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  Harper's Violation of International Law in Libya



By Yves Engler

August 28, 2015 "Information Clearing House" - "Rabble" - Since the start of the Canadian election campaign a series of posts have detailed the Harper Conservatives repeated abuse of power. The Tyee published "Harper, Serial Abuser of Power", which listed "70 Harper government assaults on democracy and the law." But the widely disseminated list omitted what may be the Conservatives' most flagrant – and far-reaching –lawbreaking. In 2011 Ottawa defied UN Security Council Resolutions (UNSCR) 1970 and 1973, which were passed amidst the uprising against Muammar Gaddafi's four-decade rule in Libya.

In direct contravention of these legally binding resolutions, Canadian troops were on the ground in the North African country. On September 13, three weeks after Tripoli fell to the anti-Gaddafi National Transition Council, Canada's state broadcaster reported: "CBC News has learned there are members of the Canadian Forces on the ground in Libya."A number of other media outlets reported that highly secretive Canadian special forces were fighting in Libya. On February 28, CTV.ca reported "that Canadian special forces are also on the ground in Libya" while Esprit du Corp editor Scott Taylor noted Canadian Special Operations Regiment's flag colours in the Conservatives' post-war celebration. But, any Canadian 'boots on the ground' in Libya violated UNSCR 1973, which explicitly excluded "a foreign occupation force of any form on any part of Libyan territory.

The Conservative government also directly armed the rebels in contravention of international law. Waterloo-based Aeryon Scout Micro supplied the rebels with a three-pound, backpack-sized Unmanned Aerial Vehicle. The director of field support for the company, Charles Barlow, traveled 18 hours on a rebel operated boat from Malta to the rebels training facility in Misrata. There, Barlow taught the rebels how to operate this Canadian-developed drone, which was used to gather intelligence on the front lines. In an interview after Gaddafi's death, Barlow said: "I hope we did a little tiny part to help get rid of that man." According to various reports the drone was paid for out of Libyan government assets frozen in Canada.

Aeryon CEO Dave Kroetsch said the company was "approached by the Canadian government." But, in April 2011 Foreign Affairs officials advised then foreign minister Lawrence Cannon that providing military assistance to the Libyan rebels contravened UNSCR 1970. Based on documents uncovered through the Access to Information Act, Project Ploughshares reported: "A 'Memorandum for Action' signed by the Minister on April 11, noted that under the UN Security Council resolution that established the arms embargo against Libya, 'Canada generally cannot permit the export of arms to Libya without the prior approval of the UN 1970 Sanctions Committee.' The memo also stated that the arms embargo 'encompasses any type of weapon … as well as technical assistance such as the provision of instruction, training or intelligence.' It confirms that the UN arms embargo on Libya precluded the transfer of the Canadian surveillance drone to Libyan opposition forces. However, the memo also provided an interpretive feint for Canada by which it could allow the drone to be exported. It noted that Security Council Resolution 1973 contains language that key partners the US, the UK and France interpreted as permitting provision of arms to Libyan opposition forces as part of 'all necessary measures … to protect civilians.' The memo was clear that this interpretation was not shared by many other states, including NATO allies Italy and Norway."

The government failed to inform all departments about its interpretive feint. In early 2012 a Canadian Forces website plainly stated that UNSCR 1970 "called for an international arms embargo on Libya" and "[UNSCR] 1973 of 17 March, which strengthened the arms embargo."

Montréal-based security firm Garda World also contravened international law. Sometime in the "summer of 2011", according to its website, Garda began operating in the country. After the National Transition Council captured Tripoli (six weeks before Muammar Gaddafi was killed in Sirte on October 20, 2011) the rebels requested Garda's assistance in bringing their forces "besieging the pro-Qaddafi stronghold of Sirte to hospitals in Misrata", reported Bloomberg. UNSCR 1970 specifically mandated all UN member states "to prevent the provision of armed mercenary personnel" into Libya. Resolution 1973 reinforced the arms embargo, mentioning "armed mercenary personnel" in three different contexts. In an article titled "Mercenaries in Libya: Ramifications of the Treatment of 'Armed Mercenary Personnel' under the Arms Embargo for Private Military Company Contractors", Hin-Yan Liu points out that the Security Council's "explicit use of the broader term 'armed mercenary personnel' is likely to include a significant category of contractors working for Private Military Companies (PMCs)."

Canadian officials probably introduced the rebels to Garda, the world's largest privately held security firm. In fact, Ottawa may have paid Garda to help the rebels. As mentioned, the federal government used some of the $2.2 billion it froze in Libyan assets in Canada to pay Aeryon Scout to equip and train the rebels with a UAV.

After Gaddafi was killed the Conservatives spent $850,000 on a nationally televised war celebration for the troops that fought in Libya. Harper called it "a day of honour… Soldier for soldier, sailor for sailor, airman for airman, the Canadian Armed Forces are the best in the world."

But don't expect the Prime Minister to discuss Libya during the election. "Since Col Gaddafi's death in Sirte in October 2011," the BBC reported recently, "Libya has descended into chaos, with various militias fighting for power." ISIS has taken control of parts of the country while a government in Tripoli and another in Benghazi claim national authority.

The Conservatives' violation of international law delivered a terrible blow to Libya. If international affairs weren't largely defined by the 'might makes right' principle Harper would find himself in the dock.

Yves Engler will be speaking across the country with his Canada in Africa — 300 years of Aid and Exploitation in the lead up to the election. For information go to Yvesengler.com

http://www.informationclearinghouse.info/article42746.htm


Counter Information published this article with the author's permission through a license from Creative Commons, respecting their freedom to publish elsewhere.
  US Asked Norway to Arrest Edward Snowden



Norway’s NRK broadcaster has obtained a copy of the formal requests US authorities sent to Norway’s Foreign Ministry and Ministry of Justice asking it to arrest NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden should he enter Norwegian territory.

By The Local.no


August 28, 2015 "Information Clearing House" - "The Local.no" - The first letter was sent to Norway’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs on 27 June 2013, at the same time as Snowden was stranded at Moscow’s Sheremetyevo airport waiting for Russia to grant him asylum. 

The note reads: “We request that should US citizen Edward J. Snowden attempt to enter Norway through any means, the Government of Norway notify the Embassy immediately and effectuate the return of Mr. Snowden to the United States by way of denial of entry, deportation, expulsion or other lawful means”. 

The FBI’s regional office sent another letter the same day to the justice authorities of Norway, Sweden and Finland, describing Snowden as a criminal on the run and asking them to notify them should Snowden book a flight to one of their countries. 

On July 4, the Norwegian Department of Foreign Affairs received another note, a formal request for the arrest and extradition of Snowden should he enter Norwegian territory. 

“The United States urges that Snowden be kept in custody, if arrested,” the note reads. 

In a note from the US embassy in Oslo, the US asked the Norwegian authorities to do everything in their power to seize anything which might contain the stolen files. 

“The Embassy requests the seizure of all articles acquired as a result of the offenses (..) This includes, but is not limited to, all computer devices, electronic storage devices and other sorts of electronic media.”

Snowden’s lawyer Ben Wizner told NRK that the most worrying aspect of he documents was the US’s pressure on Norway and presumably other countries to arrest Snowden and extradite him, before he had had a chance to apply for asylum. 

“What is troubling to me is the suggestion that if Mr Snowden showed up in one of these countries, he should be promptly extradited – before he would have a chance to raise his humanitarian rights under international law,” he said.

“The only correct response from political leaders in Norway or any other free society should be to tell the US that this is a question of law and not a question of politics. And that under international law, someone who is charged with a political offence, has a right to raise a claim for asylum before the question of extradition even comes up.” 

According to the Justice and Foreign Affairs departments, Norway has yet to respond to the US requests, as under Norwegian law a country cannot request an extradition until the alleged criminal is on Norwegian soil.

Jøran Kallemyr, state secretary for the Department of Justice, said: “What Norway has done is to inform the American authorities how the Norwegian system works,” he said. “If they request an extradition, the prosecuting authorities will decide if the case should be brought before the courts. And the court will decide if the terms for extradition are fulfilled.” 

See also -

FBI demanded Scandinavian countries arrest Edward Snowden should he visit: The whistleblower will not travel to Norway next week to accept award after national broadcaster released letters US sent in 2013 requesting extradition

Germany hands over citizens’ metadata in return for NSA’s top spy software: In order to obtain a copy of the NSA's main XKeyscore software, whose existence was first revealed by Edward Snowden in 2013, Germany's domestic intelligence agency agreed to hand over metadata of German citizens it spies on.

New Report Shows Germany Was In Bed With NSA: Behind the public admonishment of the National Security Agency’s spying techniques, Germany has been secretly in cahoots with the intelligence agency.

U.S. court hands win to NSA over metadata collection challenge: A U.S. appeals court on Friday threw out a judge's ruling that would have blocked the National Security Agency from collecting phone metadata under a controversial program that has raised privacy concerns.




http://www.informationclearinghouse.info/article42737.htm

Counter Information published this article with the author's permission through a license from Creative Commons, respecting their freedom to publish elsewhere.
  Imperial America



Or: Have we gone crazy?

By Justin Raimondo

August 28, 2015 "Information Clearing House" - "Antiwar" - “May you live in interesting times” – that old (supposedly Chinese) curse seems to define the world today. “Interesting” is meant in the snarkish sense: it is a euphemism for unpleasant, or even intolerable, although in the present context I think a more appropriate term is baffling.

The political elites are baffled by the rise of Donald Trump: how is it that the celebrity equivalent of a circus clown could be number one in the GOP presidential race? Here, after all, is someone who wants to deport upward of some 11 million people – kick down their doors, put them on a train, and send them off to Mexico, in spite of the fact that many of them were born here. Asked by Hugh Hewitt if he’s an authoritarian, Trump didn’t deny it: instead he answered: “Everyone is weak. We need someone strong.”

At the considerable risk of sounding like an old fogy, I must confess to waking up some mornings and thinking: Where in the hell am I? No, it’s not the onrush of senility, although that day may not be far: it’s the indisputable reality that things that wouldn’t have been tolerated, or even taken seriously, as little as fifteen or twenty years ago are now utterly commonplace, and even the norm. Trump is only a symptom of the normalization of the bizarre, and, for lack of a better word, the debased.

I was struck, the other day, by this piece in The National Interest, which discusses the odd changes we have experienced in terms of the foreign policy discourse. Too often, Richard Burt and Dmitri Simes complain, the debate takes the form of a battle of the bumperstickers: what we see are competing slogans rather than rival policies being bruited about. Or, as they put it:

“[T]he debate over international affairs is now badly debased, particularly in Congress. The media, meanwhile, lacks the interest and the expertise (particularly in the digital space) to present vital issues to the American people. At the same time, despite a number of national-security setbacks – including in Iraq, Afghanistan and Libya – voters appear ready to delegate authority to political elites with few questions or constraints, perhaps because ordinary Americans see no direct negative impacts on their daily lives.”

A disengaged citizenry, a political class imbued with hubris and the spirit of Caesarism: where have we seen this before? It is late imperial Rome, perhaps at the height of its power – or, perhaps, at the moment before its long descent. There is indeed a certain Romanesque quality to the triumphalist tone of the foreign policy discourse in this country, as Burt and Simes go on to relate:

“With victory in the Cold War and absent a rival superpower to limit and shape U.S. choices, America’s new foreign-policy establishment has adopted a simplistic, moralistic and triumphalist mindset: foreign policy by bumper sticker. This mindset abandons traditional foreign-policy analysis, which emphasizes establishing a hierarchy of priorities, making difficult decisions over tradeoffs and considering the unintended consequences of US actions. It also ignores the fact that America’s political system has consistently failed to sustain costly international interventions when vital national interests are not at stake. Prominent voices dismiss those raising such concerns as cynical realists, isolationists or, more recently, unpatriotic Putin apologists. Many tacitly accept this form of intimidation by interventionists who substitute chest-thumping for coherent and serious, historically grounded arguments.”

What Burt and Simes are really complaining about is the fact that America has made the transition from republic to empire. An empire, particularly one such as the United States, doesn’t need – or thinks it doesn’t need – to establish priorities because, after all, we’re all-powerful, aren’t we? Traditional foreign policy analysis – who the heck needs it? As some anonymous White House aide told Ron Suskind back in 2004:

“The aide said that guys like me were ‘in what we call the reality-based community,’ which he defined as people who ‘believe that solutions emerge from your judicious study of discernible reality.’ … ‘That’s not the way the world really works anymore,’ he continued. ‘We’re an empire now, and when we act, we create our own reality. And while you’re studying that reality – judiciously, as you will – we’ll act again, creating other new realities, which you can study too, and that’s how things will sort out. We’re history’s actors…and you, all of you, will be left to just study what we do.’”

In the age of the Caesars the function of reporters, analysts, and commentators is akin to that of ancient scribes: their job is not to note the facts and discern the truth but to reflect the self-created “reality” of the political class, and particularly its Great Leaders. Their job, in short, is to shout “Hail Caesar!” and record his (or her) great achievements for posterity.

“We’re an empire now” … well, yes. That old scold Garet Garrett, a former New York Timeseditor turned prophet, warned us at the dawn of the cold war of what was not only coming but was already a reality in 1952:

“We have crossed the boundary that lies between Republic and Empire. If you ask when, the answer is that you cannot make a single stroke between day and night: the precise moment does not matter. There was no painted sign to say: ‘You are now entering Imperium.’ Yet it was a very old road and the voice of history was saying: ‘Whether you know it or not, the act of crossing may be irreversible.’ And now, not far ahead, is a sign that reads: ‘No U-turns.’"

No, there are no painted signs, but there are indications, portents, auguries of our fate: Trump, the cartoon Caesar, may be one of them. The Iraq war, and the ceaseless conflicts that followed in its wake, are less subtle symptoms of the imperial disease, the decadence that eats away at the heart of all republics similarly afflicted with the virus of imperialism. And the symptoms are not limited to the foreign policy and political realms, as the conservative theorist Claes Rynhas pointed out: there are cultural and psychological traits that infiltrate and eventually overthrow the old “republican virtues” of self-restraint, modesty, and civic duty. In our own case, these have been replaced, much to Ryn’s disgust, by recklessness and narcissism, and in this piece he relates his personal experience with the phenomenon.

Ryn describes lunchtime at a McDonald’s in “one of the most affluent and pretentious suburbs in America just outside of Washington, D.C.” It is, in short, the territory of America’s ruling elite, and the behavior of the children is described by Ryn with damning precision: they scream if they don’t get their French fries fast enough, they make noise as if the decibel level measures the degree of their enjoyment, and of course the parents are oblivious to how all this impacts on everyone else in the room. The children are merely reflections of their egotistical parents: in short, both children and parents are spoiled brats. Ryn goes on to write:

“Yes,this picture has everything to do with US foreign policy. This is the emerging American ruling class, which is made up increasingly of persons used to having the world cater to them. If others challenge their will, they throw a temper tantrum. Call this the imperialistic personality – if ‘spoilt brat’ sounds too crude.”

An arrogant, ingrown patrician class, increasingly out of touch, and contemptuous of those who live in “flyover country,” is, in turn, matched in its debasement by America’s plebeians.

Here we see the “trickle-down” theory of cultural decadence demonstrated in the rise of a new form of journalism: news reporting as a function of what Jacob Heilbrunn calls the “entertainment-industrial complex.” Citing an essay by Sam Tannehaus in The American Prospect, Heilbrunn avers that it’s the media and not Trump who are responsible for The Donald’s rise on account of “the temptation to turn every event into a mini-drama.” He notes Tannehaus’s point that this is “deeply injurious” to the journalistic profession which has even infiltrated the newsroom over at the New York Times, that temple of journalistic punctiliousnes – but is this really something new?

Didn’t the “reporting” of Judith Miller turn the run up to the Iraq war into a “mini-drama” – a story of brave “dissidents” like Ahmed Chalabi & Co. uncovering the alleged deception of the bloody tyrant Saddam Hussein? Going farther back in history, what about the Hearst papersreporting the sinking of the Maine as an act of Spanish treachery? And then there were those Belgian babies supposedly speared on German bayonets whose grisly and entirely fictitious fate inspired us to enter the Great War – a lie that was limned by the Great Lantos Hoax which provoked the first Gulf War. Is it really something novel that journalism is no longer about the truth but rather about selling a “narrative”?

Yes, American journalism in the age of empire has become a form of entertainment. In chronicling the decline of the Roman republic, the writer Juvenal disdained the abdication of civic duty by citizens who were content to suffer demagogues so long as they were the source of plentiful “bread and circuses.” The latter surely fits Heilbrunn’s description of the “entertainment-industrial complex.”

Disengaged yet disgruntled, kept down and yet increasingly uppity, average Americans are both apathetic and angry when it comes to politics. They are ready for someone who simultaneously entertains and entrances them with the prospect of an American Caesar. As that grumpy old republican (small-“r”) George Will puts it:

“Some supporters simply find Trump entertainingly naughty. Others, however, have remarkable cognitive dissonance. They properly execrate Obama’s executive highhandedness that expresses progressivism’s traditional disdain for the separation of powers that often makes government action difficult. But these same Trumpkins simultaneously despise GOP congressional leaders because they do not somehow jettison the separation of powers and work conservatism’s unimpeded will from Capitol Hill. 

“For conservatives, this is the dispiriting irony: The administrative state’s intrusiveness … may benefit the principal architect of this state, the Democratic Party. This is because the other party’s talented critics of the administrative state are being drowned out by Trump’s recent discovery that Americans understandably disgusted by government can be beguiled by a summons to Caesarism.”

It is truly ironic that today’s “conservative” Trump supporters long for a Caesar to undo the effects of … Caesarism, i.e. Big Government. And yet there is more irony to be had in the rise of Trumpismo, which first caught the nation’s attention on account of the immigration issue.

Every empire has open borders: it cannot be otherwise. Just as we claim the “right” to invade the world, so the world claims the corollary right to invade us. Where else will those Vietnamese allies who fled our defeat find sanctuary? What of the Iraqis made homeless by our wars of “liberation”?

Half a century after Sen. Ted Kennedy’s immigration “reform” changed the demographics of this country forever – legislation that caused barely a ripple at the time – the Trumpkins have decided to make a last stand of it. Indeed, one can locate the date when the issue was decided much farther back – all the way back to the war with Mexico that handed us Texas and the rest of the American Southwest, including California.

Trump wants to send the Mexicans back in railroad cars and buses – but they were here first, and no mere wall will keep them out. We conquered them and they are ours. We’re a global empire – so why are we surprised to wake up one day to find the peoples of the world teeming in our streets?

Once we succumbed to the temptation of empire, all else followed: the altered demographics, the bread and the circuses, the demagogues and the Caesars. Garrett, the prophet of our doom, gave us plenty of warning: he told us there are “no U-turns” – and perhaps he was right. However, that’s one prophecy that has yet to be proved true.



Justin Raimondo is the editorial director of Antiwar.com, and a senior fellow at the Randolph Bourne Institute. He is a contributing editor at The American Conservative, and writes a monthly column for Chronicles. He is the author of Reclaiming the American Right: The Lost Legacy of the Conservative Movement [Center for Libertarian Studies, 1993; Intercollegiate Studies Institute, 2000], and An Enemy of the State: The Life of Murray N. Rothbard[Prometheus Books, 2000].




http://www.informationclearinghouse.info/article42736.htm


Counter Information published this article with the author's permission through a license from Creative Commons, respecting their freedom to publish elsewhere.
Lebanon – What if it Fell?



By Andre Vltchek 

August 28, 2015 "Information Clearing House" - Beirut is burning; it is hurt, angry and uncertain about its own future.

Ambulances are howling. Hundreds are injured. Rubber bullets are flying and so is live ammunition.

A Revolution? A rebellion?

Who are those men, stripped from their waist up, muscular, throwing stones at the security forces in the center of Beirut? Are they genuine revolutionaries? Are they there in order to reclaim so badly discredited “Arab Spring”?

Or did they come here in a show of force, because the West is paying them? If the Lebanese state collapses, ISIL could move in, and occupy at least a substantial part of Lebanon. That would suit the West’s interests, and those of Turkey, as well as the Gulf States.

Or Israel could take advantage of the vacuum, and invade Lebanon, once again. Or both ISIL and Israel.

Two weeks ago, a friend of mine said jokingly: “I met a kid in Beirut. He told me that he is going to get a job at some European NGO. His duty would be to help to destabilize Lebanon”.

She named the country funding the NGO, but I’d rather not mention it here, in order not to add more oil to fire. We had a good laugh then, but it does not appear too funny, anymore.

Yesterday she told me: “Security forces fired at him.”

He was there. He was not bragging. It was not a joke.

Nothing appears to be a joke in Lebanon, anymore!

Or could there be two “types” of protesters at the same place and at the same time? Those who are fighting for a better Lebanon, and those who are paid to fight for sectarianism and for the foreign interests (which in this country is almost the same thing)?

***

Just one day before the street battles erupted, I drove from Beirut, crossing the mountains and then progressing north, through Bekaa Valley.

Night descended on the ancient city of Baalbek. Mayada El-Hennawy, the great Syrian pan-Arab classical musician, began singing, her pronounced voice amplified, then carried towards the mountains that form the border between two sisters: Lebanon and Syria,

What a sight! What madness! Behind Mayada’s back, sits the enormous structure of the Temple of Bacchus, above her, helicopter drones. Tanks and hundreds of soldiers were stationed all over Baalbek, protecting the site and the venue. Just a few kilometers away, Hezbollah is engaged in its epic battle with ISIL.

But thousands of people arrived, in striking defiance, refusing to succumb to fear. They drove here from Beirut and other cities of a battered, now almost dysfunctional Lebanon.

They came to celebrate life and the Arabic culture; they came to listen to their beloved songs and to pay tribute to this celebrated Syrian diva. Some, clearly, came to pay tribute to Syria itself – to Syria and to life.

As Mayada El-Hennawy began singing, people roared.

***

24 hours after the concert, a crowd clashed with the Lebanese security forces in the center of Beirut, near the government palace.

Dozens were injured and on 24 August, it was reported that one person died in the hospital.

The “You stink” movement first organized the protests. Thousands of people hit the streets in response to an ongoing garbage crisis, which, according to many, has made the already difficult life in Beirut almost unbearable.

“You Stink”! For 18 years, the government was unable (or unwilling) to build a permanent garbage-recycling site. For 18 years, poor villagers near the “provisory” garbage dumping grounds were suffering, getting poisoned, dying from unusually high level of cancer and from respiratory diseases. Then, finally, they said “Halas! Enough.” They blocked the site. And after they did, the garbage began accumulating on the streets of Beirut. Instead of finding a permanent solution, the government dispersed white toxic rat poison over the piles of rotting trash. People in the capital began getting sick.

But it is not only the garbage that is making life in the capital, and in fact all over the country, almost intolerable.

One thing has to be understood: Lebanon is not Iraq, Libya or Syria. All these countries had strong leadership, and they had robust socialist and social programs (despised by the West): from the medical care to education, public housing and pensions.

In total contrast, Lebanon’s government is dysfunctional, corrupt and divided. The country has been surviving over a year without a President, despite the Cabinet meeting more than 20 times in an attempt to elect one.

Garbage was just a tip of the iceberg. The infrastructure of Lebanon is collapsing: there are water shortages and constant electricity blackouts. There is hardly any public transportation to speak of, almost no green public areas. There are land grabs all over the country. Health and education are at disastrous levels. It is an extremely brutal place for many.

Lebanon is perhaps one of the most capitalist countries on earth. There is almost nothing public, nothing socialist left here, anymore. And the savage capitalism (always prescribed by the Western “partners” for its client states) in Lebanon, as everywhere in the world, simply does not work.

The country hardly produces anything. There are more Lebanese people living abroad than in Lebanon itself, and it is remittances that are keeping the state somehow afloat. There is also substantial income pouring in from the shady businesses in West Africa, in Iraq, but also income from the banking industry (mainly servicing the Middle East and the Gulf States) and from the narcotics grown in Bekaa Valley.

There is plenty of cash in individual’s pockets and in their bank accounts, but almost no money for basic public services. Lamborghinis and Ferraris are racing at night along Cornish, and the Zaitunay Bay Marina puts its counterpart in Abu Dhabi to shame. But most of the city is polluted, crumbling, and desperate.

In between those contrasting facades, desperate Syrian refugees are begging.

Nothing seems to be enough. Money comes in, and mysterious, big chunks of it simply evaporate.

Now the country is totally broke. Government sources claim that the Lebanon’s public debt currently stands at about 143 percent of gross domestic product.

Lebanon is divided along sectarian lines: 18 religious groups. The main ones are Christians, Sunni Muslims, Shia Muslims, and a small Druze minority. Because of sectarianism, there is hardly any national unity, or a “national project”.

Several protesters I spoke to claim that they are fed up with sectarianism and divisions. They want one, strong, united Lebanon. Or that’s what they say.

Ahmed, one of the demonstrators, a middle age professional from Beirut, explained:

“I don’t want Lebanon of Christians and Muslims. I want one Lebanon, one country, united!”

But there seems to be no ideology truly uniting these protesters. There are only grievances that they have in common.

Demands appear to be legitimate.

But in Lebanon, one cannot be certain of what lies below the surface. There are rumors that each religious group is now sending its fighters to the barricades.

For years and decades, competing political interests are pulling this tiny country in different directions.

“I spotted a guy who was protesting and who was obviously a British”, a diplomat based in Beirut who did not want to be identified, told me. “He was not a reporter, he was actually one of the protesters! And he spoke no Arabic. There are many bizarre characters at the protests.”

Who is who and who is with whom, is often extremely difficult to define.

Allegiances of the Christians are mostly with the West. Sunni Muslims are closely allied with the Gulf States, and indirectly, with the West. Shia Muslims, including Hezbollah, are leaning towards Iran.

Almost everyone here agrees that Hezbollah is the only sound social force in the country. It is also aiming at uniting Lebanon, by reaching out to non-Shia groups.

Presently, Hezbollah is locked in an epic fight against the ISIL, a brutal terrorist army that was originally supported and trained by the West, Turkey, generally by NATO. Hezbollah is opposed to terrible acts of destruction that are being spread by the West and by Israel all over the region. For that reason Hezbollah’s name is firmly engraved in the selective US terrorist list.

Lebanon is squeezed from all sides. Civil war in Syria fueled by the West has already forced at least 2 million Syrian people to cross the border and to seek asylum in this tiny country. The ISIL is continuously trying to grab the territory in the Northern part of Lebanon. While Hezbollah is doing most of the fighting against ISIL, the Lebanese army and security forces are trained in the West. Saudi Arabia recently paid for the French supply of arms to Lebanon. Israel is constantly threatening to invade. To add to the list of distresses, there has been renewed fighting in the Palestinian refugee camps in the South of Lebanon, with several dead and many injured.

“What we want is to get rid of sectarianism”, explained Ahmed, standing in front of the concrete wall erected to prevent protesters from marching on the government building. “No more Christians and Muslims; Just Lebanese! And if we win, then there will be definitely much more socialism here, more social reforms, better health, education, infrastructure.”

But can this group really win against a tremendous capitalist and religious inertia?

“It is still so difficult to imagine how we could win”, admits Ahmed. “We need at least one million people to change this country.”

But the number of angry and determined people is constantly growing.

“We’ve had enough. Enough!” Shouts a man who is carrying a plastic bag filled with garbage as a symbol.

Few minutes later I am told by a group of demonstrators: “There are plenty of foreign interests here… French, the United States, Saudi… We need real independence.”

***

All the demonstrators that I talk to are fed up, but very few of them can see a way out of the crisis. In Lebanon, there is no ideology, and no serious talk about socialism. Latin America has not been mentioned even once.

The original group of the protesters is horrified. Many of them went to protest with their little children on their backs and with their grandparents in tow. They thought they are going to engage in discussion with the government. Instead they were welcomed by water cannons, rubber bullets and teargas.

Clashes, and terrible injuries followed. Then a wall was erected, outside the Grand Serail, just to be dismantled next day. Barbed wire is still all over the center of the city. The pavement is dotted with rocks, shop windows broken, cars burned. Tires are scorching, blocking main arteries of the city.

Security forces are omnipresent, on foot, on board their Humvees and on top of the tanks. And so are the medics and paramedics, ready for further escalations.

“Is this a continuation of the Arab Spring?” I asked.

“Yes”, I was told.

Who is behind this uprising?

Everyone at the protest site claims that the rebellion is absolutely spontaneous, that there is no foreign influence.

“Revolution!” protesters are shouting, repeatedly.

“This is not like those color revolutions,” I am told. A protester is referring to the West-backed movements paid to perform the “regime-changes” all over the world. “Here, we are on our own. We want a united, free and better Lebanon!”

There is no doubt that many protesters who are now fighting in the center of the capital are “genuine” and outraged citizens. But others are clearly not. The situation used to be the same in almost all other “Arab Spring countries”: initial desire for reforms and for social policies. Then the infiltration from several political (mainly pro-Western and pro-Saudi) groups followed soon. Time after time, genuine agendas were kidnapped.

Are all rebellions in the Arab world doomed from the start? Are they all going to end in the US and EU orchestrated coups, in bloody massacres and finally, in horrific collapses of the nations? Is the Libyan scenario really inevitable?

One of the leading professors at the American University in Beirut, told me recently: “This university is where most of the leaders from the Gulf States get educated. And those who are not, are actually dreaming that they would be.”

Then one of the “international experts” based in the region, reminds me: “I am sure you already know that the workshops that were held for activists to ‘spark’ The Arab Spring were held in Lebanon”.

I know. And it says a lot. For many years and decades, Beirut was attracting those who wanted to taste “Western the world” without leaving the Middle East. This is where the indoctrination was disseminated, and where so many shady deals between the West and the local rulers and movers were sealed.

Few thousands of protesters in the center of Beirut are closely watched. It goes without saying that each and every move they make is being analyzed, and that the West is going to try to turn the events to its advantage.

This does not mean that one should not try to improve the world, or to fight for a much better country. But it means that those few authentic protesters will be always outnumbered, and they will always have to face the leaders of the savage Lebanese capitalist establishment, backed by the West, and the Gulf States. They will also have to face those other “protesters” who already managed to infiltrate this small rebellion, and who are handled by the various political interests, local and foreign.

If what is happening has origins abroad, then why is there suddenly such a rush to bring Lebanon down? Is it because increasingly successful Russian diplomatic initiatives to stop all conflicts in the Middle East? Or is there a plan to almost fully encircle Syria? Could Hezbollah be now on the hit list of the West?

Rumors are plentiful, while information scarce. One thing is certain: if Lebanon collapses, the entire region will once again become a colony.




Andre Vltchek is a philosopher, novelist, filmmaker and investigative journalist. He covered wars and conflicts in dozens of countries. His latest books are: “Exposing Lies Of The Empire” and “Fighting Against Western Imperialism”.Discussion with Noam Chomsky: On Western Terrorism. Point of No Return is his critically acclaimed political novel. Oceania – a book on Western imperialism in the South Pacific. His provocative book about Indonesia: “Indonesia – The Archipelago of Fear”. Andre is making films for teleSUR and Press TV. After living for many years in Latin America and Oceania, Vltchek presently resides and works in East Asia and the Middle East. He can be reached through his website or his Twitter. Via Counterpunch




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  Europe in Free Fall



By The Saker


August 28, 2015 "Information Clearing House" - "UNZ" - Europe is in free fall. Nobody can doubt that any more. In fact, the EU is simultaneously suffering from several severe problems and any one of these could potentially become catastrophic. Let’s look at them one by one.

The 28 member EU makes no economic sense

The most obvious problem for the EU is that it makes absolutely no economic sense. Initially, in the early 1950s, there was a small group of not too dissimilar nations which decided to integrate their economies. These were the so-called Inner Six who founded the European Community (EC): Belgium, France, West Germany, Italy, Luxembourg, and the Netherlands. In 1960 this “core group” was joined by seven more countries, the Outer Seven, who were unwilling to join the EC but wanted to join a European Free Trade Association (EFTA). These were Austria, Denmark, Norway, Portugal, Sweden, Switzerland, and the United Kingdom. Together these countries formed what could loosely be called “most of western Europe”.

For all their faults, these treaties did reflect a reality – that the countries participating in them had much in common and that their peoples wanted to join forces. After 1960, the history of the European integration and expansion became very complicated and while it progressed in zig-zags with regular setbacks, at the end of the day this process ended growing uncontrollably, just like a malignant tumor. Today the EU includes 28(!) member states including all of what used to be called “central” and “eastern” Europe – even the ex-Soviet Baltic Republics are now part of this new union. The problem is that while such an expansion was attractive to the European elites for ideological reasons, such huge expansion makes no economic sense at all. What do Sweden, Germany, Latvia, Greece, and Bulgaria have in common? Very little, of course.

Now cracks are clearly appearing. The Greek crisis and the threat of a “Grexit” has the potential for a domino effect involving the rest of the so-called “PIGS” (Portugal, Italy, Greece and Spain). Even France is threatened by the consequences of this crisis. The European currency – the Euro – is “a currency without a mission”: is it supposed to support the German economy or the Greek one? Nobody knows, at least officially. In reality, of course, everybody understands that Frau Merkel is running the show. Quickfix solutions, which is what the Eurobureaucrats are offering, only buy time, but they are offering no solution to what is clearly a systemic problem: the completely artificial nature of a 28 member EU.

As for the the obvious solution, to give up on the crazy dream of a 28 member EU, it is so absolutely politically unacceptable that it won’t even be discussed although everyone fears it.

The EU is on the verge of a social and cultural collapse

The undeniable reality is simple as it is stark:
The EU cannot absorb so many refugees
The EU does not have the means to stop them

A massive influx of refugees presents a very complex security problem which EU countries are not equipped to deal with. All EU countries have three basic instruments they can use to protect themselves from unrest, disorders, crime or invasions: the special/security services, the police forces and the military. The problem is that neither of these are capable of dealing with a refugee crises.

The special/security services are hopelessly outnumbered when dealing with a refugee crisis. Besides, their normal target (career criminal, spies, terrorists) are few and far in between in a typical wave of refugees. Refugees are mostly families, often extended ones, and while they sometimes include criminal gangs, this is far from always the case. The problem is that if, say, 10% of Kosovars are drug dealers, that gives a bad name to all the refugees from Kosovo and the refugees themselves ended up being treated like criminals. Finally, special/security services rely very heavily on informants and foreign gangs are hard to infiltrate. They often also speak difficult languages which only few local language specialists master. As a result, most of the time the EU security services are clueless as to how to deal with the security problem presented to them, if only because they lack the personnel and means to keep track of so many people.

In contrast, cops have an advantage of sorts: they are literally everywhere and they typically have a good sense of the “beat on the street”. However, their powers are severely limited and they need to get a court order to do most of their work. Cops also mostly deal with local criminals, whereas most refugees are neither local, nor criminals. The sad reality is that most of what cops do in a refugee crisis is provide riot police – hardly a solution to anything.

As for the armed forces, the very best they can do is to try to help close a border. In some cases, they can assist the police forces in case of civil disturbances, but that’s about it.

Thus the various states of the EU neither have the means to lock their borders, deport most refugees, nor control them. Sure, there will always be politicians who will make promises about how they are going to send all these refugees back home, but that is a crude and blatant lie. The vast majority of these refugees are fleeing war, famine and abject poverty and there is no way anybody is going to send them back home.

Keeping them, however, is also impossible, at least in a cultural sense. For all thedoubleplusgoodthinking propaganda about integrating all races, creeds and cultures the reality is that there is absolutely nothing the EU has to offer to these refugees to make them want to integrate it. For all its sins and problems, at least the US is offering an “American dream” which, false as it might be, still inspires people worldwide, especially the unsophisticated and poorly educated. Not only that, but American society has little culture to begin with. Ask yourself, what is “American culture?” If anything, it is really a “melting pot” rather than a “tossed salad” – meaning that whatever enters the melting pot loses its original identity while the overall mixture of the pot fails to produce a true indigenous culture, at least not in a European sense of the word.

Europe is or, should I say, used to be radically different from the USA. There used to be real, deep, cultural differences between the various regions and provinces of each European country. A Basque is most definitely not an Catalan, a Marseillais is not a Breton, etc. As for the differences between an German and a Greek – they are simply huge. The result from the current refugee crisis is that all European cultures are now directly threatened in their identity and their life style. This is often blamed on Islam, but the reality is that African Christians don’t integrate any better. Neither do the Christian Gypsies, by the way. As a result, clashes happen literally everywhere – in shops, streets, schools, etc. There is not a single country in Europe where these clashes are not threatening the social order. These daily clashes result in crime, repression, violence and the ghettoization of both the immigrants and of the locals, who leave their traditional suburbs and move to less immigrant-saturated areas.

[Aside: to my American readers who might think “so what? we have ghettos in the US too” I will say that what the French call “zones de non-droit” (non-law zones) are far worse than anything you could see in the USA. And keep in mind that no country in the EU has the kind of huge, militarized, police forces which every major US city now has. Neither is there the equivalent of the US National Guard. At best, there are anti-riot forces like the French CRS, but they can only do so much.]

The level of aggravation suffered by many, if not most, Europeans directly resulting from this crisis in immigration is hard to describe to somebody who has not seen it. And since voicing such frustrations was considered “racist” or “xenophobic” by the powers that be (at least until recently – this is progressively changing now), this deep resentment is mostly kept hidden, but it is perceptible nonetheless. And the immigrants most definitely feel it. Every day. And, again, this is why the notion of a US-style “melting pot” in Europe ain’t happening: the only thing Europe has to offer to all these hundreds of thousands of refugees is a silent hostility fed by fear, outrage, disgust and helplessness. Even those locals who used to be refugees themselves in the past (immigrants from North Africa, for example) are now disgusted and very hostile to the new wave of refugees coming in. And, of course, not a single refugee coming to Europe believes in any “European dream”.

Last but not least, these refugees are a huge burden on the local economies and the social services which were never designed to cope with such an influx of needy “clients”.

For the foreseeable future the prognosis is clear: more of the same, only worse, possibly much worse.

The EU is just a colony of the United States unable to defend her own interests

The EU is ruled by a class of people who have completely sold themselves to the United States. The best examples of this sorry state of affairs is the Libyan debacle which saw the US and France completely destroy the most developed country in Africa only to now have hundreds of thousands of refugees cross the Mediterranean and seek refuge from war in the EU. This outcome could have been very easy to predict, and yet the European countries did nothing to prevent it. In fact, all these Obama Wars (Libya, Syria, Afghanistan, Iraq, Yemen, Somalia, Pakistan) have resulted in huge movements of refugees. Add to this the chaos in Egypt, Mali and the poverty all over Africa and you have a mass-exodus which no amount of wall-building, ditch-digging or refugee tear gassing will stop. And if that was not enough, the EU committed what can only be called political and economic suicide by allowing the Ukraine to explode into a major civil war involving 45 million people, a completely destroyed economy and a bona fide Nazi regime in power. That outcome was also easy to predict. But all the Euro-bureaucrats did is to impose self-defeating economic sanctions on Russia which ended up providing exactly the kind of conditions needed for the Russian economy to finally diversify and begin producing locally instead of importing everything from abroad.

It might be worth recalling here that after WWII Europe was basically occupied territory. The Soviets had the central-eastern part while the US/UK had the western part. We all have been conditioned to assume that the people living under the “oppression” of what the US propaganda called the “Warsaw Pact” (in reality called the “Warsaw Treaty Organization”) were less free than those who lived under the “protection” of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization. Nevermind that the term “North Atlantic” was coined deliberately to tie western Europe to the USA, the central issue here is that while in many ways the folks in the West were, indeed, granted many more freedoms than those in the East, the US/UK occupied part of Europe never recovered true sovereignty either. And just as the Soviets carefully nurtured a local compradorelite in each East European country, so did the USA in the West. The big difference only appeared in the late 1980s/early 1990s when the entire Soviet-run system came crashing down while the US-run system came out reinforced as a result of the Soviet collapse. If anything, since 1991 the US iron grip over the EU became even stronger than before.

The sad reality is simple: the EU is a US colony, run by US puppets who are simply unable to stand up for basic and obvious European interests.

The EU is in a deep political crisis

Up until the late 1980s, there used to be some more or less “real” opposition “Left” parties in Europe. In fact, Italy and France the Communists almost came to power. But as soon as the Soviet system collapsed, all the European opposition parties either vanished or were rapidly co-opted by the system. And, just as in the US, former Trotskysts became Neocons almost overnight. As a result, Europe lost the little opposition it had to the Anglo-Zionist Empire and became a “politically pacified” land. What the French call “la pensée unique” or the “single thought” has now triumphed, at least if one judges by the corporate media. Politics has turned into a make believe show where various actors pretend to deal with real issues when in reality all they talk about are invented, artificially created “problems” which they then “solve” (homosexual “marriage” being the perfect example). The only form of meaningful politics left in the EU is separatism (Scottish, Basque, Catalan, etc.) but so far, it has failed to produce any alternative.

In this brave new world of pretend politics nobody is in charge of real problems which are never tackled directly, but only shoved under the carpet until the next election and that inevitably only worsens everything. As for the EU’s Anglo-Zionist overlords, they don’t care what happens unless their own interests are directly affected.

You could say that the Titanic is sinking and the orchestra keeps playing, and you would be close to the truth. Everybody hates the Captain and crew, but nobody know whom to replace them with.




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  The Refugee Crisis and the Inhuman Face of European Capitalism



By Peter Schwarz

August 28, 2015 "Information Clearing House" - "WSWS" - The horrific treatment of refugees seeking shelter in central Europe in recent weeks via the Balkans and Italy shows the brutal and inhuman face of European capitalism. Desperate people, fearing for their lives and fleeing the war-ravaged regions of the Middle East and North Africa, confront a bitter ordeal.

Every day provides new outrages: corpses drifting in the Mediterranean; refugees without sufficient food and water crammed together in intolerable sanitary conditions; families with small children forced to cross hundreds of kilometers on foot; police deploying batons and tear gas against defenseless migrants; and everywhere borders and barriers, secured by barbed wire and security forces to repel the refugees with force.

Just yesterday, two boats with up to 500 migrants capsized off the coast of Libya, with hundreds feared dead. Among those on board the ships were migrants from Syria, Bangladesh and several African countries, according to media reports.

This follows the discovery of the bodies of up to 50 Syrian refugees in a truck on an Austrian highway. They are presumed to have suffocated en route. The parked vehicle was found by a highway worker who noticed liquid from decaying flesh dripping from the truck.

Just a few kilometers away, in tranquil Vienna, the heads of government and foreign ministers of Austria, Germany, Italy and six Western Balkan countries responded to the gruesome discovery by tightening measures against those fleeing to Europe. The external border of the European Union is to be reinforced and refugee routes through the Western Balkans better monitored. They assigned blame for the mass death on “criminal human traffickers”, whose business is flourishing due to the isolationist policies of the European powers.

The refugee crisis renders absurd the claim that the European Union is a haven of peace, prosperity and international understanding. While governments work closely together to transform Europe into a fortress where thousands die at its borders, they engage in fierce competition over which state can most effectively deter refugees or send them to another country as quickly as possible. Meanwhile, concerned political commentators are warning that the erection of new borders and the dispute over refugee quotas could explode the EU.

Britain, which has accepted just 1 percent of the Syrian refugees arriving in Europe, is spending millions to barricade the entry to the Euro tunnel in Calais, where thousands of refugees live in misery and where 12 have already died this year. Immigrants who work without permission face draconian punishments.

Hungary, a transit country on the West Balkan route, has built a 3.5-meter-high fence at the EU’s external border with Serbia and is considering measures to punish illegal border crossing with years in prison.

Germany and Austria, the target countries for many refugees, are seeking to repel them with intolerable conditions in detention centers, accelerated deportation procedures and the slashing of social support. Germany, in particular, in collaboration with France, is exerting pressure on other EU countries to distribute refugees based on a quota system.

This proposal has met fierce resistance, especially in Eastern Europe. Polish President Andrzej Duda has categorically rejected any acceptance of additional refugees. He justifies his position by arguing, among other things, that his country expects a fresh wave of refugees from Ukraine, where the civil war between the Western-backed Poroshenko regime and pro-Russian rebels has intensified.

Czech Deputy Prime Minister Andrej Babis, a billionaire entrepreneur, has called for an intervention by NATO to “close the Schengen area to the outside”. He referred to the influx of refugees as the “greatest danger for Europe.”

The response of broad layers of the population to the plight of refugees stands in stark contrast to the reaction of the ruling elites. Especially in Germany, refugees have been met with a flood of aid that has surprised and shocked mainstream political circles.

In Hamburg, several tons of donations were delivered to an exhibition hall that has provided shelter for 1,100 refugees from Syria and Eritrea for the past two weeks. Thousands of local citizens donated clothes, toys, blankets or purchased urgently needed hygienic items. While the authorities harass refugees and justify their actions with the claim that they are “overtaxed”, hundreds of volunteers have built a supply chain that distributes donations throughout Germany and organizes language courses and health care.

The media only sporadically reports on such actions, preferring instead to fill their headlines with the xenophobic demonstrations of neo-Nazi groups, infiltrated by the secret services, and the nighttime deeds of cowardly arsonists. In response to these provocations, the wave of aid and support has only intensified.

The support extended to refugees is not just an expression of basic humanity. Many instinctively understand that the refugees are victims of a social system that threatens their own lives.

There has been no popular support for the imperialist wars in Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya and Syria, which have destroyed whole societies and are the root cause of the wave of refugees. And workers throughout Europe have for years experienced falling living standards while a small minority at the top of society has enriched itself enormously.

The refugee crisis is the most dramatic expression of the crisis of a social system that is no longer compatible with the most basic needs of the vast majority of humanity.

In 1940, at the beginning of World War II, the Fourth International declared: “The world of decaying capitalism is overcrowded. The question of admitting a hundred extra refugees becomes a major problem for such a world power as the United States. In an era of aviation, telegraph, telephone, radio, and television, travel from country to country is paralyzed by passports and visas. The period of the wasting away of foreign trade and the decline of domestic trade is at the same time the period of the monstrous intensification of chauvinism and especially of anti-Semitism.”

These words have a burning actuality today. Capitalism, based on the private ownership of the means of production and the subordination of every aspect of economic life to the profit of the financial oligarchy, is incompatible with the needs of a global society comprising 7 billion people who are economically dependent on one another. The nation-state, in which capitalism is rooted, stands in irreconcilable opposition to the world economy based on an international division of labor.

The inhuman treatment of refugees, the erection of ever new, insurmountable barriers, the strengthening of the state apparatus and growing militarism are the response of the ruling elites to the insoluble contradictions of capitalism. The despicable treatment of refugees is the product of a profoundly inhuman social system.


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  Medical Nightmares



By Cynthia Peters

August 15, 2015 "Information Clearing House" - "teleSur" - When I asked my Canadian friend to guess how much the bill came to for my daughter’s 3-night stay at a major Boston hospital, he aimed high. He’s no dummy. He knows how expensive the U.S. health care system is. “$2000?” he said.

“That’s funny,” I replied. “Try again.”

“$5000?” he guessed incredulously. I couldn’t make him keep guessing. It would have been boring to wait until he got to the correct amount, which was $71,000.

Our family is lucky to have good health insurance and a decent income, so my daughter’s injury did not cause financial ruin as health episodes do for many families in the U.S. (In 2014, the financial advice company, NerdWallet, found that medical bills were the leading cause of personal bankruptcy in the U.S.)

Even good insurance, though, doesn’t cover you for certain irrationalities in the U.S. health care system. Before my daughter went to the Boston hospital, she had made three trips – twice in an ambulance and once in a taxi – to the emergency room of her local hospital in western Massachusetts. The first time, she was experiencing the “worst headache of her life.” They sent her back to school and told her to take Advil and see her doctor at the university health clinic. A couple days later, she experienced left-side body numbness and took a taxi to the ER. This time they sent her home with instructions to see a neurologist, and they gave her the phone numbers of two that had practices nearby. One of these neurologists had a permanent “out-to-lunch” message on the machine. At least that is what the message said every time I called. The other sent you straight into a voice mail labyrinth, the upshot of which was that if you were a new patient you needed to fax about 10 different documents to them and then they would call you to make an appointment.

How is this health care system supposed to be effective or even navigable for the ordinary person?

The third time she went to the ER, she called 911 because the left side of her body was weak. The first responder was a state trooper who came into her tiny dorm room and promptly asked to search her boyfriend’s backpack. “I smelled pot in the elevator,” he said, irrelevantly. He then forced her boyfriend out of the room, removing her one comfort at the time.

You’re not supposed to have to fend off aggressive armed police in your dorm room when you are having a medical emergency, but through a combination of remaining calm and being white, my daughter and her boyfriend tolerated/survived the state trooper until the EMTs arrived. I spoke with the EMTs on the phone: “Please don’t take her back to the same hospital. They have released her twice without doing any imaging. Please take her to another hospital more equipped to take care of her.”

“Sorry,” they said. “She is showing stroke symptoms. We are required by law to take her to the closest hospital.”

At the hospital, she was shaken up. The nurses and doctors determined she was not having a stroke and told her to sit and wait. When the weird seizure symptoms returned, she got up to tell them. “Do you suffer from anxiety?” they asked. “Try not to be so emotional.”

On the advice of her primary care physician, my partner and I sped out to western Massachusetts, collected her from the ER where they were about to release her again, and we took her to a major Boston hospital, where they diagnosed her with a bleed on her brain and admitted her to the neuro ICU.

About a week after she was released, my partner fell off the truck at work and fractured his skull, and we were right back in the neuro ICU of the same hospital. This one was a Worker’s Comp. claim, so all his expenses would be covered, but under Massachusetts law, he was only paid at 60% of his salary while he was out of work. My workplace has a generous benefits package by most standards, but I had to take vacation time to take care of him. Once that was up, I could take unpaid leave (under the Family Medical Leave Act).

To people in other developed countries, this probably sounds like insanity, but in the U.S., this puts our family at the top of the heap in terms of the social safety net. Many workers have fewer protections than we do. One quarter of the U.S. workforce gets no paid vacation time. Almost 40% of private sector workers get no paid sick time. And only 41% are eligible for leave under the FMLA.

So, here we are – one family member just out of the hospital and recovering at home, and another family member facing extreme pain and a several-month recovery. You might think, with our professional, salaried jobs, our good health insurance, and our benefits, we’d be able to focus on healing. But, no. Everything was a fight.

They released my partner from the hospital after two days even though his pain was still very intense. “Call first thing tomorrow morning,” they said, “and get an appointment at the pain clinic.”

Sounds like a great idea, but there was literally no appointment at the pain clinic for 6 weeks. I am a trained organizer with a big mouth and a middle-class white person’s sense of entitlement, and I spent hours on the phone working it from every angle, and even I could not find a single appointment at a pain clinic anywhere in the Boston metropolitan area. So when his pain was intolerable, we went back to the E.R., which we had to do two more times.

Each time, I said, “Look, it’s not just his head that hurts. He also wrenched his back during the fall. So he’s in two kinds of very severe pain.” Every single time I raised this concern, they said, “We’re only focused on his head right now.”

Okay, I get it. His head ranked higher on the concern-meter than a soft-tissue back injury, but pain is pain, and when you’re in it times two, and you’re in a hospital for chrissakes, with medical professionals in every direction, why not give him some relief for the second-ranked injury as well?

Why? Well, because it’s just too much to ask. The specialist in charge of his care was a neuro-surgeon, who once, and I kid you not, said it for me real slow: “N-e-u-r-o,” he enunciated carefully. “That means the b-r-a-i-n.”

“Yes,” I wanted to say back, “And this is a p-e-r-s-o-n.”

But the U.S. health care system is not really set up to deal with p-e-r-s-o-n-s. It’s designed to turn a profit. As more and more care is referred to specialists and as lucrative procedures take precedence over appointments for patients with chronic conditions, doctors and hospitals make enormous profits while patients suffer from lack of care.

And our social safety net is not really meant to keep us safe. It is designed to keep us disciplined and on edge – grateful for the crumbs and relieved not to be bankrupt.



Cynthia Peters is a freelance writer, activist, and editor of The Change Agent (www.nelrc.org/changeagent), a social justice magazine for adult learners and adult educators. She writes about a wide range of topics including organizing, parenting, marketing, feminism, racism, and gender politics. 




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