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Friday, November 27, 2009

"Working the War Up Since Early 2002" The Blair-Bush Conspiracy on Iraq by By DAVE LINDORFF

Most Americans are blissfully in the dark about it, but across the Atlantic in the UK, a commission reluctantly established by Prime Minister Gordon Brown under pressure from anti-war activists in Britain is beginning hearings into the actions and statements of British leaders that led to the country’s joining the US invasion of Iraq in 2003.

Even before testimony began in hearings that started yesterday, news began to leak out from documents obtained by the commission that the government of former PM Tony Blair had lied to Parliament and the public about the country’s involvement in war planning.

Britain’s Telegraph newspaper over the weekend published documents from British military leaders, including a memo from British special forces head Maj. Gen. Graeme Lamb, saying that he had been instructed to begin “working the war up since early 2002.”

This means that Blair, who in July 2002, had assured members of a House of Commons committee that there were “no preparations to invade Iraq,” was lying.

Things are likely to heat up when the commission begins hearing testimony. It has the power, and intends to compel testimony from top government officials, including Blair himself.

While some American newspapers, including the Philadelphia Inquirer, have run an Associated Press report on the new disclosures and on the commission, key news organizations, including the New York Times, have not. The Times ignored the Telegraph report, but a day later ran an article about the British commission that focused entirely on evidence that British military leaders in Iraq felt “slighted” by “arrogant” American military leaders who, the article reported, pushed for aggressive military action against insurgent groups, while British leaders preferred negotiating with them.

While that may be of some historical interest, it hardly compares with the evidence that Blair and the Bush/Cheney administration were secretly conspiring to invade Iraq as early as February and March 2002.

Recall that the Bush/Cheney argument to Congress and the American people for initiating a war against Iraq in the fall of 2003 was that Iraq was allegedly behind the 9-11 attacks and that it posed an “imminent” danger of attack against the US and Britain with its alleged weapons of mass destruction.

Of course, such arguments, which have subsequently been shown to have been bogus, would have had no merit if the planning began a year earlier, and if no such urgency was expressed by the two leaders at that time. Imminent, after all, means imminent, and if Blair, Bush and Cheney had genuinely thought an attack with WMDs was imminent back in the early days of the Bush administration, they would have been acting immediately, not secretly conjuring up a war scheduled for a year later. (The actual invasion began on March 19, 2003).

As I documented in my book, The Case for Impeachment (St. Martin’s Press, 2006), there is plenty of evidence that Bush and Cheney had a scheme to put the US at war with Iraq even before Bush took office on Jan. 20, 2001. Then Treasury Secretary Paul O’Neill in his own tell-all book, The Price of Loyalty, written after he was dumped from the Bush Administration, recounts that at the first meeting of Bush’s new National Security Council, the question of going to war and ousting Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein was on the agenda. Immediately after the 9-11 attacks, NSC anti-terrorism program czar Richard Clark also recalled Bush ordering him to “find a link” to Iraq. Meanwhile, within days, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld was ordering top generals to prepare for an Iraq invasion. Gen. Tommy Franks, who was heading up the military effort in Afghanistan that was reportedly closing in on Osama Bin Laden, found the rug being pulled out from under him as Rumsfeld began shifting troops out of Afghanistan and to Kuwait in preparation for the new war.

It is nothing less than astonishing that so little news of the British investigation into the origins of the illegal Iraq War is being conveyed to Americans by this country’s corporate media—yet another example demonstrating that American journalism is dead or dying. It is even more astonishing that neither the Congress nor the president here in America is making any similar effort to put America’s leaders in the dock to tell the truth about their machinations in engineering a war that has cost the US over $1 trillion (perhaps $3 trillion eventually when debt payments and the cost of veterans care is added in), and over 4000 lives, not to mention as many as one million innocent Iraqi lives.

Published in CounterPunch 25 November 2009

Dave Lindorff is a Philadelphia-based journalist and columnist. His latest book is “The Case for Impeachment” (St. Martin’s Press, 2006 and now available in paperback). He can be reached at

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Come rain or revolution, it's money they all want, In 1989 capitalism bought all communism's best players by Mark Steel

Mark Steel

Haven't the 20th anniversary celebrations of the overthrow of communism been miserable? In 1989, with historically youthful joy, swarms of demonstrators danced across the Berlin Wall and brought down a collection of tyrannies, so the commemoration starts with the dullest statesmen sat in rows looking as if they're about to say "Well I'd better be off as it's 10 past eight, and I have to be up early tomorrow to put all my gardening equipment in alphabetical order."

Austere figures like Angela Merkel and Gordon Brown embody the very opposite spirit to the one being celebrated. Otherwise the footage of the events would show a few figures in suits saying "Instead of being silly with a hammer, why don't we wait until morning and ask the Stasi to lend us a ladder." These politicians spoilt it by being there at all so you felt grubby if you joined in, like if someone organised a surprise party for your birthday but invited Gary Glitter.

This week it's been the Czech Republic's turn to mark twenty years of freedom, and they've broken records for being subdued. One Czech cabinet minister was quoted as saying "We focused on low-key events, including a small conference of historians." They know how to swing, don't they? When this was announced he probably added "I know what some of you are thinking – that maybe we could let go a little and hold a medium sized conference of historians, but think of all the clearing up."

Or maybe this is traditional, and at a New Year's Eve party in Prague the host says "On the stroke of midnight, to see out the old and bring in the new, Petr here will recite a treatise on the impact of the Protestant Church on trade in 16th-century central Europe."

But there's another reason for the muted celebrations, which is that much of the population in these countries are confused about what they're celebrating. According to a poll, eighty per cent of Czechs are dis-satisfied with the country, and according to Focus magazine, "Many of those attending the anniversary events held anti-corruption placards", aimed at the current government.

Part of this disillusionment might come from the fact that the two systems are more similar than either would admit, to the extent they're often run by exactly the same people. Vaclav Klaus, the Margaret Thatcher-loving president, was a prominent official in the Communist state bank. One of the richest businessmen in the country is Vaclav Junek, who was once a member of the Communist Party central committee.

This must have entailed quite a change of mind on his part, where he suddenly announced "I'm big enough to admit I made a mistake. Up until a few weeks ago I thought it was my duty to uphold the ideals of freedom through communism, which happened to grant me a life of privilege and luxury while most of my country went short. Now it is clear to me I must promote the values of free-market capitalism, which happen to grant me..." (I imagine you can see where this is going).

Jiri Komorous, once a senior spy for the Communist Party is now Chief of the Anti-Drug Squad. Maybe he uses the same techniques, so every week it's announced someone has confessed to "Shamefully sabotaging the glorious nation and its supreme leader by buying an eighth of hash oil off a bloke in a hat in a pub toilet," and they're not seen for ten years when they turn up working at a beetroot farm prison in the Ukraine.

Maybe the explanation is that economic theories operate a transfer system, like football clubs, and in 1989 capitalism bought all communism's best players. Or it could be that both systems were driven by the same ambition, to make as much profit as possible, the detail being that in eastern Europe this was organised by the state instead of private companies. So it was relatively painless for those expert at ensuring a country's wealth went to a small minority, to do a similar job under a different name.

Even so, the freedoms won in 1989 are worth celebrating for what they were. But Western leaders have trouble identifying with a spirit that, if it appeared in their own regimes would terrify them. The proof that the two systems were more similar than they can admit, will come if Tony Blair is invited to the twentieth anniversary of the revolution that overthrew Ceaucescu in Romania. Because, as he hears people tell of a ruthless leader who had palaces across his territory, you'll see him dribbling in admiration, unable to stop himself from muttering "Mind you, he should have bought another one in Bucharest when the market was weak, then made half a million selling it on in 1989."

First published in The Independent on 25th November 2009

Return to a secret country by John Pilger

In his latest column for the New Statesman, John Pilger marks the 20th anniversary of the publication of A Secret Country, his best-selling history of Australia, with a description of Aboriginal Australia and its relationship with white authority following Prime Minister Kevin Rudd's apology to the "stolen generations" last year.

I remember the boys dressed in army surplus, the girls in hessian, their silhouettes framed in beach shanties, staring across an abyss. You were not meant to talk about them. They were not counted in the census, unlike the sheep, and anyway were dirty and feckless and dying off.

You were not meant to disturb the surface of our great southern idyll, sun-kissed and God-blessed, in circumstances that might raise questions of race. At high school, I studied a celebrated historian, Russel Ward, who wrote: “We are civilized and they are not.” They were the first Australians. At least he mentioned them. Other text books simply left them out.

Today, almost everything has changed and has not changed. For many Aboriginal people, who value healing, Prime Minister Kevin Rudd’s apology last year was important. They and their white allies had worked tirelessly for the mere word to be uttered. The resistance was formidable; white supremacist politicians, journalists and academics damned the “black armband version of our history”. And when Rudd finally said it, the Sydney Morning Herald described the apology as “a piece of political wreckage” that “the Rudd government has moved quickly to clear away... in a way that responds to some of its supporters’ emotional needs”.

There is to be no compensation for those thousands of Aborigines wrenched from their families as children, known as the stolen generation. The previous, openly racist government’s “intervention” into Aboriginal lands in the Northern Territory is being consolidated. In 2007, on the pretext that Aboriginal children were being sexually abused in “unthinkable numbers”, the government of John Howard suspended the Racial Discrimination Act and sent the army and “business managers” to take over black communities.

Within a year, barely reported statistics revealed how bogus it all was. Out of 7433 Aboriginal children examined by doctors, a maximum of four possible cases of sexual abuse were identified. The Australian Crimes Commission found no evidence of paedophile rings. What they found they already knew: poverty and sickness on the scale of Africa and India.

Since Rudd’s apology, Aboriginal poverty indicators have gone backwards. His “Closing the Gap” programme is a grim joke, having produced not a single new housing project. An undeclared agenda is straight from Australia’s colonial past: a land grab combined with an almost prurient need to control, harass and blame a people who have refused to die off, whose genius is their understanding of an ancient land that still perplexes and threatens white authority. Whenever Canberra’s politicians want to look “tough” they give the Aborigines a good kicking: it is a ritual as sacred as Don Bradman worship or Anzac Day.

The indigenous affairs minister, Jenny Macklin, has decreed that unless certain communities hand over their precious freehold leases they will be denied basic services. The Northern Territory contains abundant mineral wealth, such as uranium, and has long been eyed by multinationals as a lucrative radioactive waste dump. The blacks are in the way, yet again: so it is time for the usual feigned innocence. Rudd has said his government “doesn’t have a clear idea of what’s happening on the ground” in Aboriginal Australia. What? The reports of learned studies pour forth as if the sorcerer’s apprentice is loose. One example: the rate of incarceration of black Australians is five times that of South Africa during the last years of apartheid. The state of Western Australia imprisons Aboriginal men at eight times the apartheid figure, an Aussie world record.

On 16 November, a 12-year-old Aboriginal boy appeared in court charged with receiving a Freddo Frog chocolate bar from a friend who had allegedly taken it from a supermarket. The supermarket did not seek prosecution. Only the international headlines forced the police to drop the case. Two thirds of Aboriginal children who have contact with the police are jailed; two thirds of white children are cautioned. A young Aboriginal man was jailed for a year for stealing £12 worth of biscuits and soft drink.

In my lifetime, Australia has become one of the most culturally diverse places on earth, and it has happened peacefully, by and large. This proud achievement fades when you drive into a country town and pass the funerals of the native people, many of them young, who take their own lives. The whispering in Antipodean hearts is race. The navy is sent against leaking boats filled with desperate refugees, Tamils, Iraqis and Afghans, and if they cannot be dumped behind razor wire somewhere in Indonesia, they are isolated on Christmas Island which, for the purpose, has been “excised” from the Australian map by a legal sleight of hand. How clever.

While I have been in Australia, Irene Khan, Amnesty’s secretary general, an experienced witness of poverty and discrimination, has been travelling through the vast outback region known as Utopia. The roads are dirt; water trickles from a single standpipe in many communities. She saw children, their eyes streaming and coughs hacking. She met Elsie, who sleeps on a mattress in the desert, yet pays rent to the government. Shocking, she says.

There is currently a liberal clarion call in Australia for a Bill of Rights, and the republican movement is stirring again. These debates are meaningless until white Australia summons the moral and political imagination to offer its first people a genuine treaty, as well as universal land rights and a proper share of the country’s resources. And respect. Only then will this fortunate society earn the respect it so often craves by other means.

On 4 November 2009, John Pilger received the Sydney Peace Prize, Australia’s international human rights award. A Secret Country, his best-selling history of Australia published 20 years ago, remains in print (Vintage Books).

Monday, November 23, 2009

Zombie Nuke Plants by Christian Parenti

Christian Parenti

Oyster Creek Generating Station, in suburban Lacey Township, New Jersey, opened the same month Richard Nixon took office vowing to bring "an honorable peace" to Vietnam. This nuke plant, the oldest in the country, was slated to close in 2009 when its original forty-year license was ending. It had seen four decades of service, using radioactively produced heat to boil water into high-pressure steam that ran continuously through hundreds of miles of increasingly brittle and stressed piping.

If constructed today, Oyster Creek would not be licensed, because it does not meet current safety standards. Yet on April 8 the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC)--the government agency overseeing the industry--relicensed Oyster Creek, extending its life span twenty years beyond what was originally intended.

Seven days later workers at the plant found an ongoing radioactive leak of tritium-polluted water. Tritium is a form of hydrogen. In August workers found another tritium leak coming from a pipe buried in a concrete wall. Radiation makes metal brittle, so old pipes must be routinely switched out for new ones. The second leak was spilling about 7,200 gallons a day and contained 500 times the acceptable level of radiation for drinking water.

That leaking pipe had erroneously--or perhaps fraudulently--been listed in paperwork as replaced. How this error occurred remains unclear. What seems likely is that the plant's previous owner, GPU Nuclear, was deliberately skimping on maintenance as it approached the end of the plant's license. Then Oyster Creek was sold to Exelon and won relicensing. How many other mislabeled, brittle, old components remain in the plant's guts is impossible to determine without a massive audit and investigation. Unfortunately, stories like this are all too common: crumbling, leaky, accident-prone old nuclear plants, shrouded in secrecy and subject to lax maintenance, are getting relicensed all over the country.

In the face of climate change, many people who are desperate for alternatives to fossil fuels are considering the potential of nuclear power. The government has put up $18.5 billion in subsidies to build atomic plants. As a candidate for president, John McCain called for forty-five new nuke plants.

Environmentalists have rightly pointed out the dangers this would entail. But new nukes are not the issue. As laid out in these pages last year [see Parenti, "What Nuclear Renaissance?" May 12, 2008], new atomic plants are prohibitively expensive. If enough public subsidies are thrown at the industry, one or two gold-plated, state-of-the-art, extremely expensive nuclear power stations may eventually be built, at most.

The real issue is what happens to old nukes. The atomic power industry has a plan: it wants to make as much money as possible from the existing fleet of 104 old, often decrepit, reactors by getting the government to extend their licenses. The oldest plants, most of which opened in the early 1970s and were designed to operate for only forty years, should be dead by now. Yet, zombielike, they march on, thanks to the indulgence of the NRC.

More than half of America's nuclear plants have received new twenty-year operating licenses. In fact, the NRC has not rejected a single license-renewal application. Many of these plants have also received "power up-rates" that allow them to run at up to 120 percent of their originally intended capacity. That means their systems are subjected to unprecedented amounts of heat, pressure, corrosion, stress and embrittling radiation.

These undead nukes are highly dangerous. But constant, careful (and expensive) inspection and maintenance would mitigate the risks. Unfortunately, the NRC does not require anything like that. And the industry often operates in a cavalier profit-before-safety style.

At the heart of the matter is the culture of the NRC. During his campaign Obama called the NRC "a moribund agency...captive of the industry that it regulates." Unfortunately, since then Obama's position has softened considerably.

The NRC is run by a five-member commission. When Obama came to office he inherited one open seat; another opened soon after. Filling those seats with safety-conscious experts not in thrall to the industry would have done much to change the culture of the NRC.

The president's first move was a good one: he made commissioner Gregory Jaczko chair of the commission. Jaczko has openly questioned the safety culture of both the NRC and the industry and is respected among environmentalists as a serious and safety-oriented regulator.

But in October Obama nominated two people for the open seats. In classic fashion, he cut it down the middle. The relatively decent appointment, in the view of environmentalists, is George Apostolakis, a professor of nuclear science and engineering at MIT. He sits on a safety oversight board within the NRC. His academic specialty is probabilistic risk assessment of complex technological systems, risk management and decision analysis.

"He is safety-minded," says Ed Lyman, senior staff scientist for the Union of Concerned Scientists. "But I worry that his approach might be a little too theoretical, too academic. He might not be ready to really regulate the industry."

The other nominee, William Magwood, is described by environmentalists as a disaster. Magwood worked at the Department of Energy as the director of its nuclear energy program. In that capacity, he acted as a booster for the industry. He's made numerous public speeches promoting atomic energy. And most recently he worked as a consultant for the nuclear industry.

Because the NRC is an independent regulatory agency, the president's nominees must be confirmed by the Senate. A key player there--notorious climate-science denier Senator James Inhofe, ranking member on the Environment and Public Works Committee--greeted the appointments with a backhanded compliment to the president: "At the very least, the selection of these individuals indicates President Obama understands the importance of the NRC in rebuilding our nation's nuclear capabilities." Given the source, this was damning praise indeed.

Lax safety culture at the NRC is at least in part a result of the revolving door between the atomic power business and the commission, including both middle- and upper-level staff. The most prominent example of this involved commissioner Jeffrey Merrifield, who championed accelerated licensing and other major policy initiatives that directly benefited the Shaw Group, the self-described "largest provider of commercial nuclear power plant maintenance and modifications services in the United States." Twelve days after Merrifield left the NRC, in 2007, he became a top executive at--yes--the Shaw Group. Then, in late October of this year, after pressure from public interest groups, the NRC's Office of the Inspector General found that Merrifield had violated government ethics rules by courting industry while still at the NRC.

This corrupt symbiosis between the industry and NRC is even found at the level of language. Critics say the staff habitually defers to the industry, rarely double-checking corporate assertions about safety. During relicensing, the NRC has used industry language verbatim in its reports. A recent random sampling of NRC relicensing reports conducted by its Office of the Inspector General found that almost half the language in the documents had been lifted verbatim or nearly so from industry applications. In other words, not only is the NRC failing to conduct its own research; it can't even rewrite the nuke industry's boilerplate self-justifications when issuing new licenses.

"Politically, the nuclear industry is very effective," says Richard Webster, legal director of the Eastern Environmental Law Center, which represents five citizens' groups fighting Oyster Creek. "If only they ran nuclear plants as well as they lobby."

This cozy relationship is helped by the fact that the nuclear power industry's drive for profit coincides with the NRC's bureaucratic will to survive. If all the old plants were mothballed, the raison d'être of the NRC (and maybe much of the bureaucracy itself) would disappear.

Environmentalists describe the relicensing and up-rate process as highly opaque, rigged in the industry's favor, designed to exclude public participation and marginalize opposition. They say safety is closely linked to transparency--which is in short supply.

Over the past two decades the NRC has also promulgated rules that effectively exclude from consideration many of the grounds on which the public could intervene to oppose relicensing. For example, the public cannot raise the issue of terrorism. Nor can it question maintenance plans, or waste storage plans, or even evacuation procedures.

The NRC's Office of the Inspector General found that its own agency had "established an unreasonably high burden of requiring absolute proof of a safety problem, versus lack of reasonable assurance of maintaining public health and safety, before it will act to shut down a power plant."

The parameters for relicensing are sometimes shockingly permissive. For example, Oyster Creek, only fifty miles from Philadelphia, lacks a reactor containment shell strong enough to withstand a jet crash. And the geography around the plant isn't possible to evacuate: originally built in a rural area, the plant is now surrounded by sprawl. But the NRC takes none of that into account.

Even more amazing, Oyster Creek's relicensing process did not require testing metals in the plant's core for embrittlement. The containment shell, such as it is, was found to have been corroded down to half its intended thickness. Citizens' groups had to file a lawsuit just to get the NRC to hold a public hearing that would yield a ruling. And that was the first one the NRC had held during more than forty-five relicensing processes.

Indian Point, forty miles north of Times Square, is also applying for a new license. It too leaks radioactive water like a sieve: tens of thousands of gallons of radioactive, tritium- and strontium 90-laced water from one of its spent fuel pools have polluted groundwater and the Hudson River. The first of several leaks was discovered in 2005, but the plant's owner, Entergy, failed to report the problem for almost a month.

Vermont Yankee, also owned by Entergy, has one of the worst operating records in the country, runs at 120 percent capacity because of a 2006 power up-rate, and is well on its way to being relicensed. As detailed in these pages last year, Vermont Yankee has recently suffered a number of almost comical problems: a fire set off emergency mobilizations in three states; a cooling tower collapsed; a crane dropped a cask of atomic waste; parts of a fuel rod even went missing. To save money Entergy has been caught skipping routine maintenance and not hiring needed staff. This year the plant has been battling what seem to be unending leaks: in February the water cleanup system leaked, in May a condenser tube leak was identified but not repaired, in June there was a leak in a service water pipe. Then a recirculation pump unexpectedly reduced power and locked up, preventing the operators from changing its speed. And in August Entergy announced that it was not doing all of the required monthly radiological monitoring of its spent fuel.

FirstEnergy's Davis-Besse Nuclear Power Station in Ohio also wants a new twenty-year license. In 2002 that plant came very close to calamity. Largely by chance, staff discovered a six-inch-deep hole in the reactor vessel head; only three-eighths of an inch of metal remained. This barrier protects against a reactor breach and a possible chain of events that could have led to a reactor meltdown. The hole could have been found and fixed earlier, but the plant's owner, FirstEnergy, requested that the NRC allow it to delay a mandated inspection. In October 2008 Davis-Besse workers also discovered a tritium leak.

This fleet of poorly regulated zombie plants is the real story of nuclear power. Building hundreds of new nukes to save us from climate change is a pipe dream--the time and expense necessary for that would be impossible to overcome in the decade or two remaining. And so the debate about the future of atomic power in the age of climate change functions mostly as a smoke screen behind which these old, leaky, crumbling plants are being pushed to the limit of their endurance. Half the fleet has already been relicensed and many up-rated to run at more than 100 percent of their designed capacity. To avoid dangerous accidents over the next two decades, the industry must be subject to real oversight. For that to happen, the NRC must be reformed.

There will likely be one more opening on the commission. If the risk of a real nuclear disaster is to be diminished, Obama must nominate a robust safety- and transparency-minded commissioner who will stand up to the powerful companies that own the zombie nuke fleet.

Published on Sunday, November 22, 2009 by The Nation

Christian Parenti, a Nation contributing editor and visiting scholar at the CUNY Graduate Center, is the author of The Freedom: Shadows and Hallucinations in Occupied Iraq (New Press), and is at work on a book about climate change and war.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Power, Illusion, and America’s Last Taboo by John Pilger (full transcript)

The following article is the text from John Pilger’s address to Socialism 2009 in San Francisco, California on 4 July.

Two years ago, at Socialism 2007 in Chicago, I spoke about an “invisible government,” a term used by Edward Bernays, one of the founders of modern propaganda. It was Bernays who, in the 1920s, invented “public relations” as a euphemism for propaganda. Deploying the ideas of his uncle, Sigmund Freud, Bernays campaigned on behalf of the tobacco industry for American women to take up smoking as an act of feminist liberation; he called cigarettes “torches of freedom.”

The invisible government that Bernays had in mind brought together the power of all media — PR, the press, broadcasting, advertising. It was the power of form: of branding and image-making over substance and truth — and I would like to talk today about this invisible government’s most recent achievement: the rise of Barack Obama and the silencing of the left.
First, I would like to go back some 40 years to a sultry day in Vietnam.

I was a young war correspondent who had just arrived in a village called Tuylon. My assignment was to write about a company of US Marines who had been sent to this village to win hearts and minds.

“My orders”, said the Marine sergeant, “are to sell the American Way of Liberty as stated in the Pacification Handbook. This is designed to win the hearts and minds of folks as stated on page 86.” Page 86 was headed WHAM: Winning Hearts and Minds. The marine unit was a Combined Action Company which, explained the sergeant, “means that we attack these folks on Mondays and win their hearts and minds on Tuesdays”. He was joking, though not quite.

The sergeant, who didn’t speak Vietnamese, had arrived in the village, stood up in a jeep and said through a bullhorn: “Come on out everybody, we got rice and candy and toothbrushes to give you!…”

There was silence.

“Now listen, either you gooks come on out, or we’re going to come right in there and get you!”
The people of Tuylon finally came out, and stood in line to receive packets of Uncle Ben’s Miracle Rice, Hershey bars, party balloons and several thousand toothbrushes. Three portable, battery-operated, yellow flush lavatories were held back for the arrival of the colonel.

And when the colonel arrived that evening, the district chief was summoned, and the yellow flush lavatories were unveiled. The colonel cleared his throat and produced a handwritten speech.

“Mr. District Chief and all you nice people,” he said, “what these gifts represent is more than the sum of their parts. They carry the spirit of America. Ladies and gentlemen, there’s no place on earth like America. It’s the land where miracles happen. It’s a guiding light for me, and for you. In America, you see, we count ourselves as real lucky having the greatest democracy the world has ever known, and we want you nice people to share in our good fortune.”

Thomas Jefferson, George Washington, even John Winthrop’s “city upon a hill” got a mention. All that was missing was the Star Spangled Banner playing in the background.

Of course, the villagers had no idea what the colonel was talking about. When the Marines clapped, they clapped. When the colonel waved, the children waved. As he departed, the colonel shook the sergeant’s hand and said: “You’ve got plenty of hearts and minds here. Carry on, Sergeant?”


In Vietnam, I witnessed many spectacles like that. I had grown up in faraway Australia on a steady cinematic diet of John Wayne, Randolph Scott, Walt Disney, the Three Stooges and Ronald Reagan. The American Way of Liberty they portrayed might well have been lifted from the WHAM handbook.

I learned that the United States had won World War Two on its own and now led the “free world” as the “chosen” society. It was only much later when I read Walter Lippmann’s Public Opinion that I understood something of the power of emotions attached to false ideas and bad history.

Historians call this “exceptionalism” — the notion that the United States has a divine right to bring what it calls liberty to the rest of humanity. Of course, this is a very old refrain; the French and British created and celebrated their own “civilizing mission” while imposing colonial regimes that denied basic civil liberties.

However, the power of the American message is different. Whereas the Europeans were proud imperialists, Americans are trained to deny their imperialism. As Mexico was conquered and the Marines sent to rule Nicaragua, American textbooks referred to an “age of innocence.” American motives were well meaning, moral, exceptional, as the colonel said. There was no ideology, they said; and this is still the received wisdom. Indeed, Americanism is an ideology that is unique because its main element is its denial that it is an ideology. It is both conservative and liberal, both right and left. All else is heresy.

Barack Obama is the embodiment of this “ism”. Since Obama was elected, leading liberals have talked about America returning to its true status as a “nation of moral ideals” — the words of Paul Krugman in the New York Times. In the San Francisco Chronicle columnist Mark Morford wrote that, “spiritually advanced people regard the new president as ‘a Lightworker’ . . . who can help usher in a new way of being on the planet.”

Tell that to an Afghan child whose family has been blown away by Obama’s bombs, or a Pakistani child whose family are among the 700 civilians killed by Obama’s drones. Or Tell it to a child in the carnage of Gaza caused by American smart weapons which, disclosed Seymour Hersh, were resupplied to Israel for use in the slaughter “only after the Obama team let it be known it would not object.” The man who stayed silent on Gaza is the man who now condemns Iran.

Obama’s is the myth that is America’s last taboo. His most consistent theme was never change; it was power. The United States, he said, “leads the world in battling immediate evils and promoting the ultimate good . . . We must lead by building a 21st century military to ensure the security of our people and advance the security of all people.” And there is this remarkable statement: “At moments of great peril in the past century our leaders ensured that America, by deed and by example, led and lifted the world, that a we stood and fought for the freedom sought by billions of people beyond their borders.” At the National Archives on May 21, he said: “From Europe to the Pacific, we’ve been the nation that has shut down torture chambers and replaced tyranny with the rule of law.”

Since 1945, “by deed and by example,” the United States has overthrown fifty governments, including democracies, and crushed some 30 liberation movements, and supported tyrannies and set up torture chambers from Egypt to Guatemala. Countless men, women and children have been bombed to death. Bombing is apple pie. And yet, here is the 44th President of the United States, having stacked his government with warmongers and corporate fraudsters and polluters from the Bush and Clinton eras, teasing us while promising more of the same.

Here is the House of Representatives, controlled by Obama’s Democrats, voting to approve $16 billion for three wars and a coming presidential military budget which, in 2009, will exceed any year since the end of World War Two, including the spending peaks of the Korean and Vietnam wars. And here is a peace movement, not all of it but much of it, prepared to look the other way and believe or hope that Obama will restore, as Paul Krugman wrote in the New York Times, the “nation of moral ideals.”

Not long ago, I visited the American Museum of History in the celebrated Smithsonian Institute in Washington. One of the most popular exhibitions was called The Price of Freedom: Americans at War. It was holiday time and lines of happy people, including many children, shuffled through a Santa’s grotto of war and conquest, where messages about their nation’s “great mission” were lit up. These included tributes to the quote “exceptional Americans [who] saved a million lives” in Vietnam where they were quote “determined to stop communist expansion.” In Iraq, other brave Americans quote “employed air strikes of unprecedented precision.”

What was shocking was not so much the revisionism of two of the epic crimes of modern times but the sheer routine scale of omission.

Like all US presidents, Bush and Obama have much in common. The wars of both presidents, and the wars of Clinton and Reagan, Carter and Ford, Nixon and Kennedy, are justified by the enduring myth of exceptional America — a myth the late Harold Pinter described as “a brilliant, witty, highly successful act of hypnosis.”

The clever young man who recently made it to the White House is a very fine hypnotist, partly because it is so extraordinary to see an African-American at the pinnacle of power in the land of slavery. However, this is the 21st century, and race — together with gender and even class — can be very seductive tools of propaganda. For what matters, above race and gender, is the class one serves.

George Bush’s inner circle — from the State Department to the Supreme Court — was perhaps the most multi racial in presidential history. It was PC par excellence. Think Condoleezza Rice and Colin Powell. It was also the most reactionary.

To many, Obama’s very presence in the White House reaffirms the moral nation. He is a marketing dream. Like Calvin Klein or Benetton, he is a brand that promises something special — something exciting, almost risqué, as if he might be a radical, as if he might enact change. He makes people feel good. He’s postmodern man with no political baggage.

In his book, Dreams From My Father, Obama refers to the job he took after he graduated from Columbia University in 1983. He describes his employer as “a consulting house to multinational corporations.” For some reason, he does not say who his employer was or what he did there. The employer was Business International Corporation, which has a long history of providing cover for the CIA with covert action, and infiltrating unions and the left. I know this because it was especially active in my own country, Australia.

Obama does not say what he did at Business International; and there may be nothing sinister, but it seems worthy of enquiry, and debate, surely, as a clue to whom the man is.

During his brief period in the Senate, Obama voted to continue the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. He voted for the Patriot Act. He refused to support a bill for single-payer health care. He supported the death penalty. As a presidential candidate, he received more corporate backing than John McCain. He promised to close Guantanamo as a priority and has not. Instead, he has excused the perpetrators of torture, reinstated the infamous military commissions, kept the Bush gulag intact and opposed habeus corpus.

Daniel Ellsberg was right when he said that, under Bush, a military coup had taken place in the United States, giving the Pentagon unprecedented powers. These powers have been reinforced by the presence of Robert Gates, a Bush family crony and George W. Bush’s secretary of defense, and by all the Bush Pentagon officials and generals who have kept their jobs under Obama.

In Colombia, Obama is planning to spend $46 million on a new military base that will support a regime backed by death squads and further the tragic history of Washington’s intervention in Latin America.

In a pseudo event staged in Prague, Obama promised a world without nuclear weapons to a global audience mostly unaware that America is building new tactical nuclear weapons designed to blur the distinction between nuclear and conventional war. Like George Bush, he used the absurdity of Europe threatened by Iran to justify building a missile system aimed at Russia and China.

In a pseudo event at the Annapolis Naval Academy, decked with flags and uniforms, Obama lied that the troops were coming home. The head of the army, General George Casey, says America will be in Iraq for up to a decade; other generals say fifteen years. Units will be relabeled as trainers; mercenaries will take their place. That is how the Vietnam War endured past the American “withdrawal”.

Chris Hedges, author of Empire of Illusion puts it well. “President Obama,” he wrote, “does one thing and Brand Obama gets you to believe another. This is the essence of successful advertising. You buy or do what the advertiser wants because of how they can make you feel.” And so you are kept in “a perpetual state of childishness.” He calls this “junk politics.”

The tragedy is that Brand Obama appears to have crippled or absorbed the antiwar movement, the peace movement. Out of 256 Democrats in Congress, thirty are willing to stand against Obama’s and Nancy Pelosi’s war party. On June 16, they voted for $106 billion for more war.
In Washington, the Out of Iraq Caucus is out of action. Its members can’t even come up with a form of words of why they are silent. On March 21, a demonstration at the Pentagon by the once mighty United for Peace and Justice drew only a few thousand. The outgoing president of UPJ, Leslie Cagan, says her people aren’t turning up because, “it’s enough for many of them that Obama has a plan to end the war and that things are moving in the right direction.” And where is the mighty MoveOn these days? Where is its campaign against the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan? And what exactly was said when, in February, MoveOn’s executive director, Jason Ruben, met President Obama?

Yes, a lot of good people mobilized for Obama. But what did they demand of him — apart from the amorphous “change”? That isn’t activism.

Activism doesn’t give up. Activism is not about identity politics. Activism doesn’t wait to be told. Activism doesn’t rely on the opiate of hope. Woody Allen once said, “I felt a lot better when I gave up hope.” Real activism has little time for identity politics, a distraction that confuses and suckers good people everywhere.

I write for the Italian newspaper Il Manifesto, or rather I used to write for it. In February, I sent the foreign editor an article that raised questions about Obama as a progressive force. The article was rejected. Why? I asked. “For the moment,” wrote the editor, “we prefer to maintain a more ‘positive’ approach to the novelty presented by Obama . . . we will take on specific issues . . . but we would not like to say that he will make no difference.”

In other words, an American president drafted to promote the most rapacious system in history is ordained and depoliticized by the left. What is remarkable about this state of affairs is that the so-called radical left has never been more aware, more conscious, of the iniquities of power. The Green Movement, for example, has raised the consciousness of millions of people, so that almost every child knows something about global warming; and yet there is a resistance within the green movement to the notion of power as a military project. Similar observations can be made of the gay and feminist movements; as for the labor movement, is it still breathing?

One of my favorite quotations is from Milan Kundera: “The struggle of people against power is the struggle of memory against forgetting.” We should never forget that the primary goal of great power is to distract and limit our natural desire for social justice and equity and real democracy. Long ago, Bernays’s invisible government of propaganda elevated big business from its unpopular status as a kind of mafia to that of a patriotic driving force. The American Way of Life began as an advertising slogan. The modern image of Santa Claus was an invention of Coca Cola.

Today, we are presented with an extraordinary opportunity, thanks to the crash of Wall Street and the revelation, for ordinary people, that the free market has nothing to do with freedom. The opportunity is to recognize a stirring in America that is unfamiliar to many on the left, but is related to a great popular movement growing all over the world.

In Latin America, less than 20 years ago, there was the usual despair, the usual divisions of poverty and freedom, the usual thugs in uniforms running unspeakable regimes. There is now a people’s movement based on the revival of indigenous cultures and languages, and a history of popular and revolutionary struggle less affected by ideological distortions than anywhere else.
The recent, amazing achievements in Bolivia, Ecuador, Venezuela, El Salvador, Argentina, Brazil and Paraguay represent a struggle for community and political rights that is truly historic, with implications for all of us. These successes are expressed perversely in the overthrow of the government of Honduras, for the smaller the country the greater the threat that the contagion of emancipation will follow.

Across the world, social movements and grassroots organizations have emerged to fight free market dogma. They have educated governments in the south that food for export is a problem rather than a solution to global poverty. They have politicized ordinary people to stand up for their rights, as in the Philippines and South Africa. An authentic globalization is growing as never before, and this is exciting.

Consider the remarkable boycott, disinvestment and sanctions campaign — BDS for short — aimed at Israel, that is sweeping the world. Israeli ships have been turned away from South Africa and western Australia. A French company has been forced to abandon plans to built a railway connecting Jerusalem with illegal Israeli settlements. Israeli sporting bodies find themselves isolated. Universities have begun to sever ties with Israel, and students are active for the first time in a generation. Thanks to them, Israel’s South Africa moment is approaching, for this is, partly, how apartheid was defeated.

In the 1950s, we never expected the great wind of the 1960s to blow. Feel the breeze today. In the last eight months millions of angry emails, sent by ordinary Americans, have flooded Washington. This has not happened before. People are outraged as their lives are attacked; they bear no resemblance to the massive mass presented by the media.

Look at the polls that are seldom reported. More than two thirds of Americans say the government should care for those who cannot care for themselves; 64 percent would pay higher taxes to guarantee health care for everyone; 59 percent are favorable towards unions; 70 percent want nuclear disarmament; 72 percent want the US completely out of Iraq; and so on.
For too long, ordinary Americans have been cast in stereotypes that are contemptuous. That is why the progressive attitudes of ordinary people are seldom reported in the media. They are not ignorant. They are subversive. They are informed. And they are “anti-American”.

I once asked a friend, the great American war correspondent and humanitarian Martha Gellhorn, to explain “anti-American” to me. “I’ll tell you what ‘anti-American’ is,” she said. “It’s what governments and their vested interested call those who honor America by objecting to war and the theft of resources and believing in all of humanity. There are millions of these anti-Americans in the United States. They are ordinary people who belong to no elite and who judge their government in moral terms, though they would call it common decency. They are not vain. They are the people with a wakeful conscience, the best of America’s citizens. They can be counted on. They were in the south with the Civil Rights movement, ending slavery. They were in the streets, demanding an end to the wars in Asia. Sure, they disappear from view now and then, but they are like seeds beneath the snow. I would say they are truly exceptional.”

A certain populism is once again growing in America and which has a proud, if forgotten past. In the nineteenth century, an authentic grassroots Americanism was expressed in populism’s achievements: women’s suffrage, the campaign for an eight-hour day, graduated income tax and public ownership of railways and communications, and breaking the power of corporate lobbyists.

The American populists were far from perfect; at times they would keep bad company, but they spoke from the ground up, not from the top down. They were betrayed by leaders who urged them to compromise and merge with the Democratic Party. Does that sound familiar?
What Obama and the bankers and the generals, and the IMF and the CIA and CNN fear is ordinary people coming together and acting together. It is a fear as old as democracy: a fear that suddenly people convert their anger to action and are guided by the truth. “At a time of universal deceit,” wrote George Orwell, “telling the truth a revolutionary act.”

* Watch a video of Pilger’s address.

John Pilger is an internationally renowned investigative journalist and documentary filmmaker. His latest film is The War on Democracy. His most recent book is Freedom Next Time (Bantam/Random House, 2006). Read other articles by John, or visit John’s website.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Free the forgotten bird of paradise by John Pilger

West Papuans holding their Morning Star flag

In his latest column for the New Statesman, John Pilger describes the wholesale corporate takeover of the natural resources of West Papua, known as the "forgotten bird of paradise" by its impoverished indigenous people. A mountain of copper and gold, forests and fisheries, oil and gas: the "acquisition" of untold riches, sanctioned by the Suharto tyranny, was unique and remains a metaphor for "globalisation".

When General Suharto, the west’s man, seized power in Indonesia in the mid-1960s, he offered “a gleam of light in Asia”, rejoiced Time magazine. That he had killed up to a million “communists” was of no account in the acquisition of what Richard Nixon called “the richest hoard of natural resources, the greatest prize in South-east Asia”.

In November 1967, the booty was handed out at an extraordinary conference in a lakeside hotel in Geneva. The participants included the most powerful capitalists in the world, the likes of David Rockefeller, and senior executives of the major oil companies and banks, General Motors, British American Tobacco, Imperial Chemical Industries, American Express, Siemens, Goodyear, US Steel. The president of Time Incorporated, James Linen, opened the proceedings with this prophetic description of globalisation: “We are trying to create a new climate in which private enterprise and developing countries work together for the greater profit of the free world. The world of international enterprise is more than governments... It is a seamless web, which has been shaping the global environment at revolutionary speed.”

Suharto had sent a team of mostly US-groomed economists, known as the “Berkeley Boys”. On the first day, salutations were exchanged. On the second day, the Indonesian economy was carved up. This was done in a spectacular way: industry in one room, forests and fisheries in another, banking and finance in another. The ultimate prize was the mineral wealth of West Papua, almost half of a vast and remote island to the north of Australia. A US and European consortium was “awarded” the nickel and gold. The Freeport company of New Orleans got a mountain of copper. Forty-two years later, the gold and copper make more than a million dollars profit every day.

For the Indonesian elite, enrichment was assured. From 1992 to 2004, Freeport provided $33bn in direct and indirect “benefits”, much of it finding its way to the Indonesian military, the real power in the land, which “protects” foreign investments in the manner of a mafia. The reward for the people of West Papua has been a rate of impoverishment double that of the rest of Indonesia, says a World Bank report. At Bintuni Bay, where BP is exploiting natural gas, 56 per cent of the people live in abject poverty. “More than 90 per cent of villages in Papua do not have basic health facilities,” the report noted. In 2005, famine swept the district of Yahukimo, where virgin forests and gas deposits deliver unerring profit. The suffering of West Papuans is seldom reported; the Indonesian government bans foreign journalists and human rights organisations such as Amnesty from the hauntingly beautiful territory known by its indigenous people as “the forgotten bird of paradise”.

When the carve-up of its natural wealth took place, West Papua was not part of but merely claimed by Indonesia, whose former colonial masters, the Dutch, recognised no historical or cultural ties to Jakarta and began to prepare the territory for independence. The Indonesians were having none of it; neither were the Americans, the British and the Australians, who invented a cold-war tale that the Russians were coming. In 1962, the Dutch handed the colony to the United Nations, which promptly gave it “on trust” to Indonesia on condition that the West Papuans would vote on their future.

In 1969, an “Act of Free Choice” took place. The Indonesians hand-picked 1,026 West Pa­pu­an men and ordered them to vote for integration with Jakarta. Guns were pointed at heads, literally. When two West Papuans escaped in a light aircraft, hoping to reach New York and alert the UN general assembly, they were detained by the Australian government after landing at nearby Manus Island, which Australia administered. West Papuan villages wanting a genuine “act of free choice” were strafed and bombed by Indonesia’s US-equipped air force.

West Papua would have slipped into oblivion had it not been for a resistance, the OPM, or Free Papua Movement, whose endurance has defied almost impossible odds. The Indonesians have been unsparing in their oppression, aided by British-made machine guns and Tactica water cannon vehicles. When Suharto was deposed in 1998, the people on the island of Biak celebrated by singing hymns of thanksgiving and raising West Papua’s Morning Star flag. For this, 150 of them were murdered by the ­Indonesian military. In 2004, Filep Karma and Yusak Pakage were sentenced to 15 and ten years respectively for raising the flag, an immeasurable act of bravery in a country effectivelly controlled by a Gestapo-style force known as Kopassus, which conducted the genocide in East Timor. According to a study by Yale University, the destruction of West Papuan society is also genocide.

The post-Suharto regime in Jakarta likes to regard itself as a respectable democracy and is vulnerable to pressure on West Papua. In Britain, the mining giant Rio Tinto, formerly a shareholder in Freeport, retains a joint-venture interest that has earned fortunes for the company. On the rare occasions that the British Foreign Office is challenged about the behaviour of Jakarta in West Papua, officials drone about “respecting the territorial integrity of Indonesia”, echoing decades of Foreign Office mendacious apologies for the slaughter in East Timor. The US State Department's reponse is the same.

And yet East Timor slipped Suharto’s leash and is now free, thanks to the resilience of its people and an international network. The people of West Papua deserve nothing less. On 1 December, which West Papuans call their independence day, those exiled in Britain and their supporters will break the silence outside the Indonesian embassy in London.

The Free West Papua Campaign website is To help, email

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Brown can't even stick to his own nonsense on Afghanistan by Mark Steel

As with Iraq, the reasons for staying are sliding slowly into gibberish

Bit by bit, as happened with Iraq, the reasons for staying in Afghanistan slide into gibberish. So Gordon Brown's reasons for the war seem to change every week.

At one point we were there to stop the opium, then to install democracy, now to prevent terrorist attacks in Britain. Next week he'll tell us the Taliban must be defeated as emissions from burqas are the greatest cause of climate change, or the plan is to buy the Taliban with public money until Afghanistan is back on its feet, and sell off the profitable sections such as Jihad training camps at a rate that makes sound economic sense.

At least Tony Blair used to come up with a pile of nonsense and stick to it. In his latest speech, Brown promised, "Early action on corruption". How early is this likely to be, given that even if he starts this morning that will be eight years after we arrived? Even the shabbiest of builders, if they'd been round for eight years, wouldn't have the cheek to say, "Right, we'll have one more cup of tea and then get started 'cos it's nice to get some action in early."

Their most important ally in this early crusade against corruption is Hamid Karzai, who became President in an election that had to be re-run because of corruption, and will now take place again with only one candidate. Still, it's always best to have someone in charge who is familiar with the subject.

The scale of the task is such that yesterday the human rights group Transparency International published a league table of the world's most corrupt countries, with Afghanistan coming second after Somalia. And Karzai will probably feel offended by this, saying "WE should have come first," blaming the Somalians for cheating by bribing the judges.

This isn't just a matter of Afghan fiddling. Private militias are employed by the US army, so The Asian Times reports – "US and NATO contingents spend hundreds of millions of dollars annually on Afghan security providers, most of which are local warlords guilty of human rights abuses." This must be part of the plan to open up the country to the free market. The next step will be a version of Dragon's Den on Afghan television, in which a warlord stands before some Nato officials and insists with just one million dollars backing he can torture anyone he's told to on the hills north of Kandahar, and a narrator says: "The British don't think the warlord's figures add up, but General McChrystal is about to make an offer."

Nor can the British Government believe their own argument that the war is essential to destroy the bases of terrorism. The group that bombed London came from Leeds, so presumably we'll be paying warlords to take control there next, gunning down the odd wedding party to make extra sure. Al-Qa'ida aren't tied to one country, so even if Nato took over Afghanistan they'd just move somewhere else, unless we think they'll say: "There's no point in carrying on, the facilities in the Helmand Province were marvellous, with all the latest explosives, wonderful editing facilities for making pre-suicide video messages, it just won't be the same anywhere else, we're giving up."

Brown also claimed there was a plan to take control of the country, "District by district." What have they been trying up to now then? Isn't that always how an army wins a war? For example the allies got Normandy, then the rest of France and then Germany. They didn't yell: "Never mind hanging about like that, let's get everywhere at once."

Perhaps he'll tell us the district- by-district strategy wasn't possible before, because we didn't have the postcodes to put into the sat-nav, but we've finally heard back from the Post Office so we can get going with some early district action.

The war, it's often forgotten, was begun by George W Bush in response to the attack on the Twin Towers. Later it became clear the war was part of an overall strategy for "A New American Century," and was one step on the way to Iraq. So the real reason, and even most of the fake reasons, that the war was initiated have become redundant.

So the next move will probably be to revert to an early favourite, the claim we're fighting for women's rights, which is why we only sell a billion dollars worth of weapons to places that respect women, like Saudi Arabia, where it's just feminism feminism feminism. Indeed we were so keen for that women's regime to be properly armed we did most of it through international corruption, so there's sure to be some early action on that any day soon.

First published in The Independent on 18th November 2009

Monday, November 16, 2009

Stealing Money, Selling Heroin and Raping Boys, Meet Our Afghan Ally By PATRICK COCKBURN


Just when President Barack Obama looked as if he might be railroaded into sending tens of thousands more US troops to Afghanistan the American envoy to Kabul has warned him not to do so. In a leaked cable to Washington sent last week, the US ambassador to Afghanistan, Gen Karl W. Eikenberry, argues that it would be a mistake to send reinforcements until the government of President Hamid Karzai demonstrates that it will act against corruption and mismanagement. General Eikenberry knows what he is talking about because he has long experience of Afghanistan. A recently retired three star general, he was responsible for training the Afghan security forces from 2002 to 2003 and was top US commander in Afghanistan from 2005 to 2007.

There is a dangerous misunderstanding outside Afghanistan about what ‘corruption and mismanagement’ mean in an Afghan context and a potentially lethal underestimation of how these impact on American and British forces. For example, the shadow British Defense Secretary Liam Fox argued that though ‘corruption and establishing good governance’ are not unimportant, ‘we need to recognize that Afghan governance is likely to look very different from governance as we knows it in the West.’

Leaving aside the patronizing tone of the statement, this shows that Mr Fox fundamentally misunderstands what is happening on the ground in Afghanistan. Corruption and mismanagement do not just mean that the police are on the take or that no contract is awarded without a bribe. It is much worse than that. For instance, one reason Afghan villagers prefer to deal with the Taliban rather than the government security forces is that the latter have a habit of seizing their sons at checkpoints and sodomizing them. None of our business, Mr Fox, who may be British Defense Secretary by this time next year, would presumably say. We are not in Afghanistan for the good government of Afghans: ‘Our troops are not fighting and dying in Afghanistan for Karzai’s government nor should they ever be.’ But the fact that male rape is common practice in the Afghan armed forces has, unfortunately, a great deal to do with the fate of British soldiers.

There was a horrified reaction across Britain last week when a 25-year old policeman called Gulbuddin working in a police station in the Nad Ali district of Helmand killed five British soldiers when he opened fire with a machine gun on them. But the reason he did so, according to Christina Lamb in The Sunday Times, citing two Afghans who knew Gulbuddin, was that he had been brutally beaten, sodomised and sexually molested by a senior Afghan officer whom he regarded as being protected by the British.

The slaughter at Nad Ali is a microcosm of what is happening across Afghanistan. It is why Mr Fox is wrong and General Eikenberry is right about the dangers of committing more American or British troops regardless of the way Afghanistan is ruled. Nor are the events which led to the deaths of the young Britoish soldiers out of the ordinary. Western military officials eager to show success in training the Afghan army and police have reportedly suppressed for years accounts from Canadian troops that the newly trained security forces are raping young boys.

Mr Fox’s approach only makes sense if we assume that it does not matter what ordinary Afghans think. This is what the Americans and, to a lesser degree the British, thought in Iraq in 2003. They soon learned different. I remember visiting the town of al-Majar al-Kabir in June 2003, soon after six British military policemen had been shot dead in the local police station. The British army had unwisely sent patrols with dogs through one of the most heavily armed towns in the country, famous for its resistance to Saddam Hussein, as if the British were an all-conquering occupation army.

The Americans and British eventually learned the unnecessarily costly lesson in Iraq that what Iraqis thought and did would wholly determine if foreign forces were going to be shot at or not. Mr Fox claims the US and Briton will not be in Afghanistan in defense of the Afghan government, but if we are not doing that, then we become an occupation force. A growing belief that this is already the case is enabling Taliban fighters, who used to be unpopular even among the Pashtun, to present themselves as battling for Afghan independence.

General Eikenberry expresses frustration over the lack of US money being allocated for spending on development and reconstruction after Afghanistan’s infrastructure has been wrecked by 30 years of war. The ambassador has not even been able to obtain $2.5 billion for non-military spending, this though the cost of the extra 40,000 US troops requested by General Stanley A. McChrystal, the top US and NATO commander in Afghanistan, is put by army planners at $33 billion and by White House officials at about $50 billion over a year.

This is one of the absurdities of the Afghan war. Afghanistan is one of the poorest countries in the world. Some 12 million out of 27 million Afghans live below the poverty line on 45 cents a day, according to the UN. “Afghanistan is facing a food crisis which will turn into a human catastrophe if donors do not act promptly,” said Karim Khalili, the second vice president, often denounced as a warlord, earlier this summer. Yet the lower estimate for each extra 1,000 US troops is $1 billion a year.

An Afghan policeman earns around $120 a month. In return for this he is forced to do a more dangerous job than Afghan soldiers, some 1,500 policemen being killed between 2007 and 2009, three times the number of deaths suffered by the Afghan army. Compare this money and these dangers with that of a US paid consultant earning $250,000 a year -- and with the cost of his guards, accommodation and translator totalling the same amount again – lurking in his villa in Kabul. General Eikenberry is rightly sceptical about the dispatch of reinforcements to prop up a regime which is more of a racket than an administration. The troops may kill more Taliban, but they will also be their recruiting sergeants. As for the Afghan government, its ill-paid forces will not be eager to fight harder if they can get the Americans and the British to do their fighting for them.

November 13-14 CounterPunch

Patrick Cockburn is the author of 'The Occupation: War, resistance and daily life in Iraq' and 'Muqtada! Muqtada al-Sadr, the Shia revival and the struggle for Iraq'.

How Could This End Well? Short Cuts in Afghanistan By TARIQ ALI


It’s been a bad autumn for Nato in Afghanistan, with twin disasters on the political and military fronts. First, Kai Eide, the UN headman in Kabul, a well-meaning, but not very bright Norwegian, fell out with his deputy, Peter Galbraith, who as the de facto representative of the US State Department had decreed that President Karzai’s election was rigged and went public about it. His superior continued to defend Hamid Karzai’s legitimacy. Astonishingly, the UN then fired Galbraith. This caused Hillary Clinton to move into top gear and the UN-supported electoral watchdog now ruled that the elections had indeed been fraudulent and ordered a run-off. Karzai refused to replace the electoral officials who had done such a good job for him the first time and his opponent withdrew. Karzai got the job.

Karzai’s legitimacy has never been dependent on elections (which are always faked anyway) but on the US/Nato expeditionary force. So what was all this shadowboxing about in the first place? It appears to have been designed in order to provide cover for the military surge being plotted by General Stanley McChrystal, the new white hope of a beleaguered White House. McChrystal seems to have inverted the old Clausewitzian maxim: he genuinely believes that politics is a continuation of war by other means. It was thought that if Karzai could be painlessly removed and replaced with his former colleague Abdullah Abdullah, a Tajik from the north, it might create the impression that an unbearably corrupt regime had been peacefully removed, which would help the flagging propaganda war at home and the relaunching of the real war in Afghanistan. For his part, Abdullah wanted a share of the loot that comes with power and has so far been monopolised by the Karzai brothers and their hangers-on, helping them to create a tiny indigenous base of support for the family. Did the revelation that Ahmed Wali Karzai was not simply the richest man in the country as a result of large-scale corruption and the drugs/arms trade, but a CIA agent too come as a huge surprise to anyone? I’m told that in desperation Nato commissars even considered appointing a High Representative on the Balkan model to run the country, making the presidency an even more titular post than it is today. Were this to happen, Galbraith or Tony Blair would be the obvious front-runners.

Citizens of the transatlantic world are becoming more and more restless about the no-end-in-sight scenario. In Afghanistan the ranks of the resistance are swelling. The war on the ground is getting nowhere: Nato convoys carrying fuel and equipment are repeatedly attacked by insurgents; neo-Taliban control of 80 per cent of the most populous part of the country is recognised by all. Recently Mullah Omar strongly criticised the Pakistani branch of the Taliban: they should, he said, be fighting Nato, not the Pakistan army.

Meanwhile the British military commander, General Sir David Richards, echoing McChrystal, talks of training Afghan security forces ‘much more aggressively’ so that Nato can take on a supporting role. Nothing new here. Eupol (the European Union Police Mission in Afghanistan) declared several years ago that its objective was to ‘contribute to the establishment under Afghan ownership of sustainable and effective civilian policing arrangements, which will ensure appropriate interaction with the wider criminal justice system’. This always sounded far-fetched: the shooting earlier this month of five British soldiers by an Afghan policeman they were training confirms it. The ‘bad apple’ theories with which the British are so besotted should be ignored. The fact is that the insurgents decided some years ago to apply for police and military training and their infiltration – a tactic employed by guerrillas in South America, South-East Asia and the Maghreb during the last century – has been fairly successful.

It’s now obvious to everyone that this is not a ‘good’ war designed to eliminate the opium trade, discrimination against women and everything bad – apart from poverty, of course. So what is Nato doing in Afghanistan? Has this become a war to save Nato as an institution? Or is it more strategic, as was suggested in the spring 2005 issue of Nato Review:

The centre of gravity of power on this planet is moving inexorably eastward … The Asia-Pacific region brings much that is dynamic and positive to this world, but as yet the rapid change therein is neither stable nor embedded in stable institutions. Until this is achieved, it is the strategic responsibility of Europeans and North Americans, and the institutions they have built, to lead the way … security effectiveness in such a world is impossible without both legitimacy and capability.

Whatever the reason, the operation has failed. Most of Obama’s friends in the US media recognise this, and support a planned withdrawal, while worrying that pulling troops out of both Iraq and Afghanistan might result in Obama losing the next election, especially if McChrystal or General Petraeus, the supposed hero of the surge in Iraq, stand for the Republicans. Not that the US seems likely to withdraw from Iraq. The only withdrawal being contemplated is from the main cities, restricting the US presence to the huge air-conditioned military bases that have already been constructed in the interior of the country, mimicking the strongholds of the British Empire (minus the air-conditioners) during the early decades of the last century.

While Washington decides what do, Af-Pak is burning. Carrying out the imperial diktat has put the Pakistan army under enormous strain. Its recent well-publicised offensive in South Waziristan yielded little. Its intended target disappeared to fight another day. To show good faith the military raided the Shamshatoo refugee camp in Peshawar. On 4 November I received an email from Peshawar:

Thought I’d let you know that I just got a call from a former Gitmo prisoner who lives in Shamshatoo camp and he told me that this morning at around 10 a.m. some cops and military men came and raided several homes and shops and arrested many people. They also killed three innocent schoolchildren. Their jinaza [funeral] is tonight. Several people took footage of the raid from their cell-phones which I can try to get a hold of. The funeral of the three children is happening as I’m typing.

How could this end well?

13-14 November CounterPunch

Tariq Ali's latest book, The Protocols of the Elders of Sodom and other Essays, has just been published by Verso.

Copenhagen: Seattle Grows Up by Naomi Klein

Naomi Klein

The other day I received a pre-publication copy of The Battle of the Story of the Battle of Seattle, by David Solnit and Rebecca Solnit. It's set to come out ten years after a historic coalition of activists shut down the World Trade Organization summit in Seattle, the spark that ignited a global anticorporate movement.

The book is a fascinating account of what really happened in Seattle, but when I spoke to David Solnit, the direct-action guru who helped engineer the shutdown, I found him less interested in reminiscing about 1999 than in talking about the upcoming United Nations climate change summit in Copenhagen and the "climate justice" actions he is helping to organize across the United States on November 30. "This is definitely a Seattle-type moment," Solnit told me. "People are ready to throw down."

There is certainly a Seattle quality to the Copenhagen mobilization: the huge range of groups that will be there; the diverse tactics that will be on display; and the developing-country governments ready to bring activist demands into the summit. But Copenhagen is not merely a Seattle do-over. It feels, instead, as though the progressive tectonic plates are shifting, creating a movement that builds on the strengths of an earlier era but also learns from its mistakes.

The big criticism of the movement the media insisted on calling "antiglobalization" was always that it had a laundry list of grievances and few concrete alternatives. The movement converging on Copenhagen, in contrast, is about a single issue--climate change--but it weaves a coherent narrative about its cause, and its cures, that incorporates virtually every issue on the planet. In this narrative, our climate is changing not simply because of particular polluting practices but because of the underlying logic of capitalism, which values short-term profit and perpetual growth above all else. Our governments would have us believe that the same logic can now be harnessed to solve the climate crisis--by creating a tradable commodity called "carbon" and by transforming forests and farmland into "sinks" that will supposedly offset our runaway emissions.

Climate-justice activists in Copenhagen will argue that, far from solving the climate crisis, carbon-trading represents an unprecedented privatization of the atmosphere, and that offsets and sinks threaten to become a resource grab of colonial proportions. Not only will these "market-based solutions" fail to solve the climate crisis, but this failure will dramatically deepen poverty and inequality, because the poorest and most vulnerable people are the primary victims of climate change--as well as the primary guinea pigs for these emissions-trading schemes.

But activists in Copenhagen won't simply say no to all this. They will aggressively advance solutions that simultaneously reduce emissions and narrow inequality. Unlike at previous summits, where alternatives seemed like an afterthought, in Copenhagen the alternatives will take center stage. For instance, the direct-action coalition Climate Justice Action has called on activists to storm the conference center on December 16. Many will do this as part of the "bike bloc," riding together on an as yet unrevealed "irresistible new machine of resistance" made up of hundreds of old bicycles. The goal of the action is not to shut down the summit, Seattle-style, but to open it up, transforming it into "a space to talk about our agenda, an agenda from below, an agenda of climate justice, of real solutions against their false ones.... This day will be ours."

Some of the solutions on offer from the activist camp are the same ones the global justice movement has been championing for years: local, sustainable agriculture; smaller, decentralized power projects; respect for indigenous land rights; leaving fossil fuels in the ground; loosening protections on green technology; and paying for these transformations by taxing financial transactions and canceling foreign debts. Some solutions are new, like the mounting demand that rich countries pay "climate debt" reparations to the poor. These are tall orders, but we have all just seen the kind of resources our governments can marshal when it comes to saving the elites. As one pre-Copenhagen slogan puts it: "If the climate were a bank, it would have been saved"--not abandoned to the brutality of the market.

In addition to the coherent narrative and the focus on alternatives, there are plenty of other changes too: a more thoughtful approach to direct action, one that recognizes the urgency to do more than just talk but is determined not to play into the tired scripts of cops-versus-protesters. "Our action is one of civil disobedience," say the organizers of the December 16 action. "We will overcome any physical barriers that stand in our way--but we will not respond with violence if the police [try] to escalate the situation." (That said, there is no way the two-week summit will not include a few running battles between cops and kids in black; this is Europe, after all.)

A decade ago, in an op-ed in the New York Times published after Seattle was shut down, I wrote that a new movement advocating a radically different form of globalization "just had its coming-out party." What will be the significance of Copenhagen? I put that question to John Jordan, whose prediction of what eventually happened in Seattle I quoted in my book No Logo. He replied: "If Seattle was the movement of movements' coming-out party, then maybe Copenhagen will be a celebration of our coming of age."

He cautions, however, that growing up doesn't mean playing it safe, eschewing civil disobedience in favor of staid meetings. "I hope we have grown up to become much more disobedient," Jordan said, "because life on this world of ours may well be terminated because of too many acts of obedience."

An updated tenth-anniversary edition of Naomi Klein's No Logo: Taking Aim at the Brand Bullies comes out in November.

Published on Friday, November 13, 2009 by The Nation

Naomi Klein is an award-winning journalist and syndicated columnist and the author of the international and New York Times bestseller The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism, now out in paperback. Her earlier books include the international best-seller, No Logo: Taking Aim at the Brand Bullies; and the collection Fences and Windows: Dispatches from the Front Lines of the Globalization Debate (2002). To read all her latest writing visit

Sunday, November 15, 2009

You almost have to feel sorry for Gordon Brown by Mark Steel

Mark Steel

You almost have to feel sorry for Gordon Brown
If she isn't careful the 'Sun' will tie Mrs Janes in a deal like a record company

First published in The Independent on 11th November 2009


Now Gordon Brown's got the Sun against him, so every morning he gets up to see whether he's on their front page for losing everyone's money, or deliberately driving a caravan over a disabled child's tortoise or sneezing phlegm over the Crown Jewels or whatever they say he's done that day.

The Labour Party dismisses the Sun's decision to support Cameron, and some prominent Labour MPs have derided the paper as a grubby rag they're not bothered about anyway. Which would be fair enough if their leaders hadn't spent the last 15 years going: "Ooh Mr Murdoch you look hot today if I may say so, we'd LOVE to come to your island, what shall we put in the Budget, Mr Murdoch 'cos you know best, any laws you'd like us to pass? You can have Cherie for 20 minutes if you like."

But you almost have to feel sorry for Brown at the moment, as the Sun has printed a letter he sent to Jacqui Janes, the mother of a soldier killed in Afghanistan, which she says was "disrespectful." So he called her personally and now they've printed the whole conversation, in which she told him the letter was "an insult", because "there were 25 spelling mistakes".

So what was he supposed to do at that point? He could hardly say: "Well Mrs Janes, in a moment I'd like to raise the matter of my condolences about your son, but first let's go through those spellings one by one. First – 'accommodation' – definitely two 'm's."

In some ways Brown did better than you'd think during this phone call, because you'd expect him to answer the charge of insulting fallen war heroes with bad spelling by saying: "If I can answer your point, this is why we are pressing ahead with exciting and bold initiatives on supplementary literacy lessons in key stage 4 and above in all secondary schools in a measure to commence in September 2011." Or offer her a job as an alphabet tsar.

You can forgive Mrs Janes anything, given the circumstances, but the Sun has made a front-page issue of this spelling business, claiming his tatty handwriting proves his lack of concern for soldiers, which seems a slight exaggeration. They might have had a point if he'd sent his condolences in the form of a limerick. Or if he'd sent a text with a grumpy face on it. Or if he'd reversed the charges when he made the call. But in the list of priorities when dealing with a war, accurate punctuation must come a fair way down. This is why, as far as I know, none of the First World War poets wrote "Worse than the crash of the shells sent to bomb us, General Haig writes a dash where he ought to put commas."

Even so, the front page, then two more pages, then a page of the whole conversation, then a cartoon are dedicated to this story, and you can hear the whole taped call on a website. Tomorrow there'll be an advert with a picture of a pouting woman in a nurse's outfit, saying: "Ring 0898 600 500 to hear Naughty Naomi read out the whole letter with spicy spelling."

The Sun has declared Mrs Janes "Mum at War," and the poor woman is their weapon for the week for belittling Brown. If she's not careful they'll tie her into a deal like a record company, and she'll be barred from displaying any grief or anger anywhere except by a Sun reporter, who will have full exclusive rights to print them, mash them into a dance track or whatever they fancy.

Yet strangely, they were the most enthusiastic supporters of the war in Afghanistan, even depicting politicians who opposed the war as wobbling jellies. You'd think that it might have occurred to them that this could involve an element of danger, what with wars in Afghanistan tending to fall a bit short when it comes to health and safety.

So now they protest the reason for the deaths is the lack of helicopters and suitable jackets, but they could suggest another method which could radically reduce the risks, which is to no longer fight the war at all, the major success of which has been to give Afghans the democratic right to not to vote for a corrupt leader in a fiddled election that's re-run and cancelled.

But Brown can't criticise the war, just as he can't criticise the Sun, or the other people making his life a misery, because he's spent the last 15 years supporting them.

So the poor man bumbles along, and if he rings Mrs Janes again, the conversation will probably end with him saying: "I don't know where to turn," and her replying: "Mr Brown, please accept my condolences, I can't imagine what it must be like to be in your position right now. I know this was the job you always wanted but there was also the chance it could turn out this way I suppose. Try and stay strong, Mr Brown, you poor poor thing."

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

David Spratt: Powerful working towards climate talks disaster

David Spratt

The global community is supposed to be negotiating an agreement to contain greenhouse gas emissions to manageable levels. But with less than two months to the Copenhagen climate change conference, the big players are stuck in an elaborate game of chicken.

Maybe that's the nature of diplomacy, but some have already written off the December meeting's capacity to produce a detailed agreement.

Sir David King and Lord Stern are among many luminaries saying no deal is better than a bad deal, and economist Jeffrey Sachs said in September he fears "a toothless agreement that could be more posturing than progress". columnist David Roberts sees the negotiating process so far as akin to "an aquarium full of hamsters connected to rudimentary motors.

“There’s a lot of frantic running, a lot of sweat and heat, but in the end, very little light", he said in July.

A more significant assessment came from European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso in the Age in September. He warned the "draft text contains some 250 pages: a feast of alternative options, a forest of square brackets ... If we don't sort this out, it risks becoming the longest and most global suicide note in history".

Europe's leading climate scientist, Potsdam Institute Director Hans Joachim Schellnhuber, said the chance of getting a decent deal at this "most important meeting in the history of the human species" is "pie in the sky" because rich countries like the US are unwilling to sign up to ambitious enough targets. "In a sense the US is climate illiterate", he told the September 28 British Telegraph.

From Rio to Copenhagen

The Rio Earth Summit in June 1992 produced the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), with the aim of stabilising greenhouse gas levels at a level that would prevent dangerous climate change.

In contained no mandatory targets or enforcement provisions, but provided for updates ("protocols"). The intent of the Convention was for industrialised nations to stabilise their emissions at the 1990 level by 2000 (which they failed to do).

The UNFCCC has three categories of signatories: Annex 1 comprises 37 industrialised countries (essentially the OECD and Eastern Europe); Annex 2 is a subset of 23 Annex 1 countries, which agreed to help pay for costs of developing nations; and developing nations.

The Convention adopted the principle of “common but differentiated responsibilities”, which recognised that the largest share of historical and current global emissions of greenhouse gases originated in developed countries.

It also noted per capita emissions in developing countries are still relatively low, and the share of global emissions originating in developing countries will grow to meet social and development needs. This principle is now under sustained challenge from the Annex 1 bloc, including Australia.

The Kyoto Protocol was adopted in 1997 and came into force in February 2005. It obligates the Annex 1 nations to cut emissions of six kinds of greenhouse gases by 2012 to 5.2% below the 1990 level (but Australia was allowed an 8% increase by threatening not to sign).

Failure to meet protocol obligations seems cost-free. Canada's obligation in the first commitment period (2005-2012) was to reduce emissions to 6% below the 1990 level. They are now 30% above the 1990 level, but there are no enforceable penalties.

Based on the 2007 report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), the European Union proposed at the Bali climate talks in 2007 a framework that included global emissions peaking in 10–15 years and for developed countries to achieve emissions levels 20–40% below 1990 levels by 2020.

The US (supported by Australia and others) strongly opposed this. In a flood of tears and acrimony, the final Bali session sat through the night to produce a compromise that mandated "deep cuts in global emissions", but no specific figures.

The seeds of the current impasse were planted in Bali and nourished in subsequent negotiations.

Global targets

For two decades climate policy has been focused on policy targets aimed at preventing global warming exceeding 2°C, which is said to be a level of greenhouse gases not exceeding 450 parts per million carbon dioxide equivalent (ppm CO2e).

This is also the case for Copenhagen, but two degrees is a politically-determined goal at odds with the science.

The research tells us that a two-degree warming will initiate large climate feedbacks on land and in the oceans, on sea-ice and mountain glaciers and on the tundra, taking the Earth well past significant tipping points.

Likely impacts include large-scale disintegration of the Greenland and West Antarctic ice-sheets; sea-level rises; the extinction of an estimated 15–40% of plant and animal species; dangerous ocean acidification and widespread drought, desertification and malnutrition in Africa, Australia, Mediterranean Europe, and the western USA.

As Schellnhuber pointed out in the British Guardian in September, on sea levels alone, two degrees is catastrophic: “Two degrees … means sea level rise of 30-40 meters — over maybe a thousand years. Draw a line around your coast — probably not a lot would be left.”

It’s a grand illusion that 2 degrees and 450ppm is a reasonable target — an illusion Copenhagen will not dispel.

Yet an agreement with teeth that would actually limit warming to even two degrees seems most unlikely at Copenhagen.

A new report by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) found the world will warm by 3.5 degrees by century’s end — even if every country enacts all the climate legislation it has promised to enact to date.

Nothing on the negotiating table gets remotely near the figure suggested by Martin Parry of Imperial College London and co-chair of the IPCC’s impacts working group. He told the Independent in January that a two-degree target “would require cuts of 6% per year starting in 2010.”

National responsibilities

A big question is how emissions cuts will be shared between nations. The Bali discussion focused on a 450ppm CO2e target, for which the Annex 1 countries would need to cut emissions by 25–40% below 1990 levels by 2020 and industrialising nations would need to cut their emissions growth below “business-as-usual”.

But the 40% (which Schellnhuber says is a minimum) has been dropped by most developed economies (including the US, the EU and Australia). The European Union is pushing 30% and Japan 25%, but the US won’t go near either.

A second issue is that the Annex 1 countries now demand the large industrialising economies (such as China, Brazil and India) take on obligatory targets. They say these nations represent the fast-growing emissions sector and no longer fit under the Kyoto Protocol’s structure of underdeveloped nations.

China’s actual emissions are now roughly the same as those in the US, but per capita only one-quarter. India’s per capita emissions are less than one-tenth of those in Australia.

These demands have gone down like a lead balloon, especially when those making the demands have themselves failed to put commitments on the table that will go anywhere near two degrees.

Some of the most vulnerable nations, grouped as the Alliance of Small Island States, want global targets for 2020, aimed at “well below 1.5°C” because they understand their countries will simply be submerged or unliveable with the two-degree target.

The 43 island states — about 20% of the UN General Assembly — have advocated stabilising greenhouse gas concentrations “well below 350ppm CO2e”. The least developed countries bloc, which are particularly vulnerable to global warming because they lack capacity to adapt, now also support this demand.

Most of these groups are not keen on carbon offsetting schemes that transfer pollution reduction responsibilities from the high per-capita emitters to underdeveloped nations, because they rightly judge such schemes become a substitute for hard-core cuts in domestic emissions by the Annex 1 nations.

The carbon trading and financial transfers systems — established at Kyoto at the insistence of the US delegation led by Al Gore — and including the Clean Development Mechanism (CDM) — worry many people because they act like the sale of indulgences by the medieval church, absolving the buyers for their immoral actions.

But the Europe/US bloc has put carbon trading at the core of its emissions reduction strategy, while the two largest emitters of carbon outside the developed world, China and India, are the main beneficiaries of CDM financing.

Yet in November 2008, the US Government Accounting Office (GAO) found that emissions trading had failed to accomplish its basic objective.

It said, “the use of carbon offsets in a cap-and-trade system can undermine the system's integrity, given that it is not possible to ensure that every credit represents a real, measurable, and long-term reduction in emissions”

It also said, “while proposed reforms may significantly improve the CDM's effectiveness, carbon offsets involve fundamental trade-offs and may not be a reliable long-term approach to climate change mitigation.”

In other words, there are a lot of snouts in the trough that cannot be budged.

The GAO report goes to the heart of the matter: carbon offsets and long-term emission reduction strategies may simply be incompatible.

If further evidence is required, consider that Australia is pushing to redefine the CDM to include so-called “clean coal” carbon storage and sequestration and “efficient” coal-fired power stations.

Other nations like Japan have tried to promote nuclear power as a “clean” technology as a way of diverting funds to prop up their failing nuclear industry.

Where’s the money?

A key component of any deal is money and technology sharing and transfer. Any agreement will depend on how much will be paid to help those without the material capacity to both adapt to global warming and mitigate by building new, low-emissions economies.

Here the negotiations are also bogged down, about the mechanisms, and how much should be on the table. The Kyoto signatories agreed developed countries would provide "new and additional" funds to help "developing countries … particularly vulnerable to the adverse effects of climate change in meeting the costs of adaptation to those adverse effects”, but little has materialised.

Australia is yet to commit to funding clean technology to help the poorer countries adapt to climate change, and has joined other developed nations in demanding that developing nations itemise their proposed adaptation actions before discussing what level of climate-aid will be given.

Developing countries have refused, and can rightly point to recent practices such as Australia’s $150 million International Climate Change Adaptation Initiative. Much of the money was never seen by the intended recipient nations, but flowed to the World Bank and other NGOs, leadership programs and research, or was spent domestically in Australia.

Observing the journey to Copenhagen, it’s easy to understand the view of the US’s leading climate scientist, James Hansen.

He told an audience at Stanford University in November last year: “We've reached a point where we have a crisis, an emergency, but people don't know that … There's a big gap between what's understood about global warming by the scientific community and what is known by the public and policymakers.”

In a December interview with Saarbruecker Zeitung Schellnhuber agreed that “we are on our way to a destabilisation of the world climate that has advanced much further than most people or their governments realise”.

What would dispel this doubt would be a clear indication by the major participants that they would negotiate based on what the science tells us we must do, accepting that even those who have conquered the political game in their own nation do not have the capacity to negotiate with the laws of physics and chemistry.

Copenhagen, or more likely a clean-up summit next year, can succeed if the scientific imperatives take centre stage.

We face a climate emergency that requires emergency action. Pretending that the current approach to international negotiations can solve the issue is part of the denial about the climate catastrophe that awaits if the game isn’t played very differently, very, very soon by politicians and people who have the capacity to exhibit truly transformative leadership.

[David Spratt is a co-author of Climate Code Red: the case for emergency action A shorter version of this article first appeared on

From: International News, Green Left Weekly issue #817 11 November 2009.