The Moment of Truth — February 2, 2002

World Economic Forum: Have Your Cake and Eat Me

Hi, I’m mejeffdorchen and welcome to the Moment of Truth, the last mom-and-pop establishment left in a world of transnational franchises.

The World Economic Forum is an exclusive event. It costs $25,000 just to be a participant. This price includes a complementary handheld computer and is intended to keep out the riffraff. But connected with the forum there are private parties being thrown that are even more exclusive. Jean-Marie Messier, Chairman of Vivendi Universal, Europe’s answer to AOL-Time Warner, threw a bash at the Waldorf-Astoria that even skivvies model Heidi Klum couldn’t bust into. Doug Daft, CEO of Coca-Cola, had an even more elitist soiree at the Four Seasons; NBC anchor Tom Brokaw and CNN’s Paula Zanh attended, though. I wonder what side they’ll come down on in this controversy over the domination of global resources by billionaire capitalists? And what do you think their position is on whether being owned by a giant corporation influences one’s editorial and journalistic biases?

There is a nod being made during this high-profile conference toward paying lip service to the notion that big fat capitalist pigs aren’t the only people who should be involved in carving up the planet. Bono, proponent of debt relief for developing nations and possibly even for those that WERE developing until the IMF and World Bank got hold of their economies, was on display along with pop clerical politico Desmond Tutu at a seminar about hope or something. Also attending the forum is Muhammad Yunus, director of the Grameen Bank, an institution making dinky loans no one else will make to poor people in Bangladesh who want to grow their own businesses. This Grameen Bank is revolutionary in the financial industry, having made loans as small as fifteen dollars, and clearly getting a return on their investments, since bank director Yunus got his $25,000 entry fee covered somehow. So there’s at least one participant involved in doing something real for poor people.

But all the truly cool are at the World Social Forum in Porto Allegre, Brazil. Somewhere between ten and twenty times more people are attending that conference than the one in New York. Maybe because they’re only charging fifty bucks a head, a mere seven ten-hour days’ wages for an employee in a Guatemalan factory making shirts for The Gap. Meanwhile, up north, Elton John is getting one million from Lehman Brothers to play for one night to the salivating globe-gobblers at the Four Seasons.

The more socially-conscious Forum in Brazil has its own exclusive criteria for participation, aside from the exorbitant $50 fee. No violent organizations are allowed to participate, a policy which left Hamas, the Likud Party, and the Los Angeles Police Department out in the cold. Reps from the World Bank are also barred, but not because of their continued refusal to disclose exactly when they stopped beating their wives. One of the organizers of the Porto Allegre forum was quoted in the New York Times, outlining the criteria for participation thus: “We want a peaceful gathering of participants who agree that the actual system of global capitalism has lost legitimacy.”

That might not leave out as many people as news reports by Paula Zahn and Tom Brokaw might lead one to believe. Major politicians, activists and intellectuals from all over the world are there. Even Marc Cooper, whose job here in LA at the newly-liberated KPFK radio station is threatened by a listenership feeling betrayed by his anti-democratic machinations in the battle to keep the Pacifica network from going the corporate lackey route of NPR and PRI, even Marc Cooper, who may soon be begging for a job as cabin boy on one of those cruises where you meet the staff of The Nation magazine, even Marc Cooper took off down south, leaving the radio station vulnerable to possible occupation by drive-time djs who aren’t white.

That’s how important this World Social Forum is.

And yet, there is one highly exclusive gathering up at the chic, high-rolling World Economic Forum in New York, one truly elite event that I, mejeffdorchen, would love to be a fly on the wall at. I’m speaking, of course, of the Andersen protest.

Andersen, you might remember, is the firm that did such an avant-garde job consulting and accounting for Enron. Well, Andersen is not just an attendee of the WEF, they’re what’s called a Strategic Partner. And part of their strategy is this: they’ve invited a select group from their own payroll and that of Enron to take part in an intimate little group suicide. It’s not what you think! It’s not to somehow thwart whatever investigations there’ll be into Andersen’s part in Enron’s defrauding of a big hunk of the US population. No. This is not the corporal version of document-shredding.

Andersen is holding a mass suicide in protest against world hunger, poverty, and environmental degradation. About three dozen executives, accountants and consultants will gather in a private meeting room at the Four Seasons where they will douse themselves with gasoline and set themselves on fire while Bono does a solo rendition of “In the Name of Love” for a million dollars.

An organizer of the shocking and exclusive private affair was quoted in the New York Times saying, “Heidi Klum can have her publicist [Desiree Gruber] call every ten minutes, but she won’t be invited. We want a peaceful gathering of businesspersons who all agree that the atrocities wreaked upon individuals, families, communities, political processes, civil life, water, air and soil quality, species diversity, the environment — that such violations by the overlords of extreme capital demand an extreme response in protest.”

Bono has been very supportive of the Andersen mass-suicide protest. To quote the New York Times again:

“‘I am a spoiled-rotten rock star,” Bono, the Irish singer who has campaigned against AIDS and for debt relief for poor countries, told some 2,500 participants in the opening session of the five-day gathering of movers, shakers, deep-thinkers and deal-makers. “I drink champagne, and I’ll eat the cake. But there is a sense that if this is just a talking shop, it’s a little close to Marie Antoinette.’”

Tom Brokaw and Paula Zahn are invited to participate in the Andersen self-immolation, but have regrettably — or regretfully — declined.

I’m mejeffdorchen and this has been the Moment of Truth.