Christine Stavem

Indecent Exposure

Spring break is right around the corner. Then there's summer. Time to stop by the tanning salon and get a jump on a "base" tan before hitting the beach, right? But while you might be persuaded that indoor tanning is safer than the sun -- that it can prevent skin burn while you're sunning for the first time this year -- chances are you're being led astray. Worse, the notion that regularly tanning indoors can help reduce your risk of breast cancer (a popular claim that's been circulated in recent years) could be dead wrong.But you -- and an estimated 30 million other Americans -- are likely to hear such claims this year as you strip naked, strap on protective eye wear and climb into a casket-like capsule, where you'll bake in powerful ultraviolet rays to create that "I-just-returned-from-a-month-in-Maui" glow. Most of these artificial sun seekers joining you will be women in their 20s and 30s.But look at any magazine cover girl, and chances are she's not sporting a savage tan (unless, of course, she's on the cover of this month's Sports Illustrated). Periodically pick up any newspaper and you're bound to come across reports about how many new cases of the dangerous, albeit most common, skin cancer melanoma are diagnosed each year (40,000 to be exact, according to the American Cancer Society). Glance over at the make-up counter at your local department store and based on the myriad self-tanning products on display, you're bound to be convinced that avoiding harmful rays is definitely the way to go.So why don't we *all* know better? Perhaps believing tanning industry reps who swear that an indoor tan is risk-free -- even beneficial -- is enough to justify perpetuating the "golden-tan-is-sexier-than-pallid-white" beauty myth, good sense/health be damned.In this month's Glamour magazine, 10 reporters dropped in at tanning salons across the country to find out exactly what prospective tanners are being told. Among the five biggest myths: tanning isn't bad for you, burning is; tanning beds are safer than the sun; a salon tan gives you a protective base for the beach; tanning is a good way to make sure you get enough vitamin D; and regular tanning may lower your cancer risk.The notion that indoor sunbathing can prevent sunburn that can lead to skin cancer and other disease, however, is vehemently disputed by dermatologists, who warn that exposure of any kind of ultraviolet light can be dangerous. The Food and Drug Administration, the National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and the American Cancer Society all chime in, warning consumers that ultraviolet rays from the sun -- including artificial rays from tanning beds -- can cause skin cancer."There's never been a light source that didn't lead to skin damage, including aging and skin cancer," Dr. Rex Amonette, past president of the American Academy of Dermatology, told Kiplinger's Personal Finance Magazine. In fact, the perfect tan may indeed come at too high a price. The American Academy of Dermatology estimates that sunburn incidence in the general population has increased 9 percent over the last 10 years. Melanoma is growing at 4 percent a year, and doctors seeing more and more young patients with aging and wrinkling well beyond their years.But the $4 billion-a-year industry is fighting back against the bad rap they've received, and trying to spin a case for responsible, even "healthy," indoor sunbathing. Tanning enthusiasts like Joseph Levy, executive director of the International Smart Tan Network, claim that "most professional salons in the industry today bear no resemblance to salons from the 1980s, when everyone was still learning about this technology. This is no longer a random procedure. This is truly a controlled process that gives a tanner just the right amount of energy in each session."The FDA classifies tanning beds as medical devices and has set strict limits on their use. Tanners are supposed to start out with short, two- to three-minute exposures, and build up to 20- or 30-minute sessions no more than three times per week. But Glamour's experience revealed that these guidelines were rarely enforced and that virtually any salon will let you tan as much as you want.Turning the light on health issues, the tanning trade group, which represents 25,000 free standing tanning salons, claims that recent research says that moderate tanning prevents cancer. In a press release, the group touted that indoor tanners are 57 percent less likely to sunburn than non-tanners. It also alleges that regular tanning could help reduce cancer deaths by 30,000 a year.Critics warn that the industry is weighing in on unproven theories and exaggerating, if now skewing, current research. As reported in U.S. News & World Report, industry logic goes like this: Since sunburns and incidental sun exposure have been linked to melanoma, and those who tan regularly indoors say they get fewer sunburns, then viola, indoor tanning prevents melanoma. But according to the New England Journal of Medicine, mounting evidence suggests just the opposite: that indoor tanning salons may raise the risk of melanoma.Similarly, a handful of reports over the last 15 years claim beneficial results from moderate exposure to sunlight, a common factor is that vitamin D reduces colon and breast cancer, which cause roughly 140,000 deaths annually. Since the body's production of vitamin D is activated by sunlight, indoor tanning proponents are drawing the conclusion that exposure to the sun could reduce some forms of cancer.A well-reported study by epidemiologists Frank and Cedric Garland of the University of California at San Diego revealed that colon-cancer death rates were significantly lower in parts of the U.S. where there was more sunshine. But sunshine isn't the only thing that changes as you move south, critics have pointed out. Differences in physical activity, diet and access to vegetable are also important factors.Further, as quoted earlier this year in the Austin American-Statesman, Michael Holick, chief of endocrinology, nutrition and diabetes at Boston University, also noted that the body only produces as much activated vitamin D as it can use. Therefore, increased exposure to sunlight does not increase the amount of activated vitamin D the body will produce.But, you're thinking, why not buy a couple of 15-minute, "light" tan sessions to serve as a base in preparation for that much-deserved vacation at the shore? "That's like saying you should have a heart attack because your heart will be stronger if you live through it," Julian Menter, Ph.D., told Glamour this month (Menter is a research professor of medicine at Morehouse School of Medicine in Atlanta who is an expert on melanin). "Tanning is the skin's response to injury, and it doesn't really buy you very much protection ... The amount of melanin you produce is pre-programmed by your genetic makeup. You can't make your skin be something it's not."But, alas, there's some good news for the (reformed) sun and salon worshipers: As reported in Health, Philadelphia dermatologist Albert Kligman, who's been publishing research that documents the effects of UV light on human skin since 1963, says that you *can* turn back the clock. "If you continue to stop the sun exposure, the skin's capacity to recover is terrific ... I tell people in Miami who are 70 who think it's too late, Don't be a damn fool! You're going to be a lot worse. Get out of the sun now!"

Top 10 Censored Stories of 1996

George Lucas wasn't the only one banking on a "Star Wars" revival this year. The Clinton administration has revived its own version of Star Wars by investing $3 billion annually into the Reagan/Bush administrations' coveted space program. As conceived by the U.S. national nuclear laboratories and military, the program has had a large nuclear component. Hence, it's no surprise NASA is finding virtually no resistance from the administration for the October launch of its Cassini space probe -- whose instruments will be powered by 72 pounds of lethal plutonium-238 -- despite the acute danger of deploying radioactive materials in space. If something goes awry, more than five billion people would be exposed to dangerous levels of radiation. While there exists a clear alternative for Cassini -- solar power -- NASA, the Energy Department's nuclear labs and the corporations involved in producing nuclear hardware for space missions are not budging.How is it that such important information isn't splashed across the front page of the morning paper? After all, "It doesn't take a rocket scientist to know that it's stupid to put nukes in space," said Karl Grossman, who wrote "Risking the World: Nuclear Proliferation in Space," for CovertAction Quarterly. Why don't Americans learn more about such important social and political issues as the predatory practices of high-interest mortgage lenders, or about how last year's minimum wage bill will affect their pensions? Presumably, the papers they read, the broadcast news they click on at night and the radio commentaries they tune in to each morning would cover that territory.But what happens when the mainstream media's corporate agenda is more synergistic with the multi-million dollar clients of public relations firms than with consumers battling for poison-proof product packaging? What happens when the news media decides -- under pressure from its corporate owners -- that it can't afford to take the public interest into consideration? After all, isn't it the job of the media to dig out the facts and root out corruption in order to inform and educate the public? The dismal reality is that we are suffering from a new kind of censorship, one that doesn't simply keep a handful of unflattering stories from the front page, but one that prevents reports of certain excesses of government and corporate power from being written at all. Sonoma State University's media watch group "Project Censored" labels this self-censorship. As its team of researchers and judges rediscovers each year, what the mainstream media deems threatening to its own corporate interests -- inextricably linked to its advertisers and parent conglomerates -- is simply excluded from broad mainstream coverage. "The mainstream media is so market driven, its sense of priorities is [skewed]," said George Gerbner, a project Censored judge. "It cannot afford to take the public interest into consideration ... There's an implicit, unqualified censorship that screens out less marketable stories." Founded by Carl Jensen in 1976, Project Censored's distinguished panel of judges (see sidebar) culls overlooked or vastly under- reported stories from nationwide media. Their package of marginalized stories reads like a catch-all of topics the mainstream won't touch: stories about bad things happening to poor people, about corporate and government misconduct, about threats to our safety and our livelihood. Top 10 Censored Stories of 1996:1. NUCLEAR PROLIFERATION IN SPACE ("Risking the World: Nuclear Proliferation in Space," CovertAction Quarterly, Summer 1996, and "Don't Send Plutonium Into Space," Progressive Media Project, May 1996, both by Karl Grossman.) This October, NASA plans to launch its Cassini probe to Saturn carrying 72 pounds of lethal plutonium-238, long described by scientists as the most toxic substance known. En route, the probe -- which will ride atop a Lockheed Martin-built Titan IV rocket that has undergone a series of mishaps in recent years -- will whip around the Earth at 42,300 miles per hour just 312 miles above the planet's surface. Any accident occurring during the fly-by would surely be categorized a calamity; roughly five billion people on Earth could receive dangerous levels of radiation exposure, cited Karl Grossman. What's more: Despite the enormous expense and risk, NASA, the Department of Energy's national nuclear laboratories and the corporations that have been involved in producing nuclear hardware for space missions have ignored European solar power technology that would eliminate the risks posed by the Cassini probe. Why doesn't this get covered? "You have to ask, `Who owns the media?'" said Grossman, referring to NBC's parent General Electric and CBS's parent Westinghouse. More than 40 percent of the world's nuclear plants use Westinghouse engineering; GE manufactures turbines for nuclear reactors."It also has to do with NASA reporters being who they are -- `boosters' of the industry," said Grossman. "It has to do with the average reporter not being skilled enough to dig and fully understand nuclear [issues] ... It also has to do with `nuclear' being a sacred cow, in general."2. SHELL'S OIL, AFRICA'S BLOOD ("Shell's Oil, Africa's Blood," by Ron Nixon and Michael King, Texas Observer, 1/12/96; "Shell Game," by Vince Bielski, San Francisco Bay Guardian, 2/7/96; "Rejected Ad Flap," by M.L. Stein, Editor & Publisher, 3/23/96; "Dying for Oil," by Aaron Sachs, World Watch, May/June 1996.) In the aftermath of Nigeria's execution of nine environmental activists in 1995, evidence has mounted that despite its intimate links to the Nigerian government, Royal Dutch/Shell Group (the parent of Houston-based Shell Oil) not only turned a deaf ear to worldwide pleas that it intervene and help stay the executions, but it likely helped instigate the violence. Over the last decade, Shell Oil has been targeted by mass protesters, whose ranks boasted acclaimed writer Ken Saro-Wiwa and the 300,000-member Movement for the Survival of Ogoni People (MOSOP). The group demanded compensation for the farm lands that had been destroyed by Shell's drilling in the Nigeria Delta region.Despite Shell's insistence that it "had no right to get involved" after Saro-Wiwa and eight others were arrested for the alleged murders of members of a rival activist group, "internal documents uncovered by journalists and human rights groups show that Shell was more than a passive player in the political affairs of Nigeria and in the death Saro-Wiwa," according to journalists Ron Nixon and Michael King in an article for the Texas Observer.The mainstream press, including the Wall Street Journal, New York Times and Washington Post, reported the slaying, albeit peripherally, and no direct connection was made between the human rights abuses and Shell. Although Shell had lobbied hard to convince the world it had no blood on its hands, "Shell has admitted, since my story was published, to having funded Nigerian military outfits that are engaging in human rights abuses," although Shell claims the forces they paid were not responsible, said journalist Vince Bielski.3. BIG PERKS FOR THE WEALTHY HIDDEN IN MINIMUM WAGE BILL ("Bare Minimum: Goodies for the Rich Hidden in Wage Bill," by John B. Judis, The New Republic, 10/28/96) Democrats and Republicans alike were engaging in a lot of self-congratulatory hand-pressing last August after President Clinton signed the minimum wage bill -- each party touting bipartisan support for the legislation that raised the minimum wage from $4.25 to $5.15 an hour. But while the mainstream media largely neglected to dig beneath the "progressive achievement packaging" of the Small Business Job Protection Act of 1996, John Judis, senior editor of the New Republic, questioned this tale: "Beneath the carapace of constructive reform lies a legislative record filled with outrages." In fact, charged Judis, the bill included at least 10 provisions -- sought by Republicans for their allies in the National Federation of Independent Business and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce -- aimed at neither small business owners nor their employees, all of which may negate whatever good the bill may do. For instance, the bill weakens retirement and pension protection by doing away with a requirement that companies offer the same benefits to lower-wage employees as they do to higher-wage employees.In essence, welfare reform expands the supply of low-wage job applicants without expanding the supply of jobs, holding down the wages that the minimum wage bill was supposed to raise, wrote Judis. "A cause for celebration for all Americans? I don't think so."4. THE PR INDUSTRY'S SECRET WAR ON ACTIVISTS ("The Public Relations Industry's Secret War on Activists," CovertAction Quarterly, Winter 1995/1996, and "Public Relations, Private Interests," Earth Island Journal, Winter 1995/1996, both by John Stauber and Sheldon Rampton.) The degree to which PR firms manipulate public opinion and policy is almost impossible to determine, wrote journalists Sheldon Rampton and John Stauber. But what's indisputable is that the industry -- by dipping into the deep pockets of its multi-million dollar corporate clients -- has vast power to direct and control thought and policy. Of late, the preponderance of public relations firms have leveraged that influence against activists and proposed legislation that threaten big business. The latest deceptive strategy entails creating anti-public-interest -- or "astroturf" -- campaigns to generate the false impression of public support in the name of citizen activism. The result? At it's worst, dissenting voices have been muffled, unhealthy chemicals and practices have been legalized and public opinion has been profoundly influenced. And how has the media -- charged with sifting fact from fiction -- responded? "Media has become complicit in the way it deals with PR," Rampton said. So complicit, in fact, that reporters and producers who rely on this type of information for stories -- rather than doing their own, independent reporting -- are more the norm than the exception. 5. CORPORATE CRIME: WHITEWASH AT THE JUSTICE DEPARTMENT ("White-Collar Crime: Whitewash at the Justice Department," by David Burnham, CovertAction Quarterly, Summer 1996.) When you think of crime, what comes to mind? Armed robbery? Homicide? What about the dumping of toxic waste? Would it shock you to learn that in 1987 alone, 50,000 to 70,000 workers died prematurely from on-the-job exposure to toxins -- roughly three times the 21,5000 people murdered that same year?The truth is, while corporate, or white-collar, crime costs America 10 to 50 times more than street crime, the Justice Department shows little interest in tackling the problem. In fact, based on records maintained by the Justice Department, the federal government almost never brings charges against businesses. Of the more than 51,000 federal criminal indictments in 1994, only 250 -- less than one-half of one percent -- involved criminal violations of the nation's environmental, occupational health and safety and consumer product safety laws. "Armed with a few anecdotal horror stories, the propagandists and lobbyists try to persuade media, politicians and the public that regulations are crippling free enterprise and costing jobs," wrote David Burnham in CovertAction Quarterly. Given the huge number of corporations, and a well-documented record of repeated violations, the minuscule number of federal criminal allegations hardly square with the corporate view of business as the victim of a federal government run amok.6. NEW MEGA-MERGED BANKING BEHEMOTHS = BIG RISK ("The Making of the Banking Behemoths," by Jake Lewis, Multinational Monitor, June 1996.) Frighteningly similar to the distribution of personal wealth in the United States -- where the top 1 percent of households controls almost one-third of the nation's net worth -- 71.5 percent of U.S. banking assets are now controlled by the 100 largest banking organizations, representing less than 1 percent of the total banks in the nation.But little has been written about its impact on average Americans -- that megabanks are closing out community access and making it harder and harder for small borrowers to obtain loans. In California, when First Interstate and Wells Fargo merged to become a new giant with more than $100 billion in assets, for instance, the Justice Department ordered Wells Fargo to divest itself of 61 branches to preserve competition for certain types of lending. But the branches that the bank divested itself of are being sold to Home Savings and loan of Los Angeles, which recently decided not to continue affordable housing lending.7. CASHING IN ON POVERTY ("Cashing in on Poverty," by Michael Hudson, The Nation, 5/20/96 [Excerpted from "Merchants of Misery: How Corporate America Profits From Poverty].) Can you imagine paying $1,000 for a $300 TV? How about paying 20 percent interest on a second mortgage? While two-thirds of Americans never face such atrocious exploitation, countless pawn shops, check-cashing outlets, rent-to-own stores, finance companies and high-interest mortgage lenders are getting away with it, largely by preying on the disadvantaged.And what you won't read in the daily headlines is that companies raking in big money by targeting people on the bottom third of the economic ladder are owned or bankrolled by the biggest names on Wall Street -- Ford, Citibank, NationsBank and American Express, to name a few. The "poverty industry" fills a niche for them -- at a stiff price, writes Michael Hudson in a piece for The Nation. But where's the outrage? "There's not a lot of questioning about corporate abuse in this country," Hudson said. "And as a practical matter, it's easier to report on one company than a whole industry ... taking on an [entire] industry is much more complicated."While a handful of media outlets occasionally have singled out individual cases of duplicity, "It's generally done about individual companies and becomes sort of a `gotcha' story," said Hudson. And when it's about just one company, "other company's come in and take over where the first (one) left off."8. BIG BROTHER GOES HIGH-TECH ("Big Brother Goes High-Tech," by David Banisar, CovertAction Quarterly, Spring 1996; "Access, Privacy and Power," by Michael Rust and Susan Crabtree, Insight, 8/19/96; "New Surveillance Camera Cheers Police, Worries ACLU," by Joyce Price, Insight, 9/9/1996.) The bank has your social security number, so does the education system. Credit card holders file away your financial history. Your doctors, your insurance company, marketers who sold you magazine subscriptions -- all compile bits of personal data and squirrel it away in any number of the thousands of databases that exist worldwide. Welcome to the information revolution. From bankbook to bedroom, new advanced technologies are gaining on civil liberties, threatening to render privacy vulnerable on a scale never seen before. At the same time, outdated laws and regulations are failing to check an expanding pattern of abuses.And here's the latest twist: Today's new technologies are not being leveraged by the government alone. While such companies as E- Systems, Electronic Data Systems (founded by Ross Perot) and Texas Instruments are selling advanced computer and surveillance equipment to state and local governments, corporations also are quick to adapt these technologies for commercial use."Now, information on almost every person in the developed world is computerized in several hundred databases collected, analyzed and disseminated by governments and corporations," David Banisar wrote in an expose for CovertAction Quarterly. "And increasingly, these computers are linked up and sharing their cyber-gossip."What's desperately lacking is accountability for those who may misuse it. "It's not that lawmakers, policy analysts and journalists don't recognize the reality of the information revolution," wrote Michael Rust and Susan Crabtree in an article for Insight. "It's just that -- like the vast majority of their countrymen -- they don't understand it very well."9. U.S. TROOPS EXPOSED TO DEPLETED URANIUM DURING GULF WAR ("Radioactive Battlefields of the 1990s: A Response to the Army's Unreleased Report on Depleted Uranium Weaponry," Military Toxics Project's Depleted Uranium Citizens' Network, 1/16/96; "Radioactive Ammo Lays Them to Waste," by Gary Cohen, Multinational Monitor, January/February 1996.) Since the Manhattan Project of World War II, government studies have indicated that depleted uranium weapons -- although highly effective when waging war -- are extremely toxic. And not only for the enemy. Nonetheless, five years ago, depleted uranium (DU) was used in warfare for the first time as both armor-piercing bullets and as tank armor by the U.S. Army in Operation Desert Storm. More than 350 tons of DU fragments and particles still lie on the battlefields of the Gulf War, and depleted uranium has been documented in the bodies of some Gulf War veterans and may be present in many more, according to a report to the Army's unreleased report on depleted uranium weaponry.Did the U.S. military downplay the hazards? What were the soldiers told? Although Army training manuals were written in the 1980s to warn tank crews and commanders of the dangers associated with DU rounds, the Pentagon failed to specifically warn Gulf War troops of the dangers. Five years later, the effects of depleted uranium exposure are just beginning to demand attention.10. FACING FOOD SCARCITY ("Facing Food Scarcity," World Watch, November/December 1995, and "Japanese Government Breaks With World Bank Food Forecast," World Watch, May/June 1996, both by Lester R. Brown.) At the close of the 20th century, 90 million added people each year will need to eat. And while you can pick up the paper each morning and read about the global economy, where is discussion of the world's food economy?According to World Watch and the World Agricultural Outlook Board, the world's stock of rice, wheat, corn and other grains have fallen to their lowest level in two decades, a daunting prospect considering the trend that is predicted to become even more acute, concluded the recent World Food Summit in November 1996. Convened by the U.S. Food and Agriculture Organization, the first such summit in 22 years decided that poor countries will be responsible for feeding their own people, without the aid of wealthier nations."If we are unable to reverse the trends of recent years, food scarcity may well become the defining issue as we exit this century and enter the next," Lester R. Brown wrote in World Watch. "History judges political issues of their time. For today's leaders, the challenge is to achieve a humane balance between food and people on a crowded planet."SIDEBAR:15 Other Stories of 1996:* GDP Is Meaningless Economic Measuring Stick* rBGH -- Milking the Public* Gag Me With a Food Disparagement Law* Anti-Abortion and Militia Movements Converge* Teen Drug "Crisis" Is a Myth* Derivatives: Risky Business* Union Do's -- Smart Solidarity* PCBs: Importing Poison* Corporate America Spends Big Bucks on Pro-China PR* U.S. Alone in Blocking Export Ban of Toxic Waste the Third World* Inside INS Detention Centers* Refrigerator Revolution and Repairing the Ozone* Chemicals and the Brain* Tuna, Free Trade and Cocaine* The Truth About "Inert" ChemicalsSIDEBAR:Project Censored Judges:The judges who selected the top 10 under-reported news stories were: Donna Allen, founding editor of Media Report to Women; Ben Bagdikian, professor emeritus, University of California, Berkeley; Richard Barnet, author/policy analyst; Susan Faludi, journalist/author; George Gerbner, dean emeritus University of Pennsylvania; Carl Jensen, founder and former director of Project Censored; Sut Jhally, executive director, The Media Education Foundation; Nicholas Johnson, professor, University of Iowa; Rhonda H. Karpatkin, president, Consumers Union; Charles L. Klotzer, editor and publisher emeritus, St. Louis Journalism Review; Judith Krug, American Library Association; Frances Moore Lappe, co-founder and co-director, Center for Living Democracy; William Lutz, professor, Rutgers University; Julianne Malveaux, Ph.D., economist and columnist; Jack L. Nelson, professor, Rutgers University; Michael Parenti, Ph.D., author and lecturer; Herbert I. Schiller, professor emeritus, University of California, San Diego; Barbara Seaman, author and lecturer; Holly Sklar, author; Sheila Rabb Weidenfeld, president, D.C. Productions."CENSORED: The News That Didn't Make the News," the 1997 Censored Yearbook, published by Seven Stories Press, New York, is available in bookstores or by calling 800/596-7437. To receive a free pamphlet listing the top 25 stories, send a self-addressed, stamped envelope to Project Censored, Sonoma State University, Rohnert Park, CA 94928-3609.

Temple University Pulls the Plug on Free Speech

Taking an authoritarian approach to political debate, Temple University this week canceled -- within minutes of airing -- Pacifica Radio Network's national daily political show "Democracy Now," featuring commentary by death row inmate Mumia Abu-Jamal, along with a live discussion about media access to prison inmates. Abu-Jamal, an internationally known radio journalist and former Black Panther convicted of killing a Philadelphia police officer in 1981, was sentenced to death and currently is in a Pennsylvania state correctional facility. While on death row -- and consistently maintaining his innocence -- Abu-Jamal has become a prominent voice in the public debate of racism in the justice system."I am outraged that administrators at Temple University decided to silence an alternative voice offered to listeners of its radio station, WRTI-FM," said Society of Professional Journalists President Steve Geimann. "The sudden, abrupt decision to pre-empt Pacifica's 'Democracy Now' is clearly an act of censorship."Our democracy is strong because we protect everyone's right of free speech, even those whose views we may find objectionable or discomforting," he added.Temple University officials declined to comment.Bowing to politically charged protests, NPR in 1994 similarly pulled the plug on Abu-Jamal's commentaries on prison life that were scheduled to appear on its popular "All Things Considered" program, acquiescing to forces that insisted the views of a death row prisoner should not be on a publicly funded broadcast network.Not only do such decisions constitute censorship of free speech, counter First Amendment activists, but they also serve to strengthen the recent trend of silencing voices within the prison system. At least seven states -- Pennsylvania, California, Illinois, Indians, Missouri, Rhode Island and Virginia -- have cracked down on media access to inmates. And if prison inmates are not allowed to speak through the media, then the public is not allowed to hear them, says Peter Sussman, president of SPJ's Northern California chapter. Pacifica radio is equally as resolute: "The American public has a right to hear them and make their own decision. That's what it means to live in a democracy," said Julie Drizin, Pacifica's executive producer.The tide of censorship, however, refuses to recede. Pacifica's Prison Radio Project recorded Abu-Jamal's commentaries just 10 days before the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections banned journalists from videotaping, audio recording or photographing any inmates.The department's specific policy: "There shall be no special arrangement made for news media interviews with specific inmates," although it maintains the media can still come in with cameras "if they want tours of the facility," according to a freedom of information memo. James W. Ewert, staff attorney for the California Newspaper Publishers Association, noted that such a policy equates restrictions: "A journalist can mingle during general and public visiting hours. Or a journalist can apply to be placed on a personal visitation list, but is prohibited under that scenario from bringing in pens, pencils, notebooks or recording devices for an interview."Does that sound like restricted access?Pacific and SPJ take no position on the guilt or innocence of Abu-Jamal, said SPJ's Geimann, rather: "This issue today is all about allowing him -- and other prisoners -- the right to be heard and about the media's ability to pursue stories that will inform and enlighten the public and the bureaucracy."

Public Apathy Toward Elections Mounting

While a fragment of the electorate this week will be toasting the presidential election results (or lamenting a loss) the rest of the country will wake on post-election Wednesday with scarcely an afterthought about Bill Clinton or Bob Dole, as evident in the predicted voter turnout.So what's new? Public indifference--by virtue of simply not voting--has been on a downward spiral for decades as confidence and trust in government has waned. But the proverbial rock bottom may be in sight: Today, only 14 percent of Americans find the status quo acceptable, the majority believing that the current political system is seriously flawed and needs to be fixed, according to a national public opinion survey conducted on behalf of the nonpartisan Center for Responsive Politics (CRP). Among the findings, which were based on six "swing voter" focus groups and an 800-person national public opinion survey conducted by The Mellman Group in August, was the common tenet, if not outrage, that special interest influence controls Washington. One Democratic participant went so far as to describe the process as a form of legalized bribery, recounting hearing "stories of `for this much money I can put this much support behind it, for this much money I can actually introduce it, and of course, for this much money, I can make sure it gets passed.'"Of course, few want to fess up. "Most elected officials would rather undergo root canal surgery than discuss the special interests behind their candidacies," said Charles Lewis, executive director the Washington "watchdog" group The Center for Public Integrity.Particularly notable in the Mellman Group survey is that the findings suggest that the traditional wall of separation between voter attitudes toward their own representatives and Congress on the whole is being breached. Asserting that the poll's results should "serve as a warning to members of Congress," the Center for Responsive Politics revealed 87 percent of the participants believed that special interest contributions affect the voting behavior of not only Congress in general, but their own representatives in particular.Indeed, while a related study in 1995 revealed that 60 percent of Americans thought their member of Congress was "affected by receiving money from a special interest group," today, more than 80 percent feel their members' voters are influenced by special interest contributions."People see that they system is broken," said Ellen Miller, CRP's executive director. "The obvious special interest influence, the vast campaign expenditures and the rule-bending by both major parties have taken their toll."Among the most commonly suggested solutions is for the federal government to provide a fixed amount of money for congressional election campaigns, while prohibiting all private contributions. Although this notion of full public financing has been pitched, if not largely ignored by reform advocates for years, creating such a system is gaining new momentum. The research group Gallup began tracking voter attitudes toward full public financing in 1973, and according to its data, support has declined over the years, reaching its lowest point in 1987 when only 50 percent of people polled thought it was a good idea and 42 percent thought is was a bad idea. Today, there is a 30-point margin in favor of this approach--59 percent think its a good idea and 29 percent don't--representing the greatest margin of support since 1973."It's no surprise that voters want change, but the overwhelming support for public financing is dramatic," said Miller. "Respondents instantly recognized that this is the most effective antidote."In the survey, a full public financing proposal modeled after a current Maine ballot initiative was tested. Two-thirds favored this proposal, which eliminates private contributions, sets spending limits and gives each candidate a set amount of money from a publicly financed election fund.After respondents heard arguments for and against the proposal, 65 percent continued to favor the proposal, while 25 percent opposed it. The majority support spanned across all demographics: Although more than 70 percent of both Democrats and Independents favored the proposal (19 percent opposed in each group), even Republicans favor the full public financing proposal by a 2 to 1 margin (61 percent favor, 30 percent oppose). And self-identified "conservatives" support the proposal by almost a 40 point margin (66 percent favor, 27 percent oppose).While 43 percent of people polled balk at the notion of contributing to a public financing system, grassroots movements are championing the fact that the 51 percent majority believe that private money should be eliminated from the process. As one Chicago man reasoned, it's worth it "to pay more taxes to have good government."Interested in tracking your representatives campaign finance track record? Try starting at The Center for Responsive Politics Web site, It provides links to related state and local campaign disclosure agencies.Among the states with online access:Florida or or Carolina Interest Research Groups also provide relevant information. Date can be tapped at: Cause State Chapters:Texas

Lexis-Nexis Backs Down on P-TRAK

In the wake of a massive public outcry against the alleged sale of personal information-on-demand, database services Goliath Lexis-Nexis is back-peddling, hoping to quash rumors that it's marketing private info for profit.At issue is a new database called P-TRAK it put on-line in June, a service the company maintains was designed to help lawyers locate litigants, witnesses, shareholders, debtors and heirs.Internet news groups and a myriad of e-mailers circulated charges over the Internet that P-TRAK provides any caller with such detailed person info as a person's Social Security number, credit history, bank account information and even medical historiesÑall for a small fee. A flood of outraged Internet users demanded the company remove all personal facts from the database.Accusations and excuses have been flying ever since.Among the first to report that dissemination of Social Security numbers through the service could increase the potential for fraud and other illegal activity was respected industry insider C/NET, which quoted Lexis-Nexis marketing literature describing the service as "a quick, convenient search [that] provides up to three addresses, as well as aliases, maiden names, and Social Security numbers" and "puts 300 million names right at your fingertips" for charges starting at about $125 a month.Ever quick to respond to bad press, Nexis-Lexis insisted that no Social Security numbers are accessible; the only data revealed is names, aliases, maiden names, current and previous addresses, month and year of birth and phone numbers.But it turns out that the mega-corp took emergency action and halted the practice of enabling its clients to obtain the Social Security numbers only after C/NET reported details of the service. And while the company quickly acquiesced, it did so rather reluctantly. Case in point: Although the company boasts of its awareness "of the sensitivities regarding the potential misuse of information," it did not hesitate to point the finger at unnamed "business competitors" who have for some time made that data available.The company has said it will accede to requests from the deluge of people who want their names and addresses deleted from the service's database. Officials have made assurances that the information will not be used for any other public database. Simply e-mail your full name, address and telephone number to or mail the information to ATTN: P-TRAK, P.O. Box 933, Dayton, OH 45401. A World Wide Web-based form for deletion is available at Information can also be faxed to 800/470-4365.

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