Each year, a growing coalition of media critics and democracy-guarding students led by professors at Sonoma* State University exhume the should-have-been headlines beneath the headlines — those stories that either never, or only very rarely, received the attention they deserved. Last year, picks included the risks associated with nuclear fuel storage in North Carolina, for instance, even as the Current was chronicling nearly identical dangers at the South Texas Project nuclear complex outside Bay City (where a fire involving nearly 2,000 fuel assemblies stored at STP could lead to 26,000 deaths in a 500-mile radius, according to the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission. `See “Risky Business,” September 30,2009`).
And while the conspiratorial buzz locally may have been about the Perry-promoted NAFTA Superhighway and dawn of an hemispheric monetary system (we’ll raise you an amero, amigo), the big story of 2010 that you likely never heard of involves international plans to unseat the dollar on the world stage to further disrupt the U.S. economy. While the Current has worked to track the growth of U.S. Immigration Customs & Enforcement efforts in South Texas (See “Toward a tent city world,” September 8, 2010), the larger story about a national hidden prison complex offers an even more terrifying read.
For more on any of these stories, pick up Project Censored’s latest: Censored 2011: The Top Censored Stories of 2009-2010 at your local bookstore or through projectcensored.org.
Nations have reached their limit in subsidizing the United States’ military adventures. During meetings in June 2009 in Yekaterinburg, Russia, world leaders such as China’s President Hu Jintao, Russia’s President Dmitry Medvedev, and other top officials of the six-nation Shanghai Cooperation Organisation took the first formal step to replace the dollar as the world’s reserve currency. The United States was denied admission to the meetings. If the world leaders succeed, the dollar will dramatically plummet in value; the cost of imports, including oil, will skyrocket; and interest rates will climb.
Foreigners see the International Monetary Fund (IMF), the World Bank, and the World Trade Organization (WTO) as Washington surrogates in a financial system backed by U.S. military bases and aircraft carriers encircling the globe. But this military domination is a vestige of an American empire no longer able to rule by economic strength. As Chris Hedges wrote in June 2009, “The architects of this new global exchange realize that if they break the dollar they also break America’s military domination. U.S. military spending cannot be sustained without this cycle of heavy borrowing. The official U.S. defense budget for fiscal year 2008 was $623 billion. The next closest national military budget was China’s, at $65 billion, according to the Central Intelligence Agency.”
In July 2009, President Medvedev illustrated his call for a supranational currency to replace the dollar by pulling from his pocket a sample coin of a “united future world currency.” The coin, which bears the words “Unity in Diversity,” was minted in Belgium and presented to the heads of G8 delegations.
2. U.S. Department of Defense is the Worst Polluter on the Planet
The U.S. military is responsible for the most egregious and widespread pollution of the planet, yet this information and accompanying documentation goes almost entirely unreported. In spite of the evidence, the environmental impact of the U.S. military goes largely unaddressed by environmental organizations and was not the focus of any discussions or proposed restrictions at the recent UN Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen. This impact includes uninhibited use of fossil fuels, massive creation of greenhouse gases, and extensive release of radioactive and chemical contaminants into the air, water, and soil.
The extensive global operations of the U.S. military (wars, interventions, and secret operations on more than 1,000 bases around the world and 6,000 facilities in the United States) are not counted against U.S. greenhouse gas limits. Sara Flounders writes, “By every measure, the Pentagon is the largest institutional user of petroleum products and energy in general. Yet the Pentagon has a blanket exemption in all international climate agreements.”
While official accounts put U.S. military usage at 320,000 barrels of oil a day, that does not include fuel consumed by contractors, in leased or private facilities, or in the production of weapons.
3. Internet Privacy at Risk
Following in the steps of its predecessor, the Obama administration is expanding mass government surveillance of personal electronic communications. This surveillance, which includes the monitoring of the internet as well as private (nongovernmental) computers, is proceeding with the proposal or passage of new laws granting government agencies increasingly wider latitude in their monitoring activities. At the same time, private companies, and even some schools, are engaging in surveillance activities that further diminish personal privacy.
In spring 2009, Senate Bill 773, the Cybersecurity Act of 2009, was proposed, which gives the president power to “declare a cyber security emergency” with respect to private computer networks, and to do with these networks what is deemed necessary to diffuse the attack. In a national emergency, the president would also have the power to completely shut down the internet in the U.S. The proposal requires that certain private computer systems and networks be “managed” by “cyberprofessionals” licensed by the federal government. The bill permits the president to direct the national response to the cyber threat if necessary for national defense and security; to conduct “periodic mapping” of private networks deemed to be critical to national security; and to require these companies to “share” information requested by the federal government. In April 2009, the Obama Justice Department invoked the “state secrets privilege” to bar American citizens from suing the U.S. government for illegally spying on them.
4. ICE Operates Secret Detention and Courts
Agents of the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) are holding thousands of U.S. residents in unlisted and unmarked subfield offices and deporting tens of thousands in secret court hearings. “If you don’t have enough evidence to charge someone criminally but you think he’s illegal, we can make him disappear.” Those chilling words were spoken by James Pendergraph, then executive director of the Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s Office of State and Local Coordination, at a conference of police and sheriffs in August 2008.
People are held in a vast network of more than 300 detention facilities, located in nearly every state in the country. Only a few of these facilities are under the full operational control of ICE — the majority are jails under the control of state and local governments that subcontract with ICE to provide detention bed space. However, ICE has created a network of secret jails designed for confining individuals in transit. These 186 unlisted and unmarked subfield offices are not subject to ICE detention standards, lacking showers, beds, drinking water, soap, toothbrushes, sanitary napkins, mail, attorneys, or legal information. Many of these subfield offices are in suburban office parks or commercial spaces that reveal no information about their ICE tenants — nary a sign, a marked car, or even a U.S. flag.
In addition, there is a complete lack of a real-time database tracking people in ICE custody, meaning that ICE has created a network of secret jails designed for confining individuals in transit that literally make people disappear. Immigrant detainees can be transferred away from their attorneys at any point in their immigration proceedings, and often are. Detainees can be literally “lost” by their attorneys and family members for days or even weeks after being transferred.
5. Blackwater (Xe): The Secret U.S. War in Pakistan
At a covert forward operating base run by the U.S. Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC) in the Pakistani port city of Karachi, members of an elite division of Blackwater are at the center of a secret program in which they plan targeted assassinations of suspected Taliban and al-Qaeda operatives inside and outside Pakistan. The Blackwater operatives also gather intelligence and help direct a secret U.S. military drone bombing campaign that runs parallel to the well-documented CIA predator strikes, according to a well-placed source within the U.S. military intelligence apparatus.
Captain John Kirby, the spokesperson for Admiral Michael Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told the Nation, “We do not discuss current operations one way or the other, regardless of their nature.” The Pentagon has stated bluntly, “There are no U.S. military strike operations being conducted in Pakistan.”
Blackwater’s founder Erik Prince contradicted this statement in an interview, telling Vanity Fair that Blackwater works with U.S. Special Forces in identifying targets and planning missions. A former senior executive at Blackwater confirmed the military intelligence source’s claim that the company is working in Pakistan for the CIA and JSOC. Blackwater’s first known contract with the CIA for operations in Afghanistan was awarded in 2002 and was for work along the Afghanistan–Pakistan border.
6. Health Care Restrictions Cost Thousands of Lives in U.S.
Despite national legislative health reform, health care in the U.S. will remain dismal for many Americans, resulting in continuing deaths and personal tragedies. A recent Harvard research team estimates that 2,266 U.S. military veterans died in 2008 due to lack of health insurance. The figure is more than 14 times the number of deaths suffered by U.S. troops in Afghanistan in 2008, and more than twice as many as have died since the war began in 2001. Harvard researchers concluded that 1.46 million working-age vets lacked health coverage, increasing their death rate. The American Journal of Public Health published findings demonstrating that being uninsured raises an individual’s odds of dying by 40 percent.
Using more than 23 million hospital records from 37 states between 1988 and 2005, Johns Hopkins investigators compared the risk of death in children with insurance to those without. Other factors being equal, researchers found that uninsured children in the study were 60-percent more likely to die in the hospital than those with insurance.
7. External Capitalist Forces Wreak Havoc in Africa
Resource exploitation in Africa is not new, but the scale of agricultural “land grabbing” in African nations is unprecedented, becoming the new colonization of the 21st century. State violence against Kenyan indigenous pastoralists and Nigerian civilians in oil-rich regions has heightened, leaving thousands dead as the military burns whole communities to the ground and police commit extrajudicial killings, rapes, beatings, thefts, and arson, in addition to using intimidation tactics.
In the midst of a severe food and economic crisis, the “land grabbing” trend has grown to an international phenomenon. The term refers to the purchase or lease of vast tracts of land by wealthier, food-insecure nations and private investors from mostly poor, developing countries in order to produce crops for export. An estimated 90 percent of the world’s arable land is already in use, and the search for more has led to the countries least touched by development, those in Africa. The accelerating land rush has been triggered by the worldwide food shortages that followed the sharp oil price rises in 2008, growing water shortages, and the European Union’s insistence that 10-percent of all transport fuel must come from plant-based biofuels by 2015.
8. Massacre in Peruvian Amazon over U.S. Free Trade Agreement
On World Environment Day, June 5, 2009, Peruvian Amazon Indians were massacred by the government of Alán García in the latest chapter of a long war to take over common lands — a war unleashed by the signing of the Free Trade Agreement (FTA) between Peru and the United States. Three Mi-17 helicopters took off from the national police base in El Milagro, Peru, at 6 a.m. on Friday, June 5, and flew over the section of the Peruvian highway that joins the jungle to the northern coast, which had been occupied for the past 10 days by 5,000 Awajún and Wampi indigenous peoples. The helicopters launched tear gas on the crowd (witnesses say they also shot machine guns) while a group of agents simultaneously attacked the roadblock by ground, firing AKM rifles. An estimated 500 police bore down on the protesters, some of whom were still sleeping, and opened fire. A hundred people were wounded by gunshot and between 20 to 25 were killed. Days after the clash, the government claimed that 11 indigenous protestors were dead, as well as 23 police agents. The indigenous organizations reported 50 dead among their ranks and up to 400 missing.
9. Human Rights Abuses Continue in Palestine
The Human Sciences Research Council of South Africa (HSRC) has released a study indicating that Israel is practicing both colonialism and apartheid in the occupied Palestinian territories. The HSRC commissioned an international team of scholars and practitioners of international public law from South Africa, the United Kingdom, Israel, and the West Bank to conduct the study. The team found that Israel’s policy and practices violate the prohibition on colonialism, which the international community developed in the 1960’s in response to the great decolonization struggles in Africa and Asia. Israel’s policy is demonstrably to fragment the West Bank and permanently annex part of it to Israel. Through these measures, Israel has denied the indigenous population the right to self-determination and has indicated a clear intention to assume sovereignty over portions of its land and natural resources.
10. U.S. Funds and Supports the Taliban
In a continuous flow of money, American tax dollars end up paying members of the Taliban and funding a volatile environment in Afghanistan. Private contractors pay insurgents with the hope of attaining the very safety they are contracted to provide. Concurrently, U.S. soldiers pay at checkpoints run by suspected insurgents in order to ensure safe passage. In some cases, Afghan companies run by former Taliban members, like President Hamid Karzai’s cousin, are protecting the passage of American soldiers. The funding of the insurgents, along with rumors of American helicopters ferrying Taliban members in Afghanistan, has led to widespread distrust of American forces. An estimated 10 percent of the Pentagon’s logistics contracts, worth hundreds of millions of dollars, are paid to … the very forces American troops are fighting. •
* Originally reported as Pomona.