New Constitution Escalates Polarization

by Ben Dangl, Upside Down World

“Let’s go unblock the road, compañeros!” a man in an old baseball cap yells as he joins a group of people hauling rocks and tires from a central intersection in Cochabamba. This group of students and union activists are mobilizing against a civic strike led by middle-class foot soldiers of the Bolivian right. These actions in the street are part of a political roller coaster which is dramatically changing Bolivia as it enters the new year.

Two major developments marked the close of the year in Bolivia: the passage of a new constitution and the worsening of political polarization in the country. The new constitution reflects the socialistic policies advocated by indigenous president Evo Morales, while racism, regional and political divisions still threaten to push Bolivia into a larger conflict.

In the final weeks of 2007, a variety of protest tactics were used by political factions to advocate competing visions for the future of the country. From November 24-25, clashes between security forces and opposition protesters in Sucre left three people dead and hundreds wounded, forcing the assembly rewriting the country’s constitution to move to Oruro. Anarchists dressed in black and pounding drums marched against racism in Cochabamba, while older Bolivians in La Paz organized rallies in support of a new pension plan. In the town of Achacachi, Aymara indigenous leaders sacrificed two dogs in a ceremony declaring war on the wealthy elite in Santa Cruz.

Santa Cruz is a department with a capital city of the same name and is the center of the right’s growing movement against the Morales government. The Bolivian right is led by four governors in the eastern departments of Beni, Pando, Santa Cruz and Tarija; civic committees, business and land owners; and the political party Democratic and Social Power (PODEMOS). The right organized various civic strikes throughout 2007, while supporters of the Movement Toward Socialism, (MAS, the political party of Morales), also flexed their political muscle in protests, blockades and strikes. Though government and media battles often carve new policies and shape debates, street mobilizations remain a vital part of Bolivian politics.

Transformation Through a New Constitution?

On December 8-9, MAS assembly participants and their allies passed the new constitution in Oruro. Opposition party members boycotted the meeting. Representatives of neighborhood councils, mining unions, coca growers’ unions, student and farmer groups mobilized in Sucre to defend the assembly from right-wing intervention. Activists blew up dynamite to intimidate political opponents while assembly participants chewed coca to stay awake throughout the weekend-long gathering.

The new constitution paves the way for many of the changes the government has been working toward since Morales was elected in 2005. The document gives the state greater control over natural resources and the economy, and guarantees expanded autonomy for departmental governments and indigenous communities. It also calls for a mixed economy, where the rights of private, public and communal industries are protected. Indigenous community justice systems are better recognized through the new constitution and the document establishes that Supreme Court judges are to be elected instead of appointed by congress. The constitution also lifts the block on second consecutive terms for the president. This change would allow Morales to run again for two more terms in a row, in addition to his current time in office.

Though it was passed in the assembly in Oruro, the new constitution still has to be approved in a national referendum along with a vote on an article on land reform which is still in dispute. This controversial article puts a limit on private ownership of land to 100,000 hectares. Such a policy would greatly impact large land holdings in the department of Santa Cruz and other regions. On top of these challenges will be the difficulty of actually implementing these policy changes which so far only exist on paper.

Right-wing assembly members from PODEMOS, civic leaders and governors announced that they will not recognize the new constitution as it was passed without their support. MAS’s take on this, as represented by Bolivian Vice President Alvaro Garcia Linera, is that the light-skinned elite do want to give up any of their privileges. Linera told the Los Angeles Times that these elites “have to understand that the state is no longer a prolongation of their haciendas [estates.]”

As a way out of the tense divisions, Morales announced that a referendum would be held in 2008 on his presidency and all governorships. In this referendum, which is scheduled to happen sometime before September, Morales established a rule that he has to receive over 54% of votes – what he received when elected president in 2005 – supporting his presidency to remain in office. If he doesn’t receive this support, he is to hold elections within 90-120 days. At the same time, there will be a referendum on whether the governors will stay in office. If the governors do not receive more votes than they did when they were elected in 2005, then they can be replaced by an interim governor of Morales’ choosing until the next elections.

This referendum could be a way for Morales to strengthen his own mandate, while weakening the right. Though criticism among Morales’ base of support has increased recently, when given a choice between supporting the right and Morales, this large voter group would likely vote for Morales. There is also a lack of alternatives to Morales among the Bolivian left. A massive voter registration drive, largely in rural areas, launched by the Morales administration is also likely to play into the president’s favor in this referendum. A recent poll conducted by Ipsos Apoyo, OpiniĂłn y Mercado showed that 56% of the population currently approves the performance of Morales.

The Right and New Polarization

Shortly after Morales announced plans for the referendum, the right made another bold announcement which made political negotiations even more unlikely. On December 15, right wing leaders in Santa Cruz declared autonomy from the central government. Leaders announced the creation of Santa Cruz ID cards, a television station and its own police force; the Bolivian national police force will no longer be recognized. In addition, the autonomy declaration establishes that 2/3 of taxes from the oil and gas industry in that department will remain in Santa Cruz, rather than going to the central government. Expanded autonomy for four of the opposition-led, resource rich, departments would further threaten the stability of the Morales government.

Meanwhile, strikes, road blockades and protests have been organized among all political factions and violence has often erupted throughout what has been a turbulent end to the year. There have been approximately eight political bombings in Bolivia in 2007. Most of these incidents involved dynamite or grenades, and the majority of them were against leftist unions or MAS party officials

Morales and his opponents have shown interest in meeting to negotiate some kind of compromise. Such a meeting was put at risk when on December 31 right-wing leaders said they threw the new constitution into the garbage. Morales responded by saying that their autonomy statute should be thrown in the garbage. These declarations are likely to further erode relations between political opponents and increase division in the country.

A government plan to redirect gas industry taxes from departmental governments into a national pension plan has resulted in outcries from the right, and praise from MAS supporters. This pension, called the Dignity Salary, was approved in congress on November 27 without many opposition members present. The pension plan gives Bolivians over age 60 approximately $26 per month. The funds, which are to be an estimated $215 million annually, would be redirected from current gas tax funds which had previously gone to departmental governments. Right-wing governors protested the pension, demanding that this redirected tax money stay in their departments.

Another of the right’s criticisms of the Morales administration is that the president’s policies are bad for business and international relations. Recent events and reports prove otherwise. On January 1, the government announced that in 2007 the Bolivian economy grew by 4.2%, which is more than the 1.7% growth in 2001 when Jorge Tuto Quiroga was vice president of the country. Quiroga, of PODEMOS, is a key leader of the current opposition against Morales.

In mid-December, Brazilian president Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva and Chilean president Michelle Bachelet met with Morales in Bolivia to show their support for his government and the new constitution. The three heads of state negotiated a plan to develop a $600 million highway from Santos, Brazil, across Bolivia and to sea ports in Arica, Chile. During the same visit, the Brazilian hydrocarbon company Petrobras announced it would invest up to $1 billion to further develop the Bolivian gas industry.

Morales also cut a deal with a South Korean company to collaborate with Bolivian state-owned COMIBOL to exploit a copper mine in Corocoro, outside La Paz. On December 21, Bolivian foreign minister David Choquehuanca, during a visit in Beijing, announced proposals for Chinese investment in Bolivian telecommunications, transportation, hydrocarbons and minerals. Though specific deals with China were not discussed, Choquehuanca told Reuters, “We need investment but we need investment that gets us out of poverty, not investment that strips our natural resources and leaves us poor.”

Last November, in the cold lobby of a museum in La Paz, Bolivian vice president Garcia Linera arrived late to a panel on political change in Latin America. It was raining heavily in the Bolivian capital and the political crisis threatened to tear the country apart. Throughout the presentation, Linera left the panel to field numerous cell phone calls. When he finally commented on the polarization and conflicts in the country, he warned about the risk of widespread division, and said this moment of “bifurcation” is “much closer than it appears.” He spoke of how the “new state is consolidating itself” and how the right may “gradually accommodate” itself to these changes. Yet, he warned, the right could also work to block the government’s changes to revert to a past balance of power, which could create more tension. As Bolivia enters the new year, this tension is more present than ever.

Bolivia ended 2007 with more questions than answers about the future of the nation. Will the government be able to transform the state into something useful for a majority of Bolivians? What role will the social movements of Bolivia play in pushing for radical change? Will the policies in the new constitution be applied in effective ways? Though many of these issues may not be resolved in 2008, the good news is that Bolivia is directly addressing these critical questions.


Benjamin Dangl is the author of “The Price of Fire: Resource Wars and Social Movements in Bolivia” (AK Press, 2007).

This story first appeared Jan. 3 on Upside Down World

See also:

Deadly Violence as Draft Charter Approved
from the Andean Information Network
WW4 Report, December 2007

From our weblog:

Bolivia’s constitutional crisis: rival “decentralizations”
WW4 Report, Dec. 8, 2007


Reprinted by World War 4 Report, Jan. 1, 2008
Reprinting permissible with attribution



Moribund National ID Act Revived by Spitzer-Chertoff Love Fest

By A. Kronstadt, The Shadow

Even here in sophisticated New York City where we are all supposed to know something and be savvy about politics, everyone thinks that there is a big difference between Democratic Governor Eliot Spitzer and former Republican New York City Mayor and presidential hopeful Rudy Giuliani. Spitzer is certainly identified by most as a New York liberal, whether those doing the identifying like him for that or not. It is becoming more and more apparent, however that Spitzer’s credentials resemble more those of Giuliani than, say, Mario Cuomo, in the sense that Spitzer has a prosecutorial background and mentality and has little respect for the rights of the individual, except perhaps for the big real estate individuals of which he is also one. Spitzer’s role as a “stealth liberal” whose sleek profile is an illusion to disguise a greedy control junkie, is becoming apparent to more and more people, and this is one of the reasons why his popularity is in a tailspin, with a majority of Democrats admitting that they would like a chance to vote for somebody else. Spitzer’s role in promoting and indeed reviving the much-detested Real ID Act, legacy of the Republican Congress that was voted out of office in 2006, shows that his respect for privacy and the American tradition of individual liberties is nil.

With his prosecutorial and real estate background, Spitzer was already an insider in New York State and New York City government, and his victory in the 2006 gubernatorial race with 69% of the vote over little-known Republican John Faso was not the result of any upsurge in old-fashioned Democratic party liberalism or populism. Indeed, after less than a year in office, Spitzer is showing his right-wing prosecutorial side along with a scary ability to cloak his repressive intentions with liberal rhetoric. Spitzer’s plan to “grant driver’s licences to illegal aliens” enabled the right-wing press to skewer him as a wild-eyed liberal, but a careful examination of that controversy reveals the Democratic governor as one of the few enablers that the Bush Administration can count on in its effort to impose a national ID card on the US.

After eight years of Republican misrule in Albany, many here in New York City, who were the biggest victims of the anti-tenant and anti-poor policies of Gov. George Pataki and right-wing, upstate politicians led by State Senate Speaker Joe Bruno, welcomed the victory of Democrat Eliot Spitzer in 2006. Spitzer rose through the prosecutorial ranks, making a name for himself at the Manhattan District Attorney’s office with his probes into mafia control of the garment district, and later as New York State Attorney General, where he spearheaded major probes into Wall Street corruption and earned a reputation as a protector of the American investor. Spitzer is the son of real estate developer Bernard Spitzer, whose fortune has been estimated at upward of $500 million and who is the landlord of several Manhattan high rises including the Corinthian on East 38th Street, as well as the futuristic 200 Central Park South and numerous properties on Madison Avenue. Eliot Spitzer financed his own campaign for Attorney General in 1998 to the tune of $9 million.

Spitzer has demonstrated a tight relationship with Manhattan real estate developers, in particular Larry Silverstein, who acquired a 99-year lease on the buildings and land of the World Trade Center on July 24, 2001. When the buildings were destroyed just a couple of weeks later, Silverstein became embroiled in litigation with his insurers, who insisted that the impact of the planes comprised only one incident, entitling Silverstein to a $3.55 billion payout. Silverstein contended that the attack constituted two separate incidents, entitling him to 7.1 billion dollars. As the case progressed in 2003, Spitzer took time from his busy schedule as NY State Attorney General to file an amicus curiae brief with the 2nd Circuit Court backing the claims of his fellow real estate mogul, who was eventually awarded 4.5 billion dollars in insurance payments in a federal court ruling. (Silverstein is also reported to have hired a former Spitzer advisor, Roberto Ramirez, as his personal lobbyist and pipeline to the governor.)

The ID card controversy began on Sept. 21, 2007, when Spitzer declared that he would implement by executive order a policy whereby the hundreds of thousands of undocumented immigrants living in New York State would be able to obtain valid driver’s licenses. Spitzer justified the measure as promoting road safety by reducing the number of unlicensed drivers. As the governor phrased it “The DMV is not the INS,” referring, respectively, to the New York State Department of Motor Vehicles and the US Immigration and Naturalization Service—now folded into the Homeland Security Department.

Spitzer was immediately accused of having failed to consult either Homeland Security or the County Clerks charged with administering driver’s licenses in their localities. Spitzer counted on the support of immigrants rights advocates and Latino elected officials such as State Senator Ruben Diaz, who were early supporters of the license plan. Even Republican kingpin Joe Bruno himself, at first, rode the bandwagon. Rapidly, however, an upstate and suburban backlash sent Spitzer waffling. He consulted with his long-time friend and collaborator in hunting down mafia dons: Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff.

Chertoff had warned Spitzer that his department was about to come out against the governor’s initial, more nebulous plan to grant driver’s licenses irrespective of immigration status. Spitzer and Chertoff held a joint press conference on Oct. 27 at which they announced their Memorandum of Agreement, in which the Department of Homeland Security would consent to a form of Spitzer’s proposal to grant driver’s licenses without regard to immigration status—in the context of New York State’s compliance with the Federal Real ID Act. A system of three “tiers” of driver’s license would be created, the upper two of which would be compliant with the requirements of Real ID. Let us restate the sinister provisions of the Real ID Act, which was passed by the Republican-dominated Congress in 2005, tacked onto a military appropriations bill, with no debate:

1. It mandates that all states meet certain minimum requirements for the information that needs to be included in driver’s licenses and state ID cards, including: requirement for “biometric parameters,” understood to mean fingerprints from at least two of the person’s digits.

2. It standardizes the documentation that states must require from applicants for such cards, including proof of a real address.

3. It calls for linking of all state ID information to a national database and to similar databases in Canada and Mexico.

4. It demands that all state-issued ID cards conform to a common machine-readable technology based on magnetic strips or RFID proximity card reading technology.

5. It includes a hodgepodge of other sinister, authoritarian provisions, including a provision nullifying state laws that interfere with the building of the border fence between the US and Mexico and another allowing the Department of Homeland Security to determine at will the legal meaning of the word “terrorist.”

The Real ID Act does not precisely mandate that every citizen needs to carry identification papers as in Russia, China, or apartheid-era South Africa, but it bars, for all intents and purposes, persons refusing to carry an ID card featuring the requirements described above from boarding airplanes or entering federal buildings, or from carrying out numerous other official activities that might be essential to people’s lives.

The Real ID Act attempts to mandate a national ID card at the expense of the individual states, since the bill (originally HR 418, passed as part of HR 1268) does not include any federal funding. Seventeen states have already passed legislation distancing themselves in various ways from the provisions of Real ID, ranging from requiring federal funding as a condition for implementation to outright refusal to implement the Act or calling upon Congress to repeal it. But Eliot Spitzer is by no means a member of the broad coalition of left and right that has formed in opposition to this affront to American individualism. Indeed, he has been one of the few state elected officials nationwide to embrace the Real ID Act (comprising a total of ten states that have made any commitment to the act), and to assert that his state is capable of funding this “unfunded mandate.” At his Oct. 27 press conference with Chertoff, Spitzer stated:

“We can implement—and the Secretary has indicated that we will already be in substantial compliance, based upon what we already do and what we already intend to do. So I think other states will look at this and say, the cost issues can be addressed, and it is, as the Secretary said, in that context, good policy, from a security perspective.”

At that press conference, Spitzer moved off of his initial position that there should be equal access to licenses for all state residents, switching to a position forged in consultation with Chertoff whereby three “tiers” of license would be available. According to the Spitzer/Chertoff Memorandum of Agreement signed at the end of October, the highest and most expensive tier would be simultaneously compliant with the Real ID Act and the Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative, a treaty that includes Canada and Mexico. This version of the new driver’s license would include the RFID chip and biometric parameters (e.g., fingerprint or face-recognition technology) that are included among the maximum goals of Real ID.

The RFID chip is touted as making it very easy for upstaters to cross the Canadian border via a remote “Easy Pass” type of system that can be read automatically from a toll booth. It would be a particular convenience for residents of New York’s northernmost upstate counties to be able to travel across the Canadian border easily, since commerce with Canada is vital in that part of the state. The only other ID that would otherwise be acceptable for travel into Canada or Mexico under the post-9-11 border regulations would be a passport, which is much more expensive.

There would also be a middle tier of license that would comprise regular driver’s licenses (or non-driver ID that the state Department of Motor Vehicles also issues). These would be technically simpler, but would still require proof of citizenship, several prior forms of ID to establish name and address, and possibly the biometric parameters. This ordinary type of license would be acceptable as ID for boarding airplanes and entering federal buildings, as well as for driving.

The third and lowest tier would be valid only for driving and not for official federal purposes, and that would be the equivalent of the infamous “illegal aliens” license that Spitzer had earlier proposed. This lowest tier of license would also be subject to a lower fee. It would also be stamped “Not Valid for Federal Purposes” in compliance with the Real ID Act. Spitzer was asked whether such a system would stigmatize a person who presented such a “driver’s only” license to the police at a traffic stop as someone likely to be in the country illegally. Spitzer maintained that no stigma would be attached to the lower-tier license and that citizens and legal residents who do not travel, who already have other forms of ID, e.g., green cards, or who have already invested in more expensive US passports for travel purposes would be interested in a cheaper “driving only” license that does not qualify as ID.

At that point, Spitzer had succeeded in framing the issue such that in order to support the right of undocumented people who are living and working in the state to drive a car, one now has to support this plunge into authoritarianism in the form of a nationally standard ID card. It was the conservatives like Joe Bruno who were attacking the proposal because it failed to punish illegal immigrants by taking away their right to drive, The liberals on the other hand, were led up and forced to shake hands with the sinister Michael Chertoff, and to agree to the principle that we all need to accept less privacy and less freedom of movement in this post-9-11 world.

However, with his popularity dropping and his plan to grant licenses to the undocumented identified as his biggest drag in the polls, on November 13, Spitzer withdrew the proposal to grant the “driver’s only” license to persons unable to prove legal residency, leaving the issue completely up in the air. He also announced that he would take a “wait and see” approach on the issuance of Real ID-compliant licenses. Indeed , on that same day, Michael A. L. Balboni, the governor’s top
domestic security aide, said:

“How can it be a nationally secure driver’s license if only 10 states are going to do it? In which case, it would make the entire debate academic…The federal government has a tremendous amount of work to do to convince the nation that Real ID is truly the way to secure this nation’s air travel.”

So, the Spitzer administration is waffling on Read ID, but, seeing the relationship that he has established with Chertoff and Homeland Security, one can only suppose that there is still movement behind the scenes to keep the sinister bill alive in New York State.

To sum it all up, appearing to be compromising to save his generous, egalitarian proposal of granting driver’s licenses even to the undocumented, Spitzer allowed the police-state measure passed by a long-gone Republican Congress to get its foot in the door. By having Chertoff shepherd him through the process and stay by his side as he justified it, he made it look as if it were Chertoff’s idea, so that liberals would still think that he was just compromising. But, with their decades of illustrious service as prosecutors—Chertoff federal and Spitzer state—we are taking about two men who have prosecutorial mentalities and want nothing other that additional tools to enhance their reach and their power. Chertoff and Spitzer worked hand in hand during the ’80s and ’90s, wiretapping and spying in their efforts against organized crime, pushing the envelope of government intrusion in an effort to create a utopia where only the government is allowed to commit crimes. Privacy, to the Spitzers and Chertoffs and Giulianis, is a thing of the past and an emotional excess that has no place in a world where government nannies have a responsibility to protect everyone. Were it not for the fanatics and emotional people like ourselves at the Shadow and a substantial number of others who do not like to have a number placed upon us to identify our status in the anthill, they would go all the way and force us to carry an internal passport like in old-time Russia, which was an even more effective tool for identifying and prosecuting the guilty. After all, what do we have to hide?


This story appeared December 2007 in The Shadow, NYC


National Identity Card Bill Passes in Senate Without Debate
The Shadow, July 2007

Silverstein Places Big Bet on Spitzer Over Ground Zero
New York Sun, March 21, 2006

From our weblog:

Spitzer capitulates on license plan
WW4 Report, Oct. 30, 2007

Enviros lose border-fence fight
WW4 Report, Dec. 20, 2006


Reprinted by WORLD WAR 4 REPORT, Jan. 1, 2008
Reprinting permissible with attribution



Toward a People’s Agenda for Climate Justice

by Brian Tokar, Toward Freedom

With all the fanfare that usually accompanies such gatherings, delegates to the recent UN climate talks on the Indonesian island of Bali returned to their home countries declaring victory. Despite the continued obstructionism of the US delegation, the negotiators reached a mild consensus for continued negotiations on reducing emissions of greenhouse gases, and at the very last moment were able to cajole and pressure the US to sign on.

But in the end, the so-called “Bali roadmap” added little beside a vague timetable to the plans for renewed global climate talks that came out of a similar meeting two years ago in Montreal. With support from Canada, Japan and Russia, and the acquiescence of former ally Australia, the US delegation deleted all references (except in a nonbinding footnote) to the overwhelming consensus that reductions of 25 to 40 percent in annual greenhouse gas emissions are necessary by 2020 to forestall catastrophic and irreversible alterations in the earth’s climate.

In Kyoto in 1997, then Vice President Al Gore was credited with breaking the first such deadlock in climate negotiations: he promised the assembled delegates that the US would support mandatory emissions reductions if the targeted cuts were reduced by more than half, and if their implementation were based on a scheme of market-based trading of emissions. The concept of “marketable rights to pollute” had been in wide circulation in the US for nearly a decade, but this was the first time a so-called “cap-and-trade” scheme was to be implemented on a global scale. The result, a decade later, is the development of what British columnist George Monbiot has aptly termed “an exuberant market in fake emissions cuts.” Of course, the US never signed the Kyoto Protocol, and the rest of the world has had to bear the consequences of managing an increasingly cumbersome and ineffectual carbon trading system.

Given the increasingly narrow focus on carbon trading and offsets as the primary official response to global climate disruptions, it is no surprise that Bali resembled, in the words of one participant, “a giant shopping extravaganza, marketing the earth, the sky and the rights of the poor.” All manner of carbon brokers, technology developers and national governments were out displaying their wares to the thousands of assembled delegates and NGO representatives. Numerous international organizations used the occasion of Bali to release their latest research on various aspects of global warming, including an important new report from the Global Forest Coalition highlighting the consequences for the world’s forests of the current global push to develop so-called “biofuels” from agricultural crops, grasses and trees.

Indeed, the problem of deforestation, which is now responsible for 20% of worldwide carbon dioxide emissions, was very much on the agenda in Bali. In anticipation of a future UN scheme to address what it calls “Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Degradation” (REDD), the World Bank announced the creation of a new “Forest Carbon Partnership Facility.” World Bank funds will now be available for governments seeking to preserve forests, but given the Bank’s long history of funding environmental destruction, observers remain skeptical. The effort mainly perpetuates the fatuous idea that wealthy nations (and individuals) can “offset” their excessive carbon dioxide emissions by paying for nominally carbon-saving projects in poorer countries.

Carbon offsets have already spurred the replacement of vast native forests with timber plantations, more readily assessed for their carbon sequestration potential, and able to be harvested for “energy crops” such as palm oil and highly speculative cellulose-derived ethanol. A statement issued by nearly 50 critical NGOs assembled in Bali stated, in part, “The proposed REDD policies could trigger further displacement, conflict and violence; as forests themselves increase in value they are declared ‘off limits’ to communities that live in them or depend on them for their livelihoods.” A central underlying assumption of the REDD, as with similar World Bank initiatives in recent years, is that traditional forest-dwelling communities are incapable of managing their forests appropriately, and that only international experts affiliated with the Bank, national governments, and compliant environmental organizations such as Conservation International and the World Wildlife Fund are capable of doing so. Ultimately, timber companies and plantation managers, in league with the World Bank, will be demanding, in the words of Simone Lovera of the Global Forest Coalition, “compensation for every tree they don’t cut down.”

The Bali meetings also led to the creation of a new UN fund to help poor countries adapt to climate changes. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) made it clear in their exhaustive 2007 report that the people least responsible for climate change will likely bear the worst consequences, as they are most vulnerable to the widespread increases in floods, droughts, wildfires and other effects of a rapidly changing climate. The UN’s biannual Human Development Report, also released in Bali, states that at least one out of every 19 people in the so-called developing world was already affected by a climate-related disaster between 2000 and 2004.

The new UN adaptation fund will be managed by the Global Environment Facility, a semi-independent partnership of the UN’s environment and development programs and the World Bank, and funded through a two-percent levy on carbon offset transactions under the Kyoto Protocol’s Clean Development Mechanism (CDM). The CDM’s carbon offset schemes, however, have been widely criticized for manipulations, abuses and the funding of highly questionable projects including, once again, large scale commercial timber plantations displacing tropical rainforests. The new adaptation fund binds governments of poor countries even more tightly to the questionable practice of carbon offsets, even as it offers only a miniscule fraction of the estimated $86 billion needed just to sustain current UN poverty reduction programs in the face of the myriad new threats related to climate change.

So while the continued obstructionism of the Bush administration is the main story in the international press, the successful entrenchment in the UN system of “market-driven” policies introduced by the Clinton-Gore administration may prove to be the more lasting obstacle to real progress on global warming. Carbon trading and offsets help to further enrich Gore’s colleagues in the investment banking world, but contribute almost nothing to actually reducing emissions of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases. What are we to do?

Over the past year, activists across the US and in other industrial countries have begun to dramatize the reality of potentially catastrophic global warming and pressure their governments to do something about it. Al Gore’s movie has had a positive educational impact, as has the latest IPCC report, documenting the “unequivocal” evidence that global warming is real and that we can already see the consequences. But most public events up to now, at least in the US, have been rather timid in their outlook, and minimal in their expectations for real changes. The failure of the Bali talks suggests the urgency of a far more pointed and militant approach, a genuine People’s Agenda for Climate Justice. Such an agenda would have at least four central elements:

1. Highlight the social justice implications of global climate disruptions. Global warming is not just a scientific issue, and it’s certainly not mainly about polar bears. As the UN’s Human Development Report describes so eloquently, global warming is a global justice issue, and its implications for the half of the world’s people that live on less than $2 per day are truly staggering. Bringing home these implications can go a long way toward humanizing the problem and raise the urgency of global action.

2. Dramatize the links between US climate and energy policies and US military adventures, particularly the war in Iraq, which is without question the most grotesquely energy-wasting activity on the planet today. Author Michael Klare has documented that troops in the Persian Gulf region consume 3.5 million gallons of oil a day, and that worldwide consumption by the US military—about four times as much—is equal to the total national consumption of Switzerland or Sweden. This past October, people gathered under the banner of “No War, No Warming” blocked the entrances to a Congressional office building in Washington, demanding an end to the war and real steps to prevent more catastrophic climate changes. Similar actions across the country could go a long way toward raising the pressure on politicians who consistently say the right thing and blithely vote the opposite way.

3. Expose the numerous false solutions to global warming promoted by the world’s elites. Billions of dollars in public and private funds are wasted on such schemes as a revival of nuclear power, mythical “clean coal” technologies, and the massive expansion of so-called biofuels (more appropriately termed agrofuels): liquid fuels obtained from food crops, grasses, and trees. Carbon trading and offsets are described as the only politically expedient way to reduce emissions, but they are structurally incapable of doing so. We need mandated emission reductions, a tax on carbon dioxide pollution, requirements to reorient utility and transportation policies, public funds for solar and wind energy, and large reductions in consumption throughout the industrialized world. Buying more “green” products won’t do; we need to buy less!

4. Envision a new, lower-consumption world of decentralized, clean energy and politically empowered communities. Like the anti-nuclear activists of 30 years ago, who halted the first wave of nuclear power in the US while articulating an inspiring vision of directly democratic, solar-powered communities, we again need to dramatize the positive, even utopian possibilities for a post-petroleum, post-mega-mall world. The reality of global warming is too urgent, and the outlook far too bleak, to settle for status-quo false solutions that only appear to address the problem. The technologies already exist for a locally-controlled, solar-based alternative, at the same time that dissatisfaction with today’s high-consumption, high-debt “American way of life” appears to be at an all-time high. Small experiments in living more locally, while improving the quality of life, are thriving everywhere. So are experiments in community-controlled renewable energy production. Al Gore is correct when he says that political will is the main obstacle to addressing global warming, but we also need to be able to look beyond the status-quo and struggle for a different kind of world.


Brian Tokar’s books include Earth for Sale (South End), Redesigning Life? (Zed Books), and Gene Traders (Toward Freedom).

This story first appeared Dec. 18, 2007 in Toward Freedom.


Climate Talks in Montreal: Can we save the planet?
by Brian Tokar, Z Magazine, February 2006

UN Human Development Reports

Global Forest Coalition

No War, No Warming


See also:

“Green Energy” Panacea or Just the Latest Hype?
WW4 Report, December 2006

From our weblog:

Indigenous peoples protest UN climate meet
WW4 Report, Dec. 8, 2007

New coalition bridges Iraq war, climate change
WW4 Report, March 10, 2007


Reprinted by World War 4 Report, Jan. 1, 2008
Reprinting permissible with attribution

Continue ReadingBETRAYAL AT BALI 
Greater Middle East

Did the US nuke Syria?

An ominous Nov. 2 Jerusalem Post article on September’s apparent Israeli bombing raid on a Syrian nuclear facility uses ambiguous language (highlighted below): the planes “carried” nuclear weapons, and the site was “totally destroyed” by “one bomb”—but it is not… Read moreDid the US nuke Syria?


Sam Spade Meets Emiliano Zapata in Mexico’s Twilight Zone

by Chesley Hicks, WW4 REPORT

Book Review:

The Uncomfortable Dead (What’s Missing is Missing):
A Novel of Four Hands
by Paco Ignacio Taibo II and Subcomandante Marcos
Akashic Books, New York, 2006

The search for the “Evil and the Bad” is the quest that underlies The Uncomfortable Dead, an epistolary mystery, leftist political primer, and love letter to Mexico’s eternal soul.

Mixing surrealism with real-time realism, authors Marcos and Taibo write alternating chapters, each of them taking the voice of one of two detectives who meet in modern-day Mexico City as they unravel the truths behind a murder and cryptic phone messages from a dead man, leading them deeper into the search for the Evil and the Bad.

Subcomandante Insurgente Marcos, strategist and public voice for the longstanding rebel Zapatista movement, probably needs no introduction here. Atop his periodic communiquĂ©s, he’s also written numerous books and essays, often noted for their parabolic approach to conveying his global messages on the plight of indigenous peoples, human rights, and environmental justice.

Paco Ignacio Taibo II, a Spanish-born author and activist who has made Mexico his home for over forty years, is a writer of fiction and nonfiction, especially known for penning Che Guevara’s biography, Ernesto Guevara: Also Known as Che, as well as his pulp noir mysteries. The Uncomfortable Dead features one of Taibo’s recurring protagonists, the philosophical, world-weary, one-eyed, lame-legged detective HĂ©ctor Belascoarán Shayne.

Shayne is based in Mexico City, where he crosses paths with Marcos’ protagonist, Zapatista detective ElĂ­as Contreras, who has journeyed from the rural southeastern mountains to the city (ambivalently nicknamed “The Monster”) on the orders of one Commandante Insurgente…El Sup, a barely-veiled Marcos.

Shayne is hired to investigate the cryptic phone messages—ostensibly from a dead man, a left-wing dissident who was imprisoned and murdered 34 years earlier during Mexico’s Dirty War.

Contreras—who had been on the trail of a disappeared follower of Mexico’s new rebel movement in the southern mountains—is now traversing Mexico City, meeting urban Zapastista compadres, picking up secret packages, and following El Sup’s instructions based on coded communiquĂ©s and messages in the packages.

The two gumshoes’ separate pursuits eventually find them both tracking a man named Morales, an everyman of evil, who, it soon becomes apparent, threads the novel as both a metaphor and real person.

All The Uncomfortable Dead‘s characters and settings are playfully sculpted out of real events, real people, and fiction. For instance, it is revealed that the Osama bin Laden the world sees on TV is actually a Los Angeles taco vendor who moonlights as a porno star, and is unwittingly hired by the US government to create the infamous terrorist’s videotapes. This—coming from Marcos, himself a media mystery figure who relies on broadcast communiquĂ©s—falls in line with The Uncomfortable Dead‘s patterns of layered commentary and pointed ironies. It’s absurd: and alongside the novel’s other deadpan send-ups on world events and parochial, paranoid certitude, seems nearly plausible.

The authors also name-check Ernesto Zedillio, president of Mexico from 1994 to 2000; former Mexican federal security chief Miguel Nazar Haro; former ambassador Carlos Tello MacĂ­as; right-wing secret society El Yunque; President Bush; and Gustav Mahler, among many, referring to them with both humor and historical accuracy.

Despite its layers, The Uncomfortable Dead is a pithy page-turner, and more of whoisit than a whodunit. In one passage, Contreras says, “Everywhere I went, I ran into people like us Zapatistas, which means people who are screwed, which means people willing to fight, which means people who don’t give up.” These are The Uncomfortable Dead‘s heroes—heroes in a story where the passionate downtrodden and misfits sometimes win the day, where righteousness finds a voice if not always victory, where haplessness finds redemption, textured by both writers’ love for the stuff of close-to-the-ground Mexican life: for pozole and chorizo, for principled people, for smoking tobacco and sensually inhaling beauty in the form of a slow, smoggy Mexico City sunset.

Both writers’ literary humor belies the medicine they take to stomach the inequality and corruption they’ve made their lives confronting. Marcos’s writing is more vernacular and stream-of-conscious and occasionally tends toward proselytizing, where Taibo’s style is more descriptively direct and narrative-forward. Still, the authors share plenty of common ground, especially in Mexico, absurdity, a deep rage against injustice, and a taste for therapeutic jest. For instance, When Shayne learns of the taco-terrorist-tape theory, Taibo writes: “Juancho-bin Laden was more than he could take. This was a planetary intrusion. It was like all of a sudden, Mexico would run off with the World Cup, the Olympics and the Davis Cup. It was like, without the like, a Mexican taco vendor had taken over CNN.”

And Marcos’s wry humor works especially well when he spoofs the things he clearly holds dear. In one such example, when a beef-and-cheese dish cooked by an Italian Zapatista supporter (named August) based on a Sup recipe, turns out to be barely edible, Marcos writes, “but August is one of those people who believes the Zapatistas are never wrong, so he claimed the problem was the salsa brand he used.” And his real villains sometimes catch a kind-of break: “The evil is the system and the bad are those who serve the system,” he reveals midway through the book.

Both writers know that both evil and good come in many shades and grades, a theme which plays out in their characters’ relationship with their home country: Mexico is corrupt, Mexico is pure; it’s destructive and its nurturing; it’s poor and it’s rich; it’s soul is worth saving—and might more easily soar the heights of greatness if it were cleansed of few unsavory technocrats, bigots, and corrupt politicos.

Overall, the alternating chapters crossover gracefully, and the two writers’ voices meld well as they send their all-too-human heroes in pursuit of people, things and meaning, which ultimately finds them following the unraveling of human integrity via frayed strands of political and corporate intrigue in Mexico. The pages simmer with anger and move ahead with hope, which give way to nothing save for the inevitability of death. And in The Uncomfortable Dead, even death does not stop the righteous fighter. The dead might be uncomfortable, but they haven’t lost their sense of humor—reminding us that he who laughs last, laughs best.


From our weblog:

Subcommander Marcos unveils Osama bin Laden theory
WW4 REPORT, Oct. 4, 2006


Special to WORLD WAR 4 REPORT, Nov. 1, 2007
Reprinting permissible with attribution

Continue ReadingRADICAL NOIR 


by Jason Wallach, Upside Down World

After tens of thousands of Salvadorans marched against water privatization on Oct. 5th, the Legislative Assembly voted to advance a measure that would guarantee all Salvadorans the right to water access and ensure environmental controls over water usage. The bill was supported by the Farabundo Marti National Liberation Front (FMLN), Christian Democratic Party (PDC), and National Conciliation Party (PCN). A final floor vote on the bill could come as early as next week, though some analysts voiced skepticism that right-wing PDC and PCN were sincere in their support of the legislation.

Demanding “blue democracy,” Salvadorans, led by a coalition of over 125 unions and social organizations, crowded tightly into the plaza outside of the Chamber of Deputies. The march was attended by former US Ambassador to El Salvador Robert White and Maryland politician Kathleen Kennedy Townsend. Ana Sol Gutierrez, who represents Maryland’s 15th District in that state’s House of Delegates and was born in Santa Ana, El Salvador, also attended.

“The law should be a legal vessel that allows everyone” water access, said Gutierrez, “We cannot stand silent knowing that 12,000 children are dying because of diseases caused by the lack of hygiene and health that clean water provides.”

FMLN Deputy Lourdes Palacios, a member of the legislative Assembly’s environmental Committee, concurred: “This has been a huge march, a clear manifestation that the public rejects water privatization.”

Palacios questioned whether there was sincere political will to pass the anti-privatization measures into law, but explained the importance of doing so, “This country needs to regulate water usage in a way that guarantees it as a right. There should be access, quality and [an adequate] quantity [of water] for Salvadoran families in a way that doesn’t privilege economic interests.”

Legislating Water

The left-wing FMLN, and the right-wing PDC and PCN supported the bill, which was scribed in large part by environmentalists, consumer advocates, and human rights workers in the faith community. PDC and PCN support of the water bill mimicked a strategy employed in January by those parties to spur Salvadoran President Tony Saca into action on water reform.

Saca has supported water “decentralization”-a euphemism, say detractors, for privatization. However, his Nationalist Republican Alliance (ARENA) party has been hesitant to push specific proposals since August 2006, when Saca tried to submit a bill that would have allowed for local municipalities to contract water services with private companies for up to 50 years. Activists caught wind of the proposal and generated a firestorm of opposition.

Interviewed last week by the left-leaning Diario Co-Latino, PCN deputy Orlando Arévalo expressed disdain that the executive branch had not yet presented its water management reform proposal.

“The executive [branch] has spent many years studying and elaborating a proposal, and nothing ever gets to the Assembly.”

That claim echoed statements Arévalo made in January 2007, which were published in the national daily paper La Prensa Gráfica. At the time, his statement was largely seen as an effort to kick-start executive action.

Funes: “Hey, we tried!”

In January of this year, the chief of the Salvadoran national water company, known as ANDA, grabbed headlines at one major news daily exclaiming, “The water law is 80% complete!” The declaration was a signal to all that ARENA was willing to flex its political muscle and move toward privatization. ANDA director Cesar Funes, who is a possible presidential candidate in the upcoming 2009 election, forwarded a proposal for a “General Water Law” to Saca, but nothing has came of it.

Shortly afterward, reports surfaced that Saca was holding back due to internal disagreement between industry leaders, some of whom favor a restructuring of industrial water tariffs and others who benefit from the current fee structure. The resulting stall in legislative momentum was a windfall for activists opposed to such legislation. They spent the time slowly organizing community-based opposition to any potential Saca plan.

That resistance came to a head on July 2, 2007 when police attacked an anti-privatization protest in Suchitoto-30 miles northeast of San Salvador and charged 14 protesters, including four prominent movement leaders, with “acts of terrorism.” The arrests catapulted the issue into the national spotlight.

In late August, members of SETA, the water workers’ union at ANDA (Sindicato de Empresa de Trajabadores de ANDA), met with Funes to check in about the delay in legislation. Funes told them the political situation was too hot for him present anything before the end of the year.

With the 2009 presidential campaign just around the corner, any attempt by ARENA to present a controversial bill would be considered political suicide for their candidate on the campaign trail. However, observers close to the situation said that civic groups are unlikely to let their guard down.

Considering the massive character of October’s march, the Assembly’s action toward progressive water management reform, and the upcoming “terrorism” trial of the July 2 protesters, it doesn’t seem as if things will cool down any time soon.


This story first appeared Oct. 10 in Upside Down World

See also:

Popular Movement Stands Up to Privatization
by Jason Wallach, Upside Down World
WW4 REPORT, October 2006

From our weblog:

El Salvador: anti-privatization protesters jailed
WW4 REPORT, Sept. 17, 2007


Reprinted by WORLD WAR 4 REPORT, Nov. 1, 2007
Reprinting permissible with attribution



Global Capital Connives with African Genocide

by Ba Karang, The Hobgoblin, UK

Going by the most recent estimates, in Darfur more than 200,000 people have been killed and more than 2 million displaced as refugees. But, despite rhetorical pronouncements against the genocide, the world seems to be more preoccupied with other business and “values” (sic) than the lives of Black Africans dying in the desert.

This is not a clash of civilizations; it is common in war that oppression creates and mixes with racial arrogance. Yes, it is the Arab ruling class of Sudan who have unleashed the Janjaweed militia against poor Black Africans. But the brutality is not fundamentally about ideology—control of resources and the interests of global capital lie in the background.

The poverty, decadence, and oppression in Darfur is the result of many years of marginalization—first by the colonial masters, Britain; and then by Arabs. Darfur was effectively an independent state after 1898 following the British war against the Mahdi [Sufi anti-colonial rebel Mohammed Ahmed]. During World War I, the British invaded Darfur to prevent Turkish influence and in 1916 incorporated Darfur into Sudan.

In Darfur’s total estimated population of 7.4 million, largely engaged in subsistence farming and cattle rearing, the semi-nomadic and mainly pastoralist Bedouin Arabs have established themselves in a relatively privileged position through access to grazing lands. In 1980 they established the Tajamu al-Arabi in Darfur, a Pan-Arab Nationalist movement, inspired by Libyan strongman Mommar Qadaffi. Their main political message was nothing other than Arab supremacy. At the time of the war in neighboring Chad, a back yard was created in Darfur for the Libya-supported Chadian rebel movement. The Arab vigilante group now known as the Janjaweed was born out of the Tajamu al-Arabi as a rearguard support network allied with the Chadian rebels.

In 1989, the Sudanese Islamists lunched a military coup and established the present Islamic state of Sudan. The Islamist government started rearming the Janjaweed, who wasted no time in unleashing their terror against the already marginalized Black population. The Janjaweed, by now very powerful, and winning greater state recognition, was assigned to deal with the Black population who had been in constant confrontation with Arab nomads over pastoral land. By this time, the war in Southern Sudan was the preoccupation of the Sudanese government, which was very confident that the low-scale peasant revolt against Arab racism and brutality in Darfur could easily be put under control by the vigilante groups.

In Southern Sudan, the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM) was delighted by the news of the emerging Darfur resistance movement in 2003, when a military assault was launched against government targets by the newly formed rebel groups.

Land grabs, the drought, hunger and increasing brutality from the Janjaweed forced the villagers of Darfur to form the Sudan Liberation Army (SLM). Another rebel movement, the JEM (Justice and Equality Movement), led by Khalid Ibrahim, also joined the armed struggle as an independent group.

While the SLM was eventually brought to the negotiating table, the JEM was marginalized in the internationally-brokered Darfur peace process. Last year, the JEM and a hold-out faction of the SLM brought together other groups and individuals involved in the armed struggle at Asmara, the capital of Eritrea, to form the National Redemption Front. This organization consists of people who never recognized the Darfur Peace Agreement (DPA), which was negotiated by the African Union, EU and the USA and signed in Abuja, Nigeria, on May 5, 2006 by the Sudanese government and SLM.

The National Redemption Front’s founding document says the group seeks to “Uphold Sudan as multicultural, multi-religious and multiethnic country where diversity constitutes the basis of citizenship for individuals, and unity of our nation.” For now, an independent Darfur is not on either the agenda of the rebel movements. The genocide is a result of the demand of the Black African Darfurians for their rights to the land to be recognized, and to be rid of Arab racism.

Despite the 2005 peace accords with the SPLM, the conflict in Southern Sudan is not yet truly over, and Darfur poses an interesting puzzle in that conflict. By 2009 there will be an election in Sudan as part of the 2005 peace plan, and the SPLM is without doubt going to control the South. Darfur consists of almost a quarter of the Sudanese electorate, so the votes from Darfur will play an important role in the composition of the parliament. More importantly still, by 2011 there is to be a referendum (also mandated by the 2005 peace plan) on the question of an independent Southern Sudan—and as things stand now, there is no doubt that the Southern Sudanese will vote for an independent state. This would put more pressure on the Darfur rebel movements to move towards independence—potentially opening a new round of bloody conflict.

Any thing more genuine than the periodic pronouncements against the genocide by European and American leaders will have to come to a direct confrontation with the interests of global capital. Sudan is the backyard of Chinese and Russian capital, and Western Europe and America are very much sensitive to this fact. They have Iraq and Iran to contain and rely greatly on the support of both China and Russia In the so-called war against terrorism.

Recently, Amnesty International accused China and Russia for selling arms to Sudan, and there is no secret in the military cooperation between China and the Sudanese government. As always, arms follow oil investments. China, through the China National Petroleum Corp. (CNPC), is planning an investment of $1 billion to create Africa’s largest refinery, which will expand the Khartoum refinery from 50,000 barrels a day to 90,000 barrels a day. Oil revenue has contributed about $2 billion to the racist Sudanese state’s coffers. Thus the oil in Sudan, which the Chinese are confident of controlling and which the Russians are sniffing at, will determine to what extend capitalism values human life.

China met with 48 African states in November 2006 to form a new strategic partnership, with trade deals worth of $1.9 billion and plans to increase it to $100 billion in four years. There can be no serious discussion on Darfur while Chinese-made bullets are killing Dafurians and AU members struggling to make a difference. When Amnesty International accused the Chinese government of supplying arms to the racist Sudanese government, Lord David Triesman, British minister for African affairs, insisted that China is doing all it can to help resolve the crisis in Dafur.

The stance of the USA is also hypocritical in this conflict. The periodic threats and hand-wringing about Sudan by the US administration and in the media do give the impression that they are very concerned. But it is time to ask why is it that US sanctions against Sudan are not effective—and even if they are meant to be. If the US is serious about sanctioning Sudan, sanctions against the oil industry alone will be enough to bring the Khartoum government to its knees. But the USA has never made any serious attempt to hurt the oil industry in Sudan, because of US industrial interests.

Take gum Arabic, a substance used in the production of soft drinks and other consumer products; the company that produces this product was “mistakenly” put on the US sanction list in 1997 only to be removed from the list after a protest from American industries who depend on the supply of this product from Sudan. While sanctions have effectively barred US oil companies from Sudan, Western companies that operate in the US also invest in the CNPC. And Washington realizes that any serious move against this will antagonize sectors of US capital as well as leading to a direct confrontation with China.

Sudan has now agreed to a peacekeeping force of 20,000, which will be comprised of both UN and AU forces. However, the newly elected French President Nicolas Sarkozy organized a conference in Paris on the way forward for Darfur June 25—without a single African nation or even the AU invited to attend. What is actually known to have come out of that meeting is nothing new—just another statement from the West intended for public consumption, while the terrible condition of millions of Black people remains the same. US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice at the end of the meeting declared in a press conference that the world is failing Darfur. But it is not the world that is failing the people of Darfur—it is those Great Powers who have a direct interest in Sudan who are failing the Dafurians.


This story first appeared, in slightly different form, in The Hobgoblin, British journal of Marxism-Humanism


Death in Darfur:
Analysis of factors confounding previous estimates leads to the conclusion that hundreds of thousand of people rather than tens of thousands have died as a result of the conflict in Darfur.
by John Hagan and Alberto Palloni
Science Journal, September 2006

Darfur Death Toll is Hundreds of Thousands Higher Than Reported, Study Says
National Geographic News, Sept. 14, 2006

Darfur and the Olympics: A call for international action
Testimony by Eric Reeves, Adviser to the “Olympic Dream for Darfur Campaign,” to the Subcommittee on National Security and Foreign Affairs, House of Representatives, Washington, DC, June 7, 2007

US Energy Department page on Sudan oil sanctions

Darfur Minority Rights
Minority Rights Group, 1995

See also:

by Vijay Prashad, Frontline, Chennai, India
WW4 REPORT, October 2007

From our weblog:

Darfur rebels boycott peace talks, target oil industry
WW4 Report, Oct. 28, 2007

What is Eritrea’s Sudan strategy?
WW4 Report, Oct. 5, 2007

From our archives:

BP-AMOCO linked to Osama’s Sudan protectors
WW4 REPORT, Oct. 6, 2001


Reprinted by WORLD WAR 4 REPORT, Nov. 1, 2007
Reprinting permissible with attribution



by Antonia Juhasz, Oil Change International

Antonia Juhasz, a fellow at Oil Change International, spoke at All Souls Church, a venerable Unitarian-Universalist institution on Manhattan’s Upper East Side, on June 6, 2007, upon the release of the paperback edition of her book The Bush Agenda: Invading the World, One Economy at a Time (HarperCollins). In her talk, she dissected the corporate interests that have driven Bush’s Iraq adventure, and explored how the quest for global control of oil to assure continued US hegemony in the 21st century interlocks with these interests. Finally, she discussed strategies for building an effective movement to end the occupation of Iraq. This transcript is provided by WW4 REPORT from a video taken by independent journalist Zaya Haynes. Bracketed clarifications and elaborations were added by Juhasz via e-mail. Audience questions have been paraphrased.

I finished my book a year ago, and sadly the analysis has only gotten more pertinent. I remember having conversations with my publisher before the book came out, where he was saying, “You know, I think the war is going to be over, and all these issues are not going to be relevant anymore, and nobody’s going to be concerned about oil anymore, and I’m not sure how this is gonna fly.” And I said, “I hope you’re right, I hope you’re right!” Unfortunately, the war continues, the issues have become far more pressing as we edge closer to a potential war against Iran, we face conflicts around the world—increasingly more violent, and spreading—over, I would argue, economic issues, many of which have their basis in oil.

The analysis I put forward attempts to put an economic face on these issues that we’re confronting, and to help direct our activism—because I wrote this book to help create, sustain, build out movement, and to give us some clear targets for our activism. And the targets I keep coming back to over and over in my long history of doing this work, are a handful of corporations, and their relationship to a handful of government leaders. And I entitled the book The Bush Agenda not to give undue credit to George Bush, but also to make clear that he’s in no way a random character in this story. It’s under his administration that a series of very powerful trajectories and ideas have culminated and—hopefully—reach an apex. But I must add that it’s an agenda that preceded him, one that its advocates certainly hope will outlast him, and its one that it certainly behooves us to understand so we can resist it…

This is the first time in history that the president, vice president and secretary of state are all are all former oil or energy company officials. In fact, the only other president to come out of the oil industry is… [waits for audience response] Yes, his father, George Bush Sr. Now while its very well appreciated at this point that Condoleezza Rice had a Chevron oil tanker named after her, the Condoleezza—it is less appreciated (as is frequently the case for women) that she earned it. She spent ten years on the board of directors of Chevron. She was the head of their policy committee. She is an expert in the former Soviet republics, the Caspian region, which is awash—although it was thought to be far more awash in oil than it actually is, but in any case a source of great interest for oil companies. And she helped facilitate the movement of Chevron in particular into that region. She is intimately connected to the industry, and is a very skilled tactician and deserves a good deal of credit—credit that she’s not often given.

I think it’s well known that President Bush comes out of the oil industry. I think its also well-known that he has a tendency to run oil companies into the ground. But nonetheless that is his background, it is where he comes from and where many of his connections still remain. And of course Vice President Dick Cheney’s background in the Halliburton corporation is well known. Halliburton is the largest energy services corporation in the world.

To understand the agenda put forward by this group of men (and woman), it’s useful to look back. I go back in the book quite far in tracing the history of US economic interests in the Middle East and in Iraq, but I’m going to start tonight just going back ten years, and just understanding the different links between the first Bush war on Iraq and the second Bush war on Iraq.

With the first Bush war, I believe the motivation had a great deal to do with the fact that from 1984 the United States had been successfully and increasingly making headway into Iraq. President Reagan opened up economic relations with Saddam Hussein, he aggressively pushed an economic agenda with Hussein, and was helped along quite well in that course by Henry Kissinger. Kissinger’s new group at that time, Kissinger Associates, advised companies seeking access to Iraq. The Bechtel corporation of San Francisco managed a chemical complex for Saddam Hussein that made the precursor to mustard gas. Halliburton built oil infrastructure. Lockheed-Martin sold him helicopters. Chevron was able to market his oil. The list goes on and on of US companies that were able to get in.

But they were denied one very important thing, and continued to be denied even after Reagan pushed to get greater entrance, even after Bush pushed even harder, loaned Saddam Hussein a billion dollars worth of cash, did all sorts of thing to help Saddam Hussein. Hussein would not do one very important thing. He wouldn;t let US oil companies into Iraq. He wouldn’t give foreign companies ownership of his oil. And his oil is—or was, now it’s Iraq’s—the second largest oil reserves in the world. Very, very important oil reserves that the US is being denied access to.

Now, the urgency for getting this oil increased over time. Right around the mid-’70s, the United States hit itw own peak of oil production, and from that point on we’ve been on the down slope. That mean we’ve been looking further afield for oil. We also increasingly realized that the [largest concentration of the] remaining oil in the world—about two thirds of the world’s oil—is in the Middle East. And the United States increasingly built an agenda that stated quite clearly that it would use its military to get its hands on Mideast oll.

But that’s a hard thing to do when you have to project your military all the way across the world to get your hands on a resource. The United States needed a reason to get troops on the ground in the Middle East. We also had Saddam Hussein increasingly resisting the agenda put forward by the first Bush administration. For instance, the Bechtel corporation didn’t just want to manage petro-chemical plants, it wanted to build a pipeline to get Iraqi oil out of Iraq to the port of Aqaba, Jordan. And George Schultz, Reagan’s secretary of state and a former president of the Bechtel corporation, worked aggressively to try to get that pipeline for Bechtel. Many other people worked, Kissinger worked. Hussein said no.

He also threatened Israel. He also kept saying, “I’m gonna be the big guy on the block in the Middle East.” And the United States decided it would be a very good idea to replace Saddam, and to have a reason to bring US troops into the Middle East.

So the United States went to war against Saddam Hussein—unsuccessfully, however, was not able to unseat him, realized it wasn’t going to be worth the effort to stay in place, didn’t want, in the words of Dick Cheney, to “own Iraq” at the time.

So half a million US troops went into Saudi Arabia at the time of the first Gulf war, and a lot of them stayed. And the United States began to build up its military presence in the Middle East from that point forward.

Some very important thing changed in between the first Bush war on Iraq and the second. One of the most important things that changed was the collapse of the Soviet Union. Suddenly the United States was the lone superpower, and suddenly the United States was trying to figure out what did that mean and what did we want to do in that position. Some people thought we should enjoy the “peace dividend,” right? And have full healthcare for all, and free education, and all these great ideas—none of which came to pass.

Others, who increasingly came to put into a school called the neoconservatives, believed that we should use this position to become not just the lone superpower, but to become a truly imperial power, and they stated it as such. A full 16 members of the current Bush administration worked in the Project for the New American Century in between the first Bush and the second Bush war on Iraq, and that’s where they wrote specifically that the United States is an imperial power, like Rome, should be an imperial power, like Rome, and should be such an economic and military force that no country in the world would even consider challenging us. And we should do the things that Rome did, including invading, including fundamentally transforming the countries we went into, so that they would resemble us and serve our economic interests. And that was a very different frame from the realization of the world that the first Bush administration had,

Another thing that happened in the intervening years was Clinton. One of the wonderful things Clinton did for the world [smirks], was to aggressively push corporate globalization policies—through the World Trade Organization, through the North American Free Trade Agreement, through the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund (and if you don’t realize, I’m being sarcastic that this is a wonderful thing). The effect that this had was a tremendous consolidation of power and political influence and monetary influence in the hands of…who? [Waits for audience reaction.] Corporations! Corporations became much, much more powerful. A shift in power—of economic power, of political influence—happened.

Clinton also, by the way, implemented the brutal, horrific, deadly sanctions against Iraq—and military interventions, bombings. I would argue, however, that the sanctions were very, very different in terms of the agenda of the Clinton administration. I think the Clinton administration wanted to keep Iraq at arm’s length. The Clinton administration serviced—and the future Clinton administration, if there is one, will also service—different corporate interests. The oil and gas industry is the industry of the Republicans. There have been outliers, but it mostly always has been, and is. The Democrats have different corporate interests that they service, but oil isn’t generally one of them. I don’t think the Clinton administration was particularly interested in advancing a war for oil.

A number of consolidations happened at this time, and were particularly advanced when the second Bush administration came to power. At this time, Exxon merged with Mobil. Chevron merged with Texaco, and bought Unocal. Conoco merged with Pillips. Where there used to be hundreds of oil companies, there were now just a very small handful, and they became uber-companies. ExxonMobil is the largest company in the world. It surpassed Wal-Mart last year to earn that title. In 2003, ExxonMobil earned the highest profits of any corporation in world history, ever. Adjusted for inflation, period. Then it topped in 2004, topped it in 2005, and topped it again this year—$40 billion in pure profit. What does $40 billion buy you? An administration that is part and parcel to yourself and your own interests. An administration that’s willing to go that extra mile and get you that oil.

Now, US oil corporations—and BP and Shell—face a particularly difficult situation, and did entering into this administration. There’s not much oil left that they own. There’s only about ten years left of oil that they own, in their reserves. That’s very troubling for an oil company. They need more.

Another very troubling thing happened right when this Bush administration took office, the first ten days into the Bush administration. Vice President Cheney organized the Cheney Energy Task-Force. This was the group that was going to decide future energy policy for the United States. And who was on it? Was it the Sierra Club? [Laughter.] No. Exxon. Chevron. Bechtel. Halliburton—they were all in the room. Also coal, and also nuclear power. And they said, “Hmmm, what should our future energy policy be?”

And they took a map of Iraq and they laid it out on a table. And they looked at where all Iraq’s oilfields were, and how much oil they had. And a phrase that I’ve used to describe Iraq—and I’ve actually received e-mails asking me to stop doing it, but darn it, I’m gonna do it anyway—I think they see Iraq as a pimple of oil that has yet to be plucked. [Laughter.] OK? It is bursting at the seams with oil. It is right below the surface, it is inexpensive to get at.

For US oil companies, the average cost to get a barrel of oil out of the ground is between 10 and 20 dollars a barrel. In Iraq, it costs 60 cents a barrel to get it out of the ground. What a good deal that is, right? Iraq has about 80 fields of oil; only about 17 have even begun to be developed. It is literally a bonanza of oil. They know where it is. They know how much is in each field…

Now, they’re looking at this map of oil, right? They’re also looking at a list that says “foreign suitors to Iraqi oil.” Saddam Hussein had been signing contracts for that ting that the United States had been denied all this time, this oil under the ground—and he was signing these contracts with companies from China, France and Russia. Does anybody know what these three countries have in common? They’re all members of the Security Council. He was signing these contracts with the members of the Security Council to try to get the sanctions removed. He was dangling lucrative oil contracts in front of their faces and saying “If you want these, you have to cancel the sanctions.”

The companies were signing contracts, but their governments hadn’t quite gotten around to standing up to the United States to end the sanctions. So these guys were standing around this table saying, If the sanctions are removed and Saddam Hussein remains in power, all of this oil is going to go to all of these other companies. all these other countries, and we are going to be shut out.” Not desirable.

Contrary to public opinion, there was a very clear, detailed post-invasion plan for Iraq. It was an economic plan, it was ready before the war, it was written by private companies, it was implemented to a T by Paul Bremer, the head of the occupation government of Iraq. He issued 100 orders—they’re known as the Bremer orders. They are so neatly delineated in my book, that they’ve appeared out of my book on websites for industries that are trying to get US businesses excited about going to Iraq and doing reconstruction there and taking over. They list my analysis of the Bremer Orders and say “See, it’s a free-market haven, you can go there!” Not the purpose that I wrote this book for, so I’m eagerly hoping you will take it and use the analysis to better purpose!

[Several oil companies were involved in the drafting through their positions as advisors to the U.S. and Iraqi governments at the start of the war. More directly, all of the largest oil companies are on the board of the International Tax and Investment Centre which is very public about its direct participation in drafting the oil law. All of the oil companies were also represented on the Cheney Energy Task Force. Thus, I surmise that Exxon, Chevron, ConocoPhillips, Marathon, Shell and BP all had a hand in the drafting.]

This plan was put in place by Bremer. The plan implements, for those of you who are familiar with corporate globalization policy, every wish of every World Bank policy, the International Monetary Fund, the World Trade Organization—everything they couldn’t get but wanted to get—was implemented in Iraq.

What is explicitly excluded is the oil—not for lack of trying by certain sectors of the conservative movement in the United States. But how do you fight a war for oil? What does it look like? Do the tanks come in and then Exxon comes behind with a flag and puts the flag in the ground and says “Our oil”? Well, there were certainly some people on the right who wanted to do that. They wanted Bremer to privatize Iraq’s oil, straight up. Saner minds prevailed—realizing that the Iraqis might not really take to kindly to this particular thing. One of the things Bremer did was to fire the entire Iraqi military and send half a million men home with their guns. And some people thought this might not be such a good combination, you know? [Laughter.]

So they said, we should use a subtler process. And that process started before the war as well. What it looks like is, you write a law. And the law takes Iraq from a nationalized oil system, essentially closed to foreign oil companies, particularly US ones, and privatizes it. Turns it over to foreign oil companies. Here’s the law, we’ve got it. Now the Iraqis need to implement it, so it looks like it’s their law.

So the Iraqi government is put in place, and the Bush administrations starts to put pressure on the Iraqis immediately to pass this law. The Iraqis resist, resist, resist. Then in January, President Bush finally announces publicly—on the same day he announces the surge—the Iraqis must pass the oil law. Essentially, although he didn’t say these words, the Iraqis must privatize their oil, they must turn it over to US oil companies. We’re going to introduce a surge of US troops to insure that you do it. And the language he did use, was that the surge will provide the political space for the Iraqis to work on what he called the “benchmarks.” And this was one of the benchmarks.

Now how many of you have heard of the revenue-sharing plan for Iraqi oil? The revenue-sharing plan is three sentences out of a 40-page law. The 40 pages take Iraq’s oil revenue and give it to US oil companies. The Iraqis get to share among themselves the five dollars left over when the five billion has gone out the door. [Figurative, not literal—no actual figures available.] And that’s not even guaranteed. The revenue-sharing part is three sentences that say the Iraqis should start looking at plans to maybe think about one day sharing the revenue, if they change the constitution and pass another law… That’s what the three sentences say.

So, the president announces the benchmark. Now, I just wrote the new afterward to The Bush Agenda in February, and I was very excited in the afterward about the Democrats taking over the House and the Senate. [Laughter.] One of the main reasons I was excited was that the Democrats taking over the House and the Senate was a reflection of tremendous activism and organizing—a resistance by the American public to the war, to the Bush administration, to the administration’s policies. Getting people out to vote, voicing their opposition to the war, organizing against the war, getting the Democrats in… The Democrats came in, we were all excited. I was one of half a million people who marched in Washington DC [Jan. 27, 2007]. I was able to speak at a panel organized by Congressman [Maxine] Waters and [Lynn] Woolsey, where I told them that the next time we come if the Democrats haven’t ended the war, we’re gonna sit down around the capital, and we’re gonna bring or sleeping bags, and we’re gonna stay until you end the war! And they responded very positively to that idea. They were excited, that that’s what they were there to do, was end the war.

Then what happened? Lots of politics, lots of politcking. And the Democrats adopted the language of the benchmarks. And there was all this debate going back and forth—”the Democrats want Bush to include the benchmarks, Bush doesn’t want to include the benchmarks…” The benchmarks were the oil law, and a bunch of other really ridiculous stuff… The Democrats adopted the language of the benchmarks, and they said Iraq has to pass the oil law, and if it doesn’t… first they said, when the negotiations were happening—we’ll end the war! That was OK! Good! [Laughter.] Then they said, Oh wait a minute, we didn’t mean that. Then they said, Pass the oil law or…we will cut off the reconstruction funds! And that’s the language that was included in the supplemental war spending bill, that’s the language that President Bush signed, and that’s what we’ve got today: A very clear message to the Iraqis from the United States Congress.

Iraqi oil workers went on strike yesterday. [Applause.] They went on strike for better wages, for better benefits, for better working conditions—and in opposition to the oil law, and in opposition to their government’s consideration of the law. The oil law has now passed the Iraqi cabinet, and is now sitting in the parliament. There is tremendous resistance to it in the parliament. What Iraqis have asked us to do is to continue to push, continue to demonstrate that we absolutely refuse to in a war being fought for oil.

Now just to be clear—a war for oil is about corporate profits, its definitely about that; its about Chevron and Exxon and Conoco. But its also about a lot more than that. Its about the imperial designs that this administration has, its about hegemonic power, its about denying the oil to other countries that might want to buy it, its about being the most powerful country in the world that owns it. And it is a moment in time when we’re being asked by the world to say that we, the American public, don’t agree with that.

People, I know, are getting tired of protesting… People feel at this point, we got these guys elected and they failed us, we march and it fails… And our friends and family members say, “What’s the point of all this political activism you’re doing?” The answer is that this is the only thing that’s ever ended wars. Activism, social change, is hard. It’s slow. You don’t always get your picture on the front page of the paper. You don’t always get accepted by your friends and family. You don’t always march on Saturday and then the thing you wanted happens on Sunday, and you get to go home and it’s great! No, its not like that. Not at all. Sometimes you don’t even see the change you want in a whole lifetime of working. But it doesn’t mean that it doesn’t happen. And when we protest, people around the world also see it. It may not come up in our newspapers—but believe me, it gets carried everywhere else. And they get to say, “Oh, there are people in the United States who are different from their government! Wow!”

And that’s what they say, they say “wow.” Because I go around the world, and I meet people who say “I didn’t know there were Americans who felt this way, I feel so much better!” So that’s one of the things we get to do, we get to have the privilege of doing this work here—and not trying to do it in Iraq, and not trying to do it in Iran, and not trying to do it in Syria, and not trying to do it in Afghanistan.

Question: Can you talk about the reconstruction contracts and the permanent military bases that are supposedly being built?

There has been $50 billion spent on reconstruction in Iraq. Who do you think got the money…? Bechtel and Halliburton. US corporations, 150 of them, have received all the reconstruction money [up to 2007]. I detail in the book how the money’s been spent, and who spent it. One of the most important things in the reconstruction story if the Bremer Order that said Iraqis could not be given preference in the reconstruction effort, but US companies could. Now, US companies have gotten that money, and they have failed miserably at the reconstruction. However, because of the soldiers on the ground, because of the captains and commanders complaining every day for four years that this is insanity, that the Iraqis have to do this work, this has slowly begun to shift. And Iraqi companies and Iraqi workers have increasingly—not nearly enough—started to receive reconstruction money. And every positive example you’ve ever read about in the reconstruction in Iraq. it’s always been an Iraqi company.

Now there’s at least tow things that need to happen. The first is, US companies that received money for jobs they have not done in Iraq have to return the money. Period. Simple. Easy. Done. That money needs to go to Iraq. There are desperate reconstruction needs. Before the war, there was water, there was electricity, there was sewage. There was healthcare, there was education. Now there are none of those things. Before the war there was 24 hours a day of electricity. Today there are between four and six. The electricity runs the water systems, runs the sewer systems. Without one you can’t have the other. There’s no electricity in the hospitals. This has nothing to do with the violence right now—nothing. This has to do with the failure of the reconstruction. It’s a travesty. That money needs to go to Iraqi companies and Iraqi workers.

The money has also gone to build permanent military bases. Now, there’s been Congressional language introduced saying no permanent military bases. [This language has been included now in several appropriations bills.] Here’s how they’ve gotten around that is in the definition of “permanent.” They’re building a base and its “secure”—there’s lots of cement and big buildings. But it’s “secure,” its not “permanent.” They can bulldoze it at any time.

That’s a problem. And the way to solve it isn’t to say you want less safe military bases, but to bring the troops home so they won’t have a need for the military bases. And we need to say that we actually know the difference; this is game of words…

The other strategy is being put forward is the Korea strategy. Yeah? We’re going to stay there to keep the peace and separate out the warring forces, just like we are doing between South and North Korea. We’re gonna be there for 50 years.

One of the details of the oil law is 30-year contracts for foreign corporations. If you’re gonna have a 30-year contract and you’re in a war zone, what are you gonna need? [Audience: “Permanent military bases.”] Yeah.

Q: How can we address our addiction to automobiles and airplanes, that consume so much of the oil that we use?

I’m writing a new book. And that’s gonna be called The Break-Up: The Case for Taking Apart Big Oil. And I think one of the main things that we have to do to be able to kick those addictions is to get rid of the political forces that are making it impossible to have this discussion on an equal basis. And that’s a big point. [Applause.]

So that’s putting pressure on the producers. At the same time, we also have to put pressure on ourselves, the consumers. We have to be given alternatives, though. For most of us—though if you live in New York City it’s a slightly different situation from the rest of the country—public transit simply doesn’t exist. The country was built intentionally to use cars. We know the history of how the industry killed attempts at public transit, how it killed existing public transit. However, much of the United States was built using federal highway dollars to intentionally move us out [of the urban centers], to get us to use the car. We have to do a lot of re-investing, rethinking, to move ourselves into communities where we can walk.

Q: Why hasn’t Bush been impeached?

I was working on the Hill for Congressman [John] Conyers during the Clinton impeachment proceedings, and my job became reading the Starr Report. And I decided that wasn’t particularly what the Detroit tax-payer wanted me to be doing with my time. That was one of the reasons I decided it wasn’t such a good idea for me to be working on the Hill.

There is an amazing impeachment movement alive and well in the United States. We are also seeing this administration crumble before out eyes. That’s not random. That’s through years of activism and organizing. Rumsfeld, Wolfowitz. Libby. And that’s just the beginning, and it’s important. We don’t nearly enough celebrate our victories and declare them as our own. Rumsfeld wasn’t fired because Bush woke up one day and saud, “Gee, I guess it’s time to get rid of Rumsfeld.” That was four years of organizing and effort. Who here was part of the “Give Rumsfeld the Pink Slip” movement? Code Pink dressed up in pink slips to demand they give Rumsfeld the pink slip!

So the impeachment movement is working and needs to be heralded. I think talking about impeachment is a critically important step in the road to what I actually think is the most important thing, which is ending the war. And we need to link the two as much as possible in our discussion. I worry somewhat when impeachment is seen as an end in itself, and not a tool to help us achieve other ends. Because if Bush is impeached and Cheney’s impeached, and a wonderful representative from San Francisco, Miss Pelosi became president, the war wouldn’t be over.

Q: Is this war about privatizing oil, or about America’s rivalry with China, as some say?

It’s bigger than oil. Oil. as I said, isn’t just about “oil.” Oil is about China. Oil is about making sure that the United States remains the hegemon. And the way to do that is to make sure that we have the oil, not China. Now, when I give this talk in front of more conservative audiences, they raise their hand and say, “We have to get the oil, because China will get it otherwise. Don’t you understand, Antonia? This is important. China is our big rival. If China gets the oil, then they’ll become a superpower…” And then, I don’t know, they don’t finish the sentence so I don’t know what happens next, but it’s bad! [Laughter.] Definitely bad.

Getting the oil is about China. It is about denying other powers form challenging US supremacy. That’s what it’s about. Guaranteeing US supremacy.

Q: What do you think would happen if the US left Iraq, and how do you respond to the propaganda that it would create a regional conflagration?

What I can say is that the Iraqis don’t want us in Iraq. A poll was taken of the broad Iraqi public, and it found about 72% want the occupation to end. But a poll taken of Baghdad residents found that around 75% said they would feel safer if US troops left. Not just they want us to go, but they would feel safer. A year ago, a poll taken of US troops on the ground found a similar percentage said US troops should be gone within a year—that we’ve done our job, we’ve done the best we could. And that is an incredibly unprecedented sentiment by troops on the ground.

So the Iraqi public doesn’t want us in Iraq. The troops on the ground don’t want us there. A number of generals have come out to say we shouldn’t be fighting the war. The American public doesn’t want us in the war. So we know one thing… There’s really just about five people who want us in Iraq. And they’re the ones who are seeking to profit from this war.

Now, Iraqis don’t say, “Leave, because tomorrow we’ll have peace if you leave.” No, they say, “The first thing we need to get things moving in the right direction is for you to stop occupying our nation. And then we’ll figure out the rest from there.”

That’s the answer. Nobody can tell you what’s going to happen. But we know that the occupation has to end.



Oil Change International

Interview online at Google Video

See also:

Oil & Utility Union Leaders on the Struggle Against Privatization
from Building Bridges, WBAI Radio
WW4 REPORT, July 2007

From our weblog:

NYT op-ed: no to Iraqi oil “denationalization”
WW4 REPORT, March 14, 2007

Alan Greenspan vs. Naomi Klein: who has rights to Iraq’s oil?
WW4 REPORT, Sept. 27, 2007


Transcribed and edited by WORLD WAR 4 REPORT, Nov. 1, 2007
Reprinting permissible with attribution