A Documentary Review of PBS: America’s War on Poverty

Paul Fischer
Felicia Kornbluh


A Documentary Review of PBS: America’s War on Poverty


               The Public Broadcasting Service takes on the War Against Poverty, President Lyndon B. Johnson’s brainchild in a television series. The series shows how poverty touches the entire American political and economic system. As racial divides are thickly drawn with a black marker, a massive redistribution of wealth is found to be necessary. This is in contrast to the prosperity victory in World War II brought to the United States.
               The director uses political footage, interviews from authors, citizens, and politicians alike to show the dramatic widespread effect of poverty, as well as the machinations that made change possible and the vehicles for effecting that change in operation. Combining black and white footage, with modern colour film drives home that this film is part of American history, as much as it is the present. Sadly, the American history of poverty, and Native American struggles are ignored. Racial divides are not absent, but are set aside to the second half of the film, as the film has a dialectic focus on the Equal Employment Opportunity Act and the Civil Rights Act. However, this is appropriate because the War Against Poverty is a specific time-place referring to the 1960’s, though those unacquainted with this, will be confused by the title and content.
             “The very things that made America great its inventions… were causing some Americans to be left behind.” The joint continuous miner brought the story of John Henry, in which a man labours to death against a machine, to reality on a societal level. Coal miners found steady work and good wages evaporating to the hypnotizing diligence of the mechanical workers. By 1960 nearly half of residents in some counties in coal-mining Virginia relied on government aid. In the words of John F. Kennedy, “automation did it.” An exodus of former coal miners seeking work and african-americans fleeing racism arrived in the North and changed the country. In the capital as well, a march on Washington signalled a substantive movement towards change in the country. Poverty was geographical, and with the help of unions and politicians like Kennedy, racial lines became shattered.
             Violence broke out. Homes and bridges were bombed. A decade before the race riots became bloody, and years before the Vietnam war, destitution was driving Americans to fight for their right to live, or death by starvation. Before the political promises of Kennedy could be carried out, he was assassinated. Carrying out his promises was a medical necessity. In states such as Mississippi, poverty and lack of healthcare caused parasites, lethargy, and severe anemia in children. Nowhere was poverty greater.
But all was not lost. There was no initial confidence in Lyndon B. Johnson, but using a variety of political and legislative means, he was able to “continue” both domestically and abroad, the goals of the administration and American people. The African-American movement was growing in the public conscious, but the backlash against it would have killed what chances there were had it not been for Head Start and the Civil Rights Act of 1964. By ensuring the poor could vote, and that race did not factor into this, the end of segregation was in sight. More importantly, this minority, which had a lower population growth than the Jewish population in Germany due to economic impoverishment, was given opportunity to become full partners in the make-up of this nation.
            Surviving the depression, Johnson made significant inroads to Americans, enacting the first anti-poverty legislation since the Great Depression giving needed alleviation to Americans, to “replace their despair with opportunity.” He created a task force, and began a movement to change the country. In some states, it was a matter of saving lives. The idea that black Mississippians could control anything was considered to be ludicrous, and this was seen in their oppression, and reversed by their first true liberation, with economic and political equality. Before they could lose their job, their welfare when they voted.
Sargent Shriver was appointed head of the War Against Poverty, and with what some would call blind optimism, energetically took on the job. He had expertise setting up the Peace Corp, and was able to use this domestically with efficiency. Unable to levy higher taxes, and without a comprehensive job program the questions existing are problematic. Investigating voting problems made enemies, but it was a political sacrifice that had to be made. As workers protested discrimination and were incarcerated, the CDGP made allocations of federal money to post bail for these workers under the auspices of work salary advances.
The mixing of the Civil Rights movement with the War Against Poverty created humiliation for Shriver, and was seized upon. Yet these were two movements intertwined, and impossible to separate. As the opposition insisted “don’t you ever give up that gun, that is all you’ve got to protect that little baby in that crib” the documentary shows the backlash was not one which could be stood up against without great courage. Klansmen were marching unhooded and unafraid of retribution, despite their violent message, and African-American protestors needed the same protection, though without the threat of violence.
As planes began to fly in the South Asian peninsula, Johnson signed the Equal Employment Opportunity Bill into law. Suddenly the education programs and hand-up (not hand out) the federal government had offered America’s poor looked smart; the country was going to send a conscript army into war. Racial equality would also figure in importantly towards preventing this war from tearing the nation apart at the seams. This would seem to be an appropriate direction for the documentary, but for better or for worse the film begins discussion in the last section of reorganization and scandal in anti-poverty movements.

Apocalypse Now: Horrors of a Heart of Darkness

Paul Fischer
Felicia Kornbluh

Apocalypse Now: Horrors of a Heart of Darkness

Apocalypse Now opens to destruction in the jungle of Vietnam, as Jim Morrison’s smooth definitive psychedelic rock song The End plays, a Captain Willard’s smoking head and torso are superimposed, letters are strewn on the nightstand, but sleeping now the soldier has disappeared into a haze of smoke and Cordon Bleu. The soft beating of a helicopter transitions to the fan in a squalid apartment with cheap blinds..
“Saigon. Shit.” This soldier dreams of the jungle, of returning to the pain he left behind. Director Francis Coppola is put in a dirty place between anti-war sentiment that can guarantee this film popularity, and the squelching  necessity to portray the US Army in a positive light. He does neither. But this is done brilliantly. The story is based on Heart of Darkness, and the struggle to find God in war is one that resonates with the violence and prejudice of that novel. Yet the mission is not to carry out this violence, but to stem the violence. In a special operations assignment a bloodthirsty American colonel must be terminated. The captain is accustomed to death, “but this time, it was an American, and an officer.”
The target, Kurtz, represents an American dream, and this is used to bring the film home to every American. Regardless of whether they are accomplished or flunky hippies, everyone has had a moment of desire to be this man. Watching the betrayal of the American dream is as captivating as it is intriguing.  The absurdity of an expensive flame-throwing tank being utilized against a village is emblematic of the entire war for American viewers. A bombed church shows the destruction of values too many Americans identify with themselves.
The war was presented as finished, won. Yet the soldiers cannot leave their boat. The countryside crawls with Vietcong. Even on the patrol boat, riverside attacks occur, and the soldiers are helpless, inadequate or improper firearms and little shielding give them virtually no choice but to simply speed onwards, deeper, losing a crew member in the process. Suspicion is a dominant theme in this film, a paranoia looms large. Deeper in the jungle, the remnants of a post-apocalyptic war machine lie in ruin. Yet apocalypse in a temporal or legitimate sense cannot come quickly enough for the soldiers.
By showing a soldier burning alive, as chopper machine guns mow down villagers, the film depicts the horror of war. It is hard to believe that these are the same that were just shortly before seventeen year old surfers. Captain Willard cannot imagine how Colonel Kurtz can be fighting a worse war than that already sanctioned by the US Military. Soldiers and officers alike consider the Vietnamese to be natives, with only nominal respect shown for the dead and wounded. Then the Captain executes an innocent civilian. The viewer is in shock. Good and bad are wrenched in the same way the American at home was betrayed with the announcement of My Lai and illegal incursions into Cambodia.
As the war had been a sick carnival, the soundtrack and cinematography collide corrosively. Soldiers smoke marijuana, officers drink. tripping on acid, they are welcomed to the “asshole of the world.” As they arrive to the colonel, the barbarity of the actions of the soldiers he defends with the barbarity of the land he has come to. Seeing the heart of Cambodia, corrupted like this golden child of America, who now sees violence as a genius, the viewer is brought into the heart of darkness. The apocalypse now written on Kurtz’s temple is a call to arms, but one that the viewer will never answer. The jungle and quiet crickets isolate the evil completely. We can only look on with horror.
The end of the river comes as the end of the war. Awaiting an airstrike, the Captain confronts this mad, evil genius. “It smelled like slow death” and in the center, was this man’s lair. Without a timeline the entire film, urgency suddenly becomes paramount. Complete the mission and return to the boat by 2200 hours, or everyone will become engulfed in the flames of napalm. The Colonel’s slow words betray this urgency, his psychopathic nature, already aware of the Captain’s intent to terminate his command.
“He dies when it dies,” the words of the Colonel’s brainwashed civilian photojournalist indicate the paralysis and uselessness of the situation. A prisoner now, the Captain wakes up with the head of a soldier in his lap. He breaks down into tears. The Colonel lullabies him with read poetry. With the behavioural instincts and natural barbarity of a cat, Colonel Kurtz eats raw garlic as he quotes Heart of Darkness, “I’ve seen horrors, horrors you have never seen… you have no right to judge me.” He has been gripped by the barbarity of the villagers and war alike. As the film begins, it ends, Jim Morrison sings, and the Captain mows Kurtz down with savage justice, in war paint his machete against the red of fire like the sword of Gabriel. The Colonel’s last words: “The horror. The horror.”

Lung Cancer and Smoking in the UK

Britain has half the man-made and natural radiation combined as the US has just man-made.

Females and males stopped smoking in the same rates.
Lung cancer mortality rates have remained the same (55 to 45 per 100,000), and actually increased for women (17 to 30 per 100,000). 

Confounding research on Chronic Inhalation Exposure to Mainstream Cigarette Smoke Increases Lung and Nasal Tumor Incidence in Rats – Human consumption of tobacco lowers lung lesions, tumours, and other malignancies

There are a number of procedural errors in this study which will be addressed as follows. Firstly the bias or affiliation of the study, published by Oxford University, is listed as pfizer, a corporation that makes smoking substitution products, and was caught bribing academics (in unlisted affiliations) with the intent of maintaining marijuana prohibition. Furthermore, the study was conducted in New Mexico, a part of the USA with high atmospheric radiation at this time, the non-smoking control received filtered air, while smoking groups were exposed to non-filtered air. The study asserts that in mice testing, supporting data was gathered that cigarettes cause pulmonary damage. 
The mice are divided into a control group, a “low-smoking” and a “high-smoking” group. The low-smoking group was exposed to the equivalent of between 20-30 cigarettes smoked continuously for six hours without stopping. The high-smoking group was exposed to the equivalent of 60 cigarettes per day continuously over a period of six hours and should have been disregarded as non-evident of human consumption patterns at any time in history. For the purposes of reality, the low-smokers (which in humans is at levels classified as heavy cigarette use), will be used in this evaluation. In addition, in this study the high smoking rats were starved (food consumption 60% of non-smokers), which also indicates this data is not reliable.
Despite the conclusion and abstract’s assertion, the data is actually quite positive for regular smokers. Incidence rates of neoplasia in the nasal cavity was lower for smokers than non-smokers.  The survival rate for smoking rats is higher by a significant amount, from 752 days to 779 days. Lung weight of smoking rats was the same as non-smoking rats (an increase was seen by 60 cigarettes per day). Ciliated cuboidal cell metaplasia (mucus in the lungs, a deformity frequently observed with aging that has not been definitively connected to cancer, except in epidermal cases, and then only correlatively) was noted in a small amount in smoking rats. Squamous metaplasia was not observed in smoking rats, but were noted in the 60 cigarette per day group. Keratinizing squamous cysts were not observed in smoking rats, but were noted rarely at 60 cigarettes per day. There were no consistent trends in lung lesions, with sometimes lowest levels in the group smoking 60 cigarettes per day (eg. hyperplasia), sometimes lower in smoking rats (eg. malignant neoplasia) and other times in non-smoking (eg. benign neoplasia), though it should be noted this occurred in non-significant levels in all rats. There is no increase in nasal neoplasia for smoking rats. 
After all this, the study asserts that cigarettes are the cause of problems, but admits, “The reason this study produced significant increases in lung tumors in rats while previous studies did not cannot be determined with certainty.” It is fairly clear that while, previous studies have linked regular human consumption to health benefits, the concept of gassing rats with 60 cigarettes per day had simply not occurred. See previous articles for data on cancer mortality rates in the USA and the probability that tobacco use in humans has numerous health benefits. While there is not data here on radiation exposure necessary to lower white blood cells in a rat, it is safe to assume these fall along similar lines with humans, and exposure to an unmeasured number of mrems of radiation was a significant factor in the development of malignancies in the rats. It is possible that filtered air might make a difference in mucous accumulation in rats as well as humans, though this is not definitively connected with cancer or malignant symptoms.

Mauderly, J. L., Gigliotti, A. P., Barr, E. B., Bechtold, W. E., Belinsky, S. A., Hahn, F. F., Hobbs, C. A., March, T. H., Seilkop, S. K., and Finch, G. L. (2004). Chronic inhalation exposure to mainstream cigarette smoke increases lung and nasal tumor incidence in rats. Toxicol. Sci. 81, 280–292. 

Increasing cancer mortality rates despite technological advances and drastically lower tobacco use in the USA: 1950-2015, 65 years of cancer theory down the drain?

There is no explanation for why cancer mortality rates have not gone down (and have gone up) despite medical advances as the entire nation has stopped smoking. Investment in screening and treatment can ensure near 100% recovery, yet all budgeting goes to cheaper “prevention” which does not work. Since the US cracked down on tobacco use, with success in white males, the overall cancer mortality rate has increased from 184 per 100,000 in 1950-69 to 209 per 100,000 from 1970-1994. Today that rate holds steady at 203 per 100,000. In white females and in other demographics cancer mortality rates have been steady or changed in negligible amounts, but these demographics have had increasing tobacco use rates. Cancer is a painful and unnatural death that can often involve long battles with the disease and should be combatted with all resources available, in treatment and in prevention. While lung cancer rates have fallen, technological advances have allowed earlier detection of lung cancer, which at stages 0 and 1 is among the least deadly forms of cancer, but at later stages is among the most deadly. Without adjustments for technological advances in medical care, no positive statement can be made in regards to success or negative results from anti-smoking campaigns. Meta-data from overall cancer mortality does show that the resources in the war on cancer have been squandered and had an overall detrimental effect on the national health of the country, and some policy change is necessitated, although it must be noted there is no current biological explanation for the lower cancer rates in countries and places with higher tobacco use, these have been correlative not causal links. Atmospheric nuclear weapons testing does match up with the population data, it was ended in the 1970’s, and there is solid science that shows inhaled radioactive particles cause lung and other cancer for 30-60 years after detonation.

Source: http://ratecalc.cancer.gov/ratecalc/archivedatlas/pdfs/maps/acc-maps.pdf
A doctor I interviewed on this matter mentioned to me that it was a possibility that infectious diseases were accountable for the increase in cancer mortality, but that they did not know for certain, not having looked these statistics up. I have acquired the infectious disease mortality rate, and it has not changed since anti-smoking campaigns went into effect and in fact increased which means that the potential positive effects of tobacco may be even greater than suggested by simply looking at other raw data, possibly due to lost funding diverted to misguided anti-smoking campaigns. In any case the veracity of the failure of anti-smoking campaigns cannot be questioned in the war on cancer, and is a monumental public policy choice that must be reverted immediately.


It can also be noted that the demographic distribution provided in the atlas is vitally important as the female population increased smoking rates slightly and saw a slight decrease in cancer mortality as well as an increase in life expectancy commensurate with the increases seen before anti-smoking campaigns.

Study Estimating Thyroid Doses of I-131 Received by Americans From Nevada Atmospheric Nuclear Bomb Tests, National Cancer Institute (1997)  Annual Dose in Rads
It can be seen above that the white and light blue areas of dangerous levels of radiation (previously believed to be safe up to 2 rads annually, it is now known there is virtually no safe level of radiation exposure, with even a single rem additional exposure adding cancer mortalities) matches smoking data exactly (as shown below, and later in the article). Cancer mortality on the other hand, has changed drastically as far as geographic distribution over the years.

According to mapping of fallout from nuclear weapon’s testing the majority of the southern states in the USA are exposed annually to an average of over 1 rad of radiation, from fallout alone, exposure to this level of radiation (lifetime of around 100 rads) radiation results in a, “decrease in the circulating white cells and platelets.” This results in a statistically significant increase in cancer in keeping with the findings shown on this atlas as, “The Biologic Effects of Ionizing Radiation report (BEIR V) states that if 100,000 people are exposed to 10 rads of radiation, then there will be 800 additional cancers in that population above the normally occurring amount.”   Source: http://cancernews.com/data/Article/264.asp#sthash.qEIXcULD.dpuf

We can expect cancer rates to drop significantly as the average radiation exposure in the USA has dropped since this map was made in 1997, the current average annual exposure is still .6 rads per year, enough that there are a significant number of people with lifetime exposure exceeding 100 rads.

Source: http://www.epa.gov/rpdweb00/understand/calculate.html

Finally, a primary concern of smoking (though the claim asserted by anti-smoking campaigns is that it increases all forms of cancer), has been lung cancer. Lung cancer mortality has not decreased in kind with decreasing smoking rates however, and in fact only plateaus with the ban of nuclear weapon’s testing and nuclear power plant construction. While cigarette smoking has dropped by over half since 1975, lung cancer mortality has gone from 75 to 65 per 100,000, an insignificant change which after adjusting for atmospheric radiation actually indicates that smoking cessation has cost many lives. See image below for lung cancer mortality in the USA.

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