Rising deaths among white middle-aged Americans could exceed Aids toll in US

From The Guardian UK:  http://www.theguardian.com/science/2015/nov/02/death-rate-middle-aged-white-americans-aids

Alarming trend among less-educated 45- to 54-year-olds largely thought to be a result of more suicides and the misuse of drugs and alcohol

Monday 2 November 2015

A sharp rise in death rates among white middle-aged Americans has claimed nearly as many lives in the past 15 years as the spread of Aids in the US, researchers have said.

The alarming trend, overlooked until now, has hit less-educated 45- to 54-year-olds the hardest, with no other groups in the US as affected and no similar declines seen in other rich countries.

Though not fully understood, the increased deaths are largely thought to be a result of more suicides and the misuse of drugs and alcohol, driven by easier access to powerful prescription painkillers, cheaper high quality heroin and greater financial stresses.

The turnaround reverses decades of falling mortality rates achieved through better medical care and lifestyle choices that continue to improve public health in other groups in the US and in other nations around the world.

“This was absolutely a surprise to us. It knocked us off our chairs,” said Anne Case, an economics professor at Princeton University who worked on the study. Since discovering the trend, Case and her colleague Angus Deaton, also an economics professor at Princeton, have shared the findings with healthcare professionals. “We wanted to make sure we weren’t missing something,” Case said. “Everyone’s been stunned.”

The findings emerged from a review of national surveys in the US and six other rich industrialised countries, namely the UK, Australia, France, Germany, Sweden and Canada.

They showed that from 1978 to 1998, the mortality rate for US whites aged 45 to 54 fell by 2% a year, a figure very much in line with the celebrated improvements in health seen in the other countries.

But after 1998, the death rates of US whites began to buck the trend. While other countries saw their mortality rates continue to fall, they began to rise among middle-aged white non-Hispanic Americans by 0.5% a year. The effect was not confined to the 45- to 54-year-olds. In the 35- to 44-year-old bracket, the mortality rate stopped falling in 2000. For 55- to 59-year-olds, the fall slowed to 0.5% a year.

Continue reading at:  http://www.theguardian.com/science/2015/nov/02/death-rate-middle-aged-white-americans-aids

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Despair, American Style

From The New York Times:  http://www.nytimes.com/2015/11/09/opinion/despair-american-style.html?_r=1

Paul Krugman
November 9, 2015

A couple of weeks ago President Obama mocked Republicans who are “down on America,” and reinforced his message by doing a pretty good Grumpy Cat impression. He had a point: With job growth at rates not seen since the 1990s, with the percentage of Americans covered by health insurance hitting record highs, the doom-and-gloom predictions of his political enemies look ever more at odds with reality.

Even more striking are the proximate causes of rising mortality. Basically, white Americans are, in increasing numbers, killing themselves, directly or indirectly. Suicide is way up, and so are deaths from drug poisoning and the chronic liver disease that excessive drinking can cause. We’ve seen this kind of thing in other times and places – for example, in the plunging life expectancy that afflicted Russia after the fall of Communism. But it’s a shock to see it, even in an attenuated form, in America.

Yet the Deaton-Case findings fit into a well-established pattern. There have been a number of studies showing that life expectancy for less-educated whites is falling across much of the nation. Rising suicides and overuse of opioids are known problems. And while popular culture may focus more on meth than on prescription painkillers or good old alcohol, it’s not really news that there’s a drug problem in the heartland.

But what’s causing this epidemic of self-destructive behavior?

If you believe the usual suspects on the right, it’s all the fault of liberals. Generous social programs, they insist, have created a culture of dependency and despair, while secular humanists have undermined traditional values. But (surprise!) this view is very much at odds with the evidence.

For one thing, rising mortality is a uniquely American phenomenon – yet America has both a much weaker welfare state and a much stronger role for traditional religion and values than any other advanced country. Sweden gives its poor far more aid than we do, and a majority of Swedish children are now born out of wedlock, yet Sweden’s middle-aged mortality rate is only half of white America’s.

You see a somewhat similar pattern across regions within the United States. Life expectancy is high and rising in the Northeast and California, where social benefits are highest and traditional values weakest. Meanwhile, low and stagnant or declining life expectancy is concentrated in the Bible Belt.

What about a materialist explanation? Is rising mortality a consequence of rising inequality and the hollowing out of the middle class?

Continue reading at:  http://www.nytimes.com/2015/11/09/opinion/despair-american-style.html?_r=1

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The Great Grief: How To Cope with Losing Our World

From Common Dreams:  http://www.commondreams.org/views/2015/05/14/great-grief-how-cope-losing-our-world

In order to respond adequately, first we may need to mourn

by Per Espen Stoknes
Thursday, May 14, 2015

Climate scientists overwhelmingly say that we will face unprecedented warming in the coming decades. Those same scientists, just like you or I, struggle with the emotions that are evoked by these facts and dire projections. My children—who are now 12 and 16—may live in a world warmer than at any time in the previous 3 million years, and may face challenges that we are only just beginning to contemplate, and in many ways may be deprived of the rich, diverse world we grew up in. How do we relate to – and live – with this sad knowledge?

Across different populations, psychological researchers have documented a long list of mental health consequences of climate change: trauma, shock, stress, anxiety, depression, complicated grief, strains on social relationships, substance abuse, sense of hopelessness, fatalism, resignation, loss of autonomy and sense of control, as well as a loss of personal and occupational identity.

This more-than-personal sadness is what I call the “Great Grief”—a feeling that rises in us as if from the Earth itself. Perhaps bears and dolphins, clear-cut forests, fouled rivers, and the acidifying, plastic-laden oceans bear grief inside them, too, just as we do. Every piece of climate news increasingly comes with a sense of dread: is it too late to turn around? The notion that our individual grief and emotional loss can actually be a reaction to the decline of our air, water, and ecology rarely appears in conversation or the media. It may crop up as fears about what kind of world our sons or daughters will face. But where do we bring it? Some bring it privately to a therapist. It is as if this topic is not supposed to be publicly discussed.

This Great Grief recently re-surfaced for me upon reading news about the corals on the brink of death due to warming oceans as well as overfishing of Patagonian toothfish in plastic laden oceans. Is this a surging wave of grief arriving from the deep seas, from the ruthlessness and sadness of the ongoing destruction? Or is it just a personal whim? As a psychologist I’ve learned not to scoff at such reactions, or movements in the soul, but to honor them.

A growing body of research has brought evidence from focus groups and interviews with people affected by droughts, floods, and coastal erosion. When elicited, participants express deep distress over losses that climate disruptions are bringing. It is also aggravated by what they perceive as inadequate and fragmented local, national and global responses. In a study by researcher  Susanne Moser on coastal communities, one typical participant reports: “And it really sets in, the reality of what we’re trying to hold back here. And it does seem almost futile, with all the government agencies that get in the way, the sheer cost of doing something like that – it seems hopeless. And that’s kind of depressing, because I love this area.” In another study by sociologist Kari Norgaard, one participant living by a river exclaims: “It’s like, you want to be a proud person and if you draw your identity from the river and when the river is degraded, that reflects on you.” Another informant experiencing extended drought explained to professor Glenn Albrecht’s team that even if “you’ve got a pool there – but you don’t really want to go outside, it’s really yucky outside, you don’t want to go out.”

Continue reading at:  http://www.commondreams.org/views/2015/05/14/great-grief-how-cope-losing-our-world

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‘Good’ Jobs Aren’t Coming Back

From The Atlantic:  http://www.theatlantic.com/business/archive/2015/10/onshoring-jobs/412201/

In the last several years some American companies have moved their operations back to the states, but the resulting factory work isn’t providing the prosperity and security that such work once did.

Alana Semuels
Oct 26, 2015

SPRING HILL, Tenn.—The hulking General Motors factory in this town south of Nashville undermines the complaints by politicians left and right that America doesn’t make things anymore.

A year ago, GM announced it was moving production of its best-selling vehicle, the Cadillac SRX, from Mexico to this plant in Tennessee. Today 3,000 people work on this 6.9 million square-foot campus, and more are being hired.

GM is one of the hundreds of companies, big and small, that have moved manufacturing back to the United States from overseas. Outsourcing decimated American manufacturing in the 1980s and 1990s, erasing nearly six million jobs between 1989 and 2009.

But the number of manufacturing jobs has started to slowly grow again, and about 700,000 jobs have been added since 2010. “Onshoring,” as it’s called, is at this stage delivering just a trickle of new jobs, but states such as Tennessee are offering companies generous incentives to try and speed up the process, luring some big-name companies. Whirlpool in 2013 said it was moving production of commercial washing machines from Mexico to the U.S. The company that makes Otis elevators announced in 2012 that it would move production from Mexico to South Carolina. Caterpillar moved some heavy-equipment manufacturing back to the U.S.

But these are not your father’s manufacturing jobs. Many of the companies are locating their new plants in right-to-work states where it’s less likely their workers will join a union, and the prevailing wages are far lower.

In fact, nationally, the average wages of production and non-supervisory employees in manufacturing are lower than they were in 1985, when adjusted for inflation. In September, those employees made an average $8.63 an hour, in 1982 to 1984 dollars, while they made an average of $8.80 an hour in 1985, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Continue reading at:  http://www.theatlantic.com/business/archive/2015/10/onshoring-jobs/412201/

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The Price of Modesty

From Huffington Post:  http://www.huffingtonpost.com/ayaan-hirsi-ali/the-price-of-modesty_b_8481776.html


Rokhshana was 19-years-old when a gang of men in Afghanistan stoned her to death this week. The men who stoned her were enforcing Islamic law, otherwise known as Sharia. According to the governor of the province, Ghor, she lived in a Taliban-controlled village. Rokhshana was forced to marry someone she did not want and she fled with another man, hence the accusations of adultery that led to her sentencing and brutal execution.

Sharia codifies Islam’s many rules and governs everything from how to worship daily to personal behavior, economic and legal transactions and the governance of a nation. However, it is most commonly used as a tool to rob women of their most basic rights, including sexual autonomy.

Before Rokhshana’s tragic death, the world’s attention was caught for a while by the plight of Sakineh Mohammadi Ashtiani, who was sentenced to death for adultery in Iran, a country governed by Sharia law. Sakineh was ultimately not executed after an international outcry in her defense.

Before that, the world knew of the plight of the girl from Qatif, in Saudi Arabia, who was gang-raped by seven men and sentenced to 200 lashes and six months in prison for being alone with a man who was not her relative (see this from Katie Couric’s Notebook when she was at CBS).

The girl from Qatif was ultimately pardoned by the late King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia under pressure from President Bush. Unfortunately, the pardoning did not mean that a precedent was set to quash the law in such cases; it was nothing more than a gesture of politeness to the US.

Sometimes a publicity campaign here in the West followed by strong diplomatic action can work to save the life of a victim. Thanks to pressure from Western governments, Meriam Ibrahim, the Christian woman who was sentenced to death by the government of Sudan for apostasy and adultery, was able to get out of Sudan last year.

The problem is that so few cases make it to the headlines of the Western or even local media. What I find to be a double tragedy is that when the life of a woman is lost or threatened, we in the West condemn the act of cruelty but fail to take a stand against the principle upon which the punishment rests. It is like denouncing the Sharpeville Massacre of 1960 while saying nothing about the South African government’s doctrine of racial apartheid.

The only way to stop these ghastly punishments against women is to campaign forcefully against the principle of Sharia — to stop the Islamist narrative that says Islamic law protects the modesty, honor and well-being of the family.

Continue reading at:  http://www.huffingtonpost.com/ayaan-hirsi-ali/the-price-of-modesty_b_8481776.html

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Israeli academic shouted down in lecture at University of Minnesota

Shutting up Germaine Greer, shutting up Israeli academics, where does it all stop.  This way lies the path to tyranny.

From The Washington Post:  https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/volokh-conspiracy/wp/2015/11/04/israeli-academic-shouted-down-in-lecture-at-university-of-minnesota/

November 4, 2015

On Tuesday afternoon an Israeli academic was shouted down by two dozen protesters as he tried to begin a lecture before about 100 students and faculty at the University of Minnesota. The speaker was Moshe Halbertal, a professor at NYU Law School and a professor of Jewish thought and philosophy at Hebrew University. He was invited to deliver the Dewey Lecture in the Philosophy of Law, which is organized annually by the law school. That the freedom to present a lecture is threatened in this way at a public university is appalling, calling not only for punishment of violations but for a clear statement by university officials defending the free exchange of ideas.

The lecture, which I attended, was delayed half an hour as one by one the protesters stood up to shout denunciations of Israel and were escorted from the hall by university police. One young woman came screaming back into the lecture after having been ejected. Outside the hall, the protesters chanted so loudly that it was difficult to hear Halbertal, much less to concentrate on what he was saying, until 45 minutes after the lecture was to have begun.

The protests were apparently organized by a group calling itself the “Anti-War Committee,” which bragged on its Twitter feed about having disrupted the lecture and complained that the protesters’ “free speech” rights were violated when a few were arrested. It appears that no law students were involved, but many of the demonstrators were college-aged and the protest was endorsed by a group called Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP), a university group. According to its Facebook page, SJP “promotes justice, human rights, liberation, and self-determination for the Palestinian people.”

The lecture was entitled, “Protecting Civilians: Moral Challenges of Asymmetric Warfare.” The talk did not directly address the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, though Halbertal drew in part on his experience helping to draft the Israeli army’s code of ethics. When he was finally able to speak, Halbertal argued that in fighting “asymmetric wars” (typically, wars between professional militaries and insurgencies or resistance movements) professional combatants should err on the side of protecting noncombatants from casualties, even when they thereby increase risks to themselves or to their cause.

It was a careful and nuanced presentation, one that was far more dovish and human-rights oriented than caricatures of Halbertal as a “war crimes apologist” by protesters suggested. But the protesters had no interest in hearing the lecture or in allowing the audience to hear it. Halbertal told me that in all of his lectures on the subject of warfare, including at Columbia University, this was the first time he had been subjected to a disruptive demonstration.

Continue reading at:  https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/volokh-conspiracy/wp/2015/11/04/israeli-academic-shouted-down-in-lecture-at-university-of-minnesota/

GoFundMe Gone Wild

From The New York Times:  http://www.nytimes.com/2015/11/08/fashion/gofundme-gone-wild.html

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