TBR News March 1, 2018

Mar 01 2018

The Voice of the White House 

Washington, D.C. March 1, 2018: Guest editorial by Christian Jürs

“There was a heavily-suppressed story about the Iranian ship laden with highly radioactive waste, bound for the eastern end of the Mediterranean,and its fate, that is typical of how the government sits on inconvenient stories.

They imposed a silence on the Forward Base Falcon disaster and have not posted all the U.S.dead in Iraq and then we have the interrupted saga of the MV Iran Deyanat being blocked from all regular media sites. The story, cut off initially by a dismissive article in the ‘Long War Journal,’ a “very friendly government (DoD) entity” then got a tremendous reading around the world…in the millions…but never a word in our controlled press, or government-controlled sites like ‘Wikipedia’ basically controlled in toto by the CIA.

On August 21st, 2008, the Iranian MV Iran Deyanat, a 44,468 dead weight tonnage carrier. that was owned and operated by the Islamic Republic of Iran Shipping Lines (IRISL) – a state-owned company run by the Iranian military that was sanctioned by the U.S. Department of the Treasury for its false manifests and traffic in forbidden nuclear materials, was seized by Somali pirates to be held for their usual ransom.

The ship had set sail from Nanjing, China, July 28, 2008.

The Old Nanking Port of Nanjing is the largest inland port in China, yearly reaching 108.59 million tons in 2007. The port area is 98 kilometers (61 mi) in length and has 64 berths including 16 berths for ships with a tonnage of more than 10,000. Nanjing is also the biggest container port along the Yangtze River; in March 2004, the one million container-capacity base, Longtan Containers Port Area opened, further consolidating Nanjing as the leading port in the region.

During her stay at Nanjing, the MV Iran Deyanat was loaded primarily with eight cargo containers, lined with lead and with electronic locks. The 20 ft containers were  8’ wide, and carried a load of 48,060 lb per container. This special container cargo had a total load of 384,480 pounds which consisted of packaged of nuclear waste that originated at the Tianwan 1&2 Atomic plants from Jiangsu Province (built in 2007). Once the radiation death of many of the pirates (16) became known, reporters attempting to contact responsible officials in the Pentagon and the Department of State were told these officials refused to comment on any of the implications of the cargo. The ship’s manifest was falsified but the deadly cargo was supposed to be headed for Rotterdam and an unspecified “German client.”

Much of the story was covered in a London Times article which was subsequently removed from that paper’s archive and the initial story was tailored by the ‘Long War Journal,’ a website with close connections to the Department of Defense and the CIA. It tended to dismiss the entire question of a radioactive cargo and instead, discussed unspecified chemicals.

Vice Adm. Bill Gortney, Commander, US Fifth Fleet based in Bahrain Combined Maritime Forces, said the ‘U.S.-led coalition’ patrolling the Gulf of Aden “does not have the resources to provide 24-hour protection for the vast number of merchant vessels in the region,”

Russia said it would join international efforts to fight piracy off the Somalia coast.However, conducted its operations independently, RIA-Novosti news agency reported Navy commander Adm. Vladimir Vysotsky as saying, “We are planning to participate in international efforts to fight piracy off the Somalia coast, but the Russian warships will conduct operations on their own,” he said.

Russian nationals are frequently among the crews of civilian ships hijacked by pirates off the Somalia coast, notes RIA-Novosti.

And the UN Security Council passed a resolution permitting countries to enter Somalia’s territorial waters to combat “acts of piracy and armed robbery at sea.”

The American media gave no coverage of any kind to this incident,

Russian sources  disclosed that when American Naval personnel, attached to the U.S. Fifth Fleet,  finally boarded the MV Iran Deyanat and took all of her crew, including the Iranian captain, into what was called “protective custody,” and while the opened cargo container containing Chinese atomic waste was being sealed and decontaminated, the bridge and the captain’s quarters were thoroughly searched.  An “intensive” interrogation of the initially recalcitrant captain plus documents obtained from his safe showed a truly horrifying picture to the trained naval intelligence people.

The Deynant was not the only cargo ship to load containers of radioactive waste at Nanjing; and  two others had preceded her July, 2008 visit. The problem is that the captain did not know either the names of the two Iranian -controlled ships nor their destinations.

His destination was the eastern end of the Mediterranean but it now appears that the ship was not intended to be blown up. Instead, the eight cargo containers were to be taken to the Israeli port of Haifa on the Mediterranean. Haifa is the largest of Israel’s three major international seaports, which include the Port of Ashdod, and the Port of Eilat. It has a natural deep water harbor which operates all year long, and serves both passenger and cargo ships. Annually, 22 million tons of goods pass through the port. In 2007, the U.S. DHS’ CBP initiated a joint security agreement with Israel whereby U.S. agents, working with Israel, would develop and install programs to protect the ports from terrorist attacks..

CBP’s Container Security Initiative, (CSI), is a cooperative effort with host country governments to identify and screen high-risk shipments before they leave participating ports. More than 80 percent of all cargo containers destined for U.S. shores originate in, or are transshipped through, 55 CSI ports in North, South and Central America, Europe, Asia, Africa and the Middle East.

CSI addresses the threat to border security and global trade posed by the potential for terrorist use of a maritime container to deliver a weapon. CSI proposes a security regime to ensure all containers that pose a potential risk for terrorism are identified and inspected at foreign ports before they are placed on vessels destined for the United States.

The initiative seeks to:

Identify high-risk containers. CBP uses automated targeting tools to identify containers that pose a potential risk for terrorism, based on advance information and strategic intelligence.

Prescreen and evaluate containers before they are shipped. Containers are screened as early in the supply chain as possible, generally at the port of departure. Use technology to prescreen high-risk containers to ensure that screening can be done rapidly without slowing down the movement of trade. This technology includes large-scale X-ray and gamma ray machines and radiation detection devices.

If a cargo container ship sails from another port that has the U.S. –controlled CBP system, and does not stop at another port enroute, it is able to enter another port equipped with the CBP system and unload its cargo without interference.

Let us say that a mythical ship, the Extreme Venture, picks up a cargo at an approved port and sails off to another port that is also approved. Again, if a country or entity wanting to take a dangerous cargo to the same port, it need only paint out its name, change its radio call signs, and using the methodology instituted by the U.S., enter, for example, the port of Haifa a day in advance of the real Extreme Venture. Having passed all the approved requirements, it can enter the harbor, proceed to an assigned dock, unload its containers onto waiting trucks and sail out of the harbor without let or hindrance. And the next day when the real Extreme Venture arrives, one can expect that the security people would be in a state of frenzy. By that time, the fake Extreme venture has put yet another name on her bows and stern, run up another flag and using shipping information easily available on the internet, become another innocent cargo ship among many.

The American view, known to several other countries, is that as both the United States and Israel have been at the forefront of violent verbal attacks against, and threats of violence to, Iran, they are now the prime targets of what, at the worst case scenario, could amount to a commercial delivery of least 16 containers of deadly radioactive material, mixed with high explosives.

One of the largest cargo container ports in America, Long Beach, California, has DHS inspection teams at work on a round the clock basis but because of the huge volume of traffic, only 2% of the cargo containers can be checked thoroughly at any given time. This means that should another Iranian cargo container, sailing under a false flag and with a false manifest, dock at Long Beach and offload her deadly cargo, there is a 98% chance that it could avoid any kind of inspection, be loaded onto waiting trucks and shipped to destinations all over the United States.

It is extremely doubtful if the Trump administration would attack Iran but because they have been in loud support of an even louder and more threatening Israel, our useless President, has, by his loud but empty threats against Iran, put millions of Americans at potential risk of a terrible death by radiation poisoning.

This explains the stunned silence on the subject of the Deyanat affair and the tight blackout imposed on any news of her or the purpose of her cargo of powdered death.”


Table of Contents

  • Syria: Are We In, Or Out?
  • The False Assumptions Fueling America’s Endless War
  • Trump’s fourth communications chief Hope Hicks resigns
  • More Than 30 Trump Aides Lose Top-Secret Clearance, Sources Say
  • Secrecy News
  • Italy’s Strange Campaign: Berlusconi, Five Star and the Road to Political Gridlock
  • States consider bringing prescription drugs from Canada to US as costs soar
  • Big pharma, big data: why drugmakers want your health records
  • Equifax discovers another 2.4 million customers hit by data breach


Syria: Are We In, Or Out?

Who the heck knows?

March 1, 2018

by Justin Raimondo


What in the name of all that’s holy is going on in Syria, where the US has indicated it intends to keep US troops indefinitely – or maybe not. Here’s one report:

“On February 11, Secretary of Defense James Mattis stressed that, following the group’s defeat, there is no plan for a deeper U.S. commitment in Syria. Several weeks later on February 23, President Donald Trump echoed Mattis’s message, saying that the 1,700 to 2,000 US troops in the country would ‘go home’ after isis had been beaten.”

And here’s another:

“In a pair of letters issued within the last month, Pentagon and State Department officials indicated that the Trump administration envisions US soldiers remaining on the ground in Syria and Iraq indefinitely, even once Islamic State militants have been defeated, and does not believe it requires additional permission from Congress to do so.”

So which is it?

The destruction of Syria – which was carried out by the rebel-supporting Obama administration and the Gulf states – has turned that blood-soaked land into the Balkans of the Middle East. I mean that in the pre-World War I sense – the country is a tinderbox of warring factions and their foreign sponsors waiting to explode into a much wider conflict.

Let’s take a look at the actors on the Syrian stage: the US, the Kurds, the Turks, the Turkish-backed Islamist rebels, the Israelis, the Russians, the Syrian government forces, Hezbollah, and Iran. The Turks have launched an all­-out invasion of Syria, aiming their blows against the Kurds, whom they fear and loathe, and in support of the head-chopping Islamist “rebels” formerly supported by the US – now ditched in favor of the Kurds. The Kurds, for their part, are chiefly responsible for ridding the region of ISIS, and are being heavily backed by the US. So what we have here is undeclared war between two NATO “allies”: the US and Turkey.

There haven’t been any direct US-Turkish confrontations – as yet – but there has been an incident involving Russian mercenaries and the Kurds, with the former supposedly attacking a Kurdish position and getting wiped out by US war planes called in by the Kurds. Reports of Russian casualties range from “dozens” to “hundreds.”

This whole incident seems odd, since the Russians and the Syrian government have generally come to the aid of the Kurds in their fight against Turkish-backed Islamists, and, now, the Turkish military. But anything can happen in the “fog of war,” and this underscores the danger of our involvement.

The rebel Islamist propaganda machine is working overtime to convince the West that the Syrian government and the Russians are committing “genocide” in eastern Ghouta, where the Islamists have their last stronghold. Yes, the War Party is up in arms about this once again, claiming that “chemical weapons” are being used by the Syrian government – a mantra we’ve heard for years and for which no real evidence has ever been produced. Instead, what we’ve seen is a series of crude hoaxes designed to lure the US and its allies into intervening on the side of the rebels, i.e., the side that includes al-Qaeda, and similar groups.

First it was Aleppo, now it’s Ghouta. What will it be tomorrow? What we know for sure is that it’ll be yet another phony “humanitarian emergency” supposedly requiring US military intervention – on behalf of Islamists.

This game is getting awfully tired, and yet the US and British media keep playing it. This is due to the influence of two of the most powerful foreign lobbyists: the Saudis and the Israel lobby. Israel has seemingly dropped the Kurds and taken up with the Islamists as the best bet to accomplish their longtime goal of overthrowing Syrian strongman Bashar al-Assad. The Kurds, after all, have limited goals: a Kurdish homeland in northeastern Syria. This won’t satisfy the Israelis: they want to keep Syria in chaos, and what better way to accomplish this goal than to hand Syria to the Islamists?

So what is our policy in Syria? There isn’t one, at least not yet: instead, we are simply reacting – not just to events on the ground but to domestic political pressures generated by numerous foreign lobbyists.

The Saudi, Turkish, and Israeli lobbies are pushing for a renewal of the old Obama administration policy of supporting the Islamist rebels. The Pentagon, which worked with the Kurds to crush ISIS, feels obligated to stick with the Kurdish “People’s Protection Units” (YPG). And then there are those like Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (D-Hawaii), who wonder what the heck we’re doing there in the first place and want us to get out.

The question that needs to be asked is: how does US intervention in Syria benefit the people of the United States? The foreign lobbyists who want us to align with one faction or another would rather not answer this inquiry, because the answer is: not one whit. Our past support for the Islamist rebels was a criminal act, one that actively aided people who want to kill us. Even if we did penance for a thousand years, that would still not be enough to earn us forgiveness. The least we can do is to stop intervening and leave the Syrian people to work out their own destiny.


The False Assumptions Fueling America’s Endless War

February 27, 2018

by Erik Goepner


America’s war on terror has now entered its seventeenth year. The U.S. has invaded Afghanistan and Iraq and conducted military operations in Pakistan, Syria, Yemen, Somalia, Libya, and the Philippines. More recently, four military members died in Niger during an ambush, suggesting the war on terror continues to widen.

The war has cost the lives of nearly 7,000 service members and between $1.8 and $4 trillion. Despite the heavy toll in blood and treasure, most Americans seem content for the war to continue. Polling indicates 70 percent of Americans believe an attack that will kill “large numbers of lives” is somewhat or very likely in the near future, just under six in ten say Islamic fundamentalism is a critical and enduring threat to the country, and 41 percent think the U.S. is winning the war (as opposed to 17 percent who think the terrorists are).1

I argue that the war endures, in large part, because national security policy makers, military operators, and think tank scholars have embraced several false assumptions. The first two help explain why the U.S. continues to fight, while the third spells out why the problem will persist regardless of whether the U.S. fights or not. Policy makers, operators, and scholars falsely assume that the war on terror has prevented another 9/11. Additionally, they imagine that U.S. military operations have more broadly reduced the threat to Americans and the homeland. The final flawed assumption—in war, mental health only matters when it affects U.S. service members—implicitly informs U.S. strategy and highlights why Afghanistan’s war will not end anytime soon.

False Assumption #1: The War on Terror Prevented Another 9/11

Nothing like the attacks of 11 September had ever occurred before 2001 or since. By virtue of being unprecedented, those attacks would be almost impossible to repeat. The world’s second worst attack, for instance, killed just half as many people and it occurred in war-torn Iraq. And it is in conflict-affected or failed states where virtually all significant terror attacks happen. The third worst event took place in Rwanda during their 1994 genocide. By the fourth most catastrophic incident, not even a quarter as many people died as compared to 9/11. For the remaining 10 most horrific terror attacks, two each occurred in Iraq and Syria and one each in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Nepal, and Iran (during their 1978 revolution).2

Of the ten worst attacks in the past 45 years, only 9/11 occurred outside of a war zone. In addition, all of those mass-casualty terror strikes killed substantially fewer people than Mohamed Atta and his con-conspirators did on September 11th. As the recent spate of attacks involving trucks plowing into crowds suggests, killing lots of people in a single attack is very difficult.

A dispassionate analysis of the data does not change the horror of terrorism or the pain and loss caused by even one death, but it should drive home the point that 9/11 was an outlier both in terms of lives lost and where it occurred. And its outlier status strongly suggests another 9/11-type event in the U.S. was a near impossibility even before America launched its expansive war on terror.

Curiously, while the attacks of September 11th were unprecedented, success did not require a large terror network. Nineteen men executed the mission. Financial costs were minimal, consisting of several pilot training slots and airfare for the attackers. The technical training required for mission success took place in plain sight here in the United States, not in some clandestine Afghan training camp. All the terrorists legally entered the country through the Visa system. One of the pilots lived with his flight instructors. After departing the U.S. for vacation, two successfully argued their way back into the country by assuring American agents that they were authorized to be here on student visas, specifically so they could attend pilot training school.3 The genius of the attack did not derive from any organizational structure or material largesse, rather it originated within a creative and visionary mind that foresaw an attack method never before attempted and that only Tom Clancy had apparently conceived of in his fictional work, Debt of Honor.

If the preceding argument is correct, the burden of proof shifts to proponents of the claim that U.S. combat operations have prevented another 9/11. They should be called on to lay out an argument of how U.S. military force has managed to prevent a small group of like-minded men from again coming together and launching a mega-attack. Additionally, defenders of such a claim should explain how air strikes and invasions have wiped out terror finances to the point that groups like al Qaeda and the Islamic State can no longer fund a handful of pilot school slots (or whatever their current modus operandi might be).

The most obvious arguments for why another 9/11 has not taken place, then, seem to be 1) the already discussed point that such an unprecedented attack, by definition, cannot be easily replicated and 2) homeland security efforts have been quite successful. After 9/11, the U.S. government ushered in dramatic changes, creating the Department of Homeland Security in the “largest reorganization in the United States government since World War II.” The FBI substantially shifted its focus from “traditional criminal investigative areas” to making “the prevention of another terrorist attack” its top priority. Congress passed The USA Patriot Act and other legislation to facilitate intelligence gathering and sharing on potential terror threats. And, financial costs for homeland security rose an estimated $800 billion.4

And those efforts have worked. The Heritage Foundation reports that while Islamist-inspired terrorists have plotted at least 101 attacks against the homeland since 2001, law enforcement thwarted virtually all of them. In those 16 years, Islamist-inspired terrorists have only managed to execute a successful attack every two years, on average, killing fewer than six per year. That represents less than 0.0004 percent of all American murder victims during the same period. Even lightning has averaged nearly three times as many fatalities.5 And, none of those who carried out these more recent attacks fit the 9/11 terrorist profile. Instead, they were all either U.S. citizens or they had become radicalized after coming to America.

False Assumption #2: Military Operations Have Reduced the Terror Threat

The number of Islamist-inspired terror groups and their associated fighters have substantially increased since 9/11, and the increase appears to be in response to U.S. military operations rather than despite them. In Iraq, for instance, U.S. forces failed to restore the state’s monopoly on the use of force after removing it during the invasion. That misstep created the opportunity for an explosive civil war. In Afghanistan, the effect was not as severe, but after the U.S. invasion, the security situation did deteriorate back to pre-Taliban levels.

In the five years before 2001, al Qaeda and the 13 like-minded groups identified by the Department of State averaged approximately 32,000 total adherents. In the 16 years since, those numbers have jumped to an estimated 44 groups with more than 109,000 members (despite the U.S. military claiming to have killed more than 60,000).6 At least three factors likely explain this counterintuitive finding:

McChrystal Math

In 2003, then-Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld asked whether “we [are] capturing, killing, or deterring and dissuading more terrorists every day than the madrassas and the radical clerics are recruiting, training and deploying against us.” Six years later, General McChrystal offered an answer: “Let us say that there are 10 [insurgents] in a certain area. Following a military operation, two are killed. How many insurgents are left? Traditional mathematics would say that eight would be left, but there may only be two, because six of the living eight may have said, ‘This business of insurgency is becoming dangerous so I am going to do something else.’ There are more likely to be as many as 20, because each one you killed has a brother, father, son and friends, who do not necessarily think that they were killed because they were doing something wrong. It does not matter – you killed them. Suddenly, then, there may be 20, making the calculus of military operations very different.”7 That does not mean some terrorists and insurgents don’t need to die, but it makes clear that in fights like this one, the calculus is not so simple. One kill does not bring America one terrorist closer to victory.

No Monopoly on the Use of Force

U.S. military operations unwittingly degraded the host-nation governments’ monopoly on the use of force in Iraq and, to a lesser extent, Afghanistan, Libya, and Syria. As a result, terror groups have benefitted from the increase in ungoverned spaces and the states’ incompetent security forces. The Afghan government, for instance, barely controls or influences half of the country despite a defense and security force of nearly 365,000. Conversely, before sent fleeing by U.S. forces, the Taliban controlled or influenced 90 percent of the country with just an estimated 35,000 forces.8

The security studies literature indicates that civil wars occur where the opportunity for rebellion exists. For example, ineffective or non-existent security forces increase the opportunity for civil war because their failure to monopolize the use of force increases rebel viability, making it more likely rebels will initiate attacks against their government.9

Terror Recruitment Fueled by U.S. Military Strikes

As part of the war on terror, America has conducted military operations in at least eight Muslim-majority countries: Afghanistan, Iraq, Pakistan, Syria, Libya, Yemen, Somalia, and Niger. Polling clearly shows the use of U.S. military force has inflamed grievances among Muslims. A survey of 11 Muslim-majority populations, for example, found that more respondents agreed than disagreed with the statement, “The United States’ interference in the region justifies armed operations against the United States everywhere.” That trend even held true among the citizens of supposed U.S. allies like Kuwait, Jordan, and Iraq. Osama bin Laden expressed the roots of this sentiment back in the 1990’s. He referred to the “American crusader forces” and “American occupiers,” as he railed against the U.S. presence in Saudi Arabia, home to Islam’s two holiest sites. Later, in the midst of the Iraq war, his deputy, Ayman al-Zawahiri, echoed that sentiment as he exhorted a subordinate leader, “The Muslim masses…do not rally except against an outside occupying enemy, especially if the enemy is firstly Jewish, and secondly American.”10

False Assumption #3: Mental Health Doesn’t Matter (Except for Returning U.S. Service Members)

It is ironic that the U.S. military has paid so much attention to the mental health of returning veterans, while ignoring trauma’s effects on allied foreign populations and how those effects might impact their governing and warfighting capacity. Joint doctrine on counterinsurgency notes that the current war has “the population as its focus of operations.” In recognition of the population’s importance, America’s warfighters have tried to learn the history, cultural norms, and languages of countries like Iraq and Afghanistan. General Petraeus emphasized the point, noting that “the human terrain is the decisive terrain.”11 Yet, despite the evidence suggesting its likely impact on the war, the mental health status of those populations has gone unexamined.

Here is the basic argument: more exposure to traumatic events like war, torture, and rape results in more mental illness, substance abuse, and diminished impulse control. Taken together, mental illness, substance abuse, and diminished impulse control make people more violent, more aggrieved, and less capable. While this may sound new and controversial to warfighters, mental health and trauma scholars have been talking about these linkages for decades.12

In the case of Afghanistan, studies indicate 29 to 50 percent of the population currently suffer from PTSD. And when you add in depression, the numbers may rise as high as 68 percent. Because of all the torture, rape, war, and domestic violence that Afghans have been subjected to over the past 40 years, not only do they suffer from substantially elevated mental illness rates, but they are also afflicted by substance abuse problems twice the global average and climbing, as well as diminished impulse control. An example of the latter occurred in 2010 during my military service there. An argument erupted between two Afghan colonels in their operations center. The colonel we all loved because of his bravery proved no rhetorical match for his counterpart. However, instead of ending the argument or walking away, he unholstered his sidearm and drew down on the other Afghan colonel. Thankfully, an American military officer was nearby and literally stepped between the two Afghans and prevented the potential loss of life.

When combined, more mental illness, substance abuse, and impulse control problems make Afghans more likely to use violence against one another to resolve problems and achieve their goals. No wonder, then, that more than half of surveyed Afghans indicated they have been the victim of assaultive violence versus a paltry four percent of the populations in low trauma nations.13

When U.S. service members fighting in the war on terror show signs of mental health problems, many actions are taken. First, they are removed from the trauma environment. Then, they receive the needed medical care, which may include prescription drugs. Additionally, their military responsibilities are curtailed for a time, so they can focus on recovery and avoid adding unnecessary stress into their lives. Finally, a commander might temporarily revoke their authority to bear arms to minimize the threat they could pose to themselves or others.14

But Afghans, Iraqis, and others caught in the war on terror face just the opposite reality. Extremely high rates of trauma continue, and they have no reasonable chance of treatment. For instance, experts describe Afghanistan’s mental health capability as “nonexistent,” qualified providers as “an acute shortage,” and in general terms, “chronic mental illness has been left unattended in Afghanistan for decades.”15 In addition, America and the international community placed additional responsibilities on Afghans, which likely added to their stress. Specifically, the international community pushed democracy on Afghanistan, arguably the best yet hardest form of government to do right. To succeed, democracy requires a legitimate, capable, and responsive government and an engaged populace. After 40 years of the severest traumas, Afghans’ abilities are so reduced and their society too fractured for such a demanding form of government. No surprise, then, that the Afghan government ranks as more corrupt than 96 percent of all other nations and the country receives Freedom House’s lowest rating—“not free.”16

In response to all the trauma and the negative changes which often accompany it, Afghans should be expected to resort to violence as a means of goal achievement and problem resolution more often than a low trauma population. In addition to making people more violent, all the trauma likely fuels more civil war in two other ways: by increasing grievances and creating more opportunity for civil war.17 A person who has been tortured, raped, or exposed to war violence has, by definition, a very real and enduring grievance against the perpetrator or the group that the perpetrator belongs to. Civil war scholars have long believed that grievances are what motivate citizens to organize and take up arms against their government.

Trauma should also increase the opportunity for civil war by making the government and security forces less effective. For instance, severe and repetitive trauma exposure often leads to mental illness, substance abuse, and physiological changes to parts of the brain (e.g., amygdala, basal ganglia). In turn, those three factors conspire to lower individual IQ, diminish the ability to reason and plan, decrease attention span, and reduce the capacity for trust.18 A government and security force increasingly forced to recruit from such a population will become less effective over time, and ineffective security forces make civil war more possible.


The war on terror has now entered its seventeenth year. Military operations appear to have expanded into Niger and potentially other countries. Forces are surging back into Afghanistan and an indefinite military presence in Syria appears to be current U.S. policy. All of this appears to be driven, in large part, by three false assumptions. In reality, though, the war on terror has done little to prevent another 9/11, and all of the military force employed abroad has not made Americans any safer. That suggests the United States should step back from the war on terror by ratcheting down the use of military force abroad, while emphasizing internal homeland security measures and external intelligence sharing.

Finally, the years of trauma have taken their toll on Afghans, Iraqis, and others, resulting in extremely high rates of mental illness, substance abuse, and diminished impulse control. And those factors will likely fuel civil war into the future, whether the United States stays in the fight or not.

End Notes

  1. See, for example, polls and surveys from the Chicago Council, Rasmussen Reports, and Polling Report available at http://www.pollingreport.com/terror.htm, http://www.rasmussenreports.com/public_content/politics/mood_of_america/war_on_terror_nov08, and https://www.thechicagocouncil.org/sites/default/files/survey_terror-acts-and-americans_20160822-2.pdf.
  2. Data comes from the Global Terrorism Database, available at https://www.start.umd.edu/gtd/.
  3. As noted in the National Commission on Terrorist Attacks upon the United States’ report, 9/11 and Terrorist Travel, the hijackers entered the United States with approved visas, though some provided false information or employed other fraudulent techniques, https://www.9-11commission.gov/staff_statements/911_TerrTrav_Monograph.pdf;

9/11 Commission, The 9/11 Commission Report (Washington, D.C.: Government Printing Office, 2004) 224, 227-229, https://9-11commission.gov/report/911Report.pdf.

  1. Elizabeth Bazan, The Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act: An Overview of the Statutory Framework and U.S. Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court and U.S. Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court of Review Decisions (Washington, D.C.: Congressional Research Service, [updated] 2017), https://fas.org/sgp/crs/intel/RL30465.pdf; Watson Institute – Brown University, “Homeland Security Budget,” Costs of War, September 2016, http://watson.brown.edu/costsofwar/costs/economic/budget/dhs; Neta Crawford, United States Budgetary Costs of Post-9/11 Wars Through, Costs of War Project, 2017, http://watson.brown.edu/costsofwar/files/cow/imce/papers/2017/Costs%20of%20U.S.%20Post-9_11%20NC%20Crawford%20FINAL%20.pdf pp. 2-3; Department of Justice, The External Effects of the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s Reprioritization Efforts (2005), iii, https://oig.justice.gov/reports/FBI/a0537/final.pdf; Robert Mueller, “Testimony Before the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Science, the Departments of State, Justice and Commerce, and Related Agencies,” September 14, 2006,   https://archives.fbi.gov/archives/news/testimony/the-fbi-transformation-since-2001
  2. David Inserra, “Foiled Plot in Miami Is 99th Terror Plot Against US Since 9/11,” November 1, 2017, http://www.heritage.org/terrorism/commentary/foiled-plot-miami-99th-terror-plot-against-us-911; A. Trevor Thrall and Erik Goepner, “Step Back: Lessons for U.S. Foreign Policy from the Failed War on Terror,” Cato Institute Policy Analysis #814 (Washington, D.C.: Cato Institute, 2017), 6, https://object.cato.org/sites/cato.org/files/pubs/pdf/pa-814.pdf; and Laura Geggel, “Lightning deaths hit a record low in 2017,” Fox News, January 3, 2018, http://www.foxnews.com/science/2018/01/03/lightning-deaths-hit-record-low-in-2017.html.
  3. A. Trevor Thrall and Erik Goepner, “Counterinsurgency Math Revisited,” Small Wars Journal Blog, January 3, 2018, http://smallwarsjournal.com/blog/counterinsurgency-math-revisited, derived from Department of State Country Reports on Terrorism 2000 through 2015 and Stanford University’s Mapping Militant Organizations Project.
  4. Donald Rumsfeld, “Global War on Terrorism,” memo to select Department of Defense leaders, October 16, 2003, https://fas.org/irp/news/2003/10/rumsfeld101603.pdf; Stanley McChrystal, “Speech on Afghanistan,” delivered before the International Institute for Strategic Studies, London, United Kingdom, October 1, 2009, https://www.realclearpolitics.com/articles/2009/10/01/gen_mcchrystals_address_on_afghanistan_98537.html.
  5. Bill Roggio and Alexandra Gutowski, “LWJ Map Assessment: Taliban Controls or Contests 45% of Afghan Districts;” Erik Goepner, “Afghanistan’s Biggest Obstacle is Its Government,” Orange County Register (November 1, 2017), https://www.ocregister.com/2017/11/01/afghanistans-biggest-obstacle-is-its-government/; and Freedom House, Freedom in the World 2001 and Freedom in the World 2017 (2001 and 2017), https://freedomhouse.org/report-types/freedom-world.
  6. Paul Collier, Anke Hoeffler, and Dominic Rohner, “Beyond Greed and Grievance: Feasibility and Civil War,” Oxford Economic Papers 61.1 (2009): 1-27; James Fearon and David Laitin, “Ethnicity, Insurgency, and Civil War,” American Political Science Review 97.1 (2003): 75-90.
  7. See the Arab Barometer http://www.arabbarometer.org/content/online-data-analysis, FBIS, “Compilation of Usama Bin Laden Statements: 1994 – January 2004,” January 2004, https://fas.org/irp/world/para/ubl-fbis.pdf, and Ayman al-Zawahiri’s letter to Abu Mus`ab al-Zarqawi, https://ctc.usma.edu/wpcontent/uploads/2013/10/Zawahiris-Letter-to-Zarqawi-Translation.pdf.
  8. Joint Staff, Joint Publication 3-24 Counterinsurgency (2013), III-4, http://www.jcs.mil/Portals/36/Documents/Doctrine/pubs/jp3_24.pdf; Leo Shane III and Kevin Baron, “Petraeus confirmation hearing, live” Stars and Stripes, June 29, 2010, https://www.stripes.com/blogs-archive/stripes-central/stripes-central-1.8040/petraeus-confirmation-hearing-live-1.109226#.Wk-oaLenEdU.
  9. Chris Brewin et al., “Memory for Emotionally Neutral Information in Posttraumatic Stress Disorder: A Meta-Analytic Investigation,” Journal of Abnormal Psychology 116, no. 3 (2007): 448–63; Pia Pechtel and Diego Pizzagalli, “Effects of Early Life Stress on Cognitive and Affective Function: An Integrated Review of Human Literature,” Psychopharmacology 214.1 (2011): 55-70 ; Zachary Steel et al., “Association of Torture and Other Potentially Traumatic Events with Mental Health Outcomes among Populations Exposed to Mass Conflict and Displacement,” JAMA 302.5 (2009): 537-549; Darrel Regier, Mary Farmer, and Donald Rae, “Comorbidity of Mental Disorders With Alcohol and Other Drug Abuse: Results From the Epidemiologic Catchment Area (ECA) Study,” JAMA 264, no. 19 (November 21, 1990): 2514; Timothy Weaver et al., “Comorbidity of Substance Misuse and Mental Illness in Community Mental Health and Substance Misuse Services,” The British Journal of Psychiatry 183, no. 4 (September 2003): 304-31.
  10. Catherine Panter-Brick et al., “Violence, Suffering, and Mental Health in Afghanistan: A School-Based Survey,” The Lancet 374, no. 9692 (September 2009): 814; Hillary Wildt et al., “War Trauma, Psychological Distress, and Coping among Afghan Civilians Seeking Primary Health Care,” International Perspectives in Psychology: Research, Practice, Consultation 6, no. 2 (April 2017): 82; Annette Gerritsen et al., “Physical and mental health of Afghan, Iranian and Somali asylum seekers and refugees living in the Netherlands,” Social Psychiatry and Psychiatric Epidemiology 41.1 (2006): 18-26; Israel Bronstein, Paul Montgomery, and Stephanie Dobrowolski, “PTSD in Asylum‐seeking Male Adolescents from Afghanistan,” Journal of Traumatic Stress 25.5 (2012): 551-557; Steel et al. “Association of Torture…”; United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, “Drug Use in Afghanistan: 2009 Survey. Executive Summary” (Kabul, Afghanistan: UNODC, 2010) 3, 6, http://www.unodc.org/documents/data-and-analysis/Studies/Afghan-Drug-Survey-2009-Executive-Summary-web.pdf; Dianne Tice, Ellen Bratslavsky, and Roy Baumeister, “Emotional Distress Regulation Takes Precedence over Impulse Control: If You Feel Bad, Do It!,” Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 80, no. 1 (2001): 53; Michael Norko and Madelon Baranoski, “The Prediction of Violence; Detection of Dangerousness,” Brief Treatment and Crisis Intervention 8, no. 1 (February 2008): 76; Hepp et al., “Prevalence of Exposure to Potentially Traumatic Events and PTSD,” 154; Barbara Lopes Cardozo, “Mental Health, Social Functioning, and Disability in Postwar Afghanistan,” JAMA 292, no. 5 (August 4, 2004) 575, 579; Willem Scholte, Miranda Olff, and Peter Ventevogel, “Mental Health Symptoms Following War and Repression in Eastern Afghanistan,” JAMA 292, no. 5 (August 4, 2004) 589-590.
  11. U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, “How Common is PTSD,” PTSD: National Center for PTSD (October 3, 2016), https://www.ptsd.va.gov/public/PTSD-overview/basics/how-common-is-ptsd.asp.
  12. Cardozo, “Mental Health, Social Functioning, and Disability in Postwar Afghanistan,” 576; Panter-Brick et al., “Violence, Suffering, and Mental Health in Afghanistan,” 813.
  13. See Transparency International’s Corruption Perceptions Index at https://www.transparency.org/country/AFG and Freedom House’s Freedom in the World at https://freedomhouse.org/report/freedom-world/2018/afghanistan.
  14. Fearon and Laitin, “Ethnicity, Insurgency, and Civil War”; Collier, Hoeffler, and Rohner, “Beyond Greed and Grievance,”
  15. Brewin et al., “Memory for Emotionally Neutral Information in Posttraumatic Stress Disorder”; Pechtel and Pizzagalli, “Effects of Early Life Stress on Cognitive and Affective Function”; Fu Lye Woon, Shabnam Sood, and Dawson Hedges, “Hippocampal Volume Deficits Associated with Exposure to Psychological Trauma and Posttraumatic Stress Disorder in Adults: A Meta-Analysis,” Progress in Neuro-Psychopharmacology and Biological Psychiatry 34, no. 7 (October 1, 2010): 1181–88; Deborah Weber and Cecil Reynolds, “Clinical Perspectives on Neurobiological Effects of Psychological Trauma,” Neuropsychology Review 14, no. 2 (June 1, 2004): 115–29; Anke Karl et al., “A Meta-Analysis of Structural Brain Abnormalities in PTSD,” Neuroscience & Biobehavioral Reviews 30, no. 7 (2006): 1004–31.





Trump’s fourth communications chief Hope Hicks resigns

After admitting she told white lies on behalf of the president, Donald Trump’s communications chief Hope Hicks has resigned. She had worked for the billionaire since before his run for the White House.

March 1, 2018


White House Communications Director, Hope Hicks, announced her departure on Wednesday, a day after testifying for nine hours in front of US lawmakers investigating Russian interference in the 2016 election.

One of US President Donald Trump’s closest and most loyal confidantes, she is also his longest-serving aide, having become the spokesperson for his US presidential campaign in 2015.

The 29-year-old former model and public relations executive is reported to have told colleagues she felt she had accomplished all she could in the role.

Trusted aide

“There are no words to adequately express my gratitude to President Trump,” Hicks said in a statement about her departure.

Her billionaire boss paid tribute to the aide’s “outstanding” contribution over the past three years, calling her “as smart and thoughtful as they come, a truly great person.”

“I will miss having her by my side, but when she approached me about pursuing other opportunities, I totally understood,” he added. “I am sure we will work together again in the future.”

Trump’s spokeswoman Sarah Sanders said no date had been set for her departure.

On Tuesday, Hicks was interviewed by a congressional panel investigating Russian interference in the 2016 election and contact between Trump’s campaign and Moscow.

During her testimony, she acknowledged that she had occasionally told “white lies” for Trump. But she said she had not lied about important matters.

The White House insisted Hicks’ resignation had nothing to do with her appearance before the panel.

She has also been interviewed by special counsel Robert Mueller’s team about her role in crafting a statement about Donald Trump Jr.’s 2016 meeting with Russians.

Tumultous times

Hicks became communications director in August after the resignation of Anthony Scaramucci, who lasted in the position for just 10 days. She joins a long list of former White House officials who have resigned or been sacked, including her boyfriend, Rob Porter, who left as Trump’s staff secretary following allegations of domestic violence by two ex-wives.

Other casualties include national security advisor Michael Flynn, Reince Priebus who was chief of staff, ex-press secretary Sean Spicer, and Steve Bannon who was the president’s chief strategist.

Hicks’ departure was announced just a day after her deputy Josh Raffel said he would step down, and just a few days after senior Trump adviser Jared Kushner saw his security clearance downgraded — limiting his access to classified information.


More Than 30 Trump Aides Lose Top-Secret Clearance, Sources Say

February‎ ‎28‎, ‎2018‎

by Margaret Talev and Jennifer Jacobs


More than 30 aides to President Donald Trump have been stripped of access to top secret intelligence, two people familiar with the move said.

The officials have been notified that they will be downgraded to lower-level “secret” interim security clearances, said the two people. None of the officials has been asked to leave the administration and their portfolios on top secret matters will be distributed to other staff members, they said.

Jared Kushner, Trump’s son-in-law and senior adviser, is among those officials whose security clearance has been downgraded as a result of the new policy on interim clearances set by White House Chief of Staff John Kelly, said another person familiar with the material. The change means that Kushner lost access to some files, including those containing intelligence on foreign leaders and diplomats that can be used to gain an advantage in negotiations, according to a second person, who is familiar with the clearance process.

All of the officials whose clearances were downgraded held the top secret designation on an interim basis. Kelly set a new policy that took effect last week that permits interim clearances only at the secret level and not permitting temporary clearances at higher levels.

The revelations come as the White House weathers intense criticism over its handling of sensitive intelligence after former Staff Secretary Rob Porter was permitted to keep his clearance status for months even though the FBI said it had provided the White House a report including allegations of domestic violence from his two ex-wives.

Grassley Wants Answers

Senate Judiciary Chairman Chuck Grassley this week called for answers from the White House and the FBI about reports that dozens of top officials still lacked a full security clearance and that some them, including Kushner, had access to the highly classified President’s Daily Brief prepared by intelligence agencies.

The crackdown on clearances also come amid the drama of a special counsel investigation into Russian election meddling and potential ties to Trump election advisers. Trump communications director Hope Hicks, who had been romantically linked to Porter and who testified Tuesday to a House panel in the Russia probe, on Wednesday announced her plans to resign in a statement released by the White House.

In an earlier memo released Feb. 16, Kelly said that the administration must “do better” in its handling of security clearances. Kelly said he would discontinue all “Top Secret or SCI-level interim clearances” for people who have ongoing investigations stretching back to June 1, 2017, using an acronym for “Sensitive Compartmented Information.” While the new policy was set to take effect on Feb. 23, White House officials have declined to say who would be affected.

In a statement last week, Kelly didn’t address whether Kushner’s security clearance would be revoked but said he had “full confidence” in his ability to continue his foreign policy work. Trump said at a news conference last week that “I will let General Kelly make that decision. I have no doubt he’ll make the right decision.”

A spokesman for Kushner, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said that no concerns have been raised to Kushner about his security clearance and that the White House’s new security clearance policy doesn’t affect Kushner’s ability to do his job. His assignments by Trump include leading efforts to achieve peace between Israel and the Palestinians, overhauling prison sentencing and technology innovations.


Secrecy News

From the FAS Project on Government Secrecy

Volume 2018, Issue No. 14

March 1, 2018


The possibility of mobilizing members of the public to collect information — “crowdsourcing” — to enhance verification of international nuclear safeguards is explored in a new report from Sandia National Laboratories.

“Our analysis indicates that there are ways for the IAEA [International Atomic Energy Agency] to utilize data from crowdsourcing activities to support safeguards verification,” the authors conclude.

But there are a variety of hurdles to overcome.

“Some implementations of crowdsourcing for safeguards are legally or ethically uncertain, and must be carefully considered prior to adoption.”

Crowdsourced information, like other information, has to be independently verified, particularly since it is susceptible to error, manipulation and deception.

The report builds on previous work cited in a bibliography. See Power of the People: A Technical, Ethical and Experimental Examination of the Use of Crowdsourcing to Support International Nuclear Safeguards Verification by Zoe N. Gastelum, et al, Sandia National Laboratories, October 2017.


As of August 2017, the Department of Defense (DoD) had obligated $1.474 trillion for war-related costs since September 11, 2001. DoD updated its official cost report last month. See Cost of War Update as of August 31, 2017.

Average monthly spending in 2017 was $3.9 billion, up from an average of $3.5 billion in 2016, the report said.

The total post-9/11 spending figure includes $83 billion in classified appropriations, not including non-DoD classified expenditures (e.g. CIA spending).

The reported costs of war are highly dependent on the definition of the term. DoD’s total figure, which does not include many kinds of indirect costs, is substantially lower than estimates by other analysts such as the Watson Institute at Brown University, which placed the total figure at $5.6 trillion as of November 2017.

The DoD report also understates the number of US troops deployed in Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria.


The Trump Administration requested $11.02 billion for maintenance and refurbishment of nuclear weapons in the coming year. This represents a 19% increase over the amount appropriated in FY2017.

Recent and proposed nuclear weapons-related spending is detailed by Amy F. Woolf of the Congressional Research Service in Energy and Water Development Appropriations: Nuclear Weapons Activities, February 27, 2018.

Another new CRS report discusses blockchain, the technology that underlies cryptocurrencies such as Bitcoin. Blockchain provides a way to securely record transactions of various types. “Despite public intrigue and excitement around the technology, questions still surround what it is, what it does, how it can be used, and its tradeoffs.”

“This report explains the technologies which underpin blockchain, how blockchain works, potential applications for blockchain, concerns with it, and potential considerations for Congress.” See Blockchain: Background and Policy Issues, February 28, 2018.

Other recent reports from the Congressional Research Service include the following.

Defense Spending Under an Interim Continuing Resolution: In Brief, updated February 23, 2018

Armed Conflict in Syria: Overview and U.S. Response, updated February 27, 2018

U.S. Foreign Aid to Israel, updated February 26, 2018

Federal Civil Aviation Programs: In Brief, updated February 27, 2018

Health Care for Dependents and Survivors of Veterans, updated February 26, 2018

Joint Light Tactical Vehicle (JLTV): Background and Issues for Congress, updated February 27, 2018

The European Union: Questions and Answers, updated February 23, 2018



Italy’s Strange Campaign: Berlusconi, Five Star and the Road to Political Gridlock

A disillusioned electorate, multi-billion-euro campaign promises and the return of Silvio Berlusconi: Italy is muddling its way through a strange election campaign with an uncertain outcome. The consequences for Europe could be significant.

February 28, 2018

by Walter Mayr


It was perhaps the most outlandish appearance of the campaign. Late at night on a public television station, an aged man came on looking as though he had just stepped out of a Madam Tussauds wax museum, his similarity to the embalmed Mao Zedong difficult to ignore. He read out a personal statement from a sheet of paper. The anchor standing devoutly next to him was hardly any younger.

The old man ceremoniously proclaimed the title: “Commitment to the Italians,” followed by 90 seconds of vainglorious blustering. Then came the pledge: “Following the certain victory of the center-right parties in the March 4 election, I will create jobs together with the prime minister. My goal is to bring the unemployment rate below the EU average during the legislative period. Signed: Silvio Berlusconi.”

The jobless rate in the European Union is 7.3 percent, while it is 10.8 percent in Italy. But Berlusconi radiated confidence. He had, after all, just repeated one of his greatest coups: Seventeen years earlier, at that same desk, in the presence of that same anchor, he had introduced his grab-bag of promises called “Contract with the Italians.” That grotesque televised deal with the people contributed significantly to Berlusconi’s return to the office of prime minister.

It’s as if time has stood still in Italy. Just recently, it seemed inconceivable that a man who served as prime minister four times and who – in addition to turning his country into the butt of myriad jokes – almost bankrupted Italy would once again be speaking of his political future at the ripe old age of 82.

In 2013, Berlusconi was found guilty of tax evasion and had to resort to legal sleight of hand to narrowly avoid additional convictions for abuse of office and for paying for sex with an underage prostitute. He also isn’t allowed to run for office himself on March 4; due to his conviction, he is banned from seeking public office until 2019. Despite all that, however, the center-right alliance Berlusconi leads – which includes, in addition to his own Forza Italia party, the far-right Lega Nord and the further-right Fratelli d’Italia – has good chances of emerging victorious from the approaching election.


If the right doesn’t end up with a majority, political gridlock could be the result, with three blocks of roughly equal strength standing face-to-face. March 4 isn’t just a fateful election for the future of Italy. The future of the EU is also dependent on which direction the eurozone’s third-largest economy chooses to take. And there is cause for concern: A trip through Italy this winter, including conversations with right-wing agitators in Ventimiglia and evangelists for internet democracy in the deep south, exposes a significant level of rage among the electorate. And resignation.

According to a recent survey, 81 percent of all Italians mistrust the state, with only 5 percent saying they have faith in the country’s political parties and in what they say. With just days left before the election, two-thirds of those surveyed said they didn’t know, or didn’t even want to know, who was running from their electoral district.

It was just four years ago that the young Social Democrat Matteo Renzi became prime minister on the strength of promises to “jettison” the old elite, to rapidly push through delayed reforms and make Italy both more competitive and more influential on the European stage. What went wrong?

Renzi has been out of power since the end of 2016, having left office after losing a referendum over a constitutional reform and falling prey to his own conceit. But he nevertheless managed to enact some change: Following the longest recession since 1945, the country’s economy is growing once again. Exports are also on the rise and almost a million jobs have been created, though most of them are of the precarious variety.

But the societal rifts grew deeper during the crisis and 8.4 million Italians are poverty stricken, with almost 5 million of those living in “absolute poverty,” denoting the inability to buy goods and services “essential to avoid grave forms of social exclusion,” according to the country’s statistics office. In addition, the country faces an ongoing exodus of the well-educated combined with a continuing influx of migrants who see Italy as the gateway to Europe. Since 2014, 625,000 of them have arrived.

The population’s anger is on the rise. And that anger is being reflected on the campaign trail.

A Visit to the Front Lines of Populism

Signs for the highway heading to Nice, France, are posted along Via Tenda in the border city of Ventimiglia – and hundreds of refugees, almost exclusively Africans who have refused to be registered, are camped beneath the arterial, which runs along an overpass.

They would rather sleep out in the open along the river banks. At night, they huddle beneath blankets and tarps while during the day, they are constantly on the move, their mobile phones clutched tightly in their hands. They pay no attention to the complaints of the local residents, who bemoan the “intolerable conditions” in their street.

An appearance by Matteo Salvini is scheduled for 4 p.m. Salvini is head of the far-right party Lega Nord, which now simply calls itself “Lega,” a consequence of its new effort to attract voters in southern Italy as well. It is, after all, the south that has been most affected by the arrival of the migrants – or, as Salvini calls them, the “do-nothings.” He is a brawny, coarse firebrand who allies with Marine Le Pen, of the French right-wing party Front National, in European Parliament. He hopes to govern together with Berlusconi in Rome.

Prior to his arrival in Ventimiglia, Salvini announces that he won’t be visiting the refugee camp along the river banks after all – “to avoid instigation.” The mood in the city is tense enough as it is. At midday, a Romanian man assaulted the wife of a city hall employee in the city center. “Bastard,” curses the mayor, a Social Democrat. “I’m afraid Salvini will rake in a lot of votes here.”

Shortly after 4 p.m., the Lega head arrives in an overflowing theater in the city and gets right to the point. “When I next return to Ventimiglia as prime minister, there won’t be a single illegal immigrant left here,” Salvini says. He then promises: “Delinquents will be given a one-way ticket home.”

Lega is only at 11 percent in the polls, but that hasn’t slowed the party, which is an ally of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s United Russia. Under his leadership, Salvini promises, Italy would no longer adhere to European Union laws that do not conform to the country’s interests. And he blusters: “We are taking back our country where 1,000 lira used to be worth 1,000 lira and there was no currency that only served the interests of German banks.”

It is, in fact, their competing approaches to the EU that shows just how fragile is the alliance formed by Salvini and the pro-European Berlusconi. They aren’t connected by much more than a desire for power. The term “center-right block” also glosses over the fact that the post-fascists from Fratelli d’Italia are also part of the alliance. According to the country’s complicated new election law, 40 percent of the vote is necessary for an absolute majority in parliament. According to the polls, the right is currently five percentage points short of that mark. It also isn’t clear who would become prime minister if Berlusconi’s alliance won, though there are indications that it could ultimately be Antonio Tajani, current president of the European Parliament and a member of Berlusconi’s party.

And then there is the persistent rumor that Berlusconi, during a January visit to Brussels, promised leading Christian Democrats that he would not govern together in a coalition with Salvini’s Lega. Instead, he could help Renzi’s Social Democrats to a majority just as he did in 2014. That would help explain the praise heaped upon Berlusconi following the trip to the EU capital. The meeting with Berlusconi was “excellent,” proclaimed European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker at the time.

Campaign of Illusionists

It has been a confusing campaign. There are no signs lining the streets. No televised debates between the candidates. Newspapers, meanwhile, are running squalid stories about candidates who have stolen, committed fraud or abused their wives.

It is a campaign of illusionists: Berlusconi speaks as though he was once again going to head the government, though he is forbidden from running. Salvini is acting as the future prime minister, but polls show he doesn’t stand a chance. And Renzi is leading the Social Democrats into the election but is seen as being washed up. Behind him, incumbent Paolo Gentiloni is quietly standing by, Italy’s most trusted politician, according to the polls.

And then there is Luigi Di Maio. The 31-year-young lead candidate for Movimento Cinque Stelle (M5S), the Five Star Movement, currently stands at 28 percent in the polls, putting his party ahead of all other single parties. That would be reason enough to claim the office of prime minister – if not for the dogma from the founding years of this protest movement which prohibits the formation of coalitions.

When asked how he intends to create a majority, Di Maio dodges and weaves. Backstage after a well-received speech in the Sannazzaro Theater in Naples, the leading figure of Five Star is as self-controlled and good looking as always. “If we don’t end up with an absolute majority following the election, then we’ll just have to call on all political forces to find common ground on the issues,” Di Maio says. “If there is willingness to do so, we can then draft a program for the 18th legislative period.”

That’s how he talks these days. Like someone with a heavy weight shackled to his ankle.

From the very beginning, M5S has subjected itself to a strict set of rules. They were established by the party’s founder, the comedian Beppe Grillo, and the ideologue Gianroberto Casaleggio. Party members are only allowed a maximum of two terms in office, half of their parliamentary salaries must be donated to charity, they aren’t allowed to appear on talk shows, coalitions are to be avoided, and members will be thrown out of the party if they run into even the slightest trouble with the law.

Not all of these rules still apply. With M5S members holding power in 45 city halls in the country, the party hasn’t just come closer to power, but also to reality. That, though, has meant that the erstwhile revolutionaries in Italian politics are now subject to merciless criticism in the media, and Luigi Di Maio, the head of the party, absorbs most of it.

Hardly a day goes by in which he doesn’t have to comment on yet another misstep made by a fellow party member. Even just among the party’s candidates for the two houses of parliament, 14 have been found who have transgressed internal party rules on salaries. But voter support for M5S has remained stable. For Di Maio’s speech in Naples, the audience was filled with social workers and teachers, but also owners of mid-sized companies who are unable to get loans from country’s ailing banks. People, in other words, who are unable to clear the hurdles they are constantly confronted with in daily life in Italy.

If M5S was merely a “Noah’s ark of frauds, scroungers and freemasons,” as Renzi would have it, the public opinion surveys would surely look different. Di Maio intends to present his desired cabinet in the coming days. And he is no longer talking about holding a referendum on Italy’s eurozone membership, as he was just a short time ago. Instead, he is praising “our European house.”

Nobody Better

Meanwhile, Matteo Renzi hasn’t really changed one bit. Neither in physical appearance nor in speaking style. He is still combative and intractable. But after three years in power, Renzi has managed to fall all the way back in the polls to a position behind the right-wing populist Salvini. The left-wing of his Social Democrats has split off and support for the party has almost halved since 2014. Why should people vote for him again?

“Because we are the only ones who aren’t deceiving the voters with unrealistic promises,” Renzi says smiling. And it is true that the bombast is greater elsewhere. Berlusconi is promising radical tax cuts, minimum pensions of 1,000 euros per month and tax immunity for companies that employ young Italians. Salvini is pledging the reintroduction of early retirement. And M5S is offering an unconditional basic income of 780 euros per month for all and a package of family benefits worth 17 billion euros.

Yet everyone knows that Italy currently holds 2.29 trillion euros in sovereign debt, the equivalent of 132 percent of the country’s gross domestic product. Only Greece is in worse shape in Europe.

It remains unclear if Renzi wants to become prime minister again himself. There are increasing indications that the understated incumbent Gentiloni could remain in office – assuming the center-right camp fails to achieve an absolute majority.

What is clear, though, is that no government can be formed without Berlusconi’s approval. And the ex-prime minister is even prepared should months of gridlock ensue in the wake of the March 4 vote, with coalition talks, maneuvering and side deals.

When it comes to scheming, after all, there is nobody better.


States consider bringing prescription drugs from Canada to US as costs soar

Amid surging prices for popular medicines, proposed agency would buy from Canada where drugs can cost thousands less

March 1, 2018

by Jessica Glenza in New York

The Guardian

In the face of surging prescription drug prices, some US states are proposing to import medicines in bulk from Canada, where many drugs are cheaper thanks to government price controls.

Vermont lawmakers are considering legislation to create an agency which would buy popular prescription medicines in bulk from Canada, and then distribute to pharmacies in the state. Utah, Oklahoma and West Virginia have proposed similar measures.

The state senator Ginny Lyons, who sponsored the Vermont bill, said that without government price controls, “pharmaceutical companies are getting away with murder,” in the US.

“People are making choices between food and prescription drugs. We can’t allow that to continue, so we’re trying to take matters into our own hands,” she said.

Lyons acknowledged the bill is a “first step” to reign in spending, but hopes it will spur Congress to act. The federal government would need to approve any bulk importing program.

“When a lot of little fish get together, it has meaning for the members of Congress.”

The desperate move comes as the cost of pharmaceuticals is expected to grow faster than other US healthcare spending in the next decade.

Meanwhile, unpredictable – and sometimes dramatic – increases in drug costs make it nearly impossible for states to budget year-to-year.

Medicaid, the public health program that insures 70 million poor and disabled Americans, is jointly run by the state and federal government. But states have a limited number of tools legally available to negotiate drug prices with manufacturers.

As a result, mid-year drug approvals and steep price hikes can throw a state’s entire health budget off course.

For example, between 2014 and 2015m Medicaid drug spending increased by $3.7bn or 13% year-over-year. That jump was largely attributed to two new hepatitis C drugs which each cost more than $80,000 per treatment.

One of those hepatitis C drugs, called Sovaldi, is a good example of how prices can vary between countries. In the US, a course of Sovaldi lasts 12 weeks and costs $90,000 US retail.

American insurers typically negotiate a discount of 41%, according to a Bloomberg News analysis. That puts the cost of the drug at $17,700 per month in the US.

But in the United Kingdom, that drug costs $16,770 per month, and in Canada $14,493.

For an even more dramatic example, consider Gleevec, a leukemia drug. It costs $10,122 in the US, $2,645 in the UK, and $2,420 in Canada.

“Our Medicaid drug prices, particularly for specialty drugs, are way over the top,” said Lyons. “So, we’re trying to identify those drugs where the cost has escalated in the past few years, or the payment per dose is very high as compared with Canada.”

The United States has the most expensive health system in the world; Americans pay on average three times more than British people for top-selling prescription drugs.

Prescription drugs are be no means cheap in Canada: surveys suggest it is one of the most expensive countries in the world after the US, and a recent study found that nearly 1 million Canadians per year sacrifice groceries or heating to afford pharmaceuticals.

Canadian drug policy experts warned that importing drugs from Canada is unlikely to provide nationwide relief in America.

Dr Joel Lexchin, a former emergency department physician and drug policy expert from York University in Toronto, Canada, said that it’s “fine for an individual” to drive up to Canada and buy drugs, but that the US government needs to tackle drug pricing for a sustainable solution.

“Even if the US bought every pill in Canada, you have almost 10 times the population. This is not going to solve the problem of drug prices in the United States,” said Lexchin. “The solution is for the US to start regulating its own prices. And you can do that.”

Officials at Health Canada said they were aware of the proposals but said it was too early to comment.

Pharmaceutical lobbyists vehemently oppose importing drugs from Canada, and have argued the drugs are not safe. The industry spent $277m on attempts to influence members of Congress in 2017 alone.


Big pharma, big data: why drugmakers want your health records

March 1, 2018

by Ben Hirschler


LONDON (Reuters) – Drugmakers are racing to scoop up patient health records and strike deals with technology companies as big data analytics start to unlock a trove of information about how medicines perform in the real world.

Studying such real-world evidence offers manufacturers a powerful tool to prove the value of their drugs – something Roche (ROG.S) aims to leverage, for example, with last month’s $2 billion purchase of Flatiron Health.

Real-world evidence involves collecting data outside traditional randomized clinical trials, the current gold standard for judging medicines, and interest in the field is ballooning.

Half of the world’s 1,800 clinical studies involving real-world or real-life data since 2006 have been started in the last three years, with a record 300 last year, according to a Reuters analysis of the U.S. National Institutes of Health’s clinicaltrials.gov website.

Hot areas for such studies include cancer, heart disease and respiratory disorders.

Historically, it has been hard to get a handle on how drugs work in routine clinical practice but the rise of electronic medical records, databases of insurance claims, fitness wearables and even social media now offers a wealth of new data.

The ability to capture the experience of real-world patients, who represent a wider sample of society than the relatively narrow selection enrolled into traditional trials, is increasingly useful as medicine becomes more personalized.

However it also opens a new front in the debate about corporate access to personal data at a time when tech giants Apple (AAPL.O), Amazon (AMZN.O) and Google’s parent Alphabet (GOOGL.O) are seeking to carve out a healthcare niche.

Some campaigners and academics worry such data will be used primarily as a commercial tool by drugmakers and may intrude upon patients’ privacy.


Learning from the experience of millions of patients provides granularity and is especially important in a disease like cancer, where doctors want to know if there is a greater benefit from using a certain drug in patients with highly specific tumor characteristics.

In the case of the Flatiron deal, Roche is acquiring a firm working with 265 U.S. community cancer clinics and six major academic research centers, making it a leading curator of oncology evidence. Roche, which already owns 12.6 percent of Flatiron, will pay $1.9 billion for the rest.

But interest in such real-world data goes far beyond cancer.

All the world’s major drug companies now have departments focused on the use of real-world data across multiple diseases and several have completed scientific studies using the information to delve into key areas addressed by their drugs.

They include diabetes studies by AstraZeneca (AZN.L) and Sanofi (SASY.PA), joint research by Pfizer (PFE.N) and Bristol-Myers Squibb (BMY.N) into stroke prevention, and a Takeda Pharmaceutical (4502.T) project in bowel disease.

“It’s getting more expensive to do traditional clinical trial research, so industry is looking at ways it can achieve similar goals using routinely collected data,” said Paul Taylor, a health informatics expert at University College London.

“The thing that has made all this possible is the increasing digitization of health records.”

Significantly, the world’s regulators are taking notice.

U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) Commissioner Scott Gottlieb – the gatekeeper to the world’s biggest pharmaceutical market – believes more widespread use of real-world evidence (RWE) could cut drug development costs and help doctors make better medical choices.

Under the 21st Century Cures Act, the FDA has been directed to evaluate the expanded use of RWE. “As the breadth and reliability of RWE increases, so do opportunities for FDA to also make use of this information,” Gottlieb said in a speech last September.

The European Medicines Agency, too, is studying ways to use RWE in its decision making.


But the growth of real-world evidence also raises questions about data access and patient privacy, as Britain’s National Health Service (NHS) – a uniquely comprehensive source of healthcare data – has found to its cost.

An ambitious scheme to pool anonymized NHS patient data for both academic and commercial use had to be scrapped in 2016 after protests from both patients and doctors.

And last year a British hospital trust was rapped by the Information Commissioner’s Office for misusing data, after it passed on personal information of around 1.6 million patients to artificial-intelligence firm Google DeepMind.

Sam Smith, a campaigner for medical data privacy at Britain’s MedConfidential, is concerned drugmakers’ RWE studies are just a cover for marketing. “How much of this is really for scientific discovery and how much is it about boosting profits by getting one product used instead of another?”

Some academics also worry RWE studies could be susceptible to “data dredging”, where multiple analyses are conducted until one gives the hoped-for result.

AstraZeneca’s head of innovative medicines Mene Pangalos, whose company has struck several deals with tech start-ups and patient groups to gather real-world data, acknowledges ensuring privacy and scientific rigor is a challenge.

“It’s a real problem but I don’t think it’s insurmountable,” he told Reuters.

“As people get more comfortable with real-world evidence studies I think it will be much more widely used. I would like to see a world where real-world data can be used to help change drug labels and be used much more aggressively than it is today.”


Roche Chief Executive Severin Schwan believes data is the next frontier for drugmakers and he is betting that the Swiss group’s leadership in both cancer medicine and diagnostics will put it in pole position.

“There’s an opportunity for us to have a strategic advantage by bringing together diagnostics and pharma with data management. This triangle is almost impossible for anybody else to copy,” he said in a December interview.

Still, even Roche cannot work alone in this new world.

“You can have a big debate about whose data it is – the patient‘s, the government‘s, the insurer’s – but one thing for sure is the pharmaceutical company does not own it. So there’s no choice but to do partnerships,” Schwan said.

With Apple’s latest iPhone update including a new feature allowing users to view their medical records, Amazon teaming with Berkshire Hathaway (BRKa.N) and JPMorgan Chase (JPM.N) on a new healthcare company, and numerous start-ups flooding in, the partnering opportunities are plentiful.

“You are going to see more deals,” said Susan Garfield, a partner in EY’s life sciences advisory practice. “Data already has tremendous value and it is going to have increasing value in future. The question is who is going to own and capture it.”


Equifax discovers another 2.4 million customers hit by data breach

March 1, 2018


Equifax Inc (EFX.N), a provider of consumer credit scores, on Thursday said it found another 2.4 million U.S. consumers hit by

a data breach last year, bringing the total to 147.9 million.

The company said the latest batch of consumers affected had their names and driver’s license information stolen, but noted less information was taken because it did not include home addresses, driver’s license states, dates of issuances, or expiration dates.

On Sept. 8, the company disclosed that personal details of as many as 143 million U.S. consumers were accessed by hackers between mid-May and July. (reut.rs/2t2fDyU)

A month later, Equifax said 2.5 million more customers were affected in what is one of the largest data breaches in the U.S.

The company said the newly identified consumers on Thursday were not included in the total customers affected last year because their social security numbers were not stolen – only their partial driver’s license information.

Equifax said it was able confirm the identifies of U.S. consumers whose driver’s license information was taken by referencing other information in proprietary company records that the attackers did not steal. reut.rs/2oLuLeG

Equifax said it will notify the affected consumers directly, and will offer identity theft protection and credit file monitoring services at no cost to them.

The company reports earnings after markets close on Thursday

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