October 6, 2006
25 Censored Stories of 2007
#1 FUTURE OF INTERNET DEBATE IGNORED BY MEDIA
Throughout 2005 and 2006, a large underground debate raged regarding the future of the Internet. More recently referred to as “network neutrality,” the issue has become a tug of war with cable companies on the one hand and consumers and Internet service providers on the other. Yet despite important legislative proposals and Supreme Court decisions throughout 2005, the issue was almost completely ignored in the headlines until 2006. And, except for occasional coverage on CNBC’s Kudlow & Kramer, mainstream television remains hands-off to this day (June 2006).
Most coverage of the issue framed it as an argument over regulation, but the term “regulation” in this case is somewhat misleading. Groups advocating for “net neutrality” are not promoting regulation of Internet content. What they want is a legal mandate forcing cable companies to allow Internet service providers (ISPs) free access to their cable lines (called a “common carriage” agreement). This was the model used for dial-up Internet, and it is the way content providers want to keep it. They also want to make sure that cable companies cannot screen or interrupt Internet content without a court order.
Those in favor of net neutrality say that lack of government regulation simply means that cable lines will be regulated by the cable companies themselves. ISPs will have to pay a hefty service fee for the right to use cable lines (making Internet services more expensive). Those who could pay more would get better access; those who could not pay would be left behind. Cable companies could also decide to filter Internet content at will.
On the other side, cable company supporters say that a great deal of time and money was spent laying cable lines and expanding their speed and quality. They claim that allowing ISPs free access would deny cable companies the ability to recoup their investments, and maintain that cable providers should be allowed to charge. Not doing so, they predict, would discourage competition and innovation within the cable industry.
Cable supporters like the AT&T-sponsored Hands Off the Internet website assert that common carriage legislation would lead to higher prices and months of legal wrangling. They maintain that such legislation fixes a problem that doesn’t exist and scoff at concerns that phone and cable companies will use their position to limit access based on fees as groundless. Though cable companies deny plans to block content providers without cause, there are a number of examples of cable-initiated discrimination.
In March 2005, the FCC settled a case against a North Carolina-based telephone company that was blocking the ability of its customers to use voice-over-Internet calling services instead of (the more expensive) phone lines. In August 2005, a Canadian cable company blocked access to a site that supported the cable union in a labor dispute. In February 2006, Cox Communications denied customers access to the Craig’s List website. Though Cox claims that it was simply a security error, it was discovered that Cox ran a classified service that competes with Craig’s List.
In June of 1999, the Ninth District Court ruled that AT&T would have to open its cable network to ISPs (AT&T v. City of Portland). The court said that Internet transmissions, interactive, two-way exchanges, were telecommunication offerings, not a cable information service (like CNN) that sends data one way. This decision was overturned on appeal a year later.
Recent court decisions have extended the cable company agenda further. On June 27, 2005, The United States Supreme Court ruled that cable corporations like Comcast and Verizon were not required to share their lines with rival ISPs (National Cable & Telecommunications Association vs. Brand X Internet Services). Cable companies would not have to offer common carriage agreements for cable lines the way that telephone companies have for phone lines.
According to Dr. Elliot Cohen, the decision accepted the FCC assertion that cable modem service is not a two-way telecommunications offering, but a one-way information service, completely overturning the 1999 ruling. Meanwhile, telephone companies charge that such a decision gives an unfair advantage to cable companies and are requesting that they be released from their common carriage requirement as well.
On June 8, the House rejected legislation (HR 5273) that would have prevented phone and cable companies from selling preferential treatment on their networks for delivery of video and other data-heavy applications. It also passed the Communications Opportunity, Promotion, and Enhancement (COPE) Act (HR 5252), which supporters said would encourage innovation and the construction of more high-speed Internet lines. Internet neutrality advocates say it will allow phone and cable companies to cherry-pick customers in wealthy neighborhoods while eliminating the current requirement demanded by most local governments that cable TV companies serve low-income and minority areas as well.
As of June 2006, the COPE Act is in the Senate. Supporters say the bill supports innovation and freedom of choice. Internet neutrality advocates say that its passage would forever compromise the Internet. Giant cable companies would attain a monopoly on high-speed, cable Internet. They would prevent poorer citizens from broadband access, while monitoring and controlling the content of information that can be accessed.
Source: Buzzflash.com, July 18, 2005, “Web of Deceit: How Internet Freedom Got the Federal Ax, and Why Corporate News Censored the Story” by Elliot D. Cohen, Ph.D.
(Update by Cohen)
Despite the fact that the Court’s decision in Brand X marks the beginning of the end for a robust, democratic Internet, there has been a virtual MSM blackout in covering it. As a result of this decision, the legal stage has been set for further corporate control.
Currently pending in Congress is the “Communications Opportunity, Promotion, and Enhancement Act of 2006”(HR 5252), fueled by strong telecom corporative lobbies and introduced by Congressman Joe Barton (R-TX). This Act, which fails to adequately protect an open and neutral Internet, includes a “Title II—Enforcement of Broadband Policy Statement” that gives the FCC “exclusive authority to adjudicate any complaint alleging a violation of the broadband policy statement or the principles incorporated therein.” With the passage of this provision, courts will have scant authority to challenge and overturn FCC decisions regarding broadband. Since under current FCC Chair Kevin Martin, the FCC is moving toward still further deregulation of telecom and media companies, the likely consequence is the thickening of the plot to increase corporate control of the Internet. In particular, behemoth telecom corporations like Comcast, Verizon and AT&T want to set up toll booths on the Internet. If these companies get their way, content providers with deep pockets will be afforded optimum bandwidth while the rest of us will be left spinning in cyberspace. No longer will everyone enjoy an equal voice in the freest and most comprehensive democratic forum ever devised by humankind.
As might be expected, none of these new developments are being addressed by the MSM. Among media activist organizations attempting to stop the gutting of the free Internet is The Free Press (www.freepress.net), which now has an aggressive “Save the Internet” campaign.
#2 HALLIBURTON CHARGED WITH SELLING NUCLEAR TECHNOLOGIES TO IRAN
According to journalist Jason Leopold, sources at former Cheney company Halliburton allege that, as recently as January of 2005, Halliburton sold key components for a nuclear reactor to an Iranian oil development company. Leopold says his Halliburton sources have intimate knowledge of the business dealings of both Halliburton and Oriental Oil Kish, one of Iran’s largest private oil companies.
Additionally, throughout 2004 and 2005, Halliburton worked closely with Cyrus Nasseri, the vice chairman of the board of directors of Iran-based Oriental Oil Kish, to develop oil projects in Iran. Nasseri is also a key member of Iran’s nuclear development team. Nasseri was interrogated by Iranian authorities in late July 2005 for allegedly providing Halliburton with Iran’s nuclear secrets. Iranian government officials charged Nasseri with accepting as much as $1 million in bribes from Halliburton for this information.
Oriental Oil Kish dealings with Halliburton first became public knowledge in January 2005 when the company announced that it had subcontracted parts of the South Pars gas-drilling project to Halliburton Products and Services, a subsidiary of Dallas-based Halliburton that is registered to the Cayman Islands. Following the announcement, Halliburton claimed that the South Pars gas field project in Tehran would be its last project in Iran. According to a BBC report, Halliburton, which took thirty to forty million dollars from its Iranian operations in 2003, “was winding down its work due to a poor business environment.”
However, Halliburton has a long history of doing business in Iran, starting as early as 1995, while Vice President Cheney was chief executive of the company. Leopold quotes a February 2001 report published in the Wall Street Journal, “Halliburton Products and Services Ltd., works behind an unmarked door on the ninth floor of a new north Tehran tower block. A brochure declares that the company was registered in 1975 in the Cayman Islands, is based in the Persian Gulf sheikdom of Dubai and is “non-American.” But like the sign over the receptionist’s head, the brochure bears the company’s name and red emblem, and offers services from Halliburton units around the world.” Moreover mail sent to the company’s offices in Tehran and the Cayman Islands is forwarded directly to its Dallas headquarters.
In an attempt to curtail Halliburton and other U.S. companies from engaging in business dealings with rogue nations such as Libya, Iran and Syria, an amendment was approved in the Senate on July 26, 2005. The amendment, sponsored by Sen. Susan Collins R-Maine, would penalize companies that continue to skirt U.S. law by setting up offshore subsidiaries as a way to legally conduct and avoid U.S. sanctions under the International Emergency Economic Powers Act (IEEPA).
A letter, drafted by trade groups representing corporate executives, vehemently objected to the amendment, saying it would lead to further hatred and perhaps incite terrorist attacks on the U.S. and “greatly strain relations with the United States primary trading partners.” The letter warned that “Foreign governments view U.S. efforts to dictate their foreign and commercial policy as violations of sovereignty often leading them to adopt retaliatory measures more at odds with U.S. goals.”
Collins supports the legislation, stating, “It prevents U.S. corporations from creating a shell company somewhere else in order to do business with rogue, terror-sponsoring nations such as Syria and Iran. The bottom line is that if a U.S. company is evading sanctions to do business with one of these countries, they are helping to prop up countries that support terrorism—most often aimed against America.
Source: Global Research.ca, August 5, 2005, “Halliburton Secretly Doing Business With Key Member of Iran’s Nuclear Team” by Jason Leopold
(Update by Leopold)
During a trip to the Middle East in March 1996, Vice President Dick Cheney told a group of mostly U.S. businessmen that Congress should ease sanctions in Iran and Libya to foster better relationships, a statement that, in hindsight, is completely hypocritical considering the Bush administration’s foreign policy.
“Let me make a generalized statement about a trend I see in the U.S. Congress that I find disturbing, that applies not only with respect to the Iranian situation but a number of others as well,” Cheney said. “I think we Americans sometimes make mistakes…There seems to be an assumption that somehow we know what’s best for everybody else and that we are going to use our economic clout to get everybody else to live the way we would like.”
Cheney was the chief executive of Halliburton Corporation at the time he uttered those words. It was Cheney who directed Halliburton toward aggressive business dealings with Iran — in violation of U.S. law — in the mid-1990s, which continued through 2005 and is the reason Iran has the capability to enrich weapons-grade uranium. It was Halliburton’s secret sale of centrifuges to Iran that helped get the uranium enrichment program off the ground, according to a three-year investigation that includes interviews conducted with more than a dozen current and former Halliburton employees.
If the U.S. ends up engaged in a war with Iran in the future, Cheney and Halliburton will bear the brunt of the blame.
But this shouldn’t come as a shock to anyone who has been following Halliburton’s business activities over the past decade. The company has a long, documented history of violating U.S. sanctions and conducting business with so-called rogue nations.
No, what’s disturbing about these facts is how little attention it has received from the mainstream media. But the public record speaks for itself, as do the thousands of pages of documents obtained by various federal agencies that show how Halliburton’s business dealings in Iran helped fund terrorist activities there — including the country’s nuclear enrichment program.
When asked, Wendy Hall, a spokeswoman for Halliburton a couple of years ago, if Halliburton would stop doing business with Iran because of concerns that the company helped fund terrorism, she said, “No.”
“We believe that decisions as to the nature of such governments and their actions are better made by governmental authorities and international entities such as the United Nations as opposed to individual persons or companies,” Hall said.
“Putting politics aside, we and our affiliates operate in countries to the extent it is legally permissible, where our customers are active as they expect us to provide oilfield services support to their international operations.
“We do not always agree with policies or actions of governments in every place that we do business and make no excuses for their behaviors. Due to the long-term nature of our business and the inevitability of political and social change, it is neither prudent nor appropriate for our company to establish our own country-by-country foreign policy.”
Halliburton first started doing business in Iran as early as 1995, while Vice President Cheney was chief executive of the company and in possible violation of U.S. sanctions.
#3 OCEANS OF THE WORLD IN EXTREME DANGER
Oceanic problems once found on a local scale are now pandemic. Data from oceanography, marine biology, meteorology, fishery science and glaciology reveal that the seas are changing in ominous ways. A vortex of cause and effect wrought by global environmental dilemmas is changing the ocean from a watery horizon with assorted regional troubles to a global system in alarming distress.
According to oceanographers the oceans are one, with currents linking the seas and regulating climate. Sea temperature and chemistry changes, along with contamination and reckless fishing practices, intertwine to imperil the world’s largest communal life source.
In 2005, researchers from the Scripps Institution of Oceanography and the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory found clear evidence the ocean is quickly warming. They discovered that the top half-mile of the ocean has warmed dramatically in the past forty years as a result of human-induced greenhouse gases.
One manifestation of this warming is the melting of the Arctic. A shrinking ratio of ice to water has set off a feedback loop, accelerating the increase in water surfaces that promote further warming and melting. With polar waters growing fresher and tropical seas saltier, the cycle of evaporation and precipitation has quickened, further invigorating the greenhouse effect. The ocean’s currents are reacting to this freshening, causing a critical conveyor that carries warm upper waters into Europe’s northern latitudes to slow by one third since 1957, bolstering fears of a shut down and cataclysmic climate change. This accelerating cycle of cause and effect will be difficult, if not impossible, to reverse.
Atmospheric litter is also altering sea chemistry, as thousands of toxic compounds poison marine creatures and devastate propagation. The ocean has absorbed an estimated 118 billion metric tons of carbon dioxide since the onset of the Industrial Revolution, with 20 to 25 tons being added to the atmosphere daily. Increasing acidity from rising levels of CO2 is changing the ocean’s PH balance. Studies indicate that the shells and skeletons possessed by everything from reef-building corals to mollusks and plankton begin to dissolve within forty-eight hours of exposure to the acidity expected in the ocean by 2050. Coral reefs will almost certainly disappear and, even more worrisome, so will plankton. Phytoplankton absorbs greenhouse gases, manufacture oxygen, and are the primary producers of the marine food web.
Mercury pollution enters the food web via coal and chemical industry waste, oxidizes in the atmosphere, and settles to the sea bottom. There it is consumed, delivering mercury to each subsequent link in the food chain, until predators such as tuna or whales carry levels of mercury as much as one million times that of the waters around them. The Gulf of Mexico has the highest mercury levels ever recorded, with an average of ten tons of mercury coming down the Mississippi River every year, and another ton added by offshore drilling.
Along with mercury, the Mississippi delivers nitrogen (often from fertilizers). Nitrogen stimulates plant and bacterial growth in the water that consume oxygen, creating a condition known as hypoxia or dead zones. Dead zones occur wherever oceanic oxygen is depleted below the level necessary to sustain marine life. A sizable portion of the Gulf of Mexico has become a dead zone — the largest such area in the U.S. and the second largest on the planet, measuring nearly 8,000 square miles in 2001. It is no coincidence that almost all of the nearly 150 (and counting) dead zones on earth lay at the mouths of rivers. Nearly fifty fester off U.S. coasts. While most are caused by river-borne nitrogen, fossil fuel-burning plants help create this condition, as does phosphorous from human sewage and nitrogen emissions from auto exhaust.
Meanwhile, since its peak in 2000, the global wild fish harvest has begun a sharp decline despite progress in seagoing technologies and intensified fishing. So-called efficiencies in fishing have stimulated unprecedented decimation of sea life. Long-lining, in which a single boat sets line across sixty or more miles of ocean, each baited with up to 10,000 hooks, captures at least 25 percent unwanted catch. With an estimated 2 billion hooks set each year, as much as 88 billion pounds of life a year is thrown back to the ocean either dead or dying. Additionally, trawlers drag nets across every square inch of the continental shelves every two years. Fishing the sea floor like a bulldozer, they level an area 150 times larger than all forest clear-cuts each year and destroy seafloor ecosystems. Aquaculture is no better, since three pounds of wild fish are caught to feed every pound of farmed salmon. A 2003 study out of Dalhousie University in Nova Scotia concluded, based on data dating from the 1950s, that in the wake of decades of such onslaught only 10 percent of all large fish (tuna, swordfish) and ground fish (cod, hake, flounder) are left anywhere in the ocean.
Other sea nurseries are also threatened. Fifteen percent of sea grass beds have disappeared in the last ten years, depriving juvenile fish, manatees and sea turtles of critical habitats. Kelp beds are also dying at alarming rates.
While at no time in history has science taught more about how the earth’s life-support systems work, the maelstrom of human assault on the seas continues. If human failure in governance of the world’s largest public domain is not reversed quickly, the ocean will soon and surely reach a point of no return.
After release of the Pew Oceans Commission report, U.S. media, most notably The Washington Post and National Public Radio in 2003 and 2004, covered several stories regarding impending threats to the ocean, recommendations for protection, and President Bush’s response. However, media treatment of the collective acceleration of ocean damage and cross-pollination of harm was left to Julia Whitty in her lengthy feature. In April of 2006, Time magazine presented an in-depth article about earth at “the tipping point,” describing the planet as an overworked organism fighting the consequences of global climate change on shore and sea. In her Mother Jones article, Whitty presented a look at global illness by directly examining the ocean as earth’s circulatory, respiratory and reproductive system.
Following up on “The Last Days of the Ocean,” Mother Jones has produced “Ocean Voyager,” an innovative web-based adventure that includes videos, audio interviews with key players, webcams and links to informative web pages created by more than twenty organizations. The site is a tour of various ocean trouble spots around the world, which highlights solutions and suggests actions that can be taken to help make a difference.
Source: Mother Jones, March /April, 2006, “The Fate of the Ocean” by Julia Whitty
(Update by Whitty)
This story is awash with new developments. Scientists are currently publishing at an unprecedented rate their observations — not just predictions — on the rapid changes underway on our ocean planet. First and foremost, the year 2005 turned out to be the warmest year on record. This reinforces other data showing the earth has grown hotter in the past 400 years, and possibly in the past 2,000 years. A study out of the National Center for Atmospheric Research found ocean temperatures in the tropical North Atlantic in 2005 nearly two degrees Fahrenheit above normal; this turned out to be the predominant catalyst for the monstrous 2005 hurricane season — the most violent season ever seen.
The news from the polar ice is no better. A joint NASA/University of Kansas study in Science (02/06) reveals that Greenland’s glaciers are surging towards the sea and melting more than twice as fast as ten years ago. This further endangers the critical balance of the North Atlantic meridional overturning circulation, which holds our climate stable. Meanwhile, in March, the British Antarctic Survey announced their findings that the “global warming signature” of the Antarctic is three times larger than what we’re seeing elsewhere on Earth — the first proof of broad scale climate change across the southern continent.
Since “The Fate of the Ocean” went to press in Mother Jones magazine, evidence of the politicization of science in the global climate wars has also emerged. In January 2006 NASA’s top climate scientist, James Hansen, accused the agency of trying to censor his work. Four months later, Hansen’s accusations were echoed by scientists at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, as well as by a U.S. Geological Survey scientist working at a NOAA lab, who claimed their work on global climate change was being censored by their departments, as part of a policy of intimidation by the anti-science Bush administration.
Problems for the ocean’s wildlife are escalating too. In 2005, biologists from the U.S. Minerals Management Service found polar bears drowned in the waters off Alaska, apparent victims of the disappearing ice. In 2006, U.S. Geological Survey Alaska Science Center researchers found polar bears killing and eating each other in areas where sea ice failed to form that year, leaving the bears bereft of food. In response, the International Union for the Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources revised their Red List for polar bears, upgrading them from “conservation dependent” to “vulnerable.” In February, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced it would begin reviewing whether polar bears need protection under the Endangered Species Act.
Since my report, the leaders of two influential commissions — the Pew Oceans Commission and the U.S. Commission on Ocean Policy — gave Congress, the Bush administration, and our nation’s governors a “D+” grade for not moving quickly enough to address their recommendations for restoring health to our nation’s oceans.
Most of these stories remain out of view, sunk with cement boots in the backwaters of scientific journals. The media remains unable to discern good science from bad, and gives equal credence to both, when they give any at all. The story of our declining ocean world, and our own future, develops beyond the ken of the public, who forges ahead without altering behavior or goals, and unimpeded by foresight.
#4 HUNGER AND HOMELESSNESS INCREASING IN THE US
The number of hungry and homeless people in U.S. cities continued to grow in 2005 despite claims of an improved economy. Increased demand for vital services rose as needs of the most destitute went unmet, according to the annual U.S. Conference of Mayors Report, which has documented increasing need since its 1982 inception.
The study measures instances of emergency food and housing assistance in twenty-four U.S. cities and utilizes supplemental information from the U.S. Census and Department of Labor. More than three-quarters of cities surveyed reported increases in demand for food and housing, especially among families. Food aid requests expanded by 12 percent in 2005, while aid center and food bank resources grew by only 7 percent. Service providers estimated 18 percent of requests went unattended. Housing followed a similar trend, as a majority of cities reported an increase in demand for emergency shelter, often going unmet due to lack of resources.
As urban hunger and homelessness increases in America, the Bush administration is planning to eliminate a U.S. survey widely used to improve federal and state programs for low-income and retired Americans, reports Abid Aslam. President Bush’s proposed budget for fiscal 2007, which begins October 2006, includes a Commerce Department plan to eliminate the Census Bureau’s Survey of Income and Program Participation (SIPP). The proposal marks at least the third White House attempt in as many years to do away with federal data collection on politically prickly economic issues.
Founded in 1984, the Census Bureau survey follows American families for a number of years and monitors their use of Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF), Social Security, Medicaid, unemployment insurance, child care, and other health, social service and education programs.
Some 415 economists and social scientists signed a letter and sent it to Congress, shortly after the February release of Bush’s federal budget proposal, urging that the survey be fully funded as it “is the only large-scale survey explicitly designed to analyze the impact of a wide variety of government programs on the well being of American families.”
Heather Boushey, economist at the Washington, D.C.–based Center for Economic and Policy Research told Abid Aslam, “We need to know what the effects of these programs are on American families…SIPP is designed to do just that.” Boushey added that the survey has proved invaluable in tracking the effects of changes in government programs. So much so that the 1996 welfare reform law specifically mentioned the survey as the best means to evaluate the law’s effectiveness.
Supporters of the survey elimination say the program costs too much at $40 million per year. They would kill it in September and eventually replace it with a scaled-down version that would run to $9.2 million in development costs during the coming fiscal year. Actual data collection would begin in 2009.
Defenders of the survey counter that the cost is justified as SIPP “provides a constant stream of in-depth data that enables government, academic and independent researchers to evaluate the effectiveness and improve the efficiency of several hundred billion dollars in spending on social programs,” including homeless shelters and emergency food aid.
(Update by Aslam)
As of the end of May 2006, hundreds of economists and social scientists remain engaged in a bid to save the U.S. Census Bureau’s Survey of Income and Program Participation (SIPP). Ideologically diverse users describe the survey as pioneering and say it has helped to improve the uptake and performance of, and to gauge the effects on American families of changes in public provisions ranging from Medicaid to Temporary Assistance to Needy Families and school lunch programs.
A few journalists took notice because users of the data, including the Washington-based Center for Economic and Policy Research (CEPR), which spearheaded the effort to save SIPP, chose to make some noise. By most accounts, the matter was a simple fight over money: the administration was out to cut any hint of flesh from bureaucratic budgets (perhaps to feed its foreign policy pursuits) but users of the survey wanted the money spent on SIPP because, in their view, the program is valuable and no feasible alternative exists or has been proposed.
That debate remains to be resolved. Lobbyists expect more legislative action and among them, CEPR remains available to provide updates. But is it just an isolated budget fight? This is the third time in as many years that the Bush administration has tried — and in the previous two cases, failed under pressure from users and advocates — to strip funding for awkward research. In 2003, it had tried to kill the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) Mass Layoff Statistics report, which detailed where workplaces with more than fifty employees closed and what kinds of workers were affected. In 2004 and 2005, it had attempted to drop questions on the hiring and firing of women from employment data collected by the BLS. Hardly big-ticket items on the federal budget, the mass layoffs reports provided federal and state social service agencies with data crucial for planning even as it chronicled job losses and the so-called “jobless recovery.” The women’s questionnaire uncovered employment discrimination.
In other words, SIPP and the BLS programs are politically prickly. They highlight that, regardless of what some politicians and executives might say, economic and social problems persist and involve real people whose real needs remain to be met. This calls to mind the old line about there being three kinds of lies: lies, damn lies and statistics. To be convincing, they must be broadly consistent. If the numbers don’t support the narrative, something simply must give. With the livelihoods, life chances and rights of millions of citizens at stake, these are more than stories about arcane budget wrangles.
Sources: The New Standard, December 2005, “New Report Shows Increase in Urban Hunger, Homelessness” by Brendan Coyne and OneWorld.net, March, 2006, “US Plan to Eliminate Survey of Needy Families Draws Fire “ by Abid Aslam
#5 HIGH-TECH GENOCIDE IN CONGO
The world’s most neglected emergency, according to the UN Emergency Relief Coordinator, is the ongoing tragedy of the Congo, where six to seven million have died since 1996 as a consequence of invasions and wars sponsored by Western powers trying to gain control of the region’s mineral wealth. At stake is control of natural resources that are sought by U.S. corporations — diamonds, tin, copper, gold and more significantly, coltan and niobium, two minerals necessary for production of cell phones and other high-tech electronics; and cobalt, an element essential to nuclear, chemical, aerospace and defense industries.
Columbo-tantalite, i.e. coltan, is found in three-billion-year-old soils like those in the Rift Valley region of Africa. The tantalum extracted from the coltan ore is used to make tantalum capacitors, tiny components that are essential in managing the flow of current in electronic devices. Eighty percent of the world’s coltan reserves are found in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). Niobium is another high-tech mineral with a similar story.
Sprocket reports that the high-tech boom of the 1990s caused the price of coltan to skyrocket to nearly $300 per pound. In 1996, U.S.-sponsored Rwandan and Ugandan forces entered eastern DRC. By 1998, they seized control and moved into strategic mining areas. The Rwandan Army was soon making $20 million or more a month from coltan mining. Though the price of coltan has fallen, Rwanda maintains its monopoly on coltan and the coltan trade in DRC. Reports of rampant human rights abuses pour out of this mining region.
Coltan makes its way out of the mines to trading posts where foreign traders buy the mineral and ship it abroad, mostly through Rwanda. Firms with the capability turn coltan into the coveted tantalum powder, and then sell the magic powder to Nokia, Motorola, Compaq, Sony and other manufacturers for use in cell phones and other products.
Keith Harmon Snow emphasizes that any analysis of the geopolitics in the Congo, and the reasons for why the Congolese people have suffered a virtually unending war since 1996, requires an understanding of the organized crime perpetrated through multinational businesses. The tragedy of the Congo conflict has been instituted by invested corporations, their proxy armies, and the supra-governmental bodies that support them.
The process is tied to major multinational corporations at all levels. These include U.S.-based Cabot Corp. and OM Group; HC Starck of Germany; and Nigncxia of China — corporations that have been linked by a United Nations Panel of Experts to the atrocities in DRC.
Extortion, rape, massacres, and bribery are all part of the criminal networks set up and maintained by huge multinational companies. Yet as mining in the Congo by western companies proceeds at an unprecedented rate — some $6 million in raw cobalt alone exiting DRC daily — multinational mining companies rarely get mentioned in human rights reports.
Sprocket notes that Sam Bodman, CEO of Cabot during the coltan boom, was appointed in December 2004 to serve as President Bush’s Secretary of Energy. Under Bodman’s leadership from 1987 to 2000, Cabot was one of the U.S.’s largest polluters, accounting for 60,000 tons of airborne toxic emissions annually. Snow adds that Sony’s current Executive Vice President and General Counsel Nicole Seligman was a former legal adviser for Bill Clinton. Many who held positions of power in the Clinton administration moved into high positions with Sony.
The article “Behind the Numbers,” coauthored by Snow and David Barouski, details a web of U.S. corruption and conflicts of interest between mining corporations such as Barrick Gold and the U.S. government under George H. W. Bush, Clinton, and George W. Bush, as well as U.S. arms dealers such as Simax; U.S. defense companies such as Lockheed Martin, Halliburton, Northrop Grumman, GE, Boeing, Raytheon and Bechtel; “humanitarian” organizations such as CARE, funded by Lockheed Martin, and International Rescue Committee, whose Board of Overseers includes Henry Kissinger; “Conservation” interests that provide the vanguard for western penetration into Central Africa; and of course, PR firms and news outlets such as the New York Times.
Sprocket closes his article by noting that it’s not surprising this information isn’t included in the literature and manuals that come with your cell phones, pagers, computers or diamond jewelry. Perhaps, he suggests, mobile phones should be outfitted with stickers that read: “Warning! This device was created with raw materials from central Africa. These materials are rare, nonrenewable, were sold to fund a bloody war of occupation, and have caused the virtual elimination of endangered species. Have a nice day.”
Sources: The Taylor Report, March 28, 2005, “The World’s Most Neglected Emergency: Phil Taylor talks to Keith Harmon Snow”; Earth First! Journal, August 2005, “High-Tech Genocide” by Sprocket; and Z Magazine, March 1, 2006, “Behind the Numbers: Untold Suffering in the Congo” by Keith Harmon Snow and David Barouski
(Update by Sprocket)
There are large fortunes to be made in the manufacturing of high-tech electronics and in selling convenience and entertainment to American consumers, but at what cost?
Conflicts in Africa are often shrouded with misinformation, while U.S. and other western interests are routinely downplayed or omitted by the corporate media. The June 5, 2006, cover story of Time, titled “Congo: The Hidden Toll of the World’s Deadliest War,” was no exception. Although the article briefly mentioned coltan and its use in cell phones and other electronic devices, no mention was made of the pivotal role this and other raw materials found in the region play in the conflict. The story painted the ongoing war as a pitiable and horrible tragedy, avoiding the corporations and foreign governments that have created the framework for the violence and those which have strong financial and political interests in the conflict’s outcome.
In an article written by Johann Hari and published by The Hamilton Spectator on May 13, 2006, the corporate media took a step toward addressing the true reason for the tremendous body count that continues to pile up in the Democratic Republic of Congo: “The only change over the decades has been the resources snatched for Western consumption — rubber under the Belgians, diamonds under Mobutu, coltan and casterite today.”
Most disturbing is that in the corporate media, the effect of this conflict on nonhuman life is totally overlooked. Even with a high-profile endangered species like the Eastern lowland gorilla hanging in the balance, almost driven to extinction through poaching and habitat loss by displaced villagers and warring factions, the environmental angle of the story is rarely considered.
The next step in understanding the exploitation and violence wrought upon the inhabitants of central Africa, fueled by the hunger for high-tech toys in the U.S., is to expose corporations like Sony and Motorola. These corporations don’t want protest movements tarnishing their reputations. Nor do they want to call attention to all of the gorillas’ coltan kills, and the guerrillas it feeds.
It is time for our culture to start seeing more value in living beings, whether gorillas or humans, than in our disposable high-tech gadgets such as cell phones. It is time to steal back a more compassionate existence from the corporate plutocracy that creates destructive markets and from the media system that has manufactured our consent.
(“High-Tech Genocide” and other articles about cell phone technology are available by contacting the author: email@example.com.)
(Update by Snow)
War for the control of the Democratic Republic of Congo — what should be the richest country in the world — began in Uganda in the 1980s, when now Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni shot his way to power with the backing of Buckingham Palace, the White House and Tel Aviv behind him.
Paul Kagame, now president of Rwanda, served as Museveni’s Director of Military Intelligence. Kagame later trained at Fort Leavenworth, KS, before the Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF) — backed by Roger Winter, the U.S. Committee on Refugees, and the others above — invaded Rwanda. The RPF destabilized and then secured Rwanda. This coup d’etat is today misunderstood as the “Rwanda Genocide.” What played out in Rwanda in 1994 is now playing out in Darfur, Sudan; regime change is the goal, “genocide” is the tool of propaganda used to manipulate and disinform.
In 1996, Paul Kagame and Yoweri Museveni, with the Pentagon behind them, launched their covert war against Zaire’s Mobutu Sese Seko and his western backers. A decade later, there are 6 or 7 million dead, at the very least, and the war in Congo (Zaire) continues.
If you are reading the mainstream newspapers or listening to National Public Radio, you are contributing to your own mental illness, no matter how astute you believe yourself to be at “balancing” or “deciphering” the code.
News reports in Time magazine (“The Deadliest War In The World,” June 6, 2006) and on CNN (“Rape, Brutality Ignored to Aid Congo Peace,” May 26, 2006) that appeared are being interpreted by conscious people to be truth telling at last. However, these are perfect examples filled with hidden deceptions and manipulations.
For accuracy and truth on Central Africa, look to people like Robin Philpot (Imperialism Dies Hard), Wayne Madsen (Genocide and Covert Operations in Africa, 1993–1999), Amos Wilson (The Falsification of Consciousness), Charles Onana (The Secrets of the Rwanda Genocide—Investigation on the Mysteries of a President), Antoine Lokongo (www.congopanorama.info), Phil Taylor (www.taylor-report.com) and Christopher Black (“Racism, Murder and Lies in Rwanda”).
It is possible to collect little fragments of truth here and there—never counting on the mainstream system for this—but one must beware the deceptions and bias. In this vein, the elite business journal Africa Confidential is often very revealing. Some facts can be gleaned from www.DigitalCongo.net and Africa Research Bulletin.
Professor David Gibb’s book The Political Economy of Third World Intervention: Case of the Congo Crises is an excellent backgrounder that identifies players still active today (especially Maurice Tempelsman and his diamonds interests connected to the Democratic Party). Ditto King Leopold’s Ghost by Adam Hocshchild, but — exemplifying the expedience of “interests” — remember that Hocshchild never tells you, the reader, that his father ran a mining company in Congo
Professor Ruth Mayer’s book Artificial Africas: Colonial Images in the Times of Globalization is a particularly poignant articulation of the means by which the “media” system distorts and manipulates all things African. And, never forget www.AllThingsPass.com.
Also hoping to correct the record and reveal the truth, the International Forum for Truth and Justice in the Great Lakes of Africa (www.veritasrwandaforum.org), based in Spain, and co-founded by Nobel Prize nominee Juan Carrero Seraleegui, is involved in a groundbreaking lawsuit charging massive crimes against humanity and acts of genocide were committed by the now government of Rwanda.
#6 FEDERAL WHISTLEBLOWER PROTECTION IN JEOPARDY
Special Counsel Scott Bloch, appointed by President Bush in 2004, is overseeing the virtual elimination of federal whistleblower rights in the U.S. government. The U.S. Office of Special Counsel (OSC), the agency that is supposed to protect federal employees who blow the whistle on waste, fraud and abuse is dismissing hundreds of cases while advancing almost none.
According to the Annual Report for 2004 (which was not released until the end of first quarter fiscal year 2006) less than 1.5 percent of whistleblower claims were referred for investigation while more than 1,000 reports were closed before they were even opened. Only eight claims were found to be substantiated, and one of those included the theft of a desk, while another included attendance violations. Favorable outcomes have declined 24 percent overall, and this is all in the first year that the new special counsel, Scott Bloch, has been in office.
Bloch, who has received numerous complaints since he took office, defends his first thirteen months in office by pointing to a decline in backlogged cases. Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER) Executive Director Jeff Ruch says, “…backlogs and delays are bad, but they are not as bad as simply dumping the cases altogether.”
According to figures released by Bloch in February of 2005 more than 470 claims of retaliation were dismissed, and not once had he affirmatively represented a whistleblower. In fact, in order to speed dismissals, Bloch instituted a rule forbidding his staff from contacting a whistleblower if their disclosure was deemed incomplete or ambiguous. Instead, the OSC would dismiss the matter. As a result, hundreds of whistleblowers never had a chance to justify their cases. Ruch notes that these numbers are limited to only the backlogged cases and do not include new ones.
On March 3, 2005, OSC staff members joined by a coalition of whistleblower protection and civil rights organizations filed a complaint against Bloch. His own employees accused him of violating the very rules he is supposed to be enforcing. The complaint specifies instances of illegal gag orders, cronyism, invidious discrimination, and retaliation by forcing the resignation of one-fifth of the OSC headquarters legal and investigative staff. The complaint was filed with the President’s Council on Integrity and Efficiency, which took no action on the case for seven months. PEER was one of the groups who co-filed the complaint against Bloch and Ruch wants to know, “Who watches the watchdogs?”
This is the third probe into Bloch’s operation in less than two years in office. Both the Government Accountability Office and a U.S. Senate subcommittee have ongoing investigations into mass dismissals of whistleblower cases, crony hires and Bloch’s targeting of gay employees for removal while refusing to investigate cases involving discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation.
The Department of Labor has also gotten on board in a behind-the-scenes maneuver to cancel whistleblower protections. If it succeeds, the Labor Department will dismiss claims by federal workers who report violations under the Clean Air Act and the Safe Drinking Water Act. General Counsel for PEER, Richard Condit says, “Federal workers in agencies such as the Environmental Protection Agency function as the public’s eyes and ears…the Labor Department is moving to shut down one of the few legal avenues left to whistleblowers.”
The Labor Department is trying to invoke the ancient doctrine of sovereign immunity, which says that the government cannot be sued without its consent. The Secretary of Labor’s Administrative Review Board recently invited the EPA to raise a sovereign immunity defense in a case where a woman was trying to enforce earlier victories. Government Accountability Project General Counsel Joanne Royce sums up major concerns: “We do not want public servants wondering whether they will lose their jobs for acting against pollution violations of politically well-connected interests.”
Sources: Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility website, “Whistleblowers Get Help from Bush Administration,” December 5, 2005, “Long-Delayed Investigation of Special Counsel Finally Begins,” October 18,2005 and “Back Door Rollback of Federal Whistleblower Protections,” September 22, 2005, all by Jeff Ruch
(Update by Ruch)
With the decline in oversight by the U.S. Congress and the uneven quality of investigative journalism, outlets such as the U.S. Office of Special Counsel become even more important channels for governmental transparency. Unfortunately, under the Bush-appointed Special Counsel, this supposed haven for whistleblowers has become a beacon of false hope for thousands.
Each year, hundreds of civil servants who witness problems ranging from threats to public safety to waste of tax funds find that their reports of wrongdoing are stonewalled by the Office of Special Counsel (OSC). Consequently, these firsthand accounts of malfeasance are not investigated and almost uniformly never reach the public’s attention.
The importance of this state of affairs is that the actual workings of federal agencies are becoming more shrouded in secrecy and disinformation. Americans are less informed about their government and less able to be in connection with the people who actually work for them — the public servants.
In a recent development, employees within the OSC have filed a whistleblower complaint about the Special Counsel, the person who is supposed to be the chief whistleblower defender. After several months delay, the Bush White House assigned this complaint to the Inspector General for the Office of Personnel Management for review. This supposedly independent investigation has just begun in earnest, nearly one year after the complaint was filed.
Also, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) issued a report in May 2006 blasting the Bush-appointed Special Counsel for ignoring competitive bidding rules in handing out consultant contracts. GAO also recommended creating an independent channel whereby Office of Special Counsel employees can blow the whistle on further abuses by the Special Counsel.
In another recent development, PEER’s lawsuit against the Special Counsel to force release of documents concerning crony hires has produced more, heavily redacted documents showing that these sole source consultants apparently did no identifiable work. Ironically, the PEER suit was filed under the Freedom of Information Act, a law that the Special Counsel is also charged with policing.
And in a new annual report to Congress, OSC (stung by criticism about declining performance) has, for the first time, stopped disclosing the number of whistleblower cases where it obtained a favorable outcome. Consequently, it is impossible to tell if anyone is actually being helped by the agency.
PEER’s web page (www.peer.org) on the Office of Special Counsel has posted all developments since this story and also allows a reader to trace the story’s genesis.
# 7 US OPERATIVES TORTURE DETAINEES TO DEATH IN AFGHANISTAN AND IRAQ
The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) released documents of forty-four autopsies held in Afghanistan and Iraq October 25, 2005. Twenty-one of those deaths were listed as homicides. The documents show that detainees died during and after interrogations by Navy SEALs, Military Intelligence, and Other Government Agency (OGA).
“These documents present irrefutable evidence that U.S. operatives tortured detainees to death during interrogation,” said Amrit Singh, an attorney with the ACLU. “The public has a right to know who authorized the use of torture techniques and why these deaths have been covered up.”
The Department of Defense released the autopsy reports in response to a Freedom of Information Act request filed by the ACLU, the Center for Constitutional Rights, Physicians for Human Rights, Veterans for Common Sense and Veterans for Peace.
One of forty-four U.S. military autopsy reports reads as follows: “Final Autopsy Report: DOD 003164, (Detainee) Died as a result of asphyxia (lack of oxygen to the brain) due to strangulation as evidenced by the recently fractured hyoid bone in the neck and soft tissue hemorrhage extending downward to the level of the right thyroid cartilage. Autopsy revealed bone fracture, rib fractures, contusions in mid abdomen, back and buttocks extending to the left flank, abrasions, lateral buttocks, and contusions, back of legs and knees; abrasions on knees, left fingers and encircling to left wrist. Lacerations and superficial cuts, right 4th and 5th fingers. Also, blunt force injuries, predominately recent contusions (bruises) on the torso and lower extremities. Abrasions on left wrist are consistent with use of restraints. No evidence of defense injuries or natural disease. Manner of death is homicide. Whitehorse Detainment Facility, Nasiriyah, Iraq.”
Another report from the ACLU indicates: “a 27-year-old Iraqi male died while being interrogated by Navy Seals on April 5, 2004, in Mosul, Iraq. During his confinement he was hooded, flex-cuffed, sleep deprived and subjected to hot and cold environmental conditions, including the use of cold water on his body and head. The exact cause of death was ‘undetermined’ although the autopsy stated that hypothermia may have contributed to his death.”
An overwhelming majority of the so-called “natural deaths” covered in the autopsies were attributed to “arteriosclerotic cardiovascular disease” (heart attack). Persons under extreme stress and pain may have heart attacks as a result of the circumstances of their detainments.
The Associated Press carried the story of the ACLU charges on their wire service. However, a thorough check of LexisNexis and ProQuest electronic data bases, using the keywords ACLU and autopsy, showed that at least 95 percent of the daily papers in the U.S. did not bother to pick up the story.
The Los Angeles Times covered the story on page A4 with a 635-word report headlined “Autopsies Support Abuse Allegations.” Fewer than a dozen other daily newspapers including: Bangor Daily News, Maine, page 8; Telegraph-Herald, Dubuque, Iowa, page 6; Charleston Gazette, page 5; Advocate, Baton Rouge, page 11; and a half dozen others actually covered the story. The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette and the Seattle Times buried the story inside general Iraq news articles. USA Today posted the story on their website. MSNBC posted the story to their website, but apparently did not consider it newsworthy enough to air on television.
Janis Karpinski, U.S. Brigadier General Commander of the 800th Military Police Brigade, was in charge of seventeen prison facilities in Iraq during the Abu Ghraib scandal in 2003. Karpinski testified January 21, 2006 in New York City at the International Commission of Inquiry on Crimes against Humanity Committed by the Bush administration. Karpinski stated: “General [Ricardo] Sanchez [commander of coalition ground forces in Iraq] signed the eight-page memorandum authorizing a laundry list of harsh techniques in interrogations to include specific use of dogs and muzzled dogs with his specific permission.”
Karpinski went on to claim that Major General Geoffrey Miller, who had been “specifically selected by the Secretary of Defense to go to Guantanamo Bay and run the interrogations operations,” was dispatched to Iraq by the Bush administration to “work with the military intelligence personnel to teach them new and improved interrogation techniques.” When asked how far up the chain of command responsibility for the torture orders for Abu Ghraib went, Karpinski said, “The Secretary of Defense would not have authorized without the approval of the Vice President.”
Sources: American Civil Liberties Website, October 24, 2005, “US Operatives Killed Detainees During Interrogations in Afghanistan and Iraq” and Tom Dispatch.com, March 5, 2006, “Tracing the Trail of Torture: Embedding Torture as Policy from Guantanamo to Iraq” by Dahr Jamail
(Update by Jamail)
This story, published in March 2006, was merely a snapshot of the ongoing and worsening policy of the Bush administration regarding torture. And not just time, but places show snapshots of the criminal policy of the current administration — Iraq, like Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, Bagram Air Force Base in Afghanistan, and other “secret” U.S. military detention centers in Eastern European countries, are physical examples of an ongoing policy which breaches both international law and our very constitution.
But breaking international and domestic law has not been a concern of an administration led by a “president” who has claimed “authority” to disobey over 750 laws passed by Congress. In fact, when this same individual does things like signing a secret order in 2002 which authorized the National Security Agency to violate the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act by wiretapping the phones of U.S. citizens, and then goes on to allow the secret collection of the telephone records of tens of millions of Americans, torture is but one portion of this corrupted picture.
This is a critical ongoing story, not just because it violates international and domestic law, but this state-sanctioned brutality, bankrupt of any morality and decency, is already coming back home to haunt Americans. When U.S. soldiers are captured in Iraq or another foreign country, what basis does the U.S. have now to ask for their fair and humane treatment? And with police brutality and draconian “security” measures becoming more real within the U.S. with each passing day, why wouldn’t these policies be visited upon U.S. citizens?
While torture is occasionally glimpsed by mainstream media outlets such as the Washington Post and Time magazine, we must continue to rely on groups like the Center for Constitutional Rights in New York City, Human Rights Watch, and Amnesty International who cover the subject thoroughly, persistently and unlike (of course) any corporate media outlets.
#8 PENTAGON EXEMPT FROM FREEDOM OF INFORMATION ACT
The Department of Defense has been granted exemption from the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA). In December 2005, Congress passed the 2006 Defense Authorization Act which renders Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) “operational files” fully immune to FOIA requests, the main mechanism by which watchdog groups, journalists and individuals can access federal documents. Of particular concern to critics of the Defense Authorization Act is the DIA’s new right to thwart access to files that may reveal human rights violations tied to ongoing “counterterrorism” efforts.
The rule could, for instance, frustrate the work of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and other organizations that have relied on FOIA to uncover more than 30,000 documents on the U.S. military’s involvement in the torture and mistreatment of foreign detainees in Afghanistan, Guantanamo Bay and Iraq — including the Abu Ghraib scandal.
Several key documents that have surfaced in the advocacy organization’s expansive research originate from DIA files, including a 2004 memorandum containing evidence that U.S. military interrogators brutalized detainees in Baghdad, as well as a report describing the abuse of Iraqi detainees as violations of international human rights law.
According to Jameel Jaffer, an ACLU attorney involved in the ongoing torture investigations, “If the Defense Intelligence Agency can rely on exception or exemption from the FOIA, then documents such as those that we obtained this last time around will not become public at all.” The end result of such an exemption, he told The New Standard, is that “abuse is much more likely to take place, because there’s not public oversight of Defense Intelligence Agency activity.”
Jaffer added that because the DIA conducts investigations relating to other national security-related agencies, documents covered by the exemption could contain critical evidence of how other parts of the military operate as well.
The ACLU recently battled the FOIA exemption rule of the CIA in a lawsuit over the agency’s attempt to withhold information concerning alleged abuse of Iraqi detainees. The CIA’s defense centered on the invocation of FOIA exemption, and although a federal judge ultimately overrode the rule, Jaffer cited the case as evidence of “exemption creep” — the gradual stretching of the law to further shield federal agencies from public scrutiny.
According to language in the Defense Authorization Act, an operational file can be any information related to “the conduct of foreign intelligence or counterintelligence operations or intelligence or security liaison arrangements or information exchanges with foreign governments or their intelligence or security services.”
Critics warn that such vague bureaucratic language is a green light for the DIA to thwart a wide array of legitimate information requests without proper justification. Steven Aftergood, director of the research organization Project on Government Secrecy, warns, “If it falls in the category of ‘operational files,’ it’s over before it begins.”
Thomas Blanton, director of the National Security Archive, adds, “These exemptions create a black hole into which the bureaucracy can drive just about any kind of information it wants to. And you can bet that Guantánamo, Abu Ghraib-style information is what DIA and others would want to hide.”
The Newspaper Association of America reports that, due to lobbying efforts of the Sunshine in Government Initiative and other open government advocates, congressional negotiators imposed an unprecedented two-year “sunset” date on the Pentagon’s FOIA exemption, ending in December 2007.
Sources: New Standard, May 6, 2005, “Pentagon Seeks Greater Immunity from Freedom of Information” by Michelle Chen and Newspaper Association of America website, posted December 2005, “FOIA Exemption Granted to Federal Agency”
(Update by Chen)
The Defense Intelligence Agency, the intelligence arm of the Department of Defense, has been a source for critical information on the Pentagon's foreign operations as well as the DIA's observations of the conduct of other branches of the military. Its request for immunity from the Freedom of Information Act last year was not the first attempt to shield its data from members of the public, but it did come at a time that the government's anti-terror fervor was beginning to crest.
Open-government groups warn that such an exemption from FOIA requests, which the Central Intelligence Agency already enjoys, would close off a major channel for information in a government bureaucracy already riddled with both formal and informal barriers of secrecy. The Pentagon's request alarmed groups like the ACLU, which has relied heavily on such data to build cases regarding torture and abuse of detainees in Iraq.(www.aclu.org/torturefoia/released/042005/).
Since the article was published, the language proposed for the Defense Department budget for FY 2006 was adopted. (The public print of the bill can be read at the GPO website here, buried on page 472: http://frwebgate.access.gpo.gov/cgi-bin/getdoc.cgi?dbname=109_cong_bills&docid=f:s1042pp.txt.pdf)
The bill specifically refers to the immunity of "operational files," though this is somewhat ambiguously defined.
Another development in this issue area over the past year is that secrecy and intelligence gathering have become intense domestic political issues. As a result, heightened public attention to the gradual rollback on open-government laws is beginning to stir some congressional action in the form of hearings and investigative reports, not just related to classified information per se but also the new quasi-classified categories that have cropped up since 9/11 (http://www.fas.org/sgp/congress/2006/index.html).
Earlier this year, the Pentagon initiated a department-wide review of FOIA practices, though it is unclear whether this internal evaluation will lead to actual changes in how information is disclosed or withheld from public purview. (http://www.defenselink.mil/pubs/foi/DoD_FOIA_Review.pdf).
For more on this issue, see: The Project on Government Secrecy, a watchdog group run by the American Federation of Scientists, www.fas.org/sgp/congress/2006/index.html.
The National Security Archives at George Washington University, which has an extensive collection of FOIA documents and has issued numerous reports and studies on government secrecy and FOIA policies: www.gwu.edu/~nsarchiv/nsa/foia.html.
#9 THE WORLD BANK FUNDS ISRAEL-PALESTINE WALL
Despite the 2004 International Court of Justice (ICJ) decision that called for tearing down the Wall and compensating affected communities, construction of the Wall has accelerated.
The route of the barrier runs deep into Palestinian territory, aiding the annexation of Israeli settlements and the breaking of Palestinian territorial continuity. The World Bank’s vision of “economic development,” however, evades any discussion of the Wall’s illegality. The World Bank has meanwhile outlined the framework for a Palestinian Middle East Free Trade Area (MEFTA) policy in their most recent report on Palestine published in December of 2004, “Stagnation or Revival: Israeli Disengagement and Palestinian Economic Prospects.”
Central to World Bank proposals are the construction of massive industrial zones to be financed by the World Bank and other donors and controlled by the Israeli Occupation. Built on Palestinian land around the Wall, these industrial zones are envisaged as forming the basis of export-orientated economic development. Palestinians imprisoned by the Wall and dispossessed of land can be put to work for low wages.
The post-Wall MEFTA vision includes complete control over Palestinian movement. The report proposes high-tech military gates and checkpoints along the Wall, through which Palestinians and exports can be conveniently transported and controlled. A supplemental “transfer system” of walled roads and tunnels will allow Palestinian workers to be funneled to their jobs, while being simultaneously denied access to their land. Sweatshops will be one of very few possibilities of earning a living for Palestinians confined to disparate ghettos throughout the West Bank. The World Bank states:
“In an improved operating environment, Palestinian entrepreneurs and foreign investors will look for well-serviced industrial land and supporting infrastructure. They will also seek a regulatory regime with a minimum of ‘red tape’ and with clear procedures for conducting business. Industrial Estates (IEs), particularly those on the border between Palestinian and Israeli territory, can fulfill this need and thereby play an important role in supporting export based growth.”
Jamal Juma’ notes that the “red tape” which the World Bank refers to can be presumed to mean trade unions, a minimum wage, good working conditions, environmental protection, and other workers’ rights that will be more flexible than the ones in the “developed” world.
The World Bank explicitly states that current wages of Palestinians are too high for the region and “compromise the international competitiveness” even though wages are only a quarter of the average in Israel. Juma warns that on top of a military occupation and forced expulsion, Palestinians are to be subjects of an economic colonialism.
These industrial zones will clearly benefit Israel abroad where goods “Made in Palestine” have more favorable trade conditions in international markets. IPS reporter Emad Mekay, in February 2005, revealed the World Bank’s plan to partially fund Palestinian MEFTA infrastructure with loans to Palestine. Israel is not eligible for World Bank lending because of its high per capita income, but Palestine is. Mekay quotes Terry Walz of the Washington-based Council for the National Interest, a group that monitors U.S. and international policy towards Israel and the Palestinians: “I must admit that making the Palestinians pay for the modernization of these checkpoints is an embarrassment, since they had nothing to do with the erection of the separation wall to begin with and in fact have protested it. I think the whole issue is extremely murky.”
Mekay goes on to note that this is the first time the World Bank appears ready to get actively involved in the Israeli occupation of Palestinian land. Former World Bank president James Wolfensohn rejected this possibility last year. Neo-conservative Paul Wolfowitz was, however, confirmed as president of the World Bank on June 1, 2005.
In breach of the ICJ ruling, the U.S. has already contributed $50 million to construct gates along the Wall to “help serve the needs of Palestinians.”
Linda Heard reports for Al-Jazeerah that the U.S. is currently pushing for bilateral Free Trade Agreements (FTAs) with various Arab states, including members of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), as part of a vision for a larger Middle East Free Trade Agreement. President Bush hopes the MEFTA will encompass some twenty regional countries, including Israel, and be fully consolidated by 2013.
Many in the region are suspicious of the divisive trend of bilateral agreements with the U.S. and worry that the GCC will end up with small, fragmented satellite economies without any leverage against world giants. Prince Saud Al-Faisal, the Saudi foreign minister, stated, “It is alarming to see some members of the GCC enter into separate agreements with international powers…They diminish the collective bargaining power and weaken not only the solidarity of the GCC as a whole, but also each of its members.”
Sources: Left Turn Issue #18, “Cementing Israeli Apartheid: The Role of World Bank” by Jamal Juma and Al-Jazeerah, March 9, 2005, “US Free Trade Agreements Split Arab Opinion” by Linda Heard
(Update by Juma)
“Cementing Israeli Apartheid: The Role of the World Bank” was written last summer as part of Stop the Wall’s campaign efforts to widen attention of those horrified by the construction of the 700 km long wall around Palestinian cities and villages. It aimed to expose the vicious mechanism of control, exploitation and dispossession devised by the Occupation, but moreover the activities of the international community in safeguarding the Wall and making Palestinian ghettos sustainable.
It opens a chapter in a story that no one wants to hear: the globalization of apartheid in the Occupation of Palestine. Zionism has its own racist interest in ghettoizing 4 million Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza and securing the judaization of Jerusalem. It ensures a Jewish demographic majority and ethnic supremacy over as much of Palestine as possible, working against all UN resolutions and the recent ICJ ruling on the Wall.
Within this project it finds allies in the international community keen to exploit cheap Palestinian labor locked behind walls and gates. The degree to which Zionism and the international community — headed by the World Bank — work together with the aim of controlling every aspect of Palestinian life has become increasingly evident since the Left Turn article.
The Palestinian Authority’s (PA) role is reduced to the administrators of the Bantustans. The Palestinian people resoundingly said no to Bantustans at the ballot boxes last January. While the Bank’s initial responsibility was to devise economic policies for the sustainability of a Palestinian Bantu-State, the institution is now facilitating efforts to ensure that Palestinians cannot interfere in the plans of the Occupation and the international community. The World Bank is gearing up to take over the payrolls of various Palestinian institutions, should the PA not comply with Zionist and global interests.
While global IFIs meticulously plan the financial and material survival, and political control of the ghettos, Ehud Olmert offers the slogan of “Final Borders” to describe the project. In legitimizing the Wall, annexing Jerusalem, increasing the number of settlers, and denying the mere existence of the refugees, Olmert finds a willing accomplice in the Bank and its policy makers in Washington, who look to cash in on the Bantu-State.
The Palestinian people will never accept the plan, so it is hoped that they will be starved into it. But we will not kneel down. After dozens of massacres, killings, arrests, and almost sixty years of life in the Diaspora, surrender is too high a price to pay. We are not asking for outside institutions to provide us with bread, but to comply with their duties under international law and support our struggle for justice and liberation.
None of the horrific realities of life in Palestine are apparent in the headlines and doublespeak of mass media and international diplomacy, where our ghettoization is called “state-building.” International complicity with Israeli apartheid is dressed up as “humanitarian aid.” Palestinians are supposed to be grateful for gates in the Wall so they can be funneled between ghettos.
Just like Olmert’s schemes with the White House, the media shuns and neglects the rights and voices of Palestinians. Neither the daily killing of our people, nor the destruction of our homes, the dispossession of our farmers, or the sufferings of 6 million refugees make headlines. The consumers of mainstream media outlets are left to discuss the diatribe of “peace” and “borders,” disputed between the protagonists of our oppression, while the racism, ethnic cleansing and ghettoization continue.
More information on the issue is to be found at our website: http://www.stopthewall.org.
#10 EXPANDED AIR WAR IN IRAQ KILLS MORE CIVILIANS
There is widespread speculation that President Bush, confronted by diminishing approval ratings and dissent within his own party as well as within the military itself, will begin pulling American troops out of Iraq in 2006. A key element of the draw-down plans not mentioned in the President’s public statements, or in mainstream media for that matter, is that the departing American troops will be replaced by American airpower.
“We’re not planning to diminish the war,” Seymour Hersh quotes Patrick Clawson, the deputy director of the Washington Institute, whose views often mirror those of Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld. “We just want to change the mix of the forces doing the fighting — Iraqi infantry with American support and greater use of airpower.”
While battle fatigue increases among U.S. troops, the prospect of using airpower as a substitute for American troops on the ground has caused great unease within the military. Air Force commanders, in particular, have deep-seated objections to the possibility that Iraqis will eventually be responsible for target selection. Hersh quotes a senior military planner now on assignment in the Pentagon, “Will the Iraqis call in air strikes in order to snuff rivals, or other warlords, or to snuff members of their own sect and blame someone else? Will some Iraqis be targeting on behalf of al-Qaeda, or the insurgency, or the Iranians?”
Dahr Jamail reports that the statistics gleaned from U.S. Central Command Air Forces (CENTAF) indicate a massive rise in the number of U.S. air missions — 996 sorties — in Iraq in the month of November 2005.
The size of this figure naturally begs the question, where are such missions being flown and what is their size and nature? It’s important to note as well that “air war” does not simply mean U.S. Air Force. Carrier-based Navy and Marine aircraft flew over 21,000 hours of missions and dropped over twenty-six tons of ordnance in Fallujah alone during the November 2004 siege of that city.
Visions of a frightful future in Iraq should not overshadow the devastation already caused by present levels of American air power loosed, in particular, on heavily populated urban areas of that country. The tactic of using massively powerful 500-and 1,000-pound bombs in urban areas to target small pockets of resistance fighters has, in fact, long been employed in Iraq. No intensification of the air war is necessary to make it commonplace. Jamail’s article provides a broad overview of the air power arsenals being used against the people of Iraq.
A serious study of violence to civilians in Iraq by a British medical journal, The Lancet, released in October 2004, estimated that 85 percent of all violent deaths in Iraq are generated by coalition forces (see Censored 2006, Story #2). 95 percent of reported killings (all attributed to U.S. forces by interviewees) were caused by helicopter gunships, rockets or other forms of aerial weaponry. While no significant scientific inquiry has been carried out in Iraq recently, Iraqi medical personnel, working in areas where U.S. military operations continue, report that they feel the “vast majority” of civilian deaths are the result of actions by the occupation forces.
Given the U.S. air power already being applied largely in Iraq’s cities and towns, the prospect of increasing it is chilling indeed. As to how this might benefit the embattled Bush administration, Jamail quotes U.S. Air Force Lieutenant Colonel Karen Kwiatkowski:
“Shifting the mechanism of the destruction of Iraq from soldiers and Marines to distant and safer air power would be successful in several ways. It would reduce the negative publicity value of maimed American soldiers and Marines, would bring a portion of our troops home and give the Army a necessary operational break. It would increase Air Force and Naval budgets, and line defense contractor pockets. By the time we figure out that it isn’t working to make oil more secure or to allow Iraqis to rebuild a stable country, the Army will have recovered and can be redeployed in force.”
Sources: The New Yorker, December 2005, "Up in the Air" by Seymour M. Hersh and Tomdispatch, December 2005, "An Increasingly Aerial Occupation" by Dahr Jamail
(Update by Jamail)
Eleven days after this story about the lack of reportage in the corporate media about the U.S. military’s increasing use of air power in Iraq, the Washington Post ran a story about how U.S. air strikes were taking an increasing toll on civilians. Aside from that story, the Washington Post, along with the New York Times, remain largely mute on the issue, despite the fact that the U.S. use of air strikes in Iraq has now become the norm rather than being used in contingencies, as they were in the first year of the occupation. Needless to say, corporate media television coverage has remained the same as it did prior to the publishing of this story — they prefer to portray a U.S. occupation of Iraq sans warplanes dropping bombs in civilian neighborhoods.
This story remains a critical issue when one evaluates the occupation of Iraq, for the number of civilians dying, now possibly as high as 300,000 according to Les Roberts, one of the authors of the famous Lancet Report, only continues to escalate. This is, of course, due in large part to U.S. warplanes and helicopters dropping bombs and missiles into urban areas in various Iraqi cities.
It is also important when one looks at the fact that more than 82 percent of Iraqis now vehemently oppose the occupation, because one of the biggest recruiting tools for the Iraqi resistance is U.S. bombs and missiles killing the innocent. Years from now when a corporate media outlet decides to break down and acknowledge that the level of anti-American sentiment in Iraq is as high (or higher) than it is anywhere in the world, and asks the mindless question, “Why do they hate us?” one will only need to look towards the indiscriminate use of air power on the Iraqi population.
One thing is for certain, and that is the longer the failed U.S. occupation of Iraq persists, the more U.S. air power will be used — a scenario that closely resembles that of the shameful Vietnam War.
#11 DANGERS OF GENETICALLY MODIFIED FOOD CONFIRMED
Several recent studies confirm fears that genetically modified (GM) foods damage human health. These studies were released as the World Trade Organization (WTO) moved toward upholding the ruling that the European Union has violated international trade rules by stopping importation of GM foods
Sources: Independent/UK, May 22, 2005, “Revealed: Health Fears Over Secret Study in GM Food” by Geoffrey Lean; Organic Consumers Association website, June 2,2005, “Monsanto's GE Corn Experiments on Rats Continue to Generate Global Controversy” by GM Free Cymru; Independent/UK, January 8, 2006, “GM: New Study Shows Unborn Babies Could Be Harmed” by Geoffrey Lean and Le Monde and Truthout, February 9, 2006, “New Suspicions About GMOs” by Herve Kempf
#12 PENTAGON PLANS TO BUILD NEW LANDMINES
The Bush administration plans to resume production of antipersonnel landmine systems in a move that is at odds with both the international community and previous U.S. policy.
Sources: Inter Press Service, August 3, 2005, “After 10-Year Hiatus, Pentagon Eyes New Landmine” by Isaac Baker and Human Rights Watch website, August 2005, “Development and Production of Landmines”
#13 NEW EVIDENCE ESTABLISHES DANGERS OF ROUNDUP
New studies from both sides of the Atlantic reveal that Roundup, the most widely used weed killer in the world, poses serious human health threats.
Source: Third World Resurgence, No. 176, April 2005, “New Evidence of Dangers of Roundup Weedkiller” by Chee Yoke Heong
#14 HOMELAND SECURITY CONTRACTS KBR TO BUILD DETENTION CENTERS IN THE US
Halliburton’s subsidiary KBR (formerly Kellogg, Brown and Root) announced on January 24, 2006 that it had been awarded a $385 million contingency contract by the Department of Homeland Security to build detention camps in the United States.
Sources: New America Media, January 31, 2006, “Homeland Security Contracts for Vast New Detention Camps” and February 21, 2006, “10-Year US Strategic Plan for Detention Camps Revives Proposals from Oliver North” by Peter Dale Scott; Consortium, February 21, 2006, “Bush's Mysterious ‘New Programs’” by Nat Parry and Buzzflash, “Detention Camp Jitters” by Maureen Farrell
#15 CHEMICAL INDUSTRY IS EPA’S PRIMARY RESEARCH PARTNER
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) research program is increasingly relying on corporate joint ventures.
Sources: Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility, October 5, 2005, “Chemical Industry Is Now EPA’s Main Research Partner” and October 6, 2005, “EPA Becoming Arm of Corporate R&D” by Jeff Ruch
#16 ECUADOR AND MEXICO DEFY US ON INTERNATIONAL CRIMINAL COURT
Ecuador and Mexico have refused to sign bilateral immunity agreements (BIA) with the U.S., in ratification of the International Criminal Court (ICC) treaty despite the Bush administration’s threat to withhold economic aid.
Sources: Agence France Press News (School of the Americas Watch), June 22, 2005, “Ecuador Refuses to Sign ICC Immunity Deal for US Citizens” by Alexander Martinez and Inter Press Service, November 2, 2005, “Mexico Defies Washington on the International Criminal Court” by Katherine Stapp
#17 IRAQ INVASION PROMOTES OPEC AGENDA
The U.S. invasion of Iraq was indeed about the oil. However, it wasn’t to destroy OPEC, as claimed by neoconservatives in the administration, but to take part in it. The U.S. strategic occupation of Iraq has been an effective means of acquiring access to the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC).
Sources: Harper’s in coordination with BBC Television Newsnight, October 24, 2005, “OPEC and the economic conquest of Iraq” and The Guardian March 20, 2006, “Bush Didn’t Bungle Iraq, You Fools: The Mission Was Indeed Accomplished” by Greg Palast
#18 PHYSICIST CHALLENGES OFFICIAL 9-11 STORY
Research into the events of September 11 by Brigham Young University physics professor, Steven E. Jones, concludes that the official explanation for the collapse of the World Trade Center (WTC) buildings is implausible according to laws of physics.
Sources: Deseret Morning News, November 10, 2005, “Y. Professor Thinks Bombs, Not Planes, Toppled WTC” by Elaine Jarvik; Brigham Young University website, Winter 2005, “Why Indeed Did the WTC Buildings Collapse?” by Steven E. Jones and Deseret Morning News, January 26, 2006, “BYU professor's group accuses U.S. officials of lying about 9/11” by Elaine Jarvik
#19 DESTRUCTION OF RAINFORESTS WORST EVER
New developments in satellite imaging technology reveal that the Amazon rainforest is being destroyed twice as quickly as previously estimated due to the surreptitious practice of selective logging.
Source: The Independent/UK, October 21, 2005, “Revealed: the True Devastation of the Rainforest” by Steve Connor
#20 BOTTLED WATER: A GLOBAL ENVIRONMENTAL PROBLEM
Consumers spend a collective $100 billion every year on bottled water in the belief — often mistaken — that it is better for us than what flows from our taps.
Source: OneWorld.net, February 5, 2006, “Bottled Water: Nectar of the Frauds?” by Abid Aslam
#21 GOLD MINING THREATENS ANCIENT ANDEAN GLACIERS
Barrick Gold, a powerful multinational gold mining company, planned to melt three Andean glaciers in order to access gold deposits through open pit mining.
Source: CorpWatch.com, June 20, 2005, “Barrick Gold Strikes Opposition in South” by Glenn Walker and InterPress Service, February 15, 2006, “Chile: Yes, to Gold Mine But Don’t Touch the Glaciers” by Daniela Estrda
#22 $BILLIONS IN HOMELAND SECURITY SPENDING UNDISCLOSED
More than $8 billion in Homeland Security funds has been doled out to states since the September 11, 2001 attacks, but the public has little chance of knowing how this money is being spent.
Source: Congressional Quarterly, June 22, 2005, “Billions in States’ Homeland Purchases Kept in the Dark” by Eileen Sullivan
#23 US OIL TARGETS KYOTO IN EUROPE
Lobbyists funded by the U.S. oil industry have launched a campaign in Europe aimed at derailing efforts to tackle greenhouse gas pollution and climate change.
Sources: The Guardian UK, December 8, 2005, “Oil Industry Targets EU Climate Policy by David Adam and The Independent UK, December 8, 2005, “How America Plotted to Stop Kyoto Deal” by Andrew Buncombe
#24 CHENEY’S HALLIBURTON STOCK ROSE OVER 3000 PERCENT LAST YEAR
Vice President Dick Cheney’s stock options in Halliburton rose from $241,498 in 2004 to over $8 million in 2005, an increase of more than 3,000 percent, as Halliburton continues to rake in billions of dollars from no-bid/no-audit government contracts.
Sources: Raw Story, October 2005, “Cheney’s Halliburton Stock Options Rose 3,281 Percent Last Year, Senator Finds” by John Byrne and Sen. Frank Lautenberg’s website, “Cheney’s Halliburton Stock Options Soar to $9.2 Million”
#25 US MILITARY IN PARAGUAY THREATENS REGION
Five hundred U.S. troops arrived in Paraguay with planes, weapons, and ammunition in July 2005 shortly after the Paraguayan Senate granted U.S. troops immunity from national and International Criminal Court (ICC) jurisdiction. Neighboring countries and human rights organizations are concerned that the massive air base at Mariscal Estigarribia, Paraguay is potential real estate for the U.S. military.
Sources: Upside Down World, October 5, 2005, “Fears mount as US opens new military installation in Paraguay” by Benjamin Dangl; Foreign Policy in Focus, November 21, 2005, “Dark Armies, Secret Bases, and Rummy, Oh My!” by Conn Hallinan and International Relations Center, December 14, 2005, “US Military Moves in Paraguay Rattle Regional Relations” by Sam Logan and Matthew Flynn
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