Thursday, January 31, 2008

War in Iraq Affects Economy

Voters are concerned about the economy.
Oh…and the war in Iraq. Both are connected at the hip.

With G W Bush’s lisping and slurring, I imagine him sitting on his favorite barstool, nursing from a glass, and talking to the bartender how someday he’d outdo his father. The bartender only half listens to W’s drivel while turning an ear to the football score on the TV.

With similar interest, many Americans listened to his final State of the Union speech.

To change his view on Iraq, W would have to acknowledge it as a mistake. An error like this has so far cost the US well over 4,000 soldiers—W's Admin counts war casualties by distorted criteria—as well as several hundred thousand innocent civilian lives -- 10 Oct. 2007, New York Times.

Economic woes now arise on the horizon: inflation, high interest rates, increased unemployment…

When Dubya started talking about an economic stimulus package, I hoped he might shed light on how everything in economics is connected.

In other words, if something consequential happens in one part of the US economy, it affects other parts. Spending trillions of dollars to produce something constructive would most likely have a positive impact on the US economy.

The war in Iraq produces nothing useful for anyone. This impacts the US and the global economy in enormously negative ways.

As the President burns trillions of dollars to destroy a country-- MSNBC-- the cost of capital increases, so too interest rates. Pundits and economists seldom talk about this…yet.

Mainstream media hardly discusses the economic effects of destroying Iraq and many of its citizens. President Bush did not mention it in his speech. Maybe he just forgot.

Increased oil prices benefit the Arab Monarchies, while reducing the US GDP (gross domestic product), like throwing a monkey-wrench into the economy. Some estimates indicate that for every $5 increase in oil price, US GDP drops more than .3%. That's a lot, enough to increase unemployment.

Everyone talks about how the slide in the subprime mortgage market puts a hole in our pockets.

The subprime mortgage market represents a few billion bucks. Sure, that alone will knock the wind out of the already fragile middle class.

The war in Iraq increases the cost of capital:
…which ups interest rates
…which screwed up the already fragile and unbridled mortgage market
…which tossed middle class families out in streets.

Hip bone connected to the…

The war in Iraq punches the air out of the economy. It’s yanking away the roofs over the heads of middle class families…squandering more than a trillion dollars that could have been used constructively, such as in education or even in an improved Homeland Security.

When W promoted his economic stimulus package many people probably, like me, envisioned a little balloon floating up at a small festive party for the survival of the middle class
…and then the balloon’s air fizzled out in a squeaky whistle.

Here’s a new proposal for a stimulus package:

We earmark the sons of privilege, such as, say, G W Bush, who squander opportunities to become productive citizens despite their huge advantages of opulent wealth from birth. If they grow up to cause negative impacts to the country, then we levy tax on all their assets and divvy them out to children born into poverty.

This same new tax rule would apply to the daughters of privilege too, such as, say, Paris Hilton, born into the kind of wealth most people cannot even imagine. How can people, born into so much wealth and with so much time and resources, lead their lives into utter waste?

Mark Biskeborn is a writer, author of novels…most recently Mojave Winds.
Learn more about him at:

Saturday, January 26, 2008

Essay: Whores of Babylon

Bush led us on a righteous crusade, but most Americans now see through the smoke and mirrors.

By Mark Biskeborn

Ironically, the fundamentalist Muslims who headed the attack probably enjoy seeing how the fundamentalist Christians in America exploited our post-9/11 fears. In the aftermath of the catastrophe, we allowed G. W. Bush to erode our rights in exchange for his claims to security. Meanwhile, in the name of national security, he grabbed power far beyond the limits of our own Constitution. Has our society begun to resemble that of our theocratic enemy?

Like other neocons, W uses his Christian faith as a political springboard to demagoguery. Take away the religious element from his identity, you take away an important part of his political base...that preppy-come-cowboy-tough-guy who crawled out from under a barstool after a cocaine stupor as a born again Christian.
The son of privilege has lost his credibility.

Many of his red states have turned black and blue as his supporters move on. Had his Iraq invasion proved successful, it might have bolstered an oil business agenda. But that was, at best, pipe-dreaming.

Even in extremely conservative areas like here in Orange County (California), the bumper stickers -- “Bush: Man of God” -- have disappeared. On weekends, I’ve seen some of my neighbors, razor blade in hand, out scraping their car windows clean of neocon slogans. My neocon neighbors began to change their opinions about W around December of 2005 when the prices of oil began to climb. Economics seems to influence the moral priorities of some people faster than, say, the Pope, or even Pat Roberston or other such men who claim special communion with God.

In almost all of his speeches, W used to blame his critics for his failures, claiming that criticism of his policy destabilized Iraq. So we must all stop picking on him because W claims that doing so “gives comfort to our adversaries.” Again, in one of his recent State of the Union Addresses, W linked Saddam’s Iraq to al-Queda and confused the current civil war in Iraq with terrorism. As time moved on, more and more Americans learned to see how W’s policies are based on deliberate falsehoods. Meanwhile W continues to live in a “state of denial” as a recent book by this title asserts.

Only in the post-9/11 period, when Americans felt fear and rage, did we tolerate a U.S. President who wields such excesses. In such an unusual era, the Dark Ages of American history, some of us might find a sense of security from the theocratic W. His frequent claims to carry out God’s work can lullaby us into a false sense of protection. W says: "I'm driven with a mission from God. God would tell me, 'George, go and fight those terrorists in Afghanistan.' And I did, and then God would tell me, 'George go and end the tyranny in Iraq,' and I did."

Consider the quote: “I believe that I am acting in accordance with the will of the Almighty Creator. I am fighting for the work of the Lord.” No, this is not from W who often claims to hold talks with God. The quote is from Adolph Hitler. I do not intend to draw any silly parallels between Hitler and W. The point: religious demagoguery has worked miracles for political leaders throughout history.

People have bestowed the title of "Babylonian Whore" upon most, if not all, the exploitative powers throughout history. It’s humorously tempting to apply this title to W – especially considering his hollow plan to lead a powerful empire into a brutal war of indefinite occupation and against a falsely defined enemy. But that’s the tricky thing about biblical metaphors; we can manipulate them to support almost any point of view.

In the Book of Revelation, the Apostle John uses “the Whore of Babylon” as one of several allegorical figures of supreme evil. She occupies the same role as the Antichrist and the Beast of Revelation. In Revelation 17, she is "the great whore that sits upon many waters: with whom the kings of the earth have fornicated, and the inhabitants of the earth have been made drunk with the wine of her fornication." I’ll offer one wild interpretation of these metaphors. The wine? It’s the oil. The kings of the earth? You get the idea.

Fundamentalists take biblical metaphors and apply them as if literal truth for their bizarre political goals. "God speaks through me," says Bush as if listening to the voice from a burning bush.

Other neocon fundamentalists have earned fortunes by exploiting our spiritual anxieties. Pat Robertson earned millions of dollars through his broadcasting business and as 700 Hundred Club founder with an audience of one million viewers daily. More an entrepreneurial politician than Man-of-The-Book, he doesn’t qualify as a minister according to IRS codes. Oh, and did I mention Ted Haggard? He's the prosperous evangelical preacher and Bush White House adviser who asked a male prostitute for crystal meth.

Tim Lahaye and Jerry Jenkins partnered as authors of a dozen novels that dramatize the End Days in our current times. These authors rank at the top of the heap of those who profit cleverly from the Apostle John’s psychedelic visions of the apocalypse. With millions of copies sold, their novels have made them multimillionaires.

Throughout history, people apply “Whore of Babylon” to the superpower of the day. For John, "Babylon" refers to Rome, a bloated empire out of favor with God, and doomed for failure. However, Neocons see America as God’s blessed land.

Neocons believe that the U.S. is morally pure. After all, it is the undisputed global power -- at least for the time being. “If you’re not with us, you’re against us,” says W about the rest of the world.

In the eyes of many Muslims on the streets in the Middle East, America has maintained favorable oil deals by supporting tyrannical regimes and corrupt royalty at the expense of the common Muslim’s oppression.

In the time of powerful Rome, John used "Babylon,” as the empire on a self-destructive path of greed and power. The downfall of Babylon was the precedent, and the persecuted Jews and Christians presumed then that Rome too would fall. The defeat of the Whore of Babylon can represent not just the fall of Rome, but of imperial power wherever it arises.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Book Review: Generation Kill

Devil Dogs, Iceman, Captain America and the New Face of American War
By Evan Wright
Putnam, New York, NY, 2004, 354 pp.

Reviewed by Mark Biskeborn

As a journalist for Rolling Stone, Wright asked to join a front-line, first-in unit of the Operation Iraqi Freedom during the initial invasion of 2003. He embedded with the Second Platoon of Bravo Company, commanded by Lt. Nathaniel Fick, a 25-year-old Dartmouth graduate. Fick originally joined the Marines in a fit of enthusiastic patriotism; by the end of the invasion, his views change drastically:

“[The Marines] reminded me of gladiators. They had the mysterious quality that allows some men to strap on greaves and a breastplate and wade into the gore. I respected, admired, and emulated them, but I could never be like them. I could kill when killing was called for, and I got hooked on the rush of combat as much as any man did. But I couldn't make the conscious choice to put myself in that position again and again throughout my professional life.”

Riding with Fick’s platoon, Wright gained the hard earned trust of the Marines and this key opened doors for him to learn firsthand their daily reality in combat.

Unlike the sanitized, homogenized news reports about the war in the mainstream media, Wright’s exposure to the horror of combat leaves him with no romantic ideas. The revisionist accounts that some mainstream journalists have recently repackage about World War II, such as Tom Brokaw's Greatest Generation, fall short of war’s horror. Wright strips away whatever fantasies civilians might have about war. In the daily work of combat, no one boasts of glory. No one brags about trumped up claims for a “mission accomplished,” or any great generation. Wright tells us, "the problem with American society is we don't really understand what war is." The view Americans get "is too sanitized."

Generation Kill

Wright rode with a team of four Recon Marines in a Humvee, led by Srgt. Brad Colbert, 28, ''the Iceman."

Like Army Rangers, these Recon units train to a level one step away from the elite Special Forces. Ahead of the main invasion force, they pushed behind enemy lines as the first in and served as ''ambush bait" to draw out Iraqi forces. For this, other Marine platoons nicknamed them: "First Suicide Battalion" - a group of soldiers who blitzkrieged their way north during the first phase of the invasion.

Wright lived with these Marines and puts his reader in combat boots with them. He experienced every danger when the bullets, RPG’s, and mortars flew. However, he wasn’t a Marine, didn’t carry a gun, and didn’t have to kill.

Killing takes a central theme in the book, how the Marines deal with this ultimate taboo. Wright walks us through many scenes of cold-blooded killing. Even the toughest Marines have to deal with it; some shrug it off, some bury it or rationalize around it. But the feelings and doubts rise to the surface when it involves unarmed civilians—unfortunately, an all too common occurrence. Recent studies have found that as many as 600,000 civilians have died in the on-going occupation of Iraq: (NY Times, 10 Oct. 2007)

Americans, watching the highly spruced-up war reports on TV, might think of ''collateral damage" as the occasional errant smart bomb. Unfortunately, as Wright reports, troops kill large numbers of civilians on the ground as they routinely pulverize cities with artillery and fight under rules of engagement (ROEs), aimed at guerrilla tactics where the enemy wears civilian clothes.

At times, Marines in First Recon questioned and even challenged the ROEs because too many civilians were getting shot. But in order to survive, they can’t question rules or politics, because that slows down their reactions to dangerous situations. Survival supersedes propriety.

"Despite all its disparate elements, the column functions like a single machine, pulverizing anything in its path that appears to be a threat. The cogs that make up this machine are the individual teams in hundreds of vehicles, several thousand Marines scrutinizing every hut, civilian car and berm for weapons and muzzle flashes. The invasion comes down to a bunch of extremely tense young men in their late teens and twenties, with their fingers on the triggers of rifles and machine guns."

Mouthfuls of instant coffee granules and M&M’s fuel them through adrenaline rushed combat. Unlike regular grunts, the Recon units operate fast and furious, almost completely invulnerable to attack, armed with .50-calibre machine-guns and supported by Apache helicopters.

The twenty-first century Recon Marines dodge bullets (with Kevlar vests) and see in the dark (night-vision goggles/sniper sights). When in doubt, they "bomb the shit out of it". They suffer minor injuries while killing hundreds of Iraqis. Few enemy soldiers survive their attacks and often stumble out of ruined buildings to surrender, some crying and defecating with fear.

Wright shows us that more than half of these Recon Marines grew up in broken homes, and many came from the fringes of criminal gangs. Many are "on more intimate terms with video games, reality TV shows and internet porn than they are with their own parents", making it easier to adapt to modern war which at times, resembles another high-tech game. As 19-year-old Corporal Harold Trombley says:

“I was thinking just one thing when we drove into that ambush . . . "Grand Theft Auto: vice city." I felt like I was living it when I seen the flames coming out of the windows, the blown-up car in the street, guys crawling around shooting at us. It was fucking cool.”

The Recon Marines, as Wright describes them, represent less the Generation X, as they do an underprivileged Generation Kill. "Popping your cherry" can equate to killing a hajji for the first time. One soldier reflects about the bomb on Hiroshima thus: "a couple dudes killed hundreds of thousands. That fucking rules!", while another observes:

"We're like America's little pit bull. They beat it, starve it, mistreat it, and once in a while they let it out to attack somebody."

A marine chaplain tells Wright that "many of them have sought my counsel because they feel guilty . . . but when I ask them why, they say they feel bad because they haven't had a chance to fire their weapons.”

These Recon Marines behave according to the attitudes and conditioning of their training which reflects on everyone up and down the chain of command. Considering their blitzkrieg tactics, they care as much about Iraq as the warders of Abu Ghraib prison care about the Geneva Conventions. Senior commanders refer to Muslims as "hajjis".

Maybe it’s partly the gallows humor of combat fatigue, but Wright reveals one Marine’s view of Iraq's religious civil war differences thus: "Let a motherfucker use an American toilet for a week and they'll forget all about this Sunni-Shia bullshit."

The Iraqi Army habitually wore civilian clothing; this and the presence of foreign jihadists complicated the Marines' mission. The Marines could not know who occupied a farmhouse or a city dwelling. Was it a terrified family or an enemy equipped with cell-phones calling in mortar attacks?

On any given day a crowd might welcome the Americans and then turn against them the next day. Wright shows how this placed a frustrating pressure on the Marines. All too often innocent civilians paid the price of this "fog of war."

Urban guerrilla combat blurs the lines between innocent civilians and any true enemies no matter how much care is taken. Seemingly an inherent aspect of urban combat, indiscriminate slash and burn attacks would eventually transform the entire Iraqi population into our enemy. As we see in later war reports (e.g. The Deserter’s Tale), these attacks continue throughout the duration of “Operation Iraqi Freedom.”

Did we forget that the invasion’s goal was to assure “Iraqi Freedom” for the regular civilians? Or were we all too focused on some ulterior goal such as oil? These destructive tactics could only have arisen from top of the Pentagon and ultimately from the Bush administration because senior commanders permit it to this day. This approach alone explains why our so-called "war on terror" was doomed to fail from the first days of the invasion, March 2003.

The fog of urban combat obscured the distinctions between innocent civilian and enemy “terrorist.” It provoked the build up to the current armed resistance and terrorism in Iraq where once there was none.

Toward the end of Wright’s report, Fick's platoon nears Baghdad where fighting intensifies. Heavy bombing and artillery have shredded towns and hamlets are torn apart. At roadblocks, confusion often prompts Marines to shoot unarmed Iraqis. Wright tells how, in an incident, some Marines rush to help an overwhelming crowd of dirty, hungry refugees although the Marines don’t have the equipment to do anything.

On April 6, the Marines reach the outskirts of Baghdad after a long harrowing trip north. Wright describes what they see as a “horrorscape of human corpses and of dead cows—bloated to twice their normal size—lying in ditches.” Sergeant Espera swerves his Humvee to avoid hitting a human head lying in the road. Farther down the road they see a dog eating a corpse. "Can it get any sicker than this?" One Marine reflects on the mission saying, "Do you realize the shit we've done here, the people we've killed? Back home in the civilian world, if we did this, we would go to prison."

The Bush administration supported a US foreign policy that gives greater privilege to military power than to persuasion, and to force rather than to diplomacy. It raises anti-American sentiment globally.

This book reveals raw truth about how Operation Iraqi Freedom takes place on the streets and forces us to reconsider America's self-defeating strategy, top down.

Saturday, January 12, 2008

Book Review: The Perfect Soldier

Perfect Soldiers
The Hijackers: Who They Were, Why They Did It
By Terry McDermott
HarperCollins Publishers, New York, N.Y., 330 pp., May 2005

Reviewed by Mark Biskeborn

“I found him standing there, staring up at the name sheets to see where he was assigned,” said Mohamed Mokhtar el-Rafei. “I introduced myself. ‘I’m Mohamed,’ I said. So was he. We looked at the class sheets. We had three full classes of Mohameds. …We used our fathers’ names to refer to one another. I was Rafei. He was always Amir.”

Mohamed Mokhtar el-Rafei was among the classmates who befriended Mohamed Mohamed el-Amir Awad el-Sayed Atta whom we’ve come to know as Mohamed Atta, now almost as a household name. He became infamous for leading the 9/11 attacks.
Perfect Soldiers

If you’re looking to peer into the motivations that drive suicide bombers, Terry McDermott’s recently released book takes you on one of the most illuminating voyages through the lives of three of the nineteen radical Muslims who teamed up to hijack four commercial airliners and to use them as ready made weapons of mass destruction. Although the other sixteen fundamentalists remain mostly unknown, the author reveals a comprehensive and thorough view into the lives of the three known terrorists. He threads together a detailed account of how Mohamed Atta, Ziad Jarra, Abdul Aziz al-Omari, among others, evolve from sharp, ambitious students from third world Muslim cities into horrid suicide bombers. In the intertwining biographies, the reader gains insightful understanding of recent Middle Eastern history, politics, and culture. This book opens a piercing window into the intellectual and emotional paths that led these men to become suicide bombers.

A fluid group of Muslim foreign students in Germany evolved into members of a Hamburg terrorist cell, a team of “perfect soldiers,” who, while living on social margins and alienated from the mainstream of Germany society, absorbed religious fundamentalist ideologies and embraced them as clear life goals. They transformed their lives from ragtag members of the third world’s middle class into a purposeful, God-chosen team with a fanatic and absolute understanding of an otherwise confusing and unfriendly Western world. They found meaning and significance in their lives from the fundamentalist ideologies wrought by Islamic intellectuals such as Egyptians Hasan al-Banna and Sayyid Qutb, founders of the Muslim Brotherhood. A reporter for the Los Angeles Times, McDermott took great pains to research the lives of these three suicide bombers in order to gain understanding about their motivations. His premise aims clearly to develop the tools to defeat terrorism. We have no choice but to understand them in order to stop them, despite whatever President Bush and his minions say in their speeches and battle cries to justify war in Iraq where no such terrorists operated before the U.S. occupation.

“I’m sure this effort to understand the motivations of the men behind September 11 will upset other people who will think that any attempt at understanding is somehow an attempt to excuse, or even glorify. It is not. A primary task…of the journalist is to empathize, to try to understand the way the world appeared to the people begin written about… As I write now, three years later, [after 9/11] , the killing continues with no good end in sight. The sooner we come to understand what is happening, the sooner we will have a chance to stop it. Until we do understand, we have no chance at all.”

Poverty recurs often in this book as one of the more prominent motives that kindles the fires of radical fundamentalism and ignites the imagination of young men, alienated, rebellious and looking for a cause.

“When people say that if not for oil there would be nothing in the desert kingdoms of the Persian Gulf, it is not a great exaggeration. Before the oil, there wasn’t much, but the region was not entirely empty. Before oil, there was, of course, desert -- sand and the occasional date palm oasis -- and few, very few people.”

“Sudan was so poor that Bin Laden was able, without much apparent effort, to acquire near monopolies on many of the country’s principal trading activities.”

Without elaborate explanations, this book also describes how small petro-dollar princes and contractors retain all the oil money, while the vast majority of the population, including well educated men like Atta, Jarra, al-Shehhi or Omari, live in a dead economy where unemployment runs out of control. These men serve as models for the motives of many other suicide bombers and terrorists. They are educated but extremely frustrated about their situation. They initially want to participate in a prosperous world. They go to good schools in Cairo and elsewhere in the Middle East. For example, Mohammed Atta’s father pushed his son to pursue the highest levels of a professional career and to study in Germany. “Amir [Atta’s father] said he wanted his son to match his daughter’s successes. ‘I almost tricked him to go to Germany to continue his education.’”

They enjoy going on educational adventures in prosperous Germany or America. But their ambitions hit brick walls of social alienation. Carrying the baggage of strict Islamic culture into the liberal countries made them feel uncomfortable and out of place. Their hearts and minds remained in the highly disciplined and structured Middle Eastern customs while they looked to grow professionally in liberal democracies. They remained only on the margins of these Western countries and eventually criticize and rebel against their liberal host countries. They find fault especially with America for occupying their holy Islamic territories, for propping up Middle Eastern secular dictators as proxy puppet rulers and despots, such as the Royal family of Saud, and for supporting Israel. “Amir saw a worldwide conspiracy at work, bolstered by the Americans, but run always by Jews.”

When these students returned as men to their Middle Eastern countries, they discover only corrupt bureaucracies. “…Cairo University produced more than 1,000 engineering graduates every single year. The net result was the more education you had the less likely you were to find a suitable job. In one recent year, young Egyptians with graduate degrees were 32 times more likely to be unemployed than illiterate peasants.”

They find solace in their hopeless situation by withdrawing from the harsh reality and looking for a way to rebel against it, if not reinvent it in a way that empowered them with honor, glory, and social admiration. “The Hamburg men who joined their plights to that of fundamentalist Islam chose not simply a new mosque or religious doctrine but an entry to a new way of life, the acquisition of a new world view, in fact, of a new world.”

Without providing extensive analysis or commentary, McDermott reports the facts as he uncovers them. He lays out the people, places, and events with detailed, intriguing clarity. His descriptions deliver enough background for his readers to draw their own conclusions or to raise well informed questions. For example, we can see that several types of motivations fuel the terrorists to commit the ultimate mission of suicide bombers. As Emile Durkheim outlined at the beginning of the twentieth century, alienation, loneliness, depression, despair, and a fervent longing for a sense of mission and importance and social recognition – these elements represent the main drivers for different types of suicide. But in the Middle Eastern countries of fervent fundamentalism where a vast majority of people admire martyrdom, and where economic inequity and unemployment runs rampant, all these motivations for suicide can coalesce and result in the atrocities that occur every day in the West Bank, Israel or in Iraq, and occasionally in the U.S.A.

Readers might ask other pertinent questions. Why America invaded Iraq when in fact, none of the terrorists involved in 9/11, or any of their leaders had any ties with that country? Iraq possesses 11% of the world’s oil reserves. Was the 9/11 attack a simple pretext to make a grab at this valuable resource? Was it pay back to Saddam Hussein who did not play into the role of proxy despot for the interests of U.S. petroleum corporations?

Attentive readers are led to wonder about many aspects of recent history. The same terrorists and their non-nation-state organization, Al Qaeda, repeated many bombings against the U.S. The FBI and the CIA were aware of these direct and intentional attacks. The U.S. intelligence organizations operate as enormous and extremely expensive bureaucracies. Why are they still ineffective in protecting America’s borders?

The 1993 World Trade Center bombing in New York gave the U.S. a clear message that a fundamentalist Islamic organization held the country in contempt. Osama Bin Laden had made several declarations of war against the U.S., including explanations for al-Qaeda’s resentment. Since the 1993 bombing, al-Qaeda carried out a series of attacks on American facilities abroad, from embassies in Africa to naval vessels in the Persian Gulf. Did hubris blind the U.S. government from taking precautions? Were the neo-conservatives waiting for an attack in the U.S. large enough to justify an all-out invasion and occupation of the oil rich, Islamic territories?

Monday, January 7, 2008

Book Review: War Powers

How the Imperial Presidency Hijacked the Constitution

Peter Irons

Metropolitan Books, Henry Holt and Company, pp320, 2005
Reviewed by Mark Biskeborn

We view the past from various perspectives. Its distance from the emotional sensations of the present provides us with more freedom to choose how we see it. In this book, Irons looks at American history with questions about its basic legal, and even its philosophical, foundations and how they apply to its decisions to wage wars.
War Powers
His review of history enables us to consider many events such as court rulings, congressional votes, and presidential policies, in an objective manner. The insightful analysis of the past draws contrasts against the current religious and pro-war hysteria that overtook many Americans in the wake of the 9/11 attacks.

“This sketch of significant events, from 1787 to the present, provides a context for the questions addressed in this book. Let me summarize these questions before we begin with the Constitutional Convention in 1787. What did the Constitution’s Framers mean in giving Congress the sole power to declare war and making the president the commander in chief of the nation’s military forces? How did Congress and presidents exercise their shared powers during the nineteenth century, as the United Sates grew rapidly in populations and in economic strength? … To what extent has the emergence of the imperial presidency contributed to the subversion of the Constitution by usurping the war-declaring power that belongs solely to Congress? …”

These questions open a Pandora’s Box of other questions relevant to the most recent wars the U.S. has waged, the current occupation of Iraq in particular. By considering what the original laws are and how the government officials have gradually subverted them, we come to the current point of crisis in American politics as well as its ethical foundation. “If the nation is engaged in a war on terror that will not end with a formal surrender or peace treaty, has the Constitution become outmoded?”

Irons guides us through historical facts about how presidents have or have waged war legally or illegally. We discover that America has, over time, eroded the nation’s original foundations as the Framers had designed them in the Constitution.

Separation of Powers -- A President, Not Emperor

During the last decades of the eighteenth century, the Framers of the Constitution carried out long debates about how to separate the powers of government. Among others, James Madison and Alexander Hamilton incorporated the ideas of classical philosophers and political theorists of the enlightenment. Our current legislative, judicial, and executive branches of government arose directly from the tripartite system that John Locke proposed in his Second Treatise of Government. But when defining more precisely what powers and roles these three branches would obtain, the Framers wisely determined the need to separate the powers of the sword from those of the purse. Thus, they gave the President power to use the military as commander in chief only in times when the country came under urgent danger of attack from enemies. To declare war, however, only Congress could decide.

The Framers wanted to make the rules clear on this delineation of powers such that “the executive should be able to repel and not to commence war,” as Madison and Gerry expressed it. Their design “was for clogging rather than facilitating war, but for facilitating peace.” As they later clarified in Section 2 of the Constitution, the Framers agreed that the president could act without a congressional declaration of war to repel an invasion but that only Congress could authorize the deployment of forces outside the nation’s territory in combat against foreign troops.

Once Irons clarifies this separation of power between the president and Congress, he reviews the history of American wars and how presidents have repeatedly and increasingly, seized on the provision to repel invasion as a means to claim for themselves the war-making power which the Framers placed specifically in the hands of Congress.

The Algiers Affaire -- Refinement of the Terms of Engagement

As a young nation, at the turn of the nineteenth century, America was sparsely populated (only four million people, a fourth of which were slaves) and had hardly developed its military power. Two years before the Constitution was drafted, the newly formed United States encountered one of its first military crises. Algerian pirates in the Mediterranean were attacking and robbing U.S. merchant ships. This crisis, called the “Algiers Affaire,” began in 1785 when George Washington was president and lasted until 1815 when James Madison was president.

When the piracy began, public opinion and outrage called for Washington and his then secretary of state, Jefferson, to order naval and ground attacks against the pirates. But both men deferred to Congress to make such a move. Later, when Jefferson became president, he continued to abide by the rules of powers, and wrote that Congress would consider “how far they will enable the Executive to engage” as well as determine the treatises and any ransom for the captured merchant sailors.

Finally, by 1815 the dangers of piracy became so serious that President James Madison asked Congress for a declaration of war against Algiers. Congress responded with legislation authorizing Madison to employ “such of the armed vessels of the United States as may be judged requisite.” In this way, Congress began a precedent that would become almost a lasting tradition of granting blank-check military powers to the president to deploy American forces in combat short of a formal declaration of war.

Most notable of the blank-checks Congress would give presidents,

“was the Tonkin Gulf Resolution in August 1964, authoring Lyndon Johnson to commit troops against the North Vietnamese. But unlike the Vietnam War, the Algiers Affair ended on a peaceful note, in 1816, when the Algerian ruler signed a treaty that halted further acts of piracy. During a period of more than thirty years, four American presidents, from Washington through Madison, refrained from unilateral military action and worked closely with Congress to resolve the conflict peacefully.”

During this relatively peaceful period, several conflicts arose between the U.S. and other countries, such as the Quasi-War with France that set legal precedent and prompted Congress to legislate law such as the Neutrality Act. Likewise, the Court ruled on specific cases which also clarified the Constitutional principles:
Bas v. Tingy prompted Congress and the Courts to refine the terms and conditions of “perfect” war or “imperfect” conflict and what scope of power a president might exercise in either
Little v. Barreme became a vehicle for the Court to limit presidential power and to reassert congressional authority in foreign affairs -- a Constitutional principle which subsequent presidents undermine although its legitimacy remains valid
United States v. Smith reasserts the principle that the president, like any other citizen, remains subject to all laws established by the legislature – “the president does not possess a [law] dispensing power”

Congressional legislation and court rulings helped to cool tempers during these early years of the nation as well as to clarify the separation of powers between the branches of government. One might speculate that the proper functioning of the U.S. government, as it was originally designed, helped to avoid all out wars between the U.S. and other countries such as Algiers, France, and Spain. “How the presidents and Congress responded to these early challenges, and how the courts resolved cases stemming from them, have continuing relevance to later assertions of inherent presidential war-making powers.” As the U.S. expands its territory and its ambitions, we find that presidents gain increasing power over Congress and the Court leading to increasing imperial war-making power for the Executive office.

War of 1812 Declared -- We Have to Go With the Call to Arms

With the War of 1812, Congress reluctantly declared war for the first time (the first of five formally declared wars in its history). Madison had tried to avoid war against the British through diplomacy, but ultimately he was forced to defend against their aggressions. At this time, the British gloried in the world’s strongest naval fleet and army, but their arrogance allowed them to overreach their resources as they were also waging war against France at the same time. Although Madison and Congress worked together according to the legal process, Irons considers this war in light of an important court case, Martin v. Mott. Jacob Mott was a New York militiaman who refused to go to this unpopular war on the grounds that it made no “imminent” threat to New York State. The court ruling carries significance today in terms of the military draft. The court ruled that the president does not need to prove “imminent” danger to oblige soldiers to war. In later conflicts, such as Vietnam, presidents might have had difficulty in waging war without this ruling.

Mexican-American War Declared -- Oops, gosh, they attacked us!

In 1846, Congress declared war for a second time. The Mexican War represents a tuning point in how the U.S. wages war. The country took its first step in territorial expansion through conquest by war. Moreover, President Polk found a clever way to subvert the Constitutional process to obtain Congressional approval. He provoked the Mexican army to attack U.S. troops on the border. In this way, he could legally take immediate military action to “repel aggression.” The initial conflict fueled popular opinion for the expansion to take the territories of Texas and all the way to the Pacific Ocean. This war marked the first of imperial wars as well as of the “first major exercise of presidential war making with Congress adding its approval only after Polk had approved military actions along the Rio Grande.” This war also led to two court rulings in the cases of American Insurance and Fleming upholding the right of the United States to expand its territory by “conquest or treaty.” But these cases also reaffirmed that only Congress, not the president, could declare war and ratify a treaty to expand it territory.

Unlike Polk, the presidents that followed him, Taylor, Fillmore, Pierce, and Buchanan, had no expansionist ambitions. They proactively reaffirmed that Congress alone could declare war -- these presidents enjoyed a time of peace and economic growth.

Civil War – Sets Unintended Precedent for Increasing the Imperial Presidency

When analyzing the Civil War, which caused over 600,000 deaths, the most lethal of all wars in U.S. history, the author focuses on two important decisions President Lincoln made while Congress was in recess:
• imposed a blockade on Confederate States
• suspended the habeas corpus

Lincoln took these initiatives in urgent response to the conflict that erupted abruptly within the first five weeks of his office. Angered by Lincoln’s anti-slavery stand, particularly in regard to the Dred Scott case, Confederate States seceded and their troops fired upon Fort Sumter in South Carolina. Prompted by the aggressive, surprise attack, “Lincoln called Congress to special session, citing ‘the power vested in me by the Constitution’ to call up the state militias and ‘to cause the laws to be duly executed.’ Thus, in accordance with the law, Congress declared war, but this was a war against an internal aggression, an insurrection and claim for succession.

However, Lincoln imposed the blockade and suspended the habeas corpus without congressional approval and under urgent wartime needs while Congress remained in recess. Lincoln publicly acknowledged that he was acting without the required congressional process. He justified his unilateral proclamations by the urgent need to defend against the sudden war. In doing so, Irons argues that, although Lincoln, acknowledged he exceeded his powers in urgent circumstances, he established precedence for later presidents such as Henry Truman, Clinton, and both Bushes who expanded presidential power. From the Japanese detainment camps to the Guantánamo Bay, Abu Ghaib abuses, and the Patriot Act, some presidents have brashly and unapologetically overreached their legally authorized powers even for wartime situations.

Spanish-American War Declared -- a Cookie-Cutter Model for the Iraqi Invasion

Following the Civil War, America’s economy pulled itself out of the muck of war and expanded rapidly as inventions spurred on productivity with modern machines and millions of Europeans immigrated to populate the resource rich and virgin lands. As Mark Twain called it, the Gilded Age sparkled in the nation where entrepreneurs like Andrew Carnegie and John D. Rockefeller built their financial empires. The author remains focused on analyzing the increasing bellicose and expansionist fever in the country. At this time, an almost religious fever for aggressive growth pushed a majority of hawks to imperial grabs for territory. Congress pushed Cleveland to go to war with Spain over Cuba and the Philippines. Cleveland resisted war. This brought up a new twist in Constitutional regarding war. What if Congress declared a war and the president refused to sound the battle cry? “Under the Constitution, the only remedy would be impeachment,…”

In 1897, William McKinely also resisted the congressional push for war, at least until the American battleship, the Maine mysteriously exploded while anchored in Havana’s harbor. The American public was outraged and immediately accused Spain for the sinking of the ship along with 266 U.S. sailors. Later and more thorough analysis proved that an internal design flaw caused the Maine to sink. But that report surfaced to the public only after the U.S. war with Spain ended. Congressional and popular disdain pushed McKinley to war against Spain. One important ideological justification for this war was to spread democracy and to make Cuban “free and independent.”

The Spanish-American was the shortest of the five declared wars, lasting less than four months. When it broke out, the politically ambitious hawk, Teddy Roosevelt, quit his bureaucratic job with the Navy to organize a volunteer cavalry brigade. His adventures on the island brought him popularity and boosted his political career. Despite the rhetorical claims to spread democracy, Cuba and the Philippines became a dependent colony “in all but name, …with its…U.S. control.”

Irons draws the irresistible parallels between the colonization of Cuba and that of Iraq. The intelligence information that was covered up, the falsified and ever evolving justification for the war, all point to a model that G.W. Bush used in cookie-cutter fashion for the invasion and occupation of Iraq, although the latter proves much less profitable because of the unexpected strong insurgency. “The Spanish-American war had less to do with Cuba than with American interests in the Pacific.” Likewise, the occupation of Iraq never would have occurred without the U.S.’s obvious interest in oil.

World War I Declared -- Neutrality is Good for Business, But So Is War

Ask most anyone why the U.S. declared war on Germany in 1917, they might answer that Germany aggressively attacked American passenger ships, the Lusitania most famously. However, the Lusitania, like most other American passengers ships at the time, was also carrying many tons of concealed munitions which U.S. contractors had sold to British forces. Information about the munitions cargo remained a little known fact until after the war. The U.S. remained neutral for the first three years of WWI because selling products to all sides of the war was more profitable than selling to any one chosen side. “…European war restored the American economy to a healthy state; by 1917, England and its allies had purchased more than $2billion in supplies. Neutrality was good for business.” But as the war dragged on, the international economic system became jeopardized. “One factor that most clearly prompted Wilson to shift from neutrality between England and Germany was his fear that a drawn-out war, with neither side able to force the other to surrender, would gravely damage or even destroy the international economic system.”

As in the Spanish-American war
• public outrage over aggression against American lives and property made it easier for the president to move for war
• the president cranked “up a formidable propaganda machine to create excitement for a military undertaking”
• Congress followed “constitutional formality of granting the president’s request for war, however lame the pretext”

Also significant in this war, the president:
• Used an effective marketing campaign to justify the war and to gain popular support for it, saying that “making the world safe for democracy” was the reason to go to war when in fact, making the world safe for business, was the real reason. And this flimsy, albeit highly ideological, rationalization was enough to capture the approval of the otherwise reluctant American public.
• Took advantage of the wartime situation to grab a little more power. Wilson wrote an influential book entitled Constitutional Government in the United States, in which he claimed that the president held “absolute” control over the nations foreign policy.
• Claimed power to mobilize troops in his proposal to Congress to join the League of Nations, but Congress did not approve this treaty which expanded presidential power beyond constitutional limits

As during the Civil War when the habeas corpus was called into question, so too, during WWI, the court restrained personal freedom when, in the case of Schenck v. United States, Justice Holmes first ruled that Schenck had no right to question the president’s decision to go to war based on his famous test of “shouting fire in the theater.” Later, Holmes reversed his ruling when he dissented in the Abrams v. United States by qualifying his initial “clear and present danger” test with his more defined test of the “imminent threat, immediate interference” of government programs regarding critical speech.

The court adopted Holmes new and more refined test for illegal speech much later and during the Vietnam War. What’s important to note here is how the president can usurp unusual power during a time of war. Irons’s history shows how every war allows a president to broaden his office’s scope of authority.

World War II Declared -- But the Great Depression Leads to Imperial Presidency

With almost a unanimous vote in Senate and Congress, Franklin D. Roosevelt obtained one of the easiest congressional declarations of war, especially in the wake of Japan’s attack on Pearl Harbor, in 1941. Two day later, Italy and Germany declared war on the U.S. and Congress reciprocated by declaring war on those Axis nations.

However, Irons argues that America’s economic struggles against the Great Depression in the 1930’s represents the greatest period of need for centralized power. This stressful decade gave FDR the imperial authority as president and not necessarily the circumstances of WWII.

“In a real sense, the imperial presidency, which took full shape during the Depression, created, in turn, the imperial America that emerged from World War II as the most powerful nation on earth. This link between domestic politics and foreign policy continues to influence both aspects of American society.”

United States vs. Curtiss-Wright Corp. represents the landmark case that granted FDR expansive power in domestic and foreign policy. It began during the Hundred Days session of Congress in 1933, when the overwhelming Democratic majority established several agencies as a means to accomplish the goals of the Recovery Act and the Agricultural Act. Under these acts, the president was given authority to regulate the economy (in terms of production quotas, prices, and wages) in a centralized manner.

The Court argued that these Acts provided the presidency with too much power and left Congress with little more than bureaucratic functions. The case of Curtiss, among other hotly debated trials, ultimately delegated more power to the president in domestic issues than the Constitution originally granted.

The author does bring our attention to the Japanese “internment” camps during WWII as

“the most serious constitutional questions…resulted from the presidential orders that affected more that 100,000 American citizens …they were not engaged in an armed rebellion against the government, as the Confederate states had been during the Civil War. An they had not harshly criticized American participation in war, as had Eugene Debs, for example, during World War I. …only because they ‘looked like the enemy’ and were suspected of disloyalty soley on the basis of reace and ancestry. But the treatment of Japanese Americans during World War II created a constitutional ‘disaster’ for which all three branches of government shared culpability.”

The imprisonment of Japanese as well as the expanded power from the Recovery acts, showed FDR as turning his nose up at the Constitution and demonstrated how fragile its basic principles of human rights can be. The same aberration of the nation’s basic foundation was made during the imprisonment of Muslims from Middle Eastern countries after the 9/11 attacks, without charges and in violation of the habeas corpus.

Korean War -- A Presidential Power Grab on Military Deployment

After WWI, President Wilson tried to foist the Senate to join with the League of Nations; pushed to hard, the Senate rejected the treaty in order to retain its constitutional authority to determine when the nation mobilizes troops.

After WWII, FDR took lessons from Wilson’s failure and asked friendly Senators to introduce the bill to join the United Nations. Signing up with the UN enabled FDR and his successors to deploy troops without express congressional consent. He could send troops on “policing missions” or “peace keeping actions” in foreign lands even when there was no threat to the U.S. FDR used the argument for international use of force without prior congressional approval is like the need for “a police officer who saw someone break into a house could hardly be expected to go to the town hall and call a town meeting to issue a warrant before the felon could be arrested.” Although this undermined the balance of powers designed in the Constitution, Senate passed this bill in 1946.

In 1950, North Korea invaded South Korea and the UN Security Council ordered a stop to the invasion. North Korea ignored the UN order and pursued its invasion. The next day, Truman, FDR’s successor, deployed troops in a “peace keeping” mission. Truman’s action “clearly broke the latter [Constitutional] law in three areas.” In calling for military engagement, Truman slapped Congress in the face. And Congress did little to uphold the Constitutional law or to maintain its sole authority.

This shift in the balance in powers has persisted from that moment on.

“In fact, not a single president since Franklin Roosevelt has gone before Congress to seek a declaration of war, while the nation has been engaged in wars -- big and small -- in every decade since the end of World War II. And with rare exceptions, Congress has tagged along, offering blank-check authorizations or after-the-fact approvals of unilateral executive branch war making.”

Vietnam -- Quagmire Lost

By the time the U.S. enters into “conflict” with North Vietnam, the clear and routine pattern emerges. The president, in the case of Vietnam, President Eisenhower in 1954, takes the initiative to deploy troops into combat without informing Congress or much less asking for authorization. Once the military is mobilized in a foreign country, the president justifies their mission as anything other than a war. In the case of Vietnam, Eisenhower, J.F. Kennedy, and L.B. Johnson, all called the war a “conflict” or a “peace keeping mission.”

Irons reveals this pattern of how presidents aggrandize their powers from as early as Polk in the Mexican-American War, to the Vietnam war and beyond, but he does not elaborate any analysis as to why this evolution toward an imperial presidency occurred or why Congress abdicated its Constitutional responsibility to limit the president’s authority to engage military forces. “Eisenhower violated the terms of the Geneva Accords, which permitted the United States to station 685 military advisers in South Vietnam. Without informing Congress, much less getting it approval, Eisenhower sent several thousand troops …engaging in combat.”

As early as 1845, Congress begins to act as a rubber stamp for the president’s deployment of military forces. The author argues repeatedly and somewhat superficially that the reason why Congress always provides the president with a blank-check approach to military adventures lies in public outrage and call for retribution for an initial attack. Economic interests in either territory or natural resources or both also persuade Congress to acquiesce to the president’s military adventures. Economic expansion and growth has often proved in history as the great motivator for imperialism.

Often the federal government’s public relations (propaganda) machinery often influences public opinion and outraged calls to military action. But in the case of Vietnam, as in Korea, theoretical doctrines tend to induce fears in the general public about some potential enemy gaining power and territory. This is the basis for Truman’s doctrine to push back all encroaching communism which leads to the “domino theory” by which policy makers call for military action to ward off the spread of any potentially hostile regimes in “strategic areas.” Korea and Vietnam both serve as example of the application of the Truman doctrine which is backed by the popular desire to expand the American brand of capitalism.

The French had colonized Indochina, Vietnam and other nearby regions, for its natural resources of rubber, tin, and some petroleum. When faced with rising violent opposition, the French decided to pull out of their colonies, and the U.S. took over the so-called “policing” of the regions with the same interests in the natural resources and in addition to the fear of communism’s spread. Ho Chi Minh, a Communist, fought off the French and inspired a popular rebellion against the right-wing, U.S. supported Dictator Diem. This popular insurgency fueled the fires of one of America’s worst military quagmires.

The war continued on for more than seven years and through Eisenhower, JFK, Johnson, and Nixon. Johnson used the war in order to gain reelection after he served briefly as president when JFK’s assassination. Although the attack on the U.S. destroyer Maddox in the Tonkin Bay most likely was provoked, like the initial conflict that sparked the Mexican-American War, it ignited public outrage and continued support for the war. As a wartime president, Johnson’s popularity rose and assured his reelection. As both President Bushes would again show, a president, once engaged in conflict in a foreign conflict, can expect to keep his job.

“Bush [Sr.] began by doubling the military force in the Gulf region, to some 500,000 troops. Elizabeth Drew, an experienced Washington reporter for the New Yorker, wrote that Bush’s top strategist, John Sununu, ‘was telling people that a short successful war would be pure political gold to the President and would guarantee his re-election in 1992”

Iraq -- A Vague and Undefined, Preemptive War Declared

After the 9/11 attack, President G.W. Bush met with congressional leaders, telling them about his plans to retaliate against al-Queda “but also advising them that the broader war on terror would continue indefinitely.” In hind-sight now, after the invasion and chaotic occupation of Iraq, Bush was also using the 9/11 attack as an opportunity to seize power by obtaining an undefined war against no particular nation. Against the advice of senior Congressmen and Senators, Bush pushed to obtain authorization to launch a war “to deter and pre-empt any future acts of terrorism or aggression against the United States.”

In light of the Downing Street Memo, we know that Bush had planned another, more complete attack on Iraq for the obvious interests in the oil reserves there. The broad language in the resolution he proposed to Congress enabled him at least to attempt to establish a stronghold in the Middle East in the form of a U.S. occupied state. “Even before the regime change in Afphanistan, Bush focused the massive resources of the imperial presidency on a bigger target, Saddam Hussein.”

However, Irons does not bother to refer to the Downing Street Memo, he analyzes a more revealing document which Bush Sr.’s cabinet members, all hawks, had compiled while in exile during the Clinton presidency, working in neo-conservative think-tanks. Rumsfeld, Wolfowitz, Cheney, and others presented the Defense Plan Guidance document to Bush Jr. long before he came to office. The DPG set the foundation for what would become Bush Jr.’s Doctrine, a manifesto for U.S. world dominance by military force and by economic power. The document describes, among other explicitly imperial ambitions, the use of pre-emptive military deployment when needed to overthrow any country that poses a potential threat to the U.S. hegemony.

Evidence surfaced to show that the Bush Administration had “fixed” intelligence documents to server their own ambitions to invade Iraq. The 9/11 Commission concluded that Bush’s justifications to invade Iraq were false. Contrary to Bush’s claims, in fact, Iraq had not illegal weapons, no weapons of mass destruction, and no links with terrorist organizations.

Nevertheless, “having misled the American people and stampeded them to war, this Administration must now attempt to sustain a policy predicated on falsehoods.” Irons points out that on 2 November 2004, despite the solid proof that President Bush had lied to the American people and to Congress, a majority of voters ignored the evidence of lies about Iraq and reelected G.W.Bush.

Why has U.S. Democracy Begun to Show Serious Weaknesses?

The author points out that the mainstream media press reported the White House’s claims uncritically, leading the American public on to believe what the Bush Administration wanted everyone to swallow. Likewise Congress did not assume its constitutional responsibility in making the decisions about military conflict. The Constitution states clearly that Congress holds the sole authority to decide when the U.S. can or should engage in military conflict or war. The president has NO right to decide to engage in military battle other than to repel invasion. However, Congress shrugs its own responsibility. One might also point to the U.S. educational system that results in a gullible public unable to think critically about civil responsibilities or politics or in many other areas.

Friday, January 4, 2008

Essay: To Impeach G.W.Bush

Clinton was impeached for lying about sex; George Bush is not impeached for deceiving and misleading Americans and manipulating intelligence, leading to the death of thousands of Americans, and driving the economy into a pit.

By Mark Biskeborn

On 19 December 1998, the House of Representatives impeached President Bill Clinton. The investigation committee charged him with perjury and obstruction of justice. Kenneth Starr was appointed to the Office of the Independent Counsel to investigate Clinton's Whitewater land transactions, but finally brought charges against him for sexual misconduct.

The Impeachment Process

The President can be removed from office through the process of impeachment. If Congress feels that the President has committed acts of "Treason, Bribery, or other High Crimes and Misdemeanors" (U.S. Constitution) they can impeach him with a majority vote. Out of a total 435 congressmen, 231 are currently Republicans, 201 Democrats. An impeachment resembles a legal indictment, not a conviction, however, and not enough to remove the President from office alone.

The case then goes to the Senate. Overseen by the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, the Senate reviews the case and votes whether or not to convict the President. If they vote in favor of conviction by a two-thirds margin, then the President is removed from office. However, this year, Republicans hold a 55-senate majority since the 2004 elections.

A Futile Investigation

Since Starr could not link Clinton to any violations related to Whitewater, he later submitted to Congress the Starr Report, which led to Clinton's impeachment on charges arising from the Monica Lewinsky scandal. (By the way, United States Supreme Court nominee John G. Roberts Jr. worked for Starr during his tenure as solicitor general). With the approval of Attorney General Janet Reno, Starr expanded his investigation into Clinton's conduct.

Starr began his hounding investigation of Clinton in 1994 and the Senate acquitted him on 12 Feburary 1999. When Clinton left office at the end of his term, he enjoyed one of the highest after-term, public approval rating (60%) of any U.S. President for performing his job.

Costs of the Investigation

As they stood even prior to any formal consideration of impeachment, the costs of this lengthy and seemingly spiteful investigation merit consideration. Critics often complained about Starr’s expenditures of more than $50 million over four years, a minor part of the real cost. If the investigation were otherwise a constructive means to keep presidents on the straight and narrow, it would have justified the costs.

The massive distraction the investigation caused for the president, Congress, and the public incurs the main costs. We cannot calculate them precisely, but a close comparison suggests their magnitude. Consider what it would cost a commercial or political advertiser to purchase the same amount of public attention nationally for over four years.

This raises the question: Why did the conservatives in the Justice Department and in Congress push this rather bizarre investigation? It did make for a great smear campaign against Clinton personally as well as his Democrat party.

For the most part, history remembers Clinton as a successful president who enjoyed a list of accomplishments both domestically and internationally, not least of all, he presided over a shift from a budget deficit of around $250 billion, inherited from Bush Sr., to a budget surplus of around $523 billion from the beginning of his presidency to the end of his term.

The Court Appointed President with Bad Luck

Sure, one could argue that economic conditions fell favorably during Clinton’s relatively peaceful eight years of office. However, some economists suspect that Bush’s entry to the Presidency in 2000 may have caused a slight recession, especially when questions arose regarding the fairness and accuracy in the voting in Florida where his brother, Jebb, happened to be governor. But then, by way of a Supreme Court decision, not by election, Bush Jr. arrived in the Oval Office and now, his Iraq war places a huge burden on the economy and had stirred enough fear in the hearts of folks in the heartlands to assure him the 2004 election.

As for Bush Sr., so too for Bush Jr., slow economic conditions seem to have just fallen from the sky during the terms of both Presidents. After Bush Jr.’s sixth year in office, he presides over a shift in a budget surplus of $523 billion, from Clinton, to a budget deficit of $413 billion today which is an all time record in red. Meanwhile, the U.S. sinks deeper into a trade deficit, which last year rose to a record $617 billion.

Bush Jr. reminds us that we’re in a war time economy. He tells us in his
speeches that we wage war in Iraq because Saddam Hussein supported al-Queda. He repeats this even after the 9/11 Commission (which he attempted to call off) concluded that no connection ever existed between Saddam Hussein and the 9/11 attacks. Moreover, even years after the U.S. occupies Iraq, no one has found any evidence of WMD’s (weapons of mass destruction).

We’ve already heard that the Downing Street Memo documented a briefing on July 23, 2002 which provides hard and legal evidence that Bush planned to invade Iraq months before he submitted his resolution on Iraq to the Congress and months before he and Blair asked the UN to resume its inspections for alleged WMDs. The Memo reveals that Bush had decided to overthrow Saddam Hussein by launching a war which would be justified by Saddam’s supposed development of terrorism and WMDs. The U.S. intelligence information that Bush used was fixed specifically to fit with his war plans.

The Case to Impeach G.W. Bush

Bill Clinton was impeached for lying about his sex life. Compare Clinton’s case to the current movement in Congress to impeach G.W. Bush.

Considerable evidence has emerged that Bush deceived and misled the Congress and the American people as to the basis for taking the nation into war against Iraq. Evidence has come to light that Bush manipulated intelligence so as to allege falsely that Iraq posed a national security threat to the U.S. In this case, Bush most likely committed a felony by submitting a false report to Congress on the reasons for launching a first-strike invasion of Iraq. And to add insult to injury, Bush's war in Iraq has only resulted in a drastic (four times more) increase in terrorist bombings.

Even though 89 Congressmen have requested that President Bush answers questions regarding the Downing Street Memo, the President refuses to discuss the subject.

Several attorneys specialized in international law have written that by the standards of the Nuremberg trials and international law, the war in Iraq is a crime against the people of the U.S. and against the world.

We have to apply these laws to everyone equally; otherwise we no longer abide by the rule of law. After three months since the surfacing of the Downing Street Memo (May, 2005) and other evidence that Bush has committed high crimes against the U.S., Congress has still not begun any real impeachment procedure. Congress, Democrats in particular, has become a door mat for the Bush Administration. Likewise, the corporate media no longer serves to seek out and expose the truth. Both the Congress and the mainstream media seem to fear losing their corporate sponsors.

The founders of the United States designed impeachment as a means to call to account the President and his high ministers, to bridle the Executive if he engages in excesses. It enables Congress and Senate to bring about an inquest into the conduct of public servants and to curb the President of swollen power.

Given the Republican majority in the Congress, the impeachment of the current President seems an up-hill challenge that few are willing to take on. Since Republicans hold a majority in both Houses, G. W. Bush enjoys a swollen power like that of an autocrat, a despot of circumstances. The Founding Fathers designed the U.S. Government in a way to assure a constant check and balance of power. However, with American voters fearful of terrorism, panic and hysteria seem to shake them off balance. In contrast, the U.S. soliders in Iraq represent American bravery even when caught between a rock and a hot place.

Fear and Trembling in America

Applying the law to Bush’s possible criminal actions depends mainly on the will and bravery of the American people. But until recently, the American people seem numbed into a self absorbed fear after the 9/11 attacks. If the American people supported Congressional hearings regarding Bush’s criminal activity, then and only then does impeachment and the application of the law seem possible. Democracy works only as well as its citizens are capable of keeping themselves informed, active, and brave. In the meantime, Americans express their bravery through "Support our Troops" stickers.

Recent history has shown that President Lyndon Johnson’s manipulation of the truth about the Vietnam War forced him to give up any ambition for re-election. Richard Nixon’s lies about Watergate forced him to resign from office.

By spending taxpayer’s money on military adventures, the Bush Administration has taken billions of dollars away from the people; dollars that could be put to better use in schools and other social and economic developments. More important, Bush’s war has killed tens of thousands of mostly innocent Iraqi civilians, thousands of U.S. soldiers, and squandered hundreds of billions of dollars which become the profits of a few government contracting corporations.

Under fear and trembling of terrorism, the American people have allowed the U.S. Governement to transform itself from the Republic its founders designed, and into an Imperium whose main mission aims to increase military power and supernational corporate profits through a "war on a continual and global scale," as Bush says; "Mission Accomplished." This certainly is not the America the Founding Fathers had in mind when they designed it. Is it really what we want now?

Most Americans haven't yet figured out that it's not the Middle Eastern terrorists who are the main danger to U.S. democracy but rather those in Washington who pretend to be defending our society. The latter are stealing both our money and freedom, not to mention the lives of U.S. soldiers by the thousands.

First Published: 15 AUGUST 2005

Thursday, January 3, 2008

Book Review: The Sufis

By Idries Shah
Anchor Books, New York, NY; 451 pp., 2007

Reviewed by Mark Biskeborn

The Sufis resemble the Freemasons of western Europe. They developed a spiritual philosophy or approach to life within various religions and cultures. They use allegory, parables, metaphors and symbols to communicate various messages. The mystery swirls around the when and where the Sufis first took their steps to evolve this ancient spiritual freemasonry.
The Sufis

Idries Shah has written over thirty books about the Sufis, imparting a comprehensive experience of their view of life and beyond. Hundreds of books by non-Sufis appear often and disappear as quickly. Shah represents the authentic mystic tradition, despite the many imitators.

The whole of Shah’s work, classics on the subject, adds up to a many faceted whole. There are people, many renowned poets, thinkers, writers, who have walked through the process, book by book just to approach the sense of what Sufi means. In The Sufis Shah delivers a comprehensive commentary on the major minds in “sufism,” as an anthology tour over the centuries. While each of his other books approach the subject from a different angle. The Commanding Self sums up the philosophy of all his books and offers a practical psychological journey toward self realization.

The Sufis provides an overview of the great Sufi poets and story tellers from as early as undated stories and parables through the Middles Ages to the Enlightenment in Europe. Although the major Sufis usually wrote in Middle Eastern languages such as Arabic or Farsi, they have greatly influenced the super stars of European literature from Hugues de Payns (who founded the Knights Templar – 1070) to Chaucer, Rabelais, and Cervantes to Goethe and even on to modern political leaders such as President de Gaule.


Do you want to live happily? Do you want to live an angry biting life? The questions remind me of the simple logical approach to thinking that Socrates brings to us. Socrates, like many other ancient thinkers, often draw their inspiration from a metaphysical or spiritual realm. When you read a Socratic dialogue like Symposium, you discover that Plato was platonic in character because of Socrates who drew his source of insight from divine waters or, more precisely, from Goddesses like Diotama. In our western, technologically oriented culture, our education focuses on the logic and salaried profession.

Recognizing the value of clear, logical thinking is only one step in what the Sufis call an initiation process to a higher level of living. They emphasize a practical way of thinking and learning through experiencing with all the senses. Their contention is that we are all products of our ideas put into us by our parents, our culture, the Zeitgeist we live in, and what is authentic in us represents a small and precious seed that we should cultivate. Unfortunately, we too often leave that seed of authenticity to blow away into the winds of conformity.

One need only look at the dogmas of any church, Catholic, Muslim, or otherwise. One need only study within the paradigm thinking in schools of science. In these places and elsewhere, we find the desolation of limited thinking, conformity, and the use of ideology for ulterior, political, or financial purposes.

Jean Paul Satre called this conformist approach to life “mauvaise fois.” Millineum ago the Sufis called it “the commanding self.” A very old philosophy or way of life has been openly introduced into our Western culture, partly thanks to Shah. Nevertheless, until the last forty years, Sufism has had little overt contact or exposure in the West. Although as a way of thinking, Sufism has influenced many of the greatest Western writers. Sufis bring a clear and intelligent form of mysticism to the West. As Shah demonstrates in his book, the Sufis use various forms of storytelling to formulate and teach their special mysticism.

All our associations with the word mysticism are biased – and probably for good reason. Hearing the mere mention of the word “mysticism,” highly educated Westerners respond by saying they have no time for séances with ghosts, card or palm readings, or mediums, or long-haired, bearded gurus.

Training or learning about mysticism has not been part of our requirements for graduation. Perhaps for this very reason, people with 20 years of Western schooling all too often fall victim to a spiritual charlatan or a cult: we are often highly developed in one area, a profession, but left ignorant about and longing for broader understanding of ourselves.

Shah stresses that “Sufism” is not an “ism.” For the Sufis “isms” are foreign to the nature of their spiritual development. “Sufism” is a term coined by a German academic. The Sufis originally refer to themselves as ‘We friends’ or ‘people like us.’

A main difficulty in teaching is to prevent the material from becoming a system or, heaven forbid, a catechism or dogma —- yet another church, cult or rigid framework of ideas. Sufis say it took a good 800 years of using metaphors and subtle expressions in order for Islam to allow sufists to live in a Muslim culture.

Then Islam claimed the Sufis as part of their cultural heritage, their property, even though the Sufis preceded Mohammad. The prophet Muhammad himself said “He who hears the voice of the Sufi people and does not say ‘Amen’ is recorded in God’s presence as one of the heedless.” Sufists might characterize Islam as a ‘shell’ that has enveloped, at times embraced and at times destroyed them.

Unlike fundamentalists, Sufis express themselves in metaphor and symbols which others can interpret for more than a literal meaning. Imagination is given full reign as well as living spirit. Like Jesus Christ, Sufis also take full advantage of parables. In some ways learning ‘sufism’ might be similar to learning the Socratic method. It’s a liberal and liberating Way of thinking.

For many Sufis, as for Socrates and for Christ, enlightenment comes from love. An insecure person, one who seeks simple, clear answers to life’s big questions, would first have to breath deep, relax, and enjoy uncertainties before taking steps toward creative, innovative living.

The theme of love plays a central role in all the Sufis that Shah reviews in this book. This love theme gave rise to the romantic Western tradition of love poetry and song that grow out of the Dark Ages and blossomed in the chivalric tradition of nobility, knighthood, and the later ideals of humanism that characterized the Renaissance.

This love theme was later used in an ecstatic cult of the Virgin Mary, who until the Crusades had occupied only a small role in the Christian religion. Her greatest veneration today is precisely in those parts of Europe that fell under the Sufic influence.

The 12th century Sufi poet Ibn El-Arabi captures much of this:

I follow the religion of Love.
Now I am sometimes called
A Shepherd of gazelles [divine wisdom]
And now a Christian monk,
And now a Persian sage.
My beloved is Three—
Three yet only one;
Many things appear as three,
Which are no more than one.
Giver her no name,
As if to limit one
At sight of whom
All limitation is confounded.

Poets, Druids, Language

Through the first half of Shah’s book, he comments on over seven poets and storytellers who were the chief disseminators of Sufi thought. They earned the same reverence as did the ollamhs, or master poets of early medieval Ireland, the Druids, and used a similar secret language of metaphorical reference and verbal cipher.

Wednesday, January 2, 2008

Essay: The Rapture of America

“You’re reading the Bible. That’s a great book,” I say as I sit down to work on my laptop in a café.

I smile and go about my business, my head tucked behind my computer screen.

“Yes, we should all read it, especially now,” a man says with a serious look. “You know the day is coming, the day of the Rapture when God will begin the End of Times and make His judgments.”

After my friendly remark, now I risk getting buckled into a long discussion on the Beast with seven heads and ten horns (Rev. 17:2), the Whore of Babylon, and the whole bucket of Christian eschatology.

As a big word, eschatology is not one you’d use at the supermarket while buying beer and pretzels. In Christian theology, eschatology is the study of the destiny of mankind according to the purposes of God.

This New Year is supposed to be when the baby-boomers begin to turn sixty years old. The flower-child generation was once all about Jesus’ peace and love. Now, many of them along with some of their own children fret and moan about the whole process of Revelation as the Apostle John outlined in the last book of the Holy Bible.

John wrote Revelation in the later part of the first century while laid up in the pokey on a Greek island called Patmos. The tyrannical, brutal Romans locked him up for talking too much about Christ’s esoteric teachings of charity, peace, and tolerance. Scholars say this explains why he refers to Rome as the godless Babylon, empire of evil and abusive military power. Revelation is a phantasmagorical vision of how God will re-set the world right.

Meanwhile, all a guy has to do these days is sit down for a cup of java and, presto, people around are studying the Bible for clues about their salvation come the judgment day, the Rapture, when God snatches good folks up into heaven, while the rest of us commonplace sinners are shackled to the earth by gravity to sort out apocalyptic problems like global warming, wars, and pestilence. In times of uncertainty, when our otherwise secluded nation is attacked, clutching onto the Bible and looking for God can bring a surge of warmth and security over one’s soul.

I know this because the ancient texts of the Bible comfort me. Hell, while back in college, I sold my only means of transportation, a Honda 350 motorcycle, just to study the New Testament in Greek at U.C. Berkeley. How fanatic can a guy get?

The 9/11 attack provoked a new wave of religious fundamentalism and doomsday mania, although this preoccupation has plagued the human mind long before John wrote Revelation. A cultural wave of fundamentalist reaction began especially when Muslim terrorists attacked certain icons of our nation’s most sacred beliefs -- the towers of capitalism, our sense of security, or, according to some Biblical interpretation, Aaron’s golden cow (Ex. 32).

With deep roots in irrational puritan soil, American history is colored with many periods of maniac politics and social mores. Works of art like the Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne (novel published in 1850) or, more recently, the movie Good Night and Good Luck (2005), strip bare the frequent and bizarre extremism of American culture.

At times, we mere mortals are beside ourselves, at a loss for answers. We seek comfort and security. When someone pokes our nest, we fly beyond our own imaginations and react in extreme ways. Getting swept up in the moment of tribulations, we can run to rash actions. Extreme reactions may be partly what the Apostle Paul meant by the term (rapturo) The Rapture (1 Thessalonians 4:15-17), the only instance of this word in the Bible.

With all the extreme politics today, we certainly could use more balance. Open debate, including constructive criticism, always helps a free democracy remain balanced.

Tuesday, January 1, 2008

Book Review: All The King's Men

A Novel
By Robert Penn Warren
Harvest Books, Harcourt, Inc., New York, NY; 672 pp., 1946

Reviewed by Mark Biskeborn

Steven Zaillian, an Oscar-winning screenwriter, directed this recent movie based on the novel of the same title. He adapted the 1946 Pulitzer Prize-winning novel by Robert Penn Warren as if the 1949 movie based on the book never existed – although it won best picture and best actor for Broderick Crawford.

The September release of this newly adapted movie prompted me to read the classic. I discovered, not surprisingly, that the movie only scratches the surface of the novel’s depth of characters, plot, and messages.


Mastery of Styles
One of the most fascinating aspects of this novel is the style. Warren masters various styles throughout and depending on the story’s events. The novel was first published twenty-four years after James Joyce’s Ulysses (1922) – which made stream of consciousness style highly appealing.

Jack Burden narrates the story and often lets his voice flow down a stream that reflects Joyce’s influence on novels of the period. Burden takes on a key role, even that of protagonist, while all the time telling the story. This dual role leads the reader to believe that Burden weaves most all of the narration from his streaming consciousness, a way to make sense of the complicated world around him. When Willie Stark introduces his “gang” of aids to his father, Burden describes the interior of Old Man Stark’s farm house with fluid senses:
“The gang of us sat around, and moved our thighs on the horsehair or on the split-bottom and stared down at the unpainted boards of the floor or at the design on the linoleum mat in the middle of the floor as though we were attending a funeral and owed the dead man some money. The linoleum mat was newish, and the colors were still bright -- reds and tans and blues slick and varnished-looking -- a kind of glib, impertinent, geometrical island floating there in the midst of the cornerless shadows and the acid mummy smell and the slow swell of Time which had fed into this room, day by day since long back, as into a landlocked sea where the fish were dead and the taste was brackish on your tongue.”

Two Protagonists, One Born Wealthy, The Other Poor
A burnt-out idealist with a penchant for cynicism, a scion of the state's political aristocracy, and much more, Jack Burden uses his abilities as a historical researcher to help Willie Stark blackmail and control his enemies. One of the story’s driving forces revolves around the responsibility individuals bear for their actions in history’s procession, and this justifies how the story grows partly from real historical occurrences. Jack Burden’s character comes to life from Warren’s imagination, but a number of blatant parallels arise between the fictitious Willie Stark and the real-life Huey Long, who served Louisiana as both Governor and Senator from 1928 until his death in 1935.

Both the fictitious Stark and the factual Long were uneducated farm boys who passed the state bar exam and rose to political power by making reforms to help the state's poor. Both died by assassination at the peak of power by a doctor – in Stark’s case by Dr. Adam Stanton, Jack Burden’s close friend.

By the second chapter, most of the main themes and messages take center stage.

Stark makes a fundamental change in his understanding of politics after Sadie Burke informs him that he has been tricked into splitting “MacMurfee’s hick votes.” Sadie tells him: “You’re a sap and a sucker.” He reacts by drinking himself unconscious, and then the next day delivers the first of his many visceral and inspired speeches, making a fool of Tiny Duffy and captivating the crowd of poor folks. “Yeah, you’re hicks, too, and they’ve fooled you, too, a thousand times, just like they fooled me.”

When MacMurfee is elected largely because of Willie's help, Willie realizes that politics is not a game of ideals, but of willpower and manipulation. With this revelation, he flexes his will (Willie – as in willpower, Stark – German word for strong) to adapt, and emerges as the most powerful figure in state politics.

At the beginning of chapter two, Jack Burden describes Willie Stark as "Cousin Willie from the country," a gullible hick. However, by chapter’s end, Burden becomes one of Stark’s employees. Willie transforms from country boy into the Boss.

Burden goes on to reveal the corrupt business of Southern politics in the 1920s and '30s. Willie Stark is vaguely related to Dolph Pillsbury, the political boss of backwater Mason County, a relation that gives Stark a chance in the election for County Treasurer.

Willie first becomes embroiled in controversy when the county awards a building contract for a school – Pillsbury wants to give it to a man who offers him a kickback, and Willie tries to block the deal. As a journalist at the time, Burden writes an article about this case, which gains more importance because it later helps Stark gain popularity and win the race for governor, and it later sheds light on Stark’s hospital building contract.

Politics of graft, blackmail, bribery, and trickery – amply demonstrated by the Harrison gang's dummy campaign for Willie – propels state politics throughout the novel. Willie initially opposes this cynical politics of manipulation, but ultimately he is forced to master it.

Stark’s growing appetite for power and expanding need to hold it push the once honest politician over the edge of innocence. As Stark gains power, his belief system adapts. He loses faith in humanity’s natural inclination for good. While convincing Dr. Adam Stanton to head the new hospital, he explains, “Man is conceived in sin and born in corruption and he passeth from the stink of the didie to the stench of the shroud.”

According to Stark’s newly developed outlook, doing good is not an inherent human characteristic. Goodness has to be made. “You just make it up as you go along,” he says as if goodness arises not as any absolute ideal, but society defines it depending on its needs at any given time. Yet, Stark comes across as a more complex person than this Machiavellian philosophy suggests. At heart, he seems to carry the country boy’s idealism, and this becomes apparent in the end when he rectifies a crooked deal for the hospital’s construction. The demise of Stark’s son, Tom, shakes him back to his core values – to do good.

Unlike Burden, social recognition and rewards motivate Stark more than self-knowledge and understanding. Yet, Burden was born with a silver spoon in his mouth, he need not preoccupy himself with money or the stark realities of life. On the other hand, Stark started life in a pig farm shack and climbed up the social ladder by focusing on accomplishing practical goals.

Jack Burden takes a prominent part of the story and shares the role of protagonist with Willie Stark. Unlike the strong willed Stark, Burden lacks direction and ambition, but does most of the intellectual work, sorting out the meaning of events in the story. Like most of the secondary characters, Burden gravitates toward Stark because the Boss has ambition, direction, and a sense of purpose no matter how confused that becomes at times. By analyzing, reflecting, and, above all, reviewing the past, Burden discovers himself through his involvement with Stark. Jack Burden carries the philosophical voice of the story in which his own existence represents a debate between free will – that humans can act freely and with good purpose – and determinism -- that humans are tangled in a web of events without control.

Upon learning that his life’s love, Anne Stanton, is sexually involved with Stark, Burden suffers. He recoils by taking a compulsive ride into the west where he develops the whimsical theory of the “Great Twitch,” which only seems to serve as a way to ease his pain by reducing human actions to insignificant tics.

Eventually, Burden too comes around to validate his values in human responsibility and in doing so, he learns more about himself. He realizes that he is at least partly responsible for most of what has happened to himself and to those around him in various events. When considering the death of Judge Irwin, whom he now knows was his real father, Bruden notes, “But Mortimer had killed Judge Irwin in the end. Or had it been Mortimer? Perhaps I had done it. That was one way of looking at it. I turned that thought over and speculated upon my responsibility.”

When he sees how much his mother loved Judge Irwin, he reclaims a direction and purpose in his life. “And that meant that my mother gave me back the past.” His past takes on value, purpose, and meaning.

When he learns that his inheritance is not as lavish as he had first imagined, he finds ambition, the key element that he lacked, and when he finally finds it, Anne Stanton finally marries him and he begins to accomplish practical goals, such as finishing the book about Cass Mastern.

Politics of Manipulation – Lessons for Today
One of the big picture messages we can take away from this story: the struggle between the haves and the have-nots. Since the founding of the nation, Americans have been debating about the equitable distribution of wealth. This novel places the debate in center stage where Willie Stark pulls himself from a pig farm by his bootstraps. He understands the needs of the poor in terms of justice, education, and healthcare. By promising these things to his “fellow hicks,” he gains popularity enough to win the race for governor. Stark sincerely seeks to do good, but eventually the power scrambles his moral compass, at least until his son’s death helps him to find his direction again.

Jack Burden hooks his wagon to Stark’s ambitious drive to do good. As a wealthy lad, Burden has the luxury to contemplate his place in the universe, his origins, who his father is, his identity, and his purpose in life. Doing good, serving a purpose are what attracts Burden to work for Stark. But Burden takes this noble path one step farther by pursuing the truth. After all, he is a journalist and a history researcher. Eventually, he finds out the truth about who his father, Judge Irwin, is as well as the weak moments in the man’s past. Burden also learns that his life’s love, Anne Stanton, has an affaire with Willie Stark.

When Anne’s idealistic bother, Adam, learns of his sister’s tryst, he kills Stark in a rage of moral indignation. But Adam acted just as Stark’s political opponents had hoped. Adam became a mere “sap and sucker” for Duffy’s political manipulations. Once Stark is killed, Duffy becomes Governor.

Burden digs up the truth in this affair. He questions Sadie Burke about who informed Adam about his sister’s affair with Stark. Sadie Burke admits that Duffy made the call to Adam, inflaming him to kill Governor Stark, who had a weakness for women. Like Humpty Dumpty, Stark’s weakness made him stumble off the wall. And All the Kings Men could not put him back together again.

Before Stark took office, political manipulation is what Stark warned his “fellow hicks” about. The hicks did not realize that big corporations, mostly energy companies and contractors, were using money to influence politicians for their own benefit and not for the interests of the people they represent. The hicks were not aware that, as citizens, they were entitled to social benefits. Big businesses took advantage of the hick voters’ ignorance by influencing the politicians. The wealthy class grabbed the social entitlements in the form of no-bid contracts, low inheritance (death) tax, and campaign manipulations.

“I discovered that its delicate little root, with many loops and kinks, ran all the way to New York City, where it tapped the lush dung heap called the Madison Corporation. The flower in the cranny was the Southern Belle Fuel Company. So I plucked another little flower called the American Electric Power Company, and discovered that its delicate little root tapped the same dung heap.”

The debate about the equitable distribution of wealth continues today. More than sixty years since this novel was published, Americans still struggle with rudimentary notions about universal justice, education, and healthcare for all social classes. Meanwhile in other industrialized countries, such as Japan or Europe, where the industrial-military complex does not consume huge portions of tax income, these social “entitlements” seem resolved in comparison. Many Americans understand the European or Japanese economic systems as socialistic, a four letter word in the American lexicon.

Yet today like no other period of American history has the manipulation of the public been more blatant. Under the administration of this 43rd President, thousands of lobbyists influence government contracts with little or no regard to public interests. Most flagrant of the abuses of political power arises in how Vice President Cheney exercises free reign in awarding his own company, Halliburton, with billon dollar, no-bid contracts to reconstruct an occupied country where the chaos of civil war allows for no reconstruction at all.

All the King’s Men instructs all us citizens, hicks or not, to take warning against the political abuses and manipulations. As an American classic, this novel reminds us of our responsibility in history, “and soon now we shall go out of the house and go into the convulsion of the world, out of history into history and the awful responsibility of Time.”