Thank you for your service

America loves its men in uniform. Policemen and firefighters who responded to 9/11 in New York, Washington, and Pennsylvania were celebrated as heroes, as many of them were. Even a generation later, members of the American military — many who fought a war in the wrong country without ever questioning it — are given preferential boarding, preferential hiring, healthcare, paid leave, and state and municipal stipends the rest of us never see. Laws in some states place a greater value on a policeman’s life than on an ordinary citizen. State and federal laws criminalize false claims of having received military honors. Even among those who question American wars most fiercely one hears the familiar “thank you for your service.”

Until now Americans have regarded only a very limited (and mainly weapon-carrying) minority of American “workers” as worthy of our praise. When we attend professional sports events, out run men and women in fatigues to accompany the military flyovers. It has become so common for an on-leave service member to surprise his son or daughter at a school sports event or graduation ceremony that the President of the United States staged one of these heart-warming reunions at his last State of the Union address. Cash and spectacle are rewards for those who do the bidding of the Homeland Security industry without asking too many questions.

But America has real heroes — and they have been right under our noses all along.

The global pandemic we find ourselves in today has made it clear that those who continue to deliver the mail, pick up the trash, show up for work at supermarkets, staff the help lines, deliver pizza to the door, care for the sick, drive the trucks, fix the power lines, keep the internet working, the lights on, make meals for school children, look in on their elderly neighbors — we/you are truly the beating heart of a functional society, and just as much heroes as those we have chosen to police us and surround our borders with missiles and barbed wire.

To all Americans now being guided by their better angels, to all who love their neighbor as themself, care what kind of world we live in, and put their health on the line for it during this extraordinary crisis:

Thank you for your service.

Pass the Spackle

I watched part of the Biden-Bernie debate list night. Whatever anyone thinks about Democratic Centrists or Democratic Socialists, it’s clear that either of these two would take on a global pandemic with smarter people and more compassion and honesty than the present inhabitant of the White House. And while one might be tempted to think that Trump’s failed response to the pandemic might lead his supporters to doubt him even a little, one would be wrong. Read this and this and this and weep for a nation of so many willful idiots.

I have to admit: I couldn’t watch the whole Bernie-Biden debate. It was disappointing that even a crisis of this magnitude couldn’t move Biden to acknowledge that a national healthcare system covering everyone could have been more than handy this week, and that (going forward) it would be the best long-term response to another pandemic. Instead, Biden seemed comfortable with the idea of sitting in the Situation Room managing a one-time crisis. Of course, after that we’d still have a patchwork healthcare “system” that excludes 80 million people — and we’d still be waiting for the next national health emergency.

The 63% of all Americans who would be wiped out financially by a $500 emergency are the same ones likely to lose the little they own during this pandemic because their services providing rides, eldercare, serving tables, or running corner stores and restaurants won’t be needed for several months. I didn’t hear any satisfactory explanations last night of how Capitalism and The Market were going to handle the massive financial damage to these vulnerable people.

Our nation of 330 million people has 400 million guns and 924,000 hospital beds and we may soon find ourselves in the same situation as Italy, which announced yesterday that people over 80 might be denied treatment because there are simply not enough ventilators and hospital beds. As schools close due to the virus, we are forced to acknowledge how much we depend on them to provide a safe place and food for millions of children. And until last week I thought Andrew Yang’s universal basic income was a gimmick. I was wrong: COVID-19 is the best argument seen yet for providing financial stability to families — now that we’re way past hypotheticals.

Progressives keep saying government has a role to play in providing a safety net for real people — not just defense contractors, the oil industry and big agriculture. But most Democrats still think the market economy can handle everything. I wonder if the Coronavirus has made anyone rethink this assumption, even a little. No, dear friends, this week has been a wake-up call. We’ve been patching the cracked walls of the house for far too long. Even though the floor has buckled and we can hear the beams snapping while even bigger cracks appear with greater frequency, the only solution we ever come up with is to buy more Spackle.

But why the hell don’t we just fix the foundation?

Great questions for Democrats

As the March 3rd Democratic primary approaches, I have been arguing with just about all of my centrist Democrat friends. It was interesting to come across an essay about the centrist-progressive dispute by Jim Hightower, who may be best known (at least in Texas) as the agriculture commissioner whom Rick Perry unseated. For progressives Hightower is probably best known for the many causes and candidates the sprightly 77 year-old has worked for, including Bernie Sanders.

In an essay entitled “The Irony of the centrist-progresssive Debate” Hightower argues that centrists “tinkering around the edges” aren’t going to fix America’s problems, and those who fear to make real change won’t appeal to voters in numbers sufficient to vote Trump out of office. Moreover, Hightower writes, polls show that voters want substantial and progressive change, not centrist diddling.

So — forget moral arguments for a moment and focus on tactics — you can’t replace a solid, political platform with a vague appeal to throw some bum out of office. Voters are not going to vote the bum out if Democrats propose the same cold, cautious, poll-tested and spreadsheet-engineered technocratic B.S. they always come up with.

Instead, Democrats ought to be appealing to people’s hearts — you know, like the Republicans do. More importantly, I completely agree with Hightower’s South Texas dictum — grandes males, grandes remedios. Big problems, big solutions. And we have some incredibly big problems.

But — aside from nostalgia for a democracy centrists themselves had a hand in vandalizing when they voted for the Patriot Act, FISA courts, ICE, 287g, border walls of their own, the war on drugs, the war on crime, wars, wars, and more wars — centrist Democrats don’t really have a problem with the nation’s staggering economic, military, foreign policy, environmental, and race problems. If they did, we’d be seeing them proposing ambitious platforms like progressives. But for centrists a little tinkering suffices and no big solutions are necessary.

The centrist argument seems to boil down to this — that America isn’t ready for a progressive agenda and that Democrats can win only by being slightly less depraved than Trump. Specifically, that Democrats must align their own platform with Republican values. And more specifically, that Democrats have to embrace white Republican values. Flag-waving, red-baiting progressives, going soft on abortion, avoiding national conversations on reparations and criminal justice reform, and showing they can pray as fervently as Evangelicals is now their ticket to Democratic victory.

This is not only distasteful but a fool’s errand because common sense dictates that nobody is going to rush out to buy a case of Pepsi when they already have a pallet of Coke in the garage. If you want flag-waving, god-fearing patriots, NATO, corporation-friendly trade agreements, a belligerent foreign policy, regime change, wars of choice, saber rattling with China and Iran, a new Cold War, coddling Israel, and the defense of private insurers and bailouts for Wall Street, it doesn’t matter if it’s in the centrist Democratic playbook.

Republicans do it so much better.

What America is desperately looking for are real solutions, and Democrats had better offer them now — or lose the next presidential election.

Hillel the Elder famously wrote in the Pirkei Avot: “If I am not for myself, who will be for me? If I am not for others, what am I? And if not now, when?”

Desperate Americans have been asking the first of Hillel’s questions — “who will be for me” — and have yet to receive an honest reply from either party. In 2016 Republicans lied to voters, and continue to do so. As 2020 unfolds, Democrats — rejecting “identity politics” and unlikely to make desperately needed structural changes in a broken America — appear to be ignoring Hillel’s last two questions.

If I am not for others, what am I? And if not now, when?”

Great questions for Democrats.