Resistance: Fall of Microsoft

Let‘s be clear about what is really at stake in this “console war“ between Sony and Microsoft. People don‘t realize that they do not own their Xbox 360 any more than they own the set top box from their cable company. They rent it.You have an internet connection on Microsoft‘s console, but the only place you can go is Xbox live. The hard drive installed in the Xbox 360 has a proprietary connection to the rest of the system, so it cannot be accessed without using computer code owned by Microsoft. Microsoft has total control over what you see and what you download, as well as what games you can purchase.

Microsoft released the first Xbox after the PS2, then rolled out the Xbox 360 before the Playstation 3. There are still high quality games being made for the PS2 like God of War II and Final Fantasy XII, while the Xbox is basically a dead system. Microsoft ripped off their own customers who bought their original console, then dissed Xbox 360 buyers by selling them a poorly designed system.

To make the Xbox 360 so powerful, Microsoft designed a triple core PowerPC chip and a massive graphics processor for their console. These chips require a lot of power and generate immense heat, so much heat that the Xbox 360 sounds like a hair dryer because of the fans inside the case. When the first Xbox 360s came out, many of them overheated and crashed.

There were reports of failure rates as high as 20% on the first consoles, although Microsoft insists the rate was no more than 5%. This despite the fact that a Google search containing the words “xbox red ring” reveals a cottage industry of websites catering to customers whose consoles have failed. One man in Chicago had the temerity to sue the Software Giant, that case was settled out of court, allegedly for an undisclosed sum…

All the photos of the Xbox 360 that you see in advertisements do not include the huge power brick that steps up voltage from a wall socket to the console. Of course, they could have avoided the problem of overheating and requiring an external power brick by simply making the case bigger. This would haves allowed for more air around the circuitry and provided room for an internal power supply.

Notice how the case of the Xbox 360 slopes inward allowing as little space as possible between the hardware and the case. This makes it nearly impossible to install a “mod chip” in the Xbox 360, but it also makes the console nearly impossible to cool properly. Again, people don’t own their Xbox 360s, they rent them, and no modifications to the console will be tolerated.

On October 31st, 2006, Microsoft installed a “Fall Update” through Xbox Live that contained faulty code that disabled an unknown number of Xbox 360s. Thousands of consoles were “bricked“ by the Fall update, and internet rumor has it that this was a deliberate tactic to disable modified consoles. Microsoft is again being sued by an Xbox 360 owner whose machine was disabled, that case is still pending.

All the bad press about Sony’s launch of the PS3 is nothing in comparison to Microsoft’s sleazy tactics. Microsoft ripped off their own customers when the withdrew support for the original Xbox. Then they marketed and sold the over-powered, poorly ventilated Xbox 360 without proper testing, just to ensure that they got the drop on Sony.

Now contrast Microsoft‘s console launch with the debut of the Playstation 3. The biggest initial complaint against the PS3 was its unprecedented cost, $600 for the premium model. Of course press reports seldom mention that the console costs Sony over $800 to manufacture. That’s because the CELL processor is expensive and the Blu-Ray disc drive is even more expensive.

There was an initial shortages of PS3s because the blue diode that powers the blue laser in the disc player is very sophisticated and hard to produce. Sony invested in more manufacturing capacity and airlifted PS3s to market in order to meet demand, and those shortages were soon overcome. Sony could do this because they actually make their own product.

Anyone who takes an unbiased look at the PS3 must admit that the console is an excellent machine. There were reports that Sony was using low quality components to reduce costs. But repeated analyses of disassembled PS3s have shown that the design and parts, including the Blu-Ray disc player, are of very high quality.

The Playstation 3 has more computing and graphics power than the Xbox 360, but customers who buy the PS3 are getting much more than a superior game console. A Wi-Fi internet connection is included on the deluxe version, and all models have a standard hard drive. This means that customers who buy a PS3 actually own their consoles.

In addition to accessing the internet and downloading files in any format, the PS3 even allows customers to choose their operating system. Linux is an open source OS with a growing fan base and increasing developer support. Several versions of Linux are now available on the PS3, some of which are free.

Sony is a world class electronics manufacturing company. They have given us the Walkman, the floppy disc, the CD and DVD, as well as the PlayStation game consoles. And to get where they are Sony had to compete against world class Corporations like Sega, Nintendo, and Toshiba.

Microsoft is a bunch of evil nerds who lucked into owning the instruction set for the PC, then hired a bunch of lawyers to enforce that monopoly. Microsoft is worth more than Ford Motor Company, Boeing, or Sony. And they‘ve done this without manufacturing anything, or competing fairly against any other company.

Apple Computer created the Graphical User Interface for the Mac, yet it took Microsoft years just to copy Apple’s innovation and deliver Windows with a GUI. Then came the web browser wars. And remember, Microsoft didn’t create a web browser until Netscape’s Navigator was already installed on millions of computers.

Now its the console wars, and once again, Microsoft did not invent the game console.

Microsoft owns Windows and the new Vista Operating System, proprietary code that runs 90% of the world’s Personal Computers. They own Direct X, the API that controls graphics on those PCs. Direct X is also the exclusive graphics software for the Xbox 360.

That means all PC games coded in Direct X can easily be ported to the Xbox 360, but not other platforms. In PC gaming, there was an open graphics standard called Open GL, that was championed by Apple, and numerous other Non Microsoft computer companies. Every time Microsoft updated Windows or Direct X, they attempted to stifle Open GL.

The Open GL standard is now represented by the Khronos Group, of which Sony is a member. Software written in Open GL will run on all platforms, whereas Direct X games only run on Windows and the Xbox 360. Since Microsoft controls the Windows monopoly, they can spend billions to subsidize the Xbox 360, and extend the Direct X API.

That’s really what this console war is all about. If Sony’s PlayStation 3 wins, or at least remains a viable competitor to the Xbox 360, then open standards and open systems will gain market share. If Microsoft wins, they will extend their computing monopoly to the console industry.

A. Scott Piraino

Published in: on June 4, 2007 at 6:11 pm  Comments (1)  

Never Faithful; The Rivalry Between our Army and Marines

A. Scott Piraino

The United states has two armies. Today we take this for granted, and don’t question the reasons for funding both the United States Army, and the United states Marine Corps. But it wasn’t always this way.

There were no Marines in the Continental Army that won the Revolutionary War. During the Civil War, Congress authorized less than 3,200 men for the Marine Corps, this while the Union Armies totaled nearly one million men. The fact is, for most of their history the United States Marine Corps was little more than a security force for the Navy.

The myth of the Marine Corps as a second army began in WW I. When the United states entered the war in 1917, over two million U.S. Army soldiers were deployed to France along with one brigade of marines, about ten thousand strong. Despite being a tiny fraction of the American forces fighting in WW I, the Marines managed to make a name for themselves at the U.S. Army’s expense.

General Pershing, the Commander of all U.S. Forces in France, had ordered a news blackout that prevented reporters from mentioning specific units in their dispatches. The purpose of the order was obvious; to prevent German intelligence from learning about American troop movements. But one reporter circumvented the order, a war correspondent for the Chicago Tribune named Floyd Gibbons.

After Mr. Gibbons was severely wounded at the battle of Belleau Wood, the press corps passed on his dispatches without the approval of Army censors. The result was a storm of press coverage in the US claiming that the Huns were being defeated with “the Help of God and a few Marines”. No mention was made of the thousands of Army soldiers who were fighting and dying with equal valor.

Floyd Gibbons made no secret of his “friendship and admiration for the U.S. Marines”. There is no proof that his writings created the mythology of the Marine Corps, but we do know he wrote a biography of Baron von Richthofen, more popularly known as the Red Baron. His description of the German aviator reads as propaganda, not journalism, and his other works were probably embellished as well.

Today all Marines in basic training are taught that German soldiers in WW I referred to them as “Devil Dogs”. H.L. Mencken, an American writing in 1921, clearly states that; “The Germans, during the war, had no opprobrious nicknames for their foes…Teufelhunde (devil-dogs), for the American marines, was invented by an American correspondent; the Germans never used it.”

In addition, there is the legend of “Bulldog Fountain”, where the U.S. Marine’s mascot originated. This fountain is located in the village of Belleau, not the wood of the same name. Although the Marines fought in Belleau Wood, the US Army’s 26th division liberated the village, three weeks after the Marines had left the area.

There is no documented evidence that Germans ever referred to Marines as “Devil dogs”, and the Marines never captured the village of Belleau with its “Bulldog Fountain”. It is not clear exactly where these stories come from, but their source is most likely Floyd Gibbons. Perhaps the Marines knew this, because they made him an honorary Marine posthumously in 1941.

Floyd Gibbons helped enhance the image of the Marines, but the United States Marine Corps as we know it today came of age in WW II. Most Americans believe that the Marine Corps won the war in the Pacific, while the US Army fought in Europe. In fact our Pacific operations were hampered by a conflict between the Army and the Navy, that split the theatre in two.

The Navy adamantly refused to place their fleet, (and their Marines), under the command of the Army. After five weeks of bureaucratic wrangling, General MacArthur was given command of the Southwest Pacific theatre, while Admiral Nimitz had jurisdiction over the remainder of the Pacific ocean. The result, in Macarthur’s own words, was a “divided effort, the… duplication of force (and) undue extension of the war with added casualties and cost”.

The US Army fought the main force of the Japanese Imperial Army in New Guinea and the Philippines. The Navy and Marines carried out an “island hopping” strategy that involved amphibious assaults on islands such as Guadalcanal and Saipan. General Macarthur complained bitterly to the President that “these frontal attacks by the Navy, as at Tarawa, are tragic and unnecessary massacres of American lives“.

By way of comparison, General Macarthur’s Army killed, captured, or stranded over a quarter of a million Japanese troops during the New Guinea campaign, at a cost of only 33,000 US casualties. The Navy and Marines suffered over 28,000 casualties to kill roughly 20,000 Japanese on Iwo Jima. Even then, the Army played a greater role than Marines like to admit; the Army had more divisions assaulting Okinawa than the Marines.

The famous image of Marines raising the US flag on Mount Suribachi is actually a photograph of the second, staged flag-raising ceremony. The Marines raised the flag a second time to replace the original, smaller flag, and to provide the press corps with a better photo opportunity. That photograph has become one of the most enduring images of WW II, and served as the model for the Marine Corps Memorial statue.

The Secretary of the Navy, James Forrestal, was on Iwo Jima that morning in 1945, and when he saw the Stars and Stripes go up he declared; ‘The raising of that flag on Suribachi means a Marine Corps for the next five hundred years!”

In fact the Marine Corps was nearly legislated out of existence two years later. After the bureaucratic infighting that characterized inter-service relations during WW II, there was a strong desire among military professionals to unify the military commands. President Truman agreed, and in 1946 his administration proposed a bill to unify the separate service bureaucracies.

Having one budgetary authority for the Armed Forces, and one chain of command each for land forces, ships, and aircraft makes sense. But this would have placed the US Navy at a distinct disadvantage. The Navy had their own air wings aboard their carriers, and their own army, the Marine Corps.

The Navy and Marine Corps were determined to scuttle this legislation. Marine generals created a secret office code named the Chowder Society to lobby behind the scenes, (in opposition to their President and Commander in Chief), and thwart the unification bill before Congress. The Commandant of the Marine Corps even made an impassioned speech before Congress to plead for his separate service.

It worked. Congress rejected the Truman administration’s unification bill, and instead passed the National Security Act of 1947. This Act guaranteed separate services, with their own independent budgets, and was a victory for the Navy and Marine Corps.

In addition, the Marines succeeded in having their separate force structure written into the language of the legislation. It is very unusual for Congress to dictate the actual composition of a military service. Yet the National Security Act mandates that the Marines Corps must maintain “not less than three combat divisions and three aircraft wings and such land combat, aviation, and other services as necessary to support them“.

President Truman was furious, and military professionals were appalled. General Eisenhower characterized the Marines as “being so unsure of their value to their country that they insisted on writing into the law a complete set of rules and specifications for their future operations and duties. Such freezing of detail…is silly, even vicious.”

The war between the Army and Marines would get more vicious in Korea. On November 27th, 1950 a division of Marines 25,000 strong, was ordered to proceed along the west side of the Chosin reservoir, while a much smaller task force of 2500 Army troops went up the eastern side. Waiting for them were 120,000 troops of the Chinese Communist 9th Army Group.

The Army soldiers fought a running battle for three days against a Chinese force eight times their size, in temperatures as low as minus 35 degrees. Despite the death of two commanding officers, the task force lumbered south with over 600 dead and wounded soldiers loaded into trucks, fought through repeated ambushes, and was even mistakenly bombed by US Marine aircraft. Finally, just four miles from safety, the convoy was cut off by the Chinese and annihilated.

385 men made it to the safety of American lines by crossing the frozen Chosin Reservoir.

The First Marine Division, with the help of allied air power, managed to fight their way out of the Chinese encirclement. Marines claimed that the Army had disgraced itself, and passed on stories of US soldiers throwing down their weapons and feigning injuries. A Marine Chaplain even made statements to the press and wrote an article accusing army soldiers of cowardice.

There were so few officers and men left from the Army task force that the Marine’s claims were accepted as fact. But newly released Chinese documents prove otherwise. The Army task force fought bravely against overwhelming odds before being destroyed, and their stubborn defense bought time for the Marines to escape the encirclement.

Nevertheless, Marines to this day hold up the fight at the Chosin reservoir as proof of their superiority over the Army.

In Vietnam, a Marine regiment at Khe Sanh refused to come to the aid of a Special Forces outpost only four miles from their perimeter. On Febuary 7th, 1968, the camp at Lang Vei was overran by heavily armed North Vietnamese troops during an all-night battle. The Marines had earlier agreed to reinforce the camp in the event of an attack, but two requests for assistance were denied.

General Westmoreland himself had to order the Marines to provide helicopters for Special forces personnel, so they could be airlifted into the besieged outpost. By this time the post had been overrun, at a cost of 208 soldiers killed and another 80 wounded. Ironically, two months later this same Marine regiment would be besieged at Khe Sanh, and they would be relieved by Army troops of the First Cavalry Division.

During Operation Desert Storm 90,000 Marines attacked Iraqi forces alongside over 500,000 US Army and coalition troops. Yet the Marines garnered 75 percent of the newsprint and TV coverage. This was not an accident.

The Commanding General of the Marines in Iraq, Gen. Walt Boomer, was the former Director of Public Affairs for the Corps. He issued the following order to Marine units in the theater:

“CMC [Commandant of the Marine Corps, then General A. M. Gray] desires maximum media coverage of USMC … The news media are the tools through which we can tell Americans about the dedication, motivation, and sacrifices of their Marines. Commanders should include public affairs requirements in their operational planning to ensure that the accomplishments of our Marines are reported to the public.“

During the war Marine officers used military communications systems to transmit stories for reporters in the field, and even assigned personnel to carry press dispatches to rear areas. The Marine Commander also had his own entourage of reporters complete with satellite uplinks, and used them to good effect. He received far more air time than his Army counterparts.

The US Army performed a “Hail Mary” operation that trapped Iraq’s Republican Guard divisions and fought numerous running battles in the Iraqi desert. But no one saw them. Instead the press focused on Lt. Gen. Walter Boomer parading triumphantly through the streets of Kuwait City.

When George Bush the Second launched his misguided invasion of Iraq, the Marines were once again included, and this time the goal was Baghdad. The invasion, which began on March 20th, 2003, called for a two pronged assault on Baghdad. The Army’s 5th Corps would advance from the desert west of the Euphrates river, while the First Marine division was ordered to cross the Euphrates and make a parallel advance through central Iraq.

The invasion did not go well for the Marines. In several cities, including Umm al Qasr and Nasiriya, their units suffered heavy casualties fighting remnants of the Iraqi Army and fedayeen guerrillas. Since the Marines had fewer armored vehicles, and they were exposed to a more tenacious enemy, their progress was slower than the Army’s.

Major General Mattis, the commanding general of the Marines in Iraq, was not pleased. He repeatedly pressured his regiments to make greater speed, and this pressure grew more intense as the Marines lagged further behind Army units. On the morning of April 3rd, the First Marine Regiment, commanded by Colonel Dowdy, was ordered to drive to the town of al-Kut.

The city was another choke point, where Iraqi fedayeen guerrillas could ambush Marine convoys in city streets. As soon as his Marines reached the city, they began taking fire. Colonel Dowdy could not forget the mauling another regiment had received in Nasiriya, where 17 Marines were killed and another seventy were wounded.

He had to make a choice. His orders were to proceed to al-Kut, but the decision to push through or bypass the town was up to him. However, Colonel Dowdy was receiving mixed signals from his superiors. According to him “there was a lot of confusion”, some officers were recommending an attack, others urged withdrawal.

Colonel Dowdy decided to bypass al-Kut. His regiment would take an alternative route to Baghdad that was safer, but the detour of 170 miles meant that the Marines fell further behind schedule. Colonel Dowdy‘s superiors were furious with his decision.

After the withdrawal from al-Kut, General Mattis and other staff officers let the Colonel know that his regiment was to make greater speed. That night on the road to Baghdad, vehicles of the First Marine Regiment were ordered to drive the highways of Iraq with their headlights on, irregardless of security. But their progress was not good enough, the Army‘s Fifth Corps had already reached Baghdad.

Colonel Joe Dowdy was relieved of his command the following day. The Marine Corps will never admit it, but he was fired because he failed to carry out the Corps most important mission in Iraq: Colonel Dowdy failed to upstage the US Army by being the first to reach Baghdad.

The Marines would return to Iraq one year later, when the First Marine Expeditionary Force assumed responsibility for Al Anbar province, which includes the city of Fallujah.

During the change of command ceremony Lt. Gen. James T. Conway of the I MEF proclaimed that; “Although Marines don’t normally do nation-building, they will tell you that once given the mission, nobody can do it better.” The Marines took control of the area from the U.S. Army’s 82nd Airborne Division, and they made no secret of their distain for the Army’s strategy in Iraq.

Before deploying, General Conway had told the New York Times “I don’t envision using that tactic“, when asked about Army troops using air strikes against the insurgents. “I don’t want to condemn what [Army] people are doing. I think that they are doing what they think they have to do.”

On March 30th, General Conway told a reporter that “There’s no place in our area of operation that we won’t go, and we have taken some casualties in the early going making that point“. The next day four civilian contractors were killed and mutilated in Fallujah, and five Marines also lost their lives. The Marines sealed off the city and attempted to reassert control over Fallujah, but the insurgents proved to be more determined than expected.

When their patrols came under heavy fire the lightly armed Marines had only two choices; Fight it out with the insurgents on foot, or call in artillery and air strikes. The inevitable result was scores of Marines killed or wounded, and hundreds of civilian casualties. The world was appalled by the carnage in Fallujah, and the Marines were called off.

While Marines were fighting in Fallujah, the US Army was heavily engaged against militiamen loyal to Muqtata al-Sadr in cities throughout Iraq. But in contrast to the Marine’s failure to recapture Fallujah, the US Army’s heavy armored vehicles could enter hostile cities with impunity. They brought al-Sadr to heel after two months of fighting, while suffering relatively few casualties.

An uneasy truce was made between the US Army and al-Sadr’s militia, that would last until the Marines again became involved. On July 31st 2004, the 11th Marine Expeditionary Unit replaced Army units in the holy city of Najaf, headquarters of Muqtata al-Sadr. Just five days later, al-Sadr’s militia would again be waging open war against the US, and the Marines would be calling for reinforcements.

The Marines began skirmishing with al-Sadr’s militiamen as soon as they were given responsibility for Najaf. After the uprising in April, US Army units had avoided driving past al-Sadr’s house as part of the informal truce, but this would not do for the Marines. The second Shia uprising began after Marines in Najaf provoked al-Sadr by driving their patrols right up to his stronghold.

A firefight ensued, and al-Sadr’s militiamen took up arms in cities throughout Iraq in a replay of the uprising in April. The Marines had not just picked a fight with Muqtada in Najaf, they had engaged his militia in an ancient cemetery that abutted the Imam Ali Mosque, Shiite Islam’s holiest shrine. And they did this without informing the Army chain of command, or the Iraqi government.

According to Maj. David Holahan, second in command of the Marine unit in Najaf, “We just did it”. But in a replay of the Fallujah assault, the Marines faced an enemy that they were not prepared for. Within hours of launching their attack on August 5th, the Marines were pinned down, and requesting assistance.

Unfortunately for the Marines, their rash attack on al-Sadr’s headquarters had sparked another revolt by his militiamen. Army units were once again fighting the Mahdi army in cities throughout Iraq. When the Army’s Fifth Cavalry Regiment received orders to reinforce the beleaguered Marines, they were deployed against al-Sadr’s militia in the outskirts of Bagdhad, 120 miles away.

The Fifth Cavalry arrived in Najaf after a two day drive through insurgent controlled territory. By then any opportunity to capture al-Sadr had been lost, because the press, and the Islamic world, were focused on the Imam Ali Mosque and the adjacent cemetery. Any attack on Shiite Islam’s holiest shrine, where Muqtata al-Sadr was holed up, would have had disastrous consequences for the US war effort.

In Fallujah and Najaf, inexperienced Marine units picked fights with insurgents, and in both cases ended up handing the enemy a strategic victory. Their failure to recapture Fallujah made the city a rallying cry for Islamic militarism worldwide, (that is until the second US assault rendered Fallujah uninhabitable). The Marine’s botched attempt to capture Muqtata al-Sadr has only strengthened his hand.

Today there are 23,000 Marines in Iraq, out of a total 138,000 U.S. Armed Forces personnel. Marines are 17 percent of our total force, yet they have suffered 29 percent of all U.S. casualties; 530 of the more than 1,820 U.S. service personnel killed in Iraq. The Marine’s aggressive tactics combined with a lack of armored firepower has proven lethal, their bravery notwithstanding.

The United States Marines pride themselves on being better than the US Army. They are harder, more gung-ho, and they possess some magic that enables them to do things the US Army can’t do. If this is not true, (as recent events in Iraq suggest), then there is no reason for a separate Marine Corps.

President Harry Truman once stated that Marines; “Have a propaganda machine that is almost equal to Stalin’s.” The Marines have always advertised themselves, but in Truman’s day, they at least had something to sell. The original raison d’etre of the USMC was their ability to carry out amphibious landings on hostile beaches.

The truth is, the US Army conducted the biggest amphibious assault in our nation’s history when they captured the Normandy beaches. And neither the Army or the Marines have assaulted an enemy held beach since the Korean war, over fifty years ago. In every subsequent conflict Soldiers and Marines have fought in the same way, using similar equipment and tactics.

The Marines are in fact a second Army, and since they compete with the Army for funds, missions, and prestige, their real enemy is… the US Army.

However, the Marine Corps has an unfair advantage in this competition. Since the end of Desert Storm the US Army has been downsized by one third, losing over 200,000 troops and eight combat divisions. By Contrast the Marines have lost only twenty thousand personnel. The reason is the National Security Act of 1947, which prevents any changes in the force structure of the Marines.

Today’s United States Marine Corps is only slightly larger than the US Army in Iraq. That war is stretching our Army to the breaking point. The obvious solution is to merge the Army and Marine corps into one service.

The savings would add up to tens of billions of dollars when their training, logistics, administration, and headquarters were merged. The personnel shortages that are now crippling both services would disappear. And so would the rivalry between the Army and the Marine Corps.

Published in: on August 7, 2005 at 7:22 pm  Comments (12)  

The Third Depression

A. Scott Piraino

The US economy as we know it will soon collapse. This has happened before, twice, and history is about to repeat itself again. This will be the third depression the United States has suffered, and it will probably be the worst.

In the Gilded Age of the 1890’s, and the Roaring 1920’s, improvements in technology and industry fueled rapid economic expansions. Capitalism was revered as the new engine of progress, while onerous government regulations were seen as an impediment to growth. These were days of “laissez faire” economics and unscrupulous robber barons.

Inevitably there was a growing disparity in incomes, but the majority of Americans were more concerned with getting rich than helping the poor. Most investors believed these economic booms would last forever, but this optimism proved to be their undoing as exuberance bid up share prices. Inevitably the day came when prices fell, and markets collapsed.

The Gilded Age ended with a monetary crisis in the first decade of the twentieth century. Incoming President Teddy Roosevelt was forced to borrow money from wealthy elites to finance the government. The Roaring Twenties ended in a more spectacular fashion, a stock market crash in 1929 ushered in the Great Depression.

Depressions are created when money disappears. People suddenly become poorer, and they spend less money. With less demand for goods and services, production declines and prices fall, causing a downward spiral of unemployment and falling incomes.

Our country has endured deflationary periods after numerous boom and bust cycles, most notably during the Great Depression. But the coming collapse will be different. Debt, and our dependence on imported oil and manufactured goods are the reasons the Third Depression will be different, and much worse.

The U.S. budget deficit climbed to a record high $412 billion last year, which was surpassed by our trade deficit of $496 billion, also a new record. This year’s deficits will be even larger. The Bush administration has projected a budget deficit of $390 billion for the year, not including $80 billion for the war in Iraq. Meanwhile our trade deficit is growing even faster, at an annual rate of $592 billion.

To finance our current account deficit, we have to import three billion dollars in cash, every working day. Our deficits now consume 80 percent of the entire world’s net savings, and our demand for debt is increasing. This is unsustainable.

Interest rates on our national debt are low only because bondholders are confident in our ability to make payments. The US dollar maintains its value on world markets because foreign nations believe we can afford our appetite for imported goods. As our economy falters and our deficits rise, the world is losing faith in our ability to finance our deficits.

This is why world markets are beginning to reject the US dollar. The dollar has lost about one third of its value against other major currencies since 2002, and has been falling at a much faster rate in recent months. The danger of course is that as the dollar declines in value, it becomes less profitable to hold, and the incentive to sell dollars increases.

If enough central banks and foreign investors began unloading US assets, other investors and financial institutions would see the dollar rapidly losing value. They would have to sell their US securities quickly, to protect themselves from further losses on their dollar denominated holdings. There would be a financial panic, and the US dollar would collapse.

This danger is very real, and our declining dollar is creating a vicious cycle which will inevitably cause our currency to depreciate more. As our dollar loses value, foreign goods purchased with dollars become more expensive. Since we are now dependent on imported goods, (see the trade deficit figures above), our shrinking dollar means higher prices for those goods.

In addition to the inflation caused by rising prices for imported wares, we have to worry about oil. The price of oil is skyrocketing even faster than the value of our dollar is falling, rising 30% in the last three months alone. As of this writing the price of oil has reached 50 dollars a barrel, and gasoline prices nationally are at a record high $2.11 at the pump.

These market forces are putting immense pressure on our economy. Higher costs for energy and transportation have been driving up prices at a 3% annual rate. Last month the Consumer Price Index jumped 0.6 %, the largest increase in four years, even when rising prices for food and energy are excluded.

While inflation is gaining momentum, recent economic reports and corporate earning statements show an economy rapidly losing steam. General Motors reported a net loss of over one billion dollars in their most recent quarter. U.S. durable goods orders plummeted by 2.8 percent in March, while new housing starts plunged 17.6 percent, marking their steepest drop in more than 14 years.

Even more telling is a report prepared by the Economic Policy Institute on April 21st. The report shows that wages and salaries as a share of national income fell to their lowest levels on record, even lower than the Great Depression of 1929. Although corporate profits are at all time highs, wages, (which represent total income for 80% of Americans), have not kept pace with inflation.

The US economy may be expanding as government statistics claim, but the majority of Americans are actually getting poorer. US household debt now stands at $10 trillion, ( a record high, of course), and has been increasing by over one trillion dollars per year since 2002. Americans cannot spend enough money to lift the economy out of the doldrums, nor can they afford higher prices, or higher interest rates.

The trembling dollar, inflation jitters, and pessimistic economic data sent all three US stock indexes to their lows for the year in April. The Dow Jones declined by 3 percent, the tech-heavy Nasdaq dropped by 4 percent, while the S&P 500 lost 2 percent. The market is waiting for the other shoe to drop, and in April the warnings became more shrill.

In testimony before Congress two weeks ago, Fed Chairman Alan Greenspan warned that “these deficits would cause the economy to stagnate or worse“.

He’s right, and he knows our economic problems are even worse than our deficits, a declining dollar, and inflation. Derivatives are financial holdings that derive their value from other securities. These new financial instruments have created a speculative bubble unlike anything ever seen, and pose a mortal danger to our economy.

In a letter to shareholders, billionaire investor Warren Buffet warned that derivatives were “time bombs, both for the parties that deal in them and the economic system“. He went on to explain how derivatives work, and why they are so dangerous:

“Essentially, these instruments call for money to change hands at some future date, with the amount to be determined by one or more reference items, such as interest rates, stock prices or currency values. If, for example, you are either long or short an S&P 500 futures contract, you are a party to a very simple derivatives transaction -with your gain or loss derived from movements in the index.”

“Unless derivatives contracts are collateralized or guaranteed, their ultimate value also depends on the creditworthiness of the counterparties (sic) to them. In the meantime, though, before a contract is settled, the counterparties record profits and losses -often huge in amount- in their current earnings statements without so much as a penny changing hands.”

In 1986, the global market for derivatives stood at just over one trillion dollars. By 2004, The U.S. Comptroller of the Currency estimated the value of derivatives held by U.S. commercial banks at around $84 trillion. That’s eight times the size of the US economy.

Derivatives are now one of the pillars of our financial system. Fannie Mae, a federally subsidized home-mortgage corporation, has recently admitted to $8.4 billion dollars in losses stemming from derivatives. JP Morgan Chase has $43 trillion in derivatives contracts, by far the largest portfolio of any commercial bank.

The implosion of one of our banks or lending agencies due to losses on derivatives would cause a panic, and wipe out the US economy. And the fact is, many of our financial institutions are only solvent as long as their derivative holdings are profitable. This situation is now very dangerous because 87% of derivative positions consist of interest rate contracts.

Alan Greenspan is trapped, and he knows it. The Federal Reserve must raise interest rates to improve the rate of return on dollar investments, and keep foreign investors from abandoning the US currency. But higher interest rates will slow down the already moribund US economy, and create immense losses on derivative contracts.

Monetary policy cannot save us from an impending financial reckoning caused by our soaring levels of debt and speculation. The only people who can get us out of our economic difficulties are the very people who have put us in this mess. Yet the Bush administration appears to be blithely marching the United States over the brink of an economic abyss.

After the economic crises following the Gilded Age and Roaring Twenties, there was a backlash against the excesses of capitalism. Teddy Roosevelt reined in monopolies, and passed the first income tax into law. During the Great Depression, Franklin D. Roosevelt raised taxes on the wealthy to finance his New Deal legislation.

Unfortunately, we don’t have a Roosevelt in office to champion the majority against business interests. President Bush has repeatedly cut taxes for our wealthiest citizens, and signed more free trade agreements, while our deficits have soared. He and his cronies have offered nothing but the same warmed over Reaganomics that created our trade and budget deficits in the first place.

If the US Government does not take drastic action immediately to reduce our deficits and increase investment in the US economy, one or more of the following scenarios will take place:

1) The dollar’s value will depreciate until enough investors and foreign central banks decide to unload our currency, causing a financial panic.
2) Higher interest rates will cause multi-billion dollar losses in derivatives trading, and when a financial institution admits to the scale of those losses, there will be a financial panic.
3) Too many Americans will foreclose on variable-rate mortgages and credit card debts, causing a default in a bank or lending agency, and a financial panic.
4) Fearing any of the above eventualities, US and global stock markets melt down as investors liquidate their holdings, causing a financial panic.

Either way, the house of cards that Reaganomics built will soon collapse. We have a right to be angry about the economic calamity we are about to experience, but we have no right to be surprised. This is the Third Depression after all.

Published in: on May 2, 2005 at 7:21 pm  Leave a Comment  

A House Divided…

A. Scott Piraino

Exit polls show that “moral values“ won the election for Bush. The Republicans succeeded in distracting us from real, pressing issues, and making November 2nd a referendum on the new “culture war“. Basically, the American people re-elected George W. Bush because he is a conservative.

But he‘s certainly not a fiscal conservative, his administration has ran record trade and budget deficits. Nor is he politically conservative, enforcing a literal interpretation of the Constitution, (the Patriot Act is proof of that). No, George Bush has cast himself as a moral conservative, standing against liberals who seek to change our culture and way of life.

“Liberal“ literally means generous, or giving. Democrats believed that redistribution of wealth was right and necessary, and raised taxes, (predominantly on the wealthy), to pay for these social programs. They supported the Unions that forced capitalists to equitably share profits with workers.

Franklin D. Roosevelt created Social Security, and Lyndon B. Johnson gave us Medicare, Welfare, and the Civil Rights Amendment. Unfortunately, the days when Democrats thought big, and proposed legislation that benefited the working class are gone. The American people may still be liberal at heart, but they do not subscribe to the fringe issues that are passed off as Democratic values today.

This new liberalism goes by many names; multiculturalism, diversity, but it is most aptly described as being “politically-correct“. This movement is not one single issue, rather it is a way of thinking that seeks to force a left-wing ideology onto the majority. Anyone who disagrees with this ideology or dares to speak out can simply be branded as right-wing, extremist, or a bigot.

Our police officers are accused of racism when they “profile“ groups of blacks. Even though everyone knows black males commit the majority of violent crimes in this country, and the statistics prove it. This fact just isn’t discussed, because it’s not politically correct.

Most Americans oppose illegal immigration, and they resent immigrants for committing crimes, drawing welfare, using public funds for education and health care, and competing with citizens for jobs. But again, no one speaks out against illegal immigration because Republicans want cheap labor, and Democrats want votes. There are an estimated eight to twelve million people living in the United States illegally, yet the issue is simply not up for public debate.

In the recent election, the moral issue that was used to split the electorate was gay marriage. Middle America does not approve of gay marriage, but they are more offended by the gay community‘s whining about being oppressed when they don‘t get it. Again, anyone who criticizes the gay community’s endless lawsuits and courtroom theater is simply politically incorrect.

Right wing pundits like Rush Limbaugh, Bill O‘Reilly, and Ann Coulter have made careers out of lambasting the excesses of the American left. These new pundits are not content to rail about old school conservative issues like gun control or abortion. In their view every perceived problem; from big government, rampant crime, ivory tower professors, civil-rights extremists, violence on television, and even our self-centered, hip hop culture is caused by…liberals, (who are of course Democrats).

These right wing pundits are very popular on television, radio, and the internet simply because many people share their views. The fact is, the majority of Americans distain these false liberals and their left-wing causes. And they disagreed with this politically correct agenda strongly enough to re-elect George Bush on November 2nd.

Unfortunately, Middle America has made a terrible mistake, because George Bush is not a conservative, he is a thief and a liar.

Now the President is free to carry out his real agenda,and with Republican majorities in both houses of Congress, he just might pull it off. Already the Bush administration is proposing the privatization of Social security, more energy de-regulation, the rollback of conservation laws, and of course more tax cuts. Whether you call it the social safety net or the welfare state, the Republicans are preparing to dismantle it.

The next Bush administration is not going to prevent gay marriage, curb illegal immigration, censor the decadent media, or rationalize racial profiling. But they are going to destroy the core Democratic ideal of redistribution of wealth for the benefit of the majority. Seriously, with our budget deficits and these crooks in office, cuts in Social Security, Medicare, and other basic subsidies to middle class Americans are on the table.

The real irony, the real tragedy of this election is that Middle America, represented by the “Red States“ that voted for George bush, has suffered the worst from Republican politics. Their blue collar jobs have been shipped overseas, (Ohio is in the middle of the rust belt after all), and agri-business has destroyed the small farmers. Since they are poorer, they are more dependent on the very Federal subsidies that Bush Inc. intends to cut.

While the “Blue States” that voted Democratic have benefited from Republican policies. Their incomes have climbed above the national average, they are better educated, and they have lower unemployment rates than Middle America. They are also wealthier, and would have paid higher taxes in a Kerry administration to support programs that benefited their poorer countrymen.

The culture war has turned American politics upside down. Those who benefit from the Republican agenda vote Democrat, those who lose vote Republican. In addition, the Bush administration has not been forced to answer for their real performance during the last four years.

The United States now runs trade and budget deficits of over $400 billion a year each. There are one million fewer jobs in the US today than when Bush took office in 2000, and per capita incomes have declined. President Bush failed to capture Osama bin Laden or destroy al-Qaeda, yet one third of our army is fighting in Iraq because the President lied about WMDs to put them there.

And they got away with it by hyping the excesses of a few too-far-left liberals, and using the September 11th attacks to justify the War in Iraq. Simply put; Middle America was manipulated by an alliance of right-wing conservatives and cynical Republicans. They‘ve been duped, and now they will be discarded.

Published in: on November 14, 2004 at 7:12 pm  Leave a Comment  

The End is Near

A. Scott Piraino

I am embarrassed to be an American today, and more than that, I really fear for our future. The majority of Americans have voted to re-elect George W. Bush, knowing what this president and his administration stand for. Disregarding what they have said, their actions over the last four years make clear what we can expect from the next Bush administration.

George Bush ran on a platform of conservative “values” in the 2000 campaign, but his real agenda was tax cuts for the wealthy. He did not disappoint. The President proposed a 1.3 trillion dollar tax cut package, using the same tired, Republican/Reaganomic argument: Simply put, tax cuts would stimulate a recovery from the recession, and create jobs.

Inexplicably, there are one million fewer jobs today than when Bush took office, despite nearly two trillion dollars in tax cuts. It was no surprise that massive tax cuts without reductions in federal spending would create huge deficits. During President Bush’s first term our trade and budget deficits climbed to over $400 billion a year each.

After passing his tax cuts, the President proposed a new “energy policy”. Enron CEO Kenneth Lay was the number one contributor to the Presidents first campaign, and he got what he paid for. President Bush signed an executive order that allowed Enron and other energy trading companies to legally extort electricity. The energy crisis that bankrupted California was a direct result of outrageous price gouging by Enron and other energy brokers.

After the energy debacle and the collapse of Enron, the Bush administration faced their first foreign crisis. Most Americans don’t remember the incident because our enemy was not Afghanistan or Iraq, but China. On April 1st 2001, a Chinese fighter aircraft collided with a US surveillance plane flying in international airspace. The US plane was forced to make an emergency landing in China, and the aircrew was held captive by the Chinese armed forces for eleven days.

Our government met all of China’s demands for the release of our airmen, and issued three apologies to the Chinese. All the while, the Bush administration assured us that there would be no change in US/China relations. It may seem strange that the US would appease China while our yearly trade deficits with that country have skyrocketed to nearly $150 billion. The truth is, most Fortune 500 companies now manufacture in China, and earn huge profits from our trade deficits by importing their products into the US.

President Bush cut taxes for the rich, brought back deficit spending, enacted a corrupt energy policy, and kowtowed to China, all before September 11th, 2001.

After that horrible day, President Bush had a new mandate; win the War on Terror. The country rallied behind him, and their was a global consensus that the perpetrators of those heinous attacks must be brought to justice. But instead of fighting that war, he chose to invade Iraq.

The problem of course is that there was no reason for the United States to invade. The Bush administration manufactured all the evidence that Iraq was developing Weapons of Mass Destruction, and that Iraq was involved in the 9/11 attacks. The President’s claim that Iraq had attempted to purchase uranium in Niger, the alleged meeting between the 9/11 hijackers and Iraqi agents, the mobile chemical weapons factories, these were not mistakes, they were all lies.

By the summer of 2002 US troops were deployed in Afghanistan and Iraq, our country was mired in recession, and defense spending was at an all time high. While Americans were being told that sacrifices had to be made, the Bush administration passed another 600 billion dollar tax cut package for the rich. They even had the nerve to call it “Patriotic Tax Relief“.

President Bush has not captured Osama bin Laden, or destroyed al-Qaeda. Instead his administration embroiled our Armed Forces in a futile guerrilla war in Iraq. So far that war has claimed the lives of over 1000 American servicemen, and seriously wounded another 6000.

Through it all, the President has made his allegiance very clear. He is not going to admit that he lied to invade Iraq, much less take responsibility for the disaster the war has become. The majority of Americans will pay for the War(s) on Terror, and finance our soaring deficits, while our wealthiest citizens pay a smaller share of the nation‘s tax burden.

Since this is what George W. Bush stands for, his re-election is a disaster for the United states.

So whose fault is it?

We can’t blame the Media. Although Wolf Blitzer did not come right out and call George Bush a scumbag, the press by and large reported the truth. The facts are all there: The Bush administration’s tax cuts are public knowledge, our deficits are public knowledge, Osama bin Laden is still at large, and there are still no WMDs in Iraq.

We can’t blame John Kerry, although he is a wishy-washy liberal, and a “nice” man. His campaign refused to attack George Bush over Iraq, tax cuts for the rich, and energy fraud. But we all knew these things anyway, thanks to the press.

Finally, we can’t blame the President. He and his neo-conservative lackeys are lying weasels and they make no bones about it. They haven’t been devious or particularly clever, they just lie, and then get on with their agenda.

No, we are responsible. The American people have given the most despicable President in US history another four years in office. We have no excuse for it, and we deserve what we are going to get.

Published in: on November 4, 2004 at 7:10 pm  Comments (3)  

Patriot Games

A. Scott Piraino

The Republican National Convention has served its purpose. George W. Bush is riding high and on message: The war on terror is the source of our troubles, and only he can win the war.

The fact is, the War on Terror is far from won. Al-Qeada is still dangerous, and Osama bin Laden is still at large. A recent study even concluded that al-Qaeda and other terrorist cells have grown in number since the 9/11 attacks and the invasion of Iraq.

Osama bin Laden is still at large because the Bush administration’s half-assed invasion of Afghanistan failed to capture him and thousands of other al-Qaeda operatives. There were more policemen in New York guarding the Republicans at their convention than there are troops in Afghanistan searching for al-Qaeda. The Bush administration failed to defeat al-Qaeda in Afghanistan because they were determined to invade Iraq.

We are not winning the War on Terror, but that does not matter. What matters is that the Bush administration has convinced Americans that the war in Iraq is the War on Terror. And they have accomplished this by lying.

Bush’s speech about Iraqi agents purchasing uranium in Niger was a lie. The President’s claims that we had evidence Iraq was developing chemical, biological, and nuclear weapons was a lie. The Bush administration’s claims that Saddam’s regime was involved with al-Qaeda and the 9/11 attacks was also a lie.

The 9/11 attacks are the most serious failure of US national defense since Pearl Harbor, yet our military response to al-Qaeda has been tepid. There are no WMDs in Iraq, but there is plenty of evidence that our enemies are developing, and even exporting, nuclear weapons technology. However, the evidence points to North Korea, Iran, and our reluctant ally Pakistan, not Iraq.

The truth is the national unity and international solidarity we earned after the September 11th attacks has been squandered by the invasion of Iraq. One third of the US army is entrenched in Iraq, and will be pinned down fighting a growing insurgency for the foreseeable future. And the unrest and violence has increased since the handover of sovereignty to an interim Iraqi government in June.

148 US troops have been killed since the handover on June 28th, including 65 deaths and more than 1,000 wounded during the fighting in August. The Pentagon reported 87 attacks per day on U.S. forces in August—the worst monthly average of the war. In total, over 1000 U.S. military personnel have been killed in Iraq, another 7000 have been wounded, and nearly 13,000 Iraqis have died in the war.

The news only gets worse.

In in the past week over 200 Iraqis have been killed, and several hundred more have been wounded. Recent attacks included a massive mortar barrage targeting US Headquarters in Baghdad that killed sixty. Scores of Iraqi civilians were killed in the crossfire of a firefight between US forces and insurgents. Air strikes in Fallujah killed twenty. And the latest report is a car bomb has killed 47 Iraqis and wounded 114 at a Baghdad police station.

President Bush and his cabal of advisors have no one but themselves to blame for losing control over the war, and public perceptions of the war. But placing the blame on themselves, (where it belongs), would mean taking responsibility for the lies they told to garner support for the invasion of Iraq. Instead the Bush administration has adopted a new strategy: Minimize the negative news coverage from the war, at least until after the November elections.

To that end, whole cities and regions of Iraq have been declared “insurgent enclaves”. Fallujah, Ramadi, Samarra, and several other areas of Iraq are now off limits to US troops. In effect these areas have been ceded to the insurgents.

These safe havens have become staging areas where the insurgents can operate with impunity, and plan more coordinated attacks. US troops are now hunkered down and fighting off increasingly tenacious guerrillas, without being allowed to deliver a killing blow. During the heavy fighting in August, US forces defeated the Mahdi Army, but the fighting ended in negotiations that allowed the insurgents to retreat, with their weapons.

We are not winning the War in Iraq, but that doesn’t matter. What matters is that the Bush administration has convinced us we have to keep fighting. Using simpleton slogans like “if we don’t fight them there we’ll have to fight them here”, the White House has convinced us that the war in Iraq is necessary.

The truth is we are fighting an enemy that would not exist, if we had not invaded Iraq. The Mahdi Army is our creation, as are the insurgent groups that have flocked to Iraq to battle the Americans. We are creating terrorists, not defeating them.

The people of Iraq are not better off than they were four years ago, and neither are we. There are one million fewer jobs in the US than there were when George Bush took office, and the average family has lost over 1000 dollars in annual income. Our budget and trade deficits have climbed to record highs, surpassing 400 billion dollars a year, each.

The budget surpluses inherited by George Bush have been squandered, but that doesn’t matter. Because the Bush administration has convinced us that the deficits, and the recession, are caused by the war on terror. Our wars in Afghanistan and Iraq have cost nearly $200 billion since the 9/11 attacks, yet the Bush administration has run up over one trillion dollars in debt.

The truth is, our budget deficits are the result of George Bush’s huge tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans. His administration passed a tax cut bill before the 9/11 attacks, then used the war on terror as an excuse to pass another “tax relief” package. As for the stubborn recession, technically, the recession of 2001 ended over two years ago.

It is difficult for the average American to believe that because they have not seen any profits from the economy’s recovery. Since the recession officially ended in late 2001, 47 percent of the real national income growth has gone to corporate profits, and only 15 percent to wages and salaries. This is the first economic recovery since WW II where corporate profits gained at the expense of worker’s pay and benefits.

And let’s not forget the real cause of the recession. It was not the September 11th attacks, but the collapse of companies like Enron that precipitated a stock market meltdown. Enron’s CEO was the number one contributor to the Bush campaign, yet the company managed to go bankrupt after legalizing the extortion of electricity and bankrupting the State of California.

Given the facts, you’d think that anyone could defeat George Bush in November. But The collapse of Enron, the energy debacle in California, tax cuts for the rich, our soaring deficits, nuclear proliferation, none of these issues matter today. The War(s) on Terror are the issues in this election, and Americans are convinced that only George Bush can win those wars.

And that’s just not true. Whoever wins the Presidency in 2004 had better be ready to face the music, and convince the American People to do the same. George W. Bush is not that man, and our country cannot survive four more years of his patriot games.

Published in: on September 17, 2004 at 7:08 pm  Leave a Comment  

“Personal Reasons” The Fall of George Tenet

A. Scott Piraino

CIA Director George Tenet officially resigned last week after a tumultuous, seven year tenure. President Bush offered a conciliatory speech to the outgoing Director, and claimed Mr. Tenet had resigned for “personal reasons”. He is absolutely right.

George Tenet’s reason for resigning is his personal disgust with the White House, and the “neo-conservative” alliance that undermined the US intelligence agencies. The Bush Administration is responsible for the lies that led to the invasion of Iraq, not the CIA. And George tenet knows this better than anyone.

Last week also saw the release of a Senate investigation into US intelligence failures leading up to the War in Iraq. Not surprisingly, the report blames the CIA for falsifying and overstating analyses on Iraq’s Weapons of Mass Destruction. However, the Senate report only investigated the CIA’s role in the Iraqi intelligence fiasco.

The report does not address the manipulation of that intelligence by the White House and Defense department to bolster the case for war. The Republicans were determined not to undermine the President’s re-election bid, and defeated attempts to investigate the Bush administration’s shenanigans regarding Iraq. Their role in creating evidence of Iraq’s WMDs, and connections to al-Qaeda will be the subject of a separate Senate investigation.

A second report pertaining to the misuse of intelligence will be released by the end of the year, but after the election on November 2nd. This Senate Report is a whitewash, and a public relations coup for the Bush administration. They are off the hook, while George Tenet and the CIA take the fall for the faulty intelligence that justified the invasion of Iraq.

This is the last, not the first time George Tenet has been held responsible for Bush administration lies. In late 2001 forged documents were “discovered” stating that Saddam Hussein had attempted to purchase uranium in Niger. British Intelligence had supplied the original forged documents, and they came to the British from an unnamed foreign source.

Even though the documents did not originate from CIA sources, Vice President Cheney pressured the CIA into investigating the report. In February of 2002 retired ambassador Joseph Wilson was dispatched to Niger. After returning, he concluded that no exchange of uranium between Niger and Iraq took place, and said as much to CIA officials. George Tenet then informed the White House that the story was false.

This did not stop President Bush from using the allegations in his State of the Union address in January of 2003. When the press began investigating these reports, the notorious “yellow cake” scandal unfolded. The Bush administration saved face by forcing George Tenet to accept responsibility for the faulty intelligence. He publicly apologized by saying: “The President had every reason to believe that the text presented to him was sound.”

The Bush Administration would repay the CIA’s loyalty by releasing the name of a covert agent in retaliation for criticism of the White House.

In July of last year Joseph Wilson wrote an Op-Ed piece for the New York times aptly titled, “What I Didn’t Find in Africa“. His piece criticized the Bush administration’s use of bogus information in the State of the Union address, and further claimed that they knew the yellow cake story was not true. In retaliation, an unknown White House official (Karl Rove), leaked the name of his wife to reporters and told them she was a CIA agent.

This is a federal crime, and a serious one. National Security laws protect the identity of covert agents, penalties for revealing classified information range from fines to up to ten years in prison. In September the CIA, with George Tenet’s approval, formally requested a Justice department investigation.

The ongoing Grand Jury investigation has questioned several high-ranking White House officials and Vice President Cheney. Three weeks ago, the investigation reached the President himself. The White House press secretary declared that, “no one wants to get to the bottom of this matter more than the president of the United States”. However, the President had a private lawyer present during his hour long interrogation by Justice Department investigators.

The Valerie Plame affair is not the only case where the Bush administration broke the law in order to control information about Iraq. Federal Investigators are now asking questions about illegal contacts between the Bush administration and Ahmad Chalabi. The Defense Department has been secretly funding Chalabi and his Iraqi National Congress for the past four years, to the tune of 33 million dollars.

Chalabi wanted the United states to overthrow Saddam Hussein. The Bush administration needed propaganda about Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction in order to justify the invasion they also wanted. According to the Wall street Journal, Ahmad Chalabi attended a secret Defense Policy Board meeting just days after September 11th. The subject of the meeting was how to use the 9/11 attacks as a pretext to invading Iraq.

In return for funding from the Bush administration, Chalabi‘s Iraqi National Congress leaked false stories to the press about Iraq’s WMD programs. Including the reports of Iraq’s mobile bio-weapons labs, which turned out to be nothing but tractor trailers. These reports were used by the Bush administration as evidence of Iraq’s WMD programs.

Again, the CIA knew these stories were false, and that Chalabi was unreliable.

After US forces had invaded Iraq, Chalabi was groomed for the role of interim Prime Minister, and given a seat on the Iraqi Governing Council. When asked by a reporter about Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction, weapons his INC clamed were there but had not been found, Chalabi said: “As far as we’re concerned we’ve been entirely successful. That tyrant Saddam is gone and the Americans are in Baghdad. What was said before is not important.”

Then, on May 20th, coalition forces in Iraq raided the mansion of Ahmad Chalabi. Just days before the coalition raided his house, the Bush administration cut funding to Chalabi, and distanced themselves from their new pariah. President Bush even remarked to King Abdullah of Jordan, “you can piss on Chalabi”.

US officials now suspect Chalabi of passing classified information to Iran. Apparently Mr. Chalabi has informed the Iranians that U.S. intelligence agencies have cracked their communications codes. Worse, they suspect that Defense Department officials who had frequent contacts with Chalabi leaked that information to him, and Chalabi in turn passed it on to Iran.

This information is highly classified, and Iran will surely take precautions to prevent further access to their secrets by U.S. Intelligence. The FBI has begun questioning the few Defense Department officials who had access to the information. Interestingly, both Donald Rumsfeld and Dick Cheney deny any knowledge that the investigation is even taking place.

Warrants were issued for fifteen of Ahmad Chalabi’s associates, all INC officials. Their crimes ranged from kidnapping, fraud, running stolen car rings, illegal seizure of property, and “associated matters”. Nevertheless, Chalabi continued to protest his innocence, and even blame George Tenet for his crimes.

He publicly accused the CIA director of providing “erroneous information about weapons of mass destruction to President Bush, which caused the government much embarrassment at the United Nations and his own country.” He added that George Tenet, “was behind the charges against me that claimed that I gave intelligence information to Iran.”

George Tenet has been forced to endure this abuse, because if he spoke out he would have to admit that Chalabi is a paid stooge of the White House.

The Bush administration’s relationship with Chalabi provides a glimpse of where the real case for war in Iraq was made. The fact is, the CIA is a professional organization, ran by career civil servants. The bush administration could strong-arm the agency into reporting that Iraq was a threat to the U.S., but the White house could not just order the CIA to lie.

However, the truth can only be stretched so far, and the truth was Iraq was not a threat. So neo-conservatives in the Defense Department created the Office of Special Plans. The OSP publicized the few bits of information that showed Iraq was a threat to the US, and ignored the preponderance of data that said otherwise, thus creating propaganda to support the march towards war.

The Office of Special Plans also invented lies. This secret organization within the Pentagon, answerable to no one, funded Chalabi. The OSP also created evidence that Saddam Hussein’s regime was connected to al-Qaeda.

During the buildup to war, Vice President Cheney began claiming that Mohammed Atta, one of the September 11th hijackers, met with an Iraqi intelligence officer. The alleged meeting took place in the Czech Republic in April 2001. Bush administration officials made repeated references to this meeting as evidence that Iraq was cooperating with al-Qaeda to strike at the United states.

The CIA had published contrary intelligence about Mohammed Atta as early as December 2001. FBI Evidence of Mohammed Atta‘s whereabouts place him in the United States at the time of the alleged meeting in Prague. The Senate’s 9/11 report concurred with CIA analysts, the meeting never took place.

In testimony before the 9/11 Commission George Tenet admitted that the OSP briefed white House officials on ties between Iraq and al-Qaeda without his knowledge. He also revealed a memo he sent to the Under Secretary of defense. The memo stated that Mr. Tenet did not agree with “the way the data was characterized”, pertaining to the alleged meeting between Mohammed Atta and the Iraqis.

The Defense Department issued a correction, but not before they had leaked the story to the press. During the build up to war administration officials referred to the meeting between Mohammed Atta and Iraqi intelligence officers as fact. Vice President Cheney repeatedly mentioned the alleged meeting, even after the 9/11 Commission had ruled the story a farce, by saying that the meeting “couldn’t be ruled out.”

Again the Bush administration’s intelligence was a lie, and again the CIA was not responsible. Vice President Cheney was lying, they were all lying, but Mr. Tenet could not speak out. After the Chalabi fiasco and the Intelligence Committee report, Mr. Tenet had all he could take, and he tendered his resignation.

One Democrat flatly stated that George Tenet “fell on his sword”. They failed to implicate the Bush administration for lying about Iraq, but Senate Democrats did attach nine “alternative opinions” to the report issued last week. This appendix details Bush administration pressure on the CIA to modify analyses, and provides the first official evidence of the Office of Special Plans.

People must realize that the CIA works for the White House. This has put George Tenet in a difficult position. The CIA cannot publicly condemn the President‘s propaganda campaign, because he is their boss. In addition to being double crossed by the Bush administration, the CIA has had to answer for the September 11th attacks, and the faulty intelligence that led to the war in Iraq.

We must also realize that the CIA is on record as opposing the Invasion of Iraq. The Bush administration has co-opted the CIA in order to prosecute their mad war, and they bear the responsibility. As CIA Director, George Tenet was used by the Bush administration, and discarded.

For George Tenet, this was personal.

Published in: on July 19, 2004 at 7:04 pm  Leave a Comment  

The Burning Bush

A. Scott Piraino

We are going to lose the war in Iraq, and by lose I mean we will not bring peace and democracy to that unfortunate country. Instead we will endure a steady trickle of American casualties until public pressure forces the U.S. to withdraw. Most Everyone knows this.

Everyone except perhaps our president, George W. Bush.

It is tempting to believe that President Bush is nothing but a paid mouthpiece for the American oligarchy. But if that were true, then there would be some logical reason for the U.S. invasion of Iraq. There isn’t.

800 U.S. service members have died since the war began last year, over 4,500 have been wounded, at a cost approaching 200 billion dollars. Defense Undersecretary Paul Wolfowitz recently told Congress that military operations in Iraq are now costing about $4.7 billion a month. The cost of our war in Iraq is approaching the cost of the Vietnam War, after adjusting for inflation.

And for what?

Saddam Hussein’s war machine had been rendered impotent after the first Gulf War and the sanctions imposed by the United States. Iraq was not manufacturing Weapons of Mass destruction, nor was Saddam Hussein involved in the 9/11 attacks. Yet the Bush administration has still not provided any justification for the invasion, or accepted any responsibility for the bungled war in Iraq.

The only Weapon of Mass Destruction that has been found is an artillery round containing the nerve agent sarin. The shell was rigged as a makeshift explosive device, and detonated next to a passing U.S. convoy. Two Americans were treated for minor exposure to the sarin nerve agent, but there were no serious injuries. Weapons experts have dated the artillery shell to before the first Gulf War, meaning it was not produced after sanctions were put in effect.

Even some members of the Bush administration are finally admitting that somebody lied about Iraq’s Weapons of Mass Destruction. Secretary of State Colin Powell recently acknowledged as much NBC: “The Central Intelligence Agency and other US government institutions were in some cases deliberately misled about alleged Iraqi weapons of mass destruction in the run-up to the war.”

If that is true, then where did the faulty “intelligence” about Iraq’s weapons programs come from? Richard Clarke served four U.S. presidents, and was chief of counter-terrorism for the Clinton and Bush administrations. After resigning in January of 2003 he published Against All Enemies, the most revealing account to date of the Bush administration’s march toward war.

Richard Clarke states matter-of-factly where the propaganda alluding to Iraq’s Weapons of Mass Destruction came from. “The people in Rumsfeld’s office and in Wolfowitz’s operation cherry-picked intelligence to select the intelligence to support their views. They never did the due diligence on the intelligence that professional intelligence analysts are trained to do. [The OSP] would go through the intelligence reports including the ones that the CIA was throwing out.”

The Office of Special plans was the creation of Donald Rumsfeld and Deputy Secretary Paul Wolfowitz. The purpose of this secret office was to “cherry-pick” any intelligence that hinted Iraq had WMD, and publicize that evidence. After the U.S. invaded Iraq, the office was shut down, and the blame for faulty intelligence pertaining to Iraq was placed squarely on the CIA.

Most Americans know they were deceived about Iraq’s WMD. However, few know that the propaganda about Saddam Hussein’s weapons came from an obscure office in the Defense Department. Since all the material is classified, and the CIA cannot investigate the Defense Department or the White House, the real “source” of the missing WMD goes unnoticed.

Some pundits have suggested that the real reason for the invasion was a secret plan to take control of Iraq’s oil wealth. Halliburton, the infamous company with ties to Vice President Cheney has received lucrative, non-competitive contracts for Iraqi oil. But conspiracy theorists may rest assured that if the Bush Administration invaded Iraq for oil, their plan has failed miserably.

In the months immediately after the invasion Iraqis were rationing fuel, and oil was actually imported from Kuwait, Jordan, and Turkey. Since then, Iraqi saboteurs and a crumbling infrastructure have crippled Iraq’s oil output. Data released by the US Army Corps of Engineers shows Iraqi oil exports declined from nearly two million barrels per day before the war, to 860,000 barrels per day today.

Crude oil prices worldwide, and gasoline prices in the United States have climbed to new record highs precisely because of the U.S. invasion of Iraq.

There are no Weapons of Mass Destruction in Iraq and the Bush administration knew it before we invaded. Otherwise they would not have needed to lie. If they engineered the invasion to control Iraq’s oil supplies and give war contracts to Halliburton, they are the most despicable administration in U.S. History. But there could be another explanation, if not a proper reason.

The President and his cabal of close advisors believe in the war, and they have lied to the American people to pursue it.

On February 7th 2004, the President was interviewed in the Oval Office by Tim Russert. In a taped interview for Meet the Press, the President fielded candid, straightforward questions about the U.S. war in Iraq. Here is a brief transcript:

Russert: The night you took the country to war, March 17th, you said this: “Intelligence gathered by this and other governments leaves no doubt that the Iraq regime continues to possess and conceal some of the most lethal weapons ever devised.”
President Bush: Right.

Russert: That apparently is not the case.
President Bush: Correct.

Russert: There’s a sense in the country that the intelligence that was given was ambiguous, and that you took it and molded it and shaped it — your opponents have said “hyped” it — and rushed to war.
President Bush: Yeah.

Russert: Now looking back, in your mind, is it worth the loss of 530 American lives and 3,000 injuries and woundings simply to remove Saddam Hussein, even though there were no weapons of mass destruction?
President Bush: Every life is precious. Every person that is willing to sacrifice for this country deserves our praise, and yes.

President Bush did attempt to justify his war in Iraq with this statement:

“I’m a war president. I make decisions here in the Oval Office in foreign-policy matters with war on my mind. Again, I wish it wasn’t true, but it is true. And the American people need to know they got a president who sees the world the way it is. And I see dangers that exist, and it’s important for us to deal with them.”

In other words, the President declared that we were invading Iraq because of that nation’s WMD…But there were no weapons of mass destruction, and yes, the intelligence was fudged. We give praise to those who have been killed or wounded, and yes, the war is worth their sacrifice, (their lives).

He’s a war president, and by God, he has done what must be done. Bush lied about weapons of mass destruction so he could do the right thing, and invade Iraq. We the people should just accept the lies, and be grateful that our President is doing whatever it takes to defeat our enemies.

In the three months since that interview was conducted, the Iraqi insurgency has grown, and the media has revealed widespread abuse of prisoners in Iraq. Polls show most Americans are uneasy about the war, and the President’s approval ratings are well below fifty percent. Last week President Bush made another public appearance, in an attempt to allay concerns about Iraq and shore up his crumbling support among voters.

His speech at the Army War College said nothing new. The President vowed to stay the course, and promised more troops if they were necessary. Bush trumpeted the removal of Saddam Hussein as the new raison d’etre of our war. He declared that Iraq is the headquarters of terrorists who “seek weapons of mass destruction.” Instead of admitting that Iraq’s WMD do not exist.

More important than the President’s empty words is what was left unsaid. He did not offer one word of contrition for the dead and wounded American soldiers, or express any concern for the war’s escalating costs. If the President has any doubts about his war in Iraq, he did not reveal them.

The truth is, President Bush and his neo-conservative advisors did not expect the war to get so out of hand. If they had been successful, no one would care about the lies they used to justify the invasion. They planned to take over Iraq and overthrow Saddam’s regime, but they did not plan on the Iraqi insurgency.

The Bush administration has yet to admit that the war is wrong, let alone apologize to the American people. But they can never claim that the war in Iraq is a mistake. It is a lie, and it could be the biggest military debacle in U.S. history.

Published in: on June 1, 2004 at 7:00 pm  Leave a Comment  

Raising the Mahdi Army

A. Scott Piraino

A year ago this month President Bush stood on the deck of an aircraft carrier beneath a banner proclaiming “Mission Accomplished”, and officially declared an end to the War in Iraq. Recent events have made a mockery of that pronouncement. 138 U.S. soldiers were killed and nearly 1200 Iraqis died in Iraq this April, making last month the bloodiest since the war began over a year ago.

In April, US forces were fighting a two front war. The Marines were hard pressed in Fallujah, while the U.S. Army and allied troops fought Al-Mahdi militiamen for control of cities in the south. Even worse for the coalition, Shiites and Sunnis, former rivals under Saddam’s regime, united to fight the U.S. occupation.

In Fallujah, the lightly armored Marines were faced with two choices: Engage the insurgents in house to house fighting and take heavy casualties, or withdraw to the fringes of the city and rely on superior firepower. After several Marine units were ambushed, air strikes and helicopter gunships were called in to eliminate insurgent positions inside the city.

The Marine assault on Fallujah was doomed to failure. There was simply no way four Marine battalions were going to secure a hostile city of over 200,000 residents. After the assault on Fallulah failed, Marine General James Conway sought a way save face, and end the stand -off.

The Marine commander turned to Jassim Mohammed Saleh, a general in Saddam Hussein’s army, who offered to broker an end to hostilities in Fallujah. Saleh was given command of a brigade of Iraqi soldiers, and he entered Fallujah in triumph. The Marines declared victory, lifted the siege, and retreated to the fringes of the city.

The cease fire required the Iraqis to lay down their weapons and turn over the militants who killed and mutilated four Americans on March 31st. So far, only one pick-up loaded with rusted weapons has been turned in to the Marines. None of the insurgents responsible for the uprising, or for the slaying of American contractors have been surrendered to U.S. authorities. Some of those fighters have undoubtedly joined the new Fallujah Brigade and now patrol the streets of the city, this time on the U.S. payroll.

The truth is, the militiamen who fought the Marines now openly walk the streets of Fallujah claiming victory. One mujaheedin fighter who gave his name as Abu Abdullah said; “We won. We didn’t want the Americans to enter the city and we succeeded.” Fallujah is a defeat for the United States, whether we call it a withdrawal, a “repositioning of forces“, or a negotiated settlement.

The U.S. Army has fared better in the southern Iraqi cities where coalition forces are battling Al-Sadr’s militia. Army troops have more armored vehicles that are better suited for penetrating the labyrinthine streets of Iraqi cities. The coalition has taken far fewer casualties fighting the Mahdi army, but as of this writing Al Sadr’s militia still controls Kufa, Karbala, and the holy city of Najaf.

Scores of militants have been killed, and several cities in Southern Iraq have been paralyzed by the fighting. Al Sadr himself has taken refuge in Najaf, with his headquarters in Shiite Islam’s holiest shrine. Any attack on the mosque, or an attempt to apprehend Al -Sadr there, would enrage Iraq’s Shiite majority.

The Mahdi Army cannot fight U.S. tanks, at least not yet, but the U.S. cannot capture Al-Sadr without widening the war. If the U.S. extends an olive branch and negotiates with al-Sadr after vowing to capture or kill him, it will be another victory for the Iraqi militants. If U.S. forces capture al-Sadr, even moderate Shiites will rally behind him, and more militants will flock to the al-Mahdi banner. Either way, the United states will lose.

Now that the mujaheedin own Fallujah, the city provides a glimpse of what will become of Iraq. Clerics and militants rule the streets, and the mullahs have declared that “we shall only accept God’s law in Fallujah”. Western haircuts are forbidden, and anyone selling alcohol is publicly flogged. Today the city resembles an Islamic mini-state.

Even worse for the coalition, Islamic fighters hiding in Fallujah are free to use the city as a staging area for attacks throughout Iraq. Governing Council member Ahmad Chalabi said, “terrorists …have been given sanctuary in Fallujah”. “The garage is open and car bombs are coming repeatedly.”

Car bombs have been used with devastating effect in Baghdad and other parts of the country since last August, when the Jordanian Embassy was destroyed. Since then over 50 suicide bombers have killed more than 700 people in Iraq. Targets have included the U.N. headquarters, Red Cross headquarters, several police stations and two entrances to the Green Zone.

This week one of those suicide car bombs killed the head of the Iraqi Governing Council. Izzadine Saleem, was the second and highest-ranking member of the U.S.-appointed council to be assassinated. The head of the Iraqi Governing Council was killed at a checkpoint in central Baghdad guarded by U.S. troops.

This speaks volumes for the lack of security and lawlessness that is de-stabilizing Iraq. In a recent survey of Iraqis conducted by the Coalition Provisional Authority, 70 percent of Iraqis cited security as their single most important priority. Kurdish council member Mahmoud Othman summed up the problem in an interview by saying; “People are killed, kidnapped and assaulted; children are taken away; women are raped. Nobody is afraid of any punishment.”

Iraq’s U.S. backed security forces lack training, funds, equipment, and most importantly, faith in the coalition cause. During the fighting in Fallujah, two battalions of Iraqi security police were ordered to deploy with the Marines, none of them showed up. The commander of the 1st Armored Division estimates that half of the Iraqi police force abandoned their posts during the uprising. Ten percent either aided the insurgents, or joined them.

The violence and lack of security have prevented the coalition from rebuilding Iraq’s tattered infrastructure. Congress has approved the largest foreign aid package in history to rebuild Iraq, but less than 5 percent of the $18.4 billion has been spent. More than 1,500 foreign engineers and building contractors have fled Iraq for fear of being abducted or killed since the uprising began in April. Those that remain are hunkered down behind security fences, instead of rebuilding roads and power grids.

Paul Bremer spoke candidly at a recent interview where he said; “It is clear that Iraqi forces will not be able, on their own, to deal with these threats by June 30”. He also hinted at the possibility of an American withdrawal from Iraq or at least an exit strategy by saying “If the provisional government asks us to leave we will leave”. “I don’t think that will happen but obviously we don’t stay in countries where we’re not welcome”.

So far, that is as close as any member of the Bush administration has come to admitting the obvious: The US occupation of Iraq is doomed to failure because the Iraqi people do not want us there. 790 U.S. service members have died since the war began last year, over 4,500 have been wounded, at a cost approaching 200 billion dollars.

President Bush attempted to allay fears of a foundering Iraq war in a recent speech that was panned by allies and critics alike. The President’s speech at the Army War College said nothing new, he simply reiterated his five point plan to ensure stability and democracy in Iraq. More important than his empty words was what the President did not say.

He did not mention Osama bin Laden in his speech, nor did the President discuss how we were going to win our other war, the worldwide War on Terror.

The United states has had 13,000 troops in Afghanistan for over two years, fighting Taliban insurgents and searching for Al-Qaeda operatives. In March of this year a secret task force including SEALS and the U.S. Army’s Delta Force began a classified operation code named Mountain Storm. The plan was to have U.S. Special forces attack Al-qaeda targets in Afghanistan, while the Pakistani Army sealed off the border region in a classic “hammer and anvil” operation.

The government of Pakistan claimed that certain “high value” Al-Qaeda targets would be surrounded and either taken into custody or killed. The Pakistani army invaded the tribal lands of the rugged northeast, only to be soundly defeated. Local warlords fought and ambushed the Pakistani army in a series of battles that cost 124 lives.

Musharraf was forced to retreat, or risk a civil war with the tribesmen. In effect Pakistan has ceded their border region to the tribes that support Al Qaeda, and they now have free rein in northeast Pakistan. The moderate, pro-American regime in Pakistan has been weakened by the defeat, and Al Qaeda leaders are openly calling for the overthrow of Musharraf’s government.

Other moderate Arab regimes could suffer the same fate. Americans have been warned to leave Saudi Arabia, as the House of Saud battles a growing Islamic insurgency in that country. Jordanian police forces recently averted a disaster when a truckload of chemicals was apprehended just before it was detonated by Al Qaeda terrorists. Both nations are under siege by organized terrorist groups that have popular support.

New Anti-American terrorist groups are gaining recruits, and older organizations are declaring solidarity with the Iraqi insurgents. The Monotheism and Jihad Group is now operating out of Iraq under the command of Al-Zarqawi, a known Al Qaeda terrorist. The new leader of Hamas has called for an Arab and Muslim alliance to defeat the U.S. and Israel. Hezbollah has called on Muslims to defend the holy shrines in the Iraqi cities of Najaf and Karbala with their lives.

Nor can the United States ignore the plans of our ultimate national nemesis, Osama bin Laden and the Al-Qaeda movement. A report released by the International Institute of Strategic Studies details the growth of Al-Qaeda since the 9/11 attacks. The study estimates that Al-Qaeda has more than 18,000 potential terrorists scattered around the world in more than 60 nations.

The U.S. invasion of Afghanistan actually benefited Al-Qaeda, by forcing terrorist operatives to disperse and create cells in new countries, making the group much more difficult to detect and destroy. Osama bin Laden is now in control of a much larger organization, and his financial network has survived almost intact. His fame and the fact that he has persevered against overwhelming U.S. firepower have only enhanced Al-qaeda’s image in the Arab World.

Finally, the report concludes that the U.S. war in Iraq has attracted more followers to the Al-Qaeda movement. An estimated 1000 foreign fighters have infiltrated Iraq and joined local insurgents in the fight against U.S. occupation forces. The study concludes that the Iraq conflict “has arguably focused the energies and resources of al-Qaida and its followers while diluting those of the global counterterrorism coalition that appeared so formidable”.

Al Qaeda, Hamas, Hezbollah, the mujaheedin, and the Al-Mahdi Army are metastasizing into local groups fighting a common, global cause. Even the differences between Shiite and Sunni muslims do not matter any more. They are all the same because we have united them. We have given them a righteous cause by illegally invading Iraq, and we have given them convenient targets by placing US troops in their midst.

In his speech to the Army War College president Bush stated that “Iraq is now the central front in the war on terror.” He is correct. Now we must fight new enemies, that would not exist, because his misguided invasion has made Iraq the center of gravity in our war on terror.

Published in: on May 27, 2004 at 6:58 pm  Leave a Comment  

Responsible Terrorism

A. Scott Piraino

It appears that Al Qaeda was behind a series of bombings in Madrid that killed 200 people, and injured 1500. Proof came when Spanish authorities obtained a videotape of a man claiming to represent the Al-Qaeda network. A man speaking Arabic on the tape said “We declare our responsibility for what happened in Madrid exactly two and a half years after the attacks on New York and Washington”.

It is important that we realize, Al-Qaeda has claimed responsibility for their campaign of terror, but they have not admitted the attacks were their fault. The tape also said, “this is a response to the crimes that you caused in the world, and specifically in Iraq and Afghanistan”. So, what exactly are our crimes?

We supplied Osama Bin Laden while he was fighting the Russian occupation of Afghanistan. We also supported Saddam’s regime when he decided to attack neighboring Iran. After the United States helped Bin Laden drive the Russians out of Afghanistan, he formed Al-Qaeda, (the base). Saddam Hussein negotiated an end to the war with Iran after eight years of bloody stalemate, then decided to invade Kuwait.

Saddam Hussein and Osama Bin Laden are psychotic murderers and we should never have had anything to do with them. But the fact remains, both men turned against us after the United States supported them during their wars. Our actions do not explain their actions, or Islam’s pathological hatred of the United States.

Osama Bin Laden’s own words are mostly diatribes of lies and propaganda, particularly his outrageous statements about the United States. “America, head of the infidels in particular, bear hate and grudge against Islam and Muslims that cannot be described”. “The US government has committed acts that are extremely unjust, hideous and criminal”.

The truth is the United States has had very few military conflicts with the Arab world. The US Navy engaged the Barbary corsairs early in the 19th Century. Our troops fought against Germany in North Africa in World War Two. The US also intervened to separate warring factions in Lebanon and Somalia, and Presidents Reagan and Clinton ordered air strikes in retaliation for terrorist bombings.

The Gulf War in 1990 was the first war the United States waged against an Islamic nation before September 11th 2001. Of course our purpose was to liberate Kuwait, and we fought that war with an international coalition that included Islamic troops. We did not even overthrow Saddam Hussein after the first Gulf War, instead we negotiated an end to hostilities and enforced sanctions to prevent Iraq from re-arming.

By contrast, Britain and France occupied many Islamic nations for over a century, and created the modern geopolitical map of the Middle East. Britain carved Persia into Iraq and Iran, and it was Britain that gave the Israelis control of Palestine. The French suppressed Arab nationalists, and fought viciously to keep Algeria a French colony after WW II.

The Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan, and today the Russians are fighting a brutal war against the Muslims of Chechnya. Serbia has ethnically cleansed and slaughtered Muslims in Bosnia and Kosovo. Even the Chinese are killing Muslims, in their western province of Xinjiang.

If Al Qaeda’s real purpose is to strike at those who “bear hate” against Islam, they would be bombing the Serbs, the Russians, and the Chinese. Instead Bin Laden has declared a holy war against “Jews and Crusaders”. Bin Laden justifies his hatred of the United States because we are “occupying the lands of Islam in the holiest of places, the Arabian Peninsula, plundering its riches, dictating to its rulers, humiliating its people”.

Bin Laden fails to mention that the Saudis invited US troops into their country after Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait. They were petrified by the massive Iraqi army dug in on the borders of Saudi Arabia. After the first gulf war, the US military presence was reduced to a mere 5000 men, mostly air force personnel enforcing Iraq’s no-fly zones. Now that the second Iraq war has ended Saddam’s regime, the US has announced plans to withdraw all US military personnel from Saudi Arabia.

As for Saudi Arabia‘s riches, the Saudis nationalized, (seized), their oil industries from petroleum companies years ago. They have had full control over their oil wealth ever since. Saudi Arabia is now the world’s largest crude oil producer, oil exports earned them $81 billion in net revenues last year. With their low population, those oil revenues give the Saudis some of the highest standards of living in the world.

Bin Laden’s claim that the United States is “occupying,…plundering,… and humiliating” Saudi Arabia is clearly a lie. He has only made one statement that provides the real explanation for Al Qaeda’s campaign of terror against us. “Our terrorism is a good accepted terrorism because it is against America, it is for the purpose of defeating oppression so America would stop supporting Israel, who is killing our children.”

When Israel was recognized by the United Nations in 1948, Arab armies from Egypt, Syria, Jordan, and Lebanon, attempted to drive them into the sea. The Israelis held their ground, then launched an offensive that drove the Arab armies from their territory. In 1949 a UN brokered armistice brought an end to outright war, but no end to raids and reprisals from Arab territories.

Then Egypt’s President Nasser closed the Suez Canal to Israeli shipping. Negotiations over access to the canal continued for six more years, while Israel endured border attacks from Palestinian guerrillas. In 1956, Israel had had enough, and launched a coordinated air and ground assault that captured the Sinai peninsula, and forced Egypt to settle the canal dispute.

Over the next decade the Arab alliance received massive arms shipments from the Soviet Union, and by 1967, another war was inevitable. Faced with an imminent invasion, Israel launched an air campaign that destroyed the Arab air forces. With total air superiority, the Israeli army routed the Arabs and captured the West Bank, Gaza strip, and Jerusalem. The war only lasted six days, and established Israel as a military power in the Middle East.

In 1973 Egypt and Syria made a final attempt to destroy Israel by launching an invasion on the Jewish holy day of Yom Kippur. The Israelis were taken by surprise and took heavy casualties fighting on two fronts. Only superior Israeli generalship allowed the Israelis to regroup, and counter-attack into Egypt and Syria.

With a population of only five million citizens, Israel has repeatedly defeated the Arab armies of the Middle East. The Israelis have also occupied Palestinian territories in the West Bank and Gaza Strip since 1967, and forced these Muslims to live under an Israeli government. These humiliations at the hands of Israel are the real motivation behind Islamic terrorism.

When Egypt’s President Nasser led the Arab Alliance in wars against Israel he proclaimed his intentions were, “the eradication of Israel.” In 1956 he made the Arab opinion of Israel clear, “There will be no peace on Israel’s border because we demand vengeance, and vengeance is Israel’s death”. On the eve of the war in 1967 he said, “We will not accept any…coexistence with Israel…The war with Israel is in effect since 1948.”

President Nasser’s statements sound similar to the rhetoric of Osama Bin Laden, but when Nasser spoke, the Arab world still believed they could destroy Israel. No Arab army today can openly challenge Israel on the battlefield. So they wage war by other means, with guerrilla attacks, hijackings, and terrorism.

The PLO, Hezbollah, Hamas and now Al-Qaeda all stand for the Arab world’s rage against a victorious Israel.

The PLO began as an umbrella group for various Palestinian factions fighting Israel, and emerged as the leading Islamic terrorist group of the 1970’s. The PLO was guided by the Palestinian National Covenant, a document filled with anti-Israel hostility, and the clearly stated goal of “the elimination of Zionism in Palestine“. In the name of eliminating Zionism, The PLO adopted a radical, and despicable strategy: They have the right to kill civilians of any nationality, anywhere, because they are at war with Israel.

Among the infamous attacks conducted by the PLO are the mid-air explosion of a Swissair jetliner that killed 47, the murder of 11 Israeli athletes at the 1972 Munich Olympic Games, and the coordinated shoot-outs at the Rome and Vienna Airports. Passengers on commercial jetliners, Olympic athletes, and tourists were all legitimate targets in the PLO’s war against Israel. The idea that innocent people can be killed to draw attention to a cause, or to protest a perceived injustice, has since motivated Islamic terrorists.

Today Islamic Jihad, Hezbollah, Hamas, Al-Qaeda and a myriad other groups all use terrorism as an accepted strategy to achieve their ends. Ironically, Islamic Jihad is responsible for killing President Anwar Saddat of Egypt. His crime was signing a peace treaty with Israel, and recognizing the Jewish State’s right to exist. Agreeing to peace with Israel is an act of treason to these terrorist groups, even if the peacemaker is another Arab.

In September of 2000, Hamas and other Palestinian terrorist groups employed a new and terrible weapon in their war against Israel. Suicide bombers have succeeded in detonating 112 of their grisly bombs, killing 450 Israelis. This new terror campaign has certainly succeeded in unsettling Israel, and fraying the fragile peace process.

Palestinians know who the bombers are, they are publicly paraded and feted before going on their suicide missions. Nevertheless, Palestinian authorities have adamantly refused to take responsibility for the suicide bombers, or restrain them. They do complain loudly when Israel uses security checks and fences to prevent suicide bombers from entering Israel, however.

When Al-Qaeda hijackers destroyed the World Trade Centers, Palestinians celebrated by dancing in the streets.

Why? Because the Islamic world loathes the State of Israel. They are Islam’s true enemy, not the Russians, the Serbs, the Chinese, or Saddam Hussein. The Islamic world was vindicated on 9-11 because we were finally made to pay for our support of Israel.

The Arab powers have tried every means to annihilate the Jewish state. If they had succeeded there would be no PLO, or Hamas, or Al-Qaeda. But Israel has survived, and grown into a prosperous, modern democracy.

For the Islamic world, this is the worst humiliation of all.

While Israel has prospered, the Arab nations has stagnated. Islamic governments have squandered their oil wealth on their own opulent regimes, or purchased weapons to make war on each other. In many Arab countries, per-capita incomes, educational levels, and living standards have declined.

A report commissioned by the United nations in 2002 illustrates how far Islamic civilization has fallen behind the modern world. The gross domestic product for all Arab countries is less than the GDP of Spain. Arab unemployment, at 15 percent, is the highest in the developing world. This dismal economic performance is despite over three trillion dollars in oil revenue investment over the past 20 years.

Arab countries have also failed to provide their peoples with a modern educational infrastructure. Less than two percent of over 270 million Arabs have internet access, one of the lowest ratios in the world. Only 330 books were translated into Arabic in 2002, about one fifth the number of books translated into Greek that year.

The UN report also cites a more ominous statistic; 51 percent of older adolescents expressed a desire to emigrate, citing lack of education, freedom, and job opportunities. The cities of the Islamic world are seething with underemployed Muslim men whose best hope for a better life is emigration to Europe or the United states. These radicalized, frustrated young men have become the standard bearers of Islamic terrorism.

Modern Muslims are faced with a stark choice; accept their part in their military, economic, and cultural failures, or blame someone else.

Al-Qaeda insists that we are responsible for the attacks against us. Israel is responsible for occupying Palestine. the United States is responsible for supporting Israel. Even Spain can be held responsible, for supporting the US War on Terror.

Where does this “reasoning” end? On September 11th 2001, over 3000 Americans were killed to protest Islam‘s humiliation by the West. 200 Spanish commuters were incinerated in a Madrid subway last week because Spain supports the US War on Terror.

These are sick people. People who desperately want to believe that they are the victims of a conspiracy by “Jews and Crusaders”. That Israel and the United States are the source of all their troubles.

Otherwise they would be responsible.

Published in: on March 22, 2004 at 6:50 pm  Leave a Comment  

The Forgotten Deficit

A. Scott Piraino

Last year the United States posted a trade deficit of 489 billion dollars, a new record high. Our cumulative trade deficits since 1980 add up to over four trillion dollars. That’s the second largest transfer of wealth in history, second only to our national debt.

Nowhere is this transfer of wealth more apparent than in East Asia. Over the last twenty years growing trade surpluses with the US have fueled an unprecedented economic expansion. In key industries such as computers, electronics, and automobiles, the US is now dependent on Asian imports.

Even last year’s trade gap doesn’t tell the whole story. Our merchandise trade deficit totaled a whopping 549.4 billion dollars. This larger deficit was offset by surpluses in agriculture and “services”, a very broad category that includes tourism and foreign student tuition.

What happened to our country while we traded food, vacations, and college degrees for goods, and lost four trillion dollars in the process? While the Pacific Rim was booming, corporate downsizing, factory closures, and mass layoffs became an economic way of life for American workers. Per capita incomes have soared throughout the Pacific Rim, while wages in the US have stagnated.

Even the record economic expansion of the 1990’s failed to raise hourly pay for Americans. Our wages have been squeezed by the loss of millions of manufacturing jobs since 1980. Those jobs have been replaced, but with lower paying work in the service sector.

Now even those service sector jobs are leaving the United States. The evidence can be seen in the rapid growth of “outsourcing”, or transferring information jobs to foreign nations. US service industries such as finance, healthcare, and software development are rapidly expanding in lower wage nations. As this trend continues, these high-tech careers are being exported just as manufacturing jobs have fled in the past.

Despite the preponderance of evidence that we are losing a trade war, Protectionism remains out of fashion in the United States. Our political establishment refuses to connect our trade deficits with stagnating wages and a beleaguered middle class. Instead voter’s insecurities are assuaged with vague promises of prosperity in an emerging “global economy”.

Our national managers assure us that free trade will raise our standard of living. Technology and information industries will link the world into one giant market for goods and services. Expanding markets overseas will create millions of jobs for American workers.

But this begs an obvious question. Has the global economy created our trade deficits, or have our trade deficits created the global economy?

The world is wealthier than ever because the world has spent our money, four trillion dollars of it. For some parts of the world the global economy means new investment, new jobs, and rising prosperity. For Americans globalization is a kinder, gentler word for the export of jobs, factories, and technology. A small elite of investors and multinational corporations profits most from the global economy, while the American people sacrifice their incomes to create it.

So what is the true cost of our trade deficits? It’s how much wealthier we would be if the economic boom that enriched East Asia had enriched our country instead. Ultimately, it’s the difference between America today, and the America that could have been if we had spent four trillion dollars here instead of exporting it.

Published in: on February 15, 2004 at 6:41 pm  Comments (1)  

There is no CIA

A. Scott Piraino

We don’t have a central intelligence agency. Instead we have a National Security Agency (NSA), a Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA), a National Reconnaissance Office (NRO), a National Imagery and Mapping Agency (NIMA), the State Department has its own Bureau of Intelligence and Research, and we have a National Security Council. Then, there is the CIA.

Despite this alphabet soup of agencies, terrorists were able to infiltrate this country and kill thousands of Americans on September 11th, 2001. The logical solution to this colossal intelligence failure would have been to centralize these separate, competing bureaucracies into one agency. Instead the Bush Administration compounded the error by forming a new organization, the “Office of Special Plans”.

This secret office was created in October of 2001 by Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, and answered only to the White House. Ironically, the Office of Special Plans was not created to hunt down Osama Bin Laden or the Al Qaeda network. For some inane reason, The Bush administration was determined to invade and occupy Iraq after September 11th.

Since there was no real evidence that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction or connections to the Al Qaeda network, that evidence had to be manufactured. That was the sole purpose of the Office of Special Plans. The OSP publicized the few bits of information that showed Iraq was a threat to the US, and ignored all the intelligence that said otherwise, thus creating propaganda to support the march towards war.

In the buildup to Bush’s ill fated invasion, the Office of Special Plans leaked bogus information about Iraq’s weapons programs to the press. That leaked information was then sited as proof of Iraq’s military capability by the Bush administration. This included the forged document alleging that Iraq attempted to purchase Uranium from Niger.

The document was “discovered” at an opportune time for the Bush administration, and the allegations were mentioned in the President’s State of the Union address. When the Bush administration was caught in a lie, they blamed the CIA. The Director of the CIA, George Tenet, took responsibility for the misinformation even though the intelligence community knew that the information was false.

This has put George Tenet in a difficult position. The CIA cannot publicly condemn the President‘s propaganda campaign, because he is their boss. And in addition to being double crossed by the Bush administration, the CIA had to answer to Congress and the American people after September 11th.

Congressional investigators revealed that five federal Agencies had information about Al Qaeda activities before the attacks. The Immigration and Naturalization Service, the FBI, the Federal Aviation Administration, the State Department, and the CIA all had different pieces of the terrorists plans. If instead there had been one agency, or if those competing agencies had shared that information, the attacks might have been prevented.

Technically, the CIA director is head of US intelligence, but in truth no one is in charge of all our spy agencies. The CIA was created in 1947, as part of the National Security Act that prepared our country to fight the Cold War with the Soviets. At that time the CIA was responsible for all foreign intelligence gathering, the NSA monitored world communications, and satellites did not exist.

In the fifty years since these intelligence agencies were formed, telecommunications technologies have revolutionized the art gathering information, (or spying). In addition, constellations of satellites provide worldwide coverage of troop movements, and allow US intelligence to eavesdrop anywhere. The NSA is responsible for monitoring global communications, and satellites are under various defense commands or the NRO.

The CIA does not control these assets, and therefore they do not gather most of the intelligence data collected by the United states. The CIA’s real missions are analysis, vetting foreign agents who spy for the US, and most importantly, supporting paramilitary groups that fight proxy wars for the United States. In this last mission the CIA has failed.

During the Cold War the only requirement for US support was a willingness to fight regimes allied with the Soviet Union. In the name of fighting communism, the CIA has supported brutal dictatorships worldwide, and even helped overthrow Democracies. This includes training right wing militants in Central America, overthrowing the elected government in Peru, (while George Bush the First was CIA director), and supplying both Iraq and Iran with weapons.

The CIA also supported Osama Bin Laden and the Taliban while they were fighting the Soviets in Afghanistan. Without the CIA, these groups would not have the training, equipment, and organization to wage a war on terror against us. The truth is, the CIA is responsible for the terrorists who attacked this country on September 11th, 2001.

This policy of supporting sociopaths and ruthless regimes has backfired on us time and time again, yet the same strategy continues today in Iraq. The CIA is rebuilding the Iraqi intelligence apparatus, by recruiting agents from Saddam’s Secret Service. As the enforcers for Saddam Hussein’s brutal regime, you can imagine what upstanding citizens they are. There is no way this new security apparatus will bring peace to Iraq, let alone Democracy. Nor is there an excuse for putting these murderous thugs on the US payroll.

The budget for US intelligence totals 27 billion dollars, plus an estimated ten billion dollars hidden in the “black budget“ that funds secret programs. The CIA, NSA, NRO, and other agencies are not required to share information, and there is no chain of command to force them to do so. These agencies have no incentive to cooperate with each other, and every incentive to view each other as competitors for federal funds.

The US intelligence community should be united to fight the War on Terror. Instead we have several entrenched bureaucracies that do not share information or cooperate in the field. The question is, can these disparate agencies defend our country against terrorists.

Over the New Year’s holiday the National Command Authority raised the threat level to orange, meaning an attack was likely. The United states took this threat seriously enough to cancel incoming flights from overseas, and deployed special teams in US cities to detect the presence of a “dirty bomb”. An Al Qaeda operative has already been prosecuted in an attempt to acquire and detonate a dirty bomb, and worse is yet to come.

We need a central intelligence agency. One agency that can correlate intelligence from all sources, then act on that intelligence to prevent or pre-empt a terrorist attack. The CIA cannot fail again.

Published in: on January 13, 2004 at 6:32 pm  Comments (1)  

The Looming Disaster in Iraq

A. Scott Piraino

In the three days since Saddam Hussein’s capture car bombings have killed 35 Iraqis, and wounded over 60. In addition, riots and two explosions have rocked Baghdad, and Saddam loyalists have launched another coordinated series of attacks throughout Iraq. Although US forces have finally deposed a brutal dictator, the war in Iraq is not over.

The capture of Saddam Hussein will not end the insurgency, or stop the steady trickle of US casualties. In fact the capture of Saddam is not a boon for the war effort as the Bush administration claims. The bunker where Saddam was hiding had no telecommunications equipment, it is clear that he was not in command of any Iraqi forces.

Worse, now that we’ve got him, we have to give him a trial. And in accordance with the laws that we have established, the Iraqi’s themselves will decide Saddam Hussein’s fate. This will be a huge media event, subject to endless public scrutiny and watched by the entire world. For that reason,The Iraqi government must give Saddam a fair trail, or at least the appearance of one.

And that is a no win situation for the United States.

Saddam Hussein is clearly guilty of crimes against humanity, crimes against his own people. But the world knows that we supported Saddam throughout the 1980’s, when he was gassing the Kurds and torturing his own citizens. And what about the Weapons of Mass Destruction that Bush used as an excuse to invade? Where are the connections between the Iraqi regime and Al Qaeda, allegations made by the Bush administration to justify the war?

Even a toady defense lawyer appointed by the government must ask these questions. And that means we must provide some sort of answers, even if they are more lies manufactured by the Bush administration. If we lie, the Islamic world will resent the fact we are lying, and refuse to justify our invasion. If we tell the truth the Islamic world will resent us for being American Imperialists.

And what happens if and when Saddam is convicted? If he is put to death, the radical Islamic movements will make him a martyr. If he is left alive, he will always be a champion for Iraq’s Sunnis, and Saddam loyalists.

According to the Bush Administration’s timetable, Iraq will have their first democratic elections in seven months. That’s seven months to try, convict, and sentence Saddam Hussein, and usher in a newly elected government in Iraq. All this while fighting an elusive but deadly insurgency.

The US must also manage the most dangerous political rift in Iraq today, the split between the Shiite Muslims and the minority Sunnis. Remember that Iraq and Iran were once one country, Persia. The two nations were only separated after World War One, when the British Empire gave Iraq to Arabs who had helped fight the Turks.

Saddam, of course, was a Sunni Muslim and so were the ranking members of his regime. Although Sunnis are outnumbered in Iraq, they controlled the Baath Party and the armed forces during Saddam’s reign. The Sunni population is concentrated in the north and west, not coincidentally the area where US troops face the strongest resistance.

The Shiites, on the other hand, have been much friendlier to the US and allied forces, because they have the most to gain. At best they were second class citizens during Saddam’s reign, at worst they were brutally repressed. Most infamously when they revolted against the Baghdad regime after the first Gulf War, and were mercilessly slaughtered.

The Shiite Muslims are organizing in the south and west, and reopening ties with Iran. Shia is the official religion of Iran, and again, these two nations were until very recently one nation, Persia. Iran is quietly fostering ties with the Iraqi Shiites, even infiltrating agents and Islamic revolutionaries.

If the United States does manage to create a democracy in Iraq, the Sunni minority will be dealt out of power by the majority Shiites. The Sunnis have rallied in the name of Saddam, but they are really fighting to preserve their favored status as the ruling class in Iraq. If they fight the Shiites in the same way they are fighting us, Iraq will be embroiled in a civil war that could last for years.

In the middle of all this is the US Army. None of the citizens of Iraq like the US occupiers, but they loathed Saddam Hussein’s regime enough to welcome the Americans. Now that he is gone the people of Iraq will forget Saddam Hussein soon enough, and remember their hatred of the American Imperialists.

The soundest military solution to our problems in Iraq would be to escort Saddam Hussein to the gallows, then bring our troops home. But we cant do that. Iraq has collapsed because of Bush’s invasion, and if the United States withdraws Iraq will descend into civil war and anarchy.

We will not peacefully occupy Iraq for the simple reason that none of those parties want us there. The Bush administration has destabilized Iraq and dragged our country into a quagmire that we cannot escape. It is doubtful that the US invasion will ever benefit the people of Iraq, but there is no doubt that it will be a disaster for the United States.

Published in: on December 17, 2003 at 6:28 pm  Leave a Comment  

Power Exchange

A. Scott Piraino

As California goes, so goes the nation. First an “energy crisis” caused rolling blackouts throughout the state, and bankrupted California’s government . Now the biggest blackout in US history has crippled the Northeastern United States, leaving Americans in the dark as to the cause.

The history of power regulation in this country can be traced to one man, Samuel Insull. He was a British born entrepreneur who became an assistant to Thomas Edison when the first power plants were being built in this country. His expertise helped pioneer the use of massive steam turbines using alternating current to create the power grid we take for granted today.

But Samuel Insull was not content to make electricity, he wanted to make money. He realized that the way to increase profits was by consolidating smaller electric companies into much larger utilities. Although he is not remembered as an inventor, Samuel Insull created an electric empire that would become the first utility holding company.

He began buying up utilities for the sole purpose of issuing stock in his newly created holding company. Soon other investors followed suit, and a new class of power barons began pyramiding holding companies one atop another, and borrowing money to purchase more utilities. As the economic boom of the 1920’s created soaring demand for electric power, speculation in utility stocks became the norm.

These companies were no longer concerned with producing electricity more efficiently, their purpose was to maximize profits for shareholders. Since all revenues ultimately came from selling electricity, consumers were forced to pay for this debt and speculation through higher prices. In 1928 the Federal Trade Commission investigated the energy trusts, uncovering evidence of price fixing, stock manipulation, and investment pyramid schemes.

But it was too late. In 1929, the greatest stock market crash in US history wiped out the power trusts. Samuel Insull’s empire collapsed as spectacularly as Enron would sixty years later.

During the Great Depression, citizen groups and politicians began calling for reform and regulation of the power companies. Franklin Delano Roosevelt fought against the utility conglomerates, going so far as to call them “evil” during his State of the Union address in 1935. That year, Congress signed the Public Utility Holding Company Act (PUHCA), into law, making the pyramidal structure of energy conglomerates illegal.

President Roosevelt was not content to rein in the power trusts, he made inexpensive, reliable electricity a cornerstone of his New Deal Legislation. The Federal Power Act of 1935 made utilities subject to federal regulations, and mandated that utilities provide electricity at “fair and reasonable” prices. Finally, FDR passed legislation that subsidized delivering electric power to rural communities.

The end result of President Roosevelt’s campaign against the utility monopolies was more electric power, delivered to more homes and businesses, at lower rates.

Samuel Insull and the first power barons can perhaps be forgiven for their mistakes and transgressions. Electric utilities had just been invented after all, and it was inevitable that unscrupulous business types would take advantage of a new source of income. Particularly since no one could know for certain what the consequences of private, unregulated power monopolies would be.

But Enron and these new “energy trading companies” have no such excuse. They know exactly what they are doing. They have de-regulated the electricity industry so it is once again legal for utilities to soak ratepayers.

Enron was founded in 1985, in Houston, Texas as a nondescript energy supply company. The company’s biggest investments were not in power plants or infrastructure, but in politicians. Enron used political connections and campaign contributions to buy deregulation.

Enron’s first dividend from their investments in the Republican Party, and the Bush family in particular, came when George Bush signed the Energy Act of 1992. This mandated that all utilities must allow power trading companies access to their grids. That same year Wendy Gramm, wife of Senator Phil Gramm, exempted Enron from regulations governing trade in energy futures.

Through corruption, Enron had created a new business of buying, selling, and trading energy, even without the infrastructure to generate power.

Enron’s biggest payoff came in the year 2000. The company was the number one contributor to the Bush campaign, and Enron founder Kenneth Lay was a longtime friend of the new President. The Bush Administration wasted no time drafting an energy policy tailored to the company’s needs, knowing that policy would conflict with the public interest.

As soon as Bush’s policy was in effect, Enron began eyeing California, the richest power market in the US, and the one most dependent on out of state power. Energy traders sent prices for electricity skyrocketing from 40 dollars to as high as 1,500 dollars a kilowatt-hour by December of 2000. As rolling blackouts plagued California, state regulators sought relief from the federal government.

Unfortunately, President Bush had appointed a free market maven in hock to Enron as chairman of the Federal Energy Regulation Commission. FERC refused to act, despite a rising public outcry and mounting evidence that the energy trading companies were soaking California. The Bush administration blamed a drought, lack of generating capacity, environmental laws, and even the internet boom for the spike in prices.

Of course these were lies, meant to deflect critics and keep media investigators from broadcasting the truth. Finally, after a year of de-regulation, FERC bowed to public pressure and enforced their mandate to ensure electric power at “fair and reasonable” rates. Price caps were established for wholesale electricity markets in June of 2001, and the “energy crisis” disappeared.

Despite their political connections, and their ability to legally extort electricity, Enron went bankrupt. Federal investigators sifting through the company’s accounts revealed a deliberate policy of manipulating energy prices in California and other western states. FERC has since sited sixty companies for price fixing the energy market during California’s crisis, but little evidence of wrongdoing has been uncovered. This price gouging was legal after all.

Electricity rates tripled for Californians during de-regulation, and Democratic Governor Gray Davis was forced to sign 43 billion dollars in energy contracts. He had no choice, because while FERC refused to regulate electricity prices, the state was at the mercy of the energy trading companies. Governor Davis has since appealed to a Federal court, trying to get California out of those energy contracts claiming they were signed under duress.

Today California is running a deficit of 38 billion dollars. Budget cuts are reducing funds for education and other social programs, while Governor Davis has been forced to raise taxes. The state is facing tough choices., not the least of which is the upcoming recall of the Governor.

The political unrest in California is a direct result of Bush’s corrupt energy policy, and the greed of energy trading companies like Enron. Still the Bush administration refuses to admit that de-regulation is flawed, instead the Republicans sit back and watch California’s economy disintegrate. And as for Governor Davis, he is a Democrat after all.

Then on August 14th, the biggest power failure in US history paralyzed the Northeastern United States, leaving fifty million Americans without power. FirstEnergy, a Midwestern energy company, was initially blamed for the disaster. This newly formed utility conglomerate has over 12 billion dollars in debt, and a history of shirking environmental and safety laws.

FirstEnergy also has connections to the Bush administration. The company donated 700,000 thousand dollars to Republican candidates in 2002 and spent another two million dollars on lobbying, (bribing), politicians. In June the CEO of FirstEnergy hosted a fundraiser for President Bush’s re-election campaign that raised 600,000 dollars.

In return for the patronage of FirstEnergy, the Bush administration has blamed the “antiquated energy grid” for the biggest power failure in American history. Energy Secretary Spencer Abraham has been making the talk show rounds, proposing a 50 billion dollar upgrade of the nation’s energy infrastructure. And in the words of Mr. Abraham, “rate payers obviously will pay the bill because they’re the ones who benefit”.

A more likely cause for the power failure is that a transfer of too much electricity overloaded the power grid. The fact is, the US energy grid was designed to generate and distribute power locally, not trade electricity nationwide. FirstEnergy’s siphoning of electricity from other utilities created the power surge that probably started the meltdown of the power grid.

Energy Secretary Abraham has dodged questions about FirstEnergy’s energy borrowing, and whether it could have contributed to the blackout. FERC also refuses to point the finger at FirstEnergy, or implicate energy trading as the cause of the power failure. The Bush administration will never admit that de-regulation played a role in the blackout, instead they are using it as an argument for new energy legislation.

The Energy Policy Act of 2003, now being debated by Congress, seeks to undo Roosevelt’s utility regulations once and for all. Included in President Bush’s latest energy plan are more giveaways and tax cuts for the utilities and oil companies. But this act goes further, and seeks to repeal the Public Utility Holding Company Act of 1935, and the “fair and reasonable” price clause that protects consumers.

US energy policy has returned to the days of Samuel Insull, not by chance or by the operation of the free market, but through the machinations of the new energy trading companies.

The Bush administration and the new power trusts do not see electricity as an essential public service, but as an opportunity for high risk speculation and profits. De-regulation is not the reason for their energy policy, it is the excuse. And these people are not capitalists. They are crooks.

Published in: on November 25, 2003 at 6:19 pm  Leave a Comment  

Real Missile Defense

A. Scott Piraino

We need missile defense. The threat from emerging nuclear powers is real and growing. But as the terrorist attacks of September 11th have shown, missiles are not the only means an enemy has to strike at us.

Last December President Bush ordered a missile defense system to be activated by September 30th, 2004. Prior to issuing that order, the Bush administration had released contingency plans to attack seven nations in the event of a nuclear emergency. Since then events have rapidly spun out of control.

Recently the North Korean regime admitted that they were producing nuclear weapons, and they already have missiles that can reach Alaska, and US bases in Japan and Okinawa. Nor can we ignore China’s growing arsenal. Thanks to technology transfers during the Clinton administration and theft of US nuclear weapon designs, China is now deploying the DF-31. This mobile missile has a one megaton warhead and a range of 5000 miles, making it capable of hitting the US.

In response the Pentagon has proposed an elaborate, multi-tiered missile shield. Total cost will be near 50 billion dollars when the entire system is deployed in 2026. The Clinton and Bush administrations have already spent over 30 billion dollars on development and testing. After all this, the missile system has failed three out of eight attempted intercepts.

A recent General Accounting Office report warns that the Pentagon plans to field an untested system that relies on unproven technology. But the GAO report does not go far enough. While the US squanders billions on a dubious missile shield, cheaper alternative systems are ignored.

Israel is the only nation with a missile defense shield in place. After eight successful intercepts in nine attempts, the Arrow missile has been deployed by the Israeli Air Force. This system was developed in the United States for less than three billion dollars, with US taxpayers paying over half of the cost.

Although the Arrow system is designed to intercept shorter range missiles like those deployed by North Korea, the Arrow can be deployed now. For a fraction of what the Pentagon has already spent on missile defense, this system could already be protecting Alaska, and our armed forces in Asia. In addition, since the Arrow uses more proven technology, increasing the missile’s range would be a more cost effective solution.

But the most promising technology for missile defense is not a missile at all. The Airborne Laser, or ABL, is a modified Boeing 747 with a powerful laser mounted in the aircraft’s nose. Once operational, the ABL will be able to shoot down hostile missiles from hundreds of miles away.

This system promises not just defense but deterrence. The ABL will destroy hostile missiles much earlier in their flight, dropping the payload onto the aggressor’s own soil. Potential enemies contemplating a missile attack will face the prospect of their warheads detonating on their own territory.

Unfortunately, funding for the Airborne laser was not originally included in the budget for missile defense. Although developing the ABL has cost less than three billion dollars, the Air Force removed 800 million dollars from the program three years ago to fund the latest fighter aircraft. This has caused a delay in testing the first prototype. The first Airborne Laser was originally scheduled to shoot down a missile this year, now that test has been postponed until December of 2004.

Ultimately, all this talk about missile defense misses a crucial point. Missiles are just a means of delivery, the warheads they carry make them dangerous. We must defend our country against nuclear attack, not just missile attack.

No missile shield will prevent terrorists from smuggling nuclear bombs into our cities and detonating them.

In a study released after September 11th, the CIA acknowledged the increased threat from ballistic missiles, but concluded that terrorists using weapons of mass destruction was even more likely. Last month the Federal Government submitted an unclassified report to the UN security council. The report warned that there was a “high probability” Al-Qaeda terrorists will use WMD to attack the United States within the next two years.

During trail testimony in 1998, Al Qaeda members admitted trying to purchase weapons grade plutonium from Russia. In May of last year US authorities arrested an Al Qaeda terrorist for plotting to build a primitive bomb using nuclear material. Since the end of the Cold War there have been concerns about the safety of Russia’s weapon storage sites, and even rumors that nuclear warheads have disappeared.

Instead of making the security of these weapons a top priority, the Bush administration has reduced funding for a Department of Energy program that monitors Russia’s nuclear stockpile. The DoE is also responsible for detecting nuclear materials being smuggled into this country. The Nuclear Emergency Situation Team, or NEST, uses radiation detectors to locate and neutralize hidden atomic weapons. A program to develop more sensitive radiation detectors for NEST languished during the Clinton Administration, only to be resurrected after September 11th.

The threat of a nuclear attack against the United States is a gravely serious national security issue, but you wouldn’t know that by observing our defense priorities.

We could purchase the Arrow missile, fund the Airborne laser, and buy Russia’s surplus nuclear stockpile all for less money than the proposed national missile defense system. Unfortunately, these systems are not expensive enough to attract the attention of defense contractors. Instead the Pentagon bureaucracies plan to leisurely spend 50 billion dollars over the next twenty years on another expensive, useless boondoggle.

We don’t have twenty years to purchase a missile defense system that may not even work. The United States faces new enemies, some of whom will stop at nothing to destroy us. A nuclear attack on our country either by enemy missile or terrorist bomb, is no longer a possibility, but a matter of when and where.

Published in: on October 20, 2003 at 6:15 pm  Leave a Comment  

The Nerve of the Federal Reserve

A. Scott Piraino

In 1981 the United States entered the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression. With the country mired in recession President Reagan proposed a novel solution: Cut taxes for the wealthiest Americans so they could spend and invest more money.

As if by magic, the recession of 1981 ended the following year. Not because of Reagan’s tax cuts of course, but because the Federal Reserve lowered interest rates. Paul Volcker, the Fed Chairman at that time, was determined to crush the rampant inflation of the 1970’s once and for all. His draconian solution was to send interest rates soaring to over twenty percent.

This caused the recession of 1981 and the Reagan administration knew it.

But that did not stop them from using the recession as an excuse to pass the biggest tax cut in US history. Quasi-economic terms like “supply side” and “trickle down” were used to give Reagan’s proposal an academic veneer. In fact Reaganomics was nothing more than intellectual camouflage to reduce taxes for the rich.

Although Paul Volcker coordinated the recession of 1981 with the Reagan Administration, he can perhaps be excused for jarring the US economy to a halt. He had to stifle the real, chronic, double digit inflation that plagued the country during the oil shocks of the 1970‘s.

Alan Greenspan on the other hand, has not concerned himself with real inflation, but with “wage inflation” and “employment costs”. More quasi-economic terms, but these are simply euphemisms for “pay raise”. And his battle against wage inflation has been a success.

The decade of the 1990’s saw the longest economic expansion in US history. Worker productivity increased at its fastest pace in thirty years, while inflation remained at historically low levels. Yet US workers today earn less than they did twenty years ago, after adjusting for the miniscule rate of inflation. Per capita income has climbed only because a handful of our wealthiest citizens have made obscene profits.

Throughout the tech boom of the 1990’s, Alan Greenspan’s monetary policy prevented the US economy from growing so fast that employers would have to pay higher wages.

He has lowered interest rates, but to bail out the global economy, not to ensure rising incomes for Americans. When the Asian markets collapsed in 1998, Mr. Greenspan quickly came to the rescue of global financiers by lowering interest rates. He even helped negotiate a bailout of East Asia’s economies at US taxpayer expense.

At the same time Alan Greenspan made a speech where he languidly described the plight of blue collar workers by saying, “workers should move from the steel districts of western Pennsylvania to a vibrant Silicone Valley“. He went on to call wage-challenged American workers “victims of progress”. Of course Alan Greenspan supports manufacturing, but only in low-wage nations where global corporations can make higher profits.

While Greenspan was fighting a battle against non-existent inflation, the economy has been undermined by a far more dangerous economic stimulus, speculation. Nearly seven trillion dollars in investors wealth has disappeared since the stock market meltdown began in spring of 2000. Investment banks are already reeling from the collapse of stock prices, but they are stifling worries about the biggest speculative bubble of all.

Derivatives are hedge funds, or bets based on the fluctuations of various markets. These funds avoid regulation by limiting their clientele to only the wealthiest and most sophisticated investors. Their operations and balance sheets are secret, unknown to regulators, and the rest of the financial system. Billionaire investor Warren Buffet has called derivatives “weapons of mass destruction”.

Mr. Greenspan recently expressed concern over the stability of the 142 trillion dollar derivatives market, but he cannot raise the alarm too loudly. He would incite the very panic that he fears. JP Morgan alone has 25 trillion dollars invested in derivatives, that’s a portfolio twice the size of the US economy. The implosion of one of these huge funds would set off a chain of financial failures, precipitating a monetary crisis.

Five years ago the Federal Reserve took the unprecedented step of bailing out a derivative fund to prevent its collapse. Long Term Capital Management received a 3.5 billion dollar bailout orchestrated by Mr. Greenspan. The firm had leveraged that small sum into 1.25 trillion dollars worth of derivatives.

In addition to rampant speculation, the Fed must be wary of our debt. Thanks to Reaganomics, the national debt stands at 6.5 trillion dollars. Thanks to President Bush’s tax cuts, that debt is growing again. Both our trade and budget deficits will surpass $400 billion this year, new record highs.

At this weeks meeting of the G-7 Nations, central bankers expressed concern about the soaring deficits in the United States. There is now an international consensus that the US dollar must be devalued, but Treasury Secretary John Snow is seeking to avoid the inevitable. He traveled to China last week seeking to remove that country’s artificial exchange rate, and pressured the European Community to lower interest rates, all of which would bolster the sagging dollar.

The recent instability of the dollar in world markets represents investors real fear for the stability of our economy, and our ability to finance our deficits. In the event of a financial panic, the Fed could be forced to monetize, or create the money, to pay our debts. And this brings us to the real purpose of the Federal Reserve.

The Government and people of the United States do not print their own currency, only debt. The US Treasury prints bonds, which the Federal Reserve buys for dollars. The interest we pay on those bonds is our national debt.

Not even war stops the Federal Reserve, and this process of debt creation.

After the September 11th attacks the US government enacted a 55 billion dollar emergency spending measure. At the same time Alan Greenspan ensured the stability of the banks “through an extraordinary infusion of funds”. The day after the attacks the Fed purchased 61 billion dollars worth of bonds in exchange for cash and distributed $41 billion to the banks.

While the people of the United States go further into debt to fight the War on Terror, the banks create money for free. The Federal Reserve prints currency in exchange for bonds, but other banks also expand the money supply by extending loans, in both cases creating debt. This ability to create money for free, while increasing the public debt is the insidious truth behind our private banking system.

When economists and media pundits discuss the Federal Reserve, the subject is always the Fed’s control of interest rates. By lowering interest rates, the Fed is simply giving banks incentive to create new loans, and increase economic activity. Alan Greenspan has engineered twelve interest rate cuts since the market meltdown in 2000, in an attempt to stimulate the economy.

But stimulate what? Manufacturing is now done in nations where our corporations do not have to pay American wages, (see the trade deficits above). At least the capitalists of past boom and bust cycles built factories and infrastructure in this country. Today’s oligarchs are not concerned with creating or distributing wealth, but in siphoning that wealth to themselves.

Alan Greenspan works for those oligarchs. He is more concerned with ensuring that the assets of the wealthy are not devalued by inflation, than in ensuring rising wages and income for the majority. He has endorsed more tax cuts for our wealthiest citizens and trade agreements that give corporations more power than governments.

The United States faces a financial reckoning, either by currency de-valuation, or by the Federal Reserve being forced to monetize our debt. Whatever the outcome, Alan Greenspan deserves his share of the blame. Because he knows exactly what he is doing.

Published in: on October 17, 2003 at 6:08 pm  Leave a Comment  

Chasing the Dragon

A. Scott Piraino
China has grown from an agrarian backwater into the world’s third largest economy in the last twenty years. While our yearly trade deficits with China have risen from zero to over 100 billion dollars a year, their country has been the world’s fastest growing economy. China has become a colossus precisely because of these trade deficits.

The global economy has been very good to China. Their country has been industrialized with someone else’s money, ours. Throughout the 1990s US corporations increased their factory investments in China, seeking an endless supply of cheap labor.

China is not our ally. Their trade policy has always served to advance Chinese industry and technology. And with this new wealth, China has sought military parity with the United States.

However, they could not modernize their armed forces without US expertise. Several US companies wanted to sell weapons and technology to the Chinese, but the sales were prohibited by law. Economic sanctions for the Tiananmen Square massacre and restrictions on technology exports prevented US corporations from selling China the armaments they wanted.

The Chinese turned to a shadowy cast of characters that funneled millions of dollars into Democratic Party campaign coffers. These illegal donations were instrumental in re-electing Bill Clinton in 1996. President Clinton took contributions he knew came from China, and played another angle as well.

In return for campaign contributions, the Clinton administration relaxed export controls and allowed corporations to decide on their own if their technology transfers were legal or not. When easing restrictions wasn’t enough, Clinton signed waivers that simply circumvented the law. The President’s waivers allowed the export of missile technology, defense electronics, and even a communications system for the Chinese Air Force.

In one extraordinary case of corruption, the CEO’s of Loral and Hughes each donated over one million dollars to Clinton’s re-election campaign. These companies had an interest in seeing China develop reliable missiles to loft their satellites into orbit. Both companies were allowed to upgrade the launching and guidance of China’s missiles.

In June of 1995, the CIA learned that China had stolen the crown jewels of our nuclear arsenal, including the neutron bomb and the W-88 miniaturized warhead. Later that year National Security Advisor Anthony Lake was briefed on the thefts. He was quickly replaced on the Security Council by Sandy Berger, a former lobbyist for Chinese interests. In June of 1996, before Bill Clinton’s re-election, the FBI opened a formal investigation into the theft of US nuclear weapon designs.

When the press learned that China had stolen nuclear weapon designs from US research labs, the Clinton administration downplayed and even denied the reports. But this scandal was too big to ignore, and Congress began a formal investigation by forming the Cox committee. The administration was forced to reveal the extent of China’s nuclear espionage, while insisting that Clinton was not told about the thefts until 1998, three years after the fact.

The Cox Committee report was released early in 1999. It confirmed that China had stolen the neutron bomb design and the W-88 miniaturized warhead. The W-88 would allow China to field smaller, mobile missiles and carry multiple warheads on larger missiles. In addition, the Cox report proved that US corporations illegally transferred “missile design information and know-how”. Chief among the offenders were Loral and Hughes.

On October 1st, 1999, the fiftieth anniversary of China’s communist takeover, a new missile was paraded through the streets of Beijing. The DF-31 is a modern, mobile nuclear missile capable of hitting targets in the United States. The rocket motor and guidance systems were made possible by Loral and Hughes. The nuclear warhead is a copy of the W-88, stolen from the US.

The Chinese have not disguised their plans to use these weapons. In March of 1996, on the eve of Taiwan’s first democratic elections, China used the threat of force to intimidate the island nation into electing a pro-Beijing candidate. Military maneuvers included bombing runs and launching ballistic missiles that impacted within twenty miles of the island. When the United States sent an aircraft carrier into the Taiwan straits, a Chinese general threatened to “rain down nukes upon Los Angeles”.

In the summer of 1999 the pro-independence leadership of Taiwan called for talks with China on a state-to-state basis. The enraged Chinese demanded Taiwan enter unification talks or face attack. A communist Party approved newspaper published a plan to conquer Taiwan. It involved using neutron bombs against any Taiwanese resistance and a nuclear standoff with the United States.

The incoming Bush administration confronted this new China when a US Navy surveillance plane was damaged in a mid-air collision with a Chinese fighter. The US aircraft was forced to make an emergency landing on a Chinese island. 24 crewmen were held for eleven days and repeatedly interrogated by PLA soldiers.

President Bush initially threatened to withdraw China’s normal trade status and block entry into the WTO if the airmen were not released. Instead the Bush administration appeased China’s demands by apologizing for the dead fighter pilot that caused the collision, and for the reconnaissance plane landing on Chinese soil without permission. Immediately after the crisis, the administration signaled that there would be no long term damage to US-China relations.

True to his word, President Bush granted China normal trade status after the spy plane incident. Nor has his administration investigated, or even mentioned, the China scandals of the Clinton era. While US warplanes were bombing Afghanistan, President Bush did not miss a chance to attend a summit in China, even appearing on national television wearing traditional Chinese robes.

The fact is, the US has very little leverage over China. In the event of an economic crisis or military confrontation, the Chinese could simply seize all US assets in their country. This would bankrupt many of our own corporations that manufacture exclusively in China.

The Bush administration has no choice but to maintain a pro-China policy, because they are in hock to the same corporate interests that corrupted Bill Clinton. American corporations have spent hundreds of millions of dollars lobbying our elected officials to pass free trade agreements and legalize technology exports. China has not been industrialized by US presidents seeking “engagement”, but by our own corporations, seeking profits.

A few American stockholders have made fortunes modernizing China’s armed forces, still more US companies have built factories in China. These factories and plenty of cheap, docile labor earn huge profits for these investors. Protecting these profits is America’s China policy.

Published in: on October 15, 2003 at 6:07 pm  Comments (1)  

The De-Evolution of Warfare

A. Scott Piraino

Conventional warfare is dead. More precisely, wars with national armies fighting across opposing lines will be the exception in the future, not the rule. Instead the twentieth century has seen the rise of guerrilla warfare and its vicious stepchild, terrorism.

The Boer war was the first modern guerrilla war. In 1906, German settlers fought the British Empire for control of South Africa’s wealth. In a war of small battles and skirmishes, Boers used hit and run tactics to stalemate the British troops. The term “commando” was first used to describe these small units carrying out raids and ambushes.

The tactics of guerrilla warfare are simple. Modern automatic weapons and explosives make small groups of soldiers much more lethal. They can strike quickly at occupying forces, then disappear into the native population. In a war against a hidden enemy, the occupying army becomes demoralized and withdraws.

Terrorism is a de-evolution of guerrilla warfare. Instead of targeting an occupying army, an entire population becomes the enemy. Using anything from makeshift bombs to weapons of mass destruction, small groups of fanatics can cause death and destruction far out of proportion to their numbers

We can argue the morality of this new warfare, but we cannot deny its effectiveness. Guerrillas have defeated the US in Vietnam, and the Russians in Afghanistan. A bombing campaign forced the French to withdraw from Algeria. After ten years of terrorist warfare the exhausted British have negotiated a peace settlement with the IRA.

Western Democracies have had few successes against this new form of warfare. Our troops are brave and skilled, but our generals and political leaders order the impossible. In theater after theater, they have sent armies to occupy hostile territory, then lacked the stomach to prosecute the war as viciously as the enemy.

Only repressive regimes can finally defeat guerrillas and terrorists. Since it is futile to fight an elusive enemy hiding in hostile country, the solution is to target the entire population. Ethnic cleansing has emerged as a cruel but efficient military strategy, but liberal governments hesitate to use this tactic.

Again, we can argue the morality of ethnic cleansing, but we cannot deny its effectiveness. This is the truth of the new war; It is no longer possible to conquer hostile territory without deporting or destroying the hostile population. This does not bode well for conflicts raging around the world today.

In Chechnya, the Russians are seeking to avenge their failed invasion of 1996, when the Red Army was humiliated by Chechen guerrillas. Unable to expel the Russian army with conventional forces, The Chechens have resorted to ambushes, raids, and terrorist bombings in Russian cities. The Russians cannot win, but are unwilling to withdraw and admit defeat. They have resorted to scorched earth tactics, in effect ethnically cleansing the Chechen people.

Israel has been locked in an endless war of attrition with the Palestinians for over thirty years. Of course Israel cannot withdraw from the conflict without dissolving their country. So they endure uprisings, raids, and now suicide bombings from the Palestinians who hate them. The bloodshed will continue unless both sides make a lasting peace, or one group is deported or destroyed.

Now that the United States has been drawn into a War on Terror, we face the same military dilemma. In response to the September 11th attacks, the US immediately invaded Afghanistan. Operation Anaconda was a sweep of the mountainous terrain in Afghanistan, seeking the terrorists responsible for the attacks.

We have arrested many suspected terrorists, but we have certainly not destroyed Al Qaeda, or captured Osama Bin Laden. In the past month, battles with Taliban guerrillas have intensified, with reports of hundreds of soldiers and aircraft fighting near the border with Pakistan. Our war in Afghanistan is far from over. So far 35 US troops have been killed, many more have been wounded, and the targets of terrorist attacks.

After September 11th, no one could deny our right to pursue the perpetrators of such murderous acts. But the Bush administration has given up the moral high ground with this reckless invasion of Iraq. Now in Addition to Afghanistan, 130,000 US troops are committed to a hazardous occupation of Iraq.

Since Operation Iraqi Freedom officially ended on May 1st, 182 US soldiers have been killed, more casualties than during the invasion. The commander of the occupation forces in Iraq recently admitted that there are an average of fifteen attacks per day against US troops. The Iraqi resistance is using modern guerrilla tactics, hit and run attacks and terrorist bombings.

Terrorist bombs have struck the UN headquarters in Iraq, the Jordanian embassy, and a very powerful car bomb struck a holy shrine in Najaf. 140 people have been killed and hundreds more wounded by these attacks. So far these attacks have not claimed any American lives, but that will inevitably change now that the bombs are aimed at US troops.

Two weeks ago a suicide bomber drove a truck laden with explosives into a US command post in Irbil, killing two Iraqis and wounding 53, including four Americans. Yesterday a another suicide carbomb was detonated just short of the Bagdhad Hotel, killing six bystanders and wounding dozens more. Both bombs were aimed at US personnel, and only the fortunes of war have prevented any US deaths.

The US invasion of Iraq is devolving into a guerrilla war, a war we cannot win. This unwarranted invasion has only fueled the grievances of radical Muslims, and provided these militants with convenient targets by placing US troops in their midst. The Bush administration is still telling us that we can win the War on Terror by occupying Iraq. They would do well to remember two earlier US interventions in the turbulent Middle East.

In 1983 the United States entered a civil war in Lebanon, then withdrew after a terrorist bombing destroyed a Marine barracks, inflicting hundreds of casualties. In Somalia, a commando mission went awry, and a company of US Army Rangers was caught in a ferocious firefight in the city of Mogadishu. The United States withdrew from both theatres after suffering ignomious defeat at the hands of local guerrilla and terrorist fighters.

The Commanding General of US ground forces admitted last week that the Iraqi resistance was growing stronger and more tenacious. Of course he did not publicly condemn the war or admit to the futility of conquering Iraq. But he did add that, “we should not be surprised if one of these days we wake up to find there’s been a major firefight or a major terrorist attack”.

Published in: on October 12, 2003 at 5:58 pm  Leave a Comment  

A Bright Shining Lie

A. Scott Piraino

The President’s pretense for launching this invasion was his assurance that Iraq had, or would soon develop, Weapons of Mass Destruction. Now those accusations have been proven false, and it is impossible to believe that President Bush actually thought those weapons ever existed. The Bush administration does have overwhelming evidence of a rogue state developing nuclear weapons, but in North Korea, not Iraq.

In the weeks leading up to the invasion of Iraq, a ship loaded with North Korean Scud missiles was intercepted heading for Yemen. The Bush administration dithered, then let the ship sail to its destination. Yemen is an ally of the US after all, and it would not do to protest too loudly against the North Koreans, while beating the drums for war with Iraq.

The North Koreans took offense anyway. Angered by the ship’s seizure, they announced the next day the reactivation of a nuclear reactor capable of producing weapons grade uranium. They ordered UN inspectors out of their country, and dismantled surveillance equipment at their nuclear facilities. While UN inspectors were being evicted from North Korea, they were on the ground in Iraq, searching for Weapons of Mass Destruction.

The UN team failed to find any illegal weapons in Iraq, even though Saddam’s regime provided a 12,000 page report detailing their weapons programs. The Iraqis allowed the inspectors to search anywhere they pleased, and were very forthcoming with information, but this did not satisfy the Bush administration. Iraq was declared in “material breech” of UN demands, and President Bush launched his invasion.

After the invasion of Iraq, North Korea became the first nation to withdraw from the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. North Korea probably has a few atomic bombs, but after seizing 8000 fuel rods being guarded by the UN, they will definitely have nuclear weapons within a few months. Yesterday they announced that those fuel rods have been reprocessed into weapons grade uranium, enough to produce several nuclear warheads.

The Bush administration’s only response has been to quietly unveil the Proliferation Security Initiative. Although not a proper blockade, the US will monitor North Korean ports of entry and search ships and aircraft after they’ve left the country. In effect the US is trying to prevent North Korea from exporting the nuclear weapons we now know they have.

Now the Bush administration must deal with Iran. After invading Iraq, the Bush administration began threatening Iran into allowing UN inspections of that country’s nuclear facilities. The inspectors found evidence that the Iranians were enriching uranium, a necessary process in making nuclear weapons.

The Iranians are not stupid, they have seen what Bush has done to their neighbor Iraq. They are offering to negotiate with the UN, and even with the United States, as long as negotiations are “based on mutual respect and equal footing”. But the Iranians have refused to stop their nuclear programs, and they continue to enrich uranium.

This administration is rapidly losing control of world events. Instead of dealing with North Korea and Iran, President Bush has embroiled one third of our Army in a bloody occupation of Iraq. Not only has the White House manufactured lies to justify this war, they have also ignored the truth, which is much more frightening.

Published in: on October 10, 2003 at 5:24 pm  Leave a Comment  

The Trials of Microsoft

A. Scott Piraino

Microsoft owes their monopoly to a crucial mistake made by IBM Corporation.

When IBM debuted the personal computer in 1984, it had a central processor made by Intel, and operating software from Microsoft. IBM did not seek patents for the entire computer, and soon other companies were copying, (or cloning), the PC. As more companies cloned the PC, Intel and Microsoft became the two key suppliers to the computer industry.

It is important that we realize this, now that Microsoft is worth more than IBM, Boeing, or even General Motors, all without manufacturing anything. The company did not become today’s software goliath through skill or innovation. Microsoft was only able to eliminate their business rivals after being handed a monopoly on computer operating systems.

Microsoft’s first competitor was an operating system offered by Novell corporation, called DR-DOS. Although the program had similar capabilities to Microsoft’s own DOS program, e-mails reveal a deliberate policy to spread “fear, uncertainty, and doubt” about the rival software. Programs were written to work with MS-DOS, but fail when ran under Novell’s operating system. It worked. DR-DOS disappeared, and today Novell is nearly bankrupt.

Next Microsoft copied technology from Apple computer to create the Windows operating system. This program had a user friendly graphical interface and quickly became the standard on all IBM type PCs. Since anyone could clone IBM’s computers, but no one else could manufacture Apple’s machines, sheer numbers of PCs reduced Apple to a fringe player.

By 1991 Windows operating systems were installed on 90% of all PCs. Microsoft then began leveraging their operating system monopoly into the market for software applications. Contracts with computer manufacturers required them to include MS Office when installing Windows on their machines. This put word processors, spreadsheets, and other programs from rival software vendors at a disadvantage.

The Justice Department took note and began scrutinizing Microsoft’s business practices. To avoid charges of violating anti-trust laws, the company signed a consent decree in 1994. This barred them from leveraging their Windows monopoly to control the market for other software products.

Microsoft had won the battle for the desktop, but a new challenge would come from the emerging World Wide Web.

In the mid 1990’s a silicone valley company created a computer program that allowed users to access the internet and view not just text, but graphics, video, and sound. This company became Netscape, and the computer program became the web browser, Navigator. Then Sun Microsystems debuted a revolutionary computer language called Java. A program written in this language could be accessed over the internet and ran on any computer, regardless of type.

A new, internet based computer architecture threatened to make the Windows operating system obsolete. As Netscape’s Navigator became the standard on all PCs Microsoft’s programmers rushed to create their own web browser. But the first version of Internet Explorer released in 1996 was clearly inferior to Navigator. To improve it, Microsoft had to have Java.

They licensed the new programming language from Sun Microsystems, then created “Wintel Java”, a version that only ran under Windows. Sun sued Microsoft for violating the licensing agreement, but the damage was done. Microsoft used their Wintel Java to create a new and improved Internet Explorer.

The problem was, Navigator was already installed on millions of computers. To overcome Netscape’s market advantage, Microsoft forced computer manufacturers to bundle Internet Explorer with Windows on all new computers. This excluded Netscape’s web browser from 90% of all new computers, and violated the consent decree of 1994.

Finally, in May of 1998, the Department of Justice and 19 states file suit against Microsoft for violating anti-trust laws and extending their monopoly on software. In opening arguments Microsoft argued that they weren’t a monopoly at all. But they couldn’t deny that Windows and Office were installed on 90% of personal computers. If further proof were needed, the price of Windows had not declined in ten years, even while computer prices dropped 50 percent.

As the trail progressed the central issue became Microsoft’s leveraging of that monopoly to control the market for web browsers. Judge Thomas Penfield Jackson issued a preliminary order to stop the bundling of Internet Explorer with Windows. Microsoft immediately appealed that order in another court and it was overturned.

During the two year trail Internet Explorer continued to be installed on all new PCs. Netscape was forced to distribute their browser for free, but with no revenue their business collapsed. In November of 1998 the company was sold to America Online.

Microsoft’s lawyers crowed that Netscape’s demise made the trail unnecessary, but it only highlighted their sleazy tactics. At one point during the trail defense lawyers brought a doctored version of Internet Explorer into the courtroom, they were caught. When called to the stand, Microsoft founder and CEO Bill Gates alternated between belligerency and amnesia, even denying knowledge of e-mails he had written.

Needless to say these antics did not endear them to the judge and the company lost the case. Microsoft has been found guilty of violating anti-trust laws and abusing their monopoly power. Judge Jackson’s decision was to order Microsoft split into two companies. One company would own the Windows franchise, the other would control all applications, including Office and Internet Explorer.

Microsoft pundits complained that splitting the company would be a disaster, citing the court ordered breakup of AT&T in the 1980s. Of course this was nonsense, AT&T was a huge company with employees and infrastructure throughout North America. Microsoft has no factories and virtually all their assets are electronic.

The breakup was to take effect within one year after all appeals were exhausted. Instead Microsoft lawyers maneuvered their appeal into the very same court that overturned Judge Jackson’s order during the trail. In June of 2001, the Washington D.C. appellate court overturned the decision to break the company in two.

Microsoft’s lawyers have dodged the legal bullet, but they are almost too busy to gloat.

The company has been sued for anti-competitive practices by the new owners of DR-DOS. AOL Time Warner sued for damages over the demise of the Navigator browser, the case was recently settled for 750 million dollars. The lawsuit with Sun Microsystems is ongoing, and the court has already found Microsoft to be in violation of the Java licensing agreement.

After a federal court has found them a monopoly, Microsoft faces hundreds of class-action lawsuits filed on behalf of consumers. The State of California just settled one such civil suit with the software giant for over one billion dollars. Many more class action cases are now being consolidated in a Baltimore court.

Microsoft’s business strategy is clear: Steal technology and ideas from competitors, and when sued for breaking the law simply tie the matter up in the courts. Microsoft has been sued by the company that invented browser plug-in technology, Apple Computer, Sun Microsystems, and numerous other software companies. One case in particular illustrates how ruthless Microsoft is, and how cheap.

Synet had already trademarked Internet Explorer as a brand name when Microsoft came calling, offering 75 thousand dollars for rights to the name. When they refused Microsoft stole the name anyway, and Synet went bankrupt fighting the software goliath’s lawyers in court. After filing for bankruptcy the company was forced to settle for a paltry five million dollars.

Despite their legal woes, Microsoft is still all powerful. The company has over 40 billion dollars in cash, more than enough to settle pending lawsuits and fight legal battles in the courts. Through greed and strong-arm tactics Microsoft has come to dominate the market for operating systems, desktop software, and web browsers.

Now Microsoft’s sights are set on the internet. The company has unveiled a bold new software initiative called Dot Net, (spelled .NET). This new software language is similar to Sun’s Java, in that it is designed for the World Wide Web. But there is one crucial difference, .NET only runs under Windows.

Microsoft’s next web browser will not include support for the Java programming language. Instead programmers of web based programs will be forced to write code using .NET. If Microsoft’s new programming language becomes the standard, the internet will only run under Windows.

Microsoft just might pull it off. The only challengers to the Windows franchise are Apple Computer and open source software programs like Linux and BSD. But while Microsoft’s Windows, Office, and Internet Explorer run on 90 percent of all desktop computers, any competitors face an uphill battle. In the meantime Microsoft owns the software keys to our computers, that and a lot of lawyers.

Published in: on October 10, 2003 at 5:05 pm  Leave a Comment  

Reaganomics at War

A. Scott Piraino

In 1981, when Ronald Reagan was sworn in, the country faced the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression. President Reagan proposed a novel solution, lowering tax rates on the wealthiest Americans so they could spend and invest more money. His administration argued that only this increased economic activity could lift the country out of recession.

Quasi-economic terms like “supply side” and “trickle down” were used to give Reagan’s proposal an academic veneer. In fact Reaganomics was nothing more than intellectual camouflage for cutting tax rates on the rich. And if these tax cuts were unfair and would create the largest national debt in history, well so what.

Twenty years later our national debt has climbed to seven trillion dollars. Yearly interest payments on that debt have ballooned to 300 billion dollars. The poorest Americans have seen their living standards decline over the last twenty years, while incomes for our wealthiest citizens have soared.

But these facts did not deter President Bush. His administration used the recession of 2001 to justify a 1.35 trillion dollar tax cut package. Like Reagan, President Bush sold his plan as a tax break for all Americans, knowing these reductions would favor the wealthy.

While reducing income taxes for everyone, his administration quietly increased payroll taxes on working Americans. Social Security and Medicare are flat taxes on all wage income. That means there are no write-offs or deductions, and all payroll income is taxed at the same flat rate.

Of course the wealthiest Americans don’t worry about payroll taxes because they don’t have jobs. They own capital, invested money that makes more money. Capital gains taxes have been steadily reduced, to fifteen percent today. Since this is not payroll income, the owners of capital do not contribute to Social Security and Medicare.

Payroll taxes account for over one third of federal revenue, and nearly all the budget surpluses up to 2001. Yet President Bush did not suggest reducing these taxes, or making them fair. Instead the Bush administration continues the fiction that workers are contributing to a “trust fund”, while spending the surpluses from payroll taxes as general revenue.

This would have been just another craven transfer of wealth to the rich if not for the tragic events of September 11th. After the terrorist attacks, the recession of 2001 suddenly looked like an economic crisis. The surpluses of the previous four years disappeared, spent on military operations, emergency relief, and a bailout for the airlines.

The Bush administration announced an emergency budget increase, and a return to deficit spending. This year’s budget deficit will climb to over 400 billion by year’s end, a new record high. This does not include an additional 87 billion dollars for the war in Iraq, which President Bush requested last week.

With US forces occupying Iraq and Afghanistan, the Bush administration had the audacity to suggest another round of tax cuts for the wealthy. President Bush signed legislation last spring further reducing taxes by 350 billion dollars. Included in this new package are more tax cuts for corporations, and further reductions on capital gains taxes.

The War in Iraq is costing over four billion dollars a month, three million Americans have lost their jobs in the last three years, our trade and budget deficits are soaring, and this President doesn’t care. It’s not that he believes in Reaganomics, George Bush doesn’t believe in anything. Recession and war are not reasons for more tax cuts, they are an excuse.

In 1981 the wealthiest Americans received the biggest tax cut in US history. Make no mistake, Reaganomics has done exactly what it was supposed to do. It has made the richest Americans much wealthier, while transferring more of the tax burden to the middle class and working poor.

President Bush shares Reagan’s agenda. Our wealthiest citizens have received more tax cuts, while the rest of us pay for the war on terror, and pay down the debt created by Reaganomics. It’s a disgrace.

Published in: on October 10, 2003 at 5:02 pm  Leave a Comment  

A Cause Worth Lying For

A. Scott Piraino

This is not the first time the United States has lied to start a war.

President Roosevelt knew the Japanese would attack Pearl Harbor. Of course he did not think the attack would be so devastating and nearly destroy our Pacific Fleet. But he did not tell the public, or the Navy about the impending attack, because he knew the Japanese attack would draw our country into the war.

Roosevelt believed the allies would lose WW II if the United States did not join in the fight. He was prepared to lie, and sacrifice American lives in order to bring US fighting men, and US industry, into the war. Whether or not this was moral is a matter for historians, but the fact is the Axis powers were a threat to the United states, and the world. The Japanese did launch an attack on Pearl Harbor after all, and the German army under Hitler was grinding across Europe.

In the summer of 1964, the destroyer USS Maddox was off the coast of North Vietnam, allegedly on an intelligence gathering mission. Cynics claim that the Maddox’s purpose near North Vietnamese waters was to goad the Communists into attacking the ship, and thus give the US reason to counterattack. What happened next is still subject to debate, but according to the U. S. Navy, the ship was attacked by North Vietnamese patrol boats.

President Johnson stated on national television that “violence against the Armed Forces of the United States must be met not only with alert defense, but with positive reply”. The President ordered retaliatory air strikes against “certain supporting facilities” in North Vietnam, and called on congress to pass the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution. This Act was in effect a declaration of war, giving President Johnson sweeping powers to engage our country in Vietnam.

There are doubts as to whether or not the U.S.S. Maddox was fired upon by North Vietnamese gunboats. But there is no doubt that President Johnson used the incident to embroil the United States in the Vietnam War. Was he right? The fact is, the ferocious North Vietnamese Army was about to engulf the South, and President Johnson was determined to stop them. The rest is history.

Now George Bush the Second has lied to justify his war with Iraq. The President’s pretense for launching this invasion was his assurance that Iraq had, or would soon develop, weapons of mass destruction. Those allegations have been proven false, and it is impossible to believe that the President ever thought those weapons existed.

First, a forged document was “discovered” stating that Saddam Hussein was attempting to purchase uranium in Niger. President Bush used this as a centerpiece of his State of the Union address to argue for war with Iraq. When the document was discovered to be a forgery, CIA Director George Tenet took full responsibility, and publicly apologized for giving the President faulty intelligence.

The Bush Administration has repaid the CIA’s loyalty by releasing the name of a covert agent in retaliation for criticism of the White House.

Joseph Wilson has been a career Civil Service officer for the US State Department since the 1970‘s. He has served in various posts, including US Ambassador to Iraq during the first Gulf War, where he was commended by the first President Bush. He was also the man this administration sent to Niger seeking evidence that Saddam Hussein had attempted to purchase uranium.

Two weeks ago Mr. Wilson wrote an Op-Ed piece for the New York times, criticizing the Bush administration’s use of bogus information to justify war with Iraq. In retaliation, an unknown White House official (Karl Rove), leaked the name of his wife to reporters and told them she was a CIA agent. Not only is this illegal, National Security laws protect the identity of covert agents, but more than that it’s just petulant.

So far over 300 US military personnel have been killed in the fighting. Last week the president went before the nation to explain why Iraq deserves another 87 billion dollars, while our economy tanks and our deficits soar. The Bush administration does have overwhelming evidence that rogue states are developing nuclear weapons, but the evidence is in North Korea, not Iraq.

As for the War on Terror, US troops are still fighting and dying in Afghanistan, seeking Osama bin Laden and the perpetrators of the September 11th attacks. We havent even captured Saddam Hussein yet, not that it matters now. The Iraqis have already forgotten him, and remembered their hatred of the American Imperialists. The invasion of Iraq has fuelled the grievances of these radical Muslims, while giving them convenient targets by placing US troops in their midst.

There is just no good reason for the Bush administration’s lies. The moral high ground in the War on Terror has been squandered. The national unity and patriotism that emerged after September 11th is gone. Whatever the final outcome of this invasion of Iraq, this has not been a cause worth lying for.

Published in: on October 8, 2003 at 5:00 pm  Comments (3)  

On the Fall of Empires

A. Scott Piraino

This is how Rome fell. First a vibrant empire comprised of wealthy citizens was reduced to an aristocracy. Then that decadent, impoverished empire was overcome by external enemies.

Roman civilization has many parallels to our own. The Roman Empire is a historical construct, contemporary Romans always referred to their country as a Republic. Of course Rome was an empire, as successive Emperors consolidated power and began ruling far flung provinces. But the republican values were an egalitarian fiction until the fall of Rome. It is interesting to note that the United States is never officially referred to as an empire, although our country has assumed many imperial characteristics.

As their empire expanded, the Romans built the greatest road network the world had ever seen so their marching legions could defend any threatened territory. These roads facilitated trade and commerce, and were necessary for the growth of the Empire. After WW II, the United States began construction of the Federal Highway system, to move tanks in the event the US was ever invaded. These highways have not just radically improved transportation, they have affected the growth of suburbs, malls, and even whole cities.

The Romans built great coliseums to celebrate sporting events and watch plays or other public entertainments. Our sports amphitheaters are actually modeled on these Roman designs. Aside from modern technology, there is very little difference between the Superdome and the Parthenon. We are also a culture that worships entertainment. Instead of plays and gladiators, we have football teams, rock bands, and movie stars.

But besides our public works, the United States shares other, more disturbing similarities with the Roman Empire.

In the early Roman period the curials were the backbone of society. These were middle class landowners who could vote, and fought in the legions during times of war. By the end of the Empire, the curials had been reduced to the status of serfs. Wealth was concentrated in the hands of a few landowners, and the curials worked the land for them.

The Fall of the Roman Empire can be traced to the demise of the republican values that created it. In modern terms we can compare this to the death of our middle class. Our country was founded not just on Democratic principles, but the idea that the people were the owners of the country.

The first Americans were predominantly small farmers who owned their land, (with the exception of the black slaves, of course). In early American history just as in Rome, voting and military service where the duties of citizenship, and ownership of property was a right. As industrialization eclipsed agriculture, rural farmers became urban factory workers. But the goal of life in America has always been the same, to own a house, buy a car, in short, to live the American dream.

Over the past twenty years, the ability of the average American to live that dream has all but disappeared. Per capita income continues to climb only because a small number of Americans have grown much wealthier. Incomes for the working poor and middle class Americans have stagnated, and even declined. The average American is increasingly a renter, not an owner.

Twenty years ago a high school graduate in Akron Ohio could look forward to a lifetime of factory employment, and earn enough from his wages to buy a house and a car. Today Akron Ohio consists of ghettos and boarded up factories. Those jobs have moved to China and Mexico, and what were once middle class neighborhoods are now tenements for the poor.

How did this happen? To answer that, we must address the issue of leadership.

The first Roman Emperors were crusaders for the Glory of Rome. After the initial conquests of France, Britain, and the Mediterranean, the Roman borders remained essentially unchanged for three hundred years. The later Emperors maintained the trappings of the earlier heroic period, but they served themselves, not the greater good of Rome.

Our founding fathers were idealists. They can rightfully be compared to Caesar, and the early Romans. But though our present leadership uses the same slogans, and shrouds their policies in the same idealism, it is clear they don’t believe in anything. It is said that Nero fiddled while Rome fell, our leadership has fiddled as well, while our country has descended into mediocrity.

The source of our economic decline can be traced to Ronald Reagan and his successors. Reaganomics was nothing more than an excuse to cut taxes for the rich. Just as free trade is an argument for exporting manufacturing jobs to foreign nations where our corporations can pay much lower wages.

In 1981 the United States was the largest creditor nation in history. Today our national debt stands at over six trillion dollars and growing. In addition, our country has exported over three trillion dollars to foreign producers. The US posted a trade deficit of over 400 billion dollars last year, a new record high.

Our budget deficits transfer wealth from taxpayers to bondholders. Our trade deficits transfer wealth from American consumers to offshore producers. These huge transfers of wealth are responsible for the death of our middle class.

Ronald Reagan was either a demented fool or a corrupt servant of the rich, depending on whether he believed his own agenda or not. But there can be no doubt about his successors. George Bush the First called Reagan’s policies “voodoo” economics while campaigning against him, then carried on the same policies during his four years in office.

In 1992 when the Democrats returned to office, our country had an opportunity to reverse the corrupt policies of the Reagan era. Instead we elected a cheap whore named Bill Clinton. His administration continued the same policies, only in a trendier, more liberal guise.

George Bush II has wasted no time getting back to Reaganomics, passing two tax cut packages into law that favor the wealthy, and supporting more free trade agreements. The difference of course is that our country is already over six trillion in debt, and we are the biggest debtor nation in history.

We are also at war.

The Roman Empire did not fall to one superior enemy. Rather the Empire died the death of a thousand cuts, suffering repeated attacks against her frontiers and invasions by increasingly larger and better organized enemies. By the end of the Empire, Roman citizens were loathe to join the legions and defend their country.

The dangerous job of soldiering was left to slaves, and foreign mercenaries. The date for the fall of the Roman Empire is commonly noted as 476 A. D. The year a Germanic mercenary commanding Roman armies deposed the last, enfeebled Roman Emperor.

Today’s US servicemen are predominantly poor whites and poor blacks, even foreign citizens are allowed to enlist to fill the ranks. Our youth increasingly distain the armed forces, preferring a more relaxed urban lifestyle. For those young Americans who do opt for military service, there is plenty of action.

After September 11th, President Bush ordered an invasion of Afghanistan, seeking the terrorists responsible for the attacks. Osama Bin Laden has not been found, nor has the Al Qaeda terrorist network been eliminated. But 8000 US troops are still in Afghanistan, enduring ambushes, bombings, and fighting an elusive enemy.

No one could question our right to attack Afghanistan after September 11th, but that moral authority has been squandered by the reckless invasion of Iraq. 150,000 US troops are now attempting to occupy the country against increasing resistance from indigenous guerrillas. One third of our standing Army is now committed to Iraq and Afghanistan, and the War on Terror is far from won.

President Bush’s imperial ambitions have scattered our Armed Forces across the globe. Now his administration has publicly threatened Iran, as if occupying the entire Middle East will somehow eliminate terrorism. Rather these unwarranted attacks are winning over Arabs to a radical form of Islam, while providing targets to those militants by sending US troops into their midst.

The occupation of Iraq is unraveling, and showing signs of becoming a full fledged guerrilla war. North Korea will certainly have nuclear weapons within a few months, and they have missiles that can reach Alaska and our bases in Asia. Nor can we discount China. That nation is now the world’s third largest economy, thanks to our trade deficits, and no friend of the United States.

The American people have good reasons to fear for the future, and nowhere to turn for answers. Roman civilization faced this uncertainty as well, and by searching, found new answers. The end of the Roman Empire was also the end of the ancient world, and the rise of a monotheistic religion known as Christianity.

Roman civilization was so much more advanced than anything before it, so much wealthier, more comfortable and safe, that people’s view of the universe began to change. In the early Roman period pantheons of gods like Zeus and Apollo were worshipped, and great temples were built to honor them. But after centuries of peace and prosperity sacrificing to these old gods seemed superstitious, even quaint.

As the old ways declined Romans sought cults, astrology, and mystic traditions to address their spiritual needs, before the Empire converted to Christianity. The first Christians were young, urban, educated Romans. The rural people held to the old ways the longest, sacrificing to the old gods, maintaining shrines to local spirits, and keeping up the sacrifices. The word “pagan” is Latin for rural person, with the connotation of hillbilly or hick.

Just as the old gods made no sense to the late Romans, Christianity makes no sense in the modern world. The new generations of Americans, baby boomers and their progeny, don’t look to the Christian faith anymore. Younger, more modern Americans seek new age bookstores and any number of wonkish solutions to their spiritual questions.

The last vestiges of Christianity in our country can be found predominantly in rural America. There you can still find people who go to church on Sundays and read, or even believe, the Bible. They are the pagans, the rural people holding to the old ways.

The cynicism and moral relativity of these times is part of this change in the way we view our universe.

We have called the future post-modern, the information age, the space age, and the nuclear age. Whatever this new age is, we are seeing its birth in our time. Part of that change is a new morality, a new spirituality if you will.

But faith that all will end as it should is no excuse for the incompetence and corruption of our national leadership. Historians will look back on the Reagan, Clinton, and Bush administrations as an era of decadence and decline. Our economy is left tottering, our enemies are plotting our destruction, and we are left with an inevitable sense of fatalism about the future.

This too shall pass.

Published in: on October 8, 2003 at 3:43 pm  Leave a Comment