The Ice Men Cometh
Predictably, the oil and natural gas price hikes are setting off a clamor among Republicans for new exploration in the Arctic, where one of the world’s last remaining untapped petroleum reservoirs is believed to exist. If Big Oil goes into the Arctic, pipelines will follow, and last week, for the first time in years, there was again discussion about routes these pipelines might take through Alaska or Canada. It seems only yesterday that the administration, in an effort to aid the stricken oil companies, permitted them to sell Alaskan oil to Asia, thereby seeking to raise prices.
In the last few weeks, protests in Europe have focused on seeking lower gasoline taxes. But not everyone took that position. In Berlin, Gerhard Schroeder accused oil companies of price-fixing and called for an antitrust probe. “I can smell agreements being made,” Schroeder told Reuters. Pieter Berkhout, chief executive of Deutsche Shell AG and head of the German petroleum lobby, said he was “amazed” by Schroeder’s attack, and called for talks between the government and industry.
After the 1973 Arab oil embargo, successive presidents swore that the U.S. would never again be dependent on foreign oil. It was hollow talk. As time went on, the country became more, not less, dependent on foreign oil because the international oil companies make more money that way. Reagan ended regulation of oil and gas. Bush went to war in the Gulf to ensure an oil lifeline. Clinton-Gore talked environment, but oversaw the explosion of gas-guzzling vehicles, reversing the trend toward smaller, fuel-efficient cars. Now Dubya wants to increase oil and gas production, first in the Arctic, then without doubt in the Gulf of Mexico, and after that in the Caspian Sea (where NATO may end up in its next “peacekeeping” mission). Meanwhile, Gore gushes on about a “partnership” with Detroit to build vehicles with hybrid engines.
Despite all the blather, the situation is truly ominous because this time high oil prices will affect not just Europe but Asia, where economies have never recovered from the financial crash of 1997. The main issue is whether an Asian recession, spurred on by oil prices, will impact the U.S. economy, which increasingly counts on that part of the world for markets. Neither candidate remotely addresses this issue.
The magazine World Oil is recycling a rumor circulating through international circles that Arab oil-producing states are so angry with Al Gore for picking Joseph Lieberman, a Jew, to run as his vice-presidential candidate that they are determined to defeat him at any cost.
The plot, so the story goes, would have Saudi Arabia and its Gulf allies quietly renege on promises to boost oil production. Instead, the Saudis would cut back production to send prices even higher, to around $34 a barrel—enough to get consumers really angry at the Clinton administration and send Gore crashing to defeat. World Oil contributing editor Dr. A.F. Alhajji noted that the story comes from “generally reliable sources.”
The Damascus newspaper Al-Thawra called the choice of Lieberman “an inappropriate option that will [cause Syria to] reconsider the U.S. role in the peace process.” It said that Lieberman “has not come to [the presidential campaign] as an American but rather as a Zionist in a U.S. cloak, and for a defined aim, which is to achieve the Israeli policy targets.”
The death last week of a New Jersey man stricken with West Nile virus inflamed hysteria in Europe about what is now being treated as a plague coming from the U.S.
Calling it “one of the deadliest new viruses to have emerged on the planet,” the London Observer says West Nile virus “has begun to terrorize” a growing list of “victim nations.” Twelve Israelis have died so far. Outbreaks have been reported in France and Jordan, and in the U.S. epidemiologists say it probably will spread across the nation. So far, in addition to New York, there have been outbreaks in New Jersey and Delaware.
According to a report by Smithsonian scientists writing in the journal Emerging Infectious Diseases, more than 70 migratory species of birds, including ducks, starlings, terns, and seagulls, can carry the disease around the globe. “The virus is probably in every corner of North America by now, as well as parts of South America,” John Rappole, one of the writers, told the magazine New Scientist.
The Canadians are so fearful of an outbreak that they are stationing chickens along the U.S. border to provide them with an early-warning system. By testing the chickens from time to time, the Canadians hope they can spot West Nile viral antibodies before the disease strikes.
In fact, West Nile virus is not new. It is endemic to Africa, and outbreaks have occurred in the Middle East and India. Three years ago, 500 people came down with the virus in Romania. There also have been outbreaks in southern Russia, Belarus, Ukraine, and Italy. More than 80 percent of the Egyptian population has been infected with the virus at one time or another.
Both the Green Party and the Libertarians hope they can tip the presidential election with tiny blocs of votes in key states.
Ralph Nader, who registers anywhere from 3 to 5 percent in the national polls, has long boasted of polling up to 5 percent in the battleground state of Michigan and of pulling as much as 9 percent at times in California and Oregon. Although his poll ratings have been stuck in the mud or actually declining since the Democratic convention, his campaign got a shot in the arm with superrallies drawing upwards of 10,000 in Portland, Minneapolis, Seattle, and on Sunday—two days before the debate—in Boston.
A Nader spokesman says money from the rallies goes into the campaign, which angers certain Western-state Greens, who claim their original deal in taking on Nader was to build up the Green Party infrastructure state by state. The liaison of Nader with the Greens always has been tenuous at best, with party members last week beginning to refer to the consumer advocate as an “aging rock star” and “the Gus Hall of the Green Party”: a reference to the stolid Stalinist eminence of the U.S. Communist Party.
Last week, the Libertarian Party announced that its presidential candidate, Harry Browne, was becoming “The New Ralph Nader.” Browne is supposedly now a deciding factor in Illinois, Georgia, and Colorado—all states where the race between Bush and Gore is close.
The nonstop election polling may have reached a zenith with a fax entitled “Bush vs. Gore . . . Who Will Get Your Vote?” Recipients are asked to fax back to 21st Century Faxes, Ltd. “Your votes will be presented to the Presidential candidates and the major political parties,” says a blurb. “The total votes received will be available at . . . www.poll results.co.uk.” The hook comes in small type: “Calls to these numbers cost $2.95 per minute, a small price for greater democracy. Calls take approx. 1 or 2 minutes.” Bottom line: Brit telemarketers figure U.S. suckers are good for $6 a shot.
Additional reporting: Rouven Gueissaz and Theresa Crapanzano