Donald Trump is not the issue

We have spent a lot of time focused on Donald Trump these past few years, probably because in an era of social media and a lack of volume control he speaks the loudest He makes for good headlines and he commands millions of loyal supporters. He positions himself as larger than life. Ultimately in control of his followers. The voice either of reason or insanity depending on which side you are on. He is bombastic and not very well read (this by his own admission) . He views the world literally one dollar at a time, focused on transactions in place of deep thinking. His appeal primarily being he is not a traditional politician. At a time when public opinions view of Congress is at all time low, his promise to tear it all down was welcomed. But for all the promises, all the chaos was this all a creation of Trump’s mind? Like so many things in history it goes way deeper than that. The reality is Donald Trump is just a symptom of what has occurred on the US for the last 30-40 yrs. A period which has seen the American middle class in a gradual decline to poverty and social decay. It has been a perversion and destruction on the American dream.

That American dream was a white persons dream (in 1950 89.5% of US population was white). Largely built during the era of post World War II America, A country that came through the global war with her homelands unscathed and an economy intact with a world at her doorstep that needed rebuilding. Blue collar workers in America had strong unions and consequently had great wages. The American dream was a house with two cars, a husband and wife and two kids. The television was new and exciting with a TV dinner tray (is this where American obesity stated?). Luckily no remote, so you actually had to get up and turn the channel (there were only three). Growing up you learned about the fifties in a dreamlike fashion. Eisenhower was president and he played a lot of golf (the record is actually held by Woodrow Wilson at over 1200 rounds, Eisenhower is second). The American dream was at its crest.

Between that crest and now a lot of things happened to change the view of the American dream. When we see a dream a lot lurks under the covers. The civil rights movement exploded, trying to make up for 246 years of slavery and 100 years of Jim Crow. It is still with us nearly 50 years after the Civil Rights act. Vietnam brought our military and political leadership into question. The labor unions slowly died as we let the free market decide peoples fate and more importantly their net worth to society. We were taught to distrust government and then wonder why it fails us. Yet time and time again during times of crisis we turned to our government (9/11, Financial Crisis, COVID-19 etc..) to save us from the mess we were in. If you think about it we seem to in crisis very eight to nine years. We seem to put our hatred of government n pause in those moments.

We did not get here over night. Where we are today has been a long time in the making. It did not start with Obama or GW Bush. We have slowly been moving this direction towards a sharp division in the United States. A trend that seems like it cannot be broken. We lack a civil discourse in the nation. We have started to doubt who we are and where we are headed. Generations have grown up with the idea of American exceptionalism. For many it was a concrete belief bordering on fact, but over time we have seen this belief begin to fragment. To see some of our darker secrets enter the national dialog. The days of the man working at a factory and coming home to a house with his wife and kids, seems like a dream of yesteryear. Most of those jobs and the wages associated with them outsources abroad. In the meantime the free market people say, “you need to find something else to do”, which always amazes me as they fail to accommodate the factor known as time. You have to find the “new” thing, get necessary training (education) perhaps relocate all while still having bills to pay. It’s easy.

Oklahoma City was a seminal moment in US history. On April 19, 1995 a bomb went off in the Alfred P Murrah Federal building killing 167 people and sending shockwaves throughout America. The immediate reaction was this was foreign terrorist activity, but what America was not prepared for was the terrorists were not foreign, they were homegrown. Timothy McVeigh would go down in history as the instigator of this crime but as time past on, in the circles of the extreme right he would become a hero and not a villain. McVeigh had grown disillusioned with the American government. The Waco siege was a defining moment for him of government overreach. He was a extreme gun rights advocate, so extreme he left the NRA, viewing it as too soft on gun rights. He was a racist, reading works like the “Turner Diaries”. But more importantly his view on government rather than being disconcerting, has become prominent in American dialog when discussing government. There is a large and growing group of people who hate their government. Like a slow moving cancerous disease it continues to spread. In those groups McVeigh is a hero.

It is ok for a society to be disappointed in government. This is what our democracy was built upon, for the people if they were not happy with their existing government leadership, they were provided the ballot box to change it. When it was created it was revolutionary. However over the past several decades we have seen Americans faith in government erode. Routine polls show Congress below 25%. Negative campaigning is the norm. Social Media has altered the discourse towards emotional outbursts rather than substantive dialog. It has altered the mood in the nation and ravaged our social framework. People routinely site a return to the constitution, but I would argue we have never really left it. The framework of our government remains intact as defined by the first three articles of the constitution. What the federal government does not decide falls to the states (article IV). If you do not like how your state is handing government, there are 49 other states to choose from. The constitution is alive and well.

Technology which really started as an industry towards the end of the eighties with the birth of companies like Apple and Microsoft, would play an increasing role in this public discourse. A big driver was the dawn of the internet into the public domain. As the web evolved it began to take on a social connection and before you knew it you had lots of social outlets (like blogging!), which included Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Snap etc…But like so many things that started out innocently such as connecting with high school classmates you have not seen in 20 yrs turned ugly and it was not long before foreign adversary’s took note and started manipulating social media for their own benefit and detriment of the United States. In an interesting twist at the time, then President Trump chose to ignore the involvements of foreign adversaries. Anything that diminished him was unacceptable. Technology is the most hyper-competitive industry on the planet, with that in mind it forges ahead at breakneck speed only thinking of consequences when it is too late.

We are also going through big demographic changes. By now we all know that by the year 2050, based on current demographics and birthrates, white people will no longer be the majority of the US population. This is ok (I feel I need to say that). It will cause change in how we govern. If you look at the two sacred documents in the United States; The Declaration of Independence (1776) and the US Constitution (1783) they were written by white men. There were plenty of slaves at the time they just were not considered a part of the documents. As the Dred Scott decision in 1857 would teach us,if you were black you had no rights because you were not citizens. Do not get upset of your fellow Americans if they do not hold these two documents in sanctity, there is a reason. This change, feared by many should not be feared as it was the basis this country aspired to when it was created. But fear of the unknown has always created anxiety, but it will challenge us a a people and despite best efforts a wall will not prevent it.

Today we have a nation that now whispers and hints of civil war. Groups discussing secession. In Idaho there is the American Redoubt Movement, in some ways described as a movement towards a more simplistic life. In Texas some desire to be independent (may be an opportunity for Mexico to take its land back). Other groups are more extreme such as Proud Boys, Oath Keepers, and a whole host of neo-Nazi type organizations. None really have a organizational structure that warrants mass public fear, but they are a regular occurance on news broadcasts. It was NY Times Columnist David Brooks who coined the term “explosive distrust”. Explosive distrust is not just that you disagree with someone’s view, it is that you view their views as illegitimate. To me that sums up where we are as a nation today. We have become so divided we cannot listen to dissenting view points. Which is exactly one of the principles this country was founded on. We are reaching a crossroads in this countries existence.

By global standards we are still a young country and one of the great experiments in human history. Can a people govern themselves? It is the question and the test of our democracy, it always has been. We are a impatient country, a product of our economic desires and lust for immediate gratification. Which is why the coming decades may be difficult. We did not get here overnight. It will take time for us to renew our belief in our nation. We have explosive and divisive issues before us, some within our control and some beyond our control . President Biden has called it “a battle for the soul of America”. That is a honest and true statement, regardless of what side of the political divide you stand with. It will be a battle that will take in all likelihood decades to resolve. It will be hard and if we descend into bloodletting and allow are divisions, anger and hate to prevail, the Constitution will die and a new America will awaken, much different than the one we have come to love, to call home. We are greater than any one individual and have never been a country looking to have one figure with absolute power, but chaos was never built on defined morality.

Good Night and Good Luck,

Hans Henrik Hoffmann

January 24, 2022

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Why Defund the Police failed

A year ago it was all the rage. George Young’s death at the hands of a police officer very quickly went viral. It became front and center in the American dialog and in the American media. Protests spread across the country, on top of the fact that we were in the midst of a pandemic. the police were not protectors of the law, they were the enemy. We need to reduce our dependence on our local police force and allocate our money elsewhere, we need to defund the police. If you were on the extreme left, it was your cause. If you were on the extreme right this was the gateway to violent revolution (and communism, if I thought they knew what communism is I would expand, but they don’t). It was a very emotional moment in the timeline of US history. But just as quickly as it came it seemed to disappear. Sure there are still few fringe groups pushing this narrative, but given the immediate results of these efforts it is retracting. Emotional responses are rarely rational responses and like a fire dying down you are soon left with slowly dying embers. Emotions burn hot but for a very short time.

Since Police forces are local operaration, city councils jumped to the forefront. We need to cut the budget of our local law enforcement. But it was all emotional and in the end burned itself out. Of late many City Councils who jumped on the band wagon, are now quietly jumping off. As they lost police officers and reduced budgets what happened? Crime went up. When crime increases people begin to feel uneasy. In my home town of Seattle, the city council jumped all over defund the police, causing a mass exodus of police officers. Not surprisingly 2021 looks to be a banner year for crime in Seattle (visit Seattle Police Crime Dashboard). Oakland has looked to create programs to fill vacancies amidst a spike in crime rates. It really is not that surprising, where there is a vacuum criminals are quick to fill. If you looked at the national level, then candidate Joe Biden never joined in. It was maturity versus the feeling of the moment.

Early on I looked into what the ideas were for defund the police. Which was not easy to find, a scattering of ideas, but nothing truly definitive . One thing about government is when you defund one organization the money you save is not going back to taxpayers, it needs to go somewhere. During its peak I tried looking online for what are some of the plans these so called civic activists had for reforming city budgets. It was a hodge podge of ideas that were kind of random and ill informed. A personal favorite was involving social workers. If we have someone who is drunk and problematic lets bring in a social worker to handle the situation. A few notes on this. Not everyone is a “happy” drunk. Some are actually angry and violent drunks. Which is why police get called in. Are social workers trained to deal with these situations especially if the drunk attacks them? Not to mention we should discuss how much social workers get paid, the mean avg salary for a social worker in 2020 was $51,760, as provided by Bureau of Labor and Statistics. We know the case loads they already have is overloaded, despite some peoples best efforts to label them lazy bureaucrats. Another idea was getting rid of SWAT teams, because the riots got a bit violent. SWAT teams are trained to handle situations beyond the capabilities of a traditional police force. Negotiations with a terrorist group in a hostage situation? In today’s world luckily not used to often, but when you need it nice to have.

Police pay became a issue. Yes, Police officers get paid well. However these are very high stress jobs and some of that pay is a bit mislabled. They do get paid well depending on where you are located, but in Seattle, go the Seattle Gov website and you can see after 3.5 yrs Seattle police officers can be making over 100k (cost of living in Seattle would be another issue). Police get a lot of overtime pay which add to their base salary. All those officers at construction sites, funeral processions etc..valued services but it’s OT and that is ok and appreciated. I find many are upset about Police salaries because they are not being paid well in their line of work, but can you put a price on public safety? In my view Police receive what they deserve, not to mention everyday they show up for work could be their last, not due to layoffs but to violence.

Part of our modern culture is the volume that social media creates. Things get loud very quickly and at times it seems like they will change the world forever, when reality they are just over blown moments in time. It is hard to disseminate what is factual and what is overblown hype. When the video of George Floyd appeared, it was naturally and rightfully viewed with horror by the American public (and global). We have seen a lot of videos over the past several years that have harmed the image of our local Police force. Let us not mince words, it has been painful. It has hurt the country. Most importantly it has hurt our police force.

Our history is far from perfect, one just need look back to the civil rights movement to see the brutality levied against black Americans. After 246 yrs of slavery and 100 yrs of Jim Crow, trust in authority will not happen in mere decades. The US incarceration rate does not help matters, where 13 % of US population is black, but make up 40% of prison population. It is unbalanced. There are areas we still have to address as a nation if we are to restore faith in our institutions For any nation to survive it needs a rule of law and the ability to enforce those rules. Our police officers provide a vital role in that enforcement and maintaining the safety of our citizens. I undertsand the hostility of black americans (as best as a white male can) and in the age of instant information things explode unexpectedly and often rightfully. We should keep in mind what we see on the internet are exceptions not rules, the majority of police officers provide invaluable service to the communities they serve.

In the end the movement to defund the police succumbed to reality. The real people taking note of this movement were not a bunch on “do gooders”, but wait for it….criminals. Defund the people who are supposed to bust us, meaning less feet on the street, a opportunity is provided with ill intent. One thing that defines the current age is our emotional impulses. We tend to move to rage very quickly, leaving rational thought behind. Our ability to think long term solutions versus immediate gratification is blunted, almost always towards the latter. Too many of us see the problem but cannot grasp the solution. The national crisis on homelessness being one that comes to mind. Defund the police was always emotional and as is typical in this day an age a blanket statement was created to define a problem, but a alternative solution was never provided. It also ignored the good work that many police officers do, instead focused on a variety of negative situations, some very valid thanks to the ability of all of us to capture events on our iPhone.

In the end every tragedy that occurs is a chance to for us to review and reform Following the shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, MO one of the reforms/innovations that took place was body camera’s on police officers. It was a step forward. People were outraged and the country looked to reform and look forward. The outcome of George Floyd, beyond the trial has not led to any reform. Despite the rhetoric it has not led to new methods of policing. As the post started our ability to tackle crime in some cities has regressed. Socially we painted the police force as a dark force in America. This was a bit dim in my view. Do we have issues of “bad” police. Yes. Do we have issues of race in the US? Yes. We have systemic issues in the US rooted in history. However the idea that defund the police was going to revolutionize law enforcement was always a dream without a foundation.

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History’s lessons

It was Mark Twain who once said “History does not repeat itself but it often rhymes”. It seems appropriate to review history given the times we are in. Over the past several decades we are a country that has become so divided we dare not speak to anyone who we consider “on the other side”. Each side viewing the other with contempt. The murmurs of a “stolen election” based on rhetoric, not fact. In a time of iPhone videos not even a stream of a crime being committed, but if you yell loud enough you will be heard and you will be followed. We seemingly scream anything these days in social media, many times ignorant of the historical context. We should not underestimate the power and reach of social media to amplify whatever sentiment we may support, to increase are level of anger and its sister, stress.

Donald Trump during one of his MAGA events said, “I am a Nationalist” to great applause. Given my personal history it made my stomach turn. Had we forgotten our history lessons or had we just become numb to what they meant? There are those that dismiss history and those that choose to learn from it. There are also those that get mired in a past that they elevate to some form of glory as if despite all the progress mankind has made we were better off before than we are now. A sentimental but sometimes dangerous tune to be swept away by. Yes as history has proven from time to time humanity chooses insanity over compassion.

Nationalism was a time in history where more was made of the leaders who led it rather than what it stood for. We are all familiar with their names: Hitler, Franco, Mussolini, Salazar (ok little shout out to Portugal there) etc.. We know the promises that were delivered and the tragedy that ensued. They created a cult of personality. They were worshipped like idols so decried in a biblical sense, but believing themselves above scripture and ordained by the heavens, self ordained gods. It was a cult of personality. We are seeing a new form of Nationalists come to the forefront in Trump, Putin, Bolsonaro, Erdogan, etc..each long on marketing and showmanship but short on details. Promising to the crowds and the applause a greater life and then returning to the safety net of individual wealth and luxury. Speaking not to the nation but only there loyal supporters. Many confuse nationalism with patriotism.

When I was born in in 1966 we were only 20 yrs removed from WWII. We were 50 yrs removed from WWI. There were still many veterans of both wars who remembered the horrors and atrocities of those dark years. We had a connection to the past and it was still vividly taught in our schools. because it was closer in time the atrocities of WWII were covered in greater detail – from the holocaust to Hiroshima. In my own home my father had participated in the Danish underground. He has walked streets that were marked with armed soldiers of the Reich. We all knew and were fairly well versed in Nazi atrocities. How had a country become some so seduced by one man? That would lead to a World War and cause levels of cruelty deemed unimaginable. Hitler came to symbolize evil. To represent a part of humanity that was hard to acknowledge that it existed or believe that it could ever happen again.

Time causes humanity’s senses to dull. WWI is now a 100 years in the rear view mirror and World War II over 75 years. A generation of young adults has little direct connection to those wars probably being steeped more in the latest wars in Iraq. Though brutal neither can hold a candle to the World War’s , where tens of millions of people perished in gulags and gas chambers, or simply on the firing line. We have begun to forget the consequences of war. In the United States the suffering caused by war was really only experienced in the South during the American Civil War and that is over 150 years ago, though the results of America’s experiment with slavery linger to this day. We now see globally a shift to the right and a return to the ideology of nationalism. It is different so far, but it is still early. The further we drift in time from ahistorical events the more clouded our mind becomes in remembering and undertstanding the consequences of those events.

One thing that has been implied but not spoken is what is the vision for the future of this nationalistic ideology? Make America Great Again makes for sound marketing, but it does not promise to build a future. To date it is a future where liberal ideas do not exist and how we rid ourselves of them has not been suggested. If we return to history we may find the answer. When I think of that my mind does not look to Fascism in Germany or Italy, but to a lesser know but equally brutal war: The Spanish Civil War. Prior to the war Spain had been mired in political dysfunction as various ideologies took root and competed for popular sovereignty(the early 20th Century was full of political ideology – communism through to fascism and everything in between). In the end it led to a civil war with land owners, the military and the church on one side and the republic, anarchists, communists, labor unions etc..on the other. Franco led the well organized military and the solution to opposition was simple – either put them in jail or shoot them. Atrocities were committed for the greater good of Spain. The dictatorship would last for 40 yrs until Franco’s death in 1975, even then Spain chose to put the past aside and focus on the future.

The mere fact that civil war is suggested in some circles is cause for concern. There would be no Mason-Dixon line this time to separate the nation, there would be only political divides. In Spain if your found to be holding any papers sympathetic to trade unions or papers that were left leaning that was enough. If you want to learn more about this period, view the documentary “The Silence of Others” (can be found on Netflix). In some ways it is more in line with modern warfare which is not driven by state lines or national borders in pursuit of political enemies. If anything America learned alot about this after 9/11. In begs the question of the future of the nation state, but that is for another blog post. Could the US actually descend into a state of chaos of civil war, Reagans beacon of shining light shred to pieces? It seems far fetched given the strength of our government institutions. But for too long we have taught a generation to distrust government and with that comes consequences, which we are only starting to face now.

It all seems a bit bleak, the classic if we do not learn from history we are doomed to repeat it. There are things that have changed in our favor. We cannot help but be in awe of the advances in science. Both in technology and the bio sciences. We are connected, but in a strange way we are also more disconnected. Living lives virtually and not really living. Seeing nature’s great beauty and rather than enjoying the moment, choosing to post it. If emotions could determine our fate then where we are headed seems a futile endeavor. Governed by humanities simplest and unkindest of emotions and descending into hatred and rage. These are not the emotions of rational people, but of suffering people. People who feel humiliated forgotten. Welcome to White America and Black America. On one side we have a group of people who saw their jobs vanish oversees and technology claim their position (these are blue collar folks, not the white power brokers). On the other side we have over 400 yrs of grievances dating back to the first slave in 1619. It is not surprising that we are endring something of a stress test. Many say it is a constitutional crisis, but I am rather dismissive of that argument. It is far greater than a written document, it is a crisis if the human spirit.

Good Night and Good Luck,

Hans Henrik Hoffmann Oct 28, 2021

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A Soulless City Called Seattle

Many years ago I read the book “Ghost Train to the Eastern Star” by the travel writer Paul Theroux, written n 2008. One passage stood out to me in the book as he toured through Japan. It read, “All travel is time travel. Having just arrived in Japan, I felt I had traveled into the future, to a finished version of all the cities I’d passed through on this trip. In time if they made plans, American big cities would evolve to become the same sort of metropolis,just as big, just as efficient and intimidating: Los Angeles and Seattle and New York already had the same shape and bones and the general shape of Tokyo and would soon be just as soulless”. I cannot speak too much on LA and Tokyo, but Seattle is my hometown and I can speak a lot on it’s soul or lack thereof. Probably of most concern is that as time has passed in Seattle I cannot disagree. We have become a plastic city. Seeking to teardown the old, in search of the new.

The Seattle I grew up and the Seattle of today are much different cities. The Seattle of the seventies was still a smaller city by US standards, locked away in the northwest corner of the continental United States. It seemed a sleepy city with the local economy driven by the airplane giant Boeing. It still had a very blue collar feel to it. My father was a carpenter and would be out of the house before 6am and be home a little after 4 in the afternoon. The downtown area had high rises but still a lot of older building including one that had a Woolworth (a rich legacy from a different era). The restaurants were older (who remembers the Dog House?). The streets were mainly empty at night. It was certainly not New York or LA, but it was comfortable. There were skyscrapers but not too many, you could count them, the tallest being around fifty stories. It was a good place to live as it did not suffer from the illnesses of the larger metropolitan cities. In my youth is seemed the biggest city in the world.

As the seventies came to a close and the eighties began a new era was about to dawn and a major hub of that era would be born across the water in Redmond. The rise of Microsoft sparked a new a era for Seattle and not far behind we had Starbucks, McCaw Cellular, Amazon and a number of high tech companies. We soon had a who’s who of the very wealthy – Gates, Allen, McCaw, Bezos, then divorces created some of the wealthiest woman on the planet (McKenzie and Melinda). Seattle had problems but the economy and money were not a part of the problem. We had transitioned to a new era in Seattle. Growth in the city would accelerate the once sleepy downtown sprung to life. The number of residence in the inner city would explode as we moved into the nineties, making the city itself no longer a 9-5 lifestyle as the days were extended to well into the night.

With the technological boom the city of Seattle began to rapidly change. When you have wealthy people you pretty soon have homes that are estates. Real Estate prices started to sore and they continue to soar. This meant the death of neighborhoods. The Central District which was traditionally Seattle’s black neighborhood quickly succumbed to gentrification, which is a fancy word for capitalism gone wild The idea of traditional inner cities has left Seattle, sure there are still small foot prints but they are shrinking. A house bought for under 100k now fetched close to a million, maybe more. Some say that is great, but then the next question is where do you move and how far out of Seattle must you go to find something you can afford? The city had stated to become too expensive to live in.

The skyline of Seattle had grown into a stale architectural disaster. A bunch of capitalist developers creating a series of rectangle’s that dot the skyline which they call art. We all can draw stick figures, we are just not all vein enough to call ourselves artists. In the end it looks blase. For a city that likes to think itself modern its amazing we cannot think beyond the idea of a rectangle and look to some of the cool buildings being constructed in Europe, Asia or the Middle East. We are capitalists and think in terms of maximizing profits. Looking at the short term, unable to grasp the future. Mistaking dollars spent and dollars made as a way to beautify the skyline, not realizing we have shamed ourselves into ugliness.

When you think of cities that have a soul, you probably do not think of many in the United States. Great cities of the world like Rome, London, Madrid, Cairo Etc…have deep roots, deep histories. Seattle on the other hand seems intent on selling its history for the future. A future that at the surface looks blank and rather sterile. There are still some historical sites and we have Public Market, though developers seem intent in destroying it Underground Seattle still exits and Pioneer Square is alive and well. Areas like the International District (formerly China Town) are shrinking as new development comes in and sterilizes the neighborhood. It probably is a bit unfair to compare Seattle to really old cities like Rome or Paris, as we have nowhere near their history. however at our current pace we seem to change everything, tearing down the old (which by historical standards is not that old), to embrace the new. No matter how anyone tries to depict it the future never looks that great.

Walking around Seattle a few years ago waiting to meet a friend I was struck by all the slick, trendy and swank restaurants. All filled to capacity and even on a Tuesday night. Everything was made for the technology sector. Everything had to be new, modern and trendy. At some point it all looks rather stale. When everything is new and modern, you start to lose focus of who you are and where you have been. Youth however never appreciates the old, always thinking whatever is around the corner must be exciting and fulfilling. Only to lose interest not long after the discovery. Maybe in a thousand years Seattle will have developed some charm, some character, maybe even a sense of soul. In the meantime we race ahead seeking the new and shiny. Looking at shapeless highrises stretching towards the sky. Perhaps looking to heaven to find Seattle’s soul.

Good Night and Good Luck

Hans Hoffmann

Sept 20, 2021

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The poor, the homeless

It seems to be front and center in America, for some a daily struggle to survive and for some a thing to be shunned and shoved in a corner, out of sight and out of mind. Somewhere along the way in America it grew so it it no longer could be hidden. It greeted us every morning. In my hometown of Seattle it is a constant reminder of our failure as a society. Debates rage on in the city council on what can we do to help our homeless. How can we house? feed? Provide treatments that can help? How can we get people to a level where they can take care of themselves? We are asking the right questions, but questions without answers are just complaints. What we are also learning is there are different levels of being homeless and different reasons. One thing is clear and that is there are no easy solutions. It will take time and cannot simply be washed away.

In Seattle homelessness is a epidemic. It greets us everyday as we drive on the freeway, in the city and it branches out to the suburbs. As we gaze upon it there are common scenarios. A whole lot of trash and filth littered around the encampments . Usually accompanied in the litter are a lot of used needles. Sometimes nearby they defecate. The tents we throw away or donate to Goodwill can be found here. The people themselves wore torn clothes that are filthy, they smell horrible, usually of urine, They loiter about most of the day. At freeway entrances and off ramps asking for money, usually holding a cardboard sign with some plee or story begging for sympathy. Leaving it to the donor to decide if it is real or fake, most of the time these drivers are simply numb to its existence, having grown used to seeing it everyday. Becoming only more uncaring and disgusted as the number seemingly grows. The encampments they live in sometimes grow to be rather large, so large they may even get a name, like “The Jungle”. They are occasionally torn down, but in the end they just move somewhere else.

No matter where you walk the signs of the homeless are there staring you in the face. As you walk peer into a wooded area and you are likely to see a tent dwelling. Sometimes these dwelling are solo other times there may be 15-20 dwellings – tents in the woods, RV’s parked alongside the road. There are always a few people hanging around. In once instance I saw two men giving each other a clean shave the old fashioned way, with blade in hand. Sometimes there is ambition as a artist tries to sell some of his or her paintings. But in each landscape there is the over arching theme of hopelessness. The american dream has passed them by as if it never existed, to them it was a great white lie. We used to dream of owning a home but now it is just the right to survive.

One question with no answer is where do these people come from? Many are not local residents. Like so much of the globe however people are moving towards the big cities. Leaving small rural communities, where opportunity is dwindling. Real estate is booming and the American dream of owning a home is fading into the past. Rents are increasing and wages remain stagnant. In the book “Nomadland” many of the people are not suffering from homelessness but suffer from houselessness. They are usually over sixty and have given up on owning a home and all the expenses that come with it that they our challenged to meet. They turn their vehicles into homes on wheels and travel the land taking up work where they can. Some companies like Amazon even have programs to recruit them for seasonal work. A luxury of wealthy companies, pay them like dirt with no benefits and then sell it to them like they are the lucky few. These nomads are everywhere many of those filthy RV’s parked around town are Nomads. Many people you see suffer from some form of mental health issue, they need treatments and medication, but in a country of tax cuts for the wealthy programs need to be cut. We have a tendency in America to think if I do not benefit from it why should I pay for it. There is a downside to this view point.

Some argue that people come to big cities for the services they are able to provide the poor. In Seattle they do offer some housing, medical assistance, hygiene, restroom facilities etc..In addition there are volunteer services like food banks. These are fundamental service and do not offer the bigger picture service such as addressing mental health, substance abuse, job training etc..All these services need funding or donations, nothing is free. Everyone wants clean streets. But in an era where we all cry for less government this is one of the results, whether it be municipal government or federal governments, we feel they intrude on our lives. However there are some problems private industry cannot fix. The private sector works for profit and homelessness is not a profitable business. Government has always been called on when we have needs as people. But in an era where we are shrinking government finding the money to fund “big thinking” is near impossible. So the homeless continue to grow.

The problems we face did not happen overnight, it was decades in the making. White people seem to immortalize the 50’s in America as a golden era (if you were black you were under Jim Crowe). At the time labor unions were at their peak and manufacturing jobs provided steady work at a good wage with benefits and a pension plan. Then came the economists. Disciples of Adam Smith and the “invisible hand”, claiming the free market could solve all, for a price. Milton Friedman said it best, The only social responsibility a corporation has is to maximize profits”. Labor was expensive, we need to reduce. Along comes Harvard Prof Michael Porter and “Theories of Competitive Advantage” and off-shoring was born. Reduce Taxes which translates to cutting social programs, the people at the top are doing great, the rest not so much. Over time this sentiment grew and middle America seemingly began to die.

By this time we all know the data – we have put a system in place that allows the top 1% to excel to heights we have not seen since the early 1900’s when the Rockefellers, JP Morgans, Vanderbilts, etc..built empires of gold. Now they have been replaced by Gates, Bezos, Zuckerberg etc..Living in realities which we can only dream. In the meantime the numbers at the bottom continue to grow. But rather than chip away at empires we go down the path of reinventing slums. Where we are today did not happen all of a sudden,. We have chipped away at social safety nets in search of the free market that will care for all, not realizing the free markets true god was Charles Darwin, which in the end cares for no one. The American crisis will continue to grow, but right now it is taking a back seat to other issues, like COVID-19. The solution will not happen overnight it will take time and money and is entirely dependent on the willand resolve of our citizens, but for now that desire to correct the wrongs of over a half-century does not exist, so we will ineth short term only see the problem metastasize until we have no choice.

Good Night and Good Luck

Hans Hoffmann August 16, 2021

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