Aug. 29, 2018 state of the union

Welcome to Rapid Exceptionalism. This is the inaugural state of the union post. Henceforth it will be a weekly affair posted every Wednesday. Time permitting, there will also be periodic original posts and reporting. Please join in the conversation and send links our way.


“The Post-Physical Economy and the Rise of Trump” [Splice Today] “It has to do with the arc of a transition from an economy based in physical things and physical needs, to what might be termed a “technocratic” economy, a symbolic economy of information, messaging, narratives, branding, and the like. During the four previous administrations, this technocratic transition was pursued by conscious policies and embodied in semi-conscious leadership personae.” ♣ Who could’ve thunk it, but a few problems arose…♣ “There just can’t be an economy where nothing physical gets done, because everyone is sitting in a cubicle somewhere, managing, or thinking, or coding, or writing emails, or staring blankly at Facebook…this sets up a situation in which your society of professionals is massively parasitic on a worldwide system of economic exploitation. And second, this is a solid formula for devaluing and immiserating a portion of your own population: the people who are unsuited to the cubicle, or just for one reason or another fall by the wayside in the mechanical march of robotic education.”

“Chinese Investment in the United States: A Comprehensive Database of Transactions” [Public Citizen] “As even critics of Trump’s trade tactics warn, the Chinese government’s “China 2025” plan to dominate industries of the future using acquisitions, subsidies, mercantilist trade policies, and cybertheft is a serious threat. Such investments are crucial to China’s state-led industrial strategy and are part of a multi-pronged effort to gain competitive advantage in key sectors.”

Living the American Dream 

“Failing health of the United States” [The BMJ, from February] “Life expectancy in the US has fallen for the second year in a row… In 1960, Americans had the highest life expectancy, 2.4 years higher than the average for countries in the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD). But the US started losing ground in the 1980s. US life expectancy fell below the OECD average in 1998, plateaued in 2012, and is now 1.5 years lower than the OECD average.”

“Suicide rising across the US” [CDC] “Suicide rates went up more than 30% in half of states since 1999.”

“More Than 10,000 Suicides Tied To Economic Crisis, Study Says” [Forbes] ♣ At least the bankers are safe. Obama: “My administration is the only thing between you and the pitchforks.”

“The Case for the Self-Driven Child” [Scientific American] “since the 1960s we’ve seen a marked rise in stress-related mental health problems in children and adolescents, including anxiety, depression and self-harm. Just in the last six or seven years, there has been an unprecedented spike in the incidence of anxiety and depression in young people.”

“Young people are drinking themselves to death in record numbers” [Yahoo]

“6-year-old selling lemonade to help with mom’s chemotherapy” [KTSM] “Sophia’s brother, Johnathan Castro, told KTSM their mom has colon cancer. He said Sophia does not fully understand what that is, but knows her mom needs monetary help because she stopped working.”

“Opioid makers gave millions to patient advocacy groups to sway prescribing” [STAT] “As the nation grapples with a worsening opioid crisis, a new report suggests that drug makers provided substantial funding to patient advocacy groups and physicians in recent years in order to influence the controversial debate over appropriate usage and prescribing.”

“Child abuse deaths rise, notably in Texas, Indiana” [AP] “‘It breaks my heart for the kids in this state right now,’ said Juvenile Judge Marilyn A. Moores, whose Indianapolis courtroom has seen a surge in child welfare cases because of the opioid epidemic…Long festering problems in Indiana’s child welfare system exploded into public view in December, when the director of the Department of Child Services resigned with a scathing letter that accused Republican Gov. Eric Holcomb of making management changes and service cuts that ‘all but ensure children will die.'”

“Delaware’s Opioid Crisis” [The Outline] “I expected Luigi to be the best man at my wedding and godfather to my children, not to die when we were 21. His funeral was my introduction to a world in which I’d be burying friends long before it was their time to go; at this point, nearly everyone I know from Wilmington has a similar story.”

“You’re far more likely to die from a drug overdose if you live in these KY counties” [Lexington Herald Leader]

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“Meet the Sacklers: the family feuding over blame for the opioid crisis” [The Guardian] “The Sackler family… is famous in cultural and academic circles for decades of generous philanthropy towards some of the world’s leading institutions, from Yale University to the Guggenheim Museum in the US…But what’s less well known, though increasingly being exposed, is that much of their wealth comes from one product – OxyContin, the blockbuster prescription painkiller first launched in 1996. The pill is stronger than morphine and sparked the opioid crisis that’s now killing more than 100 people a day in America and has spawned millions of addicts.”

Drug firms shipped 20.8M pain pills to WV town with 2,900 people [Charleston Gazette Mail] “In February 2016, West Virginia Attorney General Patrick Morrisey ended a state lawsuit against Miami-Luken after the company agreed to pay $2.5 million to settle allegations that it flooded the state with painkillers. Morrisey, a former lobbyist for a trade group that represents Miami-Luken and other drug distributors...H.D. Smith paid the state $3.5 million to settle the same pill-dumping allegations in January 2017.”

“A Record Number of Americans Died Last Year from Drug Overdoses” [Grit Post] “New data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) shows that more than 72,300 Americans died from drug overdoses in 2017. That figure is a preliminary estimate, as some deaths take longer to investigate. This means the actual number could be even higher.”

“Facing Wave of Opioid Lawsuits, Drug Companies Sprinkle Charity on Hard-Hit Areas” [Bloomberg] “The drug industry is dishing out millions in grants and donations to organizations in cities, counties and states that have sued the companies over the deadly U.S. opioid epidemic. The efforts could help makers and distributors of prescription painkillers, who face hundreds of lawsuits by communities across the country, reduce their tax bills and build goodwill ahead of a potential multibillion-dollar settlement over their role in a crisis that kills more than 100 Americans a day.” ♣ What’s the over-under on the number of CEOs that spend time behind bars?

Federal Bureau of Prisons data for reference…

Meanwhile…”Jailed For Being Too Poor” [Huffington Post] “Though “debtors’ prisons” — the practice of jailing people for being too poor to pay civil debts — are illegal, criminal justice system debt that leads to jailing the poor remains widespread. Research has found that 20 percent of individuals in local jails are incarcerated because of failure to pay a fee or fine.”

“Los Angeles’ homelessness crisis is a national disgrace” [Los Angeles Times] “Skid row is — and long has been — a national disgrace, a grim reminder of man’s ability to turn his back on his fellow man. But these days it is only the ugly epicenter of a staggering homelessness problem that radiates outward for more than 100 miles throughout Los Angeles County and beyond. There are now more than 57,000 people who lack a “fixed, regular or adequate place to sleep” on any given night in the county” ♣ 57,000!

“Parents who housed their three children, 11, 13 and 14 in a filthy four-foot-tall BOX in a garbage-covered corner of the Joshua Tree desert appear in court as friends insist ‘they are poor not abusive'” [Daily Mail]

“Father, daughter found dead in freezing Niles home” [MLive] “During the last week in December, 81 year old Albert Bivins and his 55 year old mentally handicapped daughter Patricia went to the Ferry Street Resource Center seeking help for a furnace fix. The center provided forms to fill out for a state program but that program requires the applicant to first get three repair estimates. [WNDU]

“Here Are Six Reasons Why the Poor Are Much Better Off in Europe Than in the U.S.” [Alternet]

“American Society Would Collapse If It Weren’t for These 8 Myths” [Truthdig]


“America’s ‘Liberalism’ and Other Inhumane Styles of Governance At Home and Internationally” [Richard Falk] “It should not be all about Trump, although his election in 2016 as U.S. president is symptomatic of a menacing national tailspin. This downward political drift in the United States, not only imperils Americans, but threatens the world with multiple catastrophes, the most worrisome of which involves Trump’s double embrace of nuclearism and climate denialism.”

“The Empire’s Media and the Quest for Veto Authority in the Americas” [FAIR] “Ultimately, though, to the US government and its traditional allies, the only good left in the Americas is an overthrown left, and if possible an imprisoned left. They will gladly veto the democratic choice of voters to accomplish that goal, or support others who exercise an illegitimate veto in the way they like. The pattern is clear, as has been documented in numerous histories of the US/Latin American relationship, but you’ll have a very hard time learning about it from the “’free press’”

“The Global Growth of U.S. Special Operations Forces” [Truthdig] “Unless they end in disaster, most missions remain in the shadows, unknown to all but a few Americans. And yet last year alone, U.S. commandos deployed to 149 countries — about 75% of the nations on the planet. At the halfway mark of this year, according to figures provided to TomDispatch by U.S. Special Operations Command (USSOCOM or SOCOM), America’s most elite troops have already carried out missions in 133 countries.”

“It’s Time to Remember That Fast-Food Companies Are the Worst” [Grub Street] “The food is terrible for your health, the corporate structure is terrible for the majority of people who actually work in the industry, and — according to almost every major study done on the topic — the companies’ practices are terrible for the environment.”

The Wasteland

“Michigan schools suffer ‘critical’ bus driver shortage” [Detroit Free Press] ♣ Pony up for an Uber, kids!

“Uber’s fatal crash shows how cities prioritize cars over human lives” [Curbed] “Experts have long attributed the [Arizona’s] high rate of pedestrian deaths to exceptionally wide streets that are engineered to move cars fast and do not provide adequate safety infrastructure for people who are on foot or bike…Each day, human drivers on U.S. streets kill at least 16 pedestrians. Among wealthy democratic countries, this makes the U.S. not just an outlier, but an anomaly. U.S. cities have a 40 percent higher rate of traffic deaths compared to our peer nations. American children are twice as likely as kids in those countries to be killed by cars.”

“Flint water crisis: Michigan health director ordered to manslaughter trial” [Ars Technica] ♣Some good news! “prosecutors allege that Lyon specifically had ‘willfully disregarded the deadly nature of the Legionnaires’ disease outbreak’ and failed to warn the public in time to spare lives. He allegedly knew about the outbreak in early 2015 but waited until early 2016 to release a public advisory…Involuntary manslaughter is a felony punishable by up to 15 years in prison. Lyon is also charged with felony misconduct in office for allegedly obstructing academic researchers from studying the outbreak, which carries a sentence of up to five years in prison.” ♣With an overview of the travesty to date. “For now, residents need to continue drinking bottled or filtered water until the city’s plumbing is replaced, which the city is working to do by 2020. In April, Michigan Governor Rick Snyder announced that the state will stop providing free bottled water to Flint residents.”

“Flint water distrust runs deep even as city replaces lead pipes” [The Detroit News]

“‘People Are Literally Being Poisoned’: How Sewage Problems in Alabama Got So Bad — and Why Other States Should Worry” [Governing] “The state and county have failed to fix the unsanitary conditions for years, and at times threatened to arrest citizens over them. An outbreak of a once-eradicated disease has prompted the United Nations to get involved.”

“In Appalachia, Coding Bootcamps That Aim To Retrain Coal Miners Increasingly Show Themselves To Be ‘New Collar’ Grifters” [Belt Magazine] “recent class action lawsuit filed in West Virginia against a retraining program that promised unemployed coal miners a foothold in the tech industry offers a cautionary tale to those banking on the rise of a Silicon Holler. At least 60 plaintiffs in the suit allege that coding bootcamp operators Mined Minds, a Pennsylvania-based nonprofit organization, provided inadequate training and failed to place trainees in paid apprenticeship programs, which many believed would be a cornerstone of the experience.”

“Rural Hospitals Closing at an Alarming Rate” [Healthline] “According to the Chartis report, in states that expanded Medicaid, 36 percent of rural hospitals had a negative operating margin in 2015 — meaning they are losing money. In states that didn’t expand Medicaid, 47 percent of rural hospitals had a negative operating margin.” ♣ That’s what you get when Democrats pass a Republican healthcare plan that preserves it as a for-profit industry.

“Rural hospital shutdowns force communities to take care of their own” [CNBC] “When Pioneer Community Hospital announced that it was closing last September after financial struggles, some residents had to travel as much as three to four hours to receive their health-care needs, Debbie Foley, director of economic development for Patrick County [Va.], told CNBC.”

“Survival of the Richest. The wealthy are plotting to leave us behind” [Medium] “They knew armed guards would be required to protect their compounds from the angry mobs. But how would they pay the guards once money was worthless? What would stop the guards from choosing their own leader? The billionaires considered using special combination locks on the food supply that only they knew. Or making guards wear disciplinary collars of some kind in return for their survival. Or maybe building robots to serve as guards and workers — if that technology could be developed in time. That’s when it hit me: At least as far as these gentlemen were concerned, this was a talk about the future of technology. Taking their cue from Elon Musk colonizing Mars, Peter Thiel reversing the aging process, or Sam Altman and Ray Kurzweil uploading their minds into supercomputers, they were preparing for a digital future that had a whole lot less to do with making the world a better place than it did with transcending the human condition altogether and insulating themselves from a very real and present danger of climate change, rising sea levels, mass migrations, global pandemics, nativist panic, and resource depletion. For them, the future of technology is really about just one thing: escape.”

“When it comes to inequality, these 5 states are the worst” [CBS News] “America is heading for a level of income inequality that hasn’t been seen since 1928 — yet the richest residents in fives states and 30 cities have already surpassed that threshold, according to a new study.”

All the lonely People

“Americans are saving energy because fewer people go outside.” [The Verge] “It’s a plus for the environment, though in another light (no pun intended), it’s just sad…With the rise of flexible work-from-home privileges, Amazon Prime, two-day shipping, and Netflix, there seems to be fewer and fewer reasons to venture outside the front door. But scientists have long said that spending time outdoors is good for us.”

“New Saint Leo University Poll Shows Americans See Political Discord Persisting Among the Nation’s Citizenry” [Polling Institute at St. Leo University]

“A history of loneliness” [The Conversation] “Former U.S. Surgeon General Vivek Murthy says the most common pathology he saw during his years of service “was not heart disease or diabetes; it was loneliness.” Chronic loneliness, some say, is like ‘smoking 15 cigarettes a day.’ It ‘kills more people than obesity.’ Because loneliness is now considered a public health issue – and even an epidemic – people are exploring its causes and trying to find solutions.”

On the bright side

“Sanders Applauds ‘Courageous’ Workers for Standing Up to Disney World and Winning $15 Minimum Wage” [Common Dreams] ♣ A nine-month fight to go from $10 to $15 per hour by 2021. Disney CEO Bob Iger made over $36 million last year.