Category Archives: Housing/Homelessness

Homewreckers and Nationwreckers United

The bestselling Homewreckers: How a Gang of Wall Street Kingpins, Hedge Fund Magnates, Crooked Banks, and Vulture Capitalists Suckered Millions Out of Their Homes and Demolished the American Dream is more than a must read, it is a have to immediately read! Glantz covers the beginnings and the rash aftermath of the 2008 Subprime Housing bubble. Even though I have followed the story pretty carefully, Glantz pinpoints things I did not know until reading this important book. Just one example is how the Vulture Capitalists, like present Treasury Secretary Steve Mnunchin and Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross, to name but a few of the scoundrels currently surrounding Mr. Trump, made fortunes on the taxpayers’ dime. They not only bought failed Subprime specialty banks, as I call them, for pennies on the dollar (only as a favor to this empire), but they got more than special privileges from Uncle Sam.

Before I expand on this, take the example of your local Mom and Pop coffee shop. Let’s say the place was bought a few years ago for $50,k000. In the interim the place was losing business steadily. New investors came in and bought it for $20,000. They then turned around and decided to unload it for the same $20k. Would the government then make up the difference for what it was worth a few years ago and give the sellers the difference of $30,000? No way in Hell! Yet, for Mnuchin and his partners committing, what I call, “a Legal Crime” that is what Uncle Sam did for them — and did it happily to “save the economy.” Glantz explains how when Mnuchin and Co. took over Indy Mac bank in a fire sale, changed its name to One West, and were left holding thousands of toxic mortgages. These were homes that were foreclosed or ready to be foreclosed. One example would be if a home had been assessed at $300,000 and was now worth $100,000, One West would sell the home for the $100,000 and the FDIC would repay them the difference of $200,000. I kid you not! Sheila Bair, the head of the FDIC at the time, actually stated that this was done to save our economy. I guess Sheila never heard of the term Receivership, whereupon Uncle Sam could buy up those banks at the same fire sale prices, keep the people in those homes and reconfigure better rates and terms to keep them from the street. THAT  would save the economy, but THAT  is  a Socialistic practice. Ah, the empire does not like anything Socialistic, as we see with even the rather tame Bernie Sanders version of Socialism.

What Homewreckers also focused on was the newest economic pandemic hitting our nation: The corporate Absentee Landlords. Glantz writes how Steve Schwarzman of the Blackstone Group, and his partner Pete Peterson, bought up foreclosed homes by the tens of thousands and turned them into rental properties. Many times the folks who once owned a home were now tenants in the same house, now under the auspices of their landlord, The Blackstone Group. We are talking of other such corporate vultures who followed suit and today we have this fact: in most major cities throughout America there are more homes as rentals than there are homes owned by individuals who live in them. Of course, this doesn’t even take into account the system, feudalistic as it is, of apartment houses owned by absentee landlords who own thousands of such places. In 2018 The Blackstone Group owned over 11,000 rental apartments In just New York City alone!

Another two individuals who are making fortunes owning slews of low income rental apartments are none other than Sean Hannity and Jared Kushner. One wonders if people who like to watch Sean on his TV show each night, or listen to his dribble on his radio show, are aware that they are tenants of his! As to young Kushner, son of major NYC real estate royalty, son-in-law of President Cheetos and friend of the Zionist-led Israeli government, does he care that his LLC corporation evicts just as easily as Hannity’s LLC does? Of course, with today’s laws that protect the identity of those who actually own these properties, perhaps none of these two landlords’ tenants even know who in the hell owns their residence! Yes, it is good to Make America Great Again for the Super Rich.

The real sin here is that this is all part of a concerted effort to bring us back to a Neo Feudalistic state. Along with the abundance of Part Time, No Union, No Benefits Employment, as the rents go up on where working stiffs have to live, many of us are but a few paychecks from the street, if not there already! Sadly, we know the right-wing half of this Two Party-One Party system, the Republicans, don’t care at all. It’s the other half, the “center right”-wing aka the Democrats, who have done NOTHING to address what Aaron Glantz pinpoints as the Vulture Capitalist takeover of our economy. When Obama took over from the Bush/Cheney gang in 2009, all he did was continue the giveaway to the vultures. Of course Trump, the poster boy of the real Deep State, has actually put these jackals inside his government! And much of the general public is more afraid of — God forbid — Socialism than these cutthroats!

Brother/Sister Can You Spare a Warm Shelter?

On the Streets

The tip of the proverbial iceberg when it comes to homelessness is what the average person sees on Newport’s streets – mostly men, some women, seeking a public or private building’s overhang to get out of the rain.

Many on the streets are disheveled, struggling with mental health issues and addiction. Others are not so easily identified as homeless people.

Creating a permanent warming shelter is one stop-gap measure the Newport (OR) Working Group on Homelessness has been grappling with for more than a year.

On Feb. 5, more than 20 people filled the cramped space in the Avery building (where DHS offices are co-located with other agencies) to move this group into achievable goals.

Outside the DHS office, fighting against the gale force rain, many of these house-less people were on the covered concrete pad that lead up to the offices housing SNAP and TANF DHS workers.

They were seeking a dry space and companionship.

I asked one fellow – he said he goes by Fred, age 47 — what he wants immediately as a homeless citizen.

“Look, I see families out there with kids in tents. That’s just not right. I am okay living in the woods, but even a dude like me wants something, some place, to get out or the rain and cold. Even some simple open carport like structure, man. Nothing fancy. They should be all over the place.”

We talked about portable toilets, even cold-water taps and sanitary soaps. “Look, with this virus over in China, coming here. . . you think the powers to be would think about sanitation. I guess the solution is to let us die off in the woods . . . or ship us off to come sort of camp.”

Paul looking for camps.

Task Force with Teeth?

Inside, a city council woman, the Lincoln County Sheriff, plethora of social services leaders, private citizens and others coalesced to try to come up with a plan and priorities. The agenda to create safe transitional housing, welcoming and effective car camping regulations, policies for tent camping areas, and siting a warming shelter is daunting. Also, on the agenda was the big slice of the pie – addressing health and health-related issues.

Newport Policewoman Jovita Ballentine and Sheriff Curtis Launders were among the group wondering “how all this money spent on services” for these so-called “frequent users” (of the ER) really helps people with mental health issues who spend their days hanging out at such places as the Newport Rec Center.

For Launders, mental illness and addiction are the root causes of the homeless police agencies run into on a daily basis.

For Samaritan House director Lola Jones, helping homeless get out of the elements and into programs to assist them into permanent housing are part of a bigger picture. She reiterated that the Task Force is not a panacea for all the underlying issues why people end up homeless.

Amanda Cherryholmes, Lincoln City manager for Communities Helping Addicts Negotiate Change Effectively (C.H.A.N.C.E.), was quick to push back on the myth that more homeless services in an area will bring more homeless into the community. Cherryholmes cited counterarguments to that belief.

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She also pointed out that car camping allowances and even some concerted effort to have designated spaces with port-a-potty’s and storage facilities don’t address the fact “most people can’t afford to keep their car running when temperatures hit the low thirties or below.”

Also, at the meeting was a board member of Grace Wins Haven. Betty Kamikawa, president of the board of directors, ramified the point many in Newport and Lincoln County profess: “Hotels are struggling because of Air B & B. The vacation rentals have caused so many people to become homeless.”

I met people at Grace Wins after the taskforce adjourned. For Betty and the Haven director, Tracie Flowers, the crisis of unhoused individuals in Lincoln County is growing out of proportion to the solutions.

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The US had a shortage of 7.8 million units of affordable housing for very low income (7.5 million) and homeless (400,000) households and individuals in 2017, according the National Low Income Housing Coalition using US Census data. The US Department of Housing and Urban Development’s count had number of homeless higher, at 550,000 on any given night. The US Department of Education reported that 1.5 million school children experienced a period of homelessness during 2017.

Shelter Us from the Storm

“We need more shelters first,” Tracie said. “Too many people think the homeless are one type of individual. They are not.” That belief creates huge conflicts within social services agencies, non-profits, religious organizations, and for the homeless themselves.

Amanda Cherryholmes wants a more robust assessment of people coming into shelters and transitional housing. “We need to figure out what services the individual needs. Each one has different needs.”

She militated against the idea just any individual should end up in a warming shelter or in car camping arrangements. “There are two distinct groups. Families and young people needing shelter. And then single men.”

She pointed out that having a sexual offender among a group of homeless in a communal setting is not a good idea.

There are some brighter horizons in the mix. Some churches are stepping up to the plate.

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Tiny Homes, Relaxing Zoning

Pastor of the First Presbyterian Church, Kelsey Ingalls, on her Feb. 2, 2020 church blog discusses one small effort to avail the housing shortage: six cottages at time on church property.

“We formed the Exploration Team which is undertaking a feasibility study to form a partnership with Habitat for Humanity of Lincoln County and other local service agencies to help meet the housing needs of homeless, single-parentfamiliesThe Exploration Team is looking into the idea of building six two-bedroom/one-bath cottages on the southeast corner of the Church campus.  We are proposing a circular village layout with front porches and a central common area. Supportive services would be provided by our local service agency partners.”

Before the task force convened, Blair Bobier, Regional Director of Legal Aid Services, sent out an email framing the impetus behind the Newport Working Group on Homeless:

“There are many service providers who agree that some form of a ‘coalition’ model is an important next step towards addressing homelessness in our community.  In other places, one form of this model included a regular meeting of elected officials and law enforcement, along with service providers, to ensure that there was sufficient coordination among involved parties.  As has been pointed out, here in Newport, the Lincoln County Affordable Housing Partners (AHP) is a great example of service providers coming together on a regular basis—along with developers, government officials and members of the faith community—to exchange information and work towards common goals.”

With this huge brain trust in one room, and the compassion and passionate solutions-driven people commenting on what needs to be prioritized, it’s clear Newport and Lincoln County at large have many hurdles to overcome as homelessness and housing precarious situations are growing.

Relaxing zoning laws, and rolling up of sleeves will help develop coordinated efforts to get people out of the cold, screen people through various social services resources, and begin to help coastal communities look at the long-range health of affordable housing in this coastal area.

“Over the two years’ operating, Grace Wins has had over 2,000 clients coming through. Some stay a while. The fact is by this September there will be no winter shelter as the Commons will be torn down. Nothing for the homeless and the farmer’s market,” Betty Kamikawa stated.

Since Housing and Urban Development (HUD) no longer funds states for shelters, the onus is on states, counties and municipalities to grapple with the steadily growing problem.

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Running a Permanent Shelter Costs Money

Without financial support, and without volunteers, a shelter is a pipe dream. “We have to have financial support,” Jones stated.

Cynthia Jacobi, Newport City Council, told me at a PFLAG event at OCCC Feb. 8 she is hopeful that HB – 4001 will spur serious discourse on what to do about the homeless population in relationship to cities having the tools to allow for shelters. House Speaker Tina Kotek, D-Portland, has introduced a $120 million proposal to allow cities to more easily site homeless shelters. Kotek also wants a statewide emergency declaration on the homeless problem.

Jacobi too sees the need for immediate mitigation and a shelter for this emergency-sized problem here in Newport.

Pastor Ingalls on her blog tells her congregation a chilling fact most social services agencies in Lincoln County also shudder to contemplate – There’s a 17% homeless rate in our local schools. How a community frames the idea that nearly 1 out of every 5 students don’t have stable housing while the county is home to many second home residents will be important.

Several compelling stories about people who are homeless dying exposed to the elements were discussed at the meeting: According to Kamikawa, an 87-year-old Lincoln County resident was found dead in her car. She had been in an apartment living with her disabled son. Electrical wires were eaten through by rats. She had no electricity. She was evicted. She had a stroke while living in her car with her son.

Putting a face on and a story behind each homeless person might get the average person to think about how he or she can support a shelter and permanent housing solution as well as volunteering some hours each month to stem the tide of tragedies like this one.

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Grilling Newport City Councilwoman

I decided to ask a Newport City Councilwoman some questions on homelessness and next steps.

Paul Haeder:  What role do you see citizens joining the Homeless Task Force?

Cynthia Jacobi: I’m the City Liaison to the Homeless Work Group/coalition.

PH:  What role do you see citizens joining the Homeless Task Force?

CJ: I see the role of citizens in the new homeless coalition work group (as yet without an official name or title) as coming forth with the best ideas tailored for our community. Social services, government entities, law-enforcement, interfaith community and concerned citizens can all have a Voice in shaping these policies.

PH:  Why are you involved?

CJ: I have always felt a strong sense of social justice.  I see Families with more than one parent working who still cannot afford safe and decent shelter. Sometimes the cost of an illness, a car repair, or other unexpected costs forces the choice between buying groceries or paying rent or utility bills. Children in unstable situations are especially vulnerable.

As a wealthy society, in good conscience we cannot say there is no room at the inn. We have the means to house all of our population.  With strong leadership and compassion, I know we can do this.

PH: Will the Task Force cover larger issues?

CJ: There are so many overlapping issues:

The new Oregon State House Bill 4001 which may be a game changer in zoning, and funding.

All coastal communities have been addressing the Short-Term Rentals impact on housing inventory for working folks.

It is a valid suggestion to have a study on the actual impact economically and socially of STRs. For example:   Does the room tax cover expenses of police and fire departments, wear on roads, etc.?  Who would finance this study?

The City of Newport has been instrumental in building Surfview, the 110-apartment complex for lower-income citizens. This will open by summer. This was accomplished with a complex partnership of public and private funds, and the leadership in local city and county government. Need to do more of this.

PH: What role do you see mental health services playing in this move to have both temporary homeless facilities (a night facility) and also a warming shelter?

CJ: My understanding is that the county mental health providers have formed out-reach teams Which will go directly to unsheltered people, assess their needs and provide services and contacts for assistance.

PH: Car camping at churches and non-profits and governmental parking areas WITH some sort of case management and oversight seems like a good first step in getting the housing insecure into a system of evaluation and moving ahead with housing options. Is this the biggest and easiest priority now?

CJ: I think the quickest way to make an impact is to allow safe, supervised car camping in Newport.  Newport Planning Commission is in the process of examining our ordinances to allow car camping in certain Defined areas.  Along with oversight, outreach teams, and case management, this is the easiest first step to create safe shelter areas. Women, children, and seniors living in their cars are especially vulnerable. At the very least, they need a safe place to stay at night. We can do this.

I heard anecdotally that much of the seasonal help lives in their cars and rents small storage lockers for belongings.

PH: Do you know anyone personally or within a family circle who have been or are housing insecure, or homeless?

CJ: Personally, I have a few family members who have experienced bad luck, poor choices, and mental illness causing them to live in unstable conditions.

My husband, Gary, and I have volunteered at the overnight shelter.  We have met people displaced from their previous long-term housing, people who can’t afford rent, people who are disabled.

A common problem is affordability when working folks have to pay the first month, the last month, a damage deposit and utility hook ups. Before any of this can happen, there is background check costing $50 per adult for each application, even to be placed on a waiting list. While realizing that landlords must be protected, this situation seems unfair. How many working families can afford $2500 and more up front?

PH: What role do businesses and the chambers have in helping get some sort of affordable housing for the very people who clean the fish, serve the food, chop the veggies, clean the hotels, etc.? Can we get a round-table together, a charrette, where we bring a large brain trust together to attack the housing insecurity and the street homeless issues as a multi-pronged problem to solve?

CJ: As far as the responsibilities of businesses and chambers of commerce: Some businesses have stepped up to help their workers.  In particular, one of the fish plants has purchased motels and converted them to longer-term living quarters.

In the last few years, Newport has lost three large economy motels: one deteriorated and was bulldozed, one burned, and the fish plant bought another one. (or two?). These motels were often used as emergency shelters with vouchers by government agencies.

– The availability of housing related to jobs is affected by public transport access.

– Walkability and bicycle access are also important.

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Jacobi third from the right.

PDX: Taking City Hall

If Chloe Eudaly can keep her seat, and Margot Black wins hers, we could have a pro-worker, pro-renter majority in the Portland City Council.

What is a city?  I mean, what is a city for?  That, of course, depends on who you ask.  For most rich people, for real estate speculators and developers, cities are their main source of income.  Cities are places where millions of people need housing, and housing is an investment you profit from massively, because everybody needs it, no matter how expensive it becomes.  And you can monopolize it, and fix prices, and make trillions of dollars from the misery of a hundred million American tenants.  If you’re rich.

Most people aren’t rich, and don’t benefit from the laissez faire economics that allow the real estate developers and offshore investors to profit so handsomely from our rents in places like Portland and Seattle doubling and tripling and quadrupling.  But it is the interests of those real estate developers, those housing capitalists, that most of the political bodies governing most US cities serve.

This is not, however, how they generally get elected.  In fact, I don’t know of a single case where someone runs for office saying they will facilitate an atmosphere conducive to real estate speculation and rent-gouging.  They focus on other things.  People like, say, former Portland mayor Sam Adams.  He’s currently in the race for Portland City Council, and his platform is basically a bunch of drivel — but it’s progressive drivel, hitting the right sorts of talking points, with nothing approaching a concrete proposal.

People running on platforms that look like some progressive version of trying to please everybody are, I have learned over the course of the past 52 years, lying.  When you’re living through a housing crisis of unprecedented proportions that is worsening dramatically by the month, and a political platform says nothing about the radical changes necessary to take on the real estate developers, who are making record profits off of so much human misery, while our neighbors are priced out of town, or move into their cars, that campaign is worthless.  And when such a campaign is starting up in direct opposition to the first renter from the east side of town ever to be on the esteemed political body, I believe, Chloe Eudaly, who has upset the upper caste elements of society who are used to running things, then the motivations are laid bare.

But if Chloe manages to keep her seat, and if Margot Black wins the contest for the seat that has become available because of the death of Councilor Nick Fish, Portland could have a pro-worker, pro-renter majority in the city council for the first time that I’m aware of — not to mention a continuation of the female majority that we already have.

With the outrageous shenanigans going on at the moment in Iowa, not to mention so many other elections, and what with the generally captured nature of government at every level in the United States today, it’s hard to get excited about any of these exercises of our largely broken democracy.  Social change is more likely to happen because of factors other than elections, history abundantly illustrates.  But history — and current events — also demonstrate that pro-renter majorities in municipal governments can enact laws that can challenge the status quo in many different ways, and can be part of a broader movement to make housing a human right, the way health care has already now become for the vast majority of Oregon residents by 2020.

In the epic struggle between the haves and the have-nots that quietly characterizes life for so many struggling workers trying to stay on top of paying their ever-increasing rent, paying down their credit card debts, their student loans, and all the other bills that seem to increase in number with modern life, Margot has always been on the side of the have-nots.  As a long-time Portland resident, I have seen her in action on countless occasions, as an advocate for tenants, as a founding organizer of the Portland Tenants Union.

When dangerous radicals appear to be about to take power, the Right tends to send lots of their money to some establishment candidate that won’t be talking about public housing, or housing the public, for real, beyond the usual verbal diarrhea, unconnected from any actual intentions, especially of the variety that might have a positive impact for the working class, and a negative impact on the real estate capitalists.  I predict Sam Adams’ campaign will be awash in money.  I predict the same thing will be true of whoever the establishment decides to back to oppose Margot.

While the electoral game is even more rigged than the social ladder is in the US generally, it is worth noting here that you do not need to be a Portland resident to donate to Margot’s campaign, any more than the landlord lobby in Washington, DC needs to live in Portland to support the establishment candidates.  Any US resident or green card holder can donate.  A local program aimed at making elections a bit less corrupt will see to it that donations to Margot’s campaign are multiplied by sixfold through public funding.

If you’re a local, I hope to see you at one of Margot’s campaign events — you can get plugged in at votemargot.com, where you can also hear her very well-written campaign song.

Neoliberal (Mis)Governance

Neoliberalism is more than an epithet. It’s more than an economic program, or another name for globalization. It may be all of these, but most importantly, it’s a political practice. The dominant political practice of our overlords.

The problem, however, is that neoliberalism as politics rarely has a bright light shown on its shadowy manipulations. Recently 48hills, a SF Bay area news website, published an exposé on precisely that. It reveals Silicon Valley billionaires, real estate developers, academics, non-profit leaders, local politicians and, of course, ill-informed journalists all conniving to further an agenda hidden from public scrutiny. The smell of rot pervades the scene. The scene being a stew of secret meetings.

So, what’s this all about?

In case you haven’t heard, the San Francisco Bay area is facing a housing crisis and the cabal mentioned above has banded together to solve it. How great! The trouble is that they are collaborating to provide self-serving solutions behind the backs of the populace, but on their (our!) dime.

Corruption? What’s new? This isn’t Tammany Hall or Chicago’s Daley Machine, but a new sort of corruption that fits the definition of neoliberal governance, or rather, misgovernance if we assume that the public’s “business” should be conducted in a democratic manner.

Let’s start with some definitions, like the term “governance.” Neoliberalism appropriates this term from management studies where it stands for governing through the interplay of contending parties. In the context of public policy, neoliberal decision-making results from “stakeholders” contributing their perspectives and arriving at agreements legitimated through state actions: new legislation to facilitate funding through fees, taxes, subsidies or other forms of state assistance.

The thing is in this process, that the state, as represented by a “sympathetic” legislator, is but one of a number of stakeholders. Included, notably, is private business. And for purposes of authoritative weight, and depending upon the overall social impact of a specific proposal, an array of scholars, consultants and non-profit executives are invited to be stakeholders. Neoliberalism advocates the “market-place of ideas.” In this market, we know who has their thumb on the scale. And note that direct public input is absent from the deliberations. The public, after all,  is bothersome for expedited action.

The assumption behind this sort of governance is not only that the public is a nuisance, but also that the state is broken. Which means mainly it is bedeviled by arcane practices that create snail-paced progress when what’s needed, the neoliberals plead, is immediate action to deal with one crisis or another: expediency dominates the process; capital likes to move fast these days.

“Arcane practices,” however, are usually venues for public comment and deliberation, and while many may agree that state deliberations need rehabilitation, mainly through greater transparency, without them the role to government to represent the common interest is abandoned, creating a vacuum of power.

And who rushes into the void? Yes, the private sector and its agents (see above).

This is all by way of introduction to the specific situation that applies to the SF Bay area, but, I believe, not only there.

All across the country, but especially in large urban complexes, regional governments have arisen. Whether they are inter-county affairs or cross-state institutions, they have one thing in common: little to none public input. Some states limit regional functions, while others give them greater powers, like taxing authority, but none establish direct citizen selection of those who govern a region.

In the SF area the Metropolitan Transportation Commission (MTC) is the regional government for the nine counties that surround SF Bay and lower Sacramento River feeding into it. This regional government, for instance, collects the tolls from the eight bridges that span the bay and river. It’s a major player in the area not only because of its multi-million dollar revenue stream from tolls ($720,784,303/2016 – 2017), but also because it has the power to put funding propositions on the ballot for voter approval.

MTC, building on its experience with regional transportation issues, recently began encroaching into the area of land use. The details of this power grab are laid out in detail on 48hills. Suffice it to say here that transit-oriented development, a program pushed nationally to provide dense housing near transportation hubs, offered MTC the wedge it needed to pry open new territory for its expansion.

And here is where the story gets interesting. It turns out that Facebook funds the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative run by Mark Zuckerberg and Priscilla Chan, his wife. This is not a philanthropic outfit, but a Limited Liability Corporation, so that the funds it disperses can be kept from public view.

Some clever journalistic sleuthing uncovered that CZI has been funding a slew of stakeholders involved with the expansion of MTC’s regime, including an academic entity on the University of California campus. The goal here is to have the state legislature endorse the expansion of regional government into land use issues, ostensibly to grow housing by overriding local control of zoning. Demonstrating to the state legislators in Sacramento that a wide variety of stakeholders support expanded regional control and, further, providing the intellectual heft academic authorization bestows, cinches the deal. It is impolite to mention that Facebook finances this chorus.

It’s not news that San Francisco has experienced a major catastrophe housing its citizens. And it’s not news that this calamity resulted from Silicon Valley hiring thousands and providing no place for them to live. As a result, the SF real estate market metastasized: long-term tenants got priced out as richer newcomers gobbled up landlord-inflated rentals. The result: a significant majority of the homeless in the SF Bay area are former tenants.

The high-rise apartments that the regional government and their allies are planning  will not house the homeless, nor newly hired schoolteachers, much less school janitorial staff. The aim is to erect housing that is “affordable” which means in the SF Bay area an income of at least $80,000. Salaries for new Berkeley teachers start in the $30,000 range.

The opposition to neoliberal misgovernance doesn’t really exist as such, though there is pushback on specific policy issues. The advocates for the homeless, for example, want their constituency to be prioritized, but they don’t attack the undemocratic process of expanding regional housing policies as fundamentally flawed. Their reluctance is easily understood. Since the Reagan administration, through Clinton’s regime to the present, neoliberalism has been the program of both parties. This top down, opaque governance model is like the wallpaper in the halls of power. It’s just the way “things are done.” Even the current mayor of Berkeley, a young Latino Sanders supported, plays the game. So much so that he got the Berkeley City Council to unanimously endorse the regional government takeover of housing policy.

What to do? How should neoliberal misgovernance be confronted? First, it needs to be exposed for its connivance with capital, in this case with the real estate developers, and by extension, the banks and hedge funds. Second, its antidemocratic process must be condemned: No Taxation Without Representation! But exposure and condemnation are only the first steps.

Public policy needs ethical guidelines that circumvent the establishment of power brokers. If we state that housing is a right (as the UN’s Universal Declaration of Human Rights mandates) and if this baseline demands achieves support (which requires decontaminating pubic misconceptions) then popular power can be mobilized to demand policies that end corruption at the core of neoliberal misgovernance. Accepting that housing is a right assumes profit making is secondary to that end. In practice this means housing must be removed from the marketplace. There is ample precedent for this in the history and practice of cooperative housing. The Green New Deal references the original New Deal and we should recall that cooperative housing was integral to its vision of a vibrant society.

Capitalism, Socialism, and Existential Despair

Decades ago, Edward Said remarked that contemporary life is characterized by a “generalized condition of homelessness.” Decades earlier, Martin Heidegger had written that “Homelessness is coming to be the destiny of the world.” Around the same time, fascists were invoking the themes of blood and soil, nation, race, community, as intoxicating antidotes to the mass anonymity and depersonalization of modern life. Twenty or thirty years later, the New Left, in its Port Huron Statement, lamented the corruption and degradation of such values as love, freedom, creativity, and community:

Loneliness, estrangement, isolation describe the vast distance between man and man today. These dominant tendencies cannot be overcome by better personnel management, nor by improved gadgets, but only when a love of man overcomes the idolatrous worship of things by man…

Over a hundred years earlier, Karl Marx had already understood it was capitalism that was responsible for all this collective anguish. “All fixed, fast-frozen relations…are swept away,” he wrote in the Communist Manifesto, “all new-formed ones become antiquated before they can ossify. All that is solid melts into air, all that is holy is profaned…” Home, community, the family, one’s very relation to oneself—all are mediated by money, the commodity function, “reification,” exploitation of one form or another.

And now here we are in 2019, when the alienation and atomization have reached such a state that it seems as if the world is in danger of ending. The phenomenology, the “structure of feeling,” of living in this society is that everything is transient and “up in the air,” human survival is in question, a hectored, bureaucratized anonymity chases us from morning till night, nothing really matters, no one gets their just deserts. Young people are refraining from having children. There is certainly no collective sense of belonging—that’s long gone. We’re les étrangers, passively consuming distractions as we wait for the other shoe to drop.

Meanwhile, we read of little else but agonized suffering, from children in cages to rainforests burning, from opioid epidemics to rampaging neofascists.

The case for socialism is usually made, rightly, from the perspective of its justice. It would be just to have economic and social democracy, for one thing because it is intrinsically right that people not be forced to rent themselves to a business owner who exploits them for profit but instead that they collectively control economic activities and distribute rewards as they see fit. Moreover, economic democracy, whether in the form of worker cooperatives or democratic government control, would essentially make impossible the extreme income inequality that corrodes political democracy and ultimately unravels the social fabric.

But it’s also worth broadcasting the message that even from an existentialist point of view, our only hope is socialism. Certain types of conservatives like to complain about the demise of the family, the community, non-hedonistic interpersonal ties, and the sense of meaning in our lives, a demise for which they blame such nebulous phenomena as secularism, “humanism,” communism, and liberalism. That is, everything except what really matters: capitalism, the reduction of multifaceted life to the monomaniacal pursuit of profit, property, and power. So these conservatives end up in the realm of fascism or neofascism, which promises only to complete the destruction of family and community.

The truth is that only socialism, or an economically democratic society in which there is no capitalist class, could possibly usher in a world in which the existentialist howl of Albert Camus and JP Sartre didn’t have universal resonance. Mass loneliness, “homelessness,” and the gnawing sense of meaninglessness are not timeless conditions; they’re predictable expressions of a commoditized, privatized, bureaucratized civilization. Do away with the agent of enforced commoditization, privatization, and hyper-bureaucratization-for-the-sake-of-social-control—i.e., the capitalist class—and you’ll do away with the despair that arises from these things.

It’s true that the current suicide epidemic in the U.S. and the mental illness epidemic around the world have more specific causes than simply “capitalism.” They have to do with high unemployment, deindustrialization, underfunded hospitals and community outreach programs, job-related stress, social isolation, etc. In other words, they have to do with the particularly vicious and virulent forms that capitalism takes in the neoliberal period. But long before this period, widespread disaffection and mental illness characterized capitalist society.

Now, in light of global warming and ecological destruction, it’s possible that humanity won’t last much longer anyway, in which case capitalism will never be overcome and our collective existential anguish is perfectly appropriate. But nothing is certain at this point. Except that we have a moral imperative to do all we can to fight for socialism. It is what justice demands, and it offers the only hope that even we privileged people—not to mention the less privileged majority—can know what it is to truly have a home.

In Venezuela, the Right to Housing is Made Possible by the Revolution

In the Antímano neighbourhood of the capital district of Caracas, a very special block of flats has been built. Its inhabitants built it with their own hands. In 2011, on the initiative of President Hugo Chávez, a little less than one hectare of land was expropriated from the Polar company. The idea was to rescue abandoned urban land that did not fulfill any social function to benefit families in a situation of “social risk, without their own housing and young couples who are founding families”.

Camp Amatina is located in an industrial zone, but other camps were also set up “in upper class, middle class and peri-urban areas, adapting to urban contexts with different characteristics” – explains Housing Vice-Minister Nelson Rodríguez. In Amatina there are about 140 families that meet in weekly assemblies. Iraida Morocoima, one of their spokespersons, welcomes visitors to share this experience:

Many people among these families had no idea how to hit a brick. There were certainly others who were bricklayers, but most of us were women. The first challenge was to assume that a five- or six-story building had to be built; it was difficult, we couldn’t even conceive of it.

To get there, the pioneers relied on construction materials and technical advice provided by the state as part of the Gran Misión Vivienda Venezuela.

The architectural plans were studied and finalized under the supervision of the future inhabitants, based on the specific needs of each of the families.  “This served us as a tool to give a different approach to this type of urbanism. If we had not politicized this construction, we would have fallen into the error of reproducing the family model advocated by capital: housing spaces conceived only for a male and a female, even changing their skin color… But we said no, because here there is a prototype of a different family. Our goal was to build a community.”

An example?

“There are no elevators in the building, so elderly and disabled people live on the ground floor. Before coming here, that disabled girl had nowhere to share. Now here we have this meeting space, where she can come and participate in parties like Christmas,” says Moracaimo.

Once they obtained state support through technical assistance, the camp established a model of self-managed construction, with no construction companies. In this way, “for the State, the cost of the project was reduced by half” – concedes Nelson Rodríguez. But the most relevant thing is the dynamic of participation that it provoked, with “hundreds of hours of organization of the families and the other 11 movements of settlers that came to their aid: material and resources were lent, it functions as a network, a system in which workers exchange, a joint purchase of machinery is made, etc.”.

Once the housing was raised as a right, returning the use to an abandoned land, the tool for the community to consolidate its objective was to assume self-government. It is one of the basic notions of this camp. “This is the first project that was carried out, and surely there are many mistakes that we made, with cracks in the wall, but we are learning. And the most important thing is what we have learned with this participatory design, because we are very aware that living here has to be different. This is a well-established idea among the families, including the younger ones. As I climb the stairs of the block of flats, I comment to a child who accompanies me how grateful the community must be to the Bolivarian government. His spontaneous response breaks in a thousand pieces the concept of “assistentialism” that has been recurrently applied as the characteristic seal of the Latin American processes of socialism in the 21st century: “We make this Revolution, nobody gives it to us!”

Nelson Rodríguez insists on the idea that the Amatina camp is not just a housing: “They are not only houses, but also community spaces, productive spaces such as cooperatives, communal gardens, and communal services such as a bank, a bakery, a factory… What is sought is the construction of a community of life and means of production based on self-management. It is an integral project of production and supply”. There are those who relativize this type of struggle for the right to housing, giving lessons from their ivory tower, but for others it is intolerable and must be ended in any way: “Many economic sectors did not accept this state intervention. The right wing says there are processes of land confiscation. They intend to return them, as they were confiscated by the Revolution. It is a battle, the company wants to initiate a process to recover them”. Far from being conceived as an isolated experience, its protagonists seek to extend it to the length and breadth of Venezuelan geography in order to strengthen the construction of the “communal state,” destined to undermine the foundations of institutionality and thus progressively replace the old state structures, tailored to the needs of the ruling class throughout decades of Punto Fijo government. It is therefore a question of deepening participatory democracy to the detriment of “restricted democracy”.

Without a doubt it is communal experiences like Amatina’s that best explain the quixotic mood and the unbribable attachment of this people to his government; also why Nicolás Maduro was re-elected president in May 2018 defying the economic crisis, the threats of the coup right-wing, the announcement of non-recognition by the EU and the sanctions of the Obama empire and then Trump. Morocoima sums it up like this:  “We didn’t plan to live here and then become another social class. We live here to defend the Revolution, to maintain this revolutionary process. This is a dignified and struggling people: Chávez came, he revived Bolívar and now we are Guaicaipuro, Bolívar and Chávez together!”

The indigenous, the Creole and the mestizo are symbols of the sovereignty of Venezuela and of its generous identity for the sake of integration; their incarnation in those three historical figures is the sample of the fact that this people made reality what seemed impossible: holding the reins of their destiny against all odds.

The Ongoing Dread in Gaza: So Many Names, So Many Lives

I felt shaky and uneasy all day, preparing for this talk.

— Jehad Abusalim, a Palestinian from the territory of Gaza

Jehad Abusalim, a Palestinian now living in the United States, grew up Gaza. In Chicago last week, addressing activists committed to breaking the siege of Gaza,  he held up a stack of 31 papers. On each page were names of 1,254 Palestinians living in Gaza who had been killed in just one month of Israel’s “Operation Protective Edge” attacks five years ago.

“I felt shaky and uneasy all day preparing for this talk,” he told the group. He described his dismay when, looking through the list of names, he recognized one of a young man from his small town.

“He was always friendly to me,” Abusalim said. “I remember how he would greet me on the way to the mosque. His family and friends loved him, respected him.”

Abusalim recalled the intensity of losing loved ones and homes; of seeing livelihoods and infrastructure destroyed by aerial attacks; of being unable to protect the most vulnerable. He said it often takes ten years or more before Palestinian families traumatized by Israeli attacks can begin talking about what happened. Noting Israel’s major aerial attacks in 2009, 2013, and 2014, along with more recent attacks killing participants in the “Great March of Return,” he spoke of ongoing dread about what might befall Gaza’s children the next time an attack happens.

Eighty people gathered to hear Abusalim and Retired Colonel Ann Wright, of US Boat to Gaza, as they helped launch the “Free Gaza Chicago River Flotilla,” three days of action culminating on July 20 with a spirited demonstration by “kayactivists” and boaters, along with onshore protesters, calling for an end to the siege of Gaza. Wright resigned from her post as a U.S. diplomat when the United States launched the 2003 Shock and Awe bombing of Iraq. Having participated in four previous internationals flotillas aiming to defy Israel’s naval blockade of Gaza’s shoreline, Wright is devoting her energies preparing for a fifth in 2020.

Another organizer and member of US Boat to Gaza, Elizabeth Murray, who like Wright formerly worked for the U.S. government, recalled being in a seminar sponsored by a prestigious think tank in Washington, D.C., when a panel member compared Israeli attacks against Palestinians with routine efforts to “mow the lawn.” She recounted hearing a light tittering as the D.C. audience members expressed amusement. But, Murray said, “Not a single person objected to the panelist’s remark.” This was in 2010, following Israel’s 2009 Operation Cast Lead, which killed 1,383 Palestinians, 333 of whom were children.

Abusalim’s colleague at the American Friends Service Committee, Jennifer Bing, had cautioned Chicago flotilla planners to carefully consider the tone of their actions. A colorful and lively event during a busy weekend morning along Chicago’s popular riverfront could be exciting and, yes, fun.

But Palestinians in Gaza cope with constant tension, she noted. Denied freedom of movement, they live in the world’s largest open-air prison, under conditions the United Nations has predicted will render their land uninhabitable by 2020. Households get four to six hours of electricity per day. According to UNICEF, “sewage treatment plants can’t operate fully and the equivalent of forty-three Olympic-sized swimming pools of raw or partly treated sewage is pumped into the sea every day.”

Facing cruel human rights violations on a daily basis, the organizers urge solidarity in the form of boycotts, divestment, and sanctions. U.S. residents bear particular responsibility for Israel’s military attacks against civilians, they note, as the United States has supplied Israel with billions of dollars for military buildup.

U.S. companies profit hugely from selling weapons to Israel. For example, Boeing, with headquarters in Chicago, sells Israel Apache helicopters, Hellfire and Harpoon missiles, JDAM guiding systems and Small Diameter Bombs that deliver Dense Inert Metal Explosive munitions. All of these weapons have been used repeatedly in Israeli attacks on densely populated civilian areas.

During the 2009 Operation Cast Lead, I was in Rafah, Gaza, listening to children explaining the difference between explosions caused by F-16 fighter jets dropping 500-pound bombs and Apache helicopters firing Hellfire missiles.

Israel continues using those weapons, and Israeli purchases fatten Boeing’s financial portfolios.

At Boeing Company, Names of people killed in Israel’s Operation Protective Edge are read aloud; Elizabeth Murray sounds a gong after each name.  (Photo credit: Barbara Briggs Letson)

On July 19, young Palestinians outside of the Israeli consulate read aloud the names of people who had, five years ago, been killed in Gaza. We listened solemnly and then proceeded to Boeing’s Chicago headquarters, again listening as youngsters read more names, punctuated by a solemn gong after each victim was remembered. Ultimately, 2,104 Palestinians, more than two-thirds of whom were civilians, including 495 children, were killed during the seven-week attack on the Gaza Strip in 2014.

Banner dropping over a bridge crossing the Chicago River: Israel, Stop Killing Palestinians (Photo Credit: Barbara Briggs Letson)

During the Free Gaza Chicago River flotilla on July 20, Husam Marajda, from the Arab American Action Network, sat in a small boat next to his grandfather, who was visiting from Palestine. His chant, “From Palestine to Mexico, all the walls have got to go!” echoed from the water to the shore. Banners were dropped from bridges above, the largest reading, “Israel, Stop Killing Palestinians.”

Kayakers on the Chicago River display Free Gaza sign (Photo Credit: Barbara Briggs Letson)

Kayakers wore red T-shirts announcing the “Gaza Unlocked” campaign and managed to display flags, connected by string, spelling out “Free Gaza.” Passengers on other boats flashed encouraging peace signs and thumbs up signals. Those processing along the shore line, carrying banners and signs, walked the entirety of our planned route before a sergeant from the Chicago Police Department arrived to say we needed a permit.

We can’t permit ourselves to remain silent. Following the energetic flotilla activity, I sat with several friends in a quiet spot. “So many names,” said one friend, thinking of the list Abusalim had held up. “So many lives,” said another.

• A version of this article was published July 23rd, 2019 at The Progressive

You can work long, hard, or smart, but at Amazon.com you can’t choose two out of three

The central argument of Amusing Ourselves [Neil Postman] is simple: there were two landmark dystopian novels written by brilliant British cultural critics – Brave New World by Aldous Huxley and Nineteen Eighty-Four by George Orwell – and we Americans had mistakenly feared and obsessed over the vision portrayed in the latter book (an information-censoring, movement-restricting, individuality-emaciating state) rather than the former (a technology-sedating, consumption-engorging, instant-gratifying bubble).

Andrew Postman

So what would Neil Postman say about this fellow [note title of this essay, referencing Jeff Bezos’ proclamation on what work should mean to every breathing American], or the many fellows like Bezos who have zero patience for a world without disrupting economies tied to their authoritarian business plan of more billionaires deserving (sic) more power. Disruptive and destructive, and not just economies in the book sense, but structural violence and community disintegration, murdering people with debt, lack of housing, no medical care, suicide, that’s Bezos, et al looking to capitalize on every penny gathered from every nanosecond in our individual human lives.

Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos has seen his company grow into one of the world’s biggest companies.

Back in 1997, Bezos told shareholders that employees at other companies “can work long, hard, or smart, but at Amazon.com, you can’t choose two out of three.”

Bezos acknowledges his high standards for employees every year, telling shareholders that “it’s not easy to work here.”

In the 24 years since Amazon was founded, CEO Jeff Bezos has seen his company grow from a modest online bookshop to one of the most valuable companies in the world.

Back in 1997, Bezos was already expecting big things out of his young company. In his annual letter to Amazon shareholders, Bezos described how much effort he expected from his employees.

“When I interview people I tell them, ‘You can work long, hard, or smart, but at Amazon.com you can’t choose two out of three,” Bezos wrote in the 1997 letter.

“Setting the bar high in our approach to hiring has been, and will continue to be, the single most important element of Amazon.com’s success.”

The New York Times reported in 2015 exactly how bruising the work environment at Amazon could be. Employees were reportedly expected to routinely work late, were encouraged to criticize coworkers‘ ideas at meetings, and were often found crying at their desks. Amazon disputed many of the claims in the Times investigation, though the newspaper defended its reporting.

God forbid we call Amazon Boss Bezos a plantation owner of a different mother, for sure. That Americans — living in small and large cities, far and wide — depend on the Amazon way as if Amazon is sutured into all aspects of American culture (sic) and hardwired into every new born’s head. Same day delivery. A shopping cart that would be the envy of any Rothschild or Leona Mindy Roberts Helmsley.

See the source image

This essay, first, was going to address those other masters of the Universe — Google Guys and Algorithm Titans. I barely criticized a billionaire in a DV article —   Household Income, or Higher Planes of Consciousness?*

I criticized Nick Hanauer for his false balance, contrived bifurcation, and his new wind as a billionaire fighting what he calls the educationalism mindset that says that a good, grounded, deep and holistic education might be a thing of kings, whereas Nick says education backing and financing ain’t worth diddly squat in capitalism until more people make more money to buy more things, or just to survive in his nihilistic world.

Taken with this story line, I embraced education as both a philanthropic cause and a civic mission. I co-founded the League of Education Voters, a nonprofit dedicated to improving public education. I joined Bill Gates, Alice Walton, and Paul Allen in giving more than $1 million each to an effort to pass a ballot measure that established Washington State’s first charter schools. All told, I have devoted countless hours and millions of dollars to the simple idea that if we improved our schools—if we modernized our curricula and our teaching methods, substantially increased school funding, rooted out bad teachers, and opened enough charter schools—American children, especially those in low-income and working-class communities, would start learning again. Graduation rates and wages would increase, poverty and inequality would decrease, and public commitment to democracy would be restored.

— Nick Hanauer

In my email box, Google, of course, I get an unsolicited email from an organization for which I have never associated with or even pursued. It’s the old surveillance state of Google and the internet Stasi, for sure —

Image result for stasi

Alas, Neil Postman was correct, in so far as what we say and do as writers really does not count — we are only as smart and deep and truthful as our masters will allow:

In my college economics class, we were taught that wages depend on productivity. The more productive or skilled workers are, my professors used to argue, the more they will be worth on the labor market and, therefore, the higher their wages will be. That’s bunk.

Under this logic, the way to cure our economic woes – whether poverty, inequality, underemployment, or unemployment – is through education. By educating our citizens, we increase their human capital, making them more productive and, therefore, increasing their expected income.

It sounds good, right?

This seductive myth – of education as an economic cure-all – is something Civic Action founder Nick Hanauer calls “educationism.” As Nick writes in a recent article for The Atlantic, it’s a myth he used to believe, and it’s a myth many wealthy elites still propagate. It’s what leads philanthropists to donate billions of dollars to public schools and educational institutions.

There’s just one problem: Educationism doesn’t work. If it did, our middle class would be much better off.

In the last 40 years, while the real incomes of most Americans have been stuck, we’ve gotten a lot more educated. Almost everyone has a high school diploma and the share of Americans with a college degree has more than tripled since 1970.”

But all that education hasn’t translated into higher wages. In fact, if our incomes had done what my college profs told me – gone up with productivity – the average family today would be earning $29,000 more a year. An average of $105,000!

Of course, it’s true that getting an education is likely to increase your own income. But that’s not the same as raising incomes throughout the economy. Not when four out of five of the fastest growing jobs pay very low wages – jobs like cashiers and health care assistants. Meanwhile, the pay of most people who do have a college education barely keeps up with inflation.

What we do need to do is raise incomes for working families and the middle class throughout the economy. That’s how we build an economy that works for all of us, not just the wealthy few. As Nick writes:

“In short, great public schools are the product of a thriving middle class, not the other way around. Pay people enough to afford dignified middle-class lives, and high-quality public schools will follow. But allow economic inequality to grow, and educational inequality will inevitably grow with it.”

—  Stephen Paolini, Civic Action, email with an ask for $ support

But then, this essay takes a twist, as they always seem to do when I deploy some ground-truthing. You see, most of us in the USA, the 80 percent of the population —  many of which are on the skids, on the near skids, or those of us barely scraping by, and those of us who are unseen but are many short steps away from working for one of those sweatshops like we see with Amazon (there are so many warehouse jobs, forklift gigs, sorting careers) and finding down time in the back seat of our cars)  —  so-so tire of, really, the prognosticators writing away hard in semi-secure status —  even the smartish ones on leftish magazines like The Nation, or digital forums like Truthout or Truthdig or The Intercept.

They have NO idea of what is real in the world, and that rarefied realm of citing this study or making this or that prediction, well, it is bombast at best, propaganda at worst, denuded of humanity in many cases.

Case in point — tens of millions of men and women wandering the land (US), in some warped version of Steinbeck’s Grapes of Wrath, really, in a society that eats-sleeps-dreams-believes the crap that Huxley warned of, and that which Neil Postman discussed. Oh the irony, those, that billionaire book salesman, Bezos, dead to the world, dead to us, the 80 percent, living, barely, in the middle of their hellish barbecue.

I was with three fellows — two literally are sleeping in campgrounds, and one fellow living with his parents. A million miles away from what any social worker or Sheryl Sandberg or Joe Biden or Elizabeth Warren or any of the scions of Holly-dirt or anyone in the Trump Loony Bin Show, or those clamoring around an Obama or Oprah or Rachel Maddow. It’s a triple sick experience even thinking about how vapid that so-called debate was yesterday with half of the half-wits of the Democratic Party wanting to play president.

So, a life of men truly on the extinction block, in several demographics. These fellows I hired on to help my spouse and I move from a rental to a house we had the temerity to purchase in a Time of Climate Heating, Oceans Rising, Food Wilting, Water Draining, Economies Imploding, Saber Rattling, and ICBM Immolating.

Their lives, broken down, seem to hold the familiar life story of many people I have worked with as a non-traditional social worker for the homeless, the just-out-of-prison returnees, and chronically physically and mentally ill. They work jobs, stacking halibut,  packing shrimp, pounding two-by-fours, hauling goods, sorting things, cutting trees, landscaping, roofing. Both of these fellows are 50, living in campgrounds, one with false teeth, the other with nubs and rotting teeth.

Child support for children they have never seen, or can’t see now. Felonies for this or that charge keeping them from even getting to first base on an apartment application. Vagabonds harassed by cops, and living life in a constant move. For my other helper, Brian, he’s a former marine, working as a social services provider, has a wonderful child on the spectrum (autism) and is currently living with aging and sickly parents. All three fit the bill for zero tolerance in this society. Never reflected in the news stories, in the Mass Murdering Media, never on the minds of the One Percent, Point Zero Zero One Percent. I know for a fact, though, that those Little Eichmanns who populate the other 19 percent of the 20 Percenters, well, many of them have one degree of separation when it comes to family members with substance abuse issues, chronic mental or physical illness, depression, suicidal, schizophrenic, and homeless.

You get both barrels of human pain and human survival and some human triumphs when talking with real people, albeit, denigrated folk, disenfranchised humans.

They are really rough around the edges, but these fellows, Tommy and Devon, they are examples of struggle and defeat and some triumph, as Brian and I note and agree. They are so far from any of the discourse going on around the world — the complete irrelevance of all the trolling, all the internet crap, all the stuff that makes for an echo chamber that sucks humanity and human connection from the ether.

You look at Tommy, and you see a man on the skids. Big laughing screwed up face, almost Dickensian, crazy might be one moniker. Hustling and wanting to have people know that there was once a time when he had some normalcy, some sense of being a man in society — not on the skids. Though, Tommy would not see himself on the skids.

Brain injury 23 years ago when a van hit him head on as a pedestrian. And he still works, moves heavy furniture, and hammers roofs.

Devon, a former truck driver, someone who has a few years in the Marines, and as Brian states — people are only awakened to the level of how they have been able to access those tools necessary to be woken up. Yet, Brian states that he’d much rather be in the company of these men than the MSWs and other graduate-level punishers he’s worked with, as I have also worked with, in the non-profit arenas as supposed social services workers.

They probably know nothing about this movement, which could affect Tommy and Devon:

When reporters for the International Amazon Workers Voice interviewed part-time Amazon “associates” (a cheap euphemism for “employees” used to disguise the exploitative relationship between workers and management at the company) in Baltimore to discuss their attitude toward Bezos’ fortune, they were met with a torrent of disgust, calls for sharing the wealth, and social anger.

“Tell Mr. Bezos and the rest of management to come out of their offices and get on the shop floor” said one worker who identified herself as a single mother of two. “At the end of the day, they never feel what we go through in a day for $12 an hour. They get to sit down in their offices and get paid more than we will see in a year,” she said.

Bezos’ wealth typifies the way an increasingly small number of multi-billionaire CEOs and finance operatives extract ever more obscene sums from the international workforce. This process of ever-increasing wealth for the few and exploitation for the majority is reaching a political breaking point.

Explaining her work environment during the holidays, the working mother said, “they just had us move 100,000 packages in 5 hours, and at the end we aren’t even paid enough to take care of our kids. I’m a single mother, I don’t receive food stamps. My rent is $850 a month. I have to pay for gas, electricity, bus passes, plus raise two kids.

“If we decided to quit, who would move these packages out of the door?” she said, noting the social power of the workers employed by the company. “We are the ones making you rich.”

Brian and I talk about Amazon, and the nefarious nature of how the guy at the Washington Post attacks the fourth grader Trump and others, while he is part of the Military Industrial Complex. From The Intercept:

Amazon’s extensive relationship with the NSA, FBI, Pentagon and other surveillance agencies in the west is multi-faceted, highly lucrative and rapidly growing. Last March, the Intercept reported on a new app that Amazon developers and British police forces have jointly developed to use on the public in police work, just “the latest example of third parties aidingautomating, and in some cases, replacing, the functions of law enforcement agencies — and raises privacy questions about Amazon’s role as an intermediary.”

Then there’s the patent Amazon obtained last October, as reported by the Intercept, “that would allow its virtual assistant Alexa to decipher a user’s physical characteristics and emotional state based on their voice.” In particular, it would enable anyone using the product to determine a person’s accent and likely place of origin: “The algorithm would also consider a customer’s physical location — based on their IP address, primary shipping address, and browser settings — to help determine their accent.”

All of this is taking place as Amazon vies for, and is the favorite to win, one of the largest Pentagon contracts yet: a $10 billion agreement to provide exclusive cloud services to the world’s largest military. CNN reported just last week that the company is now enmeshed in scandal over that effort, specifically a formal investigation into “whether Amazon improperly hired a former Defense Department worker who was involved with a $10 billion government contract for which the tech company iscompeting.”

Bezos’ relationship with the military and spying agencies of the U.S. Government, and law enforcement agencies around the world, predates his purchase of the Washington Post and has become a central prong of Amazon’s business growth. Back in 2014, Amazon secured a massive contract with the CIA when the spy agency agreed to pay it $600 million for computing cloud software. As the Atlantic noted at the time, Amazon’s software “will begin servicing all 17 agencies that make up the intelligence community.”

Given how vital the military and spy agencies now are to Amazon’s business, it’s unsurprising that the amount Amazon pays to lobbyists to serve its interests in Washington has exploded: quadrupling since 2013 from $3 million to almost $15 million last year, according to Open Secrets.

What would the house-less Tommy and Devon say about this Byzantine world of hyper billions of dollars and hyper trillions of human hours wasted on the things of capitalism, of power and control, consumption?

We were keeping our eye on 1984. But it’s Brave New World we should have feared instead.

I know many friends who wonder why we — people like me — still live in the US? Many wonder what it will take young people to stand down the systems of oppression. Some believe the young people have it, as in Greta the Carbon Dioxide Robin Hood, or AOC, the new face (sic) of American politics.

This system we have now is one where a few voices count (get read, heard, published, followed), and the majority of voices are just bursts of yelling in the woods, in campgrounds, in one’s lovely home in the old sedan, in our own bedlam. People travelling from one insane place to another, but in that realm, a sanity sets in for guys like Tommy and Devon. The world is pretty clear-cut, and on many levels, these people have positive outlooks — toothless, no real estate or swelling investment accounts. Just that hard way forward. Cigarettes and bicycling miles a day. Places to shower. Places to get out of the rain without the bulldozers of misanthropy pushing them further and further into ditches or out on the periphery until they stare us all down, face to face, the coming of a New Brave World. Is it the entertaining ourselves to death cycle, or a little bit of the other — big brother, watching our every move, holding every syllable mouthed in a cloud server, every speck of mole cataloged, and every word penned or typed, collected to hold us at bay, hold us as prisoners of our own faulty beliefs?

 

Needless to say, Charles Dickens grew to hate the system and rail against it in his works. In his seminal novella “A Christmas Carol,” Ebenezer Scrooge is visited by two portly men raising money for the poor.

“At this festive season of the year, Mr. Scrooge,” said the [one of the gentlemen], taking up a pen, “it is more than usually desirable that we should make some slight provision for the Poor and destitute, who suffer greatly at the present time. Many thousands are in want of common necessaries; hundreds of thousands are in want of common comforts, sir.”

“Are there no prisons?” asked Scrooge.

“Plenty of prisons,” said the gentleman, laying down the pen again.

“And the Union workhouses?” demanded Scrooge. “Are they still in operation?”

“They are. Still,” returned the gentleman, “I wish I could say they were not.”

“The Treadmill and the Poor Law are in full vigour, then?” said Scrooge.

“Both very busy, sir.”

“Oh! I was afraid, from what you said at first, that something had occurred to stop them in their useful course,” said Scrooge. “I’m very glad to hear it.”

“Under the impression that they scarcely furnish Christian cheer of mind or body to the multitude,” returned the gentleman, “a few of us are endeavouring to raise a fund to buy the Poor some meat and drink, and means of warmth. We choose this time, because it is a time, of all others, when Want is keenly felt, and Abundance rejoices. What shall I put you down for?”

“Nothing!” Scrooge replied.

“You wish to be anonymous?”

“I wish to be left alone,” said Scrooge. “Since you ask me what I wish, gentlemen, that is my answer. I don’t make merry myself at Christmas and I can’t afford to make idle people merry. I help to support the establishments I have mentioned: they cost enough: and those who are badly off must go there.”

“Many can’t go there; and many would rather die.”

“If they would rather die,” said Scrooge, “they had better do it, and decrease the surplus population.”

— Charles Dickens, 1843, A Christmas Carol 

Or, updated for 2020, as illustrated by a commentator on an article about Portland, OR, once the Rose City, now The City of Rocks:

To disrupt illegal camp sites set up by homeless in Portland, the Oregon Department of Transportation (ODOT) is moving boulders onto the roadsides. The project will eventually cost about a million dollars, but ODOT argues this cost is less than the cost of dealing with existing campsites.

Many have pointed out that this policy does nothing to address the underlying problem or help the people in the camp, but only forces them to move somewhere else.

KGW8


odot boulders homeless camps highway 26 1015 2018

—Scrooge/Marley, Edward Sullivan, Planetizen

A debtor's prison in London.

A debtor’s prison in London.