Without a Net

There’s an interesting notion that ‘our children’ cannot afford our present ‘safety net’ promises to take care of our seniors and impoverished, of providing adequate education and nutrition in our schools, and of ensuring that the foods we eat and the products we use are not tainted with poison.  We’re told that in order to progress, a little rape of the earth and ourselves with toxic by-products is a necessary thing.

My Dad used to like to point out that physicians used to come by the house, and hospitals were “where you went for surgery, not to die”. “Nowadays”, he’d say, “more people die in hospitals than die anywhere else”, with the implication that hospitals were killing people. When he was growing up in the 1930’s, most people couldn’t afford to go to hospitals, and many of the doctors who made house calls were paid not in legal tender but in goods or services, whatever the family had or grew that could be used as a payment. Ask any old country Doc, many times payment was made in chickens, or greens, not greenbacks.

Parents who lived too long moved in with their children once they were unable to care for themselves. In a single wage earner world that was hard enough. In a two wage earner household it became impossible. Nursing homes boomed. Medicaid boomed as a result. Most Americans do not realize that the majority of Medicaid recipients are our parents and grandparents in nursing homes. End Medicaid, and they’ll have nowhere to go but back to their children. The dominoes of real costs to our children start accumulating from there.

Before the ‘safety net’, what we consider today to be relatively simple maladies resulted in yesteryear’s deaths.

Expectant mothers received no prenatal care, deaths during childbirth, of mother or child, or both, were not uncommon.

Children died of measles and whooping cough.

Grandparents succumbed to colds that resulted in simple pneumonias that, left untreated, ended their lives prematurely.

Working fathers were subject to job conditions that directly impacted their health and lifespan… black lung, cotton lung, asbestosis…  all easily preventable, yet they took thousands of lives in the 20th century.  Items like hard hats and steel-toed may shoes seem like a no-brainer on a construction site, yet thousands of workers have lost fingers, toes, eyes, arms, legs, and lives to worksite hazards.

Since the safety net, the data is clear: maternal and infant mortality and job related disability and deaths were all much higher in my father’s day. Average life expectancy was much lower as a result.

Gross Domestic Product (GDP, think of it as the wage of the USA), median family income, personal education level, and pretty much all of economic indicators are much higher today than in my father’s time. And so is life expectancy.

What has made the difference?

It’s been Government.

It’s been government-sponsored education for all.

It’s been government programs, demanded by the public, that protect us from toxic substances in our food and water.

It’s been government programs, demanded by the public, that protect us from the diseases that ended our grandparents lives prematurely.

It’s been a social conscience that realized that health and welfare trump profit at any cost, and that productivity and innovation are greater when the workforce is educated and healthy.

While this may seem to many to be progress, Businesses and the GOP fought, and continue to fight, advances that bring benefit to the common worker and their families.  Their argument? The regulations are unnecessary. The costs are too high. Regulations kill jobs. Accidents happen. It’s nobody’s fault.


As I said, the data is clear: Since implementing these social policies, these entitlements, these (pick your term), the U.S. has experienced the greatest period of growth and prosperity, both nationally and individually, than in any other period in our history. Think about that for a second…

The safety net could hardly have been bad for business,  bad for the economy, or bad for profits (well, except to those math deniers out there). And while living longer, healthier lives with less disease may not be necessary, I think we can all agree that it goes an awful long way to contributing to the Pursuit of Happiness.

And that’s one of our inalienable Rights.

But there’s a group that wants us to think that the safety net is a bad thing. They want us to think that the regulations preventing our food from containing poison are bad for the food industry and the reason we have high unemployment. They want to do away with the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) that prevents profit driven business practices from poisoning us and our unborn children.

They want us to think that regulations ensuring that workplaces are safe for workers are the reason unemployment is so high. They want to turn back the clock to ‘the good ol’ days’ when Business made the rules, and the One Rule was profit above everything.

They want to do away with the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), which makes sure that our cough syrup isn’t snake oil and our tomatoes aren’t covered in e.coli or flesh eating bacteria.

They want to do away with the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) that requires safe workplaces for us. They want to do away with the rules and inspectors that ensure safe and accepted procedures and protocols are followed when working in the Gulf of Mexico, or the gas fields of Pennsylvania, or the mines of West Virginia.

Despite their record otherwise, they want us to believe that Companies will conduct themselves safely, on their own recognizance, without any oversight.  Because it’s the ‘right’ thing to do.

Who here can think of a mining disaster that didn’t involve a company with a long history of documented safety abuses? I didn’t think so.

Who here remembers that BP took shortcuts to meet profit deadlines, resulting in an ‘accidental’ dumping of millions of barrels of oil on our shrimp and grouper and sport fishing fields.  Is it any wonder that the gas and oil industry has pumped millions of dollars into ads to defeat President Obama, who insisted that BP pay for their damage done.  The other Party apologized to BP for the treatment they were getting after so many of us lost our jobs and livelihood during the cleanup, calling the fines and mandated cleanup fund the ‘real tragedy’. (1)

They want us to think that Medicare and Social Security are ‘nanny state’ entitlements, and that real Americans take care of themselves, by themselves. Any infirmity should be dealt with by picking oneself up by the bootstraps, not looking for a government handout. Craig T. Nelson, of Coach fame, says it all when he complained about people looking for help from the government. “I’ve been on food stamps and welfare, did anybody help me out? No.” (2)

They want us to think that health care is a privilege reserved only for those wealthy enough to pay. The simple fact that public health ended the polio epidemic, the scourges of pertussis, diphtheria and tetanus, childhood deaths from measles, and a range of maladies from rickets to scurvy do not deter efforts to disband public health in the name of abstinence education and protection of the unborn.

They attack public health, telling us that vaccinations cause cancer and autism, when in fact it’s industrial toxins that are linked most closely to cancer (a list too long to, well, list) and increasingly implicated in Autism. (3)

Despite all evidence to the contrary, they want us to go back to the days when health care was a privilege of the wealthy.

Why? Because healthy people are more capable of learning. Because educated people make informed decisions. Because informed decisions lead to voting one’s own interests. Because there are way more of us (99%) than there are the wealthy (1%). Because wealthy interests rarely cross over to the rest of us. Trickle down has been tried and repeatedly shown to be a marketing gimmick.

They have vowed to disband public health and public education and public protections from industry, including (especially) Wall Street. Not to make the Country better, or to save our children’s future, but because they believe that by virtue of their wealth and station in life that they are better than the rest of us.

You can’t get more un-American than that.


(1) http://www.cbsnews.com/8301-503544_162-20008020-503544.html

(2) http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yTwpBLzxe4U&noredirect=1

(3) http://www.environmentalhealthnews.org/ehs/newscience/phthalates-bpa-linked-to-atypical-child-behavior

8 thoughts on “Without a Net

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