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Exclusive: What John Oliver Gets Wrong About Rising Rents

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What John Oliver Gets Wrong About Rising Rents

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High housing costs are no laughing matter, as John Oliver’s latest monologue confirms.

On Sunday, the comedian devoted a 22-minute segment of his HBO show Last Week Tonight to the issue of rising rents and all the attendant problems of housing unaffordability and instability that those can cause.

“Rents are skyrocketing, and that is the last thing you want to hear is on the rise, along with COVID cases, murder rates, and Henry Kissinger’s life expectancy,” quipped Oliver. “You or someone you know may be struggling to find a place right now or being priced out of where you currently live by your landlord.”

Rising rents are a very real phenomenon driven by a mismatch in many cities between the number of homes that are being built and the number of people who would like to live in them. The wedge between supply and demand is created by cities’ elaborate zoning codes, price regulations, and permitting processes that all combine to reduce housing availability and raise prices.

It should be no surprise that rents are high when a majority of land in major cities is off-limits to new development, it takes years to approve whatever new housing is allowed, and some of those new units have to be given away at below-market rates.

The details of these restrictions are a wonky topic, to be sure. One expects only so much depth or insight from a comedic explanation of it all. But even allowing for that handicap, Oliver’s treatment of the housing supply issue proves to be superficial, brief, and confused.

Oliver either misunderstands or fails to explore the link between government regulation, housing supply, and housing market outcomes. His perfunctory explanation of it serves only as a brief prelude to his attack on the real villains in his story: greedy private landlords with carte blanche to raise rents and evict tenants.

The solutions he puts forward, therefore, have little to do with eliminating needless, harmful regulatory barriers to new supply. Instead, he calls for legally constraining landlords’ ability to raise rents and evict tenants and declaring housing a federally funded, government-provided right.

Oliver starts off his segment well enough.

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“You’ll often hear that high rents are a supply and demand issue; basically: too many renters, not enough units. And that is partially true because there are not nearly enough affordable units in the U.S,” he says.

Things go downhill fast, however, as Oliver adds that the supply narrative is “a little weird because… you probably see new buildings cropping up all the time.”

“Apartments are being built, but the problem is, thanks in part to local NIMBY opposition to more affordable multifamily housing, it’s mainly been at the high-end,” he says. “This serious lack of affordable housing has enabled landlords to charge higher rents for the units that exist.”

The above statement demonstrates an easy-to-make but very serious misunderstanding of how housing markets work.

A lack of affordable housing doesn’t enable landlords to charge higher rents on existing units. Rather, a lack of housing per se allows landlords to charge higher rates for the units that exist, which makes them unaffordable.

The corollary is that building new housing, even high-end housing, improves affordability for everyone by absorbing the demand of high-income renters, who are no longer bidding up the costs of older, naturally cheaper housing units. A growing body of empirical research shows this is a fact, not a free market fantasy.

Oliver doesn’t really grok this point. Instead, he heaps a lot of blame on the greed and avarice of landlords who unscrupulously can raise prices because of a lack of capital-A affordable housing—where low rents are subsidized by the government or mandated through rent control.

That misidentified starting point leads him to support a lot of counterproductive solutions. Evidence of those solutions’ failure is treated as a need for more government intervention still.

Oliver argues that we need rent stabilization—a form of rent control that caps price increases at a certain percentage per year—in order to improve affordability.

Despite Oliver’s misleading statement that only two states (California and Oregon) and D.C. “mandate rent stabilization,” it’s actually a common policy in America’s most expensive cities.

In San Francisco, a synonym for housing unaffordability and dysfunction, about 40 percent of the city’s housing stock, and nearly two-thirds of its rental housing stock, is covered by the city’s decades-old rent stabilization program. In New York City, another epicenter of the country’s housing affordability crisis, close to half of the city’s 2.1 million rental housing units are rent-stabilized.

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One criticism of rent stabilization is that rents are permitted to grow at a slower rate than operating costs, forcing building owners to cut back on maintenance and other expenses. Oliver acknowledges the reality of deferred maintenance but attributes it to loopholes in rent stabilization law that are exploited by devious landlords.

“Even when protections exist, landlords can find ways around them. For instance, they might try to force rent-stabilized tenants out by allowing a property to fall into disrepair or by harassing them with incessant construction,” he says. The odd implication is that landlords try to force out tenants by both repairing a unit and not repairing a unit.

Oliver also heaps criticism on landlords for not accepting housing vouchers and discriminating against tenants who’ve previously been evicted.

I think good faith people can disagree on how rational or fair it is for landlords to take past evictions into account when considering whether to rent to a tenant or whether or not to accept housing vouchers.

Surveys of landlords find that many landlords don’t accept vouchers because the inspections and paperwork that come with the program raise costs and delay their ability to rent out units. The federal government’s own research has found landlords’ willingness to accept vouchers falls in tight rental markets, where supply is limited and tenants are easier to come by.

In a world of housing abundance, more landlords would likely be willing to take a chance on a once-evicted tenant or put up with the bureaucracy that comes with a housing voucher than let a unit sit vacant and unproductive.

Oliver doesn’t explore either possibility much. He does, to his credit, say we should make housing vouchers easier to accept.

Then, he speeds toward a grand conclusion: “We need to agree housing is a human right,” he says, assuring the audience “that is not actually just some empty slogan.”

To guarantee that right, Oliver suggests massively increasing federal rental assistance and federal funding for affordable housing construction. That would be coupled with expunging tenants’ eviction records, guaranteeing tenants’ a right to a lawyer in eviction proceedings, and ending the mortgage interest deduction.

The trouble is that the former two solutions aren’t going to do much good if one doesn’t repeal the same restrictions that prevent new, private housing from being built. In fact, they’ll likely make problems worse.

Dumping a bunch of housing vouchers into supply-constrained housing markets will only raise prices. If there are not enough units already, and it’s difficult to build more, landlords can easily raise prices to capture the value of the new vouchers without fear that they’ll lose customers.

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People that don’t receive a housing voucher will see their housing costs go up. The government will have to perpetually increase voucher funding to try and stay ahead of the higher prices they’re causing.

Meanwhile, the same regulations and approval processes that stop developers from building “luxury” high-rises also prevent the construction of “affordable” high-rises. No amount of federal money is going to change the fact that your city takes multiple years to approve a new multifamily development on one of the few properties where it’s even legal.

Indeed, throwing a bunch of federal money into affordable housing construction will just crowd out private construction. A number of studies show that new, price-restricted affordable housing raises nearby home prices. The people who qualify for the affordable housing benefit. Those who don’t are back to fighting each other for an even more limited supply of market-rate units.

Oliver concludes his segment by saying, “I would argue what we really need to do is fundamentally change our mindset away from simply hoping we can tinker around the edges of housing policy and the private market will sort the rest of this shit out. We have tried that for decades, and yet, here we are.”

I agree with that. Unfortunately, his solution of housing subsidies, government-funded housing supply, and tenant protections are the definition of tinkering around the edges—even if they come with an astronomically high price tag.

A more radical solution would be to declare building housing as a human right subject to no arbitrary restrictions on residential density from city hall and no inherent veto from the neighbors. If you own a property, you can build as many homes as you want on it.

That would force the greedy landlords Oliver demonizes into lowering their rents. It would force the private equity firms he criticizes to invest in housing construction instead of just housing ownership and management.

Better yet, it wouldn’t subject housing investment to the whim of budget writers in Washington, D.C., Albany, or any of the other capitals that caused the housing affordability crisis to begin with.

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Exclusive: World Leaders Denounce Supreme Court Ruling – TalkOfNews.com

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Compelling Television

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“Several female world leaders denounced the Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe v. Wade as a setback in the global push for gender equality,” the New York Times reports.

“The United States is one of the few countries to restrict access to abortion in the past two decades, while dozens of other countries have expanded access.”

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Exclusive: Sovereign-citizen scam artists bolster their audiences by adding QAnon beliefs to their mix – TalkOfNews.com

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Bobby Lawrence

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The Anti-Defamation League has been warning about this coalescence since January, with Lawrence and his cohort David Straight, who have been holding these seminars around the country and, thanks to the fresh appeal of absorbing QAnon beliefs into the similarly conspiracy-fueled worldview of sovereign citizens, have increasingly been packing them in.

As their backgrounder explained:

Lawrence teaches sovereignty with a QAnon bent, urging his followers to become “American State Nationals” before Trump is reinstated as president. “American State National” is one of many terms that sovereign citizens use to distinguish themselves from citizens under the jurisdiction of the illegitimate, de facto government. “Trump is working on the ‘Fall of the Cabal’ which will allow our Constitutional Republic to Rise again, however the newly partially restored Constitutional Republic will need We The People of restored status via ‘The Great Awakening’ to fill and function in the newly partially restored Constitutional Republic,” Lawrence posted to Telegram in October 2021. “This will only be accomplished via We The People reclaiming our Birthright by becoming American State Nationals… As the number of American State Nationals and one of the People increases, so will the Function of the [sic] our Constitutional Republic. It will start at the absolute local level (you and your neighbors) and then grow and grow and grow.”

Sovereign-citizen and QAnon beliefs meld together almost seamlessly, as the ADL explains, because their fundamental worldviews involving a massive global cabal nefariously conspiring to enslave mankind are so similar. The sovereign movement’s belief that the current U.S. government is illegitimate serves to support their view of the Biden presidency as fraudulent, as well as the means for “freeing” themselves from such “tyranny.”

Lawrence primarily promotes a version of sovereign-citizen beliefs called “Redemption Theory,” which deals with the core concept that everyone who is an American citizen is designated a “strawman” corporate entity at birth, making them subsidiary properties of America Inc. “Redemption” is the process by which they split the strawman from the flesh-and-blood human, and its purpose is two-fold. As the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) explains:

Once separated from the corporate shell, the newly freed man is now outside of the jurisdiction of all admiralty laws. More importantly, by filing a series of complex, legal-sounding documents, the sovereign can tap into that secret Treasury account for his own purposes. Over the last 30 years, there have been hundreds of sovereign promoters packaging different combinations of forms and paperwork, attempting to perfect the process. While no one has ever succeeded, of course, they know with the religious certainty of a true cult believer that they’re close. All it will take is the right combination of words, say the promoters of the redemption scam.

Lawrence regularly regales his audiences with his version of the “redemption” scam, but with a powerful QAnon flavor. At an April 21 “Patriots Arise” event in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania—where he shared the stage with Republican gubernatorial candidate Doug Mastriano—Lawrence launched to into a rant that manifested that commingling two conspiracist universes produces twice the crackpottery.

He explained how modern births and the birth-certificate process are actually satanic rituals:

Fred read a quote from [Woodrow Wilson adviser] Edward Mandell House where they talk about this construct, where they’re gonna make slaves of us all, through a system of pledging, where we pledge our children as surety through something called a birth certificate, and a satanic ritual that takes place. …

So I’m gonna walk you through a satanic ritual that takes place, and it started with the birth certificate, which was actually chartered under the Department of Transportation. And everything is Admiralty. We all live under the water, and what is law, and where does law come from? Where does the word “law” come from? Land, air, and water. And where the founders of this nation thought about what law was, was the Bible, the Geneva Bible, the King James Version 1611 edition, where we got the word law from. And land, air, and water was in Genesis Chapter 1, verse 24 through 28, “and God created the heaven and the earth.” And God giveth man dominion over the earth, and God giveth man dominion over the land, and all the creatures that walk and creepeth. And God giveth man dominion over the air, and all the birds that fly, and God giveth man dominion over the water, and all the fish that swimmeth. And this is law.

Lawrence then repeated stock sovereign-citizen beliefs (all every bit as risibly false as his etymology for the word “law”) that there are three tiers of law: Canon law, common law, and Admiralty law, each reflecting rule over air, land, and water respectively. Then he went on:

So how do they get you to pledge your child, and how did our parents and our grandparents pledge us as property, as surety, in our personification, all capital names? It was through an evil, satanic ritual called the birth of a child.

You see, a mother goes into a foundling center, and she goes to see the doc—tor; a tor is a bill of lading when a ship arrives at the dock—and the mother puts her feet up on the stirrups and the mother’s water breaks, and the child comes out of the water through the birth canal, like you berth a ship, into the air, into the hands of the dock—tor. And then, historically speaking, a satanic ritual would take place—a child was smacked on the butt, turned upside down, cried out in fear and pain. And then before the child could put their feet on the land and take the breath of God as a free creation of God, a legal bond document came out. It’s on bond paper because it’s a banking instrument, it’s a surety bond.

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And the child’s soul was taken on the back of that document. It was called the soul print. And then the umbilical cord and the afterbirth was thereby dead and abandoned by the mother, because that was part of your birth, part of your being born. The construct, the evil says that now that is dead, a part of you died and now you are a dead vessel, you are an all-capital legal fiction. They called you a person. If you look at your driver’s license, if you look at every document that government or any business sends you, it’s in your all-capital name. Your personification. Now the Bible tells us not to take on the persona, not to take on the person.

Lawrence also harkened to the stock radicalization belief in “red-pilling”: “We are living in Babylon right now,” he said. “It’s a corporate construct. It’s a Matrix. Keanu Reeves has said publicly that The Matrix is a documentary of how we are living our lives. Your money’s not real, you don’t own anything.”

And near the end, he wrapped it all up with a classic QAnon-style claim that Donald Trump is secretly One Of Them:

Yes, President Trump has done many things for us. And I won’t go into a lot of them, because quite frankly a lot of folks aren’t ready for it. And it’s hard to verify. But Donald Trump has told you all, if you go back to his speeches, he’s told you that when he comes back, he’s gonna be little letters, lower case. Look to his speech in 2021 at CPAC in Texas. He said when we go back to the White House this time it’s going to be in little letters. He told you at another rally that people are sovereign. He told you at another rally that you’re all millionaires. He told you in another rally that you’re the elite. And they’re the scoundrels. He told you at another rally that the Bar Association is corrupt. He tells you on and on—he might talk for two hours, but only four sentences are for those who are awake. And there’s a huge difference between being woke and awake, is it not?

Lawrence has formed close associations with leading QAnon influencers such as Ann Vandersteel, Allen and Francine Fosdick, the Pennsylvania-based hosts of the QAnon show Up Front in the Prophetic, and David Straight.

Vandersteel posted proudly announced on Gab that she was “officially an American State National,” meaning she no longer was beholden to the U.S. government. She touted the supposed benefits of becoming an “American state national,” such as freedom from paying federal taxes to getting to “vote as a delegate, which has the power of four votes,” in an appearance on “The Conservative Daily Podcast,” hosted by Joe Oltmann and Max McGuire.

She said she had been introduced to these ideas by Lawrence, who ran for the U.S. Senate in Pennsylvania in 2018. Vandersteel indicated that Lawrence was radicalized afterward through his contacts with David Straight, a sovereign citizen activist who also promoted QAnon theories. Vandersteel claimed that Straight was a “commissioner on President Trump’s child sex-trafficking commission.”

ADL analyst Mark Pitcavage explained Lawrence’s rant on Twitter, noting that “redemption theory” originated with a sovereign-citizen guru named Roger Elvick back in 1999, and it became widespread within the movement.

“Basic redemption theory is something like this: In 1933, the US went off the gold standard and could therefore no longer pay its debts to the international bankers.  To get around this, the government turned humans into collateral by converting birth certificates into stock,” he wrote. “They did this in part by creating fictional duplicates of every person (dubbed ‘strawmen’).  You can tell when a document refers to the straw man instead of the flesh and blood person because the name will be in all caps, not upper and lower case.”

He also noted that much of the talk is devoted to explaining the sovereign-citizen belief that the conspiracy which infiltrated and subverted and replaced the original, legitimate government with a de facto tyrannical government had done so by replacing constitutional law with inferior “maritime” or “admiralty” law.

“Finally,” he noted, “the Satanic references thrown in there are derived from QAnon and presumably designed to make these theories more palatable to QAnoners.”

Given the size of Lawrence’s audiences now, and the regularity and breadth of “American State Nationalist” training sessions, the ADL’s January warning—“Given the flexibility of the sovereign citizen movement and its pseudo-legal tactics, it is quite possible that increasing numbers of QAnon adherents will find sovereign citizen ideas attractive in the future”—seems more than prescient. It may, in fact, prove to be understated.

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Exclusive: Politico Reporter: Two Democrat Lawmakers Privately Admit ‘Nobody Gives A Bleep About January 6’ – TalkOfNews.com

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Politico Reporter: Two Democrat Lawmakers Privately Admit ‘Nobody Gives A Bleep About January 6’

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Politico correspondent Betsy Woodruff Swan revealed at least two Democrat lawmakers speaking with her privately have admitted: “Nobody gives a bleep about January 6,” referring to the Democrat’s spectacle-laden committee investigating the Capitol riot.

Swan’s comments came during a panel discussion with NBC News anchor Chuck Todd.

Todd referenced a poll that indicated an ideological divide between those who think former President Donald Trump truly believes in his claims of election fraud and those who say he’s deliberately spreading lies.

“Which brings me to the all-important question, Betsy: Does the Jan. 6 hearing break through at all? Is this more proof that it does not?” Todd asked.

Her answer will be a major blow to the anti-Trump representatives who have used the select committee’s public hearings to peacock in front of the nation.

“I don’t think it does,” Swan responded.

RELATED: Texas GOP Passes Resolution Stating Biden ‘Not Legitimately Elected’

Nobody Gives a Bleep About January 6

Swan replied that the public hearings on the Capitol riot aren’t making a dent with voters and cited a pair of Democrat lawmakers who said people in their districts just don’t care.

“I’ve talked to two separate Democratic members of Congress over the last couple of weeks about Jan. 6, obviously can’t say who, and both of them have said offhandedly, nobody gives a bleep about January 6 when they’re talking about their districts and the way that elections play out,” she said.

Which shouldn’t be a surprise, given the meltdown of the American economy.

Adam Kinzinger and Liz Cheney, who have used the hearings as an audition for a post-congressional career with either CNN or MSNBC, will be hardest hit by that news.

Still, Swan expressed the importance of the committee’s work.

“The reality is – obviously, it’s a very important issue … It’s important, it’s a key part of understanding American history and the democratic trajectory that this country is on,” said Swan.

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That would be true if the committee weren’t absolutely overloaded with panelists who have already drawn their own conclusions and vehemently despise the former President. It’s as biased a committee as Pelosi could possibly have selected.

Swan went on to note that the current economic hellscape in America is preventing people from being able to devote time to caring about the hearings.

“Top-tier issues are material concerns,” she said. “How are people paying their mortgages? How much does it cost to get milk and bread? How much does it cost to get gas?”

RELATED: One Of The January 6 Committee’s Conspiracy Theories About Riot Debunked By Capitol Police

Democrats Had Hoped It Would Be a Politically Useful Tool

The New York Times reported earlier this month that Democrats were hoping the public hearings would help them in the upcoming midterm elections.

“With their control of Congress hanging in the balance, Democrats plan to use made-for-television moments and a carefully choreographed rollout of revelations over the course of six hearings to remind the public of the magnitude of Mr. Trump’s effort to overturn the election, and to persuade voters that the coming midterm elections are a chance to hold Republicans accountable for it.”

Cue the sad trombone now that some of their colleagues have admitted ‘nobody gives a bleep about January 6.’

The media have been touting the ratings for these hearings as some sort of bonanza for Democrats though the numbers, taken into context, show a very mundane drawing and on one network at least, even struggling to compete with a program called “Young Sheldon.”

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Perhaps the panel could do a parody bit during their hearing called Young Adam. That’ll likely draw more eyeballs.

The January 6 committee on Thursday announced that they were postponing their next round of hearings into July in order to further examine “important” information.

They only had 17 months prior to do that.

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