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Wednesday, Jan. 5, 2011

The Most Important Stories Not Reported in the Corporate Media

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If you rely on the corporate media for your understanding of our world, you’re not getting the whole story. Here are the top underreported stories, according to the editors of Project Censored. For the full report, go to www.projectcensored.org.

U.S. Department of Defense Is Planet’s Worst Polluter

The U.S. military is responsible for the most egregious and widespread pollution of the planet, yet this information and accompanying documentation goes almost entirely unreported, goes largely unaddressed by environmental organizations and was not the focus of any discussions or proposed restrictions at the recent U.N. Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen, Denmark. This impact includes uninhibited use of fossil fuels, massive creation of greenhouse gases and extensive release of radioactive and chemical contaminants into the air, water and soil.

The extensive global operations of the U.S. military (wars, interventions and secret operations on more than 1,000 bases around the world and 6,000 facilities in the United States) are not counted against U.S. greenhouse gas limits.

“By every measure, the Pentagon is the largest institutional user of petroleum products and energy in general,” wrote Sara Flounders on the International Action Center’s website. “Yet the Pentagon has a blanket exemption in all international climate agreements.”

While official accounts put U.S. military usage at 320,000 barrels of oil a day, that does not include fuel consumed by contractors, in leased or private facilities, or in the production of weapons. The U.S. military—including the operations in Iraq—is a major contributor of carbon dioxide, a greenhouse gas that most scientists believe plays a major role in climate change. But Steve Kretzmann, executive director of Oil Change International, reported that “this information is not readily availablebecause military emissions abroad are exempt from national reporting requirements under U.S. law and the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change.”

Throughout the long history of military preparations, actions and wars, the U.S. military has not been held responsible for the effects of its activities upon environments, peoples or animals. During the Kyoto Accords negotiations in 1997, the United States demanded as a provision of signing that any and all of its military operations worldwide, including operations in participation with the United Nations and NATO, be exempted from measurement or reductions. Even after attaining this concession, the Bush administration refused to sign the accords in 2005 and Congress passed an explicit provision guaranteeing the U.S. military exemption from any energy reduction or measurement.

Environmental journalist Johanna Peace reported that military activities continue to be exempt based on an executive order signed by President Barack Obama that calls for other federal agencies to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions by 2020—despite the fact that, as Peace wrote, “the military accounts for a full 80% of the federal government’s energy demand.”

ICE Operates Secret Detention and Courts

Agents of the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) are holding thousands of U.S. residents in unlisted and unmarked subfield offices and deporting tens of thousands in secret court hearings.

“If you don’t have enough evidence to charge someone criminally, but you think he’s illegal, we can make him disappear,” said James Pendergraph, then executive director of ICE’s Office of State and Local Coordination, in August 2008.

People are held in a vast network of more than 300 detention facilities, located in nearly every state in the country. Only a few of these facilities are under the full operational control of ICE; the majority are jails under the control of state and local governments that subcontract with ICE to provide detention bed space.

ICE has created a network of secret jails designed for confining individuals in transit. These 186 unlisted and unmarked subfield offices are not subject to ICE detention standards and lack showers, beds, drinking water, soap, toothbrushes, sanitary napkins, mail, attorneys or legal information. Many of these subfield offices are in suburban office parks or commercial spaces that reveal no information about their ICE tenants—nary a sign, a marked car or even a U.S. flag.

In addition, there is a complete lack of a real-time database that tracks people in ICE custody, meaning that ICE has created a network of secret jails that can make people disappear. Immigrant detainees can be transferred away from their attorneys at any point in their immigration proceedings, and often are—sometimes for days or even weeks after being transferred.

ICE agents regularly impersonate civilians—Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) inspectors, insurance agents, religious workers—in order to arrest longtime U.S. residents who have no criminal history. Guatemalans in the Boston area are seeing spies infiltrating factories, buses with tinted windows taking away unidentifiable co-workers, and men with guns grabbing their neighbors. One woman in Salt Lake City alleged that ICE agents dressing as Mormon missionaries had visited her house and asked if her husband lived there. The next day, ICE agents arrived and arrested her husband. In response to a question, an anonymously written ICE e-mail explained that impersonating religious officials is part of “ruse operations” and justifiable as a “tool that enhances officer safety.”

And like Iraq or North Korea, the U.S. operates secret courts. Detention centers across the country are restricting public access to immigration courts. The Executive Office for Immigration Review (EOIR), an agency in the Department of Justice charged with managing immigration courts, reported that its judges decided 134,117 deportation cases in 2008, of which 48% were for detainees. The individuals facing deportation hearings in these remote sites—far from their families, indigent and without attorneys—are the most legally fragile population in the country.


Nanotech Particles Pose Serious Risks

Personal products you may use daily and think are harmless—cosmetics, suntan lotion, socks and sports clothes—may contain atom-sized nanotech particles, some of which have been shown to sicken and kill workers in plants using nanotechnology. Known human health risks include severe and permanent lung damage. Cell studies indicate DNA damage. Nanoparticles, extremely toxic to aquatic wildlife, pose clear risks to many species and threaten the global food chain.

According to the Project on Emerging Nanotechnologies (PEN), the technology is heavily used in health and fitness items.

Nanoparticles lend their success to the extraordinary, and sometimes highly unusual, properties they have. The medical industry is investing heavily in nanoparticles to create precision drugs that can target specific tissues, such as cancer cells. While some of these new materials may have beneficial applications in medical procedures, wound dressings and pharmaceuticals, concerns are growing that they may have toxic effects. In particular, nanoparticles have been linked to lung and genetic damage.

In a new British study, researchers discovered an unforeseen process, dubbed “toxic gossip,” by which metal nanoparticles inflict damage to DNA, even through walls of tissue that were not physically breached. Researchers called the finding “a huge surprise,” particularly since the billionth-of-a-meter-scale particles appear to have wreaked their havoc indirectly.

Now, for the first time, a scientific study has established a clear and causal relationship between human contact with nanoparticles and serious health damage. According to an article published in the European Respiratory Journal by a group of Chinese researchers headed by Yuguo Song, from the Department of Occupational Diseases and Clinical Toxicology at the Beijing Chaoyang Hospital, seven young female workers fell seriously ill after working in a paint factory that used nanotechnology. The workers suffered severe and permanent lung damage, as well as itchy eruptions on the face and arms. Two of them died, while the other five have not improved after several years.

Around 500 studies have shown nanotechnology toxicity in animals and the environment. Although Song’s article finds evidence of clinical toxicity in human beings for the first time, according to researcher Silvia Ribeiro, this finding could be only the tip of the iceberg of an extremely risky industry.

Three types of nanoparticles are of particular concern: nanosilver particles; carbon nanofibers; and “buckyballs,” or microscopic, football-shaped cages of carbon.

Nanosilver is known to be highly toxic to aquatic life. While silver is safer for people than other toxics such as lead and chromium, for aquatic organisms the story is quite different. Silver is more toxic to many freshwater and saltwater organisms, including phytoplankton, marine invertebrates such as oysters and snails and different types of fish, especially in their immature stages. Many species of fish and shellfish, as well as their food, are susceptible; widespread exposure to silver impacts and disrupts the health of their ecosystems. Nanosilver is significantly more toxic than lumps of silver because the tiny particles’ huge surface area increases their ability to interact with the environment. Nanosilver has been shown to break down and leach into water systems when, for example, sports garments incorporating silver nanoparticles for odor control are agitated in washing machines. Many waterways are just recovering from high levels of silver introduced by the photography industry during the 20th century. New silver nanoparticle products may result in highly toxic levels of silver being reintroduced into rivers and lakes through water treatment facilities.

Carbon nanofibers, which are added to tires and woven into clothing to produce different colors without using dyes, are also likely to be shed where they can be inhaled and cause lung damage. In a study published in the Journal of Molecular Cell Biology, Chinese researchers discovered that a class of nanoparticles being widely developed in medicine—polyamidoamine dendrimers (PAMAMs)—cause lung damage by triggering a type of programmed cell death known as autophagic cell death. And finally, carbon-based “buckyballs” can be absorbed by simple organisms, raising concerns that toxicities could contaminate the food chain at the most damaging lower levels.

Cuba Provided Key Medical Aid to Haiti

Cuba was the first to come into Haiti with medical aid when the earthquake struck Jan. 12, 2010. Among the many donor nations, Cuba and its medical teams have played a major role in treating Haiti’s earthquake victims. Their pivotal work in the health sector has, however, received scant media coverage.

The Cuban team coordinator in Haiti, Dr. Carlos Alberto Garcia, said the Cuban doctors, nurses and other health personnel worked day and night, with operating rooms open 18 hours a day. During a visit to La Paz Hospital in Port-au-Prince, Dr. Mirta Roses, director of the Pan American Health Organization, which is in charge of medical coordination between the Cuban doctors, the International Committee of the Red Cross and a host of health sector nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), described the aid provided by Cuban doctors as “excellent and marvelous.”

Haiti and Cuba signed a medical cooperation agreement in 1998. Before the earthquake struck, 344 Cuban health professionals were already present in Haiti; more doctors were flown in shortly after the earthquake. Cuban doctors have been organizing medical facilities in a total of 22 care posts aided by financial support from Venezuela. They are also operating nine rehabilitation centers staffed by nearly 70 Cuban physical therapists and rehabilitation specialists, in addition to Haitian medical personnel. The Cuban team has been assisted by 100 specialists from Venezuela, Chile, Spain, Mexico, Colombia and Canada.

But the Cuban medical teams are missing in the media coverage. According to Richard Gott, former foreign correspondent for The Guardian, the Western media has grown accustomed to dealing with Western NGOs. Since Cuban medical teams are outside this predominantly Western humanitarian-media loop, they are likely to receive attention solely from Latin American or Spanish-language broadcasters and print media.

Obama Cuts Domestic Spending, Increases Military Corporate Welfare

President Obama’s decision to increase military spending will result in the greatest administrative military spending since World War II. This decision is being made despite extreme waste, fraud, abuse and corporate welfare in the military budget. At the same time, spending on “non-security” domestic programs—such as education, nutrition, energy and transportation—will be frozen, resulting in inflationary cuts to essential services for the American public in the future.

While these domestic programs constitute only 17% of total federal spending, they will sustain all of the proposed cuts. “[Obama’s] proposal caps non-security spending at $447 billion for each of the next three fiscal years,” stated Jo Comerford, executive director of the National Priorities Project. “During that time, inflation will erode the purchasing power of that total, requiring cuts in services in each successive year.”

The consequences of cutting domestic spending will result in a further increase in the gap between the rich and the poor.

In contrast, military spending is roughly 55% of the discretionary spending in the current fiscal year, and will increase even more next year. According to projections by the Office of Management and Budget, the military budget will increase an additional $522 billion over the next decade.

The costs are staggering. For example, originally expected to cost $50 million, the estimated cost today for one F-35 plane is $113 million. The military branches plan to buy 2,450 of them, as part of a program that could total more than $323 billion.

In addition, there is widespread and continuing waste, fraud and abuse by the Pentagon and military contractors, resulting in welfare for the rich.

A recent hearing of the federal Commission on Wartime Contracting in Iraq and Afghanistan addressed a 111-page report on its initial investigations of the nation’s heavy reliance on contractors. According to a release on the hearing, more than 240,000 contractor employees, about 80% of them foreign nationals, are working in Iraq and Afghanistan to support U.S. operations and projects. Contractor employees outnumber U.S. troops in the region.

“While contractors provide vital services, the commission believes their use has also entailed billions of dollars lost to waste, fraud and abuse due to inadequate planning, poor contract drafting, limited competition, understaffed oversight functions and other problems,” the commission stated.

President Obama is continuing the process of reinflating the Pentagon spending that began in late 1998, three years before the 9/11 attacks. The rise in national defense spending since 1998 is as large as the Kennedy-Johnson surge (43%) and the Reagan increases (57%) put together. The radical increase in military spending now, compared to the World War II and Cold War eras, is justified by the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. However, even if today’s wars are taken out of the picture, there has still been a 54% increase since 1998.

Tom Engelhardt pointed out, “Here’s an American reality: The Pentagon is our true welfare state, the weapons makers are our real ‘welfare queens,’ and we never stop shoveling money their way.”

Excerpted with permission by Project Censored. To read all of the stories in full, go to projectcensored.org.

Top 25 Underreported Stories of the Year


Global Plans to Replace the Dollar

U.S. Department of Defense Is the Worst Polluter on the Planet

Internet Privacy and Personal Access at Risk

ICE Operates Secret Detention and Courts

Blackwater (Xe): The Secret U.S. War in Pakistan

Health Care Restrictions Cost Thousands of Lives in United States

External Capitalist Forces Wreak Havoc in Africa

Massacre in Peruvian Amazon Over U.S. Free Trade Agreement

Human Rights Abuses Continue in Palestine

U.S. Funds and Supports the Taliban

The H1N1 Swine Flu Pandemic: Manipulating Data to Enrich Drug Companies

Cuba Provided the Greatest Medical Aid to Haiti after the Earthquake

Obama Cuts Domestic Spending and Increases Military Corporate Welfare

Increased Tensions With Unresolved 9/11 Issues

Bhopal Water Still Toxic 25 Years After Deadly Gas Leak

U.S. Presidents Charged With Crimes Against Humanity as Universal Jurisdiction Dies in Spain

Nanotech Particles Pose Serious DNA Risks to Humans and the Environment

The True Cost of Chevron

Obama Administration Assures World Bank and International Monetary Fund a Free Reign of Abuse

Obama’s Charter School Policies Spread Segregation and Undermine Unions

Western Lifestyle Continues Environmental Footprint

1.2 Billion People in India to Be Given Biometric ID Cards

Afghan War: Largest Military Coalition in History

War Crimes of General Stanley McChrystal

Prisoners Still Brutalized at Gitmo

Also from the Editors of Project Censored