A Critique of Intelligent Design Theory and Neocreationism
The claims by Behe, Dembski, and other "intelligent design" creationists that science should be opened to supernatural explanations and that these should be allowed in academic as well as public school curricula are unfounded and based on a misunderstanding of both design in nature and of what the neo-Darwinian theory of evolution is all about.
A new brand of creationism has appeared on the scene in the last few years. The so-called neocreationists largely do not believe in a young Earth or in a too literal interpretation of the Bible. While still mostly propelled by a religious agenda and financed by mainly Christian sources such as the Templeton Foundation and the Discovery Institute, the intellectual challenge posed by neocreationism is sophisticated enough to require detailed consideration (see Edis 2001; Roche 2001).
Among the chief exponents of Intelligent Design (ID) theory, as this new brand of creationism is called, is William Dembski, a mathematical philosopher and author of The Design Inference (1998a). In that book he attempts to show that there must be an intelligent designer behind natural phenomena such as evolution and the very origin of the universe (see Pigliucci 2000 for a detailed critique). Dembki's (1998b) argument is that modern science ever since Francis Bacon has illicitly dropped two of Aristotle's famous four types of causes from consideration altogether, thereby unnecessarily restricting its own explanatory power. Science is thus incomplete, and intelligent design theory will rectify this sorry state of affairs, if only close-minded evolutionists would allow Dembski and company to do the job.
Aristotle's Four Causes in Science
Aristotle identified material causes, what something is made of; formal causes, the structure of the thing or phenomenon; efficient causes, the immediate activity producing a phenomenon or object; and final causes, the purpose of whatever object we are investigating. For example, let's say we want to investigate the "causes" of the Brooklyn Bridge. Its material cause would be encompassed by a description of the physical materials that went into its construction. The formal cause is the fact that it is a bridge across a stretch of water, and not either a random assembly of pieces or another kind of orderly structure (such as a skyscraper). The efficient causes were the blueprints drawn by engineers and the labor of men and machines that actually assembled the physical materials and put them into place. The final cause of the Brooklyn Bridge was the necessity for people to walk and ride between two landmasses without getting wet.
Dembski maintains that Bacon and his followers did away with both formal and final causes (the so-called teleonomic causes, because they answer the question of why something is) in order to free science from philosophical speculation and ground it firmly into empirically verifiable statements. That may be so, but things certainly changed with the work of Charles Darwin (1859). Darwin was addressing a complex scientific question in an unprecedented fashion: he recognized that living organisms are clearly designed in order to survive and reproduce in the world they inhabit; yet, as a scientist, he worked within the framework of naturalistic explanations of such design. Darwin found the answer in his well-known theory of natural selection. Natural selection, combined with the basic process of mutation, makes design possible in nature without recourse to a supernatural explanation because selection is definitely nonrandom, and therefore has "creative" (albeit nonconscious) power. Creationists usually do not understand this point and think that selection can only eliminate the less fit; but Darwin's powerful insight was that selection is also a cumulative process-analogous to a ratchet-which can build things over time, as long as the intermediate steps are also advantageous.
Darwin made it possible to put all four Aristotelian causes back into science. For example, if we were to ask what are the causes of a tiger's teeth within a Darwinian framework, we would answer in the following manner. The material cause is provided by the biological materials that make up the teeth; the formal cause is the genetic and developmental machinery that distinguishes a tiger's teeth from any other kind of biological structure; the efficient cause is natural selection promoting some genetic variants of the tiger's ancestor over their competitors; and the final cause is provided by the fact that having teeth structured in a certain way makes it easier for a tiger to procure its prey and therefore to survive and reproduce-the only "goals" of every living being.
Therefore, design is very much a part of modern science, at least whenever there is a need to explain an apparently designed structure (such as a living organism). All four Aristotelian causes are fully reinstated within the realm of scientific investigation, and science is not maimed by the disregard of some of the causes acting in the world. What then is left of the argument of Dembski and of other proponents of ID? They, like William Paley (1831) well before them, make the mistake of confusing natural design and intelligent design by rejecting the possibility of the former and concluding that any design must by definition be intelligent.
One is left with the lingering feeling that Dembski is being disingenuous about ancient philosophy. It is quite clear, for example, that Aristotle himself never meant his teleonomic causes to imply intelligent design in nature (Cohen 2000). His mentor, Plato (in Timaeus), had already concluded that the designer of the universe could not be an omnipotent god, but at most what he called a Demiurge, a lesser god who evidently messes around with the universe with mixed results. Aristotle believed that the scope of god was even more limited, essentially to the role of prime mover of the universe, with no additional direct interaction with his creation (i.e., he was one of the first deists). In Physics, where he discusses the four causes, Aristotle treats nature itself as a craftsman, but clearly devoid of forethought and intelligence. A tiger develops into a tiger because it is in its nature to do so, and this nature is due to some physical essence given to it by its father (we would call it DNA) which starts the process out. Aristotle makes clear this rejection of god as a final cause (Cohen 2000) when he says that causes are not external to the organism (such as a designer would be) but internal to it (as modern developmental biology clearly shows). In other words, the final cause of a living being is not a plan, intention, or purpose, but simply intrinsic in the developmental changes of that organism. Which means that Aristotle identified final causes with formal causes as far as living organisms are concerned. He rejected chance and randomness (as do modern biologists) but did not invoke an intelligent designer in its place, contra Dembski. We had to wait until Darwin for a further advance on Aristotle's conception of the final cause of living organisms and for modern molecular biology to achieve an understanding of their formal cause.
There are two additional arguments proposed by ID theorists to demonstrate intelligent design in the universe: the con-cept of "irreducible complexity" and the "complexity-specification" criterion. Irreducible complexity is a term introduced in this context by molecular biologist Michael Behe in his book Darwin's Black Box (1996). The idea is that the difference between a natural phenomenon and an intelligent designer is that a designed object is planned in advance, with forethought. While an intelligent agent is not constrained by a step-by-step evolutionary process, an evolutionary process is the only way nature itself can proceed given that it has no planning capacity (this may be referred to as incremental complexity). Irreducible complexity then arises whenever all the parts of a structure have to be present and functional simultaneously for it to work, indicating-according to Behe-that the structure was designed and could not possibly have been gradually built by natural selection.
Behe's example of an irreducibly complex object is a mousetrap. If you take away any of the minimal elements that make the trap work it will lose its function; on the other hand, there is no way to assemble a mousetrap gradually from a natural phenomenon, because it won't work until the last piece is assembled. Forethought, and therefore intelligent design, is necessary. Of course it is. After all, mousetraps as purchased in hardware stores are indeed human products; we know that they are intelligently designed. But what of biological structures? Behe claims that, while evolution can explain a lot of the visible diversity among living organisms, it is not enough when we come to the molecular level. The cell and several of its fundamental components and biochemical pathways are, according to him, irreducibly complex.
The problem with this statement is that it is contradicted by the available literature on comparative studies in microbiology and molecular biology, which Behe conveniently ignores (Miller 1996). For example, geneticists are continuously showing that biochemical pathways are partly redundant. Redundancy is a common feature of living organisms where different genes are involved in the same or in partially overlapping functions. While this may seem a waste, mathematical models show that evolution by natural selection has to produce molecular redundancy because when a new function is necessary it cannot be carried out by a gene that is already doing something else, without compromising the original function. On the other hand, if the gene gets duplicated (by mutation), one copy is freed from immediate constraints and can slowly diverge in structure from the original, eventually taking over new functions. This process leads to the formation of gene "families," groups of genes clearly originated from a single ancestral DNA sequence, and that now are diversified and perform a variety of functions (e.g., the globins, which vary from proteins allowing muscle contraction to those involved in the exchange of oxygen and carbon dioxide in the blood). As a result of redundancy, mutations can knock down individual components of biochemical pathways without compromising the overall function-contrary to the expectations of irreducible complexity.
(Notice that creationists, never ones to loose a bit, have also tried to claim that redundancy is yet another evidence of intelligent design, because an engineer would produce backup systems to minimize catastrophic failures should the primary components stop functioning. While very clever, this argument once again ignores the biology: the majority of duplicated genes end up as pseudogenes, literally pieces of molecular junk that are eventually lost forever to any biological utility [Max 1986].)
To be sure, there are several cases in which biologists do not know enough about the fundamental constituents of the cell to be able to hypothesize or demonstrate their gradual evolution. But this is rather an argument from ignorance, not positive evidence of irreducible complexity. William Paley advanced exactly the same argument to claim that it is impossible to explain the appearance of the eye by natural means. Yet, today biologists know of several examples of intermediate forms of the eye, and there is evidence that this structure evolved several times independently during the history of life on Earth (Gehring and Ikeo 1999). The answer to the classical creationist question, "What good is half an eye?" is "Much better than no eye at all"!
However, Behe does have a point concerning irreducible complexity. It is true that some structures simply cannot be explained by slow and cumulative processes of natural selection. From his mousetrap to Paley's watch to the Brooklyn Bridge, irreducible complexity is indeed associated with intelligent design. The problem for ID theory is that there is no evidence so far of irreducible complexity in living organisms.
The Complexity-Specification Criterion
William Dembski uses an approach similar to Behe to back up creationist claims, in that he also wants to demonstrate that intelligent design is necessary to explain the complexity of nature. His proposal, however, is both more general and more deeply flawed. In his book The Design Inference (Dembski 1998a) he claims that there are three essential types of phenomena in nature: "regular," random, and designed (which he assumes to be intelligent). A regular phenomenon would be a simple repetition explainable by the fundamental laws of physics, for example the rotation of Earth around the Sun. Random phenomena are exemplified by the tossing of a coin. Design enters any time that two criteria are satisfied: complexity and specification (Dembski 1998b).
There are several problems with this neat scenario. First of all, leaving aside design for a moment, the remaining choices are not limited to regularity and randomness. Chaos and complexity theory have established the existence of self-organizing phenomena (Kauffman 1993; Shanks and Joplin 1999), situations in which order spontaneously appears as an emergent property of complex interactions among the parts of a system. And this class of phenomena, far from being only a figment of mathematical imagination as Behe maintains, are real. For example, certain meteorological phenomena such as tornados are neither regular nor random but are the result of self-organizing processes.
But let us go back to complexity-specification and take a closer look at these two fundamental criteria, allegedly capable of establishing intelligent agency in nature. Following one of Dembski's examples, if SETI (Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence) researchers received a very short signal that may be interpreted as encoding the first three prime numbers, they would probably not rush to publish their findings. This is because even though such signal could be construed as due to some kind of intelligence, it is so short that its occurrence can just as easily be explained by chance. Given the choice, a sensible scientist would follow Ockham's razor and conclude that the signal does not constitute enough evidence for extraterrestrial intelligence. However, also according to Dembski, if the signal were long enough to encode all the prime numbers between 2 and 101, the SETI people would open the champagne and celebrate all night. Why? Because such signal would be both too complex to be explained by chance and would be specifiable, meaning that it is not just a random sequence of numbers, it is an intelligible message.
The specification criterion needs to be added because complexity by itself is a necessary but not sufficient condition for design (Roche 2001). To see this, imagine that the SETI staff receives a long but random sequence of signals. That sequence would be very complex, meaning that it would take a lot of information to actually archive or repeat the sequence (you have to know where all the 0s and 1s are), but it would not be specifiable because the sequence would be meaningless.
Dembski is absolutely correct that plenty of human activities, such as SETI, investigations into plagiarism, or encryption, depend on the ability to detect intelligent agency. Where he is wrong is in assuming only one kind of design. For him design equals intelligence and, even though he admitted that such an intelligence may be an advanced extraterrestrial civilization, his preference is for a god, possibly of the Christian variety.
The problem is that natural selection, a natural process, also fulfills the complexity-specification criterion, thereby demonstrating that it is possible to have unintelligent design in nature. Living organisms are indeed complex. They are also specifiable, meaning that they are not random assemblages of organic compounds, but are clearly formed in a way that enhances their chances of surviving and reproducing in a changing and complex environment. What, then, distinguishes organisms from the Brooklyn Bridge? Both meet Dembski's complexity-specification criterion, but only the bridge is irreducibly complex. This has important implications for design.
In response to some of his critics, Dembski (2000) claimed that intelligent design does not mean optimal design. The criticism of suboptimal design has often been advanced by evolutionists who ask why God would do such a sloppy job with creation that even a mere human engineer can easily determine where the flaws are. For example, why is it that human beings have hemorrhoids, varicose veins, backaches, and foot aches? If you assume that we were "intelligent-ly" designed, the answer must be that the designer was rather incompetent-something that would hardly please a creationist. Instead, evolutionary theory has a single answer to all these questions: humans evolved bipedalism (walking with an erect posture) only very recently, and natural selection has not yet fully adapted our body to the new condition (Olshansky et al. 2001). Our closest primate relatives, chimps, gorillas, and the like, are better adapted to their way of life, and therefore are less "imperfect" than ourselves!
Dembski is of course correct in saying that intelligent design does not mean optimal design. As much as the Brooklyn Bridge is a marvel of engineering, it is not perfect, meaning that it had to be constructed within the constraints and limitations of the available materials and technology, and it still is subject to natural laws and decay. The bridge's vulnerability to high winds and earthquakes, and its inadequacy to bear a volume of traffic for which it was not built can be seen as similar to the back pain caused by our recent evolutionary history. However, the imperfection of living organisms, already pointed out by Darwin, does do away with the idea that they were created by an omnipotent and omnibenevolent creator, who surely would not be limited by laws of physics that He Himself made up from scratch.
The Four Fundamental Types of Design and How to Recognize Them
Given these considerations, I would like to propose a system that includes both Behe's and Dembski's suggestions, while at the same time showing why they are both wrong in concluding that we have evidence for intelligent design in the universe. Figure 1 summarizes my proposal. Essentially, I think there are four possible kinds of design in nature which, together with Dembski's categories of "regular" and random phenomena, and the addition of chaotic and self-organizing phenomena, truly exhaust all possibilities known to us. Science recognizes regular, random, and self-organizing phenomena, as well as the first two types of design described in figure 1. The other two types of design are possible in principle, but I contend that there is neither empirical evidence nor logical reason to believe that they actually occur.
The first kind of design is non-intelligent-natural, and it is exemplified by natural selection within Earth's biosphere (and possibly elsewhere in the universe). The results of this design, such as all living organisms on Earth, are not irreducibly complex, meaning that they can be produced by incremental, continuous (though not necessarily gradual) changes over time. These objects can be clearly attributed to natural processes also because of two other reasons: they are never optimal (in an engineering sense) and they are clearly the result of historical processes. For example, they are full of junk, nonutilized or underutilized parts, and they resemble similar objects occurring simultaneously or previously in time (see, for example, the fossil record). Notice that some scientists and philosophers of science feel uncomfortable in considering this "design" because they equate the term with intelligence. But I do not see any reason to embrace such limitation. If something is shaped over time-by whatever means-such that it fulfills a certain function, then it is designed and the question is simply of how such design happened to materialize. The teeth of a tiger are clearly designed to efficiently cut into the flesh of its prey and therefore to promote survival and reproduction of tigers bearing such teeth.
The second type of design is intelligent-natural. These artifacts are usually irreducibly complex, such as a watch designed by a human. They are also not optimal, meaning that they clearly compromise between solutions to different problems (trade-offs) and they are subject to the constraints of physical laws, available materials, expertise of the designer, etc. Humans may not be the only ones to generate these objects, as the artifacts of any extraterrestrial civilization would fall into the same broad category.
The third kind of design, which is difficult, if not impossible, to distinguish from the second, is what I term intelligent-supernatural-sloppy. Objects created in this way are essentially indistinguishable from human or ET artifacts, except that they would be the result of what the Greeks called a Demiurge, a minor god with limited powers. Alternatively, they could be due to an evil omnipotent god that just amuses himself with suboptimal products. The reason intelligent-supernatural-sloppy design is not distinguishable from some instances (but by all means not all) of intelligent-natural design is Arthur C. Clarke's famous third law: from the point of view of a technologically less advanced civilization, the technology of a very advanced civilization is essentially indistinguishable from magic (such as the monolith in his 2001: A Space Odyssey). I would be very interested if someone could suggest a way around Clarke's law.
Finally, we have intelligent-supernatural-perfect design, which is the result of the activity of an omnipotent and omnibenevolent god. These artifacts would be both irreducibly complex and optimal. They would not be constrained by either trade-offs or physical laws (after all, God created the laws themselves). While this is the kind of god many Christian fundamentalists believe in (though some do away with the omnibenevolent part), it's quite clear from the existence of human evil as well as of natural catastrophes and diseases, that such god does not exist. Dembski recognizes this difficulty and, as I pointed out above, admits that his intelligent design could even be due to a very advanced extraterrestrial civilization, and not to a supernatural entity at all (Dembski 2000).
In summary, it seems to me that the major arguments of Intelligent Design theorists are neither new nor compelling:
1. It is simply not true that science does not address all Aristotelian causes, whenever design needs to be explained;
2. While irreducible complexity is indeed a valid criterion to distinguish between intelligent and non-intelligent design, these are not the only two possibilities, and living organisms are not irreducibly complex (e.g., see Shanks and Joplin 1999);
3. The complexity-specification criterion is actually met by natural selection, and cannot therefore provide a way to distinguish intelligent from non-intelligent design;
4. If supernatural design exists at all (but where is the evidence or compelling logic?), this is certainly not of the kind that most religionists would likely subscribe to, and it is indistinguishable from the technology of a very advanced civilization.
Therefore, Behe's, Dembski's, and other creationists' (e.g., Johnson 1997) claims that science should be opened to supernatural explanations and that these should be allowed in academic as well as public school curricula are unfounded and based on a misunderstanding of both design in nature and of what the neo-Darwinian theory of evolution (Mayr and Provine 1980) is all about.
I would like to thank Melissa Brenneman, Will Provine, and Niall Shanks for insightful comments on earlier versions of this article, as well as Michael Behe, William Dembski, Ken Miller, and Barry Palevitz for indulging in correspondence and discussions with me over these matters.
* Behe, M.J. 1996. Darwin's Black Box: The Biochemical Challenge to Evolution. New York, N.Y.: Free Press.
* Cohen, S.M. 2000. The four causes. Accessed on 5/16/00 at faculty.washington.edu/smcohen.
* Darwin, C.  1910. The Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection: Or, the Preservation of Favored Races in the Struggle for Life. New York, N.Y.: A.L. Burt.
* Dembski, W.A. 1998a. The Design Inference. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.
* ---. 1998b. Reinstating design within science. Rhetoric & Public Affairs 1:503-518.
* ---. 2000. Intelligent design is not optimal design. Accessed on 2/3/00 at www.meta-list.org.
* Edis, T. 2001. Darwin in mind: Intelligent Design meets artificial intelligence. Skeptical Inquirer 25(2): 35-39.
* Gehring, W.J., and K. Ikeo. 1999. Pax 6, mastering eye morphogenesis and eye evolution. Trends in Genetics 15:371-377.
* Johnson, P. 1997. Defeating Darwinism by Opening Minds. Downers Grove, Illinois: InterVarsity Press.
* Kauffman, S.A. 1993. The Origins of Order. New York, N.Y.: Oxford University Press.
* Max, E.E. 1986. Plagiarized errors and molecular genetics: Another argument in the evolution-creation controversy. Creation/Evolution 9:34-46.
* Mayr, E., and W.B. Provine. 1980. The Evolutionary Synthesis: Perspectives on the Unification of Biology. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press.
* Miller, K.R. 1996. The biochemical challenge to evolution. Accessed on 10/30/99 at biomed.brown.edu/faculty/M/Miller/Miller.html.
* Olshansky, S.J., A.C. Bruce, and R.N. Butler. 2001. If humans were built to last. Scientific American March, pp. 50-55.
* Paley, W. 1831. Natural Theology: Or, Evidences of the Existence and Attributes of the Deity, Collected from the Appearances of Nature. Boston, Mass: Gould, Kendall, and Lincoln, .
* Pigliucci, M. 2000. Chance, necessity, and the new holy war against science. A review of W.A. Dembski's The Design Inference. BioScience 50(1): pp. 79-81. January.
* Roche, D. 2001. A bit confused: creationism and information theory. Skeptical Inquirer 25(2):40-42.
* Shanks, N., and K.H. Joplin. 1999. Redundant complexity: A critical analysis of intelligent design in biochemistry. Philosophy of Science 66:268-282.
About the Author
Massimo Pigliucci is associate professor of ecology and evolutionary biology a tthe University of Tennessee, Knoxville, TN 37996-1100, and author of Tales of the Rational: Skeptical Essays About Nature and Science. His essays can be found at http://fp.bio.utk.edu/skeptic
A Critique of Intelligent Design Theory and Neocreationism
By ALAN FREEMAN
Wednesday, December 21, 2005
WASHINGTON -- In a major blow to the Christian right, a federal judge ordered a Pennsylvania school board not to include "intelligent design" in its high-school biology classes, ruling that the board's real intent was to promote religion in schools in violation of the U.S. Constitution.
The ruling follows a six-month trial in the small town of Dover, Pa., that recalled the 1925 Scopes Monkey Trial, where Tennessee biology teacher John Scopes was fined $100 for violating a state law that banned the teaching of evolution.
That decision was later reversed on a technicality.
In his sweeping judgment, U.S. District Court Judge John Jones said the decision of the Dover School Board to introduce intelligent design into the classroom violated the constitutional protection of the separation of church and state.
"We find that the secular purposes claimed by the board amount to a pretext for the board's real purpose, which was to promote religion in the public-school classroom," Judge Jones wrote in his 139-page decision.
"The citizens of the Dover area were poorly served by the members of the board who voted for the ID [intelligent design] theory," the judge wrote.
"It is ironic that several of these individuals, who so staunchly and proudly touted their religious convictions in public, would time and again lie to cover their tracks and disguise the real purpose behind the ID policy."
The judge criticized "the breathtaking inanity" of the board's decision, saying that "the students, parents and teachers of the Dover Area School District deserved better than to be dragged into this legal maelstrom, with its resulting utter waste of monetary and personal resources."
The Dover board had ordered the inclusion of a statement about intelligent design in Grade 9 science classes that said that Charles Darwin's theory of evolution was "not a fact," and had unexplained "gaps." It then referred students to an intelligent-design text, Of Pandas and People: The Central Question of Biological Origins.
Intelligent-design proponents say that living things are so complex that some higher being must have been involved in their creation. The issue is being debated among school officials and the courts in several jurisdictions, including Kansas and Georgia.
Judge Jones agreed that Darwin's theory of evolution is imperfect. "However, the fact that a scientific theory cannot yet render an explanation of every point should not be used as a pretext to thrust an untestable hypothesis grounded in religion into the science classroom or to misrepresent well-established scientific propositions."
Just days after the six-week trial ended in early November, voters in Dover Township threw out seven of the board's eight incumbent members, replacing them with followers of a citizens group opposed to intelligent design in the classroom.
The new board is unlikely to appeal yesterday's ruling.
The American Civil Liberties Union, which joined 11 parents in fighting the board in court, applauded the ruling, noting that its proponents had tried to create "a false dichotomy between science and religion."
"Teaching students about religion in world history or social studies is proper, but disguising a particular religious belief as science is not," the group said in a statement.
Eric Rothschild, a lawyer for the families, called the decision "a real vindication for the parents who had the courage to stand up and say there was something wrong in the school district."
The Discovery Institute, a Seattle group that promotes intelligent design, accused Judge Jones of trying to censor open debate on the issue, accusing him of being "an activist judge who has delusions of grandeur." In the language of the U.S. ideological right, activist judges are always liberal.
But Joseph Kobylka, a political scientist at Southern Methodist University in Dallas, said the decision is particularly important because it was written by a conservative judge who was appointed by President George W. Bush.
"This is not some wild-eyed Clinton judge who is trying to restructure the world through the court," Prof. Kobylka said in an interview.
In Washington, White House spokesman Scott McClellan repeated Mr. Bush's contention that these decisions should be made locally.
But in a comment aimed at pleasing Mr. Bush's conservative supporters, Mr. McClellan added, "The President has also said that he believes students ought to be exposed to different theories and ideas so that they can fully understand what the debate is about."
On the eve of polls that could give South America its first indigenous head of state, Evo Morales talks about his gas nationalisation plans
Sunday December 18, 2005
On a barren landing strip in Bolivia's mining heartland of Oruro, hundreds of people, including miners carrying dynamite charges, stir at the sight of an approaching small plane. It's a stampede by the time it lands, as the crowds rush down the slope to greet an emerging heavy-built man. He is Evo Morales, a 46-year-old Aymara Indian, leading candidate in today's presidential elections and leader of a left-wing revolution that may soon engulf most of South America.
Morales is on the verge of becoming the first wholly Indian leader in Latin America. According to most polls, Morales's advantage over his closest rival, the former conservative President Jorge Quiroga, is at least five points. Despite having little chance of an absolute majority, forcing the newly elected rightist congress to choose the new President in January, congress is expected to nominate Morales if he wins the popular vote, due to fears of civil unrest, which has toppled two centre-right Presidents in two years.
Morales is riding a wave of anger from Bolivia's impoverished Indian majority who have not seen any benefits from years of free-market policies and the sale of the country's natural resources by a mostly white elite to huge multinationals.
In few places is the country's ingrained injustice as visible as in the arid region of Oruro, birthplace of the Bolivian trade union movement, whose tin mines have maintained the state for decades, while its inhabitants live in miserable mud huts. Morales was born there, before being forced by drought to move to the region of Chapare, where he later emerged as the leader of the coca farmers, launching his political career.
Morales's first stop in Oruro is Uncía. Jumping on a tractor and trundling slowly towards the main town square, he is followed by a long caravan of vehicles and by dynamite explosions in substitution for fireworks. Some 3,000 Indians listen intently and in a combative mood. 'We're determined to wrest control over our resources and our lives after the efforts to eliminate the Indians from the period of the Spanish colony. We will bury American imperialism!' declares Morales amid shouts of 'El pueblo unido jamás será vencido!' (The people united will never be defeated!)
'We're desperate. He's the only one who can change this terrible economic model,' says miner Juan Mamani, 45.
'On 18 December we'll crush the traitors who have sold our resources and lied to the people. Morales is our brother and we trust him, but he should beware of not delivering on his promises,' says another miner, dynamite strapped to his helmet.
To correct Bolivia's innumerable wrongs, Morales has pledged to secure indigenous rights by rewriting the constitution in an assembly to convene next summer. 'Indians actively took part in Bolivia's independence in 1825, but were excluded from its foundation, and since then have been second-class citizens. We were condemned to extinction but managed to organise ourselves,' Morales tells The Observer at 4am at the regional coca farmers' headquarters in Cochabamba.
Morales wants to nationalise Bolivia's huge gas reserves, the continent's second largest after Venezuela, currently in the hands of multinational companies. 'We will renegotiate all contracts - they are illegal, since congress has never ratified them,' he says. 'The state will recover the property of its natural resources, but we are open to foreign investment in exchange for a share of the business.'
But it is his intention to legalise coca, a religiously symbolic crop for Indians and the primary ingredient of cocaine, with the aim of industrialising productions so it can be made into food and medicinal products, that has caused the most international waves. Bolivia is the world's third-largest cocaine producer and Washington wants coca crops eradicated.
Most Bolivians feel that, however imperfect Morales and his MAS (Movement to Socialism) party may be, they remain their only hope. Nowhere is this more apparent than in the Aymara Indian stronghold of Achacachi, north of La Paz. 'We don't trust Morales. He's surrounded by the same people who have ruined Bolivia and plays according to their rules,' says Eugenio Rojas, the mayor. 'Morales hasn't got Indian thoughts, he comes from a Marxist tradition. He simply wants to become President and we tell him to go ahead because there's no other choice.'
Here all decisions are taken communally, a process that takes time. This is why Rojas insists the social movements will take two to three years to judge whether Morales is delivering, before resorting to violence. If congress were to impose a right-wing government, despite Morales winning the popular vote, this period would shrink to a year. Some indigenous sectors may not be so lenient. In the nearby town of Warisata, the guide tells The Observer: 'If you're a MAS supporter, they'll kill you.'
Onlookers stare menacingly. 'We have to leave now! You're a gringuito [American-looking]. This could turn ugly,' the driver insists.
Given the state of Bolivia, the odds that Morales fails are five to one, a local politician tells me. The odds on others succeeding are far slimmer.
With supremacist 'Anglos' battling it out with 'bloody Lebs' on Cronulla beach, it looks like being a long, hot summer down under. But the reality is that Australia is no more racist than Britain, argues Germaine Greer
Thursday December 15, 2005
"We are the Sons and Daughters of the Anzacs. We cannot expect our treasonous government to protect us in these times, they are the ones that bought us to this very place. With 150,000 Arabs entering our nation 'legally' each year, it is time Australians stood up and were counted. For we are the Sons and Daughters of the Anzacs, the men who protected us from threat and invasion in years gone by. Now it is your turn, OUR turn, the guard has changed, the times have changed, but true patriots shall never be silenced."
So runs the latest communique of the commanders-in-chief of the "Anglo" side in the south Sydney beach wars, summoning me and other "Australians" to Cronulla next Sunday to do battle with the foreign invader. Under freshly invoked emergency powers, the Australian who sent it to me could incur a fine of A$5,000 (£2,130). Meanwhile, Arab-Christian and Arab-Muslim organisations are desperately trying to impose a curfew on their communities; Lebanese mothers are being asked to use their authority in the family to keep their sons at home next weekend.
The "can-Australia-really-be-racist?" approach of the British media to reportage of the battle of Cronulla is gratuitous and silly. Australia is as racist as Britain, no more, no less. Australian racism derives from the same bottomless source as British racism - from universal ignorance and working-class frustration, reinforced by an unshakeable conviction of British superiority over all other nations on earth, especially the swarthy ones. If Australia had been colonised by any other nation but the British, it would be less racist. As it is, it is dying hard.
The governor of New South Wales, Marie Baashir, is Lebanese; her husband is Sir Nick Shehadie, Lebanese hero of Australian rugby union, while rugby league's greatest-ever points scorer is another Lebanese, Hazem El Masri. Christian Lebanese have done particularly well in multicultural Australia, dividing the expatriate Lebanese community along class lines. One troubling aspect of the present friction is that shots have been fired by the ubiquitous "men of Middle-Eastern appearance" during a carol service at the Catholic primary school of St Joseph the Worker in genuinely multicultural Auburn. The school is attended by many Catholic Lebanese children. But it wouldn't really matter if the Queen herself was Lebanese: nothing is going to change the mindset of the new Anzacs.
Beach wars are nothing new. Australian satirists have been deriding moronic surfie culture for 50 years. The best beaches are territories that must be defended against all-comers, especially car-loads of "greasers". For seven years, according to some observers, gangs of "bloody Lebs" have been descending on Cronulla beach, mainly because neighbouring Maroubra Beach was barred to them by the multicultural surf gang "the Bra Boys". Then, on Sunday December 3, two young men, said to be surf lifeguards but not, in fact, identified or acknowledged by the Cronulla Life-Saving Club, were bashed to insensibility by four "men of Middle-Eastern appearance", who summoned others by mobile phone. What provoked the attack is not known, but a few days later, people chatting on the beach, referring casually to the trouble caused by "bloody Lebs", were overheard and narrowly escaped a bashing of their own.
The latest events might be no more than skirmishes in the usual beach wars. But it does seem that Australian-born Muslim teenagers have finally had enough. Antagonism towards them has been mounting for years, so that even the most presentable middle-class young men of Middle-Eastern appearance find themselves routinely turned away from clubs and effectively ostracised from mainstream youth culture.
One case in particular has become a lightning rod for racial tensions. In 2002, Lebanese Muslim Bilal Skaf was convicted of organising gang rapes of Australian girls on three separate occasions. The crimes were horrible, and had been daily described throughout the tortuous proceedings in salacious and inflammatory detail by the Australian media. In what seems a knee-jerk reaction, Skaf was sentenced to an astonishing 55 years. This was widely denounced by redneck commentators as not enough. With Skaf and his brother in prison, the media dogged the rest of the family. When one of the three verdicts was overturned on a technicality, nine years of Skaf's sentence had to be set aside. The redneck media howled in rage and disbelief, and continue to howl, keeping the issue alive. The Bali bombings and Australian involvement in Afghanistan and Iraq have only reinforced the image of the universal enemy, the agent of evil, as the "man of Middle-Eastern appearance".
In the week that followed the first attack on Cronulla beach, redneck broadcaster Alan Jones encouraged his listeners to ring in and relieve themselves freely of their load of racist hatred. He also broadcast the text message that summoned people of like sentiments to "support the leb and wog bashing day", which was the following Sunday, when drunken "Anglo" gangs armed with beer bottles turned up to get a beating from the police, who laid about them like madmen. The "bloody Lebs" then retaliated, coming in car-loads, armed with clubs, metal bars and anything else that would split a skull, even guns. Peaceable residents caught in their onrush were bashed.
The place where all this happened is not a multicultural area, being entrenched white lower-middle-class, but Cronulla was one place where Lebanese families could reach the seaside. They did not surf, but they picnicked with their families and their hubble-bubble pipes in Guanamatta Park. The Anglo population had mostly accepted their weekly incursions - except for the moronic surfie fringe, who resented their very presence.
Even if the police manage to lock Cronulla down, the new Anzacs will regroup in the time that it takes to send a text message, faster than the police can reorganise to intercept them, and Lebanese Muslim youths, inspired by rap, ablaze with bling, armed to the teeth in their customised cars, will race to meet them. Already "patriotic" troops are massing on the Gold Coast and in the suburbs of Perth. This looks like being a bloody summer in Australia.
* * * * *
The impulsive, fatally naive diva of feminism
________made the world a better place in spite of herself.
- - - - - - - - - - - -
By Laura Miller
Greer, now 60, had been a rebellious if bright student who went on to become an intellectual celebrity who renounced the church, advocated rampant sexual freedom for women, trashed marriage and the family and fulminated against the imposition of Western values on indigenous peasant cultures throughout the world. In short, Greer had repudiated every value Mother Eymard had lived by and attempted to instill in her, but the nun nevertheless remembered her as "that wonderful girl." Likewise, Gloria Steinem recalls her with warmth, shrugging off the way Greer disparaged feminist activists in her fabulously successful 1970 book "The Female Eunuch" and despite the dismissive account Greer wrote for Harper's of the National Women's Political Caucus Steinem had fought to send to the 1972 Democratic Convention. Steinem reminisces about dining with Greer at a restaurant as the Australian loudly extolled the importance of vaginal secretions to the scandalized delight and fascination of a table of women. "I remember thinking it was a very valuable piece of information, being very grateful to her and wonderfully entertained at the same time," Steinem told Wallace. "She was terrific."
Clearly, Germaine Greer is one of those individuals to whom the ordinary rules of good conduct don't apply; that is, she hasn't been held to them by the rest of us, so powerful is her charisma, so winning her good looks. This charm, though, only imperfectly protects her work. Greer's latest opus, "The Whole Woman" -- trumpeted as her follow-up to "The Female Eunuch" -- is a bestseller in England, where the memory of Greer's first book has lingered longer than it has in the United States, but most critics, like the New Republic's Margaret Talbot (who calls Greer "the female misogynist"), are exasperated by Greer's disorganized, self-contradictory diatribe and disgusted by her positions on such issues as female circumcision (pro) and pap smears (con).
Members of the media, who once found Greer's long legs, bawdy braggadocio and paeans to group sex irresistible (Life magazine dubbed her a "saucy feminist that even men like"), are crestfallen to learn that she has recanted the doctrine of free love and now condemns all men as brutal, lazy sperm factories incapable of offering women emotional or sexual satisfaction. The bold liberationist who once scolded women for not stepping up to the plate and claiming the professional opportunities offered to them now bemoans weekly food shopping at the supermarket as "exhausting" and soul-killing work foisted upon victimized women by male authorities.
What changed? Not all that much, actually. Greer insists that she hasn't done an about-face on any of her earlier positions, and in a weird way, she's right. She's simply followed her premises to the conclusions implicit in them from the very beginning. And her writing hasn't evolved much, either. It's rather that we -- her readers, her world -- have transformed around her. To be disappointed in "The Whole Woman" and to then go back and re-read "The Female Eunuch" in search of the Germaine Greer who fired up so many women in the 1970s is as disconcerting as seeing a horror movie that terrified you as a child only to realize that it's pitifully tame.
I can remember discovering "The Female Eunuch" in my early teens and finding it exhilarating and galvanic -- so much so that I held onto my copy of it for years. Wallace's sources tell her that when the book first came out it provoked knock-down, drag-out fights over dinner tables, that copies of it were thrown across rooms at unsuspecting husbands, that one woman kept the book wrapped in brown paper and hidden among her shoes because her spouse forbade her to read it.
Nevertheless, and to my dismay, when revisited, "The Female Eunuch" turns out to be almost as thin a gruel as "The Whole Woman." Its occasional passages of stirring rhetoric or (more rarely) perceptive analysis float in a miasma of supposition, dubious research, trendy "revolutionary" posturing, the patent settling of personal grudges, strategic vagueness, U-turns in logic and arguments that are Potemkin Villages built out of sheer, unadulterated bravado. Greer can be flabbergastingly categorical, especially when she's wrong, whether she's attributing homosexuality to "the inability of the person to adapt to his given sex role" or noting that ovaries and wombs almost always "go wrong." Worse, the book isn't anywhere near as fun as I remember it being, mostly because it lacks any sustained idea or vision, because it doesn't expertly track and stalk a conclusion the way all top-notch polemical writing does. Greer hasn't got the attention span to pull that off. "The Female Eunuch" is a fitful, passionate, scattered text, not cohesive enough to qualify as a manifesto. It's all over the place, impulsive and fatally naive -- which is to say it is the quintessential product of its time.
God made the world in seven days ... and Lord Winston took just five months to write the story. Dare to suggest, though, that his new book and TV series lack expertise and you'll risk making this all-purpose TV pundit barking mad, says Lynn Barber
Sunday November 27, 2005
I finally find God in a little cubbyhole of an office next to Hammersmith Hospital. He looks Jewish, as perhaps one might expect, but with a disconcerting Freddie Mercury moustache. He is barking into the phone about a missing cheque for £5,000. It was his fee for some broadcast that was meant to go to charity but had not been received. He says it made him look bad with the charity and was altogether disgraceful. The production values were disgraceful too, he adds. He barks on in this vein while I stand awkwardly a few feet away.
I would not have liked to have been on the receiving end of that phone call. Professor Lord Winston, as he calls himself on earth, is a wrathful god who does not suffer fools gladly. Or journalists - he always makes a point of telling them that he loathes doing interviews, even while launching himself on yet another round of publicity for one of his books or TV series.
This time it is a book and television series called The Story of God, which purports to be a history of Judaism, Christianity, Islam, Buddhism, Hinduism, with lots of exotic cults thrown in. Lord Winston's previous television blockbusters - Making Babies, The Human Body, Human Instinct, Child of Our Time - have been broadly based on his authority as a medical scientist and human infertility expert, but obviously with The Story of God he has thrown off these shackles and become the omniscient Expert on Everything. He knows about God, he tells me, because he is a practising Jew, and familiar with the ancient texts: 'I can read these manuscripts in Latin, Hebrew, Aramaic and some Greek, in the original - which is more than most people writing about God can do. I can speak them too. I can't do cuneiform, but I have a very close friend who helped me with cuneiform texts.'
How did he get into God? It was all because of a meeting with Lorraine Heggessey, then the head of BBC1. He invited her to lunch to tell her about another idea he had prepared. 'I took her to the Ivy, which was a big error because of course normally when I go to a restaurant, I'm the one who is recognised, but because the Ivy has all these media people, Lorraine was the one who was recognised and immediately she was distracted by all sorts of people coming up to her making different pitches. Eventually, she took the proposal I'd written out very carefully and just pushed it aside with the back of her hand, and said, "Have you ever thought of doing a series on God?" And I said, "No, I haven't, and I don't intend to." But I thought about it afterwards and I thought, "Well, actually you could make it into something of an epic," so I cobbled together some ideas and sent off a written proposal, which the BBC then commissioned.'
This was just a year ago - a year in which to write The Story of God (and read all those Hebrew, Aramaic and cuneiform texts) and film it in France, Italy, Spain, Mexico, the US, Egypt, Israel, Saudi Arabia, Iran and Sri Lanka. Lord Winston admits it was a little rushed but he is a quick worker. 'I really don't hang around. I drop in and drop out as soon as I can. I don't do sightseeing which isn't relevant to what I'm going to say on camera.'
Writing The Story of God took him just five months, and he concedes, 'I'd like to have had more time. The subject deserved more time.' I should say so. So would John Cornwell, who gave the book a blistering review in the Sunday Times. 'The Story of God,' he wrote, 'is what happens when a garrulous media scientist writes a book about religion assuming that it is not just so much fantasy but fantasy unworthy of even cursory fact-checking ...'
I mention Cornwell's review and Lord Winston barks: 'I haven't seen it. Who is he?' 'He's an expert on Catholicism. He said the history of religion is not your field and you don't have much respect for scholars whose field it is.' 'Oh right. Well, that's really interesting. I don't think that it has to be your field to write about God, frankly. People write about Judaism who aren't Jews. I haven't heard that criticism before from anybody. Most people have liked the book - but maybe that's because people only tell you to your face what you want to hear.' Could be.
What with one thing and another, our interview has got off to a tetchy start and does not improve when I ask Lord Winston about his spiritual life. 'What an extraordinary question!' he erupts. 'I would have thought that my book lays out very clearly what kind of spiritual life I've got, and if that doesn't come out, I'm sorry! I make it very clear that we arrive at spirituality in a whole range of different ways - conventional belief in an all-powerful god is not something that to me makes entirely rational sense, and that might be offensive to Catholics, for example. But I wonder how a Catholic would explain the tsunami or how the Church could sit by while six million Jews were massacred in central Europe?'
He seems so furious, I find myself muttering that I am not a Catholic. And he still hasn't answered my question. But surely it is not unreasonable to ask the author of The Story of God whether he believes in God? 'Do I believe in the conventional God who sits on a throne in heaven and judges people on earth? No I don't. I don't believe that because I believe in free will. And if you have free will then you can't have a god that intervenes - it doesn't make sense. But you can have a divine idea or divine spirit within you, which I believe. And I come from a religious tradition which is as much concerned with how you behave as how you believe. Judaism is one of the few religions which makes no demands on faith.'
He is an orthodox Jew who unfailingly attends synagogue, observes the Sabbath and will go hungry on film trips rather than eat non-kosher food. He has been married to Lira for over 30 years and has three grown-up children who he says are more orthodox than him. 'They are much less flexible about not doing any work on the Sabbath. For example, I don't have a problem about switching on an electric light on the Sabbath but they won't do that.' So does he go round switching the lights on for them? 'No, of course not!' he explodes.
Enough about religion, which he seems to find a profoundly irritating subject. Lord Winston's real work has until recently been the godlike task of making babies for infertile couples, but he turned 65 in July and retired from the NHS. (A friend of mine was a patient of his and said he could not have been more sensitive and sympathetic. 'Did he bark a lot?' I asked her. 'No absolutely not, I don't know what you mean.')
Does he regret having to retire? Does he miss seeing patients? 'I would be getting into something very political about which I would be uneasy if I talked at great length but let me say that at one level I miss patients dreadfully because they were the biggest single motivation and perhaps where I did the most good. But, without going into detail, I have to say that I find the NHS, and the way it is being run, so dispiriting that, like most people, I couldn't wait to leave it.'
His main scientific activity now is research into modifying pig genes to produce tissue for human transplantation. He says they use pigs because their organs are the right size but no cruelty is involved - the work is cell-based and the animals don't suffer. 'People often ask me whether it would be possible for a Jew to have a pig liver. And, as one of the tenets of Judaism is the necessity to save human life, the answer is yes.'
But if he has this important research work to do - urgent work, too, given the shortage of human organ donors - why doesn't he just get on with it? Why does he have to chase around the world making gormless television series? You might think it was because he liked the money or celebrity but he says nothing could be further from the truth. 'Do you think television seriously pays you money? There are a few television presenters who earn lots of money - I think Simon Schama does actually - but I'm not remotely in that league, I don't want to be in that league, I've never negotiated in that league. No, I don't do television to make money.'
For fame, then? After all, he dallied with an acting career at university so he is presumably not averse to showing off. 'Absolutely not. Not at all. You've really misunderstood me. I do have strong views about celebrity. I think celebrity is corrosive, I think it corrodes values and I think our society is more concerned about celebrity than worth. I don't like being recognised in the street, I prefer to be anonymous. I go through interviews like this, believe me, with fear. I don't enjoy being profiled, I never like reading about myself in newspapers. I promise you, I don't get a lot of pleasure out of being well known. But it is useful, and I do accept that, and I do use that to raise money for charity, and I've raised a lot of money for charity - I mean millions.'
One of his recent efforts to make money for charity has drawn much criticism - his advertisements for St Ivel Advance 'clever milk' (milk with added Omega 3), which have been called misleading. He claims not to have seen the criticism - 'I don't tend to read criticism' - but anyway he has no regrets. 'Over the years I have had all sorts of approaches to advertise or endorse products and I've never done it, but the reason I did it on this occasion was that I was convinced some years ago, when reading the scientific literature, that Omega 3 is a valuable compound and that there is very good evidence that some children will benefit from it. I discussed it with innumerable colleagues before I did it. Maybe it was a mistake to endorse any product, as you suggest, but as one of my very senior colleagues here said to me, "There's a lot of evidence to support the fact that it is good health care."'
My allotted hour is up so I finish by saying, 'Could I ask a very rude personal question - has anyone ever suggested you shave your moustache?' He chuckles quite warmly and says, 'That's not a very rude question - you've asked me far ruder ones! Yes, many people have suggested it. But it's unthinkable. I've had it since I was producing plays at the Edinburgh Festival and the only reason for ever shaving it off would be for a charitable cause. But it never struck me that the charitable cause was demonstrably sufficient to be worth the injury. I like my moustache.'
I am saying goodbye at this point, but he insists on accompanying me down to the lobby and, just when I am within sight of escape, he suddenly declaims: 'When I am pinned and wriggling on the wall, in interviews and profiles, I am very conscious of what Pirandello's character the Father says in Six Characters in Search of an Author. He says, "My drama lies entirely in this one thing, in my being conscious that each one of us believes himself to be a single person, but it's not true. Each one of us has many different possibilities of being. We are different people with the different people we meet and all the time we're under this illusion of being one and the same person with everybody, and it's not true."' Gosh, I say, is that all a quotation? 'Yes,' says Lord Winston, 'and I believe that Pirandello was a great, great writer. So often I've met people who I've judged that I didn't like, or I took a very narrow view of their activity and realised afterwards I was completely wrong about them.' I think what he meant was don't judge him on the basis of this short interview. There are other, better, kinder Lord Winstons. Alas, I didn't meet them.
· The Story of God starts next Sunday on BBC1 at 7pm
If Bush was planning to bomb Al Jazeera - which is based in friendly Qatar, please take a look at this... It happened in April 2003!
At least 10 people were killed, including a Kurdish translator working with the BBC team, Kamaran Abdurazaq Muhamed.
Moments after the 'friendly fire' attack, in which he was wounded, John Simpson broadcast live by satellite telephone on the BBC news channel, News 24.
Simpson to US soldier: "Shut up. I'm broadcasting! Oh yes, I'm fine - am I bleeding?"
US soldier: "Yes, you've got a cut."
Simpson: "I thought you were going to stop me. I think I've just got a bit of shrapnel in the leg, that's all. OK, I will - thanks a lot.
"That was one of the American special forces medics - I thought he was going to try to stop me reporting. I've counted 10 or 12 bodies around us. So there are Americans dead. It was an American plane that dropped the bomb right beside us - I saw it land about 10 feet, 12 feet away I think.
"We don't really know how many Americans are dead. There is ammunition exploding in fact from some of these cars. A very senior member of the Kurdish Republic's government who also may have been injured."
TV presenter Maxine Mawhinney: "John, just to recap for the viewers, an American plane dropped a bomb on your convoy of American special forces - many dead, many injured?"
Simpson: "I am sorry to be so excitable. I am bleeding through the ear and everything but that is absolutely the case. I saw this American convoy, and they bombed it.
They hit their own people - they may have hit this Kurdish figure - very senior, and they've killed a lot of ordinary characters, and I am just looking at the bodies now and it is not a very pretty sight."
Later, John Simpson filed this report on how the attack unfolded
The officer in charge of the American special forces saw an Iraqi tank in the plain about a mile away from us, and it was I think firing in our direction - and he called in an air strike to deal with the tank.
I saw two F15 American planes circling quite low overhead and I had a bad feeling about it, because they seemed to be closer to us than they were to the tank.
As I was looking at them - this must sound extraordinary but I assure you it is true, I saw the bomb coming out of one of the planes - and I saw it as it came down beside me.
It was painted white and red. It crashed into the ground about 10 or 12 metres from where I was standing.
It took the lower legs off Kamaran, our translator, I got shrapnel in parts of my body. I would have got a chunk of shrapnel in my spine had I not been wearing a flak jacket, and it was buried deep in the Kevlar when I checked it.
Our producer had a piece of shrapnel an inch long taken out of his foot. But apart from that and ruptured eardrums which is painful but not serious, and a few punctures from shrapnel, the rest of us were all right.
But our translator was killed and he was a fine man.
I think what probably happened was that there was a burned out Iraqi tank at the crossroads and I suspect that either the pilots got the navigational details wrong, which is possible, but I think it is probably more likely one of them saw the burned out Iraqi tank, assumed that was what was to be hit - and dropped the bomb.
The planes circled round I shouted out at the American special forces "Tell them to go away - tell them it's us - don't let them drop another bomb."
It was a mistake. They were so apologetic afterwards, as you can imagine.
The medics did what they could for all of us. And they kept on saying "I am really sorry about this" as though it was their fault. But these things happen if you are fighting a war. Mistakes happen.
Targeting Al Jazeera
By LINDA S. HEARD
On Tuesday, Britain's Daily Mirror published an explosive story riddled with implications concerning the character and intent of the US president when pursuing his so-called 'war on terror', and perhaps, shedding light on the bombing of Al Jazeera's offices in both Kabul and Baghdad.
Twenty-four later, the Mirror and all other British papers had been subjected to a "gag order" under Section 5 the Official Secrets Act at pain of prosecution.
"The Daily Mirror was yesterday told not to publish further details from a memo marked 'Top Secret', which revealed that President Bush wanted to bomb an Arab TV station," wrote Kevin Maguire in Tuesday's edition of the paper.
"The gag by the Attorney General Lord Goldsmith" the same attorney general who changed his pre-Iraq War legal opinion after being badgered by US government lawyers to do so "came nearly 24 hours after the Mirror informed Downing Street of its intention to reveal how Tony Blair talked Bush out of attacking satellite station Al Jazeera's HQ in friendly Qatar" in the spring of 2004.
The White House has characterized the Mirror's reporting as "outlandish", but if that's the case, one wonders why Downing Street has gone into crisis mode not only prosecuting two of its own civil servants David Keogh and Leo O'Connor under the Official Secrets Act but also threatening editors of British newspapers with prosecution an historical first according to Richard Taylor-Norton of the Guardian.
So while Bush is attempting to brush off the incident, the British government is appearing more as though it has its hand in the cookie jar with damage control its first priority.
When asked to comment on the memo Downing Street refused to do so saying it doesn't commented on leaked documents. Be that as it may - and provided the Mirror story is false - then, surely, an absolute denial by the Prime Minister would put the story to bed and quash the rumors.
But gag order or not this story doesn't look like it's going to disappear into the ether like so many others.
Peter Kilfoyle, Blair's former Minister of Defense, has challenged Downing Street to publish the transcript. "I believe that Downing Street ought to publish this memo in the interests of transparency," he said.
"If it was the case that President Bush wanted to bomb Al Jazeera in what is after all a friendly country, it speaks volumes and it raises questions about subsequent attacks that took place on the press that wasn't embedded with coalition forces".
For instance, Al Jazeera owned by the ruler of Qatar - is motivated to keep the story alive, since if it is true, the network along with its editors, anchors, reporters and technicians, could have been wiped off the map in the event Tony Blair hadn't succeeded in putting a damper on Bush's alleged ambitions.
Tuesday's Al Jazeera programming was red hot on the subject with experts, politicians and callers, demanding that the British government publish the memo's contents in full, which, quite honestly, hardly seems unreasonable.
And let's be clear, the White House may want us to believe the contents of the leaked memo fanciful but, unfortunately, there are precedents for believing otherwise.
When during the 2001 invasion of Afghanistan Al Jazeera's Kabul office was bombed by an American 'smart bomb', Matt Wells of the Guardian asked "did the US mean to hit the Kabul offices of Al Jazeera TV? Some journalists are convinced it was targeted for being on the 'wrong side'.
And in April 2003 when the Iraq was in full flush, Al Jazeera's Baghdad office was hit by a US missile, killing cameraman Tariq Ayoubi and wounding Zuhair Al-Iraqi.
Then, the network's chief editor said: "Witnesses in the area saw the plane fly over twice before dropping the bombs. Our office is in a residential area and even the Pentagon knows its location."
Indeed, after the Kabul incident, Al Jazeera had made certain to pass on the coordinates of its Iraqi HQ. Moreover, on that same day the Baghdad office of Abu Dhabi television was also hit.
It's also interesting to note that prior to the invasion of Iraq former BBC war correspondent Kate Adie one of the most respected journalists in her field - told Irish Radio that the Pentagon had threatened to fire on the satellite uplink positions of independent journalists in Iraq.
Adie also said that when she questioned a Senior Pentagon office concerning the consequences of this action, he replied, 'Who caresThey've been warned".
Moreover, the former CEO of CNN Eason Jordan was forced to resign his post early this year for telling a panel at the Davos Economic Forum that he knew of 12 journalists who had been killed by coalition forces in Iraq".
Like his CNN colleagues April Oliver and Peter Arnett, as well as CBC's former producer Mary Mapes, Jordan had crossed the line by seemingly criticizing the US military, and had to go.
But does the Bush administration have a motive for wishing Al Jazeera off the planet? Take a look at some of the comments made by senior government and military officials and be the judge.
In June this year, US Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld accused Al Jazeera of pounding the United States' image "day after day".
In his 2004 State of the Union address, Bush referred to Al Jazeera and other Arab networks as "hateful propaganda coming out of the Arab world".
Concerning the US 'pacification' of Fallujah when Al Jazeera reported US marines had killed hundreds of civilians which according to the leaked British memo triggered Bush's desire to finish off al Jazeera Rumsfeld said: "I can definitely say that what Al Jazeera is doing is vicious, inaccurate and inexcusable."
In March 2003, Gen. John Abizaid lashed out at an Al Jazeera reporter during a press conference because marines captured by the Iraqi military were aired sitting around drinking tea. Abizaid called the coverage "totally unacceptable" and "disgusting" prompting an American reporter to ask the general whether Al Jazeera should be classed as "hostile media".
In March 2002, Vice President Dick Cheney said the network ran the risk of being labeled "Osama's outlet to the world"
So the motive is there, there are historical precedents of physical attacks on Al Jazeera by the US military, and the British government is currently engaged in a massive cover-up, yet we are still expected to believe that the contents of the leaked memo are a mere fabrication. Do you?
If the allegations contain any veracity, then the implications are enormous.
Imagine that the free world's top dog ostensibly out to promote democracy, freedom and 'our way of life' - whatever that is - wants to bomb an independent television station on the soil of one of its closest allies, owned by the ruler of that allied country.
Not only that the British lap dog of the top dog, who loves nothing more than to wag his fingers at "evil ideologies" is actively engaged in dowsing the story with help from erstwhile legal mandarins.
What are the implications for journalists that refuse to toe the coalition line? What about free speech and freedom of the press issues?
But the most worrying question is this: If the alleged bombing of Al Jazeera had gone ahead, with consequent deaths and injuries, wouldn't this equate the US administration with the terrorism it purports to hate?
Excuse the repetition but I would like to stress that Al Jazeera is owned by an ally of the US and staffed with respected editors and journalists from around the world, including many who formerly worked for the BBC.
These people are not terrorists or insurgents; they are not uniformed military or intelligence personnel. They are simply people trying to tell it like it is in an environment plagued by censorship, and judging by Al Jazeera's 50 million regular viewers and the ire they provoke from regional governments, they are doing something right.
I'll leave you with a hypothetical question based on Bush's alleged plan having been given the green light to proceed. Would the US have confessed to its role in the aftermath or would the mythical Abu Musab Al Zarqawi have been set up to take the fall? Think about it.
And, finally, if the Qatari government doesn't react strongly to this memo and demand answers, won't this put an indisputable stamp on the de facto US occupation of the Gulf?
By Chris Floyd
Published: November 11, 2005
This week, the broadcast of a shattering new documentary provided fresh confirmation of a gruesome war crime covered by this column nine months ago: the use of chemical weapons by U.S. forces during the frenzied destruction of Fallujah in November 2004.
Using filmed and photographic evidence, eyewitness accounts and the direct testimony of U.S. soldiers who took part in the attacks, the documentary -- "Fallujah: The Hidden Massacre" -- catalogs the American use of white phosphorus shells and a new, "improved" form of napalm that turned human beings into "caramelized" fossils, with their skin dissolved and turned to leather on their bones. The film was produced by RAI, the Italian state network run by a government that backed the war.
Vivid images show civilians, including women and children, who had been burned alive in their homes, even in their beds. This illegal use of chemical weapons -- at the order of the Bushist brass -- and the killing of civilians are confirmed by former U.S. soldiers interviewed on camera. "I heard the order to pay attention because they were going to use white phosphorus on Fallujah," said one soldier, quoted in The Independent. "In military jargon, it's known as Willy Pete. Phosphorus burns bodies; in fact it melts the flesh all the way down to the bone. ... I saw the burned bodies of women and children. Phosphorus explodes and forms a cloud. Anyone within a radius of 150 meters is done for."
The broadcast is an important event: shameful, damning, convincing. But it shouldn't be news. Earlier this year, as reported here on March 18, a medical team sent to Fallujah by the Bush-backed Iraqi interim government issued its findings at a news conference in Baghdad. The briefing, by Health Ministry investigator Dr. Khalid ash-Shaykhli, was attended by more than 20 major U.S. and international news outlets. Not a single one of these bastions of a free and vigorous press reported on the event. Only a few small venues -- such as the International Labor Communications Association -- brought word of the extraordinary revelations to English-speaking audiences.
Yet this highly credible, pro-American official of a pro-occupation government confirmed, through medical examinations and the eyewitness testimony of survivors -- including many civilians who had opposed the heavy-handed insurgent presence in the town -- that "burning chemicals" had been used in the attack, in direct violation of international and U.S. law. "All forms of nature were wiped out" by the substances unleashed in the assault, including animals that had been killed by gas or chemical fire, said ash-Shaykhli. But apparently this kind of thing is not considered news anymore by the corporate gatekeepers of media "truth."
As we noted here in March, ash-Shaykhli's findings were buttressed by direct testimony from U.S. Marines filing "after-action reports" on web sites for military enthusiasts back home. There, fresh from the battle, soldiers talked openly of the routine use of Willy Pete, propane bombs and "jellied gasoline" (napalm) in tactical assaults in Fallujah. As it says in the scriptures: By their war porn ye shall know them.
This week, as in March, the Pentagon said it only used white phosphorus shells in Fallujah for "illumination purposes." But the documentary's evidence belies them. Although there are indeed many white bombs bursting in air to bathe the city in unnatural light, the film clearly shows other phosphorus shells raining all the way to the ground, where they explode in fury throughout residential areas and spread their caramelizing clouds. As Fallujah biologist Mohamed Tareq says in the film: "A rain of fire fell on the city, the people struck by this multicolored substance started to burn, we found people dead with strange wounds, the bodies burned but the clothes intact."
The slaughter in Fallujah was a microcosm of the entire misbegotten enterprise launched by those two eminent Christian statesmen, U.S. President George W. Bush and British Prime Minister Tony Blair: a brutal act of collective punishment for defying the imperial will, a high-tech turkey shoot that mowed down the just and unjust alike, an idiotic strategic blunder that has exacerbated the violence and hatred it was meant to quell. The vicious overkill of the Fallujah attack -- where an estimated 1,200 civilians died while almost all of the targeted insurgents slipped away beforehand -- alienated large swaths of previously neutral Iraqis and spurred many to join the resistance. It further entangled the United States and Britain in a putrid swamp of war crime, state terrorism and atrocity, dragging them deeper into a moral equivalency with the murderous extremists whom the Christian leaders so loudly condemn.
Let's give the last word to Jeff Engelhardt, one of the ex-servicemen featured in the documentary, who recently issued this plea to his fellow U.S. soldiers on Fight to Survive, a new dissident web site run by Iraqi War vets:
"I hope someday you find solace for the orders you have had to execute, for the carnage you helped take part in, and for the pride you wear supporting this bloodbath. Until then, you can only hope for an epiphany, something that stands out as completely immoral, that convinces you of the inhumanity of this war. I don't know how much more proof you need. The criminal outrage of Abu Ghraib, the absolute massacre of Fallujah, the stray .50 caliber bullets or 40mm grenades or tank rounds fired in highly packed urban areas, 500-pound bombs dropped on innocent homes, the use of 25mm depleted uranium rounds, the inhumane use of white phosphorus, the hate and the blood and the misunderstandings ... this is the war and the system that you support."
There is no way Bush, Dick or any of them can be tried in the International Criminal Court - as the US is not a signatory to the ICC anymore.
The United States of America was one of only 7 nations (joining China, Iraq, Libya, Yemen, Qatar and Israel) to vote against the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court in 1998.
he Bush administration's hostility to the ICC has increased dramatically in 2002. The crux of the U.S. concern relates to the prospect that the ICC may exercise its jurisdiction to conduct politically motivated investigations and prosecutions of U.S. military and political officials and personnel. The U.S. opposition to the ICC is in stark contrast to the strong support for the Court by most of America's closest allies.
In an unprecedented diplomatic maneuver on 6 May, the Bush administration effectively withdrew the U.S. signature on the treaty. At the time, the Ambassador-at-large for War Crimes Issues Pierre-Richard Prosper stated that the administration was "not going to war" with the Court. This has proved false; the renunciation of the treaty has paved the way for a comprehensive U.S. campaign to undermine the ICC.
First, the Bush administration negotiated a Security Council resolution to provide an exemption for U.S. personnel operating in U.N. peacekeeping operations. The administration failed in May to obtain an exemption for peacekeepers in East Timor. In June the Bush administration vetoed an extension of the UN peacekeeping mission for Bosnia-Herzegovina unless the Security Council granted a complete exemption. Ultimately, the U.S. failed in its bid for an iron-clad exemption, although the Security Council approved a limited, one year exemption for U.S. personnel participating in UN peacekeeping missions or UN authorized operations. The Security Council has expressed its intention to renew this exemption on 30 June next year.
Second, the Bush administration is requesting states around the world to approve bilateral agreements requiring them not to surrender American nationals to the ICC. The goal of these agreements ("impunity agreements" or so-called "Article 98 agreements") is to exempt U.S. nationals from ICC jurisdiction. They also lead to a two-tiered rule of law for the most serious international crimes: one that applies to U.S. nationals; another that applies to the rest of the world's citizens. Human Rights Watch urges states not to sign impunity agreements with the United States.
Thirdly, the U.S Congress has assisted the Bush administration's effort to obtain bilateral impunity agreements. The Congress passed the American Servicemembers' Protection Act (ASPA), which was signed into law by President Bush on 3 August. The major anti-ICC provisions in ASPA are:
- a prohibition on U.S. cooperation with the ICC;
- an "invasion of the Hague" provision: authorizing the President to "use all means necessary and appropriate" to free U.S. personnel (and certain allied personnel) detained or imprisoned by the ICC;
- punishment for States that join the ICC treaty: refusing military aid to States' Parties to the treaty (except major U.S. allies);
- a prohibition on U.S. participation in peacekeeping activities unless immunity from the ICC is guaranteed for U.S. personnel.
However, all of these provisions are off-set by waiver provisions that allow the president to override the effects of ASPA when "in the national interest". The waiver provisions effectively render ASPA meaningless.
Obviously all these seven governments (not necessarily the people) have too many criminals in high offices. What are they scared of?
Now that there is evidence of the use of Chemical Weapons in Iraq by the US armed forces, it is about time to try Bush and the whole gang at the Hague.
They are criminals, international war criminals too.
As a starter, let us try Tony Blair at the Hague.
There is a War Criminal in power in European Union. Shame on Europe!
Galley Girl Catches Up with John Darnton
Andrea Sachs talks evolution with the author of "The Darwin Conspiracy"
Charles Darwin may have published "The Origin of the Species" back in 1859, but the controversy over his theory of evolution is red-hot right now. Should intelligent design—the belief that an intelligent agent, i.e. God, designed the earth—be taught side by side in the classroom with Darwinism? Even the President waded into the debate recently, saying that it should. In his imaginative new novel, The Darwin Conspiracy (Knopf), author John Darnton, a Pulitzer-prize-winning, 39-year veteran of the New York Times, blends facts and fiction while exploring Darwin's life and legacy. We met with Darnton for a cup of coffee in the bustling New York Times cafeteria:
Galley Girl: Charles Darwin is front page news now because of the intelligent design debate. Was he very controversial in his own time?
John Darnton: Yes. I think that's the secret of why he delayed so long in putting his theory before the public. And I think it's also partly the secret of why he always got a horrible stomachache every time the theory was to be debated, so he never showed up, wherever that was happening. He knew the implications of what he was doing. He knew he was challenging accepted Christian dogma. Maybe even his body rebelled against it. His wife Emma was, in fact, very devout, and wrote him a letter expressing sorrow at the thought that she would be living in heaven for all eternity, and he'd be somewhere else. He was going to be a man of the cloth himself, don't forget. He was going to be a country vicar, after he decided not to be a doctor, because he couldn't stand the sight of blood. But the key thing is, these arguments that we hear today about Intelligent Design were raised in his lifetime.
GG: Did Darwin at the end of his life have any religious beliefs himself?
JD: No. He became progressively a nonbeliever, and that's part of what I admire about him. I think he just followed his intellect wherever it pointed. He was such a scientist to the marrow of his bones that he insisted on evidence and proof of more or less everything. When he was an old man, people used to write him letters from around the world, and sometimes traipse out to his village to meet him. Often would come the question, Are you a believer? By that point, over the age of 60, Darwin would say, No, I've seen no evidence of God. He even wrote somewhere that the religious impulse was just an instinct, like a monkey's fear of snakes. So he didn't mind really expressing his opinion forcefully.
GG: When did you get interested in Darwin?
JD: In 1996 when I was London bureau chief, I decided to do a story on Down House, which is 17 miles outside of London, in Kent. That's Darwin's country home, where he lived most of his life, and did all of his writing. I went to look at it. The place was just falling apart. The roof was leaking, there were mold stains on the bedroom ceilings, the greenhouse where he had done experiments with orchids was collapsing. They wanted a story done, primarily to bring in contributions. I was happy to oblige them. I got a wonderful tour; I was allowed to sit in Darwin's chair... Later, I thought, I didn't know any of these things about Darwin—his endless maladies, his problems with his stomach, the fact that he then never traveled again. I started thinking, what could have been behind all of this? Why did he have these odd symptoms. Most of all, why did he wait 22 years after he is thought to have conceived of the theory before he could actually write it? There have been so many biographies; we have a pretty good sense of what was going on. But I thought, wouldn't it be fun to invent something that could explain it if what you invent puts a new interpretation on everything?
GG: What are the rules when you're adding to actual facts? How free do you feel to invent?
JD: Very good question. Are there boundaries? If there are, I think I've crossed them. (Laughs.) Well, it is a work of fiction. So in theory, there are no rules. It's not a traditional historical novel, though. We often think of the term as an attempt to fill in small blank spaces, but otherwise remain totally true to the known facts. I changed it, in that I presented many, many historical facts. I estimate that about 90% of what's in the book is totally true, is accurate. All of the historical characters are real, in the sense that they lived. They by and large did most of the actions they're depicted as doing. Even some of the quotes are lifted from journals and biographies. But I took significant liberties in [a few] key areas knowingly and with malice of forethought that totally changed everything. The idea I had was, how interesting it is if you view a series of events and you turn the knob 10 degrees to one side, and you come out with a totally different interpretation that in some ways explains even better than so-called real history might be the case. So it's not an historical novel the way Antonia Fraser writes them, where you take all of the facts, and that's your spine and your skeleton and then you just add the flesh of imagined conversation. This is a very different thing.
This is an article that was published by the Financial Times... It goes on to say how Hugo Chavez is throwing away the Oil windfall, when he should have been painting the streets of Caracas in gold. Chavez is being accused of spending all the cash on popular public spending.... Well how good can a president be when he wastes the good fortune on the poor people of his country? Maybe he should have been sharing the unprecedented oil wealth with the rich and powerful of this world. That is what the FT article tries to do.
Venezuela is living on oil – but precariously
For much of Venezuela's modern history, its economic fortunes have closely followed the ups and downs of oil. Happily for president Hugo Chávez, his nearly seven years in office have coincided with a steady rise in the price of crude. This year oil export income is expected to reach an all-time high of $34bn, one-third more than the $26bn of last year.
This boom has allowed Mr Chávez to step up public spending – according to the central bank, the government's operational spending in August rose 45 per cent in nominal terms, year-on-year, or about 30 per cent in real terms. It has allowed him to underpin his popularity by diverting billions of dollars into programmes, called misiones, that deliver everything from free healthcare in the barrios to literacy classes for grandmothers.
Mr Chávez says the country is on the cusp of a new golden age, as officials of Petróleos de Venezuela (PDVSA), the state oil company, hire consultants and geologists to recalculate the size of the reserves.
Venezuela has the largest hydrocarbon deposits in the Americas. But if its extra-heavy oil deposits are properly measured and included, the government insists, Venezuela would be sitting on the world's largest oil reserves, in theory allowing it to negotiate a larger output quota with the Organisation of Petroleum Exporting Countries.
Such a calculation would mask some fundamental problems. Roger Tissot, Latin America analyst at PFC Energy, a consultancy based in Washington, says Venezuela is far from being able to supply more oil, regardless of the true size of its reserves. "In reality it doesn't matter if Venezuela says it has the biggest reserves in the world,'' says Mr Tissot. "It's irrelevant because they are already working at capacity.''
Government officials claim that the country is producing 3.4m barrels per day, but experts – and Opec itself – put the figure at around 2.6m b/d. The victim of political battles and mismanagement, oil output from PDVSA has sunk in the past three years. As punishment for a strike in late 2002, Mr Chávez fired almost 20,000 employees, with an average 15 years' experience. Their replacements have been unable adequately to manage the oil wells and facilities.
Rarely a month goes by without news of a production shutdown at a refinery due to an accident or fire. "You can't ditch overnight an accumulated 300,000 years of experience and replace it with personnel, many appointed for political reasons, without encountering problems,'' says José Toro Hardy, an industry consultant and former PDVSA director.
But, remarkably, budgetary constraints are adding to the production problems. Through the use of opaque ad hoc funds, Mr Chávez is diverting money that would otherwise be used for maintenance to fund the misiones. PDVSA funnelled $4.4bn into "social spending'' last year – more than the $3bn it invested in maintaining wells and other assets, according to its filing with the US Securities and Exchange Commission. Critics say it ought to be investing much more in its oil wells in order to prevent declines in their productivity.
In addition, despite the price boom, the tax revenue generated by PDVSA seems to be declining as a percentage of the total. In next year's budget it is expected that the much weaker non-oil sector will generate the majority of fiscal proceeds.
The problem is that much of PDVSA's surplus is controlled by the president himself. The next budget is based on a price of just $26 a barrel for Venezuela's basket of heavy oils. Although it trades at about $10 below West Texas Intermediate reference crude, economists say the estimate is low for one main reason: the greater the underestimation of the price, the wider the margin that remains for discretional spending. Toby Bottome, editor of the Veneconomy newsletter, says: "The budget figures bear no relationship to reality.''
While PDVSA's own output is declining, the volume produced by foreign private oil companies is increasing. However, that may be in danger. As the oil price has risen, the government has sought a greater share of the revenue. In the past year Mr Chávez has decreed increases in royalty and tax rates applicable to foreign oil operations. Now, the government is going a stage further.
It is demanding that multinationals convert their operating contracts, which were established in the mid-1990s, into joint ventures in which the state has a majority stake. Rafael Ramirez, the energy minister, said recently that the state may assume as much as an 80 per cent stake in 32 projects that are currently operating agreements with PDVSA but must be converted into joint ventures by 2006.
The operations produce about 500,000 b/d. Companies such as ChevronTexaco, ConocoPhilips and TotalFinaElf could see their credit ratings affected if their operations are converted into joint ventures. Orlando Ochoa, an economist in Caracas, says the constantly shifting legal framework, Mr Chávez's volatile politics and administrative chaos conspire against Venezuela being able fully to exploit its energy riches. "The climate generated by Chávez's experiment in 21st-century socialism is not conducive to the level of investment you need.''
On August 16, 2004 - Greg Palast wrote in his column:
"Chavez sits atop a reserve of crude that rivals Iraq's. And it's not his presidency of Venezuela that drives the White House bananas, it was his presidency of the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries, OPEC. While in control of the OPEC secretariat, Chavez cut a deal with our maximum leader of the time, Bill Clinton, on the price of oil. It was a 'Goldilocks' plan. The price would not be too low, not too high; just right, kept between $20 and $30 a barrel.
Chavez had his Congress pass another oil law, the "Law of Hydrocarbons," which changes the split. Right now, the oil majors - like PhillipsConoco - keep 84% of the proceeds of the sale of Venezuela oil; the nation gets only 16%.
Chavez wanted to double his Treasury's take to 30%. And for good reason. Landless, hungry peasants have, over decades, drifted into Caracas and other cities, building million-person ghettos of cardboard shacks and open sewers. Chavez promised to do something about that.
Sixteen F*cking Percent was what Venezuela was paid by the big oil companies. Chavez made them pay 30% to Venezuela!
I can now understand why people, specifically the rich, like to hate Chavez.
I have added FT too to the list of those rich 6astards.
Dick Cheney, Hugo Chavez and Bill Clinton's Band
Why Venezuela has Voted Again for Their 'Negro e Indio' President
by Greg Palast
There's so much BS and baloney thrown around about Venezuela that I may be violating some rule of US journalism by providing some facts. Let's begin with this: 77% of Venezuela's farmland is owned by 3% of the population, the 'hacendados.'
I met one of these farmlords in Caracas at an anti-Chavez protest march. Oddest demonstration I've ever seen: frosted blondes in high heels clutching designer bags, screeching, "Chavez - dic-ta-dor!" The plantation owner griped about the "socialismo" of Chavez, then jumped into his Jaguar convertible.
That week, Chavez himself handed me a copy of the "socialist" manifesto that so rattled the man in the Jag. It was a new law passed by Venezuela's Congress which gave land to the landless. The Chavez law transferred only fields from the giant haciendas which had been left unused and abandoned.
This land reform, by the way, was promoted to Venezuela in the 1960s by that Lefty radical, John F. Kennedy. Venezuela's dictator of the time agreed to hand out land, but forgot to give peasants title to their property.
But Chavez won't forget, because the mirror reminds him. What the affable president sees in his reflection, beyond the ribbons of office, is a "negro e indio" -- a "Black and Indian" man, dark as a cola nut, same as the landless and, until now, the hopeless. For the first time in Venezuela's history, the 80% Black-Indian population elected a man with skin darker than the man in the Jaguar.
So why, with a huge majority of the electorate behind him, twice in elections and today in a referendum, is Hugo Chavez in hot water with our democracy-promoting White House?
Maybe it's the oil. Lots of it. Chavez sits atop a reserve of crude that rivals Iraq's. And it's not his presidency of Venezuela that drives the White House bananas, it was his presidency of the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries, OPEC. While in control of the OPEC secretariat, Chavez cut a deal with our maximum leader of the time, Bill Clinton, on the price of oil. It was a 'Goldilocks' plan. The price would not be too low, not too high; just right, kept between $20 and $30 a barrel.
But Dick Cheney does not like Clinton nor Chavez nor their band. To him, the oil industry's (and Saudi Arabia's) freedom to set oil prices is as sacred as freedom of speech is to the ACLU. I got this info, by the way, from three top oil industry lobbyists.
Why should Chavez worry about what Dick thinks? Because, said one of the oil men, the Veep in his bunker, not the pretzel-chewer in the White House, "runs energy policy in the United States."
And what seems to have gotten our Veep's knickers in a twist is not the price of oil, but who keeps the loot from the current band-busting spurt in prices. Chavez had his Congress pass another oil law, the "Law of Hydrocarbons," which changes the split. Right now, the oil majors - like PhillipsConoco - keep 84% of the proceeds of the sale of Venezuela oil; the nation gets only 16%.
Chavez wanted to double his Treasury's take to 30%. And for good reason. Landless, hungry peasants have, over decades, drifted into Caracas and other cities, building million-person ghettos of cardboard shacks and open sewers. Chavez promised to do something about that.
And he did. "Chavez gives them bread and bricks," one Venezuelan TV reporter told me. The blonde TV newscaster, in the middle of a publicity shoot, said the words "pan y ladrillos" with disdain, making it clear that she never touched bricks and certainly never waited in a bread line.
But to feed and house the darker folk in those bread and brick lines, Chavez would need funds, and the 16% slice of the oil pie wouldn't do it. So the President of Venezuela demanded 30%, leaving Big Oil only 70%. Suddenly, Bill Clinton's ally in Caracas became Mr. Cheney's -- and therefore, Mr. Bush's -- enemy.
So began the Bush-Cheney campaign to "Floridate" the will of the Venezuela electorate. It didn't matter that Chavez had twice won election. Winning most of the votes, said a White House spokesman, did not make Chavez' government "legitimate." Hmmm. Secret contracts were awarded by our Homeland Security spooks to steal official Venezuela voter lists. Cash passed discreetly from the US taxpayer, via the so-called 'Endowment for Democracy,' to the Chavez-haters running today's "recall" election.
A brilliant campaign of placing stories about Chavez' supposed unpopularity and "dictatorial" manner seized US news and op-ed pages, ranging from the San Francisco Chronicle to the New York Times.
But some facts just can't be smothered in propaganda ink. While George Bush can appoint the government of Iraq and call it "sovereign," the government of Venezuela is appointed by its people. And the fact is that most people in this slum-choked land don't drive Jaguars or have their hair tinted in Miami. Most look in the mirror and see someone "negro e indio," as dark as their President Hugo.
The official CIA handbook on Venezuela says that half the nation's farmers own only 1% of the land. They are the lucky ones, as more peasants owned nothing. That is, until their man Chavez took office. Even under Chavez, land redistribution remains more a promise than an accomplishment. But today, the landless and homeless voted their hopes, knowing that their man may not, against the armed axis of local oligarchs and Dick Cheney, succeed for them. But they are convinced he will never forget them.
And that's a fact.