A Christimulus miracle, and a year-end interview
Welcome to “Not Pretty, Not Rich” — a newsletter about money and the economy.
This will also be the last issue for the year!
It’s Wednesday, December 23, 2020, and here’s the rundown:
A new stimulus package
An interview with Habekah Cannon
Revisiting some old holiday articles
Numbers and links
The big news this week: A new stimulus package
One big thing: Congress agreed to a $900 billion stimulus package. This is really the most impactful and relevant thing to talk about this week. While I do think that this deserves its own issue of NPNR, I simply don’t have the time to put it together this week, so I’ll instead just outline the most important pieces.
Here is a link to the actual language of the bill — which is passing along with a $1.4 trillion spending bill to keep the government operating. It’s 5,593 pages long. But as far as the stimulus stuff goes, here’s a summary you can skim via The Washington Post.
And Here’s the meat:
A $600 stimulus check per individual, including adults and children, up to a threshold (nothing if you earned more than $99,000 last year).
An extension on unemployment benefits of up to $300 per week that could last through March.
Extension of the unemployment benefits program for gig workers and freelancers.
$284 billion for the PPP program.
An extension on the eviction moratorium until the end of January, and $25 billion in aid for renters.
There is more to it, but this is these are the quick-and-dirty details. More is sure to come to light soon.
As for my initial thoughts:
Though this helps us avoid a post-Christmas disaster, it’s altogether pretty pathetic, given what so many people in this country are facing.
A one-time, $600 payment isn’t going to do much for most households. Especially while we’re simultaneously handing out $1.4 billion in aid to the Catholic Church and $3.65 million to the president and his son-in-law’s businesses.
The fact that this took nine months to hammer out is an embarrassment.
This is a Band-Aid when we need a cast. I’d assume that the Biden administration is going to be in for a hell of a fight to get more stimulus funds in months to come — something this very newsletter has addressed in the past.
And this is all contingent on Trump actually signing the bill, which he has threatened to veto. So stay tuned.
An interview with lawyer Habekah Cannon
Habekah Cannon is starting a law firm from scratch and is out to make a difference.
The following is an interview I recently conducted with Habekah Cannon. Cannon is 27 years old and lives in Charlotte, North Carolina. She caught my attention when I saw something she had posted on Twitter about starting her own law firm — something that I thought was very much in the spirit of this newsletter.
As it turns out, Cannon had been working as a public defender (a thankless and necessary job) and was fired from her position as a result of her taking part in the Black Lives Matter protests this summer.
I appreciate that Cannon is doing something extremely difficult: She had to accept a career setback, decide that she wanted to fix some serious issues she sees in society and is creating a way to do it — all on her own, and from scratch. For that reason, I reached out to her to see if she’d be up for talking about it.
Below is our discussion, which has been edited for length and clarity. I hope you all enjoy it.
Sam: Tell me about your life and how you got to this point.
Habekah Cannon: My name is Habekah Cannon. I grew up in South Africa as a missionary for six years, between 1998 and 2004. And that was a really influential time in my life — it really created in me this idea or sense of giving back to the community and mission.
That was my upbringing. And then when I returned to North Carolina, I made up my mind very early that I was going to go to law school, and I was going to pursue a career as a public defender. I also think that that's very unique to my story because when you think of lawyers, you think about making money and corporate jobs. But that wasn’t the reason I decided to go and go to law school.
And so after school, I ended up working at the ACLU, then I worked in the public defender's office. At the ACLU, I worked on legal issues, and issues in the criminal justice system that dealt with marginalized communities, marginalized people, often poor, black, and brown people. I saw how this system treated them, and addressing that became my passion. So now I am starting my own practice, where I want to tackle those issues and inspire other private attorneys to take on these types of cases.
Sam: Where was the public defender’s office that you worked in?
Cannon: That was in Mecklenburg County (North Carolina, which encompasses the city of Charlotte). I worked there for two years. My title was Assistant Public Defender at the Mecklenburg County Public Defender’s Office.
Sam: Where did you attend law school?
Cannon: I went to North Carolina Central University School of Law, and I graduated in 2017. After I graduated I started working on reform issues with the ACLU of North Carolina — addressing some of the legal court fines and fees and how they affect poor people in North Carolina.
Sam: Then you started working as a public defender. What does a public defender do, exactly?
Cannon: As a public defender, we do not get to pick and choose our clients, and we don't get to pick and choose our cases. A public defender is a court-appointed attorney. So, the courts assign you to cases. And I was averaging a caseload of over 350 clients. During my two years there, I had 896 cases. I only represented people charged with misdemeanors. These aren’t people who are charged with murder or rape.
Sam: And this summer, you ended up leaving the job, right? That had to do with your activism after George Floyd was killed?
Yes, I was let go. I was forced out of that office because I was told that I did not draw a wide enough margin between my role as a public defender, and as an activist. I think that was a direct attempt to hinder and ultimately stop my activism. I [After that] I decided that starting my own law firm was the only appropriate path.
Sam: So, it sounds like they didn’t like your activism? You were working for a public office funded by the taxpayers, and that caused some issues with optics?
Cannon: Yes, I believe that was the issue.
Sam: And where are you in terms of opening up your own firm?
Cannon: We are accepting clients.
Sam: What types of changes do you hope to affect? What’s your goal?
Cannon: Over the summer, we really saw communities come together. communities raised bail funds for protestors and provided mutual aid to those in need in a pandemic. And so, what I'm hoping my firm will do, what I'm hoping to do, is to utilize the community. We want to figure out a way to invest in making people’s lives just a little bit better.
Sam: Can you give me an example?
Cannon: In a place like North Carolina, our public transportation system is not sophisticated. You have to drive to get around, and in this climate, you can be black or brown and just get pulled over. And they may have an expired driver’s license or something similar, and from there, a relatively minor offense can spiral out of control. People don’t have money to pay fines or to talk to a lawyer. Sometimes a lawyer won’t talk to you unless you can pay them. And if you can’t pay a fine, you can end up in more legal trouble because it turns into a civil debt
Sam: On that...it sounds like the state, or criminal justice system, uses money as a sort of weapon or cudgel. You talk about marginalized communities and poor people...Is that an accurate way to characterize how the system has adopted money as a tool? If it costs $500 to just talk to a lawyer, is it fair to say that if you have money, you can make your problems go away?
Cannon: I think that’s valid. If you have money, you can make problems go away. A lot of us in America can't even afford a $500 emergency. So, think about these communities of people that are chronically homeless or mentally ill, you know, we think about a lot of the charges in the criminal justice system that criminalize survival.
[For example], in North Carolina panhandling is illegal and is categorized as a misdemeanor fine-only offense. So, for someone who’s begging for money, we’re going to make them find an attorney, find transportation to get to court, to deal with a charge that directly criminalizes survival. if they can’t make it — maybe they don’t have transportation — then there’s a warrant out for their arrest, and they’ll have to pay another bond.
It’s all about money. And yes, if you have money, things are easier. But there are middle-class people who don’t have the money to meet with a lawyer.
Sam: You mention “them.” Who are “they,” exactly? Someone specific, or just the self-perpetuating system overall?
Cannon: Yeah. You know why we have the most people in prison in the world, right? Because we have state actors, all working together, that achieve the goal of funding themselves and the courts.
In Mecklenburg, in Charlotte, North Carolina, we have a program called “deferred prosecution,” that allows first-time nonviolent offenders to earn a dismissal. However, this program used to require the person to pay a court-assigned cost of up to $1,000 in order to earn a dismissal. Because of the financial requirement, people could not participate in this program. Today that policy has been changed but is a direct example of a two-tiered justice system.
Sam: My last question is really about how you’re feeling about what you’re doing. It’s a weird, scary time for everyone. And what you’re doing — as a young black woman setting out on your own in a tough field, during a global pandemic and recession — it’s admirable. But how do you feel about it?
Cannon: I think when starting anything new, you want everything to work out. I want to make sure that I’m meeting the needs of the people that I’m trying to help. I’m just trying to do the work. I feel really good about that.
I am excited and hopeful, and not so much fearful or nervous. Advocating for others is my true life’s mission and purpose, and for me to be able to help others in this way, with my legal knowledge, makes me very, very hopeful for the future.
You can learn more about Cannon’s law firm here: The Law Office of Habekah B. Cannon, or learn more about her story, her goals, and even help her raise money to get her community-based legal defense firm off the ground.
Revisiting a few of my old holiday-themed pieces
Given that it’s Christmas, I dug up a couple of old pieces that I wrote over the past few years. They’re kinda fun:
Pizzas and Spiders and Paris, Oh My! The Enormous Expenses of “Home Alone” (Stash Learn)
All about the “Santa Claus Rally” (Grow/CNBC)
‘More of a calling than it is a job’: The life of a professional Santa (Grow/CNBC)
Numbers and links
$17,000: The average equity gain for U.S. homeowners during Q3 2020. (Axios)
-88%: The price decline for batteries over the past decade. (BloombergNEF)
300,000: The expected decline in births in the U.S. in 2021. (Brookings)
$4,158,500,000: The amount that MacKenzie Scott, Jeff Bezos’ ex-wife, has given away to charities over the past four months. (MacKenzie Scott via Medium)
13 Things Trump Got Right (The Atlantic)
The bizarre story of how a Bloomberg reporter fell in love with and threw her life away for…Martin Shkreli. (Elle)
Russian opposition leader Alexey Navalny was the target of an attempted assassination when a spy put poison in his underwear. He survived, and then tricked the spy into discussing the whole thing on tape. (CNN)
Online bookies are making a killing from Trump supporters: “It’s like taking candy from a baby.” (Slate)
How We Survive Winter. (New York Times)
See you next year,
“Not Pretty, Not Rich” is a newsletter about money, finance, and the economy. You can connect with me through my website, Twitter, LinkedIn, or send me an email at email@example.com. Also, if you enjoy this newsletter, I’d really appreciate it if you would share or forward it to others.