Category Archives: Economy

Don’t Talk to Me About Bubbles

I’m going to tell you a story and I swear every single word is true.

I work downtown in Chicago at least two days a week and on at least one of those days I eat lunch at a Vietnamese restaurant right near my office.

This place is owned by a Vietnamese family.

On the menu, which is on the wall, they advertise that some of the food is halal.

They serve Chilean wine.

Yesterday, when I was there, the older and younger cooks were yelling at each other in Spanish over what kind of music they were going to play in the dining room.

The younger cook won. Biggie. Big Poppa.

I’ve read a lot in the past week about how I live in a “liberal bubble.” How I don’t understand the world outside, the concerns of others, different from myself. How I need to do everything from “get out more” to “just move to a red state” to “talk to more people.”

Do you know how often I would LOVE to live in a bubble? When my upstairs neighbors are yelling about the Cubs game or a guy is trying to sell me video games on the street corner or the entire train car is engaged in ignoring-down someone who should really be getting mental health services or even another drink somewhere. (Nobody wants to call the cops, because we don’t want to hurt this guy further.) Do you know how often I think to myself, I’m tired of working this hard to live here?

There is no isolation here. No shield from difference. No ignoring the “other.” I can throw a rock from my house and hit four drug dealers and so can everyone else in my neighborhood.

It’s all in your face, all the time, everything that has led us where we are: Poverty. Inequality. A lack of help. An education system that is broken by racism and meanness about money. Gloriousness. Music. Food. History. Something new to learn every single second. Art in museums and on street corners, books stuffed to the rafters in the libraries.

And people. People people people.

I was at a wedding once in a small town in Kansas and the mother of the bride cornered me in the bathroom and talked about how lucky she was to live where she lived. There was, she said, no real community in the big city.

My next-door neighbor had called the week previous, in hysterics. She was hyperventilating and for a moment I thought something had happened to her son.

There was a dead mouse in her kitchen. She wanted my husband to come get it.

Same neighbor, the week Kick was born, left homemade chili and a supportive note at my front door. The woman who used to live upstairs pet-sat the ferrets and I walked her dog. Mr. A travels for work for weeks at a time and I’m never worried; there are half a dozen people in my building who’d come if I called. There are half a dozen people on the street at any given time: safety in numbers.

Kick was baptized at the church down the block. I’m an inconsistent attendee, but they welcomed us as if I parked in those pews full time. They extended their hands to our new, fragile little family and they blessed us, and I felt it in a way I’ve never felt faith before.

They have a food drive the first weekend of every month. People pile bags of food and envelopes of cash on the altar to feed the hungry.

I understand my way of life isn’t for everybody. Like I said, sometimes I’m not sure it’s for me and mine, not always. But the values that make it worth living are those in every community, large and small, across this country, values the “white working class,” the “small town America,” the “heartland,” instilled in me: Generosity, connection, joy. A profound sense of place, of knowing. A love of God, and of difference. A constant reaching out, over and over and over, in the face of every rebuff, knowing that we are more together than we are apart. Values that were so cruelly betrayed last week.

Don’t tell me I live in a bubble. Don’t tell me I don’t experience difference. It’s at the next desk in my office, talking about teaching kids to read. It’s my Iranian downstairs neighbors playing country music; you really haven’t lived until you’ve heard an elderly Persian woman yelling enthusiastically along with Kenny Chesney.

(And not for nothing, but some of us live in “bubbles” because we couldn’t get work in our red states of origin. I’ve read a lot of commentary in the past week about shallow liberals who just want to eat ethnic food to show off. For some people it’s about eating, period.)

This “bubble” is the wide world, the same one everyone lives in. We are all as isolated as we want to be. If you have three neighbors and you know them, good. If you have three thousand and you know as many of them as you can, good.

Nobody lives in a bubble, not unless they want to.

A.

300 families helped: Food Pantry Fund

THANK YOU ALL! This is a message from the St. Hyacinth Pantry’s director to everyone who donated:

I want to thank you and all of your generous friends for their overwhelming support. With the money already raised, we can provide emergency food for over 300 families this month, which is especially important during this very busy holiday period, our busiest time of the year. Separately, if anyone is in the Milwaukee area, and would like to visit the Pantry to see our facility or see us in action, please feel free to contact me.

Respectfully submitted – Steve Pollock, Acting Director, St. Hyacinth’s Food Pantry

300 families. That’s something, guys. Great job.

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‘no word on who was watching baby’

When I had Kick and returned to work people would see me on the street and ask, “Where the baby?”

It took everything in my body not to respond OH HOLY SHIT. THE BABY. WHERE IS SHE? DID I LEAVE HER IN STARBUCKS? BABY?! WHERE ARE YOOOOOOOOOOOOOU?! THANK GOD YOU NOTICED. IT MIGHT HAVE BEEN DAYS BEFORE I LOOKED FOR HER.

I once asked Mr. A if people asked him the same question when he went to the office. Then I asked the same question of all the awesome, fully involved, some-of-’em-stay-at-home dads that I know.

*crickets*

It is the year of our Lord Jesus Cracker Jack Christ 2016: 

Fox wasn’t having any of it. They dove in first for Hillary, reminding us that she also missed Chelsea’s first day of school. Well, Chelsea turned out ok. But nice job digging the claws in to the first presidential female candidate.

Then they reminded us that Chelsea just had her second daughter this past July. Aw, sweet, right? Nope. They actually said “no word on who was watching baby Charlotte (their second baby) while her parents and grandparents were “away.”

All together now, girls: FUUUUUUUUUUUCK YOU!

I’m sure it was really hard for Chelsea to miss her daughter’s first day of preschool. I’m also sure it would be really hard for Chelsea, her daughter, and all other women to have a president elected who does not think that women are people, and a vice president who thinks the same thing but uses better words about it.

You know, I don’t love shaming ambitious women in the public eye. Could Chelsea afford to be a stay-at-home mom? Probably, sure, and just because she could, she should? In shaming her these assholes are implying that every woman’s job is optional, “me time,” something to eat and pray and love about. I know every TV show about women presumes we are just in the workplace for the self-actualization and forming our own identity and shit, but some of us don’t work just to fulfill ourselves.

Some of us work because we have skills no one else has; you tell a female astronaut she should keep her feet on the ground, fucko, or a female neurosurgeon she should put her brain to work watching PBS.

Some of us work because our babies have a powerful need to EAT, sleep in a bed, under a roof, put shoes on in the morning. Some of us work because our husbands are in unstable industries, or have disabilities or illnesses, or want to stay at home with the kids, or whatever the hell. Some of us work because we’re supporting more than our husbands or our kids. Some of us work because we’d LOVE to stay home, and we can’t.

Some of us work because that’s what we do, that’s what human beings do, and the American economy don’t give a fuck we gave birth.

So crab about Chelsea missing a day her daughter won’t even remember, while Chelsea and her mom fight to make a country where more families have more choices about how they want to work and live. That’s not being “away” from the kids, and even if they were “away,” like on a beach somewhere, it would still be nobody’s fucking business but theirs.

A.

We Make Decisions

It’s important to remember that the choice to go along to get along is still a choice: 

The national headlines emerging from San Francisco’s current rental crisis paint a picture of wealthy landlords pushing old ladies out of units they’ve inhabited for decades in order to quadruple their profits housing techies. While that happens, a sizable portion of the city’s rental stock exists in landlord-occupied buildings like the one I grew up in. In many cases, these landlords are like my mom: teachers, carpenters, small business owners, etc., who bought their homes before prices exploded. Now, they’re suddenly presented with the opportunity to make a profit on their homes’ extra units. For my mom, like many of my friends’ parents, this opportunity presents an ethical quandary: is it right to charge what the market will bear, even if that price seems absurd?

For years, my mom’s answer to that question was no. She rented to friends of friends, charging between $500-$1000 a month below the market rate.

It’s easy to bag on people for being followers, for blaming “market forces” or “changing tastes,” because using those excuses allows them to escape blame for shitty situations. Here’s what else it does: It denies them credit for creating good things.

Acting like the society we live in is like the weather, and we have no power over what rent is any more than we have power over whether it will rain on circus day, erases the agency of people who are NOT assholes, who DON’T do the terrible things everyone else is doing, who REFUSE to victimize people just because it’s cheap and easy.

It makes their stories absurd.

I can’t think of anything we need less right now.

A.

Promises, Promises

My dad held very few points of pride when it came to things he did or didn’t do. He never smoked at all, he doesn’t “owe anyone anything” when it comes to financial concerns and he didn’t make a promise he didn’t think he could keep.

“If I said we’re going to do something, we did it,” he always told me. “If I said ‘No,’ I meant ‘No.” If it was ‘Maybe,’ anything could happen. But if I said we’re doing it, we did it unless something really changed the situation.”

He wasn’t kidding. I asked to go to my first baseball game when I was about 8 years old. He promised we’d go that Friday, not knowing it was “Bat Day” in the middle of a pennant race. The traffic was insane, the tickets were hard to get and it was just chaos at old County Stadium. Dad disliked all of those things, but we went and he never complained.

Promises were an important part of my life and I kept that same attitude for my kid. If I said we were going for ice cream, we went. If I said we weren’t doing something, begging only strengthened my resolve. I get the importance of promises, especially when people are relying on you.

That said, the kinds of promises we made as fathers were the kind that led to positive outcomes. They also occasionally were broken when circumstances intervened on us. Occasionally a promised trip had to be postponed due to a funeral or an illness. Sometimes, it became insane to persist in the promise.

When I was 10, Dad promised to take me to opening day. He got the tickets, pulled me out of school and we went to the stadium. In typical early-April fashion, it was about 40 degree, so we were all bundled up. It was also raining, so we did our best to stay dry.

The game was postponed for almost two hours and we were both freezing and soaked. Finally, Dad asked if I wanted to stay and I said, “Let’s go home.” Eventually the game started (we caught the first pitch on the radio in the car on the way home) but it was stupid to stay there and die in the frigid weather to prove a point.

When it comes to promises, Scott Walker and his ilk need to better understand the difference between the inconveniences of Bat Day and the stupidity of not coming in from the rain.

Walker unveiled his latest plan to close a $1 billion gap in the transportation gap by delaying some projects, shuffling money to local municipalities and cutting the department’s budget in other ways. The purpose of making these changes? To keep his promise of not raising taxes:

 

“Governor Walker has kept his word by proposing a reasonable transportation budget that sets the right priorities and doesn’t increase taxes or the registration fee,” said a statement from Sen. Steve Nass (R-Whitewater).

Walker campaigned in 2010 for governor by criticizing Democrats like his predecessor Gov. Jim Doyle for failing to execute work on the Zoo Interchange. But Thursday Walker said it wouldn’t be fair to criticize him in turn for proposing delays to the north leg of the Zoo, saying that it was in better shape than the interchange’s aging core that is on track to be replaced.

“I make promises and I keep promises, and my promise to the taxpayers was I’m not going to raise taxes and fees,” Walker said.

 

Like many Republicans, Walker treats “tax” like it is a four-letter word. Then again, given his educational standing, he might think it is one.

The larger point is that this was a stupid promise. When we lack for revenue and need to get things done, we have to get more revenue. Things in the real world do, in fact, cost money. To that end, we can’t just say “delay this” or “delay that” to make it seem financially responsible. That’s like the guy who knows his brakes are going on his car, but to replace the pads will cost $200. Instead, he keeps riding the brakes for months and months until he literally can’t stop. At that point, he’s warped the rotors and irreparably harmed the calipers, so the job now costs $1500. Sure, he stuck to his guns that he wasn’t going to get them fixed, but at what cost?

Walker can’t back out of his pledge to not raise taxes because his lizard brain can only see the attack ads for his next campaign about how he raised taxes. Him worrying about that is like the captain of the Titanic worry about how all this water is going to tarnish the brass railings on the ship. Trust me, pal, you have bigger concerns.

Speaking of promises, what about that whole 250,000 job promise? What about that whole “Open for Business” pledge? Yeah, not so much on either of them and those are the important ones if you want to get revenue hopping in this state. No one with half a brain or a sense of proportion would have expected him to hit the 250K mark or that just posting “open” signs would have businesses pouring into the state. That said, had he made a stronger effort with better logic to make those things happen, it is far more likely that he could have made good on this third pledge to keep tax rates down.

I don’t like taxes any more than any other person out there, but I can tell you that I do vote for them locally. In a small town like the one in which I live, I can see where my tax money goes: The city well gets fixed. The trash pickup is awesome. My street gets plowed quickly. Same thing with schools: New computers, improved facilities, more engaged kids all come from me checking the box that says, “Take another $10 out of what I make each year to improve stuff.”

I hope people who drive the I-94 corridor that will be delayed or the area near the zoo that’s a total shitbox will also be able to see what happens when we make stupid promises and forgo our responsibility to improving society. Sure, it’s hard to see how things like teacher pay or university subsidies pan out for individuals, but when the potholes are knocking the fillings out of their teeth, I hope they feel the tax break was worth it.

Who Works Sick

It’s a joke, the “mom cold” versus “dad cold” thing, a bad unfunny joke that plays on traditional middle class family roles and stereotypes, and I saw it repeated over and over on social media when Hillary Clinton nearly passed out after what surely was her 10 billionth event in 2 days and then waited like six seconds or something to tell everybody she had pneumonia.

(Can we please stop acting like she hid her dementia for years? We had a president who did that, and a bunch let their wives/aides run stuff, and no they shouldn’t have done that, and everything was fine.)

Of course she was working sick. The president doesn’t get a sick day ever. But a WOMAN president especially doesn’t get a sick day. Mom doesn’t get to stay in bed all day the way dad does, amirite ladies? Mom doesn’t get a cold. Mom has to be dying before somebody takes her seriously, whereas if Dad stubs his toe he’s in traction for weeks. Har dee har har.

You know who else doesn’t get to have a cold? You know who doesn’t get to take sick days, really?

PEOPLE WITHOUT SICK TIME.

Spare me talking about Hillary’s health by referencing comfortable women whose husbands are assholes. Those women can have honest conversations with the dickheads they’re married to, or find a new husband who is less of an adolescent.

Let’s talk instead about what it means when nobody in the family gets sick time.

Let’s talk about if you’re hourly, and your spot on the line can be filled by pretty much anybody.

Let’s talk about if you’re contract, and the work has to get done no matter what or the check don’t come.

Let’s talk about if you’re the owner of a one- or two-person operation, and being sick means closing the doors.

Let’s talk about if you don’t work, you don’t get paid. Let’s talk about if you don’t work, your kids don’t eat. Let’s talk about if you don’t work, within a non-trivial amount of time you will be living in your parents’ basement at the age of 50.

Let’s talk about that, in addition to how much it sucks that your dumb failed-adult partner doesn’t do laundry.

Sick time isn’t just the privilege of men (there are plenty of stay-at-home dads whose partners’ careers depend on their health). It’s the privilege of WEALTHY men who can afford things like “paid leave” for themselves but refuse to grant it to their employees.

I mean, look at this shit before you get all mom cold on me here:

They’re usually part time: About 74% of full-time workers get paid sick leave, according to Bureau of Labor Statistics, while around 24% of part-time workers get the perk.

They work for small businesses: Smaller companies are more likely not to offer paid sick leave, largely because of cost. Around half of firms with 50 or fewer workers offer the benefit while 81% of those with 500-plus employees have it, according to Paul Harrington, director of the Center for Labor Markets and Policy at Drexel University.

They’re often in the service industry: Workers with service sector jobs, like food service or hospitality, are likely to go without sick time, along with those in health-care support services, including home health aids or dental assistants.

“Those are the exact type of jobs that you want people to stay at home because they have such high interactions with customers and co-workers,” said Jessica Milli, a senior research associate at The Institute for Women’s Policy Research.

Many are Hispanic: Hispanic employees are less likely to have paid sick leave than white, Asian or black workers, according to Milli, with less than half of Hispanic workers getting the benefit.

They’re on the lower end of the income ladder: Government data show 90% of the top 10% of earners get paid sick time off, while 21% in the bottom 10% get it.

“Part of that is that you are more likely to be part time in the [lower bracket],” said Harrington.

It sucks that mom doesn’t get a day off, and that even at the executive level women are judged more harshly than men on this.

It also sucks that executive-level women’s employees don’t get a day off, and that they — men and women — have to work sick at least as often as Hillary does.

A.

Journalism Isn’t Paying For Itself

DIGITAL FIRST PARADIGM SHIFTING notwithstanding, this is pretty typical: 

Conservatively, counting just the biggest chunks of staff time that went into it, the prison story cost roughly $350,000. The banner ads that appeared on the article brought in $5,000, give or take. Had we been really in your face with ads, we could have doubled or tripled that figure—but it would have been a pain for you, and still only a drop in the bucket for us.

I saw a lot of people quoting this passage in the past few days with “see, you lazy kids with your iPhones getting your news for free, see what it costs?” undertones, which a) not the real problem and b) not actually, you know, a contribution to the conversation.

Subscriptions never paid for journalism. “Readers” never paid for journalism. And advertisers didn’t pay for journalism, they paid for eyeballs and favorable almost-advertorial stories on real estate, automobiles and travel to places most newspaper readers would never see. Those sections, along with ads in sports, paid for journalism.

Or at least they did until this shit started: 

After a weak economy and higher newsgathering costs took their toll on newspaper profits last year, corporate executives could expect to see reductions in their compensation packages. But all in all, 2001 was quite lucrative for newspaper managers and other insiders.

During the first half of the year, many of them fattened their bank accounts by exercising options and selling stock even as layoffs and budget cutbacks were sweeping through the industry. Total insider selling from January through June was $146.5 million, more than twice the level of activity in the previous six months, according to a study for AJR by Thomson Financial/Lancer Analytics.

Needless acquisitions that loaded up newspaper companies with impossible debts, “diversifying” holdings with stupid shit like sports teams and TV stations, also contributed to the sucking of money out of the newsroom, while those same execs bitched in the trades that nobody younger than 40 read serious things anymore. I will listen to them telling me to pay for my news when they start doing it.

All digital advertising did was shoot the wounded. People getting news for free should have been a gift, because: people were getting news! People getting news for free should have been a magnificent boon to journalism, had media companies leveraged their vast new audiences correctly and tried to actually SELL ads rather than just put their news sites up and wait for the magical money faucet to turn on.

They spent a decade simultaneously chasing pipe dreams (A roll-up piece of digital paper! Apple’s working on one right now I hear!) and trashing their current and potential customers as trivial, celebrity-obsessed consumers of mental junk food. Almost nobody figured out that if you sell the junk food, you can pay for the journalism. Those who did figure that out were able to hire campaign reporters as well as fund watermelon-smashing videos.

So what we’re left with, after all that flailing, is the idea that journalism is some kind of vending machine, and you can only do serious investigations by using money directly paid to those investigations. Which is dishonest, ridiculous horseshit, ignorant of ancient and recent history. I’m not mad at Mother Jones here; they did their work and they’re bringing up valid issues. I’m mad at the journos who see those issues and yell SEE, SEE, YOU KIDS NEED TO PAY FOR YOUR FREE STUFF.

Not for nothing, but almost every major investigation a non-journo can name — Watergate, Spotlight, locally the Chicago Police torture cases — that predated the social Internet faced ENORMOUS pressure from inside the newsroom in terms of how much time it was taking and how much it thus cost. We have always struggled with these things.

It’s just that once upon a time we didn’t use the fact that it was hard as an excuse not to do anything, and crab at our customers to stick a dollar in the slot if they want a real story while we expense our party’s summer drinks.

A.

UW to Scott Walker: They call them cuts because they hurt and make you bleed

Last night was a first for me in my time at my current university: I got an email from a parent.

In all of my previous stops, parental “engagement” ranged from the somewhat common to the fairly frequent. I had received calls from parents who wanted to protest a grade, argue about the amount of work I was assigning their precious snowflake or make sure that I knew the child was REALLY sick and needed to be excused from class. In some cases, the calls were polite and helpful while others smacked of entitlement. (In one case, I was told, “The family lawyer will be in touch” regarding a grade. And people wonder where the kids get the attitude from…)

This time, however, it was a mom who wanted to set up a meeting with me and her son. I knew the kid and I hadn’t had him in class in quite some time, so I knew it wasn’t a grade issue. Even more, I’m not in the kid’s area of study, so it wasn’t about something I could do for the kid.

However, the kid adopted me as a “de facto adviser” and apparently that was the concern:

I would like to schedule an appointment with you to make sure (KID) is on the right path to graduate this May.  I know he is registered for the fall semester; however, (ONE OF OUR COURSES) apparently got cancelled…

The class was one of five that we had listed and had to axe due to a series of last-minute budget cuts. By the time we got notice of the need for cuts, the class was full and had a waiting list. However, since it wasn’t required for any of our majors, it had to go.

This wasn’t the only kid to email me this summer and ask about the possibility of graduating on time. A student athlete was concerned about finishing up this year and was looking to load up on discipline-specific courses. She mentioned a couple classes she wanted, both of which had been cut.

I had to break the news to her about the cuts and also nudge her toward an unpleasant truth:

You’re going to be stuck here a while. And it’s not getting any better any time soon.

This is the dark side of populism, especially when it comes to funding higher education.

Gov. Scott Walker recently announced plans to extend his “historic tuition freeze” for another biennium, making it six years since tuition has increased at schools in the UW system.

Walker also noted in his declaration that the schools should not expect any state money to offset the freeze or to cope with previous cuts that have begun to damage the system in an irreparable fashion. During the previous budget debate, System President Ray Cross sought a $95 million increase in funds and was rewarded with a $250 million cut. That swing of more than one-third of a billion dollars led to faculty leaving for other states, losses in program options, increases in class sizes and diminished course offerings. This was also after a budget that froze tuition and provided nothing but cuts.

The idea of “live with what you have” isn’t going to get any easier at the UW schools either, if Walker goes through with his plan to prevent the System from borrowing money to repair its buildings and infrastructure.

Things like tuition freezes, belt tightening and tax cuts all sound good in theory until you start to feel the pain associated with those decisions.

I hate to be the one to break it to Governor Deadeyes and the “decent, hard-working people of this state,” but a) stuff tends to cost money and b) when you make bad decisions you have to live with the ramifications. This is like those credit cards where you get zero-percent-interest offers, low monthly payments and a host of other things that Montel Williams promises you in a 2 a.m. infomercial. You get stuff that sounds great at the time, but it leads to serious consequences down the road, including compound interest, burgeoning debt and a long, painful process to get out of trouble.

The system could survive one round of cuts or one round of freezes, but once you go beyond that, you start to see real problems emerge. Departments across our campuses are told to “churn” positions instead of hiring replacement faculty. Classes that aren’t mandatory for graduation are cut. More kids get shoved into rooms, giving them access to the class, but not the quality of experience they deserve.

Graduations get delayed, student loans continue to build and the entire process becomes self-defeating.

This whole concept of “standing up for working people” sounds great in campaign ads and stump speeches, but that’s because people don’t think about it in practical terms. Like it or not, there are things we spend money on because they have to be done.

The mechanic doesn’t say he stood up against the demands of the automobile when the oil change light went on. “I pushed the reset button and told the car, ‘You have to learn to live within your means.’”

The farmer doesn’t skip the fertilizer and demand that the soil provide more and increase its yield. “In these hard times, the earth can’t expect that I will keep plowing resources into it and receiving the same output.”

The homeowner doesn’t yell at the leaking roof, “Instead of patching you up with some new shingles, I’ll be removing several sections of shingles and expect that you’ll leak less.”

Education is no less of a resource than those and other items that we knowingly invest in because we understand we can’t live without them. When we fail to invest in support and repair, we create a weaker system that will continue to crumble and cost more in the long run.

The mechanic knows without proper maintenance, that engine is going to seize up and cease to function.

The farmer knows that failing to augment and replenish the fields will lead to lower yields and damaged land.

The homeowner knows that a leaky roof will eventually destroy the remainder of the structure.

And yet, our governor and legislature seems bent on proving the opposite to be true in order to appeal to the basest part of our society.

Willful ignorance presented under the guise of austerity serves no one in this state.

We need to learn that before it’s too late.

You Got Served

We were sitting at the kitchen table on Day Two of the “My-Wife-Can’t-Breathe-Because-Humidity-And-Heat-Kill-Asthmatics” Festival, when she broke into a cussing, coughing fit.

“That asshole! What a fucking dick!”

It takes a lot for her to get to that level, as opposed to me, who you could easily see yelling, “Hurry the fuck up! It’s fucking cold out here!” during a eulogy.

The asshole-dick in question was a coworker of hers at the local nursing/retirement home. The fellow CNA/RA had called in sick four minutes before his shift, sending the rest of the crew into understaffed crisis mode. Making this worse, he wasn’t really entirely sick, as he was in Milwaukee with some friends and didn’t know until four minutes before his shift that he couldn’t really make it back on time.

For some perspective, it’s a 100-mile drive. Unless he had Cliff Secord’s backpack or Montgomery Scott’s ability for trans-warp beaming, there was no way he was coming in and he knew it.

This is the same douchewad who called in sick last year, forcing overtime on all the rest of the people who were left to play catch up. In between answering call lights, handing out medication and rushing through laundry, someone got an alert on their phone that he had posted a photo.

There he was, right in the middle of Country USA, bragging about the concert he was seeing.

I don’t think that I’m reaching too far in noting that this guy is not an anomaly. In fact, people acting like assholes has become such a common part of American culture, the Choose Life campaign put out this fantastic ad for organ donation, hitting exactly the proper nerve.

Service itself can be both a noble thing and a degrading thing. We talk about people who give themselves to a “life of service” as being noble and benevolent. Conversely, we talk about “servers” sometimes like something befell them that ranks between crabs and whatever the hell came flying out of the Holy Grail in this Indiana Jones flick. Even more, nobody seems to be hiding their disdain anymore for working in an industry of service.

I had to take The Midget to the mall to buy a birthday gift for one of her friends. We are now at that imperceivable pivot in life where gifts have gone from Target or Toys ‘R’ Us to Justice and Wet Seal and any other store that plays boyband music and looks like an army of bedazzlers threw up on its content.

And yes, in case you were wondering, it is killing me…

We picked out a few items and headed to the front of the store, which had all of about six people in it. No one was there to check anyone out.

After five minutes, a young lady (figure 18-20 years old) walks out of the back, sees us and then turns around and goes back into the back. I figure she’s going to get the check out person.

Five more minutes, no one. Five more minutes and my kid loudly notes:

“Maybe they’d do better if they had a bell up here we could ring.”

Just about the time I’m ready to walk out of the store, another young lady sees us from the other side of the store, exhales a big sigh and walks over to ring us up. She doesn’t look at us and then mutters something that I think was the total.

“Slide or chip for the card?” I ask.

She looks up at me with that look that teens give adults in hopes of inspiring homicidal tendencies, complete with the eyeroll and the incongruous shoulder shrug.

“Whatever, I guess.”

Come on, kid. Give giving a shit a shot. Even in the horrifically shitty movie “Waiting,” we got at least the false face of happiness before a secreted backroom allowed for full-on Chuckie Mode.

We paid and left at which point my daughter takes my hand and says, “You were very patient.” I love my child.

A bit later I swung by a video-game store and picked out a used game for her and one for me. At the counter is the guy checking people out talking with a couple of older guys (read: 45 or just looking like that due to spending way too much time in mom’s basement eating Hot Pockets) about how “totally mod-able” a game is. Neither of the guys is buying anything.

We’re waiting at the check out register and he sees us and goes back to talking. The Midget, sensing danger, puts her game back and says, “We can go.”

Uh. No. We’re getting these games.

I did the math and figure out how much they were including tax and I put the money on the counter in hopes of drawing him in, much in the way Wile E. Coyote would pour roadrunner seed under a rope-hung anvil. He sees the money, could stop for six second shooting the shit with these guys and literally move three feet to his left to complete the transaction.

Nope.

Finally after about seven minutes (we started a timer after the first blow-off), we just picked up our money and took off, leaving the game cases on the counter where he could see them. What’s more, he didn’t even break stride in his conversation as we walked out right in front of him.

Not every experience I had with food or folks or fun has been a case of shitty attitudes and generally poor work outcomes, but when I mentioned it to a few friends, I found that I’m not alone in noticing this.

My brother-in-law used to tell me stories of how the people he would hire to work at the shoe store he managed would hide in the warehouse part to avoid dealing with customers. Others would always say, “I’m not doing that! That’s not my job!” to almost anything, ranging from stocking shoes to running a register.

My wife regaled me with stories about her coworkers at various call centers who would put themselves “on a call” so they couldn’t be bothered and then play games on their phones. They would also loudly announce, “It’s MY TURN for lunch!” ignoring the fact that a) it wasn’t and b) they just got back from a bathroom break and a smoke break.

A friend told me that while ordering at a “casual eating” restaurant, a counter worker asked, “Do you really need that?” about an order item because the person didn’t know how to ring it up and didn’t want to ask for help.

To quote everyone who now seems determined to quote Vince Lombardi: What the hell is going on?

The United States has seen a serious shift in its economic base from manufacturing and agriculture to service-based jobs. In most cases, we aren’t making things any more. We’re serving those things to other people.

According to federal statistics, somewhere around 40 percent of those service-based jobs are in retail, leisure/hospitality and healthcare/social assistance. In short, those are things where you actually have to SERVE other people’s needs, as opposed to things like financial activities or federal government jobs where your contact with other bipeds is variable at best.

I get that not every job is a dream job and that not every 20-year-old has a passion for politely explaining rampaging anger-moms why it is that all the Elsa dresses are sold out, even though her kid really, really wants one. We have always had people who were shitty to others, didn’t like work or just thought the world was soooo harrrrddddd… However, this crop seems to be a bumper one and it’s not exactly clear as to why.

The easy explanation: Damned Millennials and their iPhones.
Generation Gaps emerge when you least expect them, as it’s not the old “Depression Era” grandparents against the “Gen X” slackers any more. It’s actually more like siblings separated by a couple years: “When I was your age, Mom never let me do that!” The younger managers are now saddled with being responsible and all of those “silly rules” that kept customers happy and upset them as rank-and-file employees now make total sense. As they now serve as “enforcers,” they see even less-interested people in this “me, me, me” generation that has been given everything and allowed to do whatever as being a collection of shitheads for not playing by the rules.

The answer is probably half right and half wrong. Researchers and journalists have made some good hay turning this idea of millennial slacker vs. millennial brilliance over and over again. In many ways, it reminds me of the oat-bran studies of the 1990s, where every five minutes, you learned that oat bran was either going to make you healthy as a horse or dead as horsemeat.

Sure, people do better in many cases when they have skin in the game (to quote one article) and people who LIKE what they are doing tend to do better at it. This isn’t a revelation of this new generation but rather common sense. However, it’s also worth noting that not every millennial has “critical thinking skills” as noted in this article, but rather just that sense of being right, no matter what.

The more complicated explanation: Consolidation and corporate ownership.
I worked a few “Joe Jobs” in my earlier years and two of them were for what I would call “small-business owners.” One guy had a hotdog-selling business at a number of local fairs around the area and another guy owned a gas station with a garage attached to it. Truth be told, neither of them was my favorite manager of people, but they both got a lot of stuff done and it was pretty clear why.

Every dollar that came in was furthering their own needs. Every lost sale was an actual cost to them.

That’s why we had rules on how many hotdogs we had to have on hand at any given time and how we couldn’t waste certain amounts of stuff. If lines got too long, people walked away and that was money out of his pocket.

That’s also why we had a full-service pump, where the elderly ladies of the area (and the local big-wig bar owner who drove a 1979 Lincoln Towncar the size of the USS Wisconsin) would frequent. Whatever we were doing in the garage, we had to drop and run out to the pump and fill their tank, wash their windows, top off their oil and check their tires. When we were all too backed up to do any of this, my boss would actually go out there and do it himself. The reason? The gas at that pump came at a $.50-per-gallon premium. Same fuel, more money.

Sure, it’s also why one year we had to use brake cleaner to remove a yellow tint off of Christmas lights so they were white. The boss bought the yellow ones because they were a dime a string cheaper and he could expense the brake cleaner more easily than Christmas lights. It’s also why we always had a list of jobs that we had to complete when we weren’t engulfed in hotdog-seeking masses of humanity. He was actually paying us so he wanted work from us.

Still, there was that sense of “I’m paying you to work, not slack” and that ran through the whole organization. We weren’t always thrilled, but when the guy said “I’m paying you” it was true. His wife (or in one case his girlfriend) did the books and cut the checks. It wasn’t some nebulous corporate office and I wasn’t being managed by some random schmoe who showed up six months before I did.

The possibly awkward answer: Fear and Desperation.
When I graduated from college, my greatest fear was that I wouldn’t have a job and I’d have to move back in with my parents. Now, this is so common, it has become its own thing: The Boomerang Generation.

(SIDE NOTE: Of all the things in this article, the one that got me was this line:

Nearly eight-in-ten (78%) of these 25- to 34-year-olds say they don’t currently have enough money to lead the kind of life they want…”

Yeah? No shit?)

Maybe it was working for those “owner-operator bosses” that made me fearful of getting fired. Maybe I was one of the few who bought into the line about being a bad employee or bad student ending up “on your permanent record.” (Mine, of course, now is about 1.2 million pounds, I’m sure) Maybe it was what my mother-in-law told me when I was fussing over some minor thing I was trying to fix on the car:

“You don’t know how to not care about doing a good job.”

Part of that, I’m sure, is pride in my work, but the other part was fear and desperation. I was hardwired into a world of afterschool specials and VH1’s Behind the Music: You have a chance to succeed, you’re doing well, you fuck up just thiiiiiiss much and BAM, you’re fucked forever. A tragic tale of wasted youth.

You think I’m kidding? Check out these things I was forced to watch as a kid:

And those are just the ones I can remember…

Fear and desperation means saying “Yes sir” a lot more than “Fuck you.”

Today, I think we have a dichotomous split between the Boomerangs and Martin Seligman’s Dogs which pretty much minimizes that sense of fear and desperation

For the Boomerangers, there is no fear and desperation. They can go home, eat out of mom’s fridge and join dad’s cell-phone plan. You think you can scare them into fear over losing an $8.50-an-hour job at Wiener Hut? I have a relative who is 35 and lives in his mom’s basement because he can. He has a truck, a Camaro and a Harley. Plus, he gets all the best seats for all the best concerts. I think he’d be more afraid of leaving that situation than getting into it.

On the other hand, fear and desperation can make you totally numb to it. In “Hand to Mouth,” Linda Tirado explains in grimacing detail how it is that people in “Bootstrap America” can just flat-line and not give a fuck about anything, even when they are the most desperate people out there. Her explanations are a perfect parallel to Seligman’s experiments on dogs that helped found the theory of Learned Helplessness. In the experiments, the dogs were given random shocks from the floor of a cage. In one case, the dog could push a button and escape the shocks, while in the other case, the dog just had to sit there and take it. Then, both dogs were put into cages with escape options. The dog who had learned to push the button immediately did so and escaped. The all-shocks dog just laid down and took it until the shocking was over. It didn’t even try to escape.

I have no idea if any of these answers are even remotely close and I think all this writing has done is make things as clear as mud for me in psycho-analyzing the Counter Help Generation.

However, a few things ARE clear: We’re not making stuff any more, we are serving stuff a lot and we need to be really good at it if we want to survive as individuals and as a culture.

Your Country Didn’t Go Anywhere. It’s Here. It’s Right Here.

I am getting tired of describing the divide as city [government] mouse vs. country [individualist] mouse here: 

Think of America as a set of stories. Not as a set of policies. Not as a set of ideals, even. But as a set of stories we tell about ourselves and who we want to be.

This, I think, is where my fellow progressives fall down. We can argue until we are blue in the face about what the data proves, or what the facts say, and we will usually be right. But what we offer isn’t a mythology of the self. What we offer is a collection of figures meant to add up to an identity, and that never works.

The place I come from has a story of itself that is centuries old. It has a series of traditions and beliefs that barely waver. Many of those beliefs can hurt and destroy. But some of them are still beautiful ideals. My little town still comes together to bear up its own who have fallen ill, will raise funds to make sure they can be well, or at least comfortable as they wait for the inevitable.

If you say we should have a social safety net to do that, I would agree with you, but the social safety net doesn’t have a name. You didn’t graduate from high school with it. You can’t name all of its kids. We are still social animals, and kindness still goes best with smiles and casseroles, not paperwork.

I find this profoundly reductive.

We can be kind to each other individually, or in small towns, but if you do it on a large scale it becomes anonymously bureaucratic and paperworky and cold? That’s all a social safety net IS, that casserole-and-kindness impulse writ large enough to encompass everyone, instead of just the people you know at church.

Instead of talking about how liberals don’t pay enough lip service to part of America, perhaps we should say that nobody in America is paying enough attention to America at all. Because this — “My little town still comes together to bear up its own who have fallen ill, will raise funds to make sure they can be well, or at least comfortable as they wait for the inevitable.” — is America.

This is government, by any other name.

That’s it. That’s all it is. Your town comes together to bear up its own who have fallen ill. Your community has decided to take care of its own. All government says is that the circle is wider. Your “own” is everybody you see and lots of people you don’t.

Look, we all break off the world in little pieces because loving it all is so expansive that we have to call it God, and that’s not some kind of flaw. I care about my neighbors more than I do about yours. That’s a human impulse.

The entire reason we have government is contained in that impulse. If I care about my circle and you care about yours, we end up with a bunch of vicious little gated communities suspicious of one another, unable to step outside our boundaries when the times demand.

Oh boy do the times ever demand we examine our boundaries. Wars, guns, poverty even in widespread abundance, violence on the part of the state towards its citizens and no way to check it, the ability of one man with a weapon to inflict harm on dozens at peaceful protests — this is a time when we are all retreating to our circles. We are all thinking we should just take care of our own small towns.

But we don’t WANT to limit ourselves. We WANT to take casseroles to everybody. If we know about an injustice we want to correct it. Ninety percent of our anger and our frustration right now is based on thinking ourselves powerless. We hear our own cynicism — gun control will never pass, the state will never be held to account, terrorists will never stop killing — and it exhausts us even as we utter it.

Our “leaders” for the past 30 years have specialized in telling us our problems are too big to solve, and giving us wonderful excuses not to give a shit. We can’t give anyone food stamps because some asshole found a way to use them for vodka on time. We can’t build decent schools and pay teachers fairly because my cousin’s girlfriend’s uncle knew a teacher that couldn’t be fired and anyway it’s the parenting. We can’t support cures for diseases or health care for anyone because it’s all too expensive and have you seen your tax bill lately?

And we can’t care about unarmed black people being shot dead by police over loose cigarettes or jaywalking or headlights, because there are too many of them, or one of them was rude, or we don’t really know the facts, or all lives matter, or by God if we let ourselves be hurt by this we will never stop hurting so close your eyes up tight.

We stay in our houses and we stay scared and we stay alone and we tell ourselves this is how it has to be, and we talk talk talk talk talk about how divided we are. We describe the canyon that separates us and we wish there was a bridge.

There is.

It’s called government. It’s called the goddamn system we built before some of us figured “system” could be used as a pejorative, it’s called the way we come together to make decisions about all of us, city mice and country mice alike. The thing we blame for creating the divide is the only thing that we have to heal it and instead of mocking it as inferior to a church social hour maybe we start using it.

Maybe we see how many people we can take casseroles to, if we pool our money. That’s taxes.

Maybe we decide to lift up the widow and the orphan, our own, and who and how and when. That’s elections.

Maybe we build roads and run wires and send our music out into the cosmos, and maybe we pull people from the floodwaters and try to put the fires out. That’s our national budget and our national debt and I don’t just mean the financial kinds.

Maybe we reach out over and over and over, and maybe our hand gets slapped back sometimes, and maybe some people figure out that they can make money by pitting the helpers against one another, and maybe instead of letting them get away with it we tell them to fuck themselves and keep doing the work anyway.

Maybe we let ourselves get taken advantage of. Many a small town benefit has raised funds for the less than perfect. Maybe we get braver, and stop acting like we need a perfect beautiful story in order to risk loving one another. Maybe we remember this is what we’ve been all along, writ large in the New Deal and unemployment and Social Security.

My little town still comes together to bear up its own who have fallen ill, will raise funds to make sure they can be well, or at least comfortable as they wait for the inevitable.

The social safety net doesn’t have a name? You didn’t go to school with it? You don’t know its kids?

For God’s sake, that’s America. That’s its name. That’s what we’ve called it all along.

A.

But All the Billionaires Will Leave Town!

Apparently nobody’s going Galt after all: 

States that levy a “millionaires tax” risk chasing those millionaires away to Florida, Texas, and other places with no income tax. Hedge fund manager David Tepper’s recent decision to move from New Jersey to Florida, possibly creating a billionaire-size hole in Jersey’s budget, raised alarms. Golf great Phil Mickelson, shortly after his infamous Dean Foods stock trade, complained about his high tax rate in California and threatened to move to Florida.

Now, a study based on 13 years of tax data finds that most millionaires don’t move cross-country just to avoid a tax bill. It turns out that the rich, while perhaps different from us, aren’t all that mobile. When they do move, it’s often for reasons that have nothing to do with taxes. For one thing, they appear to like the beach.

Shocking to me that super-rich people will whine and throw a tantrum and then do nothing real about it.

A.

Outrage Fatigue

Oh for fuck’s sake.

Do your damn job. Your damn job is to report on the story you see in front of you.

It isn’t your job to worry about what is “sticking” and what is not. It isn’t your job to worry about what will spur a Congressional hearing, and what will not. It isn’t your job to wonder if this thing today will “take down” somebody who you’ve discovered is a horrendous bastard who is going to hell. It isn’t your job to notice, despairingly, that every ugly thing that’s discovered about a politician makes his poll numbers go up.

All this bullshit, this “outrage fatigue” and “people will start to tune it out” and blah blah blah, it’s just worrying about your influence. It’s worrying about whether you, Mr. Upstanding Journalist, can Create Change by Breaking the Scandal That Brought Down the Powerful. It’s worrying about your brand, your image, your status, making you afraid that if you publish a story that so-and-so is a  war criminal who is breaking the law on the regular and people do not rise up and topple him, YOU will look bad.

When you worry that something isn’t “sticking,” you are worrying about who will LISTEN. That isn’t your job, to make sure someone will listen. Your job is to SPEAK.

It’s hard covering an endless flood of bullshit, just as it was difficult in the dark days of George W. Bush? It’s hard making time for each and every dumbass thing politicians like George W. Bush foisted on the country, and Donald Trump is threatening to foist? It’s a major bummer?

Guess what else is a major bummer?

Being the only Muslim kid in your kindergarten class and hearing your fellow five year olds talk about how your family is a bunch of terrorists.

Spending three tours of duty in Afghanistan, getting your left leg blown off, only to come home and have to wait 3 months for benefits to kick in.

Watching your grandbaby drink from a lead-poisoned tap because you can’t afford to move.

Hearing politicians spend hours and hours, days and days, discussing how mean they can be to one percent of the population that just wants to be left the fuck alone.

I swear, this is the election of everybody’s goddamn feelings and I’m about ready to send us all to bed without supper. Bernie bros muttering about conspiracies and elites, Hillary stalwarts complaining that young women haven’t paid their proper dues by being born after the Real Struggle, Republican “thinkers” writing 3,000-word essays about how awful they feel about having to lower themselves to associate with racists and plebes … These are groups of people who are going to be okay under Presidents Sanders, Clinton or even Trump, and they are filling up the Internets with high dudgeon over how they are Being Treated. Which, except for the recent incident of violent threats, is NOT A REAL THING. Almost none of it fucking matters.

You know what does? 

“I can’t even begin to picture how we would deport 11 million people in a few years where we don’t have a police state, where the police can’t break down your door at will and take you away without a warrant,” said Michael Chertoff, who led a significant increase in immigration enforcement as the secretary of Homeland Security under President George W. Bush.

So give me a fucking break with this crap about it’s hard for the media to get their shit together when people are this evil in these quantities. It’s not hard. They just have to get over themselves, which in and of itself is a luxury. Your hardest day involves an existential crisis, half a bottle of Chardonnay and some soul-searching.

Your next hardest involves realizing that nobody gives a shit about your feelings, your brand, your image, your influence, or anything else about YOU. Focus on the damn story in front of you, and if you can’t, if you’re too tired and it’s too hard, get out of the chair. I got ten people in a line who’ll kill for the shot you have.

Schmucks.

A.

How We Keep People Out

Back when I covered land use issues I heard this kind of thing all the time: 

In this second case, out of Arizona, the Ninth Circuit reversed a lower court’s finding. In the reversal, the federal court held that local zoning rules could be struck down if they unfairly block housing access for minorities. In this case, the city of Yuma had rejiggered its zoning map after it saw a proposal by a real estate developer to build “moderately priced” units on a parcel next to a mainly white, mainly single-family home area.

Uproar over the proposal raised familiar objections, according to the decision. Previous construction by the same developer “tended to have large households, use single-family homes as multi-family dwellings, allow unattended children to roam the streets, own numerous vehicles which they parked in the streets and in their yards, lack pride of ownership, and fail to maintain their residences,” argued a resident of a nearby property.

Another wrote: “These homes… turned into multifamily dwellings, which in turn led to more unattended juveniles and crime.”

Moderately priced housing! The horror! People raising their children in APARTMENTS! Unattended juveniles! (They can’t possibly mean groups of black kids, right? My neighborhood has tons of unattended juveniles everywhere, usually walking to or from Little League practice. It’s awful. Sometimes they litter.)

I read the linked story above just after reviewing yet another set of newspaper comments to the effect that if poor city people wanted better schools they’d have moved to the suburbs, which obviously they can’t if there are no houses cheaper than 500K and apartments are looked at as drug dens. How are you supposed to get those great schools for your kids if you aren’t a couple of neurosurgeons with family money behind you?

We make these things impossible and then blame people for not accomplishing them.

A.

Maybe Detroit’s Teachers Could Sell Some Bling

Then they could afford to work! 

“There’s a basic agreement in America: When you put in a day’s work, you’ll receive a day’s pay. DPS is breaking that deal,” Ivy Bailey, the union’s interim president, said in a statement. “Teachers want to be in the classroom giving children a chance to learn and reach their potential. Unfortunately, by refusing to guarantee that we will be paid for our work, DPS is effectively locking our members out of the classrooms.”

Teachers rallied at the school system’s headquarters Detroit on Monday morning to “protest the news that Detroit educators will not be paid for their work,” according to a news release.

On Monday evening, the union indicated that the sickout would extend for a second day on Tuesday. “We do not work for free and therefore we do not expect you to report to school tomorrow,” Bailey wrote to members.

The school system has a $515 million operating debt and a total debt that exceeds $3 billion.

Or roughly what GE avoids in taxes every year. 

I do not know what to do with a country where this is acceptable. Where we can have schools that are quite literally moldy, and everybody involved should have just made different choices. From the entirely predictable garbage comments:

They need to eliminate paying teachers yearly and just pay them for the school year. If someone can’t manage to budget for the summer months, that’s their problem.

charlie

Look, the majority of my offline work is contract freelance. I don’t love paying taxes. In fact, I frickin’ hate it. But I like having good schools and lots of cops around and mostly clean streets and a park district with a zillion programs and OH YEAH IT’S NICE TO HAVE ROADS AND SHIT TOO. And a library. I really dig the library.

So I grit my teeth and close my eyes and write the checks, and the return I get is what I’ve paid for because that’s how this country is supposed to work. Not TOO BAD SO SAD DUMB TEACHERS HURR DURR and acting like determining who took six cents from the till fixes the structure of the American economy.

They elected the politicians and school board that ran off with the money. NOW they complain? Kick ’em all to the curb – spend their pension money on new gym equipment and hope for better next time.

michelleyeroll2

A.

Why I’m Not Afraid of President Trump’s Economic Policies

Shit like this: 

“It depends on how aggressive you want to be. I’d rather not be so aggressive. Don’t forget: We have to rebuild the infrastructure of our country. We have to rebuild our military, which is being decimated by bad decisions. We have to do a lot of things. We have to reduce our debt, and the best thing we have going now is that interest rates are so low that lots of good things can be done that aren’t being done, amazingly.” In other words, Trump wants to spend on infrastructure. He doesn’t really care about eliminating the debt. That’s Republican campaign talk.

He doesn’t actually have any idea what he’s doing. I am far, far more nervous about the economic consequences of somebody like Cruz, who has fully bought into an ideology and owns every ALEC-themed item possible including the hat and giveaway keychain, or Kasich, who would have done to Ohio what Walker did to Wisconsin if the voters hadn’t been able to stop him.

Trump has a vague idea of what motivates his pissed off voters, the ones who aren’t just racist and dumb. They want to get back to work and they want to feel like they’re contributing, and they want to feel like they have the capacity to address the misery they see around them. They’re sick of being told they’re powerless, so here’s Trump saying let’s fix some shit already.

By building a wall and telling China to fuck off and smacking Putin with our national dick, is the problem, but I have a lot more faith in that working than in Reaganomics at this point.

A.

Kids Today Just Don’t Want to Save Money!

Buy a house, young’uns! 

“A lot of folks said that millennials would go off and just rent,” said Jonathan Corr, chief executive of Ellie Mae in Pleasanton, Calif. “But as they hit those life-event years in terms of getting married, having children, they’re starting to make that transition.”

That doesn’t mean they’re ready to sign a check. Millennials in about half of large metropolitan areas are underestimating how much they’ll need for a down payment on their first home and are not saving at a fast enough pace.

I see “incredibly screwed by the service/gig/contract economy and paying too much for every aspect of their health care and saddled by student loans from STATE SCHOOL and until recently nobody was working at all” is the new “not saving enough to buy a house.”
When the median damn home price in any neighborhood that is not a demilitarized zone is $300,000, you tell me where to get 20 percent.

Look at this:

Surveyed millennials reported current savings at $14,469, monthly savings of $360 and help from outside sources of $8,264, on average. At that pace, it’ll take them nearly 28 years to save enough money for a down payment, even though 37 percent of millennials said they’re planning to buy between three and five years from now.

So they have that much in savings and WHOOPS STILL CAN’T LIVE IN SAN FRAN because they are not the Rich Kids of Instagram:

In the San Francisco region, a 20 percent down payment on a median starter home (based on price data from Trulia) runs at about $142,800, more than double what respondents to Apartment List’s poll estimated.

That is insane. Even if you are making, let’s say 60K, in your twenties which is a dubious proposition in the “work for the ‘exposure’ and the ‘opportunity'” economy, the DOWN PAYMENT is more than twice your annual income. “Well, just move somewhere cheaper!” Okay, and the jobs there are … just as good? At least acknowledge that some places deliberately — through government policy — price out the people who work there, mandating those people have long commutes in from affordable locations, creating wear and tear on both the roads and their lives.

Mr. A and I, in our early 40s, have no problems anyone should care about, and we still look around where we live and say, well, if we moved someplace where our jobs wouldn’t be as good, we could afford a much bigger place … if only we were making as much money as we are with the jobs we have here which we couldn’t necessarily. Which makes no fucking sense, and we attended college in the glory days when you could either self-fund most of your tuition or your parents could pay for it without mortgaging THEIR house. Like I said, we ain’t poor and this is still a whackadoodle equation, so what if you’re just starting out and have 100K in debt on your back?

I would not be a 19-year-old again if you put a gun to my head.

A.

Chick Issues

My friend Emma, who is brilliant on this campaign season: 

This is an especially weird year for dissecting gender politics. On the one hand, we have Hillary Clinton, who, unlike any other presidential candidate, has the added advantage in appealing to women of actually being a woman. On the other hand, there is Donald J. Trump, whose predominantly white, male supporters delight in him saying “politically incorrect” things, even when that means implying that his opponent’s wife is unattractive.

Mr. Trump is also running a campaign that answers the question, What if male voters were treated like female voters? What if they were reduced to a single issue, condescended to, and counted on to show up anyway?

There are plenty of examples of how campaigns have done just that to female voters for years.

In 2014, the College Republican National Committee released a series of ads aimed at young women, based on the TLC program “Say Yes to the Dress,” with Republican candidates for governor standing in for garish taffeta creations. In one of the ads, a young woman models a strapless wedding gown called “The Rick Scott,” to her female friends’ delight. Her mother wants her to wear the frumpy “Charlie Crist” dress.

In his re-election campaign that same year, Senator Mark Udall, Democrat of Colorado, ran ads contrasting his record on supporting access to abortion and birth control with that of his challenger, Cory Gardner. At one point in the campaign, ads about abortion and birth control made up more than 50 percent of the television spots Mr. Udall had on the air, earning him the nickname “Mark Uterus.” In the end, Mr. Udall won the female vote by aneight-point margin, but still lost to Mr. Gardner.

At a time when a woman’s place is in combat, it is FUCKING INSANE that our two neverending wars are not considered a “women’s issue.” At least the pay gap has something to do with the economy, but overall women are considered to care about boobies and babies and that is IT. I wouldn’t say abortion access and breast cancer treatment are unimportant, but I would say our country’s economic condition and the state of our health care system and how much we pay in taxes have something to do with our lives as well.

Reducing us to candidate “shopping” like we’re buying clothes is bad. So is reducing us to childcare and breast exams.

A.

Other People Aren’t Your Tourist Attraction

On seeing Cuba “before it’s ruined.” 

I appreciate good art direction just as much as anyone else, and I see that Cuba looks like a beautifully destroyed photo op. But it’s not your photo op. The old cars are not kitschy; they are not a choice. It’s all they have. The old buildings are not preserved; their balconies are falling and killing people all the time. The very, very young girls prostituting themselves are not doing it because they can’t get enough of old Canadian men, but because it pays more than being a doctor does. Hospitals for regular Cuban citizens are not what Michael Moore showed you in Sicko. (That was a Communist hospital for members of the Party and for tourists, and I, for one, think Moore fell for their North Korea–like propaganda show pretty hard.) There are no janitors in the hospitals because it pays more money to steal janitorial supplies and sell them on the street than it does to actually have a job there. Therefore, the halls and rooms are covered in blood, urine, and feces, and you need to bring your own sheets, blankets, pillows, towels, and mattresses when you are admitted. Doctors have to reuse needles on patients. My mom’s aunt had a stroke and the doctor’s course of treatment was to “put her feet up and let the blood rush back to her head.” That was it. And this is in Havana, the big city. I can’t be sure, but I’d imagine things there are a lot better than they are in more remote parts of the country.

I get the desire for an authentic experience of a place. I do not understand the people who eat their way through the world one Hard Rock Café at a time, who go somewhere else and bitch it’s not home. When Mr. A and I went to Jamaica we stayed, on purpose, in a locally owned hotel. When we went to Paris I was comically excited to be shacking up in someone’s rented apartment instead of in a Comfort Inn (and not just because it was a fraction of the cost). I get the desire to really see a place as it is, and not just as the brochures present it.

But there’s a line you cross when you decide what “authentic” is, and publicly pine for a backdrop for yourself, ignoring the desires of the people populating that backdrop for the 51 weeks out of the year you’re not there. Your vacation doesn’t trump someone’s daily life. Your vacation photos will survive.

Would it be sad to see a Disney Store in downtown Havana? We have one in downtown Chicago, and it doesn’t seem to have done dick for anyone living south of the Loop, so I’ll leave it up to the Cubans as to what they want where. If I need poverty porn for my Instagram there will always be somewhere miserable for me to pose.

A.

 

‘sad but entirely unavoidable natural disasters’

The Belt is doing the smartest reporting on the election right now: 

 Since at least the 2000 election, populist concerns have percolated to the pages of mainstream press, only to drift from the front page back into the business section after the delegates are all counted. It’s a sort of business-as-usual mentality, occasionally giving us heart-wrenching stories of individual factory closings delivered with the same sentimental fatalism used when writing about sad but entirely unavoidable natural disasters. Or, on the other end of the rhetorical spectrum, are the dry and context-free prognostications offered up in “market watch” sections of major newspapers. Both are inaccurate and amoral ways of telling the story of the decimation of America’s middle class and the uprooting of its industrial economic base. The first has all of the saccharine condescension of an anthropologist’s personal field notes about the tribulations of an alien tribe. The other, while at least honest, is also nihilist. Both reveal the larger truth that the upper-middle-class professional prognosticators are simply talking amongst themselves. No wonder they didn’t see it coming.

To be fair, this is how the legacy press covers almost everything. Identifying who is responsible for something requires upsetting someone, and upsetting people is to be avoided at all costs. It’s not even biased as much as it is bloodless, and an element of shock is necessary to maintain the fiction that what has happened to the middle class, and also the poor, has just happened. Rather than, has been done to them, by someone or a group of someones, on purpose.

I’ve been saying for a long time that we have convinced ourselves we are powerless in order to get out of doing work. Whether out of laziness or fear, we have convinced ourselves that factories are closing, the jobs aren’t coming back, and this is the new reality that everybody (else) just has to get used to from now on. That way, we can rail against “market forces” the way you bitch about the weather when it rains on circus day: Out of a desire to comfort yourself, since there’s nothing you can do about the wind.

You know what market forces are? They’re decisions people made. Holding people accountable for those decisions is what we all have to do. I get it’s hard and it’s not much comfort knowing you have to act, have to caucus and show up and canvas and work, and knowing that if you don’t you have to feel responsible, but there’s no other way out of this.

Things will change. There’s an easy way and a hard way, and whether or not the stunned elites realize it, electing a candidate who can at least entertain the notion of being skeptical of unfair trade is the easy way. The hard way would be for the jobs of lawyers, doctors, pundits, and the Washington elite to disappear also. It’s the next logical step in the telos of a rapacious marketplace monomaniacally focused on increasing shareholder value to the detriment of actually having a consumer class.

They’ll be just as shocked to see it coming for them as they were for everybody else.

A.

Passing Down Trauma Through Generations

Home ownership: The American dream. Your grandparents owned a house, your parents owned a house, now you own a house. Through all those years you were able to live securely and build upon the equity in those homes for things like college and emergencies and travel, things that made you the solid middle-class citizen you are.

Unless you couldn’t: 

Levittown gave white families all the early draws, but so did most communities. All across America, exclusionary zoning kept blacks out of white neighborhoods, and where it didn’t, the white neighborhoods put restrictive covenants in the deeds to the same effect. Even in the absence of legal constraints, real estate brokers steered blacks into poorer neighborhoods. The National Association of Real Estate Boards explicitly instructed their members to keep blacks out of white neighborhoods.

And if they overcame all those obstacles and found a house they could actually buy, blacks found it nearly impossible to get the mortgage they needed to afford it. The FHA drew a red line around black neighborhoods to warn banks not to lend there. Their appraisal manualstold them to stay away from “inharmonious racial groups.” Out of 67,000 mortgages insured by the G.I. bill, less than 100 went to blacks.

There is so much smug shit that goes on when white commentators talk about black communities. You know, the “just move out of there” line, the “just sell some bling and buy a suburban house near good schools” conceit. Our Contrarian Columnists who are in no danger of missing a meal are sure it’s a lack of willpower that keeps black families living where they live: 

Recently Chicago Tribune columnist John Kass suggested suburban taxpayers would be the ones to foot the bill for a CPS bailout. His idea rests on the notion that if the State of Illinois bails out CPS, it will be on the backs of more affluent suburban homeowners. Kass wrote his soliloquy to suburban taxpayers: “You don’t need me to tell you how much they’ve sacrificed. You know what you’ve given up, or delayed – from that car you didn’t buy to the vacation you never took – to put that down payment together. You know how hard you looked to find the right schools, the research you did on test scores.”

Yeah! You worked hard, Googling those test scores! You deserve those good schools!

Bill McDonald demolishes that cluelessness with the force it deserves:

How do local policies further the divide? Kass seems to think that if poor families simply do their research and postpone a vacation, they could choose to live in the suburbs. Putting off a vacation – is that enough to move to a community where housing prices average $400,000? How often do wealthy suburbs demand developers add affordable housing? Rarely, if ever.

The inequity is compounded because, for most of the 20th century, minorities were not allowed to live in many communities due to redlining and other racist practices. Minorities were relegated to communities where poverty was concentrated, property values were minimized, and generational wealth was nearly impossible to develop.

It’s not like poor families are so dumb they choose not to live in wealthy suburbs. They don’t live there because they can’t afford to move to such fairy tale towns. If they’re black or brown, they only recently gained the right to move to many of these places.

And in many neighborhoods, they wind up with their windows broken, swastikas painted on their sidewalks, their kids spit on at school, in the 21st goddamn century. But hey, maybe they just lack the imagination to see if they wouldn’t go on that cruise this year, they could buy a whole corner lot with a foursquare on it!

Do middle-class families make sacrifices for their children’s education? Absolutely. But do those sacrifices come from a place of security already, wherein there’s a roof over their heads, nobody’s throwing bottles at their cars, and their grandparents enjoyed the same basic freedoms they do? Absolutely as well. So to pretend everybody started from the same place is at best dishonest, and at worse historically ignorant and deliberately stupid.

A.