The Stock Buyback Game

A largely unnoticed regulation change fueling the wealth gap

It seems that it is often the things you didn’t notice when they happened that make the biggest difference in the long run. The Substack column by Professor Robert Reich copied below highlights the effects of one of those seemingly minor changes in financial regulation, pushed by the plutocratic wing of the Republican Party under Ronald Reagan, that has had major consequences unforeseen by most of us. I urge you to subscribe to Reich’s Substack articles. (Click the title below to go to Substack and subscribe.)

Keep to the high ground,


P.S. If you want to delve further into how this all works after reading Reich’s article check out “Share repurchase” at Wikipedia.

Stock buybacks are lethal, literally

And they’re widening inequality. Here’s what to do about them


MAY 06, 2024


Shares of Apple lost 10 percent of their value in the first four months of the year. This may explain why Apple announced on Thursday that its board authorized $110 billion in stock buybacks, the largest buyback in U.S. history. It may also explain why, on Saturday, Warren Buffett — the “Oracle of Omaha” — announced that his company, Berkshire-Hathaway, would sell a big portion of its stake in Apple.

It is impossible to understand what’s happening to the American economy without considering the surge of stock buybacks — in which a corporation buys back shares of its own stock to artificially boost its share price, by creating fewer outstanding shares.

Large corporations are now devoting nearly 70 percent of their profits to buybacks.

Stock buybacks have also become a major force behind widening inequality. They mostly benefit CEOs and the richest 1 percent of the public, who own more than half of all shares of stock owned by Americans.

There is no reason for them. Before Ronald Reagan’s SEC allowed them in 1982, buybacks were treated as illegal stock manipulations in violation of the 1933 and 1934 Securities and Exchange Acts.

Yet they’re still stock manipulations. By using inside knowledge of when and how buybacks are scheduled, corporate executives can time when they exercise their own stock options — which now constitute most of their compensation — to reap maximum benefits for themselves.

Buybacks also impose a huge cost on the economy.

Every dollar spent lining the pockets of CEOs and investors is a dollar less to upgrade equipment and protect workers and the public.

Boeing failed to follow through with a promised $7 billion safety redesign of its 737 aircraft while it was spending roughly that much each year on stock buybacks.

Norfolk Southern Railroad paid investors $18 billion in buybacks and dividends over the five years before its equipment malfunctioned in the disastrous derailment in East Palestine, Ohio, which released over 300,000 gallons of toxic and flammable chemicals into the air and soil.

Abbott Labs spent $5 billion on stock buybacks while allowing plant conditions to deteriorate to the point where bacterial contamination of baby formula resulted in infant deaths and a nationwide formula shortage.

Money spent on buybacks also means less money for research and development, which hobbles American competitiveness at a time when China is breathing down our necks.

Apple now spends twice as much on stock buybacks as on R&D. Over the last fiscal year, Apple doled out $78 billion on buybacks.

Intel, the largest chip maker in America, with revenues last year of $54 billion, was recently awarded an $8.5 billion grant from the federal CHIPS and Science Act, plus $11 billion in subsidized loans.

But Intel fritters away its profits on stock buybacks. Its website proudly touts that it has spent $152 billion on stock buybacks since 1990.

There’s no way to be sure Intel isn’t using CHIPS money for stock buybacks. As Maryland Senator Chris Van Hollen noted: “While the legislation specifically prohibits the use of CHIPS funds for stock buybacks and dividend payments, these restrictions do not explicitly prohibit award recipients from using CHIPS funds to free up their own funds, which they can then use for those purposes.”

As if all this weren’t bad enough, stock buybacks provide an added incentive for companies to monopolize their industries and keep prices high.

A new Roosevelt Institute analysis found that the 10 largest publicly traded fast-food corporations spent $6.1 billion on buybacks last year. At the same time, they hiked prices to consumers. The average markup in the fast-food industry jumped 8.4 percent last year, while markups for firms across all industries grew 6.2 percent. Fast-food corporations lasts year charged prices 27 percent above the marginal cost of production.

According to Oxfam’s recent report, America’s 200 largest corporations are more profitable than ever. Net profits soared to $1.25 trillion in 2022, a 63 percent increase over 2018. But 90 percent of that sum was paid out to shareholders ($448 billion as dividends and a record $681 billion as stock buybacks).

And because CEO pay is linked to share prices, CEO pay is through the roof. The typical worker’s pay is higher than it was two years ago, adjusted for inflation, but it is still in the cellar.

In sum, the social costs of stock buybacks continue to surge.

What’s the answer to all this?

Ban stock buybacks — as they were banned before 1983.

Al French’s PFAS Plan

Why Now?

On April 23, Spokane County Commissioner Al French held a meeting at the Spokane County Sheriff’s Office Regional Training Center (“the small arms range”) on West Medical Lake Road (Hwy 902). At that meeting he offered an aspirational plan for dealing with the problem of PFAS contamination of well water on the West Plains. The tone of Mr. French’s slide presentation seemed to be “Everyone stay calm, I, Al French, have been working diligently on this problem and I have a solution.” 

Where was Mr. French when West Plains well water contamination with PFAS first came to light in 2017-2018? Both Fairchild Air Force Base and Spokane International Airport (SIA) had used PFAS-containing aqueous film-forming foams (AFFF) in firefighting drills for decades. Fairchild acknowledged its contribution to the problem early on. Thanks to a public records request we know that wells on SIA’s property also tested PFAS-positive in 2017 and again in 2019, but officials at SIA were silent. Mr. French served (and serves) on the boards of both SIA and S3R3 Solutions, a public/private partnership dedicated to development of the West Plains. Larry Krauter, the CEO of SIA, works with Mr. French on both of these boards. It strains credulity to imagine that Mr. French was not aware of the PHAS-positive well tests. 

Furthermore, as a Spokane County Commissioner representing the people of the West Plains, the plight of those drinking PFAS contaminated well water ought to have been a primary concern as soon as Fairchild and Airway Heights knew of the contamination in 2017-18. Instead, even in 2021 when Spokane County was asked to administer a grant of $450,000 to further investigate the extent of the contamination in private wells, Mr. French quietly removed it from the Commission’s meeting agenda (See below). 

So why Mr. French’s sudden interest in presenting a plan to address PFAS contamination on the West Plains? There is an election this fall. Mr. French is on the ballot and he has a very credible challenger with deep roots in the West Plains, Molly Marshall.

“The Plan”

Here is Commissioner French’s Plan as presented:

  1. Spokane County currently processes 8mgd [million gallons/day] of wastewater at the Spokane Valley Water Reclamation Center
  2. Transfer 8mgd of treated water via Spokane River to 7 Mile future well site
  3. Pump and pipe water to the West Plains for distribution to every property, both in and outside of the cities that have been impacted by PFAS/PFOS
  4. Establish a Water Utility of the members of the Leadership Group to manage water for the future

Mr. French’s cited encouraging quotes from two unnamed people: “Comment from E.P.A. Region 10 Director” and “Comment from Legislative Aide to Congresswoman McMorris Rodgers.” These are not agency sign-offs. They are off-the-cuff comments lauding a novel idea. One must ask if Mr. French has been working diligently on the Plan, why representatives of the agencies he says he’s been working with did not speak at the meeting.

The illustrations in the slide show presented by Mr. French came from the Spokane Valley—Rathdrum Prairie Aquifer Atlas, which is available through an online search or through the Spokane County or City of Spokane websites. 

The last slide in the show declared the intent to “Engineer water line to West Plains and properties” and “Construct water distribution system.”

The idea of Airway Heights drilling a new well near the Seven Mile Bridge Road as an alternative to continuing to pipe SVRP aquifer water from the City of Spokane is not new. The Seven Mile well proposal was discussed at length in the Spokesman two and half years ago in an article that made no mention of any involvement by Commissioner French. It appears that what Mr. French now adds to the Seven Mile well proposal is a water accounting trick: balance the withdrawal of water at a new Seven Mile well against water put into the SVRP Aquifer by the Spokane County Water Reclamation Facility (read sewerage treatment plant) near Freya and Trent. He then proposes to use Superfund dollars (as yet not available) to install piping from the Seven Mile well not just to Airway Heights but to every private holding on the West Plains. 

The presentation struck many as sketchy and largely aspirational. It was not universally well-received. Last Tuesday at the 2PM Spokane County Commissioners legislative session one of the residents of the West Plains had the temerity to confront Mr. French during the public comments period. You can watch the presentation here. It starts at about 2:00 (minutes) and runs three minutes. Mr. French, after two other unrelated public comments, offers a rebuttal. His comments run from 9:30 for another three minutes.

Keep to the high ground,


P.S. I highly recommend reading Tim Connor’s “AL FRENCH AND THE “FOREVER CHEMICALS” COVER-UP” published December 23, 2023. It offers detailed insight into the behind-the-scenes actions of SIA officials and Mr. French. 

On what SIA officials knew—and when:

Additional testing revealed the PFAS contamination had spread well beyond Airway Heights. The Air Force expanded its response, offering free well water testing and providing water treatment systems to private well owners if tests found PFAS above a federal health advisory limit of 70 parts per trillion. By then, the management at nearby Spokane International Airport (aka Geiger Field) had test results revealing PFAS contamination in its groundwater [results obtained in 2017 and 2019]. Yet, the only thing SIA was offering its neighbors was its silence.

Emails obtained in response to public records requests offer compelling evidence that at least four SIA officials, including the airport’s CEO and public affairs director, knew about the groundwater contamination in 2017. There is no evidence the airport alerted public health officials.

As to Commissioner French’s behind-the-scenes effort to stifle further research into the extent of private well PFAS contamination:

Lindsay says French called to tell him the item had been removed from the agenda. When I [Tim Connor] asked Lindsay if French had given a reason for pulling the item he said he had; that French was “concerned about the timing and the potential effect on the airport.”

“I think my response was ‘this isn’t going away,’” Lindsay added. “And he (French) said, ‘I know that.’”

“I’m just very concerned about being potentially implicated in what I see as an obvious attempt on the part of the airport director and potentially others to hide information. And I can tell you that when I spoke to you last time, [in early June of this year] I was unaware. I was as surprised as anybody to learn that the airport board or the airport management was aware of PFAS in their wells as long ago as 2017 and 2019…it just makes me want to ask those folks out there ‘what did you know and when did you know it? In my opinion it’s lying by omission.”

–Spokane County Environmental Services Manager Rob Lindsay

Lindsay conveyed the bad news to Hermanson. Hermanson says Lindsay told him French said he’d pulled the item at the behest of a top airport official “who didn’t want people out there basically doing this work.”

WA State Republican Party Off the Rails

By all accounts the Washington State Republican Party’s state convention held two weekends ago in downtown Spokane was a circus. Much of the news coverage was centered on the endorsement of Semi Bird for Washington State governor over former U.S. Rep. Dave Reichert. Reichert is the more obvious (and monied) candidate who would have been the establishment Republican candidate in any former time, while Bird is a man recalled from the Richland School Board in 2023, the only elective office he has ever held.

But it was the debate over the Washington State Republican Party platform that deserves scrutiny. I was brought up in a mostly Republican family in the 1950s and 60s to understand the U.S. Constitution as a hallowed document which, by sequential steps in the form of hard-fought amendments, was gradually perfected to ever greater small “d” democratic ideals, giving We the People a greater and greater direct voice in our governance. The 15th Amendment (1870) was meant to assure all men of voting rights. The 17th Amendment (1913) provided for direct election of U.S. Senators. (In the original Constitution two Senators were elected by each state’s legislature.) The 19th Amendment (1920) assured women of the right to vote.

What went on at Washington State Republican Convention in Spokane two weekends ago conformed to the very definition of reactionary, effectively wishing to dismiss what I have always understood as the fundamentally positive, small “d” democratic direction in which our country has gradually evolved from what it was before the U.S. Civil War. 

The gathering of the Washington State Republican Party was so off the rails that it made statewide and even national news. I encourage you to click this link and watch this two minute clip from the April 29 Rachel Maddow show covering a telling part of the gathering. 

The convention also made prominent state news on the west side, turning up in the Seattle Times. I’ve copied below a piece written by the excellent columnist Danny Westneat. 

Remember this Republican platform when you see someone on the ballot this fall with “Prefers Republican Party” behind their name.

Keep to the high ground,


The WA GOP put it in writing that they’re not into democracy

Danny Westneat of the Seattle Times, April 24, 2024

Political forecasters called it that the state Republican convention would feature turmoil ending in endorsements of the most extreme candidates, all to match the party’s current MAGA mood.

Among the jilted was the Republican front-runner for governor, former Sheriff Dave Reichert, who was left putting out an APB for the GOP.  

“The party’s been taken hostage,” he told The Spokesman-Review.

But there was another strain to the proceedings last weekend that didn’t get much attention. Political conventions are often colorful curiosities; this one took a darker turn.

The Republican base, it turns out, is now opposed to democracy. Their words, not mine, as you’ll soon see.

After the candidates left, the convention’s delegates got down to crafting a party platform. Like at most GOP gatherings in the Donald Trump era, this one called for restrictions on voting. In Washington state, the delegates called for the end of all mail-in voting. Instead, we would have a one-day-only, in-person election, with photo ID and paper ballots, with no use of tabulating machines or digital scanners to count the ballots. All ballots would be counted by hand, by Trappist monks.

OK, I made up the monk part. I did not make up the part about banning the use of machines to count votes. All in all it would make voting less convenient and harder, by rolling it back at least half a century.

But then the convention veered into more unexpected anti-democratic territory.

resolution called for ending the ability to vote for U.S. senators. Instead, senators would get appointed by state legislatures, as it generally worked 110 years ago prior to the passage of the 17th Amendment in 1913.

“We are devolving into a democracy, because congressmen and senators are elected by the same pool,” was how one GOP delegate put it to the convention. “We do not want to be a democracy.”

We don’t? There are debates about how complete of a democracy we wish to be; for example, the state Democratic Party platform has called for the direct election of the president (doing away with the Electoral College). But curtailing our own vote? The GOPers said they hoped states’ rights would be strengthened with such a move.

Then they kicked it up a notch. They passed a resolution calling on people to please stop using the word “democracy.”

“We encourage Republicans to substitute the words ‘republic’ and ‘republicanism’ where previously they have used the word ‘democracy,’ ” the resolution says. “Every time the word ‘democracy’ is used favorably it serves to promote the principles of the Democratic Party, the principles of which we ardently oppose.”

The resolution sums up: “We … oppose legislation which makes our nation more democratic in nature.”

It wasn’t that long ago when Republican presidents would extol democracy as America’s greatest export. Or sometimes try to share it with others down the barrel of a gun (see George W. Bush, Iraq).

Now the party is saying they don’t even want to hear the d-word anymore.

Of course we are not donning togas and rushing down to the acropolis to vote on legislation. So it’s true we don’t often act as a direct democracy (initiatives and referendums being exceptions).

It’s a hybrid system, a representative democracy, with the people periodically voting for elected leaders to do that legislating work for us. During much of our lifetimes the debate in this arena has been: How can representative democracy be made more representative? How can more voices be heard?

It’s jarring to hear a major political party declare that they’re done with that. They’re not even paying it lip service. You can’t get any blunter than “we oppose making our nation more democratic.”

Not everyone at the convention agreed with those sentiments, though they were strongly outvoted. Some of the delegates seemed to have contempt for voting and voters — at least when they come out on the losing end of it.

“The same people who select the baboons in Olympia are the ones selecting your senators,” said one delegate in remarks to the convention hall.

A party platform is a statement of principles; it has little to no chance of being implemented. So it’s tempting to ignore it. Or wish it away, as Reichert is trying to do, by suggesting the real party is out there somewhere having been abducted by impostors.

When people say “democracy itself is on the ballot” in this election, though, I think this is what they’re talking about.

For years now, since Trump tried to overturn the 2020 election, some Republicans have been on the defensive about charges they’re flirting with anti-democratic impulses or authoritarianism.

A while back, this newspaper ran an Op-Ed from a leading conservative, the editor of the National Review, Ramesh Ponnuru. He argued that despite Trump’s attempts to block the transfer of power, and the party largely backing him up on that, the whole thing has been blown out of proportion. It’s become a myth that Democrats hold about Republicans, he suggested. It’s similar, he argued, to the misconceptions Republicans have that Democrats are committing mass election fraud.

“Republicans aren’t against democracy,” was the headline of that Op-Ed.

Well a few years have passed, and now they’re putting it in writing.

Danny Westneat:; Danny Westneat takes an opinionated look at the Puget Sound region’s news, people and politics.

Reading the CD5 Campaign Finance Tea Leaves

How to look at them and what they might mean

All the candidates running in WA Congressional District 5 (eastern Washington) to replace retiring Republican U.S. Representative Cathy McMorris Rodgers had to file their campaign finance reports with the Federal Election Commission (FEC) by March 31. On Sunday, April 28, Emry Dinman presented data in the Spokesman that he had crunched from the campaign finance numbers accessible on Hats off to Mr. Dinman. Navigating the FEC website requires diligence. Here’s the summary of the dollar numbers from Mr. Dinman’s article:

The total amount raised by the Prefers Democratic Party candidates (Conroy, Danimus, Bank, and Welde) is, in round thousands, $412K. The total raised by the Prefers Republican Party candidates is $607K. 

But let’s consider the numbers of contributors. Combing the numbers at, the total number of contributors to campaigns of Democrats is 5,591. That is more than 9X the total of 616 individual contributors to Republicans. Ann Marie Danimus has been campaigning for many months longer than any of all the others, but, even so, her total number of individual donors is remarkable at 4179. Even if we discount that number as a wild outlier, the total Dem’s number of donors remaining is 1412 and that is still 2.3 times the number of donors to all the Republicans put together. 

Baumgartner likes to brag about his fundraising prowess. He is quoted in the April 9th Spokesman, “It takes more than just money to win in politics, but this is a good benchmark of who has the momentum and who has the most supporters.” Self-serving BS. What Mr. Baumgartner did not tout, and for good reason, is that his haul of $404K came from less than half the number of donors of his closest competitor, Carmela Conroy (419 to 938). That is far, far less than Ann Marie Danimus’ 4179 contributors, and also less than Bernie Bank’s 454. Baumgartner is bragging about having a lot of monied contacts.

Jacqueline Maycumber’s numbers, the second biggest Republican fundraiser and fourth overall, are even more telling. Her entire haul of $139K comes from just 89 high dollar contributors.

Absolute numbers of dollars are important, but they are only part of the story. Numbers of contributors offers a different narrative. In the end it is the number of votes that counts. Insofar as numbers of contributors speaks of interest in the election, numbers of small dollar contributors speaks volumes. 

Keep to the high ground,


P.S. A few side notes:

  1. Yes, three of the four Democratic candidates for CD5 have a head start in small dollar donations, having begun their campaigns before McMorris Rodgers disclosed (at least publicly) that she was retiring after her current term ends at the end of this year. Time will likely change some of the ratios calculated above.
  2. Take note that only reports on candidates for federal office, i.e. U.S. Reps, U.S. Senators, and the President/VP ticket. If you want to explore campaign finance for candidates for Washington statewide or local races you need to go to the Washington State Public Disclosure Commission, There you’ll need to mount a new and different learning curve. 
  3. Figuring out actual donor’s names on is an interesting challenge thanks to Actblue (established 2004) and WinRed (established 2019). Click the names to read interesting Wikipedia articles. Both are political action committees (PACs) that mostly serve to facilitate the collection of campaign contributions for Democratic and Republican candidates, respectively. Actblue, acting a lot like a credit card company, skims 3.9% off the electronic donations processed through the platform. WinRed skims a similar amount. That said, both make donating to a candidate’s campaign something that can be done on the spur of the moment unhampered by writing a check, addressing an envelope, finding the postage and putting the donation in the mail. No doubt the convenience they offer has stimulated contributions that might not otherwise have been made. Both PACs make researching contributors to federal candidates more challenging. A contribution made through either of them appears on the candidates’ pages with the PAC name only. To figure out who the actual contributor is requires several additional time-consuming steps.

Bill Barr

What planet is he from?

I would have declared another Day Off since I’ve been on vacation this weekend, but this post about an interview that Bill Barr gave (and the interview itself) was so striking I thought it worthwhile to share it. 

I’ve never been a fan of William Barr, except very briefly when in December 2020 he resigned his job as Attorney General under Donald Trump and later declared that the U.S. Justice Department had uncovered no evidence of widespread voter fraud that could change the outcome of the 2020 election. Recently Barr said he would vote for Donald Trump in the November election regardless.

If you take the time to watch the interview with Bill Barr on which Schmidt is commenting below you will be struck by the number of times Barr declares “I don’t know” almost as though he were “taking the 5th.” Barr’s ultimate position is simply this: there is nothing Donald Trump has done or might succeed in doing during another term that dampen Mr. Barr’s devotion to “the Republican agenda.” The title of Schmidt’s post is entirely apt.

Keep to the high ground,


Everything below is written by Steve Schmidt, former Republican strategist and founder of The Lincoln Project and now a prolific Substack writer. 

You can’t fix stupid


I asked the person I love and respect most in the world a question after watching Kaitlan Collins interview Bill Barr on CNN. [To watch the whole 24 minute interview click here.]

I’ll be precise.

Me: “Is it ever okay to call someone stupid?”

Her: “No.”

Me: “I read a story about someone who picked up a rattlesnake and kissed it on the nose. The snake bit him in the face and killed him. Would you say he was stupid?”

Her: “He was stupid.”

During the interview, Collins referred to a claim by former Trump White House communications director Alyssa Farah Griffin that Barr was present when Trump said that a White House leaker should be executed. He responded by saying:

I remember him being very mad about that. I actually don’t remember him saying ‘executing,’ but I wouldn‘t dispute it, you know… The president would lose his temper and say things like that. I doubt he would’ve actually carried it out.

Barr then went on to say that people would sometimes take Trump too “literally:”

He would say things similar to that on occasions to blow off steam. But I wouldn’t take them literally every time he did it.

Before I call Bill Barr stupid officially, which I will, it is important to recognize the importance of Kaitlan Collins looking one of MAGA’s chieftain’s in the eye and saying:

Why not?

Barr’s response:

Because at the end of the day, it wouldn’t be carried out and you could talk sense into him.

Barr insisted that there was no threat.

I don‘t think the threat is there. The thing that I worry about President Trump is not that he’s going to become an autocrat and do those kinds of things.

Collins pressed Barr on why he doesn’t think that to be the case, and he said that it was just his “feeling:”

Having worked for him and seen him in action, I don’t think he would actually go and kill political rivals and things like that.

Let’s call that the “Collins Line,” which is something every journalist in America should probe and question MAGA candidates about. There are thoughts, desires, intentions and actions. Each is a step down a pathway that ends with death. There has never been political killing that hasn’t been prefaced by thoughts, desires and intentions.

I’ve written a great deal about this general principle:

Do we want democracy too?


Treblinka: “Everything and nothing, all at once”


Majdanek cannot be denied


Auschwitz: what is its meaning?


Remembering Master Sergeant Roderick Edmonds


This moment must be slowed and understood at a molecular level.

If it is the case that the interview between Kaitlan Collins and William Barr isn’t shocking to the conscience of America’s newsroom bosses — and placed squarely in front of the American people as the vital matter it is — then we are in far deeper trouble than I thought.

Let’s take a step back.

What would the reaction have been if I said on national television five years ago that Trump’s lawyers would be arguing before the US Supreme Court that the president has the power to kill political opponents with some justices seeming to entertain the idea within five years time?

Incredibly, that precise argument is being made before the US Supreme Court the same week that Bill Barr decided to disclose that Trump frequently fantasized about killing political opponents from the White House.

Don’t worry about it though. Bill Barr says he doesn’t mean it because Trump could always be talked out of the worst ideas in the end. How very reassuring.

The FBI director reported to this man? He held a position of responsibility for America’s national security and was confirmed by the United States Senate — twice?

“The best and the brightest” has given way to the “worst and the dumbest.”

Let’s try this thought experiment. There are 50 people on a plane. Bill Barr is one of them, so are we, and the plane crashes deep in the Alaskan bush. Miraculously, no one was killed, but the bad news is that help is not on the way. We will have to hike out of the wilderness as a group for 100 miles to safety. We will have to cross five rivers and two mountain ranges.

Here is my question. Would anyone ask or care what Bill Barr said about anything? Truly? He doesn’t seem to have much common sense, or a particularly well-honed instinct for danger. His judgement is appalling, and he seems to have no moral compass whatsoever.

Amazingly, he ends the interview talking about the danger the country faces from — wait for it — Joe Biden, who is the “real threat to democracy.”

It’s the reason why Bill Barr, patriot, has to vote for the man who queried him about who he could kill when he was president.

Nothing to worry about there. Nothing at all.

“You can’t fix stupid,” as the old saying goes. Apparently Bill Barr is a supremely stupid man. He’s so stupid in fact, that it is okay to say it out loud.

Good grief.


Join in the effort–and the group fun!

Last week I jumped on the postcard train. A friend pushed a bag containing 10 postcards into my hand at the edge of a meeting I attended and said, “These are easy.” They came with address stickers. They were pre-printed with detailed message encouraging the recipient to register to vote and to vote in the upcoming elections. I was asked to add a few prescribed words in my own (scribbly, physician-tested) handwriting and sign my first name. The task took me about ten minutes. I spent $5.30 on postcard postage stamps and, Voila!, off they went. Even if only one in twenty recipients actually registers using the provided specific directions, thought I, this could make a big difference—once multiplied by the efforts of hundreds of others willing to donate a little time and the treasure they can afford. 

I’m convinced that a handwritten note is perceived by most recipients as personal. I’m sure that my handwriting is distinguishable from the advertising postcards we all sometimes receive with what pretends to be personal handwriting.

This is a project you can engage in on your own or as a group. See the very bottom of this email for a couple of upcoming postcard-writing gatherings organized by Petra Hoy out at the Spokane Valley Library. If the current political climate makes you feel alone and helpless, these postcard gathering are good for finding support among like-minded folks. Petra describes the gatherings as “50% productive and 50% group therapy ;-)” 

The contact person for all this Petra Hoy. Reach her by email at to obtain postcards or to let her know you plan to come to one of the postcard gatherings.

In addition to the postage ($5.30/ten postcards) the printed postcards themselves cost this writing group about $1.40 per ten postcards (100 for $14), so if you can afford to then ten postcards would cost $6.70 and, importantly, the time it takes to write them. There may be help available for those with time and willingness to write but limited finances. Petra has multiple methods of getting postcards to writers (see below). 

So here’s the current pitch. The “I” in what follows is Petra, not me:

1.  Help Us REGISTER VOTERS for ARIZONA’s Crucial Elections

Help us Register Voters in Arizona!

Arizona is a crucial state in this election year, with the Presidential election, the US Senate majority and the US House majority all hanging in the balance. In addition, the state house and state senate majorities are both within reach, which could lead to the first Democratic trifecta in Arizona in over seven decades.

The Arizona Supreme Court wants the state to revert to a Civil War-era law that bans and criminalizes almost all abortions, and the Republican legislature supports this. We need to flip the state legislature to a pro-choice majority! Additionally, an abortion amendment will likely be on the ballot this year. We need Arizonans to come out and show their overwhelming support for women’s right to choose and enshrine that right in the state constitution.

Mail as you go, by June 1 please.

You will LOVE these!  They require minimal writing and have stickers with the addresses on them (so you don’t have to write out the address).


Please reserve yours now and I will get them ready to deliver or mail.  They will be mailed to me, then we need to bundle them and can deliver them to you (or leave on my porch) ASAP.  I can easily complete 10 of these in 20 minutes or less.  The Script for this card is: “Register to vote today. Can you ask three friends to do the same? ~your name

Postcard specifics:

You’ll need postcard stamps ($0.53) which you can get online at USPS.

We can deliver postcards to you.  Just let me know your:

1.     Name

2.     Address and phone number (in case we have trouble finding you)

3.     How many cards you’d like to do (usually units of 10)

I can leave a packet for you on my porch (I’ll respond to you with my address)

1.     Name

2.     How many cards you’d like to do

I can also mail you a “Care package” (cards, directions, etc.) I’d need to know your:

1.  Name
2.  Mailing addresses
3.  How many cards you’d like to do (usually units of 10) 

We cover all our own costs.  Estimate $14 per 100 postcards.  This also helps cover the costs of labels, ink cartridges, paper, etc.

Shipping care packages is extra.  USPS shipping costs are on the outside of the package.

2.  Postcard Parties

You can bring drinks and snacks if you’d like.  We just need to clean the room when we go.

Also, please bring postcard stamps or funds to help cover costs (if possible)

Please RSVP so we know approximately how many to expect. 

Thursday, May 9 2:00 – 4:00 PM 

Spokane Valley Library
22 N Herald Rd

Spokane, WA  99206

Thursday, May 30 2:00 – 4:00 PM 

Spokane Valley Library
22 N Herald Rd

Spokane, WA  99206

Keep to the high ground,


Housing as a Financial Commodity

There is a reason for the mismatch between available and affordable

We hear that homelessness “is a housing problem,” and, of course, it is, at least in its simplest formulation. However, it not a lack of absolute amount of living space, but a lack of affordable living space. To see the problem for what it is requires that we stand back and look at the economics that driving it. 

For me, the standout quote in the Thom Hartmann post I’ve copied below is this: “…there are over 20 times more empty houses in America than there are homeless people.” That number was so striking I had to verify it. The link goes to the United States Census Bureau data on the vacancy status of housing in the U.S. There were 17,000,000 estimated vacant living spaces in 2017. (The estimate for 2022 was 14,000,000. That’s about one in every ten existing housing units in the U.S.) Official estimates of the number of homeless people in the U.S. run between half a million and 2 million, depending on definitions (“sheltered” vs. “unsheltered”, for example) and on the particular data source. Twenty vacant housing units for every homeless person is a believable number.

Fourteen million vacant housing units in the midst of an epidemic of homelessness? Whether that even seems possible depends on how and from where one looks. A striking example for me was a luxurious seasonal rental condominium unit in Sandpoint owned by a wealthy, world-traveling resident of Hong Kong. Visit any major ski resort in the U.S. any time over the last thirty years and you will note that even during prime ski season there are hundreds of houses and condo units standing mostly empty. Look for a short term VRBO (Vacation Rental by Owner) or AirBnB in any remotely tourist-attracting community and you will find a multitude of examples of short term rentals. Some, of course, are owned and managed by a local, but many others are owned by arms-length investors. Often the contact person is not an owner but an employee of a management company. 

Homelessness is a symptom of just how far out of whack our economic system has gradually become over the last fifty years. Our awareness of the change is like that of the proverbial frog in the pot of warming water. Read Thom Hartmann’s compelling post copied below. 

Keep to the high ground,


Everything below is the writing Thom Hartmann, not mine. I encourage you to sign up to receive his email. This post hits the housing and homelessness nail on the head.

Why Homelessness Stalks America Like the Grim Reaper


Back in 1967, a friend of mine and I hitchhiked from East Lansing, Michigan to San Francisco to spend the summer in Haight-Ashbury. One ride dropped us off in Sparks, Nevada, and within minutes of putting our thumbs out a city police car stopped and arrested us for vagrancy.

The cop, a young guy with an oversize mustache who was apologetic for the city’s policy, drove us to the desert a mile or so beyond the edge of town, where we hitchhiked standing by a distressing light-post covered with graffiti reading “39 hours without a ride,” “going on our third day,” and “anybody got any water?”

Vagrancy laws were so 20th century.

Today, the US Supreme Court will hear a case involving efforts by the City of Grants Pass, Oregon to keep homeless people off its streets and out of its parks and other public property. The city had tried a number of things when the problem began to explode in the last year of the Trump administration, as The Oregonian newspaper notes:

“They discussed putting them in their old jail, creating an unwanted list, posting signs at the city border or driving people out of town… Currently, officers patrol the city nearly every day, Johnson said, handing out [$295] citations to people who are camping or sleeping on public property or for having too many belongings with them.”

The explosion in housing costs have triggered two crises: homelessness and inflation. The former is harming the livability of our cities and towns, and the Fed’s reaction to the latter threatens an incumbency-destroying recession just as we head into what will almost certainly be the most important election in American history.

The problem with housing inflation is so severe today that without it the nation’s overall core CPI inflation rate would be in the neighborhood of Fed Chairman Jerome Powell’s 2 percent goal.

Graphic based on BLM data and interpretation by The Financial Times

Both homeless and today’s inflation are the result of America — unlike many other countries — allowing housing to become a commodity that can be traded and speculated in by financial markets and overseas investors.

Forty-three years into America’s Reaganomics experiment, homelessness has gone from a problem to a crisis. Rarely, though, do you hear that Wall Street — a prime beneficiary of Reagan’s deregulation campaign — is helping cause it.

Thirty-two percent seems to be the magic threshold, according to research funded by the real estate listing company Zillow. When neighborhoods hit rent rates in excess of 32 percent of neighborhood income, homelessness explodes.

And we’re seeing it play out right in front of us in cities across America because a handful of Wall Street billionaires want to make a killing.

It wasn’t always this way in America.

Housing prices have spun out of control since my dad bought his house in 1957 when I was six years old. He got a Veteran’s Administration-subsidized loan and picked up the brand-new 3-bedroom-1-bath ranch house my 3 brothers and I grew up in, in suburban south Lansing, Michigan. It cost him $13,000, which was about twice what he made every year working a good union job in a tool-and-die shop. 

When my dad bought his home in the 1950s the median price of a single-family house was 2.2 times the median American family income.  Today, the Fed says, the median house sells for $479,500 while the median American personal income is $41,000 — a ratio of more than ten-to-one between housing costs and annual income.

As the Zillow study notes:

“Across the country, the rent burden already exceeds the 32 percent [of median income] threshold in 100 of the 386 markets included in this analysis….”

And wherever housing prices become more than three times annual income, homelessness stalks like the grim reaper.

We’re told that America’s cities have seen this increase in housing costs since the 1950s in some part because of the growing wealth and population of this country.  There were, after all, 168 million people in the US the year my dad bought his house; today there are 330 million.

And it’s true that we haven’t been building enough new housing, particularly low income housing, as 43 years of neoliberal Reaganomics have driven down wages and income for working class people relative to all of their expenses while stopping the construction of virtually any new subsidized low-income housing.

But that’s not the only, or even the main dynamic, driving housing prices into the stratosphere — and, as a consequence, the crisis in homelessness — over the past decade. You can thank speculation for much of that. 

As the Zillow-funded study noted: 

“This research demonstrates that the homeless population climbs faster when rent affordability — the share of income people spend on rent — crosses certain thresholds. In many areas beyond those thresholds, even modest rent increases can push thousands more Americans into homelessness.”

So how did we get here?

It started with a wave of foreign buyers over the past 30 years (particularly from China, Canada, Mexico, India and Colombia) who, in just the one single year of 2020, picked up over 154,000 homes as their way of parking money in America. Which is part of why there are over 20 times more empty housesin America than there are homeless people.

As Marketwatch noted in a 2015 article titled “The Danger of Foreign Buyers Gobbling Up American Homes”:

“Unusual high appreciation of the aforementioned urban centers is due to the ever growing influx of foreign buyers — mostly wealthy Chinese — who view American residential real estate as the safest investment commodity. … According to a National Realtors Association survey, the Chinese spent $22 billion on U.S. housing in 12 months through March 2014…. [Other foreign buyers primarily include] Canadians, British, Indians and Mexicans.”

But foreign investment has been down for the past few years; what’s taken over and is really driving home prices today are massive, multi-billion-dollar US-based funds that sweep into neighborhoods and buy everything available, bidding against families and driving up housing prices.

As noted in a Wall Street Journal article titled “Meet Your New Landlord: Wall Street,” in just one suburb (Spring Hill) of Nashville, “In all of Spring Hill, four firms … own nearly 700 houses … [which] amounts to about 5% of all the houses in town.”

This is the tiniest tip of the iceberg. 

“On the first Tuesday of each month,” notes the Journal article about a similar phenomenon in Atlanta, investors “toted duffels stuffed with millions of dollars in cashier’s checks made out in various denominations so they wouldn’t have to interrupt their buying spree with trips to the bank…”

The same thing is happening in cities and suburbs all across America; the investment goliaths use finely-tuned computer algorithms to sniff out houses they can turn into rental properties, making over-market and unbeatable cash bids often within minutes of a house hitting the market.

After stripping neighborhoods of homes families can buy, they then begin raising rents as high as the market will bear. 

In the Nashville suburb of Spring Hill, for example, the vice-mayor, Bruce Hull, told the Journal you used to be able to rent “a three bedroom, two bath house for $1,000 a month.”  Today, the Journal notes: 

“The average rent for 148 single-family homes in Spring Hill owned by the big four [Wall Street investor] landlords was about $1,773 a month…”

Ryan Dezember, in his book Underwater: How Our American Dream of Homeownership Became a Nightmare, describes the story of a family trying to buy a home in Phoenix.  Every time they entered a bid, they were outbid instantly, the price rising over and over, until finally the family’s father threw in the towel. 

“Jacobs was bewildered,” writes Dezember. “Who was this aggressive bidder?” 

Turns out it was Blackstone Group, now the world’s largest real estate investor.  At the time they were buying $150 million worth of American houses every week, trying to spend over $10 billion. And that’s just a drop in the overall bucket.

In 2018, corporations bought 1 out of every 10 homes sold in America, according to Dezember, noting that, “Between 2006 and 2016, when the home ownership rate fell to its lowest level in fifty years, the number of renters grew by about a quarter.”

This all really took off around a decade ago, when Morgan Stanley published a 2011 report titled “The Rentership Society,” arguing that — in the wake of the 2008 Bush Housing Crash — snapping up houses and renting them back to people who otherwise would have wanted to buy them could be the newest and hottest investment opportunity for Wall Street’s billionaires and their funds. 

Turns out, Morgan Stanley was right. Warren Buffett, KKR, and The Carlyle Group have all jumped into residential real estate, along with hundreds of smaller investment groups, and the National Home Rental Council has emerged as the industry’s premiere lobbying group, working to block rent control legislation and other efforts to regulate the industry.

As John Husing, the owner of Economics and Politics Inc., told The Tennessean newspaper

“What you have are neighborhoods that are essentially unregulated apartment houses.  It could be disastrous for the city.”

Meanwhile, as unionization levels here remain among the lowest in the developed world, Reagan’s ongoing war on working people continues to wipe out America’s families.

At the same time that housing prices, both to purchase and to rent, are being driven through the roof by foreign and Wall Street investors, a survey published by NPR, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, and the Harvard TH Chan School of Public Health found that American families are in crisis.

Their study found:

— “Thirty-eight percent (38%) of [all] households across the nation report facing serious financial problems in the previous few months.
— “There is a sharp income divide in serious financial problems, as 59% of those with annual incomes below $50,000 report facing serious financial problems in the past few months, compared with 18% of households with annual incomes of $50,000 or more.
— “These serious financial problems are cited despite 67% of households reporting that in the past few months, they have received financial assistance from the government.
— “Another significant problem for many U.S. households is losing their savings during the COVID-19 outbreak. Nineteen percent (19%) of U.S. households report losing all of their savings during the COVID-19 outbreak and not currently having any savings to fall back on.
— “At the time the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) eviction ban expired, 27% of renters nationally reported serious problems paying their rent in the past few months.”

These are not separate issues, and they are driving an explosion in homelessness.

The Zillow study found similarly damning data:

— “Communities where people spend more than 32 percent of their income on rent can expect a more rapid increase in homelessness.
— “Income growth has not kept pace with rents, leading to an affordability crunch with cascading effects that, for people on the bottom economic rung, increases the risk of homelessness.
— “The areas that are most vulnerable to rising rents, unaffordability, and poverty hold 15 percent of the U.S. population — and 47 percent of people experiencing homelessness.”

The Zillow study makes grim reading and is worth checking out.  In community after community, when rent prices exceed 32 percent of median household income, homeless exploded.  It’s measurable, predictable, and is destroying what’s left of the American working class, particularly minorities.

The loss of affordable homes also locks otherwise middle class families out of the traditional way wealth is accumulated — through home ownership: over 61% of all American middle-income family wealth is their home’s equity. And as families are priced out of ownership and forced to rent, they become more vulnerable to long-term economic struggles and homelessness.

Housing is one of the primary essentials of life.  Nobody in America should be without it, and for society to work, housing costs must track incomes in a way that makes housing both available and affordable. This requires government intervention in the so-called “free market.”

— Last year, Canada banned most foreign buyers from buying residential property as a way of controlling their housing inflation. 
— New Zealand similarly passed their no-foreigners law (except for Singaporeans and Australians) in 2018.
— Thailand requires a minimum investment of $1.2 million and the equivalent of a green card. 
— Greece bans most non-EU citizens from buying real estate in most of the country.
— To buy residential housing in Denmark, it must be your primary residence and you must have lived in the country for at least 5 years. 
— Vietnam, Austria, Hungary, and Cyprus also heavily restrict who can buy residential property, where, and under what terms.

This isn’t rocket science; the problem could be easily fixed by Congress if there was a genuine willingness to protect our real estate market from the vultures who’ve been circling it for years.

Unfortunately, when Clarence Thomas was the deciding vote to allow billionaires and hedge funds to legally bribe members of Congress in Citizens United, he and his four fellow Republicans opened the floodgates to “contributions” and “gifts” from foreign and Wall Street interests to pay off legislators to ignore the problem.

Because there’s no lobbying group for the interests of average homeowners or the homeless, it’s up to us to raise hell with our elected officials. The number for the Congressional switchboard is 202-224-3121.

If ever there was a time to solve to this problem — and regulate corporate and foreign investment in American single-family housing — it’s now.