Nearly 4,000 US communities have higher rates of lead poisoning than Flint

By Jerry White
16 November 2017

In an updated study, Reuters news agency has identified 3,810 neighborhoods where recently recorded child lead poisoning rates are at least double those found in Flint, Michigan during the height of that city’s water crisis in 2014 and 2015. In some 1,300 of these “hotspot” communities, the percentage of children six and under with elevated lead levels was at least four times the percentage in Flint during the peak of the crisis.

In pockets of Baltimore, Cleveland and Philadelphia, where lead poisoning has spanned generations, Reuters reported that the rate of elevated tests over the last decade was 50 percent or higher. An interactive map released with the study shows one census tract in Buffalo, New York—a former steel and auto center that, like Flint, has suffered decades of deindustrialization—where 68 percent of the children had high levels of lead.

Map of lead concentrations in the United States

The ingestion of any amount of the heavy metal, whether through tainted water, lead-based paint, contaminated soil or fumes and dust, can do irreparable harm to children. This includes impeding the development of the brain and nervous system, lowered IQ, memory loss, hearing and speech problems, and behavioral and attention-related problems. The toxin, which remains in the body and can be passed on for generations, is also responsible for a host of adult health problems, including decreased kidney function, high blood pressure, tremors and infertility.

In the year following the switchover of Flint to water from the polluted Flint River, which caused leaching from the city’s antiquated lead pipe system, five percent of the children who had their blood tested showed lead levels in excess of five micrograms per deciliter. This is the threshold requiring immediate public health intervention, according to the US government’s Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), which acknowledges that there is no safe level of exposure to lead.

Reuters used data collected by the CDC based on neighborhood-level blood testing results for 34 states and the District of Columbia. As devastating as the results are, they do not provide a full picture. The CDC funds 35 state and local health departments for lead surveillance. Reporting is voluntary in the remaining states, many of which do not have staff to collect data. Despite the well-known public health hazard, the US government does not require reporting and does not oversee the systematic collection and analysis of data on lead poisoning.

Dr. Kim Cecil of the Cincinnati Lead Study shows how the brain isdamaged by lead poisoning

Reuters says this is the first look at data broken down by census tracts, which are small county subdivisions averaging 4,000 citizens, or by zip codes, with average populations of 7,500. In December, Reuters noted that far from being the exception, Flint did not even rank among the most toxic cities in America. It pointed to Warren, Pennsylvania, a town on the Allegheny River, where 36 percent of the children tested had high lead levels, to a zip code on Goat Island, Texas, where a quarter of tests showed poisoning.

The newest map includes additional data collected this year by Reuters from Kansas, Georgia, Tennessee, Vermont, North Carolina, New York City and Washington, D.C. The newly identified areas with high levels of child lead poisoning include a historic district in Savannah, Georgia, areas in Rutland, Vermont near a popular skiing area, and a largely Hasidic Jewish area in Brooklyn, New York.

Like Flint, which has acres of land polluted by General Motors and other industrial firms, impoverished homes with peeling paint, and underground lead water mains and service lines, the areas throughout the US with the worst lead poisoning are invariably working class and poor.

There has been a sharp decline in poisoning since lead was removed from paint in 1976 and gasoline in 1995, the latter after more than a decade of resistance by the oil industry. The elimination of lead poisoning, however, is not possible due to lead pipes, residual lead paint in poor urban and rural areas, and former or current industrial sites polluted with lead.

T
he Flint River

“The dramatic decline in blood lead over the last several decades in the US is a public health triumph, resulting from control of lead in gasoline, paint, food, water, soil, consumer products and other sources,” said Marc Edwards, a professor of environmental and water resources engineering at Virginia Tech University, who was instrumental in exposing the lies of state and local officials who claimed that Flint’s water was safe.

He continued: “Before the increased use of lead in paint and gasoline, lead in water was once the dominant source of human lead exposure in the United States, and it was generally acknowledged to cause widespread lead poisoning, fatalities and adverse pregnancy outcomes. Flint is yet another reminder that we must remain vigilant to harm caused by all lead sources, especially lead pipes, which are out of sight and out of mind. It is also the only government-owned source of lead, which directly affects potable water, a product intended for human consumption. Flint is just the most recent example of how this inherent conflict has harmed people.”

The poisoning of Flint was brought into the national and international spotlight only due to the courageous efforts of the city’s working class residents and science professionals like Edwards and pediatrician and public health advocate Dr. Mona Hanna-Attisha. She was denounced by Governor Rick Snyder’s office for “slicing and dicing” the results of blood samples.

Flint became a symbol of everything that was wrong in America: corporate and political criminality and the indifference of both the Democrats and Republicans to the plight of working people. The media, celebrities and politicians from Barack Obama to Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders poured into the town and legal proceedings were initiated against several lesser figures involved in the crime and cover-up. More than three years since the switch to the Flint River, however, nothing has been done to make the residents whole.

The new report from Reuters has been largely ignored by the rest of the corporate-controlled media, which originally presented the Flint crisis as an anomaly, until it was unable to deny the massive and nationwide scale of the problem. Far from committing the necessary resources, including an estimated $500 billion to $1 trillion to replace the nation’s lead pipes, the Obama and Trump administrations have failed to provide any significant funding to address this public health care threat, even as they have squandered trillions on bank bailouts, military spending and tax cuts for the wealthy.

Trump’s 2018 budget request includes a $1.2 billion, or 17 percent, cut to the CDC and the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry.

http://www.wsws.org/en/articles/2017/11/16/lead-n16.html

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Google Is Boosting All Manner of Fake News About the Texas Church Massacre

MEDIA
A search finds the site has been supplying ads to right-wing conspiracy theorists.

Photo Credit: turtix / Shutterstock.com

Google is continuing to allow the monetization of fake news via its advertising network AdSense, this time surrounding the November 5 mass shooting in Sutherland Springs, TX. Advertising networks Revcontent and content.ad are also featuring advertisements on fake news stories about the attack.

On November 5, a gunman opened fire and killed at least 26 people at a church in Sutherland Springs, TX. The alleged gunman, Devin Patrick Kelly, was court martialed while in the Air Force in 2012 on charges of “assaulting his wife and child” and has been accused of stalking ex-girlfriends. Law enforcement officers are now saying that the shooting was related to “a domestic situation.”

Media Matters search found that Google’s AdSense supplied advertisements for many websites pushing the fake news that Kelly was a member of the antifascist group antifa, with many seeming to base their pieces on a fake news article from prominent fake news website YourNewsWire. Those websites included Real FarmacyUSN Politicsmyinfonews.netClear PoliticsSBVNewsRedStateWatcher, and TruthFeed.

Some of these websites that were using AdSense, such as Clear Politics and SBVNews, also carried advertisements from content.ad, while TruthFeed also featured advertisements from Revcontent. Other websites not using AdSense that pushed the baseless claim, such as Conservative FightersThe Conservative Truth, and borntoberight.com, featured advertisements from Revcontent or content.ad instead, including the YourNewsWire piece (that article went viral, drawing at least 235,000 Facebook engagementswithin almost 24 hours of the attack, according to social media analytics website BuzzSumo, and was shared on gun parts manufacturer Molon Labe Industries’ Facebook page).

Another false claim about the shooting came from Freedum Junkshun, a “satire” website run by a man whose made-up stories have been used by fake news websites to misinform. It claimed that the shooter “was an atheist” on the payroll of the Democratic National Committee. That article was funded via advertisements from both AdSense and content.ad. And fake news website Freedom Daily, which has repeatedly violated AdSense’s rules against race-based incitement of hatred, published the false claim that the shooter was a Muslim convert named Samir Al-Hajeed. AdSense advertisements funded that article.

It isn’t just Google’s advertising service that is struggling with how to handle fake news; among the top Google search results of Kelly’s name following the attack were tweets and a video that also baselessly claimed he was a member of antifa. YouTube, which Google owns, also prominently featured a video pushing the false claim as one of the top results for the alleged shooter’s name.

In early November, a Google senior executive testified before Congress that the company had “taken steps” to demonetize misrepresentative websites. Yet the fact that multiple websites are using AdSense to monetize misinformation about the Texas mass shooting via AdSense signals otherwise. Indeed, AdSense, along with Revcontent and content.ad, have generally become the advertising networks of choice for those who push fake news. And this comes amid continuing criticism of Google’s inability to not feature misinformation during or after crisis events. These companies clearly have a long way to go to fix their misinformation problem.

https://www.alternet.org/media/google-boosting-all-manner-fake-news-about-texas-church-massacre?akid=16330.265072.T3oS4c&rd=1&src=newsletter1084951&t=14

Survivors of Northern California fires face new ordeal of recovery

By Therese Leclerc
6 November 2017

The fires are out in Northern California. The California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection has announced that all the wildfires that have ravaged the counties of Napa, Lake, Sonoma, Mendocino, Butte and Solano, north of San Francisco, since October 9 have been completely contained.

At the height of the blaze, 42 residents lost their lives as 10,000 firefighters, many of them volunteers, worked shifts of up to four days straight to battle the infernos. Crews were mobilized from throughout the state. Others came in from neighboring Nevada and Oregon and from as far away as Canada, Mexico and Australia.

With the extinguishing of the flames, however, the ordeal for the survivors has entered a new stage.

The fires are the most severe California has ever faced. Some 15,000 homes and 3,000 vehicles were destroyed or damaged.

Figures released by the state insurance commissioner’s office last week put the damage at over $3 billion. That figure is certain to rise.

For the first time, this year’s fires, driven by up-to-50-mph winds, engulfed urban areas, such as the city of Santa Rosa, where the Coffey Park neighborhood was reduced to ashes after the flames jumped six lanes of Highway 101.

Homeowners and renters, still in makeshift accommodation, are currently tackling the onerous task of cleaning up, attempting to retrieve any of their belongings that may have survived and applying for insurance and what federal assistance is available.

California has declared a public health emergency in the fire area. Mobile homes that were incinerated in Santa Rosa were found to have contained asbestos. Freon from air conditioners and heavy metals such as arsenic, copper and lead pose health risks throughout the area as well.

Recent rain—and the rainfall to come with the approach of winter—risks carrying the hazardous waste down into waterways, and even into water treatment plants, downstream of destroyed forests and charred neighborhoods.

Some homes have been designated toxic waste sites, further complicating the job for residents trying to salvage belongings.

There are residents who face even more obstacles to regaining their homes and jobs. These are the undocumented workers, who form the core workforce of the main industries in the region—hospitality, tourism and the wineries. It is estimated that some 28,000 undocumented adults and children lived in the region worst affected by the flames.

These workers do not qualify for Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) aid. One of the many details required on the FEMA application forms is a social security number, denied to these residents, some of whom have lived in the area for up to 18 years. Children of these families who are American citizens do qualify for federal aid, but there is a fear that if the family seeks aid, other family members will be detained and deported.

This fear also kept many out of the shelters set up for residents who lost their homes or were ordered to evacuate endangered areas. Members of the National Guard were stationed at the shelters.

In the days following the outbreak of the fires, dozens of these families slept in cars and on beaches along the California coast.

Officials have said it will take years for the region to recover, socially and economically. Judging by the experience of residents in the wake of other recent disasters in the United States and its territories, that may be an understatement.

In Houston, recently flooded after the passage of Hurricane Harvey, the disaster is worsening the level of social inequality in the region.

NBC reported on October 23 that the poor in the Houston area are likely to fall further into poverty and homelessness while the wealthy are moving ahead with rebuilding.

Those who have been receiving temporary assistance from FEMA over the last two months now find themselves struggling to regain a foothold in their lives.

“Displaced renters have found themselves reliant on the whims of landlords or the generosity of friends,” the NBC report stated. “Homeowners without flood insurance are in a similar bind, while those who have it are waiting for their claims to go through. Some are maxing out their credit cards, or moving back into damaged houses.

“In some prosperous neighborhoods,” the report added, “certain homeowners aren’t bothering to wait for their insurance checks—if they had flood insurance at all—and are paying their contractors up front.”

An even more extreme situation exists in Puerto Rico, devastated by Hurricane Maria in late September. Most residents have been told they will be without power until January or February, with some of those in the outlying areas having to wait until spring or summer, according to the Army Corps of Engineers.

The hardship experienced by people in these situations can become permanent. In New Orleans, flooded in the wake of Hurricane Katrina in 2005, residents were temporarily removed to neighboring states, far from their homes and jobs. Twelve years later, many are still displaced. While some have managed to start again in their new location, those who would prefer to return face expenses most people cannot meet. There is a lack of affordable housing in the city and new safety standards for elevating homes. Some people will never be able to return.

In Northern California, those who manage to overcome all the obstacles to rebuilding may encounter a further problem: insurance rate hikes.

In a press conference on Tuesday, state insurance commissioner Dave Jones warned that in the wake of the disaster insurers were likely to reevaluate the risk that wildfires pose to structures previously considered low-risk to such threats.

“I am concerned the fire we just experienced is not an anomaly and may represent a new normal,” Jones said.

http://www.wsws.org/en/articles/2017/11/06/cali-n06.html

Google and Facebook’s Congressional Testimony

NEWS & POLITICS

…Reveals a Deep Hypocrisy at the Heart of the Mission of These Tech Titans

The companies don’t care about their consumers anymore.

By Liz Posner / AlterNet

November 1, 2017, 1:02 PM GMT

Photo Credit: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=j9u8MQlPsk4

The House and Senate intelligence committees probed legal representatives from Google, Facebook and Twitter this week over their role in Russian hacking of the 2016 election. While the three corporate reps played along, claiming ignorance of the extent of the Russian involvement and outrage over it happening, their behavior during the testimony revealed a deep and underlying rot within their companies — one we all could have seen coming since we first discovered these companies were spying on us.

The Google, Facebook, and Twitter congressional hearings this week confirmed that the Russian infiltration of the American election wasn’t just a problem of oversight on behalf of those companies. It also revealed that the companies have, to some extent, abandoned their fundamental mission.

Of the three that gave testimony on Capitol Hill Tuesday and Wednesday, Facebook is under the most heat at the moment. In September, Facebook admitted that Russian accounts had spent $100,000 on 3,000 ads during the election, and claimed the ads reached just 10 million people. On Monday, Facebook revealed that the Russian ads reached a far greater number of Facebook users than it had previously predicted: 126 million American users. It topped that number again on Wednesday when it announced 146 million Facebook users saw the ads. It’s highly likely that the ads held more sway over the voters they reached than any other political propaganda during the election. CNN reporter Dylan Byers captured the Facebook backtracking well.

FACEBOOK timeline:
– didn’t happen
– happened, but was small
– ok, semi-big
– ok, it reached 126 million, but no evidence it influenced them https://t.co/U84JdHjvF5

— Dylan Byers (@DylanByers) October 30, 2017

While Google’s technology is much further-reaching than Facebook’s, the company claims it hasn’t facilitated the same kind of political damage Facebook probably has through its Russian ads, though Russian agents also bought ads on Google platforms like YouTube.

“We did observe that links to these videos were frequently posted to other social media platforms,” said Richard Salgado, Google’s representative at the hearing, deferring blame to Facebook and Twitter. “Google’s products also don’t lend themselves to the kind of targeting or viral dissemination these actors seem to prefer.”

Both Republicans and Democrats on Capitol Hill are bringing their agendas into the hearings, though it’s easy to see which side is using truth and fact to make their case. Republicans urged the tech companies to confirm that Russia only sought to sow discord among Americans through its political ads, whereas Democrats reminded the audience that the ads were intended to bolster Trump’s election, a fact confirmed by multiple intelligence agencies.

“During the election, they were trying to create discord between Americans, most of it directed against Clinton,” Sen. Lindsey Graham said to Facebook representative Colin Stretch. “After the election, you saw Russian-tied groups and organizations trying to undermine President Trump’s legitimacy. Is that what you saw on Facebook?”

Sen. Charles E. Grassley, the Republican chairman of the Judiciary Committee, echoed a similar line.

Russia does not have loyalty to a political party in the United States,” he said in blatant dismissal of the facts. “Their goal is to divide us and discredit our democracy.”

The ads themselves, it was revealed in the hearings, are highly emotional in nature and clearly skewed toward targeting right-wing voters (some, for example, depict Hillary Clinton as a friend to Satan and an enemy of the American military).

For what it’s worth, the tech titans have been relatively cooperative. Twitter announced last week that it would ban all ads from RT and Sputnik, two news sites with ties to the Russian government. And all three built sympathetic lines into their testimony on Capitol Hill.

“The foreign interference we saw was reprehensible,” Facebook’s Stretch told senators. But their promises are weak-willed. As Tim Wu, a professor of law at Columbia University, told the New York Times, “I like that they are contrite, but these issues are existential and they aren’t taking any structural changes. These are Band-Aids.”

Therein lies the key issue: only structural changes—in particular, to the way these companies make vast sums of ad revenue—will stop political interference like what we saw boil over in the 2016 election. It would take a complete structural overhaul to stop this kind of infiltration. Both large- and small-scale advertisers have been flocking to Google and Facebook ads for years. The advertising process is automated and difficult to monitor. And boosting the visibility of viral content is built into the very heart of the companies’ business models: on Facebook, you’re more likely to see ads your friends “liked.” Google rewards websites that adhere to its vast and ever-changing SEO rules (and arbitrarily punishes independent voices like AlterNet at a whim), and on Google Ads, a competitive marketplace for advertisers, companies need only bid a few dollars higher than their competitors in order to push their ads to the top of a search result page.

Google and Facebook were supposed to help people make connections and access information, but as they scaled, they employed technology and attracted advertisers that undercut this mission. The backbone of Facebook’s technology is a machine learning-fueled algorithm, which feeds users content they’re more likely to respond to based on its popularity and similarity to posts they’ve engaged with before. It’s a creation of genius that advertisers love: the longer you spend on Facebook, scanning through photos and articles and posts that fit into the bubble the algorithm thinks you live in, the more targeted ads it is likely to feed you. It’s made the company billions of dollars, so why would it stop now just because of a few million possibly influenced American voters and one measly presidential election?

As Michael Carpenter, a former policy adviser for Joe Biden, wrote in the Hill, these companies have consistently downplayed the impact Russian bots had on the 2016 election, and disappointingly, they continued in this vein on Capitol Hill this week. It’s a dangerous underestimation of how far Russia will go, and for how long, to infiltrate and weaken American democracy. The companies claim to democratize the internet—that’s the whole basis behind boosting certain popular posts or rewarding well-done SEO. It’s supposed to create an internet for the everyman. They claim to want to forge friendships and make it easier to find answers to questions, but the Russian interference shows that their business model is, in many ways, doing just the opposite. Scaling up has endangered the missions of these companies, as automated ads and the massive scale at which Facebook and Google have grown made their best-laid plans unmanageable. Now, instead of being transparent about their problems, they’re issuing lie after lie in the hopes of skirting punitive legislation, and refusing to do anything concrete about their Russia problem until the government forces them to.

It’s somewhat ironic that Russia took advantage of a classic capitalist problem: when a company with the best of intentions is successful and scales up, in the process of trying to crush all competition, it sacrifices its soul and exacerbates the societal problems it sought to solve in the first place. Lindsey Graham summed up the situation accurately this week when he said, “It’s Russia today; it could be Iran and North Korea tomorrow. What we need to do is sit down and find ways to bring some of the controls we have on over-the-air broadcast to social media to protect the consumer.”

But it’s been a long time since Facebook, Google or Twitter cared about their consumers, or their missions to better the world. As long as ad revenue allows these companies to increase their reach at such fast scales, it will be up to government legislation to rein in their influence, which will require a deep restructuring of the way these companies make their money. If this week’s hearing showed anything, they’re not likely to hand over that power quietly.

Liz Posner is a managing editor at AlterNet. Her work has appeared on Forbes.com, Bust, Bustle, Refinery29, and elsewhere. Follow her on Twitter at @elizpos.

Alternet

 

 

 

Former FBI agent says tech companies must “silence” sources of “rebellion”

US Congressional hearing:

By Andre Damon
1 November 2017

Top legal and security officials for Facebook, Twitter and Google appeared before the Senate Judiciary Committee Tuesday, in a hearing targeting “Extremist Content and Russian Disinformation Online.”

Over the course of four hours, senators argued that “foreign infiltration” is the root of social opposition within the United States, in order to justify the censorship of oppositional viewpoints.

Russia “sought to sow discord and amplify racial and social divisions among American voters,” said Democratic Senator Dianne Feinstein of California. It “exploited hot button topics…to target both conservative and progressive audiences.”

Republican Senator Chuck Grassley of Iowa said Russia helped promote protests against police violence in Ferguson, Baltimore and Cleveland. Russia, he said, “spread stories about abuse of black Americans by law enforcement. These ads are clearly intended to worsen racial tensions and possibly violence in those cities.”

Democratic Senator Mazie Hirono of Hawaii demanded, for her part, that the companies adopt a “mission statement” expressing their commitment “to prevent the fomenting of discord.”

The most substantial portion of the testimony took place in the second part of the hearing, during which most of the Senators had left and two representatives of the US intelligence agencies testified before a room of mostly empty chairs.

Clint Watts addresses a nearly-empty hearing by the Senate Judiciary Committee

Clint Watts, a former U.S. Army officer, former FBI agent, and member of the Alliance for Securing Democracy, made the following apocalyptic proclamation: “Civil wars don’t start with gunshots, they start with words. America’s war with itself has already begun. We all must act now on the social media battlefield to quell information rebellions that can quickly lead to violent confrontations and easily transform us into the Divided States of America.”

He added, “Stopping the false information artillery barrage landing on social media users comes only when those outlets distributing bogus stories are silenced—silence the guns and the barrage will end.”

As this “civil war” rages on, he said, “our country remains stalled in observation, halted by deliberation and with each day more divided by manipulative forces coming from afar.”

The implications of these statements are staggering. The United States is in the midst of a civil war, and the necessary response of the government is censorship, together with the abolition of all other fundamental democratic rights. The “rebellion” must be put down by silencing the news outlets that advocate it.

That such a statement could be made in a congressional hearing, entirely without objection, is an expression of the terminal decay of American democracy. There is no faction of the ruling class that maintains any commitment to basic democratic rights.

None of the Democrats in the committee raised any of the constitutional issues involved in asking massive technology companies to censor political speech on the Internet. Only one Republican raised concerns over censorship, but only to allege that Google had a liberal bias.

The Democrats focused their remarks on demands that the Internet companies take even more aggressive steps to censor content. In one particularly noxious exchange, Feinstein pressed Google’s legal counsel on why it took so long for YouTube (which is owned by Google) to revoke the status of Russia Today as a “preferred” broadcaster. She demanded, “Why did Google give preferred status to Russia Today, a Russian propaganda arm, on YouTube? … It took you until September of 2017 to do it.”

Despite the fact that Feinstein and other Democrats were clearly pressuring the company to take that step, the senators allowed Richard Salgado, Google’s Law Enforcement and Information Security Director, to present what was by all appearances a bald-faced lie before Congress. “The removal of RT from the program was actually a result of…is a result of some of the drop in viewership, not as a result of any action otherwise. So there was … there was nothing about RT or its content that meant that it stayed in or stayed out,” Salgado stammered, in the only time he appeared to lose his composure during the hearing.

Salgado’s apparently false statement is of a piece with Google’s other actions to censor the Internet. These include changes to its search algorithm, which, behind the backs of the public, have slashed search traffic to left-wing websites by some 55 percent, with the World Socialist Web Site losing some 74 percent of its search traffic.

Stressing the transformation of the major US technology companies into massive censorship operations, Democratic Senator Sheldon Whitehouse of Rhode Island asked the representatives of the firms, “I gather that all of your companies have moved beyond any notion that your job is only to provide a platform, and whatever goes across it is not your affair,” to which all answered in the affirmative.

When pressed by lawmakers to state how many people were employed by Facebook to moderate content, Colin Stretch, the company’s general counsel, said that Facebook employed “thousands” of such moderators, and was in the process of adding “thousands more.”

While the senators and technology companies largely presented a show of unity, just how far the companies were willing to go in censoring users’ content and helping the government create blacklists of dissidents was no doubt a subject of contentious debate in the background.

On Friday, Feinstein sent a letter to Twitter’s CEO demanding that the company hand over profile information—possibly including full names, email addresses, and phone numbers—related to “divisive” “organic content” promoted by “Russia-linked” accounts.

Although the senators largely steered away from the issue of “organic content” in their questions, a remark by Sean Edgett, Twitter’s acting general counsel, made clear that the “organic content” Feinstein’s letter was referring to included the social media posts of US-based organizations and individuals. Edgett said “organic tweets,” include “those that you or I or anyone here today can tweet from their phone or computer.”

The New York Times reported over the weekend, however, that Facebook has already begun turning lists of such “organic content” over to congressional investigators. Given that Facebook has said that just one “Russia-linked” company had posted some 80,000 pieces of “divisive” content, including reposts from other users, it is reasonable to assume Facebook and Twitter are being pressured to turn over information on a substantial portion of political dissidents within the United States.

WSWS

The US media and the Kennedy assassination documents: “Move along, nothing to see here”

By Bill Van Auken
30 October 2017

The Trump administration’s partial release of previously classified documents related to the November 22, 1963 assassination of President John F. Kennedy has been dropped by the US mass media with what can only be described as unseemly haste.

Last Thursday night, when the White House announced that it was releasing only 2,800 of the once-secret papers, withholding a significant amount of the most sensitive material in compliance with demands from the Central Intelligence Agency and the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the event was widely covered, including the publication of numerous articles in advance of the document release concerning its historic significance. A large force of reporters was deployed to stake out the National Archives.

By Sunday, it was as if the whole thing had never happened. The question was not discussed on any of the Sunday television talk shows, and neither the New York Times nor the Washington Post published so much as a word about the assassination documents in either their news or editorial pages.

From the outset, the media’s treatment of the event was characterized by a palpable nervousness. Cable news anchors and talking heads expressed their concerns that Trump’s extraordinary acknowledgment that he had “no choice” but to withhold a significant number of files because of CIA and FBI warnings over “potentially irreversible harm to our nation’s security” would only encourage “conspiracy theorists.”

This epithet, when used in relation to the Kennedy assassination, applies to roughly two-thirds of the American population, who reject the official story. Codified in the cover-up produced by the Warren Commission, this narrative insists that the murder of the 35th president of the United States was the work of a lone gunman, Lee Harvey Oswald, firing a $21 mail order rifle at Kennedy’s motorcade as it moved through Dallas’s Dealey Plaza.

This majority consensus has declined somewhat from the period of 1975 to 2001, when polls showed that over 80 percent of the population rejected the US government’s version of the Kennedy assassination.

Why would the withholding of the documents not strengthen the views of the hundreds of millions of “conspiracy theorists” who populate the United States? What plausible explanation is there for this action other than the fact that the files contain incriminating material relating to elements within the US government and its intelligence agencies?

It is not as if the documents that were released are of such scant interest as to justify the media’s collective response of “Move along folks, nothing to see here.” They expose a state apparatus steeped in bloodshed and criminality, in which assassination was an accepted means of advancing US imperialist interests.

Some of the documents concern conspiracies exposed over 40 years ago, such as the CIA’s connivance with the Mafia in plotting the assassination of Cuban leader Fidel Castro with such exotic methods as exploding seashells and a toxic wetsuit. Then there are newly exposed files that raise serious questions about a state conspiracy surrounding the assassination. These includes a document citing FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover’s frantic demand, two days after Kennedy’s death and before the investigation had even begun, for something to be “issued so that we can convince the public that Oswald is the real assassin.”

Along similar lines is a truncated file from the 1975 Rockefeller Commission’s investigation of the CIA, which records the agency’s former director Richard Helms being asked, “Is there any information involved with the assassination of President Kennedy which in any way shows that Lee Harvey Oswald was in some way a CIA agent or agent.. .” The file leaves the question uncompleted and Helms’s answer unrecorded.

Whether there exist withheld files containing the answers to such questions is unknown. No thinking person, however, can give the slightest credence to Trump’s Saturday night tweets pledging to release “ALL #JFKFiles other than the names and addresses of any mentioned person who is still living,” in order to “put any and all conspiracy theories to rest.” Trump, who during the 2016 race for the Republican presidential nomination charged that the father of his rival, Ted Cruz, was part of the conspiracy, will make public only the documents the CIA allows.

In its rather cursory coverage of the document release under the headline “A Peek Back at an Era of Secrets and Intrigue,” the New York Times on Friday commented that the “once-secret documents…harken back to an era of Cold War intrigue and spy-versus-spy contests, when assassinations and clandestine plots were a matter of trade craft, not John le Carré novels.”

The article approvingly quotes political analyst Larry Sabato as stating, “It was a very different time, and you have to remember the context. Almost everything revolved around the bipolar system we had between the United States and the Soviet Union.”

That it was “a very different time” no one can deny. The Kennedy assassination marked a turning point in the crisis of US imperialism and was bound up with political, economic and social contradictions that have only deepened in the more than half-century since. But to suggest that we have left behind the era of “assassinations and clandestine plots” is ludicrous.

If anything, the end of the “bipolar system” through the 1991 dissolution of the Soviet Union, and the subsequent attempt by Washington to offset the declining global influence of US capitalism through the pursuit of a “unipolar” world by means of military force, has seen an explosive development of state criminality that makes the methods of the early 1960s look quaint by comparison.

Assassinations have moved from the realm of covert operations to open state policy, including not only a global drone assassination program initiated under the Obama administration that has killed thousands, including American citizens, but also the open discussion of “decapitation” operations to murder Syria’s Bashar al-Assad and North Korea’s Kim Jung-un.

Wars are launched behind the backs of the American people, with no debate, much less authorization by Congress, and with the CIA arming and supporting Al Qaeda elements to carry out regime-change operations in Libya and Syria.

With the Trump administration, the political underworld of CIA assassins and criminals that emerges in the still limited number of documents released about the Kennedy assassination is, together with the military brass, firmly in control of the levers of state power.

The truncated coverage of the Kennedy documents by the major media and the concerns expressed about “conspiracy theories” are driven less by the events of November 1963 than by the ongoing conspiracies in Washington. The real worry is not so much what will be exposed about the state criminals of the 1960s, but rather the light these crimes shed upon the methods of a government that is today far more thoroughly dominated by the sprawling US military and intelligence apparatus.

Among the most revealing reactions to the Trump administration’s limited release of the Kennedy documents is that of the Democratic Party. Twenty-five years ago, the Democratic-led Congress passed the legislation requiring that all of the Kennedy files be released by October 26, 2017. That Trump bowed to the CIA and FBI in keeping a substantial number of these documents secret provoked not a peep of protest from any leading figure in the Democratic Party, which has moved uninterruptedly to the right since the Kennedy assassination.

The Democrats are seeking to align themselves as closely as possible with the CIA and the military. They oppose Trump not from the standpoint of the threat of nuclear war against Korea, his vendetta against immigrants, his assault on health care, his tax cuts for the rich or his scrapping of corporate and environmental regulations, but rather on the basis that he is “colluding” with Russia to “sow divisions” within American society.

The Democratic Party has emerged as a champion of Internet censorship and a general assault on democratic rights aimed at suppressing “conspiracy theories” exposing the conditions producing mass opposition within the working class to war, social inequality and the destruction of living standards.

http://www.wsws.org/en/articles/2017/10/30/kenn-o30.html

Chomsky: Imagine a World Without Neoliberals Privatizing Everything in Sight

NEWS & POLITICS
A proposal for a progressive social and economic order for the United States.

Noam Chomsky.
Photo Credit: screenshot via Democracy Now!

This is the first part of a wide-ranging interview with world-renowned public intellectuals Noam Chomsky and Robert Pollin. The next installment will appear on October 24.

Not long after taking office, it became evident that Donald Trump had engaged in fraudulent populism during his campaign. His promise to “Make America Great Again” has been exposed as a lie, as the Trump administration has been busy extending US military power, exacerbating inequality, reverting to the old era of unregulated banking practices, pushing for more fuel fossil drilling and stripping environmental regulations.

In the Trump era, what would an authentically populist, progressive political agenda look like? What would a progressive US look like with regard to jobs, the environment, finance capital and the standard of living? What would it look like in terms of education and health care, justice and equality? In an exclusive interview with C.J. Polychroniou for Truthout, world-renowned public intellectuals Noam Chomsky and Robert Pollin tackle these issues. Noam Chomsky is professor emeritus of linguistics at MIT and laureate professor in the department of linguistics at the University of Arizona. Robert Pollin is distinguished professor of economics and co-director of the Political Economy Research Institute at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst. Their views lay the foundation for a visionary — yet eminently realistic — progressive social and economic order for the United States.

C.J. Polychroniou: Noam, the rise of Donald Trump has unleashed a rather unprecedented wave of social resistance in the US. Do you think the conditions are ripe for a mass progressive/socialist movement in this country that can begin to reframe the major policy issues affecting the majority of people, and perhaps even challenge and potentially change the fundamental structures of the US political economy?

Noam Chomsky: There is indeed a wave of social resistance, more significant than in the recent past — though I’d hesitate about calling it “unprecedented.” Nevertheless, we cannot overlook the fact that in the domain of policy formation and implementation, the right is ascendant, in fact some of its harshest and most destructive elements [are rising].

Nor should we overlook a crucial fact that has been evident for some time: The figure in charge, though often ridiculed, has succeeded brilliantly in his goal of occupying media and public attention while mobilizing a very loyal popular base — and one with sinister features, sometimes smacking of totalitarianism, including adoration of The Leader. That goes beyond the core of loyal Trump supporters…. [A majority of Republicans] favor shutting down or at least fining the press if it presents “biased” or “false news” — terms that mean information rejected by The Leader, so we learn from polls showing that by overwhelming margins, Republicans not only believe Trump far more than the hated mainstream media, but even far more than their own media organ, the extreme right Fox news. And half of Republicans would back postponing the 2020 election if Trump calls for it.

It is also worth bearing in mind that among a significant part of his worshipful base, Trump is regarded as a “wavering moderate” who cannot be fully trusted to hold fast to the true faith of fierce White Christian identity politics. A recent illustration is the primary victory of the incredible Roy Moore in Alabama despite Trump’s opposition. (“Mr. President, I love you but you are wrong,” as the banners read). The victory of this Bible-thumping fanatic has led senior party strategists to [conclude] “that the conservative base now loathes its leaders in Washington the same way it detested President Barack Obama” — referring to leaders who are already so far right that one needs a powerful telescope to locate them at the outer fringe of any tolerable political spectrum.

The potential power of the ultra-right attack on the far right is [illustrated] by the fact that Moore spent about $200,000, in contrast to his Trump-backed opponent, the merely far-right Luther Strange, who received more than $10 million from the national GOP and other far-right sources. The ultra-right is spearheaded by Steve Bannon, one of the most dangerous figures in the shiver-inducing array that has come to the fore in recent years. It has the huge financial support of the Mercer family, along with ample media outreach through Breitbart news, talk radio and the rest of the toxic bubble in which loyalists trap themselves.

In the most powerful state in history, the current Republican Party is ominous enough. What is not far on the horizon is even more menacing.

Much has been said about how Trump has pulled the cork out of the bottle and legitimized neo-Nazism, rabid white supremacy, misogyny and other pathologies that had been festering beneath the surface. But it goes much beyond even that.

I do not want to suggest that adoration of the Dear Leader is something new in American politics, or confined to the vulgar masses. The veneration of Reagan that has been diligently fostered has some of the same character, in intellectual circles as well. Thus, in publications of the conservative Hoover Institution at Stanford University, we learn that Reagan’s “spirit seems to stride the country, watching us like a warm and friendly ghost.” Lucky us, protected from harm by a demi-god.

Whether by design, or simply inertia, the Republican wrecking ball has been following a two-level strategy. Trump keeps the spotlight on himself with one act after another, assuming (correctly) that yesterday’s antics will be swept aside by today’s. And at the same time, often beneath the radar, the “respectable” Republican establishment chips away at government programs that might be of benefit to the general population, but not to their constituency of extreme wealth and corporate power. They are systematically pursuing what Financial Times economic correspondent Martin Wolf calls “pluto-populism,” a doctrine that imposes “policies that benefit plutocrats, justified by populist rhetoric.” An amalgam that has registered unpleasant successes in the past as well.

Meanwhile, the Democrats and centrist media help out by focusing their energy and attention on whether someone in the Trump team talked to Russians, or [whether] the Russians tried to influence our “pristine” elections — though at most in a way that is undetectable in comparison with the impact of campaign funding, let alone other inducements that are the prerogative of extreme wealth and corporate power and are hardly without impact.

The Russian saboteurs of democracy seem to be everywhere. There was great anxiety about Russian intervention in the recent German elections, perhaps contributing to the frightening surge of support for the right-wing nationalist, if not neo-fascist, “Alternative for Germany” [AfD]. AfD did indeed have outside help, it turns out, but not from the insidious Putin. “The Russian meddling that German state security had been anticipating apparently never materialized,” according to Bloomberg News. “Instead, the foreign influence came from America.” More specifically, from Harris Media, whose clients include Marine Le Pen’s National Front in France, Benjamin Netanyahu in Israel, and our own Donald Trump. With the valuable assistance of the Berlin office of Facebook, which created a population model and provided the needed data, Harris’s experts micro-targeted Germans in categories deemed susceptible to AfD’s message — with some success, it appears. The firm is now planning to move on to coming European races, it has announced.

Nevertheless, all is not bleak by any means. The most spectacular feature of the 2016 elections was not the election of a billionaire who spent almost as much as his lavishly-funded opponent and enjoyed fervent media backing. Far more striking was the remarkable success of the Sanders campaign, breaking with over a century of mostly bought elections. The campaign relied on small contributions and had no media support, to put it mildly. Though lacking any of the trappings that yield electoral success in our semi-plutocracy, Sanders probably would have won the Democratic Party nomination, perhaps the presidency, if it hadn’t been for the machinations of party managers. His popularity undimmed, he is now a leading voice for progressive measures and is amassing considerable support for his moderate social democratic proposals, reminiscent of the New Deal — proposals that would not have surprised President Eisenhower, but are considered practically revolutionary today as both parties have shifted well to the right [with] Republicans virtually off the spectrum of normal parliamentary politics.

Offshoots of the Sanders campaign are doing valuable work on many issues, including electoral politics at the local and state level, which had been pretty much abandoned to the Republican right, particularly during the Obama years, to very harmful effect. There is also extensive and effective mobilization against racist and white supremacist pathologies, often spearheaded by the dynamic Black Lives Matter movement. Defying Trumpian and general Republican denialism, a powerful popular environmental movement is working hard to address the existential crisis of global warming. These, along with significant efforts on other fronts, face very difficult barriers, which can and must be overcome.

Bob, it is clear by now that Trump has no plan for creating new jobs, and even his reckless stance toward the environment will have no effect on the creation of new jobs. What would a progressive policy for job creation look like that will also take into account concerns about the environment and climate change?

Robert Pollin: A centerpiece for any kind of progressive social and economic program needs to be full employment with decent wages and working conditions. The reasons are straightforward, starting with money. Does someone in your family have a job and, if so, how much does it pay? For the overwhelming majority of the world’s population, how one answers these two questions determines, more than anything else, what one’s living standard will be. But beyond just money, your job is also crucial for establishing your sense of security and self-worth, your health and safety, your ability to raise a family, and your chances to participate in the life of your community.

How do we get to full employment, and how do we stay there? For any economy, there are two basic factors determining how many jobs are available at any given time. The first is the overall level of activity — with GDP as a rough, if inadequate measure of overall activity — and the second is what share of GDP goes to hiring people into jobs. In terms of our current situation, after the Great Recession hit in full in 2008, US GDP has grown at an anemic average rate of 1.3 percent per year, as opposed to the historic average rate from 1950 until 2007 of 3.3 percent. If the economy had grown over the past decade at something even approaching the historic average rate, the economy would have produced more than enough jobs to employ all 13 million people who are currently either unemployed or underemployed by the official government statistics, plus the nearly 9 million people who have dropped out of the labor force since 2007.

In terms of focusing on activities where job creation is strong, let’s consider two important sets of economic sectors. First, spending $1 million on education will generate a total of about 26 jobs within the US economy, more than double the 11 jobs that would be created by spending the same $1 million on the US military. Similarly, spending $1 million on investments in renewable energy and energy efficiency will create over 16 jobs within the US, while spending the same $1 million on our existing fossil fuel infrastructure will generate about 5.3 jobs — i.e. building a green economy in the US generates roughly three times more jobs per dollar than maintaining our fossil fuel dependency. So full employment policies should focus on accelerating economic growth and on changing our priorities for growth — as two critical examples, to expand educational opportunities across the board and to build a green economy, while contracting both the military and the fossil fuel economy.

A full employment program also obviously needs to focus on the conditions of work, starting with wages. The most straightforward measure of what neoliberal capitalism has meant for the US working class is that the average wage for non-supervisory workers in 2016 was about 4 percent lower than in 1973. This is while average labor productivity — the amount each worker produces over the course of a year — has more than doubled over this same 43-year period. All of the gains from productivity doubling under neoliberalism have therefore been pocketed by either supervisory workers, or even more so, by business owners and corporate shareholders seeing their profits rise. The only solution here is to fight to increase worker bargaining power. We need stronger unions and worker protections, including a $15 federal minimum wage. Such initiatives need to be combined with policies to expand the overall number of job opportunities out there. A fundamental premise of neoliberalism from day one has been to dismantle labor protections. We are seeing an especially aggressive variant of this approach today under the so-called “centrist” policies of the new French President Emmanuel Macron.

What about climate change and jobs? A view that has long been touted, most vociferously by Trump over the last two years, is that policies to protect the environment and to fight climate change are bad for jobs and therefore need to be junked. But this claim is simply false. In fact, as the evidence I have cited above shows, building a green economy is good for jobs overall, much better than maintaining our existing fossil-fuel based energy infrastructure, which also happens to be the single most significant force driving the planet toward ecological disaster.

It is true that building a green economy will not be good for everyone’s jobs. Notably, people working in the fossil fuel industry will face major job losses. The communities in which these jobs are concentrated will also face significant losses. But the solution here is straightforward: Just Transition policies for the workers, families and communities who will be hurt as the coal, oil and natural gas industries necessarily contract to zero over roughly the next 30 years. Working with Jeannette Wicks-Lim, Heidi Garrett-Peltier and Brian Callaci at [the Political Economy Research Institute], and in conjunction with labor, environmental and community groups in both the states of New York and Washington, we have developed what I think are quite reasonable and workable Just Transition programs. They include solid pension protections, re-employment guarantees, as well as retraining and relocation support for individual workers, and community-support initiatives for impacted communities.

The single most important factor that makes all such initiatives workable is that the total number of affected workers is relatively small. For example, in the whole United States today, there are a total of about 65,000 people employed directly in the coal industry. This represents less than 0.05 percent of the 147 million people employed in the US. Considered within the context of the overall US economy, it would only require a minimum level of commitment to provide a just transition to these workers as well as their families and communities.

Finally, I think it is important to address one of the major positions on climate stabilization that has been advanced in recent years on the left, which is to oppose economic growth altogether, or to support “de-growth.” The concerns of de-growth proponents — that economic growth under neoliberal capitalism is both grossly unjust and ecologically unsustainable — are real. But de-growth is not a viable solution. Consider a very simple example — that under a de-growth program, global GDP contracts by 10 percent. This level of GDP contraction would be five times larger than what occurred at the lowest point of the 2007-09 Great Recession, when the unemployment rate more than doubled in the United States. But even still, this 10 percent contraction in global GDP would have the effect, on its own, of reducing carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions by precisely 10 percent. At a minimum, we would still need to cut emissions by another 30 percent within 15 years, and another 80 percent within 30 years to have even a fighting chance of stabilizing the climate. As such, the only viable climate stabilization program is to invest massively in clean renewable and high energy efficiency systems so that clean energy completely supplants our existing fossil-fuel dependent system within the next 30 years, and to enact comparable transformations in agricultural production processes.

The “masters of the universe” have made a huge comeback since the last financial crisis, and while Trump’s big-capital-friendly policies are going to make the rich get richer, they could also spark the next financial crisis. So, Bob, what type of progressive policies can and should be enforced to contain the destructive tendencies of finance capital?

Pollin: The classic book Manias, Panics, and Crashes by the late MIT economist Charles Kindleberger makes clear that, throughout the history of capitalism, unregulated financial markets have persistently produced instability and crises. The only deviation from this long-term pattern occurred in the first 30 years after World War II, roughly from 1946-1975. The reason US and global financial markets were much more stable over this 30-year period is that the markets were heavily regulated then, through the Glass-Steagall regulatory system in the US, and the Bretton Woods system globally. These regulatory systems were enacted only in response to the disastrous Great Depression of the 1930s, which began with the 1929 Wall Street crash and which then brought global capitalism to its knees.

Of course, the big Wall Street players always hated being regulated and fought persistently, first to evade the regulations and then to dismantle them. They were largely successful through the 1980s and 1990s. But the full, official demise of the 1930s regulatory system came only in 1999, under the Democratic President Bill Clinton. At the time, virtually all leading mainstream economists — including liberals, such as Larry Summers, who was Treasury Secretary when Glass-Steagall was repealed — argued that financial regulations were an unnecessary vestige of the bygone 1930s. All kinds of fancy papers were written “demonstrating” that the big players on Wall Street are very smart people who know what’s best for themselves and everyone else — and therefore, didn’t need government regulators telling them what they could or could not do. It then took less than eight years for hyper-speculation on Wall Street to once again bring global capitalism to its knees. The only thing that saved capitalism in 2008-09 from a repeat of the 1930s Great Depression was the unprecedented government interventions to prop up the system, and the equally massive bail out of Wall Street.

By 2010, the US Congress and President Obama enacted a new set of financial regulations, the Dodd-Frank system. Overall, Dodd-Frank amount to a fairly weak set of measures aiming to dampen hyper-speculation on Wall Street. A large part of the problem is that Dodd-Frank included many opportunities for Wall Street players to delay enactment of laws they didn’t like and for clever lawyers to figure out ways to evade the ones on the books. That said, the Trump administration, led on economic policy matters by two former Goldman Sachs executives, is committed to dismantling Dodd-Frank altogether, and allowing Wall Street to once again operate free of any significant regulatory constraints. I have little doubt that, free of regulations, the already ongoing trend of rising speculation — with, for example, the stock market already at a historic high — will once again accelerate.

What is needed to build something like a financial system that is both stable and supports a full-employment, ecologically sustainable growth framework? A major problem over time with the old Glass-Steagall system was that there were large differences in the degree to which, for example, commercial banks, investment banks, stock brokerages, insurance companies and mortgage lenders were regulated, thereby inviting clever financial engineers to invent ways to exploit these differences. An effective regulatory system today should therefore be guided by a few basic premises that can be applied flexibly but also universally. The regulations need to apply across the board, regardless of whether you call your business a bank, an insurance company, a hedge fund, a private equity fund, a vulture fund, or some other term that most of us haven’t yet heard about.

One measure for promoting both stability and fairness across financial market segments is a small sales tax on all financial transactions — what has come to be known as a Robin Hood Tax. This tax would raise the costs of short-term speculative trading and therefore discourage speculation. At the same time, the tax will not discourage “patient” investors who intend to hold their assets for longer time periods, since, unlike the speculators, they will be trading infrequently. A bill called the Inclusive Prosperity Act was first introduced into the House of Representatives by Rep. Keith Ellison in 2012 and then in the Senate by Bernie Sanders in 2015, [and] is exactly the type of measure that is needed here.

Another important initiative would be to implement what are called asset-based reserve requirements. These are regulations that require financial institutions to maintain a supply of cash as a reserve fund in proportion to the other, riskier assets they hold in their portfolios. Such requirements can serve both to discourage financial market investors from holding an excessive amount of risky assets, and as a cash cushion for the investors to draw upon when market downturns occur.

This policy instrument can also be used to push financial institutions to channel credit to projects that advance social welfare, for example, promoting investments in renewable energy and energy efficiency. The policy could stipulate that, say, at least 5 percent of banks’ loan portfolios should be channeled to into clean-energy investments. If the banks fail to reach this 5 percent quota of loans for clean energy, they would then be required to hold this same amount of their total assets in cash.

Finally, both in the US and throughout the world, there needs to be a growing presence of public development banks. These banks would make loans based on social welfare criteria — including advancing a full-employment, climate-stabilization agenda — as opposed to scouring the globe for the largest profit opportunities regardless of social costs…. Public development banks have always played a central role in supporting the successful economic development paths in the East Asian economies.

Editor’s note: This interview has been lightly edited for length and clarity.

Copyright, Truthout. Reprinted with permission.

 

 

C.J. Polychroniou is a regular contributor to Truthout as well as a member of Truthout’s Public Intellectual Project. He is the author of several books, and his articles have appeared in a variety of publications.

https://www.alternet.org/news-amp-politics/chomsky-imagine-world-without-neoliberals-privatizing-everything-sight?akid=16283.265072.yNcENf&rd=1&src=newsletter1084478&t=6