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January's Lowdown

January 2002, Volume 4, Number 1

Edited by Jim Hightower and Phillip Frazer

A ten-year plan to convert to new technologies

Let’s declare energy independence — now!

Twenty years ago, there was a lively, good-time beer joint in my town of Austin called the Raw Deal. It served good beer, a serious plate of pork chops, fries cooked in what must have been 40-weight motor oil . . . and a heaping side of attitude. In the men’s room there was an automatic hand-drying machine with a sign on the hot air button that read: “Punch here for a message from Senator Phil Gramm.”

I miss the Raw Deal.

I’ve been thinking about that hot air machine lately as I hear George W. endlessly repeating — as if his Teleprompter is stuck — that his sweeping, globallistic, unrestricted, chop-a-matic, smoke-’em-out, suspend-the-Constitution, freedom-busting, antiterrorism campaign is about nothing but freedom itself. “We’ve got to be free,” he says, simply. Then he says it again. Only louder. Then once more.
Let’s declare energy independence — now!Let’s declare energy independence — now!
Yet it is Bush, Cheney & Company — backed by a swarm of smiling oil lobbyists and a chorus of compliant Congress critters — who are dead set against actually setting us free. Think about it. The United States has been, is now, and will be into the foreseeable future shackled to foreign oil — specifically to the crude-pumping rigs of the oiligarchies of OPEC, including the pampered, despotic royal family that rules Saudi Arabia with an iron fist . . . and with the constant protection of 13,000 U.S. troops based there to slap down any uprisings by the common folk (see The Lowdown, Nov. 2001).

Bush the Elder put us into the Gulf War to preserve this totalitarian kingdom, thereby keeping its oil spigots open for ExxonMobil, ChevronTexaco, and the rest. Daddy George said it was a war to “preserve our way of life,” but all he really did was tighten the shackles that keep our country dependent on their crude.

America spends $56 billion a year to buy Arabian oil and another $25 billion a year on our military and CIA efforts to keep the Arabian oil monarchies on their corrupt thrones — and this was before adding in the tab for George W.’s present crusade. As Newsday columnist Robert Reno put it, we are “the yo-yo at the end of a string held by OPEC.”

Are you as tired as I am of being yanked up and down by oil barons abroad and here at home? If we really want freedom, we need to cut that string and sever our nation’s pathetic dependence on OPEC’s — or anyone’s — oil.

Kris Kristofferson’s song “Me and Bobbie McGee” has a refrain that goes, “Freedom’s just another word for nothing left to lose.” Well, what if we lost the need to put the blood of our troops and billions of our taxpayer dollars into oil politics? What if we lost the need to enrage the impoverished people of the world by constantly putting our military behind the despots that repress them? What if we lost the need to have our household consumers, farmers, truck drivers, and overall economy jacked around periodically by price spikes caused by the whims of oil manipulators? What if we lost the need to surrender our sovereignty to the handful of oil profiteers who not only control the flow of energy to our families, but also control the flow of energy policy through Washington?

What that would spell is freedom, for we’d no longer have anything to lose from the monarchs, oiligarchs, globalizers and greedheads.

The beauty is, we can do this! And now is the perfect time to declare, at long last, America’s energy independence from any foreign or corporate power.

Now is the time because, ironically, the Osama chase has ripped the veil from our government’s corrupt oil relationships with the royal rulers of Riyadh, who are so repressive that they prohibit women from driving cars and are so duplicitous that they call themselves our “ally” at the same time they funnel money to bin Laden and his Al Qaeda.

Now is the time because, as polls show, the majority of Americans are ready to break our oil addiction if — and this is the crucial if — they are offered positive steps for getting there. As with any addiction, recovery requires internal will, the belief that it can happen, and a step-by-step program of progress.

Most importantly, now is the time because the welling tide of patriotism within our hearts is deeper, more genuine and much more progressive than anything the shallow, corporate-driven Bushites can possibly imagine.

Shoot for the Moon

All George has been able to manage is a lame call for Americans to “go shopping.” Of course, he’s an SUV-driving, oil-soaked, son-of-a-Bush, so we can expect no better from him, no rallying of the people to a greater national purpose.

But what about us? Here is a tremendous, historic opportunity for progressive leaders to step forward and offer an exciting, patriotic vision of the American that can be if we join together in a roll-up-our-sleeves, can-do, unity program to make our country entirely self-reliant in energy within a decade.

I find (and polls confirm) that Americans yearn to be part of something BIG, something that calls us together in a common cause besides military destruction. This is that BIG THING, involving people in every neighborhood all across the country to build something positive for our nation, world, and future generations. Unshackling America from oil would be a Moon-shot effort, only bigger, because most of us could only watch that — this would ask every household to participate. It would include:

• Enlisting our very best scientists in a crash program of collaboration, as was done in the Manhattan Project in the 1940s. But instead of making a horrific bomb, as those folks were asked to do, this collaboration would ask scientists to resolve any remaining technological impediments to the mass use of fuel cells, biomass, solar, wind, geo-thermal, and other abundant, clean, and cheap energy sources. This would be a heroic team effort to re-tool our energy economy and regain our energy sovereignty.

• Enlisting our very best scientists in a crash program of collaboration, as was done in the Manhattan Project in the 1940s. But instead of making a horrific bomb, as those folks were asked to do, this collaboration would ask scientists to resolve any remaining technological impediments to the mass use of fuel cells, biomass, solar, wind, geo-thermal, and other abundant, clean, and cheap energy sources. This would be a heroic team effort to re-tool our energy economy and regain our energy sovereignty.

• Issuing an open challenge to our entire nation of tinkerers, back-yard inventors, mechanics, web-heads, and puzzle solvers to bring their downhome ingenuity to the task of energy freedom, offering rewards and incentives for breakthroughs that advance our national goal.

• Building a high-speed, energy-efficient, 21st-century train system to crisscross the nation, linking all major cities with fast, reliable service. This would be a huge undertaking and a proud national achievement, comparable to putting a man on the Moon — only we’d all get to ride on this rocket.

It would also give our economy a stupendous ride, rehiring the machinists, operators, engineers, electricians, steelworkers, laborers, and so many other union workers whom Boeing, GM, ExxonMobil, and their ilk claim are no longer needed in the USA. Once built, America’s rail system would provide good jobs and careers for generations to come.

• Launching a 10-year door-to-door “America Works” project to retrofit every home and building across our land, hiring and training legions of skilled workers to weatherize, plug holes, insulate, and do the construction needed to save the energy each of us pays for each month, but loses.

George W.’s home in the White House and Dick Cheney’s home in the V.P.’s mansion have already been retrofitted to great effect, stopping energy waste and slashing costs. So, if it works for them, why not our homes, too?

The simple steps of common-sense conservation are proven solutions that can cut America’s electricity use in half and cut consumers’ utility bills by a total of $17 billion a month! Doing this job will put hundreds of thousands of our people to work, putting badly needed paychecks into the grassroots economy and instantly lifting our nation from recession to recovery.

Instead of Bush’s phony stimulus package of trickle-down giveaways, this energy independence project would provide a true, percolate-up stimulus for America.

• Getting smart about such power-suckers as cars, trucks, appliances, and light bulbs, offering zero-interest loans, cash rebates, trade-ins, and outright gifts of energy-saving versions of these products as incentives for consumers to make the switch and advance U.S. independence.

We’re not talking here about living in the dark or scrunching everybody into putt-putting Yugos, but of sleek, fast, comfortable, cool products that already are on the market, work better than today’s inefficient models, cost less to operate, and are affordable.

More innovation and refinement of such cars and appliances is underway, and manufacturers (often small businesses) can be called forward in a patriotic, publicly supported drive to speed their development. Mass production would drastically lower the price of the products, and producing them will create a new, made-in-America manufacturing boom.

More innovation and refinement of such cars and appliances is underway, and manufacturers (often small businesses) can be called forward in a patriotic, publicly supported drive to speed their development. Mass production would drastically lower the price of the products, and producing them will create a new, made-in-America manufacturing boom.

Americans are ready to do their part for a truly national effort that involves them . . . and that has substance. The Bushites are riding on a rah-rah patriotism that is as thin as near beer, while a call to action for energy freedom has the malty content of a good dark brew.

Take transportation. Our vehicles burn nearly two-thirds of the oil consumed in the U.S., averaging no better than 20 miles per gallon. Goosing that average up to merely 33 miles per gallon would completely eliminate the need to import any oil from the Persian Gulf. ThatÕs all — a simple increase in fuel efficiency of 13 miles per gallon.

We’re in our second war in a decade to protect Persian Gulf oiligarchies. Will we put our kids into a third because we lack the gumption to put them instead into 33-m.p.g. cars?

Not only can America reach that mileage goal, we can do better. The Rocky Mountain Institute points out that a dozen automakers, including some of our own, have already demonstrated zippy, roomy, and affordable cars that get up to 138 m.p.g. Add in new ultralight construction materials, computer-aided engine systems, and such new power sources as biofuels and fuel cells and weÕve eliminated our dependence on oil.

Kissing royal butt

A clean, cheap fuel to replace oil is no pipe dream — it’s already in the pipeline. The up-and-comer is fuel-cell technology, which uses abundant hydrogen to make the power that speeds the car, then emits nothing but water. Japan’s Toyota and Honda are leading the way on this new hydrogen economy, but nothing is stopping the USA from becoming the world leader, except Big Oil, its political weasels in Washington . . . and the failure of progressive leaders to stand up and lead.

The leaders of too many progressive organizations seem to be strategy-impaired. There are times when I wonder if some of them could figure out how to pour piss from a boot even if we wrote instructions on the sole. This is one of those times.

Here we have Bush & Company, totally stained with oil money and hopelessly mired in corrupt oil politics, unable to stop kissing the butts of oil royalty, yet progressive leaders in Washington mostly have gone into retreat, afraid to seize the moment.

We need to flush them out, pronto, for this is a remarkable opportunity for our movement to go beyond scolding the public for its fossil fuel use and whining at people to car-pool. As Dan Carol, one of our best political strategists, put it recently, instead of preaching more pain and sacrifice, a push for energy independence offers excitement and achievement, aligning progressives with patriotism, optimism, altruism, and the American Way!

This is the time to plant our flag on the highest hill and shout, “This way!” Here’s an issue, and a proposal, that puts progressives on the offensive, redefining the debate on our terms. It unites people’s desire for a cleaner environment with their need for good jobs; it puts us on the side of national security, proposing a credible, strategic alternative to the corporatists who keep our nation kowtowing to oil barons; and rather than scrambling for budget crumbs, our plan for an independent energy future would make legitimate claim to tens of billions of tax dollars now being frittered away in subsidies for oil, coal, nukes . . . and war.

When future generations look back on this moment in history, the focus won’t be on whether the most powerful nation on Earth was able to kill a terrorist thug, but whether we had the vision and courage to free ourselves from oil gouging, oil pollution, and oil wars.


Catching “evil doers” is a good thing, and some of them have surely been nailed in Afghanistan. But is this war only being fought for the noble cause of freedom—or might our crusading president and his handlers have more down-to-earth motives? Like, say . . . oil? Poor Afghanistan has barely enough oil and gas for its own needs, but just to its north in the “stans” lies a Texas-sized energy bonanza. Our government estimates the reserves in the Caspian Sea region, locked away in the Soviet empire for most of the 20th century, hold 270 billion barrels of oil and 576 trillion cubic feet of natural gas—one of the largest stashes of fossil fuel in the world. None other than Dick Cheney effused in 1998, “I cannot think of a time when we have had a region emerge as suddenly to become as strategically significant as the Caspian.”

The “stan” most loaded with oil is Turkmenistan—an inaccessible little republic surrounded by Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan, Iran, Afghanistan, and the Caspian Sea. Piping its oil out to the world requires running it through one of those other countries. American oil bosses have long lusted after a pipeline that could bring the black gold to market without crossing the hostile terrain of Iran or Russia—and that means going through Afghanistan. In 1995, the California oil giant UNOCAL struck a $2 billion deal with Turkmenistan to build twin oil and gas pipelines that would snake 890 miles through Afghanistan to a shipping terminal on the Arabian Sea.

UNOCAL then spent several fruitless years bargaining with the Taliban, only to have them nix the pipeline in the end. To make matters worse, China began building its own pipeline from Turkmenistan through Iran.

Since 1999, the UNOCAL deal has been on hold, frustrating the company’s dreams of hundreds of billions of dollars in sales to Pakistan, India, and China. But September 11 put the U.S. pipeline plans back on track.

Pakistan and Turkmenistan now say UNOCAL’s pipeline will have the green light “once peace is restored in Afghanistan.” Pakistan’s English-language daily The Frontier Post reports that U.S. Ambassador Wendy Chamberlain informed the Pakistani oil minister in October that “in view of recent geopolitical developments” the UNOCAL deal is back on the table. Which brings us back to the question: Did George W. Bush and his oil clique use the September 11 terrorist attacks to gain access to the biggest non-Arab oil reserves on the planet?

There are precedents for rallying the American people to the cause of fighting for oil under the guise of fighting for freedom. Just ask Saddam Hussein. While our soldiers fought for “our” oil in Kuwait, the Soviets were mired in a 10-year war to control Afghanistan, in part to secure a pipeline for “their” Caspian oil. They lost that war against CIA-backed Afghans and Arab mercenaries, including Osama. That pretty much broke the bank of the communist state and also brought the Taliban to power in Kabul, leaving the Caspian oil reserves up for grabs. Even before September 11, the White House was ready to move against the recalcitrant Taliban. Former Pakistan Foreign Secretary Niaz Naik told the BBC that U.S. officials informed him last July that America would launch military action against Afghanistan by mid-October. Naik attended a UN meeting on Afghanistan in Berlin, where the U.S. delegation told him that unless Osama was handed over, America would kill or capture both him and Taliban leader Mullah Omar, and install a new government. U.S. delegate and former State Department official Lee Coldren confirmed this to the British Guardian. Naik was told that American advisers were in place in Tajikistan planning an operation, that Uzbekistan would also participate, and that 17,000 Russian troops were on standby. Everything, it seems, was in place for toppling the Taliban—except U.S. public opinion.

These days the Internet is abuzz with conspiracists arguing that the nightmare of September 11 was the work of rogue CIA or military elements, or Israel, or, at least, that it was allowed to happen with the foreknowledge of some of the Powers that Be. Let’s be clear: We’re not going there, folks. But, war is politics by other means, and politics is business, and oil is very big business.

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