Sunday, September 14, 2014

Merchants of Death

I wonder if you’ve noticed, as I have, a prominent, somewhat new corporate sponsor of the PBS News Hour. It calls itself BAE Systems and it seems to be a rather high-minded tech company with the appealing brand motto “inspired work.” Oh yeah, they’re inspired alright, inspired to produce some of the most deadly machinery on the planet. BAE Systems, that is, used to be British Aerospace and changed to the more mild-sounding BAE Systems in 1999. That would’ve been after 1985 when British Aerospace was involved in the biggest (and perhaps most scandalous) arms deal of all time, the Al Yamamah trade supplying Saudi Arabia with over £43 billion worth of aircraft, specialized naval vessels, missiles, shells, support services and infrastructure.  In return, the Saudis pledged to supply Britain with 400,000 barrels of oil a day. It was the deal that saved British Aerospace, and allowed it to thrive and establish subsidiary companies in the U.S. among other places, including no less than seven sites in the San Francisco Bay Area. This is the story that Andrew Feinstein tells in his 2011 book, The Shadow World: Inside the Global Arms Trade. It’s filled with gems like the story of the Al Yamamah deal, including luscious details about the scandal involving the Saudi Royal Family and a personal slush fund operated for them by BAE, and the massive commissions the dealers (including Maggie Thatcher’s son Mark, who received about £12 million as an agent, and Prince Bandar al Sultan of 9/11 fame) got for greasing the wheels of the deal. According to the story Feinstein cites from Britain’s Guardian newspaper, the principal beneficiary of the slush fund was Prince Turki Bin Nasser, head of the Saudi Royal Air Force, who in addition to about £17 million in personal benefits, (some of which took care of his mistress, Anouska Bolton-Lee), also got gifts for his family: “a $30,000 Mercedes for his daughter, a blue Rolls Royce for his wife (Rolls is one of BAE’s subcontractors), and a £175,000 Aston Martin Le Mans for himself.”  These cars were regularly shipped between Saudi Arabia and Los Angeles on privately chartered airplanes; in 1995, for example, one cargo plane cost $300,000 to carry cars and assorted shopping booty home to Saudi Arabia. So were the members of the royal family, all paid for by BAE’s slush fund—the total, by 2002 amounting to more than 1 million pounds a month and 7 million pounds a year. Gives you an idea of the kind of money involved in the arms trade.
            The shady characters involved are equally staggering. Feinstein begins by charting the origins of a company called Merex. It started with the Nazis, courtesy of U.S. intelligence’s decision to rescue a general named Reinhard Gehlen, who had been chief of Nazi intelligence on the Eastern Front and so knew a lot about the Russians and their industrial plants. So Gehlen and several colleagues were shipped to Washington in a private plane, and then, after supplying lots of intel, were within a year returned to Germany to head a huge German spy ring to monitor the Russians. That led to the ex-Nazi’s promotion to head the West German intelligence agency until his retirement in 1968, but that’s not all. In the 1950s, Gehlen asked one of his old SS associates, Gerhard Mertins, to “act as middleman for German arms sales to the Third World,” which is where the action was and still is. The idea was, Germany could remilitarize if it could sell its old surplus arms stock, and Mertins was to be the agent for the selling. In 1963, he established a new company that he called Merex based in Bonn and Switzerland. Some of Merex’s first deals, aided by one Sam Cummings of the CIA, were selling old Luftwaffe stock to Castro’s Cuba and to Venezuela. It was, and is, typical of such arms dealers to sell fighting equipment to both sides in a conflict, as they did to Pakistan and India. Like BAE, Merex established an American branch in Bethesda Maryland, a convenient location for working with the CIA, as when they managed to ship arms to the CIAs favorite “freedom fighters,” the Nicaraguan Contras. Of course, for the arms merchants in the shadow world, the pedigree of those who want to buy arms never enters the calculation. The motto seems to be, ‘If you got the money, honey, we got the guns, planes, bullets, rockets or whatever suits your fancy.’ Africa after colonialism thus became one of the great illegal arms markets. As Feinstein points out, lovely episodes like the Rwandan genocide could not have happened without the immense influx of arms from unscrupulous arms dealers. Between 1992 and 1994, Rwanda became one of Africa’s major arms importers, spending over $112 million on mainly hand grenades and AK-47s—much of it from former Soviet countries—which amounted to 20 times what it had spent in the entire 1980s. Grenades were so easy to come by “they could be bought from local vegetable markets for $3 apiece.” It was grenades and weapons, not machetes, that were necessary to kill masses of young men in Rwanda’s stadiums. Hence, the genocide.
            What Feinstein makes clear, though, is that unsavory as these foreign arms dealers were and are, it’s in the United States and its pitbull, Israel, where the big money lies (in 2008, over 2/3 of all new arms sales agreements worldwide went to US companies) especially since the bonanza for arms manufacturers known as the War on Terror. In 2003, the US Government issued 3,500 contracts to companies for security, and from then to the end of 2006, the Department of Homeland security issued 115,000 contracts, most on the no-bid basis made possible by the contract initiated by Dick Cheney when he was head of the Pentagon. It’s called LOGCAP (Logistics Civil Augmentation Program) and it invites bids from American companies to supply logistical support for the US military, with NO DOLLAR VALUE in the contract. It's cost-plus: all costs covered plus a guaranteed profit; in short, corporate welfare for the types who regularly inveigh against welfare to the poor—chump change by comparison. Thanks to this kind of largesse, the US Government regularly spends about $550 per household on homeland security alone. And that doesn’t even begin to consider the amount spent on keeping our redoubtable military up to date, as with the Boeing $26 billion contract of 2001 to lease 100 KC-767 in-air-refueling tankers from Boeing over a ten-year period (the CBO determined that buying the damn things outright would have cost $5 billion less!). So corrupt was this deal that the Deputy Assistant Secretary of the Air Force for Acquisition, Darleen Druyun, who oversaw the deal, was charged with ethics violations (she got her son-in-law a job with Boeing and then got herself one), and eventually accepted a plea deal of 9 months in prison and a $5000 fine—though she still collects her government pension. Boeing’s CFO and CEO both resigned, with the CFO sentenced to 4 months in prison, while the company paid a big fine for its chicanery. But probably the best example of ‘price creep’ under LOGCAP involves Lockheed Martin’s F-22 Raptor, the most expensive fighter jet in history and one that is considered basically useless in any foreseeable war. The original intent (contract is meaningless here) was to buy 750 planes for a projected cost of $25 billion. By 1999, the cost had ballooned and plans had shrunk to 339 planes at a projected cost of more than $62 billion—i.e. half as many planes for twice the cost! The practice here is known as “buying in”, where the company bids at what it knows is a low price and then jacks up the price later, using “gold plating” or setting ever higher performance requirements after the plane is in development. Moreover, to protect their contracts, companies like Lockheed don’t do what one would normally expect a company to do to minimize risk—that is, build several prototypes to test before starting production. No, they start production based on lies and then simply jack up costs to keep the money flowing.
            There’s more about Lockheed and other military contractors, especially those that made a killing in Iraq (the mother of all military-procurement boondoggles) like Dick Cheney’s company, Halliburton. Just to give a sense of the big bucks involved here, it should surprise no one that Cheney’s personal wealth rose from about $1 million before he became VP to $60 to $70 million when he left office. During his 7 years in office, “Halliburton was awarded with more than $20 billion in contracts,” most of them on the usual no-bid basis. So blatant was their cheating that in the end Halliburton was fined for overcharging the government and using misleading accounting practices. But Dick Cheney seems to have emerged scot-free, wealthy, and with the chutzpah to regularly criticize the current president for failing to live up to the standards set by the Bush administration. Feinstein’s comment provides the real picture: “In the Bush administration the war profiteers weren’t just clamouring to get access to government, they were the government” (209).
            As to Israel, Feinstein devotes an entire chapter to their arms dealing entitled “America’s Shop Window.” By that he means that “Israel is the ‘primary testing ground’ for American weapons…It is, in effect, a shop window for the American weapons industry.” Feinstein goes on to note that in 2008, Israel’s military contracts were worth over $6.3 billion, “the 7th highest of 32 countries for which information is available,” spending no less than 8% of its GDP on the military (the US spends 4.5% while most comparable countries spend only 1% of GDP).  It was also the 11th largest arms importer between 2005 and 2010, when its imports rose 102%. But the real story lies in its arms exports, ranking it as the 4th largest arms exporter to developing countries (always a great market), including “rogue states in Africa, Latin America, and even the Middle East.” One of the reasons Israel ranks so high here is that, given its long experience suppressing Palestinians, its arms industry specializes in “equipment designed to control civilians.” In this regard, the War on Terror was crucial in bolstering—even saving—Israel’s economy. Its sales pitch to arms purchasers highlights its experience in this regard: “We have been fighting a War on Terror since our birth, we’ll show you how it’s done.” When it comes to heavy equipment, of course, Israel 'buys' most of that from its chief sponsor and enabler, the United States: in 2007, the two countries signed a 10-year MOU (Memorandum of Understanding) calling for $30 billion in US military aid. In this, Israel is unique in that it is the only country permitted to use US military aid to build its own military industry, including the development of weapons systems based on US designs, and to fund joint military research and development with its donor, as with its “Iron Dome” anti-missile system. This has allowed Israel to amass an arsenal of 226 F-16 jet fighters, over 600 M-690 tanks, no less than 6,000 armoured personnel carriers, and countless transport planes, attack helicopters, cluster bombs and white phosphorus. Only Saudi Arabia buys more, but it pays for its equipment.
            The story of Israeli arms dealers and deals is too long, and in some ways too well-known to go into here. Suffice it to say that its former officers train security forces all around the world, boasting a

one-stop shop that includes all requirements for riot control, ground forces, homeland security, counter- and anti-terror, K9 dogs, and identification of and protection against nuclear, biological and chemical weapons (385).

Israeli arms dealers dominate the shadow world, according to Feinstein, helped by the citizenship, travel privileges and protection their government provides them. Yossi Melman, an Israeli investigative reporter, is quoted by Feinstein as wryly describing the two wings of the entire Israeli business community thusly: ‘Those who are arms dealers and those who don’t admit they’re arms dealers.’ Perhaps most important, Israel comprises the chief testing ground for weapons the US thinks it might some day need. Feinstein spoke to one army source who testified to using ammunition in recent battles that was not even approved for use in the US:

It came from the American company ALS, where it was still in the testing phase, and thus, not legally usable in the US. But it was being used against people in the occupied territories by the IDF (Israeli Defense Forces) (393).

Of course, Israel is no laggard when it comes to developing its own high-tech equipment for dealing death to its enemies. It even sets up US subsidiaries so that it can utilize US aid money to buy the latest military equipment from its own companies. It is a leader in drone development, and its notorious separation barrier (some call it an apartheid wall) is similarly outfitted for long-distance monitoring:

The separation barrier is equipped with unmanned, armed observation points that, through personnel in a distant, secure location, identify and fire on anyone who comes too near to the barrier. (394)

Like drones, this amounts to “the creation of a robotic non-culpability for death…” Perhaps all the merchants of death, including the gun dealers and manufacturers in the US, would claim the same non-culpability for themselves: ‘We don’t kill anyone. We just sell them the equipment; what they do with it is not our affair.’

Lawrence DiStasi


Sunday, August 31, 2014

Miko Peled on Freeing Palestine

I have written extensively on the outrages that Israelis perpetrate daily upon Palestinians—in the occupied West Bank, in Gaza and in Israel proper. Nothing I could write, however, could approach what Israeli-born Miko Peled (he now lives in California) has to say about this matter. That’s because having been born and grown up in Israel, having had a father who was a leading general in the Israeli army, having had a niece who was killed by a Palestinian suicide bomber, Peled as a source of information is unimpeachable. He cannot be accused of anti-semitism; he cannot be accused of mushy liberalism; he cannot be accused of wanting to drive Israelis into the sea. He can only be accused of telling the truth.
            That is why I want you to watch this powerful video. To give you an idea of what’s inside, here are some of the things Peled has to say:

The Peace talks and all these so-called efforts are an attempt to bring the Palestinians to surrender. But, the Palestinians will not surrender. And Palestinians will not go away.

It is extremely important to realize:

Hamas is Not the problem.

Gaza is Not the problem. 

The Rockets are Not the problem.

Zionism & Israel are the problem.

Zionism is a racist, colonial, idea.

That’s why “Zionism has to go” is a true statement. 

Below is the link to the video. Please watch it, and send the link to your friends. Israel could not continue with its violence, with its outright murder of civilians, without the constant support and protection of the United States, of all the craven US Senators and Representatives who fall all over themselves voting to give Israel more and more weapons and more and more resolutions lauding them for their war crimes. We as US voters send these fools and cowards to represent us, and so are all responsible. Listen to Miko Peled. Zionism has to go.
P.S.: If the link doesn’t work, you can key in the URL for and find the link to the Peled video.

Lawrence DiStasi

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

The En-Closure of Gaza

We hear constantly in the mainstream media, and in the hallowed halls of the U.S. government, the great rationale for bombing the hell out of Gaza: Israel has a right to defend itself. ‘If the Gazans would only stop firing those rockets, we Israelis would be glad to cease our fire.’ But Hamas, Gaza’s duly and democratically-elected government, keeps insisting that a ceasefire isn’t enough, because it will only put Gazans back in prison. What’s needed, says Hamas, is for Israel to lift the siege of Gaza and open the borders so that Gazans are no longer prisoners. That would constitute a permanent ceasefire worth partaking in.
            Rarely, however, do we hear anything about this notion other than ridicule of it. ‘Those terrorist Hamas leaders—they want Israel to reward them for their aggression. Have they no morals?’ But perhaps this notion deserves a bit of consideration. What does Hamas actually mean here? Why do they insist that the real aggressor is Israel, even aside from bombs and rockets, and that it is Hamas that has the right to defend itself?
            A recent article by Prof. Daniel C. Maguire, “Hiding War Crimes Behind a Question,” (July 24, 2014,, provides some light here. That is, according to Maguire, “siege (or blockade) is itself an act of offensive warfare,” indeed, one of the most devastating forms of warfare and one that is condemned by ethical and religious and civic leaders from Maimonides to Just War theorists to humanitarian law. Therefore, since the Gazans have been under siege since at least 2007 (in 2006, explaining its “economic warfare” on Gaza, Dov Weisglass, adviser to then-PM Ehud Olmert, said the goal of the siege was to put the people of Gaza “on a diet, but not to make them die of hunger.”), and since that siege or blockage of both entry and exit to and from the Gaza Strip has become even more devastating since the new Egyptian government closed the tunnels near Rafah that were the only lifeline for Gazans until then, the policies and military measures locking Gazans into their open-air prison have become even more suffocating. Their farmers cannot trade with other countries including their relatives in the West Bank and Israel, their fishermen cannot fish, their builders cannot build, even hospital supplies and food are rationed, their meager supplies of water and electricity have been cut off, they have no airport, and the few places where they can take refuge are themselves being bombed. In short, like the Jews in the Warsaw ghetto, Gazans have decided that they would rather “die on our feet than on our knees.” And that the continuous warfare against them, the never-ending siege, gives them, not the Israelis, the right to defend themselves.
            Once one decides to look into this notion, the plight of the Gazans and the violations of the Israelis take on ever darker tones. Numerous international organizations have condemned the siege as illegal. In 2010, a UN fact-finding mission into Israel's attack on the 2010 Gaza Freedom Flotilla concluded:
'The Mission considers that one of the principal motives behind the imposition of the blockade was a desire to punish the people of the Gaza Strip for having elected Hamas. The combination of this motive and the effect of the restrictions on the Gaza Strip leave no doubt that Israel's actions and policies amount to collective punishment as defined by international law..” (cited on ).

In 2011, a UN panel of experts similarly concluded that Israel’s blockade of Gaza (resulting in its deadly attack on the Gaza Freedom Flotilla in May 2010) does violate international law, stating that it amounts to collective punishment  “in flagrant contravention of international human rights and humanitarian law.” This is because, according to a detailed position paper produced by the Israeli organization, GISHA (,), the closure of Gaza is in fact collective punishment, authorized in September 2007 when “Israel’s Security Cabinet approved a decision that openly called for restricting the movement of people and goods into and out of Gaza.” The Gisha position paper explained, in fact, that the “restrictions on the movement of people and goods through Gaza’s borders” are neither ‘economic sanctions,’ as Israel argues, nor a siege or a blockade as they are commonly known. Rather, they “constitute a closure imposed for purposes of collective punishment - and are therefore illegal under international law.” Though this might appear to constitute a technical distinction, it is extremely important in this case because while both sieges and blockades are sometimes legal, the type of closure imposed on Gaza is not. It is, as noted, a closure (I prefer to call it an en-closure, like fences or walls that enclose farm animals) imposed for purposes of collective punishment, and therefore illegal.
            So why is the en-closure not a siege? Quite simply, because a siege is “the act of surrounding a particular area in order to induce surrender.” That is, the only reason the laws of war allow a siege is to bring about a surrender, after which the siege would be lifted. A siege is temporary, in other words; it happens only for a limited time, until the town or area opens itself to its besiegers. But in Gaza, there is no time limit. Gaza is closed indefinitely (except, of course, to the Israeli military). Israel controls everything about Gaza: its entrances and exits, its ability to trade or sell goods, its import of the most basic goods, the sea outside it, its air space, practically the air it breathes. Again, Israel’s en-closure of Gaza has no military objective. Rather, it is aimed at civilians,

with the goal of using them as a point of pressure on the Hamas regime - in blatant violation of the fundamental international law prohibition against collective punishment and deliberately harming civilians. (Gisha report)

In a similar way, and for similar reasons, the en-closure of Gaza cannot be considered a blockade. For Israel’s aim is not the blockade’s normal aim of depriving an enemy of needed military supplies, as can be seen from the obvious fact that what is kept out of Gaza is not just weapons but a broad range of civilian goods including hospital supplies, “most of which have absolutely no military use or potential for military use.” Neither can the closure be considered “sanctions,” which usually involve an agreement among nations to refuse to trade with the target nation. This doesn’t apply in Gaza’s case, because no other nation (with the possible exception of the U.S.) has joined these sanctions, and more, because numerous other nations have indicated that they want to trade with Gaza, but Israel is using military force to prevent anyone from trading with Gaza, or even, as in the case of the Flotilla—where nine Turkish nationals were killed—bringing it humanitarian supplies.
         The conclusion of the Gisha report, therefore, is simple and even more devastating to the en-closure than its simple illegality due to its purpose of collective punishment. This is because the report adds the fact that “the closure of Gaza is taking place in the context of an occupation.” That is,

Israel continues to control Gaza through substantial control of Gaza's land crossings, total control of Gaza's airspace and territorial waters, control of the Palestinian population registry (including the question, who is a "resident" of Gaza) and control of tax policy and transfer of tax revenues. That control rises to the level of "effective control", the test in international law for the existence of a state of occupation. Gisha's position is that Israel owes obligations to Palestinian residents of the Gaza Strip and the West Bank commensurate with the level of control it exercises.

In short, it is not just that the imprisonment of the people of Gaza (a majority of them refugees from Israel’s original seizure of their homes/land in 1948) in a total enclosure is illegal collective punishment; it is also a violation of Israel’s obligations as an occupying power—obligations including “the right to life, the right to freedom of movement, the right to water, the right to health, the right to decent living conditions, protection from hunger and the special duties owed to protect children,” hundreds of whom her military has killed in the latest invasion and assault. These have been Israel’s obligations since 1967, when the occupation began, and they have been violated repeatedly for nearly fifty years. They have been violated even aside from the violations incurred during each of the last three invasions that have now killed nearly 5,000 people in Gaza and wounded thousands more, the vast majority of them civilians.
            So the next time you hear the rationalization about ‘self-defense’ from Israel or from United States officials up to and including the President, you might want to think about the right of the Gazans to defend themselves against their deadly en-closure. You might also want to think about whether, in the absence of United States support—vetoes in the UN Security Council; U.S.military aid amounting to $3 billion each year, plus a recent Congressional vote to send several hundred additional millions to replenish Israel’s Iron Dome defenses—the state of Israel could for so long get away with its blatant depradations against a helpless population, its gross violations of international and humanitarian law, its grim pursuit of its aims without regard for truth or justice or simple human decency.

Lawrence DiStasi

Friday, August 1, 2014

Merchants of Doubt

The title of a 2010 book by Naomi Oreskes (Professor of history and science studies at UC San Diego) and Erik Conway, Merchants of Doubt: How a Handful of Scientists Obscured the Truth on Issues from Tobacco Smoke to Global Warming, pretty much tells the grim tale contained therein. Starting with the tobacco industry’s decades-long fight to combat and obfuscate the science that they knew to be true—that cigarettes cause a host of diseases including lung cancer; and that even second-hand smoke causes the same suite of diseases to those who breathe the smoke from others’ cigarettes—Oreskes and Conway provide the details of how all other industries took their cue from the tobacco companies and tried (with alarming success) to cast doubt on the real facts scientists had unearthed about the dangers of acid rain, CFCs causing the ozone hole, second-hand smoke, and most recently global warming from the human-caused buildup of CO2 in the atmosphere. Here was the tobacco industry’s key insight: that the normal uncertainty that is crucial to science could be used

to undermine the status of actual scientific knowledge…. “Doubt is our product,” ran the infamous memo written by one tobacco industry executive in 1969, “since it is the best method of competing with the ‘body of fact’ that exists in the minds of the general public.” (34).

And what the industry and administrations like those of Ronald Reagan and both Bushes have been able to do is to recruit scientists themselves—including some distinguished ones—to undermine the conclusions of the scientific majority who have been establishing the dangers in some of the prime environmental hazards of our time. This undermining work has led to doubt, delay and constant attack on the government agencies that have tried to regulate these environmental hazards. As to why legitimate scientists would want to smear the work of their colleagues, the reasons are probably legion, but Oreskes and Conway identify what is probably the major one: Find a scientist who sees environmental regulation as the road to Socialism and/or Communism, and you can probably find a scientist who will figure out clever ways to undermine what most other scientists agree are established facts.
            The “scientists” who have played a major role in such nasty work are clearly identified by Oreskes and Conway, and they include Fred Seitz, a physicist and onetime president of the National Academy of Sciences who had worked on the A-bomb project during WWII and who opposed everything from arms control to peaceful coexistence with the Soviets; Fred Singer, also a physicist developing Earth observation satellites and later a chief scientist in the Reagan Administration and prime proponent of SDI or “Star Wars”; William Nierenberg, also a physicist who had worked on the bomb and later served in the Reagan White House; and Robert Jastrow, an astrophysicist who had worked on the space program. All four were once termed “my scientists” by President George H.W. Bush. Together, and with a few other colleagues and millions from corporate coffers, they have managed to create the impression that there is a raging debate about such established scientific facts as the harm done by tobacco smoke, the devastation caused by the sulfur emissions that cause acid rain, the ozone depletion caused by CFCs (chlorofluorocarbons), and the global warming caused by CO2. The harm and the probable deaths they have caused by sowing the doubt that gives corporations cover is thus incalculable.
            Merchants of Doubt tells us not only how this has been done, but why it has been done, and it is a story that will grey your hair if you care about the planet we live on and the health of the humans who live on it with us. The main outlines, though, are fairly simple and in many ways familiar. These guys are zealots, most of whom ended their original scientific work years ago, and spent their ‘twilight’ years cozying up to the power elite by attacking colleagues whom they saw as threatening the American system of ‘free market capitalism’ through research that would lead to regulation. Government regulation was, for most of these true believers, the great socialist sin and anything or anyone that called for it was little more than a subversive undermining the American way. They hated the EPA in particular, but all environmentalists and regulatory agencies in general, as well as anyone who opposed military preparedness (hence their fondness for SDI or ‘Star Wars’). Here is what Fred Singer wrote in 1989, for example, when he was arguing against measures to eliminate CFCs from the atmosphere. First, he slandered the scientists who agreed on it (virtually all of them) as “corrupt and motivated by self-interest and political ideology” (a perfect description of Singer himself). Then he added that

            “..there are probably those with hidden agendas of their own—not just to ‘save the environment’ but to change our economic system…Some of these ‘coercive utopians’ are socialists, some are technology-hating Luddites; most have a great desire to regulate—on as large a scale as possible.” (134).

In another article in 1991 concerning global warming, Singer reinforced this idea about the “hidden” agenda of environmentalists, and the scientists who gave them their data: to destroy capitalism and replace it with some sort of worldwide utopian Socialism or Communism. It was to counteract this nefarious plot that Singer and Seitz and their cronies in 1984 established the George C. Marshall Institute, primarily to promote the so-called science of the Strategic Defense Initiative even then being attacked by main line scientists as pie-in-the-sky nonsense, a waste of money, and probably an incentive to a new and more dangerous arms race. Of course the new Institute was touted as “promoting science for better public policy,” but like the better known Team B of the Reagan Administration (boasting such luminaries as Richard Perle, Richard Pipes, Paul Wolfowitz, and other hawks), it was really designed to promote SDI and the underlying right-wing view that “The Soviet Union is preparing for a Third World War as if it were unavoidable..” (40).
            To understand how Singer and company operated, consider his efforts to undermine the science on acid rain. You may remember that acid rain comes about when sulfur and nitrogen emissions from electrical utilities, cars, and factories mix with moisture in the atmosphere, and then fall as precipitation to poison lakes, rivers, soils, and wildlife far from the polluting source. Twenty years of meticulous studies led to a 1974 article in Science magazine that summed up the danger: “Acid rain or snow is falling on most of the northeastern United States” (68). The article went on to identify acid rain as the product of burning coal and oil in tall smokestacks designed to remove particles from the smoke in the Midwest—the unintended consequence being that since the particles tended to neutralize acid, “removing them inadvertently increased the acidity of the remaining pollution.” In short, tall smokestacks had transformed local soot into the far more damaging and widespread acid rain. In addition to falling in New England, that is, acid rain generated in the Midwest was also falling in Canada, and the Canadian government had concluded that most of its acid rain came from the United States. President Carter agreed, and signed the Acid Precipitation Act of 1980, which established a ten-year monitoring program to determine the impact of acid rain on both the environment and human health. But then—Ronald Reagan was elected, and “his” scientists began to pump up the doubts. In 1984, Congress simply rejected a joint pollution control program with Canada. At about the same time, the Reagan White House’s Office of Science and Technology (OSTP) commissioned its own panel to review what the EPA had already concluded about acid rain, i.e. that it was caused by coal-fired Midwest plants. Bill Nierenberg was made chair of this commission, and managed to have some of the major scientists who had already worked on acid rain included. They, not surprisingly, concluded the same thing as the EPA: acid rain was caused by man-made sulfur dioxide (SO2) emissions. This might have concluded the story, but for the fact that the White House had pushed for Fred Singer to be on the Commission, and after the Executive Summary was generated, insisted not only that Singer contribute an appendix, but also that the strongest paragraphs of the summary, dealing with soil damage that could set off devastating effects in the food chain, be deleted and that several other paragraphs be presented in a different order. As Oreskes summarizes it:

Rather than start with the fact of the 25 million tons of SO2 emissions per year, the White House wanted to start with a statement that earlier actions taken under the Clean Air Act were a “prudent first step,” and then proceed to the discussion about incomplete scientific knowledge.” (87)

Fred Singer’s revisions were even more damaging. He started by claiming that acid deposition was “a serious problem, but not a life-threatening one.” He then summarized the main points from his point of view, i.e. that the science was uncertain, that more research was needed, that the economic consequences of controlling acid rain, even if it did exist, would be too great, and that acid rain might be cause by natural sources after all. In short, Singer and the White House had drastically altered the conclusions of the scientific experts who had written the original draft, and they had done it without ever consulting those scientists—who were, almost to a man, outraged. The most authoritative scientist on acid rain, Gene Likens, wrote to Bill Nierenberg that “My understanding is that these unapproved changes in the Executive Summary originated with the White House/OSTP. Frankly, I find such meddling to be less than honest and extremely distasteful” (99), an objection that may not sound like much, but which, from a scientist, is devastating.
            The damage was done however. As the report began to surface, a House subcommittee considering legislation on acid rain voted in May 1983: the vote was 10 to 9 against the legislation, thus killing congressional action. Nor would there be any legislation addressing acid rain during the rest of Ronald Reagan’s terms in office, as the administration continued to insist that not only were the causes unknown, but the proposed fixes were too expensive: “a billion-dollar solution to a million-dollar problem.” The George H.W. Bush administration would finally, under pressure, amend the Clean Air Act to set up emissions trading (cap and trade), resulting in a 54% decline in SO2 levels between 1990 and 2007. But further research, especially by Gene Likens and his colleagues, determined that the problem had not been solved at all. Writing in 1999, Likens said: “Acid rain still exists, and its ecological effects have not gone away.” In fact, things had gotten worse: not only had the forest stopped growing, but it was in fact shrinking. He predicted that the legendary sugar maple was “dying…[and] scientific research suggests that by 2076, the 300th birthday of the United States, sugar maples will be extinct in large areas of the northern forest” (104). Thus, this first use of ‘cap and trade’ to stop an industry-caused environmental threat failed utterly to even stabilize things.
            Fred Singer and his diabolical cronies went on to attack the EPA, the damage to the ozone by CPCs, the dangers of second-hand smoke, and even Rachel Carson (for the alleged deadly damage to world health done by getting DDT banned, thereby sparing malaria-carrying mosquitoes and causing 50 million unnecessary deaths!), as well as the threat from global warming. Regarding global warming, for example, the first Marshall Institute report on this subject blamed global warming on the sun, which was changing and sending more heat our way.
            What Oreskes concludes, however, is that far from accomplishing their aim to ridicule and delegitimize environmentalists out to ‘destroy free markets and capitalism,’ the merchants of doubt have in fact led even former allies to consider more seriously the fact that “free enterprise can bring real costs—profound costs—that the free market does not reflect.” Such ‘externalized costs,’ imposed by the damage done by DDT and a host of other pesticides and herbicides, SO2 in rain, cigarette smoke, CFCs eating the ozone, and CO2 creating the greenhouse effect, are

all market failures. They are instances where serious damage was done and the free market seemed unable to account for it, much less prevent it. Government intervention was required. This is why the market ideologues and old Cold Warriors joined together to fight them.

As more and more people, including former free-marketeers, begin to realize this, argues Oreskes, they become less able to deny that major changes are required in how governments, regulators, and corporations conduct their business. Thus the final irony: the one thing that the merchants of doubt dreaded most—what they saw as the advance of bleeding-heart socialist regulation—must increasingly, under the pressure of real science and looming environmental calamity, come to pass. If it does not, if the merchants of doubt prevail for much longer, we will all go down with their badly-leaking free-market Titanic.

Lawrence DiStasi