Louis Proyect: The Unrepentant Marxist

June 25, 2019

James Steele’s fine biomess

Filed under: Ecology — louisproyect @ 8:47 pm

In Max Blumenthal’s new book, there’s a brief reference to a Colonel James Steele who was a righthand man to David Petraeus in Baghdad in organizing death squads during the occupation that led to the extreme Sunni/Shia polarization and the foothold it gave the Islamists who eventually formed ISIS. While Blumenthal’s book is worthless on Syria, it does have some interesting reflections on the American national-security state, including the revelation that Steele perfected his death squad tactics in El Salvador in the 1980s when I was active with CISPES, a group that was raising money and political support for the guerrilla movement.

A search on Steele in Wikipedia provided some other rather unexpected results. It turns out that after his military career came to an end, he became the CEO of Buchanan Renewables, an biofuels company. It appears that most of the money to start this corporation came from the John McCall MacBain Foundation that gives the appearance of a junior version of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. On the McCall MacBain Foundation website, you can see a page devoted to Climate Change & Environment that states “We believe that climate change is the single most pressing problem facing our planet and that we must all do our part to address it.” It also states that John McCall MacBain was the Founding Chair of the European Climate Foundation and the Foundation has been a major donor since 2009. To give you an idea of what the European Climate Foundation is about, it includes Pascal Lamy and Stephen Brenninkmeijer on the board of directors. Lamy used to be the Director-General of the World Trade Organization and Brenninkmeijer, the board chairman, runs Willow Investments, an outfit devoted to progressive social development.

John McCall MacBain, a Canadian, has the typical philanthropist’s profile. He made billions in the print classified ad business until Craigslist et al took over. One of his biggest payouts was $200 million to McGill University. In 2006, the Globe and Mail reported on his plans to donate $1 billion for sub-Saharan Africa projects. Like the Gates, his heart bleeds for the poor Africans.

One supposes that because of his generosity and social conscience, McCall MacBain was an ideal choice to head the Trudeau Foundation board of trustees. Like the Clintons, these people know how to game the philanthropic industry. In 2016, he was the key figure in the single largest bribery scandal in Canadian history. He made a $928,000 gift to Justin Trudeau that represents the largest bribery scandal in Canadian history, claim inside sources and lined up other donors who have affiliations with organizations currently lobbying the Canadian government.

Buchanan Renewables symbolized everything that is corrupt and self-serving about corporate environmentalism. The company went to Liberia with the intention of converting rubber trees into biomass chips that would power the nation and, better yet, fuel their own profits.

The Overseas Private Investment Corporation (OPIC) provided $217 million in loans to get the project going but within two years, it shut down after firing 600 workers. It never built the power plant but shipped its biomass chips to Europe for a tidy profit.

According to the AP, it repaid the U.S. government loans, paid its non-African employees handsomely, but “left behind fields of depleted rubber farms and a trail of allegations of sexual abuse and workplace hazards.”

James Steele was the perfect choice to run this operation. He was a onetime partner of OPIC’s CEO, Robert Mosbacher Jr. Mosbacher’s father was secretary of commerce under Bush ‘41. Just as was the case in El Salvador and Iraq, the natives got the shitty end of the stick.

Since wood was a precious commodity for cooking, some women said they became pregnant after trading sex for sticks with Buchanan employees. “If we didn’t have sex with the employees they wouldn’t give you sticks,” said Sarah Monopoloh, chairwoman of a local charcoal sellers union.

Tree planter Aderlyn Barnard was knocked unconscious, breaking a leg and wrist and dislocating an arm, when the company’s clearing machine felled her with a tree and left her disabled.

Leaving aside the treatment of such people, there is the additional question of biomass as an alternative energy source. Wikipedia defines biomass as any “plant or animal material used for energy production, heat production, or in various industrial processes as raw material for a range of products.”

For a good explanation of what biomass represents, I refer you to “Mapping the Biomass Racket” an article by Josh Schlossberg, the editor of Biomass Journal, that appeared in CounterPunch on February 12, 2013. He writes:

Over 200 electricity-generating, wood-burning biomass power incinerators currently operate in the US, with another 200 proposed, according to Forisk Consulting. Though more and more of these facilities are being built across the nation—due, in large part, to generous federal and state “renewable” energy subsidies and incentives—the ecological footprint of existing industrial-scale biomass energy facilities has yet to be adequately assessed.

“Even as forest protection is increasingly recognized as one of the best defenses against climate change—while also critical to protecting water, soils and biodiversity—governments are putting into place policies and subsidies to cut and burn forests the world over for ‘biomass’ electricity and heat,” said Rachel Smolker of Biofuelwatch, an international organization based in the US and UK. “They falsely refer to this as ‘clean, green and renewable,’ but it is a total disaster in the making.”

A total disaster in the making? Just the sort of words to describe James Steele’s role in El Salvador and Iraq. In El Salvador, you have economic misery that fuels the rise of gangs and desperate immigration to the USA. In Iraq, you have Shi’ite authoritarianism and Sunni resentment that helps to fuel wars across the entire Middle East. With people like James Steele having his fingers in pies across the planet, it is high time that someone took a good sharp knife and cut them off.


  1. The Guardian did an expose on Steele a few years back…

    Comment by mdean — June 27, 2019 @ 1:56 am

  2. Max Blumenthal is a rather sloppy if voluminous writer but an able journalist up to a point. He seems to have two big problems: 1) a need to keep the moola flowing no matter what it takes (Russia and the Best Sellers list), and 2) the absence of any really coherent political, scholarly, or philosophical frame of reference, let alone a class perspective, which leads to the politics of personal outrage/indignation and conspiracism. The latter also happens to be a big selling point with the ever-childish American reading public. The thinness of his skin, as evidenced by his meretricious legal threat against the SPLC (itself a questionable outfit, but that is irrelevant) is not a point in his favor. A true polemicist ought to be able to defend himself in print.

    Give him a point for sort of nailing Steele. Maybe it was an accident.

    Comment by Farans Kalosar — June 27, 2019 @ 1:14 pm

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