Uncovering the most underreported news stories of 2012
Published: November 21, 2012
9. Prison slavery in the U.S.
The United States makes up less than 5 percent of the world's population, yet U.S. prisons hold more than 25 percent of all people imprisoned globally. Many of these prisoners labor at 23 cents per hour, or similar wages, in federal prisons contracted by the Bureau of Prisons' UNICOR, a quasi-public, for-profit corporation, which is the U.S. government's 39th largest contractor. The UNICOR manufacturing corporation proudly proclaims that its products are "made in America." That's true, but they're made in places where standard labor laws don't apply. Prison workers exposed to toxic materials, for instance, have no legal recourse.
One article highlighted by Project Censored this year reveals the current state of the ties between prison industries and war. The majority of products manufactured by inmates are contracted to the Department of Defense. Inmates make complex parts for missile systems, battleship anti-aircraft guns and landmine sweepers, as well as night-vision goggles, body armor and camouflage uniforms. Of course, this is happening in the context of record high imprisonment in the United States, where grossly disproportionate numbers of African-Americans and Latinos are imprisoned and, in some states, can't vote even after they're freed. As psychologist Elliot D. Cohen puts it in this year's book: "This system of slavery, like that which existed in this country before the Civil War, is also racist, as more than 60 percent of U.S. prisoners are people of color."
Another part of the story is that, as incarceration rates explode in the United States, thousands are placed in solitary confinement, often for having committed minor disciplinary infractions within prison.
Sources: Sara Flounders, "The Pentagon and Slave Labor in U.S. Prisons," Workers World, June 6, 2011; James Ridgeway and Jean Casella, "Cruel and Usual: U.S. Solitary Confinement," Al Jazeera English, March 19, 2011.
10. HR 347 criminalizes protest
In March 2012, President Obama signed into law HR 347, the Federal Restricted Buildings and Grounds Improvement Act of 2011. The law specifies as criminal offenses the acts of entering or remaining in areas defined as "restricted." Although pundits have debated to what extent the new law restricts First Amendment rights or criminalizes Occupy protests, it does make it easier for the Secret Service to overuse – or misuse – existing laws to arrest lawful protesters by lowering the requirement of intent in the prosecution of criminal activity.
The law makes it a felony to "knowingly" enter a zone restricted under the law, or engage in "disorderly or disruptive" conduct in or near the zones. The restricted zones include anywhere the Secret Service may be – places such as the White House, areas hosting events deemed "National Special Security Events," or anywhere visited by the president, vice president and their immediate families; former presidents, vice presidents and certain family members; certain foreign dignitaries; major presidential and vice presidential candidates (within 120 days of an election); and other individuals as designated by a presidential executive order. These people could be anywhere, and NSSEs have notoriously included the Democratic and Republican National Conventions, Super Bowls and the Academy Awards.
Sources: Danny Weil, "Many Forms of Occupy Protests Subjected to New Bill Making Protests Illegal," The Daily Censored (blog), March 5, 2012; Oskar Mosquito, "Enacting the NDAA: Limiting Protesters' Rights," Media Roots, March 5, 2012; Brian Doherty, "Bill Passes House: Protests Near Secret Service Protected Folk Effectively Outlawed," Reason (blog), March 1, 2012.
Curt Guyette is the news editor of Detroit's Metro Times.