The Crisis of the Democratic Establishment

By James Kwak

The Democratic Party is at a crossroads. On a host of issues, it is clear what we stand for and how we differ from the Republicans: minority rights, abortion, immigration, gun control, climate change, the importance of facts, and, of course, whether or not the president is above the law. On economic issues, however, the picture is not so clear. Elizabeth Warren’s speech at St. Anselm’s College on Thursday is an attempt to fix that problem—and also a shot across the bow of the Democratic elite. 

With each passing year, the widening gulf between the very rich and everyone else becomes more and more apparent. Even after ten years of economic expansion and with unemployment at historic lows, working-age adults in the bottom half of the income distribution make less than they did a full two generations ago, while the very rich now count their wealth with twelve digits instead of eleven. Yet the Democratic establishment insists that we must stay the course, and shared prosperity will be just around the corner. 


Elizabeth Warren campaigning for the Democratic establishment back in 2016 when everyone got along. Photo: Tim Pierce (CC BY-SA 4.0)

Ever since the rise of the New Democrats in the 1980s and the election of Bill Clinton in 1992, the party’s power brokers have preached the gospel of “growth and opportunity.” (This is the story I tell in the first chapter of my new book, Take Back Our Party, available for free at The American Prospect.)  All good things come from the private sector; government’s role is to help markets function efficiently, create the conditions for private sector growth, and help people participate in those markets. Hence welfare reform, financial deregulation, and Obamacare, among other things. Hence also the intense, coordinated assaults on Bernie Sanders in 2016 and both Sanders and Warren today.

Senator Warren’s speech today exposed the failings of the Democratic economic platform of the past thirty years. Yes, markets produce growth. But she highlighted the question that the Clinton-Obama policy elite never wanted to answer: Who benefits? For the establishment, even to pose the question is to commit the mortal sin of “class warfare.” They take as axiomatic—an iron law of economics—that a rising tide lifts all boats, that growth is the best way to help the 99% as well as the 1%. 

But the unwelcome fact is that, in recent decades, increases in productivity and output have primarily enriched corporate executives, fund managers, and the wealthy people who own most of the assets in our economy. Literally none of that growth is trickling down to half of our population. (See Chapter 2 of Take Back Our Party.) That’s why Warren proposes to change the way markets distribute wealth in the first place—by strengthening the bargaining position of workers and attacking economic concentration.

Senator Warren also shines the spotlight on the failings of our economy. Despite ten years of growth and low unemployment, families from the poor through the middle class struggle with constant economic insecurity—with record levels of student debt, rising urban rents, insufficient retirement savings, and the increasing cost of simply using a health insurance plan. 

The signature policies of the Clinton and Obama administrations were sorely ineffective in the face of rising inequality: Welfare reform contributed to a tripling of the number of people living in extreme poverty; financial deregulation eventually cost nine million families lost their homes; cheaper student loans created a generation buried in debt; and Obamacare’s inability to control costs led to a rapid increase in deductibles and co-payments.

That’s why, instead of the empty promise of “growth and opportunity,” Warren wants to give people the things they actually need: child care, free college, expanded Social Security benefits, and Medicare for All. Yes, market capitalism makes it possible for many people to find satisfying jobs producing valuable goods and services. But if you can’t, for whatever reason (poverty, bad education, disability, racial discrimination, etc.), that doesn’t mean you don’t exist.  

And this is what frightens the Democratic elite most. It’s not that they really think that Warren’s policies will be bad for the economy. Her plans in aggregate represent the largest ever transfer of wealth from the very rich, who tend to save or “consume” paintings that were painted centuries ago, to the poor and the middle class, who tend to buy things they have to. And taking the problem of health care away from businesses will eliminate the single biggest burden weighing on long-term profits.

The problem is that she is threatening their self-identity by hearkening back to the historical legacy that they rejected thirty years ago. The Democratic Party was once the party of the New Deal and the War on Poverty, of unions, the social safety net, and a government that tried to help people. But in 1980 and again in 1984, Ronald Reagan successfully branded the Democrats as tax-and-spend liberals, in the pocket of union bosses who raised taxes on workers to funnel benefits to mythical “welfare queens”—a framing that simultaneously appealed to an entire bundle of common prejudices. 

Instead of defending government and social solidarity, the New Democrats adopted the same attack lines and the same economic vision. To return to power, they argued, the party had to discard the now-tarnished legacy of the New Deal and create a new identity: finance, not manufacturing; business, not government; balanced budgets, not domestic spending programs; and growth, not redistribution. 

Warren’s speech points out the obvious: that the Democratic establishment has failed to do anything about (or actively enabled) today’s unfair economy, in which a small handful of highly skilled, well connected, or simply rich people appropriate the spoils; and that, in taking the money of the billionaire class and catering to their policy preferences, they have become unable to do anything about this rigged system and the inequality that it produces. And the billionaires themselves, from Bill Gates to Michael Bloomberg, are terrified because Warren refuses to court them, signaling an end to decades of business as usual. 

The real problem with her vision, for the party’s current bosses, is that it represents a complete repudiation of their precious image of themselves and their place in history. She promises worker power instead of corporate profits, domestic spending programs instead of cleverly designed markets, redistribution instead of the glib proverb of the rising tide, and a government that actually helps people instead of one that oversees the economy from on high and lets the chips fall where they may. What we are seeing is the existential crisis of the Democratic establishment. And it isn’t pretty.

from Finance

Take Back Our Party, Chapter 2: Bad Policy

By James Kwak


Today’s installment of my new book, Take Back Our Party, evaluates the quarter-century reign of the Clinton-Obama axis over Democratic economic policy. (Chapter 1, if you missed it, is a historical account of the rise of the New Democrats and what they did once in power.)

The picture is not a pretty one, no matter how you look at it. This chart, for example, shows the distribution of economic growth across different groups in the income distribution:

kwak-chart2.2 (2)

(Data are from Piketty, Saez, and Zucman, of course.) There it looks like the bottom 50%—that’s half of the people in our country—have more or less broken even. But the true story is even worse:


Among people in the bottom 50%, all of the income growth has gone to the elderly in the form of rising Social Security and pension payouts. Working-age people are doing worse than in 1980, and those below the age of 45 are doing much worse.

And this is not just the result of globalization and technology. Major Democratic policy choices including welfare reform, financial deregulation, and the abandonment of homeowners after the financial crisis all had the net effect of increasing inequality. The Affordable Care Act did some good in the short term—primarily by expanding Medicaid eligibility in most states—but has been powerless against the underlying problem of rising health care costs, which have resulted in higher deductibles and co-payments. That’s why even many families with health insurance cannot afford to get the health care they need.

Perhaps more important, the doctrine of “growth and opportunity”—the idea that government should focus on making the pie larger, and helping people gain access to the markets that would provide everything they need—continues to rationalize the Democratic Party’s failure to do anything about inequality itself:

In the end, a Democratic Party traumatized by the Reagan Revolution and defined by its aversion to the words ‘socialist’ and even ‘liberal’ has proven powerless against the economic and political forces that have created this Second Gilded Age of monumental inequality. Flattered by its growing proximity with the economic elite and unwilling to do anything that might smack of class warfare, the party that was supposed to stand up for the working class instead took the side of markets and the overall economy, protesting that this was, in fact, the smarter, more sophisticated way to help all Americans. It wasn’t.”

They had their turn. They failed. It’s time for something new.

You can read the whole chapter here.

from Finance

Guido van der Werve. Casually setting himself on fire, walking in front of an icebreaker and running from Warsaw to Paris

Guido van der Werve. Number eight, nine, twelve, thirteen, fourteen, seventeen. With texts by Michael Maizels, Jenny Johnson, Isabel de Sena in conversation with Guido van der Werve.

Publisher Kerber Verlag writes: On the occasion of Fluentum collection’s inaugural exhibition, Number eight, nine, twelve, thirteen, fourteen, seventeen presents six performance-based works by Dutch artist Guido van der Werve. After having studied industrial design, archaeology, and composition, since 2000 he has created elegiac, and stunning films, videos, and artist’s books that evoke existential feelings and, at times, deadpan humor. The comprehensive book situates his artistic practice within the context of athleticism, visual art, and musical composition, conveying poetic meaning even under the most extreme conditions.

Guido van de Werve, Still from Nummer veertien, home, 2012

Guido van de Werve, Still from Number zeventien, killing time attempt 1, 2015

Setting himself on fire, walking serenely in front of an icebreaker while the frozen water cracks behind him, going on a 1600 km triathlon from Warsaw to Paris as an homage to Chopin, pantomiming the ascent of Mount Everest from his bed for 10 hours or standing (almost) still and alone on the North Pole for 24 hours. Guido van der Werve’s performances are always breath-taking but never in a way that would distract the viewer from their poetry, melancholy and a romantic sense of the sublime. Each time i saw his works in exhibitions, i was drawn in by the description of their recklessness, by the extreme physical and emotional endurance they documented but it’s the meditative atmosphere and subtle humour of the videos that kept me glued to the spot.

Guido van der Werve. Number eight, nine, twelve, thirteen, fourteen, seventeen is the catalogue of an exhibition at Fluentum in Berlin which i haven’t seen but since there barely is any video of the artist’s work available online, i thought the book might be a good substitute for the films. I’m glad i got a copy.

If you’re wondering (as i did) why the titles of his films always start with a number, it’s because they echo the opus number of musical compositions. Van der Werve trained as a classical pianist and is a talented composer but he also studied industrial design and Russian literature and is an avid runner and triathlete. Somehow he manages to convey most of these aspects of his life into his works.

Here’s a quick illustration of what that means. With the number eight, nine, twelve, thirteen, fourteen and seventeen. In no particular order:

Guido van de Werve, Extract from Nummer veertien, home, 2012

Guido van de Werve, Still from Nummer veertien, home, 2012

Guido van de Werve, Still from Nummer veertien, home, 2012

Nummer veertien: home pays tribute to Frédéric Chopin. van de Werve swam, cycled and ran from Warsaw, where Chopin grew up and where his pickled heart is preserved (smuggled by his sister at the request of the composer), to the Père Lachaise cemetery in Paris, where his body is buried.

The images of the triathlon alternate with scenes based on his childhood memories and references to Alexander the Great. The film structure is guided by the 12 sections of the requiem Van der Werve composed for it, performed by an orchestra and choir that pop up at various locations throughout the film.

Guido van de Werve, Still from Nummer negen: The day I didn’t turn with the world, 2007

Nummer negen: The day I didn’t turn with the world documents 24 hours during which the artist didn’t “turn with the world” but let the Earth rotate around him. The artist stood alone and in almost complete immobility on the axis of the world at the geographic North Pole. His only movements consisted in turning slowly clockwise as the planet under his feet turned counterclockwise.

Guido van de Werve, Still from Nummer acht, everything is going to be alright, 2007

Guido van de Werve, Still from Nummer acht, everything is going to be alright, 2007

The artist is walking steadily across the frozen waters. Right behind him, an icebreaker smashes through the ice. The powerful vessel looks menacing. And yet, without the massive ship, without this icon of the capitalist conquest of a territory that is literally melting, van der Werve would never have reached this inhospitable part of the world. Everything is going to be alright, right?

Guido van de Werve, Still from Nummer dertien, emotional poverty in three effugium (Effugio c, you’re always only half a day away), 2011

In Nummer dertien (number 13), the artist runs for 12 hours around his holiday home in Finland. There’s no prize, no destination, just endurance and pure exhaustion.

Guido van de Werve, Still from Nummer twaalf, variations on a theme (and why a piano can’t be tuned, or waiting for an earthquake), 2009

from Finance

Take Back Our Party, Chapter 1

By James Kwak

Chapter 1 of new book is now available at The American Prospect. (If you missed the introduction, you can find all the chapters here as they are released).

This chapter, “Their Democratic Party,” is a brief history of the takeover of the party by the New Democrats in the 1980s and 1990s. It describes how, in the aftermath of the crushing electoral defeats of 1980 and 1984, a new generation of party leaders—including Bruce Babbitt, Chuck Robb, Lloyd Bentsen, and of course Bill Clinton and Al Gore—chose to run away from the historical Democratic legacy as the party of workers and the poor. Instead, they trailed in the rightward footsteps of the Republicans, associating the party with business, the private sector, finance, and economic growth.

Their economic platform was that markets are the sole source of prosperity and that government should limit itself to nurturing the private sector and ensuring that all people can participate in the benefits of growth. That’s why the principal Democratic domestic policy achievements of the past three decades have been welfare reform, financial deregulation, and a health care reform plan based on private competition and initially conceived by the Heritage Foundation.

This is still the dominant ideology of the Democratic establishment:

“Leaving aside the recent progressive insurrection … it is a party devoid of any compelling idea of how to address the fundamental economic challenges our country faces today: wage stagnation, the rising cost of health care and urban housing, the precariousness of most jobs, and extreme inequality. After defining themselves in opposition to old-fashioned government spending programs that smacked suspiciously of redistribution, after embracing the doctrine of market-based solutions, and after insisting for decades that economic growth would solve all problems, establishment Democrats today have nothing left to offer.”


from Finance

“Inhale confidence, exhale doubt”

“Inhale confidence, exhale doubt”

dandelion in the wind

Caught that quote at the end of an email from a reader (thx Nikeya!) and been trying to practice it all week 🙂

When I’m walking down the street after a tough morning…

“Inhale confidence, exhale doubt”

When I’m wrangling my kids away from the toy section mid-breakdown…

“Inhale confidence, exhale doubt”

When I’m battling stores to get my long lost furniture I paid for!

“Inhale confidence, exhale doubt!”

Such a simple line, yet even more empowering.

You should try it over the weekend and see how it affects you 🙂

Other good times to repeat it in life:

  • When you step into a meeting you have to present in
  • When you head onto a podcast/panel/interview
  • When you’re trying to score that raise you KNOW you’ve earned all year
  • When you get your budget going again after the 9th failed attempt!
  • When you’re pulling an all-nighter for that major exam tomorrow
  • When you’re out there hustling for your first client
  • When you’re itching to ask out that pretty lass/lad at the coffee shop 😉 (the “twenty seconds of insane courage” idea works well here too! Courtesy of the movie “We Bought a Zoo,” lol…)
  • When you get into some good bartering at a yard sale/Craigslist
  • And basically, a great line to repeat *any time* you’re in need of a good boost

Doesn’t fix all your problems, but it just might do the trick for re-setting your mind for a hot minute!

And if all else fails, just remember this:

meat skeleton


Enjoy the ride 😉


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from Finance

Hidden Investment Opportunities in Mobile Homes

Hidden Investment Opportunities in Mobile Homes

dancing around mobile homes

[Hi guys! I’m SOOO excited to share this piece by a long time internet friend of mine – Rachel Hernandez, aka Mobile Home Gurl – who I’ve been fascinated by for years. She’s made a great income off investing in overlooked properties – specifically mobile homes! – and today stops by the blog to share the ins and outs of the industry, as well as some financials. Hope it inspires some of you to research it further and see if it’s a good fit! I’ll admit I kinda want to too now!!]


When most people think about getting into real estate investing, they think about single-family homes or apartment buildings. I did the same thing.

Never did I think in a million years I’d be a mobile home investor. But here I am. Mobile homes found me after all my experience in single-family homes.

I started my journey finding deals for other investors as a “bird dog” and wholesaler*. Then, I started buying and holding single-family homes as a landlord. But something was missing. I just wasn’t satisfied. The cash flow numbers weren’t there and I wasn’t living the life I wanted.

So I decided to sell my entire real estate portfolio and go into mobile home investing. 

Now I’ll admit: it took me awhile to find my niche. But I’m glad I did, and completely seized the little known money opportunity in mobile home investing.

How Mobile Homes Are Different than Regular Real Estate

There are many differences between mobile homes and investing in regular real estate such as single-family homes and apartment buildings. The main difference is that mobile homes give you options. Simply put, they’re exactly what they say they are: mobile.

You can keep a mobile home where it is and buy it. Or, you can move it somewhere else. Perhaps to another piece of land or mobile home park. You can’t really do that with a single-family home or apartment building. Mobile homes are meant to be transported.

What I do is buy the mobile home itself (as personal property) while someone else owns the land attached to the home (usually a mobile home park). I then fill the home with residents who pays me to live in the home, who are in turn responsible for paying the lot rent (land rent) to the park.

My First Mobile Home Deal

first mobile home investment

To give you an example, I’ll tell you about my most important deal: The first mobile home deal I ever did.

It was a 2 bedroom, 1 bath mobile home. The family living in it had owned the home and lived there for 10 years. It was located in a nice mobile home park. They were ready to move out of the community and live somewhere else.

After a lot of negotiating back and forth, we settled on a price. I bought the home for $3,600. It had some cosmetic issues but I did pretty much all the work myself. After the family moved out, I filled the home with another family. They paid me $1,000 to move in and $250 per month for the next 4.5 years. (That’s a total of $14,500 to save you on the math)

It took me almost a year to do my first mobile home deal. But I’m glad I stuck with it. And the rest is history!

Less Competition with Mobile Homes

Most real estate investors look down on mobile homes as an asset class. Unfortunately, there’s always been a negative stigma attached to mobile homes. (Think the movie 8 Mile.)

But mobile homes are no different. Just like single-family homes, there are different types of neighborhoods when it comes to mobile homes. There are low-end, middle-of-the-road, and high-end mobile home parks. Each community attracts a certain type of clientele.

I tend to focus more on the high-end communities. I learned early on the importance of working in areas that better with my personality and attract the types of people who I feel comfortable with after a previous $2,000 nightmare.

Though I bought the home cheap, it cost me a lot of time and money. It was an expensive lesson, but one I took to heart and follow to this day with all my investing activities.

Due to the negative stigma of mobile homes, however, there is much less competition. In fact, I honestly don’t know many other investors who buy mobile homes. They are pretty few and far between, which means even more opportunity for those of us who are interested in it.

The Pros and Cons of Mobile Home Investing

As in any type of business venture, there are pros and cons when it comes to investing in mobile homes. But honestly, there will always be risk when it comes to investing in anything. It’s how you manage your risk and your risk tolerance you need to account for.

The Pros:

The main pro of mobile home investing is the amount of capital needed. In general, you can invest a small amount of money into a mobile home deal than your traditional single-family home property.

Like the example of my first deal, you can buy a mobile home for as little as $2,000-$3,000, with an average one in my experience hovering more around the $5,000 range. Which all means less money in the deal compared to more traditional real estate.

And since you typically don’t have a mortgage on a home that low (I pick up all my properties in cash), you eliminate any payments to the bank. Your home is fully paid off and you receive instant cash flow.

Imagine having 5, 10, 15 or even 20 mobile home properties… all paid off!

This is a very hard thing to do as a single-family home investor, but not as much when dealing in mobile homes with enough work and persistence over time. Nowadays I cash flow at least $500/mo per deal. That’s some serious dough and adds up quickly!

The other pro (which is also a con as you’ll see below) is the “less competition” thing mentioned earlier. Unlike single-family homes, there is a barrier to entry if you want to buy mobile homes since it’s in someone else’s community (the mobile home park owner).

Before you buy any home in a park, you have to have approval from the manager or owner of the community to do business there. This can take a lot of time and courage to build up these relationships. But once you do it pays off in the end. As a result, you may become the only investor, or part of a small handful of investors/owners allowed to work in the park. This gives you an ultimate advantage and an endless stream of leads over the years!

The Cons:

Getting into a park and being allowed to do business there takes time. This can be a major obstacle for people, especially newer investors.

In order to build relationships, you have to physically meet with the park managers and owners. All the time. This can be challenging if you have a full-time job as you’ll have to work around the park’s office hours to pull it off.

Another con with mobile home investing is that you may have to take a mobile home back at some point in your journey. Circumstances change, and sometimes people just can’t continue making payments anymore.

(Though, this is true with any type of real estate whether it be mobile homes, single-family homes, apartment buildings, or even commercial. It happens. All the time.)

I’ve had to take many homes back from renters as a mobile home investor. It can be a major inconvenience and takes time and money to fix them back up again to be re-rented. You also occasionally have to evict people and take them to court if needed too. But it’s all a part of any real estate business.

Lastly, plumbing is a constant issue with mobile homes. The older homes have “the grey pipe” which is just not good material. I talk more about it here. Flooring can also be a big deal. Many of the older homes have particle board for flooring which is not good. Once it gets wet, it soaks up like a sponge. Usually it’s just a matter of cutting the bad stuff and putting in good stuff (plywood). But it’s a constant issue.

Everything else that breaks down is similar to a single-family home such as air conditioning, heating, roof (shingle roofs), and hot water heaters. These are all common issues with mobile homes and single-family homes. Stuff just gets old and needs to be replaced.

In Conclusion

As you can see, there are hidden opportunities to make money in mobile home investing. I make close to 6 figures a year doing it and really enjoy it. Lack of awareness and less competition only means more business to beginners and investors like you and me. Over time, this can equate to more cash flow and a supply of mobile home deals to last a lifetime!

For further reading, check out “Deals on wheels: How to buy, sell & finance used mobile homes for big profits and cash flow” by Lonnie Scruggs, or my personal book on the subject: “10 Dos and Don’ts to Get Started in Mobile Home Investing

mobile home investing book

Rachel Hernandez is the author of Adventures in Mobile Homes: How I Got Started in Mobile Home Investing and How You Can Too and the Real Estate Investing Sucks series of books. Find her at:

*A bird dog is someone who looks for deals for other investors. They just find the leads and don’t take the risk in terms of signing the dotted line and doing contracts. The investor they work with will take the lead on, put it together, and sign the dotted line. Then pay the bird dog a fee for finding the deal. Another way to do it is doing the deal together and splitting the profits. As a wholesaler, you take it a step further than a bird dog. You actually sign the contract as a wholesaler between you and the seller. Then you wholesale the deal to another investor for a fee. The other way to do this is through a double closing. Here you purchase the property from the seller and close on it. Then you take title to it and resell to the investor. As a wholesaler, you don’t take title to the property. You just assign your interest for a fee. The end buyer (investor) takes title.

[Links to books are Amazon affiliate links… Photo up top by Gabriel Sanchez]


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from Finance

Rescued these books from Goodwill… Want them? :)

Rescued these books from Goodwill… Want them? 🙂

great books giveaway

Been patronizing our local Goodwill here a lot lately, and had to snag a few books that were looking a bit lonely and needing a new home 😉

Maybe you can offer a safe and comfortable place for them? Or know of a friend who could cherish them and improve their lives at the same time? They would make great stocking stuffers for someone, if you ask me…

Here are the three books – just shout in the comments or email me if you want any of them!


“The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up” by Marie Kondo

magic tidying up book

From Amazon (as if you didn’t already know what it’s about ;)):

Japanese cleaning consultant Marie Kondo takes tidying to a whole new level, promising that if you properly simplify and organize your home once, you’ll never have to do it again.

Most methods advocate a room-by-room or little-by-little approach, which doom you to pick away at your piles of stuff forever. The KonMari Method, with its revolutionary category-by-category system, leads to lasting results. In fact, none of Kondo’s clients have lapsed (and she still has a three-month waiting list).

With detailed guidance for determining which items in your house “spark joy” (and which don’t), this international bestseller featuring Tokyo’s newest lifestyle phenomenon will help you clear your clutter and enjoy the unique magic of a tidy home—and the calm, motivated mindset it can inspire.


“The Automatic Millionaire” by David Bach

automatic millionaire david bach

One of my favorite finance books, and one of my favorite authors – especially after meeting him after a night of partying once and seeing how gracious he was chatting and laughing with all us drunks 😉 In fact, it’s very possible he was drunk too! Haha…

But the book is one of those classics that I’ve been recommending for years… And this one in particular comes with some fun doodles from the prior owner who listed out his goals circa 2004, so you get some nice voyeuring in too! 🙂 I wonder if he ever accomplished them?!

book doodles finance goals

Summary from Amazon:

The Automatic Millionaire starts with the powerful story of an average American
couple–he’s a low-level manager, she’s a beautician–whose joint income never exceeds $55,000 a year, yet who somehow manage to own two homes debt-free, put two kids through college, and retire at 55 with more than $1 million in savings.

Through their story you’ll learn the surprising fact that you cannot get rich with a budget! You have to have a plan to pay yourself first that is totally automatic, a plan that will automatically secure your future and pay for your present.

What makes The Automatic Millionaire unique:

  • You don’t need a budget
  • You don’t need willpower
  • You don’t need to make a lot of money
  • You don’t need to be that interested in money
  • You can set up the plan in an hour

This one little book has the power to secure your financial future. Do it once–the rest is automatic!


“The Four Tendencies” by Gretchen Rubin

four tendencies bookNow this one I haven’t read fully, but I have perused it over the years as well as taken her personality quiz which was a fun rabbit hole to go down (I’m an “Upholder” as it turns out, and not the “rebel” I thought I was!)

You can read our post about it here – Which “Tendency” Are You? – but here’s what Amazon has to say about the book for anyone new to Rubin’s work:

During her multibook investigation into understanding human nature, Gretchen Rubin realized that by asking the seemingly dry question “How do I respond to expectations?” we gain explosive self-knowledge.

She discovered that based on their answer, people fit into Four Tendencies: Upholders, Questioners, Obligers, and Rebels. Our Tendency shapes every aspect of our behavior, so using this framework allows us to make better decisions, meet deadlines, suffer less stress, and engage more effectively…

With sharp insight, compelling research, and hilarious examples, The Four Tendencies will help you get happier, healthier, more productive, and more creative. It’s far easier to succeed when you know what works for you.


Want one of these?

Tell us which one, and why, in the comments below or via email and you’ll be automatically entered to win. U.S. only though please as the shipping will already cost more than the spare change I ponied up for these suckers 😉

We’ll let the giveaway go until the end of the weekend, and then randomly pick the winners shortly there after…

Good luck!! And happy early Christmas!

PS: If you’re wondering why there’s a keyboard in all those pics in front of my laptop, it’s because my dang “y” and “t” buttons stopped working which is apparently needed for every other dang word in the English language, haha… Haven’t had the time to check how much it’ll cost to repair (anyone have an idea?!), but in the meantime my wife gave me the good idea of just using an external keyboard and so there we are! Looking like a big dork at the coffee shops daily, haha… but at least it works!

*Links to books above are Amazon affiliate links


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from Finance

Our couch battle – am I in the wrong?

Our couch battle – am I in the wrong?

couch hiding

So I’ve had an “interesting” time this week with the popular furniture store chain, and curious to see if I’m completely out of place here or have every right to be as frustrated as they’ve made me lately 😉

Here’s the play-by-play as succinctly as I could make it, though the reality is that it spanned 5 days and 12 different chats between phone, text and Twitter – all totaling approximately 7 hours at the time of this posting.


  • Took the family couch shopping at Ashley HomeStore Outlet
  • Picked out a 3-piece set we liked, but it didn’t come with an ottoman so we found another that did
  • Spent 10 minutes with the sales rep talking about all the different ways we could use the ottoman to our advantage and absolutely fell in love with it
  • Asked the sales rep if “everything we see here” is included – and took a picture of it all which shows everything, including the sectionals, ottoman, pillows, everything.
  • Sales rep said yup! All included!
  • So I said, “awesome – we’ll buy it!”
  • A few days later the delivery men came but one of the pieces was broken so they had to ship it back to get fixed (annoying, but things happen)
  • Noticed the ottoman didn’t show up, however, so reached back out to our sales rep who stated he was sorry for the mix up but it was not added to the order
  • I asked him if I could just swing by the store and grab it sometime, and he said it wasn’t included in the sales price so it’ll be an extra $300 if I want it.
  • I told him I DO want it, but I’m confused and certainly don’t want to spend an extra $300 for something I was told would be included?!
  • We debate a bit, and I finally ask him if he has any suggestions before I escalate it up the chain
  • He says no, but he’s sorry again for the mess up
  • I proceed to call customer service who refers me back to the store
  • I call back the store and they don’t answer the phone
  • I call back the customer service line (corporate, basically) and they once again refer me back to the store
  • They forward me over while on the phone and a representative at the store says they can’t help me as all ottomans cost extra
  • I tell them I’m aware of that now, however that was not what was told to me prior to the purchase so I’d like to speak to a manager
  • The manager hops on the phone and asks if I looked at the itemized sales receipt before I signed on the line to fulfill the purchase, and I say yes
  • He asked if I saw “ottoman” on there, and I say no
  • He asks why I continued the purchase then, and I told him I just assumed it was all included – just like the pillows that were not itemized on the sheet however there are 2 of them sitting in my living room right now
  • He doesn’t answer me but says I should have said something
  • I agree – and tell him it was my fault for not double checking and trusting the sales rep
  • He says he’s sorry but would be happy to ship me the ottoman as soon as I pay the $300
  • I tell him that’s not going to happen and ask if he has any suggestions before I escalate it further
  • He offers to give me a $50 gift card and advised me to take it
  • I politely decline, though thank him for trying to work with me
  • I call customer service again and ask to speak to a manager there
  • They refer me back to the store as all stores are privately owned (?) and they can’t change any pricing or wave fees
  • I ask if it’s possible to just return the whole thing then because we can’t come to a resolution
  • They say “all sales are final” but to talk to “Bob” at the store
  • I ask who “Bob” is and they say he’s “the top manager” at the specific store and is scheduled to be there today
  • I call “Bob” and he is not there, but will return on Saturday
  • Saturday comes and we finally connect…

Now if you’re still reading this, I’ll stop you there and ask you real quick what you would do at this point so far? 😉

Would you continue to keep fighting it, knowing exactly what you heard and what you were led to believe? Or would you finally just give in and either do without the stupid ottoman or pony up the $300 to complete your set? (Or do you go balls to the wall and do what it takes to get that refund out of principal??!)

I talked it over with my wife, but in the meantime tried one other avenue that has been known to work from time to time… And of course that avenue is taking it to social media 😉

  • I private message my concerns on Twitter (@AshleyHomeStore)
  • I receive no response back
  • I find their “customer care” handle (@AshleyHomeHelp) which states “a community manager is actively listening between the hours of 9-5pm EST” and send them a private message there too
  • I receive no response back
  • I send a *public* message tagging them in case that gets their attention which said: “Anyone ever have issues with @AshleyHomeStore ?! Ordered a brand new couch for the first time in my life and having a dickens of a time getting what I paid for… (after of course spending 2 hours bouncing between customer service centers 🙃 )”
  • They respond! “We’re sorry for the delay. Please send us a PM with your contact information, store location and confirmation, so we can see what the holdup is. Thank you, Sandy”
  • I respond with the info requested
  • I receive no response back
  • I follow up a couple days later, both privately and publicly
  • I receive no response back


The Mrs. and I finally decide where are limits are and how far we want to push this, and decide that if we’re able to get the ottoman at a severely discounted rate we’ll still take it as it’s what we really wanted to begin with, but if they continue to not budge we’ll go all out for a refund.

Which sucks because that’ll be a much harder battle to fight, what with the “no return policy” aka the worst customer service policy ever. And after researching it more and learning of possible “restocking fees” and the fact places rarely return *shipping* costs either, we’d have to commit for the long haul.

And then Saturday came!!!

And do you know what happened?!

“Bob” called me!! Before I could even call him! Here’s how it went down:

  • He calls us and immediately apologizes for us having a bad experience so far (thank you!!)
  • He tells us their sales rep’s side of things, but states it doesn’t even matter because at the end of the day we’re unhappy and it needs to be fixed (which was nice to hear, especially as the rep’s story has now changed for a third time)
  • He says he’d love to resolve this right here on the phone and offers to give us the ottoman at “cost” if we still want it – which comes out to $150
  • I tell him I think that’s a fair compromise and he adds it to our scheduled shipment of our broken-but-now-fixed other part of the couch
  • I thank him for resolving it once and for all 🙂

So a somewhat happy ending to the story, though definitely not going to be taking the chance again with them in the future, haha…

But what do you think? Would you have taken the deal or kept fighting? Was I in the wrong here or could you relate? Have you ever had any experiences w/ Ashley before, good or bad?

I debated on whether to even share this publicly or not, but after the failed attempts on social (and giving them ample opportunity to talk with me!) I felt it was something worth mentioning in case it helps just one other person avoid this frustration down the line 😦

Super great couches and prices there, but not the best customer service in the world.

Though to be fair, when I asked the community about them some of you did say you’ve had great experiences with Ashley, so perhaps I was just unlucky 😉 Along with the few others who also had not so great experiences with them… (you can see the chain here if you’d like)

At any rate, upward and onward! One less thing to have on the brain now!

[Pic up top by ambermb via pixabay]


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from Finance

New Book — Completely Free!

By James Kwak

After Simon’s book with Jon Gruber earlier this year, it’s my turn to release a book. Take Back Our Party: Restoring the Democratic Legacy is now available starting today at The American Prospect. Actually, today the introduction is available. The remaining chapters will be released between now and Wednesday next week. As David Dayen (executive editor of the Prospect) said, now that we’re in the Second Gilded Age, we’re adopting one of the publishing models of the First Gilded Age: serialization in a magazine.

The book is a political sequel to Economism. The basic argument is that the Democratic Party has been taken over by market-oriented centrists who think that effective management of private sector markets is the best way to help ordinary people (think of welfare reform, financial deregulation, Obamacare, etc.); that they have failed, both as policy and as politics; and that the party should adopt an economic platform dedicated to ensuring that all people have the basic necessities of life in the twenty-first century, including healthcare, pre-K through college education, affordable housing, and adequate retirement income.


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Heba Y. Amin. The toxic legacy that European ideas of progress left on the Egyptian landscape

There’s nothing more uplifting than visiting a solo show, being genuinely captivated by it and then discovering over the course of a conversation with another visitor that the artist is one of your heroes and you hadn’t even realised it. That’s exactly what happened to me a couple of weeks ago when i visited Heba Amin‘s exhibition at The Center for Persecuted Art in Solingen, Germany.

Amin is one of the artists who, together with Caram Kapp and Don Karl a.k.a Stone, countered with mischief and wit the stereotypes about Arab Muslim communities and individuals that U.S. tv series Homeland was churning out with each new season. Hired in 2015 by the producers to dress a set for a Syrian refugee camp with a bit of “street art” and “authenticity”, the trio used the assignment as a platform to mock the series for being the most bigoted show on television. They delivered the street art requested. Only no one else on the set realised the sentences in arabic they had spray painted said: “This show does not represent the views of the artists,” “Homeland is a watermelon” (slang for “a sham”), #BlackLivesMatter, “Homeland is racist”, etc.

The Arabian Street Artists // Heba Amin, Caram Kapp and Don Karl a.k.a Stone, Homeland is racist

Opening of Fruit from Saturn, Surveying German landscapes by night. Photo: Markus Rack © Zentrum für verfolgte Künste

Heba Amin‘s solo show at the Zentrum für verfolgte Künste (Center for Persecuted Arts) at Solingen, near Düsseldorf, bears the intriguing title of Fruit from Saturn. Room after room, the exhibition peels off some of the many layers of North Africa’s history to reveal protagonists who might have been forgotten by most but whose ghosts linger in the landscape.

The artist weaves sometimes uncomfortable threads between the past and the present. With fearlessness and humour, her works explore how issues such as territory, social structures and the exercise of power are mediated by technologies.

The centre piece of the exhibition the replica of a memorial. A memorial that might well be one of the kitschiest memorials i’ve ever seen but that hides a fascinating story:

Opening Fruit from Saturn, The Devil’s Garden: Part I (Pyramid), 2019. Photo: Markus Rack © Zentrum für verfolgte Künste

Heba Y. Amin, Marseille’s Pyramid, 2019 (replica of Hans Joachim Marseille’s pyramid in northern Egypt)

During WWII, the North African desert became the scene of European armies’ scramble for power over colonies. One of the actors of this fight was Hans-Joachim Marseille, a Luftwaffe fighter pilot nicknamed The Star of Africa for his many “successes” during the aerial battles of the Nazi North African Campaign. He shot down more Allies aircraft than anyone else but was killed in a flying accident.

Marseille is remembered through both a film and a memorial. The movie is Der Stern von Afrika (“The Star of Africa”), a 1957 German war film which drew criticisms at the time for its romanticisation of Marseille’s combat career and its avoidance of any honest confrontation with the past. As for the monument, it is a pyramid erected by German soldiers at the location in El Alamein where Marseille’ body was found after his plane accident.

Amin erected a 1:1 replica of the desert memorial in one of rooms of the Center for Persecuted Arts. The small commemorative pyramid is not the only souvenir Europeans left in the region. El Alamein was the site of a decisive victory for the Allies in North Africa. Sadly, it was also a region that German general Erwin Rommel nicknamed The Devil’s Garden. Right before the Second Battle of El Alamein in late 1942, the Axis buried an estimated 3 million mines to protect their defensive positions. Most of these mines, bombs, mortars and artillery shells were left behind and are still maiming and killing local populations today. Some have even been illegally excavated today and sold to civil war zones in North Africa.

Both the landmines and the “hero’s” memorial are part of the toxic legacy that Western ideas of modernity and progress have left on the ground. Amin brings their story on Germany soil to open up a dialogue about a European war that still claims victims today in North Africa, among a population that never saw these conflicts as theirs.

The work is accompanied by an interview with Cuban-German celebrity Roberto Blanco whose career as an actor kicked off with the film Der Stern von Afrika. Blanco played the part of Marseille’s ever-cheerful butler. The real person behind the character was Mathew Letuku, a prisoner of war from South Africa fighting for the British army. Letuku’s reports, unsurprisingly, depict a reality miles away from the one presented in the film. His experience, and that of thousands of other South African prisoners of war in Germany and Italy, were written out of the story.

Heba Y. Amin, Portrait of Woman with Theodolite I, 2019

Heba Y. Amin, Survey of German Landscapes by Night (New Morgenthau Plan) I, 2019

A series of photos shows the at night using a theodolite, a tool often used for land surveying. In this case, the surveyor is a young woman from North Africa scrutinising the German territory.

If the first image might seem innocent, the one titled Survey of German Landscapes by Night (New Morgenthau Plan) I leaves no space for ambiguity. Morgenthau Plan was a proposal by the Allied occupation of Germany to eliminate the country’s arms industry and other key businesses which might have enabled Germany to regain some military strength after WWII.

She uses the invasive gaze of optical tools to turn the table on imperialist predatory views of landscape and illustrate the key role that technologies played in the colonial strategies of the 19th and 20th centuries and the part they still play today in ensuring the continuing surveillance and exploitation of the resources of the Global South.

Heba Y. Amin, Optics Sculpture A Rectilinear Propagation of Thought, 2018. Photo: CHROMA

Heba Y. Amin, Optics Sculpture Vision is One of the Senses, 2016

The structure of the human eye according to Ibn al-Haytham. Note the depiction of the optic chiasm. —Manuscript copy of his Kitāb al-Manāẓir (MS Fatih 3212, vol. 1, fol. 81b, Süleymaniye Mosque Library, Istanbul)

Heba Y. Amin, Optics Sculpture Asfara, 2016. Photo: Kayhan Kaygusuz

Amin’s series of iron wall sculptures evoke the optical schemes illustrated by 11th century polymath and “father of modern optics” Ibn al-Haytham.

The Arab scholar established a key element of modern scientific methods when he insisted on the necessity to carry out repeatable experiments in order to test what was written in books rather than blindly accepting it as true. One of the earliest scientists to study the characteristics of light and the mechanism/process of vision, Ibn al-Haytham also proposed that, contradicting the beliefs of Ptolemy and Euclid, the eyes receive light reflected from objects, rather than emanating light themselves.

His combination of rigorous experimental methods and rational arguments had a great influence on English philosopher Roger Bacon and on German astronomer Johannes Kepler in particular.

Colonial powers erased Ibn Haytham’s legacy from dominant scientific narratives. Amin’s sculptures follows the medieval scholar’s questioning of vision and perception and critique our narrow ways of seeing the history and legacy of science.

Heba Y. Amin, Project Speak2Tweet The Gecko, Video Still, 2014

Heba Y. Amin, Project Speak2Tweet: My Love For You, Egypt, Increases by the Day

Opening Fruit from Saturn. Project Speak2Tweet, 2011 – ongoing, video installation. Photo: Markus Rack © Zentrum für verfolgte Künste

Project Speak2Tweet brings us back to the 21st century…

On 27 January 2011 Egyptian authorities shut down the country’s international Internet access points in response to growing protests. Over one weekend, a group of programmers developed Speak2Tweet, a service that allowed Egyptians to leave a voice message on Twitter by calling specific international telephone numbers. Over time, the messages grew into a unique archive of the collective psyche.

Project Speak2Tweet is a research project and an archive of experimental films that uses Speak2Tweet audio messages prior to the fall of the Hosni Mubarak regime as the soundtrack of images that show abandoned buildings. The juxtaposition visualizes the long-lasting effects of a corrupt dictatorship on citizens and infrastructures. It also brings to light the double-edged nature of communication technologies that herald new forms of democratic expression while enabling the powerful to repress it.

Opening Fruit from Saturn. Roberto Blanco, Heba Y. Amin, Jürgen Kaumkötter. Photo: Christian Baier © Zentrum für verfolgte Künste

Opening Fruit from Saturn, Fruit from Saturn, Poem from Yvan Goll. Photo: Christian Baier © Zentrum für verfolgte Künste

Fruit from Saturn, Amin’s solo show at the Center for Persecuter Arts, borrows its title from Yvan Goll’s 1946 book of poems by the same name. Its opening poem, “Atom Elegy” reflected the early 1940’s enthusiasm for the scientific wonders and comforts that the “atomic age” would bring. The writer later modified his poem in response to the dropping of the atomic bomb on Hiroshima. Goll’s original unpublished manuscript of “Atom Elegy” is part of the Center’s collection and is shown for the first time as part of the exhibition.

Heba Y. Amin‘s solo show Fruit from Saturn is at the Zentrum für verfolgte Künste (Center for persecuted arts), a museum that displays the works of artists who were censored or oppressed by the the Nazis and later on by the communist East German regime. The exhibition remains on view until 2 February 2020 in Solingen, near Düsseldorf in Germany.

from Finance