Winter Fund Drive

Dear WW4 REPORT Readers:

This marks the end of a fifth year of bringing you cutting-edge reports from the global fronts in the War on Terrorism, as well as reviews, digests and analysis—providing news and perspectives available nowhere else.

If you believe in the old adage that “newspapers (or webzines) should have no friends,” we appear to be doing a great job. When our contributor Ned Goldstein wrote “Save Darfur: Zionist Conspiracy?“, on propaganda exploitation of the Sudan genocide by Israel and US imperialism, we were vilified as “ultra-left,” “conspiracy theorists” and anti-Semitic. When our blog called out left-wing anti-Semitism (being, for instance, among the first to expose the fraudulent gushing interview with Hezbollah’s Sheikh Nasrallah that was widely-circulated in the left wing of the blogosphere), we were trashed as part of the “pro-Zionist media.” When we ran my skeptical look at the morbid 9-11 conspiracy industry, we were accused of being “leftist gatekeepers.”

We wear this opprobrium as a badge of pride. There is no vindication like getting it from both sides, no surer sign that we are doing our job. As more and more left journalism descends into sanctimonious groupthink, our job is to challenge assumptions, to encourage thought by raising questions rather than to propound dogmas. Our job is also to go beyond the issues in the media spotlight, and to probe the unexamined contexts and implications behind the headlines and sound-bites. Among the stories you’ve received from us this year are:

* Mark Sanborne’s still-in-progress multi-part “Bionoia” series, an in-depth exploration of the Cold War superpower biological warfare programs, and their grim legacy in the age of global terrorism.

* Frank Morales on the Bush administration’s frightening moves towards martial law, hidden in the small print of the 2007 Pentagon appropriations act.

* David Bloom’s exacting dissection of how Israel’s “realignment” on the West Bank masks a grab for fertile land and water resources.

* Yeidy Rosa’s first-hand account from Bogota on the meeting of South America’s conscientious objector movement.

* Peter Gorman and Paul Wolf on Washington’s escalating war and controversial legal strategies against the FARC guerillas in Colombia.

* Dan La Botz on Mexico’s electoral debacle.

* Khaleb Khazari-El on the forgotten legacy of militant sufism.

* William X’s anti-imperialist deconstruction of the Mearsheimer-Walt thesis.

* My own interviews with the leaders of the Iraq Freedom Congress and regular updates on indigenous and campesino struggles in Mexico and the Andes, as well reports on domestic energy issues like the Queens blackout and how they fit into the global struggle for oil.

* Reprints of cutting-edge international journalism from our sibling publications Upside Down World, Toward Freedom and Weekly News Update on the Americas.

But producing WW4 REPORT is a full-time job, and I am still struggling to finish my long-languishing manuscript on Plan Colombia and indigenous resistance movements in the Andes. Despite the ludicrous charge of being “gatekeepers,” WW4 REPORT receives no foundation funding. We are dedicated to the radical proposition that fighting independent journalism must be supported, first and foremost, by its readers.

So we appeal to you this holiday season—please give what you can to help WW4 REPORT grow and survive. Help us meet our modest gaol of $2,000 for this winter fund-raiser.

This time we are offering two premiums from our pamphlet series. We still have five copies left of “9-11 and the New Pearl Harbor: Aw Shut Up Already, Will Ya?” and 14 copies left “Iraq’s Civil Resistance Speaks: Interviews with the Secular Left Opposition, Part 2,” featuring the words of Houzan Mahmoud of the Organization of Women’s Freedom in Iraq and Samir Adil, president of the Iraq Freedom Congress. The first folks to send a donation of at least $10 while supplies last will receive a copy. (Please indicate which pamphlet you want, and if you wish to receive the other one if we are out of your first choice. Or send at least $20 for both)

One of the real tragedies of our times is the dramatic dumbing-down of discourse and reportage just as the increasingly dystopian world situation demands greater vigilance and analytical clarity then ever. We exist to be the resistance to this trend through our example. We don’t have to remind you that your support is vital to us. We urge you to find your category (honestly) on the chart below, and send something TODAY, while you are still thinking about it.

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Bill Weinberg

WORLD WAR 4 REPORT

Dec. 1, 2006

World War 4 Report
Deconstructing the War on Terrorism

Continue ReadingWinter Fund Drive 

#. 128. December 2006

Electronic Journal & Daily Weblog

THE STRUGGLE FOR THE LACANDON SELVA
Mexican State Plays Ethnic Divide-and-Rule in the Chiapas Rainforest
by Bill Weinberg, WW4 REPORT

ECUADOR’S CHAVEZ?
Rafael Correa and the Popular Movements
by Yeidy Rosa, WW4 REPORT

VENEZUELA: SECESSION IN THE OIL ZONE
Interventionist Legacy Behind Zulia Separatist Movement
by Nikolas Kozloff, WW4 REPORT

INDIGENOUS BORDER SUMMIT
Dissected Nations Oppose Wall and Militarization
by Brenda Norrell, IRC Americas Program

THE BETRAYAL OF WESTERN SAHARA
International Complicity in Morocco’s Repression
by Simon Cunich, Green Left Weekly

NUCLEAR-FREE CENTRAL ASIA
A Model for the Korean Peninsula?
by Rene Wadlow, Toward Freedom

From Weekly News Update on the Americas:

BOLIVIA: THE OPPOSITION STRIKES BACK
PERU: ACHUAR WIN OIL FIGHT
URUGUAY: ECO-PROTESTS ROCK IBERO-AMERICAN SUMMIT
CENTRAL AMERICA: SANDINISTAS TAKE NICARAGUAN PRESIDENCY,
GUATEMELAN GENERALS ORDERED ARRESTED!

THE REAL SCOOP ON BIOFUELS
“Green Energy” Panacea or Just the Latest Hype?
by Brian Tokar, WW4 REPORT

SPECIAL MESSAGE TO OUR READERS

“Sorry, sorry, sorry, I am very sorry. We would like to apologize and ask our compatriots to forget the past so our nation can concentrate on the future. Let bygones be bygones.”
—Khieu Samphan, Khmer Rouge “Brother Number Five,” when asked by a reporter about the killing fields upon turning himself in, New York Times, Dec. 30, 1998

“I call on all Iraqis, Arabs and Kurds, to forgive, reconcile and shake hands.”
—Saddam Hussein, upon his conviction on genocide charges, BBC News, Nov. 7, 2006

Exit Poll: Are you anticipating a New Years Eve nuclear terrorist attack on New York City? C’mon, tell the truth.

Responses to last month’s Exit Poll:
/node/2849

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Continue Reading#. 128. December 2006 

THE REAL SCOOP ON BIOFUELS

“Green Energy” Panacea or Just the Latest Hype?

by Brian Tokar, WW4 REPORT

You can hardly open up a major newspaper or national magazine these days without encountering the latest hype about biofuels, and how they’re going to save oil, reduce pollution and prevent climate change. Bill Gates, Sun Microsystems’ Vinod Khosla, and other major venture capitalists are investing millions in new biofuel production, whether in the form of ethanol, mainly derived from corn in the US today; or biodiesel, mainly from soybeans and canola seed. It’s virtually a “modern day gold rush,” as described by the New York Times, paraphrasing the chief executive of Cargill, one of the main benefactors of increased subsidies to agribusiness and tax credits to refiners for the purpose of encouraging biofuel production.

The Times reported June 25, 2006 that some 40 new ethanol plants are currently under construction in the US, aiming toward a 30% increase in domestic production. Archer Daniels Midland, the company that first sold the idea of corn-derived ethanol as an auto fuel to Congress in the late 1970s, has doubled its stock price and profits over the last two years. ADM currently controls a quarter of US ethanol fuel production, and recently hired a former Chevron executive as its CEO.

Several well-respected analysts have raised serious concerns about this rapid diversion of food crops toward the production of fuel for automobiles. WorldWatch Institute founder Lester Brown, long concerned about the sustainability of world food supplies, says that fuel producers are already competing with food processors in the world’s grain markets. “Cars, not people, will claim most of the increase in grain production this year,” reports Brown—a serious concern in a world where the grain required to make enough ethanol to fill an SUV tank is enough to feed a person for a whole year. Others have dismissed the ethanol gold rush as nothing more than the subsidized burning of food to run automobiles.

The biofuel rush is having a significant impact worldwide as well. Brazil, often touted as the most impressive biofuel success story, is using half its annual sugarcane crop to provide 40% of its auto fuel, while accelerating deforestation to grow more sugarcane and soybeans. Malaysian and Indonesian rainforests are being bulldozed for oil palm plantations—threatening endangered orangutans, rhinos, tigers and countless other species—in order to serve at the booming European market for biodiesel.

Are these reasonable tradeoffs for a troubled planet, or merely another corporate push for profits? Two recent studies aim to document the full consequences of the new biofuel economy and realistically assess its impact on fuel use, greenhouse gases and agricultural lands. One study, originating from the University of Minnesota, is moderately hopeful in the first two areas, but offers a strong caution about land use. The other, from Cornell University and UC Berkeley, concludes that every domestic biofuel source—those currently in use as well as those under development—produce less energy than is consumed in growing and processing the crops.

The Minnesota researchers attempted a full lifecycle analysis of the production of ethanol from corn and biodiesel from soy. They documented the energy costs of fuel production, pesticide use, transportation, and other key factors, and also accounted for the energy equivalent of soy and corn byproducts that remain for other uses after the fuel is extracted. Their paper, published in the July 25, 2006 edition of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, concluded that ethanol production offers a modest net energy gain of 25% over oil, resulting in 12% less greenhouse gases than an equivalent amount of gasoline. The numbers for biodiesel are more promising, with a 93% net energy gain and a 41% reduction in greenhouse gases.

The researchers cautioned, however, that these figures do not account for the significant environmental damage from increased acreages of these crops, including the impacts of pesticides, nitrate runoff into water supplies, nor the increased demand on water, as “energy crops” like corn and soy begin to displace more drought-tolerant crops such as wheat in several Midwestern states.

The most serious impact is on land use. The Minnesota paper reports that in 2005, 14% of the US corn harvest was used to produce some 3.9 billion gallons of ethanol, equivalent to 1.7% of current gasoline usage. About 1 1/2 percent of the soy harvest produced 68 million gallons of biodiesel, equivalent to less than one tenth of one percent of gas usage. This means that if all of the country’s corn harvest was used to make ethanol, it would displace 12% of our gas; all of our soybeans would displace about 6% of diesel use. But if the energy used in producing these biofuels is taken into account, the picture becomes worse still. It requires roughly eight units of gas to produce 10 units of ethanol, and five units of gas to produce 10 units of biodiesel; hence the net is only two units of ethanol or five units of biodiesel. Therefore the entire soy and corn crops combined would really only less than 3% of current gasoline and diesel use. This is where the serious strain on food supplies and prices originates.

The Cornell study is even more skeptical. Released in July 2005, it was the product of an ongoing collaboration between Cornell agriculturalist David Pimentel, environmental engineer Ted Patzek, and their colleagues at the University of California at Berkeley, and was published in the journal Natural Resources Research. This study found that, on balance, making ethanol from corn requires 29% more fossil fuel than the net energy produced and biodisel from soy results in a net energy loss of 27%. Other crops, touted as solutions to the apparent diseconomy of current methods, offer even worse results.

Switchgrass, for example, can grow on marginal land and presumably won’t compete with food production (you may recall George Bush’s mumbling about switchgrass in his 2006 State of the Union speech), but it requires 45% more energy to harvest and process than the energy value of the fuel that is produced. Wood biomass requires 57% more energy than it produces, and sunflowers require more than twice as much energy than is available in the fuel that is produced. “There is just no energy benefit to using plant biomass for liquid fuel,” said David Pimentel in a Cornell press statement this past July. “These strategies are not sustainable.”

The Cornell/Berkeley study has drawn the attention of numerous critics, some of whom suggest that Ted Patzek’s background in petroleum engineering disqualifies him from objectively assessing the energy balance of biofuels. Needless to say, in a field where both oil and agribusiness companies are vying for public subsidies, the technical arguments can become rather furious. An earlier analysis by the Chicago-area Argonne National Laboratory (once a Manhattan Project offshoot) produced data much closer to the Minnesota results, but a response by Patzek pointed out several potential flaws in that study’s shared assumptions with an earlier analysis by the USDA. In another recent article, Harvard environmental scientist Michael McElroy concurred with Pimentel and Patzek: “[U]nfortunately the promised benefits [of ethanol] prove upon analysis to be largely ephemeral.”

Even Brazilian sugarcane, touted as the world’s model for conversion from fossil fuels to sustainable “green energy,” has its downside. The energy yield appears beyond question: it is claimed that ethanol from sugarcane may produce as much as eight times as much energy as it takes to grow and process. But a recent World Wildlife Fund report for the International Energy Agency raises serious questions about this approach to future energy independence. It turns out that 80% of Brazilís greenhouse gas emissions come not from cars, but from deforestation—the loss of embedded carbon dioxide when forests are cut down and burned. A hectare of land may save 13 tons of carbon dioxide if it is used to grow sugarcane, but the same hectare can absorb 20 tons of CO2 if it remains forested. If sugarcane and soy plantations continue to spur deforestation, both in the Amazon and in Brazil’s Atlantic coastal forests, any climate advantage is more than outweighed by the loss of the forest.

Genetic engineering, which has utterly failed to produce healthier or more sustainable food (and also failed to create a reliable source of biopharmaceuticals without threatening the safety of our food supply) is now being touted as the answer to sustainable biofuel production. Biofuels were all the buzz at the biotech industry’s most recent mega-convention in April 2006, and biotech companies are all competing to cash in on the biofuel bonanza. Syngenta (the world’s largest herbicide manufacturer and number three, after Monsanto and DuPont, in seeds) is developing a GE corn variety that contains one of the enzymes needed to convert corn starch into sugar before it can be fermented into ethanol. Companies are vying to increase total starch content, reduce lignin (necessary for the structural integrity of plants but a nuisance for chemical processors), and increase crop yields. Others are proposing huge plantations of fast-growing genetically engineered low-lignin trees to temporarily sequester carbon and ultimately be harvested for ethanol.

However, the utility of incorporating the amylase enzyme into crops is questionable (it’s also a potential allergen), gains in starch production are marginal, and the use of genetic engineering to increase crop yields has never proved reliable. Other more complex traits, such as drought and salt tolerance (to grow energy crops on land unsuited to food production), have been aggressively pursued by geneticists for more than twenty years with scarcely a glimmer of success. Genetically engineered trees, with their long life-cycle, as well as seeds and pollen capable of spreading hundreds of miles in the wild, are potentially a far greater environmental threat than engineered varieties of annual crops. Even Monsanto, always the most aggressive promoter of genetic engineering, has opted to rely on conventional plant breeding for its biofuel research, according to the New York Times (Sept. 8, 2006). Like “feeding the world” and biopharmaceutical production before it, genetic engineering for biofuels mainly benefits the biotech industry’s public relations image.

Biofuels may still prove advantageous in some local applications, such as farmers using crop wastes to fuel their farms, and running cars from waste oil that is otherwise thrown away by restaurants. But as a solution to long-term energy needs on a national or international scale, the costs appear to far outweigh the benefits. The solution lies in technologies and lifestyle changes that can significantly reduce energy use and consumption, something energy analysts like Amory Lovins have been advocating for some thirty years. From the 1970s through the ’90s, the US economy significantly decreased its energy intensity, steadily lowering the amount of energy required to produce a typical dollar of GDP. Other industrial countries have gone far beyond the US in this respect. But no one has figured out how to make a fortune on conservation and efficiency. The latest biofuel hype once again affirms that the needs of the planet, and of a genuinely sustainable society, are in fundamental conflict with the demands of wealth and profit.

———

Brian Tokar directs the Biotechnology Project at Vermont’s Institute for Social Ecology, and has edited two books on the science and politics of genetic engineering, Redesigning Life? (Zed Books, 2001) and Gene Traders (Toward Freedom, 2004).

RESOURCES:

“Supermarkets and Service Stations Now Competing for Grain” Earth Policy Institute, July 2006
http://www.earth-policy.org/Updates/2006/Update55.htm

See also:

“Peak Oil Preview:
North Korea & Cuba Face the Post-Petrol Future”
by Dale Jiajun Wen, Yes! Magazine
WW 4 REPORT #123, July 2006
/node/2149

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Special to WORLD WAR 4 REPORT, Dec. 1, 2006
Reprinting permissible with attribution

Continue ReadingTHE REAL SCOOP ON BIOFUELS 

ECUADOR’S CHAVEZ?

Rafael Correa and the Popular Movements

by Yeidy Rosa, WW4 REPORT

When Alvaro Noboa, Ecuador’s richest man, won enough votes during the October 15 first round of the presidential election to advance into the final runoff on November 26, rural and urban social movements throughout the Andean nation mobilized in a campaign against him. The prospect of the presidency falling into the hands of the Bonita banana magnate, notorious for the violent repression of workers’ attempts to unionize and even for the use of child labor on his plantations, sparked a nationwide mobilization by indigenous, environmental, youth, anti-militarist, and other social justice groups—not necessarily out of a belief in electoral politics, but in repudiation of Noboa’s neoliberal platform plans to establish free trade agreements with the United States.

There was no doubt relief when Rafael Correa, labeled by the (US) media as a “radical leftist economist” and “friend of Hugo Chavez,” gained the greatest number of votes November 26. Correa’s campaign promised to dissolve congress, rewrite the constitution, permanently halt free trade agreement talks with Washington and shut down the US military base in Ecuador’s western city of Manta. His victory is now being disputed by Noboa, who is demanding a recount.

But these same social movements, following Ecuador’s most ideologically polarized presidential election in recent history, have a new task at hand: holding Rafael Correa true to his commitments.

It was arguably the grassroots campaign that made the difference in the November 26 runoff. Alvaro Noboa, who ran under PRIAN (Partido Renovador Institucional de Acción Nacional), a party he created in order to postulate himself, won 27% of the first round votes, compared to Rafael Correa’s 23%. Critics charge he bought votes by giving away computers, wheelchairs, bags of rice, medicine and cash along his $2.3 million campaign trail, and spent more than twice the legal limit for campaign spending. Also contributing to his initial victory was the thought that Noboa’s wealth—with over 110 businesses, reportedly worth $1.2 billion—would preclude corruption within his administration. Yet—as information disseminated by the various movement activists documented—Noboa’s wealth has not stopped him from evading over $50 million in taxes and creating over 200 shell businesses for such purposes. Activists also distributed a video of the 2002 Los Alamos banana worker strike, where, on May 16, some 1,000 striking workers seeking to unionize were violently attacked by over 400 armed individuals, admittedly hired by Noboa. Dozens of workers were wounded in the attack, and one lost a leg. Workers at Los Alamos are paid $25 for 84-hour work weeks. Two Human Rights Watch reports found 40 children between the ages of eight and 13 working on just one of the Noboa plantations. The reports found child laborers were being sprayed by aerial fumigations as they worked tying insecticide-laced strings to banana plants for 12 hours a day. Yet, during this, his third consecutive failed presidential campaign, Noboa called himself “a man of the people.”

Organizations such as the Confederation of Indigenous Nationalities of Ecuador (CONAIE), Radio La Luna, Cordinadora Campesina, Fundacion Pueblo Indio, Pukayana, Servicio Paz y Justicia (SERPAJ), Asociacion de Jovenes Cristianos, and others rapidly mobilized after the October 15 election, convening meetings in Quito in order to establish the strategy to be used in the campaign against Noboa. People and resources were then brought together within the local communities each organization had established ties to. In localities throughout the country, announcements were made on loudspeakers that meetings would take place in public squares, community spaces, and on the streets. At the meetings, videos were shown, flyers and informative materials were distributed, and workshops held in order to expose Noboa as an impresario that exploits his employees, monopolizes the flour industry in Ecuador, dodges taxes, and uses violence against workers. The campaign especially focused on rural campesino areas where Noboa had a particular stronghold. Areas on the coast, such as the provinces of Manabí and Guayas, some of the poorest in Ecuador, had been especially strong Noboa supporters, as he reportedly exchanged a pound of rice per promise of a vote. Xavier Leon, a Quito-based activist that worked on the campaign, stated, “The people’s reaction was one of astonishment because they didn’t know the entire Noboa story. Folks wanted to know more about his barbarities.”

This popular organizing paid off. For the third consecutive time, Noboa lost Ecuador’s second round presidential elections—contrary to what polls had projected up to mid-November. Rafael Correa won the election with 58% of the vote. Social movements now say their task is to make sure Correa remembers who put him in power.

Correa, 42, holds a PhD in Economics from the University of Illinois at Urbana, and served as economy minister under current president Alfredo Palacio—resigning after five months under pressure from those opposing his efforts to strengthen economic ties with Venezuela. Though he had been projected as the frontrunner going into the October 15 election, it was reported that his comments regarding his friendship with Venezuela’s populist President Hugo Chavez scared away voters. Some questioned this analysis, considering the popularity Chavez enjoys in Ecuador. Running for the political party PAIS (Patria Altiva I Soberana, or Proud and Sovereign Fatherland), Correa’s campaign proposed calling a constituent assembly and rewriting Ecuador’s constitution—a clear echo of the experience of both Chavez and Bolivia’s Evo Morales. International criticisms of his platform centered on his proposal to restructure foreign debt in order to allocate more under social spending, his stance against a pending 2009 renewal of US military use of the Manta base, and his call for permanently halting already stalled free trade agreement talks with the US. The threat to default on foreign loan payments was reported to have upset financial markets, but, as Ecuador is effectively excluded from international credit markets as it is, this seems to not have been as big a factor among voters. Venezuela’s offer of a $300 million loan from Venezuela also allayed these fears.

Recent history has shown that when there is popular discontent in Ecuador, it is not a matter of waiting four years until the next elections. In the last 10 years, Ecuador has had nine presidents, as popular unrest removed Abdala Bucaram in 1996, Jamil Mahuad in 2000 and Lucio Gutierrez in 2005. This crisis in the legitimacy of the political system is no surprise in a country where the average person is worse off than they were 25 years ago, where social spending has been cut in half since 1993, and where 45% of the population lives below the poverty level, with an average per capita income of $5,392. Rampant corruption has resulted in an utterly discredited political institution.

Some recent presidents, especially Lucio Gutierrez, talked a populist line to get elected—then changed colors once in office. It remains to be seen if Rafael Correa will join them in their ignominious fate, or remain true to the base that won him the day.

———

RESOURCES:

“Ecuadorian Banana Workers Violently Attacked:
International Campaign Targets Bonita Bananas”
U.S./Labor Education in the Americas Project (US/LEAP) Newsletter, August 2002
http://www.usleap.org/Banana/Noboa/AttackNL802.html

“Ecuador: Widespread Labor Abuse on Banana Plantations;
Harmful Child Labor, Anti-Union Bias Plague Industry”
Human Rights Watch, April 25, 2002
http://www.hrw.org/press/2002/04/ecuador0425.htm

“Profile: Ecuador’s Rafael Correa,” BBC News, Nov. 27, 2006
http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/low/americas/6187364.stm

See also:

“For the ‘Total Transformation’ Of Ecuador:
An Interview with Pachakutik Presidential Candidate Luis Maca”
by Rune Geertsen, Upside Down World
WW4 REPORT #126, October 2006
/node/2574

From our weblog:

“Ecuador: leftist trails as election goes to second round”
WW4 REPORT, Oct. 19, 2006
/node/2651

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Special to WORLD WAR 4 REPORT, Dec. 1, 2006 Reprinting permissible with attribution

Continue ReadingECUADOR’S CHAVEZ?