Category Archives: Business

Lead and the Black Community: How The Flint Water Crises May Be Just the Beginning

Water is essential for life. Without it, the average person would die after four days.

In the aftermath of the Flint, Mich., water crisis, which saw 15 people die and more than 100,000 exposed to lead due to a forced switch of Flint’s water source from the Detroit Water Authority to the Flint River, questions about the health of the nation’s water infrastructure have filled political discussions. The Flint water crisis, which was caused in part due to aged, rusted delivery pipelines, exposed problems that many cities across the United States now have: a delivery infrastructure that has exceeded its utility age and a lack of funding and political will to effectively address the issues.

The long shadow inequality casts on policy making compounds this issue. “Black and Hispanic neighborhoods exhibited extraordinarily high rates of lead toxicity compared to white neighborhoods at the start of our study in 1995, in some cases with prevalence rates topping 90 percent of the child population,” Robert J. Sampson and Alix S. Winter wrote in their 2016 research paper “The Racial Ecology of Lead Poisoning: Toxic Inequality in Chicago Neighborhoods, 1995-2013.”

“Black disadvantage in particular is pronounced not only relative to whites but even relative to Hispanics in every year from 1995-2013. The profound heterogeneity in the racial ecology of what we call toxic inequality is partially attributable to socioeconomic factors, such as poverty and education, and to housing-related factors, such as unit age, vacancy and dilapidation. But controlling these factors, neighborhood prevalence rates of elevated BLL (Blood Lead Levels) remain closely linked to racial and ethnic segregation.”

In cities that have limited resources for infrastructure repairs, the picking of winners and losers has historically fallen upon racial biases, with minority neighborhoods and communities being overlooked in favor for more-affluent communities. As pointed out by the research paper, as white neighborhoods are more likely to gentrify and receive infrastructure repairs than nonwhite neighborhoods, there is a greater risk of lead exposure and prolonged health complications that comes with the water made available in Black and Hispanic neighborhoods.

With the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention confirming that there is no safe identified level of lead for the blood, and with minuscule amounts of lead being shown to affect intelligence, attention span and academic achievement, the question of the safety of the nation’s water has never been so pertinent. With most of the nation’s water-delivery infrastructure compromised and in need of replacement, questions of how these repairs can be made in this current political climate and if these repairs will be equitably allocated remain concerns of both high importance and high complexity

“Racism in regards to water access was certainly a factor of our past. Just look at some places in the South, especially along the Mississippi Delta, where you have white communities side by side with Black communities but the white communities have adequate water infrastructure and the Black communities do not,” said Cecil Corbin-Mark, Deputy Director of WE ACT. “That is not the result of the Black communities saying we don’t want water infrastructure, it is a legacy of racial discrimination. If you travel in indigenous land or heavily Latino communities in the Rio Grande Valley of Texas, you can also see the disparity in water infrastructure.”

Flint

To a certain extent, Flint is your prototypical Northern industrial city. It is the former home of many of General Motor’s facilities, including its headquarters and the majority of its manufacturing plants. Prior to the deindustrialization of the 1960s, Flint was a wealthy city within a stone’s toss of the wealthiest city in the United States during the early part of the 20th century, Detroit.

The downturn of the nation’s industrial base, along with “white flight” and the 1973 oil crisis — which saw a popular switching from American-made car to fuel-efficient Japanese cars — threw Flint into a debt spiral. The result of this was two state-declared financial emergencies.

It was under the second emergency that the water crisis, which has to date led to 17 criminal indictments, several lawsuits, the resignation of a litany of state officials and a federal state of emergency, happened. In an attempt to save money, the state-approved emergency financial manager for Flint approved the adoption of an emergency plan to draw water from the Flint River as the primary water delivery scheme for the city while Flint’s own pipeline to Lake Huron was being completed. Before this, Flint received its water from Detroit, which sourced it from the Detroit River and Lake Huron.

Unfortunately, no one took the time to consider if switching the water supply would change the delivered water’s composition. While the water was treated, it was found that the water was more corrosive than the water received from Detroit. This was the result of bacterial growth from fertilizer and pesticide runoffs and it caused exposed lead in the city’s pipes to bleed into the water.

It would take two years and a MSNBC investigation for the state to admit there was a problem.

While the governor himself has dodged criminal responsibility for now, the crisis gave the Republican administration a black eye. Michigan Health and Human Services Director Nick Lyon and Chief Medical Executive Eden Wells are among those who have been arrested on charges that include involuntary manslaughter, misconduct in office, obstruction of justice and providing false testimony to a special agent.

“We’re getting it right,” Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette said during a meeting with the Detroit Free Press editorial board. “There are voices out there who would like Flint to go away, that it might be inconvenient and Flint should be swept under the rug and there are voices that view Flint as as chessboard and want to see who can take advantage. Both of those voices are incredibly callous.”

Schuette pointed out that racism may have had a role in what happened in Flint. “I think about the Flint where I used to play sports when I’d come from Midland and it was basically all white,” he said. “I think about all those things and I think about my sister [who adopted two mixed-race children] and how it broadened my perspective. I think about all those things when I drive down the road and go into Flint and think about these charges and meet with these people and try to listen.”

Flint is a majority-Black city. The loss of manufacturing jobs led to a mass exodus of the city’s white residents, leaving behind a city that is 56.6-percent African American, 41.2-percent impoverished and with a median household income of $24,862, 50.1 percent of the state’s average of $49,576.

A Crumbling Infrastructure

The nation’s one million miles of drinking water pipes were laid during the first half of the 20thcentury, largely in massive public works projects. While the quality of the drinking water is regarded as being high, the pipe infrastructure carrying this water to the tap is in a state of disrepair, with most of the pipelines having reached the end of their expected lifespans. This results in an estimated 240,000 water main breaks per year in this country.

The difficulty in bringing the nation’s pipes up to date is typically a monetary one. For most communities, repairs to the water infrastructure is funded by the delivery rate the local community charges water users, along with state funding and federal loan programs such as the Drinking Water State Revolving Fund.

Following the recent Great Recession, the states and local governments deemphasized infrastructure in order to deal with falling tax revenues. From 2009 to 2014, for example, capital spending for drinking water and wastewater infrastructure dropped 22 percent. While federal legislation in 2014 and 2016 has allocated up to $1 billion in credit assistance and $2 billion in water infrastructure investment, it is estimated it will take about $1 trillion over the next 25 years to bring the nation’s water infrastructure up to speed.

The condition of the national water system, as it stands today, is responsible for the average loss of over six billion gallons of drinking water from leakage per day.

Race and Picking Winners

The municipal delivery system, however, is only the public half of the national water delivery system. The other half is what happens after the water crosses the water meter. The responsibility of property owners, the conditions of these pipes — particularly in low-income or impoverished areas — can make a significant difference in the quality of the delivered water.

Prior to efforts in the 1970s to remove the substance, lead was a popular additive due to its molecular density. Lead regularly appeared in paints, plastics, piping, woodwork and other building supplies across the country. In older properties where these lead-based products have not been removed, such as inner-city low-income Black housing, young children may come in contact with this toxic substance daily.

“Right now, most middle-class white families feel relatively immune from the dangers of lead, although the gentrification of old neighborhoods and the renovation of old homes can still expose their children to dangerous levels of lead dust from the old paint on those walls,” David Rosner and Gerald Markowitz wrote for Mother Jones. “However, economically and politically vulnerable Black and Hispanic children, many of whom inhabit dilapidated older housing, still suffer disproportionately from the devastating effects of the toxin. This is the meaning of institutional racism in action today.”

While there is less “winner-picking” involved in the allocation of infrastructure funding today, more affluent or “gentrified” neighborhoods have been the neighborhoods least likely to be affected by lead poisoning. Not only were these communities more likely to receive updates to their infrastructure and receive more attention, such as regular lead testing, the increased demand to live in these areas compelled property owners to make critical improvements to their properties. Owners in non-gentrified properties typically can get away with ignoring these repairs and replacements by offering a cheaper rent.

The net effect of all of this adds up to health crisis for the Black and Hispanic communities. The CDC projects that 11.2 percent of all Black children and 4 percent of Mexican-American children have lead poisoning, compared to just 2.3 percent of white children. With more than half of the residents living within 1.86 miles of toxic waste facilities being Black and with Blacks being almost twice as likely as whites to live within the fence line zone of an industrial facility, African-Americans are uniquely challenged with the health consequences of unhealthy water.

Privatization and Other Options

Finding solutions to fix this may be difficult, primarily because there is not the political will to do it. In 2015, for example, Maryland’s Secretary of Housing, Community and Development Kenneth Holt told an audience at the Maryland Association of Counties that a mother could fake a lead poisoning test for her child by putting a lead fishing weight in the child’s mouth before the test. He made the statement, falsely suggesting that the potential positive test would make a landlord liable for providing the child with housing until the age of 18.

Maryland state law only makes the property owner liable for providing safe lodgings until the lead abatement concludes and Holt himself admitted that he was not speaking from evidence but from what a developer told him was possible.

Resolving the drinking water problem will be a costly, difficult proposition that will leave little for politicians to build political capital on. However, finding a viable solution is a life-or-death proposition.

“Water isn’t very sexy,” Nick Danby wrote for the Harvard Political Review. “Sure, it’s necessary for life, and sometimes threatens life, but there’s no political appeal. Unemployment, terrorism, unions, taxes — those are just a small smorgasbord of hot-button issues that make our partisan and politically charged brains tingle, while water’s controversies merely bore us. The problem, however, is that if our ignorance of water’s contentious situation continues, the four aforementioned political topics will become obsolete — and so will we.”

One suggested possibility is to make the water-delivery system private. In 2014, former President Barack Obama examined the possibility of partnerships between public agencies and private companies to improve the infrastructure problem. Privatization would take this one step farther by allowing municipalities to lease access to the water-delivery infrastructure to private entities, who would then be responsible for any needed upgrades or repairs. These entities would then collect water usage fees directly from the customer.

The challenge in this proposition is whether we are willing to put life-and-death matters into the hands of a business where the first priority is the bottom line.

Whatever solution is found to address this problem, it is important that it is discovered soon and applied quickly. Water is critical for life; only air is more important. The consequences of not being able to have ready access to clean water is one that must be considered and taken seriously in policy planning and in discussions over funding priorities.

For an entire subsection of Americans, the lack of access to safe water means a life subject to crippling physical and mental limitations, all because a politician did not want to spend money on what cannot be seen.

By Frederick Reese/AtlantaBlackStar

Posted by The NON-Conformist

EpiPen maker’s losses on coal investments earn massive tax credits

EpiPen maker’s losses on coal investments earn massive tax credits

Hundreds of millions of dollars in tax credits are going to Mylan, an allergy treatment producer that sparked controversy for hiking the price of its EpiPen. The completely legal financial scheme is based on “clean coal” credits approved by Congress.

Reuters has reviewed Mylan NV’s company filings and reported Wednesday that the pharmaceutical company has been boosting its bottom line since 2011 on refined coal investments. The investments themselves have been losers, but in 2004, as part of an effort to promote “clean coal,” Congress passed tax credits for those willing to invest enough capital in them anyway.

Mylan reportedly confirmed Reuters’ figures, the news agency said.

From 2014 to 2016, Mylan garnered around $300 million in “clean energy and research” tax credits, Reuters reported. Overall, the company’s total tax benefit last year was reportedly $358 million.

The pre-tax losses on the coal investments were $92.3 million in 2016, $93.2 million in 2015 and $78.9 million in 2014, all of which were deductible, according to tax experts, and this scheme helped make up about 9 percent of the company’s earnings last year, Reuters reported.

The tax credit program expires in 2021.

Mylan holds 99-percent stakes in five LLCs, or limited liability companies, which own the following refined coal plants: Canton Fuels Company in Illinois, Marquis Industrial Company in Indiana, Chouteau Fuels Company in Oklahoma, Deogun Manufacturing Company in Utah and Powder Street LLC in West Virginia.

Reuters also cited an unnamed person “familiar with the matter,” who said that Mylan produced approximately 16 million tons of refined coal last year, as the government issued $6.81 in tax credits per ton. The source also said that the company’s expenses amounted to about 60 percent of gross credits earned.

The company’s annual board meeting on Thursday may see a clash between investors and board members, as Reuters reports that investors are upset with Mylan Chairman Robert Coury’s nearly $100 million pay package last year.

Leading the move to vote against the board is New York City Comptroller Scott Stringer, who oversees New York City pensions funded by 1.1 million shares of Mylan stock, and who told Reuters: “From the EpiPen pricing debacle to embracing complex tax avoidance strategies, Mylan’s board appears more focused on financial engineering than on the company’s core business.”

Mylan has avoided high US tax rates since 2015 by relocating its headquarters overseas, paying “just over four percent in 2014 and 7.4 percent in 2015,” according to Reuters.

From RT

Posted by The NON-Conformist

Uber CEO Travis Kalanick quits under pressure from investors

The co-founder of ride-hailing firm Uber, Travis Kalanick, has stepped down as chief executive in the face of mounting pressure from shareholders. His resignation follows the company having to grapple with months of scandal and controversy.

According to The New York Times, five of Uber’s major investors demanded on Tuesday the chief executive resigns immediately. Kalanick will, however, remain on the board of directors.

“I love Uber more than anything in the world, and at this difficult moment in my personal life I have accepted the investors request to step aside so that Uber can go back to building rather than be distracted with another fight,” Kalanick said in a statement.

Last week Kalanick said he was taking an indefinite leave of absence following the death of his mother in a boating accident.

Uber’s board said in a statement that “Travis has always put Uber first. This is a bold decision and a sign of his devotion and love for Uber.”

“By stepping away, he’s taking the time to heal from his personal tragedy while giving the company room to fully embrace this new chapter in Uber’s history. We look forward to continuing to serve with him on the board.”

Kalanick co-founded Uber in 2009, turning it into a dominant global ride-hailing service.

Over the past year, the company has been rocked by scandals and negative publicity. They included revelations of questionable spy programs, claims of sexual harassment and discrimination, as well as criticism of the way Kalanick was running the company.

Uber has also been dealing with an intellectual property lawsuit from Google’s parent company, Alphabet, over alleged theft of trade secrets related to driverless cars.

Kalanick’s departure is just the latest in a number of senior executives to leave the company.

In recent months, Uber has fired more than 20 employees after an investigation into the company’s culture. The firm has reviewed more than 200 HR complaints including harassment and bullying.

Despite all the troubles, Uber’s business is growing with revenue reaching $3.4 billion in the first quarter of this year. The company is currently valued at $69 billion.

From RT

Posted by The NON-Conformist

US sells $12bn worth of fighter jets to ‘terrorist funder’ Qatar

US sells $12bn worth of fighter jets to ‘terrorist funder’ Qatar
Qatar has signed a $12-billion contract to buy F-15 fighter jets from the US, the country’s defense ministry reported. The deal was announced just days after US President Trump accused Doha of supporting terrorism.

The contract was apparently sealed after a Wednesday meeting between US Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis and Qatari Minister of State for Defense Affairs Khalid al-Attiyah, Reuters reported citing a source.
According to Bloomberg News, Qatar bought 36 warplanes produced by McDonnell Douglas, a subsidiary of Boeing.

The US approved the possible sale of up to 72 F-15QA aircraft to Qatar for $21.1 billion in November.

News of the deal comes less than a week after US President Donald Trump lashed out at the Gulf kingdom, saying it has “historically been a funder of terrorism at a very high level.”

Trump’s criticism emerged amid a diplomatic row between Qatar and other Arab nations, which demand that Doha stopped supporting the pan-Arabic movement Muslim Brotherhood and severed ties with Iran.

Qatar is a key American ally in the Middle East and an important exporter of natural gas. It also hosts the largest US military base in the region

From Russia Today

Posted by The NON-Conformist

US newspaper circulation slumps to ‘lowest since 1945’ despite some digital gains – study

Though digital subscriptions are surging for the largest US newspapers, estimated industry circulation and revenue fell overall, the Pew Research Center found. Americans now read newspapers at levels not seen since 1945, but there’s growth in cable news.

Among the findings are US newspaper circulation, including print and digital, fell 8 percent in 2016 for both weekday and Sunday editions to 35 million and 38 million readers, respectively, the study estimates.

“[T]he lowest levels since 1945,” Pew said, in its annual study on the “state of the news media,” released Thursday.

Weekday print circulation decreased 10 percent and Sunday newspaper readership fell 9 percent.

“Newspapers are a critical part of the American news landscape, but they have been hard hit as more and more Americans consume news digitally,” Pew said. “The industry’s financial fortunes and subscriber base have been in decline since the early 2000s, even as website audience traffic has grown for many. Meanwhile, alt-weekly papers have also seen their circulation drop.”

Pew stated that digital circulation is more difficult to gauge, it estimated trends to be fairly flat, with weekday down 1 percent and Sunday up 1 percent.

“Following last year’s presidential election, some major US newspapers reported a sharp jump in digital subscriptions, giving a boost to their overall circulation totals,” Pew researcher Michael Barthel said in a statement. “The newspaper industry as a whole, however, faced ongoing challenges in 2016.”

The primary reason is that “more and more Americans consume news digitally,” the report explained.

Among the study’s other findings are that three of the largest US daily newspapers reported a jump in digital subscriptions, with the New York Times adding more than 500,000 digital subscriptions in 2016, a 47 percent rise; the Wall Street Journal added more than 150,000 digital subscriptions, a 23 percent rise; and the Chicago Tribune added about 100,000 weekly digital circulation, a 76 percent year-on-year gain.

In a commentary on WGBH in 2016, Dan Kennedy, an associate professor of journalism at Northeastern University, said the biggest obstacle for attracting readers is that customers are already paying hundreds of dollars a month for broadband, cell service and their various digital devices.

Total estimated circulation revenue for US newspaper industry was $11 billion in 2016, on par w/ 2015 http://pewrsr.ch/2ss6RVJ 

“It’s not crazy for them to think that the content should come included with that, as it does (for the most part) with their monthly cable bill,” said Kennedy. “Those who wag their fingers that newspapers never should have given away their content overlook the reality that customers had none of those extra expenses back when their only option was to pay for the print edition.”

Kennedy said the paywalls also interfere with how people now consume news, skipping around the internet, checking with multiple sources.

“To wall off content runs contrary not just to what news consumers want but to the sharing culture of the internet,” he added.

Pew said circulation data is estimated because the industry has stopped releasing data about print editions, and there are varying standards in reporting digital readership.
Revenues also demonstrate a downward trend.

Total estimated newspaper industry advertising revenue for 2016 was $18 billion, a decrease of 10 percent from 2015, and just one-third the level of 10 years ago, based on Pew’s analysis for financial statements for publicly traded newspaper companies.

Circulation revenue was estimated at $11 billion, largely unchanged from 2015.

For cable news, 2016 was a year of strong gains, and became “the destination for political news,” especially in 2016 during the presidential election, Pew found.

“These channels have generally set themselves apart from other news media by their comparatively robust business model,” Pew said.

Its analysis of Nielsen Media data found that viewership increased for cable news channels in 2016 in prime time by 55 percent to 4.8 million viewers.

Total revenue across the three major channels, Fox, CNN and MSNBC, was projected to increase by 19 percent in 2016, to a total of nearly $5 billion, according to Pews’s analysis of SNL Kagan data.
The three channels were projected to grow their profits in 2016, a combined 29 percent.

Revenue for three major financial networks (CNBC, Fox Business and Bloomberg) saw increases in total and license fee revenue, while ad revenue was flat.

Cable news could take a hit in 2017 as a new poll released on May 24 showed that nearly two-thirds of US voters believe that the mainstream media is producing so-called “fake news.”

Many also believe that fake news is purposely published to push an agenda. Fox News appears to be hurt the most by viewers’ mistrust.

From 2015 to 2016 license fee revenue for the three major financial networks grew from $699M to $757M http://pewrsr.ch/2qEvQ7O 

Across the political spectrum, 65 percent of voters believe there is a lot of fake news in the mainstream media, including 80 percent of Republicans, 60 percent of independents and 53 percent of Democrats, according to the latest Harvard-Harris poll provided exclusively to The Hill. In total, 84 percent of voters said it is hard to know what news to believe online.

Those numbers have increased since the end of March, when six in 10 Americans believed the mainstream media report fake news regularly or occasionally, with 54 percent thinking that online news websites report fake stories on purpose to push an agenda, according to a Monmouth University poll. A whopping 80 percent of respondents believed that online outlets report fake news regularly or occasionally.

From RT

Posted by The NON-Conformist

Are We Getting the Trump-Russia Story Right?

  A caricature of President Donald Trump on sale in a shopping mall in Moscow. (Alexander Zemlianichenko / AP)

In the rush for daily scoops in the Donald Trump-Russia investigation, facts are hard to come by. Stories based on leaks and relying on unnamed sources can only leave the news consumer hopelessly confused.

The stories come in torrents, feeding the hunger of the 24/7-news cycle. From administration officials to those on the edge of the Trump circle, people find themselves tainted by stories linking them to Russian President Vladimir Putin, his top aides, his security police and his web of business contacts. To students of history and those of us with long memories, it’s reminiscent of the Red Scare days of post-World War II America when leaks about accused “commies” went from congressional investigators to reporters and then to newspapers and magazines.

These are the questions that should be asked by readers and viewers, no matter where they stand politically or philosophically:

Are today’s media outlets completely reliable?

Will some of their bombshells turn out to be misstated, overblown or just plain wrong?

Must we take the stories from leaks and anonymous sources by their teams of national security reporters at face value—or should we view them with the same skepticism that the reporters, themselves, are supposed to bring to their work?

I, for one, want better answers than we’ve been getting.

Our strange, secretive President Trump deserves investigation. He and his family seem entangled with Russian oligarchs tied up with Putin. The Russians could be squeezing the Trump clan, which could explain Trump’s friendliness, or at least lack of hostility, toward the Russians. It’s not a far leap to think of Trump negotiating with a tough creditor to Trump and his associates shifting the conversation to politics and policy with the Russians, welcoming their participation in the volatile American presidential election and promising to lift those sanctions.

Or perhaps the answer, as unimaginable as it seems, is that Trump is a foreign affairs visionary, as Nixon was with China, seeing his presidency as an opportunity to work with a former adversary with whom we share some interests. In that fanciful scenario, when the Trump-Russia investigation is completed, Trump and Putin will shake hands in their macho way while accepting the Nobel Peace Prize.

It may take years to get answers, even if special counsel Robert Mueller and Senate and House committees do a good job. Unfortunately, the years of investigation, with their inevitable leaks to journalists, especially from Congress, will take a heavy toll on democratic institutions while providing material for a steady stream of hot stories.

Robert Parry put it this way on Consortiumnews.com on May 7:

Congressional demands for personal and business information from several of Donald Trump’s campaign advisers demonstrate how the Russia-gate investigation continues to spill over into a new breed of McCarthyism infringing on civil liberties, including freedom of speech and freedom of association. … But the reality of Official Washington is that once momentum builds up around a “scandal,” someone has to get convicted of something – or all the Important People who have weighed in on the “affair” will look stupid. In Russia-gate, however, important principles about the right to dissent, the right to privacy and the right to associate freely are getting trampled.

The right to dissent was at the heart of an investigation I did for Truthdig last December on an organization called PropOrNot, short for Propaganda Or Not. PropOrNot had combed through many websites and identified more than 200 of them as being pro-Russian or unwitting tools of the Kremlin. Truthdig made the PropOrNot blacklist, as did many other sites. They ranged from progressive, like us, to one that’s alt-right. Its purpose was to identify pro-Kremlin “fake news.” I wondered how we got on the list. When I dug into the operation, I found PropOrNot had “sparse evidence indeed” that we were Kremlin collaborators. ProOrNot had an anti-Russian slant and was aimed at the dissent that makes our site and others so valuable to democracy.

The PropOrNot blacklist, whose compilers are anonymous, illustrates the danger of many stories with anonymous sources in the Trump-Russia investigation.

I’m not denying the worth of anonymous sources. I’ve used them throughout my career. Sometimes, that’s the only way of getting valuable information from an insider who doesn’t want her or his name used. But I’ve always viewed it as a last resort. My editors didn’t like the practice. Nor did I when I became an editor. Give me a name, a real person, any time.

Anonymous sources are at the heart of some of the biggest Trump-Russia stories. There has always been intense competition among the news media to be first with the news, competition to be even a few minutes ahead of a rival. The first story dominates the internet. It’s quoted by the rest of the media pack, giving the first one clicks, publicity and the acclaim of the digital world. The volume and speed of the news—coming from respected sources such as The New York Times and Washington Post—probably convince many news consumers to accept it at face value.

The chroniclers of the Trump-Russia story have been portrayed as heroes—21st century Woodward and Bernsteins—by cable television. Let The New York Times, The Washington Post, Reuters or the others pursuing the story get a scoop, and one of the authors will be hustled onto a cable network. Once humble reporters, they have been elevated to media celebrities, with network analyst positions, lecture appearances and maybe even a new job awaiting them.

I was taught the importance of being first in my 10 years as a reporter for The Associated Press. If you weren’t first, if the opposition beat you, you’d get bawled out. But like generations of AP reporters before and after me, I was also taught to be right, to make no mistakes. It’s better to be right than to be first. Try balancing that while reporting a big story, or a small one. It’s not easy. But we knew that to be wrong was a stain that could linger for years. It was lesson I have carried with me.

At the beginning of this column, I asked readers to consider whether some of the anonymously sourced stories, produced under heavy time pressure, were misleading or even wrong.

Rachel Maddow provided a good insight into the dangers of this process on her May 25 show. The MSNBC host was talking about an important story in the Russia affair. Numerous news outlets, including NBC, had reported that, days before he was fired, FBI Director James Comey asked for more resources for the investigation, including prosecutors and other personnel, to speed things up. His request, various news media implied, was a factor in Trump firing him. If Trump were trying to interfere with the investigation, this would be a figurative nail in the president’s coffin, possible evidence of obstruction of justice.

The Justice Department and the deputy attorney general, Rod Rosenstein, denied the story.

In her broadcast, Maddow admitted the story was wrong. She said that after reporting by the MSNBC staff she concluded, “What was widely believed to have happened, actually what was widely reported to have happened in this key point of time, what we know about it, I think, is wrong, and I think we can correct this record tonight.”

She said “what went on here was something akin to a game of ‘telephone’ on Capitol Hill.” That’s a game in which something is whispered into the ear of another person, who passes it on down the line. At the end, it usually is distorted.

Maddow said MSNBC journalists had learned that Comey had conferred with Chairman Richard Burr of the Senate Intelligence Committee and Sen. Mark Warner, the ranking member. Burr and Warner, she said, relayed conversation to fellow committee members.

“From there, word started to spread,” Maddow said, “and this resulted in multiple press reports that Comey had asked for more resources just days before he was fired.” Maddow, however, said that “if a request was made it was more like a nebulous thing than a direct appeal.”

Maddow concluded that if obstruction of justice is central to the Mueller investigation, “I think it is worth being very specific about what evidence we’ve got on obstruction of justice by the White House and by the president.”

Then in words that should be heeded by all journalists, she said, “Boy, is it important we get this story right.”

By Bill Boyarsky/Truthdig

The NON-Conformist

US Eyes $1.1 Trillion National Security Budget for 2018

Even With State Dept Cuts, Overseas Spending Continues to Rise

The most recent figures related to President Trump’s proposed increases in Pentagon spending, along with cuts at the State Department, show the general national security budget of the United States rising once again, with the 2018 proposal in the ballpark of $1.1 trillion.

Needless to say, that’s the biggest military budget on the planet by a far measure. As the figures are broken down into their component parts, however, it becomes particularly shocking just how money is disappearing not just into the general war-fighting budget, but into related costs of having such a massive military for so long.

For interest, Veterans Affairs is expected to eat up $183.5 billion, which by itself comes very close to being the second largest military budget on the planet, just behind China’s $200 billion overall cost for its vast military. Figuring in other retirement costs, the cost of retirees is even bigger.

This $1.1 trillion also includes over $112 billion that just represents the interest on the military’s share of America’s massive national debt. This interest alone would be more than the cost of NATO’s next two largest member nations’ militaries, Britain and France.

Even cuts in international affairs don’t really put a debt into how much the cost of everything else is rising, and with plans for a massive modernization scheme related to America’s massive nuclear weapons arsenal, the $21.8 billion nuclear weapons expenses for 2018 could easily explode manyfold, with the expectation that they’ll dump well over $1 trillion just in the modernization scheme over the years to come.

The costs of retirees and debt are likewise things that could rapidly grow out of control, as increases in the amount being spent on fighting in the present inevitably leads to even more retirees and an even vaster debt to service.

By Jason Ditz/AntiWar