Wall Street is a highly influential financial district but its history is rarely talked about. In order to understand the largesse of Wall Street and the system of global capitalism, it is crucial to know Wall Street’s history. Wall Street was founded on slavery and, to this day, it remains a key pillar in upholding racial inequality and economic oppression.

New York City was a Dutch settlement known as New Amsterdam in the Dutch colonial province called New Netherland during much of the 17th century. Through the Dutch West India Company, the Dutch utilized labor of enslaved Africans who were first brought to colony around 1627. The African slaves built the wall that gives Wall Street its name, forming the northern boundary of the colony and warded off resisting natives who wanted their land back. In addition, the slaves cleared the forests, built roads and buildings, and turned up the soil for farming. Slavery was not phenomenon limited to the southern American colonies. Northern colonies, such as Boston and New York, participated in the trans-Atlantic slave trade.

In 1664, control of the colony was handed over Britain and New Amsterdam was renamed New York in honor of James II, the Duke of York. The Royal African Company had a royal monopoly on the British slave trade and James II was a major shareholder. With the Dutch gone, the British maintained the system of slavery in New York. They immediately created a series of laws to protect it. In 1665, a law was passed that legalized slavery. In 1682, slave masters were given the power of life-and-death over their slaves. Twenty years later, in 1702, New York adopted its first comprehensive slave code and it equated slave status with being African. The entire system of slavery was justified by an ideology of white supremacy that considers black Africans inferior and white Europeans superior — an ideology that still exists.

Slavery became the backbone of New York’s economic prosperity in the 1700s. To normalize this massive trade in human beings, in 1711, New York officials established a slave market on Wall Street. Slave auctions were held at Wall Street selling African slaves as property to traders wanting to buy them. Between 1700 and 1722, over 5,000 African slaves entered New York, most of whom came directly from Africa, while the rest from British colonies in the Caribbean and southern colonies. Throughout the 17th and 18th centuries, as Phyllis Eckhaus points out, New York had “the largest urban slave population in mainland North America”. Therefore, New York was a crucial location in the trans-Atlantic slave trade, which established it as the world’s financial capital. Many well-known companies and financial institutions benefitted from the trans-Atlantic slave trade.They include Lehman Brothers (which went bankrupt in 2008), J.P. Morgan Chase, Wachovia Bank of North Carolina, Aetna Insurance, Bank of America, and the Royal Bank of Scotland. Banks, such as Wachovia’s predecessors Bank of Charleston, South Carolina, and the Bank of North America, and J.P. Morgan Chase’s predecessor banks, made loans to slave owners and accepted slaves as “collateral”. When the slave owners defaulted on their loans, the banks became the new owners. The Lehman family members who established Lehman Brothers started their company to trade and invest in cotton, a cash crop produced by African slaves. Aetna sold insurance to slave owners who wanted to protect their investments in slaves aboard slave ships in case one of them died (this was a very common occurrence as millions of African slaves died on ships carrying them from Africa to the Americas). The insurance company’s policies compensated slave owners for the loss of people who were considered “property”. To this day, there are lawsuits against these corporations to seek reparations for their participation in the trans-Atlantic slave trade.

The trans-Atlantic slave trade built the foundation for modern global capitalism. Millions of Africans (somewhere between 12 to 30 million or more) were ripped away from their homes in Africa to work as slaves in European colonies in North and South America and the Caribbean. Unlike native Americans and other white Europeans, free African labor was plentiful (if one died, they could be replaced with another from Africa), Africans had no connections to American lands, and they knew how to grow essential cash crops like cotton and sugar that grew in both Africa and the Caribbean and southeastern United States. These factors made Africans the perfect slave labor force for European colonial powers. The slaves, along with performing many other services, were used to produce commodities that were sold in international markets for a profit (a characteristic of modern capitalism). In addition, slaves, themselves, were considered property and sold on markets. The benefits of this went to slave owners and investors — not the slaves. As a result, wealth was transferred from black African slaves (and their descendants) to white European slave owners and other whites who benefitted from this system (this laid the foundation for current wealth inequality between whites and blacks). This ensured that blacks would remain socioeconomically subordinate to whites for generations to come. Slavery went on for nearly 300 years from the sixteenth century to the mid-nineteenth century when Britain, America, and other countries that participated in the trans-Atlantic slave trade abolished it. Even after it ended, the foundation of modern capitalism and racial inequality was already built.

The end of slavery brought new political rights for black people in America, such as the right to vote. However, these political rights were very limited, particularly under the Jim Crow system in the American South. This system barred blacks from voting, segregated them in inferior schools, confined them to low-paying jobs, discriminated against them in numerous areas of life, and perpetuated heinous acts of racist violence against black people, such as lynching. While northern states did not have a de jure system of racial discrimination, there was similar de facto racial discrimination in housing and employment. The civil rights movement of the 1950s and ’60s eliminated legalized racial discrimination with the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and Voting Rights Act of 1965, thereby dealing a deathblow to Jim Crow. Despite the end of slavery and advancements of the civil rights movement, African-Americans remain socioeconomically oppressed. Black people disproportionately suffer more poverty, unemployment, and socioeconomic misery compared to whites and other ethnic groups. As of December 2011,unemployment for African-Americans is 15.8%, the same as it was at the beginning of 2011. While unemployment for whites is 7.5%, down from 8.5% at the beginning of the year. According to the Census Bureau’s Income, Poverty, and Health Insurance Coverage report for 2010, the poverty rate (defined as a family of four earning less than $22,314 a year) for African-Americans is 27.4%, while for whites it is 13% and 36.6% for Latinos.

The financial sector plays a substantial role in economically oppressing African-Americans. Racial segregation in housing long existed in the United States as a way to keep African-Americans living in separate, poorer neighborhoods away from whites. Redlining, which is the practice of denying or increasing the price of insurance and other financial services to certain neighborhoods based on race, contributed to racial segregation in America for much of the twentieth century. The practice began in the 1930s when the Home Owners’ Loan Corporation (HOLC), established to send loans to homeowners at risk of foreclosure, created a risk-rating system for communities to be used by mortgage lenders. The idea was to protect the long-term value of the property, which was undermined by the introduction of “undesirables” (usually blacks but also Latinos, Asians, and Jews) into a neighborhood. Using real-estate maps, the HOLC developed a classification system for communities. There were four classifications. Type A areas, coded green, were affluent areas in the suburbs and the most desirable for investment. Type B areas, coded blue, were still desirable, fully developed, but less affluent. Type C, coded yellow, were older, declining areas. Type D areas, coded red, were those with low homeownership rates, poor housing conditions, were in older, inner-city neighborhoods heavily populated by black people. These areas were considered undesirable and too risky for investment — hence the term “redlining”. As a result, HOLC did not provide any loans for black people at risk of foreclosure during the 1930s. This created a system, perpetuated by the Federal Housing Administration (FHA), lending institutions, and insurance companies, that made it difficult for black people to own homes and accumulate wealth in their communities, thereby, entrenching racial segregation and inequality.

While redlining was outlawed by the Fair Housing Act of 1968 and Community Reinvestment Act of 1977, similar racial discriminatory practices continue and achieve the same effect as redlining — further racial segregation and inequality. One common practice is known as steering. Real estate agents will steer people to neighborhoods predominantly populated by people of similar ethnic background. Whites are steered to “better”, white neighborhoods, while blacks and Latinos are steered toward neighborhoods with more black and Latinos, which tend to be poorer. Another racial discriminatory practice, which led to the financial crash and current depression, is predatory lending. Rather than deny financial services, financial institutions targeted the black community, and other nonwhite communities, to sell them risky, high-priced subprime mortgage loans. Because of this, the practice is also known as “reverse redlining”. Subprime loans are typically made to people with poor credit histories and, hence, come with higher interest rates. According to a 2009 NAACP “Discrimination and Mortgage Lending in America” report, “even when income and credit risk are equal, African Americans are up to 34 percent more likely to receive higher-rate and subprime loans” than whites. This predatory lending perpetuated a decade-long housing bubble from the late-1990s to late-2000s.

Wells Fargo is one of many financial institutions that engaged in predatory lending in black communities. As the New York Times reported in June 2009, Wells Fargo “saw the black community as fertile ground for subprime mortgages, as working-class blacks were hungry to be a part of the nation’s home-owning mania.” Revealing the big bank’s true racism, loan officers at Wells Fargo commonly referred to African-Americans as “mud people” and subprime loans as “ghetto loans”. Wells Fargo has been sued by individuals and groups, such as the NAACP, for its racial discriminatory practices. In late-November 2011, a regretful former regional vice president of Chase Home Finance in southern Florida (a subsidiary of JP Morgan Chase, whose roots lie in slavery), James Theckston, admitted the predatory lending practices of big banks to New York Times columnist Nick Kristof. In fact, predatory lending was incentivized since lenders earned higher commissions from subprime loans than normal prime loans. In his column, Kristof notes:

“One memory particularly troubles Theckston. He says that some account executives earned a commission seven times higher from subprime loans, rather than prime mortgages. Sothey looked for less savvy borrowers — those with less education, without previous mortgage experience, or without fluent English — and nudged them toward subprime loans

These less savvy borrowers were disproportionately blacks and Latinos, he said, and they ended paying a higher rate so that they were more likely to lose their homes. Senior executives seemed aware of this racial mismatch, he recalled, and frantically tried to cover it up.”

So not only did big banks intentionally push black people and other people of color to buy subprime loans but they were well aware of the racism behind their actions. Moreover, the banks did not care if people lost their homes because of these risky, high-priced subprime mortgages.

The reason why subprime mortgage loans were aggressively pushed on to millions of people was so they could be bundled up into mortgage-backed securities. In 1999, the Glass-Steagall Act, which separated commercial from investment banking, was repealed under Clinton. This made it easier for subprime mortgage loans to be bundled into securities and sold on Wall Street for massive profits. When the housing bubble burst in 2007, that led to the financial crash in September 2008 and the current economic depression. Wall Street got bailed out but the people got stuck with massive poverty and unemployment. Millions of people lost their homes and many are on the edge of foreclosure. Black and Latino households were hit the hardest. As the Center for Responsible Lending points out, around 25% of all black and Latino borrowers lost their home to foreclosure or are close to foreclosure, compared to under 12% of all white borrowers. Home equity makes up the largest portion of overall wealth in black and Latino communities. Because of the collapse of the housing bubble and resulting foreclosures, black and Latino communities have experienced a dramatic wealth decrease in their communities. According to a recent Pew Research Center report, in 2005, median net worth (or total household wealth) of white households was $134,992, for Latinos it was $18,359, and $12,124 for blacks. In 2009, median net worth for white households dropped 16% to $113,149, Latino households experienced a 66% drop to $6,325, while black households experienced a 53% drop to $5,677. Pew rightly attributes this drop to the bursting of the housing bubble and recession that followed from it.

Wall Street, since its founding as a slave market, continues to play a substantial role in oppressing African-Americans and other working-class people. To fully understand racial inequality, it is important to know Wall Street’s historical roots in the trans-Atlantic slave trade. With this knowledge, we can combat the oppression of African-Americans by challenging the greed and oligarchy of Wall Street. Fortunately, there is already a movement doing just that — Occupy Wall Street.


Historical sources:

  • David McNally, Another World Is Possible: Globalization & Anti-Capitalism, (Winnipeg: Arbeiter Ring Publishing, 2006), Ch. 4, pp. 137 – 204
  • Howard Zinn, A People’s History of the United States: 1492 – Present, (New York: HarperCollins Publishers Inc., 2003), Ch, 2, pp. 23 – 39
  • Lerone Bennett, Jr., Before the Mayflower: A History of Black America, (New York: Johnson Publishing Company, Inc., 1982)
  • James W. Loewen, Lies My Teacher Told Me: Everything Your American History Textbook Got Wrong, (New York: Simon & Schuster Inc., 1995)
  • See also Douglas Massey & Nancy Denton, American Apartheid: Segregation and the Making of the Underclass (Harvard University Press, 1993) for history of racial segregation in the U.S.

African American history in New York City began in the Dutch colonies. The first Africans arrived in New Amsterdam as enslaved men in 1625 and 1626; the first enslaved women in 1628. They worked as farmers and builders and in the fur trade of the Dutch West India Company. Some helped build the wall intended to keep settlers safe from the native population at the location of today’s Wall Street. In 1644, the Company granted “conditional freedom” to the enslaved on condition that they make an annual fixed payment of farm produce. The children of the “conditionally freed” people, born and unborn, remained the property of the Company. Most of the families received grants to lands they had been farming before becoming “free.” At the time the area was generally undesirable swamp land. Today most of the area is in Greenwich Village. The Dutch continued to expand and to import enslaved Africans to meet growing labor needs. Between 1649 and 1659 they imported hundreds of men, women and children. In New Amsterdam, the first sales tax, an import tax of 10%, was imposed to discourage merchants from selling “human cargo” outside of the colony. Though not comprehensive, Dutch records do note that there were Africans who had never been enslaved who were living on the “free Negro lots” which today are located on land between from Astor Place and Prince Street.

In 1665, the Dutch surrendered New Amsterdam/New Netherlands to the British. For most European settlers, little changed in what became New York. For African New Yorkers, both enslaved and freed, British occupation meant severe change. Under Dutch rule, some Africans had gained half or full freedom. Even if enslaved, they had legal and social rights. One example is that no master could whip an enslaved African without the permission of the Dutch Common Council. This and other rules changed under the British rule. In a move toward commercial efficiency, the British formed the Royal African Company to import slaves directly from Africa to New York. “From the start of the English occupation the creation of a commercially profitable slave system became a joint project of both government and private interests. Unlike the Dutch West India Company which used slavery to implement colonial policy, the Royal African Company used the colony to implement slavery.” (Historian Edgar J. McManus) New York’s first slave market during the British period was established at Wall Street and the East River in 1709. In the early 1700’s there were 800 African men, women, and children in the city; about 15% of the total population. Local and state documents did not distinguish between free and enslaved Africans until 1756. Before then the term “slave” was used to describe all Africans and their decedents. They were all looked upon as valuable sources of labor.

The British enacted numerous laws that restricted where Africans could be employed and how they could be freed. Laws were passed to prevent free Africans from aiding runaway slaves. The New York “Slave Codes” grew so numerous that they are seen as a major cause of the 1712 slave revolt. In the revolt, enslaved Africans and natives gathered in an orchard on Maiden Lane with hatchets, guns, knives, and hoes and set out to burn and destroy property in the area. Nine whites were killed during the revolt. Twenty-one enslaved Africans were executed and six were reported to have committed suicide. After the revolt more laws were passed that prohibited Africans and natives from carrying weapons and entering military service. There were strict curfews and laws against gathering of more than two or three enslaved people. The revolt emphasized the growing fear that European New Yorkers had of the growing African population. At this time, Europeans in New York outnumbered people of African descent five to one, but the city contained the largest absolute number of enslaved Africans of any English colonial settlement except Charleston, South Carolina, and held the largest proportion of enslaved Africans of any northern settlement. By the first decade of the 1700’s, forty percent of New York’s households contained at least one enslaved African; again, the largest proportion of any northern settlement.


In 1711, New York was growing quickly, and the growing needs of the city were often supplied by slave labor. Nearly 1,000 out of about 6,400 New Yorkers were black, and at least 40 percent of the white households included a slave. In these homes, enslaved workers cooked, washed, sewed, hauled water, emptied the chamber pots, swept out the fireplaces and the chimneys, and cared for the children. Along the East River they built, loaded, and unloaded, the ships. They cleared the land uptown, and then planted and harvested the crops. And up and down the narrow streets they pedaled their master’s goods and even supplied the city’s first fast foods—fresh oysters and steaming hot corn on the cob. As the number of slaves imported into the city soared, barrel makers, butchers, carpenters, blacksmiths, and tin workers began to purchase young enslaved men in order to teach them their trades. Typically, when a slave owner ran out of work, they hired their slaves out at half the rate of free labor. Often the slaves themselves were sent out to find work. In a time when fear of a slave uprising was ever-present, the sight of so many enslaved men walking the streets looking to be hired caused alarm. Fearful white citizens began to complain. They demanded a market where slaves could be hired, bought, and sold. Finally, on December 13, 1711, the City Council passed a law “that all Negro and Indian slaves that are let out to hire…be hired at the Market house at the Wall Street Slip…” This market, known as the Meal Market (because grains were sold there), was located at the foot of Wall Street on the East River. It was the city’s first slave market.

The hidden history of slavery in New York calls myths of American morality into question
by Phyllis Eckhaus / January 6, 2006

Americans excel at ego-boosting myths of exceptionalism: It’s our ingenuity, energy and can-do attitude that explain our rise from frontier to world power. But what if slavery were the real secret of our success? We like to condemn slavery as an exotic evil perpetrated by plantation Southerners, but two new books and a museum exhibit provide nightmarish reminders that slavery was the norm in the early years of this country, and that up through the eve of the Civil War, Northern bankers, brokers and entrepreneurs were among slavery’s staunchest defenders. In Complicity, a team of Hartford Courant journalists investigates this history, producing 10 stories that explore how deeply the fortunes of New York and New England were tied to the slave trade. “Slavery in New York,” an exhibit at the New York Historical Society through March 5, reveals New York as a city substantially built by slaves. The companion book of the same name, elegantly designed and illustrated, anchors the exhibit in a series of scholarly essays. Together, these works echo and amplify each other, providing a kind of surround-sound opportunity for an anguished identity crisis: If our supposedly freedom-loving forebears were not “good guys,” what were they? And what are we?

From the get-go, Americans were profiteers, and plundering the New World was backbreaking work. Writing in 1645 to John Winthrop, governor of the Massachusetts Bay Colony, his brother-in-law Emanuel Downing complained, “I do not see how we can thrive until we get a stock of slaves sufficient to do all our business.” Further south, in New Amsterdam, slaves built Wall Street’s wall and cleared what became Harlem and Route 1. When a new shipload of slaves proved insufficiently hardy, Director General Peter Stuyvesant expressed his displeasure to the Dutch West India Company, insisting that the company supply the best slaves to Christian and company enterprises, while unloading the feeble on “Spaniards and unbelieving Jews.” For much of the 17th and 18th centuries, New York boasted the largest urban slave population in mainland North America. Slaves made up one-fifth the population. And white New Yorkers lived in terror of slave revolt. An alleged 1741 plot led to the jailing and torture of scores of slaves, 30 of whom were executed, 17 by burning at the stake. For slaves, the Revolutionary War was a liberating experience–but only if they fought for the British, who promised them freedom. Though George Washington sought to reclaim the colonists’ slaves, British General Guy Carleton oversaw the evacuation of more than 3,000 black Loyalists, who fled New York for Nova Scotia and other British outposts.

New York slowly and reluctantly abolished slavery; federal census figures showed slaves in the state until 1850. But the death of slavery in New York scarcely impeded the city’s business in the slave trade. In the peak years of 1859 and 1860, two slave ships bound for Africa left New York harbor every month. Although the trade was technically illegal, no one cared: A slave bought for $50 in Africa could be sold for $1,000 in Cuba, a profit margin so high that loss of slave life was easily absorbed. For every hundred slaves purchased in Africa, perhaps 48 survived the trip to the New World. By the end of the voyage, the ships that held the packed, shackled and naked human cargo were so filthy that it was cheaper to burn some vessels than decontaminate them. Law-abiding Northerners made money off slavery through the cotton trade. “King Cotton” was to antebellum America what oil is to the Middle East. Whole New England textile cities sprang up to manufacture cloth from cotton picked and processed by millions of slaves. In 1861, the United States produced more than 2 billion pounds of cotton, exporting much of it to Great Britain via New York. No wonder then that as the South began to talk secession, so too did New York Mayor Fernando Wood, who proposed that Manhattan become an independent island nation, its cotton trade intact.

How do we reconcile these facts with our mythology of the Civil War and our convenient conviction that the evils of slavery were contained within the South? Obviously, we can’t. Slavery was such a huge and gruesome enterprise, supported by so many, that it explodes inflated notions of American character. Instead, we might appropriately draw parallels between antebellum America and Nazi Germany. This is not to assert that ordinary Americans were “evil,” but rather that our insistent sorting of the world into “good guys” and “evildoers” distorts reality. Today, progressives are justly suspicious of the high-flown “freedom” rhetoric our government deploys to advance American empire. But we need always to be skeptical of reductive, righteous narratives. Far from promoting morality, such fictions allow us to hide our worst impulses from ourselves.

Clooney-backed satellite project to monitor volatile Sudan
by Pete Spotts / December 29, 2010

In what may be the most ambitious project of its kind, the United Nations and human rights advocates in the US are turning to satellite images and the Web to monitor the border between northern and southern Sudan, as the south prepares for a referendum on Jan. 9 that could split the country in two. The concern: If the referendum in southern Sudan supports independence for the oil-rich, largely Christian region, the country once again could dissolve into a brutal civil war. By combining on-the-ground reports with a nearly daily review of commercial-satellite images, the project’s participants say they hope to head off potential large-scale human rights abuses, should a conflict break out. “We want to let potential perpetrators of genocide and other war crimes know that we’re watching,” said actor George Clooney, a co-founder of Not on Our Watch, a human rights group funding the effort, in a statement. “It’s a lot harder to commit mass atrocities in the glare of the media spotlight.”

National intelligence services in the United States and for other major countries are widely acknowledged to have access to more-detailed images than remote-sensing companies can provide. But those images tend to remain classified and out of the public spotlight. The new effort announced Wednesday – the Satellite Sentinel Project – will post its images on a publicly available website, in hopes of mobilizing public opinion in ways that pressure governments to respond to any abuses the effort detects, participants say. The notion of using commercial-satellite images to document destruction of villages, forced migrations, and even inequities in government support for housing across ethnic or religious divides is relatively new. Five years ago, the MacArthur Foundation gave a grant to the American Association for the Advancement of Science to develop ways to help human rights groups monitor conditions in hard-to-access countries and regions. Since then, the science organization has worked on several smaller-scale projects with groups such as Amnesty International (AI), notes Lars Bromley, who spearheaded the effort for the AAAS and now heads similar efforts at the UN’s Operational Satellite Applications Program.

In 2007, the AAAS worked with AI on a project known as Eyes on Darfur, monitoring 12 villages. Over the duration of the project, he says, nine remained untouched, while the other three were affected by violence but not as badly as villages elsewhere. “Whether that was due to our project or not we can’t say,” Mr. Bromley acknowledges. “But it was a positive experience.” Indeed, gauging the effectiveness of a project like this can be difficult, acknowledges David Yanagizawa-Drott, an assistant professor of public policy at Harvard University’s Kennedy School of Government. Dr.Yanagizawa-Drott will be evaluating the Satellite Sentinel program’s results under the aegis of the Harvard Humanitarian Initiative, which also is contributing satellite-analysis expertise to the effort. “To address the big question – whether or not the existence of Satellite Sentinel prevents a genocide – is going to be very hard to show,” he says. Still, there are other tests that can address the project’s effect on public awareness and perhaps on public policy, he adds. One key difference between Satellite Sentinel and past, smaller scale projects is its attempt to prepare in advance and work with nearly “real time” images. Many of the early efforts involved comparing images whose before and after views are separated by a span of several years. With the Satellite Sentinel Project, analysts will have access to fresh images every 24 to 36 hours.

Not On Our Watch is providing $750,000 to get the effort going. Web giant Google and website builder Trellon are providing the Web interface and mapping information. Bromley’s office at the UN and researchers with Harvard’s Humanitarian Initiative will be analyzing the images. Not On Our Watch and a second human rights group, the Enough Project, are serving as clearinghouses for on-the-ground information coming in from Sudan – information that will help in interpreting the images. And the two groups will spearhead efforts to bring information the project garners to public attention. “Deterrence is our objective,” says John Pendergast, co-founder of the Enough Project. “We want to contribute to the prevention of war between North and South Sudan. If war does ignite, we want to hold accountable those responsible, and hopefully deter human rights crimes that would be committed in the context of war.”

by Ariel Zirulnick / January 6, 2011

What is South Sudan’s referendum about?
Sunday’s referendum is a vote on whether to make the semiautonomous region of South Sudan fully independent from the rest of the country. After decades of war between the Arab-dominated government in the north and southern rebels, a 2005 peace deal between laid out a plan for powersharing between the north and the south and also a provision for a significant degree of southern autonomy, culminating in Sunday’s referendum on whether the South wants to officially secede. On Sunday, South Sudanese are expected to vote for their homeland to become the world’s newest country.

Why is there going to be a referendum? Why not stay unified?
Fundamentally, the desire to separate comes from deep religious and ethnic divides between the North and South of Africa’s biggest country. Northern Sudan is mostly Arab and Muslim, while South Sudan is predominantly non-Arab with a mix between Christian and animist faiths. The tensions boiled over into a brutal two-decade civil war that began in the 1980s and officially ended with the Comprehensive Peace Agreement in 2005. There is still great enmity between North and South and distrust over how oil revenues from the oil-rich south are being split.

Who votes in the referendum?
Only South Sudanese who registered during the registration period can vote in the referendum. Most South Sudanese live in the south, but some remain in northern Sudan and many live in other countries as refugees. Registration took place in the following countries: Australia, Canada, Egypt, Ethiopia, Kenya, Uganda, the UK, and the US. South Sudanese living in those countries may also vote. In the US, there are polling places open from Jan. 9-15 in Seattle, Dallas, Chicago, Nashville, and Boston.

Is this likely to end peacefully?
Journalists, politicians, and international observers were making dire predictions for the outcome of the referendum for a long time, but opinions have been increasingly optimistic lately. It seems more likely now that the south will be allowed to secede if it votes in favor of independence (an outcome that is highly likely). However, a vote also slated for Jan. 9 in oil-rich the border region of Abyei on whether it would join North or South Sudan (if South Sudan votes for independence) has been postponed. The region seemed too unstable for such a vote to happen safely and peacefully. Another point of contention is oil. The vast majority of Sudan’s oil resources are located in South Sudan. The oil revenues are supposed to be split 50-50 between the north and the south, but southern Sudanese and transparency watchdog groups have long complained the figures are not transparent and that northern officials may be taking more than its fair share. Oil export has been a boon for northern Sudan, and it is unlikely the government will cede control of South Sudan’s oil resources easily.

How long will it take to know the results?
The referendum will begin on Jan. 9 and voting will remain open until Jan. 15. A preliminary tally at the county level will happen once the polls close on Jan. 15. Those tallies will be sent to the South Sudan Referendum Commission offices in the South Sudanese capital of Juba and the Sudan’s capital, Khartoum. Final preliminary results from South Sudan, northern Sudan, and outside the country are estimated to be ready by Feb. 1. If the final results are not appealed, they are expected to be made official by Feb. 6.

How can we trust the results?
The South Sudan Referendum Commission will be tallying ballots. The SSRC is a body independent of both the South Sudanese or northern Sudanese governments.

Will Using ‘Live’ Satellite Imagery to Prevent War in the Sudan Actually Work?
by Patrick Meier / December 30, 2010

The Satellite Sentinel Project has hired private satellites to monitor troop movements around the oil-rich region of Abyei during the upcoming Sudanese referendum and prevent war. The images and analysis will be made public on the Project’s website. George Clooney, who catalyzed this joint initiative between Google, UNOSAT, the Enough Project, Trellon and my colleagues at the Harvard Humanitarian Initiative (HHI), calls this the anti-genocide paparazzi: “We want them to enjoy the level of celebrity attention that I usually get. If you know your actions are going to be covered, you tend to behave much differently than when you operate in a vacuum.”

The group hopes that they can deter war crimes by observing troop buildups and troop movements in advance. If successful, the project would accomplish an idea first proposed more than half-a-century ago  by US President Dwight Eisenhower during a US-Soviet Summit in Paris at the height of the Cold War. Eisenhower announced his plan to “submit to the United Nations a proposal for the creation of a United Nations aerial surveillance to detect preparations for attack.” Interestingly, Eisenhower had crafted this idea five years earlier as part of his Open Skies Proposal, which actually became a treaty in 2002: “The Treaty establishes a regime of unarmed aerial observation flights over the entire territory of its participants. The Treaty is designed to enhance mutual understanding and confidence by giving all participants, regardless of size, a direct role in gathering information about military forces and activities of concern to them. Open Skies is one of the most wide-ranging international efforts to date to promote openness and transparency of military forces and activities.” If you want to find out more about Eisenhower’s efforts, please see my blog post on the subject here.

So there is some precedence for what Clooney is trying to pull off. But how is the Sentinel project likely to fare as a non-state effort? Looking at other non-state actors who have already operationalized Eisenhower’s ideas may provide some insights. Take Amnesty International’s “Eyes on Darfur” initiative, which “leverages the power of high- resolution satellite imagery to provide unim- peachable evidence of the atrocities being committed in Darfur–enabling action by private citizens, policy makers and international courts.”

According to Amnesty, the project “broke new ground in protecting human rights by allowing people around the world to literally ‘watch over’ and protect twelve intact, but highly vulnerable, villages using commercially available satellite imagery.” The imagery also enabled Amnesty to capture the movement of Janjaweed forces. Amnesty claims that their project has had a deterrence effect. Apparently, the villages monitored by the project have not been attacked while neighboring ones have. That said, at least two of the monitored villages were removed from the site after reported attacks.

Still Amnesty argues that there have been notable changes in decisions made by the Bashir government since “Eyes on Darfur” went live. They also note that the government of Chad cited their as one of the reasons they accepted UN peacekeepers along their border. In my blog post on Eisenhower’s UN surveillance speech I asked whether the UN would ever be allowed to monitor and detect preparations for attack using satellite imagery. I now have my answer given that UNOSAT is involved in the Sentinel Project which plans to “deter the resumption of war between North and South Sudan” by providing an “early warning system to deter mass atrocities by focusing world attention and generating rapid responses on human rights and human security concerns” (Sentinel). But will these efforts really create an effective deterrence-based “Global Panopticon”? French philosopher Michel Foucault has famously written on the role of surveillance as an instrument of power. “He cites the example of Jeremy Bentham’s ‘Panopticon,’ an architectural model for a prison enabling a single guard, located in a central tower, to watch all of the inmates in their cells.  The ‘major effect of the Panopticon,’ writes Foucault, is ‘to induce in the inmate a state of conscious and permanent visibility that assures the automatic functioning of power.’”

According to Foucault, the Panopticon renders power both “visible and unverifiable”: Visible: the inmate will constantly have before his eyes the tall outline of the central tower from which he is being spied upon. Unverifiable: the inmate must never know whether he is being looked at at any one moment; but he must be sure that he may always be so. But potential perpetrators of the violence in the Sudan do not actually see the  outline of the satellites flying overhead. They are not being directly harassed by high-powered “cameras” stuck into their faces by the anti-genocide paparazzi. So the power is not directly visible in the traditional sense. But who exactly is the inmate in or connected to Abyei in the first place? There are multiple groups in the area with different agendas that don’t necessarily tie back to the Sudanese government in Khartoum. The Arab Misseriya tribe has thus far remained north during this dry season to avert confrontation with the Ngok Dinka in the Southern part of Abyei. These nomadic tribes typically carry Kalashnikovs to guard their cattle. So distinguishing these nomads from armed groups prepared to raid and burn down villages is a challenge especially when dealing with satellite imagery. Using UAV’s may be more useful and cheaper. (Note that monitoring the location and movement of cattle could be insightful because cattle issues are political in the area).

If armed groups who intend to burn down villages are the intended inmates, do they even know or care about the Satellite Sentinel Project? The ICC has already struggled to connect the chain of command back to the Sudanese government. Besides, the expected turn-around time to develop the satellite imagery is between eight to twenty-four hours. Getting armed men on a truck and raiding a village or two doesn’t take more than a few hours. So the crimes may already have been committed by the time the pictures come in. And if more heavy military machinery like tanks are rolled in, well, one doesn’t need satellite imagery to detect those. As scholars of the panopticon have noted, the successful use of surveillance has to be coupled with the threat of punishment for deviant acts. So putting aside the issue of who the intended inmates are, the question for the Sentinel Project is whether threats of punishment are perceived by inmates as sufficiently real enough for the deterrence to work. In international relations theory, “deterrence is a strategy by which governments threaten an immense retaliation if attacked, such that aggressors are deterred if they do not wish to suffer great damage as a result of an aggressive action.”

This means that official state actors need to step up and publicly pledge to carry out the necessary punishment if the satellite imagery collected by Sentinel provides evidence of wrong-doing. The ICC should make it crystal clear to all inmates (whoever they are) that evidence from the satellite imagery will be used for prosecution (and that they should care). There also need to be armed guards in  “the tower” who are proximate enough to be deployed and have the political will to use force if necessary. Or will the anti-genocide paparazzi’s many eyes be sufficient to keep the peace? It’s worth remembering that the Hollywood paparazzi haven’t exactly turned movie stars into alter boys or girls. But then again, they’d probably get away with a whole lot more without the paparazzi.

US spy satellites have no doubt monitored conflict-prone areas in the past but this  hasn’t necessarily deterred major crimes against humanity as far as I know. Of course, the imagery collected has remained classified, which means the general public hasn’t been able to lobby their governments and the international community to act based on this information and shared awareness. The Sentinel Project’s open source approach changes this calculus. It may not deter the actual perpetrators, but the shared awareness created thanks to the open data will make it more difficult for those who can prevent the violence to look the other way. So the Satellite Sentinel Project may be more about keeping our own governments accountable to the Responsibility to Protect (R2P) than deterring actors in the Sudan from committing further crimes. How will we know if Clooney succeeds? I’m not quite sure. But I do know that the Sentinel Project is a step in the right direction. More evidence is always more compelling than less evidence. And more public evidence is even better. I have no doubt therefore that Eisenhower would back this Open Skies project.

Omar al-Bashir visits south Sudan ahead of independence vote
by Xan Rice / 4 January 2011

In his last visit to southern Sudan before Sunday’s independence referendum, President Omar al-Bashir promised voters that he would “congratulate and celebrate with you” should they choose secession. Amid intense security, Bashir was warmly welcomed today in the southern capital, Juba, by its president, Salva Kiir. The Khartoum leader donned a traditional blue robe over his suit as a mark of respect. His convoy left the airport, passing hundreds of people holding southern Sudan flags and waving placards featuring an outline of an open hand – the symbol that will signify separation on the ballot paper. The message was surprisingly polite – Bashir is despised by many here – but it was also clear: “Bye bye”. At Kiir’s presidential palace, Bashir made one final plea to southern voters to choose unity, but appeared resigned to an alternative outcome, which he pledged to respect. “Imposing unity by force doesn’t work,” he said. “We want unity between the north and the south but this doesn’t mean opposing the desire of the southern citizen.”

An overwhelming vote for secession is a near-certainty, splitting Africa’s largest country in two to create the world’s newest state. The referendum is the culmination of the comprehensive peace agreement (CPA), signed in 2005 between Bashir and John Garang, the late leader of the rebel Southern People’s Liberation Army, which ended 22 years of war. Given that conflict, along with earlier wars and decades of marginalisation by the Arab government in Khartoum, there was always little chance that the south would choose unity after the six-year interim period. During that time the region has governed itself, and any lingering doubts about choosing independence that may have existed have disappeared. “We are gone,” said Nhial Bol, editor of the Citizen newspaper, in Juba. “Once a dog is let out for a night in the market it will not return home.” But there have always been questions over whether Bashir would allow southern Sudan to depart peacefully, especially given that the south holds about three-quarters of the country’s oil reserves. Since the CPA his government has obstructed or delayed implementation of key parts of the agreement.

While for many months Juba residents have been counting down the days, hours and minutes to the vote with the help of a huge clock in the centre of the city’s main roundabout, excitement has been tempered with real fears that the referendum would be delayed, raising the threat of violence. But the poll is now destined to go-ahead as scheduled, with voting materials delivered to all the southern states. Justice Chan Reec Madut, deputy chairman of the Southern Sudan Referendum Commission, declared yesterday that the body was “100% prepared for the great day”, while the information minister, Barnaba Marial Benjamin, said there was little chance of trouble. “If you’re in Ivory Coast, run away. If you work for WikiLeaks, run way. But if you are here, there is no need to run,” he told reporters.

Southerners’ confidence in the process has been boosted by Bashir’s recent statements when, for the first time, he started publicly acknowledging Sudan might split. He has even pledged to support the new country. In Juba today Bashir reiterated that vow, offering “anything you need” from Khartoum. “We will come and congratulate and celebrate with you … we will not hold a mourning tent,” he said. “We will be happy to achieve the real peace and final peace for all citizens in the north and the south.” While meeting ministers from the southern government, Bashir discussed the problems in Abyei, a border area whose separate referendum this Sunday was postponed owing to disagreements over voter eligibility. He also asked the ministers not to provide any support for rebel groups in the western Darfur region, which remains volatile. With Juba in a state of lockdown – southern officials were terrified that something might happen to Bashir, threatening the vote. But the president departed in the early afternoon for Khartoum, where he faces a tricky future. Already under pressure owing to his arrest warrant from international criminal court over alleged war crimes in Darfur, he is also blamed by many in the north for the imminent breakup of Sudan. His political foes aim to take advantage, with Bashir’s former mentor and ally, Hassan al-Turabi, saying yesterday that opposition groups were working on peaceful strategies “to overthrow the regime right after the results of the referendum are announced”.

Independence day
Registrars have recorded 3,930,816 southern Sudanese eligible to partake in the referendum, 51% of them women. Voting centres will also be open to southern Sudanese in the north of Sudan, and in eight other countries, including the UK, the US, Canada and Australia. Voting will take place over seven days, starting on Sunday, and will be observed by monitors from numerous states and regions, including the US, the EU and China. Official results are expected within 30 days of polls closing. For the verdict to be legitimate, 60% of registered voters must have cast their ballots. If not, the referendum will have to be rerun within 60 days of the results announcement. A separate ballot over the future of Abyei, an oil-producing region on the north border, was also supposed to have taken place this weekend, with residents choosing whether to join the north or the south. But the Khartoum government’s insistence that Arab nomads from the Misseriya tribe be allowed to vote has caused it to be postponed.

Google: ‘By no means should Google Maps be used as a reference to decide military actions between two countries.’

Current incorrect border in Google Earth, showing the S-shaped river course.
Nicaragua Raids Costa Rica, Blames Google Maps
by Matt McGee / Nov 4, 2010

An error on Google Maps has caused an international conflict in Central America. A Nicaraguan military commander, relying on Google Maps, moved troops into an area near San Juan Lake along the border between his country and Costa Rica. The troops are accused of setting up camp there, taking down a Costa Rican flag and raising the Nicaraguan flag, doing work to clean up a nearby river, and dumping the sediment in Costa Rican territory. La Nacion — the largest newspaper in Costa Rica — says the Nicaraguan commander, Eden Pastora, used Google Maps to “justify” the incursion even though the official maps used by both countries indicate the territory belongs to Costa Rica. The paper points out that Bing Maps shows the correct and officially recognized border. A Google spokesperson in Central America told La Nacion that the company doesn’t know the source of the maps error. Earlier this summer, Google announced that it made “significant improvements to our borders for over 60 countries and regions.” The Cambodian government has previously accused Google of being “radically misleading” in how it shows the border between it and Thailand. Meanwhile, tension is rising in Costa Rica — a country without a military. Costa Rican President Laura Chinchilla went on national TV last night and asked citizens to “be calm and firm, amid the outrage that these events provoke within us.”

Postscript: Our wording above, which implies that Pastora looked at Google Maps before moving troops into the region, may be incorrect. From reading additional news reports and speaking with journalists from the Tico Times, it sounds likely that the troops were already in the area before Google Maps was used to review the disputed border.

Map provided by Costa Rica to the ICJ


Costa Rica on Saturday stepped up pressure on international mediators to engage in its territory dispute with Nicaragua, after Google Maps was cited in an incident that saw the neighboring countries dispatch forces to their joint border. The Internet search giant joined the fray after a Nicaraguan commander cited Google’s version of the border map in an interview with Costa Rican newspaper La Nacion to justify a raid on a disputed border area. The area is hotly disputed by the two neighbors, and Costa Rica has asked the Organization of American States (OAS) to investigate the alleged violations of its territory. OAS Secretary General Jose Manuel Insulza is touring both countries in a bid to mediate the dispute. On Saturday, Costa Rican President Laura Chinchilla said she was prepared to take the dispute to the UN Security Council if the OAS cannot find a solution. “Costa Rica is seeing its dignity smeared and there is a sense of great national urgency” to resolve this problem, Chinchilla said after meeting Insulza. A discussion with US State Department officials led Google to conclude that “there was indeed an error in the compilation of the source data, by up to 2.7 kilometers (1.7 miles),” for its map of the region, the company said Friday. Google geopolicy analyst Charlie Hale said in a Google blogpost that the State Department provided a corrected version and “we are now working to update our maps.”

The error lies in Google’s depiction of the border in part of the Caribbean coast, near the San Juan River, the center of the dispute between San Jose and Managua that arose over Nicaragua’s dredging of a river separating the two countries. Hale said Google’s map of the area will be corrected to follow the demarcation laid out in an 1897 arbitration award of a previous border treaty. “The corrected version will follow the east bank of the San Juan River going northward, nearly to the Caribbean. It will then turn eastward and follow the southern shoreline of a large lagoon, Laguna los Portillos,” he explained. The Nicaraguan government demanded that Google reject Costa Rica’s request to change the depiction of the border, which it called “correct.” “I officially request that (the border marking) not be modified,” Foreign Minister Samuel Santos asked Google representative Jeffrey Hardy. Hale noted that cartography is a “complex undertaking,” borders constantly change and “there are inevitably going to be errors” in the data. Costa Rica and Nicaragua have clashed since the 19th century over navigation rights for the San Juan River, which runs along half the frontier between the two countries. Nicaragua has denied sending troops over the border, as claimed by Costa Rica, which says Nicaraguan soldiers have crossed the waterway, pitched tents on a disputed island and raised their country’s flag there. On Tuesday, Costa Rica, which does not have an army, dispatched fresh security forces to the border to bolster 150 agents sent earlier to the region, the scene of increasingly heated cross-border tensions since October 18.

Map provided by Nicaragua to the ICJ

Nicaragua Asks Google NOT To Change Its Map On Border With Costa Rica

Nicaragua is asking the internet giant Google not to change its maps with respect Isla Calero while it continues its border dispute with Costa Rica and the dredging of the San Juan river. The request came from Nicaragua’s foreign minister, Samuel Santos, in a letter sent to Jeffrey Hardy at Google, a copy of which was made available to the press. The Nicaraguan request is based on arguments made earlier this week by Eden Pastora “commander cero”, in charge of the dredging operations, relying on Google Maps to identify the border, resulting in an international dispute that is currently before the Organization of American States (OAS).

In his letter, Foreign Minister Santos confirms the request to Google by the executive director of the Nicaraguan Institute of Territorial Studies (INET), Alejandro Rodriguez, in charge of the official maps of Nicaragua, not to accept an alleged request from Costa Rica to change the border between both countries in their satellite mapping service. “This letter is to confirm and reiterate the official request of Dr. Rodriguez made on behalf of Ineter to not accept the request that Costa Rica has to do, or can do to amend the line of the border with Nicaragua that appears, and has been popping up on Google maps,” noted Foreign Minister Santos in the letter.

Map attached to the Sept. 30, 1897 Arbitration Award

Regarding the boundary between Costa Rica and Nicaragua
Friday, November 5, 2010 at 7:52 PM

Update (11/8/10): For those interested in reading more about the history of this dispute, consider checking out Stefan Geens’ thorough post over at Ogle Earth [most image on this page were found here too].

Yesterday we became aware of a dispute that referenced the border between Costa Rica and Nicaragua as depicted on Google Maps. This morning, after a discussion with the data supplier for this particular border (the U.S. Department of State), we determined that there was indeed an error in the compilation of the source data, by up to 2.7 kilometers. The U.S. Department of State has provided a corrected version and we are now working to update our maps. Unlike our current depiction, the corrected version will follow the east bank of the San Juan River going northward, nearly to the Caribbean. It will then turn eastward and follow the southern shoreline of a large lagoon, Laguna los Portillos. This depiction follows the demarcation laid out in the First Award of Arbitration of 1897, which affirmed the Cañas-Jerez Treaty of 1858. It is our goal to provide the most accurate, up-to-date maps possible. Maps are created using a variety of data sources, and there are inevitably going to be errors in that data. We work hard to correct any errors as soon as we discover them. Given the complexity of the issue, I thought that I’d take this opportunity to provide some additional historical context.

The dispute in this area goes back to at least the mid-19th century, and both the International Court of Justice and the United Nations have weighed in. The dispute mainly centers around control of the mouth of the San Juan River, and was recently reignited because of dredging activity in this location. In 1888, U.S. President Grover Cleveland was called upon by Nicaragua and Costa Rica to arbitrate the dispute. That year, the New York Times published President Cleveland’s decision. The 1888 Arbitration upheld the 1858 treaty and its terms.

Then, in 1897, Cleveland sent Edward P. Alexander to do a more detailed Arbitration Award for this region. Alexander went into great detail on the San Juan river boundary and drew the map depicted above. Once our updates go live in Google Earth and Maps we will be depicting the border according to the most recent and definitive records available. But as we know, cartography is a complex undertaking, and borders are always changing. We remain committed to updating our maps as needed.

Cambodia blasts Google map of disputed Thai border
by Prak Chan Thul & Martin Petty / 2.5.2010

Cambodia has hit out at Google over what it called a “radically misleading” map of the disputed Thai-Cambodia border, accusing the world’s biggest search engine of being “professionally irresponsible”. Cambodia, which is embroiled in a bitter diplomatic row with Thailand over the demarcation of the frontier, said the Google Earth map was “devoid of truth and reality” and called for its immediate removal because it was not internationally recognized. Cambodia made the complaint in a letter issued a day ahead of the first-ever visit to the border region by its outspoken prime minister, Hun Sen, a move likely to raise tension between the historic foes. “(The map) is devoid of truth and reality, and professionally irresponsible, if not pretentious,” Svay Sitha, secretary of state of the Cambodia’s Council of Ministers, wrote in the letter seen by Reuters on Friday. “We therefore request that you withdraw the already disseminated, very wrong and not internationally recognized map and replace it,” he said. Both countries have a heavy military presence along the border, where deadly clashes have occurred in the past three years.

At the centre of the row is the 11th century Preah Vihear temple, ownership of which was awarded to Cambodia in a 1962 international court ruling. However, many Thais have never fully accepted the decision and the temple has been used by both countries to stoke nationalist fervor. Thailand last year withdrew its pledge of support for Cambodia to list Preah Vihear as a UNESCO World Heritage site, arguing that jurisdiction of land around the temple had never been settled. The move angered Hun Sen, who has since formed a provocative alliance with exiled Thai premier Thaksin Shinawatra, giving him a base close to home in his fight to bring down the Thai government. Hun Sen is accused by Bangkok of colluding with the billionaire, offering him a home and a job as an economic adviser, to escalate a five-year political crisis in Thailand.

Disputed Territory? Google Maps Localizes Borders Based on Local Laws / 12.1.2009

Did you know that there are countries out there that have a dispute on where their border begins and ends? Yea, you know that. But did you know that Google will show different borders depending on how and where you access Google Maps?

Google Maps Help thread has a post from Brian from the Google Maps team who explains how this works. He said: It is Google’s standard practice to show all disputed regions around the world on its global properties, such as on It has been Google’s consistent and global policy to depict disputed regions as per the claims made by the disputing/claiming nations on its global properties. This does not in any way endorse or affirm the position taken by any side but merely provides complete information on the prevailing geo-political situation to our users of global properties in a dispassionate and accurate manner. Products that have been localized to the local domain of a region such as may depict that country’s position as per the mandate of their local laws

For example, compare Google India Maps to Google Maps and you will see the border lines look a bit different. Here are screen captures:

Google Maps India, The Border:
Google Maps India Border

Google Maps US, The Border:
Google Maps in US India Border

Notice the dotted lines in the US map, how it doesn’t seem sure.

Improving the quality of borders in Google Earth and Maps
by Charlie Hale, Google Geo Policy Analyst / July 20, 2010

“At Google, we are constantly making improvements to all of our products, from Search to Gmail, Blogger to Chrome. When it comes to products like Google Earth and Google Maps, we work hard to improve our cartography and depict geopolitical features as accurately as possible. Last year, we discussed the ways we strive towards that accuracy, and today we are happy to announce some significant improvements to our borders for over 60 countries and regions (the updates are live in Maps and are coming to Google Earth shortly). To provide some background on this update, we thought we would take the opportunity to talk a bit more about our approach to mapping geopolitical features like borders.

Making Google’s mapping tools as accurate as possible is a complex process, especially when a map’s accuracy has both quantitative and qualitative aspects. We receive spatial data of all kinds – imagery, boundaries, place names, etc. – from a variety of sources worldwide, and we review them carefully before integrating them into the best representation of a given location in Google Earth and Maps. In the case of geopolitical features on our maps, the depiction of borders is something upon which local authorities, governments and internationally recognized bodies often disagree. Our goal is to provide the most legible and accurate maps we can given the information available in these oft-changing areas of geopolitical disagreement. Like most maps, ours include symbology that makes borders and other geopolitical features clearer to users. For example, we employ various boundary styles in Google Earth and Maps to clarify the current status of boundary lines, viewable here in the Help Center.

Similar to satellite imagery, boundary data is available in varying levels of resolution; the higher the resolution, the better the boundaries will follow specific geographic features, such as rivers. While we always strive to display the on-the-ground reality of a boundary’s position, in practice some boundary lines are not as accurate as we would like them to be due to the available resolution of our boundary data. With these improvements, many borders will now more closely follow natural boundaries such as mountains and rivers. The pictures below show a portion of the border between Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan, which follows the Pamir Mountain Range, near the Zervashan River. As you’ll see, the new data follows the mountain ridgeline quite closely, even when zoomed in, which is a great improvement in positional accuracy.



In some areas we have improved our qualitative accuracy by changing the symbology of the boundary lines to reflect the updated status of a treaty or agreement based on political changes, new agreements or negotiations. This portion of the border between Ethiopia and Somalia changed from solid (yellow in Google Earth) – meaning “international” – to dashed (red in Google Earth) – meaning “disputed” – to reflect the ground-based reality that the two countries maintain an ongoing dispute in the Ogaden region.



In other cases our previous boundaries lacked key details and the new data provides more information. For example, we now show a disputed island near the borders of Brazil, Uruguay and Argentina:



There are many other examples of both quantitative and qualitative changes we’ve made to improve our maps and we invite you to explore them. We will certainly continue to update and improve upon the borders and other geopolitical features in Google Earth and Maps, keeping in mind that the dynamic nature of such areas presents a significant cartographic challenge. Mapping is a field where there is never total agreement, but we try to do our best and will continue to develop new ways to meet these challenges. As always, we are happy to hear from our users with any questions and concerns about our approach to these complex issues.”




“A petrodollar is a dollar earned by selling petroleum. Petrodollars flow into members of the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) at a steady rate, and flow out at an almost equally steady rate as these countries invest petrodollars overseas. In fact, often money makes a round trip, flowing from a country like the United States to an OPEC member which in turn reinvests the funds in the United States. Prices for oil sales are generally given in United States Dollars (USD). In 1973, economist Ibrahim Oweiss wanted to come up with a term to describe the large volumes of currency changing hands as a result of oil sales. He coined the portmanteau “petrodollar,” referring to “petroleum” and the United States Dollar. People also use the term “oil money” or “petrocurrency” to describe petrodollars, although “petrocurrency” is also sometimes confusingly used to refer to the currency used by an oil producing country.

At various points in history, OPEC members have literally made more petrodollars than they knew what to do with. Rising oil prices resulted in such a flood of currency that these countries were unable to invest it on internal development projects. As a result, many nations started engaging in a practice known as petrodollar recycling, in which they promptly reinvest the currency in banks in regions like Europe and North America. Changes in oil prices can lead to ebbs and flows in the movement of the petrodollar and in the investment funds available to OPEC members. Some of these nations rely heavily on income from oil sales and are placed at a disadvantage when prices are depressed. In regions such as Dubai, the profound impact of petroleum sales on regional economies can be seen firsthand in the form of extravagant and rapid development reflecting the increasing wealth of some members of the population.

While the bulk of oil sales are conducted in USD and prices are quoted in USD, some countries have opted to sell in other currencies. The dominance of the USD in global commerce is credited in part to the petrodollar, and some theorists have suggested that changing economic trends may result in petrodollar warfare, in which there will be a push to denominate oil sales in other currencies. If, for example, the world switched to the petroeuro, based on the currency of the European Union, the United States Dollar might weaken as a result.”

Investment Management industry, 2003 — Present (7 years )
“I created and ran a privately-held blackbox hedge fund based off of a proprietary, in-house FIX protocol implementation. We cribbed custom algorithms from bioinformatics, were the first to apply autocorrelation attacks to the market, and first to apply wavelets to price stochastics. As part of the management of this fund, we created our own international shipping arm to ease exploitation of petrodollar/petroeuro arbitrage. The chief chunks of our fund are global macro, managed futures and short bias, but you name it– options, swaps, rate agreements, bonds– we trade it in the course of a given week.”

Petrodollar warfare: Dollars, Euros and the upcoming Iranian oil bourse
by William R. Clark / August 05 2005

“This notion that the United States is getting ready to attack Iran is simply ridiculous…Having said that, all options are on the table.” — President George W. Bush, February 2005

Contemporary warfare has traditionally involved underlying conflicts regarding economics and resources. Today these intertwined conflicts also involve international currencies, and thus increased complexity. Current geopolitical tensions between the United States and Iran extend beyond the publicly stated concerns regarding Iran’s nuclear intentions, and likely include a proposed Iranian “petroeuro” system for oil trade. Similar to the Iraq war, military operations against Iran relate to the macroeconomics of ‘petrodollar recycling’ and the unpublicized but real challenge to U.S. dollar supremacy from the euro as an alternative oil transaction currency.

It is now obvious the invasion of Iraq had less to do with any threat from Saddam’s long-gone WMD program and certainly less to do to do with fighting International terrorism than it has to do with gaining strategic control over Iraq’s hydrocarbon reserves and in doing so maintain the U.S. dollar as the monopoly currency for the critical international oil market. Throughout 2004 information provided by former administration insiders revealed the Bush/Cheney administration entered into office with the intention of toppling Saddam.[1][2] Candidly stated, ‘Operation Iraqi Freedom’ was a war designed to install a pro-U.S. government in Iraq, establish multiple U.S military bases before the onset of global Peak Oil, and to reconvert Iraq back to petrodollars while hoping to thwart further OPEC momentum towards the euro as an alternative oil transaction currency ( i.e. “petroeuro”).[3] However, subsequent geopolitical events have exposed neoconservative strategy as fundamentally flawed, with Iran moving towards a petroeuro system for international oil trades, while Russia evaluates this option with the European Union.

In 2003 the global community witnessed a combination of petrodollar warfare and oil depletion warfare. The majority of the world’s governments – especially the E.U., Russia and China – were not amused – and neither are the U.S. soldiers who are currently stationed inside a hostile Iraq. In 2002 I wrote an award-winning online essay that asserted Saddam Hussein sealed his fate when he announced on September 2000 that Iraq was no longer going to accept dollars for oil being sold under the UN’s Oil-for-Food program, and decided to switch to the euro as Iraq’s oil export currency.[4] Indeed, my original pre-war hypothesis was validated in a Financial Times article dated June 5, 2003, which confirmed Iraqi oil sales returning to the international markets were once again denominated in U.S. dollars – not euros.

The tender, for which bids are due by June 10, switches the transaction back to dollars — the international currency of oil sales – despite the greenback’s recent fall in value. Saddam Hussein in 2000 insisted Iraq’s oil be sold for euros, a political move, but one that improved Iraq’s recent earnings thanks to the rise in the value of the euro against the dollar. [5]

The Bush administration implemented this currency transition despite the adverse impact on profits from Iraqi’s export oil sales.[6] (In mid-2003 the euro was valued approx. 13% higher than the dollar, and thus significantly impacted the ability of future oil proceeds to rebuild Iraq’s infrastructure). Not surprisingly, this detail has never been mentioned in the five U.S. major media conglomerates who control 90% of information flow in the U.S., but confirmation of this vital fact provides insight into one of the crucial – yet overlooked – rationales for 2003 the Iraq war.

Concerning Iran, recent articles have revealed active Pentagon planning for operations against its suspected nuclear facilities. While the publicly stated reasons for any such overt action will be premised as a consequence of Iran’s nuclear ambitions, there are again unspoken macroeconomic drivers underlying the second stage of petrodollar warfare – Iran’s upcoming oil bourse. (The word bourse refers to a stock exchange for securities trading, and is derived from the French stock exchange in Paris, the Federation Internationale des Bourses de Valeurs.)

In essence, Iran is about to commit a far greater “offense” than Saddam Hussein’s conversion to the euro for Iraq’s oil exports in the fall of 2000. Beginning in March 2006, the Tehran government has plans to begin competing with New York’s NYMEX and London’s IPE with respect to international oil trades – using a euro-based international oil-trading mechanism.[7] The proposed Iranian oil bourse signifies that without some sort of US intervention, the euro is going to establish a firm foothold in the international oil trade. Given U.S. debt levels and the stated neoconservative project of U.S. global domination, Tehran’s objective constitutes an obvious encroachment on dollar supremacy in the crucial international oil market.

From the autumn of 2004 through August 2005, numerous leaks by concerned Pentagon employees have revealed that the neoconservatives in Washington are quietly – but actively – planning for a possible attack against Iran. In September 2004 Newsweek reported:

Deep in the Pentagon, admirals and generals are updating plans for possible U.S. military action in Syria and Iran. The Defense Department unit responsible for military planning for the two troublesome countries is “busier than ever,” an administration official says. Some Bush advisers characterize the work as merely an effort to revise routine plans the Pentagon maintains for all contingencies in light of the Iraq war. More skittish bureaucrats say the updates are accompanied by a revived campaign by administration conservatives and neocons for more hard-line U.S. policies toward the countries…’

…administration hawks are pinning their hopes on regime change in Tehran – by covert means, preferably, but by force of arms if necessary. Papers on the idea have circulated inside the administration, mostly labeled “draft” or “working draft” to evade congressional subpoena powers and the Freedom of Information Act. Informed sources say the memos echo the administration’s abortive Iraq strategy: oust the existing regime, swiftly install a pro-U.S. government in its place (extracting the new regime’s promise to renounce any nuclear ambitions) and get out. This daredevil scheme horrifies U.S. military leaders, and there’s no evidence that it has won any backers at the cabinet level. [8]

Indeed, there are good reasons for U.S. military commanders to be ‘horrified’ at the prospects of attacking Iran. In the December 2004 issue of the Atlantic Monthly, James Fallows reported that numerous high-level war-gaming sessions had recently been completed by Sam Gardiner, a retired Air Force colonel who has run war games at the National War College for the past two decades.[9] Col. Gardiner summarized the outcome of these war games with this statement, “After all this effort, I am left with two simple sentences for policymakers: You have no military solution for the issues of Iran. And you have to make diplomacy work.” Despite Col. Gardiner’s warnings, yet another story appeared in early 2005 that reiterated this administration’s intentions towards Iran. Investigative reporter Seymour Hersh’s article in The New Yorker included interviews with various high-level U.S. intelligence sources. Hersh wrote:

In my interviews [with former high-level intelligence officials], I was repeatedly told that the next strategic target was Iran. Everyone is saying, ‘You can’t be serious about targeting Iran. Look at Iraq,’ the former [CIA] intelligence official told me. But the [Bush administration officials] say, ‘We’ve got some lessons learned – not militarily, but how we did it politically. We’re not going to rely on agency pissants.’ No loose ends, and that’s why the C.I.A. is out of there. [10]

The most recent, and by far the most troubling, was an article in The American Conservative by intelligence analyst Philip Giraldi. His article, “In Case of Emergency, Nuke Iran,” suggested the resurrection of active U.S. military planning against Iran – but with the shocking disclosure that in the event of another 9/11-type terrorist attack on U.S. soil, Vice President Dick Cheney’s office wants the Pentagon to be prepared to launch a potential tactical nuclear attack on Iran – even if the Iranian government was not involved with any such terrorist attack against the U.S.:

The Pentagon, acting under instructions from Vice President Dick Cheney’s office, has tasked the United States Strategic Command (STRATCOM) with drawing up a contingency plan to be employed in response to another 9/11-type terrorist attack on the United States. The plan includes a large-scale air assault on Iran employing both conventional and tactical nuclear weapons. Within Iran there are more than 450 major strategic targets, including numerous suspected nuclear-weapons-program development sites. Many of the targets are hardened or are deep underground and could not be taken out by conventional weapons, hence the nuclear option. As in the case of Iraq, the response is not conditional on Iran actually being involved in the act of terrorism directed against the United States. Several senior Air Force officers involved in the planning are reportedly appalled at the implications of what they are doing – that Iran is being set up for an unprovoked nuclear attack – but no one is prepared to damage his career by posing any objections. [11]

Why would the Vice President instruct the U.S. military to prepare plans for what could likely be an unprovoked nuclear attack against Iran? Setting aside the grave moral implications for a moment, it is remarkable to note that during the same week this “nuke Iran” article appeared, the Washington Post reported that the most recent National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) of Iran’s nuclear program revealed that, “Iran is about a decade away from manufacturing the key ingredient for a nuclear weapon, roughly doubling the previous estimate of five years.”[12] This article carefully noted this assessment was a “consensus among U.S. intelligence agencies, [and in] contrast with forceful public statements by the White House.” The question remains, Why would the Vice President advocate a possible tactical nuclear attack against Iran in the event of another major terrorist attack against the U.S. – even if Tehran was innocent of involvement?

Perhaps one of the answers relates to the same obfuscated reasons why the U.S. launched an unprovoked invasion to topple the Iraq government – macroeconomics and the desperate desire to maintain U.S. economic supremacy. In essence, petrodollar hegemony is eroding, which will ultimately force the U.S. to significantly change its current tax, debt, trade, and energy policies, all of which are severely unbalanced. World oil production is reportedly “flat out,” and yet the neoconservatives are apparently willing to undertake huge strategic and tactical risks in the Persian Gulf. Why? Quite simply – their stated goal is U.S. global domination – at any cost.

To date, one of the more difficult technical obstacles concerning a euro-based oil transaction trading system is the lack of a euro-denominated oil pricing standard, or oil ‘marker’ as it is referred to in the industry. The three current oil markers are U.S. dollar denominated, which include the West Texas Intermediate crude (WTI), Norway Brent crude, and the UAE Dubai crude. However, since the summer of 2003 Iran has required payments in the euro currency for its European and Asian/ACU exports – although the oil pricing these trades was still denominated in the dollar.[13]

Therefore a potentially significant news story was reported in June 2004 announcing Iran’s intentions to create of an Iranian oil bourse. This announcement portended competition would arise between the Iranian oil bourse and London’s International Petroleum Exchange (IPE), as well as the New York Mercantile Exchange (NYMEX). [Both the IPE and NYMEX are owned by U.S. consortium, and operated by an Atlanta-based corporation, IntercontinentalExchange, Inc.]

The macroeconomic implications of a successful Iranian bourse are noteworthy. Considering that in mid-2003 Iran switched its oil payments from E.U. and ACU customers to the euro, and thus it is logical to assume the proposed Iranian bourse will usher in a fourth crude oil marker – denominated in the euro currency. This event would remove the main technical obstacle for a broad-based petroeuro system for international oil trades. From a purely economic and monetary perspective, a petroeuro system is a logical development given that the European Union imports more oil from OPEC producers than does the U.S., and the E.U. accounted for 45% of exports sold to the Middle East. (Following the May 2004 enlargement, this percentage likely increased).

Despite the complete absence of coverage from the five U.S. corporate media conglomerates, these foreign news stories suggest one of the Federal Reserve’s nightmares may begin to unfold in the spring of 2006, when it appears that international buyers will have a choice of buying a barrel of oil for $60 dollars on the NYMEX and IPE – or purchase a barrel of oil for €45 – €50 euros via the Iranian Bourse. This assumes the euro maintains its current 20-25% appreciated value relative to the dollar – and assumes that some sort of US “intervention” is not launched against Iran. The upcoming bourse will introduce petrodollar versus petroeuro currency hedging, and fundamentally new dynamics to the biggest market in the world – global oil and gas trades. In essence, the U.S. will no longer be able to effortlessly expand credit via U.S. Treasury bills, and the dollar’s demand/liquidity value will fall.

It is unclear at the time of writing if this project will be successful, or could it prompt overt or covert U.S. interventions – thereby signaling the second phase of petrodollar warfare in the Middle East. Regardless of the potential U.S. response to an Iranian petroeuro system, the emergence of an oil exchange market in the Middle East is not entirely surprising given the domestic peaking and decline of oil exports in the U.S. and U.K, in comparison to the remaining oil reserves in Iran, Iraq and Saudi Arabia. What we are witnessing is a battle for oil currency supremacy. If Iran’s oil bourse becomes a successful alternative for international oil trades, it would challenge the hegemony currently enjoyed by the financial centers in both London (IPE) and New York (NYMEX), a factor not overlooked in the following (UK) Guardian article:

Iran is to launch an oil trading market for Middle East and Opec producers that could threaten the supremacy of London’s International Petroleum Exchange.

…Some industry experts have warned the Iranians and other OPEC producers that western exchanges are controlled by big financial and oil corporations, which have a vested interest in market volatility. [emphasis added]

The IPE, bought in 2001 by a consortium that includes BP, Goldman Sachs and Morgan Stanley, was unwilling to discuss the Iranian move yesterday. “We would not have any comment to make on it at this stage,” said an IPE spokeswoman. [14]

During an important speech in April 2002, Mr. Javad Yarjani, an OPEC executive, described three pivotal events that would facilitate an OPEC transition to euros.[15] He stated this would be based on (1) if and when Norway’s Brent crude is re-dominated in euros, (2) if and when the U.K. adopts the euro, and (3) whether or not the euro gains parity valuation relative to the dollar, and the EU’s proposed expansion plans were successful. Notably, both of the later two criteria have transpired: the euro’s valuation has been above the dollar since late 2002, and the euro-based E.U. enlarged in May 2004 from 12 to 22 countries. Despite recent “no” votes by French and Dutch voters regarding a common E.U. Constitution, from a macroeconomic perspective, these domestic disagreements do no reduce the euro currency’s trajectory in the global financial markets – and from Russia and OPEC’s perspective – do not adversely impact momentum towards a petroeuro. In the meantime, the U.K. remains uncomfortably juxtaposed between the financial interests of the U.S. banking nexus (New York/Washington) and the E.U. financial centers (Paris/Frankfurt).

The most recent news reports indicate the oil bourse will start trading on March 20, 2006, coinciding with the Iranian New Year.[16] The implementation of the proposed Iranian oil Bourse – if successful in utilizing the euro as its oil transaction currency standard – essentially negates the previous two criteria as described by Mr. Yarjani regarding the solidification of a petroeuro system for international oil trades. It should also be noted that throughout 2003-2004 both Russia and China significantly increased their central bank holdings of the euro, which appears to be a coordinated move to facilitate the anticipated ascendance of the euro as a second World Reserve Currency. [17] [18] China’s announcement in July 2005 that is was re-valuing the yuan/RNB was not nearly as important as its decision to divorce itself form a U.S. dollar peg by moving towards a “basket of currencies” – likely to include the yen, euro, and dollar.[19] Additionally, the Chinese re-valuation immediately lowered their monthly imported “oil bill” by 2%, given that oil trades are still priced in dollars, but it is unclear how much longer this monopoly arrangement will last.

Furthermore, the geopolitical stakes for the Bush administration were raised dramatically on October 28, 2004, when Iran and China signed a huge oil and gas trade agreement (valued between $70 – $100 billion dollars.) [20] It should also be noted that China currently receives 13% of its oil imports from Iran. In the aftermath of the Iraq invasion, the U.S.-administered Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA) nullified previous oil lease contracts from 1997-2002 that France, Russia, China and other nations had established under the Saddam regime. The nullification of these contracts worth a reported $1.1 trillion created political tensions between the U.S and the European Union, Russia and China. The Chinese government may fear the same fate awaits their oil investments in Iran if the U.S. were able to attack and topple the Tehran government. Despite U.S. desires to enforce petrodollar hegemony, the geopolitical risks of an attack on Iran’s nuclear facilities would surely create a serious crisis between Washington and Beijing.

It is increasingly clear that a confrontation and possible war with Iran may transpire during the second Bush term. Clearly, there are numerous tactical risks regarding neoconservative strategy towards Iran. First, unlike Iraq, Iran has a robust military capability. Secondly, a repeat of any “Shock and Awe” tactics is not advisable given that Iran has installed sophisticated anti-ship missiles on the Island of Abu Musa, and therefore controls the critical Strait of Hormuz – where all of the Persian Gulf bound oil tankers must pass.[22] The immediate question for Americans? Will the neoconservatives attempt to intervene covertly and/or overtly in Iran during 2005 or 2006 in a desperate effort to prevent the initiation of euro-denominated international crude oil sales? Commentators in India are quite correct in their assessment that a U.S. intervention in Iran is likely to prove disastrous for the United States, making matters much worse regarding international terrorism, not to the mention potential effects on the U.S. economy.

…If it [ U.S.] intervenes again, it is absolutely certain it will not be able to improve the situation…There is a better way, as the constructive engagement of Libya’s Colonel Muammar Gaddafi has shown…Iran is obviously a more complex case than Libya, because power resides in the clergy, and Iran has not been entirely transparent about its nuclear programme, but the sensible way is to take it gently, and nudge it to moderation. Regime change will only worsen global Islamist terror, and in any case, Saudi Arabia is a fitter case for democratic intervention, if at all. [21]

A successful Iranian bourse will solidify the petroeuro as an alternative oil transaction currency, and thereby end the petrodollar’s hegemonic status as the monopoly oil currency. Therefore, a graduated approach is needed to avoid precipitous U.S. economic dislocations. Multilateral compromise with the EU and OPEC regarding oil currency is certainly preferable to an ‘Operation Iranian Freedom,’ or perhaps another CIA-backed coup such as operation “Ajax” from 1953. Despite the impressive power of the U.S. military, and the ability of our intelligence agencies to facilitate ‘interventions,’ it would be perilous and possibly ruinous for the U.S. to intervene in Iran given the dire situation in Iraq. The Monterey Institute of International Studies warned of the possible consequences of a preemptive attack on Iran’s nuclear facilities:

An attack on Iranian nuclear facilities…could have various adverse effects on U.S. interests in the Middle East and the world. Most important, in the absence of evidence of an Iranian illegal nuclear program, an attack on Iran’s nuclear facilities by the U.S. or Israel would be likely to strengthen Iran’s international stature and reduce the threat of international sanctions against Iran. [23]

It is not yet clear if a U.S. military expedition will occur in a desperate attempt to maintain petrodollar supremacy. Regardless of the recent National Intelligence Estimate that down-played Iran’s potential nuclear weapons program, it appears increasingly likely the Bush administration may use the specter of nuclear weapon proliferation as a pretext for an intervention, similar to the fears invoked in the previous WMD campaign regarding Iraq. If recent stories are correct regarding Cheney’s plan to possibly use a another 9/11 terrorist attack as the pretext or casus belli for a U.S. aerial attack against Iran, this would confirm the Bush administration is prepared to undertake a desperate military strategy to thwart Iran’s nuclear ambitions, while simultaneously attempting to prevent the Iranian oil Bourse from initiating a euro-based system for oil trades.

However, as members of the U.N. Security Council; China, Russia and E.U. nations such as France and Germany would likely veto any U.S.-sponsored U.N. Security Resolution calling the use of force without solid proof of Iranian culpability in a major terrorist attack. A unilateral U.S. military strike on Iran would isolate the U.S. government in the eyes of the world community, and it is conceivable that such an overt action could provoke other industrialized nations to strategically abandon the dollar en masse. Indeed, such an event would create pressure for OPEC or Russia to move towards a petroeuro system in an effort to cripple the U.S. economy and its global military presence. I refer to this in my book as the “rogue nation hypothesis.”

While central bankers throughout the world community would be extremely reluctant to ‘dump the dollar,’ the reasons for any such drastic reaction are likely straightforward from their perspective – the global community is dependent on the oil and gas energy supplies found in the Persian Gulf. Hence, industrialized nations would likely move in tandem on the currency exchange markets in an effort to thwart the neoconservatives from pursuing their desperate strategy of dominating the world’s largest hydrocarbon energy supply. Any such efforts that resulted in a dollar currency crisis would be undertaken – not to cripple the U.S. dollar and economy as punishment towards the American people per se – but rather to thwart further unilateral warfare and its potentially destructive effects on the critical oil production and shipping infrastructure in the Persian Gulf. Barring a U.S. attack, it appears imminent that Iran’s euro-denominated oil bourse will open in March 2006. Logically, the most appropriate U.S. strategy is compromise with the E.U. and OPEC towards a dual-currency system for international oil trades.

Of all the enemies to public liberty war is, perhaps, the most to be dreaded because it comprises and develops the germ of every other. War is the parent of armies; from these proceed debts and taxes…known instruments for bringing the many under the domination of the few…No nation could preserve its freedom in the midst of continual warfare. — James Madison, Political Observations, 1795

[1]. Ron Suskind, The Price of Loyalty: George W. Bush, the White House, and the Education of Paul O’ Neill, Simon & Schuster publishers (2004)
[2]. Richard A. Clarke, Against All Enemies: Inside America’s War on Terror, Free Press (2004)
[3]. William Clark, “Revisited – The Real Reasons for the Upcoming War with Iraq: A Macroeconomic and Geostrategic Analysis of the Unspoken Truth,” January 2003 (updated January 2004)
[4]. Peter Philips, Censored 2004, The Top 25 Censored News Stories, Seven Stories Press, (2003) General website for Project Censored: Story #19: U.S. Dollar vs. the Euro: Another Reason for the Invasion of Iraq
[5]. Carol Hoyos and Kevin Morrison, “Iraq returns to the international oil market,” Financial Times, June 5, 2003
[6]. Faisal Islam, “Iraq nets handsome profit by dumping dollar for euro,” [UK] Guardian, February 16, 2003,12239,896344,00.html
[7]. “Oil bourse closer to reality,”, December 28, 2004. Also see: “Iran oil bourse wins authorization,” Tehran Times, July 26, 2005
[8]. “War-Gaming the Mullahs: The U.S. weighs the price of a pre-emptive strike,” Newsweek, September 27 issue, 2004.
[9]. James Fallows, ‘Will Iran be Next?,’ Atlantic Monthly, December 2004, pgs. 97 – 110
[10]. Seymour Hersh, “The Coming Wars,” The New Yorker, January 24th – 31st issue, 2005, pgs. 40-47 Posted online January 17, 2005. Online:
[11]. Philip Giraldi, “In Case of Emergency, Nuke Iran,” American Conservative, August 1, 2005
[12]. Dafina Linzer, “Iran Is Judged 10 Years From Nuclear Bomb U.S. Intelligence Review Contrasts With Administration Statements,” Washington Post, August 2, 2005; Page A01
[13]. C. Shivkumar, “Iran offers oil to Asian union on easier terms,” The Hindu Business Line (June 16, ` 2003). 2003061702380500.htm
[14]. Terry Macalister, “Iran takes on west’s control of oil trading,” The [UK] Guardian, June 16, 2004,3604,1239644,00.html
[15]. “The Choice of Currency for the Denomination of the Oil Bill,” Speech given by Javad Yarjani, Head of OPEC’s Petroleum Market Analysis Dept, on The International Role of the Euro (Invited by the Spanish Minister of Economic Affairs during Spain’s Presidency of the EU) (April 14, 2002, Oviedo, Spain)
[16]. “Iran’s oil bourse expects to start by early 2006,” Reuters, October 5, 2004
[17]. “Russia shifts to euro as foreign currency reserves soar,” AFP, June 9, 2003
[18]. “China to diversify foreign exchange reserves,” China Business Weekly, May 8, 2004
[19]. Richard S. Appel, “The Repercussions from the Yuan’s Revaluation,”, July 27, 2005
[20]. China, Iran sign biggest oil & gas deal,’ China Daily, October 31, 2004. Online:
[21]. “Terror & regime change: Any US invasion of Iran will have terrible consequences,” News Insight: Public Affairs Magazine, June 11, 2004
[22]. Analysis of Abu Musa Island,
[23]. Sammy Salama and Karen Ruster, “A Preemptive Attack on Iran’s Nuclear Facilities: Possible Consequences,” Monterry Institute of International Studies, August 12, 2004 (updated September 9, 2004)

Interview with Author Frank Touby / September 9, 2010

Worldpress: In your book “Burning Sands” you write about your experience fighting the oilfield fires in Kuwait that Saddam Hussein lit 19 years ago. You got a position as a trainee oilfield firefighter with Safety Boss Ltd., of Calgary, Alberta, to essentially better entrench yourself as a journalist. Some of the scenes you describe are quite intense. Can you tell us a bit about that experience?
Frank Touby: It was the most fascinating and virtuous adventure of my life. We worked 14-hour days with no days off, and yet we were eager to get out there again at the start of each day. When we quenched a fire on a wild well that had been burning for five or more months we pinched off a toxic smoke trail that had stretched for thousands of miles around the earth. As the tail end of that noxious smoke stream trailed into the sky there was such a sense of exhilaration that came with participating in a truly worthy effort. I especially gained an appreciation for the skills and intelligence of farm boys, who provide most of the labor in the oil patch. They can operate almost any piece of heavy equipment for the first time just by looking at it. They are smart, dependable and energetic. I’m a guy whose career resulted from formal education and had an inclination to disregard such people whose work gets them dirty and who speak in less-than-correct English. Never again. On the other hand, these guys were so strong, so competent in their rightwing universes, that many of them couldn’t imagine others being truly needy of aid that government properly must provide. Not entirely their fault.

WP: Can you elaborate on that last point? What do you mean by “so competent in their rightwing universes…”?
FT: Sure. They were brought up in that rugged frontier milieu of independence, strength, self-made personhood and self-reliance. You look after yourself, your buds and your family in that model and everyone else does the same. So there is no need for crooked politicians or carpet-bagging bureaucrats to come in and tell you what to do with your land, your property and yourself. The men I worked with at Safety Boss, the blowout company, were Canadians mainly from Alberta and Saskatchewan. But it was very much the same with many of them. Mike Miller, the owner of Safety Boss, was not like that at all. He is a more urbane, philosophical man and a great, considerate leader. His company set a world record that likely will never be duplicated: 126 wild wells “killed” in five months. It probably won’t ever happen again because nobody will again set so many wells ablaze. There’s no point to it since it’s now proven that the wild wells can be quenched in a relatively short period of time. But nobody knew that at the time Saddam had his troops and sappers spend over a year preparing 700-plus wells to be torched.

WP: What did it teach you about the effects of war over resources?
FT: I must admit to having a jaded view that didn’t come from my experiences in Kuwait, but from events that transpired ever since. In short, I think war is almost a requirement to keep certain resources scarce and their prices high. Monopoly also serves that purpose—as it does with diamonds and with oil refineries that produce gasoline. War also accommodates the needs of the cabal Dwight Eisenhower warned us against as he left the presidency in 1961: “We must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military-industrial complex.” So far we have failed.

WP: How do you think the BP oil spill compares to the oil fires in Kuwait?
FT: Aside from being wild wells, they couldn’t be more dissimilar. While the desert in Kuwait was aflame with over 700 oil fires, BP managed to contaminate an area larger than that from a single well. Kuwait was heartless and malicious; BP, to the best of our knowledge, was heartless and incompetent. I fear the harm from BP will both overshadow the severity and outlast the harm from six months of wild wells in Kuwait.

WP: What do you think government’s role should be in getting developed countries off oil?
FT: There’s no excuse for our dependency on oil from any source. It’s solely caused by the control transnational corporations hold over governments. Alcohol (ethanol) is a better fuel than petroleum: higher octane, clean burning, endlessly renewable. It’s what the Model T Ford originally used before J. D. Rockefeller gave huge funds to the Women’s Christian Temperance League to get it outlawed, allegedly so his oil wells would be worth a fortune. (It’s detailed in David Blume’s book “Alcohol Can Be a Gas: Fueling an Ethanol Revolution for the 21st Century.”) Ethanol poses a threat to corporate monopolists because it can be produced by little guys, in contrast to the millions of dollars worth of refinery that it takes to produce gasoline. Ethanol doesn’t have to be made from corn grain, which is an atrocity since that’s a food crop. Almost any vegetable matter will work, including corn stalks that normally go to waste. Bulrushes, or cattails, are especially productive. Government’s role should be to encourage such oil replacements, but that won’t happen so long as corporatists control politicians and corporations are considered equal to real human beings in our laws.

WP: Do you have any ideas as to how people can break that corporate stronghold? Because you’re right; in the United States, for example, we’ve seen Congress’ attempt at an energy bill fail miserably. Certainly corporate influence had something to do with that.
FT: Yes. The situation in Canada is nearly the same as in the U.S. Corporations buy politicians and universities. The latter are the principal mechanisms of corruption since universities produce the civil service and also issue the various scientific dictates that are used to justify regulations favored by their corporate patrons. The effects of purchased politicians need no explanation. In Canada both the Liberal and Conservative parties are on the same corporatist pages, just as Republicans and Democrats are identically compromised in the States. Government ministries or departments, such as the regulators of pharmaceuticals and broadcasters, function as advocates for the corporations they’re nominally regulating. The solution is simple to state and perhaps impossible to remedy, short of a revolution either by law or by arms. It requires an end to corporate personhood: the ridiculous notion that a business corporation has human rights identical to those of real human beings. That was recently confirmed by the U.S. Supreme Court (Citizens United vs. FEC), which ruled that corporations mustn’t be denied the human right of freedom of speech by limiting the money they can spend on election campaigns. The result will naturally be that corporations can own any elections they choose. Enabled by government “regulators,” junk-food giants wreck the health of billions of people with unhealthful restaurant fare; farm and chemical oligopolies harm our food supplies; drug giants waste our health resources by ignoring or concealing unprofitable health alternatives while inventing new “diseases” and investing their research dollars on marketing schemes to sell prescription cures for such contrivances as “acid reflux disease” (aka, “heartburn,” effectively countered with baking soda); oil companies write their own environmental rules. Practically everything government regulates is now compromised by multinational corporations for their profit purposes. An intermediate step to remediate the harm might be to change tax codes in the U.S. and Canada, since both nations have well-established different tax categories for corporations than for individuals. Prohibit businesses from deducting any expenses and require them to report all worldwide revenues. It would have marked impact on each economy to start with, since many businesses and charities exist because of corporations’ abilities to write off related expenses. It would eliminate “charitable” deeds that are done in corporate names, but really those are promotional expenses. Corporations and all businesses can’t be expected to operate in any way except in their own interests. Regulation by government is needed to avoid oligopolies and other cancerous growths that strangle free enterprise or harm consumers and workers.
Universities should be prohibited from accepting funds from individuals or corporations to ensure their independence from corruption. They should be entirely funded by government, which has a responsibility to provide education just as it has to provide the military, healthcare, currency, police, fire departments, roads, regulation of enterprise and so forth. In other words, using the phrase of Seattle-based radio commentator Thom Hartmann, it’s incumbent on government to ensure and maintain “The Commons” that comprise civilization.

Petrodollars, Petroeuros and the Iranian Oil Bourse
by Luigi Frascati / 2007

“This notion that the United States is getting ready to attack Iran is simply ridiculous […]. Having said that, all the options are on the table” (President George W. Bush, February 2005)

Who would have ever imagined it?
Forget about the Prophet Mohammed, Islam, the Koran, President Ahmadinejad and his nuclear program, Islamofascism and all the umpah-pah. The Mullahs do not like American Dollars anymore. As reported by Reuters UK ([]) Iran announced that it has ordered its Central Bank to start using Euros for foreign transactions, and to transform the nation’s Dollar-denominated assets held abroad into the single European currency. “The government has ordered the Central Bank to replace the Dollar with the Euro to limit the problems of the executive organs in commercial transactions,” government spokesman Gholam Hossein Elham told reporters.

Coming from OPEC’s fourth oil producer, this is a move that will undoubtedly have both deep economic reverberations and grave political consequences worldwide. It would certainly appear that rather than ‘wiping out Israel’ from the face of the planet, Iran is setting the tempo to wipe out American capitalism and influence everywhere. To understand the implications of such a move in financial affairs, one has to first revert to the importance of money in our economic systems and the effects that the ravages of inflation have over it.

Money is one of man’s most amazing inventions. Imagine the difficulty of our daily lives without those metal coins and coloured pieces of paper. To make any kind of transaction – from shopping for groceries to purchasing a real estate asset – you would have to find someone who had what you want and who wanted what you have, and then the two of you could barter. In a world with thousands of products, one would spend most of the time looking for trading partners and devoting very little time to actually earn an income. The alternative to avoid having to find trading partners would be for each and everyone of us to do a little bit of everything by ourselves.

But with money on the scene everything becomes more straightforward, simple and less time-consuming, and all of us can increase our productivity by and through specialization – that is doing what we do best, and then trade with our partners. As a direct and proximate consequence of our increased productivity, each of us can therefore become richer. It is easy to lose sight of the very basic economic point that we all owe a large part of our high living standards to the existence of money, its possession and the spending power that stems out of it. But there is a catch: money works best when its value is stable over time. And this is nowhere more true than in international trade.

Economically speaking, the power of the American Dollar and its influence in economic and financial affairs worldwide was born during the United Nations Monetary and Financial Conference held at Bretton Wood, New Hampshire in July 1944. The Conference was attended by the delegates of all 45 allied nations directly and indirectly involved in the fight against the powers of the Axis – Nazi Germany, Imperial Japan and Fascist Italy, and their socio-economic doctrines. As a result of the Bretton Woods Conference, a system of exchange rate among different currencies was set up anchored on the American Dollar, which was made convertible to gold – the common denominator and measure of wealth worldwide. Thus, the American Dollar became de facto the reserve currency of the world, accepted and traded everywhere. This system remained in place until the early 1970’s and it allowed countries to accumulate reserves in American Dollars, as opposed to gold.

When in 1970-1971 an economically resurgent Western Europe began demanding payment for their US Dollars, as it became clear that the American Government did not have enough gold reserves to buy back all those Dollars, the US Treasury under the Nixon Administration rather than defaulting on its payment ‘de-anchored’ the Greenback – that is it severed the link between the Dollar and gold. To avoid an international collapse of the American currency in world markets, however, the US treasury had to substitute gold with another valuable commodity so as to entice foreign countries to keep their foreign reserves in Dollars and to continue accepting the American currency.

Thus in 1972-73 an iron-clad arrangement was made with Saudi Arabia to support the power of the House of Saud in exchange for accepting only U.S. Dollars for its oil. The rest of OPEC was to follow suit and also accept only American Dollars. Because the world had to buy oil from the Arab oil-producing countries, it now had the reason to hold Dollars as payment for oil. Because the world needed ever increasing quantities of oil at ever increasing oil prices, the world’s demand for Dollars could only increase. Even though Dollars could no longer be exchanged for gold, they were now exchangeable for oil. The Petrodollar was born.

In 2000, the first man who actually began demanding Euros for his oil was none other than Saddam Hussein of Iraq – and we all know what has happened to him. To be more specific, in fact, Saddam Hussein Abd al-Majid al-Tikriti (1937-2006), former President of Iraq, made two strategic mistakes, the second one of which would ultimately cost him his neck – literally. Firstly, on August 2, 1990 he invaded Kuwait, a country very friendly with both the United Kingdom and the United States, and holding approximately ten percent of the world’s oil reserves. Saddam, furthermore, became a real threat to Saudi Arabia as well. By invading Kuwait and threatening Saudi Arabia, Saddam breached the Carter Doctrine postulated by President Jimmy Carter in 1980, which states that “[…] an attempt by any outside force to gain control of the Persian Gulf region will be regarded as an assault on the vital interests of the United States of America, and such an assault will be repelled by any means necessary, including military force.” The Carter Doctrine was later on upheld by President George H.W. Bush in 1989 with National Security Directive 26, which declares that “Access to Persian Gulf oil and the security of key friendly states in the area are vital to U.S. national security […].” The Gulf War ensued in January 1991.

The second mistake of Saddam was to start demanding payment for his oil in Euros. At first, his demand was met with ridicule, later with neglect, but as it became clearer that he meant business the need arose to make an example of anyone who demanded payment in currencies other than U.S. Dollars. The punishment came with the worsening of the geo-political situation after the 9/11 attacks on the Twin Towers and an increased perception and worry about Saddam’s weapons of mass destruction – which he had used extensively against the Kurds and his own citizens. President Bush’s Shock-and-Awe intervention in Iraq followed, which ultimately brought about the demise of the Iraqi dictator.

Contemporary warfare has traditionally involved underlying conflicts regarding economics and resources. Today these intertwined conflicts also involve international currencies, and thus increased complexity. Current geopolitical tensions between the United States and Iran extend beyond the publicly stated concerns regarding Iran’s nuclear intentions, and likely include a proposed Iranian “petroeuro” system for oil trade – the Iranian Oil Bourse (‘Bourse’ is the French word for Stock Exchange). The proposed Iranian Oil Bourse signifies that without some sort of US intervention, the Euro is going to establish a firm foothold in the international oil trade.

This is so, because the Europeans would no longer have to buy and hold Dollars in order to secure their payment for oil, but would instead pay with their own currency. The adoption of the Euro for oil transactions would provide the European currency with a reserve status that would benefit the European at the expenses of the Americans. Given U.S. foreign debt levels and trade deficit, Tehran’s objective constitutes an obvious encroachment on the Dollar supremacy in the crucial international oil markets, and America can hardly afford that to happen. It is really a case of lethal economic terrorism and financial warfare, a matter of life and death.

And speaking of economic terrorism and financial warfare, it is very interesting and worth mentioning the link between oil and Euros on one side and Iran’s nuclear programme on the other side that Gholam Hossein Elham has made during the foresaid announcement. He has stated: “They (the Westerners) should put an end to their hostilities towards our nation and should also be aware that we are capable of achieving nuclear technology through very transparent and legal methods – something that they must respect. They must not waste their time with venting hostility against this nation, otherwise they will be harmed, more so than us.”

If Iran follows up with the intention to charge Euros for its oil, the upcoming Iranian Bourse will introduce Petroeuros currency hedging in direct competition with traditional Petrodollars. More than that, in political terms, it will pit America, Israel and Sunni Islam against Iran, Syria and Shiite Islam and will fundamentally create new dynamics and competition into the biggest markets in the world – those of global oil and gas trade. One of the Federal Reserve’s nightmares may well begin to unfold if it appears that international buyers will have a choice of buying a barrel of oil for USD 60 on the NYMEX and IPE – or purchase a barrel of oil for €45 – €50 through the Iranian Bourse. In essence, America would no longer be able to expand effortlessly its debt-financing with the issuance of US Treasury bills, and the international demand and liquidity of the American Dollar would fall. This is a very good reason to go to war.

Undersea Cable Cuts and the Iranian Oil Bourse

“Through the research that I have exhaustingly done over the past few days, this is the one that has struck me as the most likely reason for the damages that have occurred to submarine internet cables. The Iranian oil bourse is going to be a stock market for petroluem, petrochemicals and gas. What’s the big catch here? The exchange planned on being ran with currencies excluding the U.S. dollar. If you remember from earlier in the post, Iran stopped allowing purchases of their oil with the U.S. dollar in December of 2007. So, obviously, the U.S. is not going to be happy about this. The biggest piece of information linking this to the recent damages is the proposed location of the bourse: the island of Kish. This is the island that is right next to at least two of the cuts that have recently occurred…”

Iranian Oil Bourse Opens
by Steve Austin / 2008.02.06

The Iranian Oil Bourse establishing Euro-based pricing of oil is set to open on February 17th 2008 and could have devastating effects on the US dollar. Currently all three major oil markets (WTI, NYMEX, IPE) trade barrels of oil in US dollars. Consequently any country buying oil needs dollars to pay for it. This enables the US Federal Reserve to issue huge volumes of dollars to meet increasing demand for oil. In return oil producing nations invest dollar proceeds in US treasury bills, allowing for the current US budget deficit. But this balance may become unsettled after a fourth major oil market opens this month, trading in Euros: the Iranian Oil Bourse (IOB).

Unlike other bourses, the IOB relies on a peer-to-peer trading model, using the Internet. IOB has been in the works for several years and encountered many hurdles on the way, the last of which are severed underwater internet cables creating an Internet outage throughout the Middle East days before the IOB’s opening and prompting conspiracy theories. In recent years the US has outfitted some of its submarines with the capability to splice optical fiber underwater so these theories may not be far-fetched. Having the world’s second largest oil reserves of 136 gigabarrels, Iran will likely extend its influence on financial markets when the IOB opens. Although under-reported by the media, this historical shift and its consequences should be watched closely.

Iran’s bourse booms despite sanctions
by Robin Pomeroy / Sep 30, 2010

In the busy foyer of the Tehran Stock Exchange an old woman in a black chador clutches her shopping bag and gazes up hopefully at the electronic display showing the latest share prices. Like the other Iranians bustling past her, she is betting on a market that has soared to record highs despite ever-tightening international sanctions, lackluster oil prices and political uncertainty after last year’s disputed presidential election. While U.S. diplomats were busy upping Iran’s economic punishment over nuclear activities Washington fears are aimed at making a bomb, Iranian shares, which might have been expected to fall, have, instead, gone through the roof. Tehran’s Tepix index has risen 65 percent to all-time highs this year. Its latest record was set on Sept. 18, when it hit 18,658, up from 11,295 at the start of the year. By comparison, New York’s S&P 500 Index has made no major gains this year as the U.S. economy struggles to recover from the financial crisis.

Officials say privatisation, cheap valuations and moves to cut red tape and encourage private investors have lured Iranians away from the once-booming property market, the traditional home of the Iranian nest egg, which stagnated in late 2008. The world’s fifth-largest oil exporter hopes to raise $12.5 billion by privatising over 500 state firms during the 2010-11 year, and plans to sell all of its refineries and petrochemicals units, promising potential investors a solid pipeline of IPOs. Iranians are also increasingly reluctant to park their spare cash in the bank, where interest on instant access savings has fallen from about 12.5 percent three years ago to 6 percent now. Those rates seem healthy compared to Western economies, where central bank rates are near zero, but are no match for the rewards promised by a bourse which already boasts more than 330 listed firms and a market capitalisation above $70 billion.

Speaking in his office on the upper floors of the stock exchange, bourse chief Hassan Ghalibaf Asl summed up the logic: “The opportunities and good factors affecting the growth of the capital market and attracting investors are more important, and the weight of them is more, than bad factors.” Few dispute however, that the bad factors are there. From a lack of transparency to tightening sanctions, myriad challenges belie the Tehran Stock Exchange’s stellar performance. Firms related to the elite Revolutionary Guards and other state bodies have bought large stakes in privatised companies, further muddying the waters between public and private in a country where powerful quasi-official foundations pervade.

Last year, a consortium linked to the Revolutionary Guards took a controlling stake in the Telecommunications Company of Iran for $7.8 billion, raising concern that some firms being put up for sale are just being transferred within the public sector. Investments by these vast semi-official or politically connected organisations have caused the surges in stock prices that small investors have been happy to ride, Meir Javedanfar, an Iran expert at Middle East analysis firm Meepas, said. “Very few stock exchanges have record gains in a country where sanctions, economic isolation, unemployment and inflation are increasing,” he said. “All indicators point to this boom being a government-made bubble. It’s difficult to predict when it will burst.” Even in parliament, questions are being asked about the disconnect between soaring share prices and an economy facing not just sanctions but looming cuts to multi-billion-dollar state subsidies that currently guarantee cheap fuel to domestic industries and reduce the cost of goods for Iranian consumers. Many small investors are ordinary Iranians, who could end up suffering the most if boom turns to bust.

Sheltering from the blazing sun under the porticos of the bourse building, a man sits on a fold-out stool and sells economics text books laid at his feet on sheets of newspaper. Traders, the majority apparently amateurs, pass him on their way inside to swap rumours as they crowd around touchscreens, looking up data provided by the bourse on their chosen stocks. Iranians can place orders with professional brokers, without having to go in person to the bourse, but the building, with its atmosphere of anticipation, attracts scores of people, placing their cash alongside institutions like Iran’s pension funds. Apart from one turbaned cleric and a handful of women, most are middle aged men, and the mood is optimistic though smaller trades are driven largely by rumour, since rules requiring listed firms to disclose their performance and plans are lax.

With his boy-band haircut, jeans and T-shirt, 26-year-old Navid Sadri is not the typical day-trader on Tehran’s bourse, but he has been making his living on the market for eight years, long enough to know that a boom usually ends in a bust. “Eight months ago there was a very small crowd,” he says, pointing to the amateur traders hovering in the corridors above the bourse’s modest trading floor. “If every day there’s a bigger crowd it’s a sign that there will be a drop.” While domestic investment in the bourse booms, international sanctions and political uncertainty are hampering the flow of foreign funds and expertise that Iran needs to modernize. Foreign investment on the Tehran bourse accounts for just 0.5 percent of the shares, according to the bourse chief. “We don’t even look at the Iranian market. There is just too much political risk involved,” Robert McKinnon of ASAS Capital, an asset management company in Dubai, said in June, when bourse officials travelled to the city to drum up foreign interest.

In an effort to attract cash from abroad, Iran revoked a rule this year that had forced foreign investors to hold their initial capital in the Islamic Republic for three years. While foreign investors can now repatriate their capital whenever they want, U.S. rules ban any bank that does business with the United States from making transactions with Iran. That rule is enough to keep most major international banks at bay. So far, Tehran’s bourse has lured only a handful of smaller institutions willing to gamble on the world’s riskier markets. Fund management company Castlestone calls Iran stocks “a jaw-dropping opportunity” and plans to include them in a new high-growth emerging markets fund. Turquoise Partners, an investment firm with offices in Tehran and London, manages a $100 million fund on behalf of foreign investors wanting a piece of the Iranian action. “We’ve had a flood of money coming into the market in the last one and a half years,” Ali Mashayekhi, head of investment research at Turquoise, said.

Petrodollar or Petroeuro? A new source of global conflict
by Cóilín Nunan

No observer of the lead-up to the war in Iraq and its aftermath could have failed to notice that the level of cooperation between Europe and America was extremely low. France and Germany were very strong opponents of the US/UK invasion and even after the war was declared over, disagreements persisted over the lifting of sanctions and how Iraq should be run. So was this just a one-off tiff or was it a symptom of deeper flaws in the relationship? I believe that the war on Iraq illustrated for the first time that continental Europe, led by France and Germany, no longer wishes to follow the Americans politically, although what has been termed a ‘clash of civilisations’ [1] is probably better viewed as a ‘clash of economies’.

While disagreements over the US trade barriers on steel imports or the European restrictions on imports of American genetically modified crops have attracted widespread comment, the most intense economic rivalry of all has received far less media attention than it perhaps should: this is the rivalry between the dollar and the euro for the position of world reserve currency, a privileged status that has been held by the dollar ever since the Bretton Woods agreement nearly 60 years ago.

At present, approximately two thirds of world trade is conducted in dollars and two thirds of central banks’ currency reserves are held in the American currency which remains the sole currency used by international institutions such as the IMF. This confers on the US a major economic advantage: the ability to run a trade deficit year after year. It can do this because foreign countries need dollars to repay their debts to the IMF, to conduct international trade and to build up their currency reserves. The US provides the world with these dollars by buying goods and services produced by foreign countries, but since it does not have a corresponding need for foreign currency, it sells far fewer goods and services in return, i.e. the US always spends more than it earns, whereas the rest of the world always earns more than it spends. This US trade deficit has now reached extraordinary levels, with the US importing 50% more goods and services than it exports. So long as the dollar remains the dominant international currency the US can continue consuming more than it produces and, for example, build up its military strength while simultaneously affording tax cuts.

Getting a share of this economic free lunch has been one of the motivations, and perhaps the main motivation, behind setting up the euro [2]. Were the euro to become a reserve currency equal to, or perhaps even instead of, the dollar, countries would reduce their dollar holdings while building up their euro savings. Another way of putting this would be to say that Eurozone countries would be able to reduce their subsidy to American consumption and would find that other countries were now subsidising Eurozone consumption instead.

A move away from the dollar towards the euro could, on the other hand, have a disastrous effect on the US economy as the US would no longer be able to spend beyond its means. Worse still, the US would have to become a net currency importer as foreigners would probably seek to spend back in the US a large proportion of the estimated three trillion dollars which they currently own. In other words, the US would have to run a trade surplus, providing the rest of the world with more goods and services than it was receiving in return. A rapid and wholesale move to the euro might even lead to a dollar crash as everyone sought to get rid of some, or all, of their dollars at the same time. But that is an outcome that no-one, not even France or Germany, is seeking because of the huge effect it would have on the world economy. Europe would much prefer to see a gradual move to a euro-dollar world, or even a euro-dominated one.

It turns out that there is a small group of countries which is playing the arbiter in this global contest. These are the world’s oil exporters, in particular OPEC and Russia. Ever since the days when the US dominated world oil production, sales of oil and natural gas on international markets have been exclusively denominated in dollars. This was partly a natural state of affairs since, up until the early 1950s, the US accounted for half or more of the world’s annual oil production. The tendency to price in dollars was additionally reinforced by the Bretton Woods agreement which established the IMF and World Bank and adopted the dollar as the currency for international loans.

The vast majority of the world’s countries are oil importers and, since oil is such a crucial commodity, the need to pay for it in dollars encourages these countries keep the majority of their foreign currency reserves in dollars not only to be able to buy oil directly but also to protect the value of their own currencies from falling against the dollar. Because a sudden devaluation of a country’s currency against the dollar would lead to a jump in oil prices and a possible economic crisis, every country’s central bank needs dollar reserves so as to be able to buy its own currency on the foreign exchange markets when its value needs to be supported.

The fact that oil sales and loans from the IMF are dollar-denominated also encourages poorer countries to denominate their exports in dollars as this minimises the risk of losses through any fluctuations in the value of the dollar. The knock-on effect of this is that, since many of these exports are essential raw materials which richer countries need to import, their denomination in dollars reinforces the need for rich countries to keep their own currency reserves in dollars.

While the denomination of oil sales is not a subject which is frequently discussed in the media, its importance is certainly well understood by governments. For example, when in 1971 President Nixon took the US off the gold standard, OPEC did consider moving away from dollar oil pricing, as dollars no longer had the guaranteed value they once did. The US response was to do various secret deals with Saudi Arabia in the 1970s to ensure that the world’s most important oil exporter stuck with the dollar [3]. What the Saudis did, OPEC followed. More recently, in June 2003, the Prime Minister of Malaysia publicly encouraged his country’s oil and gas exporters to move from the dollar to the euro. The European and American reactions were polar opposites: the EU’s Energy Commissioner, Loyola de Palacio, welcomed the suggestion, saying that ‘in the future the euro is [going to be] taking a place in the international markets in general as the money of exchange’ and that this was ‘a matter of realism’ [4]. Her counterpart in the US, the director of the Energy Information Administration, Guy Caruso, said that he couldn’t see ‘any particular merit’ in the move and that over the long run ‘the dollar’s always won out’ [5]. Either way, Malaysia is only a relatively minor oil exporter, so what it does can only have a very limited effect. A switch by a major oil exporter would be of far greater significance.

The first country to actually make the switch was a very important oil exporter indeed: Iraq, in November 2000 [6,7]. Before the war in Iraq began, some observers, myself included, argued that this might well be a major reason for the US desire to invade and the strong Franco-German opposition to the invasion [8,9]. Corroborating evidence included the apparent influence which loyalty (or lack thereof) to the dollar seemed to have on the US attitude towards other OPEC members. Iran had been talking of selling its own oil for euros [6,10] and was subsequently included in George Bush’s ‘axis of evil’. Venezuela, another important oil exporter, had started bartering some of its oil, thus avoiding the use of the dollar, and was encouraging OPEC to do likewise [11] – and the US was widely suspected in having played a part in the attempted coup against the Venezuelan president, Hugo Chavez.

Semi-official confirmation that petro-currency rivalry was at the heart of the split between France and Germany, on the one hand, and the US, on the other, was provided by Howard Fineman, the chief political correspondent for Newsweek, in an article he wrote in April 2003, in the aftermath of the war. The Europeans and Americans were then arguing over whether the UN’s oil-for-food programme in Iraq should remain in place or not. Using the term ‘clash of civilisations’ to describe the divide which was developing, Fineman explained that the disagreement had little to do with the French calls for the search for weapons of mass destruction to resume and for sanctions to remain in place until the search was complete. Instead, Fineman said, it was mainly about the dollar vs the euro. Citing White House officials and a presidential aide, he explained that the dispute between the two continents was really about ‘who gets to sell – and buy – Iraqi oil, and what form of currency will be used to denominate the value of the sales. That decision, in turn, will help decide who controls Iraq, which, in turn, will represent yet another skirmish in a growing global economic conflict. We want a secular, American-influenced pan-ethnic entity of some kind to control the massive oil fields (Iraq’s vast but only real source of wealth). We want that entity to be permitted to sell the oil to whomever it wants, denominated in dollars.’ Fineman concluded his article by confidently predicting that future Iraqi oil sales would be switched back to dollars [1].

Fineman’s White House sources would appear to have been reliable as that is precisely what has happened: when Iraqi oil exports resumed in June of last year, it was announced that payment would be in dollars only [12,13]. It was also decided that the billions of Iraqi euros which were being held in a euro account, controlled by the UN under the oil-for-food programme, were to be transferred into the Development Fund for Iraq, a dollar account controlled by the US [13,14,15].

Furthermore, Youssef Ibrahim, a former senior Middle East correspondent for the New York Times and energy editor on the Wall Street Journal, who is a member of the influential Council on Foreign Relations, has called Iraq’s switch to the euro ‘another reason’ for the war, saying that a general move by oil producers to the euro would be a ‘catastrophe’ for the US [16].

America’s willingness to use violence to defend its economic interests does not seem to have reduced the number of oil exporters considering switching to the euro as they recognise that their use of the dollar enables the US to build up its military strength. In addition to Malaysia, Indonesia has the switch under consideration [17] while Iran has been shifting its currency reserves into euros. Moreover, according to the Vice-President of the Iranian central bank, it has actually sold some of its oil to Europe for euros and is encouraging members of an Asian trade organisation, the Asian Clearing Union, to pay for Iranian oil in the European currency [18]. Along with Malaysia, it is also at the forefront of efforts to establish a new gold-backed currency, the Islamic Gold Dinar, to be used in international trade amongst Muslim countries instead of both the dollar and the euro [19]. In a further development, in June 2004, Iran announced that it had plans to establish an oil-trading market for Middle Eastern and OPEC producers which could threaten the dominance of London’s International Petroleum Exchange and New York’s Nymex [20]. Such a move could help remove some of the technical difficulties that exist with a switch away from dollar-denomination of oil sales.

It is therefore not surprising to find that, just as with Iraq, the European Union and the US are dealing with Iran in very different ways. While the EU has been holding trade negotiations with Iran [21] and involved in dialogue about its nuclear programme, the US has refused to get involved in direct talks with the Iranian government which it views as ‘evil’. The American Enterprise Institute, a highly influential American ‘think tank’, has in fact been actively calling for ‘regime change’ [22] and, although this policy has yet to be officially endorsed by the Bush administration, in July 2004 it was claimed in the British press that a senior official of the Bush administration had indicated that, if re-elected, Bush would intervene in the internal affairs of Iran in an attempt to overturn the Iranian government [23,24].

European enthusiasm for the ‘petroeuro’ also appears undampened by the US takeover of Iraq. Since the war, the European Union has been actively encouraging Russia, another opponent of the US invasion, to move to euro oil and gas sales. In October 2003, during a joint press conference with Germany’s Prime Minister Gerhard Schroeder, the Russian President Vladimir Putin declared that Russia was thinking about selling its oil for euros. A few days later, the European Commission President, Romano Prodi, said, after a summit between Russia and the European Union, that Russia was now drawn to having its imports and exports denominated in euros [25,26].

In December 2003, speculation about the future roles of the dollar and the euro increased when OPEC Secretary General Alvaro Silva, a former Venezuelan oil minister, said that the organisation was now considering trading in euros or in a basket of currencies other than the dollar, as the US currency was declining in value [27] . Although a few days later the Saudi oil minister Ali al-Naimi said that OPEC would not be discussing a switch to the euro at its next meeting (comments reinforced by the Qatari President of OPEC and the Algerian oil minister [28]), articles discussing a possible move continued to appear in the media [29,30] and the euro’s value against the dollar soared. Despite the speculation, no decision to move to the euro was taken at OPEC’s meeting in early February 2004 and thereafter the euro’s value fell back again.

In fact, close inspection of the dollar-euro exchange rate shows that since the euro’s introduction in January 1999, petro-currency rivalry appears to have played an important part in swinging the rate one way or the other. The markets, it seems, have noticed the importance of what is happening. On the other hand, the lack of an open discussion of the issues suggests that politicians and bankers are keen to move ahead with their plans with little or no explanation to the general public.

Should we not, however, be debating more openly what kind (or kinds) of international financial structure(s) we want to adopt, since the question has potentially huge implications for the stability of the world economy and for peace and stability in oil-exporting countries? A good starting point for such a debate would be the recognition that no country or countries should be allowed to dominate the system by controlling the issuance of the currency or currencies used. Similarly fundamental would be to prevent any country from running a persistent trade surplus or deficit so as to avoid the build up of unjust subsidies, unpayable debts and economic instability. At Bretton Woods, John Maynard Keynes, who understood how important these two conditions were, proposed a system which would have met them, but his proposal was rejected in favour of the dollar.[31] The dollar, though, is no longer a stable, reliable currency: the IMF has warned that the US trade deficit is so bad that its currency could collapse at any time.[32] Will we really have to wait for a full-blown dollar crisis before a public debate about creating a just and sustainable trading system can begin?

1. Howard Fineman, ‘In Round 2, it’s the dollar vs. euro’, April 23 2003, Newsweek,
2. Anon., ‘Will the euro rule the roost?’, January 1 1999, BBC News, u/225434.stm
3. David E. Spiro, The Hidden Hand of American Hegemony: Petrodollar Recycling and International Markets, Cornell University Press, 1999
4. Anon., ‘EU says oil could one day be priced in euros’, 16 June 2003, Reuters
5. Irene Kwek, ‘EIA Says Oil Price Switch To Euro From Dollar Unlikely’, 16 June 2003, Dow Jones Newswires
6. Recknagel, Charles, ‘Iraq: Baghdad Moves to Euro’, November 1 2000,Radio Free Europe,
7. Faisal Islam, ‘When will we buy oil in euros?’, February 23 2003, The Observer,,6903,900867,00.html
8. William Clark, ‘The Real Reasons for the Upcoming War With Iraq: A Macroeconomic and Geostrategic Analysis of the Unspoken Truth’, January 2003,
9. Cóilín Nunan, ‘Oil, currency and the war on Iraq’, January 2003,
10. Anon., ‘Iran may switch to euro for crude sale payments’, Alexander Oil and Gas, September 5 2002,
11. Hazel Henderson, ‘Globocop v. Venezuela’s Chavez: Oil, Globalization and Competing Visions of Development’, April 2002, InterPress Service,
12. Carola Hoyos and Kevin Morrison, ‘Iraq returns to international oil market’, June 5 2003, Financial Times
13. Coalition Provisional Authority Regulation Number 2,
14. UN Security Council Resolution 1483,
15. Judy Aita, ‘U.N. Transfers Oil-for-Food Program to CPA, Iraqi Officials Nov 22’, November 2003, Washington File,
16. Catherine Belton, ‘Why not price oil in euros?’, October 10 2003, Moscow Times
17. Kazi Mahmood, ‘Economic Shift Could Hurt U.S.-British Interests In Asia’, March 30 2003,
18. C. Shivkumar, ‘Iran offers oil to Asian union on easier terms’, June 16 2003,
19. Anon, ‘Malaysia, Iran discuss the use of gold dinar’, July 3 2003, Asia Times,
20. Terry Macalister, ‘Iran takes on west’s control of oil trading’, June 16 2004, The Guardian,,3604,1239644,00.html
21. Hooman Peimani, ‘EU and Iran talk trade, not war’, June 7 2003, Asia Times,
22. Guy Dinmore, ‘US lobbyists tune in for regime change in Iran’, December 5 2003, Financial Times
23. Michael Binyon and Bronwen Maddox, ‘US sets sights on toppling Iran regime’, July 17 2004, The Times
24. Jennifer Johnston, ‘Regime change in Iran now in Bush’s sights’, July 18 2004, The Sunday Herald,
25. Lisa Jucca and Melissa Akin, ‘Europe Presses Russia on Euro’, October 20 2003, Moscow Times
26. Simon Nixon, ‘What’s that in euros?’, October 18 2003, The Spectator,§ion=current&issue=2003-10-18&id=3619
27. Anon., ‘OPEC may trade oil in euros to compensate for dollar decline’, December 9 2003, Associated Press,,00020008.htm
28. Anon., ‘Saudi Arabia: Dollars only please’, December 13 2003, Reuters, .saudi.reut/
29. Patrick Brethour, ‘OPEC mulls move to euro for pricing crude oil’, January 12 2004, Globe and Mail,
30. Anon., ‘To euro or not: should oil pricing ditch the dollar?’, February 9 2004, AFP
31. Michael Rowbottom, Goodbye America! Globalisation, Debt and the Dollar Empire, Jon Carpenter Publishing, 2000
32. Charlotte Denny and Larry Elliott, ‘IMF warns trade gap could bring down dollar’, September 19 2003, The Guardian,,3604,1045193,00.html


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Kids in Guinea Study Under Airport Lamps / by Rukmini Callimachi

The sun has set in one of the world’s poorest nations and as the floodlights come on at G’bessi International Airport, the parking lot begins filling with children. The long stretch of pavement has the feel of a hushed library, each student sitting quietly, some moving their lips as their eyes traverse their French-language notes. It’s exam season in Guinea, ranked 160th out of 177 countries on the United Nations’ development index, and schoolchildren flock to the airport every night because it’s among the only places where they’ll always find the lights on. Groups of elementary and high school students begin heading to the airport at dusk, hoping to reserve a coveted spot under the oval light cast by one of a dozen lampposts in the parking lot. Some come from over an hour’s walk away. The lot is teeming with girls and boys by the time Air France Flight 767 rounds the Gulf of Guinea at an hour-and-a-half before midnight. They hardly look up from their notes as the Boeing jet begins its spiraling descent over the dark city, or as the newly arrived passengers come out, shoving luggage carts over the cracked pavement. “I used to study by candlelight at home but that hurt my eyes. So I prefer to come here. We’re used to it,” says 18-year-old Mohamed Sharif, who sat under the fluorescent beam memorizing notes on the terrain of Mongolia for the geography portion of his college entrance test.

Only about a fifth of Guinea’s 10 million people have access to electricity and even those that do experience frequent power cuts. With few families able to afford generators, students long ago discovered the airport. Parents require girls to be chaperoned to the airport by an older brother or a trusted male friend. Even young children are allowed to stay out late under the fluorescent bulbs, so long as they return in groups. “My parents don’t worry about me because they know I’m here to seek my future,” says 10-year-old Ali Mara, busy studying a diagram of the cephalothorax, the body of an insect. They sit by age group with 7-, 8- and 9-year-olds on a curb in a traffic island and teenagers on the concrete pilings flanking the national and international terminals. There are few cars to disturb their studies. Most are working on memorizing their notes, struggling to commit to memory entire paragraphs dictated by their teachers on the history of Marxism, or the unraveling of colonial Africa, or the geology of Siberia. Tests are largely feats of memorization, a relic from Guinea’s French colonial rulers. According to U.N. data, the average Guinean consumes 89 kilowatt-hours per year – the equivalent to keeping a 60-watt light bulb burning for two months – while the typical American burns up about 158 times that much. The students at the airport consider themselves lucky. Those living farther away study at gas stations and come home smelling of gasoline. Others sit on the curbs outside the homes of affluent families, picking up the crumbs of light falling out of their illuminated living rooms. “We have an edge because we live near the airport,” says 22-year-old Ismael Diallo, a university student.

It’s an edge in preparing for an exam in a country where unemployment is rampant, inflation has pushed the price of a large bag of rice to $30 and a typical government functionary earns around $60 a month. The lack of electricity is “a geological scandal,” says Michael McGovern, a political anthropologist at Yale University, quoting a phrase first used by a colonial administrator to describe Guinea’s untapped natural wealth. The Oregon-sized territory has rivers which if properly harnessed could electrify the region, McGovern says. It has gold, diamonds, iron and half the world’s reserves of bauxite, the raw material used to make aluminum. For 23 years, the former French colony has been under the grip of Lansana Conte, a reclusive and temperamental army general who grabbed the presidency in a 1984 coup. Suffering from a heart ailment, Conte has repeatedly traveled abroad for medical treatment. Mass demonstrations earlier this year called for his resignation because of his health and the deteriorating economy, but he instead declared martial law. Eighteen-year-old Ousman Conde admits that sitting on the concrete piling is not comfortable, but says passing his upcoming exam could open doors. “It hurts,” he says, looking up from his notes on Karl Marx for the politics portion of the test. “But we prefer this hurt to the hurt of not doing well in our exams.”

The Best Development Plan in the World Originated With…the British Empire?

The secret to turning a poor nation into a rich one can’t be found in a World Bank report. It wasn’t hatched in the corridors of the International Monetary Fund, either. It came from the British Empire. That is one way, at least, of interpreting Stanford economist Paul Romer’s new plan for turning economically backward countries like Cuba into engines of growth like China. Experts have long known that the traditional tools of development don’t work: free trade, foreign investment, and charity have failed as many countries as they’ve helped. The rot in a dysfunctional country is at its core—in the laws, institutions, and informal rules that govern daily life.

How to fix a problem so fundamental? Let a rich country take over part of a poor one. The hope, says Romer, is that the superior norms of the developed country will take root abroad. He calls his plan Charter Cities and illustrates it with a thought experiment. Imagine if the U.S. closes its prison at Guantánamo Bay and hands the land over to Canada, which agrees to develop it. “A new city blossoms,” writes Romer.

It does for Cuba what Hong Kong, administered by the British, did for China; it connects Cuba to the global economy. To help the city flourish, the Canadians encourage immigration. It is a place with Canadian judges and Mounties that happily accepts millions of immigrants. Some of the new residents could be Cuban émigrés who return from North America. Others might be Haitians who come work in garment factories that firms no longer feel safe bringing into Haiti. The new city gives the Haitians their only chance to choose to live under a system of law that offers safety and opportunity.

Private contractors rush in to build airports and infrastructure, lured by the prospect of rising property values. Multinational firms open factories, attracted by the proximity to low-cost labor and the certainty of the Canadian legal system. Eventually, Cuban authorities decide to replicate the experiment across the island, opening new, Guantánamo-like “special economic zones,” much as mainland China did starting in 1979, taking the Hong Kong model to Shenzhen and beyond. When played out on a global scale, “the gains from doing this are just enormous,” says Romer.

Such a fanciful idea might be easily dismissed if it weren’t coming from such an economic heavyweight. Romer transformed the field of growth theory in the 1980s, and his name is peppered throughout macroeconomic textbooks; he’s been mentioned as a potential Nobel Prize recipient. “There’s a thin line between revolutionary and crazy,” says NYU economist and development expert William Easterly. “Paul Romer has been adept at walking that line throughout his career, staying just out of the crazy part. He’s still tiptoeing along that line with this new idea.”

Still, there’s a pie-in-the-sky grandiosity to the scheme that elides some major stumbling blocks. One problem, admits Romer, is the parallel between charter cities and colonialism. Great Britain, for instance, would surely have qualms about taking over a few hundred acres of coastline in Ghana, where the legacy of slavery is still deeply felt. Romer says the similarities are surface level only—there’s no coercion involved in a charter city since it would be founded on empty or near-empty land, and anyone who lives there would do so by choice. Charter cities would only be considered in countries that welcome them. But the colonial parallel would certainly still rankle some. One way to mitigate the PR problem would be to let a group of rich countries administer the charter area; that way, no single nation could be accused of exploiting the host.

But the image problem hints at a more basic choke point: politics. “What’s clever about Paul’s idea is he’s saying, here’s a totally brand-new government we can invent from scratch and make it compete with existing governments,” says Easterly. “Anyone who doesn’t like their existing government can move. That’s an appealing notion. We’re so sick of governments that mistreat us that it’s kind of sticking them in the eye to say, here, we’re going to come up with a new one.” But though political competition is a seductive idea, it’s also a threat to existing powers, some of whom would surely try to block it. And globally orchestrated projects have a very low success rate—just look at the molasseslike progression toward a climate-change agreement. “International politics is a swamp,” says Easterly. “Things that involve international politics do not inspire a great deal of optimism in me.”

Nonetheless, Romer is attacking the idea with the zeal of a, er, missionary. He’s left his teaching position at Stanford and founded a nonprofit to pursue Charter Cities full time. He says he’s already in talks with potential host countries, although he won’t divulge which ones. Romer is confident that, despite the challenges, we’ll see the first charter cities within a few years. For the world’s poor and oppressed, that will be none too soon.

Paul Romer
email : paul.romer [at] stanford [dot] edu

students do homework under the dim lights of a parking lot at G’bessi Airport in Conakry, Guinea

For richer, for poorer
by Paul Romer / 27th January 2010

Forget aid—people in the poorest countries like Haiti need new cities with different rules. And developed countries should be the ones that build them

On the first day of TEDGlobal, a conference for technology enthusiasts in Oxford in July 2009, a surprise guest was unveiled: Gordon Brown. He began his presentation with a striking photograph of a vulture watching over a starving Sudanese girl. The internet, he said, meant such shocking images circulated quickly around the world, helping to mobilise a new global community of aid donors. Brown’s talk ended with a call to action: developed countries should give more aid to fight poverty.

When disaster strikes—as in the recent Haiti earthquake—the prime minister is right. Even small amounts of aid can save many lives. The moral case for aid is compelling. But we must also remember that aid is just palliative care. It doesn’t treat the underlying problems. As leaders like Rwandan president Paul Kagame have noted, it can even make these problems worse if it saps the innovation, ambition, confidence, and aspiration that ultimately helps poor countries grow.

So, two days later, I opened my own TED talk with a different photo, one of African students doing their homework at night under streetlights. I hoped the image would provoke astonishment rather than guilt or pity—for how could it be that the 100-year-old technology for lighting homes was still not available for the students? I argued that the failure could be traced to weak or wrong rules. The right rules can harness self-interest and use it to reduce poverty. The wrong rules stifle this force or channel it in ways that harm society.

The deeper problem, widely recognised but seldom addressed, is how to free people from bad rules. I floated a provocative idea. Instead of focusing on poor nations and how to change their rules, we should focus on poor people and how they can move somewhere with better rules. One way to do this is with dozens, perhaps hundreds, of new “charter cities,” where developed countries frame the rules and hundreds of millions of poor families could become residents.

How would such a city work? Imagine that a government in a poor country set aside a piece of uninhabited land. It invites a developed country to enter into a new type of partnership, in which the developed country sets up and enforces rules specified in a charter. Citizens from the poorer country, and the rest of the world, would be free to live and work in the city that emerges. It could create economic opportunities and encourage foreign investment, and by using uninhabited land it would ensure everyone living there would have chosen to do so with full knowledge of the rules. Roughly 3bn people, mostly the working poor, will move to cities over the next few decades. To my mind the choice is not whether the world will urbanise, but where and under which rules. Instead of expanding the slums in existing urban centres, new charter cities could provide safe, low-income housing and jobs that the world will need to accommodate this shift. Even more important, these cities could give poor people a chance to choose the rules they want to live and work under.

To understand why rules are the way to harness self-interest, and why such new cities could work where old cities have not, look again at the example of electricity. We know from the developed world that it costs very little to light a home—on average, less than one US penny an hour for a 100-watt bulb. We also know that most poor people in Africa are not starving. They could afford some light. Africans do not lack electricity because they are too poor. Indeed, reliable power is so important for education, productivity and job creation that it would be more accurate to say that many in Africa are poor because they don’t have electricity. So why don’t they?

Why the right rules matter
Consider development the other way round. US customers have cheap electricity mostly because rules channel self-interest in the right way. Some protect investments made by utilities, others stop these companies abusing their monopoly power. With such rules, companies win; efficient providers make a profit. But customers win too; they get access to a vital resource at low cost. It’s the absence of these rules that explains why many Africans don’t have electricity at home. It might seem a simple insight, but it took economists a long time to understand it.

In the 1950s and 1960s, economic models treated ideas as public goods, meaning that once one existed it was assumed to exist everywhere. Some ideas are like this—for example, the formula for oral rehydration therapy, the mixture of sugar, salt, and water, that stops children dying from diarrhoea. No one owns it and you can find it easily online. If all ideas were like this it would be easier for poor countries to grow. But they aren’t: patents and other legal rules stop some ideas spreading, while others are just easy to keep secret.

When I started graduate school in the late 1970s I was convinced economists underestimated the potential for new ideas to raise living standards. The body of work that grew out of my PhD thesis came to be called new growth theory, or post-neoclassical endogenous growth theory in Britain (when it was infamously taken up by new Labour in the mid-1990s). Initially I just wanted to understand how good ideas, like those which make cheap electric light possible, were discovered. But then another topic began to interest me: why didn’t ideas common in some parts of the world spread to others?

Put simply, some countries are better able to establish the type of rules that help good ideas spread, while others are trapped by bad rules that keep ideas out. The rules stopping cheap electricity, for instance, are not hard to identify. The threat of expropriation or political instability stops many western electricity companies moving into Africa. Those that do set up there can exploit their power as monopolists to charge excessive prices. Often they offer bribes to stop rules being enforced, or pay bribes themselves. Good rules would stop all this. So to unleash the potential of the marketplace, poor countries need to find a way to create good rules.

The challenge in setting up good rules lies in solving what economists call “commitment” problems. How can a developing country promise to keep the rules that govern investment fair? Nobel prize-winning economist Thomas Schelling illustrates this problem with the example of a kidnapper who decides he wants to free his victim. But the kidnapper worries that the victim, once released, will go to the authorities. The victim, eager to be free, promises not to—but there is no way for him to guarantee he will keep quiet. As a result, the kidnapper is compelled to kill the victim, even though both would be better off if a binding agreement could be made. Poor countries face similar problems: their leaders cannot make credible commitments to would-be investors.

Rich nations use well-functioning systems of courts, police and jails, developed over centuries, to solve such problems. Two people can make a commitment. If they don’t follow through, the courts will punish them. But many developing countries are still working their way down the same arduous path. Their leaders can fight corruption and establish independent courts and better rules over property rights, but such moves often require unpopular measures to coerce and cajole populations, making internal reforms excruciatingly slow. Subsequent leaders may undo any commitments they make. A faster route would seem to be for a developed country to impose new rules by force, as they did in the colonial period. There is evidence that some former colonies are more successful today because of rules established during their occupations. Yet any economic benefits usually took a long time to show up, and rarely compensated for years of condescension and the violent opposition it provoked. Today, violent civil conflicts have led some countries to again consider military humanitarian intervention, but this can only be justified in extreme circumstances. My point was that there is a middle ground between slow internal reforms and risky attempts at recolonialisation: the charter city.

There are large swathes of uninhabited land on the coast of sub-Saharan Africa that are too dry for agriculture. But a city can develop in even the driest locations, supported if necessary by desalinated and recycled water. And the new zone created need not be ruled directly from the developed partner country—residents of the charter city can administer the rules specified by their partner as long as the developed country retains the final say. This is what happens today in Mauritius, where the British Privy Council is still the court of final appeal in a judicial system staffed by Mauritians. Different cities could start with charters that differ in many ways. The common element would be that all residents would be there by choice—a Gallup survey found that 700m people around the world would be willing to move permanently to another country that offers safety and economic opportunity.

I started thinking about city-scale special zones after writing a paper about Mauritius. At the time of its independence in 1968, economists were pessimistic about this small island nation’s prospects. The population was growing rapidly, new jobs were scarce in its only real export industry (sugar), and high tariffs designed to protect small companies manufacturing for the domestic market meant no companies could profitably use their workers to manufacture goods for export. It was politically impossible to dismantle these barriers to trade, so policymakers did the next best thing: they created a special category of companies, ones said to be in a “special export zone.” The zone didn’t physically exist, in that these companies could locate anywhere on the island, but companies “inside” the zone operated under different rules. They faced no tariffs, or limits on imports or exports. Foreign companies in the zone could enter and exit freely, and keep profits they earned. Domestic companies could enter too. The only quid pro quo was that everyone in the zone had to produce only for export, so as not to compete with domestic firms. The zone was a dramatic success. Foreign businesses entered. Employment grew rapidly. The economy moved from agriculture to manufacturing. Once growth was underway, the government reduced trade barriers, freeing up the rest of the economy.

The history of development is littered with failed examples of similar zones. Mauritius was unusual because it had low levels of crime and the government already provided good utilities and infrastructure. The zone only had to remove one bad form of governance: trade restrictions. Yet many developing countries still can’t offer the basics, another reason why building new cities is an attractive option. Cities are just the right scale to offer basic conditions. So long as they can trade freely, even small cities are big enough to be self-sufficient. Yet because they are dense they require very little land.

To apply the lessons from Mauritius in countries with pervasive problems, the key is to create zones with new rules that are big enough to be self-contained. Big enough, that is, to hold a city. Then let people decide whether to enter.

When I returned to Mauritius in 2008, I outlined my ideas to Maurice Lam, head of the Mauritian Board of Investment. Maurice splits his time between Mauritius and Singapore. He and I knew that Lee Kuan Yew, former prime minister of Singapore, had experimented in the 1990s with a similar idea, establishing new cities that Singapore could help to run in China and Indonesia. These ran into difficulties because the local governments retained discretionary powers that they used to interfere after Singapore had made large investments in infrastructure. This convinced us that explicit treaties reassigning administrative control over land were needed. Maurice also said that countries in Africa would be open to this kind of arrangement. Some officials, eager to make a credible commitment to foreign investors, had already made informal inquiries about whether Mauritius would be willing to take administrative control over their special export zones.

What could go wrong?
Some economists have objected that a charter agreement between two countries will not necessarily solve the commitment problem that lies at the heart of development failures. The leaders of many countries enter into agreements, sometimes with the best intentions, that subsequent leaders or officials do not honour—as Lee Kuan Yew found to his cost. To guard against such an outcome, partners in a charter city must negotiate a formal treaty, like the one that gave the British rights in Hong Kong (see box, right). Under this arrangement the only way for the host country to renege on its commitment would be to invade. Even governments that resent having signed such agreements in the past almost always respect them. The Cubans hate the agreement that gave the US control of Guantánamo Bay, but learned to live with it.

Another objection comes from those who study urbanisation. They point out that the location of most existing cities is determined by accidents of history or geography, and suggest, correctly, that there are geographical requirements for a city to survive. But they are surely wrong to think that all the good sites for cities are taken. Here distance matters, but it is not an insurmountable obstacle: Mauritius continues to develop despite its remote location. Flat land is cheaper to build on, but many cities have developed on hilly terrain. A river can provide fresh water and access to the sea, but with desalination, so too can any coastal location where a port could be built. Access to the sea is the only real necessity—as long as a charter city can ship goods back and forth on container ships, it can thrive even if its neighbours turn hostile or unstable. And there are thousands of largely uninhabited coastal locations on several continents that could qualify.

Other urban economists fear new cities will repeat the unimpressive history of government-planned ones like Brasília, or Dubai’s recent bust. But these are both extreme examples. The state was too intrusive in Brasília and almost non-existent in Dubai. Hong Kong is the middle ground, a state ruled by laws not men, but one that leaves competition and individual initiative to decide the details.

The experience in Hong Kong offers two further lessons. The first is the importance of giving people a choice about the rules that govern them. Hong Kong was sparsely populated when the British took over. Unlike other colonial systems, almost everyone chose to come and live under the new system. This gave the rules proposed by the British a degree of legitimacy they never had in India, where the rules were imposed on often unwilling subjects. This is why building new cities, rather than taking over existing ones, is so powerful.

The second lesson is the importance of getting the scale right. Most nations are too large to update all their rules and laws at once. The coercion needed to impose a new system on an existing population generates friction, no matter who is in charge. Leaders on mainland China understood this when they attempted to copy the successes of Hong Kong by gradually opening a few places, such as the new city of Shenzhen, near Hong Kong. Yet while nations are too big, towns and villages are too small. A village cannot capture the benefits that arise when millions of people live and work together under good rules. Cities offer the right scale for dramatic change.

The demands of migration
As billions of people urbanise in the coming decades, they can move to hundreds of new cities. The gains new cities can unleash are clear. Picture again the students studying under the streetlights. By themselves, political leaders in poor countries won’t provide cheap, reliable electricity any time soon. They can’t eliminate the political risk that holds back investment or ensure adequate regulatory controls. But working with a partner nation, they can establish a new city where millions of young people could pay pennies to be able to study at home. And as these cities seek out residents, the leaders and citizens in existing countries will face the most effective pressure for good governance—competition.

We know from history that the competitive pressures created by migration can boost economic growth. But strong opposition to immigration in the world’s richest economies prevents many people from moving to better systems of rules. Charter cities bring the good systems of rules to places that would welcome migrants. Indeed, charter cities offer the only viable path for substantial increases in global migration, bringing good rules to places that the world’s poor can easily and legally access, while lessening the contentious political frictions that arise from traditional migration flows.

Intelligently designed new cities can offer environmental benefits too, a point increasingly made by environmentalists like Stewart Brand (see p39.) For example, Indonesia emits greenhouse gases at a rate exceeded only by China and the US. This rate is partly due to logging practices in its rainforest, and efforts to clear land for palm-oil plantations and pulp-producing acacia trees. Brand has cited the experience of Panama to demonstrate the green potential of urbanisation: as people there left slash-and-burn agriculture for work in cities, forest regenerated on the land they left behind. Similar migration to new cities in places like Indonesia could do much to reduce carbon emissions from the developing world.

Investment in charter cities could also make more effective the aid rich countries give. The British experience in Hong Kong shows that enforcing rules costs partners very little, but can have a huge effect. Because Hong Kong helped make reform in the rest of China possible, the British intervention there arguably did more to reduce world poverty than all the official aid programmes of the 20th century, and at a fraction of the cost. And, if many such cities are built, fewer people will be trapped in the failed states that are the root cause of most humanitarian crises and security concerns.

There are many questions to be resolved before the first city is chartered. Is it better to have a group of rich nations, or a multinational body like the EU, play the role the British played in Hong Kong? How would such a city be governed? And how and when might transfer of control back to the host country be arranged? But as we begin to explore these questions, we must not lose sight of the fundamental insights that advocates of the free market underestimate. The win-win agreements that we see in well-functioning markets are possible only when there is a strong, credible government that can establish the rules. In places where these rules are not present, it could take centuries for locals to bootstrap themselves from bad rules to good. By creating new zones through partnerships at the national level, good rules can spread more quickly, and when they do, the benefits can be huge.

The world’s fortunate citizens must be able to provide assistance when disasters like the earthquake in Haiti strike, but we must also be wary of the practical and moral limits of aid. When the roles of benefactor and supplicant are institutionalised, both parties are diminished. In the case of Haiti, if nations in the region created just two charter cities, they could house the entire population of that country. Senegal has offered Haitians the opportunity to return to the home “of their ancestors.” “If they come en masse we are ready to give them a region,” a Senegal government spokesman said. Outside of the extraordinary circumstances of a crisis, the role of partner is better for everyone. And there are millions of people seeking partnerships around the world. Helping people build them successfully is the opportunity of the century

Hong Kong: the first charter city?
Hong Kong was a successful example of a special zone that could serve as a model for charter cities. In the 1950s and 1960s, it was the only place in China where Chinese workers could enter partnerships with foreign workers and companies. Many of the Chinese who moved to Hong Kong started in low-skill jobs, making toys or sewing shirts. But over time their wages grew along with the skills that they gained working with educated managers, and using modern technologies and working practices.

Over time they acquired the values and norms that sustain modern cities. As a result, Hong Kong enjoyed rapid economic growth—in 1960, the average income was around £2,500; by 1997, it was around £20,000. Even if it had wanted to, the Chinese government acting alone could not have offered this opportunity. The credibility of rules developed over centuries by the British government was essential in attracting the foreign investment, companies and skilled workers that let these low-skill immigrants lift themselves out of poverty. As in Mauritius, authority rested ultimately with the British governor general, but most of the police and civil servants were Chinese. And the benefits demonstrated in Hong Kong became a model for reform-minded leaders in China itself.

The Politically Incorrect Guide to Ending Poverty
by Sebastian Mallaby / July/August 2010

Halfway through the 12th Century, and a long time before economists began pondering how to turn poor places into rich ones, the Germanic prince Henry the Lion set out to create a merchant’s mecca on the lawless Baltic coast. It was an ambitious project, a bit like trying to build a new Chicago in modern Congo or Iraq. Northern Germany was plagued by what today’s development gurus might delicately call a “bad-governance equilibrium,” its townships frequently sacked by Slavic marauders such as the formidable pirate Niclot the Obotrite. But Henry was not a mouse. He seized control of a fledgling town called Lübeck, had Niclot beheaded on the battlefield, and arranged for Lübeck to become the seat of a diocese. A grand rectangular market was laid out at the center of the town; all that was missing was the merchants.

To attract that missing ingredient to his city, Henry hit on an idea that has enjoyed a sort of comeback lately. He devised a charter for Lübeck, a set of “most honorable civic rights,” calculating that a city with light regulation and fair laws would attract investment easily. The stultifying feudal hierarchy was cast aside; an autonomous council of local burgesses would govern Lübeck. Onerous taxes and trade restrictions were ruled out; merchants who settled in Lübeck would be exempt from duties and customs throughout Henry the Lion’s lands, which stretched south as far as Bavaria. The residents of Lübeck were promised fair treatment before the law and an independent mint that would shelter them from confiscatory inflation. With this bill of rights in place, Henry dispatched messengers to Russia, Denmark, Norway, and Sweden. Merchants who liked the sound of his charter were invited to migrate to Lübeck.

The plan worked. Immigrants soon began arriving in force, and Lübeck became the leading entrepôt for the budding Baltic Sea trade route, which eventually extended as far west as London and Bruges and as far east as Novgorod, in Russia. Hundreds of oaken cogs—ships powered by a single square sail—entered Lübeck’s harbor every year, their hulls bursting with Flemish cloth, Russian fur, and German salt. In less than a century, Lübeck went from a backwater to the most populous and prosperous town in northern Europe. “In medieval urban history there is hardly another example of a success so sudden and so brilliant,” writes the historian Philippe Dollinger.

Perhaps the only thing more remarkable than Lübeck’s wealth was the influence of its charter. As trade routes lengthened, new cities mushroomed all along the Baltic shore, and rather than develop a legal code from scratch, the next wave of city fathers copied Lübeck’s charter, importing its political and economic liberties. The early imitators included the nearby cities of Rostock and Danzig, but the charter was eventually adopted as far afield as Riga and Tallinn, the capitals of modern Latvia and Estonia. The medieval world had stumbled upon a formula for creating order out of chaos and prosperity amid backwardness. Lübeck ultimately became the seat of the Hanseatic League, an economic alliance of 200 cities that lasted nearly half a millennium.

Fast-forward several centuries, and Henry the Lion’s would-be heir is Paul Romer, a gentle economist at Stanford University. Elegant, bespectacled, geekishly curious in a boyish way, Romer is not the kind of person you might picture armed with a two-handed flanged mace, cutting down Slavic marauders. But he is bent on cutting down an adversary almost as resistant: the conventional approach to development in poor countries. Rather than betting that aid dollars can beat poverty, Romer is peddling a radical vision: that dysfunctional nations can kick-start their own development by creating new cities with new rules—Lübeck-style centers of progress that Romer calls “charter cities.” By building urban oases of technocratic sanity, struggling nations could attract investment and jobs; private capital would flood in and foreign aid would not be needed. And since Henry the Lion is not on hand to establish these new cities, Romer looks to the chief source of legitimate coercion that exists today—the governments that preside over the world’s more successful countries. To launch new charter cities, he says, poor countries should lease chunks of territory to enlightened foreign powers, which would take charge as though presiding over some imperial protectorate. Romer’s prescription is not merely neo-medieval, in other words. It is also neo-colonial.

Inevitably, Romer’s big idea attracts some skeptical responses. “Paul is very creative,” says William Easterly, a development economist at New York University, “and sometimes creativity can cross the line into craziness.” The way Easterly sees it, charter cities (like charter schools in American cities) may provide an alternative to incumbent government systems, promising experimentation, competition, and perhaps a new way forward. But Easterly also worries that Romer has fallen prey to an old siren song—the idea that you can slough off debilitating customs and vested interests by constructing a technocratic petri dish uncontaminated by politics. Other critics are blunter. “Romer makes it sound as though setting up a charter city is like setting up a fairground,” Elliott Sclar, a professor of urban planning at Columbia University, told me. “We take a clear piece of land, we turn on the bright lights, and we create this separate environment that will stand apart from everything that’s around it. I wish it were that simple.”

However simple-seeming his ideas, Romer is no lightweight. Starting in the late 1980s, he produced a series of papers that changed the way his profession thinks about economic growth; his most celebrated contribution, published in 1990, “was one of the best papers in economics in 25 or 30 years,” in the estimation of Charles I. Jones, a colleague of Romer’s at Stanford. Before the Romer revolution, theorists had explained an economy’s growing output by looking at the obvious inputs—the number of hours worked, the skills of the workforce, the quantity of machinery and other physical capital.

But Romer stressed a fourth driver of growth, which he termed simply “ideas,” a category that encompassed everything from the formula for a new drug to the most efficient sequence for stitching 19 pieces of material into a sneaker. In statistical tests, the traditional inputs appeared to account for only half the differences in countries’ output per person, suggesting that ideas might account for the remaining half—and that leaving them out of a growth theory was like leaving the prince out of Hamlet. And whereas the old models had predicted that growth would slow as population expansion put stress on resources, and as new investment in skills and capital yielded diminishing returns, Romer’s New Growth Theory opened the window onto a sunnier worldview: a larger number of affluent people means more ideas, so prosperity and population expansion might cause growth to speed up.

Romer’s enthusiasm for technology made him a natural West Coaster, so it is not surprising that, after spells on the faculty at the University of Rochester and the University of Chicago, he fetched up at the University of California at Berkeley and then at Stanford’s Graduate School of Business. But the next turn in his thinking involved a rebellion against the libertarianism of his Silicon Valley home. “I was willing to be a bit confrontational,” Romer says, impishly. Starting with a paper he presented at a World Bank conference in 1992, Romer began to emphasize that “ideas” included more than just technologies and manufacturing processes. Ideas were also embodied in customs and institutions—or, as Romer later came to put it, “rules”—patent law, competition law, bankruptcy law, and so on, as well as the softer “norms” that govern people’s behavior. Indeed, these rules could be even more important than technologies, however much the digerati of Silicon Valley might wish to believe otherwise. Without new technologies, an economy might grow slowly. But without decent rules, an economy cannot even make use of the technologies that already exist.

To drive home the importance of good rules to economic growth, Romer sometimes shows a photograph of Guinean teenagers doing their homework under streetlights. The line of hunched, concentrating figures presents a mystery, Romer says; from the photo it is clear that the teens are not dirt poor, and youths like these generally own cell phones. Yet they evidently have no electric light at home, or they would not be studying by the curbside. “So here is the puzzle,” Romer declares: Why do these kids have access to a cutting-edge technology like the cell phone, but not to a 100-year-old technology for generating electric light in the home? The answer, in a word, is rules. Because of misguided price controls in the teenagers’ country, the local electricity utility has no incentive to connect their houses to the power grid. Their society lacks the rules that make technological advance meaningful.

For much of the 1990s, development economists built on Romer’s insights, so that laws and the institutions needed to enforce them became central to the mainstream view of what drives human progress. But then, having transformed academic economics, Romer shocked the profession once again—this time by abandoning it. Starting in 2001, he began to channel his energy into a start-up software company that he named Aplia. “I was extremely disappointed to lose Paul as an academic colleague,” Easterly told me. “By walking away from research, he no doubt ignored the advice of anyone he might have talked to.” But Romer shrugged off such complaints. “When I was young, there were too many old economists who were getting in the way,” he explained. “So after 10 years I wanted to get out of the way, and not stifle the next generation.” Besides, Romer’s father, Roy, a former governor of Colorado, had just begun running the Los Angeles school system. As a proponent of technology, the younger Romer was embarrassed that educators such as himself had barely used computers to boost their own productivity.

Like Romer’s research, his company was radical. It created teaching materials that could be accessed online by collegiate economics students, challenging the dead-tree model of the textbook-industrial complex. At first, Romer was told that his approach was crazy. Students were used to paying a fortune for textbooks and then getting the accompanying homework problems at a trivial cost; Romer’s little start-up presumed to invert custom. Sooner or later, Romer insisted, textbooks would be electronic, at which point they would be copied and shared. By contrast, access to online homework problems could be metered successfully on the Web, because the sale of the homework could be bundled with automatic, online grading. Professors would be drawn to the system, and to assigning Aplia’s online texts. And those who had stinted on handing out exercises because of the grading time required would now feel free to assign more, with the result that students would make faster progress. By the time Romer sold Aplia in 2007, students had submitted 200 million answers to its online problems, and the venture had made its founder independently wealthy—not rich enough to be invited to Silicon Valley’s fancy charity galas, but plenty rich enough to live without a salary. At 52 years old, he began to look for a new challenge.

Romer was not inclined to go back to academia. The World Bank sounded him out for the job of chief economist, a perch previously occupied by stars such as Stanley Fischer, Lawrence Summers, and Joseph Stiglitz, but Romer was not interested in that, either. What he wanted, he told me, was to draw on the intellectual creativity of his university days and the entrepreneurial initiative he had shown at Aplia—and above all, to be maximally ambitious. When he made his choice, in 2008, it was suitably bold. He gave up tenure at Stanford and set out to make his mark in his own way: with the help of three assistants, he launched his charter-cities campaign, operating partly out of the small office he retained at Stanford and partly out of a friend’s house or a local Peet’s Coffee. He also began to shuttle back and forth across the world, meeting with any developing-country leader who would grant him an audience. Especially in sub-Saharan Africa, a surprising number proved ready to do so.

When Romer explains charter cities, he likes to invoke Hong Kong. For much of the 20th century, Hong Kong’s economy left mainland China’s in the dust, proving that enlightened rules can make a world of difference. By an accident of history, Hong Kong essentially had its own charter—a set of laws and institutions imposed by its British colonial overseers—and the charter served as a magnet for go-getters. At a time when much of East Asia was ruled by nationalist or Communist strongmen, Hong Kong’s colonial authorities put in place low taxes, minimal regulation, and legal protections for property rights and contracts; between 1913 and 1980, the city’s inflation-adjusted output per person jumped more than eightfold, making the average Hong Kong resident 10 times as rich as the average mainland Chinese, and about four-fifths as rich as the average Briton. Then, beginning around 1980, Hong Kong’s example inspired the mainland’s rulers to create copycat enclaves. Starting in Shenzhen City, adjacent to Hong Kong, and then curling west and north around the Pacific shore, China created a series of special economic zones that followed Hong Kong’s model. Pretty soon, one of history’s greatest export booms was under way, and between 1987 and 1998, an estimated 100 million Chinese rose above the $1-a-day income that defines abject poverty. The success of the special economic zones eventually drove China’s rulers to embrace the export-driven, pro-business model for the whole country. “In a sense, Britain inadvertently, through its actions in Hong Kong, did more to reduce world poverty than all the aid programs that we’ve undertaken in the last century,” Romer observes drily.

Of course, versions of China’s special economic zones have existed elsewhere, especially in Asia. But Romer is not just arguing for enclaves; he is arguing for enclaves that are run by foreign governments. To Romer, the fact that Hong Kong was a colonial experiment, imposed upon a humiliated China by means of a treaty signed aboard a British warship, is not just an embarrassing detail. On the contrary, British rule was central to the city’s success in persuading capitalists of all stripes to flock to it. Romer sometimes illustrates this point by citing another Communist country: modern-day Cuba. Cuba’s rulers have tried to induce foreign corporations to set up shop in special export zones, and have been greeted with understandable caution. But if Raúl Castro convinced a foreign government—ideally a rich democracy such as Canada—to assume sovereignty over a start-up city in Cuba, the prospect of a mini Canada in the sun might attract a flood of investment.

It must have occurred to Castro, Romer says, that his island could do with its own version of Hong Kong; and perhaps that the Guantánamo Bay zone, over which Cuba has already ceded sovereignty to the United States, would be a good place to build one. “Castro goes to the prime minister of Canada and says, ‘Look, the Yankees have a terrible PR problem. They want to get out. Why don’t you, Canada, take over? Run a special administrative zone. Allow a new city to be built up there,’” Romer muses, channeling a statesmanlike version of Raúl Castro that Cuba-watchers might not recognize. “Some of my citizens will move into that city,” Romer-as-Castro continues. “Others will hold back. But this will be the gateway that will connect the modern economy and the modern world to my country.”

When I put this scenario to Julia Sweig, a Cuba expert at the Council on Foreign Relations, she described the whole notion as “wacky.” But not everyone has dismissed Romer’s vision so quickly. Romer maintains that when he started to discuss his thinking with governments in developing countries, he found many of them receptive. One nation in particular seemed eager to sign on: the island-state of Madagascar, off the southeastern coast of Africa, where 90 percent of the people subsist on less than $2 a day.

In July 2008, Romer made his first trip to Madagascar’s bustling capital, Antananarivo. Madagascar’s government was anxious to attract foreign investment, and it understood that a credibility deficit held it back. In an earlier bout of openness, the island had lured in foreign garment firms, but then the political climate turned hostile and the firms fled; now the government was having trouble enticing them to come back. Faced with this obstacle, the Malagasy authorities were open to unconventional arrangements. To boost investment in agriculture, they were ready to lease a Connecticut-size tract of land to Daewoo, a South Korean corporation, for 99 years. To boost investment in export industries, they were thinking about inviting a tiny Indian Ocean neighbor, Mauritius, to administer an export-processing zone on Malagasy territory. Romer’s proposal fit in with these adventurous ideas. He returned to Antananarivo in November 2008 and held another round of promising meetings with government officials. The final hurdle, he was told, would be to secure an audience with the president, a former businessman named Marc Ravalomanana. Nothing could happen without his say-so.

Romer returned to Stanford and waited to hear when the president might be available. Periodically, he would receive an e-mail: Ravalomanana’s schedulers were battling to fit him in, but dozens of competing issues demanded the boss’s attention, and they were reluctant to commit to a firm time for the meeting. As the end of the year approached, without any appointment, Romer decided it was time for a gamble: he made the 30-hour trip from San Francisco once again, arriving in Antananarivo on the Sunday before Christmas, figuring that the president’s schedule might open up over the holidays. He checked himself into the Hotel du Louvre, close to the presidential palace, and called his government contacts to announce his arrival; then he set about waiting. He found that a patisserie nearby served finer French pastries than he had tasted in any American city. Sitting in the café with an espresso and a mille-feuille, Romer could see young men, stunted from malnutrition, watching over the cars parked in front of the hotel, hoping for a few tips. A portly European of a certain age walked by with an attractive young Malagasy woman on his arm, and the men outside the hotel stared. The look on their faces expressed all that needed to be said about global inequality.

Two days after he arrived, Romer got the summons he was waiting for. Late in the evening, on the night before Christmas Eve, he was ushered into the president’s personal residence, a recently refurbished but relatively modest home high in the hills. Ravalomanana had a few guests over to celebrate the holidays, and the mood was relaxed. He invited Romer out onto his balcony to see the view of the city, and then the two men moved into a study. The only symbols of authority were a large desk and a flag. The president was in shirtsleeves.

In public, Ravalomanana cut quite a figure. Handsome, youthful in appearance, and wealthy, he had started out selling homemade yogurt off the back of a bicycle and ended up holding a national monopoly on all dairy and oil products. But in private, Romer found the president quite approachable. Romer made his pitch for a charter city, and Ravalomanana responded that he wasn’t sure one was enough; if Romer could identify two rich countries willing to play the role of government trustee, it might be better to launch two parallel experiments. The president and the professor agreed that the new hubs should be open to migrants from nearby countries as well as to locals. They rose to examine a map of Madagascar on the study wall. Ravalomanana suggested building the first city on the island’s southwestern coast, which was largely uninhabited because of its dry heat. To Romer, the site sounded very much like the coastal locations that appeal most to the world’s affluent as vacation spots.

Romer has a quick smile and a knack for saying big things with small words, but he is not much for emotion. Recalling his trips to Madagascar, he sounds typically cool about them. But a more excitable person would be whooping out the punch lines at this point in the story; the fact that the charter-cities movement had progressed so far so fast is little short of astonishing. Barely a year after launching his venture, Romer was on the brink of a rare coup: a nation of 20 million people was about to embrace a neo-medieval, neo-colonial scheme untested in the modern history of development. But then a different sort of coup occurred—the kind of coup, unfortunately, that underscores the obstacles to Romer’s project.

Even as Romer was meeting with Ravalomanana, the president’s main political opponent was sniping at the proposed lease of farmland to Daewoo, and the idea of giving up vast swaths of territory to foreigners was growing increasingly unpopular. The arrangement was denounced as treason, and public protests gathered momentum, eventually turning violent. In late January 2009, protesters tossed homemade grenades at radio and TV stations that Ravalomanana owned; looters ransacked his chain of supermarkets. In February, guards opened fire on marchers in front of the presidential palace, killing 28 civilians. At this, units of the army mutinied. Soon, Ravalomanana was forced out of office.

The first action of the new government was to cancel the Daewoo project, and Romer’s plans in Madagascar were put on hold indefinitely. But the larger question was what, if anything, this disappointment signified for Romer’s whole approach. The riots appeared to demonstrate the explosive sensitivities surrounding sovereignty and land—sensitivities that are not confined to Madagascar. Indeed, versions of the Daewoo story have played out elsewhere. In the late 1990s, for example, Fiji’s government decided to bring in a British nonprofit to manage its mahogany forests, and an indigenous leader launched a revolt under the slogan “Fiji for the Fijians.” The rebellion was hypocritical: as the Oxford economist Paul Collier recounts in his book The Bottom Billion, the indigenous leader had himself backed a rival foreign bid to manage the mahogany. But the venality of the rebels’ motivation didn’t change the fact that a demagogue could easily attract support by railing against territorial concessions to foreigners.

Ever since the setback in Madagascar, Romer has been coy, for obvious reasons, about which governments are interested in his plan. But he remains optimistic. “I revived growth theory. I made technology work in higher ed. I am two for two, and I think the impossible can be done,” he told me cheerfully. He added that the Daewoo deal might not have been the main impetus for the coup in Madagascar; the real reasons for Ravalomanana’s downfall lay in idiosyncratic local rivalries, even if the opposition exploited sensitivities over land to incite antigovernment protests. I suggested that the fact that land concessions could trigger such emotions was still not a good sign. Romer stopped, considered, and chose his words carefully.

“Anything that involves land can be manipulated by people who want to rise up against a leader,” he began. “You have to find a place where there’s a strong enough leader with enough legitimacy to do this knowing that he’s going to get attacked. It narrows the options quite a bit. But we shouldn’t give up without trying a few more places.” In short, a disappointment with one client is no excuse for failing to pitch other ones. Any entrepreneur knows that.

As politically freighted as Romer’s ideas are, they also carry a continuing attraction to the people in charge of many poor countries, particularly those with rapidly growing populations. By some estimates, 3 billion people will move to cities in the next few decades, abandoning miserable and environmentally destructive work as subsistence farmers in the hope of better lives in manufacturing and services. In the absence of a Romer-type solution, these migrants will move into urban slums with no running water, high crime rates, few steady jobs, and sewage in the streets; charter cities seem a better option. And Romer’s idea has the great merit of paying for itself. Land in successful cities appreciates in value, creating wealth that can be unlocked to finance new buildings, businesses, and infrastructure. And so African officials continue to meet with Romer, and Romer continues to jet off to wherever they are ready to see him.

When you listen carefully, you realize that much of what Romer is saying should not be controversial. A few development economists argue that geography is destiny, but most share Romer’s conviction that decent rules are paramount. After all, Asia accounted for fully 56 percent of world income in 1820, only 16 percent in 1950, and a substantial 39 percent in 2008; what changed over this period was rules, not geography. Equally, Romer’s contention that a developing country can achieve good government by importing the credibility of foreigners fits with mainstream thinking. When Panama or Ecuador decides to do business in dollars, or when Slovenia embraces the euro, each country is importing the credibility of a foreign central bank. Similarly, joining the World Trade Organization is a proven way to import the rich world’s tariff structure, intellectual-property rules, and domestic regulations—and, just as important, to persuade investors that the reform is permanent. Importing foreign election monitors or peacekeepers can compensate for weak political institutions or security forces. And so on.

But Romer is also urging us to reexamine assumptions about citizenship and democracy, and this is where he gets more radical. In the kind of charter city he imagines, the governor would be appointed by Canada or some other rich nation, but the people who work there would come from poor countries—the whole point, after all, is to bring the governance of the developed world to workers in undeveloped places. It follows that the workers in Romer’s charter city wouldn’t be citizens in the full sense. They would be offered whatever protections the founding charter might lay down, and they would have to take them or leave them. Rather than getting a vote at the ballot box, Romer is saying, the residents of a charter city would have to vote with their feet. Their leaders would be accountable—but only to the rich voters in the country that appointed them.

This viewpoint is, to say the least, not in keeping with the idealized vision of development, in which freedom and prosperity advance in lockstep, with democracy serving as the necessary companion to economic progress. In the 1980s Ronald Reagan declared confidently, “Freedom works”; and in the 1990s Bill Clinton lectured foreign counterparts on how democracy had become all the more indispensable to progress with the advent of the “knowledge economy.” But assertions like these have seemed more fragile recently, with authoritarian China breaking growth records and state capitalism apparently thriving; Romer is hardly the only person to doubt that democracy is a necessary condition for economic progress. And to the extent that opt-in charter cities offer a third way—something between pure democracy and pure authoritarianism—those who care for liberty might do well to embrace the experiment. Charter cities make it harder for authoritarians to claim that their system offers the only fast route out of poverty.

The real test for Romer’s attitude toward democracy is not whether it conforms to Western ideals, but whether it appeals to the poor people whom Western aid agencies claim to be serving. And on this score, the answer is clear. In fact, you could say Romer’s assertion—that voting with your feet can be a palatable alternative to casting a ballot—already has 214 million adherents, for that is the number of people who have chosen to leave their home countries and settle as migrants in places where they have no political vote. Real development, as distinct from the idealized vision of development, involves hard personal choices. If people are willing to live as legal or illegal immigrants, with rights that range from limited to none, then logically, they should be even more eager to move to a Romerplex, which would promise most of the economic gains of uprooting to another continent while allowing migrants to stay closer to their families and cultures.

If you have stuck with Romer thus far, you are ready for the last part of his argument. If good rules are the key to development, it follows that the big development challenge is to grasp how to reform bad rules—and to accept that conventional approaches are not terribly successful. Think back to the African teenagers reading under the streetlights. The bad rules they contend with are well understood: dozens of World Bank missions have doubtless pointed out that price controls on electricity destroy the electric company’s incentive to sign up new customers. But what is not understood is how to abolish those controls, since the country’s elite, which is already hooked up to the electric grid, will fight tooth and nail against higher prices.

The standard response to this obstacle is to advocate democracy and hope that voters will force change: the minority that has electric light will be outvoted by the much larger number of people who have been denied it. But Romer argues that this way forward is too slow. People don’t always vote their economic interests, and elites with tentacles all over the ministry of energy may keep price controls in place for decades. So rather than wait in vain for electricity rules to change, we are better off starting a new experiment with brand-new rules—a charter city that stands outside the ministry’s authority. Rather than going at an obstacle head-on, Romer is saying, sidestepping it is frequently a better option.

Romer likes to clinch this point with an analogy from industry. A firm like IBM may develop a culture—a set of corporate rules—that is brilliantly suited to handling the institutional customers that buy mainframe computers. But when the PC is invented, and individuals become customers, the IBM culture proves awkward and slow; and reforming its rules turns out to be difficult. So along come Dell and Apple, with business models better targeted at household consumers, and pretty soon computer-users start preferring their products. Change from without comes more easily than change from within. Industrial progress comes from new entrants and new experiments, not from the slow process of changing established corporate bureaucracies.

Sometimes, Romer continues, established businesses subject themselves to an internal version of this process. They spawn experimental subsidiaries, known as “skunkworks,” to try out new business models. For example, the discount retailer Target began as an experimental skunkworks spun off by the old-line retailer Dayton Company. Target was given its own charter and allowed to test out a new approach; it succeeded so resoundingly that Dayton eventually ditched the parts of its business that ran according to the old rules and embraced the Target formula. Again, generating change within an organization is often less effective than driving change from without. If companies can change themselves by setting up subsidiaries with new rules, countries could do the same with charter cities.

Throughout our conversation, Romer maintained a steady confidence that poor countries will eventually welcome charter cities. At the end of one of his overseas trips, he messaged me from his iPhone: “Sadly can’t say more yet other than that in two cases I’m waiting for next step meeting w the president. As before I remain optimistic about response from developing countries.” In one case, Romer and his government counterparts have progressed quite far: they have identified the site for the charter city, and agreed that its success will require the construction of a new port. Meanwhile, Romer is equally confident that elite opinion will come around to his idea—and my own recent straw poll of development economists suggests that at least some of them have already done so.

But the largest obstacle Romer faces, by his own admission, still remains: he has to find countries willing to play the role of Britain in Hong Kong. Despite the good arguments that Romer makes for his vision, the responsibilities entailed in Empire 2.0 are not popular. How would a rich government contend with the shantytowns that might spring up around the borders of a charter city? Would it deport the inhabitants, and be accused of human-rights abuses? Or tolerate them and allow its oasis to be overrun with people who don’t respect its city charter? And what would the foreign trustee do if its host tried to nullify the lease? Would it defend its development experiment with an expeditionary army, as Margaret Thatcher defended the Falklands? A top official at one of Europe’s aid agencies told me, “Since we are responsible for our remaining overseas territories, I can tell you there is much grief in running these things. I would be surprised if Romer gets any takers.”

Sensing the resistance among potential trustee nations, Romer has come up with new variants on his formula. A group of advanced countries could share the burden of trusteeship, rather than one nation shouldering the responsibility alone. To reduce the sensitivities over land and sovereignty, the territory for a charter city could be provided by one country while the migrant workers come from another. When I asked Romer about setting up a charter city in post-earthquake Haiti, he recoiled at the idea: the country has no functioning government, so there is no entity that could transfer sovereignty over a parcel of territory in a legitimate way. But Romer was happy to contemplate creative variations on this theme. What if Mexico ceded some land for a charter city for Haitians, with the charter being administered by a consortium of outside governments?

Whatever becomes of Romer’s movement, it is going to be interesting. His thinking taps into so many currents of our era—an era in which millions of migrants embrace his vote-with-your feet vision; in which the old faith in democratic development is questioned; and in which globalization scrambles settled notions of who rules what where. On one side, critics will be scathing: Elliott Sclar, the Columbia professor, warns, “Charter cities amount to a new form of colonialism, and that’s the last thing we need right now.” On the other side, adherents will cheer eagerly: charter cities are “one of the best ideas that anybody in development ever had,” according to Michael Clemens of the Center for Global Development, a think tank in Washington, D.C. And throughout these debates, it will be hard not to sympathize with Romer’s plea for fresh thinking. Charter cities face plenty of obstacles, and I could have written an article that dwelt exclusively on them. But when African teenagers do their homework under streetlights, isn’t Romer right to think the unthinkable?

Can “Charter Cities” Change the World? A Q&A With Paul Romer
by Dwyer Gunn / September 29, 2009

Weak institutions and bad rules are some of the most significant obstacles to economic growth in developing countries. Paul Romer, an economist known for his work on economic growth, has a plan to change that and recently resigned his tenured teaching position at Stanford to devote his full energies to the challenge. “Moving from bad rules to better ones may be much harder than most economists have allowed.” Romer’s plan calls for the establishment of Hong Kong-like “charter cities,” special zones within developing countries with better rules and institutions. Romer agreed to answer some of our questions about his crazy and/or revolutionary plan below:

Q. You recently gave up your tenured teaching position at Stanford to launch an ambitious development initiative. Can you tell us about your new charter cities project?
A. Yes, instead of being a professor, I’m now a senior fellow there, which means exactly what it says: I’m officially an old guy. The key to the project is a charter city, which starts out as a city-sized piece of uninhabited territory and a charter or constitution specifying the rules that will apply there. If the charter specifies good rules (or in our professional jargon, good institutions) millions of people will come together to build a new city.

Q. What makes you confident that land and a good charter are all it takes?
A. A well-run city lets millions of people come together and enjoy the benefit they can get from working together and trading with each other. The benefits per person increase with the total number of people; this is why big cities are more productive than small cities or villages. Of course, none of this is new. Adam Smith was referring to the power of exchange and the importance of increasing returns when he wrote that, “the division of labor is limited by the extent of the market.” There are many signs of the value created by all the exchange that takes place in a city. We see it in productivity and wage data. We also see it in the increase in the value of the land. Millions of people are willing to pay high rents just to live and work around millions of other people who are also paying high rents. Why? To get the benefits that come from exchange and interaction with so many others. In the developing world, most people don’t yet live in big well-run cities. Given the chance to move to one, hundreds of millions of people would go there to get a job, get an education for their children, and live in a place that is clean, safe, and healthy. Other people will make a profit by hiring them or supplying them with infrastructure and other services. If the rules let this happen, everyone can be better off. It doesn’t take any charity to build well-run cities.

Q. What kinds of rules would have to be specified in a charter for a new city?
A. Rules about public sanitation are a simple and familiar example. Without them, a city can’t be a healthy place to live; but these rules don’t just happen. The rules for a city are different from the ones for a village, but as a village slowly gets bigger, a city may be stuck with the rules of the village. In a village, it might be O.K. to rule that anyone can urinate anyplace they want. In a modern city, it is better to have a rule saying that people have to urinate into toilets connected to the sewer system. According to a recent news report, the city government in Paris is having trouble enforcing this rule. They have special police units that give tickets to men who urinate against walls. So when we speak of rules, we must understand both rules on paper and an effective system of enforcement. In many cities in poor countries, health is bad because governments don’t enforce basic rules about sanitation. The crime rate is appallingly high because the government doesn’t enforce rules that prohibit theft and violence. Traffic fatalities and congestion are both high because they don’t have good traffic rules or if they do, they don’t enforce them. The fact that people still flock to cities with such bad rules tells us something about how big the other benefits from living in a city must be. But given the choice, they would surely rather go to a city with good rules instead of one with bad rules.

Q. You have argued that new cities can speed up growth in the developing world. Aren’t the cities that the world needs springing up naturally? Why do we need the construct of a charter city to encourage faster or better urbanization?
A. Economists tend to assume that societies will naturally adopt good rules. If that were true, societies would put in place the rules needed to get the gains from a city and well-run cities would indeed spring up. The evidence suggests to the contrary that many societies are stuck with bad rules. Moving from bad rules to better ones may be much harder than most economists have allowed. The construct of a charter city is a suggestion about how we can change the dynamics of rules. It is a way to speed up the rate of improvement in the rules. There is an analogy that may be helpful here. Large corporations operate according to an internal set of rules that we sometimes call a corporate culture. A natural question to ask is what mechanisms lead to improvement in the rule-sets that prevail in all the corporations in an industry. If you think of an industry like computing, it is immediately evident that much of the change comes from the entry of new organizations. They have new rule-sets that attract resources away from the existing ones. IBM had good internal rules for working with big corporations and data centers, but they didn’t work as well for working with small businesses and individual consumers. If IBM had been the only company allowed to be in the computer business, it would have taken a very long time to get where we are now, with networked computers in our pockets. The entry of new organizations like Digital, Intel, and Apple that operated under very different internal sets of rules sped up change in the industry. Charter cities are a way to bring the power of entry and choice to the dynamics of the rules for cities.

Q. Let’s move on to logistics. Who might grant the charter for one of these cities and see that it will be enforced?
A. Different charters could specify different arrangements. This means that we could try many new types of innovative structures. If a national government has sufficient credibility, it could start a charter city within its own territory and administer it from the national capital. This is, in effect, what some countries have done when they have created special economic zones with rules that are different from the ones that prevail in the rest of the country. You could imagine that a country like India might try something like this to speed up urbanization by cutting through many local rules that get in the way of urban development. In poorer countries that don’t have the same kind of credibility with international investors, a more interesting but controversial possibility is that two or more countries might sign a treaty specifying the charter for a new city and allocate between them responsibilities for administering different parts of the treaty. Let me give you a specific example. Right now, the United States and Cuba have a treaty that gives the United States administrative control in perpetuity over a piece of sovereign Cuban territory, Guantanamo Bay. I’ve suggested that Canada and Cuba sign a new treaty in which Canada would take over administration of this area, bring Canadian rule of law there, and let a city grow up that could bring to Cuba some of the advantages that Hong Kong brought to China.

Q. Why will governments, particularly the entrenched, corrupt governments found in many countries, be willing to cede control of these zones?
A. First let me push back on an assumption that many people make and that seems to be implicit in your question. This assumption is that “bad guys” are why so many people are stuck living under bad rules. If you were a good guy and were the mayor of New York, would you be able to build enough consensus to implement congestion pricing for traffic, at least within our lifetimes? Or would you be strong enough to be able to coerce the people who don’t want it to go along? Narratives about good guys and bad guys are always entertaining, but there is a deeper reason why people get stuck under bad rules. For those of us who live in the United States, it is easier to understand in a context like New York that is more familiar. It is quite possible that its existing political system will never allow an improvement like congestion pricing, and yet many people would happily move to a new city that had sensible pricing and smoothly flowing traffic at all hours of the day. Systems of rules are “sticky”; they are difficult for any leader or group to change. With this in mind, suppose you were the president of Cuba. Suppose you wanted to do for Cuba what Deng Xiaoping did for China: engineer the transition from communism to rapid market-led growth. To do this, you might want to create a special zone where some of your citizens could opt-in to the market system without forcing others to make this change. You might be able to do this with a charter city that you control out of the president’s office. Now suppose you also want to make a binding commitment to rule-of-law protections for the foreign investors and potential residents from foreign countries you’d like to attract to this city. Investors from the rest of the world could finance the infrastructure for a new city in exchange for fee income from users. Entrepreneurs and managers from the rest of the world might come and run the businesses that would hire millions of people. Many of these highly educated and experienced people might be émigrés who left when the island turned to communism. These investors and these potential residents will come only if you can promise them the protections afforded by the rule of law. By yourself, with the Cuban institutions that you control, there is simply no way for you to make a credible binding commitment to the rule of law. You could simply change your mind later. More importantly, your successor, whomever that may be, might want to back out of any promises you make. The only way for you and your contemporaries to make a binding, long-term commitment is to sign a treaty with a country like Canada and to use it as a third-party guarantor. In effect, what a treaty lets you do is leverage the existing credibility of Canadian institutions and bring in the rule of law.

Q. But what if some future government in Cuba wants to violate the terms of the treaty and take the city over once it is built?
A. This is why the example of Guantanamo Bay is so revealing. In practice, countries around the world, even countries that can’t get along, still respect treaties. Cuba respects the treaty with the United States, even as they complain bitterly about it. Another good example is Hong Kong. The British clearly did not want to live up to the terms of the treaty they signed, which returned control of important parts of Hong Kong to China after 99 years. China didn’t want to wait that long to get Hong Kong back. But in the end, for 99 years, they stuck to the terms of the treaty they signed. Of course, in relations between countries there is always the possibility of an act of war that violates a treaty, but few nations are willing to cross such an explicit “bright red line.” Think back to how easy it was to mobilize a military reaction to Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait. The armed nations of the world don’t respond well to unilateral acts of war.

Q. It all sounds great as a theoretical exercise, but honestly, don’t your colleagues tell you that something like this will never happen?
A. They do say this, which is actually kind of ironic when you line it up with the other things they say. They recognize that the construct of a charter city is something that could make everyone better off. They admit that there is no technological or economic constraint that keeps us from building many of these. Then they say that for political reasons, it will never happen. They tell me that you can’t change politics; you can’t overcome nationalism; there is no way for countries to work together to extend the reach of good rules. Then these same economists suggest that we should just stick to business as usual. We should offer conventional economic advice and assume that political systems will naturally follow our advice when we point to something that could make everyone better off. But of course, they have already revealed that they don’t believe this. What’s going on here is a kind of self-censoring. Economists seem to think that we should propose things that are acceptable and that political systems will pursue, but that we should avoid proposing or even discussing things that are controversial or politically incorrect. I think we’d do our jobs better if we just said what’s true without trying to be amateur politicians. For example, back in the 1950’s and 1960’s, lots of development economists didn’t talk about the benefits of direct foreign investment and spoke instead of self-sufficiency because they thought that this was what the political actors in most poor countries wanted to hear. Now, of course, almost all developing nations are encouraging inward DFI. When we self-censored back then, we just slowed down movement toward global flows of technology via foreign investment. It happened despite what development economists said, not because of what they said. Think about the truly important changes in political systems. Back in the middle ages, suppose that someone described a legal system that enforced rules and contracts that everyone had to obey, even the country’s leaders. What would informed opinion of the day have been? “Great idea, but it will never happen.” No question it was hard to pull off, but it did happen. People always think that the unfamiliar is impossible. Many times, all that holds us back is a failure of imagination.

Post-Scarcity Prophet
by Ronald Bailey / December 2001

reason: In terms of real per capita income, Americans today are seven times richer than they were in 1900. How did that happen?
Paul Romer: Many things contributed, but the essential one is technological change. What I mean by that is the discovery of better ways to do things. In most coffee shops these days, you’ll find that the small, medium, and large coffee cups all use the same size lid now, whereas even five years ago they used to have different size lids for the different cups. That small change in the geometry of the cups means that somebody can save a little time in setting up the coffee shop, preparing the cups, getting your coffee, and getting out. Millions of little discoveries like that, combined with some very big discoveries, like the electric motor and antibiotics, have made the quality of life for people today dramatically higher than it was 100 years ago. The estimate you cite of a seven-fold increase in income — that’s the kind of number you get from the official statistics, but the truth is that if you look at the actual change in the quality of life, it’s larger than the number suggests. People who had today’s average income in 1900 were not as well off as the average person today, because they didn’t have access to cheap lattés or antibiotics or penicillin.

reason: New Growth Theory divides the world into “ideas” and “things.” What do you mean by that?
Romer: The paper that makes up the cup in the coffee shop is a thing. The insight that you could design small, medium, and large cups so that they all use the same size lid — that’s an idea. The critical difference is that only one person can use a given amount of paper. Ideas can be used by many people at the same time.

reason: What about human capital, the acquired skills and learned abilities that can increase productivity?
Romer: Human capital is comparable to a thing. You have skills as a writer, for example, and somebody — reason — can use those skills. That’s not something that we can clone and replicate. The formula for an AIDS drug, that’s something you could send over the Internet or put on paper, and then everybody in the world could have access to it. This is a hard distinction for people to get used to, because there are so many tight interactions between human capital and ideas. For example, human capital is how we make ideas. It takes people, people’s brains, inquisitive people, to go out and find ideas like new drugs for AIDS. Similarly, when we make human capital with kids in school, we use ideas like the Pythagorean theorem or the quadratic formula. So human capital makes ideas, and ideas help make human capital. But still, they’re conceptually distinct.

reason: What do you see as the necessary preconditions for technological progress and economic growth?
Romer: One extremely important insight is that the process of technological discovery is supported by a unique set of institutions. Those are most productive when they’re tightly coupled with the institutions of the market. The Soviet Union had very strong science in some fields, but it wasn’t coupled with strong institutions in the market. The upshot was that the benefits of discovery were very limited for people living there. The wonder of the United States is that we’ve created institutions of science and institutions of the market. They’re very different, but together they’ve generated fantastic benefits. When we speak of institutions, economists mean more than just organizations. We mean conventions, even rules, about how things are done. The understanding which most sharply distinguishes science from the market has to do with property rights. In the market, the fundamental institution is the notion of private ownership, that an individual owns a piece of land or a body of water or a barrel of oil and that individual has almost unlimited scope to decide how that resource should be used. In science we have a very different ethic. When somebody discovers something like the quadratic formula or the Pythagorean theorem, the convention in science is that he can’t control that idea. He has to give it away. He publishes it. What’s rewarded in science is dissemination of ideas. And the way we reward it is we give the most prestige and respect to those people who first publish an idea.

reason: Yet there is a mechanism in the market called patents and copyright, for quasi-property rights in ideas.
Romer: That’s central to the theory. To the extent that you’re using the market system to refine and bring ideas into practical application, we have to create some kind of control over the idea. That could be through patents. It could be through copyright. It might even be through secrecy. A firm can keep secret a lot of what it knows how to do.

reason: A formula for Coca-Cola?
Romer: Yes. Or take a lot of the things that Wal-Mart understands about discount retailing. They have a lot of insight about logistics and marketing which they haven’t patented or copyrighted, yet they can still make more money on it than other people because they keep it closely held within the firm. So for relying on the market — and we do have to rely on the market to develop a lot of ideas — you have to have some mechanisms of control and some opportunities for people to make a profit developing those ideas. But there are other stages in the development of ideas. Think about the basic science that led to the discovery of the structure of DNA. There are some kinds of ideas where, once those ideas are uncovered, you’d like to make them as broadly available as possible, so everybody in the world can put them to good use. There we find it efficient to give those ideas away for free and encourage everybody to use them. If you’re going to be giving things away for free, you’re going to have to find some system to finance them, and that’s where government support typically comes in. In the next century we’re going to be moving back and forth, experimenting with where to draw the line between institutions of science and institutions of the market. People used to assign different types of problems to each institution. “Basic research” got government support; for “applied product development,” we’d rely on the market. Over time, people have recognized that that’s a pretty artificial distinction. What’s becoming more clear is that it’s actually the combined energies of those two sets of institutions, often working on the same problem, that lead to the best outcomes.

reason: We hear a lot of complaints from academicians about how business and corporations are taking over university research.
Romer: I think it’s important to have a distinct realm of science and a distinct realm of the market, but it’s also very good to have interaction between those two. One of the best forms of interaction is for people who work in one to move into the other. The people in university biology or biochemistry departments complain when they see somebody go on leave from the university and start a company that’s going to develop a new drug. That’s not the way it was done 30 years ago. But this is the best way to take those freely floating, contentiously discussed ideas from the realm of science and then get them out into the market process, because the reality is that there are virtually no ideas which generate benefits for consumers if there’s not an intervening for-profit firm which commercializes them, tailors them to the market, and then delivers them. You can point to examples where things jump right from science to benefits for the consumer, but that’s the exception, not the rule.

reason: Do we run the risk of ruining science by involving it too much in the market?
Romer: Well, some people would say that everything should be patented. The danger is that if you went that far, you could actually slow the discovery process down. There are very good theoretical reasons for thinking that market and property rights are the ideal solution for dealing with things, but there are also strong theoretical reasons for thinking that in the realm of ideas, intellectual property rights are a double-edged sword. You want to rely on them to some extent to get their benefits, but you want to have a parallel, independent system and then exploit the tension that’s created between the two.

reason: What are those theoretical reasons?
Romer: It traces back to this multiple use I was describing for ideas vs. single use for things. The miracle of the market system is that for objects, especially transformed objects, there’s a single price which does two different jobs. It creates an incentive for somebody to produce the right amount of a good, and it allocates who it should go to. A farmer looks at the price of a bushel of wheat and decides whether to plant wheat or plant corn. The price helps motivate the production of wheat. On the other side, when a consumer has to decide whether to buy bread or corn meal, the price allocates the wheat between the different possible users. One price does both jobs, so you can just let the market system create the price and everything works wonderfully. With ideas, you can’t get one price to do both things. Let me give an extreme example. Oral rehydration therapy is one of those few ideas which did actually jump immediately from science to consumer benefit. It’s a simple scientific insight about how you can save the life of a child who’s suffering from diarrhea. Literally millions of lives have been saved with it. So what price should you charge people for using it? Because everybody can use the idea at the same time, there’s no tragedy of the commons in the intellectual sphere. There’s no problem of overuse or overgrazing or overfishing an idea. If you give an idea away for free, you don’t get any of the problems when you try and give objects away for free. So the efficient thing for society is to offer really big rewards for some scientist who discovers an oral rehydration therapy. But then as soon as we discover it, we give the idea away for free to everybody throughout the world and explain “Just use this little mixture of basically sugar and salt, put it in water, and feed that to a kid who’s got diarrhea because if you give them pure water you’ll kill them.” So with ideas, you have this tension: You want high prices to motivate discovery, but you want low prices to achieve efficient widespread use. You can’t with a single price achieve both, so if you push things into the market, you try to compromise between those two, and it’s often an unhappy compromise. The government doesn’t pay drug companies prizes for coming up with AIDS drugs. It says they’ve got to incur these huge expenses, but then if they succeed, they can charge a high price for selling that drug. This has generated a lot of progress and we’re prolonging the life of people with AIDS, but the high price is also denying many people access to those drugs.

reason: Over the broad sweep of human history, technological progress and economic growth were painfully slow. Why has it sped up now?
Romer: It’s so striking. Evolution has not made us any smarter in the last 100,000 years. Why for almost all of that time is there nothing going on, and then in the last 200 years things suddenly just go nuts? One answer is that the more people you’re around, the better off you’re going to be. This again traces back to the fundamental difference I described before. If everything were just objects, like trees, then more people means there’s less wood per person. But if somebody discovers an idea, everybody gets to use it, so the more people you have who are potentially looking for ideas, the better off we’re all going to be. And each time we made a little improvement in technology, we could support a slightly larger population, and that led to more people who could go out and discover some new technology. Another answer is that we developed better institutions. Neither the institutions of the market nor the institutions of science existed even as late as the Middle Ages. Instead we had the feudal system, where peasants couldn’t decide where to work and the lord couldn’t sell his land. On the science side, we had alchemy. What did you do if you discovered anything? You kept it secret. The last thing you’d do was tell anybody.

reason: How did the better institutions come about?
Romer: That’s one of the deep questions. There’s some kind of political process, some group decision process, which leads to institutions. If you go back to what I said a minute ago about the advantages of having many people, you can see that there’s a tension here. There are huge benefits to having more people and having us all interact amongst ourselves to create goods and to share ideas. But you face a really big challenge in trying to coordinate all of those decisions, because if you have large numbers of independent decision makers who aren’t coordinating their actions appropriately, you could get chaos. Think about millions of drivers with no rules of the road, no agreement about whether you drive on the left or the right. So where do these institutions come from? It was a process of discovery, just as people discovered how to make bronze. They also discovered ways to organize political life. We can use democratic choice as an alternative to, say, a hereditary system of selecting who’s the king. What’s subtle here is, How do those discoveries get into action? It’s not like a profit motive in a firm that brings software to market. There was a process of persuasion when somebody discovered that, hey, this would be a better way for us to organize ourselves. So we had political and economic thinkers — Locke, Hobbes, Smith — who managed to persuade some of their peers to adopt those institutions. So institutions came from a combination of discovery, persuasion, adoption — and then copying. When good institutions work somewhere in the world, other places can copy them.

reason: Many economic historians are critical of New Growth Theory. Economic growth is a modern phenomenon, yet it appears that New Growth Theory should apply equally to the Roman Empire or Ming China as well as the modern world.
Romer: I think that’s a caricature of the theory. New Growth Theory describes what’s possible for us but says very explicitly that if you don’t have the right institutions in place, it won’t happen. If anything, it was the old style of theory which made it sound like technological change falls from the sky like manna from heaven, regardless of how we structure our institutions. This new theory says technological change comes about if you have the right institutions, which we have had.

reason: So what’s the crucial difference between Ming China and modern economies today?
Romer: Ming China was very advanced. It had steel. It had clocks. It had movable type. Yet it was far from generating either the modern institutions of science or the institutions of the market. The market and science differ in their treatment of property rights, but they’re similar in that they rely on individuals who are free to operate under essentially no constraints by authority or tradition. It took a special set of historical circumstances to persuade people that things could work if you freed people, within certain institutional constraints, to pursue their own interests. This is where Ming China was very far away from modern notions. Part of the answer to this big question about human history has been the acceptance of relatively unfettered freedom for large numbers of individuals. It’s something we just take for granted, but if you described it in the abstract to the people of 50,000 years ago, they would never believe it could possibly work. They were conditioned to systems where there was the head man or the chief, and as numbers got at all large, there was a sense that you had to have somebody with kind of dictatorial control. It was a deep philosophical insight and deep change in the whole way we viewed the world to tolerate and accept and then truly celebrate freedom. Freedom may be the fundamental hinge on which everything turns.

reason: You often cite the combinatorial explosion of ideas as the source of economic growth. What do you mean by that?
Romer: On any conceivable horizon — I’ll say until about 5 billion years from now, when the sun explodes — we’re not going to run out of discoveries. Just ask how many things we could make by taking the elements from the periodic table and mixing them together. There’s a simple mathematical calculation: It’s 10 followed by 30 zeros. In contrast, 10 followed by 19 zeros is about how much time has elapsed since the universe was created.

reason: Of all those billions of combinations, the vast majority are probably going to be useless. So how do you find the useful ones?
Romer: This is why science and the market are so important for this discovery process. It’s really important that we focus our energy on those paths that look promising, because there are many more dead ends out there than there are useful things to discover. You have to have systems which explore lots of different paths, but then those systems have to rigorously shut off the ones that aren’t paying off and shift resources into directions which look more promising. The market does this automatically. The institutions of science could tip either way. In American science, we have vigorous competition between lots of different universities, which leads to a kind of marketplace of ideas. You can think of other institutions of science that aren’t nearly as competitive. In the national laboratories, people are in the worst case civil servants: They’re there for life, and there’s always more funding for them.

reason: Does New Growth Theory give us some new insights on how to think about monopolies?
Romer: There was an old, simplistic notion that monopoly was always bad. It was based on the realm of objects — if you only have objects and you see somebody whose cost is significantly lower than their price, it would be a good idea to break up the monopoly and get competition to reign freely. So in the realm of things, of physical objects, there is a theoretical justification for why you should never tolerate monopoly. But in the realm of ideas, you have to have some degree of monopoly power. There are some very important benefits from monopoly, and there are some potential costs as well. What you have to do is weigh the costs against the benefits. Unfortunately, that kind of balancing test is sensitive to the specifics, so we don’t have general rules. Compare the costs and benefits of copyrighting books versus the costs and benefits of patenting the human genome. They’re just very different, so we have to create institutions that can respond differentially in those cases.

reason: You have written, “There is absolutely no reason why we cannot have persistent growth as far into the future as you can imagine.” Your Stanford colleague, the biologist Paul Ehrlich, disagrees. He believes that economic growth is an unsustainable cancer that is destroying the planet. How would you go about convincing people like Ehrlich that they are wrong?
Romer: Paul seems singularly immune to being convinced. He has been on the wrong side of these issues, so I wouldn’t set that as my standard of persuading anybody. However, if I took a neutral observer who might listen to me and Paul, there’s a pretty easy way to explain why I’m right and why Paul misunderstands. You have to define what you mean by growth. If by growth you mean population, more people, then Paul is actually right. There are physical limits on how many people you can have on Earth. If we took peak population growth rates from the ’70s at 2 percent per year, you can only sustain that for a couple of hundred years before you really run into true physical constraints.

reason: I would remind you that Ehrlich said that there would be billions of people dying of starvation in the 1980s.
Romer: He got the potentials wrong and the time frame wrong, but it’s absolutely true that population growth will have to come to zero at some point here on Earth. The only debate is about when. Now, what do I mean when I say growth can continue? I don’t mean growth in the number of people. I don’t even mean growth in the number of physical objects, because you clearly can’t get exponential growth in the amount of mass that each person controls. We’ve got the same mass here on Earth that we had 100,000 years ago and we’re never going to get any more of it. What I mean is growth in value, and the way you create value is by taking that fixed quantity of mass and rearranging it from a form that isn’t worth very much into a form that’s worth much more. A canonical example is turning sand on the beach into semiconductors.

reason: What do you make of the recent protests against globalization?
Romer: When we were describing the broad sweep of human history, we talked about how hard it was for people to get used to the idea of freedom. There was another kind of adjustment that we had to make as well: We had to get used to the idea of the market, and especially market exchange among anonymous strangers. People often contrast this with the institutions of the family, where you’ve got notions of sharing and mutual obligation. Many of us have a deep psychological intuition rooted in our evolutionary history that makes us feel warmly toward the family and suspicious of large, impersonal, anonymous market exchange. I think that emotional impulse is part of what some of the environmental ideologues draw on when they attack the whole market system and corporations and modern science and everything. This is a case where human psychology that was attuned to a hunter-gatherer environment is just a little bit out of touch with a new world that’s much more interconnected, much more interactive, and in many ways a much more satisfying and rich human experience. You can idealize life in a hunter-gatherer society, but nobody wants to go through the frequent death of a child — a very common experience for almost all of history that has been reduced a phenomenal degree within human memory.

reason: How would you convince protestors of the benefits of globalization?
Romer: First, just look at the facts. The protestors are amazingly ignorant about what has happened in terms of, say, life expectancy. Life expectancy for people in the poorest countries of the world is now better than life expectancy in England when Malthus was so worried about it. Then you look at the variation of experience between the poor countries that have done best and the ones that have done worst, and try to see what the correlations are. Which countries did best? Was it the countries that adopted the market most strongly, embraced foreign investment, and tried to adopt property rights? Or was it the other countries? The evidence again is clear. One of the untold stories about the ’80s and ’90s was the really dramatic turnaround in the developing world that took place on this issue. If you track the legislative history on foreign investment, you see a colonial legacy, even as late as the ’70s, where developing countries have laws designed to keep corporations out. Then there’s this dramatic turnaround as they saw the benefits that a few key economies received by inviting in foreign investment. It’s not the people from the developing world who are making the argument that Nike is a threat to their sovereignty or well-being. It’s people in the United States. The people in the developing world understand pretty clearly where their self-interest lies.

reason: What about boosting economic growth in developed countries?
Romer: For Europe and the United States, I think we need to be thinking very hard about how we can restructure our institutions of science. How can we restructure our system of higher education? How can we make sure that it has the benefits of vigorous competition and free entry, especially of those bright young people who might do really different kinds of things? We should not assume that we’ve already got the ideal institutions and the only thing we need to do is just throw more money at them. Unfortunately, I think a lot of countries have a long way to go to catch up to the state where we are in the United States — and I’m not that happy about where we are in the United States. Many European countries simply have not recognized the power of competition between institutions. So they have monolithic, state-run university systems. That stifles competition between individual researchers and slows down the whole innovative process. They also need to let people move more flexibly from the university into the private sector and back. This is something that many countries watching venture capital start-ups have become aware of, although they’ve been slower to get their institutions to adjust.

reason: In your recent paper on doing R&D, you said you think it would be possible to raise the growth rate from its average rate of 1.8 percent between 1870 and 1992 to 2.3 percent.
Romer: Well, I was trying to set a goal. When you’re thinking about the future, you never really know what we’re going to discover, but I think there’s a reason to set for ourselves an ambition of trying to raise the rate of growth by half a percent per year. The United States achieved about 0.5 percent a year faster growth than the U.K. did since 1870, so we’ve got a historical precedent for creating institutions which lead to better innovation of the market and strengthen science significantly. We should aim for that kind of improvement again.

reason: Why would that be important?
Romer: As you accumulate these growth rates over the decades, we get much higher levels of income. That lets us deal more effectively with all the problems we face, whether it’s making good on commitments to pay for people’s health care as they get older, preserving more of the environment, or providing resources so that people can have time to be out of the labor market for a certain period of time — when they’re raising kids, say, or when they want to take an extended sabbatical. Income per capita in 2000 was about $36,000 in year 2000 dollars. If real income per person grows at 1.8 percent per year, by 2050 it will increase to $88,000 in year 2000 purchasing power. Not bad. But if it grows at 2.3 percent per year, it will grow to about $113,000 in year 2000 purchasing power. In today’s purchasing power, that extra $25,000 per person is equal to income per capita in 1984. So if we can make the choices that increase the rate of growth or real income per person to 2.3 percent per year, in 50 years we can get extra income per person equal to what in 1984 it had taken us all of human history to achieve. One policy innovation, for example, that would boost the growth rate would be to subsidize universities to train more undergraduate and graduate students in science and engineering. Also, you could give graduate students portable fellowships that they could use to pay for training in any field of natural science and engineering at any institution the students choose. Graduate students would no longer be hostage to the sometimes parochial research interests of university professors. Portable fellowships would encourage lab directors and professors to develop programs that meet the research and career interests of the students.

reason: What’s next in New Growth Theory? Any conceptual breakthroughs on the horizon?
Romer: Because the economics of ideas are so different from the economics of markets, we’re going to have to develop a richer understanding of non-market institutions, science-like institutions. This is going to be a new endeavor for economics.

reason: Do you think that there is a big role for economic historians in helping uncover this richer theory?
Romer: History is an absolutely essential body of evidence, because you can’t make inferences about long-run trends using year-to-year or quarter-to-quarter data.

reason: There is a growing movement against technological progress around the world. Why is there this negative reaction to technological progress and what can we do about it?
Romer: You’re a big believer in turmoil and creative destruction when you’re early in life, because you can knock down the old and create your new thing. Once you achieve a certain level, you tend to get very conservative and try to slow the gales down, because they might blow you over. So I think we have to seriously commit ourselves to maintaining space for new entrants and for young people. That’s one way to keep the process going. Another is to do what scholars have always done: to proselytize, to dissect incoherent arguments. I think we’ll be able to maintain this dynamic of progress that was unleashed a couple centuries ago. There will be small setbacks and a lot of noise and complaining, but the opportunities and the benefits are just too great to pull back.

reason: Could anything stop economic growth and technological progress?
Romer: Even if one society loses its nerve, there’ll be new entrants who can take up the torch and push ahead. Mancur Olson talks about Caldwell’s Law, the idea that no nation has remained truly innovative for very long. Look at Italy, and then Holland, and then the U.K., and then the United States. The pessimistic interpretation is that nobody can keep the process going. The optimistic interpretation is, Yes, you can, but somebody else comes along and the progress moves from one place to the next. We’ve seen individual societies where conservative or reactionary elements suppress the changes. What has protected us in the past is that there were other nations that could try new paths. You didn’t have the same political dynamic everywhere at once. If in the far future we reach a situation where there really is truly global political control — if multinational institutions grow more powerful over economic affairs so that there is imposed uniformity across all nations — then there’d be a loss of diversity. And if the reactionary elements got in control of those institutions, there’d be no room for the new entrant, the upstart, to adopt new ideas. But that’s a pretty distant and unlikely prospect.

John Robb interview: Open Source Warfare & Resilience
by Chris Arkenberg / Jun 15, 2010

John Robb is a globally-recognized author, technologist, and entrepreneur specializing in the complex systems of insurgency and asymmetrical warfare. His book, Brave New War, is an Amazon best-seller and established his expertise as a researcher & military consultant. He has been featured in the New York Times, The Economist, and the Wall Street Journal. His daily thoughts are collected on his blog, Global Guerrillas.

Q. In your book Brave New War you explore the changing nature of warfare. What are some recent examples of insurgency, resource conflicts, or terrorism that you feel best illustrate this new landscape?
A. Here’s an interesting story that may do the trick. Back in 2004, the US military was getting trounced in guerrillas in Iraq. Worse, the US military establishment didn’t know why. Didn’t have a clue. To correct this, I began to write about how 21st Century warfare actually worked on my blog, Global Guerrillas. Essentially, I concluded that guerrilla groups could use open source organizational models (drawn from the software industry), networked super-empowerment (freely available high tech tools, network information access, connections to a globalized economy), and systems disruption (the targeting of critical points on infrastructure networks that cause cascading failures) to defeat even the most powerful of opponents, even a global superpower.

The new theories of warfare I developed on the blog proved both predictive and very popular. As a result, I spent a lot of time on the speaking circuit in Washington DC (DoD, CIA, NSA, etc.). Of course, since my work was on a blog everyone could read it, even the guerrillas themselves.So, it was a little surprising although not unexpected when I got an e-mail in 2009 from Henry Okah, a leader of MEND (the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta). He invited me to Nigeria and stated that he was an avid reader of my blog.

It was a moment out of history, as if the UK’s General Liddell Hart (the originator of blitzkrieg armored warfare) got a note from Germany’s tank General Heinz Guderian in 1939, thanking him for his work. Here’s why: MEND’s campaign against Shell (the oil company) and the Nigerian government between 2006 and 2008 was a great example of how I thought 21st Century warfare would be fought. The organization structure was loose and organized along the lines of an open source movement. Lots of small autonomous groups joined together to take down the country’s oil infrastructure by targeting vulnerable points in the network (Nigeria is a major global oil exporter). During 2007, they were able to take out one million barrels a day of oil production. This shortfall was the reason oil prices rose to $147 a barrel. Those high prices had a negative global economic impact: the start of a global recession and a spike in default rates in US sub-prime mortgages (due to higher driving and food costs). That spike in sub-prime mortgage default rates radically accelerated the demise of our grossly over leveraged global financial sector, which in turn led to the financial panic of 2008.

In short, MEND’s disruption campaign, yielded tens of trillions of dollars in global economic damage for tens of thousands of dollars spent on making the attacks. That’s a return on investment (ROI) of 1,000,000,000%. How do nation-states survive when an unknown guerrilla group in a remote corner of the world can generate returns on that magnitude? They don’t.

Q. The United States is suffering both the economic decline of its industry and the ongoing dismantling of the social welfare apparatus supporting the citizenry. In your opinion, will this inevitably lead to some form of armed insurgency in America?
A. Yes. The establishment of a predatory and deeply unstable global economic system – beyond the control of any group of nations – is in the process of gutting developed democracies. Think in terms of the 2008 crisis, over and over again. Most of what we consider normal in the developed world, from the middle class lifestyle to government social safety nets, will be nearly gone in less than a decade. Most developed governments will be in and out of financial insolvency. Democracy, as we knew it, will wither and the nation-state bureaucracy will increasingly become an enforcer for the global bond market and kleptocratic transnational corporations. Think Argentina, Greece, Spain, Iceland, etc. As a result, the legitimacy of the developed democracies will fade and the sense of betrayal will be pervasive (think in terms of the collapse of the Soviet Union). People will begin to shift their loyalties to any local group that can provide for their daily needs. Many of these groups will be crime fueled local insurgencies and militias. In short, the developed democracies will hollow out.

Q. How big of a domestic threat is there from the narco-insurgency in Mexico and the growing power of Latin American gangs in America?
A. Very big. A threat that dwarfs anything we face in Afghanistan (a useless money pit of a war). It’s not a threat that can be solved by conventional military means, since the problem is that Mexico is a hollow state. Unlike a failed state like Somalia (utter chaos), a hollow state still retains the facade of a nation (borders, bureaucracy, etc.). However, a hollow state doesn’t exert any meaningful control over the countryside. It’s not only that the state can’t do it militarily, they don’t have anything they can offer people. So, instead, control is ceded to local groups that can provide basic levels of opt-in security, minimal services, and jobs via new connections to the global economy – think in terms of La Familia in Michoacana. The real danger to the US is that not only will these groups expand into the US (they already have), it is that these groups will accelerate the development of similar homegrown groups in the US as our middle class evaporates.

Q. Do you see a diminishing role for the state in large-scale governance? Does this compel communities to do it for themselves?
A. Yes, large scale governance is on the way out. Not only are nearly all governments financially insolvent, they can’t protect citizens from a global system that is running amok. As services and security begin to fade, local sources of order will emerge to fill the void. Hopefully, most people will opt to take control of this process by joining together with others to build resilient communities that can offer the independence, security, and prosperity that isn’t offered by the nation-state anymore. However, this is something you will have to build for yourself. Nobody is going to help you build it.

Q. In what ways are the new methods of insurgency & terror instructive towards building strategies for resiliency?
A. Here are a few of the parallels:
* Powerful technologies. Inexpensive tools that make it possible to produce locally what it used to take a global economy to produce.
* Networks. The ability to draw on the ideas of hundreds of thousands of people working on the same problems through open source tinkering networks. The ability to create new economic networks that accelerate prosperity.

Q. You’re currently writing a book about local resiliency. What are the primary global drivers behind your interest in resiliency?
A. Yes, I am. It’s about building resilient communities. Communities that offer energy independence, food security, economic prosperity, and protection. What are the global drivers that make resiliency important? Simply: stability, prosperity, and security is going away. You will soon find you are on your own, if you haven’t already. If you do nothing, you will suffer the predations of gangs, militias, and corrupt bureaucracies that will fill the void left by retreating nation-states. If you want to avoid this fate, you can build resilient communities that not only allow you and your family to survive intact, but to thrive. My goal with my new book, is to provide people with a road map on how to build resilient communities from scratch.

Q. What is the core messages you have to communities about preparing for the coming age?
A. Produce everything you can locally. Virtualize everything else. The value of your home will be based on the ability of your community to offer energy independence, food security, economic vitality, and protection. Survivalist stockpiles and zero footprint frugality are pathways to failure. Think in terms of vibrant local economic ecosystems that are exceedingly efficient, productive, and bountiful.


Curitiba’s “Surface Metro” to New York: The “Surface Metro” system uses dedicated bus lanes, and cylindrical loading tubes which allow passengers to pay in advance and board quickly. When the bus pulls alongside the tube, the bus driver opens the bus and tube doors, and the passengers walk directly onto the bus. The reduced dwell time required by the buses at the tube station results in less waiting time, increased speed and roadway capacity, and lessened air pollution. In 1992, the system was demonstrated in New York where four of the tubes and buses were installed in lower Manhattan, with buses operating for six weeks.

Sao Paulo’s Alert II to New York City: Alert II was an air pollution reduction program in Sao Paulo utilizing publicly-displayed air pollution monitors and a comprehensive public education campaign to voluntarily close down the streets of downtown Sao Paulo on dangerously smoggy days. The program was adapted in New York City by a task force including Commissioner of Environmental Protection Albert Appleton and Commissioner of Transportation Gerard Soffian. The New York version of Alert II, which was called “Green Alert/No-Drive Day” involved shutting down Park Avenue to traffic on World Environment Day, June 3, 1993.

Bangkok’s Magic Eyes Anti-littering program to Rio de Janeiro and Los Angeles: Magic Eyes is a unique anti-littering campaign targeted at children age 6-16. It utilizes green cartoon eyes (derived from traditional Thai mythology) which remind the children with songs and rhymes to pick up litter, and remind their parents to do the same. This program, which has reduced littering in Bangkok by an estimated 90% is now being replicated in Rio de Janeiro as part of the Clean Rio campaign through the Department of Sanitation and the School System. The enigmatic green eyes of the Thai version have been re-interpreted as a playful cartoon extraterrestrial more appropriate to the Brazilian culture. This innovation is also being adapted in Los Angeles, through the efforts of LA’s Best, an organization based in the Mayor’s office which designs and runs children’s educational programs.

Cairo’s Zabbaleen initiative to Manila and Bombay: In Cairo, the Zabbaleen people have eked out their existence for centuries by collecting trash and selling it to manufacturers capable of recycling it. Through the Zabbaleen initiative, the Zabbaleen have been given the training, equipment, and start-up funds necessary to organize small micro-enterprises where they convert the trash into marketable products, such as shoes, textiles, or pots and pans. In this way, the Zab baleen receives the benefits of adding value to the recyclable and can channel their profits into improving their community through the creation of better housing, schools, and health care centers. The Zabbaleen initiative is now being replicated in Bombay through the Bombay Municipal Corporation, which is incorporating the innovation into their “rag-pickers initiative”, in Manila through the Partnership of Philippine Support Service Agencies and it will also be replicated in Los Angeles by the Concerned Citizens of South Central (a community-based organization) as part of the W. K. Kellogg funded Urban Leadership for the 21st Centuty Project.

New York City’s “City Harvest” to Sao Paulo and Rio de Janeiro: City Harvest is a non-profit organization in New York City which collects unused, unserved food from restaurants and redistributes it to soup kitchens and homeless shelters. In 1992, the basic idea of this innovation was introduced to a number of key government leaders in Rio de Janeiro and Sao Paulo and was incorporated into the National Campaign Against Hunger and Misery, coordinated by IBASE.

Los Angeles’ Small Business Toxic Minimization Program to Rio de Janeiro and Buenos Aires: Through the Small Business Toxic Minimization Program, retired chemical and environmental engineers are enlisted to site visit small businesses and help them to find creative ways to reduce toxic waste, while maximizing their bottom line profit as well. In 1992, the project was transferred to Rio de Janeiro where it is now being tested on a small scale by the Guanabara Bay De-Pollution Group. This year, it is also being replicated by the Mayor’s office of Avelleneda, one of the municipalities comprising Greater Buenos Aires. Through the Small Business Toxic Minimization Program, retired chemical and environmental engineers are enlisted to site visit small businesses and help them to find creative ways to reduce toxic waste, while maximizing their bottom line profit as well. In 1992, the project was transferred to Rio de Janeiro where it is now being tested on a small scale by the Guanabara Bay De-Pollution Group. This year, it is also being replicated by the Mayor’s office of Avelleneda, one of the municipalities comprising Greater Buenos Aires.

Bombay’s “Child-to-Child” Community Health Care program to Rio de Janeiro: Through the Child-to Child Program, children in Bombay’s squatter settlements are trained as mini-doctors who teach their friends and family about basic approaches to curative and preventative health care. The program is being adapted for implementation in Rio de Janeiro, by a team led by Maria Teresa Ewbank, who represents the Escola Nacional de Daude, ENSP.

UN report: World’s biggest cities merging into ‘mega-regions’
Trend towards ‘endless cities’ could significantly affect population and wealth in the next 50 years
by John Vidal / 22 March 2010

The world’s first mega-city, comprised of Hong Kong, Shenhzen and Guangzhou, home to about 120 million people. Photograph: Nasa
The world’s mega-cities are merging to form vast “mega-regions” which may stretch hundreds of kilometres across countries and be home to more than 100 million people, according to a major new UN report. The phenomenon of the so-called “endless city” could be one of the most significant developments – and problems – in the way people live and economies grow in the next 50 years, says UN-Habitat, the agency for human settlements, which identifies the trend of developing mega-regions in its biannual State of World Cities report.

The largest of these, says the report – launched today at the World Urban Forum in Rio de Janeiro – is the Hong Kong-Shenhzen-Guangzhou region in China, home to about 120 million people. Other mega-regions have formed in Japan and Brazil and are developing in India, west Africa and elsewhere. The trend helped the world pass a tipping point in the last year, with more than half the world’s people now living in cities. The UN said that urbanisation is now “unstoppable”. Anna Tibaijuka, outgoing director of UN-Habitat, said: “Just over half the world now lives in cities but by 2050, over 70% of the world will be urban dwellers. By then, only 14% of people in rich countries will live outside cities, and 33% in poor countries.”

The development of mega-regions is regarded as generally positive, said the report’s co-author Eduardo Lopez Moreno: “They [mega-regions], rather than countries, are now driving wealth. Research shows that the world’s largest 40 mega-regions cover only a tiny fraction of the habitable surface of our planet and are home to fewer than 18% of the world’s population [but] account for 66% of all economic activity and about 85% of technological and scientific innovation,” said Moreno. “The top 25 cities in the world account for more than half of the world’s wealth,” he added. “And the five largest cities in India and China now account for 50% of those countries’ wealth.” The migration to cities, while making economic sense, is affecting the rural economy too: “Most of the wealth in rural areas already comes from people in urban areas sending money back,” Moreno said.

The growth of mega-regions and cities is also leading to unprecedented urban sprawl, new slums, unbalanced development and income inequalities as more and more people move to satellite or dormitory cities. “Cities like Los Angeles grew 45% in numbers between 1975-1990, but tripled their surface area in the same time. This sprawl is now increasingly happening in developing countries as real estate developers promote the image of a ‘world-class lifestyle’ outside the traditional city,” say the authors.

Urban sprawl, they say, is the symptom of a divided, dysfunctional city. “It is not only wasteful, it adds to transport costs, increases energy consumption, requires more resources, and causes the loss of prime farmland.” “The more unequal that cities become, the higher the risk that economic disparities will result in social and political tension. The likelihood of urban unrest in unequal cities is high. The cities that are prospering the most are generally those that are reducing inequalities,” said Moreno.

In a sample survey of world cities, the UN found the most unequal were in South Africa. Johannesburg was the least equal in the world, only marginally ahead of East London, Bloemfontein, and Pretoria. Latin American, Asian and African cities were generally more equal, but mainly because they were uniformly poor, with a high level of slums and little sanitation. Some of the most the most egalitarian cities were found to be Dhaka and Chittagong in Bangladesh.

The US emerged as one of the most unequal societies with cities like New York, Chicago and Washington less equal than places like Brazzaville in Congo-Brazzaville, Managua in Nicaragua and Davao City in the Phillippines. “The marginalisation and segregation of specific groups [in the US] creates a city within a city. The richest 1% of households now earns more than 72 times the average income of the poorest 20% of the population. In the ‘other America’, poor black families are clustered in ghettoes lacking access to quality education, secure tenure, lucrative work and political power,” says the report.

The never-ending city
Cities are pushing beyond their limits and are merging into new massive conurbations known as mega-regions, which are linked both physically and economically. Their expansion drives economic growth but also leads to urban sprawl, rising inequalities and urban unrest. The biggest mega-regions, which are at the forefront of the rapid urbanisation sweeping the world, are:
• Hong Kong-Shenhzen-Guangzhou, China, home to about 120 million people;
• Nagoya-Osaka-Kyoto-Kobe, Japan, expected to grow to 60 million people by 2015;
• Rio de Janeiro-São Paulo region with 43 million people in Brazil.

The same trend on an even larger scale is seen in fast-growing “urban corridors”:
• West Africa: 600km of urbanisation linking Nigeria, Benin, Togo and Ghana, and driving the entire region’s economy;
• India: From Mumbai to Dehli;
• East Asia: Four connected megalopolises and 77 separate cities of over 200,000 people each occur from Beijing to Tokyo via Pyongyang and Seoul.

The Future of War and the Indirect City

In 1564, the Tuscan urban planner, archaeologist, military theorist, mathematician and writer Girolamo Maggi published a work of military urbanism called Della fortificatione delle città, written by his colleague Giacomo Fusto Castriotto. That work, on the fortification of cities, devoted several passages to what might be called indirect or soft fortification: that is, protecting an urban population from attack not through the use of heavy walls, inner citadels, or armed bastions—although the book is, of course, filled with such things—but through a complex street plan.

Indirect streets and narrow walkways could be put to use, Castriotto and Maggi argued, as agents of spatial disorientation, leading an invader everywhere but where they actually wanted to go. It was a kind of urban judo, or the city as martial art. The city itself could be weaponized, in other words, its layout made militarily strategic: turning the speed at which your enemy arrives into exactly what would later entrap him, lost, unable to retrace his footsteps, fatally vulnerable and spatially exposed.

The CCA exhibited much of its collected manuscripts on urban fortification seventeen years ago, under the name The Geometry of Defence: Fortification Treatises and Manuals, 1500-1800. In the accompanying pamphlet, curator and former CCA historiographer Michael J. Lewis describes the geometric complexification that the fortified cities of the Renaissance underwent in the name of self-protection (Alberto Pérez-Gómez’s Architecture and the Crisis of Modern Science also contains a very lengthy history of this same material and is well worth consulting in full). A constantly shifting imbalance of power between the wall-builders and the invaders led to new spatializations of the metropolis. Whether due to the invention of gunpowder, massed assaults or simply new building techniques, the urban landscape was constantly reformatted according to the weapons that might be used against it.

Of course, this will be a very familiar story to most readers, so I don’t want to repeat it; I do, however, want to focus on the idea of forsaking mass—thick walls—for complexity in the name of strategic disorientation. There are well-known stories, for instance, of English coastal villages during World War II removing their road and street signs so as to prevent logical navigation by German aggressors, even erecting dummy signs to send confused Nazi paratroopers wandering off in the wrong direction.

But if the well-fortified Renaissance city could be seen, for the sake of argument, as something like the Hummer of military urbanism, what is the city-as-Bruce-Lee? A city that is lean, even physically underwhelming, but brilliantly fast and highly flexible? What is the city that needs no defensive walls at all?

There are a variety of possible answers here, all of which would be interesting to discuss; but I’m most struck by the possibility that the phenomenon recently dubbed the feral city is, in a sense, the anti-fortress in exactly this spatial sense. In a 2003 paper for the Naval War College Review, author Richard J. Norton describes the feral city as “a great metropolis covering hundreds of square miles. Once a vital component in a national economy, this sprawling urban environment is now a vast collection of blighted buildings, an immense petri dish of both ancient and new diseases, a territory where the rule of law has long been replaced by near anarchy in which the only security available is that which is attained through brute power.” From the perspective of a war planner or soldier, Norton explains, the feral city is spatially impenetrable; it is a maze resistant to aerial mapping and far too dangerous to explore on foot. Indeed, its “buildings, other structures, and subterranean spaces would offer nearly perfect protection from overhead sensors, whether satellites or unmanned aerial vehicles,” Norton writes, creating, in the process, an environment where soldiers are as likely to die from rabies, tetanus, and wild dog attacks as they are from armed combat.

I’m led to wonder here what a 21st-century defensive literature of the feral city might look like—from temporary barricades to cartographically incoherent slums experimenting with limited forms of micro-sovereignty. If the feral city is a city with no external walls but an infinite interior—endless spaces made of oblique architecture and indirect streets—then its ability to defend itself comes precisely through letting invaders in and disorienting them, not by keeping people out.

So if a city does away with defensive walls altogether, what specific spatial strategies are left for it to protect itself? For instance, can a city deliberately be made feral as an act of preemptive self-defense—and, if so, what architectural steps would be necessary to achieve such a thing? Channeling Archigram—or perhaps even Cisco—we might call this the insurgent instant city complete with its own infrastructural practices, its own rogue designers, and its own anti-architects.

How, then, could the spatial practice of urban feralization be codified, and what architectural lessons might be learned if this were to happen? Michael J. Lewis, describing the treatises on display at the CCA nearly two decades ago for The Geometry of Defence, refers to “fortification literature” or “the literature of the fortification,” including the publishing practices peculiar to this—for its time—top secret field of study. Privately circulated manuscripts, incomplete essayistic reflections, and even word of mouth only gradually solidified into full-length narratives; only at that point were they intended to communicate finely tuned, often firsthand, military knowledge of the city under siege to anyone who might want to discover it, whether that was a king, a layperson, or an enemy general (indeed, much of the literature of fortification went on to the form the core of an emergent field known as urban planning).

In another 50, 100, or even 500 years, then, will there be a defensive literature of the feral city, its systematic description, techniques for its defense (or obliteration), and its urban logic (or lack thereof)? Even if only on the level of urban form, this would be a fascinating journey, going from Castriotto’s and Maggi’s indirect streets to whole cities gone wild in the name of resisting outside intervention.

Redrawing the Map of the Future
by P. H. Liotta and James F. Miskel / Spring 2004

When the Cold War ended, scholars, pundits, and policymakers turned to the task of defining the new world order and America’s place in it. Some warned of coming anarchy or of the clash of civilizations. After September 11, those warnings seemed prescient. Since 9/11, our sense of insecurity has only increased, as has our reliance on military solutions to the problems we see before us. Yet the more we rely on military force, the less secure we feel. Perhaps the difficulty is in how we see the world that confronts us. It is as if we are trying to find our way using an old map, only to discover that the roads marked no longer exist.

One new map that may be particularly useful in helping us to see the contours of the future is the “earthlights” image reproduced here and available on the National Aeronautics and Space Administration’s website. The image is a composite of satellite photographs taken over a period of months that recorded the illumination from city lights, producing, according to NASA, a unique measure of “the spatial extent of urbanization.” The earthlights map forces us to think about some disturbing trends and effects that, if left unchecked, will likely come to haunt us in the coming decades. These developments, broadly considered here, are: the changing demographics of cities, particularly in what we call the Lagos-Cairo-Karachi-Jakarta arc; the increased possibility of failing regions within functioning but troubled states; and the rise of the “feral city” in states and regions inextricably linked to the process of globalization.

As one looks at the earthlights image, patterns of world order and disorder begin to emerge, and it becomes clear that tectonic forces are at play in the globe’s physical, economic, cultural, and political geography. The patterns of light suggest the inevitability of Central and Eastern Europe drawing ever closer, like moths to a flame, toward an enlarging European Union. Likewise, North Africa is being pulled away from the rest of Africa—and from the Middle East, despite certain cultural ties—and drawn toward a larger Euro-Mediterranean community. The earthlights image is revealing in other ways as well. It is interesting to see that India and Pakistan, which began from relatively equal starting points at partition in 1947 have gone in radically different directions: all of India is lit, while Pakistan is dark. The same story is evident on the Korean peninsula, where the thirty-eighth parallel forms a dramatic dividing line between the lights of South Korea and the dark shadow that is North Korea. The lights in the People’s Republic of China are clustered in the east, along the country’s Pacific coast, not evenly distributed throughout the country as in Taiwan or Japan. This suggests the eventual formation of “two Chinas”—one consisting of ever more densely populated urban zones, the other of underdeveloped and undergoverned hinterlands.

It is our view that we must pay greater attention to the shadows on the earthlights map. Like the drunk who loses his keys in the dark and looks for them under the streetlight because that is the only place he can see, we tend to focus our gaze on places where the lights are shining, even though the keys to greater security lie elsewhere. The attacks of September 11 not only revealed that Americans were vulnerable on their home soil; there also came the disturbing awareness that the new threat we faced came not from an enemy whose identity and capabilities were “in the light,” but from one operating from the shadows.

There now seems to be an emerging understanding that certain nontraditional security issues that have long plagued the so-called developing world—and which traditionally minded, state-centric strategists were content to consign to often ineffective nonstate entities (the United Nations, nongovernmental organizations, corporations)— have circled back to haunt us. This is not to say that traditional state-centric security problems are things of the past, or that military force will have no role to play. They are not, and it will, as the war in Iraq demonstrates. But the “boomerang” effect of these nontraditional security issues could increasingly affect the policy decisions and options open to the developed states. Our concern is that while the military is wrestling with the challenge of developing ever more impressive means of deterring and defeating “in the light” threats, no agency of government at the state or multi-state level (including the U.S. military) is doing enough to understand and overcome the threats that are taking shape in the shadowy and dark areas on the earthlights map.

Anarchy, governmental collapse, ethnic rivalry, cultural grievances, religious-ideo-logical extremism, environmental degradation, natural resource depletion, competition for economic resources, drug trafficking, alliances between narco-traffickers and terrorists, the proliferation of “inhumane weapons,” cyberwar, and the spread of infectious disease threaten us all. We cannot isolate ourselves from their effects. The question is not whether we should concentrate on traditional “hard” security issues, which normally derive from the relationships between states, or on “soft” nontraditional security issues, which are not confined by national boundaries. The answer is that we must focus on both.

As our understanding of security concerns broadens and deepens, the traditional assumption that states and governments are the sole guarantors of security will be increasingly challenged. This is because our security may depend on how we cope with the broader human dilemma. Addressing this dilemma will require sustainable development strategies and must take into account population growth, particularly in the emerging world; the rapid spread of epidemic diseases such as HIV/AIDS; the impact of climate change, including shifts in precipitation patterns and rising sea levels; water scarcity; soil erosion and desertification; and increased urbanization and the growth of “mega-cities” around the globe. In the Lagos-Cairo-Karachi-Jakarta arc over the next two decades, more and more people will be compelled by economic or environmental pressures to migrate to cities that lack the infrastructure to support rapid, concentrated population growth.

To take just one of these problems, most of the states in the Middle East are already experiencing water scarcity (some have per capita water availability rates that are significantly lower than the minimums recommended by the World Health Organization) and water resources will obviously be stressed even further as the population surges by a third between 2000 and 2015. This population growth in the Middle East will likely have a deleterious effect on nearby regions and perhaps the developed world. The combination of indigenous population growth and water scarcity will undoubtedly lead to pressures on the Middle East’s large number of guest workers to return home, often to countries with struggling economies, where jobs are scarce. The return home of guest workers will eliminate remittances (for some countries the value of remittances from overseas workers is greater than the state’s foreign aid receipts) and increase the number of individuals who will draw upon the home government’s already limited resources. The differences between Israel’s low natural population growth rate and the high rates in the West Bank and Gaza Strip as well as in neighboring Arab states mean that Israel will be demographically swamped unless it aggressively promotes immigration—the very thing that water scarcity (and terrorism) seem likely to discourage. It also suggests that however the Israeli-Palestinian confrontation is resolved, the real power struggle in the region may soon revolve around natural resources.

The Mega-City
Truly cataclysmic demographic changes will occur in the Lagos-Cairo-Karachi-Jakarta arc, with momentous shifts in the global landscape resulting from the “flocking” of people to urban centers. According to the National Intelligence Council’s Global Trends 2015: A Dialogue About the Future With Nongovernment Experts, as well as data compiled by the National Geographic Society and the United Nations Population Division, world population will reach 7.2 billion in 2015, up from 6.1 billion in 2000. Ninety-five percent of the growth will take place in “emerging” countries, and nearly all projected population growth will occur in rapidly expanding urban areas.

The population of the greater New York metropolitan area, which stood at 12 million in 1950, is projected to grow to 17.6 million in 2015. In comparison, Nigeria’s capital city of Lagos, which had a population of 1 million in 1950, is projected to have 24.4 million inhabitants by 2015. While the population of Los Angeles is projected to increase over the same period from 4 million to 14.2 million, Karachi’s population will explode from 1.1 million to 20.6 million. Cairo in 1950 was a city of 2.1 million; in 2015 it will have 14.4 million inhabitants. Jakarta’s population will have grown from 2.8 million to 21.2 million. Thus, the real cause for concern lies not in the developed world but in the “population belt” from Lagos to Jakarta.

Urbanization in and of itself is neither a good nor a bad thing. Tokyo’s population is projected to reach 28.7 million in 2015, but Tokyo will likely be far better equipped to handle the infrastructure requirements of the mega-city than the cities of the emerging world. Seventy-two percent of Japanese already live in cities, and Japan has accommodated itself to an urbanized existence. It is unlikely, however, that Lagos or Dhaka or Tehran will be able to sustain growth rates such as those projected above. Indeed, it is doubtful that many cities in developed states could sustain such rates of growth as cities in the emerging world are experiencing. If, for example, New York’s rate of growth were the same as Dhaka’s (the capital of Bangladesh will have a population of 19 million by 2015, up from 10 million in 2000, and from 400,000 in 1950), the (Really) Big Apple would have a population just shy of 600 million people by 2015. As it seems unlikely that even a city in the world’s richest country could handle such rapid growth, how will impoverished Bangladesh accommodate such a dramatic surge in the population of its capital city?

Compounding the problem is the fact that in numerous regions where U.S. interests are involved we will see the continued reality of a (threat-based) security dilemma along with the rise of various (vulnerabilitybased) human dilemmas. By 2015, the number of cities with a population of over 5 million will skyrocket from 8 (in 1950) to 58, and we may see more than 600 cities worldwide with populations in excess of 1 million inhabitants by 2015; in 1950, by contrast, there were only 86 such cities. As our colleague Richard J. Norton notes in the August 2003 issue of the Naval War College Review, many of the burgeoning cities of the future may well become petri dishes of instability, disease, and terrorism. In other words, at least some of these cities will grow far beyond the “natural” carrying capacity of their respective national governments, with the result that governmental infrastructure and public services will be stretched past the breaking point. Cities in this condition will pose a particularly serious security threat because they will have both substantial pockets of darkness within their municipal boundaries and extensive commercial, communications, and transportation links to the rest of the world. In other words, it will be easy for groups in these urban pockets of darkness to export instability.

Pockets of Darkness
The issue of state failure began to be widely discussed in the 1990s. Instead of the peace dividend that was the promise of the end of the Cold War, instability and a collapse of governance appeared to be on the rise. The “failed state” was seen as a breeding ground for anarchy and violence, and the natural home of terrorists, warlords, ethnic militias, holy warriors, criminal gangs, arms dealers, and drug merchants. Policymakers hoped that research into state failure might provide early warning indicators that would trigger timely international interventions to prevent collapse, and to this end the Central Intelligence Agency established the State Failure Task Force to conduct a comprehensive examination of the issue. (The task force developed a “failure” model, with a claimed predictive accuracy of 67 percent.) Yet, as events of the past few years have illustrated, there are other bubbling petri dishes that deserve greater attention—pockets of darkness in undergoverned areas within functional but struggling states.

The para-states that take shape in these pockets of darkness (for example, the war-lord-dominated “tribal areas” of Afghanistan and the militia-run enclaves in Bosnia and Kosovo) develop Night of the Living Dead characteristics. Possessing some of the functional aspects of statehood, but lacking the civic equivalent of balanced, flexible limbs, these figurative zombies stagger into the future, unable to function independently without massive and continuous life support—in the form of U.N. aid, or bilateral assistance from other states, or “export earnings” from various criminal enterprises. These para-states and lawless zones inside “nonfailing” states often present greater threats to international stability than do failed states. Examples include eastern Colombia where narco-terrorists have operated for years inside remote valleys; the “lawless” triangle where Brazil, Paraguay, and Argentina meet and where Hezbollah, arms dealers, and smugglers of all stripes conduct business freely; the hinterlands of the Democratic Republic of Congo, where opposing ethnic groups, invading armies, and gangs pillage the countryside and terrorize the people (albeit at a temporarily lower level of intensity since the U.N. intervention in 2003); and Afghanistan beyond the outskirts of Kabul and Kandahar.

Focusing on failed states may have caused us to pay insufficient attention to the possibility that undergoverned zones in remote rural areas—or the mega-cities on the Lagos-Cairo-Karachi-Jakarta arc—may pose a greater threat to developed states than do failed states. It is inevitable that feral zones will emerge in both the ungoverned outback and inside cities along the arc.

Further compounding the problem posed by rapid urban population growth is the “youth bulge” phenomenon. In the near future, almost half of the adult populations of many African, Middle Eastern, and Southwest Asian countries will be between the ages of 15 and 29. Despite the recent spate of Chechen and Palestinian suicide bombings by women, young men are responsible for most acts of violence. As the overall population grows, so too will the population of young males looking for employment and educational services. If, as seems likely in the emerging megacities of the arc, there are too few jobs and educational opportunities to satisfy the demand, discontent, crime, and urban instability will result.

Other pockets of darkness are also likely to form around semi-urbanized collections of “displaced” populations. Tens of millions of refugees now live in semi-permanent camps in the West Bank and Gaza, Sudan, and the Great Lakes region of Aftica. These veritable slums, with their swollen populations—where life is lived without opportunity or hope—are themselves evolving into para-states, fertile ground for instability. The only saving grace from a security viewpoint is that the displaced are typically not well connected by road, rail, or air to the rest of the world and thus will be less efficient exporters of violence to distant locations.

Finding a Way Out
In a world that is becoming more interconnected economically and physically, it is impossible to separate zones of light from pockets of darkness. Many of the states that will be most adversely affected by demographic pressures and rapid urbanization are already entwined in the globalization process and are simply too important to be left to their own devices. Egypt, Pakistan, and Indonesia fall into this category. They are struggling—though not failed—states whose stability, or lack thereof, will influence security and economic trends all along the arc of emerging mega-cities.

We need to encourage internal public sector reform and public security improvements in states where governments are currently failing to keep the lights lit, where urban population growth is likely to lead to failure at the municipal level or force overstretched governments to withdraw from remote rural areas. If September 11 taught us anything, it is that our security is inextricably connected to domestic governance shortcomings elsewhere. Unfortunately, the United Nations, by virtue of its own inefficiency, the divergent agendas of its leading members, and its orientation toward state-level solutions, is not up to the task of promoting effective public sector reform. A more flexible approach is called for. We need to better organize the efforts of all of the actors in the international community: governments, international organizations, international nongovernmental organizations, national civil society organizations, and for-profit corporations. As Jonathan Lash, president of World Resources Institute, has aptly put it, what we need is a “shift from the stiff formal waltz of traditional diplomacy to the jazzier dance” of issue-based networks and creative partnerships.

Future strategies must move beyond policing actions and military interventions toward active prevention of resource scarcity and governance failures. Active prevention was the central premise of the strategy of cooperative security, developed by former secretary of defense William Perry and others at the Brookings Institution shortly after the end of the Cold War. The idea was to prevent discontent from leading to internal armed conflict by creating jobs, reducing poverty, and improving governance—especially in urban areas—before aggrieved groups resort to violence. Our current strategy of preemptive war, of using the military to force regime change and then for nation building in sustained “governance stability operations”—in essence for “kicking the door in” and then “putting the door back on”—is ill-suited to the challenges ahead.

A few heretics (most notably, Robert D. Kaplan, the author of The Coming Anarchy) claim that development—not poverty— leads to unrest by raising expectations. The destabilizing effects of rising expectations are undeniable, but in this wired and interconnected world, expectations are likely to continue to rise no matter what national governments do. The destabilizing effects will be most dramatic in struggling states with overpopulated cities.

Unfortunately, the typical response to situations of such complexity is to do nothing. Yet, that cannot be our response. Our first order of business must be to promote a sense of urgency. Then we must devise approaches for radical improvements in public infrastructure and governance—particularly in the states and municipalities along the Lagos-Cairo-Karachi-Jakarta arc. If we are to redraw the map of the future, there must be a new division of labor among governments, international agencies, nongovernmental organizations, and corporations. Perhaps what is needed is the equivalent of the 1972 Stockholm Conference, which launched the global environmental movement and established the United Nations Environment Program as the environmental conscience of the world. Another example of an attempt to build new approaches to global problems was the U.N. Habitat II Conference, held in Istanbul in 1996. Neither of these initiatives was completely successful in mobilizing international support, but they represent useful starting points.

This is not an argument for supremacy by stealth or to justify future intervention. But unless we act to contain, if not reverse, the worrisome trends outlined here, we are likely to be in for decades of military engagement and increased insecurity. Rather than justifying intervention, we ought to be thinking about investment. When we look at the map of the lit and unlit world, we can see where work needs to be done.

{P. H. Liotta holds the Jerome E. Levy Chair of Economic Geography and National Security and James F. Miskel is associate dean of academics and professor of national security affairs at the U.S. Naval War College. The views expressed here are the authors’ own and do not represent those of the Department of the Navy.}

MEANWHILE : CONTEST to PRODUCE LIGHT[showUid]=11&cHash=f3709743abb32487cfe52cc8677d5248

The five winners of the World Bank Group’s Lighting Africa 2010 Outstanding Product Awardswere recently announced:

by Nathan Wyeth / May 20, 2010
Looking for Killer Apps at Lighting Africa 2010

At the World Bank/IFC Lighting Africa Conference in Nairobi, some numbers are looking good for a change. There are still 1.6 billion people without access to electricity, but decreasing costs of solar panels and LED lighting have put individual solar-powered lamps at a price that is affordable for much of the base of the pyramid. Solar lantern distribution is projected to grow at 25-40% rates over the next 5 years in Africa.

Does this mean the path to modern energy for rural Africa is in clear view? I’m not sure it is, which is why when I’m meeting people at this conference sponsored by the IFC’s Lighting Africa program, I’m saying that I’m still looking for killer apps. Engineering better, cheaper products is often a process of putting one foot in front of the other, but distributing them will require side-stepping the barriers that solar energy has continually run up against at every price point.

And even if the goal is defined as lighting for Africa, lighting products themselves may not be the best starting point or a standalone approach, as opposed to more comprehensive platforms for energy access – laying the groundwork to go from portable pico-power retail products to household and community scale energy distribution, in terms of both business infrastructure and customer readiness/ability.

Even at these huge projected growth rates that are probably as much as any single product distribution company can handle, Gaurav Gupta of Dalberg Development Advisors is quick to point out that over 5 years, that will take solar lighting market penetration in Africa from an estimated 1.3% to an estimated 2.3%. So I am on the lookout for approaches that will also open up whole new horizontal growth and distribution in this sector.

I’m not sure I’ve found the killer apps here just yet, but there are promising new ideas floating around, some embodied in new start-ups operating in Africa. Here are a few things that I’m looking for:

– Defining and increasing the value of solar by linking to income and tangible payback. There is generalized information available on what people currently pay for kerosene lighting, but very fuzzy understanding of actual willingness to pay for new energy products – and this may reflect unclear marketing and product positioning as much as lack of data collection.

Anecdote-based discussion is unfolding at this conference about whether end-user financing is necessary for solar lighting products that cost anywhere from $10-50, illuminating the fact that while product designers have been focused on a combination of lighting price and quality, there’s no clearly established understanding of what people will pay for modern lighting at what income levels.

What is clear is that payback and specific utility matters more than price. For example, Barefoot Power is having great success with its Firefly 12 product – not the least expensive in its line – because this can charge mobile phones. If solar is linked to specific utility, or payback for lighting is clearly defined, customers will be able to tell retailers what they will pay for it and the supply chain will be able to adjust accordingly.

– Building customer relationships. What makes solar attractive as an energy source makes it more difficult as a retail product – if you do a good job with your lamp product you won’t see your customers again for a few years and they won’t need to buy a single thing from you until they’re ready for a second lantern. But as a new technology, solar product companies need to develop intense technology loyalty and evangelism and probably need to be focused as much on reselling to existing customers and finding new ones. How to stay connected to customers who hopefully won’t have to talk to you more than once ever few years?

Companies that offer energy as a service might begin by suppling rechargeable battery stations that can power a home’s electricity need, but could then build on this by installing distributed power generation with the same customers at a much lower cost of acquisition and much greater readiness to install and value a household solar system.

– Building distribution and maintenance platforms. As alluded to above, electricity is a unique product. It’s only useful in tandem with other products, and some certainty of supply is needed before those products become worth it.

Distribution platforms offer the opportunity to meet energy needs beyond lighting – both in terms of energy supply and the appliances that can be linked specifically to distributed energy generation. For example, an energy efficient fan is valuable when it can be linked to a reliable energy supply, and solar panels gain in value when they can power an energy efficient fan. I would love to find an energy company that could sell both to a household in tandem.

In places with even more constrained ability to pay for energy services, a village energy vendor who recharges phones or LED lamps from a solar array can become a future distributor of products and the village expert in repairing solar panels.

These ideas are peeking through the cracks here at Lighting Africa, but perhaps by default, disruptive ideas are not an easy fit for this kind of forum, focused specifically on delivering lighting. Development banks operate on a programmatic basis, with certain starting points, end points, and program strategies in between. A focus on lighting markets – rather than energy markets – is one such construct that I’m not sure is helping here. Within this, the IFC is focusing on product quality. I can’t disagree with supporting high quality lighting products, but this presupposes that retail solar lantern distribution is actually the first step that you want for electrifying Africa. Disruptive approaches may pop up here but will go against the grain.

Battery re-charge subscription services, income-generating village energy vending opportunities, and technology-agnostic energy retail chains are among the disruptive and promising approaches that I’m seeing here. Mobile communications and payments can and will be wrapped into effective approaches – they may become killer apps in themselves. And as one persuasive participant said towards the end of the conference, when solar companies get as smart at marketing at Safaricom has in Kenya, these products will find their way into customers’ hands. This sector is moving fast but the clear winners have yet to emerge.


The term and meaning of a Resource-Based Economy was originated by Jacque Fresco. It is a system in which all goods and services are available without the use of money, credits, barter or any other system of debt or servitude. All resources become the common heritage of all of the inhabitants, not just a select few. The premise upon which this system is based is that the Earth is abundant with plentiful resource; our practice of rationing resources through monetary methods is irrelevant and counter productive to our survival.

Modern society has access to highly advanced technology and can make available food, clothing, housing and medical care; update our educational system; and develop a limitless supply of renewable, non-contaminating energy. By supplying an efficiently designed economy, everyone can enjoy a very high standard of living with all of the amenities of a high technological society.

A resource-based economy would utilize existing resources from the land and sea, physical equipment, industrial plants, etc. to enhance the lives of the total population. In an economy based on resources rather than money, we could easily produce all of the necessities of life and provide a high standard of living for all.

Consider the following examples: At the beginning of World War II the US had a mere 600 or so first-class fighting aircraft. We rapidly overcame this short supply by turning out more than 90,000 planes a year. The question at the start of World War II was: Do we have enough funds to produce the required implements of war? The answer was No, we did not have enough money, nor did we have enough gold; but we did have more than enough resources. It was the available resources that enabled the US to achieve the high production and efficiency required to win the war. Unfortunately this is only considered in times of war.

In a resource-based economy all of the world’s resources are held as the common heritage of all of Earth’s people, thus eventually outgrowing the need for the artificial boundaries that separate people. This is the unifying imperative.

We must emphasize that this approach to global governance has nothing whatever in common with the present aims of an elite to form a world government with themselves and large corporations at the helm, and the vast majority of the world’s population subservient to them. Our vision of globalization empowers each and every person on the planet to be the best they can be, not to live in abject subjugation to a corporate governing body.

Our proposals would not only add to the well being of people, but they would also provide the necessary information that would enable them to participate in any area of their competence. The measure of success would be based on the fulfilment of one’s individual pursuits rather than the acquisition of wealth, property and power.

At present, we have enough material resources to provide a very high standard of living for all of Earth’s inhabitants. Only when population exceeds the carrying capacity of the land do many problems such as greed, crime and violence emerge. By overcoming scarcity, most of the crimes and even the prisons of today’s society would no longer be necessary.

A resource-based economy would make it possible to use technology to overcome scarce resources by applying renewable sources of energy, computerizing and automating manufacturing and inventory, designing safe energy-efficient cities and advanced transportation systems, providing universal health care and more relevant education, and most of all by generating a new incentive system based on human and environmental concern.

Many people believe that there is too much technology in the world today, and that technology is the major cause of our environmental pollution. This is not the case. It is the abuse and misuse of technology that should be our major concern. In a more humane civilization, instead of machines displacing people they would shorten the workday, increase the availability of goods and services, and lengthen vacation time. If we utilize new technology to raise the standard of living for all people, then the infusion of machine technology would no longer be a threat.

A resource-based world economy would also involve all-out efforts to develop new, clean, and renewable sources of energy: geothermal; controlled fusion; solar; photovoltaic; wind, wave, and tidal power; and even fuel from the oceans. We would eventually be able to have energy in unlimited quantity that could propel civilization for thousands of years. A resource-based economy must also be committed to the redesign of our cities, transportation systems, and industrial plants, allowing them to be energy efficient, clean, and conveniently serve the needs of all people.

What else would a resource-based economy mean? Technology intelligently and efficiently applied, conserves energy, reduces waste, and provides more leisure time. With automated inventory on a global scale, we can maintain a balance between production and distribution. Only nutritious and healthy food would be available and planned obsolescence would be unnecessary and non-existent in a resource-based economy.

As we outgrow the need for professions based on the monetary system, for instance lawyers, bankers, insurance agents, marketing and advertising personnel, salespersons, and stockbrokers, a considerable amount of waste will be eliminated. Considerable amounts of energy would also be saved by eliminating the duplication of competitive products such as tools, eating utensils, pots, pans and vacuum cleaners. Choice is good. But instead of hundreds of different manufacturing plants and all the paperwork and personnel required to turn out similar products, only a few of the highest quality would be needed to serve the entire population. Our only shortage is the lack of creative thought and intelligence in ourselves and our elected leaders to solve these problems. The most valuable, untapped resource today is human ingenuity.

With the elimination of debt, the fear of losing one’s job will no longer be a threat This assurance, combined with education on how to relate to one another in a much more meaningful way, could considerably reduce both mental and physical stress and leave us free to explore and develop our abilities.

If the thought of eliminating money still troubles you, consider this: If a group of people with gold, diamonds and money were stranded on an island that had no resources such as food, clean air and water, their wealth would be irrelevant to their survival. It is only when resources are scarce that money can be used to control their distribution. One could not, for example, sell the air we breathe or water abundantly flowing down from a mountain stream. Although air and water are valuable, in abundance they cannot be sold.

Money is only important in a society when certain resources for survival must be rationed and the people accept money as an exchange medium for the scarce resources. Money is a social convention, an agreement if you will. It is neither a natural resource nor does it represent one. It is not necessary for survival unless we have been conditioned to accept it as such.



Cleveland razed! Rust Belt remaking foreclosures into forests
by Nin-Hai Tseng / June 25, 2010

In a housing market still struggling to regain strength, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac have quickly become two of the nation’s biggest landlords. By the end of March, the troubled mortgage finance companies had taken over 163,828 foreclosed houses. That’s more homes than there are in Seattle. In hopes of recouping some losses, Fannie and Freddie are working to sell the houses. In a healthy housing market, that makes sense. But they wouldn’t be in this predicament if that were the case. We’re still grappling with the same housing problems: too much supply, not enough demand.

How can the nation downsize with grace?
A growing chorus believes turning foreclosed homes into wide-open spaces — neighborhood parks, community gardens, or even urban forests — is the way to do it. It’s not exactly a far-fetched idea. Fortune has learned The Trust for Public Land, a national nonprofit land conservation organization, is examining Wells Fargo’s (WFC, Fortune 500) portfolio of foreclosed homes to buy tracts in order to return the land to a greener state. Record foreclosures and lower land prices has created some unlikely opportunities — what the organization is calling a “green lining” to the real-estate crash. “We’ve always worked with banks to acquire properties, but obviously there’s a lot more pieces and much more opportunities these days,” said Will Rogers, president of The Trust for Public Land, which help governments put together financing to acquire lands through grants, public dollars and private fundraising. For decades American cities such as Cleveland, Detroit, Youngstown, and St. Louis have responded to everything from white flight to population decline by converting abandoned lots or properties into plots for public uses. To be sure, not every structure has been demolished and turned into greener spaces. Some in good shape have been transformed into affordable housing, but creating open space has become a viable option for cities trying to shrink prosperously.

Conservation of land has its roots in the presidency of Theodore Roosevelt. In keeping with the spirit of our late President, known as the Father of Conservation and a crusader for saving wild places, the idea of turning unneeded homes into green space is worth exploring. Roosevelt helped create 150 national forests, five national parks, and 18 national monuments, among other conservation projects. Altogether, he was instrumental in the conservation of about 230 million acres. “Roosevelt is famous for being a conservationist — he was onto this idea that the great outdoors built strong Americans,” says Armando Carbonell of the Lincoln Institute of Land Policy, a Cambridge, Mass.-based policy research organization. “The amount of failure of real estate projects is so great that there are probably a lot of opportunities out there.”

In 2008 the federal government seized Fannie and Freddie because they were deeply troubled by bad loans. The companies hold titles to the foreclosed properties, and have hired real estate and marketing agencies to help sell their inventory. When a property is sold, the companies take payment and give the new homeowners title. As of the end of March, Freddie had taken over 53,831 homes, mostly concentrated in states with some of the nation’s highest foreclosure rates: California, Florida, Arizona, Michigan, Illinois, and Georgia. Listings for homes in California ranged from $19,000 to $59,000; those in Florida, $5,000 to $24,000; in Illinois, $2,000 to $36,000; in Arizona, $15,500 to $37,500; in Michigan, $100 to $19,900; and in Georgia, $4,000 to $31,000.

The weak housing market has kept Freddie from selling at prices that would help it recoup all its losses. On average, the recovery rate has been approximately 60%, said Brad German, a spokesman for Freddie. Clearly there are few winners in this nightmarish housing market. No doubt there’s a better way: Freddie and Fannie need to be part of the solution. The companies could sell their properties to governments or a land trust, which could then turn them into neighborhood parks or urban gardens or some form of open space. Not every piece will work.

Location, location, location
The Trust for Public Land prefers homes it is looking at to sit in a neighborhood that does not already have a park or green space. However, if the foreclosed parcel is located adjacent to an existing park, it could be added into it. Finding a willing government, church, school or organization to maintain the open space is also important. Efforts to turn foreclosures into green space could prove economically beneficial, helping reduce the nation’s oversupply of homes. In turn, this could support and possibly raise home prices.

In Ohio’s Cuyahoga County, home to the rust-belt city of Cleveland, momentum has increased to ease the area’s rampant foreclosures through a greener approach. In April the county of about 1.3 million launched a land bank, an independent government corporation with the power to acquire tax-foreclosed properties or buy up discounted structures from banks or loan services. The agency is a variation on a handful of land banks that have formed nationwide — the first of which emerged in the 1970s in St. Louis, where residents’ flocking to the suburbs left an inventory of empty homes and buildings.

Unlike land banks of the past, Cuyahoga’s agency appears to have teeth. Not only can the land bank pick up vacant property, but it can also acquire homes, buildings, and other structures. The county apparently has received an outpouring of requests from a public that envisions greenhouses, parks, trails, and community gardens, in hopes of redefining neighborhoods left hollow by subprime lending and mortgage foreclosures. But not every parcel or property should be demolished and turned into wide-open spaces. Affordable housing is still in demand, and many communities dealing with record foreclosures would probably benefit more from attracting new industries and more businesses. Local and state governments dealing with budget shortfalls would probably rather see new homes or a new office park on their tax rolls, leading to increased government revenues from property taxes. State governments face one of the worst budget seasons in years. Between now and 2012, states must still close budget gaps totaling about $127 billion, according to a survey by the National Association of State Budget Officers. If market demand for homes just isn’t there and the location is right, communities could find even more value in greener spaces. “It suddenly becomes an asset for the community rather than a liability,” says Frank Alexander, a professor at Emory University Law School who has helped form land banks in Atlanta and Michigan’s Genesee County.

The green space effect
In 2007, Philadelphia saw an $18.1 million windfall in property taxes because property values rose in certain residential areas near parks, according to a 2008 study by The Trust for Public Land. What’s more, parks attract tourists. Philadelphia collected $5.2 million worth of sales tax from tourism spending by out-of-towners who visited the city primarily for its parks, according to the report. If anything, open spaces might just add to life’s simple pleasures. A separate survey by The Trust for Public Land has found that the economic downturn has occasioned more visitors to free parks and playgrounds, while admissions to paid events, like professional sports, have gone down. In a 2009 poll, 38% of adults with children under 6 years old said they’ve made greater use of parks.

John Perry Barlow: Internet has broken political system
by Gautham Nagesh / 06/03/10

“The political system is broken partly because of Internet,” Barlow said. “It’s made it impossible to govern anything the size of the nation-state. We’re going back to the city-state. The nation-state is ungovernably information-rich.” Speaking at Personal Democracy Forum in New York on Thursday, Barlow said there is too much going on at every level in Washington, D.C., for the government to effectively handle everything on its plate. Instead, he advocated citizens organizing around the issues most important to them.

Barlow also said that President Barack Obama’s election, driven largely by small donations, has fundamentally changed American politics. He said a similar bottom-up structure is needed for governing as well. “It’s not the second coming, everything won’t get better overnight, but that made it possible to see a future where it wasn’t simply a matter of money to define who won these things,” Barlow said. “The government could finally start belonging to people eventually.”

The former Grateful Dead songwriter said those disppointed in Obama are disregarding the extent to which the political system is broken. He blamed the Beltway establishment, which he said is loathe to give up any accumulated influence. “There is a circle of fat around the Beltway that is incredibly thick” Barlow said. “We can no longer try to run this country from the center. We’ve got to run it, just like the Internet, from the edges.”

A longtime advocate of individual’s rights online, Barlow also had some harsh words for the world’s leading search firm. “Google’s capacity to control human thought makes the Catholic church jealous, I bet,” Barlow said. “They wish they’d thought of it.” Despite his concerns, Barlow remains optimistic about the Internet’s ablitity as a force for good in politics, describing himself as a techno-utopian. “There are lots of battles to be fought, we can’t give them up,” Barlow said. “You folks in this room have the capacity to be some of the greatest ancestors anybody ever had.”

EXOPOLITICS (n. art or science of government as concerned with creating/influencing policy toward extraterrestrial beings)

Russian president asked to investigate alien claims
by Richard Galpin / 5 May 2010

A Russian MP has asked President Dmitry Medvedev to investigate claims by a regional president that he has met aliens on board a spaceship. Kirsan Ilyumzhinov, the leader of the southern region of Kalmykia, made his claim in a television interview. MP Andre Lebedev is not just asking whether Mr Ilyumzhinov is fit to govern. He is also concerned that, if he was abducted, he may have revealed details about his job and state secrets. The MP has written a letter to Mr Medvedev raising a list of his concerns. In his letter he says that – assuming the whole thing was not just a bad joke – it was an historic event and should have been reported to the Kremlin. He also asks if there are official guidelines for what government officials should do if contacted by aliens, especially if those officials have access to state secrets. Mr Ilyumzhinov said in an interview on primetime television that he had been taken on board an alien spaceship which had come to planet Earth to take samples – and claims to have several witnesses. He has been president of Kalmykia, a small Buddhist region of Russia which lies on the shores of the Caspian Sea, for 17 years. The millionaire former businessman has a reputation as an eccentric character. As president of the World Chess Federation, he has spent tens of millions of dollars turning the impoverished republic into a mecca for chess players – building an entire village to host international tournaments.

Kalmyk governor leaks classified information to ‘humanoid’ aliens?
by Julia Ioffe / May. 5 2010

Andrey Lebedev, a Duma deputy for the right-wing nationalistic LDPR party, is pissed: there is a traitor in Russia’s house, and he’s a traitor of the very worst order. Lebedev’s allegation, which he addressed yesterday to President Dmitry Medvedev, is serious. Kirsan Ilyumzhinov, the autocratic, chess-playing, Buddhist billionaire ruler of the Semiautonomous Russian Republic of Kalmykia on the shores of the Caspian, has been feeding highly classified state secrets to aliens, Lebedev alleges.

According to Lebedev, extraterrestrial “humanoids” are now in possession of some of Russia’s most secret secrets. Here’s what happened. Lebedev realized something was very extremely horribly wrong as he watched Ilyumzhinov’s interview with Vladimir Pozner, the Russian Larry King. During the interview, Ilyumzhinov openly discussed his 1997 encounter with benevolent aliens. According to Ilyumzhinov, it all happened on a Saturday night. He came home to his Moscow apartment, watched some TV, read a bit, and drifted off to sleep. Mid-drift, he heard the balcony door open. Then someone called to him. Ilyumzhinov went to check it out, only to discover a hovering transparent tube, which he, naturally, entered. Inside, humanoids in yellow spacesuits awaited him. They had a pleasant talk, which occurred on the level of mindwaves because, Ilyumzhinov said, “there wasn’t quite enough oxygen.” The humanoids, who were friendly, told Ilyumzhinov that they were not yet ready for direct contact with human humans. Instead, they gave him a tour of the ship and sent him on his way. Sounds fine, but what, Lebedev wonders, really happened aboard that ship?

Did Ilyumzhinov talk to the aliens about his official duties? “Did the representatives of these extraterrestrial civilizations ask Ilyumzhinov about the nuances of his professional duties, and, if they did, what ‘evidence’ did he give?” Moreover, Lebedev wants to know, did Ilyumzhinov let the President know about his contacts with such beings? And, while we’re at it, “who else among the governors of the Russian Federations, members of the government, and other federal civil servants is communicating with aliens? Dmitry Anatolyevich,” Lebedev wrote, addressing the Medvedev by his patronymic, “you will agree that, unless Ilyumzhinov is bluffing, then this information is historically significant. If possible, I ask you to brief the deputies of the Federal Duma about your conclusions.” Medvedev has yet to respond.


Lt. Colonel Dwynne Arneson: US Air Force (retired): “I was the top-secret control officer at Malmstom AFB for the 20th Air Division. I happened to see a message that came through my communications center. It said…that ‘A UFO was seen near missile silos’…and it was hovering. It said that the crew going on duty and the crew coming off duty all saw the UFO just hovering in mid-air. It was a metallic circular object and from what I understand, the missiles were all shut down. What I mean by ‘missiles going down’ is that they went dead. And something turned those missiles off, so they couldn’t be put back in a mode for launching.”


Don’t talk to aliens, warns Stephen Hawking
by Jonathan Leake / April 25, 2010

The aliens are out there and Earth had better watch out, at least according to Stephen Hawking. He has suggested that extraterrestrials are almost certain to exist — but that instead of seeking them out, humanity should be doing all it that can to avoid any contact. The suggestions come in a new documentary series in which Hawking, one of the world’s leading scientists, will set out his latest thinking on some of the universe’s greatest mysteries. Alien life, he will suggest, is almost certain to exist in many other parts of the universe: not just in planets, but perhaps in the centre of stars or even floating in interplanetary space. Hawking’s logic on aliens is, for him, unusually simple. The universe, he points out, has 100 billion galaxies, each containing hundreds of millions of stars. In such a big place, Earth is unlikely to be the only planet where life has evolved. “To my mathematical brain, the numbers alone make thinking about aliens perfectly rational,” he said. “The real challenge is to work out what aliens might actually be like.” The answer, he suggests, is that most of it will be the equivalent of microbes or simple animals — the sort of life that has dominated Earth for most of its history.

One scene in his documentary for the Discovery Channel shows herds of two-legged herbivores browsing on an alien cliff-face where they are picked off by flying, yellow lizard-like predators. Another shows glowing fluorescent aquatic animals forming vast shoals in the oceans thought to underlie the thick ice coating Europa, one of the moons of Jupiter. Such scenes are speculative, but Hawking uses them to lead on to a serious point: that a few life forms could be intelligent and pose a threat. Hawking believes that contact with such a species could be devastating for humanity. He suggests that aliens might simply raid Earth for its resources and then move on: “We only have to look at ourselves to see how intelligent life might develop into something we wouldn’t want to meet. I imagine they might exist in massive ships, having used up all the resources from their home planet. Such advanced aliens would perhaps become nomads, looking to conquer and colonise whatever planets they can reach.” He concludes that trying to make contact with alien races is “a little too risky”. He said: “If aliens ever visit us, I think the outcome would be much as when Christopher Columbus first landed in America, which didn’t turn out very well for the Native Americans.”

The completion of the documentary marks a triumph for Hawking, now 68, who is paralysed by motor neurone disease and has very limited powers of communication. The project took him and his producers three years, during which he insisted on rewriting large chunks of the script and checking the filming. John Smithson, executive producer for Discovery, said: “He wanted to make a programme that was entertaining for a general audience as well as scientific and that’s a tough job, given the complexity of the ideas involved.” Hawking has suggested the possibility of alien life before but his views have been clarified by a series of scientific breakthroughs, such as the discovery, since 1995, of more than 450 planets orbiting distant stars, showing that planets are a common phenomenon. So far, all the new planets found have been far larger than Earth, but only because the telescopes used to detect them are not sensitive enough to detect Earth-sized bodies at such distances. Another breakthrough is the discovery that life on Earth has proven able to colonise its most extreme environments. If life can survive and evolve there, scientists reason, then perhaps nowhere is out of bounds.

Hawking’s belief in aliens places him in good scientific company. In his recent Wonders of the Solar System BBC series, Professor Brian Cox backed the idea, too, suggesting Mars, Europa and Titan, a moon of Saturn, as likely places to look. Similarly, Lord Rees, the astronomer royal, warned in a lecture earlier this year that aliens might prove to be beyond human understanding. “I suspect there could be life and intelligence out there in forms we can’t conceive,” he said. “Just as a chimpanzee can’t understand quantum theory, it could be there are aspects of reality that are beyond the capacity of our brains.”

The Politics of Extraterrestrials
by David Moye / April 28, 2010

Famed astrophysicist Stephen Hawking isn’t the only man concerned about the potential ramifications of an extraterrestrial presence on Earth. Turns out, a growing number of people are becoming involved in “exopolitics,” the study of the political ramifications of alien visitors — whether they be friend or foe — and how humans should prepare for either scenario. Take Michael Salla, an international politics scholar who in 2001 started dedicating his time to exopolitics. Since then, Salla, an expert in conflict resolution, has been lobbying for extra transparency from the government regarding extraterrestrials. He says that it’s imperative for the planet to have a plan just in case an E.T. decides to make Earth his new home. “It’s not necessary to assume E.T.s are real, just possible,” Salla said. “Then you prepare for it and think through all the issues.”

According to Salla, those issues include deciding how the alien presence will be announced (he advocates announcing the presence of microbes and working up to more sentient beings), and who will be in control — a secret committee or a corporate entity. Even more important: If the E.T.s have superior technology, should they be forced to share it? Of course, another big issue is determining the protocol for contact between humans and aliens, lest either side be exposed to strange viruses, a Romeo and Juliet situation between Martians and Earthlings — or worse. “A big question is how will humans interact with aliens,” Salla said. “If someone is threatened by one, will they take a shot at them while driving by? And, if so, will this be as illegal as shooting a human?”

Luckily, for Salla and the others in this pioneering form of paranormal political science, they aren’t the only ones asking these questions. “In the last six months, both the Vatican and the Royal Society of London have held astrobiological conferences studying the implications of life found on other worlds,” he said. Exopolitician Alfred Webre is confident that an alien discovery would have a major earthly impact. He believes that the politician or head of state who announces an encounter with an E.T. will have an incredible amount of political capital internationally. No wonder, he says, that many UFOlogists believe that JFK planned to make such an announcement before his 1963 assassination.

However, Webre also admits that if, say, President Barack Obama were to make such an announcement, it could likely fall prey to the partisan battles that have plagued other big issues such as the economy, immigration reform and health care. “There have been rumors that Obama might make such an announcement, but there have been so many immediate crises that what might be a political slam dunk hasn’t taken place,” said Webre, who recently shocked the world by claiming that both the U.S. and Russia have developed electromagnetic weapons that can trigger earthquakes. Webre concedes that while being the person who announces the real presence of alien life will make history, it’s possible that E.T.s might not want to put their eggs in one basket, politically speaking, since they wouldn’t want to give the appearance of favoring one nation over another. If and when aliens “do surface, the thought is that they’d do it through a neutral party such as the United Nations,” Webre said.

Other exopoliticians, like political activist Stephen Bassett, believe that the governments of the world — especially the United States — don’t want to give such a momentous announcement to the U.N. Bassett, a registered lobbyist who wants Congress to release information about the presence of aliens, says any announcement made about E.T.s — at least in the U.S. — is only likely to happen with the express cooperation of U.S. military intelligence. “Barack Obama won’t say he wants to reveal the truth; the military will come to him and say, ‘You’re the guy,'” Bassett said. “Then there would be a substantial press conference with all the evidence anyone could want that proves the presence is real.” And he says that announcement would come quickly. “You can’t have a leak 20 days in advance,” Bassett said. “You don’t float trial balloons. You make the decision and you move quickly.”

Bassett, who is organizing the X-Conference 2010, an exopolitical gathering May 7 to 9 in Washington, D.C., says that after a nation makes the initial announcement, others would promptly follow. But he admits, “This is a transcendent issue. Whatever country makes the announcement will get most of the historical attention.” Although Bassett believes any such announcement would be made by one nation, Webre says he and other exopoliticians have been talking with members of the U.N. General Assembly regarding U.N. Resolution 33/426, which is a proposal to set up a Department of Extraterrestrials Affairs. He is more confident of this happening than Salla. “There has been a 60-year period where any information that the governments of the world may have has not been shared with the public,” he said. “Whatever is decided, it needs to be done with transparency and accountability. It’s important to share such information with U.N. and U.S. office holders.” Of course, a lot has changed in that 60-year period. Webre says that in 1961, studies indicated that a sudden announcement of an alien presence would scare people and cause psychological distress and panics, like the one that surrounded Orson Welles’ 1938 “War of the Worlds” hoax. “A more recent study showed that 85 percent view an announcement about aliens on Earth as something positive,” he said.

However, Webre may get some argument from Hawking, who is still pessimistic about trying to make friends with an alien species. “If aliens ever visit us, I think the outcome would be much as when Christopher Columbus first landed in America, which didn’t turn out very well for the Native Americans,” he said while promoting his new Discovery Channel series “Into the Universe With Stephen Hawking.” But Salla says the extreme divide between cynics like Hawking and optimists like the Vatican, which has declared that God may have created theologically minded beings on other planets besides Earth, is OK, just as long as the debate is happening. “While one can heartily disagree with Hawking’s public policy recommendation of ignoring intelligent alien life, he is to be congratulated for elevating exopolitical study as a ‘perfectly rational’ discussion,” Salla said.


the Wilton Windmill crop circle which appeared on Friday 21st May

Crop circle season arrives with a mathematical message
by Matilda Battersby / 26 May 2010

It is perhaps little known that the beautiful county of Wiltshire, famed for Stonehenge and the white horses carved into its hills, is the most active area for crop circles in the world, with nearly 70 appearing in its fields in 2009. It is unsurprising then, that the appearance of a phenomenally complex 300ft design carved into an expanse of rape seed on a Wiltshire hillside has caused excitement. But it’s not just the eye-pleasing shape which has drawn attention to it. The intersected concentric pattern has been decoded by experts as a “tantalising approximation” of a mathematical formula called Euler’s Identity (e ^ ( i * Pi ) + 1 = 0), widely thought be the most beautiful and profound mathematical equation in the world.

The design above appeared beside Wilton Windmill late on Friday night. Lucy Pringle, a founder of the Centre for Crop Circle Studies, was one of the first on the scene. She says: “What has happened in this particular crop circle is that there are 12 segments and within each segment there are 8 partly concentric rings. Each of these segments indicates a binary code based on 0 and 1. If you use an Ascii Table [computer calculation system], the pattern transposes itself into a tantalising approximation of Euler’s equation.”

The average person finds such complex mathematical talk utterly confounding, so The Independent Online asked Dr John Talbot, a maths research fellow at University College London, for his take on the matter. He said: “Looking at the crop circle, the link with Euler’s most famous identity seems to make perfect sense. However, the way the formula has been executed is partially incorrect. One of the discrepancies is that one part of the formula translates as ‘hi’ rather than ‘i’, which could be somebody’s idea of a joke.” The Wilton Windmill circle is not the first to have provoked mathematical exposition. In July 2008 a photograph of a crop circle near Barbary Castle (also in Wiltshire) caught the attention of retired American astrophysicist Mike Reed when he saw it in a national newspaper. He was struck by its shape and eventually concluded that it was a coded image representing the first ten digits of Pi (3.141592654), a conclusion declared to be a “seminal event” by Pringle at the time.

Sceptics dismiss crop circles as utter rubbish, but despite decades of research nobody knows conclusively how they’re made. As Francine Blake of the Wiltshire Crop Circle Study Group, explains: “The difficulty is that we don’t know the answer. It’s something that needs to be treated with great respect, but is too often talked about flippantly in the media which, I think, closes the subject rather than opens it.” There has been extensive scientific exploration into the affect the circles have on nearby wildlife. Flowers and soils inside crop circles are dramatically altered, Blake explains. Pringle observed in a 2003 experiment that seed samples taken from inside a crop circle had 40 per cent higher protein levels than those taken from outside it.

Another interesting element is the nature of the soil on which the circles appear. Pringle says that 93.8 per cent of crop circles are made on chalk, “a worldwide phenomenon” recorded in 54 different countries. She says the significance may be connected to underground springs called aquifers commonly found in chalk: “It is thought that the originating force probably originates in the ionosphere (an area of atmospheric electricity). The force then spirals to earth in the form of a vortical plasma and hits the ground with some 100 of 1000’s of volts per metre for just a nano second only, else the crop would be burnt. Occasionally we do see evidence of scorched flattened crop inside certain circles. The electromagnetic fields of both the underground springs and the descending force work in harmony or conjunction with each other.”

Blake also remarks on the significance of the chalk, which she says the ancients often built their monuments on – an observation which the existence of Neolithic sites like Stonehenge and Avebury attest. She says the ancients also built their temples on “energy lines” and has observed that “crop circles always appear on or near these lines.” Blake was impressed with the Barbary Castle circle and its derivations because the shape itself was “like a Labyrinth,” which “gives it a spiritual as well as a mathematical tradition.”

Nobody knows for sure how crop circles are made. Reports of strange mists creating the complicated patterns in a matter of minutes, their connotations with little green men and Midwich Cuckoos and elaborate hoaxes have fostered a widespread unwillingness to take the idea seriously. This approach both feeds the mystery around the concept and prevents further exploration of it, as it is an area of research that is unlikely to be awarded large research grants or space on university courses. But, as Blake remarks: “There’s neither rhyme nor reason, they just keep coming.” And with crops nearly at their full height, the UK’s crop circle season is upon us. If you want to see for yourself Wiltshire is your best bet.



The Interplanetary Phenomenon Unit (or IPU) was a United States Army staff section established by at least 1947 and dissolved by the late 1950s. Officials have confirmed that the IPU existed, but little else is known about it. It seems to have been an unidentified flying object-related undertaking. Some ufologists have suggested that the very name “Interplanetary Phenomenon Unit” is an indication that the IPU was convinced that the extraterrestrial hypothesis was a viable explanation for UFOs. There has been speculation that the IPU was another name for the Majestic 12 or MJ-12, an unconfirmed (and controversial) U.S. UFO research group said to have been founded in 1947 to handle UFO investigations in the aftermath of the so-called Roswell UFO incident.

Another contention is that the IPU was a separate unit, also founded in 1947 following Roswell, under the direction of Army Counterintelligence, but ultimately at the disposal of MJ-12. Researchers William Steinman and Wendelle Stevens contended the IPU unit was directly involved in the crash-recovery of another UFO at Aztec, New Mexico in March 1948, being ordered there by MJ-12. However, another MJ-12 related document of questionable authenticity, indicated the unit was supposedly established early in 1942 by General George Marshall following a well-publicized UFO incident, the so-called “West coast air raid” or “Battle of Los Angeles” in which an unidentified object or objects over Los Angeles resulted in a massive anti-aircraft barrage.

General Douglas MacArthur has also been rumored as involved in the formation of the IPU, during or towards the end of World War II, because of the many UFO incidents occurring under his command in the Pacific. Allegedly MacArthur reported directly to General Marshall. Maybe supporting MacArthur’s involvement is the fact that he did make public statements on at least three occasions that Earth might have to unite to fight a future war against an alien menace. Two such quotes were in the New York Times, October 8, 1955, and July 5, 1961. Another was a famous speech at West Point, May 12, 1962, in which he said, “We speak in strange terms: of harnessing the cosmic energy …of ultimate conflict between a united human race and the sinister forces of some other planetary galaxy; of such dreams and fantasies as to make life the most exciting of all time.” Wiki source The same quote also appeared in a July 4th speech MacArthur delivered in Manila in 1961.

In May 1984, William Steinman first wrote the Army Directorate of Counterintelligence, since, according to Steinman’s information, the IPU was run out of the Scientific and Technical Branch of the Directorate. Steinman received the following reply from a Lieutenant Colonel Lance R. Cornine. Cornine claimed that the IPU had only an unofficial existence and refused to definitely acknowledge the existence of any unit records: “As you note in your letter, the so-called Interplanetary Phenomenon Unit (IPU) was disestablished and, as far as we are aware, all records, if any, were transferred to the Air Force in the late 1950’s. The ‘unit’ was formed as an in-house project purely as an interest item for the Assistant Chief of Staff for Intelligence. It was never a ‘unit’ in the military sense, nor was it ever formally organized or reportable, it had no investigative function, mission or authority, and may not even have had any formal records at all. It is only through institutional memory that any recollection exists of this unit. We are therefore unable to answer your questions as to the exact purpose of the unit, exactly when it was disestablished, or who was in command. This last would not apply in any case, as no one was in ‘command’. We have no records or documentation of any kind on this unit.”

In March 1987, British UFO researcher Timothy Good also wrote the Army Directorate of Counterintelligence and again received a letter confirming the existence of the IPU from a Colonel William Guild. Guild was more definitive about the existence of IPU records and that they had been turned over to the U.S. Air Force Office of Special Investigations (AFOSI), the USAF counterintelligence unit, and the Air Force’s Project Blue Book: “…the aforementioned Army unit was disestablished during the late 1950’s and never reactivated. All records pertaining to this unit were surrendered to the U.S. Air Force Office of Special Investigations in conjunction with operation BLUEBOOK.” Good also stated that the IPU reported directly to General Marshall. Documents from AFOSI about the IPU, if they exist, have never been released.

Would a President be Briefed on a UFO Special Access Program?

In 1976 presidential candidate Jimmie Carter promised the American people that he would open any government UFO files that might exist. Recall that while governor of Georgia, Carter had a UFO sighting and actually filed a report. After winning election to President, Carter met with CIA Director George H. W. Bush seeking a briefing on the topic. Bush turned him down, claiming that neither as President nor as Commander-in-Chief did he have a “need to know.” Once in office Carter turned to NASA for information, directing presidential science advisor Frank Press to ask NASA administrator Robert Frosch to “form a small panel of inquiry” to investigate the UFO situation. This letter and other correspondence may be found in “UFOs and NASA” (Journal of Scientific Exploration, pp. 93–142, 1988). Nothing at all came of this as recounted by Richard C. Henry — then a young astrophysicist (now a prominent Johns Hopkins professor) working as a deputy to the director of what was the Astrophysics Division at NASA headquarters — on whose desk this “hot potato” request landed. For five months NASA went through some amusing twists and turns, recounted by Henry, before politely declining.

Discounting the NASA farce, and assuming that any possible UFO program would exist as a Special Access Program in the Department of Defense, on what legal basis would the President and Commander-in-Chief be denied access? It is likely that the UFO topic is actually classified by one or more laws duly enacted by Congress in the late 1940s concerning national security — but without any overt reference to UFOs of course — and signed by President Truman. Only a handful of members of Congress, if any at all, would have known that more than Cold War issues were involved in this far-reaching national security legislation enacted at a time of near panic over a Soviet nuclear threat. There are at least two bins into which the UFO topic could have been placed such that a future President could not unilaterally release it (legally) or, in fact, maybe even know about it. One bin is the category of Restricted Data (RD) established by the Atomic Energy Act in 1946 and pertains to Special Nuclear Material (SNM); another bin would be what has since evolved into the Waived Special Access Program system set up under the authority of the National Security Council which traces back to the National Security Act signed by Truman in 1947 (interestingly only a couple of weeks after the Roswell episode).

That means that even if an incoming President asked someone who knew about the existence of such a program, that individual would be required by law to not only not tell the President, but also to actively mislead him, if necessary. (Such a policy is actually spelled out in controversial documents that researchers Ryan and Robert Wood obtained and traced back to CIA Director Allen Dulles in the 1950s. The source of these documents is unclear.) If a president today tried the same thing without the appropriate clearances (which he could not give to himself) he would likewise be told (legitimately) that there was nothing disclosable. If this hypothesis is correct, then UFO information would be “Born Secret” by the Atomic Energy Act, and not releasable to anyone without at least an AEC “Q” clearance (and likely higher, R or above), plus a legitimate need to use it in his/her job. By law, all RD is “owned” by the AEC Commissioner at its inception. The AEC clearance standards are somewhat different than executive branch standards. In order to grant a Q or higher clearance, the Commissioner must find that the applicant is of “good moral character,” among other things. Thus, if the Commissioner didn’t like Richard Nixon’s burglary at the Watergate Hotel, or Bill Clinton’s dalliances, the Commissioner could withhold access to RD even on those grounds.

A new President who wants to know what the government knows about UFOs would have to be persistent, clever, and informed before beginning the quest, as Clinton’s failed attempt via Associate Attorney General Webster Hubble attests. Simply issuing a presidential executive order declassifying the topic might yield the mistaken conclusion that there is no such material. The first step would be to determine under exactly what legal jurisdiction the matter is classified. This could best be accomplished by a small dedicated research team reporting directly and personally to the President with at least high enough clearances to be able to read all classified Presidential Decision Memoranda and the classified appendices to the Atomic Energy Act and the National Security Act.

On Black Special Access Programs

The three-tier standard government security clearance levels are well known: confidential, secret and top secret. However just having a clearance at one of these levels does not automatically give access to any information at that level. There has to be a demonstrable “need to know” in order to be briefed or read in on a given project, program, facility or intelligence product. But this system is merely the “white” side of the security system. There is a massive secret “black” system as well, the existence of which is known while the details (naturally) are deeply hidden. (For a publicly available overview see the Report of the Commission on Protecting and Reducing Government Secrecy: 1997, chaired by Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan, Senate Document 105-2. See also the report In Search of the Pentagon’s billion dollar hidden budgets by Bill Sweetman, North American editor for the British publication Jane’s Defence Weekly, from which much of the following material has been condensed.) This structure has been described as a “shadow military” existing in parallel with open or overtly classified programs. It is for programs considered to be too sensitive for normal classification measures: these are called Special Access Programs (SAPs). They are protected by a security system of great complexity. Many of the SAPs are located within industry funded through special contracts. Under arrangements called “carve-outs” such programs and funds become removed from the usual security and contract-oversight organizations. In 1997 there were at least 150 SAPs.

There are also levels of SAP, the first being a division into acknowledged and unacknowledged SAPs. Black Program is slang for an unacknowledged SAP. An unacknowledged SAP is so sensitive that its very existence is a “core secret.” Indeed, some unacknowledged SAPs are sensitive to the extent that they are “waived” (a technical term) from the normal management and oversight protocols. Even members of Congress on appropriations committees (the Senate and House committees that allocate budgets) and intelligence committees are not allowed to know anything about these programs. In the case of a waived SAP, only eight members of Congress (the chairs and ranking minority members of the four defense committees) are even notified that a given program has been waived (without being told anything about the nature of the program). Such a program is certainly deep black (though I am not sure if that designation is actually used in the business).

The number of people with access to multiple SAPs is deliberately very limited. This virtually assures that hardly anyone knows what is going on in another program. Black programs are often covered by white (normal classification system) or unclassified programs. The U2 spyplane was covered by a weather-research aircraft program. Such covering allows technology to be relatively openly developed until such time as it is ready for application to a black program. The overt cover program is then usually cancelled, having accomplished its purpose. This happened to the X-30 National Aerospaceplane project in 1994. It appeared to be an unrealistically ambitious program that was eventually cancelled, but was in reality a cover for what is almost certainly a black-world hypersonic aircraft according to defense analyst Sweetman. (This may be the source of the phantom sonic boom phenomenon reported since the early 1990s.)

Someone read in on an unacknowledged SAP would be required to deny even its existence, i.e. even a “no comment” would be a serious breach of security. It can also happen that someone, such as a general or admiral, ostensibly responsible for certain types of programs or areas of technology would not be briefed on the existence of a program that should be within his jurisdiction. (If your name is not on the so-called “bigot list” for a program you will not be briefed, no matter what your rank or responsibility. Even the director of the CIA or the DIA would not ex officio and automatically be on all such lists.) The wall of denial in the deep black world can thus be maintained by both deception and deliberately designed lack of cognizance leading to apparently honest denial. In addition to passive security, active measures can also be deemed necessary: disinformation. Again according to the report by Sweetman, two high level commissions have concluded that, among other things, black programs include “systematic efforts to confuse and disinform the public.” One disinformation ploy is to divulge both real and fabricated information of equal apparent credibility mixed together to someone or some group. The fabricated information can then be used to discredit claims, individuals or organizations. This is a highly effective way to keep a major secret: let the secret be revealed but mixed with sufficient disinformation to assure that the secret will not be believed by anyone who actually matters, for example the national media. The cost of such intense levels of security can be quite steep. It has been estimated that an intensively sensitive program may consume half or even more of its secret budget in security.

The products of the intelligence community are termed Sensitive Compartmented Information (SCI). It is easier to keep a program hidden in a contractor facility than in a government facility. Deeply buried programs in contractor facilities are called “carve outs” (referring to the budget). A crash retrieval or some classified continuation of Project Blue Book would likely exist as a deep black industrially-based SAP. A program involving hardware would be considered technology rather than intelligence and most likely fall under the office of the Under Secretary of Defense for Acquisition, Technology and Logistics. Ironically for such a program even someone having an intelligence “ticket” at the highest level would not be considered to have a need to know. All of this results in very effective isolation and virtually no one in a position of open civilian governmental authority being cognizant of this after a time, even though, at least in principle, the Special Access Program Oversight Commitee, SAPOC, should be cognizant of such a program. I do not know of any fundamentally limiting factors in the potential longevity of a program. The extreme compartmentalization and limited oversight would tend to keep a program in existence, perhaps indefinitely. Political leaders come and go, pandering to the masses for votes in the eyes of many within the military and intelligence communities, and as a result have varying degrees of respect and trust in that world. Deep black programs can become quite independent of any given administration, and it would certainly be unrealistic to assume that a given president has been briefed on every SAP. A president does not automatically have a need to know. Moreover Freedom of Information Act requests cannot penetrate unacknowledged special access programs.

Practical Problems and Roadblocks On the Path Toward Official UFO Acknowledgment
by Peter Robbins / 31 August 2009


“We seek a free flow of information… we are not afraid to entrust the American people with unpleasant facts, foreign ideas, alien philosophies, and competitive values. For a nation that is afraid to let its people judge the truth and falsehood in an open market is a nation that is afraid of its people.” — President John F. Kennedy

“I have discussed this matter with the affected agencies of the government, and they are of the opinion that it is unwise to publicize the matter at this time.” — Senator Richard B. Russell, former Chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee. Russell personally sighted a UFO over Russia in 1955, an event which was classified SECRET by our government

Curiosity seems to be an integral component of human nature, for most of us in any case. Anyone who has ever gazed up and observed something unusual traversing the sky overhead has likely wondered what it is and what its origins were, especially if its flight characteristics and appearance suggested it might be under intelligent control. This longing to understand has not been confined to modern times. Generals and foot soldiers serving under Alexander the Great almost certainly wondered the same thing as “flying shields” hung over their field of battle the night before an engagement, as did the residents of sixteenth century Nuremberg, Germany, as cylinder-shaped UFOs released innumerable spherical and disc-shaped objects into the morning sky. Uncounted people from every era and corner of the Earth have shared a similar sense of wonder, awe, fear, and curiosity, but it was not until history ushered in the modern era of UFO sightings that some began to assume – correctly as it turned out – that our governments might actually have known more about this illusive phenomenon than they chose to let on.

The passage of years has brought with it a growing number of voices both here and abroad who are calling on the American Government to declassify and disseminate classified files relating to UFOs, and that this process be undertaken in a timely manner. France, Denmark, Belgium, Brazil, Argentina, Mexico, Sweden and Uruguay have done so with the United Kingdom currently in the process of making thousands of pages formerly classified UFO documents and information available to the public on official web sites. Even so, its fair to assume that the most highly classified information in possession of least some of these countries remains well secured. Since its inception under the Carter Administration, our Freedom of Information Act has been an effective instrument of release for thousands of pages of official UFO documentation, but no British-style declassification initiative has ever been enacted here.

There is good cause for the frustration driving this movement. For the past sixty-two years, requests that the subject be taken seriously and accorded some measure of official, public respect have fallen on deaf ears and repeatedly been met with evasion, confabulation, silence or outright lies. Decades of dedicated study and evaluation have made many of us confident we can face this truth, whatever implications are suggested by the other-worldly presence lurking behind it. As for the readiness of our fellow citizens and the eight-plus billion others who populate this planet and may not be of similar mind, well, they’ll just have to get used to living in a world transformed.

But what really are the implications of stepping through such a cosmic doorway, and what, if any responsibility do we owe the people and institutions who remain woefully unprepared for such an Earth-shaking transition? It’s imperative that we come to appreciate the reasons for proceeding with caution and respect for the unconsidered possibilities which the wholesale release of compelling UFO information may unleash upon us, and upon those who are generally oblivious to the weighty issues involved. I for one would like to know what our government knows about UFOs, but am deeply concerned about the impact which public airing of such data may have on ‘the uninitiated,’ for it will be their dreams, beliefs and hopes that stand to be most effected.

UFOs and the Politics of Politics

“I think it’s time to open the books on questions that have remained in the dark; on the question of government investigations of UFOs. It’s time to find out what the truth really is that’s out there. We ought to do it because it’s right; we ought to do it because the American people quite frankly can handle the truth; and we ought to do it because it’s the law.” — John Podesta, now Presidential Advisor Podesta

“I’ve never met Dennis Kucinich and I don’t know Governor Richardson. No, I don’t think there are UFOs. No, I don’t think the government… What the hell are we talking about? This has gone downhill real quick…” — Joseph Biden, now Vice President Biden

“You know, I don’t know, and I don’t presume to know. What I do know is that there is life here on Earth, and that we’re not attending to life here on Earth.” — Barack Obama, now President Obama

It’s something of a given in American politics: being perceived as someone who takes the subject of UFOs seriously is tantamount to political suicide, doubly so if you’ve been reckless enough to go on record as maintaining that some UFOs may represent advanced technology under the control of other intelligences from parts unknown. An initiative aimed at making such information public would spin this given around on its head, but when it comes to this particular issue, winning the hearts and minds of the powerful, influential, and significant public figures, remains extremely challenging.

Of course there have been exceptions to this rule and they should be acknowledged as such. A small but courageous contingent of astronauts have put their careers and reputations at considerable risk by saying they are now convinced – through either informed opinion or experience – that UFOs are real. The late Steven Schiff, a progressive Democrat and Congressional Representative from New Mexico, and the late Barry Goldwater, a conservative Republican and senior Senator from Arizona, were shining examples of this contrarian position and neither ever backed down from his outspoken beliefs. President Reagan, who had a stunner of a UFO sighting when he was Governor of California, also took the subject seriously and referred to matters extraterrestrial on a number of occasions during his time as President. In 1987 he made this statement during a speech before the 42nd General Assembly of the United Nations: “In our obsession with antagonisms of the moment, we often forget how much unites all members of humanity. Perhaps we need some outside, universal threat to make us recognize this common bond. I occasionally think how quickly our differences worldwide would vanish if we were facing an alien threat from outside this world. And yet, I ask, is not an alien force already among us? What could be more alien to the universal aspirations of our peoples than war and the threat of war?”

Even with such an allegorical tagline, General Colin Powell, then Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, did not find such statements uplifting or entertaining, and on such occasions was known to make less than pleased remarks about the President’s “LGMs,” as in little green men. The anti-UFO secrecy position held by Presidential Adviser John Podesta is another exception to the rule, but then he is an appointed rather than an elected official and most Americans remain oblivious to his outsider opinions on the issue.

Despite similar convictions which may be held by government officials, few have had the courage to follow in Goldwater’s or Schiff’s steps, or even Reagan’s, and with good cause. Since the summer of 1947, our media, our military and numerous other branches and offices of our government have done a superb job of embracing – at least in public – the false notion that a serious belief in the reality of UFOs is functionally identical to delusional thinking, mental illness, or something very much akin to it. Some past Presidents and Presidential candidates have had an obvious sympathy for UFO openness, only to recant later, then retreat into silence or into the mob of naysayers. Whatever the motivating factors behind their actions or reactions, understanding the dynamics that create such back-peddling may ultimately help us to change the climate that fostered it.

Michigan Republican Gerald Ford took a courageous stand for UFO openness during his days in the House of Representatives. A spate of unexplained sightings inundated his district during the mid-sixties and a number of the witnesses were people Ford had known for years. He took their accounts seriously and acted decisively in recommending that a committee be created to investigate the phenomena: “I think we owe it to the people to establish credibility regarding UFOs and to produce the greatest possible enlightenment on this subject.” Such a committee was established in 1968 only to wither and die because of a lack of any serious implementation. Ford’s UFO activism vaporized once he assumed the Presidency, as did any public comments on the matter.

Jimmy Carter’s UFO sighting occurred in January 1969 during his run for the Georgia governorship. He remembered it as “the darndest thing I’ve ever seen. It was big, it was very bright, it changed colors and it was about the size of the moon. We watched it for ten minutes, but none of us could figure out what it was. One thing’s for sure, I’ll never make fun of people who say they’ve seen unidentified flying objects in the sky.” His completed MUFON sighting report is one of Ufology’s most interesting artifacts. Now convinced that UFOs, whatever they might be, were real, Carter went on record during his 1976 Presidential campaign that if elected he would release then-classified UFO information – with one possible factor acting as a deterrent: “I don’t see any reason to keep information like that secret, but there may be some aspects of the UFO information which I am not familiar with that might be related to some secret experiments that we were doing that involve national security or new weapons systems. I certainly wouldn’t release that.” “Defense implications” were indeed cited as the reason he did not make good on his pledge.

We now know that Carter wanted to transfer responsibility for UFO affairs to NASA, only to have its highly respected director threaten to resign if he did so. The Director’s stated reason was that saddling the already financially overburdened space agency with responsibility for this routinely mocked subject would only result in popular as well as official ridicule that would jeopardize much needed funding. The President considered his options – then backed down, never to raise the issue again during his time in office. In later years Mr. Carter kept his distance from the subject, possibly because he’d grown tired of being asked about his sighting and earlier outspoken views. In 2007 he was quoted as saying, “I think it is impossible in my opinion – some people disagree – to have space people from other planets or other stars to come here. I do not believe that is possible.” Then again, that same year he allegedly confided to Shirley Maclane, “that basically the President or the Executive Branch is not on a ‘need to know basis.’” Whatever opinions you may hold on Ms. Maclane or her views, the statement she relates is an extremely important one.

I am far from alone in having come to the conclusion that the President is not in fact on a need to know basis, and that occupants of the office from Eisenhower on have been briefed in accordance with their loyalty, pre-existing knowledge of the situation, and level of popularity among those who actually hold power over this information. And who are the individuals charged with control over such secrets? We’re not actually sure anymore. In 1947 it was certainly a highly cleared core of military and intelligence personnel, aided by key scientists and a small cadre of distinguished insiders who had the trust and confidence of President Truman. But the balance of true power has shifted markedly since then leaving us to ponder the degree of influence which leading defense contractors, multinationals and financiers exert over our government’s secret keeping apparatus – another dark dividend of this country’s not having heeded President Eisenhower’s parting warning on the dangers posed by a military industrial complex allowed to proliferate veritably unchecked.

Governor Bill Richardson of New Mexico would like to know some of these secrets; in particular, those pertaining to what actually happened in his state in early July of 1947. In 2004 he went on record as such, but don’t expect him to publicly acknowledge it now. It was that year he wrote, “It would help everyone if the U.S. government disclosed everything it knows. With full disclosure and our best scientific investigation, we should be able to find out what happened on that fateful day in July of 1947. The American people can handle the truth no matter how bizarre or mundane, and contrary to what you see in the movies.”

The reason for the Governor’s seeming change of heart was simple. The autumn of 2007 saw Richardson’s contender for the Democratic Presidential nomination, Dennis Kucinich, outed by the late television commentator Tim Russert as having actually observed a UFO of some sort – this in the company of his wife and their friend Shirley MacLaine. For weeks to follow, Kucinich was unable to make an appearance without being questioned about the sighting. He soon tired of defending his perceptions and began responding to such questions with some humor, as in this interview with a Michigan radio station: “I later learned after this story surfaced that 40 million Americans have seen things in the sky that they thought they couldn’t identify. I also learned that President Reagan and President Carter at one time or another saw UFOs. So it may just be that seeing a UFO is a prerequisite to becoming President.”

But once the pundits and talking heads grew tired of working over Kucinich, they turned on Bill Richardson. Their reason being, that he was Governor of New Mexico, and attacking the credibility of the Roswell incident has remained fair game for the uninformed. Richardson is a political realist, and as a viable contender for the Democratic Presidential nomination, acted quickly to control political fallout, within days disavowing any public pretense of taking the subject seriously, but not in a mean-spirited or undiplomatic manner: “…I promote Roswell as a tourism issue, but there is no credible evidence… I’ve never seen one. I doubt their existence, but I admit, I’m the governor of the state and I push the tourism promotion side…” Put yourself in the Governor’s place for a moment and you’ll begin to appreciate why such a response was, regrettably, both rational and appropriate.

A few examples of professional politicians whose careers intersected with a subject encumbered by such a virulent ridicule factor that even a passing association with it can mark or damage a career, or leave the individual fighting for their political life. It is not out of the question we may someday find ourselves with a President who, through one channel or another, learns enough, and becomes passionate enough about the subject in the process of learning about it, that they decide to put themselves squarely on the line, then cross it, ‘need to know’ be damned. This of course dependent on the possibility that such an independent, Executive undertaking has ever even has the possibility of succeeding. Short of mass UFO landings, such a Presidential directive would seem to have a significant potential to help shine a light on all of those long buried telex’s, cablegrams, reports, orders, memoranda, and technical analyses. Anyone waiting for assistance from that small army of unnamed, appointed bureaucrats whose security clearances and positions allow them to hold sway over the temporary occupants of the highest offices in the land, may be waiting for a very long time. Had Governor Richardson been nominated and elected in 2008, then given a chance to learn the answers to some of the questions he’d asked in 2004, it might have been President Richardson who finally bucked the system.

But we live in a democracy and the ideal would be for the House and/or Senate to spearhead such an initiative. The key to this possibility is education, but that necessitates a willingness to be educated. My guess is that taking time from their busy schedules to study the evidence supporting UFO reality holds a low priority for the overwhelming majority of current office holders. Short of allowing them to view a recovered extraterrestrial craft and its cryogenically suspended crew, my vote would be to lock them all into Roswell’s International UFO Museum and Research Center for a month and have them begin to work their ways through its world-class library. Regrettably the logistical and legal problems involved preclude this possibility.

Attending UFO conferences is a practical way to gain information on the subject. Again, enticing our dignitaries to register is something else. I remember the surprise I felt when I learned that Claiborne Pell, then the Senior Senator from Rhode Island, was sitting just a few aisles from me during a lecture at MUFON’s 1987 Symposium. This was at American University in Washington, D.C. At the break some of us approached him and asked why he was there. Pell responded with a smile that he was also interested in the subject – in his capacity as a private citizen, of course. Finding a ranking American senator at a UFO conference is, well, extremely rare. There was however a privately funded effort to place quality UFO evidence in the hands of the executive and legislative branches and the driving force behind it was one of the wealthiest men in America.

Laurance Rockefeller’s* name was first publicly linked with the subject in 1995 with the publication of a series of newspaper articles. His interest quickly accelerated into activism, the end result of which was the Unidentified Flying Objects Briefing Document: the Best Available Evidence. This was accomplished with the aid of two old friends who shared his passionate interest; Sandra Wright and Marie Galbraith – wife of our then-Ambassador to France and daughter-in-law of the economist John Kenneth Galbraith. They were assisted in their efforts by members of The Fund For UFO Research. The document’s actual writers were the Fund’s Don Berliner, Galbraith, and veteran Ufologist Antonio Huneeus.

In December 1995, copies of the handsomely bound 170 page report were delivered to every congressman and house member, and as I understood it, the President, Vice President, cabinet level officials and other Washington movers and shakers. But its impact was considerably less than Laurence and his colleagues had hoped for. Whatever disappointment they may have felt was compounded by the outing which he and Galbraith received on the front page of The New York Observer. On April 8, 1996 the weekly published an extremely mocking article entitled “Rockefeller Greets Aliens! A Rich Guy’s UFO Dream.” It was accompanied by a huge cartoon of Laurence and Marie running through Washington shielding themselves from a sky filled with flying saucers and aliens. Even billionaires are subject to embarrassment and Mr. Rockefeller was no exception. Both he and Galbraith withdrew from any publicly expressed interest in the subject and returned to their private lives. The Best Available Evidence was later published as a mass market paperback, but in the end the results of the efforts expended by this dedicated group were next to nil. The ridicule factor has spared few who sought the public airing of UFO related information. Rich man, Presidential candidates, Presidents, it doesn’t matter.

The declassification of compelling UFO documents would go a long way in allowing elected officials to once and for all break through the ridicule barrier and take the subject seriously in public discourse. Yet the chances for declassification and dissemination are limited at best if politicians and influential public figures remain fearful of taking an open and courageous stand. The essence of this problem was summed up by the late Dr. James E. McDonald, University of Arizona atmospheric physicist and pioneering Ufologist: “The scientific community as a whole does not take the U.F.O. problem seriously because it lacks experimental data, but it lacks experimental data because it does not take the problem seriously. It is like the youth of 20 who cannot find a job because he lacks experience and lacks experience because he cannot find a job.” But an even greater obstacle to resolving this conundrum is the often invoked term, ‘National Security,’ or perhaps more accurate to this discussion, national insecurity. As such, it’s imperative we take this phrase and its interpretations to task.

* Personal note: Laurance (correct spelling, he was named after his mother, Laura) Rockefeller spent much of his adult life as a philanthropist, donating hundreds of millions of dollars to the establishment and upkeep of wildlife sanctuaries, national parks, wetlands and other environmental causes. In the early nineteen eighties he became interested in the work of a small but dedicated non-profit repertory theater company which I house managed. For the next five or six years Rockefeller quietly underwrote the production of about a dozen of the Off Broadway plays we produced, and in the process helped to keep dozens of our actors, technical and support personnel employed, something for which I will always be grateful to him. During that period I saw him several times a season during which we’d usually find a few minutes to chat, mostly about the current production.

Some years later, in late 1994 or early 1995 as best I remember, I received a call from someone particularly close to Rockefeller who also happened to be a good friend of mine. After securing my absolute discretion in the matter, they told me that over the preceding months Laurance had quite simply become obsessed with the subject of UFOs and the government’s seeming cover-up of information relating to them. This was informing more and more of their conversations and the friend had grown concerned that if this preoccupation continued to grow, Laurance might begin to seek information or advice from people who would either take advantage of his position and standing, or supply him with specious data. Could I put together a reading list of what I felt were the best UFO books available and assemble a collection of declassified documents and reports which would serve as a proper introduction to the subject? The friend would be glad to pay my copying costs. I agreed of course and set to work.

A week or so later I informed them that the material was ready, along with a cover letter noting my willingness to meet or speak with the recipient and do my best to answer any questions the papers might generate. The friend asked me to deliver the material at a specified date and time. True to form Mr. Rockefeller maintained an office on the top floor of 30 Rockefeller Plaza and a security officer at the information desk directed me to a special elevator. Once it reached the top floor the door opened directly into an exterior office where another security officer stood waiting for me. “Mr. Robbins?” he asked, eyeing the parcel I held. “Yes.” I answered. “I’ll take that” he responded. I handed it to him, he thanked me, and that was that.

I received a final call from the friend soon after, thanking me on behalf of Laurance and saying he appreciated the material and the time I’d taken to organize and copy it. Not long after this Rockefeller began to establish his own contacts within the UFO research community, becoming friends with Budd Hopkins and John Mack, among others, and going on to spearhead the funding, publication and distribution of The Unidentified Flying Objects Briefing Document.

The Question of National Security

“It is my view that this situation has possible implications for our national security which transcend the interests of a single service.” — General William Bedell Smith, Director of the CIA from 1950-53

“It is time for the truth to be brought out in open Congressional hearings. Behind the scenes high ranking Air Force officers are soberly concerned about the UFOs. But through official secrecy and ridicule, many citizens are led to believe the unknown flying objects are nonsense.” — Admiral Roscoe Hillenkotter, Director of the CIA from 1947-50

Like beauty, national security seems to exist in the eye of the beholder. What currently classified UFO related information constitutes a threat to legitimate and rational national security concerns? The dictionary defines the word “security” in part as, “The state of being secure; freedom from danger.” Will widespread knowledge of the truth about UFOs, the intelligences behind them, and the implications of both tend to increase or decrease the potential for danger to our citizenry? Opinions on this vary.

One faction maintains the status quo should be upheld and the secret keeping continue until such a time when the government decides on its own to reverse their standing policy. Another supports full and complete declassification and dissemination and nothing less. A third advocates release and publication with some specific reservations. The rest of us remain conflicted and likely a little overwhelmed by the ramifications of any of these decisions. Which national security concerns should help guide our thinking here? It appears that striking a balance between society’s and the individual’s right to know while simultaneously protecting the legitimate concerns of National Security is a problem of the first order.

Nuclear physicist Stanton T. Friedman remains one of the UFO field’s ranking figures and is one of only a small handful of Ufologists to have actually held security clearances. In Friedman’s case, during his fourteen years of work on the development of a wide variety of advanced classified nuclear and space systems for such companies as GE, GM, Westinghouse, McDonnell Douglas and Aerojet General Nucleonics. Though an advocate of releasing UFO related information, he remains opposed to doing so without reservation and maintains: “There is a real need for recognition of the security aspects and that one can’t tell one’s friends without telling one’s enemies… Instead I believe that any such announcement should be on an international basis along with an announcement that international conferences will be held to deal with the religious, economic and political aspects of the new world situation that would occur once disclosure has been made. Planning will be required.”

Friedman’s co-author of Captured: The Betty and Barney Hill UFO Experience, Kathleen Marden, is also a proponent of limited declassification and release, and has had decades to consider the question from a particularly unique point of view. She is the niece of Betty Hill, one of the world’s best-known UFO abductees, has served on the MUFON Board of Directors as their Director of Field Investigator Training, and has a background in both social work and education. Marden’s training and education has left her concerned about “social unrest, depending on what’s released.” Her main concern is “the uncertainly regarding the sociological, religious and economic impact of full disclosure,” and she does not mince her words in articulating them:

“We currently have a situation where an alien civilization can visit us at will, abduct and experiment upon us and harvest our natural resources. We are completely helpless to protect ourselves politically and militarily. My primary questions are as follows: How would we proceed after disclosure? Would we normalize relations with them, or do they feel so technologically, intellectually and emotionally superior to us that they think of us as primitives, unworthy of standing on equal ground? Would they then land at will in full public view? Would they openly abduct us? Would full disclosure lead to a chaotic society and the degradation of cultural values? Would it lead to a rise in alcoholism and drug abuse? Full disclosure does not necessarily imply the sharing of technology and it could have a disastrous impact upon our civilization.”

Ms. Marden’s concerns fall squarely within the realm of national security and the questions she poses are not new ones. Early support for caution is reflected in the conclusions of the Brookings Institution’s 1960 report, “Proposed Study on the Implications for Peaceful Space Activities for Human Affairs.” This paper, prepared at the request of NASA, supported the idea of an extraterrestrial presence and warned that actual contact might result in a certain amount of social chaos, a shaken faith in our scientific establishment, and a crisis of faith for religious fundamentalists.

The state of being secure. Freedom from danger. Is it possible for the truth about UFOs and their implications to coexist with a true state of national security? Our system of government grants us the option to set limits on openness, just as long as the public has the final say in determining whether ‘the truth shall set them free’ or ‘ignorance is bliss.’ It’s difficult to know how to resolve this contradiction. Consider the following.

It is now sometime in the future and our government is in the process of methodically revealing information about UFOs and the intelligences behind them. The truth about alien abductions has caused a certain amount of shock across the nation and around the world, and in-depth stories on abduction are now regularly featured in magazines, newspapers, TV shows and of course on the Internet. The time has now come to tell the public about human-alien hybrids. Even for someone like me, a research specialist who spent years working directly with this subject’s seminal investigator, Budd Hopkins, this remains extremely disturbing territory. But the public is told, in as reassuring a manner as possible, that, among other things, these half-human half-other beings are the result of an ongoing alien effort involving human females to create a hybrid species. Then the public learns that some hybrids are so human looking in appearance they are able to pass among us without being noticed. Aliens among us? Aliens who look like people? Possibly living in the apartment across the hall or the house around the corner? Not on my planet. How long will be before the nightly news reports that a person now in police custody took a shot at someone with wispy blonde hair they were sure was staring at them across a restaurant, or winged that geeky guy who speaks in a monotone and is known to have an interest in UFOs? Any positive benefits of declassification and release would have been far outweighed by the negative impact on their security, national or otherwise.

Admittedly, this is an extreme example and a worst case scenario, but I don’t think an unfair one to cite. Its been said that the most dangerous drug in the world is testosterone. Add to that an overload of extremely frightening information and a firearm and you have an equation none of us want to see factored into the declassification process. What then is the balancing point between truth and security? I wish I knew.

Organized Religion and the Impact of Declassification

“We are not authorized to exclude that on another star beings do exist, even if they are completely different from us.” — Cardinal Nicolò Cusano, philosopher and scientist, 1401-1464

“It is absurd to claim that the worlds surrounding us are large, uninhabited deserts and that the meaning of the universe lies just in our small, inhabited planet.” — The Jesuit Father and astronomer Fr. Angelo Secchi, 1818-1876

“It seems to be in accordance with the aim of the world that inhabitable celestial bodies are settled by creatures that recognize the glory of God in the physical beauties of their worlds, in the same way man does with his smaller world.” — Joseph Pohle, German theologian 1904

Some months back my friend Bridget and I were discussing the potential impact which official confirmation of UFO reality might have on the country’s religious communities. Her take on the subject was of particular interest to me as she is an ordained minister in the United Church of Christ. Bridget followed up with an email, part of which underscored a particularly serious thought, but had me laughing just the same: “The other day Jonathan and I were watching that funny and annoyingly disturbing cartoon, “Family Guy” and Peter Griffin (do you ever watch this program?) is afraid to go to the store Bed, Bath and Beyond because even though he’s okay with going into the Bed and Bath part of the store, he’s afraid of going into the Beyond section! They show him entering through a door where he is immediately sucked into the world of weird equations and other oddities floating all around him. … I wanted to use it as part of a sermon illustration but didn’t want to admit that I watch “Family Guy”!”

Bridget’s observation is at once wise, funny and poignant. Most people seem far more comfortable in Bed and Bath than they do in Beyond. Religion offers us the potential for protection of a higher power as well as a set of beliefs that we can hold fast to and draw comfort from when the ‘Beyond,’ or unknown comes calling. The dictionary defines “faith” as “unflagging trust; belief without firm proof; belief in a supreme being; a religion.” None of us can say with any certainty how followers of the world’s religions will take to the idea that they share the universe with other intelligent beings, or with an assortment of them for that matter, something which, in the interpretations of many, is not referred to or discussed in their holy texts. Surmounting the problems associated with this perceived lapse will be easier for people of faith to overcome if their traditions allow for some latitude in the interpretation of their religious teachings, less so for those who hold that their beliefs and holy texts are sacrosanct and not open to interpretation.

We can assume that the relevant surveys and polls taken over the past few decades which indicate a majority of Americans feel there is intelligent life in space include a good percentage of individuals who, if asked, would identify themselves as people of faith. I’ve taken my own informal poll of Christian and Jewish friends, and listened to the views of Muslim and Hindu ones on the subject. To a person, all were in agreement that if our government ever confirmed the reality of UFOs, and stated that some were likely extraterrestrial in origin, their faith God and in their religions would remain unshaken. While entirely unscientific in its approach, the results of my inquiry tend to refute those of the Brookings Institution’s study, in relation to all but the beliefs of religious fundamentalists. Thankfully there is no need to lean on my data.

The September, 2008, issue of the MUFON UFO Journal featured the results of a survey conducted by Rev. Ted Peters and his associate Julie Froehlig. It was published under the title, “Is Extraterrestrial Intelligent Life a Threat to Religion?,” and is very much worth reading. The goal of “The Peters ETI Religious Crisis Survey” was to test whether or not contact between Earth and an extraterrestrial civilization would result in a crisis (or even collapse) of belief among the religious traditions of Catholics, Protestants, Orthodox Christians, Mormons, Jews, and Buddhists. The survey found that for the most part religious persons do not fear contact.” Somewhat surprisingly, a secondary finding was that a majority of non-religious respondents were the ones most concerned about such a crisis occurring.

How should theologians react to the religious implications of the ‘official’ discovery or acknowledgment of extraterrestrial (or other unearthly) life? What models should be considered in counseling their flocks, especially the more skittish among them?

In 1937 the Jesuit theologian Herbert Thurston wrote, “From a logical point of view, Christians that accept miracles and other episodes related on the Gospel “… cannot reject in a obstinate way the reiterated testimonies of modern and reliable witnesses that relate what their eyes have seen.” There are a number of other religious arguments that can be made in favor of the extraterrestrial hypothesis, some of which are reflected in the quotations preceding this section. The late Monsignor Corrado Balducci was a Vatican theologian and insider best known for his public pronouncements on the UFO phenomenon. He maintained that extraterrestrial contact is a real phenomenon and “not due to psychological impairment,” nor did he see this belief “in conflict with the Christian religion.” On October 8, 1995, he caused a major stir among Ufologists , and I daresay a good number of Roman Catholics, when he appeared on Italian National Television and stated, that “Extraterrestrials do exist,” and “… if 99 out of 100 {UFO reports} were false and that one was true, it’s that one that says some phenomenon exist.” It’s worth noting that some years earlier, Stanton Friedman said, “The question is not whether all UFOs are of extraterrestrial origin, but are any? The evidence indicates some are.”

It was the Monsignor’s contention that after excluding such conventional anomalies as “light effects,” atmospheric phenomena, clouds, ball lightning, etc, and factoring in some common sense, human rationalism and the testimony of hundreds of thousands of reliable eyewitness accounts worldwide, “it seems impossible to deny at a rational level that something real does exist!” It was also his belief there may be other inhabited planets, and noted that “In the Bible there are not specific allusions to other living beings, but neither is it excluded {in} this hypothesis.” A review of the Monsignor’s arguments can be found in his paper, “Ufology and Theological Clarifications.”

There is no way that a Prelate of Balducci’s stature would have been allowed to express the public views he did without the expressed permission of the Vatican. Whatever the Church’s innermost reasons for embarking on such a program, it represents a truly revolutionary approach to an extraordinarily complex problem: how to make the faithful aware of this presence in an officially sanctioned manner, and in the process, prepare them for at least some of the information which declassification and release would reveal. Other religious leaders who appreciate the seriousness of this situation might do well to consider applying a similar strategy tailored to the needs of their followers. I would recommend they begin by reading any of the following books: UFO and the Bible by M.K. Jessup, The Bible and Flying Saucers by Rev. Barry Downing, The Spaceships of Ezekel by Joseph F. Blumrich, and The 12th Planet by Zecharia Sitchin.

Fundamentalism and UFOs

“…no reasonable mind can assume that heavenly bodies which may be far more magnificent than ours would not bear upon them creatures similar or even superior to those upon our human Earth.” — Giordano Bruno, Italian scientist-philosopher, arrested in 1592 and burned to death as a heretic in 1600

“I believe in G-O-D, not U-F-O.” — Mike Huckabee, evangelical Christian minister, former Governor of Arkansas, and former candidate for President

The results of The Peters ETI Religious Crisis Survey do not take into account the UFO related beliefs of religious fundamentalists, Christian or otherwise, and we should strive to understand what they are. If we fail to do so our ignorance may result in some very rough going. Reverend Bridget offered me a good starting point, “… the interesting part about the religious beliefs and the skepticism about UFO reality, is that religious fundamentalists are willing to literally believe in angels and miracles as recorded in the Bible because the Bible is their authority, but dismiss other concepts that could explain the same sort of phenomena. I also think the fascination and fear of the unknown is in many ways why religion, especially the fundamentalist, black and white brand, thrives and mainline gray area faiths are struggling.”

I first became interested in the UFO related beliefs of fundamentalists a dozen years ago, and not for the best of reasons. It followed my learning of a broadcast of the popular evangelical television show, “The 700 Club.” The program aired on July 8, 1997 and featured an exchange about the then current Mars Pathfinder Mission. The discussion soon shifted to the possibility of aliens from space and UFOs. It was then that host Pat Robertson stated it was his firm belief that, even if they were real, such ‘aliens’ were really demons whose intention was to lead people away from Christ. His opinion allowed for no possibility that an actual space alien had ever made its way to Earth, even for a brief visit. In fact the situation was so grave, maintained Robertson, that those who actually believe that space aliens were real should be put to death by stoning.

I had never heard of anyone holding such a draconian view in all the years I’d been involved in UFO studies. Was this an isolated position or one shared by others who adhered to Mr. Robertson’s religious beliefs? My UFO related views and opinions are not faith-based and it was difficult for me to take in how someone could claim to know what I considered the unknowable. In this case, the absence of any possibility the Earth has ever been visited by intelligent beings from another planet, solar system, galaxy, dimension or time. Intolerance should always be taken seriously, and soon afterwards the journal Freedom Writer included a commentary about the show, saying, in part: “As the founder and chairman of the Christian Coalition – a group dedicated to becoming the most powerful political force in America – Mr. Robertson’s extreme ideas need to be taken seriously, for they not only negate pluralism, but condemn to death those who dare to believe differently.”

We Americans have the right to hold whatever religious beliefs we wish, including the right not to believe, just so long as our beliefs do not impinge on the rights of others. My readings on the broadcast included a pair of books on Christian fundamentalist beliefs as they pertained to the UFO phenomenon, UFOs and Their Mission Impossible, and the more luridly titled UFOs: Satanic Terror. Both underscored Mr. Robertson’s basic belief – not that you should stone to death those whose UFO conclusions differed from yours, but that we were misguided souls whose secular, scientific and historic views were only leading us further from Christ’s teachings and any understanding of the revealed word. In the opinion of the authors it came down to this: that as no direct references to extraterrestrials or their applied technology appear in the Old or New Testament, all anomalous UFOs are demonic in origin and among the signs and portents predicted in the Book of Revelations.

In an effort to better understand fundamentalist UFO beliefs, I put a series of questions to three people I know who were qualified to answer them. My good friend Kim, a Christian fundamentalist, and Joseph Jordan and Guy Malone, Christian fundamentalists with an established involvement in UFO studies. All were gracious and forthcoming in responding to my questions, even the most difficult of them.

Malone observed that, “Like most secular people, most Christians have not made this an independent topic of research, and therefore their opinions are largely shaped (like all) through what they see on television and movies, and their own ponderings. Adding any form of religious belief in God to the question of life on other planets, and you typically get the same response from religious adults as you do from a religious 12-year old : “Well I suppose God could have created life on other planets if he wanted to…” (add disclosure event here, and it becomes) “.. and now the government says it’s true so I guess it is.”

All three adhere to a literal interpretation of The New and The Old Testament, and were in agreement that, as neither holy book contained any literal, direct reference to aliens from space, the notion was excluded from their beliefs, an argument, regrettably, which the Roman Catholic Church used in the 1500s to destroy the native populations of the Americas. The “antipods,” as they were called, could be nothing but Satanic because nothing in Scripture even alluded to their presence.

Kim, Joe and Guy share the view that the intelligences behind the UFO phenomenon are not from another star system or planet, but interdimensional entities, demonic in nature, pretending to be aliens. A fallen angel is able to manifest itself in physical form. Satanic craft are able to make it appear they originate from somewhere out it space. Jordan added that the demon hypothesis was rooted in the belief that ‘they’ were preaching a new, and by extension, blasphemous gospel which included a message given to some abductees and contactees that ‘they’ were the true creators of our religions. This is seen as a key deception that can only be attributed to Satan. As to how Christian fundamentalists as a whole may respond to any official pronouncement that UFOs and aliens were real – and that at least some of are extraterrestrial in nature, Malone felt, “..they would react to a government disclosure announcement with disbelief, and possibly conclude that said government is either in collusion with the fallen angels, or deceived by them..”

Strong words. The possibility of citizens convinced the government is in collusion with or deceived by fallen angels. What if the government does implement a declassification process which supports an extraterrestrial explanation? Might not some of the more extremist fundamentalists conclude that elements within the government were now, bluntly put, in league with Satan? And if so, might not acts of domestic terrorism be an appropriate response? I respectfully noted that the self-professed Christian Timothy McVeigh’s justification for bombing the federal offices housed in the Murrah Building in Oklahoma City was to strike back at the government for its botched mishandling of the Branch Davidian standoff in Waco, Texas, a year to the day prior. McVey’s unconscionable act resulted in the deaths of 168 men, women and children and the complete destruction of the building and remained the greatest single act of domestic terrorism until September 11, 2001. All of my respondents sadly agreed such a possibility would not be out of the question, but that such an action would only be undertaken by a true extremist, an acknowledged reality in all religions. They also agreed that no true believer – meaning someone who has established a personal relationship with Jesus and maintained a ‘heart belief’ as opposed to a ‘mind belief’ in his or her Christianity – would ever take part in such a heinous act, but instead would do everything within their power to preclude it.

Jordan summed up, that as an Evangelical Christian who at one time had been an agnostic, and been involved in metaphysical studies, he supports the release of all pertinent, classified UFO information. He feels this would result in an honest discussion between the citizenry and the government, cause Christians to finally wake up, and act as a call for everyone to make a choice: between an extraterrestrial or other hypothesis, and the UFO beliefs held by Christian fundamentalists.

The UFO beliefs of other faiths religious extremists vary, but I do have a particular concern about the rise to power of the reactionary Taliban, as intolerant and vindictive a fundamentalist religious sect as the world has seen. We do not know what their reaction to an official endorsement of an extraterrestrial reality might be, but I’m convinced it will be seen as a heresy and in some manner interpreted as in direct violation of their interpretation of The Koran. Such a threat to the fundamentalist Muslim way of life will only be compounded if it originates with ‘The Great Satan,’ that is, America. Lets remember that other perceived insults to the faith ranging from infidel troops on the ground in Saudi Arabia to disrespectful political cartoons published in a Danish newspaper, have resulted in the destruction of property, the deaths of many people, and out-and-out Jihad.

Thinking Out Loud

“In the very middle of the Near East crisis, UN Secretary General Thant took time to do a very significant thing. He arranged to have one of the top advocates of the theory that flying saucers – UFOs – are from another planet, speak before the Outer Space Affairs Committee of the UN. Interesting fact is that U Thant has confided to friends that he considers UFOs the most important problem facing the UN.” — Nationally syndicated newspaper columnists Drew Pearson & Jack Anderson, 1967

“… those in government who have knowledge showing UFOs are identifiable feel the subject cannot be discussed by those in the know without serious repercussions. Others are afraid their friends and co-workers will think they are crazy if they even so much as insinuate that UFOs are identifiable as manned craft from outside the Earth. This particularly applies to newspaper editors and publishers, reporters and analysts.” — Sarah McClendon, career journalist and former White House correspondent

“I sincerely hope you are successful in preventing a reopening of UFO investigations.” — USAF Colonel Charles H. Senn, Chief Community Relations Division Office of Information, from a September 1, 1977 letter to NASA

Just how should our government go about initiating the process we contemplate here? I share the conviction that any such announcement and initiative be made on an international basis supported by careful and thoughtful planning. In no way however does this preclude initiating the process of declassifying thousands of lower and mid level UFO related documents and posting them to a Department of Defense website as they become available, much in the manner currently being undertaken by Her Majesty’s Department of Defence. Time and attention should be spent studying the impact which online posting has on the public consciousness and taken into consideration as planning continues.

Should our government choose to proceed beyond such a basic plan, what follow are a series of steps they might wish to consider. This of course precluding the possibilities that, 1. Such an undertaking is even possible, that such actions are not already under consideration, or that they, or one’s similar have already been implemented. The reasons I feel we should not expect to see any such initiatives undertaken at present are purely political in nature.

If you are old enough to have been involved in UFO studies during the Watergate era, you may recall a brief but pervasive rumor that swept through Ufology at the time. It came and went as the revelations of Republican Party corruption mounted and consensus within the then ongoing Senate hearings was tipping more and more toward the possibility of Presidential impeachment. The repeated buzz was that Nixon was seriously considering declassifying and releasing UFO related files in a last ditch effort to redirect public attention from his own spiraling journey down the political drain. Of course this never happened, but it actually would not have been a bad strategy for the increasingly desperate President to take in turning our collective focus toward a far greater issue, and one that just might have resulted in a temporary standing down from Watergate for the sake of stability during a national, and by extension, international crisis.

Support him or revile him, our current President is now responsible for a national economy in full scale crisis, a hot war and a very warm war, an aging infrastructure in grave need of attention, and a nation overdue for revised energy and environmental policies, these for starters. How would news that the President has become interested in UFOs and aliens be greeted? Even in the best of times, its difficult to say, but my personal thoughts are that any interest he might publically exhibit – no matter how seemingly inconsequential – will inevitably be seen by many as a desperate attempt to turn the nation’s eyes from the all-too-Earthy problems and challenges he faces. This could result in an all-out assault and absolute field day for his opponents – and many of his supporters – uniting as nothing else could under a banner of every single flying saucer and little green men insult, slur, aside and putdown. Even so, none of these considerations needs stand in the way of Mr. Obama’s discretely learning more about the subject now. It also seems to me that a web-based airing of at least some currently classified UFO documents could be undertaken and accomplished without directly involving the President, an important plus in helping to deflect or bypass the ridicule, at least initially, which would likely result.

Qualified members of the President’s staff might then begin to quietly select, vet and assemble trusted personnel to form the core of a highly classified working group charged with beginning to draft a workable plan with any eye on implementation when the political and financial climates stabilize to some degree. Through secured channels representatives of the working group could then begin to make contact with some of the officials who were involved in declassifying and posting UFO information in their own countries in order to take advantage of their experience and lessons they may have learned in the process of doing so. A liaison between the working group and appropriate personnel within Her Majesty’s Ministry of Defence would be of particular value, given the long and close relationship existing between our governments. Subject to the approval of the President, our Ambassador to the United Nations should also receive a limited briefing on this undertaking in preparation for a time when he or she may be called upon to network with their colleagues in the international community. And if they have not already begun to do so, the United States should encourage other world leaders to initiate the establishment of similar working groups within their own governments. An individual of the President’s choosing should then be appointed chairperson. They in turn should begin to seek out those best qualified to become members of a larger international committee, one charged with creating a workable worldwide strategy appropriate to such a far-reaching undertaking.

One of the working group’s first jobs should be to vet, or to re-vet the relatively small group of bureaucrats cleared to review and declassify the veritable warehouse of waiting documents. I say ‘re-vet’ in that there may be personnel among those charged with this exclusive responsibility who might base their decisions to declassify or not on reasons of conscience or religious opposition, much as a pharmacist might refuse to sell birth control to someone they deemed inappropriate on moral or religious grounds. But all candidates under consideration for the national working group and committee into which it will evolve will need to be screened and cleared to ensure they have both the emotional stability and intellectual capacity to deal with the increasingly stressful realizations they will face during the course of their work. To reiterate: whether religious or agnostic, technically-minded or artistic in background, all possible should be done to ensure that the men and women involved are open-minded, well-rounded and be able to ‘take it’ when it comes to introducing issues such as alien-human breeding, missing pregnancies, human-hybrids, and the possibilities their presences imply. In the words of Karl Abraham, former science writer for The Philadelphia Enquirer, “If the enquiring scientist can’t stand the heat, he should get out of the kitchen.”

Who should be considered for membership in such a committee? Without question, leading members of our scientific community and qualified individuals in such diverse fields the military, intelligence, economics, physics, anthropology, law, communications, crisis intervention, medicine, mental health, defense industry, journalism, publishing, print and broadcast media, education, diplomacy, political science, theology, philosophy, sociology, social work and the film industry, along with representative members of the House and Senate. For good measure I would include balanced representation from the President’s Board of Religious advisors, a political scientist, cultural, folk, and military historians, a child behaviorist, several respected writers and artists, an astronaut or two, and, yes, a select number of Ufologists. Frankly, I would rather be subjected to enhanced interrogation techniques than cite my preferred choices here, but they should certainly include experienced, leading figures in their specialty areas of study. It would be their job initially to help establish a ‘curriculum’ that the others could follow in commencing their Ufological education. Once such this was established and underway, these Ufologists would remain available to advise and consent with the diverse mix of committee members.

Needless to say, committee members would have to be sworn to the strictest confidence, at least during the initial phases of their work, both to allow for the freest flow of information between them, and to better assure that participants were confident that their involvement would not become the subject of irresponsible media leaks. I cannot prove this, but I strongly suspect that back in the forties, key members of the Truman Administration were called upon to brief a select number of America’s most powerful publishers and broadcast magnates on the seriousness of the UFO problem and, citing national security concerns with an additional appeal to their patriotism, were able to enroll such business leaders in helping to keep the secret through a program of stilted reportage. Likely professional peer pressure played more of a part in this than direct orders from any editor, publisher or reporter, but however this pattern was set in motion, it was extremely effective and thrives to this day. It’s worth noting however that the great majority of local newspapers around the nation remained – and continue to remain – immune to this trend, but then their honest and sometimes laudatory coverage has rarely been featured in the nationals. At some point in the committee’s work, this process should be repeated, but in reverse, allowing for an appropriate shift in UFO news coverage and reporting that encourages editors, publishers, and network executives to give their reporters and producers the consent and encouragement they will need to retool their historic treatment of this subject. It would be ideal for this to coincide with limited, online declassification of UFO documents on a dedicated DoD website.

By this stage, governments are hopefully falling into line behind each other and progressing along the same general course. Meetings and conferences would now be regularly scheduled in more and more countries, each attended by representatives of their and other county’s committees, all doing their best to share new developments on their growing findings and learning all they are able from their growing pool of knowledge. Some of the actions contemplated or generated at such gatherings may lean toward the incalculable. A subject that is sure to arise is, should governments begin to institute guidelines for the training of a new breed of diplomat? Should the members of such a new diplomatic corps lean toward representing their own governments or only work in concert?

Many will disagree, but I question the potential effectiveness of such a diplomatic undertaking. The documented behavior of many of these intelligences indicates, to some of us at least, that, not only can they read our minds, but that they have the power to cloud them, creating scenarios in which we perceive something to be other than what it actually is. Certainly history may prove me wrong, but I think such an effort will turn out to be more symbolic than practical. On a decidedly human note, would such go-betweens – especially those representing the more powerful and influential governments – attempt to cut separate deals calculated to (hopefully) secure better terms or treatment for their citizenry? Then again, perhaps just for their elite, say anyone with the right connections or earning in excess of, oh, twenty million dollars a year? The possibilities spiral beyond imagination.

Shared knowledge and careful study may result in our confirming that some of the ‘thems’ are generally passive and more intent on observing our species than interacting with it. There may be others who seem benevolent and demonstrate the potential of becoming allies against more predatory species. Then again, deception seems to underscore so much of the behavior I’ve learned to attribute to these other intelligences, why should we take even our own best conclusions at face value? It may also emerge that others are more aggressive in nature and that we would be wise to consider new means of defense and defense strategies – if this is even a possibility. At some point, even if just for some fictional perspective, representatives may want to call for a screening of the classic “Twilight Zone” episode, “To Serve Man,” with its wonderful ‘cookbook’ ending. And so these international dialogues will continue to develop and refine themselves.

Overall, the public airing of some of the information culled from such ongoing activities may prove to yield a social and political climate increasingly free of the ridicule factor, one that would allow for a heretofore unknown exchange of honest and genuine UFO related concerns and considerations at every level of society. A secondary, but crucially important result would be that for the first time, elected officials, scientists, and other public figures would finally feel safe enough to openly go on record with their opinions, beliefs, suggestions and even fears on the matter. As each new finding, fact, and opinion are assimilated by an increasingly aware public, the next wave of releases may be a bit easier to grasp, accept and incorporate into our newly evolving understanding of ourselves, and of our place in the greater scheme of things. I’d like to think an additional byproduct of this process will be a kind of de-facto reconciliation with our government over their historic compulsion to cover-up and hoard the unnerving information they’ve been collecting and classifying for decades.

A final benefit, or danger, depending on your point of view, is that many of us may actually begin to think of ourselves as human beings first, and as Americans, Christians, Jews, Hindus, black, white or brown second. While warm and New-Agey in concept, such a reapportionment of humanity’s priorities may bring with it a very real potential for conflict between those who grow to embrace this view, and those who do not. Member of the ‘humans first’ contingent will be more difficult for government and organized religion to control or manipulate, and drive many who already fear government intervention, the evils of FEMA, creeping socialism and the eroding of what they consider their God-given rights to begin to behave in increasingly reactionary ways. The knowledge we acquire may bring with it a whole new set of fears of the unknown to replace our preexisting ones, no matter how farsighted and thoughtful the planning we institute proves to be.

With so much uncertainty playing across the horizon, my thoughts return to President Reagan’s carefully crafted statement, “In our obsession with antagonisms of the moment, we often forget how much unites all members of humanity. Perhaps we need some outside, universal threat to make us recognize this common bond. I occasionally think how quickly our differences worldwide would vanish if we were facing an alien threat from outside this world.” Will the ‘threat’ he referred to turn out to be another fear of the unknown, or a viable, definable, real world threat, like getting hit in the head by some cosmic baseball bat? Will declassification and the revelations it is sure to bring with it assist us in addressing the threat he refers to, or will it make us more vulnerable to it? Some believe they have the answer to this question but I am not one of them. The only thing I know for sure is that if the government of the United States and that of its sister governments, acting on behalf of a representative number of “we the people,” resolve to open this Pandora’s box, we had better be prepared to take full responsibility for whatever follows in its wake. For once opened, the concept of ‘limited’ declassification and publication may prove as difficult to control as spilled mercury.

I have a quotation posted over my desk that’s been with me for years. It’s from Mark Twain, one of my favorite writers, and it says: “The difference between the right word and the almost right word is the difference between the lightning bug and the lightning.” Let us hope that if and when it comes to reaching a final decision about this, our President – or whoever proves to be responsible for such a decision – will weigh all of the options fully and thoughtfully, surround him or herself with the very best people possible, and implement the right plan, and not the almost right plan. It may prove to be the most far-reaching decision any President, or anyone else for that matter, will ever make.

1. 12th Planet, The; Sitchin, Zecharia, Bear & Company, Santa Fe, NM, this ed 1991 (general reference)
2. interview with Shirley MacLaine, November 2007
3. Aliens From Space; Keyhoe, Maj. Donald, Doubleday & Co., NY, 1973, p.p. 89-90
4. A Survey of Press Coverage of Unidentified Flying Objects, 1947 – 1966; Strentz, Herbert J., Dissertation submitted to the Graduate School of the Northwestern University, Evanston, Illinois, in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the degree, Doctorate of Philosophy, June 1970, p.p. 242
5. Beyond Top Secret; Good, Timothy, Sidgwick & Jackson, London, 1996, p.p. 259, 539
6. Bible & Flying Saucers, The; Downing, Rev. Barry H., Avon, NY, 1968 (general ref.)
7. From, “Call for Obama to open UFO files” by Dean Merchant, January 18, 2009
8. Cameron, Grant website; Jimmy Carter quote and Joseph Biden quote, this in response to the question, Do you believe in UFOs?
9. “Carter Sighting, The, The A.P.R.O. Bulletin; November 1976, p.p. 1, 4-5
10. “Church and Spiritualism, The;” Thurston, Herbert, Milan, 1937; p.p.179
11. Die Sternewelt undihre Bewohner (translation: The Stars of the Universe and Its Inhabitants); Pohle, Joseph, Köln, Germany, 1904, p.p. 457
12. Flying Saucer Review, Vol. 5, No. 6, 1959 – pp. 28; Senator Richard B. Russell quote.
13. Flying Saucers, 101; Burt, Harold E., UFO Magazine Books, 2000, p.p. 96, 100
14. Freedom Writer, July/August 1997; “Pat Robertson advocates death by stoning for UFO enthusiasts”
15. “Proposed Study of the Implications of Peaceful Space Activities for Human Affairs,” The Brookings Institution, released December 14, 1960
16. “In Defense of Secrecy,” New York Times Magazine; Feldman, Noah, p.p. 11-12
17. McClendon News Service News Release, March 30, 1998 press release, McClendon, Sarah, White House Correspondent
18. NBC News, October 30, 2007, from Barak Obama’s statement in reply to a question from Tim Russert: “Do you believe there is life beyond earth?
19. “Peters ETI Religious Crisis Survey, The;” Peters, Dr. Ted, and Froehlig, Julie, MUFON UFO Journal, September 2008, No. 485, p.p 7-9
20. Reagan, Ronald; a note on the extraterrestrial quotation. My colleague Ron Regehr learned through Reagan speechwriter Peter Robinson that the extraterrestrial references included in a number of President Reagan’s speeches were personally inserted by him and not the product of his speechwriters. They are penciled in in the President’s handwriting and archived at the Reagan Presidential Library in Simi Valley, California.
21. Robertson, Pat, comments from July 8, 1997 broadcast of the Christian Broadcasting Network’s, The 700 Club, and excerpts from their response to Peter Robbins’ letter of August 30, 1997
22. Roswell Dig Diaries, The; Doleman, William H., Carey, Thomas J., Schmitt , Donald R., Richardson, Bill and McAvennie, Mike, SCI FI Channel Books, NY, 2004, from the forward
23. Scientific Study of Unidentified Flying Objects; Condon, Dr. Edward U., Bantam Books, New York, 1968, p.p.1
24. SCI FI Channel News Conference October 22, 2004, quoting John Podesta
25. Spaceships of Ezekiel, The; Blumrich, Josef F., Bantam Books, 1974 (general reference)
26. Thant, U, UN Secretary General reference. This statement appeared in the nationally syndicated newspaper column by Drew Pearson and Jack Anderson on June 27, 1967
27. Traitè de Mètapsychique; Richet, Charles, published in Paris 1922, p.p. 787-788
28. “Unholy Communion: The Unwanted Piece of the Puzzle;” Jordan, Joseph and Ruffino, David, DVD of lecture, CE4 Research Conference, Roswell NM, July 6, 2008
29. UFO and the Bible; Jessup, M.J., Citadel Press, NY, 1956 (general ref)
30. Report, “UFOs and Intolerance;” Robbins, Peter, parts 1,2, & 3, September, October, November 1999
31. UFO Encyclopedia, The; 2nd Edition, Clark, Jerome, Omnigraphics, Inc., Detroit. Volume 1, p.p.174; Volume 2, p.p. 830-831
32. UFO Encyclopedia, The; Sachs, Margaret, Perigree Books, NYC, 1980, p.p. 225
33. “Ufology and Theological Clarifications;” Balducci, Monsignor Corrado, published Pescara, Italy, 2001 (deceased Sept. 20, 2008)
34. “UFO Research and Christian Faith,” Balthaser, Dennis G, independent investigative writer and columnist, June, 2004
35. UFOs and Extraterrestrials in History; Naud, Yves, Ferni Publishers, Geneva, 1978, volume 4 preface, unnumbered page
36. UFOs and Their Mission Impossible; Wilson, Dr. Clifford, Word of Truth Productions, NY, 1974
37. UFOs and the National Security State; Dolan, Richard M., Hampton Roads Publishing, VA, 2002, p.p. 245
38. UFOs and the National Security State: The Cover-Up Exposed, 1973-1991; Dolan, Richard M., Keyhole Publishing Co., Rochester, NY, 2009, Introduction, p.p. 5, 6
39. UFOs: Satanic Terror; Tyson, Basil, Horizon Books, Alberta, Canada, 1977 (general ref)
40. Unidentified Flying Objects Briefing Document: The Best Available Evidence; Berliner, Don, Galbraith, Marie, and Huneeus, Antonio, UFO Research Coalition, 1995, p.p. 21, 122, 123, 144, 147
41. “Will Obama Discuss UFO X-Files on Canada Trip;” Lowe, Larry, Phoenix UFO Examiner, February 16, 2009

UN report on UFOs 14-July 1978; Gordon Cooper, Jacques Vallee, Claude Poher, Allen Hynek, Sir Eric M. Gairy with UN Secretary General Kurt Waldheim

by Dennis Stacy / 1985

For over two decades, from 1948 to 1969, Dr. J. Allen Hynek was a consultant in astronomy to the United States Air Force. The subject of his advice, however, was not the fledgling space program or even the moon and stars above, but Unidentified Flying Objects. In 1973 he founded the Center for UFO Studies (CUFOS) and had serves as Director and editor of its journal, “International UFO Reporter.”

STACY: Dr. Hynek, as a scientist, you go back as far with UFO phenomenon as probably anyone alive today. Exactly how did that relationship begin?
HYNEK: That’s an easy story to tell. In the spring of 1948, I was teaching astronomy at Ohio State University, in Columbus. One day thee men, and they weren’t dressed in black, came over to see me from Wright Patterson Air Force Base in nearby Dayton. They started out by talking about the weather, as I remember, and this and that, and then finally one of them asked me what I thought about flying saucers. I told them I thought they were a lot of junk and nonsense and that seemed to please them, so they got down to business. They said they needed some astronomical consultation because it was their job to find out what these flying saucer stories were all about. Some were meteors, they thought, others stars and so on, so they could use an astronomer. What the hell, I said, it sounded like fun and besides, I would be getting a top secret security clearance out of it, too. At that time, it was called Project Sign, and some of the personnel at least were taking the problem quite seriously. At the same time a big split was occurring in the Air Force between two schools of thought. The serious school prepared an estimation of the situation which they sent to General Vandenburg, but the other side eventually won out and the serious ones were shipped off to other places. The negatives won the day, in other words. My own investigations for Project Sign added to that, too, I think, because I was quite negative in most of my evaluations. I stretched far to give something a natural explanation, sometimes when it may not have really had it. I remember one case from Snake River Canyon, I think it was, where a man and his two sons saw a metallic object come swirling down the canyon which caused the top of the trees to sway. In my attempt to find a natural explanation for it, I said that it was some sort of atmospheric eddy. Of course, I had never seen an eddy like that and had no real reason to believe that one even existed. But I was so anxious to find a natural explanation because I was convinced that it had to have one that, naturally, I did in fact, it wasn’t until quite some time had passed that I began to change my mind.

STACY:Was there ever any direct pressure applied by the Air Force itself for you to come up with a conventional explanation to these phenomena?
HYNEK:There was an implied pressure, yes, very definitely.

STACY:In other words, you found yourself caught, like most of us, in a situation of trying to please your boss?
HYNEK:Yes, you might as well put it that way, although at the same time I wasn’t going against my scientific precepts. As an astronomer and physicist, I simply felt a priori that everything had to have a natural explanation in this world. There were no ifs, ands or buts about it. The ones I couldn’t solve, I thought if we just tried harder, had a really proper investigation, that we probably would find as answer for. My batting average was about 80 percent and I figured that anytime you were hitting that high, you were doing pretty good. That left about 20 percent unsolved for me, but only about three or four percent for the Air Force, because they used statistics in a way I would never have allowed for myself. For example, cases labeled as insufficient information they would consider solved! They also had some other little tricks. If a light were seen, they would say, “aircraft have lights, therefore, probable aircraft.” Then, at the end of the year, when the statistics were made up, they would drop the “possible” or “probable” and simply call it aircraft.

STACY:What began to change your own perception of the phenomenon?
HYNEK:Two things, really. One was the completely negative and unyielding attitude of the Air Force. They wouldn’t give UFOs the chance of existing, even if they were flying up and down the street in broad daylight. Everything had to have as explanation. I began to resent that, even though I basically felt the same way, because I still thought they weren’t going about it in the right way. You can’t assume that everything is black no matter what. Secondly, the caliber of the witnesses began to trouble me. Quite a few instances were reported by military pilots, for example, and I knew them to be fairly well-trained, so this is when I first began to think that, well, maybe there something to all this. The famous “swamp gas” case which came later on finally pushed me over the edge. From that point on, I began to look at reports from a different angle, which was to say that some of them could be true UFOs.

STACY:As your own attitude changed, did the Air Force’s attitude toward you change, too?
HYNEK:It certainly did, quite a bit, as a matter of fact. By way of background, I might add that the late Dr. James E. McDonald, a good friend of mine who was then an atmospheric meteorologist at the University of Arizona, and I had some fairly sharp words about it. He used to accuse me very much, saying you’re the scientific consultant to the Air Force, you should be pounding on generals’ doors and insisting on getting a better job done. I said, Jim, I was there, you weren’t you don’t know the mindset. They were under instruction from the Pentagon, following the Robertson Panel of 1953, that the whole subject had to be debunked, period, no question about it. That was the prevailing attitude. The panel was convened by the CIA, and I sat in on it, but I was not asked to sign the resolution. Had I been asked, I would not have signed it, because they took a completely negative attitude about everything. So when Jim McDonald used to accuse me of a sort of miscarriage of scientific justice, I had to tell him that had I done what he wanted, the generals would not have listened to me. They were already listening to Dr. Donald Menzel and the other boys over at the Harvard Astronomy Department as it was.

STACY:Did you think you would have been shown the front door and asked not to come back?
HYNEK:Inside of two weeks I imagine. You’re familiar with the case of Tycho Brahe and Johannes Kepler from the history of astronomy? Brahe had the observations and didn’t know what to do with them, and Kepler,who was nearsighted and couldn’t make the observations, did. So essentially, I played Kepler to the Air Force’s Tycho Brahe. I knew the Air Force was getting the data and I wanted a look at it, so I made very full use of the copying machines at Wright-Patterson. I kept practically a duplicate set of records because I knew that someday that data would be worth something. Toward the end, however, I was barely speaking with Major Quintanilla who was in charge. We had started as really good friends and then things got very bad because he had one lieutenant who was such a nincompoop, it seemed to me. Everything had to be “Jupiter or Venus” or this or that. You have no idea what a closed mind, what a closed attitude it was. I kept doggedly on, but I can safely say that the whole time I was with the Air Force we never had anything that resembled a really good scientific dialogue on the subject.

STACY:They weren’t really interested in an actual investigation of the subject then?
HYNEK:They said they were, of course, but they would turn handsprings to keep a good case from getting to the “attention of the media”. Any case they solved, they had no trouble talking to the media about. It was really very sad…. I think their greatest mistake in the early days, however, was not turning it over to the universities or some academic group. They regarded it as an intelligence matter and it became increasingly more and more embarrassing to them. After all, we paid good tax dollars to have the Air Force guard our skies and it would have been bad public relations for them to say, yes there’s something up there, but we’re helpless. They just couldn’t do that, so they took the very human action of protecting their own interests. What they said was that we solved 96 per cent of the cases and that we could have solved the other four per cent if we had just tried harder.

STACY:Was it the famous Michigan sightings of 1966, explained away as “swamp gas” that finally did lead the Air Force to bring in a reputable university?
HYNEK:Yes, that, as you know, became something of a national joke and Michigan was soon being known as the “Swamp Gas State.” Eventually, it resulted in a Congressional Hearing called for by then state Congressman, Gerald Ford, who of course later went on to become President. The investigation was turned over to the Brian O’Brien Committee who did a very good job. Had their recommendations been carried out, things might have turned out much better than they did. The recommended that UFOs be taken away from the Air Force and given to a group of universities, to study the thing in a as wide a way as possible. Well, they didn’t go to a group, they went to a university and a man they were certain would be very hard-nosed about it, namely, Dr. Edward Condon at the University of Colorado. That was how the Condon Committee and eventually the Report came to be.

STACY:Were you ever called on to testify before, or advise the Committee?
HYNEK:In the early days they called on me to talk to them, to brief them, but that was the extent of it. They certainly didn’t take any of my advice.

STACY:By 1968, the generally negative Condon Report was made public and the Air Force used its conclusions to get out of the UFO business. Were you still an official advisor or consultant at that time?
HYNEK:Oh, yes, I was with the Air Force right up until the very end, but it was just on paper. No one had cut the chicken’s head off yet, but the chicken was dead. The last days at Blue Book were just a perfunctory shuffling of papers.

STACY:In terms of the UFO phenomenon itself, what was going on about this time?
HYNEK:Well, as you know, the Condon Report said that a group of scientists had looked at UFOs and that the subject was dead. The UFOs, of course, didn’t bother to read the report and during the Flap of 1973, they came back in force.

The CIA’s UFO History
by Mark Rodeghier

After the Cold War ended, the culture of secrecy and the operational style of the CIA began to change. Its director appeared on a radio talk show, and it became possible for citizens to pressure the CIA in ways unheard of during that earlier era. Ufology has been a beneficiary of these changes.

In late 1993, inquiries from several UFO researchers led CIA Director R. James Woolsey to order a review of all CIA files on UFOs. This agency-wide search occurred in 1994 and centralized the CIA’s UFO files. Taking advantage of this opportunity, government historian Gerald K. Haines reviewed the documents, conducted interviews, and wrote a study examining the CIA’s interest and involvement in UFO investigation and government UFO policy from 1947 until 1990. Haines’s study was published in Studies in Intelligence, a classified journal published quarterly for the intelligence community. The article, “CIA’s Role in the Study of UFOs, 1947–90,” appeared in the first semiannual unclassified edition for 1997, on pages 67–84. It can be found at [dead link]

This is a rather important document because it is the first time that a government agency has written a review of its involvement with UFOs. Although the study had been available at least since June when I downloaded it from the CIA Web site, it did not receive widespread publicity until early August. But when the press learned about the Haines study, the attention was dramatic. The story was carried in most large newspapers, on the NBC Nightly News, and many other media outlets. A typical headline from the Chicago Sun-Times reads, “CIA feared UFO hysteria.” Several columnists used the CIA history as an opportunity to bash the CIA and secrecy in government, as exemplified by the column by David Wise (author of The Politics of Lying: Government Deception, Secrecy, and Power) in the New York Times “Big Lies and Little Green Men.”

The media generally focused on two aspects of the Haines article. In a brief section entitled “CIA’s U–2 and OXCART as UFOs,” Haines claims that many UFO sightings in the late 1950s and 1960s were actually misidentified secret American spy planes. Moreover, he alleges that the Air Force’s Project Blue Book was in on this cover-up, purposely misled the public, and falsified (Haines didn’t use that word but that is plainly what the Air Force would be doing) UFO explanations. This is important news if true, and the media rightly played up this angle. Note that the CIA is not accused of deception by Haines; rather, it is the Air Force that willingly concocted the bogus explanations. Reporters asked the Air Force for comment, and on August 4, Brigadier General Ronald Sconyers told the press, “I cannot confirm or deny that we lied. The Air Force is committed to providing accurate and timely information within the confines of national security.”

General Sconyers sounds a bit like a weasel-worded politician, and his statement hardly serves to reduce the controversy.he second topic seized upon by the press and played up as news was the CIA-sponsored Robertson Panel from 1953. Yes, that is correct, the Robertson Panel, whose report has been well-known to anyone interested in UFOs for over 30 years now. That the press could consider the recommendations of the panel to be news at this late date speaks volumes for the intelligence, reporting skills, and historical knowledge of the Fifth Estate. (The Washington Post, in full damage-control mode, said in an editorial that the study was “not an exposé full of new revelations,” but the paper had already published an article claiming the opposite.)

Press coverage focused on the panel’s recommendations that UFO reports be debunked (a policy Blue Book followed assiduously after 1953), that UFO groups be watched, and that there was a danger the Soviets might use UFOs to clog the channels of communication and then launch a nuclear attack. The deception about our spy planes was just a small part of this strategy. Although the press was only late by about 40 years, their coverage of this aspect of the report is a positive note for ufology. What is clear from the tone of most articles is that the CIA’s (and Air Force’s) lies about UFOs are just further examples of all the many lies the American public had been told during the Cold War. And for once, ufologists are being viewed in a sympathetic light by the media as direct victims of government deception.

Coming on the heels of the Air Force’s second report on Roswell, the tide has begun to turn against the government in the UFO debate. More and more, it is becoming apparent the government has lied about UFOs for years, and that it still may be lying today. Although the press gave so much coverage to the Haines article, it missed part of the story, failed to do any independent investigation, and generally swallowed the report as written. As Paul Harvey says, now for the rest of the story.

The CIA’s excessive secrecy
The report by Haines is remarkably brief, given the CIA’s complex UFO involvement. In its Internet version the full article is 21 pages in length, with eight pages of that for footnotes (with several interesting tidbits buried there). Whole swaths of history, such as the early 1970s, are compressed into a few paragraphs or sentences. Certainly a more complete study could be done, and perhaps the classified version is a bit longer.

Nevertheless, to this credit, Haines several times makes it clear that the CIA bungled the handling of UFOs because of its policies of excessive secrecy, in effect fueling the idea of a massive UFO cover-up (for which, not surprisingly, Haines finds no evidence). For example, in 1957 Leon Davidson, a UFO investigator who worked at getting the Robrtson Panel report released and was a believer in a government cover–up, was working on a UFO case involving a strange tape recording made by the Maier sisters of Chicago. This tape had actually been analyzed by the CIA’s Office of Scientific Intelligence (OSI) and found to be “nothing more than Morse code from a US radio station.”

When Davidson wrote to Dewelt Walker, the CIA officer who had contacted the Maier sisters, Walker obfuscated and refused to provide a straight answer about his role. When Davidson persisted, the CIA had the Air Force contact Davidson saying that Walker “was and is an Air Force Officer.” Then to further screw things up, the CIA had one of its officers dress in an Air Force uniform and contact Davidson, claiming to speak on behalf of the Air Force. One cannot blame Davidson for believing there was a cover-up because, obviously, there was. As Haines writes, “Thus, a minor, rather bizarre incident, handled poorly by both the CIA and the Air Force, turned into a major flap that added fuel to the growing mystery surrounding UFOs and CIA’s role in their investigation.”

In another incident, officers from the Contact Division (CD) of the CIA obtained a UFO photograph from Ralph Mayher in November 1957. After the photos were returned (with no comment or analysis for Mayher), he contacted the CD for the CIA’s evaluation because he wanted to mention it on a television program on which he was going to appear. The CIA declined. Major Donald Keyhoe, head of NICAP, heard about these events and contacted the CIA to confirm the story. But the CIA refused, referring the matter to the Air Force, even though, as Haines writes, “CD field representatives were normally overt and carried credentials identifying their Agency association.” No wonder, again, that ufologists would conclude the government was lying about its UFO activities.

Monitoring of UFO investigators
Although the CIA clearly lied to Davidson and Keyhoe, the actual UFO events at the heart of each story were mundane and not of particular importance. More sinister is the suggestion that the CIA (or FBI at the CIA’s direction) has monitored UFO groups and investigators. Haines has no direct evidence for this, but it is unclear where such records would be kept or whether they would even be at the CIA (rather than the FBI). Certainly, the FBI has files on various ufologists, including Richard Hall, head of the Fund for UFO Research and long-time staffer at NICAP.

A complete history of the CIA’s involvement in UFOs should have discussed this critical issue in depth; after all, the Robertson Panel recommended that UFO groups be monitored for subversive activities. That Haines did not fully discuss this subject can probably be attributed to his ignorance of UFO history, to the lack of documentation about this subject in CIA records, and perhaps, to the scope of his article which is more concerned with the investigation of UFOs rather than the investigation of ufologists.

The one bit of evidence Haines does include involves Leon Davidson again. In 1958, worried about future inquiries about government UFO investigation, the CIA met with the Air Force to discuss what to do with such requests. CIA officer Frank Chapin “hinted that Davidson might have ulterior motives” and he suggested having the FBI investigate Davidson. Haines says the record is unclear as to whether the FBI ever acted on this suggestion, but it is not clear how deeply Haines investigated this possibility. Although the evidence is circumstantial, there are other hints that the government was monitoring UFO groups long before these discussions. In their book UFOs Over the Americas, Jim and Coral Lorenzen detail several rather bizarre incidents of what would seem to be rather clumsy attempts to learn the Lorenzens’ motives for their UFO investigations and the work of APRO, the organization they founded. These occurred in several states over at least a dozen years, and the Lorenzens sound more amused by the experience than upset.

In point of fact, just about any ufologist would have been pleased to have the Air Force or CIA approach them and ask for advice about UFO investigations or what types of cases the investigator was receiving. The problem faced by these agencies, as Haines outlines, is that an excessive policy of secrecy kept them from openly contacting UFO investigators who most likely would have cooperated with government requests for information. As evidence, in early 1965 CIA agents finally did meet openly with Richard Hall at NICAP offices, who glady gave them copies of UFO reports for the CIA’s own review of the UFO situation.

The Robertson Panel
There is no more pivotal event in the CIA’s involvement with UFOs, perhaps in the U.S. government’s interest in UFOs, than the Robertson Panel of January 1953. Haines devotes just over a page to this critical study, which provides him no room for nuance or much more than a bare reciting of the facts. In his review of CIA documents he demonstrates the very high-level CIA interest in UFOs engendered by the UFO flap in the summer of 1952 and, especially, the sightings over Washington, D.C. A special study group was formed within OSI to review the UFO situation. Director Walter Bedell Smith “wanted to know whether or not the Air Force investigation of flying saucers was sufficiently objective,” and he wondered “what use could be made of the UFO phenomenon in connection with US psychological warfare efforts.”

Memos and meetings were frequent in late 1952 as the CIA considered what should be done about the UFO problem. Haines’s research shows that the Robertson Panel’s concerns about the clogging of communication channels and the use of UFOs to disrupt U.S. air defenses were taken straight from CIA concerns expressed in internal memos during the summer of 1952. In other words, the Robertson Panel, despite the eminence of the scientists involved, appears to have been carefully orchestrated by the CIA to come to the conclusions it did, which included debunking UFOs with the help of the Air Force Project Blue Book. Haines does not comment on this element of the CIA’s role in determining government policy.

Spy planes and UFOs
I turn now to the issue that so dominated press coverage of Haines’s article, the claim that many UFO reports were caused by secret aircraft flights. Given the nature of many UFO reports of objects seen at close range low to the ground, ufologists have uniformly found this claim preposterous. I have over the years personally reviewed the majority of Blue Book reports and know that that they were not caused by misidentifications of spy planes. But because this is such an important claim, here is the full discussion of this issue by Haines.

In November 1954, CIA had entered into the world of high technology with its U-2 overhead reconnaissance project. Working with Lockheed’s Advanced Development facility in Burbank, California, known as the Skunk Works, and Kelly Johnson, an eminent aeronautical engineer, the Agency by August 1955 was testing a high-altitude experimental aircraft—the U-2. It could fly at 60,000 feet; in the mid-1950s, most commercial airliners flew between 10,000 feet and 20,000 feet. Consequently, once the U-2 started test flights, commercial pilots and air traffic controllers began reporting a large increase in UFO sightings.

The early U-2s were silver (they were later painted black) and reflected the rays from the sun, especially at sunrise and sunset. They often appeared as fiery objects to observers below. Air Force BLUE BOOK investigators aware of the secret U-2 flights tried to explain away such sightings by linking them to natural phenomena such as ice crystals and temperature inversions. By checking with the Agency’s U-2 Project Staff in Washington, BLUE BOOK investigators were able to attribute many UFO sightings to U-2 flights. They were careful, however, not to reveal the true cause of the sighting to the public.

According to later estimates from CIA officials who worked on the U–2 project and the OXCART (SR-71, or Blackbird) project, over half of all UFO reports from the late 1950s through the 1960s were accounted for by manned reconnaissance flights (namely the U-2) over the United States. This led the Air Force to make misleading and deceptive statements to the public in order to allay public fears and to protect an extraordinarily sensitive national security project. While perhaps justified, this deception added fuel to the later conspiracy theories and the cover-up controversy of the 1970s. The percentage of what the Air Force considered unexplained UFO sightings fell to 5.9 percent in 1955 and to 4 percent in 1956.

What exactly is the evidence for the claim that “over half of all UFO reports . . . were accounted for by manned reconnaissance flights”? In one footnote, Haines mentions the monograph The Central Intelligence Agency and Overhead Reconnaissance: The U-2 and OXCART Programs, 1954–1974, by Gregory W. Pedlow and Donald E. Welzenbach (1992). A colleague at CUFOS tried to obtain a copy of this reference, which was published by the CIA History Staff, but has been told the monograph is classified. That makes it impossible to verify its accuracy. In a second footnote, Haines mentions a telephone interview with a John Parongosky, who “oversaw the day-to-day affairs of the OXCART program.” I would like to call Mr. Parongosky myself, but have been unable to find any listing or address for him. In any case, there is a very straightforward step which could verify this claim about spy planes, one I am surprised was not taken by at least one reporter. If the Air Force was lying about the cause of UFO sightings to protect the secrecy of our spy planes, then obviously the heads of Blue Book would hve been central to the deception. Yet no one seems to have contacted any of these officers, most of whom are still living, for a comment.

I had previously spoken to Lt. Col. (Ret.) Robert Friend, head of Blue Book from about 1958 to early 1963, on a matter of UFO history, so I called him again recently to discuss this subject. Friend had not heard about the CIA report (he doesn’t watch much television and doesn’t follow UFO news closely these days), but he was very interested to learn about its existence. He asked me for a copy plus any news stories I had on the report. I read to him the discussion by Haines reproduced above and then asked for his comment. Almost the first words he said were that it is “absolutely not true” that he or his Blue Book team were covering up spy flights as alleged by Haines. He found the whole idea laughable, and he knew Blue Book did not receive more reports from pilots and air traffic controllers after the U-2 began flying.

I asked him if he had ever concealed classified activities that were reported as UFOs. Friend indicated that, indeed, this had occurred on a few occasions, but it was not a regular occurrence. I inquired as to whether he had regular contact with the CIA at Blue Book. He said that he did because the CIA overlooked no potential source of information and wanted to keep tabs on all government intelligence activities. In addition, the Air Force had utilized the services of the National Photographic Interpretation Center, the CIA’s photo analysis office, to analyze UFO photos. However, in none of his contacts with the CIA or U-2 project staff was Friend ever told to conceal sightings of the U-2 by the CIA.

To be absolutely sure before I ended the conversation, I asked Friend whether the project had ever received a sighting which he recognized as caused by a U-2 (or other secret aircraft). He said, to his recollection, no. Once again, he chuckled about the idea of half of all UFO reports being caused by manned reconnaissance flights. I then read him the statement by Sconyers quoted earlier, in which the general cannot “confirm or deny that we lied.” This brought a guffaw from Friend, who wondered why Sconyers, or anyone currently in the Pentagon, should know what happened 30 years ago. We both marveled at how the press and the military (and Haines) had failed to contact the obvious central figures in this alleged cover-up.

In summary, then, the claim that motivated the press coverage of Haines’s report is inaccurate and is not evidence for a CIA and Air Force cover-up of UFO sightings and lies to the American public. Yet the CIA and Air Force did knowingly debunk UFO sightings, and Blue Book personnel often came up with any old explanation so that the yearly summary sheets would have only a small percentage of unidentified sightings. So I’m not too unhappy that the CIA and Air Force were taken to task for something they didn’t do, but it is important to set the record straight.

Forcing disclosure of CIA records
Beginning in the mid-1970s, UFO researchers began using the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) to request government, including CIA, documents on UFOs. Once again, the CIA mishandled the requests. After William Spaulding, head of Ground Saucer Watch, wrote in 1975 requesting UFO records, the CIA Information and Privacy Coordinator Gene Wilson wrote to Spaulding that the Robertson Panel was “the summation of the Agency interest and involvement in UFOs.” As Haines states, “Wilson was ill-informed.”

Not believing Wilson’s statements, ufologists sued the CIA for records and won the release of about 800 pages in December of 1978. Since the CIA had, unwisely, been denying its inolvement in UFO matters, the media was surprised to learn how many documents were held by the agency. The New York Times claimed as a result that the CIA was probably secretly involved in the study of UFOs. CIA Director Stansfield Turner was so upset by this that he asked his senior officers “Are we in UFOs?” He received a negative answer from his deputy and so moved to quash a new lawsuit asking for the withheld documents from the first release.Notwithstanding the reply Turner got, Haines found that the CIA continued a few activities during the 1980s. As he writes:

During the late 1970s and 1980s, the Agency continued its low-key interest in UFOs and UFO sightings. While most scientists now dismissed flying saucers [sic] reports as a quaint part of the 1950s and 1960s, some in the Agency and in the Intelligence Community shifted their interest to studying parapsychology and psychic phenomena associated with UFO sightings. CIA officials also looked at the UFO problem to determine what UFO sightings might tell them about Soviet progress in rockets and missiles and reviewed its counterintelligence aspects. Agency analysts from the Life Science Division of OSI and OSWR officially devoted a small amount of their time to issues relating to UFOs. These included counterintelligence concerns that the Soviets and the KGB were using US citizens and UFO groups to obtain information on sensitive US weapons development programs (such as the Stealth aircraft), the vulnerability of the US air-defense network to penetration by foreign missiles mimicking UFOs, and evidence of Soviet advanced technology associated with UFO sightings.

If I hadn’t checked the calendar after reading this, I would have sworn this was 1952 and I was reading of CIA concerns about how UFOs could be used by the Soviets against the United States, as eventually expressed in the recommendations of the Roberson Panel report. Some things never change, at least during the Cold War. Haines notes that during this period, “Agency officials purposely kept files on UFOs to a minimum to avoid creating records that might mislead the public if released,” and Haines says he found almost no documentation on CIA involvement with UFOs in the 1980s. This certainly is an effective method to circumvent FOIA, but it hardly leads to further confidence in the CIA. Finally, in an intriguing footnote, Haines says that the “CIA reportedly is also a member of an Incident Response Team to investigate UFO landings, if one should occur. This team has never met.” Say what? He offers no evidence for this statement, which, if true, belies the notion that the government completely ignores UFO reports.

AREA 51 WORKERS SPEAK,0,5104077.story
After decades of denying the facility’s existence, five former insiders speak out
by Annie Jacobsen / April 05, 2009

Area 51. It’s the most famous military institution in the world that doesn’t officially exist. If it did, it would be found about 100 miles outside Las Vegas in Nevada’s high desert, tucked between an Air Force base and an abandoned nuclear testing ground. Then again, maybe not– the U.S. government refuses to say. You can’t drive anywhere close to it, and until recently, the airspace overhead was restricted–all the way to outer space. Any mention of Area 51 gets redacted from official documents, even those that have been declassified for decades.

It has become the holy grail for conspiracy theorists, with UFOlogists positing that the Pentagon reverse engineers flying saucers and keeps extraterrestrial beings stored in freezers. Urban legend has it that Area 51 is connected by underground tunnels and trains to other secret facilities around the country. In 2001, Katie Couric told Today Show audiences that 7 percent of Americans doubt the moon landing happened–that it was staged in the Nevada desert. Millions of X-Files fans believe the truth may be “out there,” but more likely it’s concealed inside Area 51’s Strangelove-esque hangars–buildings that, though confirmed by Google Earth, the government refuses to acknowledge.

The problem is the myths of Area 51 are hard to dispute if no one can speak on the record about what actually happened there. Well, now, for the first time, someone is ready to talk–in fact, five men are, and their stories rival the most outrageous of rumors. Colonel Hugh “Slip” Slater, 87, was commander of the Area 51 base in the 1960s. Edward Lovick, 90, featured in “What Plane?” in LA’s March issue, spent three decades radar testing some of the world’s most famous aircraft (including the U-2, the A-12 OXCART and the F-117). Kenneth Collins, 80, a CIA experimental test pilot, was given the silver star. Thornton “T.D.” Barnes, 72, was an Area 51 special-projects engineer. And Harry Martin, 77, was one of the men in charge of the base’s half-million-gallon monthly supply of spy-plane fuels. Here are a few of their best stories–for the record: On May 24, 1963, Collins flew out of Area 51’s restricted airspace in a top-secret spy plane code-named OXCART, built by Lockheed Aircraft Corporation. He was flying over Utah when the aircraft pitched, flipped and headed toward a crash. He ejected into a field of weeds.

Almost 46 years later, in late fall of 2008, sitting in a coffee shop in the San Fernando Valley, Collins remembers that day with the kind of clarity the threat of a national security breach evokes: “Three guys came driving toward me in a pickup. I saw they had the aircraft canopy in the back. They offered to take me to my plane.” Until that moment, no civilian without a top-secret security clearance had ever laid eyes on the airplane Collins was flying. “I told them not to go near the aircraft. I said it had a nuclear weapon on-board.” The story fit right into the Cold War backdrop of the day, as many atomic tests took place in Nevada. Spooked, the men drove Collins to the local highway patrol. The CIA disguised the accident as involving a generic Air Force plane, the F-105, which is how the event is still listed in official records.

As for the guys who picked him up, they were tracked down and told to sign national security nondisclosures. As part of Collins’ own debriefing, the CIA asked the decorated pilot to take truth serum. “They wanted to see if there was anything I’d for-gotten about the events leading up to the crash.” The Sodium Pento-thal experience went without a hitch–except for the reaction of his wife, Jane. “Late Sunday, three CIA agents brought me home. One drove my car; the other two carried me inside and laid me down on the couch. I was loopy from the drugs. They handed Jane the car keys and left without saying a word.” The only conclusion she could draw was that her husband had gone out and gotten drunk. “Boy, was she mad,” says Collins with a chuckle.

At the time of Collins’ accident, CIA pilots had been flying spy planes in and out of Area 51 for eight years, with the express mission of providing the intelligence to prevent nuclear war. Aerial reconnaissance was a major part of the CIA’s preemptive efforts, while the rest of America built bomb shelters and hoped for the best. “It wasn’t always called Area 51,” says Lovick, the physicist who developed stealth technology. His boss, legendary aircraft designer Clarence L. “Kelly” Johnson, called the place Paradise Ranch to entice men to leave their families and “rough it” out in the Nevada desert in the name of science and the fight against the evil empire. “Test pilot Tony LeVier found the place by flying over it,” says Lovick. “It was a lake bed called Groom Lake, selected for testing because it was flat and far from anything. It was kept secret because the CIA tested U-2s there.”

When Frances Gary Powers was shot down over Sverdlovsk, Russia, in 1960, the U-2 program lost its cover. But the CIA already had Lovick and some 200 scientists, engineers and pilots working at Area 51 on the A-12 OXCART, which would outfox Soviet radar using height, stealth and speed. Col. Slater was in the outfit of six pilots who flew OXCART missions during the Vietnam War. Over a Cuban meat and cheese sandwich at the Bahama Breeze restaurant off the Las Vegas Strip, he says, “I was recruited for the Area after working with the CIA’s classified Black Cat Squadron, which flew U-2 missions over denied territory in Mainland China. After that, I was told, ‘You should come out to Nevada and work on something interesting we’re doing out there.’ ”

Even though Slater considers himself a fighter pilot at heart–he flew 84 missions in World War II–the opportunity to work at Area 51 was impossible to pass up. “When I learned about this Mach-3 aircraft called OXCART, it was completely intriguing to me–this idea of flying three times the speed of sound! No one knew a thing about the program. I asked my wife, Barbara, if she wanted to move to Las Vegas, and she said yes. And I said, ‘You won’t see me but on the weekends,’ and she said, ‘That’s fine!’ ” At this recollection, Slater laughs heartily. Barbara, dining with us, laughs as well. The two, married for 63 years, are rarely apart today. “We couldn’t have told you any of this a year ago,” Slater says. “Now we can’t tell it to you fast enough.” That is because in 2007, the CIA began declassifying the 50-year-old OXCART program. Today, there’s a scramble for eyewitnesses to fill in the information gaps. Only a few of the original players are left. Two more of them join me and the Slaters for lunch: Barnes, formerly an Area 51 special-projects engineer, with his wife, Doris; and Martin, one of those overseeing the OXCART’s specially mixed jet fuel (regular fuel explodes at extreme height, temperature and speed), with his wife, Mary. Because the men were sworn to secrecy for so many decades, their wives still get a kick out of hearing the secret tales.

Barnes was married at 17 (Doris was 16). To support his wife, he became an electronics wizard, buying broken television sets, fixing them up and reselling them for five times the original price. He went from living in bitter poverty on a Texas Panhandle ranch with no electricity to buying his new bride a dream home before he was old enough to vote. As a soldier in the Korean War, Barnes demonstrated an uncanny aptitude for radar and Nike missile systems, which made him a prime target for recruitment by the CIA–which indeed happened when he was 22. By 30, he was handling nuclear secrets. “The agency located each guy at the top of a certain field and put us together for the programs at Area 51,” says Barnes. As a security precaution, he couldn’t reveal his birth name–he went by the moniker Thunder. Coworkers traveled in separate cars, helicopters and airplanes. Barnes and his group kept to themselves, even in the mess hall. “Our special-projects group was the most classified team since the Manhattan Project,” he says.

Harry Martin’s specialty was fuel. Handpicked by the CIA from the Air Force, he underwent rigorous psychological and physical tests to see if he was up for the job. When he passed, the CIA moved his family to Nevada. Because OXCART had to refuel frequently, the CIA kept supplies at secret facilities around the globe. Martin often traveled to these bases for quality-control checks. He tells of preparing for a top-secret mission from Area 51 to Thule, Greenland. “My wife took one look at me in these arctic boots and this big hooded coat, and she knew not to ask where I was going.”

So, what of those urban legends–the UFOs studied in secret, the underground tunnels connecting clandestine facilities? For decades, the men at Area 51 thought they’d take their secrets to the grave. At the height of the Cold War, they cultivated anonymity while pursuing some of the country’s most covert projects. Conspiracy theories were left to popular imagination. But in talking with Collins, Lovick, Slater, Barnes and Martin, it is clear that much of the folklore was spun from threads of fact.

As for the myths of reverse engineering of flying saucers, Barnes offers some insight: “We did reverse engineer a lot of foreign technology, including the Soviet MiG fighter jet out at the Area”–even though the MiG wasn’t shaped like a flying saucer. As for the underground-tunnel talk, that, too, was born of truth. Barnes worked on a nuclear-rocket program called Project NERVA, inside underground chambers at Jackass Flats, in Area 51’s backyard. “Three test-cell facilities were connected by railroad, but everything else was underground,” he says.

And the quintessential Area 51 conspiracy–that the Pentagon keeps captured alien spacecraft there, which they fly around in restricted airspace? Turns out that one’s pretty easy to debunk. The shape of OXCART was unprece-dented, with its wide, disk-like fuselage designed to carry vast quantities of fuel. Commercial pilots cruising over Nevada at dusk would look up and see the bottom of OXCART whiz by at 2,000-plus mph. The aircraft’s tita-nium body, moving as fast as a bullet, would reflect the sun’s rays in a way that could make anyone think, UFO.

In all, 2,850 OXCART test flights were flown out of Area 51 while Slater was in charge. “That’s a lot of UFO sightings!” Slater adds. Commercial pilots would report them to the FAA, and “when they’d land in California, they’d be met by FBI agents who’d make them sign nondisclosure forms.” But not everyone kept quiet, hence the birth of Area 51’s UFO lore. The sightings incited uproar in Nevada and the surrounding areas and forced the Air Force to open Project BLUE BOOK to log each claim.

Since only a few Air Force officials were cleared for OXCART (even though it was a joint CIA/USAF project), many UFO sightings raised internal military alarms. Some generals believed the Russians might be sending stealth craft over American skies to incite paranoia and create widespread panic of alien invasion. Today, BLUE BOOK findings are housed in 37 cubic feet of case files at the National Archives–74,000 pages of reports. A keyword search brings up no mention of the top-secret OXCART or Area 51. Project BLUE BOOK was shut down in 1969–more than a year after OXCART was retired. But what continues at America’s most clandestine military facility could take another 40 years to disclose.




(Ricardo Arduengo/AP)



“EIS is exclusively operating for and on behalf of earthquake survivors, using local languages, French and Creole. The service is free and global. People in Haiti and families and friends around the world can register via a simple text message. Survivors will receive critical news and information direct to their mobiles”












Images of this week’s massive earthquake in Haiti are now flowing out of the country as aid workers and journalists flow in. What we have seen so far confirms the obvious: devastation is massive and widespread. Buildings collapsed. Homes destroyed. A country once inching back from the abyss has been thrown violently back. The photos above, courtesy of GeoEye and Google, show parts of Port-au-Prince before and after the quake. The white building in the bottom frame is the presidential palace, cracked along its axis. This morning, Google added GeoEye’s new imagery to Google Earth. It is available here. We’ve embedded it below. Google Earth Library also has a good collection of data and images from Haiti. Additionally, Google has launched a dynamic spreadsheet, called the “Haiti Situation Tracking Form” that allows people to post messages looking for loved ones and other updates.



Hundreds of web technicians, spurred into action by Haiti’s earthquake one week ago, have developed new web-based tools and services to help the relief effort. Volunteers in the US built and refined software for tracking missing people, mapping the disaster areas and enabling urgent text messaging. Tim Schwartz, a web programmer in San Diego, California, said that he feared that due to so many social-networking sites, crucial information about Haitian earthquake victims would “go everywhere on the internet [but] it would be very hard to actually find people”.

Acting on his concern, Schwartz and 10 other web developers built, an online lost-and-found site to help Haitians in and out of the country to locate missing relatives. The database, which anyone can update, was online less than 24 hours after the earthquake struck, with more than 6,000 entries due to a built-in “scraper” that gathered data from emergency relief organisations working at the site of the earthquake in the Haitian capital of Port-au-Prince. Agencies, including the International Committee of the Red Cross and the US federal emergency management agency [Fema], put the systems to use and two days later, Google, the US search engine giant, created PersonFinder, which consolidated all the information from various person-finding sites. Christopher Csikszentmihalyi, the director of media at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, said PersonFinder, which can be embedded in any website and thus far has more than 32,000 records, “greatly increases the chances that Haitians in Haiti and abroad will be able to find each other”.

Dispatching rescuers
Another volunteer project forged in the earthquake’s aftermath was a mobile phone text-messaging system that helps relief groups dispatch rescuers, food and water. Patrick Meier, the director of Crisis Mapping and Strategic Partnerships at Ushahidi, an online crisis-reporting platform, told Al Jazeera such tools allow near real-time disaster response. “One of the most recent developments in that effort has been the free text messages [they are usually in Creole but in 10 minutes we get them translated into English] … if anyone inside Haiti texts 4636, we get that information in near real time and can [then] map it [and get the information to organisations that need it],” he said. “We have had a number of success stories. One of the very first was a report that went up through Ushahidi about an orphanage that was desperately running out of water … soon after we had someone report they had dispatched 20 litres of water to the orphanage.” In another collaborative effort, volunteers from online OpenStreetMap “crisis mapping” project provide up-to-the-minute data, such as the location of new field hospitals and collapsed bridges.

online tool to Haitian disaster relief effort
BY Monica Hesse / January 16, 2010

Patrick Meier learned about the earthquakes at 7 p.m. Tuesday while he was watching the news in Boston. By 7:20, he’d contacted a colleague in Atlanta. By 7:40, the two were mobilizing an online tool created by a Kenyan lawyer in South Africa. By 8, they were gathering intelligence from everyplace, in a global effort to crowd-source assistance for Haiti. The site is, and it allows users to submit eyewitness accounts or other relevant information for disaster zones via e-mail, text or Twitter — and then visualize the frequency of these events on a map. By Friday, Ushahidi, which means “testimony” in Swahili, had received nearly 33,000 unique visitors, and several hundred personal reports that mainstream news organizations might not hear about. “Chantal Landrin is stuck under the rubble at a house in Turjo!” one user submitted via Twitter. “Please help me find my family in Haiti,” begins another poster. The majority of Ushahidi’s posts are from people — many from the United States — hoping to find information about missing relatives. “Route 9 is access point into [Port-au-Prince] but still precarious,” writes another, who has traveled the road.

Taken individually, these bits of data might not be terribly useful. The goal is that by aggregating the incidents in a visual format, people and organizations using the site will be able to see patterns of destruction, to determine where services should be concentrated. A red dot on the map, for example, signifies that looting is happening near a town called Pétionville; another shows that Hotel Villa Creole has become a site of medical triage. The practice is known as crisis mapping, a newer field of disaster analysis using geography-based data sets, employed by organizations like Ushahidi and Arlington-based GeoCommons. Although individuals have used Twitter and Facebook to share anecdotes for a few years — notably, during 2009’s contested Iranian elections — crisis mapping brings many data points together, making meaning out of randomness and spreading information about areas lacking well-developed records. “We’re providing a repository for all kinds of organizations,” says Meier, who in addition to working as Ushahidi’s director of strategic operations also founded the International Network of Crisis Mappers.

Ushahidi was originally founded in 2008 to map reports of violence in post-election Kenya. Ory Okolloh, a lawyer, had been trying to keep track of these incidents via her personal blog, “but I got swamped by how much information was coming in,” Okolloh says, “and I wanted to have a larger context of what was happening.” She appealed to the blogosphere for help, and soon had a site that allowed the entire Kenyan population to catalogue the injustices and atrocities they were witnessing — a real-time encyclopedia of unrest. Since then, the Ushahidi platform has been employed in many smaller projects, from monitoring elections in India to tracking medicine in various African countries. “Stop the Stock-outs,” as the medical project was known, involved volunteers swarming pharmacies to check the availability of common drugs and text their findings to be displayed on a map. In Kenya alone, more than 100 health centers were revealed to be operating without necessary medication, according to reports. The Kenyan government later allocated more funds for medication.

In Haiti, Meier says, it’s too early to tell what impact Ushahidi might have on relief efforts. Some of the rescue workers for whom Ushahidi was intended are currently too besieged by the chaos of the situation to attempt incorporating it into their work: “Our colleagues are not feeding information into crowdsourcing platforms for now,” writes Florian Westphal of the International Committee of the Red Cross via e-mail. “I don’t think they have the time.” Crisis mappers hope that their analytics will gain greater use in coming days, as rescue workers attempt to navigate the changed landscape. “Being one of the poorest countries in the Western Hemisphere, Haiti doesn’t have the infrastructure that a more developed country would have,” such as extensive Global Positioning System equipment that would aid in mapping the terrain, says Andrew Turner, chief technology officer of GeoCommons, which has also been producing Haiti-related maps. “Now you have all of these people needing to know how to get from here to there. . . . You need to know where the triage centers are, and the food and water. An old map would be irrelevant with road closings.”

The crowd-sourcing represents what Meier sees as the future of crisis response. “We’re going to need to collaborate, we’re going to need to share data,” he says. “The best way to provide humanitarian response is to be able to provide platforms” and tools that allow people to share on-the-ground information quickly. On Ushahidi, someone posts that the National Cathedral has collapsed, and the map gets another tiny dot of red.




The first reports are now emerging from Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) teams who were already working on medical projects Haiti. They are treating hundreds of people injured in the quake and have been setting up clinics in tents to replace their own damaged medical facilities.

The Martissant health center in a poor area of Port-au-Prince had to be evacuated after the earthquake because it was damaged and unstable. The patients are now in tents in the grounds and the medical staff have been dealing with a flow of casualties from the town. They have already treated between 300 and 350 people, mainly for trauma injuries and fractures. Among them are 50 people suffering from burns—some of them severe—many of them caused by domestic gas containers exploding in collapsing buidings. At the Pacot rehabilitation center another 300 to 400 people have been treated. In one of MSF’s adminstrative offices in Petionville, another part of Port-au-Prince, a tent clinic there has seen at least 200 injured people. More are getting assistance at what was the Solidarite maternity hospital, which was seriously damaged.

One of MSF’s senior staff, Stefano Zannini, was out for most of the night, trying to assess the needs in the city and looking at the state of the medical facilities. “The situation is chaotic,” he said. “I visited five medical centers, including a major hospital, and most of them were not functioning. Many are damaged and I saw a distressing number of dead bodies. Some parts of the city are without electricity and people have gathered outside, lighting fires in the street and trying to help and comfort each other. When they saw that I was from MSF they were asking for help, particularly to treat their wounded. There was strong solidarity among people in the streets.” Another MSF coordinator there, Hans van Dillen, confirmed that Port-au-Prince was quite unable to cope with the scale of the disaster. “There are hunderds of thousands of people who are sleeping in the streets because they are homeless,” said van Dillen. “We see open fractures, head injuries. The problem is that we can not forward people to proper surgery at this stage.”

So many of the city’s medical facilities have been damaged, healthcare is severely disrupted at precisely the moment when medical needs are high. MSF is also working to get more staff into the country. Around 70 more staff are expected to arrive in the coming days. MSF is sending out a 100-bed hospital with an inflatable surgical unit, consisting of two operating theaters and seven hospitalization tents. Nephrologists will be sent as part of the team in order to deal with the affects of crush injuries. However, transport links are difficult and it is not yet clear whether supplies and medical staff will have to go in through neighboring Dominican Republic. MSF is also concerned about the safety of some of its own staff. There are 800 of them and not all have yet been accounted for because of the poor communications and general disruption.

Doctors Without Borders Cargo Plane With Full Hospital and Staff Blocked From Landing in Port-au-Prince / 17 January 2009

Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) urges that its cargo planes carrying essential medical and surgical material be allowed to land in Port-au-Prince in order to treat thousands of wounded waiting for vital surgical operations. Priority must be given immediately to planes carrying lifesaving equipment and medical personnel.

Despite guarantees, given by the United Nations and the US Defense Department, an MSF cargo plane carrying an inflatable surgical hospital was blocked from landing in Port-au-Prince on Saturday, and was re-routed to Samana, in Dominican Republic. All material from the cargo is now being sent by truck from Samana, but this has added a 24-hour delay for the arrival of the hospital.

A second MSF plane is currently on its way and scheduled to land today in Port- au-Prince at around 10 am local time with additional lifesaving medical material and the rest of the equipment for the hospital. If this plane is also rerouted then the installation of the hospital will be further delayed, in a situation where thousands of wounded are still in need of life saving treatment.

The inflatable hospital includes 2 operating theaters, an intensive care unit, 100-bed hospitalization capacity, an emergency room and all the necessary equipment needed for sterilizing material. MSF teams are currently working around the clock in 5 different hospitals in Port-au-Prince, but only 2 operating theaters are fully functional, while a third operating theater has been improvised for minor surgery due to the massive influx of wounded and lack of functional referral structures.



“NetHope members who have been active in our relief efforts firmly believe that NGOs on the ground require a lightweight “NetHope ICT Kit” they can carry in their baggage to provide instant communications from Day 1 onward. This kit must have the following features:”


IT Lends a Helping Hand: interview with NetHope’s Edward Granger-Happ / 2005-01-28

How to help the IT relief effort : “Donate laptops, desktops, network equipment and other technology. Donate bandwidth, especially satellite transponder space. Serve as a volunteer, and encourage your staff to do the same.”

The relief workers toiling in the tsunami-battered nations of southern Asia, Sri Lanka and Indonesia don’t just need money; they need IT support. Like all professionals, their effectiveness and productivity can be amplified by IT—only in their case it means saving more lives and restoring communities more quickly. But field workers for organizations such as Save the Children, Oxfam, and CARE must do their work in nightmarish conditions, often without electricity, phone lines and the human basics. Edward Granger-Happ, the chairman of the board and a founder of NetHope, Inc., is a CIO on the front lines of the tsunami relief effort. NetHope is an organization made up of IT executives from 15 non-government relief organizations who have banded together for cooperative effort rather than competitive advantage. NetHope members share information and know-how, and work together with corporate partners such as Cisco Systems, IBM and Microsoft to develop, share and supply equipment, software and communications services for their members’ relief workers.

Granger-Happ doubles as the chief technology officer of Save the Children, a Westport, Conn.-based charity and relief organization and a NetHope member. He left behind a 24-year career in the private sector, first as an executive with First Boston, Lotus, Chase and Data Broadcasting Corp., then as senior partner and founder of a management consulting firm, to join Save the Children about four years ago.

CIO Insight executive editor Allan E. Alter spoke with Granger-Happ about NetHope’s founding and mission, its work in tsunami relief, and how CIOs and other IT managers and professionals can help NetHope provide technical support.

Q. What is NetHope?
A. My 30-second description is that we’re a group of the largest international non-profits who have banded together to bring ICT – information and communication technology – out to the most challenged areas of the world in which we work. The members are 15 of the largest international non-profits, representing a collective $3.5 billion relief and long term development aid. NetHope is in Sunnyvale, Calif., because that’s where our executive director and finance director are. The members of the board come from throughout the U.S. and the U.K.

Q. What is its mission?
A. To make a difference in the world at the point where our members’ programs touch children and families. The analogy for the for-profit world is where the products meet the customers. Our primary focus is the field worker who is sometimes hours or miles away from even the central field office in the country, administering relief programs like those in Banda Aceh, Indonesia, as well as long-term development, HIV, education, economic opportunity, and conservation-type work.

Q. Why was NetHope started?
A. It started with a white paper, called “Wiring the Virtual Village,” I wrote during my first nine months at Save the Children and presented to Cisco Systems in March 2001. Essentially, it said if we band together as a group of non-profits, we can solve our communication and technology infrastructure problems faster and cheaper than if we continue to try to do it on our own. We all have the same IT issues: in the U.S and Europe IT infrastructure is taken for granted, but in the areas we work we can’t even take electricity for granted. My compelling hypothesis No. 2 is that if we band together to solve these problems, we would be much more attractive to corporate technology partners. A technology company that is interested in philanthropic work could benefit 15 non-profits if it contributed technology, money or people through NetHope, not just one. They would leverage their gifts and time much more than with one-off grants to individual non-profits. It’s also lower risk, because if one or two non-profits have difficulty implementing a grant (always a big concern for corporate partners), the other 12 or 13 who had success can help the other two come up to speed. I spent the first 24 years of my career in the for-profit world, and I was very encouraged by the openness and willingness of non-profits to share internal information and cooperate.

In early April 2001, I got a call from Cisco, when they were launching their Cisco Fellow program. Right after the bubble burst, companies like Cisco had a significant economic downturn. One expense-neutral alternative they found to downsizing was to give managers the option of working with a non-profit, and they would pay for a portion of the expenses. Financially, you come out better if you do this than if you lay off employees; otherwise, you’d have to pay severance and unemployment, and then hire a recruiter when you wanted to fill the position again at the end of the downturn. Two thirds of Cisco Fellows, however, return as an employee. They asked if we’d be interested in that, and I said absolutely. We hired the first Cisco Fellow in June 2001. That was Dipak Basu, and he’s been the executive director of NetHope for its first three years. Dipak gets the credit for taking this vision of a cooperative among non-profits and making it happen. I was really just the idea person.

By the way, when people returned to Cisco after doing this fellowship program, they all said it was critical to their development as leaders. So now Cisco employees have the option of doing this for several months. It’s become strategic for them.

Q. What is NetHope doing now to help the tsunami victims?
A. The key thing NetHope is doing is a project that began a year ago with some technology that had been developed by some Cisco engineers in North Carolina working with Inmarsat in London as a response to the Sept. 11 emergency, where communications and networking was knocked out in New York City. They came up with some off-the-shelf components they put together in a single box to provide what I call a “network-in-a-box.” In relief situations you want to establish voice and data communications in 72 hours or less. In the initial stages of disaster relief, the first relief workers are highly mobile; they are doing situation assessments, determining what the key needs are and marshaling the resources and the equipment that’s necessary to fulfill these needs. You need to have voice and data communications to make that happen. So we saw that network-in-a-box as a potential “net relief kit” (NRK). The kit, which is built by Cisco and now in its second generation, is the size of a weekender suitcase. It’s meant to be out in a field location; it’s ruggedized, runs off a car battery, and is cooled by multiple fans. It can support up to 50 laptops and four or more wireless telephones. It gives us a box with a handle that people flying to the disaster area can bring with them. NetHope has been the driving force behind developing that project, and Cisco has donated the engineering time and expertise to put the box together.

We had done two lab tests of the NRK and were scheduling field tests in Africa for this quarter when the tsunami hit. Our emergency people had reports about the problem within hours. Save the Children’s field office at Banda Aceh was hit and our field office people were lost; all but two were later accounted for. We also lost ten midwives with a community partner. Many of the NetHope managers, like Catholic Relief Services, World Vision, Save the Children and others, who are responding to this emergency in Indonesia and Sri Lanka and to a lesser extent in Myanmar and India, said we need to take this NRK and get it into the field. We said this emergency will become our trial. It’s not the typical way you build and do a trial, but if there’s anything we’ve learned in IT it’s that speed is essential in product development.

The way emergency response works, you get initial response people who try to get in there as soon as possible, determine the situation and what the needs are, and the people in headquarters try to martial the resources and goods—locally at first, so there’s no shipping, but longer-term usually from the U.S. and other sources. This first phase is highly individual and highly mobile. These initial response people took satellite phones, thanks to an agreement we had already worked out with Iridium. We had daily conference calls among members of NetHope during the first phase, and shared our technology assessment information and discussed who can bring what technologies to bear. That information sharing and consulting among members is of enormous value to organizations like Save the Children; we don’t have a large IT staff, and it feels especially small when we’re operating in triage and crisis mode. That happened in Afghanistan and Iraq, and now it’s happening in Indonesia.

The second phase in emergency response involves groups of people, but they’re also highly mobile and need to talk with one another. We’re now starting the second phase, and that’s when the NRK will be used. Many of these groups will operate in tent communities; when we get in with the NRK, we connect their laptops. The kit is just going over now. Our director of networks will be the point person for the first kit. He’s landed in Jakarta, and he’ll be gathering the equipment he needs and will be going to Banda Aceh in the next few days.

Q. How many NRKs will be going out?
A. We’ve asked for ten. That’s the preliminary request, and we haven’t heard back yet what’s possible. That’s the challenge. They are still custom-made; it’s the dedication of the engineers at Cisco in North Carolina that’s putting them together. We’re going to try to share the NRKs as much as possible, but there are bandwidth issues there. In some places we can only get a 64K connections, and there’s only so much bandwidth you can share. Bandwidth is always an issue. Not until the third phase do we establish a more permanent office, and we will outfit that office with a VSAT or other connections, LANs and desktop PCs. When you get to the third phase the NRK is irrelevant because you get a VSAT in a more permanent building. The final way NetHope will be of value will be taking its learning and experiences and sharing it with non-members and developing countries. That’s part of the philanthropic value of what NetHope is doing: Just as we benefit from our knowledge-sharing experiences, we want to turn around and open that to others.

Q. How will that knowledge-sharing be done?
A. NetHope members actually use IBM Lotus Domino QuickPlace, a donation IBM Lotus made to Save the Children. We have a library of posted documents and information, a discussion area, and folders for each of the emergencies and projects on which we’re working. It’s a fully searchable and indexed knowledge base of information, and we have close to four years of information in it now. And here’s the tie-back to how open non-profits are to sharing information: If the head of network engineering at Oxfam has discussions with three satellite phone providers in the European Union, he’ll summarize it and post it for the rest of the members. We don’t all have to talk to those three EU phone providers.

Q. What will you be doing in the next two to eight weeks to help the tsunami victims?
A. I think phase 2 will last at least 90 days, maybe longer. With the extent of the damage we’re seeing in the Banda Aceh area, it may take significantly longer before we can establish a field office that has electricity and communications. Again, NetHope is focused on that relief worker, the relief worker who is doing the food distributions and handling medical programs, crisis intervention in terms of psychological counseling for families and kids, and relocation services. Our job is to make that field workers’ job as easy as possible, by giving him communications and by minimizing the amount of paperwork he needs to do. If you remember what it was like to work without e-mail and a computer, and think about how much easier it is now to do that much more, we want to give the same advantages to the field worker. We’re bringing in laptops, LANs, wireless telephones, satellite telephones, portable satellite dishes, larger satellite dishes for the longer term, and the NRK is the network infrastructure that sits in the middle of that.

Communications is critical for security. In Iraq, communication is essential to make sure people are safe and accounted for. These areas we are going into now for tsunami relief have tenuous situations; there’s a civil war and insurrections going on. Security is an issue there as well. It used to be, before the UN was bombed in Baghdad, that non-profits were immune. We could go in as politically and religiously neutral and meet dire needs wherever we went. That whole world changed with the UN bombing in Baghdad; we’re no longer immune, we’re now one of the targets. There have been kidnappings and bombings. It’s a different world for non-profits. Now we have to spend time on security planning that we didn’t have to do before. And that requires better technology.

Q. What can IT executives do to help the tsunami victims and NetHope?
A. To the degree they have bandwidth or technology they can share, that is of significant interest to us. Many laptops and desktop PCs are on two-year leases; CIOs ought to take them as they come off lease and donate them to non-profits, and get the tax write-off if you do the buy-out. It’s a win-win. Check with your accounting department first, of course. We have a third-party “wiping service” to delete any data from the donated machines.

Q. How can companies share bandwidth?
A. Many companies have paid for large amounts of satellite transponder space; it’s the rented space on the bird itself. To the extent they have transponder space on satellites that cover India, Sri Lanka and Indonesia, they can help. We still have to put satellite communications equipment on the ground, but the most expensive part is often the recurring transponder space rent. We’ve talked with some corporations about sharing network infrastructure, but global companies are in the major cities and that’s not where we typically are. But they will have satellite transponder space. Many companies rent space for peak periods. When it’s not peak time, there ought to be ways to donate transponder space.

There’s another way CIOs could help, and that is to volunteer to act as advisers to the non-profit IT directors, from NetHope to the individual IT directors at the non-profits. Save the Children spends less than 1.5 percent of revenue on IT, and our headquarters IT department is 23 people for a 3,200-person organization in 40 countries. So we’re excellent at taking slim resources and stretching them to do incredible things. But when you layer on top of it a disaster of this magnitude, where you have to turn your attention to those things, getting help and advice on more efficient ways to do the day-to-day blocking and tackling, or to even come and volunteer to fill in to do those things, would be very valuable. We’re good at stretching things thin to run a normal operation, but add a disaster like this and it becomes an abnormal operation. We have daily stand-up meetings to look at everyone’s top three things they are doing that impacts their response. There could be lots of other things that don’t happen. Having people who are experts at crisis management and in applying medical triage to business situation would be invaluable to non-profits.

Q. What kinds of people from an IT staff would you want as volunteers?
A. It could be as basic as help-desk people who can configure PC laptops before they go out in the field. It could be network engineers who can run our data centers. At senior-management level, advisers on how to apply triage and crisis management to most efficiently manage hour-to-hour with our limited resources. To help, go to There’s a link to contact us at Or call us at (408) 525-2451 or e-mail us at info [at] Those calls and e-mails will get funneled to Molly Tschang, our current executive director, who will take it from there. If anyone is interested in particular in Save the Children, contact me by email at ehapp [at] savechildren [dot] org rather than call.

Q. Is there anything else you’d like to add?
A. NetHope doesn’t happen without our corporate partners, especially Cisco, IBM, Microsoft, Immarsat and Eutelsat. Microsoft and Cisco have worked with us from day one when this tragedy struck, asking us how they can help. Cisco has responded by speeding up the Net Relief Kit, and employees at both organizations are donating to Save the Children. They’ve been incredible partners. Beyond business partners, these are organizations that really care about making a difference, and they have taken a keen interest in having NetHope succeed.

And just two human-interest points: This is my third career. I worked on Wall Street for the first 14 years of my career, with First Boston, Chase, Lotus and Data Broadcasting Corp. Then I ran my own management consulting business in IT and balanced scorecard work for ten years before joining Save the Children. Which leads me to my second point: I could double my income at any corporate firm, but what’s more important to me at this point in my career is having the ability to make an impact every day in what I do. When we get IT right, more kids get fed, more kids get inoculated, and more kids get educated and taught. The value of that is immeasurable. So my whole model has turned from pursuit of success to pursuit of significance.

Edward Granger-Happ
email : ehapp [@] savethechildren [dot] org / ehapp [at] hpmd [dot] com





Take a look at the designs for what could someday be the world’s cheapest PC, and you may start to wish you were a third-grade child in Burundi.
BY Andy Greenberg / 12.22.09

One Laptop Per Child (OLPC), MIT professor Nicholas Negroponte’s non-profit effort aimed at putting cheap educational laptops into the hands of developing world schoolchildren, is working on an upgrade to its so-called XO computer, once known as the “hundred-dollar laptop.” That revamped machine, known as the XO-3 and targeted for release in 2012, is still more of a pipe dream than a product. But early designs for the PC reveal a minimalist slate of touch-powered electronics that drops practically every feature of a traditional computer except its 8.5-by-11-inch screen, a scheme that would shed all of the first XO’s child-like clunkiness without losing its simple accessibility. “I wanted to bring the One Laptop Per Child identity to life in this new form,” says Yves Behar, founder of FuseProject, which designed the both the original and the XO-3. “That meant taking the visual complexity away, bringing tactility and friendliness, touch and color.”

Behar says he hopes to shrink the frame around the XO-3’s display down to practically nothing, opting for a virtual keyboard instead of a physical one, and no buttons. The result, in his mock-ups, is a screen surrounded by only a thin green rubber gasket. “Nicholas [Negroponte] asked for something extremely simple and practically frameless,” he says. “The media or content on the computer will be the prime visual element.” In fact, that new form factor is just the beginning of OLPC’s monstrous ambitions: It aims to make its tablet PC highly durable, all plastic, waterproof, half the thickness of an iPhone and use less than a watt of power, despite an 8-gigaherz processor. The price: an unprecedented $75.

Many of OLPC’s goals, to be fair, are more imagination than road map. And Negroponte has a history of overpromising. The original XO never hit its original goal of $100, (it currently sells for $172) and another touch screen upgrade to the XO that Negroponte announced in May 2008 was quietly scrapped this year based on costs. But in this case, Negroponte’s plan has a twist: As OLPC assembles the components for its dream machine, it plans to open the architecture of the device to allow any other PC maker to take over the project. Negroponte is more interested in pressuring the industry to make cheaper, more education-focused PCs than he is in manufacturing any specific machine. “We don’t necessarily need to build it,” Negroponte told Forbes. “We just need to threaten to build it.”

Regardless of who puts their stamp on the ultra-cheap tablet, OLPC’s biggest task may be getting the various components in line. A typical fragile, glass LCD screen hardly seems a wise choice in the hands of young children, or in countries with unpredictable and scarce electricity. So OLPC hopes to incorporate plastic back-plane components, possibly from Mountain View, Calif.-based Plastic Logic, that would be far more durable. The tablet will also likely use ultra low-power screens from start-up Pixel Qi with both reflective and LCD capabilities, created by former Negroponte disciple Mary Lou Jepsen. If Behar’s design comes to fruition, the XO-3 will feature a camera on the back of the device and a finger-hold ring on the computer’s corner. That loop, a metal cable that runs from the device’s rim and is encased in the same rubber as the screen frame, can be used to steady the computer in the user’s hand or to let it hang at one’s side. Magnets in the loop could also be used to keep it tucked behind the machine, out of the way.

Those simple additions are the only departures from the tablet’s minimalist design: Ideally, the machine won’t even have a charging port. Behar says OLPC wants to use induction to wirelessly charge the battery through its rubber frame. “We wanted to remove all the scars that you typically see on a laptop from Lenovo or HP,” he says. While the tablet isn’t slated to appear until 2012, OLPC has other plans in the meantime. An incremental upgrade of the XO set for release in January will have several times the memory, storage and processing power of the current machine. The next upgrade, in 2011, will boost the machine’s performance again and replace its AMD chip with a lower-power processor from phone chip maker Marvell.

When it comes to his plans for the $75 dream tablet, however, Negroponte admits his track record of lofty promises doesn’t offer much assurance that this latest fantasy machine will appear. But he warns the computer industry not to underestimate OLPC. “Sure, if I were a commercial entity coming to you for investment, and I’d made the projections I had in the past, you wouldn’t invest again,” he says. “But we’re not a commercial operation. If we only achieve half of what we’re setting out to do, it could have very big consequences.”

Nicholas Negroponte
email : nicholas [at] [dot] edu

BY Robert Evans / 23 Dec 2009

“One Laptop Per Child is a charity run by Nicholas Negroponte. Their goal is to provide laptops to every child in the developing world. One of the ways they do this is by selling their ultra-cheap machines to Westerners for double the price. That way you get a laptop, and you get to buy a laptop for some kid in Uganda or Somalia. While the current versions of the OLPC are fairly unimpressive, the XO-3, Negroponte’s design for the 2012 OLPC, looks incredible.

Forbes reports that this new OLPC is going to be a totally stripped down, 8.5″-11” tablet PC. The only features of this tablet will be the touchscreen, and a little ring on the side to act as a hand-hold or to loop into a belt. The XO-3 will be simple and durable; it’s going to be made entirely of plastic will be waterproof. It should pack an 8 GHz processor, but will use less than a watt of power. Remember; this thing isn’t scheduled to hit until 2012.

The price is expected to be $75. Whether or not this device will ever launch, let alone at that price, remains to be seen. I really hope it does, though. One Laptop Per Child is an incredibly beneficial charity that allows poor children all around the world to connect to the Internet. It makes possible a level of communication and exposure to information that none of these children would otherwise have. Plus, the XO-3 is supposed to have a camera. That means Flickr will soon be populated with thousands of shots from OLPC owners in exotic locales all around the world. That alone is worth a donation or two.


Fast, Cheap and Sustainable:
Ex-Pentagon Geek Plots Disaster Relief 2.0
BY Nathan Hodge / October 16, 2008

Linton Wells used to be one of the Pentagon geeks-in-chief — a prime mover in the military’s embrace of information technology. Now, he wants to encourage the Defense Deparment to network with relief agencies, civic organizations and the private sector in order to reboot disaster recovery. The goal of the tech-heavy effort is not only to avoid a Hurricane Katrina repeat. It’s to get better at stabilizing failed states that could easily slip into radical hands. But first, the boys in uniform have to get over their traditional reluctance to cooperate with civilians.

Nation-building, perhaps by default, has become a core mission for the U.S. military. Last week, the Army unveiled its new stability operations manual. And this week, the Department of Defense is hosting a demonstration of some of the more innovative new tools for disaster relief and humanitarian assistance.

The project is called STAR-TIDES (Sustainable Technologies, Accelerated Research-Transportable Infrastructures for Development and Emergency Support). The acronym may be long, but the concept is simple: it is supposed to pull together cheap and effective solutions for humanitarian emergencies or post-war reconstruction.

Among the items on display at the Pentagon demo: solar cooking panels; Solar Stik portable power generators (pictured); inflatable satellite antennas; and water purification systems. It’s an intriguing sight to see bureaucrats sip purified
Potomac River water in the Pentagon center court, or to watch a two-star general inspect a tree-hugger’s Hexayurt shelter.

The buzzwords here are “affordable solutions,” “sustainable support” or “capacity building” – all terms borrowed from the world of aid and development. STAR-TIDES is also part of a larger effort by Wells to spread the word these concepts within the Defense Department.

“We’re not an operating agency,” Wells said. “I’m coordinating this with a few colleagues on a more or less volunteer basis. If someone comes in and says, ‘coordinate the next Katrina,’ we’re not in a position to do that. We are in a position to try to perhaps help the decisionmakers to think ahead and maybe get some of these coalitions built so there’d be better planning for whole-of-government, civil society, and maybe different scenarios they might not otherwise think of.”

The current demo is set up for a few scenarios: disaster relief in Central America or the Western Pacific; stabilization and reconstruction in Afghanistan; and refugee support in sub-Saharan Africa. Some of the technology on display could also be used for “defense support to civil authorities” (think Hurricane Katrina).

A project like STAR-TIDES faces more than institutional resistance within the Pentagon; non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and aid groups are often wary of working with the military. Wells said he recognized the limitations.

“In many respects, the conflict-resolution NGOs are quite willing to work with the military, whereas the humanitarian assistance NGOs are more wary because their people are in the field and could be at risk,” he said. “If they are seen going in and out of military facilities or communicating routinely with the military, instead of being neutral parties in the crisis, one side or the other can attribute to them the motives of the U.S. military. So they actually see in some cases their people being at risk. … What we try to do is recognize their constraints, recognize their environment, in a social network, trust-building type of arrangement. Deliver something of value that’s useful to them and show how it’s advantageous for them to work with the U.S.”






Workers have also been preparing tents at Guantanamo Bay for Haitian migrants in case the earthquake spurs a mass migration. This is not a new role for the base: At any given moment, the facility temporarily holds small groups of migrants, mostly from Cuba. In the 1990s, Guantanamo housed tens of thousands of Haitian boat people until they could be sent home. About 100 tents, each capable of holding 10 people, have been erected. The U.S. has capacity to hold up to 13,000 at that site, which is on the opposite side of the base, separated by 2 1/2 miles of water, from the detention center for terrorism suspects. Blaisdell said he is considering additional places in case more space is needed.

At the prison, Friday’s deadline for the closure of the base prison was a nonevent. Behind walls of razor wire, officials say they will be on alert for protests by prisoners. But Army Col. Bruce Vargo, the guard force commander, said the reduced population and the decision to house nearly 75 percent of the men in communal settings has eased tensions. He does not expect significant trouble. The delay in closing the base has angered Guantanamo’s many critics, but attorneys for prisoners say most of their clients were always skeptical that they would be going home soon. Many of them now have regular access to the news and could read copies of Obama’s order posted around the camps. “When they saw how slow the review process became and the tiny trickle of men transferred from Guantanamo, they were realistic and saw it would be impossible to meet the Jan. 22 deadline,” said David Remes, a Washington attorney for 18 prisoners.

Navy Rear Adm. Thomas Copeman, commander of the task force that runs the detention center, views with pride the base’s role in trying to solve the humanitarian crisis. “The ability to conduct real-world humanitarian assistance and disaster relief … that’s more exhilarating at the moment then walking the block in the detention camp, not to say that walking the block is not an extremely important mission for the United States but probably not as gratifying as saving someone’s life.”

Why Did We Focus on Securing Haiti, Rather Than Helping Haitians?
Here are two possibilities, neither of them flattering.
BY Ben Ehrenreich / Jan. 21, 2010

By the weekend, it was clear that something perverse was going on in Haiti, something savage and bestial in its lack of concern for human life. I’m not talking about the earthquake, and certainly not about the so-called “looting,” which I prefer to think of as the autonomously organized distribution of unjustly hoarded goods. I’m talking about the U.S. relief effort.

For two days after the quake, despite almost unimaginable destruction, there were reasons to be optimistic. With a few notable exceptions—Pat Robertson and David Brooks among them—Americans reacted with extraordinary and unhesitating generosity of spirit and of purse. Port-au-Prince is not much farther from Washington, D.C., than, say, New Orleans, and the current president of the United States, unlike his predecessor, was quick to react to catastrophe. Taking advantage of “our unique capacity to project power around the world,” President Barack Obama pledged abundant aid and 10,000 troops. Troops? Port-au-Prince had been leveled by an earthquake, not a barbarian invasion, but, OK, troops. Maybe they could put down their rifles and, you know, carry stuff, make themselves useful. At least they could get there soon: The naval base at Guantanamo was barely 200 miles away.

The Cubans, at least, would show up quickly. It wasn’t until Friday, three days after the quake, that the “supercarrier” USS Carl Vinson, arrived—and promptly ran out of supplies. “We have communications, we have some command and control, but we don’t have much relief supplies to offer,” admitted Rear Adm. Ted Branch. So what were they doing there?

“Command and control” turned out to be the key words. The U.S. military did what the U.S. military does. Like a slow-witted, fearful giant, it built a wall around itself, commandeering the Port-au-Prince airport and constructing a mini-Green Zone. As thousands of tons of desperately needed food, water, and medical supplies piled up behind the airport fences—and thousands of corpses piled up outside them—Defense Secretary Robert Gates ruled out the possibility of using American aircraft to airdrop supplies: “An airdrop is simply going to lead to riots,” he said. The military’s first priority was to build a “structure for distribution” and “to provide security.” (Four days and many deaths later, the United States began airdropping aid.)

The TV networks and major papers gamely played along. Forget hunger, dehydration, gangrene, septicemia—the real concern was “the security situation,” the possibility of chaos, violence, looting. Never mind that the overwhelming majority of on-the-ground accounts from people who did not have to answer to editors described Haitians taking care of one another, digging through rubble with their bare hands, caring for injured loved ones—and strangers—in the absence of outside help. Even the evidence of “looting” documented something that looked more like mutual aid: The photograph that accompanied a Sunday New York Times article reporting “pockets of violence and anarchy” showed men standing atop the ruins of a store, tossing supplies to the gathered crowd.

The guiding assumption, though, was that Haitian society was on the very edge of dissolving into savagery. Suffering from “progress-resistant cultural influences” (that’s David Brooks finding a polite way to call black people primitive), Haitians were expected to devour one another and, like wounded dogs, to snap at the hands that fed them. As much as any logistical bottleneck, the mania for security slowed the distribution of aid.

Air-traffic control in the Haitian capital was outsourced to an Air Force base in Florida, which, not surprisingly, gave priority to its own pilots. While the military flew in troops and equipment, planes bearing supplies for the Red Cross, the World Food Program, and Doctors Without Borders were rerouted to Santo Domingo in neighboring Dominican Republic. Aid flights from Mexico, Russia, and France were refused permission to land. On Monday, the British Daily Telegraph reported, the French minister in charge of humanitarian aid admitted he had been involved in a “scuffle” with a U.S. commander in the airport’s control tower. According to the Telegraph, it took the intervention of the United Nations for the United States to agree to prioritize humanitarian flights over military deliveries.

Meanwhile, much of the aid that was arriving remained at the airport. Haitians watched American helicopters fly over the capital, commanding and controlling, but no aid at all was being distributed in most of the city. On Tuesday, a doctor at a field hospital within site of the runways complained that five to 10 patients were dying each day for lack of the most basic medical necessities. “We can look at the supplies sitting there,” Alphonse Edward told Britain’s Channel 4 News.

The much-feared descent into anarchy stubbornly refused to materialize. “It is calm at this time,” Lt. Gen. Ken Keen, deputy commander of the U.S. Southern Command, admitted to the AP on Monday. “Those who live and work here … tell me that the level of violence that we see right now is below pre-earthquake levels.” He announced that four—four, in a city of more than 2 million—aid-distribution points had been set up on the sixth day of the crisis.

So what happened? Why the mad rush to command and control, with all its ultimately murderous consequences? Why the paranoid focus on security above saving lives? Clearly, President Obama failed to learn one of the basic lessons taught by Hurricane Katrina: You can’t solve a humanitarian problem by throwing guns at it. Before the president had finished insisting that “my national security team understands that I will not put up with any excuses,” Haiti’s fate was sealed. National security teams prioritize national security, an amorphous and expensive notion that has little to do with keeping Haitian citizens alive.

This leaves the more disturbing question of why the Obama administration chose to respond as if they were there to confront an insurgency, rather than to clear rubble and distribute antibiotics and MREs. The beginning of an answer can be found in what Rebecca Solnit, author of A Paradise Built in Hell, calls “elite panic”—the conviction of the powerful that their own Hobbesian corporate ethic is innate in all of us, that in the absence of centralized authority, only cannibalism can reign.

But the danger of hunger-crazed mobs never came up after the 2004 Pacific tsunami, and no one mentions security when tornados and floods wipe out swaths of the American Midwest. This suggests two possibilities, neither of them flattering. The first is that the administration had strategic reasons for sending 10,000 troops that had little to do with disaster relief. This is the explanation favored by the Latin American left and, given the United States’ history of invasion and occupation in Haiti (and in the Dominican Republic and Cuba and Nicaragua and Grenada and Panama), it is difficult to dismiss. Only time will tell what “reconstruction” means.

Another answer lies closer to home. New Orleans and Port-au-Prince have one obvious thing in common: The majority of both cities’ residents are black and poor. White people who are not poor have been known, when confronted with black people who are, to start locking their car doors and muttering about their security. It doesn’t matter what color our president is. Even when it is ostensibly doing good, the U.S. government can be racist, and, in an entirely civil and bureaucratic fashion, savagely cruel.


Haiti escaped prisoners chased out of notorious slum Cité Soleil
Ed Pilkington and Tom Phillips, in Cité Soleil / 20 January 2010

When the 3,000 inmates of the central prison in Port-au-Prince unexpectedly gained their freedom, courtesy of the earthquake, everybody knew where they would be headed: Cité Soleil, the poorest area of this poorest city, in whose maze of streets they could vanish.

But the fugitives hadn’t counted on one thing: the determination of Cité Soleil’s people not to let them back. “We’ve got so many huge problems because of the earthquake, we have so little food, water and medicines, we can’t deal with another huge problem,” said Caries Rubens, 26, one of the area’s 300,000 people.

Several of the escapers had been gang leaders in the slum neighbourhood, ensnaring and terrorising the people with drugs and guns. Nobody wanted to see them regain their hold. When news that the earthquake had granted the prisoners early parole reached Cité Soleil, a committee was set up, then vigilante security teams. Prisoners spotted re-entering the area were chased and run out of town. Those who were caught came to a more definitive end. Bled, one of the most notorious gang leaders whose moniker derives from what happened to his many murder and kidnapping victims, was welcomed back by a lynch mob wielding machetes.

That the people of this downtrodden place have shown a determination to stand up to gang leaders is a sign of the change that has taken root in Cité Soleil. Between 2002 and 2006 the area was almost entirely in the grip of the gangs, but in the last three years, partly through the intervention of UN peacekeepers and partly through communal self-help, the gangs’ power has waned and the people’s confidence has grown.

Rubens is a member of a local charity that tries to help the young find an alternative path to adulthood through education rather than violence and drugs. “It’s very difficult to ask a young kid to stay out of the gangs in Cité Soleil,” said Fedora Camille Chevry, who set up the charity Fondation Roussan Camille. “To do that there has to be hope and in Cité Soleil there is so little hope. By providing them with a way of opening up their minds, we try and give them that hope.”

If the foundation is trying to work to shore up the community from within, from the outside UN forces are keeping a close eye on Cité Soleil for fear that the prison breakout might prompt a slide back into the dark past. Their commanding officer has vowed to “intensify” operations to recapture the escapees.

General Florianao Peixoto said his troops had drawn up a list of targets and had already begun making arrests. “We are going to have to carry out more intensive activities to get these elements back where they belong. The hypothesis is that these leaders will regroup to carry out collective operations. But I have a military force that is far superior to that of any gang.”

“We know the area and we have it under control,” said Captain Italo Monsores, a Brazilian marine, during a tour of Cité Soleil’s rubble-strewn streets. The threat, like in so much of this stricken city, is that the devastation will destroy the fragile gains of recent years. Cité Soleil is a chaotic jumble of concrete houses interspersed with corrugated iron shacks. Several of the structures have collapsed, including a school where the metal roof has fallen on to wooden desks stamped with the logo of the UN children’s agency Unicef.

The death toll here was probably lower than in other parts by dint of the houses being low-rise, but many people were wounded in an area with primitive medical services. We came across a woman whose left arm had been burnt to a blackened crust. She had been cooking when the earthquake happened, tipping a saucepan of boiling water over her. Her arm looked as though it were weeping and in risk of infection. Down the road a long line of women was queuing with buckets at a water tanker. There was scuffling and shouting at the front – unsurprisingly as Cité Soleil has been without drinking water for days. We were taken to see the central water tower, which had keeled over.

Food remains difficult to find. We passed a small shop selling balloons, brooms, salami, lollipops and other random items. The owner now sells his wares from behind a metal grille. “Times are hard,” he said. “People might be tempted to rob.” As Rubens puts it: “You want to know how we feel? We feel alone.” But there is grit and imagination here too. Up above the iron roofs, under the flight path of Black Hawk helicopters ferrying supplies, a kite made of plastic and paper flapped in the wind.

After the earthquake, how to rebuild Haiti from scratch
By Jeffrey D. Sachs / January 17, 2010

President Obama has declared that the United States will not forsake Haiti in its moment of agony. Honoring this commitment would be a first for Washington. To prevent a deepening spiral of death, the United States will have to do things differently than in the past. American relief and development institutions do not function properly, and to believe otherwise would be to condemn Haiti’s poor and dying to our own mythology.

In Haiti, we are facing not only a horrific natural disaster but the tectonics of nature, poverty and politics. Even before last week’s earthquake, roughly half of the nation’s 10 million inhabitants lived in destitution, in squalid housing built of adobe or masonry without reinforcements, perched precariously on hillsides. The country is still trying to recover from the hurricanes of 2008 as well as longtime social and political traumas. The government’s inability to cope has been obvious, but those of us who have been around Haiti for many years also know about the lofty international promises that follow each disaster — and how ineffectual the response has been each time.

In the past two decades, U.S. interventions have done much more harm than good to the Haitian economy. In the early 1990s, Washington thought it did Haiti a favor by imposing a crushing trade embargo to bring about democratization — specifically, the reinstatement of democratically elected President Jean-Bertrand Aristide. The embargo destroyed Haiti’s fragile manufacturing industries. Then, true to America’s political swings, ideologues in the Bush administration spent years trying to oust Aristide, first by foisting a de facto and illegal aid freeze on international development agencies, and then by brazenly toppling Aristide and carrying him to the Central African Republic. Congress took a pass on reviewing these sordid events, pausing only to declare its love for the Haitian people.

Now it’s time to save Haitian lives by the millions, or watch a generation perish. A serious response will require a new approach. President Obama should recognize that the U.S. government alone lacks the means, attention span and true regard for Haiti that is needed to see this through past the most urgent phase. After the coming weeks, during which U.S. emergency airlift assistance is essential, the effort should be quickly internationalized, in an effective manner that acknowledges U.S. political realities and leverages the help that Washington will give.

Typically, a tragedy such as this is followed by international pledges of billions of dollars, but then only a slow trickle of help. The government of Haiti, overwhelmed far before this earthquake, is in no position to pester 20 or more complicated donor agencies to follow up on designing projects and disbursing funds. The recovery operation needs money in the bank — in a single, transparent, multidonor recovery fund for Haiti and the world to see. Haiti does not need a pledging session; it needs a bank account to fund its survival and reconstruction. The Inter-American Development Bank would be an excellent venue; it is well-run and highly regarded, already serves as Haiti’s largest development financier and could bring in donor partners from around the globe.

How would a Haiti Recovery Fund be organized? It should receive emergency outlays from the United States and other donors; organize a board that includes members appointed by Haitian President René Préval, the U.N. secretary general and donors; and empower a management team to formulate and execute plans agreed to by the Haitian government. Very soon, the first phase of recovery operations in Haiti will end. Tragically, tens or hundreds of thousands will have died under the rubble, with relief and equipment arriving too late. Now the race is on to save Haiti itself. Its capital, a city without reserves of food, water, power, shelter, hospitals, medicine and other vital supplies, faces the real possibilities of hunger, epidemics and civil unrest. And the rest of the country is like a body without a head. The port is shut, the government is overwhelmed, many U.N. peacekeepers have transferred to Port-au-Prince, and the normal operations of government, skimpy as they once were, have broken down entirely.

The recovery fund would focus first on restoring basic services needed for survival. For months to come, medical supplies from abroad should be stockpiled and then distributed in the capital and beyond. Makeshift surgical units and clinical facilities will be essential. Power plants on offshore barges will be needed for electricity until new plants can be constructed. The salaries of public workers — especially teachers, police officers, nurses, reconstruction workers and engineers — must be assured, despite an utter collapse of revenues. Haiti’s currency will need to be backed by international reserves so that the demand for public spending does not create harrowing inflation. The Haiti Recovery Fund, together with a quick-disbursing grant from the International Monetary Fund, should provide the needed reserves and budget financing.

Emergency relief should quickly and seamlessly transform into reconstruction and development. Indeed, if we stop at humanitarian relief alone, Haiti will be back in crisis soon enough, after the next disaster. The first step in this transition is food security: Haiti’s farmers will need seed and fertilizer within weeks if they are to grow food for a destitute country. The displaced urban population will need income support or food transfers to subsist. The World Food Program’s effective food-for-work projects can help feed workers recruited to rebuild roads and buildings.

After the extreme emergency period over the next few weeks, growing more food in Haiti will be far cheaper, more reliable and more sustainable than living on imported food aid. Supplying the farm inputs to Haiti will require more grants — as impoverished farmers have no capacity to buy seeds, fertilizer and small-scale equipment — as well as official aid to help deliver such materials to Haiti’s remote villages.

New shelters must not be makeshift units that would be destroyed by Haiti’s frequent floods, landslides and hurricanes. The country will need a revived and expanded construction industry to produce the brick, reinforced concrete and other vital materials. Private companies, domestic and international, should be contracted to set up operations. China is capable of quickly dismantling a factory, putting it in containers on ships and reconstructing it within weeks in a foreign location. Such efforts are needed immediately. (The asphalt for Liberia’s roads comes from a Chinese factory assembled this way in the capital, Monrovia.) The list of needs goes on; it was very long and urgent even before last week’s calamity.

The Haiti Recovery Fund should be constituted for five years — a suitable period to respond to such a challenge. Electoral politics in Haiti should be suspended for at least one year as well. This is no time for national elections; the people’s survival is the first purpose of politics. How much money would the Haiti Recovery Fund need? And where should it come from? Here is a rough estimate: Before the earthquake but after the hurricanes, I had calculated an urgent (and unmet) development financing need of $1.4 billion per year for Haiti, up from about $300 million currently. Basic urgent reconstruction costs will add perhaps another $5 billion to $10 billion over the next few years. One can imagine annual disbursements of $2 billion to $3 billion annually over the next five years.

Obama should seek an immediate appropriation of at least $1 billion this year and next for a Haiti Recovery Fund, and ask other countries and international agencies to fill in the rest, not with promises but with cash. The obvious way for Washington to cover this new funding is by introducing special taxes on Wall Street bonuses, utterly unjustified payments that will be announced in the next days. Haiti will suffer a quick death of hunger and disease unless we act, and the United States will suffer a slow and painful moral death unless we respond to the extreme distress of our neighbors, whom we have neglected for so long and, at times, even put in harm’s way.

BY Jeremy Scahill /

“We saw this type of Iraq-style disaster profiteering in New Orleans, and you can expect to see a lot more of this in Haiti over the coming days, weeks and months. Private security companies are seeing big dollar signs in Haiti thanks in no small part to the media hype about “looters.” After Katrina, the number of private security companies registered (and unregistered) multiplied overnight. Banks, wealthy individuals, the US government all hired private security. I even encountered Israeli mercenaries operating an armed checkpoint outside of an elite gated community in New Orleans. They worked for a company called Instinctive Shooting International. (That is not a joke).

Now, it is kicking into full gear in Haiti. The Orwellian-named mercenary trade group International Peace Operations Association didn’t waste much time in offering the “services” of its member companies to swoop down on Haiti for some old-fashioned “humanitarian assistance” in the form of disaster profiteering. Within hours of the massive earthquake in Haiti, the IPOA created a special webpage for prospective clients, saying: “In the wake of the tragic events in Haiti, a number of IPOA’s member companies are available and prepared to provide a wide variety of critical relief services to the earthquake’s victims.”

While some of the companies specialize in rapid housing construction, emergency relief shelters and transportation, others are private security companies that operate in Iraq and Afghanistan, such as Triple Canopy, the company that took over Blackwater’s massive State Department contract in Iraq. For years, Blackwater played a major role in IPOA until it left the group following the 2007 Nisour Square massacre.

In 2005, while still a leading member of IPOA, Blackwater’s owner Erik Prince deployed his forces in New Orleans in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. Far from some sort of generous gift to the suffering people of the US gulf, Blackwater raked in some $70 million in Homeland Security contracts that began with a massive no-bid contract to provide protective services for FEMA. Blackwater billed US taxpayers $950 per man per day.

The current US program under which armed security companies work for the State Department in Iraq–the Worldwide Personal Protection Program–has its roots in Haiti during the Clinton administration. In 1994, private US forces, such as DynCorp, became a staple of US operations in the country following the overthrow of Jean-Bertrand Aristide by CIA-backed death squads. When President Bush invaded Iraq, his administration radically expanded that program and turned it into the privatized paramilitary force it is today. At the time of his overthrow in 2004, Aristide was being protected by a San Francisco-based private security firm, the Steele Foundation.

Beyond the establishment mercenary industry’s activities in Haiti, look for more stories like this one: On January 15, a Florida-based company called All Pro Legal Investigations registered the URL It is basically a copy of the company’s existing US website but is now targeted for business in Haiti, claiming the “purpose of this site is to assure construction and reconstruction companies considering a Haiti project that professional security is available.”

“All Protection and Security has made a commitment to the Haitian community and will provide professional security against any threat to prosperity in Haiti,” the site proclaims. “Job sites and supply convoys will be protected against looters and vandals. Workers will be protected against gang violence and intimidation. The people of Haiti will recover, with the help of the good people from the world over.”

The company boasts that it has run “Thousands of successful missions in Iraq and Afghanistan.” As for its personnel, “Each and every member of our team is a former Law Enforcement Officer or former Military service member,” the site claims. “If Operator experience, training and qualifications matter, choose All Protection and Security for your high-threat Haiti security needs.” Among the services offered are: “High Threat terminations,” dealing with “worker unrest,” armed guards and “Armed Cargo Escorts.” Oh, and apparently they are currently hiring.

What is unfolding in Haiti seems to be part of what Naomi Klein has labeled the “Shock Doctrine.” Indeed, on the Heritage Foundation blog, opportunity was being found in the crisis with a post titled: “Amidst the Suffering, Crisis in Haiti Offers Opportunities to the U.S.” “In addition to providing immediate humanitarian assistance, the U.S. response to the tragic earthquake in Haiti earthquake offers opportunities to re-shape Haiti’s long-dysfunctional government and economy as well as to improve the public image of the United States in the region,” wrote Heritage fellow Jim Roberts in a post that was subsequently altered to tone down the shock-doctrine language. The title was later changed to: “Things to Remember While Helping Haiti” and the wording changed to “In addition to providing immediate humanitarian assistance, the U.S. response to the tragic earthquake in Haiti should address long-held concerns over the fragile political environment that exists in the region.””


“IPOA is a 501(c)(6) non-profit trade association. IPOA’s mission is to: promote high operational and ethical standards of firms active in the peace and stability operations industry; to engage in a constructive dialogue and advocacy with policy-makers about the growing and positive contribution of these firms to the enhancement of international peace, development and human security; to provides unique networking and business development opportunities for its member companies; and to inform the concerned public about the activities and role of the industry. IPOA is committed to raising the standards of the peace and stability operations industry to ensure sound and ethical professionalism and transparency in the conduct of peacekeeping and post-conflict reconstruction activities. All member companies subscribe to the IPOA Code of Conduct, which represents a constructive effort towards better regulating private sector operations in conflict and post-conflict environments. It reflects our belief that high standards will both benefit the industry and serve the greater causes of peace, development, and human security.”


CRISIS as OPPORTUNITY”amidst+the+suffering+crisis+in+haiti+offers+opportunities%%2022&cd=1&;hl=en&ct=clnk&gl=us
Amidst the Suffering, Crisis in Haiti Offers Opportunities to the U.S.
BY Jim Roberts / January 13th, 2010

“In addition to providing immediate humanitarian assistance, the U.S. response to the tragic earthquake in Haiti earthquake offers opportunities to re-shape Haiti’s long-dysfunctional government and economy as well as to improve the public image of the United States in the region. The U.S. government response should be bold and decisive. It must mobilize U.S. civilian and military capabilities for short-term rescue and relief and long-term recovery and reform. President Obama should tap high-level, bipartisan leadership. Clearly former President Clinton, who was already named as the U.N. envoy on Haiti, is a logical choice. President Obama should also reach out to a senior Republican figure, perhaps former President George W. Bush, to lead the bipartisan effort for the Republicans.

While on the ground in Haiti, the U.S. military can also interrupt the nightly flights of cocaine to Haiti and the Dominican Republic from the Venezuelan coast and counter the ongoing efforts of Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez to destabilize the island of Hispaniola. This U.S. military presence, which should also include a large contingent of U.S. Coast Guard assets, can also prevent any large-scale movement by Haitians to take to the sea in rickety watercraft to try to enter the U.S. illegally.

Meanwhile, the U.S. must be prepared to insist that the Haiti government work closely with the U.S. to insure that corruption does not infect the humanitarian assistance flowing to Haiti. Long-term reforms for Haitian democracy and its economy are also badly overdue.
Congress should immediately begin work on a package of assistance, trade, and reconstruction efforts needed to put Haiti on its feet and open the way for deep and lasting democratic reforms. The U.S. should implement a strong and vigorous public diplomacy effort to counter the negative propaganda certain to emanate from the Castro-Chavez camp. Such an effort will also demonstrate that the U.S.’s involvement in the Caribbean remains a powerful force for good in the Americas and around the globe.


Today, the United States began surveying the damage inflicted by a devastating earthquake in Haiti this week. In addition to providing immediate humanitarian assistance, the U.S. response to the tragic earthquake should address long-held concerns over the fragile political environment that exists in the region.

The U.S. government response should be bold and decisive. It must mobilize U.S. civilian and military capabilities for short-term rescue and relief and long-term recovery and reform. President Obama should tap high-level, bipartisan leadership. Clearly former President Clinton, who was already named as the U.N. envoy on Haiti, is a logical choice. President Obama should also reach out to a senior Republican figure, perhaps former President George W. Bush, to lead the bipartisan effort for the Republicans.

While on the ground in Haiti, the U.S. military can also interrupt the nightly flights of cocaine to Haiti and the Dominican Republic from the Venezuelan coast and counter the ongoing efforts of Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez to destabilize the island of Hispaniola. This U.S. military presence, which should also include a large contingent of U.S. Coast Guard assets, can also prevent any large-scale movement by Haitians to take to the sea in dangerous and rickety watercraft to try to enter the U.S. illegally.

Meanwhile, the U.S. must be prepared to insist that the Haiti government work closely with the U.S. to insure that corruption does not infect the humanitarian assistance flowing to Haiti. Long-term reforms for Haitian democracy and its economy are also badly overdue. Congress should immediately begin work on a package of assistance, trade, and reconstruction efforts needed to put Haiti on its feet and open the way for deep and lasting democratic reforms.

The U.S. should implement a strong and vigorous public diplomacy effort to counter the negative propaganda certain to emanate from the Castro-Chavez camp. Such an effort will also demonstrate that the U.S.’s involvement in the Caribbean remains a powerful force for good in the Americas and around the globe.

Global Activism At Work: IMF Clarifies Loan
BY Richard Kim / January 21, 2010

“Last Friday I wrote about the IMF’s new $100 million loan to Haiti. I cited debt relief activists who told me that the new loan would be an extension of the IMF’s existing loan of $165 million. This information was confirmed by the IMF’s press release, which stated that “emergency financing would be provided as an augmentation to the existing IMF-supported arrangement with Haiti under the Extended Credit Facility [ECF].” The IMF’s announcement provided no further information about conditions that may or may not be attached to the loan and made no mention of future debt relief for Haiti.

My post was based largely on an analysis by Soren Ambrose, the development finance coordinator of ActionAid International, who concluded that augmenting the existing ECF loan to Haiti would impose the same conditions as the original loan. Those conditions include raising prices for electricity, refusing pay raises for any public sector employees except those making minimum wage and keeping inflation as low as possible. Ambrose says that he doesn’t know of any established procedure that would exempt an augmentation of an existing program from the program’s conditions. (His analysis also noted that Haiti’s existing program with the IMF was due to expire at the end of this month and that negotiations on the loan’s terms were likely underway already.)

As the IMF announced its $100 million loan under vague and presumably onerous terms, debt relief activists like the folks at Jubilee USA were already calling for a different kind of global response. They were demanding that aid to Haiti come in the form of grants, not loans. But given the magnitude of the crisis and the fact that the IMF does not issue grants, they welcomed the IMF loan in the hopes that its terms could be altered in the future and that Haiti’s entire debt could be canceled. At the same time, Naomi Klein and others warned about the possibility that the earthquake would be used as a pretext to amp up Haiti’s exposure to the shock doctrine. Activists started a Facebook group, No Shock Doctrine for Haiti, and in less than a week, it has attracted almost 18,000 members. Appeals for debt relief and for the recognition of Haiti’s economic sovereignty were written to the Obama administration, the IMF, the World Bank and anyone else who might play a role in Haiti’s reconstruction.

Today, the IMF put out an announcement clarifying the terms of its new loan to Haiti — it’s “an interest-free loan of $100 million in emergency funds.” A spokesman for the IMF emailed me to confirm that “the US $100 million loan does not carry any conditionality. It is an emergency loan aimed at getting the Haitian economy back to function again…” The IMF’s managing director Dominique Strauss-Kahn said in a statement that the IMF would immediately work to cancel the entirety of Haiti’s debt ($265 million) to the fund:

“The most important thing is that the IMF is now working with all donors to try to delete all the Haitian debt, including our new loan. If we succeed—and I’m sure we will succeed—even this loan will turn out to be finally a grant, because all the debt will have been deleted.”

In other words, as the IMF is processing a loan, it is also making a public promise to try to cancel it.

Klein says that this is “unprecedented in my experience and shows that public pressure in moments of disaster can seriously subvert shock doctrine tactics.” Neil Watkins, Executive Director of Jubilee USA, likewise hails the IMF’s response. “Since the IMF’s announcement last week of its intention to provide Haiti with a $100 million loan, Jubilee USA and our partners have been calling for grants and debt cancellation—not new loans—for Haiti. We are pleased that Managing Director Strauss-Kahn has responded to that call.”

Watkins and others will continue to follow the issue, holding the IMF to its commitment to debt relief and non-conditionality. They’re also pressing the case on Haiti’s other outstanding debt. The largest multilateral holders of Haiti’s debt are the Inter-American Development Bank ($447 million), the IMF ($165 million, plus $100 million in new lending), the World Bank’s International Development Association ($39 million) and the International Fund for Agricultural Development ($13 million). The largest bilateral loans are held by Venezuela ($295 million—hello, Chavez!?) and Taiwan ($92 million). The lesson: global activism can work, especially in a moment of such acutely visible human need. Keep up the mobilization, on Facebook and in real life.

for Responsible Lending and Expanded Debt Cancellation


IMF urges ‘Marshall Plan’ for Haiti

The head of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) has called for an ambitious international recovery plan for earthquake-ravaged Haiti, similar to the US “Marshall Plan” that rebuilt Europe after World War II. “My belief is that Haiti, which has been incredibly hit by different things – the food and fuel prices crisis, then the hurricane, then the earthquake – needs something that is big,” Dominique Strauss-Kahn told reporters on Wednesday.

What is needed, he said, is “not only a piecemeal approach, but something which is much bigger to deal with the reconstruction of the country – some kind of a Marshall Plan that we need now to implement for Haiti.” While the primary focus remains on rescue and immediate relief efforts after the massive January 12 quake, international financial institutions say urgent measures are needed to help rebuild Haiti’s shattered economy.

Officials fear as many as 200,000 people were killed in the quake that reduced most of the Haitian capital Port-au-Prince to rubble and impacted an estimated three million people, or one third of the country’s population. “The urgency, today, is to save the people. The urgency, in some weeks, will be the reconstruction,” Strauss-Kahn said. Last week, the IMF promised an interest-free loan of $100 million in initial emergency funds to the Haitian government. However, the loan has drawn criticism for adding to the country’s debt burden.

“The most important thing is that the IMF is now working with all donors to try to delete all the Haitian debt, including our new loan,” Strauss-Kahn said. The IMF and the World Bank classify Haiti among “heavily indebted poor countries” eligible for debt forgiveness. The Caribbean nation was granted $1.2bn in debt relief last June.

Economic recovery
Experts say cash flow needs to be urgently restored to begin recovery [Reuters] The IMF is also working with donors to get cash circulating again in Haiti’s devastated economy so people can buy food and civil servants can get paid, a senior IMF official said on Wednesday. According to Nicolas Eyzaguirre, director of the IMF’s western hemisphere department, banks will reopen shortly while some money transfer agencies are already functioning for remittances sent by Haitians living abroad.

Remittances for Haitian expatriates have been a major “We need to urgently help Haiti to get its economy functioning again,” he said. Eyzaguirre said the cost to the Haitian economy wrought by the quake would probably exceed the $900m – or about 15 per cent of the country’s GDP – caused by devastating hurricanes in 2008. However he said in the early days after the quake there was still a lot of uncertainty over the full impact.

Davos agenda
Disaster-hit Haiti will also be one of the top agenda items at this year’s gathering of the World Economic Forum (WEF), Klaus Schwab, the group’s chairman and founder, has said. The annual meeting, which will draw more than 2,000 government, business and religious leaders from around the world, is scheduled to begin on January 27, two weeks after the earthquake struck.

Schwab said a special panel on Haiti will be held on January 28, where a reconstruction initiative should be outlined. “We hope that we can present a major common effort to the world community showing true corporate global citizenship in Davos,” Schwab said during a news conference in Geneva on Wednesday. Former US president Bill Clinton, who acts as a special envoy for Haiti, and Helen Clark, the former New Zealand prime minister and administrator of the United Nations Development Programme, will support the WEF’s initiative.


Toussaint Louverture and the Haitian Revolution

It was the only successful slave insurrection in history. It grasped the full meaning of French revolutionary ideas — liberté, eqalité, fraternité — and used them to create the world’s first Black republic. It changed the trajectory of colonial economics…and led to America’s acquisition of the Louisiana territory from France. “It” was the Haitian Revolution, a movement that’s been called the true birth moment of universal human rights. Vaguely remembered today, the Haitian Revolution was a hurricane at the turn of the nineteenth century — traumatizing Southern planters and inspiring slaves and abolitionists, worldwide.

The man at the forefront of Haiti’s epochal uprising was Toussaint Louverture. He was world-known in his day and deserves a place among history’s most celebrated figures today. Born into slavery, Toussaint had been freed by his master before the revolt began. He owned property and was financially secure. He risked it all, however, to join then lead an army of slaves that would fight, in turn, the French, the British, and the Spanish empires for twelve years. He was often compared to George Washington. But his is military feats alarmed Thomas Jefferson… and ultimately provoked a full-scale attack from Napoleon Bonaparte. France’s final offensive would cost Toussaint his life. But France lost, nonetheless, and the richest colony in the Americas became an independent black republic.

The story of Haiti’s revolution is a story of extraordinary pathos. Half a million slaves dared hope for an unprecedented end to slavery and thousands died in the process. But the revolution’s history is also a story of forgotten people and milestones. Haitian slaves did not just fight with weapons. In 1794 a multi-racial delegation from Haiti traveled to Paris to address the national assembly. They spoke powerfully about slavery’s moral and physical violence. They argued that their struggle was part of France’s domestic revolution against despotism. And they won the day. The elocution of Haitian Blacks led to a sudden decree that not only freed the empire’s entire slave population, it made them French citizens, too.

the HAITIAN REVOLUTION of 1791-1803

The Slave Rebellion of 1791 / [data as of December 1989]

Violent conflicts between white colonists and black slaves were common in Saint-Domingue. Bands of runaway slaves, known as maroons (marrons), entrenched themselves in bastions in the colony’s mountains and forests, from which they harried white-owned plantations both to secure provisions and weaponry and to avenge themselves against the inhabitants. As their numbers grew, these bands, sometimes consisting of thousands of people, began to carry out hit-and-run attacks throughout the colony. This guerrilla warfare, however, lacked centralized organization and leadership. The most famous maroon leader was François Macandal, whose six-year rebellion (1751-57) left an estimated 6,000 dead. Reportedly a boko, or voodoo sorcerer, Macandal drew from African traditions and religions to motivate his followers. The French burned him at the stake in Cap Français in 1758. Popular accounts of his execution that say the stake snapped during his execution have enhanced his legendary stature.

Many Haitians point to the maroons’ attacks as the first manifestation of a revolt against French rule and the slaveholding system. The attacks certainly presaged the 1791 slave rebellion, which evolved into the Haitian Revolution. They also marked the beginning of a martial tradition for blacks, just as service in the colonial militia had done for the gens de couleur. The maroons, however, seemed incapable of staging a broad-based insurrection on their own. Although challenged and vexed by the maroons’ actions, colonial authorities effectively repelled the attacks, especially with help from the gens de couleur, who were probably forced into cooperating.

The arrangement that enabled the whites and the landed gens de couleur to preserve the stability of the slaveholding system was unstable. In an economic sense, the system worked for both groups. The gens de couleur, however, had aspirations beyond the accumulation of goods. They desired equality with white colonists, and many of them desired power. The events set in motion in 1789 by the French Revolution shook up, and eventually shattered, the arrangement.

The National Assembly in Paris required the white Colonial Assembly to grant suffrage to the landed and tax-paying gens de couleur. (The white colonists had had a history of ignoring French efforts to improve the lot of the black and the mulatto populations.) The Assembly refused, leading to the first mulatto rebellion in Saint-Domingue. The rebellion, led by Vincent Ogé in 1790, failed when the white militia reinforced itself with a corps of black volunteers. (The white elite was constantly prepared to use racial tension between blacks and mulattoes to advantage.) Ogé’s rebellion was a sign of broader unrest in Saint-Domingue.

A slave rebellion of 1791 finally toppled the colony. Launched in August of that year, the revolt represented the culmination of a protracted conspiracy among black leaders. According to accounts of the rebellion that have been told through the years, François-Dominique Toussaint Louverture helped plot the uprising, although this claim has never been substantiated. Among the rebellion’s leaders were Boukman, a maroon and voodoo houngan (priest); Georges Biassou, who later made Toussaint his aide; Jean-François, who subsequently commanded forces, along with Biassou and Toussaint, under the Spanish flag; and Jeannot, the bloodthirstiest of them all. These leaders sealed their compact with a voodoo ceremony conducted by Boukman in the Bois Cayman (Alligator Woods) in early August 1791. On August 22, a little more than a week after the ceremony, the uprising of their black followers began.

The carnage that the slaves wreaked in northern settlements, such as Acul, Limbé, Flaville, and Le Normand, revealed the simmering fury of an oppressed people. The bands of slaves slaughtered every white person they encountered. As their standard, they carried a pike with the carcass of an impaled white baby. Accounts of the rebellion describe widespread torching of property, fields, factories, and anything else that belonged to, or served, slaveholders. The inferno is said to have burned almost continuously for months.

News of the slaves’ uprising quickly reached Cap Français. Reprisals against nonwhites were swift and every bit as brutal as the atrocities committed by the slaves. Although outnumbered, the inhabitants of Le Cap (the local diminutive for Cap Français) were well-armed and prepared to defend themselves against the tens of thousands of blacks who descended upon the port city. Despite their voodoo-inspired heroism, the ex-slaves fell in large numbers to the colonists’ firepower and were forced to withdraw. The rebellion left an estimated 10,000 blacks and 2,000 whites dead and more than 1,000 plantations sacked and razed.

Even though it failed, the slave rebellion at Cap Français set in motion events that culminated in the Haitian Revolution. Mulatto forces under the capable leadership of André Rigaud, Alexandre Pétion, and others clashed with white militiamen in the west and the south (where, once again, whites recruited black slaves to their cause). Sympathy with the Republican cause in France inspired the mulattoes. Sentiment in the National Assembly vacillated, but it finally favored the enfranchisement of gens de couleur and the enforcement of equal rights. Whites, who had had little respect for royal governance in the past, now rallied behind the Bourbons and rejected the radical egalitarian notions of the French revolutionaries. Commissioners from the French Republic, dispatched in 1792 to Saint-Domingue, pledged their limited support to the gens de couleur in the midst of an increasingly anarchic situation. In various regions of the colony, black slaves rebelled against white colonists, mulattoes battled white levies, and black royalists opposed both whites and mulattoes. Foreign interventionists found these unstable conditions irresistible; Spanish and British involvement in the unrest in Saint-Domingue opened yet another chapter in the revolution.

Federal Research Division Library of Congress
Edited by Richard A. Haggerty / Research Completed December 1989

Although Hispaniola never realized its economic potential under Spanish rule, it remained strategically important as the gateway to the Caribbean. The Caribbean region provided the opportunity for seafarers from Britain, France, and the Netherlands to impede Spanish shipping, to waylay galleons crammed with gold, and to establish a foothold in a hemisphere parceled by papal decree between the Roman Catholic kingdoms of Spain and Portugal. This competition was carried on throughout the Caribbean, but nowhere as intensely as on Hispaniola. Sir Francis Drake of England led one of the most famous forays against the port of Santo Domingo in 1586, just two years before he played a key role in the English navy’s defeat of the Spanish Armada. Drake failed to secure the island, but his raid, along with the arrival of corsairs and freebooters in scattered settlements, was part of a pattern of encroachment that gradually diluted Spanish dominance.

French Settlement and Sovereignty
Reportedly expelled by the Spanish from Saint Christopher (Saint Kitts), the original French residents of Tortuga Island (Ile de la Tortue), off the northwest coast of Hispaniola, sustained themselves mostly through two means: curing the meat and tanning the hides of wild game, and pirating Spanish ships. The former activity lent these hardy souls the colorful designation of buccaneers, derived from the Arawak word for the smoking of meat. It took decades for the buccaneers and the more staid settlers that followed them to establish themselves on Tortuga. Skirmishes with Spanish and English forces were common. As the maintenance of the empire tried the wit, and drained the energies, of a declining Spain, however, foreign intervention became more forceful.

The freewheeling society of Tortuga that was often described in romantic literature had faded into legend by the end of the seventeenth century. The first permanent settlement on Tortuga was established in 1659 under the commission of King Louis XIV. French Huguenots had already begun to settle the north coast of Hispaniola by that time. The establishment in 1664 of the French West India Company for the purpose of directing the expected commerce between the colony and France underscored the seriousness of the enterprise. Settlers steadily encroached upon the northwest shoulder of the island, and they took advantage of the area’s relative remoteness from the Spanish capital city of Santo Domingo. In 1670 they established their first major community, Cap François (later Cap Français, now Cap-Haïtien). During this period, the western part of the island was commonly referred to as Saint-Domingue, the name it bore officially after Spain relinquished sovereignty over the area to France in the Treaty of Ryswick in 1697.

Colonial Society: The Conflicts of Color and Class
By the mid-eighteenth century, a territory largely neglected under Spanish rule had become the richest and most coveted colony in the Western Hemisphere. By the eve of the French Revolution, Saint-Domingue produced about 60 percent of the world’s coffee and about 40 percent of the sugar imported by France and Britain. Saint-Domingue played a pivotal role in the French economy, accounting for almost two-thirds of French commercial interests abroad and about 40 percent of foreign trade. The system that provided such largess to the mother country, such luxury to planters, and so many jobs in France had a fatal flaw, however. That flaw was slavery.

The origins of modern Haitian society lie within the slaveholding system. The mixture of races that eventually divided Haiti into a small, mainly mulatto elite and an impoverished black majority began with the slavemasters’ concubinage of African women. Today Haiti’s culture and its predominant religion (voodoo) stem from the fact that the majority of slaves in SaintDomingue were brought from Africa. (The slave population totalled at least 500,000, and perhaps as many as 700,000, by 1791.) Only a few of the slaves had been born and raised on the island. The slaveholding system in Saint-Domingue was particularly cruel and abusive, and few slaves (especially males) lived long enough to reproduce. The racially tinged conflicts that have marked Haitian history can be traced similarly to slavery.

While the masses of black slaves formed the foundation of colonial society, the upper strata evolved along lines of color and class. Most commentators have classified the population of the time into three groups: white colonists, or blancs; free blacks (usually mulattoes, or gens de couleur–people of color), or affranchis; and the slaves.

Conflict and resentment permeated the society of SaintDomingue . Beginning in 1758, the white landowners, or grands blancs, discriminated against the affranchis through legislation. Statutes forbade gens de couleur from taking up certain professions, marrying whites, wearing European clothing, carrying swords or firearms in public, or attending social functions where whites were present. The restrictions eventually became so detailed that they essentially defined a caste system. However, regulations did not restrict the affranchis’ purchase of land, and some eventually accumulated substantial holdings. Others accumulated wealth through another activity permitted to affranchis by the grands blancs–in the words of historian C.L.R. James, “The privilege of lending money to white men.” The mounting debt of the white planters to the gens de couleur provided further motivation for racial discrimination.

Eduardo Munoz/Reuters


On January 1, 1804, Haiti proclaimed its independence. Through this action, it became the second independent state in the Western Hemisphere and the first free black republic in the world. Haiti’s uniqueness attracted much attention and symbolized the aspirations of enslaved and exploited peoples around the globe. Nonetheless, Haitians made no overt effort to inspire, to support, or to aid slave rebellions similar to their own because they feared that the great powers would take renewed action against them. For the sake of national survival, nonintervention became a Haitian credo.

Dessalines, who had commanded the black and the mulatto forces during the final phase of the revolution, became the new country’s leader; he ruled under the dictatorial 1801 constitution. The land he governed had been devastated by years of warfare. The agricultural base was all but destroyed, and the population was uneducated and largely unskilled. Commerce was virtually nonexistent. Contemplating this bleak situation, Dessalines determined, as Toussaint had done, that a firm hand was needed.

White residents felt the sting most sharply. While Toussaint, a former privileged slave of a tolerant white master, had felt a certain magnanimity toward whites, Dessalines, a former field slave, despised them with a maniacal intensity. He reportedly agreed wholeheartedly with his aide, Boisrond-Tonnerre, who stated, “For our declaration of independence, we should have the skin of a white man for parchment, his skull for an inkwell, his blood for ink, and a bayonet for a pen!” Accordingly, whites were slaughtered wholesale under the rule of Dessalines.

Although blacks were not massacred under Dessalines, they witnessed little improvement in the quality of their lives. To restore some measure of agricultural productivity, Dessalines reestablished the plantation system. Harsh measures bound laborers to their assigned work places, and penalties were imposed on runaways and on those who harbored them. Because Dessalines drew his only organizational experience from war, it was natural for him to use the military as a tool for governing the new nation. The rule of Dessalines set a pattern for direct involvement of the army in politics that continued unchallenged for more than 150 years.

In 1805 Dessalines crowned himself Emperor of Haiti. By this point, his autocratic rule had disenchanted important sectors of Haitian society, particularly mulattoes such as Pétion. The mulattoes resented Dessalines mostly for racial reasons, but the more educated and cultured gens de couleur also derided the emperor (and most of his aides and officers) for his ignorance and illiteracy. Efforts by Dessalines to bring mulatto families into the ruling group through marriage met with resistance. Pétion himself declined the offer of the hand of the emperor’s daughter. Many mulattoes were appalled by the rampant corruption and licentiousness of the emperor’s court. Dessalines’s absorption of a considerable amount of land into the hands of the state through the exploitation of irregularities in titling procedures also aroused the ire of landowners.

The disaffection that sealed the emperor’s fate arose within the ranks of the army, where Dessalines had lost support at all levels. The voracious appetites of his ruling clique apparently left little or nothing in the treasury for military salaries and provisions. Although reportedly aware of discontent among the ranks, Dessalines made no effort to redress these shortcomings. Instead, he relied on the same iron-fisted control with which he kept rural laborers in line. That his judgement in this matter had been in error became apparent on the road to Port-au-Prince as he rode with a column of troops on its way to crush a mulattoled rebellion. A group of people, probably hired by Pétion or Etienne-Elie Gérin (another mulatto officer), shot the emperor and hacked his body to pieces.

Under Dessalines the Haitian economy had made little progress despite the restoration of forced labor. Conflict between blacks and mulattoes ended the cooperation that the revolution had produced, and the brutality toward whites shocked foreign governments and isolated Haiti internationally. A lasting enmity against Haiti arose among Dominicans as a result of the emperor’s unsuccessful invasion of Santo Domingo in 1805. Dessalines’s failure to consolidate Haiti and to unite Haitians had ramifications in the years that followed, as the nation split into two rival enclaves.



These men were known for the meat that they barbecued (French for smoked meat is viande boucanee), and so eventually were named… Buccaneers. When these hunters learned that piracy was more profitable than selling meat, they were soon making regular raids on the Spanish ships sailing the local trade routes. An early French governor named Jean le Vasseur used his training as an engineer to build a 24-gun fort by the harbor which helped to repel Spanish attacks. French governors preferred to use the buccaneers for local defense, as the British governors were later to do at Port Royal, and Tortuga Island became well-known for those men calling themselves the Brethren of the Coast. The most notorious among the pirates of Tortuga was Francois L’Ollonais, a psychopath whose method of choice was often horrible tortures and murder. Sir Henry Morgan started his career of piracy from this very island.


Tortuga was initially founded by the French in 1625, who realized Hispaniola was awfully thick with Spaniards and so turned their attentions to the large island just northward. There the French and some English with them began setting up plantations and making themselves at home. However, the Spaniards and their new neighbors took periodic swats at each other and control of the island switched back and forth a few times. Most of the English on Tortuga decided to move elsewhere, but a few remained to form their own small colony. For a time the French and English on Tortuga both had their own colonies and governors, and managed an uneasy co-existance.

It was the French who first encouraged privateers to use Tortuga as their base, in large part as a deterent to Spanish incursions. By 1633 Tortuga is a haven for the wolves of the sea. Tortuga comes under attack by the Spanish several times over the years, the struggle for control bloody and fierce. By 1641 the English colonists on Tortuga were expelled by the French – but this did not curtail English pirates or privateers, who continued to ply their trade with their French and Dutch brethren, and Tortuga’s uproarious career likewise continued. In 1653 the French governor was assassinated, whereupon the Spanish instantly pounced on his predecessor, and when the smoke cleared the English returned to hold the island from 1655-59. But once again the balance of power changed to French hands.

About 1665 the governor of Tortuga wished to somewhat civilize his piratical folk, and did his best to encourage proper colonization and trade of their hard-won goods. He met with dubious success, but the island continued to be the playground of the Brotherhood of the Coast. By 1670 a great many privateers sailed under commisions granted by the governor of Tortuga, not the least being the infamous Henry Morgan, who led his fleet to attack Santa Marta, Rio de la Hacha, Puerto Bello and Panama.

The death of the privateers came in the 1680’s, when English laws made it a felony to sail under a foreign flag. Thereafter if any Englishman was found privateering under any flag other than his own – and after the 1684 Treaty of Ratisbone England no longer issued letters of marque – he would be hanged. In 1688 Henry Morgan died in Jamaica, and the glory days of the privateers was over.

Freeport Tortuga + Don Pierson

In 1967, during the time that Don Pierson was attempting to lease the ship which had been the former homes of [pirate stations] Swinging Radio England and Britain Radio, he received a response from the Ambassador for Haiti in Washington, DC. Don Pierson’s original plan was to lease or sell the ship to the government of Haiti for it to establish two powerful 50 kW commercial radio stations aimed at American tourists visiting the old buccaneer stronghold of Tortuga island, which is located some 10 miles off the north coast of the main Haitian island of Hispaniola which is also shared by the Dominican Republic.

This offer became a plan to develop the island itself as a freeport and he was asked to assist the government of Haiti to encourage business investment in that poverty-stricken land. After years of research and negotiation, Don Pierson’s idea of a privately financed, privately managed free enterprise zone became a reality in 1971 when Haitian dictator François Duvalier (known as “Papa Doc”) and the Haitian government entered into a 99-year contract with Don Pierson’s company called Dupont Caribbean Inc. This contract provided for the establishment of Freeport Tortuga.

Within 18 months Don Pierson succeeded in building the island’s first airport, a loading dock for seagoing vessels, a rudimentary water and sewer system, an electricity generating facility, and six miles of paved road. Of equal importance. the project created jobs for some 400 previously unemployed Haitians and resulted in the establishment of a small school to teach various job skills. During this period he also became Honorary Consul of the Republic of Haiti to Texas from 1969 through 1974. Tragically, the free port project came to abrupt end in 1974 when, after it was announced that Gulf Oil Corporation was contemplating investing more than $300 million to build a resort on the island, the government of Jean-Claude Duvalier (known as “Baby Doc”), summarily expropriated the project, resulting in its collapse. A similar venture on the island of Dominica which was attempted in the wake of the failed project in Haiti, also met with disaster following governmental turmoil in Dominica.



Haiti: the land where children eat mud
What is the West doing to rescue the ‘nightmare republic’?
BY Alex von Tunzelmann / May 17, 2009

If you ever hear of Haiti, it is usually because of something frightening. It is famous for hurricanes, deforestation, poverty, drug smuggling, violence, dictatorships, voodoo and slavery. Half a century ago, when it was under the tyranny of François “Papa Doc” Duvalier and his “zombie” militia, Graham Greene called Haiti the “nightmare republic”. Though Papa Doc has long gone, the nightmares have never ended in this Caribbean dystopia. Haiti is the poorest country and only Third World nation in the western hemisphere, and it’s getting worse.

Two centuries ago, the political economist Robert Malthus postulated that a society in which the population grew too fast could reach a point where people simply could not be fed, leading to a total collapse. Over the past five years, Haiti has not only met but exceeded the conditions for a Malthusian catastrophe. The only things keeping the country from absolute disaster are imported food and charity. With a global economic crisis afoot, the question is how long that can be sustained. I had plenty of reservations about going to Haiti. It is a place born out of the darkest days of slavery: a country where white people have always been regarded, with some reason, as the enemy, and where, in some areas, half of all women and girls have been the victims of rape.

I am a historian, not a foreign correspondent or aid worker, but I wanted to see for myself what life was like in this haunted nation. Notables including Ban Ki-moon, Bill Clinton and Hillary Clinton have visited Haiti in the past couple of months, highlighting the fact that the country is poised on the brink of what could be a humanitarian crisis of terrifying proportions.

In the 1960s, Papa Doc decorated the “Welcome to Haiti” sign at Port-au-Prince’s airport with the dismembered corpses of his enemies. At least they’ve taken those down. Instead there’s a calypso band playing for tips, and a swarm of hustling taxi drivers. Immediately I hear the epithet by which I will be known for the next week: la blanche, the white woman.

At the hotel in the relatively affluent suburb of Pétionville, there is a long list of rules. Don’t go out alone. Don’t walk more than two kilometres in any direction. Don’t go out after dark at all. If you hear gunshots, stay inside. Smile at the man toting an assault rifle who stands at the hotel entrance. He’s here for your protection.

Just why is Haiti in such a dire situation, so much worse than any other country in the Americas, and as bad as anywhere on Earth? Some blame the United Nations. Some blame the Americans. Some have theories about the collision of global warming with global capitalism. All are careful to point out that the Haitian elite deserves its reputation for being greedy, negligent and kleptocratic. “I think the Haitian people have been made to suffer by God,” Wilbert, a teacher, tells me, “but the time will come soon when we will be rewarded with Heaven.”

History tells a different story. The appalling state of the country is a direct result of having offended a quite different celestial authority — the French. France gained the western third of the island of Hispaniola — the territory that is now Haiti — in 1697. It planted sugar and coffee, supported by an unprecedented increase in the importation of African slaves. Economically, the result was a success, but life as a slave was intolerable. Living conditions were squalid, disease was rife, and beatings and abuses were universal. The slaves’ life expectancy was 21 years. After a dramatic slave uprising that shook the western world, and 12 years of war, Haiti finally defeated Napoleon’s forces in 1804 and declared independence. But France demanded reparations: 150m francs, in gold.

For Haiti, this debt did not signify the beginning of freedom, but the end of hope. Even after it was reduced to 60m francs in the 1830s, it was still far more than the war-ravaged country could afford. Haiti was the only country in which the ex-slaves themselves were expected to pay a foreign government for their liberty. By 1900, it was spending 80% of its national budget on repayments. In order to manage the original reparations, further loans were taken out — mostly from the United States, Germany and France. Instead of developing its potential, this deformed state produced a parade of nefarious leaders, most of whom gave up the insurmountable task of trying to fix the country and looted it instead. In 1947, Haiti finally paid off the original reparations, plus interest. Doing so left it destitute, corrupt, disastrously lacking in investment and politically volatile. Haiti was trapped in a downward spiral, from which it is still impossible to escape. It remains hopelessly in debt to this day.

Like all cities, Port-au-Prince has better and worse neighbourhoods. Unlike all cities, several of its worst neighbourhoods are declared conflict zones. Some slums are so dangerous that even the United Nations peacekeeping troops, who carry machineguns, do not venture in. The UN is not popular here. Peacekeepers are rumoured to have massacred unarmed slum-dwellers on several occasions. “A lot of people say the UN soldiers trade guns and drugs,” a Haitian student tells me while we walk around Champs de Mars, the park by the National Palace, a line of soldiers just in front of us. Many Haitians palpably mistrust foreigners. Pedestrians and peanut-sellers keep their eyes on me but stay back, as if I were a predator.

Just 10 minutes’ drive from the National Palace, past a cemetery filled with elaborate pastel-coloured tombs, is Carrefour Feuilles. A perilous stack of breeze blocks, filth and human misery teetering on the hills overlooking the bay, it is considered to be among the most dangerous and deprived of the city’s slums. The streets are too narrow and rutted to drive. I walk up steep paths in between shacks of mud and rusting corrugated iron. At every turn, the route is obstructed by heaps of discarded packaging, decomposing rubbish and human waste, over which goats and children crawl, foraging for food. In the blazing midday sun, the stench is hard to endure.

This is a place where you come face to face with Haiti’s industrial collapse. Unemployment, which hovers around 75% nationally, is higher here. Most people are illiterate, unskilled and unhealthy. The only vaguely legal option open to the majority of residents is to buy a few items of cheap produce, and sell them at a tiny profit in the markets. Unfortunately, the city’s recent effort to clean up the streets in the centre has meant that many of these traders have been kicked out. The remaining jobs open to them make an unappealing list: selling drugs, selling weapons, robbery, blackmail, prostitution and kidnapping. It is the kidnappings that make headlines.

For the gangs, in a country that produces virtually nothing, terror is one of the few reliable sources of income. Gang members ambush an ordinary person, usually someone unlikely to resist, such as a woman or a child. They saw off one of the victim’s fingers or an ear, and take it to the family, along with a demand for money. Even if the ransom is paid, the victim often ends up dead. At one point, kidnappings were reported five times a day. There was another peak in the first few months of 2008, but some arrests of gang leaders were made over the summer, and now the official statistics have stabilised at something closer to one incident every couple of days.

Foreigners have been targeted, which is why nobody will let me walk around on my own, but the greatest danger is to ordinary Haitians. Even slum-dwellers are often abducted and tortured by the gangs, sometimes for a ransom as little as the price of a cocktail in London.

“Parents in Carrefour Feuilles are happy when their son joins a gang,” one Haitian woman, who runs an anti-violence project, tells me. “They are also happy when their daughters become child prostitutes. It means the family can afford to eat.” Posters advocating sexual abstinence can be seen on every street. So far, they do not appear to be having much impact: population growth is rising. Haiti was considered unsustainably overcrowded in the 1950s, when the population was 3m. Now it is 9m. Survival is a daily effort, and these starving slum-dwellers will seize on any opportunity to earn money, however unpleasant.

The new idea from the UN and the US is Hope II, a programme that would give Haitian companies duty-free access to the American market for nine years. The focus is on agriculture and garment factories. A similar scheme has been running since 2006, and the results look good on paper: 3,000 jobs are said to have been created. On the street, though, the word is not good. Pay is subsistence level at best, and does not keep pace with food prices. Conditions are dangerous and unsanitary. Workers are charged for going to the toilet. Abuse is widespread.

There are people who argue that rich countries, too, once went through a stage of sweatshop labour, and that this is some sort of necessary purgatory on the road to improvement. It is an easy argument to make from a comfortable armchair in the home counties, but it is ahistorical. Haiti’s path of development has been completely different from those of the rich countries. The reason it has not become sustainable is that, for two centuries, rich countries and their banks have menaced almost all of its wealth out of it. For how much longer should the Haitians do penance?

The country’s problems were only exacerbated when, in 1957, François Duvalier became president. Exploiting Haitian beliefs in the traditions of voodoo (most Haitians still practise it today), he established a personal militia, the Tonton Macoutes, rumoured to be zombies he had raised from the dead, who soon gained a chilling reputation for rape and torture.

Papa Doc himself affected the style of Baron Samedi, the spirit of the dead, appearing in a black top hat and pinstriped suit. Reports from Haiti brought forth disgust from the developed world, but the protests did not turn into action. Instead of moving to condemn and remove these dictators, the world’s richest countries opened their chequebooks. In 1967, American-owned plantations in the Dominican Republic paid Papa Doc directly for rounding up 20,000 Haitians to work on their lands. In 1972, his son and heir, Baby Doc’s minister of the interior, was exposed for literally selling Haitian blood to private American hospitals: $3 a litre, no questions asked. During the Duvaliers’ combined 28 years in power, up to 60,000 Haitians were “disappeared” by the regime. The Duvaliers swindled international creditors and aid agencies for enormous sums. The American government, via various agencies and banks, lent millions to both dictators.

Though there was anger in Washington about the Duvaliers and their 80% rate of aid embezzlement, no action was taken to remove them until 1986. The Duvaliers were always happy to sign up to new loans, and to give lucrative contracts to American corporations. Most of the projects went nowhere. Haiti is littered with half-built and abandoned schools, hospitals, bridges and roads.

Most of the money lent to the Duvaliers found its way into private bank accounts. When Baby Doc fled, he took millions with him: estimates go as high as $900m. The debts incurred by the Duvaliers make up 45% of Haiti’s total current debt. None of the creditors finds the fact of their complicity a compelling argument for cancellation. Those creditors include the Inter-American Development Bank, the World Bank, the IMF and the governments of the US and France.

Debt relief is at the discretion of the Heavily Indebted Poor Countries Initiative, run by the World Bank and the IMF. Haiti must meet certain conditions, including poverty reduction and inflation controls, before any debt can be written off. By international standards, the sums are small, but for Haiti they are enormous. The World Bank alone demands an estimated $1.6m a month.

On April 14, in a speech at a conference on Haiti’s social and economic development, Robert B Zoellick, president of the World Bank Group, announced: “We are working closely with the authorities and the IMF to help expedite debt cancellation while ensuring that monies released go directly to support poverty reduction.” At the spring meeting of the World Bank and the IMF less than two weeks later, Haiti was judged again as having failed to show sufficient progress towards macroeconomic stability to qualify for debt cancellation. In a surprise move, however, the US government stepped in to cover Haiti’s debt service payments for the rest of this year.

Undoubtedly, the American gift is a boon, and Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton do seem to be making a genuine effort to help. Obama’s tax return for this year revealed a personal donation of $2,000 to a Christian organisation working in Haiti. Clinton has also announced that she will re-examine US policy on Haitian migrants. At the moment, unlike the Cuban refugees who are given asylum, Haitians are considered economic migrants, and are imprisoned and deported.

Haiti’s record on political freedom is far from spotless, though it is in theory now a democracy. The most popular party among the impoverished majority, Fanmi Lavalas, was banned from contesting elections this month on the grounds that its leader, Jean-Bertrand Aristide, did not meet a very short deadline unexpectedly imposed for signing the hard copy of his party’s lists. He could not have done so: he is in exile in South Africa, having been ousted in a highly controversial UN intervention in 2004. There is some hope Clinton will award temporary work permits to Haitian illegals in the US. “But, at the same time,” she added in her announcement, “we don’t want to encourage other Haitians to make the dangerous journey across the water.” Both George W Bush in 2004 and Bill Clinton in 1994 justified military intervention in Haiti, partially on the basis that unmanageable numbers of “boat people” were turning up on their shores. “There is only one solution to Haiti’s problems, and that’s mass emigration,” one senior American foreign-policy expert told me. “But nobody wants to talk about it.” So Haiti remains in debt, relieved for now, but not for ever. And the question of France repaying some or all of the compensation it extracted for Haitian independence is not even on the agenda.

The Artibonite valley is the rural heart of Haiti. The potholed road out of the capital runs north through miles of bleak marshland. We drive past Titayen, a dumping-ground for the bodies of people murdered by political groups or criminal gangs. The hot air is oppressive with the weight of storm clouds. Near the town of Cabaret is a tent-city full of refugees. On both sides of the road, houses are stoved in, with walls and roofs ripped off, and whole floors of concrete folded in on themselves like origami. This is the parting gift left by Fay, Gustav, Hanna and Ike, four storms that devastated Haiti in three weeks last summer. All around the valley rise high mountains. Fifty years ago, these were covered in dense tropical jungle. Now, there is nothing but brownish scrub. Eighty per cent of Haitians live below the poverty line, and cook on charcoal from scavenged wood. As the population has shot up, the forests have been cut down. Haiti is now 98% deforested. The roots of those trees held the land together. Now, every time a hurricane hits Haiti, the rains and floods sweep topsoil and soft clay from these hills down to the valleys and the coast. Arable land is stripped back to barren rubble, while whole towns such as Gonaives — until last August a city of 250,000 people — are buried under sludge.

At a nearby village, Robuste, dozens of excited children ambush me. Not many strangers come here, and they are intrigued. Even in the middle of horrific poverty, the people have not lost their sense of humour. I raise my camera to take a picture, and an old woman immediately begins weeping and howling. Shocked, I lower the camera, and she points at me and roars with laughter. It was a joke, and a clever one: she was satirising the usual news-agency photos. But most of the devastation here is all too real. In the hurricanes, half the houses in Robuste were washed away.

The village pastor takes me into his church, a comfortless hall in which over 200 refugees have been sleeping rough. One woman lies here, suffering from unidentified sickness in the aftermath of the floods. There is no doctor. Her year-old baby is left unattended on the concrete floor. He crawls up to me, wide-eyed. Slavery did not end with the revolution. A grim fate awaits many of the children in Robuste. When destitute Haitian families cannot feed their children, they send them to the towns. There are 300,000 such children in Haiti, around 10% of the entire child population. They are known as restaveks — a Creole word from the French rester avec, to stay with. Host families provide restaveks with food, clothing, shelter and in some cases education, in return for having the child work as a servant. Often these children are beaten, sexually abused, starved, denied medical treatment. In a couple of years the baby in front of me could be given up to this modern form of slavery. Restaveks as young as three have been found in Port-au-Prince. His mother rolls over in her sleep. She looks desperately ill. Soon, nobody in this village will have enough to eat. At that point the sending away of their children will begin.

Even before the hurricanes hit, Haiti was in the grip of a food crisis. A year ago, when the price of rice soared across the world, Haitians began to starve. There were confirmed reports of people being reduced to eating dirt. Cookies made of mud mixed with vegetable oil were all they could scrape together. In the slums of Port-au-Prince, Oxfam is funding community restaurants in an attempt to provide something more nutritious. People bring tin pots and pay 10 gourdes (16p) to have them filled with rice, beans and vegetables. It is thought that charging a small sum preserves people’s dignity, and avoids giving them the impression that they can rely on hand-outs. The restaurant is at a busy intersection, surrounded by a huge mass of people, mostly young men, shouting, banging their tin pots and jostling to get to the front. Food riots are common.

A little boy of about eight wanders up to us. He looks even thinner and more nervous than the other children, and is barefoot, dressed in a worn-out black string vest and threadbare shorts. Ian, Oxfam’s British press officer, is good with children. He leans down, smiles and shakes the boy’s hand. The boy wanders back to join the people waiting for food. He goes to a woman in her late thirties. “Get away from me!” she screams at him, smacking him across the face. “You shook hands with the blanc! Koko rat!” The crowd gasps. The name she has called him is one of the strongest insults in Creole, literally a crude expression for the genitals of a female rat, but the implication is worse. The woman means that the little boy is a traitor. Ian is aghast, but of course it’s not his fault. The little boy runs off. Moments later, he appears beside me again. He looks lost, and wears an expression of unbearable sadness. He had a tin bowl before, but it has gone. “Where’s his bowl?” I ask my Creole translator. She asks him. “Someone took it from him.” “We’ve got to find him another one,” I say. “He hasn’t had any food yet.” “There aren’t any around,” she replies.

It’s true. Nobody has a spare, and everyone here needs to eat. Just down the street, market stalls display mouldy vegetables and half-rotten meat crawling with flies. Even rotting food is too expensive for most slum-dwellers. By now the crowd is getting seriously aggressive. Men are shoving each other, and punches are thrown. The organiser hurries back to us. “We have to leave. Now.” At another roadside stall I see a painting of a pregnant Haitian woman crying tears of blood, while demonic white babies with sharpened teeth scramble to suckle from her breasts.

Graham Greene’s “nightmare republic” has become a literal fact. The next morning I board a bus to make the long journey through the mountains to Santo Domingo, the capital of the neighbouring Dominican Republic. Driving through Haiti, there are almost no trees to be seen. The roads are lined with scrub, thorns and piles of refuse. At the exact point of the border line, the world surges back into life. Suddenly the road is thick with towering mature trees, their branches heavy with lush green leaves, fat blossoms, singing birds. It is beautiful but heartbreaking, a reminder, if any were necessary, that things need not be as they are.

The facts
– last year’s hurricanes devastated more than 70% of Haiti’s agricultural land
– more than 80% of the population lives on less than £2 a day
– some 3.8% of the population is HIV-positive, according to Save the Children; among them 17,000 minors. Medical provisions are scarce. There is one doctor for every 3,000 patients.
– life expectancy at birth is 61 years. The survival rate of newborns is the lowest in the western hemisphere. One-third are born underweight.
– there are 80 deaths per 1,000 live births. The mortality rate for children under five is 120 in 1,000

Benin voodoo to calm evil spirits in Haiti
BY Razzack Saïzonou / 15 January 2010

“We are deeply affected and feel solidarity with our Haitian brothers,” said an emotional Queen Djehami following Tuesday’s earthquake in Haiti. Djehami is the wife of Kpodégbé Toyi Djigla, King of Allada, a town in central Benin and one of the largest kingdoms of the country. “We are deeply affected, primarily because I am African, but mainly because I am from Allada. There is a sense of desolation at the palace.”

During the 16th and 17th centuries, Benin played a key role in the slave trade. Thousands of men and women were uprooted and sold as slaves to work in plantations in Europe, the Caribbean and America. Many of them came from Allada, as did the family of Toussaint L’ouverture, who later founded the Republic of Haiti.

Toussaint L’ouverture (1743-1803), nicknamed the Black Napoleon, was born on a plantation in the French colony of Saint Domingue. He was named Breda after the plantation as was the custom for slaves. His master, the relatively humane Mr Baillon de Libertat, encouraged Toussaint to learn to read and write, and appointed him as his coachman and then as his foreman. Later Toussaint led a revolution against slavery and Haiti became the first republic to be ruled by leaders with African ancestry.

Apart from the historical ties between Haiti and Benin, the two countries share the religion of their ancestors: voodoo. This religion is central to the worship and traditions of thousands of Haitians and Beninese. Queen Djehami believes that this week’s earthquake has happened because Haiti’s ancestors failed to carry out sacrifices. She explains that during his trip to Haiti six years ago, King Kpodégbé had warned the then President of Haiti of the need to organise sacrifices to appease angry spirits and ward off evil ones. His trip was part of bicentenary celebrations marking the death of Toussaint L’ouverture.

Although the Haitian authorities probably didn’t ignore the king’s warning, they did put off organising the rituals. “Haiti is profoundly African and these things should not be underestimated,” exclaims Queen Djehami. “His Majesty the King asked for a number of things to be done when we were there, but his wishes were not met. Was it negligence, was it that nobody believed in it?”

In an outburst of solidarity with the victims of the earthquake, the people of Benin and particularly those of Allada have organised traditional ceremonies to appease the spirits and seek the blessing of their ancestors for the Haitians.” A purification ceremony is planned for Haiti and a trip to the devastated island is even possible. We will continue to pray that it never happens again,” says the Queen of Allada.



“call Pat @ (800) 759-0700 to give your opinion of statements on Haiti, or put them on hold + just play music, it costs them money to wait for you”


Why it’s wrong to label Pat Robertson as a crackpot.
Posted Yesterday [1/14] at 4:12pm

“Pat Robertson has been called crazy, loony, and a crackpot based upon his comments regarding a 200 year old curse placed upon Haiti. This would be an inappropriate label. The story is based upon a myth created to justify a belief in White Supremacy, and has been maintained and repeated by Southern Christians to this day. Robertson was speaking in a code not understood by Northerners and Westerners, so it appears to fall to me to explain the origins off the myth, and the reasons it has survived in the South to this day, and continues to influence our foreign and domestic policy.

The myth is rooted in beliefs regarding the “Mark of Cain” [] which are widely held in the South. Most theologians believe the “Mark” referred to a curse to a nomadic lifestyle, and an inability to grow crops. The belief was used to justify the extermination of Native Americans, because they weren’t using the land profitably, while systematically burning their crops, and stealing their orchards. As long as taking lands could be justified through “making the land fertile” it was theologically justified. The irony of course is that world cuisines would be very different today without basic Native American crops such as potatoes, tomatoes, chili peppers, corn, blueberries, strawberries, and so on. But, that is another history for another day.

The “Mark of Cain” was made into skin color by Southern theologians, seeking to justify slavery. Therefore, to the degree that one’s skin was dark, it designated that person as less than human, and able to be exploited as any other animal with the approval of the Southerner’s God. I must add here, that is was not only the approval, but the destiny supported and guaranteed by the Southern God. When you hear a Southerner say, “Everything happens for a reason,” it means that everything that happens to a person, or a people, because it is their God’s will.

When Haiti achieved independence in 1804, the foundation of that set of beliefs was shaken. The only way to reconcile the belief of White Superiority with a Black Nation achieving independence was the intervention of the Devil. Therefore, a myth was created that said that the Haitians had made a deal with the Devil, and bore a new “Mark,” similar to that of Cain. The fact that Toussaint L’ouverture was an educated man, who fought to retain his freedom becomes obscured by the myth. This belief has influenced our dealings with Haiti, from Thomas Jefferson to the present day. Jefferson’s struggles with how to deal with Haiti have already been published, and I will not go through the history of our foreign policy with respect to Haiti with this entry.

This is not a fringe belief. In 1994, ONE HUNDRED AND NINTEY years after Haiti achieved independence, President Bill Clinton sent peacekeeping troops to Haiti under pressure from the Congressional Black Caucus when a military dictatorship supported by US business interests overthrew the popularly elected Aristede. Before the troops were sent to Haiti, they were briefed by a local expert chosen by the CIA, who said: “The briefing was only partly inexplicable to me. Many of the mindless prejudices of the briefing would resurface later as official documents, from Intelligence, Psychological Operations, and Civil Affairs. It was part of the attempt to minimize American contact with Haitian realities. It is going on to this day, and it is effective. Now, the bullshit is being disseminated by the United States Embassy. The press laps it up and regurgitates it for us uncritically, awed as always to be allowed so near the powerful.”

Robertson’s beliefs are neither crackpot, outside of the norm for many people in positions of power. They also inform the myth-building in Southern States on how to deal with the election of President Barack Obama. The mad scramble for a label from Anti-Christ to NAZI is a reflection of irreconcilable cognitive dissonance between Southern belief systems and reality. Within a day of Robertson’s remarks, a G.O.P. Spokesman stated that all ANYONE needed to do, INCLUDING THE UNITED NATIONS, was to heal the injuries, bury the dead, and GET OUT. This is belief and praxis, naked. Robertson is a GOP operative, and has advised presidents in the past, including Bush, and his bombing of Mayan villages coincided with Reagan’s support of the atrocities committed by the Contras, and by the systematic overthrow of democratically-elected governments in the Caribbean, Central, and South America and subsequent atrocities in this hemisphere.

To fail to recognize the importance of the system of beliefs in the behavior of Southerners, the praxis of those beliefs, and the way in which those beliefs are transmitted is to fail to recognize the danger of the situation. His belief in the Curse of Haiti, is supported by a belief system that cannot reconcile the United States having elected a Black President. The disbelief that Barack Obama is President along with the signs displayed at the various protests in the South, among significant portions of the South are indicative of the cognitive dissonance among that population. The situation parallels the cognitive dissonance caused by the independence of Haiti. It is a dangerous time for Pat Robertson, and that means it’s a dangerous time for all of us.

Does My God Hate Haiti?
BY Albert Mohler / January 14, 2010

The images streaming in from Haiti look like scenes from Dante’s Inferno. The scale of the calamity is unprecedented. In many ways, Haiti has almost ceased to exist. The earthquake that will forever change that nation came as subterranean plates shifted about six miles under the surface of the earth, along a fault line that had threatened trouble for centuries. But no one saw a quake of this magnitude coming. The 7.0 quake came like a nightmare, with the city of Port-au-Prince crumbling, entire villages collapsing, bodies flying in the air and crushed under mountains of debris. Orphanages, churches, markets, homes, and government buildings all collapsed. Civil government has virtually ceased to function. Without power, communication has been cut off and rescue efforts are seriously hampered. Bodies are piling up, hope is running out, and help, though on the way, will not arrive in time for many victims.

Even as boots are finally hitting the ground and relief efforts are reaching the island, estimates of the death toll range as high as 500,000. Given the mountainous terrain and densely populated villages that had been hanging along the fault line, entire villages may have disappeared. The Western Hemisphere’s most impoverished nation has experienced a catastrophe that appears almost apocalyptic. In truth, it is hard not to describe the earthquake as a disaster of biblical proportions. It certainly looks as if the wrath of God has fallen upon the Caribbean nation. Add to this the fact that Haiti is well known for its history of religious syncretism — mixing elements of various faiths, including occult practices. The nation is known for voodoo, sorcery, and a Catholic tradition that has been greatly influenced by the occult.

Haiti’s history is a catalog of political disasters, one after the other. In one account of the nation’s fight for independence from the French in the late 18th century, representatives of the nation are said to have made a pact with the Devil to throw off the French. According to this account, the Haitians considered the French as Catholics and wanted to side with whomever would oppose the French. Thus, some would use that tradition to explain all that has marked the tragedy of Haitian history — including now the earthquake of January 12, 2010.

Does God hate Haiti? That is the conclusion reached by many, who point to the earthquake as a sign of God’s direct and observable judgment. God does judge the nations — all of them — and God will judge the nations. His judgment is perfect and his justice is sure. He rules over all the nations and his sovereign will is demonstrated in the rising and falling of nations and empires and peoples. Every molecule of matter obeys his command, and the earthquakes reveal his reign — as do the tides of relief and assistance flowing into Haiti right now.

A faithful Christian cannot accept the claim that God is a bystander in world events. The Bible clearly claims the sovereign rule of God over all his creation, all of the time. We have no right to claim that God was surprised by the earthquake in Haiti, or to allow that God could not have prevented it from happening. God’s rule over creation involves both direct and indirect acts, but his rule is constant. The universe, even after the consequences of the Fall, still demonstrates the character of God in all its dimensions, objects, and occurrences. And yet, we have no right to claim that we know why a disaster like the earthquake in Haiti happened at just that place and at just that moment.

The arrogance of human presumption is a real and present danger. We can trace the effects of a drunk driver to a car accident, but we cannot trace the effects of voodoo to an earthquake — at least not so directly. Will God judge Haiti for its spiritual darkness? Of course. Is the judgment of God something we can claim to understand in this sense — in the present? No, we are not given that knowledge. Jesus himself warned his disciples against this kind of presumption.

Why did no earthquake shake Nazi Germany? Why did no tsunami swallow up the killing fields of Cambodia? Why did Hurricane Katrina destroy far more evangelical churches than casinos? Why do so many murderous dictators live to old age while many missionaries die young? Does God hate Haiti? God hates sin, and will punish both individual sinners and nations. But that means that every individual and every nation will be found guilty when measured by the standard of God’s perfect righteousness. God does hate sin, but if God merely hated Haiti, there would be no missionaries there; there would be no aid streaming to the nation; there would be no rescue efforts — there would be no hope.

The earthquake in Haiti, like every other earthly disaster, reminds us that creation groans under the weight of sin and the judgment of God. This is true for every cell in our bodies, even as it is for the crust of the earth at every point on the globe. The entire cosmos awaits the revelation of the glory of the coming Lord. Creation cries out for the hope of the New Creation. In other words, the earthquake reminds us that the Gospel of Jesus Christ is the only real message of hope. The cross of Christ declares that Jesus loves Haiti — and the Haitian people are the objects of his love. Christ would have us show the Haitian nation his love, and share his Gospel. In the midst of this unspeakable tragedy, Christ would have us rush to aid the suffering people of Haiti, and rush to tell the Haitian people of his love, his cross, and salvation in his name alone.

Everything about the tragedy in Haiti points to our need for redemption. This tragedy may lead to a new openness to the Gospel among the Haitian people. That will be to the glory of God. In the meantime, Christ’s people must do everything we can to alleviate the suffering, bind up the wounded, and comfort the grieving. If Christ’s people are called to do this, how can we say that God hates Haiti? If you have any doubts about this, take your Bible and turn to John 3:16. For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. That is God’s message to Haiti.

[ “I am always glad to hear from readers and listeners. Write me at” ]

“See also these two articles from the Katrina disaster:”

The only golf course

GOP DeVore’s Spokesman: World Community Should Leave Haiti ASAP / 01-14-10

“Earlier today, I wrote about the push by several major foreign policy voices to ensure that America’s role in restructuring Haiti extends beyond emergency response to the earthquake. The politics seem logical — the impoverished country has endured plenty of socioeconomic chaos in addition to natural disasters in recent history. And now, more than ever, there is a moral and geopolitical imperative for the U.S. to be involved. But rallying domestic support for a long-term U.S. commitment to Haitian affairs has long proved difficult. And here is another example why:

The communications director for California Republican Senate candidate Chuck DeVore tweeted on Thursday that America, the world and even charity organizations should immediately leave the island once immediate and limited recovery is done. “[T]he best thing the int’l community can do is tend the wounded, bury the dead, and then LEAVE. That includes all UN and charity,” wrote Josh Trevino. This seems a bit blunt, even for the most non-interventionist of Republican candidates (DeVore is a Tea Party favorite). But it also is a reflection of Americans’ widespread skepticism about the prospects of building a functioning and stable Haitian society. I asked former National Security Adviser Tony Lake about the problem in sustaining U.S. interest in Haiti during an interview on Wednesday. He didn’t have any specific explanation, but acknowledged that it was problematic. “There are political voices in the United States that have spoken up for the Haitians, including the black caucus,” Lake said. “But generally the political weight of the Haitian community in the United States has been less than the community deserves. And I think that has been a problem in maintaining a consistent American interest.””

Soldier’s testimony: US intervention salvaged the thugs
BY Marshall Valentine (alias)

In September of 1994, when US forces entered the Republic of Haiti, I was the detachment operations NCO for a Special Forces A Team. My team was given the mission of controlling almost a thousand square kilometers in the Northeast Department of Haiti. We were to base ourselves out of Fort Liberte, a political center near the northern Dominican border.

In August of ’94, just one month before the decision was announced to occupy Haiti, we were instructed to attend an intelligence briefing on Haiti that had been coordinated through the 3rd Special Forces Group staff.

Prelude to the dance
This briefing would be the one and only predeployment intelligence briefing we were to receive. For this presentation, the staff had conscientiously avoided using any of the former Haitian nationals that worked and lived in Fayetteville and Fort Bragg. These included a professor of physics at Fayetteville State University, his wife, a Creole instructor at the Special Forces school, and various Haitian-American soldiers on active duty in Fort Bragg.

To ensure that we had a reliable source for this one and only predeployment brief, our intelligence gurus selected an expatriate, white, American, fundamentalist Protestant preacher. This gentleman had occupied himself for the last 11 years, in a small community outside of Cap Haïtien, salvaging the heathen souls of some 300 local congregants. He was an emaciated, blepharitic man, tall and thin, in a black suit, reeking of Calvinist austerity and burning with years of besieged righteousness.

He began his account with a personal introduction and a brief history of his mission. Then came a brief historical account of the nation of Haiti. The account was perfectly informative as long as it confined itself to events, personalities and dates. What followed his synopsis, however, was a bizarre narrative. He flatly declared that the successful Haitian revolution against the French Army was inaugurated with a bargain. Jean Jacques Dessalines, the Haitian leader of the revolution, according to this preacher, had struck a deal with the devil. With complete seriousness, our intrepid young missionary, explained that Satan himself, disguised as a voodoo deity, contracted with Dessalines to assure him a military victory. In exchange for the victory, Satan was to be given control of the new nation for a period of 200 years.

I’m not sure what surprised me the most at that briefing. The outlandish characterization of the first independent black nation in the Western Hemisphere? The fact that an Intelligence Officer on the Group staff had coordinated for his presence? Or the spellbound attention being paid this crackpot by hundreds of allegedly rational grown men who were in the room listening?

The problem was this. Most of the Special Forces soldiers there had no previous interest in Haiti. Most of them harbored cultural and racial preconceptions of Haiti. All had been exposed to the drumbeat of skewed media coverage of Haiti. Many were fans of both the CIA and Jesse Helms, both of whom were staging a concerted venture to shape foreign policy on behalf of the Cedras regime, by fabricating rumors about Aristide. Almost all of them were thoroughly ignorant of both the history of Haiti and the dynamics of the current crisis.

It was easy then, in support of the anti-Aristide sentiment already afoot in the special operations community, for this charlatan to get away with his prevarication. He was positively obsessed with voodoo, which he repeatedly characterized not as a religion (which it is, with components of West African polytheism and Catholicism), but as worship of demons. He stated that Haitians were childlike, and in need of outside direction, morally and spiritually lost, still practicing human sacrifice and cannibalism. The racist echoes were not lost on the largely white Special Forces audience.

Aristide was a particularly hot issue. Aristide was always in the company of voodoo priests and priestesses, he explained, explicitly stating that Aristide’s Christianity was a sham…that Father Aristide, too, was a devil worshipper. Aristide, the minister explained to the audience, was not really a priest, at all. He had been defrocked. This was a sidelong reference to Aristide’s expulsion from his religious order for political action on behalf of the poor. Aristide, also a closet communist, according to our preacher, had personally ordered riots and murders of countless people during his brutal eight month regime. Cedras and Francois showed up just in time to save the country, and any intervention to oust Cedras would be a terrible mistake, not to mention the dangers to young, Christian GIs, of working with HIV-riddled demon worshippers. When questioned about Aristide’s landslide victory in the elections, he said that the election was a fraud perpetrated by Lavalas (the popular movement). He stated that the reports of violence by the Cedras regime were exaggerated. And if they did support Aristide, that demonstrated that they were not yet ready for democracy.

The briefing was only partly inexplicable to me. Many of the mindless prejudices of the briefing would resurface later as official documents, from Intelligence, Psychological Operations, and Civil Affairs. It was part of the attempt to minimize American contact with Haitian realities. It is going on to this day, and it is effective. Now, the bullshit is being disseminated by the United States Embassy. The press laps it up and regurgitates it for us uncritically, awed as always to be allowed so near the powerful. I want to emphatically state that the distortions and prejudices of this one man can not be generalized to any particular group. There are numerous religious groups of many faiths, Protestant included, who have consistently and vigorously supported the Haitians’ rights to self-determination and freedom from violence.

Haitian landing
That said, I entered Port au Prince on the 19th of September, where we were summarily informed, in the wake of the Carter-Nunn-Powell agreement, struck, by the way, in the absence of a single legitimate representative of the democratically-elected government of Haiti, and signed by Emile Jonassaint, the Cedras-installed illegal president, that we would now become the friends, patrons and trainers of the Haitian armed forces, whom I shall refer to as the FAdH. Admittedly, this was during a period of policy confusion, when the Clinton administration couldn’t decide what to do about FAdH soldiers openly clobbering unarmed citizens senseless with ironwood batons in front of CNN’s cameras.

It’s important to note, though long-term objectives in Haiti have become clear, many short-term decisions at that point in time appeared to be typical indecisive bumbling on the part of the Administration. It’s important to remember that Clinton launched the operation under pressure from the Congressional Black Caucus and TransAfrica. These groups were illuminating the gross contradictions between policy toward Haiti and Cuba. By the same token, business interests, represented by Commerce Secretary Ron Brown, whose Madison Avenue public relations firm had a happy and lucrative history of dealings with key Duvalierist elites in Haiti, were strenuously opposing the reinstallation of Aristide.

By the time we escaped from the 10th Mountain Division’s clutches in Port au Prince, a unit that had dauntlessly undertaken to prevent contact between ordinary Haitians and American troops, the guidance had changed. We were instructed to stop all “Haitian on Haitian violence.” Worded this way, we were permitted to interfere with policemen cracking heads, gassing and shooting at anyone they disliked, so long as it was understood that we were protecting the police from civilian violence as well. It was by this bit of verbal legerdemain, that officials managed again to minimize the Haitian military police and paramilitary’s overwhelming share of the mayhem, and to provide support to the prevailing disinformation alleging widespread violence perpetrated by pro-Aristide people.

In a telling analysis of this phenomenon, Catherine Orenstein, anthologized in a highly recommended book called The Haiti Files, edited by James Ridgeway, points out the complete collaboration of the US mainstream press in this gross misrepresentation of Haitian reality. Of the total space devoted to covering Haiti by the popular press, less than 4% was devoted to reporting human rights abuses by the Cedras regime, while it was in power, when between 3,000 and 5,000 people were murdered. Under the Aristide government, human rights violations were reduced by more than 65% in eight months, but no mention of this trend appeared in the New York Times or on CNN. The Times, in the three weeks following the coup devoted three times as much space to allegations of Lavalas violence, by all accounts less than 2% of the total, as it did to massive, ongoing military violence being directed at unarmed civilians. Again, I don’t attribute this to an innate dishonesty on the part of the press, but to their unwavering tendency to truckle around after powerful people and reverently accept everything they say. Reporters who are not good sycophants do not last long in today’s corporate megamedia environment.

Regulating the tropical heat
The question of disarming the paramilitaries was another subject that shifted repeatedly in the conduct of the mission. Before the soft option entry negotiated by the Carter team, military necessity made the question of weapons clear cut. If you carried a firearm, you were hostile. If a weapon were discovered, it was confiscated. But with the permissive entry, the Rules of Engagement stated that we were obliged to behave as police do, demanding that an armed individual relinquish his weapon and giving that individual an opportunity to do so, before employing deadly force. This ROE, as it is known, did not present a great problem. It was the question of seeking out and confiscating weapons that changed.

By the time my detachment arrived in Gonaïves, en route to Fort Liberte, planned searches for weapons caches were put on indefinite hold by Task Force commanders. No reason was ever given. Though we still had the authority to confiscate displayed weapons, we were prohibited from searching buildings and houses, even if we received multiple reports alleging their presence. That prohibition against searches for the purpose of confiscating firearms and other ordnance remains in effect to the end. The eventual justification was that Haitians had a constitutional right to own firearms…even though we were an extraconstitutional force. This would not be the first time that we were subjected to selective interpretations of the Haitian Constitution. And what it ignored was the practical fact, that nearly every weapon in the country was owned by a supporter of the de facto regime, this being the means by which they had retained their power.

By itself, this shift could be interpreted as an error in judgment, which it certainly would be, but other facts on the ground tend to support the thesis that it was part of an overall effort to achieve a specific circumstance. When we left the intrepid 10th Mountain Division in Port au Prince, they had begun fanning out, not into the slums where human rights violations continued to be reported, but to protect the property of the rich in Petionville from anticipated angry mobs who never materialized. The task force set up its headquarters on the factory complex of the second richest family in Haiti.

In Gonaïves, where a series of incidents had strained our relationship with the FAdH, and endeared us to the local population (an eventuality not anticipated by the Task Force commanders), we were obligated to work with a Haitian commander named Captain Castra, originally on our “detain immediately” list as a dangerous and seedy character, a known drug trafficker, and the originator of a massacre of 27 civilians in the slum of Raboteau just three months earlier. He and hundreds of other charming members of the armed forces had been miraculously rehabilitated by the stroke of a pen.

These encumbrances were temporarily removed when four members of FRAPH, the Haitian paramilitary headed by CIA employee Emmanuel Constant, shot and wounded a Special Forces soldier on the 2nd of October in Les Cayes. Independent of the conventional commanders, special operations commanders sent us the order to squash FRAPH. In my own sector, we made three detentions the first day, two the second, and ten the third when we entered Fort Liberte, including Nyll Calixte, former Haitian ambassador to France, and chief financier to FRAPH in the Northeast Department. On the fourth day after the directive, we detained Rene Mozart, Northeast Department president of FRAPH, subordinate only to Emmanuel Constant.

Calixte was released within 24 hours on a presidential order from the United States, with apologies. Mozart was returned in three weeks, with the admonition that FRAPH was now to be recognized as a legitimate political party, kind of like the loyal opposition. All but one of the original detainees were released. We were told to stop all detentions unless we could provide a laundry list of information and evidence that would have daunted the average FBI agent, citing the need for due process. Our argument that due process implied the presence of a functional police force, a forensics capability, a viable court, and a normally operating government, was viewed as evidence of a smart-assed attitude.

With that, our participation in assisting Haitian justice ground to a halt, accompanied by directives to provide support to propaganda efforts pushing the theme of “reconciliation.” I was accused of failing to cooperate on two occasions with Psychological Operations Teams who wished to broadcast feel-good messages in my sector. These were accurate accusations, but in my own defense, our team had established effective rapport with the local population, predicated on our ongoing credibility and our open association with Lavalas, and broadcasting messages that insulted the intelligence of the local population with the transparency of the missive, stood to undermine that credibility.

Miller Time for Democrats
To understand how fragmented certain aspects of the operations were, it is important to explain that individual Special Forces Teams had a great deal of autonomy, much to the chagrin of a host of micromanaging, anal compulsive, career-obsessed commanders. My team, with only eight people on the initial entry, was responsible for hundreds of square kilometers of territory. For this reason, to this day, attitudes of Haitians in various sectors of the country will be wildly divergent with regard to American military. Some teams moved into FAdH garrisons, emplaced concertina wire, and built what appeared to be a Vietnam style firebase. Our team lived in a house, accessible to all, with neighbors on three sides, who listened to music with us on the porch and dropped by for coffee. We shopped at the local market, and drank an occasional Presidente beer from the little street store down the road. It was not at all unusual to shoo chickens out of the house in the morning.

In fact, the presence of beer, though its consumption by Special Forces was widespread in Haiti, was presented to us as a violation of a General Order in December of that year, and I was asked to leave the country. During the investigation regarding the General Order violation, the subject of beer seemed to preoccupy the investigating officer far less than our cozy relationship with Lavalas, to which I credited the remarkable stability of our sector throughout the operation.

The other subject that came up repeatedly was my failure to support the concept of the Interim Police Security Force, or IPSF. The original concept, briefed to us, was that the new police would be organized from the general population, even allowing certain decent, nonabusive gentlemen (and there were a few) from the original force, to continue employment. This sat well with the locals and with us. We were told to vet current members of the garrisons to determine which police had potential, and which were absolutely unacceptable to the general population. We did this, and were succinctly blown off. Instead of dropping the identified thugs from the rolls, a shell game was implemented, where Haitian police were abruptly reassigned to other towns, far away. We knew it. The Haitians knew it. Officialdom never acknowledged it. If I were attracted to conspiracy theories, I might have thought that someone was trying to protect the Haitian military from future legal action by removing them from places where they perchance would be deposed against.

The ostensible military action to restore democracy was launched on the heels of a bargain made with an outgoing military dictator and a phony president. The US military wasted no time setting up their headquarters on the industrial property of the Mev family, first stringers with the ultrarich, ruling elite. The operation advanced at a glacial pace, with emphasis placed on establishing security around the property of the wealthy. Soldiers were admonished not to take aggressive action to round up known criminals, not to search for weapons, and to observe a kind of “due process” in the treatment of former henchmen. US soldiers were given guidelines for detention so stringent that by the 5th of October, 1994, virtually all detentions had ceased. De facto government persecutors so notorious they were on “detain immediately” lists before the Carter-Nunn-Powell deal was cut, were allowed to continue in their present capacities, sometimes with US cooperation. Weapons buyback programs were implemented which allowed unserviceable weapons to be exchanged for money, while the serviceable ones were carefully cached for future use. In my own sector, dozens of reports came to us of large quantities of weapons being packed across the Dominican border, where many de facto criminals were being given sanctuary. The former military were dressed up in new uniforms, after a cosmetic vetting of past activities, and put back on the street with an apprehensive public who continually told American military authorities that this was an unacceptable arrangement. UN/US military policy stressed a “balanced” approach to dealing with Haitians, defining balance as “walking a line” between Lavalas, who represented the overwhelming majority of Haitians, and FRAPH, a terrorist organization working for the elite.

While there is no doubt that without intervention, the Cedras regime would have continued indefinitely, the best thing that could happen in Haiti at this moment would be the discontinuation of American, IMF, and World Bank influence. But, as always with both Democratic and Republican administrations, corporate wishes will prevail in the long term. The greatest miscalculation that the Haitian people can count on now, is the foolish but persistent belief that being illiterate means one is stupid.

Every Haitian has heard the old proverb… ‘You can send a snake to school but it’s hard to make him sit down.”

EARTHQUAKE PENTECOSTAL“biblical”_disaster:_understanding_religion_in_haiti/
“Biblical” Disaster: Understanding Religion in Haiti
BY Michelle Gonzalez Maldonado / January 13, 2010

Note to Pat Robertson: Haiti is not a nation of Vodou practitioners. It is, and continues to be, overwhelmingly Christian. Yesterday morning as I settled onto my elliptical at the gym, I anxiously turned to the television silently playing captioned CNN. It was before sunrise, and I knew it would be a good thirty minutes before daylight would reveal the devastation the 7.0 earthquake had unleashed on Haiti. The man on the neighboring machine, also watching the television, turned to me and said, “You know they killed all the white people after they gained independence … it is that Vodou … they deserve it.” I pedaled along speechless, not sure what shocked me more, that this man would think these things or that he felt comfortable enough with his hatred that he was fairly confident I would agree. I ignored him and I wish I had not. What I wanted to say is that Vodou is not some sort of sorcery, or the product of some “pact to the devil” (thank you Pat Robertson). I also wanted to correct his erroneous assumption that Haiti is a nation of Vodou practitioners. It is, and continues to be, overwhelmingly Christian.

I confess that I have been fairly glued to CNN in the past twenty-four hours, and two things have struck me as I watched the constant onslaught of images of suffering and destruction. The first is the erroneous fact that CNN keeps claiming on its ticker that Haiti is 80% Roman Catholic. The second is the sheer amount of U.S. missionaries on the island. The two are inter-related. Recent studies estimate that the Protestant population of Haiti is somewhere around thirty percent. In Port-au-Prince that number jumps to almost forty percent. The majority of these churches are Pentecostal. These churches are overwhelmingly independent, indigenous Haitian entities, though some are linked to North American denominational Pentecostal churches. Haiti, along with Jamaica and Puerto Rico, is home to one of the fastest growing Pentecostal populations in the Caribbean.

As I watch the drama unfold in Haiti, and feel it here in Miami, the home of the largest Haitian Diaspora in the United States, I cannot help but think of another earthquake, another country. In 1976 a 7.5 earthquake devastated Guatemala, leaving 23,000 dead and over 50,000 injured. My husband, a child at the time, has told me of the silence, the fear that followed this catastrophe. As a scholar of religion, I have often wondered of the theological impact of this natural disaster.

Thankfully, the scholarship of Virginia Garrard-Burnett provides some answers. She correlates the explosion of Pentecostalism in Guatemala, who like Haiti, is an epicenter of Pentecostalism in the Americas, in part as a response to the earthquake. An overwhelmingly high percentage of Guatemalans saw the earthquake as a form of divine punishment and a call for repentance. Arriving in the guise of aid and relief, Protestantism provided an alternative way of being Christian. Yet Pentecostalism primarily emerged in Guatemala, as it did in Haiti, disconnected from North American denominations. Indigenous Pentecostalism, with its apocalyptic theology, also gained momentum among Indigenous Guatemalans.

Haiti had barely recovered from the four devastating storms of 2008 prior to this earthquake. The Roman Catholic Cathedral in Port-au-Prince has collapsed, and Archbishop of Port-au-Prince, Monsignor Joseph Serge Miot’s lifeless body was pulled from the ruins of the diocesan offices. U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has described the natural disasters that this nation has endured as “biblical” in nature. “It is biblical, the tragedy that continues to stalk Haiti and the Haitian people.” Clinton does not realize that her comments would strike a chord with many Haitians today. Haitian Pentecostals, with their biblical literalism and their certainty that the second coming of Jesus is imminent, could see this time of tribulation as a challenge where the faithful will be rewarded on judgment day. Religion will surely play a role in the manner in which Haitians make sense of this tragedy, and I suspect we will find growing numbers of Pentecostal converts as Haitians attempt to find meaning in what can only be described as senseless and inexplicable suffering.