Jared Kushner, Slumlord, Gets Richer By Destroying Lives

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These men are no different. They are rich vampires who prey on the weak.

The invaluable Alex MacGillis at ProPublica has an in-depth story about one of the ways in which Jared Kushner, he who will solve the Middle East, takes advantage of other people to whom the world has been less than kind. It’ll take some block-quoting.

But amid the high-profile Manhattan and Brooklyn purchases, in 2011, Kushner Companies, with Jared now more firmly in command, pulled together a deal that looked much more like something from the firm’s humble past than from its high-rolling present. That June, the company and its equity partners bought 4,681 units of what are known in real-estate jargon as “distress-ridden, Class B” apartment complexes: units whose prices fell somewhere in the middle of the market, typically of a certain age and wear, whose owners were in financial difficulty. The properties were spread across 12 sites in Toledo, Ohio; Pittsburgh; and other Rust Belt cities still reeling from the Great Recession. Kushner had to settle more than 200 debts held against the complexes before the deal could go through; at one complex, in Pittsburgh, circumstances had become so dire that some residents had been left without heat and power because the previous owner couldn’t pay the bills. Prudential, which was foreclosing on the portfolio, sold it for only $72 million — half the value of the mortgages on the properties.

In the following months, Kushner Companies bought another 1,700 multifamily units in similar markets, according to the trade publication Multifamily Executive. Unlike the company’s big New York investments, the complexes were not acquired with an eye toward appreciation — these were not growing markets, after all — but toward producing a steady cash flow. “Our goal is to keep buying and incrementally growing — they’re good markets where you can get yield,” Jared Kushner told Multifamily Executive in October 2011, predicting that the net income for the year’s purchases would be $14 million within a year. The complexes buttressed the Kushner portfolio in another way, he said: They would serve as a hedge against an upswing in inflation he believed was looming on the horizon.

So how does this make him money? Lawsuits. He apparently has a team of turkey vultures swooping in for any little mistake on the lease, any minor violation, and any discrepancy they could find in order to sue.  A woman who broke a lease early to tend to her dying mother lost thousands of dollars. A woman who didn’t replace her carpet after the sink backed up was sued for $600.

But you don’t even have to be in the wrong to get screwed by Kushner. You just have to be less wealthy than he is, and not able to stand up to him in court.

(Kamiia) Warren sent a letter reporting the problem to the complex’s property manager, a company called Sawyer Realty Holdings. When there was no response, she decided to move out. In January 2010, she submitted the requisite form giving two months’ notice that she was transferring her Section 8 voucher — the federal low-income subsidy that helped her pay the rent — elsewhere. The complex’s on-site manager signed the form a week later, checking the line that read “The tenant gave notice in accordance with the lease.”

So Warren was startled in January 2013, three years later, when she received a summons from a private process server informing her that she was being sued for $3,014.08 by the owner of Cove Village. The lawsuit, filed in Maryland District Court, was doubly bewildering. It claimed she owed the money for having left in advance of her lease’s expiration, though she had received written permission to leave. And the company suing her was not Sawyer, but one whose name she didn’t recognize: JK2 Westminster LLC.

Warren was raising three children alone while taking classes for a bachelor’s degree in health care administration, and she disregarded the summons at first. But JK2 Westminster’s lawyers persisted; two more summonses followed. In April 2014, she appeared without a lawyer at a district court hearing. She told the judge about the approval for her move, but she did not have a copy of the form the manager had signed. The judge ruled against Warren, awarding JK2 Westminster the full sum it was seeking, plus court costs, attorney’s fees and interest that brought the judgment to nearly $5,000. There was no way Warren, who was working as a home health aide, was going to be able to pay such a sum. “I was so desperate,” she said.

JK2, is, of course, Jared Kushner, the most absurd man in an absurd administration. There is something particularly venal about him, a rich New York socialite who yokes himself to evil incompetence for more power, who is using his status to further enrich his family, and who encourages obstruction of justice while doing nothing to rein in the racist cruelty of his father-in-law’s ghoulish entourage.

But that’s probably because he doesn’t want to. This is a mean shark, a rich bully who thinks he’s the underdog. He’s a scion who can drop hundreds of millions on a deal and pretend he’s earned the chip on his shoulder.

Early in the Adminstration, there were stories about how Kushner had become close with the horrible xenophobic racist Jeff Sessions. “Then there is Jared Kushner, the president’s son-in-law and senior adviser, who considers Sessions a savant and forged a bond with the senator while orchestrating Trump’s trip last summer to Mexico City and during the darkest days of the campaign.”

Jeff Sessions has spent a whole career in pursuit of one thing, and one thing only: white power. Whether that came from jailing black longer and in crueler conditions, protecting police from charges of racial brutality, closing off the border, or cutting welfare from strapping young bucks, his project has been the same. He didn’t wow Jared with his ability to talk the deficit. So what did Kushner consider him to be savant-like about?

This seemed incongruous. But it clearly isn’t. Kushner is a deeply cruel and shallow sociopath. He clearly feels that wealth is for the wealthy and privilege, including racial privilege, is for the privileged.

Look at this nightmare.

Kamiia Warren still had not paid the $4,984.37 judgment against her by late 2014. Three days before Christmas that year, JK2 Westminster filed a request to garnish her wages from her in-home elder care job. Five days earlier, Warren had gone to court to fill out a handwritten motion saying she had proof that she was given permission to leave Cove Village in 2010 — she had finally managed to get a copy from the housing department. “Please give me the opportunity to plead my case,” she wrote. But she did not attach a copy of the form to her motion, not realizing it was necessary, so a judge denied it on Jan. 9, on the grounds that there was “no evidence submitted.”

 

The garnishing started that month. Warren was in the midst of leaving her job, but JK2 Westminster garnished her bank account too. After her account was zeroed out, a loss of about $900, she borrowed money from her mother to buy food for her children and pay her bills. That February — five years after she left Cove Village — Warren returned to court, this time with the housing form in hand, asking the judge to halt garnishment. “I am a single mom of three and my bank account was wiped clean by the plaintiff,” she pleaded in another handwritten request. “I cannot take care of my kids when they snatch all of my money out of my account. I do not feel I owe this money. Please have mercy on my family and I.” She told me that when she called the law office representing JK2 Westminster that same day from the courthouse to discuss the case, one of the lawyers told her: “This is not going to go away. You will pay us.”

The judge denied Warren’s request without explanation. And JK2 Westminster kept pressing for the rest of the money, sending out one process server after another to present Warren with legal papers. Finally, in January 2016, the court sent notice of a $4,615 lien against Warren — a legal claim against her for the remaining judgment. Warren began to cry as she recounted the episode to me. She said the lien has greatly complicated her hopes of taking out a loan to start her own small assisted living center. She had gone a couple of years without a bank account, for fear of further garnishing. “It was just pure greed,” she said. “It was unnecessary.” I asked why she hadn’t pushed harder against the judgment once she had the necessary evidence in hand. “They know how to work this stuff,” she replied. “They know what to do, and here I am, I don’t know anything about the law. I would have to hire a lawyer or something, and I really can’t afford that. I really don’t know my rights. I don’t know all the court lingo. I knew that up against them I would lose.”

That’s right. That’s the way of America’s worst family. Take on those who can’t stand up for themselves, who can’t afford your lawyers. That’s “toughness” to them. They attack the weak. They prey on economic insecurity and exploit it for power. They dig at the margins of society.

America is a terrifying place. The line between getting along and tumbling into unrecoverable poverty is a thin one. There is no way that Jared Kushner will ever notice that $5000, minus lawyer fees. He’ll get, what, a grand maybe? Two? He would scoff at that if he found it in his glove box.

But that’s money that can ruin a life. It can push some down into the cracks, and foreclose on their dreams. It can spiral them into an unstoppable cycle of poverty and despair. It can stop them from finishing school, from opening a business, from providing even the most meager future for their kids. It can take away the roof over their head.

That’s Kushner. That’s the cruel and petty man behind the cruel and petty man-child. If he goes to prison for obsturctuion of justice it will be a perversion of the system. It’s the least of his crimes. This story proves that he represents the worst of the vampire rich, the heartless techno/plutocrats, with his vapid wife and snarling lawyers.

We had the American Psycho wrong with Don Jr. and Eric. It was Jared all along. There’s a reason why he’s the closest to Trump. They’re the same terrible person.

 

The Mercy Seat: Arkansas Executions Postponed

(Note: some quick hits today as I try to rebalance a full schedule and pretend the Stanley Cup playoffs haven’t actually started yet, and this is all some grim dream…)

Shortly before midnight, the US Supreme Court postponed another in the spate of executions Arkansas has been planning. The state had been planning to execute eight men in 11 days, which, if it seems just like a spate of spring cleaning, sort of is.

The ruling brought to three the number of condemned prisoners who have now been spared the audacious execution schedule set by Republican governor Asa Hutchinson in a rush to use a batch of the lethal injection drug midazolam before it expires at the end of the month.

Think about the cruel mentality that would think of such a thing, with no more thought than rushing to make some sandwiches before the mayo turns. But there is a twist: you can always get more mayo. The problem with midazolam is that even drug companies don’t want to make it, and it has to be imported from abroad, a process that is getting more difficult because there is growing evidence that the process of death is essentially torture.

But, for Hutchinson, and for much of the right, that’s the whole damn point. It’s showing that they are the tough ones, that they don’t care about your little PC whining on the rights of murderers. Which can be a compelling argument, emotionally. I don’t know the details of the cases, but I haven’t heard anything that any of these men have been wrongly convicted. So talking about the victims and justice is justifiably powerful.

It isn’t really about the victims, though. It’s about a display of power, and keeping the (generally) racialized mechanics of death in place. It’s about being able to say that even though far-left wing pharmaceutical companies want to stop us from carrying out the hard work of justice, we’re going to push through.

When Rick Perry got applauded for saying he never lost a moment’s sleep about the incredible number of humans he had put to death, that wasn’t a fluke. It wasn’t just “right audience, right time”. It was an encapsulation of GOP beliefs. There is no cruelty too great or meanness too small not to be applauded if it makes liberals angry.

Trump Signs Bill Defunding Planned Parenthood; Is a Republican (Or: Why Ivanka Trump Is A Terrible Person)

 

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“We care about people!”

 

The Hill

President Trump on Thursday signed a bill to nix an Obama-era rule that blocked states from defunding healthcare providers for political reasons.

The bill, which Democrats say is really an effort to defund Planned Parenthood, passed the Senate last month after Vice President Pence had to cast a tie-breaking vote.

Trump signed the measure behind closed doors in the Oval Office without media present.

When Donald Trump bombed Syria last week, after Ivanka convinced him that some Syrians were people (though not refugees), we got another spate of “Is Ivanka the moderating influence?” stories. This, combined with her hubby Jared seemingly pushing out Steven Bannon, or at least gaining the upper hand in their battle for influence, (all while already being absurdly powerful) led a lot of people to wonder if the admin was going to get more “moderate”.

Now, granting that, politically, Trump had to sign this or face a total revolt, we still have to accept that one of these things:

  1. Jared and Ivanka aren’t actually moderate;
  2. Jared and Ivanka aren’t actually powerful, or;
  3. Jared and Ivanka have zero positions except to help Trump succeed in building the family name/brand, whether that means sometimes acting like a normal Republican or sometimes acting like a loon, but taking care to protect their image.

Is there actually any question here?

The thing about Ivanka and Jared is that, regardless of how much they don’t hate gays, are aiding and abetting the most far-right administration in American history. Where was their power when pops nominated Jeff Sessions, an open white nationalist who is bringing white backlash back to power? Or Scott Pruitt, who has pledged to destroy the environment? Or when he signed the Muslim ban, got his ass handed to him, and signed another one? Or when he superempowered ICE and CBP?

No, these pampered self-serving idiots don’t get to have it both ways. Helping Donald Trump get elected damns them, no matter how much they claim to slow down his worst impulses Because, really: what have they done that has been any good? You got a Republican elected, and no matter how many “We Are Relatable Millennial” ads you photoshopped, we have a xenophobic reactionary world-eating government with your unstable sexual-assaulting childish dolt of a father in control. That’s your legacy.

I’m not terribly interested in Ivanka, but her CBS interview did make me realize, fully and finally, that she is her father, only prettier and more polished.

Ivanka Trump: I speak up frequently. And my father agrees with me on so many issues. And where he doesn’t, he knows where I stand. But–

Gayle King: Can you give us–

Ivanka Trump: –it’s not my administration–

Gayle King: — an example of something that you disagree with him on and that you think that by speaking up to him it made him change his position or soften his position? Are you comfortable with that?

Ivanka Trump: I think that for me this isn’t about promoting my viewpoints. I wasn’t elected by the American people to be president. My father is gonna do a tremendous job. And I wanna help him do that. But I don’t think that it will make me a more effective advocate to constantly articulate every issue publicly where I disagree. … And that’s okay. That means that I’ll take hits from some critics who say that I should take to the street. And then other people will in the long-term respect where I get to. But I think most of the impact I have, over time most people will not actually know about.

It’s not just that there isn’t an answer here (I don’t blame her for not saying “I disagree about XYZ”). It’s that she spins her lack of any impact as a virtue, telling us, despite all evidence to the contrary–despite her father’s administration being an absolute horrorshow for issues she pretends to care about–that she’s doing a lot. So much. You’ll see.

Believe me.

Sessions Ends Forensic Science Commission; Vows To Increase Wrongful Convictions

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“Science!” -Jeff Sessions, Presumably

Jeff Sessions, Attorney General and acting director of a Confederacy 2.0 Pre-enactment Society, has rarely made it obvious how far backwards he wants to take this country. I mean, it is obvious that in terms of criminal justice (which is to say, the mark of a civilized society), he wants to take it really far backwards. But how far back? And where? Is it 1960 Birmingham? 1840 Mississippi? 1970s New York? King Leopold’s Congo? England at the height of Social Darwinism?

How about all of the above, like a smoothie of racism and authoritarianism. He made it clear over the weekend that he intends to reinvigorate the “War on Drugs” that led to overwhelming incarceration rates, massive violence, and generations of black families torn apart (and which did literally nothing to wean this country off its overwhelming need for intoxicating substances).

This “war” melded domestically with the War on Terror, mingling to create hyper-militarized police forces that saw citizens as the enemy and acted as foreign occupiers. SWAT raids on no-knock warrants became the go-to means for every sheriff who suddenly saw himself a soldier. Tiny counties that see a handful of crimes a month had officers armed for Fallujah. It’s no wonder they stopped seeing themselves as public servants, and started acting like conquering vigilantes. And while rural meth dealers often saw the full weight of this nightmare, it was still directed largely toward minorities, a continuation of America’s historical legacy.

It isn’t universal, of course. Many police departments, especially in big cities, tried to find a way to balance the need for order with the genuine desire for community activism. Dallas was probably the most notable city in this regards, which is what made the murder of its police over the summer doubly tragic.

But the backlash to the killing was more than outrage and sorrow; it was a backlash against the very ideas that the Dallas police tried to represent. In that hot summer filled with racial hatred and mainstreamed revanchism, Donald Trump rose, promising with zero subtlety to take America backward in time. The racial text was crystal clear. And through the revolving cast of advisors, one man stood by him: Jeff Sessions, for whom one foot forward was an abnegation of tradition.

And now Jeff Sessions is using the power granted to him by the slave-state protecting wisdoms of the Electoral College to bring it all back home. His War on Drugs announcement was quickly followed by an announcement that he was ending the attempt to bring criminal justice up to speed with new scientific developments in the hopes of reducing wrongful convictions.

WASHINGTON — Attorney General Jeff Sessions said Monday he is ending an Obama-era partnership with independent scientists that aimed to improve the reliability of forensic science, as longstanding concerns remain about the quality of such evidence in court cases.

The Justice Department will not renew the National Commission on Forensic Science, a panel of judges, defense attorneys, researchers and law enforcement officials that had been advising the attorney general on the use of scientific evidence in the criminal justice process. The department will instead appoint an in-house adviser and create an internal committee to study improvements to forensic analysis, Sessions said.

To be sure, the gussy it up with weasel mouthings, thanking the commission for their service, and saying that the cause of justice will be better-served if it is handled entirely by law enforcement officers. In a vacuum, you could see why that is trouble, since they are geared toward conviction and enforcement (it’s why generals aren’t always strategists). Even progressive law enforcement types lean toward “law and order”, by default.

This isn’t even close to neutral vacuum, though. You think Jeff Sessions’s appointments will skew liberal?

Of course not. The whole point of this is to reverse the progress that was made in overturning fake science and prosecution-friendly standards that led to tens of thousands of wrongful convictions. The commission was recommending changing procedures that allowed for dubious expertise, like bite marks, to serve as evidentiary proof.

The reasons for this are clear. Sessions wants to move us away from any haltering, faltering, and at times bipartisan movements we made toward true justice (the kind practiced by legions of decent cops, judges, DAs and public defenders), and back to the days where you could be convicted for looking funny, pushed on a chain gang because a sheriff doesn’t like you, beaten in black rooms because some mustache thinks you mouthed off.

The War on Drugs was a hideous failure. Jeff Sessions wants not just to bring it back, to  reverse any attempts to mitigate its excesses. And he wants to do this because it wasn’t a failure for the right people. Its cruel impact hurt black families the most, as well as Latino, and poor whites. And that’s exactly the point.

The backlash against progress is contained like a whirlwind in his little petite Grand Wizard frame. This is what November brought. This is justice in the era of Trump.

In Privatizing Prison Nurses, Bruce Rauner Shows Depth of GOP Ideology

 

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“Why should the lucky ducks who work here get all the breaks?” -Bruce Rauner

 

 

Sometimes, it’s the big and obvious stories (like, say, delegating your son-in-law to handle Iraq, because “the kid had a globe as a child”) that reveal the whole ballgame. Sometimes it is obvious. But most of the time, the real roots of an ideology are hidden at the margins, small-seeming and usually state-level decisions that are page 8 stuff, legislative battles in sleepy capital cities. That’s where decisions that impact people’s lives are made, and far from the spotlight, that’s where the worst of Republican “governance” flails its tentacles.

That’s the case in Illinois, where Bruce Rauner is sort-of-unwittingly showing exactly what “no government” looks like. To sum up broadly, in case you haven’t been paying attention: Rauner wants to turn Illinois in Walker’s Wisconsin by starving the government, imposing austerity, and cutting off any social programs so that the rich can have tax cuts. It’s sheer Ryanism; it looks like Trump’s budget. The Dems, led by boss Mike Madigan, haven’t wanted to let him do this, for reasons both noble and political. Namely, Rauner wants to destroy unions, which is a huge Democratic base of power in Illinois, one of the few states that still has strong public and private sector unions.

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El Salvador Believes Water is Worth More Than Gold

 

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Different people might have different ideas about this picture

 

I was just reading this book that came out last year, An Indigenous People’s History of the United States, which isn’t so much a telling of the US from the native point of view, but rather looking at US history as essentially being about Indian removal. There’s a passage where the author, Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz, talks about the gold rush, and the enormous depredations inflicted on the indigenous people in the European-American rush for gold. Some of the worst slaughters of the Indian Wars were to remove natives from their land, so that the Americans could get gold. (Remember, Custer was in the Black Hills to drive out the Sioux so newfound gold fields would be safe for Americans.)

In talking about the actions of the gold bugs, who brought torture and rape and disease and death to the natives, and who fought and killed each other over it, she mentions, almost as an aside, that for the natives, “gold was irrelevant.” Which is wild when you think about it: it had always been there, but was just sort of an interesting rock, until some other people came for whom it had imaginary value, and then it suddenly became death.

And that’s just the first-level horror. The miners choked the streams with silt, and of course, runoff from mining pollutes water supplies all around, leeching into aquifers, into the bodies of fish and anything that eats fish, and throughout whatever path the dirty water flows. That’s one of the lingering effects of mining, and it is why the US has been trying to regulate the industry as part of the Clean Water Act. That’s going away with the Trump administration, but there are some places which show us it is possible.

In this case, El Salvador.

SAN SALVADOR — Lawmakers in El Salvador voted overwhelmingly on Wednesday to prohibit all mining for gold and other metals, making the country the first in the world to impose a nationwide ban on metal mining, environmental activists said.

Declaring that El Salvador’s fragile environment could not sustain metal mining operations, legislators across the political spectrum approved the ban, which had broad support, particularly from the influential Roman Catholic Church.

Supporters said the law was needed to protect the country’s dwindling supply of clean water.

“Today in El Salvador, water won out over gold,” Johnny Wright Sol, a legislator from the center-right Arena party, wrote on Twitter.

Now look: I’m not going to sit here and, you know, romanticize life in El Salvador. In some respects, it seems like a crummy place to live. But that’s sort of the point. Gold is really valuable, and I’m sure it could be used, but El Salvador is looking at long-term (and short-term) consequences of putting profit over elemental needs. It seems like the smart thing to do, and the obvious thing to do, which is why it is all the more bewildering that the dominant political party in the United States doesn’t seem to think so.

It’s essentially a continuation of the consistent project, which has been a 500-yr struggle to turn the indigenous land into capital.  It’s a past and present we can’t reckon with, and increasingly, it makes the future a more shaky proposition.

Reminder: Call Your Senator And Tell Them To Vote No On Justice Gorsuch

 

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Seriously, get on the horn

 

One way or the other, Neil Gorsuch will be the next Supreme Court justice. If the Democrats try to filibuster, Mitch McConnell will, with “deep sadness at this unprecedented assault on Presidential prerogative”, get rid of the filibuster. Or, knowing this, and knowing that Gorsuch is generally popular, will keep their powder dry, and maybe have some protest votes against him, but will largely let him pass through.

But they shouldn’t. The answer to Gorsuch should be the what Michael Corleone offered to Senator Geary: nothing. Gorsuch should not get one single Democratic vote.

This is partly a matter of politics (we have to fight everything about Trumpism to make sure that none of this is normalized and to get out the vote in midterms and local elections), but also, mostly, principle. It’s not just that this seat belongs to Merrick Garland. It’s that, in denying President Obama his right to nominate a Supreme Court justice, the Republican overturned the 2012 election.

There’s no other word for it: they nullified the election, trampled on the will of voters in the biggest display of contempt for the union since Wallace, or possibly the Civil War. In 2012, by a wide margin, voters elected Barack Obama to a four-year term. Everyone votes knowing that there is always the chance of a Supreme Court seat opening up. Mitch McConnell saw that he had a chance to overthrow the election and literally reduce Obama’s term to three years, and he took it. This wasn’t legally treason, but it was a moral assault on our democracy.

And they won, thanks to the slave-state empowerment of the Electoral College. And now they get to put on an extremely, overwhelmingly conservative justice, against the will of the majority of voters in two straight elections. And they will do so, and the nation will suffer.

Over at Slate, the incomparable Dahlia Lithwick talks about teeth-breaking GOP hypocrisy during the hearings, insulted as they are that anyone would even question Gorsuch. (“GOP Sen. Orrin Hatch lectured the Judiciary Committee about the fact that the Senate ‘owes the president deference over his judicial nominees.’ Hearing this, Democratic Sen. Patrick Leahy of Vermont about fell out of his chair.”)

We have to expect their cynicism. We have to be willing to stand up to their calculated outrage (which probably isn’t “phony”, per se; cognitive dissonance rules all). We have to let our Senators know that they aren’t in a hearing for Gorsuch, as we normally understand it. They are in a hearing for Merrick Garland’s seat, which was stolen through a subversion of democracy.

So call your Senator. Tell them you support them voting NO on Gorsuch, and not because of any reprehensible position of the other. That’s important, but in a way incidental, because a right-wing Scalia-y Justice is the outcome of the crime, not the crime itself. Give our Senators the strength and backing to protest this outrage against our very democracy.

A hard right court can destroy environmental pushback, end labor, and annihilate civil rights. Our country will be changed in ways it is hard to imagine. But it already has: the idea of a Presidential term was suddenly subject to a political gamble. That hits at the basis of our country. Tell your Senator to fight back against it. We might not win, but it’s how the fight can start.