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.