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The Top 25 Censored Stories of 2008-9 PDF Print E-mail
News/Features - Feature Stories
Written by Administrator   
Thursday, 12 November 2009 06:32

Each year, Project Censored selects 25 "important national news stories that are underreported, ignored, misrepresented, or censored by the U.S. corporate media."

For the full summary for each of this year's selections, including the original sources and Web resources, visit ProjectCensored.org/top-stories/category/two-thousand-and-ten-book/.

1. U.S. Congress Sells Out to Wall Street

Federal lawmakers responsible for overseeing the U.S. 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 $3.1 million. The donors include investment bankers Bear Stearns, Goldman Sachs, Lehman Brothers, Merrill Lynch, and 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, & Urban Affairs, Senate Finance Committee, and House Financial Services Committee received $5.2 million from TARP recipients in the 2007-8 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, which 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 & Governance.

For instance, in 2004 when the Securities & Exchange Commission adopted a major rule change that freed investment banks to plunge tens of billions of dollars in borrowed money into subprime mortgages and other risky plays, congressional banking committees held no oversight hearings. Congressional inaction also allowed mortgage agents to earn high fees for peddling loans to unqualified homebuyers and prevented states from toughening regulations on predatory lending practices.

Author Matt Taibbi writes that some of the most egregious selling of the U.S. government to Wall Street happened in the late 1990s, when "Democrats, tired of getting slaughtered in the fundraising arena by Republicans, decided to throw off their old reliance on unions and interest groups and become more 'business-friendly.' Wall Street responded by flooding Washington with money, buying allies in both parties." In the 10-year period beginning in 1998, financial companies spent $1.7 billion on federal campaign contributions and another $3.4 billion on lobbyists. Wise political investments enabled the nation's top bankers to effectively scrap any meaningful oversight of the financial industry.

2. U.S. 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 prepared for college or a future in the U.S. economy.

According to a new civil-rights report published at the University of California at Los Angeles, 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.

The most severe segregation in public schools is in the Western states, including California -- not in the South, as many people believe.

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 dumping toxic waste and poaching in Somali waters since the fall of the Somali government 18 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, there were more than 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 a valuable 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 in northern Somalia.

Nick Nuttall, a UNEP spokesperson, said 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."

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 200 million 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 more than $500 billion in off-site property damage.

The Nuclear Regulatory Commission has estimated that there is a 1 in 100 chance of pool fire happening under the best of scenarios.

5. Europe Blocks U.S. Toxic Products

U.S. deregulation of toxic substances, such as lead in lipstick, 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 Europe-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 to 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, & 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 U.S. produce or import hundreds of chemicals designated as dangerous by the European Union. Large amounts of these chemicals are being produced in 37 states, in as many as 87 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 U.S. Companies & 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, and only two are regulated in any form under U.S. law.

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, and real estate sector a runner up, spending $453.5 million. The pharmaceutical/health-products industry contributed $230.9 million, raising its 11-year total to more than $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

President Barack Obama's retention of Robert Gates as Secretary of Defense makes Gates the first appointment from an outgoing administration of an 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 U.S. 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 U.S. 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 reported that 83 of the top publicly held U.S. companies have operations in tax havens such as 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. UBS, a sponsor of the prestigious Miami Art Basel show, takes advantage of this public event to build relationships with the rich by helping them find ways to avoid paying taxes in the U.S.

9. U.S. Arms Used for War Crimes in Gaza

Israel's repeated firing of U.S.-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.

The 71-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 Israeli firepower, unleashed largely on Palestinian civilians in Gaza during the three-week attack starting December 27, 2008, was fueled by U.S.-supplied weapons paid for with U.S. tax dollars. Washington provided F-16 fighter planes, Apache helicopters, tactical missiles, and a wide array of munitions, including white phosphorous.

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, U.S. Securities & 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. The country's debt rose from $1.17 billion in 1970 to more than $14.25 billion in 2006, a 12-fold increase, due in large part to interest rates that rose at the discretion of U.S. banks and Federal Reserve from 6 percent in 1979 to 21 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 led to exorbitant interest rates, which, combined with illegal borrowing by former dictators, has turned the country, along with many of its neighbors, into a major capital 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, 14 percent was used for social-development projects. The remaining 86 percent was used to pay for previously accumulated debt.