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Last updateWed, 27 Sep 2017 1pm

On this week's stable, genius weekly Independent comics page: Jen Sorenson ponders the meaning of the word "complicit"; The K Chronicles has a disconcerting experience at a sports bar; This Modern World dismisses poverty; Apoca Clips listens in as O.J. threatens to sue; and Red Meat finds something in a storm drain.

Published in Comics

You’ve heard the term, “All politics is local”? California Republicans had better hope so.

The pre-vote polls told us that this week’s gubernatorial matchup in Virginia would be a nailbiter. Instead, it was an electoral thrashing. Voters handed the governor’s mansion to Democrat Ralph Northam with a decisive 9 point margin while stripping the state GOP of its firm grip on the legislature’s lower chamber, reducing a supermajority to a virtual tie.

By all accounts, this blue wave—which also swept up statehouse races in New Jersey and New Hampshire, municipal contests in Pennsylvania, a special election in Washington state, and a Medicaid expansion vote in Maine—was as much a referendum on what’s happening in Washington, D.C., as it was a rebuke of local lawmakers. Or as Republican political consultant Mike Murphy told the Washington Post, Virginia was a test of whether the GOP’s electoral fates are tied to the president’s approval numbers. “The canary in the coal mine didn’t just pass out,” he said. “Its head exploded.”

Though political analysts are still analyzing the numbers, it sure looks that way. Virginia saw its highest increase in voter turnout in two decades, with the bulk of the bump coming from Clinton-winning districts in the suburbs. Young voters and voters with college educations flocked to the Democratic side. According to exit polls, a third of all voters said they cast their ballot in part to “express opposition to Donald Trump.”

“There may have been some local issues involved, but the main driver of what happened was the energy among base Democratic constituents who finally woke up,” said Mike Madrid, a Republican political consultant who advises the campaign of Democratic gubernatorial candidate Antonio Villaraigosa.

California Democrats are hoping for a similar awakening in the elections of 2018. On the line: their lock on power in Sacramento, where the party holds a commanding two-thirds supermajority of legislative seats, along with all statewide constitutional offices. At the same time, the GOP’s control of the House of Representatives in Washington, D.C., could also be decided here. Of the 14 California districts that last sent Republicans to Congress, seven voted for Hillary Clinton over Donald Trump.

Hours before Tuesday’s election returns rolled in, GOP Rep. Darrell Issa of Vista became the first of those 14 to withdraw support for the current House GOP tax plan, saying it would strip away tax deductions disproportionately used by Californians. Democrats had identified Issa as a top target for 2018.

So how nervous should California Republican candidates be? Very, said Jason Cabel Roe, a Republican political consultant in San Diego.

“They’ve got to assert their willingness to step up to the president when they feel he’s wrong,” he said, but do so without alienating the party’s base. Though only 27 percent of California likely voters approve of the president, 7 in 10 Republicans still stand by their elected man.

“A majority of Republican voters don’t seem to really care about winning as much as they care about voting for someone who they believe will be a shot to the system,” Roe said.

Indeed, some Trump loyalists are arguing the election results merely prove that Republican candidates fell short because they failed to embrace President Trump even more enthusiastically.

While many other Republicans are wringing their hands, Democrats are imagining 2010 in reverse: Recall the historic shellacking the party took that year when conservatives—driven by Tea Party fervor, equal parts anti-Obamacare and anti-Obama—turned statehouses red across the country and flipped the House.

“Trump is clearly the giant orange blob blotting out the sun for Republicans,” said Dan Newman, a political consultant and spokesperson for Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom, the early Democratic frontrunner to be governor. “He's depressing moderate Republicans, alienating swing voters, and motivating Democrats—who are fired up like they haven't been in years.”

That’s the inversion California Democrats hope for heading into the 2018 midterms: depressed Republican numbers (as the base fails to turn out and moderates cross over to vote blue) and jacked-up Democratic turnout among so-called “low propensity” voters—non-white and younger voters who typically lean Democratic but who are usually less likely to turnout during off-year elections.

In the small number of elections we’ve seen in California this year—a special Congressional election, an assembly primary matchup, a handful of municipal races like the one in Palm Springs—we have haven’t seen that kind of turnout.

This week, in Virginia and elsewhere across the country, those stars finally seem to have aligned. But then again, 2018 is still a year away. And California is not Virginia.

According to Paul Mitchell, vice president of Political Data, Inc., the Golden State has been shielded in the recent past from the political waves that buffet the rest of the country.

As statehouses went red en masse in 2010, for example, Democrats in California actually picked up a legislative seat. “There some evidence to suggest that the waves stop at Reno,” he said.

Plus, the Democratic party’s current political dominance could serve to buffer the effect of an anti-Trump wave. Typically, the voters most animated during midterm elections are those hoping to rebuke the party in power. This week, voters in Virginia, New Jersey and Maine found ready targets for their frustration with the status quo among the Republicans occupying their statehouses and governor’s mansions. But in California, powerful Republicans are hard to come by.

And then there’s the simple fact of geographical distance: While national politics may weigh heavily on the mind of a D.C. suburbanite, said Mitchell, national politics might seem more abstract to a California voter, whereas the quality of local education, the housing crunch or the price of gas might feel more pressing.

California Republicans are certainly banking on that anyway—although the list of Republicans who didn’t respond to requests for comment on this story includes Republican National Committee member Harmeet Dhillon, Assembly Minority Leader Brian Dahle, and Assemblyman/gubernatorial candidate Travis Allen.

“In a low-turnout midterm election, at least some California Republican incumbents will find other issues to help them achieve re-election. Those who do survive, however, will do so in spite of their party’s leaders,” wrote Dan Schnur, a former GOP consultant who was a key aide to the state’s last Republican governor, and now a professor at the University of Southern California.

As far as Schnur is concerned, national Republicans have sized up California’s changing ideology and demographics and concluded “it’s not even worth fighting to retain a foothold in the nation’s largest state.”

So on the campaign trail, state Democrats will do everything in their power to remind voters that every last Republican dog catcher shares a party label with a wildly unpopular president.

“Here in California, the reason they want to talk about Donald Trump is because they don’t want to talk about the record they’ve created here,” Jim Brulte, the state GOP chairman told a gathering of Republicans at the party’s convention last month. After rattling off a list of economic and social ills facing the state (presumably all the fault of the party in power), he then tried out a phrase that is sure to resurface in campaign ads and talking points in the months to come: “They broke it; they own it.”

With that, the California Republicans have crafted themselves a midterm strategy. Keep it local. Talk about the gas tax. Talk about the state’s first-in-the-nation poverty rate. Donald Trump’s latest Twitter spat with Kim Jong Un? No, I’m afraid I haven’t seen that.

Or as Brulte put it while speaking at the Sacramento Press Club last week: “I don’t get the vapors over what’s going on in Washington D.C.”

Nor, presumably, in Virginia, New Jersey, or Maine.

CALmatters.org is a nonprofit, nonpartisan media venture explaining California policies and politics.

Published in Politics

People in half of California’s households struggle to afford the roof over their heads. Home ownership—once a staple of the California dream—is at its lowest rate since World War II. Nearly 70 percent of poor Californians see the majority of their paychecks go immediately toward escalating rents.

As of this writing, state lawmakers are debating a long-delayed housing package.Here’s what you need to know about one of California’s most vexing issues.

Just how hard is it to buy a home in California?

Hard. Really hard—both compared to how hard it is in other states, and how hard it was for previous generations of Californians to buy homes.

While it’s always been more expensive to be a homeowner in California, the gap between us and the rest of the country has grown into a chasm. The median California home is now priced 2 1/2 times higher than the median national home. As of 2015, the typical California home costs $437,000, easily beating the likes of Massachusetts or New York. Only Hawaii had more expensive houses.

Despite relatively low mortgage rates, exploding housing prices have caused California’s homeownership rate to dip significantly. Just more than half of California households own their homes—the third-lowest rate in the country, and the lowest rate in the state since World War II.

It’s not just housing prices that are affecting homeownership rates. Studies have found that student debt, rising income inequality and changing housing preferences among younger Californians are also at play.

Rents didn’t dip during the recession—and now are soaring

Rental costs across the state are some of the highest in the country. While listed housing prices dipped dramatically in the wake of the Great Recession, rents in California remained relatively stable before soaring in recent years in hot markets.

Across the state, the median rental price for a two-bedroom apartment is about $2,400, the third-highest in the country. But statewide figures water down how absurd the situation is getting in urban coastal markets, where the vast majority of Californians live. The median rent for a two-bedroom apartment in San Francisco reached more than $4,000 this year.

“It may cost more to live here, but they pay you more”

That’s somewhat true—median earnings for Californians are higher than the national average, and are significantly higher in regions, like the Bay Area, with tremendously pricey costs of living.

But on average, income over the past two decades has not kept pace with escalating rents.

The problem here is not just housing. Income inequality and wage stagnation in California also hinder low- and moderate-income households’ ability to pay for a home.

But in certain markets, even extremely high incomes aren’t enough to blunt the cost of housing. In San Jose, where the current median income is nearly $100,000, renters can still expect to pay 40 percent of their monthly income on rent, according to an analysis by real estate data firm Zillow.

Cities are being gentrified—as is the entire state

It’s difficult to measure things like “gentrification” and “displacement”—when the arrival of higher-income, higher-educated residents in a community results in the expulsion of longtime lower-income residents. But there’s little question change is happening rapidly across many California cities.

Researchers at UC Berkeley found that more than half of low-income households in the Bay Area are at risk of, or already experiencing, gentrification. It’s not just lower-income communities bleeding households; higher-income neighborhoods are losing their lower-income members as well. And in places like the Boyle Heights neighborhood of Los Angeles, gentrification protests have exposed escalating tensions between longtime Latino residents and new, predominantly white arrivals.

Where are these low-income people going? Increasingly, out of state.

From 2000 to 2015, the state lost nearly 800,000 residents with incomes near or below the poverty line. Nearly three-quarters of those who left California since 2007 made less than $50,000 annually.

The leading destination for California’s poor? Texas.

Rising rents are causing more homelessness

Housing costs are just one factor in the complex tangle of reasons people become homeless. California actually has fewer people experiencing homelessness now than it did a decade ago. But there’s little question rising rents are linked to more Californians living in cars and shelters, and on the streets—especially in the greater L.A. area.

While the vast majority of states saw a dip in their homeless population between 2015 and 2016, California saw an increase of about 2,400 people, according to statistics compiled by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. California accounts for about 12 percent of the nation’s population—but more than 20 percent of the nation’s homeless live here.

Recent numbers from Los Angeles County, where the number of people experiencing homelessness grew 30 percent over the past two years, have prompted cries for more eviction protections and rent control. Zillow recently estimated that a 5 percent increase in rent would result in an additional 2,000 homeless Los Angelinos. In 2016, rents grew an average of 4 percent there.

Millennials, Mom and Dad, and avocado toast

Nearly a decade removed from the depths of the Great Recession, 38 percent of California’s 18- to 34-year-olds still live with their parents, according to U.S. Census data. That’s roughly 3.6 million people—more than the entire population of Chicago.

Again, housing costs are not the only thing keeping junior from moving out. Student debt, disappearing labor markets and delaying marriage are also contributing to the trend

It’s a statewide problem

The extremes of the state’s housing crisis are concentrated in the Bay Area and greater Los Angeles, but the challenge is truly statewide. A widely cited report by the consulting firm McKinsey Global Institute found that in every metropolitan area in the state—from Fresno to Palmdale to Salinas—at least 30 percent of residents could not afford local rents.

The intense pressures of housing costs in coastal urban centers are spilling into inland cities—like those in the Coachella Valley. While San Diego, San Francisco and L.A. top the list of toughest rental markets in the country, cities like Sacramento and Riverside recently have experienced the largest year-over-year increases.

The housing crisis has major repercussions for the economy

Big business is also feeling the pinch of California’s housing crisis.

The McKinsey Global Institute found that housing shortages cost the economy between $143 billion and $233 billion annually—not taking into account second-order costs to health, education and the environment. Much of that is due to households spending too much of their incomes on the rent or mortgage and not enough on consumer goods.

Even the attractive salaries and lavish perks of Silicon Valley don’t make up for the local housing market, as young tech talent flees to the relatively inexpensive climes of Austin or Portland. Nearly 60 percent of Los Angeles companies in a recent University of Southern California survey said the region’s high cost of living was affecting employee retention.

It won’t be getting better anytime soon

The state estimates that it needs to build 180,000 homes annually just to keep up with projected population growth, and keep prices from escalating further out of control.

Unfortunately, for the past 10 years, the state has averaged less than half of that. In no year during that span did California crack the 100,000 barrier.

There’s fierce debate over how long it takes low-income residents to benefit from the construction of new market-rate housing; a renter on the wait list for housing vouchers won’t take much comfort in the luxury condos being built in downtown Oakland or Los Angeles. While California faces an affordable housing gap at nearly all but the highest income levels, the low-income housing shortage is most severe.

According to the nonpartisan Legislative Analyst’s Office, helping just the 1.7 million poorest Californians afford homes would cost $15 to $30 billion a year. The Los Angeles Times estimated that the three marquee bills being considered by lawmakers would provide less than 25 percent of that total.

This is an excerpt of the project “Californians: Here’s Why Your Housing Costs Are So high.” For the full report, go to calmatters.org. CALmatters is a nonprofit, nonpartisan media venture explaining California policies and politics.

Published in Local Issues

Dear Mexican: As a kid, I grew up with Mexicans who stole things just to steal. As an adult, I see much of the same behavior from adult Mexicans and their children—and I don’t mean just the poor Mexicans.

Why is it in their nature for Mexicans to steal?

Larcenous Lester

Dear Gabacho: The Chicano answer? Mexicans rob as payback for the United States swiping half of Mexico during the Mexican-American War. The sociological view? Poor people tend to commit more burglaries than those who are rich or middle-class, and many Mexicans in los Estados Unidos are a missed paycheck away from the welfare cheese. Or I can sidestep your question and claim that, even if your assertion is true, gabacho embezzlement is ultimately the bigger crime, and refer to the convictions of many top executives as proof.

All of these explanations are intellectually dishonest responses—but that’s what your pregunta deserves. Theft is no more of an innate trait among Mexicans than it is among other ethnic groups—gabachos only think it is due to centuries of stereotypes perpetuated by American-made caricatures ranging from the Frito Bandito to Carlos Mencia.

I will admit to one thing that Mexicans are prone to steal, though: low-paying jobs from Americans. And that couldn’t happen without the help of the free market’s invisible hand—and the lazy asses of gabachos. 

Dear Mexican: I’m a pocha from SanTana now living in Portland, Ore., a town crawling with gabachos. Why? Because I married one. I love that silly gabacho’s pelón, and as a Mexican, I show him my affections the only way I know how—by teasing him.

He doesn’t understand how humor at his expense is a sign of love, and I’ve tried explaining that there’s nothing that Mexicans cannot laugh at—love included. When a Mexican teases, it’s a sign of esteem. I’ve had a similar conversation with some Italian friends, and they get it, but the gabachos take themselves so seriously! I love my tías and primas no less for calling me gorda panzona growing up.

How do I explain to my husband, and gabacho friends in general, that when I tease them and their mothers about how much they look like a Guatemalan when they act like tontos, I do it out of love—and not to be a babosa?

Cabrona Chistosa

Dear Funny Bad-Ass Wabette: Gracias for nothing. I just spent a couple hundred words arguing that thievery isn’t Mexico’s second national pastime after soccer—and then you try to take my job!

Tell those Portland gabachos what you told me—that teasing is a sign of amor for Mexicans, and that nothing is so holy that you can’t chop it down a couple of pegs with choice invectives like gorda panzona (big-bellied fatty) or pelón (baldy). If you really want to impress them, reference Mexican philosopher Jorge Portilla’s 1966 tome Fenomenología del Relajo, y Otros Ensayos (Phenomenology of Relajo and Other Essays), in which he examines the uniquely Mexican concept known as echando relajo (roughly translated as “bullshitting”) and its relationship to the Mexican propensity to make light of everything. The philosopher’s take: “The moral subject is transformed into a humorist when she begins to understand suffering as necessarily derived from finitude, as something essential to the human condition.” Translation: Faced with the terrifying reality of being Mexican, Mexicans must laugh or get drunk trying.

Muchos tamales go to Carlos Alberto Sanchez, professor of philosophy at San Jose State University, for his help on this question. Read the good profe’s essay, “The Phenomenology of Jorge Portilla: Relajo, Gelassenheit, and Liberation,” in this spring’s issue of The American Philosophical Association Newsletter on Hispanic/Latino Issues.

See, Larcenous Lester? Mexicans don’t steal—they cite.

Ask the Mexican at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.; be his fan on Facebook; follow him on Twitter @gustavoarellano; or follow him on Instagram @gustavo_arellano!

Published in Ask a Mexican

Throughout its 40-year history, Project Censored has covered a lot of ground that the corporate mainstream media has missed.

Begun by Carl Jensen, a sociology professor at California’s Sonoma State University shortly after Watergate in 1976, it’s become an institution involving dozens of faculty members and institutions working together to come up with an annual list of the Top 25 Censored Stories of the Year.

The Watergate burglary in June 1972 “sparked one of the biggest political cover-ups in modern history,” Jensen later recalled. “And the press was an unwitting, if willing participant in the coverup.”

“Watergate taught us two important lessons about the press: First, the news media sometimes do fail to cover some important issues, and second, the news media sometimes indulge in self-censorship,” he said.

As with the Watergate story, these Project Censored stories aren’t censored in the overt, heavy-handed manner of an authoritarian dictatorship, but in the often more effective manner reflecting our society―an oligarchy with highly centralized economic power pretending to be a “free marketplace of ideas.”

The missing stories concern vital subjects central to the healthy functioning of our democracy—which is precisely why Project Censored is essential.

This year, 221 students and 33 faculty members from 18 college and university campuses across the United States and Canada were involved. A panel of 28 judges including of media studies professors, professional journalists and even a former commissioner of the Federal Communications Commission also participated.

Project Censored has always dealt with specific stories, but on anniversaries like this one, the larger patterns those stories fit within are impossible to ignore. Economic inequality, global warming, petro-politics, the suppression of health science, government spying, the corporate influence on government—these are all familiar themes that appear again on this year’s list.

Jensen began the preface to Project Censored’s 20th-anniversary edition with the story of how John F. Kennedy killed a detailed New York Times story blowing the whistle on the planned invasion of Cuba. A shrunken, muted version ran in its place. Afterward, Kennedy told a Times editor, “If you had printed more about the operation, you could have saved us from a colossal mistake.” Interestingly this year’s No.1 censored story is a direct descendent of the story JFK wished he hadn’t managed to kill.


1. U.S. Military Forces Deployed in 70 Percent of World’s Nations

The covert exercise of U.S. military power is a recurrent subject of Project Censored stories. This year’s top censored story joins that long tradition. It deals with the massive expansion in the number of countries where the War on Terror is now being waged by U.S. Special Operations Forces—147 of the world’s 195 recognized nations, an 80 percent increase since 2010. This includes a dramatic expansion in Africa.

The majority of the activity is in “training missions,” meaning that this expansion is promoting a coordinated worldwide intensification of conflict, unseen at home, but felt all around the globe. Writing for TomDispatch, The Nation and The Intercept, Nick Turse exposed different aspects of this story and its implications.

Turse’s story for The Intercept focused on the development of a single base, Chabelley Airfield, in the East African nation of Djibouti. It’s an “out-of-the-way outpost” transformed into “a key hub for its secret war … in Africa and the Middle East.”

In The Nation, Turse tackled the question of mission success. Project Censored noted: “Turse (had) reported skepticism from a number of experts in response to this question, pointing out that ‘impacts are not the same as successes.’”

In Vietnam, body counts were mistaken for signs of success.

“Today, tallying up the number of countries in which Special Operations forces are present repeats this error,” Vietnam veteran and author Andrew Bacevich told Turse.

Sources:

Turse, Nick, “A Secret War in 135 Countries,” Tomdispatch.

Turse, Nick, “The Stealth Expansion of a Secret U.S. Drone Base in Africa,” Intercept.

Turse, Nick, “American Special Operations Forces Have a Very Funny Definition of Success,” The Nation.


2. Crisis in Evidence-Based Medicine

The role of science in improving human health has been one of humanity’s greatest achievements, but the profit-oriented influence of the pharmaceutical industry has created a crisis situation: Research simply cannot be trusted.

Burying truth for profit is a recurrent theme for Project Censored. The top 1981 story concerned fraudulent testing from a single lab responsible for one-third of the toxicity and cancer testing of chemicals in America. But this problem is much more profound.

“Something has gone fundamentally wrong,” said Richard Horton, editor of the Lancet, commenting on a UK symposium on the reproducibility and reliability of biomedical research:

Much of the scientific literature, perhaps half, may simply be untrue. Afflicted by studies with small sample sizes, tiny effects, invalid exploratory analyses, and flagrant conflicts of interest, together with an obsession for pursuing fashionable trends of dubious importance, science has taken a turn towards darkness. … The apparent endemicity of bad research behaviour is alarming.

Horton’s conclusion echoed Marcia Angell, a former editor of the New England Journal of Medicine, who went public in 2009.

A classic case was Study 329 in 2001, which reported that paroxetine (Paxil in the United States, Seroxat in the United Kingdom) was safe and effective for treating depressed children and adolescents, leading doctors to prescribe Paxil to more than 2 million U.S. children and adolescents by the end of 2002—before the pill’s effects were called into question. The company responsible (now GlaxoSmithKline) agreed to pay $3 billion in 2012, the “largest health-care fraud settlement in U.S. history,” according to the U.S. Department of Justice.

Nonetheless, the study has not been retracted or corrected, and “none of the authors have been disciplined,” Project Censored points out. This, despite a major reanalysis which “‘starkly’ contradicted the original report’s claims.” The reanalysis was seen as the first major success of a new open data initiative known as Restoring Invisible and Abandoned Trials.

While Project Censored noted one Washington Post story on the reanalysis, there was only passing mention of the open data movement. “Otherwise, the corporate press ignored the reassessment of the paroxetine study,” and beyond that, “Richard Horton’s Lancet editorial received no coverage in the U.S. corporate press.”

Sources:

Lancet 385, no. 9976.

Cooper, Charlie, “Anti-Depressant Was Given to Millions of Young People ‘After Trials Showed It Was Dangerous,’” The Independent.

Boseley, Sarah, “Seroxat Study Under-Reported Harmful Effects on Young People, Say Scientists,” The Guardian.


3. Rising Carbon Dioxide Levels Threaten to Permanently Disrupt Vital Ocean Bacteria

Global warming is a recurrent Project Censored subject. Systemic changes associated with global warming threaten human welfare and all life on Earth through a multitude of different pathways. These remain largely hidden from public view.

One potential pathway —directly dependent on carbon, not temperature—is through the catastrophic overproduction of Trichodesmium bacteria, which could devastate the entire marine food chain in some regions. It lives in nutrient-poor parts of the ocean, where it fixes atmospheric nitrogen into ammonium, an essential nutrient for other organisms—from algae to whales.

A five-year study by researchers at the University of Southern California and Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution found that subjecting hundreds of generations of the bacteria to predicted CO2 levels in the year 2100 caused them to evolve into “reproductive overdrive,” growing faster and producing 50 percent more nitrogen.

As a result, they could consume significant quantities of scarce nutrients, such as iron and phosphorus, depriving the ability of other organisms to survive. Or the Trichodesmium bacteria could drive themselves into extinction, depriving other organisms of the ammonium they need to survive.

“Most significantly, the researchers found that even when the bacteria were returned to lower, present-day levels of carbon dioxide. Trichodesmium remained ‘stuck in the fast lane,’” Project Censored noted, a finding that one researcher described as “unprecedented in evolutionary biology.”

Sources:

Perkins, Robert, “Climate Change Will Irreversibly Force Key Ocean Bacteria into Overdrive,” USC News.

Howard, Emma, “Climate Change Will Alter Ocean Bacteria Crucial to Food Chain—Study,” The Guardian.


4. Search Engine Algorithms and Electronic Voting Machines Could Swing 2016 Election

Social media has played an important role in recent social movements, from the Arab Spring to Black Lives Matter—but technology can potentially undermine democracy as well as empower it.

In particular, search engine algorithms and electronic voting machines provide opportunities for the manipulation of voters and votes, which could profoundly affect the 2016 election.

Mark Frary, in Index on Censorship, describes the latest research by Robert Epstein and Ronald E. Robertson of the American Institute for Behavioral Research and Technology on what they call the Search Engine Manipulation Effect, or SEME.

Their study of more than 4,500 undecided voters in the United States and India showed that biased search rankings “could shift the voting preferences of undecided voters by 20 percent or more” and “could be masked so that people show no awareness of the manipulation.”

In an earlier article for Politico, Epstein wrote that the Search Engine Manipulation Effect “turns out to be one of the largest behavioral effects ever discovered. … We believe SEME is a serious threat to the democratic system of government.”

Because courts have ruled that source code is proprietary, private companies that own electronic voting machines are essentially immune to transparent public oversight, as Harvey Wasserman and Bob Fitrakis documented.

In 2016, about 80 percent of the U.S. electorate will vote using outdated electronic voting machines that rely on proprietary software from private corporations, according to a September 2015 study by the Brennan Center for Justice at the New York University School of Law.

The study identified “increased failures and crashes, which can lead to long lines and lost votes” as the “biggest risk” of outdated voting equipment, while noting that older machines also have “serious security and reliability flaws that are unacceptable today.”

“From a security perspective, old software is riskier, because new methods of attack are constantly being developed, and older software is likely to be vulnerable,” Jeremy Epstein of the National Science Foundation noted.

On Democracy Now! and elsewhere, Wasserman and Fitrakis have advocated universal, hand-counted paper ballots and automatic voter registration as part of their “Ohio Plan” to restore electoral integrity.

While there has been some corporate media coverage of Epstein and Robertson’s research, the transparency and reliability advantages of returning to paper ballots remain virtually unexplored and under-discussed.

Sources:

Epstein, Robert, “How Google Could Rig the 2016 Election,” Politico.

Frary, Mark, “Whose World Are You Watching? The Secret Algorithms Controlling the News We See,” Index on Censorship 44, No. 4.

Norden, Lawrence and Famighetti, Christopher, America’s Voting Machines at Risk, Brennan Center for Justice, New York University School of Law.

Harvey Wasserman interview by Goodman, Amy, “Could the 2016 Election be Stolen With Help From Electronic Voting Machines?” Democracy Now!

Fitrakis, Bob and Wasserman, Harvey, “Is the 2016 Election Already Being Stripped and Flipped?” Free Press.


5. Corporate Exploitation of Global Refugee Crisis Masked as Humanitarianism

The world is experiencing a global refugee crisis (60 million worldwide, according to a June 2015 report—11.5 million of them Syrian). This has been covered in the corporate media—though not nearly enough to generate an appropriate response. What hasn’t been covered is the increasingly well-organized exploitation of refugees, particularly those displaced in Syria.

An Alternet article by Sarah Lazare warned of the World Bank’s private enterprise solution to the Syrian displacement crisis.

“Under the guise of humanitarian aid, the World Bank is enticing Western companies to launch ‘new investments’ in Jordan in order to profit from the labor of stranded Syrian refugees,” Lazare wrote. “In a country where migrant workers have faced forced servitude, torture and wage theft, there is reason to be concerned that this capital-intensive ‘solution’ to the mounting crisis of displacement will establish sweatshops that specifically target war refugees for hyper-exploitation.”

A World Bank press release touted “the creation of special economic zones or SEZs,” but Project Censored noted: “Myriam Francois, a journalist and research associate at SOAS, The School of Oriental and African Studies at the University of London, told Lazare that the development of SEZs in Jordan ‘will change refugee camps from emergency and temporary responses to a crisis, to much more permanent settlements.’”

The SEZ proposals, Francois said, are “less about Syrian needs and more about keeping Syrian refugees out of Europe by creating (barely) sustainable conditions within the camps, which would then make claims to asylum much harder to recognize.”

Another story, by Glen Ford of Black Agenda Report, described a related agreement between Turkey and the European Union to keep millions of refugees from entering Europe as “a deal between devils,” adding that Turkey has “cashed in on the people it has helped make homeless.”

In addition to the $3.3 billion in EU money, Project Censored noted, Turkey has also sought admission to the European Union, and, with this, the right for 75 million Turks to enter Europe without visa restrictions as a condition for controlling its refugee population.

Thus, according to Ford, Turkey has engaged in a “vast protections racket trap,” effectively agreeing to protect Europe from further incursions by “the formerly colonized peoples whose labor and lands have fattened Europe and its white settler states for half a millennium.”

“Europeans will never accept Turkey into the fold, because it is Muslim and not-quite-white,” Ford concluded.

Sources:

Lazare, Sarah, “World Bank Woos Western Corporations to Profit From Labor of Stranded Syrian Refugees,” AlterNet.

Ford, Glen, “Turkey and Europe: Human Trafficking on a Scale Not Seen Since the Atlantic Slave Trade,” Black Agenda Radio, Black Agenda Report.


6. More than 1.5 Million American Families Live on $2 Per Person, Per Day

Even the working poor receive scant attention, but those living in deep poverty—less than $2 per day—are almost entirely absent from media coverage.

Kathryn J. Edin and H. Luke Shaefer, sociologists and authors of the book $2.00 a Day: Living on Almost Nothing in America, state that in 2011, more than 1.5 million U.S. families—including 3 million children—lived in deep poverty in any given month.

Their depiction of what poverty looks like reads “like a Dickens novel,” Marcus Harrison Green wrote in YES! Magazine, Project Censored noted, while in The Atlantic, economist Jared Bernstein noted that the research highlights the problematic long-term consequences of President Bill Clinton’s 1996 welfare reform initiative, with its “insistence on work without regard to job availability.”

Project Censored notes that Edin and Shaefer proposed three policy changes to address extreme poverty in the United States:

First, policy must start by “expanding work opportunities” for those at the very bottom of society.

Second, policy must address housing instability, which Shaefer described as both a cause and a consequence of extreme poverty: “Parents should be able to raise their children in a place of their own.”

Third, families must be insured against extreme poverty, even when parents are not able to work.

William Julius Wilson, a leading sociologist in the study of poverty, described their book as “an essential call to action,” in a New York Times book review—but this was a rare bit of recognition in the corporate press.

Sources:

Green, Marcus Harrison, “1.5 Million American Families Live on $2 a Day—These Authors Spent Years Finding Out Why,” YES! Magazine.

Bernstein, Jared, “America’s Poorest Are Getting Virtually No Assistance,” The Atlantic.


7. No End in Sight for Fukushima Disaster

More than five years after the Fukushima nuclear power plant was destroyed by an earthquake and tsunami in March 2011, the nuclear disaster continues to unfold, with the ongoing release of large quantities of radioactive waste water into the Pacific Ocean, which is in turn affecting ocean life through “biological magnification.”

Meanwhile the Japanese government has relaxed radiation limits in support of its efforts to return the refugee population—a move that younger people, prime working-age taxpayers, are resisting.

Project Censored cites a media analysis by sociologist Celine-Marie Pascale of American University. Pascale, covering more than 2,100 articles, editorials and letters to the editor on Fukushima in The Washington Post, The New York Times, Politico, and the Huffington Post between March 11, 2011 and March 11, 2013, focused on two basic questions: “Risk for whom?” and “from what?

She found that just 6 percent of articles reported on risk to the general public, and most of those “significantly discounted those risks.” She concluded: “The largest and longest lasting nuclear disaster of our time was routinely and consistently reported as being of little consequence to people, food supplies or environments. … In short, the media coverage was premised on misinformation, the minimization of public health risks, and the exacerbation of uncertainties.”

In contrast, Dahr Jamail’s reporting for Truthout pointed out that the cooling process—still ongoing after 5 years—has produced “hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of tons” of highly radioactive water, much of which has been released into the Pacific Ocean. Such nuclear disasters “never end,” Arnold Gundersen, a former nuclear industry senior vice president, told Jamail.

Project Censored also cited Linda Pentz Gunter, writing for the Ecologist about the Japanese government’s ongoing coverup.

“In order to proclaim the Fukushima area ‘safe,’ the government increased exposure limits to 20 times the international norm,” Gunter wrote, in order to force refugees to return home, despite medical or scientific evidence to the contrary.

Sources:

Jamail, Dahr, “Radioactive Water From Fukushima Is Leaking Into the Pacific,” Truthout.

Pentz Gunter, Linda, “No Bliss in This Ignorance: The Great Fukushima Nuclear Cover-Up,” The EDcologist.

Pascale, Celine-Marie, “Vernacular Epistemologies of Risk: The Crisis in Fukushima,” Current Sociology.


8. Syria’s War Spurred by Contest for Gas Delivery to Europe, Not Muslim Sectarianism

The Syrian war and its resulting refugee crisis have repeatedly gained headlines over the past five years, but the origin of the conflict—the control of oil—is rarely considered. The hidden influence of oil—from climate change to campaign finance and corporate lobbying to foreign policy—has been a recurrent subject of Project Censored stories.

Project Censored cites a single September 2015 story by Mnar Muhawesh for MintPress News, but that story cites others as well, notably an August 2013 story in The Guardian by Nafeez Ahmed.

“The 2011 uprisings, it would seem―triggered by a confluence of domestic energy shortages and climate-induced droughts which led to massive food price hikes―came at an opportune moment that was quickly exploited,” Ahmed wrote, as part of a broader strategy to undermine governments in the region, as well as manipulate social movements and armed factions for the purpose of maintaining control of oil and gas.

Muhawesh and Ahmed both point, in particular, to President Bashar al-Assad’s choice between competing pipeline proposals. He refused to sign a proposed agreement for a pipeline from Qatar’s North field through Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Syria and on to Turkey in 2009, because it would have hurt his ally, Russia.

“The proposed pipeline would have bypassed Russia to reach European markets currently dominated by Russian gas giant Gazprom,” Project Censored notes. Instead, Assad pursued negotiations—finalized in 2012—for a pipeline through Iraq from Iran’s South Pars field, which is contiguous with Qatar’s North Field.

Muhawesh cites U.S. cables revealed by WikiLeaks as evidence that “foreign meddling in Syria began several years before the Syrian revolt erupted.” Ahmed came to the same conclusions by drawing on multiple sources, including a RAND corporation document, “Unfolding the Future of the Long War,” which discussed long-term policy options (trajectories) dealing with the complex interplay of energy interests and ethno-religious-political manipulations.

There’s a whole deeper level of driving forces not being reported on behind the Syrian war and refugee crisis.

Source:

Muhawesh, Mnar, “Refugee Crisis and Syria War Fueled by Competing Gas Pipelines,” MintPress News.


9. Big Pharma Political Lobbying Not Limited to Presidential Campaigns

The pharmaceutical industry (aka “Big Pharma”) already appeared in story No. 2, due to the destructive influence of its financing on the practice of basic science in testing and developing new drugs. But that’s not the only destructive impact of Big Pharma’s spending.

Although the industry spent $51 million in campaign donations in the 2012 presidential election, and nearly $32 million in the 2014 midterms, Mike Ludwig of Truthout reported that the industry spent $7 lobbying for every dollar spent on the midterms.

“The $229 million spent by drug companies and their lobbying groups that year was down from a peak of $273 million in 2009, the year that Congress debated the Affordable Care Act,” Project Censored noted. Legislation influenced involved all the industry’s top concerns, “including policy on patents and trademarks, management of Medicare and Medicaid, and international trade.”

The last item includes pressuring other countries to suppress the manufacture of life-saving generic AIDS drugs in India, to cite just one example.

“Pharmaceutical lobbyists also consistently lobby to prevent Medicare from negotiating drug prices,” Project Censored also noted. Coverage of this spending is scant, and virtually never tied directly to the issues on which Big Pharma itself is lobbying.

Source:

Ludwig, Mike, “How Much of Big Pharma’s Massive Profits are Used to Influence Politicians?” Truthout.


10. CISA: The Internet Surveillance Act No One Is Discussing

In July 2015, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell attempted to attach the Cybersecurity Information Sharing Act, or CISA, as an amendment to the annual National Defense Authorization Act. However, the Senate blocked this by a vote of 56-40, in part, because the act—unlike an earlier version—essentially enabled intelligence and law enforcement officials to engage in surveillance without warrants.

Yet on Dec. 18, 2015, President Barack Obama signed CISA into law as part of a 2,000-page omnibus spending bill, amid media silence—with notable exceptions at Wired and The Guardian. The act authorized the creation of a system for corporate informants to provide customers’ data to the Department of Homeland Security, which, in turn, would share this information with other federal agencies—the National Security Agency, the FBI, the Internal Revenue Service and others—without privacy-protecting safeguards.

As The Guardian reported, civil liberties experts had been “dismayed” when Congress used the omnibus spending bill to advance some of the legislation’s “most invasive” components, making a mockery of the democratic process. But this effort was different, in a way, since censored stories usually do not stifle powerful voices, as Project Censored observed: “(Andy) Greenberg’s Wired article noted that tech firms—including Apple, Twitter and Reddit—as well as 55 civil liberties groups had opposed the bill, and that, in July 2015, DHS itself warned that the bill would ‘sweep away privacy protections’ while inundating the agency with data of ‘dubious’ value.”

In April 2016, Jason R. Edgecombe reported for TechCrunch on the glaring inadequacies of interim guidelines to deal with privacy and civil liberties concerns—while the corporate media silence continued. In May, Violet Blue wrote for Engadget about candidates’ positions on cyber issues: Only Bernie Sanders and Rand Paul opposed CISA—but it never became the subject of any broader media discussion.

Sources:

Greenberg, Andy, “Congress Slips CISA Into a Budget Bill That’s Sure to Pass,” Wired.

Thielman, Sam, “Congress Adds Contested Cybersecurity Measures to ‘Must-Pass’ Spending Bill,” The Guardian.

Edgecombe, Jason R., “Interim Guidelines to the Cybersecurity Information Sharing Act,” TechCrunch.

Blue, Violet, “Where the Candidates Stand on Cyber Issues,” Engadget.

Paul Rosenberg is the senior editor at Random Lengths News at the Port of Los Angeles and is a contributing columnist for Salon.com. Terelle Jerricks is the managing editor at Random Lengths News.

Published in Features

When Sonoma State University professor Carl Jensen started looking into the new media’s practice of self-censorship in 1976, the Internet was only a dream, and most computers were still big mainframes with whirling tape reels and vacuum tubes.

Back then, the vast majority of Americans got all of the news from one daily newspaper and one of the three big TV networks. If a story wasn’t on ABC, NBC or CBS, it might as well not have happened.

Forty years later, the media world is a radically different place. Americans are now more likely to get their news from several different sources through Facebook than they would from CBS Evening News. Daily newspapers all over the country are struggling and, in some cases, dying. A story that appears on one obscure outlet can suddenly become a viral sensation, reaching millions of readers at the speed of light.

And yet, as Jensen’s Project Censored continues to find, there are still numerous big, important news stories that receive very little exposure.

As Project Censored staffers Mickey Huff and Andy Lee Roth note, 90 percent of U.S. news media—traditional outlets that employ full-time reporters—are controlled by six corporations. “The corporate media hardly represent the mainstream,” the staffers wrote in the current edition’s introduction.

“By contrast, the independent journalists that Project Censored has celebrated since its inception are now understood as vital components of what experts have identified as the newly developing ‘networked fourth estate.’”

Jensen set out to frame a new definition of censorship. He put out an annual list of the 10 biggest stories that the mainstream media ignored, arguing that it was a failure of the corporate press to pursue and promote these stories that represented censorship—not by the government, but by the media itself.

“My definition starts with the other end, with the failure of information to reach people,” he wrote. “For the purposes of this project, censorship is defined as the suppression of information, whether purposeful or not, by any method—including bias, omission, underreporting or self-censorship, which prevents the public from fully knowing what is happening in the world.”

Jensen died in April 2015, but his project was inherited and carried on by Sonoma State sociology professor Peter Phillips and Huff.

Huff teaches social science and history at Diablo Valley College. Under their leadership, the Project has, at times, veered off into the loony world of conspiracies and Sept. 11 “truther” territory. A handful of stories included in the annual publication—to be kind—were difficult to verify. That’s caused a lot of us in the alternative press to question the validity of the annual list.

But Huff, who is now project director, and Roth, the associate director, have expanded and tightened up the process of selecting stories. Project staffers and volunteers first fact-check nominations that come in to make sure they are “valid” news reports. Then a panel of 28 judges—mostly academics with a few journalists and media critics—finalize the Top 10 and the 15 runners-up.

The results are published in a book that was released Oct. 6 by Seven Stories Press.

I’ve been writing about Project Censored for 25 years, and I think it’s safe to say that the stories on this year’s list are credible, valid—and critically important. Even in an era when most of us are drunk with information, overloaded by buzzing social media telling us things we didn’t think we needed to know, these stories haven’t gotten anywhere near the attention they deserve.

1. Half of global wealth owned by the 1 percent

We hear plenty of talk about the wealth and power of the top 1 percent of people in the United States, but the global wealth gap is, if anything, even worse. And it has profound human consequences.

Oxfam International, which has been working for decades to fight global poverty, released a January 2015 report showing that, if current trends continue, the wealthiest 1 percent, by the end of this year, will control more wealth than everyone else in the world put together.

As reported in Project Censored, “The Oxfam report provided evidence that extreme inequality is not inevitable, but is, in fact, the result of political choices and economic policies established and maintained by the power elite, wealthy individuals whose strong influence keeps the status quo rigged in their own favor.”

Another stunning fact: The wealth of 85 of the richest people in the world combined is equal to the wealth of half the world’s poor combined.

The mainstream news media coverage of the report and the associated issues was spotty, at best, Project Censored notes: A few corporate television networks, including CNN, CBS, MSNBC, ABC, FOX and C-SPAN covered Oxfam’s January report, according to the TV News Archive. CNN had the most coverage with about seven broadcast segments from Jan. 19 to 25, 2015. However, these stories aired between 2 and 3 a.m.—far from primetime.

Sources: Larry Elliott and Ed Pilkington, “New Oxfam Report Says Half of Global Wealth Held by the 1%,” Guardian, Jan.19, 2015

Sarah Dransfield, “Number of Billionaires Doubled Since Financial Crisis as Inequality Spirals Out of Control–Oxfam,” Oxfam, Oct. 29, 2014

Samantha Cowan, “Every Kid on Earth Could Go to School If the World’s 1,646 Richest People Gave 1.5 Percent,” TakePart, Nov. 3, 2014

2. Oil Industry Illegally Dumps Fracking Wastewater

Fracking, which involves pumping high-pressure water and chemicals into rock formations to free up oil and natural gas, has been a huge issue nationwide. But there’s been little discussion of one of the side effects: The contamination of aquifers.

The Center for Biological Diversity reported in 2014 that oil companies had dumped almost 3 billion gallons of fracking wastewater into California’s underground water supply. Since the companies refuse to say what chemicals they use in the process, nobody knows exactly what the level of contamination is. But wells that supply drinking water near where the fracking waste was dumped tested high in arsenic, thallium and nitrates.

According to Project Censored, “Although corporate media have covered debate over fracking regulations, the Center for Biological Diversity study regarding the dumping of wastewater into California’s aquifers went all but ignored at first. There appears to have been a lag of more than three months between the initial independent news coverage of the Center for Biological Diversity revelations and corporate coverage.

In May 2015, the Los Angeles Times ran a front-page feature on Central Valley crops irrigated with treated oil field water; however, the Los Angeles Times report made no mention of the Center for Biological Diversity’s findings regarding fracking wastewater contamination.”

Sources: Dan Bacher, “Massive Dumping of Wastewater into Aquifers Shows Big Oil’s Power in California,” IndyBay, Oct. 11, 2014

“California Aquifers Contaminated with Billions of Gallons of Fracking Wastewater,” Russia Today Oct. 11, 2014

Donny Shaw, “CA Senators Voting NO on Fracking Moratorium Received 14x More from Oil & Gas Industry,” MapLight, June 3, 2014

Dan Bacher, “Senators Opposing Fracking Moratorium Received 14x More Money from Big Oil,” IndyBay, June 7, 2014

3. 89 percent of Pakistani drone victims not identifiable as militants

The United States sends drone aircraft into combat on a regular basis, particularly in Pakistan. The Obama administration says the drones fire missiles only when there is clear evidence that the targets are al-Qaida bases. Secretary of State John Kerry insists that “the only people we fire a drone at are confirmed terrorist targets at the highest levels.”

But the Bureau of Investigative Journalism, which keeps track of all the strikes, reported that only 4 percent of those killed by drones were al-Qaida members, and only 11 percent were confirmed militants of any sort.

That means 89 percent of the 2,464 people killed by U.S. drones could not be identified as terrorists. In fact, 30 percent of the dead could not be identified at all.

The New York Times has covered the fact that, as one story noted, “most individuals killed are not on a kill list, and the government does not know their names.” But overall, the mainstream news media ignored the Bureau of Investigative Journalism reporting.

Sources: Jack Serle, “Almost 2,500 Now Killed by Covert US Drone Strikes Since Obama Inauguration Six Years Ago,” Bureau of Investigative Journalism, Feb. 2, 2015

Jack Serle, “Get the Data: A List of US Air and Drone Strikes, Afghanistan 2015,” Bureau of Investigative Journalism, Feb. 12, 2015

Steve Coll, “The Unblinking Stare: The Drone War in Pakistan,” New Yorker, Nov. 24, 2014

Abigail Fielding-Smith, “John Kerry Says All those Fired at by Drones in Pakistan are ‘Confirmed Terrorist Targets’—But with 1,675 Unnamed Dead How Do We Know?” Bureau of Investigative Journalism,Oct. 23, 2014

Jack Serle, “Only 4% of Drone Victims in Pakistan Named as al Qaeda Members,” Bureau of Investigative Journalism, Oct. 16, 2014

Jeremy Scahill, “Germany is the Tell-Tale Heart of America’s Drone War,” Intercept, April 17, 2015

4. Popular resistance to corporate water-grabbing

For decades, private companies have been trying to take over and control water supplies, particularly in the developing world. Now, as journalist Ellen Brown reported in March 2015, corporate water barons, including Goldman Sachs, JPMorgan Chase, Citigroup, the Carlyle Group and other investment firms, “are purchasing water rights from around the world at an unprecedented pace.”

However, over the past 15 years, more than 180 communities have fought back and re-municipalized their water systems. “From Spain to Buenos Aires, Cochabamba to Kazakhstan, Berlin to Malaysia, water privatization is being aggressively rejected,” Victoria Collier reported in Counterpunch.

Meanwhile, in the United States, some cities—in what may be a move toward privatization—are radically raising water rates and cutting off service to low-income communities.

The mainstream media response to the privatization of water has been largely silence.

Sources: Ellen Brown, “California Water Wars: Another Form of Asset Stripping?,” Nation of Change, March 25, 2015

Victoria Collier, “Citizens Mobilize Against Corporate Water Grabs,” CounterPunch, Feb. 11, 2015

Larry Gabriel, “When the City Turned Off Their Water, Detroit Residents and Groups Delivered Help,” YES! Magazine, Nov. 24, 2014

Madeline Ostrander, “LA Imports Nearly 85 Percent of Its Water—Can It Change That by Gathering Rain?,” YES! Magazine, Jan. 5, 2015

5. Fukushima nuclear disaster deepens

Nearly five years after a tsunami destroyed Japan’s Fukushima nuclear plant and causing one of the worst nuclear accidents in human history, radiation from the plant continues to leak into the ocean.

But the story has largely disappeared from the news.

As Project Censored notes: “The continued dumping of extremely radioactive cooling water into the Pacific Ocean from the destroyed nuclear plant, already being detected along the Japanese coastline, has the potential to impact entire portions of the Pacific Ocean and North America’s western shoreline. Aside from the potential release of plutonium into the Pacific Ocean, Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO) recently admitted that the facility is releasing large quantities of water contaminated with tritium, cesium and strontium into the ocean every day.”

We’re talking large amounts of highly contaminated water getting dumped into the ocean. The plant’s owner, Tokyo Electric Power Company, “admitted that the facility is releasing a whopping 150 billion becquerels of tritium and seven billion becquerels of cesium- and strontium-contaminated water into the ocean every day.” The potential for long-term problems all over the world is huge—and the situation hasn’t been contained.

Sources: “TEPCO Drops Bombshell About Sea Releases; 8 Billion Bq Per Day,” Simply Info: The Fukushima Project, Aug. 26, 2014

Sarah Lazare, “Fukushima Meltdown Worse Than Previous Estimates: TEPCO,” Common Dreams, Aug. 7, 2014

Michel Chossudovsky, “The Fukushima Endgame: The Radioactive Contamination of the Pacific Ocean,” Global Research, Dec. 17, 2014

6. The global impacts of methane and arctic warming

We all know that carbon emissions from the burning of fossil fuels are a huge threat to climate stability. But there’s another giant threat out there that hasn’t made much news.

The arctic ice sheets, which are rapidly melting in some areas, contain massive amounts of methane—a greenhouse gas that’s way worse than carbon dioxide. And, as the ice recedes, that methane is getting released into the atmosphere.

Dahr Jamail, writing in Truthout, notes that all of our predictions about the pace of global warming and its impacts might have to be re-evaluated in the wake of revelations about methane releases:

“A 2013 study, published in Nature, reported that a 50-gigaton ‘burp’ of methane is ‘highly possible at any time.’ As Jamail clarified, ‘That would be the equivalent of at least 1,000 gigatons of carbon dioxide,’ noting that, since 1850, humans have released a total of about 1,475 gigatons in carbon dioxide. A massive, sudden change in methane levels could, in turn, lead to temperature increases of four to six degrees Celsius in just one or two decades—a rapid rate of climate change to which human agriculture, and ecosystems more generally, could not readily adapt.”

Jamail quoted Paul Beckwith, a professor of climatology and meteorology at the University of Ottawa: “Our climate system is in early stages of abrupt climate change that, unchecked, will lead to a temperature rise of 5 to 6 degrees Celsius within a decade or two.” Such changes would have “unprecedented effects” for life on Earth.

A huge story? Apparently not. The major news media have written at length about the geopolitics of the arctic region, but there’s been very little mention of the methane monster.

Source: Dahr Jamail, “The Methane Monster Roars,” Truthout, Jan. 13, 2015

7. Fear of government spying is chilling writers’ freedom of expression

Writers in Western liberal democracies may not face the type of censorship seen in some parts of the world, but their fear of government surveillance is causing many to think twice about what they can say.

Lauren McCauley, writing in Common Dreams, quoted one of the conclusions from a report by the writers’ group PEN America: “If writers avoid exploring topics for fear of possible retribution, the material available to readers—particularly those seeking to understand the most controversial and challenging issues facing the world today—may be greatly impoverished.”

According to Project Censored, a PEN America survey showed that “34 percent of writers in liberal democracies reported some degree of self-censorship (compared with 61 percent of writers living in authoritarian countries, and 44 percent in semi-democratic countries). Almost 60 percent of the writers from Western Europe, the United States … indicated that U.S. credibility ‘has been significantly damaged for the long term’ by revelations of the U.S. government surveillance programs.’”

Other than Common Dreams’ coverage, the PEN report attracted almost no major media attention.

Sources: Lauren McCauley, “Fear of Government Spying ‘Chilling’ Writers’ Speech Worldwide,” Common Dreams, Jan. 5, 2015

Lauren McCauley, “Government Surveillance Threatens Journalism, Law and Thus Democracy: Report,” Common Dreams, July 28, 2014

8. Who dies at the hands of police—and how often?

High-profile police killings, particularly of African-American men, have made big news over the past few years. But there’s been much less attention paid to the overall numbers—and to the difference between how many people are shot by cops in the United States and in other countries.

In the January 2015 edition of Liberation, Richard Becker, relying on public records, concluded that the rate of U.S. police killing was 100 times that of England, 40 times that of Germany, and 20 times the rate in Canada.

In June 2015, a team of reporters from the Guardian concluded that 102 unarmed people were killed by U.S. police in the first five months of that year—twice the rate reported by the government.

Furthermore, the Guardian wrote, “black Americans are more than twice as likely to be unarmed when killed during encounters with police as white people.” The paper concluded that, “Thirty-two percent of black people killed by police in 2015 were unarmed, as were 25 percent of Hispanic and Latino people, compared with 15 percent of white people killed.”

And as far as accountability goes, the Washington Post noted that in 385 cases of police killings, only three officers faced charges.

Sources: Richard Becker, “U.S. Cops Kill at 100 Times Rate of Other Capitalist Countries,” Liberation, Jan. 4, 2015

Jon Swaine, Oliver Laughland, and Jamiles Lartey, “Black Americans Killed by Police Twice as Likely to be Unarmed as White People,” Guardian, June 1, 2015

9. Millions in poverty get less media coverage than billionaires do

The news media in the United States doesn’t like to talk about poverty, but they love to report on the lives and glory of the super-rich.

The advocacy group Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting analyzed the three major television news networks and found that 482 billionaires got more attention than the 50 million people who live in poverty.

This shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone who follows the mainstream media, or pays much attention to the world of social media and the blogosphere. The top rung of society gets vast amounts of attention, for good and for ill—but the huge numbers of people who are homeless, hungry and often lacking in hope just aren’t news.

“The notion that the wealthiest nation on Earth has one in every six of its citizens living at or below the poverty threshold reflects not a lack of resources, but a lack of policy focus and attention—and this is due to a lack of public awareness to the issue,” Frederick Reese of MintPress News wrote.

From Project Censored: “The FAIR study showed that between January 2013 and February 2014, an average of only 2.7 seconds per every 22-minute episode discussed poverty in some format. During the 14-month study, FAIR found just 23 news segments that addressed poverty.”

Sources: Steve Rendall, Emily Kaufmann, and Sara Qureshi, “Even GOP Attention Can’t Make Media Care about Poor,” Extra!, Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting, June 1, 2014

“Millions in Poverty Get Less Coverage Than 482 Billionaires,” Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting, June 26, 2014

Frederick Reese, “Billionaires Get More Media Attention Than The Poor,” MintPress News, June 30, 2014

Tavis Smiley, “Poverty Less Than .02 Percent of Lead Media Coverage,” Huffington Post, March 7, 2014

10. Costa Rica is setting the standard on renewable energy

Is it possible to meet a modern nation’s energy needs without any fossil-fuel consumption? Yes. Costa Rica has been doing it.

To be fair, that country’s main industries—tourism and agriculture—are not energy-intensive, and heavy rainfall in the first part of the year made it possible for the country to rely heavily on its hydropower resources. But even in normal years, Costa Rica generates 90 percent of its energy without burning any fossil fuels.

Iceland also produces the vast majority of its energy from renewable sources.

The transition to 100 percent renewables will be harder for larger countries—but as the limited reporting on Costa Rica notes, it’s possible to take large steps in that direction.

Sources: Myles Gough, “Costa Rica Powered with 100% Renewable Energy for 75 Straight Days,” Science Alert, March 20, 2015

Adam Epstein, “Costa Rica is Now Running Completely on Renewable Energy,” Quartz, March 23, 2015

Tim Redmond, a longtime editor of the San Francisco Bay Guardian, is the founding member of the San Francisco Progressive Media Center and editor of that nonprofit organization’s publication 48 Hills.

Published in Features

Dear Mexican: Why is it that Mexican immigrants like my parents—who have done well enough in this country to provide a home (a house, paid off in 10 years, in white Orange County), an education, food, clothes and toys for their children (namely, myself and my brother)—can complain about El Hombre Gringo and his stupid immigration laws, yet when they go down to Tijuana, or to visit family in La Barca and Zacatecas, they complain about the prices of things: the blankets, the jewelry, the food, about how all it’s “tan caro”? Call me a commie, but goddamn, these people are making shit profit on their wares. Shouldn’t more affluent people such as my parents be happy to spread their money around and help out their fellow men and women?

Why do my parents complain about how El Hombre Gringo treats us like shit, even though Mexicans work hard at the jobs gringos wouldn’t do, but when they see one of “our people” selling roses on the freeway off-ramps, they ignore him, and never even think about buying them from him? At least he’s not just standing there with a cardboard sign that says “Will wurk fur food,” so why make a big stink when I want a damn blanket at the border crossing (one of those fabulous warm fuzzy ones, you know) that costs $32, and would most certainly cost me more than twice that even in Westminster? ¿Qué mendiga mierda es eso?

I don’t exactly consider myself Mexican; call me a traitor, if you will, but since I was born in the U.S., raised around nothing but whites, and went to school with a majority of whites, I don’t identify with the Chicano culture. But I see what people like my parents do—people who were born in Mexico, and know what it’s like to live in poverty—and I wonder what mierda their brains are made of, that they wouldn’t try to help out with something so piddly as buying the stupid Chicletes that the children at the border sell. Sure, you can’t buy from all of them, but why refuse to let me buy the blanket, saying, “Oh, he’ll come back and lower his price”? Well, he didn’t come back, and I never got my blanket. And he never got the $32 I was more than willing to fork over; I was actually, going to give him $40. because who cares? (But don’t tell my dad that; he’d mess his pants.)

Too Many More Issues to Mention

Dear Pocho: Loco, you’re nothing but a Chicano. Chicanos are the only people on Earth who care about poor Mexicans. Mexicans in Mexico don’t give a shit; Mexican immigrants in the United States not brainwashed by progressive do-gooders (SARCASM ALERT to said progressive do-gooders, who’ll only laugh at jokes that involve Republicans getting ISIS’ed) talk nothing but shit about the paisas and nacos and chúntaros in their neighborhoods. So God bless you for caring about poor Mexicans, but a word to the wise: Stop being a Linus. The Paramount Swap Meet sells blankets for cheaper than $32.

Does Mexico have a problem with illegal immigrants coming into their country for free healthcare and welfare?

San Miguel de Allende Asshole

Dear Gabacho: No, because we’re smarter than that—and look at how great our immigration policy has worked for us!

Ask the Mexican at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.; be his fan on Facebook; follow him on Twitter @gustavoarellano; or follow him on Instagram @gustavo_arellano!

Published in Ask a Mexican

On the first Independent comics page of the new year: The K Chronicles heads to a gun-exchange program; Jen Sorenson gets job advice from Rand Paul; Red Meat has potentially psychic dreams; and The City makes some startling predictions for 2014.

Published in Comics

Duroville is synonymous with abject poverty, disgusting messes, noxious fumes, electrical fires, feral dogs and sewage ponds. In the backyard of the glitzy Coachella Valley, our fellow humans were allowed to live in conditions like those in the slums of what we call Third World countries.

The park was due to be shut down in 2003 for health and safety violations. And in 2007. And again in 2009. On tribal land near Thermal, Duroville belongs to a man named Harvey Duro Sr., a member of the Torres Martinez Desert Cahuilla Indians.

At one time, almost 4,000 people lived there. The majority of residents are migrant farm workers, picking vegetables and fruit in the nearby agricultural fields. Most of them moved into a new government-subsidized housing development called Mountain View Estates, just a few miles away, at various stages during 2012. There, they can turn on the tap and see clear water, rather than the brown liquid that would leak out in Duroville.

They have air conditioning. The toilets don’t back up. Wires aren’t hanging out in the open, and raw sewage isn’t forming puddles on the streets.

Yet there are still families living at Duroville, hoping to be re-housed. They may be moved by May 2013.

After the majority of families had left, so, too, did the regular services that residents had been paying for. For weeks, the trash was not picked up.

That is where Rudy Gutierrez, a South Coast Air Quality Management District liaison officer for the east Coachella Valley, came in. Together with the Economic Development Agency (EDA), the office of Riverside County Supervisor John Benoit, and Burrtec, he organized a community cleanup on Saturday, March 30, to help the remaining residents by hauling off any bulk items they wished to get rid of.

Cleaning up Duroville is a massive undertaking, and this was a great start. There will be more cleanups in the future.

Approximately 120 volunteers came, mostly youth, from all over Coachella Valley. There was a girls' softball team, Kaos from La Quinta, composed of mostly sixth-graders. The boys’ boxing and basketball team from Mecca, the Boys and Girls Club and a variety of high school teams from all over the valley were also there. Some of the school teams were receiving a stipend for their volunteering, to benefit their teams.

I joined the teams and the respective adults, and together, we went around Duroville. We asked residents whether they would like to have any items removed. Burrtec’s large dump trucks would follow us around, and we would gather and place items in the bin. In some cases, the families were there to direct us to what they wanted us to take. In other cases, they had already placed items in their yards. Dust and dirt whirled all around as we picked up items ranging from fridges to tables, chairs to broken toys, broken bicycles to pieces of metal. The kids were motivated to help, but we were all very safety-conscious. The relief was evident on the residents’ faces, the thank-yous loud and clear.

The coach of the girls’ softball team said something very poignant when we spoke about participating in the cleanup. He brought the girls out here to do something as a team, outside of softball, and to let them see how others live. He wanted the young athletes to learn to be appreciative of what one has.

Indeed, it is sobering. No one should have to live like that. No one.

The end of Duroville is nigh. The remaining families are anxious to know when they will be moved, and where they will end up. Most of the residents will end up in homes currently being finished in the Mountain View Estates. Others are unsure what the future will bring. Not all residents will qualify to live in Mountain View and thus are looking for alternatives.

After helping with the cleanup, I can’t imagine anywhere that would not be a step up from Duroville.

Published in Local Issues