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Archive for the ‘Public Policy’ Category

I started off in 1966 at a college in Beacon Hill. Our children were born in the Berkshires. We spent every Spring on Martha’s Vineyard. I’ve always loved the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, and I remember fondly strolling around the Boston Commons watching the gorgeous swan boats in the pond. So I was a tad surprised when Bob mentioned, “the tragedy of the commons” while we were listening to President Cuomo. Our lives in New England were the opposite of tragic!

Turns out this is the perfect term to describe where we find ourselves today – starting to reopen the country amid a cultural war over masks.

“The tragedy of the commons is an economic problem in which every individual has an incentive to consume a resource at the expense of every other individual with no way to exclude anyone from consuming. It results in overconsumption, under investment, and ultimately depletion of the resource. As the demand for the resource overwhelms the supply, every individual who consumes an additional unit directly harms others who can no longer enjoy the benefits. Generally, the resource of interest is easily available to all individuals; the tragedy of the commons occurs when individuals neglect the well-being of society in the pursuit of personal gain.”  https://www.investopedia.com/terms/t/tragedy-of-the-commons.asp

Bob usually has no luck trying to interest me in economics, but this was different, it’s behavioral economics. The tragedy (sometimes called “paradox”) of the commons refers to selfish individuals going after a “common” resource, like toilet paper, only to undermine its infrastructure causing the total collapse of the resource. And supposedly its origin is from the Old English – 18th Century settlers who would let their animals out to graze in the park at the center of town, the commons. This would result in very little park left for the people, or the animals for that matter.

Remember, in Europe only the wealthiest landowners had beautiful parks and gardens behind high, closed walls to enjoy. Designing parks in the center of our colonial cities represented America’s wish to avoid another class/caste system. And so we had a paradox. Over time, the “tragedy of the commons” came to represent not just landscape destruction, but road and bridge decay as well. It became a metaphor for power and authority trampling over the common good.

Whenever the ME became more important than the WE.

Last night I tuned into Netflix to watch The Great Hack. It is a stunning documentary that helps to explain how we actually got here in the first place! I’ve become accustomed to seeing ads for something I was looking up on one site appear on another, but I had no idea how incredibly my data, and yours, have been harvested, tracked and targeted – in particular by governments and political parties. The film delves into Cambridge Analytica, and how they weaponized our data to influence our 2016 election.

Maybe you’re not one to watch horror movies during a pandemic, but this shows you how, without a drop of blood, Mr T the first ME president, was elected by 0.23% in Michigan!

“…this data trail is being leveraged against us, every day: to sell us things, get us to vote or to stay home from the polls, to divide or unite us according to the whims of whoever has paid enough to take our digital threads and weave them into a web of their own desires….

It uses the scandal as a framework to illustrate the data mining structures and algorithms that are undermining individual liberty and democratic society, one Facebook like and meme at a time.”  https://www.wired.com/story/the-great-hack-documentary/

It’s strange isn’t it? The Boston Tea Party of 1773 kicked off our liberation from colonialism, and Mark Zuckerberg turned a dating site for Harvard’s elite students into a data capturing monolith. From his dorm room, long after I was walking through the Commons to Filene’s Basement. Could it be that this great technological connection we are all needing more and more, isn’t at all about the WE?

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Like the phases of the moon, our country has slowly moved from embracing conservative, anti- (big)-government ideology toward a more socialist democracy, and back again. In the 18th Century, we threw off the mantle of a king, and instituted checks and balances with our elected leaders in Congress. It was working pretty well for awhile and our political ship was trending toward starboard.

Then in 1994, Newt Gingrich happened.

Wanting to bring back orphanages was actually not a part of Newt’s “Contract with America,” he was just “thinking aloud.” Wanting to build more prisons and give tax breaks to millionaires was! He started complaining about “big media,” and comparing Democrats to Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. Sound familiar?

“The states’ main fear is that if the federal government could not legally run a deficit, it would simply pass on safety, environmental, health, and other obligations to the states, without giving them the money to pay for new programs. Congress’s habit of enacting “unfunded mandates” has been the major strain on state budgets in the last decade. A federal balanced-budget amendment would likely make it worse.”

His nightmare scenario has come true, Mr T passes on everything, including his responsibility, in this public health emergency to the states. When I watched Gov Andrew Cuomo in his  daily presser, complain about having to get in a bidding war with other states just to acquire life-saving PPE and ventilators, I thought we were deranged… and when he said FEMA would jump in and UP the price even more, I knew we were deranged and possibly doomed.

I remembered reporting on Rumson Borough Council meetings in the 90s, how this Republican group of mostly old, white men waxed on about unfunded federal mandates. They choked at the idea. And just the other day, Mitch McConnell (a modern day Newt) told states to declare bankruptcy??

This morning I found this article about a billionaire enlightening in a creepy way. How does American capitalism work, how should business work; for the greater good, or for their investors’ greater bank accounts?  https://www.nytimes.com/2020/04/28/business/coronavirus-marc-benioff-salesforce.html?action=click&module=News&pgtype=Homepage

In a nutshell, The Chancellor of the University of California San Francisco could see the writing on the wall in early March. Cases of Covid were starting to skyrocket and he knew his medical center’s supply of PPE was low. So he called his buddy, the billionaire and “hyper-connected” donor, Marc Benioff, the CEO of Salesforce.

“…that phone call set off a frenzied effort by Mr. Benioff and his team that drew in major companies like FedEx, Walmart, Uber and Alibaba. In a matter of weeks, Mr. Benioff’s team spent more than $25 million to procure more than 50 million pieces of protective equipment. Fifteen million units have already been delivered to hospitals, medical facilities and states, and more are on the way.

The relative ease with which Salesforce acquired so much protective gear stands in sharp contrast to the often chaotic government efforts. While states have had to compete against each other for scarce supplies and the strategic national stockpile of protective gear is depleted, Mr. Benioff and his team simply called up their business partners in China and started writing checks.”

 

Some might call Mr Benioff a saint, but while I found his actions altruistic, I was concerned that our country had to depend on his beneficence. Do we live in a democracy with a small “d” or is this an oligarchy, or a kleptocracy?

I sent a box of Lysol wipes and Formula 409 out to the Rocker and Aunt Kiki in LA last week, and somebody stole most of the contents en route. We are making masks in our kitchen and we can’t find disinfectant wipes, but Benioff can find a warehouse full of N95 masks from China in LA? To make matters worse, Republicans are still trying to repeal the Affordable Care Act. https://www.vanityfair.com/news/2020/03/republicans-could-kill-obamacare-in-the-middle-of-coronavirus-recovery

As our quarantine wanes piecemeal, state by state, we must remember this time in history when governors had to beg to save peoples’ lives.

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Anyone else having pandemic dreams? We’ve reversed our dream life lately; Bob has been having Covid nightmares and I can’t seem to recall my dreams.

Normally, I have a vivid and colorful dream or two every night, while Bob wakes up empty handed in the morning. He’ll listen stoically over coffee while I regale him with my nightly scenario, only to tell me he’s got nothing. I insist he must have been dreaming, he just can’t remember.

My dreams are the usual anxiety type – “I’m about to take a test and realize I never went to the class,” or “I’m about to get on a plane and the pilot is someone I know who doesn’t know how to fly.” They are actually pretty straight forward, and sometimes my dreams are a reminder to do something I’ve been putting off, like make an appointment with a dentist.

Good luck with that one now, although I could drive to Georgia to get a tattoo!

This morning, for the first time in weeks, almost 6 weeks in fact, I remembered my dream. I was in charge of a theatrical production and I’d promised a script to someone… I was running around but I couldn’t find it. (This is me. Every. Damn. Day with my phone) so I had to go outside… to find the script or the person. And the outside was like the outside of my original high school in NJ, only the sidewalk was crowded with people. I had to yell at everyone to “Make Way!” It was like the parting of the sea, get out of my way, “Back Up!”

Obviously a quarantine dream. Bob, on the other hand, has been dreaming like crazy! He gets into a situation and realizes he’s too close to someone. Or he’s all of sudden surrounded by people and has to figure the safest, best way out.

In general, fear is the dominant emotion manifested by coronavirus dreams. When fear or anxiety becomes too intense during our waking lives, deep, REM sleep fails and we may experience repetitive nightmares. Psychologists say that sharing your dreams with others may help .

“During our dream states, stress sends the brain on a trip. The neurobiological signals and reactions that produce dreams are similar to those triggered by psychedelic drugs, according to McNamara. Psychedelics activate nerve receptors called serotonin 5-HT2A, which then turn off a part of the brain called the dorsal prefrontal cortex. The result is known as “emotional disinhibition,” a state in which emotions flood the consciousness, especially during the rapid eye movement (REM) stage of sleep, when we typically dream.”  https://www.nationalgeographic.com/science/2020/04/coronavirus-pandemic-is-giving-people-vivid-unusual-dreams-here-is-why/

During the 60s, I didn’t really participate in the psychedelic drug scene, remember I went to Catholic school. The whole idea of walking around inside a hallucination never appealed to me, I’d rather be asleep on such a phantasmagorical journey. But this global pandemic is novel, it’s not confined by country or ideology. We are all experiencing a kind of PTSD, well most of us who aren’t driving around with Confederate flags on our pick-ups eager to open up commerce cause, ya know.

They’d rather sacrifice lives and die than have their liberty trampled! Who doesn’t need a good haircut about now?

I’m sick and tired of the vernacular of fear. Of a toddler/president who thinks everybody loves him. Of a government that can’t organize a simple supply chain for SWABS! I’m sleep and dream deprived but I’m not willing to give up now, not when my daughter has spent the last 3 days working in an ER.

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My kitchen looks like a sweatshop.

There’s the ironing board facing you across from the refrigerator, with its proud Rowenta iron sitting center stage. And a Singer sewing machine has replaced the French placemats at our dining table in this “open-concept” main living/eating room. Scraps of Bob’s Pati de St Barth old tee shirts are littering every available surface, waiting to be cut into straps for face masks… a relatively easy thing to make; like riding a bike for me.

In another life I used to quilt. I would make Log Cabin baby quilts and aprons with a Dresden plate pattern. I’d make Wedding Ring pillows in calico cotton. In another world on a mountain in New England, when my babies would nap I would sew.

But in this world, my daughter calls her Father to go over the protocol she will use for dressing in PPE for her upcoming shift. The Groom is On Call now, in the Covid ICU, following the same ritual of showering in their Red Zone before returning to his family, the same ritual that the Bride was using before Passover. She was just fitted today for her very own N95 mask, a month after our quarantine.

Weeks after a kind neighbor dropped off a few N95 masks for her – he had been in the construction industry.

But my daughter will still need cotton face masks, her colleagues will all need masks, to prolong the life of their surgical masks. Because in this great country, this administration has failed to provide the weapons for this war. In fact, we should all be wearing masks now if we must venture outside.

So instead of having a mental meltdown this past week, Bob and I are making masks!

There was one day that I didn’t bother to change out of my nightgown. One day when catastrophic thinking got the best of me. Nashville has been on lockdown for a month now; we’ve figured out how to use Shipt to get groceries delivered, we’ve mastered the art of Zooming, this “new normal” was almost becoming acceptable. Then, like many others lately, I hit a wall.

I could barely move.

This morning on Morning Joe, I listened to Norman Ornstein talk about his son Matthew, who struggled with mental illness for a decade before it claimed his life. Tonight on PBS, Ornstein’s documentary, “The Definition of Insanity,” will debut – it will tackle the stigma that still constricts our society around mental illness. The Catch 22 of trying to get our loved ones to take medication, only to have them stop and descend into psychosis, until they are hospitalized or jailed, and the cycle repeats itself.

“At age 24, Matthew had a sudden psychotic break, and that began a difficult decade-long journey for him and for his family and friends. … Matthew was particularly afflicted by one component of his illness: anosognosia, the inability of a person to recognize that he or she is ill. Since Matthew was over 18, neither family members nor professionals had any legal authority to get him treatment for the symptoms that kept him from living a stable life.”  https://www.nytimes.com/2015/11/17/opinion/how-to-help-save-the-mentally-ill-from-themselves.html

Whenever we do get back to “normal,” when we reopen the country, I’m sure we will see a spike in mental illness – it will have an inverse effect. As Corona admissions go down, the need for psychiatric beds will go up. Agoraphobia, “The abnormal fear of being in crowds, public places, or open areas, sometimes accompanied by anxiety attacks” will skyrocket. Maybe because my foster mother Nell never liked leaving the house, this is something I struggle with on a good day.

But not today. Today we will drive to see Great Grandma Ada and Hudson and Bob will sort their pills in a vestibule while I talk through the glass. Today we will drive-thru Krispy Kreme for donuts to deliver to the Grands. We will stand at the edge of their yard and talk for a little while. And we will continue to walk Ms Bean outside, carefully avoiding other people in the street.

Today we will make more face masks.

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Hello again. 541 confirmed cases of Covid-19 in Davidson County this morning.

TN Governor Bill Lee has finally issued a state-wide “Safer at Home” order.  It’s anyone’s guess if it will be enforceable since he doesn’t like mandates. So before hunkering down for the long haul, Bob and I ventured out to 2 grocery stores; because I tried an Amazon delivery from Whole Foods again, and once you get to the check-out page they inform you there are NO delivery windows.

The Bride told us that a new Turnip Truck had just opened in her neck of the woods – and they have hand sanitizer and toilet paper!!! Plus, they have gloves for shoppers to don at the front of the store! So we ventured out last night around suppertime.

The Turnip Truck is an East Nashville institution. They combine the best of Trader Joe’s with Whole Foods and I always loved shopping there. Their produce is pretty much like going to a Farmer’s Market, plus you know exactly where all their meat and fish are sourced, and the prices are affordable. It is the Portlandia of food emporiums.

It was actually a great experience. The people working there seemed happy and helpful AND they kept their distance. We only picked up a few things since we had a BIG list for the following day, today, at PUBLIX.

Publix has decided to designate the hour of 7am – 8am for senior shopping, (just like Whole Foods which is every day), BUT at Publix it’s only TWO days a week – Tuesday and Wednesday. What a nuisance. Our local midtown store just recently opened, and it’s smaller and geared toward young, working professionals. We walked in at 7:30 this morning and the workers were stocking shelves and NOT keeping their distance. There were many people shopping who were young, no one was outside screening people.

It was a disappointing trip to say the least, the only plus was that nobody appeared sick. But as we know, the virus can spread before symptoms show up….so Bob and I decided to try and stick with delivery systems only going forward. I’m happy to have a restaurant meal now and then, but cooking is something that gives me pleasure and we need all the pleasure we can find these days.

In fact I love following Nashville’s own Chopped Chef Maneet Chauhan, Ina Garten and Eric Ripert on Instagram. They are always churning out videos of comforting, simple meals you can make at home. Whether it’s watching a pot of Bolognese simmer on Ina’s stove, or watching Eric make a quick chicken and red wine stew, I’m finding myself longing to cook at home.

Except for famous chefs, most celebrity culture has taken a beating in this brave new self-isolating-social-media world. I have to admit I got pretty tired of watching Ellen call all her famous friends and ask what they’re doing. I mean it’s OK for singers to try out some new tunes, but when celebrities film what they are doing in the midst of their gorgeous estates it is a bit tone-deaf.

“Staying home is my superpower,” the “Wonder Woman” star Gal Gadot reported from her walk-in closet. Ryan Reynolds urged his fans to “work together to flatten the curve” from within his rustic loft. When Jennifer Lopez posted a video of her family sheltering in the backyard of Alex Rodriguez’s vast Miami compound, the public snapped.

“We all hate you,” was one representative response.

https://www.nytimes.com/2020/03/30/arts/virus-celebrities.html?searchResultPosition=1

I’m staying home for my daughter the Bride, who is working in her ER without enough PPE for everyone, so she is reusing masks and covering N95 masks with homemade cloth masks to make them last longer. I’m staying home for the Groom who is preparing his ICU for the tsunami of patients to come.

Who are you staying home for?

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Yesterday, Bob was outside the front door doing some weeding. Our raised bed of vegetables is on the south side of the house, not within the confines of our fenced-in garden. I was stringing a few pearls together in my first pandemic necklace when I heard him yell, “Honey, come here, quick.”

He told me all about the fat and healthy red fox that had just strolled around the front corner of the house under a holly bush. They were an arm’s length away from each other. Of course Bob saw him (or her) the very second his hand was pulling up a weed – as they locked eyes I’m sure they were both shocked! The fox immediately took off across our not/so/busy street and around an apartment building.

Imagine that, in a city of a million and a half people, nature can still find a way.

This is day #13 of quarantine. I’ve stopped watching the White House Pressers about the Coronavirus, they only serve to bolster Mr T’s fragile ego. He is selling us a fool’s paradise, and I for one am not buying his lies.

But I am crossing off the days on my old-fashioned paper calendar, eager to put each day behind me. Luckily Ms Bean requires a slow-walk each and every day, sometimes three! And now that the sun has returned and Spring has arrived, these meditative walks are a kind of salvation.

They are a way to still the noises in my head, all the “what ifs” and “if onlys.” A stroll around the neighborhood tethered to Ms Bean keeps me here, grounded in the Present. This morning, the sun has come up and the temperature will climb to 80 degrees. The rain has stopped for now. And while drinking coffee and reading my online papers, I noticed a tiny headline: “Yale Happiness Course Takes Off.”

It seems that since December, this online course titled “The Science of Well Being” has enrolled 1.3 million people worldwide. https://www.bbc.com/news/world-us-canada-52055242

Now, when over half a million people around the world are infected with the Coronavirus, and everyone is isolating themselves to flatten the curve, and the Bride is donning her PPE and caring for patients in her ER, and the Groom is planning to make ICU beds appear all over his hospital, and we can’t visit Great Grandma Ada and Hudson, and we can’t hug the Love Bug or tickle L’il Pumpkin…

Now more than ever, I have to keep hope alive.

“People in these situations tend to either look backwards for solutions or ruminate about possible futures: Will I go back to work? Will I be able to afford getting sick? Can I support my family if they get sick?

“While both those abilities are very adaptive in solving immediate problems or challenges or an immediate threat, they’re very harmful in situations like the one we’re in the middle of where the threat is ambiguous, the duration is unknown.”

It’s important to mention that only here, in the US, are people worried about hospital bills. Only here, in our great country, would someone not seek emergency medical treatment because they are afraid it would bankrupt them.

While waiting for the spike of this curve, we have to keep hope alive. And one way to do it is to stay in the PRESENT. Mindfulness isn’t easy during a pandemic. I notice every little flower on my walks, every flowering vine that threatens to engulf a mailbox. I would usually bring my phone with me, to take pictures, but it’s better if I leave it at home and stay present.

CONNECTING WITH OTHERS is another way to support our sanity. We’ve been Facetiming with the Rocker and Aunt KiKi. They have dueling desks set up in their California home and have had Zoom conferences with colleagues. The Bride turned me onto Marco Polo, an APP that’s like video texting, and we’ve been having fun with friends just capturing a snippet of time each day. Steve sent us video of a huge hawk in his yard yesterday! And of course, we talk on the phone too.

Yesterday we walked around the Bride’s neighborhood looking for teddy bears in windows. It was so hard to stay ten feet apart, to not touch the children.

The third linchpin of well being is a daily PRACTICE of GRATITUDE. Bob and I have been doing this on a pretty regular basis before bed. I can’t watch the news at night these days, but I can recall small pleasures during the day, things that bring me joy. Sometimes it’s just the sound of Ms Bean snoring, or a tulip that popped up under the cherry tree. Sometimes it’s the young man who delivers a restaurant meal. We can always name three things we’re grateful for.

Like the red fox foraging under the holly.

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A “ride or die” friend is someone you would pledge your undying loyalty to until the bitter end. Like Thelma and Louise, you’d go over a cliff with them if that’s what it takes. From the Urban Dictionary:

“Ride or Die was originally a biker term meaning if you couldn’t ride you’d rather die. It has now changed to mean anyone (wife, boyfriend, best friend), that you will “ride” ANY problems out with them or “die” trying. The “ride” doesn’t always have to be a negative either. “

This is the rubric our president has been using lately in appointing cabinet members.

While all eyes were focusing on Nevada, and the mainstream media is still trying to figure out Bernie Sanders, our Dictator-in-Chief has unleashed his vindictive wrath on anyone who appears to have not pledged their loyalty to him. The Senate gave him a pass and he is NOT chastened; in fact, Mr T loves firing people so much – staffers he deems Never Trumpers, or competent people who tell him the truth like acting Intelligence Director Joe Maguire, or anyone who so much as looks at him fish-eyed – that he has supposedly compiled a Hit List!

WHAT IS WRONG WITH THIS PICTURE???

I myself never made a Hit List, but some kids do this kind of thing in middle school. They are usually kids who have been bullied or marginalized in some way. In the worst case scenarios, their parents own guns. Also, dictators make lists of their enemies.

When I woke up to hear that Mr T said, in India, that two women of the SCOTUS, the Notorious RBG and Sonia Sotomayor, should recuse themselves from future cases that may involve HIM, I nearly died. And just like any good toddler, or psychopath, he turned the tables, blaming Sotomayor for her statements about government interference. Please picture Trump, or any late night comedian, saying this in their most whiny, pitiful voice:

“I just thought it was so inappropriate, such a terrible statement for a Supreme Court justice,” he (Trump) said. “She’s trying to shame people with perhaps a different view into voting her way, and that’s so inappropriate . . . I’ve seen papers on it — people cannot believe that she said it.”  

I cannot believe that he said THAT! Also, I can’t actually believe anything he says. There is that.

I remember when Rumson Boro Councillors would get up and walk out of a meeting because they held some stock in a company that was being discussed, or maybe they had a son who was working for that company, they would rightly RECUSE themselves. Not because they held a different point of view. Not because they belonged to a different political party…

Somehow we’ve been trying to normalize Trump’s behavior, but we must stop. He is not only trying to surround himself with a ride or die White House of blind loyalists, he’s got the wife of one SCOTUS actively helping him with his list of disloyal staffers… that bears repeating, Justice Clarence Thomas’ lobbyist wife:

“These lists, created by a network of conservative activists called Groundswell that include Republican Senate staffer Barbara Ledeen and Ginni Thomas, wife of Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, have made their way to Trump and shaped his views re: who he can trust and who should be canned. For instance, a memo on Liu, reportedly reviewed by Trump shortly before her nomination was withdrawn, laid out 14 reasons why she was unfit for the Treasury job Steven Mnuchin had selected her for and included the fact that she: hadn’t acted on criminal referrals of some of Brett Kavanaugh’s accusers…”  https://www.vanityfair.com/news/2020/02/donald-trump-government-hit-list

Yesterday I had to look up “Rape in the 3rd Degree.” https://www.nysenate.gov/legislation/laws/PEN/130.25

Is our justice system blind? When the wife of a sexual harasser (remember Anita Hill), is helping the man who’s been accused of sexual abuse or misconduct or RAPE by at least 25 women, (I’m talking about Trump not Harvey Weinstein) well maybe our country is suffering from a kind of collective amnesia. Here’s a LIST for you: https://www.businessinsider.com/women-accused-trump-sexual-misconduct-list-2017-12

Our country is at a tipping point. If we don’t #VoteBlueNoMatterWho we’ll be the ones going off that cliff. We’ll be playing a dulcimer on the deck of the Titanic.

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