G20 forgets the environment

2 04 2009

I really don’t want to rely too much on the mainstream media for information/comment but Monbiot mentions some important points on the complete neglect of the global environmental crisis at the G20 in his  latest Guardian blog entry:

Here is the text of the G20 communique, in compressed form.

“We, the Leaders of the Group of Twenty, will use every cent we don’t possess to rescue corporate capitalism from its contradictions and set the world economy back onto the path of unsustainable growth. We have already spent trillions of dollars of your money on bailing out the banks, so that they can be returned to their proper functions of fleecing the poor and wrecking the Earth’s living systems. Now we’re going to spend another $1.1 trillion. As an exemplary punishment for their long record of promoting crises, we will give the IMF and the World Bank even more of your money. These actions constitute the greatest mobilisation of resources to support global financial flows in modern times.

Oh – and we nearly forgot. We must do something about the environment. We don’t have any definite plans as yet, but we’ll think of something in due course.”

The G20’s strategy for solving the financial and economic crisis, in other words, is detailed, innovative, fully costed and of vast scale and ambition. Its plans for solving the environmental crisis are brief, vague and uncosted. The environmental clauses – which contradict almost everything that goes before – have been tacked onto the end of the communique as an afterthought. No new money has been set aside. No new ideas are proposed; just the usual wishful thinking: let’s call the whole package green and hope for the best.

So much for the pledge, expressed in different forms by most of the governments present at the talks, to put the environment at the heart of decision-making. Though the economy is merely a measure of our engagement with the environment; though, as most of the leaders acknowledge, continued prosperity is impossible without sustainability, the communique shows that the environment still comes last. No expense is spared in saving the banks. Every expense is spared in saving the biosphere.

This suggests to me that our leaders have learnt nothing from the financial crisis. It was caused by allowing powerful agents (the banks) to exploit a common resource (the global economy) without proper control or regulation. Governments deployed a form of magical thinking: that the boom would go on forever, that a bunch of predatory psychopaths would regulate themselves, that profits, dividends and share prices could grow indefinitely even though they bore no relation to actual value.

They treat the environmental crisis the same way. Climate breakdown, peak oil and resource depletion will all dwarf the current financial crisis, in both financial and humanitarian terms. But, just as they did with the banks, the G20 leaders appear to have decided to deal with these problems only when they have to – in other words, when it’s too late. They persuade themselves that getting the economy back to where it was – infinite growth on a finite planet – can somehow be reconciled with the pledge “to address the threat of irreversible climate change”.

Next time this magical thinking fails, there’ll be no chance of a bail-out.





Baghdad in a time of cholera

24 03 2009




A great mission: The Olympics of destruction

16 03 2009

The characteristic corporatisation and social destruction of the Olympics is already becoming evident.

Apparently infrastructure and obsolete buildings are more important than local communities.

Vodpod videos no longer available.





Confidential NATO report reveals rise in civilian deaths from war in Afghanistan

17 02 2009

Wikileaks, a site that allows whistleblowers to anonymously post sensitive or confidential information exposing the activities of governments and corporations, has released a confidential NATO report on civilian deaths in Afghanistan. A Wikileaks press release states that:

“civilian deaths from the war in Afghanistan have increased by 46% over the past year…

The report [titled ‘Metrics Brief 2007 – 2008’] shows a dramatic escalation of the war and civil disorder. Coalition deaths increased by 35%, assassinations and kidnappings by 50% and attacks on the Kabul based Government of Hamid Karzai also more than doubled, rising a massive 119%.

The report highlights huge increases on attacks aimed at Coalition forces, including a 27 % increase in IED [Improvised Explosive Device] attacks, a 40%. rise in rifle and rocket fire and an increase in surface to air fire of 67%.

According to the report, outside of the capital Kabul only one in two families had access to even the most basic health care, and only one in two children had access to a school”

Futhermore:

“NATO is not likely to find Wikileaks’ source so readily. The site uses state of the art anonymization technologies, and the identity of its sources are protected under the Swedish Press Freedom Act.”

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The British government is a sucker to the lobbies

27 01 2009

By George Monbiot. Published in the Guardian 27th January 2009

So now the circle is closed. The government which won a landslide victory in 1997 after Tory MPs were revealed to have taken cash for parliamentary questions now faces far graver allegations: cash for laws(1,2). Along the way, almost every policy which distinguished it from John Major’s corrupt and pointless regime has been abandoned.

The difference between these two moments – 1997 and 2009 – is that now there is nowhere to turn. There are the minor parties, but they have been systematically excluded by another broken promise: the failure to reform the electoral system. New Labour has engineered the worst of all worlds: it has sustained a system which ensures that only one of two parties has a chance of power, and it has rooted out the policies which made a choice between the two worthwhile. At least when the Tories were in government we could dream of something better.

It is fitting and unsurprising that the scene of the new scandal is the unelected second chamber whose proper reform Blair and Brown have spent 12 years avoiding. The deregulation of the banks, the love affair with the neocons, the failure to tax the rich, Peter Mandelson … is there any slithering cop-out which has not now returned to haunt this government?

The premise of Robert Harris’s novel The Ghost – that Blair’s premiership was the creation of a foreign intelligence service – is correct in spirit if not in substance. For twelve years the government of this country has acted as an agent of other powers: the US; big business; big money; anything except the electorate. It is hard now to believe that it was elected in a frenzy of hope very much like the excitement surrounding Barack Obama.

Tomorrow, with impeccable timing, the Alliance for Lobbying Transparency launches its campaign in parliament for public scrutiny of the contacts between legislators and professional hustlers(3). There’s a major lobbying scandal about once a month in this country, and no one who is aware of the government’s failure to regulate this industry should be surprised. It was elected to stamp out sleaze, but since 1997 it has done almost nothing.

So do our noble lords, unmolested by the law, routinely put the interests of business above those of the people who didn’t elect them? As SpinWatch records, in 2007 some of them were selling parliamentary passes to lobbyists for defence, transport, freight and legal companies(4). In October of that year the Labour peer Lord Hoyle admitted that he had been paid by an arms company rep to introduce him to the minister for defence procurement, Lord Drayson(5), although Lord Hoyle was cleared by a house of lords committee in May 2008. Last year, Lady Harris gave a researcher’s pass to Robin Ashby, whose company lobbies ministers on behalf of BAE Systems and other weapons manufacturers. Lady Harris is paid by Mr Ashby as an adviser to another company he runs(6).

But the problem is not confined to the House of Lords. Lobbying undermines democracy throughout the British government. In March last year, for example, we discovered that the government passed data which it had withheld from the public to the airport operator BAA. The data showed that a third runway at Heathrow would immediately breach European noise and pollution limits, ensuring that it could never be built. BAA and the government worked together to re-engineer the figures to fit the limits. Their fake data was then presented to the public in the government’s consultation paper(7,8). It was used again this month to justify the decision to approve the third runway. This is the kind of wheeze you’d expect in Nigeria.

Read the rest of this entry »





Israeli war propaganda

14 01 2009

An excerpt from Medialens’s latest alert “An eye for an eyelash: The Gaza Massacre” exposes some of the distortions we are subject to in the media:

Well in advance of the invasion, Israel developed plans to counter the inevitable images of bloodied children and tiny, dismembered bodies. Avi Pazner, Israel’s former ambassador to Italy and France, drafted in to support the propaganda component of the offensive, commented:

“Whenever Israel is bombing, it is hard to explain our position to the world. But at least this time everything was ready and in place.” (Anshel Pfeffer, ‘Israel claims success in the PR war,’ Jewish Chronicle, December 31, 2008; http://www.thejc.com/articles/ israel-claims-success-pr-war)

Eight months ago, the perfectly named National Information Directorate was formed within the Israeli Prime Minister’s Office. This is now coordinating media operations across the various government departments. The Directorate began preparing for a Gaza offensive some six months ago. Yarden Vatikay, director of the National Information Directorate, told reporters:

“One of our lessons from the Lebanon War [2006] was that there were too many uniforms in the coverage, and that doesn’t come over very positively.”

As a result, there are now: “Fewer military officers; more women; tightly controlled messages; and ministers kept on a short leash.” (Ibid.)

A press centre was set up in the Israeli town of Sderot, near the border with Gaza, so that foreign reporters would spend as much time as possible in the main civilian area affected by Hamas rockets.

Israeli ministers have also been ordered not to give unauthorised interviews to avoid a repeat of last year’s PR disaster when Deputy Defence Minister Matan Vilnai threatened the Palestinians with a “holocaust”.

“The more Qassam [rocket] fire intensifies and the rockets reach a longer range, they will bring upon themselves a bigger shoah because we will use all our might to defend ourselves.” (‘Israeli minister warns of Palestinian “holocaust”,’ The Guardian, February 29, 2008; http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/ 2008/feb/29/israelandthepalestinians1)

‘Shoah’ is the Hebrew word normally used to refer to the Jewish Holocaust at the hands of the Nazis.

A key deception promoted by the National Information Directorate involves the claim that the latest cycle of violence began when Hamas broke a four-month ceasefire agreed last June. In fact, Israel broke the ceasefire when it launched a raid into Gaza on November 4, killing six people. On November 5, the Guardian reported:

“A four-month ceasefire between Israel and Palestinian militants in Gaza was in jeopardy today after Israeli troops killed six Hamas gunmen in a raid into the territory.

“Hamas responded by firing a wave of rockets into southern Israel, although no one was injured. The violence represented the most serious break in a ceasefire agreed in mid-June, yet both sides suggested they wanted to return to atmosphere of calm.” (Rory McCarthy, ‘Gaza truce broken as Israeli raid kills six Hamas gunmen,’ The Guardian, November 5, 2008; http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2008 /nov/05/israelandthepalestinians)

The Guardian added:

“Until now it had appeared both Israel and Hamas, which seized full control of Gaza last summer, had an interest in maintaining the ceasefire. For Israel it has meant an end to the daily barrage of rockets landing in southern towns, particularly Sderot.”

On December 27, at the start of the latest attacks, Reuters reported that US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice had “blamed Hamas for breaking a cease-fire with Israel, which launched air strikes on Gaza killing more than 200 people.” Rice commented:

“The United States strongly condemns the repeated rocket and mortar attacks against Israel and holds Hamas responsible for breaking the cease-fire and for the renewal of violence in Gaza.” (Tabassum Zakaria, ‘Rice: Hamas broke cease-fire,’ News24, December 27, 2008; http://www.news24.com/News24/World/News/0,,2-10-1462_2446278,00.html)

Alan Dershowitz wrote in the Telegraph on January 10:

“Hamas deliberately broke the ceasefire by firing rockets into southern Israel from densely populated cities, using the areas around schools and mosques as launching points.” (Dershowitz, ‘Don’t play into the hands of Hamas,’ Daily Telegraph, January 10, 2009)

The BBC’s version of events from January 9 was more subtly deceptive:

“The ceasefire, brokered by the Egyptians, was often broken in practice… Events began to come to a climax after the Israelis raided southern Gaza on 4 November 2008 to destroy smuggling tunnels.” (BBC online, January 9, 2009;
http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/ world/middle_east/7818022.stm)

No mention was made of the six human lives also destroyed in the attack. The same BBC article, “Q&A: Gaza conflict,” asked:

“What casualties have the Hamas rockets caused?

“Since 2001, when the rockets were first fired, more than 8,600 have hit southern Israel, nearly 6,000 of them since Israel withdrew from Gaza in August 2005. The rockets have killed 28 people and injured hundreds more. In the Israeli town of Sderot near Gaza, 90% of residents have had a missile exploding in their street or an adjacent one.” (Ibid.)

The article noted that “Palestinian medical sources say that about 700 people have been killed in Gaza during Israel’s current campaign there.” Again, curiously, despite mentioning that Hamas rockets have killed 28 Israelis since 2001, the BBC made no mention of the fact that 5,000 Palestinians had been killed by Israeli strikes over the same period prior to the current Israeli offensive – a figure fast approaching 6,000.





The Facts About Hamas and the War on Gaza

13 01 2009

From Counterpunch.org:

By NORMAN FINKELSTEIN

The record is fairly clear. You can find it on the Israeli website, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs website. Israel broke the ceasefire by going into the Gaza and killing six or seven Palestinian militants. At that point—and now I’m quoting the official Israeli website—Hamas retaliated or, in retaliation for the Israeli attack, then launched the missiles.

Now, as to the reason why, the record is fairly clear as well. According to Ha’aretz, Defense Minister Barak began plans for this invasion before the ceasefire even began. In fact, according to yesterday’s Ha’aretz, the plans for the invasion began in March. And the main reasons for the invasion, I think, are twofold. Number one; to enhance what Israel calls its deterrence capacity, which in layman’s language basically means Israel’s capacity to terrorize the region into submission. After their defeat in July 2006 in Lebanon, they felt it important to transmit the message that Israel is still a fighting force, still capable of terrorizing those who dare defy its word.

And the second main reason for the attack is because Hamas was signaling that it wanted a diplomatic settlement of the conflict along the June 1967 border. That is to say, Hamas was signaling they had joined the international consensus, they had joined most of the international community, overwhelmingly the international community, in seeking a diplomatic settlement. And at that point, Israel was faced with what Israelis call a Palestinian peace offensive. And in order to defeat the peace offensive, they sought to dismantle Hamas.

As was documented in the April 2008 issue of Vanity Fair by the writer David Rose, basing himself on internal US documents, it was the United States in cahoots with the Palestinian Authority and Israel which were attempting a putsch on Hamas, and Hamas preempted the putsch. That, too, is no longer debatable or no longer a controversial claim.

The issue is can it rule in Gaza if Israel maintains a blockade and prevents economic activity among the Palestinians. The blockade, incidentally, was implemented before Hamas came to power. The blockade doesn’t even have anything to do with Hamas. The blockade came to—there were Americans who were sent over, in particular James Wolfensohn, to try to break the blockade after Israel redeployed its troops in Gaza.

The problem all along has been that Israel doesn’t want Gaza to develop, and Israel doesn’t want to resolve diplomatically the conflict, both the leadership in Damascus and the leadership in the Gaza have repeatedly made statements they’re willing to settle the conflict in the June 1967 border. The record is fairly clear. In fact, it’s unambiguously clear.

Every year, the United Nations General Assembly votes on a resolution entitled “Peaceful Settlement of the Palestine Question.” And every year the vote is the same: it’s the whole world on one side; Israel, the United States and some South Sea atolls and Australia on the other side. The vote this past year was 164-to-7. Every year since 1989—in 1989, the vote was 151-to-3, the whole world on one side, the United States, Israel and the island state of Dominica on the other side.

We have the Arab League, all twenty-two members of the Arab League, favoring a two-state settlement on the June 1967 border. We have the Palestinian Authority favoring that two-state settlement on the June 1967 border. We now have Hamas favoring that two-state settlement on the June 1967 border. The one and only obstacle is Israel, backed by the United States. That’s the problem.

Well, the record shows that Hamas wanted to continue the ceasefire, but only on condition that Israel eases the blockade. Long before Hamas began the retaliatory rocket attacks on Israel, Palestinians were facing a humanitarian crisis in Gaza because of the blockade. The former High Commissioner for Human Rights, Mary Robinson, described what was going on in Gaza as a destruction of a civilization. This was during the ceasefire period.

What does the record show? The record shows for the past twenty or more years, the entire international community has sought to settle the conflict in the June 1967 border with a just resolution of the refugee question. Are all 164 nations of the United Nations the rejectionists? And are the only people in favor of peace the United States, Israel, Nauru, Palau, Micronesia, the Marshall Islands and Australia? Who are the rejectionists? Who’s opposing a peace?

The record shows that in every crucial issue raised at Camp David, then under the Clinton parameters, and then in Taba, at every single point, all the concessions came from the Palestinians. Israel didn’t make any concessions. Every concession came from the Palestinians. The Palestinians have repeatedly expressed a willingness to settle the conflict in accordance with international law.

The law is very clear. July 2004, the highest judicial body in the world, the International Court of Justice, ruled Israel has no title to any of the West Bank and any of Gaza. They have no title to Jerusalem. Arab East Jerusalem, according to the highest judicial body in the world, is occupied Palestinian territory. The International Court of Justice ruled all the settlements, all the settlements in the West Bank, are illegal under international law.

Now, the important point is, on all those questions, the Palestinians were willing to make concessions. They made all the concessions. Israel didn’t make any concessions.

I think it’s fairly clear what needs to happen. Number one, the United States and Israel have to join the rest of the international community, have to abide by international law. I don’t think international law should be trivialized. I think it’s a serious issue. If Israel is in defiance of international law, it should be called into account, just like any other state in the world.

Mr. Obama has to level with the American people. He has to be honest about what is the main obstacle to resolving the conflict. It’s not Palestinian rejectionism. It’s the refusal of Israel, backed by the United States government, to abide by international law, to abide by the opinion of the international community.

And the main challenge for all of us as Americans is to see through the lies.

Norman Finkelstein is the author of five books, including Image and Reality of the Israel-Palestine Conflict, Beyond Chutzpah and The Holocaust Industry, which have been translated into more than 40 foreign editions. He is the son of Holocaust survivors. This article is an edited extract of the views of Finkelstein given at DemocracyNow.org. His website is www.NormanFinkelstein.com