For the 28th year in a row the Sonoma State University student and faculty program has concluded its annual search for major & significant but under-reported news stories; and once again, Project Censored has cast the spotlight on stories many Americans never heard but need to know about.
"These and other stories in our annual yearbook provide continuing and convincing evidence that mainstream media in the United States is failing to provide the public information it needs in order to function in a democracy," said Sonoma State Professor Peter Phillips, director of Project Censored.
"Alternative media, newspapers and magazines are doing the job, but unfortunately many Americans don't see the alternative press. As a result, much real information is censored simply because it is not available in the papers and television news most people routinely see," he said.
Phillips said every year Project Censored runs head-on into the egos and interests of mainstream media simply because of the project's use of the word "censorship."
"They don't like to hear the suggestion that by not covering certain stories they are effectively censoring the news. But that is exactly the case," said Phillips. "Project Censored defines censorship as the interference with the free flow of information in our society."
The concept of news censorship is more complicated than a government official or industry spin-doctor simply stamping "CENSORED" on information and hiding it from the public, according to Phillips.
"There are a variety of factors that go into censorship in an otherwise democratic society, including the tendency to report entertainment, sex and celebrity news rather than the harder, more serious issues of the day," he said. "Increasingly, we believe the leading factors are the conglomeration of media chains and the ownership and control of media giants such as NBC and CBS by corporations such as General Electric and Westinghouse.
"A reporter for NBC is less likely to investigate nuclear energy issues when he or she knows the corporate boss is chairman of the board of nuclear energy giant General Electric," he said. "That subtle but very effective influence is increasingly the case in newspapers and on television throughout the country."
However pleased he is with Project Censored's success in drawing attention to stories contained in its annual yearbook, Phillips is not gloating. "That's what the students and faculty involved in the project are working for - to point out the shortcomings of the press and encourage mainstream reporters and producers to take the challenge and perform the service we know they are capable of doing if given the chance by their editors," he said. "If we help to inform the public and to cause the media to do a better job, then we will have done our job."
The Top 10 censored stories are culled from reporters, editors and readers from throughout the country. Each story is reviewed by student researchers and faculty experts to determine the veracity and significance of the report and to what extent the subject was covered by mainstream media.
The final list is submitted to a panel of national judges who vote to determine the order of significance.
1. Signs of an Emerging Police State
Since the passage of the 2001 PATRIOT Act, the United States has become increasingly monitored and militarized at the expense of civil liberties. The 2012 passage of the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) has allowed the military to detain indefinitely without trial any US citizen that the government labels a terrorist or an accessory to terrorism.
Additionally, President Barack Obama's signing of the National Defense Resources Preparedness Executive Order has authorized widespread federal and military control of the national economy and resources during “emergency and non-emergency conditions.”
Since 2010, the Department of Homeland Security's If You See Something, Say Something™ campaign has encouraged the public to report all suspicious activity to local authorities, even though actions that the DHS identifies as “suspicious” include the constitutionally protected right to criticize the government or engage in nonviolent protest.
2. Oceans in Peril
We thought the sea was infinite and inexhaustible. It is not. The overall rise in ocean temperature has led to the largest movement of marine species in two to three million years, according to scientists from the Climate Change and European Marine Ecosystems Research project.
A February 2012 study of fourteen protected and eighteen unprotected ecosystems in the Mediterranean Sea demonstrated that this previously healthy sea is now quickly being depleted of resources. An international team of scientists conducted the study over a period of three years and found that in well-enforced marine reserve areas the fish populations were five to ten times greater than the fish populations in unprotected areas. The work of these scientists encourages the establishment and maintenance of marine reserves.
3. Fukushima Nuclear Disaster Worse than Anticipated
Developing evidence from a number of independent sources suggests that the negative consequences of the 2011 Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster are far greater than first acknowledged or understood.
An estimated 14,000 excess deaths in the United States are linked to the radioactive fallout in Japan, according to a December 2011 report published in the International Journal of Health Services.
Meanwhile, the Environmental Protection Agency's radiation-detection network (RadNet) has serious drawbacks, including a lack of maintenance and equipment that is often improperly calibrated.
4. FBI Agents Responsible for Majority of Terrorist Plots in the United States
The Federal Bureau of Investigation has embarked on an unusual approach to ensure that the United States is secure from future terrorist attacks. The agency has developed a network of nearly 15,000 spies to infiltrate various communities in an attempt to uncover terrorist plots. However, these moles are actually assisting and encouraging people to commit crimes. Many informants receive cash rewards of up to $100,000 per case.
5. First Federal Reserve Audit Reveals Trillions Loaned to Major Banks
An audit of the First Federal Reserve reveals sixteen trillion dollars in secret bailouts to major American and European banks during the height of the global financial crisis, from 2007 to 2010. Morgan Stanley received up to $107.3 billion, Citigroup took $99.5 billion, and Bank of America $91.4 billion, according to data obtained through Freedom of Information Act requests, months of litigation, and an act of Congress.
The majority of loans were issues by the Federal Reserve Bank of New York (FRBNY).
"From late 2007 through mid-2010, Reserve Banks provided more than a trillion dollars… in emergency loans to the financial sector to address strains in credit markets and to avert failures of individual institutions believed to be a threat to the stability of the financial system," the audit report states.
"The scale and nature of this assistance amounted to an unprecedented expansion of the Federal Reserve System's traditional role as lender-of-last-resort to depository institutions," according to the report.
Overall, the greatest borrowing was done by a small number of institutions. Over the three years, Citigroup borrowed a total of 2.5 trillion dollars, Morgan Stanley borrowed two trillion; Merrill Lynch, which was acquired by Bank of America, borrowed 1.9 trillion; and Bank of America borrowed 1.3 trillion.
Banks based in counties other than the U.S. also received money from the Fed, including Barclays of the United Kingdom, the Royal Bank of Scotland Group (UK), Deutsche Bank (Germany), UBS (Switzerland), Credit Suisse Group (Switzerland), Bank of Scotland (UK), BNP Paribas (France), Dexia (Belgium), Dresdner Bank (Germany), and Societe General (France).
In recent days, 'Bloomberg News' obtained 29,346 pages of documentation from the Federal Reserve about some of these secret loans, after months of fighting in court for access to the records under the Freedom of Information Act.
Some of the financial institutions secretly receiving loans were meanwhile claiming in their public reports to have ample cash reserves, Bloomberg noted.
The Federal Reserve has neither explained how they legally justified several of the emergency loans, nor how they decided to provide assistance to certain firms but not others.
"The main problem is the lack of Congressional oversight, and the way the Fed seemed to pick winners who would be protected at any cost," Randall Wray, professor of economics at University of Missouri- Kansas City, told IPS.
"If such lending is not illegal, it should be. Our nation really did go through a liquidity crisis - a run on the short-term liabilities of financial institutions. There is only one way to stop a run: lend reserves without limit to all qualifying institutions. The Fed bumbled around before it finally sort of did that," Wray said.
"But then it turned to phase two, which was to try to resolve problems of insolvency by increasing Uncle Sam's stake in the banksters' fiasco. That never should have been done. You close down fraudsters, period. The Fed and FDIC (Federal Deposit Insurance Commission) should have gone into the biggest banks immediately, replaced all top management, and should have started to resolve them," Wray said.
"Since its creation by the U.S. Government in 1913, the Federal Reserve has created so much new money out of thin air that it has destroyed 95 percent of the dollar's value," Joseph Brown, a college student and one of the organizers of a recent protest of the Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta, said. "This hidden inflation tax benefits Wall Street and the government, but hurts the poor and those living on fixed incomes, such as senior citizens, the most," Brown said.
The U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) audit itself was the result of at least two years of grassroots lobbying. IPS reported in June 2009 a wide bi-partisan coalition of Members of Congress had co-sponsored legislation to audit the Federal Reserve.
The GAO also found existing Federal Reserve policies do not prevent significant conflicts of interest. For example, "the FRBNY's existing restrictions on its employees' financial interests did not specifically prohibit investments in certain non-bank institutions that received emergency assistance," the report stated.
The GAO report noted on Sep. 19, 2008, William Dudley, who is now the President of the FRBNY, was granted a waiver to let him keep investments in AIG and General Electric, while at the same time the Federal Reserve granted bailout funds to the same two companies.
"No one who works for a firm receiving direct financial assistance from the Fed should be allowed to sit on the Fed's board of directors or be employed by the Fed," Sanders said.
6. Small Network of Corporations Run the Global Economy
A University of Zurich study reported that a small group of companies--mainly banks--wields huge power over the global economy. The study is the first to look at all 43,060 transnational corporations and the web of ownership among them. The close connections mean that the network could be prone to “systemic risk” and vulnerable to collapse.
The study found that 147 companies formed a 'super entity' within this, controlling 40 per cent of its wealth. All own part or all of one another. Most are banks - the top 20 includes Barclays and Goldman Sachs. But the close connections mean that the network could be vulnerable to collapse.
The 1,318 transnational corporations that form the core of the globalised economy - connections show partial ownership of one another, and the size of the circles corresponds to revenue. The companies 'own' through shares the majority of the 'real' economy
'In effect, less than one per cent of the companies were able to control 40 per cent of the entire network,' says James Glattfelder, a complex systems theorist at the Swiss Federal Institute in Zurich, who co-wrote the research, to be published in the journal PLoS One.
Some of the assumptions underlying the study have come in for criticism - such as the idea that ownership equates to control. But the Swiss researchers have no axe to grind: they simply applied mathematical models usually used to model natural systems to the world economy, using data from Orbis 2007, a database listing 37 million companies and investors.
7. 2012: The International Year of Cooperatives
The United Nations named 2012 as the International Year of Cooperatives. According to the UN, nearly one billion people worldwide are co-op member-owners, and the co-op is expected to be the world's fastest growing business model by 2025. Worker-owned cooperatives provide for equitable distribution of wealth and genuine connection to the workplace, two key components of a sustainable economy.
8. NATO War Crimes in Libya
Libyan conflict invoked humanitarian principles, the results have proven far from humane. In July 2011, NATO aircraft bombed Libya's main water supply facility, which provided water to approximately 70 percent of the nation's population. And, in a failed attempt to appear unbiased and objective, the BBC has revealed, almost a year after the information was relayed by independent media, that British Special Forces played a key role in steering and supervising Libya's “freedom fighters” to victory.
9. Prison Slavery in Today's USA
The US comprises less than 5 percent of the world's population, yet US prisons hold more than 25 percent of all people imprisoned globally. Many of these prisoners labor at twenty-three cents per hour, or similar wages, in federal prisons contracted by the Bureau of Prisons' UNICOR, a quasi-public, for-profit corporation, which is the US government's thirty-ninth largest contractor. As incarceration rates explode in the US, thousands are placed in solitary confinement, often for having committed minor disciplinary infractions within prison.
10. HR 347 Would Make Many Forms of Nonviolent Protest Illegal
In March 2012, President Obama signed into law HR 347, the Federal Restricted Buildings and Grounds Improvement Act of 2011. The law specifies as criminal offenses the acts of entering or remaining in areas defined as “restricted.”
Although pundits have debated to what extent the new law restricts First Amendment rights or criminalizes Occupy protests, it does make it easier for the Secret Service to overuse or misuse existing laws to arrest lawful protesters by lowering the requirement of intent in the prosecution of criminal activity.