US Crisis Deepens

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Part of a tent city in Nickelsville in the USA

MORE than 150,000 people in the United States died in 2017 due to suicide, alcohol and drugs, an all-time high, according to a new analysis of government data.

Nationwide, the number of deaths from alcohol, drugs and suicide rose 6 per cent between 2016 and 2017, according to an analysis of data by the US Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

That number was more than double 1999 levels, according to the CDC data, which was analysed by Trust for America’s Health and Well Being Trust, two public health nonprofits.

Deaths from suicides rose 4 per cent, the study found. Between 2008 and 2017, suicide rates rose an average of 2 per cent per year, or 22 per cent overall.

Deaths from narcotics, including the pain reliever fentanyl and other synthetic opioids, rose 45 per cent between 2016 and 2017, a tenfold increase in the last five years.

Over 70,000 people in the United States died from a drug overdose in 2017, setting a new record.

Psychologist Benjamin Miller, chief strategy officer of the Well Being Trust, says broader efforts are needed to address the underlying causes of alcohol and drug use and suicide.

‘It’s almost a joke how simple we’re trying to make these issues,’ he says. ‘We’re not changing direction and it’s getting worse.’

Overall, 43 states and Washington, DC, saw their death rates from alcohol, drugs and suicide rise between 2016 and 2017.

‘As a nation, we need to better understand and to systematically address the factors that drive these devastating deaths of despair,’ said John Auerbach, CEO of Trust for America’s Health.

The rise in drug overdose deaths and suicides in 2017 were the main factors contributing to the ongoing decline in life expectancy in the US since 2014.

  • The US Air Force has flown a pair of strategic nuclear-capable B-52 bombers over the disputed waters near China, in a move that is expected to raise Beijing’s ire.

‘Two B-52H Stratofortress bombers took off from Andersen Air Force Base, Guam, and participated in routine training missions on March 4, 2019,’ a statement from US Pacific Air Forces, which oversees air operations in the region, said on Wednesday.

The statement added that one of the long-range bombers conducted ‘training’ in the vicinity of the South China Sea, which is almost entirely claimed by China and through which $5 trillion in shipping trade passes annually.

The South China Sea – which sits atop vast reserves of oil and gas – is in part claimed by Taiwan, Brunei, Vietnam, Malaysia and the Philippines.

The last time the US sent bombers through the South China Sea was in November 2018.

Two US Air Force B52 bombers flew near Chinese islands in the South China Sea.

The US military further said the second bomber went on a similar mission alongside the Japanese Air Force over the East China Sea, which has been the subject of a separate maritime dispute involving Beijing and Tokyo, among other neighbouring countries.

The US – which usually sides with Beijing’s rivals in the territorial rows – claims the Pacific Command’s frequent aerial missions over the disputed islands of both seas are intended to ensure the readiness of US forces, and are in accordance with international law.

Besides its aerial missions, Washington also sends warships close to the islands claimed by China in what the US calls ‘freedom of navigation’ patrols.

China, however, sees such flights and naval patrols as both a clear provocation and a show of force challenging its sovereignty. It says such deployments could easily trigger miscalculation or even accidents at sea or in air.

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo says the US will support the Philippines in the event of a military confrontation in the South China Sea.

Beijing has on numerous occasions warned the US against interfering in its territorial disputes with its neighbours.

The recent manoeuvres could further escalate tensions between Washington and Beijing, which are currently locked in a trade dispute.

  • Two US senators warn that the administration of President Donald Trump ‘is barrelling towards war with Iran’, calling on Congress to act to prevent it.

Writing for The Washington Post in an article published on Tuesday, Tom Udall (D-NM) and Richard J. Durbin (D-Ill.) said that Trump might wage a war on Iran based on a wrong justification like the one the administration of former President George W. Bush used to go to war with Iraq in 2003.

They said the Trump administration claims that Iran has not abided by the nuclear deal it reached with the world powers, an accusation Tehran has vehemently rejected.

The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) has several times confirmed that Iran complies with the restrictions on its nuclear activities under the 2015 deal known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA).

They added that the president also accuses Iran of being partially responsible for the rise of the Daesh terrorist group, another allegation that Iran has dismissed as unfounded.

Iran has, in fact, been actively providing the governments of Iraq and Syria with military advice to push back against foreign-backed militants who have been terrorising both countries using support from Western countries and their regional allies.

Daesh and other Western-backed terrorist groups would have overridden Europe had Iran not intervened to stop their spread, Tehran says.

‘Sixteen years after the US invasion of Iraq, we are again barrelling toward another unnecessary conflict in the Middle East based on faulty and misleading logic,’ the senators wrote.

‘The Trump administration’s Iran policy, built on the ashes of the failed Iraq strategy, is pushing us to take military action aimed at regime change in Tehran. We must not repeat the mistakes of the past, and Congress must act urgently to ensure that.

‘Similar to the George W. Bush administration’s justification for the war in Iraq, the Trump administration has presented the false narratives that Iran is not meeting its obligations under the nuclear deal, and that it is somehow partially responsible for the rise of  Daesh in Syria,’ they added.

The two senators also said Washington is basing its logic to go to war with Iran on accusation that there is a link between Tehran and the terrorist group al-Qaeda, adding, but there is ‘no hard evidence’.

Returning comments from Riyadh, Iran calls Saudi Arabia ‘the true godfather of Takfiri terrorism’ in the region and the world.

‘The Trump administration has also been attempting to create a strong link between al-Qaeda and Iran – based on vague suggestions, but no hard evidence.

‘There is speculation that administration officials are considering striking Iranian territory or its proxies, using the al-Qaeda narrative to claim legal authority for military action under the 2001 Authorisation for Use of Military Force – the same Authorisation used to launch the Afghanistan war, now in its 18th year.

‘We must heed the lessons of history, and Congress must exercise its constitutional authority to counter the president’s reckless march toward war with Iran,’ they wrote, adding: ‘Congress must make clear to the president that the United States will not enter another conflict in the Middle East without its approval.’

They two senators also said that they were introducing draft legislation to prevent any ‘unconstitutional attack on Iran’.

‘We plan to soon reintroduce draft legislation by a bi-partisan group of senators that would restrict any funds from being spent on an unconstitutional attack against Iran.’