Bill Totten's Weblog

Thursday, November 30, 2006

Defence Against What?

The Iraq disaster has eliminated the last major function of our armed forces. So let's pay ourselves a war dividend.

by George Monbiot

Published in the Guardian (November 28 2006)

No one noticed. Or if they did, no one complained. The government didn't even bother to issue a press release. Last week, the Ministry of Defence quietly secured a GBP 1.7 billion increase in its budget {1}. The spending for 2006-7 was allocated months ago, which means that another fund must have been raided to find the extra money. It's the equivalent of half the annual budget for the Department for International Development {2}. But another billion or two doesn't make much difference when we are already sloshing out GBP 32 billion a year on a programme whose purpose is a mystery {3}.

On Friday, the National Audit Office published a report which appeared to congratulate the Ministry of Defence for going only eleven per cent over budget on thirty acquisitions, such as attack submarines, destroyers, Eurofighter aircraft and anti-tank weapons {4}. This overspending - a mere GBP 3 billion or so - is a heroic improvement on the ministry's usual efforts. The story was spoilt a little when we discovered that it would have looked much worse were it not for some creative manouevres by the 1st armoured accounts division, confounding the enemy by shifting money between different parts of the budget.

But what the audit report failed to answer, or even to ask, was why we need attack submarines, destroyers, Eurofighter aircraft and anti-tank weapons in the first place. Are the Russians coming? Is Angela Merkel preparing to mobilise a few Panzer divisions? It is preposterous to suggest that we face the threat of invasion, now or in the foreseeable future.

Even the Ministry of Defence acknowledges this. In the white paper it published at the end of 2003, it admits that "there are currently no major conventional military threats to the UK or NATO ... it is now clear that we no longer need to retain a capability against the re-emergence of a direct conventional strategic threat" {5}.

NATO agrees. The leaked policy document it will discuss at its summit this week concedes that "large-scale conventional aggression against the alliance will be highly unlikely" {6}. No country that is capable of attacking NATO countries is willing to do so. No country that is willing is capable. Submarines, destroyers, Eurofighters and anti-tank rounds are of precious little use against people who plant bombs on trains.

Instead, the ministry redefines the purpose of the armed forces as "meeting a wider range of expeditionary tasks, at greater range from the United Kingdom and with ever-increasing strategic, operational and tactical tempo". {7} It wants to be able to fight either three small foreign wars at the same time or one large one, which "could only conceivably be undertaken alongside the US" {8}.

In other words, our "defence" capability is now retained for the purpose of offence. Our armed forces no longer exist to protect us. They exist to go abroad and cause trouble.

But even such wars of choice can no longer be fought. The disaster in Iraq destroyed every pretence of benign or necessary intervention. It is hard to see how any British government, however powerful its case appears to be, could claim the moral authority to launch another adventure for at least a generation. Iraq disqualifies us from the role the ministry envisages as surely as Suez did. We can kiss goodbye to the idea of going into battle alongside the US as well.

This, then, grants us a marvellous opportunity: to pay ourselves a war dividend. If the war in Iraq means that the current era of invasion and intervention is over, there is no point in maintaining armed forces designed for this purpose. If we were to cut the military budget by eighty or ninety per cent, we would do ourselves nothing but good.

But the danger and paradox of military spending is that the bigger the budget, the more powerful the lobby becomes which can fight for its own survival. As the Guardian's revelations about the corrupt relationships they have cultivated with Saudi princes show {9,10,11}, the civil servants in the Ministry of Defence write their own rules. Much of the time they seem to be defending not the realm but the arms companies. So does the prime minister. In his book Blair's Wars, John Kampfner records that "from his first day in office Blair was eager not to antagonise British arms companies, and BAE Systems in particular, which developed extremely close relationships with senior figures in Downing Street".{12} A Downing Street aide reported that whenever the head of BAE encountered a problem, "he'd be straight on the phone to Number 10 and it would get sorted". {13}

Having obtained its stupendous budget - the second-biggest defence allocation in the world {14} - our military-industrial complex must justify it. It does so by producing ever more paranoid assessments of the capabilities of terrorists. Bin Laden might possess no submarines, but we must retain our anti-submarine aircraft in case he - or someone like him - acquires some. We don't know what Blair's proposed new nuclear missiles are for, but after the money has been spent a justification is bound to emerge. In the ministry's Defence Vision paper, I found this gobsmacking contradiction. "We face new challenges and unpredictable new conditions. Our strategy must evolve to reflect these new realities. For the future this means [among other positions] ... holding fast, in the face of change, to our underpinning military traditions." {15} Was there ever a clearer sign that the tail is wagging the dog?

A report published by the Oxford Research Group this summer argues that our defence policies are self-defeating. They concentrate on the wrong threats and respond to them in a manner which is more likely to exacerbate than to defuse them. The real challenges to world peace, it contends, are presented by climate change, competition over resources, the marginalisation of the poor and our own military deployments {16}.

By displacing people from their homes and exacerbating food shortages, climate change will cause social breakdown and mass migration. Competition for resources means that the regions which possess them - particularly the Middle East - will remain the focus of conflict. As improved education is not matched by better prospects for many of the world's poor, the resulting sense of marginalisation provides a more hospitable environment for insurrection. AIDS leaves a generation of orphaned children vulnerable to recruitment by paramilitary groups and criminal gangs. The war on terror has created the threats it was supposed to defeat, by driving people to avenge the civilians it has killed. By developing new weapons of mass destruction, the rich nations challenge others to try to match them.

Military spending enhances all these threats. The jets and ships and tanks it buys make a large (though so far unquantified) contribution to climate change and the competition for resources. It diverts money from helping the poor; it generates a self-justifying momentum which stimulates conflict. The budget would contribute far more to our security, the report says, if it were spent on energy efficiency, foreign aid and arms control.

So what role remains for our armed forces? A small one. A shrunken army should concentrate on helping the civil authorities to catch terrorists and deal with epidemics, floods and power cuts; the navy should be deployed to protect fisheries and catch drugs smugglers; the airforce is largely redundant. Now that foreign adventures are no longer an option, it is time we turned our war spending into what it claims to be: a budget for our defence.


1. Des Browne, 21st November 2006. Votes A 2006-7.

2. Department for International Development, 2006. What are we doing to tackle world poverty?

3. Ministry of Defence, 2006a. Defence Spending.

4. National Audit Office, 24th November 2006. Ministry of defence: Major Projects Report 2006.

5. Ministry of Defence, December 2003. Delivering Security in a Changing World: Defence White Paper.

6. Richard Norton-Taylor, 25th November 2006. Military alliance battles to reinvent itself as it struggles for credibility in first real combat test. The Guardian.

7. Ministry of Defence, December 2003, ibid.

8. Ministry of Defence, July 2004. Delivering Security in a Changing World Future Capabilities.

9. David Leigh and Rob Evans, 11th September 2003. BAE accused of arms deal slush fund. The Guardian.

10. David Leigh and Rob Evans, 13th October 2003. MoD chief in fraud cover-up row. The Guardian.

11. David Leigh and Rob Evans, 6th October 2004. BAE denies GBP 60m Saudi slush fund. The Guardian.

12. John Kampfner, 2004. Blair's Wars, pages 15-16. Free Press, London.

13. John Kampfner, 2004, ibid, p170.

14. Ministry of Defence, 2006a, ibid.

15. Ministry of Defence, 2006b. The Defence Vision.

16. Chris Abbott, Paul Rogers and John Sloboda, June 2006. Global Responses to Global Threats: Sustainable Security for the 21st Century. Oxford Research Group.

Copyright (c) 2006

Bill Totten

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

They lied their way into Iraq

Now they are trying to lie their way out

Bush and Blair will blame anyone but themselves for the consequences of their disastrous war - even its victims

by Gary Younge

Guardian (November 27 2006)

"In the endgame", said one of the world's best-ever chess players, Jose' Rau'l Capablanca, "don't think in terms of moves but in terms of plans". The situation in Iraq is now unravelling into the bloodiest endgame imaginable. Both popular and official support for the war in those countries that ordered the invasion is already at a low and will only get lower. Whatever mandate the occupiers may have once had from their own electorates - in Britain it was none, in the US it was precarious - has now eroded. They can no longer conduct this war as they have been doing.

Simultaneously, the Iraqis are no longer able to live under occupation as they have been doing. According to a UN report released last week, 3,709 Iraqi civilians died in October - the highest number since the invasion began. And the cycle of religious and ethnic violence has escalated over the past week.

The living flee. Every day up to 2,000 Iraqis go to Syria and another 1,000 to Jordan, according to the UN's high commissioner for refugees. Since the bombing of Samarra's Shia shrine in February more than 1,000 Iraqis a day have been internally displaced, a recent report by the UN-affiliated International Organisation for Migration found last month.

Those in the west who fear that withdrawal will lead to civil war are too late - it is already here. Those who fear that pulling out will make matters worse have to ask themselves: how much worse can it get? Since yesterday American troops have been in Iraq longer than they were in the second world war. When the people you have "liberated" by force are no longer keen on the "freedom" you have in store for them, it is time to go.

Any individual moves announced from now on - summits, reports, benchmarks, speeches - will be ignored unless they help to provide the basis for the plan towards withdrawal. Occupation got us here; it cannot get us out. Neither Tony Blair nor George Bush is in control of events any longer. Both domestically and internationally, events are controlling them. So long as they remain in office they can determine the moves; but they have neither the power nor the credibility to shape what happens next.

So the crucial issue is no longer whether the troops leave in defeat and leave the country in disarray - they will - but the timing of their departure and the political rationale that underpins it.

For those who lied their way into this war are now trying to lie their way out of it. Franco-German diplomatic obstruction, Arab indifference, media bias, UN weakness, Syrian and Iranian meddling, women in niqabs and old men with placards - all have been or surely will be blamed for the coalition's defeat. As one American columnist pointed out last week, we wait for Bush and Blair to conduct an interview with Fox News entitled If We Did It, in which they spell out how they would have bungled this war if, indeed, they had done so.

So, just as Britain allegedly invaded for the good of the Iraqis, the timing of their departure will be conducted with them in mind. The fact that - according to the foreign secretary, Margaret Beckett - it will coincide with Blair leaving office in spring is entirely fortuitous.

More insidious is the manner in which the Democrats, who are about to take over the US Congress, have framed their arguments for withdrawal. Last Saturday the newly elected House majority leader, Steny Hoyer, suggested that the Americans would pull out because the Iraqis were too disorganised and self-obsessed. "In the days ahead, the Iraqis must make the tough decisions and accept responsibility for their future", he said. "And the Iraqis must know: our commitment, while great, is not unending".

It is absurd to suggest that the Iraqis - who have been invaded, whose country is currently occupied, who have had their police and army disbanded and their entire civil service fired - could possibly be in a position to take responsibility for their future and are simply not doing so.

For a start, it implies that the occupation is a potential solution when it is in fact the problem. This seems to be one of the few things on which Sunni and Shia leaders agree. "The roots of our problems lie in the mistakes the Americans committed right from the beginning of their occupation", Sheik Ali Merza, a Shia cleric in Najaf and a leader of the Islamic Dawa party, told the Los Angeles Times last week.

"Since the beginning, the US occupation drove Iraq from bad to worse", said Harith al-Dhari, the nation's most prominent Sunni cleric, after he fled to Egypt this month facing charges of supporting terrorism.

Also, it leaves intact the bogus premise that the invasion was an attempt at liberation that has failed because some squabbling ingrates, incapable of working in their own interests, could not grasp the basic tenets of western democracy. In short, it makes the victims responsible for the crime.

Withdrawal, when it happens, will be welcome. But its nature and the rationale given for it are not simply issues of political point-scoring. They will lay the groundwork for what comes next for two main reasons.

First, because, while withdrawal is a prerequisite for any lasting improvement in Iraq, it will not by itself solve the nation's considerable problems.

Iraq has suffered decades of colonial rule, thirty years of dictatorship and three years of military occupation. Most recently, it has been trashed by a foreign invader. The troops must go. But the west has to leave enough resources behind to pay for what it broke. For that to happen, the anti-war movement in the west must shift the focus of our arguments to the terms of withdrawal while explaining why this invasion failed and our responsibilities to the Iraqi people that arise as a result of that failure.

If we don't, we risk seeing Bono striding across airport tarmac ten years hence with political leaders who demand good governance and democratic norms in the Gulf, as though Iraq got here by its own reckless psychosis. Eviscerated of history, context and responsibility, it will stand somewhere between basket case and charity case: like Africa, it will be misunderstood as a sign not of our culpability but of our superiority.

Second, because unless we understand what happened in Iraq we are doomed to continue repeating these mistakes elsewhere. Ten days ago, during a visit to Hanoi, Bush was asked whether Vietnam offered any lessons. He said: "We tend to want there to be instant success in the world, and the task in Iraq is going to take a while ... We'll succeed unless we quit".

In other words, the problem with Vietnam was not that the US invaded a sovereign country, bombed it to shreds, committed innumerable atrocities, murdered more than 500,000 Vietnamese - more than half of whom were civilians - and lost about 58,000 American servicemen. The problem with Vietnam was that they lost. And the reason they lost was not because they could neither sustain domestic support nor muster sufficient local support for their invasion, nor that their military was ill equipped for guerrilla warfare. They lost because it takes a while to complete such a tricky job, and the American public got bored.

"You learn more from a game you lose than a game you win", argued the chess great Capablanca. True, but only if you heed the lessons and then act on them.


Guardian Unlimited (c) Guardian News and Media Limited 2006,,1957914,00.html

Bill Totten

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Get Iraq's Civil War Over With

Two Options: More Occupation + Civil War, Or Civil War

by Ted Rall (November 28 2006)

If we pull out now, warn Bush's generals, Iraq will disintegrate into civil war. Experts counter that the civil war is already underway, and that what would follow a US withdrawal would be even worse.

"All indications point to a current state of civil war and the disintegration of the Iraqi state [if the US leaves]", says Nawaf Obaid of the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

"We're not talking about just a full-scale civil war" after a US withdrawal, adds Joost Hiltermann, Middle East project director for the International Crisis Group. "This would be a failed-state situation with fighting among various groups" growing into regional conflict.

Think of the ferocious fighting that broke out after the Soviets left Afghanistan.

Neighboring countries - Iran, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan and Pakistan - prolonged the bloodshed and destruction by arming proxy warlords. The Afghan civil war slowed to a simmer after the Taliban consolidated their harsh rule over most of the country. Hiltermann describes a similar grim scenario. "The war will be over Iraq, over its dead body", he says. "Regional war is very much a possibility". The winners will probably be the Shias, who will crush the Sunnis and transform Iraq into an Islamist state aligned with, but more radical than, Iran.

At least one of Iraq's neighbors agrees. "When the ethnic-religious break occurs in one country, it will not fail to occur elsewhere, too", Syrian President Bashar al-Assad warned recently. "It would be as it was at the end of the Soviet Union, only much worse. Large wars, small wars - no one will be able to get a grip on the consequences."

With so much at stake in the war against Iraq, argues Arizona Senator John McCain, we ought to sending more troops, not pulling them out. He agrees with Pentagon planners, who want to add 25,000 or 30,000 troops to the 140,000 already there.

"The consequences of failure are so severe that I will exhaust every possibility to try to fix this situation", McCain says. "It's not just Iraq that they're interested in. It's the region, and then us."

Michael O'Hanlon of the Brookings Institute describes the Pentagon's thinking about troop strength: "You ramp up in 2007 and then ramp it down to below 100,000 to maybe 60,000 or 70,000 in 2008, but we cannot go higher. We don't have a big enough military."

But then what?

The United States has two options in Iraq. First: It can pull out now, which will almost certainly lead to civil war along sectarian and tribal lines, and possibly to a wider regional conflict. Second: it can pull out later - and deal with the same exact consequences then.

Invading Iraq was the kind of idea that is so bad that, once it's acted upon, nothing can be done to redeem it. One of my prewar worries was that there were no viable, well-known and popular opposition figures ready to replace Saddam Hussein. The dictator had suppressed the Kurds, Shias and non-Baath-aligned Sunnis for decades; each would want to run the country after he was removed. "Iraq has a one-man thugocracy", wrote the neoconservative historian Robert Kaplan five months before the war in November 2002, "so the removal of Saddam would threaten to disintegrate the entire ethnically riven country if we weren't to act fast and pragmatically install people who could actually govern".

That didn't happen. In all fairness, given Ahmed Chalabi and the other ridiculous Iraqi exiles Washington had to work with, it never could have. Once Bush decided to get rid of Saddam, civil war became inevitable. The US accelerated the balkanization of Iraq by recognizing the nascent state of Kurdistan and sanctifying the ratification of a constitution that enshrines sectarian divisions in the form of privileges and semiautonomous fiefdoms under a virtually powerless federal government.

It's cold-blooded calculus, but where's the advantage in staving off the inevitable? Perhaps Iraq is destined to set the Middle East ablaze, or to collapse into a failed state like Somalia, or to disintegrate into partition and ethnic cleansing like Yugoslavia. It is likely that, after we pull out, a lot of people are going to die. Does it matter if they die now rather than 2008?

Long or short, the bloodletting of an Iraqi civil war is coming. Unlike the bloodletting of our current occupation, however, it will eventually end.


Ted Rall is the author of the new book Silk Road to Ruin: Is Central Asia the New Middle East? (Nantier Beall Minoustchine Publishing, 2006), an in-depth prose and graphic novel analysis of America's next big foreign policy challenge.

Copyright 2006 Ted Rall

Bill Totten

Monday, November 27, 2006

Licensed to Loot

The East India Company was the first multinational corporation - until its abuse of power caused a public backlash. Nick Robins examines its legacy to reveal how it set the corporate blueprint for today's firms to operate unchecked.

by Nick Robins (November 01 2006)

In August 1769, two Armenian merchants, Johannes Rafael and Gregore Cojamaul, arrived at London's docks. The two were rich men and had made their fortunes in India's most prosperous region, Bengal. But their purpose was not to trade. Instead they sought justice from the most powerful corporation in the world: the East India Company.

In March 1768, Rafael, Cojamaul and two others had been summarily arrested by the Company's chief executive in Bengal, Harry Verelst, who then held them for more than five months under guard. When they were released, they found that the Company had pressured its puppet, the Nawab of Bengal, to ban all Armenians from the Bengal market.

Sailing around the world to where the Company was headquartered, Rafael and Cojamaul appealed to its board of directors, complaining of their "cruel and inhuman" treatment. When this was arrogantly brushed aside, the two went to court, suing Verelst for damages. An intense legal battle unfolded with claim and counter-claim, from 1770 until 1777, when the courts found Verlest guilty of "oppression, false imprisonment and singular depredations". The Armenians won a total of GBP 9,700 in compensation - more than GBP 800,000 in today's money. Thousands of miles from the scene of the crime, the principle of extraterritorial liability for corporate malpractice had been established in Georgian London.

Fast-forward more than 200 years, and Cojamaul and Rafael's revenge still has a powerful resonance for communities seeking to plug the justice gap in 21st century globalisation. But this is not all that we can learn from the extraordinary corporate career of the Honourable Company (one of the names by which it was sometimes known).

Founded on a cold New Year's Eve in 1600, the Governor and Company of Merchants in London Trading into the East Indies - its original full name - was the mother of the modern corporation. From its headquarters in the City of London, it managed a commercial empire that stretched across the Atlantic, around the Cape, past the Gulf and on to India and China. Starting as a marginal importer of Asian spices, the Company became the agent that changed the course of economic history, combining financial strength with military muscle to conquer India and break open China's closed economy. Always with an eye to the share price and their own executive perks, its executives in India combined economic muscle with a small, but effective private army to establish a corporate state across large parts of the sub-continent.

A Treacherous Deal

The battle of Plassey (the anglicised version of Palashi) in June 1757 was the turning point, when the company's forces defeated the last independent Nawab of Bengal, helped largely by strategic bribery of his military commander Mir Jafar, whom it then placed as its puppet on the throne. This is often regarded as the contest that founded the British Empire in India, but is perhaps better viewed as the Company's most successful business deal, generating a windfall profit of GBP 2.5 million for the Company and GBP 234,000 for Robert Clive, the chief architect of the acquisition. Today, this would be equivalent to a GBP 232 million corporate windfall and a cool GBP 22 million success fee for Clive.

The Company's new-found market power enabled it to drive down the prices it paid to Bengal's weavers - to such an extent that rumours spread of weavers cutting off their own thumbs to escape the innumerable fines and floggings. Eight years later, Clive followed up his coup at Plassey with a lucrative acquisition: he convinced the Mughal emperor to out-source tax collection in Bengal to the Company. The Company's share price soared on London's financial markets, almost doubling in the next three years. But in the same month that Rafael and Cojamaul arrived in London, the rains failed in Bengal, marking the start of a ferocious drought. What turned this into a ravaging famine was the weakened state of Bengal and the Company's negligence and callousness - even increasing the tax rate to ensure that the overall revenue remained level. Some estimates put the resulting deaths from starvation as high as ten million, and it is certain that at least one million people died - more than the population of London at the time - with some regions losing between a third and a half of their inhabitants. Clive managed to escape parliamentary censure for his part in all this, but died - most probably by suicide - with Dr Johnson observing that he had "acquired his fortune by such crimes that his consciousness of them impelled him to cut his own throat".

Nor did the Company's footprint stop there. If India was the site of its first commercial triumphs, it was in China that it made its second fortune. Its 'factory' at Canton was the funnel through which millions of pounds of Bohea, Congou, Souchon and Pekoe teas flowed west to Britain, Europe and the Americas. In the other direction came first silver and later a flood of Indian-grown opium, smuggled in chests proudly bearing the Company chop (logo). Desperate to find a way of paying for the tea trade without exporting bullion, Warren Hastings (Britain's governor-general of India from 1773 to 1786) first tried to smuggle opium into China in 1781, defying the Qing Empire's trading ban. Initially unsuccessful, the Company grew increasingly brazen as its power grew, shipping ever-expanding quantities of contraband into China, turning the country's centuries-long trade surplus with the outside world into deficit. When the Qing eventually tried to crack down on the import of 'foreign mud', Britain sent in its gunboats in the first of a series of 'opium wars'.

But before the second opium war was over, the Company itself was no more, the victim of the public backlash in Britain in the wake of the 1857 Indian Mutiny - otherwise known as the 'first war of Indian independence'. The Company's most senior executive, the utilitarian philosopher John Stuart Mill, pleaded with Parliament, but effective nationalisation followed the Company's failure. Always solicitous for the needs of its shareholders, the Company managed to continue paying dividends for another quarter century - financed by taxes from India - until on April 30 1874, its stock was liquidated and the Company's financial heart finally stopped beating.

At first sight, this extraordinary corporate biography might seem to be merely of antiquarian interest. There is clearly a world of difference between the Company's operations in the 18th century and the business landscape of our own times. The Company's establishment by royal charter, its monopoly of all trade between Britain and Asia, and its semi-sovereign privileges to rule territories and raise armies certainly mark it out as a corporate institution from another time. Yet in its financing, its structures of governance and its business dynamics, the Company was undeniably modern. It may have referred to its staff as servants rather than executives, and communicated by quill pen rather than email, but the key features of the shareholder-owned corporation are there for all to see.

This Imperious Company

What is equally striking, looking back at the legacy of John Company (another name by which it was known, reflecting its ubiquity) is how it not only shaped the modern multinational, but also prefigured the same bundle of tensions exhibited by today's global corporations.

In ways that are immediately familiar to us today, the East India Company lay at the centre of a web of commercial relationships. Internally, the interactions between owners, executives and employees defined the fundamental direction of the business. Externally, fiscal and regulatory interactions with states at home and abroad defined the Company's scope for action, while in the marketplace, its standing with customers, competitors and suppliers determined its chances of success.

Ultimately, however, it was the Company's ability to maintain a basis of trust with society at home and abroad that decided its fate - and once this trust was broken, protest, rebellion and its eventual downfall would follow. What makes the story so inspiring is how the Company's bid for unbounded economic power was repeatedly met by individuals fighting to make it accountable.

From the beginning, the East India Company's monopoly control over trade with Asia had been disputed by its competitors. But it was with the Company's acquisition of unprecedented economic power following Plassey that it came to be seen as a more structural threat to political liberty back home. Poems, pamphlets and plays poured off the presses, accusing the Company of oppression and corruption. For the editor of London's Gentleman's Magazine, by April 1767 it had become the "imperious company of East India merchants", with the issue at stake being whether "freedom or slavery" would result from the Company's immense power.

A Critique of Corporate Design

Nine years later, political economist and moral philosopher Adam Smith published his Inquiry Into The Nature And Causes Of The Wealth Of Nations (1776), containing one of the most powerful critiques of the Company - and, by extension, the corporate form. Written in the wake of the Company's 'Bengal Bubble', Smith's Inquiry dissected the corporation as an institution and evaluated the factors that led to the East India Company's own particular crisis.

Uniquely, Smith was emphatic in downplaying the actions of individuals as the root cause of the problems. "I mean not to throw any odious imputation upon the general character of the servants of the East India Company", he wrote, stressing that "it is the system of government, the situation in which they are placed, that I mean to censure". The problem was one of corporate design. Monopoly didn't just create economic injustice; it was also "a great enemy to good management".

Smith was equally critical of the Company's joint stock model of corporate control, which separated managers from owners and was a licence for speculation, where "negligence and profusion must always prevail". Adam Smith was certainly a believer in open markets. But freeing the world for exploitation by corporations formed no part of his vision.

Smith's critique of the Company provided a powerful intellectual platform, but it was his friend, the statesman and philosopher Edmund Burke, who sought to bring the Company to justice in the 1780s. Often known as the father of modern conservatism for his defence of the monarchy in the French Revolution, Burke himself believed that his greatest contribution was his battle against the East India Company. In Burke's view, the Company had become financially and institutionally bankrupt, breaching the implicit terms of its Georgian "licence to operate". Drawing from the rich tradition of legitimate resistance to tyrannical government, Burke argued that "every description of commercial privilege [is] all in the strictest sense a trust, and it is of the very essence of every trust to be rendered accountable". Burke continued with a rhetorical flourish: "To whom then would I make the East India Company accountable?" he mused. "Why, to Parliament, to be sure". When George III intervened to block Burke's East India Bill - which would have replaced the Company's board of directors with parliamentary commissioners - Burke turned to law, like the Armenians before him. In 1787, he impeached Warren Hastings for "high crimes and misdemeanours". The trial, which began in 1788, lasted seven long years and gripped London society. Burke's mission was clear. "I must do justice to the East", he declared, "for I assert that their morality is equal to ours". Eventually, Hastings was cleared by a grateful House of Lords, more interested in imperial acquisition than points of principle.

To the leading lights of its age, such as Smith and Burke, the East India Company's rise and fall highlighted three fundamental flaws in the corporate metabolism: first, the unrelenting drive to market domination; second, the inherent speculative dynamic of shareholderowned businesses; and, third, the absence of effective mechanisms for bringing companies to account for overseas malpractice. Looking back, the parallels with today's corporate leviathans became overpowering, with the Company outstripping Wal-Mart in terms of market power, Enron in corruption and Union Carbide in human devastation.

The Company's example shows us that open markets and corporations do not necessarily mix - that economic diversity and enterprise often flourish best where corporations are kept in check. From Smith's contemporary analysis of the rising commercial economy of 18th-century Britain, it emerges that the truly entrepreneurial company is likely to be locally rooted, limited in size and liable for the costs it imposes on others.

Indeed, for Burke, there was something fundamentally suspicious about the Company's chartered rights. Speaking to Parliament in 1783, he made a clear distinction between human and corporate rights, arguing that "Magna Carta is a charter to restrain power and to destroy monopoly", while "the East India charter is a charter to establish monopoly and create power". It was this corporate tyranny that Burke tried - but failed - to break, urging Parliament to recognise that "this nation never did give a power without imposing a proportionable degree of responsibility".

Today, Justice Still Goes Begging

Drawing from Smith's analysis of the corporation, it is clear that the privilege of limited liability needs to be balanced with a social "duty of care" to curb the speculative quest for excessive rates of return. The Company Bill currently going through Parliament is an ideal opportunity to impose a legal duty of care upon company directors, to ensure that their actions do not damage society or the environment. At the time of The Ecologist going to press, the Bill in its present draft does not introduce such a duty of care, but it is being pressed for by the Corporate Responsibility Coalition (CORE), which represents more than 130 charities and campaigning organisations pressing for new laws to make sure that companies do not profit at the expense of people and planet. Through this simple, yet profound alteration in the corporation's genetic code, its inner dynamics would be reshaped to match its social obligations. Shareholders would also thus become aware of the wider implications of their investments, stimulating a search for companies that take a pro-active approach to reducing their harmful impacts on others. Not just corporations, but capital itself would start becoming accountable.

Although he is frequently cited as the theoretical inspiration for globalisation, Smith would be horrified at the way in which the unlimited corporation now dominates economic and political life. Corporate scale magnifies an underlying problem of behaviour. When it was small, the damage that the East India Company could inflict was relatively limited. When it grew in size to dominate whole markets and territories, its potential for harm grew correspondingly large.

While 21st-century corporations rarely enjoy the chartered monopolies that the East India Company fought so hard to sustain, global deregulation has meant that concentration in key markets has climbed to economically destructive and politically dangerous levels. At local, national and global levels, unrelenting action is needed to break up the corporate giants that currently hold the world to ransom. For this effort, Smith's passionate critique of the East India Company holds out the promise of new and creative alliances between those seeking open markets and those wanting to tame corporate power, whether it be 'big oil' or 'big retail'.

The example of the Armenian merchants winning their battle for reparations from the Company can also inspire us in today's efforts to hold corporations to account. As we know from the unrelenting pain of incidents such as the Union Carbide disaster at Bhopal, instruments of justice need to be as international as business. Rafael and Cojamaul's legal triumph can give us hope that we too can put in place effective legal mechanisms to enable those affected by corporations to bring action, either in the company's place of registration or in an international court. The realistic prospect of judicial intervention to penalise malpractice, wherever it may occur, would be a powerful deterrent, further encouraging business to adopt responsible practices that prevent problems in the first place.

The Company's legacy still haunts both Europe and Asia; and, knowing its story, the obligation is to remember and then to act. This was certainly the stance taken by Jawaharlal Nehru, who in 1944 was serving his ninth - and final - term of imprisonment for his campaign to achieve India's independence from the British. From his prison cell in Ahmadnagar, Nehru wrote what became The Discovery Of India (1946), presenting his vision of how India's rich and complex past related to its freedon struggle. For him, the writing of history was not a remote, academic exercise, but intimately bound up with taking action to change the present. Running through the book was Nehru's conviction that the two centuries of British rule had imposed a terrible burden on India that needed urgent removal. But it was when he describes the English East India Company and its plunder of Bengal following Clive's victory at Palashi that this cool voice of humanist reason boiled over in anger. "The corruption, venality, nepotism, violence and greed of money of these early generations of British rule in India", he thundered, "is something which passes comprehension". To underline his distaste at the Company's practices, Nehru added: "It is significant that one of the Hindustani words which has become part of the English language is 'loot'."

Bill Totten

Saturday, November 25, 2006

Owning the Torture Society

The Long Slog of Rebuilding American Democracy

by Ted Rall (November 21 2006)

The military tribunal lasted a week. At the end the seventeen defendants were permitted to make a closing statement. Alexei Shestov, 41 years of age, stood up and admitted being a terrorist and traitor. "In that struggle", he confessed, "I employed every loathsome, every filthy and every destructive method". Coercive interrogation techniques - what effete and weak-stomached liberals would call torture - loosened the terrorist's tongue. "For five weeks I denied everything", he said, "for five weeks they kept confronting me with one fact after another, with the photographs of my dastardly work and when I looked back, I myself was appalled by what I had done".

Unlike his cowardly co-conspirators, Shestov proclaimed himself ready to face the ultimate sanction. "Now I have only one desire, to stand with calmness on the place of my execution and with my blood to wash away the stain of a traitor to my country". He got his wish. The Military Collegium of the Supreme Court ordered him to be shot.

The great Moscow "show trials" of 1937, officially bringing to justice the nefarious agents of the "Anti-Soviet Trotskyite Centre", were the centerpiece of Stalin's campaign to terrorize Soviet citizens from their previous state of basic subjugation to absolute submission. In truth, there was no such thing as the Anti-Soviet Trostskyite Centre. Shestov wasn't even an opponent of the regime. To the contrary, he was an NKVD (predecessor to the KGB) employee. His bosses ordered to pose as a suspect in order to inculpate the other men. Stalin, as thorough as he was diabolical, had him executed anyway.

A trial without due process isn't justice. It's farce.

Newly leaked audiotapes of military tribunals held at Guanta'namo Bay concentration camp shared the eerie quality of the Soviet show trials of the 1930s. Once again the men are accused of membership in a shadowy terrorist conspiracy. The evidence against them consists of hearsay - the testimony of other mise'rables giving them up in order to save themselves. They have been beaten, abused and probably tortured.

Murat Kurnaz, 24, a German cititzen held for four years without being charged with so much as a traffic violation, described life at Gitmo to CNN after being sent back to Germany. Among the "many types of torture" he endured were "electric shocks to having one's head submerged in water, (subjection to) hunger and thirst, or being shackled and suspended [hung from the ceiling]".

"They tell you 'you are from Al Qaeda' and when you say 'no' they give the (electric) current to your feet ... As you keep saying 'no' this goes on for two or three hours".

In testimony consistent with that of other Gitmo survivors, Kurnaz said he was suspended from the ceiling for at least four days. "They take you down in the mornings when a doctor comes to see whether you can endure more. They let you sit when the interrogator comes ... They take you down about three times a day so you do not die."

Such precautions weren't 100 percent effective. "I saw several people die", he said.

Now the United States is trying to burnish its nasty image as one of the world's leading torture states - not by eliminating torture, but by silencing its victims. In a remarkable bit of legal sang froid, the Bush Administration has filed a brief in its case against Majid Khan asking a federal court to seal its torture of him as "top secret".

Khan is one of fourteen alleged Al Qaeda suspects transferred earlier this year from secret CIA torture chambers in Eastern Europe, Central Asia and Pakistan to Gitmo. CIA official Marilyn Dorn said in a Bush Administration affidavit that Khan should be silenced lest he reveal "the conditions of detention and specific alternative interrogation procedures".

"If this argument carries the day", The Washington Post wrote in an editorial, "it will make virtually impossible any accountability for the administration's treatment of top Al Qaeda detainees".

"Sausage making", a right-wing blogger calls it. We abandon American values to protect the American way of life. But we don't want to hear about it, much less watch it. A YouTube video of a volunteer undergoing waterboarding - an illegal but frequently used CIA torture technique that Dick Cheney agreed was a harmless "dunk of water", a "no-brainer" - vanished hours after being posted.

When political leaders justify torture, it isn't long before it goes mainstream. Mostafa Tabatabainejad, a 21-year-old college student at UCLA, was typing away in the back of a campus library computer lab when security guards demanded that he produce ID for a "random check".

What happened after he refused was caught on eight agonizing minutes of video shot by another student's cellphone. As he screamed and convulsed on the floor, rent-a-cops repeatedly shot Tabatabainejad with a Taser stun gun.

"Any student who witnessed it was left with an image you don't want to remember", a witness told the UCLA student newspaper. Asked whether Tabatabainejad resisted, the witness said, "In the beginning, no. But when they were holding onto him and they were on the ground, he was trying to just break free. He was saying, 'I'm leaving, I'm leaving'. It was so disturbing to watch that I cannot be concise on that. I can just say that he was willing to leave. He had his backpack on his shoulder and he was walking out when the cops approached him. It was unnecessary".

The video captures the security men ordering Tabatabainejad to "get up or you'll get Tased", shooting him when he complies and laughing as they repeat their demand. "Here's your Patriot Act, here's your f - - - abuse of power", he shouted at bystanders who were visibly upset but too cowed to intervene.

The Democratic takeover of Congress has seen high hopes of national moral redemption downgraded to more modest goals: raising the minimum wage, allowing the Medicare program to negotiate lower drug prices with the pharmaceutical companies. No leading Democrat has called for impeaching Bush, closing Guanta'namo and other torture camps, or outlawing spying on American citizens without a warrant. There is, however, a sign that something remains of American morality.

Connecticut Senator Chris Dodd has introduced a bill to defang the neofascist Military Commissions Act, signed into law by Bush shortly before the elections. Under the MCA, the president or secretary of defense can declare anyone, including a US citizen, an "enemy combatant" and toss them into a secret prison for the rest of their life, where they can legally be tortured. The MCA eliminates habeas corpus, a legal right enjoyed by Westerners since the 13th century that forces police to file charges against an arrestee or let him go.

"People have no idea how significant this is", said Jonathan Turley, professor of constitutional law at George Washington University. "What the Congress did and what the president signed ... essentially revokes over 200 years of American principles and values".

Dodd's Effective Terrorists Prosecution Act (S 4060) would eliminate the most heinous aspects of the MCA and begin the restoration of American democracy before 9/11, when it was supplanted by our current police state.

"I strongly believe that terrorists who seek to destroy America must be punished for any wrongs they commit against this country", said Dodd. "But in my view, in order to sustain America's moral authority and win a lasting victory against our enemies, such punishment must be meted out only in accordance with the rule of law".

As we've seen in Iraq, it's easier to destroy a society than to rebuild one. Seven decades after Stalin's Great Terror, Russia is still struggling to establish democratic institutions.

Unraveling the oppressive legacy of Bush's post-9/11 security apparatus won't be easy either. Even if it passes, Dodd's bill faces an almost certain presidential veto - yet another reason impeachment should be Democrats' top priority in January.


Ted Rall is the author of the new book Silk Road to Ruin: Is Central Asia the New Middle East? (Nantier Beall Minoustchine Publishing, 2006), an in-depth prose and graphic novel analysis of America's next big foreign policy challenge.

Copyright 2006 Ted Rall

Bill Totten

The Story of Thanksgiving

MaxSpeak, You Listen! (November 24 2005)

"It was wonderful to find America, but it would have been more wonderful to miss it". - - Mark Twain, The Tragedy of Pudd'nhead Wilson

The Story of Thanksgiving, in the rich MaxSpeak tradition, is here {1}. And here {2}. Or maybe it's here {3}?

MaxSpeak Summary: Among Puritan Christian fundamentalists, the Pilgrims were treacherous, murderous swine. The Pilgrims made a treaty with the indigenous people around Plymouth, until they had enough forces to wipe them out. This they later did with smallpox and guns, unless they were able to sell them into slavery, all for the greater glory of God.

Wait a minute. That wasn't quite right. Let's try it again. Here's how it goes.

The Puritans in England were subjected to religious persecution, lo unto death. They needed a homeland where they could survive as a people and live in peace. They tried to settle in the Netherlands, but it proved inhospitable. Only the possibility of the New World seemed to beckon. It was a land without a people, and they were a people without a land.

Upon settling around Plymouth, the first Puritans (Pilgrims) established amicable relations with the Wampanoag Nation. The Wampanoag were subject to aggression by other Native American groups, so their alliance with the Puritans became an outpost of peace and freedom in the New World.

As more Puritans arrived, they required more breathing space. The Wampanoag, like other indigenous peoples, lacked a modern system of property rights. They did not see fit to build fences, put up street signs, or establish variable-rate mortgages. The Puritans remedied these defects of indigenous culture. It just happened that the Puritans ended up owning all the property, and native Americans themselves became classified as property.

Taking umbrage at this advance of Judeo-Christian civilization, the indigenous people were reduced to terrorism. Some were sufficiently maniacal as to sacrifice their own lives in order to murder innocent settlers. There was a virtual cult of death. Underlying this irrationality was a primitive religious belief system that celebrated exterminating one's enemies, as well as the consumption of locoweed and psychedelic mushrooms. In short, the natives hated freedom.

As a matter of self-defense, the Puritans were compelled to rise to the challenge of this war of civilizations by exterminating both the terrorists and the societies that nurtured them. There was no middle ground; you were with them or against them. Those Native Americans that were willing to live in peace were provided with alternative living arrangements, under the protection of the new government. Sadly, they proved unequal to the rigors of modern society and eventually disappeared.

Today we celebrate Thanksgiving as a tribute to their memory, and to the invaluable assistance they unselfishly provided to the Christian conquest of America.

Now please pass the gravy, and have a happy Thanksgiving, from all the MaxSpeak mispochah.







Addendum: We proudly note that if you Google the title of this post, the MaxSpeak rendition comes up 6th out of 12,800 hits.

Copyright (c) 2001 - 2005 max sawicky

Bill Totten

Friday, November 24, 2006

Give Thanks No More

It's Time for a National Day of Atonement

by Robert Jensen

Alternative Press Review (November 21 2006)

One indication of moral progress in the United States would be the replacement of Thanksgiving Day and its self-indulgent family feasting with a National Day of Atonement accompanied by a self-reflective collective fasting.

In fact, indigenous people have offered such a model; since 1970 they have marked the fourth Thursday of November as a Day of Mourning in a spiritual/political ceremony on Coles Hill overlooking Plymouth Rock, Massachusetts, one of the early sites of the European invasion of the Americas.

Not only is the thought of such a change in this white-supremacist holiday impossible to imagine, but the very mention of the idea sends most Americans into apoplectic fits - which speaks volumes about our historical hypocrisy and its relation to the contemporary politics of empire in the United States.

That the world's great powers achieved "greatness" through criminal brutality on a grand scale is not news, of course. That those same societies are reluctant to highlight this history of barbarism also is predictable.

But in the United States, this reluctance to acknowledge our original sin - the genocide of indigenous people - is of special importance today. It's now routine - even among conservative commentators - to describe the United States as an empire, so long as everyone understands we are an inherently benevolent one. Because all our history contradicts that claim, history must be twisted and tortured to serve the purposes of the powerful.

One vehicle for taming history is various patriotic holidays, with Thanksgiving at the heart of US myth-building. From an early age, we Americans hear a story about the hearty Pilgrims, whose search for freedom took them from England to Massachusetts. There, aided by the friendly Wampanoag Indians, they survived in a new and harsh environment, leading to a harvest feast in 1621 following the Pilgrims first winter.

Some aspects of the conventional story are true enough. But it's also true that by 1637 Massachusetts Governor John Winthrop was proclaiming a thanksgiving for the successful massacre of hundreds of Pequot Indian men, women and children, part of the long and bloody process of opening up additional land to the English invaders. The pattern would repeat itself across the continent until between 95 and 99 percent of American Indians had been exterminated and the rest were left to assimilate into white society or die off on reservations, out of the view of polite society.

Simply put: Thanksgiving is the day when the dominant white culture (and, sadly, most of the rest of the non-white but non-indigenous population) celebrates the beginning of a genocide that was, in fact, blessed by the men we hold up as our heroic founding fathers.

The first president, George Washington, in 1783 said he preferred buying Indians' land rather than driving them off it because that was like driving "wild beasts" from the forest. He compared Indians to wolves, "both being beasts of prey, tho' they differ in shape". Thomas Jefferson - president #3 and author of the Declaration of Independence, which refers to Indians as the "merciless Indian Savages" - was known to romanticize Indians and their culture, but that didn't stop him in 1807 from writing to his secretary of war that in a coming conflict with certain tribes, "[W]e shall destroy all of them".

As the genocide was winding down in the early 20th century, Theodore Roosevelt (president #26) defended the expansion of whites across the continent as an inevitable process "due solely to the power of the mighty civilized races which have not lost the fighting instinct, and which by their expansion are gradually bringing peace into the red wastes where the barbarian peoples of the world hold sway". Roosevelt also once said, "I don't go so far as to think that the only good Indians are dead Indians, but I believe nine out of ten are, and I shouldn't like to inquire too closely into the case of the tenth".

How does a country deal with the fact that some of its most revered historical figures had certain moral values and political views virtually identical to Nazis? Here's how "respectable" politicians, pundits, and professors play the game:

When invoking a grand and glorious aspect of our past, then history is all-important. We are told how crucial it is for people to know history, and there is much hand wringing about the younger generations' lack of knowledge about, and respect for, that history. In the United States, we hear constantly about the deep wisdom of the founding fathers, the adventurous spirit of the early explorers, the gritty determination of those who "settled" the country - and about how crucial it is for children to learn these things.

But when one brings into historical discussions any facts and interpretations that contest the celebratory story and make people uncomfortable - such as the genocide of indigenous people as the foundational act in the creation of the United States - suddenly the value of history drops precipitously and one is asked, "Why do you insist on dwelling on the past?"

This is the mark of a well-disciplined intellectual class - one that can extol the importance of knowing history for contemporary citizenship and, at the same time, argue that we shouldn't spend too much time thinking about history.

This off-and-on engagement with history isn't of mere academic interest; as the dominant imperial power of the moment, US elites have a clear stake in the contemporary propaganda value of that history. Obscuring bitter truths about historical crimes helps perpetuate the fantasy of American benevolence, which makes it easier to sell contemporary imperial adventures - such as the invasion and occupation of Iraq - as another benevolent action.

Any attempt to complicate this story guarantees hostility from mainstream culture. After raising the barbarism of America's much-revered founding fathers in a lecture, I was once accused of trying to "humble our proud nation" and "undermine young people's faith in our country".

Yes, of course - that is exactly what I would hope to achieve. We should practice the virtue of humility and avoid the excessive pride that can, when combined with great power, lead to great abuses of power.

History does matter, which is why people in power put so much energy into controlling it. The United States is hardly the only society that has created such mythology. While some historians in Great Britain continue to talk about the benefits that the empire brought to India, political movements in India want to make the mythology of Hindutva into historical fact. Abuses of history go on in the former empire and the former colony.

History can be one of the many ways we create and impose hierarchy, or it can be part of a process of liberation. The truth won't set us free, but the telling of truth at least opens the possibility of freedom.

As Americans sit down on Thanksgiving Day to gorge themselves on the bounty of empire, many will worry about the expansive effects of overeating on their waistlines. We would be better to think about the constricting effects on the day's mythology on our minds.


Robert Jensen is a journalism professor at the University of Texas at Austin and board member of the Third Coast Activist Resource Center He is the author of The Heart of Whiteness: Race, Racism (City Lights, 2005) and White Privilege and Citizens of the Empire: The Struggle to Claim Our Humanity (City Lights, 2004). He can be reached at .

This article comes from Alternative Press Review

The URL for this story is:

Bill Totten

The Story of "Thanksgiving"

From chapter 17 of the book

Where White Men Fear to Tread (St Martin's Griffin, 1996)

by Russell Means

When we met with the Wampanoag people, they told us that in researching the history of Thanksgiving, they had confirmed the oral history passed down through their generations. Most Americans know that Massasoit, chief of the Wampanoag had welcomed the so-called Pilgrim Fathers - and the seldom mentioned Pilgrim Mothers - to the shores where his people had lived for millennia. The Wampanoag taught the European colonists how to live in our hemisphere by showing them what wild foods they could gather, how, where, and what crops to plant, and how to harvest, dry, and preserve them.

The Wampanoag now wanted to remind white America of what had happened after Massasoit's death. He was succeeded by his son, Metacomet, whom the colonist called "King" Philip. In 1617-1676, to show "gratitude" for what Massasoit's people had done for their fathers and grandfathers, the Pilgrims manufactured an incident as a pretext to justify disarming the Wampanoags. The whites went after the Wampanoag with guns, swords, cannons, and torches. Most, including Metacomet, were butchered. His wife and son were sold into slavery in the West Indies. His body was hideously drawn and quartered. For twenty-five years afterward Matacomet's skull was displayed on a pike above the whites' village. The real legacy of the Pilgrim Fathers is treachery.

Americans today believe that Thanksgiving celebrates a bountiful harvest, but that is not so. By 1970, the Wampanoag had turned up a copy of a Thanksgiving proclamation made by the governor to the colony. The text revealed the ugly truth: After a colonial militia had returned from murdering the men, women, and children of an Indian village, the governor proclaimed a holiday and feast to give thanks for the massacre. He also encouraged other colonies to do likewise - in other words, every autumn after the crops are in, go kill Indians and celebrate your murders with a feast.

In November 1970, their decendants returned to Plymouth to publisize the true story of Thanksgiving and, along with about two hundred other Indians from around the country, to observe a national day of Indian mourning.

Let me add that every year since 1970, the Wampanoag, along with many hundreds of Indians and Indian supporters from across the country, gather at Plymouth on Thanksgiving day to protest the lies and teach the American people the truth about our National "Christian" holiday. And it will continue every year until the truth about the colonies at Plymouth become common knowledge.

Bill Totten

Thursday, November 23, 2006

Thanksgiving: The National Day of Mourning

Text of 1970 speech

by Wampsutta, an Aquinnah Wampanoag Elder

Black Commentator - Issue 207 (November 23 2006)

Frank James (1923 - February 20 2001), known to the Wampanoag people as Wampsutta, was invited to speak by the Commonwealth of Massachusettsat the 1970 annual Thanksgiving feast at Plymouth. When the text of Mr James' speech, a powerful statement of anger at the history of oppression of the Native people of America, became known before the event, the Commonwealth "disinvited" him. Wampsutta was not prepared to have his speech revised by the Pilgrims. He left the dinner and the ceremonies and went to the hill near the statue of the Massasoit, who was the leader of the Wampanoags when the Pilgrims landed in their territory. There overlooking Plymouth Harbor, he looked at the replica of the Mayflower. It was there that he gave his speech that was to be given to the Pilgrims and their guests. There eight or ten Indians and their supporters listened in indignation as Frank talked of the takeover of the Wampanoag tradition, culture, religion, and land.

That silencing of a strong and honest Native voice led to the convening of the National Day of Mourning. The following is the text of 1970 speech by Wampsutta, an Aquinnah Wampanoag elder and Native American activist.

I speak to you as a man - a Wampanoag Man. I am a proud man, proud of my ancestry, my accomplishments won by a strict parental direction ("You must succeed - your face is a different color in this small Cape Cod community!"). I am a product of poverty and discrimination from these two social and economic diseases. I, and my brothers and sisters, have painfully overcome, and to some extent we have earned the respect of our community. We are Indians first - but we are termed "good citizens". Sometimes we are arrogant but only because society has pressured us to be so.

It is with mixed emotion that I stand here to share my thoughts. This is a time of celebration for you - celebrating an anniversary of a beginning for the white man in America. A time of looking back, of reflection. It is with a heavy heart that I look back upon what happened to my People.

Even before the Pilgrims landed it was common practice for explorers to capture Indians, take them to Europe and sell them as slaves for 220 shillings apiece. The Pilgrims had hardly explored the shores of Cape Cod for four days before they had robbed the graves of my ancestors and stolen their corn and beans. Mourt's Relation describes a searching party of sixteen men. Mourt goes on to say that this party took as much of the Indians' winter provisions as they were able to carry.

Massasoit, the great Sachem of the Wampanoag, knew these facts, yet he and his People welcomed and befriended the settlers of the Plymouth Plantation. Perhaps he did this because his Tribe had been depleted by an epidemic. Or his knowledge of the harsh oncoming winter was the reason for his peaceful acceptance of these acts. This action by Massasoit was perhaps our biggest mistake. We, the Wampanoag, welcomed you, the white man, with open arms, little knowing that it was the beginning of the end; that before fifty years were to pass, the Wampanoag would no longer be a free people.

What happened in those short fifty years? What has happened in the last 300 years? History gives us facts and there were atrocities; there were broken promises - and most of these centered around land ownership. Among ourselves we understood that there were boundaries, but never before had we had to deal with fences and stone walls. But the white man had a need to prove his worth by the amount of land that he owned. Only ten years later, when the Puritans came, they treated the Wampanoag with even less kindness in converting the souls of the so-called "savages". Although the Puritans were harsh to members of their own society, the Indian was pressed between stone slabs and hanged as quickly as any other "witch".

And so down through the years there is record after record of Indian lands taken and, in token, reservations set up for him upon which to live. The Indian, having been stripped of his power, could only stand by and watch while the white man took his land and used it for his personal gain. This the Indian could not understand; for to him, land was survival, to farm, to hunt, to be enjoyed. It was not to be abused. We see incident after incident, where the white man sought to tame the "savage" and convert him to the Christian ways of life. The early Pilgrim settlers led the Indian to believe that if he did not behave, they would dig up the ground and unleash the great epidemic again.

The white man used the Indian's nautical skills and abilities. They let him be only a seaman - but never a captain. Time and time again, in the white man's society, we Indians have been termed "low man on the totem pole".

Has the Wampanoag really disappeared? There is still an aura of mystery. We know there was an epidemic that took many Indian lives - some Wampanoags moved west and joined the Cherokee and Cheyenne. They were forced to move. Some even went north to Canada! Many Wampanoag put aside their Indian heritage and accepted the white man's way for their own survival. There are some Wampanoag who do not wish it known they are Indian for social or economic reasons.

What happened to those Wampanoags who chose to remain and live among the early settlers? What kind of existence did they live as "civilized" people? True, living was not as complex as life today, but they dealt with the confusion and the change. Honesty, trust, concern, pride, and politics wove themselves in and out of their [the Wampanoags'] daily living. Hence, he was termed crafty, cunning, rapacious, and dirty.

History wants us to believe that the Indian was a savage, illiterate, uncivilized animal. A history that was written by an organized, disciplined people, to expose us as an unorganized and undisciplined entity. Two distinctly different cultures met. One thought they must control life; the other believed life was to be enjoyed, because nature decreed it. Let us remember, the Indian is and was just as human as the white man. The Indian feels pain, gets hurt, and becomes defensive, has dreams, bears tragedy and failure, suffers from loneliness, needs to cry as well as laugh. He, too, is often misunderstood.

The white man in the presence of the Indian is still mystified by his uncanny ability to make him feel uncomfortable. This may be the image the white man has created of the Indian; his "savageness" has boomeranged and isn't a mystery; it is fear; fear of the Indian's temperament!

High on a hill, overlooking the famed Plymouth Rock, stands the statue of our great Sachem, Massasoit. Massasoit has stood there many years in silence. We the descendants of this great Sachem have been a silent people. The necessity of making a living in this materialistic society of the white man caused us to be silent. Today, I and many of my people are choosing to face the truth. We ARE Indians!

Although time has drained our culture, and our language is almost extinct, we the Wampanoags still walk the lands of Massachusetts. We may be fragmented, we may be confused. Many years have passed since we have been a people together. Our lands were invaded. We fought as hard to keep our land as you the whites did to take our land away from us. We were conquered, we became the American prisoners of war in many cases, and wards of the United States Government, until only recently.

Our spirit refuses to die. Yesterday we walked the woodland paths and sandy trails. Today we must walk the macadam highways and roads. We are uniting. We're standing not in our wigwams but in your concrete tent. We stand tall and proud, and before too many moons pass we'll right the wrongs we have allowed to happen to us.

We forfeited our country. Our lands have fallen into the hands of the aggressor. We have allowed the white man to keep us on our knees. What has happened cannot be changed, but today we must work towards a more humane America, a more Indian America, where men and nature once again are important; where the Indian values of honor, truth, and brotherhood prevail.

You the white man are celebrating an anniversary. We the Wampanoags will help you celebrate in the concept of a beginning. It was the beginning of a new life for the Pilgrims. Now, 350 years later it is a beginning of a new determination for the original American: the American Indian.

There are some factors concerning the Wampanoags and other Indians across this vast nation. We now have 350 years of experience living amongst the white man. We can now speak his language. We can now think as a white man thinks. We can now compete with him for the top jobs. We're being heard; we are now being listened to. The important point is that along with these necessities of everyday living, we still have the spirit, we still have the unique culture, we still have the will and, most important of all, the determination to remain as Indians. We are determined, and our presence here this evening is living testimony that this is only the beginning of the American Indian, particularly the Wampanoag, to regain the position in this country that is rightfully ours.

Bill Totten

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Clusterfuck Nation Chronicles

Comment on current events

by Jim Kunstler, author of

The Long Emergency (Atlantic Monthly Press 2005)

The CERA Report (November 20 2006)

Last week, Cambridge Energy Research Associates (CERA) released a report saying that there was no imminent global oil problem and that enough new oil would come on-line to permit current levels of consumption - and beyond! - for more than a hundred years into the future. CERA's stunningly disingenuous report flies in the face of everything that is known about the current world oil situation.

CERA is fronted by Daniel Yergin, author of the Pulitzer Prize-winning history of the oil industry, The Prize (Free Press reissue, 1993). Apparently, Yergin has parlayed his legitimacy as an historian into running a disinformation service wholly owned by the IHS Corporation, a lobbying and public relations firm serving the defense, oil, and automotive industries. Apart from making a lot of money as executive vice-president of a company with about $300 million in net annual profits over about $500 million in gross revenues, it is a little hard to discern what Yergin's motives might be in shoveling so much bad information into the public arena.

Much of CERA's "story" hinges on the supposition that snazzy technology will allow the recovery of "oil" (liquid hydrocarbons) from solids that require costly mining and processing operations to covert them to liquids. In effect, CERA says that tar sands, kerogen shales, coal-to-liquids, plus super-deep ocean drilling will not only make up for currently depleting fields of easily-acessed liquid sweet crudes, but actually surpass current total production. This would seem, on the face of it, to violate everything that is known about Energy Returns on Energy Invested (ERoRI). And, in fact, the very companies working the tar sands in Alberta, Canada, have just this year steeply raised their dollar estimates of what it will take to convert that stuff into usable liquids - it ain't a pretty story.

CERA does not acknowledge some of the fundamental facts of the current situation, for instance that the world's four super-giant fields responsible for at least fifteen percent of total global production since 1980 (Ghawar in Saudi Arabia, Burgan in Kuwait, Daqing in China, and Cantarell in Mexico) have all passed peak and turned down into depletion. CERA doesn't acknowledge that discovery of new oil peaked worldwide in the 1960s with more than forty years of steady decline since then. Or that there has been almost no provable meaningful discovery the past several years (and Chevron's as yet unproved deepwater "Jack" claim of three to fifteen billion barrels total is not significant in the context of a world that now burns through thirty billion barrels a year.) CERA doesn't acknowledge that the predicted US peak of 1970 was absolutely on target and that our domestic production of regular crude has fallen from around ten million barrels a day in 1970 to under five million barrels a day now (still declining yearly, including the Alaska North Slope fields). CERA doesn't acknowledge that current total global oil production through 2006 is at least absolutely flat and more likely falling (depending on whose numbers you look at), which would tend to indicate that the world has bumped up against the ceiling of its all-time total capacity. CERA doesn't acknowledge that exports are down nine percent this year because the nations with export capacity have growing populations and economies that require more and more of their own oil.

The CERA story also tragically gives aid and comfort to those who deny that climate change needs to be taken seriously, since it is saying, in essence, that we can easily continue pumping carbon dioxide into the atmosphere - by burning as much coal as we can. The CERA report amounts to "don't worry, be happy".

Perhaps most tragically, there is no corrective for this mendacious PR. It's not against the law to spread lies about a business venture - which is what the oil industry is - even if its truthful condition is critical to the functioning of our society. There's no oversight committee or agency authorized to investigate public relations activity. It's a basic case of buyer beware. Unfortunately, the buyers in this case are America's political leaders and the news media responsible for informing the public.

The mainstream media last week swallowed CERA's PR hook, line, and sinker, without a single reflective burp. It even drove the prices on oil futures markets down a few dollars a barrel - though the price was back up by Friday. The only cogent analysis of the CERA report took place on the Internet, and for the most part on a single site:, which is the best-informed forum of debate on these issues operating in the United States. You can go directly to their initial response, composed by Dave Cohen by clicking on this link: . It's worth taking the trouble to read.

Energy Independence (November 13 2006)

The day after the impressive Democratic election victory, Senate Majority Leader-to-Be Harry Reid declared that a top priority for the new congress would be policy leading to "energy independence" for America. The time of jubilee will certainly come, but not in the way Harry Reid thinks it will - nor in the way the rest of the country imagines this idea.

When politicians flog the term around - "energy independence" - they invariably mean that we will continue enjoying the happy motoring utopia by other means than imported oil (which makes up seventy percent of all the oil we burn). Get this: the day is not far off when, for one reason or another, the flow of imported oil to the US will cease. But when that day comes, we will not be running our shit the way we have been running it. That day will be the end of the interstate highways, Walt Disney World, and WalMart - in short, the way of life we are fond of calling "non-negotiable".

We are not going to run that shit on coal liquids or tar sand byproducts or oil shale distillates or ethanol or biodiesel, or second-hand french-fry oil. Nor on solar, wind, nuclear, or hydrogen. You can run things on that stuff, but not the biggies we run at their current scale. If the Democrats really want to get serious and act responsibly, they'd better not squander whatever is left of our credit and collective confidence in a futile campaign to keep this racket going. They'd better prepare the public to start living differently.

Where to begin? They can start by recognizing that massive long-haul trucking of goods has to end and be replaced by improved, electrified rail plus water transport - with trucks used only for the final, local leg of the journey. To reach this point of recognition, the Democrats will have to overcome the entrenched interests of the trucking industry - but, by now, most of the truck drivers in this country have been successfully converted into right-wing Republican zombies, so it might not be so difficult to overcome them. They will also have to overcome WalMart and its "warehouse on wheels" composed of thousands of eighteen-wheelers full of discount goodies incessantly in motion for "just-in-time" delivery to the big box outlets. And, of course, by "WalMart" I mean not only the company itself but the millions of Americans who think they can't live without it.

Do the Democrats have the guts to go against this tide? My guess is probably not. But, get this, too: sooner rather than later, whether we like it or not, we're going to have to replace WalMart with an entirely different system for retail trade - probably resembling the system of multi-layered local trade networks that were destroyed by WalMart. And the further off we put this task, the more difficult it's going to be. So, real political leadership will have to inform the public that the time has come to start making other arrangements.

Instead of supporting the fiction that happy motoring can continue forever, the Democrats should create an "Apollo Project" to restore the US passenger rail system, too. (We hear a lot about an "Apollo Project" to develop a miracle fuel for our cars, but that ain't gonna happen and we'd be much better off devoting that investment to public transit.) This will baffle and piss off a lot of the public, but it is necessary if we are going to survive as an advanced civilization. Please notice, by the way, that I am not suggesting we deprive anyone of the right to drive a car, only give them the option of getting somewhere by train instead. And don't worry, the politicians will not have to do a thing to restrict automobile use - circumstances will do it for them as the world plunges into a permanent oil crisis that does not go away.

Another thing the Democrats can do with their new power is reorient the activities of the US Department of Agriculture - and especially legislated cash subsidies - away from the "agribusiness" Big Boys to small-scale, local farmers. We are silently and stealthily approaching a crisis situation with the American food supply. Most localities now only have a two or three-day food supply, and any number of crisis events in the offing could disrupt the three-thousand mile chains of frozen pizzas and Cheez Doodles that the public depends on for basic sustenance. We desperately need to reactivate what's left of the productive land around our towns and cities, and to repopulate it with people who can grow real food.

The Democrats will have to contend with the imminent cratering of suburbia whether they like it or not. The "housing bubble" is the first leg down for a development pattern that has no future. What's out there now is a vast over-supply of exactly the kind of houses in the kinds of places that will not have value in an energy-scarcer world. The overbuilding of tract houses is a tragedy caused by reckless and irresponsible behavior in the lending industry and in the government officials who regulate interest rates and the credit supply. The investments are already lost, and the individual carnage is going to be extreme, but the depth of the problem will reveal itself slowly for two reasons: (1) both homeowners and realtors will desperately try to maintain the fiction that these properties still have high value, and (2) individuals who are in trouble with their mortgage payments will never reveal their dire situation to their friends and neighbors because it is too humiliating. The news about default and re-po will only arrive with the moving vans (if the individuals can afford to hire them).

The collapse of suburbia will be the Democrats chief inheritance from the "free-market" economically neo-liberal Republicans who were too busy money grubbing at all levels to notice that there was such a thing as the future. The tragedy of suburbia will finish off whatever is left of Reagan-Bush1-Bush2 Republicanism - although the truth is that Bill Clinton did as much to promote this way of life, indeed, to turn suburban development into a new basis for the US economy when manufacturing crapped out.

The nation as a whole - however it reconfigures itself politically in the aftermath of this fiasco - is going to have to come to grips with a lot of hard truths. One will be that "energy independence" means a whole different scale and system for daily life, not just "new and innovative" fuels for cars. As long as we are stuck in a foolish national wish-fest aimed at keeping all the cars running and propping up all the trappings of car-dependency, we will remain lost in a wilderness of our own making. And whoever the next president of the US turns out to be, whether a Democrat or the leader of a party that has not yet coalesced, will have all that he (or she) can do to keep this nation from completely falling to pieces.

Bill Totten

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Going by the Book

by Lewis H Lapham

Harper's Magazine Notebook (November 2006)

War is the statesman's game, the
priest's delight,

The lawyer's jest, the hired assassin's


And, to those royal murderers, whose

mean thrones

Are bought by crimes of treachery and


The bread they eat, the staff on which

they lean.

- Percy B Shelley

On the morning of September 8, in concert with the fifth-anniversary festivities celebrating the 9/11 day of doom, the Council on Foreign Relations in New York City staged a four hour program of risk analysis intended to fortify an audience of maybe 100 or 150 of the city's upscale bankers and high-end corporate executives with a renewed faith in the power of government to hold them harmless against tomorrow's terrorist bomb and/or next month's fall of radioactive rain. As prelude to the political charges and countercharges likely to hunt down and overtake the November election campaigns, the topic also was consistent with the August message that President George Bush had been delivering to the country's army bases, that is, that America is safer than it was in the summer of 2001, or for that matter in the winter of 1776 or the spring of 1861, but not yet so safe that we can afford to stop building the pyramids of invincible bureaucracy.

The organizers of the Council's symposium didn't set themselves an easy task. The once-upon- a-time glorious conquest of Baghdad plainly has been transformed into a murderous fiction; the reports from Washington suggest that the Department of Homeland Security, having been shown to be criminally negligent in its dealing with Hurricane Katrina, continues to subside into a state of near-perfect dysfunction; as to the whirlwinds of biblical devastation forecast by the Muslim jihadists releasing propaganda balloons in the mountains of Waziristan, nothing has been seen in an American time zone for five years; of the terrorist plots said to have been uncovered by the FBI, many of the ones exposed to the newspapers amounted to little more than a murmuring of underfunded rhetoric. Coincident with the date of the Council's symposium, an article appearing in the then current issue of its bimonthly journal, Foreign Affairs, compared the total number of people killed since September 2001 by Al Qaeda or Al Qaeda-like agents operating outside of Afghanistan and Iraq to the number of people who drown every year in bathtubs.

How then to tell the fantastic but familiar tale about America meeting the threat of imminent apocalypse at all points of the geopolitical compass in such a way that it didn't collapse into comic farce? Not, as noted, an easy task, and one that I would have thought impossible to perform in front of a crowd of sharp-eyed money managers who over the course of the last five years have seen the value of Manhattan real estate move nowhere but up, an apartment that cost $890,000 to buy in 2001 now priced at $1.5 million. I failed to bear in mind the also steadily rising market in the willing suspensions of disbelief. The Council could count on the presence of people who had learned that when passing these days through the national-security checkpoints, ill-considered sarcasms get confiscated or sent into the cargo hold with the Coca-Cola and the lipstick.

The program divided into three parts ("The Terrorist Threat in New York", "Assessing New York's Emergency Preparedness", "What Individuals and Organizations Can Do"), each of the panel discussions facilitated by a television news analyst and upholstered with expert witnesses representing the New York City Fire Department and the US Department of Homeland Security as well as with scholars specializing in the theory of counterterrorism and the mysteries of the Middle East. On a table in the foyer of the Council's auditorium the young ladies acting as ushers had placed a display of pamphlets establishing an appropriately sinister tone: "America - Still Unprepared, Still in Danger", "Corporate Responses to Public Disasters", "Preventing Catastrophic Nuclear Terrorism". The proceedings began promptly at 8:00 AM, all present on the alert for updated bulletins from the frontiers of man's fate. Two fifteen-minute breaks (for coffee and pastry served in the library on the Park Avenue side of the building) allowed for the changing of experts and the rearrangement of the microphones, but at no time was it deemed proper to inquire as to the whereabouts of Osama bin Laden, to remember that the illegal crossings at the Mexican border now number between 1,000 and 4,000 a day, or to point out that the lifetime chance of an American being killed by an act of international terrorism is about one in eighty thousand, the odds roughly equivalent to those of being killed by a comet or a meteor.

So much of the discussion took place at more or less the same altitude of abstraction ("situational awareness", "consequence management", "threat matrix", "modeling the fears"), in more or less the same gravely concerned tones of voice, that it can be fairly rendered in the form of a dialogue spoken on the stage of an ancient Greek amphitheater. The language has been simplified and the sequence of questions and answers much abbreviated, but the points of emphasis remain intact. The complete transcript can be found at; the reader without access to the Internet is free to imagine the experts wearing stately masks, the chorus of citizens draped in shapeless robes.

Q - Is New York still high on the list of terrorist targets?
A - New York is the big bull's-eye.
Q - And why is that so?
A - Because the city stands as the preeminent symbol of America's wealth and power. Muslim jihadists regard the city as the palace of the great Satan, rich with heavy concentrations of money, media coverage, and Jews.
Q - Any terrorists presently submerged in sleeper cells in any of the five boroughs?
A - A tenement in Brooklyn is as good a place to hide as a cave in Afghanistan.
Q - Who's the enemy?
A - They show up across a broad spectrum of evil intent. At the foreign end of the spectrum, we see members of Al Qaeda central; at the domestic end, disturbed teenagers (most of them Arab, some of them American) who look to the Internet for lessons in nihilism and instructions for the making of a bomb ... What we do know is that today's terrorist is a fiend-a clever, resourceful fiend, computer-literate and familiar with the tactics of asymmetric warfare, capable of striking at any place, at any time, with virtually any weapon.
Q - If New York is the big bull's eye, why doesn't Washington send us more money?
A - It's your responsibility not to become part of the problem. For your own peace of mind, learn to think of your survival in New York in the same way that you would think about your survival on a camping or a boating trip.
Q - What about nuclear weapons?
A - The radiologicals are worse. Cheaper to acquire, easier to deploy. Dirty bombs don't kill very many people in a department store or on a street, but if the radiation gets loose in the wind, they can be very tough on high-priced real estate. We would have to take down a lot of contaminated buildings.
Q - How do we know what to secure against?
A - New York City takes an all-hazard approach to disasters both natural and not. Figure at all times an eighty percent probability of a high-impact, significant event that knocks down a company's stock price by as much as thirty percent. We need to build trust, between the private and the public sectors, leverage the acts of good citizenship, offer tax breaks to companies that provide their employees with upgraded levels of security,
Q - What about the ports? How do we inspect all the shipping containers?
A - The dangers are exaggerated. Anything that you can bring in a container you can buy in New Jersey. The really dangerous threats are the hypothetical, the ones we don't expect and can't predict.
Q - Why no car or truck bombs in New York City? You'd think that somebody would have the wit to drive one into Times Square.
A - We have very alert police. Even so, car bombs are a product of modern life. We probably should expect a truck or car bombing once every six months. They inflict minor losses, which we must learn to accept.
Q - What else must we learn to accept?
A - Shared accountability. The private sector owns 85 percent of the nation's critical infrastructure, but over the last five years the Fortune 500 companies have increased their security spending by only three percent.
Q - In the last five years, why haven't we seen more terrorist attacks in the United States - no poisoning of reservoirs, no dynamite in the subways or the tunnels, no blowing up of national monuments?
A - We've been very good and very lucky.
Q - Can we trust the news media not to spread panic?
A - Here in New York we're fortunate to have media people, also a mayor and a public-health commissioner, skilled at modeling the fears.

Midway through the session assessing New York's emergency preparedness, Linda Vester, the facilitator on loan from Fox News, asked the assembled company for a show of hands indicating the number of people in the room equipped with emergency supplies of food, medicine, and money. How many had assigned a rallying point at which to gather their families, their pets, and their domestic servants for an escape to Queens or the flight into Connecticut? Both calls for shared accountability met with clear majorities declaring themselves armed with the required life-saving devices and possessed of well-rehearsed exit strategies. Nobody was more pleased than Ms Vester. She hadn't expected to find so many Latter-day Saints ready for the Day of Judgment on Manhattan's Upper East Side.

"That's impressive", she said, "and do you have a gallon of water per person?"

Most people did, which was commendable, but to what purpose? Did anybody in the room seriously believe that in the event of a major calamity it would be possible to reach, much less get across, the Triborough or the George Washington Bridge, that they could see themselves through the fire and smoke with a flashlight and a crate of Fiji water, that what President Bush on. the evening of September 11 described as "the decisive ideological struggle of the twenty-first century" somehow resembled a camping trip in the Catskills or a fishing cruise off Montauk?

For the better part of four hours we had been listening to a battery of experts conjure up horrific scenarios for urban disaster, but in the long series of questions and answers never once did I hear in any of the voices a trace element of genuine alarm. The symposium-goers hadn't come to prepare themselves for Armageddon; they had come to see a critically acclaimed postmodern play to show one another that they had read the reviews and maybe even the script, were familiar with some of the author's earlier work, knew how to decipher the trend-setting acronyms (AEP for Area Evacuation Plan, COOP for Continuing of Operations Plan, PALMS for Private Assets and Logistics Management System), had bought their duct tape in the colors of military camouflage. Dutifully making their devout observances, they marked themselves eligible for salvation; by showing themselves willing to swallow the government's recommended daily dosages of fear, then surely nothing more would be required of them, and old man Death would move on down the avenue to round up people who had failed to read the instructions on the label, didn't know what was meant by the term "shelter in place", hadn't seen the movie or the play.

As with the chorus of citizens, so also with the voices of authority issuing disclaimers. Because the war on terror, like the war on poverty or the war on drugs, is a work of the bureaucratic imagination, the winning of it is a matter of filling out forms, acting professional, addressing the contingencies, adding office staff. Everything that could be done was being done, and in New York, as in Washington and Baghdad, the resident experts commanding the fight against the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse were sending forth into battle a mighty host of paper - heavier-caliber bullet points, faster computers, stronger acronyms, the Department of Homeland Security armed with ninety echelons of classified information, the New York City Fire Department capable of responding within the span of four minutes to big trouble with any one of the four medieval elements, the city's hospitals assisted by technicians capable of distinguishing different kinds of radioactive isotope, twenty-eight databases placed at the disposal of the National Counterterrorism Center, precisely measured evacuation rates for each of New York City's five boroughs, a 900-page document drawn up as a remedy for hurricanes.

And yet, regrettably and as much as anybody might have wished to say otherwise, even the best of governments cannot perform miracles. It's not the business of government to issue the patents of immortality or hold itself accountable for the acts of God. At the end of the day, people must fend for themselves, trusting to luck, bottled water, their insurance agent, and their strength of character. Fortunately we can depend upon the patriotic volunteerism of the American people, who don't expect government to go riding around on their backs, courageous and resilient people ready and able to believe that "the safety of America depends on the outcome of the battle in the streets of Baghdad".

That last line of ad copy for the war on terror I borrow from the address that President Bush delivered to the American people on the evening of September 11. Speaking from behind the golden mask of power in the White House, he cast himself in the role of the nation's Great Protector, but nearly everything he had to say (about the struggle for civilization, America the injured victim in a war that it didn't provoke, Arab terrorists pursuing Americans into their own homes, the world's evil-doers unanimous in their hatred of freedom) showed him to be protecting nothing more than his persona as the Great Protector. By his actions he had proven himself so little interested in the happiness and safety of the American people that he had made of them objects fit, in the words of Shelley's poem, for "The statesman's game, the priest's delight, the lawyer's jest, the hired assassin's trade".

Like Mr Bush, the symposium-goers at the Council on Foreign Relations afford themselves the luxury of striking a pose, pleased to think that it's possible to preserve civilization and ward off the days of doom by acting the part of the prepared citizen, following the rules, going by the book. The people who do the work of dying in Iraq, American soldiers and Iraqi civilians, don't enjoy the same privilege. Old man Death doesn't take the American Express card , doesn't extend credit on the strength of a firm handshake, a brave grin, the well-told and uplifting lie.

Bill Totten