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Currents

Issue 348

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UNITED STATES

Bombed and framed
FBI pays millions in damages to eco-activists

On 11 June a US federal jury returned an historic verdict in favour of two environmental activists in their civil-rights lawsuit against the FBI and the Oakland police in a case that dated all the way back to 1990.

After 17 days of deliberation, the jury awarded the two Earth First! activists, Judi Bari and Darryl Cherney, $4.4 million for violation of their constitutional rights. It concluded that the FBI and the Police had framed the two activists in an effort to stifle Earth First! and stop participation in 'Redwood Summer', a planned campaign of non-violent direct action against the destruction of old-growth forest.

It took 12 years for the case to come to court, after the FBI repeatedly tried and failed to get the charges thrown out. However the long time-lag meant that Bari, who died of breast cancer in 1997, did not live to see justice.

It was in May 1990 that Bari and Cherney were touring California to drum up support for Redwood Summer. The atmosphere was already very tense. Both had received death threats in the preceding months. One had shown a rifle-sight printed over a picture of Bari. 'If you turn up dead, we will investigate,' the local police told her.

This nearly happened when a bomb exploded in their car. The blast shattered Bari's pelvis in 10 places, paralyzing her right leg, pulverizing and dislocating her two lower vertebrae. 'It was a level of terror that I had never experienced,' she recalled after the bombing.

Within minutes the FBI was on the scene and Bari later said it was 'uncanny' how fast they had arrived. It later transpired that one of the key agents had run an FBI 'bombing school' on the timber company's land less than a month before the bombing. The agent then lied about the placement of the bomb, saying that it was behind Bari's seat; this implied that both Bari and Cherney knew the bomb to be there and that it therefore must have been theirs.

Although Bari was barely conscious, she was arrested with Cherney and charged with 'illegal possession of explosives'. Bail was set at $100,000 as there was a risk of 'flight' and the pair posed a danger to the community. The FBI told the world's waiting media that 'they were no longer considering other suspects'.

The FBI never conducted a search for the real bombers and two months after the bombing the charges were quietly dropped as there was no evidence against Bari and Cherney.

Word corner

Sausage
Sausage is from the Latin salsus (salted): the Romans made sausages of salted meat to eat during the winter months. About 1900 Harry Stevens sold frankfurters (first made at Frankfurt am Main) in hot bread rolls at a New York baseball ground.  The cartoonist TA Dorgan called these 'hot dogs' in a cartoon of a dachshund in a bread roll, perhaps because of rumours as to the contents of the sausages. Dorgan also invented the phrase 'cat's pyjamas'.

Botulism, a bug that was first found in tinned sausages, is from the Latin botulus (sausage). Bowel is from the same root.  Another bug that causes food poisoning, salmonella, has nothing to do with salmon but gets its name from the US pathologist, Daniel Elmer Salmon (1850-1914).

Susan Watkin

So the following year, Bari and Cherney sued the FBI and Oakland Police Department, charging them with conspiring 'to suppress, chill and "neutralize" their constitutionally protected activities in defence of the environment'.

The jury agreed with Bari and Cherney. They concluded that six of the seven FBI and police defendants had violated the First and Fourth Amendments of the Constitution by arresting the activists, conducting searches of their homes and carrying out a smear campaign in the press in which Earth First! was termed a terrorist organization and the activists were called 'bombers'.

Since Bari's death in 1997, the case continued on behalf of her estate. After the verdict her sister Martha thanked the jury for their 'courageous decision'. Darryl Cherney added: 'The jury exonerated us. They found the FBI to be the ones in violation of the law.'

Lead attorney Dennis Cunningham said the message from the verdict is that, in the wake of 11 September, the FBI should not be given a 'free hand. It's clear that their intention is not about fighting terrorism, it's about suppressing dissent. That's what the FBI has always been about.'

Andy Rowell

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UN purges

The Bush administration has mounted a campaign to purge the United Nations of those civil servants deemed out of step with Washington. The first and most prominent to go was Mary Robinson, the former Irish President whose work as UN High Commissioner for Human Rights was honoured by Amnesty International as 'courageous and committed'. The US stealthily but ferociously lobbied against her reappointment, due to her independent stand on the Middle East and other human-rights issues. Another recent victim of the US campaign is Robert Watson, the much-respected chair of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), who on 19 April was replaced by Rajendra Pachuari, an Indian economist. A leaked memo from ExxonMobil had previously asked the White House: 'Can Watson be replaced now at the request of the US?'

Days later on 22 April, Jose Mauricio Bustani, head of the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), was deposed. Bustani had overseen the destruction of two-thirds of the world's chemical-weapon facilities. Diplomats suggest his biggest 'crime' was trying to persuade Iraq to sign the Chemical Weapons Convention, thus allowing OPCW inspectors to inspect Iraqi facilities and depriving Washington of quasi-justification for military action against Baghdad. In a similar vein it's been reported that Paul Wolfowitz, Under-Secretary of Defence, ordered a CIA investigation of Hans Blix, head of UNMOVIC, the UN organization established at the end of the Gulf War to inspect Iraqi arms facilities.

In this context, if the US purges continue and rise to higher levels, UN member nations may see the entire post-World War Two framework of multilateralism start to disintegrate.

Ian Williams, Comment, United Nations Association-UK

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SUSTAINABILITY

Welcome to Jo'burg
Earth Summit location a microcosm of unsustainability

As thousands of delegates arrive in the South African city of Johannesburg for the World Summit for Sustainable Development (WSSD) at the end of August, the post-apartheid geography of the city - a microcosm of unsustainability - hints at why the summit will fail.

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Seriously... You couldn't make this stuff up

'Downright global!'

Though crisis after crisis rocks the world of accountancy, a series of rousing corporate anthems written in better times by the Big Five firms may yet rally the troops.

Singing along to global accountant KPMG's aspirational and toe-curlingly awful corporate anthem 'A Vision of Global Strategy', one can almost forget that it was they who audited the beleaguered Xerox - who misreported billions in profit to join World.com's spectacular crash and burn in June. All together now: 'KPMG, we're strong as can be / A team of power and energy / We go for the gold / Together we hold / onto our vision of global strategeee.' Seriously has been rocking to an unofficial jungle remix version posted onto the internet by some well-wisher [See http://www.phrenetic.org]. 'We create, we innovate / We pass the ones that are la-a-ate. / A global team, this is our dream of success that we create. / We'll be number one, with effort and fun / Together each of us will run for gold / that shines like the sun in our eyes'. Beautiful.

Given the current climate, Price-WaterhouseCoopers consultants will feel relief at being hived off from the accountancy wing of the firm, even though it means they will now be languishing under the much derided new brand name, 'Monday'.  'Monday is confident,' their website babbles. 'It stands out and it stands for something.'

However, the consultants at Monday may look back with nostalgia at PWC anthems they can no longer call their own, gems such as 'Downright Global'. The lyrics are worth reprinting at length:

'Welcome to the firm that is known for innovation, imagination, fascination, total global integration, PriceWaterhouse-Coopers, PWC! / Now let me tell you a little about our key industries / .My friend it's true / We're downright global! / We work with companies that want to grow / To find new markets and increase cash flow / We help these companies to expand and thrive / To see them through to the Fortune Five / (Go further, reach higher, know more) / PriceWaterhouse-Coopers / Our world is waiting for you.'

Seriously invites readers to pen new corporate anthems appropriate for firms as they crash and burn through the Fortune 500. Enron? Andersens? Email your lyrics to seriously@newint.org and we'll print the best in this space.

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You fly into Africa's richest city through a thick brown cloud. Concentrated industrial pollution hangs over the east-west factory strip and power plants while gold-mine dumps to the south of the city perpetually blow sand and dust. Smoke rises from periodic bush fires and the burning of coal and fuelwood in black townships like Soweto and Alexandra (where electricity privatization is the cause of supply cut-offs to tens of thousands of households who cannot afford price increases). The air also carries tuberculosis and rampant respiratory infections that threaten the lives of South Africa's five million hiv-positive people.

Below, you notice the silvery glinting of tiny metal-roofed shacks in the bright sun, like cauterized wounds on the yellowish skin of a wintry Africa. That's where the township slums stretch to the horizon and house the majority of Gauteng Province's ten million inhabitants. Because of a stingy government policy based on World Bank advice, Johannesburg's post-apartheid squatter camps are worse served with community amenities, schools and clinics than even apartheid-era ghettoes.

Your eyes are drawn away to the contrasting bright green of well-watered English gardens and thick alien trees that shade mostly white suburbs broken by sky-blue swimming pools. To achieve the striking green effect requires a lot of water in a city that, in 1886 when gold was discovered, became the planet's largest metropolis with no natural water source.

Water waste occurs not only here in the residential zones sprawling north and east of the city centre, but in the southern mining belt, the corporate-dominated farms and the electricity plants. South Africa brags about supplying the world's cheapest energy for industrial use. It doesn't price in the damage to the environment, including the world's worst greenhouse-gas emissions (corrected for population size and income).

Apartheid-era engineers and World Bank project officers have tried to solve looming water shortages with an eight-billion-dollar dam and water-tunnel scheme that draws water several hundred kilometres from across a mountain range in the small and perpetually impoverished nation of Lesotho. Africa's largest infrastructure project, it is now less than half finished but has already displaced tens of thousands of Basotho peasants, inundated sacred land and threatened ecosystems.

Who pays the bills? Johannesburg water prices went up by 35 per cent during the late 1990s, but township residents with the lowest consumption rates found themselves paying 55-per-cent more because of the cost of the Lesotho dams. The Government has rejected demands by campaigners from Alexandra, Soweto and Lesotho that water-users in the mines, factories and mansions be responsible for paying the dam's bills and conserving water so as to avoid future dam construction. Such 'demand-side management' would also have included repair of perpetual leaks in the apartheid-era township infrastructure; half of Soweto's water is lost in this way.

The Johannesburg landscape is also being defaced by other greed-driven processes. One reason is ongoing 'crime and grime' downtown. The old Central Business District spent the 1990s being virtually emptied of white professionals.

Much of the smart money fled just 15 kilometres northeast of the old business district to the edge-city of Sandton. The area, back to back with the poor black township of Soweto, has attracted billions of dollars worth of world-class commercial property investment, traffic jams and conspicuous consumption. Only the world's least socially conscious financial speculators would trash their ex-headquarters downtown to build a new city while draining South Africa of capital. Only the most aesthetically barren rich would build their little Tuscanies on Africa's beautiful highveld (prairies), behind three-metre-high walls adorned with barbed wire to keep out the criminals.

Sandton, then, is the location of the conference centre that will host the WSSD. A Social Forum, or people's alternative to the official meeting, is a necessity - not least to challenge those local and global rulers who have made such a mess of Africa's wealthiest city.

Patrick Bond

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Voting highs and lows

. Voter participation in competitive elections has declined from an average of 78 per cent in 1945 to 71 per cent in the 1990s.

. Some 86 per cent of voters participated in the first democratic election in East Timor in 2001.

. In February 2001 90 per cent of registered voters in Bahrain turned out to support a referendum to establish a democratically elected chamber in parliament and to set up an independent judiciary.

. Five of the top democracies in voter turnout - Australia, Belgium, Liechtenstein, Nauru and Singapore - enforce compulsory voting laws.

. In Africa 21 out of 53 nations are electoral democracies, though corruption mars many campaigns in the region.

. In Ghana, a president who seized power in a 1981 coup was prevented from continuing a third term by the nation's constitution. The nation's first democratic election in 2000 voted in opposition leader John Kufour as president.

Vital Signs 2002

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SUDAN

The wrong war
US backs bin Laden's hosts

It's twilight in Mabia, one of southern Sudan's newest large-scale camps for 'internally displaced persons' - refugees within their own country. A small crowd gathers around a short-wave radio. Between bursts of static come BBC reports on Ramallah and Jerusalem: Arafat and Sharon. When the daily news is over, a man speaks into the darkness. 'We're at the wrong war,' he says.

The southern Sudanese have long felt forgotten, lost in a civil war that is Africa's bloodiest and longest. Post-11 September politics were supposed to change all that. The deadly attacks on New York and Washington put Sudan in America's gunsight. Led by an Islamic regime that hosted Osama bin Laden from 1991 to 1996, Sudan ranked with Afghanistan and Iraq on the US list of  'sponsors of terror'.

In fact, the nation is sharply divided, with a largely Arab, Muslim society ruling in the north, and an African animist and Christian culture fighting for self-determination in the south. For the southerners, 11 September promised both a clampdown on the northern government and possible Western support for the Sudan People's Liberation Army fighting in the south.

'The aftermath of 11 September was the most significant window that had opened since the war began,' says John Prendergast of International Crisis Group, a humanitarian research group. In his view, that was the time for the US to press the Sudanese Government on 'root-cause' divisions: religious freedom and southern self-determination. 'If we can't address those two issues when our influence and leverage is highest, then we really won't have a chance for a peace agreement.'

Facing a military threat after 11 September, the Government of Sudan quickly opened counter-terrorism talks with the US. By 28 September 2001, US State Department officials were praising relations with Khartoum, and allowing longstanding UN sanctions to be lifted. John Danforth, leader of the current US strategy, has subsequently declared that a negotiated self-determination referendum may not include separation as an option.

'People are considering Sudan to be honest now, but Sudan has a knife in its pocket,' says SPLA (Sudan People's Liberation Army) commander Augustino Jadallah. According to Jadallah, the civil war in the south grows more intense as pressure eases on the north. The pattern has been set since 1999, when Khartoum began collecting revenue from major oil developments. With new money came new and more lethal weapons: Antonov bombers, helicopter gunships, artillery cannons.

The people gathering around the radio in Mabia understand the end result. Last fall, they lived in Raga, 700 kilometres to the north. After the area was captured by the SPLA, government forces shelled it continuously, killing an unknown number of civilians and forcing 21,000 people into the bush. 'Antonovs and gunships and jet fighters - they used to come and bomb everywhere, randomly,' says Fashir Kamun, a former Raga banker. 'You might move for one hour to get food and so on, then you go again into your hole. That's how we were living in Raga.'

For now, the US is supporting ongoing peace talks led by East Africa's Intergovernmental Authority on Development. Monitors like Prendergast, however, say the Government of Sudan now has little incentive to lay down its arms. 'The window is still open slightly, but that just means that the US and others will have to work harder', he says. 'They're not doing that yet.'

JB MacKinnon

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