Bill Totten's Weblog

Saturday, September 30, 2006


How Wealth Creates Poverty in the World

by Michael Parenti

ZNet Commentary (September 28 2006)

There is a "mystery" we must explain: How is it that as corporate investments and foreign aid and international loans to poor countries have increased dramatically throughout the world over the last half century, so has poverty? The number of people living in poverty is growing at a faster rate than the world's population. What do we make of this?

Over the last half century, US industries and banks (and other western corporations) have invested heavily in those poorer regions of Asia, Africa, and Latin America known as the "Third World". The transnationals are attracted by the rich natural resources, the high return that comes from low-paid labor, and the nearly complete absence of taxes, environmental regulations, worker benefits, and occupational safety costs.

The US government has subsidized this flight of capital by granting corporations tax concessions on their overseas investments, and even paying some of their relocation expenses - much to the outrage of labor unions here at home who see their jobs evaporating.

The transnationals push out local businesses in the Third World and preempt their markets. American agribusiness cartels, heavily subsidized by US taxpayers, dump surplus products in other countries at below cost and undersell local farmers. As Christopher Cook describes it in his Diet for a Dead Planet (New Press, 2006), they expropriate the best land in these countries for cash-crop exports, usually monoculture crops requiring large amounts of pesticides, leaving less and less acreage for the hundreds of varieties of organically grown foods that feed the local populations.

By displacing local populations from their lands and robbing them of their self-sufficiency, corporations create overcrowded labor markets of desperate people who are forced into shanty towns to toil for poverty wages (when they can get work), often in violation of the countries' own minimum wage laws.

In Haiti, for instance, workers are paid eleven cents an hour by corporate giants such as Disney, Wal-Mart, and J C Penny. The United States is one of the few countries that has refused to sign an international convention for the abolition of child labor and forced labor. This position stems from the child labor practices of US corporations throughout the Third World and within the United States itself, where children as young as twelve suffer high rates of injuries and fatalities, and are often paid less than the minimum wage.

The savings that big business reaps from cheap labor abroad are not passed on in lower prices to their customers elsewhere. Corporations do not outsource to far-off regions so that US consumers can save money. They outsource in order to increase their margin of profit. In 1990, shoes made by Indonesian children working twelve-hour days for thirteen cents an hour, cost only $2.60 but still sold for $100 or more in the United States.

US foreign aid usually works hand in hand with transnational investment. It subsidizes construction of the infrastructure needed by corporations in the Third World: ports, highways, and refineries.

The aid given to Third World governments comes with strings attached. It often must be spent on US products, and the recipient nation is required to give investment preferences to US companies, shifting consumption away from home produced commodities and foods in favor of imported ones, creating more dependency, hunger, and debt.

A good chunk of the aid money never sees the light of day, going directly into the personal coffers of sticky-fingered officials in the recipient countries.

Aid (of a sort) also comes from other sources. In 1944, the United Nations created the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund (IMF). Voting power in both organizations is determined by a country's financial contribution. As the largest "donor", the United States has a dominant voice, followed by Germany, Japan, France, and Great Britain. The IMF operates in secrecy with a select group of bankers and finance ministry staffs drawn mostly from the rich nations.

The World Bank and IMF are supposed to assist nations in their development. What actually happens is another story. A poor country borrows from the World Bank to build up some aspect of its economy. Should it be unable to pay back the heavy interest because of declining export sales or some other reason, it must borrow again, this time from the IMF.

But the IMF imposes a "structural adjustment program" (SAP), requiring debtor countries to grant tax breaks to the transnational corporations, reduce wages, and make no attempt to protect local enterprises from foreign imports and foreign takeovers. The debtor nations are pressured to privatize their economies, selling at scandalously low prices their state-owned mines, railroads, and utilities to private corporations.

They are forced to open their forests to clear-cutting and their lands to strip mining, without regard to the ecological damage done. The debtor nations also must cut back on subsidies for health, education, transportation and food, spending less on their people in order to have more money to meet debt payments. Required to grow cash crops for export earnings, they become even less able to feed their own populations.

So it is that throughout the Third World, real wages have declined, and national debts have soared to the point where debt payments absorb almost all of the poorer countries' export earnings - which creates further impoverishment as it leaves the debtor country even less able to provide the things its population needs.

Here then we have explained a "mystery". It is, of course, no mystery at all if you don't adhere to trickle-down mystification. Why has poverty deepened while foreign aid and loans and investments have grown? Answer: Loans, investments, and most forms of aid are designed not to fight poverty but to augment the wealth of transnational investors at the expense of local populations.

There is no trickle down, only a siphoning up from the toiling many to the moneyed few.

In their perpetual confusion, some liberal critics conclude that foreign aid and IMF and World Bank structural adjustments "do not work"; the end result is less self-sufficiency and more poverty for the recipient nations, they point out. Why then do the rich member states continue to fund the IMF and World Bank? Are their leaders just less intelligent than the critics who keep pointing out to them that their policies are having the opposite effect?

No, it is the critics who are stupid not the western leaders and investors who own so much of the world and enjoy such immense wealth and success. They pursue their aid and foreign loan programs because such programs do work. The question is, work for whom? Cui bono?

The purpose behind their investments, loans, and aid programs is not to uplift the masses in other countries. That is certainly not the business they are in. The purpose is to serve the interests of global capital accumulation, to take over the lands and local economies of Third World peoples, monopolize their markets, depress their wages, indenture their labor with enormous debts, privatize their public service sector, and prevent these nations from emerging as trade competitors by not allowing them a normal development.

In these respects, investments, foreign loans, and structural adjustments work very well indeed.

The real mystery is: why do some people find such an analysis to be so improbable, a "conspiratorial" imagining? Why are they skeptical that US rulers knowingly and deliberately pursue such ruthless policies (suppress wages, rollback environmental protections, eliminate the public sector, cut human services) in the Third World? These rulers are pursuing much the same policies right here in our own country!

Isn't it time that liberal critics stop thinking that the people who own so much of the world - and want to own it all - are "incompetent" or "misguided" or "failing to see the unintended consequences of their policies"? You are not being very smart when you think your enemies are not as smart as you. They know where their interests lie, and so should we.

Michael Parenti's recent books include The Assassination of Julius Caesar (New Press), Superpatriotism (City Lights), and The Culture Struggle (Seven Stories Press). For more information visit: .

Bill Totten

Friday, September 29, 2006

The Anti-Empire Report

Some things you need to know before the world ends

by William Blum (September 25 2006)

"Thank you for not putting a bomb in your luggage".

"President Bush said the United States is still under the threat of attack and will continue to be right up until Election Day". -- Jay Leno

Hand-in-hand with his threat warnings, Bush keeps telling us how his War on Terror has made us so much safer, bragging that there hasn't been a terrorist attack in the United States in the five years since the one of September 11 2001. Marvelous. There wasn't a terrorist attack in the United States in the five years before that day either. But thanks to the War on Terror - particularly the bombing, invasion, occupation, and torture of Afghanistan and Iraq - numerous new anti-American terrorists have been created since that historic day. The latest confirmation of this, if any more were needed, is the recently leaked National Intelligence Estimate conclusion that "the American invasion and occupation of Iraq has helped spawn a new generation of Islamic radicalism and ... the overall terrorist threat has grown since the September 11 attacks". {1}

Since the first strike on Afghanistan in October 2001 there have been literally scores of terrorist attacks against American institutions and individuals in the Middle East, South Asia and the Pacific, more than a dozen in Pakistan alone: military, diplomatic, civilian, Christian, and other targets associated with the United States, including the October 2002 bombings of two nightclubs in Bali, Indonesia, which killed more than 200 people, almost all of them Americans and citizens of their Australian and British war allies; the following year brought the heavy bombing of the US-managed Marriott Hotel in Jakarta, Indonesia, the site of diplomatic receptions and 4th of July celebrations held by the American Embassy; and other horrendous attacks on US war allies in recent years in Madrid, London, and elsewhere.

A US State Department report of 2004 on worldwide terrorist attacks - "Patterns of Global Terrorism" - showed that the year 2003 had more "significant terrorist incidents" than at any time since the department began issuing statistics in 1985, even though the figures did not include attacks on US troops by insurgents in Iraq, which the Bush administration explicitly labels as "terrorist". {2} When their report for 2004 showed an even higher number of incidents, the State Department announced that it was going to stop publishing the annual statistics. {3}

It is extremely difficult and threatening for US and UK officials to accept the correlation between their foreign policies and the rise of terrorists. A spokesman for the Blair government recently declared: "Al-Qaida started killing innocent civilians in the 1990s. It killed Muslim civilians even before 9/11, and the attacks on New York and Washington killed over 3,000 people before Iraq. To imply al-Qaida is driven by an honest disagreement over foreign policy is a mistake." {4} Vice President Dick Cheney, on more than one occasion, has also pointed out that terrorists were attacking American targets even before 9-11.

The "reasoning" behind such thinking is odd; it's as if these esteemed gentlemen believe that there was no Western foreign policy in the Mideast before September 11 2001. But of course, even in modern times, there were decades of awful abuse, including the US overthrow of the Iranian government in 1953, multiple bombings of Libya and Iraq, sinking an Iranian ship and shooting down an Iranian passenger plane, habitual support of Israel against the Palestinian people, and much more. {5}

It can't be emphasized too often or too strongly that terrorism is a political act, it is making a political statement, a statement that can often be summed up in a single word: "retaliation"; terrorism is what people with bombs but no air force have to resort to. The Bush and Blair administrations can not admit to the correlation of terrorism with their policies, but those opposed to their wars should never allow them to avoid the issue. Here are some of the latest examples of this retaliation phenomenon:

From a New York Times report on the UK group arrested for allegedly planning to blow up multiple planes headed to the US: "'As you bomb, you will be bombed; as you kill, you will be killed', said one of the men on a 'martyrdom' videotape" ... "One of the suspects said on his martyrdom video that the 'war against Muslims' in Iraq and Afghanistan had motivated him to act" ... "The man said he was seeking revenge for the foreign policy of the United States, and 'their accomplices, the UK and the Jews'". {6}

From a review of the new book, The Inside Story of the 9/11 Commission (Knopf, 2006) by its chairmen, Thomas Kean and Lee Hamilton: "In looking into the background of the hijackers, the staff found that religious orthodoxy was not a common denominator since some of the members 'reportedly even consumed alcohol and abused drugs'. Others engaged in casual sex. Instead, hatred of American foreign policy in the Middle East seemed to be the key factor" ... "I believe they feel a sense of outrage against the United States", said Supervisory Special Agent James Fitzgerald. "They identify with the Palestinian problem, they identify with people who oppose repressive regimes and I believe they tend to focus their anger on the United States" ... "Lee {Hamilton} felt that there had to be an acknowledgment that a settlement of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict was vital to America's long-term relationship with the Islamic world, and that the presence of American forces in the Middle East was a major motivating factor in Al Qaeda's actions". {7}

But the War on Terrorism paints terrorists as only irrational madmen or those who loathe freedom, democracy and Western culture, or doing what they do just for the pure, America-hating thrill of it, and so the US and the UK continue to look for military solutions. Writer David Rees predicted a few years ago: "Remember when the United States had a drug problem and then we declared a War on Drugs, and now you can't buy drugs anymore? The War on Terrorism will be just like that." {8}

Cold War Myths

It's become a commonplace for critics of the wall being built by the United States along the Mexican border to equate it to the Berlin Wall. The same highly negative comparison is evoked in speaking about the Israeli wall being built alongside and through Palestine. Just as the Holocaust is the standard against which acts of mass murder and atrocities are conventionally compared, the Berlin Wall is the standard for judging the erection of a physical barrier which restricts freedom of travel for large numbers of people. The Wall is also employed by conservatives as a symbol of the wickedness and the failure of communism. But what was the Berlin Wall actually about?

During the 1950s, American coldwarriors in West Germany instituted a crude campaign of sabotage and subversion against East Germany designed to throw that country's economic and administrative machinery out of gear. The CIA and other US intelligence and military services recruited, equipped, trained and financed German activist groups and individuals, of West and East, to carry out actions which ran the spectrum from juvenile delinquency to terrorism; anything to make life difficult for the East German people and weaken their support of the government; anything to make the commies look bad.

It was a remarkable undertaking. The United States and its agents used explosives, arson, short circuiting, and other methods to damage power stations, shipyards, canals, docks, public buildings, gas stations, public transportation, bridges, et cetera; they derailed freight trains, seriously injuring workers; burned twelve cars of a freight train and destroyed air pressure hoses of others; used acids to damage vital factory machinery; put sand in the turbine of a factory, bringing it to a standstill; set fire to a tile-producing factory; promoted work slow-downs in factories; killed 7,000 cows of a co-operative dairy through poisoning; added soap to powdered milk destined for East German schools; were in possession, when arrested, of a large quantity of the poison cantharidin with which it was planned to produce poisoned cigarettes to kill leading East Germans; set off stink bombs to disrupt political meetings; attempted to disrupt the World Youth Festival in East Berlin by sending out forged invitations, false promises of free bed and board, false notices of cancellations, et cetera; carried out attacks on participants with explosives, firebombs, and tire-puncturing equipment; forged and distributed large quantities of food ration cards to cause confusion, shortages and resentment; sent out forged tax notices and other government directives and documents to foster disorganization and inefficiency within industry and unions ... all this and much more.

Throughout the 1950s, the East Germans and the Soviet Union repeatedly lodged complaints with the Soviets' erstwhile allies in the West and with the United Nations about specific sabotage and espionage activities and called for the closure of the offices in West Germany they claimed were responsible, and for which they provided names and addresses. Their complaints fell on deaf ears. Inevitably, the East Germans began to tighten up entry into the country from the West.

At the same time, the West was bedeviling the East with a vigorous campaign of recruiting East German professionals and skilled workers, who had been educated at the expense of the Communist government. This eventually led to a serious labor and production crisis in the East.

By August of 1961, the East Germans had had enough. They began the building of their infamous wall. This was not erected to keep their citizens from "truth" or "freedom" - before the wall many Easterners had commuted to the West for jobs each day and then returned to the East in the evening. But in the Cold War atmosphere every possible means of scoring propaganda points was exploited by both sides and thus was born the legend of the Evil Commie Wall.

"Appeasement" is another Cold War myth dredged up recently by the Bush administration in its desperate attempt to find an argument for the Iraq war that more than thirty percent of the American population will swallow. There's been more than one occasion of our old friend Rumsfeld labeling as "fascists" anti-American terrorists and those who resist American occupations, and calling Democrats and others not in love with the war "appeasers" {9}; you know, like Britain allowing the Nazis to devour the Czechs in the hope that Hitler would leave the West alone. The appeasement analogy has long been a favorite of American politicians when it suited their purpose; Eisenhower and Johnson both personally used it, to name but two.

But what happened in 1938 in Munich wasn't so much "appeasement" as it was "collusion". One of Adolf's qualities that appealed so much to the West was his fervent anti-communism. Britain, the United States and other Western governments were counting on the Nazis to turn eastward and put an end once and for all to the Bolshevik menace to God, family and capitalism. {10}

If to Donald Rumsfeld opposing the war in Iraq is the moral equivalent of appeasing Hitler, to Condoleezza Rice it's the moral equivalent of tolerating slavery in 19th century America. Here she is at her desperate best: "I'm sure that there are people who thought that it was a mistake to fight the Civil War to its end and to insist that the emancipation of slaves would hold. I'm sure that there were people who said ... why don't we get out of this now, take a peace with the South, but leave the South with slaves." {11}

Let freedom and cash registers ring

US Secretary of Commerce Carlos M Gutierrez has proposed that Cubans hold an internationally monitored referendum to decide whether they want to be ruled by dictators or live in a democracy. {12}

So what do you think Carlos M Gutierrez - formerly a corporate CEO and now a man who goes around the world promoting corporate investment and trade - means by "a democracy"? Can he imagine a "democratic" society not dominated by corporations which turn everything into a commodity? Is Gutierrez really concerned about the Cuban people having a say over the decisions that affect their lives? Given that so many basic decisions that affect Americans' lives are not made in legislatures but in corporate boardrooms, does he know for a fact that Cubans have any less say over such decisions than Americans do?

The usual American definition of democracy has to do in major part with elections. But even if we accept this simple, and simplistic, definition, the fact remains that, contrary to what Gutierrez, and most Americans assume, Cuba holds elections on a regular basis.

The elections, which observe universal suffrage and a secret ballot, are for seats in the Municipal Assemblies, the Provincial Assemblies, and the National Assembly. There is direct nomination of candidates by the citizenry, not by the Communist Party, which does not get involved in any stage of the electoral process. All candidates have the same public exposure, which is the publication and posting of a biography listing their qualities and history, in very accessible and commonly visited places in the community. There is one deputy in the Municipal Assembly for each 20,000 of population. Candidates must receive over fifty percent of the vote to be elected, if not in the first round then in a run-off. The 609 members of the National Assembly elect the 31 members of the Council of State. The President of the Council of State is the Head of State and Head of Government. Fidel Castro is repeatedly chosen for this position, purportedly because of his sterling qualities.

I don't know enough detail about the actual workings of the Cuban electoral system to point out the flaws and shortcomings of the above, which most likely exist in practice. But can it be more deadening to the intellect, the spirit, and one's idealism than the American electoral system? From the splashy staged nominating conventions to the interminable boring and insulting campaigns to the increasingly questionable voting and counting processes, all to select one or the other corporate representative ... are the Cubans ready for this? If they were to institute any kind of electoral system in which those candidates with the most money to spend had an advantage, what would keep the CIA from pouring in money-without-end to get their people into office?

This is what we're up against

I recently heard a California farmer interviewed on National Public Radio about the very worrisome e-coli outbreak in spinach. At one point he said that "The United States has the safest agricultural products in the world". {13}

Hmmm. I wondered how one measured such a thing and whether the guy had actually made a global study of this and could cite any statistics or credible sources. It reminded me of several radio interviews I've had in which I was being very critical of US foreign policy (no surprise there) leading to someone calling in and asking me if I could name a better country. My standard reply has been: "Better in what respect?"

"In any respect", is the standard reply from the caller.

"Well", I say, "what about health care? There are many countries that provide health care to a much larger percentage of their citizens than the United States does and at much cheaper cost, sometimes even for free, like in Cuba. And it's the same with university education."

This is effectively the end of any such conversation.

What condition, I wonder, would have to exist in the US for such people to relinquish their childhood love affair with that magical place called "America"? I have on occasion asked people who reject virtually any criticism of US foreign policy: "What would the United States have to do in its foreign policy to lose your support? What, for you, would be too much?" I've yet to get an answer to that question. I suspect it's because the person is afraid that whatever they say I'll point out that we've already done it.

Author Michael Lewis has observed: "One of the qualities that distinguish Americans from other people is their naive suspicion that any foreigner with half a brain would rather be one of them ... The most zealous Japanese patriot doesn't for a minute think that other peoples actually want to be Japanese. Ditto the French."

But don't despair, gang. As I've mentioned before, my (very) rough guess is that the people I speak about here constitute no more than fifteen percent of the population. I suggest that we concentrate on the rest, who are reachable, and in the past three years countless of them have indeed been reached.

Discovered at last!

A difference between the Democrats and the Republicans on foreign policy.

This just in! Republican leaders in the House have proposed legislation that will require that anti-war protestors be sterilized. Democrats are refusing to roll over and play dead. House minority leader Nancy Pelosi - who recently called Hugo Chavez a "thug" for his UN speech - insists her party will support the measure only if a right of appeal is included.


{1} New York Times, September 24 2006, the wording it a Times paraphrase

{2} Washington Post, June 23 2004 and June 28, page 19

{3} "Bush Administration Eliminating 19-year-old International Terrorism Report", Knight Ridder Newspapers, April 15 2005

{4} The Guardian (London), August 12 2006

{5} For more information see Blum's essay at:

{6} New York Times, August 28 2006, page 1

{7} Review by James Bamford, New York Times, August 20 2006, page 15

{8} David Rees, Get Your War On (Soft Skull Press), page 2

{9} "Rumsfeld says threat to US is from 'a new type of fascism'", Associated Press, August 29 2006

{10} See, for example, Christopher Hitchens, "Chamberlain: Collusion, not appeasement", Monthly Review (January 1995), a review of Clement Leibovitz, The Chamberlain-Hitler Deal (1993)

{11} Interview, Essence magazine, October 2006 issue

{12} Associated Press, September 15 2006

{13} NPR, Day-to-Day, September 18 2006, 12:10 PM

To make a financial donation to support the work of the Anti-Empire Report you can use the following address. But if you are not in pretty good shape financially, please do not donate. Thanks.

William Blum
5100 Connecticut Ave., NorthWest #707
Washington, DC 20008-2064

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)

Portions of the books can be read, and copies purchased, at and previous Anti-Empire Reports can be read at this website.

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Bill Totten

New aircraft fuel could be pie in the sky

by George Monbiot

The Guardian - Comment is Free (September 25 2006)

So now we know: Richard Branson doesn't read the Guardian. On Thursday, it published an extract from my book showing that there are no foreseeable substitutes for aviation fuel (kerosene) that don't currently cause more harm than good. A few hours later, Branson announced that he would be investing GBP 1.6 billion in technologies intended to reduce climate change. First among them would be alternative fuels for aircraft.

He singled out biofuels as a promising opportunity. While pure biodiesel can be used to run a car engine, it cannot be used in jet planes at a higher concentration than roughly ten per cent. This is because its "cloud point" is much higher than kerosene's. At low temperatures, oils go cloudy, and at a couple of degrees beyond that point, they form a gel that would block the engine. As the plane rises through the troposphere, and the temperature cools, its engines would clog and stall. Even a ten per cent mixture is likely to be fatal, as it raises the cloud point from -51 degrees Celsius to -29 degrees Celsius.

This can be partly countered by repeatedly cooling the fuel and filtering out the ice crystals, but that requires a great deal of energy. Far worse, biofuels are currently causing far more climate change than they prevent. Rainforests are being cleared to plant palm oil and sugar cane. Other forms of agriculture are being driven onto virgin land as the global demand for grain rises. Rising grain prices, blamed by the UN food and agriculture organisation primarily on the demand for biofuels, already threaten the food security of the world's poor - and it is likely to get a lot worse.

Now it could be that Branson's money will help develop a new source of biofuel - algae grown in ponds in the desert for example, or waste products from crops and forestry. If so, that's something we should welcome, while remembering that it can't comprise more than ten per cent of his fleet's fuel. The problem is that we need to cut carbon emissions by 87% by 2030 in every sector - aviation included - and there's no conceivable way in which a change of fuel could do this, especially if the number of flights keeps growing.

The fleet which most urgently needs to be cut is Virgin Atlantic. It produces thirteen per cent more carbon dioxide per passenger kilometre than the industry average for long-haul flights, probably because of the high number of business-class passengers it carries, who take up more space.

So is Branson going to do something about it? You've got to be kidding. Virgin Atlantic's three-year growth plan is "aimed at capturing greater business market share, with products tailored towards premium passengers at the heart of the strategy. The airline is targeting an increase of at least ten per cent in the number of business travellers over the next year."

Branson's announcement was a marvellous publicity coup, as so many of his initiatives are. But is there anything behind it?

Bill Totten

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

It's the Palestinian Problem, Stupid

by Charley Reese

King Features Syndicate (September 18 2006)

To paraphrase the rather rude slogan of Bill Clinton's first presidential campaign, "It's the Palestinian problem, stupid".

During the hearings the 9-11 Commission conducted, Lee Hamilton asked a group of FBI agents to explain the motivation of the 19 hijackers. Special Agent James Fitzgerald answered this way, according to the transcript:

"They identify with the Palestinian problem, they identify with people who oppose oppressive regimes, and I tend to believe they focus their anger on the United States".

That's logical. The US has consistently supported Israel rather than forcing the Israelis to settle fairly with the Palestinians, and most of the oppressive regimes in the Middle East are American allies, including for some years Saddam Hussein's.

This somehow got lost in the 9-11 Commission's final report, and the American people were stuck with President Bush's false and ridiculous claim that we were attacked because "they hate freedom".

That the Palestinian problem is the core issue in the Middle East isn't news to anyone familiar with the region. Osama bin Laden has explicitly cited the Palestinian problem as one reason for attacking the US.

And don't fall for the ploy that the Israelis offered the Palestinians "everything they ever said they wanted, and they rejected it". At the meeting at Camp David during the Clinton administration, the Palestinians were asked to renounce the right of all Palestinian refugees to either return or receive compensation. The Israelis also refused to supply maps showing a definitive border for the Palestinian state. "Not to worry", the Israelis said, "We'll work that out later". Nobody in his right mind would accept such a deal.

Yasser Arafat, who had always been lousy at public relations, made the mistake of leaving without explaining the reason for rejecting the deal. That left Clinton and then-Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak to characterize the agreement to suit their propaganda purposes.

Nor did Arafat go home and start the second intifada. That's another propaganda ploy. Arafat went home intending to continue the negotiations after consultation with his advisers. In the meantime, Ariel Sharon took a thousand of his security people and marched up to the third-holiest site in Islam, the Dome of the Rock, and proclaimed it Jewish property forever. That sparked a peaceful demonstration by the Palestinians. The Israelis shot dead a number of them, and that is what sparked the second intifada. It also propelled Sharon to the prime minister's office.

If the United States treated Israel as it does every other country, none of this would matter. But the US loads the Israelis down with weapons, gives them billions of American tax dollars, supports their occupation of Arab lands and protects them from international actions by wielding its veto in the UN.

You can believe this, or you can join the president in his fantasy. But know this: You can bomb, shoot and bulldoze the homes of Palestinians from now until doomsday, and until they receive justice, you will forever be a target of terrorism. The Israelis have been killing people, taking their land and putting them in prison for more than sixty years, and they still don't have peace. Nor will they ever until they deal fairly with their neighbors.

As long as you are stupid enough to allow a small country to drag us into its unending quarrels, then by all means quit whining about the price we will have to pay.

It was no accident that three Israelis were seen dancing on the roof of nearby building as the planes hit the twin towers. They had nothing to do with it, but they recognized that it would make the American government easier to manipulate. You can always count on Israel to keep you well supplied with enemies.

Copyright (c) 2006 by King Features Syndicate, Inc.

Bill Totten

Who's Paying?

When pundits discuss contentious issues on air, they must reveal their financial interests.

by George Monbiot

Published in the Guardian (September 26 2006)

On the letters page of the Guardian last week, a Dr Alan Kendall attacked the Royal Society for "smearing" its opponents. It had sent an official letter to Exxon, complaining about the oil company's "inaccurate and misleading" portrayal of the science of climate change, and its funding of lobby groups which deny that global warming is taking place. The letter, Dr Kendall argued, was an attempt to "stifle legitimate discussion" {1}.

Perhaps he is unaware of what has been happening. The campaign of dissuasion funded by Exxon and the tobacco company Philip Morris has been devastatingly effective. By insisting that manmade global warming is either a "myth" or not worth tackling, it has given the media and politicians the excuses for inaction they wanted. Partly as a result, in the United States at least, these companies have helped to delay attempts to tackle the world's most important problem by a decade or more {2}.

Should we not confront this? If, as Dr Kendall seems to suggest, we should refrain from exposing and criticising these groups, would that not be to "stifle legitimate discussion"?

There is still much more to discover. It is unclear how much covert corporate lobbying has been taking place in the United Kingdom. But the little I have been able to find so far suggests that here, as in the US, there seems to be some overlap between Exxon and the groups it has funded and the operations of the tobacco industry.

The story begins with a body called the International Policy Network (IPN). Like many other organisations that have received money from Exxon, it describes itself as a "think tank" or "an independent educational charity". It seems to me that a more accurate description would be "lobby group". But while the BBC would seldom allow someone from Bell Pottinger or Burson Marsteller onto the air to discuss an issue of concern to their sponsors without revealing the sponsors' identity, it has frequently allowed Julian Morris to present IPN's case without declaring its backers. The International Policy Network has so far received $295,000 from Exxon's corporate headquarters in the United States {3}. Julian Morris told me that he runs his US office "solely for funding purposes" {4}.

The IPN argues that attempts to prevent (or mitigate) manmade climate change are a waste of money. It would be better to let it happen and adapt to its effects. It published a book this year arguing that "humanity has until at least 2035 to determine whether or not mitigation will also be a necessary part of our strategy to address climate change ... attempting to control it through global regulation of emissions would be counterproductive" {5}. Morris has described the government's chief scientist, Sir David King, who has campaigned for action on global warming, as "an embarrassment to himself and an embarrassment to his country" {6}.

Like many of the groups which have been funded by ExxonMobil, IPN has also received money from the cigarette industry. Morris admits that it has been given GBP 10,000 from a US tobacco company {7}. There is also a question mark about his involvement in a funding application to another tobacco company, RJ Reynolds.

In the archives the cigarette companies were forced to open as part of the settlement of a class action in the United States, there is a document entitled "Environmental Risk" {8}. It is a funding application to the tobacco company RJ Reynolds, to pay for a book about "the Myth of Scientific Risk Assessment". "The principal objective of this book is to highlight the uncertainties inherent in 'scientific' estimates of risk to humans and the environment". Among the myths it would be contesting were the adverse health effects of passive smoking. It was requesting GBP 50,000 to publish the book. The editors, the application said, would be "Roger Bate and Julian Morris".

Julian Morris insists that his name was added to the document without his consent. He says he had "nothing" to do with the book {9}. It was published in 1997 under the title "What Risk?" {10}. It has a foreword by David Davis MP. It claims that passive smoking is no more dangerous than "eating 50 grams of mushrooms a week" and attacks "politically correct" beliefs such as "passive smoking causes lung cancer" and "mankind's emissions of carbon dioxide will result in runaway global warming". Julian Morris is not named as its co-editor, but he is the first person thanked in the acknowledgements, for his "editorial suggestions".

The book's editor, Roger Bate, is currently a fellow at the American Enterprise Institute - which has received $1.6 million from ExxonMobil {11} - and the Competitive Enterprise Institute, which has received $2 million {12}. Until 2003, he was Julian Morris's predecessor as head of the IPN. When the book was written, he ran the European Science and Environment Forum (ESEF), which published "What Risk?". The registered owner of ESEF's website is Julian Morris {13}. He claims he had nothing to do with ESEF either, and registered the name purely "as a favour to a friend" {14}.

PRWatch alleges that ESEF was originally called Scientists for Sound Public Policy {SSPP}, and was founded by a public relations agency working for the tobacco company Philip Morris {15}. Documents in the tobacco archives show that SSPP was the subject of a fierce turf war between the PR firms Burson Marsteller and APCO, who were vying for Philip Morris's account. Burson Marsteller's proposal argued that "industrial resistance" to regulation is "perceived as protection of commercial self-interests". A different "countervailing voice" was required, consisting of "international opinion formers supported financially by the industry". Their role would be "educating opinion leaders, politicians and the media". {16} The group would also seek funding from other industries. Some of the people ESEF recruited as "academic members" were people working for US lobby groups later funded by Exxon, who have made false claims about climate change {17}.

Like Julian Morris, Roger Bate has often appeared on radio and TV programmes. Interviewed by the Today programme about climate change, he argued that cutting carbon emissions has been "folly all along". Instead, we should concentrate on adapting to climate change {18}. In 2000, he presented a film on BBC2 called "Organic Food: The Modern Myth", on which Julian Morris also appeared. Bate has not yet answered the Guardian's requests for a response.

There is no law against taking money from corporations, or advancing arguments in the media that accord with their interests. Nor should there be. The problem is what appears to be a failure to declare an interest. When someone speaks on an issue of public importance, we should be allowed to see who has been paying them. This should apply to all advocates, pressure groups and thinktanks, from Greenpeace to the Competitive Enterprise Institute.

The BBC's producer guidelines are clear on this point. "We need to ensure that we do not get involved with campaigning programming which is politically contentious. Programmes should not embrace the agenda of a particular campaign or campaigning group ..." {19}. Throughout the late 1990s and early 2000s, some of us warned that campaigning groups did not always describe themselves as such. We were ignored. The BBC now seems to have woken up to the problem. But we have lost ten years in which climate change could have been tackled.


George Monbiot's book Heat: how to stop the planet burning is published this week by Penguin.


1. Alan Kendall, 22nd September 2006. Global warming debate must be heated. The Guardian.

2. This process is described in Heat: how to stop the planet burning.


4. Discussion with Julian Morris, prior to BBC interview, 14th September 2006.

5. The Sustainable Development Network, 2006. Carrots, Sticks and Climate Change. International Policy Press, Bedford Chambers, London.

6. Antony Barnett and Mark Townsend, 28th November 2004. Greenhouse effect 'may benefit man'. The Observer.

7. In interview for Newsnight, conducted 14th September 2006.


9. In interview for Newsnight, conducted 14th September 2006.

10. Roger Bate (Editor), 1997. What Risk? Science Politics and Public Health. Butterworth-Heinemann, Oxford.



13. From:
Registrant: European Science and Environment Forum {ESEF-DOM} UK
Domain Name: ESEF.ORG
Administrative Contact: Morris, Julian (JM4309) 101603.3004@COMPUSERVE.COM
European Science and Environment Forum
Kersfield Road
London, SW15 3HE

14. In interview for Newsnight, conducted 14th September 2006.


16. Burson-Marsteller, 1994. Scientists for Sound Public Policy.

17. The full list is included at the back of What Risk? It includes S Fred Singer, Sherwood Idso, Sallie Baliunas, Willie Soon and others.

18. The clip can be played at

19. BBC Producer Guidelines - Programme Funding and External relationships, viewed at

Copyright (c) 2006

Bill Totten

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

A Rock in His Boot

by Charley Reese

King Features Syndicate (September 25 2006)

Hugo Chavez, the president of Venezuela, is certainly a sharp rock in the cowboy boot of President George W Bush and therefore a prime candidate for the Bush administration's main tool of foreign policy - regime change.

That's just a bureaucratic phrase that means overthrowing somebody else's government. Two attempts have already been tried, but both failed. Chavez is neither a dictator nor a stupid man.

As I've said before, I listened to two long speeches by Chavez, both to foreign audiences. Like most Latin politicians, he's a bit wordy for my taste, but I've never heard him say anything that a decent American could take issue with. However, as for Bush being the devil, as Chavez said at the United Nations last week, I'm not sure I agree with him on that point. I've always thought of the devil as a very smart chap.

Chavez is a socialist, as are several of our European allies, and since the president is not trying to overthrow those European governments, I assume the problem with Venezuela is not socialism. Chavez is, of course, trying hard to end poverty and illiteracy, and that might well strike a lot of rich people as "destabilizing".

"Destabilizing" is the sin of last resort when American politicians can't come up with any credible sin that some person they don't like has actually committed. Oh, he's destabilizing the region, Condi Rice, our esteemed secretary of state, says.

I don't know how supplying medical care and education to poor people and giving poorer countries loans and a break on the price of oil can be called destabilizing, but that's all Chavez is doing. He is opposed not to America and Americans, but to the American empire. I go along with that. The world and America were much better places before our politicians got jealous of the European empires and decided the US needed an empire, too.

The Spanish-American War was our grab for empire, and all the wars we've been in since have been imperial wars. World War I was a clash of European empires, and World War II in Europe was a continuation of that clash. World War II in the Pacific was a clash between Japan, which wanted an empire, and the British, French, Dutch and American empires already in the Pacific. The Cold War, with its little hot wars, was a struggle between the American empire and the Soviet empire. The ongoing wars in Iraq and Afghanistan are also about empire, not democracy.

Lying, by the way, is a characteristic of empires and imperial wars. For Bush to refer to Afghanistan and Iraq as successful democracies is a lie. The first duty of any government is to provide security for its citizens. Neither the government in Kabul nor the one in Baghdad can do that. Any government that requires the continued presence of foreign soldiers to stay in power is illegitimate.

Well, if you are into praying, you might want to add a prayer for Chavez. The federal government has some really vicious war dogs on its payroll. I fear as soon as the CIA finally realizes that Chavez is a sure bet to win the December election, these dogs of war will be unleashed.

I have a feeling Chavez will prove to be a tragic figure. He's a good man and sincere about wanting to end illiteracy and improve the lives of the people of his region. He's a bit naive, though. I don't share his enthusiasm for Fidel Castro or Daniel Ortega, and I don't believe Chavez understands the immense power and malice of the people who would like to see him dead.

Maybe he'll be lucky. I hope so. In the meantime, by God, I'll be glad when Bush leaves office so I will hopefully have an administration I can support. I don't mind being a dissenter, but I truly wish that just once in a while, Bush would say or do something honest and decent that I could support. I'm beginning to feel like a foreigner in my own country.

Copyright (c) 2006 by King Features Syndicate, Inc.

Bill Totten

Monday, September 25, 2006

How Much Reality Can You Take?

Does anyone really want to stop climate change?

by George Monbiot

Published in the Guardian (September 21 2006)

You have to pinch yourself. Until now, the Sun has denounced environmentalists as "loonies" and "eco beards". Last week it published "photographic proof that climate change is real". {1}. In a page that could have come straight from a Greenpeace pamphlet, it laid down ten "rules" for its readers to follow - "Use public transport when possible; use energy-saving lightbulbs; turn off electric gadgets at the wall; do not use a tumble dryer ..." {2}.

Two weeks ago, the Economist also recanted. In the past it has asserted that "Mr Bush was right to reject the prohibitively expensive Kyoto pact" {3}. It co-published the Copenhagen Consensus papers, which put climate change at the bottom of the list of global priorities {4}. Now, in a special issue devoted to scaring the living daylights out of its readers, it maintains that "the slice of global output that would have to be spent to control emissions is probably ... below 1%". {5} It calls for carbon taxes and an ambitious programme of government spending.

Almost everywhere, climate change denial now looks as stupid and as unacceptable as Holocaust denial. But I'm not celebrating yet. The danger is not that we will stop talking about climate change, or recognising that it presents an existential threat to humankind. The danger is that we will talk ourselves to Kingdom Come.

If the biosphere is wrecked, it will not be done by those who couldn't give a damn about it, as they now belong to a diminishing minority. It will be destroyed by nice, well-meaning, cosmopolitan people who accept the case for cutting emissions, but who won't change by one iota the way they live. I know people who profess to care deeply about global warming, but who would sooner drink Toilet Duck than get rid of their agas, patio heaters and plasma TVs, all of which are staggeringly wasteful. A recent brochure published by the Co-operative Bank boasts that its "solar tower" in Manchester "will generate enough electricity every year to make nine million cups of tea". On the previous page, it urges its customers "to live the dream and purchase that perfect holiday home ... With low cost flights now available, jetting off to your home in the sun at the drop of a hat is far more achievable than you think". {6}

While environmentalism has always been characterised as a middle-class concern, and while this has often been unfair, there is now an undeniable nexus of class politics and morally-superior consumerism. People allow themselves to believe that their impact on the planet is lower than that of the great unwashed because they shop at Waitrose rather than Asda, buy tomme de savoie instead of processed cheese slices and take eco-safaris in the Serengeti instead of package holidays in Torremolinos. In reality, carbon emissions are closely correlated to income: the richer you are, the more likely you are to be wrecking the planet, however much stripped wood and hand-thrown crockery there is in your kitchen.

It doesn't help that politicians, businesses and even climate change campaigners seek to shield us from the brutal truth of just how much has to change. Last week Friends of the Earth published the report it had commissioned from the Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research, which laid out the case for a ninety per cent reduction in carbon emissions by 2050 {7}. This caused astonishment in the media. But other calculations, using the same sources, show that even this ambitious target is two decades too late {8}. It becomes rather complicated, but please bear with me, for our future rests on these numbers.

The Tyndall Centre says that to prevent the earth from warming by more than two degrees above pre-industrial levels, carbon dioxide concentrations in the atmosphere must be stabilised at 450 parts per million or less (they currently stand at 380). But this, as its sources show, is plainly insufficient {9}. The reason is that carbon dioxide (CO2) is not the only greenhouse gas. The others - such as methane, nitrous oxide and hydrofluorocarbons - boost its impacts by around fifteen per cent. When you add the concentrations of CO2 and the other greenhouse gases together, you get a figure known as "CO2 equivalent". But the Tyndall centre uses "CO2" and "CO2 equivalent" interchangeably, which leads to an embarrassing scientific mishmash.

"Concentrations of 450 parts per million CO2 equivalent or lower", it says, provide a "reasonable -to -high probability of not exceeding two degrees Celsius" {10}. This is true, but the report is not calling for a limit of 450 parts of "CO2 equivalent". It is calling for a limit of 450 parts of CO2, which means at least 500 parts of CO2 equivalent. At this level, there is a low-to-very-low probability of keeping the temperature rise to below two degrees {11,12}. So why on earth has this reputable scientific institution muddled the figures?

You can find the answer on page 16 of the report. "As with all client-consultant relationships, boundary conditions were established within which to conduct the analysis ... Friends of the Earth, in conjunction with a consortium of NGOs and with increasing cross-party support from MPs, have been lobbying hard for the introduction of a 'climate change bill' ... [The bill] is founded essentially on a correlation of two degrees Celsius with 450 parts per million of CO2".

In other words, Friends of the Earth had already set the target before it asked its researchers to find out what the target should be. I suspect that it chose the wrong number because it believed a ninety per cent cut by 2030 would not be politically acceptable.

This echoes the refusal of Sir David King, the chief scientist, to call for a target of less than 550 parts per million of CO2 in the atmosphere, on the grounds that it would be "politically unrealistic" {13}. The message seems to be that the science can go to hell - we will tell people what we think they can bear.

So we all deceive ourselves and deceive each other about the change that needs to take place. The middle classes think they have gone green because they buy organic cotton pyjamas and handmade soaps with bits of leaf in them - though they still heat their conservatories and retain their holiday homes in Croatia. The people who should be confronting them with hard truths balk at the scale of the challenge. And the politicians won't jump until the rest of us do.

On Sunday the Liberal Democrats announced that they are making climate change their top political priority, and on Tuesday they voted to shift taxation from people to pollution. At first sight it looks bold, but then you discover that they have scarcely touched the problem. While total tax receipts in the United Kingdom amount to GBP 350 billion a year {14}, they intend to shift just GBP eight billion - or 2.3%.

So the question which now confronts everyone - politicians, campaign groups, scientists, readers of the Guardian as well as the Economist and the Sun - is this: how much reality can you take? Do you really want to stop climate chaos, or do you just want to feel better about yourself?


George Monbiot's book Heat: how to stop the planet burning is now published by Penguin. He has also launched a new website exposing fake corporate initiatives on climate change:


1. Martin Phillips, 14th September 2006. The erode to hell. The Sun.

2. Harry MacAdam, 13th September 2006. Seven days with the greens. The Sun.

3. No author, 16th February 2002. Blowing smoke - George Bush's global-warming plan. The Economist.

4. No author, 1st May 2004. Degrees of difference - The economics of climate change. The Economist.

5. No author, 9th September 2006. The Heat Is On. The Economist.

6. The Cooperative Bank, July 2006. Living the Dream. Brochure sent to customers.

7. Alice Bows et al, July 2006. Living within a carbon budget. Report for Friends of the Earth and The Co-operative Bank. Published September 2006.

8. These are explained in George Monbiot, 2006. Heat: how to stop the planet burning. Penguin, London.

9. Malte Meinshausen, 2006. What does a 2C target mean for greenhouse gasconcentrations? Avoiding Dangerous Climate Change - Chapter 28.

10. Alice Bows et al, ibid, p14.

11. Bill Hare and Malte Meinshausen, 2004. How Much Warming Are We Committed To And How Much Can Be Avoided? PIK report 93, Figure 7, page 24. Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research.

12. Paul Baer and Tom Athanasiou, 2005. Honesty About Dangerous Climate Change.

13. David King, 21st September 2005. Speech to the Decarbonising the UK conference, Church House, Westminster.

14. Office of National Statistics, pers comm - figure for FY 2005/6.

Copyright (c) 2006

Bill Totten

March of the clone towns

by Mark Lynas

New Statesman (September 25 2006)

I had the great misfortune, on returning from a public meeting in Abergavenny this past week, to pass through Hereford. With an hour to kill before catching my connecting train back to Oxford, I was in high spirits as I left the station. The meeting had been packed, and MPs from all three main parties had agreed on the urgent need to reduce carbon emissions. The world finally seemed to be coming to its senses.

Then Hereford brought me up short. The quickest route into the town centre involved negotiating the pavement-less exit ramp of a Morrisons car park, after which I spent several long minutes marooned between six lanes of traffic, waiting for rescue by a reluctant green man. Between Morrisons and the BP garage was a small apple tree festooned with bright-red fruit. I hesitated as the traffic roared by, and then - like everyone else - left it well alone.

The pedestrianised town centre seemed like an oasis at first - until I passed Waterstone's, Starbucks, McDonald's, Fat Face, Coffee Republic and countless other chain stores on what passes for Hereford's high street. After a good half-hour searching in vain for an independent food shop of any description, I ended up queuing for a limp pasty at a fast-food outlet called JB's (or BB's, I forget) while young Polish staff in identical blue uniforms struggled to work the colour-coded till and understand customers' shouted requests against the thump of background music.

Outside, consumers shuffled miserably from one homogeneous retail outlet to another, as if directed by some unseen higher power to have the latest jeans, mobile-phone handsets, computer game consoles and sportswear. Clutching my limp pasty, I joined the solemn procession, only to find that I was hopelessly lost in the trackless corporate wasteland of a town with nothing to distinguish it from any other.

Perhaps I had passed through a warp in the space-time continuum at the air-conditioned door of JB's, and been mysteriously transported to an identical town in another part of the country. Perhaps I was in Darlington, or Dundee, or Guildford (or Rockville, Utah, for that matter). It's all the same - the same shop names; the same shuffling crowds; the same alienating uniformity, divorced from time and place, where landscape and history are bulldozed, and the only identity that counts is the brand.

This is "clone-town Britain" - where, according to a little-noticed report of this name released by the New Economics Foundation in June last year, a full 42 per cent of our population centres are already fully converted clones, with a further 26 per cent threatened by the march of sameness. The report says: "A generation grew up in the 1970s and 1980s with the spectre of dreary state-centrally planned east European economies. Now that generation is waking up to realise they've been replaced by equally dreary economies, centrally planned by corporations."

I reorient myself at Argos, where shoppers pore over plasticised catalogues with the peculiar intensity that people in less developed countries reserve for their sacred religious texts. Youths with pinched white faces sit munching on their McDonald's in the doorway of Virgin Records. As I walk, I wonder what the town councillors thought they were doing when they invited the grim reaper of global capitalism to scythe his way through all the independent businesses of what was once a thriving and distinctive market town. Perhaps they felt they were doing the right thing, much as today's council in still-thriving Abergavenny seems to think it is doing the right thing by granting a prime town-centre development site to Asda/Wal-Mart, which will blow like a neutron bomb through independent retailers. I am reminded of the Cybermen from Doctor Who, who bleat mechanically: "You are incompatible. You will be upgraded!" as the rhythmic stomp of robotic boots grows ever louder.

In need of some spiritual replenishment, I duck into Waterstone's (oh, the irony) and buy a small anthology of John Betjeman's poems. Would that the Bard of Middle England were still around to show us how properly to rage at the march of the modernity, which is turning our towns into clones. He might have hoped, as do I, that the need to regulate carbon emissions will throw a spanner in the works of runaway consumerism. Or he might have simply amended his classic poem:

"Come, friendly bombs, and fall on Slough!
And Hereford, and Exeter

And Reading, and Dumfries, and Middlesbrough

And Leicester, and Glasgow ... "

Copyright (c) New Statesman 1913 - 2006

Bill Totten

Friday, September 22, 2006

Shopping: How it became our national disease

We are rapidly turning into a nation of continuous shoppers, unable to walk the streets without making purchases, however trivial. Somehow we have come to believe the marketers' hype: we must always treat ourselves - we're worth it.

by Lynsey Hanley

New Statesman Cover story (September 18 2006)

The woman in the NatWest knew what she wanted. "Basically, I need to put it somewhere where I can't get my grubby mitts on it, 'cos if I know I can, I'll just spend it all". She was talking about her hard-earned money, of which, in the shop-laden centre of Nottingham, she could be relieved in a flash.

A bit of a problem, that, unless you have a will of titanium. On a ten-minute walk through the city's long pedestrianised arcade, I casually inspected, and very nearly bought, two T-shirts from Muji, reduced from GBP 25 to GBP 5 each; a fruit and nut bar and a caffe` latte from Pret A Manger; a haircut; a copy of the new David Peace novel from Waterstone's; some "thermal spa" flavoured bubble bath from Superdrug; a pair of flip-flops; and two newspapers.

Even though my own bank account, on that particular day, rang in at minus GBP 1,041.05, I could have bought all these things without anyone telling me off. There were a good few hundred pounds to go before my overdraft exhausted its supply of goodwill. It was sheer restraint - or, rather, retraining - that prevented me from loading up on goods that, though each in its own way pleasure-giving, were not necessary for my survival.

While avoiding these resistance-dampening opportunities, you are encouraged to "take a Muffin Break" because, according to the cake stall of that name, you deserve to treat yourself. You're also asked, in ketchup-red writing the height of a man's hand, whether you should take a break to have a Wimpy, because surely you deserve that, too. What with the muffin and the Wimpy, you can quickly develop a view of the shopping experience as one involving small food rewards for every few paces you stagger under the weight of bogofs (for those of you who tend to buy the things you need one at a time, that's an acronym for "buy one, get one free" offers).

Thirty-one-year-old Richard believes that that's exactly the case. Having run up GBP 10,000 on credit cards in his early twenties, often on things he can barely remember buying, he is convinced that sophisticated marketing and the availability of easy credit make a lethal combination.

"In Nottingham, most nineteen-year-olds would think nothing of spending GBP 50 on bits and bobs in a lunch hour or GBP 100 on a Saturday. At least once every day, you think: 'I need a pick-me-up'. And whether it's a forty pence bar of chocolate or forty quid on a shirt, there's hundreds of opportunities to do that without even thinking about it. The point is, you think you need a treat and the advertising in shops reinforces it."

Nottingham feels like a city whose air of affluence and cosmopolitanism is built on the quality and number of its shops. Indeed, consumers in the East Midlands spend a greater proportion of their weekly income than those anywhere else in Britain outside London. Nottingham's city centre feels as though it has always existed solely for people to shop in. We know, of course, that it hasn't: the city-centre quarter I stayed in, Lace Market, was named after the old lacemaking industry, through which the city made its first fortune, in the latter half of the 19th century.

The hotel where I took a room has a directory that offers its customers a half-page pre'cis of the role of that industry in creating the building in which you can now sit grazing on minibar-cold Pringles before retiring to a bed slathered in thick Egyptian cotton. On the next page, under the title "Retail therapy", begins a list six pages long of Nottingham's shops, boutiques, concessions, department stores and kiosks, "so that you can maximise your shopping experience". There are "pricey, funky ladies' high-street fashions" at Whistles; Reiss, the unisex fashion chain, is housed in "a stunning conversion of an old chapel" (the Pitcher & Piano wine bar has taken this theme further by colonising a huge redundant church); Slater mens wear has "branches in just fourteen gateway cities", a mysterious retail circle of trust that also includes Birmingham, Glasgow and Basingstoke.

Should the toil of traipsing around six pages' worth of shops become too much for the mind and feet, and the prospect of a Muffin Break not fill you with relief, you can visit the UK's only Aveda Urban Therapy "lifestyle salon and spa", a woodblock-lined room filled with forest-smelling unguents, as if to suggest that shopping may, after all, create the kind of existential misgivings that can be quelled only by a return to nature (of a sort).

Alternatively - although neither the hotel nor the local buses, which are plastered with advertisements for gift vouchers that are valid in all shops in Nottingham, will tell you this - you can train yourself out of buying things, but that wouldn't endear you either to the city or to those who believe that if we all stopped shopping, we would be the immoral agents of Britain's economic collapse.

Champagne on Fridays

I knew that the British spending boom had started when I saw two women, aged no more than twenty and not in the slightest bit posh-looking, walk off a Tube train in central London each with a bottle of champagne. This was about 1998, during the lovely long Labour honeymoon, when buying Moet on a Friday - just because it was a Friday - seemed a perfectly normal thing to do, and hell, we all deserved it just for surviving the previous eighteen years. I don't know how anyone got the money, but we did; my boyfriend and I were barely out of university, and yet we ate out twice a week and bought designer coats. It was the most exciting feeling in the world, to be able to live in the city and buy things; it made us feel like pop stars. It seemed to satisfy in us a desire to feel special.

Now we've grown out of it, we camp for our holidays and are clothed by Primark. I shop on the high street so rarely that computers have doubled in memory between my visits to Dixons. I wouldn't say I was disgusted with the younger me; in fact, I feel oddly proud of the carpe diem spirit that led to my acquisition of an American Express Platinum Card at the age of 25, though I'd never earned more than GBP 25,000 a year. Amex gave me the card because I bought things as easily as I breathed. Stuff never runs out: as long as you show a willingness to buy it, stuff will be there for you, like a creature that comes to life only when you choose it to be your friend.

The 25-year-old on 25 grand with a Platinum Amex became a 26-year-old who had spent GBP 20,000 on credit cards in a single year. It wasn't just the Amex, it was the Egg; it was the MBNA; it was the Capital One; it was the First Direct loan, followed by the new Egg card to surf the zero interest rate until its six months of free credit were up. The GBP 1,000 on one card would be syphoned into my overdraft, to be replaced by another grand off a different, maxed-out card, which in turn would be filled to the limit with Habitat cushions. What on earth made me think that, at the age of 26, I had the right to buy such splendiferous guff without having first earned - literally, by working and saving - the money to do so?

"I found it shockingly easy to get a credit card with a generous limit", says Richard. "I was 22 or 23 at the time and they immediately gave me a limit that was half my yearly salary. I thought that, by the time I was thirty - which seemed like an age away - I'd be earning loads and I'd pay it all off without any trouble. The effect of having so much credit to spend was that things that I had previously thought I just couldn't afford, all of a sudden I could. The card was just this plastic thing in a bright colour that gave me free money, or so I thought."

Don't suppress the urge

The Economic and Social Research Council recently reported that many consumers are far more ignorant of how credit works than they believe themselves to be. Dr David Voas of the University of Manchester, in research for the ESRC, argued that Richard's view of credit as "free money" is worryingly common: "People either don't want to think about personal finance or, particularly among the middle classes, have a deluded view of their own financial capability".

There are other ways in which the casual, but constant, shopper can tell themselves that their actions have only benign, or even positive, consequences. "Shopping and social justice are not mutually exclusive value systems, but ones that most people want to coexist alongside each other; my daughters think as well as shop and seem fine moral beings to me", wrote the economics commentator Will Hutton in the Observer last year. The following week the paper received a wheelie bin's worth of letters accusing him of moral relativism and, worse, of glib indifference to the toll of personal bankruptcies. To cap it all, he wrote about gleefully purchasing a GBP 4 "Rolex", a tacit endorsement of sweated labour.

The point he was making was that, unlike the urge to fight or to steal, the urge to shop is one that you're positively discouraged from suppressing. You're not doing anything wrong by using your free time deliberating over the relative merits of pink tops and green ones, he says, somewhat disingenuously, given that Hutton is chief executive of the Work Foundation. Shop jobs are filled by millions, but at hourly rates far, far lower than the skilled manual jobs they have largely replaced.

Still, consumer spending goes up every month and is seen as a cause for celebration. In June, as the UK card payments association Apacs revealed, spending on plastic cards amounted to GBP 26.4 billion. So far this year, we have spent GBP 151 billion on cards alone, a rise of 6.6 per cent compared to the same period in 2005. Cities such as Nottingham and Birmingham, its larger, shop-saturated Midlands neighbour, seem at a loss to fill their centres with anything other than more places in which to process wealth.

Urban therapy

The idea of urbanity has come to mean a lifestyle that is given routine and meaning by buying things. It could once have meant promenading, or being able to speak more than one language, or attending public lectures, but in the past twenty years it has been revised to stand for shopping and little else. Cities are no longer able to support themselves, or the national economy, by making things; they now do so by selling things made elsewhere.

But Nottingham isn't composed solely of urban therapy spas and delicatessens. Its Broadmarsh Centre - which sounds, unfortunately, like a high-security mental hospital, and doesn't do much to dispel that impression once you're in there - is full of the kinds of shops frequented by people whose poverty, according to a recent Institute for Fiscal Studies investigation into household spending, carried out for the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, is measured better by how much they spend than by how much they earn.

The things you buy here are carried out in plain white or unbranded blue plastic bags rather than in tote bags made of stiff card. Bogofs abound: on trousers, shampoo, KitKats, Curly Wurlys, frozen burgers and school shirts. It's not urban or urbane, at least not in the new senses of the words; it's provincial. It's full of things you need, as well as things you want, although it would be hard to enter a branch of Poundland without walking out carrying at least twice as many items as you went in for. Elderly couples and large families stock up cheaply and invisibly here while the stiff-card-bag boutiques that encircle it get on with the job of making the rest of the city look cool.

In the everything's-a-pound shop, a man firmly tells his wife that they already have two badminton rackets, and that there's no room in the garage for more. She goes instead to pick up a pack of three tennis balls. In the crook of her arm are stashed two bottles of mint washing-up liquid and a straw dolly. She has a few spare pound coins to burn. She's not rich, but still she needs treating, if only with the knowledge that she can afford to make impulse buys: things over and above those on her shopping list.

Pound shops fulfil precisely the same role as what are known in our household as "fiddly-widdly" shops: those boutiques you enter idly on day trips that sell furry photo frames and scented candles. They kill time, and the ache to be rewarded simply for existing, nicely. Shopping centres are dark and windowless, and full of man-made things. Why do we go to them whenever we have free time? Why do we spend more time in them than is strictly necessary? Why do we attach greater urgency to the search for a bargain than to sitting in a park and reading?

A new book by Professor Avner Offer of All Souls College, Oxford, suggests that, in so doing, we succumb to "myopic choice": once our basic needs are met, we do the thing that's nearest and easiest to do, rather than the more difficult thing that might sustain us better in the long term. As Homer Simpson would concur, a doughnut is much nicer than a rice cake, and slips down more easily. Shopping is the sugary snack; healthy walks the improving one. One treats - and therefore affirms - instantly; the other has rewards that are deferred and built up slowly, and which require sustained effort to realise.

The opening line of Offer's book, The Challenge of Affluence: Self-control and Well-being in the United States and Britain since 1950 (Oxford University Press, 2006), provides a succinct statement of his case: "Affluence breeds impatience, and impatience undermines well-being". To avoid shopping for something you want is to put off something you enjoy, even though waiting for the treat - until, let's say, you've got the money to pay for it - is ultimately far more satisfying.

A few pages later, Offer presents another, equally plausible, aphorism: "Prudence has built up affluence, but affluence undermines prudence". In other words, we have historically kept our belts tight and delayed gratification, which has created a society that is largely comfortably off. Now that we have all we need, and many of us have built up comfortable nest eggs in the form of housing equity, we've started to loosen those belts.

Shop more, spend less

Until 2003, says Apacs, British shoppers tended to split their spending on plastic cards roughly equally between debit and credit cards. Now, seventy per cent of card transactions are carried out on debit cards, suggesting that consumers would rather spend as they go with the money - or overdraft - they have, rather than stack it up on credit cards. Smaller purchases that once would have been paid for in cash are now dealt with by a swipe of the debit card: a sensible-seeming habit, but less so when purchases, unlike those made with a finite supply of hard cash, can add up without you even noticing.

Meanwhile, Bank of England figures show that the number of personal bankruptcy cases grew by 66 per cent between last year and this, and that, not even counting debit card spending, in excess of GBP 120 billion is spent every year on credit cards alone. Not counting debit cards, there are nearly seventy million credit cards in circulation, spread unevenly among a population of sixty million. But a combination of low inflation, cheap developing-world labour, and the law of diminishing returns means that things are getting cheaper all the time, enabling people to shop more while not necessarily spending more.

A friend in her late twenties, whose parents "would sooner go hungry than pay a penny in interest", pays for everything on her debit card, "because the overdraft then scares me into reining in my spending again". Like Richard, she quickly saw the folly of spending on credit, but she regularly goes overdrawn in order to stock up on clothes that she might wear once. "I just think: 'Sod it, why not enjoy the money?'"

But that still doesn't explain why people choose shopping over other, potentially more reflective, more relaxing activities. Nobody is forced to shop, but - like boozing or surfing the internet - once you do a little, the temptation is to do a lot. The BBC2 play Shiny Shiny Bright New Hole In My Heart, broadcast in July, suggested that obsessive shopping is a reflection of humanity in distress - of people flailing about for meaning in a secular world and buying things as if the soul were a giant Santa sack that needs filling.

The psychologist Oliver James describes this existential bargain hunt as a symptom of what he calls Affluenza. His book of the same name, which is published next January, offers a remedy for the disease of ceaseless acquisition that involves forming and maintaining closer human relationships, in order to close up the void we at present attempt to fill with things we have bought.

Like Offer, James singles out the United States and Britain, with their highly individualised market societies, as the countries in which you are most likely to suffer mental health problems. Clearly, he argues, affluence is good for us in one way but bad for us in another.

"The Affluenza virus", he wrote in the Observer at the start of this year, "is a set of values which increase our vulnerability to psychological distress: placing a high value on acquiring money and possessions, looking good in the eyes of others and wanting to be famous". But if we know that shopping can make us unhappy, why do we still do it?

A contrite, but less distressed, Richard thinks he has the answer. "It's like some other person takes over your identity. I often used to get my bill and I'd have bought, say, nine things I didn't need or even want in the past week, and I'd think: 'When did I buy that?' Once or twice I've rung up the bank and said: 'I think someone else has been buying on my card, because I don't remember buying this'. Then you realise afterwards that it was actually you."

That day in Nottingham, some other person took over my identity and took twelve items into the Gap fitting room in the expectation of buying one or two. I - or my mysterious infiltrator - had to suppress the urge to skip to the till. With three full bags and an overdraft squeaking at its outer limits, I floated down the high street, past a group of boys displaying the price tags intact on their baseball caps, a terrier puppy in a bespoke cricketing jumper, and a toddler in her pushchair dragging a tiny clutch bag in the shape of a woman's basque along the pavement. I've had less surreal dreams than that.

Credit card debt by numbers

Research by Joshua Hergesheimer

69.9 million the number of credit cards in circulation in the UK

GBP 122.2 billion total credit-card spending in UK retailers in 2005

3.4 million number of credit cardholders in the UK regularly making only the minimum repayment

GBP 25 billion average amount spent per month on all plastic cards

64 number of credit-card transactions carried out per second

1.13 million number of debt inquiries the Citizens Advice Bureau dealt with last year

GBP 32,000 average debt of a client approaching the Consumer Credit Counselling Service for advice

Copyright (c) New Statesman 1913 - 2006

Bill Totten

Thursday, September 21, 2006

An 87% Cut by 2030

That's what we need in the United Kingdom
to avoid catastrophic climate change

by George Monbiot (September 21 2006)

Published on the Guardian's Comment is Free site

There are three things on which almost all climate scientists are now agreed. The first is that manmade climate change is real. The second is that we need to take action. The third is that, to avert catastrophic effects on both humans and ecosystems, we should seek to prevent global temperatures from rising by more than two degrees above pre-industrial levels.

Two degrees is the point at which some of the most dangerous processes catalysed by climate change could become irreversible. This includes the melting of the West Antarctic and Greenland ice sheets, which between them could raise global sea levels by seven metres {1}. It includes the drying out of many parts of Africa, and the inundation by salt water of the aquifers used by cities such as Shanghai, Manila, Jakarta, Bangkok, Kolkata, Mumbai, Karachi, Lagos, Buenos Aires and Lima {2}. It also means runaway positive feedback, as the Arctic tundras begin to release the methane they contain {3}, and the Amazon rainforest dies off, turning trees back into carbon dioxide {4,5}. In other words, if the planet warms by two degrees, three or four degrees becomes almost inevitable.

So by how much do we need to cut carbon emissions if we are to stop this from happening? The most persuasive analysis I have seen was compiled by a man called Colin Forrest {6}. He is not a professional climate scientist, but the figures he uses have been published in peer-reviewed journals. He argues his case as follows:

Researchers at the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact in Germany have estimated that holding global temperatures to below two degrees means stabilising concentrations of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere at or below the equivalent of 440 parts of carbon dioxide per million {7}. While the carbon dioxide concentration currently stands at 380 parts, the other greenhouse gases raise this to an equivalent of 440 or 450. In other words, if everything else were equal, greenhouse gas concentrations in 2030 would need to be roughly the same as they are today.

Unfortunately, everything else is not equal. By 2030, according to a paper published by scientists at the Met Office, the total capacity of the biosphere to absorb carbon will have reduced from the current four billion tonnes a year to 2.7 billion {8}. To maintain equilibrium at that point, in other words, the world's population can emit no more than 2.7 billion tonnes of carbon a year in 2030. As we currently produce around 7 billion, this implies a global reduction of 60%. In 2030, the world's people are likely to number around 8.2 billion. By dividing the total carbon sink (2.7 billion tonnes) by the number of people, we find that to achieve stabilisation the weight of carbon emissions per person should be no greater than 0.33 tonnes. If this problem is to be handled fairly, everyone should have the same entitlement to release carbon, at a rate no greater than 0.33 tonnes per year.

In the rich countries, this means an average cut by 2030 of around 90%. The United Kingdom, for example, currently releases 2.6 tonnes of carbon (9.5 tonnes of carbon dioxide) per capita {9}, so would need to reduce its emissions by 87%. Germany requires a cut of 88%, France of 83%, the United States, Canada and Australia, 94%. By contrast, the Kyoto Protocol - the only international agreement that has been struck so far - commits its signatories to cut their carbon emissions by a total of 5.2% by 2012.

These could be underestimates. The Potsdam Institute calculates that with the equivalent of 440 parts of carbon dioxide per million of air in the atmosphere, there is a 67% chance of holding the temperature rise to below two degrees( {10}. Another study suggests that to obtain a ninety percent chance of stabilisation below two degrees, you would need to keep the concentration below 400 parts per million - forty or fifty parts below the current level {11}. Because the carbon released now stays in the atmosphere for some 200 years and causes climate change many years into the future, there is perhaps a thirty percent chance that we have already blown it. We might already be committed to two degrees.

But to use this as an excuse for inaction is like remaining on a railway track while the train is hurtling towards you. We might not have time to jump out of the way, but if we don't attempt it, the disaster is bound to happen. If we in the United Kingdom are to bear our fair share of dealing with climate change, we must cut our emissions by 87% in 24 years.


George Monbiot's book Heat: how to stop the planet burning is published this week by Penguin. He has also launched a new website exposing the false green claims of corporations and celebrities -


1. Eg Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, 2001. Climate Change 2001:
Working Group II: Impacts, Adaptation and Vulnerability.

2. Conference of the International Association of Hydrogeologists, reported by Fred Pearce, 16th April 2005. Cities may be abandoned as salt water invades. New Scientist.

3. Fred Pearce, 11th August 2005. Climate warning as Siberia melts. New Scientist.

4. Sharon A. Cowling et al, 29th March 2004. Contrasting simulated past and future responses of the Amazonian forest to atmospheric change. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society. Vol 359, pages 539-47.

5. Meteorological Office, April 2005. International Symposium on the Stabilisation of Greenhouse Gases: tables of impacts. Table 3 Major Impacts of Climate Change on the Earth System. Hadley Centre, Met Office, Exeter, UK

6. Colin Forrest, 2005. The Cutting Edge: Climate Science to April 2005.

7. Bill Hare and Malte Meinshausen, 2004. How Much Warming Are We Committed To And How Much Can Be Avoided? PIK report 93, Figure 7, page 24. Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research.

8. Extracted by Colin Forrest from Chris D Jones et al, 9th May 2003. Strong carbon cycle feedbacks in a climate model with interactive CO2 and sulphate aerosols. Geophysical Research Letters. Vol 30, page 1479.

9. Energy Information Administration, 2005. International Energy Annual 2003. Table H.1cco2 World Per Capita Carbon Dioxide Emissions from the Consumption and Flaring of Fossil Fuels, 1980-2003.

10. Bill Hare and Malte Meinshausen, ibid.

11. Paul Baer and Tom Athanasiou, 2005. Honesty About Dangerous Climate Change.

Copyright (c) 2006

Bill Totten