Like Freedom? Then You Won’t Like the FREEDOM Act

Last Monday, a bipartisan group of Senators and a coalition including libertarian and progressive activists thwarted a scheme to ram through the Senate legislation renewing three provisions of the USA FREEDOM Act (previously known as the USA PATRIOT Act). The bill had already been rushed through the House of Representatives, and most expected it to sail through the Senate. But, instead, Senate leadership had to settle for a 77-day extension.

Senate leadership was also forced to allow consideration of several amendments at a later date. Included is Sen. Rand Paul’s amendment that would forbid the FISA court from issuing warrants targeting American citizens.

Deep state supporters claim the expiring business records provision (which authorizes the collection of our communications and was at the center of Edward Snowden’s 2013 revelations), lone wolf provision (which allows government to subject an individual with no known ties to terrorists to warrantless surveillance), and roving wiretaps provision (which allows government to monitor communications on any device that may be used by a targeted individual) are necessary to keep Americans safe. But, since Congress first passed the PATRIOT Act almost 20 years ago, mass surveillance, warrantless wiretapping, and bulk data collection have not stopped a single terrorist attack.

The legislation does have “reforms” aimed at protecting civil liberties, but these new protections contain loopholes that render the protections meaningless. For example, the bill requires those targeted for surveillance to be notified that the government spied on them. However, this requirement can be waived if the government simply claims — not proves but just clams — that notifying the target would harm “national security.”…

What California Data Tell Us About Autism Prevalence

The United States uses a variety of imperfect data sources to monitor autism spectrum disorder (ASD) at the national level—each providing a partial snapshot of trends for various age groups and time periods. However, many autism researchers consider the high-quality, state-level data collected by the California Department of Developmental Services (DDS) to be the “most reliable long-term record of autism prevalence trends in the United States” for cases on the more severe end of the spectrum.

The ability to break down California’s data by county makes it possible to conduct more granular analyses of ASD prevalence than statewide or national data permit. A study published in the Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders does just that, “unmask[ing] patterns that are hidden in aggregated . . . data” to show that autism rates are evolving in strikingly different ways for different groups. Specifically, the county-level analysis shows that racial/ethnic minorities and lower-income families are increasingly bearing the brunt of severe autism, while conversely, ASD prevalence is flattening and even declining among whites in California’s wealthier counties.

Of prevalence and plateaus

The lead author of the new paper—University of Colorado researcher Cynthia Nevison—and her coauthors have used California’s DDS data several times to great effect, sometimes in tandem with other datasets. This previous work has challenged the unconvincing narrative that rising autism rates are simply due to better diagnosis and has also uncovered concerning racial/ethnic disparities. These studies describe: a 1000-fold increase in autism prevalence since the 1930s and a 25-fold increase since the 1970s; a correlation between the sharp rise in autism (especially since the late 1980s) and certain environmental exposures, notably children’s cumulative exposure to aluminum adjuvants in vaccines; widening disparities, with black prevalence overtaking white prevalence in the majority of states by around birth year 2009; and, after 15 years of steady and sharp increases, an apparent plateauing of ASD rates in white children born in the mid-2000s, followed by mixed patterns among whites thereafter.

The new study picks up where the last one left off, using county-level data to compare trends across two time periods—1993-2000 and 2000-2013—with the latter representing a time of “greater awareness, information, and growing concern about rising rates of ASD, particularly in California.”

The analysis found that, by birth year 2013, black children in California had the highest ASD prevalence of any group, followed by Asian children. However, there was a clear “change point” for white (and, to a lesser extent, Asian) children beginning around birth year 2000, shaped by the child’s county of residence (a proxy for income). Thus:

  • In lower-income counties (whether urban, rural or agricultural), white ASD prevalence increased at a “comparable or accelerating rate” over birth years 2000-2013 compared to birth years 1993-2000.
  • In middle-income counties (such as San Diego, Los Angeles and Sacramento), white ASD prevalence increased across birth years 2000-2013, but more slowly than across birth years 1993-2000.
  • In the wealthiest counties, white ASD prevalence decreased over birth years 2000-2013. Wealthy counties include Silicon Valley and tech industry hubs such as Santa Clara and San Mateo counties as well as Bay Area counties such as Marin. Notably, ASD prevalence among white children in Santa Clara county went from being among the highest in the state in 2000 to among the lowest by 2013. The pattern for Asian children was similar, but with prevalence rates that “flattened” rather than declined.

Stated another way, by birth year 2013, white children in the lowest-income counties had at least double—and as much as 10 times—the ASD prevalence of white children in the highest-income counties. As the authors observe, “These results reflect a dramatic departure from the traditional perception that ASD is a diagnosis found predominantly among whites of high socioeconomic status.”

Environmental factors and parental choices

The declining (for wealthier whites) or flattening (for wealthier Asians) ASD rates since birth year 2000 provide strong confirmation that environmental factors and “deliberate” parental choices—guided by adequate information and “wider access to better life options”—are likely to be important determinants of whether children go on to develop autism. Nevison and her coauthor, Dr. William Parker of Duke University, also note the likelihood that “more than one behavior, choice or other factor is at play.”

One set of options that may be “more widely embraced by or accessible to the wealthy than the poor” includes prenatal and postnatal practices that prevent ASD from developing or prevent birth complications that increase ASD risk. Although not mentioned in the study, this logically raises questions about whether wealthier women may be less likely to accept vaccines administered during pregnancy (perhaps recognizing that the FDA has never approved any vaccine “specifically for use during pregnancy to protect the infant”) or are more likely to make alternative vaccine choices after their babies are born….

Zero guidance

With national autism prevalence conservatively estimated at somewhere between one in thirty-six to one in forty 3- to 17-year-olds, familiesschool districts and state governments are buckling under the financial pressure of ensuring that those with ASD—both children and, increasingly, young adults aging out of childhood services—obtain needed medical, educational, occupational and other support. An analysis of non-medical costs paid by the California DDS in 2012-2013 for persons with ASD found that the Department spent roughly $26,500 per person annually for those over age 18, particularly for adults with both ASD and intellectual disability, and particularly for community care facilities.

A California policy analyst has described rising special education costs “in all areas of the state and for reasons that appear to be largely outside the control of [school] districts and the decisions that they’re making.” At the national level, political economists now forecast “catastrophic” ASD-related costs for families and society, and all the more so if the CDC data expected at the end of March reveal—as they have done every two years for decades—another rise in ASD prevalence.

Thirty or more years into the autism epidemic, do public health agencies have any prevention advice for pregnant women or families? Apparently not. In 2014, government-funded experts issued feeble calls for more research on preventive measures, yet today the CDC still has nary a mention of prevention on its ASD webpage. In this dismal context, it is important to acknowledge the kernels of hope contained within Nevison’s analysis of California DDS data.

The results suggest that among the most privileged white (and, to some extent, Asian) parents—those armed with wealth, resources, education and access to information—some are succeeding in lowering their children’s risk for severe autism. As Nevison and Parker argue, “there is an urgent need to understand what [these] wealthy California parents are doing or have access to that may be lowering their children’s risk.” More soberly, there is also “an equally urgent need to understand the factors that may lead to increased risk of ASD among lower income populations”—and to ensure that low-income children benefit from the same protections as their wealthier counterparts.

For further reading:

California autism prevalence by county and race/ethnicity: declining trends among wealthy whites

Autism rates declining among wealthy whites, escalating among poor

Autism prevalence and socioeconomic status

EFF: The EARN IT Bill Is the Government’s Plan to Scan Every Message Online

Imagine an Internet where the law required every message sent to be read by government-approved scanning software. Companies that handle such messages wouldn’t be allowed to securely encrypt them, or they’d lose legal protections that allow them to operate.



That’s what the Senate Judiciary Committee has proposed and hopes to pass into law. The so-called EARN IT bill, sponsored by Senators Lindsey Graham (R-SC) and Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), will strip Section 230 protections away from any website that doesn’t follow a list of “best practices,” meaning those sites can be sued into bankruptcy. The “best practices” list will be created by a government commission, headed by Attorney General Barr, who has made it very clear he would like to ban encryption, and guarantee law enforcement “legal access” to any digital message.

The EARN IT bill had its first hearing today, and its supporters’ strategy is clear. Because they didn’t put the word “encryption” in the bill, they’re going to insist it doesn’t affect encryption.

“This bill says nothing about encryption,” co-sponsor Sen. Blumenthal said at today’s hearing. “Have you found a word in this bill about encryption?” he asked one witness.

It’s true that the bill’s authors avoided using that word. But they did propose legislation that enables an all-out assault on encryption. It would create a 19-person commission that’s completely controlled by the Attorney General and law enforcement agencies. And, at the hearing, a Vice-President at the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC) made it clear [PDF] what he wants the best practices to be. NCMEC believes online services should be made to screen their messages for material that NCMEC considers abusive; use screening technology approved by NCMEC and law enforcement; report what they find in the messages to NCMEC; and be held legally responsible for the content of messages sent by others….

It’s kind of ironic to have the NCMEC involved in this process:

Podesta, Washington Post and the NCMEC

Coronavirus Power Grab

It didn’t take long for the most opportunistic, nefarious and corrupt actors in the U.S. to turn a pandemic crisis into another massive power grab attempt. We’ve seen it before; after 9/11 and also throughout the response to the financial crisis a decade ago. The irredeemable sociopaths who always make the big, important decisions used those crises to consolidate wealth and power. They’re going for it again.

There are many examples, but let me list a few:

– The EARN IT bill, by which senators are attempting to destroy widespread public use of encryption, i.e. private communications. (EFF)

– The White House and the CDC are asking Facebook, Google and other tech giants to give them greater access to Americans’ smartphone location data. (CNBC)

– The Justice Department has quietly asked Congress for the ability to ask chief judges to detain people indefinitely without trial during emergencies. (Politico)

– U.S. Senators are attempting to use the crisis as an opportunity to pull off a gigantic corporate coup. (Matt Stoller, BIG)

Then there’s the really big one, the Federal Reserve. An institution with more unaccountable power to shape and manipulate our world than any other, yet whose actions remain subject to virtually zero public debate.

While we’re at it…

I wrote about the scam that is the Federal Reserve last year in the post, Monetary Looting, and what they’re doing now makes those repo operations look like child’s play.

We often get distracted debating the implications of Fed actions, and in the process lose sight of the bigger picture. The real question we need to be asking is why do we allow a handful of unelected banker welfare agents the right to shape our entire world? It’s a crazy system, and until we start questioning the underlying premises of everything about our world, we’ll remain confused and subjugated. …