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2006-05-12

The Yes Men Strike Again: Group Poses As Halliburton Reps At "Catastrophic Loss" Conference

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The Yes Men have struck again. On Tuesday, a man claiming to be a representative of Halliburton gave a presentation at the "Catastrophic Loss" conference at the Ritz-Carlton in Amelia Island, Florida. Conference attendees include leaders from the insurance industry. We speak with the Yes Men’s Andy Bichlbaum, who took part in the hoax. [includes rush transcript]

The The Yes Men have struck again. On Tuesday, a man claiming to be a representative of Halliburton gave a presentation at the "Catastrophic Loss" conference at the Ritz-Carlton in Amelia Island, Florida. The conference included leaders from the insurance industry. The phony spokesperson gave his name as Fred Wolf and began by warning conference-goers of the dangers of climate change.

  • Fred Wolf, Yes Man Andy Bichlbaum posing as a Halliburton spokesperson.

The corporate impersonators went on to tell conference-goers that Halliburton had come up with a new invention, the SurvivaBall–an orb-like inflatable suit that would keep corporate managers safe from global warming. While Fred Wolf suited up into the Survivaball, fellow Yes Man Mike Bonanno introduced the new technology.

  • Min Bonnano, Yes Man Andy Bichlbaum posing as a Halliburton spokesperson.

The suits look like large plastic bubbles with six hands, two speakerphone-looking ears and an opening for the executive’s face. The Yes Men hoax comes less than two years after a Yes Men member appeared on the BBC claiming to be a spokesperson for Dow Chemical. He said Dow was taking responsibility for the Bhopal chemical disaster — forcing the company to remind the world it did not take responsibility for the disaster and that there was no compensation fund set-up for the victims.

We are joined in our firehouse studio a member of the Yes Men, Andy Bichlbaum.

Transcript

This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: The Yes Men have struck again. On Tuesday, a man claiming to be a representative of Halliburton gave a presentation at the "Catastrophic Loss" conference at the Ritz-Carlton in Amelia Island, Florida. The conference included leaders from the insurance industry. The phony spokesperson gave his name as Fred Wolf and began by warning conference-goers of the dangers of climate change.

FRED WOLF: So, first of all, let’s define our words. What do we mean when we say "safety"? For us in the corporate world, it’s quite simple. We mean the safety to achieve what we need, how we need it and when we need it.

Insurance firms are also concerned with a special-case definition of "safety," which is the safety of people. Because their own safety depends so much on this special-case definition of safety, insurance has become extremely worried about some grave new dangers to people that we’re seeing in the world around us today. And I’m, of course, talking about climate change and the disasters that it brings.

To make things worse, there are some who believe that this is only the start and that the sort of experiences we have seen here are just the minor beginning to what could happen. For example, Arctic melt has slowed the Gulf Stream by about 30% in the last decade; if it stopped, Europe would become just as cold as Alaska.

It could go the other way: methane released from melting permafrost could cause a heating cycle, a feedback loop, as we call it, making human life essentially unlivable outside air-conditioned hotels like this one.

But panicking is not the answer either, of course. If we panic and try to stop climate change, 70% of carbon emissions have to come to a stop immediately, which would be a rather huge blow to our way of doing business.

But I can personally guarantee you that level heads will always be able to turn lemons into lemonade.

Consider the Black Plague. This was an unspeakably rotten event, of course, in which one-third of Europe’s population died in great agony. No one, of course, would wish such a thing on any civilization. Yet without it, without the Black Plague, the old business models of Europe would never have been overturned by the entrepreneurs of the Renaissance. And what would the world be without the Mona Lisa?

Or, closer to home, how about the Great Deluge? This world-ending disaster, literally, was surely seen as a terrible catastrophe by Noah’s contemporaries, and perhaps 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.

Innovations like these could turn some major disasters into as humdrum a fact of life as glaucoma, meningitis or gallstones are to the medical insurance industry today.

For those of us in positions of responsibility, however, who might have to take charge in a crisis, even more innovative solutions are necessary. We can’t be satisfied with survival. We have to guarantee, at every instant, the capacity and resources to keep our thumbs firmly on the triggers of progress.

AMY GOODMAN: Fred Wolf, or so he said he was, well, one of the Yes Men, posing as a corporate spokesperson for Halliburton at a LexisNexis conference called "Catastrophic Loss" at the Ritz-Carlton in Amelia Island, Florida. The corporate impersonator went on to tell the conference-goers that Halliburton had come up with a new invention: the SurvivaBall, an orb-like inflatable suit that would keep corporate managers safe from global warming. While Fred Wolf suited up into the SurvivaBall, fellow Yes Man Mike Bonanno introduced the new technology.

MIKE BONANNO: A few years ago we were asked to take on a big challenge. In the R&D department at Halliburton we’re usually dealing with oil rigs, things like that, drilling, questions of energy extraction. And they gave us a big challenge in 2001. They said, "We want something that’s going to be able to save a human being, no matter what Mother Nature throws at him." And so, this is the answer: this is the Halliburton SurvivaBall. As some of you probably know, amoebas can gather together — these are designed like amoebas, as single cells. But they can gather together and actually form another body. They aggregate, and they differentiate function. And so these one-celled organisms come together as a single body.

AMY GOODMAN: Yes Man Mike Bonanno, introducing the SurvivaBalls to corporate executives at the "Catastrophic Loss" conference in Florida Tuesday. The suits look like large plastic bubbles with six hands, two speakerphone-looking ears and an opening for the executive’s face. The Yes Men hoax comes less than two years after a Yes Men member appeared on the BBC claiming to be a spokesperson for Dow Chemical. He said Dow was taking responsibility for the Bhopal chemical disaster, forcing the company to remind the world it did not take responsibility for the disaster and that there was no compensation fund set up for the victims.

Well, we’re joined now by one of the Yes Men, yes, Andy Bichlbaum, or so he tells us his name is. Welcome, Andy.

ANDY BICHLBAUM: Thanks a lot, Amy.

AMY GOODMAN: So, you — explain what happened here. This is a formal conference, insurance executives on Amelia Island in Florida. LexisNexis is the sign under the podium. How were you invited as a spokesperson for Halliburton?

ANDY BICHLBAUM: Same way we’ve been invited to a lot of these things. You know, we set up a fake website, and one thing led to another.

AMY GOODMAN: What was the website?

ANDY BICHLBAUM: Halliburtoncontracts.com. And you can see our full release about the SurvivaBall on that site now. At the time, it looked — it didn’t have anything about the SurvivaBall on the front. They just, you know — it looked like a Halliburton site, and one thing led to another, and there we were.

AMY GOODMAN: They emailed you, and there you were as a spokesperson. And then you suited up in this mass ball?

ANDY BICHLBAUM: Yeah. I had one ball on. It would protect me under any climate change conditions, you know, any natural disaster arising from our misuse of the environment. I, as a corporate manager, would be safe in this thing, and two of the other people at the conference, actually the moderator and the other panelist, also suited up. And there we were.

AMY GOODMAN: A gated community of one, each of those balls.

ANDY BICHLBAUM: Each. Yeah. Three gated communities, each of one. Yeah.

AMY GOODMAN: When did the insurance executives start catching on?

ANDY BICHLBAUM: Well, never. Yeah, one of them kind of got it, I think, one of the people in the audience, and found it very funny and, you know, said he basically couldn’t believe it. He happened to be the next speaker and said to Mike, "I just can’t believe I have to follow that." And, "That was hysterical. Do you guys make a living at this?" He clearly got it, but nobody else did.

There were three questions afterwards, and I have to say I was flabbergasted to hear the first one. It was: "This is great, but what about terrorism? I mean, this must be useful against terrorism." And we had to explain that, well, you know, it’s mainly —- it’s got a bit of defensive capabilities, some elementary RPGs and maybe some other, you know, torpedo launchers, but basically -—

AMY GOODMAN: Inside the SurvivaBall?

ANDY BICHLBAUM: Inside the SurvivaBall, but mainly that’s used against affluent members of the community who are trying to destroy your — you know, of the neighboring community, because those are the only people who can afford at that point to travel. You know, terrorism from the Middle East or whatever, we’re just not — that’s out of the picture at this point.

AMY GOODMAN: For our radio listeners, I just want to let you know what the ball looks like. You become an inflatable ball.

ANDY BICHLBAUM: Yeah, yeah. A giant, I guess about six-feet diameter ball with a face right in the middle of it.

AMY GOODMAN: Now, Andy Bichlbaum, or so you say you are, this comes two years after your event, — is it two years or one year? — after posing as a Dow Chemical spokesperson on the anniversary of the Bhopal disaster and actually being interviewed by BBC, because they emailed you on a Dow Chemical website, or so they thought it was.

ANDY BICHLBAUM: Right. They were looking for a spokesperson for Dow to issue a statement on the 20th anniversary of the Bhopal catastrophe, and they emailed us instead at dowethics.com, instead of dow.com.

AMY GOODMAN: Were you Jude Finisterra?

ANDY BICHLBAUM: I was Jude Finisterra.

AMY GOODMAN: And how did you choose that name?

ANDY BICHLBAUM: Jude is the patron saint of the impossible, and Finisterra is "end of the earth," etymologically, so it’s just an absolutely impossible thing what we did, which was basically accept responsibility for the disaster as Dow. And Dow will never accept responsibility for the disaster, and that’s provable by what happened afterwards. After the announcement, when I accepted responsibility for the disaster on behalf of Dow, Dow’s stock price plunged by about $3 billion in 20 minutes, which isn’t good for Dow, of course, and that’s why they don’t do the right thing, obviously.

AMY GOODMAN: So, has anything developed since then with Dow, as they had to say, "No, we didn’t accept responsibility," and has Halliburton responded to what you did in Florida?

ANDY BICHLBAUM: Dow never did respond, except for their usual one-liner about not having responsibility. We actually issued a press release on their behalf to fully explain what they weren’t going to do, explaining that our thing was a hoax. We sent out a press release from Dow, explaining that ours was a hoax and outlining exactly what we wouldn’t do as Dow: we would not clean up the site, we would not compensate these people, they would continue to die, etc.

Halliburton hasn’t responded, either, so we may be forced to do the same thing. And, yeah, these companies, I think, just prefer not to respond, because if they do, they know that it’s pretty good for us.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, I want to thank you for being with us, Andy Bichlbaum, member of the Yes Men. And your website is?

ANDY BICHLBAUM: theyesmen.org.

AMY GOODMAN: Thanks for being with us.

ANDY BICHLBAUM: Thank you.

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