For the past eight years I've attended the Association of Alternative Press Newsweeklies' convention which is held in a different American city every year. Memphis, Phoenix, New Orleans, Pittsburgh, Madison and San Antonio are cities that I might not ever have gotten around to visiting were in not for the annual AAN convention. I've shared the yearly convention with my friend Ted Rall, an editorial cartoonist and columnist whose work is translated in 17 languages worldwide. However, the prospect of attending this year's four-day event in Little Rock, Arkansas during the muggy days of June threatened to derail us from going. If it weren't for the news that President Bill Clinton (yes, he's still called "President") would be speaking at a luncheon specifically for the convention attendees, we might not have made the trip to wild and wooly southern town of Little Rock.
A vicious shooting on the front steps of our hotel (The Peabody Hotel) on the night before President Clinton packed a room full of publishers, editors and journalists, set an eerie tone for the man we all wished was still running the country to answer a few burning questions.
Q: What would be your role if Senator Hillary Clinton becomes President?
President Clinton: Well, I don't know if she's going to run. If she runs, I don't know if she'd be nominated, if she got nominated, I don't know if she'd be elected. My instinct is that a woman could be elected President now. I mean Chile elected a woman president, Liberia elected a woman president. It's silly for us not to go to the talent pool that we have in the country. I think if she got elected she would be very good, she would be excellent because she's been a better senator even than I thought she'd be.
She has an understanding of Congress and relationships with Republicans that I didn't have coming to Washington as a governor and she understands not only what we did right but the mistakes we made in the eight years I was President. So for all those reasons and because she cares a lot about the things that I think are most relevant to our future, I think she'd do a really, really good job, including and especially on the national security issues.
Now having said that, I don't know if she's going to run. If she ran, my position with her, ironically, would be exactly what it is with the current President, with whom I disagree on nearly everything, but I have made it a point to develop a good personal relationship with him. My position with him is, if he asks me to do something for the country and I can in good conscience do it, I do it.
Q: Robert Kennedy Jr. wrote an article in Rolling Stone magazine claiming the Bush Administration stole the 2004 election. Do you think the election was stolen, and how can we guard against something like that going on in the future?
President Clinton: I read Robert Kennedy's article in Rolling Stone and I think you should too if you haven't. Before I read it, I was convinced that President Bush had won Ohio. I thought it would have been ironic if he had lost the election in the electoral college and won the popular vote, that is if he went out the same way he came in. But I think there is no question that Al Gore would have won Florida if all the votes had been counted and the people who intended to vote for him had their votes counted.
Between the people whose votes were thrown out for erroneous double voting instructions in Jacksonville and the 3400 Jewish Democrats who voted for Pat Buchanan in the butterfly ballot, and several others, there's no question that several thousand more people in Florida intended to vote for Gore and showed up on election day. I still believe that the two Bush v. Gore decisions will go down as one of the four or five worst decisions in the history of the United States Supreme Court. I think it was a disgrace, and I think if Gore had been ahead and Bush had been behind, the Supreme Court would have voted nine to nothing to count all the votes by uniform standard. That's what I think would have happened. You may not agree but that's what I used to teach in my course on Constitutional Law. That's what I think.
In this case, I don't have an opinion, but I thought Robert Kennedy made a very persuasive case and what was clear is that the Secretary of State, now their candidate for governor, was a world class expert in voter suppression and that he was doing everything he could to keep voters that he thought were Democrats from voting, in every way that he could. I think that is wrong, and I hope that the voters of Ohio will repudiate it. I mean, you know, we ought to be in the business of getting more people to vote, not fewer.
Heck, they had 70 percent of the voters vote in Iraq in the last election. They had a better voter turnout than we did and a bunch of them were risking their lives. So I don't think we ought to be ratifying the public service of anybody who thinks it's his job to keep people from voting, but I don't have an opinion because I didn't know anything about it until I read Robert Kennedy's article. He sure as heck made a compelling case. Those numbers that he said in some of those precincts, the probability of the vote total being that much at variance with the exit polls was one in 600,000, and it happened over and over and over again. So if you haven't read the article, I urge you to read it and when you go back home I urge you to look at this without regard to party. I just don't think we ought to be suppressing voters. We ought to be getting them to the polls and letting them vote and letting them have their say.
Q: Do you believe that the OPEC nations have exaggerated their oil reserves and if so, what are the implications?
President Clinton: Well first of all I'm not a petroleum geologist, but I can tell you this. There's a book written by a man named Jeremy Leggett who is a petroleum geologist who was so alarmed by what was happening not only in climate change but oil depletion that he went to work for Greenpeace. That's a pretty good leap. He's written a book called "The Empty Tank." If you want a book that is not as dark as a book called "The Long Emergency" which is much darker, but really deals with this and attempts to explain the complications of it, I recommend it to you.
There's a guy named Matthew Simmons who is a petroleum investment advisor, he's made a fortune and has been a friend of the Bush family, who believes that we have passed peak oil production. I don't know if they're overstating their reserves but I know this. They have said, for example, the Saudis have said they could go up to 12 million barrels a day in production to try to moderate price, and it doesn't appear to me that they have or can. Keep in mind, most of the OPEC producers prefer oil higher than it was in my second term, but a little lower than this, because they know if it gets real high and stays there, even if we don't impose gas taxes, America will get in gear and we won't need as much anymore and the Europeans will do the same and others will do the same. The Chinese and the Indians might figure out how to skip a step of economic development and not have to use as much energy going through from where they are now to where we are now, in the same… not get there the same way we did.
So I actually believe that most of these oil producers would like it if oil were just a little lower or at least didn't go to $100 a barrel in five years. Everybody I know who knows anything about this business believes it'll be $100 a barrel in five years or less. In the biggest Saudi oil field which has about eight or ten percent of the world's oil, but has been heavily drilled, they are now getting the more difficult to drill oil out by injecting sea water and filling the cavities and then pushing it all back up.
Some of that retrievable oil is now 90 percent sea water, 10 percent oil, which dramatically increases the cost of disaggregating it and implies that there may be less oil there than we thought. We know that the depletion rate of the North Sea oil that the UK has, has accelerated more rapidly then anyone thought. Now the really important question is, what are the implications of this? Let's say that the world reaches peak oil production, let's say we haven't done it yet, but we do sometime in this decade. That would mean that half of all the recoverable oil under planet earth has been sucked out. That's what it means.
If that's true, since the first oil wells for commercial purposes were either in Pennsylvania or in Central Europe, depending on whose account you believe, somewhere in the mid-1800s, would mean most of this oil has come out in the last 60 to 70 years, almost all of it. At present rates of usage, given the growth of India and China, it would mean we probably have no more then 35 to 50 years of oil left. So the implications are clear, it means if we don't change, we'll either burn up the planet or go broke and they might both happen at the same time and they'll both happen sometime in the next 100 years in a way that will change civilization irrevocably, that's the implications. It means we need to get in gear. It means that the biggest threat to our economic future is also, I will say again, a bird's nest on the ground, for our country and for every rich country.
Michael Moore Paints George Bush Into A Corner
By Cole Smithey
The unknown potential political impact of Michael Moore's imminent "Fahrenheit 9/11" has audiences champing at the bit to see news that they can't read in USA today, or any day since George W. Bush sat in a children's classroom reading "My Pet Goat" knowing that America was under attack. The movie promises a brewing storm of civil controversy that has never before been tested in the history of cinema. A poll of audiences who attended Moore's last movie ("Bowling For Columbine") revealed that "70%" had never before attended a documentary film.
Michael Moore is a populist filmmaker who happens to engage in a significant brand of independent journalism that raises crucial questions in an air of simplicity and honest curiosity. But the damning answers to some of his direct queries demand action. When Moore reveals that no member of Congress had even read The Patriot Act before voting on the document, it would seem that the American public should perhaps serve our negligent Congress with pink slips.
However, the blind passing of the Patriot Act is but one infraction against American citizens in a laundry list of offenses that Moore clearly exposes in a movie that, more than anything else, provides insight into the lies that Americans have been pummeled with by the Bush Administration. Michael Moore is a sincere and articulate everyman that people around the world listen and respond to enthusiastically. That's much more than can be said of George W. Bush.
Q: What in this movie do you think will be shocking to the public, and what of that would be threatening to the US Government?
MM: Well, what's going to be shocking to most Americans who see this film is Bush's military records that were blacked out by someone at the White House. I don't think people have heard American soldiers in the field talk the way they talk in this film of their disillusionment, of their despair, of their questioning what's going on. Those were brave words to say to a camera. We have not seen that on the evening news. We've not seen the suffering that the war has caused-from those who've been maimed and paralyzed, to the families back home who've lost loved ones. How often have we heard their voices? Every step along the way in this movie will be a revelation in terms of how this lie was perpetrated upon them.
The good thing about Americans is once they're given the information, they act accordingly, and they act from a good place. The hard part is getting through with the information. If the freelancers I was using were able to find what they found in Iraq, with our limited resources, you have to question why haven't we seen this? You see in the movie the first footage of abuse and humiliation of Iraqi detainees. And this occurred in the field, outside the prison walls. That is disgraceful, that it would take as long as it's taken, and for me to come along with stringers and freelancers to be able to bring this to the American people. The American people do not like things being kept from them, and I think what this film is going to do is be like a mystery unraveling.
Q: Do you think the coalition should pull out of Iraq?
MM: Of course the (chuckling) "Coalition of the Willing" needs to de-will themselves, and the United States must remove itself from the situation. We need to find a better solution with people who the Iraqis want there, and who will help the Iraqis rebuild their country-that is not the United States of America.
Q: George Bush accused the US troops, who abused the Iraqi detainees, of a "failure of character," what do you think are the failures of George Bush's character?
MM: Bush's comment about the failure of the US troops is another example of how George W. Bush does not support our troops. George W. Bush and his ilk actually despise our troops. Only someone who despises our young people, who have offered to serve and protect our country and give up their lives if necessary-to send them to war based on a lie is the worst violation of trust you can have, and the worst way to treat our troops. He is against our troops. He has put them in harms way for no good reason other than to line the pockets of his friends and benefactors.
The lack of character begins with him and Dick Cheney, and Donald Rumsfeld, and the fish rots from the head down. Whatever's going on in Iraq, in terms of this prison abuse and the things you see in the film, starts with sending them over there based on a lie. Immoral behavior begets immoral behavior. This is not some noble mission to free the country, to free people, to prevent a holocaust. This was a disgusting effort on their part, and all we can say is thank God that they got caught as early as they did. If you remember with Viet Nam, it took years before the lie was revealed. This has just taken months. So, I'm somewhat optimistic that we can find a way out of this.
Q: In your movie, you criticize the way the American public is manipulated with fear by the media. How do you manipulate your images?
MM: We do a de-manipulation of the images. The media in America provides a manipulation. During the Bush years they put on a filter and they only allow the American people to see what they think will keep the waters calm. So night after night on the evening news you'll get maybe 5 seconds of George W. Bush where it sounds like he makes sense. In my film, I show the 20 seconds on either side of the 5 seconds where he clearly is totally discombobulated. In my film, I take the filter off, and you see it raw and uncensored and the way it really is. It's both hilarious and frightening.
Q: Are you afraid of being manipulated?
MM: When you come from the working class, you've got a pretty good bullshit detector. I come from a factory town, my dad worked in a factory, and there's a total lack of pretension--everything is the way that it is. Anybody who tries to pretend to be something else is immediately seen for who and what they are. That's a good thing about growing up that way, and I haven't lost that. And I hope I always maintain that sense of always having a healthy disrespect for authority and always believing, as a great American journalist once said, 'all governments are run by liars and nothing they say should be believed.' If we had more journalists who started with that premise, that governments must prove everything that they're saying, then maybe we'd get to more of the truth.
Q: How do you get the clips of these uncensored moments that belong to networks?
MM: We spend a lot of time digging in their archives. Another way we do it is there are people who work in media who don't like the way the media is censored. So there'll be a cameraman over here or a sound guy over there who knows that I would like to see something and will send it to me. We have a network of people who believe that the public should be given all the truth. I can't reveal everything in terms of how we do this, but we're able to get it out there to the people. I shouldn't really have to do this in a free country where there should be open information and you should hear all the different voices. It shouldn't take a guy like me to provide the people with the things that you're not seeing. But as long as that's the case, I'm going to take you to a place that you haven't been before during the four years of the Bush administration.
Q: How were you able to get the war footage from Iraq?
MM: I had a number of freelancers that I was working with, both people that I was able to have go to Iraq, and others we discovered once they were in Iraq-some were embedded, some weren't. The footage of the Iraqi detainees was from a journalist who was embedded with the troops.
Q: How do you think the White House has tried to prevent your film from being made and released?
MM: I only know what I was told by my agent. We had a signed deal with Icon. We were just starting the movie and I got a call from my agent saying that he just got a call from a person at Icon asking for a way to get out of the deal, even though there was no way they could renege on it. They asked if there was any way we could get someone else to take over the deal because they received a call from 'top Republicans,' people connected to the White House, who essentially wanted to convey the message to Mr. Gibson (Mel) 'Don't expect anymore invitations to the White House if they're going to be behind this film.' That's all I know. I don't know who made the calls, but we had this deal-there was a big thing in Variety about the deal-then suddenly, weeks later, the deal didn't exist. Fortunately, Miramax immediately took over the deal and said they would make the film.
Q: Since the agenda of your film seems to be to influence the outcome of the election in November, to what extent do you think a movie can accomplish that goal?
MM: When I make any movie, it's to make something that I would want to go see on a Friday night if I were going to a movie. That's always the foremost thought in my mind. How can we make something that will be enjoyable and entertaining, that people will want to take their date or their spouse to the theater and eat popcorn, have a great time, laugh, cry, think, and leave the theater to talk about it later. Those are always my primary motivations, and that is the motivation behind making this film.
I wanted to say something about the times in which we live, in post 9/11 America, how we got to where we're at, what's happened to us as a people, and have a good time doing it. I also think it's important to laugh during times like these and that's why this film, like my other films has a good amount of humor in it. This time I was the straight man-Bush wrote the funniest lines, so what am I going to do when George Bush files a grievance with the Writer's Guild wanting some sort of screen credit? In terms of 'Will it influence the election?' I hope it influences people just to leave the theater and become good citizens-whatever that means. I'll leave it to other people to decide what impact it will have on the election.