Multinational Monitor

JAN/FEB 2007
VOL 28 No. 1


Oil Frontiers: The Future of Oil
by Andy Rowell

Half a Tank: The Impending Arrival of Peak Oil
by Mark Floegel

Latin America's New Petro Politics
by Nadia Martinez

China Eyes Africa: The New Imperialism?
by Walden Bello

The Katrina Syndrome: Big Oil's Interest In Tight Markets
by Judy Dugan and Tim Hamilton

20 Things About Corporate Crime
by Russell Mokhiber


Mission: Iraqi Oil - The Bush-Big Oil Scheme to Obtain Iraqi Petrolium Reserves
an interview with Antonia Juhasz

"All the Problems in Iraq Come from the Occupation." Iraqi Labor Leaders Speak Out
an interview with Faleh Abood Umara and Hashmeya Muhsin Hussein


Behind the Lines

Letter to the Editor

The End of Oil

The Front
Sticking It to the Union -- Our of Work

The Lawrence Summers Memorial Award

Names In the News


Behind the Lines

Insecure Nukes

Nuclear power plant operators do not need to protect against attacks by airplanes, the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) ruled in January. It is “impractical for plant operators to try to stop terrorists from crashing an airliner into a reactor (a job for the military, usually),” the NRC stated. “They should instead focus on limiting radioactive release from any such airborne attack.”

A large amount of radioactive release could lead to at least 3,500 short-term casualties and more than 100,000 deaths from cancer, according to a 2004 report by the Union of Concerned Scientists. The fallout could affect people living up to 60 miles from the nuclear facility, and the economic damages within 100 miles could exceed $1.1 trillion. Depending on weather conditions, the report estimates the immediate death toll could jump to 44,000. However, in 2004 the NRC rejected a proposal to construct “beamhenge” shields — large steel cages that could deflect an airborne attack.

In the last two years, the NRC has consistently decided against requiring nuclear plant operators to prepare against terrorist attacks. The agency has rejected measures recommended by the 9/11 Commission and its own advisory committees, such as preparing for a large-vehicle truck bomb or a ground assault involving more than five attackers.

Nuclear facilities have added concrete barriers to their perimeters, installed “intrusion detection aids” and expanded their security forces, but have failed to implement measures to protect against a 9/11-scale threat. The facilities would not be able to withstand an attack by 19 terrorists, the number involved in 9/11. Nuclear security forces are not required to prepare against rocket-propelled grenades, a weapon commonly used against U.S. soldiers in Iraq, or .50 caliber rifles, which are sold legally in many states.

After inspecting several sites and observing “force-on-force,” or mock-attack drills, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) reported in March 2006, “During a force-on-force inspection at one site, we observed that although the security measures appeared impressive, the site’s ability to defend against the [mock attack] was at best questionable.” In 12 out of 18 basic inspections and four of nine force-on-force inspections, the GAO found fundamental problems including equipment failure and inadequate training.

The NRC defended its actions, saying its regulations do not require nuclear power plants to protect against attacks by an “enemy of the United States.”

Happy Hour Saved

It is once again safe to have a beer with a co-worker. The D.C. Circuit Court overturned in February a 2005 National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) decision allowing employers to prohibit “off-duty fraternizing” among co-workers.

The NLRB had maintained that a fraternizing ban put in place by the Guardsmark security firm would be interpreted by workers only as a ban on dating co-workers, but the Circuit Court decided “that employees would reasonably interpret the rule to prevent them from discussing the terms and conditions of employment.”

“America’s workers need more opportunities to come together to discuss vexing workplace issues, or just to make personal connections with those we spend most of our waking hours with,” said American Rights at Work in a statement. “But the NLRB [gave] employers the green light to invade our privacy and chip away at our most basic rights in the workplace.”

Guardsmark’s ban on fraternizing has been in contention since 2003, when the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) filed unfair labor practice charges with the NRLB against Guardsmark. The SEIU argued the rule violated the National Labor Relations Act, which gives workers the right to “self-organization … and to engage in other concerted activities for the purpose of collective bargaining or other mutual aid or protection.”

Guardsmark contended that its no-fraternizing rule was put in place merely to target “personal entanglements” that “could cloud [a security guard’s] judgment” and therefore compromise the integrity of their security program.

Gas Mileage Gap

Looking for a fuel-efficient car? You’re out of luck if you live in the United States.

Only two cars sold in the United States have a combined city/highway gas mileage of over 40 miles per gallon (mpg). By contrast, 113 such cars are available in overseas markets, says a report released in February by a Massachusetts-based think tank, the Civil Society Institute.

The report also states that two-thirds of the fuel-efficient cars sold exclusively overseas are made by U.S. auto manufacturers or by foreign manufacturers who commonly sell other cars in the United States.

“We have to face the unpleasant facts here: America is needlessly losing the race to develop the best fuel-efficient technology and then deliver it to the American consumer, who wants these cars and other vehicles that would use less imported fuel and create less global-warming pollution,” says Civil Society Institute founder Pam Solo.

“The Europeans, Japanese and Chinese are already committed to far more aggressive mpg standards than we are in the United States.”

Not only is the United States losing the race, it’s moving backwards. The number of cars with a combined gas mileage of over 40 mpg available in the United States dropped from five in 2005 to just two in 2007. During the same time period, the number of vehicles capable of 40 mpg available overseas rose from 68 to 113.

A Civil Society Institute/ survey showed that 88 percent of people in the United States think the U.S.-manufactured, fuel-efficient cars available overseas should be available in U.S. markets.

Eighty percent of those surveyed say they would support “Congress taking the lead to achieve the highest possible fuel efficiency as quickly as possible” by raising the fuel-efficiency requirements for U.S. vehicles to 40 miles per gallon.

The corporate average fuel economy standard (CAFE) is currently at 27.5 mpg and has not been modified in almost two decades.

Lights Out

The Australian government is turning off the switch on incandescent light bulbs.

In February 2007, the government announced that it will phase out sales of incandescent bulbs by 2010, with exemptions permitted for certain special purposes, such as medical and oven lighting. In most cases, traditional light bulbs will be replaced by much more efficient compact fluorescent light bulbs.      

Compact fluorescents use approximately one fifth the energy of incandescent bulbs. The Australian government says the ban will significantly lower the country’s greenhouse gas emissions, which at 27.2 metric tons per capita annually is the highest in the world.

Compact fluorescents cost more than incandescent bulbs, but pay for themselves over time with reduced energy expenditures. Not only do fluorescents require only 20 percent of the energy used by traditional bulbs, they last four to 10 times longer.

Many users have been displeased with the light quality of fluorescent bulbs relative to that of incandescent bulbs. However, proponents say that improvements are constantly being made in the quality of the light emitted by compact fluorescents. Australian officials say that slightly lower-quality light is a small price to pay for a healthier environment.

Women Against Wal-Mart

It turns out that 1.6 million current and former female Wal-Mart workers may have been paying the cost of “always low prices.”

In February, a three-judge panel of the U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled 2 to 1 to certify millions of women employed by Wal-Mart since 1998 as a class in a massive sex discrimination suit against the largest private employer in the United States.

“The court ruling does not address the merits of the plaintiffs’ claims, or whether their allegations are true,” emphasizes Theodore Boutrous, a lawyer at Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher LLP, the firm representing Wal-Mart in the case.

However, David Nassar, the executive director of Wal-Mart Watch, a coalition of labor unions and non-profits that monitors Wal-Mart’s business practices, believes that the decision “brings us closer to justice and vindication for two million victims of the company’s illegal and immoral gender discrimination.”

Wal-Mart says it will appeal the decision. It contends that, since store managers determine the hourly wages of the employees they supervise, the accusations of gender discrimination should be dealt with on a store-by-store basis rather than on the national level.

Recent data collected by Drogin, Kakigi and Associates, a statistical consulting firm hired by the plaintiffs, shows that female Wal-Mart employees receive, on average, an hourly wage that is 24 cents less than that of their male counterparts.

Only 30 percent of Wal-Mart’s management is female, according to Drogin, Kakigi’s data, despite the fact that women make up 70 percent of Wal-Mart’s hourly workforce.

— Jennifer Wedekind and Gracie Himmelstein


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