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The 1996 Project Censored Yearbook
Censored: The News That Didn't Make the News AND WHY
1. CLOSING UP AMERICA'S "MARKETPLACE OF IDEAS"
America's "marketplace of ideas," upon which our democracy rests, began shutting its doors in the summer of 1995. The harbinger of the bad news for the public was aptly titled the Telecommunications Deregulation Bill, which moved through both houses of Congress. As the name implies, the bill eliminates virtually all regulation of the United States communication industry.
As tends to be the case with most anti-consumer legislation, the bill stealthily moved under the guise of "encouraging competition"-but will, in reality, have the opposite effect of creating huge new concentrations of media power.
The most troubling aspect of the bill allows easing-and outright elimination-of current anti-trust regulations. In what the New York Times described as "a dazzling display of political influence," the nation's broadcast networks scored big in the House version of the bill by successfully getting the limits on ownership eased so that any individual company can control television stations serving up to 50 percent of the country. The Senate version of the bill provides for a more modest 35 percent coverage.
The legislation also dismantles current regulations which limit the number of radio stations that can be owned by a single company. Currently no one single company can own more than 40 stations. The new legislation would remove the limits completely-allowing one company to own every AM and FM radio station in the United States! It also would lift the current FCC ban on joint ownership of a broadcast radio or TV license and a newspaper in the same market-allowing a single company to have 100 percent control over the three primary sources of news in a community.
Consumer advocate Ralph Nader warned, "Congress is moving the law in the wrong direction, toward greater concentration and fewer choices for consumers, all under the guise of 'greater competition.' Laws and rules that limit cross-ownership and concentration not only enhance competition, a putative goal of the new legislation, but they also serve important non-economic goals, by promoting a greater diversity of programming, and enhancing opportunities for local ownership." Nader also said the predictable result of placing even greater power in the hands of fewer giant media moguls will be less diversity, more pre-packaged programming, and fewer checks on political power. "That these provisions are being included in legislation that is being sold as pro-competitive is particularly galling."
Also galling was the major media's almost complete and utter avoidance of the "monopoly ownership" factor in their reporting of the bill's progress in Congress. The threat to the nation's "marketplace of ideas" from mega-media monopolies has been a nomination to Project Censored several times in the past.
2. THE BUDGET DOES NOT HAVE TO BE BALANCED ON THE BACKS OF THE POOR
Congress could go a long way toward balancing the budget by 2002 without slashing Medicare, Medicaid, education, and social welfare. In fact, the Washington-based Center for the Study of Responsive Law has identified 153 federal programs that benefit wealthy corporations but cost taxpayers $167.2 billion annually. For comparative purposes, federal support for food stamps, housing aid, and child nutrition costs $50 billion a year.
An analysis by Public Citizen reveals how Congress could balance the budget by cutting "aid to dependent corporations." The federal budget and tax codes are rife with huge subsidies to business-the sums involved make traditional "pork barrel" spending look like chicken feed.
Public Citizen President Joan Claybrook said the budget axe misses the subsidies for the wealthiest and most powerful U.S. corporations. "The proposed $250 billion, or 15 percent cut in Medicare, demands serious sacrifice from the more than 80 percent of seniors with incomes below $25,000-yet big corporations on the public dole are not asked to sacrifice at all."
Following are some examples of corporate welfare that miss the Congressional budget axe:
* Direct Subsidies:
* Indirect Subsidies:
* Below Market and Guaranteed Loans:
* Tax Expenditures:
* Trade Barriers:
* Giveaways of Government Intellectual Property for Private Use:
3. CHILD LABOR IN THE U.S. IS WORSE TODAY THAN DURING THE 1930s
Every day, children across America are working in environments detrimental to their social and educational development, their health and even their lives.
In 1992, a National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) report found that 670 youths aged 16 to 17 were killed on the job from 1980 to 1989. A second NIOSH report found that more than 64,100 children went to the emergency room for work-related injuries in 1992. Seventy percent of these deaths and injuries involved violations of state labor laws and the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA), the federal law which prohibits youths under 18 from working in hazardous occupations.
These numbers are a conservative estimate since even the best figures underestimate the number of working children by 25 to 30 percent. As of yet, there is no comprehensive national data collection system that accurately tracks the number of working youth, nor their occupation, where they work, or how many are injured or killed on the job.
Of the estimated five million youth in the work force, thousands are injured, even killed, because several barriers continue to prevent them from being adequately protected in the workplace.
A patchwork of inefficient data collection systems fail to monitor the total number, much less the well being, of youth in the workplace. Enforcement of the FLSA is lax. Cultural beliefs about the worth of work for children are strong. And, various PACs lobby successfully to keep child labor laws from being strengthened, and, in many cases, to weaken existing laws.
"Child labor today is at a point where violations are greater than at any point during the 1930s," said Jeffrey Newman of the National Child Labor Committee, an advocacy group founded in 1904.
Violations are occurring today on farms and businesses around the country. Farm owners beat the system by allowing their entire family, including the children, to work under one person's social security number or by hiring a farm contractor who, on the books, counts as only one employee (while the contractors then hire whomever they wish).
Businesses aren't worried about the child labor violations that they commit because the laws are rarely enforced. One report found that the average business could expect to be inspected once every 50 years or so. Inspectors spend only about five percent of their time looking into child labor problems.
Even when companies are inspected and violations are found, the maximum penalty of $10,000 per violation is rarely enforced.
Lobbying efforts by various business trade organizations are making congressional reform nearly impossible. In the nation's capital, money talks, and both the National Restaurant Association (NRA) and the Food Marketing Institute (FMI)(representing areas where many child labor violations occur), speak persuasively with their generous contributions to potential supporters of their agenda. The restaurant industry alone has given $1.3 million to Republican candidates in recent years; House Speaker Newt Gingrich has been a favorite of both the NRA and the FMI. Since 1991, Gingrich has received more than $27,000 from both PACs.
4. PRIVATIZATION OF THE INTERNET
You may not have noticed, but the Internet, one of the hottest news stories of 1995, was essentially sold last year. The federal government has been gradually transferring the backbone of the U.S. portion of the global computer network to companies such as IBM and MCI as part of a larger plan to privatize cyberspace. But the crucial step was taken on April 30, when the National Science Foundation shut down its part of the Internet, which began in the 1970s as a Defense Department communications tool. And that left the corporate giants in charge.
Remarkably, this buyout of cyberspace has garnered almost no protest or media attention, in contrast to every other development in cyberspace such as the Communications Decency Act, and cyberporn. What hasn't been discussed is the public's right to free speech in cyberspace. What is obvious is that speech in cyberspace will not be free if we allow big business to control every square inch of the Net.
Given the First Amendment and the history of our past victories in fighting for freedom of expression, it should be clear how important public forums in cyberspace could be-as a way of keeping on-line debate robust and as a direct remedy for the dwindling number of free speech spaces in our physical environment.
There already are warning signs about efforts to limit on-line debate. In 1990, the Prodigy on-line service started something of a revolt among some of its members when it decided to raise rates for those sending large volumes of e-mail. When some subscribers protested, Prodigy not only read and censored their messages, but it summarily dismissed the dissenting members from the service.
There are at least three fundamental ways that speech in cyber-space already is less free than speech in a traditional public forum:
* First, cyberspeech is expensive, both in terms of initial outlay for hardware and recurring on-line charges. For millions of Americans, this is no small obstacle, especially when one considers the additional cost of minimal computer literacy.
* Second, speech on the Net is subject to the whim of private censors who are not accountable to the First Amendment. Commercial on-line services, such as America Online and Compuserve, like Prodigy, have their own codes of decency and monitors to enforce them.
* Third, speech in cyberspace can be shut out by unwilling listeners too easily. With high-tech filters, Net users can exclude all material from a specific person or about a certain topic, enabling them to steer clear of "objectionable" views, particularly marginal political views, very easily.
As the supreme Court said in Turner Broadcasting v. FCC (1994), "Assuring that the public has access to a multiplicity of information sources is a governmental purpose of the highest order, for it promotes values central to the First Amendment."
5. U.S. PUSHES NUCLEAR PACT BUT SPENDS BILLIONS TO ADD BANG TO NUKES
Even as the United States urges the rest of the world to indefinitely extend a treaty requiring signatories to work toward elimination of nuclear weapons, the U.S. Department of Energy is planning a multibillion-dollar project to resume production of tritium-a radioactive gas used to enhance the explosive power of nuclear warheads. Apparently the only decision not yet made as the year drew to a close was what kind of facility the department plans to build and where it plans to build it.
The choice is between a huge particle accelerator, using theoretically workable but untested technology, and a nuclear reactor, which would be the first reactor ordered in the U.S. since the 1979 Three Mile Island nuclear accident.
Either choice involves immense political, financial, environmental and national security risks, yet the American public is little aware of the enormity of the decision to be made.
Many officials in the Clinton administration are averse to nuclear power and do not want the federal government to sponsor construction of a reactor. But many career staff members in the Energy Department and the Pentagon have long supported the nuclear industry and favor the reactor method of producing the tritium needed for the weapons program.
While Energy Secretary Hazel O'Leary has pledged to begin work on a new facility to produce tritium in the next fiscal budget, she has been under intense congressional pressure to choose the reactor option and to build it at the Energy Department's Savannah River, S.C., weapons plant where all of the tritium for the nation's nuclear arsenal has been produced.
O'Leary's choice appears to be between investing billions of federal dollars in a particle accelerator or accepting a proposal from a nuclear industry consortium to use mostly private funds to construct a reactor.
In late May, the Washington Post reported that the House committee had approved legislation requiring the Energy Department to begin development next year of a nuclear reactor that would produce tritium for the nation's nuclear warheads, generate electricity, and burn plutonium as fuel. Meanwhile the National Security Committee tacked the provision onto the defense authorization bill.
While the bureaucrats' and politicians' argument has been limited to two choices-either the accelerator or the nuclear reactor-the American public deserves to be made aware of the issues surrounding this critical decision.
Further, the public should be made aware that there is a third option: not to produce the tritium needed to add more bang to America's nuclear warheads.
6. RADICAL PLAN FROM NEWT GINGRICH'S THINK TANK TO GUT FDA
The Food and Drug Administration (FDA), sometimes criticized in the past for being too cozy with corporations, is now under attack for exactly the opposite reason. A powerful bloc of critics in the drug industry has joined hands with the Republican Congress and together they are pushing to overhaul the FDA. These critics claim the FDA is too tough on drug companies, unnecessarily inhibits innovation, and delays approval of new drugs and medical devices.
Leading the charge in Congress is Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich, who has labeled the FDA the "number one job killer" in the country, and called its head, David Kessler, "a bully and a thug." Gingrich's Progress & Freedom Foundation has a radical plan to privatize much of the FDA supervision of drugs and medical devices. If enacted the Progress & Freedom Foundation's plan will place responsibility for drug development, testing, and review in the hands of private firms hired by the drug companies themselves, while retaining a weakened FDA to rubber-stamp their recommendations. Additionally, the plan limits the liability of drug companies that sell dangerous drugs to the public.
Under the plan, government-licensed firms called DCBs (drug or device certifying bodies) would be retained by drug companies to develop, test, and review new products. According to the proposal, "competition between firms would inevitably produce a lower-cost, faster, and higher-quality development and approval process." FDA spokesperson Jim O'Hara charged, "What this report proposes is dismantling many of the safeguards that protect the public from drugs and devices that are unsafe or just don't work. This is basically a proposal that says public health and safety are commodities for the marketplace."
Though drug testing and review would be privatized under the plan, the FDA would still exist and would theoretically have the final say on new products. However, the report states there would be "a strong presumption that private certification decisions would not be overturned without substantial cause." Further, the FDA would not be authorized to request additional testing or data, and it would "have to exercise its veto within a fixed time period (e.g. 90 days) after which the drug or device would automatically receive FDA approval."
The Progress & Freedom Foundation plan also limits the drug company's liability should a patient be injured or killed by a dangerous drug or medical device. According to the plan, a victim could not sue for punitive damages if the manufacturer of the product could show it met regulatory standards (no matter how weakened they were) during development and testing.
Dr. Sidney Wolfe, director of Public Citizen's Health Research Group, says the plan to limit corporate liability is "hypocrisy at the very least." Even some in the drug industry feel it goes too far.
Not surprisingly, the foundation has financial backing from some of the biggest names in the pharmaceutical industry, including Bristol-Myers Squibb Co., Eli Lilly & Co., and Marion Merell Dow. Another drug manufacturer, Glaxo, has given an undisclosed amount to the foundation, in addition to contributions of approximately $325,000 to the Republican Party and Republican candidates. As a whole, the drug industry contributed more than $1.6 million to the Republican Party in the 1993-94 election cycle.
7. RUSSIA INJECTS EARTH WITH NUKE WASTE
THE NEW YORK TIMES
For more than three decades, the Soviet Union and now Russia secretly pumped billions of gallons of atomic waste directly into the earth and, according to Russian scientists, the practice continues today.
The scientists said that Moscow had injected about half of all the nuclear waste it ever produced into the ground at three widely dispersed sites, all thoroughly wet and all near major rivers. The three sites are at Dimitrovgrad near the Volga River, Tomsk near the Ob River, and Krasnoyarsk on the Yenisei River. The Volga flows into the Caspian Sea and the Ob and Yenisei flow into the Arctic Ocean.
The injections violate the accepted rules of nuclear waste disposal, which require it to be isolated in impermeable containers for thousands of years. The Russian scientists claim the practice is safe because the wastes have been injected under layers of shale and clay, which in theory cut them off from the Earth's surface.
But the wastes at one site already have leaked beyond the expected range and "spread a great distance," the Russians said. They did not say whether the distance was meters or kilometers or whether the poisons had reached the surface.
They began injecting the waste as a way to avoid the kind of surface-storage disasters that began to plague them in the 1950s. But by any measure, the injections were one of the Cold War's darkest secrets.
The amount of radioactivity injected by the Russians is up to three billion curies. By comparison, the accident at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant released about 50 million curies of radiation, mostly in short-lived isotopes that decayed in a few months. The accident at Three Mile Island discharged about 50 curies. The injected wastes include cesium-137, with a half life of 30 years, and strontium-90, with a half life of 28 years and a bad reputation because it binds readily with human bones.
The Russians are now working with the U.S. Department of Energy to try to better predict how far and fast the radioactive waste is likely to spread through aquifers.
At best, the Russian waste may stay underground long enough to be rendered largely harmless by the process of radioactive decay.
At worst, it might leak to the surface and produce regional calamities in Russia and areas downstream along the rivers. If the radioactivity spreads through the world's oceans, experts say, it might prompt a global rise in birth defects and cancer deaths.
At the least, the media should be reporting what progress is being made by the Department of Energy to monitor this potentially horrendous disaster.
8. MEDICAL FRAUD COSTS THE NATION $100 BILLION ANNUALLY-OR MORE
The United States' $1 trillion annual health bill is 14 percent of the gross domestic product, making the medical industry the largest business in the land.
Of this sum, a staggering amount is stolen. According to the National Health Care Anti-Fraud Association, the yearly swag totals between $31-$53 billion; according to the authoritative General Accounting Office, the annual take is $100 billion; according to other investigators the amount is as high as $250 billion. In fact, an extensive Mother Jones investigation discovered no one really knows how much money is stolen from the medical system every year-and, possibly even worse, no one has any way of finding out.
Although Medicare and Medicaid were created in 1965, no specialized police force was established until 1978, giving the bad guys, according to Bill Whatley Jr., president of the National Association of Medicaid Fraud Control Units, "a 13-year head start, and we never caught up. The people who put this program together didn't believe that the [health care providers] in the program would commit fraud, because medicine was such a high calling."
Unfortunately, such optimism was misplaced; it did not take health care providers long before they developed a series of medscam techniques including the following:
* Upcoding: a doctor performs one medical procedure and charges the insurer for another (more profitable) one;
* Unbundling: the whole is sometimes worth less than the sum of its parts. A wheelchair broken down into its components-a wheel here, a seat there-with a separate bill for each, can mean bigger profits;
* Pharmacy Fraud: a corrupt pharmacist, often abetted by a physician and a patient, dispenses a generic drug rather than a brand-name drug and pockets the difference;
* Psychiatric Schemes: in the 1980s, the nation experienced an "epidemic" of clinical depression, as hospital chains filled their beds with teenagers, the overweight, and substance abusers;
* Home Health Care: this includes overbilling, billing for services not rendered, kickbacks, the use of untrained (i.e. inexpensive) personnel, and the delivery of unnecessary equipment;
* Ghost Patients: there are doctors who continue to treat patients after they're dead and doctors who work more than 24 hours a day.
The irony of all this is that prosecuting medical insurance fraud is one of the government's few profit centers, returning about $72 for every taxpayer dollar spent; even allowing for the usual bureaucratic exaggeration, the monies recovered are substantial-to say nothing of the money that is saved when a fraudulent practitioner is removed from circulation.
9. U.S. CHEMICAL INDUSTRY FIGHTS FOR TOXIC OZONE-KILLING PESTICIDE
Methyl bromide is a pesticide that is at least 50 times more destructive to the ozone layer, atom for atom, than chlorofluoro-carbons (CFCs) yet America's chemical industry is fighting to prevent it from being banned.
In 1992, the United Nations estimated that the bromine atoms released into the upper atmosphere are responsible for five-to-ten percent of global ozone depletion, a share that is expected to increase to 15 percent by the year 2000.
In 1994, the UN listed elimination of methyl bromide (MB) as the most significant remaining approach (after phase-out of CFCs and halons) to reducing ozone depletion. UN scientists conclude that eliminating MB emissions from agricultural, structural, and industrial activities by the year 2001 would achieve a 13 percent reduction in ozone-depleting chemicals reaching the atmosphere over the next 50 years. MB also is extremely toxic and can cause acute and chronic health effects. Farmworkers, pesticide applicators, and people living or working where MB is used can suffer poisoning, neurological damage and reproductive harm. The chemical is so toxic to humans and animals that the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) classifies it as a Category 1 acute toxin, the most deadly group of substances.
For 60 years, MB has been used to kill pests in soils and buildings, and on agricultural products. In 1991, the U.S. accounted for nearly 40 percent of the pesticide's worldwide use. Soil fumigation to sterilize soil before planting crops is by far the largest use of MB in the U.S. Worldwide, most MB is used for luxury and export crops, like tomatoes, strawberries, peppers, tobacco and nursery crops.
Under the Clean Air Act, the EPA has mandated a halt to MB production in, and import to, the U.S. in 2001-but manufacturers and agricultural users have mounted a formidable campaign to delay the ban. Because no gradual phaseout is required, methyl bromide can be used without major restrictions until 2001. Since the act does not prohibit the use of existing stocks after 2001, application of the pesticide can continue as long as stockpiled supplies last.
The Methyl Bromide Global Coalition (MBGC)-a group of eight international MB users and producers-has launched a multimillion-dollar lobbying campaign to keep the product on the market. A leaked document from the Methyl Bromide Working Group, which includes Ethyl Corp. and Great Lakes Chemical Corp., the country's major MB producers, ignores reports of record ozone depletion, and states, "If we continue to work together, we stand an increasingly good chance of being able to use methyl bromide well beyond the year 2001."
While some nations are actively fighting a phaseout, other countries have already banned or vigorously regulated MB. In 1992, the Netherlands eliminated all soil fumigation using MB, and other countries, including Denmark, Germany, and Switzerland, are planning similar actions.
10. THE BROKEN PROMISES OF NAFTA
The promises of prosperity that the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) would bring the USA and Mexico were most loudly proclaimed by USA*NAFTA, a pro-NAFTA business coalition. The USA*NAFTA coalition promised that the free trade pact would be all things to all people. It would improve the environment, reduce illegal immigration by raising Mexican wages, deter international drug trafficking, and most importantly, create a net increase in high-paying U.S. jobs.
Now, some two years after the agreement became law, USA*NAFTA's own members are blatantly breaking the coalition's grand promises. Many of the firms-that only a short time ago were extolling the benefits of NAFTA for U.S. workers and communities-have cut jobs, moved plants to Mexico, or continued to violate labor rights and environmental regulations in Mexico.
An analysis by the Institute for Policy Studies revealed how the original promises are being broken in Mexico: while the standard of living may be better for the wealthy, there's been a 30 percent increase in the number of Mexicans emigrating to the U.S.; the peso devaluation of December 1994 cut the value of their wages by as much as 40 percent (making them far less able to buy U.S. goods today than they were before NAFTA); interest rates on credit cards climbed above 100%; retail sales in Mexico's three largest cities have dropped by nearly 25%.
The continuing economic crisis in Mexico is expected to cause the loss of two million jobs in 1995, and economic desperation is blamed for the 30 percent increase in arrests by U.S. border patrols between January and May 1995.
NAFTA's promises to U.S. workers also have been broken: the Department of Labor's NAFTA Transitional Adjustment Assistance program reported that 35,000 U.S. workers qualified for retraining between January 1, 1994, and July 10, 1995, because of jobs lost to NAFTA. A University of Maryland study estimates that more than 150,000 U.S. jobs were cut in 1994 as a result of increased consumer imports from Mexico. And since the peso devaluation in December 1994, the U.S. trade surplus with Mexico has turned into a deficit expanding from $885 million in May 1994 to $6.9 billion a year later, wiping out any basis for claiming that NAFTA is a net job creator for U.S. workers.
And, finally, an investigative piece by Mother Jones revealed that the environmental impact of NAFTA has been as severe as the economic impact. While government officials promised that NAFTA would reduce the level of pesticides coating Mexico's fields, this hasn't occurred.
The competition that NAFTA has set off between growers may actually increase the amount of pesticides used on Mexican crops. In fact, since NAFTA, Mexican growers are spraying more toxic pesticides on fruits, vegetables, and workers. Responsibility for pesticide use lies not only with Mexican growers but also with their U.S. agribusiness partners. The Mother Jones investigation also revealed that these companies, which supply capital to more than 40 percent of large-scale agribusiness in Mexico, distribute produce that has been sprayed with pesticides not permitted for use in the United States.