "its stated purpose," the Republican Party agenda must be seen for what it truly is: "a commitment to corporate greed and private profit."

As Rothkopf and Schwartz point out, the "last time the Republicans were in charge, during the Trump years, they passed precisely one significant piece of economic legislation, a tax cut that benefited the very rich at the expense of everyone else."

"Republicans are just plain bad at managing the economy," the pair continues, "They have been for as long as anyone who is alive can remember. And they continue to be—although they are achieving previously unattained new levels of cynicism and obstructionism that make the current crowd of Republicans look even worse than their very unsuccessful predecessors."

With such threats so clearly before the nation, wrote Barber and Dolan, "These times call for a real 'commitment to America' that moves us toward the promise of what we want to be. Toward a nation where the well-being of all of our children and families is guaranteed. A society where all workers have dignity and living wages, paid leave, healthcare, and the right to unionize."

"Couldn't care less" on climate

On the planetary front, observers acknowledge a GOP win "could spell doom for climate policy," with Republicans openly vowing to reverse even the not-nearly-enough progress Democrats in Congress and the Biden administration have made over the last two years to reduce emissions and jumpstart a more rapid transition to renewable energy.

"At a time when we face the existential threat of climate change," Sen. Sanders said last month that Republicans "couldn't care less."

With that in mind, Sanders called on people to do everything possible to "increase voter turnout" and openly challenge the Republicans. "This election is not just about you, it's not just about me," he said. "It's about our kids and our grandchildren. And we cannot fail them."

"Stakes for democracy could not be higher"

When it comes to the Republican assault on voting rights and election integrity—especially as large portions of the party have embraced the "Big Lie" of former President Donald Trump which falsely claims the 2020 was stolen—democracy defenders like Fred Wertheimer, founder and president of Democracy 21, warn the "stakes for democracy could not be higher" as he called the threat from the GOP on this front "real and extremely dangerous."

According to Wertheimer:

[We]are headed for midterm elections where hundreds of Republican election deniers are running for Congress and state offices, vigilantes are attempting to intimidate voters from casting their ballots, election workers are being trained to tilt elections to Republicans, and Republican candidates are refusing to commit to accept the results of next Tuesday's elections.
Thus, the Republican candidate for governor in Wisconsin proclaims that, if he is elected, 'Republicans will never lose another election' in the state. The import of his statement: the election rules in Wisconsin will be rigged in the future to ensure only Republicans win.

In widely-shared article that appeared in Common Dreams last year, political scientist Adolph Reed Jr. said it was "time to be blunt" as he warned about an openly fascist GOP which smelled "blood in the water" with a majority on the U.S. Supreme Court and in the wake of Trump's destructive tenure in the White House.

"The right-wing political alliance anchored by the Republican party and Trumpism coheres around a single concrete objective—taking absolute power in the U.S. as soon and as definitively as possible," wrote Reed. "And they’re more than ready, even seemingly want, to destroy the social fabric of the country to do so."

With the midterms now just days away, numerous progressives agree the "Big Lie" temper tantrum that has infected the GOP proves "democracy is on the ballot" this year and former labor secretary Robert Reich argued earlier this week that the midterms ultimately is about "whether U.S. democracy can endure." While all the policy concerns related to a GOP sweep of Congress are legitimate, said Reich, the future strength of representative democracy represents a 'huge existential question' for voters, regardless of party affiliation.

"The extraordinary, abominable challenge we now face—one that I frankly never imagined we would face—is that the Republican Party and its enablers in the media and among the monied interests appear not to want American democracy to endure," he wrote.

"My friends," Reich pleaded to readers, "we owe it to generations before us who fought and died for democracy and the rule of law, and to generations after us who will live with the legacy we leave them—to get out the vote next Tuesday, to vote out the traitors and liars, to renounce the party that has forsaken the precious ideal of self-government, and to vote in people who are dedicated to making our democracy stronger and better."

'The genocide of his people is complete': Last member of remote Brazilian tribe found dead

Activists and conservationists worldwide mourned Monday following news that a man believed to be the last of a remote Brazilian tribe was found dead after years of resisting all efforts by the outside world to contact or interfere with him.

Known by defenders of Indigenous rights as "Indian of the Hole" or "The Man of the Hole" (Índio do Buraco)—a name given due to pits he dug for shelter, concealment, and possibly hunting—he was the only inhabitant of Tanaru Indigenous Territory in Rondônia state, in the western Brazilian Amazon. First encountered 26 years ago, the man—believed to be approximately 60 years old at the time of his death—lived reclusively in the remote region after other members of his tribe were thought to have been poisoned by ranchers who wanted to develop the land where they lived.

OPI, the Observatory for the Human Rights of Uncontacted and Recently-Contacted Peoples, issued a statement (translated here into English) bemoaning that "another Indigenous person, the last representative of his people, has died."

"In the recent past," the group continued, "he was the victim of an atrocious extermination process, as a result of the installation of large state-sponsored farms. He witnessed the death of his people, lost his territory to pastures and was sentenced to spend the rest of his life in a small portion of forest interdicted by justice, surrounded by large farms in the region of the Corumbiara River in Rondônia."

"For resisting with extreme determination to any endeavors of contact," OPI added, the man "died without letting know which ethnicity he belonged to, nor the motivations of the holes he dug inside his house."

As The Guardian reports, "Officials know very little about the man, but his determined independence and evident solace helped create a mystique around him that captured the attention of activists and media across Brazil and around the world."

Survival International, which advocates for Indigenous rights and autonomy in Brazil and elsewhere around the world, called the death of the man—whose remains were recently found in a state of decomposition in the Tanaru territory—a symbol of genocide against the Amazon's Indigenous peoples. The group called the region where he lived as "a small island of forest in a sea of vast cattle ranches, in one of the most violent regions in Brazil."

Fiona Watson, research and advocacy director for Survival International who visited the man's territory in 2004 with a government monitoring team, commented on the man's passing.

"No outsider knew this man's name, or even very much about his tribe—and with his death the genocide of his people is complete," said Watson. "For this was indeed a genocide—the deliberate wiping out of an entire people by cattle ranchers hungry for land and wealth."

What the man symbolized, said Watson, was "both the appalling violence and cruelty inflicted on Indigenous peoples worldwide in the name of colonization and profit, but also their resistance. We can only imagine what horrors he had witnessed in his life, and the loneliness of his existence after the rest of his tribe were killed, but he determinedly resisted all attempts at contact, and made clear he just wanted to be left alone."

Watson also invoked the policies of Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro who is notorious for his antagonism toward the Indigenous people of Brazil and his wanton destruction of the Amazon rainforest by backing the logging, cattle, and mining interests who have sought massive profits from the region's land and natural resources.

"If President Bolsonaro and his agribusiness allies get their way," warned Watson, "this story will be repeated over and over again until all the country's Indigenous peoples are wiped out. The Indigenous movement in Brazil, and Survival, will do everything possible to ensure that doesn't happen."

According to government officials with Funai, which monitored the man from a distance, it appeared the man had prepared for his death and that neither foul play nor a violent end was suggested. A forensic doctor with the nation's federal police is expected to carry out an autopsy and anthropologists and other researchers are expected to try to learn more about how he lived.

Following the man's death, OPI renewed its called for the Tanaru reserve where he lived his final years to be permanently protected as a memorial to Indigenous genocide.

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