Category Archives: Evictions

Remember the Name:  Sheikh Jarrah

Places have left their mark in the historical narrative – Lidice, where the Nazis, in the late spring of 1942, executed 173 men from the Czech village in reprisal for the assassination of Deputy of Bohemia and Moravia, Reinhard Heydrich; Wounded Knee, where, on December 29, 1890, a dispute between soldiers from the Seventh U.S. Cavalry Regiment and an arrested band of Lakota warriors resulted in the massacre of more than 250 men, women, and children of the Lakota tribe; Montségur, a rebuilt castle high in the French Pyrenees, where, the last of the Cathars, a Gnostic type sect that were considered heretics  by the Catholic Church, were sieged and eventually executed in March 1244; Guernica, Spain, where Nazi Stuka dive bombers killed Basque loyalists in the Spanish civil war; and Baba Yar, Ukraine, a ravine on the outskirts of Kiev, where German forces killed at least 34,000 Jews during September 1941. Add the village of Sheikh Jarrah to those of historical remembrances.

The  intent to evict Palestinians from their established homes served to highlight the more than 70 years of oppressions and well prepared destruction of the Palestinian community, forced attention to simultaneous aggressions against the Palestinian people, provoked serious warfare in the area, and led to a worldwide outcry in defense of the helpless and criminally attacked Palestinians. Sheikh Jarrah is now an eternal symbol for Palestinian independence and escape from Israel’s brutality.

Before expounding further on Sheikh Jarrah’s path to immortality, let us more accurately delineate the confused and misreported events that escalated the crisis. Regardless of the truth of any of the claims and their refutations, there is no necessity for anyone to collect rent on these properties and evict tenants because they have not paid supposed rents.

If residents who received housing from the Jordanian government after the 1947-1948 hostilities agree to pay rent, they will concede the property ownership to others and still not be guaranteed that they will be able to remain in their established homes in the future. Those trying to force the issue are obfuscating their intentions; they certainly did not purchase the rights to the property as a real estate investment — paltry and risky investment — nor for habitation. Living in a predominantly Islamic neighborhood is not a desired place for an Orthodox Jew to raise a family. The proposition that these people are followers of Simeon the Just, a fourth century BCE Jewish High Priest, and want to live near his tomb is suspect. Simeon the Righteous would certainly disapprove of followers who contradicted his teachings and followed a path of deceit rather than righteousness. Living close to a deceased person from ancient history that nobody of today or yesterday knew personally does not convey any benefits. There are millions of minor humanitarians in tombs around the world ─ take your pick. We know Ulysses Grant is buried in Grant’s tomb, but are we certain that Simeon the Just is buried in Jarrah?

According to archaeologists who excavated the site, it is the 2nd-century CE burial site of a Roman matron named Julia Sabina. From Archaeological researches in Palestine during the years 1873-1874, by Clermont-Ganneau,   p. 269-270.

While carefully studying the interior of this sepulchre, apparently of such a commonplace character, I made in 1871 an unexpected and very interesting discovery, a Roman inscription whose existence had escaped the notice of the archaeologists who had preceded me, even as it has that of those who have followed me, for up to the present day no one, as far as I know, has noticed it or mentioned it.

I took an excellent squeeze of it. The first line alone can be read with certainty: Julia Sabinae. This name Julia Sabina reminds one of that of …ius Sabinus, first centurion of the Tenth Legion Fretensis, a dedicatory inscription to whom I once brought to light from the inside of Jerusalem itself. Can our Julia Sabina have been the wife or daughter of this Julius Sabinus? The form of the letters in the two texts shows considerable similarity, moreover, the face of the stone in the one case and of the rock in the other seem to have been smoothed with the same toothed tool, worked in the same fashion. This identity of treatment is strikingly apparent when one compares the two squeezes. If this ancient Jewish tomb was re-adapted during the period of the Roman occupation to receive the body of a woman connected by marriage or by birth with one of the officers of the legion, which bore so terrible a part in the war against the Jews, one can easily see how eager the latter must have been to obliterate as soon as they were able, the traces of this double profanation of one of the sepulchres of their ancestors, by hammering the epitaph thus insolently displayed.

Israeli police continued their habit of treating the Palestinians as if they are an encumbrance by ejecting Palestinian youths from the Damascus gate ─ their evening gathering place after a day of Ramadan fast ─ and storming the al-Aqsa mosque. Using tear gas, stun grenades, and rubber-tipped bullets, police entered the mosque compound, clashed with protesters, and, reportedly, injured hundreds. All this mayhem left Hamas in a quandary ─ what to do to preserve Palestinian dignity? Knowing that its bold statement that “any more Israeli provocations will lead to a severe Hamas reaction,” is an invitation that Israel relishes, ‘die if we do and die if we don’t’ Hamas released its rockets on Israel. For Israel, provoking Hamas so that its forces can smash Gaza is a national sport, irrespective of the usual dozen Israeli deaths that accompany the onslaughts. Israel could have halted its oppressive tactics but, as always, continued with the same script and replayed the same movie.

When rockets from Gaza strike Ashkelon (previously the Palestinian town named al-Majdal), whom do they hit, and who fired them? Those hit by the rockets are descendants of those who stole the land and benefactors willing to be party to the theft from the Palestinian families who lived in the area for generations. In the 1945 statistics, al-Majdal had a population of 9,910. Not only had United Nations (UN) Resolution 181 awarded Ashkelon to the anticipated Palestinian state in, but the mass of Palestinians living in the area played no part in the hostilities. An Egyptian army, not invited by al-Majdal inhabitants, entered the town to protect its status under UN Resolution 181 and failed in the endeavor. Israeli forces captured al-Majdal on November 4, 1948. In the later months, the Israeli administration denied return to the original inhabitants that fled the engagements and forcibly removed the remaining inhabitants, almost all to Gaza.

Those firing the rockets are those who had their land, livelihood, and the futures of all their descendants stolen from them by the Israelis. The innocent victims of land theft and ethnic cleansing suffered deprivation in the barren desert of Gaza. Later they endured decades of oppressive Israeli occupation. After an end to physical occupation, Israel has controlled and intruded into their lives with constant violence against them — destruction of their buildings, factories, agricultural lands, water supplies, power stations, cultural institutions, denial of the fishing rights, keeping them caged in a limited area and preventing them from leaving. Israel determines the fate of the people in Gaza and seizes every opportunity to make their lives miserable. Shooting rockets at those who have victimized them sounds, and is, irreverently revengeful, but serves as a catharsis for the frustrated and aggrieved Palestinians ─ let the oppressor know what it feels to live in fear and danger,

When the United Nations Human Rights Council investigates alleged war crimes committed during the latest conflict between Israel and Hamas, the council should consider that the constant deadly military exchanges between Israel and Hamas affect relatively few Israeli families, while the entire millions in Gaza and the West Bank feel the shattering force almost every minute of every day.

The attempt to evict well-established Palestinian families from their rightful homes escalated from what Israel termed “only a real-estate dispute,” into wide areas of Israel and Gaza being pounded by military weapons. The attempt to evict well-established Palestinian families from their rightful homes escalated into worldwide defense of Palestinian rights and demands for an end to their continuous oppression. Sheikh Jarrah has left a permanent imprint on history. The world will remember, for eternity, the Name – Sheikh Jarrah.

The post Remember the Name:  Sheikh Jarrah first appeared on Dissident Voice.

The Nakba of Sheikh Jarrah: How Israel Uses ‘the Law’ to Ethnically Cleanse East Jerusalem

A Palestinian man, Atef Yousef Hanaysha, was killed by Israeli occupation forces on March 19 during a weekly protest against illegal Israeli settlement expansion in Beit Dajan, near Nablus, in the northern West Bank.

Although tragic, the above news reads like a routine item from occupied Palestine, where shooting and killing unarmed protesters is part of the daily reality. However, this is not true. Since right-wing Israeli Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, announced, in September 2019, his intentions to formally and illegally annex nearly a third of the occupied Palestinian West Bank, tensions have remained high.

The killing of Hanaysha is only the tip of the iceberg. In occupied East Jerusalem and the West Bank, a massive battle is already underway. On one side, Israeli soldiers, army bulldozers and illegal armed Jewish settlers are carrying out daily missions of evicting Palestinian families, displacing farmers, burning orchards, demolishing homes and confiscating land. On the other side, Palestinian civilians, often disorganized, unprotected and leaderless, are fighting back.

The territorial boundaries of this battle are largely located in occupied East Jerusalem and in the so-called ‘Area C’ of the West Bank – nearly 60% of the total size of the occupied West Bank – which is under complete and direct Israeli military control. No other place represents the perfect microcosm of this uneven war like that of the neighborhood of Sheikh Jarrah in occupied East Jerusalem.

On March 10, fourteen Palestinian and Arab organizations issued a ‘joint urgent appeal to the United Nations Special Procedures on forced evictions in East Jerusalem’ to stop the Israeli evictions in the area. Successive decisions by Israeli courts have paved the way for the Israeli army and police to evict 15 Palestinian families – 37 households of around 195 people – in the Karm Al-Ja’ouni area in Sheikh Jarrah and Batn Al-Hawa neighborhood in the town of Silwan.

These imminent evictions are not the first, nor will they be the last. Israel occupied Palestinian East Jerusalem in June 1967 and formally, though illegally, annexed it in 1980. Since then, the Israeli government has vehemently rejected international criticism of the Israeli occupation, dubbing, instead, Jerusalem as the “eternal and undivided capital of Israel”.

To ensure its annexation of the city is irreversible, the Israeli government approved the Master Plan 2000, a massive scheme that was undertaken by Israel to rearrange the boundaries of the city in such a way that it would ensure permanent demographic majority for Israeli Jews at the expense of the city’s native inhabitants. The Master Plan was no more than a blueprint for a state-sponsored ethnic cleansing campaign, which saw the destruction of thousands of Palestinian homes and the subsequent eviction of numerous families.

While news headlines occasionally present the habitual evictions of Palestinian families in Sheikh Jarrah, Silwan and other parts of East Jerusalem as if a matter that involves counterclaims by Palestinian residents and Jewish settlers, the story is, in fact, a wider representation of Palestine’s modern history.

Indeed, the innocent families which are now facing “the imminent risk of forced eviction” are re-living their ancestral nightmare of the Nakba – the ethnic cleansing of historic Palestine in 1948.

Two years after the native inhabitants of historic Palestine were dispossessed of their homes and lands and ethnically cleansed altogether, Israel enacted the so-called Absentees’ Property Law of 1950.

The law, which, of course, has no legal or moral validity, simply granted the properties of Palestinians who were evicted or fled the war to the State, to do with it as it pleases. Since those ‘absentee’ Palestinians were not allowed to exercise their right of return, as stipulated by international law, the Israeli law was a state-sanctioned wholesale theft. It ultimately aimed at achieving two objectives: one, to ensure Palestinian refugees do not return or attempt to claim their stolen properties in Palestine and, two, to give Israel a legal cover for permanently confiscating Palestinian lands and homes.

The Israeli military occupation of the remainder of historic Palestine in 1967 necessitated, from an Israeli colonial perspective, the creation of fresh laws that would allow the State and the illegal settlement enterprise to claim yet more Palestinian properties. This took place in 1970 in the form of the Legal and Administrative Matters Law. According to the new legal framework, only Israeli Jews were allowed to claim lost land and property in Palestinian areas.

Much of the evictions in East Jerusalem take place within the context of these three interconnected and strange legal arguments: the Absentees’ Law, the Legal and Administrative Matters Law and the Master Plan 2000. Understood together, one is easily able to decipher the nature of the Israeli colonial scheme in East Jerusalem, where Israeli individuals, in coordination with settler organizations, work together to fulfill the vision of the State.

In their joint appeal, Palestinian human rights organizations describe the flow of how eviction orders, issued by Israeli courts, culminate into the construction of illegal Jewish settlements. Confiscated Palestinian properties are usually transferred to a branch within the Israeli Ministry of Justice called the Israeli Custodian General. The latter holds on to these properties until they are claimed by Israeli Jews, in accordance with the 1970 Law. Once Israeli courts honor Israeli Jewish individuals’ legal claims to the confiscated Palestinian lands, these individuals often transfer their ownership rights or management to settler organizations. In no time, the latter organizations utilize the newly-acquired property to expand existing settlements or to start new ones.

While the Israeli State claims to play an impartial role in this scheme, it is actually the facilitator of the entire process. The final outcome manifests in the ever-predictable scene, where an Israeli flag is triumphantly hoisted over a Palestinian home and a Palestinian family is assigned an UN-supplied tent and a few blankets.

While the above picture can be dismissed by some as another routine, common occurrence, the situation in the occupied West Bank and East Jerusalem has become extremely volatile. Palestinians feel that they have nothing more to lose and Netanyahu’s government is more emboldened than ever. The killing of Atef Hanaysha, and others like him, is only the beginning of that imminent, widespread confrontation.

The post The Nakba of Sheikh Jarrah: How Israel Uses ‘the Law’ to Ethnically Cleanse East Jerusalem first appeared on Dissident Voice.

Small Acts Can Become A Power No Government Can Suppress

The American Rescue Plan (ARP) was passed in the House this past week and now heads to the Senate, where it will no doubt be changed before it becomes law some time in mid-March. The current unemployment benefits expire on March 14.

While we don’t know what the final bill will look like, at least now we can get an idea of what is in it. Overall, as expected, the provisions in the bill will help to provide some financial assistance to some people, but they won’t solve the crises we face. And the Biden administration is backtracking on promises made on the campaign trail.

As Alan Macleod writes, Biden has abandoned raising the minimum wage, ending student debt and the promised $2,000 checks. His focus is on forcing people back to work and school even as new, more infectious and more lethal variants of the virus causing COVID-19 threaten another surge in cases and deaths. There is only one promise Biden appears to be keeping, and that is one he made to wealthy donors at the start of his campaign when he said, “nothing would fundamentally change.”

Despite this, people are organizing across the country for their rights to economic security and health and an end to discrimination. These struggles are necessary as we cannot expect either of the capitalist parties to act in the people’s interest. But together, we can demand that one of the wealthiest nations on earth upholds its responsibility to provide the basic necessities for its people. This is consistent with a People(s)-Centered Human Rights approach.

What is and isn’t in the ARP?

The current version of the American Rescue Plan contains provisions that would provide money to people earning less than $75,000 per year. One is the one-time $1,400 check.  Another is raising the tax credit for families with children, which will benefit those who file tax returns but leave out the millions of poor people who don’t.

The ARP will also extend unemployment benefits until the end of August and increase the enhanced benefits to $400/week. Unlike the previous bills, this one includes workers who left their jobs because of unsafe conditions and those who had to leave work or reduce their hours to care for children. The benefits are retroactive for some workers who were denied benefits.

While this will temporarily improve the economic situation for many people, it is not a plan to address the poverty crisis in the United States nor is it sufficient to support people through the current recession and pandemic. People will still face barriers to receiving the aid. Instead of making the programs something that people have to apply for, the government could provide monthly checks to everyone with incomes under a certain amount automatically. Numerous examples show that putting money into people’s hands, such as through a guaranteed income or giving unrestricted lump sums, improves their well-being.

An increase in the federal minimum wage to $15/hour, a promise of Joe Biden and the Democratic Party, is in the House version of the bill, but it will not be in the Senate version unless the White House or Democrats intervene, which they seem unwilling to do. The minimum wage increase is being blocked by the Senate Parliamentarian, but the Vice President could override the decision or the Democrats could take steps to work around the Parliamentarian, as has been done in the past on other issues. They are choosing not to take this stand.

The ARP also fails to extend the eviction moratorium, which will expire at the end of March. While it does contain funds for rental assistance, they are being given to the Treasury Department to disburse to the states, so it is not clear how these funds will help people directly. A recent study found that corporate landlords received hundreds of millions of dollars in subsidies and tax breaks last year but continued to evict thousands of people. When the eviction moratorium ends, those who cannot pay the back rent risk being evicted.

The health benefits in the ARP are not only inadequate but they are set to further enrich the medical-industrial complex, as I explain in “Biden’s Health Plan Shifts Even More Public Dollars into Private Hands.” The ARP is fulfilling a laundry list provided by private health insurers, hospitals and medical lobbying groups. It will subsidize the cost of insurance premiums but leave those who have health insurance still struggling to pay out-of-pocket costs and at risk of bankruptcy if they have a serious accident or illness.

And finally, another group that is being left out is those who have student debt. I spoke with Alan Collinge of Student Loan Justice on Clearing the FOG this week. He said the current student loan burden is likely over $2 trillion and that the vast majority of debtors will never be able to repay . Collinge argues that it is imperative the Biden administration cancel student debt using an executive order, which he has the power to do, rather than leaving it to Congress. If the President does it, then the debt disappears (tax payers have already paid for the loans), but if Congress does it, which is unlikely to happen, they would have to offset the ‘cost’ through cuts to other programs or by raising taxes. Collinge also explains that cancelling student debt would be a significant economic stimulus.

All in all, the current ARP is another attempt by Congress to throw more money at a failed system that doesn’t change anything fundamentally. We must demand more.

The case for wealth redistribution

Lee Camp recently made the case for a massive change in the direction of wealth redistribution based on a new study that finds “the cumulative tab for our four-decade-long experiment in radical inequality has grown to over $47 trillion from 1975 through 2018. At a recent pace of about $2.5 trillion a year, that number we estimate crossed the $50 trillion mark by early 2020.” This amounts to over $1,000 per month per person in wealth that has been redistributed to the top or almost $14,000 per year.

It is time to reverse the direction of this wealth redistribution from one of consolidation at the top to one that creates greater wealth equality. This could be accomplished in a number of ways. In the middle of the last century, it was done through extremely high taxes on the wealthy and government investment in programs for housing and education. Camp advocates for taking all wealth over $10 million and redistributing it to the bottom 99.5% in a way that benefits the poorest the most.

Raising wages is another way to redistribute wealth. Professor Richard Wolff explains there are ways to raise wages without harming small businesses by providing federal support to them to offset the costs. Think of it as a reversal of the hundreds of billions in subsidies that have been given to large corporations, which they use to buy up and inflate the value of their stocks, to the small and medium businesses. It is smaller businesses that are most likely to keep wealth in their communities, unlike large corporations that extract wealth, and are the major drivers of the US economy. Small businesses alone comprise 44% of US Gross Domestic Product (GDP).

If workers earned higher wages, it would also save the government money that is currently spent on social safety net programs such as Medicaid and food stamps for low-wage workers. These programs enable large corporations to profit off worker exploitation, especially Walmart, Amazon and McDonalds, according to the DC Report.

Robert Urie points out that another price society pays for the gaping wealth divide is state violence and incarceration. He writes, “At $24 per hour, the inflation and productivity adjusted minimum wage in the U.S. from 1968, workers were still being added to employer payrolls. The point: $24 – $7.25 = $16.75 per hour plus a rate of profit is one measure of economic expropriation from low wage workers in the U.S. Maintaining an unjust public order is critical to the functioning of this exploitative political economy. Most of the prison population in the U.S. comes from neighborhoods where the minimum wage affects livelihoods.” Imagine the many ways that greater economic security would positively benefit families and communities.

People are fighting back

In our current political environment, we cannot expect Congress and the White House to do what is necessary to protect the health and security of people without a struggle that forces them to do so. There are many ways people are fighting locally for their rights through resistance and creating alternative systems. Here are a few current examples.

On February 16, fast food workers in 15 cities went on strike to demand $15 an hour. Other low-wage workers joined them. Last Monday, in Chicago, Black owners of McDonalds franchises began a 90-day protest outside of the McDonalds headquarters because of discrimination against them. They say, “McDonald’s has denied the Black franchisees the same opportunities as white operators and continually steer them to economically depressed and dangerous areas with low volume sales.”

In Bessemer, Alabama, workers are conducting a vote to start the first union for Amazon employees. If they succeed, it will be an amazing feat considering that Alabama is a right-to-work state and Amazon is doing what it can to stop them. In Arizona, another right-to-work state, workers at two universities are leading an effort to unionize all higher education employees in the state. They are concerned that federal funding provided to keep universities open will not be used in a way that protects all workers. They cite recent practices that prioritize the financial well-being of the universities over worker health and safety.

Some workers are taking power in other ways. Bus drivers in Silicon Valley organized with the support of community members to stop fare collections and only allow boarding in the rear, moves designed to aid passengers during the recession and protect drivers during the pandemic. They were committed to doing this whether management agreed to it or not. Others are building worker-owned platform cooperatives to challenge platform corporations that exploit their labor such as Spotify and Uber.

Others are working to meet people’s basic needs through mutual aid. Food not Bombs has been feeding people throughout the pandemic in various cities. In Santa Cruz, CA, they are out every day to feed the houseless despite being hassled by the city and moved around. A rural area in Canada that includes 65,000 people pulled together it local resources to make sure everyone is fed through a food policy council of elected officials, organizations and stakeholders. They reallocated their budget from events and travel to food security. They opened their seed banks to support local gardening efforts and commandeered unused buildings as spaces for assembling food boxes that were delivered to those in need.

These examples illustrate the tremendous power people have to force changes and create support networks in their communities when they organize together. While we should continue to expose and pressure Congress and the White House to invest in programs that provide for people’s needs, that is a function of government after all, we also need to organize in our communities to build popular power and create alternative systems that will slowly build the society we need.

Small acts, when multiplied by millions of people, can quietly become a power no government can suppress, a power than can transform the world.

— Howard Zinn

The post Small Acts Can Become A Power No Government Can Suppress first appeared on Dissident Voice.

Vaccinations and Stimulus Packages Won’t Mend the Economy

The social and economic destruction engulfing the U.S. and dozens of other countries remains out of everyone’s control and more chaos, instability, and insecurity now mark the global landscape.

The ruling elite have repeatedly shown their inability to tackle any serious problems effectively. They are at a loss for how to deal with current problems and refuse to consider any alternative to their obsolete economic system. The best they can do is recycle old ideas to maintain their class power and privilege. Their efforts to block the New focus mainly on promoting disinformation about “new and better forms of capitalism,” including oxymorons like “inclusive capitalism,” “responsible capitalism,” and “ethical capitalism.”

Since the outbreak of the “COVID Pandemic” in March 2020 every week has been a roller coaster for humanity. The economy and society keep lurching from one crisis to another while incoherence and stress keep amplifying. It is said that 1 in 6 Americans went into therapy for the first time in 2020.

Unemployment, under-employment, inequality, mental depression, anxiety, suicide, environmental decay, inflation, debt, health care costs, education, and poverty are worsening everywhere. Thousands of businesses that have been around for years keep disappearing left and right.

Top-down actions in response to the “COVID Pandemic” have made so many things worse for so many people. Many are wondering which is worse: the covid-19 virus or the top-down response to the pandemic. Governments everywhere have steadfastly refused to mobilize the people to solve the many problems that are worsening. The moral climate is low and more people are worried about the future.

An atmosphere has been created whereby people are supposed to feel like the exhausting “COVID Pandemic” will last forever and we can all forget about getting back to any normal healthy non-digital relations, activities, and interactions. No society in history has worn face masks for an entire year. We are told over and over again that there is no returning to anything called “normal.” Moving everything online and repeatedly asserting that this is great, “cool,” and wonderful is proving to be unsatisfactory and unfulfilling. People want and need real, direct, non-digital connections and interactions with other human beings. Life behind a screen is not life.

Even with all the restrictions and shutdowns the virus, according to the mainstream media, continues to wreak havoc at home and abroad. It is almost like none of the severe restrictions on people’s freedoms made any difference. People have had to endure this humiliation while also not being permitted any role in deciding the aim, operation, and direction of the economy or any of the affairs of society; they are left out of the equation every step of the way and not even asked for superficial “input” that always goes unheeded anyway. Existing governance arrangements are simply not working to empower people or affirm their rights. The people’s interests and will are blocked at every turn by an outdated political setup that advances only the narrow interests of the rich.

Despite intense pressure to blindly rely on the rich and their political representatives to “figure things out,” this is not working. Nor does it help that the mainstream media approaches multiple crises and issues with endless double-talk, disconnected facts, catchy sound-bites, dramatic exaggerations, angry voices, political axe-grinding, and lots of confusion. Coherence and a human-centered outlook are avoided at all costs. People are constantly left disoriented. Jumping arbitrarily and rapidly from one thing to another in the most unconscious way is presented as useful analysis and information. This is why sorting out basic information has become a full-time job for everyone. People are understandably worn-out and overwhelmed. Disinformation overload degrades mental, emotional, and physical health.

The world has become an uglier and gloomier place—all in the name of “improving health.” It is no surprise that a recent Gallup Poll shows that the majority of Americans are extremely dissatisfied with government, the economy, the culture, and the moral climate.

In this hazardous unstable context, there are two ever-present key pieces of disinformation operating side by side. Both are designed to deprive working people of any say, initiative, outlook, or power.

First there is the “once everyone is vaccinated things will be much better” disinformation. This ignores the fact that capitalist crises have endogenous causes not exogenous causes and that the economic crisis started well before the “COVID Pandemic.” More than 150 years of recessions, depressions, booms, busts, instability, chaos, and anarchy have not been caused by external phenomena like bacteria, germs, and viruses but by the internal logic and operation of capital itself. A so-called “free market” economy by its very nature and logic ensures “winners” and “losers,” “booms” and “busts.” It is called a “dog-eat-dog” fend-for-yourself competitive world for a reason. The modern idea that humans are born to society and have rights by virtue of their being is alien to “free market” ideology.

Despite the fact that millions have been vaccinated at home and abroad, poverty, inequality, unemployment, debt, and other problems continue to worsen. Businesses continue to suffer and disappear. Hospitality, leisure, recreation, and other sectors have been decimated in many countries. Air travel is dramatically lower. So are car sales. It is not enough to say, “Yes, the next few months will be rough and lousy economically speaking but we will get there with more vaccinations. Just be patient, it will all eventually work out.” This is not what is actually unfolding. The all-sided crisis we find ourselves in started before the “COVID Pandemic” and continues unabated. Such a view also makes a mockery of economic science and the people’s desire to decide the affairs of society and establish much better arrangements that exclude narrow private interests and do not rely on police powers.

In the coming months millions more will be vaccinated but economic decline and decay will continue. Both the rate and amount of profit have been falling for years. And owners of capital are not going to invest in anything when there is no profit to be had and when it is easier instead to balloon fictitious capital and pretend everything is a stock market video game. The lack of vaccinations did not cause the economic collapse the word is currently suffering through, nor will more vaccinations reverse economic decline and decay. The “COVID Pandemic” has largely made some people vastly richer and millions more much poorer. The “COVID Pandemic” has significantly increased inequality. Unfortunately, the so-called “Great Reset” agenda of the World Economic Forum and Pope Francis’s recent call for a “Copernican Revolution” in the economy will make things worse for millions more because they will perpetuate the existing moribund economic system. Such agendas are designed to fool the gullible, block working class consciousness and action, and keep the initiative in the hands of the global oligarchy.

The same applies to so-called “stimulus packages.” Various versions of these top-down monetary and fiscal programs have been launched in different countries, and while they have assuaged some problems for people, they have not been adequate or fixed any underlying problems. They have not prevented poverty or mass unemployment. Economies remain mired in crisis. In most cases “stimulus packages” have made things worse by increasing the amount of debt that many generations will have to repay. This is in addition to the many other forms of debt Americans suffer from and rent payments that will one day have to be paid.

Many are also wondering why trillions of dollars can be printed and instantly turned over to the banks and corporations with no discussion but the same cannot be done for social programs, public enterprises, and the people. Why, for example, can all not get free healthcare or have taxes eliminated? Why can’t various forms of personal debt be wiped out instantly? If the government can print money for “them” why can’t they print money for “us”? Who is government supposed to serve? Billionaires?

Nether the CARES Act of 2020 nor the stimulus package passed in December 2020 nor the one President Biden is pushing for in March 2021 will be adequate or solve any major problems. Many felt that the $600 stimulus checks that went out in December 2020 were pathetic and insulting.

The problem lies with a socialized productive economy run by everyone but owned and controlled by a tiny handful of competing private interests determined to maximize profit as fast as possible regardless of the damage to the social and natural environment. There is no way for the economy to benefit all individuals and serve the general interests of society so long as it is dominated by a handful of billionaires. The social wealth produced by workers cannot benefit workers and the society if workers themselves do not control the wealth they produce and have first claim to.

The outlook, agenda, and reference points of the rich must be rejected and replaced by a human-centered aim, agenda, direction, and outlook. The current trajectory is untenable and unsustainable. The situation is dangerous in many ways, but perhaps one good thing to come out of the accelerated pace of chaos, anarchy, and instability are the contradictions that are presenting new opportunities for action with analysis that favors working people.

The post Vaccinations and Stimulus Packages Won’t Mend the Economy first appeared on Dissident Voice.

Economic Nightmare Shows Need for New Aim and Direction for the Economy

The U.S. labor force participation rate stood at 61.5% in November 2020, the lowest rate in 44 years. According to Investopedia:

The labor force participation rate is a measure of an economy’s active workforce. The formula for the number is the sum of all workers who are employed or actively seeking employment divided by the total noninstitutionalized, civilian working-age population.

Note that this metric includes those who are not employed, meaning that the labor force participation rate is actually lower than 61.5%.

In related news, nearly 60% of Americans withdrew or borrowed money from their IRA or 401(k) during the never-ending “COVID Pandemic.” Further, tens of millions are still unemployed and 700,000–900,000 people are still filing initial unemployment claims every week (40 weeks in a row).

In addition, Trading Economics recently reported that:

The US economy cut 140K jobs in December [2020], missing market expectations of a 71K rise. It was the first decline in employment levels since a record 20.787 million loss in April [2020].

On January 7, 2021, Challenger, Gray & Christmas, Inc. reported that:

[C]ompanies in the Entertainment/Leisure sector, which includes hotels, restaurants, amusement parks, and movie theaters, announced the highest number of cuts in 2020 with 866,046, 5,688% higher than the 14,963 announced in all of 2019.

On January 8, 2021, the Economic Policy Institute stated that:

Long-term unemployment (27 weeks and over) continues to rise, increasing by 27,000 in December [2020]. The share of the unemployed who have been unemployed at least 27 weeks is now at 37.1%.

While the official unemployment rate was 6.7% in December 2020, the real unemployment rate according to many exceeds 20%. Not surprisingly, many people plan to take on a second or third job just to stay afloat. The situation today is such that many do not even have enough to cover a $400 emergency.

Over the past 10 months, about 110,000 restaurants have permanently closed and several thousand more businesses are expected to shutter their doors forever in the coming months, with or without “stimulus” money. Car sales, it is worth noting, fell about 15% in 2020. And as for corporate bankruptcies, S&P Global Market Intelligence reported on December 15, 2020 that, “There have been 610 bankruptcies this year through Dec. 13, exceeding the number of filings seen in any year since 2012” (emphasis added).

The multi-faceted nature of the still-unfolding economic nightmare is such that millions of U.S. renters are thousands of dollars behind in rent while many are homeless and others are spending several hours in long food charity lines in many cities. On January 6, 2021, the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities stated that:

Some 29 million adults — 14 percent of all adults in the country — reported that their household sometimes or often didn’t have enough to eat in the last seven days, according to Household Pulse Survey data collected December 9–21.

The real number of people experiencing “food insecurity” is higher.

On top of all this, wages and salaries have been cut for millions of workers, as have benefits and retirement contributions. Annual salary increases have been frozen as well. More people are living paycheck to paycheck. And more than eight million Americans have sunk into poverty in under 10 months. So-called “stimulus checks” are simply too small and too infrequent to make any lasting positive changes. “Stimulus bills” seem to only further enrich the wealthy and exacerbate existing inequalities.

As if the news could not get any grimmer, a June 1, 2020 headline in the Wall Street Journal read: “CBO [Congressional Budget Office] Says Economy Could Take Nearly 10 Years to Catch Up After Coronavirus.” Ten years!

The economic nightmare that is unfolding is also a global phenomenon, meaning that there is a multiplier negative effect across the board. Poverty, inequality, debt, and unemployment have increased significantly in many countries. It is one thing for a few countries to experience severe economic decline and decay but it is something else entirely when more than 100 countries simultaneously experience significant economic deterioration. This is especially true in an increasingly interconnected world. The imperialist World Bank is already talking about (another) “lost decade of growth” for many countries, coupled with massive debt accumulation in Western and other countries. The U.S. alone has tacked on at least $5 trillion extra dollars to the nation’s debt in less than a year.

This is the tip of the iceberg. There is no shortage of depressing statistics. The economic nightmare is not going away anytime soon. There is no vaccine for the economic catastrophe gripping the world. A vaccine will not stop growing inequality, poverty, debt, and unemployment. More than a few believe that rising unemployment rates, poverty, debt, and inequality will lead to civil unrest, violent protests, and political and economic conflicts.

The pain is deep and widespread—far worse than the 1930s or 2008. The scale and damage of the current economic decline is quantitatively and qualitatively bigger than previous recessions and depressions. In many ways, there really is no such thing as “economic recovery” under capitalism. That is a loaded and misleading phrase that the short-sighted rich and their political and media representatives like to overuse. Objective developments and contradictions have given rise to an economy that largely rolls from crisis to crisis. The so-called “new normal” is deeper crisis.

The actions of the rich and their governments did not prevent the 2008 economic collapse. Nor have the steps taken by the government and the private U.S. Federal Reserve after 2008 prevented the much-deeper 2020 economic collapse just 12 years later.1 With enormous amounts of debt still accumulating at all levels, with endless digital money printing, with more stock market bubbles growing, and with no real government oversight and accountability for what is unfolding it is hard to see a future without another momentous economic collapse. Then what? More of the same failed policies and arrangements from a failed state? How long can that go on? Where does this leave people, society, and the environment? Will there be pressure to continue to believe that things will still somehow be OK?

These and other economic data point to an economic system that is obsolete, one that habitually leaves millions unemployed, insecure, and unsure of their fate and well-being. Voluminous data expose a historically-exhausted economic system that cannot unleash its full productive capacity and instead lays waste to enormous human potential while the rich get richer even more rapidly. Nothing has stopped the tendency of the rich to get richer while the poor get poorer. No major problems have been solved in capital-centered societies.

Lurching from crisis to crisis is backward, irrational, and inhumane. The necessity to fight for an alternative and build the New is sharper than ever. This cannot be done by following the ideas, views, outlook, and agenda of the rich and their cartel parties; they offer no solutions, just more disasters. The rich have not come up with anything that overcomes the deep problems documented by thousands of economists and sociologists for decades. The rich and their representatives are opposed to a self-reliant, balanced, vibrant, diverse economy that is human-centered and recognizes that humans are born to society and depend on society for their livelihood and well-being.

An economy based on the aim of maximizing profit as fast as possible for a tiny ruling elite is an economy that belongs in the past. It is a failed economy. It cannot open the path of progress to society. A new aim and direction are needed for the economy. Along with this there is a need for democratic renewal of the political process so that the will of the people can be given effect. The rich must be deprived of their ability to carve up and use a productive socialized economy for their narrow privileged interests.

  1. The 2020 economic collapse was intensified and accelerated but not caused by the “COVID Pandemic.”
The post Economic Nightmare Shows Need for New Aim and Direction for the Economy first appeared on Dissident Voice.

Past Time to Remember Thousands Displaced and Left Behind by Hurricanes Laura and Delta

Four-and-a-half months after two hurricanes ripped apart Louisiana, tens of thousands of people are still suffering.   While the national election has absorbed the attention of the nation, thousands of people are still not back in their homes.  Many have had to move a half dozen times.  Some are living in tents.  It is past time the nation turned some of its attention back to these mostly forgotten people.

Hurricane Laura, a category 4 storm with winds of nearly 150 miles an hour, hit on August 27, 2020 on the coast of southwest Louisiana.   Forty-three days later, on October 9, Hurricane Delta, a category 2 storm with winds over 100 miles an hour, hit 10 miles away.   Laura caused $19 billion in losses and Delta caused another $2.9 billion.

The brunt of the destruction has been in Calcasieu and Cameron Parishes.  Calcasieu has a population of 203,000, according to the Census.  Lake Charles, home to 78,000 people and the sixth biggest city in Louisiana, is the biggest city in Calcasieu.   Cameron Parish, south of Calcasieu on the Gulf of Mexico, is populated by about 6,900 people.

Nearly 47,000 homes were damaged by Hurricane Laura alone, 16,000 of which are in need of major repairs, according to Rebecca Santana of the Associated Press.   Most of the damaged homes are in Calcasieu Parish.  Though there are many fewer homes in Cameron, more than half were completely destroyed, according to local government authorities.

In late September, a month after Laura, many displaced families were still living in tents. Sherry Bourque and her disabled father James Baker used the last of their money and bought two tents at Dick’s Sporting Goods and lived in them in the back yard of their destroyed home.  They had to stay close to deal with the insurance adjustors and contractors.

It is not at all unusual for homeowners and renters to have lived in five or more places since Hurricane Laura hit.  For example, a retired homeowner of limited income with health issues left Lake Charles for College Station Texas for the first mandatory evacuation for Laura.  Her home suffered so much damage it was unlivable.  So she joined with other displaced members of her family and rented a small house in Lafayette, 70 miles away.  They went back and forth to meet with insurance adjustors and contractors to get estimates for repairs.  The family was forced to evacuate a second time weeks later as Delta approached spending several days in Port Arthur, Texas.  Once the insurance people and the contractors advised her it would be spring 2021 before her home was repaired, she moved into a small home in Lake Charles which had to have its roof replaced while she was living in it.  Because she has homeowner’s insurance FEMA is not helping her.  She has to pay utility bills at both houses in order to keep power on in both places to slow down the mildew damage on her unoccupied damaged home.  She does not even have a final estimate of what the damage is on her house from insurance company yet despite having gone through 3 different field adjustors and five different desk adjustors.

Wilfred Trahan’s home was so damaged it has to be completely gutted.  He and his wife live temporarily in a hotel 70 miles away and commutes back to his job.

Homeowners insurance is helping some but not helping many.  Estimates of insured loss from the hurricanes added up to nearly $10 billion.  Over $5 billion in claims have been paid out so far.  Over 190,000 claims for damages to homes from these two hurricanes were filed with insurance companies in Louisiana.  Tens of thousands of insurance claims were closed without any payment at all.  Many people had deductibles as high as $20,000, making it impossible for them to repair. The Louisiana Legislature has received many, many complaints about the way the insurance companies are operating.  Complaints focus on two problems.  One, insurance companies are sending out as many as six different adjustors to a single home causing communication problems.  Two, there are big gaps between what insurance adjustors are estimating as replacement costs and the prices estimated by contractors.

Renters remain in deep trouble.  One couple with four children renting a house in Lake Charles rode out Laura in Alabama.  They returned to find standing water in their house.  Red Cross sent them to Baton Rouge, which in turn sent them to Alexandria and then to New Orleans.  They were then sent to Dallas briefly, then back to New Orleans.  The faither took a job in Shreveport but fell off a ladder and severely hurt his back.  The family returned to Alexandria and then back to New Orleans.  In mid-December the Red Cross found them a house in Lafayette but only paid for the first month’s rent.  They worry they are going to be evicted and have to move again.  They have received nothing from FEMA. The four children have not been in one place long enough to attend school yet.

Apartments are very hard to find and when available the rents have risen.  Many complexes like the 191 unit Wilshire apartments in Lake Charles were so damaged that all the residents had to leave and are not yet able to return.  Homeowners with damaged properties are competing with displaced renters for the few apartments available.

In early October Red Cross reported it was providing housing to more than 12,000 evacuees.  FEMA told the Washington Post it was housing nearly 8,000 people were put up in hotels in Louisiana and Texas. Government agencies ended the hotel stays for many people who only got 24 hour notice on papers slipped under their room doors.  They were told to return home but for many there were no homes to return to.  People were taken by bus to a government center Alexandria, 100 miles away from Lake Charles, to plead their cases.  If their homes are still uninhabitable, they were reassigned to another hotel.  On December 9, FEMA quit providing free meals to people in hotels according to Sam Karlin at The Advocate.

Elizabeth Cook has worked as a volunteer with many of the displaced people who were evacuated to hotels in New Orleans.  She collected clothing for people who had only the clothes on their backs.  After FEMA cut off meals at hotels, she helped people get hot plates and small grills.  She sees massive housing problems remaining:

I am working with a woman in her sixties who is finally staying in a hotel in Lafayette. She lived in her car in Lake Charles for several months until mid-December. She has never been offered a trailer and has yet to find any kind of housing. She is now searching for an apartment in Lafayette. I am assisting her in this search for housing utilizing the internet. She is under incredible stress.”

Four months later, more than 1,000 people are still living in hotels.   Government officials say it will be spring or even summer before people can move out of hotels.

As 2020 ended some people were still living in tents.  At the end of December, Fox News reported that many of Katelyn Smith’s family members are living in tents.  Ms. Smith’s trailer flipped several times in the hurricane and was destroyed.  Her whole family lived in tents for months and though she has moved into a donated trailer, the rest of her family remain in tents where their mobile home was.  “People like us are still out here going through this situation. I think Lake Charles has been forgotten,” Smith said. “It has only been a little while and it’s going to be a long time before we are back.”  Shocking photos of their living situation taken by Associated Press photographer Gerald Herbert show the family still living in third world conditions.

Calcasieu Parish Housing Authority says it will be well into 2021 before residents can get back into Lake Charles.

Small businesses are struggling from the effects of two hurricanes and the pandemic.   For example, a family bakery in Lake Charles, Mrs. Johnnie’s Gingerbread House, was open for seven weeks before Laura hit, followed weeks later by Delta.  It took another three months to fully reopen.  Many of the local grocery stores which sold their bread are still closed. The owner told Marketplace, “The hurricane, it’s going to affect the bottom line for quite a while.  So not only myself, but all the small businesses. It’s going to be tough for a while.”

Areas remain devastated.  In early December, Lake Charles officials estimated that nearly 3.3 million cubic yards of debris was collected in that city alone.  That is the equivalent of over 500 football fields.  Nearly 2 million more cubic yards are still waiting to be picked up.

Despite thousands needing housing, FEMA reports it has only provided housing units on site in Calcasieu Parish to 469 families.  No FEMA trailers at all were installed in nearby Cameron Parish as of December 2020.

With 47,000 houses damaged, 16,000 of which need major repairs, evacuees are nowhere near coming home.   At year’s end, churches and volunteer organizations continue to provide supplies to homeless people.

In fact, the Federal Emergency Management Agency estimates in will be “early summer 2021” before everyone who needs housing gets it.

Elizabeth Cook says the administration of assistance “has been a disaster.  The entire process to help these folks has been badly coordinated. The state which is overseeing this process has allowed or looked the other way as entire families were evicted from hotels in New Orleans with nowhere to go.  No one should be evicted.  Louisiana already had an affordable housing problem and this has made more people homeless.  It is shameful. The state of Louisiana, FEMA, the Red Cross have all caused unbearable stress for families and individuals.”

The Mayor of Lake Charles, Nic Hunter, is also quite frustrated.  On December 26, 2020, the Mayor told American Press in Lake Charles that he estimated that 5% of the city’s housing stock is still offline.  Hunter wrote FEMA after Christmas complaining about the slow process of getting temporary housing, saying that while thousands need help only 383 temporary housing units have been installed and “the number and pace of those installations is grossly inadequate” a performance that is “just not acceptable.

All of this is aggravated by Covid.  Over 15,000 people have tested positive in Calcasieu Parish, nearly 300 have died.  On January 4, Nic Hunter, the Mayor, announced on Facebook he tested positive for Covid.

The nation justifiably spent much time focusing on the election.  But it is past time to remember the thousands of families who have been left behind.

The post Past Time to Remember Thousands Displaced and Left Behind by Hurricanes Laura and Delta first appeared on Dissident Voice.

And The Landlords Said “Fuck You”

In response to the state of Oregon’s latest extension of the partial ban on evictions, the landlord lobby here is suing for 100% of back rent.

I know it is often hard to see, but significant elements of the folks in power at various levels of government are keenly aware that we’re in a crisis, and they want to avoid a total meltdown of the social order.  They often like to act blase and in control of the situation, they like to pretend that we all believe we live in a society governed by law, where we all play by certain rules that are more or less sacred.  But really they know they rule over a house of cards that sits on top of a powder keg, and there’s a fire burning nearby, which they need to keep from reaching the powder keg, and any notions of the rule of law are relatively worthless when millions of people are suddenly unable to house themselves or put food on the table.

The more progressive elements among the kleptocracy that passes itself off as government in this country is aware that what would be truly needed for long-term social cohesion, and long-term successful governance, would involve a reversal of the ongoing stratification of society under monopoly capitalism that has been taking place for several decades, which could begin with radical policies like government regulation of the cost of housing.  But at every level of government, government is bought and sold by the corporate landlords at public auctions which we call elections, and so even the legislators and governors intelligent enough to see the crisis that is in front of them are unable to do what they know needs to be done — in the longer term, instituting effective rent control policies, and in the shorter term, doing things like canceling all rent and deferring all mortgage payments for the duration of the pandemic.

So, hamstrung, knowing what they need to do, but also knowing who they actually work for, they can only delay the looming tsunami of evictions — “tsunami” now being the preferred term in the business press to describe the meteorological category of eviction crisis that is looming.  They can only kick the can down the road, in the hope that by sometime along the line in 2021, those that govern might come up with a plan to continue doing so.

In the meantime, here in Oregon, days after Multnomah County extended the ban on most evictions to July 2nd, and hours after the state of Oregon extended the statewide ban in a similar but more watered-down fashion, the landlords filed suit (that is, several big property-owners and their corporate lobbying arm, Multi Family Northwest).  The gist of their suit?  If the partial eviction ban is to continue, then we want the state to cover 100% of unpaid rent.

Which is especially galling, given that the lawsuit comes in response to efforts on the part of the state legislature that actually do go a long way in coming up with a real solution to the mounting unpaid rent crisis.  But having to ask for state aid that would only cover 80% of the rent they say they are owed was altogether too much of a burden and too much of a compromise — any compromise evidently being too much of one — and so they are suing for every last cent, global pandemic be damned.

The logic of this lawsuit, and of the activities of the landlord lobby with regards to shaping the law, is well worth some analysis.  Looking at the basic elements of their lawsuits and lobbying efforts through the years, the emphasis is clear.  The real message is don’t regulate us, we’ll just make as much money as we can, and if there are any problems as a result, we all know that’s why half of our local tax money goes to the police department.

The public message is don’t institute rent control, because that will just make the housing crisis worse, and we all want everybody to be housed, don’t we?  As the housing crisis has worsened year by year, with real rent control long ago abolished in state after state because of the efforts of the landlord lobby, this argument becomes harder and harder to hold up, but that doesn’t stop them from making it, ad nauseum.

In any case, whether the landlord lobby believes its own propaganda about the free market solving the housing crisis or not, they don’t want regulation, that’s bad.  They want to be able to charge whatever they want to be able to charge, and then they will make the argument that by doing so, this is, in the end, best for everyone.  Of course, being able to charge whatever they want necessitates them also being allowed to forcibly evict tenants at will, and to threaten to do so far more often.  This practice, in turn, requires having a massive budget for law enforcement, which is paid for by everyone, mainly the working class.

So to put this analysis of a lawsuit momentarily in Marxian economics speak that I learned during my one year of college, the landlord lobby believes in socializing their expenses, sharing this burden among those least able to do so, while maintaining laws and social norms in such a way that they may privatize all of their profits.

But in times of crisis, when a global pandemic forces society to largely shut down, and actions such as a temporary ban on evictions are taken in order to preserve what’s left of the public welfare, the landlord lobby has made it very clear that they don’t believe they should share any of the burden involved.  The state should bear all responsibility, just as it should bear responsibility for sending in the riot cops when an eviction doesn’t go as planned.

That is, in times of crisis, expenses should continue to be socialized, while 100% of profits should continue to be funneled upwards, into the coffers of the investment firms that are already swimming in cash.  That’s very clearly the position of the landlord lobby.

Things change by the week, and there’s no telling yet whether state or federal authorities may come up with a bailout that will actually prevent the tsunami, once the various state and federal partial eviction bans are lifted.  According to the most recent report on Marketplace, the nation is now an estimated $70 billion behind on rent.  While the state of Oregon’s new emergency budget seems intent on being more than window dressing, the scale of the crisis is quickly outgrowing it, and whether or when the Congress might step up is unknown.

The art of making predictions is a very difficult one, but there is one prediction I can make confidently:

If the partial eviction ban is lifted without a real solution to the billions of back rent owed, we can look forward to many, many more struggles such as the one that has been unfolding at Portland’s Red House.

Who will win this class war is uncertain.  But as to whether the landlord lobby is waging one or not, there is no doubt.  The only real question is at what point will the working class of this country stop blaming ourselves for our inability to make ends meet, and start truly fighting back?

The post And The Landlords Said “Fuck You” first appeared on Dissident Voice.

Rent: Why We Say Don’t Pay

As 2020 draws to a close, an open letter to Portland with particular regards to the renters, and the peculiar beauty of the notion of a rent strike during an eviction moratorium.

Dear Portland,

And dear anyone else, particularly in other localities that have passed similar laws to the eviction moratorium that was just renewed by the Multnomah County Board of Supervisors this week — which is now extended until July 2nd.

I want to talk to you about the rent strike, specifically.  What rent strike, you may wonder?  Well, it’s a good question, really.  Because for us here in Portland/Multnomah County, it’s been a very hypothetical rent strike, since around these parts the ban on evictions, evictions filings, and late fees went into effect soon after the first pandemic lockdown took hold.  At the last minute, just before it’s about to expire, as renters across the region are beginning to really panic and become total insomniacs, the moratorium on evictions is renewed — much to the chagrin of the landlord lobby, as represented by their various lobbying groups, such as Multi Family Northwest.

History tells us that we can transform a morbidly unequal society through the means of a broad and well-organized rent strike, first of all.  And my strong sense is that we need to use the momentum provided by both the fissures in society exposed by the pandemic, and by the efforts of governing bodies led by forward-thinking, socially-conscious individuals, such as the Multnomah County Board of Supervisors, not be lulled to sleep by it.

The more that I have been involved with the tenants rights struggle in various forms, the more I have come to realize that as much as the billionaire class and the corporate landlord lobby are a huge enemy to try to take on, our biggest obstacle is within our own American minds.  Or perhaps more our hearts.

By my observation, a whole lot of us have drunk a whole lot of different flavors of Kool-Aid at this point.  This isn’t accidental.

Inherent in the idea of a democratic society, a society run by democracy, that is, by a representative, or at least theoretically representative government, is that that government can pass laws that a majority of the population might more or less agree on.  These new laws and Constitutional amendments and such can be about lots of different things.  They have in the past involved doing stuff like giving away huge amounts of stolen land, as well as selling huge amounts of land.  Laws have also regulated how this stolen land can be sold or rented.  These laws have been passed nationally and locally, throughout the history of this country.

Despite these plain facts, there are a whole lot of people around here who believe that the ownership of property is sacred, somehow sacrosanct, inviolate, and cannot be regulated by law, because doing so would be Stalinist or something.  Whether Stalinist, Jeffersonian, or whatever else, the idea that we can’t pass laws to regulate costs of anything, be it property, bread, electricity, or whatever else, is ridiculous.  Of course we can.  And we have, and we do, throughout the history of this country, as well as all over the world — in both democratic and in authoritarian societies.  Wherever there are governments that govern.

If this mental block is overcome, and we can agree that regulation is not inherently fascistic or communistic or some other Unamerican phenomenon that needs to be violently opposed, the next thing is we don’t like regulation because although we are probably being screwed by the capitalist system ourselves at this very moment, we still hope someday to become homeowners and even landlords.  And once that glorious time finally arrives somehow or other, we won’t want to be subject to pesky red tape.

If empathy for society outweighs our desire to become successful capitalists, the next mental road block we encounter is the biggest:

Most of us know someone who is struggling to pay their mortgage.  Many of us know someone who is struggling to pay their mortgage specifically because their tenant has not been paying their full rent, or perhaps any rent.

Being human, and an empathetic sort of human at that, I also empathize with anyone who is struggling, wherever they may fall in this complex web of landlord-tenant relations.  Because owning a duplex and renting half of it, or owning an extra house, are some of the few capitalist endeavors available to many people, this sort of thing is commonplace, and it is easy to sympathize with anyone involved.

For so many of us, however, in the Class C apartment complexes that you will see all around you in every city in the country if you are looking for them, we’re not in this type of situation.

For us, our landlords are generally large corporations, often some of the largest corporations on Earth, such as Blackrock, which two of the president-elect’s cabinet nominees just got through working for, or here in Portland, the Randall Group, a more regional version of Blackrock.  For us, these investment companies and their management arms have been doubling and tripling and quadrupling the rent over the past twenty years — and especially over the past ten years — to the point where, long before the pandemic, life was financially untenable for so many millions of people, from the west coast to the east.

And to complicate things further, the way these massive companies colluded to lock in high rents in major markets around the country also allowed the small-time landlords to cash in, through the seemingly innocent mechanism of charging something around — maybe even somewhat lower than — the “market rate.”  For a very long time, it was a good time to be a landlord, whether a big one or a small one.  Many people lived entirely off of the earnings of their tenants and called that their job, a form of “self-employment,” rather than a business, and certainly not capitalism, which is unattractive and old-fashioned sounding for the modern member of the petite bourgeoisie, who also doesn’t use that word anymore either.

In any case, even if we can agree that there may be differences between small-time landlords and big landlord corporations, and even if we can agree further that withholding rent from big corporations in order to try to get them to see reason and lower what they’re charging or otherwise negotiate with us tenants is OK, we encounter the next obstacle, which goes something like this:

“But I can afford to pay the rent, unlike some of my friends and neighbors, so maybe I should pay the rent, to make it easier on the landlord corporation to keep paying for their expenses until this is all sorted out.”

To which I would offer this reply:

If your landlord is a corporation, stop humanizing it.  It doesn’t care about anything.  This is about mathematics, and morality, but it’s not about human beings.  If they told you they need your rent in order to pay their low-wage grounds maintenance and repair staff, they’re lying.  They can borrow that money.  They probably already have.

Do you think the people that run the corporations that are not paying their commercial rents in the malls across the country that are closing during the pandemic are feeling bad about stiffing the banks what they owe them?  No.  This is just how business is done.  Do you think their corporate lawyers are moved by letters from the venture capitalists appealing to them to keep their low-wage mall employees employed, for the sake of society?  Do you think they write such letters to the lawyers?  No, they do that with us tenants because they think we are stupid.

And they think we’ll be scared of the part in their notes after they appeal to us to think of the poor maintenance workers, when they mention eventual eviction.  Of course, the threat of eviction is what allows them to raise the rent as much as they want, whenever they want, and is what causes us to comply, every time, no matter how egregious, or move.

But not now.  And the sooner the landlord corporations face actual financial hardship, the sooner they might negotiate with us.  This is how strikes work, when they work.

Another mental road block:

“But the county supervisors are being so supportive with these eviction bans, so those of us who can afford to pay rent should do it, to show that we’re not taking advantage of the fact that evictions are temporarily banned due to the pandemic.”

First of all, there are many reasons to ban evictions, and there is no reason why landlords should have the option of forced eviction at gunpoint. This is not a God-given right, or even a Constitutional one.  One reason to temporarily ban evictions is for the reasons the CDC did it, because they cause people to spread the pandemic, get sick, and die.

One more reason to ban evictions, and foreclosures, at a time when one out of three households in the United States are either behind on rent or behind on their mortgages, is to maintain domestic tranquility.  Any sensible politician is afraid of the potential consequences to trying to evict a third of their population at the same time, regardless of how much money they may take from the landlord lobby.  They realize that the ban on evictions, while bad for the capitalists in the short term, is saving them from themselves in the longer term.

Of course, still another reason to ban evictions is because you genuinely care about struggling renters and struggling mortgage holders, or because you believe that the housing market as it is is totally insane, and something needed to be done.

If you are acting for such progressive reasons, what you, as a progressive politician, actually need, is backup — not people napping their way through the moratorium, but organizing through it.  It is specifically because so many people are not paying rent — whether because they can’t, because they are prioritizing other expenses, or because they are on rent strike — that the moratoriums keep getting extended.  It is quite likely only by continuing the nonpayment collectively, en masse, that the politicians and landlord corporations will be forced to do things like negotiate, lower rents, cancel rents during the pandemic, accept potential future government bailouts that may involve compromising on profits, or pass effective rent control legislation, like we have had in the past.

We say don’t pay, whether you can pay or not, because that’s how solidarity works.  So join us.  If you are with us — if you believe that the further victimization of the poorest among us by not coming up with a real solution to the housing crisis is unacceptable, withhold your rent money, and put it in savings every month instead.

This is what the companies are doing that are not paying their commercial rents during this ongoing crisis.  Why should we behave differently?  Are we renters and mortgage-holding families less important than JC Penney or the Cheesecake Factory?

The strategy — all emotional considerations aside — is very matter-of-fact:  withhold the rent and wait until you can negotiate with the banks or other landlord corporations in court, or wait until the federal or state government funds some kind of bailout.  As the corporate board of the Cheesecake Factory is well aware, if you pay the rent during this period, you won’t get that money back later.  Withhold it, and you very well might.  We residential renters can employ exactly the same strategy.  During a period when there is a ban on evictions, we can do this on the same sorts of terms as the corporations can.

There are other ways landlords can use the law to get money from tenants who are withholding it, whether these tenants are commercial or residential.  But sending in armed police to throw your shit out onto the sidewalk is not one of the available options.  And for most of us who have been withholding our rent during the moratorium, we will have six months from the time the moratorium ends to pay up, before facing any such eventuality.

To those of you who will not join us, for whatever reasons, as good and justifiable as they may be, remember this fact:

By paying the rent, the impact you’re having, like it or not, is to undermine the efforts of those who won’t pay, and to undermine the dreams of those who can’t.  By paying the rent even when there are minimal consequences for withholding it, you are hastening the return of normality.  And normality was a crisis, prior to the pandemic.

Also, by paying the rent, you’re guaranteeing that you won’t be part of any settlement that may arise in the course of 2021, to avert an eviction tsunami and its tremendously destabilizing impact.

Through solidarity, however, we can change the rules, we can lead, and we can make the leaders follow.  History is full of not only failed efforts, but many successful ones — rent strikes and other kinds of strikes — that have changed societies for the better.  Very much including here in the belly of the capitalist beast itself.  Believing this fact is the biggest hurdle of all.

Sincerely,
David Rovics, renter

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To The Barricades: The Red House and the Future of Eviction Defense

Portland, Oregon has been in the headlines again over the last few days, and this trend will continue.  The reasons for the headlines will vary depending on who you ask.  If you ask the far right they will say something about Antifa terrorists having violent confrontations with the police because they hate law and order.  The mainstream media’s headlines will also tend to lead with the so-called violent clashes, but then they may inform us that the reasons for the confrontation have to do with folks trying to prevent the eviction of a Black and indigenous family that has lived in the Red House at 4406 North Mississippi for multiple generations.

Either way, the stories you’ll hear will focus on violence.  If you look into it a little, you’ll realize that what the stories are really focusing on are destruction of property — particularly the windows of police cars smashed by well-aimed rocks — and the number of times over the past few months of the eviction defense encampment on the front yard of the Red House that the police have been called because of “disturbances.”  81 times, according to police records, the police emphasize in the report they issued after they entered the house and arrested occupants in a pre-dawn raid on December 8th.

I can only imagine what some of those disturbances might have been caused by.  The house is just at the end of the commercial section of Mississippi Avenue, where what remains of one of Portland’s two historically Black neighborhoods stands, with its uncomfortable mix of wine-sipping gentrifiers living alongside a perennially struggling and shrinking Black working class, along with increasing numbers of people living in tents that line the highway which cuts through the neighborhood — the highway that was originally routed through that neighborhood in order to destroy it, as was done to so many other Black neighborhoods across the US when the highways were being built.

Last time I visited the Red House a few weeks ago, I was only hanging around for a matter of minutes before a man I recognized as a fascist drove slowly past, staring at us from behind his bushy beard, a bizarre new fashion among the fash here in the northwest lately, and in other parts of the world as well.  Indeed, if you follow people on Twitter who are involved with the struggle at the Red House, you will see frequent mentionings of the latest spotting of a known fascist, whether Proud Boy or Patriot Prayer, along with the latest prediction of when the riot cops will next come to create chaos.

While the broken squad car windows, the conflicted neighborhood, the poverty, the homelessness, and the frequently-visiting fascist trolls are all very real, there is so much more going on at the Red House at this moment than these alarming reports would seem to imply.  Primarily, what’s going on there is pure beauty, in the form of the most profound expression of human solidarity you’re likely to see anywhere.

Reading the descriptions from the police and in certain corners of the media, one would expect an unwelcome reception, if you were to visit the neighborhood they’re describing.  In fact, as of last night, the police were officially warning people to avoid the neighborhood altogether, implying that it was, in fact, an anarchist jurisdiction, and therefore a terrifying thing.  Mayor-select Tear Gas Ted Wheeler says Portland shall not have an “autonomous zone” like Seattle did for a while.

Mayor Ted really can’t stand it when the rightwingers in Washington, DC and the corporate landlords who own downtown call him a wimp for not cracking enough heads, even though his cops have been cracking more heads over the past few months than possibly any other police force in the United States.  So his instinct, naturally, is to crack some more heads, in the service of his friends, the corporate overlords, the business lobby, the Owners of the City.  (The real “stakeholders,” as the governor likes to call them — not the ones who hold the stakes that they drive into the ground to keep their tents from blowing away.)

I’m reminded, as I hear of these official pronouncements and fear-mongering, of my visit to the biggest city in the West Bank, Nablus, years ago.  An Israeli soldier took me aside, separating me from my Palestinian friends, to privately make sure I was traveling of my own free will, and had not been kidnapped.  Once determining that I was not a captive, the soldier’s next tack was to try to reason with me.  There are very dangerous people in there, he informed me.  They have bombs, he said.  I politely thanked him for the information, not wanting to create problems for anyone, in our collective efforts to cross this checkpoint.  But I wanted to ask him if he had ever tried leaving the machine gun at home and traveling in civilian clothes.  His reception in Palestinian towns would be very different.

As I entered what has arguably now become a sort of gated community in reverse, I was welcomed everywhere I went, whether with words of greeting or just the sorts of eye contact that says more than enough.  Not to extend the previous analogy with Palestine too much here, but the feeling is a bit similar, in the sense that when you’re an American in Nablus, people there tend to assume you probably are the kind of American who does not support Israeli atrocities against Palestinians.  Going anywhere near the Red House as of yesterday, you are suddenly transformed from a “visitor” to a “participant” as soon as you pass through the makeshift gates, into the liberated space that is now the neighborhood surrounding 4406 North Mississippi Avenue in Portland, Oregon.  Because you know once you pass these checkpoints and enter the anarchist jurisdiction, you are now as much of a potential target for a police attack as anyone else who is willfully disregarding orders to avoid the neighborhood.

From the time people began to maintain a constant presence in front of the house as part of an effort to prevent the forced eviction of the Kinney family within it, until a few days ago, it was the house and its yard that was being protected.  Then, at 5 am on December 8th — the favorite time of day for these sorts of police attacks — the riot cops moved in, arresting a number of people, including a member of the Kinney family.  Much was made in the police report about multiple firearms being seized in the course of these arrests, of course, with no context provided — that armed fascists are regularly coming by to threaten people, and that the police make sure never to be present when that happens.  For example.  Or that the ownership of firearms is very commonplace in this country, especially lately, across the political spectrum, and is about as surprising as finding a baseball bat or a guitar.

The raid on the Red House on the morning of December 8th will, I believe, go down as a historic miscalculation on the part of Ted Wheeler’s corporate-friendly Democratic Party administration — with its recently-approved, massive police budget — that runs this city in the service of the landlord-stakeholders.  What they have done with this raid is they have massively escalated the conflict, and I sincerely hope, and suspect, that they will soon regret this move.  What they have done now, I believe, is they have taken two movements that were already intimately related, and fused them.  If it was not already completely obvious, now it’s impossible not to see it, the police have made sure of this — if you are in favor of Black lives, you are also against evicting families onto the streets.  And the converse is true as well.

Since the police raid, what was limited to one house is now a neighborhood-wide conflict.  The neighborhood is already very gentrified, and the displeasure among some of the yuppies around Mississippi Avenue that black-clad youth had set up checkpoints on multiple intersections was occasionally being made clear, but only through the aggressive use of car horns, never by people actually getting out of their cars to engage with anyone on a human level, whether out of fear or embarrassment on the part of the horn-happy wine bar set.

After the raid, the police employed a fencing company to erect a tall fence to surround the Red House with.  They apparently were operating under the premise that a tall fence would take care of the problem.  In actuality, the fence they erected turned out to be very useful, but not for the reasons the authorities apparently believed it would be.  What transpired in the hours after they erected the fence, as is easy to observe directly, is the fence was dismantled and reengaged, deployed as part of some suddenly very solid barricade constructions at every intersection surrounding the Red House.  The barricades were set up in such a way that people who lived in other houses in the neighborhood could still access their houses, and mostly also their parking spaces, but they now had to take a much more circuitous route to get onto a main road.  Each barricade has a little entryway that a human — but not a vehicle — can pass through, once the nice, thoroughly masked young person in black who greets you ascertains that you’re probably not a cop or a fascist.

During my time hanging around the neighborhood there last night, many people were engaged in many forms of industrious activity.  If you haven’t spent much time among autonomously-organized youth — whether current youth or the same crowd that existed when I was young, in the 1980’s in New York City — you might not realize that when you enter such patches of liberated territory, whether it’s a mostly outdoor phenomenon like this, or a building takeover, you are entering a hive of activity, reminiscent of a beehive, with everyone engaged in doing their thing, whether they are responsible for cooking, collecting trash, building barricades, constructing tire spikes, collecting wood for the campfires, collecting rocks, or whatever other useful endeavors.  Last night was full of that beehive vibe, with most people fulfilling one role or another, whether self-appointed, or appointed through an affinity group or larger network involved with specific aspects of organizing the things that need to happen when large numbers of people are being somewhere for a while.  Folks need to eat, sleep, and shit, while also seeking to defend the Red House.

While many people were engaged in meetings or carrying out various tasks, the scouts looking for the next inevitable visit from the riot cops, and others involved with guarding the perimeter always have time to talk.  Now, nothing that I’m about to say should come as a surprise to anyone who has spent much time on the ground at protests in Portland over the past eight months or so, but the crowd last night consisted of a very interracial, multigendered and otherwise very intersectional group of mostly young people.  Mostly wearing black — which, incidentally, is not just a political statement, if it even is one, but is a matter of practicality for a variety of reasons.

Are there, as I’m sure some readers will be quick to point out, armed sentries?  Yes, there are armed sentries.  Very nice, armed sentries.  The kind we need more of, unfortunately.

And what are people talking about in there among the campfires?  I pass by one meeting, noting that most of the participants are people of color.  I recognize the man who is speaking to the group of a dozen or so people.  He spoke at the last rally I sang at, in fact.  As I walk past the discussion, he’s talking about how to be inclusive of people who want to be involved, while still finding effective ways to exclude truly disruptive elements.  I then came upon another couple of folks, who greeted me for the sole reason that I had stopped walking momentarily while in their general area, and we then spontaneously began having a conversation about the history of eviction defense actions across the US in the 1930’s, during the Great Depression.

Back in the 1930’s, all of us radical history buffs hanging around the Red House collectively noted, when the cops came to evict people, they often succeeded, but only temporarily.  After evicting a household, the people would gather together — often in their thousands — to move the family back in, and un-evict them.  That, we all noted, was exactly what was going on at 4406 North Mississippi Avenue.

I believe this struggle, around this particular house, will be won.  I believe it will also set the stage for the much broader struggle to come, in the months after Oregon’s eviction moratorium expires.  But the future is very much unwritten, and there are many more players involved with this deadly game, aside from the barricade-building youth, unfortunately.

So don’t just scroll on to the next article.  Put your phone down, and come meet me at the Red House.

The post To The Barricades: The Red House and the Future of Eviction Defense first appeared on Dissident Voice.

Michigan Restaurant Owner Calls For Popular Uprising Against Hypocritical Covid Policy

As U.S. death tolls from Covid 19 spiral towards three or four thousand a day, health officials urge us to stop breathing on each other while saying nothing about the vast majority being dependent employees or small entrepreneurs, not free agents, thus unable to cheerfully comply with draconian public health orders that torpedo our jobs and businesses while remaining silent on how the bills are supposed to get paid.

While one searches in vain for intelligent commentary in the corporate media about this dilemma, ordinary Americans are well aware of the problem, as well as of the contempt with which they’re being treated. Consider Dave Morris, owner of the D & R Daily Grind Restaurant and Cafe in Portage, Michigan, who interrupted a local CBS News broadcast last week to explain why he was defying shutdown orders. In two minutes he told more economic truth than one hears in a year of listening to the experts on corporate media.1

Morris:  Our government leaders have abandoned me.

Reporter: Are you the owner?

Morris: They took four trillion dollars of stimulus money. They gave it to who? Special interest groups and campaign donors. I’m Dave Morris. I own the place.

Reporter: So what’s going on?

Morris: What’s going on? You know what’s going on.

Reporter: You tell me.

Morris: Hey, we got a government that has taken the stimulus money. They gave it to special campaign donors. They gave it to special interests. They abandoned me and they had put me in a position where I have to fight back. O.K.?

Reporter: Do you feel that this is the right thing to do?

Morris: Absolutely. I feel everybody needs to stand up. Hey, listen. There was enough money to give every family, every family in this country $20,000 to go home for two months. They chose to give it to special interests, and campaign donors, the Kennedy Space Center, and they abandoned us. You could’ve given me money [and] I’d gladly walk away for sixty days and let the virus settle down. [But] I’m not going to do it alone, O.K.?

Reporter: Are you going to continue to violate the state’s orders and stay open?

Morris:  State order (tone of disgust). This isn’t an order. This is a conspiracy. This is a tyranny.

Reporter: What do you want to tell other restaurant owners?

Morris: (raising his arms) Wake up! Stand up! This is America. Be free! I got patriots coming out supporting me the last two days. You know what? It’s a great thing. Wake up! This is America. Don’t let them ramrod you. This is crazy when you turn around and you watch what’s going on Westnedge Avenue. The big department stores, the train stations, the airports. Side by side eating meals for four hours. And you’re going to blame me? Come on! (sarcastic) Come on! This is not right and you guys know it. Everybody knows it. Stand up, America. Give us the money to shut this thing down and calm this virus, but don’t take it out on a select few.

Reporter: Is there anything else you want to add, sir?

Morris: That’s it, brother (smile). I’m glad you listened to me. Thank you. Hey, I’m really a generous guy.

Reporter: The entire Western Michigan just listened to you. You’re live on T.V. right now.

Morris: I’m glad to hear that, O.K.? I’m really a good guy. I’ve been married thirty-eight years. I got a wife, three kids; I got four great-grandchildren. Let me tell you something:  I got a good life and I’ve worked hard for it. I’m not giving up easily. I’m not going down alone. They want me to go down and be quiet. They never want to hear from me again. I’m not going to put up with it. It’s time to rise up. Shut it all down or don’t shut any of us down. (emphasis added) That’s the only way to get control of a virus.

Of course, Morris is wrong in attributing policy to a conspiracy, which it is not, but that’s merely a technical point. (The problem is not the government per se, but the massive private concentrations of wealth that dominate the government). He is completely right that current policy is disingenuous and hypocritical, not to mention nearly impossible for the economically dependent to adhere to, that is, a large majority of the American population.

So let’s stop pretending that the American people are “stupid” for not complying with such policy. And remember that this is the policy that first said masks were useless and now says they’re essential; that first denounced large congregations of people as deadly, super-spreader events, then praised huge gatherings of Black Lives Matter protesters for risking infection in pursuit of a noble cause; that first urged everyone to “follow the science,” then let airports and bars be open while schools remained closed.

This is what we get when we divorce “science” from any rational analysis of society and politics. The feigned neutrality that results is an elaborate rationalization of the favoritism-for-the-rich that dominates the disastrous status quo. It’s also a prominent feature of the Osterholm Update, a weekly podcast by public health expert Dr. Michael Osterholm (recently appointed to Joe Biden’s Covid 19 Advisory Board), about the latest developments in our battle with coronavirus.

Dr. Osterholm loves to pretend that’s he’s above the political fray, just calling “balls and strikes,” not making value judgments. But that stance itself rests on a value judgment about value judgments; i.e., that public health officials ought not to make them. But if the medical experts are unwilling to call out the government for failing to give proper economic support to American workers during the prolonged quarantine policy they insist we all embrace, the policy of physical distancing means very little, in spite of its medical utility. After all, what good does it do to tell people to stay home, when they have no money to pay rent with? Everyone knows they’re going to go out and work, since they have no other way to stay housed. And even when they’re home, the wage-dependent are often sharing cramped space and stagnant air with other tenants, because with rents high and wages low it takes many tenants to keep the rent paid. Therefore, it should be obvious that non-union workers – virtually the entire private sector in the United States – are the least able to live in the uncrowded, well-ventilated spaces our public health authorities say are medically necessary, because maximizing private gain requires the opposite. Space, like everything else in this profit-obsessed culture, has to be paid for, and poor people can’t afford nearly enough of it.

In 1949, the National Housing Act established the goal of a decent home in a suitable living environment for all. Most people would surely include sunlight and uncrowded space in that definition, both known to be essential to good health, and especially useful in resisting the spread of coronavirus. But seventy-one years after passing that act, we are far from achieving that sensible housing goal.  While the stock market booms and home sales soar, millions of renters are paying more than half their income for poor quality housing in polluted neighborhoods that should have been declared a national health crisis long before coronavirus appeared on the scene.2

So we can’t just call “balls and strikes,” we have to get our hands dirty and comment on the perverse values of the politicized culture within which we all live and work. The bottom line here literally is profit, which is more important than human life. That’s why there’s no coherent coronavirus policy, no sensible economic relief package, and no end of news stories telling us Americans continue dying in grotesque numbers.

  1. “Angry Man Interrupts Live Newscast With A Surprisingly Rational Point,” The Rational National, December 4, 2020.
  2. See:  “The State of the Nation’s Housing 2020.”

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