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Can Anyone Pacify the World’s Number One Narco-State?

The Opium Wars in Afghanistan

by Alfred W McCoy

TomDispatch (March 30 2010)

In ways that have escaped most observers, the Obama administration is now trapped in an endless cycle of drugs and death in Afghanistan from which there is neither an easy end nor an obvious exit.

After a year of cautious debate and costly deployments, President Obama finally launched his new Afghan war strategy at 2:40 am on February 13 2010, in a remote market town called Marja in southern Afghanistan’s Helmand Province. As a wave of helicopters descended on Marja’s outskirts spitting up clouds of dust, hundreds of US Marines dashed through fields sprouting opium poppies toward the town’s mud-walled compounds.

After a week of fighting, US war commander General Stanley A McChrystal choppered into town with Afghanistan’s vice-president and Helmand’s provincial governor. Their mission: a media roll-out for the general’s new-look counterinsurgency strategy based on bringing government to remote villages just like Marja.

At a carefully staged meet-and-greet with some 200 villagers, however, the vice-president and provincial governor faced some unexpected, unscripted anger. “If they come with tractors”, one Afghani widow announced to a chorus of supportive shouts from her fellow farmers, “they will have to roll over me and kill me before they can kill my poppy”.

For these poppy growers and thousands more like them, the return of government control, however contested, brought with it a perilous threat: opium eradication.

Throughout all the shooting and shouting, American commanders seemed strangely unaware that Marja might qualify as the world’s heroin capital – with hundreds of laboratories, reputedly hidden inside the area’s mud-brick houses, regularly processing the local poppy crop into high-grade heroin. After all, the surrounding fields of Helmand Province produce a remarkable forty percent of the world’s illicit opium supply, and much of this harvest has been traded in Marja. Rushing through those opium fields to attack the Taliban on day one of this offensive, the Marines missed their real enemy, the ultimate force behind the Taliban insurgency, as they pursued just the latest crop of peasant guerrillas whose guns and wages are funded by those poppy plants. “You can’t win this war”, said one US Embassy official just back from inspecting these opium districts, “without taking on drug production in Helmand Province”.

Indeed, as Air Force One headed for Kabul Sunday, National Security Adviser James L Jones assured reporters that President Obama would try to persuade Afghan President Hamid Karzai to prioritize “battling corruption, taking the fight to the narco-traffickers”. The drug trade, he added, “provides a lot of the economic engine for the insurgents”.

Just as these Marja farmers spoiled General McChrystal’s media event, so their crop has subverted every regime that has tried to rule Afghanistan for the past thirty years. During the CIA’s covert war in the 1980s, opium financed the mujahedeen or “freedom fighters” (as President Ronald Reagan called them) who finally forced the Soviets to abandon the country and then defeated its Marxist client state.

In the late 1990s, the Taliban, which had taken power in most of the country, lost any chance for international legitimacy by protecting and profiting from opium – and then, ironically, fell from power only months after reversing course and banning the crop. Since the US military intervened in 2001, a rising tide of opium has corrupted the government in Kabul while empowering a resurgent Taliban whose guerrillas have taken control of ever larger parts of the Afghan countryside.

These three eras of almost constant warfare fueled a relentless rise in Afghanistan’s opium harvest – from just 250 tons in 1979 to 8,200 tons in 2007. For the past five years, the Afghan opium harvest has accounted for as much as fifty percent of the country’s gross domestic product (“GDP”) and provided the prime ingredient for over ninety percent of the world’s heroin supply.

The ecological devastation and societal dislocation from these three war-torn decades have woven opium so deeply into the Afghan grain that it defies solution by Washington’s best and brightest (as well as its most inept and least competent). Caroming between ignoring the opium crop and demanding its total eradication, the Bush administration dithered for seven years while heroin boomed, and in doing so helped create a drug economy that corrupted and crippled the government of its ally, President Karzai. In recent years, opium farming has supported 500,000 Afghan families, nearly twenty percent of the country’s estimated population, and funds a Taliban insurgency that has, since 2006, spread across the countryside.

To understand the Afghan War, one basic point must be grasped: in poor nations with weak state services, agriculture is the foundation for all politics, binding villagers to the government or warlords or rebels. The ultimate aim of counterinsurgency strategy is always to establish the state’s authority. When the economy is illicit and by definition beyond government control, this task becomes monumental. If the insurgents capture that illicit economy, as the Taliban have done, then the task becomes little short of insurmountable.

Opium is an illegal drug, but Afghanistan’s poppy crop is still grounded in networks of social trust that tie people together at each step in the chain of production. Crop loans are necessary for planting, labor exchange for harvesting, stability for marketing, and security for shipment. So dominant and problematic is the opium economy in Afghanistan today that a question Washington has avoided for the past nine years must be asked: Can anyone pacify a full-blown narco-state?

The answer to this critical question lies in the history of the three Afghan wars in which Washington has been involved over the past thirty years – the CIA covert warfare of the 1980s, the civil war of the 1990s (fueled at its start by $900 million in CIA funding), and since 2001, the US invasion, occupation, and counterinsurgency campaigns. In each of these conflicts, Washington has tolerated drug trafficking by its Afghan allies as the price of military success – a policy of benign neglect that has helped make Afghanistan today the world’s number one narco-state.

CIA Covert Warfare, Spreading Poppy Fields, and Drug Labs: the 1980s

Opium first emerged as a key force in Afghan politics during the CIA covert war against the Soviets, the last in a series of secret operations that it conducted along the mountain rim-lands of Asia which stretch for 5,000 miles from Turkey to Thailand. In the late 1940s, as the Cold War was revving up, the United States first mounted covert probes of communism’s Asian underbelly. For forty years thereafter, the CIA fought a succession of secret wars along this mountain rim – in Burma during the 1950s, Laos in the 1960s, and Afghanistan in the 1980s. In one of history’s ironic accidents, the southern reach of communist China and the Soviet Union had coincided with Asia’s opium zone along this same mountain rim, drawing the CIA into ambiguous alliances with the region’s highland warlords.

Washington’s first Afghan war began in 1979 when the Soviet Union invaded the country to save a Marxist client regime in Kabul, the Afghan capital. Seeing an opportunity to wound its Cold War enemy, the Reagan administration worked closely with Pakistan’s military dictatorship in a ten-year CIA campaign to expel the Soviets.

This was, however, a covert operation unlike any other in the Cold War years. First, the collision of CIA secret operations and Soviet conventional warfare led to the devastation of Afghanistan’s fragile highland ecology, damaging its traditional agriculture beyond immediate recovery, and fostering a growing dependence on the international drug trade. Of equal import, instead of conducting this covert warfare on its own as it had in Laos in the Vietnam War years, the CIA outsourced much of the operation to Pakistan’s Inter-Service Intelligence (“ISI”), which soon became a powerful and ever more problematic ally.

When the ISI proposed its Afghan client, Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, as overall leader of the anti-Soviet resistance, Washington – with few alternatives – agreed. Over the next ten years, the CIA supplied some $2 billion to Afghanistan’s mujahedeen through the ISI, half to Hekmatyar, a violent fundamentalist infamous for throwing acid at unveiled women at Kabul University and, later, murdering rival resistance leaders. As the CIA operation was winding down in May 1990, The Washington Post published a front-page article charging that its key ally, Hekmatyar, was operating a chain of heroin laboratories inside Pakistan under the protection of the ISI.

Although this area had zero heroin production in the mid-1970s, the CIA’s covert war served as the catalyst that transformed the Afghan-Pakistan borderlands into the world’s largest heroin producing region. As mujahedeen guerrillas captured prime agricultural areas inside Afghanistan in the early 1980s, they began collecting a revolutionary poppy tax from their peasant supporters.

Once the Afghan guerrillas brought the opium across the border, they sold it to hundreds of Pakistani heroin labs operating under the ISI’s protection. Between 1981 and 1990, Afghanistan’s opium production grew ten-fold – from 250 tons to 2,000 tons. After just two years of covert CIA support for the Afghan guerrillas, the US Attorney General announced in 1981 that Pakistan was already the source of sixty percent of the American heroin supply. Across Europe and Russia, Afghan-Pakistani heroin soon captured an even larger share of local markets, while inside Pakistan itself the number of addicts soared from zero in 1979 to 1.2 million just five years later.

After investing $3 billion in Afghanistan’s destruction, Washington just walked away in 1992, leaving behind a thoroughly ravaged country with over one million dead, five million refugees, ten to twenty million landmines still in place, an infrastructure in ruins, an economy in tatters, and well-armed tribal warlords prepared to fight among themselves for control of the capital. Even when Washington finally cut its covert CIA funding at the end of 1991, however, Pakistan’s ISI continued to back favored local warlords in pursuit of its long-term goal of installing a Pashtun client regime in Kabul.

Druglords, Dragon’s Teeth, and Civil Wars: the 1990s

Throughout the 1990s, ruthless local warlords mixed guns and opium in a lethal brew as part of a brutal struggle for power. It was almost as if the soil had been sown with those dragons’ teeth of ancient myth that can suddenly sprout into an army of full-grown warriors, who leap from the earth with swords drawn for war.

When northern resistance forces finally captured Kabul from the communist regime, which had outlasted the Soviet withdrawal by three years, Pakistan still backed its client Hekmatyar. He, in turn, unleashed his artillery on the besieged capital. The result: the deaths of an estimated 50,000 more Afghans. Even a slaughter of such monumental proportions, however, could not win power for this unpopular fundamentalist. So the ISI armed a new force, the Taliban and in September 1996, it succeeded in capturing Kabul, only to fight the Northern Alliance for the next five years in the valleys to the north of the capital.

During this seemingly unending civil war, rival factions leaned heavily on opium to finance the fighting, more than doubling the harvest to 4,600 tons by 1999. Throughout these two decades of warfare and a twenty-fold jump in drug production, Afghanistan itself was slowly transformed from a diverse agricultural ecosystem – with herding, orchards, and over sixty food crops – into the world’s first economy dependent on the production of a single illicit drug. In the process, a fragile human ecology was brought to ruin in an unprecedented way.

Located at the northern edge of the annual monsoon rains, where clouds arrive from the Arabian Sea already squeezed dry, Afghanistan is an arid land. Its staple food crops have historically been sustained by irrigation systems that rely on snowmelt from the region’s high mountains. To supplement staples such as wheat, Afghan tribesmen herded vast flocks of sheep and goats hundreds of miles every year to summer pasture in the central uplands. Most important of all, farmers planted perennial tree crops – walnut, pistachio, and mulberry – which thrived because they sink their roots deep into the soil and are remarkably resistant to the region’s periodic droughts, offering relief from the threat of famine in the dry years.

During these two decades of war, however, modern firepower devastated the herds, damaged snowmelt irrigation systems, and destroyed many of the orchards. While the Soviets simply blasted the landscape with firepower, the Taliban, with an unerring instinct for their society’s economic jugular, violated the unwritten rules of traditional Afghan warfare by cutting down the orchards on the vast Shamali plain north of Kabul.

All these strands of destruction knit themselves into a veritable Gordian knot of human suffering to which opium became the sole solution. Like Alexander’s legendary sword, it offered a straightforward way to cut through a complex conundrum. Without any aid to restock their herds, reseed their fields, or replant their orchards, Afghan farmers – including some three million returning refugees – found sustenance in opium, which had historically been but a small part of their agriculture.

Since poppy cultivation requires nine times more labor per hectare than wheat, opium offered immediate seasonal employment to more than a million Afghans – perhaps half of those actually employed at the time. In this ruined land and ravaged economy, opium merchants alone could accumulate capital rapidly and so give poppy farmers crop loans equivalent to more than half their annual incomes, credit critical to the survival of many poor villagers.

In marked contrast to the marginal yields the country’s harsh climate offers most food crops, Afghanistan proved ideal for opium. On average, each hectare of Afghan poppy land produces three to five times more than its chief competitor, Burma. Most important of all, in such an arid ecosystem, subject to periodic drought, opium uses less than half the water needed for staples such as wheat.

After taking power in 1996, the Taliban regime encouraged a nationwide expansion of opium cultivation, doubling production to 4,600 tons, then equivalent to 75% of the world’s heroin supply. Signaling its support for drug production, the Taliban regime began collecting a twenty percent tax from the yearly opium harvest, earning an estimated $100 million in revenues.

In retrospect, the regime’s most important innovation was undoubtedly the introduction of large-scale heroin refining in the environs of the city of Jalalabad. There, hundreds of crude labs set to work, paying only a modest production tax of $70 on every kilogram of heroin powder. According to UN researchers, the Taliban also presided over bustling regional opium markets in Helmand and Nangarhar provinces, protecting some 240 top traders there.

During the 1990s, Afghanistan’s soaring opium harvest fueled an international smuggling trade that tied Central Asia, Russia, and Europe into a vast illicit market of arms, drugs, and money-laundering. It also helped fuel an eruption of ethnic insurgency across a 3,000-mile swath of land from Uzbekistan in Central Asia to Bosnia in the Balkans.

In July 2000, however, the Taliban leader Mullah Omar suddenly ordered a ban on all opium cultivation in a desperate bid for international recognition. Remarkably enough, almost overnight the Taliban regime used the ruthless repression for which it was infamous to slash the opium harvest by 94% to only 185 metric tons.

By then, however, Afghanistan had become dependent on poppy production for most of its taxes, export income, and employment. In effect, the Taliban’s ban was an act of economic suicide that brought an already weakened society to the brink of collapse. This was the unwitting weapon the US wielded when it began its military campaign against the Taliban in October 2001. Without opium, the regime was already a hollow shell and essentially imploded at the bursting of the first American bombs.

The Return of the CIA, Opium, and Counterinsurgency: 2001-

To defeat the Taliban in the aftermath of 9/11, the CIA successfully mobilized former warlords long active in the heroin trade to seize towns and cities across eastern Afghanistan. In other words, the Agency and its local allies created ideal conditions for reversing the Taliban’s opium ban and reviving the drug traffic. Only weeks after the collapse of the Taliban, officials were reporting an outburst of poppy planting in the heroin-heartlands of Helmand and Nangarhar. At a Tokyo international donors’ conference in January 2002, Hamid Karzai, the new Prime Minister put in place by the Bush administration, issued a pro forma ban on opium growing – without any means of enforcing it against the power of these resurgent local warlords.

After investing some three billion dollars in Afghanistan’s destruction during the Cold War, Washington and its allies now proved parsimonious in the reconstruction funds they offered. At that 2002 Tokyo conference, international donors promised just four billion dollars of an estimated $10 billion needed to rebuild the economy over the next five years. In addition, the total US spending of $22 billion for Afghanistan from 2003 to 2007 turned out to be skewed sharply toward military operations, leaving, for instance, just $237 million for agriculture. (And as in Iraq, significant sums from what reconstruction funds were available simply went into the pockets of Western experts, private contractors, and their local counterparts.)

Under these circumstances, no one should have been surprised when, during the first year of the US occupation, Afghanistan’s opium harvest surged to 3,400 tons. Over the next five years, international donors would contribute $8 billion to rebuild Afghanistan, while opium would infuse nearly twice that amount, $14 billion, directly into the rural economy without any deductions by either those Western experts or Kabul’s bloated bureaucracy.

While opium production continued its relentless rise, the Bush administration downplayed the problem, outsourcing narcotics control to Great Britain and police training to Germany. As the lead agency in Allied operations, Donald Rumsfeld’s Defense Department regarded opium as a distraction from its main mission of defeating the Taliban (and, of course, invading Iraq). Waving away the problem in late 2004, President Bush said he did not want to “waste another American life on a narco-state”. Meanwhile, in their counterinsurgency operations, US forces worked closely with local warlords who proved to be leading druglords.

After five years of the US occupation, Afghanistan’s drug production had swelled to unprecedented proportions. In August 2007, the UN reported that the country’s record opium crop covered almost 500,000 acres, an area larger than all the coca fields in Latin America. From a modest 185 tons at the start of American intervention in 2001, Afghanistan now produced 8,200 tons of opium, a remarkable 53% of the country’s GDP and 93% of global heroin supply.

In this way, Afghanistan became the world’s first true “narco-state”. If a cocaine traffic that provided just three percent of Colombia’s GDP could bring in its wake endless violence and powerful cartels capable of corrupting that country’s government, then we can only imagine the consequences of Afghanistan’s dependence on opium for more than fifty percent of its entire economy.

At a drug conference in Kabul this month, the head of Russia’s Federal Narcotics Service estimated the value of Afghanistan’s current opium crop at $65 billion. Only $500 million of that vast sum goes to Afghanistan’s farmers, $300 million to the Taliban guerrillas, and the $64 billion balance “to the drug mafia”, leaving ample funds to corrupt the Karzai government in a nation whose total GDP is only $10 billion.

Indeed, opium’s influence is so pervasive that many Afghan officials, from village leaders to Kabul’s police chief, the defense minister, and the president’s brother, have been tainted by the traffic. So cancerous and crippling is this corruption that, according to recent UN estimates, Afghans are forced to spend a stunning $2.5 billion in bribes. Not surprisingly, the government’s repeated attempts at opium eradication have been thoroughly compromised by what the UN has called “corrupt deals between field owners, village elders, and eradication teams”.

Not only have drug taxes funded an expanding guerrilla force, but the Taliban’s role in protecting opium farmers and the heroin merchants who rely on their crop gives them real control over the core of the country’s economy. In January 2009, the UN and anonymous US “intelligence officials” estimated that drug traffic provided Taliban insurgents with $400 million a year. “Clearly”, commented Defense Secretary Robert Gates, “we have to go after the drug labs and the drug lords that provide support to the Taliban and other insurgents”.

In mid-2009, the US embassy launched a multi-agency effort, called the Afghan Threat Finance Cell, to cut Taliban drug monies through financial controls. But one American official soon compared this effort to “punching jello”. By August 2009, a frustrated Obama administration had ordered the US military to “kill or capture” fifty Taliban-connected druglords who were placed on a classified “kill list”.

Since the record crop of 2007, opium production has, in fact, declined somewhat – to 6,900 tons last year (still over ninety percent of the world’s opium supply). While UN analysts attribute this twenty percent reduction largely to eradication efforts, a more likely cause has been the global glut of heroin that came with the Afghan opium boom, and which had depressed the price of poppies by 34%. In fact, even this reduced Afghan opium crop is still far above total world demand, which the UN estimates at 5,000 tons per annum.

Preliminary reports on the 2010 Afghan opium harvest, which starts next month, indicate that the drug problem is not going away. Some US officials who have surveyed Helmand’s opium heartland see signs of an expanded crop. Even the UN drug experts who have predicted a continuing decline in production are not optimistic about long-term trends. Opium prices might decline for a few years, but the price of wheat and other staple crops is dropping even faster, leaving poppies as by far the most profitable crop for poor Afghan farmers.

Ending the Cycle of Drugs and Death

With its forces now planted in the dragon’s teeth soil of Afghanistan, Washington is locked into what looks to be an unending cycle of drugs and death. Every spring in those rugged mountains, the snows melt, the opium seeds sprout, and a fresh crop of Taliban fighters take to the field, many to die by lethal American fire. And the next year, the snows melt again, fresh poppy shoots break through the soil, and a new crop of teen-aged Taliban fighters pick up arms against America, spilling more blood. This cycle has been repeated for the past ten years and, unless something changes, can continue indefinitely.

Is there any alternative? Even were the cost of rebuilding Afghanistan’s rural economy – with its orchards, flocks, and food crops – as high as $30 billion or, for that matter, $90 billion dollars, the money is at hand. By conservative estimates, the cost of President Obama’s ongoing surge of 30,000 troops alone is $30 billion a year. So just bringing those 30,000 troops home would create ample funds to begin the rebuilding of rural life in Afghanistan, making it possible for young farmers to begin feeding their families without joining the Taliban’s army.

Short of another precipitous withdrawal akin to 1991, Washington has no realistic alternative to the costly, long-term reconstruction of Afghanistan’s agriculture. Beneath the gaze of an allied force that now numbers about 120,000 soldiers, opium has fueled the Taliban’s growth into an omnipresent shadow government and an effective guerrilla army. The idea that our expanded military presence might soon succeed in driving back that force and handing over pacification to the illiterate, drug-addicted Afghan police and army remains, for the time being, a fantasy. Quick fixes like paying poppy farmers not to plant, something British and Americans have both tried, can backfire and end up actually promoting yet more opium cultivation. Rapid drug eradication without alternative employment, something the private contractor DynCorp tried so disastrously under a $150 million contract in 2005, would simply plunge Afghanistan into more misery, stoking mass anger, and destabilizing the Kabul government further.

So the choice is clear enough: we can continue to fertilize this deadly soil with yet more blood in a brutal war with an uncertain outcome – for both the United States and the people of Afghanistan. Or we can begin to withdraw American forces while helping renew this ancient, arid land by replanting its orchards, replenishing its flocks, and rebuilding the irrigation systems ruined in decades of war.

At this point, our only realistic choice is this sort of serious rural development – that is, reconstructing the Afghan countryside through countless small-scale projects until food crops become a viable alternative to opium. To put it simply, so simply that even Washington might understand, you can only pacify a narco-state when it is no longer a narco-state.

_____

Alfred W McCoy is the J R W Smail Professor of History at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. He is the author of The Politics of Heroin: CIA Complicity in the Global Drug Trade (2003), which probes the conjuncture of illicit narcotics and covert operations over half a century. His latest book, Policing America’s Empire: The United States, the Philippines, and the Rise of the Surveillance State (2009), explores the influence of overseas counterinsurgency operations on the spread of internal security measures at home. To check out the latest TomCast audio interview in which McCoy discusses just who is complicit in the Afghan opium trade, click here or, if you prefer to download it to your iPod, here.

Copyright 2010 Alfred W. McCoy

(c) 2016 TomDispatch. All rights reserved.

http://www.tomdispatch.com/blog/175225/

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Categories: Uncategorized

The Cost of Endless War Since 9/11

by Rory Hall

The Daily Coin (November 13 2017)

Zero Hedge (November 13 2017)

If it were just Federal Reserve Notes that were stolen that would be one thing, but the fact of the matter is we have happily handed over our freedom, individual sovereignty, and our national identity. Currently, as a people and as a nation, we are completely lost.

For those that remember, Donald Rumsfeld announced on 9/10, you know the day before 9/11, that the Pentagon, the Pentagon that Rumsfeld had been overseeing for years, could not account for $2.3 TRILLION dollars {1} – then you know he and the Pentagon accountants are nothing more than thieves. How do you lose 2.3 trillion of anything? You don’t. You either knowingly give it to someone or you steal it. Either way, you know exactly where 2.3 trillion “widgets”, dollars, or grains of sands were placed.

Now we learn the Pentagon has spent three times more than was originally estimated on the never-ending un-Constitutional war. The un-Constitutional invasions of Libya, drone strikes on Yemen, and the absolute destruction of Iraq have cost us a lot more than trillions of dollars. If we just focus on the spending for a minute, we see that our country should be the shining city on the hill, but instead, we are the indebted cesspool of corruption and war criminals.

Let’s not forget that “ISIS” was trained, armed, and funded by the CIA – you know, another group of warmongers that we the taxpayers are responsible for paying – read here {2}, {3} and {4} for starters to learn about the CIA’s role in the formation of ISIS.

The United States military has spent more than $5.6 trillion on conflicts since 2001, more than three times the Pentagon’s actual estimate, according to a new study {5}.

The Department of Defense reported earlier this year that it had spent around $1.5 trillion on conflicts, including putting troops on the ground in Iraq and Afghanistan, air raids in Syria and Iraq to battle the Islamic State militant group (“ISIS”). and a drone campaign and raids against extremists in Pakistan.

But that figure appears to underplay the real cost of war for the American taxpayer, at least according to the Watson Institute of International and Public Affairs at Brown University. It puts the total cost at $5.6 billion, or $23,000 per taxpayer.

The Pentagon’s initial estimate put the taxpayer cost at $7,740 per person for the conflicts since the Al-Qaeda-hatched 9/11 attacks in New York that killed almost 3,000 people.

“War costs are more than what we spend in any one year on what’s called the pointy end of the spear”, the study’s author, Neta Crawford, told The Wall Street Journal {6}, which first reported its findings.
 

There are all these other costs behind the spear, and there are consequences of using it, that we need to include.

 

US coalition strikes in Mosul


A picture taken on July 9 shows smoke billowing following an airstrike by the US-led international
coalition forces targeting the Islamic State (ISIS) group in Mosul, Iraq. AHMAD AL-RUBAYE/AFP/GETTY

The image above represents what used to be a neighborhood where families lived, worked, and prayed. It is now nothing but a pile of rubble with bodies strewn about like so many bricks or pieces of meaningless nothing. The warmongers want more death, like what you see above, because it means more profits for them. More of our tax dollars move out of our accounts and into these murderers’ accounts. Look at that image of what used to be a neighborhood. What have we become?

The Newsweek article continues:
 

The study examines not only the money spent by the Pentagon but also the State Department, the Department of Veterans Affairs, and the Department of Homeland Security, for resources dedicated to the “war on terrorism”.

The total costs include financial support for allies in the battle against extremist groups, mostly from eastern Europe, such as Croatia, Georgia, Hungary, Poland, and Romania, and a trillion dollars added for the care of veterans who may have received injuries in the conflicts.

The US has spent sixteen years in Afghanistan, a conflict that is set to continue with President Donald Trump announcing in September an expansion of the US military presence there to battle the Taliban and ISIS.

The US withdrew from Iraq in 2011 after a decade of occupation but has continued to support and advise Baghdad’s troops. The US airforce has led a coalition of international forces to conduct air raids against ISIS and wrestle back large tracts of territory from the group in western and northern Iraq.

However, the study does not consider US military assistance outside of these countries against ISIS, such as Tunisia, the Philippines, or Egypt. {5}

 

These funds represent death and destruction, not peace and prosperity. Look at the image above. This is what we have become and the warmongers want more, always more.

Will it ever end? Will we ever see a return of humanity to our country? We will ever see a return of the rule of law, morals, or a sense of decency? The black hole our country has slipped into seems to be engulfing the landscape and unless we can slow this out-of-control runaway train we are going to continue moving into the darkness never to see Light again. Is this who we are; is this who we have become?

Links:

{1} https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xU4GdHLUHwU

{2} https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2015/jun/03/us-isis-syria-iraq

{3} https://www.globalresearch.ca/how-the-us-supports-the-islamic-state-isis-one-accidental-airdrop-vs-billions-in-covert-military-aid/5409449

{4} https://www.globalresearch.ca/logistics-101-where-does-isis-get-its-guns/5454726

{5} http://www.newsweek.com/how-many-trillions-war-has-cost-us-taxpayer-911-attacks-705041?yptr=yahoo

{6} https://www.wsj.com/amp/articles/study-estimates-war-costs-at-5-6-trillion-1510106400

https://www.sprottmoney.com/Blog/the-cost-of-endless-war-since-9-11-rory-hall.html

http://www.zerohedge.com/news/2017-11-13/cost-endless-war-911

Categories: Uncategorized

The Arctic Silk Road

A Huge Leap Forward for China and Russia

by Federico Pieraccini

Strategic Culture Foundation (November 13 2017)

The Silk Road, renamed the Belt and Road Initiative (“BRI”), is developing infrastructure along land and sea trade routes. However, little is known about China’s initiative in the Arctic Circle, which represents a new route that Beijing is now able to develop thanks to technology together with the strategic partnership with Russia.

Involving about 65 countries and affecting 4.4 billion people, constituting thirty percent of the world’s GDP, together with a total investment from Beijing that could surpass a trillion dollars, this is an immense project that requires a lot of imagination to grasp the intentions of the Chinese leadership. With a host of projects already in progress, and some almost completed (the Sino-Pakistan Corridor known as CPEC is archetypical), the overland and maritime routes are developing side by side. Plenty of ink has been used detailing Beijing’s intentions regarding the East-West connections of the super Eurasian continent. Pipelines, railway lines, fiber-optic cables, telecommunications infrastructure, and highways dominate discussions, together with talks about costs, feasibility studies, the question of security, and the return on investment. The land Silk Road is certainly an imposing challenge that is not just commercial in nature but sets the foundation for greater cultural and social integration between neighboring countries. It is a project that in the long term aims to blend together the Eurasian continent and overcome the contradictions contained therein through win-win cooperation and economic development.

The maritime route is a more structured project, tied mainly to two intrinsic needs of the People’s Republic of China. The first is commercial and concerns the need for Beijing to ship its goods along established routes, creating ports and supply facilities along the way. The objective is to increase profits from cargo ships, especially when they return to China filled with goods, as well as to create new global sorting centers at ports set up along the maritime silk road. Important examples can be found in Pakistan with the development of the Gwadar port. The first phase was completed in 2006, and the second has been in progress since 2007, though the port was inaugurated in November 2016 and has been operational since. The project should be completed in the coming decades, with potentially 45 anchorage points, drainage of the approaching canal to about twenty meters, and a total trade turnover of over 400 million tons. The major benefit of this arrangement is to divide goods according to necessity, value, and supply, choosing between an overland or maritime route. The port of Gwadar is connected principally through pipelines to the Chinese city of Kashi. This is a great example of how diversification can be achieved with the maritime route, used mainly for transportable goods, while the Gwadar port becomes an important hub in the oil and gas trade, especially thanks to progress in methane and regasification technology.

Other major maritime silk-route destinations include Venice and Athens, with the port of Piraeus already owned by COSCO of China for many years, a company that specializes in port activities and the integration of harbors along the maritime silk road based on the model of the Gwadar port. Venice is currently only a reminder of the ancient Silk Road, but if its past role is to be reprised, wherein its modern garb it would today be the final landing point of the South Sea BRI, it would certainly require large investments to feed a network of dense exchanges. China would then have a maritime route in Southern Europe that is linked mainly overland to its northern corridor.

The other reason (that is less well known) pushing the People’s Republic of China to invest in such extensive maritime routes concerns the naval doctrine adopted by the Chinese navy. The United States maintains a remarkable ability to project power across all five continents thanks to the size of its navy, which has grown quite steadily over the last century. Beijing realized that possessing such power projection would undergird the viability of its maritime routes, guarding against pirates as well as obviating the possibility of a naval blockade in time of war, something always on the back of the minds of Chinese strategists.

A parallel in terms of security is easily observed when analyzing the overland route of the Silk Road and the security that necessarily accompanies such an extensive infrastructure network. In this sense, the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, and the accession of both Pakistan and India into the Organization, aims to create the conditions for peaceful development while avoiding tensions between neighboring countries and different ethnic groups. Beijing is well aware that there is no prosperity without security, especially in the context of underdevelopment and in such a diverse continent with respect to human geography.

In military and naval terms, Beijing’s budget has reached significant levels, rising from about ten billion dollars in 1989 to about 110 billion in 2017. With such investment, Beijing has been able to launch three new submarine models (Type 93, Type 94, and Type 95) as well as a refurbished aircraft carrier (Type 001) together with the construction of China’s first fully equipped homemade aircraft carrier (Type 001A). The main focus for the People’s Liberation Army Navy (“PLAN”) is a strategic investment in amphibious and small vessels that provide the means to project power in order to influence the power dynamics of the South China Sea, this in the context of American harassment to dominate the Sea. In this sense, the strategy of denying America a presence in the South China sea is also accompanied by the construction of artificial islands and the development of new anti-ship missiles with supersonic capabilities.

Security and investment seem to be the engine of the Chinese BRI project, and connectivity appears to be the transmission chain. Maximum attention is also being given to the creation of seaports for the PLAN, as seen with China’s first foreign base in Djibouti, a particularly strategic location due to the strait of Bab-el-Mandeb.

An aspect of the Chinese BRI that is less well known, and about which we still have few details, is the Arctic route. The Arctic is formally shared between the United States, Northern Canada, Finland, Greenland (Denmark), Iceland, Norway, Russia, and Sweden and is administered by the Arctic Council. Non-member countries include France, Germany, India, Italy, Japan, South, Korea, the Netherlands, Poland, Singapore, Spain, the United Kingdom, and the People’s Republic of China.

Recently, Russia and China began a fruitful discussion on the exploitation of the Arctic routes. The July 2017 meeting between Xi Jinping and Medvedev confirmed Moscow and Beijing’s intention is to jointly develop the Chinese maritime Silk Road through the Arctic, serving to diversify trade routes and involving neighboring states in port projects and scientific research. Beijing has every intention in the future of moving its goods through the Arctic from China to Europe, thereby reducing the distances involved by up to twenty to thirty percent, saving time, fuel, and human resources in the process. Considering that ninety percent of Chinese goods are transported by sea, even a small change would generate savings and bigger profits. In the face of such an irresistible opportunity, China is not wasting any time. A few days ago, the Xuelong icebreaker (the Russian Federation is the only country possessing two nuclear icebreakers) sailed through the Northwest Passage in the Arctic, reaching North America from Asia in virtually no time, constituting an event of historic importance, this being the first time a Chinese ship has completed this route. Equally important for business, COSCO, the Chinese giant, completed in 2013 the Northeast Passage in the Arctic, starting from the Chinese port of Dalian and arriving in Rotterdam, shaving the duration of the journey by a third, down from 45 days to thirty.

There are some considerations regarding the Arctic region to be made, both from a practical and realistic point of view. There are currently three usable routes, namely the northeast, northwest, and “north-north” (crossing the North Pole). The first is the one through which Russia and China intend to shorten shipping times in spite of the difficulties faced by the current lack of infrastructure as well as an unwelcome environment, complicating things and making the whole endeavor extremely expensive to develop. In this sense, cooperation between Russia and China is highly profitable for both countries, who are interested in proposing this route to other countries as well, resulting in increased transit volumes. Currently, the route can be used for about four months of the year. The northwest route has problems with deep ice that prevents icebreakers from clearing a passage for a sufficient duration to allow for a commercial route. The “north-north” passage, cutting straight through the North Pole, is inaccessible until all ice is melted, something scientists predict will occur by 2050, with all the related consequences.

Inevitably, Arctic routes represent the future in terms of opportunities and savings in cost. In comparison to the Suez Canal, which is the current route through which China reaches Europe, entailing a journey of nearly 12,000 nautical miles, a route through the Northwest Passage in comparison cuts to journey to under 7,000 nautical miles.

Beijing is investing in infrastructure to reduce time and increase profit. The Arctic route has all the indications of becoming a central node of the BRI initiative. China’s commitment to the development of the Arctic route is comparable to another titanic project that is also central to the strategy of the maritime Silk Road and is occurring in Nicaragua, namely the construction of an alternative to the Panama Canal. How viable these gigantic projects are remains a matter of time, resting mainly on the acquisition of new technologies that transform the impossible into the possible, whereby the accessibility of new technology allows for a reduction in research and developmental costs.

In the not-too-distant future, transit routes through the Arctic will assume a certain level of importance vis-a-vis the global geopolitics of Russia and China. Beijing and Moscow seem to have every intention of developing this innovative route with every means at their disposal, adding to the maritime silk road an unanticipated but highly beneficial route. Creating a partnership with Russia in the Arctic will enable Beijing to set foot in the area, as well as allowing it to be involved in the exploitation of hydrocarbons and other natural resources. Combined with the Russian Federation’s increasing ability to penetrate the Arctic and thereby create the necessary infrastructure, the Arctic route is something that can increasingly be offered as a proposition to partner nations.

_____

Republishing is welcomed with reference to Strategic Culture Foundation on-line journal http://www.strategic-culture.org.

https://www.strategic-culture.org/news/2017/11/13/arctic-silk-road-huge-leap-forward-for-china-and-russia.html

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Three Billionaires Are Wealthier than Half the US population

by Eric London

World Socialist Web Site, wsws.org (November 10 2017)

According to a report published Wednesday by the Institute for Policy Studies, the three richest Americans – Jeff Bezos, Bill Gates, and Warren Buffett – now own more wealth than the poorest half of the US population, some 160 million people.

America’s “sixty families”, whose massive wealth was documented in journalist Ferdinand Lundberg’s 1937 exposure, have been replaced by just three billionaires whose combined wealth is over $264 billion.

The Institute for Policy Studies (“IPS”) report, “Billionaire Bonanza: The Forbes 400 and the Rest of Us”, reveals that the richest 25 Americans are wealthier than the bottom 56 percent of the US. The net worth of the 400 richest is roughly equal to that of the bottom two-thirds of the country, a total of 200 million people. According to the report’s authors, the US has become “a hereditary aristocracy of wealth and power”.

The unprecedented concentration of wealth is an international phenomenon. Oxfam reported in June 2017 that the world’s five richest people own as much as the poorest half of the world’s population, down from eighty people in 2015. Today, each of the top five billionaires owns as much as 750 million people, more than the total population of Latin America and double the population of the US.


Wealth share by wealth decile. Credit: People’s Policy Project

The IPS report explains that the US data “underestimate[s] our current levels of wealth concentration” because “the growing use of offshore tax havens and legal trusts has made the concealing of assets more widespread than ever before”. A 2017 report published by Alstadsaeter, Johannesen, and Zucman titled “Who owns the wealth in tax havens?” estimates that the world’s super-rich have between $5.7 and $32 trillion hidden from taxation or statistical analysis.

While the super-rich dominate the commanding heights, the bottom ninety percent face hardship and crisis that vary only in terms of immediacy. The IPS report measures the net worth of working-class families by subtracting the value of durable goods like automobiles, household appliances, and furniture. According to its estimate, over nineteen percent of US households – roughly sixty million people – have “zero or negative net worth” when durable goods are subtracted.

Beyond the poorest twenty percent, the report explains,

… even those low- and middle-income families who do have some wealth often don’t have any liquid assets – cash or savings – at their disposal. Over sixty percent of Americans report not having enough savings to cover a $500 emergency.

 


Promedio por grupo etario de las cuentas de ahorros de jubilación de las familias en EUA en el 2007, 2013 y el porcentaje por el que cayeron. Fuente: Economic Policy Institute

Even above the roughly 200 million people with nothing saved, conditions for the sixtieth to the ninetieth percentile are similarly difficult. The bulk of this section of the working class’s net worth derives from housing equity, and when this is subtracted, most lack enough to survive through a few years of retirement. According to a recent study of Census data by the Economic Policy Institute, retirement account savings have plummeted in recent years among all age groups.

The IPS report is based on data from the US Federal Reserve’s Survey of Consumer Finances, which the World Socialist Web Site analyzed in detail last month. While the extremely wealthy have accumulated vast sums of wealth, a broader layer, comprising the top ten percent, has also greatly enriched itself in recent years at the expense of the working masses. The richest ten percent of the US – the social and political base for gender and identity politics – owns 77.1 percent of total wealth, while the bottom three quarters own just ten percent.

The explosion of social inequality is not an accidental process. It is the product of a decades-long campaign by both the Democratic and Republican parties to transfer trillions of dollars from the working class into the pockets of the rich. The “accomplishments” of both parties over the course of the last forty years are a litany of tax cuts for the wealthy, cuts to social programs, the deindustrialization of broad swaths of the Midwest, gutting corporate regulations and spending trillions on imperialist war, state surveillance, and mass deportation and incarceration.

The Obama administration marked a milestone in this protracted social counterrevolution defined by the Wall Street bailout of 2008~2009, the restructuring of the auto industry in 2009 and the bankruptcy of Detroit in 2013~2014. With the help of the Democratic administration, the ruling elite cashed in on the financial crisis.

As a result, the United States is now an oligarchy. Through its immense wealth and control of the major corporations, the super-rich have established total domination over all of the official institutions of political, cultural, and intellectual power.

The courts, the Congress, and the president not only operate on behalf of competing interests within the aristocracy, they are increasingly personally staffed by millionaires and billionaires, as expressed most directly in the figure of Donald Trump. The military wages permanent war across the globe to protect corporate profits. The mainstream media is nothing more than the official propaganda wing of the American oligarchy. The trade unions, in their typically brutish and corrupt form, are paid off by the corporations to police the workers and suppress opposition.

The obsessions and preoccupations of this privileged layer of the population are entirely alien to the concerns of the bottom ninety percent. The cost of healthcare is skyrocketing; thousands of immigrant families are torn apart each week by deportation; nearly 100 people die each day from opioid abuse; student debt crushes a whole generation; millions remain devastated by floods, fires, and hurricanes; entire states have been stripped of women’s health clinics; one veteran commits suicide every eighty minutes; and on and on.

Congress holds no hearings on these subjects. Its calendar is booked full with hearings on alleged Russian interference in US politics and the need to bring social media and tech companies to heel by censoring antiestablishment media. The Democrats and Republicans are working around the clock to reach a deal on a tax bill that will hand over trillions to the wealthy and corporations, with Senate Republicans announcing their version just yesterday.

The astronomical growth of inequality and the absence of any institutional mechanisms by which the population can address its social grievances presages a historic explosion of the class struggle. Strikes and protests involving tens of millions of workers and youth are inevitable, but they must be guided by a socialist program.

The billionaires’ wealth must be expropriated and redistributed to those in need. The corporations through which they derive their riches must be seized, placed under democratic control, and reorganized by the workers themselves to serve public need and not private profit.

Companies like Bezos’ Amazon can be used to deliver medicine, food, water, and construction equipment to disaster zones and impoverished areas. Gates’ Microsoft software and programming development can be harnessed to introduce an unprecedented degree of social planning into the world economy, allowing for production to be controlled so as to eliminate scarcity of basic resources and reverse environmental degradations. All industries can be made to serve the interests of the human race.

Under socialism, across all industries and in all countries, workers will come together in their workshops, plants, and offices to plot a course for wielding the world’s productive forces in pursuit of equality and progress. But the ruling class will not give up its wealth voluntarily. To join the fight for socialism, contact us today.

Copyright (c) 1998~2017 World Socialist Web Site – All rights reserved

https://www.wsws.org/en/articles/2017/11/10/pers-n10.html?

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Big Pharma’s Pushers

The Corporate Roots of the Opioid Crisis

by Vijay Prashad

CounterPunch (November 10 2017)


Photo by Cindy Shebley | CC BY 2.0

Sitting in a small cafe in a small town in western Massachusetts, Jordan talks about his problems with opioids. He was a construction worker, but an accident at his work site sent him to a hospital and into the arms of prescription painkillers. Jordan’s doctor did not properly instruct him about the dangers of these pills, which he used to kill the pain that ran down his leg. When the prescription ran out, Jordan found he craved the pills. “I used up my savings buying them on the black market”, he told me. When his own money ran out, Jordan got involved in petty theft. He went to prison for a short stint. The lack of proper care for his addiction in the prison allowed him to spiral into more dangerous drugs, which led to his near-death. Now released, Jordan struggles to make his way in the world.

With us is Mary, another recovering addict who entered the world of prescription drugs after she had a car accident a few years ago. Her shoulders and neck hurt badly and so Mary’s doctor gave her a prescription for fentanyl, which is fifty to 100 times stronger than morphine. Mary used a fentanyl patch, which allowed the drug to slowly seep into her body through her skin. It was inevitable, Mary told me, that she became addicted to the drug. The pain went away, but the longing for the opioid continued. Mary, like Jordan, is in a de-addiction programme. It is an uphill climb, but Mary is confident. She is a bright person, whose eyes tell a story of great hope behind the fog of her addiction.

In late October, in Easthampton, Massachusetts, a small crowd gathered in public to talk about the scourge of the opioid epidemic in the area. Kaisa Clark talked about her sister Kristina, who died last year at the age of 32 from endocarditis. Kristina (Tina) was addicted but was not given much support from the medical community. “Time and again my sister was made to feel like her life didn’t matter”, Kaisa said, her voice cracking. In her obituary, Tina’s family wrote movingly about her fight with addiction. “It was an uphill battle to acquire the necessary physical and mental health services that she required, as the stigma of substance abuse continues to plague all areas of our community”.

These are some of the two million Americans who suffer from substance abuse disorders related to prescription opioid pain relievers. The numbers are staggering. In 2016, as many as 64,000 people died in the US as a result of drug overdose. In 2015, the number was 52,404 dead, which means that the number increased by 22 percent over the year. But more staggering is that over the past three years, deaths by synthetic opioids (fentanyls) increased by 540 percent from 3,000 to 20,000. Illegal drugs – such as cocaine and heroin – continue to pose a challenge, but the real threat is from prescription opioids such as fentanyls of one kind or another. Each day, 175 Americans die from opioid overdose.

National Emergency

In early November, President Donald Trump declared a national emergency against opioid abuse. “The opioid is a tremendous emergency”, he said in his characteristic style. The declaration of an emergency means that state funds should go post-haste to help stem the crisis. It is not clear, however, if this will be enough. There are indeed severe problems of inadequate funding for the treatment of addiction, and funds will be welcome. But the problem also exists at the other end – the production of the addicts. This would require a full-scale assault on the pharmaceutical industry.

Whether Trump will have the stomach to take on this powerful industry is to be seen.

In July, Dan Picard, a City Council member in the town of Middletown (Ohio), reported that the opioid epidemic had put immense pressure on the financial resources of the town. He suggested that the town adopt a “three strikes” approach to the crisis. If a person called for an ambulance because of an opioid overdose, the city would send medical care twice, administer the antidote (Narcan) and allow the person to survive. The third time, the person having an overdose would be left to die. “We need to put a fear about overdosing in Middletown”, said Picard. He was chastised for his callousness.

But Picard is not alone. Across the “rust belt”, where de-industrialization has slowly eviscerated community after community, the opioid epidemic makes its way. Matters are so grave that in West Virginia, by early March, the state ran out of money to help bury the poor. West Virginia’s Funeral Directors Association president Frederick Kitchen said that this was largely the result of drug overdose deaths. Robert Kimes of the same association said that many funeral home directors had said that the majority of those who required the indigent burial programme were young and “not financially in a great position”.

Princeton University economists Anne Case and Sir Angus Deaton looked carefully at the mortality rates for the US working class and found them prone to “diseases of despair” – including drug overdose. In 2015, the Case-Deaton study found that there was a “sea of despair” that was drowning a generation of working-class Americans, with diseases such as drug addiction and alcoholism as evidence for the despair. In an updated version of the study that came out this year, Case and Deaton find that the collapse of the job market and the lack of hope amongst the working class have turned the poor towards various forms of addiction, including that of prescription drugs. Half the men who are out of the labor force, they suggest, are taking a prescription painkiller (such as an opioid).

“Although we do not see the supply of opioids as the fundamental factor”, Case and Deaton argue, “the prescription of opioids for chronic pain added fuel to the flames, making the epidemic much worse than it otherwise would have been”. Importantly, Case and Deaton point at the money. “We should note”, they suggest, “that a central beneficiary of opioids are the pharmaceutical companies that have promoted their sales.”

Social Reasons for Drug Overdose

Case and Deaton are right to point to the social reasons for the drug overdose epidemic – the despair in society as it suffers from unemployment and social collapse – but also correct to point a finger at the pharmaceutical industry. Purdue Pharma, which makes the popular drug OxyContin, made $35 billion on this drug. The family that owns Purdue Pharma, the Sacklers, has made upwards of $13 billion. They donate vast amounts of money to charity, particularly in the arts. But they have also lobbied Congress with laser-sharp intensity. Between 2006 and 2015, Purdue Pharma and others who produce opioids spent $900 million on their lobbying efforts. That is eight times the amount spent by the gun lobby. They have purchased immunity from the elite, who are loath to stand up to stem the epidemic that is hemorrhaging poor communities across the US.

Matters get more horrid when one looks at the entire pharmaceutical industry. It is true that the drug industry has made a fortune selling painkillers – especially opioids – to the general public. But they also make a killing from selling the antidotes for an overdose. And they have shown their colors by raising prices as the epidemic spirals out of control. The drug that Picard wanted to deny the overdose victim on their third call to the hospital is Narcan. One version of Narcan is called Evzio and is made by the pharmaceutical company Kaleo. In 2014, Kaleo sold two Evzio doses for $690, but increased the price earlier this year to $4,500. Kaleo controls about twenty percent of the antidote market. This means that it has been able to set the price for this drug across the market, including for generic naloxone, which doubled over the past year.

Neither Jordan nor Mary is able to easily face a world that seems to have turned its back on them. There are millions of others like them who live in “factory deserts”, in towns that have been utterly hollowed out by the new order of things. They have no faith in Trump’s emergency order. Some money will go towards opioid addiction, which they welcome. But that is not the crux of the matter. They point their fingers at the pharmaceutical industry and the billionaires in their society. There is money in their society, they tell me at different times, but it does not seem to be coming to them. “The rich would like us all to die or go to prison”, says Mary.

This essay originally appeared on Frontline (India.)

https://www.counterpunch.org/2017/11/10/big-pharmas-pushers-the-roots-of-the-opioid-crisis/

Categories: Uncategorized

Healthcare Spending …

Now Accounts for Almost One-Fifth of the Entire US Economy

by Michael Snyder

The American Dream blog (November 08 2017)

Zero Hedge (November 08 2017)

Everybody agrees that healthcare costs are way too high. Back in 1960, healthcare spending accounted for approximately five percent {1} of GDP, and by 2020 it is being projected that healthcare spending will account for twenty percent {1} of GDP. And when you break those numbers down into actual dollars, they become even more staggering. Back in 1960, an average of $146 was spent on healthcare per person for the entire year, but today that number has skyrocketed to $9,990. On a per capita basis, we spend far more than anyone else in the world {1} on healthcare.

In fact, we spend almost twice as much {1} as most other industrialized nations on a per capita basis. Something has gone terribly wrong, and we desperately need to get this fixed.

Just between the years of 1996 and 2013, our spending on health care rose by a whopping 900 billion dollars, and it is estimated that healthcare spending now accounts for nearly one-fifth of the entire US economy. The following comes from the Daily Mail {1} …
 

US healthcare spending rocketed $900 billion between 1996 and 2013, staggering new data reveal.

Americans spend more money on healthcare than any other population, and increasingly so.

By 2013, total health care spending hit $2.1 trillion, according to the study published today in theJournal of the American Medical Association. The researchers say that figure has now likely soared to more than $3.2 trillion, which equates to eighteen percent of the country’s economy.

 

So why is healthcare spending going up so much?

Well, the truth is that our population is aging, obesity is certainly on the rise {2}, and medical care has become much more expensive. In addition, there are a couple of other major factors that we should acknowledge as well {3} …

First, the United States relies on company-sponsored private health insurance {4}. The government created programs like Medicare {5} and Medicaid to help those without insurance. These programs spurred demand for health care services. That gave providers the ability to raise prices. Other efforts to reform health care {6} and cut costs raised them instead.

Second, chronic illnesses, such as diabetes and heart disease, have increased. They are responsible for 85 percent of health care costs. Almost half of all Americans {7} have at least one of them. They are expensive and difficult to treat.

As a result, the sickest five percent of the population {8} consume fifty percent of total health care costs. The healthiest fifty percent only consume three percent of the nation’s health care costs.

Healthcare costs are only expected to rise even more in the years ahead, and so we desperately need to reform our system.

Because as it is, health insurance premiums are becoming completely unaffordable. According to CNBC {9}, health insurance premiums for plans purchased through an employer will be higher than ever next year …

Next year, employers expect to spend $8,527 per enrolled employee, according to data from the National Business Group on Health. Meanwhile, workers themselves will contribute an average of $2,752 toward their premiums.

And for those that have to purchase their own health insurance, things are even worse. In fact, it is being projected that the average rate increase for Obamacare plans will be 37 percent {10} in 2018.

When I get elected to Congress {11}, I am going to make repealing Obamacare and fixing our broken healthcare system one of my highest priorities.

We need a system that is focused on the relationship between doctors and patients. Compared to the rest of the world, we spend way too much on administrative costs, and we desperately need legal reform. I would like to see Congress legalize the kind of association buying groups that Rand Paul has been proposing, and I would like to see exciting new models such as direct primary care used much more extensively.

There is no way that we should be spending nearly twice as much on healthcare as everyone else in the industrialized world on a per capita basis. We must streamline the system, and we need to start using some common sense.

Unfortunately, common sense is in short supply in Washington DC these days, but hopefully, we can start to change that.

_____

Michael Snyder {12} is a Republican candidate for Congress in Idaho’s First Congressional District, and you can learn how you can get involved in the campaign on his official website {13}. His new book entitled Living A Life That Really Matters {14} is available in paperback and for the Kindle on Amazon.com.

Links:

{1} http://www.dailymail.co.uk/health/article-5058643/US-health-spending-rocketed-900-BILLION-1996.html

{2} http://endoftheamericandream.com/archives/americans-have-never-been-more-overweight-then-they-are-now-new-survey-finds-40-of-u-s-adults-are-obese

{3} https://www.thebalance.com/causes-of-rising-healthcare-costs-4064878

{4} https://www.thebalance.com/how-does-health-insurance-work-3306069

{5} https://www.thebalance.com/what-is-medicare-2388479

{6} https://www.thebalance.com/why-reform-health-care-3305749

{7} http://www.zanebenefits.com/blog/seven-reasons-for-rising-health-care-costs

{8} http://mailchi.mp/dailyshot/the-daily-shot-brief-april-25-global-macro-currents-348293?e=3b53b92804

{9} https://www.cnbc.com/2017/11/07/six-figures-that-will-make-or-break-your-healthcare-budget-in-2018.html

{10} http://theeconomiccollapseblog.com/archives/37-percent-rate-increase-in-2018-obamacare-is-imploding-and-it-must-be-repealed-now

{11} http://helpmichaelwin.com/needs

{12} https://www.michaelsnyderforcongress.com/

{13} https://www.michaelsnyderforcongress.com/contribute.html

{14} http://amzn.to/2t5bx4A

http://endoftheamericandream.com/archives/healthcare-spending-now-accounts-for-almost-one-fifth-of-the-entire-u-s-economy

http://www.zerohedge.com/news/2017-11-08/healthcare-spending-now-accounts-almost-one-fifth-entire-us-economy

Categories: Uncategorized

78% of US Workers …

… Are Living ‘Paycheck-to-Paycheck’ and 71% of Them Are in Debt

by Michael Snyder

The Economic Collapse blog (November 02 2017)

Zero Hedge (November 02 2017)

Are you living paycheck to paycheck? If so, you are just like most other hard working Americans.

As you will see below, 78 percent of full-time workers in the United States say that they are living paycheck to paycheck. That is the highest figure ever recorded, and it is yet more evidence that the middle class is under an increasing amount of stress [1]. The cost of living is rising at a much faster pace than our paychecks are, and more families are falling out of the middle class with each passing month. Unfortunately, this is something that the mainstream media really doesn’t want to talk about these days. Instead, they just keep having us focus on the soaring financial markets which are being grossly artificially, inflated by global central banks.

When I came across the numbers that I am about to share with you I was actually quite stunned. I knew that things were not great in “the real economy”, but I didn’t expect that the number of Americans living paycheck to paycheck would actually be rising. But that is precisely what a brand new survey that was just released by CareerBuilder [2] is saying …

Seventy-eight percent of full-time workers said they live paycheck to paycheck, up from 75 percent last year, according to a recent report from CareerBuilder.

Overall, 71 percent of all US workers said they’re now in debt, up from 68 percent a year ago, CareerBuilder said.

While 46 percent said their debt is manageable, 56 percent said they were in over their heads. About 56 percent also save $100 or less each month, according to CareerBuilder.

 

The first thing that we want to note about this survey is that it only includes full-time workers. So the unemployed, part-time workers, those that work for themselves, and those that are independently wealthy were not included.

The second thing that we want to note is that these numbers have gotten worse since last year.

That certainly does not fit with the narrative that we are being fed by the mainstream media, but it does fit with the reality that most people are living on a daily basis.

Most Americans work extremely hard, but they can never seem to get ahead. Most of us are in debt, and a couple of weeks ago I wrote about how the elite use debt as a tool of enslavement [3]. As we work endless hours to “pay the bills”, we are steadily enriching those that are holding our debts.

In addition, the cost of living is steadily going up, and most US families are just barely scraping by from month to month as a result. Just a couple days ago I wrote about how Obamacare was causing health insurance premiums to skyrocket [4], and today I came across another example of someone that has seen their annual premiums more than double [5] during the Obamacare era …

For some lower-income people in Obamacare, the rising premiums President Donald Trump has talked so much about will barely be felt at all. Others, particularly those with higher incomes, will feel the sharp increases when insurance sign-ups begin Wednesday.

Richard Taylor is one of the people on the wrong end. The 61-year-old, self-employed Oklahoman has meticulously tracked his medical costs since 1994. In 2013, he signed up for an Affordable Care Act plan for the law’s first year offering coverage to millions of Americans.

Four years ago, annual premiums for a mid-level “silver” plan to cover his family totaled $10,072.44. For 2017, they were $21,392.40 – up 112 percent.

 

Who can afford $21,000 a year for health insurance?

I know that I can’t.

And rates are supposed to go up substantially again in 2018. We must repeal Obamacare, and we must do it now [4].

In addition to financial stress, most Americans are also deeply concerned about the future of this country. Just consider the following numbers from a poll that was released this week [6] …

Almost two-thirds of Americans, or 63 percent, report being stressed about the future of the nation, according to the American Psychological Association’s “Eleventh Stress in America” survey, conducted in August and released on Wednesday. This worry about the fate of the union tops longstanding stressors such as money (62 percent) and work (61 percent) and also cuts across political proclivities. However, a significantly larger proportion of Democrats (73 percent) reported feeling stress than independents (59 percent) and Republicans (56 percent).

 

I certainly can’t blame the Democrats for being stressed out. Donald Trump is in the White House and pro-Trump forces are taking over the Republican Party [7]. And if a large wave of pro-Trump activists goes to Congress in 2018 [8], we are going to take this nation in a completely different direction.

That same survey referenced above also discovered that 59 percent of Americans consider this “to be the lowest point in our nation’s history that they can remember” [6] …

 

A majority of the more than 3,400 Americans polled, 59 percent, said “they consider this to be the lowest point in our nation’s history that they can remember”. That sentiment spanned generations, including those that lived through World War Two, the Vietnam War, and the terrorist attacks of September 11th. (Some thirty percent of people polled cited terrorism as a source of concern, a number that’s likely to rise given the alleged terrorist attack in New York City on Tuesday.)

 

That number seems very strange.

Yes, I can understand that those on the left are very pessimistic now that Trump is in the White House, but this is definitely not the lowest point in recent history.

Have people totally forgotten the financial crisis of 2008?

What about 9/11?

The JFK assassination, the Vietnam War, the deep recession during the Carter years and the entire Obama era are also examples of very low points in recent history.

Yes, great challenges are coming, but for the moment the economy is relatively stable, much of the world is at peace, and at least Hillary Clinton is not in the White House.

There is so much to be thankful for, and if people out there think that this is the “lowest point” in recent American history, how are they going to feel when a real crisis comes along?

_____

Michael Snyder is a Republican candidate for Congress in Idaho’s First Congressional District, and you can learn how you can get involved in the campaign on his official website [9]. His new book entitled Living A Life That Really Matters [10] is available in paperback and for the Kindle on Amazon.com.

Links:

[1] http://theeconomiccollapseblog.com/archives/will-americas-prosperity-be-completely-wiped-out-by-our-growing-debt

[2] https://www.cnbc.com/2017/08/24/most-americans-live-paycheck-to-paycheck.html

[3] http://theeconomiccollapseblog.com/archives/how-the-elite-dominate-the-world-part-1-debt-as-a-tool-of-enslavement

[4] http://theeconomiccollapseblog.com/archives/37-percent-rate-increase-in-2018-obamacare-is-imploding-and-it-must-be-repealed-now

[5] http://www.zerohedge.com/news/2017-11-01/absolutely-crazy-obamacare-signups-start-americans-increasingly-balk-surging-premium

[6] https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2017-11-01/americans-are-officially-freaking-out

[7] http://theeconomiccollapseblog.com/archives/a-war-has-been-declared-on-the-republican-establishment-and-we-are-going-to-win

[8] http://theeconomiccollapseblog.com/archives/shocking-new-online-poll-shows-that-michael-snyders-campaign-for-congress-has-a-ton-of-momentum

[9] https://www.michaelsnyderforcongress.com/contribute.html

[10] http://amzn.to/2t5bx4A

 

http://theeconomiccollapseblog.com/archives/78-percent-of-u-s-workers-are-living-paycheck-to-paycheck-and-71-percent-of-them-are-in-debt

http://www.zerohedge.com/news/2017-11-02/78-us-workers-are-living-paycheck-paycheck-71-them-are-debt

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