Cut it out!

x Project Censored's annual review of the news that didn't make the news in 1996. George Lucas wasn't the only one banking on a "Star Wars" revival this year. The Clinton administration has revived its own version of Star Wars by investing $3 billion annually into the Reagan/Bush administrations' coveted space program. As conceived by the U.S. national nuclear laboratories and military, the program has had a large nuclear component. Hence, it's no surprise NASA is finding virtually no resistance from the administration for the October launch of its Cassini space probe -- whose instruments will be powered by 72 pounds of lethal plutonium-238 -- despite the acute danger of deploying radioactive materials in space. If something goes awry, more than 5 billion people would be exposed to dangerous levels of radiation. While there exists a clear alternative for Cassini -- solar power -- NASA, the Energy Department's nuclear labs and the corporations involved in producing nuclear hardware for space missions are not budging. How is it that such information isn't splashed across the front pages? After all, "It doesn't take a rocket scientist to know that it's stupid to put nukes in space," said Karl Grossman, who wrote "Risking the World: Nuclear Prolifer- ation in Space," for Covert- Action Quarterly and served as the primary source for a report on the same topic last spring in the Orlando Weekly. After all, isn't it the job of the media to dig out the facts and root out corruption in order to inform and educate the public? The dismal reality is that we are suffering from a new kind of censorship, one that doesn't simply keep a handful of unflattering stories from the front page, but one that prevents reports of certain excesses of government and corporate power from being written at all. Sonoma State University's media watch group Project Censored labels this self-censorship. As its team of researchers and judges rediscovers each year, what the mainstream media deems threatening to its own corporate interests -- inextricably linked to its advertisers and parent conglomerates -- is simply excluded from broad mainstream coverage. "The mainstream media is so market driven (that) its sense of priorities is (skewed)," said George Gerbner, a Project Censored judge. "It cannot afford to take the public interest into consideration ... There's an implicit, unqualified censorship that screens out less marketable stories." Founded by Carl Jensen in 1976, Project Censored's distinguished panel culls overlooked or vastly under-reported stories from nationwide media. Their package of marginalized stories reads like a catch-all of topics the mainstream won't touch: stories about bad things happening to poor people, about corporate and government misconduct, about threats to our safety and our livelihood. Their list for 1996: Their list for 1996: 1NUCLEAR PROLIFERATION IN SPACE ("Risking the World: Nuclear Proliferation in Space," CovertAction Quarterly, Summer 1996, and "Don't Send Plutonium Into Space," Progressive Media Project, May 1996, both by Karl Grossman.) This October, NASA plans to launch its Cassini probe to Saturn carrying 72 pounds of lethal plutonium-238, long described by scientists as the most toxic substance known. En route, the probe -- which will ride atop a Lockheed Martin-built Titan IV rocket that has undergone a series of mishaps in recent years -- will whip around the Earth at 42,300 miles per hour just 312 miles above the planet's surface. Any accident occurring during the fly-by would surely be categorized a calamity; roughly 5 billion people on Earth could receive dangerous levels of radiation exposure, cited Karl Grossman. What's more, despite the enormous expense and risk, NASA, the Department of Energy's national nuclear laboratories and the corporations involved in producing nuclear hardware for space missions have ignored European solar power technology that would eliminate the dangers. Why doesn't this get covered? "You have to ask, 'Who owns the media?'" said Grossman, a professor of journalism at the State University of New York, referring to NBC's parent General Electric and CBS's parent Westinghouse. More than 40 percent of the world's nuclear plants use Westinghouse engineering; GE manufactures turbines for nuclear reactors. "It also has to do with NASA reporters being who they are -- 'boosters' of the industry," said Grossman. "It has to do with the average reporter not being skilled enough to dig and fully understand nuclear (issues) ... It also has to do with 'nuclear' being a sacred cow in general." 2 SHELL'S OIL, AFRICA'S BLOOD ("Shell's Oil, Africa's Blood," by Ron Nixon and Michael King, Texas Observer, Jan. 12, 1996; "Shell Game," by Vince Bielski, San Francisco Bay Guardian, Feb. 7, 1996; "Rejected Ad Flap," by M.L. Stein, Editor & Publisher, March 23, 1996; "Dying for Oil," by Aaron Sachs, World Watch, May/June 1996.) In the aftermath of Nigeria's execution of nine environmental activists in 1995, evidence has mounted that despite its intimate links to the Nigerian government, Royal Dutch/Shell Group (the parent of Houston-based Shell Oil) not only turned a deaf ear to worldwide pleas that it intervene and help stay the executions, but it likely helped instigate the violence. Although Shell had lobbied hard to convince the world it had no blood on its hands, said journalist Vince Bielski, "Shell has admitted, since my story was published, to having funded Nigerian military outfits that are engaging in human rights abuses," although Shell claims the forces they paid were not directly responsible. Among those executed was acclaimed writer Ken Saro-Wiwa, an activist with the 300,000-member Movement for the Survival of Ogoni People, a group demanding compensation for the farm lands that had been destroyed by Shell's drilling in the Nigeria Delta region. 3BIG PERKS FOR THE WEALTHY HIDDEN IN MINIMUM WAGE BILL ("Bare Minimum: Goodies for the Rich Hidden in Wage Bill," by John B. Judis, The New Republic, Oct. 28, 1996) Democrats and Republicans alike were engaging in a lot of self-congratulatory hand-pressing last August after President Clinton signed the minimum wage bill -- each party touting bipartisan support for the legislation that raised the minimum wage from $4.25 to $5.15 an hour. But what the mainstream media missed in the Small Business Job Protection Act of 1996 was the fact that it included at least 10 provisions -- sought by Republicans for their allies in the National Federation of Independent Business and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce -- aimed at neither small business owners nor their employees, all of which may negate whatever good the bill may do. In essence, wrote Judis, welfare reform expands the supply of low-wage job applicants without expanding the supply of jobs, holding down the wages that the minimum wage bill was supposed to raise. 4PR INDUSTRY'S SECRET WAR ON ACTIVISTS ("The Public Relations Industry's Secret War on Activists," CovertAction Quarterly, Winter 1995/1996, and "Public Relations, Private Interests," Earth Island Journal, Winter 1995/1996, both by John Stauber and Sheldon Rampton.) The degree to which PR firms manipulate public opinion and policy is almost impossible to determine, wrote Rampton and Stauber. But what's indisputable is that the industry -- by dipping into the deep pockets of its multi-million dollar corporate clients -- has vast power to direct and control thought and policy. The latest deceptive strategy entails creating anti-public-interest -- or "astroturf" --campaigns to generate the false impression of public support in the name of citizen activism. The result? At it's worst, dissenting voices have been muffled, unhealthy chemicals and practices have been legalized and public opinion has been profoundly influenced. 5 CORPORATE CRIME: WHITEWASH AT THE JUSTICE DEPARTMENT ("White-Collar Crime: Whitewash at the Justice Department," by David Burnham, CovertAction Quarterly, Summer 1996.) When you think of crime, what comes to mind? How about the dumping of toxic waste? In 1987 alone, 50,000 to 70,000 workers died from on-the-job exposure to toxins -- three times the 21,5000 people murdered that same year. Despite the reality that corporate, or white-collar, crime costs America 10 to 50 times more than street crime, the Justice Department shows little interest in tackling the problem. Based on records maintained by the Justice Department, the federal government almost never brings charges against businesses. Of the more than 51,000 federal criminal indictments in 1994, only 250 -- less than one-half of 1 percent -- involved criminal violations of the nation's environmental, occupational health and safety and consumer product safety laws. 6MEGA-MERGED BANKING BEHEMOTHS = BIG RISK ("The Making of the Banking Behemoths," by Jake Lewis, Multinational Monitor, June 1996.) Frighteningly similar to the distribution of personal wealth in the United States -- where the top 1 percent of households controls almost one-third of the nation's net worth -- 71.5 percent of U.S. banking assets are now controlled by the 100 largest banking organizations, representing less than 1 percent of the total banks in the nation. But little has been written about its impact on average Americans -- that megabanks are closing out community access and making it harder for small borrowers to obtain loans. For example, in California, when First Interstate and Wells Fargo merged, the Justice Department ordered Wells Fargo to divest itself of 61 branches to preserve competition for certain types of lending. But those branches are being sold to Home Savings and Loan of Los Angeles, which recently decided not to continue affordable housing lending. 7CASHING IN ON POVERTY ("Cashing in on Poverty," by Michael Hudson, The Nation, May 20, 19996 `Excerpted from "Merchants of Misery: How Corporate America Profits From Poverty`.) Can you imagine paying $1,000 for a $300 TV? How about paying 20 percent interest on a second mortgage? While two-thirds of Americans never face such atrocious exploitation, countless pawn shops, check-cashing outlets, rent-to-own stores, finance companies and high-interest mortgage lenders get away with it, largely by preying on the disadvantaged.And the companies making big money by targeting people on the bottom third of the economic ladder are owned or bankrolled by the biggest names on Wall Street -- Ford, Citibank, NationsBank and American Express, to name a few. The "poverty industry" fills a niche for them -- at a stiff price, writes Hudson. Where's the outrage? "There's not a lot of of questioning about corporate abuse in this country," Hudson said. "As a practical matter, it's easier to report on one company than a whole industry ... taking on an (entire) industry is much more complicated." While a handful of media outlets occasionally single out individual cases of duplicity, "It's generally done about individual companies and becomes sort of a 'gotcha' story," said Hudson. And when it's about just one company, "other companies come in and take over where the first (one) left off." 8BIG BROTHER GOES HIGH-TECH ("Big Brother Goes High-Tech," by David Banisar, CovertAction Quarterly, Spring 1996; "Access, Privacy and Power," by Michael Rust and Susan Crabtree, Insight, Aug. 19, 1996; "New Surveillance Camera Cheers Police, Worries ACLU," by Joyce Price, Insight, Sept. 9, 1996.) The bank has your social security number; so does the education system. Credit card holders file away your financial history. Your doctors, your insurance company, marketers who sold you magazine subscriptions -- all compile bits of personal data and squirrel it away in any number of the thousands of databases that exist worldwide. From bankbook to bedroom, new advanced technologies are gaining on civil liberties, threatening to render privacy vulnerable on a scale never seen before. And while such companies as E-Systems, Electronic Data Systems and Texas Instruments are selling advanced computer and surveillance equipment to state and local governments, corporations also are quick to adapt these technologies for commercial use. At the same time, outdated laws and regulations are failing to check an expanding pattern of abuses. What's desperately lacking is accountability for those who may misuse it. "It's not that lawmakers, policy analysts and journalists don't recognize the reality of the information revolution," wrote Rust and Crabtree. "It's just that -- like the vast majority of their countrymen -- they don't understand it very well." 9U.S. TROOPS EXPOSED TO DEPLETED URANIUM DURING GULF WAR ("Radioactive Battlefields of the 1990s: A Response to the Army's Unreleased Report on Depleted Uranium Weaponry," Military Toxics Project's Depleted Uranium Citizens' Network, Jan. 16, 1996; "Radioactive Ammo Lays Them to Waste," by Gary Cohen, Multinational Monitor, January/February 1996.) Since the Manhattan Project of World War II, government studies have indicated that depleted uranium weapons -- although highly effective when waging war -- are extremely toxic. And not only for the enemy. Nonetheless, depleted uranium (DU) was used in warfare for the first time as both armor-piercing bullets and as tank armor by the U.S. Army in Operation Desert Storm. Did the U.S. military downplay the hazards? What were the soldiers told? Although Army training manuals were written in the 1980s to warn tank crews and commanders of the dangers associated with DU rounds, the Pentagon failed to specifically warn Gulf War troops of the dangers. Five years later, the effects of DU exposure are just beginning to demand attention. 10 FACING FOOD SCARCITY ("Facing Food Scarcity," World Watch, November/December 1995, and "Japanese Government Breaks With World Bank Food Forecast," World Watch, May/ June 1996, both by Lester R. Brown.) At the close of the 20th century, 90 million more people each year will need to eat. And while you can pick up the morning paper and read about the global economy, where is discussion of the world's food economy? According to World Watch and the World Agricultural Outlook Board, the world's stock of rice, wheat, corn and other grains have fallen to their lowest levels in two decades. "If we are unable to reverse the trends of recent years, food scarcity may well become the defining issue as we exit this century and enter the next," Brown wrote. "History judges political issues of their time. For today's leaders, the challenge is to achieve a humane balance between food and people on a crowded planet."
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