Top 25 Censored Stories of 2008
#1 No Habeas Corpus for “Any Person”
With the approval of Congress and no outcry from corporate media, the Military Commissions Act (MCA) signed by Bush on October 17, 2006, ushered in military commission law for US citizens and non-citizens alike. While media, including a lead editorial in the New York Times October 19, have given false comfort that we, as American citizens, will not be the victims of the draconian measures legalized by this Act—such as military roundups and life-long detention with no rights or constitutional protections—Robert Parry points to text in the MCA that allows for the institution of a military alternative to the constitutional justice system for “any person” regardless of American citizenship. The MCA effectively does away with habeas corpus rights for “any person” arbitrarily deemed to be an “enemy of the state.” The judgment on who is deemed an “enemy combatant” is solely at the discretion of President Bush.
The oldest human right defined in the history of English-speaking civilization is the right to challenge governmental power of arrest and detention through the use of habeas corpus laws, considered to be the most critical parts of the Magna Carta which was signed by King John in 1215.
Alexander Hamilton wrote in The Federalist #84 in August of 1788:
The establishment of the writ of habeas corpus are perhaps greater securities to liberty and republicanism than any it
“To bereave a man of life” says he, “or by violence to confiscate his estate, without accusation or trial, would be so gross and notorious an act of despotism, as must at once convey the alarm of tyranny throughout the whole nation; but confinement of the person, by secretly hurrying him to jail, where his sufferings are unknown or forgotten, is a less public, a less striking, and therefore a more dangerous engine of arbitrary government."
#2 Bush Moves Toward Martial Law
The John Warner Defense Authorization Act of 2007, which was quietly signed by Bush on October 17, 2006, the very same day that he signed the Military Commissions Act, allows the president to station military troops anywhere in the United States and take control of state-based National Guard units without the consent of the governor or local authorities, in order to “suppress public disorder.”
By revising the two-century-old Insurrection Act, the law in effect repeals the Posse Comitatus Act, which placed strict prohibitions on military involvement in domestic law enforcement. The 1878 Act reads, “Whoever, except in cases and under circumstances expressly authorized by the Constitution or Act of Congress, willfully uses any part of the Army or Air Force as a posse comitatus or otherwise to execute the laws shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than two years, or both.” As the only US criminal statute that outlaws military operations directed against the American people, it has been our best protection against tyranny enforced by martial law—the harsh system of rules that takes effect when the military takes control of the normal administration of justice. Historically martial law has been imposed by various governments during times of war or occupation to intensify control of populations in spite of heightened unrest. In modern times it is most commonly used by authoritarian governments to enforce unpopular rule.1
Section 333 of the Defense Authorization Act of 2007, entitled “Major public emergencies; interference with State and Federal law,” states that “the President may employ the armed forces, including the National Guard in Federal service—to restore public order and enforce the laws of the United States when, as a result of a natural disaster, epidemic, or other serious public health emergency, terrorist attack or incident, or other condition in any State or possession of the United States, the President determines that domestic violence has occurred to such an extent that the constituted authorities of the State or possession are incapable of (or “refuse” or “fail” in) maintaining public order—in order to suppress, in any State, any insurrection, domestic violence, unlawful combination, or conspiracy.”
Thus an Act of Congress, superceding the Posse Comitatus Act, has paved the way toward a police state by granting the president unfettered legal authority to order federal troops onto the streets of America, directing military operations against the American people under the cover of “law enforcement.”
# 3 AFRICOM: US Military Control of Africa’s Resources
In February 2007 the White House announced the formation of the US African Command (AFRICOM), a new unified Pentagon command center in Africa, to be established by September 2008. This military penetration of Africa is being presented as a humanitarian guard in the Global War on Terror. The real objective is, however, the procurement and control of Africa’s oil and its global delivery systems.
The most significant and growing challenge to US dominance in Africa is China. An increase in Chinese trade and investment in Africa threatens to substantially reduce US political and economic leverage in that resource-rich continent. The political implication of an economically emerging Africa in close alliance with China is resulting in a new cold war in which AFRICOM will be tasked with achieving full-spectrum military dominance over Africa.
AFRICOM will replace US military command posts in Africa, which were formerly under control of US European Command (EUCOM) and US Central Command (CENTCOM), with a more centralized and intensified US military presence.
A context for the pending strategic role of AFRICOM can be gained from observing CENTCOM in the Middle East. CENTCOM grew out of the Carter Doctrine of 1980 which described the oil flow from the Persian Gulf as a “vital interest” of the US, and affirmed that the US would employ “any means necessary, including military force” to overcome an attempt by hostile interests to block that flow.
# 4 Frenzy of Increasingly Destructive Trade Agreements
The Oxfam report, “Signing Away the Future,” reveals that the US and European Union (EU) are vigorously pursuing increasingly destructive regional and bilateral trade and investment agreements outside the auspices of the WTO. These agreements are requiring enormous irreversible concessions from developing countries, while offering almost nothing in return. Faster and deeper, the US and EU are demanding unprecedented tariff reductions, sometimes to nothing, as the US and EU dump subsidized agricultural goods on undeveloped countries (see story #21), plunging local farmers into desperate poverty. Meanwhile the US and EU provide themselves with high tariffs and stringent import quotas to protect their own producers. Unprecedented loss of livelihood, displacement, slave labor, along with spiraling degradation of human rights and environments are resulting as economic governance is forced from governments of developing countries, and taken over by unaccountable multinational firms.
During 2006, more than one hundred developing countries were involved in FTA or Bilateral Investment Treaty (BIT) negotiations. “An average of two treaties are signed every week,” the report says, “Virtually no country, however poor, has been left out.”
Much of the recent debate and controversy over trade negotiations has revolved around the increasingly devastating trade-distorting practices of rich countries versus the developing countries’ needs for food security and industrial development. The new generation of agreements, however, extends far beyond this traditional area of trade policy—imposing a damaging set of binding rules in intellectual property, services, and investment with much deeper consequences for development and impacts on the poor.
Double standards in the intellectual-property rights chapters of most trade agreements are glaring. As new agreements limit developing countries’ access to patented technology and medicines—while failing to protect traditional knowledge—the public-health consequences are staggering. The US-Colombia FTA is expected to reduce access to medicines by 40 percent and the US-Peru FTA is expected to leave 700,000 to 900,000 Peruvians without access to affordable medicines.
#5 Human Traffic Builds US Embassy in Iraq
The enduring monument to US liberation and democracy in Iraq will be the most expensive and heavily fortified embassy in the world—and is being built by a Kuwait contractor repeatedly accused of using forced labor trafficked from South Asia under US contracts. The $592 million, 104-acre fortress equal in size to the Vatican City is scheduled to open in September 2007. With a highly secretive contract awarded by the US State Department, First Kuwaiti Trading & Contracting has joined the ranks of Halliburton/KBR in Iraq by using bait-and-switch recruiting practices. Thousands of citizens from countries that have banned travel or work in Iraq are being tricked, smuggled into brutal and inhumane labor camps, and subjected to months of forced servitude—all in the middle of the US-controlled Green Zone, “right under the nose of the US State Department.”
Though Associated Press reports that, “The 5,500 Americans and Iraqis working at the embassy are far more numerous than at any other US mission worldwide,”1 there is no mention in corporate media of the 3,000 South Asian laborers working for contractors in dangerous and abysmal living and working conditions.
One such contractor is First Kuwaiti Trading and Contracting. FKTC has procured several billion dollars in US construction contracts since the war began in March 2003. Much of its work is performed by cheap labor hired from South Asia. The company currently employs an estimated 7,500 foreign laborers in theaters of war.
#6 Operation FALCON Raids
Under the code name Operation FALCON (Federal and Local Cops Organized Nationally) three federally coordinated mass arrests occurred between April 2005 and October 2006. In an unprecedented move, more than 30,000 “fugitives” were arrested in the largest dragnets in the nation’s history. The operations directly involved over 960 agencies (state, local, and federal) and were the brainchild of Attorney General Alberto Gonzales and US Marshal’s Director Ben Reyna. The DoJ supplied television networks government-shot action videotape of Marshals and local cops raiding homes and breaking down doors, “targeting the worst of the worst criminals on the run,” emphasizing suspected sex offenders. Yet less than ten percent of the total 30,150 were suspected sex offenders and less than two percent owned firearms. The press has not asked, “Who were the others?” And to date, the US Marshal’s office has issued no public statement as to whether the people arrested in Operation Falcon have been processed or released. Author Mike Whitney cautions that Attorney General Gonzales has little interest in the petty offenders who were netted in this extraordinary crackdown. This action is instead, he warns, a practice roundup in the move toward martial law.
Altogether, there were three FALCON Operations, each netting roughly 10,000 criminal suspects. Between April 4–10, 2005, FALCON I swept up 10,340 fugitives in the largest nationwide mass arrest (to that date) in American history. Alberto Gonzalez proudly announced on April 15 through corporate media, “Operation FALCON is an excellent example of President Bush’s direction and the Justice Department’s dedication to deal both with the terrorist threat and traditional violent crime. This joint effort shows the commitment of our federal, state, and local partners to make our neighborhoods safer, and it has led to the highest number of arrests ever recorded for a single initiative of its kind. We will use all of our Nation’s law enforcement resources to serve the people, to pursue justice, and to make our streets and Nation safer.”
#7 Behind Blackwater Inc.
The company that most embodies the privatization of the military industrial complex—a primary part of the Project for a New American Century and the neoconservative revolution is the private security firm Blackwater. Blackwater is the most powerful mercenary firm in the world, with 20,000 soldiers, the world’s largest private military base, a fleet of twenty aircraft, including helicopter gunships, and a private intelligence division. The firm is also manufacturing its own surveillance blimps and target systems.
Blackwater is headed by a very right-wing Christian-supremist and ex-Navy Seal named Erik Prince, whose family has had deep neo-conservative connections. Bush’s latest call for voluntary civilian military corps to accommodate the “surge” will add to over half a billion dollars in federal contracts with Blackwater, allowing Prince to create a private army to defend Christendom around the world against Muslims and others.
One of the last things Dick Cheney did before leaving office as Defense Secretary under George H. W. Bush was to commission a Halliburton study on how to privatize the military bureaucracy. That study effectively created the groundwork for a continuing war profiteer bonanza.
During the Clinton years, Erik Prince envisioned a project that would take advantage of anticipated military outsourcing. Blackwater began in 1996 as a private military training facility, with an executive board of former Navy Seals and Elite Special Forces, in the Great Dismal Swamp of North Carolina. A decade later it is the most powerful mercenary firm in the world, embodying what the Bush administration views as “the necessary revolution in military affairs”—the outsourcing of armed forces.
#8 KIA: The US Neoliberal Invasion of India
Farmers’ cooperatives in India are defending the nation’s food security and the future of Indian farmers against the neoliberal invasion of genetically modified (GM) seed. As many as 28,000 Indian farmers have committed suicide over the last decade as a result of debt incurred from failed GM crops and competition with subsidized US crops, yet when India’s Prime Minister Singh met with President Bush in March 2006 to finalize nuclear agreements, they also signed the Indo-US Knowledge Initiative on Agriculture (KIA), backed by Monsanto, Archer Daniels Midland (ADM), and Wal-Mart. The KIA allows for the grab of India’s seed sector by Monsanto, of its trade sector by giant agribusiness ADM and Cargill, and its retail sector by Wal-Mart.
Though the contours of KIA have been kept so secret that neither senior Indian politicians nor the scientific community know its details, it is clear that Prime Minister Singh has agreed to sacrifice India’s agriculture sector to pay for US concessions in the nuclear field.
In one of very few public statements by a US government official regarding KIA, Nicholas Burns, Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs, states, “While the civilian nuclear initiative has garnered the most attention, our first priority is to continue giving governmental support to the huge growth in business between the Indian and American private sectors. Singh has also challenged the United States to help launch a second green revolution in India’s vast agricultural heartland by enlisting the help of America’s great land-grant institutions.”
Vandana Shiva translates, “These are twin programs about a market grab and a security alignment.” Burns announced that while the nuclear deal is the cutting edge, what the US is really seeking is agricultural markets and real estate markets, “to take over the land of people, not through a market mechanism, but using the state and an old colonial law of land acquisition to grab the land by force.”
#9 Privatization of America’s Infrastructure
We will soon be paying Wall Street investors, Australian bankers, and Spanish contractors for the privilege of driving on American roads, as more than twenty states have enacted legislation allowing public-private partnerships to build and run highways. Investment firms including Goldman Sachs, Morgan Stanley, and the Carlyle Group are approaching state politicians with advice to sell off public highway and transportation infrastructure. When advising state officials on the future of this vital public asset, these investment firms fail to mention that their sole purpose is to pick up infrastructure at the lowest price possible in order to maximize returns for their investors. Investors, most often foreign companies, are charging tolls and insisting on “noncompete” clauses that limit governments from expanding or improving nearby roads.
In 1956, President Eisenhower signed the Federal-Aid Highway Act, which called for the federal and state governments to build 41,000 miles of high-quality roads across the nation, over rivers and gorges, swamps and deserts, over and through vast mountain ranges, in what would later be called the “greatest public works project in human history.” Eisenhower considered the interstate highway system so vital to the public interest that he authorized the federal government to assume 90 percent of the massive cost.
Fifty years later, states are selling off our nation’s enormous, and aging, infrastructure to private investors. Proponents are celebrating these transactions as a no-pain, all-gain way to off-load maintenance expenses and increase highway-building funds without raising taxes. Opponents are lambasting these plans as a major turn toward handing the nation’s valuable common asset over to private firms whose fidelity is to stockholders—not to the public transportation system or the people who use it.
On June 29, 2006, Indiana’s governor Mitch Daniels announced that Indiana had received $3.8 billion from a foreign consortium made up of the Spanish construction firm Cintra and the Macquarie Infrastructure Group (MIG) of Australia. In exchange the state handed over operation of a 157-mile Indiana toll road for the next seventy-five years. With the consortium collecting the tolls, which will eventually rise far higher, the privatized road should generate $11 billion for MIG-Cintra over the course of the contract.
# 10 Vulture Funds Threaten Poor Nations’ Debt Relief
Vulture funds, otherwise known as “distressed-debt investors,” are undermining UN and other global efforts to relieve impoverished Third World nations of the debt that has burdened them for many decades.
Vulture funds are financial organizations that buy up debts that are near default or bankruptcy. The vulture fund will pay the original investor pennies on the dollar for the debt and then approach the debtor to arrange a better repayment on the loan, or will go after the debtor in court.
In the private financial world, these funds, like the birds they are named for, provide a useful function for investors who are unable to follow up on defaulted debts and are themselves facing financial ruin if the debtor reneges entirely.
Under normal circumstances, distressed-debt investing—like day trading—is risky business. It is a gamble and the company knows that going in. The vulture fund may get nothing for its investment if the debtor continues to default and has no assets to attach. However, if there is still meat on the bones (the debtor has considerable assets to liquidate) the vulture fund can make millions.
A problem has arisen in recent years, however, as vulture funds have begun inserting themselves into an increasingly globalized “free market”—where no distinction is made between an irresponsible and defaulted company and a destitute and impoverished nation.
# 11 The Scam of “Reconstruction” in Afghanistan
A report issued in June 2005 by the non-profit organization Action Aid reveals that much of the US tax money earmarked to rebuild Afghanistan actually ends up going no further than the pockets of wealthy US corporations. “Phantom aid” that never shows up in the recipient country is a scam in which paychecks for overpriced, and often incompetent, American “experts” under contract to USAID go directly from the Agency to American bank accounts. Additionally, 70 percent of the aid that does make it to a recipient country is carefully “tied” to the donor nation, requiring that the recipient use the donated money to buy products and services from the donor country, often at drastically inflated prices. The US far outstrips other nations in these schemes, as Action Aid calculates that 86 cents of every dollar of American aid is phantom.
Authors Ann Jones and Fariba Nawa suggest that in order to understand the failure and fraud in the reconstruction of Afghanistan, it is important to look at the peculiar system of American aid for international development. International and national agencies—including the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund and USAID, that traditionally distribute aid money to developing countries—have designed a system that is efficient in funneling money back to the wealthy donor countries, while undermining sustainable development in poor states.
A former head of USAID cited foreign aid as “a key foreign policy instrument” designed to help countries “become better markets for US exports.” To guarantee that mission, the State Department recently took over the aid agency. USAID and the Army Corps of Engineers now cut in US business and government interests from the start, making sure that money is allocated according to US economic, political, strategic, and military priorities, rather than according to what the recipient nation might consider important.
# 12 Another Massacre in Haiti by UN Troops
Eyewitness testimony confirms indiscriminate killings by UN forces in Haiti’s Cité Soleil community on December 22, 2006, reportedly as collective punishment against the community for a massive demonstration of Lavalas supporters in which about ten thousand people rallied for the return of President Aristide in clear condemnation of the foreign military occupation of their country. According to residents, UN forces attacked their neighborhood in the early morning, killing more than thirty people, including women and children. Footage taken by Haiti Information Project (HIP) videographers shows unarmed civilians dying as they tell of extensive gunfire from UN peacekeeping forces (MINUSTAH).
A hardened UN strategy became apparent days after the demonstration, when UN officials stated they were entering Cité Soleil to capture or kill gangsters and kidnappers. While officials of MINUSTAH have admitted to “collateral damage,” in the raids of December 2006, they say they are there to fight gangsters at the request of the René Préval government.
But many residents and local human rights activists say that scores of people having no involvement with gangs were killed, wounded, and arrested in the raids.
Although MINUSTAH denied firing from helicopter gunships, HIP captured more than three hours of video footage and a large selection of digital photos, illustrating the UN’s behavior in Haiti.
# 13 Immigrant Roundups to Gain Cheap Labor for US Corporate Giants
The North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) flooded Mexico with cheap subsidized US agricultural products that displaced millions of Mexican farmers. Between 2000 and 2005, Mexico lost 900,000 rural jobs and 700,000 industrial jobs, resulting in deep unemployment throughout the country. Desperate poverty has forced millions of Mexican workers north in order to feed their families.
The National Campesino Front estimates that two million farmers have been displaced by NAFTA, in many cases related to the increase in US imports. In 1994, the first year of the agreement, the United States exported $4.59 billion of agricultural products to Mexico, according to the Department of Agriculture. By 2006 the figure had risen to $9.85 billion—an increase of 114 percent. US exports of corn, Mexico’s staple crop and largest source of rural employment, alone doubled to over $2.5 billion in 2006.
This combination of unemployment in Mexico, the huge gap between salaries in the United States and Mexico, and US demand for cheap labor to compete on global markets has created the current situation. The demand for undocumented labor in the US economy is structural. It is not just a few companies seeking to cut corners. These are not just jobs that “US workers won’t take.” Migrants work in nearly all low-paying occupations and have become essential to the US economy in the age of global competition.
# 14 Impunity for US War Criminals
A provision mysteriously tucked into the Military Commission Act (MCA) just before it passed through Congress and was signed by President Bush on October 17, 2006 (see story #1), redefines torture, removing the harshest, most controversial techniques from the definition of war crimes, and exempts the perpetrators—both interrogators and their bosses—from prosecution for such offences dating back to November 1997.
Author Jeff Stein asks, “Who slipped language into the MCA that would further exempt torturers from prosecution?”
The White House denies any involvement or knowledge regarding the insertion of such language, leaving the origin of adjustments to this significant part of the MCA a mystery.
# 15 Toxic Exposure Can Be Transmitted to Future Generations on a “Second Genetic Code”
Research suggests that, contrary to previous belief, our behavior and our environmental conditions may program sections of our children’s DNA. New evidence about how genes interact with the environment suggests that many industrial chemicals may be more ominously dangerous than previously thought. It is increasingly clear that the effects of toxic exposure may be passed on through generations, in ways that are still not fully understood. “This introduces the concept of responsibility into genetics and inheritance,” said Dr. Moshe Szyf, a researcher at McGill University in Montreal, “This may revolutionize medicine. You aren’t eating and exercising just for yourself, but for your lineage.”1
The new field of genetic research, called epigenetics, involves what scientists are referring to as a “second genetic code” which influences how genes act in the body. If DNA is the hardware of inheritance, the epigenetic system is the software. The epigenetic system determines which genes get turned “off” or “on” and how much of a certain protein they produce.
#16 No Hard Evidence Connecting Bin Laden to 9/11
On June 5, 2006, author Ed Haas contacted the Federal Bureau of Investigation headquarters to ask why, while claiming that bin Laden is wanted in connection with the August 1998 bombings of US Embassies in Tanzania and Kenya, the poster does not indicate that he is wanted in connection with the events of 9/11.
Rex Tomb, Chief of Investigative Publicity for the FBI responded, “The reason why 9/11 is not mentioned on Osama bin Laden’s Most Wanted page is because the FBI has no hard evidence connecting bin Laden to 9/11.” Tomb continued, “Bin Laden has not been formally charged in connection to 9/11.” Asked to explain the process, Tomb responded, “The FBI gathers evidence. Once evidence is gathered, it is turned over to the Department of Justice. The Department of Justice then decides whether it has enough evidence to present to a federal grand jury. In the case of the 1998 United States Embassies being bombed, bin Laden has been formally indicted and charged by a grand jury. He has not been formally indicted and charged in connection with 9/11 because the FBI has no hard evidence connecting bin Laden to 9/11.”
# 17 Drinking Water Contaminated by Military and Corporations
Water is essential to life, contributing to blood circulation, digestion, metabolism, brain activity, and muscle movements. Yet reliably pure water is growing scarce, even in the United States. Despite the federal government’s avowed commitment “to restore and maintain the chemical, physical, and biological integrity of the Nation’s waters,”1 corporations, municipalities, and the US military pollute our waters—often with little or no accountability.
“Polluters are using America’s waters as their dumping ground,” said US PIRG’s Clean Water Advocate Christy Leavitt. (US PIRG is the national lobby office for the state Public Interest Research Groups, nonprofit public interest advocacy organizations.) “Troubled Waters: An Analysis of Clean Water Act Compliance,” released by US PIRG in March 2006 shows that, between July 2003 and December 2004, over 62 percent of industrial and municipal facilities across the country discharged pollution into US waterways at rates above limits established by the Clear Water Act (CWA).
# 18 Mexico’s Stolen Election
Overwhelming evidence reveals massive fraud in the 2006 Mexican presidential election between “president-elect” Felipe Calderón of the conservative PAN party and Andrés Manuel López Obrador of the more liberal PRD. In an election riddled with “arithmetic mistakes,” a partial recount uncovered evidence of abundant stuffing and stealing of ballots that favored the PAN victory.
Meanwhile, US interests were significantly invested in the outcome of Mexico’s election. Though neither candidate had any choice but to cooperate with the US agenda, important differences existed around energy policy, specifically with regard to foreign privatization of Mexican oil and gas reserves.
Though the energy sector of Mexico is already deeply penetrated by US capital, as it stands, the Mexican government owns and controls the oil industry, with very tight restrictions on any foreign investment. Petróleos Mexicanos (Pemex), the fifth largest oil company in the world, exports 80 percent of its oil to the US. Sixty percent of its revenue ($30 billion per year) currently goes to the Mexican government, accounting for more than 40 percent of the Mexican government’s annual revenues.
Calderón promises a more thorough and streamlined exploitation of Mexico’s oil, demanding that Mexico remove barriers to private/foreign investment (which are currently written into the Mexican Constitution). Obrador, on the other hand, insisted on maintaining national ownership and control of the energy sector in order to build economic and social stability in Mexico.
# 19 People’s Movement Challenges Neoliberal Agenda
The US Free Trade model is meeting increasingly successful resistance as people’s movements around the world build powerful alternatives to neoliberal exploitation.
This is particularly evident in Latin America, where massive opposition to US economic domination has demanded that populist leaders and parties take control of national governments in Venezuela, Bolivia, Ecuador, Argentina, Brazil, Nicaragua, and Uruguay.
Latin American presidents are delivering on promises to fix the mistake of twenty-five years of neoliberal reforms that resulted in the region’s worst economic collapse in more than one hundred years. In the two decades preceding World Bank and International Monetary Fund (IMF) policies, 1960-1980, the region’s income per person grew by 82 percent. By comparison it grew just 9 percent 1980–2000, and only 4 percent 2000–2005.
Strong ties between Venezuela’s Hugo Chavez, Cuba’s Fidel Castro, and Bolivia’s Evo Morales, Ecuador’s Rafael Correa, and Nicaragua’s Daniel Ortega, along with cooperative relationships with major economies including Argentina and Brazil, are creating the real potential for autonomous alternatives to US-dictated economic policy in the Western Hemisphere.
# 20 Terror Act Against Animal Activists
The term “terrorism” has been dangerously expanded to include acts that interfere, or promote interference, with the operations of animal enterprises. The Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act (AETA), signed into law on November 27, 2006, broadens punishment present under the Animal Enterprises Protection Act (AEPA) of 1992. One hundred and sixty groups, including the National Lawyers’ Guild, the Natural Resources Defense Council, the League of Humane Voters, Physicians’ Committee for Responsible Medicine, and the New York City Bar Association, oppose this Act on grounds that its terminology is dangerously vague and poses a major conflict to the US Constitution.
The broad definition of an “animal enterprise,” for example, may encompass most US businesses: “any enterprise that uses or sells animals or animal products.” The phrase “loss of any real or personal property,” is elastic enough to include loss of projected profit. Concerns deepen as protections against “interference” extend to any “person or entity having a connection to, relationship with, or transactions with an animal enterprise.”
# 21 US Seeks WTO Immunity for Illegal Farm Payments
On July 24, 2006, after nearly five years of global trade negotiations, talks at the meetings of the World Trade Organization collapsed—perhaps permanently, say some economic analysts. In January of 2007, trade ministers from the United States, the European Union, Brazil, India, Japan, and Australia said they remained hopelessly stalemated, mostly on the contentious issue of farm trade. US negotiators blamed the breakdown on E.U., India, and Japan for balking at the unrestricted opening of markets to agricultural products.1
What went uncovered in mainstream news sources was any analysis of the content of the negotiations—what exactly the countries involved were offering, and what they expected in return.
Of utmost importance to the Bush Administration was that the US receive immunity from lawsuits by poor countries before Bush’s special “fast track” trade negotiating powers expired at the end of June, 2007.
In a last-minute proposal, one not included on the original agenda, the US suddenly insisted that all trade agreements include a special clause called a “Peace Clause” that would make its use of illegal farm subsidies immune from prosecution by the countries affected. Between 1994 and 2003, such a Peace Clause had denied developing nations any legal recourse in the face of the “dumping” of cheap foreign products that had devastated their agricultural communities.
# 22 North Invades Mexico
The visitor crossing the Mexican border from Tijuana to San Diego these days is immediately confronted by a huge sign, “Stop the Border Invasion!” Sponsored by allies of the anti-immigrant vigilante group, the Minutemen, the same signs insult Mexican citizens at other border crossings in Arizona and Texas. The ultimate irony is that a crisis invasion is indeed occurring, but the signs, it seems, may be pointed the wrong direction.
Author Mike Davis points out that, in a “reality stood on its head,” few people—at least outside Mexico—have bothered to notice that while all the nannies, cooks, maids, and gardeners have been heading north to tend the luxury lifestyles of irate republicans, the Gringo masses have been rushing south to enjoy glorious budget retirements and affordable second homes in Mexico.
The number of North Americans living in Mexico has soared from 200,000 to 1 million (one-quarter of all US expatriates) in the past decade. With more than 70 million American baby-boomers expected to retire in the next two decades, experts predict “a tidal wave” of migration to warmer—and cheaper—climates. Baby-boomers are not simply feathering nests for eventual retirement, but also increasingly speculating in Mexican resort property and gated communities, complete with Hooters, Burger King, and Starbucks. The land rush is sending up property values to the detriment of locals whose children are consequently driven into slums or forced to emigrate north, only to face increasing “invasion” charges.
# 23 Feinstein’s Conflict of Interest in Iraq
Dianne Feinstein—the ninth wealthiest member of congress—has been beset by monumental ethical conflicts of interest. As a member of the Military Construction Appropriations Subcommittee (MILCON) from 2001 to the end of 2005, Senator Feinstein voted for appropriations worth billions of dollars to her husband’s firms.
From 1997 through the end of 2005, Feinstein’s husband Richard C. Blum was a majority shareholder in both URS Corp. and Perini Corp. She lobbied Pentagon officials in public hearings to support defense projects that she favored, some of which already were, or subsequently became, URS or Perini contracts. From 2001 to 2005, URS earned $792 million from military construction and environmental cleanup projects approved by MILCON; Perini earned $759 million from such projects.
In 2000, Perini earned a mere $7 million from federal contracts. After 9/11, Perini was transformed into a major defense contractor. In 2004, the company earned $444 million for military construction work in Iraq and Afghanistan, as well as for improving airfields for the US Air Force in Europe and building base infrastructures for the US Navy around the globe. In a remarkable financial recovery, Perini shot from near penury in 1997 to logging gross revenues of $1.7 billion in 2005.
It is estimated that Perini now holds at least $2.5 billion worth of contracts tied to the worldwide expansion of the US military. Its largest Department of Defense contracts are “indefinite delivery-indefinite quantity” or “bundled” contracts carrying guaranteed profit margins. As of May 2006, Perini held a series of bundled contracts awarded by the Army Corps of Engineers for work in the Middle East worth $1.725 billion. Perini has also been awarded an open-ended contract by the US Air Force for military construction and cleaning the environment at closed military bases.
# 24 Media Misquotes Threat From Iran’s President
Across the world a media story has spread that Iran’s President Ahmadinejad has threatened to destroy Israel, by saying that, “Israel must be wiped off the map.” Contrary to general belief, this statement was actually a misinterpretation. However, it was the Islamic Republic News Service in Iran that first mistranslated the quote. Iran’s Foreign Minister attempted to clarify the statement, but the quote ended up having a life of its own in the corporate media.
Amid heated wrangling over Iran’s nuclear program and the threat of preemptive strikes by the US, the quote has been continually used to reinforce the idea that Iran is being run by extremists seeking the total destruction of Israel.
So what did Ahmadinejad actually say? To quote his exact words in Farsi:
“Imam ghoft een rezhim-e ishghalgar-e qods bayad az safheh-ye ruzgar mahv shavad.”
Rezhim-e is the word “regime,” pronounced just like the English word with an extra “eh” sound at the end. Ahmadinejad did not refer to Israel the country or Israel the landmass, but the Israeli regime. This is a vastly significant distinction, as one cannot wipe a regime off the map. Ahmadinejad did not even refer to Israel by name, he instead used the specific phrase “rezhim-e ishghalgar-e qods” (regime occupying Jerusalem).
# 25 Who Will Profit from Native Energy?
Energy on Native American land is becoming big business. According to the Indigenous Environmental Network, 35 percent of the fossil fuel resources in the US are within Indian country. The Department of the Interior estimates that Indian lands hold undiscovered reserves of almost 54 billion tons of coal, 38 trillion cubic feet of natural gas, and 5.4 billion barrels of oil. Tribal lands also contain enormous amounts of alternative energy. “Wind blowing through Indian reservations in just four northern Great Plains states could support almost 200,000 megawatts of wind power,” Winona LaDuke told Indian Country Today in March 2005, “Tribal landholdings in the southwestern US…could generate enough power to eradicate all fossil fuel burning power plants in the US.”
The questions to be answered now are: what sort of energy will Indian lands produce, who will make that decision, and who will end up benefiting from the production?
According to Theresa Rosier, Counselor to the Assistant Secretary for Indian Affairs, “increased energy development in Indian and Alaska Native communities could help the Nation have more reliable homegrown energy supplies.” This, she says, is “consistent with the President’s National Energy Policy to secure America’s energy future.”
Rosier’s statement conveys quite a lot about how the government and the energy sector intend to market the growing shift away from dependence on foreign energy. The idea that “America’s energy future” should be linked to having “more reliable homegrown energy supplies” can be found in native energy-specific legislation that has already passed into law. What this line of thinking fails to take into account is that Native America is not the same as US America. The domestic “supplies” in question belong to sovereign nations, not to the United States or its energy sector.
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