Bill Totten's Weblog

Tuesday, January 31, 2006

Property Paranoia

Wealth is beginning to reduce our freedoms

by George Monbiot

Published in the Guardian (January 31 2006)

A few days ago, after a furious argument, I was thrown out of a wood where I have walked for over twenty years. I must admit that I did not behave very well. As I walked away I did something I haven't done for a long time: I gave the gamekeeper a one-fingered salute. In my defence I would plead that I was overcome with unhappiness and anger.

The time I have spent in that wood must amount to months. Every autumn I would spend days there, watching the turning colours or grubbing for mushrooms and beechmast and knapped flints. In the summer I would look for warblers and redstarts. I saw a nightjar there once. It was one of the few peaceful and beautiful places in my part of the world that's within a couple of miles of a station: I could escape from the traffic without the help of a car. Part of me, I feel, belongs there. Or it did.

It is not that I wasn't trespassing before. Nor has the status of the land changed: it is still owned, as far as I know, by the same private estate. No one tried to stop me in those twenty-odd years because no one was there. But now there is a blue plastic barrel every fifty yards, and the surrounding fields are planted with millet and maize. The wood has been turned into a pheasant run. Having scarcely figured in the landowner's books, it must now be making him a fortune. And I am perceived as a threat.

The words that rang in my ears as I stomped away were these. "You've got your bloody right to roam now - why do you need to come here?" It struck me that this could be a perverse outcome of the legislation for which I spent years campaigning: that the right to walk in certain places is seen by landowners as consolidating their relations with the public. All that is not permitted will become forbidden.

But this, I expect, is a secondary problem. The more important one is surely the surge of money foaming through the south-east of England. A thousand woods can be filled with pheasants and still there are not enough to serve the people who have the money required - the many hundreds of pounds a day - to shoot them. We were told that the rising tide would lift all boats. But I feel I am drowning in it.

Two weeks ago, writing in the Financial Times, the economist Andrew Oswald observed that "the hippies, the Greens, the road protesters, the downshifters, the slow-food movement - all are having their quiet revenge. Routinely derided, the ideas of these down-to-earth philosophers are being confirmed by new statistical work by psychologists and economists." {1} As I qualify on most counts, I will regard this as a vindication.

Oswald's point is that the industrialised countries have not become happier as they've become richer. Rates of depression and stress have risen, and people report no greater degree of satisfaction with their lives than their poorer ancestors did. In the United States, the sense of well-being has actually declined. One of the problems is that "humans are creatures of comparison ... it is relative income that matters: when everyone in a society gets wealthier, average well-being stays the same". {2}

The same point has been made recently by the New Economics Foundation {3} and by Professor Richard Layard, in his book Happiness {4}. New developments in both psychological testing and neurobiology allow happiness to be measured with greater confidence than before. Layard cites research which suggests that it peaked in the United Kingdom in 1975. Beyond a certain degree of wealth - an average GDP of around $20,000 per head - "additional income is not associated with extra happiness". Once a society's basic needs and comforts have been met, there is no point in becoming richer.

I am astonished by the astonishment with which their findings have been received. Compare, for example, these two statements:

"So one secret of happiness is to ignore comparisons with people who are more successful than you are: always compare downwards, not upwards". Richard Layard, 2005 {5}.

"It put me to reflecting, how little repining there would be among mankind, at any condition of life, if people would rather compare their condition with those that are worse, in order to be thankful, than be always comparing them with those which are better, to assist their murmurings and complainings". Daniel Defoe, 1719 {6}.

We have been led, by the thinking of people like the psychologist John B Watson and the economist Lionel Robbins, to forget what everyone once knew: that wealth and happiness are not the same thing.

Comparison is not the only reason the professors of happiness cite for our failure to feel better as we become richer. They point to the fact that we become habituated to wealth: Layard calls this "the hedonic treadmill". They blame the longer hours we work and our deteriorating relationships. But there is something I think they have missed: that wealth itself can become a source of deprivation.

Having money enhances your freedom. You can travel further and you can do more when you get there. But other people's money restricts your freedom. Where you once felt free, now you find fences. In fact, you MUST travel further to find somewhere in which you can be free.

As people become richer, and as they can extract more wealth from their property, other people become more threatening to them. We know that the fear of crime is a cause of unhappiness, but so is the sense of being seen as a potential criminal. The spikes and lights and cameras proclaim that society is not to be trusted, that we live in a world of Hobbesian relations. The story they tell becomes true, as property paranoia makes us hate each other. The harmless wanderer in the woods becomes a mortal enemy.

It is hard to see how that plague of pheasants could be deemed to have caused a net increase in happiness. A group of very wealthy people, who already have an endless choice of activities, have one more wood in which to shoot. The rest of us have one less wood in which to walk. The landowners tell us that by putting down birds they have an incentive to preserve the woods - this was one of the arguments the gamekeeper used as he was throwing me off. But what good does that do us if we are not allowed to walk there?

The Countryside and Rights of Way Act of 2000, which granted us the right to roam on mountains, moors, heath, downland and commons, has surely increased the sum of human happiness. But in those parts of the country which retain very little habitat of that kind (because it has been destroyed or enclosed by the landowners), the gains we made then might already have been cancelled out by the losses, as the landlords' new opportunities for making money reduce our opportunities for leaving money behind.

We need the full set of rights we were once promised, and which, in Scotland, have already been granted: access to the woods, the rivers and the coast as well as the open country. But as these places are turned into money-making monocultures, the question changes. Will we still want to visit them?


1. Andrew Oswald, 19th January 2006. The hippies were right all along about happiness. The Financial Times.

2. ibid.

3. New Economics Foundation, 2004. The power and potential of well-being indicators. NEF and Nottingham City Council.

4. Richard Layard, 2005. Happiness: lessons from a new science. Allen Lane, London.

5. ibid.

6. Daniel Defoe, 1719, Robinson Crusoe.

Bill Totten

Monday, January 30, 2006

Stark warning over climate change

BBC News (January 30 2006)

Rising concentrations of greenhouse gases may have more serious impacts than previously believed, a major new scientific report has said.

The report, published by the UK government, says there is only a small chance of greenhouse gas emissions being kept below "dangerous" levels.

It fears the Greenland ice sheet is likely to melt, leading sea levels to rise by seven metres over 1,000 years.

The poorest countries will be most vulnerable to these effects, it adds.

The report, "Avoiding Dangerous Climate Change", collates evidence presented by scientists at a conference hosted by the UK Meteorological Office in February 2005.

The conference set two principal objectives: to ask what level of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere is too much, and what are the options for avoiding such levels?

Environment Secretary Margaret Beckett said the report's conclusions would be a shock to many people.

"The thing that is perhaps not so familiar to members of the public ... is this notion that we could come to a tipping point where change could be irreversible", she told BBC Radio 4's Today programme.

"We're not talking about it happening over five minutes, of course, maybe over a thousand years, but it's the irreversibility that I think brings it home to people".

Vulnerable ecosystems

One collection of scientific papers sets out the impacts associated with various levels of temperature increase.

"The biggest problem does not seem to be the technologies or the costs, but overcoming the many political, social and behavioural barriers to implementing mitigation options".
- Bert Metz and Detlef van Vuuren

"Above a one degree Celsius increase, risks increase significantly, often rapidly for vulnerable ecosystems and species", concludes Bill Hare from the Potsdam Institute of Climate Impact Research in Germany, who produced an overview of more than seventy studies of impacts on water resources, agriculture and wildlife.

"In the one to two degree range, risks across the board increase significantly, and at a regional level are often substantial", he writes.

"Above two degrees the risks increase very substantially, involving potentially large numbers of extinctions or even ecosystem collapses, major increases in hunger and water shortage risks as well as socio-economic damages, particularly in developing countries".

The European Union has adopted a target of preventing a rise in global average temperature of more than two Celsius.

That, according to the report, might be too high, with two degrees perhaps being enough to trigger melting of the Greenland ice sheet.

This would have a major impact on sea levels globally, though it would take up to 1,000 years to see the full predicted rise of seven metres.

The western half of the much larger Antarctic ice sheet is also causing concern to the British Antarctic Survey, whose head Chris Rapley describes it as a "sleeping giant".

Previous assessments had concluded the ice here was unlikely to melt in significant amounts in the foreseeable future; but Professor Rapley says that question needs revisiting in the light of new evidence.

Unfeasible targets

A key task undertaken by some scientists contributing to the report was to calculate which greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere would be enough to cause these "dangerous" temperature increases.

Currently, the atmosphere contains about 380 parts per million (ppm) of carbon dioxide, the principal greenhouse gas, compared to levels before the industrial revolution of about 275 ppm.

"For achieving the two Celsius target with a probability of more than sixty percent, greenhouse gas concentrations need to be stabilised at 450 ppm CO2-equivalent or below", conclude Michel den Elzen from the Netherlands Environmental Assessment Agency and Malte Meinshausen of the US National Center for Atmospheric Research.

"A stabilisation at 450 ppm CO2-equivalent requires global emissions to peak around 2015, followed by substantial overall reductions in the order of thirty to forty percent compared to 1990 levels in 2050".

But, speaking on Today, the UK government's chief scientific advisor Sir David King said that is unlikely to happen.

"We're going to be at 400 parts per million in ten years time, I predict that without any delight in saying it", he said.

"But no country is going to turn off a power station which is providing much-desired energy for its population to tackle this problem - we have to accept that.

"To aim for 450 (ppm) would, I am afraid, seem unfeasible".

A rise of two Celsius, researchers conclude, will be enough to cause:

* Decreasing crop yields in the developing and developed world

* Tripling of poor harvests in Europe and Russia

* Large-scale displacement of people in north Africa from desertification

* Up to 2.8 billion people at risk of water shortage

* 97% loss of coral reefs

* Total loss of summer Arctic sea ice causing extinction of the polar bear and the walrus

* Spread of malaria in Africa and North America

But Miles Allen, a lecturer on atmospheric physics at Oxford University, said assessing a "safe level" of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere was "a bit like asking a doctor what's a safe number of cigarettes to smoke per day".

"There isn't one but at the same time people do smoke and live until they're ninety", he told Today.

"It's one of those difficult areas where we're talking about changing degrees of risk rather than a very definite number after which we can say with absolute certainty that certain things will happen".

Technological hope

On the other question asked at the 2005 conference - what are the options for avoiding dangerous concentrations in greenhouse gas emissions - the report is more equivocal.

Technological options do exist, it concludes, such as ways to increase energy efficiency, renewable energy sources, and "clean coal" processes.

Financial mechanisms which can increase their uptake, such as emissions trading, are also in existence.

The big issue is how quickly they will be adopted, and by what proportion of governments.

"For all stabilisation strategies, the biggest problem does not seem to be the technologies or the costs, but overcoming the many political, social and behavioural barriers to implementing mitigation options", conclude Bert Metz and Detlef van Vuuren of the Netherlands Environmental Assessment Agency.

"There is a multitude of potential obstacles, ranging from lack of awareness, vested interests, prices not reflecting environmental impacts, cultural and behavioural barriers to change and, in the case of spreading technologies to developing countries, the lack of an effective enabling environment for new investments".

Story from BBC NEWS:

Published: 2006/01/30 09:39:00 GMT

Copyright BBC MMVI

Bill Totten

Saturday, January 28, 2006

Ronald Reagan: Based on a True Story

by Richard Reeves (January 20 2006)

Twenty-five years ago, on January 20 1981, Ronald Reagan was sworn in as the fortieth president of the United States. The line best remembered as the former governor of California took over the federal government was: "Government is not the solution to our problem. Government is the problem".

He touched on four simple themes, the same ones he had been repeating for years, first as spokesman for the General Electric Corporation, then as governor and the post-Goldwater icon of the conservative wing of the Republican Party: (1) reducing taxes and budget deficits, thus reducing the power and size of the government; (2) rebuilding the American military; (3) confronting communism around the world; and (4) renewing American pride and patriotism.

He blew his first goal. He reduced income taxes in an energetic first year, but those taxes and others immediately began creeping up again. Government kept growing, although spending shifted from domestic social programs to military spending. Deficits exploded as the man who had made a career of attacking "tax and spend" Democrats invented a new kind of Republicanism that might be called "spend and borrow". Only our grandchildren, as they pay Reagan's bills, will know the real cost of those policies and of opportunities lost, beginning with national health care.

But Reagan did keep his other three promises. He increased military spending by more than fifty percent. He scrapped "containment" and "detente" in favor of his own inclinations, articulated to his first national security adviser, Richard Allen: "I know you think I don't have a strategy for dealing with communism, but I do: We win! They lose!"

And the old actor persuaded Americans to believe in themselves and in a past imagined, telling us we were better than other people, God's chosen, the last best hope, citizens of a shining city on a hill. Simply speaking and speaking simply, Reagan had a gift for turning issues into emotions. In effect, he dumbed-down America, persuading us to suspend belief and reality, combining fact and fiction, to make politics and governance just another subsidiary of his old business, entertainment. His governance was based on a true story.

A stubborn and determined old man not greatly interested in learning anything new, Reagan instinctively understood the presidency in important ways derided and mocked by many of his contemporaries. He knew the job is not managing the government; the job is leading the nation. He knew words could be more important than deeds.

The greatest irony of the Reagan years, I would argue after working five years on a book about his tenure, President Reagan: The Triumph of Imagination (Simon & Schuster, 2006), is that the old man was being managed and manipulated by a savvy cadre of younger men and an ambitious wife. But, he hardly knew the names of his staff; the younger men he called "fellas". They were pretty much interchangeable to him. His most talented and effective assistant, James A Baker III, put it this way: "He treated us all the same, as hired help".

He seemed disengaged because he was. He did not care about most of what the government did. But it seemed that he had come to Washington with a six-year script for an eight-year presidency. He also seemed politically dead after his reckless blundering in the Middle East sent America crusading against Islam, resulting in the deaths of hundreds of American servicemen and the beginnings of some of the terrorism we now know. He led his own administration into illegal (almost comic) arms-for-hostages deals bartered from Teheran to Tel Aviv to Tegucigalpa.

He was pretty much on his own by then. Congress and the press treated him as a fool or a crook. But he knew one big thing, always had: Communism was falling of its own weight and contradictions. Conservatives abandoned him, consigning him to Lenin's category of "useful idiots". But he had found the key to victory in the Cold War, a Soviet leader who also understood old-fashioned communism was collapsing. The official notes of the Mikhail Gorbachev-Reagan meetings, finally released, show convincingly that in the end, Reagan, trying to save his ideology and his presidency, prevailed over the Russian trying to save his ideology and his country.

At the end of 1987, Reagan's seventh year in office, Gorbachev came to Washington. There was a state dinner on December 8, which ended with Gorbachev and his wife standing and belting out the lively "Moscow Nights" as Van Cliburn played the piano. Two days later, the best of the conservative columnists, Reagan's best friend in the press, George Will, wrote, "December 8 1987, will be remembered as the day the Cold War was lost".

In fact, it was the day we won the Cold War. Reagan did not, as his champions preach, win it. We all did, beginning with Harry S Truman, but Reagan in his stubborn conviction speeded the end. There was no one at that west-facing inauguration in January 1981 who imagined that within ten years the Soviet Union would be dissolved and a new Russia would begin applying for membership in the North Atlantic Treaty Organization.

Well, maybe Ronald Reagan did. But no one took him seriously - then.

Copyright 2006 Yahoo! Inc. All rights reserved.

Bill Totten

Thursday, January 26, 2006

Exit Strategies

by Lewis H Lapham

Harper's Magazine (January 2006)

"It is not obligatory for a generation to have great men".
- Jose Ortega y Gasset

As it becomes increasingly evident that the war in Iraq isn't likely to lead to a happy, Hollywood ending, an ever larger number of its once-upon-a-time champions - cost-conscious Republicans as well as conscience-stricken Democrats - have begun to suffer increasingly severe shortages of memory. On their better days they can remember that Iraq is a faraway Arab country, famous for its mosques and palm trees, but when asked why Baghdad is burning, or how it has come to pass that 2,096 American soldiers are no longer reporting for work on what in the winter of 2003 was imagined as a movie set, they become anxious and forgetful. Last fall's sudden rise in newly discovered cases of amnesia coincided with the season's news reports about the Bush Administration's having set up the invasion of Iraq behind a screen of flag-waving lies - the CIA misinforming the Pentagon, the Pentagon falsifying its dispatches to the State Department, the White House gulling the Congress, Congress running a shell game on itself.

Given the multiple choice of reasons for not knowing what was what (then, now, preferably never), the convenient losses of memory also could be construed as symptoms of a too trusting faith in the goodness of one's fellow man, and during the months of October and November the Washington talk-show circuit was loud with displays of indignant surprise and wet with the tears of betrayal. Everybody a blameless dupe - misled, played for a sucker, sold down the rivers of deception - and therefore nobody responsible for the casualty lists and the dead dream of empire. Nothing wrong with anybody's character or motives, of course; nobody here in the television studio or the House of Representatives except a patriotic assembly of loyal Americans overwhelmed by a massive systems failure, which is a technical problem, not a sign of bad faith or a proof of blind stupidity. The lights went out; the secretaries forgot to put the truth in the water.

Some of the stories deserved accompaniment for solo violin, others were best understood as acts of contrition on loan from the National Cathedral, but all of them clung to the skirts of the same script. Thus Brent Scowcroft, former national security adviser to the first President George Bush, opposed to the theory of the Second Gulf War, appalled by Vice President Dick Cheney's office deploying against enemies both foreign and domestic the strategies of forward deterrence and preemptive strike, telling a writer for The New Yorker, "I consider Cheney a good friend - I've known him for thirty years. But Dick Cheney I don't know anymore."

Or Senator John Kerry, erstwhile presidential candidate who in October 2002 had endorsed the glorious march on Baghdad, speaking to an audience at Georgetown University on October 26:

"I regret that we were not given the truth; as I said more than a year ago, knowing what we know now, I would not have gone to war in Iraq. And knowing now the full measure of the Bush Administration's duplicity and incompetence, I doubt there are many members of Congress who would give them the authority they have abused so badly. I know I would not."

Or the bewildered journalist George Packer, publishing a 467-page book, The Assassin's Gate, in which he deconstructs every policy initiative and bureaucratic maneuver preliminary to what he had hoped would prove to be the creation of a fair and free Iraq subsequent to the second coming of Thomas Jefferson in a Bradley fighting vehicle, but finding at the end of his labors that he can't answer the question "Why did the United States invade Iraq? It still isn't possible to be sure - and this remains the most remarkable thing about the Iraq War." Unwilling or unable to guess at what he calls "the real motives of the Bush administration", Packer declares himself a victim of his own idealism, decides that "Iraq is the Rashomon of wars", and concludes that the reason for it "has something to do with September 11".

By the second week in October no C-SPAN camera lacked for a talking head pleading its inability to distinguish fact from fiction. So many people had been so wickedly misinformed that even the editor of the New York Times had been lost in the fog of disinformation, failing to notice that Judith Miller, a star reporter for his own newspaper, also was operating as a conduit for government propaganda. Before the last leaves of autumn had fallen from the trees on Capitol Hill it had become hard to judge which of the testimonials was the most endearing or instructive. The committees of liberal conscience in town praised Packer's soft-headedness, approved Scowcroft's geopolitical modesty, admired the trembling of Kerry's chin, but the gold medal for moral awakening they awarded to Colonel Lawrence Wilkerson, a retired Army officer who from 2002 to 2005 had served as chief of staff to Secretary of State Colin Powell and who appeared at the podium of the New America Foundation on October 19 to say that during his long career in government (as a staff officer and as a scholar) he had studied the twistings, flummoxings, "aberrations", "bastardizations", "perturbations", apt to occur at the highest echelons of power, but never had he seen anything worse than what he had seen in his years with the Bush Administration. "What I saw was a cabal between the vice president of the United States, Richard Cheney, and the secretary of defense, Donald Rumsfeld, on critical issues that made decisions that the bureaucracy did not know were being made. And then when the bureaucracy was presented with the decision to carry them out, it was presented in such a disjointed, incredible way that the bureaucracy often didn't know what it was doing as it moved to carry them out."

The colonel's reference to "a cabal" - daring word, daringly borrowed from the manifestos of the unshaven, revolutionary left - earned him a moment in the sun of the New York Times' op-ed page (as did his saying, of Undersecretary of Defense Douglas Feith, "Seldom in my life have I met a dumber man"), but the columnists who set him up with the laurel leaves (noble teller of truth to the stone face of power) apparently didn't read the full text, which might have curbed their enthusiasm. The document is remarkable for its pedantry, its presumptions of virtue, its childishness. Proud of his postings as a teacher of military science at both the Naval and Marine war colleges, the colonel fancies himself a sage, but, like Packer, whose book he praises as a Boy Scout guide into the wilderness of bureaucratic dysfunction, he doesn't know why the United States declared war on Iraq. The plan was unintelligible, the objective a mystery. Yes, something criminal probably was afoot in the "Oval Office cabal", but the colonel doesn't care to know the details. Not because he doesn't deplore the abuses of government power but because good American boys don't consort with cabals, don't go into the woods where the wild things are, don't fool around with their sisters. More inclined to preserve his own state of grace than to mess around with snakes, and as unwilling as Packer to think for himself, the colonel devotes the bulk of his text to statements of high-minded bureaucratic principle supported by innovative suggestions for more effective corporate management:

"The complexity of the crises that confront governments today are just unprecedented ... You simply cannot deal with all the challenges that government has to deal with, meet all the demands that government has to meet in the modern age, in the twenty-first century, without admitting that it is hugely complex.

"And if something comes along that is truly serious, truly serious, something like a nuclear weapon going off in a major American city, or something like a major pandemic, you are going to see the ineptitude of this government in a way that will take you back to the Declaration of Independence ... [R]ead in there what they [the Framers] say about the necessity of the people to throw off tyranny or to throw off ineptitude or to throw off that which is not doing what the people want it to do. And you're talking about the potential for, I think, real dangerous times if we don't get our act together.

"I really think we have to protect ourselves against institutional imperfections, and in particular we have to protect ourselves against the institutions of humans and the imperfections that we bring.

"I like to use the word gracelessness, and I use that word because grace is something we have lost in the modern world. It's a very important product.

"We can't leave Iraq. We simply can't ... But we're there, we've done it, and we cannot leave. I would submit to you that if we leave precipitously or we leave in a way that doesn't leave something there we can trust, if we do that, we will mobilize the nation, put five million men and women under arms and go back and take the Middle East within a decade. That's what we'll have to do. So why not get it right now?

"[T]he world is essentially fractious today and failed states are the future, not the past, and we are the proprietor. It is our obligation and our responsibility in some cases to be a good proprietor. In other cases we have to be more realistic.

"You never know what you are going to need on the battlefield, so you'd better have six of them. Five of them won't show up, four of them won't be able to communicate, and I could go on. But you need overlap, you need redundancy. You need, as Powell used to say, 'decisive force'. You'd better have ten cases of water where you think you'd need one. You'd better have fifteen million MREs where you think you only need a million because you never know in a crisis, and the best way to be prepared is to have lots more than you think you're going to need or want."

It might also be prudent to have on hand a surplus of intelligence, but if the tone and quality of the colonel's thought is representative of what passes for wisdom in the head of the American government, where then is the hope of confronting the "hugely complex" challenges of the twenty-first century with anything other than a childish belief in magic? After reading the transcript of the presentation to the New America Foundation, I watched the rerun of the television broadcast, which, unhappily, didn't correct the impression of a charismatic Christian speaking in tongues. I could see that the colonel was probably a very nice man, earnest and well-intentioned, proceeding diligently from power point to power point, here to help and not to hurt, but so lost in the ritual language of bureaucratic abstraction that although he presumably knew what he was talking about, he undoubtedly didn't know that what he was talking about wasn't worth knowing.

More than once he repeated a dire warning with the emphasis of implied exclamation points ("problems are brewing! problems are brewing! ... My army right now is truly in bad shape - truly in bad shape!"), but when something goes wrong in America it isn't because anybody in government means to lie, cheat, steal, commit murder, or otherwise do harm. How could they? They're Americans and therefore good. It's never the people who are at fault; it's because the system is "dysfunctional", because the intelligence agencies "don't share", "never talk to each other", don't grasp the fact that everybody's "got to work together ... under leadership they trust and leadership that on basic issues they agree with ..."

It wasn't until I'd read through the colonel's cri de coeur for a second and third time that I began to understand how it could happen that so many of Washington's nominally well-informed politicians and journalists suffered so massive an intelligence failure prior to the invasion of Iraq, or why the same cloud of unknowing hadn't descended on the conversation in New York. By late January 2003, six weeks before the bombs fell on Baghdad, the Bush Administration's stated reasons for going to war already had been shown to be fraudulent, and despite the news media's doing their patriotic best not to notice what was wrong with the sales pitch, the swindle was a matter of public record - Andrew Card, the President's chief of staff, had suggested to the New York Times in September of 2002 that the timing of the assault on Baghdad was mostly a matter of marketing; the UN weapons inspectors during the autumn of that year had made numerous journeys to Iraq, finding no instruments of mass destruction; Saddam Hussein's supposed connection to Al Qaeda was clearly illusory; Vice President Cheney's intelligence operatives and those under contract to the CIA were quarreling openly in the newspapers about the data gathered from sources dubious and self-serving, reliable only to the extent that they could be trusted to say what they had been paid to say.

The available facts were consistent with what was known at the time about the Bush Administration's will to power and with what could be reasonably inferred about its commercial motive and imperial intent, the postulates easily enough obtained merely by numbering the false statements in any one of President Bush's speeches, or simply by watching the Pentagon press briefings at which Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld's attitude implied that the waging of war in Central Asia really wasn't much different than playing a video game in a penny arcade aboard the USS Franklin D Roosevelt. Nobody needed access to privileged gossip or a talent for interpreting aerial reconnaissance photographs to know that the President wanted a war in Iraq, that he possessed the means to get what he wanted (a cowed legislature, an accommodating press, an inert electorate), and that it didn't matter what reasons were given for the blitzkrieg - exporting democracy, winning World Wars III and IV, saving Israel, protecting America, bringing the Christian faith to heathen Islam, et cetera - as long as they came wrapped with the ribbon of the American flag.

Such at least was the general understanding on the part of the many people (by some estimates at least 800,000 people) who on February 15 2003, staged street demonstrations in 150 American cities as a way of voicing their skepticism. Maybe they didn't know whether it was the Euphrates or the Tigris River that flowed through Baghdad, but they could recognize the difference between the truth and its expedient equivalents.

The capacity to notice the difference and the willingness to act on the observation presuppose the mind and presence of an adult - that is, an individual whose character and moral sense is formed by his or her own thought and experience. Washington these days doesn't have much use for adults; they can't be trusted to go along with the program, play well with others, believe what they read in the newspapers. What is wanted is a quorum of dutiful children, who know that skepticism is wicked and credulity a virtue that also stands and serves as job requirement for their successful rising in the ranks of the government and media bureaucracies. Like the anxious courtiers in feathered hats who once decorated the throne rooms of old Europe, they fit their convictions to the circumstance, borrow their sense and sensibility from the consensus present in the school dormitory or the Senate conference committee, in this year's color scheme or last week's opinion poll. If from time to time the consensus changes (the war in Iraq is good, the war in Iraq is bad), staff officers as well trained as Colonel Wilkerson in the art of devising exit strategies and politicians as willing as Senator John Kerry to change trains know that the American public would rather comfort a child than pardon a criminal or forgive a fool.

Bill Totten

Wednesday, January 25, 2006

A Self-Vindicating Policy

Building new nuclear weapons creates the threats they are supposed to avert.

by George Monbiot

Published in the Guardian (January 24 2006)

In nuclear politics, every action is justified by the response it provokes. The US explains its missile defence programme by claiming that other states are developing new weapons systems, which one day it might need to shoot down. In response, Russia has activated a new weapons system, the Topol-M, designed to "penetrate US anti-missile defences" {1}.

Israel, citing the threat from Iran, insists on retaining its nuclear missiles. Threatened by them (and prompted, among other reasons, by his anti-semitism), the Iranian president says he wants to wipe Israel off the map, and appears to be developing a means of doing so. Israel sees his response as vindicating its nuclear programme. It threatens an air strike, which grants retrospective validity to Ahmadinejad's designs. And so it goes on. Everyone turns out to be right in the end.

Tomorrow the deadline passes for the only objection anyone is likely to be allowed to make to the latest GBP 100 million of government spending on Britain's nuclear capability. West Berkshire council is permitted, on planning grounds, to ask the government for a public inquiry into whether the Orion laser project at Aldermaston should go ahead. The government is under no obligation to grant it. No one else has any power to impede the scheme. The Orion programme seems to be one of those projects whose purpose will be determined after it has begun, but it appears to have something to do with evading the comprehensive test ban treaty {2}. It might help British engineers to design a new generation of bombs without having to test them. If so, it will strengthen the suspicion that the government is considering not only replacing our existing Trident missiles, but also building an entirely new class of weapons to accompany them. In 2002 a spokesman at Aldermaston suggested that the plant might start building either mini-nukes or nuclear warheads for cruise missiles {3}.

Three weeks ago, the Royal Navy announced that it is spending GBP 125 million upgrading the Faslane naval base on the River Clyde in Scotland {4}. The base houses the submarines which carry the UK's Trident missiles. Like the Orion project, the spending has been approved before parliament or the public has had a chance to decide whether it is necessary: what it means, in effect, is that the Trident replacement programme has already begun.

The defence secretary explains that a new missile system is necessary because "some countries" have not been "complying with their obligations under the non-proliferation treaty" {5}. In response, therefore, the UK will refuse to comply with its obligations under the non-proliferation treaty. This provides other countries with their justification for ... well, you've got the general idea. Last week, France joined the exclusive club of responsible nations (the UK {6}, US {7} and North Korea) which have threatened other countries with a pre-emptive nuclear strike. What greater incentive could there be for the rogue states Chirac spoke of to "consider using ... weapons of mass destruction"? {8}

Unlike the British parliament, the US Congress has been permitted to vote on such matters, and despite a great deal of bellyaching from the administration, has bravely sought to block a new nuclear weapons programme. For two years in a row it has refused to approve the money for George Bush's "robust nuclear earth penetrator", a mini-nuke which could have reduced the threshold for first use. But now it seems to have been duped.

Last year it approved initial funding for something called the "reliable replacement warhead" programme. The administration maintained that this was nothing more than the refurbishment of existing nuclear weapons. The legislators chose to believe it. David Hobson, a Republican who sits on the House Appropriations Committee, and has led the fight against new weapons, was persuaded that "this is not a sneaky way to get a whole new powerful warhead type of thing in the future. We're not trying to do separate missions than those the warheads were designed for today." {9} Ellen Tauscher, a Democrat who is fiercely opposed to proliferation, insisted "this is about tinkering at the margins of the existing weapons systems, nothing more" {10} The programme would concentrate on replacing a few non-nuclear components, such as wires and electronics, in order to extend their life.

They seemed naive then and they seem more naive today. The US has already spent about $60 billion maintaining and refurbishing its weapons under a separate programme, called "stockpile stewardship". It wasn't easy to see why it needed a new scheme. Even before the reliable replacement warhead programme had been approved, the outgoing deputy head of the Nuclear National Security Administration (NNSA) had let slip that a new generation of weapons was "not the primary objective, but [it] would be a fortuitous associated event". [11]

Now the associated event is beginning to look like a primary objective. A couple of weeks ago, the San Francisco Chronicle interviewed the head of the NNSA, Linton Brookes. "I don't want to mislead you", he admitted. "I will personally be very surprised if we can get the advantages we want without redesigning the physics package". {12}

The "physics package" is the nuclear warhead. He went on to explain that the warheads "will require new pits" (the "pit" is the plutonium core in which the reaction begins). "We are going to need to melt them down and recast them". The new warheads would be bigger than the old ones. This is beginning to look like "a whole new powerful warhead type of thing".

Writing in the online magazine OpenDemocracy a few days ago, the professor of peace studies Paul Rogers suggested that an early candidate for replacement under the new programme would be America's Trident missiles. If this is the case, it "would suit the British very well, with the prospect of close collaboration and maybe even the sharing of some development costs". {13}

So, without any proper public debate on either side of the Atlantic, both nations might have begun developing a new nuclear weapons programme which could last for forty or fifty years. Thoughout that period, their missiles will continue to provide everyone else with an excuse to flout the nuclear non-proliferation treaty.

When Iran is referred to the UN Security Council, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad will be able to turn every accusation it makes back on his accusers. He will insist that the council's members are asserting a monopoly of ultimate violence; that while there is as yet no definitive evidence that he is in breach of the nuclear non-proliferation treaty, no one can doubt that they are. He will point to America's tacit endorsement of Israel's nuclear status and its overt endorsement of India's. He will assert that the enforcement of the global nuclear regime discriminates against Muslim states. And though he is wrong about many things, he will be right about all that.

This is not to say that the horripilation Iran's nuclear programme inspires is unjustified. Nor is it to claim that no other state would seek to develop or maintain nuclear weapons if the official nuclear powers gave theirs up. But the refusal of the members of the security council to make any moves towards disarmament, their threats of pre-emptive bombing and their quiet development of new weapons systems guarantees the failure of both the UN and the International Atomic Energy Agency. Nothing could make us less secure than the billions we are spending in the name of security.


1. Fraser Nelson, 26th December 2005. Putin's show of strength triggers fear of fresh nuclear arms race. The Scotsman.

2. Ian Sample, 20th January 2006. GBP 100 million laser project will mimic nuclear explosion. The Guardian.

3. Richard Norton-Taylor, 18th June 2002. MoD plans GBP 2 billion nuclear expansion. The Guardian.

4. William Tinning and Steven McMinn, 5th January 2006. Faslane to have GBP 125 million facelift.

5. Richard Norton-Taylor, 2nd November 2005. Britain still needs nuclear weapons, says Reid. The Guardian.

6. Geoff Hoon, 24th March 2002. The Jonathan Dimbleby Show, ITV 1.

7. Richard Norton-Taylor, 5th October 2005. As the US lowers the nuclear threshold, debate is stifled. The Guardian.

8. Chirac said: "The leaders of states who use terrorist means against us, as well as those who would consider using, in one way or another, weapons of mass destruction, must understand that they would lay themselves open to a firm and adapted response on our part. The response could be a conventional one. It could also be of a different kind." From: John Thornhill and Peter Spiegel, 20th January 2006. The Financial Times.

9. Quoted by James Sterngold, 15th January 2006. Upgrades planned for U.S. nuclear stockpile. The San Francisco Chronicle.

10. Ibid.

11. Quoted by Daryl G Kimball, May 2005. Replacement Nuclear Warheads? Buyer Beware. Arms Control Today.

12. Quoted by James Sterngold, ibid.

13. Paul Rogers, 12th January 2006. The United States, nuclear weapons, and Iran.

Bill Totten

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

Big Brother is Real This Time

by Richard Reeves (December 30 2005)

In democratic countries, what war leads to is not peace but radical reform at home. That is one conclusion of Postwar: A History of Europe Since 1945 (Penguin, 2005) by Tony Judt, one of the most important books of this troubled year.

"World War I had precipitated legislation and social provisions in its wake - if only to deal with the widows, orphans, invalids and unemployed of the immediate postwar years", he writes. "The Second World War transformed both the role of the modern state and the expectations placed upon it ...

"The post-1945 European welfare states varied considerably in the resources they provided and the way they financed them. But certain general points can be made. The provision of social services chiefly concerned education, housing and medical care, as well as urban recreation areas, subsidized public transport, publicly financed art and culture and other indirect benefits of the interventionary state. Social security consisted chiefly of the state provision of insurance - against illness, unemployment, accident and the perils of old age."

So, the great wars created the beginnings and the culmination of modern welfare states, growing from aid to individuals, the alone, the broken and the traumatized, to systems available to all citizens.

What will the war on terrorism produce at home?

The answer to that question seems to be unfolding in Judt's home country, Great Britain, and in the United States, where he teaches at New York University: The great English-speaking democracies are almost inevitably remaking themselves as police states. Changing or ignoring the laws of liberty and instituting more and more invasive technological monitoring of citizens are the new passions of the interventionary state - all in the name of spreading freedom.

While the US government, supported by majorities in national polls, is ignoring laws on oversight of homeland spying, the British are developing systems to literally follow, photographically, every citizen on his or her daily rounds. Big Brother, the fictional invention of a British writer, George Orwell, will be real and functional within a year. The first step, scheduled to be operational next March, will use thousands of cameras linked to government databases to photograph every vehicle entering or leaving London, driving on major highways or stopping for gasoline - and checking those movements against driver's licenses and other government information over two- and five-year periods.

"The new national surveillance network for tracking car journeys", said Steve Conner, science editor of The Independent, "... is already working on ways of automatically recognizing human faces by computer ... every move recorded and stored by machines". Police also project a need for more complicated surveillance systems, schemes aided by hidden computer chips in new cars and trucks.

The system, originally planned as a crime-prevention and detection system, has been in development for 25 years. In Britain, as well as in the United States, police quickly realized that such innovations as automatic cash machines and EZ-pass readers provided a rough map of many people's lives - and led to thousands upon thousands of criminal arrests. But there is no doubt that terrorism incidents and threats will speed development and make what were once considered unacceptable invasions of privacy more acceptable to the British - and, one day, to Americans as well.

"Terrorism" is mentioned in every conversation and report about such innovations, but fear is less critical to such systems than are advances in technology that simply make it simpler to track humans, as if computer chips were also secretly hidden in our own bodies. On hearing of the British plans, I thought that it was a spectacular update to what they did in the bad old days in Moscow: Police stood on little bridges over roadways in and out of the city to record the comings and goings of citizens and foreigners alike. Now they won't even have to wear coats in the cold weather. Technological policing is cheaper, too, and machines don't get pensions.

In interviews, the British police are not particularly secretive about their plans, and digital eyes will certainly make them more effective. But, no matter how well intentioned, this stuff is scary as hell. To quote an American who once lived in London, Benjamin Franklin: "They that would give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety".

Copyright 2006 Yahoo! Inc. All rights reserved.

Bill Totten

Monday, January 23, 2006

The Anti-Empire Report

Some things you need to know before the world ends

by William Blum (January 09 2006)

The sign has been put out front: "Iraq is open for business".

We read about things done and said by the Iraqi president, or the Ministry of this or the Ministry of that, and it's easy to get the impression that Iraq is in the process of becoming a sovereign state, albeit not particularly secular and employing torture, but still, a functioning, independent state. Then we read about the IMF and the rest of the international financial mafia - with the US playing its usual sine qua non role - making large loans to the country and forgiving debts, with the customary strings attached, in the current instance ending government subsidies for fuel and other petroleum products. And so the government starts to reduce the subsidies for these products which affect almost every important aspect of life, and the prices quickly quintuple, sparking wide discontent and protests. {1} Who in this sovereign nation wanted to add more suffering to the already beaten-down Iraqi people? But the international financial mafia are concerned only with making countries meet certain criteria sworn to be holy in Economics 101, like a balanced budget, privatization, and deregulation and thus making themselves more appealing to international investors.

In case the presence of 130,000 American soldiers, a growing number of sprawling US military bases, and all the designed-in-Washington restrictive Coalition Provisional Authority laws still in force aren't enough to keep the Iraqi government in line, this will do it. Iraq will have to agree to allow their economy to be run by the IMF for the next decade. The same IMF that Joseph Stiglitz, the Nobel prize-winning economist and dissident former chief economist at the World Bank, describes as having "brought disaster to Russia and Argentina and leaves a trail of devastated developing economies in its wake". {2}

On top of this comes the disclosure of the American occupation's massive giveaway of the sovereign nation's most valuable commodity, oil. One should read the new report, "Crude Designs: The Rip-Off of Iraq's Oil Wealth" by the British NGO, Platform. Among its findings:

This report reveals how an oil policy with origins in the US State Department is on course to be adopted in Iraq, soon after the December elections, with no public debate and at enormous potential cost. The policy allocates the majority of Iraq's oilfields - accounting for at least 64% of the country's oil reserves - for development by multinational oil companies.

The estimated cost to Iraq over the life of the new oil contracts is $74 to $194 billion, compared with leaving oil development in public hands.

The contracts would guarantee massive profits to foreign companies, with rates of return of 42 to 162 percent. The kinds of contracts that will provide these returns are known as production sharing agreements. PSAs have been heavily promoted by the US government and oil majors and have the backing of senior figures in the Iraqi Oil Ministry. However, PSAs last for 25-40 years, are usually secret and prevent governments from later altering the terms of the contract. {3}

"Crude Designs" author and lead researcher, Greg Muttitt, says: "The form of contracts being promoted is the most expensive and undemocratic option available. Iraq's oil should be for the benefit of the Iraqi people, not foreign oil companies." {4}

Noam Chomsky recently remarked: "We're supposed to believe that the US would've invaded Iraq if it was an island in the Indian Ocean and its main exports were pickles and lettuce. This is what we're supposed to believe." {5}

Reconstruction, thy name is not the United States

The Bush administration has announced that it does not intend to seek any new funds for Iraq reconstruction in the budget request going before Congress in February. When the last of the reconstruction budget is spent, US officials in Baghdad have made clear, other foreign donors and the fledgling Iraqi government will have to take up what authorities say is tens of billions of dollars of work yet to be done merely to bring reliable electricity, water and other services to Iraq's 26 million people. {6}

It should be noted that these services, including sanitation systems, were largely destroyed by US bombing - most of it rather deliberately - beginning in the first Gulf War: forty days and nights the bombing went on, demolishing everything that goes into the making of a modern society; followed by twelve years of merciless economic sanctions, accompanied by twelve years of often daily bombing supposedly to protect the so-called no-fly zones; finally the bombing, invasion and widespread devastation beginning in March 2003 and continuing even as you read this.

"The US never intended to completely rebuild Iraq", Brigadier General William McCoy, the Army Corps of Engineers commander overseeing the work, told reporters at a recent news conference. In an interview this past week, McCoy said: "This was just supposed to be a jump-start". {7}

It's a remarkable pattern. The United States has a long record of bombing nations, reducing entire neighborhoods, and much of cities, to rubble, wrecking the infrastructure, ruining the lives of those the bombs didn't kill. And afterward doing shockingly little or literally nothing to repair the damage.

On January 27 1973, in Paris, the United States signed the "Agreement on Ending the War and Restoring Peace in Vietnam". Among the principles to which the United States agreed was that stated in Article 21: "In pursuance of its traditional [sic] policy, the United States will contribute to healing the wounds of war and to postwar reconstruction of the Democratic Republic of Vietnam [North Vietnam] and throughout Indochina".

Five days later, President Nixon sent a message to the Prime Minister of North Vietnam in which he stipulated the following: (1) The Government of the United States of America will contribute to postwar reconstruction in North Vietnam without any political conditions. (2) Preliminary United States studies indicate that the appropriate programs for the United States contribution to postwar reconstruction will fall in the range of $3.25 billion of grant aid over five years.

Nothing of the promised reconstruction aid was ever paid. Or ever will be.

During the same period, Laos and Cambodia were wasted by US bombing as relentlessly as was Vietnam. After the Indochina wars were over, these nations, too, qualified to become beneficiaries of America's "traditional policy" of zero reconstruction.

Then came the American bombings of Grenada and Panama in the 1980s. There goes our neighborhood. Hundreds of Panamanians petitioned the Washington-controlled Organization of American States as well as American courts, all the way up to the US Supreme Court, for "just compensation" for the damage caused by Operation Just Cause (this being the not-tongue-in-cheek name given to the American invasion and bombing). They got just nothing, the same amount the people of Grenada received.

In 1998, Washington, in its grand wisdom, fired more than a dozen cruise missiles into a building in Sudan which it claimed was producing chemical and biological weapons. The completely pulverized building was actually a major pharmaceutical plant, vital to the Sudanese people. The United States effectively admitted its mistake by releasing the assets of the plant's owner it had frozen. Surely now it was compensation time. It appears that nothing has ever been paid to the owner, who filed suit, or to those injured in the bombing. {8}

The following year we had the case of Yugoslavia; 78 days of round-the-clock bombing, transforming an advanced state into virtually a pre-industrial one; the reconstruction needs were breathtaking. It's been 6 1/2 years since Yugoslavian bridges fell into the Danube, the country's factories and homes leveled, its roads made unusable, transportation torn apart. Yet the country has not received any funds for reconstruction from the architect and leading perpetrator of the bombing campaign, the United States.

The day after the above announcement about the US ending its reconstruction efforts in Iraq, it was reported that the United States is phasing out its commitment to reconstruction in Afghanistan as well. {9} This after several years of the usual launching of bombs and missiles on towns and villages, resulting in the usual wreckage and ruin.

Oh those quaint tribal customs

On December 7, the "All things considered" feature of National Public Radio had a report about the "honor" killing of a young woman in Iraq who had been kidnaped. She had to be killed by her family because of the mere possibility of her having been raped by her captors; the family had to protect its honor; a much loved and admired daughter she was, but still, her cousin shot her dead. It had nothing to do with Islam, the story said, it was a "tribal custom".

This report was followed immediately by Colonel Gary Anderson, US Marines retired, arguing that the United States has to stay the course in Iraq. He's concerned that bin Laden et al will think the United States is "a quitter". He says that leaving now would "dishonor" the Iraqis and he's apparently prepared to continue killing any number of the very same Iraqi people to preserve their honor. Anthropologists report that this seems to be some kind of "tribal custom" in Anderson's country.

Presumably it doesn't bother the good colonel that a large majority of the informed people of the world think the United States is a murderous imperialist power - he's probably proud of that - but a "quitter"? Over his dead body. Or someone's dead body.

Yankee karma

The questions concerning immigration into the United States from south of the border go on year after year, with the same issues argued back and forth: How to/should we block the flow into the country? granting amnesty, a guest-worker program, whether the immigrants help the economy, immigrants collecting welfare, policing employers who hire immigrants ... on and on, round and round it goes, for decades. Once in a while someone opposed to immigration will question whether the United States has any moral obligation to take in these Latino immigrants. Here's one answer to that question: Yes, the United States has a moral obligation because so many of the immigrants are escaping situations in their homelands made hopeless by American interventions. In Guatemala and Nicaragua Washington overthrew progressive governments which were sincerely committed to fighting poverty. In El Salvador the US played a major role in suppressing a movement striving to install such a government, and to a lesser extent played such a role in Honduras.

The end result of these policies has been an army of desperate people heading north in search of a better life, in the process of which they have added to Mexico's poverty burden, inducing many Mexicans to join the trek to Yanquiland.

Although Washington has not intervened militarily in Mexico since 1919, over the years the US has been providing training, arms, and surveillance technology to Mexico's police and armed forces to better their ability to suppress their own people's aspirations, as in Chiapas, and this has added to the influx of the impoverished to the United States. Moreover, Washington's North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), has brought a flood of cheap, subsidized US corn into Mexico and driven many Mexican farmers off the land and into the immigration stream north.

Hmmm, perhaps we really are in danger of a biological attack ... but not from al Qaeda

A week after the massive anti-war demonstration in Washington on September 24, it was revealed that deadly bacteria had been detected at several sites in the city, including by the Lincoln Memorial, situated very close to the demonstration. Biohazard monitors installed at various sites gave positive readings on the 24th and 25th for the bacterium francisella tularensis, which causes the infectious disease tularemia, a pneumonia-like ailment that can be acquired by inhaling airborne bacteria and can be fatal. This biological agent is on the "A list" of the Department of Homeland Security's biohazards, along with anthrax, plague and smallpox. {10}

My first thought upon reading about this was: Those bastards, they'd love to punish people who protest against the war. There's nothing I would put past them.

My second thought was: Oh stop being so paranoid. The news report cited federal health officials saying that the tularemia bacterium can occur naturally in soil and small animals.

My third thought came more than a month later, when I happened to be reading about a US Army program of the 1960s which carried out numerous exercises involving aircraft spraying of American warships with thousands of servicemen aboard. A wide variety of chemical and biological warfare agents were used to learn the vulnerabilities of these ships and personnel to such attacks and to develop procedures to respond to them. Amongst the CBW agents used were pasteurella tularensis (another name for francisella tularensis), which, said the Department of Defense later, causes tularemia, can produce very serious symptoms, and has a mortality rate of about six percent. {11}

These tests in effect used members of the armed forces as guinea pigs, without their informed consent and without proper medical follow-up. This was a scenario enacted on numerous occasions during the Cold War, and subsequently as well, involving literally millions of service members, with frequent harmful effects, including at least several deaths, military and civilian. It's a good bet that on some future date we'll learn that similar tests are still going on as part of the war on terrorism. I conclude from all this that if our glorious leaders are not particularly concerned about the health and welfare of their own soldiers, the wretched warriors they enlist to fight the empire's wars, how can we be surprised if they don't care about the health and welfare of those of us standing in opposition to the empire?

Civil liberties holds an important place in the heart of the Bush administration's rhetoric.

"This is a limited program designed to prevent attacks on the United States of America and, I repeat, limited", said President Bush about the National Security Agency's domestic spying on Americans without a court order. {12}

Let's give the devil his due. It's easy to put down the domestic spying program, but the fact is that the president is right, it is indeed limited. It's limited to those who are being spied upon. No one - I repeat, no one - who is not being spied upon is being spied upon.

On the other hand, there have been legal scholars, such as former Supreme Court Justice Lewis Brandeis, who have felt strongly that all wiretapping by the government should be considered an unconstitutional search under the Fourth Amendment, which, we should remember, states: "The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized".

Thomas Jefferson said that the price of freedom is eternal vigilance. But, as someone has pointed out, he was talking about citizens watching the government, not the reverse.


{1} Los Angeles Times, December 28 2005, page 1; Agence France Presse, December 23 2005

{2} Johann Hari, "Why Are We Inflicting This Discredited Market Fundamentalism on Iraq?" The Independent (UK), December 22 2004; yes, 2004, this has been a work carefully in progress for some time.


{4} Interview with Institute for Public Accuracy (Washington, DC), November 22 2005

{5} Interview by Andy Clark, Amsterdam Forum, December 18 2005, audio and text at:

{6} Washington Post, January 2 2006, page 1

{7} Ibid

{8} William Blum, Freeing the World to Death: Essays on the American Empire (Common Courage Press, 2004), pages 134-8

{9} Washington Post, January 3 2006, page 1

{10} Washington Post, October 2 2005, page C13

{11} Part of Project Shipboard Hazard and Defense (SHAD), Department of Defense "Fact Sheets" released in 2001-2, "Shady Grove" test;; see also Associated Press (October 9 2002), The New York Times (May 24 2002) page 1

{12} Associated Press, January 2 2006

William Blum is the author of:-

Killing Hope: US Military and CIA Interventions Since World War 2 (Common Courage Press, 1995)

Rogue State: A Guide to the World's Only Superpower (Zed Books, 2002)

West-Bloc Dissident: A Cold War Memoir (Soft Skull Press, 2002)

Freeing the World to Death: Essays on the American Empire (Common Courage Press, 2004)

Previous Anti-Empire Reports can be read at this website.

To add yourself to this mailing list simply send an email to with "add" in the subject line. I'd like your name and city in the message, but that's optional. I ask for your city only in case I'll be speaking in your area.

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Any part of this report may be disseminated without permission. I'd appreciate it if the website were mentioned.

Bill Totten

Saturday, January 21, 2006

Martin Luther King, Jr - Democratic Socialist

by Paul Street

ZNet Commentary (January 14 2006)

One of the many disturbing characteristics of dominant American ideology is the way it deletes radical-democratic beliefs from the official memory of certain acknowledged great historical personalities.

How many Americans know that the celebrated scientist Albert Einstein (voted the "Man of the 20th Century" by Time Magazine) was a self-proclaimed leftist who wrote an essay titled "Why Socialism" for the first issue of the venerable Marxist journal Monthly Review ? {1}

Probably about as many as who know that Helen Keller (typically recalled as an example of what people can attain through purely individual initiative or "self-help") was a radical fan of the Russian Revolution {2}.

Or that Thomas Jefferson despised the developing state capitalism of the late 18th and early 19th centuries, warning that it was creating a new absolutism of concentrated power more dangerous than the one Americans rebelled against in 1776 {3}.

We might also consider the all-too deleted radical egalitarianism of an itinerant Mediterranean Jewish peasant named Jesus. Jesus rejected the dominant classist cultural norms of his time by advocating and practicing open commensality (the shared taking of food by people of all classes, races, ethnicities, and genders) and by sharing material and spiritual gifts across the interrelated hierarchies of social and geographical place. As biblical scholar John Dominic Crossan notes, he saw the "Kingdom of God" as "a community of radical equality - unmediated by established brokers or fixed locations" {4}.

Along the way, Jesus is reputed to have said that it was easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter that kingdom. He condemned the personal accumulation of earthly treasures and made it clear that God was no respecter of rich persons. He insisted that one must serve either God or Mammon and pronounced the poor blessed and inheritors of the earth {5}.

Such radical sentiments are largely absent from the vapid, falsely comforting, reactionary, and institutionalized twaddle that has so long passed for "Christianity" in corporate America.

Another example of this radical historical whitewashing is provided by America's own Martin Luther King, Jr, whose "I Have a Dream" speech is routinely broadcast and praised across the land on the national holiday named for him. In the official, domesticated version of King's life, the great civil rights leader sought little more than the overthrow of Jim Crow segregation and voting rights for blacks in the US South. Beyond these victories, the "good Negro" that American ideological authorities wish for King to have been only wanted whites to be nicer to a select few African Americans - giving some small number of trusted blacks highly visible public positions (Secretary of State?), places on the Ten O'Clock News Team ... the right to manage a baseball team and/or an occasional Academy Award and/or their own television show.

How many Americans know that King was rather unimpressed by his movement's mid-1960s triumphs over southern racism (and his own 1964 Nobel Prize), viewing the Voting Rights and Civil Rights Acts as relatively partial and merely bourgeois accomplishments that dangerously encouraged mainstream white America to think that the nation's racial problems "were automatically solved"? How many know that King considered these early victories to have fallen far short of his deeper objective: advancing social, economic, political, and racial justice across the entire nation (including its northern, ghetto-scarred cities) and indeed around the world?

How many Americans know about the King who followed the defeat of open racism in the South by "turning North" in an effort to take the civil rights struggle to a radical new level?

It was one thing, this King told his colleagues, for blacks to win the right to sit at a lunch counter. It was another thing for black and other poor people to get the money to buy a lunch.

It was one thing, King argued, to open the doors of opportunity for some few and relatively privileged African Americans. It was another thing to move millions of black and other disadvantaged people out of economic despair. It was another and related thing to dismantle slums and overcome the deep structural and societal barriers to equality that continued after public bigotry was discredited and after open discrimination was outlawed.

It was one thing, King felt, to defeat the overt racism of snarling southerners like Bull Connor; it was another thing to confront the deeper, more covert institutional racism that lived beneath the less openly bigoted, smiling face of northern and urban liberalism.

It was one thing. King noted, to defeat the anachronistic caste structure of the South. It was another thing to attain substantive social and economic equality for black and other economically disadvantaged people across the entire nation {6}.

How many Americans know about the King who linked racial and social inequality at home to (American) imperialism and social disparity abroad, denouncing what he called "the triple evils that are interrelated": "racism, economic exploitation, and war"? "A nation that will keep people in slavery for 244 years", King told the Southern Christian Leadership Council (SCLC) in 1967, "will 'thingify' them - make them things. Therefore they will exploit them, and poor people generally, economically. And a nation that will exploit economically will have to have foreign investments and everything else, and will have to use its military might to protect them. All of these problems are tied together." {7}

How many Americans have been encouraged to know the King who responded to America's massive assault on Southeast Asia during the 1960s by pronouncing the US government "the greatest purveyor of violence in the world today" {8}, adding (in words that ought to give George W Bush pause) that America had no business "fighting for the so-called freedom of the Vietnamese people when we have not put even our own [freedom] house in order?" {9}

In words that hold haunting relevance for George W Bush's supposedly divinely mandated war on Iraq, King proclaimed that "God didn't call American to do what she's doing in the world now. God didn't call America to engage in a senseless, unjust war, [such] as the war in Vietnam."

"And we", King added, "are criminals in that war. We have committed more war crimes almost than any other nation in the world and we won't stop because of our pride, our arrogance as a nation." {10}

How many know that King said a nation (the US) "approach[ed] spiritual death" when it spent billions of dollars feeding its costly, cancerous military industrial complex" while masses of its children lived in poverty in its outwardly prosperous cities {11}?

How many know the King who said that Americans should follow Jesus in being "maladjusted" and "divine[ly] dissatisifed ... until the the tragic walls that separate the outer city of wealth and comfort from the inner city of poverty and despair shall be crushed by the battering rams of the forces of justice ... until slums are cast into the junk heaps of history and every family is living in a decent home ... [and] men will recognize that out of one blood God made all men to dwell upon the face of the earth"? {12}

How many know the King who told the SCLC that "the movement must address itself to the question of restructuring the whole of American society. There are forty million poor people", King elaborated for his colleagues. "And one day we must ask the question, 'Why are there forty million poor people in America?' And when you begin to ask that question, you are raising questions about the economic system, about a broader distribution of wealth. When you ask that question you begin to question the capitalistic economy."

"We are called upon", King told his fellow civil rights activists, "to help the discouraged beggars in life's marketplace. But one day", he argued, "we must come to see that an edifice which produces beggars needs restructuring. It means that [radical] questions must be raised ... 'Who owns the oil' ... 'Who owns the iron ore?' ... 'Why is it that people have to pay water bills in a world that is two-thirds water?'" {13}

How many know that King was a democratic socialist who thought that only "drastic reforms" involving the "radical reconstruction of society itself" could "save us from social catastrophe"? Consistent with Marx and contrary to bourgeois moralists like Charles Dickens, King argued that "the roots" of the economic injustice he sought to overcome "are in the [capitalist] system rather in men or faulty operations". {14}

Interestingly enough, the fourth officially de-radicalized historical character mentioned in this essay (King) saw through the conservative historical whitewashing of the third (Jesus). Here's how King described Jesus at the end of an essay published eight months after the civil rights leader was assassinated: "A voice out of Bethlehem two thousand years ago said that all men are equal ... Jesus of Nazareth wrote no books; he owned no property to endow him with influence. He had no friends in the courts of the powerful. But he changed the course of mankind with only the poor and the despised."

King concluded this final essay, titled "A Testament of Hope", with a strikingy radical claim, indicating his strong identification with society's most disadvantaged and outcast persons. "Naive and unsophisticated though we may be", King said, "the poor and despised of the twentieth century will revolutionize this era. In our 'arrogance, lawlessness, and ingratitude', we will fight for human justice, brotherhood, secure peace, and abundance for all." {15}

If I hadn't known better the first time I read that phrase, I might have attributed it to Eugene Debs.

Paul Street ( is currently teaching a course on the history of the civil rights movement at Northern Illinois University and is the author of Empire and Inequality: America and the World Since 9/11 (www.paradigmpublishers, 2004) and Segregated Schools: Educational Apartheid in the Post-Civil Rights Era (New York, New York: Routledge, 2005).


1. Paul Street, "Einstein: Socialist of the Century", In These Times (February 21 2000).

2. James Loewn, Lies My Teacher Told Me: Everything Your American History Text Got Wrong (New York, 1995), pages 10-12, 22, 222.

3. Noam Chomsky, Power and Prospects: Reflections on Huiman Nature and the Social Order (Boston, 1996), pages 72, 87-89.

4. John Dominic Crossan. Jesus: A Revolutionary Biography (New York, 1995), page 101 (quote) and passim.

5. Mathew 19:20-24, 6:19, 6:24.

6. Martin Luther King, Jr, "A Testament of Hope", Playboy (January 1969), reproduced in King, The Essential Writings and Speeches of Martin Luther King, Jr (New York, 1986), page 322; Martin Luther King, Jr, Where Do We Go From Here (New York 1967); David J Garrow, Bearing the Cross: Martin Luther King, Jr and the Southern Christian Leadership Council (New York, 1986), pages 420-624.

7. Martin Luther King, Jr, "Where Do We Go From Here?", speech published as "New Sense of Direction" in Worldviews, 15 (April 1972).

8. Martin Luther King, Jr, "A Time to Break the Silence", 1967 speech to Riverside Church published in Freedomways, 7 (Spring 1967).

9. Martin Luther King, Jr, "Remaining Awake Through a Great Revolution", Congressional Record 114 (9 April 1968): 9395-9397.

10. Martin Luther King, Jr, "The Drum Major Instinct", February 4th 1968 speech, in King, A Testament of Hope, page 265

11. King, "A Time to Break the Silence".

12. Martin Luther King, Jr, "The Power of Nonviolence", Intercollegian (May 1958); "Where Do We Go From Here?"

13. King, "Where Do We Go From Here?"

14. King, "A Testament of Hope"; Martin Luther King, Jr, The Trumpet of Conscience (New York, 1967); Garrow, Bearing the Cross, pages 591-592; Michael Eric Dysoan, I May Not Get There With You: The True Martin Luther King, Jr (New York, 2000), pages 87-88.

15. "A Testament of Hope".

Bill Totten

Greater Georgelandia

Bill Totten

Friday, January 20, 2006

They're Back

by Charley Reese

King Features Syndicate (January 11 2006)

Latin America is beginning to turn left, and you can't blame it. So-called globalization is nothing more than financial colonialism. Big capital comes in, exploits the people's labor, loots the country of its resources and leaves nothing behind except the bribes it paid the country's leaders to sell out their own people.

That's really what globalization is - all of the heifer dust spread about it by lickspittle journalists and professors notwithstanding. The same process is going on in the United States. The robber barons are back, and their morals haven't changed, only their tactics.

The corruption in Washington being exposed by lobbyist Jack Abramoff's guilty plea is just the tip of the dirty sheet. Don't expect the blanket to be pulled completely off the bed. If there is one thing the politicians in Washington know how to do, it is cover their own behinds.

The solution to corruption is always easy but never adopted. Members of Congress should be forbidden to accept any gifts, period. They should be forbidden to take any junkets, period. They should be forbidden to accept any fees for speaking. They should be forbidden to allow anyone to pay their travel expenses. They should be required to make detailed reports of all of their investments, right down to the nickel. It's amazing how many people who never in their lives showed any business acumen go to Congress and become millionaires because of "lucky" investments.

In short, if a man or woman wishes to be a representative or a senator, let that person live entirely on the inflated salary congressional members voted themselves. Campaign contributions, bank loans, investment opportunities and luxurious vacations or junkets, though legal, have become the modern form of bribery. It's much safer than the old cash-in-a-paper-sack method.

Some years ago, a friend who worked in a bank tipped me off about such a scheme. A politician holding a statewide office had gotten a $25,000 loan, but only because a wealthy crook doing time in a federal prison co-signed the note. Of course, the crook in prison paid off the note. Thus, $25,000 went from one crook to another crook via a bank loan that, but for my friend risking his job to give me a photocopy of the note, would never have been known by the public. And it was legal. What the politician did to "earn" his $25,000, I was never able to find out.

Corruption will only get worse unless the American people get angry. A politician who sells his vote for personal gain is really selling your vote and abusing your trust. He is no different than the thug who kicks down your door and robs you of cash. For example, why did Congress vote to forbid Medicare and Medicaid from bargaining with drug companies for lower prices? Every other country in the world does so. That's why drugs are cheaper in Canada than in the US. The answer is bribery, of course, carefully disguised in a legal form, but bribery nevertheless. Whenever big money changes hands in Washington, there is always a quid pro quo, though it is hard to prove it.

There are some honorable people in Washington, but I suspect they would all fit into a relatively small room. Whenever you find an honest and honorable man or woman in a public office, you should cherish that person and give him or her your fierce support.

At the same time, you should adopt an equally fierce, no-quarter-given attitude toward any public official who abuses the public trust. Honesty and honor are more important than party or ideology.

The modern robber barons, with their phony free-trade agreements and their offshoring of jobs to sweatshop countries, are trying to reduce us to the status of most Latin American countries, where a tiny few control all the wealth. Already the gap between the rich and the poor in the US is higher than it has been since 1929.

The American people have the power to stop this, and if they don't use it, they will have only themselves to blame for their misery.

Copyright 2005 by King Features Syndicate, Inc.

Bill Totten

Thursday, January 19, 2006

Why Gaia is wreaking revenge ...

... on our abuse of the environment

by Michael McCarthy

The Independent (January 16 2006)

With anyone else, you would not really take it seriously: the proposition that because of climate change, human society as we know it on this planet may already be condemned, whatever we do. It would seem not just radical, but outlandish, mere hyperbole. And we react against it instinctively: it seems simply too sombre to be countenanced.

But James Lovelock, the celebrated environmental scientist, has a unique perspective on the fate of the Earth. Thirty years ago he conceived the idea that the planet was special in a way no one had ever considered before: that it regulated itself, chemically and atmospherically, to keep itself fit for life, as if it were a great super-organism; as if, in fact, it were alive.

The complex mechanism he put forward for this might have remained in the pages of arcane geophysical journals had he continued to refer to it as "the biocybernetic universal system tendency".

But his neighbour in the village of Bowerchalke, Wiltshire, the Nobel Prize-winning novelist William Golding (who wrote Lord of The Flies), suggested he christen it after the Greek goddess of the Earth; and Gaia was born.

Gaia has made Professor Lovelock world famous, but at first his fame was in an entirely unexpected quarter. Research scientists, who were his original target audience, virtually ignored his theory.

To his surprise, it was the burgeoning New Age and environmental movements who took it up - the generation who had just seen the first pictures of the Earth taken by the Apollo astronauts, the shimmering pastel-blue sphere hanging in infinite black space, fragile and vulnerable, but our only home. They seized on his metaphor of a reinvented Mother Earth, who needed to be revered and respected - or else.

It has been only gradually that the scientific establishment has become convinced of the essential truth of the theory, that the Earth possesses a planetary control system, founded on the interaction of living organisms with their environment, which has operated for billions of years to allow life to exist, by regulating the temperature, the chemical composition of the atmosphere, even the salinity of the seas.

But accepted it is, and now (under the term Earth System Science) it has been subsumed into the scientific mainstream; two years ago, for example, Nature, the world's premier scientific journal, gave Professor Lovelock two pages to sum up recent developments in it.

Yet now too, by a savage irony, it is Gaia that lies behind his profound pessimism about how climate change will affect us all. For the planetary control system, he believes, which has always worked in our favour, will now work against us. It has been made up of a host of positive feedback mechanisms; now, as the temperature starts to rise abnormally because of human activity, these will turn harmful in their effect, and put the situation beyond our control.

To give just a single example out of very many: the ice of the Arctic Ocean is now melting so fast it is likely to be gone in a few decades at most. Concerns are already acute about, for example, what that will mean for polar bears, who need the ice to live and hunt.

But there is more. For when the ice has vanished, there will be a dark ocean that absorbs the sun's heat, instead of an icy surface that reflects ninety per cent of it back into space; and so the planet will get even hotter still.

Professor Lovelock visualises it all in the title of his new book, The Revenge of Gaia. Now 86, but looking and sounding twenty years younger, he is by nature an optimistic man with a ready grin, and it felt somewhat unreal to talk calmly to him in his Cornish mill house last week, with a coffee cup to hand and birds on the feeder outside the study window, about such a dark future. You had to pinch yourself.

He too saw the strangeness of it. "I'm usually a cheerful sod, so I'm not happy about writing doom books", he said. "But I don't see any easy way out".

His predictions are simply based on the inevitable nature of the Gaian system.

"If on Mars, which is a dead planet, you doubled the carbon dioxide, you could predict accurately what the temperature would rise to", he said.

"On the Earth, you can't do it, because the biota [the ensemble of life forms] reacts. As soon as you pump up the temperature, everything changes. And at the moment the system is amplifying change.

"So our problem is that anything we do, like increasing the carbon dioxide, mucking about with the land, destroying forests, farming too much, things like that - they don't just produce a linear increase in temperature, they produce an amplified increase in temperature.

"And it's worse than that. Because as you approach one of the tipping points, the thresholds, the extent of amplification rapidly increases and tends towards infinity.

"The analogy I use is, it's as if we were in a pleasure boat above the Niagara Falls. You're all right as long as the engines are going, and you can get out of it. But if the engines fail, you're drawn towards the edge faster and faster, and there's no hope of getting back once you've gone over - then you're going down.

"And the uprise is just like that, the steep jump of temperature on Earth. It is exactly like the drop in the Falls."

Professor Lovelock's unique viewpoint is that he is just not looking at this or that aspect of the Earth's climate, as are other scientists; he is looking at the whole planet in terms of a different discipline, control theory.

"Most scientists are not trained in control theory. They follow Descartes, and they think that everything can be explained if you take it down to its atoms, and then build it up again.

"Control theory looks at it in a very different way. You look at whole systems and how do they work. Gaia is very much about control theory. And that's why I spot all these positive feedbacks."

I asked him how he would sum up the message of his new book.

He said simply: "It's a wake-up call".

Copyright 2006 Independent News and Media Limited

Bill Totten

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

Buying Complacency

The trade in "carbon offsets" is based on bogus accounting

by George Monbiot

Published in the Guardian (January 17 2006)

Sometimes I envy the self-belief of the Daily Mail's columnist Melanie Phillips. When Andrew Wakefield, a researcher at the Royal Free Hospital, suggested that there might be a link between autism and the MMR injection, she decided he was right. Despite the failure of further studies to find any evidence, despite the fact that Wakefield's co-researchers have dissociated themselves from his allegation, though the medical profession, almost without exception, is persuaded that his claim has no merit, she persists. The epidemiologists are guilty of "category confusion"; the scientific reviewers are throwing up "clouds of obfuscation" {1}; her critics are peddlers of "ignorance, misrepresentation and smear" {2}.

She's just as sure of her position on climate change. Last year she told listeners to the Moral Maze that manmade climate change "is a massive scam based on flawed computer modelling, bad science and an anti-western ideology ... a pack of lies and propaganda" {3}. Soon afterwards, the Royal Society published a "guide to facts and fictions about climate change", whose purpose was to address the arguments made by people like her {4}. It destroyed all the claims she had been making. A few months later, the deniers' last argument fell away, as three studies showed that satellite data suggesting the atmosphere had cooled were faulty. New Scientist reported that "as nails in the coffin go, they don't get much bigger" {5}.

But nothing can stop her. Last week she resumed the attack. Man-made climate change is "one of the greatest scientific scams of the modern age", an artefact of "ideology, irrationality and pseudoscientific sloppiness" {6}. "The rate of warming over the past century", she claimed, "is nothing out of the historical ordinary". We also learnt that "most of [the atmosphere] consists of water vapour": the climatologists must have been lying about that too.

As usual, the scientists have the science wrong, and only Melanie Phillips, autodidact professor of epidemiology, gastroenterology, meteorology and atmospheric physics, can put them right. Where does she get it from? How do you acquire such confidence in your own rectitude that neither the evidence itself, nor the Royal Society, nor the combined weight of the major scientific journals can alter by a whisker the line you have taken? Are you born knowing you have prophetic powers: that everything you believe is and will forever be true? Or does it come with experience? If so, what might that experience be?

The occasion for her latest outburst was a study published last week in Nature, which showed, to everyone's astonishment, that plants produce methane, a greenhouse gas {7}. Phillips used the findings to suggest that the entire science of global warming has been disproved, and that there is no need to worry about the biosphere. Nature came to the opposite conclusion: as methane emissions from plants rise with temperature, climate change will cause further climate change {8}.

But while this study does nothing to threaten global warming theory, there is something it challenges. It should shake our confidence in one of our favourite means of tackling it: paying other people to clear up the mess we've made.

Both through the unofficial carbon market and by means of a provision of the Kyoto protocol called the "clean development mechanism", people, companies and states can claim to reduce their emissions by investing in carbon-friendly projects in poorer countries. Among other schemes, you can earn carbon credits by paying people to plant trees. As the trees grow, they are supposed to absorb the carbon we release by burning fossil fuels.

Despite the new findings, it still seems fair to say that forests are a net carbon sink, taking in more greenhouse gases than they release. If they are felled, the carbon in both the trees and the soil they grow on is likely to enter the atmosphere. So preserving them remains a good idea, for this and other reasons. But what the new study provides is yet more evidence that the accountancy behind many of the "carbon offset" schemes is flawed.

While they have a pretty good idea of how much carbon our factories and planes and cars are releasing, scientists are much less certain about the amount of carbon tree planting will absorb. When you drain or clear the soil to plant trees, for example, you are likely to release some carbon, but it is hard to tell how much. Planting trees in one place might stunt trees elsewhere, as they could dry up a river which was feeding a forest downstream. Or by protecting your forest against loggers, you might be driving them into another forest. As global temperatures rise, trees in many places will begin to die back, releasing the carbon they contain {9}. Forest fires could wipe them out completely. The timing is also critical: emissions saved today are far more valuable, in terms of reducing climate change, than emissions saved in ten years' time, yet the trees you plant start absorbing carbon long after your factories released it. All this made the figures speculative, but the new findings, with their massive uncertainty range (plants, the researchers say, produce somewhere between ten and thirty percent of the planet's methane) make an honest sum impossible.

In other words, you cannot reasonably claim to have swapped the carbon stored in oil or coal for carbon absorbed by trees. Mineral carbon, while it remains in the ground, is stable and quantifiable. Biological carbon is labile and uncertain.

To add to the confusion, in order to show that you are really reducing atmospheric carbon by planting or protecting a forest, you must demonstrate that if you hadn't done it something else would have happened. Not only is this very difficult, it is also an invitation for a country or a company to threaten an increase in emissions. It can then present the alternative (doing what it would have done anyway) as an improvement on its destructive plans, and claim the difference as a carbon reduction {10}.

There's a good example in Brazil. A company in the state of Minas Gerais runs a big eucalyptus plantation, which it uses to produce charcoal for smelting pig iron. Many of the locals hate it, because it grabbed their land and it has replaced the diverse forest and savannah which sustained them with a monoculture. Now it claims that it should be paid by rich nations to maintain its plantations because otherwise the companies it supplies would switch to coal. The locals allege that the company had no intention of abandoning its trees until it saw the potential of the carbon market. They also complain that it will be rewarded for keeping the rightful owners off their land {11}.

But perhaps the most destructive effect of the carbon offset trade is that it allows us to believe we can carry on polluting. The government can keep building roads and airports and we can keep flying to Thailand for our holidays, as long as we purchase absolution by giving a few quid to a tree planting company. How do you quantify complacency? How do you know that the behaviour the trade induces does not cancel out the carbon it sequesters?

In other words I think it is fair to say that a scam is being perpetrated, but not of the kind Melanie Phillips alleges. We know that climate change will impoverish many people. We now know that it will make others very rich. But their money-making schemes will have precious little to do with saving the planet.


1. Melanie Phillips, 31st October 2005. MMR: the unanswered questions. The Daily Mail.

2. Melanie Phillips, 8th November 2005. The case against me boils down to smear and evasion. The Guardian.

3. Melanie Phillips, 17th February 2005. The Moral Maze, BBC Radio 4.

4. The Royal Society, 25th April 2005. A guide to facts and fictions about climate change .

5. Zeeya Merali, 20th August 2005. Sceptics forced into climate climb-down. New Scientist.

6. Melanie Phillips, 13th January 2006. Does this prove that global warming's all hot air? The Daily Mail.

7. Frank Keppler, John T G Hamilton, Marc Brass, and Thomas Rockmann, 12th January 2006. Methane emissions from terrestrial plants under aerobic conditions. Nature 439, 187-191.

8. Quirin Schiermeier, 12th January 2006. Methane finding baffles scientists. Nature 439, 128.

9. Peter M Cox, Richard A Betts, Chris D Jones, Steven A Spall and Ian J Totterdell, 9th November 2000. Acceleration of global warming due to carbon-cycle feedbacks in a coupled climate model. Nature 408, 184-187.

10. See Larry Lohmann, 2005. Marketing and Making Carbon Dumps: Commodification, Calculation and Counterfactuals in Climate Change Mitigation. The Corner House, Dorset.

11. ibid.

Bill Totten