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2020-06-06

Our Problems in Sharp Relief


CC by Marco Verch
We come to a confluence of several forces that throw our problems into sharp relief. We face a dangerous pandemic without a cure or effective treatment that is ravaging our people of health and life. We face a national leadership that abdicates the rule of law to the forces of violence in a struggle to retain white domination. We face an economic catastrophe only seen before when our grandparents and great-grandparents were children. We have seen the makeshift morgues and heard horrific stories of suffering by those stricken with disease. We have watched in an endless reel that repeats the killing of innocent people by the police. Our economy ended years of job growth in a month that erased a decade of new employment, plunging millions into a heartless scramble to survive. All these things in a nation that boasts that it’s “great”.

[Insert bovine excrement metaphor here. (Hey, this is a family-friendly column.)]

We are reaping what we have sown. Our health care system is built to both confuse and confound the many while enriching the few. Those who need an effective system of care find they are priced out, shut out, and denied essential medicines and treatment. The death toll falls hardest on the poor who in America tend to be people of color because that’s how the system works. Our healthcare system puts its hospitals, physicians, nurses, and labs farther away from those whose lives are a precarious trek through food deserts that deny healthy nutrition and feature stunted economic resources. The result is death at worst and debilitating recovery at best from a virus that knows no remorse. 

Our economy is built on the “free” market where rich people can reap the benefits of nanosecond financial transactions and those denied education and healthcare watch their jobs disappear just as fast. Minimum wage becomes a death sentence for many as they cannot stop working but must labor without protection—without masks and tests or without healthcare if they become sickened by going to work. If they do not work then homelessness and hunger move closer to home. 

Our economic recovery coming out of the Great Recession is built on weak timbers. Minimum wages that guarantee poverty and privation and tax systems that reward investment over labor plant our economic footings in the sand. Mindless globalization that seeks the lowest possible price for anything while debasing the value of our labor robs us of wages that keep privation at bay. While the economic “boom” continued for some, many lost ground and had to take on a second job just to meet the bills that pile up each month—relentless demands that ignored would put people on the street with nothing. No wonder that something as tiny as a virus could knock those rotted props from beneath our feet. 

As we fall, we see that the holes are far larger than the safety net. But for some, our laws, government programs, and racist social order denied them any net to salvage their lives. They fall to the ground where all hurt and some are killed with indifference by a society that cares nothing because they are deemed less worthy. We will bail out bankers but not save bakers—and bus drivers and carpenters and cleaners. We will provide diagnostic tests for the powerful and rich but not for those who must go out to work or face hunger.

Like our healthcare system, our economy is filled with perverse incentives to reward things that do not benefit the many.  Children of the working poor go hungry while our economic system demands their parents risk illness and death just by going to work. Economic sectors built to entertain the wealthy in restaurants, bars, and clubs are shuttered for their protection but throw those who wait tables and clean dishes on the street. Yet, reopening them puts everyone at risk—only the risks for some have poverty added to the list. 

In response, rather than looking at the rotted timbers planted in eroding sand, Congress passes a one-time act to address an acute crisis rather than built-in suffering. Its members ignore the systemic failures and weaknesses with the hope that they can achieve a bipartisan “shot in the arm” for the economy, as though the underlying decay can we wished away by adding some sand bags when the crisis demands rebuilding on firmer ground. 

What is really needed? Start with the crisis that persists. 
  • A national guaranteed income to put a true safety net underneath all of us. (Ignore the deficit as many economists have argued is a false equivalence to the family budget.) 
  • Make Medicare the system of healthcare for all Americans that protects everyone no matter their status, condition, race, gender, politics and all the other things that divide us. (Address the costs by actually negotiating for reasonable drug prices and eliminate the rent-seeking private insurance profits.) 
  • Recast schools to put a concrete floor under per student funding and raise teacher salaries to recognize the difficulty of their jobs. (These will materially help achieve standard educational outcomes that finally leave no child behind—for the first time, ever.) 
  • Start encouraging economic activity that enriches the people rather than those people. (Change taxes to reward work rather than investment—that recognizes that demand is the driver that needs to sit in the seat with the controls.) 
  • Defund the militarization of the police and recast their role to only address crime that involves violence. (Empower social workers, psychologists, and other supportive cadres to address the problems of addiction, child abuse, and mental illness that are not helped by weapons.) 
  • Tap into the wealth brought about by decades of tax policy that incentivize its accumulation over distribution. (This is nothing more than a down payment to atone for economic sins that have injured far too many.)
  • Et cetera. (This could go on for days, but need to pause for breath.)
Are these ideas possible? Of course. Are they going to happen? Not now. The forces of obstruction and entrenched interest with their minions in the media and Moscow howl at attacking the status quo. They rely on undemocratic institutions such as the Senate, partisan control of the Supreme Court, and the vestigial appendage of the Founders—the Electoral College. The only way to overcome these obstacles is to overwhelm them. The electoral wave of November must be a tsunami of voter frustration and rage built over decades and brought to support candidates who will recognize that they serve the people and not themselves. (Those who know me will recognize the implicit nod to Citizens United.)

What’s the message? Let’s start with “Had enough?” That puts the frustration we feel in front, but also points out the recognition that we see the truth. Let’s continue pointing out the acuity of pain with following DC Mayor Muriel Bowser by painting “Black Lives Matter” in front of every state house, city hall, and statue honoring the Confederacy. (Everybody, wear a mask!) 

We’re already in the streets, but need to vote to make the changes demanded meaningful and lasting. It will be very bad to lose this election, and it will be worse to win by only a little. A small victory will embolden the Liar in Chief to negate the will of the majority. The people’s victory must be overwhelming. The future of the Republic demands it. 

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