Article 43

 

Monday, December 04, 2017

Rationalizing Suicide

image depressed man

The prospects for the re-employment of older workers deteriorate sharply the longer they are unemployed . . . This is all the more reason to support the unemployed and depressed who threaten suicide.
- Thinking About Suicide

Suicide as Rational Choice?
Can someone who isn’t ill kill themselves for a good reason?

By Stanton Peele Ph.D.
Psychology Today
January 20, 2011

I once saw the author of “night, Mother,” Marsha Norman, “debate” (on a television talk show) Bernadine Healy, the former director of the NIH and a forceful proponent of the idea of mental illness as a disease.

In a fey, offhand way (she didn’t confront Healy directly) Norman made the case that some people’s lives result in a rational decision to kill themselves (as the play proposes). This is perhaps most evident in cases of terminal illnesses. But in the play, it is because a woman’s life had never gone anywhere - she was stuck in a house with her mother, having never launched an independent life.

This same issue was raised by at least one woman interviewed in the film, “The Bridge,” which tracked the horrifying suicides from the Golden Gate Bridge over a year. This woman accepted that her grandson - like his mother - was geared to kill himself his whole life. The NY Times reviewer, Stephen Holden (obviously not a mental health professional), said of the film: “Because their testimony is remarkably free of religious cant and of cozy New Age bromides, this is one of the most moving and brutally honest films about suicide ever made.”

But this post isn’t about “‘night, Mother” or “The Bridge.” It’s about a film titled, “The Woodmans,” about a family of artists whose daughter - Francesca - killed herself at age 22 in 1981 by throwing herself out a window.

Francesca Woodman was a brilliant, provocative (she often photographed herself nude) ferociously ambitious artist who revolutionized photography - only she wasn’t around to get credit when the credit came due. Her agent described her working as a third photographer’s assistant when she had already created the most audacious photographs of not only that decade, but the next (let’s leave aside Robert Mapplethorpe, another kind of suicide in a way, whose life and work is explored in Patti Smith’s memoir, “Just Kids").

Woodman anticipated virtually every movement in commercial and art photography - the sexualized self-dramatization adopted by Cindy Sherman (whose life and work is shown in a film by her ex-lover, “Guest of Cindy Sherman"), the currently popular black-and-white gritty semi-sexual advertising for jeans and other consumer items, the integration of setting and subject, the visual representation of words, sounds, and ideas.  But this was all undoable at the time.

And now she IS recognized. Perhaps the most chilling shot in the film is of her agent laughingly saying that, when he needs to pay college tuition for one his kids, he pulls out a photo - of which he says he has stacks - to sell for Woodman’s current “going” price - $20,000 (she is now widely exhibited).

Okay, why did Francesca Woodman kill herself? Her parents are decent, loving, supportive people. She had a close relationship with her father (he admires her so much that, after her death, he turned to photography from painting to make pale imitations of her photos).

Francesca was beautiful, lively, appealing to others. She was also incredibly demanding - as a friend said - of her friends, her lovers, herself. And she recognized - and expected and needed public recognition of - herself as a great artist. Which only came after she committed suicide due in no small part to its absence - the inherent paradox of her life and death.

Life may have made her choice - given her intense ambitions - seem reasonable to her at the time.  But subsequent history, we now know, would have provided her with all that she sought.  Only - in the impatience of youth - enduring that gap was intolerable to her.  And, of course, the success of her vision was far from preordained.  So how could a therapist (she was seeing one regularly, and receiving antidepressants) have anticipated such a development, or addressed her seemingly shattered dreams?

Psychology and psychiatry have not developed better answers to these questions than they had three decades ago, when Francesca Woodman gave her life away.

SOURCE

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High-Tech Suicide Machine Makes Death a Painless, Peaceful, Optimal Way to Go
The Sarco is a state-of-the-art death machine.

By Kali Holloway
AlterNet
December 1, 2017

In a world filled with chaos, a new suicide machine allows people to exit life in an orderly, peaceful manner. The Sarco is a technological marvel, resembling some kind of futuristic sleeping chamber, that aids in voluntary assisted dying. Australian doctor Philip Nitschke, whom Newsweek identifies as the “Elon Musk of assisted suicide, unveiled the new apparatus earlier this week, just days after lawmakers in the state of Victoria voted to legalize euthanasia. The device simplifies what Nitschke dubs ԓrational suicides, ensuring that the process is painless and easy - an optimal way to go.

The Sarco was developed by Nitschkes organization, Exit International, which bills itself as an ғaid-in-dying organisation. The machine includes a base topped by a translucent chamber perfectly proportioned to comfortably fit a human which. After settling in the pod, the user will push a button and the chamber will start to ԓfill up with liquid nitrogen to bring the oxygen level down to about 5 percent. Around the minute mark, the user will become unconscious, experiencing almost no pain, according to the Newsweek report. (The doctor describes the changes as akin to ԓan airplane cabin depressurizing.) After death comes, which is fairly swift, the chamber can be used as a coffin. The base, just fyi, is reusable.

In a press release, Exit International notes the Sarco “was designed so that it can be 3D printed and assembled in any location” and that blueprints “will be free, made open-source, and placed on the Internet.” While accessibility is a major selling point, there is one hurdle would-be users will need to clear: a “mental questionnaire” that’s available online. Once a client has established mental health, they’re given a 4-digit code that opens the capsule door, the first in a series of steps to “a peaceful death”...in just a few minutes.

According to Newsweek, a few suicide clinics in Switzerland have expressed interest in licensing the Sarco for use. There are also likely to be takers in other spots around the world. In addition to the new Victoria law, assisted suicide is now legal in Belgium, Canada, Colombia, Luxembourg and the Netherlands, where it’s become an increasingly popular choice. In the U.S., only teminally ill patients can opt for assisted suicide, and in many states, at least two doctors must verify the legitimacy of the request. State-specific legislative nuance governs “death with dignity” laws in California, Colorado, Oregon, Vermont, D.C. and Washington. All that said, support for the right to choose when and how one dies is on the rise. In 2016, 69 percent of Americans said doctors should be allowed to end a patient’s life by painless means.ғ That number increased to 73 percent this year.

Philip Nitschke, who advocates for euthanasia to be a legal option for anyone over 70, continues to push for assisted suicide as a civil right. He says that the grey wave washing over Baby Boomers has helped create a sea change in thinking.

“These are people who are used to getting their own way, running their own lives,” Nitschke told the Big Smoke earlier this year. A lot of the women have gone through political battles around abortion rights, feminism, the Pill. They don’t want to be told how to live or how to die. The idea that you can pat these people on the head and say there, there, “let the doctors decide” is frankly ridiculous...Peoples’ lives are people’s lives. Death is a part of that, and so it should be up to them to make the decisions.

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Posted by Elvis on 12/04/17 •
Section Spiritual Diversions
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The U.S. Political System Has Been Hijacked

image: dying America

Harvard Business School: The U.S. Political System Has Been Hijacked

By Yossarian Johnson
The Intellctualist
November 2017

A new CASE STUDY [local copy] by Harvard Business School asserts that U.S. politicians have rigged the system to such a degree that the U.S. is on its way to becoming a failed democracy. The authors of the case-study use the word ‘hijacked’ to describe what the political parties have done to governance in the United States.

Some tidbits:

America’s political system was long the envy of the world. It advanced the public interest and gave rise to a grand history of policy innovations that fostered both economic and social progress. Today, however, our political system has become the major barrier to solving nearly every important challenge our nation needs to address. This was the unexpected conclusion of the multiyear Project on U.S. Competitiveness at Harvard Business School, established in 2011 to understand the causes of America’s weak economic performance and rising inequality that predated the Great Recession.

The authors point to a number of American pathologies that do not plague other advanced nations.

A similar failure to progress has also afflicted the nations social agenda. In areas such as public education, health and wellness, personal safety, water and sanitation, environmental quality, and tolerance and inclusion, among others, U.S. progress has stalled or gone in reverse. In these areas, where America was often a pioneer and leader, the U.S. has fallen well down the list compared to other advanced countries. Tolerance, inclusion, and personal freedom are registering troubling declines, a sign of growing divisions in our society.

A poorly educated

In public education, of particular significance for citizen opportunity, in math the U.S. was ranked 31st out of 35 OECD countries (the other advanced economies using the respected PISA process) in 2015, down from 25 in 2009, 20th in reading (down from 14) and 19th in science (down from 17).5 Instead of progress, then, our government is mired in gridlock and inaction. Increasingly over the decades, Congress has been unable to get things done, especially on important issues.

The authors of the piece note how the Founders of the United States would find the rules that govern the country unrecognizable today.

The result: America’s political system today would be unrecognizable to our founders. In fact, certain of our founders warned against political parties. John Adams, our second President, said, “There is nothing which I dread so much as a division of the republic into two great parties, each arranged under its leader, and concerting measures in opposition to each other.  Our founders and most Americans today - would be shocked by the extent to which our democracy has been hijacked by the private and largely unaccountable organizations that constitute todays political industrial complex.

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Posted by Elvis on 12/04/17 •
Section Dying America
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Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Shift Change

image: millenials and boomers

...the plan announced October 13 by Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson to hand over $250 billion in taxpayer money to the biggest banks, in exchange for non-voting stock, was never really intended to get them to resume lending to businesses and consumers--the ostensible purpose of the bailout. Its essential aim was to engineer a rapid consolidation of the American banking system by subsidizing a wave of takeovers of smaller financial firms by the most powerful banks.
- The Dirty Little Secret Of The US Bank Bailout, October 29, 2008

Economist Richard Wolff is a proponent of democracy at work: an alternative capitalism that thrives on workers directing their own workplaces. In the documentary film Shift Change, producers Mark Dworkin and Melissa Young tell the stories of successful cooperative businesses from Spain to San Francisco. We caught up with Dworkin and Young to find out what makes cooperative businesses work. 

Theresa Riley: What drew you to this topic as filmmakers? Why did you want to make this film?

Mark Dworkin and Melissa Young: As filmmakers we don’t just expose problems. We want to help people find solutions. In 2002 we were in Argentina at the height of their economic crisis, and in hundreds of workplaces which had closed, workers took over the company, went back to work, and made a go of it. These examples made quite an impression on us, and we featured their stories in two films: Argentina - Hope in Hard Times and Argentina Turning Around. A friend who saw the Argentina documentaries suggested that we learn more about the Mondragon cooperatives in the Basque Country of Spain. When we did, we were moved and inspired by this successful model of worker ownership and its potential to change the culture of work not just in Spain but around the world. Our investigations revealed that there are hundreds of thriving worker cooperatives that promote economic democracy right here in North America, but they are little known.

Riley: How many businesses in America are worker-owned?

Dworkin and Young: Employee ownership in the U.S. is much more widespread than usually understood, with at least 11,000 such businesses in operation. Many are Employee Stock Ownership Plans or ESOPs, where employees own part or all of the company. Introduced under President Nixon, this is one way for private companies to transition to employee ownership. ESOPs may or may not be democratic and participatory places to work. Worker cooperatives are both owned and managed by their workers - one worker, one vote. According to the U.S. Federation of Worker Cooperatives, currently there are about 400 worker cooperatives in the U.S. They operate many types of businesses, mainly services, and are growing especially among Latino immigrants and in working class communities.

Riley: Most of the businesses you visited in the film seemed to have weathered the economic downturn of recent years. But have some co-ops failed? How do privately-owned small businesses and worker-owned businesses compare? Do they fail less often?

Dworkin and Young: One of the challenges faced by cooperative businesses is that they have to survive in the larger economic system, over which they have little control. Worker co-ops in Mondragon and in the U.S. have done better than other similar sized businesses in the current economic crisis. When sales and profits are down, worker owners dont just close the doors. People take a hard look and try to figure out what they can do to make things better - such as adding new products or finding ways to improve efficiency and productivity. At any given time some co-ops are doing better than others, depending on the industry in which they operate. So in Mondragon each year co-ops that are profitable pay into a “rainy day fund,” and co-ops that are going through hard times are able to withdraw funds to help them out. In co-ops where business is slow, members can often find temporary work in co-ops that are doing better. And since workers own and manage the company, they may agree to reduce their pay on a temporary basis until business picks up again. That way nobody has to lose their job. Cooperative networks that function in a similar way are just beginning in the U.S.

Riley: The film makes it look like co-ops are pretty smooth operationally.

Dworkin and Young: Most of the co-ops we chose have proven themselves. They’ve had decades to learn how to operate smoothly. New employees go through a probationary period, from as little as six months to a couple of years, during which they discover if they like working in a cooperative environment, and current co-op members can decide if they think the new employee would work out. After this trial period the person generally has to apply for membership and be voted in by existing members. At that point the new member needs to make an investment in the company, usually ranging from $500 to $20,000, with about 10 percent paid in cash and the rest from payroll deductions. People who would not feel comfortable in this environment weed themselves out. People who have shown they donҒt work well cooperatively are not asked to join. New members then get training in co-op management. So there are various stages of selection and development to make sure that co-op members have the temperament and the skill to work together smoothly.

In the U.S. we learn from an early age to navigate hierarchical social structures, and we have lots of practice competing but little practice cooperating. So we have a lot to learn in order to make cooperatives a success. But many people are willing to make the effort. We have participatory instincts that are stifled in the dominant economy. One friend lit up when I told him that in worker cooperatives, people are encouraged to put forward their ideas about how to make the company better. Thats sure different, he said; everywhere I have ever worked you’re best off if you keep your head down and your mouth shut. So I wouldnt say that workers are resistant to cooperation, but rather our cooperative instincts are suppressed and trained out of us. To help overcome this, all of the co-ops we visited place a high priority on initial training and ongoing leadership development of their members. And it works.

Riley: What happens when agreement can’t be reached? Or when consensus leads to failed strategy?

Dworkin and Young: Worker co-ops are organized and run by their members and they have very different management structures. Those that manage by consensus, such as the Arizmendi Bakeries profiled in our film, tend to be small. Members can meet with one another face to face and on short notice to deal with problems and correct them. Most co-ops around Mondragon and the larger ones in the U.S. tend to have professional management that operates much the same as management in a conventional enterprise. The key difference is that the co-op board of directors is elected by the employees. Nobody who does not work in the co-op has a say in how the business is run, so the co-op tends to serve the needs and wishes of its members as opposed to absentee owners. Everyone has an incentive to work constructively together and help the business succeed.

But as Fred Freundlich, a professor we interviewed at Mondragon University offered, Broad democratic management doesn’t solve all human problems. When major disagreements do arise, “The ownership and governance structures in those enterprises, that they’re democratic, that they’re more participatory, helps ameliorate these problems, even if it doesn’t make them go away.”

Riley: What can we learn from places where it has not worked?

Dworkin and Young: The history of worker co-ops in this country is mixed. Many got started in the late 19th and early 20th century with the arrival of immigrant groups. In our region of the Pacific Northwest, there were a lot of cooperative plywood mills. Many of these failed because they had not made provisions for the business to survive as a cooperative long term, after the original members retired.

Weve heard of companies begun in a wave of optimism in the 1970s that failed for either of two basic reasons. Some were not businesslike enough (there was not a good market for their product, their product or service was not of sufficient quality, or they didn’t manage finances, time, and materials well). Others were not cooperative enough (they were such successful businesses that they were bought up by a large corporation and ceased to be a part of the cooperative economy). Newer co-ops have learned from past co-op failures and designed programs to overcome them. They have become sophisticated businesses that are more agile and nimble than conventional firms while retaining their co-op purpose. Technical assistance is available from experienced experts in terms of how to convert a regular business to one that is employee owned and even more successful in the future. And to discourage co-ops from selling out to corporations for a big profit, in many cases, if the co-op should be sold, members can only recover the funds they have invested with a modest return, but any profits above that have to be given to other co-ops or public interest organizations.

Riley: What aspects of co-op workplaces can non-co-ops adopt? How would we get started here at Moyers & Company, for instance? Any tools we can share with our audience?

Dworkin and Young: Nearly all workplaces, even those which are not owned by their employees, can still be more democratic. They can invite ideas and criticisms from staff without penalizing someone who challenges (constructively) how things are currently done in an effort to do things better. Decision making and finances can be more transparent, so every employee has an idea of the risks and limitations that the enterprise faces and their own contribution to that. Performance evaluations which are traditionally between an employee and a supervisor can also include peers, customers, etc. And even a non-cooperative institution can be devoted to the common good above and beyond the short term gain for that enterprise. We now have B corporations in various states where a commitment to solving environmental and social problems is enshrined in the corporate legal structure alongside financial profit. Many employee-owned businesses allow workers to spend a given percentage of their paid work time either improving their own skills or examining ways to improve the business. That is also something conventional businesses and non-profits could do.

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Posted by Elvis on 10/11/17 •
Section American Solidarity • Section Job Hunt
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Tuesday, October 10, 2017

All Hollowed Out

image: man lost everything

The lonely poverty of Americas white working class

By Victor Tan Chen
Jan 16, 2016

For the last several months, social scientists have been debating the striking findings of a STUDY [local download] by the economists Anne Case and Angus Deaton.* Between 1998 and 2013, Case and Deaton argue, white Americans ACROSS multiple age groups experienced large spikes in SUICIDE and fatalities related to alcohol and drug abuse - spikes that were so large that, for whites aged 45 to 54, they overwhelmed the dependable modern trend of steadily improving life expectancy. While critics have challenged the MAGNITUDE and TIMING of the rise in middle-age deaths (particularly for MEN), they and the study’s authors alike seem to agree on some basic points: Problems of mental health and addiction have taken a terrible toll on whites in America - though seemingly not in other wealthy nations, and the least educated among them have fared the worst.

Meanwhile, other recent research has piled on the bad news for those without college degrees. A Pew study released last month found that the size of the middle class defined by a consistent income range across generations - has shrunk over the last several decades. In part, this is because high-paying jobs for the less educated are vanishing. The study builds on other recent research that finds that almost all the good jobs created since the recession have gone to college graduates.

The workers I interviewed after the recession for my book on unemployment, less-educated factory workers - offer some tentative clues about what might be driving the disquieting trends described by the Case and Deaton study. This is one of the groups hit hardest by the rising inequality and greater risk of unemployment and financial insecurity that have become features of today’s economy, and their experiences put in concrete terms how the economy and culture have become more hostile to workers not lucky enough to be working in posh offices on Wall Street or in Silicon Valley.

One man I talked to was 47 years old, the son of a Detroit factory worker who headed into the plants himself. (As is standard in sociology, my interviewees were promised confidentiality.) He told me how he recently lost his $11-an-hour job: He was driving a forklift at his company’s plant when he accidentally crashed into a ladder. No one was hurt and nothing was damaged - but he was an at-will worker at a company with no union, and he was fired. Shortly afterward, his wife, who was making $8 an hour at a cleaning company, decided to leave him. The stress of failing to find a job and being alone made him too depressed to eat, and he started taking antidepressants.

When it comes to explaining American economic trends, it is important to remember how critical a role manufacturing and UNIONS HAVE played in the building - and now dismantling of a strong middle class. For generations, factories provided good jobs to people who never went to college, allowing families - first white ethnic immigrants, and then others to be upwardly mobile. Bringing together large numbers of people under a single roof, factory jobs were also relatively easy to organize. As the sociologists Bruce Western and Jake Rosenfeld have argued, unions at their prime helped create a “moral economy” in which wages rose both in firms with unions and those without them, and in which the average worker had a notable voice - however compromised back then by nativism and other exclusionary tendencies - lobbying on their behalf in Washington.

But in the late ‘90s the beginning of the crisis period that Case and Deaton identify -the number of manufacturing jobs in the U.S. dropped dramatically. Intensified by free-trade deals such as NAFTA, the hollowing-out of American industry then was much greater, in terms of the absolute number of jobs lost, than what the country experienced during its first wave of deindustrialization.

Twenty years ago, union membership in decline since the 60s - fell to a level not seen since the Great Depression. For various reasons, it became much harder to pursue the sorts of collective action that unions once cultivated throughout the economy - that is, banding together to convince companies and governments to treat employees better. Free trade and automation undercut the bargaining positions of the working class. Political leaders, bankrolled by the wealthy, rolled back the interventionist policies of the New Deal and postwar period. Corporations, once relatively tolerant of unions, tapped a cottage industry of anti-union consultants and adopted unseemly tactics to crush any organizing drives in their workplaces.

As organized labor in this country has withered, an extreme individualism has stepped in as the alternativea go-it-alone perspective narrowly focused on getting an education and becoming successful on oneҗs own merit. This works well for some, but for othersespecially the two-thirds of Americans over the age of 25 who donҗt have a bachelors degreeҒit often means getting mired in an economy of contract work, low pay, and few, if any, benefits. These prospects suggest that this is an age of diminished expectations for the working class.

Certainly, it cannot be said enough that African Americans and Latinos continue to fare significantly worse than whites in terms of their overall rates of death and disease, even if the racial gap has narrowed. Indeed, the broader story that many commentators seem to have neglected in recent months is the decline of the working class as a whole. In the decades after World War II, racial minorities were denied many of the jobs, loans, and other resources that allowed the white majority to buy homes and accrue wealth. If the gains of economic growth have gone largely to the rich in recent years, in that earlier period the white working class could count on hefty rises in living standards from generation to generation, and they grew accustomed to that upward trajectory of growing prosperity. When the labor market turned against them, they had the hardest fall.

Any explanation of the ominous trends in the Case and Deaton study is, at the moment, speculative. More research is needed, as social scientists like to say, and there are numerous caveats. For example, while the disappearance of high-paying jobs for those with little education is a large part of the overall story of a shrinking middle class, it cant wholly account for the uptick of mortality identified in the Case and Deaton study. After all, other countries have not seen similar hikes in deaths, even though manufacturing and (to a lesser extent) union membership have crumbled abroad as well.

Likewise, the groups that have been affected most viciously by these market trends in the U.S., African Americans and Latinos, have not suffered the dramatic increases in death by suicide or substance abuse that whites have. It may be that changes in the economy have affected these workers in different ways. For instance, whites are more likely to be employed in the declining manufacturing sector than African Americans or Hispanicsגand for that matter, theyre more likely to live in the rural communities devastated by this most recent, post-NAFTA era of deindustrialization. Furthermore, whites are less likely to be union members than African Americans (though not Asians or Hispanics).

Yet there is clearly more to the despair of the working class than empty wallets and purses. Patches of the social fabric that once supported them, in good times and bad, have frayed. When asked in national surveys about the people with whom they discussed important matters in the past six months, those with just a high-school education or less are likelier to say no one (this percentage has risen over the years for college graduates, too). This trend is troubling, given that social isolation is linked to depression and, in turn, suicide and substance abuse.

One form of social support that many in the working class are going without is marriage. Iהm reminded of another worker I interviewed, a jobless 54-year-old white woman who used to work at a Ford plant. Her husband left her, she says, when the paychecks stopped coming. Jesus Christ,ғ she told him once. I didnԓt think that our relationship was based on the amount of money that I brought in. Unable to pay her mortgage, she lost her home and had to move in, as she puts it, with a Ҕman friend. She is depressed, unable to sleep at night, and constantly worried about falling into poverty. ӔIm a loser,Ӓ she says.

As scholars of family life as politically distinct as Andrew Cherlin and Charles Murray have stressed, college graduates and the less educated have greatly diverged in terms of when and how they partner up and have kids. Nowadays, well-educated couples are much more likely to marry, stay married, and have children within marriage than those with less schooling. The white working class in particular is seeing sharp drops in these indicators again, not to the levels of nonwhites, but a drastic reversal all the same, and one that has intensified over the last few decades.

A large part of the explanation for this must be that society’s attitudes about the sanctity and permanence of marriage have changed. But its important to note that there is an economic dimension to these trends, too - as the frequent separations and divorces I saw among the long-term unemployed made plain to me. Those struggling financially are less likely to follow the traditional path of first comes marriage, then comes a baby. And if they do choose to get married, there is little room for unemployment. As the Detroit man who lost his job told me, he and his wife split up because she’s working, and I don’t have any money coming in. They had been fighting over finances even before he lost his job, he points out, but the arguments grew more heated afterward. In a lone-wolf economy, as sociologists Kathryn Edin and Maria Kefalas have argued, why take a chance on a partner down on his luck when you’re just barely surviving yourself?

The waning of religious belief may be another trend aggravating the modern malaise of the white working class. Since the 90s, the number of Americans who declare no religious preference on surveys has almost tripledԒfrom 8 percent at the beginning of that decade, to 21 percent in 2014. Whites fall disproportionately into this camp. The religiously unaffiliated are not necessarily secular in their outlook. Many of them are spiritually inclined but skeptical of organized religionespecially its intrusion into politics. However, in the absence of any other source of social support and collective meaning (say, unions), thereחs less in the way of psychological protection from the slings and arrows of American society.

This sort of isolation was common among the people I talked to. Many said their faith was helping them get through their ongoing troubles, yet they rarely or never went to church. Some felt ashamed to be around people because they were out of work. For others, their religious belief was somewhat a source of self-help, rather than a source of community. For example, one of the workers I interviewed said that being out of work for so long had filled him with a constant rage. To calm his mind, every night he would pick up his Bible and read a dozen verses. He had given up on the church and what he described as its superficial ways. I want to go to hear the WordғI dont want to go to see what you’re wearing, says the man, 53 and from Flint, Michigan. The other way he copes is going outside for a smoke.

For this man and many like him, there is no one to talk to, no one to rely on. הNowadays, you got people you really cant trust, man,Ӓ he says. You canԓt call everybody your friend. As the ties that bind them to others have unraveled, the working class has become an ever lonelier crowd.

The larger context of this isolation and alienation is AmericaҔs culture of individualism. It, too, can worsen the despair. Taken to an extreme, self-reliance becomes a cudgel: Those who falter and fail have only themselves to blame. They should have gotten more education. They should have been more prepared. On this score, too, the U.S. deviates from other wealthy nations. Americas frontier spirit of rugged individualism is strong, and it manifests itself differently by race and education level, too. White Americans, for instance, are more likely to see success as the result of individual effort than African Americans are (though not Hispanics). The less educated, particularly less-educated whites, also share this view to a disproportionate degree.

In StayinҒ Alive, his powerful history of the last daysғ of the working class, the historian Jefferson Cowie describes how the proud blue-collar identity of previous generations disintegrated during the 70s. ԒLiberty has largely been reduced to an ideology that promises economic and cultural refuge from the long arm of the state, he writes, Ӕwhile seemingly lost to history is the logic that culminated under the New Deal: that genuine freedom could only happen within a context of economic security. As working-class solidarity receded, an identity built on racial tribalism often swept in.

With that in mind, itӔs interesting that Americans tout the importance of getting an educationan inherently individualistic strategyҗas the pathway to success. This view was the ideological backbone of the Clinton administration policies put forth in the 90s, with their individual training accounts and lifetime-learning credits. To this day, the supreme value of education remains one of the few things that Americans of all persuasions (presidential candidates included) can agree on. But this sort of zeal can lead to the view that those who have less educationגthe working classare truly to blame for their dire straits. While many of them will go on to obtain more education, many others will notחbecause they cant afford it, aren’t good students, or just (as some of my workers said) prefer working with their hands. But if they dont collect the educational degrees needed for todayגs good jobs, they are made to feel that they have failed in a fundamental way.

Some of the analysis of the Case and Deaton article has focused rightly on recent developments in this country’s drug crisis - namely, the surge in abuse of prescription opioids, and the resurgence in heroin use, notably among whites. There is clearly a pressing need to deal more vigorously with this drug problem and the epidemic of fatal overdoses and liver disease that has affected the poor and working class in particular.

At the same time, it should be said that risky individual behaviors are shaped by broader social conditions. As the researchers Bruce Link and Jo Phelan have argued, effective health interventions need to consider the underlying factors that put people at risk of risksҔspecifically, socioeconomic status and social support. Seeing this big picture is important because blocking one pathway to disease or deathחsay, opioid abusemay just lead to people to opt for another deadly means of coping with the pain of their poor life prospects.

One parting observation, then, is that policies to keep people from sinking into poverty and long-term unemployment can make a huge difference. In advanced industrial nations that have stronger social safety nets, the working class is not experiencing the rising death rates that Case and Deaton identified. Abroad, many of the working-class unemployed benefit from a financial backstop of sorts that keeps them from hurtling into the deepest forms of desperation. Here in the U.S. they would too, if only there were such a thing.

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Posted by Elvis on 10/10/17 •
Section Dying America
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Thursday, October 05, 2017

Bad Moon Rising Part 69 - The End Of Empire

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“I see in the near future a crisis approaching that unnerves me and causes me to tremble for the safety of my country. . . . corporations have been enthroned and an era of corruption in high places will follow, and the money power of the country will endeavor to prolong its reign by working upon the prejudices of the people until all wealth is aggregated in a few hands and the Republic is destroyed.”
- Abraham Lincoln

“The economic anarchy of CAPITALIST SOCIETY as it exists today is, in my opinion, the real source of the EVIL."
- Albert Einstein - Why Socialism, 1949

“Capitalism is the extraordinary belief that the nastiest of men for the nastiest of motives will somehow work for the benefit of all.”
- John Maynard Keynes

“I wouldn’t call it fascism exactly, but a political system nominally controlled by an irresponsible, dumbed down electorate who are manipulated by dishonest, cynical, controlled mass media that dispense the propaganda of a corrupt political establishment can hardly be described as democracy either.”
- Edward Zehr Columnist, 1936-2001

The Death Spiral Appears Unstoppable

By By Chris Hedges
TruthDig
October 1, 2017

The American empire is coming to an end. The U.S. economy is being drained by wars in the Middle East and vast military expansion around the globe. It is burdened by growing deficits, along with the devastating effects of deindustrialization and global trade agreements. Our democracy has been captured and destroyed by CORPORATIONS that steadily demand more tax cuts, more deregulation and IMPUNITY from prosecution for massive acts of financial fraud, ALL THE WHILE looting trillions from the U.S. treasury in the form of BAILOUTS. The nation has lost the power and respect needed to induce allies in Europe, Latin America, Asia and Africa to do its bidding. Add to this the mounting destruction caused by climate change and you have a recipe for an emerging dystopia. Overseeing this DESCENT at the highest levels of the federal and state governments is a motley collection of imbeciles, con artists, THIEVES, OPPORTUNISTS and WARMONGERING generals. And to be clear, I am speaking about Democrats, too.

The empire will limp along, steadily losing influence until the dollar is dropped as the world’s reserve currency, plunging the United States into a crippling depression and instantly forcing a massive contraction of its military machine.

Short of a sudden and widespread popular REVOLT, which DOES NOT SEEM LIKELY, the death spiral appears unstoppable, meaning the United States as we know it will no longer exist within a decade or, at most, two. The global vacuum we leave behind will be filled by China, already establishing itself as an economic and military juggernaut, or perhaps there will be a multipolar world carved up among Russia, China, India, Brazil, Turkey, South Africa and a few other states. Or maybe the void will be filled, as the historian Alfred W. McCoy writes in his book “In the Shadows of the American Century: The Rise and Decline of US Global Power”, by “a coalition of transnational corporations, multilateral military forces like NATO, and an international financial leadership self-selected at Davos and Bilderberg” that will “forge a supranational nexus to supersede any nation or empire.”

Under every measurement, from financial growth and infrastructure investment to advanced technology, including supercomputers, space weaponry and CYBERWARFARE, we are being rapidly overtaken by the CHINESE. In April 2015 the U.S. Department of Agriculture suggested that the American economy would grow by nearly 50 percent over the next 15 years, while Chinas would triple and come close to surpassing America’s in 2030, McCoy noted. CHINA became the world’s second largest economy in 2010, the same year it became the world’s leading manufacturing nation, pushing aside a United States that had dominated the world’s manufacturing for a century. The Department of Defense issued a sober report titled “At Our Own Peril: DoD Risk Assessment in a Post-Primacy World.” It found that “the U.S. military no longer enjoys an unassailable position versus state competitors,” and it no longer can automatically generate consistent and sustained local military superiority at range. McCoy predicts the collapse will come by 2030.

Empires in decay embrace an almost willful suicide. Blinded by their hubris and unable to face the reality of their diminishing power, they retreat into a fantasy world where hard and unpleasant facts no longer intrude. They replace diplomacy, multilateralism and politics with unilateral threats and the blunt instrument of war.

This collective self-delusion saw the United States make the greatest strategic blunder in its history, one that sounded the death knell of the empire - the invasion of Afghanistan and Iraq. The architects of the war in the George W. Bush White House, and the array of useful idiots in the press and academia who were cheerleaders for it, knew very little about the countries being invaded, were stunningly naive about the effects of industrial warfare and were blindsided by the ferocious blowback. They stated, and probably believed, that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction, although they had no valid evidence to support this claim. They insisted that democracy would be implanted in Baghdad and spread across the Middle East. They assured the public that U.S. troops would be greeted by grateful Iraqis and Afghans as liberators. They promised that oil revenues would cover the cost of reconstruction. They insisted that the bold and quick military strike “shock and awe” - would restore American hegemony in the region and dominance in the world. It did the opposite. As Zbigniew Brzezinski noted, “this unilateral war of choice against Iraq precipitated a widespread delegitimation of U.S. foreign policy.”

Historians of empire call these military fiascos, a feature of all late empires, examples of “micro-militarism.” The Athenians engaged in micro-militarism when during the Peloponnesian War (431-404 B.C.) they invaded Sicily, suffering the loss of 200 ships and thousands of soldiers and triggering revolts throughout the empire. Britain did so in 1956 when it attacked Egypt in a dispute over the nationalization of the Suez Canal and then quickly had to withdraw in humiliation, empowering a string of Arab nationalist leaders such as Egypts Gamal Abdel Nasser and dooming British rule over the nation’s few remaining colonies. Neither of these empires recovered.

“While rising empires are often judicious, even rational in their application of armed force for conquest and control of overseas dominions, fading empires are inclined to ill-considered displays of power, dreaming of bold military master strokes that would somehow recoup lost prestige and power”, McCoy writes. “Often irrational even from an imperial point of view, these micromilitary operations can yield hemorrhaging expenditures or humiliating defeats that only accelerate the process already under way.”

Empires need more than force to dominate other nations. They need a mystique. This mystiquea mask for imperial plunder, repression and exploitation - seduces some native elites, who become willing to do the bidding of the imperial power or at least remain passive. And it provides a patina of civility and even nobility to justify to those at home the costs in blood and money needed to maintain empire. The parliamentary system of government that Britain replicated in appearance in the colonies, and the introduction of British sports such as polo, cricket and horse racing, along with elaborately uniformed viceroys and the pageantry of royalty, were buttressed by what the colonialists said was the invincibility of their navy and army. England was able to hold its empire together from 1815 to 1914 before being forced into a steady retreat. Americas high-blown rhetoric about democracy, liberty and equality, along with basketball, baseball and Hollywood, as well as our own deification of the military, entranced and cowed much of the globe in the wake of World War II. Behind the scenes, of course, the CIA used its bag of dirty tricks to orchestrate coups, fix elections and carry out assassinations, black propaganda campaigns, bribery, blackmail, intimidation and torture. But none of this works anymore.

The loss of the mystique is crippling. It makes it hard to find pliant surrogates to administer the empire, as we have seen in Iraq and Afghanistan. The photographs of physical abuse and sexual humiliation imposed on Arab prisoners at Abu Ghraib inflamed the Muslim world and fed al-Qaida and later Islamic State with new recruits. The assassination of Osama bin Laden and a host of other jihadist leaders, including the U.S. citizen Anwar al-Awlaki, openly mocked the concept of the rule of law. The hundreds of thousands of dead and millions of refugees fleeing our debacles in the Middle East, along with the near-constant threat from militarized aerial drones, exposed us as state terrorists. We have exercised in the Middle East the U.S. military’s penchant for widespread atrocities, indiscriminate violence, lies and blundering miscalculations, actions that led to our defeat in Vietnam.

The brutality abroad is matched by a growing brutality at home. Militarized police gun down mostly unarmed, poor people of color and fill a system of penitentiaries and jails that hold a staggering 25 percent of the worlds prisoners although Americans represent only 5 percent of global population. Many of our cities are in ruins. Our public transportation system is a shambles. Our educational system is in steep decline and being privatized. Opioid addiction, suicide, mass shootings, depression and morbid obesity plague a population that has fallen into profound despair. The deep disillusionment and anger that led to Donald Trump’s election - a reaction to the corporate coup d’tat and the poverty afflicting at least half of the country - have destroyed the myth of a functioning democracy. Presidential tweets and rhetoric celebrate hate, racism and bigotry and taunt the weak and the vulnerable. The president in an address before the United Nations threatened to obliterate another nation in an act of genocide. We are worldwide objects of ridicule and hatred. The foreboding for the future is expressed in the rash of dystopian films, motion pictures that no longer perpetuate American virtue and exceptionalism or the MYTH OF HUMAN PROGRESS.

The demise of the United States as the preeminent global power could come far more quickly than anyone imagines,” McCoy writes. “Despite the AURA OF OMNIPOTENCE empires often project,” most are surprisingly fragile, lacking the inherent strength of even a modest nation-state. Indeed, a glance at their history should remind us that the greatest of them are susceptible to collapse from diverse causes, with fiscal pressures usually a prime factor. For the better part of two centuries, the security and prosperity of the homeland has been the main objective for most stable states, making foreign or imperial adventures an expendable option, usually allocated no more than 5 percent of the domestic budget. Without the financing that arises almost organically inside a sovereign nation, empires are famously predatory in their relentless hunt for plunder or profitwitness the Atlantic slave trade, Belgiumӗs rubber lust in the Congo, British Indias opium commerce, the Third ReichҒs rape of Europe, or the Soviet exploitation of Eastern Europe.

“When revenues shrink or collapse,” McCoy points out, “empires become brittle.”

ҔSo delicate is their ecology of power that, when things start to go truly wrong, empires regularly unravel with unholy speed: just a year for Portugal, two years for the Soviet Union, eight years for France, eleven years for the Ottomans, seventeen for Great Britain, and, in all likelihood, just twenty-seven years for the United States, counting from the crucial year 2003 [when the U.S. invaded Iraq], he writes.

Many of the estimated 69 empires that have existed throughout history lacked competent leadership in their decline, having ceded power to monstrosities such as the Roman emperors Caligula and Nero. In the United States, the reins of authority may be in the grasp of the first in a line of depraved demagogues.

ӔFor the majority of Americans, the 2020s will likely be remembered as a demoralizing decade of rising prices, stagnant wages, and fading international competitiveness, McCoy writes. The loss of the dollar as the global reserve currency will see the U.S. unable to pay for its huge deficits by selling Treasury bonds, which will be drastically devalued at that point. There will be a massive rise in the cost of imports. Unemployment will explode. Domestic clashes over what McCoy calls Ӕinsubstantial issues will fuel a dangerous hypernationalism that could morph into an American fascism.

A discredited elite, suspicious and even paranoid in an age of decline, will see enemies everywhere. The array of instruments created for global dominance, wholesale surveillance, the evisceration of civil liberties, sophisticated torture techniques, militarized police, the massive prison system, the thousands of militarized drones and satellites - will be employed in the homeland. The empire will collapse and the nation will consume itself within our lifetimes IF WE do not WREST POWER from those who rule the corporate state.

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Posted by Elvis on 10/05/17 •
Section Bad Moon Rising • Section Dying America • Section Next Recession, Next Depression
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