Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Wells Fargo Still Defrauding Clients

Wells Fargo Killing Law Suits Via Arbitration:

In congressional hearing rooms and on national television, Wells Fargo has vowed to make things right for the thousands of customers who were given sham accounts.

The bank’s new chief executive, Timothy J. Sloan, in his first week on the job, said his “immediate and highest priority is to restore trust in Wells Fargo.”

But in federal and state courtrooms across the country, Wells Fargo is taking a different tack.
The bank has sought to kill lawsuits that its customers have filed over the creation of as many as two million sham accounts by moving the cases into private arbitration — a secretive legal process that often favors corporations.

Lawyers for the bank’s customers say the legal motions are an attempt to limit the bank’s accountability for the widespread fraud and deny its customers their day in open court.
Essentially, getting a judge to move these law suits against Wells to arbitration takes them out of the public view and allows the bank to settle the suits for undisclosed amounts of money, and without having to admit or be found guilty of criminal liability in court. 

It's like having a guy break into your house, steal all your valuables, and after he gets caught petition to have the case sent to arbitration, then "settling" with you by giving you back a portion of the valuables he stole from you. And never having to admit they are guilty of robbery or anything else.
“It is ridiculous,” said Jennifer Zeleny, who is suing Wells Fargo in federal court in Utah, along with about 80 other customers, over unauthorized accounts. “This is an issue of identity theft — my identity was used so employees could meet sales goals. This is something that needs to be litigated in a public forum.”

In arbitration, consumers often find the odds are stacked against them. The arbitration clauses prevent consumers from banding together to file a lawsuit as a class, forcing them instead to hash out their disputes one by one and blunting one of most powerful tools that Americans have in challenging harmful and deceitful practices by big companies.

Strict judicial rules limiting conflicts of interest also do not apply in arbitration, enabling some companies to steer cases to friendly arbitrators, according to a 2015 investigation by The New York Times.

Arbitration is also conducted outside public view, and the decisions are nearly impossible to overturn.
So in addition to committing identity theft on its own clients, the bank gets to make the suits disappear from public view (losing less future clients, stock value, etc.).
Ms. Zeleny, a lawyer who lives outside Salt Lake City and opened a Wells Fargo account when she started a new law practice, said it would be impossible for her to agree to arbitrate her dispute over an account that she had never signed up for in the first place.

The bank’s counterargument: The arbitration clauses included in the legitimate contracts customers signed to open bank accounts also cover disputes related to the false ones set up in their names.
LOL. I'm pretty sure I never agreed to have you, Wells Fargo, steal my identity and set up false accounts in my name. And never signed anything to indicate otherwise. 
Most Americans never bother to take their disputes to arbitration, particularly for a dispute over a small amount of money, the Times investigation showed.

And that is likely to be the case for many of the Wells Fargo customers who are sent into arbitration, lawyers say.

In many instances, the fees that customers were charged on the unauthorized accounts were less than $100. Few lawyers will take up individual arbitration claims when the potential damages are low.

“This is meant to have a chilling effect,” said Zane Christensen, a lawyer who represented customers in a suit against Wells Fargo in federal court in Utah. “They know customers will have a hard time finding a lawyer to represent them in arbitration.”
Luckily some of us know lawyers who are more than happy to take our cases in order to exact a measure of accountability and settlement from this criminal enterprise, er, bank.

But no matter what the final payout is, the fact that no one in upper management at Wells Fargo has gone to prison for fraud is the real injustice here. Only when Wells Fargo executives are frog-marched, in handcuffs and leg irons out the front door of their executive suites, will this kind of criminal behavior stop. 

Until then, write check, admit nothing, move on. Bravo, America.

UPDATE: And the hits just keep on coming. Now the insurance giant Prudential is accusing Wells Fargo executives of opening fraudulent insurance accounts on behalf of its unwitting clients (but only after firing three of its employees who blew the whistle).
According to three former managers in Prudential’s corporate investigation division, Wells Fargo employees appeared to have signed up bank customers for Prudential insurance without the customers’ knowledge or permission. In some cases, they even arranged for monthly premium fees to be withdrawn from their customers’ accounts.

When investigators reviewed tapes of calls to Prudential’s customer service line, they found complaints from Wells Fargo customers about policies they did not remember buying. Many of the customers did not speak English and needed a Spanish interpreter, the three plaintiffs said.

“This definitely was the same kind of conduct that Wells was committing, but through Prudential,” said one of the three whistle-blowers, Julie Han Broderick, an attorney and former co-head of Prudential’s corporate investigations division, which has about 30 employees.

Ms. Broderick and two of her colleagues, Darron Smith and Thomas Schreck, filed a wrongful termination suit against Prudential on Tuesday. They say they were fired in November for trying to escalate attention internally to their discoveries about conduct at Wells Fargo. 
Awesome sauce. Next up: Wells Fargo takes out insurance and opens credit card accounts on dead people.

Sunday, December 4, 2016

Black Mashed Potatoes

The Scourge of Racism in New York State Prisons:

The racism can be felt from the moment black inmates enter New York’s upstate prisons.

They describe being called porch monkeys, spear chuckers and worse. There are cases of guards ripping out dreadlocks. One inmate, John Richard, reported that he was jumped at Clinton Correctional Facility by a guard who threatened to “serve up some black mashed potatoes with tomato sauce.”

“As soon as you come through receiving, they let you know whose house it is,” said Darius Horton, who was recently released from Groveland Correctional Facility after serving six years for assault.

A review by The New York Times of tens of thousands of disciplinary cases against inmates in 2015, hundreds of pages of internal reports and three years of parole decisions found that racial disparities were embedded in the prison experience in New York.

In most prisons, blacks and Latinos were disciplined at higher rates than whites — in some cases twice as often, the analysis found. They were also sent to solitary confinement more frequently and for longer durations. At Clinton, a prison near the Canadian border where only one of the 998 guards is African-American, black inmates were nearly four times as likely to be sent to isolation as whites, and they were held there for an average of 125 days, compared with 90 days for whites.

A greater share of black inmates are in prison for violent offenses, and minority inmates are disproportionately younger, factors that could explain why an inmate would be more likely to break prison rules, state officials said. But even after accounting for these elements, the disparities in discipline persisted, The Times found.
I could sit here and quote the entire article, confirming once again, point for point, what penologists and other corrections experts have been saying for years: the legacy of the racist War on Drugs can be found in the racial disparities, disparate treatments, and segregation of the inmate populations in state and federal prisons throughout the country.

Black and Latino inmates routinely serve longer sentences, serve more punishments within correctional facilities, and suffer abuse at the hands of largely white, rural correctional officers. And it's not just the Empire State (which as a native New Yorker, is the only solace I can find in this story). It's everywhere.

With an incoming Attorney General who thinks "mandatory minimum sentences are right good," and is generally known to be against sentencing and prison reform, one can only expect things to get worse. 

Read the article...this is America in 2016.

UPDATE: A follow up article this morning (12/5) on the rampant racism found in the New York State Parole Board and the way it makes decisions.
The racial disparity in parole decisions in the state is perhaps the most dramatic manifestation of a broken system. Intended as a progressive tool to promote good behavior, parole has devolved into a hurried, often chaotic procedure. Inmates typically get less than 10 minutes to plead their cases before they are sent back to their cells.

The parole board has not been fully staffed for years and rarely sees a prisoner in person. Inmates are usually glimpsed from the shoulders up on a video screen.

Commissioners — as board members are called — often read through files to prepare for the next interview as the inmate speaks. The whole process is run like an assembly line. They hear cases just two days a week and see as many as 80 inmates in that time.

Board members are mainly from upstate, earn more than $100,000 annually and hold their positions for years. They tend to have backgrounds in law enforcement rather than rehabilitation. Most are white; there is currently only one black man, and there are no Latino men.

In short, they have little in common with the black and Latino inmates who make up nearly three-quarters of the state prison population.
Again, quelle surprise. 

Private Prison Resurgence

Like mold, you just can't get rid of these parasites:

As terrific as Donald J. Trump has been for the stock market, he has been absolutely spectacular for a troubled niche: companies that run for-profit prisons and immigration detention centers for states and the federal government.

In the market rally on the day after the election, the stock with the best performance was Corrections Corporation of America, the nation’s biggest prison company. It soared 43 percent that day. Shares of the GEO Group, its main competitor, rose 21 percent.

Mr. Trump’s surprise victory represented a radical change in fortunes for them — a boon for investors and a potential nightmare for critics. “It’s an extreme case of politics affecting the stock market,” said Ryan Meliker, a senior analyst with Canaccord Genuity. “Politics drove down the shares of the companies over the summer — and now the situation is reversed.”

These two companies, both real estate investment trusts, are not household names. In fact, on Nov. 10, Corrections Corporation of America changed its trading name to CoreCivic. According to Jonathan Burns, a company spokesman, the move was part of a long-planned rebranding that emphasizes diversification into areas like inmate transportation and residential re-entry programs for former inmates.

On its website, CoreCivic, which is based in Nashville, says it houses nearly 70,000 inmates, which makes it “the fifth-largest corrections system in the nation, behind only the federal government and three states.”
We were just laughing about this in class the other day, the re-branding of CCA into "CoreCivic," which sounds like AmeriCorp, or the Peace Corps, or some other social service, volunteer, do-gooder organization.

Except it's not.
A Justice Department memo concluded that privately operated prisons were inferior to those operated directly by the Federal Bureau of Prisons in three critical areas: They do not provide comparable services, do not save substantially on costs and do not maintain “the same level of safety and security.”

In July, there was a measles outbreak at an immigrant detention center in Arizona run by Corrections Corporation of America for Immigration and Customs Enforcement, a federal agency. State officials found fault with the way the institution handled it.
This is what happens when you attach the profit-motive to running a prison: skimping on food, inadequate health care, and poorly trained personnel. All to make a buck.
Oliver Hart, the Harvard professor who is one of this year’s Nobel laureates in economic science, has problems with for-profit prisons for other reasons. The difficulty is not just that the companies’ profit incentives don’t entirely align with civic interests, he said in an interview.

“There is a problem in contracts that we call residual control,” he said. While it’s relatively easy to shift a public service like garbage collection to private companies, he said, it’s not reasonable to do so for some government functions, like decision-making in foreign policy.

“You don’t want private contractors to have ultimate control over use of violence,” Professor Hart said.

“Prisons are somewhere in the middle” between garbage collecting and decision-making on war and peace, he added. “It’s generally better not to privatize prisons.”
In other words, duh. This is what most penologists have been arguing since the privatization resurgence began back in the late 80's, and always to deaf ears. The private sector of the correctional-industrial complex feeds at the public trough, to the tune of $5 billion annually in revenue. That's tax payer dollars going directly to share holders.

And privatization reaches beyond prisons, jails and concentration camps (er, detention centers), to now include privatized probation, bail/bond, re-entry, transportation, and medical care. 

Why is this controversial? Because the goal of corrections is to "correct," i.e. make sure you don't come back into the system. And the profit-motive stands in direct conflict with that: correcting means you eventually run out of "customers" and you go out of business. Very simple.

But we digress. For the foreseeable future, good times are ahead in the world of private dungeons.
The market has concluded that the business may have its best days ahead of it.

“The outlook for the companies really changed overnight with the election of Mr. Trump,” Mr. Dwyer of KDP Investment Advisors said.

The new administration’s policies are not clear, but Mr. Trump’s statements have been starkly different from those of President Obama — and Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders, who each called for the end of private prisons.

In March, for example, Mr. Trump called the bulk of the nation’s prisons “a disaster” but added: “I do think we can do a lot of privatizations and private prisons. It seems to work a lot better.” And in an interview with “60 Minutes,” he said that up to three million undocumented immigrants were “criminals”: “We are getting them out of our country or we are going to incarcerate.”

The claim that there are three million undocumented immigrants in America who have criminal records is not supported by the facts, Mr. Takei of the A.C.L.U. said.
Apparently, Mr. Takei didn't get the memo: facts are for losers. Especially in the world of privatization.

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Ending Identity Liberalism

The Age of Identity Liberalism Must be Brought to an End:

One of the many lessons of the recent presidential election campaign and its repugnant outcome is that the age of identity liberalism must be brought to an end. Hillary Clinton was at her best and most uplifting when she spoke about American interests in world affairs and how they relate to our understanding of democracy. But when it came to life at home, she tended on the campaign trail to lose that large vision and slip into the rhetoric of diversity, calling out explicitly to African-American, Latino, L.G.B.T. and women voters at every stop. This was a strategic mistake. If you are going to mention groups in America, you had better mention all of them. If you don’t, those left out will notice and feel excluded. Which, as the data show, was exactly what happened with the white working class and those with strong religious convictions. Fully two-thirds of white voters without college degrees voted for Donald Trump, as did over 80 percent of white evangelicals.

The moral energy surrounding identity has, of course, had many good effects. Affirmative action has reshaped and improved corporate life. Black Lives Matter has delivered a wake-up call to every American with a conscience. Hollywood’s efforts to normalize homosexuality in our popular culture helped to normalize it in American families and public life.

But the fixation on diversity in our schools and in the press has produced a generation of liberals and progressives narcissistically unaware of conditions outside their self-defined groups, and indifferent to the task of reaching out to Americans in every walk of life. At a very young age our children are being encouraged to talk about their individual identities, even before they have them. By the time they reach college many assume that diversity discourse exhausts political discourse, and have shockingly little to say about such perennial questions as class, war, the economy and the common good. In large part this is because of high school history curriculums, which anachronistically project the identity politics of today back onto the past, creating a distorted picture of the major forces and individuals that shaped our country. (The achievements of women’s rights movements, for instance, were real and important, but you cannot understand them if you do not first understand the founding fathers’ achievement in establishing a system of government based on the guarantee of rights.)
I've never heard of Mark Lilla before this article appeared in the NYT this weekend, but it is the best explanation I've read yet about why the Democrats lost the election (even though they are projected to win the popular vote by 3 million votes; see my last post for more). The intense narcissism produced by identity politics has produced an ironic reaction: individual self-identifying groups of people who are completely lacking in empathy towards people different than them ("othering," to use the common phrase).
It is at the level of electoral politics that identity liberalism has failed most spectacularly, as we have just seen. National politics in healthy periods is not about “difference,” it is about commonality. And it will be dominated by whoever best captures Americans’ imaginations about our shared destiny. Ronald Reagan did that very skillfully, whatever one may think of his vision. So did Bill Clinton, who took a page from Reagan’s playbook. 
Let's pause to note: he's discussing electoral victory, not the fact that these are two of the more failed presidencies in terms of mass incarceration, punishment as political capital, and the war on poor people and people of color. In fact, the anger towards Hillary Clinton among these disenfranchised groups was directly attributable to her husband's draconian welfare and punishment policies of the 90's. But I digress...
The media’s newfound, almost anthropological, interest in the angry white male reveals as much about the state of our liberalism as it does about this much maligned, and previously ignored, figure. A convenient liberal interpretation of the recent presidential election would have it that Mr. Trump won in large part because he managed to transform economic disadvantage into racial rage — the “whitelash” thesis. This is convenient because it sanctions a conviction of moral superiority and allows liberals to ignore what those voters said were their overriding concerns.
I so agree. If there was a dumber term than "whitelash" this election cycle, please direct me to it.
The whitelash thesis is convenient because it absolves liberals of not recognizing how their own obsession with diversity has encouraged white, rural, religious Americans to think of themselves as a disadvantaged group whose identity is being threatened or ignored. Such people are not actually reacting against the reality of our diverse America (they tend, after all, to live in homogeneous areas of the country). But they are reacting against the omnipresent rhetoric of identity, which is what they mean by “political correctness.” Liberals should bear in mind that the first identity movement in American politics was the Ku Klux Klan, which still exists. Those who play the identity game should be prepared to lose it.
Not to mention, to these rust belt, non-college degree white folks (especially white males) the idea that they are somehow a "privileged" group is only something a person living in the true confines of privilege could assert. There is nothing "privileged" about a manufacturing job that paid $25/hr + benefits and was outsourced to China (Gina!) being replaced with a job as a sales associate at Wal-Mart making $10/hr with no benefits. And all the rhetoric suggesting otherwise simply manifests itself in a hatred of the "educational elite" and other clueless eggheads on college campuses.
We need a post-identity liberalism, and it should draw from the past successes of pre-identity liberalism. Such a liberalism would concentrate on widening its base by appealing to Americans as Americans and emphasizing the issues that affect a vast majority of them. It would speak to the nation as a nation of citizens who are in this together and must help one another. As for narrower issues that are highly charged symbolically and can drive potential allies away, especially those touching on sexuality and religion, such a liberalism would work quietly, sensitively and with a proper sense of scale. (To paraphrase Bernie Sanders, America is sick and tired of hearing about liberals’ damn bathrooms.)
Put it this way: when the Democratic party put transgender bathroom access as a top priority in its party platform agenda, you lose a generation of angry, white, working class voters (the once backbone of the party) for whom this issue is beyond irrelevant. That's not to say the issue itself is irrelevant, but priorities, people.
Teachers committed to such a liberalism would refocus attention on their main political responsibility in a democracy: to form committed citizens aware of their system of government and the major forces and events in our history. A post-identity liberalism would also emphasize that democracy is not only about rights; it also confers duties on its citizens, such as the duties to keep informed and vote. A post-identity liberal press would begin educating itself about parts of the country that have been ignored, and about what matters there, especially religion.
Now, I understand that faith was largely ignored by both candidates in the 2016 election (also, so was public policy or anything resembling a substantive political campaign). How Trump won the evangelical vote by upwards of 80% or more is astonishing for someone who is about as a-religious as it gets. And Clinton herself was no Bible-thumper who rarely, if ever, brought up faith on the stump.

But the Democrats are more frightened of talking about religion, or nominating a candidate for whom faith is central to their "identity," because it's likely to be derided as "non-inclusive," "hateful," or "what about my faith," or whatever the hell. And it's that precise sort of othering and condescension that breeds resentment among the electorate, particularly those for whom faith is kind of a big deal.

None of this is to take away from the neo-Nazi ugliness, antisemitic behavior, and explosion of hate crimes across the country, perpetrated by angry whites, since the election (this headline on CNN "Are Jews People?" was astonishing). It makes you wonder what the reaction would have been had their "anointed candidate" lost. You can call them "alt-right" or "white nationalists" (or better, "sore winners") and try to normalize hatred, but it won't work. These people are good old fashioned racists, using the election to mainstream their twisted ideologies. The sooner the media turns that rock over, the better.

But Lilla isn't giving this kind of hatred a pass or excuse, because the article is about electoral politics, not the aftermath. What he is saying is that the past 25 years of "political correctness" and other multicultural pronoun/language calisthenics has produced a coalition of Democrats who are sure to keep losing election after election for the foreseeable future. As he notes, what wins elections is "us" and "we," not "them" and "those" (or hir and ze).

Democrats can dismiss him if they choose, but should be prepared to remain in the electoral wilderness and watch as the real assault on freedom begins by people who don't really care about identity groups, safe spaces, bathroom access or, ironically, the uneducated working class white folks who ushered them into office.

The shitstorm is a coming...happy thanksgiving.

Sunday, November 13, 2016

Electoral College: Plutocracy in Action

Clinton's Popular Vote Will Grow and Grow and Grow:

Donald Trump didn’t actually flip many Democrats, the thinking goes. Instead, Hillary Clinton failed to turn out liberal voters who had previously voted for Barack Obama. It’s a tempting narrative for smarting progressives, as it maintains status quo thinking—Clinton’s unlikable!and removes any culpability on the part of the Democrats for missing a massive shift in the electorate. In other words, it’s Clinton’s fault, not theirs, that Trump won the presidency.

Unfortunately, that graph is missing something important. (And not just a properly scaled y-axis.) The numbers that came out on Election Night were enough to secure Trump the presidency, but they weren’t complete. State officials are still counting millions of provisional and absentee ballots, and within two weeks, Clinton will likely have another few million votes in the bank.

Most were cast in the Clinton-leaning states of California, Washington, and New York—not swing states—so they won’t change the Electoral College. But there’s a sufficient amount to put her within striking distance of Obama’s 2012 turnout, and help put an end to the argument that she simply didn’t work hard enough.
It also challenges all the other tropes coming from the disgruntled Bernie Sanders supporters in the party that she was a "flawed candidate," that the "corrupt party establishment" was out of touch with the people, that "millennials, African-Americans" and other marginalized groups didn't turn out, and on and on (the black vote is close to what it was in 2012, and if you only counted 18-25 year old's votes, she would have won a 48 state landslide).

The problem, dear reader, is the antiquity known as the Electoral College. This will be twice in the last 16 years that the president-elect lost the popular vote to their opponent. Gore won the popular vote by around a half a million in 2000, and Clinton is expected to win by 2-3 million, an astonishing number of votes that have been systematically disenfranchised by virtue of the Electoral College.

It doesn't take a genius to figure out why the anti-Trump protests, at first thought to be a day-after reaction to the election, are growing larger and larger by the day.

Keep in mind a few facts about the EC: 1. it was a compromise with slave-holding states to make their representation count more in a national election (along with the wretched "three-fifths Compromise" bone thrown to southern states); and 2. it was described by Madison, Hamilton and others in the Federalist Papers as being designed to specifically subvert the will of the "ignorant and uninformed masses" who might otherwise vote for some kind of charlatan, dictator, or other lunatic (insert your own ironic Trump/Clinton joke here). In other words we, the plutocracy ruling class of the country, will let you know if your candidate is up to snuff.

On the one hand, I can see a legitimate concern back in the 18th century, when there was no mass media, word traveled on horseback, there were no mandatory education laws, and no way to be 100% sure the people wouldn't fall for some sucker and end up destroying the republic.

On the other hand, since at least 150 years ago if not longer, we've had a mass media and, increasingly, a much faster spread of information via the web and 21st century technologies. The idea that a majority of the country would be clueless about the candidates they were voting for, today, is absurd.

Whether you agree with the outcome or not, the people voting for Trump knew exactly what and who they were voting for. And the fact that Clinton won the popular vote election by historic margins (her vote totals may end up near Obama's re-election numbers in 2012) is also incontrovertible.

It's true, America is not a "democracy" by definition (the word doesn't appear in the Constitution, the Declaration of Independence, or the Bill of Rights), and some argue that the EC is a way for the rights of the minority to be protected from the will of the majority when its rights are indeed violated (fair point).

But America is also not a plutocracy either, and the ruling class has now subverted the will of the people in two of the last five presidential elections. It's a sentiment even the president-elect has said he agrees with.

Real reform comes at a price. And if the people are supposedly as "angry" for change as we keep hearing, then now's your chance, America, to scrap the antiquity known as the Electoral College.

Friday, November 11, 2016

Suicide Attempts and Follow Up Risks

After A Suicide Attempt, The Risk of Another Try:

Suicide surpasses homicide in this country. Every 13 minutes someone in the United States dies by his own hand, making suicide the nation’s 10th leading cause of death over all (42,773 deaths in 2015), but second among those aged 15 to 34. Among children aged 10 to 14, the suicide rate has caught up to the death rate from traffic accidents.
Let me pause here and note, this latter statistic among the 10-14 set has been getting a lot of mileage lately in the press, but it's taken out of context. Yes, the suicide rate has increased marginally among this group in the past decade (up a few cases, literally); what's changed is that the number of deaths related to traffic accidents has continued to drop annually. Meaning, while the suicide rate for 10-14's is higher than traffic fatalities, we're talking about such small populations they are almost statistically insignificant (384 v. 425).

Not that these lives are insignificant by any measure, just that when comparing rates among populations so small (we're talking hundreds of cases out of the millions of children aged 10-14) even the slightest increase or decrease can cause a huge shift in rate.
Many times that number – more than a million adults and 8 percent of high school students — attempt suicide each year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Yet a woeful minority receive the kind of treatment and attention needed to keep them from repeating a suicide attempt.

A common yet highly inaccurate belief is that people who survive a suicide attempt are unlikely to try again. In fact, just the opposite is true. Within the first three months to a year following a suicide attempt, people are at highest risk of a second attempt — and this time perhaps succeeding.

A recent analysis of studies that examined successful suicides among those who made prior attempts found that one person in 25 had a fatal repeat attempt within five years.
Which begs the question, what methods were used in the attempts, and how do they vary by lethality?
Now a new study reveals just how lethal suicide attempts, as a risk factor for completed suicide, are. The study, led by Dr. J. Michael Bostwick, a psychiatrist at the Mayo Clinic, tracked all first suicide attempts in one county in Minnesota that occurred between January 1986 and December 2007 and recorded all the deaths by suicide for up to 25 years thereafter. Eighty-one of the 1,490 people who attempted suicide, or 5.4 percent, died by suicide, 48 of them in their first attempt. The findings were reported in the American Journal of Psychiatry.

When all who succeeded in killing themselves were counted, including those who died in their first attempt, the fatality rate among suicide attempters was nearly 59 percent higher than had been previously reported.

“No one had included people who died on their first recorded attempt, so it’s not in the medical literature,” Dr. Bostwick explained in an interview. “That almost two-thirds end up at the medical coroner after a first attempt is astounding. We need to rethink how we look at the data and the phenomenon of suicide. We need to know more and do more for those who will complete suicide before they get to us for any kind of help.”

The study also showed that the odds of successfully committing suicide are 140 times greater when a gun is used than for any other method. Dr. Bostwick said that most suicide attempts are “impulsive acts, and it’s critical to prevent access to tools that make impulsive attempts more deadly.

“Suicide attempters often have second thoughts, but when a method like a gun works so effectively, there’s no opportunity to reconsider,” he said.
As I've noted for years, the lethality of the method leaves no room for reconsideration. The easy access and availability of firearms in our gun-soaked culture virtually guarantee these trends will continue: that first attempters will be successful attempters, and the numbers of people who attempt suicide and live will continue to decline. 

Yet gun control is rarely mentioned in the suicide prevention literature.
Equally if not more important to preventing successful suicide is paying attention to premonitory signs of suicidal intent and taking appropriate action to diffuse it. People who are depressed, who abuse substances like alcohol or illegal drugs or are having serious relationship difficulties should be considered high risk, Dr. Bostwick said.

More often than not, family members and friends are in the best position to spot a potential suicide and take steps to head it off. In addition to depression and substance abuse, signs include making statements (verbal or written) of being better off dead; withdrawing from family and friends; feeling helpless, hopeless, enraged, trapped, excessively guilty or ashamed; losing interest in most activities; acting impulsively or recklessly; and giving away prized possessions.
All very good and informative, but again, it fails to mention the thousand pound elephant in the room, namely the preferred lethality of the chosen method, in this case guns. No, gun control won't stop every suicide and no one is suggesting such a thing. But you 're never going to lower the rate of suicide overall, or at all, unless you talk about gun control.

When the number of people shooting themselves every year is approaching the same number who get the flu, you've got a big f'ing problem in your society. And failing to do something about guns is like discouraging people from getting flu shots.

Tuesday, November 8, 2016

The Long National Nightmare

Is either ending or just beginning today, Election Day, U.S.:

Parents held their children in the air to get a glimpse as Mrs. Clinton voted for herself in Chappaqua, N.Y., on Tuesday morning.

“It’s a humbling feeling,” Mrs. Clinton said.

Mr. Trump appeared to be in good spirits when he arrived at a Manhattan polling place on the Upper East Side just before 11 a.m. with his wife, Melania, to vote for himself.

He was met with a mix of cheers and boos as he left his motorcade and waved to pedestrians.
It certainly has been an ugly, sordid, myopic election, especially if you compare it to eight years ago.
The elections of 2008 and 2016: twin political moments that cannot be disentangled — an earthquake and its aftershock, jolting the American psyche into an era of spectacular contradiction.

An increasingly popular departing president is leading a country that most voters believe is on the wrong track.
It's rather ironic, that with the end of his presidency in near sight, and with Clinton v. Trump dragging into its sixth month (the election overall, 18+ months),  that more people wish we could scrap the 22nd amendment and allow Obama to serve a third term. His approval ratings today, Election Day, have never been higher. 

But the differences in the elections are startling. '08 was about optimism, hope, and history. This election has been the polar opposite: cynicism, pessimism, and loathing. 

On the one hand, it's the last dying gasp of a white majority soon to be minority, with race having been the absolute central motivating factor in all the anger, resentment and obstruction that greeted Obama from day one. And now with Hillary Clinton's probable ascension, a new wave of misogyny and sexism will greet her from day one (endless and pointless investigations, congressional obstruction, etc.). And believe me: it has everything to do with gender, no matter how much the obstructionists will claim it doesn't (like they said race had nothing to do with Obama's obstruction). Men in general are on their way out of the offices of power, and like the dying white majority, they won't go quietly either.

So, we'll see what the results are in mere hours, but I think it's worth noting that if Trump loses and refuses to "accept" or "concede" the results, it's 100% irrelevant. The results are the results, and it doesn't matter whether he concedes or approves or accepts them. The Electoral College meets in December and certifies the results, and the winner is sworn in January 20th. The end. It will be interesting to see if the media continues to cover the disgruntlement of the loser, simply because he's good for clicks/ratings/ad dollars.

At the end of the day the republic has certainly suffered worse and more controversial elections. What's changed, though, is our ability to come together and move forward as a culture. It's now to easy to hide in social media world and get only the information that affirms your preexisting thoughts. And so if you believe the election is "rigged" and Clinton wins, then you can spend the next four years reading conspiracy theories that absolutely prove you were right. 

Wonderful thing about social media and this election: it really pulled the scab off all our latent fears, anxieties, stupidity, racism and sexism that have simmered beneath the surface for years. I guess that's the price of change. Just like hate crimes surged after Obama's election, all this ugliness will have to be exorcised too as the first woman to be elected president plays out tonight and the coming weeks (assuming it isn't "rigged" and Trump wins, right?).

We'll see what America is really made of soon.