In “One Neighborhood at a Time” Bobo babbles that healing the social fabric is complex, but communities like Lost Hills, Calif., are beacons of hope. He neglects to tell us that his friends are bloated plutocrats. Here’s a comment by “Socrates” from Downtown Verona NJ: “One Orwellian Inspiration At A Time, Lord Brooks. 75% of Lost Hills’ poor, mostly Latino 2,400 people work for one company, Paramount Farms, the pistachio/almond water-hungry subsidiary of the duplicitously named Wonderful Company LLC, the private corporation owned by billionaires Stewart and Lynda Resnick that uses 120 billion gallons of water each year, enough to supply San Francisco’s 852,000 residents for a decade. The Resnicks are the Koch Brothers of both California and Fiji water who work full-time behind the political scenes to ensure their privatized profits are guaranteed full exploitative economic rights over public water rights. “As a result of the political influence of billionaires who receive taxpayer-subsidized water, California’s Dept. of Water Resources functions almost as a subsidiary of the water exporters,” wrote Barbara Barrigan-Parrilla, executive director of Restore the Delta. “Through a series of subsidiary companies, Roll International (Wonderful’s old company name) is able to convert California’s water from a public, shared resource into a private asset that can be sold on the market to the highest bidder” and as one of the largest private water brokers in the US, Roll International makes millions in profits off marketing subsidized public water back to the public, wrote journalist Yasha Levine. https://goo.gl/zWEg2z , http://www.motherjones.com/politics/2009/09/fiji-spin-bottle This column is completely nuts on every conceivable level.” Just as most of his stuff is. Mr. Cohen considers “The Know-Nothing Tide” and says that Trump says America was strongest when “politics ended at water’s edge.” He’s wrong. Here, gawd help us, is Bobo extolling his plutocrat buddies:
What is the central challenge facing our era? My answer would be: social isolation.
Gaps have opened up among partisan tribes, economic classes and races. There has been a loss of social capital, especially for communities down the income scale.
Take, for example, the town of Lost Hills. Lost Hills is a farming town in the Central Valley, 42 miles northwest of Bakersfield. It is not a rich town, but neither is it a desolate one. There are jobs here, thanks to the almond and pistachio processing plants nearby. When you go to the pre-K center and look at the family photos on the wall, you see that most of the families are intact — a mom, a dad and a couple kids standing proudly in front of a small ranch house. Many of these families have been here for decades.
But until recently you didn’t find the community organizations that you’d expect to find in such a place. There’s still no permanent church. Up until now there has been no library and no polling station. The closest police station is 45 miles away. Until recently there were no sidewalks nor many streetlights, so it was too dangerous to go trick-or-treating.
Alexis de Tocqueville wrote that Americans are great at forming spontaneous voluntary groups. But in towns like Lost Hills, and in neighborhoods across the country, that doesn’t seem to be as true any more.
Maybe with the rise of TV and the Internet people are happier staying in the private world of home. Maybe it’s the loss of community leaders. Every town used to have its small-business owners and bankers. But now those businesses and banks are owned by investment funds far away.
Either way, social isolation produces rising suicide rates, rising drug addiction, widening inequality, political polarization, depression and alienation.
Fortunately, we’re beginning to see the rise of intentional community instigators. If social capital isn’t going to form spontaneously, people and groups will try to jump-start it into existence.
Lost Hills is the home of a promising experiment. The experiment is being led by Lynda Resnick, who, with her husband, Stewart, owns the Wonderful Company, which includes FIJI Water, POM juice and most of the pistachios and almonds you eat. You should know that I’m friends with Lynda and Stewart and am biased in their direction. But what they are doing is still worth learning from.
First, they are flooding the zone. They’re not trying to find one way to serve this population. The problems are so intertwined, they are trying to change this community from all directions at once. In Lost Hills there are new health centers, new pre-K facilities, new housing projects, new gardens, new sidewalks and lights, a new community center and a new soccer field. Through the day, people have more places to meet, play and cooperate with their neighbors.
Second, they’ve created a practical culture of self-improvement. You can talk about social reform in ways that seem preachy. But the emphasis here is on better health and less diabetes, a nonmoralistic way to change behavior.
At the nut plant I met men and women who’d lost over 100 pounds. One of the workers gets up at 2:45 every morning, so he can hit the gym by 4 and be at work by 6. This guy wants to be around to watch his kids grow, and his self-disciplined health regime has led to a whole life transformation. He’s now taking business and law courses online.
The new institutions here are intensely social. When you go to the health center, you don’t sit silently in the waiting room before going into a small room for your 15-minute visit. Many of the patients have group visits (sort of like Al Anon groups) to meet communally with doctors and encourage one another’s healthier behavior. The medical staffs perform as teams, too. Staff members sit together in a central workroom collaborating all day.
Finally, there are more cross-class connections. Dr. Maureen Mavrinac moved here from the UCLA Family Medicine Department. Dr. Rishi Manchanda was the lead physician for homeless primary care at the Los Angeles V.A. These are among the dozens who have come to Lost Hills not to save the place from outside, but to befriend it. Their way of being ripples. I met several local women who said they were shy and quiet, but now they are joining community boards and running meetings.
What’s the right level to pursue social repair? The nation may be too large. The individual is too small. The community is the right level, picking a piece of land and giving people a context in which they can do neighborly things — like the dads here who came to the pre-K center and spent six hours building a shed, and with it, invisibly, a wider circle of care for their children.
Bobo should be put in a barrel with 5 angry weasels and rolled down a hill. Here’s Mr. Cohen:
On the evidence, ethnocentrism is a pretty basic human instinct. Band together with your own. Keep the outsider down or out. In the 1850s, at another moment of American unease, the Know-Nothings swept Massachusetts and won mayoral elections in Philadelphia and Washington on a nativist platform to “purify” national politics by stopping the influx of Irish and German Catholics.
Papist influence was then the perceived scourge through which the Know-Nothing movement, as the Native American Party (later the American Party) was commonly known, built its following. Today the supposed threat is Muslim and Mexican infiltration. Or so Donald Trump, the de facto Republican presidential candidate, would have us believe in his “America First” program.
A know-nothing tide is upon us. Tribal politics, anchored in tribal media, has made knowing nothing a badge of honor. Ignorance, loudly declaimed, is an attribute, especially if allied to celebrity. Facts are dispensable baggage. To display knowledge, the acquisition of which takes time, is tantamount to showing too much respect for the opposition tribe, who know nothing anyway.
Any slogan can be reworked, I guess. America First has a long, unhappy history, the America First Committee having pressed the view that the United States should stay out of the war to defeat Fascism in World War II. Its most famous advocate was Charles Lindbergh, the aviator, who undermined the movement when he revealed that he blamed Jews for prodding America toward war. That was in 1941, not a good year for Jews anywhere, particularly in Europe, where, while Lindbergh opined, the annihilation of Jewry had begun.
Well, America First is back, tweaked as Trump’s we-won’t-be-suckers-anymore ideology. In his favor, it cannot be said that Trump has a stranglehold on political stupidity. Britain is seriously debating leaving the European Union, the greatest force for peace and stability in Europe since the carnage of the 1940s.
One is put in mind of the remark of James L. Petigru, a prominent jurist and politician, upon the secession of South Carolina from the Union in 1860: “South Carolina is too small for a republic and too large for an insane asylum.”
Britain’s pathologies resemble South Carolina’s.
Now where was I? Ah, yes, Trump, naturally. Trump, who has declared — or perhaps it was only a suggestion — that “Our moments of greatest strength came when politics ended at water’s edge.” Totally, he said that. Absolutely, he said that. Really, really, he said that. To deny it would be “absolutely a total lie.”
I suppose Trump was thinking of the Normandy landings, or perhaps the Marshall Plan, or Ronald Reagan’s “tear down this wall,” or the freeing of hundreds of millions of people from the totalitarian Soviet imperium, or the opening to China.
American isolationism is an oxymoron because America is a universal idea. That does not change however far short of its ideals the nation may fall.
On China, Trump has said: “We can both benefit or we can both go our separate ways.” Go our separate ways! Let’s unpack that. Right now America buys everything China makes, and China buys the American debt incurred for all the spending sprees on stuff from Guangzhou. Just because there may be separate ways into the gutter does not make the gutter any more alluring. Chinese-American symbiosis is an existential issue.
As for Egypt, Trump believes America ousted “a friendly regime” (of the former dictator, Hosni Mubarak) “that had a longstanding peace treaty with Israel.” No, Egypt has a peace treaty with Israel. Mr. Mubarak did not.
Speaking of Israel, Trump says, “President Obama has not been a friend to Israel.” Right, he has not been a friend to the tune of over $20.5 billion in foreign military financing since 2009. He has not been a friend by providing over $1.3 billion for the Iron Dome defense system alone since 2011. He has not been a friend by, in 2014, opposing 18 resolutions in the United Nations General Assembly that were biased against Israel; by helping to organize in 2015 the first U.N. General Assembly session on anti-Semitism in the history of the body; and by working tirelessly on a two-state peace, not least on the security arrangements for Israel that are among its preconditions. He has not been a friend by turning the other cheek in the face of what Nancy Pelosi once called “the insult to the intelligence of the United States” from Israel’s prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu.
The know-nothings are on the march. But of course they must know something. Millions of people who vote for Trump cannot be wrong. Perhaps their core idea, along with the unchanging appeal of ethnocentrism, is that politics no longer really matter. Celebrity matters.
Power centers are elsewhere — in financial systems, corporations, technology, networks — that long since dispensed with borders. That being the case, loudmouthed, isolationist trumpery may just be a sideshow, an American exercise in après-moi-le-déluge escapism.