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Truth Emergency: Keeping the Facts at Bay

The truth comes as conqueror only because we have lost the art of receiving it

as guest.

—Rabindranath Tagore8

What are some of these truths, that not knowing them creates a literal state of emergency for human society? Here are two of many possible examples. A 2008 report from the World Bank admitted that in 2005, over three billion people lived on less than $2.50 a day and about 44 percent of these people survive on less than $1.25.9 Complete and total wretchedness can be the only description for the circumstances faced by so many, especially those in urban areas of so- called developing nations. Simple items Americans take for granted like phone calls, television, inoculations and even food are beyond the possible for billions of people.

In another ignored but related story, logged the increasing impacts of world hunger and starvation. Over 30,000 people a day (85 percent children under 5) die of malnutrition, curable diseases, and starvation.10 The number of deaths has exceeded 300 million people over the past 40 years.11 These stories should be alarming headlines, certainly more significant than celebrity tripe and tabloid hype.

Continuing on the theme of human poverty and its ramifications, farmers around the world grow more than enough food to feed the entire world adequately. Global grain production yielded a record 2.3 billion tons in 2007, up 4 percent from the year before, yet billions of people go hungry every day. The nonprofit GRAIN described the core reasons for continuing hunger in a recent report, Making a Killing from Hunger. It turns out that while farmers grow enough food to feed the world, commodity speculators and huge grain traders like Cargill control the global food prices and distribution. Starvation is profitable for corporations when demand for food push the prices up. Cargill announced that profits for commodity trading for the first quarter of2008 were 86 percent above 2007. World food prices grew 22 percent from June 2007 to June 2008, and a significant portion of the increase was propelled by the $175 billion invested in commodity futures that speculate on price instead of seeking to feed the hungry.12 This results in erratic food price spirals, both up and down, with food insecurity remaining widespread.

For a family on the bottom rung of poverty, a small price increase is the difference between life and death, yet no American presidents have declared a war on starvation. Instead they talk about national security and the continuation of the War on Terror as if these were the primary issues for their terms in office. Given that ten times as many innocent people died of starvation than those in the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001, why is there no war on starvation? Is not starvation, especially if preventable, a form of inflicted terror by those who profit from it or even stand by and do nothing? Where is the Manhattan Project for global hunger? Where is the commitment to national security though unilateral starvation relief? Where is the outrage in the corporate news media with pictures of dying children and an analysis of those that benefit from hunger? Could the same not be said for those who die due to lack of health care coverage, to the tune of 45,000 a year?13

While news stories on the realities of global hunger remain undercovered in the United States, topics closer to home are often ignored as well. For example, racial inequality remains problematic in the United States. People of color continue to experience disproportionately high rates of poverty, unemployment, police profiling, repressive incarceration, and school segregation. According to a recent civil rights report from UCLA, schools in the United States are currently 44 percent nonwhite, and minorities are rapidly emerging as the majority of public school students. Latinos and blacks are the two largest minority groups. However, black and Latino students attend schools more segregated today than during the civil rights era. More than 50 years after Brown v. Board of Education, schools remain separate and unequal. The UCLA study shows that public schools in the Western states, including California, suffer from the most severe segregation in the United States, rather than Southern schools, as many people believe.14

This new form of segregation is primarily based on how urban areas are geographically organized—as Cornel West so passionately describes—into vanilla suburbs and chocolate cities.15 Schools remain highly unequal, in terms of both money and qualified teachers and curriculum. Unequal education leads to diminishing access to colleges and future jobs for the afflicted demographics. Nonwhite schools are segregated by poverty as well as race. These “chocolate,” low-income public schools are where most of the nation’s dropouts occur, leading to large numbers of virtually unemployable young people of color struggling to survive in a troubled economy.

Diminished opportunity for students of color invariably creates greater privileges for whites. White privilege is a concept that is challenging for many whites to accept. Whites like to think of themselves as hard-working individuals whose achievements are due to deserved personal efforts. In many cases this is partly true; hard work in college often pays off in many ways. Nonetheless, many whites find it difficult to accept that geographically and structurally based racism remains a significant barrier for many students of color. Whites often say racism is in the past and that Americans need not think about it today. Yet inequality stares back at society daily from the barrios, ghettos, and from behind prisons walls.

For these factual stories to not be reported by major media outlets is clearly a matter of censorship and top-down information control. The aforementioned are two riveting examples of a failure of the free press to accurately inform the public about critical issues facing our global and national society. Sadly, there are many more examples.

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