Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Project Censored

1- Obama Cuts Domestic Spending and Increases Military Corporate Welfare

President Obama’s decision to increase military spending this year and in the future will result in the greatest administrative military spending since World War II. This decision is being made in spite of continued evidence of extreme waste, fraud, abuse, and corporate welfare in the military budget. At the same time, spending on “non-security” domestic programs such as education, nutrition, energy, and transportation will be frozen, resulting in inflationary cuts to essential services for the US public over the upcoming years.

While these domestic programs constitute only 17 percent of the total federal spending, they will sustain all of the proposed cuts.   The consequences of cutting domestic spending will result in a further increase in the gap between the rich and the poor.

In contrast, military spending is roughly 55 percent of the discretionary spending in the current fiscal year, and will increase even more next year. According to the Office of Management and Budget’s projections, the military budget will increase an additional $522 billion over the next decade. Tom Engelhardt points out, “Here’s an American reality: the Pentagon is our true welfare state, the weapons makers are our real ‘welfare queens,’ and we never stop shoveling money their way.”

There is widespread and continuous waste, fraud, and abuse by the Pentagon and by military contractors resulting in welfare for the rich. William Astore, a retired lieutenant colonel with the US Air Force, concludes, “When it comes to our nation’s military affairs, ignorance is not bliss. What’s remarkable then, given the permanent state of war in which we find ourselves, is how many Americans seem content not to know.”

The public never hears about war spending in the corporate media and how much everything actually costs. Several examples highlight the extent of abuse.

A single future weapons system is now estimated to cost the American taxpayer almost one-third of what the Obama administration’s health care plan is expected to cost over a decade. Originally expected to cost $50 million, the estimated cost today just for one F-35 plane is $113 million. The marines, the air force, and the navy are planning to buy a combined 2,450 of F-35s, which would cost more than $323 billion.

According to Kathy Kelly, author of Tough Minds, Tender Hearts, “The US government devotes massive resources and much sophistication to killing in Afghanistan. Would that it would spend a little to realize that its policies are creating anger. . . . It costs about $1 million a year for a US soldier—boots on the ground—in Afghanistan. Imagine what good that money could do if spent to help the Afghan people. A governor in Afghanistan makes about $1,000 a year.”

President Obama is continuing the process of reinflating the Pentagon that began in late 1998—fully three years before the 9/11 attacks. The rise in national defense spending since 1998 is as large as the Kennedy-Johnson surge (43 percent) and the Reagan increases (57 percent) put together. The Department of Defense has been given about $7.2 trillion since 1998, which is when the post–cold war decline in defense spending ended. Current spending is above the peak years of the Vietnam War era and the Reagan years, and the Pentagon plans to remain there at this point.

Reasons for the lack of public knowledge about military spending include: lack of corporate media coverage altogether; media employing retired military officers as “experts,” thus presenting only one side; inculcated civilian deference toward military leaders (leave it to the experts in uniform); and secrecy and “black budgets” obscuring military spending. Among the questions William J. Astore poses about the US military, a key one is: why is the military immune from the painful budgetary belt tightening faced by the rest of America?

Astore concludes, “It’s true that the world is a dangerous place. The problem is that the Pentagon is part of that danger. Our military has grown so strong and so dominates our government, including its foreign policy and even aspects of our culture, that there’s no effective counterweight to its closeted, conflict-centered style of thinking.” This dominance is costing the US public enormous sums of money, is a major contributor to the economic crisis, and will continue to erode desperately needed public support programs now and in the future.

2- Prisoners Still Brutalized at Gitmo

In Guantánamo, the notorious but seldom-discussed thug squad, officially known as the Immediate Reaction Force (IRF), deployed by the US military remains very much active. Inside the walls of Guantánamo, the prisoners know the squad as the Extreme Repression Force.

In reality, IRF is an extrajudicial terror squad, the existence of which has been documented since the early days of Guantánamo. IRF has rarely been mentioned in the United States media or in congressional inquiries into torture.

When an IRF team is called in, its members are dressed in full riot gear, which some prisoners and their attorneys have compared to “Darth Vader” suits. Each officer is assigned a body part of the prisoner to restrain: head, right arm, left arm, left leg, right leg. According to a SOP document, the teams are to give verbal warnings to prisoners before storming the cell: “Prior to the use of the IRF team, an interpreter will be used to tell the detainee of the discipline measures to be taken against him and ask whether he intends to resist. Regardless of his answer, his recent behavior and demeanor should be taken into account in determining the validity of his answer.” The IRF team is authorized to spray the detainee in the face with mace twice before entering the cell.

David Hicks, an Australian citizen held at Guantánamo, said in a sworn affidavit, “I have witnessed the activities of the IRF, which consists of a squad of soldiers that enter a detainee’s cell and brutalize him with the aid of an attack dog. . . . I have seen detainees suffer serious injuries as a result of being IRF’ed. I have seen detainees IRF’ed while they were praying, or for refusing medication.”

On January 22, 2009, newly inaugurated President Obama issued an executive order requiring the closure of Guantánamo within a year, and also ordered a review of the status of the prisoners held there, requiring “humane standards of confinement” in accordance with the Geneva Conventions. But one month later, the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR) released a report titled “Conditions of Confinement at Guantánamo: Still In Violation of the Law,” which found that abuses continued. In fact, one Guantánamo lawyer, Ahmed Ghappour, said that his clients were reporting “a ramping up in abuse” since Obama was elected, including “beatings, the dislocation of limbs, spraying of pepper spray into closed cells, applying pepper spray to toilet paper and over-force-feeding detainees who are on hunger strike.”

A year after Obama’s election win, Al Jazeera reports that despite the new president’s pledge to close the prison and improve the conditions of detainees held by the US military, prisoners believe that their treatment has deteriorated on his watch. While the dominant media coverage of the US torture apparatus has portrayed these tactics as part of a “Bush-era” system that Obama has now ended, when it comes to the IRF teams that is simply not true. “Detainees live in constant fear of physical violence. Frequent attacks by IRF teams heighten this anxiety and reinforce that violence can be inflicted by the guards at any moment for any perceived infraction, or sometimes without provocation or explanation,” according to the CCR.

The CCR has called on the Obama administration to immediately end the use of the IRF teams at Guantánamo. However, the abuse continues, and the White House and powerful congressional leaders from both parties fiercely resist the appointment of an independent special prosecutor to investigate the abuses.

Ahmed Ghappour, who represents several Guantánamo prisoners, has lodged several requests to initiate investigations since President Obama took office. “I have requested four investigations regarding prisoner abuse just this past year,” he said. “The military responded to my first request indicating that they would investigate, but have been radio silent since then.”

Released after a federal court found him to be entirely innocent, Mohammed el Gharani is now adjusting to life outside prison. He reports that the allegations made by current inmates match his experience of Guantánamo during the months leading up to his release. ”I recognize all of this,” he said. “There are still more than two hundred people in Guantánamo. Since Obama became president, less than twenty have been released. I don’t know why, but he has broken his promises.”

3- Nanotech Particles Pose Serious DNA Risks to Humans and the Environment

Personal products you may use daily and think are harmless—cosmetics, suntan lotion, socks, and sports clothes—may all contain atom-sized nanotech particles, some of which have been shown to sicken and kill workers in plants using nanotechnology. Known human health risks include severe and permanent lung damage. Cell studies indicate genetic DNA damage. Extremely toxic to aquatic wildlife, nanoparticles pose clear risks to many species and threaten the global food chain.

Nanotech particles have been embraced by industry as the wonder ingredient in personal hygiene products, food packaging, paints, medical procedures and pharmaceuticals, even tires and auto parts, among burgeoning numbers of other consumer products. Cosmetic companies add titanium dioxide nanoparticles to sun creams to make them transparent on the skin. Sports clothing firms have introduced odor-free garments containing nanosilver particles that are twice as toxic to bacteria than bleach. Auto industry companies have added carbon nanofibers to tires and body panels to strengthen them.

According to the Project on Emerging Nanotechnologies (PEN), health and fitness items continue to dominate available nanotech products, representing 60 percent of products listed. More products are based on nanoscale silver—used for its antimicrobial properties—than any other nanomaterial; 259 products (26 percent) use silver nanoparticles. PEN’s updated inventory represents products from over twenty-four countries, including the US, China, Canada, and Germany.

Yet, nanomaterials are so poorly understood that scientists are unable to predict how they will behave and are unsure of how to check their safety. Over one thousand consumer products made with nanoparticles, which can be one hundred times smaller than a virus, are already on the market, despite an almost complete lack of knowledge of the dangers they pose to human health and the environment. And while these atomic-sized particles may be beneficial in certain medical applications, scientists and environmentalists are calling for more studies. Until now, few adverse effects have been found for this virtually unregulated technology. Yet, that may simply be due to the relatively few studies that have been done in the rush to find ever more and profitable nanotech applications.

Nanotechnology, the science of the extremely tiny, is an important emerging industry with a projected annual market of around one trillion dollars by 2015. It involves manipulating or building new materials from atoms and molecules; silver and carbon are now the most important building blocks.

The nanomaterials are far smaller than a human hair and can only be seen with powerful microscopes. A nanometer is a billionth of a meter, while a human hair is about eighty thousand nanometers wide. An atom is roughly one-third of a nanometer across, and nanoparticles are groups of atoms that are typically smaller than one hundred nanometers. The tiny-sized materials often have unique properties that differ from the properties of their larger scaled versions.

“The use of nanotechnology in consumer products continues to grow rapidly,” says PEN director David Rejeski. “When we launched the inventory in March 2006 we only had 212 products. If the introduction of new products continues at the present rate, the number of products listed in the inventory will reach close to 1,600 within the next two years. This will provide significant oversight challenges for agencies like the Food and Drug Administration and Consumer Product Safety Commission, which often lack any mechanisms to identify nanotech products before they enter the marketplace.”

4- Western Lifestyle Continues Environmental Footprint

Speaking in advance of the climate summit in Copenhagen, Rajendra Pachauri, the United Nation’s leading climate scientist, warned that Western society must enact radical changes and reform measures if it is to avoid the worst effects of climate change. Pachauri, chair of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), told the Observer that Western society urgently needs to develop a new value system of “sustainable consumption.” The Nobel Prize winner stated, “Today we have reached the point where consumption and people’s desire to consume has grown out of proportion.” “The reality is that our lifestyles are unsustainable.”

Pachauri offered a wide-ranging proposal—including legal requirements, economic disincentives, and government subsidies—to lead Western society toward a more sustainable future. Among Pachauri’s suggestions is that hotels be held accountable for the energy use of their guests. The energy consumed by guests in hotels could be metered and then charged to guests’ bills. Pachauri’s proposal also includes measures to regulate travel by land and air. For instance, Pachauri argues that automobile travel could be “curbed” through pricing schemes that discourage the use of private transportation. Likewise, Pachauri suggests that governments tax air travel to encourage citizens to travel by rail—a mode of transportation that is significantly lower in cost and environmental impact.

Travel and tourism are but one feature of an increasingly unsustainable Western lifestyle. As the Internet becomes an indispensable feature of modern life, the costs and environmental impact associated with Internet usage is on the rise. According to recent estimates, there are over 1.5 billion people online around the world. As a result, the Internet’s energy footprint is growing at a rate of more than 10 percent each year. As the Net’s appetite for electricity grows, Internet companies like Google are having a hard time managing the costs associated with delivering Web pages, video, audio, and data files. This situation not only threatens the bottom line of Web firms, but may compromise the long-term viability of the Internet. According to Subodh Bapat, vice president of Sun Microsystems, a leading manufacturer of computer servers, “In an energy-constrained world, we cannot continue to grow the footprint of the Internet . . . we need to rein in the energy consumption.”

Energy consumption associated with Western lifestyles has been linked with melting glaciers around the world. Dr. Shresth Tayal of The Energy and Resources Institute (TERI), India’s leading environmental institute, selected three of approximately eighteen thousand glaciers in the Himalayas as benchmarks to measure the rate of the glaciers’ retreat. According to Dr. Tayal, the glaciers, which feed rivers across India and China, providing fresh water to more than two billion people during the dry season, are disappearing at an alarming rate. As Dr. Tayal bluntly assessed in the Times, “The glacier is dying.” Tayal’s findings support the contention made in 2007 by the IPCC that glaciers could disappear by 2035. The IPCC warns that a shortage of fresh water will cause “famine, water wars and hundreds of millions of climate change refugees.”

Despite growing evidence that Western lifestyles contribute to global climate change, it may take a generation before the new value system Pachauri calls for takes hold. Nevertheless, Pachauri believes that young people will recognize the need to adopt some of the radical changes he recommends. “I think they will be far more sensitive than adults, who have been corrupted by the ways we have been following for years.”



5- US Presidents Charged with Crimes Against Humanity as Universal Jurisdiction Dies in Spain

In October 2009, under great pressure from the United States, the government of Spain decided to limit its own jurisdiction in cases of genocide and crimes against humanity, thus closing one of the last windows of accountability for the most serious crimes committed by the most powerful nations on Earth. Under international law, such crimes fall under the universal jurisdiction of any nation, whether one’s own citizens are victims or not. The logic is that crimes against humanity are offenses against every member of the human species—a crime against all.

Spain had been a venue for bringing high crimes charges against human rights violators in Guatemala, Argentina, China, Israel, and elsewhere. Most of the lawsuits have been against individuals linked to the untouchable political right, such as Chile’s Augusto Pinochet, the Argentine military officer Adolfo Scilingo, former US secretary of state Henry Kissinger, Italian prime minister Silvio Berlusconi, former Israeli prime minister Ariel Sharon and six of his senior advisors, and most recently, former George W. Bush administration officials.

Calls to reign in the judges increased when Spanish magistrates announced probes involving Israel and the United States.

In January 2009, Spanish National Court Judge Fernando Andreu announced he would investigate seven current or former Israeli officials over a 2002 air attack in Gaza that killed a top member of Hamas and fourteen other people. In March 2009, Baltasar Garzón, Spain’s most high-profile judge, invoked the principle of universal jurisdiction when he sought to investigate six former Bush administration officials for giving legal cover to torture in the American prison at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba.

Activist judges like Garzón, Andreu, and Pedraz have created a big diplomatic headache for the Zapatero government. China has warned Spain that bilateral relations could be damaged over a case regarding Tibet, and Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has told Spain that it risks being sidelined in the Middle East peace process.

But the Spanish government is most worried about the negative impact the Guantánamo probe may have on relations with the United States. Zapatero has raised expectations of Spanish voters with the promise he can forge warm ties to the Obama administration. Indeed, other European leaders have distanced themselves from the Spanish position, fearful of jeopardizing future relations with Washington.

Reporter Glen Ford noted that the world’s biggest potential defendant for war crimes and crimes against humanity is the United States, whose record of direct and indirect involvement in torture and mass killings has been unmatched by any other nation since at least World War II. It was primarily US pressure that forced Spain to close off its courts from international jurisdiction cases.

One day before the change in Spanish law, a number of members of the BRussells Tribunal, acting under the umbrella of the International Initiative to Prosecute US Genocide in Iraq, filed charges of crimes against humanity and genocide against four presidents of the United States and four prime ministers of Great Britain. The charges cite 1.5 million Iraqi deaths over the course of nineteen years of American and British attacks, including two full-scale wars of aggression, the “most draconian sanctions regime ever designed,” and subsequent occupation of Iraq. Half a million of the dead, according to the charges, were children.

In parallel, Iraq’s rich heritage and unique cultural and archaeological patrimony has been wantonly destroyed. In order to render Iraq dependent on US and UK strategic designs, successive US and UK governments have attempted to partition Iraq and to establish by military force a pro-occupation Iraqi government and political system. They have promoted and engaged in the massive plunder of Iraqi natural resources, attempting to privatize the property and wealth of the Iraqi nation. So massive and systematic were the assaults on Iraq, stretching for roughly a generation, the accusers charge the US and the UK with the deliberate destruction of a nation.

The defendants are George Herbert Walker Bush, William J. Clinton, George W. Bush, Barack Hussein Obama, Margaret Thatcher, John Major, Anthony Blair, and Gordon Brown. The suit holds that each has played a key role in Iraq’s intended destruction—that they instigated, supported, condoned, rationalized, executed and/or perpetuated, or excused this destruction based on lies and narrow strategic and economic interests, and against the will of their own people. The BRussels Tribunal asserts that allowing those responsible to escape accountability means such actions could be repeated elsewhere.

The global clearinghouse for war crimes, crimes against humanity, and genocide is the International Criminal Court. However Ford notes that in recent years that court has prosecuted no one but Africans and is increasingly exposed as a tool of Western hegemony. The United States refuses to join the International Criminal Court, and thus claims immunity from prosecution.

For more information on Project Censored, please visit http://www.projectcensored.org/


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