Monthly Archives: February 2020

THE FUTURE OF AMERICAN POLITICS

A column by David Brooks of the N.Y. Times tells us, “After tribal war, the politics of weaving.”

Men and women are primarily motivated by self-interest. No other partial truth has done as much damage as this one.

If you base your political and social systems on the idea that the autonomous self-interested individual is the basic unit of society, then you will wind up with an individualistic culture that widens the maneuvering room between people but shreds the relationships and community between people.

You will wind up with a capitalism in which superstar performers get concentrated in superstar cities and everybody else gets left behind. In a system based purely on competitive individual self-interest, those who are advantaged get to race out further ahead year by year. The sense of common community and equal dignity is annihilated.

This is the flaw of unrestrained liberalism, what the radicals call “neoliberalism” or “late capitalism.” And they are not entirely wrong.

Populists on the right and the left look at this current reality and they come to a swift conclusion: The game is rigged! Liberalism is a con! Then they come to a different conclusion. The essential logic of society is not actually individuals seeking their self-interest. It’s groups struggling for power. Society is an arena where certain groups crush other groups.

On the Trumpian right it’s the coastal cultural elite trying to crush and delegitimize the white Christian patriots of the heartland. On the cultural left it’s the whole Michael Foucault legacy. Language is a tool that the oppressor class uses to permanently marginalize the oppressed. On the economic left, it’s the Bernie Sanders class war. The greedy capitalist class rigs the system and immiserates the working class.

The populist narratives differ but all have the same underlying structure. We’re locked in a life-or-death struggle of oppressor vs. oppressed groups. It’s Us versus Them—the good people here and the bad people there. The problems in society didn’t just happen; they were consciously engineered by The Evil Other, who must be broken. Our very existence is at stake!

If the anthropology of unrestrained liberalism is the autonomous individual making his own way, the anthropology of populism is warrior ants in a ruthless tribal war. These are very different views of human nature, but they have something in common: Both narratives make us miserable!

In one, life is isolation, inequality and the feeling of being invisible. In the other, it’s malice, fear and constant war. And that’s because both of these political tendencies are wrong about human nature. They create societies that pulverize who we are and are made to be.

Human beings didn’t evolve into the world’s dominant species because we are more autonomous. We didn’t do it because we’re more vicious in tooth and claw. We thrived as a species because we are better at cooperation.

We evolved complex social networks in our brains to make us better at bonding, teaching and collaborating. We don’t cooperate only to get things we want individually. Often, we collaborate to build shared environments we can enjoy together. Often, we pick a challenge just so we can have the joy of collaborating. Relationships are ends to themselves.

Thus, the best future for American politics is not based on individual competition or group war. It’s based on this narrative: We are an incredibly diverse society that got good at collaboration because we had to. The best future politics puts collaborative pluralism, weaving, at the center.

That means, first, electing leaders who are masters at cooperation. No offense, but if you’re supporting Donald Trump or Bernie Sanders this year, collaboration skills are not high on your list of priorities.

Second, it means infusing cooperative weaver values into all of our organizations. There’s a fantastic community organization in Baltimore called Thread that has a few core competencies that shape its culture. We’d be in much better shape if every organization in America lived out these values:

Show all the way up. Be fully present, honest and vulnerable in all interactions. Recognize your own value. Push through discomfort to connect deeply with others.

Learn from all voices. Most of our challenges are complex. It takes every perspective to see an issue whole. Assume people have the best of intentions, and actively focus on the value they bring. Be intentional about being with those different from you.

Treat relationships as wealth. Human bonds are the chief resource of your organization. Recognize the inherent value of each person and meet each person where she or he is.

Fail forward. Life is iterative. Your vision is not always the answer, but rather a step in a creative learning process. Set up feedback mechanisms that support change and personal growth. Dogma won’t get you to the solution. Openness and adjustment will.

The third task of weaver politics is reforming institutions so they encourage collaboration. Some of our institutions, like Congress, have been completely subsumed by tribal warfare. Other institutions, as Yuval Levin writes in his book “A Time to Build,” are no longer formative places where we learn and serve; they have become platforms individuals use to broadcast their supreme selves.

Still other institutions have become dehumanized. Our schools, hospitals, prisons and welfare systems don’t embed people in thick relationships. They treat them as units to be processed and shoved out the door. Still other institutions cease to exist. Why do we still not have a national service program?

America has an enormous task of institutional reform ahead of it, just as it did in the Progressive era.

The fourth and final task of this kind of politics is transformative policies that directly address our most serious divides. For example, reparations are a way to acknowledge the wrongs inflicted on African-Americans and to begin to heal that breach. Congressman Ro Khanna has a proposal that would show rural America that everyone has a place in the new economy. He would fund research and technology hubs throughout the country—a land grant college system for the 21st century.

The politics of weaving grows out of the acknowledgement that there is no dominant majority in America. There is no moderate center. Your group will never pulverize and eliminate your opposing group. There’s no choice but to set up better collaborative systems across difference. This is not a problem, it’s an adventure.

Yes, human beings are partly selfish and self-interested. But we are also supremely social and collaborative. This is the part we have to work on now.

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THE HOMELESS CRISIS – TIMES TWO

The first part of the crisis is the shear numbers and how they have grown to numerous, uncomfortable and embarrassing levels. The second crisis is no one seems to know what to do about it.

Every politician has a somewhat different and changing position about how to deal with the problem, and so do I. It’s hard to know where to start or find much agreement on how to resolve the situation.

A researcher at the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) sums up the problem in a broader context.

By examining the problem of homelessness on a state level, we can better address the magnitude of the situation. California has the largest population of people experiencing homelessness with nearly 130,000, 90,000 of whom are unsheltered according to the Department of Housing and Urban Development. The city of San Francisco alone had a 30% increase in homelessness since 2015. New York has approximately 91,000 and Florida has over 31,000. California is in a state of crisis mainly to the lack of affordable housing and the significant housing shortage. The average house price in the Bay Area is $1.25 million. L.A. is the least affordable housing district in America.

Given these challenges, efforts to tackle homelessness through increased state involvement in the housing sector have not been able to yield the intended results. This strategy amounts to simply throwing money at the problem. Oregon has recently passed the first statewide mandatory rent-controlled bill for all citizens in March of this year as an emergency measure. Rent hikes are capped at 7 percent including inflation during any 12-month period. California is attempting to enact a legal “right to shelter” mandate modeled after that of New York in effect since 1981. Last year, New York spent $3.2 billion on services to house its homeless population and $1.5 billion on shelters. It has created a safe haven. The California “right to shelter” plan does not offer any specifics, yet California is spending tons of money with little signs of progress. California legislators have allocated $650 million, with $124 million for building more homeless shelters despite the majors’ request for $2 billion. The costs to build are much too high.

For another view, I turned to the N.Y. Times California Newsletter and spoke with Dr. Margot Kushel, a leading homelessness researcher.

Margot Kushel is having the moment she never wanted to have.

Dr. Kushel is an internist at the University of California, San Francisco. She started specializing in low-income populations shortly after graduating from the Yale School of Medicine, and has spent two decades researching the underlying causes and consequences of homelessness in relative anonymity.

Lately, however, she’s seen her profile rise, as the problem she has spent her career trying to solve has escalated.

Last year, Dr. Kushel was named director of an Institute For Homeless Research, which was endowed with $30 million from Marc Benioff, the billionaire founder of Salesforce. The initiative is focused on translating proven homeless solutions into widespread adoption and continuing to research what isn’t known.

Here’s the conversation, edited and condensed for length:

Tell me about your career and how you ended up specializing in homelessness.

When I started residency, I realized that approximately half of the inpatients we cared for were homeless. We would admit patients to the hospital, give them all this very high quality, expert medical care, and then, eventually, we would have to discharge patients back to their homelessness, meaning to outside. Patients would ask me to please not discharge them, but eventually we wouldn’t have a choice. Inevitably, a few days later, the patient would be back, often in worse shape than they had been in before. I remember thinking that there had to be a different way and decided to change my career plans.

Most people who become homeless “self-resolve,” meaning they find housing. We don’t know how long that takes, and whether we could shorten it substantially by intervening. We know that for most people, long-term subsidies are the answer, but there may be people who need shorter term help. We are going to try to figure out who needs what, while working to solve the main problem, which is the shortage of extremely low-income housing.

What would it take to end homelessness?

We’ve always known that most homelessness is a result, pure and simple, of poverty: the lack of a living wage, the lack of affordable housing and the insidious impact of racism. If we don’t fix the fundamentals, we are just patching a leaking ship. And that is what has happened.

It would take an investment in creating and sustaining extremely low-income housing and efforts to increase the minimum wage and to close the existing housing gap. Right now in California there are 22 units available and affordable for every 100 households with extremely low incomes.

What was the state of understanding our homelessness when you first got started versus what we know now?

When we first started, people believed that to provide housing, people needed to go through steps. First, a shelter. Then, if they “behaved well” (didn’t use drugs, took medicines, etc.), they could get to transitional housing. If they did everything “right” then they could be offered permanent housing. As a result, only a tiny proportion of people with behavioral disabilities became housed.

Housing First turned that upside down, recognizing that when people were homeless, they couldn’t attend to their mental health or substance use needs (or anything else). This has been enormously successful, housing about 85 percent of the most complex folks. There is overwhelming and incontrovertible evidence that this works—people are housed successfully, and then the other things follow.

What are some of the myths around homelessness?

You hear people saying things like, “You can’t just house people who have addiction problems.” You can, and you must. Another is that homelessness is caused by mental health and substance abuse problems. We know that most homelessness is driven by economic forces. The vast majority of people who become homeless could be easily housed if there were housing that they could afford on their income. Yes, having mental health and substance use problems are risk factors. But, most people with these disabilities are housed.

What don’t we know about homelessness?

There is a lot more work to be done in homelessness prevention. We know that for some people, a small infusion of resources (cash, services) can prevent homelessness. But, for every 100 or so people at high risk, only one will become homeless. So, we need to do a better job of figuring out who the potential homeless people are.

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QUICK LESSONS IN MANAGEMENT

Lesson 1:

A man is getting into the shower just as his wife is finishing up her shower, when the doorbell rings.

The wife quickly wraps herself in a towel and runs downstairs.

When she opens the door, there stands Bob, the next-door neighbor.

Before she says a word, Bob says, “I’ll give you $800 to dro0p that towel.”

After thinking for a moment, the woman drops her towel and stands naked in front of Bob. After a few seconds, Bob hands her $800 and leaves.

The woman wraps back up in the towel and goes back upstairs.

When she gets to the bathroom, her husband asks, “Who was that?”

“It was Bob, our next-door neighbor,” she replies.

“Great,” the husband says. “Did he say anything about the $800 he owes me?”

Lesson 2:

A priest offered a nun a lift.

She got in and crossed her legs, forcing her gown to reveal a leg.

The priest nearly had an accident.

After controlling the car, he stealthily slid his hand up her leg.

The nun said, “Father, remember Psalm 129?”

The priest apologized, “Sorry, sister, but the flesh is weak.”

Arriving at the convent, the nun sighed heavily and went on her way.

On his arrival at the church, the priest rushed to look up Psalm 129. It said, “Go forth and seek; further up, you will find glory.”

Lesson 3:

A sales rep, an administration clerk, and the manager are walking for lunch when they find an antique oil lamp.

They rub it and a Genie comes out.

The Genie says, “I’ll give each of you just one wish.”

“Me first, me first,” says the admin clerk. “I want to be in the Bahamas, driving a speedboat, without a care in the world.”

Puff! She’s gone.

“Me next, me next,” says the sales rep. “I want to be in Hawaii, relaxing on the beach with my personal masseuse, an endless supply of Pina Coladas and the love of my life.”

Puff! She’s gone.

“Okay, you’re up,” the Genie says to the manager.

The manager says, “I want those two back in the office after lunch.”

Lesson 4:

An eagle was sitting on a tree resting, doing nothing.

A small rabbit saw the eagle and asked him, “Can I also sit like you and do nothing?”

The eagle answered, “Sure, why not.”

So, the rabbit sat on the ground below the eagle and rested. All of a sudden, a fox appeared, jumped on the rabbit and ate it.

Lesson 5:

A turkey was chatting with a bull.

“I would love to be able to get to the top of that tree,” sighed the turkey, “but I haven’t got the energy.” “Well, why don’t you nibble on my droppings?” replied the bull. “They’re packed with nutrients.”

The turkey pecked at a lump of dung, and found it actually gave him enough strength to reach the lowest branch of the tree.

The next day, after eating some more dung, he reached the second branch.

Finally, after a fourth night, the turkey was proudly perched at the top of the tree.

He was promptly spotted by a farmer, who shot him out of the tree.

Lesson 6:

A little bird was flying south for the winter. It was so cold, the bird froze and fell to the ground into a large field.

While he was lying there, a cow came by and dropped some dung on him.

As the frozen bird lay there in the pile of cow dung, he began to realize how warm he was.

The dung was actually thawing him out!

He lay there all warm and happy, and soon began to sing for joy.

A passing cat heard the bird singing and came to investigate.

Following the sound, the cat discovered the bird under the pile of cow dung, and promptly dug him out and ate him.

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SOME MEDICAL FACTS NOT EVERYONE KNOWS

Here’s another fountain of useful information from Mitzi Thaler about medical facts you may not know.

Good things to know, from the Mayo Clinic

How many folks do you know who say they don’t want to drink anything before going to bed because they’ll have to get up during the night?

Heart attack and water – Drink one glass of water before going to bed to avoid a stroke or heart attack. I never knew this.

Why do people urinate so much at night? Answer from a cardiac doctor:

“Gravity holds water in the lower part of your body when you are upright (legs swell). When you lie down and the lower body (legs, etc.) seeks level with the kidneys, it is then that the kidneys remove the water because it is easier.”

You need to drink water to flush the toxins out of your body, but here’s some news about the correct time to drink water:

• Two glasses of water after waking up—helps activate internal organs
• One glass of water 30 minutes before a meal—helps digestion
• One glass of water before taking a bath—helps lower blood pressure
• One glass of water before going to bed—avoids stroke or heart attack

Water at bedtime will also help prevent nighttime leg cramps. Your leg muscles are seeking hydration when they cramp and wake you up with a Charlie Horse.

Mayo Clinic on Aspirin

Dr. Virend Somers is a cardiologist from the Mayo Clinic who is the lead author of a report in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology.

Most heart attacks occur in the day, general between 6am and noon. Having one during the night, when the heart should be most at rest, means that something unusual happened. Somers and his colleagues have been working for a decade to show that sleep apnea is to blame.

1. If you take an aspirin or a baby aspirin once a day, take it at night. The reason: aspirin has a 24-hour “half-life,” therefore, if most heart attacks happen in the wee hours of the morning, the aspirin would be strongest in your system.
2. Aspirin lasts a really long time in your medicine chest; for years (when it gets old, it smells like vinegar).

Something we can do to help ourselves—nice to know

Bayer is making crystal aspirin to dissolve instantly on the tongue. They work much faster than the tablets.

Why keep aspirin by your bedside? It’s about heart attacks.

There are other symptoms of a heart attack, besides the pain on the left arm. One must also be aware of an intense pain on the chin, as well as nausea and lots of sweating; however, these symptoms may also occur less frequently.

Note: There may be NO pain in the chest during a heart attack. The majority of people (about 60%) who had a heart attack during their sleep did not wake up. However, if it occurs, the chest pain may wake you up from your deep sleep. If that happens, immediately dissolve two aspirins in your mouth and swallow them with a bit of water.

Afterwards, call 000, phone a neighbor or a family member who lives very close by. Say “heart attack” and say that you have taken two aspirins. Take a seat on a chair or sofa near the front door and wait for their arrival and DO NOT LIE DOWN.

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