“Dying in America” report

Latest volley in campaign to slash heath care costs

http://thomallison1.files.wordpress.com/2009/07/dalitime.jpg?w=640

By Kate Randall
19 September 2014

A panel appointed by the Institute of Medicine released a report Wednesday titled “Dying in America: Improving Quality and Honoring Individual Preferences Near the End of Life.” The 500-page report focuses specifically on those people with “a serious illness or medical condition who may be approaching death.”

The report identifies as a burning issue facing America the fact that people are living longer into old age and exorbitant sums of money are being lavished on them to keep them alive. The panel’s recommendations are both sweeping and sinister. They expose the reactionary character of the current overhaul of the US health care system—championed by the Affordable Care Act—whose basic aim is to slash health care spending at the expense of the lives and well being of the vast majority of the population.

The Institute of Medicine is a research arm of the National Academy of Sciences (NAS), which was establish by an Act of Congress signed into law by President Abraham Lincoln in 1863. According to its mission statement, “the NAS is charged with providing independent, objective advice to the nation on matters related to science and technology.” A sampling of the 21-member panel tasked with producing the “Dying in America” reveals that it is, in fact, populated with pro-corporate figures, a number of whom have served in government.

Among the doctors, nurses, insurers, religious leaders and experts on hospice and palliative care included on the panel is co-chair David M. Walker, former US comptroller general and founder and CEO of the ultra-conservative Comeback America Initiative. Committee member Leonard D. Schaeffer of the University of Southern California, Santa Monica, has served in various capacities at WellPoint Health Networks Inc., pharmaceutical Amgen, America’s Health Insurance Plans, and on numerous health industry boards. He was also assistant secretary for management and budget of the Department of Health, Education and Welfare under the Carter administration.

One could ask why insurance executives and former government budget bureaucrats are sitting on a committee tasked with overhauling end-of-life care for America’s seniors. It is precisely because this panel is concerned first and foremost with cutting costs, and realigning what is already a class-based delivery of medicine into an even more stratified system of health care aimed at cutting costs for government and increasing the profits of the health care industry.

Of central concern for the panel is the fact that life expectancy is increasing, and the costs for care at the end of life consume what they consider an unacceptable proportion of health care spending. From 1995 to 2011, average life expectancy at birth increased from 75.8 years to 78.7 years—a 3.8 percent increase. The report projects that the number of Americans 85 years or older will increase to 4.2 percent of the population by 2050, from the 1960 figure of 0.5 percent.

The report notes, “In the future, the aging US population is likely to experience large increases in certain diseases that are costly to treat,” and despite “stable or slightly falling rates of illness, the growing number of people in the higher-risk age groups means the number of cases will grow,” along with the associated costs to treat these diseases. The solution? Stop expensive hospital treatments for terminal conditions such as heart disease and cancer, and shift elderly patients to palliative care and hospice, with adequate pain management.

The panel attempts to paint this recommendation as the humane response to the needs of patients and their families. What person facing imminent death wouldn’t want to spend his or her last days at home, as free of pain as possible, surrounded by loving family members? But the real reasoning behind this recommendation becomes clear when the report points to the cost of treating some of the most prevalent chronic conditions suffered by the elderly, such as heart disease, diabetes, stroke, chronic kidney disease, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, Alzheimer’s and cancer.

The report finds that in 2010, expenditures for Medicare patients suffering from six or more chronic conditions averaged $32,658. Approached from the mindset of the cold-blooded actuary, these costs must be slashed. If the committee were to state their objectives honestly, they would say that this is too much to spend on someone who is eventually going to die anyway. Better sooner than later.

The real meat of the “Dying in America” report comes with its call for a “major reorientation and restructuring of Medicare, Medicaid and other health care delivery programs” and the elimination of “perverse financial incentives” that encourage expensive hospital procedures. Leonard Schaeffer, the above-mentioned panel member, expounded on this at a public briefing on the report, saying there needs to be a shift away from fee-for-service medicine, which reimburses doctors for medical procedures, to more emphasis on financial rewards for doctors who talk to patients about their end-of-life care preferences.

In macabre fashion, the panel recommends that such “end of life” discussions begin as early as teenage milestones such as getting a driver’s license or heading to college. The objective is clear: people should be conditioned from an early age to accept that herculean efforts to save their lives, utilizing the latest medical technologies, will not be undertaken. What goes unsaid in the report is the fact that the wealthy, and members of the political and corporate establishment such as those represented on the panel, will always have access to the best medical care, as they will be able to pay out of pocket for the most advanced treatments, even if it “only” saves them a few extra days, months, or years of life.

Tellingly, the report notes that younger, poorer and less-educated individuals tend to be less likely to have end of life conversations with their doctors. In the panel’s opinion, it is this working class population that is sapping vital health care dollars in old age as they seek treatment to prolong their lives. Rather, they should be sent home for a “dignified” death free from unnecessary medical intervention.

Not surprisingly, nowhere to be found in the report are any references to the profits of the insurance industry and drug companies. But the truth is that the central financial and moral danger to American society is not the spending on medical care for the elderly working class population, but the capitalist profit system itself.

The Affordable Care Act, Obamacare, is aimed at restructuring the health care system in America in line with the rapacious aims of the ruling elite. It is a regressive attack on the social right to health care in the guise of “reform.” The Institute of Medicine’s “Dying in America” report and its recommendations are the latest volley in this campaign to realign health care in the interests of the ruling elite.

Why America will never win the war on terror

The U.S. military is neither a nation nor an army builder. It bodes ill for our future efforts in the Middle East

, TomDispatch.com

Why America will never win the war on terror
This piece originally appeared on TomDispatch.

It’s possible I’ve lived most of my life on the wrong planet — and if that sounds like the first sentence of a sci-fi novel maybe, in its own way, it is. I thought I knew where I was, of course, but looking back from our helter-skelter world of 2014, I wonder.

For most of the last several hundred years, the story in view might be called the Great Concentration and it focused on an imperial struggle for power on planet Earth. That rivalry took place among a kaleidoscopic succession of European “great powers,” one global empire (Great Britain), Russia, a single Asian state (Japan), and the United States. After two world wars that devastated the Eurasian continent, there emerged only two “superpowers,” the U.S. and the Soviet Union. They were so stunningly mighty and over-armed — great inland empires — that, unlike previous powers, they could not even imagine how to wage war directly upon each other, not without obliterating much of civilization. The full planet nonetheless became their battlefield in what was known as the Cold War only because hot ones were banished to “the peripheries” and the conflict took place, in part, in “the shadows” (a situation novelist John le Carré caught with particular incisiveness).

Those two superpowers divided much of the planet into mighty blocs, as the “free world” faced off against the “communist” one. What was left, often called the Third World, became a game board and sometimes battlefield for influence and dominance. From Havana to Saigon, Berlin to Jakarta, whatever happened, however local, always seemed to have a superpower tinge to it.

This was the world as it was presented to me in the years of my youth and for decades thereafter.  And then, unexpectedly, there was only one superpower. In 1991, something like the ultimate step in the concentration of power seemed to occur. The weaker and less wealthy of the two rivals, its economy grown sclerotic even as its nuclear arsenal bulged, its vaunted military bogged down in an unwinnable war with Islamic fundamentalists in Afghanistan (backed by the United States, Saudi Arabia, and Pakistan), suddenly vanished from the planet.  It left behind a dismantled wall in Berlin, a unified Germany, a liberated Eastern Europe, a series of former SSRs in Central Asia fending for themselves, and its bloc partner (and sometimes-rival-cum-enemy) China, still run by a “communist” party, gunning the automobile of state onto the capitalist highway under slogans like “to get rich is glorious.”



Full Spectrum Dominance on a Unipolar Planet

As with the famous cheese of children’s rhyme, the United States now stood alone.  Never before had a single power of such stature, wealth, and military clout been left so triumphantly solitary, without the hint of a serious challenger anywhere. Economically, the only other system imaginable for a century had been banished to the history books. There was just one power and one economic system left in a moment of triumph the likes of which even the leaders of that winning state had neither imagined nor predicted.

Initially, Washington was stunned. It took the powers-that-be almost a decade to fully absorb and react to what had happened. After all, as one observer then so famously put it, “the end of history” had been reached – and there, amid the rubble of other systems and powers, lay an imperial version of liberal democracy and a capitalist system freed of even the thought of global competitors and constraints. Or so it seemed.

For almost a decade, we were told in no uncertain terms that we were, no bones about it, in the era of “the Washington consensus” and “globalization.”  The Earth was flat and we were all One, swimming in a sea of giant swooshes, golden arches, action movies, and Disney princesses.  What a moment to dream — and though it took a decade, you’ll remember the dreamers well.  Having prepared the way as a kind of shadow government, in 2000 they took over the White House (with a helping hand from the Supreme Court). After a single devastating terrorist attack (the “Pearl Harbor” of the twenty-first century), they were soon dreaming on a global scale as befit their new vision of power.  They imagined a “wartime” that would last for generations — some of them even called it World War IV – during which they would establish a full-scale military protectorate, including monster bases, in the oil heartlands of the Middle East and a Pax Americana globally aimed at preventing any other great nation or bloc of nations from arising to challenge the United States — ever.

And that should have surprised no one.  It seemed like such an obvious concluding passage to the Great Concentration.  What else was there to dream about when “The End” had come up onscreen and the logic of history was theirs to do with what they would?  After all, they had at their beck and call a military the likes of which no other 10 nations could match and a national security state, including surveillance and intelligence outfits, whose post-9/11 reach was to be unparalleled among countries or in history.  They sat atop a vast and wealthy state then regularly referred to as the planet’s “sole superpower” or even its “hyperpower,” and no less regularly called its “sheriff.”

Where great powers had once been, only a few rickety “rogue states” remained: Iraq, Iran, and North Korea.  And with the help of a clever speechwriter, George W. Bush was soon to pump those three countries up into a convenient “Axis of Evil,” a phrase meant to combine the fearsomeness of World War II’s Axis powers (Germany, Italy, and Japan) and Ronald Reagan’s famous Star Wars-style moniker for the Soviet Union, “the Evil Empire.”  No matter that two of the three powers in question had been at each other’s throats for a decade and the third, a half-nation with a population regularly on a starvation diet, was quite unrelated.

Beyond that, when it came to enemies, there were relatively small numbers of jihadi bands, mostly scattered in the tribal backlands of the planet, and a few poorly armed minority insurgencies.  A “unipolar” planet?  You bet, hands down (or rather, as the Bush administration then saw it, hands up in the classic gesture of surrender that it quickly expected from Iraq, Iran, and Syria, among other places).  The future, according to the prevailing script, couldn’t have been more obvious.  Could there be any question thatdominance, or even as the U.S. military liked to put it, “full-spectrum dominance,” was the obvious, uncontested, and only possible result?

A Jihadist Paradise on Earth

As the present chaos across large swathes of our world indicates, however, it didn’t turn out to be so.  The planet was telling quite a different story, one focused not on the concentration of power but on a radical form of power drain.  In that story, the one for which the evidence kept piling up regularly in the post-9/11 years, no application of power seemed to work for Washington.  No enemy, no matter how minor, weak, ill armed, or unpopular could be defeated.  No jihadist group wiped out.  Not one.

Jump 13 years and they are all still there: the original al-Qaeda, al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (Yemen), and a whole befuddling new range of jihadist groups, most of them bigger than ever, with one now proclaiming a “caliphate” in the heart of the Middle East; in Afghanistan, the Taliban is resurgent (and a growing new Taliban movement is destabilizing Pakistan); the Shia militias the U.S. couldn’t take down in Iraq during its occupation of the country are now fighting the followers of the Sunni military men whose army Washington demobilized in 2003.  The fundamentalists in Iran, despite endless years of threat and pressure, are still in power, their regional influence enhanced.  Libya, which should have been a nation-building miracle, has instead become an extremist battleground, while (like Syria) losing a significant percentage of its population; Africa is increasingly destabilized, and Nigeria in particular faces one of the more bizarre insurgencies in modern history; and so on.

Nowhere is there a hint of Washington’s Pax Americana in the Greater Middle East, no less globally.  In fact, across a vast and growing swath of the planet, stretching from South Asia to Africa, from Iraq to Ukraine, the main force at work seems not to be the concentration of power, but its fragmentation, its disintegration, before which Washington has proven remarkably helpless.

Thirteen years later, on the eve of another 9/11 anniversary, the president found himself, however reluctantly, on television addressing the American people on the launching of another hapless Iraq war, the third since 1991 — and the first in which those announcing it visibly no longer had any expectation of victory or could even imagine what the endpoint of all this might be.  In fact, before Barack Obama appeared on our home screens, word was already leaking out from official precincts in Washington that this new war would last not a decisive few weeks or even months, but years.  At least “36 months” was the figure being bandied about.

In other words, as he launched Iraq 3.0, the president was already essentially conceding a kind of defeat by willing it to his successor in the Oval Office.  Not getting out of Iraq, as he had promised in his 2008 presidential campaign, but getting in yet again would now be his “legacy.”  If that doesn’t tell you what you need to know about the deep-sixing of the dream of global domination, what does?

Nor was the new enemy some ghostly jihadist group with small numbers of followers scattered in the backlands of the planet.  It was something new under the sun: a mini-state-building, war-fighting, revenue-generating, atrocity-producing machine (and yet anything but the former “Evil Empire”).  Against it, the drones and bombers had already been called in and Washington was now to lead — the phrase, almost a quarter-century old, was making a reappearance in the general babble of reporting about, and punditry on, the new conflict — a “coalition of the willing.”  In the first such coalition, in 1991,35 nations were gathered under the American wing to crush Saddam Hussein’s Iraq (which, of course, didn’t quite happen).  And the Saudis, the Japanese, and the Germans agreeably anted up $52 billion of the cost of that $61 billion conflict, making it a near freebie of a (briefly) triumphant war for Washington.

This time, however, as befit the moment, the new “coalition” was to consist of a crew so recalcitrant, unwilling, and ill-matched as to practically spell out disaster-in-the-making.  Inside Iraq, a unification government was already being formed and it looked remarkably likeprevious not-so-unification-minded governments.  The Kurds were playing it cagy on the question of support; Moqtada al-Sadr, the Shia cleric whose militias had once fought the Americans and were now fighting the forces of the new Islamic State (IS), was warning against cooperation of any sort with the former “occupier”; and as for the Sunnis, well, don’t hold your breath.

And don’t even start in on the Turksthe Egyptians, and others in the region.  In the meantime, Secretary of State John Kerry flew to Iraq and promised that the U.S. would ante up $48 million to stand up a new Iraqi “national guard.”  It was assumedly meant as a home for disaffected Sunni fighters to bolster the American-financed, -armed, and -trained Iraqi army that had collapsed in a heap when the warriors of the Islamic State descended on them led by former officers from Saddam Hussein’s disbanded army.  And oh yes, with the help of the Saudis (who had previously funneled money to far more extreme groups of rebels in Syria), the U.S. was now planning to arm and train the barely existent “moderate” rebels of that country.  If that isn’t a description of a coalition of the shaky, what is?

Is American Leadership “the One Constant in an Uncertain World”?

From that “new” Iraqi military force to the usual set of op-eds, comments, and critiques calling for yet more military action by the usual crowd of neocons and Republicans in Washington, it’s felt distinctly like déjà vu all over again.  This time, however, it seems as if we’re watching familiar events through some funhouse mirror, everything half-recognizable, yet creepy as hell.  Ever more of the world seems this way, as for instance in the “new Cold War” that’s played out in recent months in Ukraine.

And yet it’s worth noting that some things are missing from that mirror’s distorted view.  When was the last time, for instance, that you heard the phrase “sole superpower” or the word “unipolar”?  Not for years, I suspect.  Yet the talk of “multi-polarity” has, like the Brazilian economy, faded, too, and for good reason.

On the face of it, the United States remains the unipolar power on planet Earth, or as the president put it in his TV address, speaking of American leadership, “the one constant in an uncertain world.”  Its military remains uncontested in any normal sense, with something approaching that long-desired goal of full-spectrum dominance.  No other concentration of power on the planet comes close to matching it.  In fact, even for the European Union, once imagined as a future power bloc of immense possibility, fragmentation of various sorts now seem to hover in the air.

Admittedly, two regional powers have begun flexing their military muscles along their borders (and sea lanes).  Vladimir Putin, the autocratic ruler of what is essentially a hollowed out energy state, has been meddling in Ukraine, as he did previously with Georgia, in situations where he’s felt the pressure of the U.S. and NATO pushing against his country’s former borderlands.  In the process, he has effectively brought power drain and fragmentation to the heartlands of Eurasia in a way that may prove far less amenable to his control than he now imagines.

Meanwhile, in the South China Sea and nearby waters, China, the world’s rising economic juggernaut and increasingly a regional military power, has been pushing its neighbors’ buttons as it grabs for undersea energy rights and generally tries to reverse a long history of what it considers “humiliation,” while taking its place as a regional hegemon.  As in Ukraine with NATO, so here, in its announced “pivot” to Asia, the U.S. has played its own part in this process.  Once again, division and fragmentation of various sorts shimmer on the horizon.  And yet these challenges to America’s status as the globe’s hegemon remain local and limited in nature.  The likelihood that either of them will develop into some version of the great power struggles of the nineteenth century or of the Cold War era seems remote.

Still, the conundrum for Washington remains.  For the last 13 years, it’s had access to unparalleled powers of every kind, concentrated in all sorts of ways, and yet in what has to be considered a mystery of the twenty-first century, everywhere, even at home, fragmentation and gridlock, not decisive, effective action are evident, while the draining (or paralysis) of power seems to be the order of the day.

Nowhere, at home or abroad, does the obvious might of the United States translate into expected results, or much of anything else except a kind of roiling chaos.  On much of the planet, Latin America (but not Central America) excepted, power vacuums, power breakdowns, power drains, and fragmentation are increasingly part of everyday life.  And one thing is remarkably clear: each and every application of American military power globally since 9/11 has furthered the fragmentation process, destabilizing whole regions.

In the twenty-first century, the U.S. military has been neither a nation- nor an army-builder, nor has it found victory, no matter how hard it’s searched.  It has instead been the equivalent of the whirlwind in international affairs, and so, however the most recent Iraq war works out, one thing seems predictable: the region will be further destabilized and in worse shape when it’s over.

The Greatest Concentration of Literal Power in History

Since World War II, we’ve generally been focused on the Great Concentration, while another story was developing in the shadows.  Its focus: the de-concentration of power in what the Bush administration used to call the Greater Middle East, as well as in Africa, and even Europe.  Just how exactly this developed will have to await a better historian than I and perhaps the passage of time.  But for the sake of discussion, let’s call it the Great Fragmentation.

Perhaps it started in the twentieth century with the decolonization movements that swept across so much of the globe and took down a series of already weakening European empires.  One of its latest manifestations might have been the Arab Spring and the chaos and disintegration that seemed to follow from it.  The undermining or neutralizing of imperial power and the systems of alliance and dependency it builds seems at its heart.  With it has gone the inability of militaries anywhere to achieve the sorts of victories against even the least impressive of enemies that were once the meat and potatoes of imperial power.

The Great Fragmentation has accelerated in seemingly disastrous ways in our own time under perhaps some further disintegrative pressure.  One possibility: yet another development in the shadows that, in some bizarre fashion, combines both the concentration of power and its fragmentation in devastating ways.  I’m thinking here of the story of how the apocalypse became human property — the discovery, that is, of how to fully exploit two energy sources, the splitting of the atom and the extraction of fossil fuels for burning from ever more difficult places, that could leave human life on this planet in ruins.

Think of them as, quite literally, the two greatest concentrations of power in history.  One is now embedded in the globe’s nuclear arsenals, capable of destroying numerous Earth-sized planets.  The other is to be found in a vast array of oil and natural gas wells and coal mines, as well as in a relatively small number of Big Energy companies and energy states like Saudi Arabia, Russia, and increasingly these days, the United States.  It, we now know, is capable of essentially burning civilization off the planet.

From this dual concentration of power comes the potential for the kinds of apocalypticfragmentation it was once thought only the gods or God might be capable of.  We’re talking about potential exit ramps from history.  The pressure of this story — which has been in play in our world since at least August 6, 1945, and now in its dual forms suffuses all our lives in hard to define ways — on the other two and on the increasing fragmentation of human affairs, while impossible to calibrate, is undoubtedly all too real.

This is why, now in my eighth decade, I can’t help but wonder just what planet I’m really on and what its story will really turn out to be.

 

Tom Engelhardt, co-founder of the American Empire Project, runs the Nation Institute’s TomDispatch.com. His latest book, “The United States of Fear” (Haymarket Books), has just been published.

http://www.salon.com/2014/09/18/why_america_will_never_win_the_war_on_terror_partner/?source=newsletter

Obama Declares Perpetual War

Posted: 09/16/2014 10:56 am EDT Updated: 5 hours ago
OBAMA
 President Barack Obama escalated the drone war he has conducted for the past five and a half years by declaring his intention to “degrade and ultimately destroy” the Islamic State, also known as ISIS, or ISIL. Since August 8, Obama has mounted at least 154 airstrikes in Iraq. He will send 475 additional U.S. troops, increasing the total number in Iraq to about 1,600. Obama announced he would conduct “a systematic campaign of airstrikes” in Iraq, and possibly in Syria. But, not limiting himself to those countries, Obama declared the whole world his battlefield, stating “We will hunt down terrorists who threaten our country, wherever they are… if you threaten America, you will find no safe haven.”

If, indeed, there were an imminent threat of attack on the United States, Obama would be legally entitled to launch a military operation. The United Nations Charter, which prohibits the use of military force, allows an exception when a country acts in self-defense. Under the well-established Caroline doctrine, the “necessity for self-defense must be instant, overwhelming, leaving no choice of means, and no moment for deliberation.” The only problem is, Obama admitted, “We have not yet detected specific plotting against our homeland.” Citing only the vague possibility of future “deadly attacks,” Obama nevertheless declared a perpetual war with no specific end time.

The only other exception to the UN Charter’s prohibition on military force is when the Security Council has given its approval. Obama said he would chair a meeting of the Council in two weeks’ time to “mobilize the international community.” But the Charter requires that the Council countenance the military operation before it occurs. The proposed resolution the Council is slated to adopt will reportedly call on countries to criminalize recruitment and travel of foreign fighters that join extremist military forces, and require the sharing of airline passenger information. It will not, however, authorize military force. Obama’s war violates the UN Charter, a treaty the United States has ratified, making it part of U.S. law under the Supremacy Clause of the U.S. Constitution.

Obama’s war also violates the War Powers Resolution, which permits the president to introduce U.S. Armed Forces into hostilities or imminent hostilities only in three situations. First, after Congress has declared war, which has not happened in this case. Second, in “a national emergency created by attack upon the United States, its territories or possessions, or its armed forces,” which again, has not occurred. Third, when there is “specific statutory authorization.” Obama has not asked Congress to authorize his military attacks.

Indeed, Obama declared, “I have the authority to address the threat from ISIL.” He was relying on the Authorization for the Use of Military Force (AUMF) that Congress passed in 2001, which President George W. Bush used to invade Afghanistan. But that AUMF only authorized force against individuals, groups and countries that “planned, authorized, committed or aided” the September 11 terrorist attacks. ISIS did not even exist in 2001. In fact, Ayman al-Zawahiri, al-Qaeda’s leader, formally kicked ISIS out of al-Qaeda earlier this year.

When it passed the 2001 AUMF, Congress specifically rejected the Bush administration’s request for open-ended military authority “to deter and preempt any future acts of terrorism or aggression against the United States.” Moreover, in the National Defense Authorization Act of 2012, Congress specified, “Nothing in this section is intended to… expand the authority of the President or the scope of the [2001 AUMF].”

Apparently, Obama is also relying on the 2002 AUMF, in which Congress authorized the president to use the armed forces as he determines necessary and appropriate to defend the national security of the United States against the continuing threat posed by Iraq, and to enforce all relevant UN Security Council resolutions regarding Iraq. But since that threat and those resolutions were aimed at Saddam Hussein’s weapons of mass destruction, that license, too, has ended. Indeed, in June, the White House declared that the 2002 AUMF “is no longer used for any U.S. government activities.” That means Obama’s current war is not simply a continuation of Bush’s Iraq war, and the 2002 AUMF does not provide Obama with legal license to mount his military attacks.

The War Powers Resolution requires Obama to secure a new Congressional authorization for his war within 60 days of launching “hostilities,” or he must withdraw US forces within 30 days. The 60-day period runs out on October 7. Obama apparently feels unconstrained to comply with this law.

During the 2008 presidential campaign, Obama told the Boston Globe, “The President does not have the power under the Constitution to unilaterally authorize a military attack in a situation that does not involve stopping an actual or imminent threat to the nation.” Earlier this year, Obama said, “no country can maintain its freedom in the face of continual war.” Yet that is exactly what he is doing with his declaration of perpetual war.

Obama is violating both U.S. and international law. He is also risking even more blowback against the United States. The U.S. government has destabilized the region with Bush’s Afghanistan and Iraq wars, and Obama’s killing of thousands of people with drones. Many Sunnis are less afraid of ISIS than they are of the puppet Shiite government the United States installed in Iraq, which tortured, raped, murdered and arbitrarily detained Sunnis during the last two and a half years.

ISIS is a brutal group. But Obama is imploring Congress to fund the New Syrian Army, which according to the New York Times, “went on to behead six [captured] ISIS fighters.”

Playing both ends against the middle, Obama wants to fight ISIS in Syria without emboldening President Bashar Assad, who is also fighting ISIS. And Obama reserves the right to bomb in Syria, a sovereign country, in defiance of Assad. Obama is playing with fire.

Besides being illegal, Obama’s war promises to exacerbate the volatile situation in the region, resulting in more hostility against the United States. Obama has said in the past there is no military solution to this conflict. He should use his leadership in the Security Council to secure a cease-fire, create a peacekeeping force, mount an embargo of all arms being sent to the region, and pursue a regional diplomatic solution enlisting Iran and Syria in the process. Perpetual war is not the answer.

Copyright, Truthout. Reprinted with permission.

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/marjorie-cohn/obama-war-powers_b_5829232.html

Mediterranean shipwrecks leave over 700 refugees dead

https://www.spettegolando.it/wp-content/uploads/2013/10/04.jpg

…many fleeing Mideast wars

By Bill Van Auken
16 September 2014

Over 700 refugees from the Middle East and Africa are feared dead in a pair of catastrophic shipwrecks in the Mediterranean Sea over the past week, the world’s main international migration agency reported Monday.

This tragic loss of life is directly bound up with the series of military interventions carried out by the US and its allies, which have plunged the Middle East and much of Africa into chaos, turning millions into homeless refugees.

The worst of these maritime disasters became known over the weekend from the accounts of two Palestinian refugees who were pulled from the sea after clinging to flotation devices for a day and a half. They reported that their ship, carrying some 500 migrants from the Palestinian territories, Syria, Egypt and Sudan, had gone down last Wednesday after a violent confrontation with human traffickers who deliberately rammed the vessel.

Meanwhile, a boat carrying over 250 other refugees capsized off the coast of Libya on Sunday, with only 36 survivors rescued from the sea. The rest of the passengers are believed to have drowned.

The confrontation that led to the 500 migrant deaths reportedly erupted after the traffickers attempted to force the refugees to abandon the ship that they had embarked upon from the Egyptian port of Damietta for an even less seaworthy boat off the coast of Malta. When the migrants resisted, their ship was rammed and sunk.

The Palestinians were rescued by a Panamanian-registered container ship, while seven other survivors were pulled from the sea by the Maltese navy and other vessels. The same Panamanian-flagged ship that rescued the Palestinians managed to save another 380 refugees whose boat had also sunk in the Mediterranean over the past week.

“If this story, which the police are investigating, should be confirmed, it would be the gravest case of recent years, since it was not an accident, but a mass murder perpetrated by criminals without scruples or respect for human life,” the International Organization for Migration (IOM) said in a statement Monday.

The IOM, however, did not limit itself to denouncing the direct perpetrators of this crime. The agency’s statement added: “The only way to neutralize these criminal organizations is to start opening legal entry channels to Europe for all people, men, women and children, who flee from their countries in search of protection.”

The “Fortress Europe” policy pursued by the member states of the European Union has been aimed at a diametrically opposed objective—namely, the sealing off of the continent from the flood of refugees.

In a statement on the disaster, Amnesty International denounced the EU’s policies as directly responsible for the tragic mass deaths. “The response of EU member states to the refugee crises in the Middle East and North Africa has been shameful,” John Dalhuisen, Amnesty International’s Europe and Central Asia director, said in a statement released Monday.

He added, “European leaders want to prevent people from reaching Europe at any cost, forcing desperate people to take more hazardous routes.”

“It is without any doubt the deadliest weekend ever in the Mediterranean,” Carlotta Sami, a spokeswoman for the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, said Monday. She added that the UN agency was seeking to confirm as many as five shipwrecks in the region in just the past several days.

These latest disasters have already made 2014 the deadliest year in terms of migrant deaths in the Mediterranean, which now approach 3,000, more than four times the number of refugees who lost their lives crossing the sea over all of last year. These figures, which reflect only deaths confirmed by the authorities, undoubtedly represent a considerable underestimation of the real human toll.

The leap in the number of migrants seeking to make the dangerous crossing is directly bound up with the multiple crises unleashed by imperialist interventions in the region.

The sectarian civil war instigated by Washington and its allies in pursuit of regime change in Syria has turned over 3 million Syrians into refugees and another 6.5 million into internally displaced persons.

Millions more have been displaced by the descent of Iraq into civil war in the wake of nearly a decade of US occupation. Libya, from which many of the refugee boats embark, has disintegrated in the aftermath of the 2011 US-NATO war to topple the regime of Muammar Gaddafi, with bloody fighting between rival militias forcing both African refugees in the country and Libyans themselves to flee for their lives.

During the first 10 months of fiscal year 2014, as millions more joined the ranks of Syria’s refugees and displaced persons, Washington admitted a grand total of 63 Syrian refugees into the United States. The European Union has done little better in terms of providing refuge to those fleeing the region’s wars.

There is no doubt that the launching of another major war in the region by the US and its allies under the pretext of combating the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) will only deepen the humanitarian catastrophe, leading to an even greater flow of refugees.

The worst previous tragedy involving migrants attempting to reach Europe by crossing the Mediterranean took place in October 2013 near the Italian island of Lampedusa off the coast of Sicily. The sinking of a refugee boat there claimed the lives of nearly 400 refugees, in their overwhelming majority from Africa.

In response, Italy mounted an operation dubbed Mare Nostrum (Our Sea), a phrase previously employed by the fascist regime of Benito Mussolini to promote Italy’s imperial ambitions. While touted as a humanitarian search-and-rescue mission, the main aim of this militarized naval operation has been to interdict and detain refugees, many of whom are summarily deported back to their home country or to Libya, where they face imprisonment and torture in detention camps.

This Italian operation is slated to be replaced by the end of November by an interdiction program dubbed Frontex Plus, to be run by the EU’s border-control agency Frontex.

Frontex has already participated in the Italian program by providing intelligence gleaned from satellites and drones operated by EUROSUR, the EU’s border surveillance system. This allows the speedy interception of refugee boats, which in many cases are forced to turn back to Libya, or their interdiction, with their passengers relegated to camps on the Italian mainland awaiting immigration processing that most often ends in deportation.

The objectives of the Frontex operation were spelled out earlier this year in new Sea Borders Regulations instituted by the European Parliament’s Committee on Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs. The regulations grant the border agency the power to block and forcibly send back boats carrying refugees. They constitute a violation of the so-called non-refoulement principle embodied in the Geneva Refugee Convention, which prohibits the return of refugees to countries where they face the threat of human rights abuses.

What Happened When Some Libertarians Went Off to Build Ayn Rand’s Vision of Paradise

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Hint: nothing good.

The theme of Ayn Rand’sAtlas Shrugged, according to Ms. Rand herself, is “what happens to the world when the Prime Movers go on strike.” The prime movers are corporate executives – “the motor of the world” – and Rand imagines what would happen if they all just went away. To Rand this is nothing less than “a picture of the world with its motor cut off.”

Ouch. Paging Dr. Freud.

In Rand’s novel the great, throbbing “motor of the world” (it’s made of executives, remember?) retreats to an Atlantis-like idyll known as “Galt’s Gulch.” Without their ingenuity and drive the nation descends into chaos, leading many long pages later to their triumphant return and anointment as leaders of a new libertarian order.

Which gets us to the fraud charges now swirling around a venture called “Galt’s Gulch of Chile.” Its website is currently down, but it’s still being promoted as a real-world retreat for the world’s movers and shakers. “Yes, you read that right,” the organizer chirps cheerily. “Those who become one of GGC’s Founders will be paid back … within three years of the consummation of their Founders Club participation (please contact GGC for the fine print and T&Cs).”

In what should be an unsurprising outcome, it didn’t turn out very well.  That news comes (via Metafilter and Gawker) from a blogger named Wendy McElroy, who writes that she bought some property in Galt’s Gulch with her husband and then learned that it never had legal rights to the property in the first place. A visit to Chile revealed that many of the area’s local vendors had also been defrauded by the Galtians.

As Gawker’s headline puts it, “Ayn Rand’s Capitalist Paradise Is Now a Greedy Land-Grabbing Shitstorm.”

It’s possible to feel genuinely sympathetic to the McElroys’ plight – and I do – and yet wonder why this outcome was the least bit surprising to any reader of Rand’s work. Atlas Shrugged actually celebrates fraud – at least against those whom Rand despises. These charges aren’t an aberration. They’re the inevitable outcome of Rand’s own philosophy.

Atlas Shrugged opens with a question – “Who is John Galt?” – and then takes forever to answer it, clocking in at a weighty and tendentious 1168 pages. One glance at its author’s pinned eyes, immortalized in the photo on the back cover of the hardbound Dutton edition, and the book’s interminable length becomes easier to understand.  Ms. Rand is gazing slightly heavenward, as if locking eyes with some adored Übermensch. She sits poised as if preparing for flight, one hand nervously clenched in a half-fist, like Mighty Mouse on methedrine.

How misguided, how downright strange, is Atlas Shrugged? Rand insists that the most sexually desirable human beings on the planet are wealthy male CEOs, a conceit which conjures up images of Charles Koch as Austin Powers, performing a mating dance to the sounds of “Let’s Get It On” as a comely stranger reclines on a rotating sofa.

Do I make you Randian, baby? Do I?

But the auto-executive eroticism becomes considerably less amusing when one realizes that one of Rand’s heroes is a rapist:

He held her, pressing the length of his body against hers with a tense, purposeful insistence, his hand moving over her breasts as if he were learning a proprietor’s intimacy with her body, a shocking intimacy that needed no consent from her, no permission.

…She knew that fear was useless, that he would do what he wished, that the decision was his, that he left nothing possible to her except the thing she wanted most – to submit.

She wanted it, so it’s okay, right? Except she never said she wants it, and the rapist (“Francisco”) had already roughed her up in an earlier scene: “When she came home, she told her mother that she had cut her lip by falling against a rock.”

Then there’s Hank Rearden, the married man whose sex with the heroine leaves her bloodied and bruised the next morning. To wit: “She saw a bruise above her elbow, with dark beads that had been blood.” The morning-after sweet nothings rom Hank include “I wanted you as one wants a whore – for the same reason and purpose,” and “What I feel for you is contempt…”

Vile talk. But then, women are an inferior species in Rand’s world, a place where little girls need not dream of growing up to be President. “By the nature of her duties and daily activities,” writes Rand, “she would become the most unfeminine, sexless, metaphysically inappropriate, and rationally revolting figure of all: a matriarch.”

Rand’s creepy mise-en-scène is as ridden with criminality as it is with misogyny and sexual brutality.  One of its cartoonish heroes is a pirate named Ragnar Danneskjöld, who’s celebrated for stealing from humanitarian relief ships bound for poverty-stricken lands and giving the money – I’m not making this up – to the rich.

“I’m after a man whom I want to destroy,” says Ragnar. “… Robin Hood …”

Danneskjöld is described as follows:

… the face had no expression; it had not changed once while speaking; it looked as if the man had lost the capacity to feel long ago, and what remained of him were only features that seemed implacable and dead. With a shudder of astonishment, Rearden found himself thinking that it was not the face of a man, but of an avenging angel.

It sounds more like the face of a psychopath.

Rand’s heroes aren’t just rapists, woman-beaters, and thieves. They’re also terrorists who freely blow up or burn properties for ideological reasons, or simply because things didn’t turn out as they might have liked. (Fun exercise: Imagine how conservatives would react to Rand’s storylines if all the protagonists were black. Or Muslim.)

Then there’s the fraud. It’s praiseworthy in Rand’s eyes – if it’s practiced by the right sort of people. Francisco, the rapist/hero, even boasts about defrauding investors from the “looters’” parasitical economy. In an ironic foreshadowing of Galt’s Gulch in Chile, he brags about building defective housing for Mexican workers as part of a government contract:

Well, those steel-frame houses are mainly cardboard, with a coating of good imitation shellac. They won’t stand another year. The plumbing pipes – as well as most of our mining equipment – were purchased from dealers whose main source of supply are the city dumps of Buenos Aires and Rio de Janeiro. I’d give those pipes another five months, and the electric system about six. The wonderful roads we graded up four thousand feet of rock for the People’s State of Mexico, will not last beyond a couple of winters: they’re cheap cement without foundation, and the bracing at the bad turns is just painted clapboard. Wait for one good mountain slide …

“Wait for one good mountain slide” – with those workers’ families inside, of course. Comedy gold, amirite?

Is it any wonder that a venture inspired by this book eventually defrauded its customers? And yet, despite the allegations against them, Gawker’s Adam Weinstein tells us that, “GGC developers will still sell you a 1,200-acre “Master Estate” for a mere $500,000. As long as you’re also willing to extend GGC developers a $2 million ‘Founders Club’ loan along with that $500,000, which they’ll totally pay back, they swear.”

Weinstein snarks, “That silence you hear? That’s the sound of Atlas shrugging.”

But hold the schadenfreude for a second. Every victim of criminal fraud deserves compassion, even when they admire a writer who idealizes greed. McElroy appears to be the kind of libertarian who, however misguided one may consider her economic views, can be found on the frontlines of many a good fight – for civil liberties and individual freedom, and against militarism.

McElroy says she still has faith in the project’s founder – Mr. “Yes, you read that right!” – and believes that other partners were responsible for the malfeasance. But one of the reasons the “Galt’s Gulch” crowd chose Chile is because of that country’s lax regulatory environment. Regulations exist for a reason. The Randians’ blind hatred of them, and of the democratic governments which establish them, flies in the face of reason.  Would they object to the recent regulatory actions which resulted in Graco, the baby products corporation, recalling more than six million infant car seats? Would it change their minds if they knew that Graco’s improperly designed strollers resulted to the strangulation deaths of four babies in 2010?

But then, a hatred of regulation is part of Rand’s profound contempt for democracy itself, which can be seen in her description of  “the woman in Roomette 9, Car No. 12 … a housewife who believed that she had the right to elect politicians, of whom she knew nothing, to control giant industries, of which she had no knowledge.”

Rand and her followers don’t think that a “housewife” has the right to elect politicians who regulate giant industries. The parents of those four strangled infants would probably disagree.

Hopefully the criminal justice system will bring justice to the McElroy household and to other fraud victims. These government agencies can be very effective at such tasks, although perhaps less so now that tax cuts for the wealthy have eaten into their operating budgets.

The truth is that we need government, in the form of police, legislatures – and yes, regulators- to protect us from the psychopathic lack of empathy which, along with the sadomasochistic sexuality, is such an integral part of the Randian ideal.

What sort of society would voluntarily surrender itself people like the sociopath Ragnar, the rapist Francisco, or the rough-trade cruiser Rearden? That would be an act of collective masochism.

And let’s get one thing straight: Ayn Rand isn’t a deep thinker. She’s a gelatinous mass of chaotic and violent drives, loosely wrapped in pseudo-Nietzschian babble. Her writings are intellectually shallow econo-porn, part Kraft-Ebbing and part Horatio Alger, possessing neither coherence nor philosophical depth.  Rand writes that Galt’s Gulch represents “the mind on strike,” but it’s more like a work slowdown.

Atlas Shrugged’s long-awaited last line reads as follows:

“He raised his hand and over the desolate earth he traced in space the sign of the dollar.”

Some of those now-invisible air dollars belong to fraud victims like the McElroys, victims who went looking for “the motor of the world” and got the shaft instead.

Our libertarian friends seem to think that government produces an over-regimented, insect-like society comprised only of rulers and drones. But the only governments which have turned out that way are either corporation-run or practice a Communist model of “state capitalism.” Democracy has never produced the kind of regimentation which the average corporation now demands of its employees and customers.

It’s greed, not government, which subjugates us today. Nobody wants to be an insect, but Rand and her followers want to turn society into a hive filled with sociopathic bees. When that happens, as the investors in Chile learned, somebody’s bound to get stung.

Families of journalists murdered by ISIS threatened with prosecution

By Niles Williamson
15 September 2014

New details have emerged of threats of prosecution made against the families of American journalists James Foley and Steven Sotloff, who were brutally beheaded on video by the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS).

The gruesome murders of Foley and Sotloff have been seized upon as highly opportune events by the Obama administration, quite consciously and rapidly exploiting their deaths to justify expanding its war in the Middle East and operations targeting the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

Under the pretense of fighting ISIS—which has benefited from funding and arms coming from the CIA and its allies in the region—the US Congress will vote on a bill this week that would approve $500 million for training and arming Syrian opposition forces.

Diane Foley, speaking in an interview last week, said that a member of the Obama administration’s National Security Council staff threatened the family with criminal prosecution for “material support” of terrorism on multiple occasions if they paid the ransom that was being demanded by ISIS for Foley’s release.

According to Philip Balboni, the chief executive of Foley’s employer GlobalPost, ISIS had demanded a ransom of approximately $132 million prior to his murder.

“We were told very clearly three times that it was illegal for us to try to ransom our son out and that we had the possibility of being prosecuted,” Foley’s mother told ABC News.

“I was surprised there was so little compassion. It just made me realize that these people talking to us had no idea what it was like to be the family of someone abducted… I’m sure [the U.S. official] didn’t mean it the way he said it, but we were between a rock and a hard place. We were told we could do nothing; meanwhile our son was being beaten and tortured every day,” she said.

“It was very upsetting because we were essentially told to trust that the way they were handling things would bring our son home.”

The Foley family was kept largely in the dark about what the American government was doing to rescue their son as he was being held captive by ISIS in Syria. US Special Forces allegedly made an attempt in early July to free Foley and other hostages being held by ISIS, but the military has said that the hostages were moved from the location where it was suspected they were being held captive.

Foley’s brother, Michael, told ABC News that he had been threatened by a State Department official with prosecution as well. The threats “slowed my parents down quite a bit,” he said. “They didn’t want to do anything that could get them in trouble. It slowed them down for months in raising money. Who knows what might have happened?”

Barak Barfi, a spokesman for the family of Steven Sotloff, told Yahoo News that the Sotloffs were told by a White House counterterrorism official in a meeting last May that they could face prosecution if they paid their son’s ransom. “The family felt completely and utterly helpless when they heard this,” Barfi said. “The Sotloffs felt there was nothing they could do to get Steve out.”

The Foley and Sotloff families’ decisions to come forward about the threats from the US government drew denials from multiple individuals within the Obama administration.

In an appearance on Fox News Sunday, White House Chief of Staff Denis McDonough responded to the family’s claims by denying that anyone in the administration ever threatened Foley’s family. “We didn’t threaten anybody, but we made clear what the law is,” he said. “That’s our responsibility, to make sure we explain the law and uphold the law.”

Caitlin Hayden, spokesperson for the National Security Council, denied that the families were threatened but reiterated that “the US does not grant concessions to hostage takers. Doing so would only put more Americans at risk of being taken captive. That is what we convey publicly and what we convey privately.”

Other revelations by the family of Steven Sotloff about the circumstances that led to his death raise questions about the relationship of ISIS to elements that make up the so-called moderate rebels being funded and armed by the United States and its allies.

Last week the Sotloff family’s spokesman revealed that Steven had been sold to ISIS by a supposedly moderate rebel group at the Syrian border. “We believe these so-called moderate rebels that people want our administration to support—one of them sold him probably for something between 25,000 and 50,000 dollars and that was the reason he was captured,” Barfi said.

On Sunday the AFP news service reported that a ceasefire had been reached between moderate rebels and ISIS forces in Hajar al-Aswad, a suburb south of Damascus. An official from the US-backed Syrian National Coalition admitted that a temporary ceasefire had been reached between the supposedly moderate Free Syrian Army forces and ISIS in that area, but denied that a lasting deal had been reached.