By John Stanton and Wayne Madsen John Stanton is a Virginia-based writer on national security affairs and Wayne Madsen is a Washington, DC-based investigative journalist who writes and comments frequently on civil liberties and human rights issues.
In a maddening repetition of history, the young warfighters of the United States, along with those of its coalition partners, find themselves in battle with an amorphous opponent in a global counter-insurgency campaign managed by paranoid policy makers who see themselves as the enlightened sons of God. As the illegitimate and extremist government of the United States prepares to expend another generation of its youth for power, money and resources thousands of kilometres from home, they are negligently and criminally allowing the infrastructure, health and welfare of the United States to deteriorate.
As America wages World War III against its 21st century barbarians - the Taliban and Al Qaeda (the Visigoths and Huns?) - in a war that may well see the use of nuclear weapons, the American Empire seems doomed to duplicate the concluding events of 476 A.D. And it's not Al Qaeda's 5,000 militants that will destroy the USA, it's the current "selected" government that will sacrifice the future of the world's greatest experiment in freedom on the altar of fascism.
Close to 200 years ago, the English novelist-historian Edward Gibbon commented that, "The decline of Rome was the natural and inevitable effect of immoderate greatness. Prosperity ripened the principle of decay; the causes of destruction multiplied with the extent of conquest; and, as soon as time or accident had removed the artificial supports, the stupendous fabric yielded to the pressure of its own weight. The empire of Rome was firmly established by the singular and perfect coalition of its members. The subject nations, resigning the hope, and even the wish, of independence, embraced the character of Roman citizens. But this union was purchased by the loss of national freedom.
And the servile provinces, destitute of life and motion, expected their safety from the mercenary troops and governors, who were directed by the orders of a distant court. The happiness of a hundred million [people] depended on the personal merit of one or two men [emperors] perhaps children [in Rome], whose minds were corrupted by education, luxury, and despotic power. The multiplication of oppressive taxes was countered and evaded by the rich, who shifted the burden to the poor, who in turn also dodged them and fled to the woods and mountains to become Rome's rebels and robbers..." And so it seems America will share the same fate. In the coming years, trillions of taxpayer dollars previously earmarked for non-military expenditures will be siphoned off to feed the voracious appetite of the Grendelesqe US military-industrial complex. And for what purpose? Billions more dollars for a grandiose national missile defense instead of billions for the tools the young Special Operations warfighters, who will inevitably fight and die in countries as far-a-field as Afghanistan, Iraq, Columbia and Georgia, need to do their jobs. Trillions more dollars will be directed to a military and intelligence establishment that failed to protect and defend American citizens and the U.S. Constitution on September 11, 2001.
And as more billions and billions of dollars get poured into Homeland Defense, it's worth looking at The State of the Union, or should we say State of the Homeland, to see if the warfighters who return from their efforts in foreign lands will recognize the country they left. For while Americans fight on the frontiers of strange and distant lands, they do not understand that their country is disintegrating. And the numbers tell the story.
The CIA's World Fact Book 2001 cautions that "long-term problems [for the United States] include inadequate investment in economic infrastructure, rapidly rising medical costs of an aging population, sizable trade deficits, and stagnation of family income in the lower economic groups." And so it goes. In 2002, over 31 million Americans live in poverty, according to Poverty USA, a website run by the Catholic Campaign for Human Development. 1 in 6 American children live in poverty. Minorities, of course, are hardest hit with 22.1% of African-Americans (who experience three times the poverty rate for white non-Hispanics), 21.2% of Hispanics, 10.8% of Asians and Pacific Islanders, and 7.5% of white non-Hispanics who struggle to exist on a daily basis in what proponents of American greatness like to describe as the wealthiest nation in history.
The United States has the dubious distinction of having the second highest percentage of children living in poverty in the industrialized world and one of the most disgusting track records for low birth weight of infants. If ever there were a subject that was "underreported" it is the plight of America's children. The National School Boards Association's Ten Critical Threats To America's Children: Warning Signs for the Next Millennium provides disturbing data on the state of America's youth. Despite these obvious disasters, the Bush regime is more interested in school vouchers and the "unborn" rather than the horrors that millions of young people in our country, and their parents, experience. Over 3 million children experienced hunger in 1998 in the wealthiest country in the world. In 1998, approximately 11.1 million children younger than 18 had no health insurance. In 1998, close to 44.3 million Americans had no health insurance and 11.1 million - or 25 percent - were younger than 18, according to U.S. Census Bureau statistics.
Because of lax pollution laws, 900,000 children in the United States have elevated levels of lead in their bloodstream, putting them at risk for a variety of health and behavioural problems. There are 96,000 schools serving State subsidized lunches to 26 million children, which mean that these young Americans are starving. The sheer number of America's youth who have been killed or wounded by gunfire in recent years is shocking when placed in historical context. Between 1979 and 1996, more than 75,000 American children and teens were killed with guns and, further, firearms wounded another 375,000. That's almost 20,000 more deaths and 225,000 more casualties than American troops suffered in the Vietnam War, according to Ten Critical Threats.
One year ago in March 2001, the American Society of Civil Engineers failed America's infrastructure with a grade of D+. "When you've got rolling blackouts in California, bridges crumbling in Milwaukee, and kids in Kansas City attending class in a former boys' restroom, something is desperately wrong," said then ASCE President Robert W. Bein, a civil engineer from Irvine, California. According to ASCE's website www.asce.org, "The solutions to these problems involve more than money, but as with most things in life, you get what you pay for. America has been seriously under-investing in its infrastructure for decades and this report card reflects that." Among the many problem areas, one of the more notorious involves water.
Wastewater declined from a "D+" in 1998 to a "D," while drinking water remained a "D." Wastewater and drinking water systems are both quintessential examples of aged systems that need to be updated. For example, some sewer systems are 100 years old. Aged drinking water systems are structurally obsolete. The results of maintaining such antiquated systems have sometimes been fatal. In 1993, 100 people died and 400,000 became ill after Milwaukee's water supply had been contaminated by cryptosporidium, a virulent microscopic parasite resistant to chlorine and filtration. That very same year, Washington, DC experienced a four-day boil water alert arising from excessive "turbidity" in the city's water. The Centers for Disease Control in Atlanta measures turbidity by analyzing the presence of small "suspended particles" in a glass of water poured from a municipal water supply's tap.
The murky water from the Dalecarlia Reservoir in Washington in December 1993 was found to be very turbid - dangerously so. Little wonder, since many of the reservoir's conduits were built during the Civil War. The shortfall of $11 billion for drinking water and $12 billion in wastewater only account for improvements to the current system and do not even take into consideration the demands of a growing population. ASCE estimated it would take roughly $1.3 trillion dollars to fix America's infrastructure. That amount is roughly equivalent to George Bush II tax cut that benefited primarily this nation's most wealthy individuals.
As of 1997, the richest five percent of U.S. households held more than 60 percent of the nation's private wealth and the top 1 percent of households held 40 percent of the wealth according to data from inequality.org. There are approximately 500,000 to 600,000 homeless Americans wandering throughout American communities, notes the National Coalition for Homelessness. And the Disaster Center reports that for the year ending in 2000, 105,703 Americans were murdered or raped in their own country. And if that were not enough to pique an interest, now we hear from our Teutonic-sounding Office of Homeland Security that our nation's pipelines and refineries are vulnerable to terrorist attack. Wait! Not so fast!
In August 2000, a natural gas pipeline exploded near Carlsbad, New Mexico, killing 12 people, many of them families on camping vacations. A little over a year earlier, a natural gas pipeline exploded in Bellingham, Washington killing two 10-year old boys and an 18 year-old teenage male. According to the Environment News Service, since 1986, there have been more than 5,700 pipeline accidents, killing more than 300 people and releasing some six million gallons of oil, gas and other pollutants into the environment. Was Osama bin Laden responsible for them? No. Was it Saddam Hussein? No, again. The perpetrator was the U.S. Government. It turns out that the Interior Department's Office of Pipeline Safety, a whorish marionette for the oil and natural gas industry, failed to conduct adequate inspections. The oil industry, which now apparently controls the White House and the Executive branch, does not want increased pipeline inspections for fear that they will cost them money. A docile Congress, bought and paid for by the oil industry, rejected legislation to force the industry to inspect and fix its pipelines.
The mother of one of the 10 year old boys killed, speaking to the Environment News Service, had this message for the "Evil Doers" of the oil industry: "Your profit means little to us in the face of the lives we care about," So, the families of those killed in the explosions had to be content to bury their loved ones without the satisfaction of seeing the government correct its evil ways. It's very much the same logic that results in Arthur Andersen getting indicted for keeping Enron's books, while chief Enronite "Kenny Boy" Lay remains unscathed. This would be like the government indicting John Dillinger's get-away driver while leaving the bank robber free and clear of any charges.
Bread and Circuses
Historians will write that the American Empire, in its final days, experienced many of the phenomena that plagued The Roman Empire. Roman senators formed their own wealthy class of landowners who rarely attended senate meetings but enjoyed the privileges of their office. Consider that most U.S. Senators and Representatives spend most of their time outside of Washington soliciting contributions from corporations. One does not need a time machine to actually witness what was occurring in Rome during its tumultuous decline.
William Langer, in his tome An Encyclopedia of World History, writes "the lethargy" of Rome resulted from "the unwieldy and inflexible system and the poor mental calibre of the rulers." (Gibbon's George W. Bush II and the insane John Ashcroft?). Yes, sadly, it seems that our own neo-Romanesque leaders share many things in common, with their quirky and demented Pax Romana counterparts. Take Nero and Claudius for example. The latter is described by Langer as a "driveling imbecile." Claudius was known for taking away the power of the Senate to investigate financial crimes cases and instead granting that power to imperial procurators. Bush II, of course, is stonewalling Congress's attempt to investigate ties between the administration and the oil industry, opting to leave the investigation of Enron up to his own politically motivated "procurators" in the Justice Department. As we remember the old days, it's worth noting that Nero was actually responsible for setting Rome on fire - during which he sang to the music of a lyre a poem about the burning of Troy.
It turns out that Nero used the burning of Rome as a pretext to increase his already substantial dictatorial powers and exterminate Christian believers in the city. Like John Ashcroft - who requests anointment with oil by a follower before the day's activities and holds mandatory prayer breakfasts-he is orchestrating a systematic article-by-article disposal of the U.S. Constitution. The man bellows religious songs at news conferences, turns away in horror at statues of females with bare breasts, and eschews Calico cats as signs of Satan.
Nero would have found comfort and friendship in such bizarre behaviour. As America seems on a path to repeat the history that swept away the Roman Empire, we should remember the words of one of our greatest symbols of popular resistance: "Our only hope today lies in our ability to recapture the revolutionary spirit and go into a sometimes hostile world declaring eternal hostility to poverty, racism and militarism," said Martin Luther King, Jr. It seems we owe that to those who expect to return to a vibrant democracy.