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Wednesday, Oct. 1, 2008

The Most Important News Stories

PROJECT CENSORED Releases Its Latest Report

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Each year, Sonoma State University’s Project Censored combs through the alternative press and Web sites to find the most important news stories that the mainstream media ignored.

This year, while traditional media focused on Sen. John McCain’s perceived maverickness, Gov. Sarah Palin’s designer eyewear, Sen. Barack Obama’s preacher, Sen. Hillary Clinton’s pantsuits, Miley Cyrus’ photo shoot and Heath Ledger’s overdose death, independent journalists were uncovering stories that matter.

Here are a few of the most important stories of 2007 and 2008 that you didn’t find in traditional media. To read all of them, go to www.projectcensored.org or purchase a copy of Censored 2009 from Seven Stories Press.

More Than 1 Million Iraqi Deaths Caused by U.S. Occupation

More than 1 million Iraqis have met violent deaths as a result of the 2003 invasion, according to a study conducted by the prestigious British polling group, Opinion Research Business (ORB). These numbers suggest that the invasion and occupation of Iraq rival the mass killings of the last century—the human toll exceeds the 800,000 to 900,000 believed killed in the Rwandan genocide in 1994, and is approaching the number (1.7 million) who died in Cambodia’s infamous “Killing Fields” during the Khmer Rouge era of the 1970s.

ORB’s research covered 15 of Iraq’s 18 provinces. Those not covered include two of Iraq’s more volatile regions—Karbala and Anbar—and the northern province of Arbil, where local authorities refused them a permit to work. In face-to-face interviews with 2,414 adults, the poll found that more than one in five respondents had had at least one death in their household as a result of the conflict, as opposed to natural causes.

Joshua Holland and Michael Schwartz point out that the dominant narrative on Iraq—that most of the violence against Iraqis is being perpetrated by Iraqis themselves and is not our responsibility—is ill conceived. Interviewers from an October 2006 report in The Lancet, a prestigious British medical journal, asked Iraqi respondents how their loved ones died. Of deaths for which families were certain of the perpetrator, 56% were attributable to U.S. forces or their allies. Schwartz suggests that if a low pro rata share of half the unattributed deaths were caused by U.S. forces, a total of approximately 80% of Iraqi deaths are directly U.S. perpetrated.

Iraqis’ attempts to escape the violence have resulted in a refugee crisis of mammoth proportion. According to the United Nations Refugee Agency and the International Organization for Migration, in 2007 almost 5 million Iraqis had been displaced by violence in their country, the vast majority of which had fled since the war started in 2003.

Guest Workers Inc.: Fraud and Human Trafficking

While the guest worker program in the United States has been praised and recommended for expansion by President Bush, and is likely to be considered by Congress as a template for future immigration reform, human rights advocates warn that the system seriously victimizes immigrant workers. Workers, labor organizers, lawyers and policy-makers say that the program, designed to open up the legal labor market and provide a piece of the American dream to immigrants, has instead locked thousands into a modernday form of indentured servitude.

In the process of attaining an H-2 guest worker visa, workers typically fall victim to bait-and-switch schemes that force them to borrow huge sums of money at high interest rates (often leveraging fami- ly homes) in order to land short-term, low-wage jobs that all too often end up shorter-term and lower-waged than promised. Under crushing debt, and legally bound to work only for the employer who filed a petition for them, these workers often face the most dangerous and harsh of working con- ditions in places like shipyards, the forestry depart- ment or construction, with no medical benefits for on-the-job injuries or access to legal services. Bosses often hold workers’ documents to make sure they don’t “jump jobs.”

There are two levels of the current guest worker program—H-2A for agricultural work, and H-2B for non-agricultural work. Though the H-2A program provides legal protections for foreign farm work- ers—such as a guarantee of at least three-quarters of the total employment hours promised, free housing, transportation compensation, medical benefits and legal representation—many of these protections exist only on paper. H-2B workers, on the other hand, have no rights or protections.

In February, President Bush proposed changes to the H-2A program that would make it quicker and easier for growers to import farm workers, but do lit tle to protect the workers’ rights. Under Bush’s plan, farmers could offer housing vouchers instead of directly providing shelter to workers—a method unlikely to work in areas with housing shortages— and would no longer be required to prove that they tried to hire U.S. workers first. The formula used to calculate H-2A visa holders’ wages would also change to one advocates believe would result in lower salaries.

Bush Profiteers Collect Billions From No Child Left Behind
The architect of No Child Left Behind (NCLB), President Bush’s first senior education adviser, Sandy Kress, has turned the program, which has consistently proven disastrous in the realm of education, into a huge success in the realm of corporate profiteering. After ushering NCLB through the U.S. House of Representatives in 2001 with no public hearings, Kress went from lawmaker—turning on spigots of federal funds—to lobbyist, tapping into those billions of dollars in federal funds for private investors well connected to the Bush administration.

A statute that once promised equal access to public education to millions of American children now instead promises billions of dollars in profits to corporate clients through dubious processes of testing and assessment and “supplemental educational services.” What was once a cottage industry has become a corporate giant. “Millions of dollars are being spent, and nobody knows what’s happening,” says Jack Jennings, president of the Center on Education Policy.

The wedding of big business and education bene- fits not only the interests of the Business Roundtable, a consortium of more than 300 CEOs, but countless Bush family loyalists. Sandy Kress, chief architect of NCLB; Harold McGraw III, textbook publisher; Bill Bennett, former Reagan education secretary; and Neil Bush, the president’s youngest brother, have all cashed in on the Roundtable’s successful national implementation of “outcome-based education.” NCLB’s mandated system of state standards, state tests and school sanctions has together transformed our public school system into a for-profit frenzy.

While the Business Roundtable maintains that the high-stakes tests administered nationwide hold schools accountable to “Adequate Yearly Progress,” NCLB has instead benefited the testing industry in the amount of between $1.9 and $5.3 billion a year. NCLB requires states to produce “interpretive, descriptive, and diagnostic reports,” all of which are provided at a price by members of the industry.

Other Kress clients, including Ignite! Learning, a company headed by Neil Bush, and K12 Inc., a for- profit enterprise owned by Bill Bennett, tailored themselves to vie for NCLB dollars.

Under NCLB, as school districts receive federal funding they are required by law to hold 20% of those funds aside, anticipating that their schools will fail to meet the Annual Yearly Progress formula. When that “failure” is certified by test scores, the dis- trict is required to use those set-aside federal funds to pay supplemental education service (SES) providers. Ignite! has placed products in 40 U.S. school districts, and K12 offers a menu of services “as an option to traditional brick-and-mortar schools,” including computer-based “virtual acade mies,” that have qualified for more than $4 million in federal grants. [K12 has taken in $5 million of tax- payer money from its partnership with the Wisconsin Virtual Academy, a charter school in the Northern Ozaukee School District.] Under NCLB, supplemental educational services, whose results are being increasingly challenged, reap $2 billion annually.

Mainstreaming Nuclear Waste
Radioactive materials from nuclear weapons production sites are being dumped into regular landfills, and are available for recycling and resale. The Nuclear Information and Resource Service (NIRS) has tracked the Department of Energy’s (DOE) release of radioactive scrap, concrete, equipment, asphalt, chemicals, soil and more to unaware and unprepared recipients such as landfills, commercial businesses and recreation areas. Under the current system, the DOE releases contaminated materials directly, sells them at auctions or through exchanges, or sends the materials to processors who can release them from radioactive controls. The recycling of these materials—for reuse in the production of everyday household and personal items such as zippers, toys, furniture and automobiles, or to build roads, schools and playgrounds—is increasingly common.

In 2000, the Secretary of Energy banned the com- mercial recycling of potentially radioactive metal. However, the ban does not apply to the disposal, reuse or recycling of metal equipment, components and pipes, or of other materials.

Cruelty and Death in Juvenile Detention Centers
In states across the country, child advocates have harshly condemned the conditions under which young offenders are housed—conditions that involve sexual abuse, physical abuse and even death. The U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) has filed lawsuits against facilities in 11 states for supervision that is either abusive or harmfully negligent. While the DOJ lacks the power to shut down juvenile cor- rection facilities, through litigation it can force a state to improve its detention centers and protect the civil rights of jailed youth.

Lack of oversight and nationally accepted stan- dards of tracking abuse make it difficult to know exactly how many youngsters have been assaulted or neglected.

According to the survey, more than 13,000 claims of abuse were identified in juvenile correction cen- ters around the country from 2004 through 2007—a remarkable total given that the total population of detainees was about 46,000 at the time the states were surveyed in 2007.

The worst physical confrontations have ended in death. At least five juveniles died after being forcibly placed in restraints in facilities run by state agencies or private facilities with government contracts since Jan. 1, 2004.

Marijuana Arrests Set New Record
For the fourth year in a row, U.S. marijuana arrests set an all-time record, according to 2006 FBI Uniform Crime Reports. Marijuana arrests in 2006 totaled 829,627, an increase from 786,545 in 2005. At current rates, a marijuana smoker is arrested every 38 seconds, with marijuana arrests comprising nearly 44% of all drug arrests in the United States. According to Allen St. Pierre, executive director of the National Organization for Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML), more than 8 million Americans have been arrested on marijuana charges during the past decade, while arrests for cocaine and heroin have declined sharply.

Of the 829,627 arrests in 2006, 89% were for possession, not sale or manufacture. Possession arrests exceeded arrests for all violent crimes combined, as they have for years. The remaining offenders, including those growing for personal or medical use, were charged with sale and/or manufacturing.

Meanwhile, enforcing marijuana laws costs between $10 and $12 billion a year.

Bush’s Real Problem with Eliot Spitzer

The exposure of New York Gov. Eliot Spitzer’s tryst with a luxury call girl had little to do with the Bush administration’s high moral standards for public servants. Author F. William Engdahl advises that, “In evaluating spectacular scandals around prominent public figures, it is important to ask what and who might want to eliminate that person.” Timing suggests that Spitzer was likely a target of a White House and Wall Street operation to silence one of its most dangerous and vocal critics of their handling of the current financial market crisis.

Spitzer had become increasingly public in blaming the Bush administration for the subprime crisis. He testified in mid- February before the U.S. House of Representatives’ Financial Services subcommittee and, later that day, in a national CNBC interview, laid blame squarely on the administration for creating an environment ripe for predatory lenders.

On Feb. 14, The Washington Post published an editorial by Spitzer titled, “Predatory Lenders’ Partner in Crime: How the Bush Administration Stopped the States From Stepping In to Help Consumers,” which charged, “Not only did the Bush administration do nothing to protect consumers, it embarked on an aggressive and unprecedented campaign to prevent states from protecting their residents from the very problems to which the federal government was turning a blind eye.”

On March 4, 2008, Spitzer furthermore proposed legislation that would have imposed penalties for mortgage fraud and predatory lending.

The editorial appeared the day after Spitzer’s ill-fated rendezvous with the prostitute at the Mayflower Hotel. With that article, some Washington insiders believe, Spitzer signed his own political death warrant.

What’s your take? Write: editor@shepex.com or comment on this story online at www.expressmilwaukee.com.


Top 25 Stories for 2009

1. More Than 1 Million Iraqi Deaths Caused by U.S. Occupation
2. Security and Prosperity Partnership: Militarized NAFTA
3. InfraGard: The FBI Deputizes Business
4. ILEA: Is the United States Restarting Dirty Wars in Latin America?
5. Seizing War Protesters’ Assets
6. The Homegrown Terrorism Prevention Act
7. Guest Workers Inc.: Fraud and Human Trafficking
8. Executive Orders Can Be Changed Secretly
9. Iraq and Afghanistan Vets Testify
10. American Psychological Association Complicit in CIA Torture
11. El Salvador’s Water Privatization and the Global War on Terror
12. Bush Profiteers Collect Billions From No Child Left Behind
13. Tracking Billions of Dollars Lost in Iraq
14. Mainstreaming Nuclear Waste
15. Worldwide Slavery
16. Annual Survey on Trade Union Rights
17. United Nations’ Empty Declaration of Indigenous Rights
18. Cruelty and Death in Juvenile Detention Centers
19. Indigenous Herders and Small Farmers Fight Livestock Extinction
20. Marijuana Arrests Set New Record
21. NATO Considers “First Strike” Nuclear Option
22. CARE Rejects U.S. Food Aid
23. FDA Complicity in Pushing Pharmaceutical Drugs
24. Japan Questions 9/11 and the Global War on Terror
25. Bush’s Real Problem with Eliot Spitzer
(To read the censored articles in full, go to www.projectcensored.org.)

 

 

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