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Last updateTue, 18 Sep 2018 1pm

On this week's pumpkin-spice-flavored weekly Independent comics page: This Modern World watches how conservatives respond to an extinction-level event; Jen Sorenson fears a taxing day at the polls; The K Chronicles enjoys some youth baseball; Apoca Clips watches as Li'l Trumpy and Li'l Kayne babble; and Red Meat prepares for a big date.

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The California Department of Motor Vehicles has given the public a series of piecemeal explanations as it acknowledged making more than 100,000 errors in recent months while registering Californians to vote.

Software problems, it said in May. Human errors from toggling between computer windows, it said in September. Data-entry mistakes that were corrected but never saved, it said in October.

What DMV officials didn’t acknowledge—and still haven’t—was what may be the underlying problem: The agency rolled out a massive new voter-registration effort with a piecemeal computer system. Instead of the properly integrated computer program that was needed, the agency launched in April with disparate computer systems that didn’t automatically link together, according to advocates who have been working closely with the DMV on the new “motor voter” system. That meant DMV workers had to manually link information from various systems during transactions between April and September, when an integrated system was put in place, said Kathay Feng, executive director of California Common Cause.

All the problems reported so far happened during that period.

“What we’re finding out is that they were really patching together an old system with several new systems,” Feng said. “We still don’t know if … they had planned all along to have an interim process between April and September, or if this is something they cobbled together because something wasn’t ready.”

The DMV declined to answer CALmatters’ questions about the computer systems, instead providing a statement saying the motor-voter program “has been implemented in phases, allowing DMV to roll out additional functionality.” The latest upgrade, the statement says, was on Sept. 26.

The botched rollout of the motor-voter system—which comes as the state and the country prepare for midterm elections—points to two long-standing problems in California. One is the state government’s pattern of failure on large information technology projects; the other is its history of flouting the federal voter-registration law.

Common Cause and other voter-rights advocacy groups sued the state in 2015, alleging it had failed to follow federal law requiring that states register people to vote and update their voting registrations when they get or renew a driver’s license or ID card. The Legislature then passed a law creating automatic voter registration at the DMV, and the advocacy groups have been working with the government to implement it.

The idea was that rather than duplicating information by filling out a voter-registration form and a driver’s license form, Californians who are legally eligible to vote would automatically be registered when completing the DMV’s computerized application for a driver’s license or ID card.

Since the program launched in April, about 1.4 million Californians have registered to vote or updated their voter registration through the motor-voter process—and the DMV has acknowledged three batches of mistakes:

• A software error affected 77,000 registrations, resulting, in some cases, in two registration forms indicating different party preferences being issued for one voter (reported in May).

• A window-toggling error affected 23,000 registrations, resulting in changes to voters’ party preference, vote-by-mail options and language choices (reported in September).

• A data-entry error resulted in 1,500 people being registered to vote even though they are not legally eligible, because they are not U.S. citizens, are younger than 18 or are on parole for a felony conviction (reported in October).

Though the problems are serious, none indicate intentional acts of fraud or hacking. Instead, they appear to be the result of human error and glitchy technology—which officials say are being fixed with software updates and employee training. The secretary of state said erroneous registrations have been canceled, and DMV leaders say they’ve put new procedures in place to prevent mistakes in the future.

“We continue to review the efficiency and accuracy of the program and will make additional upgrades as needed,” said the statement from DMV spokeswoman Jessica Gonzalez.

Secretary of State Alex Padilla has said the errors amount to a small fraction of the transactions processed by the DMV and maintains that the corrective steps he’s taking, including a third-party review of the motor-voter system, “are crucial to ensuring voter confidence in our democracy.” National experts have repeatedly found that voter fraud is isolated and rare. Still, with the state government run entirely by Democrats, the motor-voter problems have fueled Republican arguments that voting systems are plagued by fraud. In a new digital ad this month, Padilla’s GOP opponent, Mark Meuser, highlights cases of fraudulent voting and says he wants “to end California's rigged elections.”

The potential for politicizing the problem is why the state government needs to come up with a big picture fix, said Mike Madrid, a Republican political consultant who is an outspoken critic of President Donald Trump.

“There is a way to salvage this, but it requires not dismissing it as ‘no big deal,’” he said. “The president of the United States is questioning the integrity of our electoral system, and we have just legitimized that fear-mongering.”

Madrid wants to see a bipartisan commission formed to examine California’s voting system—not only the motor-voter problems, but also issues like the incident during the June primary when more than 118,000 names were erased from Los Angeles County voter rolls. An audit found that case was caused by a formatting mismatch between state and local computer systems that left blank spaces where dates of birth should have been, causing the computer to misclassify those voters as underaged.

The state’s Department of Finance will examine the motor-voter program as part of its audit of the DMV, which has been plagued by numerous problems this year, including massive wait times. But critics say that review is insufficient, because the Department of Finance, like the DMV itself, is part of the governor’s administration.

This summer, lawmakers rejected a Republican assemblyman’s request to have the state’s independent auditor investigate the DMV. Now the Democratic assemblywoman who wrote the law creating the new motor-voter system said she is going to ask for the audit when the Legislature reconvenes in January.

“We gave them plenty of time. We increased their budget twice in order to implement this. We allowed them to delay implementation because we wanted it done right,” said Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez Fletcher of San Diego. “When they told us they were ready, obviously they weren’t quite ready.”

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

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On this week's extra-wacky weekly Independent comics page: Apoca Clips watches as Li'l Trumpy meets the new Hawaiian island; Red Meat tells a camping story; Jen Sorenson examines summer-refreshment gentrification; The K Chronicles ponders two states' voting laws; and This Modern World ponders a key Trump tweet.

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The Stoneman Douglas High School shooting in Parkland, Fla., in February changed something among many young people in the United States.

First came the March for Our Lives protests on March 24, with teens around the country organizing and speaking out in favor of tighter gun-control laws.

Now those same youngsters, as they turn 18, are registering to vote—and trying to put political pressure on congressional leaders who oppose stricter gun-control laws.

Matthew Chang, a senior at Palm Desert High School, is one of those teens: He helped mount a voter-registration drive among his classmates.

“It was very successful,” Chang said. “During the days we had the drive, we registered about 35 people to vote, and then we worked in conjunction with a club that was planning a walk-out protest, and we helped them register people to vote, too.”

Robert Westwood, the president of the Democrats of the Desert, got to know Chang when the student showed up at a meeting looking for help with his voter-registration efforts. Chang isn’t alone: Westwood said students from Palm Springs High School and Shadow Hills High School have also reached out.

“We had Matthew and four young ladies from Shadow Hills High School come to one of our Democrats of the Desert meetings,” Westwood said. “They really energized our club. They gave us a lot of information about what they’re doing and their enthusiasm for getting young people registered to vote, and then out to vote—which are two very different tasks. We can’t go onto a campus, and (registration) can only be done within a campus with permission from the administration.”

Chang said the school walkouts that have been taking place throughout the country are sending a message.

“Whatever anyone’s stances are on the walkout, we can all agree that it helped to show that we, as teens, have a bigger voice than we originally thought,” Chang said. “I think registering younger people to vote comes from that. If we do things like walkouts, which shows people we have a voice, more people will want to register to vote to enhance their voice and become politically active.”

What made Chang decide to become politically active?

“During my freshman year, I joined a club called Youth in Government, and it was with the YMCA,” he said. “It really changed my perspective, because before, I was really apathetic to what was going on around me, and it showed me that I have a say in what’s going on, and if I have an opinion, I need to share it.”

What do his parents think about his political involvement?

“They’re not really into politics,” Chang said. “I don’t think they even knew that I was doing the voter-registration drive. It was just something that I took on. They’re not really into politically related things.”

Talking to other young people about political subjects is not always easy, Chang said.

“I do think that talking to young people who have not had a government class yet is difficult,” Chang said. “Not many young people keep track of the news as much as people wish that they did. … More-educated young people are easy to talk to about politics. Because of that, I think we should try harder to educate younger people.”

Westwood said Chang’s involvement with the Democrats of the Desert has been inspirational.

“He came and talked to us and led us in the Pledge of Allegiance at one of our meetings where we had 150 people, and everybody got up and cheered him—and some people were crying,” Westwood said. “He also had the student body president from Palm Desert High School come with him, and she gave a rousing talk about the importance of young people keeping this going, and asked for our help. She offered their help to register young people and get young people out to vote. Now we’re moving on projects to get people to vote by mail and show up to vote on June 5.”

Chang’s time at Palm Desert High School is about to come to a close, and he said he plans on remaining active in college.

“Next year, I am going to college at Harvard, and I want to join the Democratic Club at Harvard,” he said. “I’m going to work on some campaigns and help some Democratic candidates I support.”

While Chang is optimistic overall, he did admit he has some concerns about politics.

“I think that we are becoming increasingly polarized in politics. A lot of the exchanges I hear between different parties are often not attempts to work with the other party, but are often trying to degrade the other party as much as possible. I don’t think that’s the direction that we need to be going in. We need bipartisan proposals to make sure that all perspectives are heard, and we can all work together as a nation.”

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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

On this week's fall-colored Independent comics page: Red Meat enjoys a new gig; Jen Sorenson brings us Voter Suppression Funnies; The K Chronicles gets cranky about a letter to the editor; and This Modern World has a chat with Droney the Drone.

Published in Comics

Over the last decade in the Coachella Valley (and Riverside County overall), there has been a seismic political shift that is not related to the proximity of the San Andreas Fault.

In 2004, as the presidential election drew near, the Republican Party in Riverside County held a voter-registration advantage of 12.5 percentage points over the Democratic Party.

Four years later, that Republican advantage had dwindled to slightly more than 5 percentage points. And in 2012, as the race between President Barack Obama and former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney neared its climax, the Democratic Party had narrowed the gap to just 4.5 percentage points.

According to data released on May 20 by the California Secretary of State, that differential is now just 4.1 percentage points.

It’s no surprise that many political insiders in Riverside County attribute the Democrats’ surprising wins at the polls last November—Obama actually beat Romney by almost 11,000 votes in the county, and Dr. Raul Ruiz edged out incumbent Rep. Mary Bono Mack to get elected to Congress—to the party’s effective voter-enlistment drive over the last decade.

“When we opened our headquarters five years ago (in Cathedral City), we realized that one of the most important activities we could pursue was voter registration,” explained Elle Kurpiewski, the manager of the aforementioned headquarters and a former president of the Democrats of the Desert. “Our facility plays host to 11 different Democratic clubs and organizations in the region; we sponsor a booth at the weekly Thursday night Palm Springs Village Fest; and in 2008, we had 27 semi-permanent voter-registration sites established.”

Other factors have impacted the registered-voter landscape, too. One was the California online voter registration legislation that took effect in 2012 and is credited with enabling some 800,000 new voters statewide to join the electoral rolls prior to the 2012 general election. This new registration method proved particularly effective in attracting eligible voters among the young and minority groups, favoring Democrats statewide by a 2-to-1 margin over Republicans. (There are no specific numbers for Riverside County available yet.)

“Our only concern was whether online registration would actually work: Would voters be able to navigate the system successfully to get registered?” Kurpiewski said. “What we want is that people take advantage of their constitutional right to vote. If it works and helps stop registration fraud, then we’re in favor of it.”

Another major factor is the rapid growth of the Latino population statewide. According to the California Department of Finance, by early 2014, Latinos will outnumber white people by early 2014. Along with the Latino segment’s rapid growth comes these political realities: While only 44 percent of eligible Latino voters in the state had registered, more than 60 percent of them identified themselves as Democrats; meanwhile, only about 15 percent said they were Republicans, according to the Public Policy Institute of California in an analysis released earlier this year.

Therein lies both an opportunity and a challenge for the two major political parties.

“I always say that the Republican Party in Riverside County has three ongoing and equally important goals: voter registration, fundraising and get-out-the-vote efforts,” said Randon Lane, chairman of the Republican Party of Riverside County. “I will speak to any organization, representing any constituency, about the Republican Party message and values. Right now, it’s important for us to get outside the box to attract both new voters to register as Republicans, and convert those who may not completely understand our message and are registered now with other major parties.”

Kurpiewski said local Democrats have made specific efforts to reach Latino communities in Coachella, Indio and Mecca. “But our focus is not just the Latino community; we care about everyone. In all ethnic communities, we enlist participants who are members of that community and have skills and expertise unique to their community. They know their neighbors and can identify the areas where our voter registration outreach will succeed. Our whole thing is working together with the communities that make up Coachella Valley, and that has made us successful in turning this valley blue.”

All eyes are now on the 2014 Riverside County Board of Supervisors race between challenger V. Manuel Perez, a Democrat, and Republican incumbent John Benoit. Just how much of the voter-registration focus in Riverside County will be on recruiting Latino citizens?

“There are a lot of shared voter concerns that we speak to as a party in our outreach efforts, whether at meetings, via social media or direct mail,” said Lane, “but particular voter segments have their specific issues that we want to address. The Republican Party wants to speak to the Latino community’s concerns, just as we need to address concerns in the black, Asian, white or any ethnic constituency where voters will consider supporting the Republican Party.”

Kurpiewski said local Democrats are in the process of starting a major voter-registration drive this month. “I’d rather not share details, because we don’t want to give opposing parties a preview of our strategy, but we are very confident that this effort will enable us to accomplish everything we can to help V. Manuel Perez to get elected, and also to keep U.S. Congressman Raul Ruiz in office,” she said.

Published in Politics