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The Deadliest Prescription Drug in America?

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Doctors are doling Klonopin out like candy, causing a surge of hellish withdrawals, overdoses and deaths.

You could argue that the deadliest “drug” in the world is the venom from a jellyfish known as the Sea Wasp, whose sting can kill a human being in four minutes—up to 100 humans at a time. Potassium chloride, which is used to trigger cardiac arrest and death in the 38 states of the U.S. that enforce the death penalty is also pretty deadly . But when it comes to prescription drugs that are not only able to kill you but can drag out the final reckoning for years on end, with worsening misery at every step of the way, it is hard to top the benzodiazepines. And no “benzo” has been more lethal to millions of Americans than a popular prescription drug called Klonopin.

Klonopin is the brand name for the pill known as clonazepam, which was originally brought to market in 1975 as a medication for epileptic seizures. Since then, Klonopin, along with the other drugs in this class, has become a prescription of choice for drug abusers from Hollywood to Wall Street. In the process, these Schedule III and IV substances have also earned the dubious distinction of being second only to opioid painkillers like OxyContin as our nation’s most widely abused class of drug.

Seventies-era rock star Stevie Nicks is the poster girl for the perils of Klonopin addiction. In almost every interview, the former lead singer of Fleetwood Mac makes a point of mentioning the toll her abuse of the drug has taken on her life. This month, while promoting her new solo album,In Your Dreams,she told Fox that she blamed Klonopin for the fact that she never had children. “The only thing I’d change [in my life] is walking into the office of that psychiatrist who prescribed me Klonopin. That ruined my life for eight years,” she said. “God knows, maybe I would have met someone, maybe I would have had a baby.”

Nicks checked herself into the Betty Ford Clinic in 1986 to overcome a cocaine addiction. After her release, the psychiatrist in question prescribed a series of benzos—first Valium, then Xanax, and finally Klonopin—supposedly to support her sobriety. “[Klonopin] turned me into a zombie,” she told US Weekly in 2001, according to the website Benzo.org, one of many patient-run sites on the Internet offering information about benzodiazepine addiction, withdrawal and recovery. Nicks has described the drug as a “horrible, dangerous drug,” and said that her eventual 45-day hospital detox and rehab from the drug felt like “somebody opened up a door and pushed me into hell.” Others have described Klonopin’s effects as beginning with an energized sense of euphoria but ending up with horrifying sense of anxiety and paralysis, akin to  sticking your tongue into an electric outlet, or suddenly feeling that your brain is on fire.

When benzodiazepines first came to market in the 1950s and 1960s, they were prescribed for a range of neurological disorders such as epilepsy as well as anxiety related disorders such as insomnia. But over time, a loophole in federal drug-control laws known as the “practice of medicine exception” has permitted psychiatrists and other physicians to prescribe the drugs for any perceived disorder or symptom imaginable, from panic attacks to weight control problems. Much in the same way, Valium became infamous as “mother’s little helper,” a sedative used to pacify a generation of bored and frustrated suburban housewives.

Alcoholics and drug addicts are most likely to run into Klonopin during detox, when it is used to prevent seizures and control the symptoms of acute withdrawal. Klonopin takes longer to metabolize and passes through your system more slowly than other benzos, so in theory you don’t need to take it so frequently. But if you like the high it gives you, and  keep increasing your dosage, the addictive effects of the drug accumulate quickly and can often be devastating. The drug’s label clearly specifies that it is “recommended” only for short-term use—say, seven to 10 days—but once exposed to the pill’s seductive side-effects, many patients come back for more. And not surprisingly, many doctors are happy to refill prescriptions to meet this consumer demand. In the process, countless numbers of people swap one addiction for another, often worse than the initial addiction they were trying to treat. Although benzodiazepines are rarely reported to be the cause of single-drug overdoses, they show up with great frequency in deaths from so-called combined drug intoxication, or CDI. In recent years there have been thousands of deaths caused by this lethal combination. The drug has also help hasten the death of a wide list of otherwise healthy celebrities. :

In 1996, Actress Margaux Hemingway committed suicide by overdosing on a barbiturate-benzodiazepine cocktail. Weeks later, Hollywood movie producer Don Simpson (Beverly Hills Cop) also died from an unintentional benzo-based overdose. Klonopin was one of 11 different prescription drugs—all written by the same doctor—found in the body of Playboy centerfold model Anna Nicole Smith, who OD’d in 2007. Thereafter, the well-known Los Angeles author, David Foster Wallace, who was suffering from a profound depression when a doctor prescribed him Klonopin, went into his backyard on a September evening and hanged himself with a leather belt he had nailed to an overhead beam on his patio. Klonopin has been striking down more than just troubled celebrities, however. In 2008, reports began to surface of soldiers returning from Iraq with post-traumatic stress disorder who were dying in their sleep, the victims of a psych-med cocktail of Klonopin, Paxil (an antidepressant), and Seroquel, an antipsychotic that is routinely prescribed by VA hospitals.

Hospital emergency room visits for benzodiazepine abuse now dwarf those for illegal street drugs by a more than a three-to-one margin. This trend has been increasing for at least the last five years. In 2006, the U.S. government’s Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration published data showing that prescription drugs that year were the number two reason for ER admissions to hospitals for drug abuse, slightly behind illicit substances like heroin and cocaine. But a survey released by the agency earlier this year claims that benzos, opioids and other prescriptions meds are now responsible for the majority of drug-related hospital visits.

Scientists can’t say for sure what Klonopin does when ingested, except that it dramatically affects the functioning of the brain. This much we know: If your brain is on fire with electrical signals—like, say, you’re having an epileptic seizure—a dose of clonazepam will help put out the flames.  It does so by lowering the electrical activity of the brain,  specifically which electrical activities it suppresses is something that no one really seems to know for sure. And therein lies the reason why clonazepam, like nearly the entire class of benzos, causes such unpredictable reactions in people. Put simply, the brain is just too complex a structure for its owners to understand—and when you start monkeying around with the way it functions, it’s anybody’s guess what is going to happen next.

Here’s how the respected neurosurgeon Frank Vertosick, Jr., describes the brain in his book When The Air Hits Your Brain: Parables of Neurosurgery:“The human brain: a trillion nerve cells storing electrical patterns more numerous than the water molecules of the world’s oceans.” So, if clonazepam is given to a patient with a history of epileptic seizures, it is likely to bring the symptoms under control. But give the same drug to a person suffering from a completely different problem (an eating or sleeping disorder, for example), and it might actually cause an epileptic seizure.

Clonazepam has wreaked such havoc on people partly because it is so highly addictive; anyone who takes it for more than a few weeks may well develop a dependence on it. As a result, you can be prescribed Klonopin as a short-term treatment for, say, insomnia, and wind up so hooked on it that you’ll begin frantically “doctor shopping” for new prescriptions if the first physician who gave it for you refuses to renew the prescription. As with all benzos, use of Klonopin for more than a month can lead to a dangerous condition known as “benzodiazepine withdrawal syndrome,” featuring elevation of a user’s heart rate and blood pressure along with insomnia, nightmares, hallucinations, anxiety, panic, weight loss, muscular spasms or cramps, and seizures.

Along with Klonopin, here are the three other benzos that, by general agreement, have made it into the top ranks of the world’s worst and most widely abused drugs: temazepam, alprazolam, and lorazepam.

Temazepam: Sold in the U.S. under the brand name Restoril, this benzo was developed and approved in the 1960s as a short-term treatment for insomnia. It is basically what is commonly called a “knockout drop.” Taken even in relatively modest dosages, temazepam can produce a powerfully hypnotic effect that numbs users and makes them extremely compliant and susceptible to control. But thanks to the “practice of medicine exception” physicians can prescribe it for anything they want.

During the Cold War, the Soviet Union reportedly used temazepam extensively to keep political dissidents in a drugged-out state in government-run psychiatric hospitals. Both the CIA and the KGB are also said to have also used the sleeping pill in prisoner interrogations and in research into mind-control, brainwashing and social engineering.

Temazepam is sometimes referred to as a “date rape” drug, and it figures frequently in drug-related crimes of violence. In the drug world underground, where it is often sold as an alternative to heroin and crack cocaine, it goes by such street names as “tams,” “Vitamin T,” “terminators,” “big T,” “mind eraser” and “Mommy’s Big Helper.” Common side-effects include confusion, clumsiness, chronic drowsiness, impaired learning, memory and motor functions, as well as extreme euphoria, dizziness and amnesia.

Alprazolam: Brand name Xanax, this benzo now accounts for as many as 60% of all hospital admissions for drug addiction, according to some research. What’s more, violent and psychotic responses to Xanax are not limited to humans. In May 2009, a 200-lb chimpanzee being kept as a house pet by a Stamford, Conn., woman went on a rampage after being dosed with Xanax, escaping into the neighborhood and ripping off the face of a friend of its owner.

Lorazepam: Brand name Ativan, this drug has figured in an array of well-publicized homicides and suicides by those using it. Ativan surfaced in the 2000 divorce case between Washington, D.C., socialite Patricia Duff and her husband, Wall Street billionaire Ronald Perelman. In deposition testimony, Perelman acknowledged taking Ativan as an anti-anxiety drug during his separation from Duff and the commencement of divorce proceedings. The period was marked by numerous outbursts by Perelman and at least two physical assaults on Duff. In 2008, news reports revealed that Ativan was being used by the U.S. Customs Service to keep suspected terrorists sedated while deporting them to detention facilities abroad.

You can buy any of these “feel-good” drugs without a doctor’s signature by simply typing the name into any Internet search engine. Instantly, you’ll be presented with dozens of websites, both foreign and domestic, where you can make your purchase, no prescription required. (Most of the websites accept all major credit cards.)

Why has all this happened? In large measure you can thank the 47,000 members of the American psychiatric profession for this dreadful state of affairs. Neither the pharmaceutical industry nor the psychiatric profession would be anywhere near as lucrative as they are today without their mutual support system. Together they have created a marketing juggernaut that over the last 20 years has spawned a seemingly nonstop gusher of profits that is only now beginning to slow—and probably only temporarily.

The scholarly journals of the psychiatric profession were filled with early warnings, beginning almost 50 years ago, from those who could see where the encroaching influence of the drug companies was destined to lead the profession. Now, even the medical journals themselves have been corrupted by the hidden hand of Big Pharma. In 2008, the New York Times reported that a survey of the six top medical journals showed that on average almost 8% of the bylined articles published in their pages were ghostwritten by freelance writers, then published under the names of cooperating doctors and researchers to give the pro-drug messages contained in the articles the appearance of impartiality. The scheme is bankrolled, of course, by the company that makes the drug.

Consider Dr. Joseph Biederman, the world-renowned Harvard University psychiatrist and father of modern psychopharmacology for children, who, it now turns out, has been taking secret “consulting fees” from drug companies for years. Biederman is widely credited with legitimizing the concept of “bipolar disorder” as a chemical imbalance in the brain that can be corrected with psychiatric drugs. But documents uncovered by Senate investigators probing ties between the psychiatric profession and the drug industry, which have resulted in an explosion in medically approved uses for psychiatric drugs for children, show that Biederman received more than $1.6 million in undisclosed payments since 2000 from the pharmaceutical companies manufacturing the drugs he was encouraging parents to give to their children if they appeared to be “bipolar.”

No surveys that I am aware of have ever been conducted regarding the public’s impression of what psychiatrists actually do. But from pop culture media characters such as the fictional female psychiatrist Dr. Jennifer Melfi in the HBO series The Sopranos, the general belief seems to be that psychiatrists are learned and humane professionals who counsel their patients through hour-long “talk therapy” sessions in their offices once a week, and more frequently than that if necessary to help them resolve their conflicts.

In fact, many do nothing of the sort. It may be only a patient’s first session with a psychiatrist that lasts any meaningful amount of time. In this initial consultation the psychiatrist relies on the DSM manual as the diagnostic tool to decide precisely what the patient suffers from. Once that is established, the psychiatrist can begin prescribing psych meds as therapy, free of fear about the danger of a medical malpractice suit lurking down the road.

The follow-up sessions (weekly, monthly, etc.) that come after the initial consultations—that is, the sessions that are portrayed on The Sopranos as the occasions when Mafia killer Tony Soprano sits down in Dr. Melfi’s darkened office and pours out his guts about his troubled childhood—usually last as little as 15 minutes. During these so-called “med checks,” a psychiatrist typically charges $100 or more for asking the patient little more than how he or she is responding to the prescribed medication—a question that can usually be answered by a quick glance at the patient’s demeanor.

At the end of such a med-check, the psychiatrist may decide to renew the patient’s current prescription, substitute or add a new one—or even offer the patient a free sample of some new psych-med, courtesy of a sales rep from a pharmaceutical company. At four med-checks per hour, a psychiatrist with enough patients to fill up his workdays can easily make $120,000 annually from his med-check practice alone and still take a month-long summer vacation. It’s obvious that this system incentivizes doctors financially to keep prescribing drugs in order to keep patients returning for med-checks.

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The World That We’re Creating For Our Grandchildren Is Grim

The MIT Professor Talks ISIS, Israel, and Climate Change

Noam Chomsky.
Photo Credit: Raw Story

Renowned linguist and well-respected political commentator, Noam Chomsky, was interviewed by journalist David Barsamian for Jacobin. In the fascinating and thought-provoking conversation the two touch on the origins of ISIS, America’s relationship with Israel, among other foreign policy topics. Below are a few choice selections from the interview, which can (and should) be read in full at Jacobin.

When asked about the origins of ISIS Chomsky explained how sectarian conflict derived from the Iraq war:

“There’s an interesting interview that just appeared a couple of days ago with Graham Fuller, a former CIA officer, one of the leading intelligence and mainstream analysts of the Middle East. The title is “The United States Created ISIS.” This is one of the conspiracy theories, the thousands of them that go around the Middle East.

But this is another source: this is right at the heart of the US establishment. He hastens to point out that he doesn’t mean the US decided to put ISIS into existence and then funded it. His point is — and I think it’s accurate — that the US created the background out of which ISIS grew and developed. Part of it was just the standard sledgehammer approach: smash up what you don’t like.”

Late in the answer Chomsky continues:

“Finally, the US just decided to attack the country in 2003. The attack is compared by many Iraqis to the Mongol invasion of a thousand years earlier. Very destructive. Hundreds of thousands of people killed, millions of refugees, millions of other displaced persons, destruction of the archeological richness and wealth of the country back to Sumeria.

One of the effects of the invasion was immediately to institute sectarian divisions. Part of the brilliance of the invasion force and its civilian director, Paul Bremer, was to separate the sects, Sunni, Shi’a, Kurd, from one another, set them at each other’s throats. Within a couple of years, there was a major, brutal sectarian conflict incited by the invasion.

You can see it if you look at Baghdad. If you take a map of Baghdad in, say, 2002, it’s a mixed city: Sunni and Shi’a are living in the same neighborhoods, they’re intermarried. In fact, sometimes they didn’t even know who was Sunni and who was Shi’a. It’s like knowing whether your friends are in one Protestant group or another Protestant group. There were differences but it was not hostile.

In fact, for a couple of years both sides were saying: there will never be Sunni-Shi’a conflicts. We’re too intermingled in the nature of our lives, where we live, and so on. By 2006 there was a raging war. That conflict spread to the whole region. By now, the whole region is being torn apart by Sunni-Shi’a conflicts.

The natural dynamics of a conflict like that is that the most extreme elements begin to take over. They had roots. Their roots are in the major US ally, Saudi Arabia. That’s been the major US ally in the region as long as the US has been seriously involved there, in fact, since the foundation of the Saudi state. It’s kind of a family dictatorship. The reason is it has a huge amount oil.”

Asked about Congress’ unfailing support for Israel — even beloved progressive Senator Elizabeth Warren — Chomsky responds thusly:

“She probably knows nothing about the Middle East. I think it’s pretty obvious. Take the US prepositioning arms in Israel for US use for military action in the region. That’s one small piece of a very close military and intelligence alliance that goes back very far. It really took off after 1967, although bits and pieces of it existed before.

The US military and intelligence regard Israel as a major base. In fact, one of the more interesting WikiLeaks exposures listed the Pentagon ranking of strategic centers around the world which were of such significance that we have to protect them no matter what, a small number. One of them was a couple of miles outside Haifa, Rafael military industries, a major military installation.

That’s where a lot of the drone technology was developed and much else. That’s a strategic US interest of such significance that it ranks among the highest in the world. Rafael understands that, to the extent that they actually moved their management headquarters to Washington, where the money is. That’s indicative of the kind of relationship there is.

And it goes way beyond that. US investors are in love with Israel. Warren Buffet just bought some Israeli enterprise for, I think, a couple billion dollars and announced that outside the US, Israel is the best place for US investment. And major firms, like Intel and others, are investing heavily in Israel, and continue to. It’s a valuable client: it’s strategically located, compliant, does what the US wants, it’s available for repression and violence. The US has used it over and over as a way of circumventing congressional and popular restrictions on violence.”

And he says this about climate change:

“The world that we’re creating for our grandchildren is grim. The major concern ought to be the one that was brought up in New York at the September 21 march. A couple hundred thousand people marched in New York calling for some serious action on global warming.

This is no joke. This is the first time in the history of the human species that we have to make decisions which will determine whether there will be decent survival for our grandchildren. That’s never happened before. Already we have made decisions which are wiping out species around the world at a phenomenal level.

The level of species destruction in the world today is about at the level of sixty-five million years ago, when a huge asteroid hit the earth and had horrifying ecological effects. It ended the age of the dinosaurs; they were wiped out. It kind of left a little opening for small mammals, who began to develop, and ultimately us. The same thing is happening now, except that we’re the asteroid. What we’re doing to the environment is already creating conditions like those of sixty-five million years ago. Human civilization is tottering at the edge of this. The picture doesn’t look pretty.”

What We Are Not Being Told About Suicide And Depression

Shouldn’t researchers examine societal and cultural variables that are making us depressed and suicidal?

For nearly two decades, Big Pharma commercials have falsely told Americans that mental illness is associated with a chemical brain imbalance, but the truth is that mental illness and suicidality are associated with poverty, unemployment, and mass incarceration. And the truth is that American society has now become so especially oppressive for young people that an embarrassingly large number of American teenagers and young adults are suicidal and depressed.

In November of 2014, the U.S. government’s Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) issued a press release titled “Nearly One in Five Adult Americans Experienced Mental Illness in 2013.” This brief press release provides a snapshot of the number of Americans who are suicidal, depressed, and mentally ill, and it bemoans how many Americans are not in treatment. However, excluded from SAMHSA’s press release—yet included in the lengthy results of SAMHSA’s national survey—are economic, age, gender, and other demographic correlates of serious mental illness, depression, and suicidality (serious suicidal thoughts, plans, or attempts). It is these demographic correlates that have political implications.

These lengthy results, for example, include extensive evidence that involvement in the criminal justice system (such as being on parole or probation) is highly correlated with suicidality, depression, and serious mental illness. Yet Americans are not told that preventing unnecessary involvement with the criminal justice system—for example, marijuana legalization and drug use decriminalization—could well prove to be a more powerful antidote to suicidality, depression, and serious mental illness than medical treatment.

Also, the survey results provide extensive evidence that unemployment and poverty are highly associated with suicidality, depression, and serious mental illness. While correlation is not the equivalent of causation, it makes more sense to be further examining variables that actually are associated with suicidality, depression, and serious mental illness rather than focusing on variables such as chemical imbalances which are not even correlates (see AlterNet January 2015). These results beg questions such as: Does unemployment and poverty cause depression, or does depression make it more likely for unemployment and poverty, or are both true?

And the survey results also provide extensive evidence that younger Americans are more depressed than older Americans, that women are more likely to be depressed than men, and that Native Americans and biracial Americans are more likely to be depressed than other ethnic/racial groups. Again, while correlation is not the equivalent of causation, depression obviously cannot cause one to become young, female, or Native American. More rationally, researchers should be asking what is it about American society that is so depressing, especially for young people, women, and Native Americans?

These recent SAMHSA survey results provide a golden opportunity for a scientific and societal shift to reconsider what about American society and culture is resulting in emotional suffering and self-destructive behaviors, especially for certain groups. Below is a summary of some of the key statistics in these buried SAMHSA survey results.

Summary of Buried SAMHSA Survey Results

Involvement with the Criminal Justice System: In 2013, the percentage of American adults with serious suicidal thoughts: 10.7 percent for those on parole or a supervised release from jail in the past 12 months, 9.2 percent among those who were on probation, and 3.9 percent for those not involved in the criminal justice system. The percentage for adults with any mental illness: if on probation was 32.3 percent, if on parole or supervised release, 36.5 percent, double the percentage of adults not involved in the criminal justice system (18.3 percent). The percentage of adults with serious mental illness: if on probation was 9.4 percent, if on parole or supervised release was 13.9 percent, more than triple for those not involved in the criminal justice system (4.1 percent).

Unemployment: Among American adults in 2013, the unemployed were more likely than those who were employed full time: to have serious thoughts of suicide (7.0 vs. 3.0 percent), make suicide plans (2.3 vs. 0.7 percent), or attempt suicide (1.4 vs. 0.3 percent). The percentage of adults with any mental illness: for the unemployed was 22.8 percent, for part-time employed was 20.3 percent, and for full-time employed was 15.4 percent. Among adults with serious mental illness: the percentage for the unemployed was 6.6 percent, for part-time employed was 4.8 percent, and for those full-time employed was 2.7 percent. Among those adults having a major depression episode: the percentage for the unemployed was 9.5 percent, for part-time employed was 7.8 percent, and for full-time employed was 5.3 percent.

Family Income: Among American adults in 2013, serious suicidal thoughts occurred in: 6.6 percent of those from family incomes below the Federal poverty level, 4.7 percent of those with family incomes between 100 and 199 percent of the Federal poverty level, and 3.1 percent of those with annual family incomes at 200 percent or more of the Federal poverty level. Among American adults, the percentage with serious mental illness: for those with a family income that was below the Federal poverty level was 7.7 percent, for those with a family income at 100 to 199 percent of the Federal poverty level was 5.1 percent, and for those with a family income at 200 percent or more of the Federal poverty level was 3.2 percent.

Age: No suicidality results were reported for Americans under 18, however, among American adults having serious suicidal thoughts, the percentage: for those aged 18 to 25 was 7.4 percent, for those aged 26 to 49 was 4.0 percent, and for those aged 50 or older was 2.7 percent. And among adults who made suicide plans in the past year: the percentage for those aged 18 to 25 was 2.5 percent, for those aged 26 to 49 was 1.3 percent, and for those aged 50 or older was 0.6 percent. The percentage of Americans having a major depressive episode in 2013: for those aged 12 to 17 was 10.7 percent, for those aged 18 to 25 was 8.7 percent, for those aged 26 to 49 was 7.6 percent, and for those aged 50 or older was 5.1 percent.

Gender: In 2013, adult women were more likely than adult men to have: any mental illness (22.3 vs. 14.4 percent), a serious mental illness (4.9 vs. 3.5 percent), a major depressive episode (8.1 vs. 5.1 percent), and suicidal thoughts (4.0 vs. 3.8 percent). Among American ages 12 to 17, females were more likely than males to have a major depressive episode (16.2 vs. 5.3 percent) and a major depressive episode with severe impairment (12.0 vs. 3.5 percent).

Ethnicity/Race: In 2013, the percentages of adults aged 18 or older having serious thoughts of suicide in the past year were: 2.9 percent among blacks, 3.3 percent among Asians, 3.6 percent among Hispanics, 4.1 percent among whites, 4.6 percent among Native Hawaiians or Other Pacific Islanders, 4.8 percent among American Indians or Alaska Natives, and 7.9 percent among adults reporting two or more races. The percentages of adults with a major depressive episode: were 1.6 percent among Native Hawaiians or Other Pacific Islanders, 4.0 percent among Asians, 4.6 percent among blacks, 5.8 percent among Hispanics, 7.3 percent among whites, 8.9 percent among American Indians or Alaska Natives, and 11.4 percent among adults reporting two or more races.

Conclusions

The SAMHSA press release states that among American adults in 2013: 10 million American adults (4.2 percent) experienced a serious mental illness, 15.7 million adults (6.7 percent) experienced a major depressive episode, and states that “major depressive episodes affected approximately one in ten (2.6 million) youth between the ages of 12 to 17.” The press release then laments how many Americans with mental illnesses are not receiving treatment.

While these statistics in the SAMHSA press release are troubling, the devil is in the details of the actual lengthy SAMHSA survey results. These results make clear that suicidality, depression, and mental illness are highly correlated with involvement in the criminal justice system, unemployment, and poverty, and occur in greater frequency among young people, women, and Native Americans.

Shouldn’t researchers be examining American societal and cultural variables that are making so many of us depressed and suicidal? At the very least, don’t we as a society want to know what exactly is making physically healthier teenagers and young adults more depressed than senior citizens?

Oil And Gas Companies Won’t Have To Pay For Damage Caused To Louisiana’s Coast

In the last 80 years, Louisiana alone has lost an area of coastal land the size of Delaware.

In the last 80 years, Louisiana alone has lost an area of coastal land the size of Delaware.

CREDIT: SHUTTERSTOCK

Oil and gas companies won’t have to pay for decades of damage to Louisiana’s coast, after a lawsuit filed against the companies in 2013 was thrown out on Friday.

U.S. District Judge Nanette Jolivette Brown dismissed the lawsuit, which was filed by the Southeast Louisiana Flood Protection Authority-East against nearly 100 fossil fuel companies. The suit, which the New York Times called the “most ambitious environmental lawsuit ever,” could have cost the industry billions of dollars for its contribution to the erosion of Louisiana’s coast. The state’s coastline loses about a football field’s worth of land every hour, and the wells drilled by the oil and gas industry have been estimated by the Interior Department to have caused anywhere from 15 to 59 percent of the erosion. The lawsuit would have prompted the industry to help pay for the estimated $50 billion in coastal restoration and protection that Louisiana will need over the next several years.

Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal (R), who had long opposed the lawsuit and signed a bill last year to quash it — legislation that was later found unconstitutional — praised the judge’s decision, as did the state’s oil and gas industry, which called the lawsuit “ill-conceived, unwise and divisive.”

The oil and gas industry may not be off the hook quite yet, however — the Flood Protection Authority is expected to appeal the judge’s decision to toss out the lawsuit.

Louisiana has lost about 1,900 square miles of land since the 1930s, and the U.S. Geological Survey estimates that the state’s coastal wetlands could disappear in as little as 200 years.

That’s bad news for the state’s coastal communities, which get some protection from storm surge from the wetlands. Sea level rise is likely to exacerbate the land loss problem: coastal Louisiana has seen its sea level rise at a rate that’s roughly double the global rate over the last 50 years.

Steve Estopinal, president of the Southeast Louisiana Flood Protection Authority-East,talked to ThinkProgress earlier this year about the changes he’s seen on Louisiana’s coastline during his lifetime.

“I can remember as a young man going out in the prairie where you could fold the grass down and put a blanket out and you could spend the night, dry,” Estopinal said. “That same place now, people are trolling for shrimp.”

John Barry, former vice chairman of the Flood Protection Authority who helped create the lawsuit against the 97 oil and gas companies, told the National Journal last year that the lawsuit was seeking to hold the oil and gas industry accountable for its damage to the coastline, especially since the industry itself admits that it’s responsible for 36 percent of the wetlands loss.

“People want to call me an environmental activist, but this is not about activism. This is about law and order,” Barry said. “The law required [companies] to clean up after themselves, and they didn’t do it.”

The Putin-Did-It Conspiracy Theory

A new truce agreement in Ukraine rekindles hope that the bloodshed can be reduced if not stopped, but Official Washington’s gross misunderstanding of the crisis, blaming everything on Russia’s President Putin, raises doubts and portends a potentially grave catastrophe, writes Robert Parry.

The original falsehood behind the Iraq War was that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction and intended to use them against America either directly or by giving them to al-Qaeda. The opening lie about the Ukraine crisis was that Russian President Vladimir Putin instigated the conflict as part of some Hitlerian plan to conquer much of Europe.

Yet, while the Hussein-WMD claim was hard for the common citizen to assess because it was supposedly supported by U.S. intelligence information that was kept secret, the Putin-Ukraine lie collapses under the most cursory examination based simply of what’s publicly known and what makes sense.

Nevertheless, the New York Times – much as it did when it was falsely reporting breathlessly about “aluminum tubes” for Iraq’s non-existent nuclear weapons program – continues to promote U.S. government propaganda about Ukraine as fact and dismisses any rational assessment of the situation as crazy.

On Friday, the Times concluded its lead editorial with the assertion that: “What remains incontrovertible is that Ukraine is Mr. Putin’s war.” But the point is anything but “incontrovertible.” Indeed, the crisis was most certainly not instigated by Putin.

The actually “incontrovertible” facts about the Ukraine crisis are these: The destabilization of President Viktor Yanukovych’s elected government began in November 2013 when Yanukovych balked at a proposed association agreement promoted by the European Union. He sought more time after the sticker shock of learning from Kiev economic experts that the deal would cost Ukraine $160 billion in lost revenue by cutting trade with Russia.

It was German Chancellor Angela Merkel, not Vladimir Putin, who pushed the EU agreement and miscalculated the consequences, as the German newsmagazine Der Spiegel has reported. Putin’s only role in that time frame was to offer a more generous $15 billion aid package to Ukraine, not exactly a war-like act.

Yanukovych’s decision to postpone action on the EU association prompted angry demonstrations in Kiev’s Maidan square, largely from western Ukrainians who were hoping for visa-free travel to the EU and other benefits from closer ties. Putin had no role in those protests – and it’s insane to think that he did.

In February 2014, the protests grew more and more violent as neo-Nazi and other militias organized in the western city of Lviv and these 100-man units known as “sotins” were dispatched daily to provide the muscle for the anti-Yanukovych uprising that was taking shape. It is frankly nutty to suggest that Putin was organizing these militias. [See Consortiumnews.com’s “When Is a Putsch a Putsch.”]

Evidence of Coup Plotting

By contrast, there is substantial evidence that senior U.S. officials were pushing for a “regime change” in Kiev, including an intercepted phone call and various public statements.

In December 2013, Assistant Secretary of State Victoria Nuland, a neocon holdover, reminded Ukrainian business leaders that the United States had invested $5 billion in their “European aspirations.” In early February, she discussed with U.S. Ambassador Geoffrey Pyatt who the new leaders of Ukraine should be. “Yats is the guy,” she declared, referring to Arseniy Yatsenyuk. [See Consortiumnews.com’s “Who’s Telling the Big Lie on Ukraine?”]

The Maidan uprising gained momentum on Feb. 20, 2014, when snipers around the square opened fire on police and protesters touching off a violent clash that left scores of people dead, both police and protesters. After the sniper fire and a police retreat — carrying their wounded — the demonstrators surged forward and some police apparently reacted with return fire of their own.

But the growing evidence indicates that the initial sniper fire originated from locations controlled by the Right Sektor, extremists associated with the Maidan’s neo-Nazi “self-defense” commandant Andriy Parubiy. Though the current Ukrainian government has dragged its feet on an investigation, independent field reports, including a new one from BBC, indicate that the snipers were associated with the protesters, not the Yanukovych government as was widely reported in the U.S. media a year ago.

The worsening violence led Yanukovych to agree on Feb. 21 to a deal guaranteed by three European countries. He accepted reduced powers and agreed to early elections so he could be voted out of office. Yet, rather than permit that political settlement to go forward, neo-Nazis and other Maidan forces overran government buildings on Feb. 22, forcing Yanukovych and his officials to flee for their lives.

The U.S. State Department quickly deemed this coup regime “legitimate” and Nuland’s choice, Yatsenyuk, emerged as Prime Minister, with Parubiy put in charge of national security.

In other words, there is plenty of evidence that the Ukraine crisis was started by the EU through its mishandling of the association agreement, then was heated up by the U.S. government through the work of Nuland, Pyatt and other officials, and then was brought to a boil by neo-Nazis and other extremists who executed the coup.

A Nutty Conspiracy Theory

But there is zero evidence that Putin engineered these events. There is no evidence that he got Merkel and the EU to overplay their hand; no evidence that he organized the neo-Nazi militias in Lviv; no evidence that he manipulated U.S. officials to manipulate the “regime change” behind the scenes; no evidence that he ordered the Maidan militants to attack.

Is the New York Times really suggesting that Putin pulled the strings on the likes of Merkel and Nuland, secretly organized neo-Nazi brigades, and ruthlessly deployed these thugs to Kiev to provoke violence and overthrow Yanukovych, all while pretending to try to save Yanukovych’s government – all so Putin could advance some dastardly plot to conquer Europe?

The Times often makes fun of “conspiracy theorists,” but the Times’ narrative is something that would make even the most dedicated “conspiracy theorist” blush. Yet, the Times not only asserts this crazy conspiracy theory but calls it “incontrovertible.”

Beyond the lack of evidence to support this conspiracy theory, there is no rational motive for Putin to have done what the Times claims that he did.

In the actual chronology of event, Putin was preoccupied with the Winter Olympics in Sochi when the Ukraine crisis took its turn for the worst a year ago. He was fearful that the Olympics would be marred by Chechen or other terrorism and thus was personally overseeing security.

Putin had spent some $40 billion on making the Olympics a glamorous show to introduce the new Russia to the world as a country ready to join the West. I’m told that he was very proud of Russia’s position in the G-8 and felt he had built a constructive relationship with President Barack Obama by helping him resolve crises in Syria and Iran in 2013.

The last thing Putin wanted to do was provoke a crisis in Ukraine. Nor is there any intelligence that he had designs on the Baltic States, as the conspiracy theory contends.

However, when a right-wing regime seized power in a violent coup in Ukraine on Russia’s border and then took provocative actions against Ukraine’s ethnic Russians, Putin responded to calls from Crimea – both from its parliament and a referendum – to take the peninsula back into Russia.

Putin also feared that the new powers in Kiev might give the historic Russian naval base at Sevastopol to NATO with its nuclear-armed submarines. In other words, as much as the New York Times has bandied about claims of a Russian “invasion” of Crimea, the Crimeans requested Russia’s intervention and up to 25,000 Russian troops were already there in the agreement with Ukraine over the naval base.

Reactor, Not Instigator

But the key point is that Putin was reacting to the Ukraine crisis, not instigating it. As even former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger explained to Der Spiegel, “The annexation of Crimea was not a move toward global conquest. It was not Hitler moving into Czechoslovakia.”

Kissinger added, “Putin spent tens of billions of dollars on the Winter Olympics in Sochi. The theme of the Olympics was that Russia is a progressive state tied to the West through its culture and, therefore, it presumably wants to be part of it. So it doesn’t make any sense that a week after the close of the Olympics, Putin would take Crimea and start a war over Ukraine.”

In this case, Kissinger is clearly right. It never made any sense for Putin to provoke the Ukraine crisis. Yet, that became the lie upon which the United States has built its increasingly aggressive policies over the past year, with politicians of all stripes now shouting that America must stand up to the madman Putin and “Russian aggression.”

This is a dangerous “group think” for a number of reasons, not the least the disturbing fact that both the United States and Russia have lots of nuclear weapons. On a less existential level, the “Putin-is-Hitler” analogy has prompted a major miscalculation on the right approach for the Obama administration to take vis a vis Putin.

As Harvard Professor Stephen M. Walt has noted, the most effective response to a crisis is different if a foreign leader is an aggressor on the march or if the leader feels cornered. The former calls for a “deterrence model,” i.e., a tough reaction. But a tough response in the latter case will only make the beleaguered leader more belligerent like a cornered animal, thus spinning the crisis into more dangerous territory under what’s known as the “spiral model.”

“When insecurity is the taproot of a state’s revisionist actions, making threats just makes the situation worse,” Walt wrote. “When the ‘spiral model’ applies, the proper response is a diplomatic process of accommodation and appeasement (yes, appeasement) to allay the insecure state’s concerns.” [See Consortiumnews.com’s “‘Realists’ Warn Against Ukraine Escalation.”]

Perhaps the new ceasefire agreement in Minsk – spearheaded by German Chancellor Merkel – will finally help defuse the crisis, with the legitimate concerns of the various sides being taken into account rationally rather than letting the past year’s hysteria continue to control events.

But the Times’ editorial doesn’t give much reason for hope that America’s upside-down “group think” has righted itself in any meaningful way. In the mainstream media’s latest repeat of the Iraq-WMD fiasco, the Times and virtually every other major news outlet remain committed to a dangerous misreading of the facts about Ukraine.

And anyone who dares point out the real history of the crisis is immediately shouted down with the anti-intellectual riposte: “Putin apologist!” — just as in 2002-2003, when anyone who doubted the certainty about Iraq’s WMD was a “Saddam apologist.”

Robert Parry, consortiumnews.com

Germany rearming…

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Against the backdrop of the Ukraine crisis, leading German politicians and military leaders are demanding a massive rearmament of the army.

On Sunday, the president of the armed forces association, André Wüstner, attending the Munich Security Conference, declared: “Whoever wants freedom must be ready for war.” He has precisely the same view as the German government, namely that the conflict in Ukraine cannot be solved militarily, but that the army must prepare itself for any emergency.

The past year has shown “how quickly risks can turn into dangers,” said Wüstner. The situation in Ukraine, Syria and Iraq is dramatic, he said.

“For us, that means insisting that the army should be fully equipped—equipment caps passed by the previous legislature must be abolished! That begins with the weapons system and goes all the way to the personal equipment of the individual soldier.”

“To achieve complete preparation of the army for deployment”, he added, “we must raise the defense budget step by step in the next few years. Otherwise, we risk losing the trust of our allies that we have only just won back.”

Wüstner was referring to “global challenges” and the German role in NATO. Germany has a “payback responsibility” with regard to the army and NATO.

The lieutenant colonel complained, “Since 1990, the budget was restructured to save money at the expense of the army,” and demanded: “It is time for that to end—there have to be credible assurances of funding for deterrence and security!”

This year’s defense report raises similar demands and read like a blueprint for the rearmament of the army. In the forward, the parliamentary defense commissioner Hellmut Königshaus (Free Democratic Party, FDP) describes the year 2014 as “the year of truth” for the army. It is being rebuilt into an army capable of intervening worldwide, but is “stretched to the limit of its capacity.”

The first part of the report creates the impression that the German armed forces are a chronically underfinanced scrapheap in need of redevelopment and in urgent need of a massive increase in budgetary allotments.

In nearly all units, there are personnel problems: the anti-aircraft missile unit stationed in Turkish territory, the speedboat squadron, the U-boat squadron, the tactical air force squadron, the marine planes and the signals division.

With regard to large military equipment, the report says there are massive “inadequacies and deficits.” It mentions, for instance, the Eurofighter, the transport helicopter NH 90, the transport airplane Transall and the marine mine warfare systems. There are not enough armored personnel carriers, and barracks are dilapidated. Replacement parts for military equipment and adequate ammunition are also lacking. And the main gun used by the army, the G36, does not shoot accurately.

Wüstner and the defense report demand what the German government and NATO have wanted for a long time but have previously only formulated cautiously because of widespread popular opposition.

Defense Minister Ursula von der Leyen (Christian Democratic Union, CDU) said in her opening speech to the Munich Security Conference last weekend that Germany is working “very hard to bring the army’s weaponry and equipment into a condition that will allow us to maintain our role as enduring alliance partners.” NATO wants this to take place immediately. The military alliance has long demanded of its members that they raise their defense budgets to at least two percent of GDP. Recently, NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg insisted that Germany set a good example.

Stoltenberg held talks with Chancellor Angela Merkel, Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier and Defense Minister von der Leyen about increasing military funding during his inaugural visit to Berlin in January. He also presented his plans to the parliamentary committees for defense and foreign policy.

Germany is a “key country” on the continent and has an important leadership role to play, said Stoltenberg. Therefore it must set an example for other NATO countries with its military. The security situation is changing “and we must adjust ourselves to that,” the NATO secretary general said.

Like Wüstner and von der Leyen, Stoltenberg directly related his plans for armaments with Russia’s “confrontation course”. NATO must stock up its arsenal, because only on the basis of a “position of strength” is a dialog with Moscow possible.

However, the most important reason for the demand to build up the army is not the NATO insistence, but the end of German restraint in matters of foreign policy announced by President Gauck and the German government a year ago. In order to be able to intervene worldwide to defend German economic, geopolitical and security interests, they need an army that is well equipped and prepared.

The complaints of the defense report about the bad condition of the army evoke historical parallels. In 1933, minister of the army of the Reich, Werner von Blomberg, prepared a memorandum in which he called the state of the German army “hopeless.” Like the current defense report, Blomberg’s memorandum complained that there were inadequate personnel reserves, military equipment and ammunition. Not even the equipment guaranteed by the Versailles treaty was available to the marines. Armoured ships were not delivered and the air force was almost nonexistent.

The dramatic development that then followed is well known. At the end of the same year, the Nazi regime began a rapid rearmament of the army. Within a short time, the German weapons industry, which had shrunk dramatically in accordance with the Versailles peace treaty, became a powerful fighting force that began the Second World War in 1939, left large parts of Europe in ruins and led a brutal war of destruction against the Soviet Union.

Pink Is Not Green

Companies That Support Fighting Cancer Should Not Use Chemicals That Cause It

Everyone remembers the Komen vs Planned Parenthood scandal from a couple years ago, right? To recap: Susan G. Komen for the Cure defunded Planned Parenthood because, in addition to providing breast health services, they also offer—gasp—contraception and abortions. While Komen eventually caved to public pressure and reversed their decision, the damage was done. The scandal outed Komen as a right-wing institution.

So it should be no surprise that Komen’s conservative culture extends beyond reproductive rights, that they also take positions that fly in the face of common-sense environmental sensibilities. A women’s health charity opposing access to reproductive health care is shocking, and the same charity taking anti-environment positions given that breast cancer increasingly linked to environmental causes is plain wrong.

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Komen sells and endorses toxic pink ribbon products.

We are all exposed to a slew of toxic or hazardous chemicals in our daily lives. Companies regularly sell products that contain toxic or hazardous ingredients that can impact the health of consumers. While we’d all love to avoid products that have problem ingredients, the kind of attention and painstaking ingredient-list reading is not possible for most of us, which means that we are exposed to numerous harmful chemicals without our consent or knowledge. And pink ribbon products are no exception. Breast Cancer Action calls this practice pinkwashing.

Komen’s long list of corporate sponsors includes several companies that are selling a product which contains breast cancer causing ingredients, including Ford and American Airlines whose emissions are linked to increased risk of the disease, and Alhambra Water, which sells plastic water bottles emblazoned with pink ribbons—and that contain BPA, a hormone-disrupting chemical linked to breast cancer.

To be fair, Komen is not alone in their pinkwashing. Frustratingly, there are seemingly endless examples of this hypocritical practice, made possible by multi-million breast cancer charities happy to loan their name and pink ribbon stamp of approval to hazardous products.

Komen endorses fracking.

Fracking, the very controversial practice of using a mix of toxic and hazardous chemicals to extract oil and gas from deep underground can count Komen as a fan and supporter. Even though fracking fluid contains chemicals linked to increased risk for breast cancer.

In 2012, Komen partnered with Chesapeake Energy’s subsidiary, Nomac Drilling, for a pink ribbon-wrapped fracking rig in rural Ohio. And in 2013 and 2014, Komen again made a truly astounding partnership decision, this time with fracking company Baker Hughes, which was publicized with, I kid you not, pink drill bits “for the cure.”

When it comes to toxic chemical safety, Komen stays silent and rakes in the money.

It sounds wonky, but the legislative effort to pass chemical safety reform is the most promising, and potentially comprehensive effort to reduce the public’s exposure to toxic, cancer-causing chemicals. Of course, Komen is not only conspicuously absent, but has ties to chemical industry lobbyists who are standing in the way.

Some background for the non-wonks among us: Environmental and public health organizations have worked for years to update the ancient Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA), which even the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency—tasked with enforcing it—acknowledges is woefully inadequate to address the seemingly endless list of toxic and harmful chemicals that we encounter with every day—from BPA in cans to flame retardants in furniture and phthalates in plastics.

Rather than lend their tremendous weight to pass chemical safety legislation, which just as easily could be called “cancer prevention” legislation, Komen counts as partners and sponsors organizations that are members of the American Chemistry Council. The ACC is a lobbying firm intent on undermining and derailing these efforts to ensure that toxic chemicals that can cause breast cancer remain under-regulated.

3M, which makes pink ribbon post-it notes, and Merck, a pharmaceutical company which does breast cancer research, are ACC member companies, and are also among Komen’s corporatesponsors. What’s worse is that the ACC and the industrial chemical industry has, so far, succeeded—as of early 2015, it appears that the conservative effort to quash meaningful TSCA reform is a success.

Komen’s smiling, cheerful brand, synonymous with the pink ribbon and “breast cancer awareness,” essentially serves as the mechanism for this deep environmental hypocrisy to play out. Nobody who cares about clean air, clean water or non-toxic consumer products should be giving Komen their time or money. Instead, there are plenty of great organizations that put women’s health first, and work to reduce our exposure to cancer causing chemicals—lets support them instead.

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