Challenging Capitalism: We’re Not A Rich Country; Just Some Of Us Are

Sometimes when I read the Wall Street Journal’s special section on real estate, aptly named “”Mansion”, where ostentatious multimillion dollar homes and their over-the-top owners are featured, I find myself muttering, somewhat in jest, “Next, the revolution.”

Economic inequality, in America, whether measured through the gaps in income or wealth between richer and poorer households, is widening and too many Americans are living on the edge.

If you want to see part of where America is headed, visit Manhattan’s 1,550-foot-tall 131-story Central Park Tower. 

Central Park Tower, 217 w. 57th St., New York City

With 179 luxury residences on so-called Billionaires Row, it’s “Above All Else – The Tallest Residential Tower in the world,” its promoters say. 

The condominium building contains an outdoor swimming pool with poolside food and beverage service, a cabana deck, ,a private park, a Living Room where residents can lounge with billiards, a dramatic movie screening room, a  double-height windowed sports court, an indoor pool and spa, a high-tech fitness center, a beauty lounge, the highest Grand Ballroom and private restaurant ever built in New York (no stranger to excess on the 100th floor, with menus created by a coterie of Michelin-starred talent, including Chefs Alfred Portale, Laurent Tourondel and Gabriel Kreuther, all overseen by lifestyle director Colin Cowie, a corner sky lounge featuring a wine cellar (how do you get a wine cellar in a sky lounge?) and cigar humidor (a potential Bill Clinton hangout?). To top, or bottom, it all off, there’s a retail partnership with a seven-floor 320,000 sq. ft. flagship Nordstrom store that sits at the building’s base. Whew!

And all this , according to StreetEasy, can be had for an average price of $21,888,000, based on currently active sales as of June 2022.  That’s $6,752 per sq ft.  

The team creating the building crafted “an Iconic Building and an Unmatched Living Experience” says its marketing site

From a slightly different perspective, the complex can also be a veritable cocoon for its super-wealthy clientele. They can, if they choose, exist almost entirely within the shimmering icicle-shaped supertall structure, avoiding rubbing against the masses, the hoi polloi, on the streets of New York.

In its self-contained exclusiveness, the Central Park Tower and Billionaires Row in general are much like an increasing number of other American geographies where the rich gather and mix only among their own kind. 

The Wall Street Journal recently wrote about the shift in Malibu, CA., once  a village with a bohemian character.

 “About three decades ago, Beverly Hills native Andy Stern moved to the nearby beach city of Malibu to raise his young family.,” the story noted. “He quickly came to know all his neighbors, he said, recalling block parties with children pouring onto the streets to play together. Now Mr. Stern…said he barely sees his neighbors in the Broad Beach area, because they are rarely there. The families that once lived in the neighborhood have largely been replaced by celebrities and billionaires…”

Malibu Beach Houses

So many rich people now own prime property in Malibu as just one of their many properties, but don’t really live there, that the town’s full-time population has actually fallen in recent years.

As for families with young children, forget it.  Public school enrollment has declined by more than half in the past 20 years.

And if you want to stay at a local hotel and mingle with the Malibu rich, the old low-key Casa Malibu Inn on a private beach has become the Japanese-inspired Nobu Ryokan Hotel, where rates start at $2,000 a night (BTW, I’ve stayed in ryokans in Japan and this is a faux ryokan).

Then there are other high-end US communities that serve as sanctuaries for the wealthy, such as Atherton, CA; Greenwich, CT; Highland Park, TX (a Dallas suburb); Jackson Hole, WY; and Paradise Valley, AZ.

But it is an illusion to think that only the filthy rich are isolating themselves into enclaves. The well-off-but-not-filthy-rich (WONFR) folks do, too. They live in places like Highland Park, Il, (Median family income: $147,067), Bow Mar, CO, Chevy Chase, MD and well-off but still far down the average median income list, Lake Oswego, OR (Median family income: $114,444).

But beneath this sheen of wealth are an awful lot of struggling Americans. 

With periodic interruptions due to business cycle peaks and troughs, the incomes of American households overall have trended up since 1970, according to Pew Research, but the overall trend masks how the gains were distributed.

Most of the increase in household income was achieved from 1970 to 2000. when median income increased by 41%, to $70,800, at an annual average rate of 1.2%. From 2000 to 2018, the growth in household income slowed to an annual average rate of just 0.3%, Pew said. Not only that, the growth in income  tilted to upper-income households while the U.S. middle class, which once comprised the clear majority of Americans, has been shrinking. In other words, a greater share of the nation’s aggregate income is now going to upper-income households while the share going to middle- and lower-income households is falling. 

In recent years, the share of all income held by the top 1% has approached or surpassed historical highs. In 2015, The top 1% took home 21% of all the income in the United States. By 2021, the share held by the top 1%, about 1.3 million households, had risen to 27% 

In 1980, households at the top had incomes about nine times the incomes of households at the bottom. The ratio increased in every decade since 1980, reaching 12.6 in 2018, an increase of 39%.

Not only that, but the largest shares of adults in upper-income households are congregating in certain areas of the country, particularly metropolitan coastal areas of the Northeast and California. They tend to be in high-tech corridors, or in financial and commercial centers, such as Boston-Cambridge-Newton, MA-NH,  Hartford-West Hartford-East Hartford, CT and San Jose-Sunnyvale-Santa Clara, CA.  

Even during the pandemic, when most Americans fared well financially, the rich saw most of the gain. According to the Federal Reserve, while American households overall saw about $13.5 trillion added to their wealth, the top 1% got a third of that and the top 20% 70% of it.

Meanwhile, some states are becoming pockets of poverty. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, states and territories with the highest percentages of poverty in the country in 2020 were: Mississippi, Louisiana, New Mexico, Kentucky, Arkansas, West Virginia, Alabama, the District of Columbia, South Carolina, and Georgia.

The new economic reality of reduced income – and even poverty –  for many Americans is all too familiar in many parts of the United States. For decades, small towns and cities across the country have been devastated by deindustrialization and job losses. In these places, incomes are generally low, poverty rates are high, and many residents depend on government assistance, like SNAP (food stamps), to afford basic necessities.

A particular challenge facing well-off areas of the country is that the people who provide all the services can’t afford to live there. 

I still remember a time early in my career, when I was working for a community development firm. A builder was planning a large-scale new town development in a largely rural area in the south, with shopping centers, restaurants and other amenities.  When I noticed it included only high-end homes, I asked him where all the service workers were going to live. He’d never thought about that.

We are seeing the emergence of this problem in Bend, OR, which has seen  skyrocketing growth in recent years. That has translated into skyrocketing home prices and rent increases, squeezing out those with modest incomes.

Booming Bend, OR

“Central Oregon’s housing affordability and availability crisis is comprehensive in scope and impact,” said a May 2019 Central Oregon Regional Housing Needs Assessment. And the situation has continued to deteriorate.

HUD defines affordable housing as total housing costs that are no more than 30% of a household’s total gross income. For rental housing, total housing costs include rent plus any tenant-paid utility costs. For homeowners, they include mortgage payments, utilities, property taxes, homeowners insurance, and any homeowners’ association fees. 

The 2019 Needs Assessment showed that more than half of renters in Deschutes County spent more than 30% of their income on housing and just over a quarter spent more than 50%.

Meanwhile, young working families are finding it ever harder to buy a home in Central Oregon. “Central Oregon has seen significant in- migration of people from the Bay area, Seattle, Portland and elsewhere, who sell their house and are able to buy a house here with money left over, said Jon Stark, Senior Director of Redmond Economic Development, Inc. “However, younger people who are starting out earlier in their careers are having a harder time. The wages people earn and the price to buy a home or rent is out of balance.” 

But why fret, say some. We’ve always had inequality in the United States, such as in the Gilded Age, in the late 1800s and early 1900s and we’ve always had people who flaunt their wealth in — ways. 

“Back then, it was about masquerading as European nobility at lavish balls in elegant hotels like New York’s Waldorf-Astoria, locked down to forestall any unpleasantness from the street (where ordinary folk were in a surly mood trying to survive the savage depression of the 1890s),” Steve Fraser wrote in Salon. “Today’s “leisure class” is holed up in gated communities or houseoleums as gargantuan as the imported castles of their Gilded Age forerunners, ready to fly off — should the natives grow restless — to private islands aboard their private jets.”

But economist Gabriel Zucman, whose doctoral advisor was the historical economist Thomas Piketty, author of “Capital in the Twenty-First Century,” released data in 2021 arguing that things are worse today.

In 1913, at the end of the Gilded Age, the Rockefeller, Frick, Carnegie, and Baker families – names all tied to monopolistic power – held 0.85% of the country’s total wealth, Zucman said.

As of mid-2021, the top 0.00001% richest people in the U.S., composed of just 18 families, held 1.35% of the country’s total wealth. Wealth concentration at the very top exceeded the peak of the Gilded Age, he said.  

The richest 0.01% — around 18,000 U.S. families — have also surpassed the wealth levels reached in the Gilded Age. These families hold 10% of the country’s wealth today, Zucman wrote. By comparison, in 1913, the top 0.01% held 9% of U.S. wealth, and a mere 2% in the late 1970s.

It’s too simplistic to say that the increasing share of income and wealth among the richest Americans is a threat to capitalism, but as David Autor, a professor at MIT put it in response to an Initiative on Global Markets survey, the widening split is a symptom of dysfunction. “It’s a threat to people’s belief in capitalism as an institution of economic governance. Absent shared belief, we are in trouble.” 

Even moreso if the next generation of highly civilized, excessively woke philanthropy activists are hostile to capitalism itself when they take charge and forget that the money they are so gladly using came from capitalists.

American Philanthropies Challenge Capitalism. Huh!

Talk about biting the hand that feeds, or fed, you!

There’s an ambitious, sprawling, and loosely coordinated effort by some of America’s biggest foundations to remake capitalism, according to the Chronicle of Philanthropy. 

How bizarre. 

“Some of the country’s largest foundations…want to upend the very system that allowed them to build massive endowments and personal fortunes,” writes Alex Daniels with the Chronicle of Philanthropy

“Capitalism must be remade, these foundations argue, because unregulated markets are at the root of the most important social and environmental problems we face,” Marc Gunther wrote in the same journal. “What’s needed, according to an expanding chorus of philanthropy leaders, is a change in the economic system itself.”

The Ford Foundation, the William & Flora Hewlett Foundation, the Omidyar Network and others have already committed nearly $500 million over the next five years to transform the economic system that, not incidentally, made possible the great fortunes that underpin their work, according to Gunther.

The controversy isn’t exactly new. The Ford Foundation has been attacked for years for funding initiatives that Henry Ford would surely have disagreed with. That kind of behavior often happens because Foundations end up controlled by professional do-gooders, usually with a liberal education and leftist leanings.

These types are calling for a new code of business ethics, expanded employee ownership of corporations, and rule changes that would put the environment and equitable distribution of wealth on the same footing as making a profit.

Their agenda bears a strong resemblance to the platform of the progressive wing of the Democratic Party, wrote Gunther. “There is a lot of overlap,” says Felicia Wong, CEO of the Roosevelt Institute, an influential Washington think tank and a grantee of Ford, Hewlett, and Omidyar.

Scott Walter, president of Capital Research Center, a conservative think tank that focuses on philanthropy, noted that huge foundations like Ford wouldn’t exist without the wealth generated by free-market capitalism.

“If the Ford Foundation’s money is so badly tainted, perhaps they should start on a swift course of no longer possessing it,” Walter says. “Let’s redistribute it.”

The entire controversy has been exacerbated by the growing visibility of younger woke anti-capitalist activists. Often they are in philanthropies run by only slightly older, and experienced, people who think they’re already pretty damn woke, thank you, and don’t need to be lectured by their juniors.  

The environment has pushed expectations far beyond what workplaces previously offered to employees., columnist James Freeman wrote in the Wall Street Journal. “A lot of staff that work for me, they expect the organization to be all the things: a movement, OK, get out the vote, OK, healing, OK, take care of you when you’re sick, OK. It’s all the things,” said one executive director. “Can you get your love and healing at home, please? But I can’t say that, they would crucify me.”

Ryan Grim, writing in the progressive website The Intercept, said some left-leaning philanthropic leaders seem to have felt so much under attack by their own staff that they have adopted a mantra originating with Andy Grove, one of Intel’s founders, “Only the paranoid survive.”

It’s become so toxic that it’s getting more difficult to hire leaders. “Executive directors across the space said they… have tried to organize their hiring process to filter out the most disruptive potential staff. “I’m now at a point where the first thing I wonder about a job applicant is, ‘How likely is this person to blow up my organization from the inside?’” one, leader said to Grim. 

And the turmoil has affected the philanthropies’ ability to do their job. “So much energy has been devoted to the internal strife and internal bullshit that it’s had a real impact on the ability for groups to deliver,” an organization leader told Grim.

Maybe people like Bill Gates, a fierce believer in the fundamentals of capitalism, should worry about the direction future leaders of their foundations will take them. “Flirting with radical change, dramatic change, how we run these systems, I personally — my vote will be not to make a radical change,” he has said.

The temerity of some foundation critics of capitalism is particularly irritating because not only were their foundations created through the success of their founders, but their continuing work is only possible because of capitalism’s success. 

Large foundations like Hewlett are not only the product of free-market capitalism, but also remain tremendous beneficiaries of it., says Robert Stilson, a research specialist with the Capital Research Center, which examines how foundations, charities, and other nonprofits spend their money. 

Stilson points out that according to the foundation’s website, Hewlett’s $14.4 billion endowment is invested mostly in private and public equities, and its performance has consistently exceeded the benchmark. Its most recent tax filings disclosed almost $3.8 billion in corporate stockholdings. “Capitalism drives the creation of wealth at left-of-center philanthropies no less than it does everywhere else,” Stilson said.

Dear Secretary of the Treasury: OK, I Give Up

Dear Secretary Yellen (and Joe, too),

Invest in Series I Savings Bonds, your Treasury Department says. “Series I savings bonds are a low-risk savings product,” it says. “During their lifetime they earn interest and are protected from inflation.” With an initial interest rate on new Series I savings bonds now at 9.62 percent., they’re a good deal. 

So I tried to buy some.  Fuggedaboutit.

How hard can it be to set up a website to invest in I Bonds that’s consumer friendly and easily navigable? You’d think the Biden administration could at least do this one simple thing right, but no. 

Now bear with me.

Treasury’s website, www.TreasuryDirect.gov, is a jumbled mess, a relic of old timey confusion from when Biden was a senator. When I finally got into the section for creating an investment account, diligently filled everything out and clicked on “submit”, I was advised that there was an error. And my application was on hold.

What was the error? No clue. How could I fix it? By filling out a paper, yes, paper,TreasuryDirect Account Authorization form, getting it certified by my credit union, and snail-mailed , yes, snail-mailed, to Treasury Retail Security Services, Minneapolis, MN.

The length of time Treasury Retail Security Services might take to respond? Up to 13 weeks, I was advised. That’s right, three months.

Several weeks later, not 13 thank God, I got an email saying the hold had been removed from my account and that I could now access it. Now I’m on a roll, I figured. 

But no. When I tried to get into my account to make an investment, I made a spelling mistake in a security question response and I was locked out again.  

“If you encounter any problems during the initial log in process, you may contact us at 844-284-2676, between 8:00 a.m. – 5:00 p.m. Eastern Time, Monday through Friday.,” I was advised. “Follow the menu prompts for Individual and TreasuryDirect. A customer service representative will assist you.”

OK, that sounded simple. It was a nightmare. 

On my first call I was on hold for 3 hours and finally told that there were too many people ahead of me for my call to be answered before the office closed. For my second call, I got up at 5AM and sat on hold for 2.5 hours before connecting with an agent. It took just a couple minutes to clear up the security question issue and I was again cleared for access to my account.

I filled out an online form to make an investment . On June 21, an email came back. “Dear William:
A purchase has been scheduled in your TreasuryDirect account on 6/21/2022. For more details, go to the History tab and click Security History. If you have a question about this activity, please call (844) 284-2676. Thank you for using TreasuryDirect.”

I sat back in celebration.

Too soon.

On June 27, I received an email canceling my investment: “Dear William, We’re sorry, but your purchase request or reinvestment IAAAA was canceled. While trying to collect payment from your bank, they returned our debit. Please check the Investor InBox section of your TreasuryDirect account for more detailed information. Thank you for using TreasuryDirect.”

Now what?  I went to the Investor InBox section of my TreasuryDirect account and discovered that Treasury had sent the debit request to an incorrect bank account, not the one submitted with my purchase request. Of course the debit attempt bounced. Argggh!!!

I went back into the TreasuryDirect website and found that to get Treasury’s mistake corrected I would have to print out another paper form, get it certified at my bank, send it in, by snail mail again, and wait some more. When I tried to access the form by clicking on a link, I got a grey screen. Good grief!

You win, Janet and Joe. I give up. I’m done.

Is It Time To Bring Back “Bum”?

On June 17, Portland’s alternative weekly, Willamette Week, posted a story titled, “Tires Slashed, Mirrors Shattered Along Laurelhurst Street Where Tensions Between Neighbors and Houseless Residents Continue to Escalate.” 

“Houseless residents”? 

How did the media and much of liberal Portland get to the point where people who slash tires, shatter car mirrors, rip out landscape lights, overturn trash and recycling bins, destroy landscaping and damage parking strip trees are simply described as “houseless,” as though that’s their defining characteristic? 

How did we get to the point where people doing this:

or this:

or this:

are excused because they are “homeless” or “houseless” or some other insipid term? That’s just plain criminal.

Some would say calling some people bums is offensive, callous and unfeeling, that it’s not “fair” to lump people together for any reason.

Being homeless or houseless should not be a free pass to a different set of behavioral expectations. Being homeless doesn’t give somebody license to break into a small business, deface property with graffiti, shoot at each other and unsuspecting pedestrians, bury sidewalks and parkland under trash and garbage, pollute waterways , steal and chop up bicycles and cars, openly sell and buy drugs, assault  random passers-by and litter private properties with discarded syringes.

On June 20, KGW8 television reported on incidents at a tent site on the corner of Southeast 33rd Avenue and Powell Blvd. in Portland next to Grover Cleveland High School’s track and sports field. 

“We live in a war zone basically and there’s nothing I can do,” said Elias Giangos, who said he’s lived in the neighborhood for the past seven years. He and his wife plan to move out at the end of the month. Giangos said he was assaulted multiple times by those living at the campsite. Scars from the time he was stabbed by someone living at the campsite disfigure his left arm.

“Even when I was getting assaulted, we called the police, there’s no response,” he said.

Things recently got so bad with the so-called homeless around Multnomah County’s Gladys McCoy Building in Portland across from Union Station that the county hired a firm to assess the risks to county employees and recommend responses. 

According to the Physical Security Vulnerability Assessment of the area in and around Multnomah County’s Gladys McCoy Building prepared by Eric Tonsfeldt / Operations Manager – Foresight Security Consulting, “The density of unsanctioned homeless camping immediately around the McCoy Building represents the most immediate, consistent, and palpable threat to the safety and security of the employees and contractors in the McCoy Building.”

“The building is currently surrounded by ongoing, frequent drug abuse and distribution, violence, and aggression within dense areas of unsanctioned houseless camping.,” the report said. 

The report said the following crime occurred just within the 1/8-mile area centered on the McCoy Building between 7/19/2020 and 7/18/2021: 33 assaults, 79 instances of larceny, 7 instances of vandalism and 35 drug/narcotics offenses.

Those aren’t the to-be-ignored actions of “the homeless.” They’re the actions of vagrants, malcontents, addicts, crooks, criminals….bums.

.

Coming Soon: The Museum of Me

In another bow to ethnic division, on June 13, 2022, President Biden signed into law a bill (H.R.3525) authorizing a commission to build a possible National Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) museum in Washington, D.C.

Introduced by Rep. Grace Meng (D-New York) in May 2021, the bipartisan bill cleared the House on April 26 and the Senate on May 18, both by unanimous consent.

The signing was couched as a way to counter Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders remaining on the margins of American education, with little mention in classes beyond the topics of Pearl Harbor, immigration and the U.S.’s territorial interests in the Pacific. A museum would be key to combating the stereotypes and misconceptions that drive anti-AAPI discrimination, supporters say.

If built, an AAPI Museum would follow on the National Museum of African American History & Culture, which opened on the National Mall in Washington, D.C. in 2016.

It would also supplement the National Museum of the American Latino. Legislation calling for the Smithsonian to establish that museum passed in Dec. 2020.  “The new museum will be the cornerstone for visitors to learn how Latinos have contributed and continue to contribute to U.S. art, history, culture, and science.,” according to the Smithsonian. “Additionally, it will serve as a gateway to exhibitions, collections, and programming at other Smithsonian museums, research centers, and traveling exhibition services.”

At the rate things are going, today’s pandering politicians, who, as Blake Smith, says, eagerly “offer cultural victories instead of substantive ones,” will eventually advocate the creation of museums for every single ethnic group in America. Where they will be put in an already crowded mall is unknown. 

Some might argue that recognition of America’s diversity through such museums is a good thing. I’d offer a “Yes, but”… There’s no question that education about our multifaceted country can combat stereotypes and misconceptions, but excessive focus on identity is not such a good thing when it exacerbates divisiveness and encourage a splintering of the populace.

Oregon’s new K-12 Ethnic Studies standards, for example, were well-intentioned, but are a prime example of identity politics run amok. 

Kindergarten Standards, for example, include the following: *Describe how individual and group characteristics are used to divide, unite and categorize racial, ethnic, and social groups” and *Develop an understanding of one’s own identity groups including, but not limited to, race, gender, family, ethnicity, culture, religion, and ability.” Good grief!

Colt Gill, the Director of the Oregon Department of Education, clearly sees the K-12 education universe as nothing more than an assemblage of distinct and maligned minorities. This is the kind of identity politics that foments perilous division of our state and our country. Rather than emphasizing common values and interest, Gill’s identity politics stresses differences and creates a feeling of ‘zero-sum’ competition between groups. 

One problem with this kind of identify politics is that it leads to even more minority designations. “Once identity politics gains momentum, it inevitably subdivides, giving rise to ever-proliferating group identities demanding recognition,” says Amy Chua in Political Tribes.

And that leads to an AAPI Museum.

As for highlighting Asian Americans with a new museum, one problem is they are far from a monolith. Instead, they have a complex history and cultures.  Even the term “Asian American” encompasses dozens of ethnic groups of Asian descent. Just Southeast Asians, for example, includes Filipino, Vietnamese, Cambodian, Thai, Hmong, Laotian, Burmese, Indonesian and Malaysian. 

And what are craven politicians going to endorse next? A German Museum and an Irish Museum? The high immigration numbers in the 1800s were largely fueled by Irish and German immigrants.  A Hungarian Museum? The Hungarian revolution in 1956 led to a burst of Hungarian refugees coming to the United States, including some families who settled in my hometown in Connecticut. Maybe an Eastern European Museum?

The 1959 Cuban revolution drove hundreds of thousands of Cubans to the United States. Given their concentration in Florida, Gov. Ron DeSantis and other politicians seeking the Cuban vote could probably be counted on to endorse a Cuban Museum on the National Mall.

The way things are going, we’ll end up with a Museum of Me. Or a Museum of You.

Space for Humanity: Behind The Scenes of Space Flight PR

Want to promote your business with tax-deductible dollars? Look to the privately owned space industry for inspiration.

Recent media have been full of stories celebrating Katya Echazarreta traveling into space on Saturday, June 4, soaring up 66.5 miles (107 km) aboard Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin spaceship, New Shepard.

The San Diego Union-Tribune reported that 26-year-old electrical engineer and five other passengers launched their sub-orbital flight in West Texas at 6:26 a.m. PDT, reached the edge of space about five minutes later, were briefly treated to zero gravity and then softly parachuted to the ground, kicking up a large cloud of orange dust.

What made it so newsworthy?  

NBC News ran an Associated Press story before the flight highlighting that Echazarreta would be the first Mexican-born woman and one of the youngest women to fly to space, Echazarreta was born in Guadalajara, Mexico and later moved to San Diego, CA. After the flight, ABC News Chicago blared, “Blue Origin launches first Mexican born woman into space.”

But the Mexican angle alone probably wasn’t enough. The story also likely gained traction because it was pushed by Space For Humanity, a Denver, CO-based 501(c)(3) non-profit that sponsored Echazarreta’s trip. Not mentioned in the breathless stories about the flight was that Space for Humanity paid Blue Origin to take Echazarreta on the flight.  

And none of the stories noted how much Space for Humanity paid from donations to send Echazarreta on a spaceship owned by the second-wealthiest person in the world. An inquiry to Space For Humanity didn’t generate a response and Blue Origin has not divulged ticket prices.

Space For Humanity presents itself as an organization created to sponsor and send community leaders and change-makers to space. The non-profit anticipates crews will fly with Virgin Galactic, Blue Origin, World View, and Space Perspective. “We train, educate and empower emerging leaders to ensure an inclusive future in space,” the organization says. 

“When I started Space For Humanity, it was under the deep belief that the Overview Effect and giving people the opportunity to experience Space for themselves, would provide a powerful conduit for creating global change,” said the non-profit’founder, Dylan Taylor.

Space For Humanity’s Board of Directors include Ryan Kriser, founder & CEO at Helios Capital, Sarah Cruddas, the host of Contact on Discovery Channel & Science Channel, Sangeet Kaur Sood, a space enthusiast and Andrew Aldrin, Director of the Aldrin Space Institute at Florida Institute of Technology.

The non-profit’s Board of Advisors is a large collection of space-related individuals, including current and former NASA astronauts, professors, entrepreneurs, the founder & Emeritus Chair at the SETI Institute and the Chairman of the Space Advisory Board for Virgin Galactic.

It’s not clear why all these people are overseeing the solicitation of public contributions for flights on the space ships of wealthy companies.  

How much has been donated to Space for Humanity so it can send people up into space?

In its online Annual Report, it says 2021 revenue totaled $3.76 million, including tax deductible contributions of $1 million from Blue Origin, $1.24 million from Virgin Galactic X Omaze and $1.5 million from individuals.

But you’ll have to take Space For Humanity’s word. All non-profits are required by law to submit to the IRS an annual financial report called a Form 990. Space for Humanity doesn’t appear to have submitted one since 2019. 

 

Crypto Corruption: A Campaign Finance Cover-Up in Oregon

Like the notorious Anna Delvey, who came out of nowhere to seduce gullible New Yorkers, Carrick Flynn emerged from the ether in February 2022 to announce he was running in the Democratic primary for Oregon’s new Congressional District 6 seat. 

In the following months it came out that his biggest financial backer was a political action committee, Protect Our Future PAC, funded largely by a crypto billionaire, Sam Bankman-Fried, a 30-year-old American “Master of the Universe” who lives in the Bahamas. 

Then, late in the race, the Justice Unites Us PAC, which said it was all about mobilizing Asian voters, pumped $846,000 in independent expenditures Flynn’s campaign, a white guy if there ever was one. Justice Unites Us identified itself online as “A project of the Family Friendly Action Fund, a section 50©4) social welfare organization.”

“AAPI people are literally under attack,” says the PAC’s website. “We need to build political power and ensure our voices are heard in the political process.”

Who was behind the Justice Unites Us PAC? Oregon voters didn’t know. 

Like pop-up stores that show up during the Christmas holidays, the PAC only popped up on March 22, 2022 (FEC Committee ID #: C00810606). In its report to the FEC for the first quarter of 2022, the PAC reported raising and spending zero dollars. After the end of the quarter, it disclosed it had disbursed $846,581.14 on April 5, 2022 for “canvassing” in support of Flynn.

On April 15, 2022, the PAC filed paperwork with the Federal Election Commission so it could delay filing its next report and identifying its donors, until after the May 17 primary:

Flynn lost the race, but only now do we learn that every single penny of  the money Justice United donated to Flynn’s campaign came from a donation Sam Bankman-Fried’s Protect Our Future PAC  made to Justice United.

Why Bankman-Fried felt this subterfuge was necessary is unclear, since he was already publicly identified as the man behind Protect Our Future. Whatever his reasons, it allowed his money to hide behind campaign finance reporting rules and prevented Oregonians from full knowledge of Flynn’s backers.

Supposedly, Flynn’s campaign was unaware of the subterfuge, just as supposedly, Protect Our Future didn’t coordinate with Flynn’s campaign in producing a barrage of radio, television and digital ads, lawn signs, direct mail, and get-out-the-vote phone calls.

Voters deserve better. 

Lake Oswego’s Demolition Tax: A Sheep in Wolf’s Clothing

NOTE: I initially titled this “A Wolf in Sheep’s Clothing” to convey the duplicity in Lake Oswego’s demolition tax. I changed it to “A Sheep in Wolf’s Clothing” because I think that better conveys that a demolition policy pitched as an aggressive effort to preserve older homes is, in fact, nothing of the sort as it is unlikely to prevent any demolitions. Instead, it will just raise citizen costs. )

In 2019, sixty-seven home demolition permits were issued in Lake Oswego. Alarmed at the erosion of Lake Oswego’s traditional neighborhoods, particularly First Addition, a hue and cry went up to preserve some of what was still left.

The result, establishment of a $15,000 tax if a single-family dwelling or duplex was going to be demolished, was portrayed by many as an impactful effort to slow demolitions, but it was nothing of the sort. In the end the demolitions have continued and the tax was little more than a pure and simple money grab.

Although Article 24.06 of the city code notes that  “The demolition of residential structures in the City of Lake Oswego has reduced the diversity of housing stock and decreased the availability of affordable housing within the City,”  the article goes on to make it clear that  “The tax is strictly for revenue purposes, to provide funding to maintain City park properties and facilities.” The original goal — raising $400,000 annually for parks maintenance.

The demolition tax is a questionable way to raise money from citizens.

As Judge Glock, the Chief Policy Officer at the Cicero Institute, recently observed in City Journal, “Though largely hidden from the public, fees and charges account for most of the growth in government over the past 70 years and have become the top source of revenue for state and local governments.

Two factors drive this new reliance on special charges. First, governments are expanding the “businesses” they run—hospitals, universities, airports—and forcing users to pay more for them. Second, governments are using charges to avoid voter opposition to, and constitutional restrictions on, raising taxes.”

Earlier this month, the City Council redefined what constitutes a demolition vs. a remodel, but didn’t change the tax. And again the tax was publicly positioned as a preservation move. “The primary idea in my mind is to maintain the existing housing stock that’s there and keep the character of the neighborhood (by disincentivizing demolition),” said City Councilor Daniel Nguyen. 

But all involved have to know that a $15,000 tax will not discourage demolition of a home in Lake Oswego or preserve affordable housing. It will not prevent what theLake Oswego Preservation Society describes as “Charmicide”, people moving to an area to live because of its charm, then demolishing the existing building stock to build something different thus removing the charm that attracted the new residents in the first place. 

In April 2022, Lake Oswego homes sold for a median price of $858K, up from $600,000 in April 2018, according to Redfin.  And many new homes built to replace older demolished properties have sold for considerably more. 

For example, a modest older house in First Addition that sold in 2020 for $586,000 was demolished and replaced with a 3,922 sq ft house (described as “A confluence where good ol’ American farm style meets sophistication.”) that sold for $1,965,000 in February 2021. Zillow puts the current value of the home (below) at $2,111,200.

A $15,000 tax on the demolition of the old house in this case was surely irrelevant. just as it will be for any future demolitions in Lake Oswego. Drive or walk around First Addition and the proliferation of large homes that have replaced smaller ones is evident everywhere. And market forces mean the trend will continue.

Monogram followed this approach when it bought an old home at 937 9th St. in Lake Oswego  for $600,000 in March 2021.

Former home at 937 9th St., Lake Oswego, OR

Monogram demolished the older home and built in its place a 3-level 5-bedroom 4-bathroom 3,862 sq. ft. home (“Legendary Traditional Monogram Design with spacious modern living spaces”) on the market for $2,250,000 as of May 27, 2022.

937 9th St., Lake Oswego, OR

A 3-bedroom 2-bath 1,008 sq. ft. home on 9th St. in Lake Oswego (below) that was built in 1948 on a 7,500 sq. ft. lot will likely meet the same fate.

The property sold on Oct. 29, 2021 for $775,000. If Monogram follows its practices with similar properties, the house will soon be demolished and replaced with a considerably more extravagant structure.

The fact is, the quaint First Addition of old, platted in 1888 and 1925 and once praised by the American Planning Association for its “housing variety and affordability (and) small-town atmosphere,” will soon be no more. And the demolition of older homes throughout the city is going to continue, with or without the demolition tax.

 To believe otherwise is willful self-delusion.  

 

Portland Public Schools: Enrollment Down/Spending Up

Public school enrollment is plunging in Oregon and across the country. The New York Times calls it “a ‘Seismic Hit’ to Public Schools, “supercharged” by the Covid-19 pandemic. 

Enrollment at the country’s public schools have declined by at least 1.2 million students since 2020, according to a recently published national survey.

In 2016, PPS said, “Based on demographic studies conducted by Portland State University, it is anticipated that enrollment will level off at about 54,383 students by the 2030/31 school year under the PSU Medium Growth Scenario .”

Oh well.

Overall enrollment in Oregon has declined by almost 30,000 students since 2019-2020, slipping from 582,661 in 2019-2020 to 553,012 in 2021-2022. Oregon’s experience has generally followed national trends which are showing enrollment losses in city districts and growth in rural, suburban and town districts, according to the Burbio school tracking site. 

Some of the enrollment declines are likely due to parents frustrated with remote schooling, some to frustration with curriculum and “woke” instruction. Declines may also be attributed to economic dislocation of families, a decision that home schooling or charter schools were simply preferable or simply demographic changes. 

Portland Public Schools, the state’s largest district, is seeing the largest enrollment declines. Total enrollment in the district has dropped from 48,559 in the 2019-2020 school year to 45,123 in the 2021-2022 school year. District officials are projecting total enrollment of 41,723 in the next school year, a decline of another 3,400 students.

And yet, the Portland Public Schools budget keeps growing.

On May 24 2022, the Portland Public Schools board passed $1.89 billion budget for the 2022-2023 school year, This compares with a $1.5 billion budget for the 2018-2019 school year, when enrollment totaled 48,677 students, 6,954 more than expected enrollment of 41,723 in 2022-2023.\

Portland Public School central staff has risen 67% since 2017.  Elizabeth Thiel, Portland Association of Teachers President said in The Oregonian, “Since 2017, for example, there has been a 67% increase in the number of academic administrators in the central office. Over the same period, the central office budget has grown twice as fast as what PPS spends on frontline educators and support staff who deal directly with students, based on Portland Association of Teachers’ analysis of PPS’ budget documents.”

On May 25, OPB reported that after the school board’s budget vote, Superintendent Guadalupe Guerrero,  board members, teachers, and the few parents remaining at the end of the meeting all agreed on the need to head down to Salem next year to lobby the legislature for more school funding.

More. Ever more.