Dick Cheney and Mexico's Oil, Nuclear Reactors are 'Sitting Ducks,' Bush's War Saves Halliburton's Heinie, Can't See the Forest for the Sleaze
May 13, 2002
Cheney & Mexico's Oil
MEXICO CITY - US Vice-Resident Dick Cheney once claimed that it was a "damned shame" the Good Lord didn't put the Earth's best oil reserves in democratic countries. In Mexico, however, Cheney couldn't wait for the arrival of democracy. About the time Cheney became CEO of Halliburton Company (the world's largest oil services company), Mexico's authoritarian ruling party, the PRI, began planning an ambitious public works project - drilling for offshore oil in the Gulf of Mexico's Cantarell region.
Cantarell's estimated 12 billion barrels represent almost 30 percent of Mexico's total reserves. The $19 billion Cantarell Project was supposed to be President Ernesto Zedillo's magnum opus. In 1998, James Harmon, chair of the US Export-Import Bank flew to Mexico to arrange a $536 million loan to Petróleos de Mexico (Pemex). Pemex used the money to hire a construction consortium headed by Halliburton. Financing the Cantarell Project is among the Ex-Im's biggest undertakings.
Since 1938, when Mexican President Lázaro Cárdenas nationalized US and British oil operations in the country, Mexicans have been wary of foreign industrialists regaining access to the country's oil reserves. Mexico's oil reserves are once again falling in to the hands of US companies like Halliburton, Fluor Daniel, and Bechtel - all of which have received billions of dollars worth of Pemex contracts.
A few weeks after Vicente Fox won Mexico's presidency, Hoover Institute scholar Robert J. Barro used an essay in the international edition of Business Week to urge Fox to privatize Pemex. The Hoover Institute figures prominently in the Bush administration.
"I believe [US corporations] are the ones that are pushing the privatization of the electric and oil industries in Mexico," says Sergio Benito Osorio, head of the energy commission of the Lower House of Mexico's Congress.
Nuclear Reactors Are "Sitting Ducks"
US - In April, Fox News TV reporter Douglas Kennedy hired a Cessna at a local airport and ordered the pilot to buzz the Indian Point nuclear power plant, 33 miles north of New York City. As the light plane made three passes over the reactor dome at 2,000 feet, Kennedy asked the pilot, "How difficult would it be just to steer this plane right down and smash into that plant? "It wouldn't be too hard at all," the pilot shrugged. "They probably wouldn't be expecting it."
No attempt made to intercept the plane or to contact the pilot by radio during the repeated passes through the "secure" airspace over the reactor. Kennedy's flight was technically legal now that the FAA has lifted a ban against flying over nuclear powerplants. The only FAA restriction is that planes must remain at an altitude of 2,000 feet. A spokesperson for the Nuclear Energy Institute downplayed the stunt, claiming that a small plane packed with explosives would pose no danger to the 12- to 15-foot-thick dome of steel and concrete.
Edwin Lyman of the watchdog Nuclear Control Institute was not reassured, noting that, had the plane targeted the reactor's exposed spent fuel pool, the resulting explosion would have sent a massive cloud of radiation into the air directly upwind of New York City.
According to the New York Post, a pool fire could prove "more devastating than the 1986 nuclear disaster at Chernobyl that killed an estimated 8,000 people." In April, it was learned that Bush had ordered security programs for nuclear plants cut back by 93 percent. (check)
NUCLEAR TERRORISM SITES: www.tmia.com/sabter.html, www.nci.org.
Bush's "War" Saves Halliburton's Heinie
During President Lyndon Johnson's prosecution of the Vietnam War, the Texas-based Brown and Root construction firm was awarded so many lucrative Pentagon contracts that it soon became the world's third largest construction firm. Brown and Root is now a subsidiary of Halliburton Corp. Halliburton is Dick Cheney's former employer.
According to the Institute for Southern Studies [www.southernstudies.org], Dallas-based Halliburton has been contracted to "build forward operating bases to support troop deployments for the next nine years, wherever the President choose to take the anti-terrorism war."
Bush's "War on Terrorism" came just in time for Halliburton, which was facing the likelihood of bankruptcy because of lawsuits by victims of asbestos poisoning. When questions were raised about the handling of the Halliburton contract, the Pentagon removed all references to the contract from its website. The ISS is calling for an investigation by a Special Prosecutor. For more on Brown and Root's Pentagon windfall, see Pratrap Chaterjee's "Soldiers of Fortune" in the May 1 issue of the Bay Guardian [http://www.sfbg.com/].
Can't See the Forecast for the Sleaze
US - When you see a headline announcing "Bush to OK cutting power-plant emissions," there's a natural tendency towards skepticism. For folks who don't read beyond the headlines and pullquotes, here's a breakdown on how "Bush Environmentalism" works in practice.
The problem: Haze from industrial pollution now plagues 156 National Parks and wilderness areas in the US. Dozens of polwerplants in the West release 650,000 tons of pollutants into the air annually.
The "solution": (1) The pollution control plan was formulated not by Bush's EPA, but by a coalition of environmental and Native American groups in nine states. (2) EPA Director Christie Todd Whiteman "tempered" the proposal to accommodate the polluters. (3) The planned pollution reductions were made "voluntary." (4) industries that failed to clear the air voluntarily would be allowed to buy "pollution credits" from non-polluting companies (which does nothing to reduce the local air pollution problem). (5) Reductions in emissions are "deferred," allowing powerplants and smelters to continue polluting full-bore until 2013. (6) Reductions of haze-making nitrogen oxide emissions are deferred until 2008.
"This is a real step in the right direction," Environmental Defense Executive Director Fred Krupp crowed. A more realistic assessment was provided by one Bush EPA official who told the Los Angeles Times: "It's not the most aggressive piece of regulation you've ever seen."
Former FBI Chief Redefines Torture
US - Former FBI (and CIA) Director William Webster has lobbied for the forced administration of "truth serum" (sodium pentothal) to extract information from prisoners. Webster said he wasn't troubled by the moral implications since the drugs would be injected into "these people over there [Afghan fighters held in US-built cages in Guantanamo Bay]" because these men "have no state, they have no standing as prisoners of war." Webster immediately reversed himself, noting that "We have the obligation to treat them as humanely as we would a prisoner of war. That means no third-degree techniques like keeping the lights on all night or using rubber hoses."
The use of glaring nighttime illumination, blaring music and other psychologically destabilizing forms of torture were used during Webster's tenure at the FBI, most memorably during the siege of the religious compound at Waco.
A similar light and sound barrage was directed against Catholic church buildings in Panama in an attempt to dislodge Panamanian dictator (and CIA "asset") Manual Noriega following the US invasion of Panama in 1989.
Drumming up Support to End the Embargo
Cuba -- Senator Barbara Boxer (D-CA) and Grateful Dead drummer Mickey Hart were part of a 24-member delegation that visited Cuba in early April. Boxer brought some California beans along, which were baked as part of a meal shared with Cuban leader Fidel Castro. (Fidel's dinners apparently run as long as his speeches. The delegates reportedly were up until 3 am with Fidel, chewing the fat -- as well as the beans.) On her return, Boxer announced that it was time to end the 40-year old US trade embargo against Cuba. Of course, Boxer admitted, there was a trade angle: "My state has many products to sell to Cuba."
While in Cuba, the Associated Press reported, Boxer met with "several Cuban dissidents [who] told her about their effort to force a referendum that would re-examine some aspects of Cuba's system, from an amnesty for political prisoners to more opportunities for Cubans to run their own businesses."
The fact that political dissidents can freely criticize the government, can organize to challenge the political status quo, and can meet openly with US politicians suggests that Cuba may be more of an open society than people in the US have been lead to believe.
Feeling a Little Status Subconscious?
Australia - Have you ever considered taking an online test to gauge your emotional or intellectual status? Here's one reason to have second thoughts. StatusTests.com, a Melbourne-based website, debuted in April offering a free, online test of "emotional intelligence." Visitors are invited to answer as many as 92 personal questions about their emotional reactions to situations. What the site doesn't mention is that this information is then stockpiled and offered for sale to electronic marketers. "We're telling people that they'll find out interesting things about themselves. At the same time, we're collecting data that will be available to marketers," StatusTest's Leigh Kibby told San Francisco Chronicle reporter David Lazarus. "We hope that smart companies think this is the best demographic data available," Kibby said. When Lazarus suggested that it seemed a bit "sneaky" not to tell people that their personal emotional profiles would be offered to the highest bidder, "there was a pause in the conversation, as if this was occurring to Kibby for the very first time. "'You know,' he replied, 'maybe we should say that. I'll call my Web guy.'" [Check to see if www.statustest.com has posted this caveat.]
Don't Fault Them for Seeking a Place to Park
US - If you think the Population Bomb never went off, you haven't tried finding a place to park in San Francisco. Some residents in the city's middleclass districts have taken to paving over the grass on their front yards, turning flower gardens and pocket-lawns into off-street parking lots. With parking tickets costing $100 a pop, the city's richest residents have begun imposing "space-lifts" on the venerable Victorian mansions of Pacific Heights, Noe Valley, Russian Hill, Telegraph Hill and Nob Hill. The rich but parking-challenged are spending upwards of $200,000 to scoop out the ground from beneath their dwellings or to jack their homes into the air to cram garages in the space beneath. The addition of parking space is becoming an "essential" part of the housing package, adding as much as $150,000 to the selling price of a home and justifying rent hikes of 20 to 30 percent. There is only one problem. As the residents of Los Angeles learned during the San Fernando Valley earthquake of 1971, ground-floor garages were responsible for many of that shaker's most devastation building collapses. San Francisco's garage-building binge could become the architectural proof of the old adage, "Pride goeth before a fall." This could all be money ill spent for, when the long-awaited "Big One" hits, the entire city could become one big parking lot. And nobody will be driving their cars.
US - In the aftermath of the 1973 Arab Oil Embargo, the US passed a law to encourage alternatives to imported oil. The law is still on the books and it's providing power companies with tax loopholes the authors of the bill could never have imagined.
Take latex-coated coal, for instance. American Electric Power has struck a deal with Michigan's DTE Energy to slather latex over 6.1 million tons of coal chunks each year.
The latexed coal doesn't burn any hotter than ordinary coal but, because it's been coated, it qualifies as "synthetic fuel" and that qualifies DTE to claim a tax credit worth $26 a ton. Under IRS rules, coal qualifies for the tax credit if it has undergone a "significant chemical change." Not only the coal industry but also a number of chemical industries that produce hard-to-dispose-of waste by-products stand to benefit immensely by stretching the definition of what qualifies as a "significant chemical change."
The Dispatch Environment Reporter [www.dispatch.com] notes that spraying lumps of coal with asphalt, waste oil, pine tar and latex "offers no environmental benefits other than a slight reduction in dust generated during transportation."
The residents of Cheshire, Ohio are worried that the syn-fuels plant's incineration of latex-dipped coal could cause an environmental calamity. Government studies of DTE's James M. Gavin latex-burning powerplant along the Ohio River have documented that acidic blue-tinged clouds and a fallout of "white specks" from the plant peeled the paint off cars and endangered the health of people living nearby.
The coated-coal tax-scam lowered DTE's effective tax rate from 35 to 1.9 percent and saved the company $130 million in taxes in 2000. Enron Global Markets (an Enron subsidiary) had hopes of opening a synthetic-fuel plant in Steubenville, Ohio. If a permit is granted, Enron Global could become eligible for $122 million worth of tax credits. DTE is said to be "waiting for approval" to build its syn-fuel plant. DTE probably is not gnawing its nails over this decision since Ohio's EPA has already granted permission to build the access roads and utilities needed to service the facility.
High-tech Bombs Bomb
Afghanistan -- In early April, the Pentagon issued one of its regular press releases boasting of the accuracy of its latest bombing mission - this time against Afghanistan. The US press wrapped the conclusions in such positive-spin headlines as "75% of air war ordnance fell on target."
The less-charitable way of putting it is that one bomb in four missed its target or failed to detonate as designed. The Pentagon has made much noise about the performance of "precision-guided weapons" linked to satellites, dropped by high-flying B-52 and B-1 bombers and guided to the ground by lasers. It's hard to square this claim of accuracy against the reports from the ground. By the end of March, 37 US soldiers had died in Afghanistan. Of these, only 38 percent were killed in combat. Nearly 11 percent of US deaths were caused by "friendly fire" while 51 percent of the deaths were attributed to "accidents." In short, the Pentagon proved a deadlier foe than either the Taliban or Al Queda.
On December 5, a precision-guided bomb dropped from a B-52 killed three US soldiers. In the opening days of the Afghan airassault, the Red Cross facility in Kabul was hit by US bombs - on two different occasions. In mid-December, precision-guided weapons blasted a convoy of vehicles and killed 12 Afghan non-combatants driving to the inauguration of the country's interim leader, Hamid Karzai. (US General Tommy Franks insisted unrepentantly that the convoy was "what we call a 'righteous target.'")
Industrial Polluters Poised to Kill 6,000 Americans
US -- A study prepared for the EPA and released on April 9 warns that, within five years, increasing air pollution in the US will cause nearly 6,000 premature deaths, 14,000 cases of acute bronchitis and 140,000 asthma attacks per year. All this damage would stem from the emissions from 81 powerplants operated by just eight US utility companies. [www.abtassoc.com]
The report was compiled by Eric V. Schaeffer, the EPA's chief of civil enforcement. Schaeffer, a 12-year veteran with the EPA, resigned in March, complaining that Bush's "failure to enforce the Clean Air Act is a serious threat to public health." Schaeffer has founded a nonprofit watchdog organization called the Environmental Integrity Project to push for stricter environmental enforcement.
The eight utilities, which have all been cited by the Justice Department for breaching the Clean Air Act, were found to be responsible for hundreds of deaths in Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, Michigan, New York, Ohio, Tennessee, Virginia and Pennsylvania. Annual pollution deaths were highest in Pennsylvania - 550.
American Electric Power and the Southern Company operate the two deadliest plants. By 2007, they are expected to be killing 1400 and 1200 people a year, respectively. The other six killer companies are Cinergy, Duke, Dynergy, First Energy, SIGECO and the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA). [Is the TVA government-owned?]
In his resignation letter, Schaeffer complained that the eight killer power companies were preparing to accept a settlement and make a commitment to lower emissions when Bush administration signaled its intent to weaken the Clean Air Act. At that point, Schaeffer and others noted, the power companies simply "walked away from the [bargaining] table."
Schaeffer scoffed at the Bush's "Clear Skies" initiative. "They have yet to release an analysis that shows Clear Skies will get anywhere near the air pollution reductions expected by enforcing current law," Schaeffer declared.
For information on the impact of the Dirty Eight's plants in your community log onto www.mapcruzin.com/your_backyard.
Tobacco Giant Shreds the Truth
Australia - In March, Judge Geoffrey Eames rendered a 133-page judgement that found the British American Tobacco (BAT) company guilty of shredding thousands of pages of documents that could have shown the company was well aware that its cigarettes caused life-threatening damage to smokers. After an Australian smoker named Phyllis Cremona sued BAT in 1996, some 30,000 documents were identified as relevant to the lawsuit. Only 200 of these documents were requested during the trial.
After the trial ended, BAT's chief counsel instructed an associate that "now is a good opportunity to dispose of documents". That should be done outside the legal department." Thousands of the most sensitive and damaging documents were shredded and electronic versions were destroyed. Judge Eames ruled that the shredding order "can only have been a deliberate tactic designed to hide information." BAT's legal defense was mounted by the Kansas-based U.S. firm, Shook, Hardy, & Bacon. Judge Eames concluded that the U.S. law firm had played a critical role in carrying out the destruction of the documents.
When another woman smoker sued in 2001, BAT was again ordered to hand over its hoard of 30,000 documents. This time, however, the documents no longer existed. Instead of telling the truth, BAT's legal team resorted to a series of stalling tactics. Under relentless prodding, the truth was finally revealed. BAT was ordered to pay an award of $350,000 to the plaintiff. Despite the fact that the woman is now dying of cancer, BAT announced it would appeal the judge's decision. [www.corporatepredators.org]
Mole Nip: To Frankie Trull, president of the National Association of Biomedical Research. Asked to comment after People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) released videotapes documenting the horrific torture of baby rats at a University of North Carolina animal research facility, Trull told the Washington Post: "I think it's abhorrent that they [PETA] use illegal tactics [secret videotapes] to affect public policy. They should work within the system."
Mole Kiss: To Lewis Lapham. In April, the respected editor of Harper's magazine sat down for a chat with Dan Fost, the media columnist for the San Francisco Chronicle. Herewith are some of Lapham's lamentations:
"The vocabulary is an endangered species. The normal arsenal of expression has been diminished.
"The media is hand in hand with the government. [With Colin Powell's son Michael heading the Federal Communications Commission] monopolies are going to be fine. You don't see a lot of people like myself or [Gore] Vidal or [Noam] Chomsky on the Sunday morning news shows.
"In a democracy, the most valuable quality is candor. Democracy works best when people try to tell each other the truth. That's not what we've got. We've got a lot of cant.
"[The right-wing blames] the wreckage of the culture on a few university professors. The people that have [wrecked the culture are] the Rupert Murdochs of the world. Those are the people who say, 'Whatever the market will bear.' The market doesn't think. The market isn't a cultivated person. It's a ball bearing. It will go immediately to what sells. That's what wrecks the culture."
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