London Calling
By George Monbiot

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Commentary and Opinion
from The Guardian

ABOUT THE AUTHOR – George Monbiot is the author of The Age of Consent: A Manifesto for a New World Order, published by Flamingo; Captive State: The Corporate Takeover of Britain, and the investigative travel books Poisoned Arrows, Amazon Watershed and No Man’s Land. In 1995 Nelson Mandela presented him with a United Nations Global 500 Award for outstanding environmental achievement. He has also won the Lloyds National Screenwriting Prize for his screenplay The Norwegian, a Sony Award for radio production, the Sir Peter Kent Award and the OneWorld National Press Award. The columns reproduced here were first published in the British national newspaper, The Guardian.

ABOUT THE COLUMNS – These columns will be posted each week as 2-page articles ready for printing as inserts into an 8.5" by 11" binder. The cover (above) may be downloaded for printing as a binder insert.
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NEW - December 16, 2003
A weapon with wings
They will probably be commemorating the wrong people in Kitty Hawk, North Carolina, tomorrow. Five months before the Wright brothers lifted a flying machine into the air for 12 seconds above the sand dunes of the Outer Banks, the New Zealander Richard Pearse had travelled for more than a kilometre in his contraption, without the help of ramps or slides, and had even managed to turn his plane in mid-flight. But history belongs to those who record it, so tomorrow is the official centenary of the aeroplane. At Kitty Hawk, George Bush will deliver a eulogy to aviation, while a number of men with more money than sense will seek to recreate the Wrights’ first flight. Well, they can keep their anniversary. Tomorrow should be a day of international mourning. December 17 2003 is the centenary of the world’s most effective killing machine.
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NEW - December 9, 2003
Invasion of the entryists
One of strangest aspects of modern politics is the dominance of former left-wingers who have swung to the right. The “neo-cons” pretty well run the White House and the Pentagon, the Labour party and key departments of the British government. But there is a group which has travelled even further, from the most distant fringes of the left to the extremities of the pro-corporate libertarian right. While its politics have swung around 180 degrees, its tactics – entering organisations and taking them over – appear unchanged. Research published for the first time today suggests that the members of this group have colonised a crucial section of the British establishment.
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December 2, 2003
Bottom of the barrel
The oil industry is buzzing. On Thursday, the government approved the development of the biggest deposit discovered in British territory for at least 10 years. Everywhere we are told that this is a “huge” find, which dispels the idea that North Sea oil is in terminal decline. You begin to recognise how serious the human predicament has become when you discover that this “huge” new field will supply the world with oil for five and a quarter days.
Every generation has its taboo, and ours is this: that the resource upon which our lives have been built is running out. We don’t talk about it because we cannot imagine it. This is a civilisation in denial.

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November 25, 2003
The moral myth
It is no use telling the hawks that bombing a country in which al-Qaida was not operating was unlikely to rid the world of al-Qaida. It is no use arguing that had the billions spent on the war with Iraq been used instead for intelligence and security, atrocities such as last week’s attacks in Istanbul may have been prevented. As soon as one argument for the invasion and occupation of Iraq collapses, they switch to another. Over the past month, almost all the warriors - Bush, Blair and the belligerents in both the conservative and the liberal press - have fallen back on the last line of defence, the argument we know as “the moral case for war”.
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Special - Flashback to October 2001
Backyard terrorism
"If any government sponsors the outlaws and killers of innocents,” George Bush announced on the day he began bombing Afghanistan, “they have become outlaws and murderers themselves. And they will take that lonely path at their own peril.” I’m glad he said “any government”, as there’s one which, though it has yet to be identified as a sponsor of terrorism, requires his urgent attention. For the past 55 years it has been running a terrorist training camp, whose victims massively outnumber the people killed by the attack on New York, the embassy bombings and the other atrocities laid, rightly or wrongly, at al-Qaida’s door.
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18 November 2003
Dreamers and idiots
When a few hundred elderly people converge on a seaside town for the annual conference of the Conservative party, all leave for Britain’s journalists is cancelled. Every stave and quaver of the death rattle of a moribund movement is recorded and drummed into our ears. But when 51,000 mostly young people converge for a conference on the future of politics, they are ignored. The European Social Forum, which ended in Paris on Sunday, generated just one report in the printed editions of the British mainstream press. Doubtless the papers will inform us again this week that young people have lost interest in politics.
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11 November 2003
Rattling the bars
Those who would take us to war must first shut down the public imagination. They must convince us that there is no other means of preventing invasion, or conquering terrorism, or even defending human rights. When information is scarce, imagination is easy to control. As intelligence gathering and diplomacy are conducted in secret, we seldom discover - until it is too late - how plausible the alternatives may be. So those of us who called for peace before the wars with Iraq and Afghanistan were mocked as effeminate dreamers.
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4 November 2003
Acceptable hatred
Imagine an English village building an effigy of a car, with caricatures of black people in the windows and the number plate “N1GGER”, and burning it in a public ceremony. Then imagine one of Britain’s most socially conscious MPs appearing to suggest that black people were partly to blame for the way they had been portrayed. It is, or so we should hope, unimaginable. But something very much like it happened last week.
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28 October 2003
Tony Blair's new friend
Saddam Hussein was a brutal tyrant. While there was no legal argument for forcibly deposing him on the grounds of his abuse of human rights, there was a moral argument. It is one which our prime minister made repeatedly and forcefully. “The moral case against war has a moral answer: it is the moral case for removing Saddam,” Tony Blair told the Labour party’s spring conference in February. “Ridding the world of Saddam would be an act of humanity. It is leaving him there that is in truth inhumane.” Had millions of British people not accepted this argument, Tony Blair might not be prime minister today.
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21 October 2003
The flight to India
If you live in a rich nation in the English-speaking world, and most of your work involves a computer or a telephone, don’t expect to have a job in five years’ time. Almost every large company which relies upon remote transactions is starting to dump its workers and hire a cheaper labour force overseas. All those concerned about economic justice and the distribution of wealth at home should despair. All those concerned about global justice and the distribution of wealth around the world should rejoice. As we are, by and large, the same people, we have a problem.
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14 October 2003
States of war
The relationship between governments and those who seek favours from them has changed. Not long ago, lobbyists would visit politicians and bribe or threaten them until they got what they wanted. Today, ministers lobby the lobbyists. Whenever a big business pressure group holds its annual conference or dinner, Tony Blair or Gordon Brown or another senior minister will come and beg it not to persecute the government. George Bush flies around the United States, flattering the companies that might support his re-election, offering tax breaks and subsidies even before the companies ask for them.
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8 October 2003
Force-fed a diet of hype
It is curious that this government, which goes to such lengths to show that it responds to market forces, appears to believe, when it comes to genetic modification, that the customer is always wrong. Tony Blair may have spent six years rolling back the nanny state, but he instructs us to shut up and eat what we’re given. The public has comprehensively rejected the technology; the chief scientist has warned that pollen contamination may be impossible to prevent; the field trials suggest that GM threatens our remaining wildlife. Yet the government seems determined to force us to accept it.
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30 September 2003
The patient is dying
Still basking in the afterglow of Tony Blair’s thunderous platitudes, most of the delegates to the Labour conference will tomorrow snore through the complexities of a policy that spells the end of everything their party once stood for. The motion calling on the government to abandon its privatisation of the health service may well be passed, but unless the delegates leave the conference centre with the prime minister’s head on a pike, it won’t make a blind bit of difference. Only a massive and sustained revolt by the membership of the Labour party can now save the National Health Service.
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16 September 2003
A threat to the rich

Were there a Nobel Prize for hypocrisy, it would be awarded this year to Pascal Lamy, the EU's trade negotiator. A week ago, in the Guardian's trade supplement, he argued that the World Trade Organisation (WTO) "helps us move from a Hobbesian world of lawlessness into a more Kantian world – perhaps not exactly of perpetual peace, but at least one where trade relations are subject to the rule of law.”
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9 September 2003
The myth of localism
Outside the world trade talks beginning in Cancun, Mexico tomorrow, two battles will be fought. The first will be the battle between the campaigners demanding fair trade and the rich-nation delegates demanding unfair trade. The second will be the dispute now brewing within the ranks of those who claim to be helping the poor.
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2 September 2003
The worst of times
The world is beginning to look like France, a few years before the Revolution. There are no reliable wealth statistics from that time, but the disparities are unlikely to have been greater than they are today. The wealthiest 5% of the world’s people now earn 114 times as much as the poorest 5%. The 500 richest people on earth now own $1.54 trillion – more than the entire gross domestic product of Africa, or the combined annual incomes of the poorest half of humanity.
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26 August 2003
Beware the bluewash
The US government’s problem is that it has built its foreign policy on two great myths. The first is that it is irresistible; the second is that as time advances, life improves. In Iraq it is trapped between the two. To believe that it can be thwarted, and that its occupation will become harder rather than easier to sustain as time goes by, requires that it disbelieves all that it holds to be most true.
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19 August 2003
Poisoned chalice
For how much longer should we give those who run the global economy the benefit of the doubt? The International Monetary Fund has made the same “mistake” so many times that only one explanation appears to remain: it is engineering disaster. The crises over which it has presided in Thailand, South Korea, Russia and Argentina are well-documented by Joseph Stiglitz, the former chief economist of the World Bank, among others.
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12 August 2003
With eyes wide shut
We live in a dream world. With a small, rational part of the brain, we recognise that our existence is governed by material realities, and that, as those realities change, so will our lives. But underlying this awareness is the deep semi-consciousness that absorbs the moment in which we live, then generalises it, projecting our future lives as repeated instances of the present. This, not the superficial world of our reason, is our true reality. All that separates us from the indigenous people of Australia is that they recognise this and we do not.
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5 August 2003
Driven out of Eden
It is surely one of the most brazen evasions of reality ever painted. John Constable’s The Cornfield – completed in 1826 and now hanging in the National Gallery’s new exhibition, Paradise – evokes, at the very height of the enclosure movement, a flawless rural harmony. . . It is a glittering lie . . . For what Constable has done is what human beings have always done, and continue to do today. Confronted by atrocities, we invoke a prelapsarian wonder. We construct our Gardens of Eden, real or imagined, out of other people’s hell.
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29 July 2003
America is a religion
The death of Uday and Qusay,” the commander of the ground forces in Iraq told reporters on Wednesday, “is definitely going to be a turning point for the resistance.” Well, it was a turning point, but unfortunately not of the kind he envisaged. On the day he made his announcement, Iraqi insurgents killed one US soldier and wounded six others. On the following day, they killed another three; over the weekend they assassinated five and injured seven. Yesterday they slaughtered one more and wounded three. This has been the worst week for US soldiers in Iraq since George Bush declared that the war there was over. .
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14 July 2003
Diary of a bilious old git
Term is over, and at last the students have cleared out of Oxford, my home town. No one who lives here is sorry to see them go, except the proprietors of the off-licences. There’s something about the way they walk while wearing black tie which drives me beserk.
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8 July 2003
Our fake patriots
The prediction was not hard to make. If Britain kept supporting the US government as it trampled the sovereignty of other nations, before long it would come to threaten our own. But few guessed that this would happen so soon. Long ago, Britain informally surrendered much of its determination of foreign policy to the United States. We have sent our soldiers to die for that country in two recent wars, and our politicians to lie for it. But now the British government is going much further. It is ceding control to the US over two of the principal instruments of national self-determination: judicial authority and military policy.
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1 July 2003
In the shadow of extinction
It is old news, I admit. Two hundred and fifty-one million years old, to be precise. But the story of what happened then, which has now been told for the first time, demands our urgent attention. Its implications are more profound than anything taking place in Iraq, or Washington, or even (and I am sorry to burst your bubble) Wimbledon. Unless we understand what happened, and act upon that intelligence, prehistory may very soon repeat itself, not as tragedy, but as catastrophe.
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24 June 2003
I was wrong about trade
A few years ago I would have raised at least two cheers. The US government, to judge by the aggressive noises now being made by its trade negotiators, seems determined to wreck one of the most intrusive and destructive of the instruments of global governance: the World Trade Organisation. A few years ago, I would have been wrong. The only thing worse than a world with the wrong international trade rules is a world with no trade rules at all. George Bush seems to be preparing to destroy the WTO at the next world trade talks in September not because its rules are unjust, but because they are not unjust enough.
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17 June 2003
We can seize the day
Last week Jack Straw illuminated the depths of his political cowardice by shining upon them the full and feeble beam of his political courage. He proposed to alter the constitution of the UN security council. He would like to double its permanent membership, though without granting the new members the privileges accorded to the five existing ones. He must know that this scheme will be rejected by the proposed new entrants, yet he fears to tread more firmly upon the toes of the incumbents.
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10 June 2003
Let’s do a Monsanto
Something about the launch of the [British] government’s “great GM debate” last week rang a bell. It was, perhaps, the contrast between the ambition of its stated aims and the feebleness of their execution. Though the environment secretary, Margaret Beckett, claims she wants “to ensure all voices are heard”, she has set aside an advertising budget of precisely zero. Public discussions will take place in just six towns. Then I got it. Five years ago, Monsanto, the world’s most controversial biotechnology company, did the same thing . . .
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3 June 2003
Africa's scar gets angrier
Perhaps the defining moment of Tony Blair’s premiership was the speech that he gave to the Labour party conference in October 2001. In June, his party had returned to office with a monumental majority. In September, two planes were flown into the World Trade Centre in New York. The speech appeared to mark his transition from the insecure, focus-group junkie of Labour’s first term to a visionary and a statesman, determined to change the world.
The most memorable passage was his declaration on Africa. “The state of Africa,” he told us, “is a scar on the conscience of the world. But if the world as a community focused on it, we could heal it. And if we don’t, it will become deeper and angrier.” This being so, I would respectfully ask our visionary prime minister to explain what the hell he thinks he is doing in France.

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20 May 2003
Let’s hear it for Belgium
Belgium is becoming an interesting country. In the course of a week, it has managed to upset both liberal opinion in Europe - by granting the far-right Vlaams Blok 18 parliamentary seats - and illiberal opinion in the US. On Wednesday, a human rights lawyer filed a case with the federal prosecutors whose purpose is to arraign Thomas Franks, the commander of the American troops in Iraq, for crimes against humanity. This may be the only judicial means, anywhere on earth, of holding the US government to account for its actions.
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13 May 2003
Don't cry for Clare
Some of the Guardian’s readers will, for all her faults, have shed a few tears at the departure of our [Britain’s] development secretary. Clare Short may have failed, in March, to act upon her threat to resign over the war with Iraq. But even those who have turned against her will miss that splash of colour on the front benches, the old Labour warrior who still spoke the language of feeling, and who, as if by magic, had somehow survived the control freaks and the little grey men for six vivid and tumultuous years. Westminster will be a bleaker and a colder place without her.
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6 May 2003
Poor, but pedicured
The global economy is working. The rich may be acquiring an ever greater share of the world’s wealth, the ecosystem may be collapsing, but – or so we believe – the poor are emerging from poverty. This is portrayed as the ultimate test of the great neo-liberal experiment: if, as the world’s resources are privatised and its corporations deregulated, the war against poverty is being won, then the accompanying inequality and destruction can be accounted as little more than collateral damage.
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29 April 2003
Death of the secret ballot
There are two big questions about the local elections on Thursday, but only one of them is being asked. The first is whether people will bother to vote. The emerging rule of British politics appears to be that the bigger the issues at stake, the smaller the choice. The second is a question seldom asked of a British election: will it be free and fair? While British people may regard the process of choosing between almost identical candidates as unspeakably dull, we retain an affecting faith in its deportment. After all, we invented the idea, and we send election monitors all over the world to ensure that lesser beings are implementing it properly. Our complacency is beginning to look ill-founded.
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22 April 2003
The bottom dollar
The problem with American power is not that it’s American. Most states with the resources and opportunities the US possesses would have done far worse. The problem is that one nation, effectively unchecked by any other, can, if it chooses, now determine how the rest of the world will live. Eventually, unless we stop it, it will use this power. So far, it has merely tested its new muscles.
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22 April 2003
The bottom dollar
The problem with American power is not that it’s American. Most states with the resources and opportunities the US possesses would have done far worse. The problem is that one nation, effectively unchecked by any other, can, if it chooses, now determine how the rest of the world will live. Eventually, unless we stop it, it will use this power. So far, it has merely tested its new muscles.
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8 April 2003
Chemical hypocrites
When Saddam Hussein so pig-headedly failed to shower US troops with chemical weapons as they entered Iraq, thus depriving them of a retrospective justification for this war, the American generals explained that he would do so as soon as they crossed the “red line” around Baghdad. Beyond that point, the desperate dictator would lash out with every weapon he possessed. Well, the line has been crossed and recrossed, and not a whiff of mustard gas or VX has so far been detected.
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1 April 2003
It will end in disaster
So far, the liberators have succeeded only in freeing the souls of the Iraqis from their bodies. Saddam Hussein’s troops have proved less inclined to surrender than they had anticipated, and the civilians less prepared to revolt. But while no one can now ignore the immediate problems this illegal war has met, we are beginning, too, to understand what should have been obvious all along: that, however this conflict is resolved, the outcome will be a disaster.
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25 March 2003
One rule for them
Suddenly, the government of the United States has discovered the virtues of international law. It may be waging an illegal war against a sovereign state; it may be seeking to destroy every treaty which impedes its attempts to run the world, but when five of its captured soldiers were paraded in front of the Iraqi television cameras on Sunday, Donald Rumsfeld, the US defence secretary, immediately complained that “it is against the Geneva convention to show photographs of prisoners of war in a manner that is humiliating for them”.
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18 March 2003
A wilful blindness
There is surely no more obvious symptom of the corruption of western politics than the disproportion between the money available for sustaining life and the money available for terminating it. We could, I think, expect that, if they were asked to vote on the matter, most of the citizens of the rich world would demand that their governments spend as much on humanitarian aid as they spend on developing new means of killing people. But the military-industrial complex is a beast which becomes both fiercer and hungrier the more it is fed.
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11 March 2003
A wilful blindness
What almost all those who supported the war in Afghanistan and are now calling for a new one have forgotten is that there are two sides to every conflict, and therefore two sets of outcomes to every victory. The Afghan regime changed, but so, in subtler ways, did the government of the US. It was empowered not only by its demonstration of military superiority but also by the widespread support it enjoyed. It has used the licence it was granted in Afghanistan as a licence to take its war wherever it wants.
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25 FEBRUARY 2003
Out of the wreckage
The men who run the world are democrats at home and dictators abroad. They came to power by means of national elections which possess, at least, the potential to represent the will of their people. Their citizens can dismiss them without bloodshed, and challenge their policies in the expectation that, if enough people join in, they will be obliged to listen. Internationally, they rule by brute force.
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18 FEBRUARY 2003
Too much of a good thing
We are a biological weapon. On Saturday the anti-war movement released some 70,000 tonnes of organic material onto the streets of London, and similar quantities in locations all over the world. This weapon of mass disruption was intended as a major threat to the security of western governments. Our marches were unprecedented, but they have, so far, been unsuccessful.
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Finding excuses to crush the poor
On the day George Bush delivered his state of the union address, the Pentagon received a visitor. A few hours before the president told the American people that “we will not permit the triumph of violence in the affairs of men”, General Carlos Ospina, head of the Colombian army, was shaking hands with his American counterpart. Let us dwell for a moment on his career as a brigadier, and his impressive contribution to the war against terror.
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24 JANUARY 2003
Protest is stronger than ever
Mr Bush and Mr Blair might have a tougher fight than they anticipated. Not from Saddam Hussein perhaps – although it is still not obvious that they can capture and hold Iraq’s cities without major losses – but from an anti-war movement that is beginning to look like nothing the world has seen before..
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7 January 2003
Out of the wreckage
The rest of Europe must be wondering whether Britain has gone into hibernation. Our Prime Minister is likely to announce the decision he made months ago, that Britain will follow the US into Iraq. If so, then two or three weeks later, the war will begin. Unless the UN inspectors find something, this will be a war without even the flimsiest of pretexts: an unprovoked attack whose purpose is to enhance the wealth and power of an American kleptocracy.
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