Albion Monitor

At this time of year, newsrooms are melancholy places.

Little newsworthy happens around the Holidays. The government and courts are all but closed, depriving reporters of their primary sources for scandal. Most business types are on vacation as well, so there's not much news from corporate offices -- even Microsoft's world takeover seems to be temporarily on hold.

What kind of news stories do you find at year's end? There are always lots of original investigative features, of course; even the smallest newspapers use this slack time to produce in-depth reports about topics such as political favoritism, hazardous pollution from local industries, and "corporate welfare" tax write-offs by big businesses in the area.

Hohohoho, I laugh sarcastically.

No, those types of articles are too much trouble to research and write -- and besides, the stories just might tick off advertisers, and we certainly can't have that happen. Instead, editors and columnists put their feet up on the desk and pen their end-of-the-year lists.

You know the drill. It will be either awards (with funny names), a humorous "What's In / Out" comparison, or a snotty "Best Of / Worst Of" list.

If you're interested in reading a good awards list, you can't do better than the offering available at American Newspeak. Written by the satirical Wayne Grytting, the list contains twenty delightful items about not-so delightful events. A sample:

The Freedom of Speech - Not Award

The Borders Bookstore on Wall Street earns this year's honors for best use of censorship on a rabble rouser. In this case the victim was author Michael Moore, producer of TV Nation and Roger and Me. While on a speaking tour for his new book, "Downsize This," Moore encountered a picket line of Borders employees outside the store in Philadelphia. Showing his good breeding, Michael refused to cross the line and suggested that everyone, picketers and audience, go inside the store and "reason together" with management about working conditions. To insure that all could hear, Michael thoughtfully brought his bullhorn. When Moore showed up for his next speaking engagement, at the Wall Street store, a nervous management canceled his talk and told the arriving crowd they couldn't present Moore because of fire code violations. All of this may sound familiar until you hear the rest of the story. The week that Borders shut down Moore was... (dramatic pause)... Banned Books Week! (Let's hope Borders at least grasped the irony.)

Instead of competitng with Mr. Grytting (and every other editor on the planet), it seemed that it might be fun to look back on the year's news -- the year of 1997, that is. Although crystal balls are useless in such a task, history teaches us that it's likely that the seeds of next year's top stories are already planted. Here are my guesses at 1997's headlines:

  1. Economic Boom -- or Bust
    One thing's certain: good times lie ahead. Or maybe financial catastrophe. Although the stock market's behavior has always defied logic, its current behavior has no historical precedent. More and more, it's looking like a spin of the roulette wheel.

    Economists are growing concerned over the amounts of money on the table and high risks. The U.S. government, for example, is betting heavily that inflation will be kept low. Curious how Clinton was able to reduce the budget deficit so dramatically? In essence, the U.S. used statistical games to prop up government bonds and refinance the debt. This meant that the government pays less to Social Security recipients and others, and also that Washington can borrow funds cheaply. But should inflation begin to rise, the government's scheme could collapse virtually overnight.

    New York Post columnist John Crudele -- who, to be fair, is often a pretty gloomy fellow -- is particularly worried about a stock market tumble in 1997. According to Crudele, dividends on the Standard & Poor's 500 index average just 2 percent, the lowest since the year 1875. To return to the average dividend yield of 4.5 percent, he claims that the stock market would have to fall by more than half.

  1. The Ending of the War on Drugs
    No, not the end of the war, but some historical parallels to Prohibition suggest a truce may be in the works.

    The Volstead Act was popular at the beginning of the 1920s because it punished "sinful" behavior by minorities. The average American then was an intolerant Protestant farmer who didn't care much for city folk, stereotyped as immoral and drunken Catholic or Jewish immigrants. By the end of the decade, however, demographics were shifting towards urban areas. The Prohibition movement also lost its moderate support as its religious leadership became increasingly shrill, and police enforcement of the law grew harsh.

    As 1997 begins, the WOD is broadly seen as a failure; symbolically, Ann Landers' December 31 column denounces the 400,000 annual arrests for marijuana. Voters in California and Arizona demanded medical exemptions in November elections. And while indicators show the disenchanted public wants moderation, strident voices of law enforcement and conservative opponents demand still harsher punishment. Sound familiar?

    It's impossible to predict exactly how this will play out, but it appears that 1997 will be an important transitional year as we move towards a sane national drug policy. (Look for a feature on this in a January issue of the Monitor.)

  1. White House for Sale
    As the Monitor and other papers reported in October, the Clinton administration has close ties to an Indonesian banking conglomerate, "The Lippo Group." As only one example, a man named John Huang was Chief of Lippo's U.S. operations, then later a heavy-duty Demo party fundraiser. Between these jobs, Huang was a senior Commerce Department official. Huang raised more than $3 million -- much of it since returned because of questions about its origins.

    Then there's Charles Yah Lin Trie, an old Arkansas pal of the President who brought Wang Jun to a White House reception held by Clinton last February. Wang is a Chinese government weapons dealer whose company was implicated in arms smuggling into the United States. Like John Huang, Trie was appointed to a government post. He also delivered $640,000 in donations, which were improper and returned.

    A picture is emerging of the White House using the Commerce Department and other government offices as a front for soliciting large donations from Asian special interests. And not just for Democratic Party coffers or election year war chests -- Trie's $640k went to Clintons' Whitewater legal defense fund.

    Clinton's second term will be marked by scandal -- but not the Whitewater, Vince Foster, and Paula Jones crap that right-wingers have pursued so aggressively. Ironically, Clinton's shame will be remembered as dishonest fundraising to defend his innocence on those trumped-up charges. Clinton's historical portrait will sadly hang next to the painting of Warren G. Harding, most infamous for the Teapot Dome scandal.

  1. Gulf War Illness Coverup
    As described in Eric Margolis' column, "Why the Pentagon Has Been Covering Up Gulf War Syndrome," the military has lots to coverup, here. Not only did the Pentagon supply Hussein with anthrax, botulism, and other extremely deadly pathogens before the war, we apparently blew up about 20 buildings where Iraq was manufacturing more of these incredibly dangerous toxins.

    Throwing bombs at places where these lethal things are stored must rank among the worst military stupidity of all time. As Margolis points out, we destroyed a plant outside of Baghdad even though the US believed it contained 150 litres of deadly anthrax and quantities of botulism toxin. Fortunately, the Iraqis moved these toxins before the war began. Otherwise, the US attack would have released a cloud of anthrax and botulism over Baghdad and probably killed a million people.

    The Pentagon has stonewalled the investigation, swearing that the thousands of veterans who claim disability are hypochondriacs. Somehow, the thought that the Pentagon is eager to claim that a large percentage of American troops are prone to delusions doesn't give me a warm and fuzzy feeling.

    Last month, it was revealed that a senior scientist who chaired the Pentagon study that concluded chemical weapons had not caused illness among Gulf vets had also been director of firm that had supplied Iraq with toxic cultures before the war. Watch for more of this tragic story to emerge, as the Pentagon squirms uncomfortably.

  1. CIA - Crack - Contra
    This story has it all: drugs, human tragedy, government coverup, military coverup, and media coverup.

    Read our top story description for details, as well as commentaries by Mark Lowenthal and Norman Solomon. It's a shameful tale that continues to unfold, even though its origins began long ago in Reagan's first administration.

As (I hope) you've noticed, the Monitor has covered all these stories in depth. There are other topics that could have made this list, but aren't mentioned, at the risk of testing your patience. The big environmental sellout of 1996 is a runner-up; so are the continuing developments in the Judi Bari case. Both will be presented in major January features.

We can bring you this coverage only because the Albion Monitor is non-commercial. We don't accept ads; we rely instead upon our readership to subscribe. (If you don't know why this is important, read our "NO ADS!" manifesto found at the top of the front page.)

As of January 1, the Monitor is again publishing biweekly. This is a significant risk for us; not since spring have we produced more than one issue a month. But thanks to our growing number of subscribers, we think there is enough interest in "the news you're missing" to support a more frequent schedule.

We would like to present a weekly newspaper -- and could, if there were enough subscribers. Only about 1 in 100 visitors to the Monitor sends a check for $9.95; the rest read the free articles, but go away after trying to view articles restricted because of syndication or other copyright reasons. To quote an Internet visionary: what this is, is up to you.

By mid-January, the Monitor will have a new cycle of articles presented. This editorial will also have exciting announcements about partnerships that help fulfill our company vision of community building. But to continue doing this, we need your support. It looks like 1997 will be pretty interesting; by this time next year, we hope to present the best investigative weekly, instead of just the best monthly newspaper with your missing news.

Hope to see you then.

Jeff Elliott, Editor

Albion Monitor Issue 23 (

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