On June 19 US District Judge Leonard Sand of the Southern District of New York ruled against Chevron Corp.‘s efforts to have the American Arbitration Association settle its dispute with Ecuador and the Ecuadoran state oil company Petroecuador. This was a… Read moreSetback for Chevron in Ecuador suit
On June 28, the US and Panamanian governments signed a free trade treaty (TLC) at the headquarters of the Organization of American States in Washington. The treaty must still be ratified by the legislatures of the two countries. Panamanian grassroots… Read morePanama: trade pact signed amid protests
On the evening of June 26, hundreds of people vigiled in Lima, Peru, to protest the efforts of the ruling Aprista party majority in Congress to push through the “addenda” of a free trade treaty between the US and Peruvian… Read morePeru: trade pact approved amid protests
On June 27, hundreds of police agents used tear gas in an effort to break up a blockade of Peru’s central highway by miners carrying out a regional strike. The miners struck back with rocks, and one police agent was… Read morePeru: deadly violence at miners’ protest
On June 26, nearly 1,200 people camped out on the BR 428 highway between Cabrobo and Oroco municipalities in Brazil’s Pernambuco state to block national army engineering battalions from proceeding with the construction of a canal project on the Sao… Read moreBrazil: protests block canal project
The Agrarian and Popular Movement (MAP) of Paraguay reported in a June 26 statement that base-level MAP leader Perfecto Irala was abducted and disappeared by police on June 25 from Pariri, in Vaqueria district, Caaguazu department. Since last Feb. 26,… Read moreParaguay: campesinos disappeared, killed
On June 25, some 5,000 campesinos set out from 11 different areas of Argentina on a “national march for rural development.” The mobilization culminated with a rally in the Plaza de Mayo in Buenos Aires on June 28, where the… Read moreArgentina: campesinos march
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Instead of just taking easy shots at Bush over the Iraq debacle, we believe in vigorous support for Iraq’s civil resistance. In this spirit, we present this month an interview with Iraqi oil union leaders, conducted by our friends from WBAI Radio’s “Building Bridges: Your Community & Labor Report.”
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Electronic Journal & Daily Weblog IRAQ: A NEW AGE OF GENOCIDE? by Bill Weinberg, New America Media VOICES OF IRAQI OIL WORKERS Oil & Utility Union Leaders on the Struggle Against Privatization from Building Bridges, WBAI Radio ISRAEL & PALESTINE:… Read moreIssue #. 135. July 2007
Oil & Utility Union Leaders on the Struggle Against Privatization
from Building Bridges, WBAI Radio
On June 18, “Building Bridges: Your Community & Labor Report,” hosted by Mimi Rosenberg and Ken Nash on New York’s non-commercial WBAI Radio, ran an interview with two labor leaders from Iraq’s energy sector: Hashmeya Muhsin Hussein, president of the Electrical Utility Workers Union, and Faleh Abood Umara, general secretary of the Federation of Oil Unions. They spoke about the reconstruction of Iraq’s oil industry and why the labor movement is opposed to the proposed hydrocarbon law favored by the Bush administration, the Democratic Congress and oil companies, which would put foreign oil interests in effective control of two thirds of Iraq’s undeveloped reserves. They also discussed why they support an immediate end to the occupation, and the prospects for a stable, democratic, non-sectarian future for Iraq.
Mimi Rosenberg: I just would like to say to begin with that we are very honored by your presence. We have a tremendous sense of solidarity and concern for people who are in struggle against acts of tremendous aggression and oppression that emanate from this country. It would be helpful, since we have very little consciousness about the nature of labor organizing [in Iraq], to speak somewhat about the origin and membership in your respective unions.
Faleh Abood Umara: To begin with, we want to thank you for this quite warm welcome in this beautiful city. The history of the Iraqi labor unions is a long one; it goes back to the early twentieth century. And I am honored to be one of the [re-]founders of the oil union after the occupation. This union was established in the 1930’s, and it was the workers union that led very successful strikes against the oil companies back then. One of the most well-known strikes back then is a strike that took place in the city of Gawurpaghi in Kirkuk. In 1946, they led another major strike, and in 1952, they led another strike in the city of Basra. This shows the history of the oil workers’ union is a militant history, from its inception in the 1930’s. Through all that period the Iraqi oil union was struggling for the rights of workers and also for preserving Iraq’s natural resources. And it was struggling in very difficult circumstances up until Saddam Hussein was at the helm. After that, the trade union leaders and members were subjected to the most abject sorts of oppression and destruction. And together with the rest of the trade unions in Iraq, the oil trade union was dismantled in 1987.
When the occupation forces went into Iraq, just two weeks after the occupation, the workers and labor activists initiated the process of founding the union again. And they had democratic elections for the first time, and we gained a lot of successes in preserving the oil resources and preserving the workers’ rights. One of the major gains to the workers was the rectification of wages, and also they managed to allocate lots of land for the workers in the oil sector.
Hashmeya Muhsin Hussein: I will add to what my colleague Faleh has said. After the occupation began on April 9, 2003, workers got the initiative to start to form their unions in various sectors of the Iraqi economy, private sectors and the public sector-mechanic workers and the ports… For example, in the Basra Federation of Labor Unions, now they have about 93 union committees. The number of union leaders is 768; from them 64 members are females. These committees is spread over the transportation union, service union, the agricultural unions, workers’ unions, and the train system unions, and various other sectors.
The electrical workers union was formed in September 2003. And the first conference was held on May 13, 2004. The union has faced so many challenges under the occupation, and the first major obstacle and challenge was the new system that Paul Bremer put together, the wage system. It was so oppressive and unjust that the monthly wage for workers in the 11th degree under this system, it was $50 per month. This by no means allowed the workers buying power to cover their expenses. And they fought for opposing these changes in these laws, and the only unions that managed to make some gains in these demands were the electrical workers union and the oil unions.
Also, the union has fought fraud and corruption in the managerial system that has spread rapidly after the occupation. And they managed also to control corruption through limiting the number of outside contracts. Any new development that is going to be put through has to first be done within the capacity of the company or the [local] technicians that are available to the company, unless they are not able to do it; then it is open for outside contract.
As for the general electrical distribution in Iraq, they had a sit-in on May 12 demanding that electricity be available regularly around the clock for people, because people are suffering so much from electrical interruptions. And it’s possible that in the next couple of days there will be a big strike in the electrical sector regarding this particular issue of continuous availability of electrical supply for the public.
Ken Nash: The oil workers recently suspended a strike against the government oil company, during which time the government issued warrants for the arrest of the oil union leadership, and the oil workers were surrounded by the military. Why did the strike happen, and what’s going on right now?
FAU: This background to the strike was the of the meeting between the Iraqi oil union and the prime minister. But because of the refusal of one of the managers—in particular, the manager of the company responsible for the oil pipelines in Iraq—this forced the workers to go to strike. He refused to apply the agreements that the union leader made with the prime minister in their earliest meeting. And the strike started by stopping one of the major oil pipelines that supply oil from Basra to the rest of Iraq. The Iraqi government issued a warrant to arrest four oil union leaders, and Faleh was one of them.
But we had taken precautions in advance, and prepared for another union leadership; in the case of them being arrested, this union leadership in the shadow would come and take over. And there was a very brave position from the leader of the Iraqi army in Basra. He refused to enact the orders of the arrest, and he said that he would not arrest a person who loves Iraq. But the military still surrounded the area; the union leadership asked their families to leave so they won’t be in the way of harm. The workers themselves took a brave position and refused to leave and said we’re going to stand with you here, and whatever happens, will happen to all of us. They entered into negotiations with the government, the strike was successful, and the workers managed to have some gains.
MR: We haven’t elaborated on the demands. It would be helpful to know what they were.
FAU: The most important demand is to reconstitute the Iraqi national oil company. The other major one is to have some changes in the proposed hydrocarbon law, the oil law draft. The other demand that we also think is very important is to activate the gasoline production project, which they already have a contract with Japan for, with a production capacity of one million liters a day. Some of these demands were answered, they were enacted; others, the prime minister agreed to have a joint committee between the minister of state and the trade union to further discuss it and act upon the recommendations.
KN: Can you expand on the hydrocarbon law? I don’t think everybody is familiar with that.
FAU: The drafted hydrocarbon law in Iraq has so much injustice against Iraqi people’s rights on oil. It was written in American hands, not for the sake of Iraqi interests. And we have documented information that this draft was put together by [US Secretary of State Condoleezza] Rice and the IMF and the World Bank and presented to the Iraqi government.
We consider that the most dangerous section in this draft law is the production sharing agreements, which allow for the foreign companies to enter Iraqi oil sites, with a share in the production that goes up to 50%. This is something that we can’t agree on and we can’t accept. And the Iraqi national oil company would have no say in establishing production levels. We insisted to parliament and the prime minister that the Iraqi national oil company should be the only owner and supervisor of the Iraqi oil fields and oil production, and we are only going to have contracts with these foreign companies for the sake of developing the oil sector. As a union, and a national company, we need to develop these oil fields and we need to have new technology, but not on the basis of production-sharing. We don’t need anybody to share in our oil production. It’s fine for these companies to come and work based on contracts, and when they finish their contract we give them their money based on [the terms of] the contracts, but not on the basis of production-sharing.
There’s now about 18 American companies ready to enter the Iraqi oil market. This is why the US is trying to push this law down the throat of the Iraqi government and the Iraqi parliament. It is possible that the American media is suppressing this piece of information from the American public. What is known is that the last oil exploration in the US, in Texas, was in January 2004—that means that average oil production in the US has been on the decline. In the year 2014, [US domestic] oil production will go down to zero, and by that time also the US will need to import 28 million barrels a day. This must be the major reason for the US to pressure for this law to go through as fast as possible.
MR: What we haven’t discussed—and to humanize our guests, and the Iraqi people—is the nature of life, and the nature of being a labor leader in Iraq at this time. And I was hoping that you could tell us more about that.
HMH: The suffering of the Iraqi union members and leaders is more or less the same as the suffering of the Iraqi people. And they suffer for years; they are still suffering, endlessly, from the occupation. One of the aspects of the occupation is the deterioration of the security situation in Iraq. Because of that, many of the labor union leaders and members were targeted by these acts of terrorism, and explosions, and the state of war that’s going on in Iraq. We have many union leaders who have been assassinated. [National labor leader] Hadi Saleh was hanged two years ago, and just two months ago the vice president of the trade union federation in Mosul was assassinated. Also, the head of the mechanic trade unions in Baghdad was assassinated. And in the time of Paul Bremer, the American forces attacked and targeted the Iraqi Federation of Trade Unions [offices] in Baghdad.
One of the major issues that we suffer from in the labor movement is that the laws that were enacted in the time of Saddam against the unions are still in effect. Until this moment, the parliament has not enacted any labor law. We have been demanding the canceling and annulling of the law that was enacted by Saddam in 1987, but this has not happened yet. This resolution that was enacted by Saddam is still in effect. But even though we were demanding the cancellation of Saddam’s Law 150, they didn’t cancel it; to the contrary, they enacted another, an even worse law than the 150. And by that law government expropriated all the assets of the unions in Iraq. And in spite of all demands and sit-ins and mobilization against this new law, Number 8750, the government continues to enforce it.
MR: There’s so much more to explore. But I would absolutely be remiss if I did not look at your positions on the US occupation and the question of the removal of US troops.
HMH: We believe that all the problems that the Iraqi people are suffering from—from unemployment to insecurity, to deterioration of the economic situation, to all the social problems expanding—is because of the occupation, the root cause is the primarily the occupation. The problem is that the UN issued Resolution 1438 which gave some sort of legitimacy for the occupation, based on the UN charter and international law, that the protection of occupied countries is the responsibility of the occupier. But what happened in Iraq is the opposite: instead of protection, we have lack of protection and deterioration of the situation; that’s why our main aim of this visit is to meet with the American people and ask them to pressure the government to withdraw from Iraq and end the occupation.
FAU: My sister Hashmeya has already said most of what I want to say. I want to add that as Iraqis we don’t want to see our country under occupation. We want to end the occupation, and we are here to reach out to the American people to stand up with us in solidarity to stop this bloodshed that is happening for the Iraqi people and the American people. And that we work together for peace.
MR: But the Democrats’ position is: Certainly we should end the occupation, but if we move too quickly there will be a bloodbath.
FAU: The occupation is the main reason for violence. We are a people who have a history that goes back 7,000 years, and we have been living together with all our differences, our beliefs, our religions, our walks of life, and we didn’t fight. And even if we had fought each other, we are still brothers and we can resolve our issues together. And I don’t really count on the Democratic Party a lot because Bill Clinton was also Democratic and he bombed Iraq with cluster bombs. But still, I will hope they will help us in ending the occupation.
HMH: The question is—we are now under the occupation, but is the occupation now stopping the bloodbath in Iraq? It is not doing that.
KN: Do most of the people in Iraq believe as you do, that the occupation should be ended immediately?
FAU: I wish that you could believe me that not just most of the Iraqis, but all the Iraqis, don’t want the occupation.
HMH: Myself, Hashmeya, as a union leader—all my union, all the workers, want the occupation to end immediately.
MR: We have some very backward notions here, or maybe we’re just kept ignorant, about the role of women in Iraq, and the nature of oppression of women in Iraq. You are a prominent trade union leader, who has led major demonstrations against private contractors. Can you just explain a little bit more about women in Iraq?
HMH: In the era of Saddam Hussein, woman was more or less in the shadow. And she went through immense suffering because woman lost her brothers or her husband in the wars that Saddam started. And she took upon herself many responsibilities of supporting her family and raising her kids. Then came the years of sanctions, and this put even more suffering and more hardship on her. After the fall of Saddam, we were hoping that women’s situation would be better. Unfortunately, came the Law 137, that canceled the progressive women’s law that was enacted in 1959, Number 188. This new law referred issues of women and issues of family to [the authorities of] each person’s respective sect or religion. Women all over Iraq reacted against this law, and the Iraqi women’s associations played a major role in the mobilization against the law. And this law was canceled after these wide mobilizations. We consider that a victory for the will of Iraqi women. Also, Iraqi women managed to have a reasonable percentage of Iraqi women elected—I think around 25% are elected members of parliament are women. We demanded that the percentage be upped to 40% in the coming elections. We think that the woman is becoming more aware of her role in the society.
MR: Special thanks to our trade union leaders from Iraq.
KN: Our guests have been addressing audiences around the United States on a solidarity tour sponsored by US Labor Against the War.
Transcription: Melissa Jameson
The podcast of this program is online at A-Infos Radio Project
2007 Iraq Labor Solidarity Tour
US Labor Against the War, June 4-29
Action alert on Decree 8750
US Labor Against the War, June 27, 2006
“A People’s History of Iraq” by Bob Feldman
Toward Freedom, July 27, 2005 (background on labor struggles of the 1930s)
Energy Statistics > Oil imports > Net by country
IRAQI UNIONS DEFY ASSASSINATION AND OCCUPATION
by David Bacon, WW4 REPORT, September 2005
WORKER UNIONS IN IRAQ: AN INTERVIEW WITH AMJAD ALJAWHARY
by Benjamin Dangl, WW4 REPORT, October 2005
From our weblog:
Iraq: southern oil strike is on
WW4 REPORT, June 7, 2007
Reprinted and transcribed by WORLD WAR 4 REPORT, July 1, 2007
Reprinting permissible with attribution
by Bill Weinberg, New America Media
Amid daily media body counts and analyses of whether the “surge” is “working,” there is an even more horrific reality in Iraq, almost universally overlooked.
The latest annual report by the London-based Minority Rights Group International, released earlier this year, places Iraq second as the country where minorities are most under threat—after Somalia. Sudan is third. More people may be dying in Darfur than Iraq, but Iraq’s multiple micro-ethnicities—Turcomans, Assyrians, Mandeans, Yazidis—place it at the top of the list.
While the mutual slaughter of Shi’ite and Sunni makes world headlines, Iraq is home to numerous smaller faiths and peoples—now faced with actual extinction. Turcomans are the Turkic people of northern Iraq, caught in the middle of the Arab-Kurdish struggle over Kirkuk and its critical oilfields. Assyrian and Chaldean Christians, now targeted for attack, trace their origins in Mesopotamia to before the arrival of the Arabs in the seventh century. So do the Mandeans, followers of the world’s last surviving indigenous Gnostic faith—now also facing a campaign of threats, violence and kidnapping. The situation has recently escalated to outright massacre.
In late April, a grim story appeared on the wire services about another such small ethnic group in northern Iraq. Twenty-three textile factory workers from the Yazidi community were taken from a mini-bus in Mosul by unknown gunmen, placed against a wall and shot down execution-style. Three who survived were critically injured.
Yazidis, although linguistic Kurds, are followers of a pre-Islamic faith which holds that the Earth is ruled by a fallen angel. For this, they have been assailed by their Muslim neighbors as “Devil-worshippers” and often subject to persecution.
The wire accounts portrayed the attack as retaliation for the stoning death of a Yazidi woman who had eloped with a Muslim man and converted to Islam. After the killings, hundreds of Yazidis took to the streets of Bashika, their principal village in the Mosul area. Shops were shuttered and Muslim residents locked themselves in their homes, fearing reprisals.
Yazidis have often been the target of calumnies, and the stoning story may or may not be true. If it is, it says much about the condition of women in “liberated” Iraq, where “honor killings” witness a huge resurgence. In any case, it says much about the precarious situation of minorities in post-Saddam Iraq.
By eerie coincidence, April 24, the day the story of the massacre appeared on the wire agencies, also marked the 92nd anniversary of the start of the Armenian genocide, commemorated in solemn ceremony by Armenians worldwide. Following the mass arrests of that day in 1915, some 1.5 million met their deaths in massacres and forced deportations at the hands of Ottoman Turkish authorities. The Yazidis, whose territory straddles contemporary Turkey and Iraq, were targeted for extermination in the same campaign.
The Yazidis may be targeted for extermination again. After the Mosul massacre, a statement from the League of Yazidi Intellectuals said that 192 Yazidis have been killed since the US invaded Iraq—not including the most recent 23 victims.
It is telling that the US refuses to officially acknowledge the Armenian genocide, out of a need to appease NATO ally Turkey. More disturbingly, the US is now presiding over the re-emergence of genocide in the same part of the planet.
The US went into Iraq in 2003 to put an end to a regime which had committed genocide against the Kurds in 1988 (when, lest we forget, it was still being supported by Washington). In doing so, the US merely created a new genocidal situation. Even if the aim was to control Iraq’s oil under a stable, compliant regime, the result has been Yazidis massacred, Assyrian churches bombed, the majority of the Mandeans forced into exile in neighboring countries.
The armed insurgency and the forces collaborating with the occupation seem equally bent on exterminating perceived religious and ethnic enemies. In April 2004, the Badr Brigades of Shi’ite militant cleric Moqtada al-Sadr burned down the Roma (“Gypsy”) village of Qawliya, accused of “un-Islamic” behavior—like music and dance. Last year, the usually pacifistic Sufis, followers of Islam’s esoteric tradition, announced formation of a militia to defend against the Shi’ite supremacists in both opposition and collaboration. “We will not wait for the Mahdi Army and the Badr Brigade to enter our houses,” read the statement from the Qadiri Sufis. “We will fight the Americans and the Shi’ites who are against us.” Suicide bombers have also struck Sufi tekiyas (gathering places).
House Republican leader John Boehner of Ohio recently stated without irony: “We can walk out of Iraq, just like we did in Lebanon, just like we did in Vietnam, just like we did in Somalia and we will leave chaos in our wake.” He may be right. But the alternative may be staying—presiding over, and fueling chaos. Boehner ignores the inescapable reality that US intervention created the current chaos, now approaching the genocidal threshold. It has only escalated throughout the occupation.
This reality raises tough questions for those calling for military intervention in Darfur: will this end the genocide there—or inflame it? And the US failure to even impose sanctions on Sudan, despite four years of threats, again points to oil and realpolitik as imperial motives, rather than humanitarian concerns. Even the renewed warfare in Somalia, topping the Minority Rights Group list, was sparked by the US-backed Ethiopian intervention late last year.
There are secular progressive forces in Iraq who oppose both the occupation and the ethno-exterminationists in collaboration and insurgency alike. These groups, such as the Iraq Freedom Congress and the Organization of Women’s Freedom in Iraq, support a multi-ethnic Iraq, and constitute a civil resistance. Their voices have been lost to the world media amid the spectacular violence.
Such voices may have little chance in the escalating crisis. But looking to the US occupation as the guarantor of stability is at least equally deluded. Above all, Iraq’s minorities will likely be struggling for survival in the immediate future, whether the US stays or goes. We owe them, at least, the solidarity of knowing about them.
Bill Weinberg is editor of the online journal World War 4 Report
This story first appeared May 15 on New America Media
From our weblog:
Report: Iraq minorities face extinction
WW4 REPORT, February 22, 2007
Iraq: Yazidi workers massacred in Mosul
WW4 REPORT, April 24, 2007
Armenians commemorate 1915 genocide —despite Turkish censorship
WW4 REPORT, April 25, 2007
Darfur: Bush announces sanctions —against the resistance movement!
WW4 REPORT, May 29, 2007
Reprinted and translated by WORLD WAR 4 REPORT, July 1, 2007
Reprinting permissible with attribution
Is There a Model-T in Your Future?
by Michael I. Niman, ArtVoice, Buffalo, NY
I remember the future. I believe we were supposed to be wearing silver suits and zipping about in atomic-powered hovercrafts. The future of my childhood, however, is now, and as far as transportation technology goes, things ain’t all that different.
Take government-imposed CAFE standards. “CAFE” stands for Corporate Average Fuel Economy. Created during the energy crisis of the 1970s, CAFE forced auto-makers to improve fleet gas mileage. The US Senate just passed a controversial bill to increase CAFE standards to require auto-makers to achieve a lethargic average of 35 miles per gallon in their consumer-grade vehicles by the year 2020.
Wow. Let’s put this into perspective. My 1987 Hyundai got an EPA highway rating of 40 miles per gallon, a figure it often surpassed. My current 11-year-old car also earned an EPA rating of 40 miles per gallon, and it averages 38 miles per gallon in real-world driving. So excuse me if I’m not impressed with 35 miles per gallon by the year 2020.
What is futuristic about this bill is the political climate in Washington, where this lame and worthless legislation is currently received as “controversial”—as if it were some sort of ecotopian plan drafted by deep ecologists just back from burning an SUV dealership. The future is now, and it’s dominated by corporate interests that can’t see past tomorrow morning’s stock valuations. Hence, most Republicans in the Senate voted against imposing 1980s Hyundai technology on the American auto industry of the 2020s.
2030 as 1980
Opponents whine that the bill is more radical that it initially seems, imposing four percent per year mileage increases after 2020, culminating in a requirement for private vehicles to average 52 miles per gallon—the same mileage as a 1980s vintage Honda CRX—by the year 2030.
Again, let’s put this all into perspective. Current CAFE standards require what auto-makers call “cars” to average 27.5 miles per gallon, while cars that they deem “light trucks,” often with less interior room than “cars,” can average 22.5 miles per gallon. The 1908 Ford Model T averaged 25 miles per gallon. The “radicals” want 2020’s vehicles to show a mileage increase over the Model T of 40 percent.
Now you can cruise down the Thruway, Mom driving and chatting on the phone, kids watching DVDs, Dad checking the weather with his wireless-equipped laptop, the GPS on the dash pinpointing directions to the next oxygen bar, the speed-trap detector blinking green, the E-Z pass debiting tolls—yet mileage-wise, we’re still ticking along in our open-air Model Ts. I don’t buy it. And consumers aren’t buying it either—that’s why Toyota just surpassed GM as the world’s largest auto-maker.
Speedy Living Rooms
Yes, yes, I’m aware of the counter-arguments. Your Expedition is a nicer ride than a Model T—or even a Honda CRX. But the question right now is what do we really need: a living room on wheels that can beat the neighbor’s mobile rec room off the line at the green light, or a fuel-efficient vehicle that makes your ecological footprint a bit smaller while squeezing your wallet a bit less and keeping a few more dollars Stateside?
The same argument applies to vehicle size. Yes, I understand my 1987 Hyundai and my current car are both smaller than GMC Yukons. But really, how big does a car have to be? My current, 38-miles-per-gallon car has carried, at one time, 13 sheets of drywall and 20 eight-foot, two-by-four studs on its roof racks without any apparent damage and not much strain. It regularly hauls 17-foot canoes and 14-foot kayaks up logging roads. It has carried a mélange of curb-scored furniture. It moved my entire household, couches, dressers and tables. It pulls sailboats on trailers. Last weekend it hauled a double bed from Buffalo to Utica. And it’s done all this now for 11 years while still cornering better than any machismo-dripping dickmobile. I call it a sporty utilitarian vehicle. It’s especially utilitarian since it’s still rolling while countless supersized cars have been sidelined by fuel costs. So much for finding new paths and blazing new trails as you take your armada of Troopers, Trackers, Scouts, Outlanders, Foresters and (I love this one) Patriots, on an expedition of discovery in search of elusive Hummers.
Okay. So I can’t haul a load of bricks or sand. That’s why Home Depot has that “rent me by the hour” truck parked by the exit door. This is called smart living. I don’t need to drive a moving van to work every day because one day I might need to move. I can’t make this any simpler. You can pack your three kids and your dog into your Ford Focus wagon and have enough roof space left over for all your vacation tools. You just need to pack light, as if you lived on an overburdened planet. You don’t “need” a giant gas guzzler—you’ve just been trained to salivate when you see them. Just like now you’re being socialized to turn up your nose at your SUV-driving neighbor. Yeah, 40 and 50 miles per gallon have been technologically feasible for a long time—we just need to advance socially.
What $335K Buys
Let’s get back to the anti-MPG argument. One of the lead “think tanks” producing anti-MPG propaganda is the National Center for Public Policy Research, which has received at least $335,000 from Exxon/Mobil and a bundle more from various auto and oil industry execs. Led over the years by such notable figures as former lobbyist Jack Abramoff, the NCPPR was an early opponent of the Kyoto accords, forming a front group called the Kyoto Earth Summit Information Center to spread carbon-friendly propaganda. The NCPPR is on record stating that “There is no serious evidence that man-made global warming is taking place” and “There are many indications that carbon dioxide does not play a significant role in global warming.”
Gas-guzzling is a hard sell. Hence, most of NCPPR’s propaganda relies on its audience remaining ignorant of reality. Their assault on the new CAFE standards centers on a series of 10-second sound bites, what they call “fast facts on the environment,” which they provide to carbon-friendly media outlets. Among their arguments is that 52 miles per gallon (the 2030 standard) is “especially harsh” and “very likely unobtainable”—a tough argument to sell next year as consumers queue up to by 55+ miles per gallon Volkswagen Jetta TDIs.
NCPPR relies heavily on the pro-corporate and neo-conservative echo chamber for its quasi-science, quoting similar organizations such as the Heritage Foundation, the Hudson Institute, the Competitive Enterprise Institute and the Center for Individual Freedom. Their main “10 Second Response” is: “CAFE standards already result in the deaths of approximately 2,000 Americans every year, since smaller cars are less crashworthy.”
Squished Beetles and Rapists
I first encountered “blame the victim” logic when I was a small child. A Cadillac ran a red light on my corner in Brooklyn, t-boning a VW Beetle at 40 miles per hour, instantly killing the family of four that was riding in the VW. As was the case with all accidents on our corner, a crowd of neighbors quickly formed to examine the carnage and watch Mafioso pickup truck drivers divvy up the metallic bounty as we all waited for ambulances to arrive. I still remember one woman holding her face and shaking her head, repeating that small cars should be outlawed.
Nobody saw the Cadillac as being dangerous since the driver was unharmed. This is like blaming a woman for being raped since she was innocently walking to the store rather than out stalking prey herself. Or blaming shooting victims for being shot since they weren’t wearing bulletproof vests.
Yes, when a large vehicle hits a small vehicle, the people in the small car are more at risk for injury. That’s the argument the carbon-lobby is echoing today. And it’s one of the main reasons why people buy SUVs—as a defensive measure against Thruway upscaling. Back to my childhood: I remember standing there as ambulance crews jimmied the crushed carnage from the VW, listening to the Cadillac driver argue, “Da light wuz green, I tell ya.” I thought Cadillacs should be regulated, not Beetles.
Another 10-second pro-carbon argument I found particularly intriguing was that lower gas mileage makes it more expensive to drive; hence, people will drive less, which will be better for the environment. Get it? It’s your neighbor with the Escalade, not the one with the Prius, who’s the greenest. Fuck those sanctimonious, Prius-driving gas hogs. Fuel-efficient cars somehow make your daily commute longer, so let’s do away with mileage standards altogether. I guess you really have to stretch to find an argument supporting fuel-inefficiency.
And finally, there’s the argument that CAFE standards, not the off-shoring of production by the big three auto-makers, will cost American jobs. Let’s get with the program. By 2020, when the 35 miles per gallon standard kicks in, 35 miles per gallon will sound like ancient history. By then we’ll be well past Peak Oil, meaning that we’ll have used up most of the world’s oil reserves, while an industrialized China and industrializing India will have increased their oil consumption exponentially. That scenario alone should push gas prices above seven bucks a gallon in today’s dollars.
Then there’s the impending collapse of the overvalued dollar. We just can’t continue our two-decade-long orgy of importing more then we export, and playing this game on credit. Your buying power today at Target and the Dollar Store guarantees the collapse of the dollar tomorrow as investors shy away from an indebted US economy. When the bill comes due, imports, which in a post-deindustrialized America means damn near everything except wheat and apples, will cost a lot more. And oil is an import. What a gallon will cost in 2020, and then in 2030 dollars, will be a nightmare.
If US auto-makers have any chance of a future, they will have to compete with green hybrid diesel compacts and other fuel-efficient cars currently planned by European and Asian auto-makers. If CAFE standards force auto-makers to get with the program, it might save the industry. American auto-makers are living in a past dominated by cheap oil and inflated dollars. They’re drunks addicted to gas-guzzling SUVs. Alcoholics drink themselves to death. Addicts die. Thirty-five miles per gallon by 2020 is a joke. That’s not the future—that’s the past. And the past is over.
Dr. Michael I. Niman teaches journalism and media studies at Buffalo State College. His columns are available online at www.artvoice.com, archived at www.mediastudy.com and available globally through syndication.
This article first ran June 28 in ArtVoice, Buffalo, NY
National Center for Public Policy Research
Global Warming Information Center
Reprinted by WORLD WAR 4 REPORT, July 1, 2007
Reprinting permissible with attribution