Article 43


Dying America

Friday, September 07, 2018

45 Thousand Die Yearly from Lack Of Health Insurance

image: uninsured

New study finds 45,000 deaths annually linked to lack of health coverage
Uninsured, working-age Americans have 40 percent higher death risk than privately insured counterparts

By David Cecere
Harvard University
September 6, 2018

Nearly 45,000 annual deaths are associated with lack of health insurance, according to a new study published online today by the AMERICAN JOURNAL OF PUBLIC HEALTH. That figure is about two and a half times higher than an estimate from the Institute of Medicine (IOM) in 2002.

The study, conducted at HARVARD MEDICAL SCHOOL and CAMBRIDGE HEALTH ALLIANCE, found that uninsured, working-age Americans have a 40 percent higher risk of death than their privately insured counterparts, up from a 25 percent excess death rate found in 1993.

"The uninsured have a higher risk of death when compared to the privately insured, even after taking into account socioeconomics, health behaviors, and baseline health,” said lead author ANDREW WILPER, M.D., who currently teaches at the University of Washington School of Medicine. We doctors have many new ways to prevent deaths from hypertension, diabetes, and heart disease - but only if patients can get into our offices and afford their medications.

The study, which analyzed data from national surveys carried out by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), assessed death rates after taking into account education, income, and many other factors, including smoking, drinking, and obesity. It estimated that lack of health insurance causes 44,789 excess deaths annually.

Previous estimates from the IOM and others had put that figure near 18,000. The methods used in the current study were similar to those employed by the IOM in 2002, which in turn were based on a pioneering 1993 study of health insurance and mortality.

Deaths associated with lack of health insurance now exceed those caused by many common killers such as kidney disease. An increase in the number of uninsured and an eroding medical safety net for the disadvantaged likely explain the substantial increase in the number of deaths, as the uninsured are more likely to go without needed care. Another factor contributing to the widening gap in the risk of death between those who have insurance and those who do not is the improved quality of care for those who can get it.

The researchers analyzed U.S. adults under age 65 who participated in the annual National Health and Nutrition Examination Surveys (NHANES) between 1986 and 1994. Respondents first answered detailed questions about their socioeconomic status and health and were then examined by physicians. The CDC tracked study participants to see who died by 2000.

The study found a 40 percent increased risk of death among the uninsured. As expected, death rates were also higher for males (37 percent increase), current or former smokers (102 percent and 42 percent increases), people who said that their health was fair or poor (126 percent increase), and those who examining physicians said were in fair or poor health (222 percent increase).

Steffie Woolhandler, study co-author, professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School, and a primary care physician at Cambridge Health Alliance, noted: “Historically, every other developed nation has achieved universal health care through some form of nonprofit national health insurance. Our failure to do so means that all Americans pay higher health care costs, and 45,000 pay with their lives.”

The Institute of Medicine, using older studies, estimated that one American dies every 30 minutes from lack of health insurance,” remarked David Himmelstein, study co-author, associate professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School, and a primary care physician at Cambridge Health Alliance.

“ӓEven this grim figure is an underestimate now one dies every 12 minutes.”

Other authors include Karen E. Lasser, Danny McCormick, David H. Bor, and David U. Himmelstein. The study was supported by a National Service Research Award.


Posted by Elvis on 09/07/18 •
Section Dying America
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Wednesday, August 29, 2018

Culture Of Cruelty

image: big bad boss

I had a panic attack of fear of the future a few years ago after an UNEMPLOYMENT OFFICE VISIT, but instead of throwing myself in front of a bus, went to a church and talked to a priest.  The man seemed friendly enough until he asked if I believed Jesus died for my sins.  I said “No.” He threw me out.  No different than those JEHOVAH WITNESSES.

A lady walked into the dentist with a child screaming in agony holding his hand next to his cheek.  The staff rushed him into the back as mom says she has no insurance.  Out in the waiting room we all heard the discussion that turned from helping the kid, to how is mom gonna pay.  A few minutes later they walked out with the kid still screaming.

On my first day AT THE CALL CENTER a few years ago, a manager yelled at me for missing an inbound call. This is three hours into day one. “I’m sorry I pressed the wrong button.” The verbal abuse didn’t stop. It led me to a psychologist from the company’s employee assistance program. The doctor said ”MAN UP and take it.”

AT LUCENT we weren’t allowed to discuss of grieve for our just-layed-off friends and workmates.

AT&T does the same these days.  They JUST LET YOU GO without even letting you SAY GOOD-BYE to anyone.


The Terrible and Catastrophic Price of American Cruelty
What History Teaches Us About What Crueltys (Really) Worth

By Umair
Augist 29, 2018

You’re at Stanford. You’re depressed. You become suicidal. You go for counseling. And instead of support - you’re asked to leave class, your dorm room, your degree, and sent home, until you “accept blame.”

Shocked? I was. And yet, at the same time, its still somehow unsurprising. The above is a tiny but telling example of what America’s legendary for now - the world over -not freedom, justice, or truth, but a kind of weird, gruesome, and relentless cruelty.

The problem is that America’s fatally misjudged what cruelty’s worth. American thinking supposes that cruelty perfects human beings. No pain, no gain. But the truth is that cruelty isn’t an asset for a society, or a person. It is a liability. It leads a society to become something like a Ponzi scheme of the human spirit, each person preying on the next, and thus corrodes it from within - leaving it ever in the hands of Caesars and Caligulas, or Trumps and Bannons.

But let’s start at the beginning. American life is now one long exercise in cruelty - first learning to survive it, then learning to appreciate and admire it (as perverse as that sounds), then learning, in the end, to perform and enact it - thus, the cycle keeps going. Do I exaggerate? You go ahead and be the judge.

You’re born, you go to school. Active shooter drills. From an early age, you learn that life is divided, therefore, into predator and prey. You go to middle school, high school - it’s a uniquely awful, dispiriting experience, about being mean and nasty, bullying and submission, popularity and vanity and selfishness - and while you might think, “it’s like that everywhere!” my friends, it isn’t. Other nations don’t base their entire adolescent cultures on the trauma of just waking up and going to school. But Americans do, because that’s life. Hence, among disastrous effects, skyrocketing SUICIDE rates.

Those that do survive a culture of extreme cruelty from the day they’re born? Off you go go to college - and you’re hazed mercilessly to join a fraternity. What are you being trained for, really? Education, creativity, insight - or dominance, submission, and tribalism? Never mind. You graduate and go to work. And the workplace is one where bullying itself is called management, and every kind of abuse is normalized. No one else in the civilized world, really, puts up with bosses shouting at them and berating them and demeaning them, like feudal overlords. It just isn’t tolerated - its usually quite literally against the law. But America created a culture where overwork is work, where 80 hour weeks for shrinking pay are just fine, and you have to perform with a rictus smile of submission on your face. YouҒre not really “working” more than that, you’re performing a kind of flamboyant display of emotional and intellectual servitude, which proves what you really are, a social nobody. Better not make that capitalist mad - or is he your lord? Yet for Americans, all these are perfectly normal and acceptable.

You’re getting older now. Heaven forbid you get sick - better not tell your boss. He might fire you. Heaven forbid someone in your family needs to use the insurance. They might axe you for that, too. Don’t take a vacation, don’t use up those sick days, don’t be the first to leave the office, always be the first to arrive. Cruelty’s been internalized at this point - you’ve learned to “take responsibility for abusing yourself,” sadly, and call it “adulthood,” yet it’s anything but that: its the repression of the true adult in you, which is crying out for meaning, purpose, belonging, truth.

So you search for a partner, a spouse. Who do you want? The one that everyone else wants. Culture doesn’t tell you to be interested in a person for who they are, what they’ve been through, the secret suffering hidden in their heart - which is the one thing which might save you, too. It just tells you to date the hottest person with the highest attractiveness quotient, basically - swipe right. So you go on endless dates - but nothing seems to click, work out. You say there’s no spark, ruefully, to your friends - but what you can’t admit to yourself is you’re afraid they wouldn’t think, and you don’t think, the person you actually like or love or admire or need meets the strange and stupid standards - he’s got perfect abs, shes a perfect size zero, never mind the ego, self-absorption, vanity, greed, duplicity, and indifference, aww, they’re the American Dream - everyoneʒs learned from a culture of cruelty to admire and celebrate as universally attractive in the first place.

You have kids. What are their lives like? Not much different from yours - you learned to survive cruelty, then admire it, then enact it, finally. I could go on. But perhaps you see my point. American life is one long headpsinning exercise in cruelty - and Americans seem to revel in it, or at least to shrug, grin, and bear it, while not understanding that life elsewhere isn’t like this, because, well, people shudder at the thought.

What does it to do us, though? I think the Stanford example is much more illuminating than it might appear on first glance. So let’s think about it.

There’s the poor Stanford kid. About halfway through the lifecycle of cruelty I’ve described above. Except maybe he just cant take it anymore - the constant atmosphere of pervasive abuse, emotional violence, pressure, stress, trauma. He grows depressed, and then suicidal. Instead of support, what happens?

The first thing that happens is that support is withdrawn. That’s a very American pattern - and it happens because Americans see weakness as a dangerous, threatening liability. Something like parasitism - which will drain away their very lifeblood if they give an inch. What do we do with drug addicts? Instead of supporting them, we follow the crackpot “intervention” model, and withdraw our support. Tough Love, Tucker! Sorry, son - go sleep on the street! But that model hasn’t worked, not in America - have you seen the suicide rate skyrocketing - because it can’t. You can’t withdraw support at a time when people need it most - and hope for anything to result but further, often catastrophic, injury and hurt. Yet that is what American institutions are built to do. Need healthcare? Sorry, insurance wont cover that. Need a job? Sorry - you’re over, under, mis, unemployed. Need an education? Sorry - the only way you get one is to pay 10% interest forever. And so on.

The second thing that happens is that the suffering party is shunned and ostracized.Because Americans see weakness as contagious, they must step back - What if I get infected?!, appears to be the logic. But I want you to note how ignorant and foolish this is: weakness isn’t contagious - thatӒs something like medieval logic, isnt it? Yet this is a step beyond withdrawing support - the Stanford students don’t just get no counseling, they get kicked out. But that too follows the general pattern of American cruelty. Get sick - lose your job. Shes pregnant - fire her, just don’t tell anyone. They’re going through a rough patch - we don’t talk to them anymore. It’s so commonplace in America now to shun and ostracize the weak that we barely notice it at all. But what happens to us when we fall, then?

The third thing that happens is that people must never blame anyone else but themselves for weakness - and then they are institutionally legitimized again. They must never complain. In this case, Stanford students had to “accept blame,” and whatnot. But that’s the general rule. (Of course, here, by “weakness” and “legitimacy,” I emphatically don’t mean Louis CK doing stand-up comedy again - we’re not talking about people who hurt other, but people who are hurt). You can see this rule operating everywhere. “Hey, I was sick, but I beat it!” “Oh, stop whining and bitching! You’re always complaining! “Be positive!” The idea is simply the flipside of self-reliance - one must never broach the idea that one has been failed, only that one has failed.

Now, you might say, so what? The problem with all the above is very simple. You can have a society based on norms of extreme cruelty - or you can have a democratic, free, and prosperous one. But you cant have both. Cruelty like all the above makes people timid, afraid, and docile - of being the ones preyed on. It leaves them unimaginative, dull, empty, and ignorant - because they are too busy obeying order to question them. It makes conformists and braggarts and bullies of them - who hope to become flunkies, cronies, and enforcers, one day. But that is about the limit of their existential aspirations, and the edge of their moral horizons.

In this way, a society based upon cruelty is something like a house of cards - just waiting to collapse into authoritarianism, of one kind or another. The people in it are already meek and timid, servile and docile, when their superiors are watching, but vicious and abusive, violent and savage, to their underlings - yet all that is precisely the opposite of what a democracy needs, isn’t it?

Yet history tells us this story again and again. Rome degenerated not because it grew poor, feeble, or infirm - but because cruelty produced tyranny and obscenity, in the end. The French Revolutions noble, ambitious ideals were betrayed the moment it acceded to the cruelty of a Bonaparte. Germany’s romantic, bombastic nationalism didn’t lead to a noble empire - it led to the Nazis. The Soviets looked forward to a glorious future - and soon enough, an admiration for cruelty had produced a Stalin. And so on.

History is littered with the ruins of the cruel. Because todayגs cruelest are really just tomorrows dullest җ quicker to draw a gun or a sword than read or writea book. But a gun, unlike a book, has never once lit a spark in a mind, a fire in a heart, or held up a mirror to a soul, yet it is those things which prosperity is genuinely made of. That is why the cruel always fall from within  usually, without an enemy even needing to fire a shot. Societies built on cruelty above all else usually are too busy shooting themselves to need their enemies to do anything but gawp. For societies, just as for people, it is best to see cruelty as a kind of fatal ignorance ח about what the purpose of this life is, and how it is best lived. Not with cruelty. But with grace, authenticity, gentleness, and humility.

The price of cruelty, my friends, in the end, is us. What else could it be? That lesson, which is what history has taken so many long millennia to teach us, has always been lost on America  and still, it seems to me, is.




Posted by Elvis on 08/29/18 •
Section Revelations • Section Dying America • Section Spiritual Diversions
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Wednesday, August 22, 2018

Good Guys Bad Guys

image: manford found guilty 2018-08-20

President Donald Trump confronted one of the most perilous moments of his presidency Tuesday after two onetime members of his inner circle simultaneously were labeled “guilty” of criminal charges.
Daily Herald 8/21/2018

Did the Good Guys Just Rescue America From the Bad Guys?
What Fixing, Saving, or Rescuing America Really Means (to Me)

By Umair
August 21, 2018

I dont often writeabout daily political events - noise, not signal - but I’ll reluctantly make an exception, given toda’s spectacular ones. Could they be a turning point for a beleaguered America?

The good news is that Americas proven (finally) that it has one working institution of governance: the judiciary. The bad news is that America is that it has two profoundly, badly, perhaps fatally broken ones: the executive and the legislature. Now, that might seem obvious. But itҒs more significant than you might think.

This is a not uncommon position for failing states to find themselves in. The judiciary becomes the last bulwark of governance, something like the last piston in the engine of democracy. And so a nation can limp along, for decades, often, with just a functioning judiciary, while executives and legislatures are deeply corrupt - just as many Latin American and Asian countries have. It doesn’t go much of anywhere - it sputters, rolls forward in inch, moves backward, and so on. In many ways, that’s what a kleptocracy is - a place where there are so many, so flagrant, crooks in government, the judiciary, which is the last functioning institution, overloaded, can barely keep up.

So the first way to answer the question is: the judiciary might have SET A KIND OF FLOOR to American collapse, putting a safety net in place just above the bottom of the abyss. Thats a welcome development. But will America hit it?

What about the executive and the legislature? Well, history suggests that authoritarians and FASCISTS hardly give in and exit shamefully when theyҒre challenged - precisely because they dont have a sense of shame. In fact, they double down - bellowing even more preposterous excuses, rationales, and justifications for misbehaviour. Why is that? Because the only way that a narcissist really knows how to relate, much like a mafia, is through the raw exercise of egoistic power. If you canҒt rub it in peoples faces, and get away with it, make a public spectacle of it - then you haven’t really intimidated anyone at all, and therefore, you are nothing, worthless, laughable, the proverbial “loser” and that is the worst thing of all to be, something that strikes clawing fear into the heart of a narcissist. So while you might hope for apple-cheeked resignations, and walks of shame, its probably unlikely to be the case. One can always dream, though - and IҒd be delighted to be proven wrong.

Now, they might seem absurd to you and to double down on absurd excuses, at this point of moral outrage. But that is missing the point. Remember, the minds of the people who’ve become proto-fascists have stopped working at this point in the cycle - they are seething, instead, with imaginary grievances, illusory persecution complexes, in which they’ve become the victims of fictional, nightmarish enemies, with the power to destroy them whole. Of course, little Mexican kids cant destroy anyone, really - but that’s not how the fascist mind sees it. And so the excuses - the more absurd they are - will be lapped up by the faithful, which is precisely what the authoritarian mind seems to intuitively grasp.

I think this point is often misunderstood, so I want to make it clear. The more that an authoritarian or fascist is attacked, the more support hardens into a kind of unbreakable bond. The authoritarian is the surrogate parent, and taking them away from the regressed child, who fears imaginary monsters, is to remove all safety. Just as a kid attacks the person attacking their parent does - no matter how abusive the parent might be. They believe in the goodness of their protector all the more. So American politics, which are already polarized, are likely only to polarize more (as incredible as that might seem.)

And that brings me to the third branch of government - the legislature. We might well imagine that the modern-day GOP will come its senses, and do the needful. But we are decent people, and they are opportunists and scoundrels to a degree that calling them kleptocrats would be a compliment. They are hardly likely to act out of concern for either the republic, or even their own good names. Instead, its more likely that as they see support for the authoritarian hardening, they follow the political tide -and offer their own preposterous excuses and justifications for not doing what is right, in order to please extremists. Again, Id be delighted to be proven wrong. But as I ask myself: what would they gain from doing the right thing? The answer seems to me to be: nothing at all. And they are more self-interested creatures than any piranha has ever been.

So where does that leave us? Did the good guys just rescue American from the bad guys? Not yet, my friends, not yet. But I feel you probably already know this - as much as you might not want to admit just yet. I think its wiser to say: the good guys have set off a kind of chain reaction now, whose effects will be as inescapable as they will be explosive. Only it’s hard to know whether that fire will consume the republic, or whether it will cauterize its wounds.

(If you understand all the above, then the chain reaction thats been set off tonight, by hardening fascist support, by pushing authoritarians into a corner, by making the legislature fall into line all the more easily, might just cleave America apart even more than it is already is. ThatҒs not to say the good guys shouldnt have acted. Of course they should have. ItҒs only to say that political choices often have perverse consequences. And yet if all that energizes Americans to vote in the mid-terms, then, by a circuitous route, democracy will have worked to shield itself.)

Now, if you want to really talk about saving America, then the challenges only really barely begin with a shift in political tides. The really hard work comes after the bad guys leave office. What happens then? Americans have to catch up with the modern world - they are at least half a century behind, when it comes to a working social contract. They must develop a working economy - not just a predatory machine. A polity which represents people - not land. And so on - all the institutional changes which I and many others have discussed over the years.

But most crucially of all - and I think this is the part that too few really get, and even fewer discuss - Americans must build a society in which this can never, ever happen again. Ever. Do you know how hard that is? What it took in Germany, South Africa, or Argentina?

That means a period of self-examination and self-reflection. How did we get here? Why have we diverged so far from our ideals? How did we become the kind of nation that is universally mocked and feared and scorned? Why do we always seem to take the low road, as a people - cruelty, greed, rage, violence? What will it take to be able to take the high road, of gentleness, wisdom, truth, and liberation? What is it in us that is so ashamed, afraid, and wounded, that it leads downwards, where it can unrestrain itself to do its worst, again and again - and more and more often now - not upwards, where we can all struggle mightily to be our best? What is that part of us? What happened to hurt it so?

Because a society is a living thing, too, my friends. And living things do not lash out in rage and shock unless they are hurt, wounded, bitterly, desperately afraid for their very being, in some way. That is where America is, and has been, for far too long. And yet no one at all seems to ask why, in a gentle way, in a giving way, in a compassionate way - in the way a loving parent might, to a little frightened child. What is it that has wounded America so badly that - even though it is the most powerful one of - fearing for its very being, it acts out a deep, deep sense of rage, shame, fear, and humiliation, over and over again?

Americans don’t like questions like that. I don’t say that to condemn them. I say it, if anything, with empathy. I hardly blame them. They are difficult, painful, piercing questions to ask of ones self. And yet it is the hallmark of a mature, confident society - just as it is a person - to be able to ask them, and laugh, not just through the pain, but or at the pain, or even despite the pain. But with a kind of happiness. Because the pain of self-revelation is precisely what contains all the characteristics of maturity - curiosity, courage, compassion, self-awareness. These questions of shortcoming and limitation and frailty are how a person, just as a society, develops, flourishes, really becomes itself.

America has spent too long acting out its childhood traumas, if you ask me. Like an abandoned, neglected thing, it became a society which endlessly took its rage, sparked by an all-consuming, soul-crushing fear of annihilation, out on the most vulnerable and weakest among it - and when that wasn’t enough, around it. But now it’s time for America to grow up. Because a society cannot stay a childlike thing forever - it ends up where America has gone for the last two years, forever.

The good guys, bless them, cannot make anyone do all that. That part is up to a society, one day, and one step, at a time.


Posted by Elvis on 08/22/18 •
Section Revelations • Section Dying America
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Tuesday, August 21, 2018

Bankruptcy Is The New Retirement

image: happy retirement

Graying of U.S. Bankruptcy: Fallout from Life in a Risk Society

Deborah Thorne
University of Idaho

Pamela Foohey
Indiana University - Maurer School of Law

Robert M. Lawless
University of Illinois - College of Law

Katherine M. Porter
University of California - Irvine School of Law

August 5, 2018

The social safety net for older Americans has been SHRINKING for the past couple decades. The risks associated with aging, reduced income, and increased healthcare costs, have been off-loaded onto older individuals. At the same time, older Americans are increasingly likely to file consumer bankruptcy, and their representation among those in bankruptcy has never been higher. Using data from the Consumer Bankruptcy Project, we find more than a two-fold increase in the rate at which older Americans (age 65 and over) file for bankruptcy and an almost five-fold increase in the percentage of older persons in the U.S. bankruptcy system. The magnitude of growth in older Americans in bankruptcy is so large that the broader trend of an aging U.S. population can explain only a small portion of the effect. In our data, older Americans report they are struggling with increased financial risks, namely inadequate income and unmanageable costs of healthcare, as they try to deal with reductions to their social safety net. As a RESULT of these increased financial burdens, the median senior bankruptcy filer enters bankruptcy with negative wealth of $17,390 as compared to more than $250,000 for their non-bankrupt peers. For an increasing number of older Americans, their golden years are fraught with economic risks, the result of which is often bankruptcy.



Bankruptcy is hitting more older Americans, pointing to a retirement crisis in the making

By Michael Hiltzik
LA Times
Aug 6, 2018

Whether America is facing a retirement CRISIS in which seniors are making do with shrinking financial resources has been widely debated. But here’s a telling metric: Seniors are making a larger share of bankruptcy filings.

That’s the finding of a new paper by academic researchers affiliated with the Consumer Bankruptcy Project, which periodically samples personal bankruptcy filings from all 50 states and the District of Columbia. “Older Americans are increasingly likely to file consumer bankruptcy,” they write, “and their representation among those in bankruptcy has never been higher.”

The figures should worry advocates for SENIORS, because in terms of the overall financial health of the 65+ cohort, its likely to be the tip of the iceberg. “Only a small fraction of those who are having financial troubles file for bankruptcy, one of the authors, Robert Lawless of the University of Illinois law school, told me. “So this is part of a much bigger story about financial distress among the elderly.”

It’s true that the elderly have been the beneficiaries since the 1930s of America’s strongest and most successful social safety net. The system was born with Social Security in 1935, which aimed to reduce the scandalous poverty rate among seniors. It was followed by Medicare and Medicaid in 1965, which offered relief for healthcare, and culminated in the Medicare prescription drug program enacted in 2003.

During that same period, a sizable percentage of American workers were covered by corporate defined-benefit pensions, producing what retirement experts have called “a brief golden age” when many American workers could retire with confidence.

Over the last few decades, however, confidence in that safety net has ebbed. Defined-benefit plans have given way to defined contribution plans such as 401(k)s, which saddle workers with all the risk of investment market downturns - and in which wealthier workers are overrepresented, both in enrollment rates and balances.

Some older Americans may have more access to retirement income than their forebears, but theyre also carrying more debt. The share of Americans still carrying mortgage debt when they reach age 65 rose to 38% in 2013 from 22% in 1995, according to the Joint Center for Housing Studies at Harvard. Their mortgage balances also have risen over that period, to $73,000 from $27,300 in inflation-adjusted terms. Despite Medicare, medical expenses remain a large component of “seniors” financial burdens.

It’s also proper to keep in mind that the stagnation of wages for workers is certain to have an impact as today’s workers move into retirement. Jobs that once offered a stable middle-class income with benefits have morphed into low-wage jobs without job security, healthcare or pensions. Workers struggling to make ends meet in an economy in which corporate profits are approaching a post-recession record arent likely to become suddenly flush in their retirement years.

The bankruptcy paper has sustained some criticism from commentators who believe the retirement crisis has been exaggerated. Kevin Drum of Mother Jones observed, fairly enough, that the bankruptcy rate for the 65+ cohort hasn’t changed at all over the last 15 years, and the run-up in the rate during the decade 1991-2001 reflects a sharp increase in the rate among all Americans and that increase began in the mid-1980s.

But I would argue that more seems to be going on here. To begin with, the bankruptcy bulge seems to be moving up the age ladder. In 1991, 8.2% of all bankruptcy filings were made by households led by people 55 or older; by the 2013-2016 period, their share was 33.7%. According to the new paper, the bankruptcy rates among all age groups 54 and younger have fallen since 1991, but the rates for all groups 55 and older have risen.

This isn’t related to the general graying of the U.S. population. As Lawless observes, the over-65 population has risen by 16% since 1991. But bankruptcy filings in that cohort have increased by 2 times.

“This is not a trend, but something qualitatively different in what were seeing,” he says.

Lawless and his colleagues point out that while bankruptcy is a last resort for any debtor and nothing like the panacea its often depicted to be, itҒs an especially dire choice for seniors. Unlike younger debtors, seniors dont have years ahead of them to rebuild their household finances while their debts are held in abeyance. ғBy the time they file bankruptcy, the paper observes, ԓtheir wealth has vanished.

America has some serious policy choices to make, and pretending that seniors are living the high life on Social Security doesn’t clarify matters, especially as the claim is typically made by conservatives as a rationale to cut Social Security and Medicare benefits.

The figures on bankruptcy suggest that the opposite is necessary expanding Social Security and increasing benefits to shore up retiree resources against the decline of personal savings and pension income. The guaranteed retirement accounts advocated by a number of retirement experts - personal accounts funded by workers and employers during their working years, supported by a tax credit and a government guarantee against loss of principal - are a promising option. America has more than enough resources to make sure, as it did in the 1930s, that its seniors won’t be facing their last years fearing penury.



Entering retirement broke and bankrupt

By Aimee Picchi
August 6, 2018

The “golden years” of retirement are significantly tarnished for some older Americans, whose ranks among the bankrupt have surged fivefold since 1991.

Even though the U.S. population is aging, the spike in older Americans entering bankruptcy far exceeds the demographic shift, according to new research from the Consumer Bankruptcy Project, which analyzed data from bankruptcy court records and written questionnaires. About 100,000 of the 800,000 annual bankruptcy filings are from households headed by seniors, or about 12.2 percent of all filings.

The culprit appears to be cutbacks in the social safety net—such as raising the retirement age and requiring seniors to pay more out-of-pocket health care costs—as well as a shift in risk from government and corporations onto individuals. Americans are less likely today to retire with a private pension, given the growing popularity of 401(k)s, where workers are responsible for making their own investment and savings decisions, and more likely to be carrying mortgage and credit card debt into their 60s and 70s.

The full retirement age for Social Security, once 65, is inching up every year. And retirees are now paying 20 percent of their income on health care expenses even though they are covered by Medicare, compared with 12 percent for previous generations.

As a result, the rate of bankruptcy among Americans over age 65 has doubled over the period studied by the researchers. “For an increasing number of older Americans, their golden years are fraught with economic risks, the result of which is often bankruptcy,” their report noted.

Because one-quarter of the country will be older than 65 by 2050 compared with 15 percent now, the authors predict America will see a “coming storm of broke elderly.”

Older and poorer

The problem with these societal risk shifts, as the authors view it, is that seniors are the group least able to cope with such changes. Because of their age, they have fewer years to build or rebuild wealth, and it’s common for older Americans to have trouble finding jobs that pay as much as they earned when they were younger, they noted.

“Retirement is a particularly precarious time of life,” they wrote.

Bankruptcy is designed to provide a “fresh start” by wiping away debts or restructuring them in a way that makes it easier to pay them down, but bankrupt seniors don’t have enough time to regrow their financial wealth, they added.

Bankrupt seniors are in rough financial shape, the researchers found. They are shouldering more than $100,000 in debt, compared with $1,000 in debt for their non-bankrupt peers. Financially solvent senior citizens have about $251,000 in wealth, but bankrupt older Americans have negative net wealth of more than $17,000.

Older Americans who file for bankruptcy are less likely than their younger peers to have a college degree, although there’s no racial difference between older and younger debtors, the researchers found. But across the general population, Asian-Americans and Hispanics are less likely to file for bankruptcy than white or black Americans.
“All things went up in price”

Older Americans who file for bankruptcy told the researchers in survey responses that they were often hit by a double-whammy: inadequate retirement income and rising costs—especially health care costs.

“All things went up in price,” one unidentified respondent told the researchers. “Retirement never went up. Had a part time job that was helping to meet monthly payments. House payment kept going up. Was fired from my part time job that I had for over 10 years without any warning. Being 67 and having back problems, not many people will hire you even as part time worker.”

Others noted their health problems resulted in a loss of their job or income, while their insurance didn’t fully cover their health expenses.

“I got to the point I owed more than I was making on Social Security. To get out from under these medical bills I had to file bankruptcy,” another respondent told the researchers.

About 7 out of 10 respondents indicated that the combination of medical expenses and missing work contributed to their bankruptcies.

Asked what they were unable to afford in the year before going bankrupt, half of seniors said the most important thing they had to cut back on was medical care, such as surgeries, prescriptions and dental care.

“These responses continue to suggest that their health care coverage is inadequate,” the researchers wrote.

Taken together, the portrait of retirement in the U.S. is one of instability and risk, at least for some Americans. And bankruptcy, while designed to provide some relief, may be “too little too late.”

They added, “By the time they file, their wealth has vanished, and they simply do not have the enough years to get back on their feet.”


Posted by Elvis on 08/21/18 •
Section Pension Ripoff • Section Revelations • Section Dying America • Section Personal
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Thursday, August 16, 2018

The Awakening Part 13

image: class warfare

The Everyday Obscenity of American Collapse
How Norms of Domination and Dehumanization Made America an Indecent Society

By Umair
August 16, 2018

Here’s a tiny observation. American life is BECOMING obscene. As in “so bizarre and gruesome,” you can barely describe it in everyday language with polite company.  But a Presidency that’s said to have used a racial slur - on video, and retaliates by calling a black woman a “dog,” is hardly all. A Neo-Nazi winning a primary. 50% of crowdfunding going to - healthcare. The latest boom among retirees - bankruptcy. Suicide rates skyrocketing. The list is endless. These are things which simply don’t happen, not just in other rich countries - but anywhere else, even poor ones.

American life today is full of everyday obscenities. So here’s a tiny question. Will America ever be a decent society? You can add “again,” if you like. Is that a terrible thing to say? I think it’s a great question that collapse is trying to ask us - but maybe we don.t want to hear.

What does “obscene” mean? It means that which violate norms of decency. The things above disgust and repel most sensible moral stances, hence, they’re generally considered “obscene.” But in America, it seems, obscenity itself is normal now. Just mundane, everyday reality. How did that come to be?

America has always been cursed by two demons. Dehumanization and domination. These are the two definingly American kinds of everyday violence. When we say that America’s “original sin” was slavery, that is precisely what we mean. Whole groups of people were dehumanized for centuries - at the barrel of a gun, at the crack of a whip. Now, you might think - as unfortunately we’re still in taught in high school - that the detrimental, destructive effects of dehumanization and dominance were limited to minorities, black, natives, history, and so on. My friend, you are wrong. Those norms ended up collapsing society from the inside out, as people only came to want to prey on one another more savagely, never lifting each other up. Hence, no enemy had to fire so much as a single bullet to bring America crashing down. And that is the great folly and tragedy America still hasn’t understood.

America learned from its founding to dehumanize and dominate people. But there is a great problem here, which America has never understood, much less reckoned with. Only the dehumanized can dehumanize. Dominance always requires our own subjugation. To be able to treat another person as if they are not a human being, but a mere possession, also costs us our very own empathy, gentleness, mercy, wisdom, courage, defiance, grace, and truth. And in the end, my friends, that ruins a nation. How so?

The norms which evolved in America weren’t like those of any other society - especially its peers. In other rich nations, norms of decency developed - after strife, it’s true, yet develop they did. What do I mean by norms of decency? Simply the idea, if you like, that every person is one. All people deserve dignity, equality, and freedom. Nobody stands alone - especially when they are in need of support, nurturance, and guidance.

But Americans developed a perverse, backwards set of norms: I am only good when I punish you, when I’m above you, when I dominate you, when I dehumanize you. But that means that I am not good if I don’t do those things. And that means that Americans never developed a sense of intrinsic worth. Isn’t that obvious if you look at America today? In no other country do people need to tell themselves they are perfect, blessed, wonderful, or special - nor do they need to put on fake smiles and work out constantly and be the richest and have giant houses and cars and so on - even while constantly picking on everyone else less perfect, desirable, attractive, and so on.

(The norms which developed in America, in other words, were norms of dominance and dehumanization. Those of cruelty, greed, rage, and fear. You must always be afraid of the next person above in the social hierarchy. They have the power to reduce you to nonexistence. You must always make the next person down from you feel just that way, too. If you dont do these things, you are not a good person. Doesn’t that describe most of American life, from its incessant work, to its escapism, to its utter meaninglessness? But dont miss the point: domination and dehumanization were spreading, growing, hardening. They were beginning to oppress the oppressors - though they didn’t quite understand it, yet.)

But norms of dehumanization and dominance had catastrophic political effects. “Why should I invest in schools for those dirty animals?” asked American whites. And so the result of norms of dehumanization and domination were that America never built proper public goods, like healthcare, education, finance, media, transportation, and so on - and yet those are exactly the things that whites needed too, if they were ever to live lives that were genuinely free, healthy, sane, and happy. But now nobody had such things, because such norms make it impossible for people to invest in one another.

Those norms had catastrophic psychological effects, too. Americans came to only prize self-reliant “individuals”. But that also means one must disrespect and scorn anyone who ever needs support, nurturance, or nourishment of any kind. But that is all of us, at some point. Yet Americans made bullying, picking on, and abusing each other for the slightest weakness, the tiniest humanity, the smallest shred of gentleness, the fundamental cultural precept of a way of life. So Americans came to be deeply unhappy people, lacking in self-respect, self-belief, and self-worth - because they idealized an inhuman, self-destructive ideal. Today, thatגs have resulted in all kinds of crises  suicide, loneliness, opioids. But what else would norms of domination and dehumanization do? Do you suppose they can ever make people - especially those using them - fulfilled? You must be joking.

So the very norms of domination and dehumanization that had once been used to oppress blacks and natives and dirt poor whites, then, had come to be used as weapons of self-destruction even against the very people who theyגd once existed to serve  middle class and even rich whites. As those norms hardened, it became quite alright to dehumanize and dominate more or less everyone. It became perfectly OK, for example, to raid pensions, to work people 80 hours a week, to never pay them more, to prey on white women, too, to abuse and hurt people, to treat even that once relatively affluent white person like just another disposable commodity in the machine - not as a human being. It’s true that minorities always suffered most, of course - but its truer to say that such norms made it impossible for a society to really mature or develop at all, because now they were being used by a tiny elite to oppress more or less everyone else.

(What else would norms of domination and dehumanization do? Imagine that there are ten of us, on an island. These are our norms җ and in the beginning, we use them to keep two of us enslaved. Soon enough, though, the tide will turn. Five of us will make three more servants. And then two of us will call ourselves better. In the end, just one will be left at the top. We will have created a hierarchy of domination and dehumanization  each person taking power and humanity away from the next person down, and that way, our little society will fall into line. But it will never amount to much, will it?)

Thatגs exactly what happened to America, more or less. The end result of norms of dehumanization and domination was a that a tiny elite of genuinely terrible people came to oppress even the people whod been yesterdayҒs oppressors. Thats complicated, so let me take it slowly.

Norms of domination and dehumanization made it not just possible, but necessary, to dominate and dehumanize the oppressors, too, and turn them into the oppressed җ one stratum, group, rank at a time. They made it impossible for them to invest in each other  and develop anything resembling a modern society. They cheated them of happiness and meaning, belonging and purpose, and blew apart their mental stability. And they created a hostile world, from which there was no escape, except fantasy. Bang! American life imploded. Every layer of society was now viciously, violently preying on the one below it ח where once whites had en masse oppressed blacks  and the only winner was the tiny elite at they very top. Obscenity was the place these foolish, strange, and ruinous ideas ended.

And as those norms hardened, society became something like a vast, endless contest, to see who could be the most ruthless, cruel, greedy, destructive, of all ח every day. Norms of domination and dehumanization had created a society which was one great arena in which everyone competed to slaughter everyone else  a mechanism for sorting and winnowing the most domineering and inhuman. Over time, those people became even more savage, shameless, and selfish. Until, at last, America was led by the champions of such norms: people like Trump, Miller, and the rest. Everyday obscenity triumphed.

Americans lived in a kind of fantasyland. They thought that they could dominate and dehumanize blacks, natives, Asians, poor people, women, immigrants, and so on - but never pay any kind of price, the realӔ Americans. But that was never true. Americans incentivized, institutionalized, normalized domination and dehumanization. And then all those institutions, norms, and incentives did exactly what they were supposed to. They were used as tools to oppress the very people who had once proudly been oppressors, too  by a more ruthless and shameless set of predators.

So here America is. Dehumanization and domination are the things it has invested in, cherished, cultivated, tended, and prized most. That is how a society ends up with crowdfunded healthcare, school shootings, a head of state who uses slurs, neo Nazis in office ח and nobody, seemingly, with the power to do much, if anything, about it.


Posted by Elvis on 08/16/18 •
Section Revelations • Section Dying America
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