01/04/2009 05:12 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

Unearthed: The News Without the Chaff

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

Bush Interior Department Grants Barrick Gold's Parting Wish

Barrick Gold Corporation could begin cyanide heap leach mining operations on sacred Shoshone native lands as early as next week, thanks to last minute approval by the outgoing Bush Interior Department of the Cortez Hills Expansion Project. The project would be sited entirely within Shoshone territory recognized in the 1863 Treaty of Ruby Valley, land that is still used by the Shoshone Nation for food, medicine and spiritual ceremonies.

Western Shoshone, Timbisha Shoshone and Great Basin Resource Watch have filed a complaint in federal court in an attempt to stop the mine.

If the project proceeds, Barrick Gold, the world's largest gold mining company, will blast a massive 900-acre, 2,000 foot deep open pit mine on Mount Tenabo, a sacred place for the Shoshone. Barrick will first "dewater" the mountain, sucking all the groundwater out, and then extract gold using the destructive cyanide heap-leaching method. In total, the mine would permanently destroy 6,800 acres on and around Mount Tenabo, over 90 percent of which is public land, according to the Shoshone coalition.

In approving the mine project, the Bureau of Land Management ignored its own scientific findings, including a report that described Mt. Tenabo as "literally a life-giver" that is "the tallest mountain in the area - the most likely to capture snow and generate water to grow pin'on and nourish life."

Opponents estimate the mine's wastes will include 1,577 million tons of waste rock, 53 million tons of tailings material and 112 million tons of spent heap leach material.

Bush Eases Mountaintop Mining Pollution Regulations

The White House finalized a rule making it even easier for coal mining companies to dump the remains of mountaintop removal operations into streams and valleys, paving the way for further devastation of Appalachian forests and river systems. The move is part of the Bush administration's last-minute campaign to further eviscerate environmental protections after eight years of rollbacks to clean air, water and land laws at the behest of polluting industries.

The new rule ignores the finding of EPA's own scientists that the practice of mountaintop removal and subsequent dumping of mining sludge and debris suffocates rivers and streams, contaminating the drinking water of downstream communities and decimating fish populations. EPA estimated in 2003 that 1,200 miles of rivers and streams had already been buried or damaged by mountaintop removal wastes dumped into valleys.

While President Bush pledged to cooperate with President-elect Barack Obama to ensure a smooth transition, he continues to rush through new regulations contrary to the positions of the incoming administration. The White House is working to finalize several other industry-friendly rules dealing with air pollution, auto safety and workers' exposure to toxic chemicals in the remaining days of Bush's presidency.

Greenhouse Gases Reach Record Levels

Carbon dioxide, methane and nitrous dioxide concentrations reached record levels in the atmosphere in 2007, according to the World Meteorological Organization.

CO2 levels now stand at 383.1 parts per million, well past the 350 ppm level scientists believe is the safe upper limit beyond which global warming will destabilize Earth's delicate climate and lead to rising sea levels, extreme storms, heatwaves and droughts. Carbon dioxide concentrations in the atmosphere have risen 37 percent since the 18th century, according to the WMO.

The WMO report also found that levels of CFCs - which destroy Earth's protective ozone layer - have continued to decrease, further confirming that the global CFC emission cuts under the 1987 Montreal Protocol are effectively reversing the damage.

Farm Subsidies Continue to Flow To Wealthy "Farmers"

Government Accountability Office investigators identified at least 2,702 "farmers" nationwide who received over $49 million in unwarranted farm subsidies in recent years despite reporting more than the program's $2.5 million gross income cutoff.

Taxpayers forked over huge subsidies to wealthy individuals, including "a top executive of a major financial services firm," a "founder and former executive of an insurance company" a "former executive of a technology company," and "an individual with ownership interest in a professional sports franchise [who] received a total of more than $200,000 in farm program payments for 2003, 2004, 2005 and 2006."

427 of these recipients - which include corporations, partnerships and trusts - received potentially improper payments for every year studied by the GAO. Yet the Agriculture Department, plagued with poor management under the Bush administration, responded in its official audit response that it "made the best use of the resources available."

Efforts to trim wasteful crop subsidies in the most recent $286 billion farm bill met with little success. Crop subsidies and other direct payments currently total about $16 million annually, and continue to favor large-scale farms and agribusinesses in Midwestern and Southern states which grow most of the targeted commodities: wheat, corn, rice and cotton. Fruit and vegetable growers continue to be left out of the direct subsidies program.

The GAO report concludes [PDF] that "without better oversight to ensure that farm program funds are spent as economically, efficiently and effectively as possible, USDA had little assurance that these funds benefit the agriculture sector as intended."

2008 Hurricane Season Sets Records

The 2008 hurricane season set new records for wind speed, rainfall and devastation, causing an estimated $54 billion in damage, the second costliest season since record-keeping began in 1851. Five major hurricanes (Category 3 or higher) were among 16 named storms, a tie for fourth most storms in a year since 1944.

Tropical storm Arthur formed before the official June 1st start of hurricane season, and the season ended with Paloma, the second-most powerful November hurricane ever recorded. Hurricanes with 111 mph winds or greater occurred in a record five consecutive months. Tropical Storm Fay was one of a record six consecutive named storms to hit the U.S. mainland (Dolly, Edouard, Fay, Gustav, Hanna and Ike). Fay also became the first Atlantic cyclone to make landfall in a single state four times. Forty-one Florida counties were declared federal disaster areas and nearly $28 million in federal disaster assistance and low-interest loans were approved for Fay. Texas also suffered its most costly hurricane season ever from Ike and Dolly.

Kentucky Law Requires that God be Credited for Homeland Security

A state representative in Kentucky slipped language into a floor amendment passed by the state General Assembly requiring the state's Homeland Security office to credit God for helping to keep Kentucky safe. State Rep. Tom Riner, a Southern Baptist minister who was behind the effort, is now holding the Governor accountable for failing to include the religious language in Kentucky's 2008 Homeland Security report.

Under the new law, the Homeland Security office must list its primary duty as ''stressing the dependence on Almighty God as being vital to the security of the Commonwealth.''

Riner's rider requires the state's Emergency Operations Center to post an 88-word plaque above its main entrance that begins, ''The safety and security of the Commonwealth cannot be achieved apart from reliance upon Almighty God.''

Right Wing Group 'Freedom's Watch' Goes "Kaput"

Freedom's Watch, a right-wing lobbying group founded by former White House Press Secretary Ari Fleischer and funded by casino mogul Sheldon Adelson, "is pretty much kaput." The group spent $30 million on television and radio ads in the general election promoting its view that "victory is the only option in Iraq," plus an undisclosed amount on mail and phone-call campaigns in support of conservative candidates. But the group was reportedly "plagued by gridlock and infighting, leaving it struggling for direction."

Adelson, whose Las Vegas Sands company owns The Venetian and Palazzo casinos, bankrolled the group and served as the primary force behind its decisions. But his company lost about 95% of its stock market value this year, plummeting Adelson's personal net worth by more than $16.6 billion for the year. A Freedom's Watch spokesman "confirmed that much of the staff was on its way out" but refused to say if the group would continue in the future.

White House Altered "Coalition of the Willing" Roster

The Bush administration quietly manipulated its early official lists of nations in the "coalition of the willing" on the White House website to make it appear that 49 nations were in the early "coalition," when only 45 actually were. Two other versions of the list completely disappeared from the White House website without notice or explanation, according to a review by two historians from the Cline Center for Democracy at the University of Illinois. The researchers found three lists that were quietly altered several months after their initial posting while retaining their original release dates, making them appear to be the originals.

The researchers who discovered the discrepancies wrote that "whether by design or neglect, the result is the same: The removals and revisions of White House documents distort the historical record of what our government has said and done."

Despite Financial Woes, Big Three Spent $50 Million Lobbying Congress This Year

As executives from Ford, GM and Chrysler seek billions more in taxpayer bailouts, the companies continue to spend millions lobbying Congress, particularly their home state representatives in Michigan. The industry has spent nearly $50 million so far this year lobbying Congress, on top of an additional $15 million in campaign contributions from industry executives and employees.

Michigan lawmakers have received the most cash from the auto industry, including Representative Joe Knollenberg who received $879,327 from auto companies and Senator Carl Levin who received $438,304. The largest payments have gone to Detroit's friendliest Congressperson, Representative John Dingell, who has collected nearly a million dollars from the auto giants.

Ryan Alexander of the nonprofit group Taxpayers for Common Sense told CBS News he believes "there's an actual conflict" of interest in Dingell's case, since his personal wealth and the wealth of his family "is tied up in the car industry."

Rep. Dingell's wife Debbie was once a GM lobbyist and, after marrying Dingell, she became a senior executive at the company. Rep. Dingell cashed in up to $1 million in GM stock options in 1998, and in 2000 the Dingell's reported GM stock options worth up to $5 million. Rep. Dingell's most recent financial disclosure lists GM stock worth up to $350,000 and options worth up to $1 million more, as well as a GM pension fund.

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