Thursday, June 14, 2018

Monopoly Capitalism is Antithetical to Democracy

Mergers and acquisitions are accelerating at an alarming pace:
Gottfried, Miriam (2018, June 14). Deal Makers Ready $1 Trillion Trove. The Wall Street Journal, p. B1.
“There has been $2.1 trillion of M&A [merger and acquisition] deals announced so far this year, according to Dealogic, up 56% from the comparable period in 2017…. If the current pace continues, 2018 would break a record for global M&A activity, exceeding the prior high-water mark of $4.3 trillion in 2007.”
There has been significant consolidation in the media industry, with AT&T acquiring Time Warner for $80 billion.  

More recently, Comcast announced an “unsolicited offer to buy most of 21st Centry Fox Inc. for roughly $65 billion, kicking off a bidding war with Walt Disney Co” (Ramachandran & Schwartzel 2018-6-14. Comcast Challenges Disney for Fox WSJ A1).

Consolidated ownership across production and distribution of media messages especially threatens democracy, as explained by media theorist Herbert Schiller. 

Consolidated global ownership is occurring across many sectors, not simply in the media.

Monopolization has become so intense in our period of late neoliberal capitalism that even the Wall Street Journal is discussing “A Plan to Mitigate Monopolies” (Ip,  2018-6-14. A Plan to Mitigate Monopolies, A2).

A study published in 2011 demonstrated that ownership of the world’s 43,0000 largest corporations is highly centralized in a core group of 1318 corporations with interlocking ownerships (Stefania Vitali, James B. Glattfelder, and Stefano Battiston).[i] Each of the core 1318 corporations was found to have ownership links to two or more other companies, although most are linked to twenty other corporations. 

The 1318 corporations own through their shares the majority of blue chip and manufacturing companies, controlling 60 percent of global revenues. Further analysis revealed a tightly linked “super entity” of 147 corporations, mainly in finance, with interconnected ownership. 

Consequently, less than one percent of corporations essentially controlled 40 percent of the entire network. Furthermore, the study found that 734 “top holders of stock accumulate 80% of the control over the value of all TNCs.” The authors conclude: “this means that network control is much more unequally distributed than wealth. In particular, the top ranked actors hold a control ten times bigger than what could be expected based on their wealth.”[ii] 

Consolidated ownership results in consolidated control over decision-making over important societal issues – such as finance and energy – impacting future generations.

Consolidation of wealth shapes social organization through centralization of decision-making in markets and politics by corporations, powerful government agencies, and international governance organizations. 

In The Next Catastrophe, sociologist Charles Perrow describes how infrastructural risk is amplified by concentrations of energy (i.e., concentration of hazardous activities and facilities: e.g., Concentrations of dangerous substances in single locations), concentrations of populations, and concentrations of political and economic power, which concentrate energy and decision-making, encouraging “over-reach.”[iii] 

Concentrated power tends to self-replicate, seeking to expand its resources and influence, although the means of replication are always shaped by historical, cultural, and economic particularities.

Concentrated ownership threatens all forms of social organization that are democratic in aspiration, and its getting worse!


[i] Stefania Vitali, James B. Glattfelder, and Stefano Battiston, “The Network of Global Corporate Control,” PLOSone (2011), accessed December 3, 2011, doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0025995.

[ii] Vitali, Glattfelder, and Battiston, “The Network of Global,” 36.

[iii] Charles Perrow, The Next Catastrophe: Reducing Our Vulnerabilities to Natural, Industrial, and Terrorist Disasters (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2007), 1.

Tuesday, June 12, 2018

Purging Voting Rolls, Erecting Barriers, and Limiting Circulations

The news media is widely discussing the decision by the US Supreme Court to allow purging of voter registration rolls:
John Nichols (2018, June 11) How Did the Supreme Court Give a Green Light to Massive Voter Suppression? Two words: Neil Gorsuch. The Nation
On Monday, the Court released its ruling in the case of Hustad v. A. Philip Randolph Institute, an essential test of the Court’s stance regarding voting rights. With the critical 2018 election just months away, the Court’s activist majority gave Republican secretaries of state a go-ahead to resume the antidemocratic practice of purging fully qualified voters from registration rolls. It was a 5-4 decision.
I admit to becoming increasingly nervous by the election of right-wing governments seemingly everywhere and the growing deployment of purging - purging immigrants and voters for example - as a technique of government.

Purging, or what Saskia Sassen describes as Expulsions, and the erection of barriers, as described by Wendy Brown, limiting circulations of devalued people and ideas do not bode well for our collective future, particularly as these projects are executed by what Althusser described as "repressive apparatuses."

Today's repressive apparatuses are as likely to be corporate contractors as they are likely to be government agencies.

Across sectors, the repressive apparatuses grow, threatening us all with their purges and walls.

Note on Foucault: governmentality is becoming overtly sovereign.


Monday, June 11, 2018

Net Neutrality Ends Today

I've commented quite a bit on this blog about the endangered digital commons. It was never more than an aspiration, of course, given the ways web architecture and ownership shape digital transactions.

But although we never approached the digital commons, the web 2.0 environment offered unprecedented opportunities for individuals to communicate to mass audiences.

This capacity for individual commentators - whether bloggers, youtubers, meme producers, commentators, etc -- to communicate to mass audiences fundamentally dislocated the power of centralized mass communication.

It was radical experimentation in communication. It demonstrated commmunication's transformative capacities, but of course it was inevitable that the Internet became a battle-ground for heterogeneous forces.

Some of those forces were nefarious, with hidden intentions and fraudulent claims.

Other forces were reformist and/or utopian, aiming to raise awareness about critical issues seen as threatening human well-being or existence.

Of course, I'm not denying that utopian forces were infiltrated with narcissists and duplicitous non-believers. A particular discourse, such as the discourse of extinction encoded on the Internet in a novel symbol, is always being shaped and interrogated by many forces, some of them duplicitous:

Still, a utopian impulse toward the optimization of life thought in the most inclusive terms could be found across the web. It harbored and promoted reformist and revolutionary agendas.

But now the chaos of the freest mass communication ever is ending.

It is being reigned in by many different forms of control. I've focused here quite a bit on algorithmic governmentality because I saw its operations when Google incorporated Page Rank in April of 2017. Like many blogs and websites offering critical analysis from the left and the libertarian right, Majia's blog was ranked lower in results as a function of the site's "radical analysis."

Using the term "nuclear governmentality" which is unique, I demonstrated that most search engines have blocked my blog altogether, such as Norton and IE. Google will turn up majia's blog results for me but I cannot help but wonder whether those results are tailored to my browsing habits.

Algorithmic governmentality is nothing, however, compared to the power of a commercialized Internet with the end of neutrality.

Net neutrality ends today, although its ultimate fate will be decided in court:
David Shepardson (2018, June 11). U.S. net neutrality rules expire, court battle loomsThe U.S. open internet rules expired on Monday, handing sweeping new powers to internet providers to block, throttle or offer paid “fast lanes” for web traffic, but a court battle remains ahead...
...FCC Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel, a Democrat who voted against the repeal, said Monday that the decision put the FCC “on the wrong side of history, the wrong side of the law, and the wrong side of the American public.”

Saturday, June 9, 2018

Radioactive Milk

In 1962 Harold Knapp described how radioactive isotopes of iodine bioaccumulate in cow's milk, with implications drawn for children consuming that milk.

Iodine is the not only element that concentrates in cow's milk. Cesium and strontium also are concentrated in milk. 

After Chernobyl, cow's milk was contaminated with cesium. Today it remains contaminated, as illustrated in this news report:
Chernobyl contaminating cow milk 30 years after nuclear meltdown - study
9 Jun, 2018. RT
The lingering nuclear fallout from 1986 means farmers are unwittingly producing milk with radioactive caesium levels above the Ukraine safety standard of 100 becquerel per litre. The becquerel is a unit of radioactivity, with the new report documenting how some farms had milk with a radioactivity concentration of around 500 becquerel per litre....
...One of the researchers, Dr Iryna Labunska, of the University of Exeter, believes the issue warrants government intervention. She said that while soil contamination in the Rivne region is not particularly high, the milk study shows how nuclear accidents have a long lasting legacy.
Human milk was also contaminated after the disaster. It would be valuable to investigate whether there are still traces detectable:
Gori G, Cama G, Guerresi E, Cocchi G, Dalla Casa P, Gattavecchia E, Ghini S, Tonelli D. (1988) Radioactivity in breast milk and placentas during the year after Chernobyl. Am J Obstet Gynecol. 1988 Nov;159(5):1232-4.
After the April 1986 nuclear reactor accident at Chernobyl in the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, samples of human placenta and breast milk were tested for 1 year to determine the levels of radioactivity. The radionuclide iodine 131 was never beyond the detection limit of our gamma detector for both matrices. 
As to cesium isotopes 134 and 137, the highest levels detected in breast milk (6 Bq.L-1) and placenta (15.8 were recorded in March 1987. Study data for breast milk and placenta are in agreement with the values calculated by means of double-compartment food-milk and food-placenta models. With regard to placental content, the cesium contribution to the average dose during the year after the Chernobyl accident was calculated to be 40 to 60 microSv.
Bioaccumulation of radionuclides in milk also occurred after Fukushima:
Kotaro Tani, Osamu Kurihara, Eunjoo Kim, Satoshi Yoshida, Kazuo Sakai & Makoto Akashi I-131 contamination in breast milk after the Fukushima nuclear disaster. Scientific Reports | 5:12426 | DOI: 10.1038/srep12426
After the accident at the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant run by Tokyo Electric Power Company in 2011, breast milk samples obtained from volunteers living in Fukushima and neighboring prefectures were examined and small amounts of I-131 (2.2–36.3 Bq/kg) were detected in some samples. 
In this work, the I-131 concentrations in breast milk from nursing mothers in Ibaraki prefecture were calculated based on the iodine biokinetic model during lactation together with timevariable intake scenarios by inhalation of ambient air and ingestion of tap water, using the authors’ code. The calculated I-131 concentrations in breast milk generally agreed with those measured for the volunteers. 
Based on the results, thyroid equivalent doses to breast-fed infants were estimated for each place of residence of the volunteers on the assumption that these infants consumed 800ml of breast milk every day, resulting in 10–11 mSv for Mito and Kasama cities and 1.1–1.8 mSv for Tsukuba and Moriya cities. It was suggested that breast milk consumption could be a major contributor to internal dose of breast-fed infants in areas with mild I-131 pollution; however, further studies considering personal behavior surveys would be necessary to estimate individual doses.
Traces of radionuclides from Fukushima were also detected in cow's milk in the US, although the levels were low and the risk allegedly trivial.

This question of the effects of radioactive traces is critical.

Laboratory research that measures effects from external exposure to gamma radiation is not necessarily predictive of chronic real world exposures to toxic radionuclides that bioaccumulate and biomagnify in life, contributing to the individual's lifetime dose and increasing rates of mutation, with likely epigenetic effects as well. Changes to an individual's germ cells caused by environmental insults can be heritable.

Today the Wall Street Journal discussed the collapsing insect population in Germany. It is a frightening phenomenon. Extinction events have escalated because of complex causes but we would be very wise to investigate the most important factors more closely, particularly our agricultural chemicals and both ionizing and non-ionizing radiation.

However, since these hazards are produced and exploited by the world's most powerful apparatuses my bet is that it will be too late before we authentically critically interrogate their effects.

Friday, June 8, 2018

Logic of Dispossession

Many dangerous chemicals are ubiquitous in our environment. 

However, the EPA has decided not to include diffuse types exposure when evaluating risk. 

This is a significant win for the most powerful chemical companies, such as Bayer-Monsanto, whose Round-Up circulates widely:
Eric Lipton (2018). The chemical industry scores a big win at the EPA June 7, 2018
Under a law passed by Congress during the final year of the Obama administration, the E.P.A. was required for the first time to evaluate hundreds of potentially toxic chemicals and determine if they should face new restrictions, or even be removed from the market. The chemicals include many in everyday use, such as dry-cleaning solvents, paint strippers and substances used in health and beauty products like shampoos and cosmetics.
But as it moves forward reviewing the first batch of 10 chemicals, the E.P.A. has in most cases decided to exclude from its calculations any potential exposure caused by the substances’ presence in the air, the ground or water, according to more than 1,500 pages of documents released last week by the agency.
Instead, the agency will focus on possible harm caused by direct contact with a chemical in the workplace or elsewhere.

Thursday, June 7, 2018

Radiocesium in Tokyo Bay from Fukusima Daiichi Disaster

Maria Perez (201, June 7). Fukushima Nuclear Plant Radioactive Waste Flowed Into Bay for Five Years After Disaster. Newsweek,
Hideo Yamazaki, a former professor of environmental analysis at Kindai University told The Asahi Shimbun that 20,100 becquerels of cesium per square meter were found in the mud of the Kyu-Edogawa river five years after a tsunami caused the meltdown of the plant...

Yamazaki’s team measured a maximum of 104,000 becquerels of cesium per square meter from the mud he and his study team collected in July 2016 in the same area of the bay... The substances eventually moved downstream into the Tokyo Bay and seeped into the mud, Yamazaki told the publication....

The highest level of radioactivity that was found in the mud during the 2016 study was 350 becquerels, The Asahi Shimbun reported. 
The article notes as a basis for comparison that the Japanese government is allowing soil with up to 8,000 becquerels per kilogram to be used in road construction.

This most recent set of findings reported by  Newsweek contributes to a growing body of literature describing how radioactive particles concentrate in mud and brackish water, threatening tidal life:
Scientists find new source of radioactivity from Fukushima disaster October 2, 2017, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution

Virginie Sanial el al., "Unexpected source of Fukushima-derived radiocesium to the coastal ocean of Japan," PNAS (2017).
I fear that if someone were to test US shorelines for radiocesium they would also find Cesium-137, which has an approximately 30 year half life, among many other long-lived radionuclides concentrated in the environment.

Research published by Timothy Mousseau and Anders Moller has explored the long term effects of increasingly radioactive environments and found transgenerational effects, with some species more impacted than others depending at least partially upon their capacities to mobilize antioxidants:

Anders Pape Møller, Andea Bonisoli-Alquati, Geir Rudolfsen, Timothy A. Mousseau. Chernobyl Birds Have Smaller Brains. PLOS, ( 

How resilient are humans to the effects of bioaccumulated toxins? I guess we are going to find out....

The plant looks quiet today: