THE NEW GILDED AGE (Part 2)
THE NEW GILDED AGE (Part 2)
08th February, 2007 0
In this age of broadcast sound bites and 'lifestyle' journalism high on gloss but lean on calories and content, each year Project Censored sends researchers out to scour the media looking for news items that never really made the news, publishing the results in an annual book.
A media watchdog group based at California's Sonoma State University, Project Censored sets out throughout the course of the year to discern the big stories that the mainstream news media either ignored, blacked out, spiked, or under-reported.
Of course, as Project Censored staffers explain every year, their 'censored' stories aren't literally censored, per se. Most can be found on the Internet if you know where to look; and some have even received minimal ink in the mainstream press.
"Censorship", explains project director Peter Phillips, "is any interference with the free flow of information in society. The stories highlighted by our work simply haven't received the kind of attention they warrant."
The stories the researchers identify involved corporate misdeeds and governmental abuses that have been underreported if not totally ignored. The challenge, as the researchers note, is how to get vital information out not only at the margins but also at the center of our culture.
Each year Project Censored's findings provide valuable insights into the kinds of issues mainstream media should be paying closer to attention to.
And The Review is committed to assisting in bringing issues of this sort to the greater light of public consciousness.
#1 Future of Internet Debate Ignored by Media
Sources: Buzzflash.com, July 18, 2005; Title: "Web of Deceit: How Internet Freedom Got the Federal Ax, and Why Corporate News Censored the Story". Author: Elliot D. Cohen, Ph.D. Student Researchers: Lauren Powell, Brett Forest, and Zoe Huffman Faculty Evaluator: Andrew Roth, Ph.D.
Throughout 2005 and 2006, a large underground debate raged regarding the future of the Internet. More recently referred to as "network neutrality," the issue has become a tug of war with cable companies on the one hand and consumers and Internet service providers on the other. Yet despite important legislative proposals and Supreme Court decisions throughout 2005, the issue was almost completely ignored in the headlines until 2006.1 Except for occasional coverage on CNBC's Kudlow & Kramer, mainstream television remains hands-off to this day.
Most coverage of the issue framed it as an argument over regulation-but the term "regulation" in this case is somewhat misleading. Groups advocating for "net neutrality" are not promoting regulation of Internet content. What they want is a legal mandate forcing cable companies to allow internet service providers (ISPs) free access to their cable lines (called a "common carriage" agreement). This was the model used for dial-up Internet, and it is the way content providers want to keep it. They also want to make sure that cable companies cannot screen or interrupt Internet content without a court order.
Those in favor of net neutrality say that lack of government regulation simply means that cable lines will be regulated by the cable companies themselves. ISPs will have to pay a hefty service fee for the right to use cable lines (making internet services more expensive). Those who could pay more would get better access; those who could not pay would be left behind. Cable companies could also decide to filter Internet content at will.
On the other side, cable company supporters say that a great deal of time and money was spent laying cable lines and expanding their speed and quality. They claim that allowing ISPs free access would deny cable companies the ability to recoup their investments, and maintain that cable providers should be allowed to charge. Not doing so, they predict, would discourage competition and innovation within the cable industry. Though cable companies deny plans to block content providers without cause, there are a number of examples of cable-initiated discrimination.
In March 2005, the FCC settled a case against a North Carolina-based telephone company that was blocking the ability of its customers to use voice-over-Internet calling services instead of (the more expensive) phone lines. In August 2005, a Canadian cable company blocked access to a site that supported the cable union in a labor dispute. In February 2006, Cox Communications denied customers access to the Craig's List website. Though Cox claims that it was simply a security error, it was discovered that Cox ran a classified service that competes with Craig's List.
Recent court decisions have extended the cable company agenda further. On June 27, 2005, The United States Supreme Court ruled that cable corporations like Comcast and Verizon were not required to share their lines with rival ISPs (National Cable & Telecommunications Association vs. Brand X Internet Services). Cable companies would not have to offer common carriage agreements for cable lines the way that telephone companies have for phone lines.
On June 8, the House rejected legislation (HR 5273) that would have prevented phone and cable companies from selling preferential treatment on their networks for delivery of video and other data-heavy applications. It also passed the Communications Opportunity, Promotion, and Enhancement (COPE) Act (HR 5252), which supporters said would encourage innovation and the construction of more high-speed Internet lines. Internet neutrality advocates say it will allow phone and cable companies to cherry-pick customers in wealthy neighborhoods while eliminating the current requirement demanded by most local governments that cable TV companies serve low-income and minority areas as well.
#2 Halliburton Charged with Selling Nuclear Technologies to Iran
Source: Global Research.ca, August 5, 2005. Title: "Halliburton Secretly Doing Business With Key Member of Iran's Nuclear Team"
Author: Jason Leopold. Faculty Evaluator: Catherine Nelson
Student Researchers: Kristine Medeiros and Pla Herr
According to journalist Jason Leopold, sources at former Cheney company Halliburton allege that, as recently as January of 2005, Halliburton sold key components for a nuclear reactor to an Iranian oil development company. Leopold says his Halliburton sources have intimate knowledge of the business dealings of both Halliburton and Oriental Oil Kish, one of Iran's largest private oil companies.
Additionally, throughout 2004 and 2005, Halliburton worked closely with Cyrus Nasseri, the vice chairman of the board of directors of Iran-based Oriental Oil Kish, to develop oil projects in Iran. Nasseri is also a key member of Iran's nuclear development team. Nasseri was interrogated by Iranian authorities in late July 2005 for allegedly providing Halliburton with Iran's nuclear secrets. Iranian government officials charged Nasseri with accepting as much as $1 million in bribes from Halliburton for this information.
Oriental Oil Kish dealings with Halliburton first became public knowledge in January 2005 when the company announced that it had subcontracted parts of the South Pars gas-drilling project to Halliburton Products and Services, a subsidiary of Dallas-based Halliburton that is registered to the Cayman Islands. Following the announcement, Halliburton claimed that the South Pars gas field project in Tehran would be its last project in Iran. According to a BBC report, Halliburton, which took thirty to forty million dollars from its Iranian operations in 2003, "was winding down its work due to a poor business environment."
However, Halliburton has a long history of doing business in Iran, starting as early as 1995, while Vice President Cheney was chief executive of the company. Leopold quotes a February 2001 report published in the Wall Street Journal, "Halliburton Products and Services Ltd., works behind an unmarked door on the ninth floor of a new north Tehran tower block. A brochure declares that the company was registered in 1975 in the Cayman Islands, is based in the Persian Gulf sheikdom of Dubai and is "non-American." But like the sign over the receptionist's head, the brochure bears the company's name and red emblem, and offers services from Halliburton units around the world."
In an attempt to curtail Halliburton and other U.S. companies from engaging in business dealings with rogue nations such as Libya, Iran, and Syria, an amendment was approved in the Senate on July 26, 2005. The amendment, sponsored by Senator Susan Collins R-Maine, would penalize companies that continue to skirt U.S. law by setting up offshore subsidiaries as a way to legally conduct and avoid U.S. sanctions under the International Emergency Economic Powers Act (IEEPA).
A letter, drafted by trade groups representing corporate executives, vehemently objected to the amendment, saying it would lead to further hatred and perhaps incite terrorist attacks on the U.S. and "greatly strain relations with the United States primary trading partners." The letter warned that, "Foreign governments view U.S. efforts to dictate their foreign and commercial policy as violations of sovereignty often leading them to adopt retaliatory measures more at odds with U.S. goals."
Collins supports the legislation, stating, "It prevents U.S. corporations from creating a shell company somewhere else in order to do business with rogue, terror-sponsoring nations such as Syria and Iran. The bottom line is that if a U.S. company is evading sanctions to do business with one of these countries, they are helping to prop up countries that support terrorism-most often aimed against America.
Halliburton first started doing business in Iran as early as 1995, while Vice President Cheney was chief executive of the company and in possible violation of U.S. sanctions.
An executive order signed by former President Bill Clinton in March 1995 prohibits "new investments (in Iran) by U.S. persons, including commitment of funds or other assets." It also bars U.S. companies from performing services "that would benefit the Iranian oil industry" and provide Iran with the financial means to engage in terrorist activity.
When Bush and Cheney came into office in 2001, their administration decided it would not punish foreign oil and gas companies that invest in those countries. The sanctions imposed on countries like Iran and Libya before Bush became president were blasted by Cheney, who gave frequent speeches on the need for U.S. companies to compete with their foreign competitors, despite claims that those countries may have ties to terrorism.
#3 Oceans of the World in Extreme Danger
Source: Mother Jones, March /April, 2006; Title: The Fate of the Ocean. Author: Julia Whitty. Faculty Evaluator: Dolly Freidel
Student Researcher: Charlene Jones
Oceanic problems once found on a local scale are now pandemic. Data from oceanography, marine biology, meteorology, fishery science, and glaciology reveal that the seas are changing in ominous ways. A vortex of cause and effect wrought by global environmental dilemmas is changing the ocean from a watery horizon with assorted regional troubles to a global system in alarming distress.
According to oceanographers the oceans are one, with currents linking the seas and regulating climate. Sea temperature and chemistry changes, along with contamination and reckless fishing practices, intertwine to imperil the world's largest communal life source.
In 2005, researchers from the Scripps Institution of Oceanography and the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory found clear evidence the ocean is quickly warming. They discovered that the top half-mile of the ocean has warmed dramatically in the past forty years as a result of human-induced greenhouse gases.
One manifestation of this warming is the melting of the Arctic. A shrinking ratio of ice to water has set off a feedback loop, accelerating the increase in water surfaces that promote further warming and melting. With polar waters growing fresher and tropical seas saltier, the cycle of evaporation and precipitation has quickened, further invigorating the greenhouse effect. The ocean's currents are reacting to this freshening, causing a critical conveyor that carries warm upper waters into Europe's northern latitudes to slow by one third since 1957, bolstering fears of a shut down and cataclysmic climate change. This accelerating cycle of cause and effect will be difficult, if not impossible, to reverse. Atmospheric litter is also altering sea chemistry, as thousands of toxic compounds poison marine creatures and devastate propagation. The ocean has absorbed an estimated 118 billion metric tons of carbon dioxide since the onset of the Industrial Revolution, with 20 to 25 tons being added to the atmosphere daily. Increasing acidity from rising levels of CO2 is changing the ocean's PH balance. Studies indicate that the shells and skeletons possessed by everything from reef-building corals to mollusks and plankton begin to dissolve within forty-eight hours of exposure to the acidity expected in the ocean by 2050. Coral reefs will almost certainly disappear and, even more worrisome, so will plankton. Phytoplankton absorb greenhouse gases, manufacture oxygen, and are the primary producers of the marine food web.
Mercury pollution enters the food web via coal and chemical industry waste, oxidizes in the atmosphere, and settles to the sea bottom. There it is consumed, delivering mercury to each subsequent link in the food chain, until predators such as tuna or whales carry levels of mercury as much as one million times that of the waters around them. The Gulf of Mexico has the highest mercury levels ever recorded, with an average of ten tons of mercury coming down the Mississippi River every year, and another ton added by offshore drilling.
Meanwhile, since its peak in 2000, the global wild fish harvest has begun a sharp decline despite progress in seagoing technologies and intensified fishing. So-called efficiencies in fishing have stimulated unprecedented decimation of sealife. Long-lining, in which a single boat sets line across sixty or more miles of ocean, each baited with up to 10,000 hooks, captures at least 25 percent unwanted catch. With an estimated 2 billion hooks set each year, as much as 88 billion pounds of life a year is thrown back to the ocean either dead or dying.
Other sea nurseries are also threatened. Fifteen percent of seagrass beds have disappeared in the last ten years, depriving juvenile fish, manatees, and sea turtles of critical habitats. Kelp beds are also dying at alarming rates.
#4 Hunger & Homelessness Increasing in the US
Sources: The New Standard, December 2005; Title: "New Report Shows Increase in Urban Hunger, Homelessness" Author: Brendan Coyne. OneWorld.net, March, 2006. Title: "US Plan to Eliminate Survey of Needy Families Draws Fire ". Author: Abid Aslam
Faculty Evaluator: Myrna Goodman. Student Researcher: Arlene Ward and Brett Forest
The number of hungry and homeless people in U.S. cities continued to grow in 2005, despite claims of an improved economy. Increased demand for vital services rose as needs of the most destitute went unmet, according to the annual U.S. Conference of Mayors Report, which has documented increasing need since its 1982 inception.
The study measures instances of emergency food and housing assistance in twenty-four U.S. cities and utilizes supplemental information from the U.S. Census and Department of Labor. More than three-quarters of cities surveyed reported increases in demand for food and housing, especially among families. Food aid requests expanded by 12 percent in 2005, while aid center and food bank resources grew by only 7 percent. Service providers estimated 18 percent of requests went unattended. Housing followed a similar trend, as a majority of cities reported an increase in demand for emergency shelter, often going unmet due to lack of resources.
As urban hunger and homelessness increases in America, the Bush administration is planning to eliminate a U.S. survey widely used to improve federal and state programs for low-income and retired Americans, reports Abid Aslam.
President Bush's proposed budget for fiscal 2007, which begins October 2006, includes a Commerce Department plan to eliminate the Census Bureau's Survey of Income and Program Participation (SIPP). The proposal marks at least the third White House attempt in as many years to do away with federal data collection on politically prickly economic issues.
Founded in 1984, the Census Bureau survey follows American families for a number of years and monitors their use of Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF), Social Security, Medicaid, unemployment insurance, child care, and other health, social service, and education programs. Some 415 economists and social scientists signed a letter and sent it to Congress, shortly after the February release of Bush's federal budget proposal, urging that the survey be fully funded as it "is the only large-scale survey explicitly designed to analyze the impact of a wide variety of government programs on the well being of American families."
Supporters of the survey elimination say the program costs too much at $40 million per year. They would kill it in September and eventually replace it with a scaled-down version that would run to $9.2 million in development costs during the coming fiscal year. Actual data collection would begin in 2009.
Defenders of the survey counter that the cost is justified as SIPP "provides a constant stream of in-depth data that enables government, academic, and independent researchers to evaluate the effectiveness and improve the efficiency of several hundred billion dollars in spending on social programs," including homeless shelters and emergency food aid.
#5 High-Tech Genocide in Congo
Sources: The Taylor Report, March 28, 2005. Title: "The World's Most Neglected Emergency: Phil Taylor talks to Keith Harmon Snow". Earth First! Journal, August 2005. Title: "High-Tech Genocide". Author: Sprocket. Z Magazine, March 1, 2006
Title: "Behind the Numbers: Untold Suffering in the Congo"
Authors: Keith Harmon Snow and David Barouski
Faculty Evaluator: Thom Lough
Student Researchers: Deyango Harris and Daniel Turner
The world's most neglected emergency, according to the UN Emergency Relief Coordinator, is the ongoing tragedy of the Congo, where six to seven million have died since 1996 as a consequence of invasions and wars sponsored by western powers trying to gain control of the region's mineral wealth. At stake is control of natural resources that are sought by U.S. corporations-diamonds, tin, copper, gold, and more significantly, coltan and niobium, two minerals necessary for production of cell phones and other high-tech electronics; and cobalt, an element essential to nuclear, chemical, aerospace, and defense industries.
Columbo-tantalite, i.e. coltan, is found in three-billion-year-old soils like those in the Rift Valley region of Africa. The tantalum extracted from the coltan ore is used to make tantalum capacitors, tiny components that are essential in managing the flow of current in electronic devices. Eighty percent of the world's coltan reserves are found in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). Niobium is another high-tech mineral with a similar story.
Sprocket reports that the high-tech boom of the 1990s caused the price of coltan to skyrocket to nearly $300 per pound. In 1996 U.S.-sponsored Rwandan and Ugandan forces entered eastern DRC. By 1998 they seized control and moved into strategic mining areas. The Rwandan Army was soon making $20 million or more a month from coltan mining. Though the price of coltan has fallen, Rwanda maintains its monopoly on coltan and the coltan trade in DRC. Reports of rampant human rights abuses pour out of this mining region.
Coltan makes its way out of the mines to trading posts where foreign traders buy the mineral and ship it abroad, mostly through Rwanda. Firms with the capability turn coltan into the coveted tantalum powder, and then sell the magic powder to Nokia, Motorola, Compaq, Sony, and other manufacturers for use in cell phones and other products.
Keith Harmon Snow emphasizes that any analysis of the geopolitics in the Congo, and the reasons for why the Congolese people have suffered a virtually unending war since 1996, requires an understanding of the organized crime perpetrated through multinational businesses. Invested corporations, their proxy armies, and the supra-governmental bodies that support them have instituted the tragedy of the Congo conflict.
The process is tied to major multinational corporations at all levels. These include U.S.-based Cabot Corp. and OM Group; HC Starck of Germany; and Nigncxia of China-corporations that have been linked by a United Nations Panel of Experts to the atrocities in DRC. Extortion, rape, massacres, and bribery are all part of the criminal networks set up and maintained by huge multinational companies. Yet as mining in the Congo by western companies proceeds at an unprecedented rate-some $6 million in raw cobalt alone exiting DRC daily-multinational mining companies rarely get mentioned in human rights reports. Sprocket notes that Sam Bodman, CEO of Cabot during the coltan boom, was appointed in December 2004 to serve as President Bush's Secretary of Energy. Under Bodman's leadership from 1987 to 2000, Cabot was one of the U.S.'s largest polluters, accounting for 60,000 tons of airborne toxic emissions annually. Snow adds that Sony's current Executive Vice President and General Counsel Nicole Seligman was a former legal adviser for Bill Clinton. Many who held positions of power in the Clinton administration moved into high positions with Sony.
The article "Behind the Numbers," coauthored by Snow and David Barouski, details a web of U.S. corruption and conflicts of interest between mining corporations such as Barrick Gold (see Story #21) and the U.S. government under George H. W. Bush, Bill Clinton, and George W. Bush, as well as U.S. arms dealers such as Simax; U.S. defense companies such as Lockheed Martin, Halliburton, Northrop Grumman, GE, Boeing, Raytheon, and Bechtel; "humanitarian" organizations such as CARE, funded by Lockheed Martin, and International Rescue Committee, whose Board of Overseers includes Henry Kissinger; "Conservation" interests that provide the vanguard for western penetration into Central Africa; and of course, PR firms and news outlets such as the New York Times.
Sprocket closes his article by noting that it's not surprising this information isn't included in the literature and manuals that come with your cell phones, pagers, computers, or diamond jewelry. Perhaps, he suggests, mobile phones should be outfitted with stickers that read: "Warning! This device was created with raw materials from central Africa. These materials are rare, nonrenewable, were sold to fund a bloody war of occupation, and have caused the virtual elimination of endangered species. Have a nice day." People need to realize, he says, that there is a direct link between the gadgets that make our lives more convenient and sophisticated-and the reality of the violence, turmoil, and destruction that plague our world.
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THE NEW GILDED AGE (Part 2)