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Survey shows Americans’ personal misery has increased since early 1990s

Politicians love to ask when running for re-election, "Are you better off now than you were four years ago."

According to a survey done by the National Opinion Research Center at the Universtiy of Chicago, the answer is "no."

In the decade-and-a-half since NORC first surveyed people’s negative life events, researchers have found that the number of troubles people report has increased. Chief among those problems are more incidents of illness, inability to afford medical care, unemployment, pressure to pay bills, and unstable romantic relationships. On the positive side, fewer people reported having trouble getting a car, or having trouble with crime or legal issues.

Link: Survey shows Americans’ personal misery has increased since early 1990s.


The poor can't pay for justice like the rich can in our plutocracy

Anne Erickson has a great article yesterday, February 26, 2006, in the Albany Times Union entitled "Injustice For Most".

One of the things that money can buy is legal representation and advocacy. With the rich getting richer and the poor getting poorer, increasingly more Americans are disenfranchised from legal recourse simply because they cannot afford it. Of course large companies and corporations and governmental units often have attorneys on staff or access to legal representation on retainer.

Poor folks are out of luck. They are on their own, and the power imbalance is often extremely skewed.

Each time we recite our nation's Pledge of Allegiance, we reaffirm our shared commitments to each other. "With liberty and justice for all," we pledge. But does our nation deliver on the promise to provide justice to all?

Not by a long shot, according to a recent national study, "Documenting the Justice Gap in America." The study, undertaken by the federal Legal Services Corporation found that 80 percent of the civil legal needs of low-income Americans are not being met. This means thousands of people confront daunting legal issues everyday and when they seek access to justice, when they seek assistance in navigating their legal problem, they are turned away.

Interestingly, President Bush cut 4.9% in federal funding for Legal Services which leaves the burden on the states and New York, with $6.6 million lags behind New Jersey which invests $16.4 million, California which invests $10 million, $14.3 million in Ohio, and $12.3 million in Minnesota.

You'd think New York could cough up $10 million at least.

I have many clients who are told that they have the right "to a hearing" when they have been turned down by the HMO, or evicted, or denied child care assistance, or a disability application, and they have not a clue how to proceed or where to begin. Private lawyers are more than willing to take the case for a $2,500 retainer and then bill at the rate of $150.00 or $200.00 per hour, but the attorney's hourly rate is often a week's take home pay for some of my clients.

If there is truly to be "liberty and justice for all" we have a collective responsibility to make that happen, and not just passively watch the rich and their lawyers rig the system to their advantage.

Read Anne Erickson's article and then let your representatives know what you think about our justice for hire system.

Link: Injustice for most -- Page 1 -- TimesUnion.com.


When sleep is just a dream

There is an interesting article in today's, February 27. 2006, USA Today, about the lack of sleep which many Americans complain about.

Never before have work and play stolen more hours from the sandman. Between a global economy that demands increased productivity and a technology-fueled entertainment machine that provides non-stop diversions, it's a wonder people get any rest at all.

An NBC Today show/Zogby International poll indicates nearly half of Americans say they don't get enough sleep and roughly one-quarter get fewer than six hours a night. Data from the National Center for Health Statistics show a 20-year trend of Americans reporting less sleep.

This article shows up in the midst of my study on the increase in the number of hours Americans work and their concomitant decrease in time for parenting, community involvement and the impact on democracy. In my opinion, this is a huge mental health issue and in true American fashion, looking for the quick fix rather than life style change, and fueled by marketing of the pharmaceutical companies, Americans are turning to drugs to fix their problems rather than look at the underlying social policy issues.

Public Citizen's Sidney Wolfe is more forceful.

"There's a whole scam going on here," the watchdog group's health research director says. "The drug companies launched these incredibly successful marketing campaigns that convince normal people they have serious sleep issues. That's not to say there aren't some people with problems, but I don't think the numbers are as high as what groups like the National Sleep Foundation report."

That foundation, which receives funding from companies such as Ambien maker Sanofi-Aventis, conducts an annual poll on sleep habits. Last year, it reported that "about one-half of America's adults say they frequently experience at least one symptom of insomnia."

The foundation's CEO, Richard Gelula, says his group does not promote pill use: "We always urge people to evaluate their sleep habits and see what they can change in their lives first."

He adds that the group's polls indicate 11% of adults use alcohol as a sleeping aid and 9% opt for over-the-counter drugs. "What this says to me is that there is a lot of desire to treat the problem, but many folks aren't going to their doctors."

Are Americans working themselves to death? Are Americans working themselves into drug induced problems? Where is our materialistic, "personal responsibility" culture taking us?

I will think about the questions above, and sleep on them.

Link: USATODAY.com - When sleep is just a dream.


In the richest, most powerful nation in the world, the people are less free when it comes to vacation

Millions of Americans gobble antidepressants, anti-anxiety pills, drink too much, take street drugs and abuse prescription meds. A large percentage of my clients say to me "Boy, do I need a vacation." When I say, "Take one." they look at me like I have three heads.

Americans have the fewest number of vacation days of any developed country.

Average annual vacation

Italy 42

Brazil 34

So. Korea 25

France 37

Britain 28

Japan 25

Germany 35

Canada 26

USA 13

When Americans claim they are stressed. It appears to be true compared to how other free people live in other parts of the world.

Why do you suppose it is that Americans have so little free time and suffer the negative consequences on their mental health as a result? We are the richest most powerful country on earth.We are not the happiest, and it doesn't appear the most free.

Do you suppose this is a matter of "personal responsibility" or is it a matter of economics and social policy? Perhaps its a little of both, but if I had to lean one way or the other it would be toward the latter explanation.

For more information click on the link below.

Link: vacation.


The decrease in leisure time and the breakdown of civil society

The percentage of mothers in the workforce doubled from 38% in 1969 to 68% in 1996. In 2003 72% of women with a child one or older was in the workforce. Interestingly, during the same time the number of fathers staying home with children did not equal the number of mothers going to work so the number of hours parents spent with their children was significantly reduced.

Whose watching the kids?

For many kids, especially those over 11 or 12, nobody.

For those under 12, for the most part strangers in day care settings.

With the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act of 1996 women applying for TANF, Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, were forced to work in greater percentages usually for minimum wage while their children were forced into day care being cared for by other minimum wage workers.

With the Budget Reconciliation Act of 2005 just passed by this Republican congress and signed by President Bush which will renew the TANF legislation, percentages of women who must work have been increased for States to continue to receive their Federal TANF share.

This comes from a Republican administraton which claims to be pro-life and wants women in difficult circumstances to not abort their fetuses, and yet turns around and passes legislation which will make it more difficult for these women to raise the children which the same administration is forcing them to give birth to.

If we as a people have an interest in the future of our society, we should support the raising of our children and the parents who have one of the most important jobs in life. Unfortunately, our national policies have made this job very stressful and increasingly difficult because of a very stingy allocation of resources.


Paragraph 175, the film

Paragraph 175 is a German film distributed in 2000 which interviews the last survivors of the Nazi concentration camps who were arrested and committed to the camps because they were homosexual.

The Internet database trivia quotations say:

"An unnatural sex act committed between persons of the male sex or by humans with animals is punishable by imprisonment; the loss of civil rights may also be imposed." (Paragraph 175, German Penal Code, 1871)

The statute of Paragraph 175 was amended several times. The Nazis broadened the law in 1935 and increased its prosecutions by an order of magnitude; thousands died in concentration camps, regardless of guilt or innocence. East Germany reverted to the old version of the law in 1950, limited its scope to sex with youths under 18 in 1968, and abolished it entirely in 1988. West Germany retained the Nazi-era statute until 1969, when it was limited to "qualified cases"; it was further attenuated in 1973 and finally revoked entirely in 1994 after German reunification.

Over 100,000 people considered homosexual were killed in the camps.

As we debate in the United States today over gay marriage and civil rights for people who are homosexually oriented, and consider the horror of Matthew Shepard's killing in Wyoming a few years back, this is an important film to consider as we reflect on our societal homophobia.

I recommend this film to every critical thinking and compassionate adult.

Link: Paragraph 175 (2000).


High mortality risk of anorexia nervosa confirmed

Reuters reported on February 23, 2006 on a study in the March 2006 issue of the International Journal of Eating Disorders which found that women with severe anorexia nervosa die at a rate of 9 times more than healthy women. The study also found that the earlier treatment is begun, such as in adolescence, the better the outcome, as compared to women who didn't begin treatment until they were adults.

Fichter and his team followed 103 women who had been hospitalized for anorexia nervosa at an average age of about 25. The researchers point out that anorexia nervosa patients who are treated during adolescence fare much better than those who undergo treatment as adults, like the women in the current study. Patients in this study had unusually severe disease and some resistance to treatment, and most had attempted treatment previously.

Overall, the study participants fared worse in the 2 years following treatment, then showed gradual improvement over the next 10 years.

At 12 years after hospitalization, almost 30 percent of the study participants still had anorexia nervosa. Just over half had no major eating disorder. Overall outcome was good for 27.5 percent of patients, intermediate for 25.3 percent, and poor for 39.6 percent. Seven patients had died, all from causes related to the disease.

Link: MedlinePlus: High mortality risk of anorexia nervosa confirmed.