Masthead graphic based on a painting by Gudrun Thriemer.

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

"5 most neglected stories for 2006," August 28, 2006.

World Report is back after the annual summer maintenance break here at Kootenay Coop Radio. It's the beginning of a new broadcast season for us, Fall 2006, and in a sense the beginning of our year.

Last year, I decided not to jump on the "year-in-review" bandwagon in December and January. Most of the events I discuss don't deserve to be celebrated, but they do bear watching.

This is a good neutral time of year that comes as regularly as anyone's new year. So today I'll review the year through the eyeball of this 12-minute weekly segment and follow that with what is becoming another regular World Report practice: the list of what I judge to be the year's 5 most neglected international themes.

Last year, the Shanghai Cooperation Organization stood at the top of my list. The SCO member countries are home to nearly 50% of the world's population--China, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Russia, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan.

The meeting of their prime ministers in Astana, Kazakhstan had taken place in the shadow of the Gleneagles meeting of the world's richest countries plus Russia and the Live 8 media frenzy. Observer status at the SCO meeting had been granted to India, Pakistan, and Iran. They meet every year and are still news even in between their summits.

Canadian mining companies in Latin America were the second theme on my list. There are at least three stories under that heading: Barrick's proposal to relocate three glaciers in the Andes for "Pascua Lama," an open-pit mine at the 4600 meter elevation on the border between Chile and Argentina; the threat of cynaide leaching into an aquifer that provides 73 percent of the water for 3 million people around San Luis Potosi in Mexico; and the conflict between some 200 Mayan mayors and Glamis Gold over the shooting death of Alvaro Sanchez in the San Marcos region of Guatemala.

That's three, but the third item on last year's list is a lot more than that. The export credit agencies of developed countries are government bodies that make up the largest source of debt in the developing world.

What CBC calls its "main channel" runs regular advertisements for Canada's ECA called Export Development Canada, but it still doesn't report on the agency's activities.

Reporting would be difficult. As the watchdog group ECA-Watch points out, export credit agencies don't generally disclose the impacts of their projects to the public, and the Canadian ECA is exempt from freedom of information legislation.

"'We are insuring Canadian investors against civil war or nationalization," their spokesman says. To that end, the organization is more concerned with confidentiality than it is with transparency.

In contrast, the fourth theme on last year's list has begun to be a little more visible to the mainstream media. More important for us locally, peak oil and the rise of organic agriculture is one of the themes on Jon Steinman's show that debuted on KCR last season, Deconstructing Dinner.

Most of these themes don't have it so good, and last year's fifth was no exception. UN reform was on everyone's agenda for a few weeks last year, first when Koffi Annan released his report on the subject, "In Larger Freedom," in March 2005 and again in mid-September when the largest summit meeting in history convened in New York city to commemorate the 60th anniversary of the United Nations, to assess the world's progress toward the Milennium Development Goals, and to discuss reform of the UN.

It was too much. The meetings failed. The UN still has systemic problems badly in need of reform. Just this week, the Department of Peacekeeping Operations reported that since 2004, the UN has investigated allegations of sexual exploitation or abuse against 313 members of peacekeeping missions, resulting in the dismissal of 17 staff and the forced repatriation of 161 others. "Forced repatriation" means they got sent home.

Those committed to UN reform continue to work, and the implications of reform hang in the background of specific efforts like the role of Brazil in the Haiti peacekeeping effort and the impact of the US-India nuclear deal on India's aspiration to win a permanent seat on the Security Council. But the issue has disappeared from the news and from most mainstream analysis of the day's events.

At this time last year, that historic UN summit was about to come to nothing. It was the time of Paul Martin's government and Canadian troops had not yet arrived in Kandahar. The BC teachers strike was still threatening in the wings; Evo Morales had not yet been elected in Bolivia, nor Michele Bachelet in Chile; Hamas had not yet been elected in the Palestinian Territories; nor had Réné Préval been elected in Haiti. The WTO negotiations had not yet ground to a halt in Hong Kong. Museveni was looking for re-election in Uganda.

World Report discussed each of these in full-length reports--sometimes more. It was a big year for World Report. Listeners urged me explore syndication, so I started archiving segments on radio4all as a way of moving in that direction. This week I'm pleased to welcome the Mike Cannon Show at WNRB Wausau in Central Wisconsin and the "News Collage" at Free Radio San Diego 96.9FM, the oldest running, most defiant unlicensed radio station in San Diego, California. I feel like I'm home.

Bill Metcalfe wrote an article, too, about World Report for this season's KCR Newsletter. He says very supportive things like "brimming with information not otherwise available on the radio from a Canadian perspective."

Bill also mentioned the new World Report website at where you'll find the text of recent programs and links to the archived broadcasts, an extensive list of research links to help you learn more about the world, and an open newsroom blog where you can comment or explore other ways of engaging international issues.

Lots of articles are posted on the blog and if you watch the newsfeed on the home page you'll see that although poverty is not much discussed by our new organizations here in Canada, it is an almost daily subject in media around the world.

So let's get on to this year's untold stories:

1. First, I don't know how the Palestinian non-violence movement and their Israeli peace partners escaped getting onto my list of neglected stories last year. People always say where is the Palestinian Gandhi? But the truth is that non-violence has been an organized movement in the land between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea since the 30's at least.

2. Second, The joint declaration issued at the end of the Astana summit of the SCO rejected US attempts to monopolize or dominate international affairs and insisted on quote "non-interference in the internal affairs of sovereign states." endquote

Certainly recent events in Lebanon make a person want to know, "Whatever happened to the color revolutions?" After all the hooey about weapons of mass destruction and terrorism, the spread of democracy was supposed to be what the war president's wars were all about. This isn't the place to try and tell those stories. But it is where we register that they have yet to be told.

3. Back in 1992, the Auditor General brought the problem of tax havens to public attention for the first time. In recent years, Mr. Yvan Loubier, the finance critic for the BQ has raised this matter (Hansard Mar 2 01) and his colleague Mr. Guy Côté presented a motion in the Martin Parliament to "amend the Income Tax Act regulations so that they do not override certain provisions of the tax agreement between Canada and Barbados allowing Canadian businesses to use their subsidiary in Barbados to avoid paying taxes in Canada" (Oct 6 05).

Then last October, Bev Oda, then the Conservative critic and now the Minister of Canadian Heritage and the Status of Women picked up the matter in the House of Commons. But when the time came, Stephen Harper, our tax-reforming Prime Minister made an adjustment to the GST but did nothing to address the issue of tax havens. That's the third item on my list of underreported stories.

4. Fourth, there is a trust-like set of responsibilities (fiduciary) the federal government unilaterally assumed when it imposed its Indian Act and other laws on First Nations. That set of responsibilities means that the federal government must not put itself in a situation where its responsibilities to First Nations conflict with its other interests or even where it stands to profit from its trust-like position without express knowledge and consent. This trust-like set of responsiblities is at the core of the argument that says courts as they are presently constituted cannot serve as impartial arbiters of disputes between First Nations peoples and the Crown.

Again, this is not the place to lay out the details. This is just the place to say that the mainstream media seems to have decided *not* to lay out the details, so the thousands of important stories go untold.

5. Fifth and finally, are soldiers who oppose the war. We know somewhat about the current and past generations of deserters and refuseniks. But there is a growing group of generals and other veterans who have chosen to tell their stories without much interest from the press.

Take Martin Smith, for instance. Smith is a former sergeant in the US Marine Corps. Now he is a member of Iraq Veterans Against the War. In an article for this month's CounterPunch, he writes

We can neither rely on claims that impeaching Bush will end future war crimes nor that the actions of a few individuals are merely to blame. Rather, the entire military institution and its training are complicit in the project of U.S. imperialism, including the war crimes of the past, and, if not stopped, in the continuance and promotion of further atrocities. Moreover, individual soldiers should never be viewed as cogs in a wheel or as mere simpletons and powerless victims. The elemental truth is that generals and war planners call the shots from air-conditioned building and bunkers far from combat, but wars must be fought on the ground by working-class troops who, when organized, can act on their own political principles rather than on those of their commanding officers. As David Cortright argues, a new generation of activists in solidarity with active-duty personnel and military families "need not be helpless before the power of illegitimate authority . . . by getting together and acting upon their convictions people can change society and, in effect, make their own history".

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