>After the storm

>by Gary Younge

The Guardian (August 29 2006)

The sight of American politicians descending on New Orleans for the anniversary of Katrina is a curious one. You would have thought they would all have wanted to stay away, as most of them have all year. For Katrina signalled the failure of America’s entire political class and the dysfunction of its political culture. The political class would not adequately protect people before the storm nor adequately support them afterwards. The political culture failed to even push to create a viable alternative to the political class but instead lost interest once the cameras went away.

The principal problem in the political class was, without doubt, George Bush. His callous indifference in this moment of crisis is now legendary and he is still paying for it. His approval ratings for handling the crisis have even fallen from this time last year when shots of the poor and the black stranded on screen flooded the airwaves.

Katrina has become a signifier for an administration that was callous and out of touch led by an MBA president who was clearly not taking care of business. When New Orleans had been flooded during hurricane Betsy in 1965 Lyndon Johnson came to town, shone his flashlight in the face of a survivor and said: “This is your president”. Bush was too scared to set foot in New Orleans in that first week at all.

But if the storm highlighted Bush’s failings it also blew the lid on the deep-seated flaws in American society, like racism and poverty that preceded Bush’s presidency. Katrina provided a rare opportunity to talk about race and class in America. The fact that Bush did not seize it is predictable; the fact that the Democrats would not is criminal. Even as their electoral base in Louisiana was dispersed and displaced they provided many criticisms but not one substantial alternative to the administration’s agenda.

For those who were left to fend for themselves were those who need government most – the old, the poor, the sick. Even in a majority black city African Americans were overrepresented among them. Yet there was little in the way of government to start with and those who ran it from the New Orleans City Hall right up to the White House did not really believe in it anyway. What New Orleans needed was more government that was democratic, transparent and responsive. What they got was less of everything.

Within two weeks of the storm touching shore right wing Heritage Foundation had produced a list of 32 “pro-market ideas for responding to Hurricane Katrina and high gas prices”, with the help of more than 100 republican legislators. Between them Bush, Congress and local legislatures ensured that the city was transformed from one of the nation’s most culturally rich landscapes into an economically lawless area that simply favoured the rich.

Over the past year its public schools have been changed to charter schools, much of the public housing that is left has been changed to ‘mixed-income’ communities and its one public hospital remains closed. So one year on Bush is wounded yet, in the absence of any real political opposition, the system that made New Orleans possible not only remains, but is reinforced.


Bill Totten http://www.ashisuto.co.jp/english/index.html

>No Quick Fix

>Re-engineering the atmosphere could be as dangerous as climate change

by George Monbiot

Published in the Guardian (August 29 2006)

Challenging a Nobel laureate over a matter of science is not something you do lightly. I have hesitated and backed off, read and re-read his paper, but now I believe I can state with confidence that Paul Crutzen, winner of the 1995 prize for chemistry, has overlooked a critical scientific issue.

Crutzen is, as you would expect, a brilliant man. He was one of the atmospheric chemists who worked out how high-level ozone is formed and destroyed. He knows more than almost anyone about the impacts of pollutants in the atmosphere. This is what makes his omission so odd.

At the beginning of August, he published an essay in the journal Climatic Change. He argues that the world’s response to climate change has so far been “grossly disappointing”. Stabilising carbon dioxide concentrations in the atmosphere, he asserts, requires a global reduction in emissions of between sixty and eighty per cent. But at the moment “this looks like a pious wish”. So, he proposes, we must start considering the alternatives, by which he means re-engineering the atmosphere in order to cool the earth {1}.

He suggests we use either giant guns or balloons to inject sulphur into the stratosphere, ten kilometres or more above the surface of the earth. Sulphur dioxide at that height turns into tiny particles – or aerosols – of sulphate. These reflect sunlight back into space, counteracting the warming caused by manmade climate change.

One of the crueller paradoxes of climate change is that it is being accelerated by reducing certain kinds of pollution. Filthy factories cause acid rain and ill health, but they also help to shield us from the sun, by filling the air with particles. As we have started to clean some of them up, we have exposed ourselves to more solar radiation. One model suggests that a complete removal of these pollutants from the atmosphere could increase the world’s temperature by 0.8 degrees {2}. The virtue of Paul Crutzen’s scheme is that sulphate particles released so far above the surface of the earth stay airborne for much longer than they do at lower altitudes. In order to compensate for a doubling of carbon dioxide concentrations (which could happen this century), he calculates that we would need to fire some five million tonnes of sulphur into the stratosphere every year. This corresponds to roughly ten per cent of the sulphate currently entering the atmosphere.

Crutzen recognises that there are problems. The sulphate particles would slightly reduce the thickness of the ozone layer. They would cause some whitening of the sky. Most dangerously, his scheme could be used by governments to help justify their failure to cut carbon emissions: if the atmosphere could one day be fixed by some heavy artillery and a few technicians, why bother to impose unpopular policies?

His paper has already caused plenty of controversy. Other scientists have pointed out that even if rising carbon dioxide levels did not cause global warming, they would still be an ecological disaster {3}. For example, one study shows that as the gas dissolves in seawater, by 2050 the oceans could become too acid for shells to form, obliterating much of the plankton on which the marine ecosystem depends {4}. In Crutzen’s scheme, the carbon dioxide levels are not diminished. It would also be necessary to keep firing sulphur into the sky for hundreds of years {5}. The scheme would be extremely expensive, so it is hard to imagine that governments would sustain it through all the economic and political crises likely to take place in that time. But what I find puzzling is this: that by far the most damaging impact of sulphate pollution hasn’t even been mentioned – by him or, as far as I can discover, any of his critics.

In 2002, the Journal of Climate published an astonishing proposition: that the great droughts which had devastated the Sahel region of Africa had been caused in part by sulphate pollution in Europe and North America. Our smoke, the paper suggested, was partly responsible for the famines which killed hundreds of thousands of people in the 1970s and 1980s {6}.

By reducing the size of the droplets in clouds, thereby making them more reflective, the sulphate particles lowered the temperature of the sea’s surface in the northern hemisphere. The result was to shift the Intertropical Convergence Zone southwards. This zone is an area close to the equator in which moist air rises and condenses into rain. The Sahel, which covers countries such as Ethiopia, Sudan, Chad, Niger, Burkina Faso and Senegal, is at the northern limits of the zone. As the rain belt was pushed south, those countries dried up. As a result of the clean air acts, between 1970 and 1996 sulphur emissions in the US fell by 39% {7}. This appears to have helped the North Atlantic to warm, allowing the rains to return to the Sahel in the 1990s.

Since then, several studies – published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, Geophysical Research Letters and the Journal of Geophysical Research – have confirmed these findings {8, 9, 10}. They show that the forty per cent reduction in rainfall in the Sahel – which has “few if any parallels in the 20th century record anywhere on Earth” – is explicable only when natural variations are assisted by sulphate aerosols. We killed those people.

I cannot say whether or not Crutzen’s scheme would have a similar outcome. It is true that he proposes to use less sulphur than the industrialised nations pumped into the atmosphere, but does this matter if the reflective effect is just as great? Another paper I have read lists seven indirect impacts of aerosols on the climate system {11}. Which, if any, will be dominant? What will their effects on rainfall be? Crutzen suggests that in order to keep the particles airborne for as long as possible they should be released “near the tropical upward branch of the stratospheric circulation system” {12}. Does this mean that they will not be evenly distributed around the world? If so, will they shift weather systems around as our uneven patterns of pollution have done? I don’t know the answers, but I am staggered by the fact that the questions are not even being asked.

I am not suggesting that they have been deliberately overlooked. It seems more likely that they have been forgotten for a familiar reason: that this disaster took place in Africa. Would we have neglected them if the famines had happened in Europe? The story of industrialisation is like The Picture of Dorian Gray (Modern Library, 1998). While the rich nations have enjoyed perennial youth, the cost of their debaucheries – slavery, theft, colonialism, sulphur pollution, climate change – is visited on another continent, where the forgotten picture becomes ever uglier.

The only responsible way to tackle climate change is to reduce the amount of climate-changing gases we emit. To make this possible, we must suppress the political and economic costs of the necessary cut. I think I have shown how this can be done – you will have to judge for yourself when my book is published. But what is surely clear is that there is no uncomplicated short cut. By re-engineering the planet’s systems we could risk invoking as great a catastrophe as the one we are trying to prevent.

George Monbiot’s book Heat: How to stop the planet burning is published by Penguin on September 28th.



1. P J Crutzen, August 2006. Albedo Enhancement By Stratospheric Sulfur Injections: A Contribution To Resolve A Policy Dilemma? Climatic Change. DOI:10.1007/s10584-006-9101-y.

2. G P Brasseur and E Roeckner, 2005. ‘Impact of improved air quality on the future evolution of climate’, Geophysical Research Letters 32. DOI:10.1029/2005GL023902, cited by P J Critzen, ibid.

3. Eg L Bengtsson, August 2006. Geo-Engineering To Confine Climate Change: Is It At All Feasible? Climatic Change. DOI: 10.1007/s10584-006-9133-3

4. The Royal Society, June 2005. Ocean acidification due to increasing atmospheric carbon dioxide. Policy document 12/05. http://www.scar.org/articles/Ocean_Acidification (1).pdf

5. M C MacCracken, August 2006. Geoengineering: Worthy Of Cautious Evaluation? Climatic Change. DOI: 10.1007/s10584-006-9130-6

6. L D Rotstayn and U Lohmann, 1st August 2002. Tropical Rainfall Trends and the Indirect Aerosol Effect. Journal of Climate, vol 15, pages 2103-2116.

7. ibid.

8. I M Held, T L Delworth, J Lu, K L Findell, and T R Knutson, 13th December 2005. Simulation of Sahel drought in the 20th and 21st centuries. PNAS, vol 102, no 50, pages 17891-17896. DOI:10.1073/pnas.0509057102

9. Eg M Biasutti and A Giannini, 8th June 2006. Robust Sahel drying in response to late 20th century forcings. Geophysical Research Letters, vol 33, no 11. DOI: 10.1029/2006GL026067.

10. J E Kristjansson et al, 23rd December 2005. Response of the climate system to aerosol direct and indirect forcing: Role of cloud feedbacks. Journal of Geophysical Research – Atmospheres, vol 110, no D24.

11. U Lohmann and J Feichter, 3rd March 2005. Global indirect aerosol effects: a review. Atmospheric Chemistry and Physics, vol 5, pp 715-737.

12. P J Crutzen, ibid.

Copyright (c) 2006 Monbiot.com


Bill Totten http://www.ashisuto.co.jp/english/index.html

>Wal-Mart may be just too American to succeed globally

>Outside its homeland, the company formula mirrors that of US foreign policy: brash, bold and increasingly unpopular

by Richard Adams

Guardian (UK) Comment (August 24 2006)

When Thomas Friedman – the American journalist who has become globalisation’s loudest cheerleader – wanted to illustrate the powerful forces at work in the world economy, he got on a flight for Bentonville, Arkansas, headquarters of the glory that is Wal-Mart.

In his hagiographic bestseller, The World Is Flat (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2005), Friedman records his awe while standing in the middle of Wal-Mart’s operation centre in Bentonville, watching the movement of goods to and fro at the heart of the world’s largest retailer – a company that last year recorded more than $300 billion in sales from 6,600 stores in fifteen countries, including the Asda chain in Britain.

“Call it ‘the Wal-Mart Symphony’ in multiple movements – with no finale”, Friedman wrote in his trademark breathless prose. “It just plays over and over 24/7/365: delivery, sorting, packing distribution, buying, manufacturing, reordering, delivery, sorting, packing ..”.

Friedman was so impressed that he named Wal-Mart as one of the biggest forces driving globalisation, saying: “It’s role as one of the ten forces that flattened the world is undeniable”.

As it happens, recent history has not been kind to Thomas Friedman. As the leading foreign affairs columnist for the New York Times, he was an influential voice in the ear of east-coast liberals, supporting the neoconservative arguments in favour of the invasion of Iraq and the toppling of Saddam Hussain.

Recently, as Iraq’s descent into bloody civil war has made a mockery of cruise-missile liberals, he has had the sense to recant. But Friedman’s pin-ups for globalisation haven’t fared so well either. The computer manufacturer Dell, lauded to the skies in The World Is Flat, found that its laptops included a built-in cigarette-lighter feature, when their batteries began bursting into flames.

Now it is Wal-Mart’s turn to suffer the curse of Friedman. Since his book was published it seems that little has gone right for the champion of globalisation with the motto “Always low prices”.

In recent months the giant retailer – at the start of this year the world’s second largest corporation by revenue after oil baron Exxon Mobil – has suffered a string of defeats. Some have been self-inflicted, but others are a sign that Wal-Mart’s attempts to export its formula of massive purchasing power and cheap imports from China, combined with stringent cost-cutting and aggressive anti-unionism, are beginning to fail.

The first sign that Friedman’s steamroller of globalisation was stalling came in May, when the company announced it was pulling out of South Korea. South Korea was one of the first countries Wal-Mart moved into outside North America. But its all-American model of piling very high and selling very cheap never appealed to consumers there. “It failed to read what South Korean housewives want when they go shopping”, a local analyst told the New York Times.

Last month, the company announced it was also withdrawing from Germany and selling its 85 stores there, despite pouring in hundreds of millions of dollars over the years to compete with local chains such as Aldi. German customers were turned off by the enforced friendliness of its employees, while the employees objected to US imports such as chanting at morning staff meetings: “Who’s number one? The customer.”

In the UK, Wal-Mart has also run into trouble with its Asda subsidiary, which it bought in 1999 and now has more than 300 stores and 160,000 employees. Last month the threat of a strike by the GMB union led the company to make unusually significant concessions, agreeing to allow the union access to Asda depots and to participate in a process leading to collective bargaining. Not long afterwards it was revealed by the All-China Federation of Trade Unions that Wal-Mart had allowed nineteen unions to be set up in its stores there.

The Asda and China results mark a clear victory for organised labour against the giant of globalisation. Previously Wal-Mart’s determination to run union-free shops was such that when workers at a branch in the Canadian city of Jonquiere – a bastion of the fierce Quebec labour movement – took measures to unionise, the company permanently closed the store. Wal-Mart claims it shut because of poor turnover, but the closure sent a clear message that Wal-Mart could press the nuclear button.

The softening line comes as Wal-Mart’s bottom line has suffered. Last week the company announced its first decline in net profits for ten years, thanks to weak sales in the US and UK and the cost of cutting its losses in Germany. The faltering sales in the US come as shoppers, hit by higher petrol prices, appear less willing to drive long distances to one of Wal-Mart’s monster outlets.

Opponents are showing their displeasure by other means than voting with their feet. A movie-length documentary, Wal-Mart: the High Cost of Low Price, highlighted the company’s less savoury practices. Now a Democratic party senator, Byron Dorgan – who would be a contender for the presidential nomination if he were from a larger state than North Dakota – has taken aim at Wal-Mart and its allies in a new book, Take This Job And Ship It (Thomas Dunne Books, 2006), arguing that its mega-stores destroy communities. Earlier this month the former Democrat presidential candidate John Kerry pointed out that five of the ten richest people in America were from the family of Wal-Mart founder Sam Walton, yet the company still fails to provide proper healthcare for its workers.

Faced with attacks from moderate politicians such as Dorgan and Kerry, and state and city-level attempts to force the likes of Wal-Mart to adhere to basic levels of pay and health insurance, as well as local hostility to new stores opening, the company’s share price continues to suffer. Naturally, the company has been fighting back, from a war-room in its Bentonville headquarters that Friedman certainly never visited.

The fightback includes the establishment of a lobbying group called Working Families for Wal-Mart, spending millions of dollars in donations to politicians, and sending “voter guides” to its staff.

Despite its recent setbacks, Wal-Mart is not about to give up. Its international expansion will continue – at the end of last year it invested in Brazil, Japan and central America. And it remains hugely powerful in the US, where polls show that of those who shop at least once a week in the company’s outlets, 78% voted for George Bush in 2004. But outside America, Wal-Mart’s formula may be mirroring US foreign policy: brash, bold and unpopular. Unfortunately for Thomas Friedman, the rest of the world may not want to be flattened.


Bill Totten http://www.ashisuto.co.jp/english/index.html

>Real men in government use their position to sell weapons

>by George Monbiot

Published in the Guardian (August 24 2006)

It’s described by a senior official at the Ministry of Defence as “a dead duck … expensive and obsolete”. {1} The editor of World Defence Systems calls it “ten years out of date”. {2} A former defence minister remarked that it is “essentially flawed and out of date” {3}. So how on earth did BAE Systems manage to sell 72 Eurofighters to Saudi Arabia on Friday?

One answer is that it had some eminent salesman. On July 2nd 2005, Tony Blair secretly landed in Riyadh to persuade the Saudi princes that this flying scrapheap was the must-have accessory every fashionable young despot would be buying {4}. Three weeks later the defence secretary John Reid turned up to deploy his subtle charms {5}. Somehow the deal survived, and last week his successor, Des Browne, signed the agreement. All of which raises a second question. Why are government ministers, even Blair himself, prepared to reduce themselves to hawkers on behalf of our arms merchants?

Readers of this column will know that British governments are not averse to helping big business, even when this conflicts with their stated policies. But the support they offer the defence industry goes far beyond the assistance they provide to anyone else.

Take the Defence Export Services Organisation (DESO), for example. This is a government agency founded forty years ago to smooth out foreign deals for British arms companies. From its inception, this smoothing involved baksheesh. It was established as a channel for “financial aids and incentives” to corrupt officials in foreign governments {6}.

In 2003, after bribery of this kind became illegal in the United Kingdom, the Guardian found an internal DESO document explaining its guidelines for arms sales. “In certain parts of the world”, it said, “it has become commonplace for special commissions to be required. This is a matter for DESO, to whom all requests for special commission should be referred. If DESO confirm that such payments can be made, contracts staff may need to provide the means for payment” {7}. A “special commission” is civil service code for a bribe. The document suggests, in other words, that the British government is overseeing the payment of bribes to foreign officials.

BAE’s previous deals with Saudi Arabia are surrounded by allegations of corruption. It is alleged to have run a GBP 60 million “slush fund” to oil the Al Yamamah contracts brokered by Margaret Thatcher. The fund is said to have been used to provide cash, cars, yachts, hotel rooms and prostitutes to Saudi officials {8}. One of the alleged beneficiaries was Prince Turki bin Nasser, the Saudi minister for arms procurement {9}. The Serious Fraud Office was bounced by the Guardian’s revelations into opening an investigation. But among the conditions the Saudi government laid down for the new deal is that the investigation is dropped {10}. Let’s see what happens.

With this exception, the big arms companies appear to have been granted immunity from inquiry or prosecution. Letters from the permanent secretary at the Ministry of Defence, Sir Kevin Tebbit, show that he prevented the ministry’s fraud squad from investigating the allegations against BAE; that he failed to tell his minister about the investigation by the Serious Fraud Office; and that he tipped off the chairman of BAE about the contents of a confidential letter the fraud office had sent him {11}. When the US government told him that BAE had allegedly engaged in corrupt practice in the Czech Republic, Sir Kevin failed to inform the police {12}.

For fourteen years, the government has suppressed a report by the National Audit Office into the Al Yamamah deals. Earlier this summer the auditor general refused even to hand it over to the Serious Fraud Office {13}. A parliamentary committee on arms exports published a report this month which expresses its repeated frustration over the government’s reluctance to assist its inquiries {14}.

It also shows that Mark Thomas, the stand-up comedian, has done more to expose illegal arms deals than the Ministry of Defence, the Export Control Organisation and HM Revenue and Customs put together, simply by searching the internet and the trade press and attending the arms fairs the British government hosts. In response, the government has investigated not the companies, but the comedian. A confidential email from a civil servant suggested that the trade minister, Richard Caborn, was seeking to gather “background/dirt on him in order to rubbish him”. {15} Caborn claims he was misrepresented.

The only arms dealers to have been prosecuted since 2000 are five very small fish. All of them escaped with a small fine or a suspended sentence, including a man who made repeated attempts to export military parts to Iran {16}. Compare this to the treatment of those who upset the arms industry. Nine anti-war campaigners in Derry who occupied the offices of the arms company Raytheon have just been charged with aggravated burglary and unlawful assembly {17}. If convicted, they could be imprisoned for years.

Every government policy designed to protect our national interests or promote world peace is torn up at the arms companies’ request. They are not supposed to sell to dodgy regimes or countries in the midst of conflict. So let them first export their arms to the Channel Islands, from which they can be re-sold {18}. Weapons may not be exported to any country unless it shows “respect for human rights” {19}. So get the foreign office to note “a small but significant improvement” in the Saudi government’s performance and use that as your excuse {20}.

Should we be surprised to find, as the Times revealed yesterday, that Israeli soldiers have found night-vision equipment made by a British company in Hizbullah bunkers? {21} Should we be surprised to discover that despite a government commitment to sell Israel “no weapons, equipment or components which could be deployed aggressively in the Occupied Territories” {22}, British companies have been supplying parts for its Apache helicopters and F-16 bombers? {23} The government seems to see the escalating dangers in the Middle East as nothing but an opportunity for business.

Perhaps most damning is this. Blair claims that Britain’s security comes first. Yet one of the means by which his government managed to secure this deal was to speed it up. How? The Sunday Times reports that “the first 24 planes for the Saudis will be those at present allotted to the Royal Air Force, with the RAF postponing its deliveries until later in the production run”. {24} In other words, the Saudis’ perceived need for fighter planes takes precedence over our own.

So why does Her Majesty’s Government behave like a subsidiary of BAE? A report by the Campaign Against the Arms Trade (CAAT) shows that 39% of all the senior public servants who go to work for the private sector are employees of the ministry of defence, moving into arms firms. In return, scores of arms dealers are seconded to the ministry {25}. The man who runs DESO, for example, previously worked for BAE, selling arms in the Middle East {26}.

CAAT lists the government committees stuffed with arms executives, the donations, the lobbyists, the Labour peers taking the corporate shilling, and I am sure all this plays an important role. But it seems to me that there is also something else at work. There appears to be a sense among some of those at the core of government that peace, human rights and democracy are for wimps, while the serious business, for real players, is war and the means by which it is enacted.



1. No author, 9th November 2003. RAF’s new Eurofighter force to be slashed by a third in defence cuts. The Daily Telegraph. http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/main.jhtml?xml=%2Fnews%2F2003%2F11%2F09%2Fnmod09.xml&secureRefresh=true&_requestid=55495

2. ibid.

3. Alan Clark MP, 9th July 1997. In the House of Commons. Hansard Column 855.

4. David Leigh and Ewen MacAskill, 27th September 2005. Blair in secret Saudi mission. The Guardian.

5. ibid.

6. Rob Evans, Ian Traynor, Luke Harding and Rory Carroll, 13th June 2003. Web of state corruption dates back 40 years. The Guardian.

7. You can find this document at the bottom of this page: http://www.guardian.co.uk/armstrade/story/0,,976559,00.html

See: DESO overview (page 2).

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

9. David Leigh and Rob Evans, 6th October 2004. BAE denies GBP 60 million Saudi slush fund. The Guardian; Conal Walsh, 7th November 2004. BAE flies into storm over Saudi ‘slush fund’.
The Observer

10. David Leigh and Ewen MacAskill, 27th September 2005, ibid.

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

12. Rob Evans, Ian Traynor, Luke Harding and Rory Carroll, 12th June 2003. Politicians’ claims put BAE in firing line. The Guardian; Rob Evans and Ian Traynor, 12th June 2003. US accuses British over arms deal bribery bid. The Guardian.

13. David Leigh and Rob Evans, 25th July 2006. Parliamentary auditor hampers police inquiry into arms deal. The Guardian.

14. House of Commons Defence, Foreign Affairs, International Development and Trade and Industry Committees, 3rd August 2006. Strategic Export Controls: Annual Report for 2004, Quarterly Reports for 2005, Licensing Policy and Parliamentary Scrutiny. http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm200506/cmselect/cmquad/873/873.pdf

15. Rob Evans and David Hencke, 8th January 2001. Whitehall tried to smear comedian. The Guardian.

16. House of Commons Defence, Foreign Affairs, International Development and Trade and Industry Committees, ibid.

17. Simon Basketter, 12th August 2006. Derry anti-war protesters, including Eamonn McCann, arrested after Raytheon occupation. Socialist Worker. http://www.socialistworker.co.uk/article.php?article_id=9465

18. House of Commons Defence, Foreign Affairs, International Development and Trade and Industry Committees, ibid.

19. Criterion 2 of the EU Code on Arms Exports.

20. Foreign and Commonwealth Ofiice, 2005. Human Rights Annual Report. Cited by the House of Commons Defence, Foreign Affairs, International Development and Trade and Industry Committees, ibid.

21. Bob Graham, Michael Evans and Richard Beeston, 21st August 2006. British kit found in Hezbollah bunkers. The Times.

22. House of Commons Defence, Foreign Affairs, International Development and Trade and Industry Committees, ibid.

23. Benjamin Joffe-Walt, 29th July 2006. Made in the UK, bringing devastation to Lebanon – the British parts in Israel’s deadly attack helicopters. The Guardian.

24. Dominic O’Connell, 20th August 2006. BAE cashes in on GBP 40bn Arab jet deal. The Sunday Times.

25. Campaign Against the Arms Trade, February 2005. Who Calls the Shots? How government-corporate collusion drives exports. http://www.caat.org.uk/publications/government/who-calls-the-shots-0205.pdf

26. ibid; Rob Evans, Ian Traynor, Luke Harding and Rory Carroll, 13th June 2003, ibid.

Copyright (c) 2006 Monbiot.com


Bill Totten http://www.ashisuto.co.jp/english/index.html

>When we need to be frightened,

>… and when we do not

Ministers must not be allowed to scare us into accepting new terror laws

New Statesman Leader (August 28 2006)

Britain is experiencing probably the most sustained period of severe threat since the Second World War. With the disruption of the liquid bomb plot, we narrowly escaped mass murder on an unimaginable scale and the security services are currently investigating no fewer than 24 more plots, potentially involving more than a thousand extremists. There is a threat to every individual in every section of British society. The threat is here, it is deadly and it is enduring.

This – every word of it – is the message of our government, and it is hard to see how it could be more alarming. The security threat level may have shifted down from critical to severe, but we are still warned that bloodshed and destruction on a scale to rival or even exceed the attacks on the World Trade Center remain more than possible, even likely. There can be no doubt about it: ministers and senior police officers want to frighten us, and they keep saying they are frightened themselves. But we have to ask, what can all this fear achieve?

It can do good. We can be roused to vigilance, to an awareness of the unattended package, the suspicious car, the peculiar comings and goings in the house down the road. We can be patient when we are delayed by extra security. And we can be less shocked and more competent if and when the blow falls. But the fear message also carries risks: the widely reported cases of Muslims unjustifiably removed from planes are unpleasant enough in themselves, but there is a danger that they are just the visible symptoms of something wider. Experience tells us that abuse and violence towards Muslims increases at these times, so we must remember to balance the need for alertness with the need for tolerance and civilised behaviour.

In general, the government has reason to be content with the effects of its message. The public has accepted that it must be careful, has accepted the inconveniences and no doubt is being careful. But there is a line to be drawn here, and it is as well to draw it now. The government’s next step, and this is no secret, will be to exploit this mood of fear as a pretext for another attack on our rights and liberties. The hints and briefings leave no room for doubt. Ninety-day detention before charge is back on the agenda, as is the threat to suspend parts of the Human Rights Act. Ministers also want to shackle the judiciary so that it cannot obstruct them, and they want to extend the power of house arrest without trial and make deportations easier. They may even try again to make torture-based evidence admissible in British courts.

It may come in days or it may not see daylight for two or three months, but this Labour government, with four anti-terror acts already under its belt, is hell-bent on a fifth. It must be resisted. We have rejected such measures before and they have not suddenly become acceptable. The government must not be allowed to scare us into accepting them.

Are we, as ministers assert, more exposed to terror attack because the government is currently denied these powers? The question is a false one. Better to ask: Do we believe this government knows how to make us safer from terrorism? If giving home secretaries more powers could do the trick we would already have terror on the run, but that is not the case. Nor is money an issue, as John Reid says we are now spending well over GBP 2 billion a year on security, and everything MI5 wants, it gets. Nor, for that matter, does the government have a foreign policy capable of any form of success against terrorism; on the contrary, we are throwing petrol on the flames, fighting a never-ending “war” in alliance with a man who invites terrorists to “bring it on”.

The terror threat is here and overcoming it will not be easy, but too many of this government’s policies are the wrong ones. Powers of the kind it seeks belong under the sort of heavy-handed, undemocratic regime that Labour governments, Labour members and most British people historically abhor. And exploiting a mood of fear to justify them is also a tactic of such regimes.

In a speech a month ago in America, Tony Blair declared: “This war can’t be won in a conventional way. It can only be won by showing that our values are stronger, better and more just, more fair than the alternative.” We believe in those words; we only wish that he did.

Rose oil, yoghurt and flowers in even numbers

Romanians and Bulgarians are in the news, and indeed, some of them may soon be on our doorstep, but what do we know about them and their countries? For many of us the answer will be “not much”, and most of what we are now being told is not designed to flatter. As an antidote, therefore, the New Statesman offers you ten reasons to feel positive about our next EU partners.

Bulgaria is the country of yoghurt, the food of centenarians, and, as the world’s biggest producer of rose oil, it contributes greatly to the fragrance of nations. Many Bulgarians (something to note) shake their heads for “yes” and nod them to indicate “no”. They are also a people who show proper respect for journalists, having built a shrine to the Times correspondent James Bourchier (1850-1920). And though Bulgaria was allied to Germany in the Second World War, its people refused to co-operate with the Final Solution and the 50,000-strong Jewish minority was saved.

Romania, like England, was visited in the distant past by the Romans and the Saxons. Its people are known for their hospitality, as they believe guests bring good fortune, but guests must remember to bring flowers in odd numbers – even numbers are for the dead. Bucharest (which means “village of joy”) is home to one of Europe’s most innovative film industries. And unusually, Romania allows the female half of its population a public holiday on International Women’s Day (8 March).

Copyright (c) New Statesman 1913 – 2006


Bill Totten http://www.ashisuto.co.jp/english/index.html

>Watch Out For The Terrorist Boogeyman

>by Charley Reese

King Features Syndicate (August 23 2006)

If President Bush is really religious, then I imagine he fell on his knees recently and thanked God that British intelligence uncovered the plot to blow up eight or nine airliners over the Atlantic.

This excellent work by the British and Pakistani security forces has enabled Bush to switch the emphasis from the Iraq War, which has earned him unpopularity, to his ambiguous war on terror, where he retains some credibility.

The Republican campaign theme is already clear: Vote for a Democrat and you will encourage the terrorists. Vote for a Democrat and the big, bad terrorists will get you. The Republicans have kept us safe. And, for the duration of the campaign, the GOP will no longer talk about the Iraq War being the central front in the war on terrorism. In fact, Republicans won’t talk about Iraq at all if they can avoid it.

Since my contempt for most American politicians is bipartisan, I have no desire to defend Democrats. The Republican campaign, however, is mendacious and dishonest. It wasn’t Democrats who pulled our dogs off the hunt for Osama bin Laden and sent them to Iraq. This was probably the greatest single blunder in Mr Bush’s war on terrorism. And it was not Democrats who gave medals to the two lunkheads, George Tenet and Paul Wolfowitz, who provided the disinformation that got us into the war in Iraq.

It was, however, Democrats who insisted on a homeland security department, which Bush initially opposed. No Democrat has ever opposed tapping the phones or intercepting the international calls of people involved in terrorism. All they have asked is that the president obey the law and obtain a warrant. Democrats are just as willing to fight terrorism as Republicans, and just as eager to please Israel. In almost all respects, there are no real differences.

Long before George Wallace said there wasn’t a dime’s worth of difference between the two parties, Huey P Long, Louisiana’s original kingfish, made the same point in a more humorous manner. This month, by the way, is Long’s birthday (August 30 1893). You might want to toast the former governor and US senator from Louisiana with a sip of bourbon. He was such a powerful force in the state that some old-timers still hate him and some still love him. If you are at all interested in politics, you should read his autobiography, Every Man a King. It was written in 1933, but Da Capo Press published a new edition in 1996. It is still relevant and a great read.

American politics has always been a rough-and-tumble game, usually with more lies than truth, and often involving slander, libel, bribery, stolen elections and occasionally even murder. Long was assassinated. Andy Jackson’s opponents in the presidential election arranged for the nation’s deadliest duelist to insult Jackson’s beloved wife, knowing Jackson would challenge the man. They expected Jackson to be killed. The man they had chosen had already killed 26 men in duels. Old Hickory, however, was hard to kill. He took a bullet in the chest, but stayed on his feet and shot dead his opponent. Later he told his doctor, who had expressed amazement that he had remained on his feet, “I’d have stayed on my feet long enough to kill that (expletive) even if he had shot me in the brain”.

Today’s politicians, living in these hypersensitive, oh-so-politically correct times, are sissies compared with those of the 19th and even early 20th centuries. The contemporary politician’s lies and insults have a feminine quality, as if politicians are a bunch of embittered women exchanging catty remarks at a bridge party.

Oh, well, Sir John Glubb – or Glubb Pasha, as he was called by the Arab Legion – said in a monograph that a sure sign of the decline of empire is the rise of feminism. Bossy women and effeminate men are, he thought, ill-suited for the stern duties of an empire. We may be becoming as a nation what my Southern ancestors said of New England – a land of long-haired men and short-haired women.

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


Bill Totten http://www.ashisuto.co.jp/english/index.html

>Groundhog Day

>The UK Terror Plot: Could This Case Blow Up?

by James K Galbraith

The Nation (August 18 2006)

James K Galbraith flew from Manchester to Boston on August 10, enduring eleven hours without a book.

Let’s see … It’s August. Bush is in Crawford on a “working vacation”. His polls are in the tank. Congress is in revolt. The economy is going soft. The next elections don’t look good. Cheney is off in Wyoming, or wherever he goes. It’s 2001. No, it’s 2006.

In The 18th Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte (International Publishers, 1963), Marx reports that “Hegel writes somewhere” that the great events of history tend to occur twice, first as tragedy and then as farce.

On September 11, nineteen hijackers commandeered four airplanes and succeeded in killing some 3,000 people. On August 10, we are told, British authorities upended a suicide-murder plot aimed at destroying twelve airplanes, killing everyone on board including the bombers, possibly with more fatalities than on 9/11. As a senior British police official put it, “This was intended to be mass murder on an unimaginable scale”.

From all official statements so far, we are led to believe that August 10 was a highly developed, far-advanced conspiracy, under surveillance for some time, which could have been put into action within just a few days. And perhaps 8/10 really was the biggest thing since 9/11. But then again, perhaps it wasn’t. We don’t know yet. And it’s not too early to ask the questions on which final judgment must depend.

Well, then. Here is a checklist of some things we should shortly be hearing about. Bombs. Chemicals. Detonators. Labs. A testing ground. Airline tickets. Passports. Witnesses. Suspicious neighbors. Suspicious parents. Suspicious friends. Threats. Confessions. Let me spell this out: By definition, you cannot bomb an aircraft unless you have a bomb. In this case, we are told that there were no bombs; rather, the conspirators planned to bring on board the makings of a bomb: chemicals and a detonator. These would be mixed on board.

Exactly what the chemicals were remains unclear. Nitroglycerin has been suggested, but it’s too likely to go off on the way to the airport. TATP, made of acetone and peroxide, has been suggested, but there are two problems. One is that the peroxide required is highly concentrated – it’s not the three percent solution from the drugstore. The other is that acetone is highly volatile. As anyone who flies knows, you can’t open a bottle of nail polish remover on an airplane without everyone within twenty feet knowing at once. It’s possible to imagine one truly dedicated and competent bomber pulling this off. But it is impossible to imagine twenty-four untrained people between the ages of seventeen and 35 all getting away with the same trick at once.

So, there must have been training. That means there must be a lab, or labs. There must have been trial bombs. There must be various bits and pieces of equipment used to mix the chemicals and set them off. There must be a manual. There must be a testing ground. And each one of the young men under arrest must have been to these places. Interestingly, it must have all happened, too, without a serious accident, injury or death among the conspirators. If so, they are a lot more competent than the Weather Underground ever was, in my day.

Arrests were made at night, catching the culprits at home. Houses have been raided, and are being searched. So far as we know at this point, no bombs have been found. No chemicals. No equipment. No labs. No testing ground. Maybe this will come out later, but it hasn’t so far, even though the authorities seem anxious to tell just about everything they know.

Now, in order to get on an airplane, even the most devout suicide terrorist needs a ticket, and these generally must be purchased with money. Apparently, not one ticket had been purchased by the detainees. One little-known feature of airline security (in the United States, anyway) is that people traveling on one-way tickets bought at the last minute get special scrutiny at the gate. Those tickets are also (a lot) more expensive. If you want to pass unnoticed, you will buy your ticket round-trip, in advance, and also save money like everyone else. Actually, if you didn’t know this already, you’re not fit to be let out of the house.

Further, to get on an international flight from Britain to the United States, in these days of the modern nation-state, you need something else. It’s a document called a passport. Apparently, some of the detainees don’t have them. Someone lacking a passport can, I think, safely be excluded from the ranks of potential suicide bombers of UK-to-US flights. They could, of course, have a counterfeit or be operating in a support role – but so far we are not being told of any counterfeit documents or any support operation. And to pass security you would use a different person to carry each chemical you needed. For twelve flights, that’s twenty-four people.

As for the suspicious parents, friends and neighbors – it’s technically possible that the bombers’ security was so excellent that none existed. It’s just that, in dealing with young people swept up in a fervor of religious hatred, the odds are extremely low. Of all the Islamic groups, Hezbollah in Lebanon is the only one that maintains effective military security, which it does by isolating its fighters as completely as possible from the civilian population. But these young men were picked up at home; they were well-known and yet apparently suspected by no one at all.

As to threats: A joke going around the Manchester Airport on August 10 was that at least the IRA would remember to call. What’s the point of a suicide bombing if no one knows what it’s for? The downing of twelve airplanes would be horrific to those on them (including me, as it happened), but it wouldn’t put a dent in Western capitalism. It would have to be part of a much larger, ongoing, unstoppable campaign. Otherwise, why bother? A once-off attack shows the weakness, not the capacity, of the plotters, and in the end it strengthens not them but the governments they attack. After 9/11, terrorists should know this.

Finally, confessions. Twenty-four suspects have been arrested, according to some reports. Nineteen have been named. Happily, the detainees were taken alive. Unlike the man arrested in Pakistan, we may presume (I trust) that they are not being tortured. Therefore, they will have a chance to make an uncoerced statement of their intentions in open court. By then the authorities will have found the labs, testing grounds, airline tickets and passports. Credible witnesses too will have emerged. By then the young zealots will have no expectation of acquittal or mercy, and nothing to lose. We may therefore confidently expect them to face the judges and declare exactly what their motives and intentions were. If they do that, I’ll eat my hat.

In short: Could this case blow up? Could it turn out to have been an overreaction, a mistake – or even a hoax? Yes, it could, and it wouldn’t be the first one, either. I’m not saying it will, necessarily. I’m not accusing the British authorities of bad faith. I’m not suggesting the plot was faked – at least, not by them. But dodgy informants and jumpy politicians are an explosive mixture, easily detonated under pressure. Everyone knows that.


James K Galbraith teaches at the LBJ School of Public Affairs at the University of Texas, Austin. His next book is Unbearable Cost: Bush, Greenspan and the Economics of Empire (Palgrave-MacMillan).


Bill Totten http://www.ashisuto.co.jp/english/index.html