Believe It or Not
The Planet's Drying Up
The Star Chamber (Continued)
Good Work!

Believe It or Not
Onward, Christian Citizens

It's time to face facts: In today's United States, the central question underlying political life for most people is not how to best create a just civil society or promote democratic values, but rather who is the arbiter of God's Holy Word.

Just look at the dilemmas posed this week. American Catholics face the question of whether they should listen to their own consciences or to church apologists like Cardinal Bernard Law, whose supporters remind the laity that the church is not a democracy and that God's Law is handed down through the pope and his underlings.

North Carolina's retiring senator Jesse Helms's interpretation of Christian family values trumps a United Nations attempt to define basic human rights. When the UN General Assembly meets in New York for the Special Session on Children this week, the focus will be on the failure of the U.S. to ratify the most widely accepted human rights treaty ever: the Convention on the Rights of the Child. The U.S. and Somalia—which currently does not have the governmental capacity to ratify an international treaty—are the only two UN members not to have ratified the treaty. Apparently the treaty is inconsistent with the family values of the Bush administration. Opposition has been led by Helms, who has said, "The United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child is incompatible with the God-given right and responsibility of parents to raise their children," adding that "the Convention has the potential to severely restrict states and the federal government in their efforts to protect children and to enhance family life."

Underpinning it all is George W. Bush's continuing, unabashed depiction of the war on terrorism as a Christian crusade. More and more, Congress and the White House have the feel of Bible study groups as religious quackery fills the capital air. In this state of affairs, secular humanists might as well throw in the towel.

The Planet's Drying Up
A Thirst for Profits

While Bush talks about an oil shortage, the real crisis is sneaking up on us in the form of a horrendous worldwide water scarcity. Droughts in the U.S., once a feature of the Midwest, are now occurring regularly all across the continent, even on the verdant East Coast, where in New York the provisioning of fresh water has become a political issue. The Pacific Coast suffers from reduced hydroelectric power output in places like California, salinity in Florida's groundwater has become a major problem, and drought has even spread to the area around the Great Lakes. The St. Lawrence Seaway is drying up so fast that oceangoing vessels won't be able to pass through in a decade's time.

The scarcity of fresh water is causing the birth of a booming new business. Where provisioning of water once was the work of public utilities, private corporations are increasingly doing the job. Two huge French-based transnational corporations—Vivendi Universal and Suez—monopolize more than 70 percent of the existing water market, according to Maude Barlow of the Council of Canadians in her new book, Blue Gold. Suez operates in 130 countries, Vivendi in more than 90.

There is also a burgeoning business in bottled water, with market forecasts projecting 20 percent annual growth. Here, three big companies—Coca Cola, Pepsi, and Nestle—are gobbling up the business. Nestle alone owns 68 different bottled-water brands, including Perrier. Last year some 1 billion liters of water were bottled and sold.

The water business is so profitable that a Canadian company has a deal to ship water from Sitka, Alaska, aboard supertankers to China, where private companies taking advantage of low-wage labor will package it into bottles for sale in the "boutique" water markets of Asia.

As with oil, the basic bulk trade in water will be by supertanker, supplemented perhaps by a tow of huge water bags shunting up and down the Pacific Coast from Alaska and Canada to parched Mexico and Southern California. Eventually the business will shift to more economical pipelines. Water pipes will be laid along the same corridors that now carry oil and gas, adding political clout to the oil industry's plan to construct a gas pipeline from Alaska across Canada down into the U.S. Another scheme envisions damming James Bay, creating a great basin for clear drinking water. Canada's rivers run north, which means that water coming out of the north end of the James Bay basin would have to be reversed and run down a canal toward the East Coast of the U.S. American companies have long dominated the Canadian oil and gas business, but Canadians have fought hard to keep the U.S. from taking their water. Now with free-trade agreements between the U.S. and Canada, this may not be so easy, especially because Bush has said he views Canada's vast amounts of fresh water as a hemisphere-wide resource. Canada currently can supply up to 9 percent of the world's immediate need for fresh water and is thought to hold enough to potentially supply 25 percent of the overall need.

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