Monday, February 24, 2020

Billionaires Tears

This story was fascinating on so many levels.  It seems as if a white hat billionaire was fighting a black hatted one and one that is a raging maniac who needs to be stopped.  Of course in true Billionaire fashion it is one of the most bizarre usual tales of someone trying to do the right thing in the most unorthodox fashion against another Billionaire who is a cross between Jeffrey Epstein and Bill Cosby with a touch of Harvey Weinstein.  In other words this motherfucker was a bad motherfucker so whatever it takes who gives a flying fuck!

I will allow you the reader to somehow connect the dots, follow the story and say that while two wrongs doesn't make it right there is something very wrong with this Nygard man who seems to run rampant without check. Rapist - Check; Pedophile - Check; Sex Trafficking - Check; Temper Rager - Check; Predator - Check; Paranoid - Check; Tax Evader - Check; Celebrity ass kisser - Check; Courtier - Check.   Does this sound familiar? What is distressing is that the other man seems to be confused on how to run a counter espionage operation and could have or should have called the ex Mossad that were Weinstein's coffee boys.  Hell a phone call to David Boies would have solved that in a mad minute.  Don't they all have that asshole on speed dial?   Goes to show that the Billion Dollar Boys Club is not all that well connected or interconnected as you think they would have the hotline/batsignal  to the dudes who get them out of situations and in turn resolve issues with the only sweat poured is during the writing of the six figure check.

But this does make a hell of a Lifetime movie!

How a Neighbors’ Feud in Paradise Launched an International Rape Case

The fashion executive Peter Nygard has clashed for years with his neighbor in the Bahamas, the billionaire Louis Bacon. The latest development is a lawsuit saying Mr. Nygard sexually exploited teenage girls.

By Kim Barker, Catherine Porter and Grace Ashford
The New York Times
Feb. 22, 2020

The Bahamian pleasure palace featured a faux Mayan temple, sculptures of smoke-breathing snakes and a disco with a stripper pole. The owner, Peter Nygard, a Canadian fashion executive, showed off his estate on TV shows like “Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous” and threw loud beachfront parties, reveling in the company of teenage girls and young women.

Next door, Louis Bacon, an American hedge fund billionaire, presided over an airy retreat with a lawn for croquet. Mr. Bacon preferred hunting alone with a bow and arrow to attending wild parties, and if mentioned at all in the press, was typically described as buttoned-up.

The neighbors had little in common except for extreme wealth and a driveway. But when Mr. Nygard wasn’t allowed to rebuild after a fire, he blamed Mr. Bacon. Since then, the two have been embroiled in an epic battle, spending tens of millions of dollars and filing at least 25 lawsuits in five jurisdictions. Mr. Nygard, 78, has spread stories accusing Mr. Bacon of being an insider trader, murderer and member of the Ku Klux Klan. Mr. Bacon, 63, has accused Mr. Nygard of plotting to kill him.

The latest charge is particularly incendiary: Lawyers and investigators funded in part by Mr. Bacon claim that Mr. Nygard raped teenage girls in the Bahamas.

This month, a federal lawsuit was filed by separate lawyers in New York on behalf of 10 women accusing Mr. Nygard of sexual assault. The lawsuit claims that Mr. Nygard used his company, Nygard International, and employees to procure young victims and ply them with alcohol and drugs. He also paid Bahamian police officers to quash reports, shared women with local politicians and groomed victims to recruit “fresh meat,” the lawsuit says. Through a spokesman, Mr. Nygard denied the allegations.

Over months of interviews with The New York Times, dozens of women and former employees described how alleged victims were lured to Mr. Nygard’s Bahamian home by the prospect of modeling jobs or a taste of luxury.

“He preys on poor people’s little girls,” said Natasha Taylor, who worked there for five years.

But this is not just a story of abuse allegations. It’s also a story about the lengths two rich men can go to in a small developing nation where the minimum wage is just $210 a week. Together, Mr. Nygard and Mr. Bacon are worth close to the annual budget of the government of the Bahamas, an archipelago off the coast of Florida with ritzy tourist resorts that belie the country’s pockets of poverty.

Their battle became a cottage industry for opportunists.

Investigators and lawyers tied to Mr. Bacon offered Nygard associates generous incentives to build an abuse case against the Canadian — Cartier jewelry, a regular salary or a year’s rent in a gated community, according to documents and interviews. Smaller payments filtered down to some accusers, which could be used to undermine their credibility in any court case or investigation.

Mr. Nygard used his wealth to intimidate critics and buy allies. He had employees sign confidentiality agreements and sued those he suspected of talking. Multiple women said he had handed them cash after sex, helping to buy silence. And he paid tens of thousands of dollars to people providing sworn statements to use against Mr. Bacon in lawsuits, according to court records, interviews and bank statements.

Some women said they felt exploited by both men — by Mr. Nygard for sex, and by Mr. Bacon against his enemy.

“They’re messing up people’s lives in the middle of their fight,” said Tamika Ferguson, who claims Mr. Nygard raped her when she was 16. She said she intended to join the lawsuit.

The Times interviewed all the women who eventually signed on to the suit, which identified them as Jane Does to protect their privacy. Reporters also spoke with five other women, who said Mr. Nygard sexually assaulted them in the Bahamas when they were teenagers. Three said they were under 16 at the time, the age of consent there. But two later recanted, saying they had been promised money and coached to fabricate their stories.

This isn’t the first time that Mr. Nygard, whose company sells women’s clothes at his own outlets and Dillard’s department stores, has been accused of sexual misconduct. Over the past four decades, nine women in Canada and California have sued him or reported him to the authorities. He has never been convicted.

Mr. Nygard declined multiple interview requests. One of his lawyers said he had “never treated women inappropriately” and called the allegations “paid-for lies.”

Ken Frydman, his spokesman, denied all the claims and said Mr. Bacon had spent more than a decade trying “to smear Peter Nygard by coercing women to fabricate and manufacture sordid stories about him.” Mr. Nygard also accused Mr. Bacon in a lawsuit of masterminding a conspiracy “to plant a false story” in The Times about sexual misconduct.

Mr. Bacon, who founded New York-based Moore Capital Management, said he felt obliged to take action after hearing of possible sexual abuse by his neighbor. His associates have spent two years finding women to bring claims against Mr. Nygard.

“I of anybody knew what it was like to have this guy come at you,” Mr. Bacon said in an interview. “So my heart went out to these women.”

Mr. Nygard’s property was unlike any other in Lyford Cay, one of the most exclusive communities in the Bahamas. His estate looked like something out of Las Vegas.

He called it the “Eighth Wonder of the World”: a lush retreat with sculptures of roaring lions and a human aquarium where topless women undulated in mermaid tails.

For one birthday, he flew in models who danced before him in body paint. His workers said they regularly lit torches at sunset and played the title song from “The Phantom of the Opera.” Michael Jackson and former President George H.W. Bush visited the property, which the Canadian businessman renamed “Nygard Cay.” (He named many things after himself: his jet, an electric shade of blue, bottled water.)

An avowed playboy who once joked that his attempt at celibacy was “the worst 20 minutes of my life,” Mr. Nygard wore his gray hair long and shirts open. He traveled with an entourage of models and women who described themselves as “paid girlfriends,” dated tabloid regulars like Anna Nicole Smith and fathered at least 10 children with eight women. Using himself as a human guinea pig, Mr. Nygard tried to fight off aging with stem cell injections and talked of cloning himself, one close friend said.

On many Sunday afternoons at his Bahamian estate, Mr. Nygard threw “pamper parties” that offered female guests free massages, manicures, horseback rides and endless alcohol. And he demanded a steady supply of sex partners, according to six former employees who said they recruited young women at shops, clubs and restaurants.

“One time, he was like: ‘I don’t know where you find these girls from, but there’s pretty girls in the ghetto as well,’” recalled Freddy Barr, Mr. Nygard’s personal assistant in the early 2000s. “‘You need to find pretty girls in need.’”

Eventually his staff compiled an invitation list, provided to The Times, with names of more than 700 women. Former workers said they photographed guests when they arrived, uploading the images for their boss’s perusal. Only those who were young, slim and with a curvy backside — which Mr. Nygard called a “toilet” — were supposed to be allowed inside, according to the ex-employees, including Ms. Taylor. (She asked to be identified by her maiden name to keep people from knowing her connection with Nygard Cay.)

The actress Jessica Alba, who attended a Nygard party while filming “Into the Blue” in 2004, later described it as “gross.” “These girls are like 14 years old in the Jacuzzi, taking off their clothes,” she said on a press tour.

Once the party got going, the former employees and girlfriends said, they coaxed teenagers and young women into Mr. Nygard’s bedroom, sometimes with the aid of alcohol and drugs.

Mr. Nygard did not respond to most of The Times’s questions. Instead, his spokesman, Mr. Frydman, sent affidavits from former employees who asserted that their boss had never abused women and that no underage girls were allowed at Nygard Cay. One even called Mr. Nygard the Bahamas’ “most generous and honest expatriate.”

Others cast aspersions on Mr. Bacon, claiming he had paid Nygard employees to dig up dirt and had objected to black Bahamians visiting Lyford Cay.

Mr. Nygard, estimated to be worth roughly $750 million in 2014 by Canadian Business magazine, had long blended his professional and personal lives. He literally lived at work. A 1980 news article described an area of his office in Winnipeg — the city in Manitoba where he built his company — as a “passion pit” with a mirrored ceiling and a couch that transformed into a bed at the “push of a button.”

Over the years, he was repeatedly accused of demanding that female employees satisfy him sexually. There were the nine women in Winnipeg and Los Angeles who accused Mr. Nygard of sexual harassment or assault. But The Times spoke with 10 others who said he had proposed sex, touched them inappropriately or raped them. Only one of them is a plaintiff in the lawsuit.

Debra Macdonald, hired as his secretary in 1978 when she was 19, said Mr. Nygard continually harassed her and tried to grab her breasts. Once, he summoned her into his Winnipeg office as a pornographic film played on television, she said in an interview. “I was so disgusted,”

Ms. Macdonald quit in 1980, shortly after the Winnipeg police charged Mr. Nygard with raping an 18-year-old woman. The case was dropped after the woman refused to testify.

Another former employee said that on a business trip to Hong Kong that same year, Mr. Nygard slipped into her hotel room while she slept. The woman, Jonna Laursen, then 32, told The Times that he raped her. A single mother from Denmark, she said she worried the police wouldn’t take her seriously and she’d lose her reputation and job.

“I knew the right thing would be to report it,” Ms. Laursen said, “but somehow I felt that I would come out the loser.”

Just over a year later, she said, she was fired without cause. She then described the episode to a colleague, Dale Dreffs, who confirmed hearing it. When Ms. Laursen threatened to go to the press, a company manager offered her $6,700 and a letter of recommendation for her silence, she said.

In 1995, a new hire was taken from the airport to Mr. Nygard’s Winnipeg office-apartment, where he had sex with her “against her will,” a lawsuit said. The woman’s lawyer confirmed that the suit led to a nondisclosure agreement. Then, in 1996, Mr. Nygard’s company settled sexual harassment complaints against him by three former workers — for about $15,000, according to The Winnipeg Free Press.

In 2015, another former employee said, Mr. Nygard came into her locked room while she slept at his Los Angeles home and raped her. He later fired her, she said. Emails shown to The Times confirmed that she contacted a lawyer at the time about suing him. The woman, who wanted to remain anonymous, is the only non-Bahamian to join the new lawsuit.

Separately, two women sued Mr. Nygard last month for sexual battery. One, who was not identified, said she was under 18 — the California age of consent — when she visited Mr. Nygard’s Los Angeles home in 2012. Her lawsuit said Mr. Nygard knew her age “yet repeatedly had sexual intercourse with her.”

In the other lawsuit, a former employee, Maridel Carbuccia, claimed Mr. Nygard drugged and sexually assaulted her at his Los Angeles home in 2016. Ashamed to tell her family, she said, she continued working for him for more than two years before she was fired.
Clash of the Titans

In 2009, a blaze erupted at Nygard Cay, damaging several cabanas, the so-called grand hall and the disco. The fire department said it was accidental, probably caused by an electrical fault. But some Nygard Cay employees said their boss blamed Mr. Bacon, an ardent conservationist who had accused Mr. Nygard of illegally mining sand to create new beachfront.

The government refused to let Mr. Nygard rebuild. Within days, the war began.

Mr. Nygard sued over changes his neighbor had made years earlier to their driveway. Then he sued the government, saying it was colluding with Mr. Bacon to force him off the island.

The allegations became more bizarre: One street protest in Nassau featured men in white hoods and placards proclaiming, “Bacon Is KKK.” New websites funded by Mr. Nygard claimed Mr. Bacon was responsible for several murders, court records show. A video made by Nygard staff, according to a former contractor, superimposed Mr. Bacon’s face on the collapsing Twin Towers.

“It was an assault on me, my reputation, my safety,” Mr. Bacon said..

Mr. Nygard was a formidable opponent. Police officers and local journalists dined at his home; one later admitted in court that Mr. Nygard had paid him to smear Mr. Bacon. Mr. Nygard also had allies in the Progressive Liberal Party, which he wanted to legalize stem cell injections. He bragged he’d given the party $5 million during the 2012 election campaign — legally, as the Bahamas has no campaign finance laws. After it won the election, a Nygard YouTube channel posted a video featuring six ministers visiting his estate.

He threatened — or sued — media outlets that investigated him. He slow-walked lawsuits, filing countless motions and requesting delays, exhausting his foes. A judge referred to his “scorched-earth” tactics in a protracted fight over child support.

But Mr. Bacon was a rare adversary. His wealth was valued at more than double Mr. Nygard’s.

He helped form a nonprofit called Save the Bays to target environmental abuses, starting with Nygard Cay. Fred Smith, a prominent human-rights lawyer, came on board.

Mr. Bacon and his older brother, Zack, hired a small army of lawyers and private investigators, including veterans of the F.B.I. and Scotland Yard. They persuaded some of Mr. Nygard’s allies to provide evidence for a defamation lawsuit, filed in 2015. They launched their own lawsuits. And they paid well.

Two self-described former gang members, Livingston “Toggie” Bullard and Wisler “Bobo” Davilma, told the Bacons’ investigators that Mr. Nygard had hired them for dirty work, like torching his ex-girlfriend’s hair salon and staging anti-Bacon rallies, according to court records. The men claimed Mr. Nygard had given them a “hit list” that included Louis Bacon and Mr. Smith. Mr. Nygard has denied this.

Mr. Bullard and Mr. Davilma, working with the Bacon investigators, hatched a plan to videotape Mr. Nygard. The private eyes acted like secret agents, using encrypted phones and dropping cash for the two men in a box behind a post office. Eventually, the Bacons paid the two about $1.5 million, mostly for secretly recording five meetings with Mr. Nygard.

The videos turned up no sign of Mr. Nygard’s plotting murder. “I can’t get into killing,” he said in footage obtained by The Times.

Instead, a video from June 2015 captured him on a favorite topic. Looking out a car window, Mr. Nygard said there were many women with whom he hadn’t yet had sex.

“Do you see those toilets?” he asked.

The Hunt

The Bacons said they were disturbed by stories they heard about Mr. Nygard having sex with teenage girls. In late 2015, they hired TekStratex, a new Texas security firm, to push American law enforcement officials to investigate him for sex trafficking.

The firm’s leader, Jeff Davis, told Zack Bacon that he’d worked for the C.I.A. for 10 years — including in something called “the ghost program,” Mr. Bacon recalled.

The F.B.I. looked into Mr. Nygard twice, but only briefly. In April 2016, the Department of Homeland Security dug in.

To help the inquiry, the Bacons moved five witnesses — two former Bahamian employees of Mr. Nygard and three former girlfriends — to the United States and covered their living expenses. Mr. Davis told them that Mr. Nygard had “put out hits on them,” several recalled in interviews. Burly bodyguards drove them to different houses and hotels, swerving through traffic and changing cars, saying they were being followed.

Despite the Bacons’ efforts, the Homeland Security investigation fizzled after nine months, suspended because of “unforeseen circumstances” and “lack of prosecutorial evidence,” according to an agency email.

Mr. Davis turned out to be a fraud. Instead of being an ex-spy, he was a former car broker with a string of debts and failed businesses. The Bacons had shelled out about $6 million. “I fired him,” Zack Bacon said.

He soon focused on a lawsuit, hoping to draw on the #MeToo movement and “the most aggressive lawyers in the world,” Zack Bacon said in a recording provided to The Times.

By last summer, Mr. Smith and the private investigators had introduced about 15 Bahamian women to American lawyers at the DiCello Levitt Gutzler firm. They were planning to bring a lawsuit in New York, where Mr. Nygard’s company had its corporate headquarters. His portrait hung outside a flagship store near Times Square, golden muscles flexing.

At Mr. Smith’s suggestion, six women went to the Bahamian police — a big step, as law enforcement is considered the most corrupt public institution in the country, according to a 2017 Transparency International study, and sex crimes are notoriously underreported. Only 55 rapes were tallied there in 2018, while Cleveland, with a similar population size, had 585. The Bahamian police are still investigating.

The stories echoed one another. The lawsuit would later claim that women were sodomized and forced into other acts they found degrading.

One woman, now involved in the suit, told The Times she was 14 when she met Mr. Nygard at one of his stores in 2015; she has a photo with him that day. She said she was later invited for a modeling interview at Nygard Cay, where he assaulted her. She said she had never told anyone what happened.

Another woman in the suit said in an interview that she was 14 when she attended a pamper party in 2011, after her mother asked Mr. Nygard to sponsor her in a beauty pageant. “Is this what my life can be?” she recalled thinking of the models in the room.

Her glass of wine never seemed to empty, she said. Later, she recalled, she swallowed pills Mr. Nygard told her models took. Then, she said, he took her upstairs and raped her. Drawn by the money and promise of modeling gigs, she later returned, recruiting other women, she said.

Tamika Ferguson found her way to Nygard Cay in 2004 after being kicked out of high school. An orphan from a poor neighborhood, she said a D.J. had invited her to a pamper party. She drank too much and ended up in a bathroom barefoot in her bikini, she said. When she emerged, her friends had gone. She said Mr. Nygard steered her upstairs and raped her.

Ms. Ferguson said she returned multiple times and had sex with Mr. Nygard because she felt she couldn’t say no; he sent people to her home to pick her up. She gave The Times two photographs of herself at Nygard Cay; three people — a former Nygard girlfriend, an ex-employee and a guest — said they remembered her there.

“He messed with my whole life,” said Ms. Ferguson, now 32. “And everybody knew what was going on except for me.”

‘A Gift From Our Boss’

For years, Mr. Nygard had insisted that Louis Bacon paid people to lie about him. The hedge fund founder maintained that wasn’t true.

But his team created vulnerabilities, giving money and gifts to witnesses and accusers in the Bahamas, The Times found. Mr. Bacon and his brother said they were unaware of any gifts and payments, and expressed confidence in Mr. Smith’s professionalism.

The Bahamian lawyers and investigators were not paid by the Bacons directly. Instead, they were paid by a nonprofit Mr. Smith created, called Sanctuary, to support sexual assault victims; both he and Mr. Bacon donated generously to that.

“They are handing the defendant arguments,” said Jeanne Christensen, a New York lawyer focusing on sexual harassment.

Ms. Ross did well. After she told Mr. Smith that unknown assailants had shot up her former home, killed her family dog and broke into her car in different incidents, Mr. Smith moved her into a gated community, paying $5,000 a month.

The story was familiar: She had told a variation to Mr. Nygard two years earlier, emails show. “I sent you money to buy a new dog,” Mr. Nygard wrote after his company wired her almost $10,000.

“Call police immediately,” he said. “Put in a charge against BACON.”

Mr. Smith also gave Ms. Ross $500 a week to work on another potential lawsuit against Mr. Nygard, this one for workplace abuses.

Accusers received smaller payments. Ms. Fox, who earned $2,000 a month, said she passed some of that to the women she brought to meetings with lawyers and investigators — often $200 for a visit. Mr. Smith acknowledged giving about $1,000 collectively to four or five alleged victims, but said that was for their time and expenses.

“I’m not going to give them $100 to lie, for goodness’ sake,” he said.

There were more substantial gifts. Deidre Miller said Ms. Fox invited her to the Baha Mar luxury resort in August 2018 to meet with investigators. She was a valuable witness — she would later tell The Times she had dated Mr. Nygard for years and had seen two teenagers in his bed, one in her school uniform.

Afterward, Ms. Miller said, the investigators took her and Ms. Fox to the resort’s Cartier store. There, she said, the men bought each woman a matching 18-carat gold bracelet and necklace for $9,350. Ms. Miller provided a photo of the receipt, though the man whose name was on it denied making the purchase.

“He was like, ‘It’s a gift from our boss,’” Ms. Miller recalled. “They said they were working for Louis Bacon.”

The Lie

For more than a year, Marvinique Smith and her sister, Marrinique, were central to the developing lawsuit.

They told their stories repeatedly to lawyers, investigators and the Bahamian police. Marvinique said she was invited to a pamper party in 2010, when she was 15. There, she said, Mr. Nygard talked to her about modeling and had sex with her. Her sister recounted a horrific tale: Mr. Nygard had raped her as cartoons played on TV. She said she was 10.

But in October, the sisters told a very different story to Times reporters: They had never been assaulted by Mr. Nygard. They had never even met him. They claimed Ms. Ross had paid them to make everything up.

She coached them on Mr. Nygard’s pickup lines, bedroom layout and sexual proclivities, the sisters said. Meanwhile, she gave them cash — $150 here, $350 there — for every meeting, they said.

Ms. Smith said she confessed to lying because Ms. Ross, who was dating her boyfriend’s father, stopped paying her. She and her sister felt guilty and scared. “I couldn’t do it anymore,” Ms. Smith said, adding, “There might be girls that it actually happened to, but it didn’t happen to me and my sister.”

Ms. Ross denied paying anyone to fabricate stories about Mr. Nygard, and passed a lie-detector test to that effect, according to Robert Ennis, a polygrapher hired by her lawyers.

In an interview, she speculated that Mr. Nygard had paid the Smith sisters to recant — a notion they rejected.

Ms. Ross had undisclosed connections with other women she brought to the lawyers. Two were relatives. Two were related to a close friend. All were included as plaintiffs in the lawsuit.

She had also sent a note to a former Nygard employee, asking to talk about the case. “It will pay very handsomely,” she wrote. When asked about that, Ms. Ross said she meant it would pay in “justice.”

Since the American lawyers filed the suit, they said, they’ve received calls from more than three dozen women alleging abuse as far back as the 1970s. The new allegations, mainly from women in Canada and the United States, show their case has nothing to do with the neighbors’ feud, the lawyers said.

“It’s a good cause, regardless of what you think may have been the motivation,” said Greg Gutzler, the lead lawyer in the lawsuit. He said his firm, which operates on contingency and has no financial ties to Mr. Bacon, had done its own investigation and never paid any accuser or witness. The lawyers hope the claim will become a class action.

Facing legal troubles over his property, Mr. Nygard hasn’t been to the Bahamas in more than a year. Even as he recently attended a fashion show flanked by models in Canada, he insisted he was too ill to travel to the Bahamas for court hearings.

Eric Gibson, a former Nygard employee and longtime friend, called The Times on his behalf. He said Mr. Nygard was a “kind, conscientious” man who would not have harmed anyone.

“Women in the Bahamas throw themselves at Peter Nygard,” Mr. Gibson said. “He is the one that all the girls want to be with.”

There Go I

The expression goes: There by the grace of God go I.  Well thankfully I don't believe in God or I would think somehow the great Daddy in the sky has spared me from death and/or life of living hell.  I like to think it was luck and sheer determination on my part but on the off chance there is a higher power I guess thanks is in order.

When I read this story it affected me in two ways.  One a survivor of sustaining traumatic brain injury.  I was LUCKY.  I was found in my car unconscious/comatose with a 4mm blood clot in the brain after the lunatic I was out with shoved drugs in my drink, shoved incessant drinks down my throat (although blood alcohol can rise due to Benzodiazepines in the blood system) then enabling me to get behind the wheel of a car which for the grace of god crashed into a pole.  I say that as I wonder had I got home in that state and seized or fell I would never be found for days/weeks/months or had he been with me what he would have done to me and again I would never know or be found.  So by the grace of God I crashed my car.  It however had a downside as it the medical providers at Harborview and the City of Seattle saw me not as a patient but as a drunken whore so once those labels are assigned you can never be healed.

And when I read this story in the New York Times I got it, I really did.  A loner, an outsider as in being Gay, financially secure and very bohemian with no family or partner to advocate or look out for or after.  And with a series of catastrophes he was found with a blood clot on the brain and when he came out of it he sustained one of the more significant types of TBI with short term memory damage. That could have been exacerbated by years of alcohol abuse and in turn the isolation post care without a clear treatment plan or course of action he further deteriorated.  You see that is why my Attorney Kevin Trombold believed that I the drunken whore did not need true legal advice and counsel and in turn cannot to this day explain how I highly functioned while his former associate, Ted Vosk, goes out of his way to explain his depression and rages as a symptom of Traumatic Brain Injury   and continues to try to inflict severe damage through alcohol abuse, car accidents, running accidents and attempted suicide by bear by running to Alaska and taking massive pics putting himself in danger.  I find it quite amusing and tragic all at the same time its Grizzlyman meets Into the Wild but this from a Harvard educated Attorney.  I wish him well on his efforts, hopefully soon he will get it right.  And I leave that to you to decide what that is, my choice is less kind.

I, on the other hand, took it as a challenge to recover and using varying strategies and techniques to stimulate the brain's plasticity I think I came back stronger than ever.  A bigger bitch but that my be do to the supposed care givers who were anything but.  As the saying goes: Fool me once shame on you, fool me twice shame on me.  I will never be fooled again, right Roger?

The story below is a man who had promise and again because of a lack of network and of course knowledge they simply cast him off to a facility where moments of lucidity are masked by lack of care.  He will only further deteriorate and decline and this in the shadow of Langone who has extensive programs and a facility dedicated to this type of injury.  C'est La Vie as this is where you are when you are an outsider, you are single, old, female, gay, alone or just disposable.  This is America and funny we have more Septuagenarians running for office than not.  Not all of us need to be in the shadows nor deserve to be regardless.

‘The Phantom of Ninth Street’: A Bon Vivant’s Lonely Decline

He lived every New Yorker’s dream life. And then it all slipped away.

By Michael Wilson
The New York Times
Feb. 20, 2020

When the police arrived at his apartment in Greenwich Village, Paul Pannkuk didn’t know what they were talking about.

Someone had entered the apartment next door, taken a random armload of the tenant’s belongings — photo albums, a doormat, a shoe holder — and dumped it all with the garbage in the basement. The burglar was captured on security camera, and he looked an awful lot like Mr. Pannkuk.

He told the officers he had no memory of the incident. He would never steal, he said.

He stood in his once-grand one-bedroom home, with marble floors and windows onto tree-lined West Ninth Street. The home’s former elegance was now hard to imagine.

The living room was dark, most of its lights missing. There was little furniture, and what remained was old and worn, with stuffing sprouting from holes. Newspaper clippings were stacked in tidy piles on the floor beside black-and-white family photographs.

On a side table was a sheet of paper with what looked like random doodles and reminders. In fact, it was a map of sorts for a man hopelessly lost, guideposts to his old life: “Morgan Stanley,” “Drake University,” the name of the composer of “The Music Man” (Meredith Willson). There was a verse from a child’s prayer: “If I should die before I wake/I pray the Lord my soul to take.”

Mr. Pannkuk had once lived in comfort approaching extravagance, split between the Village and the Hamptons, his future secured by a career in finance many dreamed to have in 1990s New York. He traveled the world, returning to the city to share his stories with his friends.

Most of those friends were gone now. He had driven them away. At the age of 68, he was on a path many single New Yorkers dread. He was alone, with no one to take care of him, the mysterious occupant of Apartment 1A. But he was too far gone to realize what was happening. His brain no longer worked the way it once did.

His story is one steeped in kindness and frustration and hope misplaced, framed by addiction and a shattering accident on the eve of a new start. It is the tale of a recluse in plain sight, a man left to compulsively wander the place he called home. A friend gave him a dubious title: The Phantom of Ninth Street.

Mr. Pannkuk was a product of the midcentury Midwest, born in 1948 in Mason City, Iowa. He attended Drake University, in Des Moines, studying economics and foreign policy before going to work for the World Bank in Washington, D.C., in 1979.

By the mid-80s, he had moved to New York City with a career on the rise, first as an analyst with Standard & Poor’s, and then — as his cheat sheet reminds him — with Morgan Stanley. He became that firm’s manager of risk in its dealings with some 85 countries on three continents, traveling frequently and living for a time in London.

“Very smart, extremely well read,” said Susan Saxe, a former analyst at Morgan Stanley who worked with Mr. Pannkuk in the ’80s and ’90s. “He knew what was going on in the political regime of any country you could think of.”

His sister, Jan, lived in Illinois and spoke to Mr. Pannkuk often by phone. She knew little of New York, and imagined his days and nights busy with high living. She was not far off.

In a corporate world that leaned steadfastly straight, Mr. Pannkuk was a regular at the city’s gay clubs. Tim Riordan, a Manhattan schoolteacher, met him at a gay bar in the ’90s, “in a long, kind of serpentine coat line at a dance party,” he recalled.

“Mr. Pannkuk was very fun-loving and loved to dance,” Mr. Riordan said. “He mixed the corporate world very well with the world of gay men.”

He lived for several years on the Upper West Side, and in 1990, he moved downtown, buying the one-bedroom on West Ninth Street. Years later, real-estate agents would call the block, between Fifth Avenue and Avenue of the Americas, the “Gold Coast” of the Village, but in 1990, it retained some of the scruff and bohemian flair of the ’60s and ’70s. He loved his new home.

He also painted — “impeccable reproductions of Picassos,” Mr. Riordan said — and mounted the large works in his living room. “People would walk by at street level and stop dead in their tracks, thinking the owner had an original in there.”

Barbara Martinez, a musician who was raised by her mother, said Mr. Pannkuk, a family friend, was like a father figure. She remembered his annual Christmas parties: “Lots of silver and white balloons,” she said. He had shelves filled with dozens of Champagne flutes.

At some point in any story about Mr. Pannkuk, the teller invariably arrives at a memory of clubbing or having long conversations over drinks — always over drinks. In his younger days, it seemed harmless enough. “When I met him, he drank a fair amount of wine,” a longtime friend, Pablo Scheffel, said. “But we all drank a fair amount of wine.”

As the years passed, the fair amount increased.

In 2005, after 13 years with Morgan Stanley, he left the firm. He was vague when he explained his situation to friends — there was a new boss he didn’t get along with, he said. But some suspected that he was let go. Ms. Saxe, his colleague at Morgan Stanley, had been unaware that his drinking had become a liability — “until, at some point, I knew it had gotten the better of him.”

He was just 56. He started his own consulting firm, and created a LinkedIn profile with blurbs from former colleagues. (“He was a terrific boss and a patient mentor, with great insight into human nature as well as economic analysis.”) He bought a baby grand piano, playing for friends by ear. He had a dog.

And he drank. “Early retirement didn’t serve him well,” Mr. Riordan said.

Adam Cohen, an artist, met Mr. Pannkuk in 2008 through a dating site. “Everything was revolving around a drink,” he said. “‘Let’s meet here for a drink.’ ‘After the gym, let’s have a drink.’”

He was a regular presence at the Lion, a restaurant down the block from the apartment, and French Roast, around the corner. “He’d spend a thousand bucks a week on drinks and lobster pot pies,” Mr. Cohen said.

“He identified a lot with his job. It gave him his identity. He never replaced that,” Mr. Scheffel said. Except, of course, with alcohol. “He told me he would get up at 3 o’clock in the morning and start drinking.”

He would drift from bar to bar. Ms. Martinez, who grew up thinking of Mr. Pannkuk as a part of the family, had a key to his apartment, and would sometimes find him incoherent or passed out.

“He would go on binges,” she said.

The night that changed everything

Six years after he left Morgan Stanley, with no progress toward finding work or keeping vague promises to cut back on his drinking, his friends intervened. In 2011, a group gathered at his apartment and told him he needed real help. He didn’t disagree. Ms. Saxe had found a rehabilitation facility in Connecticut. The night before he was to go there, she called and told him she would pick him up in the morning. Mr. Pannkuk said he would be ready.

The next day, a Saturday in October, Ms. Saxe arrived at West Ninth Street and rang his buzzer. No answer. She feared he had started drinking again, so she headed to the Lion. He wasn’t there. She passed by French Roast and his other haunts, but she didn’t find him.

She returned to the apartment. Worry grew to fear when she heard Mr. Pannkuk’s dog barking inside. She called 911. Firefighters arrived and banged on Mr. Pannkuk’s door, and when they got no answer, they broke it down.

Ms. Saxe was horrified at what she saw. Mr. Pannkuk was lying unconscious on his marble floor, bleeding from his head.

Paramedics arrived and loaded him into an ambulance. Ms. Saxe fought to stay calm. “They were looking around for his shoes, and they pulled out some fancy pair of shoes, and they made a remark about them,” Ms. Saxe said. “I said: ‘You have to understand. He was always so beautifully dressed.’”

He ended up at Bellevue Hospital Center, where doctors discovered a traumatic brain injury caused by his fall.

Mr. Pannkuk seemed to have damaged his medial temporal lobe, a zone in the brain deep behind the ears, where new experiences are converted to long-term memory. His injury permanently disrupted this function. In practice, Mr. Pannkuk is incapable of creating new memories.

Doctors at Bellevue fitted Mr. Pannkuk in a helmet while he healed. He believed he was in London, oblivious to reality. He spent months in the hospital that way.

Ms. Saxe called Mr. Pannkuk’s sister, Jan, after the fall to share the news. “I was shocked,” Jan said. “He was so close to going to a facility that was going to help him.”

She had her own set of health issues within her family in Illinois, but she traveled to New York and visited him at Bellevue. After stopping by the apartment to fetch clothes, she walked the streets of Greenwich Village. “It’s just one bar after another, basically,” she said.

Her brother returned home in 2012 to Ninth Street a very different man. He was no longer able to hold a conversation, losing the thread almost immediately, starting over several times in a period of a few minutes. He had magazines and the newspaper delivered, but he could not comprehend what he was reading.

Worried about his finances, Jan took control of his checking account and the amount of cash available to her brother at the A.T.M., putting him on an allowance.

She soon discovered that he was drinking again, his debit card charges betraying him and listing two, three, even four bar tabs a day at his favorite Village spots. It is not unlikely that he simply forgot earlier visits that day, and entered the bar each time as if it were the first.

She could also tell when he used an A.T.M. He tried to withdraw cash several times a day, even when the account was empty, having forgotten earlier attempts. The pings from the bank brought her comfort.

“I know he’s OK,” she said. “He’s walking around.”

But his old circle of friends were increasingly frustrated.

“I had a relatively young daughter at the time, and I felt I was maybe investing too much time in him,” Ms. Saxe said. “I stopped going around to see him.”

Mr. Riordan would stop by and ask the doormen how his friend was getting along, but he found himself reluctant to ring his bell. He once happened upon a wild-looking Mr. Pannkuk — who in the past had been known to return to his stylist after a haircut if it wasn’t to his liking — shambling along the sidewalk.

“I watched people’s faces as they approached him,” he said. “He was an eyeful — people were having second takes. Little did they know he was about to take a right into a very chic apartment.”

By 2017, he was destroying that apartment from within. He carried his valuable books and treasures from his world travels to the basement for disposal, Mr. Cohen, the artist, said. He threw away his television, his stereo, even his light bulbs, casting the apartment in dim shadows. He threw away food he didn’t remember buying, filling his refrigerator instead with rows of plastic cups of water.

Mr. Cohen began visiting once a week just to make sure Mr. Pannkuk was eating. Ms. Martinez, the friend who looked to him as a father figure, dropped by the liquor stores and the Lion; she claimed to be his daughter and begged them not to serve him anymore.

It was in this period, in the spring of 2017, that Mr. Pannkuk was arrested after throwing away his neighbor’s belongings. In all likelihood, he probably believed he was in his own apartment, and treated those things like he did his own property that he did not recognize.

I first encountered Mr. Pannkuk after reading a police blotter that detailed the bizarre burglary. Why would a 68-year-old man steal random stuff from his neighbor? And then just put it in the trash?

I knocked on his door and was invited into his dark, curious surroundings, where the disheveled man before me told me the same facts about himself, over and over. Morgan Stanley. Drake University. An old friend he expected to arrive any time now. Morgan Stanley. Drake University. Old friend.

He said he was aware of having been hurt in a fall, but that it was minor.

The victim in the burglary case declined to be interviewed for this article, and it’s unclear why he chose to press charges, but in doing so, he set into motion events that pulled the recluse from the shadows and into the city’s view.

Mr. Pannkuk’s sister and friends contacted for this story agreed to speak about his past and present with the understanding that no article would be written until his situation stabilized. Jan, his sister, said she saw an opportunity to share her brother’s story with others facing addiction or brain trauma issues.

After his arrest, Mr. Pannkuk was appointed a lawyer, and while the criminal charge was later dropped, the matter of what to do about Mr. Pannkuk lingered. In 2017, his case was referred to Surrogate’s Court, where he sat in silent bewilderment as his lawyer and representatives from the city and the Mental Hygiene Legal Service, which represents the disabled in need of care, discussed his future before a judge.

The primary obstacle to bringing Mr. Pannkuk the aid available to many New Yorkers was his wealth, as manifested in the apartment on Ninth Street. He had too much money to qualify for free assistance, and not enough for live-in care.

“There are a lot of difficulties going on in your life right now,” Judge Kelly O’Neill Levy told him in September 2017. “The court finds that the appointment of a guardian is necessary.”

At the same time, the apartment building, a co-op, was threatening eviction proceedings against Mr. Pannkuk. His guardian, Sabrina E. Morrissey, a Manhattan lawyer who worked with clients from vulnerable populations, represented him and his wishes to stay in the apartment, but in reality that appeared less and less of an option. His sister and Ms. Morrissey agreed: It was time for him to go.

Late in 2018, his guardian led Mr. Pannkuk, 70, from his apartment of 23 years to his new home. He had no idea that he would never be back. His apartment was going on the market. It would sell quickly for $1 million.

The income from the sale would go to pay for an assisted-living facility in Queens, a journey of some 17 miles, but a world away.

I have visited a few times over the past months. He has a room on a special unit for residents with memory issues. To get to that wing, you pass through a door designed to keep residents from wandering off. It has an alarm that is disarmed with a code that Mr. Pannkuk, if he learns it, is unlikely to remember. The hope for residents like Mr. Pannkuk is that, over time, they become more at ease with their surroundings and come to think of it as home.

Earlier this month, I arrived, and he smiled brightly when he heard his name called.

“Aren’t we in Queens?” he asked, correctly, before inquiring about the status of the impeachment hearings against President Trump.

He sat in his room’s sole chair and crossed his legs. Behind him, three of his prized paintings from his apartment, the Picasso reproductions, leaned against a blank wall. A health aide knocked and offered him a bowl of rice pudding. Mr. Pannkuk asked if she would please put it in the refrigerator.

“I’ve been to London, France, Russia,” he said, and for a moment, he looked like any other retired executive, thinking back over the good times. “I’ve been to India.”

Then, inevitably, that look of comfort shifted to one of urgency, and the room around him changed from comfortable studio to forbidding cell.

“You know, my apartment is in Manhattan,” he said. “I’d love to go home.”

Sunday, February 23, 2020

The Gentry

I cannot recall in any of the Democratic debates a discussion on two major issues: Housing and Education.  These are the two most significant factors that contribute to Segregation and Income Inequality aka Meritocracy.  But hey we got to trash Trump to prove we can win.  Good to know that pugilism is the metric to measure a candidate.

And in turn that brings to mind the passing remarks by Bloomberg on the 2008 crisis that smacked of racism, which again stop and frisk do as well or his overall misogyny and sexism but hey that is one issue that they have no problem talking about.  Again there are many issues of import but housing is an essential issue and if you forget the dynamo ,Ben Carson is our current Secretary HUD.   His views on this subject to say the least are not that different from Bloomberg.  But his tastes run like his boss, Trump, clearly.

But there is a major crisis in California, which Trump has been quite vocal about, just not in a positive way but hey at least he actually knows about it.  First up this article:

'It's a cycle': the disproportionate toll of homelessness on San Francisco's African Americans
Broken dreams: inside California's housing crisis

Vivian Ho in San Francisco
Fri 21 Feb 2020 
When Tracey Mixon walks out her door in San Francisco’s Tenderloin neighborhood, she is more likely to meet another black person than in most places in the city.
The Tenderloin is where many of the city’s homeless services are centered, making it a hub for the unhoused as they seek help. In a city where the black population teeters between 5% and 6%, 37% of its growing homeless population is black. “They sleep outside of my building,” Mixon, 49, said.
“They’re people I’ve known for years. They went from having places to live to being out out there on the streets. With me living in the Tenderloin, I see a lot of these people all the time and it hurts for me to see so many black people out there.”
In a state where a housing crisis has given way to a surge in homelessness, a disproportionate number of those experiencing housing instability are black. In Los Angeles, 37.5% of the homeless population is black, while in Oakland, where 70% of the homeless population is black, whole homeless encampments are dedicated to black and Latinx people.
The disparity is reflected nationwide. Although black people made up 13.4% of the overall population, according to the latest US census data, 39.8% of all homeless people were black.
Mixon joined a group with the Coalition on Homelessness on Thursday, going from office to office in San Francisco City Hall to bring attention to this racial disparity during Black History Month. Just nine months ago, Mixon was homeless too, along with her nine-year-old daughter. For almost a year, she said, she and her daughter lived in shelters, hotel rooms and on the couches of family and friends.
“It was tough,” said Mixon, who is now a peer organizer for the Coalition on Homelessness. “I made sure she was in school every day. I made sure I was at work every day. Just because we were homeless, I didn’t want our routine to be stopped.”
More and more throughout California, the homeless find themselves in similar circumstances as Mixon and her daughter: holding down jobs, making a decent living, going to school – just not able to find an affordable place to live.
In the office of the San Francisco lawmaker Rafael Mandelman, Miquesha Willis broke down in tears talking about her current situation.

“It’s a cycle, and there’s nothing you can do about it,” she said in an interview. “My wages are OK, but it’s not enough for San Francisco. It’s not enough for market-rate rent. It’s too much for below market-rate rent. I’m still trying to increase my wages to beat homelessness here. It’s crazy.”
In cities like San Francisco, black communities are getting pushed out as rent prices get jacked up. Between the 2000 and 2010 censuses, the black population fell by 19% in San Francisco and almost 23% in Oakland. Black residents are forced to move farther inland to places where housing is cheaper, such as Antioch and Stockton – even though for many, their jobs remain in the city.
Willis tried moving to Antioch but couldn’t make the commute work. Her job required her to clock in before public transportation began running on some days, and her car broke down, making it impossible for her to get to work.
Like so many people her age, Willis is questioning what she wants to do for a living – if it would be worth it to finish college, to try starting her own business, to switch careers. San Francisco made its name this century as the hub for the latest tech boom, where anyone with a startup idea could come and achieve their dreams. But Willis has found that San Francisco is only a welcoming place only for some, for those who can afford the privilege to fail.
“There are people who are trying to make things happen for themselves and trying to grow in their career and make something happen for their families,” she said. “This is one of the highest-paying cities. Why are so many people struggling here?”

Next up Costs:

Why Does It Cost $750,000 to Build Affordable Housing in San Francisco?
As California’s governor vows to tackle the state’s homelessness crisis, housing “insanity” stands in the way.

By Thomas Fuller  The New York Times Feb. 20, 2020
SAN FRANCISCO — The average home in the United States costs around $240,000. But in San Francisco, the world’s most expensive place for construction, a two-bedroom apartment of what passes for affordable housing costs around $750,000 just to build.
California’s staggering housing costs have become the most significant driver of inequality in the state. On Wednesday, California’s governor, Gavin Newsom, mentioned the issue 35 times during an impassioned speech, urging lawmakers to solve the state’s homelessness crisis by building more and faster.
But the vertiginous prices of housing in California show how difficult that will be.
Building affordable housing in California costs on average three times as much as Texas or Illinois, according to the federal government.
The reasons for California’s high costs, developers and housing experts say, begin with the price of land and labor in the state. In San Francisco a construction worker earns around $90 an hour on average, according to Turner & Townsend, a real estate consulting company.

Not taking into account the price of land, around one quarter of the cost of building affordable housing goes to government fees, permits and consulting companies, according to a 2014 study by the California Department of Housing and Community
For a building to be defined as affordable housing it typically obtains tax credits and subsidies. A single affordable housing project requires financing from an average of six different sources — federal, state and local agencies, said Carolina Reid, a researcher at the Terner Center at the University of California, Berkeley, and an author of a forthcoming analysis of affordable housing costs.
She called the process “death by a thousand cuts.”
Senator Brian Jones, a member of California’s State Senate, remembers laboring over an affordable housing project when he was on the City Council of Santee, Calif., near San Diego.
“It literally took us on the City Council six months to get all of our attorneys, all the developer’s attorneys, all the federal government’s attorneys, to agree on the paperwork. And that was just the financing,” Mr. Jones said.
“I walked away from that process and told the developer I cannot believe this project is going to employ more attorneys than construction workers to get built.”
Mr. Jones, who is head of the Republican caucus in the Senate, argues that California’s housing market is vastly overregulated, starting with California Environmental Quality Act.
California law permits anyone to object to a project under the act, which when it was signed by then Governor Ronald Reagan in 1970 was seen as a landmark effort to protect the environment from reckless development.
Today the law is often used as a legal battle ax by anyone who wants to slow a project down or scuttle it altogether, Mr. Jones and many developers and experts say.
“At very little cost one individual can take a project and tie it up in years of litigation,” said Douglas Abbey, a lecturer on real estate at the Stanford Graduate School of Business.
Environmental protection is cherished in California but there is also bipartisan agreement that housing prices are too high. Mr. Newsom has pushed through exemptions to the California Environmental Quality Act for homeless shelters, and he says the state should consider more exemptions.
Mr. Abbey, a former developer and real estate investor, says good intentions are backfiring. He argues that laws requiring developers to build a certain percentage of affordable housing as part of their market-rate projects are a hidden tax and a drag on overall housing construction
“What the state government and local governments need to recognize is that the housing shortage is purely a supply problem,” Mr. Abbey said. “There are burdens to introducing new housing.”
It’s not uncommon for a project in California to be mired for many years in paperwork over zoning or objections by other property owners before ground is broken.
Judson True, the director of a department in San Francisco city hall that seeks to speed up housing construction projects, says the process of building affordable housing is far too cumbersome.
“Nothing this important should take this long or be this hard,” he said.
Last year San Francisco broke ground on 767 subsidized affordable apartments.
“It’s nowhere near what we need,” Mr. True said.
San Francisco has the highest overall building costs in the world, according to a 2019 report by Turner & Townsend.
The average costs of construction in San Francisco are 13 percent higher than New York, 60 percent more expensive than Chicago and 75 percent more than in Houston, according to the report.
It costs seven times more to build in San Francisco, America’s hub of technology, than in India’s technology capital, Bangalore.
Mr. Newsom says he recognizes the threat that the high costs pose to efforts to get people off the streets.
The average cost of a single affordable housing unit is around $500,000 in Los Angeles and around $600,000 in Oakland, according to data by the Terner Center.
“One word insanity — it’s just insanity,” Mr. Newsom said in an interview last month.
If affordable housing cannot be built more cheaply, he said, “taxpayers aren’t going to support these bonds.”
Mr. Newsom’s budget this year calls for $6.8 billion in affordable housing funding including mortgage assistance for first-time buyers and bonds for veterans’ housing.
Mr. Newsom says he is counting on innovations in housing construction to help reduce costs.
But even with significant savings, housing experts say it would be impossible at current cost levels to build homes for the state’s entire homeless population.
It would cost somewhere around $70 billion to build housing for its current homeless population of 150,000.
Professor Reid at the Terner Center says she agrees with Mr. Newsom’s emergency efforts to get people off the streets and into shelters as well as preventing people who have homes from losing them.
But California, she says, does not have the resources to build enough housing for the state’s current homeless population, not to mention those who might become homeless in years to come.
“We are not going to solve the homelessness crisis if what people are expecting is that cities are going to build affordable housing for every one of those individuals,” Professor Reid said.
“It’s going to cost way too much.”
So we have lack of housing, cost to build housing and of course the biggest factor NIMBY.

BUILD BUILD BUILDWhen California’s housing crisis slammed into a wealthy suburb, one public servant became a convert to a radically simple doctrine.
By Conor Dougherty
The New York Times
Adapted from the Book:  GOLDEN GATES: Fighting for Housing in America.
Published Feb. 13, 2020

The City Council of Lafayette, Calif., met the public two Mondays a month, and Steve Falk liked to sit off by himself, near the fire exit of the auditorium, so that he could observe from the widest possible vantage. Trim, with a graying buzz cut, Mr. Falk was the city manager — basically the chief executive — of Lafayette, a wealthy suburb in the San Francisco Bay Area that is notoriously antagonistic to development.
With a population of just 25,000, Lafayette was wealthy because it was a small town next to a big town, and it maintained its status by keeping the big town out. Locals tended to react to new building projects with suspicion or even hostility, and over a series of Mondays in 2012 and 2013, Mr. Falk took his usual spot by the fire exit to watch several dozen of his fellow Lafayetters absolutely lose their minds.
A developer had proposed putting 315 apartments on a choice parcel along Deer Hill Road — close to a Bay Area Rapid Transit station, and smack in the view of a bunch of high-dollar properties. This wasn’t just big. The project, which the developer called the Terraces of Lafayette, would be the biggest development in the suburb’s history. Zoning rules allowed it, but neighbors seemed to feel that if their opposition was vehement enough, it could keep the Terraces unbuilt.
In letters to elected officials, and at the open microphone that Mr. Falk observed at the City Council meetings, residents said things like “too aggressive,” “not respectful,” “embarrassment,” “outraged,” “audacity,” “very urban,” “deeply upset,” “unsightly,” “monstrosity,” “inconceivable,” “simply outrageous,” “vehemently opposed,” “sheer scope,” “very wrong,” “blocking views,” “does not conform,” “property values will be destroyed,” and “will allow more crime to be committed.”
Mr. Falk could see where this was going. There would be years of hearings and design reviews and historical assessments and environmental reports. Voters would protest, the council would deny the project, the developer would sue. Lafayette would get mired in an expensive case that it would likely lose. As Mr. Falk saw it, anything he could do to prevent that fate would serve the public interest. So he called the developer, a man named Dennis O’Brien, and requested a meeting.
Mr. Falk had once taken a course on negotiation at Harvard, where he learned that people are supposed to be more reasonable when they bargain over food. He went to a deli and bought baguettes, a wheel of Brie and bunches of red grapes. He laid the spread on a conference room table and cut the bread into slices and put down little cheese spreaders and surrounded it with the grapes.
Mr. O’Brien was roughly the color of those grapes when he walked in with some aides, and Mr. Falk accepted that for the next few hours he would be the recipient of the developer’s frustrations. But before it got to that, he told everyone, he wanted them to eat.
The room was silent. Mr. Falk explained the whole deal about his negotiation class. The room remained silent. Mr. Falk looked at Mr. O’Brien and said, Dennis, look, I don’t even know you, but you have to eat something, even if it’s one grape, before I’ll talk to you. That at least got people laughing, and pretty soon everyone acceded to the bread and cheese and grapes.
America has a housing crisis. The homeownership rate for young adults is at a multidecade low, and about a quarter of renters send more than half their income to the landlord. Homelessness is resurgent, eviction displaces a million households a year, and about four million people spend at least three hours driving to and from work.
One need only look out an airplane window to see that this has nothing to do with a lack of space. It’s the concentration of opportunity and the rising cost of being near it. It says much about today’s winner-take-all economy that many of the cities with the most glaring epidemics of homelessness are growing centers of technology and finance. There is, simply put, a dire shortage of housing in places where people and companies want to live — and reactionary local politics that fight every effort to add more homes.
Nearly all of the biggest challenges in America are, at some level, a housing problem. Rising home costs are a major driver of segregation, inequality, and racial and generational wealth gaps. You can’t talk about education or the shrinking middle class without talking about how much it costs to live near good schools and high-paying jobs. Transportation accounts for about a third of the nation’s carbon dioxide emissions, so there’s no serious plan for climate change that doesn’t begin with a conversation about how to alter the urban landscape so that people can live closer to work.
Commuters at the Lafayette BART station.Credit...Ian C. Bates for The New York Times
Nowhere is this more evident than California. It’s true that the state is addressing facets of the mess, with efforts on rent control, subsidized housing and homelessness. But the hardest remedy to implement, it turns out, is the most obvious: Build more housing.
According to the McKinsey Global Institute, the state needs to create 3.5 million homes by 2025 — more than triple the current pace — to even dent its affordability problems. Hitting that number will require building more everything: Subsidized housing. Market-rate housing. Homes, apartments, condos and co-ops. Three hundred and fifteen apartments on prime parcels of towns like Lafayette.
Legislation is important, but history suggests it can do only so much. In the early 1980s, during another housing crisis, California passed a host of bills designed to streamline housing production and punish cities that didn’t comply. But the housing gap has persisted, and more recent efforts have also failed. In late January, the Legislature rejected S.B. 50, a bill that would have pushed cities to accept four- to five-story buildings in amenity-laden areas.
What this suggests is that the real solution will have to be sociological. People have to realize that homelessness is connected to housing prices. They have to accept it’s hypocritical to say that you don’t like density but are worried about climate change. They have to internalize the lesson that if they want their children to have a stable financial future, they have to make space. They are going to have to change.
Steve Falk changed. When he first heard about Dennis O’Brien’s project, he thought it was stupid: a case study, in ugly stucco, of runaway development. He believed the Bay Area needed more housing, but he was also a dyed-in-the-wool localist who thought cities should decide where and how it was built. Then that belief started to unravel.
Today, after eight years of struggle, his career with the city is over, the Deer Hill Road site is still just a mass of dirt and shrubs, and Mr. Falk has become an outspoken proponent of taking local control away from cities like the one he used to lead.
Although he didn’t know it at the time, Mr. Falk’s transformation began in 2015, with a phone call from a woman he’d never heard of, with a complaint he had never once fielded in his 25 years working for the city. Her name was Sonja Trauss, and she thought the Deer Hill Road project was too small.
Ms. Trauss was a lifelong rabble-rouser and former high school teacher, who’d recently become a full-time housing activist. She made her public debut a couple of years earlier, at a planning meeting at San Francisco City Hall. When it was time for public comment, she stepped to the microphone and addressed the commissioners, speaking in favor of a housing development. She returned to praise another one. And another. And another.
In backing every single project in the development pipeline that day, Ms. Trauss laid out a platform that would make her a celebrity of Bay Area politics: how expensive new housing today would become affordable old housing tomorrow, how San Francisco was blowing its chance to harness the energy of an economic boom to mass-build homes that generations of residents could enjoy. She didn’t care if a proposal was for apartments or condos or how much money its future residents had. It was a universal platform of more. Ms. Trauss was for anything and everything, so long as it was built tall and fast and had people living in it.
The data was on her side. From 2010 to 2015, Bay Area cities consistently added many more jobs than housing units — in some cases at a ratio of eight to one, way beyond the rate of one and a half jobs per housing unit that planners consider healthy. In essence, the policy was to enthusiastically encourage people to move there for work while equally enthusiastically discouraging developers from building places for those people to live, stoking a generational battle in which the rising cost of housing enriched people who already owned it and deterred anyone who wasn’t well paid or well off from showing up.
Ms. Trauss organized supporters into a group called the San Francisco Bay Area Renters Federation, or SF BARF, which was amateur even by local activist standards. But amateur was the point, part of Ms. Trauss’s knack for getting attention. She drove a glittery orange Crown Victoria, showed up to municipal meetings in leggings and white cowboy boots, and spoke in pop philosophical monologues, like declaring that the reason people don’t like new buildings is that it reminds them that they’re going to die.
Her aims were explicitly revolutionary. She told people that her goal wasn’t to enact any particular housing policy, but to alter social mores such that neighbors who fought development ceased being regarded as stewards of good taste and instead came to be viewed as selfish hoarders.
Ms. Trauss started to attract the attention of wealthy donors like Jeremy Stoppelman, the co-founder of Yelp, who had started to worry about housing costs crimping economic growth. And her tactics got more sophisticated. With a friend, Brian Hanlon, who worked a desk job at the United States Forest Service, she co-founded a nonprofit called the California Renters Legal Advocacy and Education Fund, or CARLA. Its mission: “Sue the suburbs.” After reading about an obscure 1982 California law called the Housing Accountability Act, Ms. Trauss decided to try to use it to force Lafayette to build Dennis O’Brien’s 315 apartments.
By then — 2015 — Mr. Falk had been working on the Deer Hill Road project for years. Through dozens of meetings with Mr. O’Brien, he’d hammered out a deal for a more modest development of 44 single-family homes, as well as an agreement to build the city a soccer field and dog park. Mr. Falk was a frequent user of the analogy about sausage-making, and this was definitely some sausage, but he walked out of his talks with Mr. O’Brien feeling like an A‑plus public servant who might have a second career in conflict resolution. When Ms. Trauss phoned him to say the 44-home approach was entirely inadequate, Mr. Falk tried to persuade her otherwise. Of course, he never had a chance.
At a City Council meeting a week later, Mr. Falk noticed a gaggle of BARFers, throbbing with the conspiratorial energy of teenagers before a prank. The microphone was already going to be crowded. Neighbors had formed a vociferous nonprofit called Save Lafayette, which opposed both the 315-apartment idea and the 44-house compromise on grounds from view-ruination to carcinogenic construction dust. Mr. Falk sat by the fire exit and watched as BARF and Save Lafayette collided at the podium, one side arguing the project was too small, and the other arguing it was too big.
“I’m somewhat disturbed by all these parties from outside my neighborhood telling me that I should accept this degradation to my quality of life,” said one Lafayette resident, Ian Kallen.
“No human being is a degradation,” retorted an SF BARF member named Armand Domalewski. “Let’s talk about the economic benefits of adding people instead of simply treating them as costs.”
When it was Ms. Trauss’s turn to speak, she argued that the entire notion of public comment on new construction was inherently flawed, because the beneficiaries — the people who would eventually live in the buildings — couldn’t argue their side.
“An ordinary political process like a sales tax — both sides have an opportunity to show up and say whether they’re for or against it,” she said. “But when you have a new project like this, where are the 700-plus people who would initially move in, much less the tens of thousands of people who would live in it over the lifetime of the project? Those people don’t know who they are yet.
Ms. Trauss sued a few months later. The great irony was that nobody was more unhappy about it than Mr. O’Brien. He had spent years and millions of dollars proposing two completely different projects. Now some activist group he’d never heard of was suing the city, and him, on behalf of his original project — in essence, suing him on behalf of him.
CARLA’s lawyer had the impossible job of trying to convince a judge that Lafayette had unfairly forced Mr. O’Brien to build 44 houses instead of 315 apartments, while Mr. O’Brien sat on the other side more or less going, No they didn’t. CARLA lost the argument, but after it threatened to appeal, Mr. O’Brien ended up agreeing to pay its legal fees. He had now argued, and paid for, both sides of the same case.
Other litigation continued. Members of Save Lafayette sued to force a referendum where residents could rescind the 44-home plan, and eventually, they succeeded. Ms. Trauss and her fellow insurrectionists moved on to other battles, filing more lawsuits for more housing until they started winning. Meanwhile, the movement she helped found — YIMBY, for Yes in My Back Yard — has become an international phenomenon, with supporters in dozens of housing-burdened regions including Seattle; Boulder, Colo.; Boston; Austin, Texas; London and Vancouver.
Development battles are fought hyperlocally, but the issues are resonating everywhere. In late 2018, Minneapolis became the first major city in America to effectively end single-family zoning. Oregon followed soon after. California and New York have significantly expanded protections for renters. And as more economists give credence to the notion that a housing crisis can materially harm G.D.P., by exacerbating inequality and reducing opportunity, all of the Democratic presidential candidates have put forth major housing proposals.
They run the gamut from tax breaks for renters, to calls for more affordable housing funds, to plans for bringing federal muscle to bear on zoning reform. These ideas share a central conflict: Can city leaders — who in theory know local conditions best — be trusted to build the housing we need? Or will they continue to pursue policies that pump up property values, perpetuate sprawl, and punish low-income renters?
Mr. Falk began his career on the local control side of that debate. But somewhere along the Deer Hill odyssey, he started to sympathize with his insurrectionist opponents. His son lived in San Francisco and paid a fortune to live with a pile of roommates. His daughter was a dancer in New York, where the housing crunch was just as bad. It was hard to watch his kids struggle with rent and not start to think that maybe Ms. Trauss had a point.
“I’m not sure individual cities, left to their own devices, are going to solve this,” he told me once. “They don’t have the incentive to do so, because local voters are always going to protect their own interests instead of looking out for people who don’t live there yet.”
So he started to rebel. When California’s governor at the time, Jerry Brown, threatened to override local control with a proposal to allow developers to build urban apartments “as of right” — bypassing most of the public process and hearings — Lafayette citizens were apoplectic. Mr. Falk, against his own interest, wrote a memo in favor of the idea.
“Cannot be trusted,” “ineptitude,” “disingenuously manipulating the City Council,” “should be publicly and explicitly reprimanded” — these were some of the things citizens said in response. His future was untenable. The City Council reprimanded him, and when it came time for his contract negotiation, members of Save Lafayette protested a clause that would guarantee him severance of 18 months of pay if he was ever fired; a few months later he forfeited the amount — close to half a million dollars — and resigned.
“A city manager has a choice: You can just sit there and be this kind of neutral policy implementer, or you can insert yourself,” Mr. Falk said. “Sitting in your office all day long, you have to ask the question, ‘Why am I here, why am I doing this work?’ At some point, I just think it’s natural that you start making recommendations that you think are in the best interest, not just for the community, but society.”
It’s hard to look at what happened in Lafayette and see a population that acted rationally. After the 44-home plan was derailed, Mr. O’Brien activated an insurance policy that few people knew about: The terms of his negotiation with Mr. Falk allowed him to return to his original plan for 315 apartments. When residents learned at a City Council meeting that their agitation might have brought them full circle, they got so angry that a sheriff offered to escort one of Mr. O’Brien’s employees to her car.
Mr. Falk, on the other hand, seems at peace. At the council meeting marking his departure, he sat, uncharacteristically, up front. The mayor gave him the honor of leading the room in the Pledge of Allegiance. Mr. Falk had a resignation letter in front of him, but told the audience that he was only going to read it in part.
The portion he read was polite. It was about how he loved the city and believed Lafayette was a model of civility and democratic engagement and had a brilliant and professional staff. Afterward, people said nice things and Mr. Falk nodded thank you. The paragraphs he didn’t read became public soon enough — and started making the rounds on Twitter.
“All cities — even small ones — have a responsibility to address the most significant challenges of our time: climate change, income inequality, and housing affordability,” Mr. Falk had written. “I believe that adding multifamily housing at the BART station is the best way for Lafayette to do its part, and it has therefore become increasingly difficult for me to support, advocate for, or implement policies that would thwart transit density. My conscience won’t allow it.”

I will say that permits, costs, labor and land are all factors in the urban sector why housing costs are high and when built apartments, condos and single family dwellings are ultimately expensive in proportion to wages and earnings.  The reality is that while many developers are getting low interest loans, often tax credits for building in opportunity zones or districts/areas labeled as such to encourage gentrification and in turn mixed building growth we also have dilapidated housing stock, homes on the edge still of foreclosure thanks to the 2008 crisis, a bizarre obsession with flipping houses as a type of business to bring both fame and riches thanks to Chip and Joanna (who no longer do said business) or Property Brothers who only do it for TV but there are many many more that litter the landscape of television and of course a still low interest rate that entice buyers to buy now as it may not last, the only difference is that banks are supposedly doing due diligence to verify income and ensuring that the loan, home value and costs are legally within the spectrum of bank and federal lending regulations.  Sure they are sure.   I personally heard two women with very low incomes tell others that they were pre-approved to buy a home. Really? One was a Waitress/Social Influencer, the other a clerk at a treatment center.  Both women lived in Nashville where wages have not come up to parity with the nation and in proportion to the cost of housing so let me know that banks' name as they sound great to get money.  But in this case Nashville is not the exception it just is already shady and in turn they had not been hit in 2008 as the rest of the nation as its designation of an it city came after the flood of 2010 with it the rush to (re) build happened and the flux of cash from out of state buyers/investors resulted.  Then the 2018 tax bill that created in the urban core (where I lived) to be labeled an opportunity zone further pushed the gentrification and rise in costs to live in what was basically a train stop on an access road to the fairgrounds.  But then the permit to the stadium occurred and wow just wow an already over trafficked road will become more so and the rise of taxes, land and costs comes with it.  Again careful what you wish for.

And that is the reality behind housing and the costs the idea that homes are not dwellings in which to live more affordably and have better control of costs and well just own a home to have a sense of permanence and community it became the largest source of personal wealth and investment.

This is from an interview with the Author of the above book:
I think such an important point that often gets lost is the idea that housing went from being a place for somebody to live to an investment and a primary wealth builder. 
The book kind of talks about how that began in the 1970s, during the Great Inflation. It is a huge piece, because housing has kind of become our pension program, kind of become our inheritance program. 
Property has always had a lot of wealth and inheritance tied up in it. So that’s not exactly new. 
But in the Great Recession, there was a lot of talk about how people were using their home equity as an A.T.M. And so it’s really become this financial instrument. Not surprisingly, people defend that financial instrument the same way they defend themselves from higher taxes or whatnot.
You look at America today, and we have the housing crisis. We have a huge homeless problem. We have a huge rent burden problem. A quarter of renters spend more than half their income on rent. And so this uniquely American indicator of wealth has gone totally wrong.

An issue is the home owner tax credit and of course the concept of second and third homes, just ask Jeff Bezos about that.   There is no rental credit that could enable those like myself to find a return on renting if in fact it is over 50% of one's income.  That we built into the tax system an enabler to force if not encourage home ownership  cannot be denied and the same could be for the marriage credit. Gosh what is the message there? Maybe I need a marriage of convenience or one of living apart together. 

That income tax write off being removed in the same 2017 tax bill as well as property taxes are large reasons why New York and New Jersey are finding themselves as the states with the most migration out in history followed by California again due to cost of housing and the decimation of region due to wildfires that did not help; However, again California like New York and the tri state region are still the magnets for the most educated and most well off in America.  So no shortage of housing here for those of the 1% and yet even a surplus of luxury housing that will take an estimate of seven years in which to be disbursed.

But this is region that has rental fees paid to brokers that can be from 1/3 of the rent to a full month rent(which does little to discourage negotiating).  Here in Jersey City it took me about two days working and by working I mean contacting and dealing with largely bullshit to find a rental to realize I was fine doing it on my own.  I was asked how I did so and it was fairly easy. First I got on light rail and go off each stop and walked within a five minutes radius, walked in asked if I could see a unit, get information or make an appointment.  No costs, no fees no hassles. And I found the Agents from the buildings were way more informative, helpful and followed up without effort.  Funny the agents who wanted me to pay them a fee equivalent to the months rent of my future home were total assholes. And all of those rentals were obtained via Zillow and yet they were utterly unhelpful, rude and half the time invisible.  Two I never met and another refused to even show me a unit unless I gave him my financials.   Here is the deal - you want me to pay you than do something for me not just text me an address, not show up, show up late, tell me about the unit and then walk off and text me another unit miles away that you could have taken me to, shown me and asked me my needs, ideal rent and show me a series of units that were in varying neighborhoods and be honest about the pros and cons.  They were my first introduction to Jersey City and I thought "Uh oh this is Nashville all over again" and then I had a convo with a Bartender who said you don't have to pay a dime and once I got that bit of advice I was off on my own with a series of prospective units and the ability to negotiate directly with the Agent on site. Funny how that works out.

Funny that while liberals are often maligned in finding solutions, two former homes Berkeley and Seattle have tried to at least address if not find ways to resolve the problem. This is the rental opportunity plan devised in Berkeley and having lived there and Oakland I can tell you first hand that what was once cool is now another lost cause in the extension of Silicon Valley.  That is one large green valley and by green with money to throw at anyone to buy homes.  In Seattle the housing crisis is not unlike San Francisco with limited available housing largely due to incessant regulations and lack of build for decades but of late the mass exodus of residents lead again to an odd balancing out with  bidding wars coming to a close along with new apartment/condo buildings being constructed that ended some of this on its own. But what was quite controversial was the HALA program that came into existence in about 2015 and it changed the dynamics.   That program has been concluded but it does provide a through examination of what it takes to change a crisis into less of one.  Not perfect it has some pluses and minuses but again this is what it is like in Seattle, people do occasionally rise to the occasion.  This article discusses the HALA plan and this is well worth reading if you are not already on overload.  This subject is one that can seriously put one on overload given the history as well as the present information on the issue.

I would love to own a home of my own to have the furnishings and fixtures I pick, to have the ability to have something that is mine and mine alone.   I don't love living in a big apartment building and this is my first time doing so and while it has many pluses it has equally as many negatives. That said as I age I have to think what that means with regards to maintenance and to upkeep and that is another issue that frankly many must face so here we are with most of the candidates well over 60 and I am hearing nothing about what it means to age in America.  But that is another post for another time.

Friday, February 21, 2020

The suffix is ocracy

The meaning of Meritocracy is in the suffix of -ocrasy - which means government by the people with the most ability.  I think it goes well with Plutocracy which is the current state of our government; A government or society run by the wealthy.

To be an agent of the people you must not be of the people for it is impossible to wage a campaign without resources and those are hold by those in the power of wealth and money.  They are the Plutocrats, the Oligarchs who control and manage and own much of what they sell or distribute to the not so wealthy.  A small minority of individuals in the United States possess such wealth and if Peter Theil, AGL or closet Republican, would desire a country run by chaos and in turn enable the wealthy to possess ultimate control as he has often believed.  Funny how he backed Trump but then again politics and bedfellows.
In a 2009 essay called The Education of a Libertarian, Thiel declared that capitalism and democracy had become incompatible. Since 1920, he argued, the creation of the welfare state and “the extension of the franchise to women” had made the American political system more responsive to more people – and therefore more hostile to capitalism. 
Capitalism is not “popular with the crowd”, Thiel observed, and this means that as democracy expands, the masses demand greater concessions from capitalists in the form of redistribution and regulation. 
The solution was obvious: less democracy. But in 2009, Thiel despaired of achieving this goal within the realm of politics. How could you possibly build a successful political movement for less democracy? 
Fast forward two years, when the country was still slowly digging its way out of the financial crisis. In 2011, Thiel told George Packer that the mood of emergency made him “weirdly hopeful”. The “failure of the establishment” had become too obvious to ignore, and this created an opportunity for something radically new, “something outside the establishment”, to take root. 

Theil is batshit that much we agree. And his backing of Trump was the idea that he would create the kind of chaos necessary to defeat democracy and we are worried about Russians, really?

 For Thiel, a smaller, more easily manipulated mob is preferable to a bigger one. If democracy can’t be eliminated, at least it can be shrunk through authoritarianism. A strongman like Trump, by exploiting the racial hatred and economic rage of one group of Americans, would work to delegitimize and disempower other groups of Americans. He would discipline what Thiel calls “the unthinking demos”: the democratic public that constrains capitalism.hiel’s preferred political future isn’t hard to picture.
 Thiel recognizes that only the state can provide the public goods on which private profit-making depends and what’s needed is a state that bankrolls scientific research at midcentury cold war levels – without the comparatively high tax rates and social spending that accompanied it. Corporations would mine this research for profitable inventions. The public would foot the bill and ask for nothing in return. 
The government shoulders the research costs for capitalists but makes no demands and sets no conditions. An authoritarian leader uses racial anger to set one portion of the population against another, and cracks down on those he sees as alien or illegitimate. The state becomes even more responsive to the needs of capitalists and even less responsive to the needs of workers and citizens. What Thiel calls the “oxymoron” of “capitalist democracy” is resolved – by jettisoning democracy. 

I took this from a Guardian piece on Thiel but there is another in New York Magazine that again reiterates what a fucking lunatic this rich fuck is.  He makes Trump look like a garden variety nutfuck in comparison.

Now we have mass exodus of the few sane people left in the Trump Administration with him surrounding himself with the yes men and women who pander to his version of leadership and his definition of Democracy.  This is why whoever the Democrats at this point nominate we get out the vote to vote.  Anyone at this point would be an improvement.

But the reality is that it will not be the woman who I respect the most, Warren, although her fighting words on Wednesday demonstrated she can tackle Trump and let's face it Bernie can as well he has the speech on him down pat and all of true; However, he is also the single most similar in style like Trump which I find equally disturbing but then again I at this point am open to even Mayor Pete. Although secretly a Warren/Buttigeg ticket might be a winner on many levels.

That said the one thing they share is the concept of Meritocracy that you can earn your way up the ladder socially and economically and they come from two generations that have seen that trickle down economics is not the rising tide but in fact the piss you step in on your way to schools and education that is funded by this thing Theil wants to end - the government.   Without access and availability we would not have the Bloombergs, the Warren's, the Klobuchar's the Harris'and the Yang's that stood on that stage to take America back alright to at least the belief that we are better than this.

I have long said that Meritocracy is a myth and while there are amazing stories of Immigrants and other Americans succeeding in spite of it that belief is tied up in the myth of Paul Bunyan and those bootstraps.  Again more bullshit and lies that remind me of the Bible no less colorful and of course blame laying and finger pointing.   Where do your think they got it from in the first place?

Nicholas Kristof's column the other day finally resonated with me and I share that now as the truth be told we are all in the water together and some are stronger swimmers, some can float along and others manage to get on board the right Yacht and sail off to drier better shores.  But few if any born into lesser more troubled waters will ever rise to the top of the water and be plucked from it and taken to a life on a golden beach.  That is the biggest bullshit being peddled right now along with some of the other tech crap that includes flying to the moon and life ever after.  Man those fuckers are really delusional and Theil is just one of many.  Sink or swim and it appears the life rafts are leaking and let's put these assholes on the Titanic and throw in some Coronavirus with a touch of Legionaires and see what or who floats to the top.

Pull Yourself Up by Bootstraps? Go Ahead, Try It

It’s impossible, and yet the bootstraps narrative drives out good policy.

By Nicholas Kristof
The New York Times
Opinion Columnist
Feb. 19, 2020

Back in the 1800s, the expression “pull oneself up by the bootstraps” meant the opposite of what it does now. Then it was used mockingly to describe an impossible act.

An 1834 publication ridiculed a claim to have built a perpetual-motion machine by saying that the inventor might next heave himself over a river “by the straps of his boots.” An 1840 citation scoffs that something is “as gross an absurdity as he who attempts to raise himself over a fence by the straps of his boots.”

Yet this phrase has become part of America’s mythology and the centerpiece of our approach to help those left behind: We harangue them to lift themselves up by the bootstraps. When Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez this month dismissed bootstrapping at a congressional hearing as “physically impossible,” outrage reverberated across the conservative media world.

Sean Hannity’s blog said that her assertion “left millions of television viewers scratching their heads.” Another Fox News commentator said that Ocasio-Cortez was “completely clueless.”

So let’s think this through.

It’s true that upward mobility has always resonated deeply in the United States. My father, a refugee from Romania and Ukraine, came to the United States because to him it symbolized opportunity (and, sure enough, it provided him rich opportunities).

Some people do manage heroic journeys to the top. Ben Carson grew up as an impoverished black child of a single mother in Detroit and became a pediatric neurosurgeon and secretary of housing and urban development. Bravo to him.

The problem is that this bootstraps narrative drives out good policy in three ways.

First, it suggests that historically Americans rose purely through rugged individualism — think of the pioneers!

Ah, but why did the pioneers go west? Because of government benefit programs that granted them homesteads! Ten percent of America’s land was given out as homesteads, and perhaps one-quarter of Americans (almost all of them white) owe part of their family wealth to the homestead acts.

Then there was the American investment in free high schools and in state colleges and universities, plus gigantic programs like rural electrification and the G.I. Bill of Rights. In short, even when we were a much poorer nation, we were able to afford huge national investments to help disadvantaged (white) Americans, because they were a priority.

Second, the bootstraps narrative often suggests that benefits programs are counterproductive because they foster “dependency.” That may have been a plausible argument a generation ago, but the evidence now indicates that it is incorrect.

Europe and Canada have much more robust social welfare systems than the United States, but Americans in the prime working years (ages 25 to 54) are more likely to drop out of the labor force than Europeans and Canadians in those years. Americans drop out of the labor force primarily because we do worse than other countries of investing in workers’ education, health care, addiction treatment and job training.

Third, the bootstraps narrative implies that everyone can pull a Ben Carson (Carson himself falls for this fallacy). This is like arguing that because some people can run a four-minute mile, everyone can.

Yes, some Americans soar from humble beginnings; more often, the top is occupied by those who, say, were earning $200,000 a year at age 3, in today’s money, as President Trump was. Some research finds that upward mobility has tumbled in the United States over the last half-century and is now lower than in Europe.

It’s particularly hard for people to scramble up when they come from violent homes, poor schools or foster care, or face impediments of race or class. These can be challenges, but they can be addressed to some extent — but not by sermons about bootstraps.

I received a note the other day from a carpenter in Washington State, Mike Stimac, about these issues. He grew up in a small town and describes himself as “more conservative than liberal,” but he had read a new book that my wife and I wrote about Americans left behind, and he responded: “I had two parents who gave me a home, no alcohol or physical abuse. I always felt like we were just making it. My parents were blue collar (machinist, sawmill operator, seamstress, cafeteria cook). I never felt like I was privileged, but I see now that I was. …

“Being a carpenter and general contractor, here again I felt I ‘pulled myself up by my bootstraps.’ My wife and I made a living with hard work and family help and now have a fairly strong financial standing. But now I realize it is more than hard work and family help. I was privileged to have two parents who valued education (though they never went to college), I am white, and there was no abuse.”

Stimac says he now favors substantial federal programs to provide opportunity and address addiction, mental illness and education, adding, “This is a real change of heart for me.”

That change of heart is what we need for our country as a whole. American children need fewer wagging fingers or homilies about bootstraps, and more helping hands.