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Enron’s Global Game (12/01)

Until it imploded last October, Enron — long known as End-Run by its critics — was often described as just another aggressive corporation eager to expand its portfolio and open routes into new markets, albeit sometimes with "strong arm" tactics. The implication in most press reports was that, so long as consumers and shareholders came out on top, how it operated was a matter of little public concern.

But Enron was never just another company. It was a major architect and proponent of utility deregulation, with close friends in both the Clinton and two Bush Administrations. Headquartered in Houston, TX, it was also the largest contributor to George W. Bush’s presidential campaign, giving at least $550,000 to Bush himself and an estimated $1.8 million to the Republican Party during the 2000 elections. Since then, however, it has also emerged as one of the biggest corporate rip offs in history. Early evidence indicates that its executives hid at least half a billion in debt while enriching themselves through insider trading and financial gimmicks. In the end, they ran the company into the ground. Citgroup, J.P. Morgan and other banking houses were either hoodwinked or accomplices. In either case, they lured in shareholders with empty promises. read more

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Maverick: More Reasons to Apologize (9/98)

Since the president is in the mood to confess and atone, here’s a suggestion: ‘fess up to the wrongdoing, hypocrisy. and misleading statements at the heart of US foreign policy. For starters, he could admit that the year-long campaign to scare the world about VX gas has gone drastically off-track. In August, for example, it provided the excuse to bomb a factory in the Sudan that was actually producing antibiotics and medicines for malaria, rheumatism, tuberculosis, and diabetes, all desperately needed by Africans. read more

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Revisiting the End of the Sixties (6/98)

Midway through HBO’s recent series on the U.S. quest to reach the moon, an installment titled "1968" proposes that the six-day orbital flight by astronauts Borman, Lovell, and Anders in December was about all that rescued the year from disaster. At a distance of three decades, that time of rebellion and polarization was epitomized by stock footage of riots, assassinations, and war. But in celebrating the space program, this docu-drama missed the bigger picture.

Opening a Senate investigation of the Tonkin Gulf Resolution in early March 1968, Senator J. William Fulbright described what was taking place across the country as a "spiritual rebellion" of the young against a betrayal of national values. The Resolution itself, passed in 1964, had given President Johnson a blank check to wage war against Vietnam, based on a trumped-up military incident. Subsequently, over half a million troops were mobilized to prevent a North Vietnamese victory, using fears of Communism and falling dominoes to rationalize what soon became a major invasion. By 1968, the operative logic was that it might be necessary to destroy the divided Asian nation in order to save it. read more

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Conspiracies Unlimited (2/98)

Uncovering a secret plot can quickly become a dead-end trip, guided by the researcher’s paranoid half-fantasies and the eerie vibration that everything is under hidden control. Yet you don’t have to be paranoid to realize that history isn’t only what scholars write, and that newspapers often edit — and sometimes even alter — the facts that they report.

Secret societies do exist, conspiracies both above and below ground; so do groups with manipulative and often deadly game plans. But not all of them are bent on control: some are aimed at altruistic goals, and others are just plain stupid. No one group as yet has humanity under its thumb. On the other hand, conspiracies are quite real and not to be underestimated. read more

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Kosovo: Specious Logic (6/99)

During a recent conversation with an old friend – once an anti-war activist, now a congressional staffer – I suggested that the decision to bomb the former Yugoslavia had more to do with NATO’s credibility and US influence in Europe than protecting Kosovo Albanians or defense of human rights. Be that as it may, he responded, "Milosevic is a brutal dictator and something had to be done to stop genocide. I’m not a pacifist."

Such arguments among progressives have been common since late March, with both sides marshaling "facts" to support their positions. Opponents of the war note that NATO and the US didn’t negotiate in good faith, or take steps to deal with the refugee flow that would inevitably follow military action – though they probably expected it. Supporters point to the mass removal of Albanians before the bombing, Milosevic’s past betrayals and crimes, and evidence of atrocities since March. To this extent, both sides are right. But equating opposition to bombing with pacifism, along with the argument that military action was justified by the charge of genocide, betrays the myopic thinking of those who support "diplomacy backed by force." read more

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Outsourcing Defense

The Quiet Rise of National Security, Inc.


Four years ago, candidate George W. Bush promised to make government more efficient, lean, and responsive by looking at whether some federal agencies should be privatized or abolished. On the record, the plan was to start with almost one million federal positions, those said to be “commercially replaceable,” and open them up for private bidding. Shortly after taking office, he took the idea a step further, stating his preference for privatized peacekeeping operations. read more