Sometimes “Paranoia” Does Detect Something

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There was this snippet of a sermon by Pastor Jeremiah Wright (context-free snippet for media replay bolded):

“The government lied about the Tuskegee experiment. They purposely infected African American men with syphilis. Governments lie. The government lied about bombing Cambodia and Richard Nixon stood in front of the camera, ‘Let me make myself perfectly clear…’ Governments lie. The government lied about the drugs for arms Contra scheme orchestrated by Oliver North, and then the government pardoned all the perpetrators so they could get better jobs in the government. Governments lie. The government lied about inventing the HIV virus as a means of genocide against people of color. Governments lie. The government lied about a connection between Al Qaeda and Saddam Hussein and a connection between 9.11.01 and Operation Iraqi Freedom. Governments lie.”

Joe Klein’s reaction, in an otherwise thoughtful piece, was typical —

I can’t believe, however, that peddling the notion that AIDs was a government conspiracy to kill black people… is anything than Godless hatefulness. It is the equivalent of a white preacher saying that most blacks are sociopathic criminals. I call that hate speech.

But now Congress is planning hearings on this:

Scientists using federal grants spread fertilizer made from human and industrial wastes on yards in poor, black neighborhoods to test whether it might protect children from lead poisoning in the soil. Families were assured the sludge was safe and were never told about any harmful ingredients.

Nine low-income families in Baltimore row houses agreed to let researchers till the sewage sludge into their yards and plant new grass. In exchange, they were given food coupons as well as the free lawns as part of a study published in 2005 and funded by the Housing and Urban Development Department.

But wait! Don’t you know that Toxic Sludge is Good for You?

The sludge, researchers said, put the children at less risk of brain or nerve damage from lead, a highly toxic element once widely used in gasoline and paint. Other studies have shown brain damage among children, often in poor neighborhoods, who ate lead-based paint that had flaked off their homes.

The idea that sludge — the leftover semisolid wastes filtered from water pollution at 16,500 treatment plants — can be turned into something harmless, even if swallowed, has been a tenet of federal policy for three decades.

In a 1978 memo, the EPA said sludge “contains nutrients and organic matter which have considerable benefit for land and crops” despite the presence of “low levels of toxic substances.”

But in the late 1990s the government began underwriting studies such as those in Baltimore and East St. Louis using poor neighborhoods as laboratories to make a case that sludge may also directly benefit human health.

Swell! Toxic sludge could be an antidote for lead poisoning. End of controversy. Except —

Meanwhile, there has been a paucity of research into the possible harmful effects of heavy metals, pharmaceuticals, other chemicals and disease-causing microorganisms often found in sludge.

Where have I heard “paucity of research” before? Oh yes. Many years ago. It seems that thalidomide worked pretty well on morning sickness. However…

Well, while we all wait for some research on the side effects of toxic sludge, it’s worth remembering that at least Dr. Jekyll drank his own damn potion. I know, that was fiction. Why should the United States government test their own lawns when there are low-income African Americans handy?

So Pastor Wright may have gotten it wrong when he said the government invented “the HIV virus as a means of genocide.” AIDS was first known in this country as “gay cancer,” after all, which indicates a different group of Americans was primarily afflicted. And genocide? It takes a lot of work to generate that level of hatred and activity.

Human beings as the unwitting equivalent of lab animals, however, is perhaps even more dehumanizing. At least hatred acknowledges that there is somebody else to contend with.


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