THE NEW GILDED AGE (Part 2)
THE NEW GILDED AGE (Part 2)
13th March, 2014 0
The investigative research team Project Censored, which sprang out of a journalism workshop at Sonoma State University, defines censorship as “…anything that interferes with the free flow of information in a society that purports to uphold free press principles.” Sponsored by the Media Freedom Foundation every year since 1976, the Project selects the 25 “most censored stories” on the planet.
Every year since 1985 The Review has published their findings, which we are doing again this year in two installments, listed democratically in order of importance according to the Project’s judges.
These stories announced on October 1st are from the 2012-2013 news cycle. The Censored 2014 edition is co-edited by Mickey Huff and Andy Lee Roth and this year’s volume of censored stories is entitled “Fearless Speech in Fateful Times” – a sentiment to which The Review agrees in our post-constitutional era of the Surveillance State.
6. Billionaires’ Rising Wealth Intensifies Poverty and Inequality
As a direct result of existing financial policies, the world’s one hundred richest people grew to be $241 billion richer in 2012. This makes them collectively worth $1.9 trillion, just slightly less than the United Kingdom’s total economic output.
A few of the policies responsible for this occurrence are the reduction of tax rates and tax enforcement, the privatization of public assets, wage controls and the destruction of collective bargaining. These same policies that are building up the richest people are causing colossal hardships to the rest of the world’s population.
George Monbiot has attributed this situation to neo-liberal policies, which produce economic outcomes contrary to those predicted, and even promised, by advocates of neo-liberal policy and laissez faire markets. In consequence, across the thirty-four countries that constitute the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), taxation has decreased among the rich and increased among the poor. Despite what neo-liberals claimed would happen, the spending power of the state and of poorer people has diminished, contracting demand along with it.
Wage inequality and unemployment have both skyrocketed, making the economy increasingly unstable with monumental amounts of debt. Monbiot observed, “The complete failure of this world-scale experiment is no impediment to its repetition. This has nothing to do with economics. It has everything to do with power.”
7. Merchants of Death and Nuclear Weapons
The Physicians for Social Responsibility released a study estimating that one billion people—one-seventh of the human race—could starve over the decade following a single nuclear detonation. A key finding was that corn production in the United States would decline by an average of 10 percent for an entire decade, with the most severe decline (20 percent) in the fifth year. Another forecast was that increases in food prices would make food inaccessible to hundreds of millions of the world’s poorest: the 925 million people in the world who are already chronically malnourished (with a baseline consumption of 1,750 calories or less per day) would be put at risk by a 10 percent decline in their food consumption.
The International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN) released its 180-page study showing that nuclear-armed nations spend over $100 billion each year assembling new warheads, modernizing old ones, and building ballistic missiles, bombers and submarines to launch them. The US still has about 2,500 nuclear weapons deployed and 2,600 more as backup. Washington and Moscow account for 90 percent of all nuclear weapons. Despite a White House pledge to seek a world without nuclear weapons, the 2011 federal budget for nuclear weapons research and development exceeded $7 billion and could (if the Obama administration has its way) exceed $8 billion per year by the end of this decade.
Nuclear-armed nations spend over $100 billion each year on weapons programs. The institutions most heavily involved in financing nuclear arms makers include Bank of America, BlackRock and JPMorgan Chase in the United States; BNP Paribas in France; Allianz and Deutsche Bank in Germany; Mitsubishi UFJ Financial Group in Japan; Banco Bilbao Vizcaya Argentaria (BBVA) and Banco Santander in Spain; Credit Suisse and UBS in Switzerland; and Barclays, HSBC, Lloyds and Royal Bank of Scotland in Britain.
8. Bank Interests Inflate Global Prices by 35 to 40 Percent
A stunning 35 to 40 percent of everything we buy goes to interest. As Ellen Brown reported, “That helps explain how wealth is systematically transferred from Main Street to Wall Street.” In her report, Brown cited the work of Margrit Kennedy, PhD, whose research in Germany documents interest charges ranging from 12 percent for garbage collection, to 38 percent for drinking water and 77 percent for rent in public housing. Kennedy found that the bottom 80 percent pay the hidden interest charges that the top 10 percent collect, making interest a strongly regressive tax that the poor pay to the rich.
Drawing on Kennedy’s data, Brown estimated that if we had a financial system that returned the interest collected from the public directly to the public, 35 percent could be lopped off the price of everything we buy. To this end, she has advocated direct reimbursement. According to Brown, “We could do it by turning the banks into public utilities and their profits into public assets. Profits would return to the public, either reducing taxes or increasing the availability of public services and infrastructure.”
9. Icelanders Vote to Include Commons in Their Constitution
In October 2012, Icelanders voted in an advisory referendum regarding six proposed policy changes to the nation’s 1944 Constitution. In response to the question, “In the new Constitution, do you want natural resources that are not privately owned to be declared national property?,” Iceland’s citizens responded with a decisive “yes.” Eighty-one percent of those voting supported the commons proposal.
The constitutional reforms are a direct response to the nation’s 2008 financial crash, when Iceland’s unregulated banks borrowed more than the country’s gross domestic product from international wholesale money markets. As Jessica Conrad of On the Commons reported, “It is clear that citizens are beginning to recognize the value of what they share together over the perceived wealth created by the market economy.”
After the October vote, Prime Minister Jóhanna Sigurðardóttir said, “The people have put the parliament on probation.”
10. A “Culture of Cruelty” along Mexico–US Border
Migrants crossing the Mexico–US border not only face dangers posed by an unforgiving desert but also abuse at the hands of the US Border Patrol. During their journey through the desert, migrants risk dehydration, starvation, exhaustion and the possibility of being threatened and robbed.
Unfortunately, the dangers continue if they come in contact with the Border Patrol. In “A Culture of Cruelty,” the organization No More Deaths revealed human rights violations by the US Border Patrol including limiting or denying migrants water and food, verbal and physical abuse and failing to provide necessary medical attention.
Female migrants face additional violations including sexual abuse, according to No More Deaths. As Erika L. Sánchez reported, “Dehumanization of immigrants is actually part of the Border Patrol’s institutional culture. Instances of misconduct are not aberrations, but common practice.” The Border Patrol has denied any wrongdoing and has not been held responsible for these abuses.
Public debate on immigration tends to ignore not only the potential dangers of crossing the desert, but also the reasons for the migration of undocumented immigrants to the US. The North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), signed by US president Bill Clinton and Mexican president Carlos Salinas in 1994, displaced many Mexican farmers and workers from their farms. Lack of employment resulting from NAFTA continues to motivate many to migrate to the US.
The Runner-Up Stories
11) Bush Blocked Iran Nuclear Deal
According to a former top Iranian negotiator, Seyed Hossein Mousavian, in 2005 Iran offered a deal to the United States, France, Germany, and the United Kingdom that would have made it impossible for Iran to build nuclear weapons. At that time, Iran did not have the capability to fabricate fuel rods. The offer included the plan to ship its uranium to an “agreed upon country” for enrichment in exchange for yellowcake, the raw material used to make fuel rods. Once uranium is fabricated into fuel rods, it is practically impossible to reconvert for military purposes. As Gareth Porter reports for Consortium News, Mousavian’s account makes it clear that President George W. Bush’s administration “refused to countenance any Iranian enrichment capability, regardless of the circumstances.”
The French and German governments were prepared at the time to discuss the offer and open up negotiations, but the UK vetoed the proposal at the insistence of the United States. “They were ready to compromise but the US was an obstacle,” Mousavian reported in his 2012 memoir, The Iranian Nuclear Crisis.
The continuation of these negotiations could have headed off the current political crisis over the Iranian nuclear program, if not eliminated the threat of war and the strain of strict economic sanctions.
After the US and the UK rejected the offer, the European Union stated that more time was required to consider the proposal, but Mousavian’s team learned later that the EU had no intention of revisiting the proposal.
12) The US Has Left Iraq With An Epidemic of Cancers & Birth Defects
High levels of lead, mercury, and depleted uranium are believed to be causing birth defects, miscarriages, and cancer for people living in the Iraqi cities of Basra and Fallujah. Researchers have claimed that the United States bombings of Basra and Fallujah are to blame for this rapidly increasing health crisis.
A recent study showed more than 50 percent of babies born in Fallujah have a birth defect, while one in six pregnancies ends in a miscarriage. While there is no conclusive evidence to show that US military attacks directly caused these health problems among Iraqi citizens, the immense increase of birth defects and miscarriages after the attacks has been enough to concern a number of researchers.
Military officials continue to dodge questions about the attacks, and about use of depleted uranium in particular, while maintaining silence about the health crisis. Instead, the US government has dismissed the reports as controversial and baseless.
`13) A Fifth of Americans Go Hungry
An August 2012 Gallup poll showed that 18.2 percent of Americans lacked sufficient money for needed food at least once over the previous year. To make matters worse, the worst drought in half a century impacted 80 percent of agricultural lands in the country, increasing food prices. Despite this, in 2012, Congress considered cutting support for Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP)— the official name of its food stamp program—as part of the 2013 Farm Bill.
Proposed Senate cuts would cost approximately 500,000 households about ninety dollars a month in nutritional assistance. Proposed cuts in the House of Representatives would go much further than the ones in the Senate, and would have removed at least 1.8 million people from SNAP. Republicans controlling the House have been eager to cut spending and were the primary supporters of food stamp cuts.
Opponents have expressed concern over the harm the cuts would cause to society’s more vulnerable members, including seniors, children, and working families. Rising food prices would hit Southern states the hardest, while Mountain-Plains and Midwest states would be least affected. Despite all the food hardship, the National Resources Defense Council reported that 40 percent of food in the country goes to waste.
14) Wireless Technology A Looming Health Crisis
As a multitude of hazardous wireless technologies are deployed in homes, schools, and workplaces, government officials and industry representatives continue to insist on their safety despite growing evidence to the contrary. Extensive deployment of “smart grid” technology hastens this looming health crisis.
By now many residents in the United States and Canada have smart meters—which transfer detailed information on residents’ electrical usage back to the utility every few minutes—installed on their dwellings. Each meter has an electronic cellular transmitter that uses powerful bursts of electromagnetic radio frequency (RF) radiation to communicate with nearby meters, which together form an interlocking network. Such information can easily be used to determine individual patterns of behavior based on power consumption.
Utilities sell smart grid technology to the public as a way to “empower” individual energy consumers, allowing them to access information on their energy usage so that they may eventually save money by programming “smart” (i.e., wireless-enabled) home appliances and equipment to run when electrical rates are lowest. In other words, a broader plan behind smart grid technology involves a tiered rate system for electricity consumption that will be set by the utility, to which customers will have no choice but to conform.
15) Food Riots: The New Normal?
Reduced land productivity, combined with elevated oil costs and population growth, threaten a systemic, global food crisis. Citing findings from a study by Paul and Anne Ehrlich, published by the Royal Society, Nafeez Mosaddeq Ahmed identified the links among intensifying economic inequality, debt, climate change, and fossil fuel dependency to conclude that a global food crisis is now “undeniable.”
“Global food prices have been consistently higher than in preceding decades,” reported Ahmed, leading to dramatic price increases in staple foods and triggering food riots across the Middle East, North Africa, and South Asia. The crux of this global phenomenon is climate change: severe natural disasters including drought, flood, heat waves, and monsoons have affected major regional food baskets. By mid-century, Ahmed reported, “world crop yields could fall as much as 20–40 percent because of climate change alone.”
Industrial agricultural methods that disrupt soil have also contributed to impending food shortages. As a result, Ahmed reported, global land productivity has “dropped significantly,” from 2.1 percent during 1950–90 to 1.2 percent during 1990–2007.
By contrast with Ahmed’s report, corporate media coverage of food insecurity has tended to treat it as a local and episodic problem. For example, an April 2008 story in the Los Angeles Times covered food riots in Haiti, which resulted in three deaths. Similarly, a March 2013 New York Times piece addressed how the loss of farmland and farm labor to urbanization contributed to rising food costs in China. Corporate media have not connected the dots to analyze how intensifying inequality, debt, climate change, and consumption of fossil fuels have contributed to the potential for a global food crisis in the near future.
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THE NEW GILDED AGE (Part 2)