What Coronavirus Teaches US

Coronavirus or COVID-19 is teaching us some lessons that have nothing to do with health and, at the same time, everything to do with health, and survival, and how we may have to conduct our lives on Planet Earth. I believe we can say that the lines that separate nations on our maps are not barriers to some invaders, like diseases, viruses, toxins perhaps. Particles that move through the air have no boundaries. They know nothing of nations, barricades, or even walls. Even biosphere-style bubbles with filtered air might not do the trick.

So I think that what we see happening with COVID-19 incontrovertibly contradicts Trump’s America First view of the world. Clearly it is impossible to see the world as anything other than global. Everything is interconnected. Someone eats a rare animal in China and now we are all deep in the midst of a pandemic. This disease does not seem to affect the young and the healthy very seriously. It affects those who have health problems, weak immune systems, or all of the above especially in seniors who are most at risk. So this might just be a “cull the herd” virus, not the apocalyptic virus it could have been. Yet. But with 9 billion people on the planet by 2050, apocalypse does not seem far away and many have already intimated that a pandemic might be the cause.

We need to think about the earth the way eagles do, the way even ordinary birds do, not as separate nations but, for the sake of order and safety, as one unit – land, water and air – all one continuous geographical unit, therefore requiring global oversight of some kind. This does not have to signal the end of nations and separate governments. We just obviously need more global cooperation and less global competition. From here on out we all rise together or we all fall together. But we will not heed this warning. We will not take this opportunity to tackle global issues globally. Humans know how to cooperate, as we can see people doing right now in trying to lessen the effects of this virus. But we are also ambitious and we are set up to celebrate individual successes; we like power and autonomy, and we can work in teams but it requires an entire library of books to help us learn how to do it successfully. Even with survival at stake, unless disaster is barreling at us in the tangible form of a tiny bug or a giant asteroid, the threat is too abstract to inspire us to coalesce.

Another lesson that this virus is teaching us is that societies must be healthy in more than one way. Our 45, always focuses on the economy, on money, on keeping wealthy people happy so that they will fund American hegemony and keep people employed. Only employed people matter. If you have mental issues or physical issues which prevent you from finding employment some Americans seem to believe that you are just faking your disabilities; with proper training you could find some kind of job.

After I retired I worked for several years in a temp job with a blind woman. She had been born blind and had trouble perceiving spatial relationships. A job had to be specially designed and matched to her skills. Since the job was very visual, an auditory and braille approach had to be devised. When the company changed procedures, this woman lost her job because designing a whole new system she could participate in was too difficult. Not everyone can work. And of course there are people who would do anything to avoid a 9-5 job.

But Trump and the Republicans do not believe in giving away money, even if depriving our poorest citizens will doom those of us who work to infections and viruses. Democrats and Republicans designed a bipartisan bill to help some hourly employees, employees at small businesses and others who will not be able to survive with our businesses all closed down, but some Republicans are already requiring limitations on who can receive help and who won’t qualify. This means that we will not lift up those who need help the most because Mitch McConnell has determined that they do not deserve it. He cannot get it through his senile brain that we are all interconnected; that the fate of people who work rests on what happens to the poorest among us. This virus shows us why conservative economics is nonsense. This virus shows us that with so many people on the earth focusing only on one area of a society does not constitute adequate governance.

Trump worries about the stock market and tries to get the Fed of adjust something that can only be adjusted by tackling the real problem, the fallout from a pandemic, which is in no way contained to just the health care industry, but is affecting every aspect of our society. This lesson is that not only is Social Darwinism mean, and not only will the poor be affected, but social benefits offer advantages to the wealthy as well as the poor. We are all interconnected.

We are also learning that small government is a bunch of hooey. How are we doing in a pandemic with reluctant federal leadership and each state calling the shots for what happens within its own boundaries? Part of this is due to a President who cannot accept that anything might be beyond his control, who tried to spin the facts he was hearing from his medical advisors, tried to spin the virus right out of existence. And why did he spin it? Apparently the virus only bothered him because it was tanking the stock market. He could not imagine that taking care of everyone’s health could be the only way to shore up the markets.

When Trump speaks to the nation lately it is as if he has been possessed by an alien, like the one in Independence Day who takes control over the Professor’s vocal chords. Governors are leading, but not all governors are created equal and not all states have equal access to resources. In this health crisis we are seeing why small government does not function well when populations are large. We rely on our federal government for stability and calm and intelligent solutions at all times, but especially in times of crisis. We are not even close to having that. So pass that financial package without any limitations and be prepared to write an even better one soon. America is taking a long break from consumerism. What will that teach us?

Photo Credit: From a Google Image Search – Miami University



Social Darwinism and Overweening Egos

There are things the current incarnation of the GOP believes. They believe that social programs have been bad for the people at the bottom of the heap, robbing them of incentive to claw their way up the ladder. A lingering reptilian part of our brain is trying to whisper to us that this is a reasonable idea to explain why some people need government assistance for most of their lives. But the part of our brain that contains actual knowledge of history and intelligence to reach back and see if this is true tells us that this line of argument is wrong. This is Social Darwinism. Trump didn’t think John McCain was a hero because he got captured. Well the Social Darwinists (which apparently includes all of the GOP and their base) don’t think the less fortunate among us are worthy of any assistance because they are losers. They do not want to spend their millions and billions on losers. Let them survive or die. The fittest among them will survive. A few may even achieve greatness.

If you do some reading about the days before governments tried to “even the playing field” or at least put a livable bottom on our societies you will find that life without supports was very rough and hard scrabble indeed for those who were poor. But leaving poor people on their own without offering opportunities to legally improve their lives had consequences for everyone. Bandits roamed freely making travel difficult. Hygiene suffered when there were no funds to pay for infrastructure and when hygiene goes out the window, germs come in. So we know that plagues and diseases usually took root in poorer districts first and worked their way up. People who had to support families but had no skills turned to every type of crime and scam to make their meager way in the world. No country became great without some way to lift up those who were without honest resources.

The GOP points to the 1890’s, the midpoint of the era of the Robber Barons, when fortunes were made and regulation was pretty much nonexistent. They want to create this wild-west economy again. Throw out all regulations, disregard the end-of-the-world nuts who say that without regulation the world’s climate zones will change in ways that we may not be able to adapt to, and we may face the same extinction many animals face today. Nonsense the GOP says. The world’s climate changes all the time and nothing humans do can affect that it any way. So they are willing to bet on this even though all of the evidence stands against them and even though they are betting the futures of many folks who don’t agree with them. But they say, if we reset to a time when people were left to their own devices without government interference we might see the same burst of innovative energy that we saw at the beginning of the Industrial Age. To many of us this seems like an enormous gamble to take and they plan to take us all along for the ride.

They interpret the meaning of our forefathers when they said that all men are created equal differently from those of us who think that means that we are all equally human and that a government that is of the people and by the people and for the people is not a government for only rich people. Some of us believe that in order to keep our democracy great we must try to give everyone in our society an opportunity to succeed and at least a minimum standard of living to maintain health and order in our society. Offering social programs is not a totally altruistic endeavor. It is a survival mechanism besides offering spiritual rewards to all.

The GOP however does not assume that the forefathers were saying that all humans deserve to be equal regardless of their talents or the accidents of their birth (fortunate or unfortunate). They say this phrase means that although we may start out as equals it is how we make use of our opportunities that causes us to thrive or fail. The logic that they offer us is pretty self-serving. They feel that everyone can fight and struggle his/her way to the top given enough grit. No grit, no gold.

So under the cover of the “orange one” they are “deconstructing” Washington, enacting their brand of Federalism which sticks strictly to the Constitutions which says that any rights not given to the Federal government belong to the states. The Federal role is only to deal with foreign powers, to fund, maintain and employ the military, and to make a Federal budget. They have no worries comparing America with a population of 3 million to America with a population of 324 million. They have no worries that our forefathers decided not to go with a strict interpretation of the states’ rights versus federal rights. In fact, in 1890 the population in America was 5 times less than it is today but the GOP believes that the math does not matter. We are a republic, which means that our democracy is a constitutional democracy and we have wandered too far from what our forefathers intended.

Two of the strongest proponents of this view are Paul Ryan and Ted Cruz and, right now, they are the overweening egos of which I speak. Both of these men are well-educated and quite comfortably well-off. Both are ambitious and, I assume, sincerely want to fix America. But one is enamored of a thinker from the 1930’s and the other is the son of a man we took in as a political refugee, a man who has preached fire and brimstone and hate and racism all across the American South (like father, like son). We can see the Paul Ryan/Ted Cruz ideology in their stand on health care in America. Both are of the Social Darwinist wing of the Party. They want to put health care back on the free market and those who can afford it will buy it and those who can’t will get no health care at all. See if that doesn’t make “them” strive to move up the ladder of opportunity (which had just been pulled up into the attic, for the most part unreachable by any of the lowly).

Ted Cruz said recently that he does not back the American Health Care Act because it is just Obamacare Lite. He is holding out for Ryan Care, the free market. We the wealthy don’t wanna’ pay for any more health care handouts. Buy or die. And, he now is offering a way to get this done, right quickly. Here’s the title of the article that tells what Ted Cruz is up to now,

Senator Cruz Found an Overlooked 1974 Rule That Could Be a Real Game-changer for Repealing Obamacare



Of course he did, after all he prides himself on being a whiz (or a genius) at Constitutional Law.

“Among the disappointed is Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX), who now says he’s found a decades-old rule that he hopes will allow Republicans to pass a more thorough, far-reaching health care reform bill.

However, Cruz’s strategy — which would leverage the power Vice President Mike Pence has as president of the Senate — “might blow up the Senate too,” Bloomberg Politics notes.”

“These special rules hinge on what is known as “reconciliation,” a process which allows legislation that affects the budget but has a limited scope to be passed with only a simple Senate majority, leaving such bills immune to filibuster.

Traditionally, it has fallen to the parliamentarian — who advises the Senate “on the interpretation of its rules and procedures” — to determine what should and should not be considered a reconciliation bill.”

“Under the Budget Act of 1974, which is what governs reconciliation, it is the presiding officer, the vice president of the United States, who rules on what’s permissible on reconciliation and what is not.

That’s a conversation I’ve been having with a number of my colleagues.”

“Still, it remains to be seen whether or not Cruz’s colleagues will be eager to employ the senator’s “radical” interpretation of the rule. Being similar to 2013’s filibuster reform, it runs the risk of “fundamentally altering the way Congress works.”

In terms of fellow Republicans eager to see a more thorough replacement of Obamacare, however, Cruz certainly has plenty of allies.”


So while those who disagree with Social Darwinism fight to keep the ACA we are up against a new “nuclear” option, as if a Party that controls all branches of our government has any need to employ nukes. It is difficult not to feel that we are helpless to turn back the tide of backwardness now that it has been given sway over the business of our nation. I, for one, already believe that the GOP way is not good for our nation and I am sorry that we seem to have to go “there” to find out and that we may never find our way back. The tides of political thought in the world seem to have turned against government of the people, by the people and for the people.


Can the Relentless Paul Ryan Budget Machine Be Shut Off?

How much longer do we have to pay heed to
this twisted social nonsense that passes for Republican policy? There is
nothing; no scientific evidence, no precedent from history to back up their
constant claim that poverty is self-perpetuating when there is a social safety
net (except a few remarks by Bill Cosby). They insist that poor people will not lift themselves out of poverty
unless they experience daily the miseries of that state. The logic goes that given just enough
money to keep heads above water the poor will be happy to remain buried up to
their necks treading water forever.

Paul Ryan says that there are 100 programs
designed to help those Americans who live in poverty and he says that these
programs are designed to lift the poor out of poverty. The first claim is true
because they do keep people from the worst aspects of poverty; the second goal,
to lift these people out of poverty, was never a part of most of these
programs, at least not in the short term. He says these programs don’t work and
they have become a “poverty trap”. This, we must remember, is Paul Ryan’s theory,
not an argument proven by any body of facts. In fact, there are centuries of
examples of societies without safety nets and we do not find any marked levels
of social fluidity in those societies. Life for the poor in those centuries was
harsh and often deadly; life expectancies were very low for the poor in those
culture. The poor were relegated to lives of misery before the advent of modern
programs designed to keep them above that misery level. We have managed to keep
those misery levels low and life expectancies high for even poor Americans. If
we have some people locked in poverty it is because we have not done enough or
our programs have been incorrectly targeted or we need to be more nimble about
changing our social programs to match social needs as they morph and change.

I can’t believe Paul Ryan has the nerve,
after meeting the American people in person, to present us with the same budget
cuts and the same foundationless rationale for these budget cuts once again.
Cutting poor people loose to sink or swim on their own will only send more
wealth to those who are already wealthy and make the gap between the rich and
the poor even greater. But it will provide the wealthy with that third world
work force they dream about – a work force that will accept any pay employers
offer no matter how low they go. Providing safety net programs that make it
possible for poor people to choose work, such as transportation stipends, child
care, family leave time, and on-the-job training, and retiring unsuccessful programs,
programs that don’t meet current needs or programs that don’t get results would
be far more appropriate than leaving the poor with no safety net. We must have
gained wisdom in these matters over the past decades since social programs
began and we perhaps could do a better job of applying this wisdom to engineer
effective programs in the future.

Of course, the Republicans have brought
the United States government to a screeching halt until we have a new election,
so we cannot rework any of our social programs, or accomplish anything that is
not part of the GOP agenda. Still, I can’t believe that we have to keep
speaking to this. Do most Americans agree with Paul Ryan? Do we have data on
this? And if they do is it just because they have been programmed to think it
by Conservative radio?

And why do we have to hear over and over
that married couples fare better economically than single parents. We cannot
coerce people to get married. We have tried offering financial incentives to
encourage marriage in the past and any positive effects were fairly
short-lived. This is like saying that eating ice cream increases in summer and
drowning increases in summer so eating ice cream causes drowning. Although
marriage looks like it correlates highly with keeping a family out of poverty
we have to look for other factors that lead to financial solvency because
we can’t force people to get married or punish them for not getting married. We
have to accept where our demographics are and find ways to help single people
earn a living wage while giving them the supportive services they need to keep

Can’t we set this social Darwinism aside
once and for all? There is no way that anyone can offer satisfactory proof that
our safety net is causing entrenched poverty. Find a new way to justify cutting
taxes for the wealthy. We are the people and we do not want anyone to get rid
of the minimum wage in America, because we know what will happen in that case.
We want a safety net that keeps the poor from abject misery, we want a raise in
the minimum wage, and we want Paul Ryan and the GOP to find a new tune to sing.
This one is interfering with our sleep and our peace of mind.
There is a way. We need to elect Democrats for the foreseeable future.

This is the view from the cheap seats.
By Nancy Brisson
This blog post is also available at http://brissioni.com/

No Scientific Evidence Favors Social Darwinism

There is no scientific evidence that proves that social
Darwinism does anything to lift up the people at the bottom. The only evidence
I know of that suggests that a government social safety net robs the citizens
of a given society of initiative and keeps these citizen on the bottom comes
from a theory described in a fiction book read by sophomores, (The Fountainhead by Ayn Rand) which is
being construed as proof and offered up as such by Paul Ryan and the Republican
party and by some wealthy Americans (who don’t even accept Darwin’s theories).
Although I like fiction and I do feel that it often explores philosophical themes
and points of view, fiction is not usually mistaken for science. I not sure
that there is even any evidence from the social sciences, which explore issues
with too many variables to be classified as pure science, to suggest that
offering supportive services to the poor keeps them from climbing the
socio-economic ladder.

We already know what the world was like when the poor had
no safety net beyond the kindness of strangers. The poor had little or nothing
to fall back on for centuries. Did it make them more innovative? Did it give
them incentive to become entrepreneurs?

In most accounts I have read poor people often turned to
crime to pay their way; petty theft, picking pockets, robbing homes or rich
people. Some starving people stole bread or food. People could be sent to
prison for stealing bread. There’s a whole classic novel about this social
trend too (Les Miserables by Victor Hugo). Is it possible that some people rose
above their abject beginnings and moved their families slowly up that
socio-economic ladder? Of course it happened, but not reliably.

Is it possible that people who know they can rely on their
government for money, income and/or food, etc. will hug the bottom of the
socio-economic ladder because they are basically lazy, or the assistance has
robbed them of their pride and their fighting spirit? I suppose it is, after
all, there are all kinds of people. I suspect, though, that even with
government assistance, life at the bottom is not all that appealing. Do we
think that most people will lose all ambition if they have enough free money to
survive, even though their survival level is way less comfortable than that of
others in the society? Do we think these are the same people who would rise to
the top if they weren’t given “free” money? Spending even more money and
putting it into a really effective educational system that meets the needs of
the poor would seem more effective than taking away money that is keeping
people from lives filled with hopelessness.

Isn’t it quite possible that rich folks are using this
theory taken from the pages of a fiction book because they feel burdened by
increasing numbers of poor folks at the bottom of our culture, even though it
this very culture which has skewed its financials to favor these rich folks for
so long that they are able to convince themselves that they earned all their
wealth with no help from the laws of our nation or from those same people who
used to work in their factories and who are now unemployed. The burden of the
poor has gotten heavier since the recession but the taxes on those who “have”
have only been raised once. The poverty at the bottom of America is dragging
the federal budget down into greater and greater debt because the wealthy
refuse to pay more and because they want the federal government to fail. They
still are trying to convince us that if we are kind to the people at the top of
the ladder they will shed crumbs that can be collected by those at the bottom
of the ladder and that these crumbs, wisely used, can bring those at the bottom
closer to the top (this is trickle down which has never worked – there have
always been poor people – this is also a theory that cannot be proven

I just don’t buy this self-serving, untested theory; this
theory which flies in the face of centuries of proof that the opposite is true.
In a system with no social safety net the poor stay poor and the effects on the
society as a whole are more negative than in societies with a social safety
net. We may reach a point where we actually have to pay people not to work in
the same way we pay people not to farm. There seem to be plenty of goods and
services around even given the number of adults who are not working. I just do
not see any evidence that getting rid of or drastically cutting back on the
social safety net will benefit either society or the poor.

Saying something over and over does not in any way
constitute proof that what is being said is true especially when this idea
comes from the pages of a book of fiction.


This is the view from the cheap seats.

This blog post is also available at www.brissioni.com