Monday, November 14, 2005

Mustard Gas?

Monday, November 07, 2005

It has been a long time since I posted anything here but I am going to start again.


Friday, April 04, 2003

Mesopotamia. Babylon. The Tigris and Euphrates

How many children, in how many classrooms, over how many centuries, have hang-glided through the past, transported on the wings of these words? And now the bombs are falling, incinerating and humiliating that ancient civilisation

Arundhati Roy
Wednesday April 2, 2003
The Guardian

On the steel torsos of their missiles, adolescent American soldiers scrawl colourful messages in childish handwriting: For Saddam, from the Fat Boy Posse. A building goes down. A marketplace. A home. A girl who loves a boy. A child who only ever wanted to play with his older brother's marbles.
On March 21, the day after American and British troops began their illegal invasion and occupation of Iraq, an "embedded" CNN correspondent interviewed an American soldier. "I wanna get in there and get my nose dirty," Private AJ said. "I wanna take revenge for 9/11."

To be fair to the correspondent, even though he was "embedded" he did sort of weakly suggest that so far there was no real evidence that linked the Iraqi government to the September 11 attacks. Private AJ stuck his teenage tongue out all the way down to the end of his chin. "Yeah, well that stuff's way over my head," he said.

According to a New York Times/CBS News survey, 42 per cent of the American public believes that Saddam Hussein is directly responsible for the September 11 attacks on the World Trade Centre and the Pentagon. And an ABC news poll says that 55 per cent of Americans believe that Saddam Hussein directly supports al-Qaida. What percentage of America's armed forces believe these fabrications is anybody's guess.

It is unlikely that British and American troops fighting in Iraq are aware that their governments supported Saddam Hussein both politically and financially through his worst excesses.

But why should poor AJ and his fellow soldiers be burdened with these details? It does not matter any more, does it? Hundreds of thousands of men, tanks, ships, choppers, bombs, ammunition, gas masks, high-protein food, whole aircrafts ferrying toilet paper, insect repellent, vitamins and bottled mineral water, are on the move. The phenomenal logistics of Operation Iraqi Freedom make it a universe unto itself. It doesn't need to justify its existence any more. It exists. It is.

President George W Bush, commander in chief of the US army, navy, airforce and marines has issued clear instructions: "Iraq. Will. Be. Liberated." (Perhaps he means that even if Iraqi people's bodies are killed, their souls will be liberated.) American and British citizens owe it to the supreme commander to forsake thought and rally behind their troops. Their countries are at war. And what a war it is.

After using the "good offices" of UN diplomacy (economic sanctions and weapons inspections) to ensure that Iraq was brought to its knees, its people starved, half a million of its children killed, its infrastructure severely damaged, after making sure that most of its weapons have been destroyed, in an act of cowardice that must surely be unrivalled in history, the "Allies"/"Coalition of the Willing"(better known as the Coalition of the Bullied and Bought) - sent in an invading army!

Operation Iraqi Freedom? I don't think so. It's more like Operation Let's Run a Race, but First Let Me Break Your Knees.

So far the Iraqi army, with its hungry, ill-equipped soldiers, its old guns and ageing tanks, has somehow managed to temporarily confound and occasionally even outmanoeuvre the "Allies". Faced with the richest, best-equipped, most powerful armed forces the world has ever seen, Iraq has shown spectacular courage and has even managed to put up what actually amounts to a defence. A defence which the Bush/Blair Pair have immediately denounced as deceitful and cowardly. (But then deceit is an old tradition with us natives. When we are invaded/ colonised/occupied and stripped of all dignity, we turn to guile and opportunism.)

Even allowing for the fact that Iraq and the "Allies" are at war, the extent to which the "Allies" and their media cohorts are prepared to go is astounding to the point of being counterproductive to their own objectives.

When Saddam Hussein appeared on national TV to address the Iraqi people after the failure of the most elaborate assassination attempt in history - "Operation Decapitation" - we had Geoff Hoon, the British defence secretary, deriding him for not having the courage to stand up and be killed, calling him a coward who hides in trenches. We then had a flurry of Coalition speculation - Was it really Saddam, was it his double? Or was it Osama with a shave? Was it pre-recorded? Was it a speech? Was it black magic? Will it turn into a pumpkin if we really, really want it to?

After dropping not hundreds, but thousands of bombs on Baghdad, when a marketplace was mistakenly blown up and civilians killed - a US army spokesman implied that the Iraqis were blowing themselves up! "They're using very old stock. Their missiles go up and come down."

If so, may we ask how this squares with the accusation that the Iraqi regime is a paid-up member of the Axis of Evil and a threat to world peace?

When the Arab TV station al-Jazeera shows civilian casualties it's denounced as "emotive" Arab propaganda aimed at orchestrating hostility towards the "Allies", as though Iraqis are dying only in order to make the "Allies" look bad. Even French television has come in for some stick for similar reasons. But the awed, breathless footage of aircraft carriers, stealth bombers and cruise missiles arcing across the desert sky on American and British TV is described as the "terrible beauty" of war.

When invading American soldiers (from the army "that's only here to help") are taken prisoner and shown on Iraqi TV, George Bush says it violates the Geneva convention and "exposes the evil at the heart of the regime". But it is entirely acceptable for US television stations to show the hundreds of prisoners being held by the US government in Guantanamo Bay, kneeling on the ground with their hands tied behind their backs, blinded with opaque goggles and with earphones clamped on their ears, to ensure complete visual and aural deprivation. When questioned about the treatment of these prisoners, US Government officials don't deny that they're being being ill-treated. They deny that they're "prisoners of war"! They call them "unlawful combatants", implying that their ill-treatment is legitimate! (So what's the party line on the massacre of prisoners in Mazar-e-Sharif, Afghanistan? Forgive and forget? And what of the prisoner tortured to death by the special forces at the Bagram airforce base? Doctors have formally called it homicide.)

When the "Allies" bombed the Iraqi television station (also, incidentally, a contravention of the Geneva convention), there was vulgar jubilation in the American media. In fact Fox TV had been lobbying for the attack for a while. It was seen as a righteous blow against Arab propaganda. But mainstream American and British TV continue to advertise themselves as "balanced" when their propaganda has achieved hallucinatory levels.

Why should propaganda be the exclusive preserve of the western media? Just because they do it better? Western journalists "embedded" with troops are given the status of heroes reporting from the frontlines of war. Non-"embedded" journalists (such as the BBC's Rageh Omaar, reporting from besieged and bombed Baghdad, witnessing, and clearly affected by the sight of bodies of burned children and wounded people) are undermined even before they begin their reportage: "We have to tell you that he is being monitored by the Iraqi authorities."

Increasingly, on British and American TV, Iraqi soldiers are being referred to as "militia" (ie: rabble). One BBC correspondent portentously referred to them as "quasi-terrorists". Iraqi defence is "resistance" or worse still, "pockets of resistance", Iraqi military strategy is deceit. (The US government bugging the phone lines of UN security council delegates, reported by the Observer, is hard-headed pragmatism.) Clearly for the "Allies", the only morally acceptable strategy the Iraqi army can pursue is to march out into the desert and be bombed by B-52s or be mowed down by machine-gun fire. Anything short of that is cheating.

And now we have the siege of Basra. About a million and a half people, 40 per cent of them children. Without clean water, and with very little food. We're still waiting for the legendary Shia "uprising", for the happy hordes to stream out of the city and rain roses and hosannahs on the "liberating" army. Where are the hordes? Don't they know that television productions work to tight schedules? (It may well be that if Saddam's regime falls there will be dancing on the streets of Basra. But then, if the Bush regime were to fall, there would be dancing on the streets the world over.)

After days of enforcing hunger and thirst on the citizens of Basra, the "Allies" have brought in a few trucks of food and water and positioned them tantalisingly on the outskirts of the city. Desperate people flock to the trucks and fight each other for food. (The water we hear, is being sold. To revitalise the dying economy, you understand.) On top of the trucks, desperate photographers fought each other to get pictures of desperate people fighting each other for food. Those pictures will go out through photo agencies to newspapers and glossy magazines that pay extremely well. Their message: The messiahs are at hand, distributing fishes and loaves.

As of July last year the delivery of $5.4bn worth of supplies to Iraq was blocked by the Bush/Blair Pair. It didn't really make the news. But now under the loving caress of live TV, 450 tonnes of humanitarian aid - a minuscule fraction of what's actually needed (call it a script prop) - arrived on a British ship, the "Sir Galahad". Its arrival in the port of Umm Qasr merited a whole day of live TV broadcasts. Barf bag, anyone?

Nick Guttmann, head of emergencies for Christian Aid, writing for the Independent on Sunday said that it would take 32 Sir Galahad's a day to match the amount of food Iraq was receiving before the bombing began.

We oughtn't to be surprised though. It's old tactics. They've been at it for years. Consider this moderate proposal by John McNaughton from the Pentagon Papers, published during the Vietnam war: "Strikes at population targets (per se) are likely not only to create a counterproductive wave of revulsion abroad and at home, but greatly to increase the risk of enlarging the war with China or the Soviet Union. Destruction of locks and dams, however - if handled right - might ... offer promise. It should be studied. Such destruction does not kill or drown people. By shallow-flooding the rice, it leads after time to widespread starvation (more than a million?) unless food is provided - which we could offer to do 'at the conference table'."

Times haven't changed very much. The technique has evolved into a doctrine. It's called "Winning Hearts and Minds".

So, here's the moral maths as it stands: 200,000 Iraqis estimated to have been killed in the first Gulf war. Hundreds of thousands dead because of the economic sanctions. (At least that lot has been saved from Saddam Hussein.) More being killed every day. Tens of thousands of US soldiers who fought the 1991 war officially declared "disabled" by a disease called the Gulf war syndrome, believed in part to be caused by exposure to depleted uranium. It hasn't stopped the "Allies" from continuing to use depleted uranium.

And now this talk of bringing the UN back into the picture. But that old UN girl - it turns out that she just ain't what she was cracked up to be. She's been demoted (although she retains her high salary). Now she's the world's janitor. She's the Philippino cleaning lady, the Indian jamadarni, the postal bride from Thailand, the Mexican household help, the Jamaican au pair. She's employed to clean other peoples' shit. She's used and abused at will.

Despite Blair's earnest submissions, and all his fawning, Bush has made it clear that the UN will play no independent part in the administration of postwar Iraq. The US will decide who gets those juicy "reconstruction" contracts. But Bush has appealed to the international community not to "politicise" the issue of humanitarian aid. On the March 28, after Bush called for the immediate resumption of the UN's oil for food programme, the UN security council voted unanimously for the resolution. This means that everybody agrees that Iraqi money (from the sale of Iraqi oil) should be used to feed Iraqi people who are starving because of US led sanctions and the illegal US-led war.

Contracts for the "reconstruction" of Iraq we're told, in discussions on the business news, could jump-start the world economy. It's funny how the interests of American corporations are so often, so successfully and so deliberately confused with the interests of the world economy. While the American people will end up paying for the war, oil companies, weapons manufacturers, arms dealers, and corporations involved in "reconstruction" work will make direct gains from the war. Many of them are old friends and former employers of the Bush/ Cheney/Rumsfeld/Rice cabal. Bush has already asked Congress for $75bn. Contracts for "re-construction" are already being negotiated. The news doesn't hit the stands because much of the US corporate media is owned and managed by the same interests.

Operation Iraqi Freedom, Tony Blair assures us is about returning Iraqi oil to the Iraqi people. That is, returning Iraqi oil to the Iraqi people via corporate multinationals. Like Shell, like Chevron, like Halliburton. Or are we missing the plot here? Perhaps Halliburton is actually an Iraqi company? Perhaps US vice-president Dick Cheney (who is a former director of Halliburton) is a closet Iraqi?

As the rift between Europe and America deepens, there are signs that the world could be entering a new era of economic boycotts. CNN reported that Americans are emptying French wine into gutters, chanting, "We don't want your stinking wine." We've heard about the re-baptism of French fries. Freedom fries they're called now. There's news trickling in about Americans boycotting German goods. The thing is that if the fallout of the war takes this turn, it is the US who will suffer the most. Its homeland may be defended by border patrols and nuclear weapons, but its economy is strung out across the globe. Its economic outposts are exposed and vulnerable to attack in every direction. Already the internet is buzzing with elaborate lists of American and British government products and companies that should be boycotted. Apart from the usual targets, Coke, Pepsi and McDonald's - government agencies such as USAID, the British department for international development, British and American banks, Arthur Anderson, Merrill Lynch, American Express, corporations such as Bechtel, General Electric, and companies such as Reebok, Nike and Gap - could find themselves under siege. These lists are being honed and re fined by activists across the world. They could become a practical guide that directs and channels the amorphous, but growing fury in the world. Suddenly, the "inevitability" of the project of corporate globalisation is beginning to seem more than a little evitable.

It's become clear that the war against terror is not really about terror, and the war on Iraq not only about oil. It's about a superpower's self-destructive impulse towards supremacy, stranglehold, global hegemony. The argument is being made that the people of Argentina and Iraq have both been decimated by the same process. Only the weapons used against them differ: In one case it's an IMF chequebook. In the other, cruise missiles.

Finally, there's the matter of Saddam's arsenal of weapons of mass destruction. (Oops, nearly forgot about those!)

In the fog of war - one thing's for sure - if Saddam 's regime indeed has weapons of mass destruction, it is showing an astonishing degree of responsibility and restraint in the teeth of extreme provocation. Under similar circumstances, (say if Iraqi troops were bombing New York and laying siege to Washington DC) could we expect the same of the Bush regime? Would it keep its thousands of nuclear warheads in their wrapping paper? What about its chemical and biological weapons? Its stocks of anthrax, smallpox and nerve gas? Would it?

Excuse me while I laugh.

In the fog of war we're forced to speculate: Either Saddam is an extremely responsible tyrant. Or - he simply does not possess weapons of mass destruction. Either way, regardless of what happens next, Iraq comes out of the argument smelling sweeter than the US government.

So here's Iraq - rogue state, grave threat to world peace, paid-up member of the Axis of Evil. Here's Iraq, invaded, bombed, besieged, bullied, its sovereignty shat upon, its children killed by cancers, its people blown up on the streets. And here's all of us watching. CNN-BBC, BBC-CNN late into the night. Here's all of us, enduring the horror of the war, enduring the horror of the propaganda and enduring the slaughter of language as we know and understand it. Freedom now means mass murder (or, in the US, fried potatoes). When someone says "humanitarian aid" we automatically go looking for induced starvation. "Embedded" I have to admit, is a great find. It's what it sounds like. And what about "arsenal of tactics?" Nice!

In most parts of the world, the invasion of Iraq is being seen as a racist war. The real danger of a racist war unleashed by racist regimes is that it engenders racism in everybody - perpetrators, victims, spectators. It sets the parameters for the debate, it lays out a grid for a particular way of thinking. There is a tidal wave of hatred for the US rising from the ancient heart of the world. In Africa, Latin America, Asia, Europe, Australia. I encounter it every day. Sometimes it comes from the most unlikely sources. Bankers, businessmen, yuppie students, and they bring to it all the crassness of their conservative, illiberal politics. That absurd inability to separate governments from people: America is a nation of morons, a nation of murderers, they say, (with the same carelessness with which they say, "All Muslims are terrorists"). Even in the grotesque universe of racist insult, the British make their entry as add-ons. Arse-lickers, they're called.

Suddenly, I, who have been vilified for being "anti-American" and "anti-west", find myself in the extraordinary position of defending the people of America. And Britain.

Those who descend so easily into the pit of racist abuse would do well to remember the hundreds of thousands of American and British citizens who protested against their country's stockpile of nuclear weapons. And the thousands of American war resisters who forced their government to withdraw from Vietnam. They should know that the most scholarly, scathing, hilarious critiques of the US government and the "American way of life" comes from American citizens. And that the funniest, most bitter condemnation of their prime minister comes from the British media. Finally they should remember that right now, hundreds of thousands of British and American citizens are on the streets protesting the war. The Coalition of the Bullied and Bought consists of governments, not people. More than one third of America's citizens have survived the relentless propaganda they've been subjected to, and many thousands are actively fighting their own government. In the ultra-patriotic climate that prevails in the US, that's as brave as any Iraqi fighting for his or her homeland.

While the "Allies" wait in the desert for an uprising of Shia Muslims on the streets of Basra, the real uprising is taking place in hundreds of cities across the world. It has been the most spectacular display of public morality ever seen.

Most courageous of all, are the hundreds of thousands of American people on the streets of America's great cities - Washington, New York, Chicago, San Francisco. The fact is that the only institution in the world today that is more powerful than the American government, is American civil society. American citizens have a huge responsibility riding on their shoulders. How can we not salute and support those who not only acknowledge but act upon that responsibility? They are our allies, our friends.

At the end of it all, it remains to be said that dictators like Saddam Hussein, and all the other despots in the Middle East, in the central Asian republics, in Africa and Latin America, many of them installed, supported and financed by the US government, are a menace to their own people. Other than strengthening the hand of civil society (instead of weakening it as has been done in the case of Iraq), there is no easy, pristine way of dealing with them. (It's odd how those who dismiss the peace movement as utopian, don't hesitate to proffer the most absurdly dreamy reasons for going to war: to stamp out terrorism, install democracy, eliminate fascism, and most entertainingly, to "rid the world of evil-doers".)

Regardless of what the propaganda machine tells us, these tin-pot dictators are not the greatest threat to the world. The real and pressing danger, the greatest threat of all is the locomotive force that drives the political and economic engine of the US government, currently piloted by George Bush. Bush-bashing is fun, because he makes such an easy, sumptuous target. It's true that he is a dangerous, almost suicidal pilot, but the machine he handles is far more dangerous than the man himself.

Despite the pall of gloom that hangs over us today, I'd like to file a cautious plea for hope: in times of war, one wants one's weakest enemy at the helm of his forces. And President George W Bush is certainly that. Any other even averagely intelligent US president would have probably done the very same things, but would have managed to smoke-up the glass and confuse the opposition. Perhaps even carry the UN with him. Bush's tactless imprudence and his brazen belief that he can run the world with his riot squad, has done the opposite. He has achieved what writers, activists and scholars have striven to achieve for decades. He has exposed the ducts. He has placed on full public view the working parts, the nuts and bolts of the apocalyptic apparatus of the American empire.

Now that the blueprint (The Ordinary Person's Guide to Empire) has been put into mass circulation, it could be disabled quicker than the pundits predicted.

Bring on the spanners.

Sunday, March 09, 2003

This seems such a simple action...

A spontaneous war protest has started in Montreal after
a popular radio host here announced that Mrs. George W
Bush had cancelled a meeting with a group of women at
the White House because several of them planned to
attend the meeting with a white scarf round their
necks as a silent symbol of their desire for peace. This
symbol had power as it disturbed Mrs Bush. This story
has triggered a grassroots email campaign asking those
commited to peace in the world to wear a white scarf.
If everyone who disagreed with the war were to wear a
white scarf around their neck, tie a white hankerchief
to their back-packs, their attache case, their school
bags, white pennants from car anternnas, white flags
on balconies and hanging in front of houses the world
over, would this not be a powerful message to send to
our leaders? Sometimes images and symbols are more
p! owerful than words. If you feel that this idea has
any validity, please join the email campaign and pass
this on to your network. --

Tuesday, March 04, 2003

Dear MoveOn member,

We've launched an emergency petition from citizens around the
world to the U.N. Security Council. We'll be delivering the
list of signers and your comments to the 15 member states of
the Security Council on THURSDAY, MARCH 6.

If hundreds of thousands of us sign, it could be an enormously
important and powerful message -- people from all over the
world joining in a single call for a peaceful solution. But
we really need your help, and soon. Please sign and ask your
friends and colleagues to sign TODAY at:

In the next week, the U.N. Security Council will likely meet
to decide on authorizing a war against Iraq. If the Council
votes to accept a second resolution, it'll be very difficult
to avert a war. But if the resolution doesn't get enough
votes, it'll be a major setback for the Bush Administration's
plans to invade and occupy Iraq.

In the United States and around the world, millions of us
oppose a war against Iraq. We believe that tough inspections
can disarm Saddam Hussein without the loss of a single life.
This week may represent our last chance to win without war.

The stakes couldn't really be much higher. A war with Iraq
could kill tens of thousands of Iraqi civilians and inflame
the Middle East. According to current plans, it would require
an American occupation of the country for years to come. And
it could escalate in ways that are horrifying to imagine.

We can stop this tragedy from unfolding. But we need to speak
together, and we need to do so now. Let's show the Security
Council what world citizens think. You can add your voice at:

Then please ask your friends, family, colleagues,
acquaintances -- anyone you know who shares this concern -- to
sign on today. As the New York Times put it, "there may still
be two superpowers on the planet: the United States and world
public opinion." The Bush Administration's been flexing its
muscles. Now let's flex ours.

--Eli Pariser
International Campaigns Director
March 3rd, 2003

P.S. Here's the letter we'll be delivering to the Security
Council members along with the petition:

Dear Member of the U.N. Security Council,

We are citizens from countries all over the world. We are
speaking together because we will all be affected by a
decision in which your country has a major part -- the
decision of how to disarm Iraq.

The first reason for its existence listed in the Preamble to
the Charter of the United Nations is "to save succeeding
generations from the scourge of war, which twice in our
lifetime has brought untold sorrow to mankind." If your
country supports a Security Council resolution that would
authorize a war on Iraq, you will directly contradict that
charter. You will be supporting an unnecessary war -- a
war which immediately, and in its unknown consequences,
could bring "untold sorrow to mankind" once again.

The U.N. was created to enable peaceful alternatives to
conflict. The weapons inspections under way are a perfect
example of just such an alternative, and their growing
success is a testament to the potential power the U.N. holds.
By supporting tough inspections instead of war, you can show
the world a real way to resolve conflict without bloodshed.
But if you back a war, it will undermine the very premise
upon which the U.N. was built.

President Bush argues that only by endorsing a war on Iraq
can the United Nations prove its relevance. We argue the
opposite. If the Security Council allows itself to be
completely swayed by one member nation, in the face of viable
alternatives, common sense and world public opinion, then it
will be diminished in its role, effectiveness, and in the
opinion of humankind.

We do not support this war. For billions of citizens in
hundreds of countries, and for the future generations whose
lives will be shaped by the choice you make, we ask that you
stand firm against the pressuring of the Bush Administration,
and support tough inspections for Iraq. The eyes of the
world are on you.

[Number] citizens of the world.

Tuesday, February 18, 2003

No War
Greenpeace is part of the international effort to prevent war in Iraq. To read a statement by Greenpeace on the potential US invasion of Iraq and to voice your opposition to the war, visit:

Spraying of pesticides in Prince Albert National Park threatens human and
wildlife Action Alert - 099


Parks Canada is proposing to spray a biopesticide (BtK) over the townsite of
Waskesiu Lake, Prince Albert National Park in Saskatchewan, to reduce the impact
of spruce budworm. The objective of the program is purely aesthetic. Parks
Canada is catering to a small, vocal group of cabin and cottage owners who are
trying to preserve mature spruce trees - trees that are reaching the end of
their natural life cycle, and will die soon whether spraying occurs or not. The
application of the pesticide could harm both human and wildlife in the National
Park, and goes against the mandate of Parks Canada to protect biological
diversity in Canada's National Parks.


According to the proposal, 6 aerial applications of the pesticide will occur
over the next 3 years, starting this spring. A total volume of almost 8,000
litres of pesticide will be applied. Parks Canada is willing to consider
applying a pesticide that will:

* threaten the health of residents and visitors to Prince Albert National Park,
particularly children, women, seniors and those with pre-existing allergies,
respiratory conditions and immuno-deficiencies;

* kill or harm many non-target species, including most moths and butterflies;

* persist in the soil, air, water and on vegetation and other surfaces for
extended periods.

Aerial application will result in much of the pesticide drifting into Waskesiu
Lake, the source of the townsite's drinking water. Normal water treatment
processes do not destroy the BtK bacterium. Repeated low level aircraft
overflights will harm late-term pregnant elk and deer and their newborn calves
that are common within and adjacent to the spray zone during the proposed spray

Spruce budworm is a native species, and its effect is much like fire, helping to
renew forests as part of the natural process. The spray proposal undermines
Parks Canada's first management priority - the maintenance of ecological
integrity in a National Park.

Take Action

Parks Canada has stated that it is reacting to public pressure to spray. The
environmental assessment of the proposal has begun, and public pressure is
required to change this decision.

Please write or email the Minister Responsible for Parks Canada, Sheila Copps,
to voice your objections.
The Honourable Sheila Copps, Minister
Canadian Heritage (Parks Canada)
Room 511-S
House of Commons
Ottawa, Ontario K1A 0A6
Ph: (819) 997-7788
Fax: (819) 994-5987

For more information

A full report on the case against pesticides is available by visiting
Saskatchewan Environmental Society's website at and clicking
on Pesticide spraying in Prince Albert National Park.

Please send a copy of your correspondence to

11, Dec 2002
Is your ice cream bad for elephants?
By Jamie Grant and Emma Duncan

Palm oil is a versatile product. You might not realise it, but it's present in a wide range of goods at your local supermarket — from cosmetics and detergents to a variety of food products, including confectionery, chocolate, ice cream, ready-to-serve meals, and margarine.

It's also an extremely productive crop. Grown in tropical areas around the world, from its native West Africa to Southeast Asia, Pacific regions, and Latin America, oil palm (Elaeis guineensis) plantations produce far more oil per hectare than any other oilseed. Oil palm also requires less fertiliser, pesticide, and herbicide than other common oilseed crops, such as soybean, sunflower, and rapeseed.

Small wonder then that oil palm has become a bumper crop in many developing countries, providing income and employment in isolated areas where it's often most needed. And with the world trade in palm oil predicted to double in the next 20–30 years, the boom looks set to continue.

But despite the apparent environmental benefits of oil palm, the industry has often been criticised by environmental organizations. The issues are complex and differ in different countries, but often include problems associated with loss of natural forest.

Indonesia is a case in point. Although prohibited by Indonesian law, a new WWF report says that clearing of natural forest for plantations still continues here. For economic reasons and due to poor governmental control, logging and estate companies do not use widely available degraded lands for oil palm plantations. Instead, they set fire to natural forests on their concessions after having removed all the valuable timber, and then convert the cleared land to plantations.

The fires themselves can lead to further forest loss. The horrendous fires that swept through Indonesia in 1997 — burning down an area of rainforest bigger than the Netherlands and sending up smoke that reached as far as Brunei, Singapore, the Philippines, and Thailand — have been blamed on fires that were deliberately lit to clear forest for oil palm and other crops and then got out of hand because of a prolonged drought.

The extent and speed of forest loss in Indonesia is alarming. Fifty years ago, the island of Sumatra was covered with millions of hectares of tropical rainforest. Today, most of the lowland forest is gone, converted to settlements, oil palm and pulpwood plantations, and other crops. With 2 million hectares of lowland forest destroyed each year, the last remaining tracts will be lost by 2005. The same could happen on the island of Kalimantan by 2010.

The shrinking forest area threatens thousands of animal and plant species, many of them endemic and already endangered. Sumatra's Tesso Nilo forest, for example, has the highest level of lowland forest plant biodiversity known to science, with over 4,000 plant species recorded so far. It's also home to three per cent of the world's mammal species, including elephants, rhinos, and tigers.

Forest loss and oil palm plantations are proving a particularly deadly mix for Sumatra's elephants. As their natural habitat disappears, the animals are increasingly raiding oil palm plantations surrounding Tesso Nilo for food. But an agonising death awaits them. Angry farmers coat the palm fronds with pesticide or lay out poisoned bait. Earlier this year, 17 elephant corpses were found in the vicinity of a plantation. An entire family wiped out, every one a victim of poisoning. Tigers too are increasingly entering villages to find food, where they are often killed.

With the area of oil palm plantations in Indonesia predicted to double to 6 million hectares by 2020 and logging — both legal and illegal — continuing unabated, the outlook seems bleak for the country's remaining forests and the animals that depend on them.

But it doesn't have to be. Many players in the international palm oil industry could help save forests in Indonesia by implementing sound environmental, social, and economic practices. WWF is actively promoting this, and the results are promising.

Financial institutions are one target. The expansion of the oil palm sector is largely funded by European, North American, and East Asian financial institutions which, for the most part, rarely try to improve the social and environmental practices of their clients. However, these institutions could actively find and fund palm oil plantations that do not destroy natural forests. In partnership with WWF, four of the biggest banks in the Netherlands — ABN AMRO, Rababank, Fortis, and ING — have already agreed to stop or substantially restrict financing for palm oil plantations in Indonesia on environmental and social grounds.

Palm oil consumers also play a role in environmental responsibility. With some 17 per cent of the 22 million tonnes of palm oil produced worldwide destined for Europe, this market could significantly influence the industry's practises.

Switzerland's largest retail chain, Migros, has already started to do this. Also in partnership with WWF, the company developed a strict set of social and environmental criteria to be met by their palm oil suppliers. For example, oil palm plantations must not be grown on newly deforested land and must include secure wildlife and forest corridors. Social concerns are also taken into account to minimize conflict with local communities and ensure that workers' basic pay and conditions are met. This year, margarine became one of the retailer's first products made from palm oil that meets their new criteria. Step by step, all other products sold by Migros that contain palm oil will follow suit.

Palm oil producers too are realising the benefits of environmentally friendly plantation practises. The powerful Malaysian Palm Oil Association (MPOA) recently formed a Task Force to address environmental issues. Working with WWF, the MPOA made a proposal for the development of better practices for palm oil both at the landscape as well as the plantation level. Unilever, a major worldwide consumer as well as a producer of palm oil, is also working with WWF to develop sustainable palm oil production methods.

Our ice cream, soap, moisturiser, and lipstick — as well as products from other tropical crops such as soy and pulp — should not come at the expense of forests in Indonesia or other parts of the world. Although promising first steps have been made towards a more environmentally friendly palm oil industry, there is still a long way to go. Other companies and financial institutions need to follow in the footsteps of Migros, Unilever, and the four Dutch banks, not only in Europe but also in China, India, and Pakistan, the world's largest palm oil importers. Consumers too must demand environmentally friendly palm oil products, and if necessary be prepared to pay a higher price for these. Only then will the destruction stop.

*Jamie Grant is Press Officer at WWF Scotland and Emma Duncan is Managing Editor at WWF International


All giraffes have long, flexible tongues. The tongue of the Rothschild giraffe is 45cm long and 8cm wide. This is so long that this giraffe can use its tongue to clean its ear.
Only five percent of all mammal species (excluding humans) are believed to be monogamous, compared to nearly 90 percent of all bird species. Among birds, some of the most famously faithful are penguins, cranes, pigeons, and parrots. Geese, swans, doves, and albatrosses are generally believed to remain totally faithful to one partner until death do them part.
At the end of an elephant's trunk is a sensitive "finger" for grasping things as small as a berry or as large as a branch. African elephants have two fingers while the Asian elephant has only one.

Turtles are washing up dead--often beheaded or with their throats cut
--on the beaches of Mozambique in East Africa. In the first few weeks of 2003,
shocked tourists and residents have found dozens of green and loggerhead turtle

The cause is bycatch--the unintentional catch of nontarget species--by illegal
and unlicensed fishing vessels operating close to the coastline of Mozambique
and even within protected areas. The boats are said to be of Chinese, Korean,
or Taiwanese origin, and they are using longlines to catch sharks--some of which
are protected species in Mozambican waters.

With nearly 1,700 miles of coastline, Mozambique lacks the means to stop these
vessels or drive them from its waters. The illegal fishing vessels deploy
longlines--steel cables up to 15 miles long with hooks attached on lines set at
about one-yard intervals. Baited longline hooks are particularly lethal for
loggerhead and leatherback turtles, which are hooked as they swallow the bait,
and then drown or are killed by fishermen cutting away this unwanted catch. The
discovery of numerous beheaded green turtles in Mozambique suggests that even
these normally vegetarian turtles are going for the longline bait.

In addition to this gruesome cull, a recent study shows that shrimp trawlers
operating in central Mozambican waters kill between about 2,000 to 5,400 marine
turtles every year.

These deaths are preventable, but we need your help. The Mozambique government
needs to develop a strategy to deal with illegal fishing, possibly seeking
international assistance to drive out the pirate boats. In addition, thousands
of turtle deaths could be averted each year by the installation of a simple and
inexpensive tool known as a turtle excluder device (TED) on trawl nets.
Legislation requiring the use of TEDs could be implemented through changes to
Mozambique's fishing regulations, which are under review right now. The five
species of marine turtles that occur in Mozambique's waters are all
internationally recognized as threatened species and are protected by Mozambican
law and international treaties.

See below for how you can help. Please also forward this alert to your friends
and colleagues.

**********************TAKE ACTION NOW!****************

WWF has learned from our team in Mozambique that letters are needed to address
this issue; sending emails or faxes will not be effective. A few hundred
letters (ideally a few thousand) from concerned people around the world will let
the government know that action is needed now.

To take action, copy the letters below and add your own thoughts, explaining why
this issue is important to you. Mail the letters to the addresses indicated.
If you cannot send letters to all five of the ministers we are targeting, the
most important person to contact is Cadmiel Muthemba, the minister of fisheries.
A standard airmail letter to Mozambique from the United States costs 80 cents.

Thank you for taking the time to send letters. If you have any questions,
contact us at for help.

***************************LETTER TEXT**************************

Please send the following letter to each of the ministers listed below. The
priority is to send the letter to the Minister of Fisheries, Mr. Cadmiel

Honorable Minister of Fisheries
Mr. Cadmiel Muthemba
Office of the Minister
Caixa Postal 1723
Ministry of Fisheries

Honorable Vice-Minister of Fisheries
Mr. Alfredo Massinga
Office of the Vice-Minister
Caixa Postal 1723
Ministry of Fisheries

Honorable Minister for the Coordination of Environmental Affairs
Eng. John William Kachamila
Office of the Minister
Ministry for the Coordination of Environmental Affairs
Caixa Postal 2020

Honorable Vice-Minister for the Coordination of Environmental Affairs
Eng. Francisco Mabjaia
Office of the Vice-Minister
Ministry for the Coordination of Environmental Affairs
Caixa Postal 2020

The Honorable Minister of Tourism
Mr. Fernando Sumbana Júnior
Office of the Minister
Ministry of Tourism
Caixa Postal 4101

Dear Sir,

Mozambique has recently demonstrated leadership in marine environmental
protection by creating new marine protected areas in Bazaruto and Quirimbas, no
longer issuing new licenses for the shallow water shrimp fishery, and banning
coral reef exports, among other commendable actions. However, serious threats
remain to marine turtles due to fishing activities both inside and outside
marine protected areas. I believe you may be able to help resolve these issues.

Each year, thousands of turtles are dying unnecessarily as a result of bycatch
in the shrimp trawling industry. This can be prevented by the introduction of
turtle excluder devices (TEDs), which have been welcomed by Mozambican boat
owners because they have been shown to improve the quality of their catch.

Marine turtles are also being killed as bycatch by illegal longline fishing
vessels that are fishing for sharks, including some species that are protected
in Mozambique. These boats--from Taiwan and other far eastern countries--are
even entering protected areas such as the Bazaruto Archipelago National Park.
Illegal fishing is not only bad for turtles and other species, it also costs
your country untold amounts in stolen fish and competes unfairly with local

I urge you to take concrete steps to stop the further senseless loss of marine
life along the coast:

* The current revision of the fisheries regulations is an opportunity to make
sure that all trawlers operating in Mozambican waters are using TEDs. Please do
all you can to ensure that appropriate changes are made to the fishing

* Please work with relevant officials in your own and other departments,
including the security and defense authorities, to develop a strategy to deal
with illegal fishing, and to seek international assistance, if necessary, to
drive out the pirate boats.


**************************END OF LETTER TEXT*************************

To learn more about Mozambique's amazing species and habitats, as well as the
conservation challenges facing the country, visit WWF's online expedition to
Mozambique at

Urgent Action needed to Protect pink salmon Action Alert -- 100(c)
Take Action

Take action to protect British Columbia's endangered pink salmon. Send a free
letter to the companies who are refusing to provide safe passage for wild salmon
around their fish farms. Visit to ensure the Pink
Salmon's survival.


An unprecedented outbreak of sea lice at salmon farms in the Broughton
Archipelago in the north east portion of Vancouver Island, British Columbia
decimated eight runs of pink salmon in 2001 - putting them on the brink of
extinction. The fish-farm industry refuses to adequately address sea-lice
outbreaks around their farms. Two companies, Stolt Sea Farms and Heritage
Aquaculture, operate 27 farms in the Broughton Archipelago. All they need to do
is leave fish pens empty on at least one wild salmon migration route from
February to July to provide the wild pink salmon safe passage, and ensure their
survival. These companies are refusing to accommodate this wild species' needs.

Pink salmon could begin their migration to sea as early as the last week of
February yet industry and government has not developed a suitable action plan.

Take Action today. Visit

G8 Meeting comes back to haunt Alberta's Kananaskis Country Action Alert -- 101
Thursday February 13, 2003

The Alberta government is pushing new developments in Kananaskis Country, just
west of Calgary, only months after the G8 Summit beamed images of the mountain
paradise into the homes of onlookers around the word. Plans call for new lodges,
expansion of existing hotels and summer use of Nakiska ski hill all in prime
wildlife habitat. Say no to commercial exploitation, and yes to clear water,
wilderness and wildlife:


A draft plan for the Evan Thomas Provincial Recreation Area, at the heart of the
Kananaskis Valley, calls for expansion of the Nakiska Ski Area and for summer
use of the hill, along with new commercial development and expansion of existing
commercial facilities such as the Delta and Kananaskis Lodges, the site of
June's G8 summit meeting. The level of development proposed for the Kananaskis
Valley could negatively affect wildlife in the region, as well as the
opportunity for Canadians and visitors from around the world to enjoy the scenic
wonder of Kananaskis Country.

Grizzly bears, moose, elk and bighorn sheep are among the animals that may be
impacted by the new development.

Just seven months ago concerned citizens warned that the international exposure
brought by the G8 Summit on the Kananaskis Valley would lead to just this sort
of pressure for development in the sensitive mountain Valley. While the federal
government went to great lengths to avoid building even a single new permanent
structure in the Kananaskis Valley for the meeting of world leaders, the
provincial government is now moving in the opposite direction for the

The government is justifying development plans by citing public demand for hotel
accommodations. The government's own visitation reports for Kananaskis for the
last five years show occupancy rates hovering in the 55-58% range.

Take Action

Take action today at

* * *

Donate: Your help is needed to protect grizzly bears in Kananaskis, and other
wildlands and wildlife across Canada. Use's secure on-line
donation form, or find mailing information at

please participate in Amnesty International's emergency
petition on Iraq, which can be found at We are calling
on the UN Security Council to assess the human rights and humanitarian impact on
the civilian population of any military action against Iraq.

The assessment should take place in a public session of the Security Council,
open to all UN member states. Amnesty International also urges the Security
Council to deploy human rights monitors immediately throughout Iraq to report on
human rights abuses by any party.

Please join our petition at before
8 March.

Saturday, February 15, 2003


Please tell ten friends to tell ten friends today. The Breast Cancer site is having trouble getting enough people to click on it daily to meet their quota of donating at least one free mammogram a day to an underprivileged woman. It takes less than a minute to go to their site and click on "donating a mammogram" for free (pink window in the middle). This doesn't cost you a thing. Their corporate sponsors/advertisers use the number of daily visits to donate mammogram in exchange for advertising. Here's the web site! Pass it along to 10 people you know.

This is a wonderfull article please read

> Robert Fisk: The case against war: A conflict driven by the self-interest
> America
> 15 February 2003

> In the end, I think we are just tired of being lied to. Tired of being
> talked down to, of being bombarded with Second World War jingoism and
> stories and false information and student essays dressed up as
> "intelligence". We are sick of being insulted by little men, by Tony Blair
> and Jack Straw and the likes of George Bush and his cabal of
> neo-conservative henchmen who have plotted for years to change the map of
> the Middle East to their advantage.
> No wonder, then, that Hans Blix's blunt refutation of America's
> "intelligence" at the UN yesterday warmed so many hearts. Suddenly, the
> Blixes of this world could show up the Americans for the untrustworthy
> "allies" they have become.
> The British don't like Hussein any more than they liked Nasser. But
> of Britons remember, as Blair does not, the Second World War; they are not
> conned by childish parables of Hitler, Churchill, Chamberlain and
> appeasement. They do not like being lectured and whined at by men whose
> experience of war is Hollywood and television.
> Still less do they wish to embark on endless wars with a Texas
> governor-executioner who dodged the Vietnam draft and who, with his oil
> buddies, is now sending America's poor to destroy a Muslim nation that has
> nothing at all to do with the crimes against humanity of 11 September.
> Straw, the public school Trot-turned-warrior, ignores all this, with
> He brays at us about the dangers of nuclear weapons that Iraq does not
> of the torture and aggression of a dictatorship that America and Britain
> sustained when Saddam was "one of ours". But he and Blair cannot discuss
> dark political agenda behind George Bush's government, nor the "sinister
> men" (the words of a very senior UN official) around the President.
> Those who oppose war are not cowards. Brits rather like fighting; they've
> biffed Arabs, Afghans, Muslims, Nazis, Italian Fascists and Japanese
> imperialists for generations, Iraqis included - though we play down the
> RAF's use of gas on Kurdish rebels in the 1930s. But when the British are
> asked to go to war, patriotism is not enough. Faced with the horror
> Britons - and many Americans - are a lot braver than Blair and Bush. They
> not like, as Thomas More told Cromwell in A Man for All Seasons, tales to
> frighten children.
> Perhaps Henry VIII's exasperation in that play better expresses the
> view of Blair and Bush: "Do they take me for a simpleton?" The British,
> other Europeans, are an educated people. Ironically, their opposition to
> this obscene war may make them feel more, not less, European.
> Palestine has much to do with it. Brits have no love for Arabs but they
> smell injustice fast enough and are outraged at the colonial war being
> to crush the Palestinians by a nation that is now in effect running US
> policy in the Middle East. We are told that our invasion of Iraq has
> to do with the Israeli-Palestinian conflict - a burning, fearsome wound to
> which Bush devoted just 18 words in his meretricious State of the Union
> speech - but even Blair can't get away with that one; hence his
> for Palestinian reform at which the Palestinians had to take part via
> video-link because Israel's Prime Minister, Ariel Sharon, refused to let
> them travel to London.
> So much for Blair's influence over Washington - the US Secretary of State,
> Colin Powell, "regretted" that he couldn't persuade Sharon to change his
> mind. But at least one has to acknowledge that Sharon - war criminal
> he may be for the 1982 Sabra and Chatila massacres - treated Blair with
> contempt he deserves. Nor can the Americans hide the link between Iraq and
> Israel and Palestine. In his devious address to the UN Security Council
> week, Powell linked the three when he complained that Hamas, whose suicide
> bombings so cruelly afflict Israelis, keeps an office in Baghdad.
> Just as he told us about the mysterious al-Qa'ida men who support violence
> in Chechnya and in the "Pankisi gorge". This was America's way of giving
> Vladimir Putin a free hand again in his campaign of rape and murder
> the Chechens, just as Bush's odd remark to the UN General Assembly last 12
> September about the need to protect Iraq's Turkomans only becomes clear
> one realises that Turkomans make up two thirds of the population of
> one of Iraq's largest oil fields.
> The men driving Bush to war are mostly former or still active pro-Israeli
> lobbyists. For years, they have advocated destroying the most powerful
> nation. Richard Perle, one of Bush's most influential advisers, Douglas
> Feith, Paul Wolfowitz, John Bolton and Donald Rumsfeld were all
> for the overthrow of Iraq long before George W Bush was elected - if he
> elected - US President. And they weren't doing so for the benefit of
> Americans or Britons. A 1996 report, A Clean Break: A New Strategy for
> Securing the Realm ( called for
> on Iraq. It was written not for the US but for the incoming Israeli Likud
> prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu and produced by a group headed by - yes,
> Richard Perle. The destruction of Iraq will, of course, protect Israel's
> monopoly of nuclear weapons and allow it to defeat the Palestinians and
> impose whatever colonial settlement Sharon has in store.
> Although Bush and Blair dare not discuss this with us - a war for Israel
> not going to have our boys lining up at the recruiting offices - Jewish
> American leaders talk about the advantages of an Iraqi war with
> Indeed, those very courageous Jewish American groups who so bravely oppose
> this madness have been the first to point out how pro-Israeli
> foresee Iraq not only as a new source of oil but of water, too; why should
> canals not link the Tigris river to the parched Levant? No wonder, then,
> that any discussion of this topic must be censored, as Professor Eliot
> Cohen, of Johns Hopkins University, tried to do in the Wall Street Journal
> the day after Powell's UN speech. Cohen suggested that European nations'
> objections to the war might - yet again - be ascribed to "anti-Semitism of
> type long thought dead in the West, a loathing that ascribes to Jews a
> malignant intent." This nonsense, it must be said, is opposed by many
> Israeli intellectuals who, like Uri Avnery, argue that an Iraq war will
> leave Israel with even more Arab enemies, especially if Iraq attacks
> and Sharon then joins the US battle against the Arabs.
> The slur of "anti-Semitism" also lies behind Rumsfeld's snotty remarks
> "old Europe". He was talking about the "old" Germany of Nazism and the
> France of collaboration. But the France and Germany that oppose this war
> the "new" Europe, the continent which refuses, ever again, to slaughter
> innocent. It is Rumsfeld and Bush who represent the "old" America; not the
> "new" America of freedom, the America of F D Roosevelt. Rumsfeld and Bush
> symbolise the old America that killed its native Indians and embarked on
> imperial adventures. It is "old" America we are being asked to fight for -
> linked to a new form of colonialism - an America that first threatens the
> United Nations with irrelevancy and then does the same to Nato. This is
> the last chance for the UN, nor for Nato. But it may well be the last
> for America to be taken seriously by her friends as well as her enemies.
> In these last days of peace the British should not be tripped by the
> oh-so-sought-after second UN resolution. UN permission for America's war
> will not make the war legitimate; it merely proves that the Council can be
> controlled with bribes, threats or abstentions. It was the Soviet Union's
> abstention, after all, which allowed America to fight the savage Korean
> under the UN flag. And we should not doubt that - after a quick US
> conquest of Iraq and providing 'they" die more than we die - there will be
> plenty of anti-war protesters who will claim they were pro-war all along.
> The first pictures of "liberated" Baghdad will show Iraqi children making
> victory signs to American tank crews. But the real cruelty and cynicism of
> this conflict will become evident as soon as the "war" ends, when our
> colonial occupation of a Muslim nation for the US and Israel begins.
> There lies the rub. Bush calls Sharon a "man of peace". But Sharon fears
> may yet face trial over Sabra and Chatila, which is why Israel has just
> withdrawn its ambassador to Belgium. I'd like to see Saddam in the same
> court. And Rifaat Assad for his 1982 massacre in the Syrian city of Hama.
> And all the torturers of Israel and the Arab dictatorships.
> Israeli and US ambitions in the region are now entwined, almost
> This war is about oil and regional control. It is being cheer-led by a
> draft-dodger who is treacherously telling us that this is part of an
> war against "terror". And the British and most Europeans don't believe
> It's not that Britons wouldn't fight for America. They just don't want to
> fight for Bush or his friends. And if that includes the Prime Minister,
> don't want to fight for Blair either.