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USA: White House Joins Corporate Houses

by Ross GelbspanDown to Earth
June 3rd, 2003

The Bush administrations agenda aims to savage the United Nations, destroy the foundations of an emerging global community and ignore increasingly shrill alarms from an overstressed natural world. It is manifested in US attempts to sabotage constructive efforts in environmental negotiations, as Anju Sharma points this out in "Shucks & Aww" (April 30, 2003). But the article underestimates the extent to which corporate interests have completely usurped the political process in the United States.

In this corporate state, quarterly reports determine public spending. Military dominance has become the method of choice for expanding market share. And marketing strategies have increasingly replaced judgment in determining the content of much of the US news media.

One result is that large numbers of Americans feel as trapped and deprived of representation as the 300 terror suspects in Guantanamo. Take an issue at the top of the global agenda: rapidly escalating climate change. The crisis offers a unique historical opportunity to move humanity forward toward a much more cooperative global community.

Its solution contains the seeds for solutions to other major problems we face today: security and terrorism, diplomatic distortions, pervasive and chronic inequities and global economic stagnation. Sadly, that opportunity is totally lost on the Bush administration. The White House has become the East Coast branch office of ExxonMobil and Peabody Coal and climate change has become the pre-eminent case study of the contamination of the us political system by money.

Two years ago, the President reneged on his campaign promise to cap emissions from coal-powered plants. He then withdrew the US from the Kyoto negotiations, parroting the cynical line of the US coal industry that the Kyoto Protocol was unfair to the us because it exempted developing countries from the first round of emissions cuts. The President then dismissed the findings of the Inter Parliamentary Committee on Climate Change (IPCCc) as an inconsequential product of bureaucracy when, in fact, it reflects the work of more than 2000 scientists from 100 countries in what is the largest and most rigorously peer-reviewed scientific collaboration in history.

The Bush administration has justified its actions by citing politically conservative principles. But this is actually corruption disguised as conservatism. A few examples: A year ago, the Bush administration removed Robert Watson as chair of the IPCC at ExxonMobil's insistance. Angered by Watson's criticisms of US inaction on the climate, the oil major sent a memo to the White House asking the President to withdraw support for Watson. (The memo was unearthed by the Natural Resources Defense Council through a series of Freedom of Information requests). As a result, Watson was ousted. The same memo recommended that the White House appoint Republican Congressional staffer Harlan Watson (no relation) to the Bush climate team. Shortly after appointment, Harlan Watson announced the us would not engage the Kyoto process for 10 years.

Earlier this year, the White House again moved in lockstep with ExxonMobil. In November, the oil giant announced it was investing in research into hydrogen fuel. But unlike climate-friendly hydrogen, which is created from water, ExxonMobil intends to derive it from oil and coal -- a process that creates so many greenhouse emissions as to virtually neutralize the environmental benefits of the fuel. Two months later in his State of the Union address, Bush announced his own petroleum-based hydrogen initiative that reflects the approach of ExxonMobil in preserving Americas oil infrastructure.

In the international arena, the US is also following the lead of the fossil fuel lobby in trying to prevent the Kyoto Protocol from taking effect with or without US participation. Last September in Johannesburg, Russia announced that she would soon ratify the protocol -- a move that would put the protocol into effect. But in a flurry of backstage manipulations, the US has apparently scuttled that pledge. According to a recent joint US-Russian communique, the two countries have agreed to a bilateral climate change initiative including the creation of a joint working group headed by the same Harlan Watson who earlier dismissed the Kyoto framework.

Nowhere is this corruption of the political process by big coal and big oil more visible than in the secret arrangements between the Peabody Group and the Cheney Energy Task Force. Peabody is the largest coal company in the us. For 120 years, it was a privately held company. A year and half ago, when Vice-President Cheney was fashioning his energy plan, his staff met with Peabody executives about six times. In 2000, Peabody contributed us $250,000 to the Republican Party. The payback came in the spring of 2001 when Cheney announced the administrations new energy plan, which calls for the construction of 1,300 to 1,900 new power plants. Four days after that plan was announced, Peabody issued an IPO and went public. The companys stock rose from us $24 to us $36 overnight.

With the administrations embrace of a sinister and ominous document known as the Project for a New American Century, the George Bush White House has laid bare the power calculations which provide a geo-political rationale for extending Americas military power. That doctrine was conceived by, among others, vice president Dick Cheney, current defense secretary Donald Rumsfeld, defense advisor Paul Wolfowitz and Elliot Abrams, an assistant secretary of state in the Reagan Administration. (Abrams was indicted in 1989 for lying to Congress about the Iran-Contra scandal and had to plead guilty to two lesser offenses to stay out of jail.) This doctrine postulates that the proper post-Cold War role for the us involves a de facto military lockdown of the rest of the world. It states that a policy of military strength and moral clarity is necessary to ensure our security and our greatness

Unfortunately, humanity today is facing a set of global problems -- led by the intensifying pace of climate change -- that cannot be solved by military force but only by an enhanced level of global cooperation. Economically, it is clear that, were the us to take the lead in extending clean energy to the developing world, that transition would yield huge benefits. Development economists note that every dollar invested in energy in developing countries generates far more wealth and far more jobs than the same dollar invested in any other sector. Were the us to spearhead a global transition to clean energy which climatic stability demands that would create millions of jobs all over the world. It would allow poorer countries to develop without regard to atmospheric limits and, in many cases, without the budgetary burden of imported oil. In a very short time, it would turn impoverished and dependent countries into robust trading partners.

That is a promise many of us, who are trapped in George Bush's United States, do not see today. We see a trade system that is geared towards squeezing the last drop of disposable income from the worlds poor by undercutting their export products and swamping them with cheaper, subsidised us substitutes. We see the establishment and expansion of a system of domestic surveillance and a concurrent increase in governmental secrecy that is truly Orwellian in its implications.

And with every passing day, we see climatic instability moving closer to the point of no return.

Ross Gelbspan retired some years ago after a 31-year career as a reporter and editor at The Philadelphia Bulletin, The Washington Post and the Boston Globe. At the Globe, as special projects editor, he conceived, directed and edited a series of articles that won a Pulitzer Prize.





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