Bill Totten's Weblog

Wednesday, August 31, 2005

How to Stop Civil War

Nicaragua and South Africa, not the US, should be the inspiration for Iraq's constitution.

by George Monbiot

Published in the Guardian (August 30 2005)

Between the idea and the reality falls the shadow of occupation. Whatever the parliamentarians in Iraq do to try to prevent total meltdown, their efforts are compromised by the fact that their power grows from the barrel of someone else's gun. When George Bush picked up the phone last week to urge the negotiatiors to sign the constitution, he reminded Iraqis that their representatives - though elected - remain the administrators of his protectorate. While US and British troops stay in Iraq, no government there can make a undisputed claim to legitimacy. Nothing can be resolved in that country until our armies leave.

This is by no means the only problem confronting the people who drafted Iraq's constitution. The refusal by the Shias and the Kurds to make serious compromises on federalism, which threatens to deprive the central, Sunni-dominated areas of oil revenues, leaves the Sunnis with little choice but to reject the agreement in October's referendum. If this happens, the result could be civil war.

Can anything be done? It might now be too late. But it seems to me that the transitional assembly has one last throw of the dice. This is to abandon the constitution it has signed, and Bush's self-serving timetable, and start again with a different democratic design.

The problem with the way the Iraqi constitution was produced is the problem afflicting almost all the world's democratic processes. The deliberations were back-to-front. First the members of the constitutional committee, shut inside the Green Zone, argue over every dot and comma, then they present the whole thing (25 pages in English translation) to the people for a yes or no answer. The question and the answer are meaningless.

All politically conscious people, having particular interests and knowing that perfection in politics is impossible, will, on reading a complex document like this, see that it is good in some places and bad in others. They might recognise some articles as being bad for them but good for society as a whole; they might recognise others as being good or bad for almost everyone. What then does yes or no mean?

Let me be more precise. How, for example, could anyone agree with both these statements, from articles 2 and 19 respectively?

* "Islam is the official religion of the state and is a basic source of legislation: No law can be passed that contradicts the undisputed rules of Islam". (In other words, the supreme authority in law is God.)

* "The judiciary is independent, with no power above it other than the law" {1}

Or both these, from articles 14 and 148?

* "Iraqis are equal before the law without discrimination because of sex, ethnicity, nationality, origin, colour, religion, sect, belief, opinion or social or economic status".

* "Members of the Presidential Council must ... have left the dissolved party [the Ba'ath] at least ten years before its fall if they were members in it".

Faced with such contradictions, no thoughtful elector can either wholly endorse or wholly reject this document.

Of course, this impossible choice is just what we would have confronted (but at ten times the length and a hundred times the complexity) had we been asked to vote on the European constitution. The yes or no question we would have been asked was just as stupid, and just as stupefying. It treats us like idiots and - because we cannot refine our responses - reduces us to idiots. But while for us it would have merely enhanced our sense of alienation from the European project, for the Iraqis, the meaninglessness of the question could be a matter of life and death. If there is not a widespread sense of public ownership of the country's political processes, and a widespread sense that political differences can be meaningfully resolved by democratic means, this empowers those who seek to resolve them otherwise.

Last week George Bush, echoed in the Guardian by Clinton's former intelligence adviser Philip Bobbitt {2}, compared the drafting process in Baghdad to the construction of the American constitution. {3} If they believe that the comparison commends itself to the people of Iraq, they are even more out of touch than I thought. But it should also be obvious that we now live in more sceptical times. When the US constitution was drafted, representative democracy was a radical and thrilling idea. Now it is an object of suspicion and even contempt, as people all over the world recognise that it allows us to change the management but not the firm. And one of the factors that have done most to engender public scepticism is the meaninglessness of the only questions we are ever asked. I read Labour's manifesto before the last election, and found both good and bad in it. But whether I voted for or against, I had no means of explaining what I liked and what I didn't.

Does it require much imagination to see the link between our choice of meaningless absolutes and the Manichean worldview our leaders have evolved? We must decide at elections whether they are right or wrong - about everything. Should we then be surprised when they start talking about good and evil, friend and foe, being with them or against them?

Almost two years ago, Troy Davis, a democracy engineering consultant, pointed out that if a constitutional process in Iraq was to engender trust and national commitment, it had to "promote a culture of democratic debate". {4} Like Professor Vivien Hart of the University of Sussex, he argued that it should draw on the experiences of Nicaragua in 1986, where 100,000 people took part in townhall meetings reviewing the draft constitution, and of South Africa, where the public made two million submissions to the drafting process. {5} In both cases, the sense of public ownership this fostered accelarated the process of reconciliation. Not only is your own voice heard in these public discussions, but you must also hear other people's. Hearing them, you are confronted with the need for compromise.

But when the negotiations are confined to the Green Zone's black box, the Iraqis have no sense that the process belongs to them. Because they are not asked to participate, they are not asked to understand where other people's interests lie, and to see how they might be accommodated. And when the whole thing goes belly up, it will be someone else's responsibility. If Iraq falls apart over the next couple of years, it would not be unfair, among other factors, to blame the fact that Davis and Hart were ignored. For the people who designed its democratic processes, history stopped in 1787.

Deliberative democracy is not a panacea. You can have fake participatory processes just as you can have fake representative ones. {6} But it is hard to see why representation cannot be tempered by participation. Why should we be forbidden to choose policies, rather than just parties or entire texts? Can we not be trusted? If not, then what is the point of elections? The age of purely representative democracy is surely over. It is time the people had their say.


1. The translation I have used is the one published by the BBC, at

2. Philip Bobbitt, 25th August 2005. How to ruin a milestone constitution. The Guardian.

3. Office of the Press Secretary, 24th August 2005. President Addresses Military Families, Discusses War on Terror.

4. Troy Davis, 24th October 2003. A Better Plan B for Iraq: Democratic Constitution-Making.

5. Vivien Hart, July 2003. Democratic Constitution Making Special Report 107. United States Institute of Peace.

6. I document a spectacular case in chapter 3 of Captive State: the corporate takeover of Britain.

Bill Totten

Tuesday, August 30, 2005

Get Plastic Out Of Your Diet

by Paul Goettlich (November 16 2003)

A similar version of this was published in Living Nutrition magazine vol 15, Spring (April) 2004

You Are What You Eat

When you eat or drink things that are stored in plastic, taste it, smell it, wear it, sit on it, and so on, plastic is incorporated into you. In fact, the plastic gets into the food and food gets into the plastic and you. So, quite literally, you are what you eat {1} ... drink .. and breathe - plastic! These plastics are called "Food Contact Substances" by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA), but until April 2002, they were called "Indirect Food Additives". {2} The new name is cleansed of the implication that plastic gets into your food. In spite of this semantic deception, migration is a key assumption of the FDA.

According to Dr George Pauli, Associate Director of Science Policy, FDA Office of Food Additive Safety, the regulations mandated in 1958 assume that all plastics migrate toxins into the food they contact. Migration is the movement of free toxins from plastic into the substances they contact - in this case it's your food. The manufacturer must "prove" that the migrations fall within an acceptable range. {3} I agree with the assumption of migration from all plastics, but I find a critical disparity between the level of science employed by the regulations and the current scientific knowledge regarding the levels at which they migrate and the effects they can have. In particular, I am more concerned with extremely low concentrations. There is also a conflict of interest in allowing the manufacturer to submit its own testing to the FDA as proof of anything. We invite the fox into the henhouse and are surprised when there's nothing left but eggshells and feathers.

The amount of migration and corresponding toxicological effects are highly disputed topics, even within the FDA, which has commonly acquiesced to industry in its regulation of technologies that are used in the production of our foods - plastics, pesticides, growth hormones, irradiation, and microwave. This is clear from the mass of expert and citizen testimony against such technologies that regulatory agencies bend over backwards and jump through flaming hoops to please their corporate clients, as they are called.

There is a worst plastic for any purpose - polyvinylchloride (vinyl or PVC). However, there is no best plastic to contain food or drink. It is my hope that this article will clarify this viewpoint. By the time you've finished reading, you should be closer to forming your own evaluation of plastics.

Its Uses

Plastic is used in contact with nearly all packaged foods. Most cardboard milk containers are now coated with plastic {4} rather than wax. It is sprayed on both commercial and organic produce to preserve its freshness. Plastic is even used to irrigate, mulch, wrap, and transport organic food. Organic bananas now come from wholesalers with a sticky plastic wrapping the cut stem to protect the bananas from a black mold. {5} The mold is controlled on non-organic bananas by dipping the cut ends in a fungicide. Chiquita would only reveal that it's a "food grade plastic", which means that it meets minimum regulatory standards. But since it has a sticky feel to it, I suspect it either carries a fungicide or its physical characteristics act as a fungicide. Either way, if it is or acts as a fungicide, the EPA regulates it as a pesticide, which fungicides are considered a subset of. {6} In a way, this is similar to the regulation of corn that is genetically engineered to carry the toxic bacterium bacillus thuringiensis (Bt) in every cell. Rather than the FDA regulating it as a food, the EPA regulates it as a pesticide. Incredible as it may seem, they see our food as a pesticide.

According to the FDA scientist I spoke with, it's a proprietary formula that he doesn't know about and would offer nothing beyond that. Disclosure of proprietary information is a criminal offense. {7} All plastic manufacturers hide behind trade secrets. This is true with nearly all consumer products. It is quite impossible to know the chemical makeup of any plastic without paying a substantial amount of money for an independent lab analysis.

How is it made?

In a nutshell, plastic is made by combining monomers into polymers under great heat and pressure in a process called polymerization. Each manufacturer has its own proprietary formula for each plastic. And each uses a variety of additives such as plasticizers for flexibility, UV filters for protection from sunlight, antistatic agents, flame-retardants, colorants, antioxidants, and more. Heavy metals such as cadmium, mercury, and lead are common additives. There are also chemicals used to facilitate production such as mold releases, and countless other toxic chemicals regularly added to plastic consumer goods without our knowledge or approval. Many of the products and byproducts of the intermediary steps of plastics production are used in other plastics or industrial processes and products such as pesticides or fertilizer. For holistic thinkers, the mention of plastics and pesticides in the same sentence should begin an informative thought process, while keeping in mind that they all have complete regulatory approval.

The True Cost of Plastic

Plastic is ubiquitous in our lives because it is convenient and relatively inexpensive. It is advertised as safe and that it saves lives. {8} Its safety is based on outdated science and regulations. And while it saves lives in the short run, the record against plastic is looking quite different.

Its convenience comes from being lightweight and its ability to absorb impact shock without breaking, which on its own merit, is hard to argue with. It comes in an endless range of colors and finishes, is pliable, and is easily formed and molded. Most would say it's a perfect material, right? Here's where the bad news begins.

Its inexpensiveness is the result of a large portion of the costs associated with its life - production, use and disposal - being put onto society as a whole. This unsolicited financial burden on society manifests itself as increased taxes to finance municipal curbside recycling programs, landfill space, and incineration. It also increases health care and insurance costs as a result of its incineration polluting the air, water, and food. I'll give much more detail on the negative health effects later, but for now, suffice to say that a full and truthful lifecycle analysis would reveal that the long-term negative health and socioeconomic effects at the local and global scales far outweigh the benefits realized by the use of plastics.

What's so bad about plastic?

For decades, the plastics industry has deceived us with assurances that the polymerization process binds the constituent chemicals together so perfectly that the resulting plastic is completely nontoxic and passes through us without a hitch. In spite of this industry disinformation, {9} the polymerization process is never 100% perfect. Logically then, there are always toxicants available for migration into the many things they contact - your food, air, water, skin, and so on. Both the FDA and the industry know this. However, because of many millions of dollars worth of advertising and public relations work, consumers are educated to think that plastics are safe.

The additives utilized are not bound to the already imperfect plastic, leaving them quite free to migrate. One quick example: without a plasticizer additive, PVC would be rigid. The plasticizer resides between the molecules of the PVC, acting as a lubricant that allows those molecules to slide by each other, and thus flex. Many containers used for food or water are made of it. Even Barbie dolls are made of it. The plasticizer migrates out from day one. And as it ages, the migration can visibly weep out of it. {10}

Plastics, their additives and other processing chemicals can be toxic at extremely low concentrations. In fact, some are significantly more toxic at extremely low concentrations than at much higher concentrations, which is contrary to the FDA scientist's paradigm that, "The dose makes the poison", meaning that the higher the concentration, the more toxic something is. It is an interpretation of the writings of Paracelsus, an alchemist who wrote in the 16th century that, "Alle Ding sind Gift und nichts ohne Gift; alein die Dosis macht das ein Ding kein Gift ist" [All things are poison and nothing without poison; alone it is the dose that makes a thing no poison]. {11} It's now 500 years later and that assumption of Paracelsus is still the basis for the many regulations. Except on chemical-by-chemical investigations by various independent, institutional, and academic labs, plastics are not explored for harmful effects or regulated in any meaningful way.

Extremely Low Doses and Synergy

Since it is known that all plastics migrate into food, it behooves us to look for the evidence at meaningful levels of detection, at and below single-digit parts-per-trillion (ppt) or ng/kg. Extremely low doses are especially relevant because they can upset the natural balance of the endocrine system. To paraphrase the report of an EPA workshop in 1996, endocrine disruptors (EDs) are external agents that interfere with the production, release, transport, metabolism, binding, action or elimination of natural hormones in the body responsible for maintaining internal balances and the regulation of developmental processes. {12}

Current knowledge of EDs turns the work of Paracelsus - that guy born in the 15th century - upside down. Some chemicals can be more toxic at extremely low doses than extremely high doses. The timing of the exposure can be much more relevant than its dose. Most vulnerable times are in periods of rapid growth, such as those in embryo and children right up to puberty. They can be exposed in the womb and before conception, if sperm and/or ovum are contaminated. The maladies of the children of Gulf War veterans are a prime example of this type of exposure. {13}

Synergy is an important issue that is mostly disregarded by the FDA. Many will even debunk the idea that low dose synergy is real. In combination with other commonly used products, the toxicity of the migratory chemicals from plastics can be potentiated by synergy. A synergy can occur between two or more chemicals that elevate the combination's toxicity to hundreds of times greater than that of the individual chemicals. Besides plastics, other household chemicals can be part of a synergy with plastics.

Nuclear radiation can also severely damage the endocrine system. According to Dr Ernest Sternglass, Professor Emeritus of Radiological Physics at the University of Pittsburgh Medical School, the synergy between nuclear radiation and chemical toxicants is well documented. {14} Gulf War vets (I and II) were and still are being exposed to depleted uranium (DU) from the tons of armour-busting shells they fired being distributed across the Gulf Region as an aerosol smaller than the size of a virus. {15} The hazardous materials (MOPP) suit that soldiers are given do not protect them from the infinitesimally small particles of DU because the high efficiency particulate air (HEPA) filters do not work below 1/10 of a micron. Each one of us is exposed to extremely low levels of radiation from the nuclear power plants scattered about the US. {16}

On the home front, even the products in our day-in and day-out humdrum lives are coated with, contain, or are made of synthetic chemicals that can interact synergistically with each other. The list is endless but includes beauty products such as nail polish, eyeliner, deodorant and aftershave; household cleaning products such as tile and carpet cleaners, air fresheners that are solid, plug-in, or spray. Even gas and diesel engine exhaust are included. Quite frankly, the FDA doesn't even consider all sources of a chemical in its review of industry product applications.

Consider that there between 87,000 to 100,000 chemicals in commercial production. At the time I wrote this, there were 22,241,247 organic and inorganic substances registered with Chemical Abstracts Service (CAS) registry. {17} Only eight months before that, there were 1,112,474 fewer chemicals. {18} They are regulated and tested in what I would call a "don't look - don't see" style of science that boggles the minds of those who look just a little below the surface of the happy little corporate-science myths. The focus is on the wonders of plastic with a purposeful avoidance of the painfully evident negative human and environmental health effects. Using the more conservative 87,000 chemicals, there are approximately 1.063725377 x 10 to the 86,991st power different combinations possible that could have a synergistic effect on toxicity. {19} For the purposes of this article, that number is roughly 1 with 87,000 zeros after it. Even if researchers had the time and money to test them all, they still wouldn't know what to look for, because there is no precedent. In addition, one must account for the uniqueness of each living organism and its unique environment, which further expand the possible synergies and possibilities.

Water Stored in Plastic

Water bottles are be made from various types of plastic - polycarbonate (PC), polyethylene terephthalate (PET), Polypropylene (PP), high-density polyethylene (HDPE), low-density polyethylene (LDPE), polyvinyl chloride (PVC or vinyl), and others. To reiterate, they all migrate to some degree. I will focus on just one chemical that migrates out of one plastic that is used to make products with high use and sales profiles.

Bisphenol-A (BPA) is a monomer used in the synthesis of PC plastics, epoxy resins, and composites, as well as a heat stabilizer in PVC. The list of products containing BPA is long. Some rigid containers such as water and baby bottles are made of PC. The popular NalgeneR water bottles are made of LexanR brand PC. In the medical industry, it is used for syringes, containers, lenses, and dental products. Keep in mind that the FDA regulates only plastics in contact with foods and not any of the other exposures a person might commonly experience every day at home, school, or the office. Because the FDA approves plastics for specific uses rather than for individual chemicals, BPA is not explicitly regulated. {20} It is important to note that all exposures, no matter what origin, are relevant and cumulative. Even other chemicals that act in the body in similar ways can be part of the total effect. The body's natural defenses try to break down toxins as they enter. These are called metabolites and can be significantly more toxic than the original chemical.

Today it is common that dentists coat children's teeth with dental sealants {21} that harden (polymerize) within the mouth. This exposure to BPA is large enough to have biologic effects. {22} Just as with other plastics, dental sealants polymerize imperfectly, leaving free monomers to be ingested or absorbed through the skin within the mouth. When it comes to dental solutions without plastic, the choices are limited. And I must say that I am extremely frustrated by the situation. One orthodontist I spoke with creates retainers from metal wire that can replace the standard polycarbonate ones. In tooth replacement, even some materials that dentists call ceramic have a polymer matrix. Gold caps or crowns are an excellent choice, but they too are glued into place with a volatile polymer. By far, the best alternative is to keep your teeth healthy by brushing and flossing regularly, and by eating a healthy diet.

Food and beverages cans are coated with a BPA-containing plastic. During the processing of canned food, it is sterilized in the can at 250 degrees fahrenheit for one hour. Because heat increases its migration, this is an especially large exposure for people who eat canned foods. As PC plastics grow old, BPA and other chemicals are released. But even when they are new BPA migrates out of PC plastic.

The Code of Federal Regulations section on PC plastics allows for migratory chemicals in the hundreds of parts-per-million (ppm) range as well as a percentage of the plastic's total weight. While concentrations of ppm and higher are relevant, there is vast area of exposure that falls well below the FDA's radar in the parts-per-trillion (ppt) range and lower. Testing methods are available, but the cost would be far greater. Because the industry is responsible for testing, it protests madly about the idea that these concentrations are relevant. If the table was turned and the burden of proof was on the consumer, the FDA would demand the most up to date testing methods. A graphic example of 1 ppt is one drop of liquid in 660 rail tank cars. That's a train 6 miles long!

In the year 2000, Consumers Union (CU) tested water from five-gallon PC plastic bottles for BPA, They found from 0.5 ppb to 11 ppb in water samples from eight of the ten 5-gallon jugs. {23} After industry spin-meisters discredited the study as being flawed, not many regulatory red flares were sent up within the FDA. This type of industry disinformation is standard operating procedure. Most times, the statements made could be compared it to one child calling another derogatory names, hoping that the recipient will become persona non grata with the other children. However, the CU study was indeed valid and the concentrations of BPA that were found are extremely relevant.

CU also found BPA in samples from baby bottles at worrisome levels. {24} CU advised its readers to avoid exposure to BPA by "dispos[ing] of polycarbonate baby bottles and replac[ing] them with bottles made of glass or polyethylene, an opaque, less-shiny plastic that does not leach bisphenol-A". {25} That advice attracted the wrath of the plastics industry. But I will go further and advise readers not to serve or store any food - liquid or solid, water-based or fatty, hot or cold - in any plastic.

In April 2003, a study was published about BPA accidentally killing mice that had been held in polycarbonate cages at a lab. {26} It was found accidentally when it ruined a lab experiment that heated yeast in PC flasks to find out if the yeast produced estrogens. It was discovered that BPA from the PC flasks was the material that was estrogenic, and that it competed with the natural estrogen in a rat's body. {27} I asked one noted researcher why labs still use plastics considering what it has been known since 1993 that BPA migrates and is hormonally active. The response was, "What are we supposed to do, go back to glass?" The tone of voice made it seem as if I had advised going back in time to live in the Stone Age. This is the state of what is still amazingly called science. There is a lack of reason and logic that goes well beyond what I knew possible before I began looking at the many aspects of this technology. Truth is sought, but the obvious is knocked to the ground and trampled over in the stampede to secure funding.

BPA's Rap Sheet

The list of negative health effects associated in some way with exposure to BPA is remarkably long. The most visible effect may be aneuploidy, a chromosome abnormality found in more than five percent of pregnancies. Most aneuploid fetuses die in utero. About one-third of all miscarriages are aneuploid, making it the leading known cause of pregnancy loss. Among conceptions that survive to term, aneuploidy is the leading genetic cause of developmental disabilities and mental retardation. About one in 300 liveborn infants and one in three miscarriages are aneuploid. It is associated with Down syndrome {28}, Patau syndrome {29}, Edwards syndrome {30}, Klinefelter syndrome {31}, Turner syndrome {32,} Cri du chat syndrome {33}, and Alzheimer's disease {34}. And each of these bears its own extensive list of maladies covering all parts and functions of the human body - both physical and mental. The condition at birth is directly related to the type of chromosome abnormality present in the embryo at the time of conception. {35} It is well documented that aneuploidy contributes to the increased risk of spontaneous abortion when the female partner is older, but it is also thought that males more than thirty years old may increase the risk of spontaneous abortion when the female partner is less than thirty years of age. {36}

Being one of many known endocrine disruptors, BPA affects development, intelligence, memory, learning, and behavior, skeleton, body size and shape, significant increase in prostate size, decreased epididymal weight and a longer anogenital distance {37}, prostate cancer {38}, reduced sperm count {39}, both physical and mental aspects of sexuality. It may have something to do with obesity {40}, and so many more that a separate article is required to list them all. In other words, if the fetus lives, any one or many parts of its body can be permanently affected. The problems may become evident at any age.

Alzheimer's disease generally occurs after the age of fifty. In those afflicted with it, areas of brain become smaller with cell death and the cavities left become enlarged. The areas most affected are control memory, logical thinking, and personality. Only five to ten percent of the cases are inherited. Fourteen million people with Alzheimer's disease are predicted by 2050.

BPA is about 10,000-fold less potent than 17s-estradiol, a potent estrogen that is synthesized primarily in the ovary, but also in the placenta, testis and possibly adrenal cortex. Because of the disparity, industry representatives claim it causes no harm at the levels that the majority of people are exposed to. However, a study in 2001 showed that even at such low potency, when combined with other xenoestrogens (estrogens from outside the body), they act together additively, effectively raising the body load of estrogen to dangerous levels. {41} Another study showed that there is an increased sensitivity to BPA during the perinatal period, which begins with completion of the twentieth to twenty-eighth week of gestation and ends seven to 28 days after birth. {42} Exposure to BPA increases risk of mammary tumors. {43} To reiterate, there is no shortage of research published on the negative health effects of BPA.

Avoiding Plastic

While it's impossible to avoid all plastics, we must rid our diets and lives of this toxic material as much as possible. There is a huge amount of data confirming the migration of plastic monomers and additives in all steps of food processing. {44} And in my opinion and that of many top research scientists, it is only a matter of time and money spent on new studies before the harm is found. Because of corporate political campaign financing, meaningful regulations resulting from studies will take even longer to become law. We must protect our families while the obvious results trickle in.

I strongly advise individuals and governments to ban plastics wherever possible by utilizing the precautionary principal. The Wingspread Statement on the Precautionary Principle is the consensus statement of a conference in 1998. Simply put it states that if you have reasonable suspicion of harm coming from (plastic in this case) then you must stop it from happening; the burden of proof must be on industry, not consumers; alternatives must be fully explored before using a new material or technology; and any decisions regarding such activities must be "open, informed, and democratic" and "must include affected parties". {45}

Evidence of the negative health effects of plastics already exists in sufficient quantity to halt the use of it in contact with food. More importantly, I feel that the manufacture of plastic itself must be halted for a multitude of reasons. Besides causing an endless number of human deaths, disabilities, and diseases, plastic is clogging all habitats of the world and destroying the ecosystem. There is now six times more plastic than plankton floating around in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. Plankton is a major food source for sea animals. {46} A large portion of it is preconsumer plastic that has not been made into a product yet. Called nurdels, they look very much like plankton in size and color. According to a paper by Arrigo et al in Geophysical Research Letters in October 2003, plankton production has been declining for the last twenty years with rising ocean surface temperatures. Along with increasing plastic quantities, the ratio of plastic to plankton is increasing, making it more of a target for hungry animals.

The researcher who found this, Captain Charles Moore, Director of the Algalita Marine Research Foundation, told me that new data indicate that the ratio of plastic to zooplankton is even higher in two so-called floating plastic "Garbage Patches" that are each bigger than the State of Texas. {47, 48}

Nurdles are incorporated into all strata of the oceans with no known method of removal. DDE, a metabolite of DDT, and other dioxin-like chemicals concentrate on the surface of the plastic nurdles at a rate up to a million times that found in the ocean. {49} Captain Moore's presentation includes images of sea animals that have suffocated and starved as a result. Even more startling is seeing plastic bits incorporated into the flesh of the sea animals.


I spent about two years answering telephone inquiries at an environmental organization in Berkeley. A great number of the callers asked what the safest plastic to use in contact with food or water is. They also wanted to know what the safest plastic is to microwave food in. My answer was that plastic should never contact food. And that one should never microwave food - it's probably as bad or worse than putting it in plastic because it creates free radicals in the food that damage cells in your body. It also heats the plastic, thus increasing the rate of migration into the food. That answer wasn't popular with either the caller or the organization, which likes to point out positive alternatives. However, plastic is the alternative! And glass, wood, metal, and ceramics are the real things. Plastic is merely a foul imitation thereof. By using the least offensive plastic, one only prolongs and increases the toxic load on the Earth and in our bodies. If saving trees is your aim, stop using so much stuff. But in the mean time, don't further degrade the environment with more plastic.

As consumers, we always look for ways to maintain the status quo of our modern lives. However, the only logic I can see in the regulation of food contact plastics is profit at the expense of our health, the economy, society, and environment. You needn't be a polymer scientist to know that plastic shouldn't contact food. What is essential though is a firm standing in reality and a good grip on logic. It also requires being free of ties to the industry before that logic becomes evident.

First set aside your assumptions and look at the known long- and short-term negative effects of plastic on health, economy, environment, and society, as well as the long-term viability of the human race. Next contrast that with what you find as benefits. I guarantee that the stack of chips will be far larger in the negative pile.

Further Reading

Alternatives to Plastic Paul Goettlich (August 03 2005)

Be sure to browse through the Plastics index of

78 Reasonable Questions to Ask about Any Technology - Stephanie Mills / Clamor, i.18, Jan/Feb03

Identification Of Volatile Organic Compounds In a New Automobile - Scientific Instrument Services 23dec99

EDSTAC Review - Davis Baltz / Commonweal 6may00

Middlesex and the Limitations of Myth - Thea Hillman / ISNA News Spring03


{1} Brillat-Savarin, JA. Physiologie du Gout, ou Meditations de Gastronomie Transcendante ... Paris: Sautelet et Cie, 1826. Note: Jean Anthelme Brillat-Savarin (1755-1826) was a French lawyer and politician who achieved fame through a book, Physiologie du Gout. "You are what you eat comes from the quote by Brillat-Savarin "Tell me what you eat and I will tell you what you are".
{2} Guidance for Industry: Preparation of Food Contact Notifications and Food Additive Petitions for Food Contact Substances: Chemistry Recommendations FINAL GUIDANCE U.S. Food and Drug Administration, Center for Food Safety & Applied Nutrition, Office of Food Additive Safety April 2002
{3} Telephone conversation with Dr George Pauli, Associate Director of Science Policy, FDA Office of Food Additive Safety, and Mike Herndon, Head of Media, FDA Office of Food Additive Safety 22 October 2003 12:49 PM
{4} Polyethylene (source FDA telephone conversation)
{5} Cladosporium: Ascomycete. The most common mold in the world, found in soil and on textiles, tomatoes, spinach, bananas, and dead vegetation. For image
{6} Fungicides are a category of pesticide as regulated by the EPA. See What is a Pesticide? U.S. EPA Office of Pesticide Programs 14feb97
{7} Telephone conversation with Dr George Pauli, Associate Director of Science Policy, FDA Office of Food Additive Safety, and Mike Herndon, Head of Media, FDA Office of Food Additive Safety 22 October 2003 12:49 PM
{8} Plastics: An Important Part Of Your Healthy Diet You could think of them as . . . Advertising by the American Plastics Council found in National Geographic magazine (abt.1996)
{9} Disinformation pronunciation: (")di-"sin-f&r-'mA-sh&n Function: noun Date: 1939 : false information deliberately and often covertly spread (as by the planting of rumors) in order to influence public opinion or obscure the truth Merriam-Webster online
{10} Barbie's PVC Body Gets Sticky as Dibutyl Phthalate Migrates Yvonne Shashoua / Conservation Department The National Museum of Denmark 19apr99
{11} Paracelsus: Dose Response. in the Handbook of Pesticide Toxicology WILLIAM C KRIEGER / Academic Press Oct01. Robert Krieger, ed. University of California, Riverside, Riverside, California, U.S.A.
{12} Research Needs for the Risk Assessment of Health and Environmental Effects of Endocrine Disruptors: A Report of the U.S. EPA-sponsored Workshop Environmental Health Perspectives, v.104, s.4, Aug96
{13} What Are Endocrine Disruptors? Paul Goettlich 2jul03
{14} Telephone conversation with Ernest Sternglass, Ph.D., Professor Emeritus of Radiological Physics at the University of Pittsburgh Medical School has written numerous articles on the health effects of low-level radiation. He is Director and Chief Technical Officer of the RPHP Baby Teeth Study
{15} Leuren Moret Speaking on Depleted Uranium in Los Altos, California 21apr03
{16} As evidenced by strontium-90 being detected by the Tooth Fairy Project in many thousands of baby teeth
{17} CAS Registry Numbers for new compounds and assistance with nomenclature can be obtained by writing to Chemical Abstracts Service (CAS) Client Services, 2540 Olentangy River Road, P.O. Box 3343, Columbus, OH 43210, or by visiting their website at
{18} Today's date: 9 October 2003
{19} Formula: 2^n - n - 1 This is called a factorial. Dr Bruce Sagan, a mathematician at Michigan State University, did the calculation. Example: where 2^n means 2 to the power n. So, for example, when n = 10 then there are 2^10 - 10 - 1 = 1024 - 11 = 1013. This formula accounts for duplications such as 1,2,3 = 1,3,2 = 2,3,1 = 2,1,3 = 3,1,2 = 3,2,1
{20} 21 CFR § 177.1580 Polycarbonate Resins. Code of Federal Regulations rev.1apr03
{21} Bisphenol-A (BPA) For Doctors and Dentists. Paul Goettlich 7may02
{22} Determination of Bisphenol A and Related Aromatic Compounds Released from Bis-GMA-Based Composites and Sealants by High Performance Liquid Chromatography Environmental Health Perspectives v.108, n.1, Jan00
{24} Food For Thought: What's Coming Out of Baby1s Bottle? Janet Raloff / Science News 31jul99 v.156, n.5 also see:
{25} Baby Alert: New Findings about Plastics Consumer Reports Special Report 21apr99
{26} BPA and Plastic Lab Animal Cages When Disaster Strikes: Rethinking Caging Materials Lab Animal v.32, n.4, Apr03
Also see: Bisphenol A Exposure Causes Meiotic Aneuploidy in the Female Mouse Current Biology, v.13, 1apr03
{27} Bisphenol-A: an estrogenic substance is released from polycarbonate flasks during autoclaving Endocrinology 132(6):2277-8 Jun93
{28} Terry Hassold and Patricia Hunt. To Err (meiotically) Is Human: The Genesis of Human Aneuploidy Nature Reviews Genetics 2, 280 -291 (2001); V.2, n.4 Apr01
Also see: Bisphenol A Exposure Causes Meiotic Aneuploidy in the Female Mouse Current Biology, v.13, 1apr03
{29} Patau Syndrome - Robert G Best, PhD, Director, Professor, Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology, Division of Genetics, University of South Carolina School of Medicine -
{30} Edwards syndrome - Harold Chen, MD, MS, FAAP, FACMG, Chief, Professor, Department of Pediatrics, Section of Perinatal Genetics, Louisiana State University Medical Center -
{31} Klinefelter syndrome - Harold Chen, MD, MS, FAAP, FACMG, Chief, Professor, Department of Pediatrics, Section of Perinatal Genetics, Louisiana State University Medical Center
{32} Campbell Biology 6th ed.
Verified by personal conversation with author of the URL, Dr Dean A. Adkins, a biology professor at Marshall University
{33} Cri-du-chat syndrome - Harold Chen, MD, MS, FAAP, FACMG, Chief, Professor, Department of Pediatrics, Section of Perinatal Genetics, Louisiana State University Medical Center.
{34} Alzheimer Disease - Jeffrey A Gunter, MD, Staff Physician, Department of Surgery, Division of Emergency Medicine, Denver Health Medical Center.
{35} Reproductive Science Center of the San Francisco Bay Area website 14oct03
{36} Does Male Age Affect the Risk of Spontaneous Abortion? An Approach Using Semiparametric Regression - Am. J. Epidemiol. 2003 157: 815-824. 1may03 v.157, i.9
{37} Reproductive Malformation of the Male Offspring Following Maternal Exposure to Estrogenic Chemicals - Proceedings of the Society for Experimental Biology and Medicine 224:61-68 Jun00
{38} The Xenoestrogen Bisphenol A Induces Inappropriate Androgen Receptor Activation and Mitogenesis in Prostatic Adenocarcinoma Cells - Molecular Cancer Therapeutics May 2002
{39} Sakaue, M, S Ohsako, R Ishimura, S Kurosawa, M Kurohmaru, Y Hayashi, Y Aoki, J Yonemoto and C Tohyama. 2001. Bisphenol-A Affects Spermatogenesis in the Adult Rat Even at a Low Dose. Journal of Occupational Health 43:185 -190.
{40} A Synthetic Antagonist for the Peroxisome Proliferator-activated Receptor Inhibits Adipocyte Differentiation - J Biol Chem, Vol. 275, Issue 3, 1873-1877, January 21, 2000.
{41} Rajapakse, N, D Ong and A Kortenkamp. 2001. Defining the Impact of Weakly Estrogenic Chemicals on the Action of Steroidal Estrogens. Toxicological Sciences 60: 296-304.
{42} PPT presentation by James Tilton, PhD, Professor of Reproductive Physiology, Department of Animal & Range Sciences, North Dakota State University, Fargo, ND
{43} Beverly S. Rubin et al. Perinatal Exposure to Low Doses of Bisphenol A Affects Body Weight, Patterns of Estrous Cyclicity, and Plasma LH Levels. Environmental Health Perspectives Volume 109, Number 7, July 2001
{44} Email communication (9oct03) with Dr Nicolas Olea, Dept. Radiologia y Medicina Fisica, Facultad de Medicina, Universidad de Granada, Granada 18071, Spain
{45} The Wingspread Statement on the Precautionary Principle Rachel's Environment & Health News n.586, 19feb98
{46} A comparison of plastic and plankton in the North Pacific central gyre - Marine Pollution Bulletin, v.42, n.12, Dec01
{47} Email from Charles Moore, Director of the Algalita Marine research Foundation.
{48} I am an advisor to the Algalita Marine Research Foundation (AMRF) in Long Beach, CA
{49} Plastic Resin Pellets as a Transport Medium for Toxic Chemicals in the Marine Environment - Environ. Sci. Technol. 2001, 35, 318-324

Copyright Paul Goettlich. Please do use this article in your writing, but please also give recognition to the author and this website,

See also "Alternatives to Plastic" by Paul Goettlich (August 03 2005)

Bill Totten

Monday, August 29, 2005

A Mercenary Society

by Robert Jensen

ZNet Commentary (August 27 2005)

The failed war in Iraq - and its effect on the US military - has the potential to spark the US public to fundamentally rethink the role of force in US foreign policy, and one of the central questions for the future of the United States is whether this questioning can mature and deepen.

Can we in the so-called "lone superpower" face that we are now a nation of mercenaries?

As the bad news from Iraq continues to worsen by the day, it looks as if the Army, Army Reserve and Army National Guard all will miss their annual recruitment goals. A 2004 study commissioned by the Army found that recruiting has been undermined by casualties, objections to the war, and media coverage of such events as the Abu Ghraib scandal.

These statistics signal an important shift, especially when combined with anecdotal evidence suggesting that it is not just an aversion to physical risk that is curtailing enlistment but an understanding that this war isn't worth the risks. At the same time, however, public opinion polls reveal confusion and contradictory trends as well. Recent polls show that more than half the public believes the United States can't win the war and can't establish a stable democracy in Iraq, but surveys also indicate that many continue to believe that sending the troops was the right thing to do.

This suggests that a majority of the public can recognize that the United States has failed in the stated mission but cannot yet see that the stated mission was a lie. This was never a war about weapons of mass destruction or stopping terrorism (indeed, the war has created terrorism, on both sides), nor is it at heart about establishing democracy in Iraq. The US invasion of Iraq is - as all US interventions in Middle East have been - about extending and deepening US dominance in the region with the world's most crucial energy resources.

Part of the barrier to a clear understanding of this is the belief that the United States, by definition, always acts benevolently in the world. But also standing in the way of an honest analysis is the reality that the brutal imperialist US policies, while devised by elites, are being carried out by ordinary Americans. Can we in the United States come to terms with the fact that we are the "good Germans" of our era, routinely allowing pseudo-patriotic loyalties to override moral decision-making? Can we look at ourselves honestly in the mirror when so many of us are implicated in the imperialist system?

From the people who make the weapons to the military personnel who use them - and all the other people whose livelihoods or networks of friends and family connect them to the armed forces - most of the US public has some relationship to the military. Any talk of closing a military base sparks almost automatic resistance from neighboring communities that have become dependent on the base economically. Large segments of the corporate sector rely on military or military-related contracts, and executives and employees alike understand what that means for profits and wages.

As US anthropologist Catherine Lutz put it in her book Homefront (Beacon Press, 2001), an insightful study of the effects of the militarization on American life: "We all inhabit an army camp, mobilized to lend support to the permanent state of war readiness ... Are we all military dependents, wearers of civilian camouflage?"

The problem is not just that the United States now has a mercenary army but that we are a mercenary society.

The problem is not just that our army fights imperialist wars, but that virtually all of us are in some way implicated in that imperialist system.

It can be difficult to face the truth about an institution that has so deeply insinuated itself into our lives. Since the end of World War II, the US power elite have done a masterful job of transforming the country into a militarized state with a permanent wartime economy. There has always been resistance to that project on the margins, but because the United States is an incredibly affluent nation - and these policies promise continued affluence - there is strong motivation for many to ignore the consequences of this militarization.

Ironically, it may turn out that the weak link in this system will be not the civilian mercenaries but the military ones. Historically, colonial powers have imported mercenary forces to do the dirty work of conquest and control. In the United States, our own citizens are being forced into that role. If the armed forces' inability to meet recruitment goals continues, the effect may not be simply new constraints on the ability of US leaders to fight additional wars but a more widespread questioning of the imperial system itself.

Consider these stories, told in the book Generation Kill (Putnam, 2004) about the Iraq war. One Marine told author Evan Wright that a "bunch of psycho officers sent us into shit we never should have gone into". Another Marine, upon his return home, was invited to speak to a wealthy community as a war hero. He told them: "I am not a hero. Guys like me are just a necessary part of things. To maintain this way of life in a fine community like this, you need psychos like us to go and drop a bomb on somebody's house."

How long can an army continue when combat personnel view both officers and themselves as psychos? What will happen if that Marine's recognition that imperial wars are fought to protect affluence and privilege at home spreads on the front lines of those wars?

US political elites have few options. Barring a serious economic collapse that forces more people into the military to survive, recruitment will continue to be a problem. Reinstituting a draft is not an option; there would be a huge political cost if middle- and upper-class Americans were asked to surrender their children to direct participation in the military wing of the mercenary machine. The offer of citizenship to immigrants who are willing to fight can't make up the gap.

Right now there is incredible tension in US culture. Many continue to hold on tightly to the idea that the service personnel are being killed and maimed in Iraq for a noble cause, which is hardly surprising; acknowledging that a loved one was killed in the pursuit not of liberty and justice, but instead for elite domination, can intensify the already deep pain of the loss. Others are abandoning illusions and recognizing the motivations of the powerful. Obituaries of dead soldiers talk of their "great pride" in serving their country, while a collective sense that the Iraq War is nothing to be proud of deepens every day. No one wants to demonize the front-line troops - those with the least power to change policy - but the reality of why the US military fights, along with the brutal way in which the wars are fought, become increasingly hard to ignore.

Tension can be creative, leading to deeper understanding and progressive social change. Or it can be exploited to suppress that understanding and block change. Elites almost always attempt the latter. The choice that the US public makes is crucial to our future, and the world's.

Robert Jensen is a journalism professor at the University of Texas at Austin and a member of the board of the Third Coast Activist Resource Center, . He is the author of The Heart of Whiteness: Race, Racism, and White Privilege and Citizens of the Empire: The Struggle to Claim Our Humanity (both from City Lights Books). He can be reached at

Bill Totten

Sunday, August 28, 2005

Drowning in an Ocean of Plastic

by Stephen Leahy

Wired News (June 05 2004)

The United Nations has turned its attention to the oceans for World Environment Day, and one of the main evildoers is a familiar one - plastic.

Marine trash, mainly plastic, is killing more than a million seabirds and 100,000 mammals and sea turtles each year, said UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan in a statement.

Plastic bags, bottle tops and polystyrene foam coffee cups are often found in the stomachs of dead sea lions, dolphins, sea turtles and others. The implications have many at the conference concerned. Last April, Dutch scientists released a report on litter in the North Sea and found that fulmars, a type of seagull, had an average of thirty pieces of plastic in their stomachs.

In the sea, big pieces of plastic look like jellyfish or squid, while small pieces look like fish eggs, says Bill Macdonald, vice president of the Algalita Marine Research Foundation, a nonprofit environmental organization based in Long Beach, California.

Macdonald, who is also an underwater filmmaker, said he has seen albatross parents fly huge distances to feed their young a deadly diet of plastic bottle caps, lighters and light sticks.

"The sheer volumes of plastic in oceans are staggering", he said. In recent years Algalita researchers have sampled a huge area in the middle of the North Pacific, and found six pounds of plastic for every pound of algae.

About 250 billion pounds of raw plastic pellets are produced annually worldwide and turned into a tremendous variety of products, from cars and computers to packaging and pens.

About twenty percent of the plastic in the oceans comes from ships or offshore platforms; the rest is blown, washed off the land or intentionally dumped, according to a preliminary report issued April 2004 by the US Commission on Ocean Policy. Not only does plastic kill marine animals that eat it or get tangled in it and drown, but it also damages and degrades their habitat.

Plastic pellets are also magnets for toxic chemicals like DDT and PCBs, becoming, in effect, poison pills. Japanese researchers found that concentrations of these chemicals were as much as a million times higher than in the water. Plastics themselves can leach endocrine- disrupting chemicals like biphenyl A.

Macdonald has come across "snow drifts" of spilled pellets outside plastic product manufacturing plants in Orange County. "It took about three minutes for some of these to wash into a nearby creek during a rain storm", he said.

Most plastics don't biodegrade. Unless removed, they'll remain in the sea for hundreds of years, breaking up into ever-smaller particles. Recently British scientists discovered that microscopic pieces of plastic can be found everywhere in the oceans, even inside plankton, the keystone of the marine food chain.

The scientists also noted that the amount of plastic particles in the oceans has at least tripled since the 1960s. The effect they have on the marine ecosystems is unknown.

Plastic pollution in the oceans is less of an issue to Ransom Myers, a leading fisheries scientist. Myers allows that there might be some unforeseen impact on ocean ecosystems. "Our ability to understand what's going on the oceans is phenomenally poor", he said. "The Number One threat to oceans right now is overfishing and habitat destruction by trawling".

In its preliminary report, the US Commission on Ocean Policy said time is running out for America's coasts and oceans. Among its recommendations: establish a National Ocean Council within the White House, stop subsidy programs that encourage overfishing and double investment in ocean research.

Every year we're learning about something bad that's going on in the seas, says Macdonald. "It's just dawning on people that the oceans are in deep trouble".

Wired News: We are translated daily into Korean and Japanese

Copyright 2005, Lycos, Inc. All Rights Reserved. LycosR is a registered trademark of Carnegie Mellon University.,1282,63699,00.html

Bill Totten

Plastic left holding the bag as environmental plague

Nations around world look at a ban

by Joan Lowy, Scripps Howard News Service

Seattle Post Intelligencer (July 21 2004)

Imagine a world without plastic shopping bags. It could be the future.

There is a growing international movement to ban or discourage the use of plastic bags because of their environmental effects. Countries from Ireland to Australia are cracking down on the bags and action is beginning to stir in the United States.

The ubiquitous plastic shopping bag, so handy for everything from toting groceries to disposing of doggie doo, may be a victim of its own success. Although plastic bags didn't come into widespread use until the early 1980s, environmental groups estimate that 500 billion to one trillion of the bags are now used worldwide every year.

Critics of the bags say they use up natural resources, consume energy to manufacture, create litter, choke marine life and add to landfill waste.

"Every time we use a new plastic bag they go and get more petroleum from the Middle East and bring it over in tankers", said Stephanie Barger, executive director of Earth Resource Foundation in Costa Mesa, Calif. "We are extracting and destroying the Earth to use a plastic bag for ten minutes".

The foundation is calling for a 25 cent tax on plastic bags in California.

A bill that would have imposed a three cent tax on plastic shopping bags and cups was sidelined in the California Legislature last year after heavy opposition from the retail and plastics industries.

The plastics industry took a "proactive stance" by working with retailers to encourage greater recycling, rather than "putting on taxes to address the problem", said Donna Dempsey, executive director of the Film and Bag Federation, a trade association for the plastic bag industry.

The tax proposals are loosely modeled on Ireland's "PlasTax", a levy of about twenty cents that retail customers have had to pay for each plastic bag since March 2002. The use of plastic bags in Ireland dropped more than ninety percent following imposition of the tax, and the government has raised millions of dollars for recycling programs.

Similar legislation was introduced in Scotland last month and is being discussed for the rest of the United Kingdom.

Consumers seem agreeable to giving up the bags, said Claire Wilton, senior waste campaigner at Greenpeace-UK.

"There certainly hasn't been an angry uprising of shoppers (in Ireland) saying we want our bags for free", Wilton said. "I think a lot of people recognize they are wasteful. That's why they try to save them to use again, although they often forget to bring them with them when they shop."

In Australia, about ninety percent of retailers have signed up with the government's voluntary program to reduce plastic bag use. A law that went into effect last year in Taiwan requires restaurants, supermarkets and convenience stores to charge customers for plastic bags and utensils. It has resulted in a 69 percent drop in use of plastic products, according to news reports.

One of the key concerns is litter. In China, plastic bags blowing around the streets are called "white pollution". In South Africa, the bags are so prominent in the countryside that they have won the derisive title of "national flower".

The plastics industry says the solution to bag litter is to change people, not the product.

"Every piece of litter has a human face behind it. If they are a harm to the environment in terms of visual blight, then people need to stop littering", said Rob Krebs, a spokesman for the American Plastics Council.

One of the most dramatic impacts is on marine life. About 100,000 whales, seals, turtles and other marine animals are killed by plastic bags each year worldwide, according to Planet Ark, an international environmental group.

Last September, more than 354,000 bags - most of them plastic - were collected during an international cleanup of coastal areas in the United States and 100 other countries, according to the Ocean Conservancy.

The bags were the fifth most common item of debris found on beaches.


Some countries are cracking down on the use of plastic bags. Here's a look at the issue:

<> About 500 billion to one trillion plastic bags are used worldwide every year, according to Vincent Cobb, founder of

<> Countries that have banned or taken action to discourage the use of plastic bags include Australia, Bangladesh, Ireland, Italy, South Africa and Taiwan. Mumbai (formerly Bombay), India, also has banned the bags.

<> Australians were using nearly seven billion bags a year, and nearly 1.2 billion bags a year were being passed out free in Ireland before government restrictions, according to government estimates.

<> Plastic industry trade associations were unable to provide estimates of plastic bag use in the United States. However, based on studies of plastic bag use in other nations, the environmental group Californians Against Waste estimates Americans use 84 billion plastic bags annually.

<> The first plastic sandwich bags were introduced in 1957. Department stores started using plastic bags in the late 1970s and supermarket chains introduced the bags in the early 1980s.

<> Overall, the US plastics and related industries employed about 2.2 million US workers and contributed nearly $400 million to the economy in 2002, according to The Society of the Plastics Industry.

Copyright 1998-2005 Seattle Post-Intelligencer

Bill Totten

Saturday, August 27, 2005

Enormous Hiatus between US Words and Deeds

by Bill Totten

Nihonkai Shimbun and Osaka Nichinichi Shimbun (July 28 2005)

(I've written a weekly column for two Japanese newspapers for the past three years. Patrick Heaton prepared this English version from the Japanese original.)

Recently, when working at my computer, I was drawn to the juxtaposition of a list of Reuters news article headlines. Various incoming news items are displayed on my computer screen automatically and over time the older items are moved to the archives. The headlines are not necessarily related to each other, but sometimes the order in which they're displayed tells a story in itself.

One of the first articles in the list was entitled "US Plans New Move against Weapons Proliferation". The article discussed an attempt by the US to freeze assets of companies doing business with North Korea and Iran.

The title of the second article on the list was "US to Resume Plutonium 238 Production - Report". The article had appeared in the New York Times and discussed plans by the US to resume production of plutonium 238, which it had suspended when the Cold War ended in the 1980s.

The article fails to mention how the newly produced plutonium will be used. The only matter explained regarding usage is that it is for the security of the US and is not intended for use in nuclear or space-based weapons. The type of plutonium used in atomic bombs is plutonium 239; the type used in nuclear batteries, plutonium 238, is hundreds of times more radioactive than plutonium 239, and causes far more hazardous radioactive waste.

America's Double Standard

From these articles, we can see that it is the intention of the US government not to allow other countries to do what it does itself. The US claims the production of dangerous weapons as its exclusive right, and forbids other nations from doing likewise.

Of course this is the type of hypocrisy for which the US has become renowned: preventing other nations from developing so-called 'weapons of mass destruction', while the US expands without impunity development of its own massively more destructive weapons, such as those using plutonium, which it obviously intends for military purposes.

The excuse the US gives that it won't use the plutonium it produces for developing more nuclear weapons is hardly comforting when one realizes that the plutonium 238 it will produce causes radioactive waste that is detrimental to both humans and the environment.

Shifting Arguments

It is now known that the US justified initiating the war against Iraq by applying a similar double standard. The US started the war by claiming that Saddam Hussein was dangerous and threatened the US. Later, after Saddam was deposed, when Bush gave a speech at the point of 'transferring power' to the puppet regime the US had installed, he didn't even mention the principle reason and justification he gave at the time of attack: that he had evidence that Saddam possessed "weapons of mass destruction". Bush simply shifted discussion to stressing that since he believed Iraq had become a haven for terrorists who could attack America, the US needed to have troops in Iraq to guarantee American security. That war is now in its third year. Of the thirty or so countries that initially participated as "the coalition of the willing" in occupying Iraq, at least twelve have already withdrawn or have announced that they plan to withdraw.

A secondary reason given for starting the war against Iraq was to topple Saddam Hussein, whom the US described as a dictator. Yet in previous years the US offered financial help and supported the same Saddam Hussein in his war against Iran. Moreover, the US has for several decades subsidized and supported many other "dictators", including Marcos in the Philippines, Duvalier of Haiti, Ceausescu of Rumania, Mobutu of the Congo, the Shah of Iran, Pinochet of Chile, and Suharto of Indonesia, among many.

America's dealings against North Korea also illustrate application of its double standard. The US says its policies vis-a-vis North Korea are to prevent the spread of weapons of mass destruction. Yet when North Korea proposed simply concluding a mutual non-aggression pact with the US, including removal of nuclear weapons, the US rejected the proposal. The US position seems to be that as a great power, it is below the United States to have to negotiate directly with a country like North Korea, which the US considers insignificant on the world stage.

North Korea's neighbors all have nuclear weapons: China and Russia have their own; South Korea and Japan host US nukes. The one-sided, lopsided US position is that North Korea alone cannot have nuclear weapons, even though all the countries surrounding it possess them.

The US also is attempting to prevent Iran from conducting any activity related to enrichment of uranium, because the US claims Iran may use it to produce nuclear weapons. Yet the US doesn't never mentions the fact that Iran's Middle Eastern neighbor and US military ally, Israel, already possesses nuclear weapons. This is just one more instance of the US employing a double standard in its dealings with other nations.

Numerous Historical Examples

There are many other historical examples of the US applying double standards in policy.

In 1941 the US and Britain imposed an economic blockade against Japan, freezing all Japanese assets in their countries and generally preventing trade and financial dealings with Japan. At the time, eighty percent of Japan's essential commodities were imported. The economic blockade against Japan literally choked off its means of sustenance. In response, the Japanese attacked US-occupied Pearl Harbor on December 8 1941.

If Japan had followed the same policies that the US used then, and continues to employ today, one could say that Japan's attacks on US military bases on December 8 1941 were to protect Japan from America's economic war on itself. The US reaction of declaring and conducting war against Japan indicated it did not agree; the US believes only it has the right to define what other country is a threat to itself. Japan lost the struggle and could do nothing against the atomic bombings and subsequent US occupation.

(After having a million of its unarmed civilians slaughtered by six months of US bombings deliberately targeting them, culminating with the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, then being smeared successfully throughout the world by US propaganda as instigators of a war actually provoked by the United States, it is easy to understand why Japan's leaders have meekly bowed to US dictates since 1945. How can they see any hope in coping with either US weapons of mass destruction or US weapons of mass deception?)


It is about time that we in Japan learn to differentiate what the United States says from what the United States does, what the United States demands of (or preaches to) others from what the United States practices itself. US hypocrisy about weapons of mass destruction and nuclear proliferation are just the tip of an enormous iceberg, just the most conspicuous recent examples of the consonant US double standard: one for itself and its cronies, another for everyone else.

Bill Totten

Friday, August 26, 2005

Oil Addiction: The World in Peril - 15

by Pierre Chomat (Universal Publishers, 2004)

translated from the French by Pamela Gilbert-Snyder

Part II. Age of Excess

Chapter 15. The New Slave Traders

We now know that Habib's fears were well-founded with regard to his "pipelines of shame". The torrent of ergamines flowing out of the Sahara has never stopped. Each day, Algerian exporters send seven hundred thousand barrels of black gold to foreign lands. It is as if they were sending away five thousand times the number of Algerian citizens to work each day abroad. {a} It is only because they would never imagine it in those terms that the traders keep opening the floodgates for the Hassi-Messaoud ergamines, believing they are doing the right thing for their country.

Habib has no idea how to stem the massive flow of energy away from Algeria that its leaders continue to sanction. He imagines that, with only a hundredth of the petroleum it receives, the West could build new industrial complexes that will render all of his own country's industries obsolete, condemning it to ever-greater dependence on the powerful ingenuity of the North. He also knows that, should the day come when Algeria wants to use more of the Hassi-Messaoud or other top-quality ergamines for its own development, it will in all likelihood be too late, because the desert reserves will have been sucked dry.

He still goes to the port at Bejaia sometimes to watch the huge cargos of petroleum leave his country. There, near the place where Ali Aouellim saw the first boat carry away his desert treasure, he watches in deep disillusionment as the "pirate supertankers" wait in the bay for their billions of slaves to be brought to them. His friends suspect that at those times he is nostalgic for his days of hiding in Bejaia's limestone caves, when he made detonators in the fight for a freedom now being squandered by his nation's leaders.

The cargo ships come and go, in fair weather or foul, flying the flags of the West, taking with them the potential labor of generations of Algerians that could have been used to develop their own country. Habib knows that he alone can do nothing to stop the Northern merchants' relentless quest for more energy. The last remaining ergamines will be drained from the desert before his fellow citizens wake up to the bitter taste of a false independence, a hope of freedom they will find only in history books.


{a} The potential energy of the 100 billion ergamines (about 700 thousand barrels) exported each day from Algeria would be equivalent to the physical work that 100 billion Algerians could perform during the same day. Thus, via its oil exports, each day Algeria sends abroad 5,000 times the labor potential of its current population.

Bill Totten

Thursday, August 25, 2005

The End of Suburbia

Oil Depletion and the Collapse of the American Dream

The Electric Wallpaper Company, c/o VisionTV, 80 Bond Street, Toronto, Ontario, Canada, M5B 1X2, 87 minute DVD, web site:, US$27.75 / C$34.50

Reviewed by Thomas Wheeler

Alternative Press Review (Spring 2005 issue)

A simple fact of life is that any system based on the use of nonrenewable resources is unsustainable. Despite all the warnings that we are headed for an ecological and environmental perfect storm, many Americans are oblivious to the flashing red light on the earth's fuel gauge. Many feel the "American way of life" is an entitlement that operates outside the laws of nature. At the Earth Summit in 1992, George H W Bush forcefully declared, "The American way of life is not negotiable". That way of life requires a highly disproportionate use of the world's nonrenewable resources. While only containing four percent of the world population, the United States consumes 25% of the world's oil. The centerpiece of that way of life is suburbia. And massive amounts of nonrenewable fuels are required to maintain the project of suburbia.

The suburban lifestyle is considered by many Americans to be an accepted and normal way of life. But is this sprawling and energy-intensive lifestyle sustainable? Few people are aware of how their lives are dependent on cheap and abundant energy. It suggests many Americans may be in for a rude awakening. In a fascinating new documentary, The End of Suburbia - Oil Depletion and the Collapse of the American Dream, the central question is this: Does the suburban way of life have a future? The answer is a resounding no.

Despite the serious subject matter the documentary is actually quite engaging and entertaining. Not only is it informative for those already familiar with the issues; it's also quite accessible and enlightening for the uninitiated. It serves as great introduction and a real eye-opener for people who are largely unfamiliar with the topic of energy depletion and the impact it will have on their lives and communities.

The End of Suburbia marshals an impressive array of evidence that the growing energy demands of the "American dream" in suburbia will eclipse our planet's ability to provide it. The suburban way of life will soon become economically and ecologically impossible to maintain. We will see the inevitable collapse of the suburban lifestyle and the end of the American Dream. And it will happen within our lifetimes.

How bad will it get? Put it this way. We may be looking at the mother of all downsizings.

For those who are familiar with the issues of peak oil and resource depletion, the usual suspects are here. They include Richard Heinberg, Michael Klare, Matthew Simmons, Michael C Ruppert, Julian Darley, Dr Colin Campbell, and Kenneth Deffeyes, among others. All of these individuals provide valuable information and insights concerning the coming energy crisis and the impact it will have on the lives of people on the North American continent.

But the standout star of the film is author and critic of contemporary culture, James Howard Kunstler. The sometimes humorous and always entertaining presence of Kunstler is prominent throughout the documentary - and for good reason. He grabs your attention. He explains in refreshingly blunt, easy-to-comprehend language that suburbia is screwed.

Kunstler calls the project of suburbia "the greatest misallocation of resources in the history of the world" and says "America has squandered its wealth in a living arrangement that has no future". You immediately get the idea he's not exactly a fan of suburbia.

How and why did this happen? The End of Suburbia outlines the seemingly rational and logical impulse behind the project of suburbia, tracing the beginnings to the late 19th century when it was originally envisioned as an alternative to city life and an escape from the hideous aspects of industrialism. Modern suburbia traces its beginnings to just after World War II when the suburban project took off with a massive housing boom and the increasing dominance of the automotive industry. This car-centered suburban project ended up being the template for the massive development of the second half of the 20th century. That project was wrapped up, packaged, and sold to the American public as "The American Dream".

The End of Suburbia points out that the rise of the suburbs was made possible by abundant and cheap oil. It allowed for a lifestyle where millions of people can live many miles away from where they work and where they shop for food and necessities. But the voracious and expanding energy needs of our industrial society with its ever-expanding consumer culture and increasingly affluent suburban lifestyles are brushing up against the disturbing reality of finite energy resources.

The biggest impact will be felt by those who currently live in the sprawling suburbs of North America. The End of Suburbia also makes clear that the effects of energy depletion go way beyond paying more at the pump. It will come down to the question of how you will feed yourself and your family.

Although the documentary mostly avoids the gloom and doom of some peak oil theorists, it does occasionally touch on some of the darker aspects of fossil fuel depletion, notably how it will impact food production. The film briefly looks at the energy-intensive process needed to bring food to supermarkets. Our modern industrial agriculture relies heavily on petroleum for pesticides and natural gas for fertilizer, not to mention the energy used in planting, growing, harvesting, irrigating, packaging, processing and transporting the food.

The End of Suburbia shows how the suburban way of life has become normalized and reveals the enormous effort currently put forth to maintain it. On a foreign policy level, it means continued aggressive attempts to secure access to the remaining reserves of oil on the planet in order to prop up and maintain this lifestyle. But the film makes it crystal clear that suburban living has very poor prospects for the future. Any attempt to maintain it will be futile. Kunstler asserts that the suburbs will become "the slums of the future".

What about alternative sources of energy? The End of Suburbia points out that no combination of alternative fuels can run and maintain our current system as it is now. What about hydrogen, you ask? The film does a great job of shooting down the hysterical applause for hydrogen. The idea of a hydrogen economy is mostly fantasy. Hydrogen is not a form of energy. It is a form of energy storage. It takes more energy to make hydrogen than you actually get from hydrogen. Same with ethanol. It is a net energy loser. It takes more gasoline to create and fertilize the corn and convert it to alcohol than you get from burning it. The documentary explores the potential alternatives and comes to the conclusion there is no combination of any alternatives that will allow us to continue consuming the way we do.

What is in our future? The consensus from the experts in The End of Suburbia is the suburbs will not survive the end of cheap and easily accessible oil and natural gas. The massive downscaling of America - voluntary or involuntary - will be the trend of the future.

Kunstler argues we can expect to see "globalization" to reverse itself in the 21st century and he says one of the most important tasks will be to prepare for a very different way of life. The imminent decline of industrial civilization means we'll have to organize human communities in a much different fashion from the completely unsustainable, highly-centralized, earth-destroying, globalized system we have now. There will need to be a move to much smaller, human-scale, localized and decentralized systems that can sustain themselves within their own landbase.

While The End of Suburbia doesn't provide any easy answers, it does provide a much needed look at the reality of the situation many in North America will be facing in the coming years. For that reason, The End of Suburbia is one of the most important must-see documentaries of the year.;file=index&req=viewarticle&artid=356&page=1

Bill Totten

Wednesday, August 24, 2005

Oil Addiction: The World in Peril - 14

by Pierre Chomat (Universal Publishers, 2004)

translated from the French by Pamela Gilbert-Snyder

Part II. Age of Excess

Chapter 14. The Legend of Ali Aouellim

As told by a Hassi-Messaoud ergamine

The Tuaregs grieved to see their desert bleeding from the mounds inflicted by the pitiless pioneers.

"Pioneers from the North brought me to the Earth's surface at a place of ochre sand dunes in the middle of the Sahara Desert, where it never rains. It was 1956. I was part of the first group of ergamines to rise up in the well drilled by these fearless explorers. They did not expect us to appear so quickly or abundantly; they barely had time to capture us in an old rusty barrel. For them, it was an unforgettable event. They greeted us with great emotion and celebrated our arrival for days. They even christened us, naming us after the ancient water source at that place, Hassi-Messaoud. {a}

"The Northerners were euphoric. But the Tuareg people, who had wandered that land as nomads for thousands of years, were offended by the presence of these pioneers from far away who had disturbed their desert's peace. They stayed away from the celebration - all except for young Ali Aouellim, who came to be near us. When night fell, he rode up to our barrel on his camel, a strange beast with its humps and constant chewing. He was wearing the indigo blue veil the Tuaregs use to protect their faces during sandstorms. He sat down and stayed with us until late into the night and returned the next day and the day after that.

"Ali could not accept that the pioneers had removed oil from the Earth. He was deeply troubled by it. He believed it was unnatural. To him, the Sahara was inviolable - no one had the right to remove so much as a grain of sand from it. He believed that long ago this land was inhabited by creatures who cared nothing for the Earth and had tried to take too much from it. So die sun beat down on them and chased them all away. The Tuaregs were allowed to stay because they promised to protect the desert.

"Now the nomads were caught in a whirlwind of unwelcome activity. They had tried many times to make these visitors understand their sacred trust, but no one cared. Tuareg sensibilities did not carry much weight with the technological geniuses from the North, who went about their strange business oblivious to the native people's distress.

"The drillers' initial joy soon dissipated. They grew accustomed to our presence and began to focus their attention on installing a temporary pipe to transport the first Messaoud {21} ergamines to the railway at the Touggourt oasis. From there they would be loaded onto tank cars and taken away. But our barrel was not connected to this line. We were placed in a large tank to wait for a bigger and much longer pipe, which would channel us across the desert to the Mediterranean Sea. We were deeply puzzled by all of this. What was so important about us? Why had these sorcerers come from so far away for such a huge undertaking? The energy within us surely was not enough to explain all of this. Young Ali tried to help us understand, but we had difficulty following him. Then one night he read a little poem he had written just for us:

'Oil of Messaoud
essence of the Earth
fire of the Sahara
snaking through the desert
just to bring
hope and flame
to the people of the North
who anxiously await your black river of life
to illuminate their own'.

"I understood from this that we were being sent north to light fires for the people there. But I still did not see why they wanted so many of us. With all the wells being drilled in Messaoud, the number of us leaving would be enormous.

"We waited in our tank for the pipeline for two years. Sometimes the Tuaregs left their camp for a time and Ali would go with them. Otherwise he came to us every night, his anxiety growing as the fatal day approached.

"Then one morning as the sun rose hot over the horizon, the leader of the pioneers gathered his tribe of elated engineers to celebrate the work they had done: at last the great pipe was finished. This was the second celebration we had witnessed among the drillers in this far deserted corner of the Earth. Such events were very strange to us. We still did not see why our mere presence evoked such jubilation. The next morning, huge mechanical birds came down from the sky, bringing swarms of people in strange dress. The speeches they gave for our send-off were even more emotional than those that had greeted our initial arrival. The visitors poured out their enthusiasm, deeply moved by the momentousness of our imminent departure.

"Then came the moment for which they had all been waiting. Two assistants dressed in pure white approached the valve that would release the flow of ergamines. They lifted the cloth that had been placed over it like a veil upon a goddess. Ali Aouellim stood behind the crowd, concealing his distress within the folds of his blue veil.

"Suddenly, the valve opened in front of us. Ignorant of our fate, we were sucked down into the manmade cylinder by a powerful force that sent us careening at dizzying speeds up and down the mountains separating Hassi-Messaoud from the coast. In no more time than it takes the Earth to spin once or twice upon its axis, we found ourselves in an enormous crude oil tank at the port of Bejaia on the Mediterranean Sea.

"At this stage in our one-way journey, which was as baffling as it was frightening, we began to grasp the magnitude oj our forced exodus, for we were followed by Messaoud ergamines in a flood that never ended. I couldn't help thinking of young Ali Alouellim's face, streaked with sadness, and I pondered the end of his message: '... who anxiously await you; black river of life to illuminate their own'. It was still difficult for me to comprehend how our mere fire-making power could justify the taking of so many of us.

"Not long after our arrival on the coast, we heard a strange rumor. During their wild journey northward, newly arriving ergamines thought they had heard the footsteps of a young Saharan and his camel. The rumor was repeated every day a more arrived. We thought immediately of Ali Aouellim, but that seemed impossible. Impossible or not, twenty days later our friend arrived at the Bejaia port. He and his camel had left their native Sahara for a land unknown to them, crossing over dunes, mountains, and valleys to be near their desert ergamine once more, before we abandoned them forever.

"All's arrival evoked a kind of anguish in me. I realized then that the Tuaregs' protective mission, passed down from generation to generation, was not the only reason he had come. The Tuaregs revered the Earth, just as it was. Their calling to protect the Sahara was born of a great love. I understood that day how distraught they must be. They grieved to see their desert bleeding from the wounds inflicted by the pitiless pioneers.

"Just as in Messaoud, Ali's emotions were close to the surface. And, as before, he came to us each night. Finally the inevitable day arrived when the ships of the Northern merchants entered the bay. At the sight of the first one, Ali fell mute with sorrow. He knew that others soon would follow.

"Once the ship was anchored, things began to happen quickly. Floods of our ergamine friends were loaded into the tanker, a kind of floating reservoir. Only a few hours after its arrival, it left for the open sea. This was difficult for Ali to bear. Racked with pain, he watched the vessel slip away in silence, his eyes never leaving it. How could this be happening? Why hadn't the sailors who worked at the port stopped the foreign merchants from taking this treasure away from his desert? We felt Ali's grief as he saw the ship disappear over the horizon, never to return.

"Ali mounted his camel and secured himself to his saddle as he did for his longest journeys. He muttered something and we understood that he was too devastated by his failure to uphold his mission to find the way back on his own. He asked his camel to return him to Hassi-Messaoud.

"The Northerners never knew about young Ali's odyssey. If they had been told, they would never have believed it. We learned later that the faithful camel followed the pipeline all the way back, returning its noble master to his home."


{a} The Hassi Messaoud oil field was discovered in 1956. Located in the Sahara Desert in the center of Algeria approximately 800 miles south of Algiers, it proved to be the country's largest oil reserve and is still one of the biggest in Africa. The Hassi Messaoud area contains an estimated 6.4 billion barrels, or about seventy percent of the country's proven oil reserves, and can produce approximately 400,000 barrels per day.

{21} Alain Perrodon, Le petrole a travers les ages (Paris, France: Editions Boubee, 1989), 170.

Bill Totten

Burnt Out

Kenneth Clarke's work for British American Tobacco should disqualify him from office.

by George Monbiot.

Published in the Guardian (August 23 2005)

If someone told you that the Conservatives would form the next government, then asked you who you would like to see as their leader, what answer would you give? I suspect that most Guardian readers would choose Kenneth Clarke. Opposed to the invasion of Iraq, sympathetic to the European Union, liberal, avuncular, Clarke is the obvious antidote to the swivel-eyed ideologues who have run the party for much of the past thirty years. You were doubtless glad to hear that he will declare his candidacy over the next few weeks and that, if he joins forces with David Cameron, he could win.

There's just one small problem. To see him as a credible candidate, you must forget what he has been doing for the past seven years. Since 1998, he has been deputy chairman of British American Tobacco (BAT). {1} It seems to me that this renders him unfit for public office.

Let us begin by examining BAT's contribution to public health. Smoking, according to the World Health Organisation, "is currently responsible for the death of one in ten adults worldwide ... half the people that smoke today - that is about 650 million people - will eventually be killed by tobacco". {2} BAT sells one sixth of the world's cigarettes. {3} Were responsibility to be divided according to market share, we could accuse it of causing the deaths of 100 million people.

In the rich nations this is a declining problem. In the United States, smokers have fallen to 22% of the adult population - the lowest rate since the second world war. {4} In Australia, according to a study published last month, smoking, on current trends, will be extinct by 2030. {5} So BAT's growth relies on poorer nations: Turkey, Iraq, Pakistan, India, Bangladesh, Vietnam, and Nigeria. {6} Last year its profits rose by twenty percent. {7}

There are two obstacles to its further expansion in developing countries. The first is the international attempt, led by the World Health Organisation, to help those countries resist the pressure to deregulate tobacco sales. In 2002, the Guardian revealed that BAT had been paying a middleman up to GBP 250,000 a year to lobby countries to reject international attempts to put stronger health warnings on cigarette packs, reduce the levels of tar and nicotine in cigarettes and increase tobacco taxes. {8} On Sunday, the Observer revealed that Kenneth Clarke attended a meeting in Geneva in 1999, at which BAT discussed with its competitors how they might resist the advertising bans proposed in a draft international treaty. {9}

The second is the attempt by national governments to discourage smoking, in particular by imposing taxes on cigarettes. Over the past five years, BAT documents have been uncovered which appear to implicate the company in smuggling.

At first it looked as if BAT's involvement was indirect. The papers discovered in the company's archives by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists suggested that it supplied cigarettes to wholesalers in the expectation that they would find their way onto the black market. {10} In some countries, they indicate, it knowingly advertised the smuggled brands. {11} But in 2001 the journalists discovered a series of letters which suggested that BAT subsidiaries were organising smuggling operations. One set of papers shows that cigarettes were dispatched to BAT's agents on the Caribbean island of Aruba, then shipped by BAT's exclusive distributors to the South American mainland, then smuggled by middlemen into Venezuela and Colombia. {12} Until 1997, proceeds from this operation appear to have been collected by a BAT branch based in Surrey. {13} After that they were channelled into a subsidiary based in Geneva. By 1998, the year in which Clarke joined the company, the documents suggest that eight billion BAT cigarettes a year were leaving Aruba, harvesting an annual $200 million for the Geneva operation. {14}

When the first smuggling allegations were published, in early 2000, Clarke responded that "British American Tobacco is a good corporate citizen which maintains high ethical standards. We reject allegations that we have 'condoned tax evasion and exploited smuggling'." {15} But he went on to admit that "businesses such as ours who are engaged in international trade are faced with a dilemma ... we act, completely within the law, on the basis that our brands will be available alongside those of our competitors in the smuggled as well as the legitimate market". {16}

He told the House of Commons health committee that BAT "is a company of integrity. It is an extremely good corporate citizen." Claims that it was organising smuggling, he stated, were "quite unfounded ... We do not, and we would not, and we would stop any of our employees doing it". {17} He later admitted that he did not "have any detailed knowledge of the day to day activities" of the Geneva office. {18} He remains vulnerable to the charge that he misled the Commons. {19}

BAT's relationships with its suppliers bear certain resemblances to its relationships with its consumers. Christian Aid has published two reports detailing the company's treatment of tobacco farmers in Brazil and Kenya. {20} The farmers are tied to contracts obliging them to buy their chemicals, seed and equipment from BAT's subsidiaries. The company also determines the price it gives them for the tobacco they produce, and is widely accused of paying far less than the market rate. The result is that many farmers end up owing the company more money than they receive. Partly because of this, some are obliged to employ their children in the fields. Many of the farmers contracted to the company, lacking proper protective clothing, suffer from pesticide-related diseases. A fax from BAT Kenya's regional director reveals that a Kenyan law forbidding farmers to grow tobacco for more than one company (and therefore to seek higher prices) "was actually drafted by us". {21} In Brazil, Christian Aid reveals, BAT's subsidiary was claiming, on the tobacco growers' behalf, the government credit intended for small farmers. {22}

Such behaviour, Christian Aid alleges, is whitewashed by BAT's corporate social responsibility programme. The man in charge of it is Kenneth Clarke. He was the director who helped to broker the deal with Nottingham University establishing a centre for corporate social responsibility, sponsored by the company. {23} BAT was one of the last British-based multinationals to leave Burma: it did so, in 2003, only after a sustained public campaign and a direct request from the British government. It remains one of the largest foreign investors in Uzbekistan. {24}

These are the activities which, for the past seven years, Kenneth Clarke, wittingly or otherwise, has assisted. We should remember that he has previously held the posts of health secretary - responsible for reducing the impacts of smoking; home secretary - responsible for upholding the law; and Chancellor of the Exchequer - responsible for ensuring that Customs and Excise is not cheated of its revenues.

I am not suggesting that Clarke has knowingly engaged in illegal activities, or has done anything to offend current criminal law. But it seems to me that in a fair world - a world in which human life was valued by our legislators - he would not now be contemplating the leadership of Her Majesty's Opposition. He would be behind bars.


1. British American Tobacco, no date. Who We Are: Kenneth Clarke, Deputy Chairman.

2. World Health organisation, no date. Why is tobacco a public health priority?

3. Kevin Maguire, 31st January 2000. A tobacco giant and its global reach. The Guardian.

4. US Medicine, 25th July 2005. Smoking among Adults Declines, According to CDC.

5. Australian Associated Press, 30th July 2005. Smoking in Australia to end in 30 years.

6. eg Simon Bowers, 29th July 2005. BAT to close more European plants. The Guardian; Simon Bowers, 11th June 2005. Peace pipe. The Guardian.

7. Mark Tran, 1st March 2005. BAT boosts profits by 20%. The Guardian.

8. Kevin Maguire, 22nd March 2002. Tobacco firms paid middle man to lobby ministers. The Guardian.

9. Jamie Doward and Gaby Hinsliff, 21st August 2005. Tory hopeful Clarke ‘must cut tobacco tie'. The Observer.

10. Kevin Maguire and Duncan Campbell, 31st January 2000. Tobacco giant implicated in global smuggling schemes. The Guardian.

11. ibid.

12. Duncan Campbell and Kevin Maguire, 22nd August 2001. Clarke company faces new smuggling claims. The Guardian. The documents can be viewed at:,,540558,00.html

13. ibid.

14. Duncan Campbell and Kevin Maguire, 22nd August 2001. Clarke company faces new smuggling claims. The Guardian and Duncan Campbell, 22nd August 2001. The multi-million dollar trade route. The Guardian.

15. Kenneth Clarke, 3rd February 2000. Dilemma of a cigarette exporter . The Guardian.

16. ibid.

17. Select Committee on Health, 5 June 2000. Second Report, Minutes of Evidence. Examination of witnesses Wednesday 16 February 2000. Mr M Broughton, Mr K Clarke, Mr C Bates and Mr D Campbell.

18. Duncan Campbell and Kevin Maguire, 22nd August 2001. Clarke company faces new smuggling claims. The Guardian.

19. This point was first made by David Leigh, 23rd August 2001. Big Tobacco could get burnt. The Guardian.

20. Christian Aid and DESER, February 2002. Hooked on tobacco.; and Christian Aid, 2004. Behind the mask: The real face of corporate social responsibility.

21. Christian Aid and DESER, ibid.

22. Christian Aid, ibid.

23. Francis Beckett, 9th July 2003. Conflict of interests. The Guardian.

24. Simon Bowers, 11th June 2005, ibid.

Bill Totten