Buzzflash.com, July 18, 2005
Title: “Web of Deceit: How Internet Freedom Got the Federal Ax, and Why Corporate News Censored the Story”
Author: Elliot D. Cohen, Ph.D.
Student Researchers: Lauren Powell, Brett Forest, and Zoe Huffman
Faculty Evaluator: Andrew Roth, Ph.D.
Throughout 2005 and 2006, a large underground debate raged regarding the future of the Internet. More recently referred to as “network neutrality,” the issue has become a tug of war with cable companies on the one hand and consumers and Internet service providers on the other. Yet despite important legislative proposals and Supreme Court decisions throughout 2005, the issue was almost completely ignored in the headlines until 2006.1 And, except for occasional coverage on CNBC’s Kudlow & Kramer, mainstream television remains hands-off to this day (June 2006).2
Most coverage of the issue framed it as an argument over regulation—but the term “regulation” in this case is somewhat misleading. Groups advocating for “net neutrality” are not promoting regulation of internet content. What they want is a legal mandate forcing cable companies to allow internet service providers (ISPs) free access to their cable lines (called a “common carriage” agreement). This was the model used for dial-up internet, and it is the way content providers want to keep it. They also want to make sure that cable companies cannot screen or interrupt internet content without a court order.
Those in favor of net neutrality say that lack of government regulation simply means that cable lines will be regulated by the cable companies themselves. ISPs will have to pay a hefty service fee for the right to use cable lines (making internet services more expensive). Those who could pay more would get better access; those who could not pay would be left behind. Cable companies could also decide to filter Internet content at will.
On the other side, cable company supporters say that a great deal of time and money was spent laying cable lines and expanding their speed and quality.3 They claim that allowing ISPs free access would deny cable companies the ability to recoup their investments, and maintain that cable providers should be allowed to charge. Not doing so, they predict, would discourage competition and innovation within the cable industry.
Cable supporters like the AT&T-sponsored Hands Off the Internet website assert that common carriage legislation would lead to higher prices and months of legal wrangling. They maintain that such legislation fixes a problem that doesn’t exist and scoff at concerns that phone and cable companies will use their position to limit access based on fees as groundless. Though cable companies deny plans to block content providers without cause, there are a number of examples of cable-initiated discrimination.
In March 2005, the FCC settled a case against a North Carolina-based telephone company that was blocking the ability of its customers to use voice-over-Internet calling services instead of (the more expensive) phone lines.4 In August 2005, a Canadian cable company blocked access to a site that supported the cable union in a labor dispute.5 In February 2006, Cox Communications denied customers access to the Craig’s List website. Though Cox claims that it was simply a security error, it was discovered that Cox ran a classified service that competes with Craig’s List.6
In June of 1999, the Ninth District Court ruled that AT&T would have to open its cable network to ISPs (AT&T v. City of Portland). The court said that Internet transmissions, interactive, two-way exchanges, were telecommunication offerings, not a cable information service (like CNN) that sends data one way. This decision was overturned on appeal a year later.
Recent court decisions have extended the cable company agenda further. On June 27, 2005, The United States Supreme Court ruled that cable corporations like Comcast and Verizon were not required to share their lines with rival ISPs (National Cable & Telecommunications Association vs. Brand X Internet Services).7 Cable companies would not have to offer common carriage agreements for cable lines the way that telephone companies have for phone lines.
According to Dr. Elliot Cohen, the decision accepted the FCC assertion that cable modem service is not a two-way telecommunications offering, but a one-way information service, completely overturning the 1999 ruling. Meanwhile, telephone companies charge that such a decision gives an unfair advantage to cable companies and are requesting that they be released from their common carriage requirement as well.
On June 8, the House rejected legislation (HR 5273) that would have prevented phone and cable companies from selling preferential treatment on their networks for delivery of video and other data-heavy applications. It also passed the Communications Opportunity, Promotion, and Enhancement (COPE) Act (HR 5252), which supporters said would encourage innovation and the construction of more high-speed Internet lines. Internet neutrality advocates say it will allow phone and cable companies to cherry-pick customers in wealthy neighborhoods while eliminating the current requirement demanded by most local governments that cable TV companies serve low-income and minority areas as well. 8
Comment: As of June 2006, the COPE Act is in the Senate. Supporters say the bill supports innovation and freedom of choice. Interet neutrality advocates say that its passage would forever compromise the Internet. Giant cable companies would attain a monopoly on high-speed, cable Internet. They would prevent poorer citizens from broadband access, while monitoring and controlling the content of information that can be accessed.
1. “Keeping a Democratic Web,” The New York Times, May 2, 2006.
2. Jim Goldman, Larry Kudlow, and Phil Lebeau, “Panelists Michael Powell, Mike Holland, Neil Weinberg, John Augustine and Pablo Perez-Fernandez discuss markets,” Kudlow & Company CNBC, March 6, 2006.
4. Michael Geist, “Telus breaks Net Providers’ cardinal rule: Telecom company blocks access to site supporting union in labour dispute,” Ottawa Citizen, August 4, 2005.
5. Jonathan Krim, “Renewed Warning of Bandwidth Hoarding,” The Washington Post, November 24, 2005.
6. David A. Utter, “Craigslist Blocked By Cox Interactive,” http://www.Webpronews.com, June 7, 2006.
7. Yuki Noguchi, “Cable Firms Don’t Have to Share Networks, Court Rules,” Washington Post, June 28, 2005.
8. “Last week in Congress / How our representatives voted,” Buffalo News (New York), June 11, 2006.
UPDATE BY ELLIOT D. COHEN, PH.D.
Despite the fact that the Court’s decision in Brand X marks the beginning of the end for a robust, democratic Internet, there has been a virtual MSM blackout in covering it. As a result of this decision, the legal stage has been set for further corporate control. Currently pending in Congress is the “Communications Opportunity, Promotion, and Enhancement Act of 2006”(HR 5252), fueled by strong telecom corporative lobbies and introduced by Congressman Joe Barton (R-TX). This Act, which fails to adequately protect an open and neutral Internet, includes a “Title II—Enforcement of Broadband Policy Statement” that gives the FCC “exclusive authority to adjudicate any complaint alleging a violation of the broadband policy statement or the principles incorporated therein.” With the passage of this provision, courts will have scant authority to challenge and overturn FCC decisions regarding broadband. Since under current FCC Chair Kevin Martin, the FCC is moving toward still further deregulation of telecom and media companies, the likely consequence is the thickening of the plot to increase corporate control of the Internet. In particular, behemoth telecom corporations like Comcast, Verizon, and AT&T want to set up toll booths on the Internet. If these companies get their way, content providers with deep pockets will be afforded optimum bandwidth while the rest of us will be left spinning in cyberspace. No longer will everyone enjoy an equal voice in the freest and most comprehensive democratic forum ever devised by humankind.
As might be expected, none of these new developments are being addressed by the MSM. Among media activist organizations attempting to stop the gutting of the free Internet is The Free Press (http://www.freepress.net/), which now has an aggressive “Save the Internet” campaign.
Global Research.ca, August 5, 2005
Title: “Halliburton Secretly Doing Business With Key Member of Iran’s Nuclear Team”
Author: Jason Leopold
Faculty Evaluator: Catherine Nelson
Student Researchers: Kristine Medeiros and Pla Herr
According to journalist Jason Leopold, sources at former Cheney company Halliburton allege that, as recently as January of 2005, Halliburton sold key components for a nuclear reactor to an Iranian oil development company. Leopold says his Halliburton sources have intimate knowledge of the business dealings of both Halliburton and Oriental Oil Kish, one of Iran’s largest private oil companies.
Additionally, throughout 2004 and 2005, Halliburton worked closely with Cyrus Nasseri, the vice chairman of the board of directors of Iran-based Oriental Oil Kish, to develop oil projects in Iran. Nasseri is also a key member of Iran’s nuclear development team. Nasseri was interrogated by Iranian authorities in late July 2005 for allegedly providing Halliburton with Iran’s nuclear secrets. Iranian government officials charged Nasseri with accepting as much as $1 million in bribes from Halliburton for this information.
Oriental Oil Kish dealings with Halliburton first became public knowledge in January 2005 when the company announced that it had subcontracted parts of the South Pars gas-drilling project to Halliburton Products and Services, a subsidiary of Dallas-based Halliburton that is registered to the Cayman Islands. Following the announcement, Halliburton claimed that the South Pars gas field project in Tehran would be its last project in Iran. According to a BBC report, Halliburton, which took thirty to forty million dollars from its Iranian operations in 2003, “was winding down its work due to a poor business environment.”
However, Halliburton has a long history of doing business in Iran, starting as early as 1995, while Vice President Cheney was chief executive of the company. Leopold quotes a February 2001 report published in the Wall Street Journal, “Halliburton Products and Services Ltd., works behind an unmarked door on the ninth floor of a new north Tehran tower block. A brochure declares that the company was registered in 1975 in the Cayman Islands, is based in the Persian Gulf sheikdom of Dubai and is “non-American.” But like the sign over the receptionist’s head, the brochure bears the company’s name and red emblem, and offers services from Halliburton units around the world.” Moreover mail sent to the company’s offices in Tehran and the Cayman Islands is forwarded directly to its Dallas headquarters.
In an attempt to curtail Halliburton and other U.S. companies from engaging in business dealings with rogue nations such as Libya, Iran, and Syria, an amendment was approved in the Senate on July 26, 2005. The amendment, sponsored by Senator Susan Collins R-Maine, would penalize companies that continue to skirt U.S. law by setting up offshore subsidiaries as a way to legally conduct and avoid U.S. sanctions under the International Emergency Economic Powers Act (IEEPA).
A letter, drafted by trade groups representing corporate executives, vehemently objected to the amendment, saying it would lead to further hatred and perhaps incite terrorist attacks on the U.S. and “greatly strain relations with the United States primary trading partners.” The letter warned that, “Foreign governments view U.S. efforts to dictate their foreign and commercial policy as violations of sovereignty often leading them to adopt retaliatory measures more at odds with U.S. goals.”
Collins supports the legislation, stating, “It prevents U.S. corporations from creating a shell company somewhere else in order to do business with rogue, terror-sponsoring nations such as Syria and Iran. The bottom line is that if a U.S. company is evading sanctions to do business with one of these countries, they are helping to prop up countries that support terrorism—most often aimed against America.
UPDATE BY JASON LEOPOLD
During a trip to the Middle East in March 1996, Vice President Dick Cheney told a group of mostly U.S. businessmen that Congress should ease sanctions in Iran and Libya to foster better relationships, a statement that, in hindsight, is completely hypocritical considering the Bush administration’s foreign policy.
“Let me make a generalized statement about a trend I see in the U.S. Congress that I find disturbing, that applies not only with respect to the Iranian situation but a number of others as well,” Cheney said. “I think we Americans sometimes make mistakes . . . There seems to be an assumption that somehow we know what’s best for everybody else and that we are going to use our economic clout to get everybody else to live the way we would like.”
Cheney was the chief executive of Halliburton Corporation at the time he uttered those words. It was Cheney who directed Halliburton toward aggressive business dealings with Iran—in violation of U.S. law—in the mid-1990s, which continued through 2005 and is the reason Iran has the capability to enrich weapons-grade uranium.
It was Halliburton’s secret sale of centrifuges to Iran that helped get the uranium enrichment program off the ground, according to a three-year investigation that includes interviews conducted with more than a dozen current and former Halliburton employees.
If the U.S. ends up engaged in a war with Iran in the future, Cheney and Halliburton will bear the brunt of the blame.
But this shouldn’t come as a shock to anyone who has been following Halliburton’s business activities over the past decade. The company has a long, documented history of violating U.S. sanctions and conducting business with so-called rogue nations.
No, what’s disturbing about these facts is how little attention it has received from the mainstream media. But the public record speaks for itself, as do the thousands of pages of documents obtained by various federal agencies that show how Halliburton’s business dealings in Iran helped fund terrorist activities there—including the country’s nuclear enrichment program.
When I asked Wendy Hall, a spokeswoman for Halliburton, a couple of years ago if Halliburton would stop doing business with Iran because of concerns that the company helped fund terrorism she said, “No.” “We believe that decisions as to the nature of such governments and their actions are better made by governmental authorities and international entities such as the United Nations as opposed to individual persons or companies,” Hall said. “Putting politics aside, we and our affiliates operate in countries to the extent it is legally permissible, where our customers are active as they expect us to provide oilfield services support to their international operations. “We do not always agree with policies or actions of governments in every place that we do business and make no excuses for their behaviors. Due to the long-term nature of our business and the inevitability of political and social change, it is neither prudent nor appropriate for our company to establish our own country-by-country foreign policy.”
Halliburton first started doing business in Iran as early as 1995, while Vice President Cheney was chief executive of the company and in possible violation of U.S. sanctions.
An executive order signed by former President Bill Clinton in March 1995 prohibits “new investments (in Iran) by U.S. persons, including commitment of funds or other assets.” It also bars U.S. companies from performing services “that would benefit the Iranian oil industry” and provide Iran with the financial means to engage in terrorist activity.
When Bush and Cheney came into office in 2001, their administration decided it would not punish foreign oil and gas companies that invest in those countries. The sanctions imposed on countries like Iran and Libya before Bush became president were blasted by Cheney, who gave frequent speeches on the need for U.S. companies to compete with their foreign competitors, despite claims that those countries may have ties to terrorism.
“I think we’d be better off if we, in fact, backed off those sanctions (on Iran), didn’t try to impose secondary boycotts on companies . . . trying to do business over there . . . and instead started to rebuild those relationships,” Cheney said during a 1998 business trip to Sydney, Australia, according to Australia’s Illawarra Mercury newspaper.
Mother Jones, March /April, 2006
Title: The Fate of the Ocean
Author: Julia Whitty
Faculty Evaluator: Dolly Freidel
Student Researcher: Charlene Jones
Oceanic problems once found on a local scale are now pandemic. Data from oceanography, marine biology, meteorology, fishery science, and glaciology reveal that the seas are changing in ominous ways. A vortex of cause and effect wrought by global environmental dilemmas is changing the ocean from a watery horizon with assorted regional troubles to a global system in alarming distress.
According to oceanographers the oceans are one, with currents linking the seas and regulating climate. Sea temperature and chemistry changes, along with contamination and reckless fishing practices, intertwine to imperil the world’s largest communal life source.
In 2005, researchers from the Scripps Institution of Oceanography and the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory found clear evidence the ocean is quickly warming. They discovered that the top half-mile of the ocean has warmed dramatically in the past forty years as a result of human-induced greenhouse gases.
One manifestation of this warming is the melting of the Arctic. A shrinking ratio of ice to water has set off a feedback loop, accelerating the increase in water surfaces that promote further warming and melting. With polar waters growing fresher and tropical seas saltier, the cycle of evaporation and precipitation has quickened, further invigorating the greenhouse effect. The ocean’s currents are reacting to this freshening, causing a critical conveyor that carries warm upper waters into Europe’s northern latitudes to slow by one third since 1957, bolstering fears of a shut down and cataclysmic climate change. This accelerating cycle of cause and effect will be difficult, if not impossible, to reverse.
Atmospheric litter is also altering sea chemistry, as thousands of toxic compounds poison marine creatures and devastate propagation. The ocean has absorbed an estimated 118 billion metric tons of carbon dioxide since the onset of the Industrial Revolution, with 20 to 25 tons being added to the atmosphere daily. Increasing acidity from rising levels of CO2 is changing the ocean’s PH balance. Studies indicate that the shells and skeletons possessed by everything from reef-building corals to mollusks and plankton begin to dissolve within forty-eight hours of exposure to the acidity expected in the ocean by 2050. Coral reefs will almost certainly disappear and, even more worrisome, so will plankton. Phytoplankton absorb greenhouse gases, manufacture oxygen, and are the primary producers of the marine food web.
Mercury pollution enters the food web via coal and chemical industry waste, oxidizes in the atmosphere, and settles to the sea bottom. There it is consumed, delivering mercury to each subsequent link in the food chain, until predators such as tuna or whales carry levels of mercury as much as one million times that of the waters around them. The Gulf of Mexico has the highest mercury levels ever recorded, with an average of ten tons of mercury coming down the Mississippi River every year, and another ton added by offshore drilling.
Along with mercury, the Mississippi delivers nitrogen (often from fertilizers). Nitrogen stimulates plant and bacterial growth in the water that consume oxygen, creating a condition known as hypoxia, or dead zones. Dead zones occur wherever oceanic oxygen is depleted below the level necessary to sustain marine life. A sizable portion of the Gulf of Mexico has become a dead zone—the largest such area in the U.S. and the second largest on the planet, measuring nearly 8,000 square miles in 2001. It is no coincidence that almost all of the nearly 150 (and counting) dead zones on earth lay at the mouths of rivers. Nearly fifty fester off U.S. coasts. While most are caused by river-borne nitrogen, fossil fuel-burning plants help create this condition, as does phosphorous from human sewage and nitrogen emissions from auto exhaust.
Meanwhile, since its peak in 2000, the global wild fish harvest has begun a sharp decline despite progress in seagoing technologies and intensified fishing. So-called efficiencies in fishing have stimulated unprecedented decimation of sealife. Long-lining, in which a single boat sets line across sixty or more miles of ocean, each baited with up to 10,000 hooks, captures at least 25 percent unwanted catch. With an estimated 2 billion hooks set each year, as much as 88 billion pounds of life a year is thrown back to the ocean either dead or dying. Additionally, trawlers drag nets across every square inch of the continental shelves every two years. Fishing the sea floor like a bulldozer, they level an area 150 times larger than all forest clearcuts each year and destroy seafloor ecosystems. Aquaculture is no better, since three pounds of wild fish are caught to feed every pound of farmed salmon. A 2003 study out of Dalhousie University in Nova Scotia concluded, based on data dating from the 1950s, that in the wake of decades of such onslaught only 10 percent of all large fish (tuna, swordfish) and ground fish (cod, hake, flounder) are left anywhere in the ocean.
Other sea nurseries are also threatened. Fifteen percent of seagrass beds have disappeared in the last ten years, depriving juvenile fish, manatees, and sea turtles of critical habitats. Kelp beds are also dying at alarming rates.
While at no time in history has science taught more about how the earth’s life-support systems work, the maelstrom of human assault on the seas continues. If human failure in governance of the world’s largest public domain is not reversed quickly, the ocean will soon and surely reach a point of no return.
After release of the Pew Oceans Commission report, U.S. media, most notably The Washington Post and National Public Radio in 2003 and 2004, covered several stories regarding impending threats to the ocean, recommendations for protection, and President Bush’s response. However, media treatment of the collective acceleration of ocean damage and cross-pollination of harm was left to Julia Whitty in her lengthy feature. In April of 2006, Time Magazine presented an in-depth article about earth at “the tipping point,” describing the planet as an overworked organism fighting the consequences of global climate change on shore and sea. In her Mother Jones article, Whitty presented a look at global illness by directly examining the ocean as earth’s circulatory, respiratory, and reproductive system.
Following up on “The Last Days of the Ocean,” Mother Jones has produced “Ocean Voyager,” an innovative web-based adventure that includes videos, audio interviews with key players, webcams, and links to informative web pages created by more than twenty organizations. The site is a tour of various ocean trouble spots around the world, which highlights solutions and suggests actions that can be taken to help make a difference.
UPDATE BY JULIA WHITTY
This story is awash with new developments. Scientists are currently publishing at an unprecedented rate their observations—not just predictions—on the rapid changes underway on our ocean planet. First and foremost, the year 2005 turned out to be the warmest year on record. This reinforces other data showing the earth has grown hotter in the past 400 years, and possibly in the past 2,000 years. A study out of the National Center for Atmospheric Research found ocean temperatures in the tropical North Atlantic in 2005 nearly two degrees Fahrenheit above normal; this turned out to be the predominant catalyst for the monstrous 2005 hurricane season—the most violent season ever seen.
The news from the polar ice is no better. A joint NASA/University of Kansas study in Science (02/06) reveals that Greenland’s glaciers are surging towards the sea and melting more than twice as fast as ten years ago. This further endangers the critical balance of the North Atlantic meridional overturning circulation, which holds our climate stable. Meanwhile, in March, the British Antarctic Survey announced their findings that the “global warming signature” of the Antarctic is three times larger than what we’re seeing elsewhere on Earth—the first proof of broadscale climate change across the southern continent.
Since “The Fate of the Ocean” went to press in Mother Jones magazine, evidence of the politicization of science in the global climate wars has also emerged. In January 2006 NASA’s top climate scientist, James Hansen, accused the agency of trying to censor his work. Four months later, Hansen’s accusations were echoed by scientists at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, as well as by a U.S. Geological Survey scientist working at a NOAA lab, who claimed their work on global climate change was being censored by their departments, as part of a policy of intimidation by the anti-science Bush administration.
Problems for the ocean’s wildlife are escalating too. In 2005, biologists from the U.S. Minerals Management Service found polar bears drowned in the waters off Alaska, apparent victims of the disappearing ice. In 2006, U.S. Geological Survey Alaska Science Center researchers found polar bears killing and eating each other in areas where sea ice failed to form that year, leaving the bears bereft of food. In response, the International Union for the Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources revised their Red List for polar bears—upgrading them from “conservation dependent” to “vulnerable.” In February, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced it would begin reviewing whether polar bears need protection under the Endangered Species Act.
Since my report, the leaders of two influential commissions—the Pew Oceans Commission and the U.S. Commission on Ocean Policy—gave Congress, the Bush administration, and our nation’s governors a “D+” grade for not moving quickly enough to address their recommendations for restoring health to our nation’s oceans.
Most of these stories remain out of view, sunk with cement boots in the backwaters of scientific journals. The media remains unable to discern good science from bad, and gives equal credence to both, when they give any at all. The story of our declining ocean world, and our own future, develops beyond the ken of the public, who forge ahead without altering behavior or goals, and unimpeded by foresight.
The New Standard, December 2005
Title: “New Report Shows Increase in Urban Hunger, Homelessness”
Author: Brendan Coyne
OneWorld.net, March, 2006
Title: “US Plan to Eliminate Survey of Needy Families Draws Fire “
Author: Abid Aslam
Faculty Evaluator: Myrna Goodman
Student Researcher: Arlene Ward and Brett Forest
The number of hungry and homeless people in U.S. cities continued to grow in 2005, despite claims of an improved economy. Increased demand for vital services rose as needs of the most destitute went unmet, according to the annual U.S. Conference of Mayors Report, which has documented increasing need since its 1982 inception.
The study measures instances of emergency food and housing assistance in twenty-four U.S. cities and utilizes supplemental information from the U.S. Census and Department of Labor. More than three-quarters of cities surveyed reported increases in demand for food and housing, especially among families. Food aid requests expanded by 12 percent in 2005, while aid center and food bank resources grew by only 7 percent. Service providers estimated 18 percent of requests went unattended. Housing followed a similar trend, as a majority of cities reported an increase in demand for emergency shelter, often going unmet due to lack of resources.
As urban hunger and homelessness increases in America, the Bush administration is planning to eliminate a U.S. survey widely used to improve federal and state programs for low-income and retired Americans, reports Abid Aslam.
President Bush’s proposed budget for fiscal 2007, which begins October 2006, includes a Commerce Department plan to eliminate the Census Bureau’s Survey of Income and Program Participation (SIPP). The proposal marks at least the third White House attempt in as many years to do away with federal data collection on politically prickly economic issues.
Founded in 1984, the Census Bureau survey follows American families for a number of years and monitors their use of Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF), Social Security, Medicaid, unemployment insurance, child care, and other health, social service, and education programs.
Some 415 economists and social scientists signed a letter and sent it to Congress, shortly after the February release of Bush’s federal budget proposal, urging that the survey be fully funded as it “is the only large-scale survey explicitly designed to analyze the impact of a wide variety of government programs on the well being of American families.”
Heather Boushey, economist at the Washington, D.C.–based Center for Economic and Policy Research told Abid Aslam, “We need to know what the effects of these programs are on American families . . . SIPP is designed to do just that.” Boushey added that the survey has proved invaluable in tracking the effects of changes in government programs. So much so that the 1996 welfare reform law specifically mentioned the survey as the best means to evaluate the law’s effectiveness.
Supporters of the survey elimination say the program costs too much at $40 million per year. They would kill it in September and eventually replace it with a scaled-down version that would run to $9.2 million in development costs during the coming fiscal year. Actual data collection would begin in 2009.
Defenders of the survey counter that the cost is justified as SIPP “provides a constant stream of in-depth data that enables government, academic, and independent researchers to evaluate the effectiveness and improve the efficiency of several hundred billion dollars in spending on social programs,” including homeless shelters and emergency food aid.
UPDATE BY ABID ASLAM
As of the end of May 2006, hundreds of economists and social scientists remain engaged in a bid to save the U.S. Census Bureau’s Survey of Income and Program Participation (SIPP). Ideologically diverse users describe the survey as pioneering and say it has helped to improve the uptake and performance of, and to gauge the effects on American families of changes in public provisions ranging from Medicaid to Temporary Assistance to Needy Families and school lunch programs.
A few journalists took notice because users of the data, including the Washington-based Center for Economic and Policy Research (CEPR), which spearheaded the effort to save SIPP, chose to make some noise.By most accounts, the matter was a simple fight over money: the administration was out to cut any hint of flesh from bureaucratic budgets (perhaps to feed its foreign policy pursuits) but users of the survey wanted the money spent on SIPP because, in their view, the program is valuable and no feasible alternative exists or has been proposed.
That debate remains to be resolved. Lobbyists expect more legislative action in June and among them, CEPR remains available to provide updates.But is it just an isolated budget fight? This is the third time in as many years that the Bush administration has tried—and in the previous two cases, failed under pressure from users and advocates—to strip funding for awkward research. In 2003, it had tried to kill the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) Mass Layoff Statistics report, which detailed where workplaces with more than fifty employees closed and what kinds of workers were affected. In 2004 and 2005, it had attempted to drop questions on the hiring and firing of women from employment data collected by the BLS. Hardly big-ticket items on the federal budget, the mass layoffs reports provided federal and state social service agencies with data crucial for planning even as it chronicled job losses and the so-called “jobless recovery.” The women’s questionnaire uncovered employment discrimination.
In other words, SIPP and the BLS programs are politically prickly. They highlight that, regardless of what some politicians and executives might say, economic and social problems persist and involve real people whose real needs remain to be met. This calls to mind the old line about there being three kinds of lies: lies, damn lies, and statistics. To be convincing, they must be broadly consistent. If the numbers don’t support the narrative, something simply must give. With the livelihoods, life chances, and rights of millions of citizens at stake, these are more than stories about arcane budget wrangles.
The Taylor Report, March 28, 2005
Title: “The World’s Most Neglected Emergency: Phil Taylor talks to Keith Harmon Snow”
Earth First! Journal, August 2005
Title: “High-Tech Genocide”
Z Magazine, March 1, 2006
Title: “Behind the Numbers: Untold Suffering in the Congo”
Authors: Keith Harmon Snow and David Barouski
Faculty Evaluator: Thom Lough
Student Researchers: Deyango Harris and Daniel Turner
The world’s most neglected emergency, according to the UN Emergency Relief Coordinator, is the ongoing tragedy of the Congo, where six to seven million have died since 1996 as a consequence of invasions and wars sponsored by western powers trying to gain control of the region’s mineral wealth. At stake is control of natural resources that are sought by U.S. corporations—diamonds, tin, copper, gold, and more significantly, coltan and niobium, two minerals necessary for production of cell phones and other high-tech electronics; and cobalt, an element essential to nuclear, chemical, aerospace, and defense industries.
Columbo-tantalite, i.e. coltan, is found in three-billion-year-old soils like those in the Rift Valley region of Africa. The tantalum extracted from the coltan ore is used to make tantalum capacitors, tiny components that are essential in managing the flow of current in electronic devices. Eighty percent of the world’s coltan reserves are found in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). Niobium is another high-tech mineral with a similar story.
Sprocket reports that the high-tech boom of the 1990s caused the price of coltan to skyrocket to nearly $300 per pound. In 1996 U.S.-sponsored Rwandan and Ugandan forces entered eastern DRC. By 1998 they seized control and moved into strategic mining areas. The Rwandan Army was soon making $20 million or more a month from coltan mining. Though the price of coltan has fallen, Rwanda maintains its monopoly on coltan and the coltan trade in DRC. Reports of rampant human rights abuses pour out of this mining region.
Coltan makes its way out of the mines to trading posts where foreign traders buy the mineral and ship it abroad, mostly through Rwanda. Firms with the capability turn coltan into the coveted tantalum powder, and then sell the magic powder to Nokia, Motorola, Compaq, Sony, and other manufacturers for use in cell phones and other products.
Keith Harmon Snow emphasizes that any analysis of the geopolitics in the Congo, and the reasons for why the Congolese people have suffered a virtually unending war since 1996, requires an understanding of the organized crime perpetrated through multinational businesses. The tragedy of the Congo conflict has been instituted by invested corporations, their proxy armies, and the supra-governmental bodies that support them.
The process is tied to major multinational corporations at all levels. These include U.S.-based Cabot Corp. and OM Group; HC Starck of Germany; and Nigncxia of China—corporations that have been linked by a United Nations Panel of Experts to the atrocities in DRC. Extortion, rape, massacres, and bribery are all part of the criminal networks set up and maintained by huge multinational companies. Yet as mining in the Congo by western companies proceeds at an unprecedented rate—some $6 million in raw cobalt alone exiting DRC daily—multinational mining companies rarely get mentioned in human rights reports.
Sprocket notes that Sam Bodman, CEO of Cabot during the coltan boom, was appointed in December 2004 to serve as President Bush’s Secretary of Energy. Under Bodman’s leadership from 1987 to 2000, Cabot was one of the U.S.’s largest polluters, accounting for 60,000 tons of airborne toxic emissions annually. Snow adds that Sony’s current Executive Vice President and General Counsel Nicole Seligman was a former legal adviser for Bill Clinton. Many who held positions of power in the Clinton administration moved into high positions with Sony.
The article “Behind the Numbers,” coauthored by Snow and David Barouski, details a web of U.S. corruption and conflicts of interest between mining corporations such as Barrick Gold (see Story #21) and the U.S. government under George H. W. Bush, Bill Clinton, and George W. Bush, as well as U.S. arms dealers such as Simax; U.S. defense companies such as Lockheed Martin, Halliburton, Northrop Grumman, GE, Boeing, Raytheon, and Bechtel; “humanitarian” organizations such as CARE, funded by Lockheed Martin, and International Rescue Committee, whose Board of Overseers includes Henry Kissinger; “Conservation” interests that provide the vanguard for western penetration into Central Africa; and of course, PR firms and news outlets such as the New York Times.
Sprocket closes his article by noting that it’s not surprising this information isn’t included in the literature and manuals that come with your cell phones, pagers, computers, or diamond jewelry. Perhaps, he suggests, mobile phones should be outfitted with stickers that read: “Warning! This device was created with raw materials from central Africa. These materials are rare, nonrenewable, were sold to fund a bloody war of occupation, and have caused the virtual elimination of endangered species. Have a nice day.” People need to realize, he says, that there is a direct link between the gadgets that make our lives more convenient and sophisticated—and the reality of the violence, turmoil, and destruction that plague our world.
UPDATE BY SPROCKET
There are large fortunes to be made in the manufacturing of high-tech electronics and in selling convenience and entertainment to American consumers, but at what cost?
Conflicts in Africa are often shrouded with misinformation, while U.S. and other western interests are routinely downplayed or omitted by the corporate media. The June 5, 2006, cover story of Time, entitled “Congo: The Hidden Toll of the World’s Deadliest War,” was no exception. Although the article briefly mentioned coltan and its use in cell phones and other electronic devices, no mention was made of the pivotal role this and other raw materials found in the region play in the conflict. The story painted the ongoing war as a pitiable and horrible tragedy, avoiding the corporations and foreign governments that have created the framework for the violence and those which have strong financial and political interests in the conflict’s outcome.
In an article written by Johann Hari and published by The Hamilton Spectator on May 13, 2006, the corporate media took a step toward addressing the true reason for the tremendous body count that continues to pile up in the Democratic Republic of Congo: “The only change over the decades has been the resources snatched for Western consumption—rubber under the Belgians, diamonds under Mobutu, coltan and casterite today.”
Most disturbing is that in the corporate media, the effect of this conflict on nonhuman life is totally overlooked. Even with a high-profile endangered species like the Eastern lowland gorilla hanging in the balance, almost driven to extinction through poaching and habitat loss by displaced villagers and warring factions, the environmental angle of the story is rarely considered.
The next step in understanding the exploitation and violence wrought upon the inhabitants of central Africa, fueled by the hunger for high-tech toys in the U.S., is to expose corporations like Sony and Motorola. These corporations don’t want protest movements tarnishing their reputations. Nor do they want to call attention to all of the gorillas coltan kills, and the guerrillas it feeds.
It is time for our culture to start seeing more value in living beings, whether gorillas or humans, than in our disposable high-tech gadgets such as cell phones. It is time to steal back a more compassionate existence from the corporate plutocracy that creates destructive markets and from the media system that has manufactured our consent.
It is not just a question of giving up cell phones (though that would be a great start). We must question the appropriation of our planet in the form of a resource to be consumed, rather than as a home and community to be lived in.
“High-Tech Genocide” and other articles about cell phone technology are available by contacting the author: firstname.lastname@example.org.
UPDATE BY KEITH HARMON SNOW
War for the control of the Democratic Republic of Congo—what should be the richest country in the world—began in Uganda in the 1980s, when now Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni shot his way to power with the backing of Buckingham Palace, the White House, and Tel Aviv behind him.
Paul Kagame, now president of Rwanda, served as Museveni’s Director of Military Intelligence. Kagame later trained at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, before the Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF)—backed by Roger Winter, the U.S. Committee on Refugees, and the others above—invaded Rwanda. The RPF destabilized and then secured Rwanda. This coup d’etat is today misunderstood as the “Rwanda Genocide.” What played out in Rwanda in 1994 is now playing out in Darfur, Sudan; regime change is the goal, “genocide” is the tool of propaganda used to manipulate and disinform.
In 1996, Paul Kagame and Yoweri Museveni, with the Pentagon behind them, launched their covert war against Zaire’s Mobutu Sese Seko and his western backers. A decade later, there are 6 or 7 million dead, at the very least, and the war in Congo (Zaire) continues.
If you are reading the mainstream newspapers or listening to National Public Radio, you are contributing to your own mental illness, no matter how astute you believe yourself to be at “balancing” or “deciphering” the code.
News reports in Time Magazine (“The Deadliest War In The World,” June 6, 2006) and on CNN (“Rape, Brutality Ignored to Aid Congo Peace,” May 26, 2006) that appeared at the time of this writing are being interpreted by conscious people to be truth-telling at last. However, these are perfect examples filled with hidden deceptions and manipulations.
For accuracy and truth on Central Africa, look to people like Robin Philpot (Imperialism Dies Hard), Wayne Madsen (Genocide and Covert Operations in Africa, 1993–1999), Amos Wilson (The Falsification of Consciousness), Charles Onana (The Secrets of the Rwanda Genocide—Investigation on the Mysteries of a President), Antoine Lokongo (www.congopanorama.info), Phil Taylor (www.taylor-report.com), Christopher Black (“Racism, Murder and Lies in Rwanda”). World War 4 Report has published my reports, but they are inconsistent in their attention to accuracy, and would as quickly adopt the propaganda, and have done so at times.
It is possible to collect little fragments of truth here and there—never counting on the mainstream system for this—but one must beware the deceptions and bias. In this vein, the elite business journal Africa Confidential is often very revealing. Some facts can be gleaned from www.DigitalCongo.net and Africa Research Bulletin.
Professor David Gibb’s book The Political Economy of Third World Intervention: Case of the Congo Crises is an excellent backgrounder that identifies players still active today (especially Maurice Tempelsman and his diamonds interests connected to the Democratic Party). Ditto King Leopold’s Ghost by Adam Hocshchild, but—exemplifying the expedience of “interests”—remember that Hocshchild never tells you, the reader, that his father ran a mining company in Congo. Almost ALL reportage is expedient; one needs take care their propensity to be deceived.
Professor Ruth Mayer’s book Artificial Africas: Colonial Images in the Times of Globalization is a particularly poignant articulation of the means by which the “media” system distorts and manipulates all things African. And, never forget www.AllThingsPass.com.
Also hoping to correct the record and reveal the truth, the International Forum for Truth and Justice in the Great Lakes of Africa (www.veritasrwandaforum.org), based in Spain, and co-founded by Nobel Prize nominee Juan Carrero Seraleegui, is involved in a groundbreaking lawsuit charging massive crimes against humanity and acts of genocide were committed by the now government of Rwanda.
Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility website
Titles: “Whistleblowers Get Help from Bush Administration,” December 5, 2005
“Long-Delayed Investigation of Special Counsel Finally Begins,” October 18,2005
“Back Door Rollback of Federal Whistleblower Protections,” September 22, 2005
Author: Jeff Ruch
Faculty Evaluator: Barbara Bloom
Student Researchers: Caitlyn Peele and Sara-Joy Christienson
Special Counsel Scott Bloch, appointed by President Bush in 2004, is overseeing the virtual elimination of federal whistleblower rights in the U.S. government.
The U.S. Office of Special Counsel (OSC), the agency that is supposed to protect federal employees who blow the whistle on waste, fraud, and abuse is dismissing hundreds of cases while advancing almost none. According to the Annual Report for 2004 (which was not released until the end of first quarter fiscal year 2006) less than 1.5 percent of whistleblower claims were referred for investigation while more than 1000 reports were closed before they were even opened. Only eight claims were found to be substantiated, and one of those included the theft of a desk, while another included attendance violations. Favorable outcomes have declined 24 percent overall, and this is all in the first year that the new special counsel, Scott Bloch, has been in office.
Bloch, who has received numerous complaints since he took office, defends his first thirteen months in office by pointing to a decline in backlogged cases. Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER) Executive Director Jeff Ruch says, “. . . backlogs and delays are bad, but they are not as bad as simply dumping the cases altogether.” According to figures released by Bloch in February of 2005 more than 470 claims of retaliation were dismissed, and not once had he affirmatively represented a whistleblower. In fact, in order to speed dismissals, Bloch instituted a rule forbidding his staff from contacting a whistleblower if their disclosure was deemed incomplete or ambiguous. Instead, the OSC would dismiss the matter. As a result, hundreds of whistleblowers never had a chance to justify their cases. Ruch notes that these numbers are limited to only the backlogged cases and do not include new ones.
On March 3, 2005, OSC staff members joined by a coalition of whistleblower protection and civil rights organizations filed a complaint against Bloch. His own employees accused him of violating the very rules he is supposed to be enforcing. The complaint specifies instances of illegal gag orders, cronyism, invidious discrimination, and retaliation by forcing the resignation of one-fifth of the OSC headquarters legal and investigative staff. The complaint was filed with the President’s Council on Integrity and Efficiency, which took no action on the case for seven months. PEER was one of the groups who co-filed the complaint against Bloch and Ruch wants to know, “Who watches the watchdogs?”
This is the third probe into Bloch’s operation in less than two years in office. Both the Government Accountability Office and a U.S. Senate subcommittee have ongoing investigations into mass dismissals of whistleblower cases, crony hires, and Bloch’s targeting of gay employees for removal while refusing to investigate cases involving discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation.
The Department of Labor has also gotten on board in a behind-the-scenes maneuver to cancel whistleblower protections. If it succeeds, the Labor Department will dismiss claims by federal workers who report violations under the Clean Air Act and the Safe Drinking Water Act. General Counsel for PEER, Richard Condit says, “Federal workers in agencies such as the Environmental Protection Agency function as the public’s eyes and ears . . . the Labor Department is moving to shut down one of the few legal avenues left to whistleblowers.” The Labor Department is trying to invoke the ancient doctrine of sovereign immunity, which says that the government cannot be sued without its consent. The Secretary of Labor’s Administrative Review Board recently invited the EPA to raise a sovereign immunity defense in a case where a woman was trying to enforce earlier victories. Government Accountability Project General Counsel Joanne Royce sums up major concerns: “We do not want public servants wondering whether they will lose their jobs for acting against pollution violations of politically well-connected interests.”
UPDATE BY JEFF RUCH
With the decline in oversight by the U.S. Congress and the uneven quality of investigative journalism, outlets such as the U.S. Office of Special Counsel become even more important channels for governmental transparency. Unfortunately, under the Bush-appointed Special Counsel, this supposed haven for whistleblowers has become a beacon of false hope for thousands.
Each year, hundreds of civil servants who witness problems ranging from threats to public safety to waste of tax funds find that their reports of wrongdoing are stonewalled by the Office of Special Counsel (OSC). Consequently, these firsthand accounts of malfeasance are not investigated and almost uniformly never reach the public’s attention.
The importance of this state of affairs is that the actual workings of federal agencies are becoming more shrouded in secrecy and disinformation. Americans are less informed about their government and less able to be in connection with the people who actually work for them—the public servants.
In a recent development, employees within the OSC have filed a whistleblower complaint about the Special Counsel, the person who is supposed to be the chief whistleblower defender. After several months delay, the Bush White House assigned this complaint to the Inspector General for the Office of Personnel Management for review. This supposedly independent investigation has just begun in earnest, nearly one year after the complaint was filed.
Also, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) issued a report in May 2006 blasting the Bush-appointed Special Counsel for ignoring competitive bidding rules in handing out consultant contracts. GAO also recommended creating an independent channel whereby Office of Special Counsel employees can blow the whistle on further abuses by the Special Counsel.
In another recent development, PEER’s lawsuit against the Special Counsel to force release of documents concerning crony hires has produced more, heavily redacted documents showing that these sole source consultants apparently did no identifiable work. Ironically, the PEER suit was filed under the Freedom of Information Act, a law that the Special Counsel is also charged with policing.
And in a new annual report to Congress, OSC (stung by criticism about declining performance) has, for the first time, stopped disclosing the number of whistleblower cases where it obtained a favorable outcome. Consequently, it is impossible to tell if anyone is actually being helped by the agency.
PEER’s web page on the Office of Special Counsel has posted all developments since this story and also allows a reader to trace the story’s genesis.
American Civil Liberties Website, October