Why we should think beyond “returning to normal”

The COVID-19 pandemic affected nearly everyone on the globe, bringing with it a great deal of suffering and significant changes in the way people work and live. Despite the initially dismal US response to the pandemic, we are now among the most vaccinated countries on earth. All across the country, restrictions are relaxing, masks are coming off, travel is resuming, and people have begun returning to normal.

Unfortunately, “normal” in the US is a dire situation to begin with.

As bad as COVID was, it also brought with it several silver linings. The scope and horror of the situation forced us, for the briefest moment, to prioritize something other than profit. The rich weren’t immune to COVID-19. A far-right Republican government temporarily instituted an eviction moratorium and student debt relief, issued stimulus checks, and expanded unemployment benefits. Some essential employees received pay increases. Those who were able worked remotely, reconnecting with their families, clearing up the roads, and allowing nature some respite from our constant hustle.

For a while, it seemed like some of these changes might become permanent. Pundits and politicians seriously discussed universal basic income and student debt forgiveness. As we realized society is only as healthy as the least-healthy among us, the need for a Medicare-for-All system became apparent. Businesses explored more flexible work models, and some made work-from-home permanent.

Now, there is no “new normal.” Instead, we are rushing back to the old normal as quickly as possible.

The eviction moratorium ends in July and student loan collections are set to resume October 1. This comes at a time when half a million Americans are homeless, 17 million housing units sit empty, and big corporations are buying large swaths of real estate. When COVID was responsible for Americans’ financial shortages, the government took some action. When predatory business practices are the cause, it’s considered normal.

COVID-era unemployment benefits are also set to expire in September. Low-paying jobs, including major chain retailers and fast-food restaurants, are currently experiencing significant staffing shortages. One reason, economists hypothesize, is that workers are disincentivized by $300 weekly unemployment benefits. It says a lot about the American work culture that the work available is both so undignified and so low-paying that $300 a week is all it takes to keep people at home. But bad jobs, low wages, and living on the edge are all normal in America.

The quality-of-life improvements of remote work are enormous: more comfort, less stress, no commute, less exposure to office pathogens, more control over one’s life and time, and in many cases, more efficient, streamlined processes, free from office distractions. Meanwhile, the company can pay less in overhead, sell off or rent out some of its space, and enjoy higher employee morale. We could greatly reduce our carbon emissions with fewer cars stuck in rush hour and less power to large office buildings.

Yet workers are returning to the office, driven largely by wealthy CEOs like Jamie Dimon of JPMorgan Chase, whose lack of concern for human quality of life has been apparent. Dimon has said, “People don’t like commuting, but so what?” and that work-from-home “doesn’t work for people who want to hustle, doesn’t work for culture, doesn’t work for idea generation.” Managers obsessed with culture-building, who treat their jobs as religions and want everyone else to do the same, will force the workforce back out onto the roads and into cramped, gray cubicles — another disastrous return to the old normal.

Access to healthcare remained an issue for tens of millions of Americans all throughout the pandemic. Many Americans received staggering medical bills for their COVID treatments. Interestingly, though, despite decades of right-wing propaganda against government involvement in healthcare, few people questioned the government’s responsibility to step in and provide at least some help. The government poured billions of dollars into fast-paced vaccine research, and the vaccine is now available for free to all Americans.

This set a potentially dangerous precedent. People saw that our collective resources can be used to benefit everyone. We can have some nice things. Perhaps this also partly explains the push for returning to normal. The day-to-day horror Americans have lived with for generations — on the brink of eviction, unable to afford basic medical care, lives swallowed whole with debts and work — is precisely the way certain powerful forces want us to live. They rely on our fear that more work is the only way to relieve our suffering.

We got vaccinated and pulled through a global tragedy only to restart the rat race. Any silver linings that COVID brought to the horizon are being neatly folded back. COVID forced us, at least temporarily, to ease up on some of the pressures of American life. The question now is why we would ever want to reapply those pressures. Who do they benefit? Instead, we could reorient our priorities around the very things that got us out of the pandemic — debt relief, increased pay and benefits for workers, and government-funded healthcare.

Our reunions with family and friends are cause for hearty celebration. But if we just go back to the old normal, we will have squandered a once-in-a-lifetime chance to make large, lasting improvements to American life. That will be the real heartbreak of COVID: to have learned nothing, and to be caught unprepared once again when the next tragedy stresses our precarious system to the breaking point.

How progressives should navigate their Biden conundrum

If current polling is accurate, former Vice President Joe Biden could cruise to a crushing victory over President Donald Trump on Election Day, November 3. Much can change between now and then. As the world learned in 2016, nothing is certain. But barring a significant reversal of Trump’s fortunes or interference with the electoral process, America will likely inaugurate a new president in 2021.

For many of the country’s liberals, that’s the endgame. Especially after the numerous catastrophes and close calls of 2020, they want to relax, be rid of Trump, and breathe a sigh of relief. But as Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez warned, “There’s no going back to brunch. We have a whole new world to build. We cannot accept going back to the way things were, & that includes the Dem party. We must deliver transformative, material change.”

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In memory of Michael Brooks, the left’s best commentator

Michael Brooks

Brooks, known for his humor and insight, passed last week, age 36.

Humanity lost a tremendous ally last week when Michael Brooks, a cohost of The Majority Report with Sam Seder and host of his own The Michael Brooks Show, passed away at the age of 36. Michael was an informed, insightful, witty, and moral voice for a better world. Outpourings of sadness and support came from thousands of activists, journalists, and political figures, including Chris Hayes, Dr. Cornel West, and even former Brazilian President Lula da Silva.

Brooks transcended the world of internet commentary. With Seder, he broke news stories down to their most essential components with rigorous philosophical and moral investigation. He brought a uniquely internationalist perspective to mainstream leftist YouTube, frequently referencing social movements in Latin America in particular. He articulated himself carefully, almost pedantically, but always with an immense amount of warmth, charm, and compassion. Continue reading

A way of understanding America’s civil unrest

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People run in front of the Minneapolis Police Department, 3rd Precinct, as it burns in the background.

Cities across the country have erupted in protest following a spate of police killings of unarmed black people – most prominently George Floyd, but also Breonna Taylor, Tony McDade, Dion Johnson, and others. Police have attacked crowds with teargas, rubber bullets, batons, and vehicles. Rioters have burned buildings and looted stores. People have been seriously injured and several have been killed.

Amid the chaos, President Trump has quadrupled down on his most authoritarian instincts. He’s frequently screamed “LAW & ORDER!” in all-caps tweets. Trump urged the nation’s governors to “get much tougher,” “dominate,” and jail protesters for “five years or ten years” so that “you’ll never see this stuff again.” He deployed the military in Washington, D.C., and threatened to use the 101st Airborne against American citizens in American streets.

The history of black oppression in America is too long for any one article, but it’s critical to understand it in order to grasp the facts of the current unrest. Racism is thoroughly baked into the history, culture, and consciousness of America. Many police forces began as slave patrols hunting down escaped slaves and then as segregation enforcers. Civil rights legislation in the 1960s formally outlawed discrimination, but did little to address the legacy of centuries of abuse, poverty, and bigotry. To this day, fully 400 years after the first slave came to America, blacks face well-documented discrimination in housing, education, business, banking, media, and of course, the justice system. Continue reading

Establishment Dems go all-in on Biden gamble

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With help from MSNBC and establishment Dems, former Vice President Joe Biden overtook Bernie Sanders last week to become the Democratic frontrunner.

Turn on the TV or open any newspaper in the last week and you’ll hear a story: former Vice President Joe Biden has revived his flailing campaign, regained his frontrunner status, and pulled off one of the greatest comebacks in electoral history.

After poor showings in the first three primary contests – all of which were won by Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders – Biden’s political obituary had been all but written. Then, following the endorsement of influential Congressman Jim Clyburn, Biden ran away with the South Carolina primary. That was Saturday. By Monday evening, both Pete Buttigieg and Amy Klobuchar had dropped out. Along with Beto O’Rourke, they joined Biden at a rally in Dallas. Their endorsements propelled Biden to victory in ten Super Tuesday contests.

But Biden himself seemingly had little to do with this remarkable turnaround. He did almost no campaigning in Super Tuesday states, didn’t spend much money or employ much staff, and hadn’t done many public appearances. His comeback was completely manufactured. A cheering media and high-profile endorsements carried to the finish line a candidate who does little campaigning, who’s plagued with personal and political scandal, and whose worsening physical and mental frailties are on display every time he appears in public. Continue reading

Don’t look now, America, but socialism is all around you

Bernie

Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders, currently the frontrunner for the Democratic presidential nomination, is a self-described “democratic socialist.”

With Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders on a trajectory to win the Democratic nomination for president, socialism is the talk of the nation. Sanders, a self-described democratic socialist, has proposed big reforms, including universal healthcare, tuition-free college, and more than doubling the federal minimum wage. His ascent has the Democratic establishment and corporate pundits concerned. What the media doesn’t acknowledge is that socialism is everywhere in America already. And whether they realize it or not, Americans like it. Continue reading

Michael Bloomberg is an odious billionaire who wants to buy the presidency

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Former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg made his presidential debate debut on Wednesday. His performance was widely panned.

After pouring some $500 million of his own fortune into his presidential campaign, former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg finally joined his Democratic rivals on the debate stage Wednesday night. He turned in a remarkably despicable performance in which he unapologetically refused to address allegations of harassment and offered only tepid explanations for the stop-and-frisk policy that repeatedly violated the civil rights and basic humanity of hundreds of thousands of innocent black and brown New Yorkers.

For all the problems the Democratic field has, Bloomberg’s emergence on the debate stage was the first time it seemed possible the party could actually nominate someone even more odious than Donald Trump. Bloomberg’s remarks on race, women, LGBTQ issues, and more are often as loathsome as Trump’s and, in some cases, are even worse. Continue reading

Why Bernie Sanders is the best candidate to take down Donald Trump

Bernie

Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders is now the frontrunner in the 2020 Democratic presidential primary.

Hot off the heels of winning the popular vote in the contentious Iowa caucus, Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders is in the best position of his campaign. He is polling well against, if not ahead of, longtime frontrunner Joe Biden in important early primary states like New Hampshire, Nevada, and California. Rising on a tide of donations averaging around $20 a piece, Sanders has forced the Democratic establishment and the news media to reckon with the real prospect of his nomination.

This is great news for anyone who wants to see Donald Trump evicted from the White House. Sanders’s strengths as an independent populist play perfectly well against Trump’s weaknesses as a corrupt, incompetent billionaire. Trump’s strongest argument, which has been to paint his opponents as Washington insiders, fall flat against Sanders, a sincere outsider whose convictions have held over his long career.

Perhaps Trump’s greatest gift as a politician is his ability to dispatch an opponent using only a single phrase or nickname: “Lyin’ Ted,” “Low-energy Jeb,” or “Crooked Hillary.” It’s childish bullying, but it’s effective. Elizabeth Warren has demonstrated that Trump can bait her into public embarrassment. Biden has no comeback to “Sleepy Joe” or “Where’s Hunter?”; his deteriorating mental state and family corruption are matters of fact. Sanders, on the other hand, owns the “socialist” label and makes it palatable to an America beset by longer hours, harder work, and runaway inequality.

Trump knows that Sanders is his toughest opponent. In leaked audio from April 2018, Trump admits Hillary Clinton would’ve been stronger with Sanders as her vice president, saying, “He was the only one I didn’t want her to pick.” Trump reportedly grapples with the appeal of socialist policies, telling advisers that the cancellation of student debt is “a tough one to run against.” He even offered faint praise for Sanders in his Super Bowl interview, saying, “At least he’s true to what he believes.”

Sanders is fighting for healthcare, a living wage, debt reduction, and tuition-free college for everyone in America. Within the current Washington dynamic, those policies are written off as unrealistic or too extreme despite their popularity across a broad swath of the American people. Even those who support Sanders and his policies often fear that his progressive agenda will never pass through a far-right, obstructionist Congress. In order to overcome gridlock and establishment opposition, Sanders has pledged to govern as an organizer-in-chief, encouraging Americans to keep the pressure up on elected politicians.

Democratic Presidential Candidates Participate In Presidential Primary Debate In Des Moines, Iowa

Much of the media have declared Sanders and South Bend, Indiana Mayor Pete Buttigieg co-winners of the messy Iowa Caucus. Sanders beat Buttigieg by some 6,000 popular votes, but they will likely receive the same number of delegates.

Even if he doesn’t pass his entire legislative agenda, Sanders has gotten the nation talking about it. Moderate Democrats like Pete Buttigieg now have to make their arguments against Medicare for All. In addition to his New Deal-like domestic policies, Sanders is the most antiwar candidate running and the most aggressive on climate change. Dozens of nations outperform America in healthcare, education, housing, labor rights, and/or environmental protection, and Sanders has shifted the national conversation toward doing better.

Sanders’s biggest obstacles may well come from his own party. Hillary Clinton questioned Sanders’s electability and recently said, “Nobody likes him… nobody wants to work with him.” Insider reporting suggests that Barack Obama, John Kerry, and other top Democratic figures desperately want to avoid a Sanders nomination. Billionaire Howard Schultz has threatened a third-party run if Sanders is the nominee and Michael Bloomberg has already spent some $200 million on his own campaign.

The problem isn’t that Sanders is unelectable; he consistently polls well against Trump, and better in many polls than any other Democrat. The problem is that the Clinton wing of the party doesn’t like him. A Sanders presidency may threaten the interests of corporate Democrats even more than a Trump presidency, fraying their close relationships with wealthy donors. So much the better for ordinary Americans, as those relationships have turned the party away from working-class interests.

Hillary Clinton’s 2016 campaign is most instructive of all. Her campaign focused more on the evils of Trump than the good she planned to do. Though she won the popular vote, she lost the election. To rally the support and enthusiasm necessary to retake the White House and move America forward requires an inspirational message of your own.

Sanders has no misunderstandings about the danger posed by Trump’s corruption, authoritarianism, and bigotry. But Sanders also knows that Trump cannot be the only focus. The Sanders campaign is centered around class solidarity, environmental innovation, and social supports to guarantee every American a fundamental standard of dignity. That message has made him the Democratic frontrunner. Not only is Bernie Sanders the best choice to stop Donald Trump, he is the best president for this moment.

The fatal flaw of George Clooney’s Catch-22

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Christopher Abbott as Yossarian prepares to fly yet another mission.

Joseph Heller’s Catch-22 is a classic American novel about World War II, bureaucracy, the illogic underpinning our social charades, and the courageous use of cowardice to do the one thing that really matters: survive. It is long, dense, and nonlinear, with a large cast of characters who represent Heller’s satires of capitalism, incompetence, American exceptionalism, and more.

Previous attempts to translate Catch-22 in motion pictures proved difficult. Mike Nichols’s 1971 film fell flat before critics and audiences, though Heller himself praised it. A 1973 TV series fizzled before it got off the ground. Now, Hulu and George Clooney have produced a six-part miniseries and most reviews contend that Heller’s epic novel has finally been given the treatment it deserves. Continue reading

The embarrassing futility of ‘principled Republicans’ who attack Trump

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President Trump has repeatedly criticized former Arizona Senator John McCain, seven months after McCain’s passing.

Every now and then, the craven indecency of Donald Trump pushes some members of the Republican Party to stand up and say that this time, the president has gone too far. These are supposedly the GOP’s respectable men of stature. They may agree with virtually all of Trump’s policies, but they can’t abide his dirty language or disrespect of sacred cows. Whenever one of these so-called “principled Republicans” chides Trump in public, though, Trump just mops the floor with them. Continue reading