Later On

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Archive for the ‘Philanthropy’ Category

An effort specific to the US: A group wiped out $6.7 billion in medical debt, and it’s just getting started

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Yuki Noguchi has a report at NPR that describes an effort that would not make any sense in other advanced nations, but is important in the US, the only advanced nation that doesn’t put a high priority on ensuring that its citizens are healthy. Noguchi writes:

Soon after giving birth to a daughter two months premature, Terri Logan received a bill from the hospital. She recoiled from the string of numbers separated by commas.

Logan, who was a high school math teacher in Georgia, shoved it aside and ignored subsequent bills. She was a single mom who knew she had no way to pay. “I avoided it like the plague,” she says, but avoidance didn’t keep the bills out of mind.

“The weight of all of that medical debt — oh man, it was tough,” Logan says. “Every day, I’m thinking about what I owe, how I’m going to get out of this … especially with the money coming in just not being enough.”

Then a few months ago — nearly 13 years after her daughter’s birth and many anxiety attacks later — Logan received some bright yellow envelopes in the mail. They were from a nonprofit group telling her it had bought and then forgiven all those past medical bills.

This time, it was a very different kind of surprise: “Wait, what? Who does that?”

RIP Medical Debt does. The nonprofit has boomed during the pandemic, freeing patients of medical debt, thousands of people at a time. Its novel approach involves buying bundles of delinquent hospital bills — debts incurred by low-income patients like Logan — and then simply erasing the obligation to repay them.

It’s a model developed by two former debt collectors, Craig Antico and Jerry Ashton, who built their careers chasing down patients who couldn’t afford their bills.

“They would have conversations with people on the phone, and they would understand and have better insights into the struggles people were challenged with,” says Allison Sesso, RIP’s CEO. Eventually, they realized they were in a unique position to help people and switched gears from debt collection to philanthropy.

What triggered the change of heart for Ashton was meeting activists from the Occupy Wall Street movement in 2011 who talked to him about how to help relieve Americans’ debt burden. “As a bill collector collecting millions of dollars in medical-associated bills in my career, now all of a sudden I’m reformed: I’m a predatory giver,” Ashton said in a video by Freethink, a new media journalism site.

After helping Occupy Wall Street activists buy debt for a few years, Antico and Ashton launched RIP Medical Debt in 2014. They started raising money from donors to buy up debt on secondary markets — where hospitals sell debt for pennies on the dollar to companies that profit when they collect on that debt.

RIP buys the debts just like any other collection company would — except instead of trying to profit, they send out notices to consumers saying that their debt has been cleared. To date, RIP has purchased $6.7 billion in unpaid debt and relieved 3.6 million people of debt. The group says retiring $100 in debt costs an average of $1.

RIP bestows its blessings randomly. Sesso says it just depends on which hospitals’ debts are available for purchase. “So nobody can come to us, . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

18 August 2022 at 6:31 pm

A study gave cash and Cognitive Behavioral Therapy to men at risk of criminal behavior. 10 years later, the results are in.

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That something works and that it can be demonstrated that it works is totally unconvincing to many. Sad but true. reports in Vox:

What if someone told you that you could dramatically reduce the crime rate without resorting to coercive policing or incarceration? In fact, what if they said you could avert a serious crime — a robbery, say, or maybe even a murder — just by shelling out $1.50?

That’s such an incredibly good deal that it sounds too good to be true. But it’s been borne out by the research of Chris Blattman, Margaret Sheridan, Julian Jamison, and Sebastian Chaskel. Their new study provides experimental evidence that offering at-risk men a few weeks of behavioral therapy plus a bit of cash reduces the future risk of crime and violence, even 10 years after the intervention.

Blattman, an economist at the University of Chicago, never intended to conduct this study. But in 2009, he was hanging out with an acquaintance in Liberia named Johnson Borh, who showed him around the capital city of Monrovia. Since Blattman studies crime and violence, Borh took him to visit the pickpockets, drug sellers, and others living on the margins of society.

Along the way, they kept running into guys who were sitting on street corners, eking out a meager living by shining shoes or selling clothes. When these men spotted Borh, they’d run to give him a hug. Blattman recalls that when he asked the men how they knew Borh, they’d say something like, “I used to be like them,” and point to the nearby pickpockets or drug sellers. “But then I went through Borh’s program.”

That’s how Blattman learned about the program Borh had been running for 15 years: Sustainable Transformation of Youth in Liberia. It offered men who were at high risk for violent crime eight weeks of cognitive behavioral therapy. CBT, as it’s called, is a popular, evidence-based method of dealing with issues like anxiety, but Borh adapted the therapeutic strategy to deal with issues like violence and crime.

Meeting with a counselor in groups of around 20, the men would practice specific behavioral changes, like managing anger and exerting self-control. They’d also rehearse trying on a new identity unconnected to their past behavior, by changing their clothes and haircuts and working to reintegrate themselves into mainstream society through community sports, banks, and more.

Blattman wanted to formally study just how effective this kind of program could be. He decided to run a big randomized controlled trial with 999 of the most dangerous men in Monrovia, recruited on the street. The results were so promising that they’ve already inspired a sister program in a very different city: Chicago.

In Chicago, the murder rate is troublingly high, and the police fail to solve 95 percent of all shootings. Finding a way to prevent shootings and other violent crimes is an urgent priority — not only in that city, but across the US, as the recent mass shootings in Buffalo, New York, and Uvalde, Texas, remind us. Given that direct interventions like removing guns are largely blocked by political polarization, and trying to crack down on crime after the fact carries with it risks of policy brutality, we desperately need new solutions to the problem of violence.

Therapy plus cash was a surprisingly successful combo

The 999 Liberian men were split into four groups. Some received CBT, while others got $200 in cash. Another group got the CBT plus the cash, and finally, there was a control group that got neither.

A month after the intervention, both the therapy group and the therapy-plus-cash group were showing positive results. A year after the intervention, the positive effects on those who got therapy alone had faded a bit, but those who got therapy plus cash were still showing huge impacts: crime and violence were down about 50 percent.

But Blattman didn’t dare to hope that this impact would persist. Experts he surveyed predicted that the effects would steeply diminish over the years, as they do in many interventions.

So it was a great surprise when, 10 years later, he tracked down the original men from the study and reevaluated them. Amazingly, crime and violence were still down by about 50 percent in the therapy-plus-cash group.

Blattman estimates that there were 338 fewer crimes per participant over 10 years. Given that it had cost just $530 per participant to implement the program, that works out to $1.50 per crime avoided.

In short, it worked extremely well. But why did the combination of CBT and some cash work?

Practice makes perfect

The most plausible hypothesis, according to Blattman, is that . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

31 May 2022 at 5:14 pm

Personal Export Subsidies

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Atoms vs. Bits has a cute idea:

South Korea is one of the greatest development stories rarely told. In just 60 years, they’ve taken 50 million people from largely rural poverty to a higher GDP per capita than Japan’s – it’s a bonkers achievement. How did they do it?

Through export subsidies. For the full story, read How Asia Works, but the short version is that Korea strategically brought its manufacturing sector up to scratch by subsidising firms conditional on them successfully exporting products; that is, on selling things abroad on the open market to people who had plenty of other options and no particular reason to buy Korean.

Now, these goods weren’t truly worthy of market rates on day 1: the government did have to subsidise them. But, crucially, the government would only only subsidise companies that created some real, measurable value as judged by an external arbiter, and were on a good path to create more and more.

Both halves of “conditional subsidies” are important here. Take car-making, which Korea now excels at. Indonesia tried to subsidise car-making into existence by paying domestic manufacturers and banning the imports of foreign cars, giving its domestic carmakers a large captive audience who were forced to buy local. But this gave the car makers no real incentive to make good cars, so Indonesians suffered with bad cars, and you are not driving an Indonesian car today.

By contrast, any country that simply didn’t subsidise its car makers just… doesn’t have any carmakers. Manufacturing is one of those things with a “surprising amount of detail” –  that is, you need to develop a ton of detailed expertise and tacit knowledge about a very wide range of sub-problems, and for the first twenty years your products just won’t be able to compete equally with (e.g. and also specifically) Toyota. The diagnosis behind the “infant industry argument” – that if you don’t coddle your little baby industries somehow, they’ll never grow big and strong and economies-of-scaled enough to compete with mature rivals – makes a lot of sense, even if a lot of the proposed cures come with their own problems and abuses.

Export subsidies seem to have delivered the best of all worlds: support for the early stages of difficult pursuits, given by someone supportive and subjective (the South Korean government), but arbitrated by someone impartial and disinterested (the average international consumer). It makes you think….

Personal Export Subsidies

I find export subsidies a deeply interesting model, and specifically think they might be applicable on a personal scale, rather than a national one.

Whenever one person wants to invest in another person’s growth and development, you can look for ways to structure that support as a Personal Export Subsidy, if you can meet the following conditions:

  • actual value is being created….
  • … as judged by disinterested external parties that have genuine alternative options and actual skin in the game….
  • … but not enough value to compete un-subsidised on a truly open market, while the subsidy-recipient is still in the learning phase.

So paying your kid’s costs while they do a writing degree is not an export subsidy, it’s just a regular-subsidy. But promising to match any money they make from submitting freelance articles to magazines? This is what we’ll call a Personal Export Subsidy. By supplementing the money they make from successfully placing freelance articles, you’re letting an impartial external arbiter (the various magazines) decide whether your kid’s work is actually worth something, while acknowledging that in the early days you’ll need to increase that “something” for your kid to survive while climbing the ladder.

Here are a couple of examples of what Personal Export Subsidies might look like in practice.

Export Subsidise Your Teenager

The easiest example is . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

22 March 2022 at 1:48 pm

Orphanage built with money raised on YouTube

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Written by Leisureguy

16 March 2022 at 8:36 pm

Guttmacher Institute staff say a ‘toxic’ work culture has the reproductive rights research giant in a ‘death spiral’

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Guttmacher Institute offers an example of how power and privilege can result in ignorance and blindness, leading to a kind of corruption of power. Tina Vásquez writes in Prism:

Last year, the police murder of George Floyd sparked months of protests over police brutality and racism, and triggered calls for accountability across industries—including the reproductive rights, health, and justice field. In June 2020, the racial reckoning came to the Washington, D.C., office of internationally renowned sexual and reproductive health and rights research organization, Guttmacher Institute. Because of the pandemic, this reckoning came in the form of a disastrous Zoom meeting.

Guttmacher’s current vice president for public policy, Heather Boonstra, reportedly began the June 2 meeting with the Washington, D.C., public policy team by acknowledging the murder of Floyd and offering some thoughts about racism and the importance of Guttmacher’s work, according to employees who were present. She then invited staffers to discuss their feelings and share how they were “finding equilibrium.” Staff members suggested that Guttmacher put supportive policies in place for Black staff and other employees of color, including loosening deadlines and implementing more proactive and explicit policies for leave without penalty. Staffers also tried to get managers to agree to more training on racial equity and microaggressions that would go beyond what Guttmacher had already offered, which they said felt like “token efforts” where even the facilitator conceded not enough time had been alloted to “cover everything.”

Their suggestions were met with a chilly reception. According to multiple employees, when staff suggested Guttmacher do something tangible for Black employees in other divisions of the organization, Boonstra became frustrated. Why were staffers talking about “workplace problems” instead of “police brutality?” she reportedly asked.

“I’m here to talk about George Floyd and the other African American men who have been beaten up by society,” Boonstra reportedly said.

Then, staffers told Prism, she called them “self-centered,” and said she was “disappointed” by their behavior.

But the June 2 meeting certainly wasn’t the first time leadership at the 53-year-old-organization was alerted to the urgent need to better support Black employees and other staff of color. While Guttmacher is widely celebrated for producing quality research, policy, and analysis, it’s also increasingly the subject of a great deal of speculation from workers in the wider reproductive health, rights, and justice movement. News of the organization’s reported turmoil isn’t entirely a surprise for those who’ve been paying attention. There have been social media posts and negative online reviews from former employees. Internally, workers say they have used every tool at their disposal—exit interviews, surveys, formal complaints, and even whistleblower reports to the board—in an effort to get Guttmacher management to address “systemic problems.” According to former and current staff members in the D.C. office, these problems include a pattern of tokenizing or pushing out staff of color (if they’re hired at all), retaliating against employees who raise equity and justice issues, verbally abusing staff, and systematically failing to meaningfully engage with reproductive justice organizations whose work centers Black women.

The core of many of these issues is reflected in the demographics of the organization’s Washington, D.C., office. Currently, the D.C.-based public policy division, which encompasses teams that focus on policy, federal issues, state issues, and global issues, is composed entirely of white women, including Boonstra. There have been no Black or Latinx members of Guttmacher’s policy team in at least a decade, and there has never been a senior Black or Latinx staff member in the history of Guttmacher’s D.C. office. The highest ranking D.C. employees are white women who have been with the organization for decades. While Guttmacher’s largely New York City-based executive leadership team is diverse, that’s a very new development at the Institute.

Despite these well-documented issues, the conversation in the June 2 meeting went nowhere, sources said. Slowly, everyone went off camera except for white managers, and Boonstra moved forward with the regular agenda. Boonstra then threw the meeting to “Anna,” a South Asian woman who’d just been promoted to management. Not coincidentally, Anna noted, at that time she was the only person of color in management on the policy team.

“I felt very used and abused in that moment,” said Anna, who is using a pseudonym for fear of retaliation. “I didn’t feel comfortable as a new person, as a brown person, trying to smooth over the mess they created. Combined, [management in the meeting] worked at the organization for decades, but they wanted me to lead a conversation about race. That’s pretty much when I decided to look for another job.”

Anna joined Guttmacher in September 2019 and stayed less than two years. Prism spoke to 11 Guttmacher employees for this reporting, including six from the Washington, D.C., public policy team with whom Prism conducted interviews and maintained contact for the course of one year. These current and former employees allege that the Guttmacher Institute is a “toxic workplace,” one they say is particularly inhospitable to caretakers, women of color, and disabled people.

‘Based in white dominant culture’

Workplaces routinely fail to live up to their stated values, but national reproductive health and rights nonprofit organizations are uniquely bad for workers of color. Namely, high-ranking staff members are overwhelmingly white women who—while purporting to advocate for marginalized communities—adhere to some of the most toxic tenets of white feminism. As author Rafia Zakaria explained in her recent book Against White Feminism, these are people who refuse “to consider the role that whiteness and the racial privilege attached to it have played and continue to play in universalizing white feminist concerns, agendas, and beliefs as being those of all feminism and all feminists.” For white feminists in the U.S., reproductive health and rights are primary issues and the overwhelming whiteness of national reproductive health and rights organizations is reflected in how these groups have historically operated—and how they continue to operate.

In a recent piece for The New York Times, journalist Amy Littlefield detailed how leading reproductive rights organizations like Planned Parenthood have been caught “flat-footed” as the Supreme Court appears poised to overturn Roe v. Wade. The pro-choice movement is at a critical inflection point, and it is “being forced to reckon with its mistakes,” Littlefield wrote. A similar story is unfolding at the Guttmacher Institute.

Across Guttmacher’s New York and Washington, D.C., offices are researchers, social scientists, public policy analysts, editors, writers, and communications specialists who focus on domestic and international issues related to sexual and reproductive health and rights. The public, the media, and policymakers rely heavily on Guttmacher to better understand the U.S.’ complicated and ever-changing web of anti-abortion laws and policies—and this is just one of the many reasons the organization’s public policy division is so important.

But over the last 11 months, more than 80%of Guttmacher’s D.C. public policy division has left, including every caregiver and the only two staffers of color. The federal team of the policy division no longer exists, according to employees who’ve been tracking these departures closely. The timing of the public policy team’s implosion couldn’t be worse. On Wednesday,  . . .

Continue reading. There’s much more.

Written by Leisureguy

17 December 2021 at 2:55 pm

QNTM on memes, anti-memes, and knowledge that doesn’t want to be shared

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This is a fascinating interview, and I highly recommend reading it or listening to it. The introductory matter:

QNTM is a software engineer and the author of There Is No Antimemetics Division. Here, QNTM speaks to the Browser’s Uri Bram about collaborative fiction, why people with deep and very specific expertise are often great storytellers, and the surprising subjectivity of finding right answers in software development.

[Listen to this interview as a podcast or on Youtube (audio only)]

The interview proper begins:

Uri Bram: Your latest book—which is wonderful—is called There Is No Antimemetics Division. Can you tell us a little bit conceptually about the idea of antimemes?

What is an anti-meme?

QNTM: So if you’re reading this, you probably have a reasonable idea of what a meme is, but there are a couple of different colliding definitions of meme these days.

For my purposes, a meme is a contagious idea, which is much more of an older definition than today’s conception of “internet meme.” It’s an idea that catches on due to some kind of hook within the idea itself. It’s a piece of information that you have, but there’s also an aspect where you want to share this information with other people, spread this idea to other people.

The canonical example of a contagious idea would be some kind of evangelical religion, where they would say: “Hey, this is the way the universe is structured. This is how the cosmos exists, but also convert other people to this way of thinking, go out and find people and tell them this as well.”

But there’s a way simpler idea of memes: a contagious song, a catch phrase, a political slogan, or even a symbol that’s easy to draw. Wouldn’t that be a meme as well?

So looking at this I thought that some ideas are more contagious than others and some ideas aren’t contagious at all—they just kind of sit there. So what’s at the other end of the scale: what kind of ideas resist being spread? What information would you intrinsically not want anyone else to find out about? Or maybe you do want to spread it, but you can’t for whatever reason?

In real life, there’s a ton of ideas that fall into this class: random wild data is is very difficult to share because it’s just nonsense and it’s not very memorable; just boring things are difficult to share; complicated equations are difficult to share because you can’t remember them properly—because we’re humans and that’s not how we remember things.

But also there’s a category of ideas that are hard to share intrinsically like passwords. I’m motivated to keep my password a secret. There are all kinds of official secrets, like government secrets that you’re motivated to keep secret.

And from there, you move into injunctions and super injunctions and gag orders. Or what kind of journalism is forbidden in the country where you happen to live? What kind of things that you’ve not allowed to say? What is a taboo? What are the things that are true, but we don’t talk about? Although this is orthogonal to the truth. Just because something is mimetic or antiemetic doesn’t mean it’s true or false.

Playing with the idea of anti-memes in science fiction.

QNTM: The truth can be very difficult to share. As they say, a lie can circle the globe before the truth can get its boots on. So a falsehood can be very mimetic, but I looked at this and thought… “anti-meme” is a novel neologism, but it’s mainly just a synonym for things we already know exist. We know what secrets are, we know what taboos are. But I started taking this into a fictional concept and there’s a large amount of science fiction that takes the idea of memes and anti-memes and plays with it.

For instance you could have a concept which exists and is plain as day and is right in front of you, but you can’t remember it and when you turn away, you’ve stopped being able to remember that it was there—even though it was clearly there. An anti-memetic thing could trip you so you fall, but you wouldn’t remember why you fell and then when you stood up again, you wouldn’t even remember that you fell over at all.

So I thought okay, there’s a bit of mileage in there, I can tell a story in this.

If you’ve read the book, chapter one of the book is that concept, but that’s just the start, then then I keep going. Let’s suppose this is a real phenomenon. What kind of organization could dealing with this kind of phenomenon? How would that organization have to operate? What kind of person would work there? And as I just kept digging into those questions, more and more story just showed up and I started writing.

Uri Bram: I was recommended this book with no context. I was told there’s this book, you should just read it and go in knowing as little as you can, which I think in itself is kind of interesting on your terms. Not anti-memetic, but there was hidden knowledge or knowledge that they didn’t want to convey.

QNTM: Oh, absolutely. There’s two aspects of this kind of thing. There’s ideas that you want to know, but you can’t hang onto them, they get away from you and what do you do about that? What kind of systems do you have to develop to handle that?

And then on the flip side of it, the second half of the book is about . . .

Continue reading. There’s much more that’s interesting.

Written by Leisureguy

6 October 2021 at 9:07 pm

Bigger isn’t better – the renegade ‘Buddhist economics’ of E.F. Schumacher

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Aeon magazine introduces a video about E.F. Schumacher:

‘Like all good revolutionaries, he travels light…’

A protégé of John Maynard Keynes, the German-British economist Ernst Friedrich ‘Fritz’ Schumacher (1911-77) came of age in step with his contemporaries who emphasised growth as they endeavoured to rebuild the modern world following the Second World War. Midway though his career, however, Schumacher began to believe that the increasingly complex global economy and the increasingly intricate machinery it was built on were proving ruinous for humanity. Influenced by Buddhist teachings, he developed a set of principles he called ‘Buddhist economics’, based on the beliefs that meaningful work is an essential part of being human, simple technology is valuable only to the extent that it meets needs, and the interconnected modern economy is disastrous to humankind and the environment. He trimmed his thesis to an eloquent three words for his landmark book Small Is Beautiful (1973), which brims with ideas that are today familiar to most and embraced by many, and is often cited as one of the most influential postwar works of economics. This documentary profile of Schumacher from 1977 captures him at the height of his influence and, incidentally, in the months leading up to his death, exploring his thoughtful philosophies of work, technology and human dignity.

Written by Leisureguy

31 August 2021 at 12:31 pm

How radical gardeners took back New York City

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The video above appears in an interesting Open Culture column by Ayun Halliday.

Written by Leisureguy

25 June 2021 at 4:18 pm

Margaret Mead on the first archeological evidence of a civilization

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An interesting observation from Margaret Mead:

Years ago, anthropologist Margaret Mead was asked by a student what she considered to be the first sign of civilization in a culture. The student expected Mead to talk about fishhooks or clay pots or grinding stones.

But no. Mead said that the first sign of civilization in an ancient culture was a femur (thighbone) that had been broken and then healed. Mead explained that in the animal kingdom, if you break your leg, you die. You cannot run from danger, get to the river for a drink or hunt for food. You are meat for prowling beasts. No animal survives a broken leg long enough for the bone to heal.

A broken femur that has healed is evidence that someone has taken time to stay with the one who fell, has bound up the wound, has carried the person to safety and has tended the person through recovery. Helping someone else through difficulty is where civilization starts, Mead said.”

We are at our best when we serve others. Be civilized.

Ira Byock

Written by Leisureguy

10 June 2021 at 6:58 pm

Homeless Oaklanders were tired of the housing crisis. So they built a ‘miracle’ village.

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Gabrielle Canon has an interesting article (with more photos) in the Guardian. It begins:

Tucked under a highway overpass in West Oakland, just beyond a graveyard of charred cars and dumped debris, lies an unexpected refuge.

There’s a collection of beautiful, small structures built from foraged materials. There’s a hot shower, a fully stocked kitchen and health clinic. There’s a free “store” offering donated items including clothes and books, and a composting toilet. There are stone and gravel paths lined with flowers and vegetable gardens. There’s even an outdoor pizza oven.

The so-called “Cob on Wood” center has arisen in recent months to provide amenities for those living in a nearby homeless encampment, one of the largest in the city. But most importantly, it’s fostering a sense of community and dignity, according to the unhoused and housed residents who came together to build it. They hope their innovative approach will lead to big changes in how the city addresses its growing homeless population.

“It is about uniting everybody,” says Dmitri Schusterman, a nearby resident who also serves as the Director of Innovation for Artists Building Communities, one of the organizations that helped build the center at the end of last year. Cob on Wood was brought to life with help from local advocacy arts and food groups who teamed up with Miguel “Migz” Elliott, an expert in the ancient technique of making cob structures. Together with teams of volunteers and residents, they built each component by hand.

Now, roughly five months since they broke ground, a community has coalesced around the space that not only hosts events and workshops but also offers food, hygiene and skill-sharing to the estimated 300 people who live in nearby encampments.

“It is working,” Schusterman says, smiling broadly. “This is the vision we had and it is working like a miracle.”

Tackling a pair of crises

Cob on Wood was born of parallel crises – Oakland’s rising rate of homelessness and the Covid pandemic.

The city is home to more than 4,000 unhoused people, a figure that has jumped 86% over a four-year period, according to a 2019 report. Homelessness disproportionally affects Black Oaklanders, who make up 24% of the general population but 70% of the unhoused population.

Xochitl Bernadette Moreno and Ashel Seasunz Eldridge, co-founders of Essential Food and Medicine, one of the organizations behind Cob on Wood, distributed food and hygiene products to those who couldn’t “shelter in place” during California’s lockdowns. That’s when they learned about just how dire the situation had become.

“[Covid] exposed those pre-existing cracks in the infrastructure of how we take care of our people, our communities, our neighbors,” Eldridge says.

Moreno adds: “Knowing that the issues people in these communities face around hunger and access to water, access to places to cook – these issues existed before the pandemic and they will continue to exist after the pandemic.”

There are at least 140 homeless encampments in Oakland, according to a recent city audit, which found the city had mismanaged its response to the crisis. Building on findings from the United Nations general assembly, which, after visiting the Bay Area in 2018, reported that treatment of the unhoused was “cruel and inhumane”, Oakland’s audit reported that many unhealthy and unsafe conditions have persisted, including a lack of access to clean water, sanitation, and health services.

City officials have tried to address the growing issues with new programs, including the “tuff shed” project that provides clusters of small structures as temporary housing solutions and so-called “Safe RV Parking” sites that include access to electric hookups, portable toilets and security.

But critics – who include some of the unhoused participants – say the programs are plagued with safety issues and do little to address underlying causes of housing instability. Some have also expressed concerns that the programs have given the city more political leeway to crack down on encampments and increase sweeps, an often traumatic process for unhoused people who can end up losing their few belongings.

“People are not only being evicted from homes they once had, but then they are being evicted from the homes that they create – communities they’ve built for themselves when they had nowhere else to go,” Moreno says.

After growing frustrated with the city’s interventions, several other communities have attempted to create their own solutions, including a group of women who started a safe encampment in vacant lots, and an advocacy organization called the Village, which has built tiny homes on empty areas of public land across the city.

Cob on Wood organizers are also hoping to empower unhoused residents to solve the problems they think the city hasn’t adequately addressed – from fire prevention to sanitation access – while organizing to collectively engage with officials and limit the sense of “otherness” and disenfranchisement which residents say is an all-too-common side-effect of homelessness.

They broke ground in December. Clearing needles and trash from an area near Wood Street – a half-mile area lined with makeshift structures, RVs and tents – a crew of volunteers and camp residents under Elliott’s guidance used pallets to frame the structures. They were insulated with scavenged materials before being coated in “cob”, a mixture made from organic materials including sand, subsoil, water and straw.

Each structure is lined with a “living roof” – featuring a garden – that creates an attractive aesthetic while insulating the inside from the abrasive city sounds and the elements.

“There are cob structures that were built 700 years ago that are still being lived in,” Elliott says. He hopes to prove that “cobins”, as he calls them, could serve as a quick and affordable addition to other encampments, to offer shelter and house other services.

“I am trying to . . .

Continue reading. There’s much more.

More on cob construction.

Written by Leisureguy

14 May 2021 at 3:30 pm

A feel-good story about a Korean restaurant

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Yesterday I finally made it to a local Korean restaurant, Thunderbird, that specializes in (Korean) fried chicken, and was able to try it. I have wanted to try it since watching the Korean 16-part TV production Crash-Landing on You on Netflix, whose story included a number of product placements for bb.q Chicken, a chain that specializes in Korean fried chicken (though that style of fried chicken is available from many other Korean restaurants). (I’ve commented before that Korean TV seems to like the 16-episode format, and I’ve watched a number of those — in fact, right now I’m watching a good one: Vagabond, on Netflix.)

The chicken was very good — tender, juicy, and flavorful, with a wonderful crust (I think they use Panka for breading) — and I was glad to check that item off my list.

I texted The Eldest to suggest she try it in some Baltimore Korean place, and she responded to say that she was familiar with it and often takes to boys to eat at a Korean restaurant there. She sent a link to this report by Cathy Free in the Washington Post:

The request came in late on a Thursday afternoon to restaurant owner Steve Chu. One of his customers had terminal cancer, and her son-in-law wondered if it would be possible to get the recipe of her favorite broccoli tempura entree so he could make it for her at her home in Vermont.

Chu, 30, specializes in Asian fusion cuisine and is the co-owner of two Ekiben locations in Baltimore. He read the email on March 11 and instantly knew that he could do better, he said.

“Thanks for reaching out,” he wrote. “We’d like to meet you in Vermont and make it fresh for you.”

Brandon Jones, 37, was stunned.

“I emailed back, saying, ‘You do know that this is Vermont we’re talking about, right?’ ” he recalled. “It’s a six-hour drive. But Steve responded, ‘No problem. You tell us the date, time and location and we’ll be there.’”

Jones and his wife, Rina Jones, were preparing to leave from their home in the Canton neighborhood for Vermont that weekend to visit Rina’s mother, who is in the final stages of lung cancer and has stopped treatment since her December diagnosis.

For the past five or six years, every time his mother-in-law visited Baltimore, the first place she wanted to go was Ekiben in Fells Point so she could order the tempura broccoli topped with fresh herbs, diced onion and fermented cucumber vinegar, said Brandon Jones.

“She loves that broccoli, and I really wanted her to have it one more time,” Jones, an engineer, said about his mother-in-law, who asked that her name not be published in a request for privacy at the end of her life.

“She had always told us, ‘When I’m on my death bed, I want to have that broccoli,’ ” recalled Rina Jones, 38, who works in the health-care industry. “In fact, when I was packing on Friday to drive up to Vermont, I called my mom to see if she wanted us to bring anything special and she jokingly said, ‘tempura broccoli!’ ”

When Chu said he’d be happy to make the dish from scratch in Vermont on Saturday afternoon, Rina Jones said she was elated.

“It’s just so above and beyond,” Jones said. “It’s an incredible act of kindness.”

The next day, March 12, Chu loaded his truck after work with a hot plate and a cooler filled with the ingredients for broccoli tempura, then headed for Vermont with his business partner, Ephrem Abebe, and employee Joe Anonuevo. The trio stayed overnight in an Airbnb rental, he said, then stopped for some additional ingredients on their way to the condo where Rina Jones’ mother lives.

. . . As soon as he and his team pulled into the parking lot of the condo building, they texted Rina Jones that they’d arrived, then got to work. They pulled down the gate of the pickup, hooked the hot plate to the truck’s power port and started cooking and deep-frying.

In addition to Ekiben’s broccoli tempura, they made a tofu dish with peanut sauce and fresh herbs and some steamed rice, said Chu. Then after neatly boxing everything up, they knocked on their customer’s front door.

“Go ahead and answer,” Rina Jones said she told her mother.

“As soon as she opened the door, she recognized the aroma immediately,” Brandon Jones said. “It smelled amazing.”

Her mother also recognized Chu and his co-workers, said Rina Jones.

“My mom kept saying, ‘I don’t understand — you drove all the way up here to cook for me?’ ” she said. “She was so happy and touched to have that broccoli. She couldn’t believe it.”

Chu said he also immediately recognized the woman he was there to cook for.

“We see a lot of people in the restaurant, but she always stood out,” he said. “She loves the food and always made sure to tell us. She’s an amazing, sweet lady.”

The Joneses invited Chu and his team to join them for dinner, but they needed to get back to Baltimore after they cleaned up, said Rina Jones. Chu also wouldn’t accept any money from the family.

. . . “She’s a lovely lady, who has showered us with love at our restaurant for years,” he said. “It was a powerful experience, and I’m happy that we could make it happen.”

Read the whole thing.

Written by Leisureguy

12 May 2021 at 11:07 am

Effective Altruism Is Not Effective

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Thomas R. Wells writes in The Philosopher’s Beard:

Effective altruism is based on a very simple idea: we should do the most good we can. Obeying the usual rules about not stealing, cheating, hurting, and killing is not enough, or at least not enough for those of us who have the good fortune to live in material comfort, who can feed, house, and clothe ourselves and our families and still have money or time to spare. Living a minimally acceptable ethical life involves using a substantial part of our spare resources to make the world a better place. Living a fully ethical life involves doing the most good we can. (Peter Singer)

It is almost universally agreed that the persistence of extreme poverty in many parts of the world is a bad thing. It is less well-agreed, even among philosophers, what should be done about it and by who. An influential movement founded by the philosopher Peter Singer argues that we should each try to do the best we can by donating our surplus income to charities that help those in greatest need. This ‘effective altruism’ movement has two components: i) encouraging individuals in the rich world to donate more; and ii) encouraging us to donate more rationally, to the organisations most efficient at translating those donations into gains in human well-being.

Unfortunately both components of effective altruism focus on what makes giving good rather than on achieving valuable goals. Effective altruism therefore does not actually aim at the elimination of global poverty as is often supposed. Indeed, its distinctive commitment to the logic of individualist consumerism makes it constitutionally incapable of achieving such a large scale project. Effective altruism is designed to fail.

I. The No-Sacrifice Principle of Giving

In his best-selling defense of effective altruism The Life You Can Save: Acting Now to End World Poverty (2009, p.15) Singer provides this outline of his argument.

First premise: Suffering and death from lack of food, shelter, and medical care are bad.

Second premise: If it is in your power to prevent something bad from happening, without sacrificing anything nearly as important, it is wrong not to do so.

Third premise: By donating to aid agencies, you can prevent suffering and death from lack of food, shelter, and medical care, without sacrificing anything nearly as important.

Conclusion: Therefore, if you do not donate to aid agencies, you are doing something wrong.

Singer famously supports his second premise by reference to his ‘shallow pond’ thought experiment, in which nearly everyone agrees that we would have an obligation to rescue a drowning child even at some personal inconvenience. He argues that since we already seem to accept that principle, the moral challenge is to integrate it better into how we live by donating some of our ‘surplus’ income to charities. Effective altruism is thereby identified as a way of living better in accordance with reason and right, the correct answer to Socrates’ challenge ‘How ought we to live?’

What I want to bring out here is that Singer’s main concern is the question of how good to be in terms of how much we should be giving, i.e. the internal moral economy of the subject. The ‘bads’ of suffering and death identified in premise 1 are peripheral to this analysis. They may motivate our interest in altruism but their remediation is not the measure of our altruistic success.

On the face of it, premise 2 is a very demanding principle because it links our subjective moral economy to the prevention of significant objective harms. However, the way that Singer uses the principle severs that relation. Singer is concerned to help us calculate our personal budget for good works: how much we each can spare from our other interests and commitments. As Singer makes clear, altruism on this conception should not feel like a sacrifice because it is merely the harmonious integration of our moral with our other preferences. This generates a rather generic analysis of how much it is reasonable to expect people of different levels of affluence to contribute to good causes without having to make any real sacrifices, i.e. calculations of how much money we could easily do without. (Singer suggests a progressive rate of voluntary self-taxation starting at 5% of income for those earning more than $100,000.)

Such calculations are generic because they are fundamentally concerned with how to be an altruist, not with how to fix the world’s problems, and so they are unrelated to the significance of the specific problems our donations are supposed to address, nor with what would be needed to successfully solve them. For consider, even if global poverty were eliminated entirely, there will still always be causes you could contribute to that would be more valuable than pursuing your own interests (such as generating benefits to future generations). This is the paradoxical overdemandingness of utilitarianism identified by various philosophers (Bernard Williams; Susan Wolf; etc): that a world of utilitarians would be a world incapable of happiness. What I think Singer’s ‘no sacrifice’ principle actually offers is a (not especially convincing) way to reconcile our moral duty to doing good with our right to live a life of our own.  We are effectively asked to calculate our own voluntary moral tax-rate that delineates when we have done enough for others and can turn away, morally free to pursue our private projects and commitments. How much good this amount of giving will achieve in the world is irrelevant to what that tax rate should be.

II. Efficiency is Not the Same Thing as Effectiveness

Effective altruists ….. know that saving a life is better than making a wish come true and that saving three lives is better than saving one. So they don’t give to whatever cause tugs strongest at their heartstrings. They give to the cause that will do the most good, given the abilities, time, and money they have. (Peter Singer)

The problem with the first component of effective altruism was that it focuses on the internal moral economy of the giver rather than on the real world problems our giving is supposed to address. The second component of effective altruism might not seem to have that problem because it is explicitly concerned with maximising the amount of good that each unit of resources achieves. (This is also the component that has received more emphasis in the last 10 years as the movement gained traction among a younger generation of philosophers such as Toby Ord and William MacAskill.) However, this concern is better understood as efficiency than as effectiveness (the general idea of getting things done). This might seem an innocuous distinction since efficiency is about how we ought to get things done, i.e. a way of being effective. However, there are significant consequences for practical reasoning in the kind of cases effective altruism is concerned with.

If one takes the efficiency view promoted by the effective altruism movement then one assumes a fixed set of resources and the choice of which goal to aim for follows from a calculation of how to maximise the expected value those resources can generate; i.e. the means justifies the end. For example, in the context of global poverty, you would use evidence and careful reasoning to decide in which cause or organisation to invest your chosen amount on the basis of which generates  the most QALYS per dollar. This should ensure that your donation will achieve the most good, which is to say that you have done the best possible job of giving. However, despite doing so well at the task effective altruism has set you, if you step back you will notice that very little has actually been achieved. The total amount of good we can achieve with our donations is limited to the partial alleviation of some of the symptoms of extreme poverty, symptoms that will recur so long as poverty persists. But effective altruism supplies no plan for the elimination of poverty itself, and there is no way for a feasible plan for that goal to be developed and implemented by this method of reasoning at the margin.

The underlying problem is that . . .

Continue reading. There’s much more, and in my view he annihilates Singer’s argument and position.

Written by Leisureguy

17 April 2021 at 9:43 am

California Sent $8 Billion to Counties to Improve Jails and Services But Failed to Track the Money, Says Auditor

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Stunning report by Jason Pohl for the Sacramento Bee and ProPublica. It begins

A decade after California embarked on a sweeping prison overhaul that diverted thousands of inmates to county jails, state and local governing bodies have failed to adequately track billions of dollars intended for improving county lockups and rehabilitating offenders, a state audit has found.

The lack of oversight has created enormous budget surpluses, opaque spending practices and progress reports to lawmakers that are “inconsistent and incomplete,” California Auditor Elaine M. Howle’s office said in a wide-ranging report issued Thursday.

The 2011 law signed by former Gov. Jerry Brown, which called the changes “realignment,” was designed to drastically reduce the population of California’s prisons, which were so overcrowded that the U.S. Supreme Court stepped in. The law sent billions of dollars to counties to bolster county jails and services throughout the state in exchange for housing more inmates.

But the audit, which was requested more than a year ago by a state senator following a surge of jail deaths reported on by The Sacramento Bee and ProPublica, found that county commissions that monitor the money and the California Board of State and Community Corrections have failed to adequately account for the spending.

“Without comprehensive planning and oversight, counties cannot ensure that their decisions regarding the use of public safety realignment funds are well informed,” the report says. “In addition, we found that counties do not adequately evaluate their realignment programs to determine their effectiveness or to ensure that they are spending public safety realignment funding in the most prudent manner.”

Howle’s report was focused on . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

26 March 2021 at 2:56 pm

Libraries Between the State and the Multitude

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A little free library near my apartment (photo by me)

As I’ve mentioned, little free libraries are plentiful in Victoria, which has at least 400 scattered about the city. Sam Popowich looks at the practice through a Marxist lens on his blog:

Controversy over “Little Free Libraries” has arisen once again, this time in the UK. I don’t want to go into the specifics of the problem with Little Free Libraries (officially branded or not). Jane Schmidt and Jordan Hale have written a foundational article about it, which everyone should read.

What I want to get at in this blog post is what I see as a fundamental contradiction (in the Marxist sense) that keeps cropping up in the discussion. What defines a contradiction for Marxism is that the opposition it describes and the problems that flow from it cannot be resolved or fixed within the existing structure. The two poles of the contradiction are irreconcilable within the current social, political, economic, and cultural context. In the discourse around community book boxes there is an opposition between community solidarity, self-reliance, local support, etc, and public or common goods which need to be supported and maintained at a higher level, regional or national.

Defenders of the book boxes argue that they are a form of community self-regulation. Harmless at worst, helpful at best, they provide a sense of community support which is perhaps more about the affective or symbolic significance of freely sharing objects whose use-value is traditionally considered positive (books) outside the dominant structures of exchange. Looked at this way, book boxes are a form of local resistance to commodity exchange more generally, an attempt to recapture the ability of community members to relate to each other outside what Marx and Engels called the “cash nexus” of exchange. Taken to its limit, these book boxes could be seen as one element in a comprehensive network of mutual aid.

However, in a context of massive defunding and closure of state-run libraries, book boxes, like volunteer staffing of library branches, can give the state the ammunition it needs to continue to withdraw financial and political support for public good provided at scale. If book boxes can be considered libraries, then why should the government continue to support libraries? If libraries can be run by volunteers, then why should the government continue to hire trained library workers? One aspect of the geographical issue around LFL’s which Schmidt and Hale point out is that they tend to be most prominent in areas where public libraries are least under threat, and so the problem posed by LFLs to public library support is muted, obscured, or made invisible.

So the debate on Twitter often came down to the question of localism vs. state support: the benefits of communities acting together for themselves vs. the economies of scale and resource redistribution provided by a tax-funded national network of libraries. Many of the arguments tried to point out the benefits of one side or the other, without making much headway. I think the reason this argument is actually irresolvable in the current context is that it actually expresses a fundamental contradiction within capitalism itself.

Essentially, it comes down to the well-established contradiction within the capitalist economy over the question of the common/commons. Capitalism is predicated on private property, but it requires common resources in order to keep going. Control over resources is maximized by being privatized (i.e. the private owner of a thing has full control over it), but some things only work properly when they are held in common (ideological reproduction through schools and libraries, for example). One of the ways capitalism has tried to work within the terms set by this contradiction is to draw a firm distinction between the individual and the state: the individual is the private owner, the commons is managed by the state.

In Marx’s critique of civil rights, he argues that . . .

Continue reading. There’s more.

Written by Leisureguy

16 February 2021 at 3:21 pm

Matt Yglesias has an interesting column in defense of writing on controversial topics

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I had read the NY Times article Yglesias references, but knew little more, so his column was quite enlightening to me. He writes:

Some time ago, Scott Alexander, the pseudonymous author of the Slate Star Codex blog, announced that he was abandoning his site. The reason was that a New York Times reporter had been in touch with him explaining that he was doing a profile of the blog, and in the course of writing it he was compelled by some NYT policy to disclose Alexander’s real name.

Alexander is a practicing psychiatrist and felt that for reasons of professional ethics, this would jeopardize his job — so he shut the blog down in a rather dramatic fashion. This, in turn, led to a lot of condemnatory rhetoric from his fans and admirers, many of whom work in the technology industry and had a set of preexisting grievances with what they call “the media” and what I would call “the technology coverage of a half dozen outlets, notably including The New York Times.” Much of the ensuing rhetoric from the pro-SSC camp (though not from Alexander, who if anything is even-tempered to a fault in his public persona) struck me as overheated, but I was sad it had driven Alexander from the internet.

The good news is that he has since resurfaced on Substack at Astral Codex Ten. He also has a new job as the founder of Lorien Psychiatry, an innovative effort to use telemedicine to make psychiatric treatment much more affordable.

Then, on Saturday, Cade Metz’s NYT article about SSC finally dropped. And it’s terrible. (Read Alexander’s post about it, though I think he has too much of a conspiratorial view of this.1)

I tend to think that too much time and mental energy is expended, including by me, on critiquing bad articles, and not enough time and energy is spent on praising good ones. So I feel kind of bad about writing a detailed criticism of a single bad article. But, given the larger context in which this story appeared, my sense is it’s going to become a flashpoint for a whole bunch of interesting struggles, so I think it’s useful and informative to say what I think.

A tortured premise

On its face, the idea of profiling an obscure blog written by a pseudonymous psychiatrist that has a surprisingly high-clout readership is perfectly good. Alexander’s readers include many Silicon Valley people, including — as Metz details — some very high-ranking executives. It’s an interesting story.

But I think Metz kind of misses what’s interesting about it from the get-go.

  • Ross Douthat reads SSC, and so does Ezra Klein.
  • David Brooks has quoted him in The New York Times.
  • Tyler Cowen praises SSC and the larger “rationalist community” that it was a flagship publication of, but also critiques them, saying “I would approve of them much more if they called themselves the irrationality community.”

As you’ll see in Metz’s story, the Vox writer Kelsey Piper is an SSC reader and a rationalist. But she works primarily for Vox’s Future Perfect vertical, which is a whole rationalist-inspired cornucopia of content.

In other words, this is an intellectual movement that’s somewhat influential in highbrow circles broadly, and that deserves to be situated as such. Well-known books like Toby Ord’s “The Precipice” and Philip Tetlock’s “Superforecasting: The Art and Science of Prediction” are important parts of the rationalist firmament. There’s also Julia Galef’s excellent podcast “Rationally Speaking” on which you can hear me yacking.

There’s a lot more going on than “some tech executives read this blog,” in other words.

But Metz does not seem interested in actually exploring rationalist ideas or understanding their content or the scope of their influence. Instead, the article is structured as a kind of syllogism:

  • Scott Alexander’s blog is popular with some influential Silicon Valley people.
  • Scott Alexander has done posts that espouse views on race or gender that progressives disapprove of.
  • Therefore, Silicon Valley is a hotbed of racism and sexism.

One time years ago, I went to Silicon Valley for a few days. As a white guy, I would not be well-situated to assess the extent to which it’s a hotbed of racism and sexism anyway, so I won’t comment on the conclusion. But the logic is specious, and the whole thing is an incredible missed opportunity to help people understand some valuable and interesting ideas.

Rationalism as I understand it

When I first heard about rationalists I was intensely confused, because in college I took a few different classes that involved reading “rationalist” philosophers from the Early Modern period, and contemporary rationalists’ ideas are totally unlike early modern philosophical rationalists’ ideas.2 I should also note that . . .

Continue reading. There’s much more.

Written by Leisureguy

15 February 2021 at 3:57 pm

This town of 170,000 replaced some cops with medics and mental health workers. It’s worked for over 30 years.

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The question that immediately came to mind: Given that it worked, why has the approach not been widely replicated over that 30-year period? What are the barriers to learning? It’s a good model and a successful model, but people did not learn from it. Resistance to learning strikes me as a serious problem, one for which solutions should be found — and quickly.

Update: Resistance to change is an old problem. An example: After it was discovered that patients did much better after surgery (that is, they did not sicken and die nearly so often) when the surgeon washed his hands before performing surgery, the practice did not become common until an entire generation of surgeons of non-hand-washing surgeons had been replaced by a new generation for whom washing hands before surgery was normal. /update

Scottie Andrew reports for CNN:

Around 30 years ago, a town in Oregon retrofitted an old van, staffed it with young medics and mental health counselors and sent them out to respond to the kinds of 911 calls that wouldn’t necessarily require police intervention.

In the town of 172,000, they were the first responders for mental health crises, homelessness, substance abuse, threats of suicide — the problems for which there are no easy fixes. The problems that, in the hands of police, have often turned violent.

Today, the program, called CAHOOTS, has three vans, more than double the number of staffers and the attention of a country in crisis.

CAHOOTS is already doing what police reform advocates say is necessary to fundamentally change the US criminal justice system — pass off some responsibilities to unarmed civilians.

Cities much larger and more diverse than Eugene have asked CAHOOTS staff to help them build their own version of the program. CAHOOTS wouldn’t work everywhere, at least not in the form it exists in in Eugene.

But it’s a template for what it’s like to live in a city with limited police.

It’s centered on a holistic approach

CAHOOTS comes from White Bird Clinic, a social services center that’s operated in Eugene since the late 1960s. It was the brainchild of some counterculture activists who’d felt the hole where a community health center should be. And in 1989, after 20 years of earning the community’s trust, CAHOOTS was created.

“CAHOOTS” stands for “Crisis Assistance Helping Out On The Streets” and cheekily refers to the relationship between the community health center that started it and the Eugene Police Department.

Most of the clients White Bird assisted — unsheltered people or those with mental health issues — didn’t respond well to police. And for the many more people they hadn’t yet helped, they wanted to make their services mobile, said David Zeiss, the program’s co-founder.

“We knew that we were good at it,” he said. “And we knew it was something of value to a lot of people … we needed to be known and used by other agencies that commonly encounter crisis situation.”

It works this way: 911 dispatchers filter calls they receive — if they’re violent or criminal, they’re sent to police. If they’re within CAHOOTS’ purview, the van-bound staff will take the call. They prep what equipment they’ll need, drive to the scene and go from there.

The program started small, with a van Zeiss called a “junker,” some passionate paraprofessionals and just enough funding to staff CAHOOTS 40 hours a week.

It always paired one medic, usually a nurse or EMT, with a crisis responder trained in behavioral health. That holistic approach is core to its model.

Per self-reported data, CAHOOTS workers responded to 24,000 calls in 2019 — about 20% of total dispatches. About 150 of those required police backup.

CAHOOTS says the program saves the city about $8.5 million in public safety costs every year, plus another $14 million in ambulance trips and ER costs.

It had to overcome mutual mistrust with police

White Bird’s counterculture roots ran deep — the clinic used to fundraise at Grateful Dead concerts in the West, where volunteer medics would treat Deadheads — so the pairing between police and the clinic wasn’t an immediately fruitful one.

There was “mutual mistrust” between them, said Zeiss, who retired in 2014.

“It’s true there was a tendency to be mistrustful of the police in our agency and our culture,” he said. “It was an obstacle we had to overcome.”

And for the most part, both groups have: Eugene Police Chief Chris Skinner called theirs a “symbiotic relationship” that better serves some residents of Eugene.

“When they show up, they have better success than police officers do,” he said. “We’re wearing a uniform, a gun, a badge — it feels very demonstrative for someone in crisis.”

It seeks to overturn a disturbing statistic

And a great many people in Eugene are in crisis. . .

Continue reading. There’s much more.

Later in the article:

Most of CAHOOTS’ clients are homeless, and just under a third of them have severe mental illnesses. It’s a weight off the shoulders of police, Skinner said.

“I believe it’s time for law enforcement to quit being a catch-base for everything our community and society needs,” Skinner said. “We need to get law enforcement professionals back to doing the core mission of protecting communities and enforcing the law, and then match resources with other services like behavioral health — all those things we tend to lump on the plate of law enforcement.”

Written by Leisureguy

15 February 2021 at 1:17 pm

Dolly Parton knows effective educational intervention

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Erick Moore has a good Facebook post:

In 1990, the high school dropout rate for Dolly Parton’s hometown of Sevierville Tennessee was at 34% (Research shows that most kids make up their minds in fifth/sixth grade not to graduate). That year, all fifth and sixth graders from Sevierville were invited by Parton to attend an assembly at Dollywood. They were asked to pick a buddy, and if both students completed high school, Dolly Parton would personally hand them each a $500 check on their graduation day. As a result, the dropout rate for those classes fell to 6%, and has generally retained that average to this day.

Shortly after the success of The Buddy Program, Parton learned in dealing with teachers from the school district that problems in education often begin during first grade when kids are at different developmental levels. That year The Dollywood Foundation paid the salaries for additional teachers assistants in every first grade class for the next 2 years, under the agreement that if the program worked, the school system would effectively adopt and fund the program after the trial period.

During the same period, Parton founded the Imagination Library in 1995: The idea being that children from her rural hometown and low-income families often start school at a disadvantage and as a result, will be unfairly compared to their peers for the rest of their lives, effectively encouraging them not to pursue higher education. The objective of the Imagination library was that every child in Sevier County would receive one book, every month, mailed and addressed to the child, from the day they were born until the day they started kindergarten, 100% free of charge. What began as a hometown initiative now serves children in all 50 states, Australia, Canada, and the United Kingdom, mailing thousands of free books to children around the world monthly.

On March 1, 2018 Parton donated her 100 millionth book at the Library of Congress: a copy of “Coat of Many Colors” dedicated to her father, who never learned to read or write.

Happy 74th Birthday Dolly Parton!

Written by Leisureguy

2 December 2020 at 5:55 pm

Formerly homeless, this man is giving away 2,500 Thanksgiving meals this year

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A grocery box being filled for Thanksgiving’s Heroes in Utah last weekend.

It’s not all bad. And fWIW, I’d bet that this man is a Republican. So, for the holidays, a feel-good report by Cathy Free in the Washington Post:

Rob Adams is a successful real estate agent in Utah. But when he was 11, he and his family experienced homelessness and lived in the back of a pickup truck.

Adams’s parents had only enough money for him and his siblings to stay in a motel room one night a week, he said, so for the better part of 1982, they spent the other six nights in the covered bed of their pickup truck in Porter, Tex., just outside Houston.

“My big meal of the day was school lunch, and many nights, there was no dinner,” recalled Adams, now 49.

But just before Christmas that year, a local family from their church offered up their house for two weeks while they headed out of town for the holidays. They left presents under the tree for Adams’s family and filled the fridge with food, including a turkey and homemade pies.

“I cried when I opened that fridge,” said Adams, who now lives in Riverton, south of Salt Lake City, with a family of his own.

“Unless you’ve been hungry, you can’t imagine how I felt,” he said. “I told myself, ‘Someday, if I have money, I’m going to do this for somebody else.’ ”

Adams made good on that promise and started Thanksgiving’s Heroes, a nonprofit that this year gave away 2,500 boxes — each filled with a Thanksgiving feast weighing 53 pounds — to homes in the Salt Lake Valley.

Thanksgiving’s Heroes began in 2015 when Adams raised enough funds to give away turkeys and all the trimmings to 755 families in need. The initiative has grown each year since and, this year, even expanded outside Utah to Tampa, Dallas and Cleveland.

Adams’s wife and four daughters helped him deliver the food boxes in Utah last weekend, with assistance from about 800 volunteers.

“It’s important to make that personal connection,” he said. “There are some people who might feel embarrassed to stand in a line for a box, or maybe they don’t have transportation to get one. With covid this year, we knocked on the door and left everything on the porch, but we know that people are smiling when they unpack their boxes.”

The items in each Thanksgiving’s Heroes box this year. 

This year’s 53-pound box includes a 20-pound turkey, 10 pounds of potatoes, a package of butter, a gallon of milk, a veggie tray, cranberry sauce, stuffing mix, gravy, olives, a pumpkin pie, whipped cream and ingredients for Adams’s favorite side dish: green bean casserole. It costs the nonprofit about $80 to make each box.

Adams spent his early years in Las Vegas and said that his family’s troubles started with his dad’s job as an air conditioning repairman in Texas. When his parents moved the family to Porter and bought a plot of land with the intention of building a new home, Adams’s father learned that his new job entailed selling customers parts they didn’t need, he said.

“So he ended up without a job, and during the recession of the ‘80s, it was hard to find another one,” Adams said. “My mom cleaned hotels, but there wasn’t enough money for rent. That’s when we parked on our property and camped out in the truck.”

Adams said his parents tried not to let on that the situation was bleak.

“They tried to make it like an adventure and were always looking on the positive side,” he said. “Now that I’m a father, I know the weight my father must have felt on his shoulders each day.”

The lunch ladies at his elementary school knew that he was hungry and always loaded his tray with extra food, Adams recalled.

“I was a growing boy with a big appetite, and those sweet southern ladies always made sure to fix me up,” he said. “I was very grateful.”

The two weeks he spent in a local family’s home over the Christmas holidays was one of the most memorable and happy times of his life, Adams said.

“We pulled up in front of their house, and there was this big Christmas tree shining in the front window,” he said. “And nobody told us, ‘Don’t do this,’ or ‘don’t do that.’ Instead, they handed us the keys, told us to enjoy the holidays, and they’d see us in two weeks.”

When he became successful in real estate in Utah (his family moved to the state during his senior year in high school), Adams put his Thanksgiving’s Heroes idea into motion after a conversation with his mother in 2014, shortly before she died of brain cancer.

“I told her that I’d wanted to give back for many years, and she told me, ‘Please, you need to do it,’ ” he said. “So my first year, I set out to feed 10 families, and it quickly grew. Everyone wanted to donate to help, and we ended up feeding hundreds.”

Continue reading. There’s more, and more photos as well.

Written by Leisureguy

24 November 2020 at 12:12 pm

The Federal Reserve Bails Out Boeing, Gives a $3 Billion Subsidy to Carnival Cruise Lines

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Matt Stoller writes at BIG:

Today I’m going to discuss the why the small business lending program is undergoing intense scrutiny, and why the much larger Federal Reserve programs are not. To be put it differently, Boeing just got a $25 billion bailout from the Federal Reserve, but politicians are mad at Shake Shack.

First some housekeeping. I was on The Realignment podcast with Saagar Enjeti & Marshall Kosloff. I also joined Francesca Rheannon for her podcast titled a Writer’s Voice.

And now…

Complexity as Cover

There’s been a feeding frenzy among reporters about the small business lending program. Money is going to recognized brand names like Shake Shack and Ruth Chris who don’t seem to need it, with a fair amount of self-congratulatory rhetoric when these corporations return their loans. But I think this anger, while not exactly wrong, is misplaced. People know *something* is wrong with the Coronavirus rescue, and the Small Business Administration’s Paycheck Protection Program gives them an easy set of targets they can relate to. So that’s what gets criticized.

But the right place to focus is not on the SBA, but on the Federal Reserve, which is where the action is. That’s where lending programs are in the trillions, not billions or millions. Yesterday, for instance, the Fed decided to bail out highly indebted drilling companies and their lenders at the behest of Texas politicians, without much notice. Boeing also announced with a splash that it will be turning down an official government bailout, while borrowing a whopping $25 billion from the Federal Reserve-supported corporate bond market.

One reason for the comparatively limited criticism of the central bank’s actions is that the Federal Reserve programs are weird and complicated, involving strange words like liquidity and high yield debt ETFs.

But I don’t think the asymmetry in criticism is purely a result of difficult-to-parse jargon or capital markets complexity. It’s just easier to see what the small business lending program is doing. There’s a legal process that connects the borrower to a bank and to the government. The Fed bailouts by contrast are indirect; technically the Fed hasn’t started allocating much, if any, money yet. It’s hard to point fingers at the Fed for doing something wrong when its programs haven’t even gotten off the ground.

And yet that’s a problematic way of seeing the Fed. Unlike with the small business lending program, the Fed announcement, not the initial program implementation, is what matters; just the prospect of the Fed intervening has huge impacts on borrowing costs for corporations, as well as on the prices of stocks and bonds. I’ve spoken to several people in the credit markets who tell me there is no real credit analysis anymore, traders buy what they think the Fed will backstop, meaning the Fed is giving massive implicit subsidies anywhere Jay Powell even day-dreams about intervening. In other words, many large financial actors – like Boeing – are getting billions of dollars from the Fed without any direct line to the Fed at all.

To cut through the noise, I want to try and quantify the subsidy the Fed is offering with a single case study. The ultimate numbers I’ll arrive at are a guess, but going through the exercise will help people understand that the Fed is just giving money to preserve the value of bonds and stocks. The best example is not Boeing, because there’s no easy way to calculate the implicit subsidy, even though we can assume it is very large. Carnival Cruise Lines serves the purpose better, because they were about to borrow on excruciatingly painful terms, but were saved in the nick of time by a Fed announcement. This situation gives us a nice natural experiment through we can see the implicit subsidy at work.

Carnival’s Subsidy

Four days ago, Matt Wirz at the Wall Street Journal reported a story on how the Federal Reserve saved Carnival Cruise lines. It’s told with drama, but essentially is about how Carnival was desperate to get any loan on any terms, until the Fed stepped in.

With financial markets frozen, executives were forced to consider a high-interest loan from a band of hedge funds who called themselves “the consortium.” The group included Apollo Management Group, Elliott Management Corp. and other distressed-debt investors that sometimes take over the companies they lend to, people familiar with the matter said.

Apollo Management Group and Elliott Management are cut-throat lenders. Here’s what happened next.

That all changed on March 23 when the Federal Reserve defibrillated bond markets with an unprecedented lending program. Within days, Carnival’s investment bankers at JPMorgan Chase & Co. were talking to conventional investors such as AllianceBernstein Holding and Vanguard Group about a deal. By April 1, the company had raised almost $6 billion in bond markets, paying rates far below those executives had discussed just days earlier.

There are a couple of other reporters who covered what happened, including Lawrence Strauss at Barron’s and Robert Smith at the Financial Times, and while the amounts are unknowable, it’s evident the Federal Reserve gave a large implicit subsidy to the corporation.

I’ll walk you through how we can tell. The original loan offer from . . .

Read the whole thing.

Written by Leisureguy

1 May 2020 at 8:10 pm

A slew of hotels are heeding cities’ pleas for help. Trump’s aren’t.

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Of course they aren’t. Anita Kumar reports in Politico:

New York City needs more space — additional field hospitals, rooms for medical workers, shelters for the homeless. But President Donald Trump’s flagship property remains open and isn’t among the 20-plus hotels that have offered up empty rooms.

It’s a situation playing out across the country. In the seven American cities with Trump luxury hotels, no local officials said the Trump properties were in discussions to house overflow patients or medical personnel.

In three cities — New York, Chicago and Washington, D.C. — the president’s properties are still open, even though they have few guests, according to hotel, union and city officials and industry representatives. In four other cities — Las Vegas, Miami, Honolulu and Charlottesville, Va. — Trump’s properties are closed.

The Trump hotels aren’t alone. Thousands of hotels in New York and elsewhere have not responded to the voluntary requests of local and state officials, though they could do so later as the outbreak grows. Hotels that are used for shelters or housing — as opposed to hospitals — might even be able to keep some employees on staff.

“The city is actively working to expand our hospital capacity and increase the number of beds as quickly as possible,” said Omar Bourne, press secretary at the New York City Emergency Management Department. “We are exploring all options, including using hotels as medical surge facilities.”

At the White House podium, Trump has repeatedly praised private businesses for their assistance in helping the federal government fight coronavirus — talking up projects to help people get tested, efforts to overhaul assembly lines to make much-needed medical supplies and projects to feed children who are home from school.

The White House’s official Twitter account has even praised hotels for housing medical workers during the pandemic. “Thank you to hotels around the country for providing healthcare workers and first responders a place to stay while they’re on the front lines of the pandemic,” the post read.

Yet the president’s own businesses have not yet stepped into the breach, a fact Trump’s critics were quick to pounce on but that most state and local officials didn’t want to directly address.

“It’s entirely unsurprising,” said Rep. Jamie Raskin (D-Md.), a House Oversight Committee member who has pushed for investigations into whether Trump’s businesses are illegally profiting from U.S. taxpayers and foreign governments. “It never occurred to me the business would engage in philanthropic activity.” . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

11 April 2020 at 1:24 pm

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