Sep. 26, 2018 State of the Union

Son of farmer in Dust Bowl area. Cimarron County, Oklahoma

 

We’re a little light this week, folks. A lot of news is apparently being overshadowed by that red-faced goose machine trying to get onto the Supreme Court.

The Wasteland

For 40,000 homeless students, it’s back-to-school season in Washington [The Seattle Times] “Bethel is one of 34 districts in Washington — particularly in the suburban and rural parts of Pierce, Spokane and Yakima counties — where the homeless student population more than doubled between 2012 and 2017, according to a Seattle Times analysis of state education data. Statewide, the raw count of homeless students climbed nearly 34 percent over the past five years.”

More Idaho students are experiencing homelessness [AP] “The number of Idaho public school students experiencing homelessness has grown by 64 percent over seven years, according to a report by the Idaho Asset Building Network.”

You’re Probably Not Getting that Loan Forgiveness You’re Counting On [Vice] “In 2007, President George W. Bush signed a program into law that was intended to encourage Americans to go into public service. The idea was that if you worked at a civic-minded job and made 120 on-time student loan payments—or what amounts to ten years worth—the rest of your debt would be wiped. In 2013, the recently-formed Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) estimatedthat up to a quarter of the American workforce could qualify for some form of forgiveness. And while the first group of borrowers were technically eligible for forgiveness under the 2007 law last year, CNBC reports the program so far looks like something between a bureaucratic shit-show and an abysmal failure. Out of the nearly 30,000 people who applied, just 96 had their debt erased.”

Number of babies born with syphilis in US hits 20-year high, report finds [The Guardian] “[executive director of the National Coalition of STD Directors David] Harvey said the increase reflects a failure to make sure women are tested for the disease at the correct times in their pregnancies, and a lack of access to prenatal care overall. The opioid epidemic has also contributed to the uptick, with women who use drugs more likely to engage in risky sex and less likely to get proper treatment.”

“As aid checks go out, farmers worry bailout won’t be enough” [AP] “Farmers across the United States will soon begin receiving government checks as part of a billion-dollar bailout to buoy growers experiencing financial strain from President Donald Trump’s trade disputes with China.”

Ag Bank Mergers Exacerbate the New Farm Crisis [Food & Power] “Last year, the Nebraska Rural Response Hotline, which connects farmers and ranchers with legal, financial, and mental health services, set four monthly records for the number of new callers in financial distress. This spike reflects the broader hardship facing rural Americans in the midst of what some are calling the new farm crisis. The crisis has many causes, including falling commodity prices and the rising cost of farm inputs like seed and fertilizer. But another contributing factor that is already making the consequences of these deteriorating fundamentals far more severe is the massive consolidation of ag lenders that has occurred since the last farm crisis in the 1980s.”

Is the Second Farm Crisis Upon Us? [Civil Eats] “Farming is inherently a risky business, but it hasn’t always been this precarious. For more than 60 years, federal farm policy controlled commodity production and stabilized prices for both farmers and consumers in a system known as supply management. The arrangement ensured a floor price for farmers—essentially a safety net—and kept them from overproduction that would cause their prices to drop. But moves toward a more free-market approach, exemplified by former Secretary of Agriculture Earl Butz’ call for planting “fencerow to fencerow,” encouraged farmers to produce as much as possible, relying on direct payments and other government subsidies to make up for the low prices that followed….With the focus on production and no safety net, smaller farms have sold out and relatively few big farms have expanded.”

‘Monster’ Turns Our Farmers into Serfs and Sharecroppers: The Grapes of Wrath and its vision of enslavement to big agribusiness isn’t just our past—it is our present too. [American Conservative] “These stories are important, because they highlight the debilitating “bigness” of our agricultural market—along with the desperation and emptiness that bigness often creates. These farmers feel trapped in a system of growing and harvesting that is killing their land, animals, and way of life. Yet changing the way they farm, or the trajectory of their towns, seems impossible. The margin for error is far too small, the potential cost far too big. Industrialized agriculture prioritizes efficiency and quantity over human and ecological flourishing: it pushes farmers to plant more commodities over greater swaths of land, or to cram even more chickens into putrid and disease-ridden chicken houses, despite the animals’ suffering and discomfort. This is the only way to turn a profit. Yet when farms industrialize, it does not just impact them—the towns around them also suffer.”

In Rural America, Violent Crime Reaches Highest Level in a Decade [Governing] “many [areas] have lost jobs as factories have closed and farming has become increasingly consolidated. Lack of employment has naturally led to increases in poverty, which is closely associated with crime. The opioid epidemic has hit rural America particularly hard, and methamphetamine remains a major problem in many small towns.”

“Why are America’s farmers killing themselves in record numbers?” [The Guardian]

 

#TheResistance

Trump’s “Opposition” Supports All His Evil Agendas While Attacking Fake Nonsense [Caitlin Johnstone] “The US Senate has just passed Trump’s mammoth military spending increase by a landslide 92-8 vote. The eight senators who voted “nay”? Seven Republicans, and Independent Bernie Sanders. Every single Democrat supported the most bloated war budget since the height of the Iraq war. Rather than doing everything they can to weaken the potential damage that can be done by a president they’ve been assuring us is a dangerous hybrid of equal parts Benedict Arnold and Adolf Hitler, they’ve been actively increasing his power as Commander-in-Chief of the most powerful military force the world has ever seen.”

“Pro-Immigrant” Liberalism and Capitalist Exploitation: Why Corporate Democrats Do Not Support Immigrant Justice [Truthout] A concrete analysis of the explosive contradictions of contemporary capitalist globalization demonstrates that neither Trump’s explicitly racist vitriol nor the paternalistic “pro-immigrant” discourse of corporate liberals and the multicultural elite challenges the structures allowing for the exploitation and oppression of immigrants and migrant workers.

Silicon Valley Plutocrats

“Uber sees legal win in appeal of case over drivers’ status” [San Francisco Chronicle] “The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit in San Francisco on Tuesday ruled that drivers pursuing a class-action lawsuit against Uber alleging the company incorrectly classified them as contractors instead of employees cannot proceed because such matters must be resolved through individual arbitration claims.”

Living the American Dream

These Are the Economies With the Most (and Least) Efficient Health Care [Bloomberg] “The U.S. will cost you the most for treatment, both in absolute terms and relative to average incomes, while life expectancy of Americans — about 79 years — was exceeded by more than 25 countries and territories, according to an annual Bloomberg analysis in almost 200 economies.” ♣ A solid 54th place finish for the US of A, behind the likes of Azerbaijan, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Venezuela, Algeria, and (gasp!) Russia.

Workers Overdose On The Job, And Employers Struggle To Respond [Kaiser Health News] “As the opioid epidemic continues to rage across the country, with a record 72,000 drug overdose deaths estimated in 2017, the fallout is increasingly manifesting itself at construction sites, factories, warehouses, offices and other workplaces. A stunning 70 percent of employers reported that their businesses had been affected by prescription drug abuse, including absenteeism, positive drug tests, injuries, accidents and overdoses, according to a 2017 survey by the National Safety Council, a research and advocacy organization.”

Why We Hyperparent, Helicopter and Heavily Manage Our Children [American Conservative] “Family and community structures have eroded, even as the demands of adult life have become extraordinarily complex. We currently have no way of addressing this reality that doesn’t involve massive investments of parental time, money, and attention. High-intensive parenting, for all its pitfalls, seems to have much better outcomes than lower-investment alternatives. And realistically, the world has become quite perilous, albeit not in the ways people sometimes imagine. Your child probably won’t be kidnapped, but he might easily fall prey to any number of other problems: mental illness, substance abuse, obesity, unemployment, criminality, and general despair.” ♣ The rat race begins at conception

Exports

“US military document reveals how the West opposed a democratic Syria” [Le Monde Diplomatique] “The anti-democratic nature of the strategy was clear. Regardless of the democratic aspirations driving the Syrian uprising, US military officials were content with the idea of encouraging foreign powers to nurture Islamist forces in Syria who would operate under the ‘umbrella’ of those foreign powers: all to try and weaken Iran’s foothold.” ♣ Haven’t we seen this movie before?

On the Bright Side

With Supreme Court Decision on Dark Money “We’re About to Know a Lot More About Who Is Funding Our Elections” [Common Dreams] “In a win for increased transparency and those demanding an end to the so-called “dark money” eating away at U.S. democracy, the Supreme Court on Tuesday lifted a previous stay on a lower court ruling by rejecting the argument by right-wing advocacy groups who said they should not have to reveal the identity of big-dollar donors who fund their issue-based campaign ads.”

September 19, 2018 State of the Union

 

Wall Street Plutocrats

“Ten Years After the Crash, We’ve Learned Nothing” [Rolling Stone, Matt Taibbi] “history is written by the victors, and the banks that blew up the economy are somehow still winning the narrative. Persistent propaganda about what happened 10 years ago not only continues to warp news coverage, but contributed to a wide array of political consequences, including the election of Donald Trump.” ♣ Well worth the read. Keep the blood pressure medicine handy

“Ten Years After The Financial Crisis, The Contagion Has Spread To Democracy Itself” [HuffPost] “Except they didn’t really rescue the banking system. They transformed it into an unaccountable criminal syndicate. In the years since the crash, the biggest Wall Street banks have been caught laundering drug money, violating U.S. sanctions against Iran and Cuba, bribing foreign government officials, making illegal campaign contributions to a state regulator and manipulating the market for U.S. government debt. Citibank, JPMorgan, Royal Bank of Scotland, Barclays and UBS even pleaded guilty to felonies for manipulating currency markets. Not a single human being has served a day in jail for any of it. The financial crisis that reached its climax on that Monday morning 10 years ago was not fundamentally a problem of capital, liquidity or regulation. It was a crisis of democracy that taught middle-class families a grim lesson about who really mattered in American society ― and who didn’t count.”

“JP Morgan Is Investing $500 Million in Reviving US Cities” [Quartz] “The bank is taking applications from cities until November and will announce the winning cities by the middle of next year. In that, JPMorgan follows in the footsteps of Amazon, which turned location-hunting for its second US headquarters into something more akin to America’s Next Top Model, forcing US cities to bid against each other to land the $5 billion complex.”      ♣ 21st century feudalism 

Mmmm…”Study shows synchronous human energy consumption over the past 10,000 years” [PhysOrg]

Silicon Valley Plutocrats

“Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos announces $2 billion fund to build preschools, help homeless families” [USA Today] ♣ Maybe he could just pay his employees a living wage and not make them urinate in bottles out of fear of being punished for taking a break.

“Google Is Handing the Future of the Internet to China” [Foreign Policy] “The ethical dilemmas raised by Google’s plans are sweeping. For Chinese individuals who somehow cross the government, the prospect of being erased from existence on Google is a new and dehumanizing digital version of being declared stateless, persona non grata, or otherwise unworthy of the right to simply exist in the country in which you live. For ordinary users who take advantage of Google’s services, the government’s right to access personal data—such as search histories—housed on corporate servers would be absolute….Moreover, once it has re-established its leverage over Google, Beijing is unlikely to confine its demands within its borders. This year, China demanded that global airlines begin to list Taiwan as part of China, not just within the mainland, but on all websites, fare listings, and promotions globally. Almost all carriers complied immediately. With the growth of China’s film market, Hollywood studios now factor in Chinese censors in the production of action movies in order to ensure that the final cuts—slated for global release—pass muster with the country’s minders. The result is that major blockbusters are written and filmed to avoid irking Beijing. The growing influence of Chinese government-funded Confucius Institutes at U.S. universities has resulted in a shadowy hand of censorship being felt at academic conferences and on campuses.”

“Strap on the Fitbit: John Hancock to sell only interactive life insurance” [Yahoo Finance] “John Hancock, one of the oldest and largest North American life insurers, will stop underwriting traditional life insurance and instead sell only interactive policies that track fitness and health data through wearable devices and smartphones” ♣ Just kill me.

“The Super Rich of Silicon Valley Have a Doomsday Escape Plan” [Bloomberg] “The remote island nation, clinging to the southern part of the globe 2,500 miles off Australia’s coast, has 4.8 million people and six times as many sheep. It has a reputation for natural beauty, easy networking, low-key politicians who bike to work, and rental prices half those of the San Francisco Bay Area. That makes it an increasingly popular destination not only for those fretting about impending dystopia, but for tech entrepreneurs seeking incubators for nurturing startups.” ♣ They sure love their sheep.

“The tech elite is making a power-grab for public education” [Code Acts in Education] “Jeff Bezos, Mark Zuckerberg, Elon Musk, Peter Thiel, and other super-wealthy Silicon Valley actors, are forming alternative visions and approaches to education from pre-school through primary and high schooling to university. They’re the new power-elite of education and their influence is spreading.”

Lest we forget…”Silicon Valley parents are raising their kids tech-free — and it should be a red flag” [Business Insider]

 

Living the American Dream

“Black Patients Miss Out On Promising Cancer Drugs” [ProPublica] “A ProPublica analysis found that black people and Native Americans are under-represented in clinical trials of new drugs, even when the treatment is aimed at a type of cancer that disproportionately affects them.”

“Robots Will Probably Help Care For You When You’re Old” [Quartz] ♣ Please just kill me.

“The Perfect Storm: How Climate Change and Wall Street Almost Killed Puerto Rico” [Rolling Stone] “It would be easy to dismiss the death and destruction in Puerto Rico as a freak event, a sorry collision of politics, economics and Mother Nature. In fact, what happened in Puerto Rico was a powerful warning that preparing for life in the new normal is about a lot more than updating building codes and convening blue-ribbon commissions to study sea-level rise and extreme-rain events. The story of rebuilding Puerto Rico demonstrates that virtually no aspect of our current way of life, including our legal and financial systems, is ready for what’s coming our way.” 

“Tell Me It’s Going to Be OK” [The Baffler] We crave hearing that we’re alright, we’re not alone, we’re accepted in spite of our flaws. Belonging is an essential human need. (Fascists understand this basic fact; neoliberals don’t.) Loneliness, it turns out, negatively affects not only our psychological well-being, but also our physical health. And yet we have apparently chosen, via liberal democracy, to live according to a system of social organization that requires us to be jumpy paranoids, suspicious of everyone and terrified of our own potential mistakes. Believers in capitalist liberal democracies may cluck at the over-the-top Maoist inquisitions devoted to revolutionary self-criticism, but our society encourages us to practice the same extravagant self-loathing, only privately. That’s why America’s vast therapeutic brain trust has steadily eradicated the language of solidarity and class consciousness, honed through collective struggle, and replaced it with exhortations to “do what you love” and “live your best life.” Both aphorisms imply that what we’re currently doing is not enough.

“Martin Shkreli Proves that Your Life Is Meaningless to Elites” [Ian Welsh] “So, a lot of people are happy that Shkreli, the infamous “pharma bro” who raised the price of Daraprim, a 62 year old life saving drug used for serious parasite infections and to treat HIV, by 5,500 percent has been sentenced to jail for seven years. The catch is that he was sentenced for securities fraud not for jacking up the price of the drug.Yes, that’s because securities fraud is illegal, but killing people by jacking up drug prices isn’t. And that’s the point. Your betters don’t want someone cheating them, but they don’t care if you live or die.”

“Insulin’s High Cost Leads To Lethal Rationing” [NPR] “Diabetic ketoacidosis is a terrible way to die. It’s what happens when you don’t have enough insulin. Your blood sugar gets so high that your blood becomes highly acidic, your cells dehydrate, and your body stops functioning. Diabetic ketoacidosis is how Nicole Smith-Holt lost her son. Three days before his payday. Because he couldn’t afford his insulin.”

“Medical Crowdfunding Guide” [GoFundMe] ♣ Truly enlightening. Reading through some of the campaigns really provides a sense of our national despair.

“Crowdfunding for Medical Expenses is Rising – When it Should Be Eradicated” [LA Times]

“Fundraisers for Sick Restaurant Employees Represent the Failure of American Health Care” [Eater] “Raising money for sick workers isn’t making up for a flaw in the restaurant industry; it’s making up for the fact that there’s no safety net for anyone.”

 

The Wasteland

“The Trouble With Uplift: How black politics succumbed to the siren song of the racial voice” [The Baffler, Adolph Reed] “we continue to indulge the politically wrong-headed, counterproductive, and even reactionary features of the “representative black voice” industry in whatever remains of our contemporary public sphere. And we never reckon with the truly disturbing presumption that any black person who can gain access to the public microphone and performs familiar rituals of “blackness” should be recognized as expressing significant racial truths and deserves our attention. This presumption rests on the unexamined premise that blacks share a common, singular mind that is at once radically unknowable to non-blacks and readily downloaded by any random individual setting up shop as a racial voice. And despite what all of our age’s many heroic narratives of individualist race-first triumph may suggest to the casual viewer, that premise is the essence of racism.”

Exports

“Made in America: Shrapnel found in Yemen ties US bombs to string of civilian deaths over course of bloody civil war” [CNN?!]

 

On the Bright Side

HOW A RAGTAG GROUP OF OREGON LOCALS TOOK ON THE BIGGEST CHEMICAL COMPANIES IN WORLD — AND WON [The Intercept]

September 12, 2018 State of the Union

Saturday marks the 10-year anniversary of Lehman Brothers filing for bankruptcy. As we look across the ravaged country today, it’s hard not to imagine it all turning out very differently if Wall Street executives had been prosecuted and the Obama administration hadn’t prevented a new New Deal. A lot less deaths of despair, and there’s likely no way that Donald Trump is in the White House. But, alas, here we are.

Wall Street Plutocrats 

“The Lehman Brothers party is a red herring – it’s the system that stinks” [Guardian] “And what else do those excessive top pay packages tell us? That, deep down, a lot of elite players in this system know how fragile it all still is. They are filling their boots while their luck lasts. They know that, in spite of all the regulatory reform, it could still be impossible to spot or avert another huge financial crisis. Do we really know what is going on up on those trading floors in the shiny glass towers? Is a switch about to be flicked on a trade that is about to bring the system crashing down again?”

“Looking Back on the Prosecution Failures after the 2008 Wall Street Crash” [Wall Street on Parade] “I was one of several trial lawyers at the SEC involved in the Commission’s investigations into conduct of the big banks and their employees.  I can say, based on my experience and that of other trial lawyers, that there was an inexplicable reluctance on the part of the Division of Enforcement to utilize conspiracy theories to investigate – let alone sue – higher ups at Goldman Sachs, Bank of America, Morgan Stanley and other large banks…Meanwhile, the SEC and the Department of Justice became what I have called The Toll Booths on the Bankster Turnpike.  Fines, historically large for the SEC and DOJ, but lunch money for the bankers, were obtained against the banking institutions, sometimes with vague admissions of liability, and agreements to “sin no more” or a deferral of criminal prosecution if steps were taken to heal their ways. Many of these banks have been the subjects of repeated criminal and civil law enforcement actions since, always with the levying of a fine and instructions to not violate the law again.  Rinse and repeat.  Settling violations of law with fines has become a cost of business for Wall Street.”

“Destruction Of Black Wealth During The Obama Presidency” [People’s Policy Project] “The paper finds that while President Obama had wide discretion and appropriated funds to relieve homeowners caught in the economic crisis, the policy design his administration chose for his housing program was a disaster. Instead of helping homeowners, at every turn the administration was obsessed with protecting the financial system — and so homeowners were left to drown. As a result, the percentage of black homeowners who were underwater on their mortgage exploded 20-fold from 2007 to 2013.”

From 2008:

“The Decline of Black Business” [Washington Monthly ] “Indeed, one of the legacies of Obama’s economic policies has been a particularly sharp drop in the number of black-owned banks. This is not only the result of lessened enforcement of the anti-monopoly laws but also an unintended side effect of measures like the Dodd-Frank Act. In the process of attempting to keep big banks from failing, Dodd-Frank created regulatory burdens that small banks could not meet. These policy changes contributed to a 14 percent decrease in the number of community banks between 2010 and late 2014. Particularly hard hit were black-owned banks, which decreased by 24 percent during this period.”

BIG BANKS WERE MEANT TO GAIN FROM BIPARTISAN DEREGULATION BILL ALL ALONG, SENATE LETTER REVEALS [The Intercept] ♣ No, this is not a pre-2008 headline. It’s from Aug. 20, 2018. “Democrats who collaborated on the bank deregulation lawpassed earlier this year have categorically insisted that it only benefits small community banks and credit unions…But a letter sent by seven Senate Republicans last week suggests that the law is trying to do precisely what its critics warned: provide regulatory relief for some of the largest banks in the country.”

“Lehman Brothers collapse: where are the key figures now?” [The Guardian]

“The Latest Incarnation of Capitalism” [Jacobin] “Financialization isn’t a perversion of an otherwise well-functioning system. It’s just capitalism’s latest survival mechanism.”

Silicon Valley Plutocrats

“No News Is Good News” [The Baffler] “Over ten long years, Facebook kneecapped the newspaper industry by devouring its main revenue stream. Together, Facebook and Google now take in more than 65 percent of digital advertising dollars—an extraordinary haul given that these sites grew fat in part by indexing and sharing the content produced by news organizations.”

“It’s Time to Break Up Facebook” [The Verge] “Antitrust law in Americaseems to be at an inflection point: after a proud history of aggressive enforcement that saw the breakups of everything from Standard Oil to the original AT&T, the past few decades have been incredibly lax as something called the “consumer welfare standard” has swept the courts. Basically, the consumer welfare standard says the government has to show that a merger will result in increasing prices for consumers before it can stop it.”

“Amazon Got a Patent to Put Workers in Cages. Now the Company Says It Was a ‘Bad’ Idea” [Fortune♣ No, not The Onion. 

The Wasteland

“The Other Side Of School Safety: Students Are Getting Tasered And Beaten By Police” [HuffPost]

“Students Under Siege: How the school-to-prison pipeline, poverty, and racism endanger our school children” [Institute for Policy Studies]

“How Struggling Dayton, Ohio, Reveals the Chasm Among American Cities” [Propublica] “In 1980, even after the first wave of deindustrialization, Middle American cities such as Dayton were remarkably close to par with their coastal peers. Per capita income in the Seattle area was only 16 percent greater than in the Dayton area. In metro Boston, the edge was only 6 percent. In New York, 14 percent. In Washington, 31 percent. And in the San Francisco Bay Area, 33 percent. All those cities have since left Dayton in the dust. Seattle’s per capita income is now 48 percent greater. Boston’s edge has jumped all the way to 61 percent — a tenfold increase. New York and Washington are both over 50 percent greater. And in the Bay Area, per capita income is 94 percent greater than in the Dayton area—that is, almost double. (And these stats are for the whole Dayton area, not just the diminished city proper, which has lost nearly half its population since 1960, to about 140,000 today, and where more than a third of the population now lives in poverty.) You’ll find similarly widening gaps if you substitute Dayton with St. Louis or Milwaukee or Fresno or Buffalo.”

“The Other Political Correctness: Why are America’s elite universities censoring themselves on China?” [The New Republic] ♣ Because the financialization of higher ed?  “In a previously unreported incident, Columbia University’s Global Center in Beijing canceled several talks it feared would upset Chinese officials, according to a person familiar with the matter. Some graduate students admitted to regularly censoring themselves…Many top American universities maintain a presence in China, through summer language programs like the Harvard Beijing Academy; institutes such as the Stanford Center at Peking University that serve as platforms to attract students, fund-raise, allow faculty to conduct research, and host events; or even full campuses, like New York University–Shanghai and Johns Hopkins Nanjing.”

“Imprisoned by algorithms: the dark side of California ending cash bail” [The Guardian] “The law replaces the cash bail system with “risk assessment” tools in which an algorithm would weigh factors about a person to help determine whether they should be released. Critics say it gives local authorities wide discretion to decide what is considered “high risk”, makes it easy for prosecutors and judges to keep people in jail, and expands the use of technology that could intensify racial biases.”

“ACLU Fears Protest Crackdowns, Surveillance Already Being Planned for Keystone XL” [Inside Climate News] “The Keystone XL pipeline is expected to draw protests from indigenous and environmental activists when construction begins, and many activists are worried law enforcement agencies may be planning surveillance and a militarized response. Now, the American Civil Liberties Union is accusing federal agencies of trying to hide the extent of these preparations, which the group says are clearly underway.”

Living the American Dream

“Colorado’s Attorney General Sues Purdue Pharma” [Managed Care Magazine] “The lawsuit claims that Purdue Pharma L.P. and Purdue Pharma Inc. misled doctors and patients in Colorado about the potential for addiction with prescription opioids and continued to push the drugs. The lawsuit further states that Purdue Pharma ‘downplayed the risk of addiction associated with opioids,’ ‘exaggerated the benefits’ and ‘advised health care professionals that they were violating their Hippocratic Oath and failing their patients unless they treated pain symptoms with opioids,’ according to the statement from the Colorado attorney general’s office.”

“OxyContin Maker Granted Patent for Opioid-Addiction Treatment” [Rolling Stone] “Rhodes Technologies Inc. has been granted a patent for a new drug that could help treat opioid addiction. This sounds like good news at first — like someone’s actually doing something to fight the epidemic that’s destroying lives across the country at an alarming rate. It sounds like good news, until you realize that Rhodes Technologies Inc. is a subsidiary of Purdue Pharma, the same company that many hold responsible for starting the opioid epidemic in the first place because they flooded the market with OxyContin and allegedly suppressed reports of the drug’s addictive properties for years.” ♣ How convenient.

“With thousands of Californians living in vehicles, lawsuit aims to stop cities from towing their homes” [CALmatters] “Sean Kayode says he watched his whole world roll away from him at 3 in the morning. Kayode had been living in his car in San Francisco about two years. During the early morning March 5, traffic police towed and impounded his black 2005 Mercedes Benz — for having too many overdue parking tickets…For Kayode, who now lives at Next Door, his car wasn’t just a place to sleep, it was how he earned a living, he said, delivering food through Uber Eats.”

“Thousands of Californians are working while homeless, and many don’t want their bosses to know” [CALmatters]

Sep. 5, 2018 State of the Union

 

 

A Royal Funeral at Versailles

“John McCain’s Funeral Was the Biggest Resistance Meeting Yet” [New Yorker] ♣ Dick Cheney, Henry Kissinger, George W. Bush. War criminals  convene and the crowd goes wild! #TheResistance

Cute:

Cuter:

Cutest: When they played this and everyone started to dance

“Joe Biden’s moving eulogy for John McCain” [CBS News] “The former vice president’s eulogy for his longtime friend from across the aisle didn’t leave a dry eye in the house.” From the transcript  : “it was always appropriate to challenge another Senator’s judgment, but never appropriate to challenge their motive. When you challenge their motive, it’s impossible to get to go. If I say you are doing this because you are being paid off … it’s impossible to reach consensus.” ♣ So Biden’s decision to be a shill for the financial industry for decades was just poor judgement? Also this:

“WaPo Uses Photo of John McCain Next to Nazi to Praise His ‘Human Rights’ Work” [FAIR]

“From Venezuela to McCain, Media and Human Rights Industry on Same Page” [FAIR] “McCain’s death has been a real “teachable moment,” showing how tiny the ideological differences are between corporate media and the human rights industry.”

Funeral For A Dying Doctrine [Medium – Michael Tracey] “the funeral seemed less for McCain the individual, and more for the increasingly obsolete ideology he so fully embodied — “national greatness,” or the eternal global primacy of the United States. This is the ideology which in its various permutations has sustained American hegemonic power for decades, and has undergirded an elite political culture where simple partisan differences can always be easily overcome when there’s a national initiative to unify around (usually involving military adventurism). If that era hasn’t fully passed, it’s passing, and the process is probably only going to accelerate. That’s why the McCain Holy Week goodbye tour had an ineffable feeling of finality about it, even if was hard to pinpoint exactly why. The “game” is coming to an end.”

“The Manufactured McCain: Lifting Up a Bloodstained, Lying, Venal Servant of Capitalist Empire” [Black Agenda Report]

“The John McCain Phenomenon: The political establishment needed a war-hero fetish object—and so it invented one” [The Baffler] “Constantly toggling between identifying with McCain as their fantasy image of themselves and self-deprecatingly worshipping him as the True Hero they could never be, most American pundits were thus able to avoid assessing McCain for what he actually was and for what he actually did—all the better to avoid confronting those same truths about themselves. McCain, for his part, nobly ratified their self-flattery by letting them flatter him, which he enjoyed. Together he and they operated in a perfect circuit of mutual self-satisfaction; the loss of this is what many in the press now mourn, since with him dies a particularly useful device—an exemplar—for lying to themselves.” And: “From the start of McCain’s career to its end, a clear through-line seamlessly stretches from his support for the proxy wars of Cold War Containment, the adventurism of “rogue state rollback,” and more recently, his approval of massive arms sales to Saudi Arabia to combat “Iranian conduct in Yemen.”

“America’s Death Trail in Yemen, and the Importance of Showing Graphic Images of War” [Paste] “These searing images document a masterwork of unbounded cruelty for which American tax dollars supplied the medium, and which American apathy has enabled.”

♣ Do they think if they repeat this enough it will be true?

Living the American Dream

“40% of Americans struggle to pay for at least one basic need like food or rent” [MarketWatch] ♣America is great, folks. Nothing to see here.

“The Price of American Greatness” [Eudaimonia] “a society devoted to greatness as superiority, as America has been, becomes something like a great, mad, merciless, relentless contest. The norms and values of such a place become cruelty, greed, pride, envy. Only the exceptional are worthy of things like dignity, respect, worth, and meaning — the ordinary aren’t to have them.”

“Gospels of Giving for the New Gilded Age: Are today’s donor classes solving problems—or creating new ones?” [New Yorker – Elizabeth Kolbert] “We live, it is often said, in a new Gilded Age—an era of extravagant wealth and almost as extravagant displays of generosity. In the past fifteen years, some thirty thousand private foundations have been created, and the number of donor-advised funds has roughly doubled. The Giving Pledge—signed by Bill Gates, Warren Buffett, Michael Bloomberg, Larry Ellison, and more than a hundred and seventy other gazillionaires who have promised to dedicate most of their wealth to philanthropy—is the “Gospel [of Wealth]” stripped down and updated. And as the new philanthropies have proliferated so, too, have the critiques.” ♣ Mainly, the money goes toward shaping public policy, not actually, you know, helping people.

♣ Reminds me of one of Thomas Frank’s greats from 2016, “Nor a Lender Be: Hillary Clinton, liberal virtue, and the cult of the microloan” [Harper’s] “This is modern liberalism in action: an unregulated virtue exchange in which representatives of one class of humanity ritually forgive the sins of another class, all of it convened and facilitated by a vast army of well-credentialed American technocrats, while the objects of their high and noble compassion sink slowly back into a preindustrial state.”

“Racing to replace opioids, biopharma is betting on pain drugs with a checkered past” [STAT] “the bottom fell out for a new class of pain medicines, called NGF inhibitors, when patients in clinical trials starting inexplicably blowing out their joints.”

“How Texas Cops Turn Mental Health Crises Into Deportations” [Texas Observer] “Such encounters often have lasting consequences. For Texans of color, they end in death at a disturbing rate. Shy of that, advocates say police responses regularly result in trumped-up charges of assaulting an officer or resisting arrest. And for undocumented immigrants, such charges often lead to deportation, even without a conviction. Senate Bill 4, Texas’ 2017 “sanctuary cities” ban, requires jailers in the state to honor all ICE detainers, regardless of criminal charge or mental health considerations.”

“Snitching-ass startup raises $10 million to privatize the surveillance state: Flock Security is looking to capitalize on suburban fear.” [The Outline] “Unlike traditional security options,” the company’s media kit boasts, “Flock safety is focused on not only preventing, but also solving crime.” In execution, this means that Flock sells security cameras to neighborhoods, and those cameras then record everything that happens in those neighborhoods. Then, thanks to the company’s proprietary algorithm which will definitely work 100 percent of the time and will definitely not just end up being a high-tech way to racially profile people, Flock will be able to automatically sift through footage “to detect color, make, license plate, and other descriptors… in seconds” and send any relevant video footage to the cops. Crunchbase’s blog post, meanwhile, notes that the Flock system is also able to “selectively target license plates of non-residents [of neighborhoods].”

Prison Strike

“The Nationwide Prison Strike: Why It’s Happening and What It Means for Ending Mass Incarceration” [ACLU] “The Nationwide Prison Strike, scheduled to last from Aug. 21 to Sept. 9, is centered around 10 specific policy demands. These demands include significantly reducing the number of people in jail and prison, improving prison conditions, properly funding rehabilitation, and addressing racism throughout the criminal justice system.”

“As prison strikes heat up, former inmates talk about horrible state of labor and incarceration” [USA Today] “Convict leasing — a legalized form of enslavement that lasted well after the institution was outlawed — once dominated prison labor in America, and today’s combination of low-to-no wages and lack of choice in working conditions smacks of the same treatment. Prisoners at Louisiana’s Angola facility — which is located on a former plantation — work for as little as four cents an hour.”

“US inmates claim retaliation by prison officials as result of multi-state strike” [The Guardian] “Prisoners and their families say strike ‘leaders were picked off, one by one’ and sent to solitary confinement or suddenly transferred”

“The federal government markets prison labor to businesses as the ‘best-kept secret’: The Department of Justice says prison labor is good for a company’s bottom line” [Vox] “Among other demands, prisoners want to earn more than a few dimes for each hour of work that they do, considering that their work brings in billions of dollars in revenue to state and federal prisons. Most inmates across the country do skilled and unskilled labor typically for less than a dollar per hour. (In some states, it’s entirely unpaid.) The work ranges from building office furniture to answering customer service calls to video production and farm work — sometimes without the guarantee of safe work conditions. … correctional facilities argue that prison laborers learn real-life job skills.” ♣How’s that working out?

“Out of Prison & Out of Work: Unemployment among formerly incarcerated people” [Prison Policy Initiative] “Our analysis shows that formerly incarcerated people are unemployed at a rate of over 27% — higher than the total U.S. unemployment rate during any historical period, including the Great Depression.” Oh.

“CALIFORNIA WILDFIRES: INMATES RISKING THEIR LIVES TO FIGHT FIRES SAY IT’S A ‘CRUEL JOKE,’ BUT BETTER THAN PRISON” [Newsweek] “In exchange for their efforts, firefighters typically make about $75,000 plus benefits each year. But a group of 3,400 wildfire-fighting inmates from the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation are risking their lives for just $2 per day and an extra $1 per hour when fighting an active fire.”

Teacher Strikes

“Six more House incumbents ousted in GOP runoff elections” [Tulsa World] “Each of those defeated Tuesday had, in some manner, earned the wrath of public education supporters during last spring’s occupation of the state Capitol.”

“Oklahoma Teachers Just Purged the Statehouse of Their Enemies” [NY Mag] “Last night [Aug. 28], Oklahoma’s GOP primary season came to an end — and the teachers beat the billionaires in a rout. Nineteen Republicans voted against raising taxes to increase teacher pay last spring; only four will be on the ballot this November.”

“Detroit is latest big school district to turn off tap water” [Associated Press] “Last year, LeeAndria Hardison saw brown water coming from fountains at the Detroit school attended by her teenage son. ‘I’ve been sending water to school every day with his name on it — five bottles of water in a cooling pack,’ said Hardison, 39.”

“RACE, DISCIPLINE, AND SAFETY AT U.S. PUBLIC SCHOOLS” [ACLU] “Nationally, schools reported more than 27,000 sworn law enforcement officers compared with  just 23,000 social workers.” ♣ Of course.

The Wasteland

“How Energy Companies and Allies Are Turning the Law Against Protesters” [Inside Climate News] The Oklahoma law makes it a felony to interfere with pipelines and other “critical infrastructure” punishable by up to ten years in prison and $100,000 in fines. “In Louisiana, which enacted a similar law in May, at least nine activists have been arrested under the new law since it went into effect on Aug. 1. In one incident, three people were pulled off a canoe and kayak after they maneuvered the boats on a bayou to protest construction of an oil pipeline. The arrests were conducted by off-duty officers with the state Department of Public Safety and Corrections who were armed and in uniform, but at the time were working for a private security firm hired by the pipeline developer.

“Cost of Coal: Electric Bills Skyrocket in Appalachia as Region’s Economy Collapses” [Inside Climate News]

“This city has a vision for mass transit that doesn’t involve city buses” [Ars Technica] “But just as some developing countries have leapfrogged past landline telephones in favor of cellular technology, Arlington [Tx.] is trying to turn its status as a mass-transit laggard into an advantage by embracing cutting-edge transportation technologies.” ♣ Ride-hailing shuttles. So cutting edge!

“California actions to lower dangerous maternal death rate may help rest of US” [Guardian] “In the US, about 26 women are dying for every 100,000 live births, almost triple the rate of most western European countries – and some countries, such as Finland, have a rate as low as three deaths. …Since 2006, a team of researchers at Stanford University’s California Maternal Quality Care Collaborative (CMQCC) have been trying to answer the question of why it is disproportionately dangerous to give birth in America and what can be done about it. ♣ After 12 years, what have they come up with? ♣ “Change in California has come from partnerships with a variety of public and private groups… including a collaborative of hospitals adopting standards that are designed to better prepare staff for cases like Berry’s. Improved monitoring of birth records, better databases and much better training for professionals about what can go wrong during pregnancy have all helped.” ♣ Just spitballing here, and maybe another 12-year study might look at this, but do we think the cost of care and the whole for-profit structure in the US has something to do with it?

“Los Angeles billionaire’s hospital system declares bankruptcy” [Politico] “In previous cases, hospital bankruptcies have disrupted patient care by snarling business negotiations with insurers and leading staff to seek other jobs, said Holly Lang, a health care economist.”

On the bright side

“Debunking Pundits and Corporate Democrats, New Poll Finds ‘Unabashedly Left’ Agenda Extremely Popular” [Common Dreams] “Crucially, DFP notes, these proposals are “popular across urban, suburban, and rural geographies”—a finding that runs counter to the common notion that a bold left-wing agenda would be rejected in regions like the Midwest. The policies were also viewed favorably across race and education lines.”

 

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.

Deindustrialization 

“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]

Screen shot of http://overdosemappingtool.norc.org/

“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]

Exports

“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.