Monday, November 29, 2004

Clouds of Injustice: Bhopal disaster 20 Years on

How can a corporation deny its responsibility from one of the world's massive industrial disasters? And how come a democratic government elected by its own people does not take adequate steps in protecting and compensating its own citizens from the apparent maleficence of multinational company? The Dow Chemical that had purchased Union Carbide in 2001 now says the following in its website: "Dow never owned or operated the Bhopal plant." -- Is it so easy to wash one's hands by just restructuring or rearranging a corporation? Till to date, not a single upper echelon person is held responsible for this horrendous episode? How could that be?

Amnesty International states the following:
"The Bhopal case illustrates how companies evade their human rights responsibilities and underlines the need to establish a universal human rights framework that can be applied to companies directly. Governments have the primary responsibility for protecting the human rights of communities endangered by the activities of corporations, such as those employing hazardous technology. However, as the influence and reach of companies have grown, there has been a developing consensus that they must be brought within the framework of international human rights standards."

In these days of corporate influences in almost every fabric of our existence, can fairness and justice for all be still possible? The Bhopal disaster and its horrific and scandalous aftermath show the importance of global unity in establishing the rule of law that protects the poorest of the poor from the seemingly unstoppable onslaughts of giant multinational corportations and their "in-bedded" governments. Sure, we cannot go back to those agrarian based societies of the past, our civilization has moved quite afar from those days of simplicity, but the needs are there for the combined efforts in creating and maintaining a fair play of field in the global arena for the sake of further progresses of the same civilization that we all seem so proud about.

Regards,

Sohel

Clouds of Injustice: Bhopal disaster 20 Years on

Protesters outside the Dow headquarters in Mumbai, during a demonstration in December 2002 to mark the anniversary of the disaster, demand the clean-up of Bhopal.
© Maude Dorr
There were thousands of bodies. There were bodies everywhere. And people were dying all round.

More than 7,000 people died within a matter of days when toxic gases leaked from a chemical plant in Bhopal, India on the night of 2/3 December 1984. Over the last 20 years exposure to the toxins has resulted in the deaths of a further 15,000 people as well as chronic and debilitating illnesses for thousands of others for which treatment is largely ineffective.

The disaster shocked the world and raised fundamental questions about government and corporate responsibility for industrial accidents that devastate human life and local environments. Yet 20 years later, the survivors still await just compensation, adequate medical assistance and treatment, and comprehensive economic and social rehabilitation. The plant site, has still not been cleaned up. As a result, toxic wastes continue to pollute the environment and contaminate water that surrounding communities rely on.

We have to travel at least two kilometres to get clean water... My health is so bad that it prevents me from carrying the water I need from there.
Despite determined efforts by survivors to secure justice, they have been denied adequate compensation and appropriate and timely medical assistance and rehabilitation. Union Carbide Corporation (UCC), then owner of the pesticide factory in Bhopal, and Dow Chemical, which merged with UCC in 2001, have publicly denied all responsibility for the leak and the resulting damage. Astonishingly, no one has been held responsible.

The Bhopal case illustrates how companies evade their human rights responsibilities and underlines the need to establish a universal human rights framework that can be applied to companies directly. Governments have the primary responsibility for protecting the human rights of communities endangered by the activities of corporations, such as those employing hazardous technology. However, as the influence and reach of companies have grown, there has been a developing consensus that they must be brought within the framework of international human rights standards

In its report, Clouds of injustice: Bhopal disaster 20 years on (PDF), Amnesty International is:

  • urging people around the world to put pressure on Dow and the Indian Government demanding that the site is cleaned up and affected communities are compensated.
  • calling on the Indian Government to promptly assess the damage to health and the environment caused by the leak and the contamination
  • recommending the implementation of a global human rights framework for business, based on the UN Norms for Business. To hold companies accountable and guarantee redress for the victims it is imperative that such standards are implemented and mechanism to enforce them are put in place.

Dow Chemical must take responsibility for clean-up -- click here to take action!

Read more on this from the following link:
http://web.amnesty.org/pages/ec-bhopal-eng

Wednesday, November 24, 2004

Solving Kashmir requires India to offer up more than cash

A dismal condition for the Kashmiris for so many years, and so many deaths, thousands of them, in addition to rapes, disappearances of civilians, that a solution to this lingering problem is the key for a lasting peace in the Indian subcontinent. Let's see what the South Asian politicians do in resolving this issue, or whether it would be the same empty promises and decorated maneuverings for their own political gains, will be observed by the international community.

Regards,
Sohel

Solving Kashmir requires India to offer up more than cash

Simon Tisdall
Wednesday November 24, 2004
The Guardian

Kashmir will be the elephant in the room when Pakistan's prime minister, Shaukat Aziz, meets his Indian counterpart, Manmohan Singh, in Delhi today.

Both sides know that, without a Kashmir settlement, the peace process launched this year cannot succeed. But neither has a clear idea how to proceed. The temptation is to ignore the elephant.

Mr Aziz is the highest-ranking figure to visit India since Pakistan's leader, Pervez Musharraf, declared that "history has been made" at last January's summit with India's then prime minister, Atal Bihari Vajpayee.

Yet much of the optimism generated by the summit, at which the two sides committed themselves to a "composite dialogue" to resolve all bilateral disputes, has since dissipated amid continuing bloodshed and bickering.

Although India says militant activity in Indian-controlled Kashmir is falling, about 1,600 people have died this year in the separatist, Islamist-backed insurgency that it accuses Pakistan of supporting. At least 45,000 people have been killed in the past 15 years.

According to Human Rights Watch, Indian army and police forces "continue their practice of torturing detainees, leading to custodial killings". Alleged rapes by soldiers provoked angry demonstrations in Kashmir this month.

Mr Singh, who replaced Mr Vajpayee after the Indian election last May, has been slow to pursue the dialogue. And while a new round of talks is due next month, Mr Aziz's visit is not about Kashmir or bilateral relations. Officially, he is making a courtesy call as current chairman of the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation.

A Pakistani initiative on Kashmir is nevertheless up for discussion. To surprise in India, and outrage among his opponents at home, General Musharraf appeared last month to drop Pakistan's longstanding demand for a plebiscite on Kashmir's future.

He suggested instead that the region be demilitarised. This would entail the withdrawal of an estimated 500,000 Indian troops, as well as Pakistani forces on Islamabad's side of the unofficial border, known as the Line of Control.

Negotiations to end Kashmir's divisions should follow, Gen Musharraf proposed. The options included joint administration, placing Kashmir under UN control, or some form of autonomy.

"We have come to a stage where options acceptable to Pakistan, India and Kashmiris can be explored," he said. "If both sides continue to stick to their stands, the dispute would persist for 100 years without any solution."

India's initial response was dismissive. On a visit to Srinagar last week, Mr Singh hinted at further troop withdrawals, and said he would meet "anyone and everyone" who renounced violence. But he made clear that India would not countenance territorial adjustments. Jammu and Kashmir must remain an integral part of India.

India has also so far refused to allow leaders of the moderate Kashmir separatist alliance, the All Parties Hurriyat Conference, to travel to Pakistan-controlled Kashmir to confer with likeminded groups. Hurriyat's talks with India have stalled, potentially boosting hardline groups.

Three-way negotiations were the only way forward if Gen Musharraf's ideas, or anybody else's, were to work, Hurriyat's Mirwaiz Omar Farooq said. "If anybody believes that you can have a bilateral agreement on Kashmir, they are highly mistaken." All Kashmiris must have a say over their future, he said last week.

Mr Singh softened his stance recently. "I think we are willing to look at all options to think about a new chapter and a new beginning." And Mr Aziz is expected to raise Gen Musharraf's proposals in today's talks. But India's leader is untested in the arcane ways of Indo-Pakistan diplomacy. His authority on so sensitive and bitterly divisive an issue is open to question. And so far, he has avoided risks.

The former finance minister suggests there is another way through. Economic development in Kashmir, as for India as a whole, is Mr Singh's answer. In Srinagar he offered no plan, let alone the right to self-determination. Instead, he offered a £2.7bn handout. But the elephant is still in the room.

The New Iron Curtain

This is not to ignore that there are plenty of dissimilarities between 1946 and 2004. The Cold War is considered a thing of the past. The old Soviet Republic were fragmented in dozens of smaller nations, even mother Russia does not show the same super power status as it used to in its hay day of cold war. But, arguably, things have beginning to taken the shape of old history, as if 1946 is turning the screw of time in a new clothe.

Anne Applebaum observes the following on the recent Ukrainian election disputes: "Polls taken before and after the vote showed a large margin of support for Viktor Yushchenko, a pro-Western liberal. Nevertheless, victory has been declared for Viktor Yanukovych, the pro-Moscow candidate. He has already received warm congratulations from the Russian president, Vladimir Putin, who backed him with praise, money and, possibly, some advice on how to steal elections. It can't be a coincidence that if the Ukrainian election is settled in Moscow's favor, it will mark the third such dubious vote in Russia's "sphere of influence" in the past two months, following the polls in Belarus and the separatist province of Abkhazia, not counting the irregularities that were belatedly uncovered in the election of Putin himself."

Here is one more excerpt: "Looking back, we may also one day see 2004 as the year when a new iron curtain descended across Europe, dividing the continent not through the center of Germany but along the eastern Polish border. To the West, the democracies of Western and Central Europe will remain more or less stable members of the European Union and NATO. To the east, Russia will control the "managed democracies" of the former U.S.S.R., keeping the media muzzled, elections massaged and the economies in thrall to a handful of mostly Russian billionaires. Using primarily economic means -- control over oil pipelines, corrupt investment funds, shady companies -- the Russians may even, like their Soviet predecessors, begin to work at undermining Western stability."

Regards,
Sohel


The New Iron Curtain

By Anne Applebaum

Wednesday, November 24, 2004; Page A21

Before the election, the government mobilized groups of thugs to harass voters. On the day of the election, police prevented thousands of opposition activists from voting at all. Nevertheless, when the votes were counted, it was clear that the opposition had won by a large margin. As a result, the ruling party decided to falsify the result, and declared victory. Immediately, the Russians sent their fraternal congratulations.

No, that was not a description of the presidential election that took place last Sunday in Ukraine. It was a description of the referendum that took place in Soviet-occupied communist Poland in June 1946. Although blatantly falsified, that referendum provided the spurious legitimacy that allowed Poland's Soviet-backed communist leadership to remain in power for the subsequent half-century.

But although that infamous Polish election took place nearly 60 years ago, there are good reasons why descriptions make it sound so much like last weekend in Ukraine. According to the Committee of Civic Voters, a volunteer group with branches all over Ukraine, the techniques haven't changed much in 60 years. In the Sumy region, they record, a member of the electoral commission was beaten up by unidentified thugs. At one polling station, "criminals" disrupted the voting and destroyed the ballot boxes with clubs. In Cherkassy, a polling site inspector was found dead. More "criminals" broke polling station windows and destroyed ballot boxes. In the Zaporozhye region and in Kharkov, observers saw buses transporting voters from one polling station to the next.

There was, in other words, not much that was subtle about the disruption of the election -- no arguments about hanging chads or "secret software" here -- and not much that was surprising about the result. Polls taken before and after the vote showed a large margin of support for Viktor Yushchenko, a pro-Western liberal. Nevertheless, victory has been declared for Viktor Yanukovych, the pro-Moscow candidate. He has already received warm congratulations from the Russian president, Vladimir Putin, who backed him with praise, money and, possibly, some advice on how to steal elections. It can't be a coincidence that if the Ukrainian election is settled in Moscow's favor, it will mark the third such dubious vote in Russia's "sphere of influence" in the past two months, following the polls in Belarus and the separatist province of Abkhazia, not counting the irregularities that were belatedly uncovered in the election of Putin himself.

All of these places do, it is true, seem obscure and faraway to Americans. But so did the events 60 years ago in Poland, at least until it became clear that they were part of a pattern: 1946 was also the year that Winston Churchill gave his celebrated speech describing the "iron curtain" that had descended across Europe, and predicting the onset of the Cold War. Looking back, we may also one day see 2004 as the year when a new iron curtain descended across Europe, dividing the continent not through the center of Germany but along the eastern Polish border. To the West, the democracies of Western and Central Europe will remain more or less stable members of the European Union and NATO. To the east, Russia will control the "managed democracies" of the former U.S.S.R., keeping the media muzzled, elections massaged and the economies in thrall to a handful of mostly Russian billionaires. Using primarily economic means -- control over oil pipelines, corrupt investment funds, shady companies -- the Russians may even, like their Soviet predecessors, begin to work at undermining Western stability.

This is not an inevitable scenario. Russia is not the Soviet Union, and 2004 is not 1946. Ukraine is neither as turbulent, nor as violent, nor as physically cut off from the world as were the Central European states after the Second World War. The Ukrainian opposition put 200,000 protesters on the streets of Kiev yesterday, many of whom are too young to recall Nazi or Soviet totalitarianism, and who haven't experienced the intimidation and fear felt by their parents and grandparents. Most have access to communication and outside information -- through the Internet, satellite television, cell phones -- that would have been unthinkable during the Cold War.

The West, and especially Western Europe, can and should encourage them. To do so is not difficult, but it does require that we understand what is happening, call things by their real names, and drop any of our remaining illusions about President Putin's intentions in former Soviet territories. Beyond that, all that is needed is a promise -- even an implied promise -- that when the specter of this new iron curtain is removed, Ukraine too will be welcomed by the nations on the other side.

Earth's Uncanned Crusaders: Will Sardines Save Our Skin?

Here is Dr. Ellen Pikitch's comment: "This study demonstrates that overfishing of one species of fish, such as sardines, can profoundly alter an entire marine ecosystem".

When Sardines are abundant, they eat up phytoplankton in larger quantity than when there are less Sardines in any particular area. If there are phytoplankton uneaten, they sink to the bottom and eventually get decomposed and produce large clouds of Hydrogen Sulfide and Methane gas that surface to the atmosphere above the water line. Why is this important to note? Because "methane is arguably worse, at least for world climate. Pound for pound methane traps 21 times as much heat as carbon dioxide, the most common greenhouse gas."

Next time we open a can of delicious sardine to make our salivating appetitie pacified, perhaps we need to think of the consequences.

Regards,
Sohel

Earth's Uncanned Crusaders: Will Sardines Save Our Skin?
By CORNELIA DEAN

Scientists working off the west coast of Africa have identified sardines as an unexpected factor in global warming.

The fish are not acting like cattle or termites, whose gassy emissions (to put it politely) add heat-trapping methane to the atmosphere. Sardines improve the situation, the researchers say. Or they might, if they were not been fished out.

The scientists say that when sardines are plentiful they gobble up ocean phytoplankton, tiny plants that appear in vast numbers when ocean currents produce upwellings of deep water.

But when sardines are scarce, the phytoplankton survive uneaten, only to sink to the bottom, decompose and produce methane and hydrogen sulfide gas that rise to the surface in giant clouds.

Hydrogen sulfide smells like rotten eggs, can poison fish and strips oxygen from water as it moves to the surface, producing anoxic "dead zones."

That's bad enough, but methane is arguably worse, at least for world climate. Pound for pound methane traps 21 times as much heat as carbon dioxide, the most common greenhouse gas.

The researchers, Dr. Andrew Bakun from the University of Miami and Dr. Scarla J. Weeks of the University of Cape Town, devised their plankton-sardine-methane theory while working off Namibia, where once-abundant sardine populations have been devastated since the 1970's by heavy fishing. They described their findings in the current issue of the journal Ecology Letters.

Gaseous eruptions occurred in the area before the heavy fishing began, the researchers said, but they were smaller and less frequent.

They suggest that warming pressures make the nutrient upwellings more frequent and more intense, which, in the absence of sardines, means more and larger eruptions of methane, which in turn contribute to even more warming.

Though some researchers are skeptical about linking sardines to global warming, others think that Dr. Bakun and Dr. Weeks are onto something.

"This study demonstrates that overfishing of one species of fish, such as sardines, can profoundly alter an entire marine ecosystem," said Dr. Ellen Pikitch, who heads the Pew Institute for Ocean Science, which provides financial support for Dr. Bakun.

Other areas where sardines were once abundant, like waters off Northern California, may eventually see similar phenomena if sardines are not restored, Dr. Bakun said, although more research must be done to determine if that is likely.

Unfortunately, sardines are not as commercially important as some other species. "The problem with sardines," he said, "is that the federal government is not that interested in them."

Saturday, November 20, 2004

Of Mice, Men and In-Between

Of Mice, Men and In-Between
Scientists Debate Blending Of Human, Animal Forms

By Rick Weiss
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, November 20, 2004; Page A01

In Minnesota, pigs are being born with human blood in their veins.

In Nevada, there are sheep whose livers and hearts are largely human.

In California, mice peer from their cages with human brain cells firing inside their skulls.

These are not outcasts from "The Island of Dr. Moreau," the 1896 novel by H.G. Wells in which a rogue doctor develops creatures that are part animal and part human. They are real creations of real scientists, stretching the boundaries of stem cell research.

Biologists call these hybrid animals chimeras, after the mythical Greek creature with a lion's head, a goat's body and a serpent's tail. They are the products of experiments in which human stem cells were added to developing animal fetuses.

Chimeras are allowing scientists to watch, for the first time, how nascent human cells and organs mature and interact -- not in the cold isolation of laboratory dishes but inside the bodies of living creatures. Some are already revealing deep secrets of human biology and pointing the way toward new medical treatments.

But with no federal guidelines in place, an awkward question hovers above the work: How human must a chimera be before more stringent research rules should kick in?

The National Academy of Sciences, which advises the federal government, has been studying the issue and hopes to make recommendations by February. Yet the range of opinions it has received so far suggests that reaching consensus may be difficult.

During one recent meeting, scientists disagreed on such basic issues as whether it would be unethical for a human embryo to begin its development in an animal's womb, and whether a mouse would be better or worse off with a brain made of human neurons.

"This is an area where we really need to come to a reasonable consensus," said James Battey, chairman of the National Institutes of Health's Stem Cell Task Force. "We need to establish some kind of guidelines as to what the scientific community ought to do and ought not to do."
Beyond Twins and Moms

Chimeras (ki-MER-ahs) -- meaning mixtures of two or more individuals in a single body -- are not inherently unnatural. Most twins carry at least a few cells from the sibling with whom they shared a womb, and most mothers carry in their blood at least a few cells from each child they have born.

Recipients of organ transplants are also chimeras, as are the many people whose defective heart valves have been replaced with those from pigs or cows. And scientists for years have added human genes to bacteria and even to farm animals -- feats of genetic engineering that allow those critters to make human proteins such as insulin for use as medicines.

"Chimeras are not as strange and alien as at first blush they seem," said Henry Greely, a law professor and ethicist at Stanford University who has reviewed proposals to create human-mouse chimeras there.

But chimerism becomes a more sensitive topic when it involves growing entire human organs inside animals. And it becomes especially sensitive when it deals in brain cells, the building blocks of the organ credited with making humans human.

In experiments like those, Greely told the academy last month, "there is a nontrivial risk of conferring some significant aspects of humanity" on the animal.

Greely and his colleagues did not conclude that such experiments should never be done. Indeed, he and many other philosophers have been wrestling with the question of why so many people believe it is wrong to breach the species barrier.

Does the repugnance reflect an understanding of an important natural law? Or is it just another cultural bias, like the once widespread rejection of interracial marriage?

Many turn to the Bible's repeated invocation that animals should multiply "after their kind" as evidence that such experiments are wrong. Others, however, have concluded that the core problem is not necessarily the creation of chimeras but rather the way they are likely to be treated.

Imagine, said Robert Streiffer, a professor of philosophy and bioethics at the University of Wisconsin, a human-chimpanzee chimera endowed with speech and an enhanced potential to learn -- what some have called a "humanzee."

"There's a knee-jerk reaction that enhancing the moral status of an animal is bad," Streiffer said. "But if you did it, and you gave it the protections it deserves, how could the animal complain?"

Unfortunately, said Harvard political philosopher Michael J. Sandel, speaking last fall at a meeting of the President's Council on Bioethics, such protections are unlikely.

"Chances are we would make them perform menial jobs or dangerous jobs," Sandel said. "That would be an objection."
A Research Breakthrough

The potential power of chimeras as research tools became clear about a decade ago in a series of dramatic experiments by Evan Balaban, now at McGill University in Montreal. Balaban took small sections of brain from developing quails and transplanted them into the developing brains of chickens.

The resulting chickens exhibited vocal trills and head bobs unique to quails, proving that the transplanted parts of the brain contained the neural circuitry for quail calls. It also offered astonishing proof that complex behaviors could be transferred across species.

No one has proposed similar experiments between, say, humans and apes. But the discovery of human embryonic stem cells in 1998 allowed researchers to envision related experiments that might reveal a lot about how embryos grow.

The cells, found in 5-day-old human embryos, multiply prolifically and -- unlike adult cells -- have the potential to turn into any of the body's 200 or so cell types.

Scientists hope to cultivate them in laboratory dishes and grow replacement tissues for patients. But with those applications years away, the cells are gaining in popularity for basic research.

The most radical experiment, still not conducted, would be to inject human stem cells into an animal embryo and then transfer that chimeric embryo into an animal's womb. Scientists suspect the proliferating human cells would spread throughout the animal embryo as it matured into a fetus and integrate themselves into every organ.

Such "humanized" animals could have countless uses. They would almost certainly provide better ways to test a new drug's efficacy and toxicity, for example, than the ordinary mice typically used today.

But few scientists are eager to do that experiment. The risk, they say, is that some human cells will find their way to the developing testes or ovaries, where they might grow into human sperm and eggs. If two such chimeras -- say, mice -- were to mate, a human embryo might form, trapped in a mouse.

Not everyone agrees that this would be a terrible result.

"What would be so dreadful?" asked Ann McLaren, a renowned developmental biologist at the University of Cambridge in England. After all, she said, no human embryo could develop successfully in a mouse womb. It would simply die, she told the academy. No harm done.

But others disagree -- if only out of fear of a public backlash.

"Certainly you'd get a negative response from people to have a human embryo trying to grow in the wrong place," said Cynthia B. Cohen, a senior research fellow at Georgetown University's Kennedy Institute of Ethics and a member of Canada's Stem Cell Oversight Committee, which supported a ban on such experiments there.
How Human?

But what about experiments in which scientists add human stem cells not to an animal embryo but to an animal fetus, which has already made its eggs and sperm? Then the only question is how human a creature one dares to make.

In one ongoing set of experiments, Jeffrey L. Platt at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn., has created human-pig chimeras by adding human-blood-forming stem cells to pig fetuses. The resulting pigs have both pig and human blood in their vessels. And it's not just pig blood cells being swept along with human blood cells; some of the cells themselves have merged, creating hybrids.

It is important to have learned that human and pig cells can fuse, Platt said, because he and others have been considering transplanting modified pig organs into people and have been wondering if that might pose a risk of pig viruses getting into patient's cells. Now scientists know the risk is real, he said, because the viruses may gain access when the two cells fuse.

In other experiments led by Esmail Zanjani, chairman of animal biotechnology at the University of Nevada at Reno, scientists have been adding human stem cells to sheep fetuses. The team now has sheep whose livers are up to 80 percent human -- and make all the compounds human livers make.

Zanjani's goal is to make the humanized livers available to people who need transplants. The sheep portions will be rejected by the immune system, he predicted, while the human part will take root.

"I don't see why anyone would raise objections to our work," Zanjani said in an interview.
Immunity Advantages

Perhaps the most ambitious efforts to make use of chimeras come from Irving Weissman, director of Stanford University's Institute of Cancer/Stem Cell Biology and Medicine. Weissman helped make the first mouse with a nearly complete human immune system -- an animal that has proved invaluable for tests of new drugs against the AIDS virus, which does not infect conventional mice.

More recently his team injected human neural stem cells into mouse fetuses, creating mice whose brains are about 1 percent human. By dissecting the mice at various stages, the researchers were able to see how the added brain cells moved about as they multiplied and made connections with mouse cells.

Already, he said, they have learned things they "never would have learned had there been a bioethical ban."

Now he wants to add human brain stem cells that have the defects that cause Parkinson's disease, Lou Gehrig's disease and other brain ailments -- and study how those cells make connections.

Scientists suspect that these diseases, though they manifest themselves in adulthood, begin when something goes wrong early in development. If those errors can be found, researchers would have a much better chance of designing useful drugs, Weissman said. And those drugs could be tested in the chimeras in ways not possible in patients.

Now Weissman says he is thinking about making chimeric mice whose brains are 100 percent human. He proposes keeping tabs on the mice as they develop. If the brains look as if they are taking on a distinctly human architecture -- a development that could hint at a glimmer of humanness -- they could be killed, he said. If they look as if they are organizing themselves in a mouse brain architecture, they could be used for research.

So far this is just a "thought experiment," Weissman said, but he asked the university's ethics group for an opinion anyway.

"Everyone said the mice would be useful," he said. "But no one was sure if it should be done."

Monday, November 15, 2004

Overthrow Tehran? Hey, Not So Fast

A more democratic Iran is desired by many, especially by the Iranians, in their home and abroad, but that democracy should be coming from within their own political process, not by guns and tanks or military planes flying overhead, bringing deaths and destructions as it is continually unfolding in Iraq.

Regards,
Sohel


Overthrow Tehran? Hey, Not So Fast
*Iranian Americans are dismayed by glib neocon talk of regime change.

By Jeet Heer and Laura Rozen, Based in Toronto, Jeet Heer frequently writes for the Boston Globe and the National Post. Laura Rozen reports on foreign affairs and national security issues from Washington, D.C.

With President Bush elected to a second term, and the neoconservative architects of the Iraq war firmly in the driver's seat of U.S. foreign policy, Iranian Americans are contemplating a stark choice similar to that faced by Iraqi Americans a few years ago — whether they want to work with Washington to liberate their home country.

Although almost all Iranian Americans want to see democracy flourish in their native land, there are intense and divisive debates on how to achieve this goal and what a future Iranian government should look like. These debates are certain to grow only more intense in the coming months, as Iran's accelerating nuclear program vaults it to the top of the U.S. foreign policy agenda.

The activities of Michael Ledeen, one of the most prominent of the Washington neoconservatives advocating that the U.S. back a plan to overthrow the mullahs, illustrate some of the complexities of modern-day regime change.

Trained as a historian, and now the "Freedom Scholar" at the American Enterprise Institute and a contributing editor of the National Review, Ledeen first came to public prominence during the Reagan administration. While serving as a consultant to national security advisor Robert C. McFarlane, he became entangled in the arms-for-hostages trade that became part of the Iran-Contra scandal. It was Ledeen who brought the U.S. government into contact with the Parisian-based Iranian arms dealer Manucher Ghorbanifar, who claimed he would be able to win the release of U.S. hostages held in Lebanon by the Iranian-backed Hezbollah in exchange for U.S. weapons.

In the wake of the Sept. 11 attacks, Ledeen has resumed contact with Ghorbanifar, as he has set about gathering information to lobby the Bush administration, private constituencies and public opinion to back a plan to destabilize the Iranian regime and support dissident forces. In a December 2001 meeting in Rome, first reported in Newsday, Ledeen introduced Ghorbanifar to two Pentagon officials interested in discussing the regime change idea.

In June 2003, one of those Pentagon officials, Harold Rhode, went to meet Ghorbanifar in Paris for further discussions — a meeting the Pentagon originally said was the result of a chance encounter.

On April 21, 2003, in the final days of the major combat operations in Iraq, Ledeen traveled to Los Angeles, where he spoke to a group of about 200 Iranian exiles on the border of West Los Angeles and Santa Monica. The event was organized by the owner of a Los Angeles-based Persian radio station, said to be sympathetic to the monarchists (the people surrounding the late shah's son, Reza Pahlavi, who lives in a Washington suburb).



"The Iranian diaspora is one of the richest diasporas in history," Ledeen told the audience, according to a tape recording of the event. "So as you contemplate the future of Iran, think first about how to organize the Iranian community and diaspora to raise money for Iranians in Iran to stage democratic revolution that we all know can succeed."

The private money, Ledeen explained, would jump-start a campaign of civil disobedience by providing financial support for the families of Iranian opposition and dissident leaders, enabling them to step up their campaign of resistance against the Iranian regime. Once the U.S. government saw the mass demonstrations, Ledeen said, it could then be persuaded to seriously back a regime change initiative.

"I think you can buy yourself a free Iran now for $20 million," Ledeen added. He also advised the audience on tactics to increase their lobbying influence in Washington.

Some Iranian Americans in the audience were dismayed by Ledeen's talk of the ease with which the oppressive Iranian regime that had driven most of them from their homeland could be overthrown. "It was insulting to every person sitting in that room," said one Iranian American journalist in attendance, who asked that his name not be used. "If it's such an easy thing to overthrow a government, then why have the Iranian millionaires not done it themselves?"

Among Iranian Americans, there's both a fascination and a wariness about neoconservatives like Ledeen — as well as considerable uncertainty about what, if any, role the diaspora itself should play in any democratic revolution in Iran.

"I believe the future of Iran is in the hands of the Iranian people," the Iranian American journalist said. "The young people who have been sacrificing their lives, and their families."

The Ledeen initiative shows the contradiction of the neoconservative worldview: While seeking to liberate and empower the peoples of the Middle East it also makes them pawns in a historical drama in which they have little voice. The execution of this sort of radical foreign policy vision has often run roughshod over the details, as the aftermath in Iraq has shown.

No one is advocating a U.S. invasion of Iran at the moment, although clandestine support to Iranian opposition groups is on the table. For Iranian Americans, the present question is whether their home country should become a sequel to Iraq or if there is a way to democratize Iran without Washington's heavy hand.

Saturday, November 13, 2004

On 'Moral Values,' It's Blue in a Landslide

November 14, 2004
FRANK RICH
On 'Moral Values,' It's Blue in a Landslide

AREWELL to Swift boats and "Shove it!," to Osama's tape and Saddam's missing weapons, to "security moms" and outsourced dads. They've all been sent to history's dustbin faster than Ralph Nader memorabilia was dumped on eBay. In their stead stands a single ambiguous phrase coined by an anonymous exit pollster: "Moral values." By near universal agreement the morning after, these two words tell the entire story of the election: it's the culture, stupid.

"It really is Michael Moore versus Mel Gibson," said Newt Gingrich. To Jon Stewart, Nov. 2 was the red states' revenge on "Will & Grace." William Safire, speaking on "Meet the Press," called the Janet Jackson fracas "the social-political event of the past year." Karl Rove was of the same mind: "I think it's people who are concerned about the coarseness of our culture, about what they see on the television sets, what they see in the movies ..."

And let's not even get started on the two most dreaded words in American comedy, regardless of your party affiliation: Whoopi Goldberg.

There's only one problem with the storyline proclaiming that the country swung to the right on cultural issues in 2004. Like so many other narratives that immediately calcify into our 24/7 media's conventional wisdom, it is fiction. Everything about the election results - and about American culture itself - confirms an inescapable reality: John Kerry's defeat notwithstanding, it's blue America, not red, that is inexorably winning the culture war, and by a landslide. Kerry voters who have been flagellating themselves since Election Day with a vengeance worthy of "The Passion of the Christ" should wake up and smell the Chardonnay.

The blue ascendancy is nearly as strong among Republicans as it is among Democrats. Those whose "moral values" are invested in cultural heroes like the accused loofah fetishist Bill O'Reilly and the self-gratifying drug consumer Rush Limbaugh are surely joking when they turn apoplectic over MTV. William Bennett's name is now as synonymous with Las Vegas as silicone. The Democrats' Ashton Kutcher is trumped by the Republicans' Britney Spears. Excess and vulgarity, as always, enjoy a vast, bipartisan constituency, and in a democracy no political party will ever stamp them out.

If anyone is laughing all the way to the bank this election year, it must be the undisputed king of the red cultural elite, Rupert Murdoch. Fox News is a rising profit center within his News Corporation, and each red-state dollar that it makes can be plowed back into the rest of Fox's very blue entertainment portfolio. The Murdoch cultural stable includes recent books like Jenna Jameson's "How to Make Love Like a Porn Star" and the Vivid Girls' "How to Have a XXX Sex Life," which have both been synergistically, even joyously, promoted on Fox News by willing hosts like Rita Cosby and, needless to say, Mr. O'Reilly. There are "real fun parts and exciting parts," said Ms. Cosby to Ms. Jameson on Fox News's "Big Story Weekend," an encounter broadcast on Saturday at 9 p.m., assuring its maximum exposure to unsupervised kids.

Almost unnoticed in the final weeks of the campaign was the record government indecency fine levied against another prime-time Fox television product, "Married by America." The $1.2 million bill, a mere bagatelle to Murdoch stockholders, was more than twice the punishment inflicted on Viacom for Janet Jackson's "wardrobe malfunction." According to the F.C.C. complaint, one episode in this heterosexual marriage-promoting reality show included scenes in which "partygoers lick whipped cream from strippers' bodies," and two female strippers "playfully spank" a man on all fours in his underwear. "Married by America" is gone now, but Fox remains the go-to network for Paris Hilton ("The Simple Life") and wife-swapping ("Trading Spouses: Meet Your New Mommy").

None of this has prompted an uprising from the red-state Fox News loyalists supposedly so preoccupied with "moral values." They all gladly contribute fungible dollars to Fox culture by boosting their fair-and-balanced channel's rise in the ratings. Some of these red staters may want to make love like porn stars besides. (Not that there's anything wrong with that.) An ABC News poll two weeks before the election found that more Republicans than Democrats enjoy sex "a great deal." The Democrats' new hero, Illinois Senator-elect Barack Obama, was assured victory once his original, ostentatiously pious Republican opponent, Jack Ryan, dropped out of the race rather than defend his taste for "avant-garde" sex clubs.

The 22 percent of voters who told pollsters that "moral values" were their top election issue - 79 percent of whom voted for Bush-Cheney - corresponds almost exactly to the number of voters (23 percent) who describe themselves as born-again or evangelical Christians. They are entitled to their culture, too, and their own entertainment industry. And their own show-biz scandals. The Los Angeles Times reported this summer that Paul Crouch, the evangelist who founded the largest Christian network, Trinity Broadcasting Network, vehemently denied a former employee's accusation that the two had had a homosexual encounter - though not before paying the employee a $425,000 settlement. Not so incidentally, Trinity joined Gary Bauer and Fox News as prime movers in "Redeem the Vote," the Christian-rock alternative to MTV's "Rock the Vote."

But the distance between this hard-core red culture and the majority blue culture is perhaps best captured by Tom Coburn, the newly elected Republican senator from Oklahoma, lately famous for discovering "rampant" lesbianism in that state's schools. As a congressman in 1997, Mr. Coburn attacked NBC for encouraging "irresponsible sexual behavior" and taking "network TV to an all-time low with full frontal nudity, violence and profanity being shown in our homes." The broadcast that prompted his outrage on behalf of "parents and decent-minded individuals everywhere" was the network's prime-time showing of Steven Spielberg's "Schindler's List."

It's in the G.O.P.'s interest to pander to this far-right constituency - votes are votes - but you can be certain that a party joined at the hip to much of corporate America, Mr. Murdoch included, will take no action to curtail the blue culture these voters deplore. As Marshall Wittman, an independent-minded former associate of both Ralph Reed and John McCain, wrote before the election, "The only things the religious conservatives get are largely symbolic votes on proposals guaranteed to fail, such as the gay marriage constitutional amendment." That amendment has never had a prayer of rounding up the two-thirds majority needed for passage and still doesn't.

Mr. Wittman echoes Thomas Frank, the author of "What's the Matter With Kansas?," by common consent the year's most prescient political book. "Values," Mr. Frank writes, "always take a backseat to the needs of money once the elections are won." Under this perennial "trick," as he calls it, Republican politicians promise to stop abortion and force the culture industry "to clean up its act" - until the votes are counted. Then they return to their higher priorities, like cutting capital gains and estate taxes. Mr. Murdoch and his fellow cultural barons - from Sumner Redstone, the Bush-endorsing C.E.O. of Viacom, to Richard Parsons, the Republican C.E.O. of Time Warner, to Jeffrey Immelt, the Bush-contributing C.E.O. of G.E. (NBC Universal) - are about to be rewarded not just with more tax breaks but also with deregulatory goodies increasing their power to market salacious entertainment. It's they, not Susan Sarandon and Bruce Springsteen, who actually set the cultural agenda Gary Bauer and company say they despise.

But it's not only the G.O.P.'s fealty to its financial backers that is predictive of how little cultural bang the "values" voters will get for their Bush-Cheney votes. At 78 percent, the nonvalues voters have far more votes than they do, and both parties will cater to that overwhelming majority's blue tastes first and last. Their mandate is clear: The same poll that clocked "moral values" partisans at 22 percent of the electorate found that nearly three times as many Americans approve of some form of legal status for gay couples, whether civil unions (35 percent) or marriage (27 percent). Do the math and you'll find that the poll also shows that for all the G.O.P.'s efforts to court Jews, the total number of Jewish Republican voters in 2004, while up from 2000, was still some 200,000 less than the number of gay Republican voters.

When Robert Novak writes after the election that "the anti-abortion, anti-gay marriage, socially conservative agenda is ascendant, and the G.O.P. will not abandon it anytime soon," you have to wonder what drug he is on. The abandonment began at the convention. Sam Brownback, the Kansas senator who champions the religious right, was locked away in an off-camera rally across town from Madison Square Garden. Prime time was bestowed upon the three biggest stars in post-Bush Republican politics: Rudy Giuliani, John McCain and Arnold Schwarzenegger. All are supporters of gay rights and opponents of the same-sex marriage constitutional amendment. Only Mr. McCain calls himself pro-life, and he's never made abortion a cause. None of the three support the Bush administration position on stem-cell research. When the No. 1 "moral values" movie star, Mel Gibson, condemned the Schwarzenegger-endorsed California ballot initiative expanding and financing stem-cell research, the governor and voters crushed him like a girlie-man. The measure carried by 59 percent, which is consistent with national polling on the issue.

If the Republican party's next round of leaders are all cool with blue culture, why should Democrats run after the red? Received Washington wisdom has it that the only Democrat who will ever be able to win a national election must be a cross between Gomer Pyle and Billy Sunday - a Scripture-quoting Sun Belt exurbanite whose loyalty to Nascar does not extend to Dale Earnhardt Jr., who was fined last month for saying a four-letter word on television.

According to this argument, the values voters the Democrats must pander to are people like Cary and Tara Leslie, archetypal Ohio evangelical "Bush votes come to life" apotheosized by The Washington Post right after Election Day. The Leslies swear by "moral absolutes," support a constitutional ban on same-sex marriage and mostly watch Fox News. Mr. Leslie has also watched his income drop from $55,000 to $35,000 since 2001, forcing himself, his wife and his three young children into the ranks of what he calls the "working poor." Maybe by 2008 some Democrat will figure out how to persuade him that it might be a higher moral value to worry about the future of his own family than some gay family he hasn't even met.


Tuesday, November 09, 2004

Arctic Thaw

Now that the election in U.S. is over, perhaps the Bush Administration could depoliticize its disastrous environmental policy, to make it come to term with the growing environmental anxieties resulting from all the available scientific data. The impact from the arctic thaw mostly arising due to global warming will be catastrohpic unless the course of our world is altered drastically, especially lessening dependance on fossil fuel that is one of the major culprits in contributing greenhouse effect.

The Christian Science monitor listed the trend of Arctic thaw in this report as the following:

• Rapid melting of Arctic glaciers, including the vast sheet of ice that covers Greenland. The sheet locks up enough fresh water to raise sea levels by as much as 27 feet over the course of several centuries. The group calculates that during this century, Greenland temperatures are likely to exceed the threshold for triggering the long-term meltdown of the island's ice sheet.

• Arctic temperatures rising up to twice as fast as the global average. Over the past 50 years, average winter temperatures in Alaska, western Canada, and eastern Russia have risen as much as 7 degrees F. Over the next century, temperatures are projected to rise by up to 13 degrees F.

• A dramatic reduction in the extent of the summer ice pack in the Arctic Ocean. Late-summer ice coverage already has declined by as much as 20 percent over the past three decades. The summer ice pack is projected to shrink by another 10 to 50 percent by the end of the century. Some climate models show the summer ice vanishing by 2040.


There are already some movement noticed in the U.S. government regarding this issue, especially, from top level Senators like John McCain and Joseph I. Lieberman. "Pointing to the report as a clear signal that global warming is real, Senators John McCain, Republican of Arizona, and Joseph I. Lieberman, Democrat of Connecticut, said yesterday the ''dire consequences" of warming in the Arctic underscore the need for their proposal to require US cuts in emissions of carbon dioxide and other heat-trapping greenhouse gases. President Bush has rejected that approach."

This time around, since the election frenzy is over, and Mr. Bush has achieved his coveted second term in the office with such a huge evangelical mandate, maybe he and his environment oblivious colleagues should begin to grasp the severity of this griveous issue.

Regards,
Sohel


Arctic Thaw

Tuesday, November 9, 2004; Page A26

NOT ONLY HAS it moved beyond the realm of science fiction, but the Arctic ice cap's melting has been much faster than anyone has suspected. That is one of the important conclusions of a report published yesterday at the behest of the Arctic Council, a forum composed of eight nations with Arctic territories, including the United States. Yet the report, produced over four years by several hundred scientists, government officials and indigenous groups, is not sensational or alarmist. It simply compiles the data, noting that because of long-term global warming, average winter temperatures in Alaska, western Canada and eastern Russia have increased by as much as seven degrees over the past 50 years. If the trend continues, about half of the Arctic sea ice is projected to melt by the end of this century.

The report describes some of the possible environmental effects of this change. Many northern animal species, including polar bears and seals, are likely to become extinct. Vegetation and animal migration patterns around the world will shift. Low-lying parts of the world, including Florida and coastal Louisiana, are likely to experience serious flooding. But although the report's scientific conclusions will be the subject of an international conference in Reykjavik, Iceland, this week, the authors intentionally do not offer specific recommendations, political or environmental, on how to halt or cope with these changes.

Such recommendations are supposed to come from diplomats and indigenous representatives who will also be meeting at the Reykjavik summit, however. And already, these are the subject of controversy: Some participants have accused the Bush administration of resisting a mild endorsement of the report and of rejecting even vague language suggesting that greenhouse gas reduction might be part of the solution. Given the thorough nature of this report, and given that the election is now over, that would be inexcusable. At the very least, we hope that the final language reflects a practical, commonsensical and depoliticized approach to what will certainly be one of the most pressing environmental issues of the next half-century.

Hunting with Firefox

It will be a tough battle, but the battle has already begun. Consumers needs more choices in browser market that has so far been overwhelmingly dominated by Microsoft's Internet Explorer with its all sorts of security holes unplugged. The best thing about Firefox and Mozilla overall is that it is free with lots of features that can compete with Microsoft nicely.



Hunting with Firefox



Today marks a milestone in the history of the "open source" movement, the extraordinary unpaid community of volunteers all over the world who work together to produce software which is placed in the public domain without commercial gain. Today sees the official launch of Firefox (www.getfirefox.com), a free internet browser that is daring to take on Internet Explorer, owned by Microsoft, which until recently had a market share of over 95%. It roundly beat Netscape (originally known as Mosaic) during the late 1990s in what became known as the browser war.

Well, the second browser war is about to begin and the signs are it will be very interesting. Microsoft has an embedded advantage, not just because of its $50bn-plus cash reserves, but because Windows has a near-monopoly of the operating system inside personal computers. It comes pre-loaded with Explorer - so users need a good reason to overcome inertia and switch to something else.

Firefox believes it has that reason, a nimble, easy-to-install browser that has new features, keeps out irritating "pop-up" advertisements and claims much more security against most of the bugs and viruses that have riddled Explorer. It aims to take 10% of the browser market during the next eight months and says that 7 million people have already downloaded it from the web. As a result Firefox has come from nowhere to 3% of the market before being officially released and Explorer has lost market share for five months to just under 93%. In response to an appeal to buy an advertisement in the New York Times, more than 10,000 Firefox users donated more than $250,000, much more than asked for.

Firefox deserves to succeed, but even if it does not it will have highlighted the astonishing success of open source, well known inside the web community but not outside. Among other services, it has its own operating system (Linux), an acclaimed alternative to Microsoft Office (OpenOffice), and its own encyclopedia (Wikipedia) with a million entries. The open source movement has become one of globalisation's unexpected treasures.

Puritanism of the Rich

<>George Monbiot's perspective is refreshing, shedding light on least understood issue of our time, that most think is synonymous to fascism. Probably it is not.




Monbiot writes, "Puritanism was primarily the religion of the new commercial classes. It attracted traders, money lenders, bankers and industrialists. Calvin had given them what the old order could not: a theological justification of commerce. Capitalism, in his teachings, was not unchristian, but could be used for the glorification of God. From his doctrine of individual purification, the late Puritans forged a new theology.

<>At its heart was an "idealisation of personal responsibility" before God. This rapidly turned into "a theory of individual rights" in which "the traditional scheme of Christian virtues was almost exactly reversed". By the mid-17th century, most English Puritans saw in poverty "not a misfortune to be pitied and relieved, but a moral failing to be condemned, and in riches, not an object of suspicion ... but the blessing which rewards the triumph of energy and will".




"Tawney describes the Puritans as early converts to "administrative nihilism": the doctrine we now call the minimal state. "Business affairs," they believed, "should be left to be settled by business men, unhampered by the intrusions of an antiquated morality." They owed nothing to anyone. Indeed, they formulated a radical new theory of social obligation, which maintained that helping the poor created idleness and spiritual dissolution, divorcing them from God.
<>Of course, the Puritans differed from Bush's people in that they worshipped production but not consumption. But this is just a different symptom of the same disease. Tawney characterises the late Puritans as people who believed that "the world exists not to be enjoyed, but to be conquered. Only its conqueror deserves the name of Christian."


Regards,
Sohel



Puritanism of the rich


Bush's ideology has its roots in 17th century preaching that the world exists to be conquered

George Monbiot


If Bush wins," the US writer Barbara Probst Solomon claimed just before the election, "fascism is possible in the United States." Blind faith in a leader, she said, a conservative working class and the use of fear as a political weapon provide the necessary preconditions.

She's wrong. So is Richard Sennett, who described Bush's security state as "soft fascism" in the Guardian last month. So is the endless traffic on the internet.

In The Anatomy of Fascism, Robert Paxton persuasively describes it as "... a form of political behaviour marked by obsessive preoccupation with community decline, humiliation or victimhood and by compensatory cults of unity, energy and purity". It is hard to read Republican politics in these terms. Fascism recruited the elite, but it did not come from the elite. It relied on hysterical popular excitement: something which no one could accuse George Bush of provoking.

But this is not to say that the Bush project is unprecedented. It is, in fact, a repetition of quite another ideology. If we don't understand it, we have no hope of confronting it.

Puritanism is perhaps the least understood of any political movement in European history. In popular mythology it is reduced to a joyless cult of self-denial, obsessed by stripping churches and banning entertainment: a perception which removes it as far as possible from the conspicuous consumption of Republican America. But Puritanism was the product of an economic transformation.

In England in the first half of the 17th century, the remnants of the feudal state performed a role analogous to that of social democracy in the second half of the 20th. It was run, of course, in the interests of the monarchy and clergy. But it also regulated the economic exploitation of the lower orders. As RH Tawney observed in Religion and the Rise of Capitalism (1926), Charles I sought to nationalise industries, control foreign exchange and prosecute lords who evicted peasants from the land, employers who refused to pay the full wage, and magistrates who failed to give relief to the poor.

But this model was no longer viable. Over the preceding 150 years, "the rise of commercial companies, no longer local, but international" led in Europe to "a concentration of financial power on a scale unknown before" and "the subjection of the collegiate industrial organisation of the Middle Ages to a new money-power". The economy was "swept forward by an immense expansion of commerce and finance, rather than of industry". The kings and princes of Europe had become "puppets dancing on wires" held by the financiers.

In England the dissolution of the monasteries had catalysed a massive seizure of wealth by a new commercial class. They began by grabbing ("enclosing") the land and shaking out its inhabitants. This generated a mania for land speculation, which in turn led to the creation of sophisticated financial markets, experimenting in futures, arbitrage and almost all the vices we now associate with the Age of Enron.

All this was furiously denounced by the early theologists of the English Reformation. The first Puritans preached that men should be charitable, encourage justice and punish exploitation. This character persisted through the 17th century among the settlers of New England. But in the old country it didn't stand a chance.

Puritanism was primarily the religion of the new commercial classes. It attracted traders, money lenders, bankers and industrialists. Calvin had given them what the old order could not: a theological justification of commerce. Capitalism, in his teachings, was not unchristian, but could be used for the glorification of God. From his doctrine of individual purification, the late Puritans forged a new theology.

At its heart was an "idealisation of personal responsibility" before God. This rapidly turned into "a theory of individual rights" in which "the traditional scheme of Christian virtues was almost exactly reversed". By the mid-17th century, most English Puritans saw in poverty "not a misfortune to be pitied and relieved, but a moral failing to be condemned, and in riches, not an object of suspicion ... but the blessing which rewards the triumph of energy and will".

This leap wasn't hard to make. If the Christian life, as idealised by both Calvin and Luther, was to concentrate on the direct contact of the individual soul with God, then society, of the kind perceived and protected by the medieval church, becomes redundant. "Individualism in religion led ... to an individualist morality, and an individualist morality to a disparagement of the significance of the social fabric."

To this the late Puritans added another concept. They conflated their religious calling with their commercial one. "Next to the saving of his soul," the preacher Richard Steele wrote in 1684, the tradesman's "care and business is to serve God in his calling, and to drive it as far as it will go." Success in business became a sign of spiritual grace: providing proof to the entrepreneur, in Steele's words, that "God has blessed his trade". The next step follows automatically. The Puritan minister Joseph Lee anticipated Adam Smith's invisible hand by more than a century, when he claimed that "the advancement of private persons will be the advantage of the public". By private persons, of course, he meant the men of property, who were busily destroying the advancement of everyone else.

Tawney describes the Puritans as early converts to "administrative nihilism": the doctrine we now call the minimal state. "Business affairs," they believed, "should be left to be settled by business men, unhampered by the intrusions of an antiquated morality." They owed nothing to anyone. Indeed, they formulated a radical new theory of social obligation, which maintained that helping the poor created idleness and spiritual dissolution, divorcing them from God.

Of course, the Puritans differed from Bush's people in that they worshipped production but not consumption. But this is just a different symptom of the same disease. Tawney characterises the late Puritans as people who believed that "the world exists not to be enjoyed, but to be conquered. Only its conqueror deserves the name of Christian."

There were some, such as the Levellers and the Diggers, who remained true to the original spirit of the Reformation, but they were violently suppressed. The pursuit of adulterers and sodomites provided an ideal distraction for the increasingly impoverished lower classes.

Ronan Bennett's excellent new novel, Havoc in its Third Year, about a Puritan revolution in the 1630s, has the force of a parable. An obsession with terrorists (in this case Irish and Jesuit), homosexuality and sexual licence, the vicious chastisement of moral deviance, the disparagement of public support for the poor: swap the black suits for grey ones, and the characters could have walked out of Bush's America.

So why has this ideology resurfaced in 2004? Because it has to. The enrichment of the elite and impoverishment of the lower classes requires a justifying ideology if it is to be sustained. In the US this ideology has to be a religious one. Bush's government is forced back to the doctrines of Puritanism as an historical necessity. If we are to understand what it's up to, we must look not to the 1930s, but to the 1630s.