Unearthed: The News Without the Chaff

This recurring blog series features a collection of recent news stories about threats to public health, our democracy and the planet which are ignored or underreported by the handful of corporate mainstream media conglomerates, TV pundits, and radio shock jocks who've turned the "news" into little more than an entertainment and product placement opportunity and let down the American public.

"Spoils of War:" Iraq Selling Oil Reserves to Western Oil Giants
The Iraqi government put 40 billion barrels of oil reserves up for sale this week and entered talks with ExxonMobil, BP, and Shell over developing eight oil fields representing forty percent of Iraq's reserves. The size of the sale is unprecedented, and confirms again the underlying motive behind Saddam Hussein's ouster. Shell has already entered an agreement potentially worth $4 billion to develop Iraqi gas fields, marking the beginning of the distribution of "the spoils of war" among western oil companies which stand to gain access to nearly half of Iraq's remaining reserves.

ABC Refuses to Air 'Repower America' Ad by Alliance for Climate Protection

ABC continues to refuse to run an ad designed by the Alliance for Climate Protection which challenges the massive advertising and lobbying campaigns by oil and coal companies and calls for a renewable energy future for America.

Major network coverage of recent presidential debates has been book-ended with ads by fossil fuel interests including Chevron (ABC), ExxonMobil (CBS), and the coal industry lobby (CNN). All of the other networks and several cable outlets ran the Repower America ad, except ABC, which claimed the ad failed to meet its "controversial issue advertising" rules because an image of the Capitol Building appears briefly in the ad. ABC told the Alliance that "the image of the Capital [sic] building is not incidental to this advertising."

An online petition circulated by the Alliance has garnered over 230,000 signatures calling on ABC to air the ad.

Bush Administration Memos Instruct Wildlife Officials to Ignore Global Warming Impacts

Memos sent earlier this month by top Bush administration lawyers to wildlife officials claim that the Endangered Species Act can't be used to regulate global warming emissions in order to protect dwindling species and their habitats. The memos, obtained by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER), concluded that cumulative effects of global warming pollution "are of no relevance" under the Endangered Species Act.

One of the memos, authored by the Interior Department's top lawyer, claimed that agency officials do not have to consult with federal scientists and can decide for themselves whether timber sales, dam building or other projects might harm endangered wildlife. The memos instruct Interior Department officials overseeing natural resource development to ignore the threat of global warming emissions from a proposed project because the pollution from specific projects can't be proved to have an impact on species or habitat.

National Debt Clock Runs Out of Digits

A digital billboard chronicling the national debt ran out of room to account for the current debt of $10.2 trillion. The sign was originally mounted in Times Square in 1989 by the late Manhattan real estate developer Seymour Durst, who wanted to highlight the failure of Reaganomics by displaying what was then a $2.7 trillion debt. In a short term fix, the clock's digital dollar sign was hacked to add a '1' to make room for the skyrocketing $10 trillion figure. The national debt has nearly doubled in the past eight years under the Bush administration.

U.S. Mayors Predict Green Collar Jobs Will Double In Next Decade
A new report[PDF] by the US Conference of Mayors suggests that green collar jobs in the U.S. will more than double in the next 10 years, rising from a current level of roughly 750,000 green jobs to over 2.5 million by 2018. The majority of the current jobs the report classified as green are "indirect" occupations related to green energy, including engineering, legal, research and consulting work. But the second largest segment of jobs classified as green relate directly to renewable energy generation. Growth in direct green job employment is expected to expand rapidly and supplant the need for large numbers of indirect jobs.

Alaska Pollock Fishery Faces Collapse

Yearly catches of one million tons are exceeding the regenerative capacity of Alaska Pollock, threatening collapse of the staple fast food source found in fish sandwiches, frozen fish sticks, fish and chips and imitation crabmeat at McDonald's and elsewhere in the fast food industry.

NOAA biologists report that stocks of Alaska Pollock found in U.S. waters are half as large as last year, foretelling a collapse that would devastate Alaska's commercial fishermen and coastal communities. Greenpeace and other environmental groups blame the mismanagement of the Pollock fishery and say the yearly allowable catch of 1 million tons leaves the Pollock "on the cusp of one of the largest fishery collapses in history."

"Worst Year" for Violence in Afghanistan
2008 is the bloodiest year so far in Afghanistan since the Taliban was ousted in 2001. Violence is increasing as large numbers of foreign insurgents switch battlegrounds from Iraq to fight in Afghanistan. Abdul Rahim Wardak, Afghanistan's Defense Minister, told reporters "the level of violence has increased every year and 2008 has been the worst of all," since U.S. forces overthrew the Taliban in 2001.

The number of coalition soldiers killed in Afghanistan so far this year already exceeds the number reached last year, and at least a third of the additional 3,800 killed were civilians, according to the United Nations.

Wardak said the militants are better-equipped, better-trained, and more coordinated in their attacks than ever before, echoing the findings of a US intelligence report earlier this month indicating that Afghanistan is in a "downward spiral."

Despite Ethics Rule, Congress Hid $3.5 Billion in Earmarks in Defense Spending Bill

An extensive investigation by the Seattle Times found that Congress inserted $3.5 billion in hidden earmarks in the 2008 Defense spending bill. Despite new ethics rules requiring members of Congress to disclose their earmarks publicly, the Times found that 40 percent of the $8.5 billion in earmarks inserted into the $459 billion defense spending bill were in fact hidden by lawmakers who exploited loopholes or disregarded the ethics rules entirely. The hidden $3.5 billion was traced to 155 earmarks which included some of the most costly expenditures in the defense spending bill. Since there are no penalties for disregarding the ethics rule, the practice is likely to continue.

The Seattle Times sifted through earmarks buried in difficult to find documents and compiled the information - including campaign donations and companies' lobbying efforts - into a searchable database located at seattletimes.com/favorfactory.

The investigation found that companies that benefited from the earmarks spent $141 million lobbying Congress last year alone, and that employees of the companies that benefited from the earmarks gave more than $60 million in campaign contributions to members of Congress over the past six years.

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