Top Censored Stories of 2009/2010

2009-12-29

Richard Moore

Begin forwarded message:


No one outside America any longer believes the US media or the US government… You can’t believe a word the American media says. If they say anything correct, it’s just an accident.”  Paul Craig Roberts
 
http://www.projectcensored.org/top-stories/category/two-thousand-and-ten-book/

Top Censored Stories of 2009/2010
1. US Congress Sells Out to Wall Street
Federal lawmakers responsible for overseeing the US economy have received millions of dollars from Wall Street firms. Since 2001, eight of the most troubled firms have donated $64.2 million to congressional candidates, presidential candidates and the Republican and Democratic parties. As senators, Barack Obama and John McCain received a combined total of $3.1 million. The donors include investment bankers Bear Stearns, Goldman Sachs, Lehman Brothers, Merrill Lynch, Morgan Stanley, insurer American International Group, and mortgage giants Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac.  Some of the top recipients of contributions from companies receiving Troubled Assets Relief Program (TARP) money are the same members of Congress who chair committees charged with regulating the financial sector and overseeing the effectiveness of this unprecedented government program.  In total, members of the Senate Committee on Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs, Senate Finance Committee and House Financial Services Committee received $5.2 million from TARP recipients in the 2007-2008 election cycle. President Obama collected at least $4.3 million from employees at these companies for his presidential campaign.Nearly every member of the House Financial Services Committee, who in February 2009 oversaw hearings on how the $700 billion of TARP bailout was being spent, received contributions associated with these financial institutions during the 2008 election cycle. “You could say that the finance industry got their money’s worth by supporting members of Congress who were inclined to look the other way,” said Lawrence Jacobs, the director of the University of Minnesota’s Center for the Study of Politics and Governance….

2. US Schools are More Segregated Today than in the 1950s
Schools in the United States are more segregated today than they have been in more than four decades. Millions of non-white students are locked into “dropout factory” high schools, where huge percentages do not graduate, and few are well prepared for college or a future in the US economy.  According to a new Civil Rights report published at the University of California, Los Angeles, schools in the US are 44 percent non-white, and minorities are rapidly emerging as the majority of public school students in the US.  Latinos and blacks, the two largest minority groups, attend schools more segregated today than during the civil rights movement forty years ago. In Latino and African American populations, two of every five students attend intensely segregated schools.  For Latinos this increase in segregation reflects growing residential segregation. For blacks a significant part of the reversal reflects the ending of desegregation plans in public schools throughout the nation. In the 1954 case Brown v. Board of Education, the US Supreme Court concluded that the Southern standard of “separate but equal” was “inherently unequal,” and did “irreversible” harm to black students. It later extended that ruling to Latinos.  The Civil Rights Study shows that most severe segregation in public schools is in the Western states, including California-not in the South, as many people believe. Unequal education leads to diminished access to college and future jobs. Most non-white schools are segregated by poverty as well as race. Most of the nation’s dropouts occur in non-white public schools, leading to large numbers of virtually unemployable young people of color…..

3. Toxic Waste Behind Somali Pirates
The international community has come out in force to condemn and declare war on the Somali fishermen pirates, while discreetly protecting the illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fleets from around the world that have been poaching and dumping toxic waste in Somali waters since the fall of the Somali government eighteen years ago.  In 1991, when the government of Somalia collapsed, foreign interests seized the opportunity to begin looting the country’s food supply and using the country’s unguarded waters as a dumping ground for nuclear and other toxic waste.  According to the High Seas Task Force (HSTF), there were over 800 IUU fishing vessels in Somali waters at one time in 2005, taking advantage of Somalia’s inability to police and control its own waters and fishing grounds. The IUUs poach an estimated $450 million in seafood from Somali waters annually. In so doing, they steal an invaluable protein source from some of the world’s poorest people and ruin the livelihoods of legitimate fishermen.  Allegations of the dumping of toxic waste, as well as illegal fishing, have circulated since the early 1990s, but hard evidence emerged when the tsunami of 2004 hit the country. The United Nations Environment Program (UNEP) reported that the tsunami washed rusting containers of toxic waste onto the shores of Puntland, northern Somalia.  Nick Nuttall, a UNEP spokesman, told Al Jazeera that when the barrels were smashed open by the force of the waves, the containers exposed a “frightening activity” that had been going on for more than a decade. “Somalia has been used as a dumping ground for hazardous waste starting in the early 1990s, and continuing through the civil war there,” he said. “The waste is many different kinds. There is uranium radioactive waste. There is lead, and heavy metals like cadmium and mercury. There is also industrial waste, and there are hospital wastes, chemical wastes-you name it.” Nuttall also said that since the containers came ashore, hundreds of residents have fallen ill, suffering from mouth and abdominal bleeding, skin infections and other ailments. “What is most alarming here is that nuclear waste is being dumped. Radioactive uranium waste that is potentially killing Somalis and completely destroying the ocean,” he said….

4. Nuclear Waste Pools in North Carolina
One of the most lethal patches of ground in North America is located in the backwoods of North Carolina, where Shearon Harris nuclear plant is housed and owned by Progress Energy. The plant contains the largest radioactive waste storage pools in the country. It is not just a nuclear-power-generating station, but also a repository for highly radioactive spent fuel rods from two other nuclear plants. The spent fuel rods are transported by rail and stored in four densely packed pools filled with circulating cold water to keep the waste from heating. The Department of Homeland Security has marked Shearon Harris as one of the most vulnerable terrorist targets in the nation. The threat exists, however, without the speculation of terrorist attack. Should the cooling system malfunction, the resulting fire would be virtually unquenchable and could trigger a nuclear meltdown, putting more than two hundred thousands residents of this rapidly growing section of North Carolina in extreme peril. A recent study by Brookhaven Labs estimates that a pool fire could cause 140,000 cancers, contaminate thousands of square miles of land, and cause over $500 billion in off-site property damage. The Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) has estimated that there is a 1:100 chance of pool fire happening under the best of scenarios. And the dossier on the Shearon Harris plant is far from the best. In 1999 the plant experienced four emergency shutdowns. A few months later, in April 2000, the plant’s safety monitoring system, designed to provide early warning of a serious emergency, failed. And it wasn’t the first time. Indeed, the emergency warning system at Shearon Harris has failed fifteen times since the plant opened in 1987….

5. Europe Blocks US Toxic Products
US deregulation of toxic substances, such as lead in lipsticks, mercury in electronics, and phthalates (endocrine disruptors) in baby toys, may not only pose disastrous consequences to our health, but also to our economic and political status in the world. International markets are moving toward a European model of insisting on environmental and consumer safety. A European-led revolution in chemical regulation that requires that thousands of chemicals finally be assessed for their potentially toxic effects on human beings and the environment signals the end of American industry’s ability to withhold critical data from the public.
Europe has launched stringent new regulations that require companies seeking access to their lucrative markets eliminate toxic substances and manufacture safer electronics, automobiles, toys and cosmetics.
Dangerous chemicals have been identified via the European Union’s 2007 Registration, Evaluation, Authorization and Restriction of Chemicals (REACH) law, which requires the disclosure of all chemicals sold in the EU in quantities of more than one metric ton per year. Hundreds of companies located in the US produce or import hundreds of chemicals designated as dangerous by the European Union. Large amounts of these chemicals are being produced in thirty-seven states, in as many as eighty-seven sites per state, according to biochemist Richard Denison of Environmental Defense Fund, author of the report “Across the Pond: Assessing REACH’s First Big Impact on US Companies and Chemicals.” Of the 267 chemicals on the potential REACH list, compiled by the International Chemical Secretariat in Sweden, only one third have ever been tested by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), and only two are regulated in any form under US law. Mark Schapiro, author of Exposed: The Toxic Chemistry of Everyday Products and What’s at Stake for American Power, writes that according to the EPA itself, only five percent of all chemicals in the US have undergone even minimal testing for their toxicity or environmental impact. Researchers at University of California-Berkeley’s School of Public Health estimate that forty-two billion pounds of chemicals enter American commerce daily.  Fewer than five hundred of those substances, according to a report the school produced for the state of California, have undergone any substantive risk assessments. Over the past decade, the industry has been either the second or the third biggest lobbying force on Capitol Hill, according to the Center for Responsive Politics….

6. Lobbyists Buy Congress
According to a study by The Center for Responsive Politics, special interests paid Washington lobbyists $3.2 billion in 2008-more than any other year on record. This was a 13.7 percent increase from 2007 (which broke the record by 7.7 percent over 2006). The Center calculates that interest groups spent $17.4 million on lobbying for every day Congress was in session in 2008, or $32,523 per legislator per day. Center director Sheila Krumholz says, “The federal government is handing out billions of dollars by the day, and that translates into job security for lobbyists who can help companies and industries get a piece of the payout.” Health interests spent more on Federal lobbying than any other economic sector. Their $478.5 million guaranteed the crown for the third year, with the finance, insurance, real estate sector a runner up, spending $453.5 million. The pharmaceutical/health products industry contributed $230.9 million, raising their last eleven-year total to over $1.6 billion. The second-biggest spender among industries in 2008 was electric utilities, which spent $156.7 million on lobbying, followed by insurance, which spent $153.2 million, and oil and gas, which paid lobbyists $133.2 million. Pro-Israel groups, food processing companies, and the oil and gas industry increased their lobbying expenditures the most (as a percentage) between 2007 and 2008….

7. Obama’s Military Appointments Have Corrupt Past
Obama’s retention of Robert Gates as Secretary of Defense makes Gates the first appointment from an outgoing administration of opposing party to be kept in the position. Over the last two years of the previous administration, Gates was a key implementer of Bush’s Iraq War “surge”-after he replaced Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, who had opposed the escalation.  Obama’s appointees to the Department of Defense and National Intelligence embody many of the worst elements of US national security policy over the past three decades, including responsibility for what Obama himself has fingered as chief concerns, “politicized intelligence” and “lack of transparency.” The valued “decades of experience” these leaders bring with them are filled with ethical breeches, lies to Congress, and deep conflicts of interest and revolving doors within the US military industrial complex.  Although Obama promised to keep lobbyists out of top government posts, many of those he appointed are former lobbyists or former board members of companies directly doing business with the Pentagon…
 
8. Bailed out Banks and America’s Wealthiest Cheat IRS Out of Billions
A 2008 study done by the Government Accountability Office (GAO) reported that eighty-three of the top publicly held US companies have operations in tax havens like the Cayman Islands, Bermuda, and the Virgin Islands. Fourteen of these companies, including AIG, Bank of America, and Citigroup, received money from the government bailout. The GAO also reported that activities of Union Bank of Switzerland (UBS) are directly connected to tax avoidance.  Swiss banking giant UBS has enabled wealthy Americans to use tax schemes-some of which are illegal- to cheat the IRS out of over $20 billion in recent years, according to the Department of Justice. (…) Over the years, trillions of dollars in both corporate profits and personal wealth have migrated offshore in search of rock bottom tax rates and the comfort of no questions asked. This was a significant contributing factor to international economic downturn in 2008. The G20 meetings in April of 2009 declared a crackdown on tax havens as the first step to financial recovery. However, the offshore banking world now harbors $11.5 trillion in individual wealth alone, and many countries will continue to resist regulation and inspections from outside their borders….

9. US Arms Used for War Crimes in Gaza
Israel’s repeated firing of US-made white phosphorus shells over densely populated areas of Gaza during its recent military campaign was indiscriminate and is evidence of war crimes, Human Rights Watch said in a report released March 25, 2009.  The seventy-one-page report, “Rain of Fire: Israel’s Unlawful Use of White Phosphorus in Gaza,” provides witness accounts of the devastating effects that white phosphorus munitions had on civilians and civilian property in Gaza. Human Rights Watch researchers found spent shells, canister liners, and dozens of burnt felt wedges containing white phosphorus on city streets, apartment roofs, residential courtyards, and at a United Nations school in Gaza immediately after hostilities ended in January. Militaries officially use white phosphorus to obscure their operations on the ground by creating thick smoke. It has also been used as an incendiary weapon, though such use constitutes a war crime. “In Gaza, the Israeli military didn’t just use white phosphorus in open areas as a screen for its troops,” said Fred Abrahams, senior emergencies researcher at Human Rights Watch and co-author of the report. “It fired white phosphorus repeatedly over densely populated areas, even when its troops weren’t in the area and safer smoke shells were available. As a result, civilians needlessly suffered and died.” The report documents a pattern or policy of white phosphorus use that Human Rights Watch says must have required the approval of senior military officers. The devastating Israeli firepower, unleashed largely on Palestinian civilians in Gaza during the three-week attack starting December 27, 2008 was fueled by US-supplied weapons paid for with US tax dollars. Washington provided F-16 fighter planes, Apache helicopters, tactical missiles, and a wide array of munitions, including white phosphorus and DIME. The weapons required for the Israeli assault were decided upon in June 2008, and the transfer of 1,000 bunker-buster GPS-guided Small Diameter Guided Bomb Units 39 (GBU-39) were approved by Congress in September. The GBU 39 bombs were delivered to Israel in November (prior to any claims of Hamas cease fire violation) for use in the initial air raids on Gaza. Researchers in Gaza found several weapon fragments after the attacks. One came from a 500 lbs (227 kg) Mark-82 fin guided bomb, which had markings indicating parts were made by the US company Raytheon. They also found fragments of US-made white phosphorus artillery shells, marked M825 A1….

10. Ecuador Declares Foreign Debt Illegitimate
In November 2008, Ecuador became the first country to undertake an examination of the legitimacy and structure of its foreign debt. An independent debt audit commissioned by the government of Ecuador documented hundreds of allegations of irregularity, illegality, and illegitimacy in contracts of debt to predatory international lenders. The loans, according to the report, violated Ecuador’s domestic laws, US Securities and Exchange Commission regulations, and general principles of international law. Ecuador’s use of legitimacy as a legal argument for defaulting set a major precedent; indeed, the formation of a debt auditing commission sets a precedent.In the 1970s Ecuador fell victim to unscrupulous international lending, which encouraged borrowing at low interest rates. But in over thirty years the country’s debt rose from $1.174 billion in 1970, to over $14.250 billion in 2006, a twelve fold increase, due in large part to interest rates that rose at the discretion of US banks and Federal Reserve from six percent in 1979 to twenty-one percent in 1981. The commission revealed that Salomon Smith Barney, now part of Citigroup Inc., issued unauthorized restructuring of Ecuador’s debt in 2000 that lead to exorbitant interest rates, which, combined with illegal borrowing by former dictators, has turned the country, along with many of its Southern neighbors, into a major capitol exporter to its Northern “benefactors.” Over the years, the country has made debt payments that far exceed the principal it borrowed.  Of all loans made between 1989 and 2006, fourteen percent was used for social development projects. The remaining 86 percent was used to pay for previously accumulated debt. Continuously from 1982 and 2006, the country paid foreign debt creditors $119.826 billion for capital and interest, while receiving over the same period $106.268 billion in new loans, which amounts to a total negative transfer of $13.558 billion. The human costs are staggering. Every dollar spent on illegitimate international credit means less is available for fighting poverty. In 2007 the Ecuadorian government paid $1.75 billion in debt service alone, more than it spent on health care, social services, the environment, and housing and urban development combined….
11. Private Corporations Profit from the Occupation of Palestine
Israeli and international corporations are directly involved in the occupation of Palestine. Along with various political, religious and national interests, the Israeli occupation of the West Bank, Gaza, and the Golan Heights is fueled by corporate interests. These occupying companies and corporations lead real estate deals, develop the Israeli colonies and infrastructure, and contribute to the construction and operation of an ethnic separation system, including checkpoints, walls and roads. They also design and supply equipment and tools used in the control and repression of the civilian population under occupation. An extensive, on-going grassroots investigation, which exposes hundreds of international companies and corporations involved in the occupation, is being conducted and posted online at http://www.whoprofits.org by the Israeli group Coalition of Women for Peace. The project currently focuses on three main areas of corporate involvement in the occupation: the settlement industry, economic exploitation, and control of the population. At this stage they are not investigating the vast industry of military production and arms trade (see story # 9). The ongoing business of construction in the occupied territories of the West Bank and Golan Heights includes housing developments as well as extensive infrastructure projects such as roads and water systems for the exclusive use of Israeli settlers, on lands confiscated from Palestinians. The construction industry includes real estate dealers, contractors, planners, suppliers of materials, as well as security, surveillance, and maintenance services.While the US government has on numerous occasions affirmed the illegality of Israeli settlements on Palestinian land, it encourages American support by providing tax deductions for donations to these settlements, which have nearly doubled within a year and are rapidly accelerating….

12. Mysterious Death of Mike Connell-Karl Rove’s Election Thief
Karl Rove’s chief IT consultant, Mike Connell-who was facing subpoena in connection with 2004 Presidential election fraud in Ohio-mysteriously died in a private plane crash in 2008.  Connell was allegedly the central figure in a longstanding plot to electronically flip votes to Republicans. (…) Election fraud analyst and author Mark Crispin Miller notes that the timing and circumstances of Connell’s death-between deposition and trial-are too suspicious and convenient for Rove and the Bush administration, not to merit a thorough investigation. Arnebeck and Fitrakis intended to both further depose and call Connell to testify as key witness in the federal conspiracy case. Connell was also to be questioned about his key role in the disappearance of thousands of White House-RNC email transactions. These emails are believed likely to have shed light on the White House role in the political firings of US Attorneys, as well as decisions to prosecute former Alabama Democratic Governor Don Siegelman.  Attorneys in the case said that Connell’s testimony would likely lead to the subpoenaing and under-oath questioning of Karl Rove.  Connell was an experienced pilot. His plane had been recently serviced. He had been in the nation’s capital on still-unknown business before his single engine plane crashed December 22, 2008 on the way home, just three miles short of the runway in Akron, Ohio.  The cause of the crash remains unknown. Timing of Connell’s deposition may have saved the 2008 presidential elections from electronic theft. However, Bev Harris at Black Box Voting notes that man in the middle systems are still in place in Illinois, Colorado, Kentucky, and likely across the nation. The extreme vulnerability of electronic voting systems to systematic fraud has fallen out of public awareness because it did not become a major issue during the 2008 elections, but the problem has never been resolved or even seriously examined by any official body….

13. Katrina’s Hidden Race War
A shocking report in The Nation magazine exposes how white vigilante groups patrolled the streets of New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina, shooting at least eleven African American men. While most of New Orleans was deluged in the wake of Katrina, word spread that Algiers Point was dry. The National Guard designated the Algiers Point ferry landing an official evacuation site, where flood victims were to be loaded onto busses headed for safety in Texas. Facing an influx of refugees, a group of heavily armed white residents sought to seal the area and to rid the neighborhood of “those who didn’t belong.” As the government collapsed, the city fractured along racial lines.  Algiers Point is largely white, while the rest of Algiers is predominantly black. Desperate people began heading toward the west bank, some walking over bridges, others traveling by boat.While the media portrayed African Americans as looters and thugs, it is now clear that the most serious crimes were committed by gun-toting white males. (…) Democracy Now! footage shows that dead bodies were left, sometimes for weeks, to rot in full view of Homeland Security, State troopers, Army personnel, private security guards, and police who “secured” the streets of New Orleans in the aftermath of Katrina. One reporter notes, “I was startled to meet so many people with so much detailed information about potentially serious offenses, none of whom had ever been interviewed by police investigators.”…

14. Congress Invested in Defense Contracts
The nonpartisan Center for Responsive Politics has calculated that more than 151 members of Congress have up to $195 million invested in major defense contractors that are earning profits from the US military occupations in Iraq and Afghanistan.When General David Petraeus, the top US military officer in Iraq, went to Capitol Hill to brief Congress in April of 2008, he was addressing lawmakers who had a lot more than just a political stake in the Iraq occupation. Along with their colleagues in the House and Senate, the politicians who got a status report from the general and the US ambassador to Iraq had millions of dollars of their own money invested in companies doing business with the Department of Defense (DoD). In 2006, the investment portfolios of 151 current members-more than a quarter of Congress-had between $78.7 million and $195.5 million invested in companies that received major defense contracts (over $5 million). The portfolios include holdings in companies paid billions of dollars each month to support America’s military. These companies provided almost everything the military uses, from aircraft and weapons to medical supplies and soft drinks….

15. World Bank’s Carbon Trade Fiasco
In the name of environmental protection, the World Bank is brokering carbon emission trading arrangements that destroy indigenous farmlands around the world. The effort to coordinate global action to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions began with the Kyoto Protocol, which was adopted in 1997 and now has been ratified by 183 nations. While many of the strategies established in the protocol are encouraging, some are proving to have fatal flaws. One such program, known as Clean Development Mechanism (CDM) investment, has become a means by which industrialized countries avoid reducing their own emissions through the implementation of “emissions reduction” projects in developing nations.In accordance with the Kyoto Protocol, many governments have established “caps,” or limits, on the greenhouse gas emissions that can be produced in their countries. Industries can respond to these government-imposed limits by responsibly reducing their emissions, or they can bypass this process entirely by purchasing “carbon credits” from other industries in other parts of the world who, through CDM investment brokered by the World Bank, trade emission reduction “credits” in order to “offset” excessive emissions.  Joris den Blanken, a climate change specialist with Greenpeace, says, “Offsetting means exporting responsibilities to the developing world and removes the incentive for industry to improve efficiency or to invest in renewable energy.” While the World Bank claims that this system “supports sustainable development . . . and benefits the poorer communities of the developing world,” the program in reality has become little more than a corporate profit-boosting enterprise. In fact, many transnational corporations are using cap and trade programs not only to avoid emissions responsibility, but to further profit by developing environmentally and socially destructive industries in less developed countries. In Latin America, where a long history of corporate exploitation has already taken a steep toll, environmentalists and indigenous communities are beginning to speak out about the dangers of the CDM. Because of a myopic focus on greenhouse gas reduction only, and a lack of accountability to local communities, many projects are producing other environmental and social ills that are diametrically opposed to the program’s stated objectives….

16. US Repression of Haiti Continues
The US government plans to expropriate and demolish the homes of hundreds of Haitians in the shantytown of Cité Soleil to expand the occupying UN force’s military base. The US government contractor DynCorp, a quasi-official arm of the Pentagon and the CIA, is responsible for the base expansion. The base will house the soldiers of the UN Mission to Stabilize Haiti (MINUSTAH). Cité Soleil is the most bullet-ridden battleground of the foreign military occupation, which began after US Special Forces kidnapped and exiled President Jean-Bertrand Aristide on February 29, 2004. Citizens have since been victimized by recurring massacres at the hands of MINUSTAH.DynCorp’s $5 million contracts include expansion of the principal base, the rebuilding of the Cité Soleil police station and two other militarized outposts, as well as training support and procurement of equipment.According to Cité Soleil mayor Charles Joseph and a DynCorp foreman at the site, the State Department’s US Agency for International Development (USAID) provides funding for the base expansion-a very unorthodox use of development aid.  Lawyer Evel Fanfan, the president of the Association of University Graduates Motivatd For A Haiti With Rights (AUMOHD), says that about 155 buildings would be razed as the base expansion moves forward. As of March 2009, eighty homes have been demolished. Most of the buildings targeted are homes, but one is a church.”They started working without saying a word to the people living there,” Fanfan said. “The authorities have not told them what is being done, if they will be relocated, how much they will be compensated or even if they will be compensated.”…

17. The ICC Facilitates US Covert War in Sudan
The United States promoted the International Criminal Court’s (ICC) indictment of Sudan’s President Omar al-Bashir for war crimes in Darfur, in order to justify continuing Western exploitation and military interventions in the resource-rich region.”America is an opportunist country,” explains Sudanese Ambassador Abdalmahmood Abdalhaleem Mohamad. “They want to use the ICC without being a party to it.” In effect, he said, US soldiers can have immunity, but not the president of Sudan.  At a UN press conference, the ambassador also challenged reporters to show him any photographs or film footage from Darfur that would equal the destruction of human lives and homes in Gaza, Iraq and Afghanistan. “Did anybody ask who is accountable for this damage and destruction?”  Asked why Sudan was being singled out, the Sudanese envoy said Western nations are eyeing Sudan’s newly discovered oil riches. Western nations have been marginalized in the region, in terms of both oil exploration and arms supplies, by China, which has in recent years become one of Sudan’s closest political, economic and military allies. Mohamad explains that the US, UK and France, “harbor a desire to revive their colonial dreams in Sudan.”  Keith Harmon Snow warns, “It is difficult to make sense of the war in Darfur -especially when people see it as a one-sided “genocide” of Arabs against blacks that is being committed by the Bashir ‘regime’-but such is the establishment propaganda. The real story is much more expansive, more complex, and it revolves around . . . deeper geopolitical realities.”…

18. Ecuador’s Constitutional Rights of Nature
In September 2008 Ecuador became the first country in the world to declare constitutional rights to nature, thus codifying a new system of environmental protection.  Reflecting the beliefs and traditions of the indigenous peoples of Ecuador, the constitution declares that nature “has the right to exist, persist, maintain and regenerate its vital cycles, structure, functions and its processes in evolution.” This right, the constitution states, “is independent of the obligation on natural and juridical persons or the State to indemnify the people that depend on the natural systems.” The new constitution redefines people’s relationship with nature by asserting that nature is not just an object to be appropriated and exploited by people, but is rather a rights-bearing entity that should be treated with parity under the law.  Mari Margil, Associate Director of the Environmental Legal Defense Fund, worked closely over the past year with members of Ecuador’s constitutional assembly on drafting legally enforceable Rights of Nature, which mark a watershed in the trajectory of environmental law.  Ecuador’s leadership on this issue may have a global domino effect. Margil says that her organization is busy fielding calls from interested countries, such as Nepal, which is currently writing its first constitution. For all of the hope and tangible progress the Rights of Nature articles in Ecuador’s constitution represent, however, there are shortcomings and contradictions with the laws and the political reality on the ground. A fundamental flaw in the constitution also exists due to Correa’s refusal to include a clause mandating free, prior, and informed consent by communities for development project that would affect their local ecosystems. “I expect them [the multinational extractive industries] to fight it,” says Margil. “Their bread and butter is based on being able to treat countries and ecosystems like cheap hotels. Multinational corporations are dependent on ravaging the planet in order to increase their bottom line.” The new Mining Law, introduced by Ecuador’s own President Rafael Correa and backed by Canadian companies, which hold the majority of mining concessions in Ecuador, is a testament to Margil’s forecast. The Mining Law would allow for large-scale, open pit metal mining in pristine Andean highlands and Amazon rainforest. Major nationwide demonstrations are being held in protest, with groups accusing Correa of inviting social and environmental disaster by selling out to mining interests….

19. Bank Bailout Recipients Spent to Defeat Labor
On October 17, 2008, three days after Bank of America Corporation received $25 billion in federal bailout funds, they hosted a conference call to organize opposition to the Employee Free Choice Act (EFCA). Participants, including AIG, were urged to persuade their clients to send “large contributions” to groups working against the EFCA, as well as to vulnerable Senate Republicans who could be used to help block the passage of the pro labor bill that would make it easier for employees to organize into unions. Bernie Marcus, co-founder of Home Depot, and Rick Berman, founder of the Center for Union Facts, led the hour-long phone call that framed the legislation as a threat to American capitalism. The legislation-which would allow workers to form unions either by holding traditional elections or by having a majority of employees sign written forms-is virtually certain to face a Republican filibuster. Obama and Senate Democrats have stated their commitment to the bill….

20. Secret Control of the Presidential Debates
The Obama and McCain campaigns jointly negotiated a detailed secret contract dictating the terms of the 2008 debates. This included who got to participate, what topics were to be raised, and the structure of the debate formats.  Since 1987, a private corporation created by and for the Republican and Democratic parties called the Commission on Presidential Debates (CPD) has sponsored the US Presidential debates and implemented debate contracts. In order to shield the major party candidates from criticism, CPD has refused to release debate contract information to the public.  In 1986, the Republican and Democratic National Committees ratified an agreement “to take over the presidential debates” from the nonpartisan League of Women Voters….

21. Recession Causes States to Cut Welfare
Many states are in the midst of an aggressive action to push thousands of eligible mothers off  Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF), traditionally known as welfare. Families are being denied aid so that savings can be redirected in state budgets.  Nationally, the number of welfare recipients fell more than 40 percent between 2001 and June 2008.  Louisiana, Texas and Illinois have each dropped 80 percent of adult recipients since January 2001. The state of Georgia had a 90 percent drop, with fewer than 2,500 Georgian adults receiving benefits, down from 28,000 in 2004.  In Georgia last year, only 18 percent of children living below 50 percent of the poverty line-which is less than $733 a month for a family of three-were receiving TANF. In 2006, the Georgia Coalition Against Domestic Violence conducted a survey to find out why so many women were suddenly failing to get welfare benefits. They discovered that caseworkers were actively discouraging women from applying. Welfare caseworkers were reportedly telling applicants that they would have to be surgically sterilized before they could apply for TANF. Disabled women were told they couldn’t apply because they didn’t meet work requirements. Others were warned that the state could take their children if they applied for benefits. Women are increasingly vulnerable to sexual assault and exploitation-sometimes by the state officials or caseworkers assigned to help them. Arrests of women for prostitution and petty crime went up as more and more families were denied welfare….

22. Obama’s Trilateral Commission Team
Barack Obama appointed eleven members of the Trilateral Commission to top-level and key positions in his administration within his first ten days in office. This represents a very narrow source of international leadership inside the Obama administration, with a core agenda that is not necessarily in support of working people in the United States. Obama was groomed for the presidency by key members of the Trilateral Commission. Most notably, Zbigniew Brzezinski, co-founder of the Trilateral Commission with David Rockefeller in 1973, has been Obama’s principal foreign policy advisor. According to official Trilateral Commission membership lists, there are only eighty-seven members from the United States (the other 337 members are from other countries). Thus, within two weeks of his inauguration, Obama’s appointments encompassed more than 12 percent of Commission’s entire US membership. Trilateral appointees include: * Secretary of Treasury, Tim Geithner * Ambassador to the United Nations, Susan Rice * National Security Advisor, Gen. James L. Jones * Deputy National Security Advisor, Thomas Donilon * Chairman, Economic Recovery Committee, Paul Volker * Director of National Intelligence, Admiral Dennis C. Blair * Assistant Secretary of State, Asia & Pacific, Kurt M. Campbell * Deputy Secretary of State, James Steinberg * State Department, Special Envoy, Richard Haass * State Department, Special Envoy, Dennis Ross * State Department, Special Envoy, Richard Holbrooke – There are many other links in the Obama administration to the Trilateral Commission….

23. Activists Slam World Water Forum as a Corporate-Driven Fraud
Water rights activists blasted the World Water Forum, held in Turkey in late March of 2009, as a corporate trade show promoting privatization of water. Three hundred Turkish activists gathered near the forum’s entrance and were faced with the overwhelming force of between 2,000 and 3,000 police. The forum opened with Turkish police firing tear gas and detaining protesters, who were shouting “Water for life, not for profit.” According to its website, the World Water Forum is “an open, all-inclusive, multi-stakeholder process” where governments, NGOs, businesses and others “create links, debate and attempt to find solutions to achieve water security.  “However, the Forum’s main organizer, the World Water Council, is dominated by two of the world’s largest private water corporations, Suez and Veolia. Critics contend that the Council’s links to Suez and Veolia, as well as the large representation of the business industry in the Council, compromise its legitimacy. Corporate interests that make up the World Water Council are in constant contact with the World Bank and other financial institutions. Each Forum is set up as a quasi-United Nations event, to the extent of issuing a Ministerial Statement at the Forum’s close promoting global policy approaches to water and sanitation. The Council promotes extraordinarily expensive and destructive dam and water diversion projects as well as policies such as Public-Private Partnerships (PPP’s) that put water services under private ownership. PPPs in Argentina, Bolivia, El Salvador, the US, and other countries have resulted in huge price hikes, water pollution, depletion and cut-offs which, in the language of the water justice movement, “deny people the right to water.”…

24. Dollar Glut Finances US Military Expansion
The worldwide surplus of dollars is forcing foreign central banks to bear the costs of America’s expanding military empire. Keeping international reserves in “dollars” means that when US financial speculation and deficits payment pumps “paper” into foreign economies, these banks have little option but to recycle it into US Treasury bills and bonds-which the Treasury then spends on financing an enormous, hostile military build-up to encircle the major dollar-recyclers: China, Japan and Arab OPEC oil producers. These governments are forced to recycle dollar inflows in a way that funds US military policies in which they have no say in formulating, and which threaten them more and more belligerently. To date, countries have been powerless to defend themselves against the fact that this compulsory financing of US military spending is built into the global financial system. Neoliberal economists applaud this as “equilibrium” as if it is part of economic nature and “free markets” rather than bare-knuckle diplomacy wielded with increasing aggressiveness by US officials. The mass media chime in, promoting the assumption that recycling the dollar to finance US military spending is the international community’s way of “showing faith in US economic strength” by sending “their” dollars here to “invest.” The implication is that a choice is involved. However, the foreigners in question are not consumers buying US exports, nor private-sector “investors” buying US stocks and bonds. The largest, most important foreign entities putting “their money” here are central banks, and it is not their money at all. They are sending back the dollars that foreign exporters and other recipients turn over to their central banks for domestic currency. The US economy can create dollars freely, now that they no longer are convertible into gold, or even into purchases of US companies. Consequently, the US remains the world’s most protected economy. It alone is permitted to protect its agriculture by import quotas, having grandfathered these into world trade rules half a century ago. Congress refuses to let “sovereign wealth” funds invest in important US sectors….

25. Fast Track Oil Exploitation in Western Amazon
The western Amazon, home to the most biodiverse and intact rainforest on Earth, may soon be covered with oilrigs and pipelines. Vast swaths of the region are to be opened for oil and gas exploration, putting some of the planet’s most pristine and biodiverse forests at risk, conservationists have warned. A new study has found that at least thirty-five multinational oil and gas companies operate over 180 oil and gas “blocks”-areas zoned for exploration and development-which now cover the Amazon in Bolivia, Colombia, Ecuador, Peru, and western Brazil. The western Amazon is also home to many indigenous ethnic groups, including some of the world’s last uncontacted peoples living in voluntary isolation. Underlying this landscape of extraordinary biological and cultural diversity, which environmental scientists refer to as the lungs of the planet, are large reserves of oil and gas. Growing global demand is stimulating unprecedented levels of new oil and gas exploration and extraction-and the threat of environmental and cultural devastation. Researchers tracked hydrocarbon activities across the region over a four-year period and generated a comprehensive map of oil and gas activities. The maps showed that in Peru and Ecuador, regions designated for oil and gas projects already cover more than two thirds of the Amazon. Of sixty-four oil and gas blocks that cover 72 percent of the Peruvian Amazon, all but eight were approved since 2003, and at least sixteen were signed in 2008. Major increases in activity are also expected in Bolivia and western Brazil…..
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