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Saving the day: Yes Men Andy Bichlbaum (enclosed in a SurvivaBall) and Mike Bonanno pose for a photo op at a Catastrophic Loss conference in Amelia, Fla.

Still Sticking It to the Man

Culture jammers the Yes Men return again to skewer corporate gullibility—and paranoia

‘Basically, if we don’t do something very dramatic to turn the system around, we will all merrily tra la la la to the earth’s end,” says “Mike Bonanno” of the prankster group the Yes Men.

Bonanno, otherwise known as Igor Vamos, a sometime RPI professor and Troy local, and his partner, “Andy Bichlbaum” (also an alias), have been at it again.

This time the Yes Men agreed their way into a Catastrophic Loss conference held May 8-9 at the Ritz-Carlton in Amelia Island, Fla. Hosted by LexisNexis, the conference featured seminars billed with such reassuring names as “Earthquakes and Other Natural Disasters” and “Jumping into the Jury Pool: Influencing the Jury After a Catastrophic Event.” It seemed the perfect forum for oil industry and reconstruction giant Halliburton. Or so thought one of the conference’s organizers.

But instead of inviting the Houston-based corporation, a member of the LexisNexis hierarchy accidently stumbled across Bananno and Bichlbaum’s phony Halliburton site——and invited the Yes Men instead.

Bonanno and Bichlbaum, posing as Halliburton representatives Fred S. Wolf and Dr. Northrop Goody, gave a presentation titled, “What Noah Knew: Old Models for New Conditions,” based on the principal that even the most horrendous natural catastrophe can offer up profitable returns.

“While we don’t suggest that everyone make climate change the core of their business plan, I can personally guarantee you that level heads will always be able to turn lemons into lemonade,” Bichlbaum said as Fred Wolf.

“How about the Great Deluge?” Bichlbaum’s speech continued. “This world-ending disaster was surely seen as a terrible catastrophe by Noah’s contemporaries, and even by Noah himself. Yet Noah was ready to seize the day, and at the end of that day, not only was there a whole new world, but Noah found himself with a monopoly of the animals. Not a bad deal!”

At the core of their presentation was the SurvivaBall.

“The SurvivaBall is designed to protect the corporate manager no matter what Mother Nature throws his or her way,” said Wolf. “It’s essentially a gated community for one.”

Dr. Goody got inside a mock-up version of the SurvivaBall to demonstrate it for what Bichlbaum described as a receptive audience of corporate movers and shakers.

The SurvivaBall mockup used at the conference is a big, round fabric ball that completely encloses the wearer. There is a hole postitioned in the middle of the outfit for a person’s face, with two round, grated openings—“SHF antenna with supplementary antennae”— above and three sets of what looks like teats running down the front.

“You all surely have contingency plans within your corporations to deal with climate change disasters—I hope you do anyhow. But none of that’s worth anything unless your managers survive, and that’s what this is about: the most important form of safety,” Bichlbaum said.

After the presentation, the duo fielded questions.

“Questions from the audience focused on whether or not the SurvivaBalls were economically viable,” Bonanno said, and whether the balls could protect the wearer against terrorist attacks. One member of the audience seemed to get the joke and told them he thought it was hilarious. He even asked Bananno if they make a living with their performances.

But most of the audience were none the wiser, he says, a fact that should concern everyone. “We should all be very, very scared,” Bananno said.

Don’t the Yes Men worry about a backlash from Halliburton or the other companies they lampoon?

“We worry,” Bichlbaum says. “But it doesn’t do any good. We gnawed off our fingernails about six years ago, and then the tips of our fingers, and then our hands . . . until now we’re just partial heads with teeth.

“Unfortunately, all that gnawing has been utterly pointless, since neither Dow [Chemical] nor anyone else is interested in helping us get more publicity. We should have realized that long ago.”

Actual representatives from Halliburton had little to say other than they were not aware of the presentation, and that Fred Wolf and Dr. Goody are not employees of Halliburton.

—Chet Hardin

What a Week


The Public Commission on the Oregon Legislature made a seemingly sensible recommendation Monday: that legislators and staff members should not be able to drink while on duty. The idea came after Steve Doell, president of Crime Victims United, smelled alcohol on the breath of at least one legislator while he was advocating tougher drinking laws. Doell did not identify the legislator.

Cold Hard Cash

ABC News reported this week that Rep. William Jefferson (D-La.) denies FBI accusations of involvement with bribery, fraud and conspiracy. The FBI believes that Jefferson has been helping a technology company (iGate) expand its business in Africa in exchange for shares in the company and cash. Jefferson has not yet been charged, but FBI officials say that they have enough evidence, which includes a videotape, an audiotape, information from his computer and $90,000 that was found wrapped in aluminum foil in his freezer at his Washington, D.C., residence.

Bending the Laws of Silence

On ABC’s This Week, U.S. Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales announced that journalists could be prosecuted for publishing classified information. He said, “There are some statutes on the book which, if you read the language carefully, would seem to indicate that that is a possibility. We have an obligation to enforce those laws.” Although Gonzales did not cite which laws would apply to journalists, The New York Times reported that some legal scholars said that such laws were not intended for the press, and if they were applied, it would violate the First Amendment.

Like Swiss Cheese

According to Steve Balmer, chief executive of Microsoft, the new Windows Vista operating system coupled with super-security-featured Internet Explorer 7 may bring about the end to “traditional virus and worm attacks,” as well as spyware. While that may sound fantastic to many safety-minded browsers, Balmer warned that hackers are always finding new ways to use their Internet connection as a weapon and that there will always be ways in. “The next generation of attack vectors are more likely to be insidious, in the sense that instead of disrupting people it will try to steal your money and steal your identity,” he said.

Peace Slate: (l-r) U.S. Senate candidate Howie Hawkins and gubernatorial candidate Malachy McCourt hope to bring Green Party politics to Albany.

We Come in Peace

The Green Party slate of candidates for this year’s elections offers an alternative to pro-war Republicans—and Democrats

The Green Party of New York State nominated noted actor, writer and commentator Malachy McCourt to head up its Peace Slate Saturday at Channing Hall in Albany. The party is banking on McCourt’s name recognition (his brother, Frank, wrote the very popular Angela’s Ashes) and a strong antiwar stance to garner the 50,000 votes necessary to gain the ballot line.

In his bid for governor, McCourt is joined by lieutenant governor candidate Allison Duncan; attorney general candidate Rachel Treichler; comptroller candidate Julia Willebrand; and U.S. Senate candidate and longtime activist Howie Hawkins.

In accepting the party’s nomination, the 75-year-old McCourt took his first foray into the political arena. “When I was on the radio, when I would make a comment on how things are run, people would say, ‘Well, you should run for office.’ And I would say that I am very good at evaluating what other people should do, but I’m not so good at doing it myself,” he said. “I was finally persuaded, and here I am.”

McCourt was born in Brooklyn but raised from the age of 3 in Limerick, Ireland. He moved back to the United States at age 20 and still carries a thick Irish brogue. And though he worked for years as a manual laborer, it is his long and successful career in the arts and entertainment world that has prepared him for his gubernatorial run. What McCourt lacks in political experience, he makes up for in charisma. “He is a very good storyteller,” Hawkins said.

Though McCourt’s own views jibe well with the nonviolent, environmentally conscious Green Party, he admits that he has been a party member for a very brief time.

“About 10 minutes,” he joked, sort of. “I just joined. I find that I have a spiritual affinity with them. They are thinking the same things I have been thinking, but I have never paid that much attention. I was always one of those less-of-two-evils types. I always thought the Democrats would come around. But I found that they are moving in the wrong direction.”

Bringing an end to current conflicts in the Middle East tops his agenda.

“We need to get out these people who are using war as a means of solving our problems,” he said.

His platform also includes the demilitarization of the National Guard. He would like to see it as a civilian and environmental corps, put to work cleaning up around the state. A living wage, legalized medical marijuana, guaranteed free public education, free subway use paid for by higher taxes on corporations, and higher wages for teachers round out his vision for New York.

One point in his platform is likely to make few friends.

“I will declare sugar to be a controlled substance,” he said. Pointing to the near- epidemic numbers of childhood diabetes, and other sugar-related conditions, like rotten teeth, he said that sugar “is ruining children’s lives and health.”

Running a campaign against the widely popular Democratic candidate Eliot Spitzer doesn’t faze McCourt.

“The poor man,” McCourt laughs, referring to Spitzer.

Hawkins is also facing down a popular Democrat in his bid for U.S. Senate.

“We are getting a big response, especially in the Senate race, because Clinton has been so pro-war and so many people want to get out of that war,” Hawkins said. “Expecting the Democrats to get us out of this war any more than the Republicans is like asking a crack addict to turn in their dealer.”

If elected, Hawkins said he would work to “bring the troops home immediately, bring them home as fast as logistically possible.”

Hawkins is a seasoned political organizer. One of the cofounders of the Green Party in the United States, he was at the 1984 convention in St. Paul, Minn. He has run for statewide office two times before and pulled 5 percent of the vote in last year’s hotly contested mayoral race in Syracuse.

“I am proposing that we get very serious about making the transition from fossil and nuclear fuels to the efficient use of renewable energy,” Hawkins said. “I am calling for a global public works program to rewire the world with renewable energy in 10 years.”

This is achievable, he said, by switching subsidies from nuclear and fossil fuels to renewable energy sources and by yanking $300 billion a year from the Pentagon and investing the money instead in renewable energy systems.

“Instead of spreading resentment around the world, we would spread goodwill,” he said, “and secure our country better than resource wars, which is what we are doing now.”

Building this new infrastructure, Hawkins argued, will offer a solution to New York’s economic woes. It will generate economic activity that will spill over into the private sector, providing jobs in construction and engineering that will increase the income of working people who will in turn spend money on their basic needs, creating business opportunities for the private sector.

At least, he said, he and the Green Party are championing a plan that offers a positive and constructive solution for New York state. “What is Sen. Clinton championing except for her own campaign coffer?” he asked.

If elected, McCourt said he and his party will bring a vision for the future that is less violent, less abusive and more socially and environmentally conscious. “Plus we will bring a bit of song, a bit of poetry, a bit of history.”

—Chet Hardin

PHOTO: Alicia Solsman

Hello Nurse

On May 16, registered nurses who work at Ellis Hospital and their supporters—about 150 people in all—held candles in one hand and protest signs in the other as they called for better treatment from the hospital. Mark Genovese of the New York State Nurses Association said the hospital has circumvented the nurses’ union while trying to implement cost reductions to pension and health plans that he claimed drastically effect veteran registered nurses at the hospital. NYSNA has filed unfair labor practices against Ellis Hospital management with the National Labor Relations Board. “There is an element of union busting here,” said Genovese. He said the hospital has tried to portray the union as a greedy organization with no real stake in the outcome. “They like to use the term ‘union bosses’,” said Genovese. “The union bosses are registered nurses.”




“Delaware Avenue’s haunted.”

“Delaware Avenue?”

“Yeah. Something bad happened there.”

—CDTA Route 18 bus, in the midst of a discussion of haunted houses.


Overheard:“Question his manhood.”

—Ralph Nader, at a press conference Tuesday supporting Alice Green, in response to a question about how Green could convince Mayor Jerry Jennings to participate in a debate.

Loose Ends

On April 27, crews from Clough Harbour & Associates, who were hired by the city of Albany, tore through pieces of the Pine Bush Preserve with bulldozers. The crews were doing exploratory work for a proposed landfill expansion [·The Garbage Burden,· April 27, 2006]. Trees were damaged, grass was uprooted, and trails were turned into dirt roads. The Nature Conservancy insists that the lands are protected because they have been dedicated to the preserve. The Nature Conservancy wrote to Department of Environmental Conservation Commissioner Denise Sheehan, Attorney General Elliot Spitzer and Albany Mayor Jerry Jennings, demanding that further action in the Pine Bush be halted, and asked for the DEC and the attorney general to launch an investigation into whether the city had, in fact, violated the law. The Nature Conservancy also asked for the damaged Pine Bush to be restored. The city has claimed the action may have been premature, but ·not necessarily illegal.· Common Council member Dominick Calsolaro (Ward 1) has said that he feels ·betrayed by the city.· In a letter to local newspapers, Calsolaro said, ·Until the city administration can prove that they can be trusted and that all legal and proper protocols will be followed, I will not support any further action to expand the landfill in the Albany Pine Bush Preserve.·

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