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It's About Oil - Economic Incentive Fiasco & Alaska Wilderness Alert

05 November 2001


Since 9/11 the economy has gone in a tail spin. From a common sense point of view, this has resulted from the US government's response to the attacks. It appears that war profiteering is putting greater stress on working people. Item 1 is from a recent article on the oil incentive to control Afghanistan. Item 2 is from the AFL-CIO, offering its own "Blueprint for Economic Recovery" in the aftermath of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. This item includes information to contact Congress to protect our nation from war profiteering, which would add more harm placed on the US and world economies. It is critical you respond to this issue this week. Item 3 includes a letter by Robert Redford to stop the new push for drilling for oil in the Alaska Arctic Wildlife Refuge. As Robert Redford wrote, "There are plenty of sensible and patriotic ways to guarantee our nation's energy security, but destroying the Arctic Refuge is not one of them." Please respond to these critical alerts to stop irreversible harm to our planet and for all life. If interested in a positive direction in dealing with our energy crises (that could reduce pollution and help a sustainable energy policy), check out this following website for work on an improved thermo-electric engine that could use biomass and other sustainable fuels for generating power economically and beneficially for our environment. http://www.stirlingadvantage.com

Our world is a world out of balance. Your efforts are critical to help!

1. It's about oil
2. Labor and Our Wounded Economy
3. Push for Oil Drilling in Alaska Letter by Robert Redford

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1) It's about oil

by Ted Rall
Friday, November 2, 2001

San Francisco Chronicle


New York -- NURSULTAN NAZARBAYEV has a terrible problem. He's the president and former Communist Party boss of Kazakstan, the second-largest republic of the former Soviet Union. A few years ago, the giant country struck oil in the eastern portion of the Caspian Sea.. Geologists estimate that sitting beneath the wind-blown steppes of Kazakstan are 50 billion barrels of oil -- by far the biggest untapped reserves in the world. (Saudi Arabia, currently the world's largest oil producer, is believed to have about 30 billion barrels remaining.) Kazakstan's Soviet-subsidized economy collapsed immediately after independence in 1991. When I visited the then-capital, Almaty, in 1997, I was struck by the utter absence of elderly people. One after another, people confided that their parents had died of malnutrition during the brutal winters of 1993 and 1994.

Middle-class residents of a superpower had been reduced to abject poverty virtually overnight; thirtysomething women who appeared sixtysomething hocked their wedding silver in underpasses, next to reps for the Kazak state art museum trying to move enough socialist-realist paintings for a dollar each to keep the lights on. The average Kazak earned $20 a month; those unwilling or unable to steal died of gangrene while sitting on the sidewalk next to long- winded tales of woe written on cardboard.

Autocrats tend to die badly during periods of downward mobility. Nazarbayev, therefore, has spent most of the past decade trying to get his landlocked oil out to sea. Once the oil starts flowing, it won't take long before Kazakstan replaces Kuwait as the land of Mercedes-Benzs and ugly gold jewelry. But the longer the pipeline, the more expensive and vulnerable it is to sabotage. The shortest route runs through Iran, but Kazakstan is too closely aligned with the United States to offend it by cutting a deal with Tehran. Russia has helpfully offered to build a line connecting Kazak oil rigs with the Black Sea, but neighboring Turkmenistan has experienced trouble with the Russians -- they tend to divert the oil for their own use without paying for it. There's even a plan to run crude through China, but the proposed 5,300-mile-long pipeline would be far too long to prove profitable.

The logical alternative, then, is Unocal's plan, which is to extend Turkmenistan's existing system west to the Kazak field on the Caspian Sea and southeast to the Pakistani port of Karachi on the Arabian Sea. That project runs through Afghanistan.

As Central Asian expert Ahmed Rashid describes in his book "Taliban," published last year, the United States and Pakistan decided to install a stable regime in place in Afghanistan around 1994 -- a regime that would end the country's civil war and thus ensure the safety of the Unocal pipeline project. Impressed by the ruthlessness and willingness of the then-emerging Taliban to cut a pipeline deal, the State Department and Pakistan's Inter- Services Intelligence agency agreed to funnel arms and funding to the Taliban in their war against the ethnically Tajik Northern Alliance. As recently as 1999, U.S. taxpayers paid the entire annual salary of every single Taliban government official, all in the hopes of returning to the days of dollar-a-gallon gas. Pakistan, naturally, would pick up revenues from a Karachi oil port facility. Harkening back to 19th century power politics between Russia and British India, Rashid dubbed the struggle for control of post-Soviet Central Asia "the new Great Game."

Predictably, the Taliban Frankenstein got out of control. The regime's unholy alliance with Osama bin Laden's al Qaeda terrorist network, their penchant for invading their neighbors and their production of 50 percent of the world's opium made them unlikely partners for the desired oil deal.

Then-President Bill Clinton's August 1998 cruise missile attack on Afghanistan briefly brought the Taliban back into line -- they even eradicated opium poppy cultivation in less than a year -- but they nonetheless continued supporting countless militant Islamic groups. When an Egyptian group whose members had trained in Afghanistan hijacked four airplanes and used them to kill thousands of Americans on September 11, Washington's patience with its former client finally
expired.

Finally the Bushies have the perfect excuse to do what the United States has wanted to do all along -- invade and/or install an old-school puppet regime in Kabul.

Realpolitik no more cares about the thousands of dead than it concerns itself with oppressed women in Afghanistan; this ersatz war by a phony president is solely about getting the Unocal deal done without interference from annoying local middlemen.

Central Asian politics, however, is a house of cards: every time you remove one element, the whole thing comes crashing down. Muslim extremists in both Pakistan and Afghanistan, for instance, will support additional terrorist attacks on the United States to avenge the elimination of the Taliban. A U.S.- installed Northern Alliance can't hold Kabul without an army of occupation because Afghan legitimacy hinges on capturing the capital on your own. Even if we do this the right way by funding and training the Northern Alliance so that they can seize power themselves, Pakistan's ethnic Pashtun government will never stand the replacement of their Pashtun brothers in the Taliban by Northern Alliance Tajiks. Without Pakistani cooperation, there's no getting the oil out and there's no chance for stability in Afghanistan.

As Bush would say, "make no mistake": this is about oil. It's always about oil. And to twist a late '90s cliche, it's only boring because it's true.

Ted Rall, a syndicated editorial cartoonist, has traveled extensively throughout Central Asia. In 2000, he went to Turkmenistan as a guest of the State Department. His latest book is "2024: A Graphic Novel" (NBM Books, May 2001).

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2) Labor and Our Wounded Economy

Labor Unveils Its Prescription To Heal Our Wounded Economy

By Harry Kelber
http://www.laboreducator.org/inside32.htm

Dissatisfied with both Republican and Democratic economic stimulus proposals, the AFL-CIO is offering its own "Blueprint for Economic Recovery" in the aftermath of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. The labor federation calls for direct financial assistance to the hundreds of thousands of laid-off workers who still have not received any federal aid; broader eligibility for unemployment insurance benefits so that temporary and part-time workers are included; extending the 26-week benefit period to 52 weeks, and raising benefits that vary from state to state but now average $250 a week.

The AFL-CIO also proposes that the federal government pick up the cost of health insurance coverage for workers who have lost their jobs or been forced to work reduced hours. It requests full funding for job training and retraining, as well as the restoration of cuts in food stamps, child-care, federal housing assistance and other programs. Over the long term, labor wants the federal government to invest in better public health facilities, modernize the public school system, upgrade mass transportation and assist small businesses.

But while at least 500,000 recently laid-off workers struggle to keep their heads above water and get no federal help, House Republicans are pushing "stimulus" package that would award 14 Fortune 500 corporations a total of $6.3 billion in tax rebates. It's not because the 14 companies are on the verge of financial collapse or even mildly distressed; last year, they reported $33.2 billion in pre-tax profits.

Leading the parade of corporations that House Republicans deem deserving are IBM, which would get $1.4 billion; General Motors ($833 million) and General Electric ($608 million). Five of the 14 companies are in the energy business and two are in the airline industry that has already gotten a $15 billion bailout package from Congress. All were substantial contributors to George W. Bush's 2000 presidential campaign.

AFL-CIO President John Sweeney, in an Oct. 23 New York Daily News article, calls President Bush's proposed $75 billion stimulus package "another trickle-down solution" that "spends almost six out of every seven dollars for corporate tax cuts and tax favors for the individuals at the top of our economy."

Sweeney added: "America's working families can't wait for a few of those dollars to trickle down to them. America's economy won't pull out of its slump unless working families get back to work and get the country's cash registers ringing again."

Regardless of how much the public sympathizes with workers who are caught in a financial bind, business lobbyists and President Bush insist that preferential treatment for corporations will spur investment and hasten economic recovery. But there are no guarantees that corporations, especially the big multinationals, will invest their government handouts to create jobs in the United States.

Meanwhile, Congress proceeds on the assumption that any stimulus package is only a temporary measure and that the economy is sure to rebound within a year or so. But what if it doesn't? What if unemployment rises and the recession deepens? The AFL-CIO's "blueprint" provides a backstop strategy: it outlines are building program not unlike the New Deal measures that helped pull the nation out of the Great Depression.

Unfortunately, as important as the AFL-CIO document is, it will reach only a limited and specialized audience. There are no longer any weekly union publications; the AFL-CIO's monthly magazine, America@Work, reaches fewer than 1% of union members, and the federation has virtually no presence in the broadcast and cable TV program schedules.

Of course, AFL-CIO leaders could direct their staff in Washington to send a flood of e-mail bulletins or special "alerts" to all 51 state federations and 545 central labor councils, which could, in turn, relay them to local unions and ultimately to the rank-and- file. But based on past non-performance, that is not likely to happen.

The AFL-CIO demonstrated its enormous political leverage in 2000 when voters from union households cast 26% of all the votes in the presidential contest, making it possible for Al Gore to win the popular vote. The same energy and enthusiasm could now be focused upon building an economy based on public need, not corporate greed.

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Action Alert ----

In this time of national crisis, amid calls for sacrifice, I'm truly troubled by some of the choices of the Republican party leadership. Here's their idea of an economic stimulus package:

$1.4 billion for IBM
$833 million for General Motors
$671 million for General Electric
$572 million for Chevron Texaco
$254 million for Enron

This is war profiteering, and it's simply wrong. Yet the House has just approved it, on a virtual party line vote, ending the recent spirit of bipartisan cooperation in Congress.

Will you please join me in speaking up, before the Senate acts? Go to:

http://www.moveon.org/warprofiteering/

While our nation was reeling from the Anthrax threat, the House voted to repeal the Alternative Minimum Tax on corporations. This law normally requires hugely profitable companies to pay at least some tax, no matter how many loopholes they can find. Its repeal would allow many companies to pay zero U.S. income tax in perpetuity - a loss of more than $12 billion in revenue next year alone.

The repeal is retroactive, so companies would get rebates of all the Alternative Minimum Tax they've paid for the last 15 years. The numbers above are a sampling of these rebates.

The House also voted to allow corporations to store their profits overseas as a tax shelter. That's right - this "stimulus" would actually take money _out_ of the U.S. economy. It's backwards.

The right approach to stimulus is to put more money in the hands of everyday people who need it most - by expanding unemployment insurance, for example. People living marginally will spend it quickly on consumer goods, so it circulates through the economy, benefitting everyone.

Helping people would make economic sense. Giving billions in tax breaks to America's biggest corporations doesn't.

The Senate is considering this issue now. Please speak up with me at:

http://www.moveon.org/warprofiteering/

The Congressional Switchboard telephone number is 202-224-3121

Thank you. We've got to stick together on this.

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3) Push for Oil Drilling in Alaska Letter by Robert Redford

"There are plenty of sensible and patriotic ways to guarantee our nation's energy security, but destroying the Arctic Refuge is not one of them."
-- Robert Redford

-- Using 9/11, Bush Pushes for Immediate Approval to Drill for Oil In Alaska Arctic Wildlife Refuge.
-- Bill Already Passed by US House of Reps. is being Rushed through Senate
-- Robert Redford Urges Action
-- Website for more info: http://www.savebiogems.org/arctic

Actor, director and conservationist Robert Redford has been a member of NRDC's board of trustees for 25 years. Always outspoken about wilderness protection, Redford is extremely concerned now that a handful of U.S. senators, encouraged by the White House, are using national security as their excuse to rush a pro-oil energy bill into law and open the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to drilling. Recently Redford sent out the email message below urging Americans to tell their senators, via this website, that conserving energy to achieve energy security is patriotic -- destroying the Arctic Refuge is not.

LETTER FROM ROBERT REDFORD

Dear Friend,

It is understandable that we Americans feel an almost reflexive need for unanimity in trying times like these. As a nation, we are rightly consumed with responding to the terrorist attacks on September 11th. But, at some point -- and I think we're beginning to get there -- we need to take a long-term view even as we are reacting to the current crisis. Really important domestic issues facing us before all of this happened -- education, energy and the environment, health care -- still have the same dimension and consequence. But we have to recognize that it's much more difficult to discuss and debate them in the aftermath of Sept. 11th. Unfortunately, disagreement is sometimes characterized as unpatriotic during times such as these and open, thoughtful discourse is somewhat muted. The gravity of the current situation is not lost on any of us and we all want to do what's right to insure our national security. It is with this in mind that I felt compelled to write you today.

A handful of determined U.S. senators, encouraged by the White House, are arguing that national security requires the Senate to rush a pro-oil energy bill into law. They have vowed to hold up normal Senate business and attach the bill to every piece of legislation that comes to the Senate floor. So far they have failed in what The Boston Globe is calling "oil opportunism." But with President Bush, himself, now calling for rushed passage of this disastrous bill, intense pressure is building on Senate leaders to succumb to the emotions of the moment.

Using our national tragedy as an opportunity to advance the narrow interests of the oil lobby would not be in the best interest of the public. This bill, already passed by the House, would not only open the Arctic Refuge to oil rigs, it would also pave the way for energy companies to exploit and destroy pristine areas of Greater Yellowstone and other gems of our natural heritage. As important, it would do nothing to address energy security.

I'm asking for your immediate help in stopping this legislation. After reading my letter I hope you'll take action at http://www.savebiogems.org/arctic and then forward this letter to your
friends and colleagues.

Last spring, the Bush administration and some members of Congress said we had to pass the president's oil-friendly energy bill because we were facing the most serious energy crisis since 1973. But here we are, a mere six months later, and the energy crisis has vanished. Due to a slowing economy and falling demand, the prices for gasoline, natural gas and home heating oil have plunged. Meanwhile, the much-feared "summer of blackouts" in California never happened, largely because consumers and businesses made dramatic cuts in energy use by launching the most successful statewide conservation campaign in history.

With no energy crisis to scare us with, the administration and pro-oil senators are now promoting their "Drill the Arctic" plan under the guise of national security and energy independence. Don't buy it. It would take ten years to bring Arctic oil to market, and when it arrives it would never equal more than two percent -- a mere drop in the bucket -- of all the oil we consume each year. Our nation simply doesn't have enough oil to drill our way to energy independence or even to affect world oil prices.

We possess a mere 3 percent of the world's oil reserves, but we consume fully 25 percent of the world's oil supply. We could drill the Arctic Refuge, Greater Yellowstone, and every other wild land in America and we'd still be importing oil, still be paying worldwide prices for domestic oil, and still be vulnerable to wild gyrations in price and supply. As The Atlanta Constitution put it: "Burning through our tiny oil supply faster will not make our country more secure." I'd go further: increasing our dependence on oil, whether that oil comes from the Persian Gulf or the Arctic Refuge, practically guarantees national *insecurity*. And we know that it will bring more habitat destruction, more oil spills, more air pollution, and more global warming. The public health implications will be devastating.

If our nation wants to declare energy independence, then we have no choice but to reduce our appetite for oil. There's no other way. We need to rely on smarter and cleaner ways to power our economy. We have the technology right now to increase fuel economy standards to 40 miles per gallon. If we phased in that standard by 2012 we'd save 15 times more oil than the Arctic Refuge is likely to produce over 50 years. We could also give tax rebates for existing hybrid gas-electric vehicles that get as much as 60 mpg. We could invest in public transit. We could launch an "Apollo Project" to bring fuel cells and hydrogen fuel down to earth, allowing us to begin the mass production of vehicles that emit only water as a by-product. The list goes on and on.

In this climate of national trauma and war, it is up to us -- the people -- to ensure that reason prevails and our natural heritage survives intact. The preservation of irreplaceable wild lands like the Arctic Refuge and Greater Yellowstone is a core American value. I have never been more appreciative of the wisdom of that value than during these past few weeks. When we are filled with grief and unanswerable questions it is often nature that we turn to for refuge and comfort. In the sanctuary of a forest or the vastness of the desert or the silence of a grassland, we can touch a timeless force larger than ourselves and our all-too-human problems. This is where the healing begins. Those who would sell out this natural heritage -- this spiritual heritage -- would destroy a wellspring of American strength. What's worse, their rush to exploit the wildness that feeds our souls won't do a thing to solve our energy problems.

There are plenty of sensible and patriotic ways to guarantee our nation's energy security, but destroying the Arctic Refuge is not one of them. Please tell that to your senators. They urgently need to hear it because the pressure is on to move this pro-oil bill to a vote in the next few weeks. It will take you only a minute to send them an electronic message from NRDC's SaveBioGems website.

Go to http://www.savebiogems.org/arctic

And please forward this message to your family and friends. Millions of Americans need to know about this cynical attempt to promote the interests of energy companies at the expense of everyone else.

Sincerely yours,
Robert Redford

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Tell your senators to oppose all legislation that would allow exploration or drilling in the Arctic Refuge.

Go to http://www.savebiogems.org/arctic

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