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NYC about to deal another blow to already-squeezed landlords

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NYC about to deal another blow to already-squeezed landlords

As if a rolling eviction moratorium weren’t enough, Gotham’s rental-housing industry faces a new headache: The city’s Rent Guidelines Board is leaning toward another rent freeze on one-year leases for rent-stabilized apartments. The Mayor Bill de Blasio-packed RGB’s proposal is a sort of parting slap from Hizzoner to already-squeezed landlords.

De Blasio sure knows how to keep his hand in the pockets of landlords when it comes to raising property taxes. But a fourth rent freeze in eight years will thrust landlords and their aging housing stock into a downward spiral of deferred maintenance and upgrades. 

The RGB has a mandate to balance the needs of tenants and landlords. But balance may as well be a four-letter word, as de Blasio from the start made sure his RGB implemented politically motivated rent freezes and historically inadequate increases, each year tainting this supposedly impartial process.

For years, his administration spewed rhetoric about preserving the city’s rent-stabilized housing stock. Yet in practice, it took steps to choke off the operating revenue of the biggest providers of affordable housing. The RGB approved rent-guideline increases averaged 0.75 percent over the past seven years, while operating expenses, on average, increased 3.6 percent during the same period; property taxes alone rose by an average of 6 percent. 

After the state Legislature passed the anti-landlord Housing Stability and Tenant Protection Act of 2019, some city officials expressed concern that the new laws might have gone too far. They urged the RGB to implement rent increases, to allow landlords to properly maintain their rent-stabilized apartments. The RGB ignored those concerns, and then came the pandemic. 

The HSTPA has prevented building owners from properly reinvesting and doing the necessary building and apartment upgrades. Rainy day reserves are depleted, and zero relief has been provided to landlords during the COVID outbreak. But don’t blame the pandemic. Rent freezes and rent increases averaging less than 1 percent have cemented de Blasio’s miserable legacy of failure in preserving affordable housing.

The RGB’s recent Income and Expense study, which doesn’t reflect the full impact of the HSTPA and the pandemic, shows that the number of distressed buildings had already increased in 2019, that is, pre-pandemic. And the highest share of those buildings represent prewar construction, a clear indication that poor policy choices had endangered the city’s oldest affordable-housing stock before anyone had heard of the coronavirus.

Landlords are still required to pay their city property taxes, mortgages, heating fuel and other expenses, and it costs money to repair, maintain and operate their buildings. Yet they can’t collect. This, even as thousands of tenants, including those who never lost their jobs or collected enhanced unemployment benefits, aren’t paying, not because they can’t afford their rent, but because the eviction moratorium says there are no consequences for not paying rent. 

Meanwhile, in addition to a 16-month eviction moratorium, any tenant financially impacted by the pandemic is on the verge of getting up to 12 months of rent arrears — this on top of $11,400 in stimulus payments for a family of four regardless of employment status and other generous financial assistance from the feds.

RGB members wouldn’t impose a rent freeze if they viewed the figures objectively. Indeed, even in a hypothetical, non-pandemic world, the RGB’s own data would have called for a rent increase last year. But despite increased operating expenses and, for the first time in two decades, a decrease in building revenue, the RGB played pandemic politics with a rent freeze.

Landlords are fully aware of the pandemic’s economic impact on families; they’ve experienced the same struggles personally and as small business owners; they sympathize. Yet de Blasio’s RGB, when it takes its final vote on June 23, will make rent-stabilized housing providers the scapegoat for economic conditions caused by a global health crisis and the political class’ own policy failures. Why blame the pandemic or themselves when they can blame landlords? For progressives like de Blasio, it’s easier to point the finger than to take the blame for a housing disaster he created long before the pandemic.

Vito Signorile is vice president of communications at the Rent Stabilization Association, which represents 25,000 owners of more than 1 million rent-stabilized apartments in the five boroughs.

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Opinion

Washington Post tried to smear me for criticizing race theory and failed

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Washington Post tried to smear me for criticizing race theory and failed

The Washington Post attempted to smear me, the nation’s most prominent opponent of critical race theory — and it backfired spectacularly.

The fight over CRT has consumed American media. Conservatives have rallied against the toxic neo-Marxist ideology that seeks to divide the country into the racial categories of oppressor and oppressed; liberals have defended it as a “lens” for understanding vague buzzwords such as “systemic racism” and “racial equity.”

I’ve been on the cutting edge of this battle. My investigative reporting, including columns for this paper, has exposed CRT in education, government and the corporate world. I’ve shed light on public schools forcing 8-year-olds to deconstruct their racial identities, telling white teachers they must undergo “antiracist therapy” and encouraging white parents to advocate for “white abolition.” 

These stories have attracted millions of readers, helping spark a rebellion among parents in school districts across the country — and making me a target for the woke left.

In recent months, outlets including The New York Times, The New Republic, MSNBC, CNN and The Atlantic have relentlessly attacked me. But the coup de grâce, they believed, would be a 3,000-word exposé in The Washington Post. The paper dispatched two reporters, Laura Meckler and Josh Dawsey, and spent three weeks preparing a vicious hit piece against me, accusing me of a range of intellectual crimes.

Only the Post’s story rested on a bed of lies. Among other things, Meckler and Dawsey fabricated the timeline of events surrounding my involvement with former President Donald Trump’s executive order on CRT; incorrectly claimed that a Cupertino, Calif., diversity lesson I exposed never happened; and insisted that my reporting about the US Treasury Department’s diversity programs was false.

After the article was published, I went through it line-by-line and made a point-by-point rebuttal on social media and to The Washington Post’s editors. Within 48 hours, the paper’s story had collapsed.

The paper admitted to fabricating the timeline of events, having originally claimed that a Fox News appearance I made on Sept. 1 had “soon” been followed by a visit by me to the Trump White House and thereafter by an anti-CRT memo from Trump’s budget chief (in fact, I didn’t visit the White House until Oct. 30, long after Team Trump issued the memo and an anti-CRT executive order).

Further, the paper retracted or added six full paragraphs to the story and reversed its accusation that I invented the Cupertino story. The training did, in fact, take place, the paper conceded.

As for the assertion that I made false claims about the Treasury training, the paper insisted on the absurd point that the material — which told employees that “virtually all white people . . . contribute to racism” — did not mean that “all white people are racist,” as I had reported.

This was a deep embarrassment for The Washington Post, which then attempted to hide behind vague “clarifications” and sent a vice president of communications to do damage control. But what the paper did was indefensible: It dispatched deeply partisan reporters to do a hatchet job on a fellow journalist, with no regard for the facts or probity.

Here’s the problem: I have a large social-media platform and can defend myself. But what about ordinary Americans who are smeared, slandered and degraded by hyper-partisan outlets like The Washington Post?

The episode also shed light on the bizarre determination of the prestige press to play down just how radical and fundamentally un-American CRT is. The Washington Post story framed CRT as merely an attempt to push white Americans to “confront systemic racism and white privilege in America,” to prompt a “reckoning with America’s past and present sins.”

Yeah, right. Meanwhile, in the real world, CRT trainings involve re-enacting racial segregation, only this time in the name of progress, as happened in the King County Library System (Seattle). They claim that “all white people play a part in perpetuating systemic racism,” as Buffalo students are taught. And they accuse the US education system of perpetuating “spirit-murder” against black kids.

This is far more than a healthy reckoning. It’s indoctrination in ahistorical nonsense. It’s demonizing vast swaths of America over skin color. It’s racism. Democracy does indeed die in darkness, as The Washington Post’s motto proclaims. It’s just that the paper itself helps spread much darkness.

Christopher F. Rufo is a contributing editor of City Journal.

Twitter: @RealChrisRufo

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Beijing suffocates Hong Kong’s loudest voice for liberty

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Beijing suffocates Hong Kong's loudest voice for liberty

For a brief blip, there was hope that Apple Daily, Hong Kong’s pro-democracy newspaper, would be able to hold out for a bit longer against the Chinese Communist Party. This, despite the fact that the party froze the assets of its jailed owner, Jimmy Lai, under a draconian new “national-security” law.

This month, even after authorities tagged Lai’s 71 percent majority stake in Next Digital, Apple Daily’s publisher, the media company said it had sufficient funding to continue operations for at least 16 months.

Following a June 26 board meeting, however, it’s likely the paper will soon cease publication for good, according to Lai’s right-hand man and adviser Mark Simon. “It’s essentially a matter of days,” Simon told Reuters.

The ChiComs’ financial vise-grip worked. Vendors trying to deposit money into the company’s bank accounts have been rejected. And another high-up source told Reuters that the freezing of the company’s assets — sans trial or due process, naturally — has made it virtually impossible to pay wages or electricity bills.

Lai always knew things might turn out this way. When the mainland Communists and their local henchmen first attempted to pass a Hong Kong national-security law back in 2003, Lai told Simon, “If they can close Apple and Next, they will.”

“My boss Jimmy Lai has never had any illusions about the Chinese Communist Party,” Simon tells me. “Over the years, we have had hundreds of conversations about the CCP killing off Apple Daily. He said he would be there to the end. He’s in jail, so he is good for his word.”

Now that the CCP has seemingly “taken care of” its biggest enemy in the territory, Lai, it has moved to target the rest of Apple Daily, including other journalists and executives. And no wonder: Like their boss, and despite the risk of arrest and imprisonment, Apple employees have gone on shining a light into the ugly face of tyranny.

And so: On June 17, 500 police officers raided the newspaper’s offices and arrested the company’s chief executive officer, Cheung Kim-hung; chief operating officer, Royston Chow; chief editor, Ryan Law; associate publisher, Chan Pui-man; and the platform director of Apple Daily Digital, Cheung Chi-wai.

All have been arrested under the national-security law — which prohibits “collusion with a foreign country or with external elements to endanger national security” — and denied bail.

Following the arrests, Secretary for Security John Lee gave a chilling news conference, warning Hong Kongers, “If you stand with these suspects, you will pay a hefty price. You should cut ties with the suspects, or you’ll regret it very much.”

Let that seep in: If you stand for a free press and personal liberties, you will pay the consequences.

Lee added: “The suspects have been arrested on strong evidence that they’re conspiring to endanger national security. It is your choice whether you regard them as part of you . . . [or] go about your journalistic work lawfully and properly.” 

That is a threat to foreign journalists, too. If what Apple Daily does amounts to nefarious “collusion,” all Western newspapers and journalists need to be on notice.

But we still have a job to do: While Beijing squelches the truth and imprisons its tellers, we get to stand in for them. “Jimmy made it clear since 2019, we publish until they stop us by force,” Simon told me. “But no martyrs. As Jimmy said, ‘History and our souls tell us that freedom always wins. You have to be around to make that win happen.’”

While Lai and his Apple colleagues sit behind bars, it’s up to those of us in the free West to use our freedoms to speak out for them.

Elisha Maldonado is a member of The Post editorial board and a senior fellow for the Independent Women’s Forum.

Twitter: @ElishaMaldonado

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Iran just elected a mass murderer — and Team Biden wants to negotiate

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Iran just elected a mass murderer — and Team Biden wants to negotiate

Doing the same thing and expecting different results is the definition of insanity — except, it seems, for the Biden administration, where such folly passes for foreign policy.

This month, President Joe Biden and his team watched as another dismally unfree election in Iran resulted in Ebrahim Raisi taking the reins as president. What to do when your signature diplomatic initiative hangs on dealing with a regime now governed by a man best known for his role in executing thousands of political dissidents in the 1980s (the female ones raped to preemptively keep them from reaching paradise)?

The answer from the White House: Tell the same old story and hope for the best.

That story, authored by former President Barack Obama, is a simple one: Either we negotiate with Tehran or we risk a total, all-out regional war.

Writing in Foreign Affairs last year, Jake Sullivan, now Biden’s national-security adviser, expressed this idea succinctly. Washington, he argued, should use “US leverage and diplomacy to press for a de-escalation in tensions and eventually a new modus vivendi among the key regional actors.”

America, he added, “has repeatedly tried using military means to produce unachievable outcomes in the Middle East. Now it’s time to try using aggressive diplomacy to produce more sustainable results.” Which, translated to real-world policies, means lifting sanctions on Iran and resuscitating the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, better known as the Obama nuclear deal.

The election of a murderous barbarian, the Smart Set in Washington insisted this week, changes none of that, largely because it’s the supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, and not the president, who really pulls the strings.

“Iran will have, we expect, the same supreme leader in August as it will have today, as it had before the elections, as it had in 2015 when the JCPOA was consummated for the first time,” explained State Department spokesman Ned Price. In other words, don’t look at the bloody butcher, folks — it’s business as usual with Tehran.

It’s true that the Iranian presidency is toothless, but what the Smart Set misses is that Khamenei himself is an intransigent theocrat who will never, ever surrender his regime’s hatred for the West and designs on the region. And given Khamenei’s age (82) and ailing health (he reportedly has prostate cancer), the regime is sending an unmistakable signal about its future direction by selecting a hard-liner’s hard-liner in Raisi.

More important, the choice isn’t war or appeasement. Taking office, President Donald Trump challenged his predecessor’s core assumption with a smarter approach: applying maximum pressure on the mullahs to isolate them and keep them busy dealing with a restive population.

It worked. Despite Team Obama’s dire warnings that Iran was mere months away from full nuclear capability, the mullahs didn’t build a bomb. Instead, they were consumed with popular protests in more than 200 Iranian cities, by Iranians who sensed that the Trump presidency was a vulnerable moment for their corrupt and tyrannical rulers.

Meanwhile, reassured by Washington, a host of Arab nations signed the Abraham Accords, making peace with Israel and ushering in the most promising moment the region had known in decades.

Why, then, undo what’s been working? Why the return to assumptions and ideas proved false and harmful? Why does the president tell himself and us the same bad story, even as a man sanctioned by the United States for his role in crimes against humanity takes the helm?

It’s because Obama and Biden weren’t ever interested in solving a concrete problem, like improving relations with Iran or decreasing the likelihood of an armed conflict. They were, and remain, committed to a far more audacious — and dangerous — vision, one which involves remaking the Middle East with Iran at its center.

It’s what Michael Doran and Tony Badran, two of America’s most astute Mideast analysts, called the Realignment, a doctrine focused on getting all Middle Eastern nations to, as Obama memorably put it, “share the neighborhood” with Iran, believing the regime in Tehran to be a rational one that responds to traditional incentives and can keep the region balanced in ways that benefit US interests.

Let’s hope that the presidency (and perhaps future supreme leadership) of a mass murderer can focus minds in Washington about Tehran’s realities.

Liel Leibovitz is editor at large at Tablet.

Twitter: @Liel 

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