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Saturday, June 26, 2010

If only we were all in it together by Mark Steel

Mark Steel
There's already been one positive outcome of the Budget, which is the pleasure of watching Liberal Democrats squirm as they try to justify the stuff that a few weeks ago they screamed would be a disaster. Tomorrow Clegg will mutter, "Look, when we said the Tories were planning a VAT bombshell, the point we were making was this country needed a VAT bombshell and only the Tories were planning it, but they were too modest in hiding their marvellous bombshell plans, so we were trying to help them. You see."



Then they'll tell us they've ensured the Budget was vicious in a fair way, because now VAT will be at a Liberal Democrat 20 per cent to ensure fairness, rather than the much harsher Tory 20 per cent proposed by George Osborne, a compromise that wouldn't have been possible without the tremendous efforts of Vince Cable.



To their own supporters they'll say, "If we weren't part of the Government it would be even worse", the line always put by liberals in an illiberal government. I bet there were Liberal Democrats in the Spanish Inquisition who said, "Because we're in government, the Queen has included in her bill a pledge to gouge out fingernails first rather than go straight in with the toenails, demonstrating the fairness we are bringing to the new politics."


The Budget has been presented as a necessity, with every measure "unavoidable", backed up by piles of figures that sound apocalyptic but mean nothing by themselves, like "We now owe £800 for every insect in Britain", or "The debt burden is equivalent to 300 years on a premium rate girl-on-girl action chatline" or "The deficit is more than the value of the moon."


But the cuts announced are measures the Tories support anyway, regardless of the state of the economy. For example, Osborne said in his TV speech he would no longer tolerate people who don't work, "Sitting indoors with the blinds pulled down, living on benefits." That's not economic necessity, it's an editorial from the Daily Express. It's an attempt to sound like someone down the pub, and maybe the first draft of his Budget went, "We're in a right mess missus and no mistake, and one knows who's to blame; them layabouts with their blinds down, gawd blimey." Or maybe he just thinks, "My word these unemployed are lazy – they can't even be bothered to get their au pair to open the blinds."



Blaming unemployment on the unemployed for "Choosing not to work" is an ideology that assumes unemployment rises and falls in line with how many people fancy being unemployed. They must think in 1931 the North suddenly decided to close their blinds and stay at home all day, which was probably lucky as by the time the war started they were all jammed shut, which was handy for the blackout.


But it's a doctrine, not a "necessity". Chris Grayling might as well say, "It's now a necessity that bed and breakfast owners must be allowed to turn gay men away, as homosexuality simply can't continue in the Cotswolds while we owe £50 trillion." There's another clue as to the nature of the Budget, which is the celebrations in the City of London. The Financial Times reported investors "greeted enthusiastically" the reduction in corporation tax, and a promise of a capital gains tax rate, "Lower than ever."


But as this was a Budget based on "Fairness" I'm sure the poorer sections of society felt the same. "Our housing benefit's being cut", they'll have chimed enthusiastically, "But we'll save a fortune on capital gains tax so we can have a day out in Southend after all."


So we've got a Labour Party that declared it wanted cuts that went "Further than those of Margaret Thatcher", and the other parties proudly making cuts much deeper than that. Which means somehow the Government would be less harsh to the poor and less grovelling to the rich if the whole lot resigned and we brought Thatcher back. You can't help wondering if somewhere or other we took a wrong turn.


First published in The Independent on 24th June 2010

Thursday, June 24, 2010

ALP's desperate rebadging could mask a shift to right By Peter Boyle


Construction worker with caricature of Julia Gillard as Margaret Thatcher protesting at 2009 ALP national conference. Photo by Peter Boyle. Breaking story (updated): Socialists and progressive trade union and social movement activists have reacted sceptically to the leadership change in the Australian Labor Party (ALP) federal government of Australia. Julia Gillard displaced Kevin Rudd as PM on June 24 after a surprise leadership challenge that came into the open the night before. She became the country's first woman PM. Wayne Swan replaced Gillard as deputy PM.

Australian mining shares shot up on the stock exchanges as soon as Gillard's takeover was announced. One of her first announcements was that her government was halting its media information campaign on the proposed Resource Super Profits Tax (RSPT). She added that here door was open to the mining companies for negotiations. The Minerals Council of Australia responded by suspending its multi-million dollar advertising campaign against the RSPT.

BHP Billiton and Fortescue Metals CEO Andrew Forrest welcomed the change in leadership.

Green Left Weekly spoke to progressive activists about their reactions to the Gillard's takeover as PM.

* * *
Sam Watson, Murri leader and Socialist Alliance lead Senate candidate for Queensland:

"This leadership change is all about saving the ALP from defeat in the coming federal election. The decision-making was made by the Labor machinery. It has nothing to do with changes that might benefit all Australians.

"The ALP machine has dumped Kevin Rudd and promoted Julia Gillard in a move to save themselves in the next election.

"For Aboriginal people, it is a case of 'same horse, different saddle blanket'. We need to call on Gillard to end the NT Intervention as soon as possible.

"Socialist Alliance welcomes the opportunity to challenge the ALP in the coming election, as part of the campaign to build a real political alternative in this country."

Robynne Murphy, steelworker, veteran leader of the Wollongong Jobs for Women Campaign and Socialist Alliance member:

"When the ship's sinking put a woman in charge... I've seen in many times at work."

Tim Gooden, Secretary Geelong Trades Hall Council and Socialist Alliance member:

"The new leadership of the Labor government has an opportunity now to introduce a real response to climate change, to undo the damage done to refugees by the Howard government and under Rudd, and to resolve the outstanding issues with the trade union movement, including abolishing the Australian Building and Construction Commission (ABCC).

"But I am not holding my breath.

"Gillard has already begun to sell out to the mining companies on the RSPT- no wonder the mining stocks shot up!

"She's already sold her soul to the right wing of the ALP. This is a re-run on her performance on workplace laws. How many meetings did she have with the bosses over them?

"We saw how arrogant she was with the teachers. She's not called Guillotine Gillard for nothing and she has the best poker face.

"The ALP leadership is looking to gain some votes for putting in a woman PM but sisters should not expect any favours. Remember Margaret Thatcher was a woman.

"The ALP leadership is simply cynically responding to the polls. They have proved over and over again that they have no respect for their party's rank and file's attempts to determine policy.

"They have shown no leadership on the refugee issue. Real leadership means having the guts to demolish the lies about refugee numbers and tell the public that it would take 30 years to fill the MCG with refugees on current arrival numbers."

Jess Moore, the Socialist Alliance candidate for Cunningham in NSW's South Coast:

"Julia Gillard's ousting of Prime Minister Kevin Rudd is a blatant attempt to re-brand the Labor Party.

"In the face of Rudd's epic nosedive in the polls since April this is a desperate attempt by Labor to re-brand itself. But the swearing in of Julia Gillard as Prime Minister will only mean more of the same for the people of Australia.

"As Kevin Rudd's deputy she has been as complicit as anyone in the actions of the ALP. This is a desperate attempt to re-badge a political party in crisis.

"But Labor's trial of this same tactic in NSW with Premier Kristina Keneally shows that, while it works in the short term, over time the focus shifts back to the issues.

"People are angry with what Labor has done - and failed to do - in government. We need real change, not more factional maneuvering from Labor.

"Gillard has been responsible for some of this government's most anti-social acts. As federal workplace relations minister, she maintained the Australian Building and Construction Commission which
denies construction workers basic human rights. As education minister she allowed damaging school league tables to be used by the media, stigmatising those from disadvantaged schools.

"We shouldn't let the scrapping of Rudd fool us. We need a political alternative to the major parties.

"We still need to fight for real and immediate action on climate and for workers' rights. We have to continue the campaign against racism in this country, in particular the racism directed at asylum seekers. Australia must let the boats land and close the detention centres.

"In this federal election, we need real change, not more of the same."

Rachel Evans, the Socialist Alliance lead Senate candidate for NSW:

“If the first female PM of Australia supported abortion rights, for equal pay for women and for same-sex marriage rights, I’d be celebrating.”

“Gillard was just as complicit in Labor’s cruel policy towards asylum seekers”, said Evans, a refugee rights activist.

“As the shadow immigration spokesperson, 2001-2003, Gillard did not disagree with mandatory detention – after all it was Labor’s idea orginally. In government, she’s helped orchestrate the ‘Indian Ocean’ solution – forcing Indonesia to take asylum seekers bound for Australia.”

Pip Hinman, Alliance candidate in Grayndler:

“Despite Gillard’s so-called left credentials, Julia Gillard has proven to be as conservative as the rest of the ALP leadership – on refugees, workplace laws and foreign policy.”

“Gillard’s statements backing away from insisting on the mining companies’ super profits tax as a clear signal that she is ready to do a deal with the mining bosses”, Hinman said.

“All their talk of needing to ‘share the wealth’ comes to nothing when there’s an election hanging in the balance.”

Hinman believes that Gillard’s ascension to the leadership of the ALP, and to the PM’s job, is a desperate attempt to re-badge a party in crisis.

"In the face of Rudd's epic nosedive in the polls since April, this is a desperate attempt by Labor to re-brand itself.

“NSW Labor used the same tactic with Kristina Keneally. But when the superficiality of the stunt wears off, people still want to know what real change will come from the shuffling of the deck chairs”, said
Hinman.

“People want real alternatives: they are fed up with these non-conviction politicians.”

Gemma Weedall, the 21-year-old Socialist Alliance candidate for Adelaide:

"Unfortunately a change in leadership is unlikely to mean a real change to Labor's unjust and inadequate policies.

"Gillard has a history of undermining and attacking unions, whether it is through the support of the ABCC or the introduction of NAPLAN testing in schools.

"Her committment to 'throwing open the government's door to the mining industry' shows her inability to stand up against the big polluters and take real action on climate change.

"Working people need a real political alternative to the ALP. The Socialist Alliance seeks to build an alternative party that consistently represents the grassroots and puts people before profits."

Alex Bainbridge, the Socialist Alliance candidate for Perth:

"How galling to see Julia Gillard in her first media conference pay tribute not only to previous right-wing Labor prime ministers but to Howard and Costello as well.

"She also commended Kevin Rudd for reinforcing the unjust war in Afghanistan.

"Kevin Rudd was elected under the banner of 'change' and 'new leadership' but didn't deliver anything like the progressive changes that we need. Gillard has now become prime minister precisely because people are still hungering for real change and genuine progressive leadership.

"I will be cheering as loud as anybody if the ALP under Gillard turns towards a progressive agenda including: replacing coal power with renewable energy; bringing the troops home from Afghanistan; dismantling the ABCC and truly ripping up all the anti-worker laws in this country; ending the NT intervention and ending detention of asylum seekers.

"If we are to get any of these advances it will only be because we step up our campaigns now instead of waiting to see what Julia Gillard will do. Gillard does not deserve a 'honeymoon period' - we need real action now."

Richard Downs, spokesperson for Alyawarr people and organiser for the July gathering of elders and leaders:

"In Julia Gillard's address to the nation, there was no mention of the first Australians and owners of this country on the way forward.

"She did mention how wonderfully the previous PM Kevin Rudd's apology to the first Australians was given. Little does she know this has all been a farce and now gone by the way side, blown across all directions with the wind.

"Until the new PM acknowledges the racism and discrimination policy that has been imposed on our people across the NT, until the NT intervention is abolished; until a new chapter of engagement and consultations begins to create a joint partnership with us... nothing will ever change as we as Aboriginal people have lost all confidence with the governments at federal and state levels.

"Yet we leave our door open for the new PM to meet with myself, elders and leaders from all different language groups on the new way forward. We advise the Prime Minister to remove all previous baggabe, including indigenous affairs minister Jenny Macklin, who we have no confidence in, to achieve the goals set by the federal government in closing the gap."

Tim Anderson, activist, writer and lecturer at Sydney University School of Political Economy:

"After the excitement of a Rudd-Gillard ‘transition’ dies down we should remember that all power plays in Australian politics have to do with the Australian oligarchy - that peculiar mixture of banking, mining, investment conglomerates and media.

"Labor has its own problems, but something different kicks in when key oligarchy interests are challenged: such as by a mining tax. Labor has been disciplined over such matters before.

"Remember the media campaign against the Whitlam government in 1975, the mining campaign against Aboriginal land rights in 1983-84, the mining and pastoral-led deceptions over ‘Native Title’ in 1993, and the various media campaigns for new taxes, work contracts and war. They get what they want from the big parties.

"Who could have imagined, a few weeks back, that an election might be fought on the basis of a tax on the super-profits of a handful of the super-rich? Why would there be any popular support at all for a tiny group of super-fat cats, unless they controlled the daily means of public debate?

"Let’s remember, for example, that on the boards of all the corporate media companies sit the captains of finance, and that finance and mining in Australia are deeply interlocked.

"The directors of Australia’s four major banks are also directors of the major mining companies. Indeed, the major shareholders of Australia’s major banks are much the same companies: JP Morgan, National Nominees, Westpac Custodian Nominees, ANZ Nominees, City Group, Chase Manhattan, HKBA and HSBC. Finance, mining and media are well coordinated and act together on any threat.

"So when Julia appears with her ‘new’ package, watch out for the deal done over the mining tax."

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Ark Tribe trial: 'It's about standing up for your rights' By Leslie Richmond, Adelaide

Workers show solidarity with Ark Tribe outside the court on June 15. Photo by Gemma Weedall.

On June 15, around a 1500 people, representing nearly every union, gathered outside Adelaide Magistrate's court for the first day of a week of rallies supporting construction worker, Ark Tribe, in his battle to defend himself against the Australian Building and Construction Commission (ABCC).

Tribe has been charged with refusing to attend an interview with the ABCC after an "unauthorised" meeting at his site over safety issues. He faces a possible six months in gaol and up to $22 000 in fines. Under Rudd Labor's industrial relations regime – a seamless continuation of John Howard's policies – construction workers are not considered worthy of the same legal rights enjoyed by every other citizen.

Since its creation in 2005, at least 92 (and possibly over 150) workers have been dragged before secret ABCC interrogations at a cost of tens of millions of dollars. In that same period, workplace conditions have deteriorated and construction sector deaths have increased 95%, yet employers go about their business remarkably free from any ABCC attention.

The rally began with a minute's silence to commemorate workers killed on site.

The first speaker, SA Unions Secretary, Janet Giles, declared the attack on Ark Tribe an issue of civil liberties for the general community. She questioned why workers taking action over serious safety issues - issues acknowledged by state authorities and the employer themselves – should find themselves facing gaol.

"It's an outrage, and it's something that we've got to get rid of," she said.

Rally MC, CFMEU State Secretary, Martin O'Malley then told the crowd, "It's about standing up for your rights. And if you have to go to gaol to do it, that is what you have to do to keep your rights. If you don't fight, you lose. We know that story."

Dave Noonan, CFMEU Construction and General Division National Secretary condemned the process that saw an ordinary worker "dragged before the court like a common criminal for standing up for safety, for standing up for his mates, for standing up for his rights at work."

Referring to the Howard government's long campaign to crush unions, he said, "And we knew clearly where the Howard government stood on this issue ... on the side of Capital, on the side of big business against workers.

"Unfortunately," he continued, "on the other side of politics – on the Labor side – we have seen a failure of nerve on the issue of the ABCC."

He called for the government to abolish the ABCC, and finished with the declaration, "If he [Tribe] goes in, the construction industry goes out! All across Australia!"

The greatest reception, aside from Tribe and his family, was given to Paddy Hill (of the Birmingham Six) and Gerry Conlon (one of the Guildford Four). Hill and Conlon spent over thirty years, between them, imprisoned in Britain after gross miscarriages of justice under an oppressive legal system saw them wrongly convicted of bombings in the 1970s.

Hill's rousing speech neatly encapsulated the realities of the ABCC, and succinctly pointed the way forward.

"As you've heard, these laws are not only oppressive, not only are they wrong, but it goes to show how hypocritical the people in power really are in this country," he said.

"They're sending young Australians over to Afghanistan and Iraq under the pretence that they're bringing democracy and freedom to the people of Iraq and Afghanistan, and yet they're taking away the freedoms and rights of you, the Australian people. How hypocritical and two-faced is that?

"And if the people in power are not going to listen to us, then we want to let them know that there's a hell of a lot more of us than there is of them. And if they're not going to get rid of the laws, then the best thing for us to do is to get rid of them!

"We had the same problems in England twenty-odd years ago when they came out against the unions. And they started just like this. Picking off a small union and then bringing in laws. Taking them to court. Then they started on another union, and another union.

"Well, this is just the first step. And what they done over there, they're going to do it here"
And the only thing that is going to stop them is you the people!"

He concluded, "You'se haven't fought this far to get what you've got ... to sit back on your arses and give it back to them without a fight.

"If anything goes wrong with Ark Tribe, then let's bring Australia to a standstill!"

Before entering the court under an arch of union flags to the chant of "the workers united will never be defeated", Ark Tribe ended this first rally with his address:

"I'm here today to defend myself against one of the many unjust laws that have managed to seep into our wonderful society. The same type of oppressive laws that Australian heroes in the past - and to this day - have put their lives on the line to fight against so that we and others around the world can live in a free and democratic society.

"I would like to urge all true Australians to become aware of this disease that is seeping its way into our wonderful country, and do whatever they can to help repel it."

from Green Left Weekly

Fighting Talk: The New Propaganda by Robert Fisk

Journalism has become a linguistic battleground – and when reporters use terms such ‘spike in violence’ or ‘surge’ or ‘settler’, they are playing along with a pernicious game

Following the latest in semantics on the news? Journalism and the Israeli government are in love again. It's Islamic terror, Turkish terror, Hamas terror, Islamic Jihad terror, Hezbollah terror, activist terror, war on terror, Palestinian terror, Muslim terror, Iranian terror, Syrian terror, anti-Semitic terror...

But I am doing the Israelis an injustice. Their lexicon, and that of the White House - most of the time - and our reporters' lexicon, is the same. Yes, let's be fair to the Israelis. Their lexicon goes like this: Terror, terror, terror, terror, terror, terror, terror, terror, terror, terror, terror, terror, terror, terror, terror, terror, terror, terror, terror, terror.

How many times did I just use the word "terror"? Twenty. But it might as well be 60, or 100, or 1,000, or a million. We are in love with the word, seduced by it, fixated by it, attacked by it, assaulted by it, raped by it, committed to it. It is love and sadism and death in one double syllable, the prime time-theme song, the opening of every television symphony, the headline of every page, a punctuation mark in our journalism, a semicolon, a comma, our most powerful full stop. "Terror, terror, terror, terror". Each repetition justifies its predecessor.

Most of all, it's about the terror of power and the power of terror. Power and terror have become interchangeable. We journalists have let this happen. Our language has become not just a debased ally, but a full verbal partner in the language of governments and armies and generals and weapons. Remember the "bunker buster" and the "Scud buster" and the "target-rich environment" in the Gulf War (Part One)? Forget about "weapons of mass destruction". Too obviously silly. But "WMD" in the Gulf War (Part Two) had a power of its own, a secret code - genetic, perhaps, like DNA - for something that would reap terror, terror, terror, terror, terror. "45 Minutes to Terror".

Power and the media are not just about cozy relationships between journalists and political leaders, between editors and presidents. They are not just about the parasitic-osmotic relationship between supposedly honorable reporters and the nexus of power that runs between White House and State Department and Pentagon, between Downing Street and the Foreign Office and the Ministry of Defense, between America and Israel.

In the Western context, power and the media is about words - and the use of words. It is about semantics. It is about the employment of phrases and their origins. And it is about the misuse of history, and about our ignorance of history. More and more today, we journalists have become prisoners of the language of power. Is this because we no longer care about linguistics or semantics? Is this because laptops "correct" our spelling, "trim" our grammar so that our sentences so often turn out to be identical to those of our rulers? Is this why newspaper editorials today often sound like political speeches?

For two decades now, the US and British - and Israeli and Palestinian - leaderships have used the words "peace process" to define the hopeless, inadequate, dishonorable agreement that allowed the US and Israel to dominate whatever slivers of land would be given to an occupied people. I first queried this expression, and its provenance, at the time of Oslo - although how easily we forget that the secret surrenders at Oslo were themselves a conspiracy without any legal basis.

Poor old Oslo, I always think. What did Oslo ever do to deserve this? It was the White House agreement that sealed this preposterous and dubious treaty - in which refugees, borders, Israeli colonies, even timetables - were to be delayed until they could no longer be negotiated.

And how easily we forget the White House lawn - though, yes, we remember the images - upon which it was Clinton who quoted from the Koran, and Arafat who chose to say: "Thank you, thank you, thank you, Mr President." And what did we call this nonsense afterwards? Yes, it was "a moment of history"! Was it? Was it so?

Do you remember what Arafat called it? "The peace of the brave". But I don't remember any of us pointing out that "the peace of the brave" was used by General de Gaulle about the end of the Algerian war. The French lost the war in Algeria. We did not spot this extraordinary irony.

Same again today. We Western journalists - used yet again by our masters - have been reporting our jolly generals in Afghanistan, as saying their war can only be won with a "hearts and minds" campaign. No one asked them the obvious question: Wasn't this the very same phrase used about Vietnamese civilians in the Vietnam War? And didn't we - didn't the West - lose the war in Vietnam? Yet now we Western journalists are using - about Afghanistan - the phrase "hearts and minds" in our reports as if it is a new dictionary definition, rather than a symbol of defeat for the second time in four decades.

Just look at the individual words we have recently co-opted from the US military. When we Westerners find that "our" enemies - al-Qa'ida, for example, or the Taliban - have set off more bombs and staged more attacks than usual, we call it "a spike in violence".

Ah yes, a "spike"! A "spike" is a word first used in this context, according to my files, by a brigadier general in the Baghdad Green Zone in 2004. Yet now we use that phrase, we extemporize on it, we relay it on the air as our phrase, our journalistic invention. We are using, quite literally, an expression created for us by the Pentagon. A spike, of course, goes sharply up then sharply downwards. A "spike in violence" therefore avoids the ominous use of the words "increase in violence" - for an increase, of course, might not go down again afterwards.

Now again, when US generals refer to a sudden increase in their forces for an assault on Fallujah or central Baghdad or Kandahar - a mass movement of soldiers brought into Muslim countries by the tens of thousands - they call this a "surge". And a surge, like a tsunami, or any other natural phenomena, can be devastating in its effects. What these "surges" really are - to use the real words of serious journalism - are reinforcements. And reinforcements are sent to conflicts when armies are losing those wars. But our television and newspaper boys and girls are still talking about "surges" without any attribution at all. The Pentagon wins again.

Meanwhile the "peace process" collapsed. Therefore our leaders - or "key players" as we like to call them - tried to make it work again. The process had to be put "back on track". It was a train, you see. The carriages had come off the line. The Clinton administration first used this phrase, then the Israelis, then the BBC. But there was a problem when the "peace process" had repeatedly been put "back on track" - but still came off the line. So we produced a "road map" - run by a Quartet and led by our old Friend of God, Tony Blair, who - in an obscenity of history - we now refer to as a "peace envoy". But the "road map" isn't working. And now, I notice, the old "peace process" is back in our newspapers and on our television screens. And earlier this month, on CNN, one of those boring old fogies whom the TV boys and girls call "experts" told us again that the "peace process" was being put "back on track" because of the opening of "indirect talks" between Israelis and Palestinians. This isn't just about clichés - this is preposterous journalism. There is no battle between the media and power; through language, we, the media, have become them.

Here's another piece of media cowardice that makes my 63-year-old teeth grind together after 34 years of eating humus and tahina in the Middle East. We are told, in many analysis features, that what we have to deal with in the Middle East are "competing narratives". How very cozy. There's no justice, no injustice, just a couple of people who tell different history stories. "Competing narratives" now regularly pop up in the British press.

The phrase, from the false language of anthropology, deletes the possibility that one group of people - in the Middle East, for example - is occupied, while another is doing the occupying. Again, no justice, no injustice, no oppression or oppressing, just some friendly "competing narratives", a football match, if you like, a level playing field because the two sides are - are they not? - "in competition". And two sides have to be given equal time in every story.

So an "occupation" becomes a "dispute". Thus a "wall" becomes a "fence" or "security barrier". Thus Israeli acts of colonization of Arab land, contrary to all international law, become "settlements" or "outposts" or "Jewish neighborhoods". It was Colin Powell, in his starring, powerless appearance as Secretary of State to George W Bush, who told US diplomats to refer to occupied Palestinian land as "disputed land" - and that was good enough for most of the US media. There are no "competing narratives", of course, between the US military and the Taliban. When there are, you'll know the West has lost.

But I'll give you an example of how "competing narratives" come undone. In April, I gave a lecture in Toronto to mark the 95th anniversary of the 1915 Armenian genocide, the deliberate mass murder of 1.5 million Armenian Christians by the Ottoman Turkish army and militia. Before my talk, I was interviewed on Canadian Television, CTV, which also owns Toronto's Globe and Mail newspaper. And from the start, I could see that the interviewer had a problem. Canada has a large Armenian community. But Toronto also has a large Turkish community. And the Turks, as the Globe and Mail always tell us, "hotly dispute" that this was a genocide.

So the interviewer called the genocide "deadly massacres". Of course, I spotted her specific problem straight away. She couldn't call the massacres a "genocide", because the Turkish community would be outraged. But she sensed that "massacres" on its own - especially with the gruesome studio background photographs of dead Armenians - was not quite up to defining a million and a half murdered human beings. Hence the "deadly massacres". How odd! If there are "deadly" massacres, are there some massacres which are not "deadly", from which the victims walk away alive? It was a ludicrous tautology.

Yet the use of the language of power - of its beacon words and its beacon phrases - goes on among us still. How many times have I heard Western reporters talking about "foreign fighters" in Afghanistan? They are referring, of course, to the various Arab groups supposedly helping the Taliban. We heard the same story from Iraq. Saudis, Jordanians, Palestinian, Chechen fighters, of course. The generals called them "foreign fighters". Immediately, we Western reporters did the same. Calling them "foreign fighters" meant they were an invading force. But not once - ever - have I heard a mainstream Western television station refer to the fact that there are at least 150,000 "foreign fighters" in Afghanistan, and that all of them happen to be wearing American, British and other NATO uniforms. It is "we" who are the real "foreign fighters".

Similarly, the pernicious phrase "Af-Pak" - as racist as it is politically dishonest - is now used by reporters, although it was originally a creation of the US State Department on the day Richard Holbrooke was appointed special US representative to Afghanistan and Pakistan. But the phrase avoids the use of the word "India" - whose influence in Afghanistan and whose presence in Afghanistan, is a vital part of the story. Furthermore, "Af-Pak" - by deleting India - effectively deleted the whole Kashmir crisis from the conflict in south-east Asia. It thus deprived Pakistan of any say in US local policy on Kashmir - after all, Holbrooke was made the "Af-Pak" envoy, specifically forbidden from discussing Kashmir. Thus the phrase "Af-Pak", which completely avoids the tragedy of Kashmir - too many "competing narratives", perhaps? - means that when we journalists use the same phrase, "Af-Pak", which was surely created for us journalists, we are doing the State Department's work.

Now let's look at history. Our leaders love history. Most of all, they love the Second World War. In 2003, George W Bush thought he was Churchill. True, Bush had spent the Vietnam War protecting the skies of Texas from the Vietcong. But now, in 2003, he was standing up to the "appeasers" who did not want a war with Saddam who was, of course, "the Hitler of the Tigris". The appeasers were the British who didn't want to fight Nazi Germany in 1938. Blair, of course, also tried on Churchill's waistcoat and jacket for size. No "appeaser" he. America was Britain's oldest ally, he proclaimed - and both Bush and Blair reminded journalists that the US had stood shoulder-to-shoulder with Britain in her hour of need in 1940.

But none of this was true. Britain's oldest ally was not the United States. It was Portugal, a neutral fascist state during the Second World War, which flew its national flags at half-mast when Hitler died (even the Irish didn't do that).

Nor did America fight alongside Britain in her hour of need in 1940, when Hitler threatened invasion and the Luftwaffe blitzed London. No, in 1940 America was enjoying a very profitable period of neutrality, and did not join Britain in the war until Japan attacked the US naval base at Pearl Harbor in December 1941. Similarly, back in 1956, Eden called Nasser the "Mussolini of the Nile". A bad mistake. Nasser was loved by the Arabs, not hated as Mussolini was by the majority of Africans, especially the Arab Libyans. The Mussolini parallel was not challenged or questioned by the British press. And we all know what happened at Suez in 1956. When it comes to history, we journalists let the presidents and prime ministers take us for a ride.

Yet the most dangerous side of our new semantic war, our use of the words of power - though it is not a war, since we have largely surrendered - is that it isolates us from our viewers and readers. They are not stupid. They understand words in many cases - I fear - better than we do. History, too. They know that we are drawing our vocabulary from the language of generals and presidents, from the so-called elites, from the arrogance of the Brookings Institute experts, or those of those of the Rand Corporation. Thus we have become part of this language.

Over the past two weeks, as foreigners - humanitarians or "activist terrorists" - tried to take food and medicines by sea to the hungry Palestinians of Gaza, we journalists should have been reminding our viewers and listeners of a long-ago day when America and Britain went to the aid of a surrounded people, bringing food and fuel - our own servicemen dying as they did so - to help a starving population. That population had been surrounded by a fence erected by a brutal army which wished to starve the people into submission. The army was Russian. The city was Berlin. The wall was to come later. The people had been our enemies only three years earlier. Yet we flew the Berlin airlift to save them. Now look at Gaza today: which Western journalist - since we love historical parallels - has even mentioned 1948 Berlin in the context of Gaza?

Instead, what did we get? "Activists" who turned into "armed activists" the moment they opposed the Israeli army's boarding parties. How dare these men upset the lexicon? Their punishment was obvious. They became "terrorists". And the Israeli raids - in which "activists" were killed (another proof of their "terrorism") - then became "deadly" raids. In this case, "deadly" was more excusable than it had been on CTV - nine dead men of Turkish origin being slightly fewer than a million and a half murdered Armenians in 1915. But it was interesting that the Israelis - who for their own political reasons had hitherto shamefully gone along with the Turkish denial - now suddenly wanted to inform the world of the 1915 Armenian genocide. This provoked an understandable frisson among many of our colleagues. Journalists who have regularly ducked all mention of the 20th century's first Holocaust - unless they could also refer to the way in which the Turks "hotly dispute" the genocide label (ergo the Toronto Globe and Mail) - could suddenly refer to it. Israel's new-found historical interest made the subject legitimate, though almost all reports managed to avoid any explanation of what actually happened in 1915.

And what did the Israeli seaborne raid become? It became a "botched" raid. Botched is a lovely word. It began as a German-origin Middle English word, "bocchen", which meant to "repair badly". And we more or less kept to that definition until our journalistic lexicon advisers changed its meaning. Schoolchildren "botch" an exam. We could "botch" a piece of sewing, an attempt to repair a piece of material. We could even botch an attempt to persuade our boss to give us a raise. But now we "botch" a military operation. It wasn't a disaster. It wasn't a catastrophe. It just killed some Turks.

So, given the bad publicity, the Israelis just "botched" the raid. Weirdly, the last time reporters and governments utilized this particular word followed Israel's attempt to kill the Hamas leader, Khaled Meshaal, in the streets of Amman. In this case, Israel's professional assassins were caught after trying to poison Meshaal, and King Hussain forced the then Israeli prime minister (a certain B Netanyahu) to provide the antidote (and to let a lot of Hamas "terrorists" out of jail). Meshaal's life was saved.

But for Israel and its obedient Western journalists this became a "botched attempt" on Meshaal's life. Not because he wasn't meant to die, but because Israel failed to kill him. You can thus "botch" an operation by killing Turks - or you can "botch" an operation by not killing a Palestinian.

How do we break with the language of power? It is certainly killing us. That, I suspect, is one reason why readers have turned away from the "mainstream" press to the internet. Not because the net is free, but because readers know they have been lied to and conned; they know that what they watch and what they read in newspapers is an extension of what they hear from the Pentagon or the Israeli government, that our words have become synonymous with the language of a government-approved, careful middle ground, which obscures the truth as surely as it makes us political - and military - allies of all major Western governments.

Many of my colleagues on various Western newspapers would ultimately risk their jobs if they were constantly to challenge the false reality of news journalism, the nexus of media-government power. How many news organizations thought to run footage, at the time of the Gaza disaster, of the airlift to break the blockade of Berlin? Did the BBC?

The hell they did! We prefer "competing narratives". Politicians didn't want - I told the Doha meeting on 11 May - the Gaza voyage to reach its destination, "be its end successful, farcical or tragic". We believe in the "peace process", the "road map". Keep the "fence" around the Palestinians. Let the "key players" sort it out. And remember what this is all about: "Terror, terror, terror, terror, terror, terror."

Published on Monday, June 21, 2010 by the Independent/UK
 Robert Fisk is Middle East correspondent for The Independent newspaper. He is the author of many books on the region, including The Great War for Civilisation: The Conquest of the Middle East.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Gulf oil spill: A hole in the world by Naomi Kline

The Deepwater Horizon disaster is not just an industrial accident – it is a violent wound inflicted on the Earth itself. In this special report from the Gulf coast, a leading author and activist shows how it lays bare the hubris at the heart of capitalism

Everyone gathered for the town hall meeting had been repeatedly instructed to show civility to the gentlemen from BP and the federal government. These fine folks had made time in their busy schedules to come to a high school gymnasium on a Tuesday night in Plaquemines Parish, Louisiana, one of many coastal communities where brown poison was slithering through the marshes, part of what has come to be described as the largest environmental disaster in US history.

"Speak to others the way you would want to be spoken to," the chair of the meeting pleaded one last time before opening the floor for questions.

And for a while the crowd, mostly made up of fishing families, showed remarkable restraint. They listened patiently to Larry Thomas, a genial BP public relations flack, as he told them that he was committed to "doing better" to process their claims for lost revenue – then passed all the details off to a markedly less friendly subcontractor. They heard out the suit from the Environmental Protection Agency as he informed them that, contrary to what they have read about the lack of testing and the product being banned in Britain, the chemical dispersant being sprayed on the oil in massive quantities was really perfectly safe.

But patience started running out by the third time Ed Stanton, a coast guard captain, took to the podium to reassure them that "the coast guard intends to make sure that BP cleans it up".

"Put it in writing!" someone shouted out. By now the air conditioning had shut itself off and the coolers of Budweiser were running low. A shrimper named Matt O'Brien approached the mic. "We don't need to hear this anymore," he declared, hands on hips. It didn't matter what assurances they were offered because, he explained, "we just don't trust you guys!" And with that, such a loud cheer rose up from the floor you'd have thought the Oilers (the unfortunately named school football team) had scored a touchdown.

The showdown was cathartic, if nothing else. For weeks residents had been subjected to a barrage of pep talks and extravagant promises coming from Washington, Houston and London. Every time they turned on their TVs, there was the BP boss, Tony Hayward, offering his solemn word that he would "make it right". Or else it was President Barack Obama expressing his absolute confidence that his administration would "leave the Gulf coast in better shape than it was before", that he was "making sure" it "comes back even stronger than it was before this crisis".

It all sounded great. But for people whose livelihoods put them in intimate contact with the delicate chemistry of the wetlands, it also sounded completely ridiculous, painfully so. Once the oil coats the base of the marsh grass, as it had already done just a few miles from here, no miracle machine or chemical concoction could safely get it out. You can skim oil off the surface of open water, and you can rake it off a sandy beach, but an oiled marsh just sits there, slowly dying. The larvae of countless species for which the marsh is a spawning ground – shrimp, crab, oysters and fin fish – will be poisoned.

It was already happening. Earlier that day, I travelled through nearby marshes in a shallow water boat. Fish were jumping in waters encircled by white boom, the strips of thick cotton and mesh BP is using to soak up the oil. The circle of fouled material seemed to be tightening around the fish like a noose. Nearby, a red-winged blackbird perched atop a 2 metre (7ft) blade of oil-contaminated marsh grass. Death was creeping up the cane; the small bird may as well have been standing on a lit stick of dynamite.

And then there is the grass itself, or the Roseau cane, as the tall sharp blades are called. If oil seeps deeply enough into the marsh, it will not only kill the grass above ground but also the roots. Those roots are what hold the marsh together, keeping bright green land from collapsing into the Mississippi River delta and the Gulf of Mexico. So not only do places like Plaquemines Parish stand to lose their fisheries, but also much of the physical barrier that lessens the intensity of fierce storms like hurricane Katrina. Which could mean losing everything.

How long will it take for an ecosystem this ravaged to be "restored and made whole" as Obama's interior secretary has pledged to do? It's not at all clear that such a thing is remotely possible, at least not in a time frame we can easily wrap our heads around. The Alaskan fisheries have yet to fully recover from the 1989 Exxon Valdez spill and some species of fish never returned. Government scientists now estimate that as much as a Valdez-worth of oil may be entering the Gulf coastal waters every four days. An even worse prognosis emerges from the 1991 Gulf war spill, when an estimated 11m barrels of oil were dumped into the Persian Gulf – the largest spill ever. That oil entered the marshland and stayed there, burrowing deeper and deeper thanks to holes dug by crabs. It's not a perfect comparison, since so little clean-up was done, but according to a study conducted 12 years after the disaster, nearly 90% of the impacted muddy salt marshes and mangroves were still profoundly damaged.

We do know this. Far from being "made whole," the Gulf coast, more than likely, will be diminished. Its rich waters and crowded skies will be less alive than they are today. The physical space many communities occupy on the map will also shrink, thanks to erosion. And the coast's legendary culture will contract and wither. The fishing families up and down the coast do not just gather food, after all. They hold up an intricate network that includes family tradition, cuisine, music, art and endangered languages – much like the roots of grass holding up the land in the marsh. Without fishing, these unique cultures lose their root system, the very ground on which they stand. (BP, for its part, is well aware of the limits of recovery. The company's Gulf of Mexico regional oil spill response plan specifically instructs officials not to make "promises that property, ecology, or anything else will be restored to normal". Which is no doubt why its officials consistently favour folksy terms like "make it right".)

If Katrina pulled back the curtain on the reality of racism in America, the BP disaster pulls back the curtain on something far more hidden: how little control even the most ingenious among us have over the awesome, intricately interconnected natural forces with which we so casually meddle. BP cannot plug the hole in the Earth that it made. Obama cannot order fish species to survive, or brown pelicans not to go extinct (no matter whose ass he kicks). No amount of money – not BP's recently pledged $20bn (£13.5bn), not $100bn – can replace a culture that has lost its roots. And while our politicians and corporate leaders have yet to come to terms with these humbling truths, the people whose air, water and livelihoods have been contaminated are losing their illusions fast.

"Everything is dying," a woman said as the town hall meeting was finally coming to a close. "How can you honestly tell us that our Gulf is resilient and will bounce back? Because not one of you up here has a hint as to what is going to happen to our Gulf. You sit up here with a straight face and act like you know when you don't know."

This Gulf coast crisis is about many things – corruption, deregulation, the addiction to fossil fuels. But underneath it all, it's about this: our culture's excruciatingly dangerous claim to have such complete understanding and command over nature that we can radically manipulate and re-engineer it with minimal risk to the natural systems that sustain us. But as the BP disaster has revealed, nature is always more unpredictable than the most sophisticated mathematical and geological models imagine. During Thursday's congressional testimony, Hayward said: "The best minds and the deepest expertise are being brought to bear" on the crisis, and that, "with the possible exception of the space programme in the 1960s, it is difficult to imagine the gathering of a larger, more technically proficient team in one place in peacetime." And yet, in the face of what the geologist Jill Schneiderman has described as "Pandora's well", they are like the men at the front of that gymnasium: they act like they know, but they don't know.

BP's mission statement

In the arc of human history, the notion that nature is a machine for us to re-engineer at will is a relatively recent conceit. In her ground-breaking 1980 book The Death of Nature, the environmental historian Carolyn Merchant reminded readers that up until the 1600s, the Earth was alive, usually taking the form of a mother. Europeans – like indigenous people the world over – believed the planet to be a living organism, full of life-giving powers but also wrathful tempers. There were, for this reason, strong taboos against actions that would deform and desecrate "the mother", including mining.

The metaphor changed with the unlocking of some (but by no means all) of nature's mysteries during the scientific revolution of the 1600s. With nature now cast as a machine, devoid of mystery or divinity, its component parts could be dammed, extracted and remade with impunity. Nature still sometimes appeared as a woman, but one easily dominated and subdued. Sir Francis Bacon best encapsulated the new ethos when he wrote in the 1623 De dignitate et augmentis scientiarum that nature is to be "put in constraint, moulded, and made as it were new by art and the hand of man".

Those words may as well have been BP's corporate mission statement. Boldly inhabiting what the company called "the energy frontier", it dabbled in synthesising methane-producing microbes and announced that "a new area of investigation" would be geoengineering. And of course it bragged that, at its Tiber prospect in the Gulf of Mexico, it now had "the deepest well ever drilled by the oil and gas industry" – as deep under the ocean floor as jets fly overhead.

Imagining and preparing for what would happen if these experiments in altering the building blocks of life and geology went wrong occupied precious little space in the corporate imagination. As we have all discovered, after the Deepwater Horizon rig exploded on 20 April, the company had no systems in place to effectively respond to this scenario. Explaining why it did not have even the ultimately unsuccessful containment dome waiting to be activated on shore, a BP spokesman, Steve Rinehart, said: "I don't think anybody foresaw the circumstance that we're faced with now." Apparently, it "seemed inconceivable" that the blowout preventer would ever fail – so why prepare?

This refusal to contemplate failure clearly came straight from the top. A year ago, Hayward told a group of graduate students at Stanford University that he has a plaque on his desk that reads: "If you knew you could not fail, what would you try?" Far from being a benign inspirational slogan, this was actually an accurate description of how BP and its competitors behaved in the real world. In recent hearings on Capitol Hill, congressman Ed Markey of Massachusetts grilled representatives from the top oil and gas companies on the revealing ways in which they had allocated resources. Over three years, they had spent "$39bn to explore for new oil and gas. Yet, the average investment in research and development for safety, accident prevention and spill response was a paltry $20m a year."

These priorities go a long way towards explaining why the initial exploration plan that BP submitted to the federal government for the ill-fated Deepwater Horizon well reads like a Greek tragedy about human hubris. The phrase "little risk" appears five times. Even if there is a spill, BP confidently predicts that, thanks to "proven equipment and technology", adverse affects will be minimal. Presenting nature as a predictable and agreeable junior partner (or perhaps subcontractor), the report cheerfully explains that should a spill occur, "Currents and microbial degradation would remove the oil from the water column or dilute the constituents to background levels". The effects on fish, meanwhile, "would likely be sublethal" because of "the capability of adult fish and shellfish to avoid a spill [and] to metabolise hydrocarbons". (In BP's telling, rather than a dire threat, a spill emerges as an all-you-can-eat buffet for aquatic life.)

Best of all, should a major spill occur, there is, apparently, "little risk of contact or impact to the coastline" because of the company's projected speedy response (!) and "due to the distance [of the rig] to shore" – about 48 miles (77km). This is the most astonishing claim of all. In a gulf that often sees winds of more than 70km an hour, not to mention hurricanes, BP had so little respect for the ocean's capacity to ebb and flow, surge and heave, that it did not think oil could make a paltry 77km trip. (Last week, a shard of the exploded Deepwater Horizon showed up on a beach in Florida, 306km away.)

None of this sloppiness would have been possible, however, had BP not been making its predictions to a political class eager to believe that nature had indeed been mastered. Some, like Republican Lisa Murkowski, were more eager than others. The Alaskan senator was so awe-struck by the industry's four-dimensional seismic imaging that she proclaimed deep-sea drilling to have reached the very height of controlled artificiality. "It's better than Disneyland in terms of how you can take technologies and go after a resource that is thousands of years old and do so in an environmentally sound way," she told the Senate energy committee just seven months ago.

Drilling without thinking has of course been Republican party policy since May 2008. With gas prices soaring to unprecedented heights, that's when the conservative leader Newt Gingrich unveiled the slogan "Drill Here, Drill Now, Pay Less" – with an emphasis on the now. The wildly popular campaign was a cry against caution, against study, against measured action. In Gingrich's telling, drilling at home wherever the oil and gas might be – locked in Rocky Mountain shale, in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, and deep offshore – was a surefire way to lower the price at the pump, create jobs, and kick Arab ass all at once. In the face of this triple win, caring about the environment was for sissies: as senator Mitch McConnell put it, "in Alabama and Mississippi and Louisiana and Texas, they think oil rigs are pretty". By the time the infamous "Drill Baby Drill" Republican national convention rolled around, the party base was in such a frenzy for US-made fossil fuels, they would have bored under the convention floor if someone had brought a big enough drill.

Obama, eventually, gave in, as he invariably does. With cosmic bad timing, just three weeks before the Deepwater Horizon blew up, the president announced he would open up previously protected parts of the country to offshore drilling. The practice was not as risky as he had thought, he explained. "Oil rigs today generally don't cause spills. They are technologically very advanced." That wasn't enough for Sarah Palin, however, who sneered at the Obama administration's plans to conduct more studies before drilling in some areas. "My goodness, folks, these areas have been studied to death," she told the Southern Republican leadership conference in New Orleans, now just 11 days before the blowout. "Let's drill, baby, drill, not stall, baby, stall!" And there was much rejoicing.

In his congressional testimony, Hayward said: "We and the entire industry will learn from this terrible event." And one might well imagine that a catastrophe of this magnitude would indeed instil BP executives and the "Drill Now" crowd with a new sense of humility. There are, however, no signs that this is the case. The response to the disaster – at the corporate and governmental levels – has been rife with the precise brand of arrogance and overly sunny predictions that created the disaster in the first place.

The ocean is big, she can take it, we heard from Hayward in the early days. While spokesman John Curry insisted that hungry microbes would consume whatever oil was in the water system, because "nature has a way of helping the situation". But nature has not been playing along. The deep-sea gusher has bust out of all BP's top hats, containment domes, and junk shots. The ocean's winds and currents have made a mockery of the lightweight booms BP has laid out to absorb the oil. "We told them," said Byron Encalade, the president of the Louisiana Oysters Association. "The oil's gonna go over the booms or underneath the bottom." Indeed it did. The marine biologist Rick Steiner, who has been following the clean up closely, estimates that "70% or 80% of the booms are doing absolutely nothing at all".

And then there are the controversial chemical dispersants: more than 1.3m gallons dumped with the company's trademark "what could go wrong?" attitude. As the angry residents at the Plaquemines Parish town hall rightly point out, few tests had been conducted, and there is scant research about what this unprecedented amount of dispersed oil will do to marine life. Nor is there a way to clean up the toxic mixture of oil and chemicals below the surface. Yes, fast multiplying microbes do devour underwater oil – but in the process they also absorb the water's oxygen, creating a whole new threat to marine life.

BP had even dared to imagine that it could prevent unflattering images of oil-covered beaches and birds from escaping the disaster zone. When I was on the water with a TV crew, for instance, we were approached by another boat whose captain asked, ""Y'all work for BP?" When we said no, the response – in the open ocean – was "You can't be here then". But of course these heavy-handed tactics, like all the others, have failed. There is simply too much oil in too many places. "You cannot tell God's air where to flow and go, and you can't tell water where to flow and go," I was told by Debra Ramirez. It was a lesson she had learned from living in Mossville, Louisiana, surrounded by 14 emission-spewing petrochemical plants, and watching illness spread from neighbour to neighbour.

Human limitation has been the one constant of this catastrophe. After two months, we still have no idea how much oil is flowing, nor when it will stop. The company's claim that it will complete relief wells by the end of August – repeated by Obama in his Oval Office address – is seen by many scientists as a bluff. The procedure is risky and could fail, and there is a real possibility that the oil could continue to leak for years.

The flow of denial shows no sign of abating either. Louisiana politicians indignantly oppose Obama's temporary freeze on deepwater drilling, accusing him of killing the one big industry left standing now that fishing and tourism are in crisis. Palin mused on Facebook that "no human endeavour is ever without risk", while Texas Republican congressman John Culberson described the disaster as a "statistical anomaly". By far the most sociopathic reaction, however, comes from veteran Washington commentator Llewellyn King: rather than turning away from big engineering risks, we should pause in "wonder that we can build machines so remarkable that they can lift the lid off the underworld".

Make the bleeding stop

Thankfully, many are taking a very different lesson from the disaster, standing not in wonder at humanity's power to reshape nature, but at our powerlessness to cope with the fierce natural forces we unleash. There is something else too. It is the feeling that the hole at the bottom of the ocean is more than an engineering accident or a broken machine. It is a violent wound in a living organism; that it is part of us. And thanks to BP's live camera feed, we can all watch the Earth's guts gush forth, in real time, 24 hours a day.

John Wathen, a conservationist with the Waterkeeper Alliance, was one of the few independent observers to fly over the spill in the early days of the disaster. After filming the thick red streaks of oil that the coast guard politely refers to as "rainbow sheen", he observed what many had felt: "The Gulf seems to be bleeding." This imagery comes up again and again in conversations and interviews. Monique Harden, an environmental rights lawyer in New Orleans, refuses to call the disaster an "oil spill" and instead says, "we are haemorrhaging". Others speak of the need to "make the bleeding stop". And I was personally struck, flying over the stretch of ocean where the Deepwater Horizon sank with the US Coast Guard, that the swirling shapes the oil made in the ocean waves looked remarkably like cave drawings: a feathery lung gasping for air, eyes staring upwards, a prehistoric bird. Messages from the deep.

And this is surely the strangest twist in the Gulf coast saga: it seems to be waking us up to the reality that the Earth never was a machine. After 400 years of being declared dead, and in the middle of so much death, the Earth is coming alive.

The experience of following the oil's progress through the ecosystem is a kind of crash course in deep ecology. Every day we learn more about how what seems to be a terrible problem in one isolated part of the world actually radiates out in ways most of us could never have imagined. One day we learn that the oil could reach Cuba – then Europe. Next we hear that fishermen all the way up the Atlantic in Prince Edward Island, Canada, are worried because the Bluefin tuna they catch off their shores are born thousands of miles away in those oil-stained Gulf waters. And we learn, too, that for birds, the Gulf coast wetlands are the equivalent of a busy airport hub – everyone seems to have a stopover: 110 species of migratory songbirds and 75% of all migratory US waterfowl.

It's one thing to be told by an incomprehensible chaos theost that a butterfly flapping its wings in Brazil can set off a tornado in Texas. It's another to watch chaos theory unfold before your eyes. Carolyn Merchant puts the lesson like this: "The problem as BP has tragically and belatedly discovered is that nature as an active force cannot be so confined." Predictable outcomes are unusual within ecological systems, while "unpredictable, chaotic events [are] usual". And just in case we still didn't get it, a few days ago, a bolt of lightning struck a BP ship like an exclamation mark, forcing it to suspend its containment efforts. And don't even mention what a hurricane would do to BP's toxic soup.

There is, it must be stressed, something uniquely twisted about this particular path to enlightenment. They say that Americans learn where foreign countries are by bombing them. Now it seems we are all learning about nature's circulatory systems by poisoning them.

In the late 90s, an isolated indigenous group in Colombia captured world headlines with an almost Avatar-esque conflict. From their remote home in the Andean cloud forests, the U'wa let it be known that if Occidental Petroleum carried out plans to drill for oil on their territory, they would commit mass ritual suicide by jumping off a cliff. Their elders explained that oil is part of ruiria, "the blood of Mother Earth". They believe that all life, including their own, flows from ruiria, so pulling out the oil would bring on their destruction. (Oxy eventually withdrew from the region, saying there wasn't as much oil as it had previously thought.)

Virtually all indigenous cultures have myths about gods and spirits living in the natural world – in rocks, mountains, glaciers, forests – as did European culture before the scientific revolution. Katja Neves, an anthropologist at Concordia University, points out that the practice serves a practical purpose. Calling the Earth "sacred" is another way of expressing humility in the face of forces we do not fully comprehend. When something is sacred, it demands that we proceed with caution. Even awe.

If we are absorbing this lesson at long last, the implications could be profound. Public support for increased offshore drilling is dropping precipitously, down 22% from the peak of the "Drill Now" frenzy. The issue is not dead, however. It is only a matter of time before the Obama administration announces that, thanks to ingenious new technology and tough new regulations, it is now perfectly safe to drill in the deep sea, even in the Arctic, where an under-ice clean up would be infinitely more complex than the one underway in the Gulf. But perhaps this time we won't be so easily reassured, so quick to gamble with the few remaining protected havens.

Same goes for geoengineering. As climate change negotiations wear on, we should be ready to hear more from Dr Steven Koonin, Obama's undersecretary of energy for science. He is one of the leading proponents of the idea that climate change can be combated with techno tricks like releasing sulphate and aluminium particles into the atmosphere – and of course it's all perfectly safe, just like Disneyland! He also happens to be BP's former chief scientist, the man who just 15 months ago was still overseeing the technology behind BP's supposedly safe charge into deepwater drilling. Maybe this time we will opt not to let the good doctor experiment with the physics and chemistry of the Earth, and choose instead to reduce our consumption and shift to renewable energies that have the virtue that, when they fail, they fail small. As US comedian Bill Maher put it, "You know what happens when windmills collapse into the sea? A splash."

The most positive possible outcome of this disaster would be not only an acceleration of renewable energy sources like wind, but a full embrace of the precautionary principle in science. The mirror opposite of Hayward's "If you knew you could not fail" credo, the precautionary principle holds that "when an activity raises threats of harm to the environment or human health" we tread carefully, as if failure were possible, even likely. Perhaps we can even get Hayward a new desk plaque to contemplate as he signs compensation cheques. "You act like you know, but you don't know."

Published 20-6-10 in The Guardian

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Robert Fisk: German captains, U-boats and other lies about Ireland


By chance, I arrived in Dublin this week on the day that the Saville report on Bloody Sunday was published.

By a weird irony, I had long ago arranged to come to Ireland to be interviewed for a television documentary on the IRA in the early 1970s, when I was cutting my teeth as a reporter on my first big story. So in the morning, I was recalling the activities of Gerry Adams and Brendan Hughes and Martin McGuinness – whom I remember in Derry in 1972 as a cold, ruthless, rather frightening figure – and in the afternoon, I was wading into the Saville report. Eloquent though it is – and wonderful in its respect and declaration of innocence for the Catholic dead – I'm not sure it's quite the Word of God that it has been made out to be. The Irish papers oozed with admiration for Saville, but largely missed the expensive soap which Saville used to clean the reputation of both the Tory government of the time and the British Army hierarchy.

Thus the commanding officer of 1st Battalion, the Parachute Regiment, got blamed but all the generals received a splendid bill of health. No conspiracies. Nobody at the top wanted Bloody Sunday to happen. But what about General Robert Ford who shouted that day in Derry "Go on Paras, go"? What exactly did he mean? And if the senior officers at Lisburn were so innocent, how come they created – and they had to be the ones to do it – the cocktail of lies that were fed to the press? Reading Saville, I realised that his report shone like gold because the Widgery report was so dishonest. Anything looks good against Widgery. It's a bit like Lord Blair, when he used to tell us "we" were better than Saddam Hussein, was that really to be the baseplate for our morality? So with Saville.

Yet looking back on those terrible years, I am horrified at not just the gullibility of us reporters but at our sheer ignorance. Like most of my other young colleagues, I had a university education but no real knowledge of Ireland. There were few good books then on modern Irish history. And I fear that many of us – despite our liberal upbringing and our acknowledgement of Stormont's injustice to the Catholics – were under the subconscious influence of darker images; the old Punch cartoon, for example, of the drunken Irishman holding a cudgel with which he would without any reason murder the refined young Englishmen who kept invading his country

We knew that Ireland was neutral in the Second World War, and heard that Taoiseach de Valera had paid a visitor's condolence to the German legation on Hitler's death and an Irishman on the west coast had refuelled German U-boats. Ireland was indeed neutral and de Valera did his make his notorious condolence visit. But the U-boat story was a lie.

Years later, studying for a doctorate in politics at Trinity College, Dublin, I spent five months travelling down the Irish west coast to investigate the U-boat claims. I read all the Irish government's coastwatching reports from 1939 to 1942. I visited old men and women in remote villages from Donegal to Cork, some of them wartime coastwatchers. In the archive at Kew I'd found records of the Tamara, a Royal Navy tugboat disguised as a trawler that went vainly hunting for U-boats along the Irish west coast.

Lieutenant Commander W R Fell of the Tamara even went ashore on Sherkin Island in Co Cork where his vessel "was boarded by the most plausible scoundrels. They begged or stole anything in reach ... one old man reputed to be worth thousands had trousers patched with paper. All would commit any crime for a shilling". I eventually tracked down villagers from Sherkin who remembered the wartime pauper – his name was Louis Nolan and he was the harbourmaster's brother – but they said it was Nolan's shirt that was patched with newspaper, not his trousers. And there were no U-boats.

So thoroughly did I check out every possible lead that I came up with three U-boat stories, at least one of which is absolutely copper-bottomed. The first was a U-35 which sailed in to Dingle Bay on 4 October 1939 to put ashore the crew of a Greek ship called Diamantes which it had sunk 40 miles west of the Skelligs. Those were the days when U-boat crews tried to be honourable to their victims, who in this case were duly taken by the police to Michael Long, the Lloyd's agent in Dingle. Local rumour, however, suggested that the U-boat captain had bid his captive goodbye with the astonishing adieu: "Give my best wishes to Micky Long." Had he been one of the many German "tourists" travelling in Ireland before the war? When my thesis was later published as a book, I received a polite letter from the long-retired U-boat captain. He had never been to Ireland before the war, he told me. And he had never heard of Michael Long.

In Kerry, a man called Michael O'Sullivan said that as a boy he had been taken by an old man with a donkey and cart loaded with a pig, cabbages and potatoes to Brandon Creek where a U-boat crew collected their supplies. O'Sullivan said the crew had ribbons down the back of their hats – this was a normal part of German naval rating's uniform – and I thought this gave credibility to his memory. There was also a fisherman in Donegal who told me that a barnacle-encrusted U-boat once surfaced beside him and that the crew asked for fish – and paid for the catch in Irish currency! But Hugh Wren, official coastwatcher between Ballybunnion and Dingle between 1939 and 1944, remarked to me, "Most of the submarines had been seen in pubs."

Yet the stories grew after the war. Only a few years ago, The Independent's letters page was filled with readers discussing the refuelling of U-boats by Irishmen. I wearily ignored it all. But I understand how this happens. A plausible story turns into a true story, even if it's a lie. Which is what happened after Bloody Sunday, when the army's top brass decided to libel the dead. Maybe Saville has nailed their lies. But I have my doubts.

From The Independent Saturday, 19 June 2010

Thousands rally in solidarity with Ark Tribe By Peter Boyle, Sydney


Ark Tribe outside Adelaid Magistrate's Court. Photo by Tim Gooden. June 15, 2010 - Thousands rallied and marched around Australia in support of Ark Tribe, a construction worker possibly facing jail for simply failing to attend an interrogation by the construction industry police “Star Chamber” - the Australian Building and Construction Commission (ABCC).

Workers held an overnight vigil outside the ABCC offices in Melbourne, 500 rallied and marched in Sydney and up to 1,500 rallied outside the Adelaide Magistrate's court. Trade unionists from other parts of the country have gone to Adelaide to show their solidarity.

Inside the court, lawyers began their defence of Tribe. According to CFMEU National Secretary Dave Noonan, Tribe's lawyers “argued that the ABCC had not correctly begun the prosecution - because the person authorising the prosecution did not have the power to do so. As a result they said the charges should be thrown out.”

“Lawyers for the Commonwealth DPP contested the argument and the magistrate moved for an adjournment.”

Both sides are making written submissions on the matter, with the court reconvening on Friday June 18, 10am. It is expected that the magistrate will then make a determination on this particular issue.

Supporters are asked to be outside the Adelaide Magistrate's court at 9am on Friday.

If the arguments of Tribe's lawyers are upheld, the case will end. If not, it will continue with both sides making arguments on substantive issues.

Workers, members of the broader community and unionists, were out in force outside and inside the court in support of Ark and against the ABCC, which was introduced by the former Howard Liberal-National government but is still kept in place under Rudd Labor.

“If Ark goes in, construction workers across the country will go out', said Noonan in an email to supporters.

Green Left Weekly Wednesday, June 16, 2010

They reckon we've never had it so bad by Mark Steel

                                                                            Mark Steel

How long will this government keep their trick going, of announcing every few days: "Oh my goodness, the books are even worse than we thought. It turns out Alistair Darling left a whole year's VAT on a bus. But he didn't put it on the accounts thingy so never mind, we'll just have to make even more cuts I suppose"? The day before the budget George Osborne will make a statement that: "This morning I had a call from Blockbusters, and they informed me that Jack Straw neglected to pay the late return fee on Call of Duty, a game he took out for use on his Xbox. As a result the Treasury owes £4m more than was previously believed to be the case, which makes it a necessity that we sell off the Post Office."

They could keep it going for years, telling us before the 2013 Budget that they've just discovered Margaret Beckett was a junkie and secretly sold off the M4 as far as Bristol to pay for her habit, so now they'll have to scrap the fire service. Or they were told there was some money in a Co-op account, but when they went to draw it out to pay the army, the lady behind the counter said John Prescott had already taken it and spent it all on crisps.

Every commentator on almost every programme informs us every day that the deficit is so awful we have to make unprecedented cuts, so it wouldn't be surprising if the World Cup panellists said: "England's back four can't be expected to keep their shape while there's a record £1.7 trillion debt on their minds, Gary. If we don't take immediate measures to get that down they're bound to get caught out of position."

For example, a poll in this week's Sunday Times asked whether you agree or disagree that the government could save money by "eliminating unnecessary non-jobs in the public sector". As if anyone would say: "No – we must keep those unnecessary non-jobs. They're vital to us all." You might as well have the headline: "Public supports austerity measures. An overwhelming majority answered 'yes' to the question, 'Do you agree people who do nothing, I mean nothing, except smoke dope and torture mice out of boredom, should be funded by you personally by having to sell your child to a cockle-picking gang'?"

But the government is obviously concerned that when the actual cuts are announced, that consensus might crack. So at the moment they're still being vague about what they're planning, and carry on telling us they're going to scrap "waste". But if there was a genuine pile of waste that could save billions if it was scrapped, they could be more specific, couldn't they? And say: "We've found a whole office in the Department of Transport dedicated to memorising the scripts of Last of the Summer Wine. They're all on fifty grand a week as well. It was set up by Harold Wilson apparently, when he was going a bit funny, so that's a start."

They seem to realise that, when they announce which areas will be cut, it doesn't sound so convincing that we're all in it together. For example they've cancelled plans to extend free school dinners for children from poorer backgrounds, which affects everyone equally, I suppose, as without studying the figures, who can say whether Cameron and Osborne's family would qualify for that payment? One group that might just escape that category are the richest 1,000 people in Britain whose wealth, according to the Sunday Times Rich List, has increased by 30 per cent in the last year. That amounts to £77bn, or half the entire annual deficit.

So they could contribute perhaps. But more likely is the government's plan to get people to accept massive cuts in public services as unavoidable, then happily watch people squabble over if it should be someone else battered rather than them. Eventually it will turn out the books are so bad they have to make each service appear on a television show and plead to be saved by public vote, with a tense announcement at the end by Graham Norton that "only one of you will be here next week and that is... disability benefit. Sorry, social services, you've got to go now, but you've been a great contestant. Byeeee".

First published in The Independent on 16th June 2010

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Australian Alternate Radio Shows in July

 
Arundhati Roy

5 July Michael Klare - The Coming Conflict with China

With the decline in U.S. economic power, a similar decline in its political influence inevitably follows. In the military arena the U.S. reigns supreme. No country comes even close in matching its lethal firepower and massive Pentagon budgets. As its economic position weakens, Washington may be tempted to turn even more to its trump card-guns-in addressing international issues. China looms as the coming force to be reckoned with in the world. It is the number one exporter and is poised to pass Japan as the second largest economy. And within a few decades it will surpass the U.S. China, the ancient Middle Kingdom, had a bad couple of centuries with invasions, occupations, and civil wars but now it's back, big time. And Beijing watches patiently as Washington fritters away its wealth in endless wars and a global network of military bases.

Michael Klare is professor of Peace and Conflict Studies at Hampshire College. He is defense correspondent for the "Nation" magazine. He is the author of many books including " Resource Wars," "Blood and Oil" and "Rising Powers, Shrinking Planet."

12 July Joseph Stiglitz - Freefall: The Economic Crash

It's been the most severe economic crisis since the Great Depression. And it isn't over. Chronic long-term unemployment remains high. The state of many states, cities and towns is dire. Crippling budget cuts result in drastic reductions in services and hikes in such things as tuition fees. And on the housing front? The bubble that burst. More than ten million homeowners are underwater, that is, they owe more on their mortgages than their house is worth. Politicians glibly talk of those well paying jobs with benefits coming back. Who are they kidding? That's not going to happen. The manufacturing sector is eviscerated. What's left? Consumption. Consumer spending now accounts for 70% of the GDP. Meanwhile, while many citizens suffer, the war machine goes its merry way. The Pentagon budget is at record levels. The war on Iraq alone will cost $3 trillion.

Joseph Stiglitz, University Professor at Columbia, is the recipient of the Nobel Prize in economics. He was chair of the Council on Economic Advisors under Clinton. He also served as senior vice president and chief economist of the World Bank. His efforts to move the bank in a more progressive direction got him fired. He is the author of "Globalization and Its Discontents" and "The Roaring Nineties."

July 19 Arundhati Roy - India: Field Notes on Democracy

The ads on TV whisper "Incredible India." And then you see images of temples, colorful textiles, yogis, tigers, and the Taj. It's almost a cliche: India, with 1.2 billion people is the world's largest democracy. However democracy is more than just elections. When you examine the actual policies of the Indian state you find a country with acute inequalities. Alongside its IT billionaires, Bollywood and cricket stars and industrial magnates there are more hungry people in India than in all of sub-Saharan Africa. A juggernaut of injustices has sparked a wave of rebellions. In addition to long-standing resistance in Kashmir and the northeast region there are armed insurgencies in a large swath of the country. Predatory corporations are pushing people, largely indigenous, off their land to gain access to resources. It's all done in the name of progress and democracy.

Arundhati Roy is the celebrated author of "The God of Small Things" and winner of the prestigious Booker Prize. "The New York Times" calls her, "India's most impassioned critic of globalization and American influence." She is the recipient of the Lannan Award for Cultural Freedom. She's the author of many books including "The Chequebook & the Cruise Missile," a collection of interviews with David Barsamian, and "Field Notes on Democracy: Listening to Grasshoppers."

28 July Noam Chomsky - The Center Cannot Hold

About seven million households are facing possible foreclosure while Citigroup raked in almost $4.5 billion for the first quarter. Unemployment both short and long term are at levels not seen since the Great Depression. The U.S. has deep structural economic problems which cannot be masked over with upbeat reports on a so-called recovery. The line the center cannot hold is from William Butler Yeats' famous poem "The Second Coming." Yeats, who died in 1939, was Ireland's Nobel Prize-winner. He saw a world spinning out of control. Turning and turning in the widening gyre The falcon cannot hear the falconer; Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold; Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world, The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere The ceremony of innocence is drowned; The best lack all conviction, while the wors tAre full of passionate intensity.

Noam Chomsky is an internationally renowned MIT professor. He practically invented modern linguistics. In addition to his pioneering work in that field he has been a leading voice for peace and social justice for many decades. He is in huge demand as a speaker all over world. "The New Statesman" calls him, "The conscience of the American people." The "New York Times" says he's "a global phenomenon, perhaps the most widely read voice on foreign policy on the planet." Author of scores of books, his latest are "What We Say Goes" and "Hopes and Prospects."


Noam Chomsky
Sydney

2SER 107.3FM

2NBC 90.1FM

2RSR 89.9FM Radio Skid Row

2GLF 89.3FM - Community Action (Liverpool)

NSW - Regional

Bay FM 99.9 (Byron Bay)

2BBB 93.3FM & 107.3 (Bellingen)

2BLU 89.1FM (Katoomba)

2BOB 104.7FM (Taree)

2WAR 91.9FM (Coonamble)

2HOT 102.9 (Cobar)

2MCE 92.3 (Bathurst) 94.7FM (Orange)
2MNO 93.3FM Monaro FM (Monaro)

2NCR 92.9FM (Lismore)
2TLC 100.3FM (Yamba)

ACT

2XX 98.3FM (Canberra)

Melbourne

3CR 855AM

PBS 106.7FM

Victoria - Regional

3GCR (Gippsland FM) 104.7 (Latrobe Valley)

3MGB 96.9FM (Mallacoota)

3OCR (Otways FM) 104.7FM (Colac)

Brisbane
4RED 99.7FM
4ZZZ 102.1FM

Queensland - Regional

4NAG 91.3FM (Yepoon)

4RRR 101.7FM (Roma)

Adelaide

Radio Adelaide 101.5FM
South Australia - Regional

5BBB 98.1FM (Tanunda)
Northern Territory - Regional

8CCC 102.1FM (Alice Springs)

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Though George W. Bush paved the way for the catastrophe, it was Obama who gave BP the green light to drill By Tim Dickinson and Amy Goodman

An extensive new investigation into the Obama administration’s handling of the BP oil spill disaster reveals that it was government mismanagement, delays and absence of oversight that allowed the crisis to spiral out of control. In the article "The Spill, the Scandal, and the President," Rolling Stone’s Tim Dickinson writes, "Though George W. Bush paved the way for the catastrophe, it was Obama who gave BP the green light to drill." Dickinson explores how Interior Secretary Ken Salazar kept in place the oil industry-friendly environmental guidelines that Bush had implemented and ultimately let BP, an oil company with the worst safety record, to get away with murder.

JUAN GONZALEZ: New government estimates have found the BP oil spill may be spewing twice as much oill into the Gulf of Mexico as previously thought. On Thursday, the Flow Rate Technical Group released its new estimate of 25,000 to 30,000 barrels of oil a day based on information gathered last week, before BP installed a new capture device. Some scientists have warned that the flow rate sharply increased after BP cut the pipe, known as the riser, to install the new device last week. The current estimates from the government panel suggest that an amount equivalent to the Exxon Valdez disaster could be flowing into the Gulf of Mexico every eight to ten days. The new numbers were released shortly after a scientist on the Flow Rate Technical Group publicly warned that the oil may be spewing out at a rate of more than 100,000 barrels a day, a figure BP once called its worst-case scenario.

As public anger over BP continues to grow, President Obama was questioned on NBC’s The Today Show earlier this week about why he had not yet directly spoken to BP CEO Tony Hayward. This was his response when asked what he would do if Hayward was a part of his administration.

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: He wouldn’t be working for me, after any of those statements. First of all, we’re going to have to find out why this thing went in the first place. And the fact of the matter is, is that there’s going to be a thorough review, and I don’t want to prejudge it. But the initial reports indicate that there may be situations in which not only human error was involved, but you also saw some corner cutting in terms of safety, and that BP is a multibillion-dollar corporation. It’s talking about paying $10.5 billion in dividends just for this quarter. We are going to have to make sure that not only do they shut down the cap, we are not only going to have to make sure that any deep well drilling process that’s out there is, in fact, failsafe and oil companies know what they’re doing, but we also have to make sure that every single person who’s been affected by this is properly compensated and made whole.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, President Obama might now have some harsh words for BP, but an extensive new investigation into his administration’s handling of the disaster reveals it was government mismanagement, delays, and absence of oversight that allowed the crisis to spiral out of control. The article is called "The Spill, the Scandal, and the President." It’s published in the latest Rolling Stone.

Author Tim Dickinson is a political correspondent for Rolling Stone magazine. He writes, quote, "Though George W. Bush paved the way for the catastrophe, it was Obama who gave BP the green light to drill" and explores how Interior Secretary Ken Salazar kept in place the oil industry-friendly environmental guidelines that Bush had implemented and ultimately let BP, an oil company with the worst safety record, to get away with murder. Tim Dickinson joins us from San Francisco. What surprised you most about your investigation?

TIM DICKINSON: That’s a tough one. There’s a lot of doozies in here. I had written a fairly credulous piece about Ken Salazar when he came in, was appointed with his white hat and his bolo tie, and declared himself to be the new sheriff in town. And we had talked very specifically about his intent to clean up MMS. In fact, one of the first things that he did upon taking office was go to MMS and bust chops and say, "Listen, this behavior that’s been going on for all these years isn’t going to fly anymore." And Salazar assured me personally that this was not just about ethics reforms, this was, you know, deep, thorough-going reform.

I think the thing that was most surprising is that Ken Salazar, in the first year in office, put a record number—a record number of acres up for lease in the Gulf. So, while they were taking, you know, drilling out of view of national parks on land and scaling back the oil shale development, they were throttling up offshore oil drilling to record levels without doing the substantive reform that would have been required to make MMS something other than a candy store for the oil companies.

JUAN GONZALEZ: But, Tim Dickinson, as you also note, it should not have come as a surprise, because Salazar already had a record while in the Senate of backing greater exploration offshore. Can you talk about that?

TIM DICKINSON: Yeah, he had, back in 2006, opened up eight million acres of the Gulf through a bill that he sponsored, and he had pushed President Bush to make oil companies develop their existing leases more quickly. And someone described this to me that there’s sort of an onshore Ken and an offshore Ken Salazar, and he has a very sort of highly specific soft spot for offshore drilling. I can’t account for what that’s about exactly, except that, as a Westerner, I think he’s sort of more acutely aware of the damage that development can do to the landscape, and maybe this is a way he’s seen as to create create the problem someplace else other than in his beloved Western landscape.

AMY GOODMAN: Tim, start where you start, on May 27th. It’s like a month into the oil spill, and you have President Obama striding into the podium of the East Room. Take it from there and then trace back the responsibility.

TIM DICKINSON: Well, so, Obama stood up and said, you know, "We take—the buck stops with me," essentially, is what he said. He said that the reforms at MMS hadn’t been urgent enough and that he took responsibility for that. You know, and he said that, you know, "My biggest fault was sort of taking the oil companies at their word that they knew what they were doing and had a worst-case scenario plan." But as it turns out, that’s not just something that Obama should have been taking his word—the word of the oil companies for, but MMS in fact is responsible for reviewing the worst-case scenario cleanup plans of these oil companies.

And in BP’s case—BP talks about protecting walruses in the Gulf in their cleanup plan, and they have a cleanup plan that is supposed to be good for a spill of 250,000 barrels a day. That is to say, an Exxon Valdez every day. They claim the capacity to significantly address the cleanup from a spill of that size. And it’s just ridiculous. It’s laughable. And so, there was no oversight in terms of the cleanup end of this.

And then, you know, so Obama and Salazar take over. They go in eyes wide open, and they say, "OK, we know that there’s a problem here." And the ownership of this actually starts in sort of an admirable place. Even before Obama took office, he said, you know, "This is my great friend Ken Salazar, and he’s going to come in and make sure that Interior is much more than a service company for the special interests." And Ken Salazar puts on the white hat and says, "There’s a new sheriff in town," and goes about sort of trying to clean up an agency that had descended into rank criminality and, you know, oil—MMS staff partying with oil staff, oil company officials, and doing drugs with them. The corruption of this agency is really sort of hard to overstate.

But what Ken Salazar did, he has a chief of staff who’s a former attorney general with Colorado, and they sort of cleaned up the rank criminality bit, but the reform didn’t go any farther than that. So they left in place top managers who had risen through the ranks in this incredibly pro-development oil culture, such that on the day that Ken Salazar announced his reforms of MMS, in the Alaska office they served a cake that says "Drill, baby, drill" on it. And so, this is the root at MMS extends far beyond what was a criminal problem, and it goes to managers who only get promoted if they sort of suppress science and fast-track drilling. And so, that’s the culture of this place, and, you know, which is a longstanding problem, but they had promised to clean it up. And then, but instead of doing that, they started to just throttle up offshore drilling to unprecedented levels.

And, you know, to his credit, when Salazar came into office, he also threw out Bush’s plan to open up essentially every coastline in America to offshore drilling. And this was just sort of a last-minute wet dream for the oil companies, that was not a serious proposal, and no one expected that to stand. The Bushes put it in the federal register either at midnight or after midnight on the day that they left. So this was not anything more than a gesture on their part. And so, Salazar, to his credit, took that off the table, but a year later came back with his own plan, which essentially split the baby and seemed to split the baby along political lines, so that red states were exposed to new drilling and blue states, including the Pacific coast, were not, and the Atlantic coast north of New Jersey.

And so, he and President Obama appear at an Air Force base in front of an F-18 fighter jet and a giant American flag in this sort of stage craft that had all the trappings of the "mission accomplished" photo-op. And they said, "You know, we’ve looked at this for a year. This is a hard decision. We’ve looked at it for a year. We’re ready to roll here." And Salazar said, you know, "Our forms are working. We have an agency that’s capable of handling this." And, you know, then a couple days later, President Obama, unbidden, says, you know, oil rigs are safe. And so they took ownership of this completely, right before the disaster, without having implemented any of the substantive reforms that they should have, but the Bush environmental reviews were structured so that you would have a detailed environmental assessment of the region, an environmental assessment of the individual leasing blocks, and then for each drilling project they would get a categorical waiver, just a get-out-of-environmental-review-free card. And so, the BP drilling site had gone and so, each drilling permit was based on these three levels, and so he said, "Well, we did the review at the top, and then we did the secondary review. And the tertiary review, we don’t have to do, because we did the other two reviews." But the other two reviews were crap. They didn’t account for the possibility. They called a blowout a low-probability, low-risk event, which is I could understand the low-probability part, but the low-risk is just absurd.

JUAN GONZALEZ: You’ve reported about BP’s accident problems in other parts of the world, as well, and its safety record. Could you talk about that?

TIM DICKINSON: Right, and first, to your point about the increasing number of accidents, the NOAA, in fact, in their review of the Obama "Bush Lite" plan to open up offshore drilling, made note of the fact that the Obama administration was using pre-Hurricane Katrina and Rita data, so that they were, you know, significantly understating the number of spills in assessing the risk and that they were also underplaying the global risk of an oil spill.

But to your point about BP, I mean, BP, it just has to be noted as a serial felon. I mean, they had a felony conviction in, I think, '99 about the essentially dumping of oil or oil byproduct in Alaska into the open environment, and then another felony conviction following the 2005 disaster, in which an oil refinery, where they had cut costs and scaled back required safety equipment, blew up and killed fifteen people and injured 170 more. And so, you know, BP was in charge of the consortium that was supposed to respond to the Exxon Valdez in 1990, and that response was hampered in the early hours because they didn't have the right equipment available. And Exxon fairly quickly realized that BP was not a good partner and shoved them aside. And then BP was also responsible for what was the second-largest leak after Exxon Valdez, just recently up in Prudhoe Bay, where there was a pipeline that was corroded because they hadn’t done required maintenance, again in a cost-cutting move. And so, BP has this incredibly criminal history of cutting corners, you know, for the sake of adding to the bottom line, and it has repeatedly risked worker safety and worker lives, and in fact, you know, ended up in people dying, again now, repeatedly, and also just massive, massive harm to the nation’s environment and our public welfare. And the fact that this serial felon is still, you know, essentially in charge of trying to cap this leak is astounding to me. I don’t understand—I just don’t understand it.

AMY GOODMAN: Tim Dickinson, you point out that this particular well in the Gulf that exploded is one of the richest in the Gulf of Mexico. Talk more about that.

TIM DICKINSON: Well, so I was talking to someone who’s privy to discussions at some of the—one of the largest oil firms in the world, and he was just sort of saying, well, how many wells in the Gulf are as productive as this spill, this output of this current well appears to be? And it’s just a handful. And so, it seems clear that BP, you know, struck it rich here, except that they totally botched it. And now we’ve got a dirty bomb that’s going off every day in the Gulf, and we don’t really have any sure-fire hope of getting it sealed up until August, September, October. No one seems to be able to answer exactly what the probability of getting these relief wells drilled and sealed off appropriately, as it seems likely that it’s going to happen eventually, but no one seems to have a very high level of confidence it’s going to happen on the first try or the second try or the fourth try. I think when they tried to do this in the East Timor Sea, it took ten tries, and that was in shallow water. So this is a problem that’s not going away anytime soon.

Amy Goodman is the host of the nationally syndicated radio news program, Democracy Now!.

Tim Dickinson is a contributing editor for Rolling Stone and also writes its political blog.