Dodging covid-19

I’m now among a minority of Americans because I haven’t contracted covid-19. A recent Monmouth poll found that 52 percent of Americans polled say they have come down with covid-19.

I’ve never tested positive for covid-19 either. I suppose it’s possible I’ve been exposed but before getting on a cruise December 1st I passed a PCR test. That was the only PCR test I’ve taken. We have three Antigen test kits in the house. I suppose I could use one of these, but they are only good for helping figure out if you were recently exposed to the virus. I’m feeling fine so using the test kit is kind of pointless.

It’s becoming easier for me to unmask in indoor public spaces. Yesterday about a dozen of us age 55+ guys in our neighborhood went out for dinner. We were unmasked in the restaurant and all the staff was unmasked too. I felt safe in part because my wife volunteers one day a week at the local emergency room and there were zero covid patients while she was there, the first time this happened since the pandemic.

But it’s still out there. This was driven home to me today when I learned that my next door neighbor Jeff, an elderly widower probably around age 90, caught covid. We were wondering why there was an ambulance at his house and finally learned of his condition. After a long bought in the hospital he’s home but reportedly still not doing great. So far there has been no known fatalities from covid-19 in our 55+ community of eighty people or so.

It’s tempting to brag that we’ve escaped covid, but it’s too early for that. There’s some evidence we are moving from a pandemic to an endemic disease. Covid-19 becoming an endemic disease hardly means that we’re out of the woods, just that it’s becoming manageable. What’s going on today also happened after the 1918 Spanish flu pandemic. At some point people stopped caring; it became yesterday’s news. They just got on with life although and preferred to ignore the disease.

I’ll never know for sure, but I think the main reason my wife and me have been lucky so far is that we’re retired. It’s just the two of us and most days are spent at home. Still, I’ve been half expecting us to get it too. My wife also volunteers at the local survival center. Both it and the emergency room gig have pretty aggressive covid-19 masking and distancing protocols, but I half expected it would sneak into our household this way. It somehow got our neighbor Jeff too, probably via his son who’s a frequent visitor.

We’re both probably destined to get the disease at some point. I like to think though that somehow we will be the exception. It may take another year or two, but I’ll probably get it. I do expect that if I get it, the symptoms will be relatively mild. But I slipped to Medicare age this year. Seniors like me are more likely to get more severe cases, particularly if you have underlying conditions. My wife has more than a handful. I can count being overweight as a stroke against me. There’s no way to know in advance if we’ll remain the exceptions.

That’s because dodging covid-19 is all about playing the odds. Arguably, I’ve been playing the odds. We took two cruises, one at the start of the pandemic, and didn’t get anything. My wife’s volunteering has been playing the odds. My apparent reluctance to get to a normal body weight is playing the odds. But not having to run to a job every day and not having school aged children in the house definitely has been helping a whole lot.

The Washington Post article notes that 57 percent of Republicans report getting covid, while only 38 percent of Democrats got it. In this case, just me being a Democrat has improved the odds. It’s not too hard to figure this out. The Republican Party is rife with antivaxxers. If you are going to ignore science, you are much more likely to get the disease. While not religious, we were religious in believing in science. We got shots and boosters just as soon as we could, although getting the first shot was a huge hassle. We may be getting a bit complacent. We can now get a second booster but so far haven’t. Hopefully we’ll take care of that in the next week or so.

In general, our success to date probably comes from having a survivor’s mentality. My mother was a nurse. My father was an engineer. So both sides told us what we needed to do in these situations, which was listen to scientists and public health experts. We expected guidance to be off at times and improve as the disease was better understood.

In the beginning of the pandemic we were wiping down surfaces all the time. That was likely a waste of time and money. Learning it was a respiratory disease helped a lot, which meant that masking was useful. Still, the masking we got was really not up to the task. We needed N95 and KN95 masks that were largely unavailable. We needed the government to step up and make billions of these masks and give them out for free. It wasn’t until February 2022 that I could get a free N95 mask at our local CVS.

Since then, I generally use an N95 mask in public, like I did today in the grocery store. Most of the people there were masked, but most were not using N95 or KN95 masks. I suspect Massachusetts (where I live) is the exception with so much masking. I expect there is a lot less mask wearing in other states.

We’re cautiously reengaging in life again. We sat unmasked while we watched the movie Dog recently, our first move in a theater since the pandemic. (The theater was mostly empty, which helped.) We were unmasked at a local Chinese restaurant too, even before our meal was served. Mostly I’ll wear my N95 mask in public. I’m used to it now and it’s no big deal. If you do anything regularly, it ceases to feel like much of a nuisance.

I’m hoping this approach will let us to keep defying the odds. It’s much easier to give in to your emotions, but if you are primarily left-brained like us, it’s not hard to take logical precautions and perhaps possible to never get covid-19.

America’s Revolutionary War is still with us

I’ve finished reading two books on the Revolutionary War. To me the most revolutionary insight from reading them is that 250 years ago Americans were fighting the same stuff we are today. And no, I don’t mean the British. I mean us.

The first book, The War for American Independence by Samuel B. Griffith II, was something of a tome, but I really wanted a comprehensive history of the war, similar to Bruce Canton’s books on the Civil War. The second book, The Cause by Joseph J. Ellis covered much of the same material, but delved into the motivations for the war, particularly among Americans. While there were insights in both books, in general they overlapped pretty well. Neither is white-washed history and most of the major characters don’t come across well.

In The Cause though I learned that even before the Boston Tea Party, almost no one expected a United States would result from the war. It’s not that Americans expected to lose the war, but that the term United States (or sometimes United Colonies) was simply a marketing banner. Most of those who fought in it expected that after the war each state would be its own country. The colonies were united in getting rid of Great Britain, and that was about it. After the war, the states spent a lot of time trying to avoid becoming a real United States.

The Continental Army was barely a thing. A congress of the states in Philadelphia declared the United States in its Declaration of Independence, but the document was largely a product of Thomas Jefferson’s influence. The Continental Army, run of course by General George Washington, consisted largely of state militias. It had little cohesion because members of these militias were coming and going constantly, often at inconvenient times, like harvest season.

Washington had to practically threaten to resign to get the Continental Congress to provide a non-militia base to the army. It was needed just to give it some continuance and to ensure standards could be enforced. Even so, it would be generous to say that the Continental Congress was niggardly in appropriating money for the army.

Most states fundamentally disagreed with even the idea of a Continental Army. As a result it was constantly on the brink of breaking apart, chronically underfunded and most of its soldiers were literally shoeless and under-clothed, even in the winter. During the army’s wintering at Valley Forge, soldiers died of starvation and smallpox in droves because Congress was happy to see it starve. That it survived at all was not due to Congress’s largess, but due to the army’s foraging among the farms of Pennsylvania, which won them no favors.

One of the most amazing things about the Revolutionary War is that we managed to win it at all. This was in part because the British could never really win the war, as America was too vast and disjointed to hold by force of arms. Merely waiting the British out was the key to our eventual victory. Also, we got really lucky. Our victory in Yorktown was largely a French victory and a result of major mistakes by the British. The French provided most of the troops and its ships bollixed up the Brits inside the Chesapeake Bay. That our troops made it to Yorktown at all was not due to the Continental Congress appropriating money, but due to Robert Morris, the sort of Bill Gates of his time, and his fronting the costs to move the army down there.

Not many Americans come across as looking good in these books. One of the few was George Washington, a man of impeccable credentials. Today it’s kind of hard to appreciate Washington because we look at him using contemporary standards, and Washington owned a lot of slaves, as did many of our founding fathers. It’s clear though that Washington felt discomfort owning slaves. This came in part from a number of black soldiers that served in the Continental Army, including a major contingent from Rhode Island. Also, Washington had his personal servant and slave Billy Lee who faithfully attended to him throughout the war. Lee was freed on Washington’s death. All of Washington’s slaves were eventually freed through his will, but only after his wife Martha died. That’s more than you can say of Jefferson’s slaves.

Aside from that, Washington was a truly amazing man. These days Abraham Lincoln generally gets top billing as our best president. I haven’t read a history of Washington’s presidency yet but his time as the Commander in Chief of the Continental Army, persevering despite hellacious circumstances, and the integrity and respect he inspired was truly amazing, even if he often despaired in private. Unlike virtually all politicians, Washington was never drawn to power and was happy to relinquish it when the war was over. When King George III learned of Washington’s resignation he said if true “he will become the greatest man in the world.” It was simply unthinkable that someone with his gravitas would give up power when he could have kept it.

Washington wanted a robust and empowered national government. He wanted a real United States, not the loose confederation of states he actually got. He was in a distinct minority of Americans at the time, most who could not see much past their villages where most Americans lived their lives. He was a federalist. Those who wanted to minimize the scope of the federal government were anti-federalists. They wanted power to rest principally in the states, and stay there.

This fundamental conflict is still with us today. Two hundred fifty years later, the Democrats are the Federalists, and the Republicans are the Anti-Federalists. The Anti-Federalists distrusted national governments, fearing it would bring about the sort of repression and noble class the war was fought to avoid. The Federalists saw it as inevitable, especially since as a result of the War the United States acquired all land east of the Mississippi River. Letting the states literally fight it out for possession of these lands would have brought on a real civil war long before it arrived.

After the war, it was popular to lampoon the Continental Army. The prevailing opinion was that it was state militias that won the war, and the Continental Army was ancillary at best. Most agreed that Washington was a brilliant leader and tactician but most Americans did not know what the term “American” meant. They were Georgians, or New Yorkers, or Virginians. That was the scope of their worlds.

Of course slavery was as divisive an issue back then as it would be during the Civil War. But there simply wasn’t the will for our loose confederation of independent states to tackle the issue. No one could reconcile American’s intense desire for freedom and liberty when it wasn’t granted to slaves. It caused a lot of cognitive dissonance which was tacitly not talked about.

If you know about American history, you know that the original Articles of Confederation, which gave any state veto power over all the others when it came to national decisions, ultimately had to be abandoned. It turned out to be wholly unworkable and with the vast wealth in the west still to be acquired, there were pragmatic reasons to form a national government after all. It required a new constitution, which was quite brilliant in its time for setting up a system of checks and balances, which allayed a lot of the concerns of the Anti-federalists that a federal government would get out of control.

In 2022, it’s clear that our new Anti-Federalists, the Republican Party, no longer likes these checks and balances because demographics are turning against them. This time instead of accommodating the Federalists, they want to disempower them altogether, and permanently.

From reading these books on the Revolutionary War, it’s clear we are fighting the same arguments we fought back then. It’s not through a constitutional process this time, but through raw power. We need a new George Washington, but it’s hard to see any figure that can unite both sides.

There are plenty of anti-vaxxers on the left

It’s tempting to put all the blame for the pandemic on Republicans. At least when it comes to anti-vaxxers, blame can be allocated on many Democrats as well.

This is because there are plenty of “all natural” Democrats out there. While I hate to generalize, you will find a lot of them shopping at Whole Foods and attending yoga studios. They are busy eating organic, going vegan, eating whole grains and living minimally.

These are not bad things in and of themselves. They feel clean and wholesome by going all natural, which is why many times they prefer herbal supplements and holistic healers over prescription and non-prescription drugs and board certified physicians.

They believe they can become effectively immortal, or at least live to see 100, by going all natural. With this mindset, it can be hard to see something like a manufactured vaccine as something that you should let into your body. So they spurn vaccinations for themselves and their kids on principle.

These otherwise generally liberal people make strange bedfellows with many on the right who are also anti-vaxxers. At least these anti-vaxxers on the left seem to have at least the fig leaf of a rational explanation for their behavior. For those on the right, it seems to be about owning the libs by playing Russian Roulette.

I actually agree with a lot of their positions. Inarguably, eating vegan is better for the planet. Avoiding pesticides and other chemicals used in making food is also noble, if impractical for a lot of people. Nutritionists recommend whole grains and generally have no problem with people substituting vegan sources of protein for meat and fish. There’s generally nothing wrong with yoga either. If everyone were a vegan and lived sustainably, unquestionably our planet would be a much healthier place.

The problem is any philosophy can be taken to an unhealthy extreme. The assumption that if everything we ingest is clean we can live to be 100 and avoid disease is, well, bunk. In fact, there was a time when most of us were vegans, not out of choice but out of necessity. If you were a serf, you likely never ate any meat, unless there was a party at the manor and they let you in.

Meat was prohibitively expensive. Most people back then didn’t make it to age 30, and that was largely because there was little sanitation going on and diseases could run rampant. Modern medicine didn’t really come into being until late in the 19th century, and it was not available to most people as it was beyond their means. The history of diseases is they don’t discriminate: they infect and kill everyone equally, at least until you know enough about the disease so that you can improve your chances of not getting it. And that’s only possible through science.

There’s plenty of proof going on right now. About 1800 Americans are dying daily in this latest covid-19 wave, caused this time by the double whammy of a bare majority of people being vaccinated and an incredibly virulent delta covid-19 variant. One of 500 of us American is an official fatality from the pandemic, and number will doubtless keep rising. These days, if you are unvaccinated you have an eleven times higher likelihood of dying from covid-19. Plenty of these fatalities come from all-organic, all-vegan anti-vaxxers.

While their heart is in the right place, it sometimes overrules their heads. Survival belongs to the fittest, and while it may seem that the more fit and healthy you are the more likely you should be to ward off diseases, there’s little evidence to support this.

The evidence against it is plain to see in the statistics, but it requires you to engage the left side of your brain long enough to get vaccinated. Ideally, you can also engage that part of your brain long enough to allow board certified physicians to treat you instead of (or at least in addition to) holistic healing practitioners.

I admire many of these people and count some of them among my friends. I sometimes wish I could become a vegan, or at least a vegetarian. I eat a whole lot more fresh fruits, vegetables and whole grains than I used to. I’ve experimented with holistic medicine from time to time too, and found chiropractic care particularly useful. It’s going all in on anything that tends to be dangerous, as it clouds your thinking and makes it hard to see beyond your implicit biases.

The saddest part is that these people really don’t want to acquire or spread disease, but do in part because their thinking has become too muddled and dogmatic, allowing that vector that allows diseases like covid-19 to get in.

Joe Biden and the Democratic Party have done something amazing

The American Rescue Plan, expected to be signed into law shortly is, as Joe Biden would say, “a BFD”.

President Joe is of course too polite to articulate what the acronym means. What it means to me is that government is working for the people again. Joe Biden and the Democrats in Congress are finally canceling Ronald Reagan (and, yes, even Bill Clinton) by declaring the government is not the problem. They are demonstrating the opposite: government in fact can be the solution. We literally haven’t seen this to this extent since before Ronald Reagan was president.


We’ve actually seen plenty of government working these last forty years, but it’s been working against the interests of the American people and for the companies that funded the campaigns of those in Congress. It’s no wonder then that Americans soured on government in general. The American Rescue Plan is amazing in that it gives literally nothing to the top one percent. It’s a bill focused on the people who have spent forty years trying to fend off poverty, with many failing at the task. It’s a huge step toward leveling the playing field between the haves and the have nots and boosting the income of working folk, through not only stimulus, but also through child tax credits, health care subsidies even to those making close to six figure income and covering the freight of Medicare for any states willing to allow it. Lose a job with health insurance? You won’t lose the latter and the government will pick up the COBRA premiums until you have a new one.

It’s true that it doesn’t increase the federal minimum wage, but it’s essentially 95% of what Biden proposed and was somehow pushed through a deeply partisan Congress by the slimmest of majorities. While it attracted the support of zero Republicans in Congress, it is supported by nearly sixty percent of Republicans polled. The plan is what the long suffering American people need. It explains why Joe Biden’s approval rating is 59% while Trump struggled to get out of the low forties.

Oh, and it does a lot of obvious covid-19 relief. Testing, contract tracing and vaccine deployment are all covered. There’s money to allow schools to reopen, to allow restaurants and businesses to avoid bankruptcy, and to assist state and local governments whose tax revenues plunged during the recession, making helping people difficult. It keeps a lot of people from being evicted from their homes. It does some actual racial justice, with money going to black farmers. It provides substantial credits to families with children, and delivers these payments monthly, instead of through once-a-year tax credits, credits that will be hard not to make permanent once parents get used to them. It puts a lot more money into people’s pockets, most of who will turn around and quickly spend it. So it’s going to juice the economy like a rocket.

For a change, me and the missus will be spending our stimulus money. There was nothing to spend it on a year ago, but it’s safer to let people into the house now and they know to wear masks. We have a huge unfinished basement and the stimulus should cover painting the floors, ceilings and posts.

Ideally this would not happen with borrowed money, but interest charges on government debt right now are minuscule, making it a great time for the government to run up debt at minimal cost. Ideally while providing the relief that most of us needed for decades, we’d also be tapping the overstuffed kettles of the rich. We could start by repealing the trillion dollar tax cuts passed during the last administration.

But Joe Biden is quite pragmatic and tactical. I can see these ideas are on his mind too, but he’s smart enough to know “not yet.” Making government function again feels novel. In fact, it is novel for most of us because only us oldsters remember a time when government functioned in their interest.

With nearly five decades in public service, Biden knows how to make things happen. It’s true he’s gotten some lucky breaks. Picking up two Georgia Senate seats made this bill possible – thank you Georgia voters! The Trump administration did not deserve to be called an administration. Calling it an administration assumed it was competent. It never was. You can’t say that about Biden’s administration. What he’s doing is tactically smart. Moreover, Biden is focused and tenacious. Just about every day I see something important and tangible getting done. Today, it was getting 100 million new doses of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine ordered. The current vaccine scarcity is soon not going to be a problem. Biden is systematically and carefully putting the pandemic behind us. He’s making government work.

This should rebound for the Democrats, but you never know. Biden is building a case for pragmatism over partisanship. It may turn into a majority and an enduring coalition. There are many forces though pushing against regular order. So far though Biden and his team seem to be one step ahead of them. He succeeds through intelligence, pragmatism, not getting on soap boxes and mostly by staying focused. It’s quite clear he wakes up every day thinking about what is most important to get done and spends his day on it. He adroitly greases the gears of government. It’s quite amazing to watch.

Quite frankly, Joe Biden has surprised me. He’s proving far more effective than Barack Obama, but a lot of this is due to a more favorable set of political cards. But it’s also because Biden plays a deft game of musical chairs and it seems forces allied against him just can’t keep up. He may be an old dog, but he’s got lots of tricks. He’s quite impressive. I keep expecting the other shoe to fall, but so far it hasn’t.

Joe Biden hasn’t forgotten his working class origins. His public school education, including his public university degree, are proving to be of much more use than any Ivy League degree. Joe is a man of practical action and much slicker than Bill Clinton ever was. You just don’t notice it behind his generous, every day man smile.

Keep me smiling, Joe. You’re surprising the heck out of me.

The Iowa caucus and New Hampshire primary have been demoted

The 2020 Democratic nomination process pulled a surprise this year. It showed that doing well in Iowa and New Hampshire probably doesn’t matter anymore.

Doing well in Iowa has been a great predictor of eventually winning the Democratic Party nomination. With the exception of 1992 when their incumbent senator was in the primary, banking Iowa proved to be the momentum that carried over to the nomination. Iowa sends only 41 delegates to the national convention, out of 3979 pledged delegates. That’s about one percent of pledged delegates. New Hampshire’s track record of being the first primary state is much worse than Iowa’s, but it picks only 24 delegates. Nonetheless, until now, it’s been an easy decision to decide to invest heavily in Iowa’s caucus and the New Hampshire primary as well. They set a candidate’s narrative on their eventual electability.

Biden won only six of Iowa’s 41 delegates and no delegates in New Hampshire. Yet he’s going to win the nomination in a landslide. What went wrong?

South Carolina went wrong, or perhaps right. Biden won 39 of its 54 delegates there. South Carolina Democrats of course are mostly African American voters. This time around, South Carolina set the narrative on who the nominee would be, surprising pretty much everyone, including the Biden campaign. Biden won ten of the 15 Super Tuesday states, held just four days later. South Carolina effectively set the narrative this time around, and African Americans showed and have emerged as the Democratic Party’s principle power broker.

The lesson from this should be obvious: if you want to be president, you should spent a whole lot of time and resources in South Carolina and a whole lot less in Iowa and New Hampshire. And if you want to win South Carolina, not only do you need to spend a lot of time there; you need to invest much of your political career to working on issues that African Americans care about. Also, those who discount the savvy of African American voters do so at their peril.

Biden was assumed to be the front-runner before any voting started. Polls generally gave him the edge. It’s just that many of us didn’t believe the polls. Joe looked bland and tired, and we found it much easier to be enthused about progressive candidates. I was enthused about Elizabeth Warren. I still am; she’s just out of the race now. So many progressives like me were hoping to convince principally non-white voters to vote for our favorite, but the biggest voting bloc in the party decided they wanted pragmatic Joe instead of ideological Elizabeth or Bernie.

Biden did it despite the plethora of mainstream candidates that included Amy Klobuchar, Pete Buttigieg, Kamala Harris and Mike Bloomberg. He did it on a shoestring budget. While early and principally white voters found things to like about these candidates, the party’s African American bloc did not. They signaled to other minorities that form what is now arguably the core of the Democratic Party who they should vote for. And primary voters listened, trusting their instincts more than the traditional white base of the party.

This election’s primary process then seems to suggest a new era for the Democratic Party: as the party principally of African Americans and other minorities. This leaves progressive whites in an awkward place because we seem to vote disproportionately for progressive white candidates. A few will cross party lines and vote for Republicans and Trump instead, but most of us will have to rethink the optics of our voting choice. We need to realize that our power and influence in the party is diluted and is likely to remain this way in 2024 and beyond, and that minorities are the party’s new majority.

Bernie Sanders is not nearly as socialist as some past presidents

Campaign season involves a lot of predictable hand wringing. And so the hang wringing has started in earnest this year as Democrats decide who will be their presidential candidate.

Democratic Party leaders are starting to discover, as Republican Party leaders did in 2016, that the base is likely to reject anyone from their list of approved candidates. That’s because it’s looking more and more that Bernie Sanders will be that nominee.

Sanders they say is a fair weather Democrat, but so what? So was Donald Trump, who often claimed to be a Democrat. So is new “Democrat” Mike Bloomberg who famously ran New York City as its Republican mayor for eleven years.

It’s not hard to become either a Democrat or a Republican. Generally, it just involves going to your voter registration office and filing a form. There is no central party committee that gets to choose whether you are a real Democrat or Republican and if not reject your application. Both Bernie Sanders and Mike Bloomberg are using this fact to advance their candidacies. I suspect that Democratic Party leaders are doing a whole lot less hand wringing over Mike Bloomberg’s candidacy than Bernie Sanders’s. Bloomberg’s candidacy is a long shot, so expect that after he loses the nomination that he’ll become a fair weather Republican again when it suits him. If Bernie Sanders loses either the nomination or the election, he’ll likely go back to being an independent from Vermont, just as he did after the 2016 race.

If enough Democrats joined the Republican Party just to change it, the Republican Party, as we know it now, would cease to be. Those Republicans would probably form another party. Our party structure is by design big tent. A party is nothing more than a coalition, which can be often fractured, assembled for the purpose of trying to acquire and maintain political power.

Anyhow, Democratic Party insiders are upset because they don’t see Sanders as a true Democrat, as if Bloomberg is one too. They fear his label of being a Democratic Socialist will guarantee his election loss because it will suppress turnout among “mainstream” Democrats or maybe prod these Democrats to vote to reelect Donald Trump. In head-to-head matchups against Trump, Sanders does as well as any of the candidates, currently winning by about ten percentage points. Obviously we are a long way from November 3, and this will likely change as Trump and Republicans refine their attacks. But rest assured regardless of whom Democrats nominate, they would do this. Republicans won’t sit on the sidelines.

The hand wringing is rather strange because if Sanders wins the presidency, he would by no means be our most socialist president. That would be Franklin Delano Roosevelt, who lived a privileged, upper class life, but who started all sorts of public works programs and instituted the social security system. He won four terms of office by standing up for the people. By current thinking, Texan Lyndon Banes Johnson would be a damned socialist too. Johnson definitely had some faults, but he got civil rights and voting rights bill passed, and started a war on poverty that allowed many to live better lives. He also proposed and got Medicare enacted, which set up a health care system for seniors. The most radical thing Bernie is proposing is taking our existing Medicare system and expanding it to the rest of us because, well, it works great! Ask any senior if they are dissatisfied with it. We’ve even had a socialist Republican president: Theodore Roosevelt, who busted up large corporations, greatly expanded our national park system and pushed through the Pure Food and Drugs Act, that ensured our food was clean and safe.

Democratic leaders have turned into nervous nellies because Republicans succeeded in shifting the Overton Window. Republicans convinced many Americans that government is bad, and private industry is good. That led to a collapsed safety net and income going disproportionately to the rich.

It’s likely that a Sanders candidacy would not be necessary had not these failings of our system gotten so severe. There should be nothing radical about not having to worry about being able to afford the health care you need. It’s being done by all the other first world nations, just not here. The inflated cost of our medical system is bankrupting us and exacerbating income inequality. Sanders is just one of the few candidates running for president ballsy enough to say out loud what the rest of us already know.

Taking Medicare for seniors and making it Medicare for All is not radical; it’s an evolution of a system that has already proven very effective, but only for those who reach a certain age. With a system that contains health care costs, we can use this money for other things, like maybe real wage increases for those of us who rarely seem to get it. I would think some Republicans could be persuaded to vote for Sanders for just this reason: who doesn’t like having more money to spend as they choose?

So much of our government is broken because moneyed interests, instead of the people, are in control. It’s a corporate-ocracy right now and it’s going to stay that way until we change things. The Democratic Party leadership’s response seems to be to make the giant sitting on your chest go on a diet, rather than wrestling him off your chest.

Barack Obama famously won on a campaign of hope. But famously he didn’t deliver much. We did get the Affordable Care Act out of it, and it was certainly better than nothing, but it too didn’t get it right. It was a response to fit our need into our corporate controlled government, and it was enacted only by the slimmest of margins. Government isn’t governing very well, so we need someone who will fight for the rest of us.

Mind you that if Sanders does become president, his task to make government work again won’t be easy. Minimally he will need a Democratic Senate and senators would have to agree to drop filibuster rules. Both are problematic in 2020. And even if this is achieved, progress is likely to be minimal, and courts would block a lot of his agenda. So his election would be the start of a longer campaign to truly make us a government of the people again.

But you got to start sometime and you use the vehicle that you got. If Sanders is that vehicle, I’m in. I’ll likely be voting for Elizabeth Warren instead, but that’s only because I believe she would be wilier at enacting a true progressive agenda. Both she and Sanders though want big, structural changes to government.

It’s as obvious to me as the nose on my face that that’s exactly what we need. Trump was elected on this promise too, but obviously failed to deliver. At least we know what Bernie Sanders stands for because he’s been consistent his entire life. So I’ll be most comfortable with him or Warren as the Democratic candidate and our president. We need someone in the White House that is truly one of us. Trump isn’t, and never has been.

Democrats in Congress are proving pathetic

The only thing sadder than Donald Trump and the current state of the Republican Party and our democracy may be the current state of the Democratic Party.

I’m reading Hillary Clinton’s book What Happened. It’s not particularly interesting or insightful, but I felt a duty to read it since it was a Christmas present from my daughter. I read it where I read most stuff I don’t want to read: when sitting on the john and in snippets.

I’m reading the chapter where she talks about “those damned emails” (as Bernie Sanders put it). It was such a nothing-burger. There was no rule requiring the Secretary of State to use a @state.gov email address. In fact, her successor John Kerry was the first SoS to use one. Nonetheless, Republicans in Congress and Donald Trump turned this nothing-burger into the major topic of the 2016 election. They used it to create unwarranted mistrust against her.

Arguably, James Comey (former FBI Director) threw the election to Donald Trump by reopening the issue just before the election. So if you can inflate a story that is basically nothing and go at it relentlessly, you can apparently win elections. Donald Trump has obviously used this tactic profitably and is busy repeating it relentlessly. Notice that when anything comes up that makes him look bad he makes up some other phony smear against someone else or some group and promotes it relentlessly. And stupidly, the media usually goes along. The latest one is to complain about homeless people in California. You don’t see the press looking a conditions at our border detention facilities anymore. They’ve moved onto something newer and fresher, and Trump has an infinite supply of bait.

Contrast this with what the Democratic Party is doing with regards to Donald Trump’s many misdeeds. The most recent one is the most egregious of all: an allegation by a whistleblower that is likely that Donald Trump asked the government of Ukraine to investigate Joe Biden’s son for potential misdeeds in his work for Ukraine. Donald Trump has relentlessly been using his office for private gain since becoming president. It should not surprise us that he is also using it to undercut a potential opponent in the 2020 campaign.

If this was a quid-pro-quo arrangement with Ukraine, as in “I won’t release our aid to your country until you do this for me” (and Ukraine’s funds have been suspiciously held up), it would be a clearly illegal act, a national security issue and about the highest crime possible relevant to removing a president from office. No wonder this whistleblower felt compelled to blow the whistle. Compared to Hillary’s “crime”, it’s at least a thousand times worse.

So you would think Congress would be doing something to hold Trump accountable. House committees hold sporadic hearings where subpoenaed witnesses rarely show up. The Trump Administration simply stonewalls all Congressional subpoenas and witnesses. Trump claims powers that he doesn’t have. For example, Corey Lewandowsky never even worked for the White House, but Trump claimed executive privilege over his testimony. Lewandowsky did testify, sort of, but revealed little new and was rude and snide the whole time to the committee. The others didn’t bother to show up.

The obvious response by Democrats should have been to call the Sergeant at Arms and put Lewandowsky in the clink. The House has such a cell in the Capitol basement. They could let him out after he pays a fine TBD until he truthfully answered all their questions. The House has done this in the past for those showing contempt of Congress. Naturally, Democrats did nothing.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi is convinced that impeaching Trump is bad politics. She fears a backlash that will strip Democrats of their majority in the house. This is despite polls consistently showing Trump deeply disliked, even in red states like Arizona. Whereas Republicans proved in its endless Benghazi – Clinton email investigations that going after someone relentlessly is good politics, regardless of whether it turns up anything. It’s Congress doing its job: oversight. Unlike Hillary Clinton though, Democrats have a mountain of credible crimes and misdemeanors against Trump. Any one of them done by Barack Obama would have resulted in impeachment by Republican House of the time.

By doing nothing of consequence, Democrats in Congress are basically enabling a bully. Bullies though just keep getting stronger until they are stood up to. They have to be faced down. If they get away with it, they try even more outlandish stuff. The sky is the limit for Donald Trump. Most recently he had his lawyers make the outlandish claim that he can’t be prosecuted for any federal or state crimes while in office. This is clearly false, but Trump makes his own reality. He’ll keep making his own reality until he is stood up to.

Yes, if impeached by the House he likely will not be thrown out of office because at the moment there are not 67 senators with the spine to do so. Nonetheless, the House should impeach his ass. First, if Congress doesn’t take action in these situations, God help the next Congress that tries to hold a president accountable. Second, keeping aides from testifying alone is impeachable conduct. A Congress that can’t perform its oversight role cannot function. It’s like expecting Congress to write laws without having access to any information. Third, there has never been a case of a president who deserved impeachment more. The legal and political case against Trump is overwhelming.

Also, the optics are changing. The country is now evenly divided about whether Trump should be impeached or not. A majority of House Democrats also favor impeachment hearings. It’s changing because more people are paying attention. The more that do, the more they realize it is not only justified, but necessary.

Democrats can look at history for perspective. Polls showed that Richard Nixon maintained good favorability ratings until shortly before he resigned, and Trump’s are much worse already. Calling attention to his misconduct, as relentlessly as attention was paid on Hillary Clinton’s emails, makes it newsworthy and draws attention.

But at some point, Congress simply needs to draw some boundaries. Simply obstructing Congress’s duty to conduct oversight is impeachable because he is thwarting the intent of the constitution he swore to uphold. It’s quite possible that by taking steps to open impeachment hearings that Trump will cave and start providing witnesses. Bullies after all are more smoke than actual power. Their power diminishes quickly when they are called to account.

Congress should be using every tool in its toolbox if for no other reason than to keep it relevant. The only power it is exercising so far filing lawsuits, which Trump wait it out until they are moot. He’ll probably ignore rulings he doesn’t like anyhow. This minimal oversight seems to be what Nancy Pelosi wants as well. She wants an election to impeach Donald Trump. Hopefully that will work in keeping him from getting a second term, but it does nothing to restore the rule of law and the proper balance of power within government. It’s the latter than is the worse threat in the long term.

No bottom for the Republican Party

It looks like I have been giving Republicans too much credit. I assumed there was some core group of Republicans who could agree, “This time Trump has gone too far” and bring him down. Apparently, there is no bottom for the Republican Party.

That’s because I assumed that there were some sane Republicans out there. But it looks like when push comes to shove, sanity takes a back seat to subservience and fealty. Republicans apparently love to take orders. They love authoritarians. I’m guessing it gives them some feeling of comfort that somewhere a Big Daddy is taking care of things. Having decided to get on the Trump train, they can’t seem to find a reason to get off, no matter how surreal and ridiculous it gets.

Signs are pointing to a huge train wreck for Republicans in the 2020 election. Some years back I pointed out that Trump would kill the Republican Party. To severely maim the party, Republicans have to lose both the presidency and the Senate. Barring some massive election fraud, Trump is destined to be defeated in 2020. He’s never polled over 50% and most of the time his approval ratings have been mired in the low 40s or lower. Winning with these sorts of negatives is possible only with massive voter fraud or a third-party candidate that siphons off a lot of Democratic votes. Both the 2000 and the 2016 elections likely would have elected Democratic presidents had it not been for the third-party spoiler effect. It’s not Trump’s base that will win him reelection, but Democratic fragmentation.

Winning the Senate requires flipping three Republican seats, which is a bit of a long shot but not impossible in a wave election. Aside from his base, Trump has managed to piss pretty much everyone off. But even among his base, he is bleeding supporters. White men support him, but according to polling he’s recently lost white women without a college education. Trump is losing farmers from his trade wars, and truckers are seeing major layoffs plus the latest tax law raised their taxes by doing away with a lot of their deductions. Meanwhile, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell is deeply loathed in his home state, with only 33% approval. He can’t even be bothered to pump up a pension fund for coal miners. Yes, in deep red Kentucky, McConnell may lose reelection next year.

Rather than face criticism, Trump does the only thing he knows how to do: reshuffle the deck. This means changing the subject, generally by saying things or posting comments on his Twitter feed that are increasingly outrageous. This is effective but it doesn’t actually fix the issues that got him in trouble in the first place.

Moreover, his pattern never varies. When he decided not to put those 25% tariffs on Chinese goods so people could enjoy nice presents under their Christmas tree mostly made in China, then of course when China added new tariffs on U.S. products as they promised it all went out the window. New tariffs were back on and markets plunged about three percent yesterday. They were doing fine until his announcement.

But just when you thought Trump couldn’t possibly get any wackier, he doubles down on the stupid. Just this week Trump:

  • Said he was the Chosen One, implying he was the King of the Jews
  • Said any Jew voting for Democrats was disloyal and un-American because they should put Israel first … uh, what? And how is putting Israel before the United States showing you are an American patriot? Oh wait, because Trump says so. Gotcha.
  • Ordered U.S. companies to leave China, even though he can’t
  • Decided he could issue an executive order to end birth right citizenship, as if he could unilaterally override the 14th Amendment
  • Blamed the chairman of the Federal Reserve for his economic woes because he wouldn’t cut interest rates fast enough, while apparently absolving himself of the blame of nominating Jerome Powell in the first place
  • Said he wanted to buy Greenland and canceled a summit with Denmark, which manages the island, in a huff because they wouldn’t consider it. Actually, Denmark couldn’t even if it wanted to. Residents of Greenland would have to decide. Oh, and he called their female prime minister “nasty”, his word of choice when acting like the obvious misogynist that he is.

We have a president that is, quite frankly, totally nuts and bonkers. Just one of these by a Democratic candidate like Joe Biden would sink their candidacy. But Republicans so far show nothing but increased fealty to a president who by any objective standard is mentally ill and could not be trusted to even competently manage a child’s savings account.

Moreover, a recession is clearly on the way and every action Trump takes seems to be designed to make it worse. It was tariffs that brought us the Great Depression. Doubling down on tariffs simply increases the odds that a recession will turn into a depression. And if there is a recession, there’s not a single adviser to the president who has either the smarts or the wherewithal to help lead the US out of a recession. The closest we have is Jerome Powell, and only because the Fed is independent of the executive and he can’t be fired. When you surround yourself by incompetent sycophants, well, you get incompetent sycophants. Hell of a way to run a “government” … don’t bother to actually govern!

I was thinking yesterday that the tanking stock market might finally be the straw that broke the Republicans’ back. Moneyed capitalists ultimately hold up Republican power. Yesterday, three percent of their wealth vanished because Trump’s ego was hurt. Likely a lot more of it will vanish soon.

The obvious remedy is the 25th Amendment and twisting Vice President Pence’s arms to get a majority of the cabinet to declare our president is too mentally ill to serve. I’ve been waiting more than two years for this intervention, assuming cooler heads in the Republican Party could prevail. While I still hope for it, increasingly it looks like I misjudged the nerve and sobriety of the Republican leadership. They are wholly captured by their captain, and appear ready to go down with his ship.

Liz Warren for president

I recently wrote a post saying Democrats should concentrate on bigger issues like fixing gerrymandering rather than get swept up in the personalities over the many, many candidates running for the party’s presidential nomination. That’s not to say that the field so far is not full of interesting and exciting candidates. Yes, any of them would be more than acceptable as a nominee.

In 2016, I was a Bernie supporter. I correctly assessed Hillary Clinton’s major problem: she wasn’t likeable and was a poor campaigner. I incurred the wrath of many including my wife who despite liking his policies can’t stand Bernie. I’m not sure why this is. It could be that he’s a man, or is white, or since he comes from Vermont can’t seem to relate well to people of color. She’s still anti-Bernie although she concedes she would vote for him in a heartbeat over Trump or any third party ticket. At this early stage, Sanders appears to be something of a favorite in a very divided field.

Yes, I like pretty much all of them with a few exceptions. I’m not sold on Cory Booker because he’s voted like a corporatist for much of his senate career. Ditto for Tulsi Gabbard who is even more so. There are bunches that are technically running that seem to be on nobody’s radar: John Delaney, John Hickenlooper, Jay Inslee, Wayne Messam and Tim Ryan. I bet most of you can’t even say who these people are and what offices they currently hold. Maybe they will distinguish themselves between now and the first votes but there is no particular buzz around any of these candidates. The bigger ones currently running of course are Cory Booker, Pete Buttigieg (a true come from nowhere candidate), Julian Castro, Kirsten Gillibrand, Kamala Harris, Amy Klobuchar, Beto O’Rourke, Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren.

While any of them would be acceptable to me, as I ponder them in my mind I keep coming back to one candidate who is my heads on favorite in this crowded field: Elizabeth Warren. All candidates have strengths and minuses. Warren’s minuses are pretty well known, but are trivial. But as a potential president, she’s whom I would most like to next see in the Oval Office.

She also happens to be my senator, but I’ve admired her long before we moved to Massachusetts in 2015. Unlike all the other candidates with the exception of Bernie Sanders, Liz has the fire of commitment in her belly. But unlike Bernie Sanders, she understands the importance of policy, and her sets of policies are well thought out and address the root causes of the many issues facing our country. What you really notice though that truly sets her apart from other candidates is that she is egoless. You don’t hear from her that “only I can do this”, like you would from Donald Trump or many politicians. What you hear is an exposition on what the fundamental problems for our nation are and how she would fix things.

Fixing things is her passion. It’s what gets her up in the morning. And that’s what we need: a fixer, someone with determination, passion and persistence to move all levers of government to fix the fundamental problems with our governance. And what she correctly identifies as the most fundamental problem of all: getting corruption out of government. That is the one thing she would work on with the most energy because she realizes that all other things, including having a livable planet, depend on getting corruption out of government. Government must work for the people again, not the rich.

Listening to her, you so plainly hear this passion. It feels 100% real instead of faked. Moreover, we residents of Massachusetts see it from her every day. She lives it. She has never accepted a dime from corporate PACs. Her whole presidential effort is being run on a shoestring, depending on supporters to sustain her campaign. So if you want someone to change things, why not support someone who has given their all to do exactly this?

Why am I less enthusiastic about Bernie Sanders? It’s not that he and Elizabeth Warren vary that much on their positions and solutions. Bernie too knows what must be done and has the fire in his belly. What Bernie doesn’t have is Warren’s deep policy expertise. Warren knows not just how things connect and what levers to move to exact change, but comprehensively understands the steps to get there and how to do the work. This is because for much of her life she has been a policy wonk, which Bernie has not been. Having a vision for what America should be is of little use if you cannot connect the dots and move the levers of government to accomplish this.

If you have some time, listen to Crooked Media’s recent interview with Elizabeth Warren below to get a sense of what I mean. No other candidate brings this level of passion, depth and seeing all sides of an issue. So here’s hoping Warren’s candidacy takes off, and Democrats focus more on her than the many fly-by-night candidates good at theatrics but not so good at putting it altogether.

Righting our Upside Down government

Down is the new up. This was honed in last Saturday when the U.S. Senate voted in Brett Kavanaugh as our newest justice, despite multiple credible allegations of sexual assault against him.

The vote was perhaps not surprising as Republicans always put party before country. Had Kavanaugh been defeated or withdrawn, someone of similar far right inclinations would have been voted in instead. Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has now realized his dream of a reliably conservative court, which would have happened anyhow.

We are living in the Upside Down. If you are not familiar with the term, you haven’t seen the Netflix series Stranger Things (terrific series you really should watch anyhow). We have probably been in the Upside Down for a while, but Saturday’s vote literally confirmed it. Republicans have seized the Supreme Court. It is now an officially political wing of the Republican Party.

If there was any doubt, now-Justice Kavanaugh’s most recent testimony in front of the Senate Judiciary Committee proves it. In short, our democracy has been formally hijacked. Our government is no longer credibly run for the benefit of the people. It is now run for the sponsors of the Republican Party, principally corporatists, which amounts to groups of well-moneyed white men, but also a lot of white people feeding on their anxiety about losing privilege. You can see it in the tax cuts they passed which directly passes wealth to their class. The Republican Party is rife with racism and misogyny; indeed these things control it.

Which raises the question: how to we right our Upside Down government? Is it even possible? We’ll have an inkling a month from now after the midterms because right now Republicans control all three branches of government. They have as close to a vice grip on all of them as possible. It will take a mighty wave of Democratic votes to begin to make our government representative of the people again. It’s unclear given the many obstacles put in the way (gerrymandering, voter purges, voter disenfranchisement, voter suppression and special interest money) whether it is possible.

Even if Democrats regain Congress, it’s but the first of many very hard steps that must occur to return to something like normal. It’s increasingly clear to me that for it to happen at all, Democrats must fight dirty like Republicans. And by fighting dirty it’s unclear if they won’t become as corrupt as Republicans in the process.

Unfortunately, there are no fast solutions to this problem. It took nearly forty years of persistence plus huge amounts of money for Republicans to wholly own government. Some biases are inherently baked into our system and are virtually impossible to change. The biggest problem is the U.S. Senate, which is not weighted according to population. Rural states have a disproportionate advantage in the Senate. As long as these states promote conservative values, at best the Senate will always swing between Republican and Democratic control.

So a combination of long-term and short-term strategies is needed. The bottom line is that we must fight like hell for democracy. It is not something we can fix in one, five or even ten years. It’s likely a generational problem. Much of the problem can go away with time as conservative voters literally die out. This is premised though on having a voting system that is fair, and Republicans have done everything possible to tilt it to their advantage.

If you read this blog regularly, some of these suggestions will seem familiar. But it’s quite clear that what we’ve done before simply doesn’t work. We need new tactics:

  • Pack the court. When Democrats control Congress and the presidency again, pack the Supreme Court. There is no constitutional requirement to have only nine justices. It just takes a law. It’s been done before. Given that Republicans would not even consider Obama’s nominee Merrick Garland, at a minimum if Democrats control the Senate they should not allow any subsequent Supreme Court vacancy to be filled until Merrick Garland’s nomination is first considered. I’d add two more justices to the court, conveniently to be nominated by a Democratic president.
  • Call a constitutional convention to reverse Citizens United v. Republicans probably won the trifecta because of this 2010 landmark Supreme Court ruling. It allowed corporations and rich people to make unlimited contributions to political campaigns, and to hide their advocacy under shadowy political action committees. We can count on Congress not to pass such an amendment, since it would not get past a Senate filibuster. A state-driven constitutional convention is scary to many Democrats. It should not be. In this case, 80% of Americans favor overturning this ruling, and that includes a majority of Republicans. A constitutional convention by the states does not enact such an amendment. Rather, if passed at a convention it requires state legislatures to consider it, same as an amendment passed by Congress. It would pass the ¾ threshold easily. This would effectively take corporate money out of the election system (at least at the federal level), promoting a government by the people, instead of corporations. Don’t expect a 5-4 conservative majority Supreme Court to overturn their previous decision. We need a permanent fix and a constitutional amendment is the only remedy.
  • Candidates should run on not accepting corporate and PAC money. Candidates that have done this have enjoyed great success. You would think it would put them at a financial disadvantage, but for most candidates it spurs small dollar donations instead. I live in Massachusetts. Senator Elizabeth Warren (D) has never accepted these donations. Neither has Bernie Sanders (I-VT). Both vote in the people’s interest because they cannot be bribed. If you want to support this cause, an easy way to do it is to join Wolf-PAC, ironically a PAC that exists specifically to help elect candidates who don’t accept corporate and special interest money.
  • Build from the bottom up, as Republican did. Democrats seem to be getting this message. Gerrymandering is done at the state level. So the more Democrats that control state houses and governorships, the more Democrats can either end gerrymandering in their state, or if they must gerrymander, do it for Democratic advantage. Redistricting will occur after the 2020 census. Assuming that census is not biased (which of course Republicans are trying to bias), if Democratic governors and legislators are in place by 2020, those states can affect composition of the U.S. house in the 2020s and beyond.
  • Rebuild the Democratic Party. This is probably the hardest thing to do, as special interests and their money still largely control the party. A party that authentically represents the will of the people should be successful. Progressives must take over the party, hopefully as benignly as possible. Doing so though may be so divisive that it fractures the party, which Republicans would obviously favor. For example, the Democratic Party could have a position that its candidates and the party should not accept PAC and corporate money. Do this and voters will have a clear understanding that the Democratic Party works for them, not the elite.