The Expendability of “Essential” Workers

Bryan Stevenson, the founder and executive director of the Equal Justice Initiative (EJI) has said repeatedly that “slavery never ended. It just evolved.”

I have been thinking about that statement as I have watched and listened to conversation about “essential” workers as we live in this pandemic.  They include health care workers, janitors, grocery store workers, sanitation workers, waiters and waitresses, bus drivers, police and fire personnel, those who run the subways and more …and yet, it seems to me they are the people considered to be most expendable by the federal government and by the businesses which employ them.

So many of these “essential” workers have lost their lives and/or their jobs, but from the federal government, I hear little concern. Instead, there is a push to get the economy alive again, with corporations joining forces with the Trump administration to get the people back to work. And the president is apparently being urged to open the country – come what may – by nervous corporations who are losing lots and lots of money as this virus ravages through the country.

In this country, 3.8 million people have lost their jobs. The federal government and big businesses are very concerned about that number.

The latest insult to the lives and dignity of these workers came this week as the president issued an executive order ordering meat-packing plants to stay open, in spite of outbreaks of the coronavirus in several of them. ( At least 17 people who work in these plants have died of COVID-19, and over 5,000 have been affected by the disease. A report today said that some workers who are afraid to return to the plants or to any businesses opening before the recommended wait time for fear of contracting the virus are facing the possibility of losing their unemployment benefits if they refuse to return to work. ( (

The workers are being placated and are being told that there will be extra or adequate protective gear for them, the same necessary gear that health care workers – again, essential workers – have been begging for which they have not been able to get in the numbers they need for the past two months.  Not to worry, dear meatpacking workers. The protective gear will keep them safe. If it doesn’t?  Unfortunately, the attitude seems to be “well, we tried.” If any of the workers get sick and/or die, the focus will be replacing the deceased by immediately hiring more people to do the work.


The government feels like it is being run by the president and corporate presidents that consider human beings to be mere commodities, and those not in the highest ranks of the plantation infrastructure – from cabinet members to legislators to some local politicians – are acting as the overseers. Their job is to keep the plantation open and thriving.

It is heartbreaking to see the lack of concern for human life being shown by the president and by big business. In this country, over 60,000 people have died – more than those who died in the Vietnam War – and yet, there has been no outpouring of concern from bedfellows big government and big business, a tawdry partnership if there ever was one. The only thing that matters is the making, accumulation, and sustaining of wealth and power. If some of those who are making these individuals and their businesses wealthy, then so be it. “The partnership” has many supporters, people who are a part of the 99 percent of Americans in this country who are struggling to survive, even as the one percent hoards wealth. Many of the supporters have said that it is no big concern if some people die in the work to save the economy. That must make “the partnership” smile, but the sad reality is that their lives are expendable too, to themselves, apparently, as well as to those whom they support so vehemently. As long as they can work, they matter. When they can no longer help fill the coffers of the wealthy, they, too, will be disregarded and forgotten.

This is none other than slavery by another name.

I have – as have many of us – read about how enslaved Africans were forced to work, regardless of how they felt physically. Pregnant women would work in the fields up to the moment of giving birth, which means they worked while in labor. All of the slaves worked in oppressive heat and humidity; those in the rice fields stood knee-deep in mosquito-infested water for hours each day, which made malaria a common malady. The mortality rate among those enslaved could be as high as 90 percent, but neither the plantation owner nor the overseers cared. The goal was to keep the money coming, and the essential people – the enslaved Africans and their children – were needed and used until they got too sick to work or they died. (

We are seeing the same attitude today from the federal government and from some state governments. Yes, the status of the economy is bad and frightening, but the fact that there is no concern for or even gratitude being voiced for the work these people are doing is telling. People, it seems, of all colors, but especially brown and black, are still commodities, objects, not human beings, worth their weight in gold because they make the ruling class wealthy, but at the same time, worth nothing because of their color and economic status.

Bryan Stevenson is right. Slavery never ended. We are seeing its evolution now. The soul of this country is terminal. And that being the case, so is the image and the myth of the “exceptional” United States of America. Essential workers are truly essential – to everyone – but in the eyes of the moneyed class, they are also expendable.

A candid observation …

When You Make a Bad Promise

The failure of the GOP’s latest effort to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act (ACA)  proves something that all of us, especially politicians, should pay attention to.

Sometimes we make bad promises that we cannot keep.

The battle cry of the Republicans has been that they promised “repeal and replace of Obamacare” to our constituents. They have been insisting that the repeal of the ACA and their replacement bill would insure quality health care for “the American people.

But their efforts failed because they were not concerned about “the American people,” a group of citizens who demonstrated and protested every single one of their repeal and replace efforts. “The American people” to whom the GOP were pandering turned out to be a small lump in a big bowl, completely overrun and outnumbered by millions of people who were finally getting the health care they have needed for so long.

It was and is troubling that so many Republicans seemed not to care about the hue and cry coming from the masses. It was and is troubling that the GOP seemed more concerned with this ill-fated promise which was determined to put politics over the people. It was and is troubling that too many Republicans seemed unconcerned with people who would have been thrown to the wind with their health issues and needs, had any of their replacement bills passed, including the Graham-Cassidy bill.

It takes character for any of us to admit when we have made a bad promise. How many times have we as individuals gone through that experience? Politicians are known to make promises and many of them they know when the make them that they cannot keep them.

But the goal of most politicians is to get elected by any means necessary. Although they lift up the phrase “the American people,” few of them mean to include all Americans. They are going after a particular group and they play to them and their needs. That seems to a fact of politics, here and elsewhere in the world.

So, we are used to hearing promises made and seeing that they cannot or will not be kept, but this promise was particularly troubling and onerous because it seemed to be steeped in hatred, racism and a determination to kill anything former President Barack Obama tried to pass. Healthcare reform had been an issue at least since the time of President Truman. That a black man would do what no white man/administration had been able to do was just not palatable. (

Remember that the stated and publicized goal of the GOP was to make Obama a “one term president.”

The fight to kill the ACA is not over; it is as much a thorn in the sides of some as is Roe v. Wade. The backlash against the Obama administration is breathtaking in its fury and is not likely to end any time soon.

That being said, however, what this most recent defeat of the effort to kill the ACA indicates that the GOP,  so angry that they impulsively and publicly declared that they would “repeal and replace” Obamacare, seems to have been a promise misplaced, a bad promise which never should have been made.

A candid observation …

The Budget, The President and the Poor

The administration is defending some of its budget cuts, including some that directly impact programs like “Meals on Wheels,” and job training programs. The White House Budget Director, Mick Mulvaney says “we can’t spend money on programs just because they sound good. We can’t defend money on programs that cannot show that they deliver  what they say they will deliver.”

Mulvaney cited after school programs which feed kids; the philosophy is that if children are able to eat, they will do better in school. Mulvaney says there is no evidence that the program is working

We are trying to focus on the recipients of the money and those on whom the money is spent. He says the administration is being compassionate by taking the taxpayers seriously. What he is not saying is what the elderly, for example, who receive meals, are supposed to do. Where is the compassion for them?

Money will be taken from American tax payers to build “the wall.” Billions of dollars will be collected and spent to build new detention facilities.


What are the children, the poor, the elderly supposed to do?

Mulvaney seems to think that states will take care of their own. They will receive community development block grants (CDBG) and that they will find a way to take care of “the least of these.”

But that seems unlikely. States looked to the federal government in the first place because the states were not able to take care of them.

So, the question is, who is the recipient of this “compassion?”

It seems like the compassion is being offered to big corporations. It seems that there is a great amount of time and energy being paid to protect the very rich, at the expense of the poor. The administration seems not to care that under the proposed new health care act, literally millions of Americans will no longer have access to  to heath care.

They say that the goal is not to make sure more people have access to health care. The goal is to save money.

I would add that the larger goal is to make sure insurance companies are able to make big money. The health and health needs of the people be damned.

Is this compassion?

I guess I am confused.

On second thought, I am not.

I can see clearly, and what I see is a group of people who do not care about those who are striving to survive in this country which has little toleration for the them.

It is disgusting. And scary.

A candid observation.

On the State of Health Care in America

I found myself really riveted by the film “Escape Fire: The Fight to Rescue American Healthcare” last evening on CNN.  While most of our country, I surmise, was watching “The Bible,” I could not turn from this amazing film.

According to an article which appeared on, “ The film premiered at the 2012 Sundance Film Festival and received honors at the 2012 Silverdocs, Full Frame, and other prominent festivals.  The two-hour feature-length film was produced and directed by Matthew Heineman and Academy Award nominee Susan Froemke and distributed by Roadside Attractions and Lionsgate.”  (

What was so compelling was the confirmation of what many have posited as a major reason for the high cost of healthcare: it is profit-driven rather that patient-driven. Those interviewed, some former employees and/or executives of health insurance companies, sadly yet firmly admitted that the push for profit left far too many people needing basic and preventive health care on the sidelines, sorely abandoned.

A medical doctor said that she left a clinic in which she had been working because she and other physicians were forced to see a set number of patients per day – in order to protect and boost profits. It did not care to the power brokers, the insurance executives, if some patients needed a longer time with a physician. Nor was it on the radar for doctors to spend a lot of time indulging patients in conversations and education on how to prevent disease and illness. Our health care system focuses on treating disease, not on preventing it.

Largely driving costs is not only the attention given to treating disease, but also on a very aggressive pharmaceutical business which, it seems, depends and counts on people being sick so that they can and must buy expensive medicines for conditions which, if caught early enough, could minimize the need for drugs.

The documentary pointed out that only the United States and New Zealand advertise pharmaceuticals on television, driving up demand and in effect forcing doctors to prescribe these drugs for their patients who are drawn to the subliminal message of a complete cure via medication. Such advertising kept insurance and pharmaceutical execs silent for far too long when it was found that Avandia, a drug used to treat diabetes, was causing serious heart problems, including heart attacks.

I was saddened because I don’t see how a nation can continue to thrive when its quest for profit is so aggressive that it does not care for the masses. The article on said that Americans spend twice as much on health care as any country on earth, yet “lags behind almost every industrialized nation in the world, ranking 50 out of 220 nations reporting.”

A nation cannot continue to thrive if conditions like that exist, can it?  At a time when the rift between rich and poor is steadily getting wider, when student debt is rising so much and so quickly that it is rivaling the national debt, and when the middle class is almost non-existent, where does all of the frustration of the people go? With the recent sequestration, more and more “average joes” are going to be most impacted, and sooner or later there is going to be widespread public protest. Some politicians keep insisting that the way out of our rising debt is spending cuts…but as the government cuts spending to help average and poor Americans, the fat cats will presumably get fatter …and that just does not bode well with folks.

Watching that documentary made me grateful that I have health insurance, but reminded me that one of the realities about insurance is that it is most valuable when one does not need it and does not use it. Have a house fire, get a serious illness, have too many auto accidents, and one’s insurance can be and very often is, cut off.  People in need of help drain profit and the potential for profit, and they are thus considered dross, extra weight and baggage, which must be eliminated.

The documentary really made me angry. I wondered how many politicians, if any, were watching. The health insurance lobby is a powerful one and, I suspect, supports most those politicians who will fight any potential law or regulation which will eat into insurance profits. That means that the politicians who are sworn to represent the needs of  “the people” don’t care about us, the electorate, except for our votes. They would rather make it seem that the problem is big government, and build a platform upon which many people are eager to stand, when in effect it is big business.

I once asked which was better for a nation, big business or big government, and decided that it would be wonderful, maybe idyllic, if government and business could and would join forces so that people could realize profits while simultaneously making sure that the masses of Americans were taken care of.  It seems that there is enough money in the health care business to make sure everyone is insured and thus have access to quality, preventive health care. That sort of arrangement, though, would cut into profits, so there is no effort to create that reality, or so it seems.

People in this great “democracy” are turned away daily from health care facilities because they cannot pay for care and treatment. Does that mean America is not so much a democracy after all?  Is there a definition of democracy that is “out there” which says democracy is not supposed to be or offer a level playing field? Are we really a democracy if we are more concerned with the proliferation of profits over people, if we are more interested in protecting corporations than the families and individuals which make the success of the corporations possible?

How ironic that, at the same time “The Bible” was playing, a story which mandates people to take care of the poor and the oppressed, this film was also showing which showed the tendency of human beings to outright ignore Biblical directives. The documentary is coming on again this Friday evening. While I don’t want to get angry all over again,I really do what to watch it even more closely, to understand what is going on in our beloved country. Something does not smell right or feel right. Too many people are suffering, and too few people are living high on the hog. There ought to be a middle ground that is beneficial and fair to both groups.

A candid observation


Affordable Care Act Overdue

HR3590-Patient-Protection-and-Affordable-Care-Act_1 (Photo credit: Obama For America – California)

Sarah Palin is probably right: the passage of the Affordable Care Act by the United States Supreme Court will mobilize the Tea Party Conservatives, and probably others.

The presidential election will be fierce and fiery, more negative than it might have been had the High Court struck down the law, with cries of “socialism” leveled against President Obama.

But in the midst of the sound and the fury, poor people, unemployed people and underemployed people will have access to health care. And for that, I breathe a sigh of relief.

I am beginning to understand what I call the “politics of the fortunate,”  the “fortunate” being those lucky enough to have enough resources to live comfortably in this country. In many of their minds, entitlements, including Medicaid, welfare, and other large-scale programs funded by the government to aid the poor allow and encourage people to be lazy and content to allow others to pay for their needs.

What “the fortunate” don’t seem to understand is that while there are certainly people who take advantage of government programs, many people would rather die than take government assistance, yet would probably literally die were not government assistance available for them.

They don’t seem to understand that many of the unemployed are not working because they seriously cannot find a job; they don’t seem to understand that underemployment is as bad as is unemployment in many instances, not providing enough money for employees to adequately take care of themselves and their families.

What they don’t seem to understand is that just because a person is poor does not mean that that person does not deserve to be treated as a human being. People in the 21st century ought not be walking around with cancer that they cannot afford to get treated, or with abscessed teeth because they cannot afford to go to a dentist.

What they don’t seem to understand is that nobody wants to be poor. Nobody wants to struggle financially. And nobody wants to be penalized and be made to feel like they are not worthy of health care just because they are poor.

It feels strange to live in a country where many put more value on the proliferation of military might than on the protection and care-giving of its own citizens. It feels even stranger to be involved in wars that fight for democracy in other lands while democracy here is broken – because, surely, a country that does not take care of its poor is broken.

I have heard people today say that this health care bill converts America into a socialist country. I do not understand,  but I am sure it has something to do with the resentment that many have that the poor are being helped along by the government …and by their tax dollars.

If you never see the poor, look into their eyes, see how they live, see what they endure, then it’s easy to be dismissive and critical of their presence. If you have not been unemployed or underemployed, it is, again, easy to make judgments about people who are in those situations, and blame them for their situations.

Sarah Palin, like I said, is probably right. This action by the High Court is going to get the Tea Party boiling mad and energized in their fight against big government.

But as we have big government anyway, much of the recent “bigness” put in place by President Bush, causing us to go into serious debt, I rest a little easier knowing that some of my tax dollars are going to help those who absolutely cannot get out of their economic ruts. Like it or not, that is a reality in America. Perhaps one of the biggest differences  between the “haves” and the “have-nots”  is that those in the former group are more likely to have help to get out of their ruts, while the have-nots get more and more entrenched in theirs.

All people, wealthy or poor, deserve health care.  No human is so poor that he or she deserves to be treated like an object with no feelings and no needs.

A candid observation …