It’s time to talk about women’s economics with attitude. It’s time to laugh at what is often absurd and call out what is dangerous. By focusing on voices not typically part of mainstream man-to-man economic discourse, Women Unscrewing Screwnomics will bring you news of hopeful and practical changes and celebrate an economy waged as life—not as war.
Even if you avoid stock market news, by now you’ve heard Wall Street is going nuts. Its value has dropped as much as it did before the 2008 meltdown, worrying everyone. The globe’s richest men are selling off corporate ownership to move money to bonds, traditionally safer, but also spooky now.
What’s scaring EconoMan? The new coronavirus has unglued the global economy’s transnational lines of supply, threatening corporate bottom lines.
Then, Russia picked the perfect time to fight over oil production with the Saudi kingpins who run the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries, (OPEC).
The Saudis can cheaply tap an underground ocean of oil. Their dropping their oil and gas prices, aimed at hurting the Russians, would ordinarily be good news for women working on Main Street. But right now, the coronavirus is threatening jobs everywhere, while thousands of American fossil fuel jobs may be lost in Texas and Oklahoma. U.S. shale frackers’ oil production costs, like Russia’s, are much greater than the Saudi’s, so many are predicted to go belly up.
It’s tempting to imagine Gaia at work here: “Enough with fracking, you idiots,” she might be saying, “and maybe you humans are overpopulating.”
That’s not a thought to say out loud in a social milieu urging us to be kind and wash our hands often. But it’s clear this knotty crisis won’t be easy to spin. If we’re smart, it is time to rethink fossil fuel loyalties and the wars it provokes wherever our beautiful earth is drilled, injected and fractured.
Two women writers shed important light on an entrenched cultural violence that pervades this powerfully decadent industry.
Rachel Maddow’s Blowout: Corrupted Democracy, Rogue State Russsia and the Richest, Most Destructive Industry on Earth indicts not only the Russians, led by Putin, who has put all his nation’s economic eggs into one oily basket. She exposes Exxonmobil, run by a cool-headed CEO who became US Secretary of State, and Oklahoma fossil fuel tycoons who captured state government and universities.
Charlotte Dennett gives us the same international-sized scope on the subject, but in a more personal and also historical work, titled The Crash of Flight 3804: A Lost Spy, A Daughter’s Quest and the Deadly Politics of the Great Game for Oil. She takes us to the secretive and complex deal-making world of Middle Eastern pipelines, necessary to deliver gas and oil to the markets that pay.
Always the pipelines to power that both authors describe—those hefty deals negotiated, blown up and revealed in both books—are rationalized and obscured, kept secret right under the noses of complicit contemporaries and we the people. The deals and dirty tricks are largely about which nation, with which corporations run by which bullies, will become the richest of all. Polite on the surface, their methods whisper, coax, bribe and threaten. Yes, some people might have to be cheated. Some might have to die.
These methods shouldn’t surprise Americans. Our great oil progenitor and first-ever billionaire, John D. Rockefeller, once obfuscated his own brutal monopoly, Standard Oil Company, with a flower metaphor:
“The American Beauty Rose can be produced in the splendor and fragrance which bring cheer to its beholder only by sacrificing the early buds which grow up around it. This is not an evil tendency in business. It is merely the working out of a law of nature and a law of God.”
While Maddow focuses on contemporary fossil fuel expansion into the Arctic and Ukraine, along with fracking and slickwater earthquakes in Oklahoma, Dennett goes back to post-WWII Middle Eastern diplomacy, and the very beginnings of the Central Intelligence Agency, our CIA. An infant when her father, Daniel C. Dennett, Jr., mysteriously died in 1947, Charlotte’s life travels a route to encounter him that feels a little uncanny. She builds on research she and her husband Jerry Colby did in South America, following the Rockefellers’ interest in oil on yet another continent. The couple’s co-authored book, Thy Will Be Done: The Conquest of the Amazon; Nelson Rockefeller and Evangelism in the Age of Oil, at the time in 1995, she admits, seemed far removed from the parent she never knew.
But she ultimately learns that oil intrigues were almost certainly behind the premature death of her father. A promising young diplomat, whose State Department position as cultural attaché was cover for his work with two wartime forerunners of the CIA—the Office of Strategic Services and Central Intelligence Group—he died in a plane crash, headed for Ethiopia, following a top-secret mission to Saudi Arabia; his companion was the petroleum attaché. Many believed the crash was no accident. Decades later, his daughter’s FOIA (Freedom of Information Act) requests for his government reports unexpectedly tied to what she came to understand was international jockeying for dominance.
Post-WWII, even Allies spied on one another in the Middle East. After the Allies won the war against Germany, Italy and Japan, the old colonial powers of France and England, along with their rescuers, the U.S. and Russia, were all courting desert nations with virgin territory just asking to be drilled. Oil and gas corporations were better served by corrupt dictators than by patriots who sought democracy, or at the very least national autonomy. Over time, the Allies’ bombing and shelling was replaced by the subtle behind-the-scenes espionage and warring we have been led to mistakenly call “economic development.” You’ll even learn in Dennett’s book about eventual American dominance won by the “oily dollar“—so seldom mentioned in Middle Eastern or U.S. news.
Speaking of money, Maddow’s book calls out insane U.S. taxpayer subsidies for oil and gas drilling, as well as the in-kind donations of federal lands, free for the profit-taking.
“Oil and gas industry incentives are accelerating us toward destruction on multiple levels—geopolitical balance, governance, environmental injury and climate apocalypse,” Maddow writes, going on to praise democracy where she finds it, believing it the only countering energy.
Among superheroes Maddow lists are Oklahoma schoolteachers, who called out the industry-captured government that impoverished their state’s kids, and “the technocratic anticorruption nerds who have figured out that following the money doesn’t just unravel criminal schemes but traces corruption and grand-theft kleptocracy to its origins.” She praises the reporters and opposition activists around the world, some of them martyrs, who have braved confronting massive government rip-offs and secret, stolen wealth.
Dennett’s more introspective writing is as complex as the world of spy craft. She shifts her position on the CIA and colors in what she learns of her father, taking us along on her personal journey. We see her tentative thoughts as she comes to crossroads with conflicting possibilities of explanation. Along the way, we gain a deepening knowledge of the convolutions of competing pipelines and conflicting cultural values and aims. Who is friend; who is foe?
The surprise in this tale is the CIA’s honoring Daniel C. Dennett as an early and ethical role model, inviting his surviving family to a tribute in Washington, D.C., in 2019. While there, Charlotte meets with the CIA’s first female director, Gina Haspel. The nickname Bloody Gina, reportedly given for Haspel’s oversight of 2002 black ops’ “enhanced interrogations,” never appears in Dennett’s book, which depicts a cordial conversation between them. But it crossed this writer’s mind.
Dennett displays chill forbearance, detective skills and a stubborn tenacity that prompted one CIA staffer to suggest she should work for the agency. Her fine, challenging mind not only wins a more complex view of the region’s exploitation. She also delivers her widened respect for her father’s work and values—despite her own contemporary perspective that sees what he could not have predicted.
Her own search for truth ends by citing Brown University’s Costs of War Report on the CIA’s continued running of militia operations in the Middle East, “clouded in secrecy,” and reportedly committing human rights abuses, including “extrajudicial killings of civilians.” This report is coupled with her unequivocal and hard-claimed conviction: “This is not what my father would have wanted.”
Similar to Maddow, who cites democracy and transparency as the only hope for freeing a world held hostage by oil’s corruption, Dennett is convinced that peace will not happen until “the American people insist on the right to be informed, and on responsibly acting on what they learn.” Both these books are highly readable, disturbing and also stirring.
It bears repeating: Fossil fuel violence demands our righteous-babe response.