World Suicide Prevention Day

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For Kelsey, Robert, Michael, and Shawna.

In 1988, I was a resident assistant at Montclair State University.  I thought, this was pretty cool – I’ve got a whole floor of residents  I’d be showing how to get through the rigors of college, we’d have some cookouts or potlucks, and basically I’d make an easy paycheck.   But the first night that I was on duty (meaning I was responsible for the entire dorm after quiet  hours)I learned about a part of life I never wanted to know about, and sadly it would not be the only time I had to deal with it.  At 1:30 in the morning my phone started ringing and I was pissed – beyond pissed.  My mood changed very quickly.

On the other end was 19 year old young lady in hysterics, crying and screaming for me to do something because she didn’t know what to do.  I calmed her down enough to get her to tell me her name and room number so I knew where to go, and then said “okay – so what happened.”  The words hit me like a truck.  “My roommate tried to kill herself and I don’t know if she’s alive or dead.”  I told her I would be there momentarily, hung up the phone and called down to the front desk of the dorm and told them I need an ambulance to the room, there was an attempted suicide, and I needed to go “NOW!”  As I ran down the stairs – no time to wait for an elevator – my mind was racing.  What had this person done, what were the means?  What the hell was I supposed to do?  I raced down the four flight knowing that nothing in my one week seminar taught me what to do when someone has made the decision this poor girl had made.  But I headed down, nothing to do about it now but charge in.  I was right – I was wholly unprepared.

I came out of the stairwell running to the room to be greeted by the roommate (the one I’d already spoken with) covered in blood and crying.  Of course a crowd had already started gathering so I stopped to use one of the building phones and told the desk I need people here now to help me, and to get campus police here right away too.  I managed to get to the young lady – we’ll call her Shawna (not her real name) – who had attempted suicide, and tried to work on her wrists.  She had broken apart a disposable razor and slashed her wrists, and it was frankly horrific.  Maybe my panicked mind has exaggerated my memory, but there seemed to be blood everywhere.  She wasn’t moving, but since I had been a lifeguard and some basic knowledge I found her pulse easily and knew she was alive – clearly drunk, but alive.  As ridiculous as it seems, I remember saying to myself thank god she went across the wrists instead of down the arm.  But still, for a disposable razor she got in deep, and she was in trouble.  As I grabbed for anything I could find as a bandage and told her roommate to bring me some water so I could clean her wounds, I started hearing all sorts of stories in the background.

“This is so stupid.”

“What a dumbass.”

“Typical, I’ll bet she was drinking again.”

Finally I’d had enough and said “anyone here see what happened or know what happened?”  I waited for someone to say something, and I’m not ashamed to say my next words were “that’s what I thought –everybody shut the fuck up, and unless you can help, or add to my understanding of what happened go back to your goddamned rooms.”  As I finished saying this, and knelt back down, the paramedics had made it up the elevator and were pushing into the group.  They quizzed me on what I knew, which was little, and I told them that although she was certainly alive I could not awaken her.  They took over, and at least for that night, I l know her life was saved.

After everyone had cleared, and the paramedics took Shawna away, I talked with her roommate.  I suggested we go to the common area, get away from dorm rooms and the like.  Shawna’s roommate told me that Shawna had not really had trouble fitting in or anything.  Like a lot of new college students she was experimenting with alcohol, but was not (at least not to her roommate’s mind) drinking excessively.  I asked what I thought were the right questions, did she seem suicidal, was she depressed, like I was a textbook, and none of which seemed to describe Shawna.  Except this one thing.  Her roommate said that earlier that night someone had left a note on their door, using some unflattering words about Shawa (I won’t repeat them).  And that seemed to be the tipping point – she started drinking that night, was crying and “moody.”  At some point she threatened to kill herself, which her roommate brushed off.  Apparently while the roommate was off taking a shower, this was when Shawna did what she did.

I really didn’t know what to think.  I’d obviously heard of suicide, but what was I supposed to say?  I never knew anyone who tried it, I’d .  I been connected to it.  But now, here I was.  And all I could think was this was a kid who had a bad day.  A really shitty day truth be told.  But she had friends.  She had family.  She was reasonably well adjusted.  She wasn’t a “suicide case.”  Was she?

I’ll never know what became of Shawna­­ but I think about her every day.  I know she survived that night – the paramedics stabilized her, her mother called me to thank me.  Hell, I even got a service award for that night.  But what always sticks with me was did Shawna make it.  Did she get the help she needed?  Did her family and friends cleave to her, and let her know that she was cared for?  Did she come to understand that bad days are temporary, and why make a permanent decision.  I’ll never know.  But today, on World Suicide Prevention Day, along with some other people, she’ll be at the forefront of my thoughts.

Post script – talk to one another and love each other, today of all days.  Let people know you care.  If there’s someone about whom you worry, let them know you care, and that they are not alone.  We can all make a difference to one another.  Don’t wait.

 

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100th Anniversary of World War I and my family’s connection to the Great War.

1914 - Gavrilo PrincipThe events that led to World War I – the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand and his wife while in Sarajevo – occurred 100 years ago today. Carried out by a Bosnian nationalist named Gavrilo Princip, it set in motion a four-year war that was the most expensive in world history (estimated at $400 billion contemporaneously) at that time, it killed more people, caused more devastation, led to the simultaneous decline of four empires. Far more importantly it exposed the link between global capital and imperialism, setting the stage for a much more dire war. It’s no wonder people came out of it wondering what it was all for, with a minimum of 9 million (and perhaps as many as 20 million) dead, and turned to cynicism, consumerism, and dangerous radicalism across the globe. 

My great Grandfather Frank Moore and my Great Uncle William Brown fought in the so-called Great War. Grandpa Frank made it home, convinced he was a lucky one, and proposed to the love of his life. Uncle William wasn’t so fortunate. He perished in the Meuse-Argonne offensive’s final phase, and to this day, among the few times I’ve ever seen my Grandfather Clayton Brown cry was when he talked about his beloved “Uncle Willie.”

I have always been interested in World War I because of this familial connection. World War I was a seminal moment for my family. The Moore’s (my maternal grandmother’s side) believed that they had somehow been blessed, and our family could not have come about any other way but through luck. The Browns (my maternal grandfather’s side) were shocked at losing William, but as long-standing American patriots they thought “every generation needed to make its sacrifice” – until my Grandfather, Although he saw the flag draped box that came home much later (following William’s disinterment and repatriation) he became suspicious of pretty much anything national leaders said. He would fight in World War II, but never liked to talk about it. Years lat1929238_55862269720_7291_ner when I contemplated military service, his counsel provided a glimpse into his thoughts on war and nationalism.

I make no pretensions to intellectualism – the meanings of war are always made up, by politicians seeking to justify a particular policy. But the effect is always a personal one, felt by those whose lives are altered and those left behind. Tonight, I’ll have a drink in memory of those who didn’t come back until it was over over there, and those who didn’t come back period.

WTF is wrong with me?

[Note]  – I’m not prone to posts like this, but this blog is partially a way for me to get rid of the “snakes in my head” as I like to call them now.  So this may come off angrily, bitterly, some of the language crude, but this is it.  

I’m an asshole.  A jerk.  I’m emotionally unavailable.  I’m a wonderful man but I disappear when times get tough.  I don’t take care of my business. She loves me so much.  But I’m spiteful.  A terrible father.  A liar. I teach children the wrong things, in fact the kids hate me.  I treat women poorly.  I am not kind.  And many, many more things. 

I “just” got out of a relationship that was one of the most revealing experiences of my life.  I entered into the relationship in September 2011, and it was realistically over by February of 2012.  And yet it took another two and a half years and a hospital stay in which I nearly died for us to finally part company.  It was unquestionably the biggest failure of my life – I have never failed so spectacularly and felt so awful about myself, or been made to feel so awful about myself.  It affected me in so profound a manner that even now I’m at a loss to describe it.  I fucked up my life over this and I still haven’t recovered.  To this day my friends will ask me “what is wrong with you” and I can only point to this relationship, but I can’t put into words what it is.   

All this time later I’m still in a daze over the whole thing.  Sometimes, I can sit down with clarity and say to myself “here is where I was wrong, but here is where I was unquestionably right.”  I’m not nearly egotistical enough to think I was perfect in this relationship.  I lied – lies of omission, but lies nonetheless.  I don’t think I was right, or whatever.  I thought I was protecting her from something.  I was wrong.  But then I have moments where I think  – was I really so awful?  Then my friends – those friends who still bother with me – tell me it doesn’t matter, you were kind, you were flexible, and what you lied about was none of her business anyway.  And I feel slightly better, but it’s always temporary.

When I moved to St. Louis I was so full of optimism.  I had been overwhelmed by cynicism for much of the preceding few years that maybe this did seem like a fantasy.  I thought I had found my soul mate – I had even begun to think of religion in a far more mature way than I’d ever conceived.  I thought my life was taking a new positive turn – I could have a career, a family, be happy, and not a product of stress.  But almost the second I made the decision to move there, things started unraveling on me.  I lost my job and was unemployed my last month in Houston.  Before I knew it I was unemployed for 14 months.  Still I moved.  And while there in St. Louis I moved into a home I knew we could not afford, bought furniture with the money I had saved, rationalizing “this is a temporary hit – I won’t be unemployed forever.”  And slowly my savings dwindled until there was nothing left.  

While I wasn’t following through and handling my business, the person I was with was an independent contractor who couldn’t be bothered with billing their employer; would demand that I take her kids out so she could get work done, and then returned to find no work had been done.  She would chastise me for not working or networking, but when I would make the time (i.e. attending lectures at Washington University and introducing myself) I would be barraged with texts and calls wanting to know when I was coming home.  While she openly questioned my commitment to our relationship, she wouldn’t even admit to being in a relationship with me.   When we split, she told me our relationship was inconsequential, literally a blip on the map of her life.

We had been arguing the night I went into the hospital in January.  When I subsequently got sedated and went out for three weeks while doctors fought to save my life, she believed that I had stopped communicating with her.  She reached out to my friends, none of whom really had anything to say to her given what they knew about our relationship.  She reached out to both my mother and my father who told her I was in the hospital.  My father had to talk her out of coming to Texas.  All the while she maintained that she should have been more in the loop – a woman who had maintained all of these awful thoughts about me, was making ugly remarks to my friends at the same time asking for info, and was stunned no one wanted to talk to her.  

When I got out of the hospital it kept up.  Literally the day I got out, she said “we need to have a talk, and its going to get ugly.”  I begged her to wait – I was exceedingly weak (I literally could not stand on my own), I was on medication because my blood pressure was low, but the doctor told me specifically avoid stress and stressful circumstances – its not good for you particularly right now.  I repeated this warning and asked her to please wait, and then she could say whatever she wanted.  She didn’t wait.  Literally the same day I got home she was yelling at me about all of the horrible things I had done and how I lied to her (about my former girlfriend), about how no one would talk to her and how awful it was for her not knowing.  In short, it was as if the last month hadn’t happened to me at all, what mattered was what happened to her.  It went on like this constantly.  At one point I thought for sure I was having a heart attack – I pleaded with her to stop.  Which she did until it became clear I was okay, and then it resumed.  I remember telling her once, you are saying everything you can to hurt me.  In case it’s lost on you, just because I did these things, I still have feelings too.  Her reply was that my feelings do not matter.  

She humiliated me over and over.  Because I had not told her anything about Theresa, she demanded I get an HIV test, even though I had just been in the hospital for a month and had more than one full blood panel done.  Even though I had lost all of my teaching jobs and had no income, she insisted.  For reasons I will never be able to explain I agreed to do it, despite how humiliating it was to go to a clinic and ask for this.  She understood that I had no money, and that all of my possessions were in a storage unit.  She offered to pay for the unit and then when I got the bill, claimed she had no idea what I was talking about.  Despite asking her to call the storage place on multiple occasions, she chided my concern that they might auction my unit off (which is standard on a 90-day delinquency) as ridiculous,  When I would hit the wall in her attacks on me she would respond that I was “worse than a teenage girl.”  She was right.  A man would have walked away.  

It boils down to this.  I’ve spent two and a half years now arguing with her about a four month long relationship.  I wasn’t perfect, but I know I wasn’t the devil.  I uprooted my life.  I didn’t move there because, as she said, I so desperately wanted kids and she was a conduit (I couldn’t have found that in the 4th largest city in the country?).  I didn’t move because I was so ashamed and had to find a new anonymity or a way to hide – if that were true, I stood a far better chance In Houston than St. Louis.  No matter what I say, she won’t believe that I loved her and moved because I wanted to be with her.  And that’s it.  No matter what happened, no matter what we tried, we just couldn’t make it work.  And it sucks.  And I feel burned.  And I feel weak and lost. 

A Month in the Hospital and Why I Feel Lucky

I have ignored this blog for nearly 12 weeks. Not because of apathy, as is often the case; no this time I actually had a good reason. On January 17, 2014 I collapsed at my home, completely unable to pick myself up or even walk. After being taken to a local hospital, doctors told me I was functioning at less than 10% lung capacity. One of the specialists later said that my inability to take in oxygen was so bad that another couple of days and I might have actually died. So collapsing turned out to be a life saver.

Unfortunately it also meant a long hospital stay. That same night, after arriving at the emergency room a very nice internist came in and asked if I’d ever been intubated. After that, I vaguely remember a needle that was meant to sedate me, and then…nothing. I spent the next three weeks in a living hell. Because I was knocked out, I was deep in R.E.M. sleep, and had horrific dreams – dreams of which I was keenly aware, and even prayed (to the extent that I could) that if these are dreams, please let me wake up. When I became convinced that they were not dreams, I prayed for death – perhaps some time I will write about the dreams, but not now. Suffice to say, an affirmation of how real these dreams seemed can be seen in my awakening. Part of the dreams took place in California, and when I awoke, I was convinced I was at a hospital in Los Angeles. When the ICU nurse told me that my ex-wife had called to check on me, I broke down, wondering a) how she had found me and b) amazed that she cared enough to track me down. Of course I then felt like a complete doofus when I found out no, I was still in Houston, maybe ten minutes from home.

The time in the hospital was no joke. While sedated and intubated, I was hooked to a ventilator, which did almost all of the work for my lungs at the beginning (the numbers were 10% me, 90% ventilator to begin). As the numbers began to increase in my favor, the doctors began to discuss the idea of weaning me off of sedation and seeing how I might do without the ventilator. I guess I made that a moot point by at some point waking up enough (and long enough) to pull my tubes out. That was a fun decision since I really irritated my throat, something that me still makes me speak with somewhat of a scratchy voice, even several weeks since being released. But make no mistake. As hellish as the dreams were, as much as I did not want to be intubated, and as much as I disliked the notion of being sedated for three weeks and a grand total of a month in the hospital, it saved my life.

In the end, the doctors diagnosed me with pneumonia and H1/N1 – I was pretty sure I had the flu beforehand, and had been living on a daily regimen of Dayquil at wake up, and Nyquil at bedtime. H1/N1 is no joke – a friend of mine had a family member die from that while I was in the hospital sedated, and doctors spoke of “if” I woke up rather than “when.” So I know, I am a lucky man.

Given that I feel lucky in that regard, I need to get to the task of rebuilding my life. It will not be easy. It hasn’t been easy. But I’m taking in solace in what one friend told me while I was actually in the hospital. Life is not limited to one act. There are second and third and fourth acts. And I’m slowly realizing that those acts are up to me to make.

13 Things I Learned While Stuck in the Hospital

  1. Nurses have seen everything. There is nothing you have, and nothing you can do that they haven’t seen.
  2. With number one in mind – get over your modesty. People in the hospital are going to see you at your worst, and there’s nothing you can do about it.
  3. A hospital is a bureaucracy. You may think you’re special – you’re not.
  4. Do what your doctors tell you to do – you may think you know better. You don’t. Case in point – mine said “you’ve been in bed for three weeks, and sedated at that. If you try to stand up on your own, no help, no support, you will fall.” Those words came to mind when I was crashing to the floor because I thought “screw it, I’m getting out of this bed and…”
  5. The television is on ALL THE TIME. And here’s what I realized – most TV fare is worse than I realized, and even out of the hospital I watch too damned much of it. I realized this of course, while watching tv. But it was PBS, so that’s okay (ha).
  6. We all need to go outside, every day. You cannot simply be inside, and close yourself off.
  7. We should all write down our thoughts, every day.  Especially while I was in the hospital I was thinking, all the time. I realized when I came home I forgot much of it, and wished that I had written it down.
  8. Read something, every day. Doesn’t matter what. My brain felt like mush while I was there, and there was NOTHING to read, and I felt trapped. So just read – turn that TV off and read something.
  9. All illnesses mess with you in some unanticipated way. Mine turned me into an emotional basket case. I was watching Michael Sam (the defensive lineman from University of Missouri) speak to ESPN about coming out as gay, and his teammates talking about what it meant. One teammate spoke at length about the kids who will see it as an inspiration, not just to have the strength to come out, but to not kill themselves, and I started crying like it was the end of Old Yeller. But hey, it happens. Embrace your emotions.
  10. There are second chances and second acts. Even when others won’t give them to you, give yourself a break – don’t give up on yourself, because then it IS over.
  11. When you lie about something, you’re screwed. It’s going to come out eventually, and you won’t be able to control it. Even if you think it was the right thing, even if it was lying by omission, you’re screwed. And there isn’t a damned thing you can do. Except not lie the next time around.
  12. Don’t be afraid to ask for help – at the end of the hospitalization I couldn’t even stand up by myself. It sucks to admit you need the help. But those who love you will actually help you.
  13. Those people who love you? There’s no way around it – tell them every day that you love them.

Enough is Ducking Enough

Okay – I’m tired of the damned Duck Dynasty Crap.  I could not care less which side you support or what your beliefs in Jesus are or are not.  But in the hopes that I can get a few people to stop talking about a redneck duck hunter from Louisiana and his views on Gay and Black people, I’m going to give my two cents.
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1)While you were all in a state of apoplexy that an old, white, southerner from the middle of nowhere found gay sex gross and didn’t understand the plight of Black people a few important things were going on.

  • As a way to settle a lawsuit amongst VISA, MasterCard, and American Express and various merchants, a district court judge approved an agreement that allows merchants to charge more to credit card users with the approval of the credit card companies (http://www.nytimes.com/2013/12/20/business/an-easing-of-rules-on-charges-by-amex.html?hp&_r=0).  So whatever crap you plan to buy for Christmas that you’re already going to pay more for via interest charges, you can now pay a surcharge for using your plastic – because the merchants and the credit card companies agreed that you should.   You should be pissed off about this, but by all means, be upset that A&E said we are suspending the guy who said nasty stuff about Gays and Blacks.
  • A group of activists protesting fracking invaded the Devon Tower in Oklahoma City to spread their message (http://www.koco.com/news/oklahomanews/okc/okc-protestors-slapped-with-terrorism-charges/-/11777584/23477498/-/hsyc0r/-/index.html).  While two chained themselves to the door, several made it to the second floor and unfurled banners in support of the Great Plains Tar Sand Resistance and their opposition to fracking.  The banners contained glitter (yes, that’s right, glitter) but the police, claiming ignorance of a substance a kindergartner could identify, arrested as many as twelve protesters and charged them with terrorism.  That’s right, terrorism.   But yes, please tell me how the duck guy has had his rights infringed upon.
  • The Pew Research Center released data (http://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2013/12/19/global-inequality-how-the-u-s-compares/) that demonstrated that the United States distribution of income ranks ahead of only Chile, that we are behind virtually every other nation.  Perhaps even more startling was that the data led them to conclude that, unlike the continuous claim of the right that social welfare leads to the poor being takers, the use of social welfare puts even more money in the hands of the wealthy – the income gap widens after taxes and payouts of social program moneys.

This is just some of the bigger stuff – there were myriad smaller stories, like a 5-year old being hogtied by police for assaulting them, or the strip search of an Indian diplomat ordered by US authorities.

I am not saying that it was okay what this man said.  I am not saying that A&E is wrong in this case (see below).  My point is that we are getting caught up in cultural nonsense when truly important stuff is happening all around us, things that will affect us in a far greater and more meaningful way than this duck guy’s opinions on gay sex and the Jim Crow south and slavery.

Image2) I’m going to lay some things out for those of you who still care, who cannot be convinced that this crap doesn’t matter.

  • There is no constitutional issue here.  I am sick to death of hearing “what about his rights to free speech” from Robertson, Robertson’s family (http://duckcommander.com/news/robertson-family-offical-statement#.UrXQIK7aK3l.facebook) and his myriad of supporters from Fox News and Facebook.
    Only A&E is taking a stand here.  As a corporation, they are entitled to say “we no longer want to do business with Phil Robertson” because his comments harm them as a corporate entity.  Period.  The constitution has nothing to do with the relationship between A&E and Robertson.Scene_at_the_Signing_of_the_Constitution_of_the_United_States
  • I have spent a lifetime hearing that Christianity is a religion of love, and I will say that when I have read the words of Jesus Christ, I read love, not hate.  And yet for that same lifetime, I have heard Christians say some pretty awful things and couch them in “hey, it’s just what my religion tells me.No…it…doesn’t.  Sorry.  Nowhere in the Bible does your god call on you to hate others.  Christ hung around with some pretty sketchy characters.  And while you all like to pretend that just because Paul said in Corinthians that certain people cannot inherit the kingdom of God, elsewhere in that same book, Christ said that salvation comes through God and God alone.  Let me break it down.  You can read your Bible and use it as the guide to your life.  But if doesn’t give you any insight into who is going to heaven.  You don’t decide – and neither did Paul, or any of Christ’s other followers if that’s the sort of thing you believe in.Let me also quote my good friend Chris P. from Houston  – “I do not need a supernatural being to give me an instruction manual on how to treat people who are different from me.”  Yeah, it really is that simple.
  • Lastly, this is not an attack on religious freedom.  Those who are in opposition to what Phil Robertson said are opposed to the bigotry and lack of understanding in which he wrapped his comments.    Phil Robertson compared homosexuality to bestiality, he went beyond Biblical belief.  He gave his commentary on the condition of the Jim Crow south, statements borne of ignorance.  His statement that he never personally saw violence against African Americans is plausible.  He also said that being from the same class (“poor white trash” in his words) there was some sense of togetherness  he felt while working side by side (“I was with the blacks”), and this is also believable.   What Phil clearly did not get was African Americans’ unhappiness with the status quo of 1950s and 1960s Louisiana,or what singing represented in plantation work.  And again, this is simply plain unfamiliarity.And here is the problem.  Issues of ignorance and unfamiliarity are teaching moments.  Most of my friends are engaged in the process of teaching, and this is a teaching moment if I have ever seen one.  Don’t get me wrong – I’m not saying “let’s line up and all give Phil a history lesson.”  What I am saying is that instead of de-friending each other, and yelling, and screaming, and posting angry messages on each other’s Facebook walls, let’s all take a second and do what we love…teach.

Pew Research Center Reveals Startling Data

ImageIt has been a long time since I’ve seen or heard a story or report on the Occupy Wall Street movement.  I have not read about a protest, seen a report on an action, or a street closure.  It is easy to pretend that as the ruling class promised, the movement burned bright and then petered out because of the assumed nature of the protesters.  Or, perhaps, as another line of  ruling class narrative went, the problems were over-stated to begin with, and the US is actually the greatest nation with the greatest amount of economic opportunity.

Well, clearly Occupy has not gone away (http://www.japantimes.co.jp/news/2013/12/01/world/occupy-wall-street-activists-buy-up-americans-personal-debt/#.UrSYf7T-1iM), one just needs to know where to go to find the news.  However, was the ruling class correct, were the problems overstated?  Were people really manipulating numbers when  they said the top 1% received 95% of the income growth in the recovery, or that the income earned by the 1% now exceeded that of the era right before the Great Depression?

While the meaning of various 1% measurements can be debated and parsed by economists from all sides of the political spectrum, what cannot be denied is that the US is no longer THE land of economic opportunity.  According to data released this week by the Pew Research Center.  In terms of economic equality, the United States ranks behind nations such as Ireland, Chile, and Portugal.

The Pew Center’s data comes from a study done by the Organization of Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), which analyzed information “after taxes and transfers.”  Or put in simpler terms, after taxes and redistributive “entitlements” such as social security, welfare benefits, unemployment benefits and other ameliorative measures are deducted.   The hallmark of the OECD analysis is the use of the Gini coefficient that measures inequality based on the frequency of distribution, thus purporting to be a more accurate measure of inequality when compared to simple income or wealth levels.   The headline in the Pew Center’s release of the report, and indeed their accompanying graph suggested (if one only gave a cursory read)  that the US ranks tenth in income distribution.  However the story revealed something far more damning (http://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2013/12/19/global-inequality-how-the-u-s-compares/).

The OECD measures distribution before and after the tax and social welfare disbursements, and the US does indeed rank tenth pre-tax and transfer.  However, after the transfers, the US ranks ahead of only Chile.  Let that sink in for a moment:  the US has the second highest level of income inequality in the worldSo what does this mean for the US economy, for those who tell us we have the greatest everything, and perhaps worst of all, that the poor already have too much?     Image

First and foremost it means that they are dreadfully, stunningly, startlingly wrong.  The argument that many on the right make, such as the Cato Institute , and politicians from Paul Ryan to Jack Kingston, is that the poor have It too easy, that they are getting more than their share, and perhaps most disgustingly, they are “takers.”  However the OECD report suggests that after transfers, the takers are not actually the poor, but rather the ruling class (go ahead, tell me you could not see it coming).  The income “gap” actually widens after taxes and transfers.    This should not actually come as a shock – we live in a nation that condones Walmart and McDonalds paying their employees so little that they have no choice (and in fact are encouraged) but to apply for food stamps and other welfare benefits, making the real beneficiary the corporation, not the individual.

But the data points to a more  fundamental issue of this economy.  There was much handwringing and shouting from the rooftops that the US was headed down the dire road of socialism should we support things like the Obama stimulus packages.  Those on the right behaved as if they were latter day Paul Reveres, awakening us to the arrival of the communists; the so-called left in this country claimed the stimulus was necessary but then cravenly allowed nearly 2/3 of it to fall into private hands in the form of tax cuts and rebates.  But there was a third option, that this Pew Center data can only hint at, but it IS in fact in the numbers.

Most of the money ended up in private hands anyway, that is the takeaway.  But imagine if in 2009 instead of a milquetoast stimulus, the president, on the heels of a historic victory that was in fact a mandate, had proposed a strong stimulus that focused on increasing consumption.  A package of incentives that truly DID redistribute money, that gave incentives for hiring, one that created new consumers – not by the thousands but by the hundreds of thousands.  The economy would have rolled, the rich would have still become richer, and there would be a more equitable distribution of income

Why We Need to Remember that the Eagle Landed Forty-four Years Ago.

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Once upon a time there were dreamers, people who believed we could go beyond the boundaries of everything we know and think we know.  They had been around for centuries – explorers like the Chinese admiral Zheng He, who not only sailed throughout Asia, but led trade expeditions on behalf of the Chinese emperor Zhu Di throughout the middle east, Africa, essentially all of the known world, decades before Christopher Columbus even dreamed of sailing west.  Zheng He and his voyages were fantastic, they developed wealth for the empire, as well as immeasurable prestige.  Ultimately, the Chinese turned inward, away from these voyages, going as far as making construction of ships and long distance voyages a capital offense.  China concluded that there was no benefit in looking beyond what was observable, what was beyond their grasp.  With this in mind, is there something we can take away from this on July 20, 2013?  In a word, absolutely.

Today we celebrate the 44th anniversary of the landing of Apollo 11 on the moon, a landing that a mere decade before was itself a fantasy.  When NASA landed the lunar module known as “The Eagle” it meant that the space race was “over.”  But there was something more important going on.  The “dreamers” had a victory, and it wasn’t just for them, it was for everyone.  It was for the thousands who had worked on the space program, and believed that, even in the failures of the early NASA launches, striving to exceed one’s grasp was worthwhile.  It was a victory for everyone who looked to the stars and dreamed and imagined “what is there?”  It was a victory for progress.  It was a victory for the notion that we can accomplish great things.  It was in every way, as Neil Armstrong put it “one giant leap for mankind.”  Forty four years later though, could we accomplish such incredible things?

Obviously this is a loaded question.  Can we?  Of course – after all, as ComputerWeekly.com noted last year, there is more computing power in a memory stick than in all of the Apollo computers combined, so ability, yes, have it.  But could we, as a society, as a culture, accomplish such a massive project?  One where the benefits to all mankind are so obvious?  I’m not sure I can say a resounding “yes.”

First, we live in a bitterly divided partisan political culture in the US.  While the 1960s political culture was devolving before our very eyes, the idea of liberal consensus enabled the possibility of all of the disparate of society and the political realm of the US to come together in pursuit of this common goal.  Americans generally do NOT accept a common series of assumptions about our “system” or the inherent good behind it, nor do we accept that we are all working toward a common end and that we are all in it together.  This is distinctly not the political climate today.  It simply would not be possible to get behind a common goal, convince all Americans of the benefit, fund it, and carry it out.  As one of my friends said today, one group would block it because they’d be convinced that this was an effort to  colonize space and give the Martians voting rights.

Moreover we live in a society now that is terrified of intellectualism and growing in our knowledge.  My state (Texas – preposterous, given our connection to the space industry) voted $262 billion in educational spending cuts that affected textbooks and supplemental materials in science curricula in grades 5-8, particularly in laboratory materials in biology, physics, and chemistry (http://blogs.edweek.org/edweek/curriculum/2010/09/texas_could_see_cuts_to_textbo.html).  There has been a massive problem nationally in finding credentialed science teachers, leading to decreased performance of students.  On top of that, we have a culture that in many corners decries intellectual curiosity, and denies science.    There were 13,950 peer-reviewed articles that confirmed global warming, while 24 rejected the hypothesis that humans are contributing to an accelerated rate of global climate change.  80% of  Americans believe in angels; while 38 percent of Texans rejected evolution in its entirety, 30 percent believed dinosaurs and man roamed the earth together (another ten percent) were unsure).  My point is we do not respect science in the United States – couple that with partisanship, I just cannot fathom a scenario where in 2013, we could begin and carry out a program to put a man on the moon.

We’re a nation that in 2013 has gone through precisely what happened in China in the 1400s.  With the death of Zhu Di in 1424, Hongxi ascended to power, and quickly suspended Zheng He’s voyages.  The initial rationale was that they cost too much.  Ultimately however, the “treasure ships” were decommissioned and sold off for firewood.  The empire developed a social attitude that looking outward for adventure and knowledge was essentially a sin, and everything that was legitimately worthwhile was to be found in China, the “middle kingdom.”  They became everything the US is today – closed minded, no longer intellectually curious, risk averse.

ImageOn a completely unrelated note, I would be remiss if I did not note the passing of one of journalism’s true giants, Helen Thomas.  She was a pioneer, always prepared, and never afraid to tell our political leaders they were full of shit.  Despite the insane attempt to paint her as a anti-semite in 2010 she held to her convictions and showed more courage than the people she covered could ever hope to muster.   She will be sorely missed.  R.I.P.