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Step 1: Buy Amazon stock. Step 2: Take a sledgehammer to the USPS.
Not Pretty, Not Rich is a newsletter meant to keep you up to date on what’s happening in the world, and how you can position yourself to take advantage.
It’s Friday, August 14, 2020.
What’s shaping the world this week
Here are a few key news items that you should be aware of:
Joe Biden selected Kamala Harris as his running mate on the Democratic ticket. So now we know the full slate for the upcoming election. Interestingly enough, President Trump apparently donated to Harris’ campaigns in the past, as has his daughter, Ivanka.
The jobless are in limbo. Nancy Pelosi says Democrats and Republicans are “miles apart” on the next coronavirus stimulus package. And Congress has largely adjourned until next month. If you were hoping for another stimulus check or further federal backing of UI benefits, you’ll have to wait.
Cancellations are piling up. We all hoped that COVID cancellations would have been more of a spring-time thing. Not a spring, summer, fall, and probably winter-type of thing. But the other day, two of the five major college sports conferences have decided to cancel, or at least postpone, fall sports, including football. Is Halloween next?
You’ve likely heard about some skullduggery happening at the post office — here’s what’s up.
The U.S. Postal Service has somehow become a focal point of several news cycles. The main reason why is that many states are looking at allowing more voters to mail in their ballots this fall to vote, given the dangers of having crowded polling places with COVID and all.
President Trump doesn’t like this idea, and has been quite vocal about it. He, and many others, claim that voting by mail is rife with fraud — something that is largely untrue. But he is convinced that expanding the ability to vote by mail will hurt him in the election, so he’s against it.
(Side note: I’m from Washington, where there are no polling places and you can ONLY vote by mail. I can’t remember any problems arising because of it, and after I moved to New York and had to vote in-person in 2018, I can’t fathom why all states don’t just move to a vote-by-mail system.)
So the president is now trying to sabotage the mail system, and it’s working. He installed a new Postmaster General (a former donor), who’s made some changes that appear designed to slow down the system. That includes ripping mail sorting machines out of distribution facilities for no apparent reason other than to make the system as inefficient as possible. This also appears to fall within the scope of a federal crime.
In some places, they’re also removing mailboxes.
This is all to say that if you had “USPS gets sabotaged” on your 2020 bingo card, you win.
Now, what does this have to do with us normies? Well, we’re the ones who will suffer because of this. The postal service is, when you think about it, something of a marvel. It largely works, is typically not taxpayer-funded, and it’s cheap. It loses money, sure, but that’s mostly because of “a congressionally mandated retirement healthcare funding program that no other government agency is required to observe,” according to Notre Dame business professor.
But it’s also important to remember that USPS isn’t really a business. It’s a service. An important one, and one that the private sector relies on, too. If USPS goes under, the ones who will suffer are largely Americans who live in rural areas, who will suddenly rely on private companies to deliver their mail (and it won’t be cheap). Even UPS and FedEx have relied on USPS to deliver parcels, especially those in hard-to-reach areas.
So, while you may think that mail-in voting is the end of democracy, I would argue that those beliefs are not a good reason to stand pat as our elected officials kneecap one of our best-functioning institutions. You wouldn’t smash your office’s microwave because you suspected, with little or no evidence, that your coworker was stealing your Hot Pockets, would you?
But to send you off with a chef’s kiss, it looks like the new Postmaster General, Louis DeJoy, bought a bunch of Amazon stock options before he took over USPS — additionally, DeJoy and his wife “have between $30.1 million and $75.3 million in assets in USPS competitors or contractors, according to Wos’s financial disclosure paperwork filed with the Office of Government Ethics,” The Washington Post reported earlier this year.
Those are positions that could be quite profitable if he were to, say, destroy the postal service.
Uber and Lyft: California leavin
Uber is threatening to leave California after the courts said it must treat its drivers like employees.
I’ve worked freelance jobs and contract jobs. I know the deal — companies classify you as a contractor or freelancer while treating you as a full-time employee to skirt around some rules and regulations. It’s not uncommon, even though it’s technically illegal.
This is how rideshare companies like Uber and Lyft classify their drivers, too. It makes sense: Drivers can work when and where they want, and are essentially freelance drivers. But a California judge disagrees, and ruled that these companies must treat drivers like regular employees.
This made Uber and Lyft so upset that the company is threatening to leave California altogether — a state that, in Uber’s case, houses two of its five most profitable cities.
Uber’s CEO Dara Khosrowshahi quickly hopped on his Blackberry to bang out an op-ed for the New York Times to do some damage control. Khosrowshahi writes:
“Our current employment system is outdated and unfair. It forces every worker to choose between being an employee with more benefits but less flexibility, or an independent contractor with more flexibility but almost no safety net. Uber is ready, right now, to pay more to give drivers new benefits and protections. But America needs to change the status quo to protect all workers, not just one type of work.”
I agree with him on that. But I’d like to see Uber take this chance to lead on this issue. None of this “we all need to change for the better, but you first” mentality.
As someone who’s worked under abusive contracts (not all contract, gig, or freelance work is bad or abusive, of course), and this is a problem we need to work out. And many of the company’s drivers probably don’t want to be labeled as employees and like the current set-up. The company will likely appeal the decision, too, so we’ll have to wait to see how it shakes out.
But I thought it was worth mentioning because the contractor loophole is pervasive, and it’s problematic. I’m glad that this is getting some attention, but for those working as contractors, remember this: If you’re not choosing when and how you’re getting your job done, you’re being misclassified.
This week’s numbers and links
$40 million: How much McDonald’s is suing its former CEO, Steve Easterbrook, for fraud stemming from his release earlier this year. Easterbrook was caught uh...dipping his french fries in the company ketchup. Or ketchups.
3X: The number of gun seizures at American airports has tripled since the pandemic started. And 80% of those guns are loaded.
20% - The economy of the U.K. shrank 20% in the second quarter, throwing the country into a deep recession.
A cool list of ways that businesses adapted to the pandemic, including boat-in movies and workout bubbles.
A majority of Americans are scared of money — that is, they have concerns about touching cash and coins, according to a new survey.
Until next time,