EcoMole: A Mole Penetrates the World Economic Forum & The 2002 Green Screen Awards
March 28, 2003

A Mole Penetrates the World Economic Forum
When the men who rule the world meet in Davos, security is "the name of the game." Credit: BBC
A well-known author and reporter was recently invited to the World Economic Forum (WEF) in Davos, Switzerland. Much to the author's chagrin, these private notes, emailed to a small group of friends, have begun circulating through email lists. The-Edge is reprinting an edited version of the report. We are, however, withholding the identity of the author, who has already suffered enough embarrassment.

Dear Earth: Meet Your Rulers
Hi Guys. OK, hard to believe, but true. Yours truly has been hobnobbing with the ruling class. I was awarded a special pass which allowed me full access to not only the entire official meeting, but also private dinners with the likes the head of the Saudi Secret Police, presidents of various and sundry countries, your Fortune 500 CEOS and the leaders of the most important NGOs in the world.

The EXTREMELY powerful arrive by helicopter. The moderately powerful take the first class train. The NGOs and we mere mortals reach heaven via coach train or a conference bus.

The WEF was packed with about 3,000 delegates and press, some 1,000 Swiss police, another 400 Swiss soldiers, numerous tanks and armored personnel carriers, gigantic rolls of coiled barbed wire that gracefully cascaded down snow-covered hillsides, missile launchers and assorted other tools of the national security trade.

Every single person who planned to enter the conference had special electronic badges which, upon being swiped across a reading pad, produced a computer screen filled color portrait of the attendee, along with his/her vital statistics. These were swiped and scrutinized by soldiers and police every few minutes. If someone managed to take out Davos during WEF week, the world would lose a fair chunk of its ruling and governing class.

The World According to Davos
Overall, here is what I learned about the state of our world:
  • I was in a dinner with heads of Saudi and German FBI, plus the foreign minister of Afghanistan. They all said that, at its peak, Al Qaeda had 70,000 members. Only 10% of them were trained in terrorism. Of that 7,000, they say all but about 200 are dead or in jail.

  • The global economy is in very, very, very, very bad shape. Last year when WEF met in New York all I heard was, "Yeah, it's bad, but recovery is right around the corner". This year "recovery" was a word never uttered. Fear was palpable -- fear of enormous fiscal hysteria. All of this is without war.

  • If the US unilaterally goes to war and it is anything short of a quick surgical strike (lasting less than 30 days), the economists were all predicting extreme economic gloom: falling dollar value, rising spot market oil prices, the Fed pushing interest rates towards zero with resulting increase in national debt, severe trouble in all countries whose currency is guaranteed against the dollar (just about everybody except the EU), a near cessation of all development and humanitarian programs for poor countries. Very few economists or ministers of finance predicted the world getting out of that economic funk for minimally five-10 years.

  • The business community was in no mood to hear about a war in Iraq. Except for diehard American Republicans, a few Brit Tories and some Middle East folks, the WEF was in a foul, angry anti-American mood.

  • Last year the WEF was a lovefest for America. This year the mood was so ugly that it reminded me of what it felt like to be an American overseas in the Reagan years. The rich -- whether they are French or Chinese or just about anybody -- are livid about the Iraq crisis, primarily because they believe it will sink their financial fortunes.
Bush League Policies Infuriating World Leaders
Plenty are also infuriated because they disagree on policy grounds. It goes FAR beyond the sorts of questions one hears raised by demonstrators and in UN debates. For example:
  • If Al Qaeda is down to merely 200 terrorists cadres and a handful of wannabe franchises, what's all the fuss?

  • The Middle East situation has never been worse. All hope for a settlement between Israel and Palestine seems to have evaporated. The war in Iraq is at best a distraction from that core issue; at worst, it may aggravate it.

  • US unilateralism is seen as arrogant, bullyish. If the US cannot behave in partnership with its allies -- especially the Europeans -- it risks not only political alliance but BUSINESS. Company leaders argued that they would rather not have to deal with US government attitudes about all sorts of multilateral treaties (climate change, intellectual property, rights of children, etc.) -- it's easier to just do business in countries whose governments agree with yours. War against Iraq is seen as just another example of the unilateralism.

  • There was a decidedly mixed feeling about [US Attorney General John] Ashcroft, who addressed the conference. I attended a small lunch with Ashcroft and observed Ralph Reed and other prominent Christian fundamentalistsĀc bowing their heads before eating. The rest of the world's elite finds this American Christian behavior at least as uncomfortable as it does Moslem or Hindu fundamentalist behavior.

  • When Colin Powell gave the speech of his life, trying to win over the non-American delegates, the sharpest attack on his comments came not from Amnesty International or some Islamic representative -- it came from the head of the largest bank in the Netherlands!
Some Harsh Economic Lessons from Davos
The only economy about which there is much enthusiasm is China, which was responsible for 77% of the global GDP growth in 2002. But the honcho of the Bank of China, Zhu Min, said that fantastic growth could slow to a crawl if China cannot solve its rural/urban problem. Currently 400 million Chinese are urbanites, and their average income is 16 times that of the 900 million rural residents. Zhu argued China must urbanize nearly a billion people in ten years!

I learned that the US economy is the primary drag on the global economy, and only a handful of nations have sufficient internal growth to thrive when the US is stagnating.

The WEF was overwhelmed by talk of security, with fears of terrorism, computer and copyright theft, assassination and global instability dominating almost every discussion. I learned from American security and military speakers that, "We need to attack Iraq not to punish it for what it might have, but preemptively, as part of a global war. Iraq is just one piece of a campaign that will last years, taking out states, cleansing the planet."

The mood was very grim. These WEF folks are freaked out. They see very bad economics ahead, war, and more terrorism. One session costed-out what another 9/11-type attack would do to global markets -- a "second hit" would prove all the world's post-9/11 security efforts had failed.

The Ruling Elite: Up Close and Personal
I actually enjoyed a lot of my conversations, and found many of the leaders and rich quite charming and remarkably candid.

Watching Bill Clinton address the conference while sitting in the hotel room of the President of Mozambique (we were viewing it on closed circuit TV) I got juicy blow-by-blow analysis of US foreign policy from a remarkably candid head of state.

A day spent with Bill Gates turned out to be fascinating and fun. I found the CEO of Heinekin hilarious, and George Soros proved quite earnest about confronting AIDS. Vicente Fox -- who I had breakfast with -- proved sexy and smart like a -- well, a fox.

The world [is] ... run by about 5,000 bickering, sometimes charming, usually arrogant, mostly male people who are accustomed to living in either phenomenal wealth, or great personal power. A few have both.

Many of them turn out to be remarkably naive -- especially about science and technology. All of them are financially wise, though their ranks have thinned due to unwise tech-stock investing.

They work very hard, attending sessions from dawn to nearly midnight. They are impatient. They have a hard time reconciling long term issues (global warming, AIDS pandemic, resource scarcity) with their daily bottomline. They are comfortable working across languages, cultures and gender, though white Caucasian males still outnumber all other categories. They adore hi-tech gadgets and are glued to their cell phones.

Welcome to Earth: Meet the leaders.

The 2002 Green Screen Awards
Eliza hugs an elephant, talks to animals and defeats the evil poachers.
The Green Screen Awards -- an annual feature introduced by Earth Island Journal and timed to coincide with the Academy Awards ceremonies -- celebrates the best (greenest) and worst (brownest) offerings in cinema. The-Edge is proud to carry on the tradition of the Green Screen Awards with the following list of The Green, the Brown and the Ugly.

Green Screen Winners

Bowling for Columbine. Michael Moore's hilarious, frightening and heart-wrenching take on US gun violence revels in cascades of ironic (and revealing) juxtapositions and a slew of amazing interviews that sizzle with self-inflected satire. In his quest to discover why Americans inhabit the most homicidal nation on Earth, Moore discounts the usual suspects -- guns, poverty, violent movies, racism (though that plays a significant role) -- and winds up drawing a bead on corporate media. Bowling argues that we are a violent culture because we are kept in a state of anxiety by our fear-peddling corporate media. No one in the news business should be allowed to go on air without listening to what this film has to say.

The Wild Thornberrys. (Paramount) On a family safari in Africa, the precocious pre-teen Eliza risks all to save a baby cheetah from poachers. And, since this was a cartoon, we can be certain that no animals were harmed in the making of this movie.

Goldmember. (New Line Cinema) When Dr. Evil dukes it out with Goldmember, they engage in a car chase that features a swarm of electric vehicles. In addition to a fleet of GEMS, Goldmember's gilded chariot is a mutated Corbin Sparrow with a phallic extension rising from the rear. Austin, of course, tools about in a trendy, high-mileage Mini Cooper -- the Anti-SUV.

Naqoyqatsi. (Miramax). Filmmaker Godfrey Reggio and musical collaborator John Cage have composed the final piece of their awesome Qatsi Trilogy. This wordless, viscerally eloquent film tackles the big themes -- biotechnology, globalization and war. Unlike his previous films, Naqoyqatsi simmers with flashes of hot-wired, digitally enhanced, computer-altered imagery that combines to flash a warning about out-of-control technologies that have begun to subvert human culture, ethics, and the natural world.

Winged Migration. (Sony Pictures). This astounding documentary by Jacques Perrin, the Academy Award-winning actor (Cinema Paradiso) and producer (Black and White in Color), follows the migratory flights of several species of birds over seven continents and 40 countries. In order to capture these images, five crews of more than 450 (including 17 pilots and 14 cinematographers) traveled from the Artic to the Amazon using planes, gliders, helicopters and balloons "to fly alongside, above, below and in front of their subjects." Perrin also gave us the insect documentary Microcosm (a previous Green Screen Award winner).

Brown Screen Awards

Die Another Day. (MGM) For the first time, a Bond film featured a plot-central device powered by clean, inexhaustible, nonpolluting solar power. Unfortunately, Icarus, an orbiting solar mirror was Doomsday Device. Die Another Day transformed renewable energy into a Weapon of Mass Destruction, sending laser-like blast of sunlight across the Korean Demilitarized Zone, incinerating trees, wildlife and -- on the plus side -- thousands of buried landmines.

We have a request for Q: When will Agent 007 get to drive a solar-powered car? (We'd settle for an Aston-Martin powered by a hydrogen fuel cell.)

Triple X. (Sony) Once again, clean, nonpolluting renewable energy was shown powering a Doomsday Device (is there some sinister pattern developing here?). In Triple X, Prague and the world beyond were at risk of being destroyed by a plague virus released by Ahab, a remote-controlled boat. The chief terrorist describes Ahab as "a solar-powered submarine" (a concept that even the staunchest solar-power advocate would find laughable). The Ahab (better described as a solar-powered jetski) was shown zipping down the main river in Prague, sending up a huge rooster-tail of spray (shouldn't a Doomsday Device have a lower profile?) as film star Vin Diesel races along the riverside in a speeding car, pointing to the Ahab and yelling in amazement, "It's doing 80 miles per hour!"

The Crocodile Hunter. (MGM) Another story pitting a good-hearted white-hued hero against poachers, Crocodile Hunter poses a quandry: Star Steve Irwin is supposed to be saving crocs but he spends and inordinate amount of time leaping out of boats and man-handling these set-upon reptiles. Irwin takes so much delight in taunting wildlife -- from poisonous snakes to elephants -- that we wound up rooting for the crocs. At best, this film suggests a premise for a new TV reality show: "Celebrity Death Wish."

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