Friday, April 22, 2016

Neoliberalism Kills

In his weekend Vatican speech, Bernie Sanders called for a sweeping moral and anthropological study of the increasingly anti-social U.S. political system and record global wealth inequality. This can't come a moment too soon, because Americans have become so desperate that they are killing themselves in record numbers.

You might not know this unless tragedy has struck you personally. When you turn on the TV, all you hear about are the fortunes of a handful of very rich people vying for public office, or the latest terrorist attack. Suicide makes the headlines only when the guy is wearing a booby-trapped vest, or uses a personal armory to take a bunch of people with him in a blaze of glory. 

When President Obama and other politicians aren't sending their thoughts and prayers and vowing revenge for the latest "incident," they're boasting about how well "we" have weathered the financial crisis, thanks solely to our steely sacrifice and our supreme Grit and Determination. We're relentlessly informed that we're coming back stronger than ever before. The economy is booming! So get off the couch, and go find that ladder of opportunity.

But just in case you still have your doubts after more than seven years of the Obama administration, you should be grateful that at the very least, they're still concern-trolling gender pay inequities and decrying the misogyny of those nasty old Republicans. Even though the Democrats have done diddlysquat to actually force women's pay equality since first using Lilly Ledbetter as a human shield in 2009, they have orchestrated multiple photos of themselves signing proclamations to prove how much they care. I believe the weasel-word they use is "advancement." In other words, the ladies still earn only about 79 cents to every dollar a man makes, but at least the neoliberals are advancing the "conversation" forward. It's incrementalism you can believe in. It's progressively "getting things done" through the use of multiple pens and changes of clothes and slogans.


Recent Proclamation to Mark the 2009 Proclamation

Next month, the White House, in conjunction with its corporate sponsors, will host yet another feminist photo-op, dubbed The United State of Women Summit. It will boastfully serve to showcase all that the Obama administration, with the help of too big to jail Goldman Sachs, has done to "empower" women -- just as Hillary Clinton seeks to become the first XX-chromosomed Commander in Chief. Obama even signed two additional proclamations deigning to recognize the equality of all women, along with a directive to the Labor Secretary politely asking that he politely request employers to divulge their pay scales.

 So what a shocker it is to find out that American citizens, particularly middle-aged women, are not united in passively absorbing this rosy liberal message!

Having suffered more than they can endure via lost jobs, lost homes, precarious and low-wage employment, single motherhood coupled with a lack of affordable child care, rising rents, cuts in food stamp and jobless benefits, substandard or no health care, self-medication and addiction stemming from lack of that health care, too many of them are deciding that the only escape from the unrelenting pain is suicide. They are making the ultimate revolutionary political statement, the only way they know how.

According to a study released today, the suicide rate for women aged 45-64 has jumped by 63 percent over the last 30 years. The starting date of the suicide spike more or less correlates with the advent of neoliberalism, or government of, by, and for the plutocrats. The neoliberal partnership of government and corporations started with the Reagan Revolution in 1984, and was continued by the Clintons, Bush, and now Obama. Hillary Clinton herself boasted in a memoir that she and Bill cut the welfare rolls (by a coincidental 60 percent) in order to "rehabilitate" single mothers, forcing them to work at low-paying jobs and condemning them to lives of hopeless poverty.

The suicide rate for middle-aged men increased by 43 percent. The overall rate has risen by 24 percent since the turn of the century.

And the most shocking - and telling - finding of all is the suicide rate for children, particularly girls between the ages of 10 and 14.  While still rare compared with the adult statistics, kids are now killing themselves at triple the rate within a 15 year time span. In 1999, 50 middle school-aged girls took their own lives. In 2014, that number rose to 150.

From the New York Times (the article was printed below the apparently more important news of the death of rock star Prince, and the breaking news about Donald Trump's friendliness toward gays, paired with propaganda about a new plan to improve the "tone" of his rhetoric):

The (overall) increases were so widespread that they lifted the nation’s suicide rate to 13 per 100,000 people, the highest since 1986. The rate rose by 2 percent a year starting in 2006, double the annual rise in the earlier period of the study. In all, 42,773 people died from suicide in 2014, compared with 29,199 in 1999.
“It’s really stunning to see such a large increase in suicide rates affecting virtually every age group,” said Katherine Hempstead, senior adviser for health care at the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, who has identified a link between suicides in middle age and rising rates of distress about jobs and personal finances.
Earlier studies pointed to opiate addiction as the leading cause of premature death among less-educated white women. The newer study doesn't differentiate among educational levels in suicide statistics.

Meanwhile, the method of choice among people wanting to kill themselves is now death by suffocation, or hanging.

The newer suicide rates have not reached the intensity of those in the Great Depression, during which the self-killing rate increased by 70 percent. The fact that fewer older people are killing themselves in the 21st century than they were in the 1930s probably has much to do with the safety net of Medicare and Social Security. The Times quotes Dr. Alex Crosby of the Centers for Disease Control as saying that a definite correlation between economic depressions and suicide rates has been proven.

Can there be any clearer evidence that the economy is still in the pits, any clearer message to the Glass Half Full political crowd, than a 63 percent increase in the national suicide rate?

Meanwhile, the deficit hawks in both establishment political parties have been cutting mental health budgets across the board since the financial collapse began disrupting or destroying millions of lives and livelihoods. Even the prestigious National Institutes of Health had its budget for the study and treatment for depression only slightly increased over the past four years, despite mounting evidence of widespread despair in the population.  Depressed individuals are simply unable get the help and treatment they need, even if they want to.

And despite a publicized crackdown on them in Florida, there are still plenty of pill mills all over the country where you can score Oxycontin by the truckload and resell it at a profit to your friends and neighbors in order to make this month's rent. If that's not an option, the price of street heroin has become as affordable as a couple of gallons of gas or a pack of cigarettes.

We need a revolution, all right. Our very lives depend on it.

An exemplar for revolution comes from the vibrant mental health movement in Chicago, where medical professionals and patients have joined forces to protest the shuttering of clinics - conducted in the name of "fiscal responsibility" - by the despised neoliberal mayor, Rahm "One Percent" Emanuel. Mental health should be a basic human right, not a privilege reserved only for the wealthy few able to afford a private therapist.

This mental health movement of Chicago doesn't operate in a vacuum. To say that it works closely with the racial justice, housing justice, immigration justice and labor union initiatives is also an understatement. They all work together, holistically. Revolution comes with the realization that we are all in this together.

 Bernie Sanders might have no chance to win the presidency, but he still has the power of the bully pulpit. He can still be a great moral teacher by urging his followers to join protest movements that are far, far away from the cloying confines of the Democratic machine.



annenigma said...

Another cause of suicide are the many prescription medications which cause suicide as a side effect. Many anti-depressants can have that effect, and drugs like Chantix for (frequently women) quitting smoking is another category that can kill, and I'm sure there are hundreds more. The deep, dark despair that comes as a side effect is far different than worsening depression. It's like death in a pill. (Don't ask me how I know.)

The reasoning for not taking them off the market is that they cause fewer suicides than 'natural' volitional suicides. Of course profits are the real reason they're still on the market, and because they don't affect all users. As long as the drug companies provide a warning, they're off the hook. Btw, children are at greatest risk of suicide as a side effect from taking prescription anti-depressants, and more children are on those than ever before.

Does anyone keep track of the medications that people who commit suicide took in the recent past? Doubt it. Of course if a depressed person commits suicide, they automatically attribute it to the depression, not to the medications. Who could prove otherwise? I'm thinking about that Germanwings pilot who flew into that mountain. Think of how many lawsuits against the phamaceutical company would result and how much it would cost them if the cause and effect could be proven. I'm sure the doctors never consider the possible side effects as being the cause of a worsening condition either.

My prescription? Marijuana. It should be legalized immediately. Unlike so many of those prescription feel-good pills, the worse side effect is a case of the munchies and fits of laughter. I'm not saying there are no possible ill effects, but it's preferable to prescription drugs and certainly better than self-medicating with alcohol, that legal depressant. Fun fact - the depressant effects of alcohol can last for 2 weeks after the last drink.

Anyway, marijuana creates a concentrated focus on the present moment and enhances the senses to appreciate and enjoy it. No more rumination and obsession on problems of the past or future and just how crappy life really is. It's all good!

Considering we have no power to change our shallow, superficial, consumerist, greedy, amoral, selfish culture and rigged economic and political system, why not just enjoy things as they are with a mind opening experience? It might just lead to inspiration.

Karen Garcia said...

You raise a good point. The latest suicide study doesn't concentrate on the socioeconomic status of the victims, so who's to know how many well-off people do away with themselves because of the meds they scored on a platinum health insurance plan?

You can get a clue from watching the nightly network news, though. One of the drugs now being very heavily advertised (to what is not exactly a downtrodden audience) is a high octane laxative to combat the severe constipation caused by opiates. Additionally, when your Zoloft (which is also a culprit in suicides among young people) is not quite doing the trick anymore, they can give you a boost with Abilify or some other antipsychotic. Ka-ching!

I am with you on pot legalization. If the drug companies could find a way to corner the market, you betcha the politicians would be crawling all over themselves to help the industry. Marijuana continues to have a bad rap because until recently it was so far outside the mainstream economy. It's stupid it is included in the failed War on Drugs, which, let's face it, is a lucrative subsidiary of one our biggest drug cartels, the CIA.

Meredith NYC said...

Karen, i replied to your comment on Krugman's blog:

Yeah, the TV news is running this on one of their delightful crawls repeating over and over the various tragedies on this earth, 24/7---citing continuing increase in suicide of middle aged white males.

I wonder what the comparative suicide rates are in countries with health care for all since generations ago. Plus more humane drug treatment rehab programs? Plus with more middle class and employee protections? Just wondering if anyone at our ‘greatest newspaper’ might run an article or column with those comparisons. I think the Times has overseas bureaus and could easily report on it.

Maybe someday one of our candidates will pose those questions. However, in 2013 Sanders did hold hearings on how 4 advanced countries pay for and use health care--- which I just happened to catch on Cspan, or would never have heard about it.
It’s a mystery why Sanders never used this testimony by his witnesses to bolster his calls for health care reform. Did he think it might anger the establishment even more? Or what?

Pearl said...

Not Now, When? Young Jews Refuse to Stay Silent on the Occupation This Passover via @truthout

Erik Roth said...

To the sensitive comments appended to Ms. Garcia's incisive post, these statements by a true statesman are appropriate to add:

“Without a global revolution in the sphere of human consciousness, nothing will change for the better in the sphere of our being as humans, and the catastrophe toward which this world is headed — be it ecological, social, demographic or a general breakdown of civilization — will be unavoidable. If we are no longer threatened by world war or by the danger that the absurd mountains of accumulated nuclear weapons might blow up the world, this does not mean that we have definitely won. We are still incapable of understanding that the only genuine backbone of all our actions, if they are to be moral, is responsibility.”

“The worst thing is that we live in a contaminated moral environment. We fell morally ill because we became used to saying something different from what we thought. Concepts such as love, friendship, compassion, humility or forgiveness lost their depth and dimension.”

"The tragedy of modern man is not that he knows less and less about the meaning of his own life, but that it bothers him less and less.
The deeper the experience of an absence of meaning - in other words, of absurdity - the more energetically meaning is sought.
Sometimes I wonder if suicides aren't in fact sad guardians of the meaning of life."

~ Vaclav Havel