Carey Wedler | ANTIMEDIA
Americans are prone to obsessing over seemingly frivolous headlines. Over the past year, we’ve seen the media drive emotional feeding frenzies on everything from the Starbucks red cup scandal to the superficial Confederate flag saga that ultimately glossed over the true foundations of racism in the U.S. Regardless of what the subjective opinion may be, the United States populace tends to feel inclined to indulge in heated, dramatic conversations about the morality of apparently inanimate objects.
But sometimes, they focus on more substantive issues.
One subject that repeatedly riles up the masses is the subject of transgender rights. Last year, America (and the world) erupted in glee, rage, and overall chaos after Caitlyn Jenner debuted her new identity on the cover of Vanity Fair. More recently, many Americans have zeroed in on the ongoing controversy over transgender bathroom rights — sparked by North Carolina’s recent LGBT law. Some champion equal rights for all; others lament the destruction of American values. Headlines have detailed high-profile boycotts against North Carolina, the viral petition condemning Target for allowing transgender people to use whatever bathroom they prefer, and now, the topic is trending again amid news of President Obama’s call on Friday for public schools to respect transgender bathroom rights.
As important as these developments may be — no matter your views on the subject — as tends to happen, other highly important stories have fallen by the wayside. Though they have not been wholly blacked out by the corporate media, they have implications of equal, if not more , importance than America’s obsession with transgender issues — and most Americans will likely never hear about them.
Here are five stories you might want to review before diving back into the transgender imbroglio:
1. Hillary’s Conflicts of Interest Continue to Mount: As we reported, it was revealed this week that employees at the Department of Justice — one of the agencies tasked with investigating Clinton’s allegedly improper use of private email servers — gave $75,000 in donations to the presidential front-runner. “Hillary’s donations from the Department of Justice completely swamp those of the other candidates, in fact, as Sanders’ total from 51 donors was just $8,900 and Trump garnered an inconsequential $381,” we reported. David Bossie, president of watchdog group, Citizens United, argued “Attorney General Lynch must appoint a special counsel to determine if Hillary Clinton or her agents broke the law and compromised our national security. This investigation needs to be conducted free of political influence once and for all.”
As our own Claire Bernish explained, “Critics have previously pointed to Lynch personally donating over $10,000 to Democratic candidates as evidence of her lack of impartiality — and sufficient reason she should not be charged with overseeing the investigation of Clinton’s emails.” Ultimately, this conflict of interest represents deeply-rooted, systemic glitches in American democracy, where accountability is often flouted to protect the oligarchy. This reality does not mean the transgender conversation is unimportant — however, it does provide a sad commentary on whom Americans will accept as their ruler while they trade insults over bathroom rights. In this case, it’s a corrupt career politician whose misdeeds have thus far failed to thwart her designs on power.
2. Somebody was finally arrested for voter fraud, but it wasn’t the people committing it: This week, Anti-Media also reported on a Florida-based hacker, David Michael Levin, who exposed security flaws in the website of the Lee County Elections Office and the Division of Elections in Tallahassee. He shared them with authorities in the hopes of fixing the problem, but instead was arrested. “According to the somewhat redacted police report, Levin’s associate, Daniel Sinclair, sent a security report about the SQL vulnerability — including details of the security flaw and a screenshot — to ‘an employee within the Department of State, Division of Elections,’” we reported. Shortly after, a special investigation was launched and Levin was arrested. “Levin’s foray into the elections data had not been undertaken with the appropriate permission — and because he didn’t alert the authorities as soon as he discovered vulnerabilities, law enforcement is required to be blind to his good intent,” we noted. He spent six hours in jail, even though he complied with all searches and confiscation of electronic devices.
Sinclair is running for a seat on the Lee County elections board, drawing some suspicion the hack was a publicity stunt, but as we noted, “with rather overt fraud disenfranchising voters across the country, arresting the one hacker who attempted to help secure elections seems oddly ironic.” Here’s a list of the many irregularities plaguing the electoral process this year.
3. Former Facebook employees revealed how the site censors news stories: Last week, Gizmodo published an in-depth story detailing how journalists working for the “Facebook Trends” feature of the social networking site were mistreated and quarantined from the rest of the staff. This week, Gizmodo published a follow-up piece documenting allegations from former employees that curators of the trending section excluded stories from conservative outlets and deliberately failed to include conservative topics from the IRS discrimination scandal to Rand Paul. Though these exclusions appeared to be unintentional displays of bias from individual employees, they dominated coverage of the story. But other manipulations of the feed were more deliberate. One official policy of the department included censoring stories about Facebook from trends.
“When it was a story about the company, we were told not to touch it. It had to be cleared through several channels, even if it was being shared quite a bit. We were told that we should not be putting it on the trending tool,” said one former employee. Further, in another official policy, employees were allowed to artificially inject stories into that trending pool, even if they were not trending on Facebook — as long as they were covered by mainstream outlets.
Though Republican lawmakers demanded answers from Facebook, perhaps the real story is Facebook’s complicity in perpetuating corporate media narratives; Facebook has long partnered with corporate outlets (and the U.S. government) and has also been accused of censoring stories critical of Hillary Clinton whileblocking grassroots groups supporting Bernie Sanders. While Facebook is ultimately a private company that can make its own decisions, its users would do well to take the revelations as an opportunity to decide whether they trust the outlet to responsibly and equitably provide them with information.
No matter one’s view on Facebook’s rights as a private institution, the news of their practices runs in direct violation of their assertion the feed is comprised of “topics that have recently become popular.” The whistleblowers expressed hope that with the increased use of algorithms, Facebook Trends will be less subject to human bias and manipulation. In case that doesn’t happen, sign up for the weekly Anti-Media newsletter to get information unfiltered by Facebook.
4. Rat DNA, Human DNA, and Pathogenic Germs… in your hamburgers: According to an independent analysis conducted on over 250 burger brands in the United States — ranging from fast food to frozen food, and even vegetarian products — America’s love for burgers faces some snags. Though the report by Clear Labs, a California-based food industry researcher, praised overall improvements in the hamburger industry, they noted severe shortcomings, particularly with product labeling and the presence of germs. Rat DNA was found in three vegetarian burger samples while human DNA was found in one — but those were not the most concerning findings, the researchers noted, because though their presence is revolting, they are not necessarily considered dangerous to humans.
More worthy of alarm, they explained, was the mislabeling of vegetarian products, the presence of meat in some of those purportedly meatless burgers, and the total absence of black beans in a black bean burger. The report notes “23.6% of vegetarian products showed some form of discrepancy between product and label, compared to the 13.6% of all samples. We found pervasive issues in food quality and end-product consistency in these non-meat samples.”
Further, they found pathogens known to cause illness in 11 samples, four of which were found in vegetarian burgers. Though their tests could not determine whether the pathogens were alive or dead, their presence at all should raise eyebrows. Another top concern of analysts was the finding that “nearly 81 percent (38 of 47) of the fast food burgers tested contained more calories than reported in the product’s nutritional information,” and that“these discrepancies are potentially worrisome for customers who make decisions about what to order based on calorie counts and other available nutritional information.”
Though food contamination in the United States is nothing new, these findings are relevant not only because they document ongoing issues with food quality, but because they represent an attempt by a private organization to pick up the FDA’s slack. As Anti-Media pointed out, “Perhaps most telling is Clear Labs’ subtle, if not unintentional, commentary on the failures of the FDA to keep food safe for consumers; they stress their goal is to improve the safety and quality in hamburgers — ‘regardless of whether or not they are acceptable according to FDA guidelines,’” ultimately providing a silver lining to the unsettling report.
5. American foreign policy continues to have unintended ramifications: Americans have by and large accepted aggressive militarism as a linchpin of U.S. policy, and though the overwhelming civilian casualties and military failures are widely-known, this week Anti-Media reported on another consequence of the longest war in U.S. history: the war in Afghanistan has turned a generation of children into heroin addicts.
“The psychological damage of war, together with the flood of cheap heroin, has led to a doubling in addiction rates over the last five years. In the Channel 4 documentary, Unreported World, Ramita Naval explores a harrowing escalation in child addiction. In the ravaged country, where access to drug treatment is severely limited, she visits a rehabilitation centre where children as young as four or five — haunted by horrors they have witnessed — attempt to regain lost childhoods,” Anti-Media noted.
A Kabul-based doctor told Naval rates of addiction had jumped 60 percent in the last two years at the only treatment center in the city that helps children. Naval spoke to a thirteen-year-old boy whose parents were killed by shelling when he was eight. He ended up working as a guard for drug dealers, eventually becoming addicted to opium himself. He said he prostitutes himself to be able to maintain his habit.
Another young boy’s addiction began when, “after witnessing a suicide bomb attack in Kabul, he went to stay with relatives in the countryside. While he was there, U.S. forces bombed his village, killing dozens of people; he described seeing bodies scattered everywhere. The young boy and other villagers had to pick up the body parts and put them in plastic bags. Claiming the war breaks his heart — and making his descent into drug use more understandable — he said, ‘I’d rather not live, than live through this war.’”
“What’s happened in Afghanistan over the last 13 years has been the flourishing of a narco-state that is really without any parallel in history,” Kabul-based journalist Matthieu Aikins told Democracy Now back in 2014.
Afghanistan now produces 90 percent of the world’s opium, and even the CIA has been linked to key players in that trade. Clandestine operations aside, however, a generation of children lives in a country where opium is cheaper than food — and where unrelenting violence chronically traumatizes their young psyches, driving them deeper into addiction.
Of course, it is possible to care about transgender rights and political corruption, censorship, contaminated food, and the unintended victims of the Afghanistan War. As Facebook highlights transgender rights and Americans preach from their bully comment thread pulpits, however, it’s important to remember the broad view of current affairs.