zaterdag 5 december 2020

Neoliberal U.S.A.


With Rent Freezes About to Expire, Mnuchin Lobbies for More Wall Street Bailouts

As millions of Americans stand on the brink of economic annihilation, the money keeps flowing to Wall Street thanks to carefully contrived mechanisms to maintain a dying financial system afloat.

December 04th, 2020

By Raul Diego

Many prophetic scenes depicted in a series of Mayan codices written in the early days of the Spanish colony, and translated and compiled in El Libro de los Libros del Chilam Balam, describe a world foreign to its original authors. But, one which was barreling down on them and their civilization even as the Mayan high priests recorded their visions for each stop on their cyclical calendar system.

The metaphors they leaned on to describe these new Western values and systems were accurate, despite having nothing comparable in their own cosmology or parallels in their relationship with the earth. In one of the most striking prophecies, the interpreting shaman warns of the days of “the golden club,” subtly alluding to the new paradigm of wealth and commercial imperatives being imposed on their world.

Over six centuries later, the golden club era has become an epoch. The United States holds the biggest gold stick of them all and today, the descendants of the Maya and other ancestral victims of its inexorable advance find themselves at a potential tipping point, which may finally bring this historical aberration we now call capitalism to its natural end.

With human labor being swapped out for robots and algorithms in our modern-day world, the empire of commerce built over the last five centuries is quickly reaching complete self-sufficiency and discarding any excess human component. This includes the banking and financial sectors, which in some ways, is far ahead of the game.

Money or wealth no longer exclusively requires human labor to generate. The art of creating money out of nothing has been perfected by the financial sector, which has innumerable tools at its disposal to produce enormous wealth in a blink of an eye. An illusion that is kept alive only because they have a limitless pool of taxpayer money to hedge their often risky bets.

Increasingly, journalists at establishment media publications come from and represent the one percent that they claim to hold to account. 

The United States Treasury Department keeps a stash of that taxpayer money and uses it for currency speculation. The massive profits from the secret market activities can be used for things like funding foreign governments and many other applications at the discretion of the presiding administration. This slush fund was the central funding vehicle for the multiple economic relief facilities enacted in the CARES Act and is operated by the Federal Reserve on behalf of the U.S. Treasury Department.

The spigot from the money machine was opened briefly for the general public through the emergency legislation. But, Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin is getting ready to cut it off even as he opens it even further for Wall Street.


The homeless armies

By January 2021, renters in America will owe $34 billion to their landlords, according to global investment bank and advisory firm, Stout. More than half of the eviction moratoriums enacted to avoid an upsurge in homelessness during Covid lockdowns have been rescinded, including a federal moratorium that expired in July.

Rent and landlord relief programs across the country take up the lion’s share of CARES Act funding allocations, with states like Virginia having already spent over 38% of the money reserved for renters by early November. As the money runs out and the December 31 CARES Act cutoff date approaches, states are fumbling to keep enough cash in their coffers to stem the tidal wave evictions that are at the doorstep and leaking through profusely.

Cases like that of Ricky Johnson, as reported by The Virginian-Pilot, are happening nationwide and show how landlords are getting around moratorium rules and successfully evicting tenants over technicalities and dubious legal maneuvers. It was only through the efforts of a staunch group of friends and housing advocates, that Johnson was able to avoid ending up on the streets with his brother.

With their help, the Johnson brothers convinced a judge to vacate a previous order awarding possession of the property to a management company and managed to extend their stay of execution a paltry few weeks into next year. But, in the rapacious economic climate that characterizes the American real estate market, three months rent free can feel like a gift from the gods.

The gods, in this scenario, is the Department of the Treasury and its current head, Steve Mnuchin, who has formally asked that all but four credit facility programs created by the department to disburse CARES Act funds return any unused monies by the end of 2020 so they can be integrated into the regular federal pipeline, including the $429 billion supposedly leftover from CARES Act. Mnuchin was deliberately misleading about where that money actually goes since it lays bare a massive slush fund called the exchange stabilization fund (ESF) at the heart of these enormous giveaways to the biggest, richest, and most ruthless banks.

Of the total 13 facilities created by Treasury, Secretary Mnuchin had asked to spare only those which pertain to financial institutions like Citigroup and a handful of usual suspects. In a formal letter to Federal Reserve chairman Jerome Powell in late November, Mnuchin instructed the Fed to extend four programs directed at helping Wall Street beyond December, while drawing the curtain down on the remaining facilities and preening about programs like the Main Street Lending Program and their supposed “success” in abating an economic downturn during the pandemic.

Mnuchin’s declaration of victory is at odds with the reality of people like Dana Imus, who lost her job as a forklift operator in March and hasn’t been able to get a job since. Her landlord simply refused to recognize the federal eviction moratorium issued by the CDC in October. Similar problems occur throughout the country as property owners circumvent the laws through intimidation and legislative loopholes to force tenants out.

Tawanda Mormon from Cleveland, Ohio, was thrust into a couch-surfing lifestyle when the 46-year old was hospitalized in August and fell behind on her $500-dollar rent. Despite the CDC moratorium, Mormon was evicted in October and has been staying with friends and family. In Missouri and North Carolina, judges refused to abide by the CDC’s notice and landlords across the nation have been fighting the order in court.

Among the loopholes being used to put people out of their homes that the CDC’s order only applies to nonpayment of rent, which allows landlords to bring an eviction case on virtually any other grounds, such as excessive noise or trash. In addition, the CDC made the process more onerous for tenants seeking to avail themselves of moratorium protections by giving landlords the “right to challenge the veracity” of their claims.


Where’s the ball?

Mnuchin’s request that four credit facilities for the financial sector be spared the December 31 deadline, while pulling the cord on all the relief programs for small businesses and regular Americans included in the CARES Act, feels like politics as an incoming Biden administration is set to use the coming housing crisis a springboard for sweeping legislative action as potentially millions of people start to fall through the cracks come January.

Meanwhile, big banks continue to receive their billion-dollar stipends from Uncle Sam without interruption. Two of the four programs Mnuchin wanted off the chopping block are zombies from the 2008 financial collapse.

The White House doesn't know if the $2.2 Trillion-dollar stimulus package will cause inflation to spiral. But economists have no doubt. 

The Primary Dealer Credit Facility (PDCF), which targets large banking institutions and back then extended $8.95 trillion in secret, below-market-rate loans to three trading houses, constituting two-thirds of the original program’s total disbursements and The Commercial Paper Funding Facility (CPFF), which makes the Fed the buyer of last resort for loans in the broader economy, thereby providing liquidity in short term funding markets like small business loans. The Money Market Mutual Fund Liquidity Facility (MMFL), directed at hedge funds and non-bank financial entities, and the Paycheck Protection Program Liquidity Facility, which protects PPP loan originators from borrower default, round out the rest.

Financial data for these programs are kept secret by the Fed with the exception of the Paycheck Protection Program Liquidity Facility. According to Mnuchin’s letter, two programs whose data is verboten use “core” EFS funding. In other words, the money comes from a slush fund operated by the Fed on behalf of the Treasury Department and is where the aforementioned $429 billion Mnuchin is disingenuously requesting “back” from the Fed actually is.

The shell game between the Treasury and the Fed keeps the money flowing on Wall Street year-round. In September of 2019, the Fed moved $9 trillion cumulatively into Wall Street’s trading houses via repo loans, whose recipients are hidden from the public by Fed policy on its open market operations, which fund the loans.

By using the ESF to fund the federal relief facilities contained in the CARES Act, the Treasury avails itself of the Fed’s secrecy policy on open market operations, which don’t have to be made public until one year after the facility is terminated at the earliest, as stipulated in section 1103 of the Dodd-Frank financial reform legislation of 2010.

Requesting an extension for the four Wall Street-geared facilities until March 2021 also extends the time it will take for such records to see the light of day. According to Wall Street on Parade, it is likely that once disclosed, the financial data for these secret market operations will include the names of long-standing beneficiaries of government largesse.

The point of the game is to prop up America’s predatory financial sector, which has been going full throttle since the 2008 financial crisis when these types of facilities were created to prevent the country’s biggest financial firms from going into a liquidity crisis as they scour the globe for more markets to squeeze.



Mnuchin’s letter came two weeks after Democratic senators delivered a message of their own to the Secretary of the U.S. Treasury, in which they called for two facilities in the CARES Act meant for the regular citizen– specifically the Main Street Lending Program (MSLP) and the Municipal Liquidity Facility (MLF) – to be kept on and reformed.

Signed by Senators Chuck Schumer, Elizabeth Warren, Mark Warner, and Sherrod Brown, the letter makes a case for the expansion of these financial assistance programs citing statistics, which reflect the permanent closure of thousands of small businesses and declining revenue across the service economy.

The reality of crashing GDP numbers amid the pandemic tells the story, which includes a 41% decrease in the number of self-employed Black business owners between February and April and a litany of cases that show the “disproportionate economic impacts on minorities and women” caused by the pandemic and related restrictions.

As coronavirus panic hits the United States, big banks are using the crisis to push through new Wall Street deregulation 

The senators shed light on some of the major problems regarding these facilities and how they are set up to bypass the most economically vulnerable populations by requiring applicants to meet an income threshold that leaves out the vast majority of working-class Americans. In addition, they point to the billions of dollars left unused in the relief effort, which Mnuchin wants to keep in the ESF.

Fed Chairman Powell is quoted in the letter acknowledging that the MSLP currently targets “larger [businesses]” rather “than a lot of minority businesses.” The senators called for reforms that would change this by lowering the application threshold from $100,000 to $50,000 and expanding eligibility criteria to open the funds to more than the paltry 250 businesses currently eligible for the MSLP facility.

The fact that Mnuchin ignored the informed pleas of the Democratic senators is immediately chalked up to partisan politics. But, a gesture of goodwill by the outgoing administration does not help cement the division both parties exploit to achieve the aims of the interests that ultimately control them. A Biden administration will most certainly pounce on the morsels left behind by the outgoing Trump show to generate support for sweeping changes to the social contract as defined and imposed by the government through emergency response measures.


End of the katún

A desperate population facing evictions, food shortages, and falling income opportunities will find it difficult to resist any offers of federal help that come their way. It is, however, more important than ever as Americans are sheep herded into a “dark winter,” that they keep their eyes open.

Diane Yentel, president of the National Low-Income Housing Coalition, is sure that a Biden administration will have a historic opportunity to expand government assistance programs in the very first days of his presidency, like the $100 billion emergency fund proposed by advocates to cover renters, landlords, and homeless people. The question is whether there will be real justice behind any new programs or legislation brought forward to deal with a crisis that has been looming for a while.

The Maya prophets saw the unscrupulous nature of their new Western European rulers and the temporary nature of their enterprises, built up only to steal and cheat. Those of the “two-day banks” and “rats” figure prominently in their descriptions of the world they saw unfolding before them. Their advice was patience. The days of the golden club are numbered and will disappear soon enough when the next series of ‘katuns’ rolls around.

Feature photo | Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell fist bumps Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin after a House Financial Services Committee hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington, Dec. 2, 2020. Jim Lo Scalzo | Pool via AP

Raul Diego is a MintPress News Staff Writer, independent photojournalist, researcher, writer and documentary filmmaker.

We're Already At The 'Chinese Super Soldiers' Part Of The Propaganda Campaign


"What we know is that the nation’s top intelligence official says that the US has evidence that China is conducting biological experiments on its soldiers to enhance their capabilities," said CIA asset and reporter Ken Dilanian on a recent MSNBC segment designed to keep you nice and terrified of the west's current Official Bad Guy.

"I was somewhat skeptical about this claim, but when I started poking around I found that private American military experts in the think tank world have actually studied this issue and written about it and they have found that there is ample evidence that Chinese scientists are very interested in applying bio-technology to the battlefield," Dilanian continued. "Picture super strong commandos who can operate on three hours' sleep, or a sniper who can see twice as far as a normal person. This is the kind of thing that the Chinese aspire to doing, and you know, it’s problematic because in the west we consider that to be unethical, to tamper with the genes of healthy people."

Dilanian was referring to a claim made in a freakish screed of cold war smut recently published in the Wall Street Journal by US Director of National Intelligence John Ratcliffe titled "China Is National Security Threat No. 1". The piece includes an illustration of a red serpent shaped like the Great Wall squeezing the world in its coils, much like the globe-strangling tentacled beasts traditionally used in propaganda to drum up fears of communists and Jews taking over the world.

Ratcliffe claims that "China poses the greatest threat to America today, and the greatest threat to democracy and freedom world-wide since World War II," asserting that there are "no ethical boundaries to Beijing’s pursuit of power" and its "efforts to drag the world back into the dark”.

Completely unburdened by any need to provide evidence or even anything resembling subtlety, Ratcliffe lists as reasons we should all be afraid of China's sinister desire to "subordinate the rights of the individual to the will of the Communist Party” such things as intellectual property theft and the fact that China (like all major nations) often seeks to influence US politics. Slipped in among these mundane and unimpressive claims, Ratcliffe writes that "China has even conducted human testing on members of the People’s Liberation Army in hope of developing soldiers with biologically enhanced capabilities."

A claim without evidence made by a spy chief about the world being threatened by Chinese supervillains with extraordinary powers given to them by unethical Chinese mad scientists should of course be dismissed with a scoff and a vulgar gesture. Instead, CIA assets like Dilanian are leading the charge to throw the entire might of the plutocratic media into driving this nonsense as far into western consciousness as possible. This ridiculous story has been picked up not just by Murdoch outlets like The New York Post, but by outlets like The Guardian and NBC as well.

Truth, as they say, is the first casualty in war. With its emphasis on global narrative control in lieu of conventional military tactics, this is doubly true of cold war.

Painting the Chinese government as a cartoon villain willing to perpetrate any evil to conquer the world and drag it into the darkness, opposed only by the plucky forces of light in our own government, is as transparent a propaganda construct as it gets. If we had an actual news media this idiocy would be called out, questioned and and scrutinized for all the world to see, and the public reminded of the US intelligence community's extensive history of lyingto promote pre-planned agendas against targeted governments.

What we will get instead is a steady stream of increasingly incendiary claims about China being parroted without evidence by the mass media who serve as mouthpieces for the most sociopathic government agencies on this planet. This is because China, like Russia, Iran, Venezuela and the other nations which have resisted absorption into the US-centralized empire, insists on its own self-sovereignty and has therefore found itself in the imperial crosshairs.

There is no evidence that China wants to take over the world. There is only evidence that it wishes to create a multipolar world, which has been the norm throughout the entirety of human history minus the last three decades. People have been told that China is trying to replace America as the global hegemon so many times that they simply accept it as a basic fact, but there is no actual evidence anywhere that the Chinese government has any interest in ruling over a bunch of random foreigners with whom it has little in common.

“One myth I think really that needs to be dispelled is that somehow China is aiming to replace America and going to run the world, and it’s not,” said Chinese venture capitalist and social scientist Eric Li in the John Pilger documentary The Coming War on China. “First of all, the Chinese are not that stupid. The west, with its Christian roots, are about converting other people into their beliefs. The Chinese are not about that. It’s just that–again, I’m not degrading the western culture, I’m just pointing out the inherent nature, the DNA of two different cultures–the Chinese two thousand years ago built the Great Wall to keep the barbarians out, not to invade them.”

Whenever I criticize the US empire's aggressions toward and propaganda about China my social media notifications are quickly flooded with blithering imbeciles who claim I love the CCP and think it's awesome and wonderful. I don't know what species of brain worm makes people think if you oppose western imperialism it means you love the governments who are being targeted by western imperialism, but it would be good if it went extinct. I simply wish to live in a world where armageddon weapons aren't being brandished about in steadily escalating acts of insane brinkmanship.

There is no sane reason we should have to live on a planet where governments are waving nuclear weapons at each other in increasingly aggressive battles for global domination. There is no reason the western empire and China cannot pursue detente and work to peacefully coexist on this planet. Most of the rank-and-file public you see babbling hysterically about China online are completely unaware of the existence of the word "detente" and don't even know it's an option; they're so saturated in brain-melting propaganda that they think these standoffs which are seeing more and more military buildup near China's borders are the only possibly course that can be taken.

Well it's not the only possible course. We humans, as a species, can use the power of our numbers to force an end to the collision course with disaster we've been set on by a changing world order meeting with the perverse neoconservative ideology that US hegemony must be preserved at all cost. It absolutely is possible for humanity to live in a state of healthy collaboration with itself and with its ecosystem, if only we can pry loose the fingers of the ruling sociopaths from the steering wheel and turn our world toward peace and harmony.

With the incoming Biden administration being packed to the gills with ravenous China hawks, it is clear that this multi-front cold war and its accompanying propaganda campaign is only going to get crazier and crazier. Be a voice beckoning the world to sanity.

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