Having It Easy in the Beginning, Tough in the End: How My Dad Predicted the Decline of America

By William J. Astore, a retired lieutenant colonel (USAF), professor of history, and Tom Dispatch regular. His personal blog is Bracing Views. Originally published at Tom Dispatch.

My dad was born in 1917. Somehow, he survived the Spanish Flu pandemic of 1918-1919, but an outbreak of whooping cough in 1923 claimed his baby sister, Clementina. One of my dad’s first memories was seeing his sister’s tiny white casket. Another sister was permanently marked by scarlet fever. In 1923, my dad was hit by a car and spent two weeks in a hospital with a fractured skull as well as a lacerated thumb. His immigrant parents had no medical insurance, but the driver of the car gave his father $50 toward the medical bills. The only lasting effect was the scar my father carried for the rest of his life on his right thumb.

The year 1929 brought the Great Depression and lean times. My father’s father had left the family, so my dad, then 12, had to pitch in. He got a newspaper route, which he kept for four years, quitting high school after tenth grade so he could earn money for the family. In 1935, like millions of other young men of that era, he joined the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC), a creation of President Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s New Deal that offered work on environmental projects of many kinds. He battled forest fires in Oregon for two years before returning to his family and factory work. In 1942, he was drafted into the Army, going back to a factory job when World War II ended. Times grew a little less lean in 1951 when he became a firefighter, after which he felt he could afford to buy a house and start a family.

I’m offering all this personal history as the context for a prediction of my dad’s that, for obvious reasons, came to my mind again recently. When I was a teenager, he liked to tell me: “I had it tough in the beginning and easy in the end. You, Willy, have had it easy in the beginning, but will likely have it tough in the end.” His prophecy stayed with me, perhaps because even then, somewhere deep down, I already suspected that my dad was right.

The COVID-19 pandemic is now grabbing the headlines, all of them, and a global recession, if not a depression, seems like a near-certainty. The stock market has been tanking and people’s lives are being disrupted in fundamental and scary ways. My dad knew the experience of losing a loved one to disease, of working hard to make ends meet during times of great scarcity, of sacrificing for the good of one’s family. Compared to him, it’s true that, so far, I’ve had an easier life as an officer in the Air Force and then a college teacher and historian. But at age 57, am I finally ready for the hard times to come? Are any of us?

And keep in mind that this is just the beginning. Climate change (recall Australia’s recent and massive wildfires) promises yet more upheavals, more chaos, more diseases. America’s wanton militarism and lying politicians promise more wars. What’s to be done to avert or at least attenuate the tough times to come, assuming my dad’s prediction is indeed now coming true? What can we do?

It’s Time to Reimagine America

Here’s the one thing about major disruptions to normalcy: they can create opportunities for dramatic change. (Disaster capitalists know this, too, unfortunately.) President Franklin Roosevelt recognized this in the 1930s and orchestrated his New Deal to revive the economy and put Americans like my dad back to work.

In 2001, the administration of President George W. Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney capitalized on the shock-and-awe disruption of the 9/11 attacks to inflict on the world their vision of a Pax Americana, effectively a militarized imperium justified (falsely) as enabling greater freedom for all. The inherent contradiction in such a dreamscape was so absurd as to make future calamity inevitable. Recall what an aide to Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld scribbled down, only hours after the attack on the Pentagon and the collapse of the Twin Towers, as his boss’s instructions (especially when it came to looking for evidence of Iraqi involvement): “Go massive — sweep it all up, things related and not.” And indeed they would do just that, with an emphasis on the “not,” including, of course, the calamitous invasion of Iraq in 2003.

To progressive-minded people thinking about this moment of crisis, what kind of opportunities might open to us when (or rather if) Donald Trump is gone from the White House? Perhaps this coronaviral moment is the perfect time to consider what it would mean for us to go truly big, but without the usual hubris or those disastrous invasions of foreign countries. To respond to COVID-19, climate change, and the staggering wealth inequities in this country that, when combined, will cause unbelievable levels of needless suffering, what’s needed is a drastic reordering of our national priorities.

Remember, the Fed’s first move was to inject $1.5 trillion into the stock market. (That would have been enough to forgive all current student debt.) The Trump administration has also promised to help airlines, hotels, and above all oil companies and the fracking industry, a perfect storm when it comes to trying to sustain and enrich those upholding a kleptocratic and amoral status quo.

This should be a time for a genuinely new approach, one fit for a world of rising disruption and disaster, one that would define a new, more democratic, less bellicose America. To that end, here are seven suggestions, focusing — since I’m a retired military officer — mainly on the U.S. military, a subject that continues to preoccupy me, especially since, at present, that military and the rest of the national security state swallow up roughly 60% of federal discretionary spending:

1. If ever there was a time to reduce our massive and wasteful military spending, this is it. There was never, for example, any sense in investing up to $1.7 trillion over the next 30 years to “modernize” America’s nuclear arsenal. (Why are new weapons needed to exterminate humanity when the “old” ones still work just fine?) Hundreds of stealth fighters and bombers — it’s estimated that Lockheed Martin’s disappointing F-35 jet fighter alone will cost $1.5 trillion over its life span — do nothing to secure us from pandemics, the devastating effects of climate change, or other all-too-pressing threats. Such weaponry only emboldens a militaristic and chauvinistic foreign policy that will facilitate yet more wars and blowback problems of every sort. And speaking of wars, isn’t it finally time to end U.S. involvement in Iraq and Afghanistan? More than $6 trillion has already been wasted on those wars and, in this time of global peril, even more is being wasted on this country’s forever conflicts across the Greater Middle East and Africa. (Roughly $4 billion a month continues to be spent on Afghanistan alone, despite all the talk about “peace” there.)

2. Along with ending profligate weapons programs and quagmire wars, isn’t it time for the U.S. to begin dramatically reducing its military “footprint” on this planet? Roughly 800 U.S. military bases circle the globe in a historically unprecedented fashion at a yearly cost somewhere north of $100 billion. Cutting such numbers in half over the next decade would be a more than achievable goal. Permanently cutting provocative “war games” in South Korea, Europe, and elsewhere would be no less sensible. Are North Korea and Russia truly deterred by such dramatic displays of destructive military might?

3. Come to think of it, why does the U.S. need the immediate military capacity to fight two major foreign wars simultaneously, as the Pentagon continues to insist we do and plan for, in the name of “defending” our country? Here’s a radical proposal: if you add 70,000 Special Operations forces to 186,000 Marine Corps personnel, the U.S. already possesses a potent quick-strike force of roughly 250,000 troops. Now, add in the Army’s 82nd and 101st Airborne divisions and the 10th Mountain Division. What you have is more than enough military power to provide for America’s actual national security. All other Army divisions could be reduced to cadres, expandable only if our borders are directly threatened by war. Similarly, restructure the Air Force and Navy to de-emphasize the present “global strike” vision of those services, while getting rid of Donald Trump’s newest service, the Space Force, and the absurdist idea of taking war into low earth orbit. Doesn’t America already have enough war here on this small planet of ours?

4. Bring back the draft, just not for military purposes. Make it part of a national service program for improving America. It’s time for a new Civilian Conservation Corps focused on fostering a Green New Deal. It’s time for a new Works Progress Administration to rebuild America’s infrastructure and reinvigorate our culture, as that organization did in the Great Depression years. It’s time to engage young people in service to this country. Tackling COVID-19 or future pandemics would be far easier if there were quickly trained medical aides who could help free doctors and nurses to focus on the more difficult cases. Tackling climate change will likely require more young men and women fighting forest fires on the west coast, as my dad did while in the CCC — and in a climate-changing world there will be no shortage of other necessary projects to save our planet. Isn’t it time America’s youth answered a call to service? Better yet, isn’t it time we offered them the opportunity to truly put America, rather than themselves, first?

5. And speaking of “America First,” that eternal Trumpian catch-phrase, isn’t it time for all Americans to recognize that global pandemics and climate change make a mockery of walls and go-it-alone nationalism, not to speak of politics that divide, distract, and keep so many down? President Dwight D. Eisenhower once said that only Americans can truly hurt America, but there’s a corollary to that: only Americans can truly save America — by uniting, focusing on our common problems, and uplifting one another. To do so, it’s vitally necessary to put an end to fear-mongering (and warmongering). As President Roosevelt famously said in his first inaugural address in the depths of the Great Depression, “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.” Fear inhibits our ability to think clearly, to cooperate fully, to change things radically as a community.

6. To cite Yoda, the Jedi master, we must unlearn what we have learned. For example, America’s real heroes shouldn’t be “warriors” who kill or sports stars who throw footballs and dunk basketballs. We’re witnessing our true heroes in action right now: our doctors, nurses, and other medical personnel, together with our first responders, and those workers who stay in grocery stores, pharmacies, and the like and continue to serve us all despite the danger of contracting the coronavirus from customers. They are all selflessly resisting a threat too many of us either didn’t foresee or refused to treat seriously, most notably, of course, President Donald Trump: a pandemic that transcends borders and boundaries. But can Americans transcend the increasingly harsh and divisive borders and boundaries of our own minds? Can we come to work selflessly to save and improve the lives of others? Can we become, in a sense, lovers of humanity?

7. Finally, we must extend our love to encompass nature, our planet. For if we keep treating our lands, our waters, and our skies like a set of trash cans and garbage bins, our children and their children will inherit far harder times than the present moment, hard as it may be.

What these seven suggestions really amount to is rejecting a militarized mindset of aggression and a corporate mindset of exploitation for one that sees humanity and this planet more holistically. Isn’t it time to regain that vision of the earth we shared collectively during the Apollo moon missions: a fragile blue sanctuary floating in the velvety darkness of space, an irreplaceable home to be cared for and respected since there’s no other place for us to go? Otherwise, I fear that my father’s prediction will come true not just for me, but for generations to come and in ways that even he couldn’t have imagined.

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About Lambert Strether

Readers, I have had a correspondent characterize my views as realistic cynical. Let me briefly explain them. I believe in universal programs that provide concrete material benefits, especially to the working class. Medicare for All is the prime example, but tuition-free college and a Post Office Bank also fall under this heading. So do a Jobs Guarantee and a Debt Jubilee. Clearly, neither liberal Democrats nor conservative Republicans can deliver on such programs, because the two are different flavors of neoliberalism (“Because markets”). I don’t much care about the “ism” that delivers the benefits, although whichever one does have to put common humanity first, as opposed to markets. Could be a second FDR saving capitalism, democratic socialism leashing and collaring it, or communism razing it. I don’t much care, as long as the benefits are delivered. To me, the key issue — and this is why Medicare for All is always first with me — is the tens of thousands of excess “deaths from despair,” as described by the Case-Deaton study, and other recent studies. That enormous body count makes Medicare for All, at the very least, a moral and strategic imperative. And that level of suffering and organic damage makes the concerns of identity politics — even the worthy fight to help the refugees Bush, Obama, and Clinton’s wars created — bright shiny objects by comparison. Hence my frustration with the news flow — currently in my view the swirling intersection of two, separate Shock Doctrine campaigns, one by the Administration, and the other by out-of-power liberals and their allies in the State and in the press — a news flow that constantly forces me to focus on matters that I regard as of secondary importance to the excess deaths. What kind of political economy is it that halts or even reverses the increases in life expectancy that civilized societies have achieved? I am also very hopeful that the continuing destruction of both party establishments will open the space for voices supporting programs similar to those I have listed; let’s call such voices “the left.” Volatility creates opportunity, especially if the Democrat establishment, which puts markets first and opposes all such programs, isn’t allowed to get back into the saddle. Eyes on the prize! I love the tactical level, and secretly love even the horse race, since I’ve been blogging about it daily for fourteen years, but everything I write has this perspective at the back of it.

72 comments

  1. XXYY

    I like point 6 the best out of this great list. (Very wealthy people are another group of “heroes” we should downplay going forward.)

    It seems clear that we are now raising another generation of Americans in the mould of your dad, people whose youth and formative years were spent amid a constant series of crises, enabled by a dysfunctional and corrupt set of elites and societal leaders, who were forced to rely on themselves and their immediate peers to get through. I would never remotely say these kinds of upbringings are a good thing, but one might find evidence that they provide a hot crucible within which the finest steel is forged.

    Best wishes to our beautiful country and all the people in it as we enter the next phase of our history.

    Reply
    1. jef

      In a world where money and only money determines the level of suffering and death of you and your loved ones the very wealthy ARE heros and everyone wants to be them. It has been this way so long that even the less well off believe that it is the only way, the natural way. Even the 99% mostly don’t talk about making basic life cheap or free for everyone, they talk about how to make the world a place where we can all get rich.

      IMHO this is why Bern can’t break through with a revolutionary win and bring on change.

      Reply
      1. Chris

        The bern can’t break through because all media which penetrate to the demographics that vote only discuss how what he wants to do is a socialist-communist-impossible-fiasco or they don’t mention him at all. The powers in charge also refuse to cede any control over voting access. Until team Bernie starts knifing these people and fighting back nothing will change. We could have live video of Joe Biden drooling on his mic and dry humping a chair leg during a debate and the DNC would still never allow Bernie Sanders to be the Democrat nominee.

        Reply
        1. Pym of Nantucket

          Bernie may lead his people out of the desert but he is not going to get to the promised land. His heir will have to be a fighter. A real fighter.

          Reply
        2. rob

          I agree,
          anything “progressive” really can’t get through the wall of propaganda that surrounds us all.
          The lack of movement by the masses in the direction of medicare for all… and the actual “single payer” version of that… is astounding. and absurd….
          here in the time of covid, to still have people thinking a “for profit” healthcare system is “reasonable”, ,is surreal.
          It is fixing to be an example of a population , whose opinions are formed not by thinking, but by listening… despite what most of them would actually think about the formation of their opinions.
          The kings and the king-makers figured out 100 plus years ago to go all in to ward off the guillotines by keeping the peoples focus on “the wrong” things….
          They evidently took the jesuit view , wherein 500 years ago they figured the best defense against the reformation movement was to engage in “learning against learning”.
          Machiavelli would be proud

          Reply
  2. Tom Briggs

    There are “roughly 800 military bases” operated by the U S military and all you want is to cut the number in half over the next decade? How about reducing it by the square root?
    Support for responsible governments that have belligerent regimes on their borders, South Korea for example, is valid. We can assist relatively wealthy responsible governments like the UK but our massive domestic problems are more important than having military bases there.

    Reply
      1. Massinissa

        I dunno, I’d be happy just to get that down to roughly 28.2842712475 foreign bases. I’m sure we can stick 28.42712475% of a military base somewhere where the sun don’t shine.

        Reply
    1. sharonsj

      The latest Pentagon report on climate change was all about how global warming eventually would obliterate most of our military bases. At least we’ll get one good thing out of going to Hell.

      Reply
  3. L

    On the subject of people imagining a new world here are two pieces that hit home for me in different ways. The first is from The Guardian and points to how this pandemic will hit the 2 in 5 who can’t spare $400, just as, for some of them, things were looking up: Coronavirus: a financial emergency that turns treading water into drowning

    The second is a forceful piece in NY Magazine of all places arguing strongly for Medicare for All. Significant to the MSM approach to things it criticizes Joe Biden’s plan by name but does not mention Sanders or any of the other proponents of M4A. So we have a piece arguing for his signature initiative without any mention of him. Curious but hardly surprising from the home of Chait. Our Health-Care System Is Killing People (As the URL shows the title was even changed to make it shorter and less M4A specific.

    So another world must be possible or all of us, not just 2 in 5! are up a creek. But far be it from the usual guardians of groupthink to allow us to name those who would actually bring that world about.

    Reply
  4. Krystyn Podgajski

    (A bit of buisness first, I am changing my surname here on NC from Walentka to my mother’s maiden name Podgajski.)

    In the 1970’s my family used to have short excursions to a beautiful property in upstate New York called Arrow Park. It was home to a huge arts and crafts style mansion, statues of famous Poles and Ukrainians, and a large lake stocked with large mouth bass. For a ten year old the place was pure magic and mystery. But as I became older I slowly learned the history of the place mostly from people who were working there, and that added a even more richness to my experience of the place.

    But I am not merely being reminiscent. The story of how Arrow Park came to be should be a model for all the working class today.

    From the park’s website:

    In 1948 the estate was sold to AROW Farms, Inc. – (American Russian Organized Workers) a group of Slavic Workers from the Boroughs of New York City and Newark. They had been looking for a place of rest and recreation for themselves and their children in the countryside. As it turned out, the Schieffelin property was deemed the ideal spot. With hiking trails, gardens, a large lodge and lake, it proved to be the perfect location for what would become Arrow Park. It’s closeness to New York and New Jersey, where most of the workers and tradesman lived their daily lives, made the location convenient for weekend and summer vacations. They had sold 2000 stock certificates for $100.00 a piece and with the $200,000 they raised formed a committee to find an appropriate property near New York City. These funds were used to secure the purchase of the property.

    These workers not only had shares but they were also required to work on the property as well. You know, like a coop.

    This, this is what needs to happen. Small money getting together and people (landlords, etc) resisting the lure of big money. And this is the message I will push locally.

    Reply
    1. Tom Doak

      One of the projects I built was on land in the Hamptons that was previously owned by the NYC Electrical Workers Union (or possibly the Plumbers Union, I can’t remember for sure). They used tge mansion for executive meetings and retreats, and the grounds as a summer camp for union workers’ kids. But eventually the lure of $$$ became too great, and they sold it for $40 million cash, after which it was developed into a private golf club for the 0.1%.

      Reply
  5. jadan

    Only a military man may speak what everyone knows is necessary: cut the military budget. But it is also true that we need to undo the national security state that has developed since the Manhattan Project, which includes the CIA and other intelligence (so-called) agencies. The whole system of classification, compartmentalization, and obfuscation must be eliminated and no more “black budgets” permitted. There is such malevolent infrastructure built up since WWII it is difficult to imagine. The spectacle of the rats escaping down the hole under Cheyenne Mountain as we speak merely hints at this infrastructure.

    Reply
    1. Phacops

      Hear, hear. I cannot think of any instance where intelligence agencies were useful in prompting policy or resource mobilization for the benefit of the American people. Their failure is profound, global, and ongoing. Maybe it is just a make work project for ivy league types who are never allowed to fail.

      Reply
      1. Watt4Bob

        Hear, hear. I cannot think of any instance where intelligence agencies were useful in prompting policy or resource mobilization for the benefit of the American people.

        That’s because the purpose of the intelligence agencies is to make the world safe for American business interests.

        Reply
          1. rob

            Yeah,
            and the interests of the CIA , are the interests of the wall street blue bloods who formed it and still occupy “their family business’s”… with the “new generations,with new names…
            But they still hide their money offshore, so people don’t really know WHO is “in ” and who isn’t.

            Reply
    2. Ashburn

      I completely agree. It sounds like you’ve also read the book titled “Bomb Power – The Modern Presidency and the National Security State” by Garry Wills, published in 2011. I just happened upon it at my local library. As you said, it starts with the Manhattan Project and the secrecy and security created around that effort. Once the bomb was developed more elaborate mechanisms were required to grant the Executive exclusive power over its use. Fascinating history that spells out exactly where things went off track and how the shift to our current ‘national security state’ and ‘unitary executive’ came to be.

      Reply
      1. jadan

        Yes, I did. Everyone should! You describe the book well, and I would add that It’s a lucid description of a malignant development of shadow governance that some today are calling the “deep state”.

        Reply
    3. Tyronius

      It is this National Security State and the mindset it cultivated that IMHO led America down the right wing path to where we are today. The CIA and to a lesser extent the FBI, DIA and others use time honored tactics of destabilisation and manipulation against foreign governments as a meter of policy. Can anyone really be surprised to see the same people doing the same things right here at home?

      America will remain an extreme Right wing State until and unless this internal cabal of “true believers” is broken.

      Reply
  6. shinola

    “Bring back the draft…”

    Yes to this – and this time include women. If people knew their daughters could be drafted into military service, perhaps they would be less inclined to support “war, war & more war”.

    Reply
    1. Eureka Springs

      I disagree. Military draft is just madness. It’s demise already saved countless millions. Just imagine how many more people would have been put through a meat grinder, Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, Libya… and wars we would have started and or perpetuated with infantry in Ukraine, probably Iran, all through Africa and Central thru South America.

      Elimination of the draft in US Forces is probably the best thing that’s happened in my lifetime.

      Reply
      1. shinola

        That’s a reasonable counterpoint.

        I was overjoyed at being classified “1-H” (or on hold as we called it at the time). Still have that old draft card.

        Reply
      2. KLG

        Another perspective. If we had an inescapable Draft, and Trip, Brandon, and Heather of the local private school were as likely to come home in a box through Dover in the middle of the night as Billy, Jose, and Maria of whatever public school still exists, these Forever Wars. Would. Not. Happen.

        I still have my Draft Card, too. Obtained 12 days before my 18th birthday and a week before the start of college, in the year the Selective Service took only 19-year-olds IIRC. Lottery number 233. A serious rite of passage we could do with again, as an insurance policy against perpetual imperial overreach. It is not OK for rich kids to die for mostly nothing, which is something a politician could not explain to the Donor Class.

        Reply
        1. curious euro

          Another perspective. If we had an inescapable Draft, and Trip, Brandon, and Heather of the local private school were as likely to come home in a box through Dover in the middle of the night as Billy, Jose, and Maria of whatever public school still exists, these Forever Wars. Would. Not. Happen.

          It would change the wars only marginally if at all.
          Draft would be the right way if everyone drafted actually might see combat and therefore risk their lives.
          That however will never happen. Even when actually everyone will be drafted, unlike Vietnam where there were deferments for the rich, not everyone will go into combat.

          In a modern military it’s said only 10% of soldiers see combat. Maybe that’s too low, so it’s 20, 30 or whatever. Still, a minority. There are so many rear echelon, staff, logistics positions, the rich, the donor class, people who decide policy, etc. still can pull enough strings to keep Trip, Brandon and Heather in security, state side even, while Jose still has to risk his life occupying some far away country.

          Further, more and more fighting will be done with robots and special forces instead of regular army. The military is already on this path, and a draft would simply accelerate it. Obama switched from outright official war by the army and national guard Iraq and Afghanistan to special forces, native militias and mercenaries on the ground and drones above world wide. All to reduce the US soldier body count, be capable to attack world wide and make it cheaper to wage war. In the long run it won’t be cheaper since prices for robots and for paying the local native mercenaries will go up, but that’s still in the future.

          Reply
      3. John

        I was a draftee in Sept of 1968 that signed on for an extra year to avoid the infantry in VN. I ended up being part of a soft munity that by 1971 caused this
        https://www.nytimes.com/1971/09/05/archives/army-is-shaken-by-crisis-in-morale-and-discipline-army-is-shaken-by.html
        By getting rid of the draft the military got filled with “true believers” who would follow any order, thus making things like Iraq possible. As a forced volunteer, we drove the “true believers” crazy. My favorite line was “I believe in social welfare, the military is just a poor way to distribute it” said within hearing of officers and nco’s who were “TB’s”. Total passive aggressive all the time. But not enough for a court marshall. Monkey wrench the whole thing wherever possible.
        So I hated the draft that got me into the whole mess, but realize it broke the army at that time because VN was such a grift. With a true believer military there has been no internal dissension to stop evil like Iraq and Afghanistan. More deaths (if you count the brown people)…law of unintended consequences.

        Reply
    2. HotFlash

      As I read the article, Lt Col Astore is recommending a ‘draft’ that includes a WPA-like conservation force, forest firefighters, etc. Me, I like it. Could also encompass climate-change mitigation stuff. Spend a year or two in the corps, come out with some societally useful experience, say, installing solar panels, CNC machining, 3D printing, soil analysis, organic pasturing, traditional woodworking, blacksmithing, animal care and training, house construction/remediation, subsistence gardening, cheesemaking, artisanal pickle-making (bow to Lambert), converting shopping mall parking lots and Interstate highways to food-producing spaces, eldercare, nursing assistant, human-powered transportation — the list is endless! Aside — unlike the case of my nephew, who enlisted in the USAF b/c he/his family could not afford college tuition, he was loathe to get indebted (his mom still struggling w her student debt) and the recruiter promised he’d come out with an aircraft mechanic cert, which dinna happen.

      Which reminds me — like Brexit and amending the US constitution, the idea may have great possibilities, but be very careful of the implementation.

      Reply
    3. New Wafer Army

      If you read the sentence to the end he actually says: “Bring back the draft, just not for military purposes.” It is not right to not quote the article accurately.

      Reply
  7. kgw

    “An Enquiry Concerning Political Justice,” by William Godwin, is a very good read. In it’s Penguin edition, there is a painting that shows the levels of society, with a monster at the top. The title of the painting is “The Scum Uppermost.”

    Reply
  8. Howard

    I recall from somewhere (not sure where) that there is supposed to be a saying in the Middle East: “My grandfather rode a camel. My father drove a car. I ride an airplane. My son will ride a camel.”

    Reply
    1. Widowson

      Shirt sleeves to shirt sleeves in three generations is an American translation of a Lancashire proverb, “there’s nobbut three generations atween a clog and clog.” Some say that Andrew Carnegie, the famed 1800s industrialist from Scotland, brought the proverb’s message to the New World.

      From: https://www.corpmagazine.com/interest/family-business/shirt-sleeves-to-shirt-sleeves-in-three-generations/

      I’m pretty sure that the Chinese also had/have a similar age-old proverb. Will look for that!

      Reply
  9. howseth

    4. “Bring back the draft, just not for military purposes. Make it part of a national service program for improving America. It’s time for a new Civilian Conservation Corps focused on fostering a Green New Deal. It’s time for a new Works Progress Administration to rebuild America’s infrastructure and reinvigorate our culture,”

    That has been on my mind for a while. Yes! I like 1-3 and 5-7 too.
    A military man points out the tragic waste of our military budget…Yes! The U.S. already possesses a potent quick-strike force of… lobbyists! Meant to keep things just that way. Change is hard.

    Reply
  10. Noel Nospamington

    I have a hard time believing in any long term substantial changes in the USA until there is substantial electoral reform.

    As long as money is the primary driving factor in American politics, the vested interests which own the bulk of wealth will push as much as possible for the status quo or anything else which benefits them further (such as more tax cuts and less regulations / protections).

    Reply
    1. Angie Neer

      I agree, but I don’t know how we get around the “money is speech” doctrine for interpreting the first amendment.

      Reply
      1. Societal Illusions

        It can be done legislatively, I believe.

        A law can be passed by Congress and signed by the President which defines any corporation as a creature of the state, allowed to exist by the state, and the rights conferred, or not, to it as such.

        If it’s not easy, perhaps those who have been granted their positions in Congress should be retired and replaced by those who are better able to solve societal problems.

        Reply
      2. Tyronius

        Money may be speech but when it influences politics directly it’s now bribery and a wedge to give some more influence over our political life than others. It blatantly violates the “all men (sic) are created equal” clause of the Declaration.

        Reply
    2. HotFlash

      Noel and Angie, yes and yes. Getting the money out is going to be really hard though (too much money pushing back), perhaps we could start with hand-marked, hand-counted in public ballots? I find the discrepancies poll/exit poll (before ‘adjustment’ — WTF!!!!~) disturbing. HMHC ballots seems reasonably uncontroversial? And yet, here we are. Hmmm, maybe public ballot-counting could be one of the tasks done by the WPA+ volunteers? Here in Canada we (mostly) have HMHC paper ballots, but our poll workers are pd by the govt. The dynamic is different here :)

      Reply
  11. a different chris

    Yeah we’re not gonna change.

    >(That would have been enough to forgive all current student debt.)

    Which would inject immense vigor into the biggest reservoir of forward thinking energy the country has. Instead we gave the money to the same old – literally – parasites. Great.

    Reply
  12. Anthony G Stegman

    For the United States the only solution is this: “We had to destroy the nation in order to save it”. Incremental change will never work, no matter how much the Clintons, Obamas, and Biden (not to mention Bloomberg and other “moderates”) tout that approach.

    Reply
  13. Billy

    Lambert, I have a humble suggestion for your retirement, besides the gardening:

    I think we might have a Presidential Candidate in the making.

    It’s time to draft Lambert.
    Seriously,
    look at his bio,
    intergenerational memory,
    military experience,
    old enough to have wisdom, but doesn’t need a wick stuck in him like Biden,
    his writing ability,
    his knowledge,
    his bona fides,
    Most of all,
    his clearly articulated policy goals.

    *

    Reply
  14. Clive

    I’ll offer a sadly dissenting voice. People and countries can change. Sometimes, like at the end of WWII where Britain was forced by the US to abandon any illusions of continued Empire (it’s arguable just how much or little of a pushover Britain was to the idea — Empire had shown itself to at times be a lot more trouble than it was worth even before the war), the force for change is external and you just have to jolly well get on with it. You don’t have a choice.

    More often than not, though, the change isn’t exogenous, it’s endogenous. When this happens, change is willingly chosen and seen to be accepted and even welcomed as a natural transition from the Old to the New. Only then does it prove to be permanent.

    Change which is forced on a truculent and often unwilling population — and I classify lawfare as this sort of change which is why I’m distrustful of if — all-too-often ends up under pressure to be rolled back from the get-go. However worthy the change may be.

    Trying, then, to effect change on US society at the point of a happenstantial gun (COVID-19) is inevitably going the engender a sense of compulsion rather than willing embrace. Whatever it is you might want, this isn’t the way to get it. Not if you want to keep it.

    Reply
    1. Watt4Bob

      Although I am sad to agree*, I’m glad you pointed this out.

      *My optimism, (see my previous comment regarding this post) is often premature.

      Reply
    2. Tim

      Agreed the prevailing wisdom of the masses changes slowly and we must patiently wait for it. It’s been 20 years since the dawn of the information age, and that transition will have to work it’s way through enough generations such that the truth is more widely accepted and disseminated without such reliance on a few narrow channels of influence, to the point that voting results are not swayed in such Orwellian style.

      Reply
    3. HotFlash

      OTOH, we (in the Left) should never let a good crisis go to waste either. As Naomi Klein pointed out, in times of shock, the solutions (or purported solutions) that get implemented are ‘ideas that are just lying around’. Well nowadays, M4A is an idea ‘just lying around’, thank you, Bernie Sanders. A guaranteed income, absent any hope of many of us returning to work anytime soon, thank you, Andrew Yang. DNC/DCCC, thanks for nothing, but good to know who your enemy is. Meanwhile, we need to have more ‘good ideas lying around’, and in plain sight of everyone.

      Reduced mobility/transportation with the concomitant need for fossil fuels, reduced fossil fuel extraction (thank you, Saudi Arabia!), and now the realization the just-in-time global supply lines are fatally fragile? That all our military expenditures, all our $$$$ to the Nation Security yada couldn’t see this coming, couldn’t track the carriers, couldn’t tract the contacts, so they are *useless*. These realizations could lead to a good outcome, but we will have to see what they are doing and *fight like hell*.

      Brexit had great possibilities, but OMG. I expect that Corona will kill me, directly or indirectly, but this is an opportunity to Make The World A Better Place that we will not see again soon. Ever. We need to make the most of it.

      Reply
  15. drumlin woodchuckles

    I reject point number 5. It was a lack of walls and an excess of travel and global over-connection which allowed COVID to spread so fast. It was the ability to raise internal “walls” which was part of the ChinaGov’s ability to repress COVID once they decided to repress it.

    ” International co-operation” is where beautiful hopes go to die. Especially on global de-heating, action will only happen when a few big political economies ( America, EUrope) adopt aggressive greenism within their own borders and ban economic and personal contact with every country which does the least bit less.
    That way a few Big Green National Economies could impose a Forced March to the Top against an unwilling world.

    Reply
    1. HotFlash

      Yeah, and BTW, I love your ‘drumlin’ and I respond with an ‘esker’. Global cooperation does not necessarily mean global free-trade, free-travel, though. I think that Lt Col Astore might be talking about planning coordination, not necessarily open borders, either for goods or people, but I don’t want to be putting words in his mouth.

      How I (optimistically, it is true) read it: In my (adopted) country, Canada, we used to have these government boom-bust damping measures, we called them marketing boards. We had them for mostly agricultural commodities — wheat, milk, eggs — and the point was to put quotas on production of ag products that damped out the production lags.

      EG,

      1.) Price of eggs high, farmers think “whoa, cool!”, farmers rush to buy more layer chicks. (some time later … ) It takes a while (5-6 months) for a chick to be an egg-producing layer hen, but it’s about the same length of time for all these farmers. So, 5-6 months or whatever from purchase of chicks, egg production goes up, glut of eggs on the market, price of eggs goes down.

      2.) Price of eggs low, farmers think “oh, noes!”, cull their flocks of laying hens and don’t buy layer chicks to save feed costs. (some time later … ) Not enough eggs, so price of eggs goes up.

      3a.) this is an endless boom/bust loop, people!! back to 1.) then 2.) then 1.) then 2.) or…

      3b.) Egg Marketing Board steps in, stabilizes price of eggs, IOW guarantees farmers a stable price, which is higher than in bad times, but lower than scarcity times. Result, farmers don’t kill laying hens and continue to buy chicks, although not at ‘rush’ pace. The price of eggs stays about the same for us egg-eaters, too. People, this is what is meant by ‘a managed economy’.

      We in Canada *used* to do this for eggs, milk, wheat, and other basic foodstuffs. Our marketing boards were dismantled by neocon Stephen Harper, but have not been reinstated by the ‘Liberal’ Trudeau fils government. Me, I find an *accountable* visible hand is far less painful than that invisible one.

      Reply
      1. drumlin woodchuckles

        Thank you for the kind words. Many years ago I read about America having its own version of this Marketing Board approach. I read about it in Charles Walters’s book : Unforgiven: the American Economic System Sold for Debt and War. I need to read that book again.

        Sometime during the Great Depression the Agricultural Adjustment Act was passed and then the Steagall Ammendment was added and passed with it. This criminalized the selling of any legislated-for agricultural commodity under a certain set parity price.

        Agricultural Adjusment Act. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Agricultural_Adjustment_Act_Amendment_of_1935

        Steagall Ammendment. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Steagall_Amendment_of_1941

        I read that in America under Truman’s Secretary of Agriculture, a rich Mormon named Ezra Taft Benson, a stealth plan to destroy parity pricing in America without repealing the AAA was cleverly set in motion. Every ten years the “85% of Parity Price” would be reset to be 85% of what the “85%-of-Parity-Price” had on average been over the prior 10 years. So every ten years the ” 85% of Parity Price” was shyster-legally reduced by 15% off of what it had been the prior 10 years.

        I know nothing of the history of the more recent anti-farmeritic legislation passed in the United States.

        About the name Drumlin Woodchuckles . . . it is a play on Saul Bellow, Drumlin Woodchuck, the title of an unauthorized biography of novelist Saul Bellow written by somebody-or-other. That title itself was based on the poem Drumlin Woodchuck by Robert Frost. I won’t offer a link for fear that one-link-to-many will choke the comment-acceptance software.

        Reply
      2. eg

        Pretty sure we still have a milk board in most provinces?

        Though the USMCA continues to take chunks off the edges …

        Reply
  16. eugene linden

    Really terrific piece. The military downsizing is particularly common sensical. With everybody broke within 6 months maybe it’ll even be considered.

    Reply
  17. False Solace

    Not a word in here about universal health care. Shouldn’t that be the actual #1 item in response to a pandemic? Maybe it’s low priority for this 57 year old author with military health care for life.

    If the predictions are right and we see 100,000-200,000 deaths, that means we’re going to have almost a million people, the survivors, coming out of the hospital with 3-4 weeks of ICU bills.

    Reply
    1. HotFlashcare

      Yeah, and with massive firings, lots of people will be losing their employer-provided health insurance. 3 *million* unemployment insurance claims in one week? Personally, I believe that this is a planned bail-out of the insurance co’s, but (adjusts tin-foil beret), that’s just me.

      Reply
  18. JohnMc

    we are in the later stages of a primary where a candidate who made limiting military misadventurism the centerpiece of her campaign. the sad fact that she was unable to garner more than low single digit support say much about american’s willingness to change directions, virus or no virus.

    Reply
    1. HotFlash

      We-all missed a bet on that one. I didn’t think she’s get the nom first try out, but wanted her for Bernie’s Sec Def. or State. If either happened I would have sold popcorn for the Exploding Heads Show, and enjoyed the ensuing peace.

      Reply
    2. drumlin woodchuckles

      It also says something about the power of media blackout. Gabbard was subjected to a much more total media blackout that Sanders was. Also a DemParty suppression conspiracy.

      Reply
  19. Jeff

    COVID-19 would have to be devastating for the US to change its priorities. There are too many people too committed to how they think today that unless they are directly impacted by this…. they lose friends, family, coworkers, etc – they will just continue on the path they’re on.

    Think of all the people who STILL love Hillary or Trump. This is the majority of the country. It’s crazy, right? And yet….

    Reply
  20. sierra7

    When the blood runs 12 inches deep on Pennsylvania Ave and Wall St. then change will come…….not until.
    The American people have no stomach for the hard times that are coming. They have no clue.
    Was born at the beginning of the Great Depression. Again. Most all Americans haven’t a clue.
    R.I.P.

    Reply
    1. Societal Illusions

      and on that note…

      we (as in those reading this and celebrating what could be instead of the incessant march to wherever we’ve been going – which most know in their bones is bad but in their own supposed self-interest avoids), we could continue being part of the mass of society that cries and posts in fear or we can be brave and take a risk to create a better world.

      Perhaps it will take more blood to beget blood, or perhaps there are other ways inspired by the incredible creativity and wisdom and energy I see so many have.

      Regardless, when a tipping point is reached will it not be hard to put it back in the bag? How far away are we?

      Reply
  21. Sound of the Suburbs

    The rise and fall of nations and empires, an endless procession throughout 5,000 years of human civilisation.
    What were the chances of the US being the first nation to maintain this position in the history of human civilisation?
    Almost zero.

    A new nation becomes an old nation.
    The pie has been carved and an established elite look to pull up the drawbridge to keep themselves in the very comfortable position they are in now. Social mobility is at the same atrocious level as the UK and they use the same mechanisms for social stratification, private schools and universities (they take no chances in the US).
    Can you think of anyone at the top in the US that didn’t go to an Ivy League University?
    The generations that made fortunes fade into the past to be replaced by generations that inherit fortunes. Capitalist dynamism is replaced by rent seeking, as the idea now is to conserve fortunes rather than make fortunes; the world of finance dominates to meet this goal.
    Finance allows the wealthy to use their money to make more money.
    Where can they get the best return on their investments?
    In the new dynamic nations of Asia, not in their own country.
    To conserve fortunes they move taxes off themselves and onto labour making their own nation internationally uncompetitive. They don’t like paying taxes and preside over a decline in the infrastructure that was built when the nation was young and dynamic.
    They even look on the existing businesses, that are now on the stock market, as a revenue stream and these businesses are there for them to cannibalise for personal gain. The activist shareholders try and rip the heart out of the real economy until it collapses and dies.
    Those old US industrialists who made their fortunes from the real economy, making useful things and providing useful services will be spinning in their graves.

    It is the cycle of nations and empires:
    Dynamism, success, complacency and decay
    Adios America.
    Hello China (not that China will be any different, it is the endless procession).

    We (the UK) were there once, look at us now!

    Reply
  22. jackiebass

    At 78 this sound like my life growing up. Also true for my parents. It could be labeled the American Dream. The American Dream slowly died. It like in the past doesn’t exist for a large percentage of the population. I’m lucky and thankful that I grew up in probably some of the best times in our history. The next generation usually did better than the previous generation. Unfortunately that has actually reversed itself for many. It’s sad to live through and observe the decline of our once great country. I believe Neoliberal economics destroyed The American Dream.

    Reply
  23. KPL

    “We’re witnessing our true heroes in action right now: our doctors, nurses, and other medical personnel, together with our first responders, and those workers who stay in grocery stores, pharmacies, and the like and continue to serve us all despite the danger of contracting the coronavirus from customers. They are all selflessly resisting a threat”

    But then you can bet they will be forgotten the moment this pandemic is over. Then we will hear only about billionaires (many with help in the sly from the Fed and the politicians) and celebrities.

    Some would call it paying lip-service!

    Reply
  24. Ernie

    The root problem we have to these global problems is overpopulation.
    The fact that the current corona virus is a pandemic is related to human overpopulation.

    Inequitable distribution of resources and the benefits of labor are related to human overpopulation.

    An example of how human over population creates a global crisis is demonstrated by climate change.
    Climate change cannot be fought as long as the population’s carbon dioxide emissions exceed the planet’ inherent ability to absorb CO2 from the atmosphere and sequester the carbon. Technology cannot give us perfect carbon free energy, probably not even adequately carbon neutral energy. Every additional human being requires more energy that renewable sources can no longer adequately provide. There is not enough biomass to provide energy for the human population’s present needs as it is. Nuclear power is not even a bandaid solution, as it is more harmful than CO2. At least CO2 is essential to life in the proper proportions (for perspective, oxygen is essential, obviously, to animal life, but too much of that gas is also deadly), while nuclear power’s radioactive wastes, not to mention accidental releases of radioactive materials, are deadly or extremely harmful regardless of amount. Solar technology is not entirely carbon neutral, and does incorporate a number of toxic materials in processing and manufacturing the cells, and some of the minerals used in photovoltaics are relatively rare and are the source of animosity between various nations, leading to bellicosity.

    We must get control of the size of the population and bring it to a level that is compatible with sustainability of the planet and its resources.

    Reply
  25. K teh

    They can’t go to labor money without getting rid of Family Law, the Fed, and Herd Decisions (statistics), the most destructive forces on the planet. 1913

    One generation to make it, one to manage, and one to fritter it away.

    Recreating post WWII can’t be made to work because the US has zero productive capacity instead of a monopoly, and the kids are not going to have a lot of kids when wages are only 2X rent.

    Climate change is largely a function of gravity at the center of the Galaxy, the sun’s position in it’s orbit, and our determination to destroy vegetation for the sake of building financial centers.

    Labor cannot be replaced by debt and technology, but keep trying. Electronic money is a control system. Physical cash in general circulation, the discount function, is an information system.

    This too shall pass.

    That’s what the old man knows.

    Reply

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