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Puerto Rican Students Organize National Strike Demanding Transparency in Response to Austerity Measures

Wed, 2017-11-29 15:37

University students across Puerto Rico organized a national strike that sparked demonstrations and protests on May 1, 2017, as reported by David Cordero, Sarah Vázquez, and Ronald Ávila Claudio for the Metro. The strike, el Paro Nacional, resulted from public outrage over announced austerity measures affecting education and pensions, as well as outrage over the lack of transparency in the process through which those measures were approved. Due to a mass promotion effort, multiple civic organizations, student groups, and individual citizens came together to stop all work and engage in protest.

The austerity measures, including $512 million in cuts to university funding, were to be implemented by a fiscal joint committee, la Junta de Control Fiscal, as part of the  Puerto Rico Oversight, Management, and Economic Stability Act (PROMESA), a US federal law responding to the island’s fiscal crisis. PROMESA, introduced by Representative Sean Duffy (R-WI) on May 18, 2016 and signed into law by President Barack Obama on June 30, 2016, established the joint committee as “an Oversight Board with broad powers of budgetary and financial control over Puerto Rico.”

University students, labor unions, and civic groups requested an audit of the government accounts to justify the austerity cuts because a public oversight commission, la Auditoría Integral del Crédito Público (CAICP) found nearly $40 billion in illegal debt in 2016. As Charlie Cooper reported for the Nation, this “extra-constitutional’ debt was saddled with predatory interest rates or ‘toxic’ interest-rate swaps.”

However, Governor Ricardo Roselló prevented further auditing by discontinuing CAICP through legislation, Ley 3, which he signed January 23, 2017. In response, the island’s government received 100,000 petitions the following month demanding that auditing resume, as Adriana De Jesús Salamán reported in Diálogo UPR. Subsequently, students began a movement that “shut down university operations since March,” according to Cooper, and formed protests commencing in mid-April in front of the island’s Capitol against the austerity measures and for the restitution of CAICP.

Due to these protests’ impact, as Cindy Burgos Alvarado reported for Caribbean Business, the Puerto Rican senate approved a resolution “to request the Comptroller General of the United States to audit the public debt of Puerto Rico based on what is established in section 411 of the federal PROMESA law.” Alvarado explained that “the report will not be an audit like the one presented by the Audit Commission for Public Credit, but a report that would not go into details of how the debt was issued.” The short answer is that protesters’ demands for a detailed audit would not be met, which is why the massive strike and demonstrations took place on May 1st, 2017.

Since Ley 3 also froze government salary raises, made cuts to school transportation, and severely limited the extent public-sector unions could participate in labor negotiations, as reported by Gloria Ruiz Kuilan in El Nuevo Día, students expanded the scope of the protest, allowing them to collaborate with other public interest groups such as the Brotherhood of Exempt Non-Teared Employees (HEND), the Central Federation of Workers, the Puerto Rican Union of Workers (SPT), the General Union of Workers (UGT), and the Union of Workers of the Electrical and Irrigation Industry (UTIER), as mentioned in the Metro’s coverage of the national strike. Puerto Ricans came together to protest the Puerto Rican government’s lack of transparency and the forceful imposition of the austerity measures by La Junta without an audit.

US corporate media coverage of this massive strike has been close to nonexistent.  When the commonwealth entirely shut down, corporate media didn’t bat an eye; when a referendum of the territory’s future status was conducted with a low voter turnout, it was covered by CNN. This reflects the invisibility of a people who refused to be silenced through a colonial rule euphemized as a “commonwealth.”

Sources:

David Cordero, Sarah Vázquez, and Ronald A. Claudio, “Paro nacional: contundente manifestación en contra de las medidas de austeridad,” Metro, May 02, 2017, https://www.metro.pr/pr/noticias/2017/05/01/paro-nacional-contundente-manifestacion-medidas-austeridad.html.

Ed Morales. “Students Are Now Leading the Resistance to Austerity in Puerto Rico,” The Nation, April 27, 2017, https://www.thenation.com/article/students-are-now-leading-the-resistance-to-austerity-in-puerto-rico/.

Cindy Burgos Alavarado, “Sen. Seilhamer: The debt will be audited,” Caribbean Business, April 19, 2017, http://caribbeanbusiness.com/sen-seilhamer-the-debt-will-be-audited/.

Adriana De Jesús Salamán, “Gobernador y cuerpo legislativo reciben 100 mil peticiones para auditar la deuda,” Diálogo UPR, February 22, 2017, http://dialogoupr.com/gobernador-y-cuerpo-legislativo-reciben-100-mil-peticiones-para-auditar-la-deuda/.

Gloria Ruiz Kuilan, “Cero aumentos para empleados hasta el 2021,” El Nuevo Día, January 30, 2017. https://www.elnuevodia.com/noticias/locales/nota/ceroaumentosparaempleadoshastael2021-2285882/

Student Researcher: Christian Andino Borrero (Syracuse University)

Faculty Evaluators: Chad Seader & Jeff Simmons (Syracuse University)

The post Puerto Rican Students Organize National Strike Demanding Transparency in Response to Austerity Measures appeared first on Project Censored.

Animal Activists Stop Hiding Their Faces

Wed, 2017-11-29 15:32

In November 2017, Mother Jones’ Kiera Butler reported on the animal rights activist group Direct Action Everywhere (DxE) and their “bold new animal liberation movement: no masks, no regrets, all the risk.” Eight of the group’s members recorded themselves, in the middle of the night, rescuing a calf from Zonneveld Dairies Inc. outside of Fresno, California. Zonneveld, a Land O’Lakes supplier, is one of roughly 64,000 commercial dairies. Despite California rules which “stipulate that calves must have clean crates and soft bedding,” DxE found Roselynn (the rescued calve) covered in her own dried diarrhea, dangerously dehydrated, and lying on narrow slats. Roselynn was one of hundreds kept under these conditions.

Because of so-called “ag-gag” laws enacted in eight states, people in animal rescue videos often blur out their own faces and keep their identities private, Butler reported. However, DxE activists do not hide their identities, despite the risks involved. DxE activist Wayne Hsiung said, “We’re daring these industries to try us in the court of public opinion and in the court of law… We are happy to have the debate with the industry. They are terrified that the public will side with us.”  The group says that, to date, its twelve open rescue videos on Youtube have received over three million views combined.

According to Intercept’s Glenn Greenwald, in August FBI agents raided two animal sanctuaries where they have DxE had taken two piglets that they rescued from a facility in Utah.  The Washington Post did publish a story on this incident in September 2017, which quoted statements from both DxE activists and Smithfield Foods, itself owned by Shuanghui International of China.

For the New York Times, Stephanie Strom reported that DxE rescued captive hens at Pleasant Valley Farms, a California farm affiliated with Costco’s Kirkland brand.  Written for the Times’ business and financial section, that article’s headline framed “cage free” farms as part of the problem, but also quoted Paul Shapiro, vice president for farm animal protection at the Humane Society of the United States as saying that “cage-free hen housing was without a doubt better than battery cages, though not without problems.” What coverage there has been in the corporate media has been vague, and the articles that have mentioned DxE make no distinctions between that group and more anonymous rescue operations.

Sources:

Kiera Butler, “Inside the Bold New Animal Liberation Movement: No Masks, No Regrets, All the Risk,” Mother Jones, November 7, 2017, http://www.motherjones.com/food/2017/11/inside-the-bold-new-animal-liberation-movement-no-masks-no-regrets-all-the-risk/#.

Glenn Greenwald, “The FBI’s Hunt for Two Missing Piglets Reveals the Federal Cover-Up of Barbaric Factory Farms,” Intercept, October 5, 2017, https://theintercept.com/2017/10/05/factory-farms-fbi-missing-piglets-animal-rights-glenn-greenwald/.

Student Researcher: Nina Goetz (Syracuse University)

Faculty Evaluator: Jeff Simmons (Syracuse University)

Editor’s Note: For prior coverage by Project Censored of “ag-gag” restrictions targeting animal rights activists, see “Terror Act Against Animal Activists,” story #20 from Censored 2008, as well as “Little Guantanamos: Secretive ‘Communication Management Units’ in the US,” story #21 from Censored 2017.

The post Animal Activists Stop Hiding Their Faces appeared first on Project Censored.

Video: Project Censored 2018 Book Launch

Mon, 2017-11-27 15:57

Censored 2018: Press Freedoms in a “Post-Truth” World The Top Censored Stories and Media Analysis of 2016-2017 “Hidden Figures: Women in Journalism” Susan Rahman, Professor of Behavioral Sciences with Student Panelists: Caitlin McCoy, Zeinab Benchakroun, Bri Silva, Liliana Valdez Madera, Joselyne Quiroz, October 24, 2017 College of Marin Library Kentfield, California With thanks to David Patterson, librarian at CoM, and Susan Rahman, vice president, Media Freedom Foundation

 

The post Video: Project Censored 2018 Book Launch appeared first on Project Censored.

FBI Racially Profiling “Black Identity Extremists”

Tue, 2017-11-21 17:49

In early August 2017, the counterterrorism division of the FBI released a report warning of the danger of “Black Identity Extremists.” Jana Winter and Sharon Weinberger reported for Foreign Policy that, as “white supremacists prepared to descend on Charlottesville, Virginia, in August, the FBI warned about a new movement that was violent, growing, and racially motivated. Only it wasn’t white supremacists; it was ‘black identity extremists.’”

The Southern Poverty Law Center’s Hatewatch Staff reported that the FBI report used the term BIEs (the Bureau’s acronym for “Black Identity Extremists”) to describe “a conglomeration of black nationalists, black supremacists, and black separatists, among other disaffiliated racist individuals who are anti-police, anti-white, and/or seeking to rectify perceived social injustices against blacks.” According to the SPLC report, the FBI was “taking some heat from historians, academics and former government officials for creating the new ‘BIE’ term,” which categorized a range of activists, not by their common ideologies or goals, but by race.

In the wake of Charlottesville and at a time when the Trump administration has defunded organizations that encouraged hate group members to leave such groups, the FBI’s increased focus on non-white groups seems a bit of a diversion. The SPLC story suggested that the leaked document “might be a deliberate attempt by the Trump administration to divert attention away from the larger, more serious threat of white supremacists and other far-right extremists.”  In particular, the FBI report made a leap when it defined a wide array of activist groups as “a movement.”  Referencing the shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, the FBI report posited that it was “very likely” that subsequent incidents of alleged police abuse against African Americans had “spurred an increase in premediated, retaliatory lethal violence against law enforcement.”

Corporate media coverage has covered the FBI report on “black identity extremists” in narrow ways. In October, the New York Times challenged the label in its Opinion section, while Fox News broadcast a minute and a half clip, complete with scary music, reporting that the FBI had declared “Black Identity Extremists” as a “violent domestic threat.”  In November, NBC News covered the story, even acknowledging the FBI’s history of going after black groups, but this report also suggested that “lawmakers” were leading the fight against the profiling, by “demanding answers.” Coverage like this both draws the focus away from the active white supremacist movement and feeds the hate and fear on which such groups thrive.

Sources:

Jana Winter and Sharon Weinberger, “The FBI’s New U.S. Terrorist Threat: ‘Black Identity Extremists’,” Foreign Policy, October 06, 2017, http://foreignpolicy.com/2017/10/06/the-fbi-has-identified-a-new-domestic-terrorist-threat-and-its-black-identity-extremists/.

Hatewatch Staff, “FBI ‘Black Identity Extremists’ report stirs controversy,” Southern Poverty Law Center, October 25, 2017, https://www.splcenter.org/hatewatch/2017/10/25/fbi-black-identity-extremists-report-stirs-controversy.

Amy Goodman, “Life After Hate: Trump Admin Stops Funding Former Neo-Nazis Who Now Fight White Supremacy,” Democracy Now! August 17, 2017, https://www.democracynow.org/2017/8/17/life_after_hate_trump_admin_stops.

Brandon Patterson, “Exclusive: Internal Documents Show Police Spied on New York Black Lives Matter Group,” Mother Jones, October 19, 2017, http://www.motherjones.com/crime-justice/2017/10/police-spied-on-new-york-black-lives-matter-group-internal-police-documents-show/#.

Student Researcher: Hailey Schector (Syracuse University)

Faculty Evaluator: Jeff Simmons (Syracuse University)

The post FBI Racially Profiling “Black Identity Extremists” appeared first on Project Censored.

A Heartfelt Thank You to Edward Herman

Wed, 2017-11-15 15:20

This is a special message from Mickey Huff, Director of Project Censored

It is with great sadness that we report the death of the brilliant and prolific Edward Herman…he was 92. He gave us a great chapter for our latest book, Censored 2018: Press Freedoms in a ‘Post-Truth’ World— “Still Manufacturing Consent: the Propaganda Model at Thirty.” He takes on critics of the Propaganda Model and argues how it continues to stand the test of time. Grateful that we got to work with him this past spring through late June during his writing of the chapter, which may be his last published work (done after his work on Fake News/Russia for Monthly Review).

He was incredibly kind in our exchanges. When I reached out to him last spring to talk about the upcoming 30-year anniversary of his book with Noam Chomsky (Manufacturing Consent), he was a bit reluctant as he had two other chapter-length projects in the hopper (yes, into his 90s), but said he really wanted to do the retrospective on the Propaganda Model for Project Censored. He eventually wrote back and said…”I’ll do it.” We were delighted that he agreed.

Into May, when he was finishing his stellar piece for Monthly Review, we talked by phone…he asked for some more time, he wanted to add more to it, there was so much more he wanted to say…and we were able to have a round or two of edits. At times, he would e mail every other day, excited about new items he’d added, and we got it into the book just on deadline for our publishers at Seven Stories Press. During the edits, he had a great sense of humor– self-deprecating, funny as hell, sharp as a tack. And humble. What an amazing model he himself was and is to academics and activists. We are honored and humbled ourselves to have published one of his last works. He will be greatly missed.

The post A Heartfelt Thank You to Edward Herman appeared first on Project Censored.

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.

Sources:

Damian Carrington, “Plastic Fibres Found in Tap Water Around the World,” Guardian, September 5, 2017, https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2017/sep/06/plastic-fibres-found-tap-water-around-world-study-reveals.

Kaitlyn Kubat, “Much of U.S. Tap Water Contaminated by Microplastics, Study Says.” Minnesota Daily, September 18, 2017, http://www.mndaily.com/article/2017/09/much-of-u-s-tap-water-contaminated-by-microplastics.

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, https://unearthed.greenpeace.org/2017/08/10/tar-sandspipeline-oil-spills/

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, http://www.yesmagazine.org/issues/just-transition/corporations-have-legal-personhood-but-rivers-dont-that-could-change-20170912.

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, http://yaleglobal.yale.edu/content/cities-grow-worldwide-so-do-numbers-homeless.

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.”

Sources:

Janine Jackson, “Some People Faced With a Disaster Can’t Just Pick Up and Leave,” FAIR (Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting), September 7, 2017, http://fair.org/home/some-people-faced-with-a-disaster-cant-just-pick-up-and-leave/.

Neil deMause, “Disaster Coverage Still Has a Blind Spot for Low-Income Victims,” FAIR (Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting), September 1, 2017, http://fair.org/home/disaster-coverage-still-has-blind-spot-for-low-income-victims/.

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, http://www.yesmagazine.org/new-economy/the-more-education-the-wider-the-gender-pay-gap-wait-what-20170807.

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, http://www.commondreams.org/news/2016/08/31/debtors-prison-kids-poor-children-incarcerated-when-families-cant-pay-juvenile-court.

Student Researcher: Raquel Guerrero (Sonoma State University)

Faculty Evaluator: Diana Grant (Sonoma State University)

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#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, http://www.yesmagazine.org/people-power/cities-have-the-power-to-reduce-police-racism-and-violence.

Jamilah King, “Study: More Restrictive ‘Use of Force’ Policies Could Curb the Epidemic of Police Violence,” Mic, September 21, 2016, https://mic.com/articles/154715/study-more-restrictive-use-of-force-policies-could-curb-the-epidemic-of-police-violence.

Alice Speri, “Here are Eight Policies That Can Prevent Police Killings,” Intercept, September 21, 2016, https://theintercept.com/2016/09/21/here-are-eight-policies-that-can-prevent-police-killings.

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, https://www.propublica.org/article/breaking-the-black-box-what-facebook-knows-about-you.

Julia Angwin, Terry Parris, Jr., and Surya Mattu, “Facebook Doesn’t Tell Users Everything It Really Knows About Them,” ProPublica, December 27, 2016, https://www.propublica.org/article/facebook-doesnt-tell-users-everything-it-really-knows-about-them.

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, http://www.truth-out.org/news/item/38941-orange-crush-the-rise-of-tactical-teams-in-prison.

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, https://www.theguardian.com/environment/climate-consensus-97-per-cent/2017/mar/13/the-fossil-fuel-industrys-invisible-colonization-of-academia.

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, http://www.yesmagazine.org/peace-justice/defunding-police-how-antiracist-organizers-got-seattle-to-listen-20170309.

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, https://www.thenation.com/article/prisons-are-using-military-grade-tear-gas-to-punish-inmates/.

Sarah Lazare, “The Scandal of Chemical Weapons in U.S. Prisons,” AlterNet, January 11, 2017, http://www.alternet.org/activism/scandal-chemical-weapons-us-prisons.

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.

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