Under-reported Stories of 2011

You didn’t need some blogger to tell you that Charlie Sheen flipped out in 2011, or that Kim Kardashian got married and divorced. It was everywhere. You couldn’t miss it. But one valuable service that the blogosphere and the alternative press provide at the end of every year is to raise the question: What important stuff didn’t you hear about?

It’s got a few flaws, but my favorite such list for 2011 is AlterNet‘s. These stories weren’t censored, exactly, they just went by so fast that you had to really be paying attention to catch them.

  1. 2011’s carbon emission increase was the largest ever.
  2. 50,000 Iraq War refugees have been forced into prostitution in Jordan or Syria. (Thanks for liberating us, America.) [Caveat: The links AlterNet gives are horrifying, but I can’t find the 50K statistic in either of them. This study looks authoritative and says 5,000, which is bad enough. Maybe somebody at AlterNet typed too many zeroes.]
  3. More activity-duty troops are killing themselves than are dying in combat.
  4. Drone strikes kill innocent civilians.
  5. Record numbers of US kids face hunger and homelessness. The homeless total is higher than after Hurricanes Katrina and Rita in 2006. The 2010 raw numbers for hunger were a record, but the percentages were about the same as 2009.
  6. Prison hunger strikes protest long-term solitary confinement. If you aren’t crazy when you start your ten-year time-out, you will be when you finish.
  7. 5,000 kids are native-born American citizens, but they’re in long-term foster care because we deported their parents.
  8. The FBI is training its agents to suspect all Muslims. The religious bigotry here is bad enough by itself, but it also promotes the very terrorism the FBI is supposed to fight: “depicting Islam as inseparable from political violence is exactly the narrative al-Qaida spins — as is the related idea that America and Islam are necessarily in conflict.”

Several other most-under-reported lists were less interesting (New Republic‘s, for example). But BlackAmericaWeb.com has a suggestion that could be on the list every year: any missing black woman. Derrica Wilson of the Black and Missing Foundation says, “It just seems like our lives are less valued.”

A couple of stories suggested by Current TV’s Josh Sternberg are worth a look:

Every year has dogs that didn’t bark — important things that should have happened, but didn’t. Usually those non-events pass without notice, so hats off to the NYT for highlighting this one: After investigating the 2010 Upper Big Branch mine disaster, Congress should have closed the loopholes that let Massey Energy risk its employees’ lives until 29 of them died. But it didn’t.

Religion never gets covered properly in the corporate media. When the media pays attention at all, it’s usually for some stupid reason like the trumped-up War on Christmas, or to cover some tiny sect of weirdos like the Westboro Baptists. But religion is pretty important in America and important developments must happen there from time to time. So who covers that stuff?

Check out Religion Dispatches. In particular, look at their Top 2011 Religion Stories That Weren’t: the Vatican’s clout in historically Catholic countries like Spain and Ireland is shrinking; a pioneering gay-friendly church is losing its identity now that mainstream denominations are open to gays; fewer Americans believe the US plays a special role in God’s plan; plus several other developments you won’t see on CNN.

But I especially want to call your attention to this neglected religion story: “Upside-Down Ideas About Religious Liberty” (which Kevin Drum also noticed).

In the past, the social service arms of religious bodies understood that if they wanted public money they would need to honor public law regarding the disposition of the money: i.e., provide the full range of mandated services on a universal basis. We used to say to objectors, “If you don’t like the mandate, don’t take the money.”

Apparently such a commonsensical response is now insufficiently deferential to religion. More and more people seem willing to say that if a Catholic health care provider doesn’t “believe” in providing reproductive health care to women, that private belief can trump public law.

A lot of attention has come to this issue lately because Catholic Charities is pulling out of Illinois rather than help gay couples adopt children. The bishops are getting away with painting this as a religious liberty issue when it really is nothing of the kind.

The principle here is pretty simple: If you take public money, you have to serve the public — the whole public, not just the portion of the public you happen to like. Nobody in Illinois state government is stopping Catholic Charities from arranging adoptions. They can even keep discriminating against gay couples, as long as they raise their own money. The only change is that Illinois tax dollars will no longer support a bigoted program. That’s right and just, and infringes no one’s religious liberty.

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  • By Predictions « The Weekly Sift on January 2, 2012 at 1:22 pm

    […] Under-reported Stories of 2011. While the media was telling you about Charlie Sheen and Kim Kardashian, some genuinely important things were happening. […]

  • By Inventing the Narrative « The Weekly Sift on January 9, 2012 at 1:08 pm

    […] week’s most popular post wasn’t that popular: Under-reported Stories of 2011 got 143 views. The most-clicked link was the Salon Hack […]

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