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CounterPunch Diary

Definitely Bachmann Over Weiner

by ALEXANDER COCKBURN

Rep Anthony Weiner is gone and a good job too. Though progwessive publications like The Nation were disposed to clamor for his political survival as a champion of the left, and to deprecate his foolish sexual exhibitionism as an inconsequential blemish in a promising politician, Weiner surely embodied many of the viler strains disfiguring the Democratic Party, starting with servility to Wall Street — the prime trait of his mentor, Senator Charles Schumer. Both Schumer and Weiner voted for the TARP bailout, in contrast to New York’s other U.S. senator, Kirsten Gillibrand.

Those TARP votes are a pretty useful indentikit of where the Senators and Reps really stood, vis a vis the money power. Michael Hudson on this site this weekend cites Rep Michele Bachmann’s No vote and her continued denunciation of the bail-out (though it has to be added that Bachmann is for the total deregulation of Wall Street — and everything else.)

As Vedran Vuk wrote in the Casey Dispatch:

“Over the last decade, Weiner has received $487,365 from the real-estate industry – his top industry supporter. Not surprisingly, Weiner has sponsored legislation such as H.R. 3527, the FHA Multifamily Loan Limit Adjustment Act of 2009. Let’s have a look at the bill’s summary:

“‘Amends the National Housing Act to revise the maximum mortgage loan principal amounts the Secretary of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) may insure for elevator-type multifamily structures for: (1) rental housing; (2) cooperative housing; (3) rehabilitation and neighborhood conservation housing; (4) housing for moderate income and displaced families; (5) housing for elderly persons; and (6) condominiums. Replaces the current specific dollar amount limitations per family unit by which the insurable mortgage principal obligation for elevator-type multifamily structures may be increased. Prescribes instead an increase limitation per family unit of up to 50 per cent higher than the corresponding limitations for non-elevator-type multifamily structures.

“‘Authorizes the Secretary to prescribe a higher maximum (up to 50 per cent ) for the principal obligation of mortgages insured for multifamily projects located in an extremely high-cost area (similar to that for mortgage insurance for property in Alaska, Guam, Hawaii, and the Virgin Islands).’

“That kind of helps the real-estate industry, doesn’t it? On top of that, the bill helps Weiner’s top 2010 donor, M&R Management, a real-estate company with elevator buildings in an extremely high-cost area. In the past decade, Weiner’s campaigns have received $49,500 from M&R.”

Even by the degraded standards of Congress as a whole, Weiner’s slavish adherence to the dictates of AIPAC was conspicuous.

Enough of Weiner. Over on the Republican side they’re off, and running. Last Monday saw the first debate for the Republican presidential nomination. (Actually there was an earlier “first Republican debate” in South Carolina on May 5, but none of the big guns showed up, so it’s been erased from the history books.) Anyway, this one was In New Hampshire. In the old days a candidate had to win the primary there. Not any more, but candidates and journalists still flock north to the Granite State. Don’t worry if you missed it. There will be many, many more debates, all of conducted in the idiom of political infantilism, as was bleakly conceded by David Brooks, the Times’ leading Republican columnist, himself the retailer of noxious policies at a more devious level:

“The Republican growth agenda ? tax cuts and nothing else ? is stupefyingly boring, fiscally irresponsible and politically impossible,” Brooks moaned. “Gigantic tax cuts ? if they were affordable ? might boost overall growth, but they would do nothing to address the structural problems that are causing a working-class crisis. Republican politicians don’t design policies to meet specific needs, or even to help their own working-class voters. They use policies as signaling devices ? as ways to reassure the base that they are 100 percent orthodox.”

There were seven of them lined up and the single woman, the fiery Bachmann, was acclaimed the winner the next day simply because she elected to wear the mantle of relative sanity for a few hours. She made no excessively preposterous onslaughts on history, as her rival Sarah Palin had just done by claiming that Paul Revere had undertaken his famous ride to warn the British of an impending uprising. Espying lips unmarred by the foam of political delirium, (unbless you count opposition to the TARP bailout) journalists raised cheers for Bachmann. At this rate they’ll be calling this toast of the Tea Party “statesmanlike” by the third debate.

Palin herself was a no-show. So was the current favorite of the Republican elite, Jon Huntsman Jr. He’s a former governor of Utah, more recently US ambassador to China and now burdened with a lethal thumbs-up from Henry Kissinger who praises Hunstman as a “very intelligent man” and “a very good ambassador” to China and a credible Republican candidate. Kissinger added that he doesn’t do formal endorsements because when he does, his choice plummets to disaster.

Huntsman has the advantage of having a billionaire dad in the form of Huntsman Sr, who made his pile out of Styrofoam packing, which Americans spend many hours a day picking out of their carpets after opening the day’s haul from E-Bay.

Huntsman is a Mormon, thus putting two in the race this time. Mormon Mitt Romney, defeated for the nomination by McCain in 2008, is back again. He’s reneged on his best known achievement (aside from putting his dog in a cage on the roof of his car), the health plan he engineered when governor of Massachusetts, regarded by the Tea Party crowd as the harbinger of hated “Obamacare.” He’d no doubt like to give up being a Mormon, because all evidence suggests that Americans don’t care for the idea of a Mormon in the White House. The right-wingers prefer fundamentalist Christians and your average middle of the road non-believer prefers astrology to which is why they liked Ron and Nancy who had astrologists counseling them at all times.

So much for Huntsman and Romney. Newt Gingrich is a busted flush. His entire senor staff quit on him on this week, claiming Newt was under the thumb of his third wife Callista, whose form he has bedizened with half a million dollars worth of jewelry from Van Cleef and Arpels. It seems Newt is her love slave, dumping all political business whenever she crooks her finger and demands a restoring jaunt to the Caribbean. Newt also briefly attacked the lunacy ? de rigeur for all Republican candidates ? of pledging to end Medicare.

Ron Paul, the libertarian assailant of America’s wars, often sounds like a Grade A crank, calling for abolition of Medicare and Social Security, though his denunciation of Obama’s wars did raise a cheer. The only black contender, Herman Cain ? founder of Godfather’s Pizza — did not put up a convincing showing. Nor did that strange favorite of the political tipsters, Tim Pawlenty, former governor of Minnesota, who wimped out on the opportunity to punch Romney on the nose for his health plan, even though Mitt was standing right next to him. Rich Santorum brought up the rear. The questions from the so-called labor and intellectual spokeswomen/men were not always of a high standard.

Huntsman is scheduled to formally announce his candidacy next Tuesday, in the shadow of the State of Liberty. The only other name being bandied is Gov Rick Perry of Texas, who not so long ago was calling on Texas to secede from the union.

Does this mean that Obama is going to canter home in 2012, assuming his family lets him?

The big threat to Obama’s relection is not his family, but the economy, where the news is very bad.

The recovery is failing. The most recent figures show the economy growing at annual rate of just 1.8 percent. Manufacturing is at its slowest pace of growth in 20 months. Employers hired only 54,000 new workers in May, the lowest number in eight months. Jobless claims increased to 427,000 in the week ended June 4. Nearly half of all unemployed Americans have been without work for more than 6 months. More than 44 million Americans ? one in seven ? rely on food stamps. The unemployment rate rose to 9.1 percent.

The record in presidential races suggests that if unemployment is higher than 7 per cent, things look bleak for the incumbent.

Obama can rely on support from the pwog left ? even though from a left perspective his record is in many ways worse, as regards war and constitutional issues, than George Bush’s.

Years ago I remember Auberon Waugh electioneering in Fulham in a challenge to the Labour and Conservative candidates. Waugh was outraged by the betrayal of Biafra, a chunk of Nigeria that had dared to secede in the late 1960s. Catholics, from the Pope to Waugh backed Biafra. Not the Labour Government, whose foreign secretary Michael Stewart, MP for Fulham, stuck firmly to stentorian support for oil-producing Nigeria. About a million people died. “People of Fulham,” I remember Auberon bellowing to a modest throng., “An awful choice confronts you, the choice between a mass murderer and an imbecile.”

But then, the American political system right now is hospitable to imbeciles and has always had a soft streak for them. Obama is certainly a mass murderer if you count up his wars and bodycounts of innocent bystanders. But then, the American political system has been hospitable to mass murderers too.

Post-Fukushima Infant Deaths in the Pacific Northwest

Last weekend on this site we ran a piece by Dr. Janet Sherman and Joseph Mangano, reviewing some recent figures from the Center for Disease Control: here’s how they interpreted the data in the context of the disaster at Fukishima on March 11, 2011:

“The recent CDC Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report indicates that eight cities in the northwest U.S. (Boise ID, Seattle WA, Portland OR, plus the northern California cities of Santa Cruz, Sacramento, San Francisco, San Jose, and Berkeley) reported the following data on deaths among those younger than one year of age:

“4 weeks ending March 19, 2011 – 37 deaths (avg. 9.25 per week)?10 weeks ending May 28, 2011 – 125 deaths (avg.12.50 per week).

“This amounts to an increase of 35 per cent (the total for the entire U.S. rose about 2.3 per cent ), and is statistically significant. Of further significance is that those dates include the four weeks before and the ten weeks after the Fukushima Nuclear Power Plant disaster?

“Spewing from the Fukushima reactor are radioactive isotopes including those of iodine (I-131), strontium (Sr-90) and cesium (Cs-134 and Cs-137) all of which are taken up in food and water. Iodine is concentrated in the thyroid, Sr-90 in bones and teeth and Cs-134 and Cs-137 in soft tissues, including the heart. The unborn and babies are more vulnerable because the cells are rapidly dividing and the delivered dose is proportionally larger than that delivered to an adult.”

Sherman and Mangano’s selection of data came under challenge from one CounterPunch reader surmising that they had cherry-picked the data to confirm their prior conclusion from Chernobyl data, namely that radiation releases cause an almost immediate peak in infant mortality. The Chernobyl data appear certainly appear to buttress this idea. (Sherman was the editor of the New York Academy of Sciences compilation of epidemiologic papers from Russia, Ukraine and Belarus on the health effects following the Chenobyl disaster, establishing huge rates of disease and mortality.)

A second reader taxed Sherman and Mangano with failing to provide mortality rates instead of the raw deaths per week they used in their article.

We asked Pierre Sprey, CounterPunch’s statistical consultant, to take a look for us at Sherman and Mangano’s piece and their use of the CDC figures. The CDC data available, as used by Sherman and Mangano, consist of weekly reports of deaths of infants of one year or less, by city, for 122 selected cities across the U.S. This is the only available data base where one can almost immediately get some numbers bearing on very recent mortality trends — available one week after the week in which the deaths occurred. Provision of more extensive data takes a year or more, so for analysis of current important health trends this is a very valuable source.

Of course death rates cannot be calculated from this data base because no numbers are published for the underlying population of infants less than one year, city by city ? so it’s impossible to get rates per thousand. Sherman and Mangano, as did Sprey, looked only at deaths per week, which inherently assumes that each city’s population of infants less than one year doesn’t vary enormously from week to week or even from year to year ? a reasonable assumption ? and in any case numbers of deaths are all that are available immediately.

Sprey reviewed the data and confirmed that if you accept the sample cities that Sherman and Mangano picked, and also if you accept comparing 4 weeks before the March 11 Fukushima disaster and 10 weeks afterwards, then Sherman and Mangano’s calculations are valid.

One of the CounterPunch critics pointed out that using four weeks before and ten weeks afterwards “looked like cherry-picking the data.” To overcome this potential bias, Sprey collated the death numbers for the ten week period before, then did the calculations comparing infant deaths for ten weeks before and ten weeks afterwards for the same eight cities. His result was a statistically insignificant difference in deaths per week before and after? an increase of infant deaths of only 2.4 per cent. To further guard against the possibility of some seasonal effect due to comparing a period earlier in the spring with one later in the spring, Sprey also compared the ten weeks after Fukishima with the identical weeks in 2010. He found exactly the same result: a 2.4 per cent increase in infant deaths over the prior year which, given 128 deaths in the ten week sample, is entirely insignificant statistically.

But then Sprey went further and looked at the Sherman/Mangano selection of eight cities from the 122 reporting to CDC: the eight were Berkeley, Portland, Sacramento, San Francisco, San Jose, Santa Cruz, Seattle and Boisie. Apparently, they selected Pacific Coast cities that were more or less within 500 miles of the coast and north of Santa Cruz. However their selection did not include all CDC cities within this categorization, because they left out Tacoma and Spokane, thus leaving themselves open to suspicions of cherry-picking cities.

So Sprey included Tacoma and Spokane in the data set he reviewed in order to be geographically complete. When Sherman and Mangano’s overall selection of cities failed to produce a significant result for ten weeks before and ten weeks after March 11, 2011 (as well for the ten equivalent weeks in 2010 as compared with the same weeks in 2011) Sprey elected to look at smaller, geographically consistent groupings of cities. The results were striking.

Simply by moving the boundary line northward from Santa Cruz Sprey found that the four northernmost Pacific Northwest cities in the CDC sample ? Portland, Tacoma, Seattle and Spokane ? show remarkably significant results ? a larger infant mortality increase than the original Sherman-Mangano results.

During the ten weeks before March 11 those four cities suffered 55 deaths among infants less than one year old. In the ten weeks after Fukushima 78 infants died ? a 42 per cent increase and one that is statistically significant. To confirm once again that these results were not due to seasonality Sprey compared these infant deaths in the ten weeks after Fukushima to the deaths in the equivalent ten weeks a year earlier. The results were almost identical with the ten weeks before Fukushima in 2011. Within the equivalent ten weeks of 2010 53 infants died in these four cities.

The post-Fukushima deaths are 47 per cent higher than they were in the same period a year before ? once again statistically significant. If you add Boisie, Idaho to the four city sample the results remain almost unchanged.

Looking a little more closely at the time trend of the infant deaths after Fukushima, Sprey found that the most dramatic increases in deaths were in the two weeks right after the March 11 disaster. Those two weeks saw a near tripling of weekly deaths, followed by a period of somewhat elevated weekly deaths lasting for about five weeks ? roughly 25 per over the pre-March 11 rate, then settling down close to the average pre-Fukushima death rate for the last three weeks of the ten week period post-disaster. These results are necessarily approximate because the weekly sample of deaths is too small for precise statistical conclusions.

This geographic concentration of radiation effects in the northernmost Pacific coast area is, in a sense, to be expected

because radiation plumes, like pollution plumes and ash plumes, do not disperse uniformly with distance, contrary to the equations used by all atmospheric computer modelers. To the contrary, actual observations of radiation dispersal after Chernobyl, or volcanic dispersal after any notable eruption, including the recent Icelandic eruptions, always show that the particles disperse in unpredictable and quite concentrated plumes which touch down occasionally and with high concentration at great distances from the source.

When the complete data are published by CDC ? which may take a year or more ? we’ll be able to see what the predominant causes of the elevated infant deaths were, by specific mortality cause. Lots more work can and should be done with these Pacific Northwest cities to investigate whether Fukushima can be causally related to the spike in American infant mortality. One promising area is to correlate these cities’ infant death results with contemporaneous measurements of radiation levels in the drinking water and possibly the milk supplies in nearby areas.

Joe Orton Lives!

By far the most amusing stories of the week concerned Lesbian impostors. The day after the actual composer of a popular Syrian lesbian blog said he was not “Amina Arraf” but a married American man named Tom MacMaster living in Scotland, the editor of the lesbian news site Lez Get Real acknowledged that he too is burdened with the fatal appendage.

”Paula Brooks”, the editor of Lez Get Real since its founding in 2008, turns out to be Bill Graber, 58, a retired Ohio construction worker. Says he was moved to become a literary Lesbian out of indignation at prejudice against the sisters. Graber said his wife was unaware that he had been using her name on his site.

Fans of Arraf’s blog, ”A Gay Girl in Damascus” had started to believe Amina did not exist. And so Brooks came under suspicion, as Amina had started to write about the Syrian uprising on Lez Get Real before starting her own blog. At one point both McMaster and Graber were emailing each other under the illusion that the other really was a Lesbian.

All editors are now being asked to step forward into the glare of Skype, to establish whether they are at the very least Q in the LGBTQ tier. I have seen rumors that CounterPunch is coedited by an elderly Lesbian in Petrolia and supposed sneak photos are circulating on the web.

I shall be holding a press conference at the appropriate time. There will be no twittering.

Our Latest Newsletter Hits the Stands

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Alexander Cockburn can be reached at alexandercockburn@asis.com