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The News that Didn't Make the News and Why
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Microplastics Poisoning Our Water and Air

Thu, 2017-10-12 17:30

In September 2017, Damian Carrington, an environmental editor at the Guardian, reported on drinking water contamination due to microplastic waste and how billions across the world are drinking plastic-contaminated water. As reported in a study published by OrbMedia, scientists tested tap water from more than a dozen nations across the globe and found that 83% of samples contained pieces of microplastic, with the United States having the highest concentrations (93% of all samples being contaminated) and European nations having the lowest contamination rates (72% of all samples being contaminated). This is equivalent to about 4.8 pieces of microplastic per 500ml in the United States and 1.9 pieces in European countries. The microplastics themselves are not currently known to negatively affect a person’s health but what does make them dangerous, Kaitlyn Kubat reported, is that they act “like tiny islands that bacteria can attach to and grown on.” As Carrington noted, microplastics are “known to contain and absorb toxic chemicals and research done on wild animals has found that they are released in the body.” So, while the plastics themselves may not be affecting your health, the bacteria and toxins that they harbor can.

Tap water is not the only source of microplastics. A 2014 study in Germany found that all twenty-four brands of beer in one test contained microplastic contamination; the same researchers also found contaminants in honey and sugar. A 2015 study by researchers in Paris discovered microplastics in the air and estimated that three to ten tons of fibers get deposited in the city every year. A subsequent publication by the same team found microplastics in the air in peoples’ homes. Breathing microplastics can potentially cause the chemicals they contain, or have absorbed, to be released into the lower lungs. Carrington’s report quoted public health experts asserting that research on the human health impacts of ingesting plastic particles is “urgently needed.”

The Guardian report notes that plastic fibers are released by “the everyday wear and tear” of clothing items and carpets. In the United States, eighty percent of all clothes dryers vent to the open air. Atmospheric contamination may also explain how water supplies are becoming contaminated.

Millions of tons of plastic are produced every year while only twenty percent of that is recycled every year, making plastic waste contamination a momentous problem for our planet. As Carrington writes, we may need plastics in our lives, but we are doing damage by “discarding them in careless ways.”

As of September 2017, a search using ProQuest’s National Newspapers Expanded database identified no corporate media coverage of the Orb study on which Carrington’s Guardian report was based.


Damian Carrington, “Plastic Fibres Found in Tap Water Around the World,” Guardian, September 5, 2017,

Kaitlyn Kubat, “Much of U.S. Tap Water Contaminated by Microplastics, Study Says.” Minnesota Daily, September 18, 2017,

Student Researcher: Richard Allen Harwood (Citrus College)

Faculty Evaluator: Andy Lee Roth (Citrus College)

The post Microplastics Poisoning Our Water and Air appeared first on Project Censored.

Tar Sands Companies to Blame for Increasingly Common Hazardous Spills

Thu, 2017-10-12 17:24

Three major oil companies—Kinder Morgan, TransCanada, and Enbridge—have been responsible for spilling a combined 63,000 barrels of hazardous materials since 2010, Tim Donaghy and Lawrence Carter reported for Greenpeace UK’s Unearthed. These three companies are currently involved in four controversial pipeline projects—including TransCanada’s Keystone XL project and Enbridge’s Line 3—that Donaghy and Carter described as “part of an effort to increase oil production from Canada’s tar sands, one of the dirtiest fossil fuel projects in the world.” As they reported, opponents of the projects—including 120 First Nations and Tribes—have opposed the projects due to greenhouse gas emissions that would result from increased tar sands production, and environmental and human rights concerns relating to the transport of tar sands oil.

According to the United States Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA), Kinder Morgan, TransCanada and Enbridge have been responsible for 373 spills over the past seven years, with 41 of these identified as “significant.” For crude oil, the PHMSA defines a spill of more than fifty barrels as significant. As Unearthed reported, long-term trend data maintained by PHMSA “shows that significant pipeline incidents have increased since 2007.”

Although a Kinder Morgan spokesperson told Unearthed that pipeline safety is the company’s “number one priority,” Donaghy and Carter’s report quoted Rueben George, the manager of the Tseil-Waututh Nation’s Sacred Trust Initiative.  “I’ve been to the Alberta tar sands and seen first hand the destruction that it causes, it’s devastating,” George told Unearthed. Referring to the Canadian government’s approval of Kinder Morgan’s Trans Mountain pipeline, George added: “They are breaking Tseil-Waututh law and that’s why we’re suing them.”

In November 2015, President Obama rejected a grant that would have allowed the Keystone XL pipeline to cross the Canada-United States border. A few days after President Trump took office, he reversed this decision by executive order, and in March 2017 the State Department issued a Presidential permit to TransCanada for the Keystone XL pipeline. As of August 2017, state regulators in Nebraska were conducting hearings to determine whether TransCanada’s proposed route through that state would serve the public interest. Members of Nebraska’s Public Service Commission could reject TransCanada’s plan or call on the company to reroute the pipeline.

Although the KeyStone XL pipeline and resistance to it has received significant corporate news coverage, as of September 24th, 2017, the corporate news media have not highlighted the record of hazardous spills by TransCanada, Kinder Morgan, and Enbridge, as reported by Unearthed.

Source: Tim Donaghy and Lawrence Carter, “Tar Sands Pipeline Companies Oversee Hundreds of Oil Spills,” Unearthed, September 8, 2017,

Student Researchers: Chris Jorritsma and Ashley Carrillo (Citrus College)

Faculty Evaluator: Andy Lee Roth (Citrus College)

The post Tar Sands Companies to Blame for Increasingly Common Hazardous Spills appeared first on Project Censored.

Opportunity for Rights of Nature Arises Due to Maori Success

Thu, 2017-10-12 17:21

In March 2017, the government of New Zealand officially recognized the Whanganui River—which the indigenous Maori consider their ancestor—as a living entity with rights. By protecting the Whanganui against human threats to its health, the New Zealand law established “a critical precedent for acknowledging the Rights of Nature in legal systems around the world,” Kayla DeVault reported for YES! Magazine. As DeVault wrote, from New Zealand and Australia to Canada and the United States, “we are seeing a revival” of communities seeking to protect natural systems and resources on the basis of “non-Western, often indigenous” world views that challenge the values of “colonial” governments.

The YES! Magazine story described how, after a legal battle spanning over one hundred years, the Maori Iwi secured protection for the Whanganui by forcing the government to honor Maori “practices, beliefs, and connection” to the river.

As DeVault wrote, if the Maori were able “to correct the gap in Western and indigenous paradigms in New Zealand, surely a similar effort to protect the Missouri River could be produced for the Standing Rock and Cheyenne River nations by the American government.”

In the battle over the Dakota Access pipeline, DeVault reported, the Ho-Chunk Nation of Wisconsin “amended its constitution to include the Rights of Nature.”

As DeVault noted, if the US government were to deem that the Missouri River had personhood status, the Dakota Access pipeline would become “a much different battle”: Injuries to the river, including altering or confining its free-flowing nature, could result in lawsuits. The risk of future chemical spills could be sufficient to stop the US Army Corps of Engineers from permitting the pipeline. And, any negotiations would require “legitimate consultation and consent from the river’s representatives.”

If more tribes followed the path of the Ho-Chunk Nation in affirming the rights of nature, DeVault concluded, we might finally see “an end to nonconsented infrastructure projects in Indian Country.”

As of September 2017, several independent outlets published stories similar to the YES! Magazine report, but corporate media have failed to directly address the topic. In July, 2016, the New York Times reported on New Zealand’s 2014 Te Urewera Act, through which the government gave up formal ownership of an 821 square mile national park to establish the land as a legal entity with “all the rights, powers, duties and liabilities of a legal person.” The Times report foreshadowed the possibility that New Zealand’s third longest river, the Whanganui, might be granted similar, enhanced legal status. Unlike the YES! Magazine report, the Times’ coverage did not address how the New Zealand decisions might apply to the US, mentioning only in passing that New Zealand’s attorney general “said he had talked the idea over with Canada’s new attorney general.”

Source:  Kayla DeVault, “What Legal Personhood for U.S. Rivers Would Do,” YES! Magazine, September 12, 2017,

Student Researcher: Erik Dylan Robledo (Citrus College)

Faculty Advisor: Andy Lee Roth (Citrus College)

The post Opportunity for Rights of Nature Arises Due to Maori Success appeared first on Project Censored.

Homelessness as a Global Social Problem

Thu, 2017-10-12 17:15

“The continuation of homelessness,” Joseph Chamie wrote in a July 2017 report for YaleGlobal Online, “reflects denial and the lack of political will to address poverty and many other issues.” Describing homelessness as “a mark of failure for communities in providing basic security,” Chamie’s study detailed difficulties in determining how much of the world’s population is homeless, analyzed fundamental reasons for homeless, and assessed how cities around the world have responded to homelessness as an increasingly visible phenomenon.

As Chamie reported, the United Nations estimates that no fewer than 150 million people—or about two percent of the world’s population are homeless; but about 1.6 billion people, more than twenty percent of the world’s population, may lack adequate housing.

However, Chamie noted, “obtaining accurate figures is difficult.”  Homelessness is culturally defined, which has led the United Nations to acknowledge that definitions of homelessness vary from country to country. Furthermore, many governments lack resources and the commitment to measure their homeless populations accurately. Due to stigma associated with homelessness, many governments “understate the problem,” Chamie wrote. For example, in Moscow, officials report around 10,000 homeless people, whereas non-governmental organizations claim as many as 100,000.

The YaleGlobal Online report acknowledged that the causes of homeless are “multifaceted, though some factors stand out.” These include lack of affordable housing, privatization of civil services, investment speculation in housing, rapid and unplanned urbanization, unemployment, lack of services for those suffering from mental illness or substance abuse, as well as people displaced by conflicts and natural disasters. Chamie notes that “even people with jobs sometimes cannot afford housing.”  One recent study found that nowhere in the United States can someone who works 40 hours per week for the federal minimum wage ($7.25/hour) afford a one-bedroom apartment at fair market rent.

Some governments around the world have responded to the increasing visibility of homelessness by offering enhanced support programs, but many cities “do what they can to chase the homeless off to other locales,” by passing and enforcing laws that ban loitering, pan handling, and camping or sleeping in vehicle, for example. Law enforcement and private security personnel “generally lack mandates or specialized training” to address homelessness, Chamie wrote.

Corporate news outlets cover homelessness, but rarely on a global scale. Instead, corporate coverage tends to treat homelessness in local rather than systemic terms. For example, during the months around the publication of Joseph Chamie’s report, national publications including the Huffington Post and the Los Angeles Times addressed homelessness, but these articles focused on San Francisco and Los Angeles, respectively. The scarcity of corporate news reports on homelessness as a global social problem contributes to what the YaleGlobal Online report described as the “denial and lack of political will” that make homelessness “an accepted feature of modern urban life” into the foreseeable future.

Source: Joseph Chamie, “As Cities Grow Worldwide, So Do the Numbers of Homeless,” YaleGlobal Online, July 13, 2017,

Student Researcher: Christopher Quintana (Citrus College)

Faculty Evaluator: Andy Lee Roth (Citrus College)

The post Homelessness as a Global Social Problem appeared first on Project Censored.

Media’s Blind Spot for Low-Income Victims of Natural Disasters

Thu, 2017-10-12 17:11

Only one-fifth of homeowners in the Houston area affected by Hurricane Harvey had flood insurance. So, what happened to the other four-fifths, not to mention those who rented the properties that they call home? As Janine Jackson reported for Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting (FAIR), in covering Harvey, CNN and other establishment news outlets reported on the National Flood Insurance Program and how the government would respond. But, as Jackson reported, “There still is this idea that a disaster is an equalizer,” which affects all people equally. In fact, however, disasters like Harvey “call attention to real differences that exist, such that different people just can’t react the same way.”

Jackson noted that, after Hurricane Katrina in 2005, media outlets became more sensitive to how poverty and racism magnify the impacts of natural disasters for many people. As deMause explained, “there are some people who, when faced with a disaster, can’t just pick up and leave, not because they are afraid to or are too stubborn to leave their homes, but because they don’t have the resources.” (During Harvey, one Rockport, Texas, resident told the BBC, “I had some problems getting out of town, a little broke and stuff, so I had to come home and, you know, tough it out.”)

Although media outlets promised that they wouldn’t forget the lesson of Katrina, mainstream coverage of Harvey focused primarily on “the helicopter of the hour” and “the latest rescue,” instead of “talking to people being rescued about what got them into this circumstance, and what is going to prevent this from happening in the future,” according to deMause. The focus of coverage on rescuers made some sense, he noted, “because that’s what they’re there to do, and they’re not going to feel like you’re imposing on them if you’re interviewing them.” However, deMause said, the job of journalists is “to figure out a way to tell the stories of the people who are caught in this, and why they’re caught in this, without just sticking a microphone at them, saying, ‘Hi, you just lost all your possessions, how does it feel?’ That’s not easy.” The general public cannot understand the severity of the problem if it is only relayed by secondary sources. Without the perspective of those most impacted by the disaster, “you then leave out a big part of the story,” deMause said.

On September 6, 2017, the New Yorker covered the subject of inequality during Hurricane Harvey. This article focused on a family in Beaumont, Texas. Harvey left the Robinsons, a family of seventeen with just two employed family members, with no place to live. The article provided a detailed account of how Harvey, combined with pre-existing inequalities, affected this extended family—and, by implication, so many others across southeastern Texas.

Democracy Now! was among the first to report on Harvey’s impacts on petrochemical facilities in the Houston area, emphasizing that the communities in closest to these facilities were low-income communities.

By contrast, the New York Times ran a story, titled “Storm With ‘No Boundaries’ Took Aim at Rich and Poor Alike,” which compared the experiences of a working-class construction worker and a doctor, concluding that “people of disparate means” had “one common experience: loss.”


Janine Jackson, “Some People Faced With a Disaster Can’t Just Pick Up and Leave,” FAIR (Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting), September 7, 2017,

Neil deMause, “Disaster Coverage Still Has a Blind Spot for Low-Income Victims,” FAIR (Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting), September 1, 2017,

Student Researcher: Johanna Patricia Medina (Citrus College)

Faculty Evaluator: Andy Lee Roth (Citrus College)

The post Media’s Blind Spot for Low-Income Victims of Natural Disasters appeared first on Project Censored.

The “Gap-Within-a-Gap”: How Education Affects the Gender Wage Gap

Thu, 2017-10-12 17:08

Men in Seattle are earning significantly more money than women with the same education levels and in the same profession, Chris Winters of YES! Magazine reported in August 2017.  “The gender-pay gap in Seattle nearly inversely correlates to women’s level of education,” Winters reported. “In other words, the higher the degree a woman has, the larger gap in pay exists between her and men with the same level of education.”

In 2016, the US Census Bureau’s American Community Survey found that women in the Seattle region earned 78.6 cents for every dollar earned by their male counterparts. This mirrored the national average in the gender wage gap. But, as Winters reported, a Seattle company, LiveStories, took a closer look at the data and found that the differences between men’s and women’s wages actually increased with higher levels of education. According to the LiveStories study, Seattle women with only a high school diploma experience a slight difference in wages, compared to similarly educated men wages (84 cents for every dollar earned by men), but women with college degrees earned just 72 cents per dollar. Wages decreased to 68 cents on the dollar for women with professional degrees. As Winters reported, “Even after accounting for college major, economic sector, hours worked, months unemployed since graduation, GPA, type of undergraduate institution, institution selectivity, age, geographical region, and marital status,” differences in earnings by gender persisted.

This “gap-within-a-gap” trend appears to be particular to Seattle, Winters wrote. LiveStories compared Seattle with other similarly sized cities—including Baltimore, Boston, and Denver—and found that effect was “most pronounced” in Seattle.

Winters examined the causes of the gendered wage gap in general and the Seattle case in particular. Acknowledging that there is “no easy explanation,” he noted parenting and other familial responsibilities as two widely acknowledged factors for the wage gap between men and women. However, “neither of those factors taken singly or together accounts for the entire gender gap.” Addressing the “gap-within-a-gap” found in Seattle, Winters noted that, according to an American Association of University Women study, Washington is one of fourteen states with “weak” equal pay laws.

In May, 2016, the Wall Street Journal published an article on the gender wage gap in elite, white-collar jobs. Unlike the Journal’s coverage, Winter’s YES! Magazine article also focused on disparities in earnings across different ethnic groups.

Source: Chris Winters, “The More Education, the Wider the Gender Pay Gap—Wait, What?” YES! Magazine, August 7, 2017,

Student Researchers: Merissa Valenzuela and Sarah Hernandez (Citrus College)

Faculty Evaluator: Andy Lee Roth (Citrus College)

The post The “Gap-Within-a-Gap”: How Education Affects the Gender Wage Gap appeared first on Project Censored.

A Note on Research and Evaluation of Censored News Stories

Fri, 2017-10-06 12:27

How do we at Project Censored identify and evaluate independent news stories, and how do we know that the Top 25 stories that we bring forward each year are not only relevant and significant, but also trustworthy? The answer is that each candidate news story undergoes rigorous review, which takes place in multiple stages during each annual cycle. Although adapted to take advantage of both the Project’s expanding affiliates program and current technologies, the vetting process is quite similar to the one Project Censored founder Carl Jensen established thirty-eight years ago.

Candidate stories are initially identified by Project Censored professors and students, or are nominated by members of the general public, who bring them to the Project’s attention through our website. (Follow this link for information on how to nominate a story.) Together, faculty and students vet each candidate story in terms of its importance, timeliness, quality of sources, and corporate news coverage. If it fails on any one of these criteria, the story does not go forward.

Once Project Censored receives the candidate story, we undertake a second round of judgment, using the same criteria and updating the review of any competing corporate coverage. Stories that pass this round of review get posted on our website as Validated Independent News stories (VINs).

In early spring, we present all VINs in the current cycle to the faculty and students at all of our affiliate campuses, and to our national and international panel of judges, who cast votes to winnow the candidate stories from nearly 300 down to 25.

Once the Top 25 have been determined, students in Peter Phillip’s Media Censorship course at Sonoma State University, and Project Censored student interns working with Mickey Huff at Diablo Valley College, begin another intensive review of each story using LexisNexis and ProQuest databases. Additional faculty and students contribute to this final stage of review.

The Top 25 finalists are then sent to our panel of judges, who vote to rank them in numerical order. At the same time, these experts—including media studies professors, professional journalists, and a former commissioner of the Federal Communications Commission, among others—offer their insights on the stories’ strengths and weaknesses.

Thus, by the time a story appears in the pages of Censored, it has undergone at least five distinct rounds of review and evaluation. Although the stories that Project Censored brings forward may be socially and politically controversial—and sometimes even psychologically challenging—we are confident that each is the result of serious journalistic effort and, so, deserves greater public attention.

The post A Note on Research and Evaluation of Censored News Stories appeared first on Project Censored.

#25 Juvenile Court Fees Punish Children for Their Families’ Poverty

Tue, 2017-10-03 20:38

Low-income children across the US are being imprisoned when they or their families cannot afford to pay court fees, Nika Knight reported in Common Dreams. Aside from court costs, low-income children also face fees for probation, health tests, care, and other services in juvenile facilities. This amounts to “punishing children for their families’ poverty,” Knight wrote, “and that may be unconstitutional.”

Knight’s article drew on a 2016 report by the Juvenile Law Center, a legal aid advocacy group, which reviewed statutes in all fifty states and the District of Columbia to assess “the legal framework for financial obligations placed on youth in the juvenile justice system and their families.” The Juvenile Law Center also conducted interviews with 183 people involved in the juvenile justice system—including lawyers, family members, and adults who had been incarcerated as children—across forty-one states. Noting “stark racial disparities” in the juvenile justice system generally, from arrests to diversion and detention, the study’s authors wrote that costs, fines, fees, and restitution “exacerbate racial disparities in the juvenile justice system,” in some cases creating what they described as “modern-day debtors’ prisons.” Notably, the Juvenile Law Center’s report not only identified problems in the system but also highlighted solutions, including promising practices, legislative remedies, and case studies of jurisdictions that no longer impose court costs, fees, and fines in their juvenile systems.

Knight’s article identified “myriad ways” that juvenile court systems levy fines on children’s families “and then imprison those children when their families are too poor to pay the mounting costs.” These include, for example, monthly fees on families whose children are sentenced to probation, the costs of “diversion” programs intended to keep children out of detention, and charges for court-ordered evaluations and tests (such as mental health evaluations, tests for sexually-transmitted diseases, and drug and alcohol assessments). When families cannot afford to pay these fees and fines, children may be incarcerated instead.

The Juvenile Law Center report described the fines imposed by juvenile court as “highly burdensome.” For example, in Alameda County, California, the average cost of juvenile system involvement is $2,000 per case. Cost can be “significantly higher,” according to the report, in cases in which young people are incarcerated for extended periods of time.

Furthermore, Knight reported, in some states parents themselves may also face imprisonment if they fail to pay fees and fines levied against their children. Incarcerating parents puts children further at risk and adds to the stresses on families already struggling with the consequences of poverty. According to the report’s authors, “When parents face incarceration or mounting debt for failure to pay, they have even fewer resources to devote to educating, helping, and supporting their children.”

While noting that a detailed analysis of these policies’ constitutional implications went beyond its scope, the Juvenile Law Center report noted prior legal decisions in which the Supreme Court has held that courts must consider “alternative measures of punishment other than imprisonment” for poor defendants. The Supreme Court has also repeatedly held that constitutional protections must be calibrated to the unique developmental needs of adolescents.

In August 2016, the New York Times published a substantial article on the Juvenile Law Center’s study, describing low-income juveniles—and especially racial minorities—as overburdened by fees. However, the Times article did not mention that parents in some states were also being jailed, and the report overlooked the precedent of Supreme Court decisions upholding additional protections for adolescents.

Nika Knight, “Debtors’ Prison for Kids: Poor Children Incarcerated When Families Can’t Pay Juvenile Court Fees,” Common Dreams, August 31, 2016,

Student Researcher: Raquel Guerrero (Sonoma State University)

Faculty Evaluator: Diana Grant (Sonoma State University)

The post #25 Juvenile Court Fees Punish Children for Their Families’ Poverty appeared first on Project Censored.

#24 Eight Use of Force Policies to Prevent Killings by Police

Tue, 2017-10-03 20:37

Killings by police are not inevitable or difficult to prevent, according to a September 2016 study by Campaign Zero, a police-reform group formed in the aftermath of the Ferguson protests. The study, “Police Use of Force Policy Analysis,” examined police departments in ninety-one of the nation’s largest cities and found that departments with stricter use of force regulations killed significantly fewer people. Noting that many police departments fail to establish “common sense restrictions” on use of force and that police violence is “distributed disproportionally,” with black people being three times more likely to be killed by police than their white counterparts, the study’s authors wrote, “fundamentally changing use of force polic[i]es can dramatically reduce the number of people killed by police in America.” As Jamilah King reported in Mic, the study is “the first wide-scale analysis to demonstrate the connection between differing ‘use of force’ policies and the rate of police killings.”

Campaign Zero identified the following eight guidelines, restricting when and how police officers should use force, that greatly decrease the likelihood of civilian deaths:

  • Require officers to de-escalate situations before resorting to force.
  • Limit the kinds of force that can be used to respond to specific forms of resistance.
  • Restrict chokeholds.
  • Require officers to give a verbal warning before using force.
  • Prohibit officers from shooting at moving vehicles.
  • Require officers to exhaust all alternatives to deadly force.
  • Require officers to stop colleagues from exercising excessive force.
  • Require comprehensive reporting on use of force.

Campaign Zero found that, on average, “each additional use of force policy was associated with a 15% reduction in killings,” and that implementing all eight guidelines would result in a 54 percent reduction in killings for the average police department. Taking into account the number of arrests made, assaults on officers, and community demographics, Campaign Zero reported that police departments with all eight use of force policies implemented “would kill 72% fewer people than departments that have none of these policies in place.”

As King reported for Mic, Campaign Zero determined its findings by combining police department data on use of force policies, obtained through Freedom of Information Act requests, and records of police-involved killings dating back to 2015, as compiled by the Guardian and the Washington Post. (For previous Project Censored coverage of efforts to track the number of police-involved killings of civilians, see “Who Dies at the Hands of US Police—and How Often,” Censored 2016, pp. 58–61; “National Database of Police Killings Aims for Accountability,” Censored 2015, p. 69; Peter Phillips, Diana Grant, and Greg Sewell, “Law Enforcement–Related Deaths in the US: ‘Justified Homicides’ and Their Impacts on Victims’ Families,” Censored 2015, pp. 243–68.)

In her coverage of the Campaign Zero study, Alice Speri of the Intercept noted that just thirty-four of the ninety-one police departments studied by Campaign Zero had policies requiring officers to de-escalate situations before resorting to force, and only thirty-one of the ninety-one departments required officers to exhaust all alternatives before resorting to deadly force. Just fifteen of the ninety-one departments required officers to report on all uses of force, including threatening a civilian with a firearm.

Yet, as King reported in Mic, Campaign Zero found significant differences between metropolitan police departments that had four or more of the policies in place and those that did not. For example, Washington, DC, and Miami did have four or more of the policies in place, and these cities had relatively low rates of police killings (between six police killings per million residents for Washington, DC, and ten per million for Miami). By contrast, the police departments of Orlando, Florida; Stockton, California; and Oklahoma City each implemented fewer than four of the use of force guidelines, and these cities had the nation’s worst rates of police killings (between twenty-one police killings per million residents for Oklahoma City and twenty-five per million for Orlando).

Samuel Sinyangwe, one of the study’s researchers and authors, told the Intercept that few departments have implemented all or most of these policies, partly due to “resistance from police unions that claim more restrictive policies will endanger officers.” On the contrary, the Campaign Zero study showed that the numbers of officers assaulted or killed in the line of duty decreased in proportion with the number of regulations adopted by their department.

Sinyangwe, the Campaign Zero researcher, told Mic, “Two years ago we didn’t even have the data to know which police departments were killing people at higher rates than others and why . . . Now we can identify the key policies to prevent these killings.”

Kate Stringer’s YES! Magazine article, “We Already Know How to Reduce Police Racism and Violence,” predated the publication of the Campaign Zero report, but offered insights on how cities could interrupt police violence, based on findings of previous research. Her report cited prior studies encouraging support for police reforms which included training officers against racial bias, hiring more female officers, hiring to match communities’ racial diversity, opening departments to research, and using body cameras.

As of June 2017, Campaign Zero’s findings appear to have been completely overlooked by the nation’s major corporate news outlets.

Kate Stringer, “We Already Know How to Reduce Police Racism and Violence,” YES! Magazine, July 8, 2016,

Jamilah King, “Study: More Restrictive ‘Use of Force’ Policies Could Curb the Epidemic of Police Violence,” Mic, September 21, 2016,

Alice Speri, “Here are Eight Policies That Can Prevent Police Killings,” Intercept, September 21, 2016,

Student Researcher: Malcolm Pinson (San Francisco State University)

Faculty Evaluator: Kenn Burrows (San Francisco State University)

The post #24 Eight Use of Force Policies to Prevent Killings by Police appeared first on Project Censored.

#23 Facebook Buys Sensitive User Data to Offer Marketers Targeted Advertising

Tue, 2017-10-03 20:36

Julia Angwin, Terry Parris, Jr., and Surya Mattu reported that, since 2012, Facebook has been buying sensitive data about users’ offline lives from data brokers and combining this information with the online data it collects in order to sell this information to advertisers who seek to target specific types of Facebook users for their products and services. Facebook, they reported in September 2016, uses a “particularly comprehensive set of dossiers” on its more than two billion members in order to “offer marketers a chance to target ads to increasingly specific groups of people.” As Angwin, Parris, and Mattu described in that report, “we found Facebook offers advertisers more than 1,300 categories for ad targeting—everything from people whose property size is less than .26 acres to households with exactly seven credit cards.”

Their December 2016 report quoted Jeffrey Chester, executive director of the Center for Digital Democracy. Facebook, Chester said, is “not being honest . . . Facebook is bundling a dozen different data companies to target an individual customer, and an individual should have access to that bundle as well.”

Facebook collects information on users in many ways beyond users’ posts and “likes.” For instance, many websites include a Facebook link where a visitor to the site can like it on Facebook. In such cases, even if the website visitor does not choose to like the site on Facebook, Facebook is still able to track that the page was visited—linking back to the user. The data brokers from which Facebook buys additional information track offline sources, such as supermarket loyalty cards, mailing lists, and public records information (which includes records of home or car ownership).

Facebook seeks to puts users at ease by providing an opt-out option. However, as Angwin, Parris, and Mattu wrote, “Limiting commercial data brokers’ distribution of your personal information is no simple matter.” Even getting data brokers to share the information that they have about you (and can sell) could require sending the last four digits of your social security number, as in the case of Acxiom, one of six data brokers from which Facebook buys personal information. Reporter Julia Angwin noted that in 2013 she tried to opt out from as many data brokers as she could find. Sixty-five of the ninety-two brokers she found required her to submit some form of identification. “In the end, she could not remove her data from the majority of providers,” despite the fact that she had not signed up for any of these tracking services herself, the December ProPublica story reported.

One of the ways ProPublica gathered data for its report on Facebook’s data collection processes was by asking Facebook users to share with ProPublica the categories of interest that the site assigned to them. ProPublica collected more than 52,000 unique attributes that Facebook had used to classify users’ interests.

Although Facebook’s methods of collecting data about the platform’s users have received corporate coverage, this reporting has not explained the specific tactics used or the information obtained by data brokers. For instance, a 2010 Wall Street Journal article described how Facebook reported that “it had placed some developers on a six-month suspension from its site” because “a data broker” had “been paying application developers for identifying user information.” Rather than appearing as an isolated and unusual case as the Wall Street Journal report implied, Facebook’s practice of engaging data brokers and selling user data to advertisers seems, according to ProPublica’s 2016 reports, to be systemic and, apparently, entirely acceptable to Facebook.

Julia Angwin, Terry Parris, Jr., and Surya Mattu, “Breaking the Black Box: What Facebook Knows About You,” ProPublica, September 28, 2016,

Julia Angwin, Terry Parris, Jr., and Surya Mattu, “Facebook Doesn’t Tell Users Everything It Really Knows About Them,” ProPublica, December 27, 2016,

Student Researcher: Jonnie Zambrano (Citrus College)

Faculty Evaluator: Andy Lee Roth (Citrus College)

The post #23 Facebook Buys Sensitive User Data to Offer Marketers Targeted Advertising appeared first on Project Censored.

#22 Lawsuit against Illinois Department of Corrections Exposes Militarization of Law Enforcement inside Prisons

Tue, 2017-10-03 20:35

Against a backdrop of national concern over the militarization of police, Brian Dolinar reported for Truthout that a judge has approved a 2015 lawsuit against 232 Illinois Department of Corrections officers to proceed to the discovery phase. The class-action suit, Ross v. Gossett, brought on behalf of prisoners at Menard, Illinois River, Big Muddy River, and Lawrence Correctional Centers, alleges that the “Orange Crush” tactical team used excessive force, including physical and sexual abuse, when it conducted mass shakedowns in the spring of 2014. As Dolinar wrote, “less is known beyond prison walls about guards who regularly brutalize those incarcerated,” but the Illinois lawsuit “names a list of horrific abuses that includes strip searches, beatings and mass shakedowns of cells,” indicating how militarization of law enforcement has occurred inside prisons as well as in public.

Dolinar described the development and increasing use of so-called Special Operations Response Teams (SORTs), also known as tactical teams, in prisons across the US since the 1971 prison rebellion at Attica in New York. Dolinar’s report focused in particular on one such group, within the Illinois Department of Corrections (IDOC), that has come to be known informally as the “Orange Crush,” referencing their orange jumpsuits and extreme “horrific abuses.” IDOC Orange Crush teams, Dolinar reported, first developed in 1996 when Illinois attempted to address the problem of prisons gangs, including the Vice Lords and Latin Kings, that often ran illicit operations with the cooperation of prison authorities.

The lawsuit alleges that Orange Crush teams used tear gas against prisoners and that, at some prisons, officers forced inmates to undergo what are known as “nuts to butts” searches, in which prisoners are forced to walk bent over at approximately a ninety-degree angle with no space between them. According to former inmates, if prisoners were to stand up during this procedure, they could be beaten. Documents released during discovery in the trial have revealed that dozens of inmates have required medical treatment as a result of Orange Crush searches. Officers also allegedly wore riot helmets to conceal their identities.

According to inmate statements, during cell searches some officers removed legal documents that prisoners intended to use in their trials. As Dolinar reported, “The reason why the Orange Crush conducted the sweeps is still unclear.”

The lawsuit, filed by the Uptown People’s Law Center and Loevy & Loevy, a Chicago-based firm, seeks to expose the Orange Crush and those who ordered raids at four separate facilities in Spring 2014. After the IDOC sought to have the suit dismissed, District Judge Staci Yandle concluded that defendants “purposely concealed their identities to evade responsibility for their actions.”

Beyond Brian Dolinar’s Truthout report, the alleged abuses by the IDOC Orange Crush unit and the resulting lawsuit have received limited news coverage, with reports restricted to local outlets, such as the Belleville News-Democrat and the Chicago Defender.

Brian Dolinar, “Orange Crush: The Rise of Tactical Teams in Prison,” Truthout, January 2, 2017,

Student Researchers: Daniel Hayden and Nicholas Duran (Citrus College)

Faculty Evaluator: Andy Lee Roth (Citrus College)

The post #22 Lawsuit against Illinois Department of Corrections Exposes Militarization of Law Enforcement inside Prisons appeared first on Project Censored.

#21 Fossil Fuel Industry “Colonizing” US Universities

Tue, 2017-10-03 20:34

Without the public’s awareness, fossil fuel interests—representing oil, gas, and coal companies as well as utilities and investors—have “colonized nearly every nook and cranny of energy and climate policy research in American universities,” two researchers at Stanford University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) reported in the Guardian in March 2017. Fossil fuel interests dominate energy and climate policy research at the nation’s most prominent universities, including Harvard, MIT, Stanford, and the University of California, Berkeley. “The very experts we assume to be objective, and the very centers of research we assume to be independent,” Benjamin Franta and Geoffrey Supran wrote, “are connected with the very industry the public believes they are objectively studying. Moreover, these connections are often kept hidden.” The result is more than a “conflict of interest,” Franta and Supran reported. These are “industry projects with the appearance of neutrality and credibility given by academia.”

As an example of such “colonizing,” Franta and Supran described in detail a February 2017 event, “Finding Energy’s Rational Middle,” hosted by Harvard Kennedy School’s Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs. It was not publicly disclosed that Shell Oil Company sponsored the event. The Harvard event featured a documentary film, The Great Transition, produced by Shell and directed by a vice president of an oil and gas company funded by Shell. The Kennedy School has received at least $3.75 million from Shell, Franta and Supran reported.

The report also detailed how the Shell documentary provided supposedly objective scholars’ assessments while failing to disclose their fossil fuel industry connections. The people shown in the documentary consistently expressed skepticism about renewable energy solutions and promoted being “realistic” about fossil fuels, while advocating natural gas as a great transition to “clean” energy—without mentioning that methane emissions have even greater impacts on global warming than carbon emissions do. Franta and Supran documented some of the film’s participants’ undisclosed connections to the fossil fuel industry; for example, Amy Myers Jaffe, who is identified in the film as the executive director of energy and sustainability at the University of California, Davis, is also a member of the US National Petroleum Council. In the film Jaffe says, “We need to be realistic that we’re gonna use fossil fuels now, because in the end, we are.” Michelle Michot Foss, identified as the chief energy economist at the University of Texas at Austin’s Center for Energy Economics, is also a partner in a natural gas company, and Chevron, ExxonMobil, and the Koch Foundation, among others, fund the Center where she works.

As Franta and Supran noted, the fossil fuel industry often employs the tactic of claiming to promote a “rational middle” between total dependence on nonrenewable energy and total independence from it, and in practice this tactic is used to undermine the shift to renewable energy sources. In this case, the report explained, Shell and allied figures were able to deploy the tactic with “Harvard’s stamp of approval.”

Beyond Harvard, Franta and Supran documented that the MIT Energy Initiative is “almost entirely funded” by fossil fuel companies, including Shell, ExxonMobil, and Chevron. MIT has received $185 million from David Koch, the oil billionaire and climate change denial financier, who is a life member of the university’s board. ExxonMobil funds Stanford’s Global Climate and Energy Project. UC Berkeley’s Energy Biosciences Institute (EBI) was initiated thanks to a $500 million deal signed in 2007 with BP. BP appoints half of the voting members of EBI’s Governance Board.

Franta and Supran called for universities to stop ignoring the problem of climate change and confront it, either by disclosing financial funding from the fossil fuel industry in order to reduce conflicts of interest, or by prioritizing sponsors and personnel who are “less conflicted.”

Corporate news coverage of how the fossil fuel industry has captured energy and climate policy research at US universities is rare, and when the topic is addressed coverage gives the impression of isolated incidents. In 2010, for example, the Los Angeles Times emphasized the benefits of BP’s partnership with UC Berkeley. (See Michael Hiltzik, “Campus Is Oddly Silent on BP,” Los Angeles Times, August 1, 2010, B1.) After the Center for American Progress released a 2010 study that documented the fossil fuel industry’s strong grip on university research, this topic received some coverage in the corporate press, including SFGate, but, as with previous coverage, these reports tended to focus on individual cases rather than systemic patterns.

Greenpeace’s PolluterWatch website maintains an interactive database of the Koch Foundation’s funding for colleges and universities, which totaled over $144 million between 2005 and 2015.

Benjamin Franta and Geoffrey Supran, “The Fossil Fuel Industry’s Invisible Colonization of Academia,” Guardian, March 13, 2017,

Student Researcher: Zeinab Benchakroun (College of Marin)

Faculty Evaluator: Susan Rahman (College of Marin)

The post #21 Fossil Fuel Industry “Colonizing” US Universities appeared first on Project Censored.

#20 Seattle Activist Group Leads First Successful Campaign to Defund Police

Tue, 2017-10-03 20:34

In September 2016 the Block the Bunker campaign in Seattle was the first to persuade US city officials to divest from police funding and allocate more tax dollars for community services.

In summer 2016, a coalition of antiracist grassroots organizers protested the city’s plans to spend nearly $150 million on a new police station in North Seattle. In September, the mayor shelved the plans for the 2017 budget and an additional $29 million was added to the affordable housing budget. According to the Movement for Black Lives, no other organization is known to be actively working on divestment policy, and it is the first such campaign to be successful.

NBC’s KING5 and the Seattle Times covered the story in August and September 2016 but activists’ voices were barely included. KING5’s coverage, in particular, emphasized the disruption the group caused during city council meetings. No attention was given to the campaign’s success in divesting from police funding and its significance for antiracism movements across the US. By contrast, in a YES! Magazine article, Melissa Hellmann spoke with the activists and dissected the argument that more policing makes communities safer. Palca Shibale, a recent University of Washington graduate and one of the original organizers against the proposed police station, told YES! Magazine that she hoped Block the Bunker would inspire others to organize and address issues of police brutality and gentrification in their own cities. “It’s so important to do whatever you can do in your own spaces to fight for equity, however that looks,” Shibale said. Hellmann interviewed Michelle Phelps, assistant professor of sociology at the University of Minnesota, who said there was not a lot of research on alternative strategies to reduce crime rates, but that spending more on police and less on social services puts “a strain on the relationships between communities and police.”

A Seattle city council member, Kshama Sawant, said, “The only reason that this new police precinct is not going to go ahead in this year’s budget is because of the Block the Bunker movement and because ordinary people, young people, and activists came and shut the city all down.”

Melissa Hellmann, “Defunding Police—How Antiracist Organizers Got Seattle to Listen,” YES! Magazine, March 9, 2017,

Student Researcher: Katie Doke Sawatzky (University of Regina)

Faculty Evaluator: Patricia Elliott (University of Regina)

The post #20 Seattle Activist Group Leads First Successful Campaign to Defund Police appeared first on Project Censored.

#19 Inmates and Activists Protest Chemical Weapons in US Prisons and Jails

Tue, 2017-10-03 20:33

Daniel Moattar, writing for the Nation, and Sarah Lazare, a journalist at AlterNet, reported how chemical weapons, including several types of tear gas, are being used against prisoners in the United States, despite the fact that the international Chemical Weapons Convention of 1997 bans their use in warfare. Despite the arms control treaty that now binds nearly two hundred nations, Lazare reported, “in prisons and jails across the United States, far from any conventional battlefield or public scrutiny, tear gas and other chemical weapons are routinely used against people held captive in enclosed spaces, including solitary confinement.” Tear gas is known to cause skin and respiratory irritation, intense pain, blindness, and, in severe cases, death.

Since 2013, the War Resisters League has been documenting the use of tear gas in prisons. As Moattar reported, letters from inmates sent to the War Resisters League document the use of tear gas and pepper spray against inmates—in men’s and women’s prisons, including maximum- and medium-security facilities—in eighteen states across the country. Lazare summarized inmates’ reports of “burns, scars and memories of agony and suffocation.” Some reported being denied treatment or even being allowed to rinse their eyes after being subject to tear gas.

As a result of inmates’ letters, activists have taken action. Seeking to end the use of tear gas in US prisons and jails, activists argue that “the deployment of chemical weapons of any kind against imprisoned people constitutes militarization and torture,” Lazare reported. In early January 2017, shortly before the inauguration of Donald Trump, representatives of the War Resisters League, Witness Against Torture, Black Movement Law Project, and other organizations brought their demands to the Department of Justice, where they held a press conference and delivered a petition with over 13,000 signatures to then–deputy attorney general Sally Q. Yates.

Tear gases and pepper sprays are lucrative commodities for those who produce them. The War Resisters League also documented companies—including Sabre, Combined Tactical Systems (CTS), Sage, and Safariland—that sell tear gas to prisons in forms “designed specifically for ‘enclosed spaces.’” As Moattar documented in his article, through private companies such as Sabre and Safariland, the US “remains the single largest manufacturer” of CS, one of the two compounds used in most forms of tear gas. “Producers of tear gas and pepper spray worry more about finding new markets than navigating the law,” Moattar wrote. “Even if existing restrictions on the use of force were enforced, the direct use of pain-inducing chemicals on prisoners, including inmates restrained or in solitary, is still minimally regulated and broadly legal.”

There is little corporate news coverage on chemical weapons being used against inmates in US prisons and jails. What coverage there is tends to frame incidents as local and isolated, as in a September 2016 article in the Miami Herald which focused on the case of a twenty-seven-year-old inmate, Randall Jordan-Aparo, who died at Franklin Correctional Institution in 2010 after corrections officers allegedly tortured, gassed, and beat him.

Daniel Moattar, “Prisons are Using Military-Grade Tear Gas to Punish People,” Nation, April 28, 2016,

Sarah Lazare, “The Scandal of Chemical Weapons in U.S. Prisons,” AlterNet, January 11, 2017,

Student Researchers: Cynthia Alvarez, Veronica Esquivez, and William Ha (Citrus College)

Faculty Evaluator: Andy Lee Roth (Citrus College)

The post #19 Inmates and Activists Protest Chemical Weapons in US Prisons and Jails appeared first on Project Censored.

#18 Rise in Number of Transgender People Murdered

Tue, 2017-10-03 20:29

Proposing a “comprehensive look” at transgender homicides since 2010, Mic’s Meredith Talusan investigated in December 2016 “how and why trans lives are not counted and what we can do to end the violence.” The Mic report began with a revealing comparison of homicide figures: Among the general US population, one in 19,000 persons is murdered every year; for young adults, aged 15–34, the figure is one in 12,000. For black trans women in the same age range, the rate is one in 2,600. In 2015 FBI homicide data documented 15,696 murders. As Mic reported, “If in 2015 all Americans had the same risk of murder as young black trans women, there would have been 120,087 murders.” Put another way, although the total number of transgender homicides per year may seem small, it “represents a rate of violence that far exceeds that of the general population.”

And, in fact, as Talusan’s report went on to document, due to underreporting and misidentification (many trans murder victims are “misgendered” by officials and news reports, and even by immediate family members who sometimes reject a relative’s trans identity), the actual trans murder rate is likely “much higher.” The result of the Mic investigation is what Talusan described as a “comprehensive database” of transgender Americans who have died by homicide since 2010. 2010 was the first year that the National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs (NCAVP), an organization that tracks homicides in the transgender community, began its formal count.

As of late June 2017, GLAAD had documented fourteen transgender people killed in 2017, all of whom, its website noted, were transgender women of color. (See Alex Schmider, “GLAAD Calls for Increased and Accurate Media Coverage of Transgender Murders,” GLAAD, July 26, 2016, updated June 28, 2017; for previous Project Censored coverage on the media invisibility of trans homicides, see Caitlin McCoy and Susan Rahman, “Zero Media Coverage for Transgendered Murder Victims,” Project Censored, April 1, 2015.)

Between 2010 and 2016, Talusan summarized, at least 111 transgender and gender-nonconforming Americans were murdered “because of their gender identity.” Under the LGBTQ umbrella, she elaborated, no group “faces more violence” than transgender people, who accounted for 67 percent of the hate-related homicides against queer people in 2015, according to the NCAVP. The US Census does not track transgender people; and, although the FBI added gender identity to its records of hate crimes in 2014, it does not track gender identity along with its homicide statistics.

“At every stage,” Shannon Minter, a transgender attorney and legal director of the National Center for Lesbian Rights, told Mic, “there are bias-based obstacles” that diminish the chances that a trans person’s death by murder will be accounted for publicly, “and those levels reinforce each other.” People hesitate to even go to the police in some cases. Official records—from police reports and hospital records, to death certificates and obituaries—typically lack the means to represent transgender people. And even when police or coroners correctly identify a murder victim as transgender, law enforcement defer to families on releasing that information. A sergeant for the Metropolitan Police Department (MPD) in Washington, DC, who is a transgender woman and the MPD’s LGBT liaison, told Mic, “I would never out anyone as trans during life or in their deaths, not coming from a police department.” Media reporting on transgender homicides is improving, said the NCAVP’s communications director, Sue Yacka, but “local press still has a long way to go.” Yacka routinely contacts news organizations to attempt to get them to use transgender victims’ names and genders. Similarly, in its report, GLAAD called on news media to “report on the brutal violence perpetrated against transgender people, particularly transgender women of color” and to “respect and use the lived identity, name, and pronoun of the victim.” But fundamentally, Talusan wrote, tracking transgender homicides is problematic because “gender identity can be difficult to pin down . . . Trans people don’t look or act just one way.”

Cases of homicide of transgender people are not only undercounted, they are also less likely to be solved and prosecuted. Mic reported that there have been “no arrests” in connection with 39 percent of transgender murders from 2010 to 2015. Furthermore, when perpetrators are found, the legal outcomes of those cases show “clear disparities” between victims who are black trans women and those who are not. People who kill black trans women and femmes are usually convicted of lesser charges—such as manslaughter or assault—than those who kill people of other trans identities, Mic found. In the time span studied, no case of trans homicide had resulted in a hate crime conviction, according to the report.

Despite these bleak circumstances, Talusan reported that recent activism focused on transgender murders might be having a positive effect. Juries are still hesitant to convict suspects of first-degree murder for killing a transgender person, but since 2010 just one case has resulted in a jury returning a not-guilty verdict. This, Talusan wrote, may encourage future prosecutors “to be more aggressive in pursuing murder convictions rather than settling for plea bargains.” Similarly, due to public pressure, police departments are responding to transgender-related violence with “greater awareness.” Perhaps most significantly, improved economic conditions, which would keep transgender people from being “forced to make choices that could endanger their lives,” will be fundamental to protecting them in the future. As Talusan reported, “a startling 34% of black trans people live in extreme poverty.”

Alex Schmider, “GLAAD Calls for Increased and Accurate Media Coverage of Transgender Murders,” GLAAD, July 26, 2016, updated June 28, 2017,

Meredith Talusan, “Documenting Trans Homicides,” Mic, December 8, 2016,

Sandy E. James, Jody L. Herman, Susan Rankin, et al., “The Report of the 2015 U.S. Transgender Survey,” National Center for Transgender Equality, December 2016, Full Report – FINAL 1.6.17.pdf.

Trudy Ring, “Virginia Woman is 27th Trans Person Murdered in 2016,” Advocate, January 6, 2017,

Student Researcher: Keira Andrews (Syracuse University)

Faculty Evaluator: Jeff Simmons (Syracuse University)

The post #18 Rise in Number of Transgender People Murdered appeared first on Project Censored.

#17 Young Plaintiffs Invoke Constitutional Grounds for Climate Protection

Tue, 2017-10-03 20:29

In September 2015, twenty-one plaintiffs, aged eight to nineteen, brought a lawsuit against the federal government and the fossil fuel industry to the US Federal District Court in Eugene, Oregon. The case, Juliana v. United States, argued that the federal government and the fossil fuel industry have knowingly endangered the plaintiffs by promoting the burning of fossil fuels, and that this violates their constitutional and public trust rights. Their complaint said that the defendants “deliberately allow[ed] atmospheric CO2 concentrations to escalate to levels unprecedented in human history.” The lead counsel for the plaintiffs in the case, Julia Olson, is executive director of Our Children’s Trust, a Eugene-based group that advocates for “legally-binding, science-based climate recovery policies.”

In April 2016, US Magistrate Judge Thomas Coffin denied a motion to dismiss the case, ruling in favor of the plaintiffs’ charge that the federal government violates constitutional and public trust rights by its ongoing promotion of fossil fuels that destabilize the earth’s climate. In a report published by Forbes, James Conca wrote that the lawsuit was the first of its kind, examining whether the causes of climate change violate the US Constitution. By denying a motion to dismiss, the court found that the federal government is also subject to the public trust doctrine, Conca reported. Public trust doctrine, he explained, “asserts that the government is a trustee of the natural resources that we depend on for life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.”

In his ruling, Justice Coffin wrote, “The debate about climate change and its impact has been before various political bodies for some time now. Plaintiffs give this debate justiciability by asserting harms that befall or will befall them personally and to a greater extent than older segments of society . . . [T]he intractability of the debates before Congress and state legislatures and the alleged valuing of short-term economic interest despite the cost to human life, necessitates a need for the courts to evaluate the constitutional parameters of the action or inaction taken by the government.”

As Conca reported, the decision “upheld the youth Plaintiffs’ claims in the Fifth and Ninth Amendments ‘by denying them protections afforded to previous generations and by favoring the short-term economic interests of certain citizens.’” In January 2016, three fossil fuel industry trade associations, representing nearly all of the world’s largest fossil fuel companies, had called the case “a direct, substantial threat to our businesses.” According to sixteen-year-old plaintiff Victoria Barrett, “Our generation will continue to be a force for the world.”

In November 2016, US District Court Judge Ann Aiken affirmed Coffin’s April ruling, which prepared the way for Juliana v. United States to proceed to trial. As Gabriela Steier reported in JURIST, Judge Aiken’s opinion stated, “This is no ordinary lawsuit.” Judge Aiken’s opinion explained, “This action is of a different order than the typical environmental case. It alleges that defendants’ actions and inactions—whether or not they violate any specific statutory duty—have so profoundly damaged our home planet that they threaten plaintiffs’ fundamental constitutional rights to life and liberty.”

In February 2017, the plaintiffs updated their case to list President Donald Trump as a defendant, replacing former President Barack Obama. A month later, the Trump administration filed a motion to delay trial preparation. As Censored 2018 goes to print, the plaintiffs are pursuing an effort to depose Rex Tillerson, the former ExxonMobil CEO and Trump’s secretary of state, and the country’s most powerful fossil fuel lobbies are seeking the judge’s permission to withdraw from the lawsuit. The trial might begin as early as fall of 2017.

As Juliana v. United States has progressed to its trial phase, the case has received increasing corporate media coverage. But it is important to note that initially corporate media ignored or marginalized the lawsuit. For instance, in a rare instance of corporate news coverage from 2015, MSNBC described the lawsuit as an “unusual case” that is “long on symbolism” but “unlikely” to win, while noting the risks associated with any decision that might diminish the fossil fuel industry’s interests. In November 2016, CBS News and Fox News published stories, based on an Associated Press report, that made passing reference to Juliana v. United States (although not by name) and focused, instead, on a related lawsuit, involving some of the same plaintiffs, in the Washington state judicial system.

James Conca, “Federal Court Rules on Climate Change in Favor of Today’s Children,” Forbes, April 10, 2016, – 5e5973246219.

Michelle Nijhuis, “The Teen-Agers Suing Over Climate Change,” New Yorker, December 6, 2016,

Gabriela Steier, “No Ordinary Lawsuit: Juliana v. United States is a Landmark Precedent for Climate Change Legislation,” JURIST, January 6, 2017,

Zahra Hirji, “Children’s Climate Lawsuit Against U.S. Adds Trump as Defendant,” Inside Climate News, February 9, 2017,

Ciara O’Rourke, “The 11-Year-Old Suing Trump over Climate Change,” Atlantic, February 9, 2017,

Student Researchers: Sabrina Salinas and Eric Osterberg (Citrus College)

Faculty Evaluator: Andy Lee Roth (Citrus College)

The post #17 Young Plaintiffs Invoke Constitutional Grounds for Climate Protection appeared first on Project Censored.

#16 “Resilient” Indian Communities Struggle to Cope with Impacts of Climate Change

Tue, 2017-10-03 20:28

The Sundarbans are a vast mangrove delta that connects India and Bangladesh along the coast of the Bay of Bengal. In Bengali, Sundarban means “beautiful forest,” and the region is designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. However, as Anuradha Sengupta reported for YES! Magazine, residents of islands in the Sundarbans, such as Ghoramara, are “struggling to cope” with rising seas, erratic weather patterns, severe floods, heavy rainfall, and intense cyclones that are the consequences of global climate change. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has warned that rising sea levels mean that areas like the Sundarbans will, in Sengupta’s words, “bear the brunt” of climate change, with submerged lands, farmlands damaged by increasingly saline soils, homes swept away, livelihoods destroyed, and families broken apart. “The effects of global warming,” Sengupta reported, “will be most severe on those who did the least to contribute to it, and who can least afford measures to adapt or save themselves.”

Residents of the Sundarbans have typically made a living by reliance upon natural resources, deriving sustenance from small-scale farming, fishing, and honey gathering. However, with climate change, rising water levels have reduced the amount of arable land and frequent intrusion of saltwater has reduced the quality of remaining farmlands, while extreme weather conditions mean fewer flowers to sustain honey harvests.

Nevertheless, Sengupta reported, the people of the Sundarbans are “resilient.” While many of the region’s men now leave for most of the year to work for wages in urban areas on the mainland, the women have responded by planting hardy native crops, adopting integrated farming methods, and banking seeds. Many have switched from “modern high-yield” rice seeds to native grains that are saline-resistant. A West Bengal nongovernmental development organization, the Development Research Communication and Services Centre (DRCSC), provides support to families adopting sustainable agricultural practices in the face of climate change.

However, as Sengupta acknowledged, the number of those who adopt sustainable methods is “still quite low.” Aditya Ghosh, who covered the Sundarbans as a journalist between 2000 and 2004 and is now a research associate with the University of Heidelberg’s South Asia Institute, told YES! Magazine, “Years of ineffective, unplanned, and chaotic governance have made the Sundarbans a soft target for any abrupt environmental change.” In his research, Ghosh found eighty-two reported incidents of flooding, affecting more than five hundred households, between 2010 and 2015. His research also indicated that flooding and other impacts of climate change have led to a six-fold increase in marginal labor—people who work less than six months per year—from 1991 to 2012. Workers who previously had employment security have “gradually slipped into marginality,” he told YES! Magazine.

Several islands in the Sundarbans have already been completely submerged by rising sea levels. When the island of Lohachara went under in 2006, it displaced seven thousand people. As Sengupta and other journalists have reported, if scientific predictions about rising sea levels prove accurate, in fifteen to twenty-five years as many as thirteen million residents of the Sundarbans would be left homeless, “forcing a massive exodus of climate refugees.” Sengupta’s YES! Magazine report was distinctive in emphasizing the ways that residents of the Sundarbans—and especially the region’s women—are “rebuilding their lives” in the face of climate change, as well as the positive role that NGOs, such as the DRCSC, could play in helping to minimize a looming humanitarian disaster in the Bay of Bengal.

Anuradha Sengupta, “Tired of Running from the River: Adapting to Climate Change on India’s Disappearing Islands,” YES! Magazine, June 2, 2016,

Student Researcher: Caroline Yoss (College of Marin)

Faculty Evaluator: Susan Rahman (College of Marin)

The post #16 “Resilient” Indian Communities Struggle to Cope with Impacts of Climate Change appeared first on Project Censored.

#15 Shell Understood Climate Change as Early as 1991—and Ignored It

Tue, 2017-10-03 20:27

In 1991, Shell Oil Company produced and distributed a twenty-eight-minute documentary titled Climate of Concern. Asserting that climate change was taking place “at a rate faster than at any time since the end of the ice age—change too fast perhaps for life to adapt, without severe dislocation,” the film addressed potentially drastic consequences of climate change including extreme weather, flooding, famines, and climate refugees. While commenting that global warming was “not yet certain,” the Shell film stated, “many think that to wait for final proof would be irresponsible.” The film’s narrator explained that a “uniquely broad consensus of scientists” had issued a “serious warning” in a report to the United Nations at the end of 1990. (The landmark report identified in the Shell documentary was Climate Change: The IPCC Scientific Assessment.)

Recently Climate of Concern resurfaced, after Jelmer Mommers obtained a copy of it, and he and Damian Carrington posted it online as part of a joint investigative report for De Correspondent and the Guardian. As Mommers and Carrington documented, instead of trying to combat climate change as the company’s own documentary urged, Shell’s actions since 1991 have often contributed to increasing the negative impact of climate change.

A former geologist who had researched shale deposits with funding from Shell and BP, Jeremy Leggett, told Mommers and Carrington, “The film shows that Shell understood that the threat was dire, potentially existential for civilization, more than a quarter of a century ago.” Mommers and Carrington also quoted HSBC’s former global head of oil and gas, Paul Spedding (now at the think tank Carbon Tracker), who noted that “Shell’s oil production is destined to become heavier, higher cost, and higher carbon, hardly a profile that fits the outlook described in Shell’s video.”

Shell’s documentary addressed the need for action on climate change. When asking how societies could reduce carbon emissions, the documentary identified nuclear, hydroelectric, solar, and wind power as alternative energy options. However, as Mommers and Carrington reported, Shell has consistently undermined the production of renewable energy for its own financial gain. One recent example was documented in an April 2015 Guardian article, which revealed that, in order to ensure that its gas investments would remain lucrative, Shell successfully lobbied to “undermine European renewable energy targets ahead of a key agreement on emissions cuts” reached by the EU in 2014.

Furthermore, Mommers and Carrington wrote, until 2015 Shell was a member of the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), a lobby group that denies climate change, and it remains a member of the Business Roundtable and the American Petroleum Institute, “which both fought against Barack Obama’s Clean Power Plan.” According to Shell officials, it has remained a member of groups that hold different views on climate action to “influence” them, but Mommers and Carrington quoted Thomas O’Neill, from the group Influence Map, which tracks lobbying, who told them that the “trade associations and industry groups are there to say things the company cannot or does not want to say. It’s deliberately that way.”

Mommers and Carrington also presented a “confidential” Shell report, written in 1986, that warned about the possibility of “fast and dramatic” climate changes that “would impact on the human environment, future living standards and food supplies, and could have major social, economic, and political consequences.”

The revelation that as early as 1986 Shell Oil Company had a sophisticated scientific understanding of climate change and its potentially disastrous consequences, as documented by Mommers and Carrington, echoes a July 2015 report in the Guardian. That report featured internal company emails revealing that ExxonMobil knew of climate change “as early as 1981 . . . seven years before it became a public issue.” Despite this knowledge, the Guardian reported, ExxonMobil “spent millions over the next 27 years to promote climate [change] denial.”

Jelmer Mommers, “Shell Made a Film about Climate Change in 1991 (Then Neglected to Heed Its Own Warning,” De Correspondent, February 28, 2017,

Jelmer Mommers and Damian Carrington, “If Shell Knew Climate Change was Dire 25 Years Ago, Why Still Business as Usual Today?,” De Correspondent, February 28, 2017,

Damian Carrington and Jelmer Mommers, “Shell’s 1991 Warning: Climate Changing ‘at Faster Rate Than at Any Time since End of Ice Age,’” Guardian, February 28, 2017,

Damian Carrington and Jelmer Mommers, “‘Shell Knew’: Oil Giant’s 1991 Film Warned of Climate Change Danger,” Guardian, February 28, 2017,

Student Researcher: Clare Charlesworth (University of Vermont)

Faculty Evaluator: Rob Williams (University of Vermont)

The post #15 Shell Understood Climate Change as Early as 1991—and Ignored It appeared first on Project Censored.

#14 Judges across US Using Racially Biased Software to Assess Defendants’ Risk of Committing Future Crimes

Tue, 2017-10-03 20:26

In 2014, then–US attorney general Eric Holder warned that so-called “risk assessments” might be injecting bias into the nation’s judicial system. As ProPublica reported in May 2016, courtrooms across the country use algorithmically-generated scores, known as risk assessments, to rate a defendant’s risk of future crime and, in many states—including Arizona, Colorado, Delaware, Kentucky, Louisiana, Oklahoma, Virginia, Washington, and Wisconsin—to unofficially inform judges’ sentencing decisions. The Justice Department’s National Institute of Corrections now encourages the use of such assessments at every stage of the criminal justice process.

Although Holder called in 2014 for the US Sentencing Commission to study the use of risk scores because they might “exacerbate unwarranted and unjust disparities that are already far too common in our criminal justice system,” the Sentencing Commission never did so. Julia Angwin, Jeff Larson, Surya Mattu, and Lauren Kirchner’s article reported the findings of an effort by ProPublica to assess Holder’s concern. As they wrote, ProPublica “obtained the risk scores assigned to more than 7,000 people arrested in Broward County, Florida, in 2013 and 2014 and checked to see how many were charged with new crimes over the next two years.” The ProPublica study was specifically intended to assess whether an algorithm known as COMPAS, or Correctional Offender Management Profiling for Alternative Sanctions, produced accurate prediction results through its assessment of “criminogenic needs” that relate to the major theories of criminality, including “criminal personality,” “social isolation,” “substance abuse,” and “residence/stability.”

Judges across the country are provided with risk ratings based on the COMPAS algorithm or comparable software. Broward County, Florida—the focus of ProPublica’s study—does not use risk assessments in sentencing, but it does use them in pretrial hearings, as part of its efforts to address jail overcrowding. As ProPublica reported, judges in Broward County use risk scores to determine which defendants are sufficiently low risk to be released on bail pending their trials.

Based on ProPublica’s analysis of the Broward County data, Angwin, Larson, Mattu, and Kirchner reported that the risk scores produced by the algorithm “proved remarkably unreliable” in forecasting violent crime: “Only 20 percent of the people predicted to commit violent crimes actually went on to do so.” In fact, the algorithm was only “somewhat more accurate” than a coin toss.

The study also found significant racial disparities, as Holder had feared. “The formula was particularly likely to falsely flag black defendants as future criminals, wrongly labeling them this way at almost twice the rate as white defendants,” ProPublica reported.

Defendants’ prior crimes or the types of crime for which they were arrested do not explain this disparity. After running a statistical test that controlled for the effects of criminal history, recidivism, age, and gender, black defendants were still 77 percent more likely to be identified as at higher risk of committing a future violent crime and 45 percent more likely to be predicted to commit a future crime of any kind, compared with their white counterparts.

Northpointe, the for-profit company that created COMPAS, disputed ProPublica’s analysis. However, as ProPublica noted, Northpointe deems its algorithm to be proprietary, so the company will not publicly disclose the calculations that COMPAS uses to determine defendants’ risk scores—making it impossible for either defendants or the public “to see what might be driving the disparity.” In practice, this means that defendants rarely have opportunities to challenge their assessments.

As ProPublica reported, the increasing use of risk scores is controversial, and the topic has garnered some previous independent news media coverage, including 2015 reports by the Associated Press, The Marshall Project, and FiveThirtyEight.

Julia Angwin, Jeff Larson, Surya Mattu, and Lauren Kirchner, “Machine Bias,” ProPublica, May 23, 2016,

Jeff Larson, Surya Mattu, Lauren Kirchner, and Julia Angwin, “How We Analyzed the COMPAS Recidivism Algorithm,” ProPublica, May 23, 2016,

Student Researcher: Hector Hernandez (Citrus College)

Faculty Evaluator: Andy Lee Roth (Citrus College)

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#13 Right-Wing Money Promotes Model Legislation to Restrict Free Speech on University Campuses

Tue, 2017-10-03 20:25

Right-wing conservatives are using money and power to influence public policy to suppress student dissent on US college and university campuses. The right-wing Goldwater Institute, which is funded by conservatives including Charles Koch and the Mercer family, has proposed model legislation that seeks to quell student dissent in favor of guest speakers who attempt to discredit climate change, oppose LGBTQ rights, and espouse hate speech, Alex Kotch reported for AlterNet in March 2017.

The stated intent of the Goldwater Institute’s proposed “Campus Free Speech Act” is to “uphold free-speech principles” and to ensure “the fullest degree . . . of free expression”—but, Kotch reported, the model legislation does not consider protest or dissent to be free speech. In fact, the model legislation stated that “protests and demonstrations that infringe upon on the rights of others to engage in or listen to expressive activity shall not be permitted and shall be subject to sanction.” Students found to have infringed on the expressive rights of others more than one time would be “suspended for a minimum of one year, or expelled,” according to the model legislation.

UnKoch My Campus is a campaign that seeks to “expose and expel undue donor influence” from institutions of higher education.62 Kotch’s AlterNet article quoted Ralph Wilson, a senior researcher with UnKoch My Campus: “These laws would create a chilling effect on students who reject the idea that white supremacists or climate deniers are simply representing an ‘opposing viewpoint’ that should be tolerated, and who are rightfully relying on their first amendment freedoms to stop the rise of fascism and prevent global climate catastrophe.”

The Goldwater Institute’s “Campus Free Speech Act” has been adapted in proposed legislation in many states. For example, states including Illinois, North Dakota, Virginia, and Tennessee have proposed bills that crack down on free speech with some elements of the model legislation. Additional states, including Colorado, Florida, and Utah, are also proposing so-called “campus free speech” bills.

The text of the proposed legislation was written by Stanley Kurtz, James Manley, and Jonathan Butcher. Kurtz is a fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center, a conservative think tank that applies “the Judeo-Christian moral tradition to critical issues of public policy.” The Ethics and Public Policy Center, Kotch reported, has received “millions of dollars in donations” from the foundations of conservative families, as well as “hundreds of thousands” from Donors Trust and Donors Capital Fund, which serve as vehicles for wealthy right-wing donors. Between 2006 and 2015, the two groups received more than $9 million in contributions from Charles and David Koch. The Goldwater Institute’s senior attorney, Manley, previously worked for the Mountain States Legal Foundation, which also received significant donations from the Donors Trust and Donors Capital Fund. Butcher, the Institute’s education director, worked at the conservative Heritage Foundation—which has been heavily funded by the Kochs—from 2002 to 2006.

Alex Kotch, “Right-Wing Billionaires are Funding a Cynical Plot to Destroy Dissent and Protest in Colleges Across the U.S.,” AlterNet, March 18, 2017,

Student Researchers: Dawn M. Lucier (College of Marin) and Emily von Weise (University of Vermont)

Faculty Evaluators: Susan Rahman (College of Marin) and Rob Williams (University of Vermont)

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