Thursday, April 14, 2016

Last Call For It's Not Just White Men

The opioid epidemic hitting white rural communities is not just killing men, but killing women as well.  New statistics show a major spike in the death rates of white women, particularly in the Midwest and among the lower middle class, people like Anna Marrie Jones of Tecumseh, Oklahoma.

Fifty-four years old. Raised on three rural acres. High school-educated. A mother of three. Loyal employee of Kmart, Walls Bargain Center and Dollar Store. These were the facts of her life as printed in the funeral program, and now they had also become clues in an American crisis with implications far beyond the burnt grass and red dirt of central Oklahoma.

White women between 25 and 55 have been dying at accelerating rates over the past decade, a spike in mortality not seen since the AIDS epidemic in the early 1980s. According to recent studies of death certificates, the trend is worse for women in the center of the United States, worse still in rural areas, and worst of all for those in the lower middle class. Drug and alcohol overdose rates for working-age white women have quadrupled. Suicides are up by as much as 50 percent.

What killed Jones was cirrhosis of the liver brought on by heavy drinking. The exact culprit was vodka, whatever brand was on sale, poured into a pint glass eight ounces at a time. But, as Anna’s family gathered at the gravesite for a final memorial, they wondered instead about the root causes, which were harder to diagnose and more difficult to solve.

“Life didn’t always break her way. She dealt with that sadness,” said Candy Payne, the funeral officiant. “She tried her best. She loved her family. But she dabbled in the drinking, and when things got tough the drinking made it harder.”

There were plots nearby marked for Jones’s friends and relatives who had died in the past decade at ages 46, 52 and 37. Jones had buried her fiance at 55. She had eulogized her best friend, dead at 50 from alcohol-induced cirrhosis.

Other parts of the adjacent land were intended for her children: Davey, 38, her oldest son and most loyal caretaker, who was making it through the day with some of his mother’s vodka; Maryann, 33, the middle daughter, who had hitched a ride to the service because she couldn’t afford a working car; and Tiffany, 31, who had two daughters of her own, a job at the discount grocery and enough accumulated stress to make her feel, “at least a decade or two older,” she said.

Candy, who in addition to being the officiant was also a close family friend, motioned for Tiffany and Maryann to bring over the container holding their mother’s cremated remains. They opened the lid and the ashes blew back into their dresses and out into the pasture.

“No more hurt. No more loneliness,” Candy said.

“No more suffering,” Tiffany said.

They shook out the last ashes and circled the grave as Candy bowed her head to pray.

“We don’t know why it came to this,” she said. “We trust You know the reasons. We trust You have the answers.”

The answers are that the economic conditions that have crushed a generation of black and Hispanic working class Americans, once confined to the inner cities, have now become commonplace across all of 2016 America.  White, rural America is just now catching up in the misery department, accelerated by red state austerity and voting constantly against their own self-interests.

But now that it's affecting white women, well, now the austerity regime is maybe a problem in a country where the richest 1% now account for close to two-thirds of the total wealth.  Hell, just the wealthiest twenty Americans alone now own more wealth than the entire bottom half of the country.

And that's just the money we know about.

Hillary's Lead Pipe Cinch

Greg Sargent breaks down Hillary Clinton's proposal to replace America's lead pipes and lead paint in five years, a plan that even I think is borderline Bernie Sanders unicorn territory.

The details are here: The proposal on lead in particular includes a promise to establish a Presidential Commission on Childhood Lead Exposure, which would be charged with “writing a national plan to eliminate the risk of lead exposure from paint, pipes, and soil within five years.” It also includes a vow to push for $5 billion to implement the commission’s recommendations, to “replace lead paint, windows, and doors in homes, schools, and child care centers and remediate lead-contaminated soil.” It also references a separate $275 billion plan for infrastructure modernization that includes “drinking and wastewater infrastructure.”

Public health problems such as this one historically attract widespread notice when there are glaringly awful outbreaks of it that command media and public attention, such as the one in Flint, Michigan. But in fact, a national effort along the lines of the one Clinton is suggesting has long been sought by advocates for reform — because this remains a national problem that afflicts other cities and localities, too. As the New York Times recently put it:

By the most recent estimate, about 37 million homes and apartments still have some lead paint on walls and woodwork, 23 million with potentially hazardous levels of lead in soil, paint chips or household dust.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimate that four million of those most dangerous households have children. A half-million children — in Atlantic City, Philadelphia and Allentown, Pa., where a remarkable 23.1 percent of children tested had excessive lead — are believed to have enough lead in their blood to merit a doctor’s attention.

“We know that there are many kids across the country that have high lead levels in their bodies — testing kids identifies exposure that you can’t do anything about,” Jerome Paulson, an emeritus professor of public health and pediatrics at George Washington University and a longtime advocate for cleaning up the lead threat, tells me. The goal, he says, should be to “proactively identify the old housing and lead pipes and take care of them.”

“There will never be no kids in the U.S. with some adverse lead exposure, but we can certainly make it a much smaller problem than we have to date,” Paulson continues.

Successful national efforts have been made, such as the elimination of lead in gasoline, which was “extremely successful in reducing child lead exposure,” but “there’s never been a proactive federal approach to lead based paint poisoning or lead poisoning from the use of lead pipes for water,” Paulson says.

It wouldn’t be easy, to put it mildly, and Clinton’s proposal raises a host of questions. Among them would be how this commission would go about identifying the lead threat throughout the country and assembling all that knowledge in one place, Paulson says. Another would be how such policies would be implemented — Clinton stops short of proposing a legislative solution, though she doesn’t rule one out.

Considering national infrastructure spending would again have to get through a Republican House, the same Republican House that went down to the wire just to pay for the roads we already have and had to be dragged kicking and screaming by President Obama to pass, and only then after the GOP cut $170 billion from the original proposal, fixing lead pipes seems almost impossible.

Hell, this is the same GOP Congress that won't authorize any funding for fighting the Zika virus, something that could drastically affect unborn children that Republicans are always screaming about. You think Clinton could get funding to help places like Flint fix their lead pipes with taxpayer money?

Not going to happen.  I appreciate Clinton actually trying to fix the problem, it's more than you'll ever see from Republicans, but you'd better believe the howling tea party austerity nutjobs won't authorize a dime for a Democratic president to fix infrastructure.

Tumblr Down House

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