Eight stories buried in 2011 by the media that you need to know about
by Rania Khalek
As 2011 comes to a close, we will see lists of the year’s most memorable events and most important people, as is the pattern every year.
But not all stories are created equal. When the corporate media bury significant developments in the back pages of the paper or the second to last paragraph of an article, it’s easy for stories to go unnoticed.
As usual, this year was packed with critical, newsworthy and insufficiently covered stories that should have, but didn't, make the front page.
Below are eight explosive must-read stories of 2011 that you may have missed.
1) Our planet saw the largest increase in carbon emissions since the industrial revolution
Global emissions of carbon dioxide increased 5.9 % in 2010, the largest increase on record, according to Global Carbon Project, an international group of scientists tracking the numbers. This increase, reports the New York Times, is “almost certainly the largest absolute jump in any year since the Industrial Revolution, and the largest percentage increase since 2003”.
Another study, published in the journal Nature Geoscience, traces an estimated three-quarters of the planet’s warming since 1950 to human activities. On top of that, the World Meteorological Organization warned that 10 of the hottest years ever recorded have occurred in the last 15 years, with temperatures this year registering as the 10th highest on record.
It’s obvious that the world is getting warmer at an accelerating rate and it’s our fault. What are world leaders going to do about it? Wait another eight years to cut emissions?
These statistics were released before the United Nations Climate Change Conference in Durban, South Africa, which ended with an agreement to kick the can down the road -- they will negotiate a new climate treaty by 2015, which would postpone emission cuts until 2020.
To avoid the most devastating effects of climate change, we must limit the earth’s warming to 2°C. For that to happen, emission volumes cannot exceed 450 parts per mm (ppm) of carbon dioxide. Since emissions have already reached 390 ppm, higher than any other time in recorded history, the International Energy Agency warns that action cannot be delayed past 2017. Based on the Durbin agreement, emissions won’t be cut until 2020.
Unless something drastic pushes our leaders to change the destructive path we’re on, 2011 may go down in the history books as the year that humans irreversibly screwed themselves and the planet.
2) Widespread trafficking of Iraqi women and girls thanks to the Iraq war
Since the 2003 US invasion of Iraq, over 100,000 Iraqis have been killed and another 4.4 mm displaced, leaving many women and girls widowed or orphaned.
As a result of the conflict more than 50,000 Iraqi women find themselves trapped in sexual servitude in Syria and Jordan, giving rise to a lucrative and growing sex industry that feeds off the chaos from the Iraq war.
Women and girls inside Iraq fare no better, often working in brothels run by female pimps.
In an interview with the Inter Press Service, Rania, a former trafficker who now works as an undercover researcher for a women’s support group in Iraq, detailed a visit to “a house in Baghdad’s Al-Jihad district, where girls as young as 16 were held to cater exclusively to the US military. The brothel’s owner told Rania that an Iraqi interpreter employed by the Americans served as the go-between, transporting girls to and from the US airport base.”
Although human trafficking is illegal in Iraq, the country lacks a robust criminal justice system to enforce the law.
Sadly, the victims of trafficking and prostitution are often the ones who are punished.
3) More Iraq veterans committed suicide last year than active-duty troops died in combat
In 2010, 468 active duty and reserve troops committed suicide while 462 died in combat, marking the second year in a row that more US soldiers killed themselves than died at war, according to Congressional Quarterly's John Donnelly.
Over the past decade, over 2,000 soldiers have taken their own lives, yet they receive little attention in our corporate media. In August the New York Times ran a story with the celebratory headline, “Iraq War Marks First Month With No US Military Deaths”. That same month, the Department of Defence reported19 possible suicides among active-duty soldiers. In July, that number reached a record high of 32.
America’s decade-long wars in Iraq and Afghanistan leave troops with deep emotional scars that can be just as dangerous as a combat wound.
Perhaps it’s time we gave them the attention they deserve.
4) Drone strikes kill innocent civilians, not just 'militants'
After Jon Brennan, President Obama’s top counterterrorism adviser, claimed in June that no civilians had been killed in US drone attacks in nearly a year, the Bureau of Investigative Journalism reported that at least 45 civilians were killed in 10 US attacks during that period.
Overall, drone strikes in Pakistan have killed 780 civilians, including 175 children. The bureau documents 309 CIA drone strikes carried out since 2004 that have killed as many as 2,997 people. Over 85 % were launched by the Obama administration, an average of one strike every four days.
Yet the casualties of the US drone war rarely receive mention in the corporate media, except when described as “Islamic militants” or “suspected terrorists”. This is challenged not only by the bureau’s data, but also by gruesome photographs of drone victims taken by local journalists.
The Guardian described the images captured by Noor Behram, a journalist from the North Waziristan region of Pakistan, whose work appeared in an exhibition at London's Beaconsfield gallery in August: The photographs make for difficult viewing and leave no doubt about the destructive power of the Hellfire missiles unleashed: a boy with the top of his head missing, a severed hand, flattened houses, the parents of children killed in a strike. The chassis is all that remains of a car in one photo, another shows the funeral of a seven-year-old child.
There are pictures, too, of the cheap rubber flip-flops worn by children and adults, which often survive: signs that life once existed there. A 10-year-old boy's body, prepared for burial, shows lipstick on him and flowers in his hair -- a mother's last loving touch.
Spencer Ackerman recently featured a number of Behram’s disturbing photographs at Wired, which can be seen at http://www.wired.com/dangerroom/2011/12/photos-pakistan-drone-war/?pid=999&viewall=true.
5) Record number of US kids face hunger and homelessness
A report released by National Centre on Family Homelessness finds that one in 45 US children (1.6 mm) are homeless, the majority under the age of seven.
The Christian Science Monitor reports, “The number of homeless children in 2010 exceeded even the total in 2006, when thousands of families displaced by hurricanes Katrina and Rita produced a historic spike in homelessness”.
It doesn’t stop there. According to recent figures released by the USDA, 17.2 mm American households (14.5 %) are "food insecure”, one of the highest recorded rates since surveys were first conducted in 1995. As a result, 16.2 mm American children -- one in five -- face the threat of hunger. According to emergency room doctors in cities around the country, this is leading to a dramatic spike in malnourishment in babies.
Over the summer, the Boston Globe reported on shocking levels of infant malnourishment in Massachusetts. Doctors at the Boston Medical Centre (BMC) reported seeing “more hungry and dangerously thin young children in the emergency room than at any time in more than a decade of surveying families”.
Paediatricians in other large cities, including Baltimore, Little Rock, Minneapolis, and Philadelphia, have also seen a rise in infant and child malnourishment since 2008. BMC doctors also warn that “rising chronic hunger threatens to leave scores of infants and toddlers with lasting learning and developmental problems”.
The Globe likened child malnourishment and hunger among Boston’s poor to levels seen in the "developing world".
6) Prisoners are people too
This summer, more than 6,000 California prison inmates went on a month-long hunger strike in solidarity with those held in solitary confinement at the Secure Housing Unit in California’s Pelican Bay State Prison.
Pelican Bay is notorious for holding nearly half of its 1,111 prisoners in solitary confinement for longer than 10 years. The strike was suspended in July when inmates entered negotiations with the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR). They expected change, but prisoners who organized and participated in the strike were instead retaliated against by prison guards.
By September 26, the strike was back on, with 12,000 inmates throughout California and out-of-state facilities participating. But those numbers quickly dwindled as the CDCR disciplined those involved by limiting access to visiting family members and isolating participants from other prisoners.
A string of prisoner suicides committed by inmates who participated in the hunger strikes followed.
Colorlines’ Julianne Hing reported: In recent months Alex Machado and Johnny Owens Vick, who were both housed in Pelican Bay’s notorious solitary confinement Security Housing Unit, and Hozel Alanzo Blanchard, who was incarcerated at Calipatria State Prison’s Administrative Segregation Unit, all committed suicide.
Prisoner advocates say all three participated in a state-wide hunger strike this summer to protest, among other things, prison discipline policies intended to identify prison gang members which punish innocent, unaffiliated inmates with decades of confinement to segregated units.
7) US deports 46,000 parents, kids left behind in foster care
Under the Obama administration, deportations of immigrants have skyrocketed, with a record 397,000 people removed in 2011 alone and families torn apart as a result. According to an investigation carried out by Colorlines, the United States deported over 46,000 parents whose children were US citizens between January and June of this year.
With their parents detained or deported, at least 5,100 children have been placed in foster care, and many may never see their parents again. Our draconian immigration system is creating orphans.
Investigative reporter Seth Freed Wessler writes: These children, many of whom should never have been separated from their parents in the first place, face often insurmountable obstacles to reunifying with their mothers and fathers. Though child welfare departments are required by federal law to reunify children with any parents who are able to provide for the basic safety of their children, detention makes this all but impossible. Then, once parents are deported, families are often separated for long periods.
Ultimately, child welfare departments and juvenile courts too often move to terminate the parental rights of deportees and put children up for adoption, rather than attempt to unify the family as they would in other circumstances.
8) FBI teaches agents that Muslims are violent radicals
In September, Spencer Ackerman reported some disturbing findings about the FBI’s counterterrorism training materials. He revealed, among other things, that the FBI’s Training Division depicts all Muslims as potential terrorists.
Ackerman writes: The FBI is teaching its counterterrorism agents that "mainstream" American Muslims are likely to be terrorist sympathizers; that the Prophet Mohammed was a “cult leader”; and that the Islamic practice of giving charity is no more than a ‘funding mechanism for combat.
At the Bureau's training ground in Quantico, Virginia, agents are shown a chart contending that the more “devout” a Muslim, the more likely he is to be “violent”.
Those destructive tendencies cannot be reversed, an FBI instructional presentation adds: “Any war against non-believers is justified” under Muslim law; a “moderating process cannot happen if the Koran continues to be regarded as the unalterable word of Allah”.
Ackerman also came upon an alarming description of Sunni Muslims, which is included in the FBI’s Joint Terrorism Task Forces mandatory online orientation material:
Sunni Muslims have been prolific in spawning numerous and varied fundamentalist extremist terrorist organizations. Sunni core doctrine and end state have remained the same and they continue to strive for Sunni Islamic domination of the world to prove a key Quranic assertion that no system of government or religion on earth can match the Quran’s purity and effectiveness for paving the road to God.
The FBI immediately apologized for the derogatory training materials, promising to comprehensively review all training materials. But it turns out that the FBI’s counterterrorism culture is soaked in Islamophobia, as demonstrated by the inclusion of books by Islamophobic authors Robert Spencer and Daniel Pipes in the FBI Quantico library.
This comes on top of a troubling pattern in counterterrorism law enforcement training -- the use of Islamophobic ”terrorism consultants” to school agents on the Islamic faith. According to the Washington Monthly, this “growing profession” of consultants rakes in taxpayer cash to educate our cops about evils of Islam.
One example is Walid Shoebat, who reportedly told an audience at a counterterrorism conference last year that the way to solve the threat of Islamic extremism is to “kill them… including the children”.
Shoebat’s extreme denunciations of Islam helped fuel the paranoia of right-wing terrorist Anders Breivik, who massacred some 90 people in Norway earlier this year. According to the American Prospect, Shoebat is cited in Breivik’s manifesto 15 times.
Rania Khalek is an associate writer for AlterNet. Follow her on Twitter @RaniaKhalek.