Monitor archives for:
Albion Monitor 1998 Special 404 Report: The Year's Missing News
In each issue, the Monitor "404" section reports important news not found in other media. These are our picks for the the most important (but overlooked) stories of the year.

Articles referenced with the + are free, but a password is required to read other articles. Here is information on how to subscribe.

> 10
IMPEACHMENT OF BILL CLINTON   Yes, even in the most flogged story of the year there are angles unreported by the media. First, let's dispel the notion that this is a story about sex, adultery, lying, perjury, the "Rule of Law," or any other excuse usually heard. This is an exercise in political gamesmanship, and a pretty transparent one at that.

The objective of the game is winning the year 2000 sweepstakes. As historian Franz Schurmann explained in a recent commentary, it's likely that one of the parties will likely control the White House, Congress and a good number of state and local offices after the next election, and keep that power for years to come. Clinton's strategy to win Y2000 is to create lots of national and personal wealth by forging a U.S.-dominant global economy. The GOP strategy is to... well, bash Clinton.

Clinton-bashing is an easy way to pander to their Christian Right shock troops. In 1994, the Republicans won the House because religious conservatives turned out in force and voted mostly against Democrats; going in to the 1998 election, it appears that this was again their strategy. But this year, barely over half of the religious crew voted Repub, with a third voting Demo. For Y2000, the GOP will seek a Clinton-like moderate (Kemp? A junior Bush?) to run for president -- but not before the Hard Right is appeased and kept from bolting to a third party.

The impeachment allows the GOP to have it both ways. They can toady to the Christian Right by taking a moral absolutist stance in the 1998 House, but then show themselves to be sensible moderates in the 1999 Senate. And by dragging Clinton through the muck of impeachment, it'll also ensure that he's the lamest lame duck President in recent history, unlikely to propose any legislation not to their tastes.

o Election 2000: Winner-take-all Sweepstakes
oNew Congress More Conservative, In Debt To Christian Right
oGOP Counting on Big Christian Right Voter Turnout
+Counting Lewinskys editorial on the media and scandal

> 9
THE ENERGY DEREGULATION GIVEAWAY   Next to Republicans claiming that "it's not about sex," the hypocrisy award of 1998 goes to the utility industry, for claiming that deregulation would both help the environment and save consumers money.

Throughout the year, enviro and citizen's groups warned that there were hidden agendas driving utility deregulation legislation nationwide -- that the industry really wanted to burden taxpayers with million$ of their bad debt, plus gain a loophole to permit more pollution from older power plants, and in some cases, abandoning eco-friendly (but less profitable) energy sources.

The most cynical 1998 exercise happened in California. Follow closely: In 1996, the Assembly ordered a 10 percent "rate cut" from the utility companies. But at the same time, the state gave them $28.5 billion in "stranded utility costs," which was the payments utilities make on bad investments in failed nuclear power plants and high cost energy contracts for coal, wind and solar power signed during the 1970s Arab oil embargo. Utilities had been trying to shuck these costs for decades.

A populist group managed to get an item on this year's ballot that would have killed the deal. But the two largest California utility companies -- PG&E and Southern California Edison -- spent about $17.5 million each to kill Prop 9, and it was clobbered by a 4:1 margin.

If you live in California, you'll see a little reminder of this on every utility bill for the next decade: Look for the "CTC" charge on your bill, which is how much you will pay for bailout of past bad investments. Also look for "TTA" which is the interest that consumers are paying to finance the 10 percent rate "reduction" made in 1996.

oHow Electric Deregulation "Rate Cut" Will Cost You More
oDeregulated Power May Increase Smog
oEnergy Deregulation Puts Heat on Small Producers
+Prop 9 Fails at Polls

> 8
THE POISON IN THE 'FRIDGE   Many believe that Twentieth Century journalism began with Upton Sinclair's 1905 book, The Jungle, which described the sickening conditions of the meat- packing industry. It's now almost a hundred years later, and the slaughter yards may be worse.

Consider this yummy little item: The National Association of Federal Veterinarians protested that the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) was pressuring inspectors to certify that meat was free of disease. At the same time, an estimated 9,000 Americans die and another 33 million get sick from disease- producing agents in the food they eat.

Cases of poisoning have increased dramatically in the last decade. Lax control of the industry is usually to blame; Even the new Department of Agriculture food inspection system, HACCP -- which stands for Hazard Analysis of Critical Control Points -- is called by U.S. food inspectors as "Have a Cup of Coffee and Pray," because it allows industry to largely inspect itself.

The USDA's "solution" has been to recommend higher cooking temperatures to kill bugs like E:Coli, but Dr. Patricia Griffin put this in perspective for The New York Times: "Is it reasonable that if a consumer undercooks a hamburger, that their three-year-old dies?"

In 1998, food contamination became routine. Investigators found two out of three chickens contaminated with the potentially lethal bacteria, campylobacter -- which the government does not require in field testing. Then there's salmonella. In June, the USDA released statistics for the first time: An estimated 661,000 Americans become ill every year from this source alone. Your personal risk depends on how many eggs you eat, of course. But going by the national average, probably one egg in every two dozen is contaminated.

During the past decade, the food industry has managed to kill every bill promising meaningful improvement. The few recent congressional hearings on food-safety regulations have been stacked with industry witnesses. Since the beginning of 1995, individuals and PACs connected with the meat and poultry industry have given nearly $2.75 million to congressional candidates and party committees. Seventy-nine percent of their contributions have gone to Republicans.

+What does it mean to be USDA certified?
oMeat Industry Blocks Food Safety Reforms
+A Tale of Two Salmonellas
+The Bad Meat News
+ Britain's Growing Risk of Mad Cow Disease

> 7
MONSANTO SEEKS MONOPOLY ON LIFE   The 1998 Award for Corporate Knavery goes to Monsanto, for its efforts to squash free speech, enslave the Third World, and generally force all humanity to rely upon them for our very survival. (When do they find time to sleep?)

Most controversial is a new type of seed that produces crops with sterile seeds. This makes farmers dependent upon the commercial seed market, since they will no longer be able to save seed from harvest, a practice common in developing countries.

Monsanto's defense is that farmers don't have to buy the new seed, but often government rules or commercial credit forces farmers to grow certain crop varieties such as wheat, cotton, and soybeans which could include the new technology. Biologists point out that even farmers that don't buy the "Terminator" seeds are at risk of sterile crops because of easy cross-pollination from their neighbor's fields.

Another important angle is that Monsanto does not own this technology outright; it was developed jointly with the USDA, which is expected to shortly grant Monsanto an exclusive patent. (For more on USDA, see story above.)

The company also made the news as the long-running scandal over Monsanto's bovine growth hormone (BGH) took a new twist: Two TV reporters lost their jobs for preparing a report on the topic. BGH, which is used to make dairy cows produce more milk, contains a substance that sometimes accelerates tumor growth. Perhaps more significant, the FDA (part of USDA) has refused to require labeling of milk from BGH-treated cows.

Monsanto lawyers pressured the station and the Fox network for editorial control of the story, such as substituting "human health implications" for the word, "cancer." Even though the reporters say that 73 rewrites of the script changed it to include pro-BGH statements that were misleading or inaccurate, Monsanto still threatened to sue. The two journalism veterans, with a combined 45 years of experience, were fired for insubordination and the story was killed.

oReporters Sue TV Station, Claim Firing Over Suppressed Story
oEnviros Stop Monsanto Deal With Respected "Peasant's Bank"
+Monsanto Biotech Ads Blitz Europe
o"Terminator" Seed Nears Approval
oAngry Biotech Firms Slam Monsanto For Industry's Bad Image

> 6
POLICE TORTURE OF PROTESTERS   The video footage horrified the nation last year: As the young woman screams in pain, police officers methodically apply burning pepper spray directly to her eye. But what was then widely called "torture" in 1997 is now sanctioned as approved police procedure for handling civil disobedience.

Forest protesters sued police over those incidents in California's Humboldt County, and even ultra-conservative Attorney General Dan Lungren said the "very unusual applications" of pepper spray were "in conflict" with state guidelines. But it appears that rather than change their policy to conform to the guidelines, Humboldt authorities instead set about changing the guidelines.

Shortly after their trial ended in August with a hung jury, the judge cancelled a retrial and ruled that there was no police excessive force. Less than two weeks after the ruling, the California Commission on Police Officer Standards and Training (POST) approved new Crowd Control and Civil Disobedience Guidelines which lists pepper spray on passive resisters as an option. Two of the 23 members on that POST committee were officers from the Eureka Police Department, one of the law enforcement groups being sued by the protesters.

Since POST guidelines carry great weight in court and with police department policy makers, pepper spray joins the arsenal of questionable weapons that might be used against non-violent demonstrators. Civil and human rights activists are concerned that police are arming themselves with even more dangerous weapons. Among these are pepper spray grenades and "dazzle" lasers, which cause temporary blindness. The International Red Cross and more than 30 nations have tried to ban such weapons even in warfare, but the U.S. continues to develop them. One Pentagon research project has developed a dazzle laser powerful enough to blind someone almost a mile distant.

+Pepper Spray on Demonstrators OK'd by Judge, New Police Guidelines
oPolice Brutality is Most Serious Rights Violation in U.S.
oPentagon Charged With Developing Banned Laser Weapons

> 5
OIL GIANTS FUND GLOBAL WARMING DISINFORMATION CAMPAIGN   It sounds like the plot of a bad movie: The world's most powerful oil conglomerates scheme to destroy a major environmental agreement. But that's what the National Environmental Trust exposed in April, as they provided The New York Times with incriminating documents that revealed a well organized conspiracy.

Exxon, Chevron, and other charter members of the American Petroleum Institute funded the plot to undermine the 1997 Kyoto treaty on global warming. One of the groups prominent in the scheme was The Marshall Institute, a right-wing think tank that originally pushed Reagan's "Star Wars." More recently, they've become a prominent voice disputing global warming -- but in newspaper op-eds, not in peer-reviewed scientific journals. The institute is funded in large part by Richard Mellon Scaife, the billionaire who's the deep pockets behind much of the anti-Clinton rhetoric, particularly the supposed White House murders of Vincent Foster and Ron Brown.

Much of the Marshall Institute's credentials comes from its chairman, Frederick Seitz, former president of the prestigious National Academy of Sciences (NAS) in the 1960s, and recipient of other honors. Under his signature, the "Petition Project" -- which doesn't mention his affiliation with the Marshall Institute -- is currently doing a mass- mailing to anyone it can find that has at least a B.S. degree. Recipients are invited to sign a reply card agreeing with vague, undocumented claims ("... there is substantial scientific evidence that increases in atmospheric carbon dioxide produce many beneficial effects..."). Along with the reply card is an 8-page article, deceptively formatted to look like it came from the prestigious, peer-reviewed NAS journal. In March, the Academy took the unusual step of disassociating itself from the fake report.

+Big Oil Discrediting Global Warming

> 4
WATER ON THE MOON   Historians in the next century will look back on 1998 and think we're nuts. While uncounted barrels of ink were spent on l'affair Lewinsky, hardly any media noted the big news: the discovery of vast quantities of water on the moon.

For the first time, human space exploration is possible; water means not only H20 for astronaut survival, but oxygen and hydrogen for rocket fuel. A consulting former astronaut pegged its worth as much as $9 trillion, when calculating its value for life support, energy storage, agriculture and industry at some future lunar base.

Although this important discovery was announced on the slow news day of Feb. 5, it was eclipsed by the Washington scandals. Barely did the moon story make the front pages, and in most evening news broadcasts it was buried in the last few minutes. And not a single report mentioned the most important aspect of the story: Who owns this resource, which might guide humanity's future for centuries?

Once upon a time -- 1959, to be exact -- the UN formed an ad hoc group to figure out who had dibs on space. Over the next few years, the Committee on the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space (COPUOS) wrote the "Outer Space Treaty" (a.k.a. "Principles Governing the Activities of States in the Exploration and Use of Outer Space, Including the Moon and Other Celestial Bodies"), with common-sense rules: anyone within shouting distance should help astronauts in trouble, countries are responsible for damages caused by their spacecraft, and no nuclear weapons were welcome (with exceptions, of course). They also decided that no country can declare ownership of somewhere in space -- such as, the moon. The treaty was ratified by 90 countries.

But one part of the COPUOS agreement -- the section dealing specifically with the moon -- was never passed. Codified in 1979, Russia and the U.S. refused to sign it. And now that something valuable has been found on Luna, it's apparent why; although no nation can claim to "own" part of the moon, they can damn sure claim they own the resources found there. That is, as long as the COPUOS treaty isn't legal.

+Water Found on Moon

> 3
THE LOOTING OF THE WORLD   1997's top story was the economic collapse of several Asian nations, and the crisis continued to ripple through the world in 1998, with Japan, Brazil, and Russia joining those seeking bailouts. (In Russia's case, it'd be more accurate to call it the bailout of the last several bailouts.)

But after more than 16 months of regular front page and business section articles about these woes, the press avoids explaining the root scandal: Outright conquest of nations from corporate boardrooms, with help from the IMF, global banks, and U.S. government.

In Korea, Indonesia and Thailand, the vaults of the central banks were first pillaged by foreign investors -- including many in the U.S. -- who speculate on the value of their currency. Thanks to the computer speed of modern international commerce, foreign exchange speculators and stock funds were able to jerk the rug out from under Southeast Asia last year by transferring billions of dollars in minutes. Malaysia's premier was widely quoted in the Asian press: "Some of these (Asian) governments are the ones that have developed their economies for 30 years. In June (1997) they were all right. In July, suddenly they were found to be bankrupt."

The largest banks, which were among the speculators, overnight became "policy advisors" or consultants in the IMF-World Bank sponsored "bankruptcy programs" of which they are the ultimate beneficiaries. As economist Michel Chussodovsky explained, the world's largest money managers set countries on fire and were called in as firemen (under the IMF "rescue plan") to extinguish the blaze. They ultimately decide which enterprises are to be closed down and which are to be auctioned off to foreign investors at bargain prices.

The result is the most serious economic crisis in modern history, a worldwide crisis of the late 20th Century more devastating than the Great Depression of the 1930s.

oFinancial Warfare: How The Biggest Banks Created A Global Crisis
+Corruption Behind Japanese Banking Disaster
oBillions Loaned To Russia Are Wasted

> 2

THE COMING PLAGUE   It may not happen in 1999 or the year after that, but it will happen soon: You will hear someone sneeze and fear for your life.

Odds are good that we're about to have visits from some of humankind's oldest enemies: Tuberculosis and Plague. Bubonic Plague -- also known by its cozy 14th century nickname, "The Black Death" -- killed ten million at the turn of the century in its last great epidemic, and TB is already the leading cause of death in some countries.

While these bugs were once easily killed by antibiotics, the new forms are resistant to our wonder drugs. Physicians have been warning for years that our antibiotics are becoming less effective; in some cases, vancomycin, the antibiotic of last resort, doesn't even work. This was bad news when the concern was drug- resistant cases of urinary, respiratory or ear infections, but forms of plague and TB can be highly infectious and deadly. Plague can also kill within 24 hours.

So far, super-plague has only been found in Madagascar and can be easily contained, with luck. Multidrug resistant tuberculosis (MDR-TB) is another story. It's already a disaster in Russia, where TB cases are predicted to increase by 5,000 percent in the next two years. Since tuberculosis spore can live for days in tiny droplets from a sneeze or cough, it's only a matter of time before this incurable form of the airborne disease becomes a health threat worldwide.

+The Coming Plagues
oGrowing Alarm Over Antibiotic Resistant Germs

> 1
U.S. MEDIA OVERLOOKS INDONESIA'S DRAMATIC REVOLUTION   It was certainly the most exciting story of the year, maybe the decade: citizens in the fourth-largest nation on the globe rise up to overthrow a ruthless tyrant, despite risk of genocide from troops with a murderous history.

With such dramatic events breaking, it was only natural that the U.S. media gave most of its attention to .... Frank Sinatra.

Anyone comparing Asian and American newspapers during May would think they were reporting on completely different events. The differences were Orwellian; the American reporting was whitewashed, the historic and dramatic turned humdrum and predictable.

Asian readers knew that up to 70,000 protesters were occupying Indonesia's Parliment building; most Americans probably thought it was just a few thousand, maybe dozens. Nationwide a great popular uprising brought a million out in protest despite the risk of army shootings. Yet to most American readers, it was presented as little more than a slightly unusual transfer of power in a distant, economically troubled country.

What happened there in May was as important as the 1986 "people power" overthrow of Marcos in the Phillippines, or China's 1989 brutal suppression of its fledgling democracy movement that ended in the Tiananmen Square slaughter. Both events had extensive coverage in the American press at the time, and their importance still resonates today.

Then why did the American press flub coverage of this listoric crisis? Read our complete analysis, listed first below.

+U.S. Media Coverage of Indonesian Revolution Fails
+The Dictator's Fall
oShootings Rally Anti-Suharto Forces
oSuharto Faces Angry Nation
+Indonesia Riots Spreading
oIndonesia Unrest Growing Despite IMF Bailout

December Coming plagues; Santa Rosa Press Democrat and Pacific Lumber; NY Times censorship on letters page; latest on CIA, Vatican, Mafia scandal

October Troubling questions about promotion; NIKE in Indonesia; Pentagon receives windfall; new developments in Europe's greatest postwar scandal

September (early) Why health stories are poorly reported; salmonella common in eggs; lack of balanced coverage about Olestra FDA hearings; forgotten Gulf War Syndrome; overlooked good news; trees and the Greenhouse Effect; Food Lion grocery chain teaches journalism

July Corporations stalk children on Internet; Disney blots out child labor; Christian right censored for hate; Gulf War Syndrome and uranium bullets; Clinton shuns Chinese sweatshops; Yeltsin overthrow may be imminent

May How the U.S. press blew the biggest story of the year -- or maybe the decade

April (early) Chernobyl clean-up funds disappear; "flat tax" and the poor; list available of doctors who have been disciplined; Microsoft dirty tricks; Mafia, CIA, the Vatican, and secret societies

February Water on the moon; U.S. skinheads jailed in Sweden for Nazi slogan; Kansas proposes life in jail for marijuana; "mad cow disease" may follow pattern of AIDS epidemic; politics of food safety; CBS practices war coverage

November The olestra conspiracy; new questions about "Mad Cow" disease; apparent USDA coverup; electric company bailout; Bob Dornan goes down swinging

September (late) Headwaters hearings; call to protest House oversight of its own misconduct; the real House scandals; conspiracy theorist loses; Australian election satire

August The poor quality of international news coverage; Britian takes drastic steps to keep Mad Cow disease out of blood supply; Forest Service finally admits logging on public land is loss; Fortuna Alliance

June Media attacks on Dr. Spock and Matt Drudge, a victory for the U'wa people, and the hidden economic news of Japan

April (late) Oil companies planned disinformation campaign, neo-Nazi victories in Germany, Native hero receives harsh justice

March Funeral industry Goliath sues author; Mitsubishi given "Greenwash" award; trade groups lie about effects of city boycotts; NY Times slanders Matt Drudge; Walter Winchell and Matt Drudge

January (late) FBI practices for "ecoterrorist" attack; Bar Association asks GOP to stop threatening judges; Press Democrat attacks Project Censored founder; Internet censor mail-bombs critic

January (early) Weight Watchers agrees to drop deceptive ads; Medicare puts higher value on medical care for men; Oklahoma City bomb investigation; adoption of Native children by whites

Comments? Send a letter to the editor.

Albion Monitor December 31, 1998 (

All Rights Reserved.

Contact for permission to use in any format.