Troubling Times

From a Google Image Search – the intelligencer

Here are our heroes – those who had to play an active role in our national coronavirus emergency. These pictures are imprinted in our brains – the ICU videos with all the signs of the catastrophic struggles to save lives – the rows of beds, the crowd of medical staff around one patient, the worried expressions in their eyes (which are all we can see of their faces) the packages of opened medical devices scattered across the patient, the coded conversations that determine the next steps to stabilize just this one person – a single Latinate word, a lifted eyebrow, a request that sends one of the team off in search of a new medicine, or a piece of equipment. The drama of the moment is gripping even to us, the spectators. It is a drama that has been repeated thousands of times in the past month and a half. It is a drama that continues, although, as the cases decrease, the intensity diminishes.

There are the canyons of our biggest cities echoing with the applause of those of us who must stay home – whose only heroic action is inaction. There are the recovered, applauded by those who labored to save them.

There are the demonstrators. They have had enough of sickness. They feel that they are killing their prosperity out of respect for people who don’t deserve the gesture; the old, the sick, the immigrant, darker-skinned Americans. After all, not all Americans are at equal risk. As the numbers reveal what we knew all along, that COVID19 was killing the old and the less wealthy masses. Youth, and American youth lasts a long time, demands a return to work. The demonstrators are overwhelmingly white. Whiteness lasts a lifetime. These demonstrators who demand to work are not the minimum wage workers who have had to keep putting themselves at risk in jobs considered essential, without the personal protection of masks and gloves or even social distancing (which is free). They labor at low wage jobs in grocery stores, pharmacies, warehouses, trucking firms, fast food restaurants, meat processing plants, burying the dead. They don’t choose to work; they are required to work.

These demonstrators can’t be those workers – they would have to be at work. Some of these demonstrators seem older – perhaps they just want to party and travel, get their massages, their facials, their hairdos. Some look like they may own a small business. Perhaps they would not be demonstrating if the government aid had been more forthcoming. 

But it is the tattooed, bearded, muscle-shirted guys with stony, intimidating faces, and long guns that contrast so jarringly with those whose heroic actions have allowed our nation to control and suppress this killer disease. It is, this time, Americans who do not resist, who do not demonstrate, who stay home and keep their distance, who give up their pleasures for the greater good; these are the Americans who have kept America from turning into a charnel house.

As an American who watches America from the cheap seats and tries to decide what keeps American democracy alive and what forces seem bent on destroying our republic, I have to come down on the side of the heroes, the everyday heroes. What do those with long guns expect America to do – knuckle under to a posse of citizens dressed up like outlaws, purposely using intimidation to get their way, placing America between a rock and a hard place – if the virus don’t get you the bullets will. They can’t think to beat a virus with a gun, so it is the government that must bow down to them. Then we won’t have a government; we’ll have anarchy with mob rule. 

And, because we don’t want a confrontation, it looks from where I sit, as if intimidation is working, although these scary folks chose a moment when the country was almost ready to reopen anyway. Long gun-vigilante-style is working better than the more peaceful demonstrations of other disobedient unarmed citizens. In these days when we have been trying to avoid becoming an authoritarian nation, have been trying to avoid becoming a nation split in two and headed for a second civil war – I am just not sure how people keep these two Americas in mind and still trust that America is one nation, with a singular and unified vision. Why do some Americans feel the need to threaten other Americans with long guns and why does the President of our nation encourage their intimidations? Will they become Trump’s army in 2020? Will the South rise again? And if it does God help our heroes, and all of us. I did not think our Grand Experiment would come to this and I still think it can be saved. Our founders said, “we give you a republic, if you can keep it.” I want to keep it. How about you?

Our Coronavirus Situation: A Recap and Some Speculation

Reboot -From a Google Image Search – World Science Festival

On the one hand we have the virus, a very nasty bug, almost the pandemic we have worried about for so long, but probably not the pandemic to end all pandemics. This virus got away from us. It was not isolated and squashed as happened with Zika and Ebola, Mers, Sars and H1N1. Perhaps it was able to infect many people who showed no symptoms and this helped it become more prevalent. The response of our Federal government and the President, who insists that he is all-powerful, clearly played an enormous role in the path of destruction that the novel coronavirus has cut through America. Although it affected every country more or less, President Trump had more advance warning than most other nations. 

We had already dealt with several potential pandemics and there were structures designed to deal with any microbial disaster that might arise. But these structures were dismantled. Some of the conditions that favor oddball viruses and microbes seem to have arisen because we live in a more global world where people without immunities are exposed to germs or bugs they would rarely have met up with before travel became so popular, and before so many consumers were so flush with money to spend abroad. There is also evidence to suggest that lab research on infectious diseases may have run amuck and several oops-moments may have loosed these tough invaders on an unsuspecting world. 

Of course the Federal government could not be to blame for the disease even if a lab accident caused it. But what the Federal government does get the blame for is botching the treatment of the disease. Getting this government to move at all was difficult at first because a President focused on the economy could see the ruin ahead and he thought denial and just bulling his way through might serve. When that assumption proved to be incorrect and the disease took over the news cycle you would think the President would have switched gears and pitched in to help in whatever ways he (in his infinite power) could. But it was like he was operating in a time warp which made him always out of sync with the facts on the ground. Denial works for small government crises which are often protected by real or imagined national security concerns, but you cannot deny an epidemic this widespread. Our leader did try though and his refusal to accept reality most likely made the effects of the virus worse.

On the other hand we have the economy. America cannot remain closed, even though it is not completely closed. The entire American economy is based on sellers and buyers, in other words, Capitalism. Now that the discussion about opening things up has begun to reach critical mass it is only a matter of time before we are operating full-tilt once again. Because this virus is not conquered, life will, most likely, still be strange. How many businesses will come back? Will cities be full of boarded up shops of bankrupted businesses? The coronavirus seems to be mutating with the new attacks on younger people and the strokes and the blood clots. Will that trend continue? We seem close to a vaccine which would solve many immediate problems but much could happen before we have a reliable vaccine. 

There are many speculations. Will the virus dictate the changes in our economy? Will we use this moment of a pause in commerce, which may never happen again, to contemplate a different path for the future? Would it be possible to choose a sort of Capitalism Lite, and keep some of this time for families? I know families are under pressure from too much enforced proximity, but I can’t help thinking that parents and children will wish for some of this time back if the normal rat race returns; running to work, picking children up from afterschool activities, dropping them off at clubs, lessons, play dates, racing through the days. Do we have any control at all over what economy we get or is all that in the hands of the top 1% or even the top 10%? 

Paul Krugman in the NYT says we will never pay off this deficit and we don’t need to. I found that comforting, although no Conservative will ever agree with it. They will begin to talk of cuts because of the deficit any minute now. For all their love of Capitalism they do not understand it. Healthy Capitalism does not work without buyers. Buyers cannot buy without income, money. If you starve all your buyers, all your consumers, will the 10% at the top generate enough consumption to keep Capitalism booming? If we could design the reboot of the economy what would it look like? If we don’t design it what will we get? Can we get off the ride, slow the roll given the current wins Capitalism has experienced; all the regulations undone, all the environmental protections thrown on the rising heaps of global garbage? The people who want to reopen, who insist that we just go, open the faucet all the way, are unlikely to accept anything that slows down the return of the old economy. They would be happy if it was raging tomorrow. If we can’t ease into a calmer economy, an economy that offers room for leisure (Conservative anathema) then will this virus come roaring back and force the issue? So many things we do not know, cannot answer.

Articles talk about changes already occurring in the environment, even from this short reprieve. Animals are wandering into spaces temporarily abandoned by humans. Smog and dirty air, unbreathable air, has disappeared over manufacturing centers. Crowded nations have had time to clean streets and let the works of man shine. Although if the works of man shine for no one, who is there to appreciate them. People do need to return to this equation, but will we have a new respect for our surroundings? This is a time of grief and loss, and it is  also a time of opportunity. I think it is an opportunity we will miss because the drumbeat of commerce is the most insistent music of our times and the most powerful, the wealthiest, will not allow us time to lick our wounds and think our thoughts and see our way through to a new day. It will be a shame to waste the sorrowful lessons of these tiny organisms who would not mind surviving even as they the kill their hosts. How can so many big brains be so clueless?

American Children Need Computers

From a Google image Search: Getty Image via Vox

We have many students in America who live in poor neighborhoods and do not have access to broadband, or even dial-up, and they do not have laptops. It is also a fact that their parent/s most likely still have to go out to work every day. Who is able to homeschool these children? Fortunately the child in this photo is not one of these children who cannot do assignments on their computers because they don’t have any, or whose parent has to come home from a long day at work and patiently homeschool their child. But not having access to a computer is a situation that puts already at-risk kids at even greater risk of growing up without an adequate education. It further limits the opportunities of those whose life options we have historically limited (to our shame.) 

We have found ways to hook people up with cheap and practically indestructible computers and satellite internet connections in Sub Saharan Africa. Why doesn’t every American child have access to a computer and to the internet in the time of novel coronavirus when all schools are closed and there is only one way to access schoolwork? Perhaps teachers in inner city and rural schools have, once again, gone over and beyond to deliver and collect worksheets and assignments in books. I have not seen any stories on the news about this. Today I finally saw Stephanie Ruhle cover this on MSNBC.

I wrote my representatives in NYS and in Federal government about this several weeks ago but they are not really in session and are very busy trying to plug up holes in the economy. Big brush items are so important now that they are pushing aside the smaller issues. But I do not want to see another generation of children have to struggle against their more-well-to-do contemporaries to provide a good life for themselves and the children they will have one day. When you short change our poorest children who we already punish for their skin pigmentation, or their immigration status, the damage is generational. We could and should solve these particular inequalities right here and now. Even if losing a year of school will be difficult to remediate the effort must be made. I am hoping one of our philanthropic billionaires will take this on as a project and keep working at it until no child in America is without a computer and the knowledge of how to use it.

What Coronavirus Teaches US

From a Google Image Search – Miami University

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 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?