Thursday, March 31, 2011

Fair Game

There is the movie I wished Fair Game would be and there is the movie I feared Fair Game would be. My wish for Fair Game was an epic indictment of the corrupt neo-con juggernaut within the Bush administration using the outing of CIA NOC operative Valerie Plame as a starting point for documenting what co-pResident Dick Cheney actually presided over: a criminal enterprise. Since this is exactly what I had spent years documenting in the first and second editions of American Judas, my hope was that this movie would incorporate the same scope as my papers. I envisioned at least a three hour running time, the kind of political movie Oliver Stone used to make like JFK and Nixon. My fear was that Fair Game would be completely devoid of any political focus or foreign intrigue. I was worried that the movie would solely focus on the relationship between Valerie Plame and her husband, Ambassador Joseph Wilson. Any controversial element of their stories that coincided with neo-con criminality would be either brused aside or minimized as an unfortunate accident that upset their happy family life.

The actual movie Fair Game, as directed by Doug Liman of Bourne Identity fame, is neither of those films. While the scope is not as ambitious as I envisioned, it does not shy away from politics or foreign intrigue. In fact, I believe it is because there is such a heavy plot focus on the political events and machinations swirling around Plame and Wilson that when problems develop between them concerning their marriage and the focus of the movie switches to their relationship, it made me care more about them as human individuals screwed over by a Machiavellian government. Plus, the political focus within the plot does not reduce the movie to an academic exercise in history. This is a suspenseful movie with a tight script that knows exactly where it's taking its audience and Liman knows how to make it an exciting journey.

A good example of this excitement is in one of the first scenes in the movie. Valerie Plame (Naomi Watts) is undercover in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia as a Canadian venture capitalist hoping to make a sales pitch on behalf of her company to a successful Malaysian executive. Her attempt appears to be thwarted by a twenty-something cousin of the executive, who claims he is authorized to hear her pitch on his behalf. She is able to arrange another meeting with him in a more private setting. As he sits in the dark in her car parked on a hill overlooking the city wondering who this attractive blond is, the young man is startled to observe that they are being followed. When he makes a motion to split, Plame grabs him by the arm and tells him that if he runs she can no longer protect him. Then she reveals her true intention: to use him as an asset for obtaining intelligence on the man his uncle is working for - black market nuclear technology proliferator A.Q. Khan. For anyone who has read American Judas, this man and his "Nuclear Walmart" needs no introduction.

But as much as I would have enjoyed American Judas: The Movie, I can understand why after introducing this set-up, Liman moved these characters into the background of Plame's CIA clandestine work to tighten the scope. Most people simply aren't aware of the details surrounding the outing and ultimate destruction of Valerie Plame's CIA cover company Brewster, Jennings and Associates. Sure, many right-wingers howl over their perception of these details, harping over the fact that Dick Armitage was the initial leaker and try to portray this as an innocent mistake chalked up to "gossip". But if the movie had incorporated the revelations in Sibel Edmonds' 2009 sworn deposition regarding how Armitage and Marc Grossman at the State Department leaked the identity of Plame's cover company to the target of an FBI investigation back in the summer of 2001 to counter this argument, the focus would shift from domestic repression against the backdrop of war abroad to the international criminality that made the war possible.

So Liman does a nice balancing act of keeping Valerie Plame the focal point of the story while keeping political events and international intrigue in the background. From the CIA conference rooms in Langley, Virginia in 2002 where pressure from the Office of the Vice President over a report from Niger indicating the sale of uranium to Iraq that the CIA had previously debunked as a forgery necessitates further investigation, Plame is asked if she can refer this assignment to her husband Joseph Wilson (Sean Penn), since he was previously an Ambassador to Niger. Wilson accepts and comes back from Niger with news the CIA already knew and Cheney doesn't want to hear: there was no Iraqi purchase of Nigerian uranium. Cheney never appears except in news footage, but Lewis "Scooter" Libby is his point guard constantly driving his agenda to the basket by any means necessary, and David Andrews does an excellent job conveying his relentless drive. When Wilson sees his work disregarded as George W. Bush in his 2003 State of the Union address uses the Niger Forgeries as part of a justification for preemptive war in Iraq, he writes an editorial for the New York Times calling the administration out on their falsehood.

The administration responds by virtually declaring war on Joseph Wilson. Though his wife's CIA identity is supposed to be protected, in the war to protect their phony rationale for regime change in Iraq, the Bush administration makes Valerie Plame, in the words of Karl Rove, "fair game". The attack is relentless in the media, with talking heads from FOX and other outlets partial to Bush propaganda leading an assault of insults and false accusations questioning their loyalty and patriotism. The movie does an excellent job of illustrating how this wears the couple down and threatens them. Watts and Penn both traverse this emotional cauldron brilliantly, allowing the audience to feel their frustrations while rooting for them to fight back.

Since the DVD was just released this Tuesday, I'll be curious to see what kind of extra features might be available, both for entertainment and factual purposes. But even without extras, I recommend everyone see this movie.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

The Nation Marches On, Sans Ruppert

One of the first things I did the morning after returning the rental car from a vacation I took last week visiting relatives whose access to the internet is limited was to click on the Peak Oil and a Changing Climate” link that I've been promoting heavily on this blog. I had been anticipating the announced release of the Mike Ruppert interview for March 16 and I was anxious to see it. What a shock to see that the space for March 16 was now completely blank, without explanation. Several readers commented on this conspicuous absence, wondering why. I was concerned that perhaps Ruppert declined to give the interview because of The Nation's association with David Corn, who wrote a malicious hit piece on Ruppert in 2002. But then why would Ruppert agree to do the interview in the first place? Then I thought perhaps the whole series had been put on hold, but this week The Nation released a new interview:

Lester Brown: The Planet's Scarcest Resource Is Time

In this eleventh video in the series “Peak Oil and a Changing Climate” from The Nation and On The Earth Productions, analyst, author and founder of the Earth Policy Institute Lester Brown discusses how unprepared the world really is for the growing effects of climate change. "Economists doing supply and demand projections are largely unaware" of the scale of the resource crises facing the world, Brown says, and "food is going to be the weak link for our civilization as it was for so many earlier civilizations."
Most importantly, Brown emphasizes, is that we find a way to stabilize the Earth's population, climate and aquifers, which help provide water to many people in the world. "Many resources are becoming scarce but none more scarce than time," Brown says, and confronting peak oil and climate change demands immediate action. Already, eighteen countries are overpumping their aquifers, and few realize that in the event of a crisis, the US food supply would run out in three days.
"We need a mobilization at wartime speed on a wartime scale. Just fine-tuning this situation is not going to do it," Brown says.

So the series continues, but what happened to the Ruppert interview. I searched the internet and finally found the answer at the Energy Bulletin:

A world in trouble (Michael Ruppert interview)Video

by Karen Rybold-Chin


Mike talks to the average citizen about where we stand in the energy crisis.


Editorial Notes
This interview was originally intended to be part of the series that has been running on the Nation (Are we running out of oil?). Karen Rybold-Chin, the series's producer, has told us that the Nation has declined to publish this interview.
From EB co-editor Bart Anderson:
Although we at EB are not Rupper-ites, I find him one of the most intriguing personalities on the peak oil scene. He rates much higher on the doomerosity scale than we do, and I have problems with his specific predictions. I think it's much better to look on Ruppert as someone gifted at identifying trends early and painting them in technicolor terms. He's right on when it comes to the importance of community and the sacred.
Mike Ruppert has been at this much longer than most of the rest of us, and has undergone painful experiences as a result. I'm glad he's back from Venezuela and is active again.

So there you have it. Mike Ruppert gave an interview, but The Nation simply declined to publish it, without explanation. It certainly couldn't have been because they felt his interview was too "doomerish" for them. Just compare Ruppert's interview to Brown's interview: both are talking about global catastrophe. Brown's focus on food, oil, water and the environment seems set in the next 5-10 years, Ruppert's focus on food, oil, money and revolution is set right now.

Shame on The Nation for their sin of omission last week. I'm glad they're continuing to publish the series, but I won't continue to promote them. I'll watch future interviews either through Energy Bulletin or through ontheearthproduction's Channel on YouTube. You can agree or disagree with Mike, but to deny him a platform after all the groundbreaking original reporting on Peak Oil he did on From The Wilderness in a series focusing on Peak Oil is an act of unforgivable censorship. I was hopeful that The Nation had buried their differences with Ruppert. I was mistaken.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Big Meetup Last Night!

This was the third and by far the largest turnout for the Los Angeles Peak Oil Meetup Group. Once again, we met at The Cat & Fiddle in Hollywood. When I arrived at 7:05 last night, there were already seven people at an outside table. Within a half hour, I think the number in attendance reached a peak (bad pun unintended) of 16 people! This was probably the first time where instead of one dominant conversation lasting throughout the meetup, multiple conversations around the general topic were cropping up. It was great to see such lively social interaction, but I hope that it wasn't too overwhelming for some. We'll definitely need to find a more accommodating venue in the future, the wait staff seemed as though their patience was being tried over our scooting three tables together to try to squeeze everyone in.

I wish I could have had time to connect with everyone on a personal level. Going over the threads of conversation in my head from last night, I thought I would post some links. Alex, regarding what we were talking about concerning government awareness and planning for Peak Oil, here is the Department of Energy report from Robert Hirsch on the mitigation and expense for Peak Oil. Bahar, I think you had asked about a Peak Oil primer, this is one that I've shared with others. Also, I remember talking about the International Energy Agency admission that global conventional oil production peaked in 2006. Mainstream media did a pretty good job of burying that revelation, it was STORY #4 in my UNDER THE RUG blog post.

For everyone else at the meetup last night, I thought you might enjoy seeing this week's installation of The Nation's ongoing series of interviews with Jean Laherrère:

Jean Laherrère: Why Cheap Energy Is a Bad Thing

In this tenth video in the series “Peak Oil and a Changing Climate” from The Nation and On The Earth Productions, petroleum geophysicist and author Jean Laherrère explains that we are in the current energy crisis not only because fuel is running out, but because it's cost is too cheap. Laherrère, a former TOTAL oil company employee, used his insider knowledge to co-author a game-changing 1998 article, "The End of Cheap Oil," which studied oil depletion based on the most accurate database of the world’s oilfields at the time. The article's findings were not reassuring.
Many European countries have responded to the impending fuel crisis with taxes on energy, driving down consumption with higher prices. But the US hasn't followed their lead, and the consequences may be disastrous for our collective future. “We have been living for the last 10,000 years with open space," Laherrère explains. When you have a problem, ‘go west,’ open space. There is no 'west' to go anymore. We have reached the end of the world limit."
Go here to view last week's video, Thom Hartmann talking about how corporations are fueling our peak oil crisis. Go here to learn more about "Peak Oil and a Changing Climate," and to see the other videos in the series.

Next week, The Nation will be posting an interview with one of the authors who first got me interested in Peak Oil back in 2004, Mike Ruppert. Should be good!

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Peak Oil Interviews: Hartmann and Heinberg

There were a couple interviews published this week regarding Peak Oil that I definitely think are worth taking a look at. Today, The Nation continued their ongoing series with an interview of Thom Hartmann:

Thom Hartmann: Corporations Are Fueling Our Peak Oil Crisis

In this ninth video in the series “Peak Oil and a Changing Climate” from The Nation and On The Earth Productions, radio and television host and author of The Last Hours of Ancient Sunlight Thom Hartmann talks about ways we can all help combat global warming. Speaking from the grounds of Wisconsin's 2010 Fight Bob Fest, Hartmann insists that Americans need to change the way we live if we are going to save the planet, and the first step has to be getting active in the political process.
He believes the weather's "global weirding" will be the thing most people notice first about our changing climate: tornadoes, hurricanes, floods and vanishing freshwater glaciers are extreme enough that they should eventually force people to adapt and take action.
But for Hartmann, who also wrote Unequal Protection: How Corporations Became People—And How You Can Fight Back, the most critical fact we must face is that "the unholy alliance of corporation and government is every bit as destructive as the alliance of church and state was perceived to be two hundred years ago." We have to to fight back against the corporate capture of government, Hartmann says, because the companies profiting off our addiction to oil are doing everything in their power to keep us on our destructive course.

There was another interview published this week from Lindsay Curren at Transition Voice of Richard Heinberg, the author of The Party's Over, Powerdown, The Oil Depletion Protocol, Blackout and Peak Everything. In the interview, he discusses the subject of his upcoming book due in June or July of 2011, The End of Growth. It's worth reading the whole interview, but here are some highlights:

RH: Sure. Let me just say a few words about the book. The book is making the argument that we have reached the limits to growth.
And the first of those limits has to do with oil. We’ve reached the end of cheap oil.
I mean, whether we’ve actually, technically seen the highest month or year of oil production at this point may still be arguable. Maybe in 2011 or 2012 we will see a month of oil production higher than July 2008, or maybe 2011 as a total year will see higher production than 2005 which is so far the record year for world oil production.
But that’s all kind of academic.The reality is that the cheap oil is gone. And we’re seeing oil prices right now in the range of, well today $90 a barrel (this interview took place 12/21/2010) historically a very high price.
In effect, the oil price has become a limit to economic growth. Because if the economy starts to recover, then that drives oil prices higher. Every time we have high oil prices, really high oil prices, that undercuts economic activity.
If you look back in the last forty years, every time we’ve had an oil price spike we have had a recession immediately following. It happened in 2008. We had the highest oil price spike in history and we had the worst recession starting then since World War II.
Now, was the oil price spike the only cause of the recession? Absolutely not. And I agree with people like Nicole Foss who say that the financial economy was set up for a crash.
The financial system is based on debt and there are limits to debt. And we’re beyond those limits to debt and that’s part of what’s causing the economic crisis.
But at the same time, I would say that the oil price is essentially forming a cap on possible economic recovery at this point. That’s why I’m fairly confident in saying that we have reached the end of growth. And what we’re seeing now is basically the US economy just sort of bouncing along under that ceiling.


Meanwhile, I had a discussion just this afternoon with a very, very high placed environmentalist who was instrumental in the founding of some of the country’s foremost mainstream environmental organizations and has worked in the White House and so on. I asked him, does he see any policy maker in the US who really gets growth and how growth is undermining the environment and how we need to move away from a growth-based economy? And he thought for fifteen, twenty seconds and he said, “No, can’t think of a single one.”


Dumb ideas

LC:Now here's one. We decided to read a chapter from Glenn Beck on peak oil. His take on peak oil lead him to conclude that the direction the United States needed to go was more coal-to-liquid.
What are your thoughts on this direction and what are your thoughts on the probability of policy makers and those in the position to move things going in a dirtier energy direction or going in a cleaner energy direction?
RH: Right, well coal-to-liquids really has no future.
It’s going to be a very expensive way of making liquid fuels. I think the only future it’s likely to have is with the military to produce fuel for tanks and fighter aircraft and so on. But even at that it’s going to be really problematic.
Because, as I pointed out a few weeks ago in an article for Nature co-written with David Fridley of Lawrence Berkeley Laboratories, our analysis shows that global coal prices are going up. And sharply up. Largely because of consumption patterns in China.
China’s going to be absorbing virtually all of the export coal volumes that are presently available.
Countries like Australia and Indonesia and South Africa are going to really have a tough time mining and exporting enough coal to satisfy the needs of China, much less China and India and all the other countries that want to import coal. So that’s going to drive up coal prices not only for those countries, but also for the US.
Even if you can somehow make the math work for coal-to-liquids with coal at current prices, once you start factoring higher coal prices you’re talking about liquid fuels that are so expensive that economic activity would be highly depressed by liquid fuels at that price point. So again, the only way that works really is for the military which doesn’t have to worry about paying for things.
So, you know I’m sorry that Glenn Beck doesn’t have better sources of information. If he could look into these things a little bit more deeply, I think he’d come to very different conclusions. But they’d be conclusions that I think he would find upsetting to his whole paradigm.
Because you start following out all of the potential solutions to the energy problem, we did in our study at Post Carbon Institute last year, Searching for a Miracle, we looked at 18 different energy sources, analyzed them by 10 criteria and our conclusion was there is no likely mix of alternative energy sources including nuclear and solar and wind and tidal and all the rest that’s likely to make up for fossil fuels as fossil fuels become scarce and expense.
They’ll help, certainly, around the margins, especially if we invest now while we still have some cheap energy.
But the days of abundant cheap energy are effectively over and that means we have to change the way we live. And we have to change the goals that we’re pursuing.
I think people like Glenn Beck imagine that we Americans have economic growth sort of as our birthright and we should all be driving SUVs. And if we don’t it’s because some pointy-headed intellectual in Washington who works for the EPA is writing regulations keeping us from doing so.
That’s simply not true.
The reality is that it’s the market that’s going to keep us from pursuing business as usual. So we have to adjust to that. And helping people adjust to it could be a huge help.
Glenn Beck with his national TV show, regardless of his politics, if he were helping people to understand the situation we’re in, and helping them to adapt, that would be a good thing.


In other news, the Los Angeles Peak Oil Meetup group is alive and well! I'll be attending a Meetup at the Cat & Fiddle on March 9 at 7pm. Hopefully it will be a fun time and I'll give a report on that next week.