False Flags Are Just a Conspiracy Theor …

… Admitted Fact

Presidents, Prime Ministers, Congressmen, Generals, Spooks, Soldiers, and Police ADMIT to False Flag Terror

by WashingtonsBlog

http://www.washingtonsblog.com (February 02 2016)

In the following instances, officials in the government which carried out the attack (or seriously proposed an attack) admit to it, either orally, in writing, or through photographs or videos:

Note: The original version of this article, at the last URL below, contains links to information on each false flag incident reported herein.

(1) Japanese troops set off a small explosion on a train track in 1931 and falsely blamed it on China in order to justify an invasion of Manchuria. This is known as the “Mukden Incident” or the “Manchurian Incident”. The Tokyo International Military Tribunal found: “Several of the participators in the plan, including Hashimoto [a high-ranking Japanese army officer], have on various occasions admitted their part in the plot and have stated that the object of the ‘Incident’ was to afford an excuse for the occupation of Manchuria by the Kwantung Army …”

(2) A major with the Nazi SS admitted at the Nuremberg trials that – under orders from the chief of the Gestapo – he and some other Nazi operatives faked attacks on their own people and resources which they blamed on the Poles to justify the invasion of Poland.

(3) Nazi general Franz Halder also testified at the Nuremberg trials that Nazi leader Hermann Goering admitted to setting fire to the German parliament building in 1933, and then falsely blaming the communists for the arson.

(4) Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev admitted in writing that the Soviet Union’s Red Army shelled the Russian village of Mainila in 1939 – while blaming the attack on Finland – as a basis for launching the “Winter War” against Finland. Russian president Boris Yeltsin agreed that Russia had been the aggressor in the Winter War.

(5) The Russian Parliament, current Russian president Putin, and former Soviet leader Gorbachev all admit that Soviet leader Joseph Stalin ordered his secret police to execute 22,000 Polish army officers and civilians in 1940, and then falsely blamed it on the Nazis.

(6) The British government admits that – between 1946 and 1948 – it bombed five ships carrying Jews attempting to flee the Holocaust to seek safety in Palestine, set up a fake group called “Defenders of Arab Palestine”, and then had the pseudo-group falsely claim responsibility for the bombings.

(7) Israel admits that in 1954, an Israeli terrorist cell operating in Egypt planted bombs in several buildings, including US diplomatic facilities, then left behind “evidence” implicating the Arabs as the culprits (one of the bombs detonated prematurely, allowing the Egyptians to identify the bombers, and several of the Israelis later confessed).

(8) The CIA admits that it hired Iranians in the 1950s to pose as Communists and stage bombings in Iran in order to turn the country against its democratically-elected prime minister.

(9) The Turkish Prime Minister admitted that the Turkish government carried out the 1955 bombing on a Turkish consulate in Greece – also damaging the nearby birthplace of the founder of modern Turkey – and blamed it on Greece, for the purpose of inciting and justifying anti-Greek violence.

(10) The British Prime Minister admitted to his defense secretary that he and American president Dwight Eisenhower approved a plan in 1957 to carry out attacks in Syria and blame it on the Syrian government as a way to effect regime change.

(11) The former Italian Prime Minister, an Italian judge, and the former head of Italian counterintelligence admit that Nato, with the help of the Pentagon and CIA, carried out terror bombings in Italy and other European countries in the 1950s through the 1980s and blamed the communists, in order to rally peoples’ support for their governments in Europe in their fight against communism.

As one participant in this formerly-secret program stated: “You had to attack civilians, people, women, children, innocent people, unknown people far removed from any political game. The reason was quite simple. They were supposed to force these people, the Italian public, to turn to the state to ask for greater security” … so that “a state of emergency could be declared, so people would willingly trade part of their freedom for the security”.  (Italy and other European countries subject to the terror campaign had joined Nato before the bombings occurred). They also allegedly carried out terror attacks in France, Belgium, Denmark, Germany, Greece, the Netherlands, Norway, Portugal, the UK, and other countries.

False flag attacks carried out pursuant to this program include – by way of example only:

* The murder of the Turkish Prime Minister (1960)
* Bombings in Portugal (1966)
* The Piazza Fontana massacre in Italy (1969)
* Terror attacks in Turkey (1971)
* The Peteano bombing in Italy (1972)
* Shootings in Brescia, Italy, and a bombing on an Italian train (1974)
* Shootings in Istanbul, Turkey (1977)
* The Atocha massacre in Madrid, Spain (1977)
* The abduction and murder of the Italian Prime Minister (1978)
* The bombing of the Bologna railway station in Italy (1980)
* Shooting and killing 28 shoppers in Brabant county, Belgium (1985)

(12) In 1960, American Senator George Smathers suggested that the US launch “a false attack made on Guantanamo Bay which would give us the excuse of actually fomenting a fight which would then give us the excuse to go in and [overthrow Castro]”.

(13) Official State Department documents show that, in 1961, the head of the Joint Chiefs and other high-level officials discussed blowing up a consulate in the Dominican Republic in order to justify an invasion of that country. The plans were not carried out, but they were all discussed as serious proposals.

(14) As admitted by the US government, recently declassified documents show that in 1962, the American Joint Chiefs of Staff signed off on a plan to blow up AMERICAN airplanes (using an elaborate plan involving the switching of airplanes), and also to commit terrorist acts on American soil, and then to blame it on the Cubans in order to justify an invasion of Cuba.

(15) In 1963, the US Department of Defense wrote a paper promoting attacks on nations within the Organization of American States – such as Trinidad-Tobago or Jamaica – and then falsely blaming them on Cuba.

(16) The US Department of Defense even suggested covertly paying a person in the Castro government to attack the United States: “The only area remaining for consideration then would be to bribe one of Castro’s subordinate commanders to initiate an attack on Guantanamo”.

(17) The NSA admits that it lied about what really happened in the Gulf of Tonkin incident in 1964 … manipulating data to make it look like North Vietnamese boats fired on a US ship so as to create a false justification for the Vietnam war.

(18) A US Congressional committee admitted that – as part of its “Cointelpro” campaign – the FBI had used many provocateurs in the 1950s through 1970s to carry out violent acts and falsely blame them on political activists.

(19) A top Turkish general admitted that Turkish forces burned down a mosque on Cyprus in the 1970s and blamed it on their enemy. He explained: “In Special War, certain acts of sabotage are staged and blamed on the enemy to increase public resistance. We did this on Cyprus; we even burnt down a mosque.” In response to the surprised correspondent’s incredulous look, the general said, “I am giving an example”.

(20) A declassified 1973 CIA document reveals a program to train foreign police and troops on how to make booby traps, pretending that they were training them on how to investigate terrorist acts:

The Agency maintains liaison in varying degrees with foreign police/security organizations through its field stations …

[CIA provides training sessions as follows:]

a. Providing trainees with basic knowledge in the uses of commercial and military demolitions and incendiaries as they may be applied in terrorism and industrial sabotage operations.

b. Introducing the trainees to commercially available materials and home laboratory techniques, likely to be used in the manufacture of explosives and incendiaries by terrorists or saboteurs.

c. Familiarizing the trainees with the concept of target analysis and operational planning that a saboteur or terrorist must employ.

d. Introducing the trainees to booby-trapping devices and techniques giving practical experience with both manufactured and improvised devices through actual fabrication.

* * *

The program provides the trainees with ample opportunity to develop basic familiarity and use proficiently through handling, preparing, and applying the various explosive charges, incendiary agents, terrorist devices, and sabotage techniques.

(21) The German government admitted that, in 1978, the German secret service detonated a bomb in the outer wall of a prison and planted “escape tools” on a prisoner – a member of the Red Army Faction – which the secret service wished to frame the bombing on.

(22) A Mossad agent admits that, in 1984, Mossad planted a radio transmitter in Gaddafi’s compound in Tripoli, Libya which broadcast fake terrorist transmissions recorded by Mossad, in order to frame Gaddafi as a terrorist supporter. Ronald Reagan bombed Libya immediately thereafter.

(23) The South African Truth and Reconciliation Council found that, in 1989, the Civil Cooperation Bureau (a covert branch of the South African Defense Force) approached an explosives expert and asked him “to participate in an operation aimed at discrediting the ANC [the African National Congress] by bombing the police vehicle of the investigating officer into the murder incident”, thus framing the ANC for the bombing.

(24) An Algerian diplomat and several officers in the Algerian army admit that, in the 1990s, the Algerian army frequently massacred Algerian civilians and then blamed Islamic militants for the killings.

(25) In 1993, a bomb in Northern Ireland killed nine civilians. Official documents from the Royal Ulster Constabulary (that is, the British government) show that the mastermind of the bombing was a British agent and that the bombing was designed to inflame sectarian tensions.

(26) The United States Army’s 1994 publication Special Forces Foreign Internal Defense Tactics Techniques and Procedures for Special Forces – updated in 2004 – recommends employing terrorists and using false flag operations to destabilize leftist regimes in Latin America. False flag terrorist attacks were carried out in Latin America and other regions as part of the CIA’s “Dirty Wars”.

(27) Similarly, a CIA “psychological operations” manual prepared by a CIA contractor for the Nicaraguan Contra rebels noted the value of assassinating someone on your own side to create a “martyr” for the cause. The manual was authenticated by the US government. The manual received so much publicity from Associated Press, Washington Post and other news coverage that – during the 1984 presidential debate – President Reagan was confronted with the following question on national television:

At this moment, we are confronted with the extraordinary story of a CIA guerrilla manual for the anti-Sandinista contras whom we are backing, which advocates not only assassinations of Sandinistas but the hiring of criminals to assassinate the guerrillas we are supporting in order to create martyrs.


(28) An Indonesian fact-finding team investigated violent riots which occurred in 1998, and determined that “elements of the military had been involved in the riots, some of which were deliberately provoked”.

(29) Senior Russian Senior military and intelligence officers admit that the KGB blew up Russian apartment buildings in 1999 and falsely blamed it on Chechens, in order to justify an invasion of Chechnya.

(30) As reported by BBC, The New York Times, and Associated Press, Macedonian officials admit that the government murdered seven innocent immigrants in cold blood and pretended that they were Al Qaeda soldiers attempting to assassinate Macedonian police, in order to join the “war on terror”.

(31) At the July 2001 G8 Summit in Genoa, Italy, black-clad thugs were videotaped getting out of police cars, and were seen by an Italian MP carrying “iron bars inside the police station”. Subsequently, senior police officials in Genoa subsequently admitted that police planted two Molotov cocktails and faked the stabbing of a police officer at the G8 Summit, in order to justify a violent crackdown against protesters.

(32) The US falsely blamed Iraq for playing a role in the 9/11 attacks – as shown by a memo from the defense secretary – as one of the main justifications for launching the Iraq war. Even after the 9/11 Commission admitted that there was no connection, Dick Cheney said that the evidence is “overwhelming” that al Qaeda had a relationship with Saddam Hussein’s regime, that Cheney “probably” had information unavailable to the Commission, and that the media was not ‘doing their homework’ in reporting such ties. Top US government officials now admit that the Iraq war was really launched for oil … not 9/11 or weapons of mass destruction. Despite previous “lone wolf” claims, many US government officials now say that 9/11 was state-sponsored terror; but Iraq was not the state which backed the hijackers. (Many US officials have alleged that 9/11 was a false flag operation by rogue elements of the US government; but such a claim is beyond the scope of this discussion. The key point is that the US falsely blamed it on Iraq, when it knew Iraq had nothing to do with it.). 

(33) Although the FBI now admits that the 2001 anthrax attacks were carried out by one or more US government scientists, a senior FBI official says that the FBI was actually told to blame the Anthrax attacks on Al Qaeda by White House officials (remember what the anthrax letters looked like). Government officials also confirm that the White House tried to link anthrax to Iraq as a justification for regime change in that country.

(34) Two months after 9/11, high-level government officials in Macedonia decided to “justify” their entry into the “war on terror” by catching and killing “terrorists”.  According to The New York Times, Macedonian police investigators admit that the officials launched a plan which included “luring foreign migrants into the country, executing them in a staged gun battle, and then claiming they were a unit backed by Al Qaeda intent on attacking Western embassies”. The plan was carried out shortly afterward, with seven immigrants killed in 2002. Photos of the dead immigrants, posed with planted evidence – “bags of uniforms and semiautomatic weapons at their side” – were released to Western diplomats.

(35) According to The Washington Post, Indonesian police admit that the Indonesian military killed American teachers in Papua in 2002 and blamed the murders on a Papuan separatist group in order to get that group listed as a terrorist organization.

(36) The well-respected former Indonesian president also admits that the government probably had a role in the Bali bombings.

(37) Police outside of a 2003 European Union summit in Greece were filmed planting Molotov cocktails on a peaceful protester.

(38) Former Department of Justice lawyer John Yoo suggested in 2005 that the US should go on the offensive against al-Qaeda, having

our intelligence agencies create a false terrorist organization. It could have its own websites, recruitment centers, training camps, and fundraising operations. It could launch fake terrorist operations and claim credit for real terrorist strikes, helping to sow confusion within al-Qaeda’s ranks, causing operatives to doubt others’ identities and to question the validity of communications.


(39) Similarly, in 2005, Professor John Arquilla of the Naval Postgraduate School – a renowned US defense analyst credited with developing the concept of “netwar” – called for western intelligence services to create new “pseudo gang” terrorist groups, as a way of undermining “real” terror networks. According to Pulitzer-Prize winning journalist Seymour Hersh, Arquilla’s “pseudo-gang” strategy was, Hersh reported, already being implemented by the Pentagon:

Under Rumsfeld’s new approach, I was told, US military operatives would be permitted to pose abroad as corrupt foreign businessmen seeking to buy contraband items that could be used in nuclear-weapons systems. In some cases, according to the Pentagon advisers, local citizens could be recruited and asked to join up with guerrillas or terrorists

The new rules will enable the Special Forces community to set up what it calls “action teams” in the target countries overseas which can be used to find and eliminate terrorist organizations. “Do you remember the right-wing execution squads in El Salvador?” the former high-level intelligence official asked me, referring to the military-led gangs that committed atrocities in the early nineteen-eighties. “We founded them and we financed them”, he said. “The objective now is to recruit locals in any area we want. And we aren’t going to tell Congress about it.” A former military officer, who has knowledge of the Pentagon’s commando capabilities, said, “We’re going to be riding with the bad boys”.


(40) United Press International reported in June 2005:

US intelligence officers are reporting that some of the insurgents in Iraq are using recent-model Beretta 92 pistols, but the pistols seem to have had their serial numbers erased. The numbers do not appear to have been physically removed; the pistols seem to have come off a production line without any serial numbers. Analysts suggest the lack of serial numbers indicates that the weapons were intended for intelligence operations or terrorist cells with substantial government backing. Analysts speculate that these guns are probably from either Mossad or the CIA. Analysts speculate that agent provocateurs may be using the untraceable weapons even as US authorities use insurgent attacks against civilians as evidence of the illegitimacy of the resistance.

(41) Undercover Israeli soldiers admitted in 2005 to throwing stones at other Israeli soldiers so they could blame it on Palestinians, as an excuse to crack down on peaceful protests by the Palestinians.

(42) Quebec police admitted that, in 2007, thugs carrying rocks to a peaceful protest were actually undercover Quebec police officers.

(43) A 2008 US Army special operations field manual recommends that the US military use surrogate non-state groups such as “paramilitary forces, individuals, businesses, foreign political organizations, resistant or insurgent organizations, expatriates, transnational terrorism adversaries, disillusioned transnational terrorism members, black marketers, and other social or political ‘undesirables’ “. The manual specifically acknowledged that US special operations can involve both counterterrorism and “Terrorism” (as well as “transnational criminal activities, including narco-trafficking, illicit arms-dealing, and illegal financial transactions”.)

(44) The former Italian Prime Minister, President, and head of Secret Services (Francesco Cossiga) advised the 2008 minister in charge of the police, on how to deal with protests from teachers and students:

He should do what I did when I was Minister of the Interior … infiltrate the movement with agents provocateurs inclined to do anything … And after that, with the strength of the gained population consent, … beat them for blood and beat for blood also those teachers that incite them. Especially the teachers. Not the elderly, of course, but the girl teachers yes.


(45) At the G20 protests in London in 2009, a British member of parliament saw plain clothes police officers attempting to incite the crowd to violence.

(46) Egyptian politicians admitted that government employees looted priceless museum artifacts  2011 to try to discredit the protesters.

(47) In 2011, a Colombian colonel admitted that he and his soldiers had lured 57 innocent civilians and killed them – after dressing many of them in uniforms – as part of a scheme to claim that Columbia was eradicating left-wing terrorists.

(48) Rioters who discredited the peaceful protests against the swearing in of the Mexican president in 2012 admitted that they were paid 300 pesos each to destroy everything in their path. According to Wikipedia, photos also show the vandals waiting in groups behind police lines prior to the violence.

(49) A Colombian army colonel has admitted that his unit murdered 57 civilians, then dressed them in uniforms and claimed they were rebels killed in combat.

(50) On November 20 2014, Mexican agent provocateurs were transported by army vehicles to participate in the 2014 Iguala mass kidnapping protests, as was shown by videos and pictures distributed via social networks.

(51) The highly-respected writer for The Telegraph, Ambrose Evans-Pritchard, says that the head of Saudi intelligence, Prince Bandar, recently admitted that the Saudi government controls “Chechen” terrorists.

(52) High-level American sources admitted that the Turkish government, a fellow Nato country, carried out the chemical weapons attacks blamed on the Syrian government; and high-ranking Turkish government admitted on tape plans to carry out attacks and blame it on the Syrian government.

(53) The Ukrainian security chief admits that the sniper attacks which started the Ukrainian coup were carried out in order to frame others. Ukrainian officials admit that the Ukrainian snipers fired on both sides, to create maximum chaos.

(54) Burmese government officials admitted that Burma (renamed Myanmar) used false flag attacks against Muslim and Buddhist groups within the country to stir up hatred between the two groups, to prevent democracy from spreading.

(55) Britain’s spy agency has admitted that it carries out “digital false flag” attacks on targets, framing people by writing offensive or unlawful material … and blaming it on the target.

(56) US soldiers have admitted that if they kill innocent Iraqis and Afghanis, they then “drop” automatic weapons near their body so they can pretend they were militants.

(57) Similarly, police frame innocent people for crimes they didn’t commit. The practice is so well-known that The New York Times noted in 1981: “In police jargon, a throwdown is a weapon planted on a victim”.

Newsweek reported in 1999:

Perez, himself a former [Los Angeles Police Department] cop, was caught stealing eight pounds of cocaine from police evidence lockers. After pleading guilty in September, he bargained for a lighter sentence by telling an appalling story of attempted murder and a “throwdown” – police slang for a weapon planted by cops to make a shooting legally justifiable. Perez said he and his partner, Officer Nino Durden, shot an unarmed 18th Street Gang member named Javier Ovando, then planted a semiautomatic rifle on the unconscious suspect and claimed that Ovando had tried to shoot them during a stakeout.


Wikipedia notes:

As part of his plea bargain, Perez implicated scores of officers from the Rampart Division’s anti-gang unit, describing routinely beating gang members, planting evidence on suspects, falsifying reports, and covering up unprovoked shootings.


This is not limited to the United States, or to police forces.

(As a side note – and while not technically false flag attacks – police have been busted framing innocent people in many other ways, as well.)

(58) A former US intelligence officer recently alleged: “Most terrorists are false flag terrorists or are created by our own security services”.

(59) The head and special agent in charge of the FBI’s Los Angeles office said that most terror attacks are committed by the CIA and FBI as false flags. Similarly, the director of the National Security Agency under Ronald Reagan – Lieutenant. General William Odom said:

By any measure, the US has long used terrorism. In 1978~1979 the Senate was trying to pass a law against international terrorism – in every version they produced, the lawyers said the US would be in violation.


(60) Leaders throughout history have acknowledged the “benefits” of false flags to justify their political agenda:

Terrorism is the best political weapon for nothing drives people harder than a fear of sudden death.

– Adolph Hitler




Why of course the people don’t want war … But after all it is the leaders of the country who determine the policy, and it is always a simple matter to drag the people along, whether it is a democracy, or a fascist dictatorship, or a parliament, or a communist dictatorship … Voice or no voice, the people can always be brought to the bidding of the leaders. That is easy. All you have to do is to tell them they are being attacked, and denounce the pacifists for lack of patriotism and exposing the country to danger. It works the same in any country.

– Hermann Goering, Nazi leader




The easiest way to gain control of a population is to carry out acts of terror. [The public] will clamor for such laws if their personal security is threatened.

– Josef Stalin



Unmarked Israeli fighter jets and unmarked torpedo boats attacked – and did everything they could to sink – a US ship off the coast of Egypt in 1967 called the USS Liberty.

The attack started by targeting communications on the ship so that the Americans couldn’t radio for help. The Israelis then jammed the ship’s emergency distress channel and shot at escaping life rafts in an attempt to prevent survivors from escaping.

Transcripts of conversations between the Israeli pilots and Israeli military show that Israel knew it was an American ship.

Numerous top-level American military and intelligence officials – including Admiral Thomas H Moorer, former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff – believe that this was a failed false flag attack and that Israel would have attempted to blame Egypt if the Israeli military had succeeded in sinking the ship. Indeed, President Lyndon Johnson dispatched nuclear-armed fighter jets to drop nuclear bombs on Cairo, Egypt.  They were only recalled at the last minute when Johnson realized that it was the Israelis – and not the Egyptians – who had fired on the Liberty.

The following actions are arguably an admission that Israel intended to frame Egypt for the attack, and didn’t want the Liberty’s crew to be able to tell the world what really happened: (1) using unmarked jets and boats, (2) destroying the Liberty’s communication equipment and jamming the Liberty’s emergency distress channel, and (3) trying to sink the ship and destroy all liferafts.


Never Forget

The US Government Has a Known History of Using False Flags

by Caitlyn Johnstone

Medium.com (September 11 2017)

Zero Hedge (September 21 2017)

When it comes to 9/11, there are two groups of people: those who don’t know exactly what happened, and those who orchestrated it.

Nearly everyone on earth belongs in the former category, but a lot of folks like to pretend they have a rock solid understanding of the events which transpired on that fateful day in 2001. Scoffing mainstream adherents like to pretend they’re confident that the official narrative is accurate, but they aren’t. A lot of hardcore conspiracy analysts like to pretend they know the real story, but they don’t. There’s simply not enough publicly available information for anyone to be certain exactly how things went down that day; all we can know for sure is that (A) the official story is riddled with plot holes {1}, and (B) the American power establishment has an extensive and well-documented history of using false flags and propaganda to manipulate the public into supporting evil acts of military interventionism.

If you think you know for a fact that the official story of what happened on September 11 2001 is the true account and that all conspiracy theories have been “debunked”, you are ignorant.

If you think you know the precise details of how what really happened differs from the official story, you’ve spent way too much time diving down conspiracy theory rabbit holes and should probably ease off the weed. There’s no need to get all defensive and go bedding yourself down to one hard doctrine of certainty when the US power establishment has already discredited itself so thoroughly. It’s unnecessary to plunge deep into theory when these people’s track record is so firmly established in fact.

Here are just a few of the times the US government is known to have distorted the reality of events in order to manufacture public support for military intervention, which is per definition what a false flag is:

The False Nayirah Testimony

On October 10 1990 a fifteen-year-old girl known only as Nayirah testified {2} before the Congressional Human Rights Caucus about the horrors that Iraqi troops were inflicting upon the people of Kuwait. Her testimony that hundreds of babies had been taken out of their incubators and left to die on hospital floors was repeated as fact by Amnesty International, the mass media, numerous senators, and President H W Bush, tugging at the heartstrings of America and manufacturing support for American action in the Gulf War.

It was a lie {3}. Nayirah was, in fact, the daughter of the Kuwaiti Ambassador to the US, and her TV-friendly “removing babies from incubators” testimony was false. It never happened.

Former CIA Director Bush with the Kuwaiti Ambassador, who watched his daughter’s false testimony before Congress

The Gulf of Tonkin Incident

In 2005 a declassified historical study by the NSA revealed {4} that one of the two incidents which were used to propel America into the disastrous Vietnam War happened the opposite of the way it was reported to have happened, and the second of the two incidents did not happen at all. The allegation that there were “deliberate” and “unprovoked” attacks on the US Navy in the Gulf of Tonkin on August 2 and August 4 of 1964 was solemnly affirmed {5} by President Johnson, which led to the swift passage of the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution {6} authorizing full presidential authority to commit US military power to the Vietnamese intervention.

In reality, the August 2 incident was not in any way “unprovoked”, and it was, in fact, America’s USS Maddox which fired upon North Vietnamese boats first. On August 4 there was no engagement with any ships whatsoever, with Johnson privately admitting {7} a year later that “For all I know, our Navy was shooting at whales out there”.

The USS Maine

But when the smoke was over, the dead buried and the cost of the war came back to the people in an increase in the price of commodities and rent – that is, when we sobered up from our patriotic spree – it suddenly dawned on us that the cause of the Spanish-American War was the price of sugar.

– Emma Goldman


This goes way back. The video above describes how the Spanish-American war was brought on by a highly suspicious explosion upon the USS Maine while it was docked at the Havana Harbor in 1898, combined with the anti-Spain narratives of the plutocrat-owned newspapers of that time. Like all US wars, it was extremely profitable and benefitted the very rich.

* * *


This tradition of using lies to rally the unwashed masses behind military endeavors on behalf of the rich and powerful has probably been going on since the dawn of civilization, and it is only humanity’s increasing adeptness at networking and sharing information which has enabled us to begin catching on to the deceitful manipulations of the people who rule us. Our history books are doubtless riddled with countless inaccuracies as to the real reasons underlying violent conflicts between various kingdoms and factions because the few literate people who were permitted to write the official historical accounts of them had full control of the narrative at the time.

This is why we’ve been seeing increasingly blatant panic from existing power structures about alternative media. Whoever controls the narrative controls the world. It is only by general societal consensus that power exists where it exists, that money works the way it works, et cetera. At any time the public could stop honoring existing power structures and create an entirely different model for itself, deciding to distribute resources and allocate responsibilities in a way that benefits more people more efficaciously than the current paradigm. It is only by their ability to manipulate and control the mainstream narrative that powerful people have been able to keep this from happening.

If the power elites didn’t need the consent of the public to rule, they wouldn’t have to lie constantly about their reasons for war. The public would never consent to military interventions if politicians were allowed to appear on CNN and say:

Yeah well America has become a stronghold for the most powerful plutocracy in the history of civilization and it needs to maintain its status as the world’s only superpower in order to protect the investments of that plutocracy. This is why we have to keep knocking the pillars of support out from underneath Russia and China, and why I get millions in re-election campaign donations.



My more pessimistic readers won’t like hearing this, but the reality is that Americans are basically good people who generally want what’s best for the world. If they weren’t, the unelected power establishment which rules over them wouldn’t have to keep making up lies about babies in incubators and protecting their family from Weapons of Mass Destruction in order to secure US hegemony. If they ever told the public the truth, they’d be dealing with hundreds of millions of heavily-armed Americans telling them to get their sociopathic asses out of here.

What this means is that those of us who want what’s best for America and the world instead of endless war and economic oppression are necessarily locked in a media war {8} with the plutocracy and its cronies. The populist alternative media owned and operated by ordinary people is the natural enemy of the plutocrat-owned mainstream media designed to prop up the existing power structure with establishment propaganda. Our ability to win this media war increases the more networked and internet-literate our society becomes, which is why the oligarchs have been working overtime to shut us down with corporate censorship {9}.

There is no reason to believe anything these lying sociopaths say, especially not about something that has served such a crucial role in their openly stated agenda {10} of using its military and economic might to ensure US dominance over the world. When you’ve got the extremely influential neoconservative think tank Project for the New American Century saying {11} in September of 2000 that it would require “a new Pearl Harbor” to advance this agenda, and then getting exactly that one year later in an American tragedy which was used to manufacture support for greatly expanded US military interventionism, there’s no good reason to take all that in with a trusting “Yeah, that sounds legit”.

These people are liars, and they are depraved. They have no problem using lies to kill a million Iraqis and thousands of US soldiers to advance their agendas, and there’s no reason to believe they wouldn’t kill US civilians as well. There’s no harm in familiarizing yourself with all the details about the various conspiracy theories surrounding 9/11 if that’s what you want to spend your brainpower on, but really all you need to know is that these people are known liars who have no problem slaughtering countless people to advance their agenda of global domination. There is no reason to trust them and many reasons not to. End of.


I’m a 100 percent reader-funded journalist so if you enjoyed this, please consider helping me out by sharing it around, liking me on Facebook {12}, following me on Twitter {13}, or throwing some money into my hat on Patreon {14}.


{1} https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=l47D5ISemds

{2} https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nayirah_testimony

{3} http://www.nytimes.com/1992/01/15/opinion/deception-on-capitol-hill.html?mcubz=3

{4} https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gulf_of_Tonkin_incident

{5} https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2014/aug/02/vietnam-presidents-lie-to-wage-war-iraq

{6} https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gulf_of_Tonkin_Resolution

{7} http://www.pbs.org/now/politics/foia06.html

{8} https://medium.com/@caityjohnstone/how-to-fight-the-establishment-propaganda-machine-and-win-449f94e1d40b

{9} https://medium.com/@caityjohnstone/while-everyone-frets-about-state-censorship-corporate-censorship-tightens-the-noose-c357e3bdd95d

{10} https://medium.com/@caityjohnstone/obama-urged-trump-to-continue-neoconservative-foreign-policy-417e1a1f66d2

{11} http://www.informationclearinghouse.info/pdf/RebuildingAmericasDefenses.pdf

{12} https://www.facebook.com/CaitlinAJohnstone/

{13} https://twitter.com/caitoz

{14} https://www.patreon.com/user?u=4445783



How We Learned Not to Care about America’s Wars

Sixteen years of autopilot wars, but who’s counting?

by Andrew Bacevich
Common Dreams (October 09 2017)

Consider, if you will, these two indisputable facts. First, the United States is today more or less permanently engaged in hostilities in not one faraway place, but at least seven. Second, the vast majority of the American people could not care less.

Nor can it be said that we don’t care because we don’t know. True, government authorities withhold certain aspects of ongoing military operations or release only details that they find convenient. Yet information describing what US forces are doing (and where) is readily available, even if buried in recent months by barrages of presidential tweets. Here, for anyone interested, are press releases issued by United States Central Command for just one recent week:

September 19: Military airstrikes continue against ISIS terrorists in Syria and Iraq

September 20: Military airstrikes continue against ISIS terrorists in Syria and Iraq; Iraqi Security Forces begin Hawijah offensive

September 21: Military airstrikes continue against ISIS terrorists in Syria and Iraq

September 22: Military airstrikes continue against ISIS terrorists in Syria and Iraq

September 23: Military airstrikes continue against ISIS terrorists in Syria and Iraq; Operation Inherent Resolve Casualty

September 25: Military airstrikes continue against ISIS terrorists in Syria and Iraq

September 26: Military airstrikes continue against ISIS terrorists in Syria and Iraq

Ever since the United States launched its war on terror, oceans of military press releases have poured forth. And those are just for starters. To provide updates on the US military’s various ongoing campaigns, generals, admirals, and high-ranking defense officials regularly testify before congressional committees or brief members of the press. From the field, journalists offer updates that fill in at least some of the details – on civilian casualties, for example – that government authorities prefer not to disclose. Contributors to newspaper op-ed pages and “experts” booked by network and cable TV news shows, including passels of retired military officers, provide analysis. Trailing behind come books and documentaries that put things in a broader perspective.

But here’s the truth of it: None of it matters.

Like traffic jams or robocalls, war has fallen into the category of things that Americans may not welcome, but have learned to live with. In twenty-first-century America, war is not that big a deal.

While serving as defense secretary in the 1960s, Robert McNamara once mused that the “greatest contribution” of the Vietnam War might have been to make it possible for the United States “to go to war without the necessity of arousing the public ire”. With regard to the conflict once widely referred to as McNamara’s War, his claim proved grotesquely premature. Yet a half-century later, his wish has become reality.

Why do Americans today show so little interest in the wars waged in their name and at least nominally on their behalf? Why, as our wars drag on and on, doesn’t the disparity between effort expended and benefits accrued arouse more than passing curiosity or mild expressions of dismay? Why, in short, don’t we give an [expletive deleted]?

Perhaps just posing such a question propels us instantly into the realm of the unanswerable, like trying to figure out why people idolize Justin Bieber, shoot birds, or watch golf on television.

Without any expectation of actually piercing our collective ennui, let me take a stab at explaining why we don’t give a @#$%&! Here are eight distinct but mutually reinforcing explanations, offered in a sequence that begins with the blindingly obvious and ends with the more speculative.

Americans don’t attend all that much to ongoing American wars because:

1. US casualty rates are low. By using proxies and contractors, and relying heavily on air power, America’s war managers have been able to keep a tight lid on the number of US troops being killed and wounded. In all of 2017, for example, a grand total of 11 American soldiers have been lost in Afghanistan – about equal to the number of shooting deaths in Chicago over the course of a typical week. True, in Afghanistan, Iraq, and other countries where the US is engaged in hostilities, whether directly or indirectly, plenty of people who are not Americans are being killed and maimed. (The estimated number of Iraqi civilians killed this year alone exceeds 12,000.) But those casualties have next to no political salience as far as the United States is concerned. As long as they don’t impede US military operations, they literally don’t count (and generally aren’t counted).

2. The true costs of Washington’s wars go untabulated. In a famous speech, dating from early in his presidency, Dwight D Eisenhower said that “Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired signifies, in the final sense, a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and are not clothed”. Dollars spent on weaponry, Ike insisted, translated directly into schools, hospitals, homes, highways, and power plants that would go unbuilt. “This is not a way of life at all, in any true sense”, he continued. “It is humanity hanging from a cross of iron”. More than six decades later, Americans have long since accommodated themselves to that cross of iron. Many actually see it as a boon, a source of corporate profits, jobs, and, of course, campaign contributions. As such, they avert their eyes from the opportunity costs of our never-ending wars. The dollars expended pursuant to our post-9/11 conflicts will ultimately number in the multi-trillions. Imagine the benefits of investing such sums in upgrading the nation’s aging infrastructure. Yet don’t count on Congressional leaders, other politicians, or just about anyone else to pursue that connection.

3. On matters related to war, American citizens have opted out. Others have made the point so frequently that it’s the equivalent of hearing “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer” at Christmas time. Even so, it bears repeating: the American people have defined their obligation to “support the troops” in the narrowest imaginable terms, ensuring above all that such support requires absolutely no sacrifice on their part. Members of Congress abet this civic apathy, while also taking steps to insulate themselves from responsibility. In effect, citizens and their elected representatives in Washington agree: supporting the troops means deferring to the commander in chief, without inquiring about whether what he has the troops doing makes the slightest sense. Yes, we set down our beers long enough to applaud those in uniform and boo those who decline to participate in mandatory rituals of patriotism. What we don’t do is demand anything remotely approximating actual accountability.

4. Terrorism gets hyped and hyped and hyped some more. While international terrorism isn’t a trivial problem (and wasn’t for decades before 9/11), it comes nowhere close to posing an existential threat to the United States. Indeed, other threats, notably the impact of climate change, constitute a far greater danger to the wellbeing of Americans. Worried about the safety of your children or grandchildren? The opioid epidemic constitutes an infinitely greater danger than “Islamic radicalism”. Yet having been sold a bill of goods about a “war on terror” that is essential for “keeping America safe”, mere citizens are easily persuaded that scattering US troops throughout the Islamic world while dropping bombs on designated evildoers is helping win the former while guaranteeing the latter. To question that proposition becomes tantamount to suggesting that God might not have given Moses two stone tablets after all.

5. Blather crowds out substance. When it comes to foreign policy, American public discourse is – not to put too fine a point on it – vacuous, insipid, and mindlessly repetitive. William Safire of The New York Times once characterized American political rhetoric as BOMFOG, with those running for high office relentlessly touting the Brotherhood of Man and the Fatherhood of God. Ask a politician, Republican or Democrat, to expound on this country’s role in the world, and then brace yourself for some variant of WOSFAD, as the speaker insists that it is incumbent upon the World’s Only Superpower to spread Freedom and Democracy. Terms like leadership and indispensable are introduced, along with warnings about the dangers of isolationism and appeasement, embellished with ominous references to Munich. Such grandiose posturing makes it unnecessary to probe too deeply into the actual origins and purposes of American wars, past or present, or assess the likelihood of ongoing wars ending in some approximation of actual success. Cheerleading displaces serious thought.

6. Besides, we’re too busy. Think of this as a corollary to point five. Even if the present-day American political scene included figures like Senators Robert La Follette or J William Fulbright, who long ago warned against the dangers of militarizing US policy, Americans may not retain a capacity to attend to such critiques. Responding to the demands of the Information Age is not, it turns out, conducive to deep reflection. We live in an era (so we are told) when frantic multitasking has become a sort of duty and when being overscheduled is almost obligatory. Our attention span shrinks and with it our time horizon. The matters we attend to are those that happened just hours or minutes ago. Yet like the great solar eclipse of 2017 – hugely significant and instantly forgotten – those matters will, within another few minutes or hours, be superseded by some other development that briefly captures our attention. As a result, a dwindling number of Americans – those not compulsively checking Facebook pages and Twitter accounts – have the time or inclination to ponder questions like: When will the Afghanistan War end? Why has it lasted almost sixteen years? Why doesn’t the finest fighting force in history actually win? Can’t package an answer in 140 characters or a thirty-second made-for-TV sound bite? Well, then, slowpoke, don’t expect anyone to attend to what you have to say.

7. Anyway, the next president will save us. At regular intervals, Americans indulge in the fantasy that, if we just install the right person in the White House, all will be well. Ambitious politicians are quick to exploit this expectation. Presidential candidates struggle to differentiate themselves from their competitors, but all of them promise in one way or another to wipe the slate clean and Make America Great Again. Ignoring the historical record of promises broken or unfulfilled, and presidents who turn out not to be deities but flawed human beings, Americans – members of the media above all – pretend to take all this seriously. Campaigns become longer, more expensive, more circus-like, and even less substantial. One might think that the election of Donald Trump would prompt a downward revision in the exalted expectations of presidents putting things right. Instead, especially in the anti-Trump camp, getting rid of Trump himself (Collusion! Corruption! Obstruction! Impeachment!) has become the overriding imperative, with little attention given to restoring the balance intended by the framers of the Constitution. The irony of Trump perpetuating wars that he once roundly criticized and then handing the conduct of those wars to generals devoid of ideas for ending them almost entirely escapes notice.

8. Our culturally progressive military has largely immunized itself from criticism. As recently as the 1990s, the US military establishment-aligned itself with the retrograde side of the culture wars. Who can forget the gays-in-the-military controversy that rocked Bill Clinton’s administration during his first weeks in office, as senior military leaders publicly denounced their commander-in-chief? Those days are long gone. Culturally, the armed forces have moved left. Today, the services go out of their way to project an image of tolerance and a commitment to equality on all matters related to race, gender, and sexuality. So when President Trump announced his opposition to transgendered persons serving in the armed forces, tweeting that the military “cannot be burdened with the tremendous medical costs and disruption that transgender in the military would entail”, senior officers politely but firmly disagreed and pushed back. Given the ascendancy of cultural issues near the top of the US political agenda, the military’s embrace of diversity helps to insulate it from criticism and from being called to account for a less than sterling performance in waging wars. Put simply, critics who in an earlier day might have blasted military leaders for their inability to bring wars to a successful conclusion hold their fire. Having women graduate from Ranger School or command Marines in combat more than compensates for not winning.

A collective indifference to war has become an emblem of contemporary America. But don’t expect your neighbors down the street or the editors of The New York Times to lose any sleep over that fact. Even to notice it would require them – and us – to care.

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Does the United States Have a Future as a Great Power?

The US rise to power was a historical mistake, caused by the self-destruction of Europe in two world wars, can Babylon on the Potomac stand the test of time?

by Gilbert Doctorow

Russia Insider (September 13 2017)

Twenty years ago posing this question would have seemed absurd. The United States was fully self-confident about its position as the sole surviving superpower in the world which faced virtually no obstacles or objections to its performance of “public goods” that brought order to the world either through the liberal international institutions that it helped to create after World War Two and dominated, or unilaterally when necessary through “coalitions of the willing” aimed at bringing down one or another disruptive malefactor on a regional stage. From all sides abroad it heard only “amen” to its claims of exceptionalism and farther-seeing vision that came from its “standing taller”, as Secretary of State Madeleine Albright put it.

Fourteen years ago, when America prepared for its ill-conceived invasion of Iraq and encountered loud resistance from France and Germany, backed up by Russia, it became possible to wonder whether US global hegemony could last. The disaster that the Iraqi adventure quickly became within a year of George W Bush declaring “mission accomplished” rolled on and progressively diminished the enthusiasm of allies and others hitherto in the US bandwagon for each new project to re-engineer troublesome nations, to overthrow autocrats, and usher in an age of liberal democracy across the globe.

Still, the doubts were discussed sotto voce. Governments tended to conform to what the Russians colorfully call “giving someone the finger in your pocket”. Observers spoke their piece privately against the violations of international law and simple decency that the United States was perpetrating, against the swathe of chaos that followed American intervention across the Greater Middle East. But such persons were on the fringes of political life and drew little attention.

What has happened in the past couple of years is that doubts about the competence of the United States to lead the world have been compounded by doubts about the ability of the United States to govern itself. The dysfunctionality of the federal government has come out of the closet as an issue and is talked about fairly regularly even by commentators and publications that are quintessentially representative of the establishment.

In this connection, it is remarkable to note that the September-October issue of Foreign Affairs magazine carries an essay entitled “Kleptocracy in America” by Sarah Chayes. This takes us entirely away from the personality peculiarities of the 45th President into the broader and more important realm of the systemic flaws of governance, namely the extraordinary political power wielded by the very wealthy and the self-serving policies that they succeed in enacting, all at the expense of the general public that has stagnated economically for decades now, setting the stage for the voter revolt that brought Trump to power.

And in an op-ed essay in the The Washington Post on September 1st that is remarkable precisely for its identification of the failing political culture in Washington, Senator John McCain says the following:

Congress will return from recess next week facing continued gridlock as we lurch from one self-created crisis to another. We are proving inadequate not only to our most difficult problems but also to routine duties. Our national political campaigns never stop. We seem convinced that majorities exist to impose their will with few concessions and that minorities exist to prevent the party in power from doing anything important.


McCain himself was till now a major contributor to the poisonous political climate in Washington, to partisanship that tramples patriotism underfoot. One thinks of his unprecedented attack on fellow Republican Senator Rand Paul several months ago whom he accused of “working for Putin” because the good Senator refused to vote for the accession of Montenegro to Nato.

Gridlock in the federal government is nothing new. In the past decade, work of the federal government came to a standstill when Congress and the President could not agree the conditions under which the federal debt ceiling would be raised. Such an eventuality was just narrowly averted in the past day.

Public exposure and ridicule of a sitting president for personal failings, such as the case of Bill Clinton’s sexual transgressions, have been exploited for political gain by his opponents whatever the cost to national prestige. We have lived through that crisis of the political elites and the republic survived.

What is new and must be called out is the loss of civility in public discourse at all levels, from the President, from the Congress, and down to the average citizen. The widely decried personal attacks that otherwise would be called defamation during the 2016 presidential electoral campaign were symptomatic of this all-encompassing phenomenon. It signifies a dramatic decline in American political culture that the whole world sees and is beginning to act upon in self-defense.

In what follows, I will speak to each of these levels in the calamitous loss of dignity and reason in the establishment as it bears on the unsustainability of American soft power abroad, which in turn preconditions hard power.


* * * *


Let us start with President Donald Trump, who is attacked in the news daily by the liberal media that represents the lion’s share of all television programming and print publications, media that vehemently opposes Trump’s domestic and foreign policy positions. In their determination to ensure either his impeachment or effectively to strip him of powers, they speak of Trump the way cheaply printed caricatures for the masses lampooned Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette before the French Revolution.

The President is publicly described by his compatriots as an imbecile, a rabid racist, a misogynist, a volatile and impulsive narcissist whose finger on the nuclear button gives us all goose pimples: this cannot be ignored by the wider world outside US borders and it is not ignored.

To be sure, Donald Trump has brought a good deal of this ignominy on himself by his intemperate comments on daily events, particularly at home but also abroad, where silence or a nod to conventional verities would be the better part of valor. He keeps his own counsel on foreign affairs and erroneously believes that his instincts are superior to the advice of experts. In his kitchen cabinet, there are no experts. In the official cabinet, he has for his own reasons assembled a group consisting of Neoconservatives and Liberal Interventionists, who made it easy for him to get confirmation in the Senate but who are all pulling in the direction opposite to the America First concepts of nonintervention in the affairs of other states that he set out in his electoral campaign.

Trump changes direction daily, even on matters as critical as the likely US response to the ongoing crisis on the Korean peninsula. The tactic of unpredictability was an approach he said in the campaign he would use against enemies, in particular against terrorist groups, not to tip them off about US intentions in advance and weaken the effect of eventual US military strikes. But it makes no sense when applied to all other current business, which requires a firm hand on the tiller and sense of continuity and predictability, not constant disruption.

The net result of Donald Trump’s first six months in office has been to undo the bonds of mutual confidence with our allies and friends and to put on guard our competitors that America’s role in the world is up for grabs.

Foreign policy has opened up as a topic for discussion here in Europe ever since Donald scattered the chickens by his loose talk about Nato and America’s commitment or non-commitment to the Article 5 provision of all for one and one for all. This has given impetus to the long-sputtering plans to create a European Union army as an alternative to Nato, and as a rallying point for federalists in what will be a two-speed Europe.

During the two terms of Obama, meddling in the internal politics of China and Russia, repeated hectoring over their alleged human rights and rule of law violations, but still more importantly the wrong-headed policy of simultaneous containment of these two giants through construction of military alliances and bases at their borders put in motion a strategic partnership between them that was once improbable but is now flourishing. The Russia-China axis is underpinned by vast joint investments and promises to remake the global power balance in the decades to come.

Now, with Trump, the damage to American power in the Pacific region is spreading. His ripping up free trade accords and his incautious rhetoric regarding possible military strikes against North Korea have pushed both Japan and South Korea to explore actively and urgently how Russia can be befriended, at a minimum, for the sake of greater leverage against the big ally in North America. This has been demonstrated with perfect clarity by the meetings of Vladimir Putin with Japanese premier Shinzo Abe and Korean president Moon Jae-in at the Eastern Economic Forum in Vladivostok over the past couple of days.

Russia’s evolving political entente with both South Korea and Japan is providing support for the launch of ambitious foreign investment projects in its Far East as announced at the Forum. These include one which has the potential to re-shape the imagination of regional populations for a generation to come: revival of plans to build a fifty billion dollar rail-auto bridge linking Hokkaido with the Russian island of Sakhalin, thus uniting Japan with the continent and facilitating freight shipments across Russia to Europe. For its part, Korea announced infrastructure investments for the Northern sea route linking their country with European markets through sea lanes kept open by Russian icebreakers. Like the Chinese One Belt One Road, these plans all dramatically reduce the importance to world trade of the long-standing US policed sea lanes off Southeast Asia up to and through the Suez Canal.

Of course, the low point in America’s image in the world today under Trump is not entirely new. By the end of his two terms in office, George W Bush had driven American prestige to what were then all-time lows even among Europeans. There was a brief resurgence of American popularity at the start of Barack Obama’s tenure in office. But that was quickly dissipated by his failure to deliver on the pledges of his campaign and inaugural address, as Guantanamo remained open, as the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan continued, and as drone strikes proliferated.

But Donald Trump has shaken up the world order by repeatedly questioning the public goods that the country claimed to be delivering these past decades, opening a void without projecting a new vision of global governance. In the meantime, the unique value of America’s public goods is being eroded as alternative suppliers step forward.

* * * *


It is commonplace today within the United States to put all blame for the shocking decline in political culture at the door of President Trump with his boorish language and behavior. However, as we noted from the outset in citing Senator John McCain’s recent op-ed, Congress has contributed mightily to the erosion of civic values by its vicious and counterproductive partisanship.

And yet a still greater threat to our democracy and to the sustainability of our great power status has come from the inverse phenomenon, namely the truly bipartisan management of foreign policy in Congress. The Republican and Democratic party leaderships have maintained strict discipline in promotion of what are Neoconservative and Liberal Interventionist positions on every issue placed before Congress. Committees on security and foreign affairs invite to testify before them only those experts who can be counted upon to support the official Washington narrative. Debate on the floor of the houses is nonexistent. And the votes are so lopsided as to be shocking, none more so that the votes in August on the “Countering America’s Adversaries through Sanctions Act”. This measure removed sanctions on Iran, North Korea, and Russia from the category of Executive Order and mandated them by federal law. In the Senate, it passed 98 to 2. In the House, the vote was 419 for, 3 against. Such results remind us of the rubber stamp legislature of the USSR, the Supreme Soviet, in its heyday.

That particular vote was still more scandalous for its being drafted and passed without any consultation with US allies and friends, though its intent is to control their commercial and credit policies with respect to the target countries under sanction. For Europeans, in particular, this puts in question their ability to pursue what they see as great economic benefits from trade and investment with Russia and Iran. In this sense, Congress demonstrated that it is pursuing a still more radical program of America First than the President. In-your-face unilateralism such as this works directly to the detriment of the country’s standing in global forums.

* * * *


It would be comforting if the problems of our political culture began and ended with the elites operating in Washington, DC. However, that is patently not the case. The problem exists across the country in the form of stultifying conformism or groupthink that is destroying the open marketplace for ideas essential for any vital democracy.

Some of us have called this the new McCarthyism because the most salient aspect of groupthink is the ongoing hysteria over alleged Russian meddling in US domestic politics. The denunciations of “stooges of Putin” and the blacklisting from both mass and professional media of those known to deliver unconventional, heterodox views on Russia and other issues of international affairs is reminiscent of what went on during the witch hunt for Communists in government and the media during the early 1950s.

However, no one is being hounded from office today. There are no show trials, as yet, for treasonous collusion with Russia. So, it would be safer to speak of an atmosphere of intimidation that stifles free debate on the key security issues facing the American public. Absence of debate equates to a dumbing-down of our political elites as intellectual skills atrophy and results in poor formulation of policy. The whole necessarily undermines our soft power and standing in the world.

Groupthink in America today did not come from nowhere. Debilitating conformism was always part of our DNA, as is the case in a great many countries, though its emergence has been episodic and in varying degrees of severity. The present acute manifestation in the United States goes back to the mass paranoia which followed the 9/11 terrorist attacks when the George W Bush administration introduced the Patriot Act, gutting our civil rights in exchange for the promise of security.

Though the revelations of Edward Snowden have shown the full extent and potency of the instruments of surveillance over the general population that were introduced by the Bush administration after 9/11, there was enough of state control exposed in the Patriotic Act text to silence anyone with doubts about US government policies at home and abroad. When the harsh personalities of the Bush immediate entourage were replaced by the liberal talking officials of Barack Obama, people breathed easier, but the instruments of surveillance remained in place, as did the Neocon middle and senior officials in the State Department, in the Pentagon, and in the intelligence agencies. Thus, for a whole generation, the Washington narrative remained unchanged, giving encouragement in communities across the land to Neocon-minded administrators and professorate of our universities, publishers and owners of our mainstream newspapers, and other arbiters of public taste. That is quite sufficient to explain the current atmosphere of intimidation and groupthink.

It is improbable that any Humpty-Dumpty successor to Donald Trump can put the pieces back together again and restore American dominance to where it was at the close of Bill Clinton’s first term as president. Given American hubris, will our political class accept an equal seat at the global board of governors or just walk away from the table?


“No-Call, No-Show” Employees

Opioid Addiction is Devastating American Manufacturers

by Tyler Durden

Zero Hedge (September 20 2017)

We’ve spent a lot of time of late discussing the impact of opioids on the American workforce. While it is unclear exactly how much of an impact opioids are having on the steadily declining labor force participation rate, one thing is clear: nearly half of working-age men not in the labor force today take some form of opioids on a daily basis {1}.

But, as Bloomberg {2} points out today, drug abuse among those still gainfully employed is perhaps an even bigger problem for American manufacturing employers because of the safety concerns it presents. Meanwhile, the additional drug testing costs associated with maintaining a safe work environment, in an era in which opioid addiction is spiraling out of control, tend to “mount up” as additional employees are required just to manage rigorous testing programs.

At Philip Tulkoff’s food-processing plant in Baltimore, machines grind tough horseradish roots into puree. “If you put your arm in the wrong place”, the owner says, “and you’re not paying attention, it’s going to pull you in”. It’s not a good place to be intoxicated.

Drug abuse in the workforce is a growing challenge for American business. While economists have paid more attention to the opioid epidemic’s role in keeping people out of work, about two-thirds of those who report misusing pain-relievers are on the payroll. In the factory or office, such employees can be a drag on productivity, one of the US economy’s sore spots. In the worst case, they can endanger themselves and their colleagues.

That’s why Tulkoff practices zero-tolerance. One randomly chosen employee gets tested every month, “and we’re gonna move it to two”. The costs mount up: He has to hire a third-party company to select the worker and pay the clinic to conduct tests. Money is wasted training workers who subsequently drop out when they fail the screening.

“We caught someone recently, saw him injecting”, said Jay Steinmetz, chief executive of Barcoding Inc. The Baltimore company creates software and provides equipment, that helps businesses manage their inventory. It’s a desk environment, with none of the grinding machinery that poses risks for Tulkoff’s staff.


Of course, other manufacturing companies have decided to take the opposite approach on drug testing as too rigorous a program would inevitably just result in excessive layoffs in an already tight labor market.

It’s no wonder that not every boss is as rigorous as Tulkoff. “I know people who’ve said, ‘I can’t do it, I would lose too many people’ “, he says.

At the moment, 57 percent of employers say they perform drug tests, according to the National Safety Council. Out of those, more than forty percent don’t screen for synthetic opioids like oxycodone – among the most widely abused narcotics, and one of the substances that new federal rules are targeting.

“I have heard manufacturers over the years say, ‘We wish we didn’t have to test for drugs’because they lose money when they can’t fill those positions”, he said.

Meanwhile, “no-call, no-show” employees, those who simply take a job just long enough to score their next hit, are devastating to workplace productivity.

And there’s no guarantee that new hires will stick around. Drug problems are accelerating the turnover among staff.

“In the last three weeks, we’ve had six people come, get trained, and then are no-call no-shows”, Greenblatt said. He said the biggest loss comes from taking high-performing employees out of the production process so they can train new hires. “That person is diverted into the completely unproductive task of teaching someone who’s going to leave in a day or two”.

Productivity growth in the US economy has been slowing for decades. There’s little consensus about the causes. But there are signs that the spread of drug-abuse could be contributing to the problem.

One Ohio factory owner shared her story with WTVR {3} saying that although she has numerous blue-collar jobs available at her company, she struggles to fill positions because so many candidates fail drug tests. Regina Mitchell, co-owner of Warren Fabricating & Machining in Hubbard, Ohio, told The New York Times that four out of ten applicants otherwise qualified to be welders, machinists, and crane operators will fail a routine drug test. While not quite as bad as the adverse hit rate hinted at by the Beige Book, this is a stunning number and one which indicates of major structural changes to the US labor force where addiction and drugs are keeping millions out of gainful (or any, for that matter) employment.

Speaking to CNN’s Michael Smerconish, Mitchell said that her requirements for prospective workers were simple: “I need employees who are engaged in their work while here, of sound mind and doing the best possible job that they can, keeping their fellow co-workers safe at all times”, she said.

This has proven to be a problem.

We have a 150-ton crane in our machine shop. And we’re moving 300,000 pounds of steel around in that building on a regular basis. So I cannot take the chance to have anyone impaired running that crane, or working 40 feet in the air.


While President Trump addressed his blue-collar base in Ohio this week, returning to his campaign theme of getting local communities back to work and returning jobs to America from overseas, the problem may not be a scarcity of jobs: it is workers who are not under the influence. As Mitchell said she has jobs … she just doesn’t have sober applicants. For 48 of the fifty years her company has been around, drug abuse had never been an issue, she told Smerconish.

“It hasn’t been until the last two years that we needed to have a policy, a corporate policy in place, that protects us from employees coming into work impaired”, she said.

Maybe instead of focusing how to perpetuate the US waiter and bartender job recovery, the BLS – and the administration – should contemplate how to eliminate the pervasive addiction problem which is rapidly becoming a structural hurdle for America’s millions of unemployed.


{1} http://www.zerohedge.com/news/2017-09-07/princeton-economist-says-opioid-epidemic-may-explain-20-labor-force-participation-de

{2} https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2017-09-20/overdosing-on-the-job-opioid-crisis-spills-into-the-workplace

{3} http://wtvr.com/2017/07/29/this-ohio-factory-owner-says-she-has-jobs-but-few-sober-applicants/?utm_campaign=trueAnthem:


Where Have All the Workers Gone

Opioids and US Labor Force Participation

by Jerri-Lynn Scofield

Naked Capitalism (September 07 2017)

Princeton University economist Alan Krueger will present his latest paper, “Where Have All the Workers Gone? An Inquiry into the Decline of the US Labor Force Participation Rate” {1}, at the Brookings Institution in Washington today.

The paper examines the labor force implications of the opioid epidemic on a local and national level.

Krueger’s headline finding is that the increase in opioid prescriptions from 1999 to 2015 possibly accounts for about twenty percent of the observed decline in men’s labor force participation (“LFP”) in the United States over that same period, and roughly 25% of that for women.

Krueger recognizes these findings have huge policy implications. As reported in The Wall Street Journal: “The opioid epidemic and labor-force participation are now intertwined”, Mr Krueger said. “If we are to bring a large number of people back into the labor force who have left the labor force, I think it’s important that we take serious steps to address the opioid crisis”. {2}

Trump declared the opioid crisis to be a national emergency last month {3}, as I’ve previously discussed {4}. Thus far, there’s scant cause for optimism that this rhetoric will be matched by a policy response adequate to the task at hand. Opioid overdoses account for nearly 100 overdose deaths a day in the US, the Financial Times reports today {5} and cites Centers for Disease Control (“CDC”) figures showing that prescription US opioid medication sales per person surged 356% between 1999 and 2015. “The American Opioid Epidemic” {6}, provides an overview of recent academic literature on the issue.

Paper’s Other Findings

Krueger’s latest paper builds on earlier research {7} he presented at a Federal Reserve Bank of Boston conference in October 2016. In that earlier work, Krueger found that nearly half of prime-age men who are not in the labor force take pain medication daily. Two-thirds of those men – or about two million – take prescription pain medication daily.

According to the paper to be presented today:

The US LFP rate in the United States peaked at 67.3 percent in early 2000 and has declined at a more or less continuous pace since then, reaching a near forty-year low of 62.4 percent in September 2015 (see Figure 1). Italy was the only OECD country that had a lower labor force participation rate of prime-age men than the US in 2016. Although the participation rate has stabilized since the end of 2015, evidence on labor market flows – in particular, the continued decline in the rate of transition of those who are out of the labor force back into the labor force – suggests that this is likely to be a short-lived phenomenon.

Source: Alan B Krueger {1}.


Regular readers are well aware of the landmark 2015 study {8} by Anne Case and Angus Deaton on the mortality and morbidity consequences of the increasing immiseration of the American white working class and their follow-up published in March of this year {9}, each covered extensively by Naked Capitalism. See {10}, {11}, {12}, {13}, {14}, and {15}, among other places on this site. That study and the follow up discuss the rise in what Case and Deaton call “deaths of despair”.

Krueger has found opioid prescription rates vary widely across the United States. In counties where health care professionals write more opioids prescriptions, pain medication is more widely used. The paper found a ten percent increase in opioid prescriptions per capita is associated with a two percent increase in the share of individuals who report taking a pain medication on any given day. The effect is cut roughly in half, Krueger wrote, when individuals’ disability status, self-reported health, and demographic characteristics were accounted for, but remains statistically significant.

These findings support the CDC’s view that differences in health conditions do not vary enough across areas to explain the large cross county differences in the use of pain medication (paper, page 34).

Krueger’s research examined linkages between these differences in cross-county prescription rates and changes in LFP. Over the fifteen years covered by the paper, Krueger found that LFP fell more in counties where more opioids were prescribed (page 35).

Source: Financial Times, US opioid crisis holds back jobs market recovery, says study {16}.

The increase in opioid prescriptions could account for about twenty percent of the observed decline in LFP for this period; for women, whereas the growth in opioid prescriptions could account for about 25% of the decline in LFP (page 36).

Whither Direction of Causality

Note that the Financial Times highlights a key ambiguity:

Mr Krueger found that the fall in overall participation since 2007 was largely the result of an aging population, something that cannot easily be reversed. But he also uncovered a link between falling participation and rising opioid drug use – even if it was difficult to pick apart exactly how the two inter-relate.


This Quartz article {17} elaborates on the causality point:

To be clear, we still don’t know whether the explosion in opioid prescription is causing labor force detachment or vice versa. And there’s mounting evidence that disengaged workers, especially prime-aged men, may have a serious health condition that precludes work.

More than half of prime-aged men who don’t want to work report spending their day in pain – and close to half medicated the day before. Prime-aged men, in particular, are significantly less happy and more stressed than their employed and unemployed counterparts, says Krueger. And they find their lives less meaningful. These men are more than eight times as likely to be in poor health than both employed and unemployed men. They also face substantially higher rates of disability, which have only worsened over the past decade.


Regardless of the initial direction of causality, Krueger notes that forty percent of those men not in the labor force (“NLF”) who were surveyed report that pain prevents them from accepting a job (page 38). So addressing that pain is necessary to allow these sidelined individuals to return to the labor force.

Bottom Line

Over to Krueger for the (next to) last word:

… Addressing the decades-long slide in labor force participation by prime-age men should be a national priority. This group expresses low levels of SWB [social wellbeing?] and reports finding relatively little meaning in their daily activities. Because nearly half of this group reported being in poor health, it may be possible for expanded health insurance coverage and preventative care under the Affordable Care Act to positively affect the health of prime-age men going forward. The finding that nearly half of NLF prime-age men take pain medication on a daily basis and that forty percent report that pain prevents them from accepting a job suggests that pain management interventions could potentially be helpful.

Evidence presented here suggests that much of the regional variation in opioid prescription rates across the US is due to differences in medical practices, rather than varying health conditions that generate pain. Furthermore, labor force participation is lower and fell more in the 2000s in areas of the US that have a higher volume of opioid medication prescribed per capita than in other areas. Although some obvious suspects can be ruled out – for example, areas with high opioid prescription rates do not appear to be only masking historical manufacturing strongholds that subsequently fell on hard times – it is unclear whether other factors underlying low labor force participation could have caused the high prescription rates of opioids in certain counties. Regardless of the direction of causality, the opioid crisis and depressed labor force participation are now intertwined in many parts of the US. And despite the massive rise in opioid prescriptions in the 2000s, there is no evidence that the incidence of pain has declined; in fact, the results presented here suggest a small upward trend in the incidence of pain for prime-age NLF and unemployed men. Addressing the opioid crisis could help support efforts to raise labor force participation and prevent it from falling further (pages 38~39).


The opioid crisis and depressed labor force participation are indeed now intertwined throughout the US. Although Krueger tries to be agnostic on the causal issues – for example, “regardless of the direction of causality”, it seems to me that he could equally well say that increasing labor force participation could help alleviate the opioids crisis. Better economic opportunities would reduce economic despair, and lead fewer people to turn to opioids to mask their pain.


{1} https://www.brookings.edu/wp-content/uploads/2017/09/1_krueger.pdf

{2} https://www.wsj.com/articles/opioid-epidemic-may-be-keeping-prime-age-americans-out-of-the-workforce-1504756860

{3} https://www.usatoday.com/story/news/nation/2017/08/10/donald-trump-declare-opioid-crisis-national-emergency/557957001/

{4} https://www.nakedcapitalism.com/2017/08/opioid-overdoses-increase-unemployment-rises.html

{5} https://www.ft.com/content/367f88f6-936c-11e7-a9e6-11d2f0ebb7f0

{6} https://www.nakedcapitalism.com/2017/03/american-opioid-epidemic.html

{7} https://drive.google.com/file/d/0B7m8wQD_ckP4VmZPOXpza3h4X0E/preview

{8} http://www.pnas.org/content/112/49/15078.full.pdf

{9} https://www.princeton.edu/~accase/downloads/Mortality_and_morbidity_in_21st_century_Case-Deaton-final-May-3-2017.pdf

{10} https://www.nakedcapitalism.com/2015/11/stunning-rise-in-death-rate-pain-levels-for-white-middle-aged-less-educated-whites.html

{11} https://www.nakedcapitalism.com/2015/12/america-to-working-class-whites-drop-dead.html

{12} https://www.nakedcapitalism.com/2016/07/credentialism-and-corruption-the-opioid-epidemic-and-the-looting-professional-class.html

{13} https://www.nakedcapitalism.com/2016/12/us-life-expectancy-declines-in-2015-unintentional-injuries-rise.html

{14} https://www.nakedcapitalism.com/2017/01/credentialism-corruption-deaton-opioids-trump-rural-mean.html

{15} https://www.nakedcapitalism.com/2017/03/wanted-a-skulk-of-foxes-or-the-case-deaton-study-and-trump.html

{16} https://www.ft.com/content/367f88f6-936c-11e7-a9e6-11d2f0ebb7f0

{17} https://qz.com/1070206/nearly-half-of-working-age-american-men-who-are-out-of-the-labor-force-are-using-painkillers-daily/


Jerri-Lynn Scofield has worked as a securities lawyer and a derivatives trader. She now spends much of her time in Asia and is currently working on a book about textile artisans.


Worse Than Big Tobacco

How Big Pharma Fuels the Opioid Epidemic

by Lynn Parramore

Naked Capitalism (October 11 2017)

Over a forty-year career, Philadelphia attorney Daniel Berger has obtained millions in settlements for investors and consumers hurt by a rogues’ gallery of corporate wrongdoers, from Exxon to R J Reynolds Tobacco. But when it comes to what America’s prescription drug makers have done to drive one of the ghastliest addiction crises in the country’s history, he confesses amazement.

“I used to think that there was nothing more reprehensible than what the tobacco industry did in suppressing what it knew about the adverse effects of an addictive and dangerous product”, says Berger. “But I was wrong. The drug makers are worse than Big Tobacco.”

The US prescription drug industry has opened a new frontier in public havoc, manipulating markets and deceptively marketing opioid drugs that are known to addict and even kill. It’s a national emergency that claims ninety lives per day {1}. Berger lays much of the blame at the feet of companies that have played every dirty trick imaginable to convince doctors to overprescribe medication that can transform fresh-faced teens and mild-mannered adults into zombified junkies.

So how have they gotten away with it?

A Market for Lies

The prescription drug industry is a strange beast, born of perverse thinking about markets and economics, explains Berger. In a normal market, you shop around to find the best price and quality on something you want or need – a toaster, a new car. Businesses then compete to supply what you’re looking for. You’ve got choices: If the price is too high, you refuse to buy, or you wait until the market offers something better. It’s the supposed beauty of supply and demand.

But the prescription drug “market” operates nothing like that. Drug makers game the patent and regulatory systems to create monopolies over every single one of their products. Berger explains that when drug makers get patent approval for brand-name pharmaceuticals, the patents create market exclusivity for those products – protecting them from competition from both generics and brand-name drugs that treat the same condition. The manufacturers can now exploit their monopoly positions, created by the patents, by marketing their drugs for conditions for which they never got regulatory approval. This dramatically increases sales. They can also charge very high prices because if you’re in pain or dying, you’ll pay virtually anything.

Using all these tricks, opioid manufacturers have been able to exploit the public and have created a whole new generation of desperate addicts. They monopolize their products and then, as Berger puts it, “market the hell out of them for unapproved and dangerous uses”.

Opioids are a drug class that includes opium derivatives like heroin (introduced by German drugmaker Bayer in 1898), synthetics like fentanyl, and prescription painkillers like oxycodone (brand name: OxyContin). A number of factors are aggravating the addiction crisis: There has been a movement in medicine to treat pain more aggressively, while at the same time wide-ranging economic distress has generated a desire to escape a dismal reality. But a key driving force is doctors – who have been wooed by pharmaceutical marketing reps – overprescribing for chronic pain.

“For the first time since the years after heroin was invented”, writes investigative journalist Sam Quinones in Dreamland: The True Tale of America’s Opiate Epidemic (2015), “the root of the scourge was not some street gang or drug mafia but doctors and drug companies”.

Doctors were once reluctant to write prescriptions for opioids. The US drug regulator, the Food and Drug Administration (“FDA”), would only approve such drugs for severe cases like cancer patients in chronic agony or certain people in short-term pain after, say, an operation. But representatives of Connecticut-based drug maker Purdue, which released OxyContin in 1996, along with other companies, began to flood doctors’ offices with reports asserting that using the drug for off-label purposes was harmless. Often the targets were primary care physicians with little training in addiction. Have a chronic arthritis case? Give your patient OxyContin. Tell folks to take it every day, for weeks, even years, to treat just about any kind of chronic pain. The upshot was addiction – typically not because people were getting high for fun, but because they used a legal drug in precisely the way the doctor ordered.

Purdue and others whisked doctors to stylish retreats to push {2} them to prescribe drugs for uses not approved by US regulators – a marketing strategy banned by federal law. They even created fake grassroots organizations to make it seem as though patients were demanding more prescriptions. Pharmaceutical companies like to dodge responsibility {3} for the opioid crisis by blaming dishonest distributors and pointing out that they’re not the ones prescribing or handing out drugs to patients. True enough: They don’t need to because they’ve done their work hooking you long before the drug is in your hands.

“The marketing is not only fraudulent; it’s incredibly elaborate”, says Berger.

Fake scientific studies promote the lie that opioids are better than other medications for pain. They’ve gone to just about any length. Bribery, you name it. It’s outrageous.


OxyContin is so addictive that it can create physical dependency in a matter of weeks. As drug makers and doctors who began to dole out pills by the handful in pain clinics learned, addicts do not behave like ordinary consumers. They don’t “choose” to buy or to wait until next week. They need their drug right away and will do anything to get it because if they don’t, they will suffer excruciating symptoms.

A Los Angeles Times report shows {4} that among the lies Purdue spread about OxyContin was that one pill subdued pain for twelve hours. Except that for many patients it wears off much sooner, exposing them to horrific pain and withdrawal. Purdue knew this but feared lower sales if it admitted the truth. So sales reps advised doctors to just give stronger doses, which increased the addiction risk.

As the money from hooked patients piled up, so did the bodies. So many bodies that earlier this year the Ohio Coroner’s Office found nowhere to store them {5}.

In 2007, Purdue pleaded guilty in federal court in Virginia to misleading doctors and patients about OxyContin’s safety and paid a $600 million fine. But that sum was hardly an annoyance. From 1995 to 2015, Purdue made $35 billion from OxyContin sales alone. The Sacklers, who own the company, are now one of the richest families in America, as revealed by this triumphant Forbes spread {6}. They know that lax regulation keeps the heat off and that even litigation and criminal prosecutions can do little to stop them. Berger says that until such legal programs are massive in scale and scope, companies will go on with business as usual.”We have to have injunctive relief [a court order to stop a behavior] that bans the marketing to doctors of opioids completely for unapproved uses, as well as an expansion of the FDA and DEA [Drug Enforcement Agency] to specifically target the drugs”, says Berger. His law firm, Berger & Montague, is involved in the effort to seek relief for the city of Philadelphia, which has seen above-average opioid prescribing and suffered the highest rates of fatal drug overdoses in the state last year.

Even though prescriptions have been slightly reduced across the country since 2012 {7}, Philadelphia is finding out what happens to many people hooked on opioids when they can’t get a prescription or find the price too high: They turn to smack (aka heroin). Fatal overdoses of heroin, oxycodone’s close cousin, have been skyrocketing {8} since 2007 across the country.

“Landscapes of Despair”

The opium poppy has been part of human history since at least 3400 BC {9} when it was cultivated in Mesopotamia as the “joy plant”. Derivatives, such as laudanum and morphine, offered more convenient and, people wrongly believed, safer ways to get the plant’s benefits. Bayer originally touted heroin as a non-addictive substitute for morphine, even for children, until it was outlawed in the US in 1925. Rendering it illegal did not stop it from destroying the lives of many of America’s most celebrated artists, from Billie Holiday to Philip Seymour Hoffman.

Drug overdoses now kill more people {10} than gun homicides and car crashes combined. In 2015, nearly two-thirds of all overdoses had one thing in common: opioids. As more and more names appear in the obituaries linked to opioid overdoses, most recently Buddhist teacher Michael Stone {11}, Americans begin to wonder who is next.

Syracuse University’s Shannon Monnat, a sociologist focused on rural issues and an INET grantee, has been studying the epidemic and how it impacts various populations. Her research reveals that the rise in drug-induced deaths has been especially sharp among middle-aged people (45~55), with prescription opioid overdoses increasingly impacting both middle-aged and older populations. Heroin, whose sedating and euphoric effects are very similar to prescription opioids, looks to be the culprit in more young adult overdoses.

Monnat considers how the opioid crisis points to bigger societal problems impacting the economy, educational institutions, the health care system, political systems, and communities. Her work centers on investigating the characteristics of what she calls “landscapes of despair” – places where people are hurting economically and socially, like Appalachia, the Industrial Midwest, and parts of New England. She points out that persistent disadvantage and long-term poverty are clearly connected to the opioid crisis, noting that many of the areas most impacted were once robust centers of manufacturing before jobs moved to other countries.

Opioid addiction seems to thrive in downwardly mobile small cities in rural areas – but not all of them. “What’s fascinating is that some of these areas have very high mortality rates from drug overdose, like Appalachia”, say Monnat. “But others, like the Southern “Black Belt” [a region which stretches across Alabama and Mississippi], have not seen such rises.”

Originally named for its rich, dark, soil – which attracted cotton planters in the 19th century – the Black Belt has a large African American population. The area has a history of unremitting poverty, low incomes, high unemployment, and high mortality. Yet despite many hardships {12}, which are linked the legacy of slavery, Monnat says that the region is also distinct for its “very tight-knit communities, strong kinship networks, and other networks where people can find emotional support”. It seems that when people have somewhere to turn in hard times, they may build up immunity to an epidemic like the opioid scourge.

Ironically, another factor that may have protected these communities is prejudice, as Quinones discusses in Dreamland. The low-profile heroin dealers originating from a small municipality on Mexico’s west coast who are associated with the current opioid scourge have tended to fear black Americans, preferring to target white communities. They also avoid big cities where large cartels are already established. So small, predominately white towns are their sweet spot.

Appalachia is known for kinship networks, but it also has a legacy of isolation and an outlaw tradition associated with the history of moonshining and bootlegging which can feed into today’s underground selling and distribution of opioid drugs. In this region, much of the struggling white working class has experienced economic distress with little hope of relief from America’s political system. Democrats often openly disdain “rednecks” and “hillbillies” while concentrating on identity politics rather than economic hardship. Republicans promote policies of free trade and deregulation that cast the region further into destitution.

Monnat has found that counties with large numbers of people employed in physical labor – especially occupations with higher rates of disability – have higher rates of drug fatalities. These are places where coal miners work in backbreaking positions and military veterans suffer the pain of injuries. She observes that drug companies have besieged these areas with aggressive marketing of pain pills. “In Appalachia, you’d see mining companies with physicians on staff prescribing opioids to keep people in pain working”, she says. “That was happening before OxyContin, but companies like Purdue targeted these communities to push OxyContin as a safer alternative to other pain medications”.

The National Institutes of Health (“NIH”) report that the opioid epidemic, which started as a regional crisis, is now a national crisis. It casts a pall over far more than individual lives; it is now decimating communities and even helping to reshape the American political landscape. Monnat finds a relationship between the landscapes of despair and the 2016 presidential election {13}. Voting patterns show that areas in which President Trump did better than expected, like Pennsylvania and Ohio, were also places where opioid overdoses and deaths from alcohol and suicide occurred at high rates over the past decade.

During his campaign, Trump expressed concern for people in regions like Appalachia and flung stinging barbs at the politicians who had failed them. These voters supported him in high numbers, and yet sadly, his policies will likely give more power to the pharmaceutical companies that have turned their suffering into stock windfalls.

Profit Trumps People

Trump the campaigner shook his fist at Big Pharma for “getting away with murder” – one of those statements that occasionally drops from his lips with atomic accuracy. But Trump the President has done an about-face. As journalist David Dayen has pointed out {14}, a draft of an executive order on drug prices (which never materialized) called for deregulation of the FDA and favors to industry. It was written by none other than a pharmaceutical lobbyist.

In March, President Trump issued an executive order {15} creating a commission to study drug addiction and the opioid epidemic. The commission, headed by New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, has so far released recommendations {16} which locate the overprescribing problem “in doctor’s offices and hospitals in every state in our nation”, while making nary a mention of pharmaceutical marketing departments. The panel suggests insufficient remedies like new treatment facilities and educating schoolchildren on the dangers of opioids, along with ineffective ones like more funds to Homeland Security. Regulation of Big Pharma? Nope.

The federal government did announce {17} that it would team up with drug makers to research and generate non-opioid pain medications and additional medication-assisted treatment options. Among the participants? Purdue.

Economist William Lazonick of the University of Massachusetts Lowell and an INET grantee agrees with Berger that the way the pharmaceutical industry operates amounts to a catastrophe for the public. “It’s crazy that each and every drug is not treated like a regulated monopoly”, he says.

Taxpayers fund much of the research that goes into creating these drugs through the NIH and other public research facilities. Moreover, the companies are gifted with a monopoly through patents which last two decades.


Lazonick notes that Big Pharma claims that it needs high profits {18} to keep inventing new drugs, but it spends more of its profits buying back its own stock {19} than increasing investment in R&D on new drugs. Executives running drug companies are incentivized to make profits any way they can because they are rewarded by high stock prices. Lazonick explains that they stoke those stock prices by gouging patients or lying about the safety of products – whatever it takes.

He observes that for the past several decades America has undergone a devastating experiment based on the philosophy of economist Milton Friedman, who claimed that the only social responsibility of a company is to make a profit. Untimely deaths from tobacco-related illnesses, auto safety failures, and now, harmful opioid drugs, prove that the experiment is a tragic failure.

Lazonick sees the need for nothing less than a new structure of corporate governance that ensures the ethical responsibly of drug makers to do what they are supposed to do: create high-quality, low-cost products that are safe. The current structure, based on the misguided idea that companies should be run for the sole purpose of enriching shareholders, is particularly perverse when it comes to products that are potentially fatal. The problem with this model is that when shareholders are the only people who matter, the rest of us suffer.

Since taxpayers support pharmaceutical companies by funding public research and many other things they require to do business, Lazonick says it is only fair and logical that someone representing the public sit on their boards. Berger adds that companies should be required to make drugs widely available at affordable prices in return for their use of publicly-funded, basic research at no cost whatsoever.

America, for the time being, stands out among nations in letting pharmaceutical companies run amok to inflate drug prices, advertise and market drugs without proper regulation, and use taxpayer resources while exposing them to egregious harm. “The only thing America’s drug companies are competitive about”, says Lazonick, “is getting people addicted”.


{1} https://www.cdc.gov/drugoverdose/epidemic/index.html

{2} https://www.propublica.org/article/lawsuits-say-pharma-illegally-paid-doctors-to-push-their-drugs

{3} https://www.nytimes.com/2017/07/21/business/mckesson-opioid-packaging.html

{4} http://www.latimes.com/projects/oxycontin-part1/

{5} https://www.nytimes.com/2017/02/02/us/ohio-overdose-deaths-coroners-office.html?_r=1

{6} https://www.forbes.com/sites/alexmorrell/2015/07/01/the-oxycontin-clan-the-14-billion-newcomer-to-forbes-2015-list-of-richest-u-s-families/#716f7a9475e0

{7} https://www.washingtonpost.com/national/health-science/opioid-prescriptions-dropped-for-the-first-time-in-the-modern-drug-crisis/2017/07/06/892ff192-61f5-11e7-a4f7-af34fc1d9d39_story.html?utm_term=.66897afb96db

{8} http://thenationshealth.aphapublications.org/content/44/4/1.1.full

{9} https://www.deamuseum.org/ccp/opium/history.html

{10} https://www.whitehouse.gov/sites/whitehouse.gov/files/ondcp/commission-interim-report.pdf

{11} https://tricycle.org/trikedaily/buddhist-teacher-michael-stones-family-says-likely-died-opioid-overdose/

{12} https://fivethirtyeight.com/features/mortality-black-belt/

{13} http://aese.psu.edu/directory/smm67/Election16.pdf

{14} https://theintercept.com/2017/09/21/trumps-failure-to-tackle-opioid-crisis-is-costing-lives-house-democrats-say/

{15} https://www.whitehouse.gov/the-press-office/2017/03/30/presidential-executive-order-establishing-presidents-commission

{16} https://www.whitehouse.gov/sites/whitehouse.gov/files/ondcp/commission-interim-report.pdf

{17} http://www.politico.com/states/new-jersey/story/2017/09/18/white-house-backs-pharma-partnership-after-delaying-other-opioid-commission-recommendations-114555

{18} https://www.ineteconomics.org/research/research-papers/us-pharmas-financialized-business-model

{19} https://www.nytimes.com/2017/07/14/business/big-pharma-spends-on-share-buybacks-but-rd-not-so-much.html?_r=0

Lynn Parramore is a senior research analyst at the Institute for New Economic Thinking.