Month: November 2000

Gore Fiddles; the World Burns

Part of Al Gore’s campaign platform was that he was instrumental in drafting the Kyoto accords and that he supports cutting greenhouse gas emissions. This is both a dubious boast and an outrageous lie, as evidenced by this week’s U.N. Climate Summit in The Netherlands.

The Kyoto Protocol was signed in 1997, but the Clinton/Gore administration has never submitted it to Congress for ratification. The agreement, which calls for a 5.2% cut in global greenhouse gas emissions under the 1990 levels by no later than 2012, is therefore not binding on U.S. businesses.

Since 1997, emissions from U.S. sources have continued to increase. The U.S. is by far the largest polluter, producing 25% of all greenhouse gas emissions (with only 4% of the world’s population).

This year’s climate summit is a very important one; it is focused on the practical aspects of cutting greenhouse gas emissions–i.e., how to implement and enforce the Kyoto Protocol. If an agreement can’t be reached by all parties about how emissions cuts are to be achieved, the Kyoto agreement could fail. The U.S. is the major player holding up the talks.

The Clinton/Gore administration has proposed a plan that is very controversial and could undermine the whole intention of the Kyoto Protocol. The plan would rely on “carbon sinks” to offset carbon emissions from U.S. sources. Carbon sinks include forests, farms, and greenbelts–areas of undeveloped land that can absorb carbon from the atmosphere. The controversy lies in an argument over how the sinks would be counted; if all parties agree to allow offsets, the U.S. should only be allowed to count new forests and farms. Yet the Clinton/Gore plan calls for including existing forests, farms, and greenbelts to offset emissions. This is not only bad science, but it could lead to a situation in which the U.S.–the largest producer of greenhouse gases–need not make any real cuts in its emission levels, thereby undermining the Kyoto agreement and worsening global warming.

Many nations object to the use of carbon sinks to offset carbon emissions, since they don’t have the ability to use them (Middle Eastern nations, for example). There’s also a lot of scientific uncertainty about the ability to measure how much carbon is absorbed by carbon sinks. Other critics point out that farms and “managed” forests (which can be cut or subject to carbon-spewing forest fires) often release more carbon into the air than they absorb. Yet the notion of offsets, especially carbon sinks, are popular in the U.S. Congress, where several senators have said that they will never vote for the Kyoto agreement if it hurts the U.S. economy. This is a code phrase for: “We won’t vote for it if it means U.S. businesses have to spend any money to lower their emissions” (particularly U.S. auto makers, which are among the largest corporations in the world).

The Clinton/Gore administration is attempting to appease Congress (i.e., Ford and GM) by undermining the intent of the Kyoto Protocol. Part of that process is to point a finger at the Third World and demand that poor nations commit to making a bigger sacrifice (when, in fact, it’s only fair that the U.S. make the biggest sacrifice, because we are, literally, the biggest offender.) The U.S. also wants to use “pollution credits” to offset emissions here at home. In other words, U.S. businesses would pay companies in other countries to pollute less, thereby allowing U.S. companies to continue to pollute unabated. Everyone else can tighten their belts, except for us.

Other industrial nations are beginning to cut their emissions and are likely to meet the goals specified in the Kyoto agreement (including most of the European Union). The U.S., however, is going in the opposite direction. Current Clinton/Gore policy, if continued, will undermine the treaty completely.

But here’s the real shocker that puts the lie to Gore’s environmental posturing: even if the U.S. reversed policy and began to cut emissions, and if all nations in the world met their targets under the Kyoto Protocol, it wouldn’t be enough. Scientists on the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change have affirmed that we will soon need to make cuts of at least 60% in carbon emissions to alleviate global warming. Under these circumstances, Al Gore’s boast is not only comic, it’s hollow and sickening.

Many environmentalists are unwilling to give up on the Kyoto agreement, however. They say it is a first, albeit tiny, step in the right direction. If true, it makes this year’s summit all the more important, and the U.S.’s proposal all the more horrific. Even this tiny step will likely be thwarted in favor of U.S. business interests. Tell me: what is the true difference between Gore and Bush? The answer is simple: at least Bush has no sick, idiotic, backward plan that pretends to “address” global warming.

Sources include: “U.S. Climate Plan Threatens to Deepen Summit Rift,” Reuters, 11/14/00, “Climate Talks Critical for U.S.,” BBC Online News, 11/14/00, “High Stakes at The Hague,” BBC News Online, 11/10/00, “Climate Talks Deadlocked, Race to Find Compromise,” Reuters, 11/17/00, “Protesters Besiege Climate Talks to Show Flood Risk,” Reuters, 11/18/00.

One Planet – November 22, 2000

The Real Nuclear Threat

Forget about Iraq and North Korea. Let’s talk about Temelin.

At Temelin, a small city in the Czech Republic just 50 kilometers north of the Austrian border, a private company called CEZ (which roughly translate as “The Czech Power Company”) owns a majority interest in a brand-new nuclear power plant. The plant has been under construction on and off for about 20 years. Its design is based on the same type of reactor that exploded and caught fire at Chernobyl in 1986. In the early 1990s, after the old socialist government fell, international inspectors visited Temelin and declared the reactor unsafe. Instead of mothballing the plant, CEZ added a few Western-style safety and control devices to the design and continued the construction. Last month, overbudget and more than ten years overdue, CEZ finally opened the plant for operation.

And last month, Austrian anti-nuke protesters mobilized against the plant. The protests have been going on for some time, but not on a massive scale. Not, that is, until the chain reaction began at Temelin. In this case, one very dangerous, nuclear chain reaction has caused another, very understandable chain reaction in the activist community.

On Sunday, November 5, Austrian anti-nuclear activists completely closed the border between Austria and the Czech Republic, stranding all traffic, including commercial truck traffic on several key routes between Eastern and Western Europe. Protesters completely blocked 11 border crossings early Sunday morning and, by Sunday afternoon, closed down the remaining 4 crossings.

Austrian Chancellor Wolfgang Schuessel met with demonstrators and asked them to withdraw, while the Czech government said it wouldn’t negotiate with protesters unless they withdrew from all of the border crossings by Monday evening. As a sign of goodwill, 12 of the crossings were opened to traffic on Monday, but protesters at 3 major crossings held firm, stating that they wouldn’t withdraw until the chain reaction at Temelin was halted.

Eventually, the protesters withdrew when the Austrian government declared that it would block the Czech Republic’s entrance to the European Union over this issue. In the meantime, anti-nuke campaigners in the German border state of Bavaria announced that they, too, will blockade the German/Czech border within the next few weeks if nothing is done to close the Temelin reactor.

This was not the first time that anti-nuke folks had closed the Austrian border because of Temelin. In October, 6,000 protesters with bulldozers and tractors closed 15 border crossings for an entire week in response to the start-up of Temelin. When that protest ended, anti-nuke activists warned the Czech Republic that they would be back to close the border again, if no progress had been made. They kept their word.

They have valid reasons to be concerned about Temelin. The reactor has undergone two emergencies in the six weeks since it began operations. In October, a pump failure led to a scaling back of the plant’s operating capacity. Temelin has been operating at only 2% of its capacity since then. Then, on November 18, the Temelin reactor was shut down completely by its own emergency systems during a test of its reactor cooling system. As of this writing, it has yet to be restarted, although CEZ officials have said they will restart it as soon as possible.

German and Austrian anti-nuke protesters have been joined by Czech activists, who have been pressing the Czech government to close Temelin for some time. The reactor has cost $2.4 billion to build to date. The second reactor is still under construction and due to come on line in 2002, so the costs will only escalate. In addition, Czech anti-nuke activists have pointed out that CEZ has no plans for waste storage. The Czech environment minister has been an outspoken critic of the plant, and even Czech President Vaclav Havel calls Temelin “megalomaniacal.” There’s a strong feeling all around that the Czech government needs to take responsibility and keep Central Europe a nuclear-free zone.

The border closures and protests have had some impact on CEZ. It has negotiated with the Czech government, which recently announced that experts from the European Union will inspect the safety of the Temelin reactor.

However, the economic pressures to keep it running are strong. CEZ needs to recoup its investment. Its subcontractors, too, won’t be willing to give up profits; last week, anti-nuke activists discovered that the U.S.-based multinational Westinghouse has secretly delivered fuel to CEZ for the second reactor at Temelin.

The Other Elections

All over the world, millions of people are completely ignoring the U.S. elections. Usually our presidential elections are watched very closely, and the candidates are judged on two issues in particular: support or lack of support for international political and economic bodies (the U.N., the IMF, the World Bank, NATO, etc.) and the candidate’s support for military interventionism. International analysts have admitted that on these two issues, Bush and Gore were indistinguishable. Elect one or the other, they simply don’t care.

On the other hand, there are two elections that the world has watched very closely: Serbia’s and Kosovo’s. Vojislav Kostunica narrowly won a majority over Milosevic in Serbia, but not enough votes to win outright (the campaigning was also marred by violence and suppression of the media). Predictably, Milosevic called for a run-off. Kostunica’s party quickly parlayed a miners’ strike into a general protest calling for Milosevic’s ouster. Within a few days, it was over: Milosevic was out and Kostunica was the next president of Yugoslavia.

Those are the facts that we’ve read in the papers and seen on TV here in the U.S. There’s more to the story.

On the day that protesters stormed the parliament building in Belgrade, Milosevic made repeated telephone calls to the army and police, demanding that they break up the demonstrations. Each time, he was given a polite “we’re working on it, sir,” but the military and police never acted. Kostunica admits that he was approached by high-ranking military and police intelligence officers prior to the election. These men told him that, if he could produce a big enough crowd of protesters in the streets (regardless of the vote totals), they would back him and not Milosevic. This conjures up a vision of Kostunica as the figurehead for a Serbian military coup. Last week Kostunica told the activist wing of his own party that he would not allow any members of the military or police to be investigated for human rights or civil rights abuses during Milosevic’s administration.

Kostunica has also been hailed in the west as a great champion of democracy; yet, he poses deep problems for NATO and U.S. goals in the region. He’s a rabid nationalist, who has stated that Kosovo will not be an independent state. His election in Serbia has given fuel to the Serbian nationalist movement in Bosnia, which wants to create a separate Serbian homeland in Bosnia to be annexed to a greater, Serbian-run Yugoslavia. Just after gaining office, Kostunica attended the funeral of the ultra-nationalist Bosnian Serb poet Jovan Ducic, the favorite writer of indicted war criminal Radovan Karadzic. During this special trip to Bosnia, Kostunica tried to completely bypass the capital of Sarajevo and just visit his nationalist pals. Under pressure from the U.N., however, Kostunica finally gave in and made a brief diplomatic visit via helicopter to Sarajevo to meet the Serb and Muslim leaders of Bosnia’s tripartite Croat/Serb/Muslim government. The U.N. is extremely worried that Kostunica will destabilize Bosnia.

The western press recently announced that Kostunica had acknowledged that Serbian troops had committed genocide against Albanians during the NATO bombing of Kosovo and Serbia. This is entirely untrue. During an interview for the CBS TV show 60 Minutes, Kostunica was quoted in the broadcast as saying: “I am ready to … accept the guilt for all those people who have been killed … For what Milosevic had done, and as a Serb, I will take responsibility for many of these, these crimes.” Note the numerous ellipses. Kostunica’s office immediately released a statement saying that the CBS journalists had fabricated the quote and called it “a series of untruths and words which President Kostunica did not use.” The journalist who conducted the interview, Scott Pelley, admitted that the story was heavily edited and that he had to ask Kostunica the same questions over and over again to get the answers he wanted.

Young activists in Serbia, many of whom helped to topple Milosevic, are delivering a strong message to Kostunica: “We’re watching you.” The youth movement, named Otpor (which means “resistance” in Serbian) is composed mostly of students and young workers who have protested Milosevic’s government for many years, through times of brutal repression. Over 9,000 Otpor activists were arrested by Serbian police in the past year, but the movement has continued to grow. Buildings, businesses, signs, and shop windows in Belgrade are now covered with Otpor’s insignia: a clenched fist. But Otpor is not only an urban movement–it has chapters in rural areas and some of the smallest villages in Serbia.

Otpor is currently preparing actions to warn the new administration not to become just like Milosevic’s. Said one Otpor activist: “Until the last thief in Serbia is gone, Otpor will not stop.” Unlike the western media, they have no illusions about Kostunica.

Meanwhile, the elections in Kosovo have taken an interesting turn. Albanian Kosovars voted overwhelmingly for Ibrahim Rugova’s party over the party run by former leaders of the hard-line Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA)–NATO’s allies during the bombing campaign. Rugova led a decade-long campaign of peaceful resistance against Belgrade just prior to the civil war initiated by the KLA’s campaign of violent struggle. This vote is widely viewed in international circles as a condemnation of the KLA and the NATO bombing campaign.

Sources: “Was Serbian Revolt the People’s Alone?” Wall Street Journal, 10/23/00, A25; “Kostunica shows nationalist colours,” Manchester Guardian Weekly, 10/26-11/1/00; “Kostunica Disputes CBS Broadcast,” AP, 10/31/00; “Yugoslav Activists Issue Warning,” AP, 10/19/00; “Kosovo leader wants independence now,” BBC News Online, 10/30/00; “Profile: Ibrahim Rugova,” BBC News Online, 10/30/00.

One Planet – November 8, 2000

General Strike in Argentina

In June, several million workers joined a one-day national strike to protest Argentina’s economic austerity program. It was the second general strike this year in Argentina. Major cities and most of the countryside were paralyzed as railroad, subway, bus, truck, and airline workers joined the walkout. Many bridges were blocked by demonstrators, and taxicabs and buses driven by scabs were damaged by strikers. Thousands of stores closed, and the courts and government offices were forced to close. The strikers walked out to protest a $938 million cut in public spending announced in May as part of a deal between new Argentine President Fernando de la Rua and the IMF for a $7.2 billion loan.

The austerity package will cut salaries for government workers by 12 to 15%, reduce payments from the public pension fund, and ban government workers from receiving their pensions if they work a second job in the private sector. This new deal with the IMF follows on the heels of a $1.4 billion cut in social spending imposed in January, in the first few weeks of de la Rua’s administration. Union members are also upset about a move to deregulate the health care industry.

De la Rua was elected last November on a platform to end corruption, improve the economy, cut the budget deficit, provide jobs for everyone, and equalize incomes for all Argentinians. Within a month of his inauguration, he rammed a new budget and tax package through Congress designed to cut Argentina’s budget deficit (at the expense of social programs) and struck a deal with the IMF for a new loan. In February, he pushed Congress to pass a new labor code that guts Argentina’s labor law, undercuts the bargaining power of unions, lowers payroll taxes paid by businesses, and allows businesses to more easily hire scab labor. This satisfies one of the main requirements of the new IMF loan: cut labor costs.

The new Argentine labor code was not designed specifically to help small or medium-sized businesses; it was written to keep multinationals from shutting down their operations and moving to Brazil, where currency devaluation has made labor costs extremely cheap. Since the collapse of Brazil’s currency, 60 multinationals–including Tupperware, Goodyear Tire and Rubber, Royal Philips Electronics, General Motors, Ford Motor, and Fiat–have closed their plants in Argentina and relocated to Brazil. In the meantime, Argentina’s currency has remained pegged one-to-one to the strong U.S. dollar in order to avoid inflation.

De la Rua has broken his campaign promises. The new labor policy has not created new jobs; the unemployment rate has risen to a three-year high of 16%. He has not cut the budget deficit; the cut in payroll taxes and increased interest payments on the new IMF loan will raise the budget deficit from $5 billion to nearly $10 billion this year. On the campaign trail, de la Rua promised to cut $1 billion from the budget without touching social programs, but they were the first to be slashed. Meanwhile, the economy is in a shambles.

Even de la Rua’s promise to fight corruption was a lie. On October 6, Argentine Vice President Carlos Alvarez resigned in protest because of a major bribery scandal. Two of de la Rua’s government ministers, Labor Minister Alberto Flamarique and Intelligence Director Fernando de Santibanez, were caught bribing nearly a dozen senators to vote for de la Rua’s despicable labor code in February. Flamarique resigned as Labor Minister, but de la Rua immediately appointed him chief of staff. Former VP Alvarez is the leader of the left-wing of de la Rua’s ruling coalition. His departure could threaten the government and force early elections. Even the head of de la Rua’s own party is attacking him now–not for the bribery scandal or his dismantling of labor law, but for the poor state of the economy. Notably, de la Rua has followed IMF economic prescriptions to the letter.

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