Insightful Noam Chomsky Interviews

Much of importance is worth noting here.

ALEXANDRIA OCASIOCORTEZ: I do think that the way that we won in New York 14 is a model for how we can win almost anywhere. I knew from the outset that—you know, I had no misconceptions of the fact that the New York political machine was not going to be doing me any favors. And so I didn’t—I tried to kind of come in as clear-eyed as possible. And I knew that if we were going to win, the way that progressives win on an unapologetic message is by expanding the electorate. That’s the only way that we can win strategically. It’s not by rushing to the center. It’s not by trying to win spending all of our energy winning over those who have other opinions. It’s by expanding the electorate, speaking to those that feel disenchanted, dejected, cynical about our politics, and letting them know that we’re fighting for them.

[…]

AMY GOODMAN: And the issues you ran on?

ALEXANDRIA OCASIOCORTEZ: And the issues I ran on were very clear, and I think it was an important part to us winning: improved and expanded Medicare for all; tuition-free public colleges and universities, as well as trade schools; a Green New Deal; justice for Puerto Rico; an unapologetic platform of criminal justice reform and ending the war on drugs; and also speaking truth to power and speaking about money in politics not just in general, but how it operates in New York City.

[…]

NOAM CHOMSKY: Well, I think there’s—her victory was a quite spectacular and significant event. I think what it points to is a split in the Democratic Party between the—roughly speaking, between the popular base and the party managers. The popular base is increasingly, essentially, social democratic, following, pursuing the—concerned with the kinds of progressive objectives that she outlined in those—in her remarks, which should be directed not only to expanding the electorate but to the general working-class, poor population of the world, of the middle-class population of the country, for whom these ideals are quite significant. They can be brought to that.

[…]

I think she was right in saying that the policies she’s outlined should have broad appeal to a very large segment of the population. We should bear in mind that, for now almost 40 years, since the neoliberal assault began, taking off with Reagan, on from there, a large majority of the population are living in conditions of stagnation or decline. Real wages are—for, say, male real wages—are about what they were in the 1960s. It’s been—there has been productivity growth. Hasn’t gone to working people. It’s gone into the very few extremely overstuffed pockets.

[…]

Notice, as everybody’s well aware, the tax scam was a purposeful effort not only to enrich the super-rich and the corporate sector—corporate profits, of course, are overflowing—but it was also an effort to sharply increase the deficit, which can be used—and Paul Ryan and others kindly announced to us right away what the plans were—the deficit could be used to undermine any elements of government structure which benefit the general population—Medicare, Social Security, food for poor children. Anything you can do to shaft the general population more can now be justified under the argument that we have a huge deficit, thanks to stuffing the pockets of the rich. This is an astonishing phenomenon. And under those conditions, a properly designed progressive program should appeal to a large majority of the population. But it has to be done correctly and not shaped in ways which will appease the donor class.

[…]

We should be considering why people are fleeing from their homes. Not because they want to live in slums in New York. They’re fleeing from their homes because their homes are unlivable, and they’re unlivable, largely, because of things that we have done. Overwhelmingly, that’s the reason. That tells you right away what the solution to the crisis is: rebuild what we’ve destroyed, compensate for the atrocities that we’ve carried out. Then the flow of refugees will decline. And for those who come with asylum pleas, they should be accommodated in a humane and civilized way. Maybe it’s impossible to imagine that we can reach the level of civilization of the poor countries that are absorbing refugees.

[…]

AMY GOODMAN: Federal officials say 711 children remain separated from their parents, despite Thursday’s court-imposed deadline for the Trump administration to reunite all migrate children separated from their parents by immigration officials at the border. More than 400 of the children have parents who have already been deported from the United States.

[…]

NOAM CHOMSKY: Well, it’s a major scandal, of course, and properly condemned throughout the world. Taking children away from their parents, sending them off somewhere, losing track of them, you know, it’s hard to think of a more brutal and sadistic policy.

[…]

You’ll notice there’s one—there’s two countries in the region from which there haven’t been refugee flows. One is Costa Rica, which happens to be the one country that sort of functions, and not by accident, the one country that the United States has not—in which the United States does not intervene militarily to overthrow the government and run a military regime. The other is Nicaragua, which differed, which also suffered severely in the 1980s from Reagan’s assaults. But Nicaragua was unlike the other countries of the region: It had an army to defend it. In the other countries, the army were the terrorists. In Nicaragua, the army could, to some extent, defend the population from Reagan’s terrorist forces. And though there’s plenty of problems in Nicaragua, it hasn’t been the source of refugee flow.

So, essentially, what President Trump is saying is, we’ll destroy your countries, slaughter you, impose brutal regimes, but if you try to get out, you’re not going to come here, because America is full.

[…]

NOAM CHOMSKY: Well, my frank opinion is that—I must say I don’t pay much attention to television, so I don’t know a great deal about it. But, in general, I think the media—first of all, Fox News is, by now, basically a joke. It’s, as you said, state media. The other media, I think, are focusing on issues which are pretty marginal. There are much more serious issues that are being put to the side. So, the worst of—even on the case of immigration, once again, I think the real question is dealing with the roots of immigration, our responsibility for it, and what we can do to overcome that. And that’s almost never discussed. But I think that’s the crucial issue. And I think we find the same across the board.

[…]

NOAM CHOMSKY: Trump has basically one principle: me first. That’s almost all of his policies, and wild statements and so on are perfectly well explicable within—under the assumption that that’s what’s driving him. Now, that—crucially, for him, he has to ensure that the Mueller investigation is discredited. Whatever they come up with, if it implicates him in any way, the way the media and political culture function, that will be considered of enormous significance, much more significance than his pursuing policies on the environment which may destroy human civilization.

[…]

NOAM CHOMSKY: We can’t overemphasize the fact that we’re in a unique moment of human history. In fact, we have been, ever since 1945. In 1945, human history changed dramatically. In August 1945, humans demonstrated that their vaunted intelligence had created a means to destroy life on Earth. Didn’t quite have it yet at that point, but it was obvious that it was going to extend and expand, as it in fact did.

A couple of years later, 1947, The Bulletin of Atomic Scientists established its famous Doomsday Clock. How far are we from midnight, terminal disaster? It was set at seven minutes to midnight. It once reached two minutes to midnight, 1953, when the U.S. and then the Soviet Union detonated thermonuclear weapons, which do have the capacity to essentially destroy life. Then it’s oscillated variously. It’s now back at two minutes to midnight—with an addition.

It was not known in 1945 that we were not only entering the nuclear age, but entering a new geological epoch, what geologists call the Anthropocene, an epoch in which human activity is having severe and deleterious effects on the environment in which human and other life can survive. We also entered into what’s now called the sixth extinction, a rapid extinction of species, which is comparable to the fifth extinction 65 million years ago when an asteroid, huge asteroid, hit the Earth, we know.

The World Geological Society finally settled on the end of World War II as the onset of the Anthropocene—sharp escalation and destruction of the environment, not only global warming, carbon dioxide, other greenhouse gases, but also such things as plastics in the ocean, which are predicted to be greater than the weight of fish in the ocean not far in the future.

Aging Aesthetics Reversed in Mice

Mice are similar enough to humans to make this interesting.

Wrinkled skin and hair loss are hallmarks of aging. What if they could be reversed?

Keshav Singh, Ph.D., and colleagues have done just that, in a mouse model developed at the University of Alabama at Birmingham. When a mutation leading to mitochondrial dysfunction is induced, the mouse develops wrinkled skin and extensive, visible hair loss in a matter of weeks. When the mitochondrial function is restored by turning off the gene responsible for mitochondrial dysfunction, the mouse returns to smooth skin and thick fur, indistinguishable from a healthy mouse of the same age.

“To our knowledge, this observation is unprecedented,” said Singh, a professor of genetics in the UAB School of Medicine.

Importantly, the mutation that does this is in a nuclear gene affecting mitochondrial function, the tiny organelles known as the powerhouses of the cells. Numerous mitochondria in cells produce 90 percent of the chemical energy cells need to survive.

In humans, a decline in mitochondrial function is seen during aging, and mitochondrial dysfunction can drive age-related diseases. A depletion of the DNA in mitochondria is also implicated in human mitochondrial diseases, cardiovascular disease, diabetes, age-associated neurological disorders and cancer.

“This mouse model,” Singh said, “should provide an unprecedented opportunity for the development of preventive and therapeutic drug development strategies to augment the mitochondrial functions for the treatment of aging-associated skin and hair pathology and other human diseases in which mitochondrial dysfunction plays a significant role.”

The mutation in the mouse model is induced when the antibiotic doxycycline is added to the food or drinking water. This causes depletion of mitochondrial DNA because the enzyme to replicate the DNA becomes inactive.

[…]

Reversal of the mutation restored mitochondrial function, as well as the skin and hair pathology. This showed that mitochondria are reversible regulators of skin aging and loss of hair, an observation that Singh calls “surprising.”

Some Antibiotic Resistant Bacteria Can Spread Through the Air

It’s pretty bad news to know how prevalent airborne antibiotic resistant bacteria are. Once again this provides a reminder to how important dealing with the antibiotic resistance problem is.

Antibiotic resistant bacteria is one of the biggest issues we facing in the coming decades, but there’s one type of spread that isn’t getting enough attention, says a new study – antibiotic resistance genes are spreading through the air.

If that sounds terrifying to you, you’re not alone.

Bacteria’s antibiotic resistance genes aren’t just inherited through reproduction – in the case of bacteria that’s asexual reproduction, where one parent cell becomes two daughter cells, also known as vertical gene transfer.

Unlike humans, bacteria can also spread their genes through something called horizontal gene transfer, where bacteria will replicate and then gift genes to other bacteria through a needle-like mechanism called a pilus.

But bacteria don’t even need to be alive to pass their genes on horizontally, because once they die they release their entire insides into their environment – leaving little DNA packages around for other bacteria that happen to pass by.

The act of bacteria literally reaching out, picking up DNA from its environment and hauling it back into itself with its pilus, was recently captured on camera for the first time.

To make matters worse, both dead and alive bacteria can easily become airborne, moving to new locations and spreading their genes further abroad.

An international collaboration led by researchers from Peking University in Beijing, wanted to take a survey of just how prevalent and varied these airborne genes are.

The bad news: they’re everywhere.

Between 2016 and 2017, the team surveyed 30 different types of airborne antibiotic resistance genes across 19 cities around the world, including San Francisco, Paris and Melbourne.

They found that Beijing, China and Brisbane, Australia had the most different types of airborne antibiotic resistance genes, but San Francisco had the highest level overall.

The researchers believe that inhaling the airborne antibiotic resistance genes could lead to the spread of this resistance in our lungs and end up affecting our immune system.

“Due to aerial transport, remote regions even without using antibiotics could be exposed to the ‘second hand’ antibiotic resistance genes, which are initially being developed in other regions but transported elsewhere,” the team wrote.

[…]

The team stresses that this isn’t the only or most important thing to look at when investigating antibiotic resistance in populations, but it has been something that’s been typically overlooked, which this research shows might need to change.

“Among the detected cells in urban air, those airborne viable bacteria carrying different antibiotic resistance genes can certainly cause more harm than genes itself and those gene-carrying dead cells,” the researchers added.

“However, the long-term microecological consequences for both atmosphere and human respiratory system resulting from exposure of airborne antibiotic resistance genes remain to be further explored.”

Real Wages Today

Why inflation and real wage gains are low isn’t really a mystery. It’s because worker bargaining power has been largely destroyed by the policies of the last generation.

The United States labor market is closing in on full employment in an economic expansion that just began its 10th year, and yet the real hourly wage for the working class has been essentially flat for two years running. Why is that?

Economists ask this question every month when the government reports labor statistics. We repeatedly get solid job growth and lower unemployment, but not much to show for wages. Part of that has to do with inflation, productivity and remaining slack in the labor market.

But stagnant wages for factory workers and non-managers in the service sector — together they represent 82 percent of the labor force — is mainly the outcome of a long power struggle that workers are losing. Even at a time of low unemployment, their bargaining power is feeble, the weakest I’ve seen in decades. Hostile institutions — the Trump administration, the courts, the corporate sector — are limiting their avenues for demanding higher pay.

[…]

Slow productivity growth is another constraint on wages. When companies are able to produce more efficiently, they can absorb higher labor costs without sacrificing profit margins. But such gains have been elusive in this recovery, so businesses are increasing profits at labor’s expense.

More than ever, the dynamics of this old-fashioned power struggle between labor and capital strongly favor corporations, employers and those whose income derives from stock portfolios rather than paychecks.

This is evident in the large, permanent corporate tax cuts versus the small, temporary middle-class cuts that were passed at the end of last year. It’s evident in the recent Supreme Court case that threatens the survival of the one unionized segment of labor — public workers — that still has some real clout.

It’s evident in the increased concentration of companies and their unchecked ability to collude against workers, through anti-poaching and mandatory arbitration agreements that preclude worker-based class actions. And it’s evident in a federal government that refuses to consider improved labor standards like higher minimum wages and updated overtime rules.

New Blood Test Offers Better or Equal Skin Cancer Detection Rate than a Biopsy

Skin cancer is the most common cancer in the world, and it’s the one that’s most easily treated when caught early. Since the blood test is less invasive than a biopsy, this new advance should be helpful in convincing more people to receive treatment early on.

It’s a world first. A newly developed blood test is capable of the early detection of melanoma, with over 80 percent accuracy.

It could help save thousands of lives, according to the Australian Edith Cowan University Melanoma Research Group scientists who developed the test.

Melanoma is the most deadly form of skin cancer, claiming 59,782 lives around the world in 2015. Australasia, North America and Europe are the regions most susceptible to the disease.

There’s good news. If caught early, the survival rate for melanoma climbs to 95 percent. But if you miss that early window, your chances will plummet to below 50 percent. This is what the blood test is designed to help prevent.

[…]

The blood test, called MelDX, works by detecting the antibodies the body produces as soon as melanoma develops. The team analysed 1,627 different types of antibodies, and narrowed them down to a combination of 10 that indicate the presence of melanoma in the body.

They then took blood from 104 people with melanoma and 105 healthy controls, and found that MelDX was capable of detecting melanoma with 81.5 percent accuracy.

More specifically, it was able to detect the cancer in 79 percent of the patients with melanoma; and has a false positive rate in only 16 percent in healthy patients.

The detection rate may actually be a little higher than the accuracy of skin biopsies, which, according to a 2012 study, was 76 percent in an Australian public hospital.

That’s not a perfect result, but it does provide a starting point before other, more invasive tests are embarked on; in conjunction with current diagnostic techniques, it could improve early diagnosis – and therefore people’s chance of survival.

The next step, the researchers said, will be to take MelDX to clinical trial, which is currently being organised, and which could help refine the test.

“We envision this taking about three years. If this is successful we would hope to be able to have a test ready for use in pathology clinics shortly afterwards,” said Melanoma Research Group head Mel Ziman.

“The ultimate goal is for this blood test to be used to provide greater diagnostic certainty prior to biopsy and for routine screening of people who are at a higher risk of melanoma, such as those with a large number of moles or those with pale skin or a family history of the disease.”

Meanwhile, there are easy ways you can help protect yourself from melanoma and other skin cancers, including wearing sunscreen, staying in the shade during the hottest hours of the day, and avoiding UV tanning beds.

Public Pension Fund Managers Have Lost Americans $600 Billion Over the Last Decade

Even as the stock market has boomed over the last decade, a new report finds that these foolish pension fund managers have managed to lose Americans at least $600 billion. This is an amount that’s about equal to $4200 per family.

The costs associated mean that there’s less money to be spent on public goods such as healthcare, libraries, and infrastructure. It would obviously have been much better if these public funds were simply put into low cost index funds (instead of hedge funds and private equity firms) that tried to match the market instead of beating it. (That’s usually a better course of action for most people anyway.) Reducing the pay going to those high-income fund managers would have been a clear economic gain for everyone else.

The financial industry though is mainly an intermediate resource, similar to the trucking industry. This means that unlike housing, education, and healthcare, it isn’t really valuable for its own sake. Similar to the trucking industry, which derives its value from its ability to transport goods efficiently, the financial industry derives its value to the general public by being as benevolently efficient at allocating capital as possible.

There is undeniable evidence that overall, the financial industry has become far less efficient and far more predatory for most people over the last four decades. There’s good reason to think that the financial sector is currently at least three to four times larger than it should be. Back in the 1970s, the industry accounted for about 0.5 percent of GDP, and it now accounts for about 2.3 percent of GDP. The draining difference — diverting money out of the pockets of average workers in wasteful or harmful ways — amounts to at least a few hundred billion dollars of space in the modern economy.

The parallel to this would be if the trucking industry was (all else equal) three to four times too large — there would be way more trucks than necessary to transport goods, there would be costs of heavier pollution and maintaining more salaries than necessary, and people employed as a part of the inefficient trucking industry could instead be working on something with more productive value. To prevent those two industries from becoming corrupted due to excess power, as few resources (labor, oversight, and capital) should be allocated towards them as possible.

The S&L crisis of the 1980s, the stock bubble of the 1990s, and the housing bubble of the 2000s are clear examples of the financial industry allocating capital in ways that are not only inefficient but destructive as well. All of those three events lead to severe economic recessions, with the worst being the housing bubble that caused the Great Recession and global economic turmoil. Comparing this to the two decades before the 1970s, when stronger New Deal financial regulation was in place and there were no serious crashes, there’s clearly a major difference in efficiency.

In sum, it’s clear that the financial system needs to be seriously reorganized around priorities different than making the wealthiest better off at the expense of everyone else. Even moderate measures such as implementing a relatively minor financial transaction tax, limiting the size of the now oligopolistic private banks, and expanding cooperative or public banking would be helpful. Until measures like those happen though, the damage will continue, and the world risks that damage eventually compiling yet again into another major disaster.

Research: Everyone has Unique Brain Anatomy

Apparently this wasn’t thought much 30 years ago. It is also a bit surprising that some of the differences are driven primarily by repeated experiences.

Like with fingerprints, no two people have the same brain anatomy, a study by researchers of the University of Zurich has shown. This uniqueness is the result of a combination of genetic factors and individual life experiences.

The fingerprint is unique in every individual: As no two fingerprints are the same, they have become the go-to method of identity verification for police, immigration authorities and smartphone producers alike. But what about the central switchboard inside our heads? Is it possible to find out who a brain belongs to from certain anatomical features? This is the question posed by the group working with Lutz Jäncke, UZH professor of neuropsychology. In earlier studies, Jäncke had already been able to demonstrate that individual experiences and life circumstances influence the anatomy of the brain.

Experiences make their mark on the brain

Professional musicians, golfers or chess players, for example, have particular characteristics in the regions of the brain which they use the most for their skilled activity. However, events of shorter duration can also leave behind traces in the brain: If, for example, the right arm is kept still for two weeks, the thickness of the brain’s cortex in the areas responsible for controlling the immobilized arm is reduced. “We suspected that those experiences having an effect on the brain interact with the genetic make-up so that over the course of years every person develops a completely individual brain anatomy,” explains Jäncke.

Magnetic resonance imaging provides basis for calculations

To investigate their hypothesis, Jäncke and his research team examined the brains of nearly 200 healthy older people using magnetic resonance imaging three times over a period of two years. Over 450 brain anatomical features were assessed, including very general ones such as total volume of the brain, thickness of the cortex, and volumes of grey and white matter. For each of the 191 people, the researchers were able to identify an individual combination of specific brain anatomical characteristics, whereby the identification accuracy, even for the very general brain anatomical characteristics, was over 90 percent.

Combination of circumstances and genetics

“With our study we were able to confirm that the structure of people’s brains is very individual,” says Lutz Jäncke on the findings. “The combination of genetic and non-genetic influences clearly affects not only the functioning of the brain, but also its anatomy.” The replacement of fingerprint sensors with MRI scans in the future is unlikely, however. MRIs are too expensive and time-consuming in comparison to the proven and simple method of taking fingerprints.

Progress in neuroscience

An important aspect of the study’s findings for Jäncke is that they reflect the great developments made in the field in recent years: “Just 30 years ago we thought that the human brain had few or no individual characteristics. Personal identification through brain anatomical characteristics was unimaginable.”