That big sigh of relief we were expected to exhale when the dear, not quite dead left arm of the mostly right armed United States political system survived the 2024 election?
No sooner had the estimable distinguished Democratic clergyman, Raphael Warnock, narrowly defeated the certifiable Republican wing-nut, unqualified star football player, Herschel Walker, than the sages and savants were unanimous in saying “we” dodged a bullet.
Never mind that the Republicans, including wing nuts among them, retained or regained control of all other major Georgia offices.
Never mind that the hope of the electoral progressives, Stacey Abrams, was swamped by a previously nutso Brian Kemp, for Georgia Governor.
Never mind that the Democrats’ 51-49 new numbers in the Senate took all of one day to disappear, when the nominally Democratic Senator from Arizona, Kristen Sinema, announced she would no longer be a Democrat. Add her to West Virginia’s Joe Manchin, and the Democrats no longer seem to be in the Senate majority.
And while Republicans seem to have a tiny majority in Congress’ other branch, Republican Kevin McCarthy, who wants to lead them as Speaker, seems clueless about how to make which deals on what, including committee assignments and “pork barrel” home district budget items.
All the tension and drama created around the 2022 elections disappeared overnight, as the media cyclops shifted focus to a place you’d be unlikely to spot on a map, Qatar. A place where perhaps 300,000 people live on incomes of $10,000 a year or more, from oil revenues. They are mostly don’t work, their money comes to them from government mandated birthrights. They live without paying taxes. Their households are filled with low paid or non-paid servants mostly imported. There is with free education (men only) and free, expert medical care, (See “Goals Pleasure and Politics in Qatar,” by Sam Knight, The New Yorker,” 12/12/2022)
Even the estimable NY Times, with seven by-lined reporters on the World Cups scene, glosses over the wage (or debt) slavery imposed on construction workers, maids and servants, maintenance and cleaning staffs, vehicle and airplane pilots.
These people keep the comfortable in Qatar comfortable. While they, the comforters, are kept marginalized.
President Biden and his White House crew don’t care about any of this World Cup stuff. Instead, they are trying to end the year being puffed up at securing the release of a basketball player, Brittany Griner, home from an unjust and dangerous confinement.
Her punishment for an inadvertent minor infraction (less than an ounce of marijuana in her luggage) looked like it was turning into a ten year prison sentence in Vladimir Putin’s dictatorship. But as a pawn in a geopolitical game she was exchanged tor a murderous arms merchant.
And now, with the U.S. government tied in knots, our great nation turns to its true vocation: shopping!
To hell with the homeless. To hell with those attending underfunded, poorly staffed schools. To hell with those – estimated to be half the U.S. population – suffering from serious mental health issues. To hell with the flu taking over from Covid as health menace.
It’s more than ever easy, at this season, to escape news that might depress or frighten you.
None of the dangerous, violent events portrayed on local TV newscasts – still a major source of “news” for most people - is framed so that people outside of localized danger need feel frightened.
There’s passing mention of addiction and homelessness problems. But no insight into how even those of us not wacked out on drugs or sleeping in the street are often invisible in our own way, shielded within “housing” that is often moldy, vermin and bug susceptible in older structures or high-rise cocoons whose windows don’t open, meaning there is no “fresh” air for breathing. Elevators that go to “your” floor, but they can strand you in sealed doors between floors until “back-up” power kicks in. Which it may do quickly, or slowly, or not at all.
It used to be possible to verify that elevators were inspected for such attributes. The last time I was in one, in downtown San Francisco, the inspection certificate was years out of date. The building’s reception area was unstaffed. Nobody home. So if you live in one of these “live work” areas you can take your groceries (no stores selling them nearby anyway) up 25 flights of stairs. Maybe get stuck in a stairwell, because nobody has inspected the locks on doors leading to those either.
Cautiously marginally, what’s left of the San Francisco Chronicle’s local reporting staff is strewing hints that post-Covid (which this is supposed to be, though new strains of Covid are surfacing) office occupancy is way down. Like maybe half of what it once was.
To make things even more fun, high rise office buildings whose workers stayed at home were used as shelters for hundreds of homeless. Who did things like use the bathrooms. Washed clothes in hand sinks. Plugged in hair driers. It would take months, if not years, for these high rises to open as offices again. But those stubborn entities known as workers don’t want to work in them anymore anyway. They’re too hard to get to, given MUNI and BART cutbacks. And they’re too hard to fix and maintain, since there aren’t enough electricians and operating engineers to work on them.
All of that is far from old folks like me. My limited world is small. The people who pass by my daily perch, on the benches in front of the elementary school my daughter attended two decades ago, are few. (The school itself has been renamed for a Latina, Sylvia Mendez, who no one has ever heard of. It used to be named for a notorious racist, Joseph LeConte. who no one had ever heard of either).
The people I see passing by are pretty easily categorized. Some can be heard approaching half a block away, braying loudly into the cellphones they hold gingerly in their hands. Then there are the mothers trailing small children while mom pushes others in carriages or strollers. An occasional jogger, outfitted in shorts and T-shirts no matter how cold and drizzly the day.
And then there’s the old couples, arm in arm, silent, eyes downward, observant of the uneven pavement on which they might stumble. A few large women of indeterminate age, rumble along slowly, holding onto tiny dogs, who stop to sniff/pee frequently. Masks have more or less disappeared, except on kids who burst out of the school doors three times a day, though responsible health officials (who have local, not statewide mandates) say they’re as advisable as ever.
Contrast this with the Ukrainian situation. Skipping school in pandemic California is a choice. In and around Ukraine it’s a life-preserving necessity, as wayward or intentional missiles from Putin’s forces result in schools half empty; teachers and families having fled their homes for Poland, Lithuania, other destinations in Europe to which trains still run, or people can, with difficulty, walk, Women are present on all levels, including command jobs in the military and police.
All of this seems to have been presided over by President Biden. Whose prior eternity in government, as Senator for Life from Delaware and then fifth wheel on Barack Obama’s Presidential limousine could not have been called predictive of such an outcome. Or such responsibilities.
Republicans, with their legendary strength in wealthy donors and religious fanatics, must now contend with a wartime President who seems to be defeating what prior Republicans viewed as an “evil empire.” Persecuting Hunter Biden for alleged transgressions of document irregularities ain’t gonna cut it in the fight for public support. Any days he wants to, President Biden can present heroic January 6 police officers and military strategists working with anti-Putin governments. As well as oh-so-serious and thus far oh-so-inadequate measures to combat global broiling.
Like most people I won’t be spending a lot of time on “foreign affairs” this winter. I’ll much more be interested in how any levels of government will provide for people unhoused or under-housed in the cold winter already upon us. How any levels of government will see that children get the educational resources they deserve. How doctors and nurses and social service workers and law enforcement officials can do their work and live their lives.
Who and how you love whom is nobody’s business but yours.
My advice? If you have the skills and the time and the strength, find a place to help others.
I’m going on 86 years old and disabled, with limited computer skills and not much income. But I’m overwhelmed with possibilities about where I might do something to help those much less fortunate than me.
Look around. You’ll find them, too. Peace and health to you in 2023!
(Larry Bensky may be reached at LBensky@igc.org)