Saturday, March 23, 2019

Invasion of the Socialists!

At the time of this posting, most of the Democratic candidates for president have been announced although there may be a few more. Although many of them may be quite liberal, others may run as moderates.  But it doesn’t matter to the Republicans who label everybody not on the right as socialists. Indeed, President Trump included this dire warning about socialism as part of his 2019 State of the Union speech.
"Here, in the United States, we are alarmed by new calls to adopt socialism in our country. ... Tonight, we renew our resolve that America will never be a socialist country,"
Facing low approval ratings, various probes and a failure to accomplish some of his key campaign goals ahead of his November 2020 re-election bid, the president appears intent on stirring fears about the political ideology. A Trump campaign spokesman said that the rhetoric about socialism "resonates with the vast majority of hard working Americans who recognize that Trump's patriotic capitalism is benefiting all Americans nationwide."
This Red Scare strategy is hardly a new idea in the Republican playbook. FDR and Truman were called socialists. During LBJ’s term, there was Ronald Reagan with this famous warning about the horrors of socialized medicine if, God forbid, Medicare was ever passed back in the early 60s. More recently, Obamacare and the proposed improved Medicare plans have been decried as socialist.

When Republicans and right-wing media routinely call anybody or anything not Republican as socialist. it becomes a routine part of any conversation about Democratic ideas for them.

When somebody in a conversation with me starts calling out those on the left as socialists, I have a simple rejoinder: What in your mind is the definition of socialism? This often leads to stunned silence. They really don’t know what a socialist is. They are just repeating what they hear from others on the right.

For the record, Wikipedia defines socialism as “characterized by social ownership of the means of production.” In a capitalist country such as the US, the means of production is overwhelmingly the private sector except for certain services that are best handled by the government. To my knowledge, no Democrat has ever advocated turning over all private production to the government to run. So in this case, the socialist label is a misnomer and little more than a pejorative to instill fear that the next stage after that may be communism.

Unfortunately, there are those on the left such as Bernie Sanders and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez who openly label themselves as democratic socialists which only pours gasoline on the fire. But what’s strangest of all is that neither of them are really democratic socialists!  

Here, Wikipedia defines democratic socialism as advocating the conversion of a capitalist society to a socialist one which neither Sanders nor Ocasio-Cortez are in favor of.

The system that most liberal Democrats favor is social democracy where changes are advocated within the capitalist system. The Scandinavian countries with their comprehensive benefits and safety nets are examples of social democracy but are not socialist.

With all the people being called socialists, one has to wonder how real socialists feel about this. In fact, real socialists think Bernie's a sellout for billing himself as a socialist when in fact he is not!

So how will this all affect the Democrats’ primary season? For one thing, a number of Democrats are trying to head off all the attacks on them as socialists by proclaiming to anybody who will listen that they are indeed capitalists. Whether this will work is anybody’s guess.

Most observers feel that the top issue in not only the past 2018 midterm but also in the upcoming 2020 presidential election will be healthcare. Hardly any other issue brings out more cries of socialism. But in reality, the private insurance industry has been well taken care of throughout.

Take the dreaded Obamacare, labeled as “government takeover of healthcare.” In reality, the idea which completely preserved private insurance was based on ideas developed by the Heritage Foundation, a conservative think tank and first implemented by Republican Governor Mitt Romney in Massachusetts. It was quite successful in reducing the number of uninsured there.

But for Romney to hope for the Republican presidential nomination, he had to take a very contrived position that while his Romneycare was successful in Massachusetts, the nearly identical Obamacare was a disaster for the nation so he along with the other Republicans resorted to their tired “repeal and replace” mantra.

Despite its many faults, Obamacare shrunk the number of Americans without health insurance from about 50 million to 30 million. But compared to all the other industrialized countries with universal healthcare, that’s 30 million too many! I hope that our next healthcare plan will finally cover all US citizens.

So while in the last presidential election, only Bernie Sanders was in favor of Medicare for All, some improved version of Medicare has become a de facto litmus test for all of those running for the Democratic presidential nomination this time around.

For those in the US under 65, Medicare is seen as free socialist health insurance that provides free socialist healthcare. Those of us 65 and over know better. For starters, $134 is taken out of our Social Security benefit each month to help pay for our Medicare coverage. But more importantly, Medicare was purposely designed to have enough coverage gaps so almost everybody has to buy some form of private insurance in addition to fill those gaps!

So while just about everybody on the Democratic side is proposing their own versions of Medicare for All or some form of expanded health insurance, the devil is in the details! Some like Bernie Sanders advocate replacing the entire private insurance system with public insurance. But will those who are happy with their private insurance through their workplace be willing to give up that insurance? Others are advocating a hybrid of private and public insurance. Needless to say, it’s complicated! 

While none of this will come to pass unless the Democrats capture the presidency and both houses of Congress in 2020, we can examine the alternatives and come up with a healthcare plan for America’s future in the meantime. In closing, I am asking the American voters to choose or reject the candidates and their ideas based on their merits - and reject those whose only response is to label everything they don’t approve of as socialism!

Monday, January 28, 2019

Our Shutdown Extortion

The US has just gone through the longest government shutdown in its history. We’ve had a number of government shutdowns in the past, but with a few exceptions, they only lasted a few days. This is because although there were some hotheads who started the shutdowns, more reasoned people saw the serious consequences of such a thing and soon decided to call the whole thing off.

In this case, the consequences were about 800,000 federal workers who were either being furloughed without pay or for those employees deemed essential, were required to work without pay until this whole thing was settled.

There have been many stories in the news about some of these employees who are living from paycheck to paycheck and going through the agony of wondering how they are going to be able to pay their mortgage/rent along with food, utilities, and other necessities of life. I have experienced this and can tell you that the mental along with the physical stress of all of this can be unbearable!

How did we get here? It goes back to the presidential candidacy of Donald Trump whose main thrill in addressing his supporters was to feed them ‘red meat’ to get them fired up. As it turned out, the idea of building a wall on our southern border excited the crowd perhaps more than anything else until every campaign stop featured a refrain on the order of  "We’re going to build a wall - and who’s going to pay for it?  Mexico!!” Note that in the video, Trump emphasized that he was going to build an actual wall on the Southern border, not a fence nor any other substitute for a wall.

This became his signature issue that helped put him over the top on the way to an improbable election victory. But a wall was what he promised, and a wall is what his followers expect. Trump now had to come up with a way to build this unpopular wall along with letting Mexico know that they were going to pay for it. But of course they aren’t going to pay for it as emphatically conveyed to Trump by former Mexican President Vincente Fox in this hilarious and profanity laden rant.

But despite the Republicans having control of both houses of Congress for the first two years of his term, Trump could not get enough votes to build the wall. This last December, Trump gave in to reality and backed off of his $5 billion demand for a border wall.

At that point, the far right led by Ann Coulter, called Trump gutless if he can't build a wall.
“Gutless President in Wall-Less Country,” her column, which ran on Breitbart, was titled.
“This utterly unlikely and, at least for president, in many ways, a not particularly attractive presidential candidate beat the most qualified woman ever to run for the office, basically on one promise: the promise to build a wall and never backing down on that,” she said on the Daily Caller’s podcast.
She said Trump’s White House risked becoming a “joke presidency that scammed the American people” if he wasn’t able to get the wall built, and said she wouldn’t vote for him in 2020 if he didn’t.
“Why would you?” she said.
Fearing the loss of support of his political base, including Ann Coulter along with Rush Limbaugh and others, Trump suddenly changed his position and announced to Chuck Schumer and Nancy Pelosi that he would indeed proudly take the blame for a government shutdown if he didn’t get the $5 billion for his border wall. And so he followed through on his threat.

While Trump considers a government shutdown just another part of his arsenal, in fact a government shutdown is little more than extortion, in this case with the 800,000 government employees and their paychecks being held hostage.

The easiest thing to do would have been to cave in to Trump’s demands and reopen the government. After all, $5 billion is just a drop in a bucket compared to the total budget. But this would be a fatal error. If extortion is shown to be effective, what is to keep Trump or anybody else from threatening future shutdowns over all kinds of things?

So Nancy Pelosi and the Democrats were correct in standing firm and insisting that the government first be reopened before commencing negotiations,

Although Trump insisted he would hold out for months if needed, the eventual results of the shutdown proved that these shutdowns are inherently self-limiting. Yes, the loyal government workers who were forced to would obediently show up for work - for a while. But loyalty doesn’t pay the bills or put food on the table. Making things even worse, Trump and the wealthy patricians that surround him started making incredibly tone deaf comments that completely dismissed the suffering these people were going through.

Soon, TSA airport workers and then air traffic controllers saw their absentee rates creep up steadily to where there was a fear of eventually hitting the breaking point.  Seeing this, the president who saw his popularity poll numbers steadily drop during this debacle, decided to give in and open the government without any funding for his wall - but only for 21 days to hopefully allow a compromise to be worked out.

For Trump, it was the worst of both worlds. To keep those on the far right happy, he agreed to the shutdown that many observers feel took a large political toll on him. And when he eventually had to give in and open the government without getting his wall funding, these same people on the far right roundly condemned him as a loser. So to appease these people, Trump is threatening another government shutdown if he doesn’t get his wall funding in the 21 day peace period in essence resorting to extortion again even if the first try didn’t work!

It’s fair to say that both parties in Congress have no taste for another shutdown. But as a backup plan, Trump announced that he would consider declaring a national emergency to get his wall funding without congressional approval. In essence, this would be getting what he wants without resorting to extortion. But even Republicans objected to this dangerous precedent fearing that a future Democratic president may resort to this. As a practical matter, many observers feel that this political stunt would be tied up in litigation for quite some time.

What will happen in the present negotiations during this 21 day period is anybody’s guess. Perhaps wiser heads will use this opportunity to craft some badly needed immigration reform. But those on the far right (yeah, them again) will cry Amnesty!! for even the slightest concession that would improve the lives of the immigrant population.

So while immigration reform may be out of reach at this time, another bit of reform is on the minds of those in Congress.  Although bills have been proposed and rejected in the past that would outlaw future government shutdowns, the bad taste in their mouths from this latest catastrophe of a shutdown has launched a renewed effort to try and keep this from ever happening again. Extortion is wrong, no matter which party is behind it!

Perhaps these recent quotes from Tennessee Republican Senator Lamar Alexander will give us hope:
“Shutting down the government should be as off limits in budget negotiations as chemical warfare is in real warfare,”
“We accepted the idea that shutting down the government is an acceptable bargaining chip in a budget negotiation and it should never, ever be, and we should resolve that that should never, ever happen.”

Friday, November 23, 2018

The Coming War in Washington

There was a lot of panic before this recent midterm election. Usually midterm elections are snoozers. But many of us were genuinely worried that our democracy would be in danger if the Democrats were unable to at least take over one lever of power in Washington.

There were many, including me, who openly wondered if our democracy was slipping away, perhaps toward fascism. Was this all little more than hyperbole? I think not! One party rule in Washington has happened before. But at the top is a president who clearly has exhibited many totalitarian tendencies e.g, war on the media and their right to criticize and ask questions, war on our electoral system through spreading unfounded rumors of election fraud, and war on the Justice Department, especially the Special Counsel Robert Mueller investigation.

I can say more but I can’t resist making my point in the form of satire.  But as we know, satire is supposed to be about comic exaggeration. The problem is that much of this exaggeration isn't that far from the literal truth of what is happening which is scary!

We have had at least one other president who has gone rogue, namely Richard Nixon during the Watergate scandal. But congressional Republicans did their sworn duty to provide an oversight check and balance on the presidency - even one from their own party. When the evidence became overwhelming, a small contingent of Republican Senators came to the White House to tell Nixon that time was up and he had to resign - which he did.

Yes, there were some Republicans in Congress who openly criticized Trump. But just about every one of them declined to run for re-election. The message was clear - the GOP is now Trump’s party and dissenters will not be tolerated. Can you say totalitarianism? I knew you could!

With the Democrats gaining control of least one part of Congress, the Republicans in January will no longer be the single party in power. Democrats will now be able to pass legislation to send to the Senate (which is still controlled by the Republicans). Although there are few areas the parties agree on, there are some issues which are said to have bipartisan support.

It has been said that if a bill lightening up sentencing guidelines were to go to the Senate floor, it would pass easily and be signed by the president - if or when Majority Leader Mitch McConnell allows it to go for a floor vote.

According to the various polls, the number one issue with most voters was healthcare. Despite Republican efforts to strip the no preexisting conditions requirement out of Obamacare, when they decided that this was a losing strategy in the recent election, they suddenly changed their tune saying that they were now in favor of preserving insurability for preexisting conditions. While this was surely a bald-faced lie, the Democrats in the House can now ask for Republican support for preserving this no preexisting condition part of Obamacare putting their latest positions to the test.
There are so many issues for which a Democratic House can bring up and pass along to the Senate for a vote. While the Senate is likely to give the middle finger to the House for most of what they pass, at least the Senate will be on record as obstructing worthwhile legislation. And maybe in 2 years with a possible Democratic president and Senate, you never know.

After healthcare reform, perhaps the important area that needs to be addressed is voting reform. Voting is usually run by the individual states but Congress can help things along with federal funding for sorely needed changes. With the Supreme Court invalidating a key part of the Voting Rights Act several years ago, a number of states resumed their voter suppression efforts on minorities. The federal government needs to regain control over the states that have repeatedly engaged in this behavior. It is worth noting that when the Voting Rights Act had to go through re-certification in the Senate back in 2006, it was passed by a vote of 98-0.

And while I’m on my wish list for voting reform, can we do something about partisan gerrymandering along with standardizing on voting by mail so some people are not forced to spend hours in line to vote? In addition, as compared to some electronic voting systems, these mail-in ballots are not prone to hacking.

[A voting by mail] bill has little chance of passage — one of the core truths of US politics is that anything that increases voting turnout hurts Republicans, so they inevitably oppose it. But at the very least it ought to kick up a national conversation about America’s abysmal voting system and one dead-simple way to fix it.

It would be nice to think that the Democratic House, the Republican Senate and President will work together to pass bipartisan legislation. The Democrats certainly need to make an honest effort to keep from being perceived as only about revenge against Trump. But since the Republicans losing control of the House, Trump’s behavior has become even more combative and erratic. He has never been subject to checks and balances in his entire life. With the newly Democratic controlled House able to initiate investigations and issue subpoenas (tax returns, anybody?), Trump has vowed to retaliate at any cost. And with the possibility of indictments of close associates of Trump, perhaps even Don Jr., Trump has to be fearful of what’s coming his way next.

His many ongoing feuds have now expanded to include Chief Justice Roberts. And recently, a story has emerged that Trump had previously requested the Justice Department to prosecute political opponents James Comey and Hillary Clinton. What makes this even more creepy was the threat during one of the presidential debates that if he won, he would have his Attorney General prosecute Hillary, telling her that "you'd be in jail."

All this suggests that Trump is exhibiting the behavior of a cornered and wounded animal. This means war! And if indeed this is war, who will be the general to lead the opposition fight? If she regains the Speaker position, Nancy Pelosi will be the top-ranked Democrat in Washington.

A word about Nancy Pelosi and her fellow septuagenarians in the political scene. Pelosi is one of the most polarizing figures in Washington. For Republicans, she is a reliable bogeyman. ‘If you vote for Democrat X, you’re voting for that horrible California liberal, Nancy Pelosi.’ This has worked to where some Democratic House candidates had to declare themselves against Pelosi to confirm their centrist credentials.

The only real rap against Pelosi seems to be her age (78). But even her opponents have to concede that she has always been effective in her job. It is legitimate to criticize that because of age, someone may be less effective in doing their job. But to say that an effective worker has to be replaced simply because of their age, smacks of little more than ageism. Possible presidential candidates Bernie Sanders and Joe Biden are still energetic and sharp minded. While one may disagree with them for political reasons, simply casting them aside based on their ages does us a disservice.

Congressman Adam Schiff who will likely take over the House Intelligence Committee in January gave what was to me the most persuasive reason to keep Pelosi as Speaker for at least the next two years. With President Trump waging a war on the House Democrats by every means possible, the Democrats need their best tactician to effectively fight back. A less experienced politician would not be nearly as effective at keeping Trump at bay until he himself has to face the electorate again in 2020.

And here is one more thing to think about. While a few Democrats are talking about impeachment, the chances of a Republican Senate voting to convict Trump would seem remote at best. But at the time of this posting, we still don’t know what bombshells Special Counsel Mueller may have in store (assuming he is not fired in the meantime).  Suppose he somehow really comes up with the goods where both Trump and his VP Mike Pence may be in danger of losing their jobs? One would hope that their replacement would have the right amount of experience to tide us over until the next presidential election. The next person in the line of succession if she regains her post as the Speaker would be...wait for it…Nancy Pelosi!

Thursday, July 5, 2018

Suicide in Rural America

With the tragic celebrity suicides of Kate Spade and Anthony Bourdain, the subject of suicide is again part of the national dialogue. It’s a shame that it takes a celebrity victim (such as from suicide or a drug overdose) to finally call our attention to serious issues like this. Maybe better late than never?

At about the same time that these suicides occurred, the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) released a study showing that the US suicide rate increased about 25% from 1999 to 2016. This in itself is pretty disturbing. But while the 25% is a lot, it’s much worse than it looks!  For you see, the 25% is just an average across the country.  While some states were lower than the 25% figure, some were higher - much higher. The map below shows a number of states in the 38-58% increase range. The dubious champions were North Dakota (57.6%) followed by New Hampshire and Vermont (48%) and South Dakota close behind (44.5%). There were also a significant number in the 31-37% range. Although Nevada is shown as a slight decrease, its suicide rate was already high to begin with.

There were obviously a number of causes for the 25% overall increase. But with some of the states far above the overall average, those causes were a whole lot worse in those states.  But why? The answers would explain a lot.

So what do the states with the highest suicide rate increase have in common? It looks like these are states with a lot of rural areas.  Furthermore, the states with the worst numbers are not only rural but very sparsely settled. Indeed, the rural areas have fallen on especially hard times. And that is the subject to be investigated here.

Our lifestyles of increasing social isolation are a problem in many places. It is generally agreed that increasing social isolation can lead to trouble in the form of depression and at its worst can lead to suicide. Where people used to get together in groups to interact face to face, communication is now much more through Emails and text messages between our computers and smartphones.  Who hasn’t seen a group of teenagers gather together in a group but instead of talking, will bury their faces in their smartphones texting each other.

Sparsely populated areas will always face special challenges from social isolation whether it’s in the US or elsewhere.  However, there are trends in the US that are making things worse.  With jobs such as in mining, paper mills, and textiles disappearing, new generations of young educated people are leaving the rural areas for the cities which have many more career opportunities, The result is a hollowed out population of mostly elderly who in many cases have difficulty getting around.

The loss of various industries can lead to troubles that are greater than just job loss. Losing one’s livelihood can be crushing, not just financially but from a mental health standpoint. For all too many of us, our jobs are a part of our identity and a way we contribute to society. Once thrown on the proverbial scrap heap, it’s all too easy to conclude we are worthless which can lead to depression (which from personal experience I know all too well) and perhaps ultimately, suicide if help doesn’t come along in time.

But while these losses due to industries moving are fairly well known, less well known is that American farmers are killing themselves in record numbers.  In some states, the farmer suicide rate is even higher than the rate for veterans.

In fairness, farmer suicides are not unique to America.

The US farmer suicide crisis echoes a much larger farmer suicide crisis happening globally: an Australian farmer dies by suicide every four days; in the UK, one farmer a week takes his or her own life; in France, one farmer dies by suicide every two days; in India, more than 270,000 farmers have died by suicide since 1995.

It is well established that severe financial stress can be a trigger to suicide. Farmers’ financial well being often depends on factors beyond their control such as weather and politics.  They have had struggles for years from the reduced prices for the commodities that they sell. Now this situation has been greatly exacerbated by a deliberate decision by the Trump administration to ignite a trade war.

Since April, duties the U.S. has levied on goods from China, Mexico, Canada and the European Union have sparked retaliatory tariffs and trade threats, targeting American farm goods from pork to cheese to apples.
Disquiet among farmers grew in June as crop prices fell thanks to benevolent U.S. weather and additional duties expected from China on products like soybeans, for which it is the U.S.’s top customer. The total value of this year’s U.S. corn, soybean and wheat crops dropped about $13 billion, or 10%, in June, said Chris Hurt, an agricultural economist at Purdue University. On Monday, U.S. soybean prices continued their downward spiral, heading toward the lowest level in a decade.
And once these various countries find other sources for their agricultural food needs these markets may be lost for the foreseeable future.  Mental health resources can help these farmers to cope with the possibility of economic ruin. But...

Mental health resources while sometimes strained in the city can be next to unavailable in rural outlying areas.  And for those without insurance, it’s even worse. And with the opioid epidemic spreading to rural America, sources for treating addiction are often few and far between.

Medical and dental care are problematic as well. Doctors are not attracted to impoverished areas.  Rural America has too few dentists along with few jobs to create paying patients. And as icing on the cake, rural states especially out west under Republican control do not have access to Medicaid because their governors rejected this part of Obamacare.

There have been a number of philanthropic efforts to provide medical and dental care to rural America. Most notable is Remote Area Medical which was founded by Stan Brock to take care of medical needs in the Third World. But after he saw the sorry shape that rural America was in, he decided America was where he was needed most. But he can’t be everywhere. Getting sick and not hot having access to medical care can put a terrible strain on a person.

So can poverty. In the cities, help is often available from organizations that can rely on donations from relatively affluent people. In a rural town where often everybody is poor there is no such help.

And finally, rural areas in general but especially the states in the sparsely populated heartland have a culture where gun ownership is almost universal.  While we all mourn the homicides that often command so much of the news, a lot more US gun deaths are due to suicides rather than homicides.

In the United States, access to firearms is associated with an increased risk of completed suicide. A 1992 case-control study in the New England Journal of Medicine showed an association between estimated household firearm ownership and suicide rates, finding that individuals living in a home where firearms are present are more likely to commit suicide than those individuals who do not own firearms, by a factor of 3 or 4.

So while all of the social isolation and other social problems in rural America may drive people to contemplate suicide, a gun as a handy and lethal way to accomplish the act makes it more likely to happen.
David Hemenway, professor of health policy at Harvard University's School of Public Health, and director of the Harvard Injury Control Research Center and the Harvard Youth Violence Prevention Center, stated:
Differences in overall suicide rates across cities, states and regions in the United States are best explained not by differences in mental health, suicide ideation, or even suicide attempts, but by availability of firearms. Many suicides are impulsive, and the urge to die fades away. Firearms are a swift and lethal method of suicide with a high case-fatality rate.
So we must now ask the question - can anything be done about all of this?  In my humble opinion there is good news and bad news. The good news is that there are solutions to try and address this tragic situation.  The bad news is that at least most of the solutions require money - mainly federal money since many of these states are already strained for resources because of their ideological addiction to tax cuts.  Furthermore, these admittedly liberal solutions would most likely be treated with scorn by these people who need help the most. But nothing is stopping me from making suggestions.

The quickest way to stop the bleeding would be for America to provide universal health coverage, including dental and mental health - just like in the rest of the industrialized world. Philanthropic efforts such as the aforementioned Remote Area Medical along with The Health Wagon are greatly appreciated but are far from a solution. Indeed, many of the patients seen have suffered irreversible damage to their health, A number of them were too far gone to save. In spite of the right-wing rhetoric on Obamacare "death panels" the true death panels are the Republican governors of states who refused the Medicaid expansion part of Obamacare for their citizens for reasons that amount to little more than spite. In addition, the lack of patients with insurance to pay for medical services has led to the closing of hospitals in a number of rural communities, thus depriving them of emergency room care within practical distances. I know - single-payer universal health insurance is little more than a liberal pipe dream with Republicans controlling all the levers of power. But extending the Medicaid expansion to the states without it would be a great help in the meantime - like what recently happened in Virginia.

Help in creating and expanding community centers in small rural towns would help to fight the loneliness often encountered there. Having a place for people to gather in places like this would promote more of a sense of belonging which would in turn discourage suicide. We finance senior community centers in the city where I live.  Why not do the same for rural America?

As for bettering the economic prospects for rural America, there are no easy answers. Attracting prospective employers to a place that has poor medical care and indeed, might not even have a hospital would appear to be hopeless. But our president instilling false hope in the return of lost coal mining jobs is little more than cruel and manipulative. On the other hand, not all industries are contracting. For example, there are more jobs to be had in renewable sources of energy such as solar and wind which are better suited for remote areas. Although the Great Plains has by far the most abundant wind supply, new technology in the way of taller wind turbines may indeed make wind power viable in all 50 states!  The Tennessee Valley Authority was born in 1933 under FDR to provide economic relief to parts of Appalachia, primarily by hydroelectric power.  It is encouraging that they are at least slowly starting to branch out into solar and wind power.

Another issue that is near and dear to liberals like myself is gun control. Just focusing on the area of suicide for now, a study has shown that background checks and waiting periods for gun purchases are associated with lower rates of suicide. Of course not all suicides are by guns. But it stands to reason that not making guns so readily available would save some lives.

Finally, it can be instructive to study countries that have a lower suicide rate to see what they do differently.  Let’s take three bordering countries - Canada, the United States, and Mexico. According to this chart from the World Population Review listing suicides per 100,000, the US ranked 43rd with 14.3 suicides per 100k with Canada close behind at 46th with 12.3 suicides per 100k. Then there is Mexico coming in at 143rd place with only 5 suicides per 100k. What makes this even more remarkable is the crushing amount of extreme poverty in Mexico where according to Wikipedia some 35% of Mexico’s population is living on less than $5.50 a day (compared to only 1 or 2% in the other 2 countries). Clearly financial distress can lead to suicide but why is Mexico an exception here? Here’s a likely explanation: Mexico is known for its close family culture.

Every culture has a unique set of values, traditions and norms. The general culture of Mexican families has a strong foundation in unity. As with any culture, family life is as much individualistic as it is communal.

So while many Mexicans suffer through the same problems coping with poverty, family members have their back so they don’t have to suffer alone unlike many Americans especially in those remote rural locations.

Yes, we do need to invest the resources to fix our shattered safety net. But we must also remember that as humans we have a need to connect to others and to belong. This means reaching out to each other and remembering that we are all in this together. Yes, there will still be suffering. But unlike some others who were not as fortunate, we will want to live to tell about it!