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2016august17 toxicUnregulated pollution of our public waters enables corporations who privatize water supplies. (Image: Michael Smith)

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An August 5 article in AgMag, a publication of the Environmental Working Group, includes an eye-opening warning about the impact that agricultural pollution can have on drinking water, including a relatively large city such as Des Moines, Iowa:

On Thursday, Des Moines Water Works warned customers of elevated levels of microcystins, the toxins created by cyanobacteria, in their drinking water. These toxins cause acute problems with the liver, including liver failure, among other serious health problems. 

The utility was forced to switch water supplies and caution some residents to avoid consuming too much water.

The utility accelerated the public warning due to increasing concerns about the effects of these agrotoxins on human health....

Des Moines regularly faces nutrient levels three times the allowable standard in its source water, and Water Works is currently involved in a lawsuit attempting to get the growers applying nutrients to take responsibility and clean up the mess.

Of course, nothing could please the profiteering bottled water industry more than a warning not to drink local tap water, given that it boosts the sales of their product. In a recent commentary, I noted that Nestlé is extracting clean water from protected public lands to sell in places such as Des Moines. In short, private water companies make money by selling water in plastic bottles -- which are environmentally destructive -- when public water supplies become polluted.


2016aug16 churchchristian(Photo: Marie Loughin)

Is the 2016 election the last stand politically for white Christians in the United States? That's the question academic John Sides implies in a Washington Post interview with Robert P. Jones, the author of the recently released book, The End of White Christian America.

I have written numerous commentaries this election cycle on how Donald Trump is the "great white hope" to restore the White House and the US to representing the interests of white privilege, white tribalism and the restoration of blatant racism as an acceptable political and cultural stance among whites.

When it comes to religion, Donald Trump's ongoing defamation of Muslims and draconian proposals for restricting the access of Muslims to the United States and even intensive monitoring of Muslims within the United States is certainly aimed at opportunistically ratcheting up xenophobia and Islamophobia. However, it is also an attempt to corral white Christians -- particularly Evangelicals -- behind an unabashed bigoted white authoritarian Christian – although perhaps in name only -- presidential candidate.

Trump's extension of Nixon's strategy to include not just southern whites, but all whites who believe in white privilege and that the United States is losing its "Christian heritage" is borne out by clear demographic trends. In a 2015 article, Time concluded "white Christians now make up less than half of America":

White Christians no longer make up the majority of the U.S. population, a new survey has found.

The number of white Christians in America has dwindled to 46 percent of the total population from 55 percent in 2007, according to a Pew Research Center survey released Monday by National Journal’s Next America project.


2016aug12 demrepDemocracy or Duopoly? (Image: DonkeyHotey)

The corporate media is pretty consistent in its formulaic coverage of presidential races. On July 6, I noted in a commentary how predictable it was that the established pundits were urging that Trump needed to get "on message" in order to be a viable candidate. I pointed out that Trump was already "on message" -- his message was that of a bigoted, sneering demagogue. The establishment political media, however, always covers presidential elections with a template that includes solemnly advice on how presidential candidates must "move to the center" and "stay on message." The idea is that they must give speeches filled with party-line pablum and platitudes in order to win over the much-touted but illusive "independent vote."

If a candidate continues to, in the view of pompous pundits, go "off message," the scribes move to claiming that a particular campaign needs a "reset." For example, on August 8, a Reuters article declared, "Trump seeks a campaign reset with Detroit economic speech." On August 9, a Washington Post article stated that the "next step in Donald Trump’s reset" would be "wooing evangelical pastors." A number of Trump "shock" statements in the past few days have resulted in some talking heads calling for a "reset" on Trump's "reset."

Yes, if a presidential candidate doesn't stay "on message" (which generally means "pivoting" to the mythical "center" as defined by the DC establishment press) then that campaign and candidate need a whole series of "resets."

To those disgruntled by this "lesser of two evils" election, however, the reset that is needed is quite different: What's necessary is to rewind the clock and start over with a new way to choose multiple presidential candidates. Right now, in our two-party system, the way presidential elections are legally structured and covered by the media make a third-party victory extraordinarily improbable. It shouldn't be that way, but it is. We, indeed, have what is often cited as a duopoly on the national level -- or a two-party presidential election franchise.

The two-party dominance of presidential elections has been a major contributor to the creation of a stultified democracy, one in which the institutional interests and the influence of the wealthy and corporations on each party has stifled robust debate and change. What we get are presidential campaigns that reflect the institutional interests of the two parties -- and don't for a moment think that billionaire Donald Trump does not embody both the pro-wealth and, in general, the social policies of the GOP.  Every four years, the media treats candidates as if they can just change costumes ("move to the center," "reset," etc.) and become more electable. Of course, a tacit corporate media assessment of being "on message" involves candidates of either major party adopting economic positions that benefit corporations, since the mass media consists of large corporate ownership, in general.


2016aug11 whistleblowerWhistleblowers and confidential journalistic sources are essential to transparency in government. (Photo: Steven Depolo)

The Truthout Progressive Pick of book this week is The Killing of Osama Bin Laden, by famed investigative journalist Seymour Hersh. Hersh makes a very persuasive case that the official version of how bin Laden was found and killed was filled more with drama than fact. The White House manufactured a version of the event that was like a Hollywood script, which it actually became in the film Zero Dark Thirty. For outing the fallacies in the White House tale of the bin Laden killing, Hersh was ostracized by both the office of the president and other government agencies, as well as mainstream media reporters and outlets.

Why? Because if Hersh and his sources were correct in how the US came to find bin Laden's location and conduct the operation to assassinate him, then it meant that all the other media outlets who swallowed the official story whole were negligent in investigating the details surrounding the raid.

My first question to Hersh, and his answer -- which will appear in an interview with him on Truthout this Sunday -- reveals why confidential sources and whistleblowers are so important at a time when government narratives crafted for entertainment-driven news outlets go unchallenged:

Mark Karlin: I found your narrative based on research and informants very persuasive. Your version of how Osama bin Laden came to be killed was ridiculed by the White House, the intelligence communities and the military. Why do you think the mainstream press – and even The Guardian – marginalized your sourced account as conspiratorialist?

Seymour Hersh: The mainstream press relies on access. The reporters covering beats – most notably national security beats – must be able to get calls returned and interviews when needed. This does not mean that the reporters on those beats are incompetent or in the hands of the White House – it is just a fact of life that those who cross boundaries, as defined by the White House, do not get the same treatment as those who faithfully reflect the view of the President and his minions.

It is especially so when it comes to crisis reporting – an airplane tragedy, a battlefield victory or defeat. Thus, the White House controlled all details of the story from the moment President Obama announced the kill, and it did all – as White Houses will – to glorify the President’s action and shape the story in ways that would help in Obama’s re-election the next year. The major media lined up for information, and begged and pleaded for any scraps that could be labeled exclusive. Once the narrative was set, any significant change in the story had to be resisted by the White House, and especially by those who wrote the initial stories....


2016aug10 warondrugs(Image: dugg simpson)

David S. Cohen, a writer at Rolling Stone, asserts that Donald Trump's statement about "Second Amendment people" yesterday could definitely be interpreted as condoning the assassination of Hillary Clinton. Here is what Trump said on August 9 in North Carolina: "If she gets to pick her judges, nothing you can do, folks. Although the Second Amendment people, maybe there is. I don't know." Cohen argues that Trump was engaging in a verbal act of stochastic terrorism, which the author describes in this way:

[It] means using language and other forms of communication "to incite random actors to carry out violent or terrorist acts that are statistically predictable but individually unpredictable."

Of course, Trump's "call to arms" became the top presidential campaign story of Tuesday night and Wednesday morning.  Trump used to be a frequent guest on the Howard Stern show, and he may have learned from the top "shock jock" how to be a true "shock presidential candidate." Media outlets know that Trump can repeatedly deliver incendiary and grossly offensive statements that grab the interests of readers and viewers in an age when the line between news media and mass entertainment has nearly dissolved.

That trend in campaign coverage -- and Trump's ability to push the edge of the shock envelope a little bit further each day -- has helped leave the discussion of public policy issues of substance out of the presidential contest. Furthermore, what little air is left in the newsroom after the daily Trump outrageous declaration is used for a discussion of the presidential campaign as a horse race or boxing match.

As Stanford Professor David Palumbo-Liu warned in a Truthout commentary yesterday, mainstream corporate media coverage of the 2016 presidential election has focused on personality and entertainment, to the detriment of a discussion of issues that directly impact our lives:

The cult of personality that drives our political campaigns, as frighteningly entertaining as it may be, should not be at center stage, and the tensions that drive voters should not be resolved after one or another candidate disappears. The anger, violence, paranoia and deep racism that propelled Trump to the nomination, even beyond the control of the Republican Party management, will still be there, waiting to find a new champion. We had better be watchful of the new slick package that the next candidate will come in. Whether we end up in the next round of elections with "new Democrats" or "new Republicans," the essential thing is to understand the actual realities that inform our political, social and historical lives, and to probe into the institutions and powerful interests that deliver justice and well-being, unevenly and often brutally.


2016aug9 wealthdivide(Photo: Institute for Policy Studies)

On August 8, the Institute for Policy Studies (IPS) and the the Corporation for Enterprise Development (CFED) released a stunning report, "The Ever-Growing Gap: Failing to Address the Status Quo Will Drive the Racial Wealth Divide for Centuries to Come." Key findings include:

  • By 2043 -- the year in which it is projected that people of color will make up a majority of the U.S. population -- the wealth divide between white families and Latino and black families will have doubled, on average, from about $500,000 in 2013 to over $1 million.

  • If average black family wealth continues to grow at the same pace it has over the past three decades, it would take black families 228 years to amass the same amount of wealth white families have today. That’s just 17 years shorter than the 245-year span of slavery in this country. For the average Latino family, it would take 84 years to amass the same amount of wealth White families have today -- that’s the year 2097.

  • Over the past 30 years the average wealth of white families has grown by 84% -- 1.2 times the rate of growth for the Latino population and three times the rate of growth for the black population. If that continues, the next three decades would see the average wealth of white households increase by over $18,000 per year, while Latino and Black households would see their respective wealth increase by only $2,250 and $750 per year.

I interviewed Chuck Collins, director of the Program on Inequality and the Common Good at the Institute for Policy Studies, via email about just a few of the alarming conclusions in the study that he co-authored.


2016aug5 hospitalsWhy aren't hospital charges required to be posted online? (Photo: Michael Kappel)

Most people in the US cannot compare the costs of hospital medical procedures online, according to a recent study by the advocacy group Public Citizen. That is because in 44 states, there is no requirement to disclose the listed fee for hospital surgeries and diagnostic tests on the web. Official hospital prices vary widely -- even within a local area -- because often the "sticker price" for a colonoscopy, for example, is not established based on the inherent costs of the procedure. Instead, it is set high as a price from which to bargain down with insurance providers.

Veejay Das, health care policy advocate for Public Citizen, who conducted the analysis, said in a Public Citizen news release:

Shopping for health care prices in the United States is like trying to find a light switch in the dark. If you know where you should be looking – and it’s actually there for you to find – you might have a chance, but otherwise you’ll blindly search in vain.

For anyone who doesn't have insurance and must pay a full, inflated price for hospital-based care, comparative pricing is essential to reduce extreme costs. Yet, in most of the United States, that is an extremely difficult task to undertake.

Furthermore, Public Citizen notes:

Out-of-pocket health care costs for patients are soaring in the United States. Since 2010, insurance deductibles for workers have risen three times as fast as premiums and about seven times as fast as wages and inflation, according to the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation.

That means it is necessary to know which hospitals are less expensive -- and to check with your insurance company for their negotiated rates for a given procedure with a hospital -- in order to plan for the financial repercussions of a medical bill.


2016aug4 gmolabelingOn July 29, President Obama signed a bill that is a setback for our right to know about GMOs in food. (Photo: David Goehring)

You may have read that President Obama signed a so-called GMO "labeling" law on July 29. Media outlets like ABC News reported that the bill "mandate[es] GMO labeling."

However, the reality of the new legislation is what Rick North, writing on the progressive commentary forum BlueOregon, calls a "sham":

It’s a major victory for Monsanto, the biotech industry and Grocery Manufacturer’s Association, all of whom know labeling could diminish their profits.

Most polls found about 90% of respondents wanted on-the-package GMO labeling, an almost-unheard-of support level for any issue. True public advocates, like the Organic Consumers Association, Consumers Union, Center for Food Safety, Food and Water Watch, Cornucopia Institute, Food Democracy Now, etc., exposed the bill for the charade it was.

All to no avail.

Why does North consider calling the so-called "GMO labeling" bill a misnomer? North cites one reason, among others:

This is a labeling law that doesn’t require labeling. It allows toll-free numbers and QR codes requiring smart phones to read. Any corporation trying to hide its use of GMO’s (i.e. most of them) will employ the QR codes.

Wednesday, 03 August 2016 07:36

Is Trump Eager to Let the Nukes Fly?


2016august3 nuclearwarheadNuclear warhead on Titan missile (Photo: Tommaso Galli)

In just a few days, on August 6, it will be the anniversary of the dropping of the atomic bomb on Hiroshima. It was the beginning of the nuclear age: an age in which the US, the Soviet Union and now many other nations have the ability to annihilate the people of the world with nuclear weapons.

The Cold War stand-off between the US and the Soviet Union, with nuclear "mutually assured destruction" (MAD) as an ever-present threat was a key motivating factor in the clamor for nuclear disarmament. In the late 1950s and early 1960s, "No Nukes" was a thriving movement with frequent protests.

Although anti-nuclear-weapons advocacy has dramatically decreased since the Cold War ended, the threat of nuclear conflict is still a looming issue.

According to the Arms Control Association, the United States currently maintains around 7,100 nuclear warheads, while Russia still has 7,300 (although it is in the process of dismantling some of them). Another seven nations are known to have nuclear weapons.


2016august1 phoenixArid Phoenix doesn't need its piped in water bottled by Nestlé. (Photo: Jerry Ferguson)

 Phoenix is the sixth-largest city in the United States. It draws all of its water from sources that exist far beyond the horizon of the arid desert and craggy mountains that surround it.

Although some city officials claim Phoenix has excess water at the moment, other analysts claim that with the rise in global warming and the battle in the Southwest between municipalities and states over dwindling water supplies, Phoenix will face a water crisis in the not-so-distant future. A 2015 Slate article warns that "as Lake Mead hits record lows and water shortages loom, Arizona prepares for the worst."

This scenario is seen as an opportunity by Nestlé Waters -- the biggest bottled water company in the world -- not as a cause of concern for the survival of Phoenix residents. After all, if you can tip your privatization toe in a dwindling water supply, your product -- necessary to life -- becomes more valuable over time.

A May 13 article in The Arizona Republic states:

Nestlé Waters will spend $35 million to revamp a west Phoenix warehouse into a plant treating city water and selling it as Pure Life brand bottles, city and company officials said.

The plant is projected to fill 264 million half-liter bottles in its first year, or almost 35 million gallons.

That's more than enough water to supply 200 Phoenix households for a year. The plant is expected to create 40-50 jobs.

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