The Unz Review: An Alternative Media Selection
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I shouted the text of my latest story about the invasion from a Palm Pilot into a balky Iridium satellite phone. It was at least my third attempt, and the battery was dying. A Village Voice employee assigned to take dictation on the other side of the world interrupted me.

“I don’t understand,” she said, irritated. “Why don’t you just go to Kinko’s and email it to us?”

I stood shin-deep in the pitch dark of a muddy rut in northeastern Afghanistan and scanned pockmarked mud-brick walls. I was on a street, but it was 2001, so there wasn’t any pavement. There were buildings but no lights because decades of civil war had left the nation without an electrical grid. There were no bridges that hadn’t been blown up, no phone lines, no sewers. There was no water.

No Kinko’s.

Motorized transport belonged to the privileged: NGOs, warlords, invading armies and journalists like me. People wanted me to take their picture, not to be photographed but to see themselves in my camera’s viewfinder for their first time in their lives. There weren’t any mirrors.

Minus a central bank, rival warlords printed banknotes from identical plates with ink of varying color. Most people preferred barter.

Afghanistan during the U.S. invasion was the 14th century plus mines and AK-47s.

The land of the Taliban was bleak and desolate. After America bombed them out of Kabul after 9/11, they fled into the dusty countryside and rugged mountains that became staging grounds for attacks against U.S. and NATO forces for more than 18 years. Thousands of Americans and tens of Afghans lost their lives in a war that, in a poignant echo of Vietnam, lost its purpose. “What were we trying to do here?” Gen. Douglas Lute, who led U.S. forces under former Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama, recalled asking. “We didn’t have the foggiest notion of what we were undertaking.”

On Feb. 29 of this year, the U.S. tacitly conceded defeat. Special Representative for Afghanistan Reconciliation Zalmay Khalilzad and Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar of the Taliban signed a deal as Secretary of State Mike Pompeo witnessed the ceremony in Doha.

They called it a peace agreement. But it didn’t guarantee that fighting would stop (and it hasn’t), only that the U.S. will withdraw within 14 months.

Under the Doha agreement, the Taliban will now negotiate terms with the Afghan government that the U.S. installed in early 2002. The expectation is that the Taliban will recognize the regime of President Ashraf Ghani and lay down their weapons. It’s far more likely that the group will wait for Ghani’s NATO protectors to leave. Vietnam again: This is “peace with honor.”

This fig leaf allows us to withdraw with our pride intact. And that’s fine. Fifty-eight percent of military veterans who served in Iraq or Afghanistan think the latter conflict was a waste. They’re right. We were never going to win. President Donald Trump gets credit for ending America’s longest war.

So what happens next?

The Taliban will grant us a grace period of relative calm while we turn our focus to other issues and places. Ultimately, they will seize power with surprising speed and ferocity. This, dating back to the First Afghan War against the British between 1839 to 1842, is the way of Afghan guerilla warfare: Wait. Observe. Probe. Swarm.

Then the Taliban will be back in Kabul.

But it won’t be the Taliban — not the Taliban with whom we went to war in 2001. The Ur Taliban are dead and gone.

The bearded fighters to whom the Trump administration has turned over the future of Afghanistan are not your father’s Taliban. South Asia experts call these fellows the “neo-Taliban.” Formerly based in the former tribal areas of Waziristan in western Pakistan along the Afghan border, Afghanistan’s neo-Taliban is a pastiche of radical volunteers and recruits from jihadi hot spots throughout Asia: Kashmir, the former Soviet republics of Central Asia, eastern Iran and Pakistan proper. Many of these young men were orphans of the refugee camps and madrassas that sprung up around the Afghan diaspora of the 1990s and post-9/11 era. Modern and tech-savvy, they carry smartphones to coordinate attacks, often on motorcycles. They earn money from kidnapping and the drug trade.

The original Taliban who ruled 90% of Afghanistan from 1996 to 2001 were a simpler, indigenous, more homogenous breed. Veterans of the anti-Soviet resistance, they began as vigilantes against bandits and rapists. Befitting the devastated hellscape of the failed state they terrorized with the whip-wielding goons of the Ministry for the Propagation of Virtue and the Prevention of Vice, they were ascetic. When American soldiers entered the abandoned home of Mullah Mohammed Omar, they were surprised to discover that the Taliban head of state had lived modestly, even primitively.

The neo-Taliban are nominally religious, but their primary devotion is to leveraging their power into income. They are far more interested in making money than in policing women’s hijabs. They are not feminists. They would oppress women. But they wouldn’t be as thorough or ruthless as the Taliban of the 1990s.

I returned to Afghanistan nine years after I covered the war for the Voice. The difference was staggering. The U.S. and NATO occupation has radically modernized the nation’s infrastructure.

High-tension power lines run alongside smooth new highways. Conditions remain primitive in the countryside, but even smaller cities have electricity most of the day. Formerly ubiquitous donkey carts have been replaced by cars, wells by water pipes, empty skies by billboards advertising soft drinks and candidates for parliament. Stores bustle. Homes and big buildings are constantly going up. There are credit cards, banks and ATM machines, guarded by AK-toting private security guards in flak jackets. There are fewer dropped cellphone calls in Afghanistan than in Los Angeles.

If and when they take over, the neo-Taliban won’t want to destroy this nascent, violence-prone, bustling capitalist state. They will seek to control, protect and tax it.

Afghanistan under the neo-Taliban will look something like other Islamic developing nations in the region such as Pakistan or Bangladesh. Political and financial corruption will be endemic. Out in the sticks, away from the eyes of the few foreign journalists still in country, there will still be an occasional stoning. Overall, this new regime will be more modern, more corrupt and, to Western eyes, more tolerable than the Taliban who blew up the Buddha statues in Bamiyan.

There still aren’t any Fedex offices (formerly Kinko’s) in Afghanistan. But there are plenty of cybercafes — and there’s at least one for women only.

 
• Category: Foreign Policy • Tags: Afghanistan, American Military, Taliban 
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The coronavirus pandemic has laid bare two fundamental flaws in the American health care system.

No. 1: There’s a reason that other rich countries treat health care as a taxpayer-financed social program. Employer-based health insurance was stupid pre-COVID-19 because our economy was already steadily transitioning from traditional full-time W-2 jobs to self-employment, freelance and gig work. The virus has exposed the insanity of this arrangement. Millions of people have been fired over the last two months; now they find themselves uninsured during a global health emergency. The unemployed theoretically face fines for the crime of no longer being able to afford private health care.

The second inherent flaw in the U.S. approach is that it’s for profit. Greed creates an inherent incentive against paying for preventative and emergency care. Even people who are desperately ill with chronic conditions see 24% of legitimate claims denied.

When your insurance company issues a denial, it doesn’t merely pocket that payment. It also adds to future profits. Even if you’re insured, the hassle of knowing that you might get hit by a surprise bill for uncovered/out-of-network charges makes you more likely to stay home rather than to risk seeing a doctor or filling a prescription and going broke. “Visits to primary care providers made by adults under the age of 65 … dropped by nearly 25% from 2008 to 2016” due to routine denials by insurers, reports NPR.

Denials also create a societal effect: News stories about patients with insurance receiving bills for thousands of dollars after being treated for COVID-19, even just to be tested, prompt people to stay away from hospitals and try to ride out the disease at home. Some of those people die.

There’s a third structural problem exposed by the pandemic, but it’s not receiving attention from public policy experts or the media. I’m talking about America’s lack of a centralized health care system.

A centralized health care system has nothing to do with who pays the doctor. A centralized system can be fully socialized, government-subsidized or fully for profit. In such a scheme, all patient records are stored in a central online database accessible to physicians, pharmacists and other caregivers regardless of where you are when you need care. If you fall ill while you’re on a trip away from home, the admitting nurse at a walk-in clinic or hospital has instantaneous access to your complete medical history.

The current system is primitive. Data is not transferable between doctors or medical systems without a patient’s directive, which is often required by the obsolete technology of sending a fax. That assumes the sick person is sharp enough to remember which of his previous doctors did what when. And that’s it’s not a weekend or a national holiday or a Wednesday, when some doctors like to golf.

Unless an unconscious patient happens to be wearing a medical alert bracelet, there is currently no way to determine whether the person is allergic to a drug or has a chronic illness, or whether there’s a treatment regimen proven to be more effective. Even if the patient is alert and conscious, a new doctor may ignore her request for a specific medication in favor of cookie-cutter, one-size-fits-all treatment.

A few months ago, I developed the classic symptoms of what we now know to be COVID-19. I live in New York. I succumbed while on business in Los Angeles. Trying in vain to fight off a relentless dry cough, difficulty breathing and day after day of brutal aches and fever, I visited a CVS walk-in clinic. I have a long history of respiratory illnesses: asthma, bronchitis, pneumonia, swine flu. I requested a third- or fourth-generation antibiotic since I knew from experience that I would inevitably decline with anything less. “We do not treat viral infections with antibiotics,” the nurse, a charmless Pete Buttigieg type, pompously declaimed. I pointed out that viral lung infections usually have a bacterial component that should be treated with antibiotics.

This would not have been an issue back home in New York, where both my general practitioner and my pulmonologist know my medical history. Either doctor would have prescribed a strong antibiotic and a codeine-based cough syrup.

Because I happened to be in LA, I left CVS empty-handed.

I declined.

It got to the point that I couldn’t walk 100 feet without pausing to catch my breath. I felt like I was going to die.

I called my doctor back in New York. She called in a prescription to the same CVS. It helped arrest my decline. But I wasn’t getting better.

I visited a different walk-in clinic, in West Hollywood. It was a better experience. They tested me for flu (negative), X-rayed me (diagnosis was early-stage pneumonia) and put me on a nebulizer. I began a slow recovery.

A centralized system would have been more efficient. The CVS nurse would have seen my history of non-response to treatment devoid of strong antibiotics. He also might have taken note of my pulmonologist’s effective use of a nebulizer to treat previous bouts of bronchitis and pneumonia. I might have been prescribed the proper medication and treatment as much as a week sooner.

COVID-19 almost certainly would have been detected in the United States sooner if we had a centralized medical system. “One example of a persistent challenge in the early detection of health security threats is the lack of national, web-based databases that link suspected cases of illness with laboratory confirmation. This leaves countries vulnerable, as they cannot accurately and quickly identify the presence of pathogens to minimize the spread of disease,” according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Algorithms can automatically scan massive volumes of information for signs of novel infectious diseases, help identify potential problems and focus responses where they are needed most.

How many people’s lives could have been saved if lockdown procedures had begun earlier? If public health officials had seen the coronavirus coming back in December — or November — they might have been able to protect vulnerable populations and avoid a devastating economic shutdown.

There are substantial privacy considerations. No one wants a hacker to find out that they had an STD or an employer to learn about documented evidence of substance abuse. Keeping a centralized health care system secure would have to be a top priority. On the other hand, there is no inherent shame in any kind of illness. In a nightmare scenario in which medical records were to somehow become public, no one would have anything to hide or any reason to look down on anyone else.

We can’t pretend to be a First World country until we join the rest of the world by abolishing corporate for-profit health care and decouple insurance benefits from employment. But reform without centralization would be incomplete.

 
• Category: Ideology • Tags: Coronavirus, Health care 
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We can save the economy.

We have to throw the landlords under the bus to do it.

At this writing, 26.5 million Americans have lost their jobs to the national lockdown necessitated by the COVID-19 pandemic. Added to those who were unemployed before the coronavirus crisis, we will soon face jobless numbers equivalent to or greater than those at the height of the Great Depression. What’s going to happen to them? More specifically, where will they live?

Drawing from the experience of the collapse of the USSR in 1991, droll writer Dmitri Orlov mused on what would happen here in a similar scenario. Surviving the fall of the Soviet Union, he concluded, would be easier than it would be to make it through the then-future implosion of the United States of America.

“In the United States,” Orlov wrote in 2011, “very few people own their place of residence free and clear, and even they need an income to pay real estate taxes. The real owners of real estate in the U.S. are banks and corporations. People without an income face homelessness. When the economy collapses, very few people will continue to have an income, so homelessness will become rampant. Most people in the U.S., once their savings are depleted, will in due course be forced to live in their car, in some secluded stretch of woods, in a tent or under a tarp. There is currently no mechanism by which landlords can be made not to evict deadbeat tenants, or banks prevailed upon not to foreclose on non-performing loans.” Residents of apartments in the former Soviet Union faced hardships, but no one evicted them for nonpayment of rent. Private property rights were valued less than human lives.

Avoiding a mass-eviction scenario must be the top priority of American political leaders.

Aside from mass human misery, the downsides of allowing banks and municipalities and landlords to evict large numbers of people became evident after the evictions and foreclosures of millions of homes following the 2008-09 housing crisis. Every foreclosure drags down the property value of neighboring homes. Abandoned houses become meth labs.

But let’s not forget about mass human misery. Even if you’re rich and not a humanitarian, the thought of tens of millions of homeless people wandering streets and highways, desperate and hungry, can’t possibly make you sleep soundly. Property crimes and violence designed to separate people from their possessions will soar unless we keep people in their homes, safe, fed and warm. And don’t forget about the coronavirus. Even after two years from now, when there may or may not be a vaccine, many of the poor will be uninsured and won’t be able to afford medical care. Kicking them out of their homes will spread the virus.

America needs a rent and mortgage holiday, not a lame moratorium that kicks the can of mass evictions down the road for a few months. That includes commercial rent. Empty storefronts become targets for burglary and squatters. Some become drug dens. Arson fires consume them and neighboring homes. Until COVID-19 is in our rearview mirror, we need everyone and everything to stay put for health reasons. Afterward we want to give the economy a chance to recover. We don’t need blight. We want restaurants and other businesses to reopen. We want individuals to return to work, not starve in the streets. Individuals and businesses who can’t afford it should withhold rent from landlords and mortgage payments from banks, without penalty, until both the public health and economic crises are over.

What about the banks and landlords? I’m not suggesting that they should be stuck with the whole tab for COVID-19. Municipalities should waive real estate taxes. They should receive relief to cover their utility and maintenance expenses. Lobbying organizations for property owners point out that their members often have underlying mortgages themselves; those mortgages, too, should be subject to the payment holiday. Banks should receive infusions of interest-free cash from the Fed. But the U.S. can no longer afford to let these entities continue to collect real estate profits as usual.

Landlords should take the biggest bath for the simple reason that they are social and economic parasites. Value is added via the production process; landlords add no value whatsoever. If a revolution were to turn renters into homeowners by transferring titles and abolishing bank liens and property taxes, no one would miss landlords. Former renters and mortgage borrowers could easily assume the cost of maintenance that they currently pay to landlords and banks for pennies on the dollar.

You probably know a nice landlord. My father-in-law was one. I used to sublet a room in my apartment so I could make the rent, which made me a sub-landlord. But part of the reason my rent was too high was that I could sublet that room. Landlords are unnecessary at best, pernicious at worst.

In part, eviction is a remedy: It allows a property owner to try again with a new tenant. In a broader sense, it is a threat to remaining renters: Unless you pay me, I will throw you out. That threat is the ultimate expression of the enclosure of the commons.

A depressionary spiral during a pandemic is no time to prioritize property rights. Eviction is a national suicide pact.

In 2014, a boy broke into what he thought was an abandoned house in my hometown of Dayton, Ohio. In a closet, he found the mummified body of the homeowner, who committed suicide five years earlier out of despair that his $10,000 house had been foreclosed upon. He needn’t have bothered. The bank was so overwhelmed with newly acquired properties due to mass foreclosures that it never bothered to send anyone to investigate or take possession.

The guy died for nothing.

The last thing we need now is a million more like him.

 
• Category: Economics • Tags: Coronavirus, Poverty 
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The COVID-19 medical and economic crisis remains mostly unaddressed by both the Republican and Democratic parties. They have only passed one piece of legislation that significantly helps workers: supplementing existing state unemployment benefits by $600 per week. Those additional payments expire in four months. Until then, many people who are out of work will receive about $1,000 a week. If the past is precedent, Congress is likely to renew the law.

Aside from expanded unemployment checks, the government has been useless.

Here are the essential, basic things Congress and President Donald Trump must do in order to avoid economic collapse, mass starvation, an epidemic of violent crime reminiscent of “A Clockwork Orange” and political unrest up to and including revolution.

They must do it now.

A universal basic income is the smartest, fastest way to stimulate the economy by keeping money flowing from consumers. Neither political party seems to care enough about the prospect of street riots to pass a UBI. But they need to do it yesterday to avoid catastrophe tomorrow. Flat UBI payments are unfair to people who live in expensive cities and states; the cost of living in my hometown of Dayton, Ohio, is half that of Manhattan. Weight UBIs according to living costs.

COVID Care

At bare minimum, medical treatment for COVID-19 and related ailments (bronchitis, pneumonia, etc.) should be free from a patient’s first test to his or her last breath in a ventilator. It should be free for everyone: insured, uninsured, homeless, prison inmate and undocumented worker, the last of which for an obvious reason: If an illegal immigrant contracts the coronavirus, he or she can transmit it to you. It’s to everyone’s advantage that everyone have access to medical care.

Theoretically, the new Families First Coronavirus Response Act does that. But not in reality. “Our health care system is a mess and the law does not explicitly prohibit charging you if you go to an out-of-network provider,” Time reports. “It also doesn’t address other ‘surprise billing’ problems.” Treatment for COVID-19 can easily run $35,000 or more. Not only should Americans not have to pay; they can’t pay.

Whether you go to your physician or urgent care or the ER, no one who suspects she has COVID-19 should be asked for her insurance card. Health care providers should bill the federal government.

No leading Republican or Democrat — Donald Trump, Joe Biden, Mitch McConnell, Nancy Pelosi — wants to do this. Why? Because they’re stupid, crazy or both.

Draft the Immune

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention are rolling out a pilot program of a testing kit that can show if you have been exposed to the novel coronavirus and thus have the antibodies to resist a repeat infection. Authorities are considering issuing “immunity cards” to citizens who have had COVID-19. The idea is that people who are cleared could return to work. So far so good.

The government should retool the Selective Service System to draft recovered COVID-19 victims to perform services needed to help people and restart the economy.

Ramp up Distance Learning

Parents, school children and college students in many cities are finding online instruction to be woefully inadequate at best. The most pressing issue is unequal access to the internet. This is a huge problem. Fortunately, it’s easily fixable.

There are about 75 million students in the U.S. Seventeen percent don’t have home internet access. That’s 13 million kids. A Wi-Fi hot spot costs $50 a month. A Chromebook is $300. Four billion dollars, roughly the cost of occupying Iraq for a week, buys a home computer for everyone who needs one. Ten billion a year covers Wi-Fi access. That’s the worst-case scenario; the government could get a volume discount.

Unfortunately, neither Democratic nor Republican politicians care about our kids enough to act.

Rent and Mortgage Holidays

Thirty-one percent of apartment dwellers failed to pay April rent. Expect that number to soar in May and June. Idiotically, the only relief offered by even the most progressive mainstream politicians is a moratorium on evictions and foreclosures. Moratoriums end. Courts reopen. When they do, millions of people could be thrown out onto the streets.

Even if you don’t care about them, think about your own property values. During the 2008-09 economic meltdown, mass foreclosures left millions of homes empty. These eyesores dragged down the value of their neighbors’ homes. We really are in this together.

People who can’t pay their rent or mortgage shouldn’t have to. And at the end of all this, they shouldn’t bear the burden of accumulated debt, interest or late fees. Congress should declare a rent and mortgage holiday until the end of the crisis.

To mitigate the hardship on landlords and lenders, real estate and other taxes should be waived during the same period. So should utilities like gas and electricity. Congress should consider a tax credit for property owners. Banks should receive Federal Reserve funding at zero percent.

So far, no mainstream politician is talking about this.

A War Holiday

Secretary-General Antonio Guterres of the United Nations is calling for warring parties in the world to lay down their arms for the duration of the COVID-19 pandemic. “The fury of the virus illustrates the folly of war,” he said, emphasizing the fact that war makes it hard for humanitarian assistance to reach victims of the coronavirus.

War is a tremendous waste of lives, resources and money that could be better spent elsewhere, and that has never been more evident than today. Yet at this writing, President Donald Trump has ordered the U.S. Navy off the coast of Venezuela in a classic demonstration of gunboat diplomacy. His administration is continuing former President Barack Obama’s benighted proxy war in Yemen. American drones are slaughtering innocent people in Somalia.

This is all monstrous BS and should stop forever, but at minimum, wars of choice can wait until the end of the coronavirus crisis. Yet here again, neither party has endorsed the secretary-general’s idea.

 
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There is no room for progressives in the Democratic Party.

No matter how many votes he or she gets, no progressive will be permitted to be the presidential nominee of the Democratic Party.

Progressives who try to work inside of, contribute to and support the Democratic Party have no real chance of moving its candidates or policies to the left.

Remaining inside the Democratic Party achieves nothing; to the contrary, it is insidiously counterproductive. Working for “change from the inside” strengthens centrist politicians who oppose progressivism with every fiber of their being.

If American electoral democracy has a future and progressives want to be part of that future, there is only one way forward: create and build a new party in which progressivism isn’t merely tolerated or partly accommodated as some fringe or necessary nuisance but is its core mission.

We need a New Progressive Party.

The reason is simple: Progressivism and corporate centrism are not parts of an ideological spectrum. Centrism isn’t watered-down progressivism; centrism directly opposes progressivism. Centrists want wars and don’t care about the poor; progressives want no wars and care deeply about the poor. There is no room for compromise between the two.

A New Progressive Party would go nowhere if, like the Green Party, it were poorly funded and disorganized and unable to field a slate of candidates across the boar, from city council to state representative to Congress. It must begin robustly; it must grow quickly; and it must be the only viable outlet for real progressives. Go big, or go home.

This could be done. Now is the perfect time.

Keep reading. I’ll explain how.

Anyone who believes progressives have a place inside the Democratic Party should reflect on the experience of Sen. Bernie Sanders. In both 2016 and 2020, Democratic-aligned media companies marginalized, misrepresented and deprived Sanders of coverage proportionate to his level of support in the polls. In 2016, the Democratic National Committee literally sold itself to Hillary Clinton’s center-right campaign apparatus, which conspired with the DNC to short Sanders on vote counts and deprive him of access to party data. In 2020, the DNC appears to have derailed Sanders’ front-runner status by arranging for candidates Pete Buttigieg, Beto O’Rourke, Amy Klobuchar and others to drop out and endorse Joe Biden one day before the key Super Tuesday primaries.

This is not one of those “better luck next time” scenarios. Sanders is too old to run again. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and her fellow progressive Squad are too young to mount a serious challenge to the DNC moderate hierarchy anytime soon. Progressivism inside the Democratic Party is unlikely to again surge to Bernie levels for at least a decade.

Progressivism in general remains vibrant. Sanders, who has withdrawn, has 31% of the 2020 primary popular vote. Elizabeth Warren, who also withdrew, has 10%. Even if we assume that other former candidates like Buttigieg didn’t get a single progressive vote — which isn’t likely — at least 41% of Democratic primary voters currently support progressivism. That makes about 20% of the electorate overall. Roughly 20% of nonvoters, or about 9% of the total electorate, are progressive.

A New Progressive Party should therefore be able to count on roughly 1 in 5 voters out of the gate, with short-term potential of 30%. Not bad in a three-party system.

Now consider two factors that point to growth. As even corporate media concedes, progressive ideas like socialized medicine and a guaranteed living wage have suddenly exploded in popularity due to the coronavirus crisis and resulting economic free fall. Given the grim projections for the economy during the foreseeable future, 20% to 30% looks more like a floor than a ceiling.

There is greater potential of building a party from the grassroots than from the top down. Even while the presidency remains elusive, local politics are quirkier and thus offer opportunity for growth. Sanders began as mayor of Burlington, Vermont; AOC won a surprise challenge to a longtime incumbent Democratic congressman in Queens. A progressive farm team could and would spring up quickly in left-leaning college towns like Madison, Wisconsin, and Charlottesville, Virginia.

But how? The D-R duopoly has rigged the system in its favor. Ballot access is tough. They control the presidential debates and news media coverage.

As I wrote above, funding is crucial. The fact that Bernie Sanders raised over $100 million in 2020 from small donors proves that progressives can raise cash for a cause they care about. So how do you start this new party?

The first step is to convene a founding meeting in a big venue like McCormick Place Convention Center. (Chicago is easy to get to from everywhere in the U.S.) Launch a Kickstarter to cover the cost of renting the hall: Unless there are enough pledges to cover the total, no one has to pay up, and the attempt is over. It serves as the first test of whether enough progressives are ready to break away from the Democratic Party.

The agenda of the first convention of the New Progressive Party will be dedicated to debating and agreeing to a platform, electing party officials and setting a strategy for the next election.

The newly elected officials then fan across the nation and start building local organizations in their own communities to recruit, fund and campaign for candidates for local and state office. Like the Democrats and Republicans, every four years there will be a national primary and convention to present a presidential candidate.

Some will argue that the creation of a party just for progressives will split the left. That assumes the Democratic Party represents the left. The truth is exactly the opposite: The Democratic Party is where the American left goes to die. If the left wants to live, it must fight and struggle for the things that it cares about on its own, in its own home.

 
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Bernie Sanders is out of the race, and with him goes the last chance for progressivism to take over the Democratic Party for a generation.

Now his supporters will decide what to do. Intransigent #BernieOrBusters will cast about for a third-party vote, write in Bernie or sit out the election in November. Other left-leaning voters will hope against hope that as president, Joe Biden would either pivot to the left or appoint progressive-minded Cabinet members, and maybe tap Elizabeth Warren as vice president. This would all be to run the country as he continues to fade into the dying of the light.

There is absolutely no reason to think that Biden would appoint a single progressive to his Cabinet or pick one as his vice president. Theoretically, of course, anything is possible. Biden could take up hang gliding! But Biden hasn’t made the slightest hint that he would pick a progressive for any important position.

Biden has said that he would consider a Republican as his vice president. He has promised to choose a woman. He sends signals when he wants to. And none of those signals has ever been directed toward the left wing of the Democratic Party.

After he consolidated his delegate lead on Super Tuesday, Biden received a lot of media coverage for “reaching out” to Sanders supporters. But his message was worthless pabulum: “Let me say, especially to the young voters who have been inspired by Senator Sanders: I hear you. I know what is at stake. And I know what we have to do.”

What exactly does Biden know he has to do? Nothing that progressives want. Sanders voters care about issues: “Medicare for All,” student loan forgiveness, free college tuition. Three days after his “olive branch,” he said he would veto Medicare for All if it were to somehow cross his desk as president.

In the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic, that’s some malarkey.

Yet many liberal voters are praying that Biden will do something to make himself palatable enough to allow them to vote for him against President Donald Trump this fall. Like the victim of an abusive alcoholic parent or spouse, they will project wallow in magical thinking and project good intentions upon a candidate who has given them no reason to think he has changed. Maybe Dad isn’t drunk tonight. Maybe Biden is secretly liberal.

Victims of abusive relationships “don’t stay for the pain,” psychologist Craig Malkin observed in 2013. “Their desperate, often palpable hope, if you sit in the room with them, is that the abuse will go away. And they tend to block out all evidence to the contrary.”

Given the history of the last four or five decades, it’s hard to describe the relationship between progressive voters and the corporate leadership of the Democratic Party as anything better than abusive. From Jimmy Carter to Bill Clinton and Barack Obama, progressives have been expected to donate money and cast votes for candidates who repeatedly broke their promises to fight for the poor and working class. And as time passed, they felt so confident that they could get away with acting like jerks that they didn’t even have to bother to promise anything beyond not being Republicans — even though they often voted along with the GOP and signed their ideas into law.

2016 marked the first time progressives stood up for themselves and demanded a place at the table, in the form of Bernie Sanders. Like any typical abuser, the Democratic National Committee got angry at its victims, blaming progressives when its decision to cheat Sanders out of the nomination in favor of Hillary Clinton caused a catastrophic defeat by Donald Trump. Now it has happened again.

Though pathetic, it is not surprising to see progressives playing the role of the naive victim who begs for his abuser to come to his senses and make nice.

With Biden, there’s even more reason than usual to believe that nothing good can come out of standing by him. The man he served as vice president, Obama, elevated the use and abuse of Democratic progressives to a diabolical art. He ran on Hope and Change and ending the Iraq War, only to prolong Iraq and expand Afghanistan with the backing of a Cabinet that didn’t include a single progressive, not even a token like Bill Clinton’s labor secretary Robert Reich. Obama’s signature achievement, the Affordable Care Act, was conceived of by the right-wing Heritage Foundation.

If you’re figuring out whether to stay with the Democratic Party or quit it, there’s a simple way to decide: Watch Biden. If he’s serious about picking a progressive as vice president or putting some progressives into his Cabinet, he will be willing to name names and do so soon. His silence on this topic — which is likely — probably means a Vice President Kamala Harris or Amy Klobuchar, and a bunch of Goldman Sachs jerks managing the economic crisis again.

Don’t be surprised if a lot of Democrats who have been let down by “their” party vote for it again this November. Abuse survivors “suffer from post-traumatic stress syndrome, one symptom of which is dissociation, which often creates such profound detachment from the reality of the abuse that sufferers scarcely remember being hurt at all,” Dr. Malkin wrote. “Dissociating victims can’t leave the abuse because they aren’t psychologically present enough to recall the pain of what happened.”

 
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Some of my commentary about politics is presented in the form of “advice” to the ruling classes. Please understand: I don’t really expect those in the ruling class to take my advice. My advice is not really directed toward them. It is a theoretical exercise.

I am really speaking to you, the people. My goal is to set a standard of behavior and policy to which we are entitled and ought to expect the ruling class to conform. I set a minimal bar. I know that the ruling class will not meet the minimum standard. I want our rulers’ failures to be placed in the sharpest possible relief so we can judge them accordingly and take the next logical step, getting rid of them.

If I were a speechwriter, I would advise President Donald Trump to deliver something like the following from the Oval Office on national television. He will not. He cannot. The system won’t allow it.

But he has to. And he won’t. Which is why the regime is on the way out.

“My fellow Americans: I know you are scared. I’m scared, too. Anyone who is paying attention is frightened.

“We will lose some of our sons, our daughters, our spouses, our parents and our friends. Even after the coronavirus has been eradicated, it will take years to recover from the economic shock. Pain, suffering and death are inevitable. We will lose many of our best people.

“But I want you to know that we will get through this. America survived the Civil War, which killed 2% of the population at the time, the Spanish flu epidemic and the Great Depression. The COVID-19 pandemic will be remembered as a challenge on par with those horrors but not greater.

“Today I want to assure you that no American will come out of this economically ruined. It will be tough. But no one will lose their home to eviction or foreclosure. No one will go hungry. The United States government has ample resources to meet the basic needs of every American. This assurance goes beyond the end date of the present crisis. No one will be asked in six or 12 or 18 months, when we come out on the other side of this, to pay back rent or pay mortgage or pay giant medical bills.

“This assurance extends to noncitizens. The COVID-19 virus does not care if you are a native-born citizen, naturalized, a permanent resident or an undocumented worker, so neither do I. We are all in this together. COVID-19 is a lowest-common-denominator problem; neglect of the physical and medical needs of the most disadvantaged among us will increase the rate of transmission throughout the entire population. For the time being, there are no Americans; there are only people who happen to live in the United States.

“This and many other decisions I will be making in the coming days, weeks and months may be unpopular. I take full responsibility. If you disapprove of my policies, please vote against me in the coming election, which I personally guarantee will take place even if most votes are cast online.

“There are no Democrats or Republicans, only people of the United States. This is not a time to promote conservative, moderate or liberal values — only intelligent, fact-based decision-making. I am open to any and all suggestions and ideas for how to address the health care and economic challenges that lie ahead of us. For that reason, I am setting up a special White House telephone hotline and website to encourage academics, experts and ordinary citizens among our extraordinarily talented people to contact us.

“Because this is a global pandemic, I am asking leaders and top medical and economic experts from every country to join me via teleconference at the United Nations next week for an open-ended international discussion on what the world can do to slow and eventually stop the spread of COVID-19. To those countries with whom the United States does not have diplomatic relations such as Iran, North Korea and Cuba, we wish to restore full diplomatic relations now.

“It never hurts to talk. Nations with whom we have fallen out should know that our attitude has changed, that we want to engage with them on every level and help them as much as we can. I am personally reaching out to the leaders of countries that have been hit hardest by COVID-19 such as China, Iran and Italy. High-level liaisons will keep lines of communication open at all times.

“As you know, I have been personally criticized for failing to take the coronavirus threat seriously enough early enough, and for failing to order the manufacturing of testing kits. Former President Harry Truman, who sat at this desk 75 years ago, said that ‘the buck stops here,’ and he was right. I screwed up. I am sorry.

“As president I am powerful. But I can’t make the clock run backward. All I can do now is learn from my mistakes, roll up my sleeves and give you my very best, as well as the very best leadership at all levels of government. Toward that end, I will provide you with daily press briefings during which I will accept many questions from journalists around the world and let you know what your government is doing on your behalf.

“My goal is to get every American tested for the novel coronavirus and for the antibodies that show whether you have ever had COVID-19. I will keep you informed about the development of the tests, their distribution, and where and how you will be able to get them.

“No one should suffer or die because they cannot receive medical care, whether for coronavirus or other afflictions, due to an overwhelmed health care system. We will create a state-of-the-art referral system to transport everyone who needs care to a facility where they can get it.

“The $2 trillion stimulus package that I signed into law after a bipartisan vote in both the House and the Senate is merely a start. We are going to issue regular payments to citizens and businesses to make sure they can meet their expenses as long as the crisis continues. Those payments will also be put into the hands of noncitizens including undocumented workers because, despite my belief that Americans should always come first, leaving out the undocumented means endangering Americans, too. Special outreach efforts will make sure that the homeless not only receive their payments but are also provided with proper long-term shelter.

“We will get through this. We will defeat the coronavirus. Then we can mourn our dead and resume — as we must — the vibrant political debate that makes our country great.

“Good night.”

 
• Category: Ideology • Tags: Coronavirus, Donald Trump, Health care 
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After my mother died on Feb. 7, I gathered her valuables and photo albums and drove home to New York. But there wasn’t enough room in the car for everything I wanted to keep.

There were tchotchkes such as a silly white ceramic saltshaker and pepper shaker in the shape of Arab kings. They weren’t my taste, but they had been there my entire life, so I wanted them. There was a box of birth certificates and other official documents from her parents and grandparents back in France. And her bike. She had bought a wooden chair for $5 at a garage sale, stripped off the hideous paint and discovered it was an early 19th-century Shaker; I didn’t want to let that go.

One more trip to Dayton, Ohio, was all I needed.

Her house sold faster than I expected. Closing is in a month. The buyers want to move in then, so I have to get my stuff out before then. My Realtor was generous. She offered to pack everything up and store it for me until the end of the coronavirus crisis. But I prefer to do it myself. Things you care about get lost and screwed up when you leave them to others.

COVID-19 be damned, I packed up to drive from New York to Ohio.

It was going to be a cannonball run: 12 hours from New York to Dayton, one day to pack, 12 hours back. I’d only need to get gas once each way. If I needed to urinate, I’d do it on the side of the Pennsylvania Interstate 80. As Gary Numan noted, the automobile is the epitome of social distancing.

Aside from the possibility of contracting the coronavirus, my plan entailed the risk of being trapped at some checkpoint or forcibly quarantined as lockdowns continue to spread. Ohio has a shelter-in-place order. There are rumors that nonessential travel verifiable by documentation has been prohibited. The White House wants anyone who leaves New York to self-quarantine for 14 days. As of this writing, the highways are supposedly open. But will they be on Friday?

I couldn’t sleep last night.

What if I were to get sick somewhere in western Pennsylvania or eastern Ohio? I wouldn’t have any clue where to go. Would I be able to drive the remainder of the way to Dayton? Would I get stuck there? If I were on my way back, would I be in good-enough shape to make it back to New York? There are too many variables to feel good about it.

It’s not like I am particularly risk-averse. I’ve filed conflict reports, including from Afghanistan. But something kept telling me I was being stupid.

Then my grandfather spoke to me. Not literally. He died over 30 years ago. But I could hear him in my mind, telling me a story for the umpteenth time, so clearly that I re-remembered the timbre of his voice.

The story concerned his best friend.

When France fell to the Germans in 1940, the country was partitioned. The western Atlantic coast and northern France including Paris were subjected to direct Nazi occupation. The center and the south became known as the absurdly misnamed “Free Zone,” governed for the first couple of years of World War II by the treasonous collaborationist regime of Marshal Philippe Petain. My grandfather and his family lived in the free zone. His boyhood best friend lived in Paris.

A member of the French Resistance, he learned that Jews and others deported to Eastern Europe would never return, that they were being mass murdered by the Germans. He determined to save his friend, a Jew living in Paris.

Using forged papers that could have gotten him shot on the spot had they been discovered, he illegally crossed the line of demarcation into the occupied zone and made his way to his friend’s apartment in Paris.

“You and your family,” he told his friend as they smoked together, “must leave at once. I have arranged forged documents for you. I will take you over the mountains to Spain, where you will be safe.”

His friend trusted him implicitly. “I understand,” he said. Then he went to talk to his wife.

After a time, his friend returned to the living room to inform him that they would not be leaving with my grandfather. They had a beautiful rent-controlled apartment, nice furniture. He specifically mentioned a fine china cabinet. Holocaust rumors seemed so over-the-top. Perhaps, he told my grandfather, everything will be all right.

After liberation, my grandfather returned to Paris and learned that months after their meeting, his friend, his friend’s wife and their two daughters had been deported to Auschwitz. They were almost certainly gassed upon arrival.

The apartment was bare, the door wide open. Someone — neighbors, probably — had taken everything, even the china cabinet.

“My friend died over an apartment and some stuff,” my grandfather remembered. He was still angry, saying: “Never die over stuff. Society can collapse in an instant. Accept the truth. Pivot. And never look back. It’s the difference between life and death. Never risk death over a stupid china cabinet.”

COVID-19 isn’t World War II, and driving to Ohio is hardly on par with waiting out the Nazi occupation of Paris. Yet my grandfather’s lesson was pertinent. I nearly risked myself and everyone that I came into contact with over stuff .

Stuff doesn’t matter. People matter.

I’m sure my Realtor will pack everything up diligently.

 
• Category: History • Tags: Coronavirus, World War II 
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It’s the end of the world as we know it, and the banks and airlines feel fine because even in the midst of economic collapse, CEOs can sleep soundly at night, secure in the knowledge that the American taxpayer will bail them out. Again.

All they have to do is wait a respectable six to 12 months after the wire transfer clears to start giving themselves raises, renovating executive suites and buying back their stock.

That’s exactly what happened during and after the 2008-09 global economic crisis that followed the subprime mortgage meltdown. In 2008 alone, banks that received government bailouts spent $1.6 billion on executive salaries, bonuses and benefits including “cash bonuses, stock options, personal use of company jets and chauffeurs, home security, country club memberships and professional money management,” the Associated Press reported.

It has been two weeks since securities markets began a terrifying fall. Again, shamelessly acting under the assumption that we have completely forgotten what they did last time, corporate lobbying groups like Airlines for America are already asking for a $60 billion bailout. Some people in the media are asking the right questions. Steve Inskeep of NPR’s “Morning Edition” asked an AFA spokesman about the $10 to $15 billion in profits the airlines have been raking in annually. Didn’t they save any of that? According to Bloomberg, the idiots spent 96% of their cash to buy back their stock even as they accumulated a mountain of debt.

As a society, however, Americans ought to be asking a bigger question: Are we going to allow ourselves to be conned by these corporate jerks the way we have been in the past?

Clearly the United States economy cannot recover from the coronavirus shock without a viable transportation system. That includes airlines. Similarly, we can’t allow banks to fail. But we should not repeat the mistakes of the administrations of former Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama, who bailed out Wall Street at the expense of Main Street.

The federal government handed over $7 trillion interest-free, no strings attached, to the big banks in exchange for increasing liquidity in the credit markets — which they never did. It’s still too hard to get a mortgage or other type of loan. After 9/11, the feds gave $15 billion to the airline industry, which has since treated American Airline passengers like crap.

As with the bank bailout, much of the money was wasted and stolen.

As Bush said, fool me once, shame on — shame on you. Fool me — you can’t get fooled again. Or something like that.

I have little expectation that they will do this, but the Trump administration should target federal assistance toward ordinary citizens who are losing their jobs rather than corporations. Not only is this the right thing to do; you get twice the bang for your buck. If Obama had helped distressed and unemployed people pay their mortgages and rent, it would have kept them in their homes, propped up the underlying mortgages that tanked derivatives and, therefore, saved the banks indirectly. Reducing the number of evictions would have mitigated the real estate crash caused by the deterioration of vacant houses.

To their credit, White House officials seem to be considering direct payments to prop up the economy during the coronavirus crisis. There’s even talk of a $1,000-per-person-per-month guaranteed minimum income reminiscent of Andrew Yang’s proposal. Seems like a lot of money but not when you compare it to the defense budget. Maybe we can take a break from killing Muslims?

But I would be surprised if they were to do that. The political class is just not that into us.

Trump should offer distressed corporations two options in exchange for being rescued from the financial downturn caused by the coronavirus pandemic.

Option one: nationalization.

If we save your automobile company or your oil company or your airline, we own it. All your stock gets transferred to the property of the U.S. Treasury. If the bailout is partial, we take a proportionate share based on a discounted rate of your devalued stock prices. If you are a competent CEO, you get to stay, but obviously at a greatly reduced salary. Once you start to do better, we deserve your profits.

You’re welcome.

Option two: We get to tell you how to run your company.

I’m picking on banks and airlines because they are particularly mean to their customers, but you can extrapolate these principles to other lines of business.

If the U.S. taxpayer saves your bank, the U.S. taxpayer has the right to be treated like a human being when he or she does business with you. That means closing the gap between interest rates. It’s insane that banks pay out 0.5% interest on savings accounts while taking in 25% from credit cards. Before we dole out money to these institutions, they must promise in writing to do better.

Big bailouts come with big strings. Not one dime of taxpayer money should ever find its way into executive salaries. And no stock buybacks.

Think I’m being draconian? If so, think of all the times you have asked an institution like a bank or an airline to cut you a break. How many times did they say yes? They had all the power and used it to crush you. Thanks to the coronavirus, the tables are turned. We, the people, have the power over the money that these jerks need to survive.

Let’s leverage the hell out of it.

 
• Category: Economics • Tags: Coronavirus, Financial Bailout 
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You Democrats ought to be ashamed of yourselves.

You spent the last four years criticizing President Donald Trump in no small part for his mental state, and rightly so. The Founding Fathers included an impeachment provision in the Constitution in large part as a contingency to remove a president exactly like him, whose temperament and personality and mental state are incompatible with the requirements of the highest elected office in the land.

Trump is not merely a jerk. Psychologists have been so alarmed that they have violated a core ethical principle of their profession by attempting to diagnose him at a remove. Narcissistic personality disorder is their universal conclusion, and it fits like a glove. Among the characteristics of NPD is a lack of empathy — not something one wants or needs in a leader.

Now Democrats are conspiring to gaslight the American people by engineering the election of a man clearly suffering from dementia, former Vice President Joe Biden.

This is no time to be “polite.” We are talking about the presidency. As always, we need a frank, intelligent discussion and debate about the issues and the candidates. It is perfectly fair to talk about Bernie Sanders’ heart attack as well as Joe Biden’s and Donald Trump’s mental acuity.

Contrary to current ridiculous Democratic talking points, it is not ageist to point this out. One out of seven Americans over the age of 70 suffers from dementia. (Biden is 77.) If it’s ageist to talk about dementia among the elderly, it’s ageist to talk about immaturity among the young.

It is neither necessary to scientifically determine whether the former vice president has dementia. On the other hand, you don’t need an astronomer to know that the sun rises in the east. If you have encountered dementia, you know Joe Biden has it.

There is so much blame to go around for this BS that I can’t figure out what order to put it in. I’ll go chronologically.

There are the Democratic Party bosses who, terrified at the prospect that Sanders might win the nomination, recruited Biden out of a comfortable retirement.

There is Biden himself. His family should have known better than to allow a campaign by the guy who inspired the headline “Biden Allies Float Scaling Back Events to Limit Gaffes.” Not that gaffes are the issue. Or stuttering. Or being old. Many Americans are as old or older than Joe Biden; they stutter, and they’re mentally competent. Biden is not.

None of the media seem interested in the truth about Biden. Democratic media allies like CNN, MSNBC, The New York Times and The Washington Post are running interference for the Democratic establishment and Biden by failing to ask any questions about the candidate’s mental fitness. Right-wing outlets like Fox News are gleefully trumpeting Biden’s mental decline, but they would say that even if it weren’t true. The fourth state has abdicated its duty to follow the truth wherever it leads.

And finally, there are the voters. As a citizen, you have no business casting a vote thoughtlessly or less than fully informed. Deliberately casting a vote for someone clearly suffering from dementia, or turning a blind eye to it, or being simply unaware of Biden’s mental state, is inexcusable.

No one who has been close to someone deteriorating from that disease could fail to see the same signs in Joe Biden.

In online discussions, Biden apologists sometimes say that a senile Biden is better than an evil Trump. Is this really where we are? Congratulations, Democrats, you literally picked the worst of the bunch.

This is not about politics. No doubt, Joe Biden’s voting record is monstrous. He opposed school busing, sold out Anita Hill, voted to invade Afghanistan and Iraq, supported NAFTA and bragged about the extrajudicial assassination of Osama bin Laden. And, yes, Hunter Biden’s job in Ukraine is classic corruption. But that’s not the point here.

Even if his politics were closer to mine — quadrupling the minimum wage; nationalizing major industries; banning all wars of aggression; free health care and college — I would be writing this same column. It doesn’t matter how crappy Donald Trump is. It’s anti-American and unpatriotic to vote for someone suffering from dementia for a position with exclusive control over nuclear launch codes.

What about Donald Trump? If Joe Biden is the nominee and people don’t vote for him — which I think will be the case anyway — Trump will win a second term. Isn’t it imperative to stop that by any means necessary?

As I wrote recently, odds are that Trump, like most previous presidents, won’t get much done during his second term. There is always a moral alternative to picking between two terrible options. Vote for another party. Write someone in. Don’t vote.

It’s not too late for the Democrats. Joe Biden doesn’t have to be the nominee.

He can and should withdraw.

 
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