Global Medical Expansion Has “Made Us Sick”

Heather Callaghan


The burgeoning “health” care industry has made people see themselves as sickly…

Researchers from Ohio State University had a hunch that the expansion of the medical industry has made people overall view themselves as unwell – in need of help. First psychologically, then physically.

For all the medical advancements, people are actually worse for the wear despite what the medical community itself will propagate (longer life expectancy, lower cancer rates etc). In this instance, one only need look around to see a thriving “sick care” industry, having nothing to do with reversing illness.

OSU researchers came up with some interesting analyses to determine if medical expansion has made people view themselves as unhealthy. (Does physical illness follow?) Interestingly, they also backhacked the study to see what life would be like if medical sprawl hadn’t take place.

Researchers featured in the July 2015 issue of the journal Social Science Research used several large multinational datasets to examine changes in how people rated their health between 1981 and 2007 and compared that to medical expansion in 28 countries that are members of the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development.

So, did people feel healthier? Breathe a sigh of relief as the world of medicine expanded drastically during that time? Hui Zheng, assistant professor of sociology at Ohio State, thinks not.

He says:

Access to more medicine and medical care doesn’t really improve our subjective health. For example, in the United States, the percentage of Americans reporting very good health decreased from 39 percent to 28 percent from 1982 to 2006.

Then, he did a “counterfactual analysis” using the data to see what would have happened if the medical industry hadn’t expanded at all in these countries since 1982. Health factors like economic development were left unchanged.

This analysis shows that self-rated health would have increased in these 28 countries. For example, the percentage of Americans reporting very good health could have increased by about 10 percent.

Zheng concludes:

It seems counterintuitive, but that’s what the evidence shows. More medicine doesn’t lead to citizens feeling better about their health – it actually hurts,

It appears that perception has a lot to do with health. With hope, our readers will not let outside influence gaslight them into sickness, but boldly stand on their own two feet as much as possible. You have the right to be well.

Illustration by Dees

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Surveillance and Oppression We Can Believe In

Sometimes, pictures speak louder than words. With the news that the Obama Administration is the most secretive in U.S. history, this picture should make it even more clear what the administration’s definition of hope is:

Infographic_Espionage_Act_710x869


The following photos in the public domain were adapted for use this article.
Obama Mask: Pete Souza/Wikimedia, Hoover: National Archives/Wikimedia, Barack Obama: Pete Souza/Wikimedia, Richard Nixon: Wikimedia, Ronald Reagan: Defense Department/Wikimedia, George W. Bush: Defense.gov

TransCanada Whistleblower Spurs New Probe of Pipeline Giant’s Safety Record

Activists say latest allegations prove the corporation ‘cannot be trusted’ to operate its existing network, much less build new pipelines

Cut out section of pipe marked “junk” by TransCanada. (Photo: Public Citizen-David Whitley/flickr/cc)

Based on evidence provided by a whistleblower, Canada’s National Energy Board (NEB) is investigating pipeline giant TransCanada—the company behind both the Keystone XL and Energy East proposals—for safety-code violations, according to exclusive reporting by the Reuters news agency.

The energy regulator, which just finished accepting close to 2,000 applications from people wishing to participate in hearings on TransCanada’s proposed Energy East pipeline project, is reportedly looking into up to a dozen new allegations of pipeline safety-code violations—including “faulty or delayed repairs, sloppy welding work, and a failure to report key issues” to the nation’s energy regulator.

“Whistleblowers are extremely rare in this industry. The fact that there are now two raising such serious concerns combined with TransCanada’s horrible safety record should bring an unprecedented level of scrutiny from the National Energy Board.”
—Mark Calzavara, Council of Canadians

What’s more, notes Reuters, “it marks the second time in recent years the regulator has probed safety practices at Canada’s second-largest pipeline company following complaints by a whistleblower.”

TransCanada currently operates about 42,253 miles of natural gas pipelines across the continent, as well as the 2,639-mile section of the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline that has already been built. Several of those have ruptured in recent years.

In 2012, former TransCanada engineer Evan Vokes blew the whistle on his employer as he raised concerns about the competency of some pipeline inspectors and the company’s lack of compliance with welding regulations set by the NEB.

The following year, the watchdog group Public Citizen reported that dozens of anomalies, including dents and welds, had been identified along a 60-mile stretch of the southern segment of the Keystone XL pipeline, north of the Sabine River in Texas.

The current investigation also came to light via a different whistleblower who asked not to be identified but allowed Reuters to view correspondence between him or herself and the NEB.

Reuters journalist Mike De Souza reports:

According to a summary document prepared by a senior NEB official, the investigation was reviewing an allegation that TransCanada took several months to repair pipeline damage caused by a construction crew in May 2013 about 150 km (93 miles) north of Calgary, and also failed to report it to the regulator.

Another allegation describes sloppy repairs to a major line—the North Central Corridor—that serves companies in the oil sands. This natural gas pipeline had been damaged following an October 2013 explosion near Wabasca, Alberta.

Such incidents have long raised “serious questions about TransCanada’s ability to safely build and maintain pipelines,” the Council of Canadians, which opposes TransCanada’s attempts to expand its network, has said.

These latest revelations only support that position, explaining “why TransCanada has had five major pipeline ruptures in the past sixteen months,” Mark Calzavara, Council of Canadians regional organizer for Ontario, Québec, and Nunavut, told Common Dreams in an email.

“Whistleblowers are extremely rare in this industry,” he said. “The fact that there are now two raising such serious concerns combined with TransCanada’s horrible safety record should bring an unprecedented level of scrutiny from the National Energy Board. TransCanada has amply demonstrated that they cannot be trusted to build and operate the proposed Energy East pipeline.”

News outlets reported last month that TransCanada would seek U.S. State Department approval for the $600 million Upland Pipeline, which would begin in northwestern North Dakota and go north into Canada. It would transport up to 300,000 barrels of oil daily, connecting with other pipelines including the Energy East pipeline across Canada.

Despite Climate Change Rhetoric, Gates Foundation Invests $1.4 Billion in Fossil Fuels

Largest charitable foundation in world target of growing call for divestment

Melinda and Bill Gates at the World Economic Forum in Davos in 2009. (Photo: World Economic Forum/flickr/cc)

Melinda and Bill Gates at the World Economic Forum in Davos in 2009. (Photo: World Economic Forum/flickr/cc)

Despite the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation’s position that global warming poses an immediate and serious threat, the charity holds at least $1.4 billion of investments in the fossil fuel companies driving the climate crisis, sparking accusations of hypocrisy from green campaigners.

The holdings were revealed Thursday by Guardian reporters Damian Carrington and Karl Mathiesen, who analyzed the organization’s most recent tax filings in 2013.

The foundation invests in some of the biggest—and most infamous—fossil fuel giants in the world, including: BP, Anadarko Petroleum, and Vale.

The largest charitable foundation in the world, the organization says its investments are controlled by a separate entity, the Asset Trust. However, climate campaigners do not buy this abdication of responsibility, and the organization has, in the past, caved to public pressure to divest from companies that violate human rights, including Israeli prison contractor G4S.

The Guardian launched a campaign on Monday calling on the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, as well as the Wellcome Trust, to “remove their investments from the top 200 fossil fuel companies and any commingled funds that include fossil fuel public equities and corporate bonds within five years.”

The effort has already been backed by 95,000 people, the outlet reports.

The campaign is part of a global push for fossil fuel divestment, as a strategy to deligitimize and de-fund the industries driving global warming. In response to such efforts, over 200 institutions have already committed to divest, from colleges and universities to the World Council of Churches and the British Medical Association. Ongoing campaigns are picking up momentum across world, with universities from South Africa to New Zealand to the Netherlands key battlegrounds.

“Divestment is about aligning our investments with our values and challenging the political power of an industry that is threatening indigenous peoples, polluting our politics and driving us toward climate catastrophe,” Adam Zuckerman, environmental and human rights campaigner for Amazon Watch, told Common Dreams.

This movement is accompanied by a growing call for reinvestment in the people most impacted by climate change.

“Divested capital should go to frontline communities who are building the next economy,”declared Our Power, a campaign that unites Indigenous peoples, people of color, and working-class white communities collaborating through the Climate Justice Alliance. “When combined with power building, moving the money becomes a tool to truly remake economy, not just create alternatives that sit at the fringes of the extractive economy.”

The call for divestment is growing increasingly mainstream, with the United Nations lending its backing to the cause.

Meanwhile, the scientific community continues to sound the alarm.

A study published earlier this year in the journal Nature in January found that, in order to stave off climate disaster, the majority of fossil fuel deposits on the planet—including 92 percent of U.S. coal, all Arctic oil and gas, and a majority of Canadian tar sands—must stay “in the ground.”

Palestine Solidarity…Censored?

“Ferguson activists have long been in contact with Palestinian protesters, and some even made a trip to the West Bank in January,” notes Peter Hart. (Photo: Kathy Tran/flickr/cc)

Tonight, the Missouri History Museum was supposed to be hosting an event called “Ferguson to Ayotzinapa to Palestine: Solidarity and Collaborative Action.” The discussion was organized by the Washington University student group AltaVoz, in collaboration with several other community activist groups.

But just two days before the event, the museum decided to cancel it.

The museum says that the program was significantly altered from the original idea–the difference being the inclusion of Palestinian solidarity activism. The original proposal to the museum from student Sourik Beltran, dated February 1, was for an event called “From Ayotzinapa to Ferguson: A Dialogue on Solidarity and Inter-Movement Collaboration.”

According to a statement from the event organizers, the museum was apprised of the change in the program soon after, and had been publicizing the event in its final form, which included the Palestinian perspective:

A month-long series of e-mail exchanges and face-to-face meetings between organizers and Missouri History Museum officials, including the confirmation of a poster and event title that explicitly noted the inclusion of Palestine, successfully lead to the event’s approval, intended to take place today in the museum’s Grand Hall.

So what happened? A statement from the museum does not offer any more specificity:

We were initially open to the changes and posted information about the program on our website. However, after much consideration we decided the complexities of this issue could not be adequately addressed in this format.

All of the issues under discussion are enormously complex. But based on email correspondence between the museum and Beltran, it was the link to Palestine that raised alarms. Officials expressed concerns about comparing Ferguson and “the actions of the Palestinians,” which “some people” see “as comparing appl(es)/oranges.”

Of course, a museum has the curatorial discretion to present programming as they see fit. But the argument here is hard to parse. Is the museum saying that they have trouble seeing how Ferguson is linked to Palestine, but are comfortable with connecting protests over what happened in Ferguson to the killings of student teachers in rural Mexico? For what it’s worth, Ferguson activists have long been in contact with Palestinian protesters, and some even made a trip to the West Bank in January.

Museum president Dr. Frances Levine told a local newspaper that she was not even aware of the event until seeing a flier earlier this week. But to her, the issue was oversight:

My staff usually has to justify how events relate to our programs and our mission, and I don’t think the staff had really grappled with it… I recognized the complexity of the issue. Our staff couldn’t describe to me adequately how this would function.

The paper also reported that she “had doubts a student-run panel could meet the museum’s high standards for moderated panel discussions.”

But this explanation also raises questions. The museum was apparently comfortable with hosting the same discussion, excluding Palestine. So are they really saying that a student-led program that attempted to link protests in Mexico and Ferguson would be acceptable, but one that included Palestinian activism would somehow fall short? It is an argument that makes little sense on its face, and appears particularly suspect in light of the history of complaints about events featuring Palestinian perspectives on the Mideast conflict.

Just in the last year, we have witnessed attempts to shut down any number of such events: the Metropolitan Opera production of “The Death of Klinghoffer,” which some claim is sympathetic to the plight of Palestinians, the temporary closure of Conflict Kitchen, a Pittsburg art project which serves food “from countries with which the United States is in conflict” (the Kitchen had served food from Afghanistan, Iran, Cuba, North Korea and Venezuela, but when it came to the Palestine, massive protests were followed by death threats), and the firing of the artistic director of Washington, D.C.’s Theater J over his production of plays including Palestinian perspectives.

Instead of an event exploring the complexities of politics, collaborative action and solidarity, tonight there will be a protest against the museum’s decision. An opportunity to deepen our understanding of political processes has been lost.

US Threatened Germany Over Snowden, Vice Chancellor Says

German Vice Chancellor Sigmar Gabriel walks with Chancellor Angela Merkel. (Photo: Sean Gallup/Getty Images)

German Vice Chancellor Sigmar Gabriel (above) said this week in Homburg that the U.S. government threatened to cease sharing intelligence with Germany if Berlin offered asylum to NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden or otherwise arranged for him to travel to that country. “They told us they would stop notifying us of plots and other intelligence matters,” Gabriel said.

The vice chancellor delivered a speech in which he praised the journalists who worked on the Snowden archive, and then lamented the fact that Snowden was forced to seek refuge in “Vladimir Putin’s autocratic Russia” because no other nation was willing and able to protect him from threats of imprisonment by the U.S. government (I was present at the event to receive an award). That prompted an audience member to interrupt his speech and yell out: “Why don’t you bring him to Germany, then?”

There has been a sustained debate in Germany over whether to grant asylum to Snowden, and a major controversy arose last year when a Parliamentary Committee investigating NSA spying divided as to whether to bring Snowden to testify in person, and then narrowly refused at the behest of the Merkel government. In response to the audience interruption, Gabriel claimed that Germany would be legally obligated to extradite Snowden to the U.S. if he were on German soil.

Afterward, however, when I pressed the vice chancellor (who is also head of the Social Democratic Party, as well as the country’s economy and energy minister) as to why the German government could not and would not offer Snowden asylum — which, under international law, negates the asylee’s status as a fugitive — he told me that the U.S. government had aggressively threatened the Germans that if they did so, they would be “cut off” from all intelligence sharing. That would mean, if the threat were carried out, that the Americans would literally allow the German population to remain vulnerable to a brewing attack discovered by the Americans by withholding that information from their government.

Read the full article at The Intercept.

‘Islamic State’ as a Western Phenomenon? Reimagining the IS Debate

A picture on Twitter shows ISIS militants removing part of the soil barrier on the Iraq-Syria borders and moving through it as they consolidated the mini-state they carved out between the neighboring countries in recent years. (Photo: file)

No matter how one attempts to wrangle with the so-called ‘Islamic State’ (IS) rise in Iraq and Syria, desperately seeking any political or other context that would validate the movement as an explainable historical circumstance, things refuse to add up.

Not only is IS to a degree an alien movement in the larger body politic of the Middle East, it also seems to be a partly western phenomenon, a hideous offspring resulting from western neocolonial adventures in the region, coupled with alienation and demonization of Muslim communities in western societies.

By “western phenomenon,” I refrain from suggesting that IS is largely a creation of western intelligence as many conspiracy theories have persistently advocated. Of course, one is justified to raise questions regarding funds, armaments, black market oil trade, and the ease through which thousands of western and Arab fighters managed to reach Syria and Iraq in recent years. The crimes carried out by the Assad regime, his army and allies during the four-year long Syria civil war, and the unquenchable appetite to orchestrate a regime change in Damascus as a paramount priority made nourishing the anti-Assad forces with wannabe ‘jihadists’ justified, if not encouraged.

The latest announcement by Turkey’s foreign minister Meylut Cavusoglu of the arrest of a spy “working for the intelligence service of a country participating in the coalition against ISIS” – presumably Canada – allegedly for helping three young British girls join IS, was revealing. The accusation feeds into a growing discourse that locates IS within a western, not Middle Eastern discourse.

Still, it is not the conspiracy per se that I find intriguing, if not puzzling, but the ongoing, albeit indirect conversation between IS and the West, involving French, British and Australian so-called “Jihadists,” their sympathizers and supporters on one hand, and various western governments, intelligence services, rightwing media pundits, etc on the other.

Much of the discourse – once upon a time located within a narrative consumed by the “Arab Spring,” sectarian divisions and counter revolutions – has now been transferred into another sphere that seems of little relevance to the Middle East. Regardless of where one stands on how Mohammad Emwazi morphed into a “Jihadi John,” the conversation is oddly largely removed from its geopolitical context. In this instance, it is an essentially British issue concerning alienation, racism, economic and cultural marginalization, perhaps as much as the issue of the “born, raised and radicalized” attackers of Charlie Hebdo is principally a French question, pertaining to the same socioeconomic fault lines.

The conventional analysis on the rise of IS no longer suffices. Tracing the movement to Oct 2006 when the Islamic State of Iraq (ISI), uniting various groups including al-Qaeda was established, simply suggests a starting point to the discussion, whose roots go back to the dismantling of the Iraqi state and army by the US military occupation authority. Just the idea that the Arab republic of Iraq was lead from 11 May, 2003 until 28 June, 2004 by a Lewis Paul Bremer III, is enough to delineate the unredeemable rupture in the country’s identity. Bremer and US military chiefs’ manipulation of Iraq’s sectarian vulnerabilities, in addition to the massive security vacuum created by sending an entire army home, ushered in the rise of numerous groups, some homegrown resistance movements, and other alien bodies who sought in Iraq a refugee, or a rally cry.

Also conveniently missing in the rise of “jihadism” context is the staggering brutality of Shia-dominated governments in Baghdad and militias throughout Iraq, with full backing by the US and Iran. If the US war (1990-1), blockade (1991-2003), invasion (2003) and subsequent occupation of Iraq were not enough to radicalize a whole generation, then brutality, marginalization and constant targeting of Iraqi Sunnis in post-invasion Iraq have certainly done the job.

The conventional media narrative on IS focuses mostly on the politicking, division and unity that happened between various groups, but ignores the reasons behind the existence of these groups in the first place.

The Syria civil war was another opportunity at expansion sought successfully by ISI, whose capital until then was Baquba, Iraq. ISI was headed by Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, a key player in the establishment of Jabhat al-Nusra (al-Nusra Front). The highly cited breakup between al-Baghdadi and al-Nusra leader Mohammed al-Golani is referenced as the final stage of IS’s brutal rise to power and ISI becoming ISIL or ISIS, before settling finally at the current designation of simply “Islamic State,” or IS.

Following the division, “some estimates suggest that about 65% of Jabhat al-Nusra elements quickly declared their allegiance to ISIS. Most of those were non-Syrian jihadists,” reported Lebanon’s al-Safir.

Militants’ politicking aside, such massively destructive and highly organized occurrences are not born in a vacuum and don’t operate independently from many existing platforms that help spawn, arm, fund and sustain them. For example, IS’ access to oil refineries says nothing about its access to wealth. To obtain funds from existing economic modes, IS needed to tap into a complex economic apparatus that would involve other countries, regional and international markets. In other words, IS exists because there are those who are invested in their existence, and the highly touted anti-IS coalition has evidently done little to confront this reality.

Particularly interesting is the rapidly changing focal point of the debate, from that pertaining to Syria and Iraq, to a western-centric discussion about western-styled jihadists that seem removed from the Middle East region and its political conflicts and priorities.

In a letter signed by over a hundred Muslim scholars that was published last September, the theologians and clergymen from around the Muslim word rightly disowned IS and its bloodthirsty ambitions as un-Islamic. Indeed, IS’ war tactics, are the reverse of the rules of war in Islam, and have been a God-send to those who made successful careers by simply bashing Islam, and advocating foreign policies that are predicated on an irrational fear of Muslims. But particularly interesting was the Arabic version of the letter’s emphasis on IS’s lack of command over the Arabic language, efficiency which is a requirement for making legal Islamic rulings and fatwas.

The letter confronts the intellectual arrogance of IS, which is based mostly on a misguided knowledge of Islam that is rarely spawned in the region itself. But that intellectual arrogance that has led to the murders of many innocent people, and other hideous crimes such as the legalization of slavery – to the satisfaction of the numerous Islamophobes dotting western intellectual landscapes – is largely situated in a different cultural and political context outside of the Middle East.

In post-September 11 attacks, a debate concerning Islam has been raging, partly because the attacks were blamed on Muslims, thus allowing politicians to create distractions, and reduce the discussion into one concerning religion and a purported “clash of civilizations.” Despite various assurances by western leaders that the US-led wars in Muslim countries is not a war on Islam, Islam remains the crux of the intellectual discourse that has adjoined the military “crusade” declared by George W. Bush, starting with the first bomb dropped on Afghanistan in 2001.

That discourse is too involved for a transitory mention, for it is an essential one to the IS story. It is one that has involved various schools of thought, including a breed of Muslim “liberals,” used conveniently to juxtapose them with an “extremist” bunch. Yet between the apologists and the so-called Jihadists, a genuine, Muslim-led discussion about Islam by non-coopted Muslim scholars remains missing.

The intellectual vacuum is more dangerous than it may seem. There is no question that while the battle is raging on in the Middle East region, the discourse itself is growingly being manipulated and is becoming a western one. This is why IS is speaking English, for its language complete with authentic western accents, methods, messages and even the orange hostage jumpsuits, is centered in some other sociopolitical and cultural context.