Biden’s most important task

So I was listening to this podcast, talking about the rise of neoliberalism and opining that it is likely in its last gasps. A poorly named philosophy, neoliberalism is actually better named neoconservatism. It’s the idea that freedom comes through markets and that the more we orient society to enable entrepreneurs and free markets and clip the government’s wings, the more everyone’s boat rises and freedoms expand.

The opposite of course has happened. Income inequality is now at record levels. What new growth there is goes almost entirely to the rich. The only mystery is why it was hung on to for so long. It hung on in part because there are a lot of shysters out there. Its most recent example is Donald Trump, a so-called populist who pulled the wool over the eyes of his supporters so well that they still support him, even though he has systematically tried to impoverish them.

Remember the Trump who was going to do all these magical things like give us something better than cheaper than Obamacare, and almost instantly, and was going to bring back jobs to the United States? You got to hand it to Trump, though. Right now, he is still picking the pockets of his supporters, still getting them to send his campaign money, even though he has lost the election. Most of these donations goes to an entity which allows him to channel it right back into his pocket. These loonies though are still smitten with Trump, still convinced our election was rigged (but only against Trump, apparently) and have no problem with totalitarianism to keep Trump in power. If he somehow succeeded though, based on his track record, he would just find more ways to fleece them and the rest of us. That’s his biggest skill.

In 2016 Trump sounded a lot like Bernie Sanders; it’s just that Sanders was the true populist. People followed Trump because he told them stuff they wanted to hear. You know his base wants a lot of progressive policies; after all, Florida voted for him while also approving a $15/hour minimum wage. Many progressive ideas are popular with Trump supporters. They just get lost in supporting class warfare. They can’t seem to figure out that by supporting it they are undermining their own prosperity.

Anyhow, if this podcast is true, neoliberalism is in its last days. The reaction to Trump’s defeat is strong evidence that his supporters are coming apart at the seams because they can’t get their way. Is a new, more progressive era at hand?

I’m hoping it is and there are certainly signs that time should prove this true. The hard part is getting from here to there. One constant has been the obstinance from red states, who seem to be all for white supremacy and income inequality. It’s just that red states are becoming fewer. Georgia is looking purple and may start to look blue if both Democrats win their runoff races next month. There’s more early voting in Georgia for these races today than there was before the presidential election. Polls proved unreliable in the November election, but what polls there are in the Georgia Senate race suggest Democrats Warnock and Ossoff have slim leads.

I spent more than thirty years in Virginia and watched it moved from red to purple to consistently blue. Arizona is definitely looking like a purple state. North Carolina and Wisconsin seem to be becoming purple too. You have to look hard for a state that is bucking the trend. I can only see Ohio trending more red.

The challenge of the moment is keeping our fragmenting country together. The Trump base has never been a majority, but they are a large minority and they apparently have few limits. Republicans in general have been playing a high stakes game for decades, methodically investing the time and resources to turn things their way. Now though it seems like they feel it slipping from their grasp. It’s this anxiety that is driving crazy stuff, like violent Proud Boys marches in Washington, D.C. Their tactics though only work as long as they work. With voter suppression losing its edge, and states moving slowly toward less gerrymandered districts, the extremes are feeling marginalized. In the past this would be a sign to expand their coalition by moving toward the middle, but Trump won’t let them.

President Elect Joe Biden has many things to tackle once he assumes office. But arguably the most important task will be to restore our democratic republic. Rule of law must reflect adherence to our actual law. Our government needs to function again.

How many years has it been since Congress not funded government through continuing resolutions? Congressional committees used to have real power; now most are fig leaves. The real power in Congress rests in its majority leader in the Senate, since he seems to control everything, most importantly its agenda. The situation in the House is not much better. Nancy Pelosi too is exercising powers largely beyond those traditionally granted to the Speaker of the House. So we get crazy things like an omnibus spending bill where members have two hours to read it before voting yea or nay and no opportunity to debate it. Agencies get by from year to year on continuing resolutions with little changing of their priorities and missions as a result of Congressional deliberations. Congress needs to do its job in the way it was set up to do it. Most of those in Congress though are arguably superfluous, since their power amounts to electing their majority leader or speaker, done every two years at best.

If we can’t run the government the way it was intended to be run, if power can’t be shared more equitably, if its members can’t even agree to a modicum of respect and compromise, things will only unravel more. Joe Biden at least seems to understand this. Let’s see how much he will actually be able to accomplish.

Falling through the cracks

She’s hung on for about ten days so far, but likely won’t be alive much longer. Annie is the spouse of Nansi, a same sex couple in the Amish country in Pennsylvania. They live in Lebanon, Pennsylvania, which is not too far from Allentown. If you’ve heard Billy Joel’s song about Allentown, you have a pretty good idea of what Lebanon is like.

Nansi is in her fifties; her spouse is in her sixties but has been on a disability retirement for a long time. Annie required so much care (she was effectively immobile) that Nansi had to quit her job just to take care of her. Lately though Annie has been in and out of hospitals. This time her condition is terminal. Her body is going through a slow process of shutting down. Ridden with bedsores, Annie is at least blessedly in a coma. She likely won’t be alive much longer but frankly she’s lived about a week longer than they thought she would. Her breathing is shallow and she is turning blue.

My wife is a good friend with them. I’ve met them a few times over the years. They lived in what can charitably be called the most ramshackle house in Lebanon, but probably the state of Pennsylvania. It became too much to manage. They moved into an apartment nearby and the house was demolished. Nansi worked when she could but wages in Lebanon are bargain basement. Since she quit her job, their income has been Annie’s disability retirement, which amounts to living in poverty. They have no savings. Alas, poverty is hardly unfamiliar territory for them.

Sadly they are poster children (well, maybe poster adults) for our age of neoliberalism: the idea that we must all be self-supporting no matter what. When Annie’s joints gave out, she qualified for a disability retirement, something the neoliberals would like to stop. She was frequently in and out of hospitals.

It’s not too hard to predict that Annie will soon be gone. And also gone will be her disability income, at least much of it. Nansi should get some as a surviving spouse, only possible because the Supreme Court said same sex marriage was a civil right, which allowed them to marry at last. But it will be a fraction of the income they have now which was already insufficient. Of course, Lebanon was deeply distressed before the pandemic and recession. It won’t be much longer after Annie is planted six feet underground that Nansi will have to try to find work. Oh, and pay for funeral expenses. She’s called around and it looks like the cheapest option available is cremation, which costs more than $2000 that Nansi doesn’t have.

According to neoliberal ideology, Nansi is not working hard enough because if she tried she could pull herself up by her own bootstraps. Instead, she hangs around the hospital at all hours, exhausted, holds Annie’s hand and waits for her to pass on. But she should be out there trying to get a job, any job, to support herself and to pay off those looming funeral expenses with money she doesn’t have.

These days we deal with the dichotomy of trying to live up to the neoliberalism ideal with actual facts on the ground through GoFundMe. It’s a website where you go to plead to friends and families to send you money you don’t have, generally for expenses that are wildly overpriced. Nansi had no time to set up a GoFundMe, and I don’t think she even thought of it. But my wife did. With lots of cursing, wailing and gnashing of teeth she set one up for her. Friends have contributed about $6000 so far. That should get Annie a cremation or maybe Nansi will spring for a casket.

She’d best go for the simple cremation. She will apply for survivor benefits, but at best it will take a few months. Meanwhile she gets to grieve while trying to find a job in one of the most hard pressed places in the country, find $1000 for the rent for the world’s smallest apartment, plus feed and walk the dog several times a day.

In short, the GoFundMe balance is likely already spoken for. At best it will carry her through until survival benefits come in, but those benefits won’t be enough to live on. She can’t plead for her own disability retirement as she is still mobile, and she’s not old enough to draw from Social Security. Obviously her family is not of much help, what’s left of it. She’s estranged from many of them because she happens to be a lesbian. So she has to scour the job market for a job that likely isn’t there, and if she can find one almost certainly won’t pay her a living wage.

GoFundMe turns out to be a neoliberal’s and capitalist’s dream. It profits off the misery of others. Yes, some people use it for more benign purposes, like to start a small business. But mostly the site is for people who have fallen through the cracks to try to eke out something resembling survival while GoFundMe does its best to take a cut of the contributions.

The default “tip” at GoFundMe is ten percent. We contributed $1000, so GoFundMe would have been happy for us to pay $100 for the privilege of giving Nansi and Annie $1000. But you could also give them 5%. If you look for it you can select your own “tip”. That’s what we did. I chose to tip them nothing.

GoFundMe also made it devilishly hard to for Nansi to get the money. Its site is kind of cranky. My wife uses Firefox for her browser. She was able to set it up easily with Firefox, but the next day when she tried to do something with it, she couldn’t login. She just got a spinning wheel.

As someone who previously made her living fixing Windows computers, she knew what to do and tried all the obvious stuff. Eventually she tried to reach GoFundMe, who didn’t respond, at least not right away. It took a couple of days. She won’t use Facebook, so I was asked to comment on their Facebook page. It didn’t change anything but plenty of others chimed in with their own horror stories.

Anyhow, although not mentioned on their site, she eventually figured out that if she used Chrome she could login again and make Nansi the beneficiary, but she had to remove her cookies first. Then Nansi couldn’t login to fill out the beneficiary form. So Terri got the information over the phone and filled it out for her.

It took about three days of hassle to go through this process, or rather its lack of process, but at least Nansi can now access some of the donations from her friends while she waits for Annie to die. Perhaps she can afford a trip to McDonalds.

There will likely be medical bills from all this too. Likely Medicare will pick up the bulk of it, but since Annie’s been hospitalized for weeks there are bound to be expenses Medicare won’t cover. Nansi will have to cover them, or rather friends of Nansi and Annie will. If we donate enough money, maybe they’ll get paid.

Meanwhile, Republicans are convening to renominate Donald Trump. They tell us what a great country we are and how we are exceptional. They are right. We are an exception in the first world in that we treat people like Nansi and Annie, or basically anyone crushed by our economy, disgracefully.