News & Politics

Before the Riot: Scenes from the Clinton Global Initiative Day 1


Well, Al sure stole the show — though maybe, after we rushed back to the safety of the press pit, Queen Raina of Jordan revealed she’d been strapped with explosives the whole time and would blow everybody up if she didn’t get more funding for her girls’ education program.

Her Majesty Raina Al-Abdullah was regal, also cute and accomplished, but her admirable attempt to raise private funds for public schools just can’t compete with Al Gore’s youth rebellion. But we’ll talk you through the main points of this morning’s action anyway.

The Queen of the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan, or Jordan as we like to call it, says education is “the best immunization of mother earth” against the world’s ills. It would cost “$11 billion a year to educate every child,” which is “one-tenth of NATO’s budget, and what Europe pays for ice cream every year.” You get it — stay in school, and if you’re a local moneyed interest stay in-vested in Jordan’s schools, as many others have by “adopting” one or two and bringing them up to date. Thus are Jordan’s schools improving.

Liberian President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf is, your host Bill Clinton said, “a genius at getting people to do fifty percent more than they thought they were going to.” Sirleaf’s also about education, and getting private and public sources together, but with a gynocentric twist. Because many Liberians believe it’s “the boys who will become the breadwinners,” girls are often “left behind,” so she has seen to it that, with the help of the World Bank, many young women as “trained for specific jobs in the private sector.”

Coca-Cola Chairman E. Neville Isdell, a late addition, also agreed in the marriage of private and public sectors — or rather, the “Triangle of sustainability” made up of government, “civil society,” and business. Isdell said that Milton Friedman’s classic dictum that “the only purpose of business is to make profit” is in his view “last century, not 21st Century,” to great applause from the assembled do-gooders. “We act as if our employees don’t belong to civil society,” he added, “but they do.”

Clinton asked Isdell specifically about water, and the Chairman claimed that Coca-Cola is “going to be water-neutral in all of our activities around the world by 2101.” Short-term problems with “stressed” areas — that is, the many places where people can’t get clean water at all — are harder, but he was confident Coke and others would together meet their needs. (Also, Isdell said the current U.S. financial crisis is “the greatest since 1929,” which might be meaningful considering who he is.)

Bono, dressed as a road company Che Guevara in space, began by modestly allowing that he was “not qualified to comment” on the Wall Street scene, but did allow as how it was “extrordinary to me that you can find 700 billion dollars to save Wall Street and the entire G8 can’t find 25 billion to save 25,000 people every day by preventing communicable disease and hunger,” again to great applause. He pleaded for more reaching out, crossways and always — hadn’t he worked with religious conservatives like Bush on AIDS, and hadn’t they done wonders in Africa? — and said that Warren Buffett told him (here Bono imitated Buffett’s voice, or that of Mr. Wilson on the old “Dennis the Menace” TV show), “Don’t appeal to the conscience of America, appeal to the greatness of America, and we’ll get the job done.”

On that head, Bill Clinton added that on the topic of “Bono’s conversion of conservatives to good government,” he thought Bono “got Jesse Helms into heaven… got him a one-way ticket to the sky.” Bono suggested it was the other way around, and that Helms had “blessed” him; “I’d never been blessed quite like that before.”

Then Al came out, looking dapper if a little lumpy around the face, and full of tightly- but barely-controlled anger toward coal companies, comparing them to sub-prime lenders who thought that “somehow if you lumped [bad mortgages] together and securitized them, magically you dissolved the risk,” which he called “an assumption whose time has passed, that assumption just went splat.” Now, he said, was the time to prevent a “much worse catastrophe” than this one. “The world has several trillion dollars of subprime carbon assets, based on the assumption that it is perfectly alright to put 70 million tons of global warming pollution into the atmosphere every 24 hours.” Al warned that since last CGI, “things have gotten much worse… this is a rout.”

The crowd got very quiet as Gore warmed to his jeremiad. He referred to many harbingers and looming cataclysms — a study showing that for every one degree increase in temperature we achieve, there will be a ten percent rise in the number of lightning strikes “all over the surface of this planet… the strength of the storms, the depth of the drought, the movement of tropical diseases into areas that never experienced them before — this is the result of a dysfunctional, insane global system pattern that we have to change.”

He said we had to stop burning coal (applause) and scoffed at industry claims that they were working on “clean coal.” “Clean coal is like healthy cigarettes,” said Gore. “It could theoretically exist, but the only demonstration plant was cancelled. How many such plants are there? Zero.” He even suggested that companies that made such claims should be investigated by state District Attorneys for “a form of stock fraud.”

And then Big Al called for dope, guns, and fucking in the streets and we were caught up in the rush of groovy revolutionaries heading to the barricades… but not before Big Bill threw it back to the Queen to diffuse tensions, and George Herbert Walker Bush came out for his guest shot as half the Presidential “Odd Couple” of 41 & 42, asking you to give generously to the Bush Clinton Coastal Fund. Then music played them off — the “Match Game” theme, we like to imagine, but we ducked out early and so can’t say, and without our credibility where are we?

In a few minutes, more second-hand local news and letters to the editor. We will revisit CGI when better food is served.


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