Ayatollahs of the Apocalypse


These are triumphant hours for Pat Robertson. His standing as America’s senior ayatollah is becoming firmer as Billy Graham and even Jerry Falwell yield the prime-time pulpit to the smooth-tongued maestro of the Christian Coalition.

A decade ago CNN would sooner have given half an hour’s air time to the leader of North Korea, but last week Wolf Blitzer poked a stick through the bars, and nodded respectfully as Robertson raved on about the End Time:

Welcome to “LATE EDITION,” Reverend…


BLITZER: … thanks very much for joining us.

I want to get to Harriet Miers in a moment but you’re a minister. You see what’s going on in the world today in Pakistan, in India, Afghanistan, an earthquake, maybe 20,000 people dead, maybe twice that number; we don’t have a count. Hurricanes in the United States and around the world, a tsunami a little bit less than a year or so ago in Southeast Asia. What’s happening?

Robertson rose gracefully to the challenge:

Wolf, I might say you’re very perceptive to pick up the key in this. If you read back in the Bible, the letter of the apostle Paul to the church of Thessalonia, he said that in the latter days before the end of the age that the Earth would be caught up in what he called the birth pangs of a new order. And for anybody who knows what it’s like to have a wife going into labor, you know how these labor pains begin to hit.

I don’t have any special word that says this is that, but it could be suspiciously like that. These things are starting to hit with amazing regularity.

Blizer wagged his head like a mental hospital attendant placating a noisy inmate, and then poked his stick through the bars again:

BLITZER: But what does that mean? Explain that in more simplistic terms so I can understand what you’re driving at?

ROBERTSON: Well, what was called the blessed hope of the Bible is that one day Jesus Christ would come back again, start a whole new era, that this world order that we know it would change into something that would be wonderful that we’d call the millennium. And before that good time comes there will be some difficult days and there will be likened to what a woman goes through in labor just before she brings forth a

More placatory nods from the hospital attendant:

BLITZER: So you think we’re at that moment right now perhaps?

ROBERTSON: It’s possible, Wolf. I don’t have any special revelation to say it is, but the Bible does indicate such a time will happen in the end of time. And could this be it? It might be.

BLITZER: All right. Let’s move on to something that we perhaps can understand a little bit better, which would be Harriet Miers.

After chiding James (“Focus on the Family”) Dobson for hyperbolic language, Robertson closed out the interview a few minutes later by claiming that Venezuela’s president Hugo Chavez, whose assassination he had recently recommended, was building a nuclear arsenal and had sent Osama bin Laden a million dollars after 9/11.

The sobering part of all this is that all the same words could have come out the mouth of the President, whose relationship to Jesus and expectations of the End Time are probably more intense than Robertson’s, since the latter is a seasoned professional, rather than an inspired amateur.

Reagan used to talk about the End Time equably too, once stressing that it could occur in “our lifetime”. Journalists like Blitzer should raise the issue more frequently, both to ayatollahs of the Apocalypse like Robertson and to the President. It would give press conferences a certain gloomy zest.

The only mystery is why, given his Apocalyptic expectations, Robertson fusses about the threat of a Chavez and calls for his murder by the CIA. He surely cannot think that the Venezuelan leader will be spared the Lord’s coming wrath, when the saved rise up in the great celestial spiral and the damned are consigned to the pit. Why ask the CIA to do what the Almighty will soon take care of?


The Virtues of Gas Guzzling:
Why I Don’t Believe in “Peak Oil”

Since I don’t believe in “peak oil” (the notion that world production is peaking and will soon slide, plunging the world into economic chaos) and regard oil “shortages” as contrivances by the oil companies and allied brokers and middlemen to run up the price, I fill my aging fleet of 50s and 60s era Chryslers with a light heart, although for longer trips these days I fill an 82 Mercedes 240D with diesel. True, diesel these days costs more than high-octane gasoline but the Mercedes gets 35 miles to the gallon, whereas the 59 Imperial ragtop and the 62 Belevedere wagon get around 18 mpg, which is still way ahead of the SUVs.

Part of my light-heartedness comes from the fact that gas guzzling these days can be a revolutionary duty, like puffing Montecristo #4 Cuban cigars back in the 60s as a way of doing one’s bit for the Cuban revolution. A while ago, Citgo stations were owned by City Services, which was controlled by the W. Alton Jones family, which amassed a vast fortune thereby. Subsequently the Alton Jones family foundation, exercised ­ via strategic disbursement ­ control over much of the environmental movement, such as World Wildlife Fund, National Wildlife Federation, Worldwatch. As with the other big donors such as Pew Charitable Trusts, the Alton Jones foundation cut loose any green group showing signs of disruptive militancy.

So I used to give Citgo a wide birth, until Citgo and its 14,000 gas stations and eight oil refineries (undamaged by Katrina) passed into the hands of the Venezuelan national oil company. Alas, Citgo signs aren’t a prominent feature of the landscape in northern California or west of the Rockies. I just drove across Texas and Citgo outlets are everywhere, as they are in Florida and the Carolinas. But even if you can’t pump Citgo gas, guzzling keeps up overall oil demand, and hence oil prices, thus helping not only Venezuela but also Russia, which needs every rouble it can get.

Not so long ago, Venezuela’s president, Hugo Chavez, said Venezuela could afford to slash Citgo’s prices by cutting out the middle men. He outlined a plan is to set aside 10 per cent of the 800,000 barrels of oil produced by the Citgo refineries and ship that oil directly to schools, religious organizations and nonprofits in poor communities for distribution.

Chavez has yet to take up my suggestion that Citgo start offering its customers gift vouchers which could be redeemed in the form of free consulations over the internet with one of the 16,000 Cuban doctors in Venezuela. But surely it’s only a matter of time. Already he’s made a wildly popular foray into the Bronx and promised social action in the Chicago area as well as along the Gulf coast. Maybe Bush should throw in the towel and make Chavez the head of FEMA. After all, Chavez is a military man, and Bush wants the military to take a lead role in emergencies.

You might suppose that Citgo’s competitors might strike back by raising signs, rather in the manner of some motel-owners here battling the Gujerati families now controlling 70 per cent of the business, urging motorist to patronize “American-owned” filling stations. But that would cut out Shell and BP, and the latter, like Chevron-Texaco and Mobil, is in partnership with Petroleos de Venezuela, the national Venezuelan oil company and would not want needlessly to offend the government.

Since the failure of the coup against Chavez it backed in 2002 the US government has subcontracted its public propaganda against Chavez to Pat Robertson, who given Rev Falwell’s fade-out, has been trying to consolidate his position as America’s leading ayatollah,. Robertson promptly overplayed his hand by calling for Chavez’s assassination, and most recently accusing him of planning to build up a nuclear arsenal. Someone ought to tell Robertson that accusations pertaining to WMD haven’t got a high retail value these days. He’d be better off saying Chavez had labs working on avian flu strains designed to target Protestants of Scotch origin.

Then Chavez wrong-footed Uncle Sam again by telling Ted Koppel that the Pentagon was working on a military coup, Operation Balboa, designed to overthrow his government. Having learned that pugnacious verbal exchanges only increase Chavez’s popularity across Latin America, the US Ambassador in Caracas, issued a low key denial saying that yes, there was an Operation Balboa but it was four years old, Spanish in origin. The plan included Venezuela in “a simulated military exercise”. This takes us back to the attempted coup of 2002, of which Chavez has accused former Spanish Prime Minister Jose Maria Aznar of playing a role. And what sane person does not believe the Pentagon and CIA are working diligently, in collaboration with Colombia, to oust Chavez?

So fill up at Citgo, at least until the price of oil drops and Chavez decides to sell the chain to the Chinese.

And what of “peak oil”, the theory that oil is about to run out? Since we’re all supposed to be dying of avian flu in the near future, who cares since there’ll be no one around to work the pumps or even drive up to them? I don’t believe in any effective role of man-made CO2 in global warming, a natural cyclical trend. I think the mad rush to throw money at the pharmaceutical companies for an avian flu vaccine is ridiculous. And increasingly, I don’t believe we’re about to run out of oil. I hang my hat on the views of Dr.Thomas Gold (founding director of Cornell University Center for Radiophysics) as outlined in his 1999 book, The Deep Hot Biosphere.

Gold’s view, supported by many well qualified people, is that oil doesn’t come from dead dinosaurs and kindred organic matter. Gold argues strongly that oil is a “renewable, primordial soup continually manufactured by the Earth under ultrahot conditions and tremendous pressures. As this substance migrates toward the surface, it is attached by bacteria, making it appear to have an organic origin dating back to the dinosaurs.” Oil, Earth’s renewable resource! Ethanol is an attractive alternative, as Brazil is proving. But ethanl will be a tough sell here, so for the time being I’ll stay with the winning side.

Werther and William Jennings Bryan

Werther, on our home page last Thursday, took a swipe at William Jennings Bryan and this drew a note of protest from Susan Fahey:

To the editors:

In an article about the folly of empire, the pejorative reference to William Jennings Bryan merits a strong objection. Bryan was a committed pacificist and vehement and outspoken opponent of the United States’ first foray into empire: the Spanish-American War (although, notably, he did volunteer for service). Later, he resigned as Secretary of State in protest of Wilson’s handling of the sinking of the Lusitania and involvement in World War I.

He was a champion of the Women’s Suffrage movement and a tireless campaigner for labor and the poor.

While I realize it was his fiery rhetoric, particularly on evolution, that led to the comparison to the Robertsons, Falwells, Dobsons of our time; as well as to Semple and Sunday. This isn’t really fair, either. Bryan’s crusade against evolution was not simply “hick against science” but was deeply connected to the use of the biological theory to justify social darwinism and the miserable treatment of the working class.

Rather than dismiss Bryan as a demogogue, we should wish there were more like him today.

I stand shoulder to shoulder with Susan Fahey in her defense of Bryan, but I’m not sure she’s correct in suggesting that it was “his fiery rhetoric” that prompted Werther to compare Bryan to the Ayatollahs of our time. Werther’s hyperbolical style is modeled on H.L. Mencken who made fun of Bryan (a better man than him) for decades, and as readers of Emmett Tyrrell Jr, whose monthly aping of Mencken in the American Spectator was a grim feature of the 1980s, well know, addiction to Menckenese is a dangerous and often accelerating condition. Werther’s Jeremiads are a splendid adornment to our site, but I sometimes wish he would temper his homages to H.L.M. with echoes of a purer prose writer, J. Swift.

Footnote: the Virtues of Gas Guzzling first ran in the print edition of The Nation that went to press last week.













We published an article entitled “A Saudiless Arabia” by Wayne Madsen dated October 22, 2002 (the “Article”), on the website of the Institute for the Advancement of Journalistic Clarity, CounterPunch, www.counterpunch.org (the “Website”).

Although it was not our intention, counsel for Mohammed Hussein Al Amoudi has advised us the Article suggests, or could be read as suggesting, that Mr Al Amoudi has funded, supported, or is in some way associated with, the terrorist activities of Osama bin Laden and the Al Qaeda terrorist network.

We do not have any evidence connecting Mr Al Amoudi with terrorism.

As a result of an exchange of communications with Mr Al Amoudi’s lawyers, we have removed the Article from the Website.

We are pleased to clarify the position.

August 17, 2005


Alexander Cockburn’s Guillotined!, A Colossal Wreck and An Orgy of Thieves: Neoliberalism and Its Discontents are available from CounterPunch.