Wednesday, April 30, 2008


Child Slavery

Thousands of children in southwest China have been sold into slavery like "cabbages", to work as labourers in more prosperous areas such as the booming southern province of Guangdong, a newspaper said on Tuesday.

China announced a nationwide crackdown on slavery and child labor last year after reports that hundreds of poor farmers, children and mentally disabled were forced to work in kilns and mines in Shanxi province and neighboring Henan.

"The bustling child labor market (in Sichuan province) was set up by the local chief foreman and his gang of 18 minor foremen, who each manage 50 to 100 child labourers," the Southern Metropolis Newspaper said.

"The children generally fall between the ages of 13 and 15, but many look under 10," it added.

The newspaper said 76 children from the same county, Liangshan, had been missing since the Chinese Lunar Year festival in February, 42 of whom had already left the region to work.

"The youngest kids found in the child labor market were only seven and nine years old," it said.

According to a contract exposed by an undercover reporter, a child laborer is paid 3.5 yuan ($0.50) an hour and must work at least 300 hours a month.

"These kids are robust and can do the toughest work," a foreman was quoted as saying, as he pulled a scrawny girl to stand beside him, the paper said.

Xinhua news agency said the county government had sent officials to rescue the children, but some were unwilling to leave, having been sold into slavery by their parents or volunteering to work themselves.

Source - Reuters

Tuesday, April 29, 2008


Processed Phood

Perhaps one day we can all simply eat cans of mush, and it won’t matter because they’ll contain chemicals to block and alter all of our taste receptors! This is an example of malicious brilliance at its finest.

Processed foods, by their very nature, do not taste good unless they have loads of artificial colors and flavoring agents, salt, sugar and often MSG added to doctor up the flavors.

In fact, most processed foods would taste incredibly bitter if they weren’t doctored up because of things like their extremely hot cooking processes and added caffeine (in soft drinks).

So what do food companies like Nestle, Cadbury Schweppes, Campbell Soup, and Coca-Cola do?

They hire Senomyx, a biotech company that can skillfully manipulate your taste buds with synthetic chemicals.

The company has already developed several chemicals that, although they contain no flavor of their own, activate or block receptors in your mouth that taste. The chemicals can mimic or enhance savory, sweet and salty tastes, and are intended to reduce the use of sugar, salt and monosodium glutamate (MSG) in processed foods.

One of Senomyx’s chemicals even causes a “cooling” taste, and we have only just begun to hear about the “innovations” that come from this company.

Senomyx already has 113 patents, and 371 more pending, in the United States, Europe and elsewhere in the world.

A Brief Lesson About Your Taste Buds

When you were in grade school, you were probably taught that certain areas of your tongue can taste different flavors. The “sweet” taste buds, for instance, were said to be at the tip of your tongue, and the “bitter” ones in back.

This taste-bud tongue map is still being taught today, but it has been known for decades to be entirely incorrect. In reality, each one of your taste buds contains 50 to 100 receptors for each taste. This means that you can taste every flavor there is with every taste bud on your tongue.

And, along with the standard sweet, sour, salty and bitter tastes that everyone has heard of, your tongue can also taste a fifth basic taste: umami (the taste of glutamate, which is found in many Japanese foods, bacon and also MSG).

It is also being debated whether or not there is actually a sixth taste receptor for fat on your tongue as well.

Of course, your taste buds are not only there for pleasurable purposes. They also help you determine if a food is spoiled, unripe or otherwise unsafe to eat, which is why you’re probably better off leaving your taste buds as nature intended them to be: in fully functioning, tasting condition.

Your Taste Buds May Already be Deceiving You

Nestle is already marketing products that contain one of Senomyx’s savory enhancers.

But you would never know it, because the chemical compounds are lumped in with an ingredient that’s already listed on most processed foods: “artificial flavors.”

I did a little digging and found that the first product sold by Nestle that includes these “savory flavor ingredients” is bouillon used as a base to make soups and stews. So if you are using one of theirs that lists “artificial flavors,” I’d be very suspicious.

Meanwhile, because the compounds are being used in small amounts (less than one part per million), Senomyx did not have to go through the Food and Drug Administration's (FDA) approval process typically necessary to release food additives. Instead of the lengthy FDA process, the company only had to be classified as "generally recognized as safe" by the Flavor and Extract Manufacturers Association -- a task that took less than 18 months.

And as for safety, well there was that one three-month rat study. That’s right: one three-month long study is apparently enough for major food manufacturers to decide that a never-before-used chemical is safe for you and your family to eat.

Unfortunately, for now it appears that these taste-bud-altering chemicals are here to stay, as earlier this month both Coca-Cola and Nestle extended their research agreements with Senomyx.

If You Want Chemical-Free Food …

It is becoming more important than ever to avoid processed foods. At the very least, boycott any product that lists “artificial flavors” as an ingredient.

You can tell a real food from a processed food because real foods are:

Grown, not processed
Messy, not neat and convenient
Of variable quality, not always the same
Prone to spoiling, not “forever” fresh
Vibrantly colored and textured, not dull and bland
Naturally flavorful, not artificially flavored
Strongly connected to the land and culture

Real foods have flavors that your taste buds won’t want to miss, so take a break from the grocery store and take advantage of your local farmer’s markets. There you’ll find fresh, whole foods that your taste buds will be happy to recognize.

Different Pier

Urban Mining

Thinking of throwing out your old cell phone? Think again. Maybe you should mine it first for gold, silver, copper and a host of other metals embedded in the electronics -- many of which are enjoying near-record prices.

It's called "urban mining", scavenging through the scrap metal in old electronic products in search of such gems as iridium and gold, and it is a growth industry around the world as metal prices skyrocket.

The materials recovered are reused in new electronics parts and the gold and other precious metals are melted down and sold as ingots to jewellers and investors as well as back to manufacturers who use gold in the circuit boards of mobile phones because gold conducts electricity even better than copper.

"It can be precious or minor metals, we want to recycle whatever we can," said Tadahiko Sekigawa, president of Eco-System Recycling Co which is owned by Dowa Holdings Co Ltd.

A tonne of ore from a gold mine produces just 5 grams (0.18 ounce) of gold on average, whereas a tonne of discarded mobile phones can yield 150 grams (5.3 ounce) or more, according to a study by Yokohama Metal Co Ltd, another recycling firm.

The same volume of discarded mobile phones also contains around 100 kg (220 lb) of copper and 3 kg (6.6 lb) of silver, among other metals.

Recycling has gained in importance as metals prices hit record highs. Gold is trading at around $890 (449 pounds) an ounce, after hitting a historic high of $1,030.80 in March.

Copper and tin are also around record highs and silver prices are well above long term averages.


Recycling electronics makes sense for Japan which has few natural resources to feed its billion dollar electronics industry but does have tens of millions of old cell phones and other obsolete consumer electronic gadgets thrown away every year.

"To some it's just a mountain of garbage, but for others it's a gold mine," said Nozomu Yamanaka, manager of the Eco-Systems recycling plant where mounds of discarded cell phones and other electronics gadgets are taken apart for their metal value.

At the factory in Honjo, 80 km (50 miles) southwest of Tokyo, 34-year-old Susumu Arai harvests some of that bounty.

A ribbon of molten gold flows into a mould where it sizzles and spits fire for a few minutes before solidifying into a dull yellow slab, on its way to becoming a 3 kg (6.6 lb) gold bar, worth around $90,000 at current prices.

Wearing plastic goggles to protect his eyes while he works, Arai said he was awestruck when he started his job two years ago.

"Now I find it fun being able to recover not just gold, but all sorts of metals," he said.

The scrap electronics and other industrial waste is first sorted and dismantled by hand. It is then immersed in chemicals to dissolve unwanted materials and the remaining metal is refined.

Eco-System, established 20 years ago near Tokyo, typically produces about 200-300 kg (440-660 lb) of gold bars a month with a 99.99 percent purity, worth about $5.9 million to $8.8 million.

That's about the same output as a small gold mine.

Eco-System also recovers metals from old memory chips, cables and even black ink which contain silver and palladium.


But despite growing interest in the environment and recycling, the industry struggles to get enough old mobile phones to feed its recycling plants.

Japan's 128 million population uses their cell phones for an average of two years and eight months.

That's a lot of cell phone phones discarded every year, yet only 10-20 percent are recycled as people often opt to store them in their cupboards due to concerns about the personal data on their phones, said Yoshinori Yajima, a director at Japan's Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry.

Just 558 tonnes of old phones were collected for recycling in the year to March 2007, down a third from three years earlier, industry figures show.

As metals prices rise, the Japanese industry faces growing competition for scrap, which is pushing up prices.

"We are seeing more competition from Chinese firms, and naturally the goods go where the money is," Dowa's Takashi Morise said.

In response, Japanese firms are importing used circuit boards from Singapore and Indonesia, as they also contain valuable minor metals that Japan is particularly eager to recover.

These minor metals such as indium, a vital component in the production of flat panel televisions and computer screens, antimony and bismuth are indispensable for producing many high-tech products.

However, they are often not easy to acquire as China has tightened export controls, making it harder for Japanese manufacturers to buy these metals.

That's where the "urban miners" step in.

"Our wish is to be able to help Japanese manufacturers that need these metals," Eco-System President Sekigawa said.


Concentrated Criminality

THE Gulf is full of loud architectural statements—towers that reach over 600 metres into the sky, hotels that will be suspended under the sea. It is easy, then, to miss the quiet resonance of Imperial College London's gleaming diabetes centre in Abu Dhabi, the capital of the United Arab Emirates (UAE). The building is decorated with tessellated plates of aluminium, a pattern inspired by the geometry of an insulin crystal and the musharabiya latticework of the region's past.

Opened in 2006, the hospital now cares for 6,000 patients, who pass through its chain of tests and treatments in a single visit. Almost a fifth of the UAE's native population suffers from diabetes, a rate second only to Nauru's. Next come three fellow members of the Gulf Co-operation Council (GCC)—Saudi Arabia (16.7%), Bahrain (15.2%) and Kuwait (14.4%).

The ailment is one unhappy consequence of the region's economic transformation. Before 1961, Abu Dhabi lacked even a paved road. Since then, it has enjoyed a startling transition from pearling to petroleum, from souk to mall and from sand to glass. This prosperity has bought a sedentary lifestyle and a sugary diet, which may have triggered a genetic predisposition to diabetes among Arabs. In the neighbouring emirate of Dubai shoppers are invited to enrol in “Mall Walkers”, a power-walking club that promises to give more than your credit card a workout.

Diabetes is a useful metaphor for the Gulf's present problems. The region's economies are struggling to absorb petrodollars, accumulating like glucose in the bloodstream. The risk they face is the economic equivalent of renal failure: inflation, a hollowing-out of the non-oil sector, and a young, growing workforce in chronic need of outside labour to supplement it.

The six nations of the GCC, which also includes Qatar and Oman, earned $381 billion from their exports of oil in 2007 and another $26 billion from gas, according to the Institute of International Finance (IIF). If the oil price remains at about $100 a barrel, they will reap a cumulative windfall of almost $9 trillion by 2020, reckons the McKinsey Global Institute: a vast number relative to the size of the GCC economies, which had a combined GDP of $800 billion in 2007.

Not all these riches are ingested, of course. The Gulf added $215 billion to its stock of foreign assets in 2007, the IIF calculates. This hoard is divided between the region's central banks, its sovereign-wealth funds and its wealthy sovereigns. It added up to $1.8 trillion by the end of last year, by the IIF's estimates, and more like $2.4 trillion, according to Brad Setser of the Council on Foreign Relations and Rachel Ziemba of RGE Monitor.

This financial clout has aroused anxiety, especially as some of the smaller funds have ventured beyond bank deposits, government bonds and minority stakes into less anonymous investments. In March the government of Abu Dhabi wrote letters to finance ministers around the world, explaining the motives guiding its investments. Its funds are only in it for the money, the letters said.

It is a plausible claim. If the Gulf is now a financial superpower, as Mr Setser and Ms Ziemba put it, then it has had its greatness thrust upon it. Its dollar surpluses were accumulated more by accident than design. The region's governments, scarred by the cheap oil of the 1990s, were slow to believe high prices would last. Their revenues then outpaced their ability to spend.

Slowly, however, the Gulf states' domestic ambitions have begun to catch up with their greater means. The six members of the GCC have announced or begun projects worth $1.9 trillion, according to Middle Eastern Economic Digest, 43% more than a year ago. The magnitude and mystique of the Gulf's foreign investments may arouse curiosity and concern. But what is more remarkable is how much the Gulf is now trying to spend on itself.

An avenue in the desert

No one could accuse Dubai of hoarding rather than flaunting wealth. For those not content with five-star luxury it offers the sail-shaped Burj al-Arab, the world's only seven-star hotel. Guests arrive by helicopter or Rolls-Royce, watch 42-inch plasma TV-screens in their rooms and choose from 13 pillows on which to lay their heads.

Dubai makes an exhibition of its prosperity because its economy now depends on people with money. With only a tiny percentage of the UAE's oil reserves, it has become adept at conjuring up ventures for others to finance. Now that its more conservative neighbours, such as Saudi Arabia and Abu Dhabi, are keen to invest more at home, they are learning from Dubai the arts of immodesty and audacity.

There are few better tutors than Emaar, one of Dubai's big-three developers, best known for building the Burj Dubai, the world's tallest tower. In 2006 its Saudi offshoot raised 2.55 billion riyals ($680m) to build a metropolis on the Red Sea coast, 100km north of Jeddah. The King Abdullah Economic City (KAEC), due for completion in 2016, will have over 2,000 factories and 2m people. Its resorts will offer 22,500 rooms and its port will dwarf the Islamic Seaport in Jeddah, handling the equivalent of 20m 20-foot containers a year and 300,000 pilgrims bound for Mecca.

In the last oil boom, new industrial cities such as Yanbu and Jubail arose at the government's behest. But Emaar raised its money from local investors in an oversubscribed public offering. Such “stockmarket hullabaloo” was new to Saudi Arabia, one critic says. Indeed, the private sector has never before taken on a city of this size.

Over the entrance to the site hangs a portrait of King Abdullah, looking down benignly. The archway marks the beginning of a 17km road lined with palm trees, which cannot disguise the dusty emptiness that extends for miles on either side. The wind-blown sand forms natural speed bumps along the route. Where the road meets the sea, construction has begun. A rig pounds an inlet out of the coast, sending rubble rattling down a pipe to the sea. Workers take a moment to pray, bending like the palm trees in the wind.

Emaar makes its money selling dream properties “off-plan” (ie, before they are built), using the proceeds to turn the rendering into a reality. In Dubai the model works well, thanks to the strength of Emaar's brand and the speed of Dubai's administration. In Saudi Arabia, buyers are more wary and the ministries less brisk. Emaar has recently agreed to lease industrial space to a Saudi-French lubricants company and an aluminium joint-venture from Abu Dhabi and Dubai. But the Saudi king, visiting last August, seemed unimpressed with progress. The deadline was tightened from 2026 to 2016. In February an even bigger “industrial zone” was announced, Sudair City, which will be financed mostly by the government.

Emaar faces another speed bump common to the entire region: the mounting cost of men and materials. Cement, steel, even sand are becoming pricier, and engineers are in short supply. Inflation, which reached 8.7% in February, is a shock to the Saudis, whose central bankers are as conservative as their clerics. In Oman the rate is 11.1%, an 18-year record. In the UAE and Qatar it is also well into double digits.

Behind these disturbing numbers lie three economic forces. First is the rise in the world price of commodities, especially food, thanks to strong demand and strained supply. Second is the fall of the dollar, to which all Gulf currencies are pegged except the Kuwaiti dinar. The third force is less familiar. It is the rise in the price of non-traded goods, principally housing and office space, which is arguably a natural result of the oil boom, and may even help the Gulf absorb its new riches.

The high price of food can tax even the hardiest consumer. The cost of good camel fodder has more than doubled in eight months, says Sameh Musabha, who watches four of his 80-strong herd trot around the race track in the UAE's tiny emirate, Ras al-Khaimah. “Everything is expensive now,” he says. At the Two-Dirham Plaza nearby, many items now sell for five.

The fall of the greenback, meanwhile, has raised the price of those imports not invoiced in dollars. Foreign workers complain bitterly that the money they earn in the Gulf stretches less far when sent to their families in India, Pakistan or Britain. The peg has forced the Gulf's central banks to shadow America's Federal Reserve, even as their economies have parted ways.

Might they re-peg their currencies at a stronger rate, or abandon the peg altogether? A meeting of the GCC in December dismissed the idea, saying that a rejigging of rates might jeopardise their ambition of monetary union in 2010. A stronger reason, suggests John Sfakianakis, chief economist of Saudi British Bank (SABB) in Riyadh, was Saudi Arabia's reluctance to undermine the dollar, the currency of its closest ally. But Qatar's prime minister thinks his currency is 30% undervalued, and he may still break ranks.

Disappearing dhows

Even if the dollar were steady, the region's prices would be unstable. This is because if the Gulf is to absorb its petrodollars, the price mechanism has work to do.

When an energy exporter converts its petrodollars at the central bank, domestic spending rises. But unless the local economy has a lot of slack, it cannot magically produce more goods and services to meet this fresh demand. Their price instead rises, relative to the price of things that can come in from overseas. According to a study by three IMF economists, a doubling of the oil price results eventually in a 50% rise in the price of non-tradable goods (such as housing), relative to tradables.

This shows up as inflation. But the price rises should peter out once they have served two useful functions: diverting demand to goods from abroad, and increasing the supply of those goods and services that must be produced at home.

You can see this macroeconomics at work all over the UAE. By Dubai's old creek, wide-bottomed dhows, moored four abreast, are hidden by the cargo piled on the wharf. Car parts from Germany, seedless tamarind from Myanmar and basmati rice from Pakistan are offloaded by small cranes from China. Meanwhile the price of housing, a service that must be consumed where it is produced, is soaring. In Dubai, rents rose by 30% in 2006 and another 17% in 2007. The government has tried to cap increases at 5% this year, but landlords turf tenants out on any pretext and charge 30-40% more when they re-let. Office space in Dubai now costs almost as much as in midtown Manhattan.

A camel-boy from Bangladesh

Some goods and services cannot be imported, but the labour required to produce them can be. In the Gulf, immigration serves almost as a tool of macroeconomic stabilisation, keeping wages contained. Illiterate young men from rural Pakistan fly into Riyadh, Saudi Arabia's capital, their passports signed with a thumbprint. At the luggage carousel, they pick up bundles of oranges they will sell before taking up jobs driving trucks or twisting steel across the kingdom. In Dubai, workers from South Asia are shuttled in from desert labour camps in the same yellow buses that ferry American children to school. They file on to construction sites, an arm draped over the man in front.

The Gulf has long assumed this queue of workers was endless. But some construction companies now struggle to find ready manpower. Labourers have dared to demand better wages. On March 18th hundreds of workers in the emirate of Sharjah torched cars and buildings in a labour camp in a protest over pay. In February 45 Indian builders were condemned to jail and deportation for violent protests.

The migrants have some backing in their home countries. In Bahrain, the Indian government has requested that their nationals be paid a minimum wage, much to the resentment of the Bahraini government. But Bahrain is itself pioneering a sweeping reform of its labour market, designed to make foreign labour more expensive. From July 1st it will charge companies a monthly levy of 10 dinars ($26) for each foreign employee on their books, in addition to a visa fee of 200 dinars.

This ambivalence towards foreign labour is shared across the Gulf. The native-born want to enjoy the profits and products that immigrant labour makes possible. But they do not want to face the competition immigrants bring. Foreigners do 60% of private-sector jobs in the GCC region; in the UAE, they do over 90%. Even Mr Musabha, the camel-owner, employs a young apprentice from Bangladesh.

Many nationals find work instead on swollen government payrolls, underwritten by petrodollars. But Bahrain's oil-fields are running dry and Saudi Arabia's deep reserves are spread thinly over a large population (25m) that is growing faster than oil output. The country is no stranger to poverty. In old Jeddah, beautiful coral houses sink into dilapidation. Elderly women watched by stray cats search for the best picks from the city's rubbish skips.

The Saudi and Bahraini states cannot afford to employ every citizen who wants a job. But the “petrodollar wage” still casts a long shadow, setting expectations and raising living costs. Elsewhere in the world the private sector would compete with the government for labour, offering comparable pay. But in the Gulf private employers hire immigrants instead. This leaves many Saudis and Bahrainis in limbo. They cannot count on a government job; nor will they settle for a low private-sector wage.

Licensed layabouts

According to McKinsey, the Gulf economies need to create 280,000 jobs a year to employ the young citizens graduating from schools and universities. But despite some of the lowest student-teacher ratios in the world, many emerge with few marketable skills. One response is to force companies to hire locals, imposing quotas in the name of Omanisation or Saudi-isation. But this measure undermines the work ethic of locals and the morale of immigrants. McKinsey reckons a quarter of native employees in Bahrain, Saudi Arabia and the UAE fail to show up for work.

Another response is to foster new industries other than oil, which employs too few, and construction, which pays too little. Saudi Arabia has made progress privatising telecoms, liberalising airlines and opening up financial services. It is also pinning great hopes on its economic cities, of which KAEC is but one of six. The others include a Knowledge City near the holy city of Medina; a city based on steel, copper, aluminium and other heavy industries in Jizan; and a fourth that will nurture agri-business in Hail, which produces 90% of the country's corn and a third of its potatoes. All told, the cities are supposed to create 1.3m jobs by 2020.

Unfortunately, the region's diversification plans lack much diversity. For example, no fewer than 11 aluminium smelters are in the works, on top of two already in operation in Dubai and Bahrain. Mr Sfakianakis suspects the Gulf's governments have heard the same advice from the same cadres of consultants. The GCC is guilty of a “me-too” approach to industrial development, says a report by the National Bank of Kuwait, which raises the risk of over-capacity not just in aluminium, but also in petrochemicals and property.

In the small Gulf countries, such as Kuwait and Qatar, the economic task is rather different. Their governments' hydrocarbon revenues last year amounted to about $60,000 and over $90,000 per citizen respectively. These resources will not last for ever, of course. But that does not mean they need to diversify their production. By investing the proceeds of their energy sales in a broad range of assets, they can diversify their income instead. Over the long run, a diversified portfolio of stocks, bonds and property is likely to outperform oil anyway.

Their economic fate is the one imagined by John Maynard Keynes in his 1930 work, “Economic Possibilities for our Grandchildren”. In an age of easy prosperity, the struggle to ensure the citizenry is employed gives way to the challenge of keeping them occupied. How to avoid becoming a nation of coupon-clippers?

Abu Dhabi is experimenting with a more interesting future. In February ground was broken on the Masdar Institute of Science and Technology, the first step in an initiative to foster renewable-energy technologies, from conception to manufacture. The initiative will be based in a small eco-city, which will invite its citizens to economise on energy and escape from their cars.

The ground-breaking ceremony was powered by 24 solar panels of various designs, each competing for the bid to serve the city. In the site office the electricity meter turns backwards, an early example of Masdar's ambition to contribute electricity to the national grid beyond the power it needs to run itself. In a country dedicated to driving and drilling, Masdar is bold, perhaps quixotic. It is an attempt not so much to diversify the economy as to invert it. Is it a folly? The beauty of Abu Dhabi is that it has the money to make it work, and the money not to worry too much if it fails.

Sunday, April 27, 2008


Guerrilla Gardening

Picture a garden. Step into it. Stroll around. What do you see? Perhaps a riot of tumbling terraces, topiary and pergolas, a cheerful blast of a blooming border or an explosive vegetable patch. Or maybe you are just reminded of a muddy lawn and cracked concrete patio. Whatever you are imagining, it is likely that to one side of it stands a house.

You are picturing a garden as most people see one - as an extension of a home, a landscaped setting to live in, a private space cultivated for the primary pleasure of the permanent occupant. While generous owners allow guests to share their garden, ultimately it is theirs and not yours. If you want to be a gardener, then you must do so in your own garden or else obtain permission to garden someone else's land.

But some people have a different definition of gardening. I am one of them. I do not wait for permission to become a gardener but dig wherever I see horticultural potential. I do not just tend existing gardens but create them from neglected space. I, and thousands of people like me, step out from home to garden land we do not own. We see opportunities all around us. Vacant lots flourish as urban oases, roadside verges dazzle with flowers and crops are harvested from land that was assumed to be fruitless. The attacks are happening all around us and on every scale - from surreptitious solo missions to spectacular campaigns by organised and politically charged cells.

This is guerrilla gardening.

It was 2am one October night in 2004 when I stepped outside the law. I had recently moved into a 1970s tower block on a bleak roundabout in Elephant & Castle - an area of south London notorious for its labyrinth of pedestrian underpasses, garish pink shopping centre and traffic volumes to rival Britain's busiest motorways. It is the kind of environment that drives people to crime. My crime was gardening on public land without permission and battling whatever was in the way.

The split-level flowerbeds beneath Perronet House were a grim tangle of old shrubs, builders' debris and litter. Even weeds seemed unwelcome in the barren bed next to the tower's front door. Happiest were an old white butterfly bush, rampant ivy and periwinkle, but this axis of evil had thuggishly taken over what the architect had presumably imagined as splendid interlocking beds cascading down from the entrance to the parade of busy bus stops below. An official gardener should have been taking care of the beds, but all I could see flourishing was litter. Rather than wait for the council to sort them out, I decided to do it myself.

So down I went in the early hours, my body charged with tea, to pull out weeds, dig in manure and plant red cyclamen, lavender and three spiky cabbage palms. I felt like some kind of mischievous tooth fairy or green-fingered vandal. I hoped that by gardening at such a strange time I would avoid trouble with neighbours and the council, both of whom, I feared, would be irritated by a meddling newcomer. That first night I improved the patch by the main entrance, but there was a lot more gardening to be done and the plants had years of growth ahead of them.

The plants survived the next few uncertain days and I picked up a little gossip that the improvement had been noticed by residents. Most assumed the council had finally got round to doing something. I was not yet confident enough to out myself to the neighbours. I preferred to remain undercover and continue my gardening uninterrupted.

Yet it was all too much fun to keep secret. I was happily entertaining friends with my exploits, and chose to spread the word further by blogging about it. I did not give much thought to the name when I set up the site, but seemed to sum it up, and for a while I even thought I had invented the term. Weeks later, as I surfed around to see how my site was performing in search engines, I was amazed to discover all sorts of references to guerrilla gardening. There were guerrillas all over the place! As they shared their stories with me, I realised that I was part of something much bigger.

I'll identify the guerrillas here by the "troop numbers" they were given when they signed up at Surnames have been omitted because some guerrilla gardeners prefer to remain anonymous.

Ava 949, from San Diego, told me how she had "seed-bombed" a 10-mile (16km) stretch of Imperial Avenue by lobbing fertile projectiles from her car window. Lucy 579, a London artist and self-proclaimed "fairy spreading magic dust", targets waste ground near Hither Green railway station, scattering wildflower seeds with abandon. She describes her station now as "Dog Daisy Heaven", a place where she can pick a flower for her hair in the morning before the commuter crush.

Thomas 347, from Davenport in Delaware County, has lined the road that passes through his town with daylilies. In Crewkerne, Somerset, Ben 2676 grew maize in a shabby planter right outside the entrance of his local supermarket, with the help of his young daughters Lily 2677 and Noor 2678.

Driving through Hampshire, Stephen 1337 noticed a neglected roundabout by Minley Wood, near where the body of murdered teenager Milly Dowler was found in 2002. He wanted to cheer the place up, so he planted daffodils.

In New York, Peter 509 filled the median planter that runs down Houston Street with more daffodils to give drivers waiting at the junction something pleasant to look at. The bulbs had been donated by Hans van Waardenburg, a Dutch supplier who pledged to give New York half a million bulbs every year to commemorate 9/11. Still without permission, Peter also built planters around trees along Houston Street, painting them bright blue with white clouds on. His grand dream is of a long roadside garden - a twisting ribbon that weaves together the green pockets of New York's gardens.

It was in the Big Apple that the term "guerrilla gardening" was coined in 1973, by a young painter called Liz Christy. Liz noticed tomato plants growing in the mounds of trash that littered derelict lots in her neighbourhood. The plants had clearly sprouted from fruit in the discarded rubbish, and their germination promised potential in the landscape. Likewise local children were finding places to play in the urban wastelands. Taking inspiration from what they saw, Liz and her friends scattered their own seeds in vacant lots, before deciding to create a community garden. Thirty-five years on, the garden she and her friends made on the corner of Bowery and Houston streets holds a grove of weeping birch, flowering perennials, vegetables and a grape arbour. A family of turtles swims in a large pool, and the hive is full of bees.

Guerrilla gardeners do not restrict their horticultural aspirations to the ground, however. When Helen 1106 walks around London she looks up and imagines a romantic alternative metropolis, a landscape of towering buildings covered with vegetation rather than glass and steel. She has begun her mission by planting ivy in nooks and crannies near the Bank of England. A few miles to the north, Sean 2350, despite being blind, has trained climbers up the telegraph pole and along the cable outside his house in Kentish Town.

One excellent reason for cultivating someone else's land without permission is hunger. Mama Afuwa 3187 lives near Kagoma, Uganda, and rents a small bungalow. She has no land, but when Lyla 1046, from London, visited her she was shown a fine crop of onions planted on the common scrub beside her home. Elsewhere in Uganda, Lyla came across land set aside for road expansion that had been illegally planted with maize, and unemployed residents growing plantains in what was once one of the largest industrial estates in East Africa.

My own guerrilla activity has moved beyond Perronet House, with the help of friends and family such as Joe 004, Clara 005 and My Mother 008. Joe and Clara had no experience of gardening, but when the subject was raised at the end of a boozy dinner, they immediately joined me in planting herbs on a traffic island. This was no drunken one-night stand, as three years later they are still among the regular troops.

A typical project was a neglected roundabout in the shadow of the 300-year-old limestone obelisk on St George's Circus, Southwark. Two years ago, its elliptical bed contained just two shaggy cabbage palms and a desert of compacted soil and litter. Now, with the help of many volunteers, it has become a thriving herb garden and shrubbery. Two spiky New Zealand flax squat at either end of a swath of small azaleas, Michaelmas daisies, heathers of various shades, pittosporum, a bed of lavender and rosemary underplanted with tulips and a Christmas tree.

Guerrilla gardening can, of course, put you in conflict with the landowner and those who are employed to enforce rules. While trespass is only an issue if the land is private, gardening anywhere without permission can be treated as criminal damage. Potentially you are creating obstruction, defacement, pollution and disorder, even though that is not the intention of most guerrilla gardeners.

In Reading's shabby Katesgrove district, just off the deep-cut dual carriageway of the Inner Distribution Road, Stuart 1952, a painter and decorator, led a team of guerrilla gardeners in creating the Common Ground Community Garden on some neglected waste ground. They cleared a large area of needles, used condoms and broken glass and replaced it with a small lawn, wood chippings, seats hewn from logs and pots of purple petunias.

Stuart reached out very publicly to the community, inviting them to enjoy the reclaimed space with an inaugural barbecue. This, however, alerted Reading borough council, which obtained an injunction on the grounds of "health and safety", an excruciating claim given the state the land was in before. The barbecue carried on regardless, 200 people came, and the guerrillas set about fighting a legal battle for the right to continue. The garden was still looking splendid when I visited in August 2007, but Stuart and his team continue to face legal challenges.

I have had several encounters with the authorities. The most frustrating was with a street cleaner in Southwark, over "my" use of "his" rubbish bins. When he saw me putting litter from some nearby flowerbeds into the bins (together with some garden waste) he challenged me: "You're filling them up too quickly." I tried to reassure him that in our own way we were doing the same job, but he seemed unsatisfied. The next morning I found the entire contents of one bin emptied over my freshly sown seedbed. The situation was resolved when the local newspaper picked up the story. "Guerrilla gardener goes ape," screamed the headline. Since then Southwark council seems to have been shamed into accepting my free rubbish collection.

Some guerrillas find they become invisible to busybodies simply by putting on a high-visibility jacket. However, a word of caution. I tried this approach late one night while cutting a new bed for nasturtiums in the tatty turf that covers the north roundabout in London's Elephant & Castle. By coincidence, many other men in fluorescent jackets were also in the area that evening, busy renovating the nearby underground station. In theory my jacket and I should have blended into the Day-Glo blur, but I could not have been more conspicuous. While they were all wearing orange jackets, mine was yellow. A gang of four soon came over, curious to see what I was up to. I explained I was just gardening but they observantly inquired, "Why is there a bus company's name across the back of your jacket?" If you are going to assume a disguise, do your research.

Surprisingly, perhaps, I have had little trouble with police and security guards. One uniformed duo arrived with lights flashing and siren blaring - called out on suspicion that I was stealing plants - but I showed the officers that my tub was full of dandelions. Luckily for me, they recognised weeds and, looking puzzled (I was gardening alone at 12.30am), let me continue.

My most serious problem with the police was while driving to a dig. They pulled me over under the Prevention of Terrorism Act, suspecting my car was laden with high-explosive fertiliser (it could have been, but that day it was woodchip mulch). More recently, passing police have recognised us as guerrilla gardeners and quite happily shared a cup of tea and supported what we were doing (though they have not yet dug alongside us). Generally they have more serious disturbances to deal with.

And, on the whole, public opinion is increasingly on the guerrilla gardeners' side. Well-wishers have sent me cheques with instructions to take volunteers out for a slap-up meal. While I was digging on a traffic island near Blackfriars Bridge in London, a security guard called Sikander came over from a nearby office and took requests for fresh fruit juice and bananas. And I have had drivers spot me, pull over to the kerb and thrust money into my muddy gloves when they realised what I was doing. The first time this happened there was a moment of ambiguity about what service was expected from me, but there was no negotiation - they expected nothing but to drive past flowers.

What to plant?

A guerrilla gardener should consider applying elements of "shock and awe" to planting. There are three key horticultural tactics you can deploy for maximum impact:


· Daffodils (Narcissus eg 'Jetfire' or 'Vulcan') and tulips (Tulipa eg 'Emperor' or 'Kingsblood') should be planted in autumn. By spring they will have become a legion of bright trumpets marching 15cm (6in) high, and they will return year after year.

· Canna lilies (Canna eg 'Tropicana' or 'Bengal Tiger') have brightly coloured flowers and striking, paddle-shaped, tropical-looking leaves. The canna is a herbaceous perennial and is available with flowers in all sorts of shades of red, pink, yellow and orange. It is also known as 'Indian Shot' because its tiny hard seeds make good bullets.

· Primroses (Primula eg 'Wanda Supreme Series') are herbaceous perennials that form neat spots of colour, with bell-shaped flowers of assorted blinding colours that pop up from a base of ground-hugging broad leaves. They flower from winter to mid-spring.

· Sunflowers (Helianthus annuus) radiate their yellow sunshine from stalks up to 5m (16ft) high. Although they prefer moist ground, you can grow them up to about 2m (6ft 6in) high in dry soil (and you can eat the seeds). They help break up compacted soil and also extract lead from the ground, but avoid eating the flowers if you are using them to clean land in this way.

· Christmas trees (Picea abies) are common additions to urban centres for a couple of months, but only as depressing dying specimens. Grow one that the community can enjoy throughout the year. If you have room, go for a 40m (130ft) beauty. Otherwise try a dwarf cultivar such as 'Gregoryana'.

· Coastal redwood (Sequoia sempervirens) or giant redwood (Sequoiadendron giganteum) are the tallest trees in the world. They are tolerant of winds and pollution and can live for thousands of years. Unfortunately, they will only tower over insect life while we are alive, but why let time hold you back from aiming high?


· Lavender (Lavandula angustifolia) has fragrant leaves all year round and sweet-smelling flowers during the summer. It is also tolerant of fairly poor, dry soil and attracts bumblebees.

· Common sage (Salvia officinalis) is an evergreen perennial that bears fragrant hairy leaves of up to 8cm (3in) long all year round. Available in a variety of flower colours, and edible too, it enjoys full sunshine.

· Mock orange (Philadelphus coronarius) is a deciduous shrub, 3m (10ft) tall with very fragrant, white cup-shaped flowers in early summer. It is native on scrubland and rocky hillsides around the world, so will survive in a fairly poor, previously neglected environment, and it loves alkaline soil.

What is a seedbomb?

Scattering seeds is the easiest way to guerrilla garden. It is gardening in an instant, free from tools. Some plants will perish, some will flourish. You do not even need to stop moving to do it - Tony 830 releases handfuls of Welsh poppy (Meconopsis cambrica) seeds while driving along the M60 near Barton Bridge, Lancashire. These yellow poppies will grow in both damp and dry conditions and are virulent self-seeders, ideal for carpet-bombing in this way.

Seeds must have soil and water to germinate, however, so they need to land in favourable conditions. If you are trying to turn a mountain of rubble and litter into something a bit more beautiful, just throwing seeds is not enough. Using seed bombs is the smart approach; these include soil and water to help the seed get off to a good start, and are packaged like grenades so that they can be more easily fired into otherwise inaccessible places.

Kathryn 079, a professor of art in California, has been seedbombing since 1991 with avocado-shaped projectiles made by mixing and pressing together compost, native plant seeds and dextrin (a corn-starch derivative used as a binder in candy bars and cattle feed). Her inspiration came during a drought in Santa Barbara, when she saw the once beautiful landscape looking dead.

Ella 1305 and Aimee 1306 have constructed an elaborate biodegradable device - a kind of seed shell - by sucking out the contents of a chicken's egg, pouring in wildflower seeds and a little compost and writing a message of hope on the outside.

More powerful forms of seedbombing have been developed. Christopher 1594 in Richmond, Virginia, creates "seed guns" by moulding red clay, organic compost, water and an assortment of seeds into the shape of 9mm pistols. A Danish collective developed the N55 Rocket System - a large weapon fuelled by a mixture of polyethylene and laughing gas that can be towed on the back of a bicycle.

"Won't that all get pinched by the morning?" has been the reaction of sceptical passersby when they see us installing showy new plants where before there was nothing. In most cases their pessimism is unfounded, but I cannot deny that thieves and vandals are a problem when gardening in publicly accessible space. Two years in a row now, my great big red poppy (Papaver orientale) outside Perronet House has been torn from its stem almost as soon as it has bloomed. Luc 158 in Montreal, who plants a long, L-shaped bed at the foot of a pavement wall along Sherbrooke East, suffers an attack at the same time each year. Andrew 1679 had a Washington palm (Washingtonia robusta) and a Scots pine (Pinus sylvestris) stolen from a bed in Hackney. We take such thefts on the chin, as disappointing but acceptable losses in battle.

Matt 1764 and Jennifer 1765 in Fillmore Street, San Francisco, have learned to find fun in the ups and downs of their streetside guerrilla gardening. A vandal rips up their wild flowers in the tree pits and destroys their fencing, but they call their creepy pest the Grumple. They say "for every act of vandalism he does we are coming back with double the amount of love ... If you are going to do this you have to stay strong. The amount of good the flowers do far outweighs the pain caused by the Grumple." They even turn their ripped and strewn wildflowers into bouquets to take home.

Adam 276 in New York does not take it on the chin; he fights back. When one vandal peed on his flowers, he retaliated by directing his hosepipe directly into the offender's open-top BMW. Now Adam has installed a defence against urination - a piece of clear plastic sheeting that he proudly calls the "piss panel".

If you cannot face the battle head on, what you can do is make your garden less obviously showy. Dramatic, exotic plants attract attention, so if you use them try to do so where pedestrians are less likely to linger or reach over. Or plant them en masse, so that one does not stand out as a tempting beacon, and so that you can afford to lose some. Be encouraged by the words of Chance, the gardener from the Oscar-winning horticultural comedy Being There: "As long as the roots are not severed all is well. And all will be well in the garden."

Saturday, April 26, 2008


Concentrated Criminality

Sixteen tons, singers once crooned, and what do you get? Well, if you hauled 16 tons for 16,000 thousand years -- at an annual pay rate of $36,140, the typical 2007 U.S. worker take-home -- you'd get almost as much as our financial world's 50 highest-paid hedge fund managers averaged last year, for just 12 months of hedge fund “labor.”

In 2007, the business trade journal Alpha reported last week, the hedge fund top 50 collected $29 billion -- an average of $581 million each. The king of them all, John Paulson of Paulson & Co., last year took home $3.7 billion from his hedge fund labors.

Alpha has been tracking hedge fund earnings for just seven years. In the first Alpha ranking, released back in 2002, hedge fund managers needed to clear a mere $30 million to make their way into the top 25. That entry threshold shot up to $210 million in the rankings Alpha published a year ago.

In the new Alpha rankings, gaining top 25 status demanded at least $360 million.

The Alpha magazine figures, incredibly, actually understate how much loot is cascading into hedge fund kingpin pockets. Alpha only tallies income that reflects the “investment prowess” that hedge fund managers display.

That is, Alpha just counts the annual fees that hedge fund superstars charge clients for managing their money -- that’s usually 2 percent of the money invested -- and the 20 share of the profits that hedge fund managers skim off from any gains they make selling off assets. Their typical share of these investment gains runs 20 percent.

But Alpha doesn’t count any money that hedge fund managers may make selling off shares of stock in their firms.

Daniel Och, for instance, rates just 41st on Alpha’s new top 50 list, with “investment prowess” income at only $245 million. Och, in hard fact, did quite a bit better financially than that in 2007. Last November his firm went public on Wall Street, a transaction that added $4.5 billion to his personal bottom line.

Just what do hedge fund managers do to “earn” these awesome sums? They make most of their killings betting on others’ misfortune. John Paulson, the $3.7 billion-dollar man, racked up his big gains wagering that reality would collapse the subprime mortgage market. Other hedge honchos placed winning bets on rising commodity prices for oil, wheat, and copper.

The hedge fund gravy train doesn't figure to be stopping any time soon. HedgeFund Intelligence, another trade publisher, calculates that hedge funds globally held $2.65 trillion in assets at the start of 2008, a sum up 27 percent over the year before.

In 2 percent management fees alone, that stash of cash will generate $53 billion in 2008 for John Paulson and his fellow hedge fund managers.


Relocalization Revolution Needed

Over the past two hundred years, certain vested interests in the industrialized world have promoted a particular narrative about the nature of technology, development, economics and modern society. Eventually that narrative became so widely accepted that today it is virtually impossible to have an economic or political discussion outside its frame of reference. The pervasiveness of this narrative is, I have increasingly come to believe, one of the main reasons many people have difficulty accepting the reality and imminence of peak oil.

It is also the main reason proposed “solutions” to the problem—from the liberal “subsidize alternative fuels” approach to the conservative conviction that we should “let the market sort it out”—are so misguided. More surprisingly, I believe the dependency and learned helplessness this narrative engenders is a major cause of the fatalistic despair many so-called peak oil “doomers” feel.

What is this narrative? It’s impossible to summarize without resorting to caricature, but that’s how most people know it anyway. The story goes something like this:

Before about two hundred and fifty years ago, the vast majority of human beings lived lives that were, in Hobbes’ words, “nasty, brutish and short.” But in the late 18th century, a series of innovations arose in Britain—paradigmatically represented by James Watt’s steam engine—that, dramatically increased that country’s wealth through mechanization, automation, centralization and vast economies of scale. Industrialization eventually spread to the United States, Continental Europe and eventually the world.

There was a cost to this revolution, however; conditions in the new factories (“dark satanic mills” as Blake called them) were atrocious. Child labor was rampant, working hours were excruciating and worker housing was cramped and diseased. These conditions (best illustrated in the work of Dickens or later in Upton Sinclair’s The Jungle) were so bad that over time, the government passed laws to protect workers and regulate the workplace. In early 20th century America this trend was encapsulated in the Progressive movement, which itself gave rise to modern liberalism through FDR’s New Deal in the 1930s and later Lyndon Johnson’s Great Society programs in the 60s.

For liberals, the “safety net” these programs provided, along with a host of consumer protection and other laws, served as a check on the ravages of the kind of “unfettered capitalism” which arose in the 19th century.

For conservatives, “unfettered” was the good thing about 19th century capitalism. However poor factory working conditions were, they argued, they must have been better than life in the countryside, or the workers would have never come to work. (The same argument is made today in defense of third-world sweatshops). In the end, the rising tide of free market prosperity lifts all boats, (though it may lift some more than others); it’s taxes and legislation that drain the economy and actually impoverish everyone.

Both sides implicitly agree that presently existing capitalism is best described as a free market system which is, for better or worse, checked by government regulations.

The major problem with this description, as author Kevin Carson convincingly argues in two recent books, is that it’s totally false. Modern day capitalism is manifestly not a free market, but a system created and sustained by massive central government interventions in the economy. As such, not only would it not thrive in the absence of government intervention, it would collapse without it.

Carson, a self-described Free Market Anti-Capitalist of the Mutualist tradition, has earned a reputation for himself in both anarchist and libertarian circles by attacking liberalism, conservatism and what he calls “vulgar libertarianism,”—which, he argues, has lost all connection to libertarianism’s true, radical origins and has become little more than a shill for corporate hegemony.

In his two books, Studies in Mutualist Political Economy, and Organization Theory: An Individualist Anarchist Perspective (a work in progress) Carson describes in detail how, far from being the antagonist of presently existing capitalism, government was from the beginning the instrument of its triumph. The examples he gives are too numerous recount, but a few illustrations give a general picture.

To begin with, how did factory owners in the British Industrial Revolution find such a compliant proletariat to work in such abysmal conditions? At least part of the reason can be found in the passage of the Acts of Enclosure, a series of laws in which traditional peasant lands were “enclosed” and deeded to private owners, essentially depriving countless villagers of their traditional lands. These acts were direct successors to feudal expropriations in which ruling classes simply claimed lands that were already occupied by peasants and forced them to pay rent on it.

Combined with laws that restricted freedom of movement—which Carson compares to the internal passport systems of the Soviet Union or apartheid South Africa in the 20th century—the Acts of Enclosure created the very conditions in the underclass that made the Industrial Revolution possible in its historic form.

In other words, the Industrial Revolution arose as much from state action as it did from any technological advance or supposed gain in efficiency. In the absence of such actions, it is entirely possible that many production innovations could have been applied at the level of the artisan/craftsman—and history would have taken an entirely different path.

Later, in the United States, massive state intervention created the conditions necessary to create the “robber-baron” era in the second half of the 19th century, through the control and manipulation of the money system, patents, tariff barriers and transportation subsidies.

As for the 20th century, the symbiotic relationship of corporation and government is even more obvious—though it goes strangely unnoticed by many people. Examples include the military industrial complex, the widespread subsidizing of transportation and communication, the for-profit corporate benefits of government pharmaceutical and other research, tax breaks and incentives for favored industries, the myriad direct and indirect subsidies of suburban sprawl, agricultural subsidies, etc.

In the absence of such overwhelming intervention, what would the economies of industrialized nations look like? It’s hard to say exactly, but Carson makes a strong case that far from looking like the current system on steroids, they would evolve toward something a lot like the model advocates of relocalization promote: human-scaled, diverse, egalitarian, community focused and local.

To those of us brought up to believe the corporate-state narrative, this is a counter-intuitive argument to say the least. But Carson and others provide good evidence to support it.

For example, one of the main myths of corporate-state narrative is that of unlimited efficiencies of scale. Big is good; bigger is better. Just think of the “always low prices” of the biggest goliath of all, Walmart.

But apart from many other interventions, Walmart couldn’t exist in its present form without the Interstate Highway System—built, maintained and paid for by the American public. If giant corporations were forced to internalize costs that they typically pass onto consumers, there is no way they could compete against smaller-scale, more local enterprises.

As Carson sums up:

In conclusion: If we strip away all the starting assumptions of the technocratic apologists for unlimited economy of scale, and counterpose certain working hypotheses of our own, we come up with this rival model of economic organization: In a decentralized economy without subsidized transportation infrastructure, it is generally more economical to make short production runs for local markets, using multiple-purpose machinery. Given limited demand for any particular product, these short production runs are likely to be in response to demand-pull, with production being shifted to other goods when the current demand is met. Absent the push model of creating demand for predetermined outputs, product design is more likely to be for durability and ease of repair, rather than planned obsolescence. Demand is likely to be further reduced by greater reliance on community repair and recycling centers, with even the remachining of parts being more economical in some cases than the purchase of a new product. Product innovation, in a demand-pull economy, is also more likely to come about in the small shop or skunk works, with design organized on a peer-production basis.”
If Carson’s analysis is correct, I believe at least two broad conclusions can be drawn that have relevance to the issue of peak oil.

First, the widespread belief that our large-scale, energy-intensive economy is the most efficient possible is false—even given the availability of cheap energy.

Therefore—technocratic admonitions to the contrary—it is not necessarily the case that a decrease in the size of the economy (as a decline in available energy implies) must lead to a dieoff, or even a dramatic decline in standard of living (depending on how one defines “standard of living”). The only thing that would make a dieoff inevitable would be government action (malicious or well-meaning) that further distorts markets or is punitive to small-scale enterprises. Unfortunately, as the situation with corn-based ethanol proves, non-intervention is anything but a foregone conclusion.

As surprising a conclusion as it is for someone who has always been a liberal, it seems increasingly apparent to me that the most important political action citizens can take on peak oil is not to support government-sponsored “Manhattan Project” energy programs but to resist state interventions that could complicate the inevitable process of relocalizing.



Food riots are erupting all over the world. To prevent them and to help people afford the most basic of goods, we need to understand the causes of skyrocketing food prices and correct the policies that have fueled them.

World food prices rose by 39 percent in the last year. Rice alone rose to a 19-year high in March -- an increase of 50 per cent in two weeks alone -- while the real price of wheat has hit a 28-year high.

As a result, food riots erupted in Egypt, Guinea, Haiti, Indonesia, Mauritania, Mexico, Senegal, Uzbekistan and Yemen. For the 3 billion people in the world who subsist on $2 a day or less, the leap in food prices is a killer. They spend a majority of their income on food, and when the price goes up, they can't afford to feed themselves or their families.

Analysts have pointed to some obvious causes, such as increased demand from China and India, whose economies are booming. Rising fuel and fertilizer costs, increased use of bio-fuels and climate change have all played a part.

But less obvious causes have also had a profound effect on food prices.

Over the last few decades, the United States, the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund have used their leverage to impose devastating policies on developing countries. By requiring countries to open up their agriculture market to giant multinational companies, by insisting that countries dismantle their marketing boards and by persuading them to specialize in exportable cash crops such as coffee, cocoa, cotton and even flowers, they have driven the poorest countries into a downward spiral.

In the last thirty years, developing countries that used to be self-sufficient in food have turned into large food importers. Dismantling of marketing boards that kept commodities in a rolling stock to be released in event of a bad harvest, thus protecting both producers and consumers against sharp rises or drops in prices, has further worsened the situation.

Here's what we must do to prevent an epidemic of starvation from breaking out.

First, it is essential to have safety nets and public distribution systems put in place. Donor countries should provide more aid immediately to support government efforts in poor countries and respond to appeals from U.N. agencies, which are desperately seeking $500 million by May 1.

Second, we should help affected countries develop their agricultural sectors to feed more of their own people and decrease their dependence on food imports. We should promote production and consumption of local crops raised by small, sustainable farms instead of growing cash crops for western markets. And we should support a country's effort to manage stocks and pricing so as to limit the volatility of food prices.

To embrace these crucial policies, however, we need to stop worshipping the golden calf of the so-called free market and embrace, instead, the principle of food sovereignty. Every country and every people have a right to food that is affordable. When the market deprives them of this, it is the market that has to give.

Monday, April 21, 2008


Camembert Wars

In his tiny workshop with a view of his cows, Francois Durand stood lovingly ladling raw milk curd into cheese moulds. After several weeks of salting, ripening and maturing, these would turn into the pungent, oozing Camembert that is France's favourite soft cheese - as much part of the national stereotype as the Basque beret, the baguette and a glass of red wine.

"When you use raw, unpasteurised milk, the taste is nice and fruity," Durand mused as he inspected the smelly contents of his ripening rooms. "You can taste what the cows have been eating at different times of year."

Durand is the last dairy farmer in the tiny Normandy village of Camembert still making traditional, raw milk Camembert cheese. But the farm's visitor book hints at the bitter cheese wars that have poisoned the air of the surrounding hills and dales. "Be brave!" urges one scribbled French entry. "Keep up the fight! Thanks for defending real cheese."

For months, small cheese producers and Camembert connoisseurs have been engaged in a battle of David and Goliath, dubbed the "camembert wars", which have captured the French imagination and seen Normans take to the streets to defend their cheese's pungent tang.

"Camembert is a subject that unites all the French," the former president Francois Mitterrand once said. But when small, traditional producers are pitted against France's industrial dairy giants the divide seems vast.

Camembert, whose sharp aroma was once likened to "God's feet", was made fashionable by Napoleon III and popularised as part of rations to soldiers in the first world war. It is France's best-selling cheese after Emmental, so it is not surprising that French industrial diary giants moved in to mass-produce it, buying up small producers and delivering vast amounts of cheaper, machine-produced camembert to supermarket shelves. There are only five remaining small, traditional producers of the prized "Camembert de Normandie".

Last year, the two industrial giants that produced 80% of the exclusive Normandy Camembert that carries France's famous Apellation d'Origine Contrôlée (AOC) stamp of approval, tried to change the rules. Until then, all prized AOC-approved Normandy camembert had been made with raw milk.

The big groups decided instead to make most of their Camembert with pasteurised milk, saying they wanted to protect consumers' health because, when manufacturing large volumes, they could not ensure raw milk was free of dangerous bacteria.

Pasteurising their milk - a process which was cheaper and better suited to mass-production - meant the dairy giants could no longer carry the prized AOC label. But they began a fight to win back the precious AOC stamp, arguing that pasteurised cheese should be included in it.

Last month, Camembert aficionados breathed a sigh of relief when, after a long public battle, cheese authorities said they would protect small producers by reserving the AOC only for Normandy Camembert made in the traditional way with raw milk.

But small cheese-makers say the war is not over and the fight could be turning dirty. In recent weeks, the biggest industrial producer, Lactalis, snitched on a smaller, traditional competitor, telling authorities that dangerous bacteria was found in a batch of AOC raw milk Camembert produced by Reaux. Coincidentally, Reaux happened to be one of Lactalis's biggest critics. The smaller company said there was no evidence of contamination. "This was an operation to destabilise us, it's a new episode in the camembert war, that's for sure," said Reaux's director Bertrand Gillot.

"The camembert war is a symbol of the wider cheese crisis in France," warned Véronique Richez-Lerouge, founder of France's Regional Cheese Association, which lobbies to protect traditional raw-milk varieties.

Nicolas Sarkozy has vowed to apply for Unesco world heritage status for French cuisine. Yet, while French leaders have long promoted the ideal of French countryside produce, small, regional cheeses are under threat from intense-production and its food industry giants.

France produces 1,000 cheese varieties, and its huge consumption is second only to the champion cheese-eaters of Europe, the Greeks. But the problem for French purists is the type of cheese that the French are wolfing down. Raw milk cheese makes up only 15% of the market. Dozens of traditional cheese varieties have disappeared over the past 30 years as small producers die out or are bought up by industrial giants.

The new types of cheese created in France now include squeezable, spreadable, and artificially flavoured varieties which strike horror into experts who worry that French teenagers can no longer recognise a proper goat's cheese as their palettes have been numbed. Around 95% of French cheese is now bought in supermarkets, where even cheesemonger counters are disappearing as people prefer their fromage packaged and ready sliced from a fridge unit.

"If it continues like this, in 10 years' time traditional raw milk cheese will be over," Richez-Lerouge said. "France defends its terroir, its great chefs, but that's just window-dressing, in fact France is the nation of Carrefour [the world's second-biggest supermarket giant] and a vast density of McDonalds. Consumers in France aren't aware of the disaster that's happening."

She said even Britain where, like the US and Spain, raw milk cheese is currently in fashion, traditional makers were held in more esteem.

At a table on Durand's Normandy farm, Gérard Roger, a camembert historian and president of the newly-created Defence Committee for Authentic Camembert, reluctantly agreed to taste-test a mass-produced, big-selling supermarket camembert.

"Wow, it stinks," he says sniffing the pale, uniform cheese. "It's dull, it tastes of nothing." Roger's group, which has organised street demonstrations, see themselves as "guardians of the temple". Now they have won a victory in the AOC battle for raw milk camembert, they are lobbying to protect authentic production methods, encouraging more small farmers to make cheese using milk from local Normandy cows.

Francis Rouchaud the group's secretary and a former marketing expert, said the big industrial producers wanted to put out a maximum number of Camembert products: "It's Coca-Cola thinking".

Lactalis, the world's second largest dairy processor, countered: "We are not trying to kill off the small people, that doesn't interest us at all. We're a global dairy company in 20 countries. We've got better things to do." A spokesman said that although the risk from raw milk was very small, for the company's big brands it preferred not to take it. He said there was nothing malicious in alerting the authorities to a bacteria-risk in competitor's cheese.

Charlie Turnbull, an exclusive cheesemonger from Dorset and judge at the world cheese awards, was visiting Durand's farm to pay homage to the "cathedral" of camembert. "The French put art before enterprise," he said. "Whereas the British put enterprise before art."

But small French producers are still on guard against mass-produced cheese. Inspecting his matured Camemberts, Durand said: "We must keep fighting to defend raw milk cheese, but we can't do it alone, French consumers must help us."

Sunday, April 20, 2008


Hundredth Monkey Theory

The hundredth monkey phenomenon refers to a sudden spontaneous and mysterious leap of consciousness achieved when an allegedly "critical mass" point is reached. The idea of the hundredth monkey phenomenon comes from Dr. Lyall Watson in his book Lifetide (1979). Watson, who has a Ph.D. in ethology for work done at the London Zoo with Desmond ("The Naked Ape") Morris, was writing about several studies done in the 1960's by several Japanese primatologists of Japanese macaques (Macaca fuscata). Watson alleged that the scientists were "reluctant to publish [the whole story] for fear of ridicule." He writes that he had "to gather the rest of the story from personal anecdotes and bits of folklore among primate researchers, because most of them are still not quite sure what happened." So, wrote Watson:

I am forced to improvise the details, but as near as I can tell, this is what seems to have happened. In the autumn of that year an unspecified number of monkeys on Koshima were washing sweet potatoes in the sea. . . . Let us say, for argument's sake, that the number was ninety-nine and that at eleven o'clock on a Tuesday morning, one further convert was added to the fold in the usual way. But the addition of the hundredth monkey apparently carried the number across some sort of threshold, pushing it through a kind of critical mass, because by that evening almost everyone was doing it. Not only that, but the habit seems to have jumped natural barriers and to have appeared spontaneously, like glycerine crystals in sealed laboratory jars, in colonies on other islands and on the mainland in a troop at Takasakiyama.

Yes, according to Watson, one monkey taught another to wash sweet potatoes who taught another who taught another and soon all the monkeys on the island were washing potatoes where no monkey had ever washed potatoes before. When the "hundredth" monkey learned to wash potatoes, suddenly and spontaneously and mysteriously monkeys on other islands, with no physical contact with the potato-washing cult, started washing potatoes! Was this monkey telepathy at work or just monkey business on Watson's part?

It makes for a cute story, but it isn't true. At least, the part about spontaneous transmission of a cultural trait across space without contact is not true. There really were some macaque monkeys who washed their sweet potatoes. One monkey started it and soon others joined in. But even after six years not all the monkeys saw the benefit of washing the grit off of their potatoes by dipping them into the sea. Watson made up the part about the mysterious transmission. The claim that monkeys on other islands had their consciousness raised to the high level of the potato-washing cult is a myth (Amundson 1985, 1987; Pössel and Amundson, 1996).

Ron Amundson wrote a very critical article of Watson's claim in 1985. In 1986, in a response to Amundson's critique of the hundredth monkey claim, Watson said his data came from "off-the-record conversations with those familiar with the potato-washing work." Markus Pössel contacted Masao Kawai, one of the senior researchers working on the original macaque project, and asked him about Watson's claims. Kawai said he was not "aware of any sweet potato washing or other skills that propagated more rapidly than would be expected by normal, individual, 'pre-cultural' propagation." When asked about "spontaneous and rapid spread of sweet potato washing from Koshima to groups of macaques on other islands and on the mainland," Kawai responded: "Individual monkeys in other groups or in zoos may have accidentally learned washing behavior, but it hasn't been observed anywhere on Koshima that washing behavior has spread to other group members."

When asked if there were "anecdotes or bits of folklore" among his primatologist colleagues regarding rapid behavior propagation, Kawai said "No." And when asked were there any contacts between Lyall Watson and his (Kawai's) colleagues, Kawai said "No." Thus, I repeat: Watson created the hundredth monkey phenomenon. Amundson refers to Watson's "myth-making" rather than his confabulation. Watson's response to Amundson's critique was published in the Fall 1986 issue of Whole Earth Review. Watson wrote: "I accept Amundson's analysis of the origin and evolution of the Hundredth Monkey without reservation. It is a metaphor of my own making, based—as he rightly suggests—on very slim evidence and a great deal of hearsay. I have never pretended otherwise. . . ." Watson has apparently made no effort to contact the researchers to inquire about the hearsay he claims he heard. In any case, Watson did not put forth the idea as a metaphor; he put it forth as a fact for which there was some unspecified hearsay evidence.

It should be noted that Watson is the author of some 25 books, and the hundredth monkey nonsense involves only a few paragraphs of his total output. Watson is unrepentant about it, however, and writes on his website: "I still think it's a good idea!" As a metaphor? Or as a fact? I wonder.

The notion of raising consciousness through reaching critical mass is being promoted by a number of New Age spiritualists. Ken Keyes, Jr. has published a book on the Internet that calls for an end to the nuclear menace and the mass destruction which surely awaits us all if we do not make a global breakthrough soon. The title of his treatise is The Hundredth Monkey. In his book he writes such things as "there is a point at which if only one more person tunes-in to a new awareness, a field is strengthened so that this awareness is picked up by almost everyone!"

It seems to be working for spreading the word about the hundredth monkey phenomenon.

Even though there is no evidence for the hundredth monkey phenomenon, Rupert Sheldrake has claimed that his theory of morphic resonance explains "the increasing ease with which new skills are learned as greater quantities of a population acquire them."


Mind Kontrol

In the summer of 2005, the Bush administration confronted a fresh wave of criticism over Guantánamo Bay. The detention center had just been branded “the gulag of our times” by Amnesty International, there were new allegations of abuse from United Nations human rights experts and calls were mounting for its closure.

The administration’s communications experts responded swiftly. Early one Friday morning, they put a group of retired military officers on one of the jets normally used by Vice President Dick Cheney and flew them to Cuba for a carefully orchestrated tour of Guantánamo.

To the public, these men are members of a familiar fraternity, presented tens of thousands of times on television and radio as “military analysts” whose long service has equipped them to give authoritative and unfettered judgments about the most pressing issues of the post-Sept. 11 world.

Hidden behind that appearance of objectivity, though, is a Pentagon information apparatus that has used those analysts in a campaign to generate favorable news coverage of the administration’s wartime performance, an examination by The New York Times has found.

The effort, which began with the buildup to the Iraq war and continues to this day, has sought to exploit ideological and military allegiances, and also a powerful financial dynamic: Most of the analysts have ties to military contractors vested in the very war policies they are asked to assess on air.

Those business relationships are hardly ever disclosed to the viewers, and sometimes not even to the networks themselves. But collectively, the men on the plane and several dozen other military analysts represent more than 150 military contractors either as lobbyists, senior executives, board members or consultants. The companies include defense heavyweights, but also scores of smaller companies, all part of a vast assemblage of contractors scrambling for hundreds of billions in military business generated by the administration’s war on terror. It is a furious competition, one in which inside information and easy access to senior officials are highly prized.

Records and interviews show how the Bush administration has used its control over access and information in an effort to transform the analysts into a kind of media Trojan horse — an instrument intended to shape terrorism coverage from inside the major TV and radio networks.

Analysts have been wooed in hundreds of private briefings with senior military leaders, including officials with significant influence over contracting and budget matters, records show. They have been taken on tours of Iraq and given access to classified intelligence. They have been briefed by officials from the White House, State Department and Justice Department, including Mr. Cheney, Alberto R. Gonzales and Stephen J. Hadley.

In turn, members of this group have echoed administration talking points, sometimes even when they suspected the information was false or inflated. Some analysts acknowledge they suppressed doubts because they feared jeopardizing their access.

A few expressed regret for participating in what they regarded as an effort to dupe the American public with propaganda dressed as independent military analysis.

“It was them saying, ‘We need to stick our hands up your back and move your mouth for you,’ ” Robert S. Bevelacqua, a retired Green Beret and former Fox News analyst, said.

Kenneth Allard, a former NBC military analyst who has taught information warfare at the National Defense University, said the campaign amounted to a sophisticated information operation. “This was a coherent, active policy,” he said.

As conditions in Iraq deteriorated, Mr. Allard recalled, he saw a yawning gap between what analysts were told in private briefings and what subsequent inquiries and books later revealed.

“Night and day,” Mr. Allard said, “I felt we’d been hosed.”

The Pentagon defended its relationship with military analysts, saying they had been given only factual information about the war. “The intent and purpose of this is nothing other than an earnest attempt to inform the American people,” Bryan Whitman, a Pentagon spokesman, said.

It was, Mr. Whitman added, “a bit incredible” to think retired military officers could be “wound up” and turned into “puppets of the Defense Department.”

Many analysts strongly denied that they had either been co-opted or had allowed outside business interests to affect their on-air comments, and some have used their platforms to criticize the conduct of the war. Several, like Jeffrey D. McCausland, a CBS military analyst and defense industry lobbyist, said they kept their networks informed of their outside work and recused themselves from coverage that touched on business interests.

“I’m not here representing the administration,” Dr. McCausland said.

Some network officials, meanwhile, acknowledged only a limited understanding of their analysts’ interactions with the administration. They said that while they were sensitive to potential conflicts of interest, they did not hold their analysts to the same ethical standards as their news employees regarding outside financial interests. The onus is on their analysts to disclose conflicts, they said. And whatever the contributions of military analysts, they also noted the many network journalists who have covered the war for years in all its complexity.

Five years into the Iraq war, most details of the architecture and execution of the Pentagon’s campaign have never been disclosed. But The Times successfully sued the Defense Department to gain access to 8,000 pages of e-mail messages, transcripts and records describing years of private briefings, trips to Iraq and Guantánamo and an extensive Pentagon talking points operation.

These records reveal a symbiotic relationship where the usual dividing lines between government and journalism have been obliterated.

Internal Pentagon documents repeatedly refer to the military analysts as “message force multipliers” or “surrogates” who could be counted on to deliver administration “themes and messages” to millions of Americans “in the form of their own opinions.”

Though many analysts are paid network consultants, making $500 to $1,000 per appearance, in Pentagon meetings they sometimes spoke as if they were operating behind enemy lines, interviews and transcripts show. Some offered the Pentagon tips on how to outmaneuver the networks, or as one analyst put it to Donald H. Rumsfeld, then the defense secretary, “the Chris Matthewses and the Wolf Blitzers of the world.” Some warned of planned stories or sent the Pentagon copies of their correspondence with network news executives. Many — although certainly not all — faithfully echoed talking points intended to counter critics.

“Good work,” Thomas G. McInerney, a retired Air Force general, consultant and Fox News analyst, wrote to the Pentagon after receiving fresh talking points in late 2006. “We will use it.”

Again and again, records show, the administration has enlisted analysts as a rapid reaction force to rebut what it viewed as critical news coverage, some of it by the networks’ own Pentagon correspondents. For example, when news articles revealed that troops in Iraq were dying because of inadequate body armor, a senior Pentagon official wrote to his colleagues: “I think our analysts — properly armed — can push back in that arena.”

The documents released by the Pentagon do not show any quid pro quo between commentary and contracts. But some analysts said they had used the special access as a marketing and networking opportunity or as a window into future business possibilities.

John C. Garrett is a retired Army colonel and unpaid analyst for Fox News TV and radio. He is also a lobbyist at Patton Boggs who helps firms win Pentagon contracts, including in Iraq. In promotional materials, he states that as a military analyst he “is privy to weekly access and briefings with the secretary of defense, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and other high level policy makers in the administration.” One client told investors that Mr. Garrett’s special access and decades of experience helped him “to know in advance — and in detail — how best to meet the needs” of the Defense Department and other agencies.

In interviews Mr. Garrett said there was an inevitable overlap between his dual roles. He said he had gotten “information you just otherwise would not get,” from the briefings and three Pentagon-sponsored trips to Iraq. He also acknowledged using this access and information to identify opportunities for clients. “You can’t help but look for that,” he said, adding, “If you know a capability that would fill a niche or need, you try to fill it. “That’s good for everybody.”

At the same time, in e-mail messages to the Pentagon, Mr. Garrett displayed an eagerness to be supportive with his television and radio commentary. “Please let me know if you have any specific points you want covered or that you would prefer to downplay,” he wrote in January 2007, before President Bush went on TV to describe the surge strategy in Iraq.

Conversely, the administration has demonstrated that there is a price for sustained criticism, many analysts said. “You’ll lose all access,” Dr. McCausland said.

With a majority of Americans calling the war a mistake despite all administration attempts to sway public opinion, the Pentagon has focused in the last couple of years on cultivating in particular military analysts frequently seen and heard in conservative news outlets, records and interviews show.

Some of these analysts were on the mission to Cuba on June 24, 2005 — the first of six such Guantánamo trips — which was designed to mobilize analysts against the growing perception of Guantánamo as an international symbol of inhumane treatment. On the flight to Cuba, for much of the day at Guantánamo and on the flight home that night, Pentagon officials briefed the 10 or so analysts on their key messages — how much had been spent improving the facility, the abuse endured by guards, the extensive rights afforded detainees.

The results came quickly. The analysts went on TV and radio, decrying Amnesty International, criticizing calls to close the facility and asserting that all detainees were treated humanely.

“The impressions that you’re getting from the media and from the various pronouncements being made by people who have not been here in my opinion are totally false,” Donald W. Shepperd, a retired Air Force general, reported live on CNN by phone from Guantánamo that same afternoon.

The next morning, Montgomery Meigs, a retired Army general and NBC analyst, appeared on “Today.” “There’s been over $100 million of new construction,” he reported. “The place is very professionally run.”

Within days, transcripts of the analysts’ appearances were circulated to senior White House and Pentagon officials, cited as evidence of progress in the battle for hearts and minds at home.

Charting the Campaign

By early 2002, detailed planning for a possible Iraq invasion was under way, yet an obstacle loomed. Many Americans, polls showed, were uneasy about invading a country with no clear connection to the Sept. 11 attacks. Pentagon and White House officials believed the military analysts could play a crucial role in helping overcome this resistance.

Torie Clarke, the former public relations executive who oversaw the Pentagon’s dealings with the analysts as assistant secretary of defense for public affairs, had come to her job with distinct ideas about achieving what she called “information dominance.” In a spin-saturated news culture, she argued, opinion is swayed most by voices perceived as authoritative and utterly independent.

And so even before Sept. 11, she built a system within the Pentagon to recruit “key influentials” — movers and shakers from all walks who with the proper ministrations might be counted on to generate support for Mr. Rumsfeld’s priorities.

In the months after Sept. 11, as every network rushed to retain its own all-star squad of retired military officers, Ms. Clarke and her staff sensed a new opportunity. To Ms. Clarke’s team, the military analysts were the ultimate “key influential” — authoritative, most of them decorated war heroes, all reaching mass audiences.

The analysts, they noticed, often got more airtime than network reporters, and they were not merely explaining the capabilities of Apache helicopters. They were framing how viewers ought to interpret events. What is more, while the analysts were in the news media, they were not of the news media. They were military men, many of them ideologically in sync with the administration’s neoconservative brain trust, many of them important players in a military industry anticipating large budget increases to pay for an Iraq war.

Even analysts with no defense industry ties, and no fondness for the administration, were reluctant to be critical of military leaders, many of whom were friends. “It is very hard for me to criticize the United States Army,” said William L. Nash, a retired Army general and ABC analyst. “It is my life.”

Other administrations had made sporadic, small-scale attempts to build relationships with the occasional military analyst. But these were trifling compared with what Ms. Clarke’s team had in mind. Don Meyer, an aide to Ms. Clarke, said a strategic decision was made in 2002 to make the analysts the main focus of the public relations push to construct a case for war. Journalists were secondary. “We didn’t want to rely on them to be our primary vehicle to get information out,” Mr. Meyer said.

The Pentagon’s regular press office would be kept separate from the military analysts. The analysts would instead be catered to by a small group of political appointees, with the point person being Brent T. Krueger, another senior aide to Ms. Clarke. The decision recalled other administration tactics that subverted traditional journalism. Federal agencies, for example, have paid columnists to write favorably about the administration. They have distributed to local TV stations hundreds of fake news segments with fawning accounts of administration accomplishments. The Pentagon itself has made covert payments to Iraqi newspapers to publish coalition propaganda.

Rather than complain about the “media filter,” each of these techniques simply converted the filter into an amplifier. This time, Mr. Krueger said, the military analysts would in effect be “writing the op-ed” for the war.

Assembling the Team

From the start, interviews show, the White House took a keen interest in which analysts had been identified by the Pentagon, requesting lists of potential recruits, and suggesting names. Ms. Clarke’s team wrote summaries describing their backgrounds, business affiliations and where they stood on the war.

“Rumsfeld ultimately cleared off on all invitees,” said Mr. Krueger, who left the Pentagon in 2004. (Through a spokesman, Mr. Rumsfeld declined to comment for this article.)

Over time, the Pentagon recruited more than 75 retired officers, although some participated only briefly or sporadically. The largest contingent was affiliated with Fox News, followed by NBC and CNN, the other networks with 24-hour cable outlets. But analysts from CBS and ABC were included, too. Some recruits, though not on any network payroll, were influential in other ways — either because they were sought out by radio hosts, or because they often published op-ed articles or were quoted in magazines, Web sites and newspapers. At least nine of them have written op-ed articles for The Times.

The group was heavily represented by men involved in the business of helping companies win military contracts. Several held senior positions with contractors that gave them direct responsibility for winning new Pentagon business. James Marks, a retired Army general and analyst for CNN from 2004 to 2007, pursued military and intelligence contracts as a senior executive with McNeil Technologies. Still others held board positions with military firms that gave them responsibility for government business. General McInerney, the Fox analyst, for example, sits on the boards of several military contractors, including Nortel Government Solutions, a supplier of communication networks.

Several were defense industry lobbyists, such as Dr. McCausland, who works at Buchanan Ingersoll & Rooney, a major lobbying firm where he is director of a national security team that represents several military contractors. “We offer clients access to key decision makers,” Dr. McCausland’s team promised on the firm’s Web site.

Dr. McCausland was not the only analyst making this pledge. Another was Joseph W. Ralston, a retired Air Force general. Soon after signing on with CBS, General Ralston was named vice chairman of the Cohen Group, a consulting firm headed by a former defense secretary, William Cohen, himself now a “world affairs” analyst for CNN. “The Cohen Group knows that getting to ‘yes’ in the aerospace and defense market — whether in the United States or abroad — requires that companies have a thorough, up-to-date understanding of the thinking of government decision makers,” the company tells prospective clients on its Web site.

There were also ideological ties.

Two of NBC’s most prominent analysts, Barry R. McCaffrey and the late Wayne A. Downing, were on the advisory board of the Committee for the Liberation of Iraq, an advocacy group created with White House encouragement in 2002 to help make the case for ousting Saddam Hussein. Both men also had their own consulting firms and sat on the boards of major military contractors.

Many also shared with Mr. Bush’s national security team a belief that pessimistic war coverage broke the nation’s will to win in Vietnam, and there was a mutual resolve not to let that happen with this war.

This was a major theme, for example, with Paul E. Vallely, a Fox News analyst from 2001 to 2007. A retired Army general who had specialized in psychological warfare, Mr. Vallely co-authored a paper in 1980 that accused American news organizations of failing to defend the nation from “enemy” propaganda during Vietnam.

“We lost the war — not because we were outfought, but because we were out Psyoped,” he wrote. He urged a radically new approach to psychological operations in future wars — taking aim at not just foreign adversaries but domestic audiences, too. He called his approach “MindWar” — using network TV and radio to “strengthen our national will to victory.”

The Selling of the War

From their earliest sessions with the military analysts, Mr. Rumsfeld and his aides spoke as if they were all part of the same team.

In interviews, participants described a powerfully seductive environment — the uniformed escorts to Mr. Rumsfeld’s private conference room, the best government china laid out, the embossed name cards, the blizzard of PowerPoints, the solicitations of advice and counsel, the appeals to duty and country, the warm thank you notes from the secretary himself.

“Oh, you have no idea,” Mr. Allard said, describing the effect. “You’re back. They listen to you. They listen to what you say on TV.” It was, he said, “psyops on steroids” — a nuanced exercise in influence through flattery and proximity. “It’s not like it’s, ‘We’ll pay you $500 to get our story out,’ ” he said. “It’s more subtle.”

The access came with a condition. Participants were instructed not to quote their briefers directly or otherwise describe their contacts with the Pentagon.

In the fall and winter leading up to the invasion, the Pentagon armed its analysts with talking points portraying Iraq as an urgent threat. The basic case became a familiar mantra: Iraq possessed chemical and biological weapons, was developing nuclear weapons, and might one day slip some to Al Qaeda; an invasion would be a relatively quick and inexpensive “war of liberation.”

At the Pentagon, members of Ms. Clarke’s staff marveled at the way the analysts seamlessly incorporated material from talking points and briefings as if it was their own.

“You could see that they were messaging,” Mr. Krueger said. “You could see they were taking verbatim what the secretary was saying or what the technical specialists were saying. And they were saying it over and over and over.” Some days, he added, “We were able to click on every single station and every one of our folks were up there delivering our message. You’d look at them and say, ‘This is working.’ ”

On April 12, 2003, with major combat almost over, Mr. Rumsfeld drafted a memorandum to Ms. Clarke. “Let’s think about having some of the folks who did such a good job as talking heads in after this thing is over,” he wrote.

By summer, though, the first signs of the insurgency had emerged. Reports from journalists based in Baghdad were increasingly suffused with the imagery of mayhem.

The Pentagon did not have to search far for a counterweight.

It was time, an internal Pentagon strategy memorandum urged, to “re-energize surrogates and message-force multipliers,” starting with the military analysts.

The memorandum led to a proposal to take analysts on a tour of Iraq in September 2003, timed to help overcome the sticker shock from Mr. Bush’s request for $87 billion in emergency war financing.

The group included four analysts from Fox News, one each from CNN and ABC, and several research-group luminaries whose opinion articles appear regularly in the nation’s op-ed pages.

The trip invitation promised a look at “the real situation on the ground in Iraq.”

The situation, as described in scores of books, was deteriorating. L. Paul Bremer III, then the American viceroy in Iraq, wrote in his memoir, “My Year in Iraq,” that he had privately warned the White House that the United States had “about half the number of soldiers we needed here.”

“We’re up against a growing and sophisticated threat,” Mr. Bremer recalled telling the president during a private White House dinner.

That dinner took place on Sept. 24, while the analysts were touring Iraq.

Yet these harsh realities were elided, or flatly contradicted, during the official presentations for the analysts, records show. The itinerary, scripted to the minute, featured brief visits to a model school, a few refurbished government buildings, a center for women’s rights, a mass grave and even the gardens of Babylon.

Mostly the analysts attended briefings. These sessions, records show, spooled out an alternative narrative, depicting an Iraq bursting with political and economic energy, its security forces blossoming. On the crucial question of troop levels, the briefings echoed the White House line: No reinforcements were needed. The “growing and sophisticated threat” described by Mr. Bremer was instead depicted as degraded, isolated and on the run.

“We’re winning,” a briefing document proclaimed.

One trip participant, General Nash of ABC, said some briefings were so clearly “artificial” that he joked to another group member that they were on “the George Romney memorial trip to Iraq,” a reference to Mr. Romney’s infamous claim that American officials had “brainwashed” him into supporting the Vietnam War during a tour there in 1965, while he was governor of Michigan.

But if the trip pounded the message of progress, it also represented a business opportunity: direct access to the most senior civilian and military leaders in Iraq and Kuwait, including many with a say in how the president’s $87 billion would be spent. It also was a chance to gather inside information about the most pressing needs confronting the American mission: the acute shortages of “up-armored” Humvees; the billions to be spent building military bases; the urgent need for interpreters; and the ambitious plans to train Iraq’s security forces.

Information and access of this nature had undeniable value for trip participants like William V. Cowan and Carlton A. Sherwood.

Mr. Cowan, a Fox analyst and retired Marine colonel, was the chief executive of a new military firm, the wvc3 Group. Mr. Sherwood was its executive vice president. At the time, the company was seeking contracts worth tens of millions to supply body armor and counterintelligence services in Iraq. In addition, wvc3 Group had a written agreement to use its influence and connections to help tribal leaders in Al Anbar Province win reconstruction contracts from the coalition.

“Those sheiks wanted access to the C.P.A.,” Mr. Cowan recalled in an interview, referring to the Coalition Provisional Authority.

Mr. Cowan said he pleaded their cause during the trip. “I tried to push hard with some of Bremer’s people to engage these people of Al Anbar,” he said.

Back in Washington, Pentagon officials kept a nervous eye on how the trip translated on the airwaves. Uncomfortable facts had bubbled up during the trip. One briefer, for example, mentioned that the Army was resorting to packing inadequately armored Humvees with sandbags and Kevlar blankets. Descriptions of the Iraqi security forces were withering. “They can’t shoot, but then again, they don’t,” one officer told them, according to one participant’s notes.

“I saw immediately in 2003 that things were going south,” General Vallely, one of the Fox analysts on the trip, recalled in an interview with The Times.

The Pentagon, though, need not have worried.

“You can’t believe the progress,” General Vallely told Alan Colmes of Fox News upon his return. He predicted the insurgency would be “down to a few numbers” within months.

“We could not be more excited, more pleased,” Mr. Cowan told Greta Van Susteren of Fox News. There was barely a word about armor shortages or corrupt Iraqi security forces. And on the key strategic question of the moment — whether to send more troops — the analysts were unanimous.

“I am so much against adding more troops,” General Shepperd said on CNN.

Access and Influence

Inside the Pentagon and at the White House, the trip was viewed as a masterpiece in the management of perceptions, not least because it gave fuel to complaints that “mainstream” journalists were ignoring the good news in Iraq.

“We’re hitting a home run on this trip,” a senior Pentagon official wrote in an e-mail message to Richard B. Myers and Peter Pace, then chairman and vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

Its success only intensified the Pentagon’s campaign. The pace of briefings accelerated. More trips were organized. Eventually the effort involved officials from Washington to Baghdad to Kabul to Guantánamo and back to Tampa, Fla., the headquarters of United States Central Command.

The scale reflected strong support from the top. When officials in Iraq were slow to organize another trip for analysts, a Pentagon official fired off an e-mail message warning that the trips “have the highest levels of visibility” at the White House and urging them to get moving before Lawrence Di Rita, one of Mr. Rumsfeld’s closest aides, “picks up the phone and starts calling the 4-stars.”

Mr. Di Rita, no longer at the Defense Department, said in an interview that a “conscious decision” was made to rely on the military analysts to counteract “the increasingly negative view of the war” coming from journalists in Iraq. The analysts, he said, generally had “a more supportive view” of the administration and the war, and the combination of their TV platforms and military cachet made them ideal for rebutting critical coverage of issues like troop morale, treatment of detainees, inadequate equipment or poorly trained Iraqi security forces. “On those issues, they were more likely to be seen as credible spokesmen,” he said.

For analysts with military industry ties, the attention brought access to a widening circle of influential officials beyond the contacts they had accumulated over the course of their careers.

Charles T. Nash, a Fox military analyst and retired Navy captain, is a consultant who helps small companies break into the military market. Suddenly, he had entree to a host of senior military leaders, many of whom he had never met. It was, he said, like being embedded with the Pentagon leadership. “You start to recognize what’s most important to them,” he said, adding, “There’s nothing like seeing stuff firsthand.”

Some Pentagon officials said they were well aware that some analysts viewed their special access as a business advantage. “Of course we realized that,” Mr. Krueger said. “We weren’t naïve about that.”

They also understood the financial relationship between the networks and their analysts. Many analysts were being paid by the “hit,” the number of times they appeared on TV. The more an analyst could boast of fresh inside information from high-level Pentagon “sources,” the more hits he could expect. The more hits, the greater his potential influence in the military marketplace, where several analysts prominently advertised their network roles.

“They have taken lobbying and the search for contracts to a far higher level,” Mr. Krueger said. “This has been highly honed.”

Mr. Di Rita, though, said it never occurred to him that analysts might use their access to curry favor. Nor, he said, did the Pentagon try to exploit this dynamic. “That’s not something that ever crossed my mind,” he said. In any event, he argued, the analysts and the networks were the ones responsible for any ethical complications. “We assume they know where the lines are,” he said.

The analysts met personally with Mr. Rumsfeld at least 18 times, records show, but that was just the beginning. They had dozens more sessions with the most senior members of his brain trust and access to officials responsible for managing the billions being spent in Iraq. Other groups of “key influentials” had meetings, but not nearly as often as the analysts.

An internal memorandum in 2005 helped explain why. The memorandum, written by a Pentagon official who had accompanied analysts to Iraq, said that based on her observations during the trip, the analysts “are having a greater impact” on network coverage of the military. “They have now become the go-to guys not only on breaking stories, but they influence the views on issues,” she wrote.

Other branches of the administration also began to make use of the analysts. Mr. Gonzales, then the attorney general, met with them soon after news leaked that the government was wiretapping terrorism suspects in the United States without warrants, Pentagon records show. When David H. Petraeus was appointed the commanding general in Iraq in January 2007, one of his early acts was to meet with the analysts.

“We knew we had extraordinary access,” said Timur J. Eads, a retired Army lieutenant colonel and Fox analyst who is vice president of government relations for Blackbird Technologies, a fast-growing military contractor.

Like several other analysts, Mr. Eads said he had at times held his tongue on television for fear that “some four-star could call up and say, ‘Kill that contract.’ ” For example, he believed Pentagon officials misled the analysts about the progress of Iraq’s security forces. “I know a snow job when I see one,” he said. He did not share this on TV.

“Human nature,” he explained, though he noted other instances when he was critical.

Some analysts said that even before the war started, they privately had questions about the justification for the invasion, but were careful not to express them on air.

Mr. Bevelacqua, then a Fox analyst, was among those invited to a briefing in early 2003 about Iraq’s purported stockpiles of illicit weapons. He recalled asking the briefer whether the United States had “smoking gun” proof.

“ ‘We don’t have any hard evidence,’ ” Mr. Bevelacqua recalled the briefer replying. He said he and other analysts were alarmed by this concession. “We are looking at ourselves saying, ‘What are we doing?’ ”

Another analyst, Robert L. Maginnis, a retired Army lieutenant colonel who works in the Pentagon for a military contractor, attended the same briefing and recalled feeling “very disappointed” after being shown satellite photographs purporting to show bunkers associated with a hidden weapons program. Mr. Maginnis said he concluded that the analysts were being “manipulated” to convey a false sense of certainty about the evidence of the weapons. Yet he and Mr. Bevelacqua and the other analysts who attended the briefing did not share any misgivings with the American public.

Mr. Bevelacqua and another Fox analyst, Mr. Cowan, had formed the wvc3 Group, and hoped to win military and national security contracts.

“There’s no way I was going to go down that road and get completely torn apart,” Mr. Bevelacqua said. “You’re talking about fighting a huge machine.”

Some e-mail messages between the Pentagon and the analysts reveal an implicit trade of privileged access for favorable coverage. Robert H. Scales Jr., a retired Army general and analyst for Fox News and National Public Radio whose consulting company advises several military firms on weapons and tactics used in Iraq, wanted the Pentagon to approve high-level briefings for him inside Iraq in 2006.

“Recall the stuff I did after my last visit,” he wrote. “I will do the same this time.”

Pentagon Keeps Tabs

As it happened, the analysts’ news media appearances were being closely monitored. The Pentagon paid a private contractor, Omnitec Solutions, hundreds of thousands of dollars to scour databases for any trace of the analysts, be it a segment on “The O’Reilly Factor” or an interview with The Daily Inter Lake in Montana, circulation 20,000.

Omnitec evaluated their appearances using the same tools as corporate branding experts. One report, assessing the impact of several trips to Iraq in 2005, offered example after example of analysts echoing Pentagon themes on all the networks.

“Commentary from all three Iraq trips was extremely positive over all,” the report concluded.

In interviews, several analysts reacted with dismay when told they were described as reliable “surrogates” in Pentagon documents. And some asserted that their Pentagon sessions were, as David L. Grange, a retired Army general and CNN analyst put it, “just upfront information,” while others pointed out, accurately, that they did not always agree with the administration or each other. “None of us drink the Kool-Aid,” General Scales said.

Likewise, several also denied using their special access for business gain. “Not related at all,” General Shepperd said, pointing out that many in the Pentagon held CNN “in the lowest esteem.”

Still, even the mildest of criticism could draw a challenge. Several analysts told of fielding telephone calls from displeased defense officials only minutes after being on the air.

On Aug. 3, 2005, 14 marines died in Iraq. That day, Mr. Cowan, who said he had grown increasingly uncomfortable with the “twisted version of reality” being pushed on analysts in briefings, called the Pentagon to give “a heads-up” that some of his comments on Fox “may not all be friendly,” Pentagon records show. Mr. Rumsfeld’s senior aides quickly arranged a private briefing for him, yet when he told Bill O’Reilly that the United States was “not on a good glide path right now” in Iraq, the repercussions were swift.

Mr. Cowan said he was “precipitously fired from the analysts group” for this appearance. The Pentagon, he wrote in an e-mail message, “simply didn’t like the fact that I wasn’t carrying their water.” The next day James T. Conway, then director of operations for the Joint Chiefs, presided over another conference call with analysts. He urged them, a transcript shows, not to let the marines’ deaths further erode support for the war.

“The strategic target remains our population,” General Conway said. “We can lose people day in and day out, but they’re never going to beat our military. What they can and will do if they can is strip away our support. And you guys can help us not let that happen.”

“General, I just made that point on the air,” an analyst replied.

“Let’s work it together, guys,” General Conway urged.

The Generals’ Revolt

The full dimensions of this mutual embrace were perhaps never clearer than in April 2006, after several of Mr. Rumsfeld’s former generals — none of them network military analysts — went public with devastating critiques of his wartime performance. Some called for his resignation.

On Friday, April 14, with what came to be called the “Generals’ Revolt” dominating headlines, Mr. Rumsfeld instructed aides to summon military analysts to a meeting with him early the next week, records show. When an aide urged a short delay to “give our big guys on the West Coast a little more time to buy a ticket and get here,” Mr. Rumsfeld’s office insisted that “the boss” wanted the meeting fast “for impact on the current story.”

That same day, Pentagon officials helped two Fox analysts, General McInerney and General Vallely, write an opinion article for The Wall Street Journal defending Mr. Rumsfeld.

“Starting to write it now,” General Vallely wrote to the Pentagon that afternoon. “Any input for the article,” he added a little later, “will be much appreciated.” Mr. Rumsfeld’s office quickly forwarded talking points and statistics to rebut the notion of a spreading revolt.

“Vallely is going to use the numbers,” a Pentagon official reported that afternoon.

The standard secrecy notwithstanding, plans for this session leaked, producing a front-page story in The Times that Sunday. In damage-control mode, Pentagon officials scrambled to present the meeting as routine and directed that communications with analysts be kept “very formal,” records show. “This is very, very sensitive now,” a Pentagon official warned subordinates.

On Tuesday, April 18, some 17 analysts assembled at the Pentagon with Mr. Rumsfeld and General Pace, then the chairman of the Joint Chiefs.

A transcript of that session, never before disclosed, shows a shared determination to marginalize war critics and revive public support for the war.

“I’m an old intel guy,” said one analyst. (The transcript omits speakers’ names.) “And I can sum all of this up, unfortunately, with one word. That is Psyops. Now most people may hear that and they think, ‘Oh my God, they’re trying to brainwash.’ ”

“What are you, some kind of a nut?” Mr. Rumsfeld cut in, drawing laughter. “You don’t believe in the Constitution?”

There was little discussion about the actual criticism pouring forth from Mr. Rumsfeld’s former generals. Analysts argued that opposition to the war was rooted in perceptions fed by the news media, not reality. The administration’s overall war strategy, they counseled, was “brilliant” and “very successful.”

“Frankly,” one participant said, “from a military point of view, the penalty, 2,400 brave Americans whom we lost, 3,000 in an hour and 15 minutes, is relative.”

An analyst said at another point: “This is a wider war. And whether we have democracy in Iraq or not, it doesn’t mean a tinker’s damn if we end up with the result we want, which is a regime over there that’s not a threat to us.”

“Yeah,” Mr. Rumsfeld said, taking notes.

But winning or not, they bluntly warned, the administration was in grave political danger so long as most Americans viewed Iraq as a lost cause. “America hates a loser,” one analyst said.

Much of the session was devoted to ways that Mr. Rumsfeld could reverse the “political tide.” One analyst urged Mr. Rumsfeld to “just crush these people,” and assured him that “most of the gentlemen at the table” would enthusiastically support him if he did.

“You are the leader,” the analyst told Mr. Rumsfeld. “You are our guy.”

At another point, an analyst made a suggestion: “In one of your speeches you ought to say, ‘Everybody stop for a minute and imagine an Iraq ruled by Zarqawi.’ And then you just go down the list and say, ‘All right, we’ve got oil, money, sovereignty, access to the geographic center of gravity of the Middle East, blah, blah, blah.’ If you can just paint a mental picture for Joe America to say, ‘Oh my God, I can’t imagine a world like that.’ ”

Even as they assured Mr. Rumsfeld that they stood ready to help in this public relations offensive, the analysts sought guidance on what they should cite as the next “milestone” that would, as one analyst put it, “keep the American people focused on the idea that we’re moving forward to a positive end.” They placed particular emphasis on the growing confrontation with Iran.

“When you said ‘long war,’ you changed the psyche of the American people to expect this to be a generational event,” an analyst said. “And again, I’m not trying to tell you how to do your job...”

“Get in line,” Mr. Rumsfeld interjected.

The meeting ended and Mr. Rumsfeld, appearing pleased and relaxed, took the entire group into a small study and showed off treasured keepsakes from his life, several analysts recalled.

Soon after, analysts hit the airwaves. The Omnitec monitoring reports, circulated to more than 80 officials, confirmed that analysts repeated many of the Pentagon’s talking points: that Mr. Rumsfeld consulted “frequently and sufficiently” with his generals; that he was not “overly concerned” with the criticisms; that the meeting focused “on more important topics at hand,” including the next milestone in Iraq, the formation of a new government.

Days later, Mr. Rumsfeld wrote a memorandum distilling their collective guidance into bullet points. Two were underlined:

“Focus on the Global War on Terror — not simply Iraq. The wider war — the long war.”

“Link Iraq to Iran. Iran is the concern. If we fail in Iraq or Afghanistan, it will help Iran.”

But if Mr. Rumsfeld found the session instructive, at least one participant, General Nash, the ABC analyst, was repulsed.

“I walked away from that session having total disrespect for my fellow commentators, with perhaps one or two exceptions,” he said.

View From the Networks

Two weeks ago General Petraeus took time out from testifying before Congress about Iraq for a conference call with military analysts.

Mr. Garrett, the Fox analyst and Patton Boggs lobbyist, said he told General Petraeus during the call to “keep up the great work.”

“Hey,” Mr. Garrett said in an interview, “anything we can do to help.”

For the moment, though, because of heavy election coverage and general war fatigue, military analysts are not getting nearly as much TV time, and the networks have trimmed their rosters of analysts. The conference call with General Petraeus, for example, produced little in the way of immediate coverage.

Still, almost weekly the Pentagon continues to conduct briefings with selected military analysts. Many analysts said network officials were only dimly aware of these interactions. The networks, they said, have little grasp of how often they meet with senior officials, or what is discussed.

“I don’t think NBC was even aware we were participating,” said Rick Francona, a longtime military analyst for the network.

Some networks publish biographies on their Web sites that describe their analysts’ military backgrounds and, in some cases, give at least limited information about their business ties. But many analysts also said the networks asked few questions about their outside business interests, the nature of their work or the potential for that work to create conflicts of interest. “None of that ever happened,” said Mr. Allard, an NBC analyst until 2006.

“The worst conflict of interest was no interest.”

Mr. Allard and other analysts said their network handlers also raised no objections when the Defense Department began paying their commercial airfare for Pentagon-sponsored trips to Iraq — a clear ethical violation for most news organizations.

CBS News declined to comment on what it knew about its military analysts’ business affiliations or what steps it took to guard against potential conflicts.

NBC News also declined to discuss its procedures for hiring and monitoring military analysts. The network issued a short statement: “We have clear policies in place to assure that the people who appear on our air have been appropriately vetted and that nothing in their profile would lead to even a perception of a conflict of interest.”

Jeffrey W. Schneider, a spokesman for ABC, said that while the network’s military consultants were not held to the same ethical rules as its full-time journalists, they were expected to keep the network informed about any outside business entanglements. “We make it clear to them we expect them to keep us closely apprised,” he said.

A spokeswoman for Fox News said executives “refused to participate” in this article.

CNN requires its military analysts to disclose in writing all outside sources of income. But like the other networks, it does not provide its military analysts with the kind of written, specific ethical guidelines it gives its full-time employees for avoiding real or apparent conflicts of interest.

Yet even where controls exist, they have sometimes proven porous.

CNN, for example, said it was unaware for nearly three years that one of its main military analysts, General Marks, was deeply involved in the business of seeking government contracts, including contracts related to Iraq.

General Marks was hired by CNN in 2004, about the time he took a management position at McNeil Technologies, where his job was to pursue military and intelligence contracts. As required, General Marks disclosed that he received income from McNeil Technologies. But the disclosure form did not require him to describe what his job entailed, and CNN acknowledges it failed to do additional vetting.

“We did not ask Mr. Marks the follow-up questions we should have,” CNN said in a written statement.

In an interview, General Marks said it was no secret at CNN that his job at McNeil Technologies was about winning contracts. “I mean, that’s what McNeil does,” he said.

CNN, however, said it did not know the nature of McNeil’s military business or what General Marks did for the company. If he was bidding on Pentagon contracts, CNN said, that should have disqualified him from being a military analyst for the network. But in the summer and fall of 2006, even as he was regularly asked to comment on conditions in Iraq, General Marks was working intensively on bidding for a $4.6 billion contract to provide thousands of translators to United States forces in Iraq. In fact, General Marks was made president of the McNeil spin-off that won the huge contract in December 2006.

General Marks said his work on the contract did not affect his commentary on CNN. “I’ve got zero challenge separating myself from a business interest,” he said.

But CNN said it had no idea about his role in the contract until July 2007, when it reviewed his most recent disclosure form, submitted months earlier, and finally made inquiries about his new job.

“We saw the extent of his dealings and determined at that time we should end our relationship with him,” CNN said.