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Unearthed: The News Without the Chaff

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

Voters Disappearing from Rolls in Secret Purges Underway In At Least 19 States
At least 19 states are disregarding a federal law banning systematic voter purges within 90 days of a federal election. According to the U.S. Public Interest Research Group, massive purges of registered voters have occurred recently in Alabama, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Illinois, Iowa, Kansas, Maryland, Massachusetts, Nebraska, Nevada, New Jersey, New York, Ohio, Oklahoma, Rhode Island, Texas and Washington.

In a rare display of interest in this issue by the mainstream media, the CBS Evening News recently ran a two-minute segment about the illegal voter purges and also noted some of the findings from a new study by the nonpartisan Brennan Center for Justice. The Brennan Center study documents several secret purges conducted this year, including 10,000 voters knocked off the rolls in Mississippi and another 21,000 purged in Louisiana, including areas hit hard by recent hurricanes. The purges happen in secret with no public accountability, and voters are not informed of their removal from the rolls, often finding out when they show up at the polls and are denied an official ballot. CBS interviewed an elderly New Jersey voter whose name was suddenly removed from the registration rolls after 30 years. While that voter's status was reinstated successfully, CBS notes that "come Election Day, don't count on thousands of others being as fortunate."

Voters can check their registration status and confirm their polling place here and here.

C02 Emissions Growing Faster Than Predicted
Carbon dioxide emissions from burning coal and oil are growing much faster than predicted, setting the planet on course for climate disaster beyond any of the projected worst-case scenarios put forth previously by the world's leading scientists. New figures released by the Global Carbon Project show that C02 emissions rose 3% from 2006-2007 to a record high of 9.34 billion tons globally.

U.S. emissions rose 2% last year to 1.75 billion tons of CO2, despite an economic slowdown which many experts believed would curb energy usage. Rapidly-growing China emitted 2 billion tons of carbon last year, up 7.5% from 2006.

Making matters worse, the world's forests and oceans - traditional "carbon sinks" - are pulling carbon out of the atmosphere at lower rates than previously recorded. As a result, current emissions levels set a course for the planet to warm by more than 11 degrees by 2100, an amount which would lead to dangerous sea level rise, wipe out the Greenland ice sheet and glaciers around the world, and cause other drastic changes to life as we know it.


EPA Refuses To Rid Drinking Water of Rocket Fuel

The Environmental Protection Agency sees no need to remove a toxic rocket fuel ingredient that has been found in drinking water at 395 sites in 35 states and counting. EPA announced in a draft assessment reviewed by the Associated Press that setting a mandatory cleanup level for perchlorate - a toxic rocket fuel ingredient which has contaminated water supplies across the country - would not result in a "meaningful opportunity for health risk reduction for persons served by public-water systems."

The draft assessment was heavily edited by the White House, and EPA decided to cut the public comment period on the assessment from 45 days to 30 days.

The Defense Department has long fought EPA to stop the agency from setting a national drinking water standard for perchlorate, because the Pentagon and defense contractors could face enormous liability for the cleanup costs of removing the contaminant from water supplies nationwide. The Pentagon recently argued that its rocket launch sites and other military facilities aren't the only source of perchlorate contamination, pointing the finger at fireworks, road flares and fertilizer as other sources.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found perchlorate in the urine of all 2,820 people it tested in a study released in 2006. Children in the study had significantly higher levels of perchlorate than adults. Perchlorate interferes with thyroid function and can interfere with childhood growth and brain development.

Denver Police Union Celebrates Beating Up DNC Protesters with T-Shirt
The Denver Police union is selling T-shirts celebrating the police brutality against protesters at last month's Democratic National Convention. The back of the shirt features a caricature of a grinning police officer holding an oversized baton looming over the Denver skyline, and text reading "WE GET UP EARLY, to BEAT the crowds. 2008 DNC."

Every Denver officer received a free shirt and others are on sale for $10 each at police union offices.

Charges Dropped Against Journalists Arrested at RNC Convention
The Saint Paul City Attorney declined to prosecute three journalists from Democracy Now! who were forcefully arrested at the Republican National Convention last month, including host Amy Goodman whose harsh arrest was the most frequently watched video on YouTube during the convention. The other Democracy Now! Journalists, Sharif Abdel Kouddous and Nicole Salazar, were violently thrown to the ground and had certain press credentials ripped off their necks by Secret Service agents during their arrests.

In all, St. Paul police arrested over 40 journalists, including two Associated Press photographers, who were covering the street protests outside the convention center. More than 800 people were arrested in St. Paul and Minneapolis during the convention. Police employed pepper spray, rubber bullets, concussion grenades and brute force against protesters and journalists caught up in mass arrests on the streets of St. Paul. St. Paul Mayor Chris Coleman said that the decision not to press charges against the journalists "reflects the values we have in St. Paul to protect and promote our First Amendment rights to freedom of the press."

Chlorinated Swimming Pools Boost Childhood Asthma Risk
A new study by Belgian researchers found that kids who swim regularly in outdoor chlorinated pools are up to five times more likely to develop asthma than those who have never been in a chlorinated pool.

The same researchers found a similar correlation to asthma among kids swimming regularly in indoor chlorinated pools several years ago. Their new study contradicts the assertion that outdoor pools would be less likely to cause respiratory problems since chemical vapors would dissipate more quickly than in enclosed indoor pools. In fact, chlorine vapors and related compounds linger near the water surface of both indoor and outdoor pools. The researchers concluded that "the risk of the outdoor pool is equal and even higher than indoor pools because children tend to spend longer in outdoor pools and they are more chlorinated."

Asthma affects more than 300 million people globally, and is the most common chronic illness among children.

Portugal Opens World's First Commercial Wave Power Plant
Portugal began capturing the enormous energy potential of ocean waves for electricity by opening the world's first commercial wave power plant three miles off the country's northern coast last week. The project is slated to expand nearly 10-fold in the coming years.

The snakelike wave converters, designed by Scottish firm Pelamis Wave Power, are moored to the seabed and connected to the national energy grid. Each can generate 2.25 megawatts, enough energy to provide 1,500 households with electricity.

The initial cost for the project was pricey at $12.55 million, but energy experts hope that wave power can reach the cost competitiveness of wind within the next 15 years.

Portugal hopes to meet up to 20 percent of its future energy needs with wave power. The country has already installed over 2,000 megawatts of wind energy capacity, and renewable energy - led by hydropower dams - accounts for 40 percent of Portugal's energy consumption.

Canada is working to be first in North America to bring another form of ocean power, tidal energy, online with an experimental set of tidal turbines expected to hit the water next year in the Bay of Fundy, which has the highest tides in the world.

Melting Arctic Permafrost Releasing Millions of Tons of Methane
Millions of tons of methane - a greenhouse gas 20 times more potent than CO2 - are reaching the atmosphere as a result of melting in the Arctic sea region. UK-based newspaper The Independent received details from researchers currently sailing along the northern coast of Russia whose preliminary scientific findings indicate that enormous quantities of sub-sea methane are bubbling to the surface as Arctic sea ice retreats and the region grows warmer. The scientists described witnessing multiple "methane chimneys" bubbling up from the sea floor as the permafrost, which has held the gas deposits down since the last ice age, melts at accelerating rates due to global warming.

Many scientists posit that methane will accelerate global warming and lead to further permafrost melting, releasing more methane in a potentially catastrophic feedback loop. Scientists calculate that there is more methane stored under the Arctic ice than all of the carbon remaining in global coal deposits.

National Debt Grows $4 Trillion Under Bush Administration
The national debt has grown by more than $4 trillion under the Bush administration, more than under any other president in U.S. history. On the day George W. Bush took office, the U.S. had a national debt of just over $5.7 trillion with a projected surplus to come, but over the past eight years, the national debt has grown to nearly $10 trillion, a 72% increase under the Bush administration. The Office of Management and Budget estimates that next year, the national debt will hit $10.4 trillion, which it said would amount to 69.3 percent of the U.S. gross domestic product.

President Bush declared shortly after taking office that his budget would pay down the national debt. Eight years later, the government has no cash to pay for Social Security, Medicare or other programs, a fact which Bush admitted during a 2005 speech at West Virginia University, noting that the Social Security Trust Fund was already in debt to future generations. "There is no 'trust fund,' just IOUs that I saw firsthand, that future generations will pay - will pay for either in higher taxes, or reduced benefits, or cuts to other critical government programs," Bush said.

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