Typical Individuality

Or How Diversity Unites Us

Lizz Schumer

Lizz Schumer
Buffalo, New York, USA
August 13
writer, editor, reporter, photographer, propagator and patron of the arts: all.
Author of "Buffalo Steel" (Black Rose Writing 2013), I'm the editor of a small newspaper in upstate New York, hold an MFA in creative writing from Goddard College. I also freelance for several publications, both print and online.


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FEBRUARY 7, 2012 7:49PM

Generation F**ked Over

Rate: 21 Flag

Image credit to Obama.net 

If the economy was a joke in 2009, freshly-minted college grads were the punchline.

 December 2008: the economy is tanking, and it's tanking hard. Unemployment is skyrocketing, moms are competing with their teens who are elbowing their retired grandmas out of the way, all because mom has to feed the teen who wants a little extra pocket cash and grandma never thought the other two would want to be a Wal-mart greeter, but that's all that's left because this isn't the Clinton era anymore. So in the midst of all this turmoil, like a good little journalist/theater major, I decide to graduate a semester early.

The better to get a jump on my peers, I thought. The better to get out there into the job market while the gettin's good. The better to stock my resume full of internship experience from several local papers, a website or two, a couple-few freelance gigs, a government agency, a major Gannett corporation with its very own Gotham City headquarters outside of Washington DC, top it all off with a summa cum laude GPA from a respected journalism school and see what the media has in store for a wide-eyed cub reporter like myself.


Except I didn't factor in the layoffs in every newsroom across the country, the buyouts for upper-echelon staff and the pink slips for the less fortunate. As if there's any hierarchy in the death of an industry, the end of an era at the hands of the smoking gun we call the Internet, with my generation blowing smoke off the barrel and posting pictures on facebook at the same time.  

 In the beginning, I got up early and stalked media bistro, journalismjobs.com, my local paper, Gannett, the AP, any corporation, company or name I could remember for something, anything. I sent out thirty, forty cover letters a day. I interviewed twice. 

Once to sell life insurance, who told me I didn't have enough experience. I wondered if taking out a policy on myself would count, but realized I couldn't have afforded it anyway.

And as my job search started to look more and more uncertain, I realized something: there's a donut hole between the internship and entry-level tiers. Internships, by and large, were unpaid or for-credit only, which is all well and good if you're in school. Once graduated, the vast majority of internships either no longer applied to me (Current students only) or didn't offer compensation, something that wouldn't exactly help my student loan situation. 

Entry-level positions are as mythical as the unicorn. Show me an "entry-level" posting that doesn't require  tw0 to five years of experience and I'll caution you to duck, there's a 75 percent chance of flying pigs this afternoon. 

And those entry-level jobs? Much like every other form of gainful employment out there, everyone from an ex-editor at the biggest daily in town to the former editor-in-chief of the college paper and quite a few in between are going for them. As the field shrinks, the pool grows wider, deeper and more competitive. Want to be a reporter? Line up behind the one with 20 years experience who will work for peanuts because she has to feed her family, and don't let the door hit you on the way out.

You may be wondering about that second job that called me for an interview. I pulled on my best pair of Hopeful-Looking Professional Black Pants, printed out my resume on good quality stock, pulled my hair into what I hoped was more Conservative Young Go-Getter and less Former Gym Rat Without A Blow-Dryer and arrived just after the interviewer sat down at the table. She gestured for me to join her, opened a thick binder of forms and manuals and said, "Well, he's over his biting stage, we think, but he's just getting into hitting and throwing. He's not toilet-trained yet, but he'll probably get there soon. Now, what did you say your degree was in?"

Nannying. If you're wondering how the journalism major who hates kids ended up interviewing for a nannying position, let me remind you of two key points. First, it's 2009 and unemployment is above 9 percent. Second, student loans are coming due but fast, and there's no sense in deferring them because there aren't any better days on the horizon, so it's time to tuck your tail between your jaunty little legs and take whatever pops up, and gratefully at that.

And that's exactly what I did. Okay, so I wasn't writing, taking pictures, editing, fact-checking or even answering phones. But I did get to read the newspaper while waiting for the kid to wake up, since I got to work at 5 a.m. and he didn't wake up until 10. And sure, it was only two days a week and I didn't make enough to move out of my parents' house. But it was a job. It was a job with a paycheck and man, was I happy to have it.

This is the part of the story where you're looking for a happy ending. Me too, America. Me, too. I'm pleased to report that, after a few months of nannying, a good bit of soul-searching, a couple of in-between jobs, a dabble in grad school and even more resume-shooting with a healthy dose of luck and yes, even more unemployment and partial employment that I won't bore any of us with moaning about, I got a job as a reporter. A real, honest-to-goodness job that allows me to write to my little heart's content before I drive half an hour back to my parents' house two towns over because my employer can't afford to pay me enough to live on and pay my staggering student debt at the same time.

This is United State my generation has graduated into: if we have jobs (and most of us don't), most of them don't pay enough to allow us to both pay the loans we accrued chasing the American dream that somehow turned into one of those disconcerting half-nightmares along the way, the kind you wake up from and wonder what happened, although you can't quite figure out what that may be and move on with the adulthood the sitcoms we grew up on promised would be ours by now.

The other day, my dad joked to me at the kitchen table, "You know, by the time I was your age, your mom and I had you." By the time my dad was my age, his generation had gone to college, started a career and begun thinking about a family. Me and my friends? Many of us are worrying about where our next meal is coming from.

If the economy is a joke now, we are the ones who aren't laughing. Forget Generation X. This is Generation F**ked Over. We work hard. We try hard. And yes Obama, yes Gingrich, yes Romney, we vote hard. We occupy the streets that aren't leading us where we thought they would.  After all, with everyone from mom to grandma to the disgraced CEO of Business We Thought Would Hire Us competing for the jobs we always thought we'd fill, it's not like we have much of a choice. 


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haha, right? Sometimes I get a little sparky.
Oh, I just loved this...as one who finished one career (20 years in the Air Force) at the age of 38, and am just finishing my grad school at the age of 39...
Just keep pushing, you should be very proud of YOURSELF. Not everyone can say they've worked from the bottom up.
Not of your generation, but you nailed it all! Really terrific piece, Liz.
"the end of an era at the hands of the smoking gun we call the Internet, with my generation blowing smoke off the barrel and posting pictures on facebook at the same time. " This irony /dichotomy just makes me shake my head. So very very true. (r)
Why isn't this an EP???
MichelleD: Thank you! I keep telling myself it's all good material. Gotta write something, after all.

dirndlskirt: That line was one of my favorites. Sometimes I think the EP system is more of an art than a science. Or that's just my youthful entitlement kicking in. :)
Welcome to the U.S. of A. No more American Dream. Refreshing and well-written post.
Lizz, if you were related to Sen. Charles Schumer, you wouldn't have any trouble finding a job.
Erica K: Right? Thanks!

OESheepdog: Oh, how many times I have wished I could establish a connection to Senator Spotlight. He has my grandfather's hairline, but my grandmother staunchly denies any connection. Probably because she's a republican.
Excellent post, Liz.

My kids are in middle school, and I read posts like this and shudder, and wonder what the hell sort of world I'm launching them into. I keep coming back to thinking the best thing we can do is to help them through college without debt, even if it means two years of community college and living at home with boring old Mom and Dad. It's not the "go off to college and live in the dorm" experience that I had, but if we can manage to get them through a bachelor's degree without debt that would be a wonderful thing.

You're a great writer, and I wish you the best.
froggy: I think that sounds like a perfectly valid plan. As a society, I think we need to re-imagine the trajectory toward adulthood. Graduating high school, going off to college, starting a career and a family, it's not realistic for a lot of us anymore. There's no shame in doing whatever has to be done to get where you need to be, even if that doesn't include the "traditional" college-job-kids plan. Thanks for sharing your perspective.
It is an unrecognizable world out there. When I graduated in the late 70's we were finishing up a recession and no jobs for women in my field were part of the whole sexist way the world was set up then. If you were lucky enough to have the right connections, you could still make it. I always had a job, but not the ones I wanted. My interests stagnated. I married an entrepreneur at thirty and have three kids in college. They are probably all going to be entrepreneurs. It seems the only way to do it, is to do it yourself and not rely on any of the big corporate mindsets anymore. I expect them to be living here until they get their lives all on the track they want. I know they will not have the debt that others have had because of their academic scholarships, but they will have some...best to you.
sheilatgtg55: I have so, so much respect for people who go their own way, regardless of what the corporations say. I have a couple of friends going the entrepreneur route, more and more these days, and it fascinates me. Good for them! I wish your kids all the luck in the world, and you too for good measure.
What the guy in the picture isn't telling us is that his PhD is in Art Appreciation.

"Why won't they hire me--don't they need someone who knows how to like art?"

Powerful piece. Glad you got a reporting job! You tell a great story.
Yes, you vote. You vote for whoever they give you. And all they've given you are the people who don't care about you or your unemployment. And that means the Democrats as well as the Republicans. They are all sponsored by the One Percent that doesn't care who lives or dies beneath them.

Oh, did you mention Ron Paul or one of the more obscure third party clowns? Want your pretense of a vote to be even more of a pretense?

Nothing will happen inside politics. And eventually, someone with enough anger and frustration and the understanding of who has caused this mess will take action. And it will be the direct opposite of a "peaceful" action.
Print journalism has been in decline for years, and is on its way to extinction .

Anyone that encouraged a student like you to take on significant debt to major in a field with weak economic prospects should be thoroughly ashamed of themselves.

An English or History major could be expected to have a pretty good idea of their prospects and plan accordingly.

But journalism is a profession and it is irresponsible to train people for jobs that don't exist.

20 years ago the top students at the top programs may have been able to land jobs. But even then, there was a huge surplus of graduates that weren't at a nationally ranked school or in the top 10% of their class.

Who was looking out for their interests?

A blatant conflict of interest at the minimum as well as ethically dubious.
Have you ever watched American Idol or any of those other singing shows? Ever thought to yourself, "Wow. There are a LOT of really talented people out there who can sing!" Or, ever gotten onto iTunes and seen all the musical choices? Or book stores? My God. We're going through a renaissance of creativity with this generation. There ARE a lot of really, really naturally talented people on the planet; and people who have good connections because they are rich and have daddys who "know someone at that company"; and people who are just hard workers, have good luck, and make the most of what life has dealt them. If you are talented, lucky and hardworking, you don't have anything to worry about, no matter what people are telling you the future looks like. Hang in there. Based on this post alone, I know you will be all right!

My advice: Polish your writing, editing, newsgathering, interviewing, AP Style skills (i.e. Washington, D.C.), and digital communications skills--and you will be able to transfer them into other jobs that pay better. Companies, universities and government agencies NEED effective, expert communicators.

Ready. Set. Go!
neutron: I'm a big believer that you can't complain unless you try to change it. So yes, I vote. I also agree that nothing will happen inside politics (I worked in politics for several years, and it only made me realize how right that is) but I also think don't see any other options. You work with what you've got.

Nick Carroway: Thing about print journalism is that it's also changeable. For example, my job requires me to post to social media, put stories online, shoot video and photos and engage with my readership in a way it didn't 20 years ago. I don't regret my undergrad major because it DID prepare me for a broad range of careers, and put me into a career that may be dying in the traditional sense, but has the ability to metamorphose into a convergent medium. It's exciting!

Deborah: If that's not a call to action, I'm not sure what is! That's what my current job is to a T: polishing up those very skills for work in a larger market. I'm getting experience in all of those, plus layout and design, photography, videography and social media, that I might not have the chance to explore at a paper where I was *just* a cub reporter on a beat. So it's a blessing in disguise, for sure. And by the way, I admit, this post was not written in proper AP Style. Shame on me!

Thanks for reading and commenting everyone! Loving all the great discussion.
I faced the same situation in 1989 when I graduated from Washington State University with a BA in Liberal Arts, and spent lots of time writing poetry. Computers were new then, and I was an expert in Word Processing from jobs in college, so I got a word processing job in Seattle for five years in the early 1990s. Then everyone became skilled at word processing so I became irrelevant and very restless.

I took my guitar and went hitchhiking across the country, short version to Miami and back to San Diego in the late 1990s. Then I spent two years housesitting where I had the opportunity to learn web design and PhotoShop, and that landed me a job at the State of Michigan for 5 years in the early 00s when it was a hot new talent. But I lost my job from other reasons by 2004 with a pregnant wife and a mortgage.

Before I went hitchhiking in 1994 I had a vision of a comprehensive time-animated 3D atlas of world history, and by 2002 I found that the once-obscure field of Geographic Information Science was blooming, so I went to graduate school and got a Masters of Science in GIS from Michigan State University in 2008.

Just as I was graduating I got a job offer so I have been working the past four years as a geospatial analyst, cartographer, and 3D terrain developer. My kids are in a good school, and though I have student loan debts, I am floating on the waves, active and creative.

I also have more leisure to work on an epic in blank verse about all the great scientists of history which is up to 18,000 lines.

I had no idea out of college where to go or what to do, but I plunged ahead and have had a lot of challenges and fun traveling the country, raising two children, making maps, and writing poetry.

In my case I have always been on the cutting edge of using computers to create and arrange content. Also I would like to say that Geographic Information Science is a thriving field. I chose the right degree to earn because that is where the jobs are now.

Keep on climbing the mountain and you will attain the garden.
What lead to the economic crumble is pretty simple.

George W. Bush bankrupted seven companies in a row when he was a young "entrepreneur" in Texas. I knew this in 1992 when the country rejected his father in favor of Clinton, and we thrived as a result.

I tried to tell everyone what a bad idea it would be to let him into the White House in 2000, but powerful people went against the will of the majority.

When he left office when Obama was elected, he insisted he was a success. He was, because his purpose was to bankrupt and weaken the government so corporatism could take over.

But we the people have a feisty spirit and we outnumber the oligarchs, so after a 10 year period of transformation, a stronger, more equitable, and more dynamically free nation will emerge.
This is the experience so many of my friends' children are having. It's so very different from what I experienced. I can only hope that things change again by the time my eight year old grows up. Or, I guess at least that gives us time to adjust to a new reality. Well told - it's important to get the perspective straight from your generation.
The people that vote for establishment candidates are the same people that watch Jersey Shore and Dancing with the stars:

That's why we are fucked.
Well, Lizz Schumer, you said, ...but I also think don't see any other options. You work with what you've got.

There is something else besides politics. There's riots in the streets. There's kidnapping and executing the One Percent. There's blood and fire and hatred. Historically, those have gotten things done outside a roadblocked and false electoral system. And while I would not be the one to exercise it (I fully expect to be an innocent bystander killed in the blast or hail of bullets) I hope that some people will finally take action. As your article and the replies indicate, we are that desperate now.

And as for Deborah Mendez-Wilson, it doesn't matter how much you polish your writing. Writers are no longer paid, in any venue, anywhere, not in journalism, media or publishing. The death of journalism is part of it, but as a whole Americans don't know how to read any more, and the ones that do, don't want to. So if they're not buying anything with words on it, how can anyone be paid?

You sound like one of those "writing teachers" who make their living lying to people about their potential to sell their work. There is no potential. There's plenty of work, but no pay. Potential writers would be better off training to be automobile mechanics and plumbers.
It gets more difficult for each generation and yet we somehow survive the obstacles present us throughout our lives.

My eldest daughter [29] is taking college courses online and she's considering self-employment as a state-licensed day care provider. There's also the possibility that my three younger children will work part-time jobs while paying some college expenses not covered under scholarships or grants.
My 17 yr old daughter and I were dicussing who would apply for a register job at the local consigment store. She gave them her impressive resume 4 weeks ago to work for minimum wage, no word yet. Has there ever been a generation of mothers and daughters competing for the same job? Rated!
Well said. One of my daughters is soon to be in your shoes; a graduate with no prospect of a job without graduate school, a ratio of 10 applicants with near 4.00 gpa for 1 position in a masters program and a mountain of student loan debt that blocks the sun.

I don't imagine it makes you feel a lot better to know that you're part of a crowd. R
@Neutron: It depends on what kind of writing you are talking about. Are you talking straight, traditional print journalism? Only a few lucky souls are still working in that arena. They are either elite writers working for the elite press, or underpaid writers at community papers.

There will always be a need for good writers in other realms, however, and I speak from personal experience. Many seasoned journalists have used their careers as writers and editors as a springboard into corporate communications, grant writing, social media strategizing, Web content development, copywriting, strategic communication, public relations, community relations, marketing, internal communication (employee, boards, etc.), crisis communication for government agencies ... the list goes on and on.
Okay, Ms. Mendez-Wilson, you want proof? Let's look at Salon, which has ads. The income from the ads pays for the servers, the software, technicians to keep it running and internet connection fees. Nothing left for writers or editors.

Take a look at the shrinking local newspaper, which also has shrinking ad income. (No regular supporting ads from local stores; there are no more local stores, only Wal*Mart.) Papers have shrunk physically, and their content has shrunk even more. They have no need to pay writers. Don't even bring the suicide of magazines into the conversation.

The kind of corporate communications which you call "writing" is not an occupation with specific remuneration. It's part of a much bigger job, a necessary part, just like using toilet paper when you go to the bathroom. You write memos between disciplining a drunk worker or taking calls from an annoying salesman. It is not something that gets praise or even grammatical correction, as a look at any company's bulletin board would tell you. And who ever gave a Nobel for a sexual-harassment memo?

It doesn't matter where you look; entertainment media, literature, even those anachronistic things called "books" whose stores are closing almost daily now. There is no pay for writing, and no income for writers, because most Americans don't know how to read, and the remainder don't want to.
@Neutron: I could sound as bleak as you do. You didn't tell me anything that I didn't already know. I'm not going to project my experience or disappointments with the way the world is going in terms of writing, and bum out a young woman who is willing to do what she needs to do to become a writer. No one can predict what the future holds for writing, and -- sorry -- I don't buy that there aren't enough readers in the world. You can't communicate without words. You can't encourage, move people to action, change the world, or extend messages of hope and love without words. Those who rule language and messaging through the power of words will rule the world.

You sound very cynical and bitter, and like someone who did not see his writing dreams come true. You don't have to shoot down other people's dreams, or their ability to contribute with high-quality writing in some other way, be it through corporate writing, copywriting, ad writing, screenwriting, educational writing, grant writing, or any other kind of writing.

I choose hope.
How much would you have to earn to move out on your own?
Ms. Mendez-Wilson, I have no hopes to shatter. Hope no longer exists. I just want to protect other people from being betrayed, as I have been, as you are currently being betrayed. All I am "shooting down" are the lies and frauds by which you are apparently living, and which are hurting many other people.

What's more, as you say, You can't encourage, move people to action, change the world, or extend messages of hope and love without words. Exactly. And Americans don't understand, know how to use, or know how to read those words. Did it not occur to you that this has been planned by the people in charge of our society, and that this is the way they want it?
Neutron: As with everything else, I'm sure the truth lies somewhere in the middle. If nothing else, she'll hone her writing, information gathering, editing, interviewing and other skills, while sharpening her reflexes as an information consumer and gatekeeper. I wish her, and you, well.
Sometimes I wonder what they will say in the history books about these times. I wonder if my children will look back at my choices and say, "Wow, mom. Was the econmy really that bad? You did great." Or will they say, "What happened? You couldn't do better than that?"
Good times, bad times, we all have our mayo sandwich time. The only thing this country promises is the opportunity to succeed. Things are/will get better. When I first arrived in Baltimore, I sent out hundreds and hundreds of resume, without getting even an interview. Now, people are asking me to work with them on projects. All this to say, hang in there. You're a good writer. ~R
"If you are talented, lucky and hardworking, you don't have anything to worry about."

Holy mother of mayhem.

Gosh, really?

If you're lucky, you will be fine?


Do you know what I hate the most about this bullshit recession? It's not the whining of the dumbass electorate who couldn't be bothered to listen to good advice when there was still time to avoid calamity. Nor is it the even more pathetic whining of the upper class complaining about how nobody appreciates them.

It's not even the actual economic hardship, as grinding and demoralizing as it is.

No. It's the facile quips from people who say things like, "If you want it enough, you will make it!"

Or, "If you are lucky, you will be fine."

Hardship we can overcome. Inappropriate whining and undeserved self-pity we can deal with.

But the inane blithering of
... the utterly thoughtless is just a show-stopper. We can't overcome idiocy.
Rated. Love the part about the 2-5 years "entry-level" gap. It's completely true. But employers can pick and choose from any demographic they want, nowadays, and pay people all the same.

I like the fact that unpaid internships are destroying our generation's chances of getting over that initial 1-2 yr. hump in the first place, especially when the NY Times wrote that exhaustive piece about how most unpaid internships were illegal, anyway.

I majored in English, too, and from freshman year on, I knew that my employment prospects were slim to none. You never really think about what that means when you're packed in a room with 20 like-minded individuals, talking about how Titus Andronicus is Shakespeare's "weakest" play.

I admire you for pursuing journalism with such perseverance. I gave up on it my junior year. If you did write for websites at some point, you may want to consider copy or internet marketing, that's where I went and you do get to write. Personally, I love it.

"Content marketing" means that stories are coming back in a big way, it's just going to be up to us to escape the prisms of antiquated education systems, as long as colleges refuse to believe that the old jobs for people who like to write aren't coming back and consequently teach no actual marketable skills to humanities majors. Good storytelling isn't dead, it's just evolving.
blucey: I had forgotten about that NYT article. Good 'un, for sure.

You hit it on the head: "Good storytelling isn't dead, it's just evolving." I love that. Thanks for your perspective.

tai: I wonder that, too. Remains to be seen, I suppose. Either way, won't we have some great stories for our grandchildren?

Willett: "Mayo sandwich time" love it! Although I gotta say, I'll eat plain bread before I let mayo pass my lips. Make it a mustard sandwich for me!

amity: I think it all depends on your perspective. I'm not one for inane blithering either, but some people are buoyed by it. So I think that is worth something, for those people at least. It may not be helpful, but it isn't hurtful.
Some little firestorm here...

I'm one of the old farts (54, canned at 50) who would like a "real job" in my field, journalism, but doubt I'll ever find another one. So I went freelance after the NY Daily News shoved me out the door two weeks after I led the NYC news cycle for 24 hrs with a front-page excxlusive. Yup! Gotta love that business.

So I went back to freelance, lost a pile 'o markets in 2007, ended up in hospital with pneumonia from overwork and said fuck it...took a $11/hr. retail job at The North Face. My first low-wage job since high school. Luckily, it became a book that's sold well, was optioned as a sitcom by CBS and has won me a new and much better revenue stream as a speaker. The irony? I get paid $$$ to tell senior retail executives how to treat the employees better (and cut theft, increase profit as they do.)

My point? Do whatever is legally/morally necessary to make a living. You have no idea where it might lead.

neutron has no idea...I earn my living as a freelance author/writer, and have throughout the recession, pulling in, every month, four figures.
Define "living."
Caitlin: What a story! I'm really enjoying reading the different accounts from people who are a little further along the road I'm on; it's encouraging and inspiring to see that there are people who've stuck it out.

"Do whatever is legally/morally necessary to make a living. You have no idea where it might lead."

Love it. Sounds like you got some great material taking your own advice.
@Amity: Doesn't take much courage to make a crass, low-brow comment slamming other people under a pseudonym, does it? Don't project your anger, bitterness and failures onto me. No one gets through life on talent alone. You need to work hard, know the right people, have some pluck, and -- YES -- be in the right place at the right time, otherwise known as LUCK.

There is no need to spew nastiness at others who try to be supportive and contribute to the conversation in meaningful ways.

Sorry you lost your job. A lot of us are in the same boat.
Lizz - just read your post and was inspired to write a response.

I just unearthed a poem by Alan Ginsberg. The original version was actually called "Howl Against Student Loans": http://open.salon.com/blog/bjorn_philip_beer/2012/03/22/howl_against_student_loans
and this is precisely why anyone between the age of 25 and 40 who has to suffer through a lecture by some baby boomer about how "irresponsible" we are, how we "made our own beds", how we're living off of the largess of their taxes, and-the kicker-how they paid for college back in the 60's and early 70's with a summer job as a lifeguard has to quell an incredibly powerful urge to crane kick the old bugger in their sparkling crowns and bridgework. especially while they cling for dear life to the pensions, bonuses, stock options, and employer provided health care that we'll never know, and block all of the paths to middle and upper management roles by chaining themselves to their desks and bellowing about "age discrimination"
@charles stafford, I'm one of those boomers, but I feel your pain. I had two college careers, one in the '70s and one in the '80s (I had to drop out for a decade due to family matters), so I saw the change in how education was funded and also graduated into a *terrible* job market in 1988 (I spent 10 years as a full-time nanny even though I had a business degree).

Blame Reagan and all who follow in his footsteps - he's the one who made the dream of un-funding education and over-funding the MI complex a reality.

We'd rather fund wars than own citizen's well-being - that's not a government of and by the people. That's government of and by the greedy bastards.