This is a story as old as the real estate game. In New York, especially, money doesn't just talk, it fairly screams. The working and middle classes in this country have been, to coin a phrase, reamed, steamed and cleaned for decades. Maybe, just maybe, there are tiny, hopeful signs that they're getting good and sick of it.
It all sounds very familiar to Americans, who have had two Red Scares, and now a 15 year long "Terrorism Spasm". In each instance, 1917-1920, 1949-1954, and since 2001, our defenders of the republic have demanded an unraveling of Constitutional safeguards in order to protect us, and preserve "freedom". And they say irony is dead.
The latest urban fitness report is out for the US. Do you detect a slight red state/blue state dichotomy? I must say, the only real surprise is Indianapolis as the LEAST fit metropolitan area in the country! Apparently, walking is considered an un-American, Commie plot.
We almost never post about events here, as this is a small blog with infrequent posts. But right now in London, The Honorable Artillery Company, the oldest artillery regiment in the country, is staging an event in East London. They have soldiers doing drills, a parachute drop, a chinook helicopter, and at least one howitzer.
And this weekend is something even more special. If you are in London between May 15 and 17, you can go see the surviving little ships of the Battle of Dunkirk.
Leave it to the British to convert one of the most thorough defeats ever suffered by the United Kingdom into a glorious "victory". As some readers know, the British Expeditionary Force in Belgium in 1940 was as badly mauled by the Germans as the French had been. When the soldiers got back to England, they had left all their tanks and heavy guns behind, and only the Channel, the RAF, and Royal Navy stood between Hitler and the U.K. Still, the many ordinary citizens who sailed these little ships saved many lives, and displayed undaunted courage. It would be fascinating to see them in the Thames. My annual trip to London has already happened. But you are there, go see them.
The differences between the Democratic party and the GOP continue to dwindle. The Democrats are sponsored by Wall Street, have abandoned the idea of taxing the rich, and have even abandoned questioning the size of the military-security complex. Meanwhile, Republicans are embracing marijuana legalization and marriage equality. The biggest differences left are really Social Security, science, and medicine (the GOP is against all three). Otherwise, that's pretty much it, folks. We can summarize this nation like this: declare war on the world, give every break and perk to the rich people, spy on everyone, and ignore the man-made environmental catastrophe. The longer we keep these two parties in power, the further this nation is ruined. Considering it has been this way for nearly 20 years, it is probably too late to save the USA.
The United States has an ongoing human rights crisis. It has been going on for decades, especially since the 1970s. Almost no one talks about it. Almost no one even questions it. It is the nation's largest jail. It is Rikers Island.
I wish Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch would draw more attention to Rikers. To it's credit, Amnesty has published reports about Rikers before. In 2000, they called out Rikers for the abuse of female prisoners at the hands of male guards. And in this latest round of reports about Rikers, Amnesty has shed light on the torture of teenagers and the high rate of solitary confinement of teen prisoners.
The most recent revelations about Rikers are shocking even for those familiar with how bad it has been over the last 40 years. There have been inmate deaths. Then there were the families who were not told that their relatives had been allowed to die on the city's watch. And then there was the incredible case of Kalief Browder, a high school student who was arrested for allegedly stealing a backpack, and was held at Rikers in a cycle of torture, court appearances, and trial delays for three years.
The mayor has called for a task force. But either he is not serious, or is unable to change RIkers. Very few politicians care, and neither do many New Yorkers. They should. This is a true human rights catastrophe. Rikers is the not only the largest jail in the US, but in terms of human rights abuses, it is easily the worst. The abuse there is done in the names of New York's citizens, and fully funded by the citizens and tourists of this city. And when there is accountability - when prisoners are able to get legal representation and fight for their rights - the city pays in punitive damages, over and over.
The major roadblocks to reform are Albany (as always) and the Department of Corrections, which is a city agency, and touts itself as "New York's Boldest." Their tough guy union leader Norman Seabrook, has been unapologetic, has tried to block investigations of the facility, and has even demanded that his guards and officers receive a new contract with pay raises if they are to cooperate with implementing any reforms.
UPDATE, June 8, 2015: Kalief Browder, the boy who was held for 3 years without charges, committed suicide on June 6, 2015.
None of this is news to Americans who live in our largest cities. Chris Rock is probably correct about most middle Americans being oblivious to class inequality. There, the reality of inequality is right in your face, unambiguously and apologetically slapping you, just in case you might miss it. In the small towns and suburbs, where most Americans live, the arrogance and entitlement of our plutocrats -and yes, our kleptocrats too- is more abstract, out of sight, and almost never encountered in person. The great and mighty fly in their private jets, to their palaces in the sky, or their private islands. Out of sight, and out of mind, they float above the rest of us, supremely confident and protected.
Like most essays Tim Wu has written, this one is pretty awesome.
As airline customers, we must suffer at baseline. And besides, suffering not only builds character, it reinforces an important social lesson. The natural order of things requires that we all understand that decent treatment is a privilege, to be purchased with money. If you lack money, you don't deserve the good treatment that only money can buy. If you have money, no matter how you acquired it, you are entitled to the best of everything. Furthermore, everyone must be conscious of the differences having money brings. So, if you're part of the great, unwashed masses, and you're miserable in airports, bus stations, subway stops and other places of public accommodation, the system is working, and the correct lesson is being taught.
London is roughly three to four times the size of Paris, and the pace is exhausting. In some ways, England has always been two countries. Metropolitan London is very different from the rest of the nation. I love England, and I see it as two countries. London, and everyone else.
June 30 brings another leap second to our global atomic clocks, in order to account for the slowing rotation of our planet. I remember the first leap second I paid attention to, on January 1, 1988, when the International Earth Rotation and Reference Systems Service (IERS) took over the responsibility to scheduling and coordinating leap seconds.
When the United Kingdom finally joined the rest of Europe in adopting the Gregorian calendar in the 1750's, there were riots by people who were convinced the government had stolen two weeks of their lives in a Papist plot! A second or two, added to the year every now and then, probably doesn't represent an existential threat to the planet.
This is one of the funniest pictures of the twentieth century. An obviously drug-addled Elvis Presley (then age 35), visiting a cynically bemused Richard Nixon, shaking hands in the White House and discussing the recently declared "War on Drugs," has to be one of the jaw dropping moments of recent history. Is this a great country or what!
The news item, that this picture is still in high demand, made me think: we don't obsess with Evis as much as we did 30 years ago. History remembers him. His legacy is safe. But the current culture doesn't include him in conversation nearly as much as it did in the 1980s and 1990s. It seemed to reach a peak from 1987 (the 20th anniversary of his death) to about 1997. Notable American pop culture examples include the movies Honeymoon in Vegas (1992), and True Romance (1993) which both reference The King. And for me personally, two of my favorite guilty-pleasure songs from that period include Elvis is Dead (1990) and Elvis Ate America (1995).
The King is dead. America just took a while to move on.
This is not a popular question, but I feel the need to ask it out loud. 30 years ago, when Act Up taught me how crucial it was for homosexuals to get the same civil rights I enjoy, in the face of a deadly pandemic, did they envision a future in which gays would become the new conservatives? The capitalists. The owners. The bankers and politicians. The same boys club that keeps women from getting birth control? The same club that doesn't blink when unarmed black teenagers are gunned down by police? What I'm asking is, do we all want to be this affluent New York couple? To be wealthy conservatives? Or am I reading too much in a Tiffany ad?
Every civil rights movement in the USA has begun from an edgy place. Secretive women's afternoon meetings. The pews of black baptist churches. Or a loud protest outside a gay bar in New York. The goal of every civil rights movement is to obtain equal rights for all, so anyone can be anything they want to be. But when I see capitalists embrace a group that was only recently kept out of the mainstream, I have to wonder, is that what we were fighting for? Did corporations embrace gays only when they realized how much disposable income they have?
And gay friends, do I even have a right to bring this up? Is this topic off-limits for straights?
I'm afraid this post is going to be a mess. There is no easy way to report on the disappointment that is our capitalist system without writing a book about it. Fortunately, that book was published last summer.
In a summer full of bad news the world over, we in the US should be focused on the five biggest stories that directly effect us: our endless wars, our loss of the Fourth Amendment, our loss of women's reproductive rights, our ongoing water crisis / environmental crisis, and our unsustainable economy.
New York City increasingly relies on executive pay and Wall Street bonuses to keep its treasury full. Once any economy relies on the top 1%, it becomes unsustainable. Even Michael Bloomberg knew this. So the city has had to rely on tourism to make up the gaps. I don't think that is sustainable, either.
This post will focus on our current economy. Simply put, the rich get richer. Here's are just a few angles of the same overall story.
First up, CEO pay is ruining our economy. We now have proof. I can see you are not impressed. Occupy Wall Street tried to make us pay attention, but they didn't succinctly make their case. And now we have articles and books, like the ones above, to prove that Occupy was right, and those kids were on to something. But now we don't give a shit.
But let me elaborate on this a bit more. What does the economy of a city that relies on the top earners look like? How does it function? The answers are right above us, in the new supertall residential buildings going up. In a city in which there is an oversupply of office space, there is a bubble economy in the new luxury residential market.
Who is driving up the prices in new luxury construction? Mainly Wall Street managers and wealthy foreigners. And this price war has helped sustain a real estate appreciation across the whole city that has priced out the middle class. Millions of New Yorkers, whether they care or not, have lost their chance to buy.
Second up, Wall Street. The average Wall Street annual compensation with bonus is $369K. The average white collar NYC salary is $69K. The US median salary is $51K. And over half of New Yorkers make less than $40K. And what is our national economic policy? Be extra nice to those at the top. Given their contributions to the health of the economy, don't they obviously deserve such a large percentage of the income in the city? After all, consider what their taxpayer backed financial manipulations created in 2008. The world has staggered through the deepest recession since World War II, and the authors of this catastrophe have gotten richer every day since. Ah, the wonders of Capitalism.
And third is the current bubble. Looking up and down the Northeast Corridor, one can see that we are in the midst of a dangerous and destructive real estate bubble. While housing in Baltimore and Philadelphia remains affordable, comparitively speaking, the bubble is in full swing in Boston, New York, and Washington DC. Let's take a quick tour.
In Manhattan, the bubble is not done expanding. It wasn't long ago the average sales price of a Manhattan apartment (condo or co-op) exceeded $1 Million. This past fall, it surpassed $1.68 Million. 2014 was simply a blockbuster year for the borough. It marked the continued inflation of a real estate bubble that began in 2002, and survived the national sub-prime explosion. The average price per square foot in Manhattan is over $1,400. Units in Tribeca or those with a view of Central Park, are setting new records above $5,000 and $6,000 per square foot. On the rental side, it was about 15 years ago that we first saw studios pass the $1,000 per month mark. How does $90 per square foot per month sound?
And at the very top of the market, the properties for the top-half of the top 1 percent live in their own bubble that even Tokyo and London do not yet match. The epicenter of this bubble is the new row of super-tall residential towers in the 50s, with offer upper half residents views of Central Park. The entry-level building for this segment, Extell's One 57, has seen its sales grind to a halt while the elite wait for the completion of 432 Park Avenue, which offers more spectacular views and floorplans, and Extell's upcoming 225 West 57th Street, which will set a new height record for residential towers in the western hemisphere.
Outside of the new midtown skyscrapers, there are the blockbuster exotics, like the crazy triplex co-op at the Pierre Hotel, the new penthouse on top of the Puck Building, and the multi-level mansion at the top of our nation's first skyscrpaer, the Woolworth Building.
The Woolworth Building was once the crown jewel of downtown. In some ways, turning it into condominiums for plutocrats nicely summarizes what's happened to the economy, and the once great city of New York.
There had to be a point where the prices in Manhattan would be out of reach for most dual $100K earners. Even the affluent are tiny compared to oligarchs and investment bankers. So they shifted their search to Brooklyn. Now Brooklyn is almost as ridiculous as Manhattan. Wait, did I say almost?
How about Queens, then? Nope. Not affordable any more.
The madness continues. When will the city realize it's sitting on a real estate bubble? And do we really have to be reminded of what inevitably happens to bubbles? But say this for bubbles, they can be fun until they burst.
The high end condos are driving the market, but the law of supply and demand will raise both prices and sales everywhere in New York. At least, until the current bubble bursts, and it hits the fan again. But in the meantime, isn't capitalism fun?
And we have a bonus stop on our tour: Boston.
Have you seen the asking price for the penthouse in the yet unbuilt Millennium Tower next to Filene's in downtown Boston? It won't be finished until 2016, so there's still time to buy, if you can come up with $37,500,000. At that low price, it might attract a bidding war. The new apartment building at the TD Garden will feature apartments on the upper floors of $8,000 to $10,000 a month. IN BOSTON. I guess the Manhattanization of Beantown is nearly complete.
I now fully understand the office of New York City mayor. I already knew it is a dead-end political position. No New York CIty mayor ever goes on to another elected office. But more important, every mayor since Ed Koch has had to be, for lack of a better word, a right-winger, even if there's a D after his name. He has to be 100% pro-cop, pro-Wall Street, pro-war, pro-corporate, and by extension, pro-rich. If you waver from that template, even in the slightest, you end up being smeared and driven out, like Dinkins and (soon) Wilhelm (de Blasio).
The New York (Jerusalem) Post and the police union are painting de Blasio as anti-cop, and a cause of yesterday's assassination of two uniformed officers in Bed Stuy. Why? Because two weeks ago, de Blasio said in a press conference that he understands "the talk" black parents have with their sons about being cautious in their interactions with the police. This is because he has had the talk with his son, Dante, who is black. That one, honest comment has ruined the mayor. In this town, simply acknowledging that blacks are treated differently than whites by the NYPD is an unforgivable sin against the police by the elected mayor. In the next few weeks de Blasio's approval rating will drop to near zero. de Blasio is going to be kicked out of town faster than Dinkins was.
New York is not a liberal town. This wouldn't happen in a liberal town. It is a hard, right-wing enclave that just happens to have better taste than most other "red" cities in the west and deep south. New York likes organic food, premium coffee, gelato, cocktails, gourmet doughnuts, tasting menus, and weed. It does have the strictest gun control in the nation, but that is logical, given how immense the death toll would be if even 10% of the angry, over-stressed population had firearms. It has always been pro-war. And it was never for the little people.
New York is also right-wing because it is home to a real estate bubble that only makes the rich richer. More on that in the long-delayed next post.
I said it back in May, and now more and more people agree: The World Trade Center, and particularly One World Trade Center, is a big mess. And it's not because of the current rat infestation. It is an architectural and economic failure. And now it is a lasting symbolic one as well.
At least the name Freedom Tower was dropped. But that's just a positive footnote in an otherwise depressing saga. However, thanks to the media, and the popularity of our enless wars, tourists will still call it the "Freedom Tower" forever.
The new One World Trade, the world's most delayed, most expensive skyscraper ever, is a brutal monument to the forces that govern this city and nation. Money, plutocratic megalomania, and the arrogance that attends them, have labored and brought forth yet another monster. Congratulations America, your rebuilt, lower Manhattan super-tall trophy tower lives!
When I was about thirteen and entering high school, I tried to read Ms. Mitchell's racist screed. Needless to say, I failed, but not before I found myself wishing that Lincoln and the Union had let the racist bastards secede and be done with it. Gone With the Wind is more like breaking wind. Soon, no one will care about the film anymore.
I must say, aside from grabbing a copy of Capital in the Twenty-First Century, this is the must read economics article of the Christmas shopping season:
John Bois: A eulogy for RadioShack, the panicked and half-dead retail empire
What a nightmare the American working class is living through! Since the Reagan administration at least, American workers are routinely treated like soulless, right-less, replaceable machine parts. We're back to working conditions that were common before the Progressive movement, and which we imagined were largely abolished in the New Deal and Fair Deal of the 30's and 40's.
Well, we were wrong, and the capitalists have won. Hooray for us.
Update, February 23, 2015: As Radio Shack closes this week, John Oliver has contributed this little gem:
What is it with Newcastle's success against Chelsea under Alan Pardew?
How many times has Pardew beaten Chelsea? He has done it four times; once each year since 2011. And if you go back to September 2010, when Chris Houghton was in charge, Newcastle have defeated Chelsea in five consecutive calendar years. Each time has been a rush. I treat myself to quality meat when it happens. I celebrated Newcastle's improbable upset victory at Stamford Bridge in the 2010-2011 League Cup with a filet mignon at SushiSamba. I celebrated this latest win with a bacon cheeseburger at the Piper's Kilt.
In October and November, Chelsea looked unstoppable. They are arguably the best team in Europe.
How about this match? It evolved. It had transitions. It had a transfer in the balance of power, confidence, and control. If you are into tactics and grit, this was your must-see match of week.
The match began with Chelsea making crisp passes and creating chances. However, almost all of their early shots were off-target. Newcastle were struggling to create chances, and their attacks were being broken up well before they could get to their opponent's area. Newcastle's first big chance came in the 32nd minute, and it should have ended with a goal. Ayoze Pérez made a brilliant back-heel pass to Jack Colback in front of the net. Colback had a ton of net to aim at, and yet missed. He put his forehead down on the pitch, knowing that it could have been his team's only real chance of the day.
But then the game transitioned. Chelsea didn't control the match the same way they did in the first thirty minutes. Newcastle finally had some sustained attacks. There still weren't any shots on target, but they were holding onto the ball more.
During added time in the first half, Newcastle keeper, Rob Elliott, tore a thigh muscle while kicking the ball down-field. Seconds later, a cross from Sammy Ameobi didn't connect, and the half ended scoreless. Newcastle had few chances, were lucky not to be down a goal, and had lost their second string keeper indefinitely.
My feeling at that point was that Newcastle had a chance at a draw. So long as they did not concede the first goal, they were going to hang on for a point. There was no need to panic. Even with the third string goalkeeper, 21 year-old Jak Alnwick, taking over from Elliot, I was not nervous. On Facebook, I posted the following status:
I thought half of the midfield did extremely well. And that half was named Jack Colback and Moussa Sissoko. In my notes, they shared the man of the match honors. They were involved in almost every big play. Which brings us to the 57th minute. Sissoko had possession and charged with the ball into the left side of the area. He rolled the ball to Sammy Ameobi, who quickly crossed the ball through Chelsea's Cahill and Terry to Cissé, who was perfectly positioned, and just had to stick out his right foot to score. St. James' Park came alive. Suddenly there was a game and Newcastle had a lead to protect. Cissé had come in to replace Remy Cabella in the 53rd minute. It had to be energizing to to see him make an almost immediate impact on the game.
The defense then stepped-up. Janmaat, Steven Taylor, Coloccini, and Dummett all did their jobs. With each minute, Newcastle seemed to gain a little confidence.
Then things became shaky. Eden Hazard hit the post in the 78th minute. But Newcastle did one of the things they do best: they counter-attacked. In a stunning sequence that immediately followed, Colback, Pérez, Sissoko, and Cissé all combined to score the crucial second goal. It was a sequence that pretty much summed-up Newcastle's offensive capability this season. Colback began the counter-attack with a stiff-arm tackle and took possession. There was no whistle for that. From there, Colback passed the ball to Pérez at midfield, who was fouled hard into the air and down, but not before he made a short pass to Colback. The referee made the call of the match. He gave Newcastle the advantage, and let them play on. Colback connected to Sissoko in the left side of the area with a magnificent through-ball. Chelsea keeper Thibaut Courtois came out to meet him, and almost got the ball. The attack looked over. But Sissoko managed a last-millisecond pass, through Courtois' hands to Cissé who calmly tapped it through a row of three defenders into the empty net. It was game over.
Except it wasn't. Of course not. This club? It's a roller coaster.
While Diego Costa and Fábregas lost their nerve and were both carded two minutes later, a Newcastle collapse was on the horizon, as Steve Tayor mad a bad challenge in the 81st minute, and picked up a second yellow card. He had been booked early in the second half for pulling down Willian. And this foul was no less intentional, as he ran over Schurrle 25 yards away from the Newcastle goal. It was cynical and reckless, and he was off. On the next play, Drogba headed the ball pass Alnwick on a free kick. The ball was visible from beginning to end, and Alnwick was not in the best position. Newcastle would be spending the next 9 minutes, plus 6 minutes of extra time, hanging on to a one goal lead. And they just hung on for the win.
Incredible. Jose Mourinho didn't take it very well at first, but was classy in the end. Sort of. As Gabriele Marcotti of ESPN pointed out, Mourinho is very clever, and selects his words very deliberately to help steer the English sports media.
Now how did this improbable victory happen? Was Newcastle better prepared? Did Chelsea see their trip up to the chilly northeast as a nuisance? Or was this yet another example of Newcastle relying on counter-attacks to stun a bigger, better club?
That's Matt's argument over at I Wish I Was a Geordie. Let's accept his argument that Newcastle are built to bite bigger squads through counter-attacking. After all, he's a pundit, unlike me. But then how do we explain that Newcastle have done it against 4 teams in just 2 months (City, Spurs, Liverpool, and Blues)? Do their opponents not watch footage and scout them? If Matt is correct, we can expect Newcastle to have similar success against Arsenal and Man United before this month is over.
On the flip side of Matt's argument, he has an excellent point. If Newcastle play a 4-4-2 diamond with a counter-attack mindset against dominant squads, how come they fail to get three points when they play a 4-3-3 formation against a more equal side? Why couldn't they beat West Ham or Burnley last month? Is it a lack of motivation and consistency?
Still, isn't it time to give Alan Pardew credit for this recent turn-around in form? What if Pardew's tactical plan against Chelsea was to get a draw? Then clearly his squad exceed expectations by scoring two unanswered goals against the best team in Europe, yes? Furthermore, can we explain how Newcastle effectively attacked Chelsea down the left side in both halves? Didn't Pardew do his homework? A good team needs to take advantage of lapses and mistakes by their opponents, and that's exactly what Newcastle did. And like everything else in team sports, the next game will tell us more about this squad, and how far they can go this season.
And so, how does Pardew and his players prepare for their trip to Arsenal with over 10 players unavailable due to injury or suspension? The back four appears to be set with Janmaat, Williamson, Coloccini (or Dummett), and Haïdara. But the midfield and strikers are anyone's guess. The consensus is that Newcastle are going to have to play Tioté, Cabella, Colback, Gouffran, and Anita in the midfield at some point in the game. So why not use a 4-3-3 formation? Have Colback be the center of the midfield, and Cissé be the center forward, with Pérez on the wing?
Here's a guess at what is possible on Saturday:
Now on to the pundits.
Jim McMeachin, Coming Home Newcastle: