Failed Attempts to Censor My Work, by Michael Moore

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Failed Attempts to Censor My Work, by Michael Moore

Postby admin » Mon Aug 23, 2021 1:06 am

Why I (Fight) Write: A Brief History of Failed Attempts to Censor My Work
by Michael Moore
Aug 22, 2021



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Writer. (from “Bowling for Columbine”)

When I am handed a form to fill out and it asks me to state my “occupation,” I never know how to answer this. I guess I do a bunch of things: I’m a filmmaker, I’ve been on Broadway, I was a projectionist, a night janitor, I've built sets, I work to abolish the plutocracy, I can sing but I can’t dance, I can change the oil in your car, and if you ever need me to perform at a family function, I can recite from memory all 46 Presidents of the United States and perform a scene from each Best Picture Oscar-winner since 1977.

And I can write. I am the only one out of the 7.9 billion on this planet with my handwriting (only my DNA and fingerprints hold such status, which makes whatever I write singularly unique. Not necessarily good — just unique). I prefer to write my first draft in longhand on a yellow legal pad, mostly because yellow cheers me up and usually what I’m about to write is not-so-very-cheery. I do try to look for the silver lining in life, like I did one day last week when I was relieved to learn that the percentage of white people in the US had gone down for the first time since 1790, and that Britney Spears was finally freed from her father.

I started my first newspaper in fourth grade. I called it The St. John Eagle. It was not officially sanctioned by the Catholic school principal, but she let me use the hand-cranked mimeograph machine to print a hundred copies. When I wrote a piece criticizing the 8th grade football team, Mother Superior shut it down.

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My first Substack post

The next year, in 5th grade, I started a neighborhood newspaper called The Hill St. News. My father - who was born 100 years ago tomorrow - took my writing to the foreman’s office in the GM factory where he worked on the assembly line and asked if he could type it up and make 20 copies. When he brought the copies home I was so excited that my sisters and I immediately flew out the door to distribute them around our neighborhood, a couple of dead end dirt streets lined by chestnut and crabapple trees, species I haven’t seen now in years.

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Off to deliver my paper

An hour later, my mother got an angry call from a neighbor demanding to know who gave me permission to list their house “for sale” in my Classifieds section. I mean, I thought they were selling their house! I wrote a really nice description and tacked on a price tag of $1,299 dollars. What did I know about real estate at 10 years old? I promised my parents that I would shut down my paper.

I resurrected my St. John Eagle newspaper in 6th and 8th grades, and both times they were first censored and then shuttered by the authorities. In 8th grade, I also wrote the Christmas play, and this time the parish priest had to step in to pull the plug and restore order.

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Future priest, playwright

In 9th grade, I was kicked out of the Catholic seminary because, as the head priest explained to me, “you ask too many questions — and we, The Catholic Church, are an institution of answers, not questions.”

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My alternative paper in Flint

At the age of 22, I created a bi-weekly newspaper, The Flint Voice. I was now an adult, I was my own boss, so no one could fire me or censor me. But I forgot about the police. The corrupt chief of police had been elected mayor of Flint, and once in office, he forced city employees to campaign for him and donate to his reelection campaign. I obtained evidence against him and prepared to publish it. He found out about it and sent the Flint police to the local newspaper where I rented their printing press to print my bi-weekly paper. The Flint police stormed in and raided the place, literally stopping the presses, and removed my printing plates from the press. They seized all 10,000 copies of the freshly printed Flint Voice. I called the ACLU, they filed for an injunction in court and we ended up in the New York Times and the CBS Evening News.

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NYT and Detroit Free Press covering the raid

We won, the 10,000 copies of our paper were given back to us, we put them on our newsstands, and thanks to the ruckus, within a year, Congress passed the Newspaper Shield Act to make it illegal for police anywhere to raid newsrooms. Just before President Jimmy Carter left office, he signed it into law. After years of being banned, bullied, suppressed and shut down, my writing was now protected.

Or so I thought. Truth is, the harassment and threats have never stopped. In 2001, my book, “Stupid White Men” was pulled by the publisher just hours after the planes crashed into the towers on 9/11. HarperCollins (owned by Rupert Murdoch) told me they were going to shred and pulp the 50,000 copies they had printed and now pulled. They told me they could no longer release a book in post-9/11 America that was so harsh about George W. Bush. I was given the option of rewriting it and “toning it down” — or they were not going to return the 50,000 copies to the bookstores nationwide. They would “pulp” them and recycle them into other books.

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Publisher’s Weekly on my battle with Murdoch

In 2004, one year into the Iraq War, Michael Eisner, then CEO of Disney, announced after seeing the final cut of my film, “Fahrenheit 9/11”, that he would not allow it to be distributed to any theaters across North America. He privately told a Hollywood agent that he could not release my film because Disney was asking Florida Governor Jeb Bush for a huge tax break for Disney World — and this movie, a broadside attack on Jeb’s brother, George W., would kill the deal. So he decided to kill my movie instead.

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Front page story in NYT

Of course, many of you know the ultimate fates of that book and that film. After a brutal fight with these two media empires — and a huge outcry from the public (and a brave librarian who organized a protest by librarians) — HarperCollins and Disney backed down and reluctantly released both. HarperCollins, mad at me, stated there would be no book tour, no promotion budget and no further copies would be printed. It was released on a Tuesday — and by Friday, “Stupid White Men” was already in its 9th printing. It spent well over a year on the New York Times best-seller list and sold 6 million copies worldwide.

“Fahrenheit 9/11” was returned to me. I asked Lionsgate and IFC to release it, and they did so happily. We won the top prize at the Cannes Film Festival, it was the #1 film on its opening weekend (breaking a previous record set by Return of the Jedi for a film opening in less than 900 theaters). It is still the highest-grossing documentary of all time.

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Crowds flocking to see Fahrenheit 9/11

All of this was helped because, by then, I’d already had decades of experience fighting those seeking to censor me. It was no longer a fair fight. There was no way they could win.

It especially helped that I had this email list -- my digital ammo to alert the public as to what was happening behind the scenes -- and a reliable way to circumvent the corporate, incestuous, pro-war media who would otherwise have sided with their own.

You’d think by now being a writer would have become less stressful, but to this day when I put my work out there I have to also prepare for the inevitable fight that awaits me. Whether it’s the US government threatening to prosecute me for “illegally traveling to Cuba” to film their free health care system in “Sicko,” or me releasing a film last year critical of our beloved environmental movement for selling out to Wall Street and corporate America and their fake Green attempts to fool us into thinking things were getting better. As we all know, Climate in 2021 is MUCH worse and we are now perhaps beyond the brink — so when the film outed fellow environmentalists and leaders for their mistakes and for colluding with the enemy, they retaliated by trying to ban the film (“Planet of the Humans”). Again - no success. With nearly 20 million views, it was perhaps the most-watched documentary feature film of 2020.

This year, I looked for new ways to bring my writing to you. The mainstream route continues to narrow its doors and tighten its leash at a time when the public demands MORE voices, not less. But it is not part of the capitalist business model to turn the reins over to the rabble from the working class or its progressive leaders.

They are right to worry about what would happen to the elites if we could actually have our writings read and our voices heard by the masses. There would be a minimum wage of $25 an hour. We’d have an Equal Rights for Women Amendment added to the Constitution (already passed by the required 38 states!). The rich would be forced to pay their taxes. We’d never invade another Iraq or Afghanistan again. Everyone would have free access to doctors, dentists and mental health professionals. For god’s sake, please don’t let us in!

My mother made a big mistake teaching me how to read at 4 years old. And through the years, I’ve seen how dangerous it is to be a reader, a writer, to look things up, to learn the awful truth at 11 that Columbus didn’t discover America, that America was founded in genocide and built on the backs of Black slaves. That for the first 150 years of our country, women could not vote, own property, have a bank account, or get a divorce without their husband’s permission. And yet, seemingly, no one thought of us as evil, primitive barbarians. We were not the Taliban of that time! We just lynched Black men — we didn’t behead them! Today, in the US, we’ve found that a knee to the neck works just as well.

Those in power have defunded and closed our libraries, attacked our teachers and their unions, eliminated civics classes, art, poetry and anything that encourages critical thinking. Even handwriting is no longer taught — one of those few things that make us each unique and gives each of us a voice. Soon enough, society’s owners started buying up local newspapers and shutting them down (in the last year alone, US newsrooms lost a record 16,160 jobs). Science was ridiculed. The point of all of this was to make us stupid and simple and confused — so much so that if we ever found ourselves in the middle of a deadly epidemic, we would actually believe that the cure was more deadly than the deadly plague itself. By forcing the majority to fight each other for the crumbs off the rich man’s table, this was the key to demoralizing us and crushing our spirits, to keeping us in our place with little or no political or economic power.

But we can all write! As long as there are No. 2 pencils and a thought in our heads, we can write it down. We can write our own 95 Grievances, our own Manifesto. I want to write with you and for you, all of us together, in ways that will affect change, that will encourage people to take to the streets, to get on next year’s ballots, to continue the fight in all sorts of effective and nonviolent ways.

This is the first of my Sunday Letters to you. The Mother Superior has agreed not to interfere.

Thanks for joining with me. Be well, be kind, and never trust spellcheck. Write on!
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Re: Failed Attempts to Censor My Work, by Michael Moore

Postby admin » Sun Feb 06, 2022 1:10 am

Pandemic Playlist #3: “White Privilege II” by Macklemore & Ryan Lewis, featuring Jamila Woods: Perhaps the best way for white people to celebrate Black History Month is to discuss with each other our white privilege, income inequality and institutional racism — and how to bring it to an end.
by Michael Moore
Feb 2, 2022

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Jamila Woods, Ryan Lewis and Macklemore (Photo by Cindy Ord/Getty Images)

“White Privilege II” is a nine-minute hip-hop hit from six years ago that is part agit-prop, part thought-poem, and part audio-doc by the white hip-hop duo Macklemore & Ryan Lewis, featuring Black Chicago singer Jamila Woods.

I have this song on my Pandemic Playlist because it’s an uncomfortable piece of music. It questions not only the obscenity of white privilege but also the very existence of the song itself and its white duo who are performing it. It is, for them, a deep dive into the theft of Black culture and the white relationship to Black Lives Matter.

This is a rare attempt at white humility and a willingness to ignite a discussion that is much needed. Not a discussion of faux liberal guilt or white crocodile tears into a frothy latte, but one of seriously copping to and acknowledging the actual day-to-day white supremacy that runs this country, the kind you (white people) and I (white guy) share ample benefits from. The kinds of things we don’t even notice, but are self-aware enough to appreciate how society’s order makes our lives (the ones of us who have more than $500 or $5,000 to our name), well, somewhat carefree.

One year, back before film festivals ended, I found myself on my way to the Toronto Film Festival and sitting on the Air Canada prop plane next to the great Chris Rock. He told me how some film producers had been approaching him to make a film about cops shooting unarmed Black citizens and other abuses of Black people in this country.

“And,” Chris reported to me, “to every one of them I said, ‘Why are you asking me to make this kind of film? We’re not the ones committing the abuse and the racism. Get a white director to show us why white America is doing this to us. That’s the movie I want to see.’

“Of course, that movie won’t get made.”

He paused a beat.

“Unless you, Michael Moore, make it! You’re the one who’d be crazy enough to do it. In fact, that’s what I told one of the studios. ‘Get Michael Moore to make that movie. He will tell us why white power is what makes life hell for the rest of us.’”

He assured me he wasn’t just throwing another burden on my shoulders. “You’re the one (white) filmmaker who already does this. White supremacy, racism, crazy white people — these scenes are in every one of your films. You’re not afraid to piss off the power structure. You make that movie.”

I think Chris’s main point (aside from his personal orders to me) was that there needs to be a large movement amongst white people to go after and disrupt the infrastructure that‘s built and maintained by all of us white people to benefit all of us white people. WE are the problem, and we have to fix it. Yes, I know, nearly 60% of us voted for Trump — twice!

So for the nearly 40% of us who didn’t vote for Trump, how about we spend Black History Month ditching our liberal platitudes and MLK half-quotes. Instead, let’s spend the month (and the rest of the year) ending white privilege by changing the rules, the traditions and the laws, and truly committing ourselves to living in a different and better world. Radical empathy is necessary for us to be real changemakers. Less talk about wishing for Obama to return and more action by each of us to integrate each of our neighborhoods, make every school in our districts equally brilliant, make a true living wage the law in all of our cities and states, and each of us demanding those who participate in all-white coups receive the necessary restraints to protect the rest of us.

Give a listen to “White Privilege II.” Each time I hear this piece by Macklemore, Lewis and Woods, I hear something new. This is what good art does. Don’t judge his white-think, just listen. Then, if you’re white, make a list of what you can do — not for Black people, but what you can do about yourself and where you live, work or go to school. C’mon, we all quietly know how the game is rigged, we know where the keys are kept, we know where the not-so-invisible “Whites Only” signs are placed. We also know where the money is, who has it, where it’s hidden, and — wait! — why the average white worker now has less and less and less. Exactly. You know what’s going on here. And Black Americans know you know.

So the only way to stop it is with your brothers and sisters of color. The 40% of us white voters who are progressive, along with the 35%+ of the electorate that is Black, Hispanic, Arab and/or Muslim, Indigenous or Asian. When white billionaires and banks, white CEOs and Supremacists, see us locking arms and sharing a table and a polling place together — well, watch out.

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(Photo: Matt Dunham, Associated Press)
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Re: Failed Attempts to Censor My Work, by Michael Moore

Postby admin » Sun Feb 06, 2022 1:52 am

The Most Censored Stories of the Year (featuring the Editors of Project Censored)
Episode 229: Rumble with Michael Moore

by Michael Moore
Feb. 3, 2022

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Mickey Huff & Andy Lee Roth of Project Censored

Friends,

Today on Rumble, I talk with Mickey Huff and Andy Lee Roth of Project Censored, an organization who, since 1976, has each year compiled a list of stories ignored or covered up by the corporate media. They also act as advocates for journalists and those who must fight to bring us the truth.

Learn more about Project Censored's vital work at www.projectcensored.org

Buy Project Censored's "The State of the Free Press 2022"

And listen to Mickey's radio show/podcast "The Project Censored Show"

If you have not read my Substack letter about what we can do to Free Leonard Peltier, please do so, share it, and contact President Biden urging he grant Peltier clemency.

Also, I started off Black History Month by sharing one of the songs on my Pandemic Playlist, the 2016 hip-hop hit "White Privilege II," by Macklemore & Ryan Lewis, featuring Jamila Woods. It’s a complicated, audacious track that wrestles with our (white people’s) own white privilege and complicity in an America that is not equal for everyone. Read my comments here (which include a chance meeting with Chris Rock).

Music:

Pink Floyd - "Us and Them"

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#1. Prescription Drug Costs Set to Become a Leading Cause of Death for Elderly Americans
by Project Censored
November 9, 2021

More than 1.1 million seniors in the federal government’s Medicare program could die prematurely over the next decade because they will be unable to afford the high prices of their prescription medications, according to a November 2020 study issued by the West Health Policy Center, a nonprofit and nonpartisan policy research group, and Xcenda, the research arm of AmerisourceBergen, a drug distributor. As Kenny Stancil reported for Common Dreams, West Health projects that, with the continuation of current drug pricing trends, “cost-related nonadherence” will become “a leading cause of death in the U.S., ahead of diabetes, influenza, pneumonia, and kidney disease” by 2030.

According to the West Health/Xcenda study, the rising cost of prescription medicines will lead to an estimated 112,000 premature deaths annually, due to elderly Americans being unable to afford necessary medications, a situation referred to as “cost-related nonadherence.” Explaining that “medication adherence” is a term used to describe how well patients follow healthcare professionals’ instructions for taking medications, the study stated, “unaffordable drug prices can significantly impair medication adherence.” As medicines become increasingly expensive, patients skip doses, ration prescriptions, or quit treatment altogether. According to the president of the West Health Policy Center, Timothy Lash, “One of the biggest contributors to poor health, hospital admissions, higher healthcare costs and preventable death is patients failing to take their medications as prescribed.”

A separate study, published in March 2020 by JAMA, one of the leading peer-reviewed medical journals, found that list prices on branded pharmaceutical products in the United States increased by 159 percent from 2007 to 2018. The high cost of medicine will raise Medicare expenses by an estimated $17.7 billion each year from 2021 to 2031, the West Health/Xcenda study reported. Established in 1965, Medicare is the national health insurance program that serves as the primary provider for Americans aged 65 and older.

The West Health/Xcenda study examined the impact of cost-related nonadherence on the general Medicare population, with a focus on five medical conditions that “significantly affect seniors and for which effective pharmaceutical treatments are available,” including several types of heart disease, chronic kidney disease, and type 2 diabetes.

Medicare beneficiaries are responsible for 25 percent of a prescription drug’s cost, until their expenses reach the out-of-pocket maximum. For this reason, “even with Medicare insurance, what seniors pay is linked to a drug’s price,” and patients are likely to experience “a significant increase” in their prescription costs as drug companies continue to raise list prices, according to the West Health/Xcenda study. A June 2021 AARP study found that, between 2019 and 2020, the retail prices for 260 widely-used brand name prescription drugs increased by 2.9 percent, more than twice the general inflation rate of 1.3 percent. AARP reported that, “[f]or the average older American taking 4.7 prescription drugs per month, the annual cost of therapy would have been more than $31,000 for 2020”—a figure that exceeded the median annual income for individual Medicare beneficiaries in 2019 ($29,650).

Stancil’s Common Dreams report reviewed policy changes that could lower the cost of prescription drugs and “curb the power of Big Pharma, resulting in far fewer avoidable deaths.” The West Health/Xcenda study recommended that limits on drug price increases and empowering Medicare to negotiate directly with drug companies on behalf of patients could prevent 93,900 deaths per year and reduce Medicare spending by $475.9 billion by 2030. As a model for policymakers, the study pointed specifically to the Elijah E. Cummings Lower Drug Costs Now Act (H.R. 3), which had been passed by House Democrats in December 2019 but was stalled in the Senate by Republican majority leader Mitch McConnell at the time of the Common Dreams report. Since then, the newly elected president, Joe Biden, has declined to include Medicare negotiation in his $1.8 trillion American Families Plan proposal, but House Democrats, led by Energy and Commerce Committee chairman Frank Pallone Jr. (D-NJ), have reintroduced the Elijah E. Cummings Lower Drug Costs Now Act.

Soaring prescription drug costs have been widely reported by corporate news outlets. Corporate coverage typically highlights the rising costs of the most expensive branded medications, as exemplified by a January 2021 CBS News report. In April 2019, the New York Times reported that Americans had “borrowed an estimated $88 billion over the last year to pay for health care,” according to a survey conducted by West Health and Gallup. But corporate news outlets appear to have entirely ignored the subsequent West Health/Xcenda study on the consequences of rising drug prices for elderly Americans enrolled in Medicare. In May 2021, Rep. Peter Welch, a Democrat from Vermont, and David Mitchell, the founder of Patients For Affordable Drugs, co-authored an opinion piece for The Hill, advocating for H.R. 3, the Elijah E. Cummings Lower Drug Costs Now Act, and cited figures about preventable deaths from the West Health/Xcenda study.

The public’s understanding of the debate surrounding H.R. 3 and other proposed legislation designed to control inflation in prescription drug prices ought to be informed by accurate information about the grim repercussions of continuing the status quo. Sadly, the corporate media have failed to provide the public with such information for far too long, and the consequences could turn out to be deadly for millions of seniors.

Kenny Stancil, “High Drug Prices Could Result in Premature Deaths of More Than 1.1 Million Seniors in Next Decade: Analysis,” Common Dreams, November 23, 2020.

Student Researcher: Silvia Morales (Sonoma State University)

Faculty Evaluator: Peter Phillips (Sonoma State University)

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#2. Journalists Investigating Financial Crimes Threatened by Global Elites
by Project Censored
November 9, 2021

In November 2020 the Foreign Policy Centre (FPC) released “Unsafe for Scrutiny,” a report about the threats faced by journalists investigating the financial misconduct that lets ‘dirty money’ flow through the world’s most powerful banks. As Spencer Woodman detailed in an article for the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ), the report reveals that global elites have been abusing their intimidating legal and financial powers by targeting reporters with defamation lawsuits, “cease and desist” letters, social media smear campaigns, trolling, verbal harassment, and even occasionally physical violence. Yet, as Woodman underscored, the report concluded that legal threats “are chief among the types of harassment facing journalists conducting financial investigations.” The harassment faced by investigative journalists looking into financial crimes has a chilling effect on reporting about corruption and, ultimately, infringes the public’s right to know about the money laundering, bribery, theft of public funds, and other illicit acts carried out (or facilitated) by wealthy banks, government officials, and corporate leaders.

Sponsored in part by the Justice for Journalists Foundation, the FPC’s study was based on a survey of investigative reporters from all around the world, many of whom had worked on cross-border financial crime investigations such as the multi-year investigations into the financial records leaked in the Panama Papers or the FinCEN Files. Responses from 63 investigative journalists working in 41 countries indicated that a vast majority had faced threats and harassment during their investigations into financial crimes. Susan Coughtrie, project director at the Foreign Policy Centre, told Woodman that the large-scale transnational investigations conducted by these reporters exposed “explosive insights into how political and business elites, as well as organised crime groups, all over the world get away with financial crime and corruption.”

The report found that wealthy individuals and corporations involved in financial corruption often resort to legal action against underfunded investigative journalists as a tactic to thwart their research into corruption. These frivolous suits, known as “strategic lawsuits against public participation,” or SLAPPs, are said to “create a similar chilling effect on media freedom to more overt violence or attack,” according to the FPC’s study. More than 70 percent of respondents to the FPC survey reported being subjected to threats of legal action against them. The report also noted that these legal threats are often communicated in secret, in letters from lawyers marked “private and confidential” intended to intimidate journalists into shielding the action from public view. One journalist working full-time in Africa who responded to the survey explained that “[t]hreats of legal action, especially in the UK[,] where court processes themselves are often prohibitively expensive, has forced me to be increasingly vigilant in terms of sustaining the facts and claims in a story.”

According to Woodman, the United Kingdom, with its plaintiff-friendly defamation laws, “was, by far, the most frequent country of origin for legal threats, FPC found.” Unlike Canada, Australia, and certain US states, the United Kingdom has not passed anti-SLAPP legislation, making its courts an attractive venue for elites seeking to use the law to bully journalists into silence.

In a May 8, 2021 column in the Guardian that mentioned the FPC report, Nick Cohen discussed how the United Kingdom’s costly court system has turned it into “the censorship capital of the democratic world.” As evidence, he pointed to the case of a former Moscow correspondent for the Financial Times, Catherine Belton. In April 2020, Belton published Putin’s People: How the KGB Took Back Russia and Then Took On the West, a book that traces how Vladimir Putin and his inner circle consolidated their grip on political power in Moscow and looted much of the country’s wealth in the process. As Cohen explained, in response, a host of Putin’s super-wealthy associates are now bombarding Belton with one lawsuit after another. According to Cohen, “Rosneft, the Kremlin-dominated oil producer (market capitalisation circa $75bn) whose chief executive, president and chairman, Igor Sechin, began his rise to power as Vladimir Putin’s secretary in the 1990s, has lodged an action for libel.” Belton is likewise being sued by Roman Abramovich, the billionaire owner of Chelsea Football Club, for what he claims are “false and defamatory” statements in the book. The owner of Russia’s largest private bank, Mikhail Fridman, and at least two other Russian oligarchs are also bringing libel suits against Belton over Putin’s People.

The Foreign Policy Centre report additionally found that the intimidation and harassment faced by investigative journalists like Belton often goes well beyond lawsuits or legal threats. As Woodman explained in his article on the study, “60% of respondents working in sub-Saharan Africa [. . .] and 50% of respondents from North Africa and the Middle East region reported threats of physical attack.” Moreover, the report revealed that a significant number of financial corruption reporters have experienced on- and off-line surveillance, hacking of their social media accounts, questioning by authorities, denial of journalistic credentials, and blacklisting.

Tragically, powerful individuals being investigated for corruption have sometimes turned to murder to prevent further probing into their illicit acts. The fatal October 16, 2017 car bombing of Daphne Caruana Galizia, a journalist who reported on the Panama Papers and corruption in Malta, struck fear into the hearts of many journalists working to expose rampant financial misconduct. In February 2018, Slovak investigative journalist Ján Kuciak, who was investigating tax fraud and embezzlement among Slovak businessmen, was shot to death in a village not far from Bratislava, a city in which he’d recently investigated suspicious real estate transactions. According to FPC’s report, an additional thirty reporters from Brazil, Russia, India, Ukraine, Mexico, and other countries who were researching financial corruption have been murdered since 2017.

While a number of larger corporate news outlets such as the BBC, BuzzFeed, Reuters, and the Wall Street Journal have publicized the findings of investigative journalists digging into wrongdoing by the world’s most powerful banks and wealthy individuals, virtually no corporate media attention has been given to the threats faced by journalists doing the digging. In addition to Woodman’s ICIJ article and Cohen’s column, the “Unsafe for Scrutiny” report was the focus of a November 2, 2020 article in the Guardian and a brief November 6, 2020 report on Voice of America. OpenDemocracy, the UK-based independent, nonprofit news site, also published a short commentary on the report. To date, however, no major commercial newspaper or broadcast outlet in the United States has so much as mentioned the FPC’s report.

Threats to journalists are not only detrimental to individual reporters, they also undermine freedom of the press and jeopardize the health of democratic polities that rely on that freedom to keep corruption from spreading like wildfire. This story deserves far more attention than it has received.

Spencer Woodman, “Threats, Violence, Trolling, and Frivolous Lawsuits Used to Silence Journalists Investigating Financial Crimes, Survey Finds,” International Consortium of Investigative Journalists, November 2, 2020.

Michael W. Hudson, Dean Starkman, Simon Bowers et al., “Global Banks Defy U.S. Crackdowns by Serving Oligarchs, Criminals and Terrorists,” International Consortium of Investigative Journalists, September 20, 2020, updated December 22, 2020.

Nick Cohen, “Are Our Courts a Playground for Bullies? Just Ask Catherine Belton,” The Guardian, May 8, 2021.

Student Researcher: Zach McNanna (North Central College)

Faculty Evaluator: Steve Macek (North Central College)


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#3. Historic Wave of Wildcat Strikes for Workers’ Rights
by Project Censored
November 9, 2021

3. Historic Wave of Wildcat Strikes for Workers’ Rights
After the United States went into lockdown in spring 2020, millions of people were designated ‘essential workers’—individuals who were expected to continue laboring at their jobs as meatpackers, teachers, janitors, delivery drivers, nurses, or grocery store clerks, at the potential cost of their lives. In response, thousands of wildcat strikes erupted to challenge dangerous working conditions and confront chronically low wages for these essential positions. This wave of wildcat strikes has continued and reached remarkable levels in the United States, as documented by Mike Elk from the labor news website Payday Report. Elk created a continuously updated COVID-19 Strike Wave Interactive Map, which had identified 1,100 wildcat strikes as of March 24, 2021, many of which the corporate media have chosen to ignore.

Traditionally, workers who strike belong to unions and only go on strike after discussing the possibility within their local (and sometimes national) unions and then taking a vote. Wildcat strikes are a different matter; they occur when workers without unions, or without explicit approval by the unions that do represent them, collectively stop working. Most wildcat strikes last for only a few days, though they often result in employers making some concessions to workers’ demands.

Throughout our unprecedented national health crisis, employers have relentlessly pushed to cut workplace costs. Many unauthorized work stoppages throughout the nation have been over appalling actions by employers who put workers at risk; some of the many outrageous actions by employers that essential workers were expected to simply accept included skimping on protective gear that could prevent workers from contracting the coronavirus, and attempting to cut workers’ ability to receive healthcare. In one instance, as Mike Elk of Payday Report detailed in a July 23, 2020 article, seven hundred healthcare workers in Santa Rosa, California went on strike because their hospital lacked sufficient personal protective equipment to keep employees safe, and management warned employees that their insurance fees would be doubled if they wanted continued coverage for their families. Another example that Elk covered in the same article took place in St. Joseph, Missouri, where 120 sheet metal workers went on strike due to management’s repeated attempts to cut their healthcare benefits during the pandemic. As Michael Sainato from the Guardian reported, the Trump administration failed to issue federal mandates that employers take specific steps to keep workers safe from COVID-19, allowing employers to implement the government’s health and safety guidance as they pleased.

In some cases, workers have engaged in wildcat work stoppages to advance long-standing demands for higher wages, leveraging their increased bargaining power during the pandemic to wrest pay concessions from employers. In May 2020, workers at fifty McDonald’s, Burger King, Starbucks, and other fast food restaurants and coffee shops throughout the state of Florida staged a day-long strike for higher pay and better protective equipment. Similarly, in April 2021, employees at Peet’s Coffee & Tea locations in the Chicago area staged a coordinated work stoppage together with the Fight for $15 campaign to demand workplace protections and quarantine pay.

Another important and underreported force driving the massive wave of wildcat strikes this past year has been Black and Brown workers using digital technologies to organize collective actions as a way to press some of the demands for racial justice raised by Black Lives Matter and George Floyd protestors. As Mike Elk explained in a July 8, 2020 article for Payday Report, in June 2020 “the U.S. saw more than 600 strikes or work stoppages by workers in solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement. . . . Payday [Report] estimates that the strike and work stoppages total [that the Strike Wave Interactive Map has identified] is likely a severe underestimation as many non-union Black and Brown workers are now calling out en masse to attend Black Lives Matter protests without it ever being reported in the press or on social media.” Elk observed that many Black and Brown workers believe white labor leaders fail to understand organizing strategies that are nontraditional, such as using social media platforms to create a viral movement: “Scores of Black and Brown workers say that this failure is yet another indicator of how the overwhelming[ly] white leadership of organized labor struggles to understand the organizing of Black and Brown workers.”

Corporate media have largely avoided reporting on the burgeoning wildcat protests in the United States. While local and regional newspapers and broadcast news outlets have reported on particular local actions, corporate news coverage has failed to report the strike wave as a wave, at no time connecting the dots of all the individual, seemingly isolated work stoppages and walkouts to create a picture of the overarching trend. Thus, the one-day strikes by fast food and coffee shop workers discussed above were covered only by national restaurant trade publications and local news outlets. No national corporate newspapers or broadcast news operations bothered to report on these unprecedented coordinated actions.

It is telling that the most in-depth discussion of the COVID-19 strike wave in the nation’s newspaper of record, the New York Times, was not a news report at all but an opinion piece, published March 30, 2020, by Steven Greenhouse, arguing that businesses’ refusal to provide workers with gloves, masks, and other protections against the virus had “set off a burst of walkouts, sickouts and wildcat strikes.” A few other New York Times articles made fleeting references to wildcat strikes, including one that briefly noted several impromptu strikes at Amazon warehouses. Outlets such as USA Today, the Washington Post, and Fox News have yet to run a single story on the wildcat strikes sweeping the nation. Overall, the establishment media’s scattered, scant coverage has rendered invisible the remarkable work of the working-class Black and Brown activists who are largely responsible for this wave of protests.

The sole exception to the corporate media’s blackout on the year-long strike wave occurred during a brief period in August 2020 when Vox, the New Yorker, the New York Times, the Washington Post, and CNN all suddenly decided to cover wildcat strikes, but only of one particular kind—specifically, those involving highly-paid athletes on pro basketball and baseball teams. The players walked out against the terms of their contracts to protest the shooting of Jacob Blake by Wisconsin police, and the corporate media coverage of US strikes swiftly ended once the players returned later that same week.

“COVID-19 Strike Wave Interactive Map,” Payday Report, March 2020, updated continuously.

Michael Sainato, “Strikes Erupt as US Essential Workers Demand Protection Amid Pandemic,” The Guardian, May 19, 2020.

Mike Elk, “700 CA. Hospital Workers Strike—UNC May Strike Over Reopening—Sheet Metal Strike in Missouri,” Payday Report, July 23, 2020.

Mike Elk, “How Black & Brown Workers are Redefining Strikes in the Digital COVID Age,” Payday Report, July 8, 2020.

Student Researcher: Cem Ismail Addemir (North Central College)

Faculty Evaluator: Steve Macek (North Central College)

Illustration by Anson Stevens-Bollen.

*****************

#6. Canary Mission Blacklists Pro-Palestinian Activists, Chilling Free Speech Rights
by Project Censored
November 9, 2021

Pro-Palestinian activism—including the global Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement that works to peacefully pressure Israel to obey international law and respect Palestinians’ human rights—has become a contentious testing ground for activists’ rights and free-speech policies, especially on US college and university campuses.

For an October 2020 article published by the Intercept, Murtaza Hussain interviewed a handful of pro-Palestinian activists who have been targeted by Canary Mission, an anonymously-run website, established in 2015, that seeks to publicly discredit critics of Israel as “terrorists” and “anti-Semites.” As Hussain wrote, “Canary Mission is difficult to describe as anything other than a blacklist.” One activist told the Intercept that Canary Mission has proven “very powerful in silencing people and making them think free speech is not their right. It instills a powerful sense of fear and paranoia.”

Although conservatives decry the development of “cancel culture” and alleged progressive intolerance, “when it comes to Israel-Palestine, full-blown authoritarian coercion, like the blacklisting carried out by Canary Mission, is already well entrenched,” Hussain wrote. Both US and Israeli government agencies have used information from Canary Mission to question pro-Palestinian student activists, according to previous reports (see, e.g., Alex Kane, “The FBI is Using Unvetted, Right-Wing Blacklists to Question Activists about Their Support for Palestine,” The Intercept, June 24, 2018; and Noa Landau, “Official Documents Prove: Israel Bans Young Americans Based on Canary Mission Website,” Haaretz, October 4, 2018, updated October 18, 2018).

For many otherwise unknown activists, a Canary Mission profile is their most visible online presence. “It’s the first thing that comes up when you Google my name, the claim that I’m a terrorist supporter and an extremist,” one former activist on Palestinian issues told the Intercept. The activists Hussain interviewed—some of whom asked to remain anonymous “for fear of suffering further consequences from speaking out”—described how Canary Mission’s blacklist affected their employment opportunities, immigration status, freedom to travel, and mental health.

Beyond Canary Mission, a variety of pro-Israel organizations that seek to suppress pro-Palestinian activism have pursued litigation against chapters of Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA), University of Massachusetts Amherst, Columbia University, San Francisco State University, and the City University of New York, Lexi McMenamin reported in March 2021 for The Nation.

McMenamin’s article spotlighted a complaint filed by David Abrams, director of the Zionist Advocacy Center, against UCLA, demanding that the university release the names of speakers who participated in the 2018 National Students for Justice in Palestine conference, which UCLA’s SJP chapter hosted. The student organizers of the UCLA event had coordinated with university officials “to preserve the anonymity of speakers, in order to prevent them from being put on no-fly-lists, potentially denied entry to other countries, or contacted by the FBI over their organizing work,” The Nation reported. For his part, Abrams sought release of the anonymous speaker’s names, which he claimed as information that should be available to him under the California Public Records Act, so that he could use them to “investigate terrorism.”

In March 2021 a California judge denied Abrams’s petition, noting that disclosure of the SJP speakers’ names “would violate their rights to freedom of association, anonymous speech, and privacy.”

Furthermore, in May 2021 a federal judge ruled that the state of Georgia cannot compel groups or individuals who contract with public entities to disavow support for the BDS movement against Israel. As Project Censored has previously reported, Abby Martin, a journalist and an advocate of BDS, brought suit against the state of Georgia and officials at Georgia Southern University after she was barred from speaking at a critical media literacy conference hosted by the university, for refusing to pledge that she would not boycott Israel. In his ruling, US District Court Judge Mark Cohen wrote that the state law “places an unconstitutional incidental burden on speech” and was “more offensive to the First Amendment” than comparable statutes previously ruled unconstitutional by the US Supreme Court, because the Georgia statute “burdens speech exclusively for those who hold particular political beliefs.” [However, the judge also ruled that specific individual defendants named in Martin’s lawsuit could not be held liable for their enforcement of the law.]

Heightened violence in Israel/Palestine in May 2021 has focused attention on powerful pro-Israel media biases in US news coverage (e.g., Gregory Shupak, “Israel/Palestine Coverage Presents False Equivalency between Occupied and Occupier,” Fairness & Accuracy In Reporting (FAIR), May 18, 2021), but Canary Mission and legal efforts to suppress pro-Palestinian activism have nonetheless received minimal corporate news coverage. In January 2019 the New York Times featured an opinion piece by Michelle Alexander that compared Canary Mission to the McCarthyite tactics used during the Cold War against suspected Communists; and two news articles in the Times, dating back to 2018, made passing mention of Canary Mission, as a “shadowy organization.” In February 2019 the Washington Post published an opinion article, by Mairav Zonszein, which mentioned Canary Mission, alongside the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), StandWithUs, and Christians United for Israel, as “parts of the pro-Israel lobby” asserting that support for the BDS movement is anti-Semitic. Aside from this coverage, major establishment news outlets have provided no substantive reports on the role played by Canary Mission and other pro-Israel organizations in stifling the First Amendment rights of pro-Palestinian activists.

Murtaza Hussain, “The Real Cancel Culture: Pro-Israel Blacklists,” The Intercept, October 4, 2020.

Lexi McMenamin, “Protecting Pro-Palestine Activists Can Feel Almost Impossible—but These Students Succeeded,” The Nation, March 16, 2021.

Student Researcher: Miranda Morgan (Sonoma State University)

Faculty Evaluator: Allison Ford (Sonoma State University)

Illustration by Anson Stevens-Bollen.

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#9. Police Use Dogs as Instruments of Violence, Targeting People of Color
by Project Censored
November 9, 2021

9. Police Use Dogs as Instruments of Violence, Targeting People of Color
An investigation conducted by several independent news outlets coordinated by the Marshall Project lays bare mounting evidence of extensive and disproportionate deployment of police dogs against people of color.

“It felt like I was being eaten,” recounted Joseph Malott, a 22-year-old Black student who was mauled by a police dog moments after deflecting a tear gas canister, away from himself and allegedly toward officers, in June 2020 during a Black Lives Matter protest in California. Later that night, Malott became one of the approximately 3,600 Americans per year sent to the emergency room for severe bite injuries sustained during altercations with police K-9s. Although men and women of just about every age and ethnicity in all fifty states have been subjected to violent K-9 incidents, a series of 13 linked reports, titled “Mauled: When Police Dogs are Weapons,” produced by AL.com, IndyStar, the Invisible Institute, and the Marshall Project, suggests Black men have been inordinately targeted. [USA Today partnered with the Marshall Project, AL.com, IndyStar, and the Invisible Institute on two of the 13 reports in the “Mauled” series: See Maurice Chammah and Abbie VanSickle, “She Went Out for a Walk. Then Drogo the Police Dog Charged,” The Marshall Project, October 15, 2020, also published as Maurice Chammah and Abbie VanSickle, “She Went Out for a Walk, Then Drogo the Police Dog Charged,” USA Today, October 15, 2020; and “‘A Dog Can be Trained to be Anti-Black’: A New Film Highlights Historical Use of Canines against Black People,” The Marshall Project, June 23, 2021.]

According to Bryn Stole and Grace Toohey’s February 2021 report, the rate of police K-9 bites in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, a majority-Black city of 220,000 residents, averages more than double that of the next-ranked city, Indianapolis; and nearly one-third of the police dog bites are inflicted on teenage men, most of whom are Black. Overall, between 2017 and 2019, Baton Rouge police dogs bit at least 146 people. Fifty-three of those people were 17 years old or younger. A majority of the dog-bite victims were Black, and most of them were unarmed and suspected by police of nonviolent crimes such as driving a stolen vehicle or burglary.

Stole and Toohey recounted the stories of two Black teens, neither suspected of violent or serious crimes, who were hunted and mauled by Baton Rouge police K-9s in June and October of 2019 after attempting to run or bike away from officers. Lester (a minor whose last name was not revealed to protect his anonymity) and Charles Carey, respectively 14 and 17 years old when attacked, will grow up with physical and mental scars from the attacks they sustained. As Abbie VanSickle, Challen Stephens, Ryan Martin, Dana Brozost-Kelleher, and Andrew Fan reported in October 2020, medical researchers have found that police dog attacks are “more like shark attacks than nips from a family pet” due to the aggressive training police dogs undergo. The Baton Rouge Police Department gives K-9 officers nonspecific leeway to release dogs based on officers’ assessments of “the severity of the crime” and whether “the suspect poses an immediate threat,” Stole and Toohey reported in February 2021.

As the October 2020 report by VanSickle and her colleagues noted, “Police dogs have a highly charged history in the United States, especially in the South, where they were used against enslaved people and, in the 1960s, civil rights protesters.”

Though the Black Lives Matter movement has significantly raised public awareness of police using disproportionate force against people of color, police K-9 violence has received strikingly little attention from corporate news media. One might expect horrific stories, including cases in which “[a] woman’s scalp was torn in California; a man’s vocal cords were damaged in Colorado; [and] an Arizona man’s face was ripped off,” as Ashley Remkus reported in an October 2020 installment of the “Mauled” investigation, to be undeniably newsworthy. Nevertheless, corporate coverage has been limited. To its credit, the Washington Post published a front-page story on the topic, in November 2020, which cited the Marshall Project’s reporting.77 [On September 2, 2020, the Washington Post published an article, Tyler D. Parry’s “Police Still Use Attack Dogs against Black Americans,” that provided historical perspective on the racist aspects of contemporary police dog attacks, but this story only appeared on the Post’s website and not in print.] In October 2020, USA Today published an article on police dogs and excessive force, authored by the Marshall Project’s Maurice Chammah and Abbie VanSickle, the same day that it was published by the Marshall Project. An August 2020 NBC News report covered the Salt Lake City Police Department’s suspension of its police K-9 program, after video circulated of a police dog biting a Black man who was kneeling on the ground with his hands held up. Otherwise, coverage appears to have been limited to local news outlets (e.g., Danielle Leigh, Grace Manthey, and John Kelly, “Eyewitness News Investigation Finds Use of Police Dogs Causing Serious Injury, Death Even When Suspects Weren’t Combative,” ABC7 (Los Angeles), December 24, 2020; and WBRZ Staff, “BRPD Revising Policy for Chasing Juvenile Suspects with Police Dogs,” WBRZ (ABC, Baton Rouge), February 12, 2021.)

In April 2021, Harvard University’s Shorenstein Center on Media, Politics and Public Policy announced that the Marshall Project’s “Mauled: When Police Dogs are Weapons” investigation had been selected as a finalist for the Center’s 2021 Goldsmith Prize for Investigative Reporting.

Bryn Stole and Grace Toohey, “The City Where Police Unleash Dogs on Black Teens,” The Marshall Project, February 12, 2021.

Abbie VanSickle and Challen Stephens, “Police Use Painful Dog Bites to Make People Obey,” The Marshall Project, December 14, 2020.

Abbie VanSickle, Challen Stephens, Ryan Martin, Dana Brozost-Kelleher, and Andrew Fan, “When Police Violence is a Dog Bite,” The Marshall Project, October 2, 2020.

Ashley Remkus, “We Spent a Year Investigating Police Dogs. Here are Six Takeaways,” The Marshall Project, October 2, 2020.

Student Researchers: Ian M. Williams and Jason Medrano (North Central College)

Faculty Evaluator: Steve Macek (North Central College)

Illustration by Anson Stevens-Bollen.

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#19. European Demand for Biomass Energy Propels Destruction of US Forests
by Project Censored
November 9, 2021

Planet of the Humans
written, produced and directed by Jeff Gibbs
Produced by Ozzie Zehner
Executive Producer: Michael Moore
Co-Producers: Valorie Gibbs, Christopher Henze, David Paxson
copyright 2020 Huron Mountain Films LLC
Released: April 21, 2020


19. European Demand for Biomass Energy Propels Destruction of US Forests
Driven by demand in European Union countries, the southern United States is now the world’s largest producer and exporter of the wood pellets used to produce biomass energy, Danna Smith reported for Truthout in September 2020. Despite popular beliefs that solar and wind power are its main sources of renewable energy, the European Union (EU) sources nearly 60 percent of its renewable energy from biomass. Championed as a renewable source of energy, biomass energy uses plants, wood, and waste materials as sources of heating or power. However, as Smith reported, in many European countries the carbon costs of imported wood are not considered. As a result, the true costs of biomass energy are not widely understood.

As Smith explained in her article, many European nations, including the United Kingdom, Netherlands, and Denmark, are increasingly relying on biomass electricity, with the unintended consequence of “speeding up carbon emissions, pollution and forest destruction.” The shift has led many to see forests as fuel, encouraging the cutting of timber for the production of wood pellets.

The deforestation that began in Europe has now arrived in the United States, as the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) documented in a June 2019 report, “Global Markets for Biomass Energy are Devastating U.S. Forests.” According to the NRDC report, Enviva, the world’s largest wood pellet manufacturer, engages in logging practices that have ravaged “iconic” wetlands forests in the southwest United States to produce pellets that are shipped to utility companies such as Drax Power in the United Kingdom and Ørsted in Denmark.

Anticipating this crisis, in January 2018, a group of 784 scientists warned the EU Parliament that cutting down forests for bioenergy increases carbon pollution. Biomass energy releases more carbon per unit of energy generated than coal or gas release, they reported. The scientists also warned that logging degrades forests as a natural form of flood control.

The “voracious European demand” for wood pellets has put forests and communities in the southern United States at increased risk of toxic air pollution and catastrophic flooding, Smith reported. In recent years, the southern coastal plain that includes North and South Carolina, southern Georgia and Alabama, and northern Florida, has been subjected to “some of the most devastating and costly flooding events in the world,” Smith reported, noting that these events have had “disproportionate impacts to low-income, rural communities of color.”

Many of the communities most affected by the devastation are now fighting back. In North Carolina, for example, local leaders and residents coordinated to oppose plans by Enviva to expand production at three of its facilities in that state. In Alabama a similar coalition formed to oppose Enviva’s plans to construct a new wood pellet production facility in Epes, Alabama, the first of four such plants the company hopes to establish in the state.

In May 2020 the European Union announced that it would reassess its biomass policies as part of its broader biodiversity action plan. As Smith reported, this reassessment could lead to the discontinuation of the use of wood as a source of EU biomass energy, and it might also lead to more accurate accounting for carbon emissions from imported biomass sources.

This issue has received little in the way of recent corporate news coverage. Credit is due to the New York Times for publishing an in-depth April 19, 2021 article by Gabriel Popkin and Erin Schaff that explored the impact of wood pellet production for export to Europe on one community in North Carolina. The article accurately described the forces driving Europe’s demand for pellets and noted that “[m]any scientists have long been skeptical of biomass’s climate benefits” because the policies European nations have adopted to combat climate change “fail to account for the carbon losses caused by cutting down trees to burn them.” But even Popkin and Schaff’s excellent article engaged in a bit of false balance by providing a platform for specious arguments from Enviva’s in-house scientists about why burning pellets should be “considered carbon neutral.” Sadly, Popkin and Schaff’s article appears to be the lone substantive corporate media report on this topic since at least 2015.

By contrast, environmental news sites have devoted considerable space to analyzing the burgeoning wood pellet industry in the Southeast, the factors driving its growth, and the severe climatic repercussions of burning wood as an energy source. For instance, in July 2020, Saul Elbein wrote an in-depth account for environmental news outlet Mongabay of Enviva’s wood pellet plants and their likely environmental consequences. On February 15, 2021, Mongabay followed up Elbein’s article with a report from Justin Catanoso about hundreds of scientists and economists calling on the countries of the world not to burn forests as fuel. A few weeks later, Mongabay published an article by Catanoso about a move by the Netherlands to limit subsidies for “biomass-for-heat” plants. It is worth noting that both Danna Smith’s Truthout article and the Mongabay series predate Popkin and Schaff’s New York Times piece, though the coverage provided by the independent outlets went unmentioned in the Times.

Danna Smith, “Europe Drives Destruction of US Forests in the Name of Fighting Climate Change,” Truthout, September 21, 2020.

Student Researcher: Tai Lam (Sonoma State University)

Faculty Evaluator: Allison Ford (Sonoma State University)

Illustration by Anson Stevens-Bollen.
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Re: Failed Attempts to Censor My Work, by Michael Moore

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Bury My Heart with Leonard Peltier: How long will he still be with us? How long will the genocide continue?
by Michael Moore
Jan 30, 2022

Image
LEONARD PELTIER, Native American hero. An innocent man, he’s spent 44 years as a political prisoner. The prosecutor who put him behind bars now says Peltier is innocent. President Biden, go to Mass today, and then stop this torture.(Sipa/Shutterstock)

American Indian Movement leader, Leonard Peltier, at 77 years of age, came down with Covid-19 this weekend. Upon hearing this, I broke down and cried. An innocent man, locked up behind bars for 44 years, Peltier is now America’s longest-held political prisoner. He suffers in prison tonight even though James Reynolds, one of the key federal prosecutors who sent Peltier off to life in prison in 1977, has written to President Biden and confessed to his role in the lies, deceit, racism and fake evidence that together resulted in locking up our country’s most well-known Native American civil rights leader. Just as South Africa imprisoned for more than 27 years its leading voice for freedom, Nelson Mandela, so too have we done the same to a leading voice and freedom fighter for the indigenous people of America. That’s not just me saying this. That’s Amnesty International saying it. They placed him on their political prisoner list years ago and continue to demand his release.

And it’s not just Amnesty leading the way. It’s the Pope who has demanded Leonard Peltier’s release. It’s the Dalai Lama, Jesse Jackson, and the President Pro-Tempore of the US Senate, Sen. Patrick Leahy. Before their deaths, Nelson Mandela, Mother Theresa and Bishop Desmond Tutu pleaded with the United States to free Leonard Peltier. A worldwide movement of millions have seen their demands fall on deaf ears.

And now the calls for Peltier to be granted clemency in DC have grown on Capitol Hill. Senator Brian Schatz (D-HI), the head of the Senate committee who oversees the Bureau of Indian Affairs, has also demanded Peltier be given his freedom. Numerous House Democrats have also written to Biden.

The time has come for our President to act; the same President who appointed the first-ever Native American cabinet member last year and who halted the building of the Keystone pipeline across Native lands. Surely Mr. Biden is capable of an urgent act of compassion for Leonard Peltier — especially considering that the prosecutor who put him away in 1977 now says Peltier is innocent, and that his US Attorney’s office corrupted the evidence to make sure Peltier didn’t get a fair trial. Why is this victim of our judicial system still in prison? And now he is sick with Covid.

For months Peltier has begged to get a Covid booster shot. Prison officials refused. The fact that he now has COVID-19 is a form of torture. A shame hangs over all of us. Should he now die, are we all not complicit in taking his life?

President Biden, let Leonard Peltier go. This is a gross injustice. You can end it. Reach deep into your Catholic faith, read what the Pope has begged you to do, and then do the right thing.

For those of you reading this, will you join me right now in appealing to President Biden to free Leonard Peltier? His health is in deep decline, he is the voice of his people — a people we owe so much to for massacring and imprisoning them for hundreds of years.

The way we do mass incarceration in the US is abominable. And Leonard Peltier is not the only political prisoner we have locked up. We have millions of Black and brown and poor people tonight in prison or on parole and probation — in large part because they are Black and brown and poor. THAT is a political act on our part. Corporate criminals and Trump run free. The damage they have done to so many Americans and people around the world must be dealt with.

This larger issue is one we MUST take on. For today, please join me in contacting the following to show them how many millions of us demand that Leonard Peltier has suffered enough and should be free:

President Joe Biden
Phone: 202-456-1111
E-mail: At this link

Secretary of the Interior Deb Haaland
Phone: 202-208-3100
E-mail: feedback@ios.doi.gov

Attorney General Merrick Garland
Phone: 202-514-2000
E-mail: At this link

I’ll end with the final verse from the epic poem “American Names“ by Stephen Vincent Benet:

I shall not rest quiet in Montparnasse.
I shall not lie easy at Winchelsea.
You may bury my body in Sussex grass,
You may bury my tongue at Champmedy.
I shall not be there. I shall rise and pass.
Bury my heart at Wounded Knee.


PS. Also — watch the brilliant 1992 documentary by Michael Apted and Robert Redford about the framing of Leonard Peltier— “Incident at Oglala”

If you haven’t listened to my guest appearance this week on the SmartLess podcast with Jason Bateman, Sean Hayes and Will Arnett — an experience I loved and wanted to share with you — please give it a listen.

***************************

Leonard Peltier Is America’s Longest-Serving Political Prisoner. Biden May Be His Last Hope. The FBI put the Native American activist behind bars 44 years ago based on lies, threats and no proof he committed a crime. Why is he still there?
by Jennifer Bendery
HuffPost
11/12/2021 06:00am EST | Updated November 12, 2021

Image
Native American activist Leonard Peltier in prison in February 1986. AP PHOTO/CLIFF SCHIAPPA

Leonard Peltier has been in prison for 44 years for a crime he says he didn’t commit.

His trial was riddled with misconduct that would never hold up in a U.S. court today. Prosecutors hid key evidence. The FBI threatened and coerced witnesses into lying. A juror admitted she was biased against Peltier’s race on the second day of the trial, but was allowed to stay on anyway.

There was never proof that he murdered two FBI agents during that 1975 shoot-out on Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota. But the FBI needed someone to take the fall. The agency had just lost two agents, and Peltier’s co-defendants were acquitted based on self-defense. This was happening as the FBI was fueling tensions on the reservation as part of a covert campaign to suppress the activities of the American Indian Movement, or AIM, a grassroots group of activists focused on drawing attention to federal treaty rights violations, discrimination and police brutality targeting Native Americans.

Peltier, an AIM member, was there that day. So based entirely on testimony from people who had been threatened and intimidated by the FBI, and operating within a 1970s-era criminal justice system tilted in favor of the U.S. government and against Indigenous rights activists like Peltier, the U.S. Attorney’s Office successfully charged him with murder.

By all appearances, the FBI wants Peltier to die in prison while serving two life sentences.

But Peltier is still alive, now 77 and ailing in a Florida penitentiary. He is perhaps America’s longest-serving political prisoner, a holdover from a different era of justice. Here in 2021, his story still moves hundreds of thousands of people to sign petitions in support of his release. An astounding mix of human rights leaders have urged his release over the years, including Pope Francis, the Dalai Lama, Mother Teresa, Nelson Mandela and Coretta Scott King. Prominent artists including Willie Nelson, Bonnie Raitt, Jackson Browne and Rage Against The Machine have held concerts in his name. Elected tribal leaders and the National Congress of American Indians have passed resolutions urging clemency.

And now, with Joe Biden in the White House, his supporters feel a renewed sense of hope that Peltier may, at last, have a shot at living out his final years as a free man.

Biden has demonstrated a willingness to address past injustices against Native Americans. He’s made it a priority to examine the U.S. government’s ugly history of Indian boarding schools, to protect sacred Indigenous sites and cultural resources, and to address the crisis of missing and murdered Indigenous women. He canceled the Keystone XL oil pipeline, a major win for Native American tribes and environmentalists.

He also chose Deb Haaland to lead the Interior Department, making her the nation’s first Indigenous Cabinet secretary. Haaland advocated for Peltier’s release from prison in her former role as a U.S. congresswoman.

For Peltier supporters like James Reynolds, these are all reasons for hope. Reynolds was the U.S. attorney who helped put Peltier in prison in the 1970s. In an extraordinary July letter to Biden that has not been made public until now, Reynolds says he has realized over the years how unfair Peltier’s trial was, and that it would serve justice to let him go home.

“I write today from a position rare for a former prosecutor: to beseech you to commute the sentence of a man who I helped put behind bars,” he wrote. “With time, and the benefit of hindsight, I have realized that the prosecution and continued incarceration of Mr. Peltier was and is unjust. We were not able to prove that Mr. Peltier personally committed any offense on the Pine Ridge Reservation.”

Reynolds pleads with Biden to grant clemency to Peltier as a step toward healing “the broken relationship” between Native Americans and the U.S. government.

“I urge you to chart a different path in the history of the government’s relationship with its Native people through a show of mercy rather than continued indifference,” he said. “I urge you to take a step towards healing a wound that I had a part in making.”

Here’s a copy of Reynolds’ letter:

July 9, 2021

President Joseph R. Biden
The White House
Washington, DC 20500

Re: Clemency Request for Leonard Peltier

Dear President Biden,

I was the United States Attorney whose office handled the prosecution and appeal of Leonard Peltier's case. I was also later appointed by United States Attorney General Benjamin Civiletti as the U.S. Attorney for South Dakota to handle a matter involving a murder on the Rose Bud Reservation. I write today from a position rare for a former prosecutor: to beseech you to commute the sentence of a man who I helped put behind bars.

Leonard Peltier's conviction and continued incarceration is a testament to a time and a system of justice that no longer has a place in our society. I have been fortunate enough to see this country, and its prevailing attitudes about Native Americans, progress dramatically over the last 46 years.

With time, and the benefit of hindsight, I have realized that the prosecution and continued incarceration of Mr. Peltier was and is unjust. We were not able to prove that Mr. Peltier personally committed any offense on the Pine Ridge Reservation. As a result, we shifted our stance on the theories of guilt throughout the prosecution and appeal. First, we pursued a "deliberate ambush" theory against Mr. Peltier's co-defendants (who were found not guilty by reason of self-defense). Then, in the prosecution of Mr. Peltier, we pursued a "deliberate execution" theory. Finally, on appeal, we pursued the theory that Mr. Peltier was an "accomplice" under an aiding and abetting theory, notwithstanding the fact that his co-defendants were found to have acted in self-defense.

The final theory on which Mr. Peltier's conviction now rests is that he was guilty of murder simply because he was present with a weapon at the Reservation that day. However, Mr. Peltier has been labeled, and more importantly was sentenced, as a "cold-blooded murderer" based on a theory that we were forced to drop on appeal. He has served more than 46 years on the basis of minimal evidence, a result that I strongly doubt would be upheld in any court today.

The events that occurred, and the lives that were lost, on the Pine Ridge Reservation that day are a tragedy. However, throughout Mr. Peltier's prosecution and appeal, there was little or no consideration given to the FBI's role in the creation of the dangerous conditions present on Pine Ridge. As a result of the manner in which the case was investigated and prosecuted, and the prevailing view of Native Americans at that time, Mr. Peltier alone was forced to pay the full price of that tragedy. He has paid it with over 46 years of his life. He is now 76 years old and in failing health.

I believe that a grant of executive clemency would serve the best interests of justice and the best interests of our country. In my opinion, to continue to imprison Mr. Peltier any longer, knowing all that we know now, would serve only to continue the broken relationship between Native Americans and the government.

I urge you to chart a different path in the history of the government's relationship with its Native people through a show of mercy rather than continued indifference. I urge you to take a step towards healing a wound that I had a part in making. I urge you to commute Leonard Peltier's sentence and grant him executive clemency.

Sincerely,

James H. Reynolds
United States Attorney (1976-1982)

cc: Attorney General Merrick B. Garland
Acting Pardon Attorney Rosalind Sargent-Burns


Members of Congress are looking to Biden to free Peltier, too.

Last month, Rep. Raul Grijalva (D-Ariz.) led 10 House Democrats in a letter to the president and Attorney General Merrick Garland urging an expedited release for Peltier. They note that Peltier has serious health problems with diabetes and an abdominal aortic aneurysm.

“Given the unprecedented impact of the COVID-19 pandemic in our country, as well as Mr. Peltier’s underlying health conditions and age, we request immediate action be taken to release him from federal custody,” reads their letter. “Mr. Peltier has yet to receive a fair trial that is free from constitutional violations. ... He has served more than 43 years in the federal prison system, some of which have been in solitary confinement. The support for Mr. Peltier’s request for clemency is both widespread and strong.”

Grijalva told HuffPost that Peltier has been punished for maintaining his innocence. He had a shot at being released in 2009 when he was up for parole, but it would have required him to admit that he murdered the two FBI agents.

He wouldn’t do it. His parole was denied.

“Whatever punishment was meant to be meted out to Leonard has been done. It’s done,” said the Arizona congressman. “The fact that he has held to his innocence shouldn’t be a reason to deny this. He has been consistent about his position from the beginning ― from being arrested to incarcerated to this day.”

The facts may be on Peltier’s side. Biden may be the most receptive president yet to pleas to end Peltier’s imprisonment. But there’s still this nagging problem with his case: Nobody in the upper echelons of the U.S. government seems to want to talk about it.

A White House spokesperson did not respond to multiple requests for comment on whether Biden would consider clemency for Peltier.

A Justice Department spokesperson declined to comment.

The FBI declined to comment.

The most obvious question remains the simplest one: why is Leonard Peltier still in prison?

“That’s the $64,000 question,” said Kevin Sharp, who is Peltier’s pro bono attorney. “It’s why it makes my head hurt trying to figure this out.”

Image
A group of people support Leonard Peltier during then-President Bill Clinton's speech on July 7, 1999, on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation. AP PHOTO/CLIFF SCHIAPPA

Sharp didn’t know who Peltier was until a few years ago. A former U.S. district court judge appointed by President Barack Obama, he had been on the bench for six years when he stepped down in 2017 over his disgust with mandatory sentencing laws forcing him to put people in prison who he otherwise may not have imprisoned at all. He turned around and became the lawyer for one of the people he had just put into prison.

In an unexpected turn of events, he connected with Kim Kardashian West and landed a meeting with President Donald Trump in the Oval Office, where they lobbied Trump to grant clemency to two people whose cases they’d gotten involved in. Both of the people Sharp was advocating for were released, and it wasn’t long before the story made national news and Sharp’s phone was blowing up with people asking for help with clemency cases.

One of the people who reached out was Willie Nelson’s ex-wife, Connie Wilson, a longtime Peltier supporter. She sent Sharp a package of materials about Peltier’s case, a package that was so big that Sharp sat down and started going through it out of curiosity. Eight hours later, after poring over trial transcripts, newspaper clippings and case opinions, Sharp said he was “floored” by all the problems with Peltier’s case.

“This thing is so riddled with misconduct and just flat-out court decisions that would never happen today,” said Sharp. “They withheld ballistic evidence that proved it wasn’t Leonard’s weapon. At the very least, we’d need to have another trial…. They wouldn’t have even gotten an indictment because they had no evidence, except for three kids pressured to say they saw him. They recanted all that evidence. And said they were threatened.”

There was a darker element to the case, too. Among the documents Sharp received was an internal FBI memo, obtained via a Freedom of Information Act request, directing U.S. attorneys to put all of their resources into convicting Peltier. All of his co-defendants had been acquitted. The FBI needed someone to go to prison. Peltier was the only person left to go after.

“This is not about one Indian anymore. This is about the Constitution.”

- Kevin Sharp, Leonard Peltier's attorney


Another FBI memo laid out the bureau’s broader strategy for suppressing AIM, which is what led to the shoot-out in the first place. The agency’s plan was to “continually harass and arrest and charge” AIM members to keep them tied up in court, said Sharp, so they “can’t protest their own treatment.”

AIM members operating out of the Pine Ridge Reservation were supporting local tribal members in demanding their land back from the U.S. government, and the FBI wanted them to stop, even if it meant inciting violence. The bureau was helping the tribal chairman, who was corrupt and working with the U.S. government for his own purposes, to carry out violence against AIM members.

“Part of what’s going on is an extermination policy,” said Sharp. “We’re taking your land, your minerals. We’re going to get rid of you altogether…. That’s what started it. That’s what the counterintelligence was running.”


Peltier’s case was also happening just a few years after J. Edgar Hoover’s reign at the FBI, an era marked by his secretive abuses of power and tactics aimed at harassing political activists in an effort to amass secret files on political leaders.

Connecting all these dots, Sharp said he had to take Peltier’s case.

“I’m reading through all this as a federal judge going, ‘Oh my god, this is all proven,’” he said. “I get back with Connie Nelson and say, ‘Yeah, I’ll help. I’ll do it pro bono. … This is too important. This is not about one Indian anymore. This is about the Constitution.’”

So why, again, is Peltier still in prison, despite all the damning evidence lining up in favor of his wrongful conviction?

“Politics,” said Sharp. “In order to get clemency, you have to get the FBI on board. They have an inherent conflict. You have to get the U.S. Attorney’s Office on board. They lied to get him in prison. They have an inherent conflict. They’re not going to say, ‘Oops, sorry.’”

“It’s this holdover with the FBI,” he added.

Sharp filed Peltier’s clemency petition with the Biden administration in July.

He hasn’t gotten any response.

Image
Chauncey Peltier, son of Leonard Peltier (pictured on the video behind him), speaks at Harry Belafonte's Many Rivers Music, Art & Social Justice festival in Chattahoochee Hills, Georgia, in October 2016.NURPHOTO VIA GETTY IMAGES

HuffPost talked to a number of people who have played a role in either fighting or preserving Peltier’s imprisonment over the years ― international human rights attorneys, senior-level officials from the Obama administration, Peltier’s longtime allies ― and they all pointed to the same reason for him remaining in prison: resistance from the FBI.

Justin Mazzola, deputy director for research at Amnesty International USA, said he and his colleagues were “completely blindsided” when Obama declined to grant clemency to Peltier at the end of his presidency. Amnesty International USA has devoted an entire campaign to Peltier’s release and believed that Obama would deliver.

“I really think it’s the weight that the FBI and Justice Department carry that prevents presidents from granting clemency,” said Mazzola, suggesting Peltier’s case raises particular red flags. “Not only because he was convicted of killing 2 FBI agents, but all of these issues at trial come down to issues by the FBI and U.S. Attorneys that were involved in his case.”

“It’s a travesty of justice,” he added.

Going back further, some of Peltier’s supporters say President Bill Clinton appeared ready to grant Peltier clemency until the FBI signaled it would cause trouble for him.

“We were told at the time that the Clintons were agonizing, that the night before he left office, he was agonizing over the Peltier case,” said Jack Magee, a longtime friend of Peltier’s and organizer with the International Leonard Peltier Defense Committee, a hub of communication between Peltier and the public, political and tribal leaders, and the media. “The following morning, Leonard’s name was gone [from the clemency list].”

Days earlier, FBI leadership had quietly signaled approval of nearly 500 active and retired FBI employees gathering outside the White House to protest Clinton potentially releasing Peltier. That, in itself, was a stunning break from discipline.

“I think Bill Clinton wanted to free Leonard,” said Magee. “But [the FBI] had issues they could use against him. He had the option of, ‘Go and live a good life, get a quarter million dollars for a good speech, or do this and we’ll hurt you, make your life miserable.’”

Sharp was heavily lobbying Trump to release Peltier in his final days in the White House. He even had colleagues on the phone with Jared Kushner and Ivanka Trump one morning, and said he was “looking for anything for leverage” to use to make his case for Peltier. But he stopped getting calls back by noon.

And like his White House predecessors, Trump ultimately punted on it.

Image
FBI agent and president of the FBI Agents Association John Sennett holds a petition with 9,500 names on it aimed at pressuring then-President Bill Clinton not to pardon Leonard Peltier during an incredibly unusual demonstration outside the White House on Dec. 15, 2000.JOYCE NALTCHAYAN VIA GETTY IMAGES

The FBI’s resistance to releasing Peltier doesn’t appear to have changed much in four decades, but the culture and attitudes around it have.

George Floyd’s murder and the Black Lives Matter movement have forced conversations on the nation’s fundamental problems with racism and law enforcement. In a time of deep political polarization in Congress, criminal justice reform has strong support from both parties. The president of the United States is taking major, historic steps to rectify past injustices against Native Americans, and has made significant Indigenous hires within his administration.

If anything, Peltier’s activism from decades ago has come full circle.

“Absolutely,” Grijalva said. “What was being fought for ― to define history in Indigenous terms, not just in white people’s terms ― that was the battle. And that continues.”

But there is still a man in prison who shouldn’t be there. And given his failing health, Peltier’s last shot at freedom almost certainly rests with Biden.

“He’s out of appeals,” said Mazzola of Amnesty International. “He has no real opportunities.”

HuffPost requested an interview with Peltier, either by phone or in person at his prison. But Sharp said the Federal Bureau of Prisons has to give Peltier permission to talk to reporters, and it’s “next to impossible” to make it happen.

A spokesperson for the Federal Bureau of Prisons did not immediately respond to HuffPost’s request for an interview.

Reynolds, the former U.S. Attorney, said he keeps thinking about how Peltier was charged with murder for being present during a violent scene where people were killed ― the same circumstances for hundreds of Trump supporters during the Capitol attack on Jan. 6, except they all just went home afterward.

He can’t shake the unfairness of it all. And the racism beneath it.

“Why aren’t all the Jan. 6 rioters charged with murder? They were all there. People were killed. What’s the difference?” he asked. “Leonard at least had a more legitimate argument to make, that he was protesting government conduct and their treatment of the Indians.”

Reynolds said he hasn’t spoken to Peltier since helping to put him in prison so many years ago. Asked what he would say to him now, if he could say something, he went quiet.

“I’m sorry,” Reynolds finally said. “I’m sorry I can’t convince anyone else that you should be able to go home and die.”
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