America’s List of Things to Fix When the Pandemic Subsides: Item #1

The last few weeks have caused me to notice a few things we have neglected to take care of in our society, aka, the Greatest Country on Earth. The experience of a frightening and deadly pandemic has argued for certain social and economic policies much more forcefully and persuasively than the liberals in the “Democrat” party have been able to with everyday facts and logic.

Universal health care has been on the table since the days early in the 20th century as a proposal from organized labor. Democratic presidents from Franklin D. Roosevelt to Barack Obama have supported the idea. Congressman John Dingell (D-Michigan) first introduced a universal health care bill in 1943. It has been re-introduced in every session since then by Dingell, his son who succeeded him in office, and his daughter-in-law Debbie Dingell who continues the family tradition as the Representative from Michigan’s 12th congressional district. The bill has never moved beyond a committee hearing in all those years.

In 2010, President Obama barely eked out a much compromised bill to increase the availability of health care in the US. The Republican Party immediately set out to kill it and has been trying ever since, in spite of its popularity. It took one Senator to get off his death bed to pass it and another, a Republican this time, to keep it from being rescinded.

While the rest of the developed world moved toward universal health care, the U.S., for the most part, continued to treat it as a fringe benefit attached to employment. It has become staggeringly clear what a bad idea this was when we saw unemployment shoot up to almost 20% over the last few weeks.Suddenly, people who were used to having coverage found themselves naked in the face of a deadly pandemic.

Moreover, many of the people they counted on for service in food establishments, hotels, and even their own homes had always been without coverage and now presented themselves daily as vectors of the epidemic. Many, more likely most, had no health insurance, no sick leave policy protection, and no alternative but to continue working to pay for rent, utilities, and food. 

It is a formula for a public health disaster, and we walked right into it with our eyes wide open. Indeed, the Democratic Party knew the value of good social policy yet even most Democrats had no appreciation for the perfect storm scenario Republican skinflintism had created.

Obamacare is a good place to start. Add a public option. Then, over time, work toward a Medicare-for-All plan. Personal health is a public asset. Nothing says it quite like a pandemic.

So the need for universal health care is number one on our list of things to do post-pandemic. I will add a few more things to America’s To-Do List in the coming days. But this has to be the one aspect of social policy that requires immediate attention.

Day 32: Lake Jackson Coronavirus Lock-In.

We tackle the garage again. It is an adventure in which we travel back into our past, winnowing through our collections to sift out the treasures and tote the rest out to the trash. And we do it all in service of making space in our suburban two-car garage for two cars.

I threw myself into the project with relish when I spotted my U.S. Army duffel bag on a high shelf in the back of the garage this morning.

My Army duffel bag contents 50-plus years after being released from duty ca. January 19, 1970.

It was fifty years ago this January that I dragged it off the luggage conveyor at the brand new Houston Intercontinental Airport. I threw the bag into the trunk of our car and took it home where I changed out of my travel uniform, stuffed it in as the top layer of the bag and threw it all in a closet. I kept it just handy enough that I could find it in case international politics required me to get the haircut again during my four year reserve commitment.

There it has stayed fifty years unopened except to pull that travel dress uniform off the top layer to have it adapted into a Halloween costume for our son. (DOD, be at ease. There was no official insignia displayed that would have caused the enemy to think the United States was drafting children.) He was dressing as General Eisenhower, five stars and all. I think he probably copied the fruit salad of medals from an encyclopedia and I would bet he had them pretty close to true.

Continue reading “Day 32: Lake Jackson Coronavirus Lock-In.”

Day 25 of Lake Jackson Lockdown

From time to time, I used to do thought experiments in which I would watch the president and pretend that I am a supporter. I didn’t try for the mind set of one of the Republicans in the Senate who may actually have something to gain from their obsequiousness, but rather more like a member of “The Base,” — one of his adoring fans who attend his rallies, wear MAGA hats, get most of their political input from Fox News or Rush Limbaugh, and have everything to lose by pumping up his ego and giving him power over their lives.

Friends, don’t do it. Don’t try to pretend you are a Trumpist. At first I thought it would be good to try to see the world from their point of view but I gave it up as a dangerous experiment. When I tried it, it made me a basket case. I felt I had leapt right into that basket of —dare I say it?— deplorables. .

I don’t know how anyone can watch his recent coronavirus daily briefings without concluding that he operates below the knowledge level of most fourth graders, possesses the language development of a 1980s citizen band enthusiast, the manners of a pro wrestler, and the leadership skills of a low level mobster.

He was elected as the head of our government and he knows less about it than most of the college freshmen I encountered in my basic government classes. When I read his remarks in print later, I grade them as kindly as I can and give him a D. And that is giving him a little extra credit for knowing a few bits of presidential trivia. What color is the presidential mansion? What shape is the president’s office? What is the name of the first African-born American president? He gets creativity points for that last one.

We are in Day 25 of our coronavirus lock-in here in Lake Jackson and after several days of watching the afternoon briefings from the White House I stopped watching. When I pretended that I was part of the president’s fan base they turned my brain into one of those mushroom soup casseroles that are a staple of Methodist pot lucks. But just watching them as an average citizen trying to stay informed was doing the same thing. There seemed to be no point in adding to his ratings since there was no useful information to be gained and I risked tipping his rating scale up one more tiny point by tuning in.

So I wait for the morning papers and read the reports in my internet editions of The New York Times and Washington Post. I read a little in the Houston Chronicle and The Facts. I pay for all of those but I freeload on The Guardian. They do the best job of keeping up with their own copycat Trumpist P.M. who has this day gone into the ICU with his case of Covid-19. I appreciate The Guardian and I do not enjoy admitting that I freeload on their journalism but my priority is to support the press in this country first. The queen never claimed the press was the enemy of the people.

Aside from reading in the mornings and catching up with news analysis on cable (Go ahead and guess!) in the evenings, we have been cleaning out the garage.

What a joy it is to go through old photographs and see my sisters, both of them little girls standing in the front yard of our house on Flaxman Street in Jacinto City. To graduate from high school again. To re-live some college years. What an adventure to live again in 1968, to feel the pain of being drafted and leaving a young wife on her own. To hold once again those precious band medals and the trophies from gymnastics meets, math competitions, and more. To read the poetry and science fiction my son wrote in junior high.

One of his science fiction stories was about a US biological warfare lab that had developed both the killer virus and, so they thought, the vaccine. A former president who had authorized the venture wanted to see the dramatic tests at the end of their experimentation. To make a short story even shorter, the virus succeeded but the vaccine did not. One of the infected monkeys went berserk after being stuck with the hypodermic needle and jumped against the glass separating the ex-president from the laboratory and the virus. The monkey infected the ex-president and he became the first casualty of his own biological warfare weapon.

My son was savvy enough to leave the ex-president unnamed, although his reference to his number in the presidential succession made it clear that he had fictitiously killed off President X. I will not name him but leave it to your imagination instead.

So that’s the kind of thing we get into as we probe around in 50 to 60 years of things that seemed too important to throw away yet not important enough to look at again for all those years. Today we are going through it all and judiciously deciding what parts of the memorabilia should be kept for another half century or so.

A small stack of photos and letters has come inside the house again. Approximately eight sizable boxes of refuse sit on the curb waiting for the City of Lake Jackson Sanitation Department to make the rounds and squeeze it all into the back of a truck to take off the the city dump.

Lost forever is my master’s thesis bibliographic card file that would tell you all you could ever wish to know about American political parties, circa 1964. How quaint was the state of political partisanship then.

The President Discusses Wind Energy with Young People

The president addressed a group of young voters yesterday at something called the Turning Point USA Student Action Summit in West Palm Beach, Florida. I have copied his remarks from the White House web site where you may read the entire official transcript. His remarks follow:

We’ll have an economy based on wind.  I never understood wind.  You know, I know windmills very much.  I’ve studied it better than anybody I know.  It’s very expensive.  They’re made in China and Germany mostly — very few made here, almost none.  But they’re manufactured tremendous — if you’re into this — tremendous fumes.  Gases are spewing into the atmosphere.  You know we have a world, right?  So the world is tiny compared to the universe.  So tremendous, tremendous amount of fumes and everything.  You talk about the carbon footprint — fumes are spewing into the air.  Right?  Spewing.  Whether it’s in China, Germany, it’s going into the air.  It’s our air, their air, everything — right?

So they make these things and then they put them up.  And if you own a house within vision of some of these monsters, your house is worth 50 percent of the price.  They’re noisy.  They kill the birds.  You want to see a bird graveyard?  You just go.  Take a look.  A bird graveyard.  Go under a windmill someday.  You’ll see more birds than you’ve ever seen ever in your life.  (Laughter.)

You know, in California, they were killing the bald eagle.  If you shoot a bald eagle, they want to put you in jail for 10 years.  A windmill will kill many bald eagles.  It’s true.

And you know what?  After a certain number, they make you turn the windmill off.  That’s true, by the way.  This is — they make you turn it off after you — and yet, if you killed one they put you in jail.  That’s okay.  But why is it okay for these windmills to destroy the bird population?  And that’s what they’re doing.

AUDIENCE MEMBER:  Because they’re idiots!

THE PRESIDENT:  (Laughs.)  This is a conservative group, Dan.  (Applause.)  No, but it’s true.  Am I right?  (Applause.)

I’ll tell you another thing about windmills.  And I’m not — look, I like all forms of energy.  And I think (inaudible) — really, they’re okay in industrial areas.  Like you have an industrial plant, you put up a windmill — you know, et cetera, et cetera.

I’ve seen the most beautiful fields, farms, fields — most gorgeous things you’ve ever seen, and then you have these ugly things going up.  And sometimes they’re made by different companies.  You know, I’m like a perfectionist; I really built good stuff.  And so you’ll see like a few windmills made by one company: General Electric.  And then you’ll see a few made by Siemens, and you’ll see a few made by some other guy that doesn’t have 10 cents, so it looks like a — so you see all these windows, they’re all different shades of color.  They’re like sort of white, but one is like an orange-white.  (Laughter.)  It’s my favorite color: orange.  (Applause.)

No, but — and you see these magnificent fields, and they’re owned — and you know what they don’t tell you about windmills?  After 10 years, they look like hell.  You know, they start to get tired, old.  You got to replace them.  A lot of times, people don’t replace them.  They need massive subsidy from the government in order to make it.  It’s really a terrible thing.

A Thought for the Democrats in Congress

Why stop at two articles of impeachment? The president is addicted to superlatives. He could be the president remembered for the MOST (caps, of course) documented and prosecuted impeachable offenses in a truncated term in office.

He would take that as the equivalent of a reality television Oscar. Maybe Speaker Pelosi could hand him a statuette of Oscar (the Grouch) along with a six volume condensed set of impeachment resolutions. He would be so thrilled that he would start planning his presidential library with some books that, having lived them, he could not be criticized for failing to read.

An Open Letter to My U.S. Senators

Dear Senators Cornyn and Cruz:

I just watched you through a news camera’s lens from a distance as you welcomed the president to El Paso. It was your duty, certainly, as our state’s United States senators. But you have another duty that bears on your relationship with the president and your party. And you should be cognizant of how that relationship looks to the people you represent.

The people bullies need most and respect least are cowards. And you have met the president’s need for cowards time and time again. I think you can be better than that or I would not be writing.

I am a constituent of yours. And while we most often disagree on policy and legislation, I am nevertheless entitled to your most basic services. And perhaps the most crucial one is simply that you show courage in the performance of your duties.

The voters of Texas have entrusted you with the job of discerning what is best for Texas and America. What I am asking you to do is to sit down with members of the Senate, including the minority, your senate leadership and the president to make some meaningful decisions about how we confront domestic terrorism, racism and gun violence in our country. And I expect you to stand up to the president and the majority leader and tell them when they are wrong about the needs of the people you represent.

What happened this weekend in El Paso can’t be blamed on video games, mental health, “fake news” or social media. Gun violence at the level of horror we saw in El Paso begins with the largely unregulated marketing of powerful instruments of war to the mass market. The motive is money, not constitutional rights. Don’t look to your party and the NRA to tell you what to do. Do what is right. Do your job.

The prerequisite for any legislative solution is that you demonstrate moral integrity and enough spine to disagree with the president and the NRA.

Texans have a right to expect this from their United States Senators.

Thank you.

Lake Jackson Citizen

The Democratic Debates: A Team of Rivals?

Watching both nights of the Democratic presidential debates last week was informative and exhausting. Even more exhausting, although not as informative, were the hours of commentary offered by some of America’s best journalists. I have stolen a few of their thoughts and grafted them into my own commentary. If you are a politics junky of the MS-NBC persuasion, you may spot a few of my borrowings. You have no standing to sue me and I can’t be impeached. So just read on.

In my post last week, I confessed a partiality to Elizabeth Warren, although I made a commitment to watching the debates with an open mind. I am certain that all of my many readers have been waiting anxiously for my conclusions and advice. 

Well, I can’t help you that much. I concluded, like most folks,  that Bernie and Joe came across as a little tired. Though they be a little worn out, I still hoist my Bernie mug and my Obama mug (Was there ever a Biden mug?) with pride any time I sip a cup of tea. Although I think a lot of both gentlemen, I confess to a little ageism that I am permitted only because I know exactly what it feels like to wake up and face every morning with 75 years of history pulling you down and informed by the knowledge that gravity never loses. So, let’s take a look at some of the other candidates.

Elizabeth Warren proved once again that she is a fighter for social justice and building an economy and government that serve the people, not just those wonderful corporate entities the Supreme Court has lately endowed with rights we once thought applied only to individual citizens and residents. She demonstrated well thought out policy proposals, passion and a willingness to go forth and fight. She has never been one to give up when confronting a bully. 

These debates ought not be evaluated as performances, yet it is an unavoidable standard when the survivor is likely be forced to go up against an incumbent for whom this whole enterprise is nothing more than poorly produced television for tired old white men. Warren meets the standard of political performance art and even makes it appealing to the larger demographic that would include women, minorities, LGBTQ voters, the poor and thinking people of all identities. EW is solid gold. Go Cougars!

But then there was Kamala Harris. What she did to that nice man who used to work for President Obama was almost frightening. I would hate to have to face her as a defendant in a courtroom. And if you agree with me that what Donald J. Trump needs more than anything is to face off with a good prosecuting attorney, then I will suggest to you that Kamala Harris would be the one to do the job. She is fearless, brutally logical, and and quick to the attack, all the while respectful and able to use her expansive vocabulary with withering effectiveness. Better be ready to duck, Donald. She won’t be upstaged.

Julian Castro presents himself as a serious candidate, well rooted in national politics and very capable of taking on a more challenging leadership role. And there was Eric Swalwell, young but well schooled with his serious participation on House Intelligence and judiciary committees. And there is Mayor Pete Buttigieg, the mayor of South Bend, Indiana, And Beto O’Rourke. And so many more. 

As I watched them through the two nights of debate, I recalled the premise of Doris Kearns Goodwin’s analysis of the Abraham Lincoln’s genius use of his political rivals after the election of 1860. In Team of Rivals (Simon and Schuster, 2005), Goodwin tells how Lincoln pulled talented opponents into his circle of advisers when it was time to take charge of the government. William H. Seward, Edward Bates and Salmon P. Chase were Lincoln’s opponents in the contest for the Republican nomination. Yet he didn’t ignore them and treat them as “losers”. He asked them to join forces with him to do the nation’s work during its time of greatest strife.

Seward became his secretary of state, Chase, his secretary of treasury and Bates, his attorney general. 

He also brought some former Democrats into cabinet positions, including Edwin M. Stanton as secretary of war. As Goodwin points out in her introduction (p. xvi), most of these men had credentials and achievements that far exceeded those of the country lawyer from Illinois who had pulled off the upset victory for the nomination and election. 

Lincoln’s great self-confidence and dedication to the task of preserving the Union allowed him to marshal the country’s best talent in service of that goal.

Could 21st Century Democrats do the same following success in the 2020 election? They would be well positioned with the fine set of competitors I saw among the twenty who presented on Tuesday and Wednesday night last week. One commentator (I do not remember who) suggested that one of the least known of the candidates, Representative Tulsi Gabbard of Hawaii, would make an excellent Secretary of Defense. She served as an army officer in Iraq and, in the House of Representatives, on the Armed Services, Foreign Affairs, and Financial Services Committees. I don’t believe she is at all intimidated by the Trump Gang. And she would certainly be a better Secretary of Defense than the one DJT has currently serving in that office.

Oh, I forgot. It’s one of several vacancies he is carrying while he, Ivanka, and Jared do it all.

There was plenty of talent on the stage both nights of the debate. I think the party will be primed to install a competent government once again when they take the presidency in 2020. President Obama was wise to appoint HRC as his Secretary of State after defeating her for the presidential nomination in 2008. It was a script he borrowed from our favorite Republican, Abe Lincoln. This time we have a whole cabinet full of good talent.

That is the main thing I took away from the debates last week. 

That and the fact that any one of them will take more ability and honor to the office than the current incumbent. Yes, Maryanne Williamson, if you secure the nomination you have my vote and total support.