Sunday, December 31, 2006

A Parable For Our Times

by Bill Moyers
December 22, 2006

Bill Moyers is president of the Schumann Center for Media and Democracy. The center's senior fellow, Lew Daly, was his accomplice in this essay, written exclusively for

The Christian story begins simply: A child is given, a son. He grows up to be a teacher, sage, healer and prophet. He gains a large following. To many he is a divine savior; to the rich and powerful he is an enemy. They put him to death in brutal fashion, befitting his humble beginnings in peasant Galilee and his birth in a stall thick with the raw odor of animals.

Toward the end of his life, Jesus preached in the Temple to large crowds, reaching the height of his power. There he told the parable that likely sealed his fate. He said there was a man who created a prosperous vineyard and then rented it to some tenants while he went away on a journey. At harvest time, the owner of vineyard sent a servant to collect a portion from the tenants, but they beat the servant and sent him away empty-handed. Another servant came, and they struck him on the head. Another they killed. Finally, the owner sent his own son to collect the back payments. “They will respect my son,” he thought. But when the tenants saw the son, and knew him to be the heir, they saw their chance to take full possession of the harvest. And so they killed the son, thinking now they would owe nothing from the vineyard to anyone.

The listeners understood the symbolism: God, of course, is the owner of the vineyard, and the vineyard is Israel or the covenant, or, more broadly, the whole creation. It is all that God entrusts to the leaders of his people. And what is in question is their stewardship of this bounty.

In the parable, the “tenants” are the leaders of Israel. They hoard the fruits of the vineyard for themselves, instead of sharing the fruits as the covenant teaches, according to God’s holy purposes. And the holiest of God’s purposes, ancient tradition taught, is helping the poor, and the fatherless, and the widow, and the stranger—all who do not have the resources to live in a manner befitting their dignity as creatures made in God’s image, as children of God.

When he finished the story, Jesus asked the people what the owner of the vineyard will do when he comes back. “He will kill those tenants and give the vineyard to others,” Jesus tells them. In the Gospel of Matthew, the people themselves answered: “He will bring those wretches to a wretched end, and he will rent the vineyard to other tenants, who will give him his share of the crop at harvest time.”

Political dynasties fall from negligent stewardship. One thinks of the upward redistribution called “tax relief”; of the Iraq invasion sold as critical to the “War on Terror"; of rising poverty, inequality, crime, debt, and foreclosure as America spews its bounty on war and a military so muscle-bound it is like Gulliver. It would be hard to imagine a more catastrophic failure of stewardship, certainly in the biblical sense of helping the poor and allocating resources for the health of society. Once upon a time these errant stewards boasted of restoring a culture of integrity to politics. They became instead an axis of corruption, joining corporate power to political ideology to religious self-righteousness.

• • •

The story is told of the devil and a companion walking along the streets. The companion saw a man reach down and pick up the truth from the sidewalk. "You're finished," the companion said to the devil. "I just saw that man pick up the truth from the street, and that means you are finished." The devil smiled and answered, "Don't worry. He's a human, and in 15 minutes he will have turned the truth into a concept and no one will know what it is."

From theories stubbornly followed in defiance of truth on the street comes ruin. Laissez-faire was never a good idea; in practice it is ruinous.

This is the season to recall Walt Whitman. He wrote in Democratic Vistas, around 1870:

The true gravitation-hold of liberalism in the United States will be a more universal ownership of property, general homesteads, general comfort—a vast, intertwining reticulation of wealth. As the human frame, or, indeed, any object in this manifold universe, is best kept together by the simple miracle of its own cohesion, and the necessity, exercise and profit thereof, so a great and varied nationality, occupying millions of square miles, were firmest held and knit by the principle of the safety and endurance of the aggregate of its middling property owners.

How prophetic to see anything like that in the aftermath of the Civil War, in which Whitman had volunteered as a nurse. But in a time of great upheaval, countered by popular mobilization after mobilization, the great poet’s took hold in the people's imagination. Whitman’s liberalism had neither the cultural elitism of those identified with the term on the left, nor the laissez-faire extremism of the free-market “liberals” on the right. Liberalism meant “the safety and endurance of the aggregate of middling property owners.” Its consummation was the New Deal social compact we inherited from five presidents and from substantial voting majorities for a generation after the Great Depression, and the result was the prospect of a fair and just society—a cohesion—that truly made us a democratic people.

Equality is not an objective that can be achieved but it is a goal worth fighting for. A more equal society would bring us closer to the “self-evident truth” of our common humanity. I remember the early 1960s, when for a season one could imagine progress among the races, a nation finally accepting immigrants for their value not only to the economy but to our collective identity, a people sniffing the prospect of progress. One could look at the person who is different in some particular way—skin color, language, religion—without feeling fear. America, so long the exploiter of the black, red, brown, and yellow, was feeling its oats; we were on our way to becoming the land of opportunity, at last. Now inequality—especially between wealth and worker—has opened like an unbridgeable chasm.

Ronald Reagan once described a particular man he knew who was good steward of resources in the biblical sense. “This is a man,” Reagan said, “who in his own business, before he entered politics, instituted a profit-sharing plan, before unions had ever thought of it. He put in health and medical insurance for all his employees. He took 50 percent of the profits before taxes and set up a retirement program, a pension plan for all his employees. He sent checks for life to an employee who was ill and couldn’t work. He provided nursing care for the children of mothers who worked in the stores.”

That man was Barry Goldwater, a businessman before he entered politics. It’s incredible how far we have deviated from even the most conservative understanding of social responsibility. For a generation now Goldwater’s children have done everything they could to destroy the social compact between workers and employers, and to discredit, defame, and even destroy anyone who said their course was wrong. Principled conservatism was turned into an ideological caricature whose cardinal tenet was of taxation as a form of theft, or, as the libertarian icon Robert Nozick called it, “force labor.” What has happened to us that such anti-democratic ideas could become a governing theory?

• • •

Of course it’s hard to grasp what really motivated this movement. Many of the new conservative elites profess devotion to the needs of ordinary people, in contrast with some of their counterparts a hundred years ago who were often Social Darwinists, and couldn’t have been more convinced that a vast chasm between the rich and poor is the natural state of things. But after 30 years of conservative revival and a dramatic return of the discredited “voodoo economics” of the 1980s under George W. Bush, it’s reasonable to follow the old biblical proverb that says by their fruits you shall know them. By that realistic standard, I think the Nobel Laureate economist Robert Solow’s analysis sums it up well: What it’s all about, he simply said, is “the redistribution of wealth in favor of the wealthy and of power in favor of the powerful."

I grew up in East Texas, in a county that once had more slaves than any other in Texas. It is impossible to forget that as the slave power grew in the South and King Cotton catapulted the new nation into the global marketplace, the whole politics of the country was infected with a rule of property that did not—indeed could not—distinguish the ownership of things from the ownership of human beings. Drawing from the Hebrew prophets and the Book of Revelation, the abolitionists simply said this: the rule of law has become moral anarchy. God’s light clarified that the rule of law had become moral anarchy.

Something was wrong in the very foundation of things, and so the foundation had to be rebuilt on sounder principles. But no mere parchment of words divulged the principles that ultimately preserved the union. They were written in blood—thousands upon thousands upon thousands of dead Americans. And so by untold sacrifice the rule of law was righted to exclude human property. Then, of course, the slave power simply rejected the rule of law and established rule by terror. The feudal south became the fascist south. It did happen here, to answer Sinclair Lewis’s famous riddle of the 1930s.

What is finally at the root of these reactionary forces that have so disturbed the social fabric and threatened to undo the republic? If a $4 billion dollar investment in chattel labor was worth the price of civil war and 600,000 dead in 1860, is it really any wonder that the richest Americans would not suffer for too long a political consensus that pushed their share of national income down by a third, and held it there—about at the level of their counterparts in “socialist” Europe—for a generation? Make no mistake about it, from the days of the American Liberty League in 1936 (the group Franklin Roosevelt had in mind with his crowd-pleasing battle cry, “I welcome their hatred!”) they never gave up on returning to their former glory. They just failed to do it. Ordinary people had powerful institutions and laws on their side that thwarted them—unions, churches, and, yes, government programs that were ratified by large majorities decade after decade.

The scale of the disorder in our national priorities right now is truly staggering; it approaches moral anarchy. Alexander Hamilton, the conservative genius of the financial class, warned this could happen. Speaking to the New York State legislature in 1788, he said:

As riches increase and accumulate in few hands; as luxury prevails in society; virtue will be in a greater degree considered as only a graceful appendage of wealth, and the tendency of things will be to depart from the republican standard. This is the real disposition of human nature: It is what, neither the honorable member nor myself can correct. It is common misfortune, that awaits our state constitution, as well as others.

Conservatives who revere the founding fathers tend to stress the last point—that there is nothing to be done about this "common misfortune." It is up to the rest of us, who see the founding fathers not as gods but as inspired although flawed human beings—the hand that scribbled "All men are created equal" also stroked the breasts and thighs of a slave woman, whom he considered his property—to take on "the tendency of things " to "depart from the republican standard," and hold our country to its highest, and most humane, ideals.

As stewards of democracy, we, too, have a covenant—with one another.

© 2006

A Dictator Created Then Destroyed by America

by Robert Fisk
The Independent
December 30, 2006

Saddam to the gallows. It was an easy equation. Who could be more deserving of that last walk to the scaffold - that crack of the neck at the end of a rope - than the Beast of Baghdad, the Hitler of the Tigris, the man who murdered untold hundreds of thousands of innocent Iraqis while spraying chemical weapons over his enemies? Our masters will tell us in a few hours that it is a "great day" for Iraqis and will hope that the Muslim world will forget that his death sentence was signed - by the Iraqi "government", but on behalf of the Americans - on the very eve of the Eid al-Adha, the Feast of the Sacrifice, the moment of greatest forgiveness in the Arab world.

But history will record that the Arabs and other Muslims and, indeed, many millions in the West, will ask another question this weekend, a question that will not be posed in other Western newspapers because it is not the narrative laid down for us by our presidents and prime ministers - what about the other guilty men?

No, Tony Blair is not Saddam. We don't gas our enemies. George W Bush is not Saddam. He didn't invade Iran or Kuwait. He only invaded Iraq. But hundreds of thousands of Iraqi civilians are dead - and thousands of Western troops are dead - because Messrs Bush and Blair and the Spanish Prime Minister and the Italian Prime Minister and the Australian Prime Minister went to war in 2003 on a potage of lies and mendacity and, given the weapons we used, with great brutality.

In the aftermath of the international crimes against humanity of 2001 we have tortured, we have murdered, we have brutalised and killed the innocent - we have even added our shame at Abu Ghraib to Saddam's shame at Abu Ghraib - and yet we are supposed to forget these terrible crimes as we applaud the swinging corpse of the dictator we created.

Who encouraged Saddam to invade Iran in 1980, which was the greatest war crime he has committed for it led to the deaths of a million and a half souls? And who sold him the components for the chemical weapons with which he drenched Iran and the Kurds? We did. No wonder the Americans, who controlled Saddam's weird trial, forbad any mention of this, his most obscene atrocity, in the charges against him. Could he not have been handed over to the Iranians for sentencing for this massive war crime? Of course not. Because that would also expose our culpability.

And the mass killings we perpetrated in 2003 with our depleted uranium shells and our "bunker buster" bombs and our phosphorous, the murderous post-invasion sieges of Fallujah and Najaf, the hell-disaster of anarchy we unleashed on the Iraqi population in the aftermath of our "victory" - our "mission accomplished" - who will be found guilty of this? Such expiation as we might expect will come, no doubt, in the self-serving memoirs of Blair and Bush, written in comfortable and wealthy retirement.

Hours before Saddam's death sentence, his family - his first wife, Sajida, and Saddam's daughter and their other relatives - had given up hope.

"Whatever could be done has been done - we can only wait for time to take its course," one of them said last night. But Saddam knew, and had already announced his own "martyrdom": he was still the president of Iraq and he would die for Iraq. All condemned men face a decision: to die with a last, grovelling plea for mercy or to die with whatever dignity they can wrap around themselves in their last hours on earth. His last trial appearance - that wan smile that spread over the mass-murderer's face - showed us which path Saddam intended to walk to the noose.

I have catalogued his monstrous crimes over the years. I have talked to the Kurdish survivors of Halabja and the Shia who rose up against the dictator at our request in 1991 and who were betrayed by us - and whose comrades, in their tens of thousands, along with their wives, were hanged like thrushes by Saddam's executioners.

I have walked round the execution chamber of Abu Ghraib - only months, it later transpired, after we had been using the same prison for a few tortures and killings of our own - and I have watched Iraqis pull thousands of their dead relatives from the mass graves of Hilla. One of them has a newly-inserted artificial hip and a medical identification number on his arm. He had been taken directly from hospital to his place of execution. Like Donald Rumsfeld, I have even shaken the dictator's soft, damp hand. Yet the old war criminal finished his days in power writing romantic novels.

It was my colleague, Tom Friedman - now a messianic columnist for The New York Times - who perfectly caught Saddam's character just before the 2003 invasion: Saddam was, he wrote, "part Don Corleone, part Donald Duck". And, in this unique definition, Friedman caught the horror of all dictators; their sadistic attraction and the grotesque, unbelievable nature of their barbarity.

But that is not how the Arab world will see him. At first, those who suffered from Saddam's cruelty will welcome his execution. Hundreds wanted to pull the hangman's lever. So will many other Kurds and Shia outside Iraq welcome his end. But they - and millions of other Muslims - will remember how he was informed of his death sentence at the dawn of the Eid al-Adha feast, which recalls the would-be sacrifice by Abraham, of his son, a commemoration which even the ghastly Saddam cynically used to celebrate by releasing prisoners from his jails. "Handed over to the Iraqi authorities," he may have been before his death. But his execution will go down - correctly - as an American affair and time will add its false but lasting gloss to all this - that the West destroyed an Arab leader who no longer obeyed his orders from Washington, that, for all his wrongdoing (and this will be the terrible get-out for Arab historians, this shaving away of his crimes) Saddam died a "martyr" to the will of the new "Crusaders".

When he was captured in November of 2003, the insurgency against American troops increased in ferocity. After his death, it will redouble in intensity again. Freed from the remotest possibility of Saddam's return by his execution, the West's enemies in Iraq have no reason to fear the return of his Baathist regime. Osama bin Laden will certainly rejoice, along with Bush and Blair. And there's a thought. So many crimes avenged.

But we will have got away with it.

© 2006 Independent News and Media Limited

Saturday, December 30, 2006

Darfur Bleeds On

by The Guardian
December 30, 2006

Iraq again dominated the global news agenda in 2006, but the crisis in Darfur has raged on unabated and under-covered. The death toll since this half-forgotten conflict erupted in 2003 is put conservatively at 200,000, the bare statistic masking a terrible catalogue of African cruelty and suffering - and international impotence. More than 2 million people have been displaced. This year ends with violence spilling over into Chad and the Sudanese government still prevaricating over the conditions in which it will accept international peacekeepers. President Omar al-Bashir appeared to have backed down this week by acquiescing in a UN role to bolster the inadequate 7,000-strong African Union force. But he has played along with other initiatives only to block them. There are signs he is again deliberately muddying the waters. Crucially, he has failed to approve the far larger force needed to defend civilians from his own army and the Janjaweed militias.

Still, the partial change of heart in Khartoum suggests that recent threats of sanctions and a no-fly zone over Darfur - to stop government bombing raids - may have been effective. Investigations by the International Criminal Court are a reminder that war criminals can be brought to account. The pressure should be maintained until the deployment of a "hybrid" force that is mostly composed of African troops but has enough international backing to carry out the UN's "responsibility to protect". Mr Bashir can have no veto power.

Several factors have allowed Darfur's crisis to go unchecked. There are big logistical difficulties, for aid agencies as well as foreign troops, in operating in a remote area the size of France. Western governments have been reluctant to endanger the agreement that ended the long-running war in southern Sudan. The rebel groups which split over last May's Darfur peace deal have committed atrocities too. China protects Sudan at the UN. Above all the disastrous invasion of Iraq has discredited the idea of western intervention and fed beliefs in the Muslim world that imperialist powers are conspiring to take back sovereignty from former colonised peoples. This, as Kofi Annan, the outgoing UN secretary-general, said on International Human Rights Day, is "utterly false".

Darfur is too often used as a propaganda tool in a political slanging match in which supporters of Israel highlight what Washington has officially called "genocide" carried out by an Islamist regime and are in turn accused of hypocrisy by ignoring what Israel is doing to Palestinians. Mr Annan's strictures about learning the terrible lessons of Rwanda and Bosnia are lost in the white heat of this argument. So global "days of action" come and go, and Darfur bleeds on.

Guardian Unlimited © Guardian News and Media Limited 2006

Thursday, December 21, 2006

New German Community Models Car-Free Living

The Christian Science Monitor

December 20, 2006

It's pickup time at the Vauban kindergarten here at the edge of the Black Forest, but there's not a single minivan waiting for the kids. Instead, a convoy of helmet-donning moms - bicycle trailers in tow - pedal up to the entrance.

Welcome to Germany's best-known environmentally friendly neighborhood and a successful experiment in green urban living. The Vauban development - 2,000 new homes on a former military base 10 minutes by bike from the heart of Freiburg - has put into practice many ideas that were once dismissed as eco-fantasy but which are now moving to the center of public policy.

With gas prices well above $6 per gallon across much of the continent, Vauban is striking a chord in Western Europe as communities encourage people to be less car-dependent. Just this week, Paris unveiled a new electric tram in a bid to reduce urban pollution and traffic congestion.

"Vauban is clearly an offer for families with kids to live without cars," says Jan Scheurer, an Australian researcher who has studied the Vauban model extensively. "It was meant to counter urban sprawl - an offer for families not to move out to the suburbs and give them the same, if better quality of life. And it is very successful."

There are numerous incentives for Vauban's 4,700 residents to live car-free: Carpoolers get free yearly tramway passes, while parking spots - available only in a garage at the neighborhood's edge - go for €17,500 (US$23,000). Forty percent of residents have bought spaces, many just for the benefit of their visiting guests.

As a result, the car-ownership rate in Vauban is only 150 per 1,000 inhabitants, compared with 430 per 1,000 inhabitants in Freiburg proper.

In contrast, the US average is 640 household vehicles per 1,000 residents. But some cities - such as Davis, Calif., where 17 percent of residents commute by bike - have pioneered a car-free lifestyle that is similar to Vauban's model.

Vauban, which is located in the southwestern part of the country, owes its existence, at least in part, to Freiburg - a university town, like Davis - that has a reputation as Germany's ecological capital.

In the 1970s, the city became the cradle of Germany's powerful antinuclear movement after local activists killed plans for a nuclear power station nearby. The battle brought energy-policy issues closer to the people and increased involvement in local politics. With a quarter of its people voting for the Green Party, Freiburg became a political counterweight in the conservative state of Baden-Württemberg.

At about the same time, Freiburg, a city of 216,000 people, revolutionized travel behavior. It made its medieval center more pedestrian-friendly, laid down a lattice of bike paths, and introduced a flat rate for tramways and buses.

Environmental research also became a backbone of the region's economy, which boasts Germany's largest solar-research center and an international center for renewable energy. Services such as installing solar panels and purifying wastewater account for 3 percent of jobs in the region, according to city figures.

Little wonder then, that when the French Army closed the 94-acre base that Vauban now occupies in 1991, a group of forward-thinking citizens took the initiative to create a new form of city living for young families.

"We knew the city had a duty to make a plan. We wanted to get as involved as possible," says Andreas Delleske, then a physics student who led the grass-roots initiative that codesigned Vauban. "And we were accepted as a partner of the city."

In 1998, Freiburg bought land from the German government and worked with Delleske's group to lay out a master plan for the area, keeping in mind the ecological, social, economic, and cultural goals of reducing energy levels while creating healthier air and a solid infrastructure for young families. Rather than handing the area to a real estate developer, the city let small homeowner cooperatives design and build their homes from scratch.

In retrospect, "It would have been much simpler to give a big developer a piece of land and say, 'Come back five years later with a plan,' " says Roland Veith, the Freiburg city official in charge of Vauban.

But the result is a "master plan of an ecological city ... unique in its holistic approach," says Peter Heck, a professor of material-flow management at Germany's University of Trier, pointing out that this was a community-wide effort involving engineers, politicians, city planners, and residents - not just an environmental group's pilot program.

Today, rows of individually designed, brightly painted buildings line streets that are designed to be too narrow for cars. There are four kindergartens, a Waldorf school, and plenty of playgrounds - a good thing, because a third of Vauban's residents are under age 18, bucking the trend in a graying country.

As Germany's population ages - and shrinks - experts say Vauban's model will become more important as officials increasingly tailor-make communities in an effort to attract citizens .

"We have fewer young people. What you need now is a good quality of life with good services, a good infrastructure for kids and older people," says Thomas Schleifnecker, a Hannover-based urban planner.

Across Europe, similar projects are popping up. Copenhagen, for instance, maintains a fleet of bikes for public use that is financed through advertising on bicycle frames.

But what makes Vauban unique, say experts, is that "it's as much a grass-roots initiative as it is pursued by the city council," says Mr. Scheurer. "It brings together the community, the government, and the private sector at every state of the game."

As more cities follow Vauban's example, some see its approach taking off. "Before you had pilot projects. Now it's like a movement," says Mr. Heck. "The idea of saving energy for our landscape is getting into the basic planning procedure of German cities."

Copyright © 2006 The Christian Science Monitor

Scientists Reveal That Bears Have Stopped Hibernating

by Geneviève Roberts
The Independent
December 21, 2006

Bears have stopped hibernating in the mountains of northern Spain, scientists revealed yesterday, in what may be one of the strongest signals yet of how much climate change is affecting the natural world.

In a December in which bumblebees, butterflies and even swallows have been on the wing in Britain, European brown bears have been lumbering through the forests of Spain's Cantabrian mountains, when normally they would already be in their long, annual sleep.

Bears are supposed to slumber throughout the winter, slowing their body rhythms to a minimum and drawing on stored resources, because frozen weather makes food too scarce to find. The barely breathing creatures can lose up to 40 per cent of their body weight before warmer springtime weather rouses them back to life.

But many of the 130 bears in Spain's northern cordillera - which have a slightly different genetic identity from bear populations elsewhere in the world - have remained active throughout recent winters, naturalists from Spain's Brown Bear Foundation (La Fundación Oso Pardo - FOP) said yesterday.

The change is affecting female bears with young cubs, which now find there are enough nuts, acorns, chestnuts and berries on thebleak mountainsides to make winter food-gathering sorties "energetically worthwhile", scientists at the foundation, based in Santander, the Cantabrian capital, told El Pais newspaper.

"If the winter is mild, the female bears find it is energetically worthwhile to make the effort to stay awake and hunt for food," said Guillermo Palomero, the FOP's president and the co-ordinator of a national plan for bear conservation. This changed behaviour, he said, was probably a result of milder winters. "The high Cantabrian peaks freeze all winter, but our teams of observers have been able to follow the perfect outlines of tracks from a group of bears," he said.

The FOP is financed by Spain's Environment Ministry and the autonomous regions of Cantabria, Asturias, Galicia and Castilla-Leon, where the bears roam in search of mates. Indications of winter bear activity have been detected for some time, but only in the past three years have such signs been observed "with absolute certainty", according to the scientists.

"Mother bears with cubs make the effort to seek out nuts and berries if these have been plentiful, and snow is scarce," Mr Palomero said, adding that even for those bears - mostly mature males - who do close down for the winter, "their hibernation period gets shorter every year".

The behaviour change suggests that global warming is responsible for this revolution in ursine behaviour, says Juan Carlos García Cordón, a professor of geography at Santander's Cantabria University, and a climatology specialist.

"Meteorological data in the high mountains is scarce, but it seems that the warming is more noticeable in the valleys where cold air accumulates," Dr García Cordón said. "There is a decline in snowfall, and in the time snow remains on the ground, which makes access to food easier. As autumn comes later, and spring comes earlier, bears have an extra month to forage for food.

"We cannot prove that non-hibernation is caused by global warming, but everything points in that direction."

Spanish meteorologists predict that this year is likely to be the warmest year on record in Spain, just as it is likely to be the warmest year recorded in Britain (where temperature records go back to 1659). Globally, 2006 is likely to be the sixth warmest year in a record going back the mid-19th century.

Mark Wright, the science adviser to the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) in the UK, said that bears giving up hibernation was "what we would expect" with climate change.

"It does not in itself prove global warming, but it is certainly consistent with predictions of it," he said. "What is particularly interesting about this is that hitherto the warming has seemed to be happening fastest at the poles and at high latitudes, and now we're getting examples of it happening further south, and heading towards the equator.

"I think it's an indication of what's to come. It shows climate change is not a natural phenomenon but something that is affecting not only on the weather, but impacting on the natural world in ways we're only now beginning to understand."

The European brown bear, with its characteristic pelt that ranges from dark brown through shades of grey to pale gold, has black paws and a tawny face. It has poor vision, although it sees in colour and at night, and if threatened rears on its hind legs to get a better view. It can live for up to 30 years. It has acute hearing, and an especially fine sense of smell that enables it to detect food from a long distance. It is carnivorous, but has a multifunctional dental system with powerful canines and grinding molars perfectly adapted to an omnivorous diet.

The animals would normally begin hibernation between October and December, and resume activity between March and May.

The Cantabrian version of the brown bear, a protected species, was once as endangered as the Iberian lynx or the imperial eagle still are in Spain, but is now recovering in numbers. Between 70 and 90 bears roamed Spain's northern mountains in the early 1990s; now 130 live there.

Other seasonal freaks

* The osprey found in the lochs and glens of the Scottish Highlands in the summer months, usually migrate to west Africa to avoid the freeze. This winter, osprey have been spotted in Suffolk and Devon. Swallows, which also normally migrate to Africa for the winter have been also seen across England this winter.

* The red admiral butterfly, below, which hibernates in winter, has been spotted in gardens this month, as has the common darter dragonfly, usually seen between mid-June and October, which has been seen in Cheshire, Norfolk and Hampshire.

* The smew, a diving duck, flies west to the UK for winter from Russia and Scandinavia. This year, though, they have been mainly absent from the lakes and reservoirs between The Wash and the Severn.

* Evergreen ivy and ox-eye daisies are still blooming and some oak trees, which are usually bare by November, were still in leaf on Christmas Day last year.

* The buff-tailed bumblebee is usually first seen in spring. Worker bees die out by the first frost, while fertilised queen bees survive underground between March and September. This December, bees have been seen in Nottingham and York.

* Primroses and daffodils are already flowering at the National Botanic Garden of Wales, in Carmarthenshire. 'Early Sensation' daffodils usually flower from January until February. Horticulturalists put it down to the warm weather.

* Scientists in the Netherlands reported more than 240 wild plants flowering in the first 15 days of December, along with more than 200 cultivated species. Examples included cow parsley and sweet violets. Just two per cent of these plants normally flower in winter, while 27 per cent end their main flowering period in autumn and 56 per cent before October.

© 2006 Independent News and Media Limited

Iraq: It's Either Occupation or Education

by Dahr Jamail and Ali al-Fadhily
Inter Press Service

December 18, 2006

Two in three children in Iraq have simply stopped going to school, according to a government report.

Iraq's Ministry of Education says attendance rates for the new school year, which started Sep. 20, are at an all-time low.

Statistics released by the ministry in October showed that a mere 30 percent of Iraq's 3.5 million students are currently attending classes. This compares to roughly 75 percent of students who were attending classes the previous year, according to the Britain-based NGO Save the Children.

Just before the U.S.-led invasion in spring 2003, school attendance was nearly 100 percent.

Iraqis are forgetting almost what a child needs. Dr. Ahmed Aaraji of the Baghdad Societal Organisation, an Iraqi NGO which monitors the state of Iraqi schools and families in an effort to assist families where possible, is trying to remind everyone what that should be.

"To build a child's character, the home atmosphere should be appropriate, parents should attend to children, the school environment should be proper, and the whole society should function at the best level," he told IPS. "But none of these factors seems to exist in Iraq any more."

Iraq was awarded The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) prize for eradicating illiteracy in 1982. At that time, literacy rates for women were among the highest of all Islamic nations.

Education today presents a quite different picture. An IPS correspondent visited a primary school in the capital city, located in the volatile al-Amiriyah district in western Baghdad not far from the airport, after making his way through piles of garbage. And these piles grow bigger by the day, residents say.

The two-storey building looks neat enough with a fresh coat of yellow paint, but one step inside reveals years of neglect.

"During the regime of Saddam Hussein, Iraqi schools suffered from the poverty of the state due to the U.S.-backed UN sanctions," the headmaster told IPS. "The main problem now is the corruption of contractors and senior administration staff."

Contracts have been handed out for refurbishment, he said. But in effect, "they just paint the walls and fix some cheap accessories to collect their cash, and go."

The United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) declared as early as October 2004 that the education system in Iraq was "effectively denying children a decent education, and the poor quality of the learning environment delivers a major blow to children."

The study also confirmed that thousands of schools lacked the basic facilities to provide children a decent education.

UNICEF representative Roger Wright said in the October 2004 report: "Iraq used to have one of the finest school systems in the Middle East. Now we have clear evidence of how far the system has deteriorated. Today millions of children in Iraq are attending schools that lack even basic water or sanitation facilities, have crumbling walls, broken windows and leaking roofs. The system is overwhelmed."

Two years later, the situation has grown far worse. Now it is so bad that international agencies are not around to survey it any more.

Still, several parents continue to send their children to school. "We have to because what is the alternative," Um Abdulla told IPS at the front gate of a school in Baghdad as she waited to collect her children.

Literacy is declining with school education. UNESCO estimates that the literacy rate in Iraq as of Dec 11 is below 60 percent, meaning six million illiterate adults. The average literacy rate in Iraq 2000-2003 was 74 percent, according to UNICEF in 2004.

In the rural areas illiteracy is worse. Only 37 percent of rural women are literate, and only 30 percent of Iraqi girls of high school age are even enrolled in school. That compares with about 42 percent of boys, according to the UNESCO report this month.

Security is the prime concern, for parents and teachers.

"Roads are unsafe, with all the explosions and abductions that threaten our children on their way to school," mother of three Um Suthir told IPS.

Mothers usually accompany their children to school and bring them back home. With abductions on the rise, neither are safe.

Many schools in the capital have lowered their hours of classes to less than four a day due to shortage of teachers and facilities, and lack of security.

In war-torn Fallujah, many of the schools destroyed in the November 2004 U.S.-led attack on the city have not been rebuilt. This has led to reduced hours of classes being held in sometimes three shifts in makeshift buildings.

Ali al-Ka'abi from the Ministry of Education said the problem is worse in the capital and in cities in al-Anbar province to the west of Baghdad, where up to 30 percent of school buildings are being used by U.S. and Iraqi soldiers. This province, that includes Fallujah and Ramadi, has seen the fiercest resistance to U.S. occupation.

The collapsing economy is also keeping several children away from school. Many children have had to leave school because of family poverty or after the families were evicted from homes and hometowns for sectarian reasons.

"We are now living in a factory building, and there is no school near our shelter," a Baghdad resident told IPS. "I've had to ask for my oldest boy to help cover expenses by working as a cleaner at a mechanic's shop nearby."

The man said he used to own a small supermarket where he also lived; he now works as a porter. And he has no hope his children can ever go to school any more.

Thursday, December 14, 2006

Plan for Tracking Animals Meets Farmers’ Resistance

by Theo Emery
The New York Times
December 8, 2006

A federal effort to quickly pinpoint and contain outbreaks of disease among livestock is coming under attack on farms, in Internet chat rooms and at livestock markets, ranches and feed shops across the nation.

Although the effort, the National Animal Identification System, intended to trace a sick animal to the property it came from within 48 hours, is still in early, voluntary stages, the United States Department of Agriculture has had to retreat from a proposal to make it mandatory. Officials now say that further participation will result from financial incentives and market pressure.

“This is admittedly a very emotional issue with many folks,” said Bruce I. Knight, the under secretary for marketing and regulatory programs at the Agriculture Department. “It’s one that really asks for a lot of patience and resolve.”

Mr. Knight admits his agency has made mistakes in establishing the tracking system, which began to be rolled out in 2005. The rule-making process was not transparent enough, he said, which only raised the mistrust of farmers. He said he had been meeting with groups across the country to explain the program better.

Among other things, criticism has centered on the system’s cost, its potential for government invasion of privacy, perceived biblical prohibitions against its technology and the question of who would benefit.

Darrin Drake, whose family has farmed for at least 10 generations, said he did not need the government to keep track of the hundreds of cattle, goats, sheep and other livestock that roamed Peaceful Pastures, the farm here in mid-Tennessee that he and his wife bought in 1997.

“To me, this is my backyard,” said Mr. Drake, who is 40. “Now, if you started going into town and getting into people’s backyards, they’d get a little irritated. It just happens that my backyard’s a little bigger than most people’s.”

Mary-Louise Zanoni, a lawyer in upstate New York and the executive director of Farm for Life, an advocacy group for small farms, calls the effort a “scam” that will squeeze out small farmers.

“The only reason for an animal identification system,” Ms. Zanoni said, “is to serve the economic interests of large meat packers and people who are going to sell the technology that will be indispensable in the system.”

To participate, farmers register their “premises,” large or small, with the state, which passes their information on to the Agriculture Department. Registration is free. Of about 1.4 million premises nationwide, almost a quarter have been registered and assigned a seven-digit ID code, Mr. Knight said.

The next phase calls for animals to be assigned 15-digit numbers and given tags, either individually or, in the case of animals that are sold in lots, like pigs and poultry, collectively, according to the agency’s user guide for the system. Electronic tags are expected to cost $2 to $3 each, and it is likely that scanners will be used to read them, tracking the path from barnyard to slaughterhouse.

Amish farmers, who do not believe in using technology, also frown on tagging. “We would be conscientiously opposed and have religious convictions against the identification system,” one Amish farmer from Wisconsin wrote to Ms. Zanoni.

Industry groups have long sought an effective national tracking system.

The push intensified in late 2001 after an outbreak of foot-and-mouth disease in Europe and as fears of agroterrorism attacks on the United States food supply grew after Sept. 11. Additional pressure came with the first case of mad cow disease in the United States in 2003 and the ban on American meat by dozens of countries, said Robert Fourdraine, chairman of the ID committee for the National Institute for Animal Agriculture, an industry group.

Debate over whether the program would be compulsory proved so intense that the entire effort stalled. The only way to get it moving again was to put to rest fears about a mandate, Mr. Knight said.

But some animal tracking supporters argue that a voluntary system will not work. Emmit Rawls, a professor of agricultural economics at the University of Tennessee, said one diseased animal that had not been tagged and therefore could not be tracked could have enormous consequences.

But Mr. Knight said that while full participation seemed unlikely, a voluntary system would be effective.

Not all farmers oppose the program. Kenneth P. Garrett, 73, who has a herd of about 75 beef cattle in Cannon County, Tenn., said fear of change was driving the opposition. “I don’t see any problem with it,” Mr. Garrett said. “I don’t see how it could do anything but good in the long run.”

But the program has led to alarm and confusion. In Tennessee, some farmers were angered to learn they must be enrolled in the program to qualify for state grants. Others discovered that if they had participated in other disease eradication programs, they were assigned premise numbers and registration cards.

Virginia Youmans, who has sheep and other livestock on a 53-acre family farm in Lynnville, received a bar-coded premise ID card in the mail.

The program “goes against everything that we believe in about privacy and private property,” Ms. Youmans said. She said that their philosophical objections and the program’s expense would probably keep her and her husband from turning the farm into the business they had dreamed of.

“We want to stay here and we want to keep it in farming,” she said. “If we have to go through all that, then we probably won’t.”

Copyright 2006 The New York Times Company

This is a follow-up to the post of May 31, 2006, entitled "Stop the National Animal Identification System."

The Repeatedly Re-Elected Autocrat

By Steve Rendall
December 14, 2006

Hugo Chávez never had a chance with the U.S. press. Shortly after his first electoral victory in 1998, New York Times Latin America reporter Larry Rohter (12/20/98) summed up his victory thusly:

All across Latin America, presidents and party leaders are looking over their shoulders. With his landslide victory in Venezuela’s presidential election on December 6, Hugo Chávez has revived an all-too-familiar specter that the region’s ruling elite thought they had safely interred: that of the populist demagogue, the authoritarian man on horseback known as the caudillo.

Notwithstanding that interring caudillos has not been a consuming passion of Latin America’s ruling elite (or U.S. policy makers), it is fitting that the Times reporter sided with that elite. A few years later, in April 2002, following Chávez’s re-election by an even greater margin, Times editors cheered a coup against Chávez by Venezuelan elites (Extra! Update, 6/02), declaring in Orwellian fashion that thanks to the overthrow of the elected president, “Venezuelan democracy is no longer threatened by a would-be dictator.”

For Pedro Carmona—the man who took power in Chávez’s brief absence, declaring an actual dictatorship by dismissing the Venezuelan legislature, Supreme Court and other democratic institutions—Times editors had much nicer language, calling the former head of Venezuela’s chamber of commerce “a respected business leader.”

Following Chávez’s return to office a few days later, Times editors issued a grudging reappraisal of their coup endorsement (Extra! Update!, 6/02). Still insisting that Chávez was “a divisive and demagogic leader,” the editors averred that the forcible removal of a democratically elected leader “is never something to cheer.”

As if this pro-opposition bias were not enough, in January 2003 the Times was forced to dismiss one of its Venezuela reporters, a Venezuelan national named Francisco Toro, when it was revealed that Toro was an anti-Chávez activist (FAIR Action Alert, 6/6/03).

The Times anti-Chávez campaign was manifest in a recent book review (9/17/06) of Nikolas Kozloff’s Hugo Chávez: Oil, Politics and the Challenge to the United States, in which Times business columnist Roger Lowenstein rebuked the author for praising the Chávez government, explaining that Chávez “has militarized the government, emasculated the country’s courts, intimidated the media, eroded confidence in the economy and hollowed out Venezuela’s once-democratic institutions.” But Lowenstein failed to provide much evidence for his charges—a frequent characteristic of Chávez bashing—or to note that similar charges can be made against other governments, including one much closer to home.

Calling names
The New York Times is not alone. A Newsweek column (11/7/05) asserted that Venezuela has turned to “destructive populism” under Chávez, while a news report in the magazine (10/31/05) cited the “increasingly authoritarian tilt of the Chávez regime, which has packed the Venezuelan judiciary with pliable magistrates and enacted legislation curtailing press freedoms.” In his May 2006 Atlantic profile, New Republic editor Franklin Foer complained that under Chávez’s presidency Venezuela had taken an “anti-democratic turn.”

The Washington Post’s news pages have relentlessly criticized Chávez in news stories, calling him “autocratic” (8/12/04) and “authoritarian” (8/7/06). However, a much more ferocious campaign is waged against Chávez on the Post’s editorial and op-ed pages. In one column after another, the Post’s opinion pages have charged him with assaulting democracy and stifling dissent. In one column (10/16/06), deputy editorial editor Jackson Diehl called Chávez an “autocratic demagogue” and accused him of “dismantl[ing] Venezuela’s democracy.” Editorial page editor Fred Hiatt (12/26/05) explained that Chávez had “consolidated one-party rule and moved to export his brand of populist autocracy to neighboring nations.”

Even putative liberal commentators have joined the media chorus. On the O’Reilly Factor (12/5/05), Fox News contributor and NPR reporter Juan Williams said of Venezuela, “What you’re seeing there is really communism.” In September, when Democratic operatives Paul Begala and James Carville appeared on New York City public radio station WNYC (9/25/06), Begala told host Brian Lehrer that Chávez was “an autocrat, not a democrat,” and said he had “a terrible human rights record.” Carville told Lehrer, “I’ve worked in Venezuela and I would be very reluctant to call Chávez a democrat.” What Carville didn’t say was that he worked in Venezuela as an advisor to Venezuelan opposition groups leading an economically devastating strike by managers of the national oil company in an effort to destabilize the government (Washington Post, 1/20/03).

Is Venezuela undemocratic? And is Hugo Chávez an autocrat who has consolidated one-party rule? An examination of Venezuelan elections, governing institutions and public opinion indicates otherwise.

Certified elections
Venezuela has held half-a-dozen major elections for national offices and issues since 1998, the year of Chávez’s first presidential victory. That election saw Chávez beating his nearest rival by 16 percentage points, 56 percent to 40 percent, in a vote that former U.S. President Jimmy Carter called “a remarkable demonstration of democracy in its purest form.” (Chicago Tribune, 12/8/98.) In 2000, in a re-election required by the new Venezuelan constitution, Chávez increased his winning margin, 60 percent to 38 percent. In each case the elections were monitored and certified by a variety of observers including the Organization of American States, the European Union and the Carter Center.

A 1999 referendum backed by Chávez, which called for the convening of a constituent assembly to draft a new Venezuelan constitution, passed with 72 percent of the vote, in an election likewise certified by international observers. The resulting constitution, which strengthened the office of the president, also set up clear checks and balances between five branches of government, including a provision for a recall vote to remove the president after the mid-point in a presidential term was reached. (See box: “Unseparate and Unequal?”)

This provision was invoked in 2004 when the opposition amassed the required signatures over challenges by the Chávez government and a recall was held in August. Despite the U.S. bankrolling some of the opposition groups organizing the recall through the National Endowment for Democracy (NED) and the secretive Office of Transition Initiatives (OTI), Chávez retained his office with 58 percent of the vote (Christian Science Monitor, 2/6/06).*

Though the OAS and Carter Center certified the recall referendum as fair, some opposition groups, like the anti-Chávez, NED-funded Sumate, charged (and continue to charge) a fraudulent vote tally. Such charges have been largely dismissed by an otherwise anti-Chávez U.S. press, but Sumate has managed to convince Washington Post editor Jackson Diehl of the righteousness of its cause. More than a year after the failed referendum (4/10/06), Diehl wrote favorably of “the election-monitoring group Sumate, which has meticulously documented Chávez’s manipulation of the electoral system.”

Sumate is not an “election-monitoring group,” but a prominent political opposition group that spearheaded the recall. The group’s co-founder, María Corina Machado, was a coup supporter who signed the 2002 Carmona Decree that suspended Venezuela’s democracy. No actual election monitoring group challenged the referendum’s official results (Miami Herald, 7/8/05).

A legislative election in December 2005 ended with a twist when four opposition parties decided to withdraw their candidates, allowing Chávez allies to win virtually all the seats. Not that they would have done well had they stayed in the race. As Venezuela political observer and Chávez critic Alberto Garrido told the New York Times (12/5/05), “Chávez would have annihilated them anyway.’’ The predictable dominance of a Chávez-aligned coalition in the legislature was followed by a column by Washington Post editorial page editor Fred Hiatt (12/26/05) that charged Chávez had “consolidated one-party rule.”

Participatory democracy
Free elections are a necessary condition for democracy, but aren’t sufficient evidence to ensure that a functioning democracy is in place. Actual democracy depends on how elected institutions function and on day-to-day citizen involvement in between elections.

During his tenure, Chávez has tried to implement an agenda he has alternately called “21st century socialism” and “capitalism with a human face,” which he says takes into account socialism’s past failures. But rumors of communism in Venezuela are greatly exaggerated. The private sector has actually grown during his presidency. According to the Associated Press (7/7/06), Venezuelan central bank statistics show “the private sector accounted for more of the economy last year, 62.5 percent of gross domestic product, than when [Chávez] was elected in 1998, when it stood at 59.3 percent.”

This doesn’t mean Chávez isn’t a strong believer in the public sector and a government supported cooperative sector, particularly when it comes to programs for the poor. He has created a series of programs dubbed “missions” to fight poverty, malnutrition, disease, illiteracy and other pressing social problems. In many cases, the administration, budgeting and other decision-making for these programs have been delegated to neighborhood councils located in Venezuela’s poor neighborhoods. Even New Republic editor Franklin Foer (Atlantic, 5/06) conceded the impact of the missions:

Chavista investments in the slums are obvious. For the first time, blighted neighborhoods have government-subsidized grocery stores, access to the Internet, and doctors tending to their children. These improvements have translated into palpable optimism. Some polls show that Venezuelans are more sanguine about their economic future than Canadians or Americans.

Charges that Chávez has “militarized” the Venezuelan government (New York Times, 9/17/06) have their origins in an early Chávez government program. In 1999, when a recession left Venezuela short of money to fund poverty programs, Chávez implemented “Plan Bolívar 2000,” under which the underutilized military was ordered to construct housing, build roads and carry out mass vaccination drives—hardly what one imagines upon hearing warnings of government militarization.

Venezuela’s aggressive anti-poverty programs and “participatory democracy” have energized the poor and given them a stake in the country’s fortunes. By the democratic measure of citizen involvement, Venezuela is doing rather better than many democracies. And Venezuelans seem to agree; a 2005 Latinobarometro poll surveying opinion in 18 Latin American countries found Venezuelans near the top in their preference for democracy over other forms of government, and in satisfaction with how their democracy is functioning. The poll found Venezuelans considered their country “totally democratic” at a higher percentage than in any other nation in Latin America.

* The NED has given $2.9 million in “pro-democracy” grants to Venezuelan groups since 2002; the more secretive OTI, a branch of USAID whose website says it works to “support U.S. foreign policy objectives,” has spent over $26 million in Venezuela to “strengthen democratic institutions” since 2002 (AP, 8/27/06).

Research assistance: Matt Briere

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons License.

Friday, December 08, 2006

Speaking Frankly About Israel and Palestine

by Jimmy Carter
The Los Angeles Times
December 8, 2006

I signed a contract with Simon & Schuster two years ago to write a book about the Middle East, based on my personal observations as the Carter Center monitored three elections in Palestine and on my consultations with Israeli political leaders and peace activists.

We covered every Palestinian community in 1996, 2005 and 2006, when Yasser Arafat and later Mahmoud Abbas were elected president and members of parliament were chosen. The elections were almost flawless, and turnout was very high — except in East Jerusalem, where, under severe Israeli restraints, only about 2% of registered voters managed to cast ballots.

The many controversial issues concerning Palestine and the path to peace for Israel are intensely debated among Israelis and throughout other nations — but not in the United States. For the last 30 years, I have witnessed and experienced the severe restraints on any free and balanced discussion of the facts. This reluctance to criticize any policies of the Israeli government is because of the extraordinary lobbying efforts of the American-Israel Political Action Committee and the absence of any significant contrary voices.

It would be almost politically suicidal for members of Congress to espouse a balanced position between Israel and Palestine, to suggest that Israel comply with international law or to speak in defense of justice or human rights for Palestinians. Very few would ever deign to visit the Palestinian cities of Ramallah, Nablus, Hebron, Gaza City or even Bethlehem and talk to the beleaguered residents. What is even more difficult to comprehend is why the editorial pages of the major newspapers and magazines in the United States exercise similar self-restraint, quite contrary to private assessments expressed quite forcefully by their correspondents in the Holy Land.

With some degree of reluctance and some uncertainty about the reception my book would receive, I used maps, text and documents to describe the situation accurately and to analyze the only possible path to peace: Israelis and Palestinians living side by side within their own internationally recognized boundaries. These options are consistent with key U.N. resolutions supported by the U.S. and Israel, official American policy since 1967, agreements consummated by Israeli leaders and their governments in 1978 and 1993 (for which they earned Nobel Peace Prizes), the Arab League's offer to recognize Israel in 2002 and the International Quartet's "Roadmap for Peace," which has been accepted by the PLO and largely rejected by Israel.

The book is devoted to circumstances and events in Palestine and not in Israel, where democracy prevails and citizens live together and are legally guaranteed equal status.

Although I have spent only a week or so on a book tour so far, it is already possible to judge public and media reaction. Sales are brisk, and I have had interesting interviews on TV, including "Larry King Live," "Hardball," "Meet the Press," "The NewsHour With Jim Lehrer," the "Charlie Rose" show, C-SPAN and others. But I have seen few news stories in major newspapers about what I have written.

Book reviews in the mainstream media have been written mostly by representatives of Jewish organizations who would be unlikely to visit the occupied territories, and their primary criticism is that the book is anti-Israel. Two members of Congress have been publicly critical. Incoming House Speaker Nancy Pelosi for instance, issued a statement (before the book was published) saying that "he does not speak for the Democratic Party on Israel." Some reviews posted on call me "anti-Semitic," and others accuse the book of "lies" and "distortions." A former Carter Center fellow has taken issue with it, and Alan Dershowitz called the book's title "indecent."

Out in the real world, however, the response has been overwhelmingly positive. I've signed books in five stores, with more than 1,000 buyers at each site. I've had one negative remark — that I should be tried for treason — and one caller on C-SPAN said that I was an anti-Semite. My most troubling experience has been the rejection of my offers to speak, for free, about the book on university campuses with high Jewish enrollment and to answer questions from students and professors. I have been most encouraged by prominent Jewish citizens and members of Congress who have thanked me privately for presenting the facts and some new ideas.

The book describes the abominable oppression and persecution in the occupied Palestinian territories, with a rigid system of required passes and strict segregation between Palestine's citizens and Jewish settlers in the West Bank. An enormous imprisonment wall is now under construction, snaking through what is left of Palestine to encompass more and more land for Israeli settlers. In many ways, this is more oppressive than what blacks lived under in South Africa during apartheid. I have made it clear that the motivation is not racism but the desire of a minority of Israelis to confiscate and colonize choice sites in Palestine, and then to forcefully suppress any objections from the displaced citizens. Obviously, I condemn any acts of terrorism or violence against innocent civilians, and I present information about the terrible casualties on both sides.

The ultimate purpose of my book is to present facts about the Middle East that are largely unknown in America, to precipitate discussion and to help restart peace talks (now absent for six years) that can lead to permanent peace for Israel and its neighbors. Another hope is that Jews and other Americans who share this same goal might be motivated to express their views, even publicly, and perhaps in concert. I would be glad to help with that effort.

Jimmy Carter was the 39th president of the United States. His newest book is "Palestine: Peace Not Apartheid," published last month.

Copyright 2006 Los Angeles Times

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Richest 2% Own Half the Wealth

By Andrew Walker
BBC World Service
December 5, 2006

The richest 2% of adults in the world own more than half of all household wealth, according to a new study by a United Nations research institute.

The report, from the World Institute for Development Economics Research at the UN University, says that the poorer half of the world's population own barely 1% of global wealth.

There have of course been many studies of worldwide inequality.

But what is new about this report, the authors say, is its coverage.

It deals with all countries in the world - either actual data or estimates based on statistical analysis - and it deals with wealth, where most previous research has looked at income.

What they mean by wealth in this study is what people own, less what they owe - their debts. The assets include land, buildings, animals and financial assets.

Different assets

The analysis shows, as have many other less comprehensive studies, striking divergences in wealth between countries.

Wealth is heavily concentrated in North America, Europe and some countries in the Asia Pacific region, such as Japan and Australia.

These countries account for 90% of household wealth.

The study also finds that inequality is sharper in wealth than in annual income.

And it uncovers some striking differences in the types of assets that dominate in different countries.

In less developed nations, land and farm assets are more important, reflecting the greater importance of agriculture in those economies.

In addition, the report says the weighting is the result of "immature" financial institutions, which make it much harder for people to have savings accounts or shares.

In contrast, some citizens of the rich countries have more debt than assets - making them, the report says, among the poorest in the world in terms of household wealth.

However, they are presumably better off in terms of what they consume than many people in developing countries.


The survey is based on data for the year 2000. The authors say a more recent year would have involved more gaps in the data. As it is, many figures - especially for developing countries - have had to be estimated.

Nonetheless, the authors say it is the most comprehensive study of personal wealth ever undertaken.

Why does it matter? Because wealth serves as insurance against times when income tends to fall, such as unemployment, sickness or old age.

It is also a source of finance for small businesses, a particularly important point since it is the countries with lower levels of personal wealth which also tend to have weaker financial systems without the funds, ability or inclination to lend to small firms.

The report is not about policy recommendations.

But one of the authors, Professor Anthony Shorrocks, says it does draw attention to the importance of enhancing banking systems in developing countries to help generate the funds for business investment.

Copyright BBC 2006