Missoula’s Riverfront Triangle Event Center Boondoggle Put On Hold Amidst Financial Chaos

by William Skink

The multi-million dollar development project proposed for the Riverfront Triangle in Missoula is officially on hold:

Months before construction was set to begin on one of the largest urban infill projects in Missoula, developers behind the plan are hitting pause and will wait for the markets to reveal their post-pandemic future.

After years of planning, Riverfront Triangle Partners said they’re now taking a day-by-day approach while analyzing the first phase of their project and what happens with the national economy.

“We’re still enthusiastic about it, but given the current situation, I think everyone has hit the pause button to see how this all plays out,” said Jim McLeod with the Farran Group in Missoula and Riverfront Triangle Partners. “The equity markets and our lenders, they’re all kind of in the same boat, waiting to see how it all plays out.”

The Farran Group is taking a wait and see approach because we are at the start of a global economic depression. This depression will be blamed on the Coronavirus, but the reality is the Federal Reserve deferred the consequences of Wall Street’s greed a decade ago, and now it’s time to pay up.

Who will pay for the greed and corruption of our big banks and corporations? The public, of course. Why? Because we’re suckers conditioned by years of propaganda to ignore the abuses of our late-stage, crony capitalist system.

For now the 16.5 million dollars in public TIF money won’t be gobbled up for a parking garage, but don’t assume the fight over how TIF is being used in our community is over. With a global depressions settling in, how will our elected leaders deal with Missoula’s financial future now that the growth they have pegged our tourist economy on is evaporating before their eyes?

All the public money sitting at the Missoula Redevelopment Agency should be saved to backstop the budget so our rapacious local government isn’t tempted to raise taxes during a global pandemic. That would be the responsible thing to do.

Let’s hope our elected leaders take their responsibilities seriously enough to understand that a post-pandemic Missoula will have more serious things to deal with than incentivizing development with public money.

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Governor Bullock’s Plan For The Homeless In Montana: Get Sick And Die

by William Skink

Partisan scold Don Pogreba wants you to know that while Montanans are dying, Montana Republican legislators are posting deadly misinformation.

It’s important during this pandemic that we identify every possible way one party is making things worse (Republicans) while continuing to ignore and minimize every possible way the other party (Democrats) are failing our most vulnerable populations.

For example, Governor Bullock’s plan for homeless people is to make sure they get sick and die.

How can I say that? Easy. When you exempt everyone without homes from the requirements issued by the state to maintain social distancing you are vastly increasing their chances of getting sick and dying.

Governor Bullock has options if he gave a shit about people without homes in Montana. You don’t have to be a fucking rocket scientist to realize that empty hotel rooms + homeless people = solution. Just ask Democrat Governor Gavin Newsom:

California state government is procuring hotels and motels to shelter the homeless as part of the state’s effort to slow the spread of coronavirus, Gov. Gavin Newsom said Sunday.

In addition, the state is sending 450 travel trailers to locations around the state to help shelter many of the 108,000 unsheltered homeless people living in California, Newsom said.

No, this isn’t good enough for our Democratic Governor. It’s better to let homeless people congregate in over-crowded shelters, get sick, and die.

Governor Bullock and Democrat partisans should be concerned about homeless people because before they die they will spread the sickness to others.

Fun fact: did you know homeless people look just like you and me? It’s true. The stereotype most people have in their mind is the dirty homeless man on the street corner panhandling while muttering to himself, but that’s not the norm.

So, if you think you’ll be able to visibly identify the people Governor Bullock has exempted when you’re shopping for groceries at the Fresh Market on Broadway, think again.

Just because Governor Bullock and political partisans like Don Pogreba are choosing to ignore what those without homes will be facing in a state that would prefer to see them sick and dying at the Poverello Center instead of sheltering-in-place in a hotel room, that doesn’t mean you have to ignore them as well.

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On Montana’s Second Home Migration And The Ravages Of Late-Stage Capitalism

by William Skink

It wasn’t prescient of me to speculate that possible vectors bringing the pestilence to Montana would be wealthy people with second homes, it’s just common sense.

When you pay attention to things and then remember how your community was once described as the ideal place to ride out the zombie apocalypse, well, you are less than surprised when data backs up your hunch about a second home migration to Montana.

First, let’s recall how a writer in New York five years ago pegged our community as being the last best place to avoid zombies:

The Wall Street Journal talked to researchers at Cornell University who have pinpointed the perfect place to hide during a zombie apocalypse. It apparently isn’t Scranton, Pennsylvania, which is perfectly positioned to host hungry hordes of the undead after they destroy all the nearby major metropolises.

That’s right, according to science, fictional characters Jim, Pam, Dwight, and Michael Scott would all die if a hypothetical zombie apocalypse were to happen.

The safest places to hide are rural areas in Montana and Nevada, which are so remote that they could avoid zombies for months. In other words, Cliven Bundy will probably be the last person left at the end of the world.

Nice to know those smart city folk fleeing their urban hot zones think we’re all Clive Bundy out here. Remember that when you see one of ’em yelling at a wage slave at Lowe’s to hurry up and load that second generator in the Land Rover pronto!

Here’s more from New York:

Missoula, the city named one of the safest places to wait out a zombie invasion, probably also benefits from a local sword business called “Zombie Tools.” One of its owners told NBC Montana, “The idea that you’re just going to survive with your gun is going to last the first few weeks until you run out of ammunition,” and that “we are a serious business we take pride in our craft, zombies or no zombies, we’re thinking about unicorns next.”

However, the Journal adds, “the subject matter is completely hypothetical, of course. But the Cornell team’s zombie simulation could have applications for modeling real-life outbreaks.”

That’s right, city folk, we have specially forged steel to handle any mindless zombies who come here all entitled to feast on our brains. I myself have several blades from the ZT crew.

We don’t have to deal with the threat of being bitten (unless by one of these increasingly feral children I’m tasked with rearing), but we do have to navigate increasingly congested outdoor locations where people are flocking to remain sane.

I’ve still got a few spots that haven’t been overrun, but as more people of means flee to Montana, I worry one of my strategies to keep my family from killing each other will be compromised.

The data showing this predictable migration comes from AirDNA and was first reported at Montana Free Press:

LIVINGSTON — One day late last week, Dan Vermillion, owner of Sweetwater Travel in Livingston, woke up to a flurry of emails.

There were seven different requests to book his vacation rentals for up to six months. Normally, a booking is three days, five days, maybe a week.

“Something had changed very quickly,” Vermillion said.

Across Montana, the big sky and wide open spaces that attract tourists year round for skiing, fishing, hiking, and wildlife viewing are suddenly valued for a new reason: plenty of room for social distancing during the coronavirus pandemic.

While short-term rental properties on sites such as Airbnb, VRBO, and Homeaway nationwide are seeing a downturn in visitors, business in Montana has been up, according to research from AirDNA, which compiles industry-wide booking data to provide short-term rental estimates.

The selling points that has made Montana an attractive location for residential investment properties has a new point to add now that we are being fear-conditioned to see other people as a threat to our own survival.

So far the local real estate scene has only seen a slight dip in activity. Here’s a sociopathic-sounding comment from a real estate agent:

“My phone isn’t blowing up like it was a few weeks ago, but it’s still busy,” he said. “We’re still seeing people list properties, and we’re getting good activity on them. Obviously some buyers are going to be taken out of the equation due to what’s going on, but some aren’t. And they’re hoping it’s going to be an opportunity because there’s not as much competition with other buyers.”

When this agent says some people will be “taken out of the equation” I don’t think he intended it to be read as people will die and that will be a great opportunity for buyers, but it’s hard NOT to read it like that, considering we have a death-cult relationship with capitalism, where bankers suggest millions be exposed to a virus to save the stock market while younger people eagerly describe this pandemic as a boomer remover.

There are opportunities that could arise in the wake of this pandemic to reorient our systems and institutions to a more scaled down, local, resilient form of human interaction with each other and our environment, but to get there we will need to discard what hasn’t worked.

The agents of wealth we call politicians, who just passed a “bipartisan” two trillion dollar corporate bailout, is a great example of a discredited trickle-down mentality that MUST be discarded in order to move forward with a modicum of hope we won’t descend into a Mad Max dystopia.

If the deep pockets who have transformed our tax system into a giant sucking vacuum of greed that they barely contribute to don’t change their ways, then they need to be forced into sharing the horrors of this late-stage capitalist system they have used to enrich themselves with.

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Maybe Going To South Africa Amidst A Global Pandemic To Push STEM On African Girls Wasn’t Such A Good Idea

by William Skink

By March it was clear the Corona virus was fast becoming a global pandemic. WHO officially declared a pandemic on March 11th. If you had a trip planned to South Africa to promote STEM learning to African girls in March, would you go?

Missoula lawyer and former State Representative, Ellie Hill Smith, had that choice to make after “winning” the first ever Citizen Diplomacy Action Fund award, something that sounds like a way to get a free vacation. Smith’s husband also just happened to win this opportunity as well, though this Missoula Current article doesn’t disclose the Smith’s are married:

A team of Montanans – high on solving the lack of science and math in South African schools – has won the first-ever Citizen Diplomacy Action Fund award.

The group will teach vital STEM curricula to girls in sub-Saharan Africa early in 2020. The $10,000 grant will cover the faculty’s work in March.

Comprised of Missoula lawyer Ellie Hill Smith, University of Montana chemistry graduate Tyler Smith, plus two Great Falls retired math professors, the team’s plan is one of 25 winning projects selected.

“There were a lot of other Montana agencies that applied,” Hill told the Missoula Current. “This is a brand new funding source. We try to replicate what we’re doing in Montana at schools around the world.”

The $10,000 “award” was not enough cash, though, so there was also a go fund me ask for more money.

Traveling to South Africa during a global pandemic sounds like a really stupid idea, so of course the trip went ahead as planned. Now I am hearing that Ellie Hill Smith and her family are stuck in South Africa and working with Tester’s office to get home.

When my family went on a hike Friday my two boys wanted to scale a steep, crumbly incline. Normally I would have allowed them to do it, but because of the strain our health care system could soon be under, I explained to my children that part of the Governor’s order explicitly states to avoid engaging in high risk behavior.

Here is the actual language from the Missoulian article:

Engaging in higher-risk outdoor behavior that might require emergency medical services is discouraged, as it would stress the health care system in the state.

Traveling to South Africa during a global pandemic certainly qualifies in my book as engaging in higher-risk behavior. Since common sense didn’t prevail resources will have to be used to help extradite a US citizen from a situation that shouldn’t have been allowed to happen in the first place.

Let this be a learning moment. The world today is different than the world last month. I’m sure teaching STEM to African girls sounded like a great idea all the way back in December, but then a virus emerged and sparked an economic collapse unseen since the Great Depression.

Adjustments must be made. We must adapt. And some of us might not be able to travel on someone else’s dime to a foreign land under the auspices of spreading STEM to South Africa.

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Missoula City Council Writes Letter Asking Landlords To Be Nice To Renters With No Money

by William Skink

The first order of business on Friday was getting the kids out of the goddamn house. We went to the Milltown overlook, past the golf course and the shooting range. There is a trail that takes you down to the confluence of the Clark Fork River and the Blackfoot. Worth checking out if you have kids and cabin fever.

After burning up the morning, Grandma whisked away the kids so the wife and I could hit up Costco. The new occupancy limit of 250 people inside the building means a line of people now forms outside waiting for access. It only took us 15 minutes before we got inside, though, and the crowd was pretty docile. Is it the visibility of an armed security guard that helps keep people in check?

According to the Health Department there has yet to be a case of community spread in Missoula County. I’ll be watching my dad closely. He’s been helping the pastor of his church get their technology set up for remote preaching. I mentioned in another post this pastor decided to take his family to Hawaii earlier this month, which I thought was really stupid. Well, the pastor has now developed a fever and he STILL doesn’t think it’s a big deal.

Across the country there is an immense chasm between what politicians say and what is actually happening on the ground. Essential gear is not available to our frontline health care workers and there are still not enough tests. This is what a dying, hollowed out empire looks like from the inside.

Locally, there is immense fear that not paying rent will lead to the predictable outcome of not having a roof over your head. Our City Council members, in a bid to look even more powerless and useless (after ceding deal-making power to Herr Engen), penned a letter to landlords “urging” them to work with people who can’t cover rent. Why? Because they think landlords have the power to do so. From the link:

Missoula City Council members are urging landlords and property managers to work with renters who may struggle to pay their upcoming rent in light of recent layoffs and reduced wages as businesses close or cut back on hours due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“You have it in your power to provide relief and reassurance,” the letter reads. “More than ever, people need to know they are not going to lose the place they call home.”

The letter asks Missoula area property managers and landlords to stop any eviction proceedings and agree not to initiate eviction proceedings for the next six months and work with property owners to waive rents for tenants who have lost jobs. Renters occupy more than half of Missoula’s housing units.

Now, I’m not usually in the position to defend property management companies and landlords, but I’m worried our City Council members may not understand how the real world continues to operate.

Most people don’t own homes outright. They often have monthly debt obligations. This is called a mortgage. Who do they pay? They pay an institution called a bank, which legally possesses the property. Not paying the mortgage is a breach of the legal agreement between the bank and the property owner, and the bank can then take away the property. This is called foreclosure. The same thing happens when you don’t pay your property taxes. The state then has the legal authority to kick you to the curb.

So, why appeal to landlords and property management companies when it’s the banks and the State that have more power in the overall housing picture?

The letter goes on to state the obvious in regards to a community that has built its future on tourism and service sector jobs:

“As you are no doubt aware, a large percentage of the workers in the Missoula area are dependent on service sector jobs for their incomes. Jobs that have all but disappeared in the wake of the closures that are necessary to attempt to slow the spread of this disease.”

The letter states that “putting people out on the street at this time would create a further burden on social services that are already stretched too thin.”

The letter points out that although there is expected to be some assistance from the state and federal governments, that assistance is not likely to arrive before April 1 when rent is due, and is not going to completely replace lost wages.

What a great and inspiring appeal from our elected leaders! I’m sure the recipients of this appeal will quickly risk foreclosure since City Council members asked so nicely.

While City Council uses the power of the pen to beg landlords to be considerate, I sit here and think about things like how many hotel rooms sit empty and how many millions of dollars in public money are still earmarked for projects that don’t make sense anymore.

I hope our elected leaders get more creative in how they think about the immense problems we are facing. This letter doesn’t leave me with a lot of hope that our current crop of council critters are up to the task.

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Governor Bullock Orders Shelter In Place Order For Montana Until April 10th, So What Exactly Does That Mean?

by William Skink

The shelter in place order issued by Governor Bullock is not in effect yet, so the vehicular travel my parents engaged in to get from their house to my house for their granddaughter’s birthday party is permissable travel. Come Saturday it’s unclear to me whether or not traveling to a family member’s birthday party will be sanctioned by the state.

Another form of travel worth considering as essential is the take-a-drive-or-stay-at-home-and-lose-your-shit travel that many parents will be utilizing since going to the gym or a yoga class is no longer an option.

Since the awesome power of the state is being flexed to shut down businesses in order to flatten the curve and keep our health care system from being overrun, which hotels are going to be commandeered to provide immediate housing for the homeless?

Shelters are still open, and the homeless are exempt from the order.

Oh, so the overcrowded homeless shelter can stay overcrowded while all these draconian rules are imposed on everyone else. Got it.

Bullock’s order for everyone (accept homeless people) to engage in social distancing and shelter in place is going to last until April 10th. God help us.

Now, for a full list of what’s still open, here’s the breakdown from our helpful corporate rag, the Missoulian:

  • Stores that sell groceries and medicine
  • Liquor stores
  • Food and beverage production
  • Agriculture operations
  • Organizations that provide charitable and social services
  • Media
  • Gas stations and businesses needed for transportation, like auto supply and repair shops and bicycle shops
  • Financial and real estate services and institutions
  • Hardware and supply stores
  • Critical trades, like construction, plumbers, electricians, exterminators, cleaning and janitorial staff for commercial and governmental properties, security staff and more
  • Mail, post, shipping, logistics, deliver, and pick-up services
  • Educational institutions, but only to facilitate remote learning. Closure orders still remain in place for public K-12 schools and universities
  • Laundry services, such as laundromats and dry cleaners
  • Restaurants for consumption off-premises
  • Business that sell supplies to work from home, including computers and audio and video electronics
  • Firearms and ammunition suppliers and retailers, for purposes of safety and security
  • Transportation, including airlines, taxis, Uber and Lyft, vehicle rental services and more
  • Home-based care and services
  • Residential facilities and shelters
  • Professional services, like legal, accounting, insurance, information technology and real estate services. The state and federal tax deadline has been extended to July 15
  • Manufacture, distribution and supply chain for critical products and industries.
    Critical labor union functions
  • Hotels and motels
  • Funeral services
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Are We Living In 12 Monkeys?

by William Skink

If you think you have the fortitude to grapple with what’s coming, give yourself a gut check, then watch this:

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Good Alternative News Sources And Bad Solutions From Authoritarians

by William Skink

While the information realm known as “alternative media” is comprised of lots of unhelpful noise and garbage, I’ve found value in wading in with an open mind to think differently about the events shaping our lives.

Two of the most helpful sites I’ve been regularly visiting as this global pandemic has been rolled out have been Moon of Alabama and The Last American Vagabond.

UPDATE: I need to add Liberty Blitzkrieg as a great site to check out.

One of the things that most concerns me is the types of solutions that will be put into action in response to the threat of this global pandemic. If you’ve never heard of the term “continuity of government”, I suggest checking out Whitney Webb’s new piece at The Last American Vagabond where she landed after leaving Mint Press. Here’s a peak:

Last week, Newsweek published a report entitled “Inside The Military’s Top Secret Plans If Coronavirus Cripples the Government,” which offers vague descriptions of different military plans that could be put into effect if the civilian government were to be largely incapacitated, with a focus on the potential of the current novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic to result in such a scenario.

The article’s author, William Arkin, largely frames these plans as new, though — buried deep within the article — he eventually mentions that such contingency plans can be traced back to the Eisenhower administration (though they were in place before) and have since been developed and updated by most subsequent administrations, largely through the issuance of executive orders. Arkin also points out that some of these “Continuity of Government”, or COG, plans include the “devolution” of leadership and Constitutional authority, which he notes “could circumvent the normal Constitutional provisions for government succession, and military commanders could be placed in control around America.”

Yet, there are key aspects of COG and its development that Arkin leaves out. For instance, in his timeline on how such plans have developed in the post-World War II era, he conveniently fails to mention any of the Reagan administration’s major changes to COG, including the Reagan-era Executive Order on which all current COG programs are based. Indeed, many of the “extra-Constitutional” aspects of COG that Arkin mentions began during the Reagan administration, when these plans were redrafted to largely exclude members of Congress, including the Speaker of the House, from succession plans and even moved to essentially eliminate Congress in the event of COG being implemented, with near total power instead being given to the executive branch and the military. It was also during this time that the “devolution” aspect of COG was hammered out, as it created three president-cabinet “teams” to be stationed in different parts of the country outside of the nation’s capital. Arkin’s decision to not mention how COG was a major focus of the Reagan administration is striking given that that administration poured hundreds of millions of dollars annually into COG planning and development and also conducted COG drills on a regular basis.

Continuity of government planning is one of those “solutions” we should be paying close attention to because it’s an actual plan, refined over the decades, to remove the constitutional protections we naively assume we will retain in a national emergency.

Other solutions that authoritarians won’t be able to resist implementing will be going cashless and ramping up surveillance. Can’t let an amazing opportunity like this go to waste, right?

On the garbage end of alternative media exist the everything hoaxers, people like former Montana blogger Mark Tokarski who claim this whole CoVid 19 virus doesn’t exist. I still check in at his website to see how his followers maintain their fierce denialism. It is actually quite impressive.

I should be more charitable. We are all experiencing disorientation and anxiety over what is happening. I’d say more, but I hear trouble brewing in the kitchen. Gotta go for now…

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The Dangerous Delusion That We Can Return To Business As Usual

by William Skink

If there is a conflict between business interests and public interests who do you think comes out on top?

This whole social distancing thing is really getting worrisome for CEOs and investors. These addicts of Fed liquidity crack are realizing that all the liquidity crack in the world (conjured out of thin air) can’t tame the quadrillion dollar derivative black hole they created.

I’m not kidding when I say a quadrillion dollars. This is from Investopedia:

The derivatives market is, in a word, gigantic – often estimated at more than $1.2 quadrillion on the high end. How can that be? Largely because there are numerous derivatives in existence, available on virtually every possible type of investment asset, including equities, commodities, bonds and foreign currency exchange. Some market analysts even place the size of the market at more than 10 times that of the total world gross domestic product (GDP).

Yesterday our crony capitalist system reached an important benchmark when Trump articulated the importance of getting back to work ASAP. Trump’s lips may have been moving, but they were being animated by the hand of people like Lloyd Blankfein of Goldman Sachs and Texas Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, who are claiming that vulnerable populations should sacrifice themselves to save the economy.

But save the economy for who?

Here in Missoula, the need to keep business deals going is the reason cited by City Council to justify their unanimous vote last night to bestow Herr Engen with more power:

On a 7-0 vote, the council approved Monday granting Engen the temporary power to approve contracts and agreements that normally require council approval. Councilors Mirtha Becerra, Bryan von Lossberg, Amber Sherrill, John Contos and Julie Merritt were absent.

“I think this is a real common-sense approach to eliminate a lot of the housekeeping business that … we do,” said Councilor Gwen Jones. “But a bigger issue for me also is that we’re getting these contracts out the door so that we’re lining up business for the summer so we can keep people employed.”

These temporary powers are being handed over to Engen because Council members are afraid to be in the same room with each other, and if they can’t legally meet then business contracts could be stalled. Why not meet remotely? It’s difficult, says Jordan Hess, who wants us to know they aren’t abdicating their duty:

Councilor Jordan Hess also emphasized that he takes the council’s role as a check on power very seriously, but felt this was a smart decision.

Hess said the city is looking at ways for the council to potentially move meetings online, but said that is difficult legally. He said Missoula is looking to other cities around the state to see how they are doing remote meetings and finding ways to engage the public that “might actually make us better after this crisis passes in terms of ways of engaging.”

So, as Council tries to figure out a tech-fix, our Mayor will have extended powers until April 30th.

Remember, this is the Mayor who thought a hand shake with the Carlyle Group was sufficient to make a deal. The same Mayor who is an alcoholic and turned a serious intervention about his behavior into a reelection campaign. The same Mayor who sneakily moved up a vote on Lord Checota’s Big D(rift) to avoid public scrutiny. The same Mayor who appears to be involved in some ethically dubious real estate deals.

I could go on.

Maybe in a few weeks our elected leaders will begin to realize that there is no going back to business as usual. Maybe they will realize that there are actual, real life consequences to kicking a quadrillion dollar can down the road for a decade while Herr Engen tossed out TIF money to developers and encouraged voters to pass tens of millions of dollars in bonds for parks and libraries and schools because 3% annual growth was going to keep happening forever and ever.

The quicker they realize this the quicker we can get to work on remaking a system that actually puts public interest ahead of CEOs and investors who contributed to a financial house of cards that is now crashing all around us.

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A Note To Parents On The Joys One Can Expect From Distance Learning

by William Skink

This post is for all you parents out there: what the fuck are we going to do?

I try to frequently remind myself of how lucky my family is. The kids have a big yard to play in, my parents live here and help us out tremendously, and we have savings to fall back on.

That said, the kids are already driving us insane.

Last week was spring break, so we were prepared for the kids to be around and demanding our attention from the second they wake up to the end of the day, when we finally get a reprieve. But this week? And the next week? And the next after that?

My wife and I have already resigned ourselves to the likelihood our kids won’t be going back to school for the rest of the year. We are trying to download apps and are awaiting emails from teachers either today or tomorrow to give us further instruction.

We haven’t even begun to do this “distance learning” thing, but our first stabs of getting things set up online has me already deeply sympathizing with this Israeli mom and her rapid-fire rant about distance learning with her four kids:

There are so many huge sections of the population already being significantly impacted by the Coronavirus who need help, but if parents don’t get the support they need then the impacts on an entire generation of kids will be much more traumatizing.

A few days ago my little girl was telling me that it makes her sad she can’t see her friends, and she can’t go to gymnastics, and she can’t go to school, so we do our best to explain what is going on.

But I’m not going to bullshit my kids, they are too smart for that, so if I don’t know that answer to something, I say so. If I am worried about something, I explain what exactly is worrying me.

Obviously I maintain a filter. I’m not going to describe all my worries to my kids because they still need the space to be kids. It’s a difficult balance that I don’t always do a good job of maintaining, just ask my wife.

That’s all for now. The little beasts have finished their breakfast, so it’s all hands on deck.

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