Monday, June 30, 2008

Reason One: Why The MP3 owns Vinyl

So glad the moving is over.... so dreading putting my records back in order - its been over 10 years since they have been so out of order.... dreading it and so looking forward to finding slabs of wax I had forgot I had.

New Shelves for records too

toot toot!

Now imagine some hard drives in this space

Friday, June 27, 2008

Humanity's Meltdown

Living on the Ice Shelf
Humanity's Meltdown
By Mike Davis

1. Farewell to the Holocene

Our world, our old world that we have inhabited for the last 12,000 years, has ended, even if no newspaper in North America or Europe has yet printed its scientific obituary.
This February, while cranes were hoisting cladding to the 141st floor of the Burj Dubai tower (which will soon be twice the height of the Empire State Building), the Stratigraphy Commission of the Geological Society of London was adding the newest and highest story to the geological column.

The London Society is the world's oldest association of Earth scientists, founded in 1807, and its Commission acts as a college of cardinals in the adjudication of the geological time-scale. Stratigraphers slice up Earth's history as preserved in sedimentary strata into hierarchies of eons, eras, periods, and epochs marked by the "golden spikes" of mass extinctions, speciation events, and abrupt changes in atmospheric chemistry.

In geology, as in biology or history, periodization is a complex, controversial art and the most bitter feud in nineteenth-century British science -- still known as the "Great Devonian Controversy" -- was fought over competing interpretations of homely Welsh Graywackes and English Old Red Sandstone. More recently, geologists have feuded over how to stratigraphically demarcate ice age oscillations over the last 2.8 million years. Some have never accepted that the most recent inter-glacial warm interval -- the Holocene -- should be distinguished as an "epoch" in its own right just because it encompasses the history of civilization.

As a result, contemporary stratigraphers have set extraordinarily rigorous standards for the beatification of any new geological divisions. Although the idea of the "Anthropocene" -- an Earth epoch defined by the emergence of urban-industrial society as a geological force -- has been long debated, stratigraphers have refused to acknowledge compelling evidence for its advent.
At least for the London Society, that position has now been revised.

To the question "Are we now living in the Anthropocene?" the 21 members of the Commission unanimously answer "yes." They adduce robust evidence that the Holocene epoch -- the interglacial span of unusually stable climate that has allowed the rapid evolution of agriculture and urban civilization -- has ended and that the Earth has entered "a stratigraphic interval without close parallel in the last several million years." In addition to the buildup of greenhouse gases, the stratigraphers cite human landscape transformation which "now exceeds [annual] natural sediment production by an order of magnitude," the ominous acidification of the oceans, and the relentless destruction of biota.

This new age, they explain, is defined both by the heating trend (whose closest analogue may be the catastrophe known as the Paleocene Eocene Thermal Maximum, 56 million years ago) and by the radical instability expected of future environments. In somber prose, they warn that "the combination of extinctions, global species migrations and the widespread replacement of natural vegetation with agricultural monocultures is producing a distinctive contemporary biostratigraphic signal. These effects are permanent, as future evolution will take place from surviving (and frequently anthropogenically relocated) stocks." Evolution itself, in other words, has been forced into a new trajectory.

2. Spontaneous Decarbonization?

The Commission's coronation of the Anthropocene coincides with growing scientific controversy over the 4th Assessment Report issued last year by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). The IPCC is mandated to establish scientific baselines for international efforts to mitigate global warming, but some of the most prominent researchers in the field are now challenging its reference scenarios as overly optimistic, even pie-in-the-sky thinking.

The current scenarios were adopted by the IPCC in 2000 to model future global emissions based on different "storylines" about population growth as well as technological and economic development. Some of the Panel's major scenarios are well known to policymakers and greenhouse activists, but few outside the research community have actually read or understood the fine print, particularly the IPCC's confidence that greater energy efficiency will be an "automatic" byproduct of future economic development. Indeed all the scenarios, even the "business as usual" variants, assume that at least 60% of future carbon reduction will occur independently of greenhouse mitigation measures.

The Panel, in effect, has bet the ranch, or rather the planet, on unplanned, market-driven progress toward a post-carbon world economy, a transition that implicitly requires wealth generated from higher energy prices ultimately finding its way to new technologies and renewable energy. (The International Energy Agency recently estimated that it would cost $45 trillion to halve greenhouse gas emissions by 2050.) Kyoto-type accords and carbon markets are designed -- almost as an analogue to Keynesian "pump-priming" -- to bridge the shortfall between spontaneous decarbonization and the emissions targets required by each scenario. Serendipitously, this reduces the costs of mitigating global warming to levels that align with what seems, at least theoretically, to be politically possible, as expounded in the British Stern Review on the Economics of Climate Change of 2006 and other such reports.

Critics argue, however, that this represents a heroic leap of faith that radically understates the economic costs, technological hurdles, and social changes required to tame the growth of greenhouse gases. European carbon emissions, for example, are still rising (dramatically in some sectors) despite the European Union's much praised adoption of a cap-and-trade system in 2005. Likewise there has been little evidence in recent years of the automatic progress in energy efficiency that is the sine qua non of the IPCC scenarios. Although The Economist characteristically begs to differ, most energy researchers believe that, since 2000, energy intensity has actually risen; that is, global carbon dioxide emissions have kept pace with, or even grown marginally faster than, energy use.

Coal production, especially, is undergoing a dramatic renaissance, as the nineteenth century has returned to haunt the twenty-first century. Hundreds of thousands of miners are now working under conditions that would have appalled Charles Dickens, extracting the dirty mineral that allows China to open two new coal-fueled power stations every week. Meanwhile, the total consumption of fossil fuels is predicted to increase at least 55% over the next generation, with international oil exports doubling in volume.

The United Nations Development Program, which has made its own study of sustainable energy goals, warns that it will require "a 50 percent cut in greenhouse gas emissions worldwide by 2050 against 1990 levels" to keep humanity outside the red zone of runaway warming (usually defined as a greater than two degrees centigrade increase this century). Yet the International Energy Agency predicts that, in all likelihood, such emissions will actually increase in this period by nearly 100% -- enough greenhouse gas to propel us past several critical tipping points.
Even while higher energy prices are pushing SUVs towards extinction and attracting more venture capital to renewable energy, they are also opening the Pandora's box of the crudest of crude oil production from Canadian tar sands and Venezuelan heavy oil. As one British scientist has warned, the very last thing we should wish for (under the false slogan of "energy independence") is new frontiers in hydrocarbon production that advance "humankind's ability to accelerate global warming" and slow the urgent transition to "non-carbon or closed-carbon energy cycles."

3. Fin-du-Monde Boom

What confidence should we place in the capacity of markets to reallocate investment from old to new energy or, say, from arms expenditures to sustainable agriculture? We are propagandized incessantly (especially on public television) about how giant companies like Chevron, Pfizer Inc., and Archer Daniels Midland are hard at work saving the planet by plowing profits back into the kinds of research and exploration that will ensure low-carbon fuels, new vaccines, and more drought-resistant crops.

As the current ethanol-from-corn boom, which has diverted 100 million tons of grain from human diets mainly to American car engines, so appallingly demonstrates, "biofuel" may be a euphemism for subsidies to the rich and starvation for the poor. Likewise "clean coal," despite a vigorous endorsement from Senator Barack Obama (who also champions ethanol), is, at present, simply a huge deception: a $40 million advertising and lobbying campaign for a hypothetical technology that BusinessWeek has characterized as "being decades away from commercial viability."

Moreover there are disturbing signs that energy companies and utilities are reneging on their public commitments to the development of carbon-capture and alternative energy technologies. The Bush administration's "marquee demonstration project," FutureGen, was scrapped this year after the coal industry refused to pay its share of the public-private "partnership"; similarly, most U.S. private-sector carbon-sequestration initiatives have recently been cancelled. In the United Kingdom, meanwhile, Shell has just pulled out of the world's largest wind-energy project, the London Array. Despite heroic levels of advertising, energy corporations, like pharmaceutical companies, prefer to overgraze the commons, while letting taxes, not profits, pay for whatever urgent, long-overdue research is actually undertaken.
On the other hand, the spoils from high energy prices continue to gush into real estate, skyscrapers, and financial assets. Whether or not we are actually at the summit of Hubbert's Peak -- that peak oil moment -- whether or not the oil-price bubble finally bursts, what we are probably witnessing is the largest transfer of wealth in modern history.

An eminent Wall Street oracle, McKinsey Global Institute, predicts that if crude oil prices remain above $100 per barrel -- they are, at the moment, approaching $140 a barrel -- the six countries of the Gulf Cooperation Council alone will "reap a cumulative windfall of almost $9 trillion by 2020." As in the 1970s, Saudi Arabia and its Gulf neighbors, whose total gross domestic product has almost doubled in just three years, are awash in liquidity: $2.4 trillion in banks and investment funds according to a recent estimate by The Economist. Regardless of price trends, the International Energy Agency predicts, "more and more oil will come from fewer and fewer countries, primarily the Middle East members of OPEC [The Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries]."

Dubai, which has little oil income of its own, has become the regional financial hub for this vast pool of wealth, with ambitions to eventually compete with Wall Street and the City of London. During the first oil shock in the 1970s, much of OPEC's surplus was recycled through military purchases in the United States and Europe, or parked in foreign banks to become the "subprime" loans that eventually devastated Latin America. In the wake of the attacks of 9/11, the Gulf states became far more cautious about entrusting their wealth to countries, like the United States, governed by religious fanatics. This time around, they are using "sovereign wealth funds" to achieve a more active ownership in foreign financial institutions, while investing fabulous amounts of oil revenue to transform Arabia's sands into hyperbolic cities, shopping paradises, and private islands for British rock stars and Russian gangsters.

Two years ago, when oil prices were less than half of the current level, The Financial Times estimated that planned new construction in Saudi Arabia and the emirates already exceeded $1 trillion dollars. Today, it may be closer to $1.5 trillion, considerably more than the total value of world trade in agricultural products. Most of the Gulf city-states are building hallucinatory skylines -- and, among them, Dubai is the unquestionable superstar. In a little more than a decade, it has erected 500 skyscrapers, and currently leases one-quarter of all the high-rise cranes in the world.

This super-charged Gulf boom, which celebrity architect Rem Koolhaas claims is "reconfiguring the world," has led Dubai developers to proclaim the advent of a "supreme lifestyle" represented by seven-star hotels, private islands, and J-class yachts. Not surprisingly, then, the United Arab Emirates and its neighbors have the biggest per capita ecological footprints on the planet. Meanwhile, the rightful owners of Arab oil wealth, the masses crammed into the angry tenements of Baghdad, Cairo, Amman, and Khartoum, have little more to show for it than a trickle-down of oil-field jobs and Saudi-subsidized madrassas. While guests enjoy the $5,000 per night rooms in Burj Al-Arab, Dubai's celebrated sail-shaped hotel, working-class Cairenes riot in the streets over the unaffordable price of bread.

4. Can Markets Enfranchise the Poor?

Emissions optimists, of course, will smile at all the gloom-and-doom and evoke the coming miracle of carbon trading. What they discount is the real possibility that a sprawling carbon-offset market may emerge, just as predicted, yet produce only minimal improvement in the global carbon balance sheet, as long as there is no mechanism for enforcing real net reductions in fossil fuel use.

In popular discussions of emissions-rights trading systems, it is common to mistake the smokestacks for the trees. For example, the wealthy oil enclave of Abu Dhabi (like Dubai, a partner in the United Arab Emirates) brags that it has planted more than 130 million trees -- each of which does its duty in absorbing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. However, this artificial forest in the desert also consumes huge quantities of irrigation water produced, or recycled, from expensive desalination plants. The trees may allow Sheik Ahmed bin Zayed to wear a halo at international meetings, but the rude fact is that they are an energy-intensive beauty strip, like most of so-called green capitalism.

And, while we're at it, let's just ask: What if the buying and selling of carbon credits and pollution offsets fails to turn down the thermostat? What exactly will motivate governments and global industries then to join hands in a crusade to reduce emissions through regulation and taxation?
Kyoto-type climate diplomacy assumes that all the major actors, once they have accepted the science in the IPCC reports, will recognize an overriding common interest in gaining control over the runaway greenhouse effect. But global warming is not War of the Worlds, where invading Martians are dedicated to annihilating all of humanity without distinction. Climate change, instead, will initially produce dramatically unequal impacts across regions and social classes. It will reinforce, not diminish, geopolitical inequality and conflict.

As the United Nations Development Program emphasized in its report last year, global warming is above all a threat to the poor and the unborn, the "two constituencies with little or no political voice." Coordinated global action on their behalf thus presupposes either their revolutionary empowerment (a scenario not considered by the IPCC) or the transmutation of the self-interest of rich countries and classes into an enlightened "solidarity" without precedent in history. From a rational-actor perspective, the latter outcome only seems realistic if it can be shown that privileged groups possess no preferential "exit" option, that internationalist public opinion drives policymaking in key countries, and that greenhouse gas mitigation could be achieved without major sacrifices in upscale Northern Hemispheric standards of living -- none of which seems highly likely.

And what if growing environmental and social turbulence, instead of galvanizing heroic innovation and international cooperation, simply drive elite publics into even more frenzied attempts to wall themselves off from the rest of humanity? Global mitigation, in this unexplored but not improbable scenario, would be tacitly abandoned (as, to some extent, it already has been) in favor of accelerated investment in selective adaptation for Earth's first-class passengers. We're talking here of the prospect of creating green and gated oases of permanent affluence on an otherwise stricken planet.

Of course, there will still be treaties, carbon credits, famine relief, humanitarian acrobatics, and perhaps the full-scale conversion of some European cities and small countries to alternative energy. But the shift to low, or zero, emission lifestyles would be almost unimaginably expensive. (In Britain, it currently costs $200,000 more to build a zero-carbon, "level 6" eco-home than a standard unit of the same area.) And this will certainly become even more unimaginable after perhaps 2030, when the convergent impacts of climate change, peak oil, peak water, and an additional 1.5 billion people on the planet may begin to seriously throttle growth.

5. The North's Ecological Debt

The real question is this: Will rich counties ever mobilize the political will and economic resources to actually achieve IPCC targets or, for that matter, to help poorer countries adapt to the inevitable, already "committed" quotient of warming now working its way toward us through the slow circulation of the world ocean?

To be more vivid: Will the electorates of the wealthy nations shed their current bigotry and walled borders to admit refugees from predicted epicenters of drought and desertification like the Maghreb, Mexico, Ethiopia, and Pakistan? Will Americans, the most miserly people when measured by per capita foreign aid, be willing to tax themselves to help relocate the millions likely to be flooded out of densely settled, mega-delta regions like Bangladesh?

Market-oriented optimists, once again, will point to carbon offset programs like the Clean Development Mechanism which, they claim, will allow green capital to flow to the Third World. Most of the Third World, however, probably prefers for the First World to acknowledge the environmental mess it has created and take responsibility for cleaning it up. They rightly rail against the notion that the greatest burden of adjustment to the Anthropocene epoch should fall on those who have contributed least to carbon emissions and drawn the slightest benefits from 200 years of industrialization.

In a sobering study recently published in the Proceedings of the [U.S.] National Academy of Science, a research team has attempted to calculate the environmental costs of economic globalization since 1961 as expressed in deforestation, climate change, over-fishing, ozone depletion, mangrove conversion, and agricultural expansion. After making adjustments for relative cost burdens, they found that the richest countries, by their activities, had generated 42% of environmental degradation across the world, while shouldering only 3% of the resulting costs.

The radicals of the South will rightly point to another debt as well. For 30 years, cities in the developing world have grown at breakneck speed without any equivalent public investment in infrastructure services, housing, or public health. In large part this has been the result of foreign debts contracted by dictators, payments enforced by the International Monetary Fund, and public sectors wrecked by the World Bank's "structural adjustment" agreements.

This planetary deficit of opportunity and social justice is captured in the fact that more than one billion people, according to UN-Habitat, currently live in slums and that their number is expected to double by 2030. An equal number, or more, forage in the so-called informal sector (a first-world euphemism for mass unemployment). Sheer demographic momentum, meanwhile, will increase the world's urban population by 3 billion people over the next 40 years (90% of them in poor cities), and no one -- absolutely no one -- has a clue how a planet of slums, with growing food and energy crises, will accommodate their biological survival, much less their inevitable aspirations to basic happiness and dignity.

If this seems unduly apocalyptic, consider that most climate models project impacts that will uncannily reinforce the present geography of inequality. One of the pioneer analysts of the economics of global warming, Petersen Institute fellow William R. Cline, recently published a country-by-country study of the likely effects of climate change on agriculture by the later decades of this century. Even in the most optimistic simulations, the agricultural systems of Pakistan (a 20% decrease from current farm output predicted) and Northwestern India (a 30% decrease) are likely to be devastated, along with much of the Middle East, the Maghreb, the Sahel belt, Southern Africa, the Caribbean, and Mexico. Twenty-nine developing countries will lose 20% or more of their current farm output to global warming, while agriculture in the already rich north is likely to receive, on average, an 8% boost.

In light of such studies, the current ruthless competition between energy and food markets, amplified by international speculation in commodities and agricultural land, is only a modest portent of the chaos that could soon grow exponentially from the convergence of resource depletion, intractable inequality, and climate change. The real danger is that human solidarity itself, like a West Antarctic ice shelf, will suddenly fracture and shatter into a thousand shards.

Mike Davis is the author of In Praise of Barbarians: Essays against Empire (Haymarket Books, 2008) and Buda's Wagon: A Brief History of the Car Bomb (Verso, 2007). He is currently working on a book about cities, poverty, and global change.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

We're Toast

WASHINGTON -- Exactly 20 years after warning America about global warming, a top NASA scientist said the situation has gotten so bad that the world's only hope is drastic action.

James Hansen told Congress on Monday that the world has long passed the "dangerous level" for greenhouse gases in the atmosphere and needs to get back to 1988 levels. He said Earth's atmosphere can only stay this loaded with man-made carbon dioxide for a couple more decades without changes such as mass extinction, ecosystem collapse and dramatic sea level rises.

"We're toast if we don't get on a very different path," Hansen, director of the Goddard Institute of Space Sciences who is sometimes called the godfather of global warming science, told The Associated Press. "This is the last chance."

Hansen brought global warming home to the public in June 1988 during a Washington heat wave, telling a Senate hearing that global warming was already here. To mark the anniversary, he testified before the House Select Committee on Energy Independence and Global Warming where he was called a prophet, and addressed a luncheon at the National Press Club where he was called a hero by former Sen. Tim Wirth, D-Colo., who headed the 1988 hearing.
To cut emissions, Hansen said coal-fired power plants that don't capture carbon dioxide emissions shouldn't be used in the United States after 2025, and should be eliminated in the rest of the world by 2030. That carbon capture technology is still being developed and not yet cost efficient for power plants.

Burning fossil fuels like coal is the chief cause of man-made greenhouse gases. Hansen said the Earth's atmosphere has got to get back to a level of 350 parts of carbon dioxide per million. Last month, it was 10 percent higher: 386.7 parts per million.

Hansen said he'll testify on behalf of British protesters against new coal-fired power plants. Protesters have chained themselves to gates and equipment at sites of several proposed coal plants in England.

"The thing that I think is most important is to block coal-fired power plants," Hansen told the luncheon. "I'm not yet at the point of chaining myself but we somehow have to draw attention to this."

Frank Maisano, a spokesman for many U.S. utilities, including those trying to build new coal plants, said while Hansen has shown foresight as a scientist, his "stop them all approach is very simplistic" and shows that he is beyond his level of expertise.

The year of Hansen's original testimony was the world's hottest year on record. Since then, 14 years have been hotter, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
Two decades later, Hansen spent his time on the question of whether it's too late to do anything about it. His answer: There's still time to stop the worst, but not much time.

"We see a tipping point occurring right before our eyes," Hansen told the AP before the luncheon. "The Arctic is the first tipping point and it's occurring exactly the way we said it would."

Hansen, echoing work by other scientists, said that in five to 10 years, the Arctic will be free of sea ice in the summer.

Longtime global warming skeptic Sen. James Inhofe, R-Okla., citing a recent poll, said in a statement, "Hansen, (former Vice President) Gore and the media have been trumpeting man-made climate doom since the 1980s. But Americans are not buying it."

But Rep. Ed Markey, D-Mass., committee chairman, said, "Dr. Hansen was right. Twenty years later, we recognize him as a climate prophet."

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

George Carlin R.I.P


Feeding The World

These Objects of Contempt Are Now Our Best Chance of Feeding the World
Peasants are detested by both communists and capitalists - but when it comes to productivity a small farm is unbeatable

June 20, 2008 By George Monbiot

I suggest you sit down before you read this. Robert Mugabe is right. At last week's global food summit he was the only leader to speak of "the importance of land in agricultural production and food security". Countries should follow Zimbabwe's lead, he said, in democratising ownership.

Of course the old bastard has done just the opposite. He has evicted his opponents and given land to his supporters. He has failed to support the new settlements with credit or expertise, with the result that farming in Zimbabwe has collapsed. The country was in desperate need of land reform when Mugabe became president. It remains in desperate need of land reform today.
But he is right in theory. Though the rich world's governments won't hear it, the issue of whether or not the world will be fed is partly a function of ownership. This reflects an unexpected discovery. It was first made in 1962 by the Nobel economist Amartya Sen, and has since been confirmed by dozens of studies. There is an inverse relationship between the size of farms and the amount of crops they produce per hectare. The smaller they are, the greater the yield.

In some cases, the difference is enormous. A recent study of farming in Turkey, for example, found that farms of less than one hectare are 20 times as productive as farms of more than 10 hectares. Sen's observation has been tested in India, Pakistan, Nepal, Malaysia, Thailand, Java, the Philippines, Brazil, Colombia and Paraguay. It appears to hold almost everywhere.

The finding would be surprising in any industry, as we have come to associate efficiency with scale. In farming it seems particularly odd, because small producers are less likely to own machinery, less likely to have capital or access to credit, and less likely to know about the latest techniques.

There's a good deal of controversy about why this relationship exists. Some researchers argued that it was the result of a statistical artefact: fertile soils support higher populations than barren lands, so farm size could be a result of productivity, rather than the other way around. But further studies have shown that the inverse relationship holds across an area of fertile land. Moreover, it works even in countries such as Brazil, where the biggest farmers have grabbed the best land.

The most plausible explanation is that small farmers use more labour per hectare than big farmers. Their workforce largely consists of members of their own families, which means that labour costs are lower than on large farms (they don't have to spend money recruiting or supervising workers), while the quality of the work is higher. With more labour, farmers can cultivate their land more intensively: they spend more time terracing and building irrigation systems; they sow again immediately after the harvest; and they might grow several crops in the same field.

In the early days of the green revolution, this relationship seemed to go into reverse: the bigger farms, with access to credit, were able to invest in new varieties and boost their yields. But as the new varieties have spread to smaller farmers, the inverse relationship has reasserted itself. If governments are serious about feeding the world, they should be breaking up large landholdings, redistributing them to the poor and concentrating their research and their funding on supporting small farms.

There are plenty of other reasons for defending small farmers in poor countries. The economic miracles in South Korea, Taiwan and Japan arose from their land reform programmes. Peasant farmers used the cash they made to build small businesses. The same thing seems to have happened in China, though it was delayed for 40 years by collectivisation and the Great Leap Backwards: the economic benefits of the redistribution that began in 1949 were not felt until the early 80s. Growth based on small farms tends to be more equitable than growth built around capital-intensive industries. Though their land is used intensively, the total ecological impact of smallholdings is lower. When small farms are bought up by big ones, the displaced workers move into new land to try to scratch out a living. I once followed evicted peasants from the Brazilian state of Maranhão 2,000 miles across the Amazon to the land of the Yanomami people, then watched them rip it apart.

But the prejudice against small farmers is unchallengeable. It gives rise to the oddest insult in the English language: when you call someone a peasant, you are accusing them of being self-reliant and productive. Peasants are detested by capitalists and communists alike. Both have sought to seize peasants' land, and have a powerful vested interest in demeaning and demonising them. In its profile of Turkey, the country whose small farmers are 20 times more productive than its large ones, the UN's Food and Agriculture Organisation states that, as a result of small landholdings, "farm output ... remains low". The OECD states: "Stopping land fragmentation ... and consolidating the highly fragmented land is indispensable for raising agricultural productivity." Neither body provides any supporting evidence. A rootless, half-starved labouring class suits capital very well.

Like Mugabe, the donor countries and the big international bodies loudly demand that small farmers be supported, while quietly shafting them. Last week's Rome food summit agreed "to help farmers, particularly small-scale producers, increase production and integrate with local, regional, and international markets". But when, earlier this year, the International Assessment of Agricultural Knowledge proposed a means of doing just this, the US, Australia and Canada refused to endorse it as it offended big business, while the United Kingdom remains the only country that won't reveal whether or not it supports the study.

Big business is killing small farming. By extending intellectual property rights over every aspect of production, and by developing plants that either won't breed true or don't reproduce at all, big business ensures that only those with access to capital can cultivate. As it captures both the wholesale and retail markets, it seeks to reduce its transaction costs by engaging only with major sellers. If you think that supermarkets are giving farmers in the UK a hard time, you should see what they are doing to growers in the poor world. As developing countries sweep away street markets and hawkers' stalls and replace them with superstores and glossy malls, the most productive farmers lose their customers and are forced to sell up. The rich nations support this process by demanding access for their companies. Their agricultural subsidies still help their own large farmers to compete unfairly with the small producers of the poor world.

This leads to an interesting conclusion. For many years, well-meaning liberals have supported the fair trade movement because of the benefits it delivers directly to the people it buys from. But the structure of the global food market is changing so rapidly that fair trade is now becoming one of the few means by which small farmers in poor nations might survive. A shift from small to large farms will cause a major decline in global production, just as food supplies become tight. Fair trade might now be necessary not only as a means of redistributing income, but also to feed the world.

Monday, June 23, 2008

Are We All North Koreans Now?

Tomgram: John Feffer

Are We All North Koreans Now?

It's been a curious experience, each evening recently, turning on the NBC or ABC nightly news, with historic levels of flooding in Iowa as the lead story. ("Uncharted territory," National Weather Service meteorologist Brian Pierce called these floods.) After all, there are those stunning images of Cedar Rapids, a small city now simply in the water. The National Weather Service has already termed what's happened to the city an "historic hydrologic event," with the Cedar River topping its banks at, or above, half-millennium highs. (That's an every 500 year "event"!)

But here's the special strangeness of this TV moment: Network news loves weather disasters, and yet, as with historic droughts in the Southeast or Southwest, as with the hordes of tornadoes coursing through the center of the country, as with so many other extreme weather phenomena of recent times, including flooding in Southern China and the Burmese cyclone, when it comes to the Midwestern floods, night after night no TV talking head seems ever to mention the possibility that climate change/global warming might somehow be involved. (Nor, by the way, are our major newspapers any better on the subject.) As an omission, it's kinda staggering, really, for an event already being labeled "a Midwestern Katrina."

All that soggy Iowa acreage and an estimated 20% of the corn and soya crops in the region already lost -- forget ethanol, but think soaring food prices -- and yet not a word. Of course, it's true that no single weather catastrophe like this one can be simply and definitively linked to climate change -- and undoubtedly some may have nothing to do with it. But when the weather is this extreme, wouldn't you want, as a reporter or news editor, to make sure the subject was at least raised and considered? Or is it simply: been there, done that?

My theory of life is that, when you see a four-legged, black-and-white striped horse-like animal on a savannah, you should call it a zebra until evidence proves otherwise. You would certainly think that, this late in the game, this post-Al Gore, this post-all those melting icebergs, icecaps, iced-over seas, and glaciers, such levels of denial might have abated a bit, but no such luck, it seems.

And in this case, where the mainstream media leads, Americans seem inclined to go. So, can we be truly surprised that an April poll from the Pew Research Center actually found a modest decline since January 2007 in "the proportion of Americans who say that the earth is getting warmer"? Or that, while a majority of the world, in Pew's latest Global Attitude Study, blames the U.S., at least in part, for accelerating global warming, we are one of the countries "where majorities do not define global warming as a very serious problem."

Fair warning, then. Think of this as the Tomdispatch equivalent of the Surgeon General's caveat on a cigarette pack: If you value the health of your state of denial, you will read the following remarkable piece by John Feffer, co-director of Foreign Policy In Focus and Tomdispatch regular, slowly, carefully, and at your peril. Tomdispatch takes no responsibility for what may happen. Tom

Mother Earth's Triple Whammy
Why North Korea Was a Global Crisis Canary
By John Feffer

Gas prices are above $4 a gallon; global food prices surged 39% last year; and an environmental disaster looms as carbon emissions continue to spiral upward. The global economy appears on the verge of a TKO, a triple whammy from energy, agriculture, and climate-change trends. Right now you may be grumbling about the extra bucks you're shelling out at the pump and the grocery store; but, unless policymakers begin to address all three of these trends as one major crisis, it could get a whole lot worse.

Just ask the North Koreans.

In the 1990s, North Korea was the world's canary. The famine that killed as much as 10% of the North Korean population in those years was, it turns out, a harbinger of the crisis that now grips the globe -- though few saw it that way at the time.

That small Northeast Asian land, one of the last putatively communist countries on the planet, faced the same three converging factors as we do now -- escalating energy prices, a reduction in food supplies, and impending environmental catastrophe. At the time, of course, all the knowing analysts and pundits dismissed what was happening in that country as the inevitable breakdown of an archaic economic system presided over by a crackpot dictator.

They were wrong. The collapse of North Korean agriculture in the 1990s was not the result of backwardness. In fact, North Korea boasted one of the most mechanized agricultures in Asia. Despite claims of self-sufficiency, the North Koreans were actually heavily dependent on cheap fuel imports. (Does that already ring a bell?) In their case, the heavily subsidized energy came from Russia and China, and it helped keep North Korea's battalion of tractors operating. It also meant that North Korea was able to go through fertilizer, a petroleum product, at one of the world's highest rates. When the Soviets and Chinese stopped subsidizing those energy imports in the late 1980s and international energy rates became the norm for them, too, the North Koreans had a rude awakening.

Like the globe as a whole, North Korea does not have a great deal of arable land -- it can grow food on only about 14% of its territory. (The comparable global figure for arable land is about 13%.) With heavy applications of fertilizer and pesticides, North Koreans coaxed a lot of food out of a little land. By the 1980s, however, the soil was exhausted, and agricultural production was declining. So spiking energy prices hit an economy already in crisis. Desperate to grow more food, the North Korean government instructed farmers to cut down trees, stripping hillsides to bring more land into cultivation.

Big mistake. When heavy rains hit in 1995, this dragooning of marginal lands into agricultural production only amplified the national disaster. The resulting flooding damaged more than 40% of the country's rice paddy fields. Torrential rains washed away topsoil, while rocks and sand, dislodged from hillsides, ruined low-lying fields. The rigid economic structures in North Korea were unable to cope with the triple assault of bad weather, soaring energy, and declining food production. Nor did dictator Kim Jong Il's political decisions make things any better.

But the peculiarities of North Korea's political economy did not cause the devastating famine that followed. Highly centralized planning and pretensions to self-reliance only made the country prematurely vulnerable to trends now affecting the rest of the planet.

As with the North Koreans, our dependency on relatively cheap energy to run our industrialized agriculture and our smokestack industries is now mixing lethally with food shortages and the beginnings of climate overload, pushing us all toward the precipice. In the short term, we face a food crisis and an energy crisis. Over the longer term, this is certain to expand into a much larger climate crisis. No magic wand, whether biofuels, genetically modified organisms (GMO), or geoengineering, can make the ogres disappear.

After the attacks of September 11, 2001, "We are all Americans" briefly became a popular expression of solidarity around the world. If we don't devise policy choices that address energy, agriculture, and climate, while replacing the idolatry of unrestrained growth at the heart of both capitalist and communist economies, the tagline for the 21st century may be: "We are all North Koreans."

Through a Glass Darkly

For years, development experts have bemoaned the declining terms of trade that have kept some developing countries, and most poor farmers, mired in poverty. With the exception of the first energy crisis era in the 1970s, between the end of World War II and 2006, food prices never stopped sinking in relation to manufactured goods. Lower food prices are generally a boon for consumers. But they are devastating for the subsistence farmers who make up the vast majority of the world's poor.

However, over the past three years, according to the World Bank, food prices have increased 83%. That may be only an annoyance for wealthy shoppers, but for the poor, who often devote more than 50% of their incomes to feeding their families, such staggering rises can be the difference between life and death.

There are a number of reasons for this recent spike. The price of oil, now near $140 a barrel, has certainly played a crucial role in this, both by driving inflation generally and because of its importance to modern, large-scale agriculture. So has the recent allocation of ever more agricultural land to biofuel production. U.S. farmers, responsible for 70% of all world corn exports, now dispatch one-fifth of their corn to ethanol production, which has had the effect of nearly doubling the price of corn.

Global warming, too, has had an impact. Drought in Australia and the eastern United States, severe flooding in China and Bangladesh, rising ocean levels and fresh water shortages throughout the world are all thought to be related to climate change, though climate scientists cannot prove that any given weather anomaly is caused by global warming.

Climate scientists can be fuzzy this way about causality in the short term. Paradoxically, however, they often see the future more clearly. For instance, the top global food policy think-tank, International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI), predicts that global warming will be responsible for a 16% decrease in agricultural gross domestic product globally by 2020. The Center for Global Development argues that developing countries, in particular, will be hit hard by climate change: By 2080, India, its report argues, will see a staggering 30-40% drop in agricultural production and Senegal will plummet 50%.

In the United States, a much-anticipated, Bush-administration-delayed federal study foresees water shortages, more herbicide-resistant weeds, and more insect infestations as a result of climbing temperatures. The present food crisis, concludes Joachim von Braun of the IFPRI, "foreshadows what climate change will bring us."

The other major driver of food price increases is certainly rising income levels in key developing countries. With more income, people can, of course, eat more, and eat higher off the hog -- or, put another way, they can eat hog in the first place, rather than the lentils or cassava on which they were subsisting.

Over a decade ago, Lester Brown, the founder of World Watch, suggested that just such a crisis was on the way. He asked whether the world could possibly produce enough grain to feed a more prosperous China. Now, growing middle classes in China and India, the world's most populous countries, are, just as he predicted, changing their eating habits and consuming more meat (and so, indirectly, a great deal more grain, which is used to feed the animals they are now cooking).
Lester Brown was ahead of the curve, but there were ample warning signs of an impending food crisis for those ready to see them. Oil prices have been steadily increasing since 2004 as a result of rising demand. They have been helped along greatly by growing chaos in the Middle East, fed by the Bush administration's foolhardy invasion of Iraq.

Like the North Koreans, we, too, have been trying to squeeze more food out of a limited amount of land: arable land per capita is declining at a steady rate. Falling water tables and dry rivers – think climate change again -- have no less surely pointed to a coming crunch for farmers dependent on irrigation. And don't forget: Critics of biofuels warned time and again that there wasn't enough elasticity in the food supply to take food out of the mouths of people in the Global South in order to fill the gas tanks of the Global North.

Back in the early 1990s, the North Korean leadership failed to grasp the correlation between rising oil prices, declining food stocks, and environmental stresses -- and the political pundits and politicians of the planet conveniently wrote off the resulting catastrophe as uniquely the fault of the world's weirdest country. Instead of taking a timely hint, wealthier governments simply shrugged off the warnings of scientists, development professionals, and energy specialists about future crises.

Responding to Riots

There's nothing like a food riot, however, to get wealthy governments to sit up and take notice. Humanitarian organizations and aid officials may be concerned about people quietly starving to death in remote locations, but only when world security suddenly seems threatened and governments totter do rising food prices translate into a full-blown crisis. Washington, for example, woke up when riots broke out in Egypt, Haiti, and Indonesia, and the militaries in Pakistan and Thailand intervened to protect crops and storage facilities.

In response to the sudden crisis splatting on the global windshield, the United Nations food aid agency, the World Food Program, called for $755 million in emergency contributions. Saudi Arabia, its coffers flooded with oil profits, promptly promised $500 million. The World Bank then announced that it was increasing its overall support of global agriculture by $2 billion in 2009, while Washington offered $5 billion in food aid over the next two years.

Such an emergency response may, indeed, be necessary, but it is also distinctly inadequate. The Director-General of the U.N.'s Food and Agricultural Organization, Jacques Diouf, has called for a minimum of $30 billion a year for a global agricultural restructuring. It's not at all clear who will pony up such sums, which, in any case, will be too late for countries like Haiti whose subsistence farmers needed help before their most recent growing seasons started. Most importantly, though, as an approach, it's too conventional and, in the long run, bound to fail.

After all, the wealthiest countries continue to show little or no interest in altering the policies that have contributed so decisively to the food crisis in the first place. Take the United States. It "ties" -- places restrictions on -- about 70% of its aid. That means recipient countries must use that aid to buy U.S. products, which, of course, will do little to strengthen local economies.

Washington has also cut its international agricultural research by as much as 75% at a time when agricultural production is no longer keeping pace with population increases. Add in the $280 billion farm bill that Congress has just passed which, unbelievably enough, provides continued subsidies to "farmers" (read: agribusiness) already benefiting enormously from high food prices. And the European Union, like the United States, is refusing to backtrack on its commitment to boost biofuels produced from grain.

Nor is there much hope for a new Green Revolution. While the campaign to disseminate modern, industrial agricultural techniques that began in the 1960s did increase food production, rural poverty in the developing world remained endemic (which is why the current food crisis is so devastating to subsistence farmers). Today, a repetition of that Revolution's combo of hybrid seeds, intensive irrigation, and the heavy application of petroleum-based fertilizers holds little promise.

Water is scarcer. Oil (and thus fertilizer) is considerably more expensive. The promised next stage of the Green Revolution, the application of biotech advances through genetically modified organisms to produce new, high-yield, insect-resistant crops, generally hasn't lived up to its hype in the developing world.

Yet Western seed companies are taking advantage of the crisis to tout this particular high-tech solution. Oddly enough, all this is depressingly reminiscent of the North Korean leadership's fascination with quick fixes in the 1990s. North Korean leader Kim Jong-Il, for instance, touted potatoes as a miracle crop, but the True Potato Seed project sponsored by the U.S. government never panned out. Giant rabbits produced by a German breeder as a newfangled North Korean livestock were a dead-end, probably because the animals themselves consumed as much food as they ultimately yielded. A variety of high-yield "supercorn" hasn't yet revolutionized North Korean agriculture. Neither in North Korea nor in the world at large has anyone yet figured out a technical shortcut to permanent cornucopia.

Markets to the Rescue?

Perhaps the most conventional approach to the crisis has been to rely on market mechanisms. Consider the International Food Policy Research Institute, a product of the Green Revolution and its leading booster, and its eight-point plan for solving the crisis. Several of the steps are eminently sensible, such as expanding humanitarian assistance to food-challenged countries, reversing biofuel policies, and investing in social programs such as school feeding programs and health care. In the mix, however, are more of the same old market mantras. IFPRI recommends, for instance, the elimination of the export bans which 40 countries, including India and Indonesia, recently implemented to keep food from flowing out of the country through trade. And it has tried to revive a dead horse by urging further World Trade Organization (WTO) negotiations to reduce barriers to global trade in agricultural products.

Pundits and policymakers addressing food problems have called for the elimination of government regulations and tariffs ever since England repealed its Corn Laws in the 1840s. In the last quarter century, the removal of trade restrictions of every sort facilitated greater agricultural production globally. Free trade helped large producers grow more and sell it cheaper abroad. But free trade hasn't helped the rural poor -- or poor countries.

Quite the opposite. The increased concentration of corporate farming and the dismantling of state programs that sustained the agricultural sector have driven small farmers out of business all over the planet, while making many of those who remain ever more dependent on expensive chemical pesticides, fertilizer, and seeds. For instance, as a result of the North American Free Trade Agreement, Mexico lost 1.3 million agricultural jobs, forcing many desperate small farmers to cross into the United States as migrant workers. Even more strikingly, the continent of Africa went from a net exporter of food in the late 1960s to a net importer today -- thanks to the World Bank and the WTO riding roughshod through the continent in the same cavalry unit as the four horsemen of the apocalypse. The Bank's "structural adjustment programs" and the WTO's "tariff reductions" don't quite have the ring of war, pestilence, famine, and death, but they have been just as devastating.

The quest for perfect markets usually conceals a global shell game in which wealth is redistributed from the many to the few. To even the playing field that markets constantly tilt in favor of the powerful, and to direct funds toward environmental sustainability, governments need to intervene in the economy.

After all, private enterprise is not going to invest in the large-scale improvement of rural infrastructure -- the capital costs are high and profit margins far too low. More controversially, developing countries may need to maintain, or even reestablish, tariffs and subsidies to protect local producers. Since it is both sold and consumed, food should be considered a strategic resource, a matter of national security. It should be left out of trade negotiations in the same way that the "national security exception" allows governments to subsidize and protect their military industries as they please.

On Being Canaries

Any response that doesn't address all three converging trends -- rising energy costs, stagnant per-capita agricultural production, and climate change -- will ultimately fail, just as it did in North Korea in the early 1990s.

Land, energy, and the biosphere are limited resources. And it's not only a peak in oil that we may be approaching. The depletion of oil resources and the urgent need to reduce carbon emissions from their current levels have at least entered mainstream discussion. Less well known, however, are the problems of peak land and peak water.

The last time food prices shot up, in the 1970s, the U.S. response was to put more land into agricultural production. This was the infamous "fencerow-to-fencerow" policy of Secretary of Agriculture Earl Butz that Michael Pollan, author of The Omnivore's Dilemma, has linked to the glut of corn -- and corn syrup -- that has so profoundly affected global diets. But re-Butzing American agriculture is no longer an option. "For the first time in our history, we're pushing up against the edge in terms of quality land," says Otto Doering, a professor of agricultural economics at Purdue University. "We're in a somewhat fixed box."

The same applies to the world at large. Although rainforests are still being transformed into farming plots and pasture -- only increasing carbon emissions into the atmosphere -- humanity is reaching the limits of arable land. Chalk it up to urbanization, climate change-caused drought, and a loss of soil fertility through the application of too much fertilizer. Whether forest or farmland, we are losing productive land at a rate of one hectare every 7.67 seconds. Sure, there's some wiggle room in Africa and Latin America, but bringing this additional land into cultivation will buy us only a little time -- at the expense of the overall environment.

The water situation is even more precarious. The world is facing a declining reserve of fresh water with the depletion of underground reserves in India, China, Africa, and even the United States. (Say goodbye to the Midwest's mighty Ogallala aquifer, which nourishes America's breadbasket). Aside from the 1.1 billion people who already lack safe drinking water, according to the U.N., this crisis threatens farming, which monopolizes 70% of all fresh water.

Global temperature increases will only aggravate the situation. Rising oceans will inflict death-by-salt on increasing amounts of low-lying farmland, while drought dries up once fertile farming regions. Any intensification of the Green Revolution, dependent as it is on chemical fertilizer and irrigation, is only likely to add to the problem. And don't count on the oceans to offset the food that will no longer be grown on land. The catch of wild fish has remained pretty much the same since the mid-1980s, and fish farming, too, requires land, water, and energy.

In the long run, the only realistic response is a comprehensive program to address, in tandem, the triple crises of energy, climate, and land and water resource exhaustion. If policymakers take into consideration only one, or even two, of the components of this trinity, they may well end up doing more harm than good. The making of biofuels from corn, for instance, was an attempt to address the problems of the cost of energy and the dangers of climate change, but it neglected to consider the effect on agricultural production -- hence, the disastrously soaring price of corn. Calls for the next phase of a Green Revolution, which address agricultural production, are guaranteed to play havoc with the energy and water crises.

Such partial approaches don't work largely because they assume unlimited resources. The original sin of unrestrained growth can be found in the economic theologies of both communism and capitalism. In these systems, neither the state nor the market has ever operated according to ecological principles. Now, we must quickly explore ways of boosting agricultural production in fundamentally sustainable ways without, somehow, expanding our carbon footprint.

Certainly organic farming will play a role here. Although Green Revolution guru Norman Borlaug has dismissed organic agriculture as incapable of feeding the world, an important new study published by Cambridge University Press shows that organic systems in developing countries can produce 80% more than conventional farms.

Integrated farming systems that rely on sustainable energy -- solar, wind, tidal -- will also be critical. No-till agriculture can cut down on energy use and soil erosion.

While properly wary of snake-oil salesmen, neither can we afford to be Luddites. New technologies will play a role as well, as long as they reduce fertilizer and pesticide use, don't shackle debt-ridden farmers to major seed companies, and meet strict consumer safety requirements.

Even if global food prices stabilize this year and projections of a record grain harvest hold, the underlying problems will remain.

So it was with North Korea. With emergency assistance, the country pulled back from the brink by 2000. In 2008, however, it is again in a serious food crisis, thanks to high energy prices, flooding, and a shortfall in last year's grain harvest. Once again, North Korea is the world's canary. As we sit in the dark in the deep hole that we've dug for ourselves, will we finally heed its warning?

John Feffer is the co-director of Foreign Policy In Focus at the Institute for Policy Studies. He is the author of numerous articles on food policy and on North Korea.

Copyright 2008 John Feffer

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

To Do List for the day

Buy lotto ticket and dream of a life I can't imagine
Build cardboard fort and shot imaginary aliens

there must be more to life than this

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

When one is not enough...welcome to stink finger

As if one blog wasn'tenough the Auckland chapter of the BMP goes online which means I now have two blogs to soak up my free time....

This is the homesite for the Auckland chapter of the BMP. The BMP is a collective of musical friends whom enjoy beer and pizza - hence Beer Music Pizza.

The inaugral BMP was established in Outer Mongolia in 1774 by Reverend Eddie Harcourt and Captain James P Walton two devotees of the Peruvian Nose Flute. The club grew to 4 members before ceasing to exisit in late 1774 after an altercation with a organ grinder.

Soon after, well some centuries later, BMP clubs started to develop and carry on the good works of Harcourt and Walton in other remote parts of the globe. As of June 2008 there is one chapter in Auckland, New Zealand and well actually thats it.

Did we mention that we like, Beer and Pizza and music binds us together?

BMP Online

Monday, June 09, 2008

Intellectual Violence

By Angie Riedel

Something I've learned over the last few years is that there really is such a thing as evil in this world. True, sheer evil.

I've also learned that all evil is perpetrated by force; and that can be physical violence or it can be intellectual violence, i.e. by deceit and deception. Lies. Lies are every bit as much a form of violence as guns, clubs and bombs because just like physical violence, lies are used to violate someone else's free will and free choice.

The reality is that the violence of lies is infinitely more common than physical violence. There's just no contest there. Lies are the single most prevalent form of violence in our country today, and that intellectual violence is taking a serious toll.

What is violence and why is violence used? It is used as a means to an end. More specifically it is the quickest way to get what you want from somebody else. You can either just shoot someone and take what you want or you can lie them out of what they have that you want, either way, you achieve the goal of getting what you want from somebody else. Lying is the means to perpetrate a robbery or theft. Just like a mugging in a dark alley, individuals and nations alike are violently attacked with the aim of destroying the true owners of something to take what they own for yourself.

The mere threat of using violence against somebody is often enough to get them to hand over the desired things. It works well because everybody knows what violence is and nobody wants to be violated, which is exactly what violence is. It is violating another person. It's using whatever superior tools or strength or advantages you posses to harm, or threaten to harm another with the aim of taking something that belongs to them and that you have no right to take. It means over riding the free will and free choice of another person and to force your own will on them, so that you can have it your way. And that's just wrong.

Depriving others of the God given right of having free choice over their own lives, bodies and property is the very definition of what we think of as crime. That is the DNA behind all crime, that's the reason that we even have the concept of crime. Forcefully depriving another of their free will is what all crime is. It violates a person in the most serious, egregious ways. It's an insult that goes very deep into the psyche of any victim of violence, physical or intellectual.

Victims of violence do feel violated. They feel the terror of powerlessness over their own lives. They feel the horrible loss of control over their own fate. The overwhelming insult of not having any choice in matters regarding their own life and best interests. They are reduced to irrelevance because of the appetites and will of their attackers.

Being made to feel irrelevant is probably the most damaging experience that any human being can go through. It's the worst feeling in the world to suddenly become nothing and no one as far as some dominating, violent others are concerned. To be deprived of the obligatory recognition of your sentience and inherent right to be treated as an equal to other human beings is to feel one's own life being negated, as if it had no meaning, importance or significance. There is no greater insult and no greater harm that can be perpetrated on another.

To become nothing more than the extension of another man's will is to become a slave or an object, and we are not slaves or objects. We are equals with the same human rights in this world, and we all deserve to retain our dignity and sovereignty at all times. No one has a right to take those things from us. When they do take those things they defy known reality and relegate us to a realm of confused suffering, and permanent damage that cannot be undone or recompensed.

The only way anyone can make you feel that way is by violating you, depriving you of your dignity and personal sovereignty, and this is why the concept of simple respect for others is such an important thing. It's a huge thing. In fact I'd have to say it's the biggest thing there is.

In a decent world we would all agree to respect the others in our lives and all over the world. We would comprehend the simple fact that those others do not owe us anything. They don't owe us their prosperity or their lives. They don't owe us their property or their rights. They are not in any way obligated to do as we desire so that we may feel happy.

The only people who think the opposite is true are the people in this world who are truly evil. They are the criminals who commit all the worst crimes in this world. Although those crimes can take many forms the bottom line is that it's always the same crime being committed, the crime of depriving another of their free will and their right to determine their own fate and their own life choices, whether or not anyone else happens to like those choices. It's just not our call to make for anyone else.

That's where we run into problems because there are a great many people, people who think of themselves as upright, good people, religious people even, who will not agree that everyone has the same right to self determination in this world. Right off the bat, that attitude is criminal.

The Liar's Toolbox

Today there is much killing of innocents happening in the name of the good guys vs. the bad guys, but what is never called to account is who defines good and bad. Without exception it is never a simple case of good guys versus bad guys; it is in fact a case of aggressors calling the others bad because those others are not doing what is desired by the aggressor. They are the legal owners of lands and resources the aggressor covets, they exist in the way of the aggressors and in blatant contradiction to false claims to ownership of the land and its resources. The others who have what the aggressors want are always automatically the bad guys, and that's nothing but a big fat lie. It's hypocrisy. And that's always attached to lies. Hypocrisy is one of the main tools in the liar's toolbox.

Hypocrisy is when we believe we deserve to have free will but we refuse to extend the same human right to others. This is a very important tool in the Liar's toolbox. It is used to try to justify violence against others with all manner of lies and excuses, like religious differences, racial differences, any kind of differences will be used to try to justify perpetrating violence against others when we want what belongs to them. Where ever there is hypocrisy there is lying going on and the sad reality will be that a lot of good people will have bought in to those lies and will be an opposing force to the truth. They will not be able to see their own hypocrisy. Hypocrisy is a serious, dangerous sin and it's one we should add to the list of things we want to find in ourselves and do away with.

Another item in the Liar's Toolbox is indifference. Sometimes called depraved indifference the meaning is simple enough to gather. When we are indifferent to the suffering of others we are committing a crime of violence against them. When big corporations or governments take steps in their own self interests that result in harm being done to others, directly or indirectly, they know it. That they proceed anyway makes it criminal.

Failing to notice or consider that our actions harm others is not an excuse and it cannot be justified. Saying they just didn't know, or worse, framing and promoting illicit depraved concepts like "collateral damage" is no excuse either. There is no such thing as lives that don't matter.

No matter what claims are being made to justify violence in the name of self interest, there is no justification. When we are led to believe otherwise that in itself is a crime being perpetrated on all of us. We are being insulted every bit as much as their innocent victims. The message is that others don't matter in the name of their personal goals and desires, and that's invalid on its face. Others always matter and life always matters more than any ideology or game plan. More than any government's desire for power and prestige, more than any corporation's greed and psychotic lust for endless expansion. Those things in fact and in reality are worthless up against human life and well being. Pretending otherwise is always and only a lie.

It's Not Just About Stuff

We're encouraged to believe that crime is all about property and ownership rights, and that there can be no crimes without property or life being involved but that's only seeing the peel and missing the entire banana beneath it. Every dishonest contract, every con job, every petty theft, every rape or act of child molestation, every bogus war we're led into based on lies, is always about depriving people of something that's rightfully and only theirs. That can be property, rights, dignity, life or limb, freedom of choice, or even the information needed to make the best decisions. Again, all of that boils down to overriding the free will of others. These are all forms of violence, ways of violating the human birthright to have free will and freedom of choice in all things pertaining to our own lives, persons, and property.

Violence used at any other time than in literal, imminent self defense from a violent attacker is criminal. It is unnecessary and unjustified. Yet it is prevalent and it is everywhere, from behind the closed doors of private homes to out in the open in the streets, the kinds of violence of wars and political unrest. Take Africa for example and the carnage going on there. It's all completely unjustified, it's criminal, people are getting hurt and dying and there is no end in sight. No good comes of this way of getting what you want at the expense of others without the consent of all involved.

There is no need to fund and instigate the social crisis there, which is what is being done by powerful, wealthy corporations and their copartners in governments. It is being done to consume the rich resources of that land for the benefit of those who already have more than enough, so that they can have even more for themselves. Greed is not good. It is just another weapon in the liars toolbox. Greed is always fed with the blood of innocent people and it is a crime.

Depriving others of what's rightfully theirs is what it always boils down to and that's why violence beyond literal, imminent self defense from a violent attacker is always criminal. It can not be tolerated. Not any more. Not in the 21st Century. It is long past time for humanity with its consciousness raised and its improved access to education to make the necessary spiritual/emotional/doctrinal adjustments to go along with that increased knowledge and awareness. Meaning, it's time for us to change for the better.

It's time for us now to take responsibility, which is what must be done when we become world aware and educated. To posses and use knowledge without responsibility is an unforgivable failure. It's also self-defeating because it enables that which is not true to dominate us.

Honesty isn't just the best public policy, it's the only public policy because dishonesty is literally a criminal act. It's an act of violence because it violates the peoples right to exercise their free will. It undermines our ability to make intelligent, meaningful choices for ourselves by giving us false information and forcing false perspectives on us that will lead us to draw conclusions based on that false information. The public will then be infinitely more likely to agree to whatever the liar or liars want. That's every bit as violent as holding a gun to our heads, it's just not recognized as such, and that's no accident. It's so obvious as to be painful, yet how many of us have ever made the connection? They're taking what they want by force and we can't even see it anymore, we expect no less.

We tend to think of violence only in terms of physical things, blood, bullet wounds, physical harm. But being lied to can do equal damage to our minds and souls, and can and does cause terrible harm and injury to the collective consciousness of mankind.

We're living in a society which, at this moment in time, is being controlled and dominated by people who have no respect for others. By people who by the very nature of how they think and act are criminals. There's no wiggle room here, it's quite simple when you stop to remember that the essence of crime is depriving others of their free will and their right to act in their own best interests. Those who dominate our reality right now are master liars, and the damage they are perpetrating has no historical equivalent in this country. The destruction they're wreaking is total and we're only beginning to see the tip of the iceberg. By the time they're done there won't be much left standing, and a whole lot of people are going to suffer, and a whole lot of people are going to die. You tell me what's not criminal about that. Everything about it is criminal.

These controllers have managed to get a dominant foothold into every major aspect of society. The justice system, the departments of government, the church, public and higher education have all been infiltrated and are in the process of being ideologically raped. They own and control the media and they do this with the specific purpose of being able to withhold the truth about themselves and what they do, what they want and how they're getting what they want, from the public. You can't even buy TV time today if you have a different perspective than the one they want to dominate the public consciousness with. They can't afford the truth going out to the people because they know the people would never agree to go along with them. Therefore, they either have to shoot us all, which simply isn't possible, or they have to violate our consciousness with an endless stream of lies to make us want to go along with them. And they're experts at this. And we pay them to do it and they use our money to do it to us.

Every aspect of how they operate is an insult and a violation of the public's right to choose in their own behalf. We can no longer make appropriate choices because we no longer have access to all of the information, to truth, or to all of the sides to any story. All we will ever hear again as long as the media laws stay the same is only what they want us to hear.

We have only to look around us to gauge the numbers of innocent people dying both here and abroad to get an accurate idea of just how much evil has managed to insinuate itself into our minds and lives. We have only to witness the metamorphosis of ordinary men who once upheld our laws to protect us, into militarized, soulless, dishonest inhuman robot killers and thugs to recognize that evil is transforming our society from its very roots and defining principles into its exact mirror opposite. We are being turned into everything we claim to hate and would risk our lives to fight against, and we no longer seem capable of recognizing it.

Our laws are quickly being changed from things that protect our God given right to exercise our free will without encumbrance from power and privilege, into things which give all permission to power and privilege to encumber us and prevent us from living in freedom. The lie is that it is being done to secure us, but we are not secure. We could never be kept safe by anyone, and especially not by a government so obsessed with secrecy, so disdainful of being bound by the laws that bind the rest of us, and so unconcerned with our core principles of protecting every individual from violence and interference by the government into their private lives. This government represents everything we once fought to be free of, and then some.

They use every form of violence and force conceivable, and have many others being developed, most of which are further insults to freedom and free will. All of them have the intended goal of depriving us of even more freedom, of our right to speak openly about what we see happening, of our hope and expectation that justice will be done and that they will be made to stop. Now that they are making the rules they will not stop. We are drowning in a sea of lies.

When lies dominate us then evil dominates our society. We are willingly or unwillingly forced to be complicit in the actions that evil desires to carry out. And it will always desire to perpetrate the greatest possible evils it can get away with. It spells the destruction of centuries of hard work and struggle specifically to stop, control and prevent evil from taking over our government, our country and our private lives. When lies are so common they become what feels normal and rational to us, we are certainly lost and it's only a matter of time before we'll have to pay the price of our ignorance and inability to discern something as simple as right from wrong.

We are all victims of intellectual violence, and knowing right from wrong will always be the first thing to go, and the last thing we'll ever recognize. Until it's far too late.

Thursday, June 05, 2008

Collateral Damage

Collateral Damage
What It Really Means When America Goes to War
By Chris Hedges

Troops, when they battle insurgent forces, as in Iraq, or Gaza or Vietnam, are placed in "atrocity producing situations." Being surrounded by a hostile population makes simple acts, such as going to a store to buy a can of Coke, dangerous. The fear and stress push troops to view everyone around them as the enemy. The hostility is compounded when the enemy, as in Iraq, is elusive, shadowy and hard to find. The rage soldiers feel after a roadside bomb explodes, killing or maiming their comrades, is one that is easily directed, over time, to innocent civilians who are seen to support the insurgents.

Civilians and combatants, in the eyes of the beleaguered troops, merge into one entity. These civilians, who rarely interact with soldiers or Marines, are to most of the occupation troops in Iraq nameless, faceless, and easily turned into abstractions of hate. They are dismissed as less than human. It is a short psychological leap, but a massive moral leap. It is a leap from killing -- the shooting of someone who has the capacity to do you harm -- to murder -- the deadly assault against someone who cannot harm you.

The war in Iraq is now primarily about murder. There is very little killing. The savagery and brutality of the occupation is tearing apart those who have been deployed to Iraq. As news reports have just informed us, 115 American soldiers committed suicide in 2007. This is a 13% increase in suicides over 2006. And the suicides, as they did in the Vietnam War years, will only rise as distraught veterans come home, unwrap the self-protective layers of cotton wool that keep them from feeling, and face the awful reality of what they did to innocents in Iraq
American Marines and soldiers have become socialized to atrocity. The killing project is not described in these terms to a distant public. The politicians still speak in the abstract terms of glory, honor, and heroism, in the necessity of improving the world, in lofty phrases of political and spiritual renewal. Those who kill large numbers of people always claim it as a virtue. The campaign to rid the world of terror is expressed within the confines of this rhetoric, as if once all terrorists are destroyed evil itself will vanish.

The reality behind the myth, however, is very different. The reality and the ideal tragically clash when soldiers and Marines return home. These combat veterans are often alienated from the world around them, a world that still believes in the myth of war and the virtues of the nation. They confront the grave, existential crisis of all who go through combat and understand that we have no monopoly on virtue, that in war we become as barbaric and savage as those we oppose.
This is a profound crisis of faith. It shatters the myths, national and religious, that these young men and women were fed before they left for Iraq. In short, they uncover the lie they have been told. Their relationship with the nation will never be the same. These veterans give us a true narrative of the war -- one that exposes the vast enterprise of industrial slaughter unleashed in Iraq. They expose the lie.

War as Betrayal

"This unit sets up this traffic control point, and this 18 year-old kid is on top of an armored Humvee with a .50-caliber machine gun," remembered Sgt. Geoffrey Millard, who served in Tikrit with the 42nd Infantry Division. "And this car speeds at him pretty quick and he makes a split-second decision that that's a suicide bomber, and he presses the butterfly trigger and puts two hundred rounds in less than a minute into this vehicle. It killed the mother, a father, and two kids. The boy was aged four and the daughter was aged three.

"And they briefed this to the general," Millard said, "and they briefed it gruesome. I mean, they had pictures. They briefed it to him. And this colonel turns around to this full division staff and says, 'If these f---ing hajis learned to drive, this sh-t wouldn't happen.'"

Millard and tens of thousands of other veterans suffer not only delayed reactions to stress but this crisis of faith. The God they knew, or thought they knew, failed them. The church or the synagogue or the mosque, which promised redemption by serving God and country, did not prepare them for the awful betrayal of this civic religion, for the capacity we all have for human atrocity, for the stories of heroism used to mask the reality of war.

War is always about betrayal: betrayal of the young by the old, of idealists by cynics, and of troops by politicians. This bitter knowledge of betrayal has seeped into the ranks of America's Iraq War veterans. It has unleashed a new wave of disillusioned veterans not seen since the Vietnam War. It has made it possible for us to begin, again, to see war's death mask and understand our complicity in evil.

"And then, you know, my sort of sentiment of, 'What the f--- are we doing, that I felt that way in Iraq,'" said Sgt. Ben Flanders, who estimated that he ran hundreds of military convoys in Iraq. "It's the sort of insanity of it and the fact that it reduces it. Well, I think war does anyway, but I felt like there was this enormous reduction in my compassion for people. The only thing that wound up mattering is myself and the guys that I was with. And everybody else be damned, whether you are an Iraqi -- I'm sorry, I'm sorry you live here, I'm sorry this is a terrible situation, and I'm sorry that you have to deal with all of, you know, army vehicles running around and shooting, and these insurgents and all this stuff."

The Hobbesian world of Iraq described by Flanders is one where the ethic is kill or be killed. All nuance and distinction vanished for him. He fell, like most of the occupation troops, into a binary world of us and them, the good and the bad, those worthy of life and those unworthy of life. The vast majority of Iraqi civilians, caught in the middle of the clash among militias, death squads, criminal gangs, foreign fighters, kidnapping rings, terrorists, and heavily armed occupation troops, were just one more impediment that, if they happened to get in the way, had to be eradicated. These Iraqis were no longer human. They were abstractions in human form.

"The first briefing you get when you get off the plane in Kuwait, and you get off the plane and you're holding a duffel bag in each hand," Millard remembered. "You've got your weapon slung. You've got a web sack on your back. You're dying of heat. You're tired. You're jet-lagged. Your mind is just full of goop. And then you're scared on top of that, because, you know, you're in Kuwait, you're not in the States anymore... So fear sets in, too. And they sit you into this little briefing room and you get this briefing about how, you know, you can't trust any of these f---ing hajis, because all these f---king hajis are going to kill you. And 'haji' is always used as a term of disrespect and usually with the F-word in front of it."

The press coverage of the war in Iraq rarely exposes the twisted pathology of this war. We see the war from the perspective of the troops or from the equally skewed perspective of the foreign reporters, holed up in hotels, hemmed in by drivers and translators and official security and military escorts. There are moments when war's face appears to these voyeurs and professional killers, perhaps from the back seat of a car where a small child, her brains oozing out of her head, lies dying, but mostly it remains hidden. And all our knowledge of the war in Iraq has to be viewed as lacking the sweep and depth that will come one day, perhaps years from now, when a small Iraqi boy reaches adulthood and unfolds for us the sad and tragic story of the invasion and bloody occupation of his nation.

As the war sours, as it no longer fits into the mythical narrative of us as liberators and victors, it fades from view. The cable news shows that packaged and sold us the war have stopped covering it, trading the awful carnage of bomb blasts in Baghdad for the soap-opera sagas of Roger Clemens, Miley Cyrus, and Britney Spears in her eternal meltdown. Average monthly coverage of the war in Iraq on the ABC, NBC, and CBS newscasts combined has been cut in half, falling from 388 minutes in 2003, to 274 in 2004, to 166 in 2005. And newspapers, including papers like the Boston Globe, have shut down their Baghdad bureaus. Deprived of a clear, heroic narrative, restricted and hemmed in by security concerns, they have walked away.

Most reporters know that the invasion and the occupation have been a catastrophe. They know the Iraqis do not want us. They know about the cooked intelligence, spoon-fed to a compliant press by the Office of Special Plans and Lewis Libby's White House Iraq Group. They know about Curveball, the forged documents out of Niger, the outed CIA operatives, and the bogus British intelligence dossiers that were taken from old magazine articles. They know the weapons of mass destruction were destroyed long before we arrived. They know that our military as well as our National Guard and reserve units are being degraded and decimated. They know this war is not about bringing democracy to Iraq, that all the clichés about staying the course and completing the mission are used to make sure the president and his allies do not pay a political price while in power for their blunders and their folly.

The press knows all this, and if reporters had bothered to look they could have known it a long time ago. But the press, or at least most of it, has lost the passion, the outrage, and the sense of mission that once drove reporters to defy authority and tell the truth.

The Legions of the Lost and Damned

War is the pornography of violence. It has a dark beauty, filled with the monstrous and the grotesque. The Bible calls it "the lust of the eye" and warns believers against it. War allows us to engage in lusts and passions we keep hidden in the deepest, most private interiors of our fantasy lives. It allows us to destroy not only things and ideas but human beings.

In that moment of wholesale destruction, we wield the power of the divine, the power to revoke another person's charter to live on this Earth. The frenzy of this destruction -- and when unit discipline breaks down, or when there was no unit discipline to begin with, "frenzy" is the right word -- sees armed bands crazed by the poisonous elixir that our power to bring about the obliteration of others delivers. All things, including human beings, become objects -- objects either to gratify or destroy, or both. Almost no one is immune. The contagion of the crowd sees to that.

Human beings are machine-gunned and bombed from the air, automatic grenade launchers pepper hovels and neighbors with high-powered explosive devices, and convoys race through Iraq like freight trains of death. These soldiers and Marines have at their fingertips the heady ability to call in airstrikes and firepower that obliterate landscapes and villages in fiery infernos. They can instantly give or deprive human life, and with this power they become sick and demented. The moral universe is turned upside down. All human beings are used as objects. And no one walks away uninfected.

War thrusts us into a vortex of pain and fleeting ecstasy. It thrusts us into a world where law is of little consequence, human life is cheap, and the gratification of the moment becomes the overriding desire that must be satiated, even at the cost of another's dignity or life.

"A lot of guys really supported that whole concept that, you know, if they don't speak English and they have darker skin, they're not as human as us, so we can do what we want," said Spc. Josh Middleton, who served in the 82nd Airborne in Iraq. "And you know, 20 year-old kids are yelled at back and forth at Bragg, and we're picking up cigarette butts and getting yelled at every day for having a dirty weapon. But over here, it's like life and death. And 40 year-old Iraqi men look at us with fear and we can -- do you know what I mean? -- we have this power that you can't have. That's really liberating. Life is just knocked down to this primal level of, you know, you worry about where the next food's going to come from, the next sleep or the next patrol, and to stay alive.

"It's like, you feel like, I don't know, if you're a caveman," he added. "Do you know what I mean? Just, you know, I mean, this is how life is supposed to be. Life and death, essentially. No TV. None of that bullsh-t."

It takes little in wartime to turn ordinary men into killers. Most give themselves willingly to the seduction of unlimited power to destroy. All feel the peer pressure to conform. Few, once in battle, find the strength to resist. Physical courage is common on a battlefield. Moral courage, which these veterans have exhibited by telling us the truth about the war, is not.

Military machines and state bureaucracies, which seek to make us obey, seek also to silence those who return from war and speak to its reality. They push aside these witnesses to hide from a public eager for stories of war that fit the mythic narrative of glory and heroism the essence of war, which is death. War, as these veterans explain, exposes the capacity for evil that lurks just below the surface within all of us. This is the truth these veterans, often with great pain, have had to face.

The historian Christopher Browning chronicled the willingness to kill in Ordinary Men, his study of Reserve Police Battalion 101 in Poland during World War II. On the morning of July 12, 1942, the battalion, made up of middle-aged recruits, was ordered to shoot 1,800 Jews in the village of Józefów in a daylong action. The men in the unit had to round up the Jews, march them into the forest, and one by one order them to lie down in a row. The victims, including women, infants, children, and the elderly, were shot dead at close range.

Battalion members were offered the option to refuse, an option only about a dozen men took, although a few more asked to be relieved once the killing began. Those who did not want to continue, Browning says, were disgusted rather than plagued by conscience. When the men returned to the barracks they "were depressed, angered, embittered and shaken." They drank heavily. They were told not to talk about the event, "but they needed no encouragement in that direction."

Each generation responds to war as innocents. Each generation discovers its own disillusionment, often at a terrible personal price. And the war in Iraq has begun to produce legions of the lost and the damned, many of whom battle the emotional and physical trauma that comes from killing and exposure to violence.

Punishing the Local Population

Sgt. Camilo Mejía, who eventually applied while still on active duty to become a conscientious objector, said the ugly side of American racism and chauvinism appeared the moment his unit arrived in the Middle East. Fellow soldiers instantly ridiculed Arab-style toilets because they would be "sh-tting like dogs." The troops around him treated Iraqis, whose language they did not speak and whose culture was alien, little better than animals.

The word "haji" swiftly became a slur to refer to Iraqis, in much the same way "gook" was used to debase the Vietnamese and "raghead" is used to belittle those in Afghanistan. Soon those around him ridiculed "haji food," "haji homes," and "haji music." Bewildered prisoners, who were rounded up in useless and indiscriminate raids, were stripped naked and left to stand terrified for hours in the baking sun. They were subjected to a steady torrent of verbal and physical abuse. "I experienced horrible confusion," Mejía remembered, "not knowing whether I was more afraid for the detainees or for what would happen to me if I did anything to help them."

These scenes of abuse, which began immediately after the American invasion, were little more than collective acts of sadism. Mejía watched, not daring to intervene yet increasingly disgusted at the treatment of Iraqi civilians. He saw how the callous and unchecked abuse of power first led to alienation among Iraqis and spawned a raw hatred of the occupation forces. When Army units raided homes, the soldiers burst in on frightened families, forced them to huddle in the corners at gunpoint, and helped themselves to food and items in the house.

"After we arrested drivers," he recalled, "we would choose whichever vehicles we liked, fuel them from confiscated jerry cans, and conduct undercover presence patrols in the impounded cars.

"But to this day I cannot find a single good answer as to why I stood by idly during the abuse of those prisoners except, of course, my own cowardice," he also noted.

Iraqi families were routinely fired upon for getting too close to checkpoints, including an incident where an unarmed father driving a car was decapitated by a .50-caliber machine gun in front of his small son. Soldiers shot holes into cans of gasoline being sold alongside the road and then tossed incendiary grenades into the pools to set them ablaze. "It's fun to shoot sh-t up," a soldier said. Some opened fire on small children throwing rocks. And when improvised explosive devices (IEDS) went off, the troops fired wildly into densely populated neighborhoods, leaving behind innocent victims who became, in the callous language of war, "collateral damage."

"We would drive on the wrong side of the highway to reduce the risk of being hit by an IED," Mejía said of the deadly roadside bombs. "This forced oncoming vehicles to move to one side of the road and considerably slowed down the flow of traffic. In order to avoid being held up in traffic jams, where someone could roll a grenade under our trucks, we would simply drive up on sidewalks, running over garbage cans and even hitting civilian vehicles to push them out of the way. Many of the soldiers would laugh and shriek at these tactics."

At one point the unit was surrounded by an angry crowd protesting the occupation. Mejía and his squad opened fire on an Iraqi holding a grenade, riddling the man's body with bullets. Mejía checked his clip afterward and determined that he had fired 11 rounds into the young man. Units, he said, nonchalantly opened fire in crowded neighborhoods with heavy M-240 Bravo machine guns, AT-4 launchers, and Mark 19s, a machine gun that spits out grenades.

"The frustration that resulted from our inability to get back at those who were attacking us," Mejía said, "led to tactics that seemed designed simply to punish the local population that was supporting them."

The Algebra of Occupation

It is the anonymity of the enemy that fuels the mounting rage. Comrades are maimed or die, and there is no one to lash back at, unless it is the hapless civilians who happen to live in the neighborhood where the explosion or ambush occurred. Soldiers and Marines can do two or three tours in Iraq and never actually see the enemy, although their units come under attack and take numerous casualties. These troops, who entered Baghdad in triumph when Iraq was occupied, soon saw the decisive victory over Saddam Hussein's army evolve into a messy war of attrition.

The superior firepower and lightning victory was canceled out by what T. E. Lawrence once called the "algebra of occupation." Writing about the British occupation of Iraq following the Ottoman Empire's collapse in World War I, Lawrence, in lessons these veterans have had to learn on their own, highlighted what has always doomed conventional, foreign occupying powers.
"Rebellion must have an unassailable base… it must have a sophisticated alien enemy, in the form of a disciplined army of occupation too small to dominate the whole area effectively from fortified posts," Lawrence wrote. "It must have a friendly population, not actively friendly, but sympathetic to the point of not betraying rebel movements to the enemy. Rebellions can be made by 2 percent active in a striking force, and 98 percent passive sympathy. Granted mobility, security… time and doctrine… victory will rest with the insurgents, for the algebraical factors are in the end decisive."

The failure in Iraq is the same failure that bedeviled the French in Algeria; the United States in Vietnam; and the British, who for 800 years beat, imprisoned, transported, shot, and hanged hundreds of thousands of Irish patriots. Occupation, in each case, turned the occupiers into beasts and fed the insurrection. It created patterns where innocents, as in Iraq, were terrorized and killed. The campaign against a mostly invisible enemy, many veterans said, has given rise to a culture of terror and hatred among U.S. forces, many of whom, losing ground, have in effect declared war on all Iraqis.

Mejía said, regarding the deaths of Iraqis at checkpoints, "This sort of killing of civilians has long ceased to arouse much interest or even comment."

Mejía also watched soldiers from his unit abuse the corpses of Iraqi dead. He related how, in one incident, soldiers laughed as an Iraqi corpse fell from the back of a truck. "Take a picture of me and this motherf---er," said one of the soldiers who had been in Mejía's squad in Third Platoon, putting his arm around the corpse.

The shroud fell away from the body, revealing a young man wearing only his pants. There was a bullet hole in his chest. "Damn, they really f---ed you up, didn't they?" the soldier laughed.
The scene, Mejía noted, was witnessed by the dead man's brothers and cousins.

The senior officers, protected in heavily fortified compounds, rarely experienced combat. They sent their troops on futile missions in the quest to be awarded Combat Infantry Badges. This recognition, Mejía noted, "was essential to their further progress up the officer ranks."

This pattern meant that "very few high-ranking officers actually got out into the action, and lower-ranking officers were afraid to contradict them when they were wrong." When the badges -- bearing an emblem of a musket with the hammer dropped, resting on top of an oak wreath -- were finally awarded, the commanders brought in Iraqi tailors to sew the badges on the left breast pockets of their desert combat uniforms.

"This was one occasion when our leaders led from the front," Mejía noted bitterly. "They were among the first to visit the tailors to get their little patches of glory sewn next to their hearts."
War breeds gratuitous, senseless, and repeated acts of atrocity and violence. Abuse of the powerless becomes a kind of perverted sport for the troops.

"I mean, if someone has a fan, they're a white-collar family," said Spc. Philip Chrystal, who carried out raids on Iraqi homes in Kirkuk. "So we get started on this day, this one, in particular. And it starts with the psy-ops [psychological operations] vehicles out there, you know, with the big speakers playing a message in Arabic or Farsi or Kurdish or whatever they happen to be saying, basically, saying put your weapons, if you have them, next to the front door in your house. Please come outside, blah, blah, blah, blah. And we had Apaches flying over for security, if they're needed, and it's also a good show of force. And we were running around, and we'd done a few houses by this point, and I was with my platoon leader, my squad leader, and maybe a couple other people, but I don't really remember.

"And we were approaching this one house, and this farming area; they're, like, built up into little courtyards," he said. "So they have like the main house, common area. They have like a kitchen and then they have like a storage-shed-type deal. And we were approaching, and they had a family dog. And it was barking ferociously, because it was doing its job. And my squad leader, just out of nowhere, just shoots it. And he didn't -- motherf---er -- he shot it, and it went in the jaw and exited out.

"So I see this dog -- and I'm a huge animal lover. I love animals -- and this dog has like these eyes on it, and he's running around spraying blood all over the place. And the family is sitting right there, with three little children and a mom and a dad horrified. And I'm at a loss for words. And so I yell at him. I'm like, ‘What the f--- are you doing?' And so the dog's yelping. It's crying out without a jaw. And I'm looking at the family, and they're just scared. And so I told them, I was like, 'F---ing shoot it,' you know. 'At least kill it, because that can't be fixed. It's suffering.' And I actually get tears from just saying this right now, but -- and I had tears then, too -- and I'm looking at the kids and they are so scared. So I got the interpreter over with me and I get my wallet out and I gave them twenty bucks, because that's what I had. And, you know, I had him give it to them and told them that I'm so sorry that asshole did that. Which was very common.

"Was a report ever filed about it?" he asked. "Was anything ever done? Any punishment ever dished out? No, absolutely not."

The Plaster Saints of War

The vanquished know war. They see through the empty jingoism of those who use the abstract words of "glory," "honor," and "patriotism" to mask the cries of the wounded, the brutal killing, war profiteering, and chest-pounding grief. They know the lies the victors often do not acknowledge, the lies covered up in stately war memorials and mythic war narratives, filled with stories of courage and comradeship. They know the lies that permeate the thick, self-important memoirs by amoral statesmen who make wars but do not know war.

The vanquished know the essence of war -- death. They grasp that war is necrophilia. They see that war is a state of almost pure sin, with its goals of hatred and destruction. They know how war fosters alienation, leads inevitably to nihilism, and is a turning away from the sanctity and preservation of life. All other narratives about war too easily fall prey to the allure and seductiveness of violence as well as the attraction of the godlike power that comes with the license to kill with impunity.

But the words of the vanquished come later, sometimes long after the war, when grown men and women unpack the suffering they endured as children: what it was like to see their mother or father killed or taken away, or what it was like to lose their homes, their community, their security, and to be discarded as human refuse. But by then few listen. The truth about war comes out, but usually too late. We are assured by the war-makers that these stories have no bearing on the glorious violent enterprise the nation is about to inaugurate. And, lapping up the myth of war and its sense of empowerment, we prefer not to look.

We are trapped in a doomed war of attrition in Iraq. We have blundered into a nation we know little about, caught in bitter rivalries between competing ethnic and religious groups. Iraq was a cesspool for the British in 1917 when they occupied it. It will be a cesspool for us as well. We have embarked on an occupation that is as damaging to our souls as to our prestige and power and security. We have become tyrants to others weaker than ourselves. And we believe, falsely, that because we have the capacity to wage war we have the right to wage war.

We make our heroes out of clay. We laud their gallant deeds and give them uniforms with colored ribbons on their chests for the acts of violence they committed or endured. They are our false repositories of glory and honor, of power, of self-righteousness, of patriotism and self-worship, all that we want to believe about ourselves. They are our plaster saints of war, the icons we cheer to defend us and make us and our nation great. They are the props of our civic religion, our love of power and force, our belief in our right as a chosen nation to wield this force against the weak, and rule. This is our nation's idolatry of itself. And this idolatry has corrupted religious institutions, not only here but in most nations, making it impossible for us to separate the will of God from the will of the state.

Prophets are not those who speak of piety and duty from pulpits -- few people in pulpits have much worth listening to -- but are the battered wrecks of men and women who return from Iraq and speak the halting words we do not want to hear, words that we must listen to and heed to know ourselves. They tell us war is a soulless void. They have seen and tasted how war plunges us into perversion, trauma, and an unchecked orgy of death. And it is their testimonies that have the redemptive power to save us from ourselves.

Chris Hedges is the former Middle East Bureau Chief of the New York Times, a Pulitzer Prize winner, and a Senior Fellow at the Nation Institute. He is the author of several books including War Is a Force That Gives Us Meaning. This piece has been adapted from the introduction to the just-published, Collateral Damage: America's War Against Iraqi Civilians (Nation Books), which he has co-authored with Laila al-Arian.