Service in hard times

It’s a thing nowadays, thanking veterans for their service. I get it a lot, because I was, as Bill McClellan so eloquently put it, “…patriotic enough to flunk out of college and get drafted…”  I always feel a bit uncomfortable. If only they knew what my service was like.

But now we have lots of people who really do deserve our gratitude for their service: delivery people, grocery store employees, all the people going to work as normal while the rest of us hunker down.

Of all the people who deserve and need our support, however, none are doing so much and taking greater risks than health care workers. They’re on the front line day after day, working long hours with inadequate equipment, literally risking their lives.  They get exposed to the biggest doses of the virus and for longer periods, which seems to induce much more severe illness, at a time when fatigue and stress reduce their ability to resist.  I am certain that when this is all over, we will have many, many cases of PTSD among health care workers.

Let’s thank them now, but above all let’s not forget them when times return to something like normal. We owe them so much.

A cautionary tale

The recent British election, in which Tories, and therefore Boris Johnson and Brexit, won in a landslide, should serve as a warning to the American left in the coming elections next November.

In my particular (left leaning) media bubble everything I read about British politics was against the Tories, and in particular against Brexit. It looked like BJ would get his ass handed to him on a platter, or at best eke out a narrow victory. The extent of his victory, never mind the verdict itself, was a shock to me. Of course, this could say more about me as an individual than about the expectations of the British public, but the point is that I had no reason to doubt my impression of the political zeitgeist there.

Everything I read about American politics would lead me to believe Trump is a dead man walking. Polls notwithstanding, the daily barrage of lamentation and outrage serves only to support the idea that his Waterloo is imminent. His transgressions are increasingly brazen, and even his support in the Senate seem transparently self-serving; a person could be forgiven for thinking that fair-minded peoiple on the right could easily rebel and go against him and his enablers.

I keep reading that Republicans, even in the Senate, despise him in their secret hearts. I hear that the fact that they stand by him publicly only exposes their hypocrisy and self preservation.

But here’s the rub: maybe they know something we don’t. Maybe the very hypocrisy we deplore should tell us something about the electorate, that Republicans don’t dare show their anti-Trump side because they know it would hurt them politically.

Maybe, as in the UK, enough people are more tired of liberal condescension than they are afraid of what Trump is doing to the coutry. Maybe — dare I say it? -– they actually like what he’s doing. Going strictly by the numbers, the economy looks good. True, much of that can be said to be in spite of Trump rather than because of him, but Republicans may well believe their constituency will reward staying the course and punish any criticism of it.

A case in point is the currently favorite liberal whipping boy, Lindsey Graham. He certainly is among the most brazen of the code-switchers, since he has a history of public Trump-bashing. What does he see that makes him so confident in his turn-around?

On one hand, if Trump survives and gets re-elected along with a majority in either house, Graham coasts in on the tide. If on the other hand, Trump loses, what are the prospects?

Surveying the current Democratic contenders, he probably doesn’t see anyone who would survive beyond a single term. Don’t forget, Republican obstructionists were able to limit much of Obama’s agenda, even when he had a Democratic congress.

I’m not saying such an analysis has any merit, but I can see Graham and his cohort believing it. Graham himself has a history of running for president, and certainly has his eyes on 2024.

But why, you may ask, is the Republican electorate so blind to the hipocrisy of so many Republican politicians, who were so dead set against Trump, and now enthusiastically sing in his choir?

I have a better question. Why is the left, in particular the Bernie-crats, so smitten with political consistency, as if no one is allowed to learn anything for the duration of a public career?

One big reason BJ got his victory in the UK was that so many people who might normally have voted left couldn’t stomach Jeremy Corbyn, the Labour Party leader. There are very good reasons for this, but the key is that their disdain was never enough to dislodge him from his position as leader.

Take that as you will; I just hope it’s not a lesson too late for the learning.

About those golden years…

Something many people don’t know about me is that, years ago, I was a young person. Back then, I saw the world in terms of unlimited possibility, if only I could overcome the proliferation of totally unfair obstacles it was throwing at me. I was idealistic. If something wasn’t good enough, then, dammit, get rid of it, and if you didn’t agree with me, then it was time to leave you behind to fend for your sorry self.

Now that I’m old, I’m not much different, except that I keep my more misanthropic thoughts to myself. I imagine I’ve gotten smarter about life, but how can you trust someone who has always thought that anyway?

I hear a lot of people my age (old) say they still feel like they’re in their 30s, or 40s if they’re 10 years older than I am, which is not at all what we expected to feel like. When you’re young you imagine old people as a kind of separate species. You imagine them sitting around on benches, either thinking wise and kind thoughts or crabbing about everything, when you’re not seeing them drooling their walkers through the corridors of a nursing home. The wise and kind elderly are usually dead, the better to be idealized; the crabby type lives in your neighborhood to be seen every day. The old fart yelling at kids to get off his lawn has become a trope, but I’d venture to say that sort of behavior is more characteristic of the young and up-and-coming. A bit of projection?

Anyhow, my young friends, I’m here to tell you exactly what being old really feels like.

It feels exactly like being young. And recovering from a car wreck.

Achilles who?

Years ago, when I was traveling in Morocco, I was fascinated by the story tellers who plied their wares in the souks of the ancient cities. It was radio, television and the news all rolled into one bright, vivacious package.

The story tellers would begin something formulaic, and gradually work in current events and other things the audience would be familiar with.

They worked for tips, and if you were generous, you could get your name added to one of the stories in the teller’s repertoire. If you were particularly generous, you could get a story custom made, with you as the main character.

Years later when I was studying Homer’s epics, it occurred to me that what I had seen in Morocco was directly descended from that tradition. There’s a long-standing debate about who Homer was, or if he even existed, but what’s clear is that the poems attributed to him were written down in the early 8th century BCE, just about contemporaneous with the development of writing itself in ancient Greece. Before that they were a part of the rich tradition of story telling in the agoras of Greece. Analysis of Homer’s poems reveals his use of standard structures and characters from older traditions. The stories themselves relate to the Trojan War, which seems to have happened near the end of the 12th century BCE.

This all got me thinking about Achilles, the hero of the Iliad, and the most fearsome of all the Greek warriors. For a hero, he was not much of a bargain. The story is that, on the way to lay siege to Troy on a trump-up grievance, the Greeks sacked a few minor cities here and there, apparently just to pass the time. In one of these attacks, Achilles kidnapped a woman with whom he became enamored. Agamemnon, the king of Mycenae and the commander-in-chief of the Greek expedition, decided to take her for his own.

Achilles was furious, and, in revenge, spent almost the entire war, which lasted ten years, sulking in his tent while his comrades were getting slain and wounded. It was only after his friend and probable lover, Patroclus, was killed that Achilles roused himself and joined the fray, killing Hector, crown prince of Troy, and the killer of Patroclus.

For my money, Hector was a much more admirable character for a number of reasons; go read the Iliad for yourself, and you’ll see what I mean. I recommend Stanley Lombardo’s translation.

So why focus on Achilles? True, he was a formidable fighter when roused, but mostly he’s portrayed as a pouting adolescent nursing his pride.

Unless, of course, a contemporary of Homer, co-incidentally named — drumroll — Achilles, promised to fork over a generous fee to get put into the Iliad as the main character.

Perhaps this Achilles promised more than he ended up paying. Never cross a poet!

Medicare for all: too expensive?

In a word, not even close.

Let’s check this out, using some of the same figures that have been bouncing around lately.  Bernie Sanders’ Medicare for All (MFA) proposal, reported CNN in 2017, would cost $1.3 trillion per year.

Wow, that’s a lot! Isn’t it? Let’s break it down.  There are approximately 157,288,000 Americans in the work force in 2019. $1.3 trillion, then, comes to roughly $8,900 per taxpayer, assuming that the entire cost of MFA will be borne by working people paying taxes.

About 55.4% of employed Americans are covered by health insurance provided by their employers, which accounts for 8.5% of wages for these people. The national average annual income, excluding benefits,is $46,800.  That’s a cost to the employer of $4,212 per year per employee.

If you’re a working American that’s a part of your compensation that you don’t normally see, but you can bet your employer does.

So, let’s get back to the cost of MFA, $8,900. If the money your employer pays for your health insurance were simply shifted to financing MFA, it would cover almost half of the cost.

So, what about the rest of it?  Well, the rest of it can be covered by the 44.6% of working people whose employers do not pay for their health insurance, and who therefore must pay for their own insurance, and you can bet that they pay a hell of a lot more for the same coverage than do employers.  The average cost of all private health insurance in 2019 is about $7,000.  Even accounting for the free spirits who would rather risk going broke than buy insurance, it’s more than enough to offset the remaining cost of MFA in increased taxes.

Of course, the entire cost could be offset by simply rescinding the recent Republican tax cuts, which benefit primarily the ultra rich, amounting to $2.3 trillion. But that’s off the table.

Or is it?