Category Archives: social safety net

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 scientifically).

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

 

The Social Safety Net Guilt Trip Debunked

 


 
 

A friend posted this very interesting chart on my Facebook page and I thought I would pass it along. When I read the name of the blogger, who was my friend’s source, I got a bit worried about the provenance, but if you look at the small print you will see two sources that readers are more likely to trust. I found this information quite interesting because it is another strong argument for keeping the safety net, and it is not a moral or philosophical or even a sociological argument; it is an empirical argument, an argument based on numbers, which always seems to trump every other kind of argument.

 

Responsive Reading with Refrain

The Republicans have become “experts” in so many areas lately. They are “experts” about health care and “experts” about computers, “experts” about what will and won’t help rid America of mass shootings, “experts” on the economy and how much debt America can deal with and how much the budget needs to be cut. They are “experts” on what our foreign policy should be and on how big and well-equipped our military should be. They must be “experts” on all of these things because they believe that every decision President Obama wants to make in these areas is wrong and because they share their expertise with us constantly whether we want to hear it or not. They are also, apparently, “expert” scientists who are not afraid to scoff at the science which says that climate change is real; and they are “experts” in morality who will swear that they know that abortion is wrong for every single woman on the planet, that they know when life begins, and that they believe birth control means millions of tiny abortions.

Lately, and problematically, they also believe they are “experts” on what will help the poorest people in our society, the disabled, and even seniors find their way up out of the “muck” of government support which, like quicksand, keeps sucking them back to the bottom. They believe people are staying poor, disabled and old on purpose and that they will continue to do so as long as the government gives them financial assistance or subsidies. They believe our government can no longer afford to offer support to those in need or those who have earned their retirement (and who thought they had paid for their retirement).  Forget that corporations and farmers have been receiving subsidies for years because in this one way corporations are not like people. Government support doesn’t make businesses dependent on government largess according to that know-it-all party, the GOP, which does not favor cuts to corporations or farmers.

I sort of feel that we need to offer the Republicans a little exercise in responsive reading, because as such great Christians, this is surely a format they are used to.

Let’s talk about Welfare:

During the Great Depression in the 1930’s a program was created called Aid to Families with
Dependent Children (AFDC). In 1996 the Congress passed the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act which gave each state a flat rate to spend based on population with the proviso that the state would keep its funds by making sure recipients were preparing for employment or were actually employed. By 2011 America was experiencing the highest poverty rate since the end of the Great Depression – over 15.1%. The GOP wants to end or severely cut welfare.

RESPONSE:  (everyone) CONGRESS, YOU ACT LIKE IT’S YOUR MONEY YOU ARE SPENDING. IT’S NOT YOUR MONEY – IT’S THE PEOPLE’S MONEY!

Let’s talk about Social Security:

Social Security began in a limited form in the 1930’s (the Great Depression) as social insurance because the poverty rates among seniors exceeded 50%. The Social Security Act was enacted on August 14, 1935 when FDR was in his first term. He was the first president to advocate federal assistance for the elderly. Programs like Title I for assistance to aged individuals, Title III for unemployment insurance, Title IV for the AFDC, Title V for Maternal and Child Welfare, Title VI for public health services and Title X for the blind were included in the same act. In 1937 the Social Security Trust Fund was created and benefits were provided to wives, elderly widows and dependent survivors. The FICA tax was legislated in 1939. The retirement age and the amount of the FICA tax rate have changed several times since 1961. Payments amounts to recipients have also been adjusted a number of times. In 1972 amendments established Supplemental Security Income (SSI) which is not a Social Security benefit but a welfare program, because elderly and disabled poor are entitled to SSI regardless of work history. Amendments continue to be made to Social Security. This is a very brief summary and leaves out all kinds of difficult to follow machinations by Congresses over the past 7–8 decades. Our government now tells us that Social Security is going broke. They say they want to save Social Security but the GOP seems intent on either privatizing Social Security or cutting back on payments to recipients. They also lead us to believe that those who retire in the future will not be able to receive Social Security.

RESPONSE:  (everyone) CONGRESS, YOU ACT LIKE IT’S YOUR MONEY YOU ARE SPENDING. IT’S NOT YOUR MONEY – IT’S THE PEOPLE’S MONEY!

Let’s talk about Medicaid, the health program for families and individuals with low income and resources. It’s a means-tested program that is jointly funded by the state and federal governments and managed by the states. Medicaid recipients must be US citizens or legal permanent residents and may include low-income adults, their children, and people with certain disabilities. This program was created by the Social Security Amendments of 1965 (Title XIX). There is section of this program that is offered to schools throughout the US for the reimbursement of costs associated with the services delivered to special education students. In 2010 the ACA extends Medicaid services to citizens without health insurance if they qualify. Republicans, although I don’t recall that they have mentioned Medicaid specifically would probably agree that they want to defund Medicaid or privatize it as part of their overall budget cutting measures.

RESPONSE:  (everyone) CONGRESS, YOU ACT LIKE IT’S YOUR MONEY YOU ARE SPENDING. IT’S NOT YOUR MONEY – IT’S THE PEOPLE’S MONEY!

Let’s talk about the school meal programs:

The most prevalent school meal program in the United States is the National School Lunch Program (NSLP), a federal program signed into law by President Harry S. Truman in 1946. Before this help was sporadic. In 2011 the program served low-cost or free lunches to over 31 million children per day. This program has been revised a number of times over the years as things like nutrition guidelines were added. The School Breakfast Program (SBP), which was developed as part of the National School Lunch Program, began as a pilot program in 1966 and then became permanent in 1975. There is much more information about these programs available on-line. They have a complex history. Republicans would like to privatize school lunch programs, cut them, or discontinue them, although I am just drawing this conclusion as an extension of other opinions they have expressed about the social safety net.

RESPONSE:  (everyone) CONGRESS, YOU ACT LIKE IT’S YOUR MONEY YOU ARE SPENDING. IT’S NOT YOUR MONEY – IT’S THE PEOPLE’S MONEY!

Let’s talk about Medicare:

Medicare is a national social insurance program, administered by the US federal government since 1966 that guarantees access to health insurance for Americans aged 65 and older and younger people with disabilities as well as people with end stage renal disease and persons with ALS. Medicare has gone through a number of changes since its inception. We contribute from our pay checks to Medicare funding until we retire (this only applies to the aged, some other groups are covered without charge). We are also told that this program is in jeopardy as it is too expensive. The Affordable Care Act, in addition to all of its other objectives, is supposed to help bring down medical costs and extend the life of the Medicare program. The Republicans have been rabid in their campaign against the ACA.

RESPONSE:  (everyone) CONGRESS, YOU ACT LIKE IT’S YOUR MONEY YOU ARE SPENDING. IT’S NOT YOUR MONEY – IT’S THE PEOPLE’S MONEY!

Let’s talk about food stamps (SNAP):

The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, formerly and still popularly known as the Food Stamp program, provides financial assistance for purchasing food to low and no-income people living in the US. It is a federal aid program administered by the US Department of Agriculture, though benefits are distributed by individual US states. The first Food Stamp program ran from May 16, 1939 – Spring, 1943). After 18 years of studies, reports, and 1964 legislative proposals we arrived at the Pilot Food Stamp Program which ran from 1961 – 1964. The program we have now, although it does not use food stamps, but now uses EBT cards, began in the Food Stamp Act of 1964. Another incarnation of the Food Stamp Act was passed in 1977. This act has probably gone through more changes than any of the others. $5 billion dollars in cuts kicked in for the SNAP program last Friday and the Republicans have separated the food program from the farm bill because they would like to see $39 billion in additional cuts from food stamps (SNAP).

RESPONSE:  (everyone) CONGRESS, YOU ACT LIKE IT’S YOUR MONEY YOU ARE SPENDING. IT’S NOT YOUR MONEY – IT’S THE PEOPLE’S MONEY!

Let’s talk about WIC:

The Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children (WIC) is a federal assistance program of the Food and Nutrition Service (FNS of the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) for healthcare and nutrition of low-income pregnant women, breastfeeding women, infants and children under the age of five. The eligibility requirement is a family income below 185% of the US Poverty Income Guidelines. WIC currently serves 53% of all infants born in the US. WIC was formally created by an amendment to the Child Nutrition Act of 1966 on September 26, 1972 sponsored by Senator Hubert Humphrey (D) of Minnesota. WIC is another program that the Republicans are eyeing for cuts.

RESPONSE:  (everyone) CONGRESS, YOU ACT LIKE IT’S YOUR MONEY YOU ARE SPENDING. IT’S NOT YOUR MONEY – IT’S THE PEOPLE’S MONEY!

 

These laws represent the way an enlightened society cares for its most unfortunate citizens and for its elderly. If we undo this system the consequences will be so hard to live with that we will just be forced to reenact these humane laws all over again. We must continue to find the money in our budget to finance these priority programs. America is a country that is governed by its people and we determine how we spend our money. We are against privatizing our social safety net. We are against cutting the budgets of our social safety net programs until we once again live in more affluent times with good jobs available to any citizens who can work. Many of us might be willing to pay slightly higher taxes if that is what it will take to preserve the social safety net. Stop threatening to refuse to fund the programs that prop up those who find themselves at the bottom of the American economy. It is not your money! It’s the people’s money.

I gathered these facts from Wikipedia because that allowed me to use one source for the info I needed. In some cases program descriptions are exact quotes from Wikipedia. In other cases the exact language of Wikipedia was condensed or rephrased to be less technical and more readable. Comments about what the Republicans would like to see happen with the social safety net are stated in my own words, but are taken from current news stories.
 
 

 Thanks to The Guardian who I “borrowed” the first picture from and to Northern Insights Blog for the second.

This is the view from the cheap seats.

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

 

 

 

 

Culling the Herd – Limited Government

 
 
So now we have seen it – we have seen some of the flaws in our Constitution and they are not ideological, they are structural. Our forefathers had a healthy dose of paranoia, but their paranoia was used to build protections into the Constitution to prevent a President from declaring himself King or herself Queen (an eventually they never imagined, of course). They did give a lot of thought to balance amongst the branches of our government, the executive, the legislative and the judicial by creating that system of checks and balances we all know so well. I don’t think they really imagined that some Americans would want to wrest control from within one branch of government, because they felt they had built in sufficient protections. They did not foresee 2013.

Apparently there are flaws in our system – flaws that nullify the checks and the balances. We’ve seen obstruction before, but not to this degree. We’ve seen incivility before, but again it is a matter of degree. There is apparently no part of the Constitution that protects the American people from losing control of our government to a small band of radicals, in this case radical but duly elected reactionaries. It is astonishing to me that these people have been pursuing strategies that seemed relatively harmless because they affected such small areas of the country and that they have been patching together a system that allows these very radicals to be elected over and over again without challenge. We have no safeguards against these tactics. They are subverting the election process. Once they are in Congress they do not need to do anything at all to keep their seats. If they don’t face the possibility of losing their seat based on how they vote in Congress they have found a way to bypass the Constitution and we, America, are in trouble.

I have always been proud that our forefathers thought through and wrote down a way to govern that was basically fair, (even more astonishing as they were elitist slave owners),  that was based on ideals that seemed enlightened and laudable, and that was structured to last and to still be usable hundreds of years later. What these radical Republicans are doing is threatening to end the usefulness of this document we have made the center of our governance. They are pointing out the flaws in our beloved Constitution. We have no way to rid ourselves of these people who are ruining our government in the name of Federalism. They have been very consistent in their beliefs. They want small government. They want deregulation. They want America to become the loose federation of states that they feel it was intended to be. They want all of the social safety net gone. They do not feel that the federal government should be in the business of lifting up the least fortunate Americans, even though all modern societies do this and even though it keeps misery at bay, both for a society and its people. They do not like any rules or regulations on energy use and against pulling fossil fuels out of the earth so they want the EPA gone. They want the Department of Commerce gone and they think the federal government should close the Department of Education. They see this as their moment in time to achieve their objectives to limit the size and scope of government. They hate the Affordable Care Act because it goes in the opposite direction from limited government. It makes government even bigger.

Most of us accept what Republicans are saying about the need to make government somewhat smaller, but I don’t think most of us want a federal government as small as these radical tea partiers do, or as small as the libertarians do. We will not be living up in the rarified air at the top of the affluence pyramid. We will be living down here with the sewage running in the streets and the begging children and the rampant disease. We will be drinking the polluted water. There are 7 billion people on this little planet. If you are trying to kill off a big percentage of the current population, hoping to do what nature does when an animal population gets too big, then you are pursuing the perfect strategy for it. Because to argue for smaller government when population numbers are ballooning will turn our cities into even bigger killing fields than they already are and, of course, you will not be affected up there at the top of the triangle.

If we make it through this assault on the government of our nation, the assault that is coming from within that very government, then we need to pass some laws which will allow us an escape route if some minority group decides to stage a coup again. I don’t think the issues here are as small as the media paints them. I think the issues are huge. I think these folks, mostly from the southern hinterlands of America are deadly serious. They own guns. They are hunters. I’m not saying that they are planning to turn their guns on us, although if it comes down to it they might some day in the future. I am saying that they think like hunters and they are planning to cull the herd, to get rid of those Americans who can’t or won’t provide for themselves. Every society has poor people. Every society has disabled people. Every society, in 2013, does not want to force unfortunate souls into pits to fight for their lives. We definitely need a way to ditch elected officials if they try to stop government. If the majority can prevail over this small, but determined, minority, we will need to amend our Constitution. Which America will we be when this is all over?

This is the view from the cheap seats.

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

Is This What You Really, Really Want?

 
 
 

The Republicans have become little old stingy men in the nation’s pantry counting the rice grains and reporting back that the cupboards are bare. They chant the word “debt” and the word “deficit” as if these were the only important words in America. They do not accept the reasoning that judicious spending could stimulate the economy and that this would make the “debt” and the “deficit” loom less large. They do not accept that we could all be in this together. We the people have become the enemy.

Republicans are saying that corporations were chased away by greedy workers (in unions) and by too many regulations, both environmental and financial. I guess they don’t live next door to one of the dirtiest lakes in America, full of heavy metal waste from industries like Solvay Process, Allied Chemical and Honeywell like I do. I guess we are to blame for getting upset when corporations dirtied our air, our ground, and our water. We aren’t even supposed to notice this or complain about it because that’s the kind of stuff that made industry leave us. We are supposed to believe what the oil industry says about global climate change because we all know what liars scientists are.

It is unfortunate that the next new thing; that new invention or innovation that will require us to flood factories with workers, has not been invented yet. If we perfect more and more robotics to do the work people used to do we may never see the day when factories will once again cover America and employ Americans? We may have to pay people not to work the way we pay farmers not to grow crops or raise cattle or chickens?

I get the point of the Conservatives and Libertarians. They do not want to support people who don’t work. Everyone is not suited to be an entrepreneur however. We could use more plumbers, more electricians, more computers repair people, although we often don’t bother with repairs anymore. We could use more people who understand computer coding and programming. And we could certainly use more people who can secure our computers, which apparently leak data like sieves. We still need farmers, and grocers and truck drivers. Medical workers are always in demand from lightly trained workers to extremely well-educated practitioners. Some training money might help make more people employable.

I don’t know if people really understand that Republicans are already cutting the federal government through the sequester and by refusing to pass any laws, even appropriation laws. They are serious about ending safety net programs and they are just moving ahead with cuts with or without our permission. Remember all those poor factories workers who lost their pensions when their factories closed. Soon that will be all of us. The GOP already separated funding for food stamps from the Farm Bill and they intend to pass the Farm Bill without the traditional funding for food stamps. They intend to get rid of the SNAP program and to let hungry Americans rely on churches and charities. They have voted 40 times to repeal health care and now they may listen to a few extreme voices in their party who want to refuse to raise the debt ceiling or pay America’s debts until Obama agrees to kill health care. They would like to kill all federal health care.

Do you really want to get a voucher for school for your children and a voucher for health care? What if schooling and health care costs more than the amount of your voucher? What if the costs keep going up? Do we want to trust private companies to educate our children? Our schools are far from perfect but are we sure this is the way we want to go? Once we lose all our safety nets how easy will it be to get these programs back if we need them, when we need them? I wouldn’t want to have to hold my breath while I waited for another Great Society. How poor will we all get?

The Republicans want to end birth control and abortion. There will be more of us. How long will it take before we are at each other’s throats? Have you stockpiled some weapons in case we need to have a revolution? I hear that Republicans have lots of guns stashed away. Will you end up on the poor side or the well-off side? The odds of ending up poor are getting better and better.

I really think you ought to give this all some thought because the GOP is already succeeding in pulling the rug out from under us. There are millions of us who should be standing on the rug anchoring it in place. If we were all paying attention that rug could not be yanked away even though the floor beneath it is slippery. You better jump on the rug soon or that warm rug we all paid for will disappear and you and I will be on that cold, slick floor until the economic cycle turns everything topsy-turvy once more (which could take a very long time.)

The Democrats have not exactly been towers of strength, but we had better vote for them in 2014 and in 2016 because at least they don’t blame us for everything and they don’t want to privatize everything. I think we can trust that the Democrats will not pull the rug out from under us. By the time all of us wake up in the empty pantry without the rug and wishing we could smell the coffee, it may be too late.

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

 

No Means No in Politics Also

 
No means no. I know this phrase is weighted with the freight of its use in situations of sexual abuse so I apologize for temporarily employing it, but I feel strongly about this issue and I think this message is also appropriate, at this moment, to what is going on in Washington. We have a group who lost a national election (the Republicans), a group who said that the election would serve as a referendum on their ideas (the Republicans), and yet a group that refuses to accept that the nation wants to try a less extreme approach to government and to the economics of government.  I will not draw out this analogy any farther. I will just reiterate—we said no, we meant no! No to small government (although we might want to work on smaller government)—no to the dismantling of the safety net (although we might be open to some “fixes” to the safety net). We say no to a party (the GOP) which seems to have adopted the mantle of righteousness, which seems to believe that the GOP alone knows the proper way to “save” America; an America which the GOP feels is wandering away from a strict adherence to the Constitution. And we say no to a party (the GOP) that believes it alone holds the key to solve our economic woes (always in ways that mysteriously favor those who are already prospering).

Although we have already said no, insisted that we mean no, reiterated that our answer was no, this party (the Republicans) keeps coming back at us with their same old message. Not only do we have to listen to their dogma over and over again, but they refuse to let the people pursue the agenda they actually did agree to in the last election. We do want a balanced approach to the budget. We don’t want austerity. We want some growth policies. We want to see the reform of a tax code that has long favored the wealthy and we are not interested in seeing tax reforms zeroed out with tax cuts for the wealthy. These corporations have taken their business elsewhere, the corporate owners live like men without a country so they will not have to pay taxes, and now they insist that we give up our already quite inadequate security net which we trusted our government to administer for us. Someone (named Johnson) even suggested last Sunday on television that the money in the Social Security Trust had already been borrowed and used and no longer exists. We can borrow our own money, but can the people embezzle their own money? Did our past selves sell out the retirement and health care of our present selves? If we did, will we be able to repay the Trust fund and continue to supply Americans with a modicum of security in their old age? Do we really want to cut the poor loose to fend for themselves? We voted no to all of these things; why are we still fighting this battle? We are still fighting because the Republicans have taken over our government. The Republicans will not let the people try Obama’s approach to our economy.

The media is not blameless in all of this. When I spend my time watching the news, and I spend a lot of time watching the news, the Republicans are everywhere. All day long, I have to listen to Republicans argue for their extremely austere economics that is skewed steeply towards the wealthy. I have to watch the Republicans try to tip-toe into the present without becoming more centrist (not possible). I know our media is also supposed to be balanced and give equal time to all, but then we have something like CPAC which allows Republicans to grab all of the air time all week. If it wasn’t for having a new pope we would be watching Sarah Palin channel Tina Fey over and over again. I do not feel an equal presence of Democrats in the media because they are not as “out there”; they are not “entertainment”. But by choosing to be “entertaining” the media is skewing the message in favor of the GOP. If these nutburgers (the GOP) get their way and our social safety net goes away and if that happens just in the name of good ratings I hope we eviscerate the media. It is no wonder the Republican Party does not believe that no means no. But I do. I believe that no means no.