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How Media Reports of Their Own Polls Can Mislead

Fairness & Accuracy In Reporting -

 

Investor’s Business Daily (1/10/22)

A new media poll last week by Investor’s Business Daily (1/10/22), conducted with the polling firm TIPP, announced that “Biden Approval Rating Relapses as Omicron Surges, Stock Market Slumps.”

There are at least two problems with the Murdoch-owned outlet’s announcement.

First is that the “relapse” in approval rating is reported to be “nine-tenths of a point.” While the author, Jed Graham, does not specify a margin of error, we can safely say that a difference of less than 1 percentage point clearly falls into the category of random variation. One cannot reasonably conclude, therefore, that there has been a significant change in opinion.

A second problem is that the standard way of reporting the IBD/TIPP poll results shows Biden’s approval rating actually increasing by 1 percentage point over December. (That difference is still not significant.)

Creating a ‘relapse’

How, then, did the poll report a “relapse”?

The poll report excluded respondents who were unsure or refused to give an opinion, which changed the base. In doing so, the poll reported a 50.1% approval in December, and a 49.2% rating in January—which produced the mentioned decline of 0.9 of a percentage point.

Typically, pollsters do not exclude “unsure” respondents, because to do so is to distort what public opinion actually is. People who are unsure still constitute a significant portion of the public, and should be included in the analysis.

When IBD/TIPP follows this standard approach, its January poll shows 44% of adults who approve of Biden’s job performance, 45% who disapprove, and 11% with no opinion. When the IBD (12/6/21) released its December poll (12/1–4/21), the comparable figures were 43% approve, 43% disapprove, 14% no opinion. Using those figures, one would conclude Biden’s approval increased by one point over December.

The author of the article chose to focus on the decline in approval of (essentially) 1 percentage point, rather than the increase. And he probably did so because the lapse fit in with the story that Biden was being hurt by the spread of Omicron and the declining stock market. It would have been a more awkward story to note that Biden’s approval had actually increased during these troubling times. How to explain that?

Other polls unmentioned

A related problem is that the author fails to mention trends reported by other polls, as though the IBD/TIPP poll is the only poll to measure Biden’s approval rating. If a news organization is going to report on the beat of public opinion, certainly other polls are relevant sources to examine.

But reporting on other polls is not the norm when media organizations sponsor their own polls. Instead, each organization tends to do what Investor’s Business Daily did—treat their own poll as the definitive description of what the public is thinking.

The author of this report does note that while the IBD/TIPP poll found a 44% approval rating (using standard methods of reporting), the RealClearPolitics average of other polls at the time had Biden’s approval rating two points lower (42.1%). The author does not, however, acknowledge that the trend in Biden’s approval rating essentially showed small fluctuations with no significant change—which would have undermined the central theme of the story.

Reports that mislead

USA Today (11/7/21)

Investor’s Business Daily is not alone in failing to account for other poll results. In early November, USA Today (11/7/21) announced the results of its poll (11/3–5/21) showing President Biden’s approval rating at a “new low” of 38%. On the generic ballot—a question that asks whether a voter would choose a Democrat or a Republican in the 2022 congressional election—Republicans outperformed Democrats by an 8-point margin, 46% to 38%.

A week later, ABC News/Washington Post (11/14/21) reported that their poll (11/7–10/21) also found a “new low” for Biden’s approval rating of 41%, and a record-setting Republican advantage on the generic ballot of 10 points, 51% to 41%.

Ten days later, NPR (11/24/21) reported the results of its poll (11/16–19/21) showing Biden’s approval rating with, yes, a “new low” of 42%. Only in the tenth paragraph does NPR acknowledge that its generic ballot measure nevertheless shows Democrats ahead by “a slight 46%-to-41% advantage.”

All three poll reports were seriously misleading. First, there were not three times that month when Biden’s approval rating reached a “new low.” Second, all three polls produced outliers on the generic ballot, misleading their consumers as to a more plausible picture of public opinion.

Aggregating results

None of the three poll stories mentioned the results of other media polls. Each report treated its own media poll as though it alone has the current temperature of the American public. Yet, because of statistical variation, any given poll can be off the true mark. An average of credible polls is one way to correct for variable results from individual polls.

As noted by the American Association for Public Opinion Research, referring to electoral polling:

The benefit of a poll aggregator is that an average of polling results should give a reporter a more reliable and wider perspective on a race, rather than relying on just one poll’s result.

For example, because of variation among the polls, looking at the average across a number of polls to characterize the presidential race…would provide a more complete and more stable picture than looking at the result of just one poll.

There are at least two major poll aggregator websites—538 and, as noted earlier in this article, RealClearPolitics (RCP)—which routinely provide averages of major polls about both Biden’s approval ratings (538 and RCP) and the generic ballot (538 and RCP).

Here I focus on 538, because it adjusts the impact of polls based on the quality of the polling organization, and because it screens polls to insure they meet minimum standards. Still, the differences between the two sites are minor.

Compared to the average 

During the three day period that USA Today found Biden’s approval rating at 38%, 538 showed an average 42.9%, essentially five points more positive. The USA Today poll was a clear outlier compared with most other polls. Of course, the newspaper did not mention that fact.

Presidential approval polling averages (538, 1/18/22)

The other two polls, showing Biden’s approval rating at 41%–42%, were in the ballpark (within 2 percentage points) of the averages at the times of the interviews, but it would be incorrect to describe either result as a sudden “new low”—though that’s how the poll results were characterized.

As for the generic ballot, all three polls produced significant outliers. ABC News and the Washington Post reported Republicans with a 10-point advantage. The USA Today 8-point GOP advantage was almost as dramatic.

Averages by 538, however, showed Democrats actually in the lead during the interviewing periods of both polls—by 2.0 points during the USA Today polling period, and 1.1 points during the ABC/WP polling period. The net differences between the averages and the individual polls were 10 and 11 points, respectively, in favor of Republicans.

Generic congressional ballot polling averages (538, 1/18/22)

The NPR poll, showing Democrats leading in the generic ballot by five points, was an outlier in the opposite direction. During its polling period (11/16-19/21), 538 showed an average GOP lead of 0.5 points—a net difference of 5.5 points.

A more realistic view

As the 538 averages suggest, there was hardly any movement in Biden’s approval rating during November, and there was only a modest movement in the generic ballot.

In contrast to the three polls, which suggest a sudden drop in Biden’s approval rating in early November, recovering to about 41%–42%, the 538 averages suggest that Biden’s approval rating remained almost constant during the whole period, varying only within a half of a percentage point. That pattern prevailed into December and early January, when IBD/TIPP conducted its polls.

On the generic ballot, in contrast to the three polls that show Democrats trailing by 8 and 10 points in early November, then dramatically recovering to a five-point lead in mid-month, the 538 averages show the generic ballot moving from a modest 2.7-point advantage for Democrats in early November to less than a 1 point advantage for Republicans in mid-November.

Why not cover other polls?

From a journalistic point of view, there is no excuse for a news organization to report the results of its own poll and ignore similar results already published.

News media justify conducting their own polls as covering the “beat” of public opinion. As ABC News explains (italics added):

At the ABC News Polling Unit, we are news reporters first; we think of public opinion as our beat—like covering the Supreme Court, the White House or the Pentagon. In many ways the process is the same: We pick a topic, formulate questions, go to our best sources, ask what we need to know and report what we’ve learned.

The requirement to go to the “best sources” must certainly include not just the news organization’s own poll results, but those by other reputable organizations as well. And RCP and 538 provide journalists with an easy reference to such other sources—at least for the president’s approval rating and the generic ballot.

Of course, each media poll is likely to include numerous questions not aggregated by RCP and 538. But that’s no excuse for the reporter to exclude contemporary trends when they are available.

Still, it’s understandable why most media poll reports do so. The news organization has just invested a considerable amount of money to conduct its own poll, and it certainly doesn’t want to undermine its results by showing how far off they are from a poll average.

Had IBD/TIPP reported the RCP trend showing essentially no change in Biden’s approval rating, that would have undermined their story that linked the surge in Omicron to Biden’s decline in approval.

It is what they say it is

ABC (11/14/21) announced that “Republican congressional candidates currently hold largest lead in midterm election vote preferences in ABC News/Washington Post polls dating back 40 years.” Not mentioned: Most polls at the time found an advantage for Democrats.

Another example is ABC News (11/14/21), which made much of its findings on the generic ballot:

That’s the biggest lead for Republicans in the 110 ABC/[Washington] Post polls that have asked this question since November 1981. Indeed, it’s only the second time the GOP has held a statistically significant advantage (the other was +7 points in January 2002) and the ninth time it’s held any numerical edge at all.

It would be hard to imagine the report then saying, “Actually, our results are way out of line with other polls, which show an average advantage to Democrats. Our record GOP lead is probably an outlier.”

Admitting that their polls may not be the best measure of public opinion, and in some cases may in fact be seriously flawed, would undermine the credibility, not just of the generic ballot measure or Biden’s approval rating, but of all the other questions in the poll as well.

In short, there is a financial/corporate incentive for media poll reports not to tell the whole truth about the state of public opinion. As far as the news organization is concerned, regardless of what other polls show, public opinion is what their new poll says it is.

This is, of course, a reason not to put too much weight on any single report about an outlets’ polling results.

The post How Media Reports of Their Own Polls Can Mislead appeared first on FAIR.

The GOP Is Hammering the NBA Over China. Again.

Mother Jones Magazine -

There are few things the NBA enjoys less than finding itself in the crosshairs of a culture war squabble, but that is exactly what it got over the weekend when Chamath Palihapitiya, a minority owner of the Golden State Warriors, took to his podcast to say, “Nobody cares about what’s happening to the Uyghurs.”  

Palihapitiya, a billionaire entrepreneur and former Facebook executive, said he cares about climate change, the economic implications of a Chinese invasion of Taiwan, and other issues that more directly affect Americans. But as for the forced imprisonment and torture of Uyghur Muslims in China, “it is below my line,” he said. 

If anyone's interested in an extended version of what's been trending@chamath @Jason @DavidSacks @friedberg #UyghurGenocide #chamath pic.twitter.com/qiw5vVKpkZ

— tomhaverford (@tomhaverford24) January 18, 2022

It did not take long for his comments to ricochet around the NBA, which has long adopted a cautious tone toward the Chinese government. On Monday, the Warriors released a one-sentence statement saying Palihapitiya’s views “certainly don’t reflect those of our organization” without specifying what he said. In his own statement, Palihapitiya acknowledged that he came across in the podcast “as lacking empathy” and said “human rights matter, whether in China, the United States, or elsewhere.” 

Palihapitiya is far from an NBA figurehead—most fans are probably hearing his name for the first time now—but he has already become a target for Republican China hawks. Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) said NBA commissioner Adam Silver must force “woke billionaire Chamath Palihapitiya to sell his share” of the Warriors or “be exposed” as “hypocrites supporting religious genocide.” Sen. Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.) said a failure to oust Palihapitiya would show “complicity for Communist China and their crimes against humanity.” 

What the Chinese government is doing to the Uyghurs is a crime against humanity and worth caring about whether you are a twentysomething NBA fan or the billionaire co-owner of a team. But Republican lawmakers like Cotton obviously relish the opportunity to pick a fight with the NBA, whose players have long called out anti-Black racism and been critical of Republican policies. (When Donald Trump was in office, NBA star LeBron James called him a “bum” on Twitter, adding, “Going to White House was a great honor until you showed up!”)

Even if NBA players could be forgiven for not commenting on every human rights crisis in the world, Cotton is right that the NBA is loath to anger China, where the league has spent decades cultivating the country’s vast market of fans. That effort went up in flames when Philadelphia 76ers executive Daryl Morey, then with the Houston Rockets, tweeted a message of solidarity with Hong Kong pro-democracy protesters in October 2019. His comments sparked a series of reprisals in China, including removing Rockets games from its local streaming service, and led players like James to say Morey “wasn’t educated on the situation at hand.” The NBA quickly apologized and tried to limit the damage, while some league leaders directly criticized Morey. Joe Tsai, the Taiwanese owner of the Brooklyn Nets, even echoed Chinese propaganda in a statement condemning Morey’s tweet, saying Chinese citizens “stand united when it comes to the territorial integrity of China and the country’s sovereignty over her homeland.” 

This year, China is back in the spotlight because of Boston Celtics player Enes Freedom, who has spoken about Chinese human rights abuses in a public, frequently combative way. (In November, he called Tsai a “coward” and “puppet” of the Chinese government.) Freedom, who changed his surname from Kanter when he became a US citizen last year, appeared frequently on Fox News and started an account on Gettr, the social media platform started by former Trump official Jason Miller. It did not take him long to respond there to Palihapitiya’s comments: “When NBA says we stand for justice, don’t forget there are those who sell their soul for money & business like Chamath Palihapitiya.” 

ExxonMobil Aims to Use a Radical Texas Law to Silence Its Critics—in California

Mother Jones Magazine -

This story is published as part of Covering Climate Now, a global collaboration of news outlets strengthening coverage of the climate story.

ExxonMobil is attempting to use an unusual Texas law to target and intimidate its critics, claiming that lawsuits against the company over its long history of downplaying and denying the climate crisis violate the US constitution’s guarantees of free speech.

The nation’s largest oil firm is asking the Texas supreme court to allow it to use the law, known as rule 202, to pursue legal action against more than a dozen California municipal officials. Exxon claims that in filing lawsuits against the company over its role in the climate crisis, the officials are orchestrating a conspiracy against the firm’s first amendment rights.

The oil giant also makes the curious claim that legal action in the California courts is an infringement of the sovereignty of Texas, where the company is headquartered.

Eight California cities and counties have accused Exxon and other oil firms of breaking state laws by misrepresenting and burying evidence, including from its own scientists, of the threat posed by rising temperatures. The municipalities are seeking billions of dollars in compensation for damage caused by wildfires, flooding and other extreme weather events, and to meet the cost of building new infrastructure to prepare for the consequences of rising global temperatures.

Rule 202 in effect allows corporations to go on a fishing expedition for incriminating evidence. They are able to question individuals under oath and demand access to documents even before any legal action is filed against them. Exxon wants to use the provision to force the California officials to travel to Texas to be questioned by the firm’s lawyers about what the company describes as “lawfare”—the misuse of the legal system for political ends.

Exxon claims in a petition to the Texas supreme court that it is entitled to question the officials in order to collect evidence of “potential violations of ExxonMobil’s rights in Texas to exercise its first amendment privileges” to say what it likes about climate science.

“The potential defendants’ lawfare is aimed at chilling the speech of not just ExxonMobil, but of other prominent members of the Texas energy sector on issues of public debate, in this case, climate change,” the company claims in its petition.

The oil giant’s critics say Exxon’s attempt to use claims of free speech to curtail the first amendment rights of others follows a pattern of harassment toward those who challenge the company’s claims about the climate crisis.

Patrick Parenteau, a law professor and former director of the Environmental Law Center at Vermont law school, has described the company’s move as “intimidation” intended to make “it cost a lot and be painful to take on Exxon” whether or not the company wins its case.

“This feels to me like an extension of the sort of harassment, bullying and intimidation that we’ve seen in the scientific sphere for the last two decades.”

In a highly unusual move, Texas’s governor, Greg Abbott, has written to the all-Republican court—half of whose members he appointed—in support of Exxon. He accused the California litigants of attempting “to suppress the speech of eighteen Texas-based energy companies on the subject of climate and energy policies.”

“When out-of-state officials try to project their power across our border, as respondents have done by broadly targeting the speech of an industry crucial to Texas, they cannot use personal jurisdiction to scamper out of our courts and retreat across state lines,” Abbott wrote.

In backing its claim, Exxon’s petition to the Texas supreme court gives the example of the Oakland city attorney, Barbara Parker, who in 2017 “issued a press release seeking to stifle the speech of the Texas energy sector or, as she likes to refer to it, ‘BIG OIL’.”

The press release said: “It is past time to debate or question the reality of global warming … Just like BIG TOBACCO, BIG OIL knew the truth long ago and peddled misinformation to con their customers and the American public.”

The company also names the then San Francisco city attorney, Dennis Herrera, because he accused fossil fuel companies of launching a “disinformation campaign to deny and discredit” the reality of global heating, and pledged to hold the companies responsible “to account.”

Exxon has, in addition, targeted an environmental lawyer in Boston, Matthew Pawa, who represents some of the California municipalities. The firm describes him as “an outspoken advocate of misusing government power to limit free speech” and alleges that Pawa “recruited” the California cities and counties to sue Exxon. “Those lawsuits are an affront to the first amendment,” the company claims.

Naomi Oreskes, a Harvard professor and co-author of Merchants of Doubt: How a Handful of Scientists Obscured the Truth on Issues from Tobacco Smoke to Global Warming, said Exxon had a long history of attempting to bully its critics into silence.

“Now that the arguments have moved into the legal sphere, this feels to me like an extension of the sort of harassment, bullying and intimidation that we’ve seen in the scientific sphere for the last two decades,” she said.

Oreskes said that the legal strategy is also part of a broader public relations campaign to paint the company as a victim of radical environmentalists and opportunistic politicians when Exxon argues that it should be heralded for its efforts to combat the climate crisis.

Exxon has tried to head off climate litigation before with lawsuits claiming that the attorney generals of Massachusetts and New York were violating the company’s rights by investigating it. Those moves were blocked by the Massachusetts supreme court and by a federal court.

If the Texas supreme court allows its rule 202 bid to proceed, Exxon might expect a more sympathetic hearing for its claims in a state court system that has shown deference to big oil.

Exxon is facing a barrage of other lawsuits across the US. A number accuse the company and other fossil fuel firms of breaching consumer protection laws by propagating misinformation about climate science.

Oreskes said Exxon went further than most other oil companies in seeking to hide the evidence of its own scientists collected about global heating and in running a disinformation campaign.

“They’re pushing their freedom of speech as an issue because more than any other company, it’s been proven by people like me and others that they have a track record of promoting half truths, misrepresentations and in some cases outright lies in the public sphere,” she said.

“This is so well documented that unless they can come up with some strategy to defend it, they’re in potentially pretty serious trouble.”

Chris Hedges: America’s New Class War

Mint Press News -

PRINCETON, NEW JERSEY (Scheerpost) — There is one last hope for the United States. It does not lie in the ballot box. It lies in the union organizing and strikes by workers at Amazon, Starbucks, Uber, Lyft, John Deere, Kellogg, the Special Metals plant in Huntington, West Virginia, owned by Berkshire Hathaway, the Northwest Carpenters Union, Kroger, teachers in Chicago, West Virginia, Oklahoma and Arizona, fast-food workers, hundreds of nurses in Worcester, Massachusetts, and the members of the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees.

Organized workers, often defying their timid union leadership, are on the march across the United States. Over four million workers, about 3% of the work force, mostly from accommodation and food services, healthcare and social assistance, transportation, housing, and utilities have walked away from jobs, rejecting poor pay along with punishing and risky working conditions. There is a growing consensus – 68 % in a recent Gallup poll with that number climbing to 77 % of those between the ages of 18 and 34 – that the only way left to alter the balance of power and force concessions from the ruling capitalist class is to mobilize and strike, although only 9 % of the U.S. work force is unionized. Forget the woke Democrats. This is a class war.

The question, Karl Popper reminded us, is not how we get good people to rule. Most of those attracted to power, figures such as Joe Biden, are at best mediocre and many, such as Dick Cheney, Donald Trump, or Mike Pompeo, are venal. The question is, rather, how do we organize institutions to prevent incompetent or bad leaders from inflicting too much damage. How do we pit power against power?

The Democratic Party will not push through the kind of radical New Deal reforms that in the 1930s staved off fascism and communism. Its empty political theater, which stretches back to the Clinton administration, was on full display in Atlanta when Biden called for revoking the filibuster to pass the Freedom to Vote Act and the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act, knowing that his chances of success are zero. Georgia Democratic gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams, along with several of the state’s voting rights groups, boycotted the event in a very public rebuke. They were acutely aware of Biden’s cynical ploy. When the Democrats were in the minority, they clung to the filibuster like a life raft. Then Sen. Barack Obama, along with other Democrats, campaigned for it to remain in place. And a few days ago, the Democratic leadership employed the filibuster to block legislation proposed by Sen. Ted Cruz.

The Democrats have been full partners in the dismantling of our democracy, refusing to banish dark and corporate money from the electoral process and governing, as Obama did, through presidential executive actions, agency “guidance,” notices and other regulatory dark matter that bypass Congress. The Democrats, who helped launch and perpetuate our endless wars, were also co-architects of trade deals such as NAFTA, expanded surveillance of citizens, militarized police, the largest prison system in the world and a raft of anti-terrorism laws such as Special Administrative Measures (SAMs) that abolish nearly all rights, including due process and attorney-client privilege, to allow suspects to be convicted and imprisoned with secret evidence they and their lawyers are not permitted to see. The squandering of staggering resources to the military — $777.7 billion a year — passed in the Senate with an 89-10 vote and in the House of Representatives with a 363-70 vote, coupled with the $80 billion spent annually on the intelligence agencies has made the military and the intelligence services, many run by private contractors such as Booz Allen Hamilton, nearly omnipotent. The Democrats long ago walked out on workers and unions. The Democratic governor of Maine, Janet Mills, for example, killed a bill a few days ago that would have allowed farm workers in the state to unionize. On all the major structural issues there is no difference between the Republicans and the Democrats.

The longer the Democratic Party does not deliver real reforms to ameliorate the economic hardship, exacerbated by soaring inflation rates, the more it feeds the frustration of many of its supporters, widespread apathy (there are 80 million eligible voters, a third of the electorate, who do not cast ballots) and the hatred of the “liberal” elites stoked by Donald Trump’s cultish Republican Party. Its signature infrastructure package, Build Back Better, when you read the fine print, is yet another infusion of billions of government money into corporate bank accounts. This should not surprise anyone, given who funds and controls the Democratic Party.

The Lesson of Covid: When People Are Anxious, Isolated and Hopeless, They’re Less Ready To Think Critically

The suffering and instability gripping at least half the country living in financial distress, alienated and disenfranchised, preyed upon by banks, credit card companies, student loan companies, privatized utilities, the gig economy, a for-profit health care system that has resulted in a quarter of all worldwide COVID-19 deaths—although we are less than 5% of the world’s population—and employers who pay slave wages and do not provide benefits is getting worse. Biden has presided over the loss of extended unemployment benefits, rental assistance, forbearance for student loans, emergency checks, the moratorium on evictions and now the ending of the expansion of the child tax credits, all as the pandemic again surges. The handling of the pandemic, from a health and an economic perspective, is one more sign of the empire’s deep decay. Americans who are uninsured, or who are covered by Medicare, often frontline workers, are not reimbursed for over-the-counter COVID tests they purchase. The Supreme Court – five of the justices were appointed by presidents who lost the popular vote – also blocked the Biden administration from enforcing a vaccine-or-testing mandate for large employers. And on the horizon, fueled by the economic fallout from the pandemic, are large-scale loan defaults and another financial crisis. The worse things get, the more discredited the Democratic Party and its “liberal” democratic values become, and the more the Christian fascists lurking in the wings thrive.

As history has repeatedly proven, organized labor, allied with a political party dedicated to its interests, is the best tool to push back against the rich. Nick French in an article in Jacobin draws on the work of the sociologist Walter Korpi who examined the rise of the Swedish welfare state in his book “The Democratic Class Struggle.” Korpi detailed how Swedish workers, as French writes, “built a strong and well-organized trade union movement, organized along industrial lines and united by a central trade union federation, the Landsorganisationen (LO), which worked closely with the Social Democratic Workers’ Party of Sweden (SAP).”  The battle to build the welfare state required organizing – 76 % of workers were unionized – waves of strikes, militant labor activity and SAP political pressure. “Measured in terms of the number of working days per worker,” Korpi writes, “from the turn of the century up to the early 1930s, Sweden had the highest level of strikes and lockouts among the Western nations.” From 1900–13, as French notes, “there were 1,286 days of idleness due to strikes and lockouts per thousand workers in Sweden. From 1919–38, there were 1,448. (By comparison, in the United States last year, according to National Bureau of Economic Research data, there were fewer than 3.7 days of idleness per thousand workers due to work stoppages.)”  There are a few third parties including The Green Party, Socialist Alternative and The People’s Party that provide this opportunity. But the Democrats won’t save us. They have sold out to the billionaire class. We will only save ourselves.

Unions break down political divides, bringing workers of all political persuasions together to fight a common oligarchic and corporate foe. Once workers begin to exert power and extract demands from the ruling class, the struggle educates communities about the real configurations of power and mitigates the feelings of powerlessness that have driven many into the arms of the neofascists. For this reason, capitulating to the Democratic Party, which has betrayed working men and women, is a terrible mistake.

The rapacious pillage by the elites, many of whom bankroll the Democratic Party, has accelerated since the financial crash of 2008 and the pandemic.

Wall Street banks recorded record profits for 2021. As the Financial Times noted, they milked the underwriting fees from Fed-based borrowing and profited from mergers and acquisitions. They have pumped their profits, fueled by roughly $5 trillion in Fed spending since the beginning of the pandemic, as Matt Taibbi points out, into massive pay bonuses and stock buybacks. “The bulk of this new wealth—most—is being converted into compensation for a handful of executives,” Taibbi writes. “Buybacks have also been rampant in defense, pharmaceuticals, and oil & gas, all of which also just finished their second straight year of record, skyrocketing profits. We’re now up to about 745 billionaires in the U.S., who’ve collectively seen their net worth grow about $2.1 trillion to $5 trillion since March 2020, with almost all that wealth increase tied to the Fed’s ballooning balance sheet.”

Kroger is typical. The corporation, which operates some 2,800 stores under different brands, including Baker’s, City Market, Dillons, Food 4 Less, Foods Co., Fred Meyer, Fry’s, Gerbes, Jay C Food Store, King Soopers, Mariano’s, Metro Market, Pay-Less Super Markets, Pick’n Save, QFC, Ralphs, Ruler and Smith’s Food and Drug, earned $4.1 billion in profits in 2020. By the end of the third quarter of 2021, it had $2.28 billion in cash, an increase of $399 million in the first quarter of 2020. Kroger CEO Rodney McMullen made over $22 million, nearly doubling the $12 million he made in 2018. This is over 900 times the salary of the average Kroger worker. Kroger in the first three quarters of 2021 also spent an estimated $1.3 billion on stock buybacks.

Grocery store workers picket outside a King Soopers Kroger store, Jan. 13, 2022, in east Denver. David Zalubowski | AP

“Kroger is the only employer for 86 percent of their workers, making it their sole source of earned income,” Economic Roundtable in a survey of Kroger workers found. “Working full-time to earn a living wage would require Kroger to pay $22 per hour for an annual living wage total of $45,760. The average annual earnings of Kroger workers, however, equal $29,655. This is $16,105 short of the annual income needed to pay for basic necessities required for the living wage. More than two-thirds of Kroger workers struggle for survival due to low wages and part-time work schedules. Nine out of ten Kroger workers report that their wages have not increased as much as basic expenses such as food and housing have increase. Since 1990, wages for the most experienced Kroger food clerks have declined from 11 to 22 percent (adjusted for inflation) across the three regions surveyed. Across the entire grocery industry, 29 percent of the labor force is below or near the federal poverty threshold.”

More than one-third (36%) of 10,000 employees at Kroger-owned stores in Southern California, Colorado, and Washington said they were worried about eviction. More than three-quarters (78%) are food-insecure. One in 7 Kroger workers faced homelessness in the past year. Nearly 1 in 5 (18%) Kroger employees said they hadn’t paid the previous month’s mortgage on time.

More than 8,000 unionized Kroger’s King Soopers employees went on strike on Jan. 12 in Colorado, demanding higher wages and better working conditions from the country’s largest grocery store chain and fourth-largest private employer.

This is where one of the emerging front lines in the class struggle are located. It is where we should invest our time and energy.

Our capitalist democracy from the start was rigged against us. The Electoral College permits presidential candidates such as George W. Bush and Trump to lose the popular vote and assume office. The awarding of two senators per state, regardless of the state’s population, means that 62 senators represent one quarter of the population while six represent another quarter. The founding fathers disenfranchised women, Native Americans, African Americans, and men without property. Most citizens were intentionally locked out of the democratic process by the ruling white male aristocrats, most of them slaveholders.

All the openings in our democracy were the result of prolonged popular struggle. Hundreds of workers were murdered, thousands were wounded, tens of thousands were blacklisted in our labor wars, the bloodiest of any industrialized country. Abolitionists, suffragists, unionists, crusading journalists and those in the anti-war and civil rights movements opened our democratic space. These radical movements were repressed and ruthlessly dismantled in the early 20th century in the name of anti-communism. They were again targeted by the corporate elites following the rise of new mass movements in the 1930s. These popular movements, which rose again in the 1960s, moved us, inch by bloody inch, towards equality and social justice. Most of these gains made in the 1960s have been rolled back under the onslaught of neoliberalism, deregulation, and a corrupt campaign finance system, legalized by court rulings such as Citizens United, which allow the rich and corporations to bankroll elections to select political leaders and impose legislation. The modern incarnation of 19th-century robber barons, including Jeff Bezos and Elon Musk, each worth some $200 billion, summon us to our radical roots.

Class struggle defines most of human history. Marx got this right. It is not a new story. The rich, throughout history, have found ways to subjugate and re-subjugate the masses. And the masses, throughout history, have cyclically awoken to throw off their chains.

Feature photo | Original illustration by Mr. Fish

Chris Hedges is a Pulitzer Prize–winning journalist who was a foreign correspondent for fifteen years for The New York Times, where he served as the Middle East Bureau Chief and Balkan Bureau Chief for the paper. He previously worked overseas for The Dallas Morning News, The Christian Science Monitor, and NPR. He is the host of the Emmy Award-nominated RT America show On Contact.

The post Chris Hedges: America’s New Class War appeared first on MintPress News.

Who Is Aafia Siddiqui? Synagogue Attack Renews Focus on Pakistani Neuroscientist Imprisoned in Texas

Democracy Now! -

During Saturday’s synagogue attack in Colleyville, Texas, the gunman Malik Faisal Akram repeatedly called for the release of Pakistani neuroscientist Aafia Siddiqui, who is serving an 86-year sentence in a U.S. federal prison located just miles from the synagogue. Siddiqui was convicted in 2010 on charges that she intended to kill U.S. military officers while being detained in Afghanistan two years earlier. However, many questions remain unanswered about her time in U.S. custody, and her conviction was secured without physical evidence and on U.S. officials’ testimony alone, says Siddiqui’s lawyer, Marwa Elbially. Elbially says there’s a false impression of Siddiqui in the U.S. as a terrorist, even though terrorist charges were never brought against her, and Pakistan officials have voiced concern about her arrest and detention. We also speak with Mauri’ Saalakhan, director of operations for The Aafia Foundation, who calls Siddiqui’s case an unprecedented miscarriage of justice.

Texas Rabbi: Despite False Media Narratives, Synagogue Attack Brought Jewish & Muslim Communities Together

Democracy Now! -

On Saturday, an armed British man named Malik Faisal Akram took a rabbi and three congregants hostage at a synagogue outside of Fort Worth, Texas, resulting in an 11-hour standoff that ended once the rabbi threw a chair at Akram, who was later shot dead by the police. The standoff — which left all four hostages unharmed — has been identified by President Biden and federal authorities as an antisemitic act of terror. We speak with Rabbi Nancy Kasten, who says despite false media narratives painting the hostage crisis as an outgrowth of hostility between Muslims and Jews, the local Muslim community mobilized in support of the Jewish community this weekend. She also notes Muslim communities are less protected under federal and state law, which “creates a lot of opportunity for very misguided and false information to be perpetrated about the Muslim community.”

"There Must Be a Moral Shift": Bishop Barber Calls on Democrats to Pass Voting Rights, Protect Poor

Democracy Now! -

Senate Democratic leadership insists they will debate two critical voting rights bills even though Democratic Senators Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema have publicly denounced their party’s plan to make changes to Senate filibuster rules that would give Democrats the votes needed to pass the landmark legislation. Meanwhile, thousands marched in support of the legislation and the necessary filibuster rule changes in Washington, D.C., on Monday, the federal holiday marking Martin Luther King Jr. Day. We speak with movement leader William Barber, co-chair of the Poor People’s Campaign, who criticizes the Democrats for bifurcating the Build Back Better economic legislation from voting rights and says movements must plan sustained, nonviolent direct action to ensure politicians pass legislation that benefits poor and low-wealth people.

Headlines for January 18, 2022

Democracy Now! -

When Communists and Hippies Fought Over Wheatgerm and Wonder Bread in Minneapolis

Mother Jones Magazine -

As a college student in San Francisco tasked with feeding myself full-time for the first time in my life, I wondered, “Where are all the natural food co-ops?” Growing up in Minneapolis, I was under the impression that every big city (much less a countercultural foodie mecca like San Francisco) was teeming with organic food cooperative grocery stores. Little did I know, my hometown was the headquarters of the 1970s movement that popularized such shops. Not everyone has a place like the Wedge Community Co-op, where my mother has been a member-owner since the late 1980s, let alone a robust network of similar stores.

Eventually, I moved back to Minneapolis. That’s how, last summer, I ended up talking to an eccentric organic farmer friend who told me about the Co-op Wars. A vicious internecine conflict between Maoist revolutionaries and Hippies, the Co-Op Wars threatened to tear the movement apart just as it was blooming. 

The groups—Co-op loyalists on one side and an insurgent faction called the Co-op Organization, or “The CO,” on the other—fought over who would control the upstart natural food co-op movement in the Twin Cities, how the stores should be staffed and managed, and whether they should sell Campbell’s Soup and Wonder Bread. Hardcore radicals wanted to rally the masses or stick to the wheatgerm and mesclun—cutting-edge health food at the time—instead.

It may seem trivial, but this disagreement served as a stand-in for “many of the major issues of the tumultuous 1970s, particularly the connections between radical politics and social class,” notes the scholar Mary Rizzo. It also lead to serious violence. The first shot in the war comes when The CO makes a play to seize he People’s Warehouse distribution center, armed with steel pipes and ready to crack some hippie skull. The warehouse takeover begets a series of simmering conflict, culminating in The CO car-bombing the leader of a rival shop.

I was astonished that I hadn’t heard this story growing up in the city. Luckily, I didn’t have to wait long to learn more. This fall, the filmmakers and former co-op workers Deacon Warner and Erik Esse released their hourlong documentary, The Co-Op Wars, delving into what the author and socialist luminary Barbara Ehrenreich has called the “Twinkie wars.”

In my last freelance assignment before joining Mother Jones, I spoke with the filmmakers for RacketMN, a newly launched, writer-owned online magazine from the editors of the late Minneapolis Alt-Weekly City Pages, if you want to read more.

And if you want to hear war stories from the “veterans” themselves, The Co-Op Wars is available to stream for free on TPT and YouTube. I also appeared on the podcast Pod Damn America, where I spoke with host Anders Lee about the film and my article. If the story piques your interest like it did mine, I’d point to Storefront Revolution: Food Co-ops and the Counterculture, by Craig Cox, and “Revolution in a Can: Food, Class, and Radicalism in the Minneapolis Co-op Wars of the 1970s,” from Eating in Eden: Food and American Utopias, by Rizzo. Additionally, a former member of The CO and current member of the Democratic Socialists of America named Robbie Orr wrote a critical and reflective review of the film that contains advice for organizers and activists today.

“We Started Eating Them”

Mother Jones Magazine -

This story was originally published by the Guardian and is reproduced here as part of the Climate Desk collaboration.

Small, bluish-grey and speckled, it would be easy to overlook the marbled crayfish. Except for the fact it is likely to be coming to a pond or river near you soon—if it is not already there. The all-female freshwater crustacean has become a focus of fascination for scientists in recent years, due to its unique ability among decapods—the family that includes shrimps, crabs and lobsters—to clone itself and quickly adapt to new environments, as well as the fact that it has spread exponentially.

The marbled crayfish was first recognized in 1995, when a biology student bought a bag of crayfish—sold to him as “Texas crayfish”—from American traders at a pet fair in Frankfurt. After becoming a burden to their new owner due to their inexplicably rapid rate of reproduction, he distributed them to friends who, in turn, dumped them in rivers, lakes and toilets, from where they spread rapidly, throughout Germany, much of mainland Europe and most profusely, the island of Madagascar, home to unique but extremely delicate freshwater ecosystems.

When Frank Lyko, a professor of epigenetics at the German Cancer Research Centre (DKFZ), first came across the creatures, referred to as marmorkrebs, he was astonished by their ability to reproduce clonally from a single cell, like cancer tumors, and saw them as an ideal model for research.

“All marbled crayfish share the same genome,” he says on a video call from his office in Heidelberg. “But they also adapt to various different environments, and do that in a hurry, which makes them scientifically remarkable and similar to a tumor, which also adapts to its environment.”

Lyko led the ambitious genome study that established the extraordinary fact that all marbled crayfish originate from a single foundational female. They reproduce without sex through parthenogenesis. In 2015, he gave the all-female crustaceans their species name of Procambarus virginalis.

In the course of his research, Lyko recalls driving to a lake about 15 minutes from his lab with his students. Donning head torches and waders and standing ankle deep in the water, “we waited until it got dark, then suddenly they emerged in their hundreds and thousands,” he says. “With a hand net, we caught them from behind and put them in buckets. It was so exciting. Soon after that, we started experimenting with eating them and found they were quite tasty.”

In Germany, where the marbled crayfish have invaded lakes and rivers, authorities have adopted a strict approach to them.

Klaus Hidde, a retired bank clerk turned hobby fisher, was tasked by the Berlin senate’s environment department last year with setting traps for the crayfish, which have been found in two lakes on Berlin’s western fringes. Not only are the crayfish in danger of killing off native species, “but they can also carry the so-called crayfish plague,” he says, referring to a fungal disease that more or less wiped out what had been a hugely successful European crayfish market 150 years ago.

Hidde was first contracted by the department four years ago to catch armies of red swamp crayfish that had broken out of ponds in parks, including the central Tiergarten, after heavy rain, and were found scuttling through the Brandenburg Gate. “In one year alone, I caught 42,000 of them. I was seen as a bit of a savior, even if I say it myself,” he says. He could get about $18 per kilo of swamp crayfish, and received a $9.54 top-up from the senate. Berlin restaurants snapped up the crustaceans, serving them up to diners as the novel “Berlin lobster.”

“Rather than giving up meat, in this case, the more of it we eat the better.”

Hidde is earning less for the marbled crayfish because, he believes, officials are “wary of creating demand” for the cloned animals, which could promote their breeding and exacerbate the problem. “I may give up, unless they’re prepared to make it worth my while,” he says, admitting he had personally yet to develop a taste for the meat. “I prefer to eat gambas [pawns] when I go on holiday to Spain.”

Lukas Bosch, the co-founder of Holycrab!, a biodiversity startup, hopes the marbled crayfish’s nutritional value will tempt Germans looking for sustainable alternatives to intensively farmed meat. The company is turning invasive species—from raccoons, Egyptian geese and wild boar to other crayfish, such as Chinese mitten crabs—into culinary delicacies, teaming up with top Berlin chefs to appeal to the ecological sensibilities of German diners. They have already sold the meaty tails of marbled crayfish on bread rolls and are experimenting with turning the animal’s high-value protein into rich fish stews and stocks.

“As these crayfish have no natural predators, our thinking is, why can’t Berliners take on that role?” he says. “Rather than giving up meat, in this case, the more of it we eat the better.”

Ranja Adriantsoa, a conservation biologist, first came across the marbled crayfish in Madagascar as a freshwater ecology student, around 2010. She delicately lifts one out of a tank in her laboratory, around 12 cm long from the tip of its head to its tail. As it wildly waves its antennae and clawed legs, she points at its marbled carapace and small appendages on the underside of its tail where the highly fecund animal “can store between about 200 and 700 eggs.” As it reproduces around four times a year—without needing to mate—one female has the potential to create a population of several million genetically identical females.

When Adriantsoa first went to work for the department of invasive species control at the University of Antananarivo in the Madagascan capital, the emphasis was on stopping the spread of the marbled crayfish, which are highly destructive, eating fish larvae, displacing native crayfish and destroying the nation’s staple food crop, rice.

“Let’s be clear, you would not want to deliberately import these but the attitude is now how to live with them.”

“But over time that perception has changed,” Adriantsoa says. “Let’s be clear, you would not want to deliberately import these but the fact that they’re here and established, the attitude is now how to live with them.”

In collaboration with conservation scientist Julia Jones, a professor at Bangor University in Wales, Adriantsoa and an international female-driven team of scientists launched the Perfect Invader to look at the impact of the marbled crayfish on human health. They found the crayfish can be an important source of cheap, high-quality protein for Madagascans, one of the poorest populations in the world where about 42 percent of children are affected by stunted growth.

The research also looks at the potential for the marbled crayfish to help tackle the transmission of schistosomiasis, which affects an estimated 290 million people worldwide, including millions in Madagascar. The hypothesis is that the crayfish prey on the freshwater snails that host the parasitic flatworms that cause the acute and chronic disease.

Back in Germany, working with the country’s largest research institute, the Helmholtz Association, Lyko is engaged in a pilot project to turn the marbled crayfish’s shells, which are high in chitin, a biopolymer, into biodegradable plastics. “You will see the first ever crayfish drinking straws this month,” he says.

Jones says that the marbled crayfish have taught her and other scientists to see “the big picture.”

“While we need to understand the negative ecological impact of the marbled crayfish in Madagascar, we also need to recognise and understand people having to learn to live intelligently alongside this crayfish—it’s there, there’s no getting rid of it,” she says.

She was at pains to stress that all measures should be taken to stop marbled crayfish from arriving anywhere else. The animals are banned in the EU and UK, though experts say some are likely held illegally in aquariums.

“They are spreading fast—they were in Poland the last time I looked, and will be in the UK eventually,” says Jones. “I think the marbled crab is likely to go down in history with other famous invasive species like the zebra mussel, the cane toad, or the grey squirrel.”

“If you’re reading about this for the first time, you can be sure you’ll be hearing a lot more about the marbled crayfish.”

From Aerial Strikes to Starvation, Afghanistan’s People Bear the Brunt of the West’s Failed Taliban Tactics

Counterpunch Articles -

Less than five months after the fall of Kabul, three-quarters of the 40 million Afghans have been plunged into acute poverty, with many already suffering from malnutrition. On top of war, the Covid-19 epidemic, and drought, came the collapse of the foreign-funded state machinery and aid programmes. And, if this was not enough, what remains of the economy has been strangled by economic sanctions with the freezing of more than $9bn in central bank reserves and cutting off of the country from the international financial system. More

The post From Aerial Strikes to Starvation, Afghanistan’s People Bear the Brunt of the West’s Failed Taliban Tactics appeared first on CounterPunch.org.

Bill Clinton’s Role in the Crisis Over Ukraine

Counterpunch Articles -

The militarization of American foreign policy has evolved over the past thirty years. Ironically, this took place in the wake of the dissolution of the Soviet Union, which should have led to reassessing U.S. national security policy and defense spending.  Democratic presidents have played a major role in this militarization because they are unwilling to More

The post Bill Clinton’s Role in the Crisis Over Ukraine appeared first on CounterPunch.org.

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