We don’t have those things anymore

Every picket fence a moat

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If you'd like to watch a video of my reading and chat with Ashley Feinberg and David Roth at the Strand Book Store in New York from the other day you can do so here thank you.

In 1762 Ben Franklin came back to Philly after a few years away in London and delivered what would go on to become one of the most stirring and penetrating speeches of his illustrious life: The rent, he said, is too damn high.

More or less that’s what he said.

So begins this alarming but not really because no shit series in The Economist about the disastrous housing crisis in the richer countries around the world like the U.S. and the U.K. and Australia.

Between 2000 and 2007 they write “America’s household debt rose from 104% of household income to 144%. House prices rose by 50% in real terms. The ensuing wave of defaults led to a global recession and nearly brought down the financial system.”

It hasn’t gotten all that much better since then.

Furthermore and probably most relevant to you and to me they write that according to The Joint Centre for Housing Studies of Harvard University “the median American rent payment rose 61% in real terms between 1960 and 2016 while the median renter’s income grew by 5%.

I’ve mentioned this before but our subsisting in a well below market but still expensive apartment in metro Boston one of the most expensive areas in the country is owed entirely to the hanging-by-a-thread and diminishing everyday lifespan of a nice elderly woman downstairs. Once she dies we’re fucked but that’s the market at work baby.

I sometimes marvel at how I was ever even able to live as a young person in Boston. Granted my twenties were quite some time ago ah fuck goddamnit and we would pack like five to seven people in a shitty house but young people still do that type of shit now and its untenable. You can’t even live as a dirtbag in a major city anymore. And buying a home seems no more within reach of the average person than going to the fucking moon.

Up until the mid-20th century prices in housing were relatively stable the Economist explains. Improvements in transportation meant people could live farther away from work meaning there was typically plenty of land outside of cities to develop. I’m much too stupid to read the Economist but I think that’s called supply and demand. Of course the explosion of the suburbs brought with it all other manner of problems but there was less regulation on where and how much you could build at the time both in cities and outside of them. Today “the rate of housing construction in the rich world is half what it was in the 1960s. It has become particularly hard to build in high-demand areas. Manhattan saw permission given to 13,000 new housing units in 1960 alone, whereas for the whole of the 1990s only 21,000 new units were approved.”

And many of them being built now in cities like New York and Boston sit vacant as investments owned by rich people from around the world who never had any intention of living there.

This speculating shit applies to retail real estate as well and it’s fucking up the neighborhoods you used to love.

The reluctance to approve of new and needed housing in cities and closer suburbs today is in part because the generations who are safely entrenched in their own homes have taken a fuck you I’ve got mine attitude when it comes to development. Every picket fence a moat.

“In 2001 William Fischel of Dartmouth College proposed his ‘homevoter hypothesis.’ The thinking runs that owner-occupiers have an incentive to resist development in their local area, since doing so helps preserve the value of their property. As home ownership rises, therefore, housing construction might be expected to fall.”

All of which brings us to me and probably you and what they call the pernicious “creeping dysfunction that housing has created over decades: vibrant cities without space to grow; aging homeowners sitting in half-empty homes who are keen to protect their view; and a generation of young people who cannot easily afford to rent or buy and think capitalism has let them down.”

“The soaring cost of housing has created gaping inequalities and inflamed both generational and geographical divides. In 1990 a generation of baby-boomers, with a median age of 35, owned a third of America’s real estate by value. In 2019 a similarly sized cohort of millennials, aged 31, owned just 4%. Young people’s view that housing is out of reach—unless you have rich parents—helps explain their drift towards ‘millennial socialism.’”

The obsessive cult of homeownership is not a natural part of the human condition they explain. It has not always been this way and in fact it’s a relatively recent development. In other rich countries around the world like Japan and Germany that have a willingness to develop more housing or a culture comfortable with longterm stable renting it is not like it is here.

Every home you do not buy or every apartment you do not move into is a closing off of a potential future you imagined for yourself however briefly. The light in here is very nice you think as you’re walking from room to room. I could see myself living in that light for a long time you think.

I was thinking about that as we got the news earlier this week that yet another home we had attempted to let a bank rent to us for thirty years went to a higher bidder. This home in question was… fine. It was basically fine. It was updated and had a finished basement but it was on a steep slant and who knows maybe water would come in during storms and wasn’t the street kind of busy and the fake stone in the kitchen was a little tacky I guess and there was a random fire hydrant in the middle of the lawn. These are the types of things you tell yourself after the fact to soothe the loss of that potential life you had briefly imagined for yourself within those walls. Fuck that place you think. Fuck that potential life we might have made there. It’s like when you get rejected or dumped by someone and instantly all of their flaws you had managed to overlook become readily apparent.

This last place had over thirty bids on it I guess so what hope did we have and when homes and condos even an hour outside of Boston where we’ve been looking start at like $400,000 it is just out of the realm of possibility for even two forty-ish relatively stable professionals to say fuck it you want $400,000 how about $450,000 just to get the ball rolling and sweeten the pot. But that’s how it works now so I guess we’ll just go fuck ourselves.

I just read a story about how in the rich liberal city of Newton not far from where we live now citizens are rip shit about an already approved plan by the city for a new housing and commercial development project. People there are doing everything they can to reduce its size or to make sure it does’t happen at all. The group behind the push to stall the project is called RightSize Newton because I guess it’s the right size now and any bigger would be bad.

“A total of at least 1,900 units and potentially over 2,600 new unit means more residents, more traffic, more pressure on our schools, services and infrastructure,” the group writes. “Growth can be good, but only when it addresses the issues that it creates. This is too much too quickly,” they write and you probably recognize the pandering fuck you in that type of comment. Yes yes the idea of making things better for more people is good in theory but we have to forestall it for as long as possible and in the meantime if they decide to build homes for a bunch of unwanted people elsewhere then so be it.

That’s the same type of thinking you hear from deranged liberals who use the term “purity test” by the way. Don’t let the perfect be the enemy of good they say by which they mean I don’t want to deal with any of this hard stuff now so shut the fuck up.

Sometimes you look at a house or apartment or condo and the fucking guy in the suit is showing you how the light switch works and you’re going haha and he’s going haha and you go how recently was the vinyl siding put on and he says I’ll have to check and then you walk around and you see a room and your entire life expands to fill that room. 250 square feet of a life and you think I could see myself dying in this room someday but you won’t you’re going to die in some other room and you don’t know what it looks like yet. Some room you can afford to die in.

It’s Martin Luther King Jr. Day today and I was reminded of this piece from New York last year about whether or not we’ve realized any of his dream as of yet. Racial relations in America have indeed improved since then it explains and that seems true. But all of the sharper edges of King’s dream have long since been sanded down and forgotten. Racial equality wasn’t enough on its own he said at the time.

Whether we have made any progress toward realizing King’s more radical dream — the one he was chasing at the time of his death — is far less clear. In 1968, King was not dreaming of an America that would judge the worthiness of its people on the basis of their individual character, regardless of their skin color; rather, he was dreaming of one that would judge all its people as being worthy of guaranteed health care, housing, employment, and/or an unconditional, living income, regardless of their character. And King understood that the realization of the former ambition in no way guaranteed the subsequent triumph of the latter one.

“We must see that the struggle today is much more difficult,” King said in “The Other America,” the sermon he spent much of the last two years of his life preaching. “It’s more difficult today because we are struggling now for genuine equality. It’s much easier to integrate a lunch counter than it is to guarantee a livable income and a good solid job. It’s much easier to guarantee the right to vote than it is to guarantee the right to live in sanitary, decent housing conditions. It is much easier to integrate a public park than it is to make genuine, quality, integrated education a reality.”

Still got a long way to go on that part buddy!

Margie Maric is the manager of Travel Inns in Branson, Missouri where she’s lived for seven years. There are about fifty other tenants there this story in the Springfield News-Leader explains. For now.

“Out of all my tenants, 90 percent of them aren't just tenants. They are my friends,” she said. "More than half been here three-plus years. Some longer than I have.”

She and the other tenants and the tenants of a number of other extended stay motels in Branson may soon face eviction because they do not have the proper licensing and inspection the city now requires and that is fine places where people live should indeed be held to a certain standard but what happens to all the people living in them if they cannot get things in the proper order?

“There are more than 20 decades-old extended-stay motels on and near the Branson strip,” the story explains. “They are mostly hotels and motels built in the 1980s and 1990s when Branson was in its tourism heyday.”

As tourism waned and vacancies multiplied, owners began converting them into extended-stay motels where folks could pay by the week and reside more or less permanently.

Over the years, the motels gained a reputation for high crime and unhealthy living conditions. But for many of those employed by Branson's tourism industry, the extended stays are their only affordable housing option.

In recent years, it's been estimated there are about 2,500 people living in Branson's extended-stay motels. Of those, some 600 are kids.

Some of the people who live there say if they’re forced to move to a less central location they will not be able to get to work. Others say there is no way they could afford the deposit required to move into a more traditional apartment.

I don’t know maybe those people should pull themselves up by their bootstraps you might be thinking if you somehow stumbled upon this newsletter by accident and are a terrible person.

Last year I wrote a piece on MLK Day which you can read here although it’s paid-subscriber only. Part of it went like this:

I just watched an interview King gave in 1967 to NBC and the interviewer asked him what it was about the negro uniquely among other groups of “immigrants” (lol) to America that has prevented them from assimilating and he explained it like so:

“White America must see that no other ethnic group has been a slave on American soil. That is one thing that other immigrants haven’t had to face. The other thing is that the color became a stigma. American society made the negro’s color a stigma.”

“America freed the slaves in 1863 through the Emancipation Proclamation of Abraham Lincoln, but gave them no land, or nothing in reality, as a matter of fact, to get started on. At the same time America was giving away millions of acres of land in the West and Midwest, which means there was a willingness to give the peasants from Europe an economic base. Yet it refused to give its black peasants from Africa, who came here involuntarily in chains and worked free for 244 years, any kind of economic base. So emancipation for the negro was really freedom to hunger, it was freedom to the winds and rains of heaven, freedom without food to eat or land to cultivate. Therefore, it was freedom and famine at the same time. And when white Americans tell the negro to lift himself by his own bootstraps, they don’t look over the legacy of slavery and segregation.”

“Now I believe we ought to do all we can and seek to lift ourselves by our own bootstraps, but it’s a cruel jest to say to a bootless man that he ought to lift himself by his own bootstraps. And many negroes, by the thousands and millions, have been left bootless as a result of all of these years of oppression and as a result of a society that deliberately made his color a stigma and something worthless and degrading.”

Still though maybe some of those people could get a nice honest job like being a teacher?

Here’s another story from the News-Leader. It begins with a second year teacher in Everton who makes under $27,000 which is just above the state minimum for teachers of $25,000.

“[Tiffany] Gladden takes home $1,740 a month or roughly $400 a week.”

“I made more money in retail than I do as a teacher,” she said.

“There are nearly 80,000 public school teachers in Missouri, and 2,300 are paid a salary below $32,000.”

The state average is $32,465.

I couldn’t give much of a fuck about the prosperity and health of the New York Times or the Washington Post. They both seem to be doing very well and that is great for them. Last night the Times had an hour and half reality show on TV about who they were going to endorse for the Democratic nomination lol. They made a whole ass glossy NFL Draft selection show about themselves being reporters. The only thing that was missing was a bunch of Bernie supporters booing the shit out of them in the audience like cursed Jets fans.

But newspapers like the News-Leader and many others around the country — the type of newspapers I get a lot of my Hell World stories from like this one I wrote about in here from the News-Leader last year about a dying man whose hospital room was raided by police because someone said they thought they smelled marijuana — are fucking struggling man. They cannot afford to produce a glossy TV show they can barely even afford to produce a newspaper.

A lot of the disappearing newspapers are even being turned into luxury condos which conveniently for me ties today’s two themes together nicely.

This isn’t good! Yes it’s good we still have venerable journalistic institutions but like think about even quality top level analysis like the shit from the Economist I included up above. It’s very interesting but it doesn’t tell you anything that a local story about people who live near you being ground to hamburger wouldn’t tell you more effectively. It’s just statistics when it’s written from that far a vantage it’s not human beings. As more local newspapers disappear or are shaved down to bare bones especially after the recent Gannett and Gatehouse merger which consolidated 266 newspapers under one group of scum-sucking money turds that outlook is probably not going to get much better.

While you may get a story in a national paper about say a housing crisis in Missouri or despicably low pay for teachers there or in any other state there is a difference in how it is covered. The national reporter goes ah look at that that sucks then they’re like ok see ya later and they go back to New York or D.C. It’s just different when it’s covered by people who have to live in the community they’re writing about. They have skin in the game.

One such reporter at the News-Leader is a fella named Greg Holman who wrote that piece about the dying cancer patient the cops fucked with. Sensing foreboding things to come after the merger Holman and his colleagues at the paper decided it was time to unionize. I spoke with him about their reasoning for doing so and about the state of local and regional newspapers in general.

What were the conditions that lead to the decision to unionize?

First some background: The Springfield News-Leader is Southern Missouri’s principle newspaper. It’s been owned by Gannett for forty years. We have fourteen staff journalists in the newsroom for a metro area of about 460,000 people. Ten years ago the number of staff in the newsroom was more like sixty. 

On January 6 every full time non-manager signed a union card. We’ve been working on this since early November and it looks like the election is going to happen on January 31.

You said other similar sized papers are looking into it as well? 

Nine days after we announced, unbeknownst to us, a paper in Indiana, the South Bend Tribune began unionizing too. They have roughly thirty staff journalists and the vast majority signed cards. They were bought by Gatehouse about a year ago, but now as of November it’s all New Gannett. They have about 260 newsrooms roughly now. 

Does the merger worry you?

Basically at both of these sites the big feeling is a fear of layoffs. We’re talking about extremely Midwestern polite people. Extremely non-ideological, frugal, and ethical to a fault. In Springfield this is a leaderless movement. Basically what happened is in November as the merger was happening there was story out of a blog in Detroit about how the Free Press, a Gannett paper, was getting notice they were going to have to cut like four out of one hundred jobs in the newsroom. Here in Springfield we weren’t getting any kind of communication about what might happen. They had this all-corporate Skype meeting that didn’t say much other than yeah there will be a staff reduction. 

I got pissed off. I thought what’s good enough for Detroit is good enough for Springfield. One night after work I texted all my colleagues and before I knew it everyone was meeting in my apartment.  Everyone was fed up. The big thing is we want the company to at least provide the option for voluntary layoffs and decent severance. It seems like anybody over forty here has a huge target on their back because they make “all this money,” as reporters, in Southern Missouri.  

Another frustration of ours is wages and benefits.  We have executives with golden parachutes. The company proxy report last year said our CEO at the time was making $5.2 million which is one hundred times the median wage for Gannett employee.  Here most people in our newsroom are not making that median wage, only around $44,000. Now we have two CEOs because of the merger, one of whom works for a management company so his salary is undisclosed.  

In layoffs here after the merger it turned out we let go our front desk staffer. So if you come to our newspaper you can’t even come in. We learned about this after the fact. We also no longer have any capacity to take a payment. There’s a sign on the door saying you have to call an 800 number.  In a rural community like this that is received so bizarrely. If you get a call to go to the front desk because someone wants to talk to the newsroom you’re going to see some elderly person trying to pay their bill. This is normal in a small town. We’re no longer accommodating that. 

One of our execs takes a plane from Virginia up to New York for sales meetings. That may be very normal behavior in D.C. or New York, but for us when we have a young sports reporter who is told you can’t even travel for your beat, that’s weird. 

How has the decision to unionize been met by management?

We started meeting informally in a colleague’s apartment. We had this emotional come to Jesus moment where everyone was airing their worries. One of them is how is the company going to react to this decision. On January 6 we told our local management, who we get along with perfectly. The Editor in Chief is a friend of mine for 15 years. They were blindsided. We kept it a secret, as any organizing unit should.  They sent in two upper level execs from USA Today as a surprise. It was a good dialogue. They came in, and after a few minutes, it seemed like they weren’t going to do anything to dissuade us. 

In the process of meeting I ran across this instagram account someone at NBC News had created to union bust. It was nonsensical shit. Did you see this? I just thought it was so bad, it actually functioned like an ad for starting our own unionizing movement. I sent it to everybody in our group. It was ludicrous. 

I guess to the credit of our executives they didn’t try anything like that with us. The question a lot of us have is, we have the votes, so why are you spending on airfare and hotel to come convince us not to do something we’re already convinced on. Aren’t resources precious around here?

What has been the general reaction to the idea?

The reception has been really good in the local community. Our local government reporter went on AM talk radio. I can’t speak for how it is in Massachusetts but in Southern Missouri AM talk radio is not going to be union drive central. The local business journal ran a nice op-ed. The local CBS affiliate did two stories, public radio did one. I haven’t heard anyone say anything negative in our community. I’ve heard people say they’re subscribing to the News-Leader because we’re unionizing. This is a very socially and fiscally conservative part of the country.  The Arizona Republic was the larger Gannett paper that unionized several months ago. The Morning Call in Allentown has been supportive, as has the Florida Times-Union and the LA Times. It’s been a really strong outpouring of support. I think everyone is realistic. This may turn out to be a futile gesture, like managing decline, but we think it’s important. We’ve emphasized we just want some kind of voice that brings a little bit of discussion back to the community level.

I don’t think people understand that if local papers go away the information diet for the entire country changes. The biggest cities for Gannett are Phoenix, Milwaukee and Detroit. This is not your typical “elite coastal media.”

I talked to a colleague at the Columbia Daily Tribune. They have something like five journalists. Columbia, Missouri and Springfield, Missouri are not that dissimilar in size. That’s the fear, that in the future are we going to be working with that small a staff? We used to have a business reporter, a culture reporter, a health reporter. We don’t have those things anymore. Those are pretty important topics. Everyone is scrambling trying to fit those beats in. I’m supposed to be the investigative reporter, but lately I’ve been doing breaking news. It’s great, I’m happy to do that work, but what stories are we missing? 

What is a story your paper has done that might’ve been missed otherwise?

I’m from Branson about forty minutes away. One of my colleagues Jackie Rehwald did a story... Branson is unusual. There are 2,500 residents, 600 of whom are children, who live in extended stay hotels built for tourists in the 80s and 90s. You have people living in these dilapidated hotels. The government is trying to crackdown and make sure they’re up to code. Some of these places are being closed down. Jackie and her photographer went down there to document people living in extreme precarity. Where are they going to go? This is not a story that is going to be told elsewhere. It’s a community of people working seasonally, wages aren’t very high. They work like mules at the paper in Branson, but there’s only so much they can do. 

So are you hopeful?

This has been a surprisingly easy process. Because that’s how stark I think things are. There was a lot of conflict surrounding the Arizona Republic unionizing but our experience has been the opposite. Everyone on the team and staff are like-minded. Even our relationship with corporate has been pretty good so far. 

Do you have a sense of how many Gannett papers are unionized?

I want to say it was roughly twenty on the Gatehouse side or eleven or something on the Gannett side. Maybe roughly thirty out of 260. 

What are some other Hell World-y stories you’ve been covering lately?

It’s not something necessarily that the local community is happy to grapple with, but there are a lot of signs of economic distress here. This past week the newspaper had four stories about companies doing staff reductions. I reported three of them. I don’t think they’d be covered as thoroughly if we weren’t here 

Bass Pro restructures 'several teams,' won't say how many jobs cut

Russell Stover location in Ozark to close as part of 'restructuring'

Reports: 'Major cuts' likely at iHeartMedia, owner of several Springfield radio stations

Is there any support or help you would want to ask of readers?

Follow our Twitter. We have things like addresses people can use to contact corporate. The next thing is going to be the bargaining phase. We ask everybody to support us through this. 

The moral thing to do is to put the worker first

I am calling on you because I want to carry your voice and give you the power you deserve to have

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A fucked up thing happened the other day at the anti-war rally which is that as I was standing there in the pissing cold rain trying to tweet on a wet screen and listening to speaker after speaker explain what a disastrous idea it would be for us to engage in a war with Iran a political candidate I had never heard of came up to speak and I thought to myself hmm I want to know more about this person. If you want to read more about that protest you can do so here in this Hell World from the other day.

The candidate in question is a woman named Ihssane Leckey whose campaign page you can find here and she said the government is going to blame every evil in the world on Iran to justify this war and thankfully the war part hasn’t come true officially speaking as of yet but they still went ahead and did all the blaming she mentioned.

In any case I interviewed Leckey today about her run for Congress in Massachusetts in a crowded field to take over the seat being vacated by Joe Kennedy and we’ll get to that in a bit but first some of the usual type of Hell World shit.

The husky president breathed very normally into a microphone while all the generals stood with impeccably professional posture behind him and he said that he didn’t want war with Iran he said instead we “will immediately impose additional punishing economic sanctions” on Iran which doesn’t technically count as war because sanctions only make poor people suffer and die slowly and not quickly like a bomb does. It’s basically no big deal if you think about it.

Fox & Friends this morning had a soldier on who was wounded fighting for our freedoms in Iraq and I do feel the appropriate amount of interpersonal sympathy for this fellow human being in that I wish that hadn’t happened to him and that he hadn’t even been there for it to happen in the first place but one thing he said was that if we don’t start supporting people like him and fuck it the police and firefighters too throw them in there then they won’t fight for us in the future and tbh buddy that would be fine with me. I’ll make a deal with all the troops and troop lovers which is that the second the tanks start rolling down from Niagara Falls into Buffalo and these guys go and repel the fearsome attack I will stand up and salute the flag with tears in my eyes but until then no thank you for your service.

This is how the cult of the civic religion of war in America works you distill all of the destruction and chaos we’ve exported around the world into the symbol of the singular brave soldier and of course you aren’t going to question this brave soldier are you and by extension of course you aren’t going to question the people who sent him to kill and be killed and so what’s worth even debating here. If you’re against endless war then you’re against this nice young man who wants nothing more but to protect you from evildoers so next thing you know we all just shut the fuck up and keep our heads down.

Trae Young of the Atlanta Hawks has eliminated one million dollars in medical debt for the people in his city who cannot pay it back and that sounds very nice until you remember that medical debt is made up and is not real in any way and hospitals and insurance companies basically pull a figure out of their ass when it comes time to send you a bill hoping that the amount you pay or that insurance companies pay will come as close to that number as possible. It’s essentially the Showcase Showdown on the Price Is Right. How much is this three day stay in the hospital? uhh… fucking … fifty thousand Bob?

Young didn’t donate one million dollars he donated ten thousand dollars through the group RIP Medical Debt and now $1,059,186.39 in debt will be erased because again these numbers are not real.

Medical debt isn’t real but people dying because they’re afraid of incurring medical debt sure is. “Millions of Americans – as many as 25% of the population – are delaying getting medical help because of skyrocketing costs,” this piece in the Guardian by Michael Sainato explains. Here’s how it opens:

Susan Finley returned to her job at a Walmart retail store in Grand Junction, Colorado, after having to call in sick because she was recovering from pneumonia.

The day she returned, the 53-year-old received her ten year associate award – and was simultaneously laid off, according to her family. She had taken off one day beyond what is permitted by Walmart’s attendance policy.

After losing her job in May 2016, Finley also lost her health insurance coverage and struggled to find a new job. Three months later, Finley was found dead in her apartment after avoiding going to see a doctor for flu-like symptoms.

“My grandparents went by to check on her, and they couldn’t get into her apartment,” her son Cameron Finley told the Guardian. “They got the landlord to open it up, went in and found she had passed away. It came as a complete surprise to everybody. It just came out of nowhere.

“She was barely scraping by and trying not to get evicted. She gets what appears to her as a basic cold or flu, didn’t go to the doctor and risk spending money she didn’t have, and as a consequence she passed away.”

Asked about Finley losing her job, Walmart declined to comment, saying personnel files from 2016 had been moved offsite.

Weird that you never see dozens of op-eds month after month written by Democrats pleading with Republicans to nominate a reasonable compromise candidate that they could vote for in good conscience.

I just read a completely cursed headline which went a little something this:

The Forbes 2020 30 Under 30 Fighting Mass Shootings With Bulletproof Hoodies

Under it was affixed this completely cursed paragraph (emphasis mine).

Vy Tran, the 26-year-old founder of Wonder Hoodie, aims to shake up the civilian body-armor industry by offering better head protection, interchangeable styles and modern fashion at comparatively affordable prices. Her company, which designs and manufactures bulletproof hoodies, is one of the latest entrants in the budding market for bulletproof clothing. Tran’s goal is to see body armor normalized and more accessible through lower-cost items that are the same caliber as what law enforcement might use.

The concept of bulletproof clothing for the child targets that we subject to our regularly scheduled rituals of blood cleansing and geography class isn’t new of course and we all get very dutifully red-assed about it every time some new version of it is in the news. Back in August I wrote about how bulletproof backpack companies regularly see huge spikes in sales after a mass shooting. Around that time Kamala Harris said something very reasonable but nonetheless cursed in that it even had to be said which was this: “Your back-to-school shopping list shouldn’t have to include a bulletproof backpack.”

I agree with that Kamala Harris thank you for saying that one thing.

I was thinking about the Wonder Hoodie because I saw a tweet that injected heretofore unheard of levels of depression about the subject into my already teetering brain the other day.

Here are some of the highlights from the sales page:

  • Growing Future Program: When purchasing a bulletproof hoodie for your child, know you can always trade-up for a larger size when they outgrow it (shipping and size surcharge not included).

  • Every 10 hoodies we sell, we donate 1 to a public school teacher.

  • LIFETIME WARRANTY: If you get shot (God forbid) with our hoodies on, we'll send you a replacement hoodie FREE of charge. Just include the police report or news clip.

Thinking about submitting the notarized paperwork to the bulletproof hoodie company to prove that my child was shot in an Officially Certified and Documented School Shooting and feeling very calm.

The marketing copy doesn’t have any tips for students at a number of schools around the country that prohibit them from wearing hoodies in class in the first place never mind address the pervasive attitude that certain types of students wearing hoodies if you know what I mean deserve to be shot specifically for wearing hoodies but that’s not really their problem I guess.

I was just reading Barron’s like I regularly do perusing their 10 best stock picks for 2020 and came across another cursed paragraph. Among their profitable picks were Anthem the healthcare company that covers 40 million people. Anthem is looking to “expand profitable supplemental policies, including dental and vision, to existing customers; and develop newer businesses like data analytics,” they write and is therefore a promising stock to invest in.

“‘Every time I look at it, I see new sources of earnings growth,’ says Adam Seessel, a longtime holder who runs Gravity Capital Management, a New York investment firm. Seessel sees both revenue and margin improvement in the coming years and thinks the stock could hit $450.”

There’s just one problem though as Barron’s notes.

“Medical for All is a key risk, but its prospects are waning along with Elizabeth Warren’s standing in the polls.”

Reader Aaron who sent this item to me had this to say.

Never mind that M4A is “primarily the work of another leading candidate. The important thing though is: A COUNTRY HAVING HEALTH CARE IS A RISK TO YOUR INVESTMENT. It just struck me how easily they come right out and say it.”

I decided recently I am going to become a Raymond Chandler Guy which is either a very twenty something or forty something guy thing to do and so far it has proven to be a good decision. I am reading The Long Goodbye currently and this line stood out to me last night:

“The law isn’t justice. It’s a very imperfect mechanism. If you press exactly the right buttons and are also lucky, justice may show up in the answer. A mechanism is all the law was ever intended to be.”

And then I saw this tweet just now:

Ihssane Leckey is an immigrant and a Muslim and a Democratic Socialist from Brookline, Mass and a lot of other things and I very much like the idea of her taking over a fucking Kennedy’s seat here. Kennedy has since moved on to running for Senate against Ed Markey for some shitty reason but Lecky declared her decision to primary him back before that had happened and I like that. We talked about Medicare for All, her experience immigrating to America, the immorality of capitalism, and some other things.

So I saw you at the anti-war rally the other day and I was interested in some of the stuff you were saying, and I thought since I have a lot readers on the left here in Massachusetts it might be good to introduce you to some of them in case they don’t know you yet. Obviously things have changed a little since the rally, and, hopefully it seems, died down again, but what brought you out to protest the idea of war with Iran?

I’m in immigrant from Morocco, and where I grew up we were very aware of international policy, and the wars in the Middle East and what’s happening. Any type of war is so internally destabilizing, to me as a human being, and to many people who are pro-peace. To hear about potential war in Iran is really scary. It brings back the images of the chaos of the innocent people dying, and massive populations of refugees. I know these are really difficult times, and we’re still trying to see what’s going to happen, but it also makes me think of who is benefiting from these wars? War has never brought us peace. Who is benefiting are the war profiteers and the war lobbyists manipulating our Congress, and buying our voices through their donations to representatives. That’s something that I understand as a Wall Street Regulator, who has seen on the books of these big banks why it is that our policies aren’t strong enough. Or why is it we have people, no matter the political party, who are looking away from acting boldly on what’s just and promoting peace.

The other day you criticized Democrats as well. American war -- it might tilt slightly to the Republican side -- but Democrats often fall in line pretty quickly when these things happen. Is that something that you see, that Democrats tend to capitulate, whether it was under Bush or now with Trump? So many of them just signed off on Trump’s military budget. 

We have a bloated military budget. It doesn’t matter what party these representatives are from, when they are taking money from war lobbyists and fossil fuel companies, that effects their decision making. They voted to increase the military budget. Even though they know that we have an authoritarian in the White House. We have somebody who is not even referring to Congress before taking action. They are morally responsible. They are our protection as a people and we need them to stand up for us. But at the same time they’re beholden to the corporate interests that keep them away from being our protectors. 

Recently Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez said something like she and Joe Biden would be in different parties if this were another country. It seems to me that you might also be in a different party than Joe Biden based on what I’ve read about you so far. 

I’m a huge admirer of AOC. What she comes with is her moral clarity and her personal lived experiences that have opened her eyes on how our system is really broken and corrupt. It isn’t about the party label you carry anymore. That does not define what actions you take. We have a lot of folks in the Democratic Party who are fundraising for Republicans. You see that when it comes to corporate interests there is support from both sides. That’s why it is really crucial that we elect people that are not going to stab us in the back. If I see a presidential candidate talking about anything other than single payer Medicare for All then I start to question what interests are they representing. As long as we have people who are rationing medication, dying from being sick, or going bankrupt from being sick, in the richest country in the world, then the answer to that is that there is injustice. It is not normal. We shouldn’t get used to the fact that we are losing people every day because they can’t afford a co-pay. So that is the litmus test for me when I’m looking at any presidential candidate. How strong are they going to stand for the people and not the corporations. 

You’re also a supporter of a Green New Deal?

We are in a climate emergency. We are seeing huge levels of children who are asthmatic. Many people, including people in my district, have low quality drinking water. Many people in my district are living in public housing, living in mold. The climate emergency is a health emergency. The climate emergency is a refugee emergency. Even within the country, like look at what is happening in Puerto Rico right now. Schools have shut down. A friend of mine was reporting today the water was shut down in her area. Gas pipes, infrastructure, hasn’t even been rebuilt since hurricane Maria. These earthquakes are making it worse for folks there. People are starting to think about flying away from Puerto Rico but they can’t afford to buy tickets. It’s a humanitarian crisis that’s happening there, and that’s going to be internal migration that we still see our government has done nothing to fix or facilitate. 

We also see Australia is on fire. California was on fire. Other regions in the world, people are coming as climate refugees, and they’re carrying with them that American dream where you come to a country that is going to open its door to you out of moral justice, and gives you an opportunity to work. You’re coming to give and to build with everybody else. Now under Trump we’re shutting our doors. Not only that, we’re shutting our doors to building coalitions internationally so that we can face the climate emergency. That also goes back to the fact that we don’t have a people’s government, we have a corporate government that is backing the fossil fuel industry. Not only fossil fuel, but it goes all the way up to these giant banks that hold their portfolios. It’s a systemic issue. But what really breaks my heart is we don’t have time. We’re racing against the clock. The people are demanding that we take big action. The Green New Deal is not about profitability, it’s about facing the climate emergency, and decarbonizing the economy and the world economy within a time limit. We have to send people to Congress -- I want to be there so we can start organizing these coalitions in Congress and across the world. We are going to need to have people who have a worldly view, who speak multiple languages, who have lived in other places in the world, who understand inter-culture, so we can reach the hearts of people across the world and organize together. 

You were an immigrant yourself. Can you talk about how the image of the United States you may have had before you lived here changed once you did?

I came here when I was twenty years old. Before I came here, my dad was a public school teacher who lived paycheck to paycheck. My mother was denied school after fifth grade so she could help her family on the farm, and help raise her own brothers and sisters. They really wanted to see me be a better generation. They wanted to see me educated, with a job, and they put everything they could into it. When I was thirteen I lost my father to healthcare injustice, and I became the supporter of my family. That was a really difficult time. I wanted to come to America so that I could have the education that I dreamed of, so I could have a job to support my family and build my own family. I also wanted to come to America because abortion was illegal in Morocco, and I am a survivor of illegal abortion. That means you face death. It shouldn’t be that way. Abortion is healthcare and healthcare is a human right. I’m also a survivor of sexual abuse and I wanted to be in a place that would provide me protection when it comes to my basic human rights. The American Dream is something that I lived with since I was three years old. I wanted to get out of oppression. I wanted to live in a true democracy. I wanted to live in opportunity, where you work hard and you make it. 

When the opportunity came to live here I was shocked to see that, just because I’m an immigrant, I did not have a right to healthcare. I did not have a right to housing. I did not have a right to even open a bank account. Everything I put my hand in meant that I needed a lot of money. Just going to school meant I needed debt, and I needed to find someone to sponsor me. The whole system is set up to make you fail the second you come here. 

That’s right. 

Then I started to see it wasn’t just me because I’m an immigrant. That being treated as a second class citizen has nothing to do with where you are born or what documents you have. It actually has to do with the social status, your skin color, your money connections, your political connections. I even saw that when I graduated where those who were well-connected got the jobs during the financial crisis of 2008 and those who didn’t have the connections were jobless. Some of us were pushed into more student loans. 

I was really shocked to see how people in the richest country in the world are denied healthcare, denied housing, denied a dignified job. I worked tipped wages, and was sexually assaulted, and couldn’t report. I was in a car accident and couldn’t call the ambulance. These are life threatening situations that we find ourselves in without the right to have a justice system that defends us and stands for the rights of the people. Income inequality in this country is just huge. It’s not something that you hear about when you grow up in a country like Morocco where you always dream of going to the Land of the Free. The Land of Opportunity. The Land of Immigrants. That’s how it’s sold to the world but the reality is different. 

You worked as a Wall Street Regulator. Can you explain what that was like for people who don’t know. Anything with the term Wall Street in the name makes people a little nervous. 

People should be nervous when they hear Wall Street because it is scary. We saw what happened in 2008 when the big banks who were deemed too big to fail took everything from people. They took people’s wages and jobs, pensions, their homes. They forced people into loans, especially personal loans, car loans, student loans, credit card loans. People started to be more and more shackled and drowning in debt. In the face of what was happening, all of these giant banks received a bail out. I decided to fight them. I wanted to help people. I looked at the injustice that was happening in our system and I thought that was one of the major sources. So in becoming a Wall Street Regulator -- and put a capital R on Regulator -- I walked into the boardrooms representing the people of our country. I had that responsibility on my shoulders. If there is any problem in our economy, I did not want the people to bear the consequences. And every time I walked into those boardrooms I saw how these big bank executives undermined the American people. They would omit information, or lie about the risks they were putting people’s jobs into. Before Trump the regulation wasn’t perfect, but it was good. It showed that our government has so much power over these institutions. 

They just don’t exercise it that often. 

Yeah but it gave me hope into the American Dream that we were talking about before. I thought this is a thing that is fixable. But when Trump took office, I learned that the lobbyists of these big banks are the ones who are legislating. It’s not the Congress that’s regulating Wall Street, it became Wall Street regulating Congress. 

I’ve seen you say elsewhere that there is no such thing as moral capitalism. I agree with that, but it seems hard, just the existence of these massive banks, regulating them a little bit better than is being done seems like we’re still operating within the same problematic system? There still was massive wealth inequality under Obama. Trump didn’t invent all of these problems. I guess what I’m trying to say is is it revolution or incremental progress for you?

Incrementalism has gotten us to where we are. Over the last thirty forty years we vote people into Congress and they give us little trickle down solutions that don’t fix the major problems we have: our broken healthcare system, the climate emergency, gun violence… What I thought in terms of regulating Wall Street was when things went really, really bad, our government did put together one of the toughest regulations ever in the history of America. Again, it could’ve been better. But it was very strong. I saw how these big banks’ corporate power was being put in check, and I thought we had a government that could twist their arm to do the right thing. 

Capitalism will never be moral. Corporations will never be moral. Corporations aren’t people. We the people have morals, you and I. We can choose to operate on our moral clarity. It’s a choice. So once you buy into that choice you know you will put everything towards it, towards protecting people. To sit on the sidelines and say these corporations are going to do the right thing, we should trust them to do that, that is just lying to ourselves. The moral thing to do is to actually figure out how we’re going to democratize our economy. The moral thing to do is to put the worker first. The moral thing to do is to close the pay gap. To transition labor out of the fossil fuel industry. So anyone who is going to sit around and read a bunch of books and write up some report on how capitalism can be moral, I think they would be better off spending their time legislating in a way that will protect the American working class. 

Massachusetts is often considered this liberal bastion, but the Democrats here often end up being centrists or Republicans with a D next to their name. I wonder if you’re seeing a moment of…and for your district in particular by the way there’s no reason why it shouldn’t go to the left most person possible. There’s no reason why it should go to some half-ass Democrat. 

That’s right. I have become more and more involved in local and state politics as an activist, and there is a huge lack of transparency in our State House. We don’t know how our representatives vote, so we can’t hold them accountable. But we also saw this shift in our state toward electing people who are true fighters for democracy and the working class. We saw Jivan Sobrinho-Wheeler get elected to City Council in Cambridge, he’s a Democratic Socialist. And many other names. I suspect we will have even more people in 2020 elected at every level of office. It’s really important that when we look at organizations who are organizing for issue campaigns, or organizations like DSA, these people are doing work year-round, non-stop. They are the ones who are the warriors on the ground, pushing the issues. But it’s really important that we all realize if we don’t participate in electoral politics, we’re not going to get things done. We’re going to continue to get trickle-down politics that doesn’t really bring the solution we need to the problems we’re facing. So it’s really important as an activist, and a Wall Street Regulator, and as an immigrant, and a Muslim, and a woman, that we bring our voices into the halls of Congress and the State House and City Council, and that we door knock for each other.

People like us, when we run, we don’t come with a huge rolodex. I wasn’t a politician. I don’t come from wealth. I’m going to be able to build a movement, not a campaign. I do rely on people from these organizations to come out and knock on doors, and make phone calls, and fundraise, so we can prove we have a movement that will not succumb to party leadership. A movement that will not succumb to corporate interests, or career politicians, or “moral” capitalism. I organize with you. I lobby for Medicare for All with you. I am calling on you because I want to carry your voice and give you the power you deserve to have. I want to build that trust and relationship with you. Are you with me?

The same profiteers that sold America the Iraq War are selling us this latest escalation of violence

What do we want?

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I power walked up the hill on Beacon Street in boots that wouldn’t stay tied up toward the State House whose dome is painted in a disgusting gold leaf color that looks like the shit restaurants paint on chicken wings now so they can sell them for $10 each and get a viral Business Insider video out of it everyone fucking hates and I passed the frozen Frog Pond in the Boston Common where maybe three or four people circled and circled as Lady Gaga’s “Telephone” blared including one tall man in a bright yellow jacket like you’d wear when you were doing roadwork and didn’t want to get run over by a car who skated without joy with his hands in his pockets and his head down like he was serving penance of some kind or other the type of skating like how you walk when the Vince Guaraldi Trio is playing Christmas Time Is Here on the piano.

I guess they first painted the State House dome gold in 1874 but then during World War II they painted it gray to make sure it wouldn’t be visible during potential bombing attacks but that never happened. Then in 1997 they painted it gold again and now it looks like it looks and it will surely never be bombed unless everything everywhere is bombed. I don’t know why I was walking in such a hurry probably because it was cold and steadily raining but I was on my way to go stand in the cold and the rain so what’s the difference. I was already soaked.

The Christmas lights and wreaths are all still hung up on the trees in the park and that made me feel less lazy about still having mine up at home and I rounded the corner down toward Park Street where a crowd of a couple hundred had gathered to yell about war. “What do we want?” “No more war!” the crowd chanted and then the bells at the Park Street Church chimed but I think that was just a coincidence.

A speaker at the rally led the crowd in another call and response. “Which country, Iran or the U.S., has killed more people in the Middle East?” he asked and everyone knew the answer to that one.

“Which country is funding the Saudi destruction of Yemen?” he asked and everyone also knew the answer to that. He asked a bunch of questions we all knew the answer to.

A woman named Mojgan Haji from the Iranian American Council took the shitty microphone and expressed her fear for her family and friends back in Iran over the shitty speakers.

“This high-ranking commander in Iran, he was liked by many people. His death has actually consolidated all of the political factions in Iran. Hardliners, moderates, even the opposition… Now they all are angry with Americans…. Our troops in Iraq are in danger. This is not the way to deescalate,” she said. “We just put the house on fire.”

“This all started with this administration leaving the nuclear deal,” she said. “The nuclear deal took away Iran’s ability to develop a nuclear weapon. It was actually helping the situation.”

“Why this is so personal to me and our community in the United States: I have family in Iran. An 86 year old father. I have elderly aunts and uncles. I have nieces there… cousins, their children. I’m scared. I’m terrified for all of them. Over here, I have three sons, and each one of them has friends in the U.S. Armed Forces. I’m terrified of what’s going to happen to them. One of my sons’ very close friends, she left for bootcamp yesterday. I’m scared for her…. We need to stop this. There is no winner here. We are all losers here. We lose in this battle. The only people who are going to win are the defense contractors.”

And then the church bells chimed again and I shivered but I think it was because of the cold.

A lot of historic shit happened at that church but one thing I just learned was that “America (My Country, 'Tis of Thee)” was performed for the first time there in 1831. Everyone knows the first verse to that one but I just looked up the lyrics to the rest of it and it is a lot more religious than I remember.

Our fathers' God to Thee,
Author of liberty,
To Thee we sing.
Long may our land be bright,
With freedom's holy light,
Protect us by Thy might,
Great God our King!

Everything about this country is a lot more religious than I remember even our wars.

I looked at my phone standing there in the rain and I saw this tweet and I thought it’s so fucking grim that even the “pretty good” Democrats have to operate from this place of absolute denial about what this country actually is and does and has always been.

Then a woman named Ihssane Leckey took the shitty microphone to talk over the shitty speakers and she said the government is going to blame every evil in the world on Iran to justify this war and that is true because people who had never even heard of Solemani five minutes before he was killed were already all over the liberal media talking about how he was the most evil man in the world and his death was going to materially improve the freedom levels of godly Americans everywhere.

“Remember how they did the same in Iraq,” Leckey went on.

Leckey is running for Joe Kennedy’s seat in the 4th District in Massachusetts which I do not live in but my gym is there so I think that makes me an honorary constituent. Leckey is Muslim and a Moroccan immigrant to the U.S. and says she is a socialist Democrat for the Green New Deal and Medicare For All and free public college and seems alright to me as far as I can tell thus far. “There is absolutely no moral capitalism. Everybody knows that. There is democratic socialism and we see it in our social security system, we see it in the roads we share," she told NBC Boston earlier this year so ok.

Kennedy is running against Ed Markey one of the architects of the Green New Deal and is currently outpacing Markey in raising money. On top of that “Kennedy owns as much as $1.75 million worth of stock in the fossil fuel industry, including oil and gas companies that see Markey’s Green New Deal as an existential threat,” according to a Sludge review of financial statements. That includes Chevron and ExxonMobil and Schlumberger and NextEra Energy and I have never even heard of the last two but I feel confident in assuming they are evil as shit.

“Chevron and ExxonMobil have been linked to efforts to fight the Green New Deal,” Sludge writes. “Chevron donated $1.75 million during the 2018 election cycle to a super PAC that ran attack ads against Democrats for their support of the Green New Deal. ExxonMobil is a founding member of the Climate Leadership Council, a think tank that is promoting a carbon tax policy that its leadership says is a more efficient and less expensive alternative to the Green New Deal. Climate scientists have called the carbon tax proposal an insufficient response to the climate crisis.”

Hmmm.

“From Vietnam to Iraq, war did not establish peace…War destroyed lives for generations, destroyed ecosystems and created massive amounts of refugees. American youth have been maimed and are suffering for life. War endangers all of us,” Leckey continued back at the protest.

“The same profiteers that sold America the Iraq War are selling us this latest escalation of violence,” she said. “We are here to tell Trump and the forever war machine we can’t and will not let this cycle repeat,” she said and then not long after that Trump went on Twitter to explain that this cycle is definitely going to repeat. He said that he is very eager to commit war crimes by among other things destroying numerous Iranian cultural sites and then Pompeo went on TV to say Trump didn’t actually mean that then Trump came back on Twitter to say that he did in fact mean it and I believe him because he has been expressing his enthusiasm for war crimes since before he was even elected.

Let music swell the breeze,
And ring from all the trees
Sweet freedom's song;
Let mortal tongues awake;
Let all that breathe partake;
Let rocks their silence break,
The sound prolong.

Right around the time of the rally I saw a tweet that went like this: “The bedrock premise of American political culture is that the US can go anywhere on earth and kill as many people as we want and it's fundamentally illegitimate for anyone to fight back” and that about perfectly summarizes my feelings on that matter.

Watch that video above and realize if you haven’t already and are somehow accidentally reading this newsletter for some strange reason that we are now and almost always have been the bad guys.

There were all manner of groups out at the protest who do good work including the Workers World Party, ANSWER Coalition, CODEPINK and others explaining the history of our disastrous meddling in the Middle East. A flier from Massachusetts Peace Action laid out our timeline of fucking things up in Iran from the CIA helping to overthrow Mosaddegh in 1953 because we and the Brits wanted that sweet sweet oil up through the seventies when we supported Saddam Hussein in the Iran-Iraq War up through the eighties when we shot down an Iranian airliner killing almost 300 civilians up to last year when Trump withdrew from the Iran Nuclear Agreement seemingly on a whim.

America loves helping out countries with oil a lot like I'm going to definitely take a look at the screenplay of the guy who still has some coke left at the end of the night. Cool cool cool man yeah promoting democracy and help with defense just like you say man for sure say any of that oil left or...? A little taste is cool no problem.

The thing was a fine leaflet and informative but the reason I bring it up is because of this graphic on the top which I found so bleak and demoralizing. Something about that design with the Q switching over to the N like a war odometer is a real fucking bummer man like we went through all this in 2003 and we marched and yelled and demanded no war and then it happened anyway and now we gotta do it all over again and it will probably happen all the same this time too. Still have to try though don’t we.

My native country, thee,
Land of the noble free,
Thy name I love;
I love thy rocks and rills,
Thy woods and templed hills;
My heart with rapture thrills,
Like that above.

I watched some of the Golden Globes last night and there was some talk about politics and some talk about war and some talk about the climate crisis and I was reminded of this quote from Vonnegut:

“During the Vietnam War, every respectable artist in this country was against the war. It was like a laser beam. We were all aimed in the same direction. The power of this weapon turns out to be that of a custard pie dropped from a stepladder six feet high,” he wrote.

Then I thought about this exchange from Slaughterhouse-Five about anti-war literature:

“You know what I say to people when I hear they’re writing anti-war books?”

“No. What do you say, Harrison Star?”

“An anti-war book? Why not write an anti-glacier book instead?”

I don’t think either of those lines are meant to be as fatalistic as they sound I think he had a lot more hope than that. The artists saying it isn’t enough I think is what the first one means we all have to say it all at once.

On top of that the idea that war will always be with us the same way glaciers will always be with us doesn’t seem as true anymore because we’ve managed to go a long way toward eliminating glaciers from the world since that book was written so maybe there’s hope after all. Maybe the end of war is possible. As the glaciers continue to disappear there will likely be an uptick in conflict but then someday all the glaciers will be gone and all the war will be gone too and we can all finally know peace.

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