able news devoted hours and hours to Trump’s absurd claim that the election was rigged against him while spending precious little time on the real threat that voters faced.”
5. Big Data and Dark Money Behind the 2016 Election
When Richard Nixon first ran for Congress in 1946, he and his supporters used a wide range of dirty tricks aimed at smearing his opponent as pro-Communist. One was a boiler-room operation that generated phone calls to registered Democrats and simply said, “This is a friend of yours, but I can’t tell you who I am. Did you know that Jerry Voorhis is a Communist?” Then the caller would hang up.
In 2016, the same basic strategy was employed, but with decades of refinement, technological advances and massively more money behind it. A key player in its deployment was right-wing computer scientist and hedge-fund billionaire Robert Mercer, who contributed $13.5 million to Trump’s campaign Mercer also funded Cambridge Analytica, a data analytics company that specializes in “election management strategies” and using “psychographic” microtargeting — based on thousands of pieces of data for some 220 million American voters — as Carole Cadwalladr reported for The Guardian in February 2017.
“We are thrilled that our revolutionary approach to data-driven communication has played such an integral part in President-elect Trump’s extraordinary win,” said Cambridge Analytica’s CEO Alexander Nix, after Trump’s victory.
Until recently, Cambridge Analytica’s parent company, Strategic Communication Laboratories, participated in elections across Europe, Africa and the Caribbean with a style that was more old-school. In Trinidad, it paid for the painting of graffiti slogans that were generally assumed to be the work of grassroots youth. In Nigeria, it advised its client party to suppress the vote of the opposition “by organizing anti-poll rallies on the day of the election.”
These days, however, their approach is decidedly new-school, thanks to technology that enables them to micro-target their deceptive, disruptive messaging. “Pretty much every message that Trump put out was data-driven” after they joined the campaign, Nix said in September 2016. On the day of the third presidential debate, Trump’s team “tested 175,000 different ad variations for his arguments” via Facebook.
This messaging had everything to do with how targeted voters would respond, not with Trump’s or Mercer’s views. In a New Yorker profile, Jane Mayer noted that Mercer argued that the 1964 Civil Rights Act was a major mistake, a subject not remotely hinted at during the campaign.
“Suddenly, a random billionaire can change politics and public policy — sweep everything else off the table — even if they don’t speak publicly, and even if there’s almost no public awareness of his or her views,” Trevor Potter, former chair of the Federal Election Commission, told Mayer.
With the real patterns of influence, ideology, money, power and belief hidden from view, the very concept of democratic self-governance is now fundamentally at risk.
6. Antibiotic Resistant “Superbugs” Threaten Health and Foundations of Modern Medicine
Anson Stevens-Bollen, Santa Fe Reporter
The problem of antibiotics giving rise to more dangerous drug-resistant microorganisms (“superbugs”) has been present since the early days of penicillin, but has now reached a crisis, with companies creating dangerous superbugs when their factories leak industrial waste, as reported by Madlen Davies of the Bureau of Investigative Journalism in September 2016. Factories in China and India, where the majority of worldwide antibiotics are manufactured, have released “untreated waste fluid” into local soils and waters, leading to increases in antimicrobial resistance that diminish the effectiveness of antibiotics and threaten the foundations of modern medicine.
“After bacteria in the environment become resistant, they can exchange genetic material with other germs, spreading antibiotic resistance around the world, according to an assessment issued by the European Public Health Alliance, which served as the basis for Davies’s news report,” Projected Censored explained. One strain of drug-resistant bacterium that originated in India in 2014 has spread to 70 other countries.
Superbugs have already killed an estimated 25,000 people across Europe, thus globally posing “as big a threat as terrorism,” according to a UK National Health Service Chief Medical Officer Dame Sally Davies.
“At the heart of the issue is how to motivate pharmaceutical companies to improve their production practices,” Project Censored noted. “With strong demand for antibiotics, the companies continue to profit despite the negative consequences of their actions…. The EPHA assessment recommended five responses that major purchasers of medicines could implement to help stop antibiotic pollution. Among these recommendations are blacklisting pharmaceutical companies that contribute to the spread of superbugs through irresponsible practices, and promoting legislation to incorporate environmental criteria into the industry’s good manufacturing practices.”
Superbugs are especially threatening modern medicine, in which a wide range of sophisticated practices — organ transplants, joint replacements, cancer chemotherapy and care of pre-term infants — “will become more difficult or even too dangerous to undertake,” said Margaret Chan, head of the World Health Organization.
“Although the threat of antibiotic-resistant microbes is well documented in scientific publications, there is little to no coverage on superbugs in the corporate press,” Project Censored noted. “What corporate news coverage there is tends to exaggerate the risks and consequences of natural outbreaks — as seen during the Ebola scare in the United States in 2014 — rather than reporting on the preventable spread of superbugs by irresponsible pharmaceutical companies.”
Once again, it’s not just a problem of suppressing a single story, but two overlapping patterns — the biological problem of superbugs and political economy problem of the corporate practices that produce them so wantonly.
7. The Toll of Navy Training on Wildlife in the North Pacific
The Navy has killed, injured or harassed marine mammals in the North Pacific almost 12 million times over a five-year period, according to research conducted by the West Coast Action Alliance and reported by Dahr Jamail for Truthout. The casualties include endangered species such as humpback whales, blue whales, gray whales, sperm whales, steller sea lions and sea otters. The number of destroyed and damaged marine lives was derived from the Navy’s Northwest Training and Testing environmental impact statement and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s letter of authorization, which report the number of “takes” of marine mammals caused by Navy exercises.
“A ‘take’ is a form of harm to an animal that ranges from harassment, to injury, and sometimes to death,” Jamail wrote. “Many wildlife conservationists see even ‘takes’ that only cause behavior changes as injurious, because chronic harassment of animals that are feeding or breeding can end up harming, or even contributing to their deaths if they are driven out of habitats critical to their survival.”
As the alliance noted, this does not include impacts on “endangered and threatened seabirds, fish, sea turtles or terrestrial species” due to Navy activities. Those activities have dramatically expanded, according to the Navy’s October 2015 environmental impact statement. These include:
- A 778 percent increase in number of torpedoes
- A 400 percent increase in air-to-surface missile exercises (including Olympic Coast National Marine Sanctuary)
- A 1,150 percent increase in drone aircraft
- An increase from none to 284 sonar testing events in inland waters
“It is, and has been for quite some time now, well known in the scientific community that the Navy’s use of sonar can damage and kill marine life,” Jamail reported.
“With little oversight on Navy training activities, the public is left in the dark regarding their environmental impacts, including especially how Navy operations impact fish in the North Pacific and marine life at the bottom of the food chain,” Project Censored noted. “There has been almost no coverage of these impacts in the corporate press.”
8. Maternal Mortality a Growing Threat in the U.S.
The U.S. maternal mortality rate is rising, even as it declines across the developed world. Serious injuries and complications are needlessly even more widespread with shockingly little attention being paid.
“Each year more than 600 women in the United States die from pregnancy-related causes and more than 65,000 experience life-threatening complications or severe maternal morbidity,” Elizabeth Dawes Gay reported, covering an April 2016 congressional briefing organized by Women’s Policy Inc. “The average national rate of maternal mortality has increased from 12 per 100,000 live births in 1998 to 15.9 in 2012, after peaking at 17.8 in 2011.”
“The U.S. is the only nation in the developed world with a rising maternal mortality rate,” Rep. Lois Capps stated at the meeting.
“Inadequate health care in rural areas and racial disparities are drivers of this maternal health crisis,” Project Censored summarized. “Nationally, African-American women are three to four times more likely than white women to die from pregnancy-related causes, with rates even higher in parts of the U.S. that Gay characterized as ‘pockets of neglect,’ such as Georgia, where the 2011 maternal mortality rate of 28.7 per 100,000 live births was nearly double the national average.”
The Alliance for Innovation on Maternal Health has developed safety bundles of ‘best practices, guidelines and protocols to improve maternal health care quality and safety,’” Gay wrote. “These ‘bundles’ include equipping hospital labor units with a fully stocked cart for immediate hemorrhage treatment, establishing a hospital-level emergency management protocol, conducting regular staff drills and reviewing all cases to learn from past mistakes, among other things.”
More broadly, Kiera Butler reported for Mother Jones that doctors rarely warn patients of the potential for serious injuries and complications that can occur following birth.
“Women have a right to make informed decisions about their bodies and serious medical situations; however, when it comes to birth and its aftereffects, Butler found that doctors simply are not providing vital information,” Project Censored summarized.
Many state laws require doctors to inform women of the potential complications and dangers associated with delivery, but none require them to discuss potential long-term problems, including the fact that some complications are more prevalent in women who give birth vaginally, rather than by cesarean section.
“All told, according to a 2008 study by researchers at the California HMO Kaiser Permanente, about one in three women suffer from a pelvic floor disorder (a category that includes urinary incontinence, fecal incontinence, and prolapse), and roughly 80 percent of those women are mothers,” Butler reported. “Women who deliver vaginally are twice as likely to experience these injuries as women who have a cesarean or who have not given birth. For one in 10 women, the problem is severe enough to warrant surgery.”
“The corporate news media have paid limited attention to maternal mortality and morbidity in the U.S.,” Project Censored notes. There have been scattered stories, but nothing remotely close to the sort of sustained coverage that is warranted.
9. Primaries? Dems Say Party Empowered to Pick Prez Candidate
A key story about 2016 election has mostly been ignored by the media — a class-action lawsuit alleging that the Democratic National Committee broke legally-binding neutrality agreements in the Democratic primaries by strategizing to make Hillary Clinton the nominee before a single vote was cast. The lawsuit was filed against the DNC and its former chair, Debbie Wasserman Schultz, in June 2016 by Beck & Lee, a Miami law firm, on behalf of supporters of Bernie Sanders. At an April 27 hearing, DNC lawyers argued that neutrality was not actually required and that the court had no jurisdiction to assess neutral treatment.
As Michael Sainato reported for the Observer, DNC attorneys claimed that Article V, Section 4 of the DNC Charter, which instructs the DNC chair and staff to ensure neutrality in the Democratic presidential primaries, is actually “a discretionary rule” that the DNC “didn’t need to adopt to begin with.” In addition, DNC attorney Bruce Spiva later said it was within the DNC’s rights to “go into back rooms like they used to and smoke cigars and pick the candidate that way.” Sainato also reported that DNC attorneys argued that specific terms used in the DNC charter, including “impartial” and “evenhanded,” couldn’t be interpreted in a court of law, because it would “drag the Court … into a political question and a question of how the party runs its own affairs.”
Jared Beck, representing the Sanders supporters, responded, “Your Honor, I’m shocked to hear that we can’t define what it means to be evenhanded and impartial. If that were the case, we couldn’t have courts. I mean, that’s what courts do every day, is decide disputes in an evenhanded and impartial manner.”
Not only was running elections in a fair and impartial manner a “bedrock assumption” of democracy, Beck argued earlier, it was also a binding commitment for the DNC: “That’s what the Democratic National Committee’s own charter says,” he said. “It says it in black and white.”
Much of the reporting and commentary on the broader subject of the DNC’s collusion with the Clinton campaign has been speculative and misdirected, focused on questions about voter fraud and countered by accusations of indulging in “conspiracy theory.” But this trial focuses on documentary evidence and questions of law — all publicly visible yet still treated as suspect, when not simply ignored out of hand.
As Project Censored notes, “[E]ven Michael Sainato’s reporting — which has consistently used official documents, including the leaked DNC emails and courtroom transcripts, as primary sources — has been repeatedly labeled “opinion” — rather than straight news reporting — by his publisher, the Observer.”
10. A Record Year for Global Internet Shutdowns: 2016
According to the digital rights organization Access Now, in 2016 the world’s governments shut down internet access more than 50 times, “suppressing elections, slowing economies and limiting free speech,” as Lyndal Rowlands reported for the Inter Press Service.
“In the worst cases internet shutdowns have been associated with human rights violations,” Rowlands was told by Deji Olukotun, of Access Now. “What we have found is that internet shutdowns go hand in hand with atrocities.” Olukotun said.
Kevin Collier also covered the report for Vocativ, noting that Access Now uses a “conservative metric,” counting “repeated, similar outages,” like those which occurred during Gabon’s widely criticized internet “curfew,” as a single instance. The Vocativ report included a dynamic map chart, designed by Kaitlyn Kelly, that vividly depicts internet shutdowns around the world, month by month for all of 2016, as documented by Access Now.
“Many countries intentionally blacked out Internet access during elections and to quell protest. Not only do these shutdowns restrict freedom of speech, they also hurt economies around the world,” Project Censored notes. “TechCrunch, IPS, and other independent news organizations reported that a Brookings Institution study found that Internet shutdowns cost countries $2.4 billion between July 2015 and June 2016” — a conservative estimate according to the study’s author, Darrell West.
As Olukotun told IPS, one way to stop government shutdowns is for internet providers to resist government demands.
“Telecommunications companies can push back on government orders, or at least document them to show what’s been happening, to at least have a paper trail,” Olukotun observed.
On July 1, 2016, the U.N. Human Rights Council passed a non-binding resolution signed by more than 70 countries lauding the Internet’s “great potential to accelerate human progress,” and condemning “measures to intentionally prevent or disrupt access to or dissemination of information online.” It noted that, “the exercise of human rights, in particular the right to freedom of expression, on the Internet is an issue of increasing interest and importance.”
Yet, “understanding what this means for Internet users can be difficult,” Azad Essa reported for Al Jazeera in May 2017. Advocates of online rights “need to be constantly pushing for laws that protect this space and demand that governments meet their obligations in digital spaces just as in non-digital spaces,” he was told by the U.N.’s special rapporteur on freedom of opinion and expression, David Kaye.