Did I Have Coronavirus in January?

I seriously have this question: is it possible that I have already had COVID-19? I would love a speculative reply from a medical professional.

I spent four weeks in Los Angeles this past January. When I arrived via a flight from JFK to LAX, I began feeling ill soon after arrival. You may recall that there were wildfires northwest of Los Angeles at the time, and I could smell the acrid burning. I suffer from mild asthma; most Angelenos barely seemed to notice it but it bothered me a lot.

What followed were the symptoms that I associated at the time with something that happens to me fairly typically: allergic reaction causes runny nose which triggers bronchitis which, if it gets bad, can become pneumonia. I have had pneumonia at least four times. Now, however, I wonder if I actually had coronavirus in January. Because what happened then was nothing like my normal pattern.

My symptoms were what we all know now as boilerplate for COVID-19. I had an incessant dry cough. (To the people I met with, sorry, I just didn’t know.) I had a constant fever. My temperature ranged from about 101° during the day to closer to 103° at night. My chest was tight: it felt like a car was parked on it. I had absolutely no energy whatsoever. I was exhausted. Even walking half a block, I had to take a break. I would get back to my hotel after a meeting and be asleep by 6 PM. I would sleep 14 hours and wake up still wiped out. “What the hell,” I would ask myself, “is going on?”

This went on for nearly 4 weeks.

I visited two walk-in clinics in West Hollywood. The first one was useless. The attending nurse told me it was probably a viral as opposed to a bacterial infection and I just needed to treat it with over-the-counter stuff. I became alarmed when, a few days later, I felt like I was getting worse, not better. So I went to see another one.

These guys were better. They listened to me when I explained that my pulmonary problems usually have a bacterial component even when they are viral so that I needed antibiotics. They took an x-ray which revealed that I was in the early stages of pneumonia. I tested negative for flu.

However, they didn’t really give me a very strong antibiotic. I felt slightly better after two or three days but then I started to slip again. So I called my physician back in New York. So she called in a prescription for a stronger antibiotic. By then we were in week three. Normally when you have a fever, it gets worse at night but it starts to alleviate after the second night, maybe even after the first one. Whatever I had in January just kept going on like the energizer bunny. Night after night, that fever would hit me like a brick. And I could barely walk.

Looking back, it’s obvious that whatever happened to me in January, whether or not it was coronavirus, was definitely very different than anything else I have ever experienced. And I have had swine flu as well as regular influenza. This was nothing like that.

The timing certainly would work for coronavirus.

The Wuhan outbreak began in early December 2019. Los Angeles California is of course one of the major gateways to China so it’s likely that someone who carried the virus traveled from China to the United States within days. They were probably asymptomatic at the time.

New York to LA flights go back-and-forth between LA and New York and New York and LA so the plane was probably infected by time I boarded in New York. (I don’t care what the airlines say about how flying is safe. I often get sick due to the recirculated air on airplanes. I think planes are cesspools of contagion.)

At least three people with whom I came into contact suffered similar symptoms for at least a month. Again, sorry!

After I recovered from the initial symptoms, it took at least another month before I started to feel normal, as opposed to constantly exhausted and fatigued.

For the record, most experts believe that you will no longer transmit it after 14 days. The longest estimate I have found is 37 days. It has been longer than 37 days for me.

I am assuming that I am still vulnerable to coronavirus and I am taking all the necessary precautions to isolate myself and keep myself clean. And of course I don’t want to give it to anyone else. Still, it’s an interesting question: is it possible that I am one of many people in the United States who have already had coronavirus without knowing it?

If so, that gives us some reason for optimism in terms of recovery and fatality rates. If there are a lot of people like me who were never tested for this disease and got over it on their own, it means that the odds of recovering from coronavirus are significantly higher than those being calculated by public health officials.

A Premature Postmortem of the Bernie Sanders Campaign

Establishment media is ridiculing Bernie Sanders for stating some simple truths: establishment media was out to get him, the DNC was out to get him and young voters who support him haven’t been good about showing up at the polls.

But that doesn’t mean that Bernie Sanders didn’t make mistakes. So let’s take a look at those.

No matter what happens between him and Joe Biden, and it isn’t over yet, Sanders deserves credit for some remarkable achievements. In the face of formidable establishmentarian opposition, Jewish, with a speaking manner that is anything but conventional in U.S. politics, relying only on small individual donations and promoting a political agenda many Americans would consider radical, Bernie Sanders currently controls 42% of the Democratic primary vote against a recent sitting vice president. Much of his agenda, including making college affordable, increasing the minimum wage, and improving the healthcare system, has become mainstream Democratic Party policy after many decades during which the party didn’t even pretend to give a damn about normal people. Bernie Sanders is running an issue-based campaign, not one based purely on personality. Even if he loses, historians will mark this election as evidence of the strength of progressive and left-leaning electoral politics.

But he’s not perfect. There are things that he could have/could still do better.

Politics is first and foremost about framing, and Sanders isn’t great at it. “Medicare for All” is meaningless to millions of Americans who have had no contact with Medicare and don’t know anything about it. “Free healthcare” would have been easier to understand and would not have turned off or confused union members who already have decent healthcare plans. “Free college tuition,” on the other hand, tells too little of the story. Sanders’ plan only helps low-income college students but many voters seem to still think that he wanted to use their taxes to help out children of wealthy people. The “Green New Deal” hasn’t been defined or well-publicized beyond the fact that it would be expensive.

Sanders’ plan for student loan forgiveness was also presented in a problematic fashion. Many Americans don’t have college degrees; they wondered, why should we pay for those who do? Many other Americans went to college, took out student loans and then paid them back. Why shouldn’t millennials do the same? There are good answers to those questions: millennial student debt is many factors higher than Generation X and Baby Boomer debt because tuition has skyrocketed at a rate much faster than inflation. Student loan forgiveness would stimulate the economy by freeing up young people to buy cars and homes. People who already paid their loans should have been added as beneficiaries of his plan so that they didn’t feel like suckers due to a simple accident of birthdate. Most importantly, Sanders should not have proposed student loan forgiveness without coupling it to a free college tuition program and/or job retraining program for people who are older and don’t have college degrees or need retraining in order to retool for the 21st century.

Speaking of costs, I found it endlessly frustrating that Bernie Sanders never seemed able to clearly answer the question of how he would pay for his proposals. Generally, he should simply have said: “I’ll take it out of the Pentagon budget.” Maybe this wasn’t true. If it wasn’t true, he should have made it true. Not only is the defense budget bloated, most Americans, including people who favor strong military, know about the $800 toilet seats. I’m not sure why he didn’t bash the military.

He also hasn’t been good about explaining Medicare for All. What he should have said was, everyone is going to pay less for healthcare, so much less, that even though your taxes will go up a bit, you’ll still come out way ahead.  And if you got hit by something catastrophic like cancer, it would all be covered. Instead, he talked about how European countries somehow managed to pay for national healthcare plans. He’s right about that, but Americans have been told that Europeans pay high taxes. He needed to explain in plain language that that would not happen here.

He ignored my advice to own and explain his self-described “democratic socialist” label. He probably assumed that it would be more of a problem in the general election against Donald Trump, but what he underestimated was the Democratic Party’s long history of red bashing as well as the well-established fact that other people will define you if you don’t do it yourself. He should have followed the example of JFK when he gave a speech assuring Americans that he would not take orders from the pope as a Roman Catholic. Sanders should have given a speech entirely about democratic socialism.

Some things, it’s hard to do anything about. A campaign has the candidate that it has with a personality that he or she comes with. Bernie Sanders has an underlying vulnerability and warmth that his tendency to bellow often covered up. The media had a field day portraying him as a guy who likes to yell a lot. This is where something like “The Man from Hope” video that the Bill Clinton for President campaign created would have come in handy. A biographical look at Bernie’s roots in Brooklyn, his childhood struggling in a working-class family and the premature death of his mother due to poor healthcare would have helped to humanize a very human person.

Images of him being manhandled by cops during his participation in the civil rights movement of the early 1960s couldn’t have hurt him with African-American voters who ended up turning out for Joe Biden.

Of course the biggest mistake Sanders made may not have been a mistake at all. He ran inside the Democratic Party. They were never going to let him have the nomination.

He had to know that.
(Ted Rall (Twitter: @tedrall), the political cartoonist, columnist and graphic novelist, is the author of the biography “Bernie.” You can support Ted’s hard-hitting political cartoons and columns and see his work first by sponsoring his work on Patreon.)

Thanks, Student Cartoonists of Columbia High School!

I recently had the pleasure to speak at Columbia High School in Maplewood, New Jersey. It’s one of my favorite places to visit and I have had the honor to be invited to speak to students there several times over the years. On this past visit, several students drew some editorial cartoons.

I promised to pick my favorites and here they are in no particular order:

“Government Snake,” by Alex Schnorr, 9th grade:

“Melting Faster,” by Dakota Dallison, 9th grade:

“Trump as an Orange,” by Norah Vaughn:

It’s so great to see young people taking an interest in this profession!

Joe Biden Obviously Has Dementia and Should Withdraw

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            You Democrats ought to be ashamed of yourselves.

            You spent the last four years criticizing Donald Trump in no small part for his mental state, and rightly so. The founding fathers included an impeachment provision in the Constitution in large part as a contingency to remove a president exactly like him, whose temperament and personality and mental state are incompatible with the requirements of the highest elected office in the land.

Trump is not merely a jerk. Psychologists have been so alarmed that they have violated a core ethical principle of their profession by attempting to diagnose him at a remove. Narcissistic personality disorder is their universal conclusion and it fits like a glove. Among the characteristics of NPD is a lack of empathy—not something one wants or needs in a leader.

            Now Democrats are conspiring to gaslight the American people by engineering the presidential election of a man clearly suffering from dementia, Joe Biden.
            This is no time to be “polite.” We are talking about the presidency. As always, we need a frank, intelligent discussion and debate about the issues and the candidates. It is perfectly fair to talk about Bernie Sanders’ heart attack as well as Joe Biden’s and Donald Trump’s mental acuity.

            Contrary to current ridiculous Democratic talking points, it is not ageist to point this out. One out of seven Americans over the age of 70 suffers from dementia. (Biden is 77.) If it’s ageist to talk about dementia among the elderly, it’s ageist to talk about immaturity among the young.

            It is neither necessary nor possible to scientifically determine whether the former vice president has dementia. On the other hand, you don’t need an astronomer to know that the sun rises in the east. If you have encountered dementia, you know Joe Biden has it.

            There is so much blame to go around for this BS that I can’t figure out what order to put it in. I’ll go chronologically.

            There are the Democratic Party bosses who, terrified at the prospect that Bernie Sanders might win the nomination, recruited former Vice President Joe Biden out of a comfortable retirement to run yet again.

            There is Biden himself. His family should have known better than to allow a campaign by the guy who inspired the headline “Biden allies float scaling back events to limit gaffes.” Not that gaffes are the issue. Or stuttering. Or being old. Many Americans are as old or older than Joe Biden, they stutter, and they’re mentally competent. Biden is not.

            Of course you also have to cast the stinkeye at Biden’s former rivals Amy Klobuchar, Pete Buttigieg, Beto O’Rourke, Cory Booker, Kamala Harris and Mike Bloomberg. Just because the DNC probably urged them to endorse Biden doesn’t mean that they had to. No cabinet position or even a position as vice president should be enough inducement to set aside common sense. Elizabeth Warren earns an honorary mention for her failure to speak out against Biden and to endorse Bernie Sanders.

            None of the media seem interested in the truth about Biden. Democratic media allies like CNN, MSNBC, the New York Times and the Washington Post are running interference for the Democratic establishment and Biden by failing to ask any questions about the candidate’s mental fitness. Right-wing outlets like Fox News are gleefully trumpeting Biden’s mental decline but they would say that even if it wasn’t true. The fourth estate has abdicated its duty to follow the truth wherever it leads.

            And finally there are the voters. As a citizen, you have no business casting a vote thoughtlessly or less than fully informed. Deliberately casting a vote for someone clearly suffering from dementia, or turning a blind eye to it, or being simply unaware of Biden’s mental state are inexcusable.

            I spent the last few years watching my mother’s decline due to dementia caused by Alzheimer’s. She had been brilliant. Years before her death, however, she was having a tough time keeping it together. I would have voted for her as president in 2012 but not 2016. It would have been wrong.

No one who has been close to someone deteriorating from that disease could fail to see the same signs in Joe Biden.

            In online discussions Biden apologists sometimes say that a senile Biden is better than an evil Trump. Is this really where we are?

            Consider the 20 or so contenders for the Democratic nomination as of late last year. All of them except for one—Biden­—were mentally competent. Marianne Williamson came off as loopy and Tom Steyer was painfully awkward but both were in full command of their faculties. Congratulations, Democrats, you literally picked the worst of the bunch.

            This is not about politics. No doubt, Joe Biden’s voting record is monstrous. He opposed school busing, sold out Anita Hill, voted to invade Afghanistan and Iraq, supported NAFTA and bragged about the extrajudicial assassination of Osama bin Laden. And yes, Hunter Biden’s job in Ukraine is classic corruption. But that’s not the point here.

But even if his politics were closer to mine—quadrupling the minimum wage, nationalizing major industries, banning all wars of aggression, free healthcare and college—I would be writing this same column. It doesn’t matter how crappy Donald Trump is. It’s anti-American and unpatriotic to vote for someone suffering from dementia for a position with exclusive control over nuclear launch codes.

            What about Donald Trump? If Joe Biden is the nominee, and people don’t vote for him—which I think will be the case anyway—Trump will win a second term. Isn’t it imperative to stop that by any means necessary?

            As I wrote recently, odds are that Trump, like most previous presidents, won’t get much done during his second term anyway. Anyway, there is always a moral alternative to picking between two terrible options. Vote for another party, write someone in, don’t vote.

            But it’s not too late for the Democrats. Joe Biden doesn’t have to be the nominee.

            He can and should withdraw.

(Ted Rall (Twitter: @tedrall), the political cartoonist, columnist and graphic novelist, is the author of the biography “Bernie.” You can support Ted’s hard-hitting political cartoons and columns and see his work first by sponsoring his work on Patreon.)

Trump’s Second Term: Not Worth Freaking Out About.

Image result for trump second term            You’ve heard it so often that you may well believe it’s true: Trump’s second term would be a disaster. For the Democratic Party. For the United States. For democracy itself. “The reelection of Donald Trump,” warns Nancy Pelosi, “would do irreparable damage to the United States.”

            But would it really?

            Exceptions are a normal part of history but the record suggests that Trump would not be one of the few presidents who get much done during their second terms. There are three reasons for the sophomore slump:

            By definition, political honeymoons expire (well) before the end of a president’s first term. Elections have consequences in the form of policy changes that make good on campaign promises. But turning a pledge into reality comes at a cost. Capital gets spent, promises are broken, alliances shatter. Oftentimes, those changes prove disappointing. Recent example: Obamacare. Voters often express their displeasure by punishing the party that controls the White House with losses in Congress in midterm elections.

            The permanent campaign fed by the 24-7 news cycle makes lame ducks gimpier than ever. Before a president gets to take his or her second oath of office, news media and future hopefuls are already looking four years ahead.

            Scandals usually come home to roost during second terms. It’s tough to push laws through a Congress that is dragging your top officials through one investigation after another.

            I’m not suggesting that President Trump deserves a second term. He didn’t deserve a first one. He’s a terrible person and an awful president.

            What I’m saying is that it is more likely than not that he has already done most of the damage that he can do.

            Pundits and Democratic politicians have been pushing a self-serving narrative that implies that everything Trump has done so far was merely a warm-up for the main event, that he would want and be able to go even further if November 2020 goes his way.

            That doesn’t make sense. Who in their right mind thinks Trump has been holding anything back? Which president has failed to go big within a year or two?

            An achievement-filled second term would be a major reversal of recent historical precedent. Things may get worse under four more years of this idiot, but not much worse as the Democratic doomsday cult warns.

            President Obama didn’t get much done during his second term, which began with the bungled rollout of the federal and state “health exchanges.” He signed the Paris climate accord, renewed diplomatic relations with Cuba and negotiated the nuclear deal with Iran. But the ease with which his successor canceled those achievements showcased both the ephemerality of policies pushed through without thorough public propaganda and a general sense that second-term laws and treaties are easy to annul. I hope Obama enjoyed all those trips to Martha’s Vineyard because that’s pretty much all he has to show for term number two.

            George W. Bush screwed up one thing after another during his second four years in office, which was bookended by his hapless non-response to the destruction of New Orleans by Hurricane Katrina and his role in the ineffective and wasteful bailout of Wall Street megabanks during the subprime mortgage financial crisis. What began as an illegal war of aggression against Iraq became, after reelection, a catastrophic quagmire that destroyed America’s international reputation.

            Whatever the merits of Bill Clinton’s legislative and policy agenda— welfare reform, NAFTA and bombing Kosovo would all have happened under a Republican president—having anything substantial or positive to point to was well in the rearview mirror by his second term, when he found himself embroiled in the Monica Lewinsky affair and impeachment.

            Reagan was both senile and bogged down in Iran Contra.

            Even the most productive and prolific president of the 20th century had little to show for his second term. FDR’s legacy would be nearly as impressive today if he’d only served four years.

            Anything could happen. Donald Trump may use his second term to push dramatic changes. If there were another terrorist attack, for example, he would probably try to exploit national shock and fear to the political advantage of the right. Another Supreme Court justice could pass away. On the other hand, Trump is old, clinically obese and out of shape. He might die. It’s doubtful that Mike Pence, a veep chosen for his lack of charisma, would be able to carry on the Trump tradition as more than the head of a caretaker government.

            Analysts differ on what Trump 2.0 might look like. Regardless of their perspective, however, no one expects anything big.

            “If Trump wins a second term this November,” James Pethokoukis writes in The Week, Trump “might propose more tax cuts, but they are more likely to be payroll tax cuts geared toward middle-class workers instead of income tax cuts for rich people and corporations. He’ll look for a new Federal Reserve chair less worried about inflation than current boss Jerome Powell, who deserves at least partial credit for the surging stock market and continuing expansion. Trump will let the national debt soar rather than trimming projected Medicare and Social Security benefits. And there will be more protectionism, although it may be called ‘industrial policy.’”

            “The early outlines of the [second-term] agenda are starting to emerge,” Andrew Restuccia reports in The Wall Street Journal. “Among the issues under consideration: continuing the administration’s efforts to lower prescription drug prices, pushing for a broad infrastructure bill and taking another crack at reforming the country’s immigration system, [White House] officials said.” They also want to reduce the deficit.

            Under Trump, immigration reform is never a good thing. But it’s hard to imagine anything major happening without Democratic cooperation.

            Internationally, many observers expect Trump to continue to nurture his isolationist tendencies. But President Bernie Sanders would probably have similar impulses to focus on America First.

            By all means, vote against Trump. But don’t freak out at the thought of a second term.

            Mourn what happened under the first one instead—and work to reverse it.

(Ted Rall (Twitter: @tedrall), the political cartoonist, columnist and graphic novelist, is the author of the biography “Bernie.” You can support Ted’s hard-hitting political cartoons and columns and see his work first by sponsoring his work on Patreon.)

Don’t Worry, Centrists. Bernie Isn’t Radical.

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            Watching panicky corporate-owned Democrats twist on the devil’s fork of Bernie Sanders’ “political revolution” is almost as much fun as it must have been for my mom and her fellow villagers to watch Vichy collaborators and Nazi sympathizers being executed by the resistance at the end of World War II. (That, Chris Matthews, is how you do a Nazi-to-2020 metaphor.)

            Centrist/moderate/Third Way Dems are afraid of Bernie, not because he would lose to Trump or inverse-coattail down-ballot candidates, but because they would lose their longstanding minority control of the party apparatus. After the convention in Milwaukee, for example, the nominee gets to choose the new DNC chairman. Sanders will not keep Tom Perez.

            Electability, however, is the moderates’ supposed chief concern. And enough moderate Democratic voters are buying it to make it A Thing.

            Don’t worry, centrists. The data is clear. As they did throughout 2016, head-to-head matching polls show Bernie defeating Trump by a comfortable margin.

            More to the point, you can’t trust corporate media outlets that describe Sanders’ policy agenda as radical or extreme. I wish he were! He’s a classic liberal Democrat, not as ambitious as FDR or LBJ, more like Humphrey or Mondale.

            And that’s just on domestic economic issues. On foreign policy, Bernie Sanders is no progressive. In fact, he is to the right of where the Republican Party was before Ronald Reagan.

            He acknowledges it was a mistake but he voted for George W. Bush’s 2001 invasion of Afghanistan. He voted several times in favor of funding the Afghanistan and Iraq wars. He favors military interventions like those against Syria and Libya, albeit in a limited fashion. He is less critical of Israel than most progressives. He is OK with drone assassinations.

            Sanders is basically George W. Bush plus deadlines minus the invasion of Iraq. No real “socialist” shares his views. Socialists, democratic or otherwise, are anti-interventionist. So why are centrists so freaked out?

The answer, obviously, is his domestic platform. But even that is relatively moderate if you take a hard look at it.

            Bernie Sanders wants to raise the federal hourly minimum wage to $15. That movement goes back at least to a strike by fast-food workers in 2012. Seven big states and several major cities including New York and San Francisco, have already instituted $15.

            Over the last eight years, of course, inflation has eaten away at the value of those $15. Meanwhile, corporate profits have risen. And it would be at least another year until a President Sanders could theoretically sign a bill. At the official, ridiculously understated-from-reality inflation rate, $15 in 2012 will be equivalent to $17 in 2021. If the inflation rate were still calculated the same way as a few decades ago, the minimum wage would be at least $25 in order to be worth the same as it was in 1970. If it were up to me, I’d start the discussion at $50.

            Looking at it from a historical vantage point, Bernie’s proposal is too little, too late for workers. It isn’t radical and it won’t tank the economy—New York and San Francisco are proof of that.

            Sanders wants to forgive all $1.6 trillion of student loan debt and make college tuition and fees free at public four-year colleges and universities. Let’s take those two ideas one at a time.

            Financial aid budget cuts, soaring tuition and high interest rates have made student loan debt explode. In 1999 it totaled $90 billion—adjusted for inflation, 8.7% of the current total. In 1986 it was $10 billion—and that’s after the Reagan Revolution replaced almost all student grants with loans.

Restoring student debt to 1999 levels would require forgiving 91.3% of today’s total. Bernie wants 100%. Not a huge difference. And it would stimulate the economy by freeing up young adults to buy houses and cars. But the banks sure would miss “their” profits.

            Bernie’s tuition plan only covers 70% of college students; those in private institutions would receive nothing. Tuition and fees only account for 39% of expenses for the average public college student living on campus. So Bernie would pick up the tab for 27.3% of total expenses for American college students at four-year schools.

            Actually, it’s not even that much. Kids whose parents earn a total of $125,000 a year would get nothing. That eliminates 12% of students. Total cost to taxpayers would be $48 billion a year. A sizable sum to be sure, but less impressive/scary than you might think. Here’s another way to think about it: it’s the same as occupying 2.3 Afghanistans at once. We can easily afford to get closer to “richer” countries that offer completely free college—tuition, fees, housing, books, everything—economic dynamos like Turkey, Uruguay, Slovenia, Morocco, Malaysia, Brazil and Kenya.

            Medicare For All is as close as the senator from Vermont comes to pushing a radical agenda. But that’s only by narrow American standards. Compared to other countries, MFA would be a relatively modest affair. It wouldn’t come close to what the rest of the world expects government to supply in terms of healthcare. Like, I just got a mysterious surprise bill for $1,800. Description: “lab test.” What lab test? It was June. I don’t remember. And I’m insured.

            First, the cost: $34 trillion over 10 years. But Americans would have a net savings because healthcare costs here are even higher than that: $36 trillion over 10 years. Net savings: $2 trillion over 10 years. What Sanders does not talk about, and would need to be addressed, is how to deal with the insurance company employees who would be laid off. Job retraining would be needed for them as well as previously displaced workers.

            Denmark, Britain and Germany are among the countries that have systems more or less similar to MFA. No one is suggesting that their governments are “radical.”

            Finally, there’s the Green New Deal. Sanders wants to abolish fossil fuels in the U.S. within 10 years. He’d spend trillions to accomplish that. But consider the alternative: mass extinction. Not doing it is the wild-and-crazy option.

            To recap: love, hate or be indifferent to Bernie Sanders, that’s up to you. But moderates shouldn’t fear him because he’s a radical. Radicals shouldn’t love him because he’s one of us.

            He’s really not.

(Ted Rall (Twitter: @tedrall), the political cartoonist, columnist and graphic novelist, is the author of the forthcoming “Political Suicide: The Fight for the Soul of the Democratic Party.” You can support Ted’s hard-hitting political cartoons and columns and see his work first by sponsoring his work on Patreon.)

Bernie Should Own the Socialist Label

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            Bernie Sanders is currently the frontrunner for the Democratic presidential nomination. He and everyone else knows exactly how the Republicans will attack him if and when he becomes the nominee: old-fashioned redbaiting.

            China became communist in name only during the 1980s, the Soviet Union shut its doors in 1991, the Cold War is dead, and the 64% of Americans under age 50 have no memory of an actually-existing socialist regime. Yet Trump and the GOP have already broadcast their plans to hang the “democratic socialist” label around Bernie Sanders’ neck.

            Whether such archaic fear-mongering—against long-dead adversaries—will be effective even with elderly voters is anyone’s guess. Considering the fact that 40% of Americans consistently tell pollsters they prefer socialism or communism to capitalism, branding Bernie Sanders as a nefarious democratic socialist might have the unintended effect of bringing out people who don’t normally vote to support an ideology they’ve never had the chance to get behind before.

            On the other hand, only 76% of Democrats say they would vote for a socialist.

            One thing is for sure: the socialism thing will be Sanders’ biggest challenge. And so what? Every candidate enters the game with a handicap of some sort.

            Elizabeth Warren has acquired a reputation for deception and opportunism. Amy Klobuchar plays a mean girl on TV and behind closed doors. Pete Buttigieg is gay; only 78% of voters say they’d consider a gay candidate. He’s also inexperienced. Joe Biden appears to have been suffering from dementia for years.

            Political weaknesses are inevitable; what makes or breaks a candidacy is how his or her campaign chooses to address it. History’s answer is clear: take it on honestly, directly and credibly.

            Own your crap. Americans voters hate sneakiness and avoidance.

            Bernie has no one but himself to blame for this potential electoral albatross. As Paul Krugman of The New York Times points out, the independent senator from Vermont is not really a socialist: “He doesn’t want to nationalize our major industries and replace markets with central planning.” He is a New Deal Democrat indistinguishable from old liberal figures like Hubert Humphrey and George McGovern. The economic model Sanders wants to establish isn’t the USSR or even Yugoslavia, but the Scandinavian countries with their superior safety nets and enlightened penal systems. Capitalism as we know it would continue, albeit with reduced overall cruelty.

            Bernie is a social democrat, not a democratic socialist. For some unknown reason, however, he chose to label himself as a democratic socialist. “It’s mainly about personal branding,” Krugman speculates, “with a dash of glee at shocking the bourgeoisie. And this self-indulgence did no harm as long as he was just a senator from a very liberal state.”

            Now he’s going to have to explain himself and his beliefs to American voters who have been propagandized through education and the media to believe that socialism equals communism equals totalitarian dystopia.

            If he’s smart – and there’s no reason to believe that he and his staff are anything but—he will own the phrase and address those concerns head on.

During the 1960 campaign John F. Kennedy responded to worries about his Roman Catholicism that he might take orders from the pope in a speech that allowed anti-Catholic voters to take a chance on him. “I believe in an America where the separation of church and state is absolute, where no Catholic prelate would tell the president (should he be Catholic) how to act,” Kennedy said.

            Aware that he was going to run for president in a few years, Barack Obama discussed his drug use as a young man, specifically the fact that he had tried cocaine, in his memoir and in an interview published ahead of the race. By the time he ran in 2008, the coke thing was old news baked into the politics of the time.

            “Democratic socialism” is a pretty meaningless term. Which is not necessarily bad. Because it doesn’t define an existing party or ideology in the real world, Bernie can imprint his own definition upon his awkward tabula rasa.

            Like every crisis, this is an opportunity. Voters want to know what Bernie stands for. Their confusion about democratic socialism (confusion caused by Sanders’ weird word choices) is his chance to explain himself and his policies.

            The one thing he should not and cannot do is to shy away from the S word. No matter how much he protests, Republicans are going to call him a Marxist, a communist, a socialist and worse. So there’s no point in protesting. “Yes,“ he could say, “I am a socialist. A democratic socialist. A democratic socialist is a person who cares more about you as an ordinary American than about greedy billionaires and corporations who pollute your water and lay you off at the drop of a hat.”

            Nothing neutralizes an attack more effectively than to cop to it.

            If nothing else, even if he loses, Bernie can rehabilitate socialism as an acceptable economic alternative. In the long run, that would be a greater accomplishment than anything Sanders could accomplish in eight years as president.

(Ted Rall (Twitter: @tedrall), the political cartoonist, columnist and graphic novelist, is the author of the forthcoming “Political Suicide: The Fight for the Soul of the Democratic Party.” You can support Ted’s hard-hitting political cartoons and columns and see his work first by sponsoring his work on Patreon.)

About Me and My Mom

            My mom died last week. Her obituary is online. It is, as obits should be, about her. Too many women’s lives are contextualized around their roles as wives and mothers. So I kept myself, and our relationship, in the background.

            Now for a personal remembrance.

            Like all mothers and sons, we argued. A recurring conflict concerned religion. When my son was born I promised my mom to raise him Catholic. I figured that, like me, he would abandon the faith but move on with some useful ethical and cultural residue. I had him baptized. Which, according to the film “Warlock,” should protect him from getting eaten by Julian Sands.

            We didn’t attend mass, though. My mom badgered me about it. Finally, I admitted the truth: “I did intend to, but, with a newborn, a lazy morning over bagels and the Sunday Times is too precious to squander on getting dressed up to talk to someone who isn’t there.”

            A decade later she was bitterly ranting about my religious abstinence for the God-knows-what time when I snapped: “Come on, mom! You’re an intelligent person. You can’t possibly believe that some man in the sky controls everything.”

            “Of course not. God is a myth. I’m French. Being Catholic is about culture!” WTF?

            Fifty-plus years about God wants this, God hates people who, God wants you to pray blah blah, and it was propaganda all along! Conscious propaganda. She knew it was a lie. The funny part was that she thought she could guilt me into doing obedience. It never worked on me. Nor on her.

            It took my mom most of my life to realize that we were wired the same way. “Mom,” I said, “if you had made the cultural argument from the start I might have bought it.”

            She grimaced. Her eyes grew bigger. “Well, damn,” she smiled. She loved the life of the mind. Her true religions were ruthless criticism and logical rigor.

            We had fun.

            She retired, late, at 70. “You’re going to drop dead in front of your students” unless you quit, I warned. I should have shut up. She didn’t have a second act in her. She puttered around her small house, read, took lunch with friends and watched CNN and too much Fox News. I may be wrong; I worry that retirement set the stage for Alzheimer’s. The tons of artificial sweeteners she consumed didn’t help.

            I don’t do denial. I watched her box of medicines expand as she aged, believed her when she said she wouldn’t be around forever and determined to spend as much time with her as possible before she died. I tried to make her life bigger, to keep her intellectually challenged and connected.

            I called her at least daily. Our conversations typically included discussions of the day’s news. She enthused about the books she read well past any indication that I was interested; a side benefit of her death is that I will never again have to hear about Madame de Sévingné.

            Inevitably, she would wonder aloud about her failed marriage to my father. Why did he leave her? Why couldn’t he love her back? Would I be angry if she got back together with him? (No.) “Mom,” I’d repeat, “he remarried during the Nixon Administration. He’s still with her. He’s never coming back. Why don’t you find someone new?”

            “All the men are too old,” she’d say.

            “You’re old,” I’d point out.

            Silence. With my mom, no reply equaled grudging agreement.

            Upon arrival at her house, she’d motion me toward the sofa. “Sit down,” she ordered. She expressed exasperation at my whinging that I had just traveled 1,000 miles, needed to pee or wanted to shower or whatever. If she’d had her way we would have spent every waking hour of my visits to Dayton in her living room, staring at one another while she talked on and on.

            I rebelled. “From now on, whenever I come here, we have to travel somewhere by car,” I informed her. “Sitting in your living room is intolerable.”

            “OK,” she said. She respected when you put your foot down.

            We did.

            We went to the Kinsey Institute (surprisingly dull), Mark Twain’s hometown of Hannibal, Missouri, the bourbon trail in Kentucky, the bizarre domed hotel at French Lick, Indiana, countless house museums. Toward the end we wandered alone, just the two of us, through the hulking freezing shambles of the Mansfield Reformatory where they filmed “The Shawshank Redemption.” 

“I don’t like this,” she told me. “It feels like being dead.”

            Our last sortie before The Fall/The Home/The Dying was a year ago to the Biltmore Estate near Asheville, North Carolina. I rented a Dodge Charger because my mom liked fast cars that made a big noise but never owned one. We got it to 110 in Tennessee. “Not very impressive,” she said, eyes twinkling even as the Alzheimer’s stole more of her.

            No one was sharper than Yvonne Rall. Late in life she self-diagnosed after reading about Asperger’s syndrome; we agreed hers was a mild case. There was no need to confirm with an expert. Hers was the kind of smart that was simply always correct.

            She was a perfectionist. “That could have been a good cartoon,” she’d say. “Appliques-toi.” Apply yourself. Her house was meticulous.

            Nothing frustrated my mother more than laziness, whether physical or intellectual. Any problem could be solved; all that was lacking was gumption. On a trip to France she insisted on joining me on a mountain biking expedition. She kicked my butt. She was 65.

Bicycling in Dayton, age 80.

            She understood the awful callousness that feeds tolerance of injustice. When Bush began his drone assassination program, I predicted that American liberals would protest in the streets. “No they won’t,” she predicted. “No one cares about brown people.” Yet she couldn’t understand why rich people didn’t give their money to the poor.

            She wasn’t perfect. She spanked and slapped and whipped me with a belt (usually not with the buckle side) until I was 13 or 14 and surpassed her in height and informed her that I would kill her unless she stopped. I was serious. She stopped.

            I was sexually assaulted by a junior high school custodian; she didn’t believe me.

            After I moved away I worked hard to forgive her, she reciprocated by listening and owning her crap and really, actually changing, and we forged a close friendship. People heard me talking to her in fast-loud French and assumed we were fighting. No, we were spirited. My mom interrupted constantly. “I have so many thoughts in my head I need to get out and I’m afraid I’ll forget them,” she said. I shouted to slip a word in edgewise but I wasn’t angry. We laughed a lot.

            My values come from my mom. We live with infinite possibilities. We can make work rewarding and end wars and take care of one another. We just have to do the work.

            Yvonne Rall died, as the euphemism goes, from complications related to Alzheimer’s disease, on February 7, 2020. She was 84 years old.

            No one who knew her will meet anyone like her again.

(Ted Rall (Twitter: @tedrall), the political cartoonist, columnist and graphic novelist, is the author of “Francis: The People’s Pope.” You can support Ted’s hard-hitting political cartoons and columns and see his work first by sponsoring his work on Patreon.)

Yvonne Rall, Educator and Passionate Advocate of French, Dead at 84

            Yvonne Rall, a brilliant and demanding educator who left her mark on thousands of high school French students, died February 7th in Kettering, Ohio. The cause was complications from Alzheimer’s disease.

            She was 84.

            She was my mother.

            A native of France who arrived in the United States at age 25 in 1961, my mom became a memorable presence at Centerville High School near Dayton, Ohio for her stylish wardrobe, commanding presence—she was 5’9” with hazel eyes that could transition from a kind glint to piercing contempt in an instant—and passionate advocacy of French language and culture.

            During her tenure from 1973 to 2005 Rall initiated the school’s advanced-placement French program, began a French Honor Society and was named Teacher of the Year in 2001. She held a bachelor’s degree from Wright State University and a master’s from the University of Dayton, both in education.

            She was as feared as she was fondly remembered. Students recalled a sharp-tongued teacher who enforced a zero-tolerance policy toward slouching, laziness and the use of English in class. She was also kind. She arrived early and worked late each day in order to tutor students who needed extra help. She inspired several of her students to become French teachers.          

            Née Yvonne Touzet in Mugron in the southwest department of Landes, she was born on May 3, 1935 to Charles Touzet, an orphan, merchant mariner and fisherman who suffered from alcoholism and had trouble holding a job, and Marie Le Corre, her mother. Marie apprenticed to wash and fold the distinctive bigoudène lace headdress of Brittany but that work dried up after a government campaign to unify the country by eradicating expressions of Breton, Basque and Provençal culture.

            Born at the height of the global Great Depression, Yvonne’s childhood was defined by abuse, poverty and deprivation. “My parents repeatedly told me I was an accident and that they didn’t want me,” she told me. Weeks after her fifth birthday, Germany invaded France. As the army disintegrated and the government crumbled before the Nazi advance, Marie dispatched Yvonne and her older sister Janine to the town well to fetch water for the stream of refugees now called l’éxode. “They passed by our house for months,” she recalled. “No one said a word.”

            World War II was traumatic. Touzet’s second-grade teacher, accused of resistance activity, was executed by a Gestapo firing squad in the school courtyard as she and her classmates were forced to watch. A member of the Communist Party, her father joined the Resistance. His long absences left the family without a breadwinner. German authorities targeted the family members of the maquis for reprisals, which forced the Touzets to move from town to town in the Vichy-administered “free zone.” Seeking work meant exposure to arrest. Hunger was constant. Her 1943 Christmas present was an egg.

            On a hot day in July 1944 Yvonne found herself alone in a village main square when she noticed a cloud of dust on the horizon. As a column of vehicles drew closer she saw that the lead tank carried an American flag. To alert the townspeople that liberation had arrived she raced into the village church. Forty years later a resident recognized her: “You’re the girl who rang the bell!”

            “I fell in love with America that day,” she said.

            A voracious reader—she loved history, politics and anthropology—blessed with a steel-trap memory, she drew on her encyclopedic power of recall and curiosity to rise to the top of her classes. But the French economy remained hobbled during the postwar years. She couldn’t afford to attend college.

            She moved to Paris in search of work. At age 25 in 1960 she landed at NATO headquarters as an office worker. There she met her future husband, Fred Rall, Jr. A bright aeronautical engineer who has been called “the father of the modern Air Force,” Rall was on assignment as an officer. The two were married in Chicago in 1961. They lived in Cambridge, Massachusetts while he studied at MIT before moving to Kettering, Ohio after he was reassigned to Wright-Patterson air force base. She worked as a homemaker and, after I was born in 1963, as a mother.

            My parents were a poor match. Like many men of his generation, Fred was a dry, laconic workaholic and political conservative who viewed his wife as subservient. Urbane, charismatic and witty, Yvonne did not believe in limits when it came to the American Dream. She described Fred as cold and authoritarian. After Fred expressed approval upon learning of the assassination of President John F. Kennedy, the marriage disintegrated. The couple separated in 1965 and divorced in 1968.

            In divorce negotiations my mom traded away alimony in exchange for college tuition. Active in social-justice movements, she protested the Vietnam War and marched for women’s and gay rights. She volunteered for Democratic campaigns. She chose the teaching profession because the workday ended at 3 p.m. so she could be home when I came home from school. She became a leader of her teacher’s union.

            She became a U.S. citizen during the 1976 Bicentennial celebrations. In addition to teaching, she was a published poet and paid translator.

            Always unorthodox, she engaged with citizenship in her own way.

            A devout Roman Catholic and opponent of abortion, she nevertheless supported Roe v. Wade. “It’s not the government’s business,” she said. She worked for the release from prison of a teenager who murdered her child after concealing her pregnancy and secretly delivering it.

            Sitting on a jury for the trial of a young man charged with selling drugs and assaulting the police officers who arrested him, she pointed out to fellow jurors that the cops were each twice the defendant’s size. “It was ridiculous,” she said, “the assault charges were just not credible.” Hers was the lone vote to acquit. She refused to change her mind. He walked.

            After the man was released she asked his lawyer to arrange a meeting. “You’ll never get another juror like me,” she warned him. “Next time it will be a bunch of white Republican racists. So straighten up.”

            My mother’s struggle with Alzheimer’s was the subject of a National Public Radio profile in 2019. She lived independently, as she preferred, until the last year of her life, when she suffered serious injuries from a fall.

            Yvonne Rall is survived by her son, the political cartoonist and writer Ted Rall and her grandson, Erick Rall. She never remarried.

            Donations may be made in Yvonne Rall’s name to The Montgomery County Drug-Free Coalition, an organization fighting the opioid crisis in Dayton or, alternatively, to the Bernie Sanders for President campaign, which she supported.

(Ted Rall (Twitter: @tedrall), the political cartoonist, columnist and graphic novelist, is the author of “Francis: The People’s Pope.” You can support Ted’s hard-hitting political cartoons and columns and see his work first by sponsoring his work on Patreon.)