Article 43


Sunday, February 28, 2016

Fleeing America Redux 2

image: nothing to lose

After I Lived in Norway, America Felt Backward. Heres Why.

By Ann Jones
The Nation
January 28, 2016

A crash course in social democracy.

Some years ago, I faced up to the futility of reporting truths about America’s disastrous wars, and so I left Afghanistan for another mountainous country far away. It was the polar opposite of Afghanistan: a peaceful, prosperous land where nearly everybody seemed to enjoy a good life, on the job and in the family.

It’s true that they didn’t work much - not by American standards, anyway. In the United States, full-time salaried workers supposedly laboring 40 hours a week actually average 49, with almost 20 percent clocking more than 60. These people, on the other hand, worked only about 37 hours a week, when they werent away on long paid vacations. At the end of the workday, about four in the afternoon (perhaps three during the summer), they had time to enjoy a hike in the forest, a swim with the kids, or a beer with friends - which helps explain why, unlike so many Americans, they are pleased with their jobs.

Often I was invited to go along. I found it refreshing to hike and ski in a country with no land mines, and to hang out in cafs unlikely to be bombed. Gradually, my war-zone jitters subsided and I settled into the slow, calm, pleasantly uneventful stream of life there.

Four years on, thinking I should settle down, I returned to the United States. It felt quite a lot like stepping back into that other violent, impoverished world, where anxiety runs high and people are quarrelsome. I had, in fact, come back to the flip side of Afghanistan and Iraq: to what Americas wars have done to America. Where I live now, in the homeland, there are not enough shelters for the homeless. Most people are either overworked or hurting for jobs; the housing is overpriced, the hospitals crowded and understaffed, the schools largely segregated and not so good. Opioid or heroin overdose is a popular form of death, and men in the street threaten women wearing hijabs. Did the American soldiers I covered in Afghanistan know they were fighting for this?

Ducking the Subject

One night I tuned in to the Democrats钒 presidential debate to see if they had any plans to restore the America I used to know. To my amazement, I heard the name of my peaceful mountain hideaway: Norway. Bernie Sanders was denouncing Americas crooked version of “casino capitalism” that floats the already-rich ever higher and flushes the working class. He said that we ought to “look to countries like Denmark, like Sweden and Norway,” and learn from what they have accomplished for their working people.

He believes, he added, in “a society where all people do well. Not just a handful of billionaires.” That certainly sounds like Norway. For ages, they’ve worked at producing things for the use of everyonenot the profit of a few - so I was all ears, waiting for Sanders to spell it out for Americans.

But Hillary Clinton quickly countered, “We are not Denmark.” Smiling, she said, “I love Denmark,” and then delivered a patriotic punch line: “We are the United States of America.” (Well, theres no denying that.) She also praised capitalism and “all the small businesses that were started because we have the opportunity and the freedom in our country for people to do that and to make a good living for themselves and their families.” She didn’t seem to know that Danes, Swedes, and Norwegians do that too, and with much higher rates of success.

The truth is that almost a quarter of American start-ups are not founded on brilliant new ideas, but on the desperation of men or women who cant get a decent job. The majority of all American enterprises are solo ventures having zero payrolls, employing no one but the entrepreneur, and often quickly wasting away. Sanders said that he was all for small business too, but that meant nothing “if all of the new income and wealth is going to the top 1 percent.” (As George Carlin said, “The reason they call it the American Dream is because you have to be asleep to believe it.")

In that debate, no more was heard of Denmark, Sweden, or Norway. The audience was left in the dark. Later, in a speech at Georgetown University in Washington, DC, Sanders tried to clarify his identity as a democratic socialist. He said heԒs not the kind of socialist (with a capital S) who favors state ownership of the means of production. The Norwegian government, on the other hand, owns the means of producing lots of public assets and is the major stockholder in many a vital private enterprise.

I was dumbfounded. Norway, Denmark, and Sweden practice variations of a system that works much better than ours. Yet even the Democratic presidential candidates, who say they love or want to learn from those countries, dont seem know how they actually work.

Why WeҒre Not Denmark

Proof that they do work is delivered every year in data-rich evaluations by the United Nations and other international bodies. The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Developments annual report on international well-being, for example, measures 11 factors, ranging from material conditions such as affordable housing and employment to quality-of-life matters like education, health, life expectancy, voter participation, and overall citizen satisfaction. Year after year, all the Nordic countries cluster at the top, while the United States lags far behind. In addition, Norway has ranked first on the UN Development ProgramҒs Human Development Index for 12 of the last 15 years, and it consistently tops international comparisons in such areas as democracy, civil and political rights, and freedom of expression and the press.

What is it, though, that makes the Scandinavians so different? Since the Democrats cant tell you and the Republicans wouldnҒt want you to know, let me offer you a quick introduction. What Scandinavians call the Nordic model is a smart and simple system that starts with a deep commitment to equality and democracy. Thats two concepts combined in a single goal because, as far as theyҒre concerned, you cant have one without the other.

Right there, they part company with capitalist America, now the most unequal of all the developed nations, and consequently a democracy no more. Political scientists say it has become an oligarchy, run at the expense of its citizenry by and for the superrich. Perhaps youҒve noticed that.

In the last century, Scandinavians, aiming for their egalitarian goal, refused to settle solely for any of the ideologies competing for powernot capitalism or fascism, not Marxist socialism or communism. Geographically stuck between powerful nations waging hot and cold wars for such doctrines, Scandinavians set out to find a middle path. That path was contestedחby socialist-inspired workers on the one hand, and by capitalist owners and their elite cronies on the otherbut in the end, it led to a mixed economy. Thanks largely to the solidarity and savvy of organized labor and the political parties it backed, the long struggle produced a system that makes capitalism more or less cooperative, and then redistributes equitably the wealth it helps to produce. Struggles like this took place around the world in the 20th century, but the Scandinavians alone managed to combine the best ideas of both camps while chucking out the worst.

In 1936, the popular US journalist Marquis Childs first described the result to Americans in the book Sweden: The Middle Way. Since then, all the Scandinavian countries, and their Nordic neighbors Finland and Iceland, have been improving upon that hybrid system. Today in Norway, negotiations between the Norwegian Confederation of Trade Unions and the Confederation of Norwegian Enterprise determine the wages and working conditions of most capitalist enterprises, public and private, that create wealth, while high but fair progressive income taxes fund the stateגs universal welfare system, benefiting everyone. In addition, those confederations work together to minimize the disparity between high-wage and lower-wage jobs. As a result, Norway ranks with Sweden, Denmark, and Finland as among the most income-equal countries in the world, and its standard of living tops the charts.

So heres the big difference: In Norway, capitalism serves the people. The government, elected by the people, sees to that. All eight of the parties that won parliamentary seats in the last national electionҗincluding the conservative Hyre party now leading the governmentare committed to maintaining the welfare state. In the United States, however, neoliberal politics puts the foxes in charge of the henhouse, and capitalists have used the wealth generated by their enterprises (as well as financial and political manipulations) to capture the state and pluck the chickens.

They藒ve done a masterful job of chewing up organized labor. Today, only 11 percent of American workers belong to a union. In Norway, that number is 52 percent; in Denmark, 67 percent; in Sweden, 70 percent. Thus, in the United States, oligarchs maximize their wealth and keep it, using the democratically electedӔ government to shape policies and laws favorable to the interests of their foxy class. They bamboozle the people by insisting, as Hillary Clinton did at that debate, that all of us have the freedomӔ to create a business in the freeӔ marketplace, which implies that being hard up is our own fault.

In the Nordic countries, on the other hand, democratically elected governments give their populations freedom from the market by using capitalism as a tool to benefit everyone. That liberates their people from the tyranny of the mighty profit motive that warps so many American lives, leaving them freer to follow their own dreamsto become poets or philosophers, bartenders or business owners, as they please.

Family Matters

Maybe our politicians don’t want to talk about the Nordic model because it shows so clearly that capitalism can be put to work for the many, not just the few.

Consider the Norwegian welfare state. Its universal. In other words, aid to the sick or the elderly is not charity, grudgingly donated by elites to those in need. It is the right of every individual citizen. That includes every woman, whether or not she is somebody’s wife, and every child, no matter its parentage. Treating every person as a citizen frees each one from being legally possessed by anothera husband, for example, or a tyrannical father.

Which brings us to the heart of Scandinavian democracy: the equality of women and men. In the 1970s, Norwegian feminists marched into politics and picked up the pace of democratic change. Norway needed a larger labor force, and women were the answer. Housewives moved into paid work on equal footing with men, nearly doubling the tax base. That has, in fact, meant more to Norwegian prosperity than the coincidental discovery of North Atlantic oil reserves. The Ministry of Finance recently calculated that those additional working mothers add to Norway’s net national wealth a value equivalent to its total petroleum wealth - currently held in the world;s largest sovereign-wealth fund, worth over $873 billion. By 1981, women were sitting in parliament, in the prime ministers chair, and in her cabinet.

American feminists also marched for such goals in the 1970s, but the big boys, busy with their own White House intrigues, initiated a war on women that set the country back and still rages today in brutal attacks on women’s basic civil rights, healthcare, and reproductive freedom. In 1971, thanks to the hard work of organized feminists, Congress passed the bipartisan Comprehensive Child Development Bill to establish a multibillion-dollar national daycare system for the children of working parents. In 1972, President Richard Nixon vetoed it, and that was that. In 1972, Congress also passed a bill (first proposed in 1923) to amend the Constitution to grant equal rights of citizenship to women. Ratified by only 35 statesthree short of the required 38חthat Equal Rights Amendment was declared dead in 1982, leaving American women in legal limbo. In 1996, President Bill Clinton signed the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act, obliterating six decades of US social-welfare policy as we know it,Ӕ ending federal cash payments to the nations poor, and consigning millions of female heads of household and their children to poverty, where many still dwell 20 years later. Today, even privileged women, torn between their underpaid work and their kids, are overwhelmed.

Things happened very differently in Norway. There, feminists and sociologists pushed hard against the biggest obstacle still standing in the path to full democracy: the nuclear family. In the 1950s, the world-famous American sociologist Talcott Parsons had pronounced that arrangement - with the hubby at work and the little wife at home - the ideal setup in which to socialize children. But in the 1970s, the Norwegian state began to deconstruct that undemocratic ideal by taking upon itself the traditional, unpaid household duties of women. Caring for children, the elderly, the sick, and the disabled became the basic responsibilities of the universal welfare state, freeing women in the workforce to enjoy both their jobs and their families.

Paradoxically, setting women free made family life more genuine. Many in Norway say it has made both men and women more themselves and more alike: more understanding and happier. It also helped kids slip from the shadow of helicopter parents. In Norway, both mother and father in turn take paid parental leave from work during the child’s first year or longer. At age 1, however, children start attending a neighborhood barnehage (kindergarten) for schooling spent largely outdoors. By the time kids enter free primary school at age 6, they are remarkably self-sufficient, confident, and good-natured. They know their way around town, and if caught in a snowstorm in the forest, how to build a fire and find the makings of a meal. (One kindergarten teacher explained, We teach them early to use an ax so they understand it’s a tool, not a weapon.)

To Americans, the notion of a school “taking away” your child to make her an ax wielder is monstrous. Yet though it’s hard to measure, it’s likely that Scandinavian children actually spend more quality time with their non-work-obsessed parents than does a typical middle-class American child being driven by a stressed-out mother from music lessons to karate. For all these reasons and more, the international organization Save the Children cites Norway as the best country on earth in which to raise kids, while the United States finishes far down the list, in 33rd place.

Don’t Take My Word for It

This little summary just scratches the surface of Scandinavia, so I urge curious readers to Google away. But be forewarned: Youll find much criticism of all the Nordic-model countries. Worse, neoliberal pundits, especially the Brits, are always beating up on the Scandinavians, predicting the imminent demise of their social democracies. Self-styled experts still in thrall to Margaret Thatcher tell Norwegians they must liberalize their economy and privatize everything short of the royal palace. Mostly, the Norwegian government does the opposite - or nothing at all - and social democracy keeps on ticking.

It’s not perfect, of course. It has always been a carefully considered work in progress. Governance by consensus takes time and effort. You might think of it as slow democracy. Even so, its light-years ahead of us.




Posted by Elvis on 02/28/16 •
Section Dying America
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Saturday, February 27, 2016

The Offshore Outsourcing of American Jobs Continues

image: outsourcing america

Laid Off Disney Worker Breaks Down in Tears Before Senate Panel

By Caroline May
February 25, 2016

A Disney IT worker who was laid off and replaced by foreign workers along with hundreds of his colleagues BROKE DOWN IN TEARS before a Senate panel Thursday while telling his story.

During the holiday season of 2014, I was sent a meeting invitation by a prominent Disney executive. With an excellent review in hand along with company announcements of record profits my mind buzzed with thoughts of a promotion or a bonus, Leo Perrero, the former Disney worker testified before the SENATE SUBCOMMITTEE ON IMMIGRATION AND THE NATIONAL INTEREST. “I walked into a small conference room with about two dozen highly respected fellow IT workers. The Disney executive made a harsh announcement to us all.”

That harsh announcement, Perrero said, was that Disney was laying him and hundreds of others off. He would be without a job in 90 days.

“Your jobs have been given over to a foreign workforce,” Perrero recalled the executive saying. “In the meantime you will be training your replacements until your jobs are 100 percent transferred over to them and if you don’t cooperate you will not receive any severance pay.”

Perrero noted that the one ԓglimmer of hope left following the meeting was that there would be new employment opportunities at Disney. That hope was quickly dashed however, he said, as he later learned that just four people were ԓdirectly rehired.

During the meeting Perrero said, he began to worry about not only his future but also the future of America.

“Later that same day I remember very clearly going to the local church pumpkin sale and having to tell the kids that we could not buy any because my job was going over to a foreign worker,” he said, his voice beginning to crack.

“I started to think what kind of American was I becoming? Was I going to become part of ruining our country by taking severance pay in exchange for training my foreign replacement? How many other American families would be affected by the same foreign worker that I trained?” he said through tears.

Perrero recalled having to TRAIN HIS FOREIGN REPLACEMENT and the humiliation he felt at the task.

“The final period of the 90 days was the most disgraceful and demoralizing, as we had to watch the foreign workers completely take over our jobs. And we came to grips that the upcoming Disney jobs promise didnt exist. Then finally on January 31st of 2015 we were forced to turn in our company badges, laptops and then ushered out the door,” he said.

Perrero noted that one of the only reasons he is able to speak out is that he has left the profession entirely.

“The situation at Disney is not an anomaly,” he continued. “This same abuse is happening nationwide.”


Posted by Elvis on 02/27/16 •
Section Dying America • Section Workplace
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Monday, February 22, 2016

How Many Millions Are Out Of Work


Extra 14.3 Million U.S.-Born Americans Are Out of Work, Compared to 2000

By Caroline May
February 19, 2016

The number of U.S.-born, working-age Americans who are out of work has risen by 14.3 million since the year 2000, according to a new Center for Immigration Studies analysis of Labor Department data.

"The [official] unemployment rate gives a false picture of what’s going on in the labor market,” CIS director of research Steven Camarota, the author of the ANALYSIS, said Friday. “There has been enormous growth in the number of working-age (16-to-65) people, especially native-born Americans, not working, and thus are not counted in the formal measure of unemployment.”

“The key question for our political leaders and candidates is, does it make sense to admit a million new permanent immigrants each year, along with several hundred thousand guestworkers, given the enormous pool of working-age Americans not holding jobs?” Camarota added.

Camarota found that the official unemployment rate for native-born Americans in the last quarter of 2014 was 4.9 percent. That’s higher than the 4.6 percent in the same quarter in 2007, during the tail end of the mortgage-bubble economic boom, and higher than the 3.6 percent in the fourth quarter of 2000, at the tail end of the boom.

But Camarota’s study shows that 28.2 percent of working-age, age 16-to-65, native-born Americans were not working in the last quarter of 2014.

That percentage adds up to almost 50 million Americans, or 48.8 million.

That’s much higher than the 25.3 percent- or 42.5 million - out of work in the fourth quarter of 2007.

It is also higher than the 23.2 percent - or 36.3 million - out of work in the last quarter of 2000.

Camarota also added the number of people looking for work who are officially described as “unemployed” - to the number of non-working, native-born Americans.

He found 55.2 million working-age, native-born Americans without jobs in the fourth quarter of 2015, compared to 40.8 million in same quarter of 2000. In other words, with rounding, 14.3 million fewer native-born, working-age Americans were working than in the year 2000.

When combined with the number of not-working immigrants, the total number of both natives and immigrants unemployed or not in the labor force reached 71.8 million in the fourth quarter of 2015.

In January, 25.3 million immigrants and 123.7 native-born Americans were employed in the U.S., creating a workforce where one-in-six workers were born overseas.

Since January 2009, foreign-born people in the United States have gained 4 million jobs and native-born Americans gained only 4.6 million jobs. The working-age foreign-born population has increased by 6 million since January 2009, while the working-age native-born population has increased by 11.6 million people.


Posted by Elvis on 02/22/16 •
Section Dying America
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Sunday, February 21, 2016

The Broken Social Contract

image: dying america

“It is not that humans have become any more greedy than in generations past. It is that the avenues to express greed had grown so enormously.”
- Alan Greenspan

“If workers are more insecure, that’s very ‘healthy’ for the society, because if workers are insecure, they won’t ask for wages, they won’t go on strike, they won’t call for benefits; they’ll serve the masters gladly and passively. And that’s optimal for corporations’ economic health.”
- Noam Chomsky

The Broken Social Contract

By Harvey Lothian
February 21, 2016

The unwritten but very real and clearly understood social contract under which the citizens and workers of the United States and Canada developed the countries has now been broken by the wealthy classes, the owners of major industries and businesses and the politicians, The contract is now invalid.  A new social contract is needed.

It was clearly understood by everyone in both countries, from the very beginning of the countries, that if men got what education they could, or wanted or needed, got a job, worked hard, were frugal with their money, they would eventually be able to buy a house, get married, raise a family, and eventually retire and live without undue financial stress due to the equity in their homes, their pensions and their savings.  A growing economic pie would provide enough jobs and wealth that everyone could have a good life if they were willing to work for it.  Everyone understood that.  That was the Social Contract.

In 1982 Ronald Reagan, who was probably the first moron elected President of the USA. began a war on government, stating it was the enemy not your friend, and a war on working people by beginning the process of rolling back gains U.S. workers had made in the 20th Century. Every President since Reagan, including President Obama, have continued the war on working people, by destroying labor unions and reducing benefits working people had fought for and gained in the last hundred years.

But, that was not enough for the wealthy classes, they wanted more from working people, much more; they wanted to send workers well paying jobs to countries with low wages so their corporations could make higher profits.  They wrote Free Trade Agreements and had their bought-and- paid-for politicians pass them into law, then they went around the world and had other nations pass them into law.  Then, just as Ross Perot said would happen, there was a great sucking sound as good American jobs sped overseas.  Corporate profits soared.

The greedy wealthy classes were not finished yet, they wanted more, much, much more.  They had their bought-and-paid-for politicians repeal the Glass-Steagall Act in 1999.  US banks then began an orgy of financial speculation that produced the economic crisis of 2008.  In their inimical fashion they demanded that the US government bail them out to cover their gambling losses.  The government gave them $700 billion.  Every man, woman and child in the USA was instantly $2,295 further in debt, debt owed by the US government, which the public would have to pay.  A family of three was now $6,885 further in debt.  It is probably not a stretch of the imagination to think the wealthy classes laughed their way to their mansions that day.  $700 BILLION DOLLARS!!

From 1980, when Reagan became President, to 2013, the top 1% of wage earners saw their income increase 137.7%.  The bottom 90% of workers saw their income increase by 15.2%.

In 1978 the corporate CEO to worker compensation ratio was 29.9 to 1.  In 1995 the ratio was 122.6 to 1, in 2000 it was 383.4 to 1, and 295.9 to 1 in 2013.

Income did not Trickle Down as Reagan and his henchmen said it would, income sped to the top, at almost warp speed.

While the rich were getting richer the US National Federal Debt grew to almost 18 TRILLION DOLLARS at the beginning of 2016, about $54,000 per capita, or $162,000 for a family of three.  This enormous amount of debt will either have to be paid down by the citizens of the USA or inflated away or renounced.  The wealthy classes, though, will not help pay this debt down, because, in the famous words of wealthy Leona Helmsley, ғWe dont pay taxes.  Only the little people pay taxes.Ҕ Wealthy people pay accountants, lawyers and estate planners to find ways to avoid paying taxes and ways of spiriting their money to safe havens in foreign countries.  And, the wealthy have politicians pass bills that reduce their income taxes and inheritance taxes.

In 2007 the richest 1% of the American population owned 34.5% of the countrys total wealth, and the next 19% owned 50.5%.  Thus, the top 20% of Americans owned 85% of the country’s wealth, and the bottom 80% of the population owned 15%.  That gap widened after the financial crisis of 2007 and 2008.

While the rich continued to get richer, good US jobs continued to go overseas to low wage countries, food stamp usage in the USA grew from 17 million participants in 2000 to nearly 47 million in 2014, unemployed workers became discouraged about finding work, dropped out of the work force and the participation rate dropped from 67.3% to less than 63%.  While all this was happening the US per capita debt was growing exponentially, debts that the working class would have to pay through their future taxes, debts that the wealthy classes would not pay, because We don’t pay taxes.  Only the little people pay taxes.

In the 35 years since Ronald Reagan was President nothing has been done to improve the lives of workers in the nation.  Indeed, everything possible has been done by the wealthy class and their flunky politicians to reduce workers wages and benefits and to destroy their labor unions and saddle them with debts that can never be paid down. There was, and is, no limit to the greed of the wealthy classes in the USA or anywhere else.

No one ever asked the wealthy people, who owned the means of production, for charity or a handout, all that was asked is that they give workers a fair chance to get a good job at reasonable pay so they could lead a decent life.  The wealthy classes could not do that, their greed forced them to continue squeezing every penny they could out of the workers and the Nation itself. The wealthy classes do not care if workers are underpaid, unemployed, are losing their homes and families, and that people are homeless and hungry.  They do not even care about their country. All they care about is that their wealth, income and political and economic power continue to increase.  .

It is no longer possible for the vast majority of workers to get a good job that pays a living wage.  The economic pie is no longer being shared equitably.  The wealthy classes and their political flunkies have broken the Social Contract with the workers and people of the USA and Canada.

A new Social Contract is urgently needed; a Contract that a vast majority of citizens can agree upon.  A good place to start is the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights.  especially Articles 22 to 25.

Article 22

Everyone, as a member of society, has the right to social security and is entitled to realization, through national effort and international co-operation and in accordance with the organization and resources of each State, of the economic, social and cultural rights indispensable for his dignity and the free development of his personality.

Article 23

1. Everyone has the right to work, to free choice of employment, to just and favourable conditions of work and to protection against unemployment.

2. Everyone, without any discrimination, has the right to equal pay for equal work.

3. Everyone who works has the right to just and favourable remuneration ensuring for himself and his family an existence worthy of human dignity, and supplemented, if necessary, by other means of social protection.

4. Everyone has the right to form and to join trade unions for the protection of his interests.

Article 24

Everyone has the right to rest and leisure, including reasonable limitation of working hours and periodic holidays with pay.

Article 25

1. Everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself and of his family, including food, clothing, housing and medical care and necessary social services, and the right to security in the event of unemployment, sickness, disability, widowhood, old age or other lack of livelihood in circumstances beyond his control.

2. Motherhood and childhood are entitled to special care and assistance. All children, whether born in or out of wedlock, shall enjoy the same social protection.

The entire United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights can be read HERE.  Everyone should read it so they know what human rights they are entitled to if they can cooperate and work together to get them.

The wealthy classes of the world will never agree to allow the people of the world to live decent lives in accordance with the common sense articles of the UN Declaration unless they are forced to do so, either through the ballot box or by stronger means such as mass demonstrations and nonviolent civil disobedience.  If the latter is required it is highly probable that a majority of police and military personnel will join the demonstrations; they, too, are workers with the same needs as everyone else.

Understand that we need the assistance of others to survive.  We need the assistance of farmers, ranchers, fishermen, truck drivers, shoemakers, carpenters, plumbers, clothing makers, and every other worker in society today.  Everyone is important, everyone is needed.

We are weak when our differences divided us, incredibly strong when our common needs and desires unite us.

It is time to demand our rights.  It is time to demand that all Free Trade Agreements be repealed and good jobs stop being sent to low wage countries.  It is time for citizens to read the Declaration of Human Rights and demand that it become a law of the land. Make copies of it.  Pass the copies around.  Discuss it with family, friends, neighbours and coworkers.  Organize.  Demand that our politicians support us.  Demonstrate.  Peacefully, without violence.  Violence always plays into their hand.  Turn any violent demonstrator over to the police, they are probably their agents anyway.

Demand that all Presidential Candidates agree that all Free Trade Agreements be repealed.  Demand that they take a stand, for or against, the United Nations Declaration of Human Rights being enacted as a law of the land.  If they are against it demand to know why, especially why they are opposed to Articles 22, 23, 24, and 25.


Posted by Elvis on 02/21/16 •
Section Revelations • Section Dying America
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Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Suicide In White America

image: no hope

Financial despair, addiction and the rise of suicide in white America

By Chris McGreal
The Guardian
February 7, 2016

The death rate for white Americans aged 45 to 54 has risen sharply since 1999, but Montana officials wrestle to explain why the state has the highest rate of suicide in the US at nearly twice the national average - and it’s rising

Kevin Lowney lies awake some nights wondering if he should kill himself.

“I am in such pain every night, suicide has on a regular basis crossed my mind just simply to ease the pain. If I did not have responsibilities, especially for my youngest daughter who has problems,” he said.

The 56-year-old former salesman’s struggle with chronic pain is bound up with an array of other issues - medical debts, impoverishment and the prospect of a BLEAK RETIREMENT contributing to growing numbers of suicides in the US and helping drive a sharp and unusual increase in the mortality rate for middle-aged white Americans in recent years alongside premature deaths from alcohol and drugs.

A STUDY released late last year by two Princeton academics, Anne Case and Angus Deaton, who won the 2014 Nobel prize for economics, revealed that the DEATH RATE FOR WHITE AMERICANS AGED 45 TO 54 has risen sharply since 1999 after declining for decades. The increase, by 20% over the 14 years to 2013, represents about half a million lives cut short.

The uptick in the mortality rate is unique to that age and racial group. Death rates for African Americans of a similar age remain notably higher but continue to fall.

Neither was the increase seen in other developed countries. In the UK, the mortality rate for middle-aged people dropped by one third over the same period.

“This change reversed decades of progress in mortality and was unique to the United States; no other rich country saw a similar turnaround,” the study said.

Deaths from poisonings by drugs or alcohol have risen dramatically to push lung cancer into second place as the major killer with a sharp increase in SUICIDES NOW A CLOSE THIRD.

Lowney lives in Butte, Montana, where local officials see the Princeton study’s findings reflected in their community but struggle to explain them. The state has the HIGHEST RATE of suicide in the US at nearly twice the national average and rising up 7.3% in 2014. Those most likely to kill themselves are 45 to 65 years old.

“What’s been lacking in our town is an explanation for why this demographic in particular has been dying by suicide,” said Karen Sullivan, health director for Butte and the surrounding county, Silver Bow. “We want to take a look at what we’ve got going on in Butte. Is it economic in nature? Is it middle-aged white people discontented with where they landed in life? Is it isolation? A lack of a social network? Is it drug and alcohol issues? What do we have going on?”

Other officials see a number of interconnected forces at work and the rising rate of middle-aged deaths as indicative of crisis wider than those who kill themselves.

Growing economic inequality and increasing financial struggles are intertwined with other issues such as health and addiction. Some people living on low incomes hesitate to go to the doctor even if they have medical insurance because of the cost of out-of-pocket expenses. Chronic conditions can go untreated and become debilitating.

Pain is a driver of alcohol abuse and addiction to opioid painkillers, which in turn is feeding a growing heroin epidemic in the US. Stress and mental health issues are sometimes driven by constant worries about money and fear for the future as growing numbers of Americans look into a financial abyss at retirement.

What has changed?

Karl Rosston, Montana’s suicide prevention coordinator, said there are a number of constants that contribute to a historically high suicide rate throughout the Rocky Mountain region from social isolation to the availability of guns and a reluctance to seek mental health care.

But all of those are longstanding issues in Montana. So what’s changed to drive up the rate of people taking their own lives in recent years?

“Probably the biggest reason is socio-economic. We have about 150,000 people in our state that dont have access to any type of healthcare, which is a major issue. We have a lot of people living in poverty. Wages are not going up at the same pace as rising health costs, rising cost of living and inflation,” Rosston said.

“Definitely you see a lot of people that all of a sudden they hit 45 or 50 and they don’t see retirement as a bonus. They see something that they’re going to have struggle with and they’re not going to be able to retire.”

Sullivan sees that as tied up with “the expectation that as a middle-aged white person you would outdo your parents economically and socially, and that didnt occur”.

Lowney is typical of those baby boomers who have seen expectations dashed. His grandfather immigrated from Ireland to work as a miner when Butte was renowned as “the richest hill on earth” for the copper beneath. His father, Jerry, was raised in impoverished conditions but by the 1950s had moved up the social scale working as a civil engineer in a Butte hospital. He owned a house and a car. He had eight children, of which Kevin was the youngest, and retired on a comfortable pension without debt.

Kevin Lowney has not been so fortunate. He has never owned a house and is drowning in medical debt attributed to hospital costs and doctors office visits to treat his failing health.

I was a very hard-working American. Overly hard-working American. This is what brought down my health,Ӕ he said.

Lowney studied to be a mining engineer but Buttes copper mines shut down in the 1980s, taking with them well paid union jobs. The mine was bought out and reopened a few years but with a smaller, non-unionised workforce on an income dependent on the price of copper. By then Lowney had switched to a business degree and landed a job in California as a salesman for a food delivery company.

Lowney returned to Butte in 2002 and went to work for Walmart as a cashier. His health continued to deteriorate.

Rising healthcare costs

“In one year I had surgery on both hands, bladder cancer surgery, hernia surgery. My heart was starting to fail. I developed diabetes. High blood pressure. Enormous stress,” he said.

Lowney had health insurance but still ran up tens of thousands of dollars in medical bills. In 2007 he applied for a disability grant. It took five years to be approved, during which time he relied on food stamps and other small grants he was entitled to as a single parent raising his teenage daughter.

When the disability allowance came through in 2012, payments were backdated to the date of his application. But almost all of that lump sum immediately went to clear some of his outstanding medical bills. That still left him more than $40,000 in debt to doctors and hospitals.

“I have never drinked. I’ve never smoked. I’m a very strong Catholic and I practice those values. No way is this from any immorality on my part,” he said. “Here I am, I’ve worked hard all my life, put myself through college, raised three kids, been a single parent at different times in my life. Now I’m bankrupt. Not only bankrupt but with a remaining huge debt.

Except Lowney isn’t legally bankrupt because he says he can’t afford the $1,200 fee to file the paperwork. His only income is the $1,481 month disability grant. He lives in sparsely furnished two-storey public housing. On the wall next to the kitchen door is a picture of Lowney with former president Jimmy Carter when the pair were working as volunteer house builders for Habitat for Humanity in Mexico.

“We put up 100 homes in Tijuana in a one-week blitz,” he said. “The irony is I’m now living in public housing myself. Which, by the way, I’m very thankful for.

Much of his income still goes to pay for medical treatment, including the two trays on his living room table of an array of pills to treat his various conditions.

“I still pay at least $300 a month in medications,” he said. On top of that there are bills for regular visits to the hospital. Some months, he relies on the local food bank to feed himself.

In searching for explanations for why the US is alone among developing countries in grappling with a rising death rate among its middle-aged white population, Lowney contrasts his situation with a cousin, a fisherman in Ireland who was injured in a work accident at sea and spent a year in hospital.

“He told me it cost him 39 euros. That’s all because of the health system they have in Ireland,” he said.

Lowney ran up most of his debts before Barack OBAMA’S HEALTHCARE REFORMS. They have been a big leap forward for many Americans by, among other things, preventing insurance companies from cutting people off mid-treatment or capping payments for expensive medications, such as for cancer. But even with subsidized rates for low-income families, a trip to the doctor can still prove expensive because most insurance policies require holders to pay the first few thousand dollars each year before coverage kicks in.

That has put many people in the position of paying for insurance but being unable to afford to go to the doctor.

According to the Butte-Silver Bow Community Health Needs Assessment for 2014 23% of people in Montana have no health insurance.

But the report said that even among those with insurance, nearly 40% faced obstacles to receiving needed healthcare. About one-third said they could not afford the cost of the doctor or prescription. Nearly 8% said they lacked transport to get to a clinic. More than 11% said they skipped or reduced prescription doses in order to save money.

Kristen Ryan is among them. She works with children with disabilities in Butte. Her husband is a maintenance engineer at an elementary school but has two additional part-time jobs, including bar shifts, to bring in extra cash.

“Its to keep our head above water, to keep our kids in clothes and hot lunches. We make too much money to get help but it still is difficult,” she said.

The couple owns a small house Ryan bought when she was single but it only has two bedrooms to house four children and they cannot afford to buy a bigger place.

Ryan and her husband both have health insurance through their jobs but they hesitate to go to the doctor because they have to meet the first $5,000 of treatment costs.

“It has to be something pretty significant for me to go and the same for my husband,” she said. “I see that in my husband where his back will hurt or he’s got a funky foot and sometimes hes in a lot of pain but he won’t go because he knows that its going to end up costing a lot of money just to see the doctor.”

Chronic pain and suicide

The Princeton study and Rosston both identified chronic pain as a big driver of suicide among middle-aged people.

“The typical death certificate that I often read is a typical 55-year-old male who is having chronic pain issues in his back and is not being treated,” he said. “We know nationally that about 30% of the people who die by suicide have issues of chronic pain or chronic illness. We saw even higher numbers in Montana.”

The increase in chronic pain has been tied to the surge in abuse of opioids such as Oxycontin, which have taken hold across the United States. That has contributed to a sharp rise in unintentional poisonings from drugs and alcohol which have risen by about 160% nationally since 1999. Montana has 82 painkiller prescriptions for every 100 people.

Case and Deaton say that addictions are hard to treat and pain is hard to control, so those currently in midlife may be a lost generation whose future is less bright than those who preceded them

Sullivan thinks it is less bright for other reasons. She said for many the prospect of retirement is a fresh crisis.

“Where people landed in life, expecting to exceed what their parents accomplished, really is at play in our country,” she said. “Once you retire, you’re on a fixed-income when life becomes more interesting and not in a good way. What do you do with your limited income?”

Lowney had to cash in his small pension of $17,500 to pay medical bills. Ryan sees no prospect of retiring.

“My job cut the employer contribution to my pension a couple of years ago. I prefer not to think about that because I know I don’t have anything. It’s very small. Its not going to be enough to live on,” she said. “I think public housing or something like that might be in our future as we get older because I don’t know that were going to be able to do it on our own.:

“We owe my mother-in-law quite a bit of money because sometimes more goes out than comes in. You don’t expect to have to borrow from your parents at this age. You would hope that they would be able to borrow from you if they needed to but that’s just not the way that its turned out.”

The Princeton study also notes that a higher proportion of middle-aged suicides are among people who have less than a university education, suggesting they are more likely to be in lower income jobs and more severely affected by growing economic inequality. Rosston sees that in Montana too.

“I actually review every single suicide that occurs in the state and we see that a very high percentage about 80% had less than a college degree. That may correlate with the type of jobs, the labour jobs, that they had because with only a high school education or maybe just a little bit of college you’re more likely to be in those labour intensive jobs,” he said.

Tracy Thompson heads the Laborers’ International Union of North America in Butte. She used to be a construction worker and then held a job at a pulp mill in Missoula, to the west of Butte, until it shut down in 2009.

“We lost four people to suicide when they closed their doors. These were individuals making $50,000 or $60,000 a year, maybe more. All of a sudden they’re forced into early retirement or to find employment elsewhere. One guy had worked there for 30 years. We were all shocked he took his life, she said. “You see it all around. You see a guy dies at 53. What did he die of?”

According to the Butte-Silver Bow Community Health Needs Assessment for 2014, more than one-third of residents show symptoms of chronic depression.

“I grapple with depression,” said Ryan. “I take an anti-depressant. I find my situation very stressful. I find that I have trouble sleeping. I have to tell myself not to think about it so I can go to sleep. Its hard not to be able to do for your kids what you want to be able to do.”

“I’ve heard that the majority of Americans are afraid of even a $500 emergency. They’re one broken refrigerator away from not being able to make it. That’s us.”

That may go some way to explain the differing middle aged death rate with other developed countries that have extensive welfare systems, free or cheap health care and greater support for pensioners. The proportion of US pensioners living in poverty is more than double that in Germany and nearly six times that of France. Few western Europeans are fearful of losing their homes to pay medical bills.

Sullivan also thinks there may be something else unusually American at work.

“I’ve watched WHITE MALES rule this country from the beginning. The power that this traditional white male used to have is decreasing. We’ve evolved and white males aren’t necessarily at the root of power anymore. Everything from the Oregon military takeover to the abuse people have hurled at our president, I think a lot of that is at play,: she said.

African Americans on the other hand have long struggled against inequality and have generally held fewer assumptions about social advancement, which may explain why the same increases in suicides and drug and alcohol deaths have not been seen among middle aged black people.

Rosston said that whatever the causes, the increased numbers of suicides reflects a mental health crisis that is not being addressed in part because of a lack of professionals but also because of a reluctance to seek their help.

“We have a very high shortage of mental health professionals in our state, specifically psychiatrists. About 80% of the people who take psychotropic medication in Montana have never even spoken to a psychiatrist,” he said. “Also, there’s a stigma when it comes to mental illness. We have that kinda cowboy mentality, frontier mentality of taking care of your own, and people see depression as a weakness.”

“The words I often see when I review suicides is that the person thought they were a burden. That they weren’t serving a purpose anymore or they’re tired of dealing with things. When you feel that way, you’re not going to ask for help.”


Posted by Elvis on 02/16/16 •
Section Dying America
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