Masthead graphic based on a painting by Gudrun Thriemer.

Tuesday, August 09, 2005

"Year in Review," August 9, 2005.

This is the last Monday of our spring season and the end of the first full year of Monday Morning World Reports. In December and January when all the mainstream news sources were doing their year in review, I promised to do one later. So today is it.

Actually, Monday Morning World Report's first contribution to Nelson Before Nine took place on December 29, 2003. Health issues forced me to take a break from mid-June 2004 until the beginning of the Fall 2004 season on August 30. From then until now, Monday Morning World Report has been a regular contributor to Nelson Before Nine.

The mainstream media's obsessions forced much important news to the sidelines during that year. The Canadian mainstream's obsessions included the American War in Iraq, the American election, the Boxing Day tsunami, the sponsorship scandal, and recently, just a small obsession with the 60th anniversary of the bombing of Hiroshima.

Today happens to be the comparatively unsung anniversary of the Nagasaki bombing. The Hiroshima bomb, the first and most commemorated of the atomic bombs, was made of enriched uranium from the enrichment facility in Oak Ridge, Tennessee. The Nagasaki bomb came three days later. It was made of plutonium manufactured at the Hanford Nuclear Reservation in Washington State, just south of us.

Plutonium explosives release a shower of neutron radiation which is just as penetrating as the gamma radiation of a uranium bomb, but is physically much more damaging. General Leslie Groves, the military man in charge of the Manhattan Project, said the importance of the Nagasaki bomb was that it demonstrated to the Japanese that nuclear weapons were not just an isolated achievement but that they could be delivered over and over again.

Unlike the National Post, the Globe and Mail, or CBC's The National, Monday Morning World Report saw nuclear weapons, nuclear proliferation, nuclear power and nuclear disarmament as important themes all year, long after the lies about Iraq's weapons of mass destruction had integrated themselves comfortably into the rhetoric about the war.

Once every five years, signatory nations to the Nonproliferation Treaty, the main international tool to prevent the spread of nuclear weapons, meet to reasses the treaty and to reaffirm their commitment to it. That conference took place in May 2005 after a conference to prepare in November 2004. MMWRpt devoted 4 Mondays to the NPT.

On top of that, I followed Iran's uranium enrichment hassles IAEA in a number of reports, the 19th anniversary of the Chernobyl disaster, and briefer looks at nuclear concerns in South Korea, Libya, Brazil, North Korea, and Pakistan. I did three stories on China's emergence as a world power. One of them was devoted to nuclear China.

Another important theme began when MSF declared Darfur one of the top 10 underreported humanitarian stories of 2003. Darfur coverage started on MMWRpt in January 2004, while the mainstream was still talking about Southern Sudan peace talks--when they talked about Sudan at all. My eighth Monday on Darfur came on Jun 6 05, and the story had a decidedly Canadian flavour. A press release from the Sudan embassy in Ottawa categorically rejected "any deployment of non-African military personnel in Darfur region" after the Martin government had offered first 60 and then 100 Canadian troops. That was evidently a misunderstanding that has since been resolved.

More than a quarter of my reports this year focussed specifically on stories with Canadian themes: Canada's Middle Eastern policy, Canada's used clothing exports to Africa, Martin's position on Iran, Canada in Haiti, international corruption and the Sponsorship Scandal, the censorship of Zahra Kazemi's photo exhibition in Montreal, the antiwar right, and Canadian miners in Lesotho.

September 13, 2004: Canada's own Acres International was busted for bribery on a massive scale in Lesotho Highlands Water Project. Once one of the great names in Canadian engineering, Acres quietly accepted a takeover by the Hatch Group of Mississauga and was blacklisted by the World Bank. Money under the table can help win contracts, cut through red tape and reduce taxes and other expenses. In the past, some nations have even allowed companies to deduct bribes to foreign public officials as legitimate expenses and provided the funds to do it through their development and export credit agencies. There is now a worldwide movement of civil society organizations and an agreement known as the Jakarta Declaration with the purpose of reforming export credit agencies. Export credit agencies are shadowy government bodies secretive government bodies that account for the single biggest source of debt in the developing world. I'll be looking at them in the new season.

Last year, Canada's peacekeeping mission in Afghanistan never was headline news back home. Our peacekeepers anywhere rarely are--in Haiti, in the Golan Heights, in Cyprus, the Congo, Kuwait, or Sierra Leone.

But Canada's integrated missions in that country should have been front and center in every news organization across the country.

When General Rick Hillier, now Chief of the Defence Staff, came back from Afghanistan, he was a guest at Peter Mansbridge's interview show "One-on-One."

Hiller had been the Commanding Officer of Canada's troops in the International Security Assistance Force.

During the course of the interview, Hillier assured Mansbridge that Canadian troops in Afghanistan were not just soldiers, but had been trained to have "a wide range of skills." In addition to fighting wars, they could also deliver humanitarian aid and help with reconstruction. They could hand out food or medical assistance; they could build schools and install water systems.

Hillier did not mention--and Mansbridge did not ask--in fact, they both danced skillfully around the growing issue of what is sometimes called "integrated missions."

Groups that do humanitarian aid work, groups like the International Committee of the Red Cross, for instance, are very careful to protect their neutrality. They deliver medical aid, inspect prisons, and find lost relatives on the basis of need, and regardless of the political affiliations of those receiving the aid.

When military organizations adopt the tactic of "integrated missions," i.e., when they take it upon themselves to deliver aid, the principle of neutrality is lost and the risk to workers whose only mission is humanitarian aid increases. In some cases security evaporates and the humanitarian mission must be abandonned.

Dr Rowan Gillies, the President of the MSF International Council, comments that quote "...assaults against humanitarian organizations are not isolated, they come against the background of increasing attempts by Western governments to co-opt the humanitarian act by presenting combat tactics and political strategies as humanitarian operations...." endquote

In Iraq, the blurring of distinctions between political action and true humanitarian work has led to the crippling - if not complete demise - of the international aid community there.

This January MMWRpt featured Allan Nairn's claim that the Indonesian military was "impeding the flow of aid" in Aceh province.

quote "They've commandeered a hangar at the Banda Aceh airport, where they are taking control of internationally shipped-in supplies. We just got a report that the distribution of supplies is being done in some towns and villages only to people who hold the 'red and white,' which is a special ID card issued to Acehnese by the Indonesian police. You have to go to a police station to get one of these ID cards, and it is only issued to people who the police certify as not being opponents of the army, not being critics of the government. Of course many people are afraid to go and apply for such a card" endquote (O'Keefe Seven Oaks).

MMWRpt has reported on elections and other democratic processes in Indonesia, Kosovo, Haiti, Russia, and Lebanon. In Afghanistan, the mainstream press treated elections as if a good turnout meant that legitimacy was a foregone conclusion despite reports of intimidation that compare with Zimbabwe. Security in Afghanistan was so bad, the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe decided not to send observers. According to its assessment in July, quote "Current and anticipated conditions in Afghanistan are significantly below those regarded by the OSCE as the minimal necessary for any meaningful election observation." endquote Instead, the organisation sent what it calls an election support team, consisting of just a handful of people who avoided any comment on the conduct of the polls....

Alternative journalism goes beyond propaganda for any party or institution, left or right; it seeks to learn the people's truth, the non-governmental truth, the unpaid, inexpert truth, the poor unbought truth, the priceless truth. It reinstates truth as a central value. If to our way of thinking, the media is "a free system of information and discussion, independent of state authority and elite interests," (Chomsky and Herman again) then "alternative" is what we have to create to stand in place of the current failure to achieve anything of the kind. "Alternative" is the house we build because our other house was stolen and burned down.

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