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Robert A. Spira and Shirley J. Goldstein

2001 - Copyright Pending

Edited by William Noe

 

Reuters gives us a more in-depth look at the Swiss Report:

 

"Once Carlos Salinas was elected president of Mexico in 1988, officials say, his brother Raul took control of practically all drug shipments transiting Mexico. He bribed members of the police and the army, thus making sure the booming drug business was facilitated, or rather, protected,"

"For instance, on very specific days -- known as green-light days -- loads of drugs from Colombia were allowed to be carried to and across Mexico without being checked by the police and army. Raul Salinas even provided trucks and railroad freight cars of state-owned business enterprises,"

 

Although the Mexican Government announced that they wanted their share of the money from Switzerland, officials took great offense at the report’s labeling Mexico as a "Narco State."

 

The Mexican people are basically fun loving people, just like the folks in the U.S.A. Unfortunately, this whole Salinas family episode becomes more of a joke, than a sad story about how the people had been ripped off by their senior government officials and their families. This stuff was really old hat, but President Salinas stole the people’s money. Almost as a monument to his theft, Mexican merchants created rubber caricature masks of the former president, and these have been sold in Mexico City and throughout the remainder of the country as satiric humor. This form of humor and protest is similar in many ways as in American, where masks have been made of Richard Nixon and other American Presidents.

 

Licensed merchants in the open-air market in central Mexico City, seeing the Salinas thing start to become old news, had a mask of the current Mexican President Ernesto Zedillo made and put it on sale in the square along side of the formerly popular Salinas caricature. This did not seem to amuse the President. Suddenly, 30, count them 30, federal police descended on the square with their rifles cocked and ready to fire on these pathetic soul’s barley scrounging out a living. These poor souls couldn’t fight their combined weight out of a paper bag when the Mexican Army descended upon them. The moral of this story is, don’t make masks in the image of people who have no sense of humor – and at the time, just happen to be running your. Political humorist in this country must have a life expectancy of about five minutes.

 

Having dispensed with these vendors, who had offered a monumental threat to Mexican society as we know it, Zedillo went about some other less consequential house cleaning chores. The fact that most people working in Mexican organizations who are charged with fighting crime usually wind up in league with the thieves or, upon being successful in prosecuting them, get to unwind in those same jails, has caused this "law and order" president no end of grief. Although this is not an issue as important as street vendors selling masks of presidents, President Zedillo has made it an important issue.

 

This is one top notch administrator, President Zedillo, and to illustrate this fact, one need only have to read the statement that stunned people all over Mexico for its insight: "Many state prosecutor offices, including the federal attorney general’s office, have been penetrated by elements that not only don’t fight crime, but help crime and participate directly in crimes. The enemy is in our own home. Violent crime is rising three times faster than the population growth rate in Mexico." If Zedillo is correct, there will be more crimes than people to criminalize within just a short number of years, and that is likely to throw more people out of work. The Mexican President was right to want to get Mexico’s house in order now, before the situation becomes serious. Who could you rob from, if everyone is a criminal. Now this is a real Catch-22.

 

If you are in the drug business, one of the best things to have is your own bank where you can launder your ill gotten gains; and that is exactly what Amado Carillo Fuentes, "The Lord of the Skies" and the most powerful drug dealer in Mexico, had in mind when he acquired troubled Group Financiero Anahuac in 1996. The always-alert Mexican Government discovered this by accident, when police came upon one of the bank’s cars in a drug safe house being raided during a bust. It soon became evident that the bank's car had been loaned to Vincente, Carillo’s son.

 

Well, it wasn't the fact that the bank's cars were being used in drug deals that concerned officials; it was another incident, also brilliantly uncovered by officials, that really caused the bank problems. It was when the Mexican National Securities and Banking authorities found that Carillo was not only its largest shareholder, but also was its largest depositor that authorities became concerned. What this genius had created by owning his own bank was the greatest money-laundering scheme in global history. Officials went ballistic and promised that countless heads would roll over this monumental screw up. People knew without question that banking commissioners, regulators and bureaucrats would soon be thrown in the clink. Fortunately, in typical Mexican fashion, officials have arrested only one person, Juan Alberto Zepeda Novelo, a senior officer of Bufete Industrial SA, the second largest construction company in Mexico. Why Juan, would you ask?

 

The attorney general identified Juan as the a "money launderer for the Juarez Cartel." Mr. Novelo, in his defense, indicated he only opened up an account for his son at the bank and only $20,000 worth of shares had been purchased in his son’s name. It seems typically Mexican there are people like "President Ernesto Zedillo’s brother, the son and the nephew of former Mexican President Miguel de la Madrid and a former presidential candidate of the opposition National Action Party," all with strong connections to the bank hierarchy during this period, and yet this poor soul, who at the very worst has a criminal for a son, is made the scapegoat, while the big fish walk.

 

The organization Mexico United Against Crime, made up of nearly fifty civic Mexican organizations, took root, and their spokesman, Guillermo Velasco, stated the obvious, "Society can no longer keep waiting, actions must be immediate." He went on to say that crime, "is a cancer of political dimensions, because at this point people don’t trust the police, (and) this is the beginning of social chaos." Can we guess that it must be a duck?

 

The United Nations stepped into the breach with an extensive report, which won praises from most Mexican civil rights groups. The report detailed allegations of routine torture and beatings by both the Mexican police and the Mexican army. "The most frequent methods of torture are indiscriminate beatings, attempts at suffocation by placing the victim’s head in a plastic bag or submerging it in water, forcing large quantities of liquid into the mouth and nose, or hanging by the neck or extremities in order to apply electric shocks." When asked about his views on the report, President Zedillo indicated that he was in no rush to address the charges. More importantly, the American Secretary of State, Ms. Albright, was out of the country and never heard the news. Maybe she should install e-mail.

 

A report, purportedly hand-delivered to President Zedillo and written by his military’s Center for Anti-Narcotics Intelligence ("CIAN"), indicated that a handful of sitting and former governors, "the son of former Mexican President Miguel de la Madrid, well-known businessmen and two former heads of the federal police force" were in the employ of the drug cartels and were actually threatening the power of the national government. This report has been sitting in the hands of high-level Mexican officials for almost three years without any attempt to verify its statements. The fact that two-thirds of all cocaine entering the United States comes in by way of Mexico and senior Mexican officials have, for almost twenty years, had their tentacles into the drug dealers’ camps (and vice versa), yet the amount of government efforts to put a stop to these relationships have been Lilliputian at best.

 

But the Mexican's have one card to play that we have not yet addressed. Luckily for our neighbors South of the Border, they have the equivalent of the American FBI in an elite group that they call the Federal Judicial Police. These people are fearless and incorruptible, and the department has an unblemished record. Adrian Carrera Fuentes ran this elite Mexican force for a substantial period of time, and he won great public acclaim for the work he did.

 

In Tijuana, Mexico, just across the border from San Diego, there resides a fearless drug trafficking group called the Arellano Felix brothers. Not only are these brothers at the top of Mexico’s most wanted list, but also its members are wanted by the United States Federal Bureau of Investigation. These people considered human life about as important as an American turkey at Thanksgiving time. They are wanted in both countries for murder, drugs and kidnapping, along with a bunch of other crimes.

 

These are not the kind of people you want to invite to your next lawn party or even a night at the opera, unless, of course, your name was Adrian Carrera Fuentes, former chief of Mexico’s most highly regarded federal police agency. He reportedly thought the gang had all of the right social amenities and joined their team while being gainfully employed to stamp them out. Well, it may well be that someone isn’t doing the right thing in the Mexican government, since these talented people are just taking a page out of the book written by the of latest Mexican Presidents.

 

Ultimately, Adrian got caught and attempted to cop a plea by giving testimony linking the former first brother, Raul Salinas, to the laundering of over $132 million dollars for his friends in the major Mexican drug cartels. Juan Garcia Abrego of the Mexican Gulf Cartel, now serving his time in a Texas prison, and Amado Carrillo, who has since passed away, were objects of Adrian’s testimony. The Mexican newspaper El Universal indicated in a story on April 24,1998, that Adrian had "received more than $100 million in bribes." The paper went on to say that Raul Salinas’ lovely wife had admitted to authorities that her husband’s money came from bribes by the various drug cartels.

 

"Evidence mounted throughout 1994 and 1995 that much of the corruption within the government stemmed from drug money. Reports surfaced in mid-1995 of Raul Salinas’s close relationship with Juan Garcia Abrego, the king of Mexico’s increasingly powerful cocaine cartels. News reports alleged that Raul Salinas attended Garcia’s parties, helped protect his drug smuggling operations, and even collaborated in some of them. Arrests of federal police for protecting drug traffickers became common in 1995, and U.S. drug enforcement authorities claimed that the freedom drug smugglers enjoyed in Mexico in the late 1980’s and early 1990’s had turned Mexico into the main route for shipments of Colombian cocaine into the United States. In June 1995, President Zedillo acknowledged the seriousness of the trafficking problem when he said, "Drug trafficking is the most serious threat to our national security." ()

However, it certainly seems, at least in this case that Mexico’s then first brother properly stands accused of being the mastermind behind the assassination of Jose Francisco Ruiz Massieu in 1994, who was at the time the number two official in the Institutional Revolutionary Party, the party in power. In one of the strangest twists known to man, Fuentes was convicted of helping Mario Ruiz Massieu, Jose Francisco Ruiz Massieu’s brother, cover up his murder. Why a guy’s brother would allow the perpetrator of such an act to go free is incredible, and then add to it that the brother helps in the process. Well, in Mexico this does make a lot of sense. According to the Mexican Government, everyone seems to participate in the bribes coming from the drug cartel, and Fuentes, Massieu and Salinas were not interested in having that get out to the general public. It was much more simple to let the actual perpetrators slip through the cracks.

 

Massieu took a large briefcase filled with money and crossed the border into the United States. Today he is happily residing in American, while officials have turned down numerous extradition requests from the Mexican Government. This was a drug-related cover-up with little to do with as the merits of the case, for the case's political overtones were what made it of interest. Salinas, the ex-president, is still enjoying Irish hospitality at the same time his brother remains as a guest of the State, awaiting a murder trial. This affair would be too much to believe, except that it is Mexico.

 

"Mario Ruiz Massieu, Jose Francisco’s brother, resigned as attorney general in November 1994, charging that the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) was impeding his investigation of his brother’s murder. Prosecutors later charged Mario Ruiz himself with covering up Raul Salinas’s involvement in the murder. Police in the United States arrested Ruiz at the Newark, New Jersey, airport in February 1995 as he was about to board a plane to Europe. Police charged him with breaking a U.S. law that requires travelers entering or leaving the country to declare whether they are carrying more than $10,000. Mexican authorities asked the United States to send Ruiz back to Mexico to be tried for covering up Salinas’s links to the murder. But a U.S. judge rejected the plea in on the grounds of insufficient evidence. Authorities also found about $10 million in Ruiz’s name in U.S. bank accounts., leading to suspicions that drug traffickers had bribed him to protect their operations while he was in office." ()

The announcement of the latest arrest of a high-ranking Mexican law enforcement official came simultaneously with a nationwide protest against crime. Many ideas were exchanged how to best address the situation, while at the same time, the U.S. State Department busily advised visitors to Mexico City to not to take taxi cabs. When the dust cleared and the speeches ended, Rodolfo Debernardi, Chief of Police of Mexico City, said it best, "I think the person who could end the crime problem has yet to be born."

 

Even so, human rights groups have given the out-going Zedillo Government credit for some improvement. "Since 1995, only somewhat more than 100 human rights activists have received death threats, been physically intimidated, threatened with disappearance, abduction or rape. Since Zedillo took power in 1994, 11 journalists have been murdered and more than 125 have been physically assaulted." You can certainly empathize with Zedillo about journalists, since they tend to get so pushy about nonsensical things that just aren’t worth the time of such important people as the President of Mexico. One shouldn’t blame a man trying to run a country when all these folks are constantly getting in his way.

 

That must have been especially true with folks like Ariel Maldonado Leza. Ariel was a high level official in the Attorney General’s office (PGR), whose specific title was Director General of Interagency Coordination. In English, this means he was responsible for making sure the various police agencies investigating a kidnapping were coordinated in their efforts to root out the perpetrators. Ariel was so well placed and his job so critical to a government whose credibility had shrunk to near zero in combating this type of crime that he was awarded two chauffeurs to keep him moving.

 

Moreover, Ariel and his two chauffeurs commandeered an agency Ram Charger vehicle, and they disguised themselves and six other good friends as federal police. They pulled over a Mexican businessman, yanked him out of the car and drove him off in the Ram Charger. Soon, a ransom note appeared, but the jolly group had not counted on one minor detail; the victim’s cousin saw the entire event. He wrote down the vehicle’s license number and was able to identify the Director General as the leader of the plot. It gives pause when one can’t trust a director general, let alone the cop on the beat.

Many of the crimes in Mexico, especially kidnapping, go unreported because the major corporations are willing to negotiate for release as quickly and as quietly as possible, then leave the incident behind them. Mexican law enforcement officials have a tendency to muck things up when they are called in, and when things get too mucked, people can get killed. That is not what the game is all about.

 

Armor plated cars are now the rage in Mexico City. Evasion courses for drivers are privately offered in almost every big Mexican city. Better yet, rather then go to school and learn how to be a driver that can successfully evade kidnappers, hire one. Although having a driver who knows the ropes is probably the most intelligent way of avoiding being taken captive, anyone who is anyone in Mexico now has a bodyguard. Among the elite, these people can be easily spotted wearing their earpieces and mirrored shades (even on the darkest of nights). Now that every rich Mexican has at least one of these people, businesses have taken notice. "A sign at one upscale cinema at the Santa Fe shopping mall reminds patrons that bodyguards must have their own tickets. At the Edron International School in southwestern Mexico City, parents received a circular warning that bodyguards were banned from entering school grounds when dropping off the kids."

 

"Policemen and soldiers are increasingly involved in the disappearance of ‘detainees’ in Mexico," the human rights organization Amnesty International said in a report issued today. "In most cases there is strong, or even incontrovertible, evidence of official participation in carrying out ‘disappearance,’ yet those responsible continue to shamelessly benefit from impunity." The report goes on to say that in spite of the enormous increase in disappearances, the government takes the line that almost all of these cases are solved, and therefore there is nothing to be concerned about. This "non-problem" is a little is like Harvey the Rabbit, since he doesn’t exist but keeps popping up at the most inconvenient times. The only time, it seems, the victims ever have a chance of reappearing is when a hew and cry goes up from the people loud enough to frighten the bureaucrats. For some strange reason, the few folks that are amazingly able to reappear seem dazed and complain of extreme torture.

 

A logical question at this point may be, "why in a freely elected democratic society do not the people rise up and throw out these folks?" Well, perhaps not everyone in Mexico knows what is going on. Important Mexican newspapers are dependent on the government for their advertising, which is their very life’s blood. If the indigenous papers don’t play ball, they find that their revenue stream has suddenly dried up. The Government also can let it be known that it does not want particular subjects discussed. An interesting example of this was the recent UNESCO sponsored "International Conference on Freedom of the Press," held in Mexico City. Not only were reporters told definitively to not cover the conference, but also prominent Mexicans scheduled to speak abruptly canceled without reason. Some were found several days later, dazed and tortured, but alive.

 

Freedom of speech, or in the alternative, of reporting is not a right enjoyed within Mexico. Another example of the controlled press is the recent devastating explosion at a fireworks plant in Tultepec. Although the Red Cross did a body count and individuals identified the countless victims, the Governor of the State of Camacho, who arrived long after the explosion had run its course, plucked a substantially lower number out of the air, and that became the office toll.

 

With that in mind we refer you to the piece that Reuters did on October 14, 1998, on a subject that bears scrutiny:

 

"Last month, authorities in southern Chiapas state denied an internal government report obtained by Reuters saying more than 400 people died in severe flooding. They said the death toll was around 200 and the report did "not correspond to reality."

The Red Cross estimated that hurricane Pauline killed 400 people when it battered Mexico's Pacific coastline in 1997, but the government again gave a lower death count of 173."

In 1992, eight miles of gas pipe blew up under the streets of Mexico's second city, Guadalajara. The government said 208 died, but local media put the figure far higher."

Survivors of Tlatelolco -- Mexico's equivalent of China's Tiananmen Square bloodbath -- and foreign correspondents said up to 300 people were killed after security forces opened fire on a plaza packed with students 30 years ago. The government estimate was just 32 and has still not been changed".

Another trick to keep prying eyes away from what the Mexicans consider to be unsightly linen, is amplified by their actions in the ongoing war between the government and the Indians in the State of Chiapas. The Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) thinks that the Indians did not arrive early enough in Mexico to have any say about what goes on, and therefore these Indians should be treated as 3rd class citizens. Part of being third class in Mexico means that you could disappear in a moments notice, never to be heard from again, but even more definitive, you could be killed. The PRI has been using both techniques with central government acquiescence. Naturally, do-gooders from around the world have attempted to see first hand what is going on, and although most countries would appreciate the increase in tourism, Mexico has determined that the traveler’s safety is at extreme risk and banned them from the area. Well at least they are doing something to protect people.

 

Before we start casting stones at the police and their incompetence, consider what life would be like without them. No more murders, kidnapping and drug dealing, you say. Could it really be that bad? After all, these are just fun loving guys out for a good time, and yet people get down on them. Like the time in early April, 1998, when a few of the police near Acapulco got stinking drunk and went for a little ride close to town. It was then that these fun guys spotted an army convoy full of soldiers and couldn’t think of anything that would be more fun than shooting it up. These terrific fellows started firing their automatics into the convoy and were really enjoying it, when the soldiers started firing back to protect themselves. The army made short work of the policemen, and this turned a good time into a bummer. Maybe this is why police turn to corruption. Every time they want to enjoy themselves in the same way other people do, someone gets in the way. We hope those army guys were disciplined for firing back and killing those fun-loving, drunken policemen.

 

Mexico does not seem to prosecute many crimes, so one would think that their jails would be empty. After all, with kidnappings there are no witnesses, with drug dealers there are corrupt judges, with politicians there are precedents and with bank robbers there are always friendly countries available for retirement, like Spain, Switzerland or Ireland. Who then winds up in the jail, if everyone has a cozy little deal?

Recently, Mexico City’s Attorney General’s Office issued arrest warrants for three IBM Officials who supplied the city with a $27 million dollar computer system that wouldn’t work. What made matters really sticky for the guys from IBM was that the contract covered upgrading the computer system involved in the city’s criminal investigations. Not a small job, the contract amounted to 10% of the Attorney General’s total budget at the time and was designed to tie together over 2,000 computers, link 70 offices and provide a database for the investigation of criminal activity.

 

There were two charges involved here, the first being that the contract should not have been awarded without competitive biding, but that doesn't seem to impact IBM, which protested that the price was fair. The next charge seems to be that the system isn’t functioning properly, to which IBM responded that the computers did work properly. Something certainly seems strange when murderers, drug dealers and kidnappers walk, yet IBM constructs a computer system they posit meets or surpasses the required criteria and at a price they warrant is fair and are getting hosed. What aren’t they telling us?

 

Well it seems that although past presidents and politicians are exempt from their crimes while in office, the people that worked for them may not be. The attorney general was appointed by the man who would run for the presidency of Mexico on an opposition ticket, Cuauhtemoc Cardenas. He was the first elected Mayor of Mexico City in this century, and he won his post on a campaign of combating graft and ferreting out those that were corrupt in the previous administration.

 

Along with the IBM personnel arrested, 19 former city officials were also handed arrest warrants, and the story now begins to make some sense. Elections were just about to take place, and by taking on both IBM and the former administration, Cardenas was obviously hoping to build up big brownie points with the voters. If a few executives from one of the biggest companies in the evil empire north of the border have to rot in a Mexico City prison to achieve that end, well, who would say that wasn’t the right thing to do?

 

 

Privatization is usually the act of selling something that the Government owns and operates, to private industry for a price and with the hope that better management will bring in tax revenues. There is not much that governments haven’t tried to pawn off on investors, but when the Mexican government came up with a plan to sell something that didn’t exist at all, it seemed to them to be a most wondrous idea.

 

Mexico was faced with a number of problems in the 1980s. They were just recovering from the largest financial collapse of a government in economic history, and their infrastructure lay in ruins. The government had no money to finance critical public works projects. The transportation system in the country was already untenable and with only inferior roads to begin with; lack of funds to fix what little infrastructure existed was causing a downward spiral that seemed almost bottomless. To make matters even worse, the nation’s construction companies were in chaos, with most of them close to bankruptcy. This was a problem that required a universal solution, and the dazzling bureaucrats who had been responsible for the nation’s devastating economic predicament got together and came up with a one of the most bizarre solutions the civilized world has seen since Marie Antoinette’s answer to French starvation.

 

Mexico would auction off the right to build toll-roads throughout the country and let the builders determine what the tariff would be. Thus, with one fell swoop, the transportation infrastructure would be modernized, the construction industry would be revitalized and the government would receive increased tax revenues. The plan was quickly approved and the bidding for the opportunity to own the highway system seemed like the best idea since sliced cake. Those to whom it appealed to most were the very industries that were in so much trouble to begin with: the construction companies and the banks. These deep thinking economists determined that they would bid for the right to build the roads, construct them themselves, pay back the money by securitizing the future value of toll collection and walk away with a big score.

 

Wrong! Many of the roads that were built started nowhere and proceeded to not go anywhere from there. Others charged such high tolls for their use that no one could afford to travel on them. Some were casualties of criminally inferior analysis, where usage predictions had no relationship to reality at all. The construction companies and the banks who went along with the most ill-conceived construction project since the building of the Chernobyl Atomic facility were soon dead meat. The demise of this bureaucratic boondoggle did not bode well for the economy either. It became obvious that great thinkers such as these would soon find some other way to destroy what was left standing of Mexico’s fragile economic infrastructure.

 

With talent like this available, it was not hard to predict that the country’s collapse was imminent. What was difficult to predict, however, was the monumental severity of the collapse, for in monetary terms this disaster even exceeded the world record Mexico had set in its earlier crisis. The disastrous toll-road problem took a back seat to an entire nation in economic ruin. Not wanting to have a neighbor in such straits, the United States promptly wrote the check and induced the IMF and the World bank to do the same, but that is another story for another time.

 

Having sufficiently recovered to address some of the corpses still littering the landscape, the Mexican government has now come up with a novel solution to the problem. They will buy back the roads from private industry by issuing their own debt in exchange for the debt of the construction companies and the banks. The government would take control of the toll-roads and make them profitable by reducing the tolls to make the roads more affordable. While on the face if it, this seems like a reasonable idea, but in reality it is even worse than the original idea.

 

It does not take a high IQ to make the leap of faith that if by reducing the tolls the private owners could have made the highways economical, then they certainly would have done so. No, this is not a solution; it is purely and simply a standard Mexican bailout. It was best put by William F. Foote, who did an analysis of the Mexican infrastructure for the Institute of Current World Affairs, when he stated, "With this bailout, the Mexican public is being told to pay tolls as taxpayers that they wouldn’t pay as motorists."

 

The estimate of this "small" fiasco, by Mexican standards, where catastrophes seem to cost more than anywhere else, is estimated by authorities to be a staggering $7 billion. Bureaucrats indicate that this number could be higher, as they plan to install improved management into the system. With management being supplied by Mexican authorities, we could be looking at the start of World War III.

 

Because of boondoggles like the highways that lead nowhere, street cleaners in the state of Tabasco were fired for lack of money, summarily and with no severance pay. They determined to show their ire at national officials by parading in front of a stunned legislature, turning their backs and dropping their shorts. This was only a prelude, a few weeks later they invaded Congress and began throwing potted plants at the guards while their comrades maintained a hunger strike on the front steps.

 

The Tabasco street cleaners were not alone in their unhappiness with the government. A group of people employed in the Mexican sugar refining industry who did not feel they had made the proper impact by camping in front of Congress for two months at an earlier time, also stormed the legislature and beat up a number of the guards as they stripped down to their boxer shorts in front of the stunned legislators. Close on the heels of the street cleaners and sugar refiners were the teachers from the state of Baja California Sur who attempted mayhem on the Finance Minister, Guillermo Ortiz, shortly after he had constructed what they considered to be an unacceptable budget. Some observers at the scene indicated that if were not for the bodyguards positioned strategically in the area who came to his rescue, the Finance Minister would have been turned into "chopped liver" by the rampaging females.

 

The Congress has been known for its physical approach to politics for many years, as those with opposing political views often use their fists, instead of oratory, in attempting to get their points across. But then again, this is Mexico, a land of hot tempers and beautiful women. Many of the most beautiful of the Mexican women are offered jobs in Congress to dress up in mini skirts and work the building by aiding the legislators in whatever way they can. It has now turned out that some of the services that this female corps had been providing to elected officials went far beyond the original job descriptions. Even these ladies felt that working conditions were not what they should be.

 

There are national laws, international laws and civil laws, and then there are Mexican Laws. The former are all based on a great deal of logic, and later is based on graft. In 1973, then Mexican President Luis Echeverria determined that 38 peasants who owned a squalid piece of land in Hermosillo should have the land impounded and be moved off the property. Luis, after this audacious act, turned the barren parcel over to Grupo Mexico, who within a short period of time made the amazing discovery that the land contained copper. Not just copper, mind you, but the largest copper find in all of Mexico. Once fully operational, this mine accounted for 50% of the country’s total production, and this is in a country noted for its rich mines. Since that time, Grupo has taken out billions of dollars of copper, built an enormous smelter and has a payroll of over 4,000 people.

 

The peasants went to court over 20 years ago to protest what they believed to be the theft of their lands, and ultimately, the court determined that they indeed were right. The court ordered Grupo to "remove all installations from the communal land" in thirty days. Anywhere but in Mexico this would have been devastating, considering that over 50% of Grupo’s earnings come from this one copper deposit and that they are in the process of an enormous equity raise in the United States. Then again, this is Mexico, and Mr. Garcia de Quevedo, a senior executive with Grupo, stated, "The ruling will have no effect on the operations of the mining group. It has no importance whatsoever." As to the lawsuit’s fallout on their American financing, Garcia was again rather sanguine, "This is an inconvenience; it ties up our lawyers." Well darned if Mr. Garcia wasn’t right. He sure knew something about Mexico, for the ruling has had no impact on Grupo to this date.

 

As we fondly bid goodbye to beautiful Mexico, the land of beautiful women, extraordinarily corrupt politicians, the world’s second richest drug lords, generals who make alliances with the devil and worse and kidnappers looking to extort only enough for their next meal, we can leave with a better understanding of why so many Mexicans attempt to elude American border police to get into the United States. Just as Germany is about to conquer Europe economically through the Euro, when they couldn’t take it by military power, the Mexicans are retaking the American West in a cross border invasion that has no precedent. These poor people know they can’t make a living in a country where the playing field is tilted at a 90% degree angle, so they flee to the Land of the Free.

 

While the natives head north of the border, the real Mexicans, the 9 million Indians of Mexico are headed for extinction faster than you can blink an eye. Indian rights groups have charged that the Mexican government is encouraging paramilitary gangs to kill Indian leaders that become too uppity. As the Indians stand up more and more for their rights, their leaders vanish and others are killed. Many of the Indians living in the village of Acteal were killed as blood thirsty paramilitary bands rushed through the streets shooting everything that moved. They were not even slowed down in their slaughter by local soldiers who stood by quietly and allowed the genocide to occur.

 

As the heat rises, more and more international rights groups have been taking an interest in what is going on. The foreign interlopers are dealt with harshly by the Mexican Government. For example, Jeff Conant, who was sent home by the Mexicans, said, "We have been deported not for the reasons stated, but for witnessing an act of war by the Mexican government against its own people." The Mexican State of Chiapas has become an armed camp, and the fighting is only expected to intensify.

 

Those in power in Mexico are "equally opportunity hate mongers," and they readily take the villain’s side in whatever happens in the country because that is where the money is. Drug dealers, kidnappers, wayward police chiefs, defrocked generals, crooked judges and tarnished ex-presidents seem to find immunity in their impunity in this Alice and Wonderland world where wrong becomes right because it is backed by muscle. Rosario Green, Mexico’s Foreign Minister, became defensive when the entire civilized world began to criticize the country’s repressive actions and stated, "What we as a government are doing, and I much regret that you take it as an act of xenophobia, I see it as an act in defense of national sovereignty." Sovereignty, my hearing aid, when this government anoints thugs with the right to massacre a population that has lived in Mexico for over three thousand years and defends itself by stating such genocide it is in the national interest.

 

With all of these problems, one would think that there were no bright areas to dot the Mexican Landscape, but there is one organization that all Mexicans proclaim as pure as the driven snow, and it is the Mexican Red Cross. Always there in time of need, this organization’s record has been spotless, at least until now. Eleven of the twenty-seven members making up the Red Cross National Council of Mexico recently resigned, accusing their three-time President, Jose Barroso with corruption and abuse of power. Although only early returns have come in, and Barroso has dug in his heels, it seems that some aid shipments from countries such as the United States have not quite arrived and others, while supposedly donated, have apparently been paid for. The man on the street can only shake has head and mutter, "If we can't trust the head of the Red Cross, who can we trust? Certainly not the Mexican Government." Barroso, for his part, indicates that the real controversy is over his refusing to endorse the use of condoms for prevention of AIDS, and soon it will be proven to be at the heart of this tempest in a teapot. OK, Jose; and if we buy that one, what are you going to try to sell us next?

 

With all of this, its stern neighbor to the north turns the other check and has allowed a world-class dictatorship to evolve in the house next door. The United States invaded Haiti, Granada and Panama for a lot less. While everyone holds their breath waiting for the United States to tell Mexico that it has had enough, the years have stretched into decades. However, an opposition candidate, Vincente Fox, has recently been elected to head the Mexican Government for the next six years, and he seems to off to both a courageous and a logical start. Although, this is how every Mexican administration begins, we have a tendency to think that this time the result will be will be a little different. This may be wishful thinking, but we will soon see if this former Coca Cola executive can run a Mexican government filled with bureaucrats loyal to his opponents in the Institutional Revolutionary Party.

 

 

Chichen Itza

The Mayan people were part of what was called the classical civilizations of Mesoamerica. They can trace their culture in the Yucatan back more than 4,500 years ago. However, the Mayans were not a cohesive society until 250 A.D., when in Southern Mexico, Northern Belize, Western Honduras and Guatemala they seemed to have jelled, united and became one of the most remarkable ancient civilization in the history of man. One of their cities, Tikal, was twice the size of Rome and it existed at the same time. They had beliefs that could best be described as epoch-religious because so much of their life was absorbed in their gods and how they related to time. Many of the Mayan monuments are a time-line of perceived history going back millions of years. As a rule, Mayan buildings were not torn down, they were built over one another and substantial offerings were always left for the gods to insure that the project would be successfully completed.

 

The Mayans had many things in common with the Egyptians and have often been compared to them. However, they also shared some commonality with the Romans as well. Recent excavations have shown that almost all Mayan cities came equipped with what were called sweathouses. While in many cases they were nowhere as grand as their Roman counterparts were, they accomplished a similar goal. These establishments were created for both therapeutics and for ritual. "Here in a land unknown to Europeans, people in 900 B.C. or earlier had gone to a lot of trouble to experience the pleasure of a good soaking sweat. It was before these was a Rome, and so before the elaborate baths for which Roans were famous in the Mediterranean world. It was also before the full flowering of the Mayans, beginning around 200 A.D. But Dr. Hammond (The discoverer of these sweathouses who is an archaeologist form Boston University) said the sweathouse; though small and simple, bore clear ancestral resemblances to the swank bathhouses found at the sites of such classic Maya Cities as Tikal and Piedras Negras in Guatemala. The house also seems similar to later sweat lodges of Indian cultures in what are now the United States and Canada." ()

 

They were an industrious, bright and aggressive people who took the best from other societies in their region and expanded their horizons from there. They were extraordinarily well versed in acoustics, architecture, mathematics, astronomy, writing, weights and calendrical systems. They became wizards in the field of synthetic irrigation as their land had only a tad more rain than Egypt’s. In spite of the lack of rain, much of the land that Mayans lived on was swamp. In order to cultivate anything under those circumstances, the swamp had to be filled in and the land had to be raised. Canals were constructed to the synthetic patches created by the Mayans, which allowed harvesting, irrigation and transportation. Many of these early canals still exist today. The Mayans were also early users of fertilizer.

 

After they had taken the edible material from their agricultural harvests, they brought back the compost, which, as it dissolved acted as an excellent organic fertilizer. Because food had become such an important consideration in daily life, it was determined that a substantial amount should be left for the dead. In addition, the Mayan logo soon became that of a fish nibbling on water lilies. To them, this symbolized the lilies fertilizing the soil allowing the birth of new water lilies, which would feed the fish living in the pond. The Mayans were well aware that if the cycle, which had stood, them in good stead for so long became untracked, they would soon be up the canal without a paddle.

 

In addition, they were able to deal with the highly technical concepts of zero and infinity, subjects that most other cultures could not conceive of. These people did substantial research in to religion and astronomy and came up with some interesting theories. The Mayans became convinced that heaven and earth were connected and believed that if their monuments were placed in exactly the right place, one could travel between the two, especially after death.

 

When comparing the accomplishments of the Mayans with those of the Egyptians, who did their best work centuries earlier, it is critical to keep in mind that the Egyptians had metallic instruments for construction and beast’s of burden for labor, which were not available to the Mayans, who had at best some copper plates. Without instruments or animals, it is almost impossible to fully appreciate the enormity of what they accomplished.

 

In addition, the Mayans were able to accomplish many of the lessor skills that the Egyptians had mastered, such as weaving and the making of pottery. Mayan trade routes were more complex than those of the Egyptians, who only had to get into their boats and conducted commerce with regularity with peoples throughout the Mediterranean and the Fertile Crescent. Moreover, it is essential to remember that while the climate of the two countries was somewhat similar in terms of temperature, Egypt was arid, while the Mayan territory was humid and entangled by almost impassable jungles. While the Egyptians could capture a nearby country and bring a considerable number of slaves to bear on their projects, the Mayans, while occasionally sacrificing a neighbor or two, had to use their own people for their construction projects.

 

In compiling a scorecard between the accomplishments of the two cultures, we would give the Egyptians the edge in medicine and complex architecture, and we would credit the Mayans of being ahead in mathematics and acoustics and slightly ahead in astronomy. These two civilizations are about on a par in most other areas. From a sociological point of view, the Mayans did not merge the various tribes that made up their cultural relatives until late in their evolution. Moreover, while the Egyptians had the opportunity of interacting with the Greeks, the Macedonians, the Romans, the Persians and the Arabs, the Mayans did not really have neighbors that could teach them anything.

 

For most of their time in the sun, these people were more of a group of independent tribes, each with its own leadership, than a homogeneous mass. It was not until approximately 300 B.C. that the Mayans finally adopted a systematic form of government with kings and noblemen. Their earlier consolidation was rudimentary and did not evolve into a logical and cohesive government until the Classic period, late in the first millennium. In the meantime, the Mayans had to came up with the only written language in the Americas, while the Egyptians had the ability to build on earlier civilizations in the region, which is made particularly clear from the Rosetta stone. Furthermore, it was the Mayans that evolved the calendar nuances that we use today, and as opposed to the Egyptians who never quite got the calendar right and didn’t know what a wheel was, at least until the Hittites came down from the Fertile Crescent in their chariots and whipped their tails.

 

In spite of the more homogeneous nature of the Mayan culture in the Classic period, the society was still divided into a numerous independent states, quite akin to the fractious Greek City States. These people were socialistic in nature, and as a result there was little incentive for anyone to become an entrepreneur. Society was divided primarily into three groups, the farmers and merchants, the priests and the ruling class. Each city-state was laid out in a concentric model, with the trades’ people living in areas surrounding ceremonial centers and the farming community on the outskirts.

 

Gradually, the agriculture, effected by a very small amount of rainfall was no longer able to support the large cities that the Mayans had constructed and the cities were gradually given back to the land, because their infrastructures could no long be adequately supported. The Mayans were eventually forced to becoming traders and they plied they routes within and without Central America dealing in salt, corn and chili pepper, seemingly mundane but in those days, critical products. Trading and fishing were ultimately the occupations that provided a lifeline to the failing Mayan dynasty.

 

Eventually, most of the Mayan society died out through either merger with the Toltecs or by the Spaniards in Sixteenth Century. When their accomplishments are viewed in the context of the entire world, the Mayans should be viewed as a civilization that only existed as united group for about 500 years.

 

Mayan people are still to be found in most of the areas they previously ruled, but over the years they have intermarried and their religion has been fused with the religious beliefs of others, mainly that of the Catholic Church, while critical parts of their language have completely vanished. A current assessment of where things are today can best be described by an article entitled Central and South America Chronology:

 

"Today, mostly on the Yucatan Peninsula and in the State of Chiapas, Mayan culture is still thriving with four to six million people, over 30 languages and many ethnic backgrounds represented. Modern Mayans still continue many of the traditions of their ancient culture, such as speaking their ancient dialects instead of Spanish, growing their favorite crops, (corn, beans chili, tomatoes, and squash) with the same techniques and using herbal medical treatments instead of modern medicine. Many spiritual aspects of Mayan life, including the purpose of their ancient cities, is still exercised with many offerings and pilgrimages to modern churches, sometimes fusing Catholicism with Mayan beliefs from antiquity."

Of particular interest in Mayan lore is a place called Chichen (in Mayan, "the mouth of the well") Itza (Itzamna was the leader of the Mayan tribes which arrived in the area around 445 A.D.). It is located on the Yucatan Peninsula within a stone’s throw of the Mexican vacation spots of Cozemel and Cancun. While Chichen Itza was abandoned by the Mayans long before Columbus hit the new world, and the site was reasonably well preserved. It is now a major Mexican tourist attraction, and the Government has entered into a restoration project that is world class. This city was built by the Mayans at approximately the same time Uxmal, but its theme was totally different.

 

This land in the Yucatan was originally settled by the Mayans in the middle of the 6th Century A.D. There were two fresh water wells ("Cenotes") on the property, and they were in turn divided into two distinct uses, one for religious purposes, where offerings of maidens and children were made to the gods, and Xtoloc, which served the people’s everyday needs. Massive underground wells also enabled transportation for a people that could not navigate through the very thick maze of jungle in which they lived. The underlying earth was largely composed of sandstone, and when rainwater seeped through the topsoil, it was held in holding areas comprised of sandstone subterranean caverns. These caverns in turn led to underground rivers that allowed free passage through a territory that would have otherwise been impossible.

 

Chichen Itza proper is a largely ceremonial site that attracted the surrounding population during religious rites, human sacrifices and games. Very little trace of the outlying structures are visible today. The Toltecs, who were the Mayans neighbors, were primarily a warrior race and invaded Chichen Itza in the early part of the 9th Century A.D. Evidence points to the fact that the Mayans abandoned Chichen Itza entirely in the 10th Century, only to return again for a short period of time in the 11th Century. Each of these epochs are clearly designated by changes in writing and architectural style.

 

The Mayans created many other monuments. Let us consider only three of their other structures. The first is called "El Castillo." El Castillo means Castle in Spanish, but the structure is really an 80-foot pyramid and is also known as the Pyramid of Kulkulkan. Of additional interest is the fact that this structure is in reality a pyramid within a pyramid. The land where the pyramid is located is particularly flat and just as in Egypt, from the top of the pyramid they could see much of the surrounding territory.

 

There are exactly 91 steps up on all four sides of the structure, and when you add one step for the altar on the very top of the building you arrive at the number of days in the year. You can tell exactly what the day of the year it is by looking at which step that day’s shadow is reflected upon. Moreover, there are nine levels in the pyramid, one for each month in the Mayan year, along with 54 concave stairs, representing each week in their calendar. If this was not enough to make the structure unique, the designers were able to align the pyramid in such a way that on vernal and autumnal equinox (respectively, March 20 and 21 and September 21 and 22), the sun’s rays project a diamond-back rattlesnake of light and shadow. Although the serpent is visible to a lesser extent for most of the year during in the late afternoon, additional excellent viewing days are the five days surrounding each equinox, which has caused enormous crowds of skeptics to visit this site, many of whom do not believe their eyes.

 

The most unusual aspect of this pyramid is that it is constructed over another smaller pyramid structure. Intricate passages bring visitors from one pyramid setting to into the other. It is said that this is where the priests dispensed their justice before civil authorities took control of Mayan society. There are ornate sculptures in the rooms where the priests made their judgments, and it is believed that they sat astride a red jaguar encrusted with jade and turquoise when rendering their decisions. Handclaps within the structure mirror the strange noises that the Mayan sacred bird, the Quetzal, makes. The Acoustical Society of American in a piece by David Lubman wrote that, "Could the Maya have intentionally coded the sound of their sacred bird into the pyramid architecture? I think it is possible. In the millennium since this pyramid was built, though the plaster has eroded from the limestone staircases, the sound is still recognizable."

 

The Mayans threw New Year bashes that varied according to the day that it fell on. There were 20 gods that had to do with New Year and the month was divided into four sets of five gods. Whatever day the event fell on each year determined the type of celebration that took place. Each god had a history containing his interests and his likes and dislikes. Obviously, the Mayans were most interested in pleasing these folks.

 

"Among the multitude of gods worshipped by these people were four whom they called by the name Bacab. These were, they say, four brothers placed by God when he created the world at its four corners to sustain the heavens lest they fall. They also say that these Bacabs escaped when the world was destroyed by the Deluge. To each of these they give other names, and they mark the four points of the world where God placed them holding up the sky, and also assign on of the four dominical letter to each, and to the place he occupies; also they signalize the misfortunes or blessing that are to happen in the year belonging to each of these, and the accompanying letters." ()

The second structure is called "El Caracol," meaning snail or spiral shell in Spanish. "This curious structure is circular in cross-section and has an inner spiral staircase leading to an upper chamber – hence its name." () It is in the building, or more exactly, an observatory where the religious events took place and the Heavens were observed. In the center of the building leading to a platform where there are many windows delicately interspersed from a master plan. It is here where, if you gaze at the heavens through a given window on a specific date of the year, you will see a particular star or cluster, recurring year after year after year.

 

The building has a stone dome, and when you consider that these people had no pulleys and no beasts of burden, the job of getting the dome in place must have been awesome. Furthermore, the Mayans had no metal cutting instruments. When you calibrate the exactness necessary in positioning astronomically and architectural correctness, the problem almost seems to have been inconceivable for the Mayans to solve. What made things ever worse was the fact that the Mayans unquestionably had no instruments, such as telescopes, through which they could observe the stars with accuracy. Yet, they were able to chart a sky and its starry occupants without being able to see them with their naked eyes. Incredible.

 

Fox News did a story dated April 8, 2000, entitled "Mayan Astronomy," which talked about El Carocol. "Like other pre-Columbian civilizations, the Maya had a profound knowledge of the sky. Their priests recorded astronomical observations and passed them down from generation to generation. The result was an extremely accurate calendar that predicted the coming of eclipses and the revolutions of Venus to an error of one day in 6,000 years."

 

The third of these architectural marvels is called the Ball Court, a mammoth stone structure surrounding a grass playing field on which a game that many say was a mix between soccer and basketball was played. The playing field was 168 meters long and 70 meters wide, making it approximately the size of two football fields. As this was the largest and most magnificent stadium in the entire Western Hemisphere at the time, it would seem to indicate that only the top events were held here. There is a substantial amount of confusion about how the game was played and what kind of ball was used. Either the "ball" was made of rubber and was fairly large, or conversely it was made of stone and was fairly large. The only thing that does not seem to be open to question is that it was played with a large object. The advocates of the rubber ball believed that it was bounced along the playing field and then into the stone ring to score points. Those advocates of a stone round structure do not agree with the bouncing theory and for logical reasons.

 

The basket was made in the shape of a stone rim and had an elongated opening slightly bigger than a basketball rim, and it was set substantially higher, thus it is doubtful that any of the current NBA stars could dunk the object. It appears that the players were not allowed the use their hands in getting the ball through the rim. If, indeed, the ball was made of stone, how the players could ever get the massive object up and into the basket is beyond imagination. On the other hand, they had a lot of incentive to get it right, because the winners would get substantial prizes and receive fame and fortune. After the Toltecs made their influence felt, the incentives became substantially greater, as the rules were changed such that, depending on how you read the hieroglyphics, either the winning team or the losing team would be sacrificed to the gods. Many felt that this was an even greater incentive but if you believed strongly enough, that may not have been the case.

 

You might ask, "Who would want to win, if they were going to become part of the landscape?" In the Mayan culture at the time there was a great honor in being sacrificed because the afterlife offered all kinds of first-rate things. The part about being sacrificed if you lose does not need further explanation. However, you did get to have your head placed on a variety of sticks that surrounded the playing field so that once you had been sacrificed, you could still watch the game. Many of these strange Mayan customs came from the fact that they believed that gods also died and the people worked mightily to keep them happy while they were around because they were convinced that if their endeavors failed, serious things would happen, such as rain and sun not appearing and crops not coming up.

 

However, it was because of the fact that it was so important to the Mayans that they continually keep their gods happy that they devised other even more brutal forms of torture. They eventually came to believe that the more the victim suffered, the pleasure their gods would receive. Sacrificial alters were erected where still beating hearts would be cut out of the victims body and offered to the gods, tongues were cut off and fingernails were ripped off, all of which caused the victims substantial pain and must have given the Mayan Gods a warm an fuzzy feeling. There was a well on the property that seemed to have no bottom and everyone got a special treat when they could tie the sacrificial person up, throw him down the well and see how long it the careening body to reach the bottom. The Mayans were also big users of hallucinogenics which when given to the person to be sacrificed made them feel a whole lot better about what was going to happen to them. Interestingly enough, these hallucinogenics were part of the tobacco like substance that was placed inside cigars and smoked not only by those to be sacrificed but by the people as well.

 

On the other hand, there are still other stories that abounded which made up the Mayan’s complex practices. One of which indicated that only the captain of the winning team would have his head taken off but this logic seems to seems to fly in the face that the arena had some many posts surrounding where heads could be strategically placed after a match. Nevertheless, this was purportedly performed immediately after the contest at the sacrificial alter located on the playing field, and the Mayans believed that his blood helped fertilize the ground so that the following year’s crop would be good. There were box seats on one side for dignitaries and standing room on the opposite side for the fans. The two referees (who probably were priests) were stationed on either end of the stadium almost 100 yards away from each other, but they were able to call the game by talking to each other in a normal speaking voice, in spite of the confusing racket made by both the spectators and the players.

 

Astoundingly, the stadium’s acoustics were set up so that a lengthwise direction sound seemed to have traveled without interference. This is not ancient history where a story could have been confused by translation, for it is as much a fact today as it was at the time of the Mayan games. Not only that, but if you stand under the "basketball" rim and clap your hands or shout, the echo resounds exactly seven times. The acoustics of this stadium are so unusual that special concerts, symphonies and choral groups have arranged to have their works heard here, and the audience comes from all over the world. No less a personage than Luciano Pavaroti has song in this arena. All of this in an open area where there is no continuity point between the stands on either side or the areas in which the referees (or priests) sat at either end of the stadium. In other words, there is no visible means of sound conduction. Acoustically, this is an enigma of massive proportions.

 

Not far from the gaming field, down a white road is a footpath that leads to the "Sacred Cenote." This is a small lake 60 meters in diameter and 15 meters deep (probably it was much deeper than because much of the water has been drained by treasury hunters over time). There was a sacrificial alter at the far end of the Cenote where the ceremony would take place in and in many cases the human offerings were thrown into the lake covered with gold so that the god of the lake (the Mayan Water God) would remain contented.

 

The jungle is very heavy in this area, which is located in a depression. Thus, no wind blows through this depression, and the stillness is almost terrifying. What an ideal place this must have been for human sacrifices. This peaceful scenario seemed to work quite well until the early 1889, when an American adventurer by the name of Edward Thompson, formerly the American consul in Yucatan, visited the spot in his position as an assistant to Alfred P. Maudslay. He came back after buying the entire Hacienda Chichen Itza (as the area was called at the time) with funds provided by Allison V. Armour, the head of an American charitable fund.

 

Thompson brought with him his wife, his children and a team of construction workers, who immediately started to drain the lake. During this period, the site was closed to outsiders, and no one is particularly certain as to what exactly happened. On the other hand, there is no question that a substantial number of objects were removed from the water. Many of them were sent directly to the Peabody Museum of Harvard University. When the Mexican Government found out what Thompson was doing with their treasures, his residence was attacked by Mexican soldiers, and he barely escaped with his life. The Peabody Museum was so embarrassed by Thompson’s subterfuge that they returned many of the artifacts that he had pilfered.

 

Although there are a number of stories that Thompson died in poverty, a second more sophisticated American team drained the lake again, and in 1961 they found over 4,000 valuable objects in less than four months. This seems to fly in the face of Thompson’s financial condition and sound to me that although he could have died broke, he probably lost it at a crap table. This was not the first time that this Cenote was "explored" by adventurers (or historians, as they preferred to be called). In 1527, Francisco de Montejo the elder, also known as the Spanish conqueror of the Yucatan, was a constant visitor to the site until hostile natives finally drove him away. In 1566, the Cenote was visited by Bishop Diego de Landa, and more recently by co-adventurers John Lloyd Stephens and Frederick Catherwood in 1841 and then by Augustus Le Plongeon and his wife in 1873, among others. What treasure must have been in that lake, and what an achievement those people had made so long ago.

 

Iran

The Modern State of Ancient Iran

The Iranian civilization dates back to the dawn of human history, but the origins of the country of Persia, one of the greatest of ancient societies, begins with Cyrus the Great, who in 559 B.C. founded the empire of the Achamenides. The Persians killed a lot of Greeks, but were never able to conquer the feisty Greek city-states. Finally, Phillip of Macedonia took control of Greece, but his son Alexander the Great thought the peninsula was too confining. He decided to take it to the Greek nemesis Persia, and with far fewer, but much better motivated, soldiers he beat the pants off the Persian army and took control of the Fertile Crescent, Egypt and Persia in 334 B.C. His successors were less skilled and yielded to Ashk in 246 B.C.

 

The indigenous Persians grabbed power after that and ruled for centuries until they were defeated in 639 A.D. by one of the most incredible warrior migrations the world has ever seen, as the followers of Mohammed swept out of Arabia. Six centuries later, the very most incredible warrior migration occurred, as Genghis Khan sent his horsemen out of Mongolia to defeated armies in an area of the world more extensive that ever before, from China to central Europe. One of the spots favored by the Mongols was Persia, and in 1203, a Mogul dynasty took control and ruled the country for about 150 years. The Tartars (one of the largest Mongolian tribes who gave their name to the entire band of Mongolians who stayed behind in Russia when the others returned to their homeland) were the next to take a fancy to Iran and they in turn were thrown out by the Uzbaks. Of course, the Uzbaks were then overthrown by Shah Isma’il, who founded the House of Safavi in 1499. Under his regime and those that followed, the Iranians went on the offensive and crushed the Ottoman Turks in the early 17th Century. Afghanistan was at this time a part of the Iranian Empire, but they rebelled, which in turn caused the overthrow of the House of Safavi. As history would have it, the Safavi dynasty was later restored by Nadir the Robber.

 

Nadir the Robber couldn’t hold things together, and so another piece of the Empire came unglued when Baluchistan seceded. Iran also controlled territory including what is now the country of Georgia, but in 1802, Russia took a shine to that territory and annexed it. Three wars followed with Russia, each a little more debilitated than the preceding. Eventually, Iran had to sue for peace, and in the negotiated settlement, Iran gave up Armenia to Russia. Things stayed hot for a time, as Britain also made war on Iran during the middle of the 19th Century, with disastrous results for the Iranians. Various treaties were signed, and in 1883, Iran established diplomatic relations with the United States. Soon after that though, the Iranian people, thoroughly disillusioned with the country’s corruptness, demanded a constitution that included a bill of rights. This was adopted in 1907, but it did not last for long.

 

Crown Prince Muhammad ‘Ali Mirza was crowned King of Iran, formally a constitutional monarchy, but he was arrested and a number of the members of his parliament were executed. He escaped with his life, and his son Ahmed Kajr ascended to the Throne. All that didn’t really matter, because Russia and Britain signed an agreement to divvy up Persia between them; Russia got the north and Britain the south. An American was appointed Treasurer General of Persia. No one seemed to like that idea, and in 1914, the regency was abolished. Ahmed Kajr was proclaimed Shah. During World War I, Persia became everyone’s stamping grounds. The Turkish Army engaged the Russians in the North of Iran in 1915, even though they had declared themselves neutral. The British, concerned about their energy supplies, landed at numerous points on the Persian Gulf and set up military installations. A lot of skirmishing ensued between Russia and Britain, two allies in the Great War, but when the dust settled, the British had taken control, and they stayed in charge of the country until the Armistice was signed in 1918.

 

Riza Khan Pahlevi, the commander-in-chief of the Iranian army, became the country’s military dictator and then in 1995, the Shah. In the meantime, Iran joined the rest of the world’s independent nations by becoming a member of the League of Nations in 1920. The Shah banned the use of turbans or fezzes by anyone except religious leaders, the name of the country was officially changed to Iran in 1935, and as World War II got closer, Iran declared its neutrality. This, however, didn’t stop the allies from using Iranian territory to provide the Russians with supplies and reinforcements. Riza Khan Pahlevi thought he had been compromised and told the British to get out. They reacted to his demands by carving up the country.

 

The Shah resigned under pressure from the British, and his son, Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, ascended the throne. While the young Shah was largely a pawn of the West, he also brought enlightenment to this medieval society. But the pot continued to boil as Dr. Mohammad Mossadegh, a member of the Iranian Parliament, took on the Shah. There was a pitched political and military battle, with Mossadegh gaining control and the young Shah sent packing. By this time the United States had become the world’s richest power and decided they like the spot, so with the assistance of the American CIA, the Shah was restored to his Throne.

 

During the next several decades, the United States and the Shah’s Iran enjoyed an exceeding good relationship. Because of increases in the price of oil (Iran’s oil-oriented income increased from $5 billion to $20 billion after the 1973 Six-Day War), a benevolent and enlightened attitude of the Shah and a strong military presence and a regional alliance with NATO, Iran prospered and grew to be both rich and influential. It became so wealthy that it ordered many goodies from the West, in fact so many goodies that ships pulling into Iranian ports to unload had to wait nearly half-a-year to unload.

 

By 1963, an educated middle class developed as the result of a social and economic reform program called the "White Revolution," something that had not been seen in the Middle East in two millenniums. The massive military buildup inaugurated by the Shah placed a strain on the country’s resources that went beyond anything that the increased oil revenues could handle. Moreover there were a number of unproductive program inaugurated to increase Iran self-reliance on its own agricultural production.

 

Small farms were merged into ever-larger farms, similar to the collectives that were also in vogue in Russia during this period. These collectives were run by committee, and if something could go wrong when you solicit numerous opinions on the same subject, it did in Iran. The wrong crops were raised, budget forecasts were not even close and the farms were inefficient because the equipment that would have made them efficient was not available. The result was that many of the people felt that they had lost the land that had been in their families for literally centuries; because of inflation, they were worse off than before, and they no longer owned a piece of the sod.

 

In 1975, the Shah made his most critical mistake when he abolished all of the country’s political parties other than his own, the Rastakhiz party. Everyone in the country was invited to join the party, with an added incentive of deportation or worse should they decline this generous offer. Moreover, in an even more aggressive move, the Shah cut the subsidies of the clerics and changed the nation’s calendar from a religious one to a calendar with strictly secular undertones. These moves did not sit well with the majority of the population, but this was the price of American assistance.

 

The country was continually plagued with widespread corruption and inflation was soaring at a rate that the Iranians could not keep up with. In 1977, inflation was estimated to be 9.9 percent, in 1978 to increased to 16.6% and in 1997 to 25.1%. At the same time, oil revenues started to decline. Finally, the Shah’s selective prosperity favored many of the country’s hard working minorities, such as the Christian Armenians, which did not sit well with the poor of Iran, which were overwhelmingly Islamic. The oppressed poor, as usual, turned to religion to heal their hurts, and this religion was not necessarily one that felt that there was any reward in turning the other cheek.

 

The Shah was no dope and even if he was, the CIA was right there to tell him in what direction the wind was blowing. They informed him that the wind was bearing difficult tidings and it could carry him completely away if a strong gust came along. The Shah really liked his job and asked his handlers what he could do about the growing discontent. He was informed that free education for everyone would certainly be a start and, while he was at it, why didn’t he agree that all the kids could eat for free on him. "Well," said the Shah, "that’s going to cost a lot of bread; but if I can hold onto my job, it’s probably worth it."

 

His handler told the Shah that he hadn’t finished telling him what he was going to have to do. "Yes Sir, Mr. Pahlavi, you are going to have to lower the people’s taxes, give everyone really low cost health insurance program and then give 49% of all of the country’s businesses to the people." "Well, lets do it then," said the Shah. "You probably waited too long already," said the handler. It seems that the Shah was the Marie Antoinette of the Middle East and had been extremely insensitive to the people’s needs.

 

Although it was late in the day, this massive social program was instituted at the simultaneously, thousands of shopkeepers and small merchants were fined for profiteering. Nevertheless, things were still screwed up, inflation was raging and nearly everyone in the country was on a fixed income and in spite of everything the government tried to do, things just got worse geometrically.

 

The Shah’s westernization program wasn’t winning any kudos from the clerics either. The ante kept increasing as the people became increasingly more dissatisfied, so the Shah started cracking down on the unruly elements in Iranian society. Eventually, organizations such as the International Council of Jurists and Amnesty International started raising substantial questions about what the Shah was doing to political prisoners and the disappearance of civil rights in the Iranian court system. Once again, the Shah was a day late and a dollar short in addressing these additional problems. The Shah, who at best could be described as insensitive to the people’s needs, now released prisoners and changed government officials, which only added to the dissension and made no one happy. Moreover, when he tried to reign in inflation, the country went into a recession causing some rioting, looting and pillaging. Without much hope, the people soon started visiting the mosques a little more frequently.

 

The straw that broke the proverbial camel’s back was when the Iranian government planted an article in one of the country’s principal newspapers, Ettelaat, that not only indicated the hostile, Ayatollah Khomeini was a British Spy, but also cast grave doubts about his religious fervor. These aspersions against the highly revered cleric caused a riot in Qom when seminary students took on an armed police unit. The ugly mood soon spread to the local bazaar, which closed down in protest. In short order, the word of that riot spread to other cities and the Shah was soon faced with more than he could handle. In spite of army intervention, it was some time before the insurrection could be brought under control, and there was substantial loss of life that was not going to be soon forgotten.

 

The Shah was now like a gambler down on his luck; nothing was going his way. "The government’s position deteriorated further in August 1978, when more than 400 people died in a fire at the Rex Cinema in Abadan. Although evidence available after the Revolution suggested that the fire was deliberately started by religiously inclined students, the opposition carefully cultivated a widespread conviction that the fire was the work of SAVAK (the Iranian secret police) agents." It was down hill from there, and everything the Shah or his advisors came up with turned out to be self-defeating.

 

In October of 1978, the Shah did the dumbest thing in his non-working bag of tricks; he expelled the Ayatollah Khomeini to France. Khomeini had just arrived, not in France, but into the world press. The story unraveling in Iran had been of little interest, as there had been revolutions before. On the other hand, Iran had one of the best equipped armies in the world, and therefore, a band of small-time clerics were not going to be successful in taking on the head of the Peacock Throne and the United States Government in one magical move. At least so everyone thought.

 

However, the minute Khomeini arrived in Neauphle-le-Chateau, just outside Paris, he got his public relations department into high gear. From his new quarters in Paris he was finally able to communicate with a host of expelled clerics and radicals that he could not reach out to from downtown Tehran. In addition, he was able to talk freely to the world press and give them chapter and verse about what Amnesty International had said about the Shah. Last, but not least, he was able to meet with National Front leader Karim Sanjabi, and at that meeting the National Front agreed with Khomeini to call for the overthrow of the Shah and the creation of a new and free religious government. This action, in turn created the environment which ultimately brought the Iranian people all of the things that they had historically cherished; the burning of the American Flag, suicide bombings, international terrorism, the thought police, the Hezbollah, executions for non-conformance and the ever loving Islamic Jihad. The cleric had placed an extraordinary potpourri of goodies on the Iranian table.

 

Having not learned from his past mistakes, the Shah met more strikes with more concessions and released more prisoners. In a move to shift public opinion to his side, he had 132 former government officials (who had obediently done his bidding) arrested for various trumped up charges. He didn’t stop there, even jailed a former Prime Minister, a former chief of SAVAK and some former cabinet members. Also, among the 1,000 political prisoners that were released from jail was Ayatollah Hosain Ali Montazeri, a good buddy of the Ayatollah Khomeini. For a time, this quieted the people, but another call for action from Khomeini got everybody riled up again, and this time, the country ground to a complete halt.

 

The Shah and his handlers had tried everything that was in the book and failed miserably. Eventually a deal was made with National Front leader Shapour Bakhtiar to form a new government with the proviso that the Shah take off quickly for parts unknown. Since the Shah was now in declining health, he took the advice and skulked away in the darkness of night. The country was overwhelmed with joy, and celebrations ruled the land. In the meantime, the Iranian Clergy were not particularly sanguine about all of these events, as they had heard all of these promises before.

 

With Muslim fundamentalism taking hold () in the region, the Shah found himself the odd-man-out when military action occurred in 1978 and 1979. He was forcibly dislodged from the throne, had to flee his country, was finally allowed into the United States for the treatment of a serious illness and eventually died. During this period, the highly religious and conservative Ayatollah Khomeni was summoned from Paris to Iran to set up shop. He brought with him a brand of Muslim fundamentalism that seriously impeded the rights of most of his citizens. The most effected group were the women, who soon became chattels of the state.

 

Too better understand why these religious folks were so annoyed, one has to go back to 1906, when the then-reigning Shah agreed to form a committee that included the clerics to draw up a constitution for the country. It formulated a constitution similar to the one created in Belgian in 1831 that called for the creation of a parliament. The new constitution contained a few clauses that its Belgian predecessor had missed. For example, it named Islam as the state religion, it created a committee of clerics to check all legislation to make certain it conformed to all Islamic requirements, it didn’t allow negative inferences to Islam to be published or vocalized and, finally, it allowed the clerics to control a court for religious disputes and a civil court for public sector matters. There were various debates over the years as to whether or not any form of government that was not directly coming from God through his messengers on earth could ever be legitimate.

 

The constitution soon became the law of the land shortly thereafter, and throughout the ensuing years, the rulers of Iran assiduously avoided paying any attention to it whatsoever. "Under the reign of the Pahlvai family, the ulema (clerics) were silenced, the promised ecclesiastical committees never met, popular participation was non-existent and the parliament was made subservient to the Shah. The intelligentsia and the ulema, moderates and conservatives alike, had failed in their attempt to reform the political system. These groups would have to wait until 1979 for their next chance."

 

With the elimination of the Shah, the Bakhtiar Government came to power. As Prime Minister, Bakhtiar accomplished a bunch of really intelligent things very quickly, like canceling $7 billion in United States arms that were already on order and that would be vitally needed in their war with Iraq. He lifted martial law, set free political prisoners and announced the holding of free election. Khomeini, still in Paris at the time, did not like a word of what he heard. "Bah Humbug," he was said to have muttered when informed of Bakhtiar’s actions. Khomeini had Bakhtiar thrown out of his own political party, the National Front, and expelled him from the movement. He then declared Bakhtiar’s government illegal. The conflict between the two men brought about massive strikes, which brought the barely functioning economy to a standstill.

 

When Khomeini called for a demonstration against Bakhtiar, nearly everyone in the country turned out and screamed for his head. Bakhtiar advised Khomeini, who had not as yet left Paris, to remain there until the two had resolved their differences, but the impetuous Ayatollah would have none of it. He immediately boarded a plane for Teheran, only to find on his arrival that Bakhtiar had closed the airport to all traffic. Luckily for the Ayatollah, his airplane was not yet out of gas, so he was able to return to Paris, he landed back in France only on fumes and was enraged. Khomeini arranged for more and more of the country’s power to flow into the hands of the people, and Bakhtiar soon found himself the head of a country where the other guy had control of the army. Ultimately, the people were given weapons and the army told Bakhtiar that they now had another agenda. In due course, the Bakhtiar government collapsed and Khomeini came home in February of 1979 to a massive celebration.

 

The religious revolutionaries turned the government over to citizens who were ill equipped to govern:

 

"Mehdi Bazargan became the first prime minister of the revolutionary regime in February 1979. Bazargan, however, headed a government that controlled neither the country, nor even its own bureaucratic apparatus. Central authority had broken down. Hundreds of semi-independent revolutionary committees, not answerable to central authority, were performing a variety of functions in major cities and towns across the country. Factory workers, civil servants, white-collar employees and students were often in control, demanding a say in running their organizations and choosing their chiefs. Governors, military commanders and other officials appointed by the prime minister were frequently rejected by the lower ranks or local inhabitants. A range of political groups, from the far left to the far right, from secular to ultra-Islamic, were vying for political power, pushing rival agendas and demanding immediate action from the prime minister. Clerics led by Ayatollah Mohammad Beheshti established the Islamic Republican Party. The party emerged as the organ of the clerics around Khomeini and the major political organization in the country. Not to be outdone, followers of more moderate senior cleric Shariatmadari established the Islamic People’s Republic Party in 1979 with a base in Azerbaijan, Shariatmadari’s home province."

"Moreover, multiple centers of authority merged within the government. As the supreme leader, Khomeini did not consider himself bound by the government. He made policy pronouncements, named personal representatives to key government organizations, established new institutions and announced decisions without consulting his prime minister. The prime minister found he had to share power with the Revolutionary council, which Khomeini had established in January of 1979 and which initially was composed of clerics close to Khomeini, secular political leaders identified with Bazargan and two representatives of the armed forces. With the establishment of the provisional government, Bazargan and his colleagues left the council to form the cabinet. They were replaced by Khomeini aides from the Paris period, such as Abolhassan Bani Sadr and Sadeq Qotbzadeh, and by protégés of Khomeini’s clerical associates. The cabinet was to serve as the executive authority. But the Revolutionary Council was to wield supreme decision-making and legislative authority."

 

It was fairly clear that Bazargan was not in charge of anything and that a bunch of children were running the store. Moreover, during the later stages of Bazargan’s presidency, a war was going on that could have seen either of the two combatants swallowed up by the other. He was concerned about the people’s freedoms being taken away, and he was worried that Iraq and Iran were just letting blood in a war where no one would ever be the victor. Along with most of ministers, he proposed that the United Nations come up with a binding settlement among the combatants. For his peace efforts, Bazargan had his offices broken into by the Hezbollahis, who shut down the party’s newspaper and made the remainder of Bazargan’s term in office totally untenable. Finally, because of his acting like a traitor in trying to make peace with Iraq, he was not allowed to run for president after his term expired.

 

Among other things that had occurred during Bazargan’s short reign was the total breakdown of the Iranian Judicial system:

 

"The activities of the revolutionary courts became a focus of intense controversy. On the one hand, left-wing political groups and populist clerics pressed hard for "revolutionary justice" for miscreants of the former regime. On the other hand, lawyers’ and human rights’ groups protested the arbitrary nature of the revolutionary courts, the vagueness of charges and the absence of defense lawyers. Bazargan, too, was critical of the courts’ activities. At the prime minister’s insistence, the revolutionary courts suspended their activities on March 14, 1979. On April 5, new regulations governing the courts were promulgated. The courts were to be established at the discretion of the Revolutionary Council and with Khomeini’s permission. They were authorized to try a variety of broadly defined crimes, such as "sowing corruption on earth," "crimes against the people," and "crimes against the Revolution." The courts resumed their work on April 6. On the following day, despite international pleas for clemency, Hoveyda, the Shah’s Prime Minister for twelve years, was put to death. Attempts by Bazargan to have the revolutionary courts placed under the judiciary and to secure protection for potential victims through amnesties issued by Khomeini also failed.

Beginning in August 1979, the courts tried and passed death sentences on members of ethnic minorities involved in antigovernment movements. Some 550 persons had been executed by the time Bazargan resigned in November of 1979. Bazaragan had also attempted, but failed to bring the revolutionary committees under his control. The committees, whose members were armed, performed a variety of duties. They policed neighborhoods in urban areas, guarded prisons and government buildings, made arrests and served as the execution squads of the revolutionary tribunals. The committees often served the interests of powerful individual clerics, revolutionary personalities and political groups, however. They made unauthorized arrests, intervened in labor-management disputes and seized property. Despite these abuses, members of the Revolutionary Council wanted to bring the committees under their own control, rather than eliminate them. With this in mind, in February 1979 they appointed Ayatollah Mohammad Reza Mahdavi-Kani to be the head of the Tehran revolutionary committee and charged him with supervising the committees countrywide. Mahdavi-Kani dissolved many committees, consolidated others and sent thousands of committeemen home. But the committees, like the revolutionary courts, endured, serving as one of the coercive arms of the revolutionary government."

Bani Sadr became President of Iran, and he brought with him to office a dream of consolidating government control centrally. Part of his vision was to gradually phase out the revolutionary courts and committees, legitimatize them and reformulate them in a more mature version into an officially recognized part of the government. Simultaneously, he sought to reduce the power of the clerics and transform the government into a more nonsectarian structure. He also envisioned empowering the economy with oil revenues, if he could just stop the fighting with Iraq. Obviously, this was not the same agenda shared by Khomeini, and the cleric knew that Bani Sadr as President was not something that was going to last very long. At Sadr’s swearing-in ceremony, Khomeini even gave him a vote of confidence by making him head of the army, although we may suspect the Ayatollah had his finger crossed when he did that.

 

When the book was finally closed on Bani Sadr, he had not accomplished any of his aims, since, "he failed to secure the dissolution of the Pasdaran and the revolutionary courts and committees. He also failed to establish control over the judiciary or the radio and television networks. Khomeini himself appointed IRP member Ayatollah Mohammad Beheshti as Chief Justice and IRP member Ayatollah Abdol-Karim Musavi-Ardabili as Prosecutor General. Bani Sadr’s appointees to head the state broadcasting service and the Pasdaran were forced to resign within weeks of their appointments."

 

It was during Bani Sadr’s short term of office that executions, which were previously very rare in Iran, became commonplace. In the meantime, in McCarthy like style, the ultra-Ayatollah determined that "royalists" were still holding big jobs in the Iranian Government. This drove the people into a frenzy that swept some 4,000 civil servants out office. In addition, another 4,000 military officers were forcibly retired along side the 8,000 that had previously been purged. This was the exact reason Iran found itself so defenseless when Iraq waged war against them. It was a similar situation that was to be found in Russia just before Hitler turned on his former partner, Stalin, who had believed that his agreement with Hitler was cast in stone. Stalin had a good part of his senior military command executed in purges in the late 1930s, most probably due to Stalin’s paranoia. When Hitler declared war on Russia, the German Army was a hot knife cutting butter until it arrived at the gates of Leningrad, Moscow and Stalingrad, where they stalled in the frigid Russian winter. Russia was able to revitalize itself that winter, and supplies pouring in from the West didn’t hurt.

 

In 1979, the American Embassy in Tehran was seized by Iranian militants. The reason for their particular rancor with the United States two-fold: first, it was the Americans that had brought westernization to Iran and who had helped to destroy their Fundamentalist Religious concepts; and second, it was also the Americans that had prolonged the then unpopular Shah’s regime by backing him with military equipment and other resources. Because of this, when the Shah was overthrown, the rioting crowds next attacked the American Embassy. This was a particularly startling event, because it played itself out on television sets all over the world. The imperialist American Flag was publicly being burned on camera, and there wasn’t a thing the strongest nation on earth could do about it. The Iranians had their day in front of the world.

 

They proceeded to make the Americans they captured in the embassy their hostages and began working in teams around the clock to decipher massive numbers of top-secret documents that were in the process of being shredded when the embassy fell. The ever-passive Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini stirred the pot by crying "Death to America." A standoff developed which the United States, under the weak and internationally inexperienced government of President Jimmy Carter, was not capable of addressing. Carter, a farmer from Georgia, was in the middle of a runaway inflation in the United States that had caused the Federal Reserve to increase interest rates to a level so high that the banks and the savings and loan associations started to fail by the hundreds, driving the country in a recession.

 

The sixty-five hostages seized by the Iranians cooled their heels under less than ideal conditions for 444 days. The Carter administration had done nothing about bringing them home after one aborted rescue attempt, and the only change in the situation came of the eve of Ronald Reagan’s ascendancy to the White House. Whether a deal was made with the Iranians by Reagan or that the Iranians were aware of what would happen to them under a Reagan administration, the hostages were eventually coughed up.

 

Diplomatic relations severed at that time have never been renewed, and the countries have co-existed almost in a state of unarmed warfare ever since, with the United States carefully monitoring whatever goes in and out of the country. This monitoring was formalized by President Clinton on May 6, 1995, when he signed Executive Order 12959, which prohibits exporting goods or services to Iran, re-exporting certain goods to Iran, making new investments in Iran and dealing in property owned or controlled by the government of Iran. The importation of Iranian-origin goods or services into the United States has been prohibited since October 19, 1987.

 

No one had given Bani Sadr a gift when he got the job, as the Kurds were rebelling and the American hostages taken when the revolutionaries stormed the U.S. Embassy were becoming a political nightmare. For every constructive move that Sadr attempted to put into place, Khomeini negated out of hand. He worked out a sweetheart deal with the Kurds, and Khomeini called him a traitor. He worked out a deal with the United Nations on the hostages, and Khomeini nixed it, in spite of the fact that the United States had expropriated a very large amount of Iranian assets held in the United States.

 

During this period, American President Carter arranged a clandestine raid on Iran to free the hostages, but this became a military disaster, a political fiasco and an endless embarrassment to the entire American Government. Students in Iran asserted that the country’s military, operating under the command of Sadr, had given the American’s assistance, since without such assistance, the Americans never could have penetrated Iranian airspace undetected. Not only was America embarrassed in front of the entire world, but Sadr almost lost his command of the military, so convoluted was the nature of dissent in Iran during that period. In any even, 140 Iranian officers were summarily executed because of America’s abortive rescue attempt. This gives us some idea of what would have happened had the United States been successful.

 

Ultimately, everyone was become wary of this endless hostage affair, and with the aid of West Germany, negotiations were started between Iran and the United States to solve the problem. On January 20, 1981, the day Ronald Regan was sworn in as President of the United States, a deal was cut that called for the United States to release somewhere between $11 and $12 billion that they were holding of Iran’s much needed hard dollar reserves. On the other hand, Iran owed the United States $5 billion in syndicated and non-syndicated loans which was deducted from the amount being released, a billion was left in escrow and the deal was sealed, with the Algerians acting as intermediaries. This last matter was adjudicated by the International Court in The Hague, finalizing the entire matter.

 

In the meantime, Bani Sadr kept trying to wrest enough power from the Iranian clerics to run a government. In the opinion of the Ayatollah Khomeini, this seemed a bit pushy. Khomeini had enough of President Bani Sadr, denouncing him on May 27, 1981, during the hottest part of the war with Iraq. This created a revolution within a war, and afraid of assassination, Bani Sadr went into hiding. He made an excellent choice, as the vote for impeachment was 177 to 1 against him.

 

In 1975, under the Algiers Treaty, negotiated by the then Vice President of Iraq, Saddam Hussein, and the Shah of Iran called for Iraq to move back their borders with Iran in exchange for Iran withdrawing support of the Kurdish rebels, a fiercely independent minority in Iraq that was playing havoc with Iraq’s infrastructure. Both sides further agreed that they would not meddle in each other’s internal affairs. As Khomeini was anxious to undo anything that the Shah had accomplished, he proceeded to abrogate the Algiers Treaty. The Ayatollah sent teams of Iranian revolutionaries across the Iraqi border to stir up trouble with the both the Shi’ite’s of southern Iraq and the Kurds of northern Iraq.

 

Khomeini’s ardor for revenge was also shared by Iraq’s Hussein, who by now was Iraq’s President. Because Iranian imports had been severely restricted over the years, he thought that Iran would make easy pickings and sent his minions into Khuzistan to agitate the Sunni Muslim population (Iran’s biggest minority group) with stories of Iranian torture, rape and murder of their co-religionists. Hussein now had all the reasons he needed to cancel the abrogated treaty, which he did on September 22, 1980 by way of a formal declaration.

 

Simultaneously with that announcement, the ebullient General Hussein followed it up with an armored attack across the Shatt al-Arab boundary separating the two countries in the south. It is also very likely that his attack was motivated by two other reasons, the first being that Iran had been in a state of chaos since the revolution, and the second being that Hussein believed the Iranian Army was not anywhere near a match for his finely honed military machine.

 

Equally important was Hussein’s love of "black gold," which has gotten him into a lot of trouble over the years even though Iraq is richly blessed with the stuff. In any event, the Kuzistan Province of Iran contained an overabundance of that material, as well, and Hussein was known to become very excitable when the opportunity to annex additional oil-rich territory presented itself.

 

Moreover, Kuzistan had been part of Iraq’s territory some time back in history so that there were any number of logical reasons the President could be given to the public relations people for starting the war. Let’s see now, most of the people in the territory were originally Iraqis anyhow, they had not been particularly happy under Iranian rule and now that the clerics were enforcing their Shi’ite orthodox form of the Muslim religion down their throats they were especially annoyed. In addition, Hussein felt that the groundwork had been well laid by this time with the Khuzistan Arabs and the Sunni Muslims to rebel against Iranian rule. Hussein’s war strategies were often flawed and this instance did not break the mold. Both groups chose to sit out the conflict rather than challenge Khomeini’s revolutionary vision (i.e., revolutionary troops).

 

Equally important was Khomeini’s pronounced ability to hold a grudge, for one might recall the agreement that Hussein entered into with the Shah, the Algiers Treaty, contained a clause way at the bottom in fine print that said that Iraq would agree to ship Khomeini, lock, stock and barrel to France which turned out to be a critical part of the agreement (Khomeini was known to be a rebel rouser even in those days).

 

The personas of the two despots played a huge part in this mammoth battle of super-egos. One only had to walk down the center of any town in either country and just count the number of portraits of their fearless leaders to know what we mean. Both countries had the same joke, that there were more pictures of their leaders than there were people living in the countries. The two leaders made the war a personal vendetta and flung words at each other with the same velocity as their soldiers fired bullets:

 

"This attests to the two leaders’ megalomania. At various times, mutual character assassination has also figured prominently into the fighting rhetoric on both sides. The Ayatollah from the outset of the war has branded Hussein and ’atheist‘ and a ’war criminal,’ while Hussein denounced the Ayatollah’s ’Persian expansionist ambitions‘ before the Iraqi parliament and cited the Ayatollah’s ’lack of good neighborly behavior‘ as a reason for Iraq’s canceling of the Algiers Treaty. As argued cogently by one Iranian expatriate now teaching political science in the United States, ’religious and nationalist sentiments are not primary motivating forces behind the conflict; instead, they are used by both leaders to stir up the passion and hatred needed to keep the war effort alive.’ Interestingly enough, both Iran and Iraq tend to attribute the root causes of the conflict to collusion between the United States and Israel, calling the war a Zionist plot carried out by agents of international Zionism. This could certainly be seen as a tool used by the two leaders in their own personal vendetta." ()

 

The Iranians were far more powerfully armed than the Iraqis, having an overabundance of material left over as a gift from America to the Shah. On the other hand, the Iranian officer’s corps had been purged when the religious right took charge, because they were concerned about the army’s loyalty. Therefore, while Iran had a tremendous advantage in material, they lacked the ability to utilize it proficiently enough to win the war, somewhat akin to the situation in Russia during 1942. They augmented their leadership vacuum by conscripting tens of thousands of young boys, instilling within them an oversized dose of religious fervor, and these kids never once lost faith. However, as the war progressed, most of them became cannon fodder and lost their lives.

 

So on one side we had the well-oiled, but under-strength, army of Iraq fighting against a much larger country with far greater resources that had retrained their army’s to fight in similar fashion to the British Light Brigade in the Crimean War. Waves upon waves of screaming children were sent by the clergy to attack impregnable positions held by Iraq. While loses on the Iranian side far exceeded Iraq’s, it just didn’t matter; Iran could always call up a few more young religious fanatics whenever the need seemed to arise.

 

Iraq faced with a war that was not going anywhere and had to find another strategy. Hussein was more than certain that if Iran had broken through his lines, the Iraqi leader would probably spend the rest of his waking moments stretched across a rack, or in lieu of that, something worse. Hussein turned to the only alternative he had available under the circumstances, poison gas. This use of chemical weapons was crucial in 1982 when the Iranian soldiers broke through the Iraqi lines and headed toward Baghdad.

 

He used the mustard and nerve varieties whenever the need arouse, and for that reason Iraq was able to hang tough and eventually create an uneasy peace between the two countries. Adding to the stalemate was the fact that Hussein, not having Iran’s resources in either material or personnel, tried to fight a limited war similar to what the United States originally attempted to do in both Korea and Vietnam. Khomeini one the other hand believed that Allah himself had given him the divine right to have Hussein’s head on a plate and pursued the conflict with unbelievable vigor, only adding to Iran’s massive losses in personnel.

 

Another problem affecting the Iraqi military was the centralized command Hussein imposed on his troops. He wanted to run the war his own way and be damned with what the general’s thought. This caused him to underutilize his air force against military targets, much like the Germans did at Dunkirk or during the second phase of the Battle of Britain. At Dunkirk, the British troops were saved by some strategic mistakes at German High Command, and in the Battle of Britain, Hitler shifted the German Air Force from its mission of destroying strategic targets (mainly the RAF) to retaliating for the raid on Berlin by bombing the hell out of every city in England (instead of lowering British morale, their resolve just increased). Hussein never quite got the message that an air force can’t be run from downtown, and as a result, the Iraqi Air Force was not very effective during the entire war.

 

Although both countries had oil-producing areas far out of the range of the other’s ability to strike them, much time was wasted by each side destroying the other’s non-strategic oil installations, which only helped to inundate both parties’ infrastructure. This became more a game of tit-for-tat, rather logical militarily strategic decision making, and like angry children, Iraq and Iran lashed out at each other, not knowing who, what or where to strike. Finally, a totally frustrated Hussein tried to inflict as much damage on their opponent as possible started bombing helpless Iranian cities.

 

Not to be outdone, the Iranians who had recently been gifted a large number of Scuds by the Soviet Union, started allocation in the general direction of the Iraqi cities. (In reality both countries were clients of Russia). Interesting enough, both countries were originally equipped with western weapons, but Iran had been totally dependent upon them. Now both were clients of the Soviet Union. When Iran tried to replace their armaments through western purchases, they were rebuffed because of their horrific relationship with the United States. Eventually, the war ended after cities were destroyed and multitudes of Iranian children were made into cannon fodder. The war rapidly degraded into a battle of attrition with neither side able to take command. Eventually, neither fighter had anything left and an agreement was entered into by the antagonists to end the fighting.

 

Iran settled into managing their own country and enforcing their religious beliefs on their own citizens. The Iranian religion taught the people that women were physically, intellectually and morally inferior to men. Women were forced to conform to hejab, or a doctrinal dress code. Their bodies had to be completely covered so that they would not cause men to lust after them. They had to ware a chador, a long loose coat and trousers, and all parts of their bodies, including their hair, had to be covered. The rules stated that only the hands and face can be exposed to anyone outside of the home, and if the rules were violated, the offender would be given 74 lashes.

 

Moreover, if this was not bad enough, as time went on, the rules became even more strict. In rapid succession, women’s faces were banned from advertising, women were banned from smiling in the street, and on October 18, 1995, Israeli Radio reported that women were now prohibited from wearing bracelets, eyeglasses and watches in public. Women could not longer enter law school, and all female judges were dismissed. Almost every year since the Iranian Revolution, the number of women in school has declined, and today they make up less than 9% of the work force. Believe it or not, the clerics lowered the legal age for marriage to puberty, which they legally defined as nine full lunar years, or eight years and nine months. They did lighten up a bit by allowing the girl’s guardian to approve a marriage contract for earlier age without her consent. Because marriages can be contracted to cover short periods of time, prostitution has become rampant within the country.

 

"The penal code of the fundamentalist regime specifies stoning as the punishment for women found guilty of adultery or "illicit relations." Virgin girls who are sentenced to death are routinely raped by agents of the regime to prevent their souls from going to heaven." ()

 

In a conference in Paris on March 9, 1996, Maryam Rajavi, the woman who is the President-Elect of the Iranian Resistance stated that: "fundamentalism is political, social and economic ideology based on misogyny. Fundamentalists claim women’s nature is sinister and satanic and woman is the embodiment of sin and seduction, and therefore women must be controlled for the sake of society."

 

The United States Department of State issued a Consular Information Sheet which give a reasonably objective report on the state of affairs in Iran relative to women: "Family issues: Children of Iranian citizens, under the age of 18, must have the father’s permission to depart Iran, even if the mother has been granted full custody by an Iranian court. Even the non-Iranian wife of an Iranian citizen (who obtains Iranian nationality through marriage and must convert to Islam) requires the consent of her husband to leave Iran. In case of marital problems, women in Iran are often subject to strict family controls. Because of Islamic law, compounded by the lack of diplomatic relationships between the United States and Iran, the U.S. Interests Section in Tehran can provide very limited assistance if an American woman encounters difficulty in leaving Iran."

 

The American relationship with Iran has been strange to say the least. One of the weirdest episodes in the history of these two countries, was the so-called "Iran-Contra Affair." Ronald Reagan determined that it was important to give assistance to the Contras, who were in the midst of a civil war against the ruling Sandinista government of Nicaragua, themselves recent victors in a civil war that overthrew the local dictator. Ronald Reagan, a Republican, was more than a trifle upset when the Congress, controlled by the Democrats, enacted the Boland Amendments, which prohibited the Defense Department, the Central Intelligence Agency, or any other government agency from providing military aid to the Contras from December 1983 to September 1985. This would seem to prevent the Reagan administration from fulfilling their promise of support to the Contras.

 

The setting was most unusual, as American hostages were being held in Lebanon and negotiations of a sort were being carried on, rather unofficially, between ad hoc delegations from both countries, when several highly placed government officials came up the naïve idea that they could kill two birds with one stone. First, they could circumventing the Boland Amendments by having the National Security Council supply arms to Iran, which in turn would trans-ship some of those arms to the Contras. This would accomplish a legal way around the Congressional prohibition, due to the fact that the National Security Council was not named in the Boland Amendments and it would strengthen the hand of the moderates in Iran who were offering to help with the hostage situation in Lebanon. Even though public funds were used to buy the weapons, the United States Government could say that they were not directly involved in supplying arms to the Contras.

 

Lebanese newspapers somehow got wind of the negotiations and proceeded to leak the details of the deal, and then all hell broke loose. An investigation was called for by Congress, and Lawrence E. Walsh was named as Independent Counsel to examine who did what to whom in the affair. The investigation showed that Robert McFarlane and his successor at the National Security Council, John Poindexter, had raised private and foreign funds for the Contras. It was shown that Marine Lt. Colonel Oliver North directed the operation, and testimony also implicated William J. Casey, the then Director of the Central Intelligence Agency. The Independent Counsel’s report also indicated that both President Reagan and Vice President Bush had to be aware of what was going on.

 

There were a number of high-level convictions as a result of the investigation, with McFarlane, North, Poindexter and Casper Weinberger (Secretary of Defense under Reagan) all eventually receiving pardons under various provisions of the law. These covert actions embarrassed everyone involved, including the Iran moderates who were shown to be dealing with hated Americans. The aid pipeline to the Contras was temporarily shut down, and investigations were started regarding oversight of the National Security Council and the Central Intelligence Agency.

Meanwhile, Iran thought that they had gotten things right and soon embarked on a program to export their brand of extremism throughout the world. What was good enough for them would be good enough for everyone else they contented. This required a tightening up of security at home and soon, a series of bizarre incidents transpired which frightened almost everyone in Iran. People were threatened with death if they authored books that showed the Iranian government in a negative way. In addition, foreign guerillas were openly instructed on subversion, bombing and commando tactics in camps within Iran and, after being thoroughly trained in all of the acts of murder, were re-exported throughout the region in an effort to destabilize and overthrow some foreign governments and proselytize the people in other countries.

 

The United States embargoed any shipments of useful weapons being sent to Iran. Of all of the weapons of destruction that Iran could make use of, obviously the atomic bomb was the most significant. Naturally, Iran made every effort to manufacture the bomb. Their first choice of partners was China, and a secret deal was concluded between the two governments which called for China to send Iran hundreds of tons of the material used in enriching uranium to weapons-grade quality. In turn, Iran would ship China all of the oil it needed to keep their industries functioning.

 

The Clinton Administration found out about what was going on between the two conspirators, and a secret deal was entered into between the U.S. and Chinese Government. Under this deal, the United States would assist China in gaining admission into the World Trade Organization, something that China desired far more than the pittance it could get from Iran for upgrading its uranium enrichment facilities. handoff course, if U.S. Intelligence Agencies had not discovered the covert transaction between China and Iran, China would probably have gotten both, and Iran would have gained the ability to produce atomic bombs that would have raised havoc in the world.

 

The United States later entered a formal agreement with China in which they agreed not to export weapons of terror to anyone that asked. The U.S.-China Nuclear Energy Agreement required China’s statement that it, "is not assisting and will not assist any non-nuclear-weapon state, either directly or indirectly, in acquiring nuclear explosive devices or the material and components for such devices." China was between a rock and a hard place in these negotiations, since they were really not interested in seeing Iran have the bomb that could turn around and bite them. Likewise, China was rapidly industrializing and was short of oil. The supply routes linking the two countries allowed oil shipments to be carried out without any major logistical problems.

 

However, this was not the major issue between the countries. China, like Russia, was ethnically diverse in some of its more distant provinces. For example, the State of Xinjiang on China’s northwest frontier was a highly restive Muslim region. China was willing to pay blackmail to Iran in an effort to stop them from exporting their fundamentalist beliefs into China. Because of these inherent problems and in spite of the agreement with the United States, China went through contortions to hide their intent:

 

"After weeks of analysis and internal debate, the Clinton Administration decided to confront the Chinese government about the transaction. In the first week of February, National Security Adviser Samuel R. "Sandy" Berger sent a formal letter, known as a demarche, to Liu Huaqiu, the Chinese Foreign Ministry’s representative on the ruling State Council and effectively Berger’s counterpart. To drive home the message, the State Department and National Security Council’s top counter-proliferation officials, Robert Einhorn and Gary Samore, summoned acting Chinese Ambassador Zhou Wenzhong for a meeting.

They noted that the China Nuclear Energy Industry Corporation, which was negotiating with Iran, is the state-run nuclear power company. Initially, Chinese authorities replied that anhydrous hydrogen fluoride (AHF) appears on neither of two lists of controlled nuclear substances maintained by international arms control authorities, though it is restricted by many industrial countries because it is a chemical weapons precursor to the nerve agent Sarin. But within two weeks, according to senior administration officials, high-ranking Chinese officials in Beijing assured Washington that the chemical sale would not proceed." ()

 

Some interesting quotes flew back and forth within the American Government describing the true intentions of the Chinese: "The Chinese cannot be held to their word on what was the most disturbing facility we wanted terminated. The administration now says we talked with them and they stopped it. They should never have had to, the Chinese knew damn well how sensitive this is." Because the United States held a carrot up to China that they couldn’t resist, membership in the World Trade organization, it appears that this transaction has seen its conclusion, but not before a lot of nervous moments.

 

However, this is of little matter for the Iranians, having had that door closed tightly, they subsequently approached the Russians and some of their satellites regarding the same material. Russia is an entirely different kettle of fish. The Russian nuclear agencies are riddled by profiteering, and even if they weren’t, the chemicals are easy to acquire from other former members of the USSR. The amount of money that can be placed on the table to conclude a transaction of this size is so substantial that we believe the Iranians will be able to acquire their bomb from somewhere, and then, God help us all.

 

On the other hand, there is a potentially bright side to this whole story. Iran has several equally unfriendly neighbors, such as Iraq, Israel and Afghanistan. It is not illogical to assume that as the Iranian nuclear threat becomes increasingly more serious, either Iraq or Israel will be forced to take out the facility. It was not that long ago that Israel destroyed suspicious industrial plants inside Iraq when it appeared these facilities were getting just a tad to close to being able to make the big bomb.

 

The situation in Afghanistan is a different matter entirely. Afghanistan is also an exporter of Muslim extremism, but Afghanistan has gone one better with the assistance of both Pakistan and Saudi Arabia in cultivating the export of terrorism. They have set up massive guerilla bases within the country and are operating commando units throughout the world. Even Iran and Afghanistan to some degree share a commonality of interest through their religious beliefs, the people controlling Afghanistan, the Taliban, have been show to be far more aggressive in their exports of terror. They have even attacked Iran, sent drugs cascading through Iran’s porous borders and have killed a substantial number of Iranian clerics who were involved in a recent pilgrimage into Afghanistan.

 

Furthermore, they cultivated over a million drug addicts among the Iranian population. Iran answered these aggressive moves and sent over 100,000 heavily armed soldiers to their border with Afghanistan in what was an unmistakable message. As this was going on, the United States and Russia quietly wrestled with the serious problem of terrorist violence emanating from Afghanistan. It has even been rumored that they may have determined that the best way to end the Afghanistan problem is to take joint military action against that country. Wouldn’t it be interesting if the U.S. joined together to attack a former United States’ client, Afghanistan, in tandem with Russia, the former "Evil Empire," and Iran, the exporter of Muslim Fundamentalism and a country with which the United States has no diplomatic relations. Anything is possible in this world, where today’s allies are tomorrow's enemies, and vice versa.

 

Although some commonality of interest between the United States and Iran is gradually reviving, to the degree that we have started some minor cultural exchanges, our Department of State is not sanguine over the way the relationship is going:

 

"The Department of State warns U.S. citizens to defer travel to Iran. Iranian President Khatami has called for a "dialogue of civilizations" and an increase of private exchanges between Iranians and Americans; some limited exchanges have taken place. There is, however, evidence that hostility to the United States remains in some segments of the Iranian population and some elements of the Iranian government. In July 1999, violent anti-government demonstrations took place in Tehran and other cities around the country. There were accusations that the U.S. was behind these demonstrations. Prior to and since that time, some groups of American travelers have encountered harassment by vigilante groups.

"The U.S. Government does not currently have diplomatic or consular relations with the Islamic Republic of Iran and therefore cannot provide protection or routine consular services to American citizens in Iran. The Swiss government acting through its embassy in Tehran, serves as protecting power for U.S. interests in Iran. The Iranian government does not recognize dual citizenship and generally does not permit the Swiss to provide protective services for American citizens who are also Iranian nationals. In addition, U.S. citizens of Iranian origin who are considered by Iran to be Iranian citizens have been detained and harassed by Iranian authorities. Former Muslims who have converted to other religions, as well as persons who encourage Muslims to convert, are subject to arrest and possible execution. The Iranian government reportedly has the names of all individuals who filed claims against Iran, and who received awards, at the Iran-U.S. claims tribunal at The Hague pursuant to the 1981 Algerian Accords…"

While it is sad that Iran’s relationships with the rest of the world has sunk so low, with new leadership, pressure from the middle class, more liberal thinking and some commonality of interests, things may be rebounding. In addition, Iran is now on the receiving end of several nasty Afghanistan exports, and they may be getting the message that it would not be a bad idea to have some friends. However, that has not stopped them from the continual burning of the American flag in their capital and at rallies, both flags and matches are supplied to attendees as a message to "the big Satan." Intellectuals are continually prosecuted, liberal newspapers closed and minority religious groups jailed on trumped up charges. In addition, the students have begun to show resentment against the continuing strong-armed tactics of the governing religious zealots. Demonstrations are held, but the result is constant, the organizers are jailed or killed and the protest rallies are summarily broken up by heavily armed police. The situation in Iran today has not changed much of the last two decades:

 

"Iran has made two demands of the Great Satan: (1) give back our frozen assets, and (2) mind your own business. Hey what’s their beef? Uncle Sam only spent $20 million trying to overthrow their Uncle Ayatollah. That’s less than we spend on daily cruise missile-grams to their neighbor Saddam. Americans are still obsessed with blindfolded U.S. embassy staffers being paraded around Tehran’s streets decorated with blazing Uncle Sam Piñatas. It’s nearly 20 years later and now we’re the ones with blindfolds. Iran has elected a moderate (well in Iran, he’s a moderate) cleric by the name of Mohammad Khatami who actually wears a suit instead of bed sheets. The voter turnout was the highest in Iran since the mullahs came to power in 1979. Americans can travel freely in this country if they don’t mind being shadowed like North Korean agents at a used plutonium sale. For now, Iran is open, the gals are loading up on the Revlon (under the chadors of course) and Baywatch via satellite dish is slowly eroding the old Iran we’ve come to hate. Oh, don’t forget that hard-linger Ayatollah () Ali Khameini still tosses the lightning bolts in this nation of very heavily clothed people. " ()

 

Persepolis

Darius the Great was the grandson of Cyrus the Great, who was the guy running things in Iran back in 518 B.C. and a really good general, but also he really know how to run an Empire. His father and grandfather had created a nice little empire, well, for the time, a really big empire, and is only stretched from India on the east to Libya on the west, and had the Aegean and the Arabian Sea as its north-south boundaries. Considering the amount of real estate that these folks had assembled, Darius make a decision to build himself an appropriate palace that would graphically illustrate what a powerful and omniscient person he was. This must be the greatest structure ever created on earth, because anything less would not have proven his point. In addition, he thought of it as a present to himself just for being a great all-around great guy.

 

He selected a very pleasant looking setting at the foot of Kuhi-Rahmat mountains ("Mountain of Mercy") in a plain approximately 400 miles south of where Tehran is now located. The scenic conditions were superb, and they would add to the little flourishes provided by Darius the Great and his architects. Darius also was convinced that, with all of the entertaining he was doing and that leaders of all those country’s occupied by Persia needed to be appreciative of his grace, it was important that they stop by his place to pay him homage. If he would be receiving trinkets from his admirers, it would be only fitting that they be received in the awe that he richly deserved. A dual-purpose, magnificent ceremonial palace that would also serve as the empire’s capital would fit nicely.

 

On the other hand, Darius’s idea of a palace was more grandiose than most despots. Once started, this little job took more than one hundred years to complete, and with good reason. In Darius’s mind, this was going to be a monument to the Achaemenian Empire (Persia), and he really wanted to pull out all of the stops. As he commenced the excavation work, Darius left a statement for posterity carved into the building’s foundation: "And Ahuramazda was of such a mind, together with all the other gods, that this fortress should be built. So I built it, and I built it secure and beautiful and adequate, just as I was intending to." The large stones that made up the palace walls were carved with a precision unknown during that period, and it was critical that they be precision honed, because the palace was going to be constructed without an ounce of mortar.

 

Construction was begun on an immense terrace, and its awesome dimensions were some 60 feet in height, 1700 feet in length and 1000 feet wide. Once that was in place, Darius could use it a base to build upon. He couldn’t wait until he could bring together all of the subjugated leaders of the various countries his family had conquered to collect his homage in this place of future splendor.

 

Darius was "great" at daydreaming, witch is one of the reason’s he was called Darius the Great. He envisioned two immense stone human-headed, kneeling bulls guarding the "Apadana," a great audience hall that would have 100 columns, each 70-feet tall, surrounding it. He would build the hall from cederwood, marble and precious metals. When he saw the design, he gave the order to proceed: "Gone today are the once brightly colored tiles, curtains of gold and immense gold-plated wooden doors." This hall would hold thousands of people at one time, and it would open onto three porticoes, one of which had a magnificent view of the plain below. While he was at it, he saw the following vision:

 

"Delegations of the tributary nations of the vast Persian empire come forward laden with gifts. The Babylonians are about to offer the king a zebu, fine woolen scarves and beautifully crafted vessels. The Scythians have brought a stallion, jewels and furs. Here are Cappadocians, and there are Cilicans, leading two magnificent rams."

"A royal audience is taking place. The Great King is on his throne with his golden scepter in one hand and a lotus in the other. He is receiving tribute from a figure, apparently a Mede, who is bowing slightly and kissing his hand to the monarch. This is Oriental proskynesis, a form of homage that provoked great indignation among the Macedonians when Alexander demanded it from his own men. The crown prince and two dignitaries stand behind the throne."

"It is late in the day. The tribute-bearers are probably in a hurry to join the king’s guests, who have already begun to gather in the gardens of the Tachara, the smaller palace. One group can be seen passing in front of a row of Susan guards. Persians wearing long pleated robes with broad sleeves, and Medes, with their horsemen’s cloaks thrown casually over their shoulders, are talking and laughing as they wait to be admitted. In the background a whole army of servants are at work. Their task is to bring hundreds of chickens, goats and sheep into the place."

"And here is the king coming out of his audience chamber. His diminutive parasol bearer and fly-catcher follow as close behind him as they can."

It was crucial to Darius that the entrance to his castle was beyond imagination. He wanted his subjects to be so awed by his creation that even greater gifts would be given by his vassals. Thus, he made it so that his visitors would have to ascend his colossal "Double, Grand Stairway" which was replete with bas-reliefs of extraordinary variety, glazed brickwork, tapestries, precious metals and romantic frescos glinting in the flickering torchlight as visitors rose toward its towering magnificence. At the penultimate moment, his guests would pass through the superb "Gate of all Nations" before they would be allowed to give Darious their homage.

 

And in case his guests might forget who it was that created this great palace, Darius himself, appeared in engravings covering the walls, depicted him as a giant warrior in the act of dispatching a serious number of humongous-sized super-monsters. Naturally, there were other drawings of Darius as well, some showing him receiving his well deserved tribute. In addition, there were countless images of the king praying to Ahura Mazda, the Zoroastrian god. Darius’s daydream had become a reality, and almost all of the leaders of the world, as they knew it at that time, did bring him great gifts and wonderful offerings. This was only fitting tribute to the greatest leader and warrior of them all, Darius must have muttered to himself.

 

His was a very substantial dream, and it required a lot of support not generally available in the proposed castle’s immediate vicinity. A call for workmen, artisans, carvers, laborers and architects was initiated throughout the Persian Kingdom, and it was not an offer that could easily by refused. If you accepted the government contract that was being offered, you would be allowed to work seven days a week, approximately 10 hours a day, doing hard labor or whatever other menial tasks that the palace foreman assigned. The contract would be for an indefinite period of time that could last up to and including a lifetime; and in this instance, it often did.

 

Should you determine not accept the challenge, you were free to decline; and if you felt that you would have no problem walking around headless, this was not a particularly difficult quandary. Darius had created the kind of democracy we often dream about today, one without a head. All you had to do was exercise your democratic right to disagree with Darius, and you were headless.

 

The Palace’s architecture borrowed a little bit from this and a little bit from that, it took a little slice from the Egyptians, something from the Ionians, a tad from the Greeks and an additional amount from the Assyrian’s. The Persians were more into magnitude than they were into cultivating a particularly delicate Persian style of architecture, so Persepolis had a unique flavor, which combined the finest styles available from many cultures. Even the name Persepolis was taken from another culture, the Persians had named the place Parsa, but subsequently under the influence of the Greeks it was renamed Persepolis, "The city of the Persian."

 

In the rear of the main building, Darius constructed a smaller palace he christened the Tachara, and he used it for state banquets where he was entertaining hundreds instead of thousands. His progeny kept up his tradition by regularly adding to the site’s luster, especially his son Xerxes and his grandson Artaxerxes. The palace continued to become ever more grandiose. As a matter of fact, Persepolis was perpetual motion to the nation’s building’s trades until Alexander came along and put a stop to this frenetic construction project, once an for all. The workman vastly were relieved, for many had not had a day off in 30 years.

 

As the years rolled by, additional structures were constructed on the terrace, the real necessities of life so to speak, a mammoth throne room with all of the accoutrements, a treasury where the spoils of war were kept (after all, this was the richest country in the world), and the omnipresent harem, in which the choicest damsels in Persia resided. Behind this building and snuggled literally into the mountain itself were the royal stables, guard rooms and living quarters.

 

We do know that everyone was supposed to come here bearing presents. We do know that it was an elegant looking place. But what was it? In reality, Persepolis was not the head of an empire, nor was it the hub of any economic endeavors. It didn’t defend anything particularly valuable, and if it had ceased to exist from a strategic point of view, not a thing in Persia would have changed one wit. The Persian Kings didn’t spend their winters here, and they didn’t spend their summers here. As a matter of fact, they didn’t do much in Persepolis except to think deep thoughts here for a week or two in spring. However, those thoughts for some reason or other never led to anything particularly constructive. On the other hand, they did spend New Years here, which strangely occurred in this region in the spring during the vernal equinox.

 

A number of highly religious events took place during this season, which was called the Noruz. It was strictly a local event to pay homage to the guy all of these folks, including Darius, were scared to death of, Ahura Mazda, the supreme god of the Universe, "whose winged symbol was every where to be seen, but it was also a great political communion to which the Darius the Great invited his subjects." The big treat at these affairs came after the religious matters had been dispensed with. Darius would then throw a big bash at which his quests would not only eat everything that they wanted to eat, but also when they were finished, they could take the silver trays they were using to eat on as a souvenir of the experience. Kind of like buying a large coke at McDonalds and being able take the neat plastic container that it came in home. Believe it or not, it appears that the primary reasons for this magnificent edifice to have existed was to for Darius to create a palace to receive homage and as a spot for him to celebrate the religious Persian New Years.

 

Considering how long the palace took to complete and how much Darius invested in it in terms of time and effort, the place did not last very long. Alexander the Great came along in 330 B.C. and without further adieu, Darius III surrendered the city without a fight to Alexander’s legendary cavalry while Darius’s Immortal Praetorian Guard of ten thousand troops, cowered in fright. It seems that Darius III, the last Achaemenid king, had met Alexander previously at the battle of Gaugamela and had been so soundly trounced that he wanted nothing to do with the man ever again.

 

So, Alexander was left to his own devices. At first, as the story goes, he was content to just pillage the palace and remove all of its valuables, but in the midst of a drunken party he had second thoughts and had his captain of the guards torch the entire place. He was heard to remark that the place was "to good for the damn Persians." We know from the description by Plutarch that it took 20,000 mules and 5,000 camels to haul the entire stash away. Contained in his stash were 40,000 silver talents and an enormous selection of jewels, vases and carvings of ivory and jade.

 

"When most of the army joined Alexander in Persepolis, a council of war was held at which the conqueror came out in favor of looting the city and destroying it. Parmenio, one of his lieutenants, tried to dissuade him. Why should he destroy something that now belonged to him and why run the risk of rekindling local resistance by a wanton act of cruelty? Alexander deflected his arguments, but agreed to spare the royal buildings. Thus, the residential part of the city was abandoned to the ferocity of the Greek soldiers. The Roman historian Quintius Curius Rufus, author of The History of Alexander, tells how the Persian leaders, dressed in their finest robes, threw themselves from the tops of their walls or burned themselves alive in their houses, rather than fall into the hands of their enemies. Bands of soldiers ran in every direction, slitting the throats of their prisoners or killing one another when they fought over the plunder. The carnage lasted several days."

"Persepolis’s misfortunes were not yet over, however. Back in the city after a swift expedition against a mountain people, the Mardi, Alexander decided to march against the remnants of the Persian army. Before sending his phalanxes onto the road to the northwest, he offered his entourage a magnificent banquet. It was held on the very spot where the Great Kings of Persia had entertained their guests, on the vast stone terrace where stood the palaces and gardens that had been saved by Parmenio’s supplications. Wine flowed in rivers, and it was not long before everyone was drunk. Suddenly Thais, an Athenian courtesan famed for her beauty and quick wit, began to harangue the crowd, urging them to burn the palace of Xerxes, who had once destroyed her native city, and thus avenge Greece. Her words were greeted with a roar of approval, and Alexander, swept along in the general enthusiasm, grabbed a torch and led the crowd on its way. The revelers made their way to all the palaces of the royal city and, to the sound of flutes and pipes, set fire to anything that would burn."

 

When the effects of the wine had worn off, Alexander was not thrilled with what he had done. He ordered the fires put out and saved what was left of this magnificent city. While the fires had not destroyed everything, sadly, much of the city’s structure was assembled with cederwood and was therefore very susceptible to burning when torched. In addition, the City’s walls were made of mud brick, and what fire did to the cederwood, the centuries did to the walls. The magnificent walls withered and shrunk. Within Persepolis’s badly charred ruins, the body of Darius III was found, and Alexander ordered that he be buried with honors. Thus, Darius III, the last of his clan, was laid to rest in the city his ancestors had created.

 

Having been destroyed by fire, the site was forgotten about for nearly 2,000 years until 1620 A.D., when it was rediscovered. However, it was not until 1931 that the ruins were excavated by the University of Chicago’s Oriental Institute. The job was a monumental undertaking and required substantial resources of material and labor under extremely difficult climatic conditions. Professor Ernst Herzfeld, who at the time was Professor of Oriental Archaeology in Berlin, took on the job in 1931 at the behest of the University of Chicago. He in turn passed the baton to Erich F. Schmidt in 1934. During his tenure, Schmidt had between 200 and 500 men working for him virtually around the clock. He carried the ball until 1939, when the eruption of World War II caused everyone to scurry for cover. The Iranian Antiquity Service took hold of the project after the war had ended, and subsequently, they have done a workman like job in the excavation and restoration effort.

 

The digs by Herzfeld and Schmidt produced immediate results, and almost as soon as they put their spades into the ground, marvelous treasures seemed to unfold:

 

"…Besides these pottery vessels, numerous painted clay figurines of humans and animals were discovered. Other ceramic objects consisted of scrapers, in the form of stirrups, which were used for smoothing and decorating vessel surfaces before the vessels were fired. These scrapers – although made of clay – were so strong, and their scraping edges so sharp, that they were also used for scraping hides. In addition to this vast amount of pottery, there were large quantities of knives, blades and copper daggers. There were also many button seals, mostly made of green stone, showing beautifully incised designs. Finally, some well-preserved clay labels and seal impression were excavated."

 

Nearby at Naghsh-e Rustam are the colossal tombs cut into the mountain, which contain the bodies of four Persian kings: Darius the Great, Xerxes I, Artaxerxes I and Darius II. These tombs are carved out of solid rock straight up a nearly horizontal mountainside. Under the tombs are relief’s created at a later time by the Sassanian kings, a dynasty of Persians who followed the Achaemenians centuries later. They include reliefs depicting the buried royalty and their gods. The two sets of tombs and their artistic carvings seem to harmonize with each other and create a most stirring spectacle. Not only is it hard to imagine how anybody could have carved these massive tombs from the sheer surface of the rock, but also just getting into position to do the work must have been a major undertaking. It is said that these people had been able to create a rope apparatus, which allowed them to hang from the mountaintop while carving their way into its bowels. ()

 

"The gaunt beauty of the Mountains, the immense landscape, the deep silence which pervades the site, remote from any village, are appropriate for the sacred character of this necropolis sheltering the tombs of the main Achaemenian Sovereigns."

 

Persepolis was named a World Heritage Site by Unesco in 1979 and if were not for its remote location and the fact that Iran is just not necessarily the best place in the world to be traveling to at the moment, this site would be considered one of the finest archeological excavations on earth. Probably more time has been spent on this site by more highly trained professionals than any other in the world.

 

Libya

Oil and Water

Libya’s history was that of assorted nomadic tribes, who were plying the desert until very recently. Libya is one of the more contemporary countries in the world community, and it did not become an independent nation until 1951. One of these original tribes was descended from the Berbers, and they were called Libyans. Although they weren’t a particularly important faction, the ancient Egyptians started calling everyone in the country they came from "Libyans," and the moniker stuck. When they received their independence, Libya was a geographically defined area divided into three culturally distinct parts, Tripolitania, Cyrenaica and Fezzan.

 

Each of these areas was cut off from the others by vast expanses of desert, and because of this, it wasn’t until the 1960s that people began to look at Libya as unified country, instead of a hodge-podge of individual regions. Tripolitania contained the most important city in Libya, Tripoli, an important port on the route of the caravans and a home for pirates and slave traders. Cyrenaica was contiguous to Egypt, and although the people were fiercely independent, they borrowed some of their customs from their neighbors. Fezzan was a more distinctly African enclave, and the people that lived there were primarily oasis dwellers who serviced trade between caravan routes, Africa and the Mediterranean. To some degree, the people were bonded together by their commonality in the Muslim religion, but in spite of that, the region remained an independent tribal society, with Cyrenaica not being welling to give up their independence, well into the 20th Century.

 

Libya became a part of the Muslim world during the Middle Ages, and that was about the only unifying aspect in the country for almost a millennium. As World War II approached, the country was an Italian colony, and the people were none to happy about that fact. In 1939, when England and France entered the war, the Libyan nationalists saw an opportunity to get rid of Italy’s dominance, and led by the man who would later become known as King Idris, the bickering tribes reached an agreement in Cairo. Italy formally entered the war in June of 1940 on the side of Germany, and the Libyans used that opportunity to join the Allies. In spite of the much-needed Libyan assistance in their war effort, the British were unwilling to negotiate a deal for Libya’s independence until the conflict was over. In spite of this rebuff, five battalions of Libyans and their air force, known as the Sanusi Army, joined the British on the front lines and served with great distinction.

 

It was not until 1951, under the leadership of King Idris, that the country was established as a federal monarchy and a constitutional democracy. Libya’s constitution provided for a Chamber of Deputies, a prime minister, and a lower bicameral legislature. The King would appoint the Council of Ministers, while the upper house of senators, which consisted of eight representatives from each of the former provincial governments, were publicly nominated or elected. Rather than go into detail about its complex structure, the process by which the country was governed could be stated rather simplistically: the King could veto any legislation he didn’t like and he had the right at any given time to dissolve the lower house. However, during the country’s first election, political parties were outlawed and groups opposing those in power were declared illegal. Effectively, the executive arm of the Libya government became a place used more for debating economic theory than one that attempted accomplished anything. During this period, Libya’s capital was located both in Benghazi and in Tripoli.

 

Moreover, during the period after its independence and before the reigns of government were taken over completely by Muammar al in 1969, Libya was considered both a conservative member of the League of Arab States (the Arab League) and had a profoundly pro-western propensity. Both Britain and the United States installed major military bases in Libya in exchange for their economic assistance. During this period, Libya maintained warm diplomatic relations with France, Greece, Italy, and Turkey. Although Libya had diplomatic relations with the Soviet Union, as well, for the most part they remained independent of the Eastern-Bloc. Libya, because of its massive expansive of parched deserts, did not have much going for it in terms of agricultural production, mining or trade and thus was dependent on the West for economic subsidies to see it through. The maturation process was virtually non-existent.

 

Then, in 1959, an extraordinary event occurred when engineers from Exxon found rich deposits oil in the Cyrenaica province of Libya. This altered the entire economic composition of the country. For the time, Libya negotiated an exceptionally favorable profit sharing arrangement with the western oil companies, keeping approximately 50% of the gross revenues. Libya was now in a position to be in charge of its own destiny; the oil was not only plentiful, but of exceptional quality, and in addition, Libya’s ports were only a stones- throw away from the oil-thirsty European markets. Now having some excess money to spend, Libya determined to correct some of its problems.

 

The country’s agricultural production had fallen off substantially, due to Libya’s dependence on oil revenues, and irrigation projects were initiated in an attempt to achieve independence in that area. The government was reconstituted as a Monarchy, and the original three provinces were divided into a total of ten states. It was anticipated that this would undermine regional thinking within the country and that the population would view Libya more as one entity, instead of three. The constitution of 1963 reflected this change, and the government was formally modified into a unitary state.

 

While a founding partner of the Arab League, Libya did not become embroiled in foreign intrigues, particularly the conflict with Israel. On the other hand, when it came to assisting fellow members of the League in gaining independence, Libya was always available to help. The population was becoming substantially more nationalistic, while in neighboring Egypt; Gamal Abdul Nasser had become a rallying point for all the Arab States. Libya asked the foreigners that had military bases in their country to pull up stakes, which included the United States and Britain. However, this process was not accomplished overnight, and the Americans did not fully abandon Wheelus Air Base until six years later, in 1970.

 

Libya’s perception of the West started to change dramatically during the 1967 Arab-Israeli War. Both oil workers and students rioted against the West; American and British Embassies were severely damaged by out-of-control mobs that also attacked foreign oil company offices. Libyan Jews were also attacked, which caused the entire community of Libyan Jews to pick up and leave the country. As an aftermath of the Arab-Israeli War, while Libya was still shying away from Arab politics, they were very agreeable to provide substantial money to Egypt, Syria and Jordan, whose infrastructures had been destroyed by Israeli planes.

 

Even though the Libyan government was providing aid to frontline Arab states, the Libyan people were becoming restive, primarily as a result of government inefficiencies, bureaucratic bribery and bumbling and the rabble-rousing of Nasser in neighboring Egypt. It was believed by the general population that they were not benefiting from the country’s substantial oil boom and that their standard of living had not increased in spite of this economic gusher. As though he could see the handwriting of discontent on the wall, King Idris became morose and ultimately left the country in search of medical treatment on the continent. He left Crown Prince Hasa ar Rida in charge in his absence. That turned out to be a major tactical error, as an army colonel, named Muammar al Qadhafi, saw this as an opportunity to take over the country, which he was able to accomplish without significant loss of blood.

 

"…The era since 1969 has brought many important changes. The Qadhafi regime has made the first real attempt to unify Libya’s diverse peoples and to create a distinct Libyan state and identity. It has created new political structures and made a determined effort at diversified economic development financed by oil revenues. The regime has also aspired to leadership in Arab and world affairs. As a consequence of these developments, Libyan society has been subjected to a significant degree of government direction and supervision, much of it at the behest of Qadhafi himself. Although the merits of the regime and its policies were much debated by Libyans and foreigners alike, there was not question that Libya in the 1980s was a significantly different country from the one it had been only two or three decades earlier."

 

Qadhafi was much more of a visionary than most people realized, for he took a strong position of fostering nationalism over religion and evolved a system of free education for all levels of Libyan society. Additionally, the country’s inhabitants also received the best housing and health care of any country in Africa. He encouraged minority rights, especially those of women, while encouraging substantive population growth. At that time, Libya’s population was barely 4 million, and there were a quarter-of-a-million foreigners working in the country to keep the oil pipelines running. He desperately sought to replace these people with his own nationals.

 

On the other had, Qadhafi was extremely unique for his time; his views were evolutionary and he passionately wanted his people to rise up from their origins and become distinctive. Due to the country’s general conservatism and devotion to Islam, they were not an easy force to deal with. Equally significant, fully one-half of the population was under fifteen-years-old.

 

In the meantime, Qadhafi was not given to impulsive changes of political course. He had outlined his philosophy rather completely, in what he called "The Green Book;" a rather extensive treatise on the direction he wanted the country to take. In order to coerce the people to accept his teachings, he used various ploys over the years. He arranged a "Cultural Revolution" in 1973, "People’s power" in 1975, announced that Libya was a "state of the masses" in 1977 and gave up his formal title to become "Leader of the Revolution" in 1979. The bottom line of all of these machinations was an attempt by Qadhafi to change the existing social and political system to conform to his vision and to cause any threats to his leadership to be compromised. Most of his plans were constructively oriented, and the people for a time were not unappreciative of what they received in return.

 

Qadhafi became involved in third-world causes during the 1980s and constantly attempted to enforce supplementary methods of reform. He established the General People’s Congress in 1987, which was anticipated to be both an executive and legislative body meeting three times a year. When the dust had cleared, it seemed as though its membership had the same consistency as the Revolutionary Command Council, which had been abolished in 1977. Moreover, a General People’s Committee performed the functions of a cabinet, which had, by this time replaced the old Council of Ministers. During this period, Libya shifted allegiances and became an ally of the Soviet Union because of Western ties to Israel. During this period, he envisaged a plan to export terrorist activities, and within a short period of time, the country received an international reputation as an educator and breeding ground for these types of illicit activities.

 

Oil prices eventually declined, and Qadhafi lost his trump card, the ability to buy friends. Other countries, even those within the region, started to view him as a pariah. The United States broke diplomatic relations with Libya because of their terrorist activities, and they placed an embargo on products going in and out of Libya. Over the ensuing years, the embargo has stayed in place, and about the only thing that is has accomplished is that the United States has been virtually eliminated as a supplier to that country. By this time, the country had lost its dependence on American weapons and was now totally dependent on the Soviet Union.

 

In the meantime, Libya set up a transshipment deal where they would receive Russian arms and then ship them to the Irish Republican Army. In 1986, the bombing of the crowded La Belle disco in Berlin was also traced back to Libyan operatives. In that same year, Libya launched Scud missiles at the Italian Island of Lampodusa. They made few international friends during this period.

 

Libya also had established some bizarre alliances in Africa, which included turning over money to one of the most repressive regimes in the world, the government of Sierra Leone. Apparently, this aid had been supplied since 1991. "Rebel leaders like Charles Taylor of Liberia (now its President), Gambian renegade Kukoi Samba Sanyand, who led a botched invasion of his own country, Sankoh, the butcher of Sierra Leone, and Gbago Zoumanigui, the ghoul of Guinea, all allegedly received funds and training for their fighters from Libya. ‘We spent three months at a military training camp in Libya with a number of other Africans, and we were told that after training we would return home to fight against our corrupt governments,’ says Mohamed Kanneh, a 27-year-old ex-Revolutionary Untied Front (RUF) fighter."

 

Nevertheless, for the most of this time, the Europeans and most African states held the line on the Libyan Embargo along with the Americans. However, on February 19, 1998, President Bakili Muluzi of Malawi announced that his country was going to re-establish diplomatic relations with Libya. Naturally, the world’s press was interested in knowing what was going on. Muluzi’s lame explanation was the height of simplicity, "If traditional donors give me money to construct all the roads in Malawi, to construct all the schools in Malawi… then I’ll not go to Libya." This had to considered heady stuff, when you consider that Western nations were then funding more than half of the Malawi budget. When questioned further he stated, "I’m saying, I’m not the first one that has gone to Libya. As I was there, about five heads of state were leaving Libya." Libya obviously had acquired this small African country for a bargain basement price, and Libya received about 100 times that much in public relations value. However, that wouldn’t have meant a thing in the world of international public opinion unless the Libyans were willing to make some additional concessions; as it turned, they certainly were.

 

From the Qadhafi Government’s point of view, Libya has unquestionable Africanized; they have made it abundantly clear that they are not Arabs, they are Africans. While this had inured them to the Africans, the population of Libya doesn’t necessarily see things that way. Few of their leader’s policies have irritated Libyans more than his Africanization of Libya. Tripolitans curse the opening of the borders, which has turned them into a minority in their own capital. In the old and crumbling Ottoman town, Sudanese man the sweatshops, Egyptians serve the tea and West African day-laborers wait under flyovers for an invitation to sweep the streets. Libyans are rarely seen outside their cars. Predictably, the immigrants are blamed for binging AIDS and gang warfare to the streets of Tripoli. If you call a Libyan "African," he will feel insulted." But there is a real bottom line to the equation, since Qadhafi has obviously figured out that if he spreads the wealth around Africa and can convince those nations he has their best interests at heart, he could garner much needed votes at the United Nations to have the sanctions against his country eliminated.

 

With the passage of the years, Qadhafi has become less reclusive, but his rabble-rousing chants seem to have dimmed with age. In recent times, he has made a quiet attempt to bring Libya back into the world community with some degree of success. The fact that Libya relinquished the purported Lockerbie bombers to an independent court in the Netherlands for trial was a major step in that direction. Moreover, when coupled with their payment of $40 million in compensation to the 1989 victims of a Libyan-induced bombing of a French airliner, the world may now be seeing Qadhafi in a different light. On the other hand, the guerillas that bombed the French plane included Gadhafi’s brother-in-law, so he was caught between a rock and a hard place.

 

In addition, the Libyans also accepted the responsibility for the shooting of a British constable who was trying to maintain order in front of their embassy in London. This admission caused the British to renew diplomatic relations with Libya after a substantial number of years. And the Welcome Wagon continued to gear up, Kofi Annan, U.N. Secretary General, and Bandar bin Sultan, Saudi Ambassador to the United States and South Africa’s Nelson Mandella have all attempted to mediate peace discussions between Libya and the Western States with no small amount of success. There is no question that all of this effort has caused considerable warming of relations. Ronald Neumann, the State Department’s Libyan chief, said in a speech last year, "Libya is not Iraq. We do not seek to maintain sanctions until there is a change of regime in Tripoli."

 

Qadhafi was not yet finished with his rapprochement efforts, and he cut off funding for all the hard-line Arab groups that were at odds with Yasser Arafat’s peace efforts with Israel. This statement is further reinforced by the disappearance from Libya of Abu Nidal, a Palestinian terrorist who years before had set up training camps in Libya with Qadhafi’s assistance. These and other acts were crucial to the United Nations, and after analyzing the new Libya, the United Nations decided to remove their sanctions. Air service was immediately restored, and Libya once again became an important destination for both businessmen and tourists.

 

"In the weeks since the Lockerbie deal was announced, jockeying to rebuild and expand Libya’s infrastructure has begun in earnest. Trade delegations from Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, South Africa and several European countries have visited Libya, taking advantage of air service that was restored when U.N. sanctions were lifted. At a recent German trade fair, one diplomat reported the Libyans sent a large delegation that was particularly interested in building a tourist business, presumably to revolve around the country’s many Roman ruins."

 

During this period, Qadhafi appeared to be distancing himself from the Arabs, while welcoming the African Nations with open arms. Seemingly, this would be a more moderate approach and would seem to signal to the West that Libya has changed horses and is unquestionably intent on using every resource that they have available to aid the country. "But, is this guy really serious?" everyone was asking. However, he was on a roll, and his next gambit was to act as an intermediary in freeing six foreign hostages (people from France, Germany and South Africa) that were held in the Philippines by the Abu Sayyaf guerillas, who were paid $1 million per person in ransom money. Germany and France were the first to acknowledge that Libya had played a paramount role in this delicate operation. That Libya could step into the Philippine breach was not as far-fetched as it appeared at the time, "Libya has long-standing ties with Muslim rebels in the mostly Catholic Philippines and has helped negotiate in previous kidnappings."

 

The Libyan Government has helped build schools and mosques in the impoverished southern part of the Philippines, but conversely, it has also been accused of training rebels from the Moro Islamic Liberation Front, the largest Muslim rebel group." () Nevertheless, It has become readily apparent to world leaders that Libya has not been involved in the export of terrorism in about five years, and many say that once the Lockerbie Trial is over, even the United States will agree to remove whatever sanctions that remain. "American oil companies, forced to abandon operations in Libya after U.S. sanctions were imposed in 1986, stand to benefit even more. The Clinton Administration has quietly allowed Occidental Petroleum Company and Oasis, a consortium including Conoco, Marathon and Amarada Hess, to survey wells they once operated …For U.S. farmers hard hit by low grain prices, Libya looks like a valued customer. Plans are currently under way to ship 20,000 tons of durum wheat there, and a senior U.S. agribusiness executive recently back from Tripoli says tens of millions of dollars in additional contracts could begin to roll in later this year." ()

 

Libya could have an attraction to tourists from all over the world if they could convince them that they would be safe wandering about the country. There are countless magnificent places to visit and numerous antiquities to be seen, if Libya only determined to go that route. There is the Marcus Aurelius arch in Tripoli, the central Martyrs Square, whose walls were created by the Romans, the Byzantines, the Crusaders and the Turks. Then there is the Sabratha, which has outstanding mosaics from the 6th Century. Moreover, there is the Justinian basilica, which was found buried under one of the beaches on the Libyan coast in the 1920s, and the Phoenician mausoleum. Sabratha is a very special place and has been designated by the Unesco as a World Heritage Site because of its irreplaceable properties.

 

Libya’s wonders seem to continue at a fast clip, as the Romans in particular left an indelible mark on the country. "But Libya’s prime site is the incomparable rose-pink Roman town of Leptis Magna, a colony which at its height was home to 100,000 people. It has luxurious public baths, with gigantic towering arches, saunas, sun-room and mosaic-floored swimming pools enclosed with columns of marble-pink from Aswan, green from Algeria and Phoenicia, purple and white from Phrygia, green and white from Euboea and gray-pink from Asia Minor. Next door is the New Forum with its columns and sculptures spread randomly on the ground. The area is enclosed by columns, which are surrounded by walls of huge and beautiful stone blocks, and a series of Medusa faces. The site was so quiet and still that inside the forum you could hear the sea."

 

However, while much has been accomplished, there is still a long way to go. Libya continues to import North Korean () and Chinese technology to improve its guided missiles and has targeted them on various areas in southern Europe. "Defense Secretary William S. Cohen said during a speech February 5, 2000, in Germany, that Libya is seeking long-range missiles. In calling for national missile defenses, Mr. Cohen said, "Libya has chemical capabilities and is trying to buy long-range missiles. They want long-range missiles to coerce and threaten us – the North American and European parts of NATO." () In the meantime, Libya still has the 100 Scud mobile launchers that it acquired in the 1980s, and there has been no known letup in the buildup of its chemical and biological weapons arsenal. Worst of all, Qadhafi continues to tinker with the manufacturing of an atomic bomb.

 

China also publicized its agreement with Libya to constructive a massive railroad system for them that would virtually connect every major town in the country. There are many who feel that the railroad deal is only a cover-up for a portable missile launching system that can be both highly mobile and entirely undetectable. In the meantime, a Taiwanese businessman was arrested in Switzerland, having been caught attempting to transship a SCUD missile system to Libya. Moreover, in a move that could snatch defeat out of the hands of victory, Qadhafi has been playing up to U.S. Black Muslim leader, Louis Farrakhan, who is against everyone that doesn’t have a black tint to their skin. In addition, while all this was going on, "thirty-two crates of missile parts, disguised as automotive spares, were discovered when they arrived on a British Airways flight at Gatwick Airport bound for Tripoli via Malta. Paperwork seized with the equipment indicated other consignments had already reached Libya through Britain. The find is embarrassing for Robin Cook, the Foreign Secretary, who restored diplomatic ties with Libya in July after a 15-year break." ()

 

In addition, Russia keeps the kettle boiling by taking care of the maintenance on the 90 MIG-25 planes delivered to Libya by the Soviet Union years ago. Moreover, the Russians have entered into an agreement with Libya to supply them with its ultra-advanced S-300 air defense system. The Russians are also found all over the country, building oil and gas pipelines, electricity transmission lines and power stations. While these mixed signals must be terribly confusing to the Libyan people, they aren’t complaining, for their current population of 5 million people enjoys 7.2% annual economic growth rate, in spite of the sanctions that are still in force, the country has absolutely no unemployment.

 

The average annual wage in Libya is $7,000, which makes it far and away the highest in Africa. The Libyans have over 2 million Africans doing their bidding, so the Libyans are not required to do menial work anymore. "The leading groups among foreign workers are the 700,000 Egyptians working in the agriculture industry, followed by 300,000 Sudanese laborers and 250,000 Chadians. Others come from Niger, Togo, Ghana, Mali, Burkina Faso, Nigeria, Senegal, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Cameroon, Somalia, Kjibouti, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Liberia, Sierra Leone, Benin, Algeria and Tunisia." ()

 

Qadhafi who never wore his religion on his sleeve has suddenly become extremely religious in his old age. He walks around wearing traditional Islamic robes these days and organizes mass prayer session whenever he travels to another country. This has not gone without notice in the West, and it seems to run historically true to form that Qadhafi does nothing without a well thought out strategic plan. Washid Abdel-Meguid of the Al Ahram Center for Strategic Studies, an Egyptian think tank, said Colonel Qadhafi’s emphasis on Islam is a response to the opposition he faces at home from Muslim Militants. Raising religious slogans is the easiest thing a regime can resort to when it faces trouble,’ Mr. Abdel-Meguid said." ()

 

Libya remains alcohol free, and yet in its never-ending series of contradictions, almost all of the people have adopted Western dress codes. Libya’s fearless leader determined that he didn’t like the name of the month of February and renamed it "Lights", and August, you guessed it, it is now "Hannibal". However, Qadhafi is always messing with the Libyan calendar and when people get up in the morning, they are never sure whether they are going to wake up in the fourteenth or fifteenth century. Effectively, Libya has three interchangeable years, the Muslim year, the Western year and the Qadhafi year. Qadhafi vacillates between various dates as though they had become hot potatoes. "…the leader switching from the standard Muslim calendar to one marking the years since Muhammad’s birth and then shifting to one marking his death. The rest of the Islamic world is in 1421, counting from the date the Prophet migrated from Mecca to Medina to found the faith…sometimes it seems that two Libya’s exist and rarely intersect." ()

 

This country has become an enigma, if only because its leader is very methodical in working to achieve his goals.

 

 

The Great Man-Made River Project

Libya is constructing a world-class project in the middle of the dessert, but no one even knows what it really is. Some have said that, whatever it is, this project is the Eighth Wonder of the World. What is extraordinarily odd about this particular project is that it has been progressing for over 16 years, and yet it still seems to be a long way from completion.

 

Now, if you asked your neighbor if he ever heard of the Great Man-Made River Project in Libya, there is not much question that he will tell you, "No". This project has a price tag of $25 billion, and currently there are 12,000 foreign workers on the job from morning to night. One would think that some intelligence agency could figure out just what this project may be, but they haven’t yet told us.

 

Meanwhile, the Libyan’s say that they are constructing a 2,500-mile tunnel capable of carrying 7.4 million cubic yards of water a day that will stretch from Tunisia to Egypt. The Libyans say that this tunnel, which is 13 feet in diameter, is going to carry water that will make the entire Libyan Desert bloom. This in an area where the thermometer hits over 100 degrees on a cool day, and for most of the year, there is no rain at all. There is no question that Libya will eventually run out of oil, and if Colonel Mohammar Qadhafi has not found a replacement for oil revenues, or in lieu of that, put a lot of money away for a rainy day, Libya will become another place where a desert rules.

 

The pipe comes in sections 25 yards long, which are carried in massive trucks that seem to buckle under their enormous loads. The drilling rigs, suspended from six-story tall portable units, are capable of boring more that a quarter of a mile into the earth in their search for water. Every fifty or sixty miles, there is a break in the pipe where it flows into a massive water storage facility made of reinforced concrete, thus making it able to withstand almost any natural force. With a great deal of the infrastructure for the project already in place, one would think that the irrigation would have already begun, at least in selected spots. However, but that is not the case, making this project all the more mysterious.

 

In spite of Ronald Reagan having imposed a trade embargo against Libya forbidding U.S. companies or citizens from doing any business with Libya and provides for very substantial fines and long jail terms for anyone who does, American products appear everywhere in the country and American equipment is seen everywhere on the irrigation pipeline: Caterpillar Tractors, Cummings engines, Baker Hughes drilling bits, Dowell Schlumberger cementing units, Price Brothers pipe and Brown and Root brain power. So, what is really going on?

 

Big American Companies are not going to break the law, at least not if they thing they are going to be caught. There are ways around the Presidential Action, and for example, a subsidiary of an American company domiciled overseas could legally do the work without any particular concern. Tractors can be purchased by European companies and then legitimately resold to Libya, as the countries in Europe that are depended on Libyan oil have no such onerous restrictions.

 

Some who study this subject for a living contend that in dealing with Qadhafi, one is dealing with a paranoid personality who believes he will be attacked by almost anyone at almost time. We would counter that statement by saying that within the last year, Gandhi has been far more forthcoming, if only because of his surprising decision to turn over the suspects in the Lockerbie bombing to an internationally sanctioned court in the Netherlands.

 

Theories as to Qadhafi’s real motives in building his tunnel are legion. For example, people say that the diameter of the pipe is over twice that which would be necessary for an irrigation project. They wonder why the pipe hooks up to Libya’s chemical weapons facility located near a mountain called Tarhuna on the Mediterranean, and they cannot fathom why the chemical plant would need irrigation. They ask why the system has been so strongly reinforced, why it is big enough for tanks to roll through it and why is so deep that even some atomic weapons could not reach it, etc, etc. Military experts say that at the very least, it will give the Libyan military the ability to conceal their activities from satellite spy networks, or from just about anything else for that matter. Others say that the water storage facilities could be used to hold a company or more of troops and the food to feed them, along with the facilities to house them.

 

One of the most negative comments heard on the project comes from a world-class expert in the field, Paul Beaver, a reporter with Jane’s Defense Weekly, who said, "This is the first real evidence of something which has been suspected for several years. Qadhafi seems to have taken a leaf out of Kim IL Sung’s book and created a potential military arsenal underground." The fact that the general contractor on the job for the Libyan government is Dong Ah, a Korean company that has had numerous run-ins with the American government over illegally exporting items to Iran, makes a lot of people nervous. Dong Ah has already paid a $3 million fine for illegally exporting drilling equipment from the United States to Libya. They also bought anti-corrosive pipe chemicals in Texas for this project to be shipped to Libya, and they are under investigation for that matter, as well.

 

In the meantime, everyone who could be interviewed for information regarding Libya’s intent has been questioned, and there are few solid answers. For the moment, let us assume that Qadhafi has created a mixed-use pipeline that can be used for irrigation, along with the storage and transportation of war material and personnel. Whatever it is, it is certainly "the Mother of All Pipelines" and is large enough to hold two simultaneous titles, until we know better. It is the longest irrigation tunnel on the face of the earth, and it is the most expensive military installation ever created, or possibly neither.

 

Italy

If you took the Roman epoch away from Italy, there would not be a lot to talk about. The history of Italy is that of turmoil and constant battles. It is a history of glorious monuments. It is a story of the founding of one of the world’s great religions, and it is the history that religion’s leaders. In short, the history of Italy it the history of Rome and the Roman Catholic Church, and both certainly had much more than it’s the average 15-minutes of fame.

 

Simplistically, the Romans blasted the daylights out of the Etruscans and took over much of Italy in the 5th century BC. The millennium, which lasted from 500 B.C. to 500 A.D., saw the most magnificent Empire in the world’s history. It was not great just because the people had a natural proclivity for conquering their neighbors; it was great because it contained all the elements that are necessary to attain that status. It was a socially well-ordered, architecturally superior, militarily stronger and politically sophisticated society. It was logistically light-years ahead of its time and militarily was probably most cohesive and brutal fighting force that has ever existed on earth.

 

After centuries of a unified Empire, political, military and cultural factors divided the Empire into the Eastern and Western Roman Empire, with the Eastern ruled from Constantinople and the Western from Rome. As the darkness of the barbarian invasions swept over the Western Roman Empire, Rome came to be controlled by the Papacy, seat of the Roman Catholic Church, while the rest of the Western Roman Empire was divided up between any number of neighboring countries. Pope Gregory I was able to set up a religiously controlled government in Rome that had some ability to defend itself, while the rest of Italy fell prey to the Lombard’s. Meanwhile, the Franks under the leadership of Pepin the Short, took over France from the, and his son Charlemagne had himself proclaimed Holy Roman Emperor in Milan in 800 A.D. As the Franks then declined, the Germans, under King Otto I, invaded Italy in 961 and Otto had himself crowned Holy Roman Emperor by the Pope.

 

In the 11th Century, the Normans, Vikings who had settled in France, kept on roving, raping and pillaging until they grabbed Italy’s south, and they in turn were succeeded in that region by the Angevins from Naples and then the Aragonese kings of Sicily. In the northern and central part of the country, highly fortified city-states arose similar to those of early Greece. These states, while never in the league with Rome during her glory years, in some cases did substantial commerce and developed strong armies. These city-states led the cultural and technological revival in Italy that is known as the Renaissance, primarily because the competition between them was fierce.

 

Once again during the 15th Century, Italy became the object of attention from a number of warring countries. Austria, Spain and France all had a piece of Italy during those years. Various foreign governments pushed for control of Italy from the 15th to the 18th Century, but it was eventually the Spanish Bourbons and the Austrian Hapsburgs who ended up carved up the territory. This remained the situation until the French Revolution and the era of Napoleon, who badly wanted Italy for himself. When Napoleon fell to the English and the Prussians, the Austrians moved back to take control of Italy in 1815.

 

However, by this time the people were demanding independence and were not going to be denied. Italy’s quiet revolution was completed in 1861, primarily through the efforts of the leaders of the Italian people, Cavour, Garibaldi and King Victor Emmanuel II. Even then, the country was still in a bunch of pieces, but this was now a dynamic project. Consolidation continued at a torrid pace, as Venetia was united with Italy in 1866 and greater Rome in 1870, finishing the pieces of the puzzle.

 

After having backed the Germans and Austrians early in World War I, Italy switched sides and joined the Allies. As a reward, they were given South Tryrol, Trieste, and Istria. Unfortunately, substantial social unrest occurred immediately after the war ended in virtually every country in Europe, striking the victors and the vanquished. Fascism reared its ugly head in Italy, as in many countries in this inter-war period, but perhaps first in Italy in the persona of Benito Mussolini, who in 1922 seized power and went to war with Ethiopia in 1936. Three years later, he conquered Albania and entered World War II on the side of Germany and his very best friend, Adolph Hitler.

 

Benito was a great Fascist, but a bad general. Italy surrendered in 1943, but the Germans anticipated this, kidnapped Benito and continued to fight the Allies until it all collapsed in 1945. In 1946, Italy became a republic and dumped their king, but they had not yet paid the price for choosing the wrong side in the war. In 1947, they lost their colonies and substantial territory, some of which was regained in 1954. Since that time, Italy has seen more governments come and go than just about any other country on earth, perhaps more than fifty. Italian politics seemed to be a constant face off between the communist and pro-Western parties, and it wasn’t long after one took office that corruption or poor management brought it down. As these governments waxed and waned, the Mafia rose to real power, and no matter which side was running the government, they were there behind the scenes.

 

If that wasn’t bad enough, during the 1970s, a leftist guerrilla movement became popular with kidnapping as their modus operendi. In 1978, the guerillas kidnapped the former premier, Aldo Moro and murdered him. This caused a popular uprising, diminishing the threat from the left, but the Mafia remained behind the scenes and corruption continued to dictate politics. Corruption probes were initiated, and in 1992, hundreds were jailed, including several former prime ministers. The country revised its constitution in 1993 and for the first time ended proportional representation in the senate. This reform brought about the downfall of Premier Amato.

 

Since that time, the Italian Government has done what it has always done; change. However, something constructive had taken place during the decade of the 1990s. The Common Market was finally maturing, and the people were looking to fight their skirmishes on contemporary fronts. Economics seized center stage; the direction of the Mafia changed and Italy made tremendous strides in the area of financial respectability.

 

There was still a question as to whether Italy was going to be able to qualify for early admission to the Euro currency union. Nevertheless, they trounced both Germany and France economically and easily cleared all of the difficult hurdles. This turned out to be a major embarrassment to the Germans, who had degraded Italy’s ability to get anything right. As we speak, Italy is solidly democratic, it is fiscally responsive and, for the first time in centuries, the Italians seem to have their house in order. Nevertheless, there are some loose ends to be addressed, the most important of which is the altered direction of the Mafia.

 

Italy’s renowned Mafia originated in Sicily during Medieval times as a private police department for wealthy landowners. The city-state governments of that era were not able to offer the people protection from roving bands of outlaws, so some enterprising businessmen got together and came up with a deal that couldn’t be refused and offered these and other services to the landowners at a price. This was accomplished in much the same manner as Pinkerton’s protected the trains in the Wild West of America.

 

"Many historians view the Mafia as a product of Sicily’s tumultuous history. For example, the Mafia’s code of behavior can be traced back to centuries of corrupt and brutal government by foreign conquerors of Sicily,, which taught most Sicilians to regard government with suspicion and hostility. To some extent, the Mafia is rooted in Sicilian feudal society that lasted until the 1800’s, when most of Sicily’s land belonged to a few people. Peasants cultivated the fields for the benefit of the landowners, and landlords hired armed guards to maintain order, with force if necessary. These armed guards, the precursors of the Mafiosi, became intermediaries between the peasants and the landowner, on the one hand keeping the peasants in line and on the other guaranteeing the landlord that the harvest would be gathered and the animals tended." ()

As time went on, more and more people who were informed of the services being offered jumped at the chance to give them a try. The operation soon became extremely successful, the Mafia expanded and developed a sophisticated chain of command requiring loyalty of their soldiers to their capos. Because of these loyalty agreements, the Italian Mafia remained both secretive and extremely powerful for many years and has been silent partners in many of Italy’s recent governments. In the early years of the 20th century, only the very rich could vote in Italy. The Mafia used this selectivity to garner votes through various strong-armed means. In this way, the criminal organization was able to control numerous political offices. Mussolini, who had just been appointed prime minister of Italy by Italian King Victor Emmanuel III, had a simple solution for the Mafia interest in government, he made elections illegal. Not being satisfied with that and unwilling to share power with anyone, he declared war on the organization, which as a result was forced to go underground until he died towards the end of World War II.

 

However, neither the United States or Britain were willing to see either Communists or Fascists control the country after the war was over. They needed to identify a group that could keep the people’s attention and were simultaneously, entrepreneurs. It wasn’t an illogical move to start naming Mafia related mayors to run the cities as they were liberated. This brought the Mafia back to power in Italy and also gave it a tad of respectability. To some degree, the organization over-reached their Allied given mandate and determined that Sicily should be given the right to withdraw from it union. However, allied generals saw this as adding a chaotic element to an already boiling pot and gave a strong indication that if this occurred, they would be back and would be blown away. The Mafia well understood this language and gave up their plans.

 

It was determined by the leadership of the Mafia, that they would support the Christian Democratic Party and were accepted into the political organization without any further discussion. The Mafia was an excellent addition to the party as they went around murdering substantial numbers of Communists running for office in Sicily. In order to maximize their message, the Communists would usually be publicly bushwhacked before major elections. This had two very positive results, the bullet-ridden bodies were left in the town squares as a memento of what could happen to people that did not vote with correctness. Secondarily, the British and American were pleased with what as happening and tacitly gave their blessing.

 

These folks were also very good with crowds. When large groups of people gathered to support candidates opposed to the Mafia slate, it was considered fair game gun them down as though they were in a turkey shoot. "communist farmers from the area around the town of Portella della Ginestra gathered to celebrate May Day and the electoral victory. With the protection and support of the Mafia, a Sicilian bandit named Salvatore Giuliano and his gang opened fire on the crowd, killing 11 people" (). However, there was substantial public disapproval over this kind of frivolity and worried that they were going to get a bad name, the Mafia would often execute these offenders or turn them over to the police. During that period time, many said that the Mafia was responsible for more arrests in Italy than the police. These hoodlums won high praise for their actions from newspapers, police and the people; they were indeed on a roll. Things appeared to be happening in almost the fashion as they were in the book Alice and Wonderland. We site and example:

 

"In 1955, a member of Italy’s highest court, Giuseppe Guido Lo Schiavo wrote an outright defense of the Mafia: ‘People say the Mafia does not respect the police and the judiciary. It’s untrue. The Mafia has always respected the judiciary and justice, has bowed before its sentences, and has not interfered with the judge’s work. In the persecution of bandits and outlaws … it has actually joined together with the police." () To graphically illustrate that statement; in every Italian government since World War II, money simply seemed to disappeared from both the central bank and from major infrastructure projects. The Mafia claimed that it was being held because they were concerned about criminal elements within the government. I guess that does make some sense.

 

Historically, the Mafia had avoided executing public figures, not because they didn’t want to get their hands dirty, but because they thought it would bring the bad public relations. For the most part during the two-plus decades after World War II had ended, although they at time murdered someone that caused consternation, for the most part, they only killed those that couldn’t bring them bad publicity. However, that suddenly changed when drugs came into vogue. When police tried to derail the heroin trafficking that was going on, they were summarily executed. The genie was now out of the bottle. "During the 1980’s, the Mafia killed chief prosecutors, police officials and major politicians, shocking many Italians into realizing how mistaken they had been to tolerate the growth of Mafia power. Investigations showed that not only had the Mafia polluted life through the drug trade, but also it had taken advantage of Italy’s public works projects, threatening the country’s ability to control its national debt." ()

 

However, there were new worlds to conquer for the mobsters from Sicily As the years passed the Italian Mafia had both expanded and become more sophisticated, if only because the appointments they have accepted are now a far cry from what they had been in the past. An unusual example of this would be the disposal of toxic waste. Believe it or not, this is an extremely appealing field for criminals, as it is universal in nature (all major industrial companies create enormous amounts of toxic waste) and is extremely expensive to get rid of. Italian companies have to pay legitimate carters varying amounts on a sliding scale to get rid of waste products, based on their degree of toxicity.

 

Moreover, at the high end, it can be economically expedient to hire thugs to dump the toxic stuff in Third World Countries, rather than to have it legally disposed of. The Italian Mafia has set up substantive disposal operations in Somalia and Mozambique, and they are using those countries for the discarding of the very worst stuff coming out of Italy. Somalia represents a particularly attractive dumping ground for the Mafia, because there is no effective central government, so no one is watching the store. Locals don’t even know what the stuff is and are even paid to assist the Mafia in off-loading operations. To make matters worse, according to an Italian parliamentary study, local governments, not knowing that the Mafia was running the waste disposal business in their area gave them contracts to get rid of some of the more volatile items, such as industrial and toxic waste. The report went on to say that some of the toxic waste ends up dumped in caves or waterways, or buried under farmland.

 

Nevertheless, in spite of the fact that the unloading of toxic waste is at the high-profit end of the business, the Italian Mafia has managed to gain control of approximately 30% of the normal rubbish disposal business in Italy as well, picking up and dumping about 35 millions tons of the stuff a year. This is certainly not a small business, in that gross revenues have been estimated to be almost $7 billion. "The defining factor is the search for the cheapest way to get rid of rubbish, with no control over its final destination, with some of it ending up in caves, waterways and even buried on overseas." ()

 

One of dismal results of this operation occurred in Somalia in the mid-1990s. Italian solders were sent over there as part of an overall peacekeeping force arranged for by the United Nations. Unbeknownst to them, the Italian solders were stationed a tad too close to a Mafia toxic waste dumping ground in that country, and many of the soldiers became severely ill. Talk about the chickens coming home to roost, there most be some poetic justice when Italian soldiers have to travel all the way to a hellish place like Somalia to get sick from Italian toxins that had been illegally dumped there by the Italian Mafia.

 

This has led to even more potentially explosive criminal activities. The Italian Mafia, in connection with other Eastern European criminal organizations, has taken advantage of both Italy’s porous frontiers () and the starvation wages that many local bureaucrats are paid. They have entered into the business of moving nuclear and other radioactive materials from places like Russia to the non-nuclear wannabes as Libya, Iran and Iraq. The materials that are most useful for creating these weapons of mass destruction are cesium, mercury and uranium, which seem to flow randomly across one border after another on their odyssey to an ultimate clandestine destination.

 

Another fascinating Mafia operation took place in Sicily, where the Mafia in a brazen operation actually took over the University of Messina. In the police raid that followed, seventy-six people were arrested, including politicians and prosecutors. At this school, for a price, you could get a degree, pass your subjects or have your grades increased. You could get a medical degree or immunology degree from the University of Messina for about $10,000. It did not end there, for drugs were being stolen and sold through the university’s pharmacological labs. "We uncovered a criminal ring headed by Longo, a leader of the Mafia in Sicily who exercised a huge influence on the university’s management," said Messina prosecutor Luigi Croce. "The ring basically had a three-pronged organization, which bribed professors, some of whom took an active part in managing the ring, controlled the university’s administration and managed the local drug trade." ()

 

Incidentally, the reason that the Mafia had been so successful for such an extended period of time was the fact that it remained a very secret organization. Members were absolutely required to be Sicilian and could not have any relatives that were in law enforcement. Their leaders are called men of honor and they control exclusive territories. Everyone in the Mafia is obliged to take an oath when they are first admitted, never to betray the organization and not to disclose any of the groups activities. Who would ever believe that the Mafia controls one out of every five cafes in Italy, 15 percent of the hotels and 18 per cent of the bars and ice-cream parlors? But that’s small change, 70% of the cement industry is under Mafia domination in Italy and they control substantial interests in travel agencies, old people’s homes, shops, antiques markets, loan-sharking, protection, bootlegged CDs, cassettes and public companies. However, for some unknown reason, their investment of choice is that of the pizzeria. They own an overwhelming majority of those establishments and literally control the entire industry. However, recently they have begun to massively buy into securities traded on the Internet.

 

"Vast sums are dissolving into cyberspace and reappearing as stocks and shares in a criminal hijacking of electronic commerce. Surges in stock markets and even the euro’s roller-coaster ride are being attributed to the mafia’s mastery of online trading and banking. Gangs in other countries are eluding investigators by joining in an embryonic criminal network that is inventing techniques to exploit to exploit the internet’s freedom, according to a leaked report submitted to the Italian government." ()

 

Obviously, the new generation of Mafioso are not going to be satisfied with extortion, shakedowns or murder. The globe has coalesced to a degree that the moving and laundering of money has become so easy that it can be done by a 12-year old hacker. After all, if these kids can break into the Pentagon, they are not going to have any problem buying and selling securities on the net and moving them from on location to another. The Mafia is well aware that money has indeed become ubiquitous.

 

Since people can now visually see how economically well off they are or are not by watching Television or going onto the Internet, there is a substantial amount location-jockeying going on. People are advised how good life is elsewhere, they are packed onto ships, secreted at night in unfamiliar countries and put to work in sweatshops to pay their purported transportation charges, usually about $25,000 per head. The higher the standard of living in the country, the easier it is to get recruits to make the trip. Italy is a no risk location for these economic migrants. It has borders that leak like a sieve and, because of the Common Market, has free access to its neighboring countries. Thus, Italy is a problem waiting to happen:

 

"HAVOC and many Europeans have no idea of the horrors that unfold daily in thousands of sweatshops tucked in the grimy suburbs of the region’s great cities. Western Europeans have always prided themselves on the high standards their governments impose on employers and in the workplace: Workers have far more rights and protections than workers in the freewheeling United States. Those vaunted protections, however, are meaningless to the hundreds of thousands of immigrants now flooding into Europe from the old Soviet bloc, China, India, Southeast Asia and the Balkans – from anywhere, in other words, where millions of people are desperate to escape destitution. The economic refugees pay dearly for their flight to the prosperous West. Tens of thousands wind up working as forced laborers in factories, sweat shops and service industries run by mobsters throughout Western Europe’s thriving underground economy. Many of these immigrants become part of a secret underclass of the exploited which experts are now defining as tantamount to 21st Century slavery."

"…While Europol says the exploitation of immigrants is widespread throughout Europe – including Austria, Belgium, Britain and France – the problem is at its worst in Italy. Its 5,000-mile coastline is difficult to patrol. More important, Italy’s underground economy – at 28% of gross domestic product, by far the largest of any leading industrialized country – makes it a haven for mobsters intent on wringing big profits out of illegal immigrants. ‘The Phenomenon of human trafficking and enslavement is expanding – a fact that we (Europeans) should be ashamed of," says Italian Interior Minister Enzo Bianco. Italian authorities have long tolerated a thriving black economy as a kind of social safety net that is preferable to unemployment, refusing to crack down on clandestine enterprises. But as Italy has become more prosperous, the local workers have moved up the social ladder, leaving harder, industrial jobs in the black economy – such as the toxic process of curing leather – to immigrants. Academics think illegal immigrants fuel as much as 70% of Italy’s underground economy."

This has become more than just Italy’s problem, according to their neighbors. The fact that immigrants from anywhere on the globe will choose Italy as their debarkation point is not even in question. From there, it is an easy matter to transport the slaves to anywhere else in Europe they are needed, once they have landed in Italy. However, this enormous influx of illegal refugees is causing political problems particularly in Germany and Austria with their ultra-nationalistic political parties.

 

Citizens are becoming concerned about their own jobs, due to the simple fact that the people that are arriving in Italy will work for less. Thus, political parties similar to those of Hitler’s and Mussolini’s are gaining substantial strength among disenchanted citizens. Other countries have different problems with Italy’s unchecked immigration flow; France and the Nordic countries are facing severe unemployment, which gets more serious by the day as the fresh illegal immigrants arrive. There is becoming substantial discontent on the Continent, and if Italy isn’t able to close their borders soon, it would appear that others will have to do it for them. There are no less 27 gangs operating in Italy that are bringing in refugees on a regular basis from such places as China, Croatia, Slovenia, The Philippines and Bangladesh, says Nicola Maria Pace, head prosecutor of the Trieste Anti-Mafia Force.

 

Eastern European women are auctioned off at a central receiving and distribution center for illegal immigrants. The operators of prostitution rings turn up at these distribution centers to bid on the girls. The auctions usually occur on a stretch of road near Trieste. Interestingly enough, the slaves are stripped of all their possessions with the exception of a phone number, which shows how to reach their captor. () Police are able to get a handle on exactly the magnitude of the problem by keeping track of these numbers and finding out which of the gangs the prostitutes belong to. One of the more sobering rules is that when one gang steals from another gang and gets caught, the penalty is, well at least their fingers are cut off.

 

There are a number of reasons the Mafia finds good soil to cultivate recruits in the southern part of Italy. First and foremost is the fact that unemployment on the Island of Sicily runs in excess of 50%, but only as it relates to young men; even so, the average for the entire population it is still a dismal 35%. Moreover, because of the lack of legitimate work that is available, there is a Mafia employment agency waiting list about a mile long. Recently, two judges started talking about indicting the Mafia members in their jurisdiction, and while it may be surprise to most of us, both of their cars were blown up with the judges inside. This served as substantive notice that the Mafia was not about to roll over.

 

While we are on the subject, even those who have not seen the movie "Godfather" know that the American Mafia gave important support to the U.S. Army in their operations in Italy during World War II. "The Allies came along at just the right moment for the Mafia, which had been getting a hard time from Fascist leader Benito Mussolini, never a man to share power. In 1943, the U.S. War Department, the story goes, wanting as easy a landing on Sicily as possible, enlisted the aid of American-Sicilian Mafiosi. The U.S. troops were welcomed to Sicily by local Don Calogero Vizzini, who was made an honorary colonel on the spot and who in return presented the Americans with a list of local Mafiosi who were to be made mayors of various towns." If this particularly interesting story about how the Italian Mafia aided the United States and got paid back in spades is true, we must admit the post-war history of Italy makes a lot of sense.

 

The American Mafia has pretty well been dissipated by the use of sophisticated criminal laws and wire taping that has landed most of the Cosa Nostra leaders in solitary confinement in this country. Another plum in the arsenal of law enforcement agencies has been the use of identification modifications and safe houses for mob-whistleblowers. Moreover, in the United States there seems to be a substantial separation between the Mob and politics, although there is not much question that they can find common ground under almost any circumstances. The United States also has had a cadre’ of basically, incorruptible government agents dating back J. Edgar Hoover’s time.

 

Even with all these elements present, many of which are not readily available in Italy, it has taken the American system decades to make even a dent in Mafia power. Italy has very few of those tools too work with, the political officials are, more often than not, in the pay of the local Mafia, judges are either on the take or worried about being blown away and criminal justice teams are intimidated by corrupt politicians. Worst of all, Italy does not offer the same protection for witnesses that can be receive in the United States:

 

"Being a Mafia super-informer remains super-dangerous: since the most famous of the Pentiti, or turncoats, Tommaso Buscetta, turned state’s evidence in the early ‘80s, Mafia hit men have killed his wife, his three sons, in-laws, aunts and uncles. One estimate is that there have been as many as 33 Buscetta corpses since his evidence began to bring down former colleagues in the famous Mafia ’maxi-trial’." () (We would add to the short list of those that were blown away because of Buscetta’s cooperation, his brother and two of, his nephews.)

However, the now relative-less Buscetta was able to make a deal with Italian and American authorities to enter the American witness protection program under a new identity. Who knows, he could be your next-door neighbor.

 

In the meantime, there are always stories coming out in the Italian press about this mayor, that police or this judge who are surprisingly discovered to have on the payroll of the Mafia for years, without anyone ever being the wiser. On the rare occasions when they are caught, it sends an ominous message to those that may be interested in joining the fight on the side of justice. If people really believed that anyone they may talk to is involved with the corruption, they are not going to bother. Almost everyone has a family to protect. At the trial of former Christian Democrat Minister, Calogero Mannino, in 1997, Gioacchino Pennino, a former Mafia member that had turned informant stated, the Mafia had "inspired and conditioned many of the political candidates of those years in Palermo. Without Mafia support, it was impossible to enter and perform the public service " There is not much question that the Mafia controlled the vote in Sicily in those years and without its support it would have been unthinkable for anyone to win office in that area. Because the Mafia always delivered Sicily so overwhelmingly, it had a major effect on the outcome in Italian national elections.

 

Bairi Vailije Vaso Baosic, an interesting example, was the Chief of Police of Bar, which is located in Montenegro. "Guiseppe Selsi, deputy prosecutor of Bar, indicated that the Chief of Police was providing shelter in Montenegro to Italian Mafia members escaping from the pursuit of Italian police. It is mentioned that Baosic possibly received the sum of 50 million lira (about 50 thousand German Marks) a month from Italian Mafia "Sacra Corona Unita" for sheltering people whose names were on the international list of person wanted by Interpol."

 

"According to Italian press, Baosic is suspected for sheltering high ranking Italian gangsters, like the Tomazzo brothers and Rafelo Laraspata, Guiseppe Calamare and Santa Bantagata in Montenegro. Italian police claims that the other arrested (person) Djjuro Crnojevic is a member of "Sacra Corona Unita" for the last three years and has been present consistently at Mafia meetings which were monitored by Italian police."

It would seem that these folks came up with the ultimate way to beat a rap. Instead of buying a judge or an official, they seemed to have bought a country. However, if you can’t believe the American Government, then who can you believe?

 

"Italy has a large financial sector, although the country itself is not considered to be an important regional financial center. Italy is a drug consumption and transshipment point for Western European nations, and thus a site for the laundering of drug proceeds. The primary money laundering threat in Italy comes from organized criminal groups, located mainly in the southern part of the country. They engage in narcotics smuggling (in which South American drug traffickers are also believed to be involved), extortion, usury, kidnapping and illegal immigrant smuggling. The collapse of the Soviet bloc has strengthened links between Italian organized crime and its Russian and Albanian counterparts. Much of the illicit money is funneled into commercial and financial entities in Italy and abroad, including the bank and non-bank financial sector. The fight against money laundering in Italy is therefore centered on this area. Money launderers are reportedly buying up large amounts of real estate in Italy, especially hotels in resort areas, and are exporting large amounts of their ill-gotten gains to other countries in Europe for similar purchases. The increasing openness of the European market is likely to heighten this activity. The illegal gold market is also believed to be heavily used by money launderers. Money laundering activity in Italy was estimated informally in 1997 to total over $50 billion annually."

The common gossip in Italy is that the Mafia has closed Palermo’s Teatro Giuseppe Verdi, more commonly known as the Massimo Theater, which performed grand opera for ages. This was done when the Italian government made one of their regular announcements that they were going to crack down on crime. While the Mafia had heard this story before, they were taking no chances and sent a warning salvo aimed making sure that the government got the message. Its message was clear; "We can close down anything that you have in the country, if you don’t play ball with us." They kept the third largest operatic theater in the world closed for over 23 years and wouldn’t budge an inch. The government closed the opera house in order to make a few changes and that was the last time a performance was held for two decades. It was never a mater of money, more than enough was always available to make the necessary repairs. It just became a game between Mafia and the Government to see who had the biggest set of balls.

 

The Mafia has been using opera house closings for years to send distinct messages to the government, whenever they feel that things have gotten too hot: "…The fire at the Teatro Petruzzelli in Bari, Apulia, has been attributed to somebody – possibly the Intendante (director) – getting on the wrong side of a local Cosa Nostra boss. () The blaze that broke out on October 27, 1991,completely destroyed the theater where the 1835 "Naples" version of I Puritani had been premiered. The fact that the fire was found to have started in more than one place made it more than likely that the building had been torched." ()

 

But there was even more to the story than a mere power struggle which was attempting to show who was the real boss. In reality, Donald Sasson, a political analyst wrote, "Successive Italian governments have earmarked vast funds for the Sicilian region. Much of this has remained unspent in southern banks, providing liquid capital which could be injected into the circulation network of the Mafia economy." The Sunday Telegraph in an article written by David Mosford graphically illustrated that the real story was more appalling than anyone had ever dreamed: "As Cosa Nostra has grown more legitimate in Italy, it has been employed at local levels to collect and administer funds. This has enabled the boys to sit on money earmarked for distribution, and to milk lucrative contracts. In 1982, cash was made available for 1, 679 publicly funded crèches in the south – by 1997, only 73 had been set up. Similarly, at Palermo, work dragged on for decades which might have taken less than a year to complete elsewhere." ()

 

However, eventually a compromise was reached in 1996. Nevertheless, by that time, the technical team that was sent in to estimate the repair job that would be necessary found that rainwater had damaged the wall paintings within the auditorium. The price of the overall renovation went through the roof when the estimate of the painting’s restoration was given to the government. Eventually, even this problem was overcome and the opera house was reopened on April 23, 1999, with the performance of Aida. However, Pavarotti who was scheduled to star in the performance, bowed out at the last minute. Many said that it was another message from the Mafia. When it closed, it was only be for a short time while a few new exits were installed, the opera house was rewired and some hydraulic lifts were installed.

 

The Massimo is not the only theater in Italy believed to have been torched by the friendly guys from Sicily. The Teatro Petruzzeli in Bari, Apulia was burned to the ground on October 27, 1991 and the fire was attributed to an argument between the theater’s director and the local Mafia chieftain. Interestingly enough, although the Apulia fire department said something about spontaneous combustion; however, it was later shown that the fire broke out in nine different places at the same time and international record for the number of time a fire starting by itself at the same instant. Something similar happened in Venice at La Fenice opera house when on January 29, 1996 the entire complex was turned to ash. Once again, local police indicated that the Mafia was sending an important message regarding the arrest of some of their members.

 

Massimo De Bernart, the famed Italian conductor "called the destruction of the Petruzzelli one of "the three great scandals of Italy" the other two being the long-term closure of the Massimo and the destruction of Venice’s La Fenice…’I fear we will never see any of them again.’" The article concluded with, "During research for this article I spoke to many people in Italy, and to a number of others who know Italy well. Although, without exception, everyone concurred that they understood the Mafia to be behind these closures, no one was willing to be quoted directly. One source even warned about the wisdom of going into print at all. "These people mean business. You don’t mean to mess with them. Look what happened at Bari, Venice and Palermo.’"()

 

Moreover, the Italian Government continues to play a game of footsie with the Mafia. In a plea to the government to break with the past and dump Mafia influence, Italian Prime Minister Giuliano Amato said, "Italy needs an irrevocable commitment to a clean democracy, it needs a government that works – one which has made a clear break with the past." This was immediately after his government was pounded by numerous allegations of Mafia ties. Furthermore, the Mafia were absorbing such a high percentage of Italy’s gross domestic product that the country’s ability to fund public works products was severely being impacted. In addition, the treasury was bleeding money that it sorely needed and they only way they could replenish it was with every increasing taxation.

 

This in turn caused the multi-national companies that called Italy their home to rebel; oh they had been paying bribes till they were blue in the face for so long, many of them couldn’t even remember, but dismembering the Italian infrastructure was a horse of another color. They strongly indicated that they had enough of the government collusion with criminals that was bleeding the country white. They told the government that action in that regard had to occur now, and if it didn’t, Italy would be relegated to become a third world country. This concept didn’t sit well with the people and action was finally initiated by government officials called "Operation Clean Hands". "Experts on organized crime warn that the Mafia’s stronghold over certain businesses poses a threat to the rest of the economy: businesses whose main function is simply to turn over cash are likely to slash prices and put legal competitors out of business. Organized crime groups are also exploiting the latest technology. The possibility of transferring vast sums across the globe in seconds by electronic wizardry means the takings form drugs, prostitution, arms dealing and toxic waste trafficking can be turned pearly-white without leaving a trace." ()

 

The final straw for Amato’s administration, the 51st in the postwar period, was the simultaneous arrest of 1,400 Italian business and political leaders due to suspected Mafia relationships. Moreover, since the operation was initiated in February of 1992, a startling one-third of the Italian parliament had been indicted on criminal charges. Among the charges leveled against the government was that the Defense Minister, Salvo Ando, had gone to the Mafia to help him get votes. But he wasn’t the only one accused of having Mafia friends; for example, former Prime Minister Giulio Andreotti was said to have been witnessed by numerous people, kissing Salvatore Riina (), the Mafia ‘boss of bosses.’

 

"Now Andreotti – a man who has dealt on equal terms with world leaders like de Gaulle, Eisenhower, Thatcher, Mitterrand, Reagan and Gorbachev – stands accused of collusion with the Sicilian Mafia. Prosecutors in Palermo and Perugia claim that for more than 20 years, Andreotti used his power to fix organized-crime cases and met with Mafia bosses, and that he commissioned – or, at least, consented to – two murders…" ()

So that you are not left in doubt about the outcome of the Andreotti trial, a process that took six-and-a-half years, you should know what you could never have guessed, that Andreotti was found innocent of being the Mafia’s erstwhile chief political protector in Rome in October of 1999. Andreotti was on a roll, having been acquitted the previous month of charges that he had murdered a journalist. This was some performance from an eighty-year-old man who had been Prime Minister of Italy seven times and a minister in the country’s government thirty-three times. Fortunately for him, Andreotti’s political friend and mentor was Vittorio Sbardella; indeed, it was Vittorio who helped Andreotti get started.

 

"Vittorio Sbardella was one of the most representative and picturesque elements of the crooked old Christian Democrat power system in Italy. Any yet, with his bald, neckless head pressed straight into his barrel chest and his large hands, Sbarbella looked more like a gorilla than the typical unctuous Christian Democrat politician. Italian journalists had nicknamed him Lo Squalo, "the Shark," on account of his voracious hunger for bribes and his ruthlessness in dealing with opponents. It was no secret, and hardly a surprise that in, the mid-fifties, Sbardella had first appeared on the political scene as a neo-Fascist thug. In 1990, after local papers named his wife and son in connection with some shady business dealings, his fortunes stared to decline. In March 1992, the Euro MP Salvo Lima, his last friend in Andreotti’s camp was killed by the Mafia and, two months later, Sbardella, broke off all links with the Christian Democrat leader. Soon after, magistrates investigating the Roman side of the ‘Clean Hands’ corruption scandal had ensnared Sbardella in the net; he was abandoned by his supporters, who fled to join the rising stars of the media magnate Silvio Berlusconi and the neo-Fascist leader Gianfranco Fini…. Perhaps, Sbardella had provided the best portrait of himself at the time (he was in the prosecutors office on major charges). He claimed in his colorful Roman dialect: ‘Ho detto che so’ cattolico, Non d’esse santo.’ ‘I said I’m a Catholic, not a Saint’." ()

Salvatore Riina is not the kind of guy you would want as an enemy, if you had a choice. He was on trial for murdering an anti-Mafia magistrate in Reggio Calabria when he told the journalists viewing the court proceedings that the law protecting informers should be abolished because they had become paid witnesses. Riina then named three very prominent Italians who were anti-mafia crusaders as informers. His naming of these men from the courtroom was tantamount to signing their death warrants, according to the authorities. "His public naming of the three men," according to Tommaso Buscetta (), Italy’s most prominent ’pentito’ (Mafia turncoat) (), "was a ‘death sentence’ – an order to his men to assassinate them…" () Riina had a lot to say when he was sentenced in a courtroom in Reggio Calabria. His musings covered the gambit from the insane to the ridiculous:

 

"No serious government gears its actions according to threats and red herrings form a recognized chief of organized crime’ said Riina when talking about the turncoats that had testified against him. He also had something to say about the people that were prosecuting him: "They are Communists who are pursuing certain aims’, I think the government should defend itself from the attacks of the Communists." In addition, not to leave any stone uncovered he went after the press: "Journalists have got to write that the law on ‘pentiti’ has got to be abolished because they are paid and manipulated and do what they are told. They are paid to invent things."

 

 

 

All of his ranting and raving didn’t help him a bit. Riina was given a heavy sentence for his complicity in murder and his failure to testify relative to some of his playmates. He was given twelve life sentences and at the rate he is going will not get out of jail until 3009. However, it isn’t exactly the same good life that he led in Sicily, Riina was sentenced to permanent solitary confinement. The deal in Italy has become, if you don’t testify against your former associates (become a Pentiti or turncoat) you serve whatever time you are sentenced to in solitary. That’s a heavy sentence in anybody’s book, Riina’s sentence works out be being sentenced to a millennium or so in the slammer and not seeing the outside world. I would probably go bonkers in about two centuries of that.

 

"The Andreotti trial promises high drama and dark humor. Among the most stunning accusations is that Andreotti, as foreign minister in the late 1980s, met with Salvatore Riina, the notorious head of the Cupola, or Mafia ruling commission. The encounter is alleged to have occurred in 1987 during the height of the Falcone "maxi-trials," when hundreds of Mafiosi and their associates were tried en masse. According to one witness, Andreotti and political associate Salvagtore Lima were seated on a couch in a private house. When Riina entered, Andreotti and Lima stood, accepted Riina’s greeting of an embrace and a kiss on each check. The traditional sign of respect." ()

 

Another friend of Andreotti was the nefarious Michele Sindona, a prominent Sicilian banker who financed both the Christian Democratic Party and the Vatican. When he wasn’t busy with those pursuits, he was also busily laundering money for the Mafia. Moreover, it was Sindona who financed Andreotti, and he was not above using blackmail, political influence and even threats of violence to have his way. When his banking empire started to fall apart and he had been indicted in both the United States and in Italy, Sindona was still pushing his friend Andreotti to have the Government bail out his bank. Andreotti, ever the astute politician, sensed that Sindona was becoming a little assertive and could get dangerous.

 

Fortunately for Andreotti, soon thereafter Sindona died of natural causes, "poisoned by his own coffee laced with cyanide inside a maximum security prison where he was serving a life sentence for the murder of the magistrate, Giorgio Ambrosoli, who exposed his financial dealings." () As an aside, Abrosoli was a reasonably pretty bright guy, and he recorded all of his conversations. Many of these tapes were played after his death, and substantial number of them fingered Andreotti as the one that had given the order to have him killed:

 

"The Sindona Affair showed clearly how porous the boundary had become between the legal and the illegal worlds, and Mafia business was booming as never before. Palermo had replaced the French Connection of Marseilles as the principal channel of heroin into the U.S. In 1974, there were only eight deaths by drug overdose in all of Italy. A decade later, there were some 250,000-heroin addicts in the country, and the deaths had reached almost 400 a year. As investigators in Sicily turned up more and more data on the drug trade, Cost Nostra responded by killing police officers, prosecutors and even politicians. In 1981, Palermo witnessed the outbreak of the most vicious Mafia war in its history. A new dominant group with the Mafia, headed by Salvatore ("Tot") Riina, of Corleone, killed off the traditional bosses of Palermo and hunted and exterminated hundreds of their associates, friends and relations." ()

The banker for this diverse group was the elegant Roberto Calvi, an associate of Sindona and president of Banco Ambrosiano. Sindona taught Calvi everything he knew, and it wasn’t long before that Roberto was up to his eyeballs in laundering money form the Italian Mafia’s heroin trade. One of the institutions he represented was known as The Institute for Religious Works, but it was also called the Vatican Bank and was what it sounded like, the Vatican’s bank. In addition, there was also a strange Masonic Lodge called P2 in which everybody who was anybody in Italy seemed to be a member.

 

It wasn’t too much later that Calvi apparently either had misused or misplaced some substantial money belonging to the Vatican bank (maybe the trifling sum of $154 million) and an even larger amount belonging to the Mafia. Not too awfully long thereafter, Calvi was found dangling from a piece of scaffolding beneath Blackfriars Bridge in London on the morning of June 18, 1982. Tommaso Buscetta testified in court that, "Calvi was killed out of revenge, he was given Mafia money to recycle, and he made poor use of it." His bank, Banco Ambrosiano, was Italy’s largest private bank when it collapsed, and when the score was tallied by the accountants, over $1 billion was missing or – maybe – just misplaced.

 

In spite of his nefarious activities, Calvi had many upstanding friends. One of them was a real estate developer by the name of Flavio Carboni. As Banco Ambrosiano was sinking into the sea for the final time, Calvi called Carboni into his office and gratuitously presented him the last of the bank’s money, almost $19 million. Carboni was overjoyed with his sudden prosperity and asked Calvi if he could do anything for him in return. Calvi indicated he would like Carboni to arrange for his escape to London, as he had just been indicted and was not interested in spending the rest of life in jail. Carboni, still excited over his new found wealth immediately agreed and was instrumental in all facets of Calvi’s flight to London.

 

Calvi died on June 18, 1982. On April 17, 1997, Carboni, the man who had been gifted $19 million by Calvi, was charged with being his murderer. "Carboni is not alleged to have done the deed himself, but rather to have lured Calvi to London and ensured he was delivered into the hands of his killers. Most of the evidence goes over the odd behavior of Carboni when he was in London, supposedly helping Calvi find a better place to stay."()

 

Lucio Gelli was the Grandmaster of the P2 Masonic Lodge, which ultimately became known as Propaganda Due Masonic Lodge. Gelli was a close associate of Calvi’s, and just as was the case with Carboni, he had been gifted with almost $200 million in cash from Calvi’s bank. Without too much hesitation, Gelli was indicted in the Banco Ambrosiano matter as a money launderer for some of the most famous names in Italy. For his efforts, he was sentenced to 12 years in jail.

 

There were 1,000 members of the P2 Lodge of which he was Grandmaster, and they included many of the most famous politicians, businessmen and military officers of the country. "Investigations into P2 activities have repeatedly delved into unproved allegations that the lodge conspired with right-wing extremists and the Mafia to destabilize the government through bombings and violence." () Rather than go to jail, Gelli fled to the French Rivera resort of Cannes, where he was eventually nabbed by French police. He was put into a jail hospital, where he tried to kill himself with his glasses. When police went to Gelli’s home in Cannes, they found 630 pounds of gold bars valued at $1.7 million hidden in flowerpots. Gelli’s wife had an interesting explanation for the gold-filled pots, saying, "the gold being magnetically charged aids substantially in plant growth, and her husband was a first class botanist," she told the police.

 

The people of Italy were always aware that if the chips were really down, they could always turn to the powerful Carabinieri. "The Carabinieri are an independent police force founded by King Vittorio Emmanuel I in 1814, but remained under the supervision of the defense ministry." () In their almost two centuries of existence, the Carabinieri had gained a sterling reputation for honesty and objectivity in performing independent police investigative work. Previously the group had been instrumental in helping to bring to justice a number of senior Mafia Dons. The people believed that, Carabinieri’s political independence was a valuable ingredient because of the massive Mafia infiltration of the Italian Government. The entire matter of dealing with the Mafia was in the process of being turned over to this untouchable paramilitary police force with over 100,000 members when the police suddenly arrested its chief, General Francesco Felfino on charges of kidnapping and extortion.

 

It seems that the highly regarded General had arranged for the kidnapping of Italian businessman, Giuseppe Soffiantini who had been abducted substantially earlier. General Delfino, an old friend of the family told the grieving relatives that an informer had told him that if a certain amount of money was paid, the businessman would be freed. The money was given to the General to make the deal, Soffiantini was freed and within days the money was found in General Delfino’s apartment. Obviously he had set the entire rouse up from the very beginning. To make matters worse, "Two other Carabinieri generals, including the force commander, are also under investigation for charges of misconduct." () The Italian people were highly deflated and were obligated to go back to step one in their crusade against the Mafia.

 

Archbishop Paul Marcinkus was the person in charge of the Instituto per le Opere di Religione; better known as the Vatican Bank during the time that Calvi was plundering Banco Ambrosiano. Through the Archbishop’s good offices, the Vatican Bank become a shareholder in Banco Ambrosiano, and prosecutors in Rome indicated that Marcinkus was up to his eyeballs in Calvi’s diversion of $1.3 billion from Banco Ambrosia to ten dummy Panamanian companies. They indicated that these companies could even be nominees of the Vatican itself:

 

"While no evidence of personal gain has ever been alleged, authorities charge that Marcinkus allowed the Vatican Bank to be used by Calvi for his schemes. The Vatican has steadfastly denied responsibility in the Ambrosiano affair. Nonetheless, and against Marcinkus’ advice, the Vatican agreed in 1984 to pay $244 million to the bank’s creditors as a goodwill gesture. At issue is whether the Vatican Bank owned the dummy companies and thus was involved in the fraud…The arrest warrant against Marcinkus could lead to a complex standoff between the Vatican and the Italian government. Italian officials cannot enter the Vatican to serve the arrest warrant, much less retrieve their man. Since the Lateran Treaty of 1929, Italy has recognized the 108.7–acre Vatican as a sovereign state."

The Archbishop has never set his feet out of the Vatican since that day, and the Church is peculiarly unwilling to give him up.

 

Giovanni Brusca was arrested four years after Giovanni Falcone (), the anti-mob judge, was blown away by a bomb along with his wife and several bodyguards. Brusca is reputed to be the highest-ranking Mafia figure in the country. Falcone was a judge who became famous for being extremely tough on the Mafia, and Brusca had every reason to fear the worst if he were the one dispensing justice. Brusca made every effort to see that Falcone would not be sitting in his court, but rather would be permanently retired. On a pleasant Spring day, Falcone was traveling with his wife and three bodyguards in their armor-plated car when "a massive bomb planted in a storm drain under the highway outside Palermo, the Sicilian capital, exploded as his motorcade passed. Brusca is accused of having pushed the remote-control button that set off the bomb in one of the Mafia’s worst outrages." () It is worth noting that only two months before Falcone was blown away, his judicial associate, Paolo Borsellino along with five bodyguards, was also blown up in his car under very similar circumstances.

 

Brusca, then 36 had already been rumored to have killed 40 people broke the mold. He went on a tear when his good friend Toto Riina was arrested in 1993 by organizing attacks on Churches and museums in Rome, Florence and Milan. And just for good measure, to show what an upstanding guy he was, Brusca did the almost unthinkable. "Brusca’s cold-bloodedness became even more clear when he kidnapped the 11-year-old son of a Mafioso who had collaborated with the legal system. The boy was held captive for more than two years, and Brusca had him strangled and his body dissolved in acid because his father refused to retract his accusations against the mafia." () However, this little dear began to sing like a canary to the Italian police in June of 1996. We hope that Brusca keeps in mind what happened to his good friend, Francesco Marino Mannoia who saw his mother, his sister and his aunt summarily murdered when he coped a plea.

 

In this case, Bernardo Provenzano was tried in 1999, in absensia for the crime because he had been on the lam for numerous years. Bernardo also had been made "boss of all bosses" after Salvatore "Toto" Riina was caught in 1993. However, he was made "boss of all bosses" in absensia as well, having been in hiding at that point for 33 years. In spite of the fact that he couldn’t be brought to trial, police have let it be known that he regularly corresponds with his family. "A pack of letters from Provenzano’s wife and sons – which dealt with everything from the family laundry business to how to wash socks – were found in a house near Palermo where police arrested another top Mafioso two weeks ago." () Apparently, being in absensia in Italy means something similar to, being alive and well and living happily in Palermo.

 

However, Provenzano’s lieutenant, Benedetto Spera, was not quite as lucky. He had also been convicted in absentia, along with Provenzano of murdering several anti-Mafia prosecutors. Nevertheless, in January of 2001, police in Palermo arrested finally Spera who had been on the run for over nine years and by this time was suffering from prostate cancer. Showing that the Mafia in Italy has no prejudice when they siphoned money, arrested along with Spera was Vincenzo Di Noto, a highly regarded Italian doctor who had become world famous because of some of his highly acclaimed medical theories. Apparently, Dr. Di Noto, who once was in charge of Sicily’s largest hospital, had been on the Mafia payroll for decades.

 

Another Italian Mafia leader, Vito Palazzolo who was a magician at laundering money, left Italy at the very last minute before his indictment came down and found fame and fortune in South Africa. Eventually, the Italian government discovered where Vito had vanished to and formally requested the South African Government to send him home for trial. However, the ever friendly South African’s replied that membership in the Mafia is not a crime where they come from and blatantly refused. However, it may be that they really didn’t know whom they were dealing with. Palazzolo is known all over the globe, he is wanted by the American FBI for the "Pizza Connection" case which involved dealings in heroin along with the fact that he has been on Interpol’s most wanted list for years. Palazzolo who got around a lot in his younger days also served time in Switzerland for money laundering. Authorities also claim that Palazzolo has substantial interests in Angolan diamond concessions.

 

However, with all of his worldly interests, it is nice to know that Vito still has plenty of time for his friends. Whenever any of Italy’s senior Mafia members need to get away from the Italian "heat" for a while, they are almost always found at Vito’s farm in Capetown. Such innocents as Giovanni Bonomo, Giuseppe Galardi, and Mariano Tullio Troia have all been recent houseguests of the Don. One of the reasons that Mafia influence in South Africa has been able to flourish is the ineptitude of their police. It seems that word always accidentally leaks out when a Mafia member is about to be taken into custody. In addition, the Director of the intelligence unit that overseas the investigation of Mafia influences in South Africa was recently indicted on 46 charges of fraud and theft. There is no question that the Italian Mafia has found a fertile breeding ground in South Africa in which to set up operations, and luckily for them apparently there isn’t any law against it.

 

The name that appears next in our Italian rogues gallery is silent Salvatore Lima. He became known as "Silent Sal" because he never spoke in public. When time came to deliver votes in Sicily for whomever he favored, Silent Sal would always deliver. He started out as a political hack, but had substantial support from family members who were in charge of the Mafia in Palermo. Several good things happened to Lima almost simultaneously, the first of which was that he became the Mayor of Palermo, and the second and more important of which was that he became Andreotti’s guy in Sicily. During that time, there was an investigation into the Sicilian Mafia, and in the final report of the Italian Parliament’s anti-Mafia commission statement, Lima was mentioned 149 times and was described as one of the pillars of Mafia power in Palermo.

 

While one would have thought this could hurt his political career, it turned out this was not the case. At Andreotti’s invitation, Lima came to Rome in 1968 and switched factions within the Christian Democratic Party to be closer to Andreotti. Lima continued to deliver the populous Sicilian electorate for his friend, and in 1972, he was rewarded by the new Prime Minister with a cabinet post. In 1974, Lima was named the head of the Ministry of the Budget, and upon hearing this, many people resigned from the Ministry, including, among others, the distinguished economist Paolo Sylos Labini. Soon thereafter, two of Lima’s cousins, Nino and Ignazio Salvo, were convicted of being Mafia members, but the worst was yet to come.

 

When Lima was in Sicily, he was always chauffeured around in their bulletproof car. When Andreotti’s Government fell, Lima was assassinated, but at that point, no one could figure out why. Fortunately for the rest of us, the vociferous Buscetta decided to tell the whole story: "Salo Lima was, in fact the politician to whom Cosa Nostra turned most often to resolve problems for the organization, whose solution lay in Rome." That testimony seemed to open the floodgates, and a number of other witnesses then testified that Lima had been ordered to "fix" the appeal of the maxi-trial with Italy’s Supreme Court and had been murdered because he failed to do so.

 

Another viewpoint was that Andreotti had been sent a message by the Mafia when they killed Lima, telling the Prime Minister that they were now aware that they could no longer count on his assistance. Because of the offensive being conducted by prosecutors against Andreotti, his political power disintegrated, and the Mafia was not to be denied protection.

 

Then there was Benedetto Craxi, the former Prime Minister of Italy who led the country from 1983 to 1987. Craxi died in January 2000 in exile, mainly because he faced over 100-years in jail for his misdeeds (). Just to give you an idea of what the Italian people think of Craxi, there was a poll taken by RAI Radio, which asked, who was the most evil Italian to have ever lived. He beat out "Mafia top cat, Salvatore Riina, who is serving nine life terms in prison for a series of killings. The best that he (Riina) could manage was third place. And not the "Monster of Florence", Pietro Pacciani, jailed for 14 murders. He was fourth". () Craxi had presided over a graft-riddled Italian Government and capped it off with what was called the Berlusconi affair.

 

Silvio Berlusconi was a media tycoon and the head of Fortza Italia a political organization. He ran and was elected to office by running a strong anticorruption campaign, which was now the "in" thing to do in Italian politics. Naturally, Berlusconi won the election and became Italy’s prime minister but he sorely disappointed his constituents when he was ultimately convicted of paying Craxi $12 million through an offshore trust. For his troubles, Berlusconi received a sentence of two-years and four-months and a $5.6 million fine. Former Prime Minister Craxi, by this time had been on the lam for a while and was living in Tunisia. Considering the fact that Tunisia at that time had no extradition treaties with Italy, he was sentenced by proxy and received a sentence of four years in jail and an $11.2 million fine.

 

Tunisia had a rather strange relationship with Italy and relied on heavily on them for foreign aid. It would have seemed that in spite of no formal extradition treaties, if Italy had really wanted Craxi, they could have tied their request to additional foreign aid. Obviously there was more to that story than met the eye. As an example of what Tunisia could do if they really wanted to, when Tunisian illegal immigrants started overrunning Italy, both governments sat down and worked out a deal. Italy would give Tunisia $90 million in aid and would simultaneously deport a substantial number of Tunisians that had been arrested for illegally entering the country.

 

The first segment, so to speak would be 3,000 that had been caught that month. This agreement was signed on August 8, 1998, at which point had already been luxuriously ensconced in Tunisia for any number of years. One would wonder why Italy’s most notorious escaped criminal had not been part of the bargaining session. When asked about the reason for leaving Craxi off the bargaining table, Ben Mustapha, chief negotiator for Tunisia during the negotiations said, "He and Lamberto Dino (his Italian counterpart) did not discuss the possible extradition of former Italian prime minister and head of the Socialist Party Bettino Craxi, sentenced to 23 years on corruption charges." One can only wonder why, but this is Italy and many things remain mysterious.

 

Berlusconi had been previously convicted and sentenced for bribing tax collectors and in another case was convicted of fraud. It is interesting to note that, during the time Craxi was in office, he was thought of as an honest man. On the other hand, politics is a fickle business, and things soon started to slide downhill when one of Craxi’s political cronies and best friend, Mario Chiesa, was charged with stealing all the money from the biggest orphanage in Milan. Investigators soon found a trial leading from Mr. Chiesa right to the top of the Italian Government, and guess who, his best friend, Mr. Craxi.

 

The Daily Telegraph had to say about the matter, "What few realized at the time was that Craxi and his party had adopted the Christian Democrat habit of taking rake-off’s from public works contracts, often surpassing their predecessors in brazenness and greed…. The so-called "clean hands" investigation revealed evidence that Craxi and other leading politicians had been involved in bribe taking over many years in exchange for favors and public works contracts. The investigation transformed the Italian political landscape. When Craxi ventured on the streets of Rome or Milan, he found himself being manhandled by angry mobs who spat at him and pelted him with coins."

 

Historically, another factor in the non-diminution of Mafia power has been the reluctance of the Roman Catholic Church to speak out in on the subject in a major way. However, a notable exception to this statement was the speech by Pope John Paul II in May 1993 in Agrigento, Sicily. One of the reasons the Church has been hesitant about discussing this cancer may be that Mafia families are substantial donators to the Church. With overall donations going south, they are not excited about giving up this source of revenue. There seems to be a change in the offing, but it is too early to tell.

 

As far as the elimination of Mafia influence on Italy, it appears that the church has little to fear. In December of 2000, Antonio Ingroai, who is a strong anti-Mafia judge located in Palermo, a former hotbed of their activities said that, "the Mafia now takes a more silent and invisible line, and fear is rooted among local people who still have to live face to face with Mafia power." On February 10, 2001, it was reported by Reuters that Italian police had arrested 31 suspected Mafiosi on charges ranging from drug trafficking to extortion, bombings and murder. However, that is old news, Reuters quoted a little know Italian Government report had been quietly released only four months earlier which stated that mafia related activity accounted for as much as 15 percent of Italy’s entire economic output, or about $120 billion. As the saying used to go, a billion here and a billion there and soon you are talking about real money.

 

Just when the people of Italy were saying that things couldn’t get any worse, a major ethnic conflict broke out in Yugoslavia. As a direct result of this warfare, numerous people became displaced and many of them fled to safer border. Italy has a massive, mostly indefensible coastline, which has become Europe’s most porous entry point for illegal refugees. The Italian Mafia having seen a major drop off in recruitment due to the people’s horror when the scope and nature of their activities finally was unraveled saw this as an excellent time to beef up their non-commissioned officer ranks. The Albanians have historically been among the nastiest criminals on earth. Once ensconced in Italy, they stopped taking orders from anyone and have since, usurped Mafia influence in prostitution, drugs, and petty crime in Milan. Their influence is rapidly spreading throughout Italy as no less than 300 new potential mercenaries illegally arrive in that city each and every day. The Mayor of Milan, Gabriele Albertina said, "Milan has become the center of illegal immigration in Italy if not in Europe."

 

Another neighbor that borders Italy is a country that was part of Yugoslavia until recently. It is called Montenegro. Italian Mafia controlled groups in Montenegro have surreptitiously gone into the cigarette exporting business. They have one customer, the Italian Mafia, and the only thing that they have to do is get the cigarettes into Italy without duty or sales tax. These contraband cigarettes can be sold for a substantial discount because of the fact that these taxes makeup such a high percentage of the total price. However, the porous Italian borders and Mafia ingenuity have made short shrift of these problems and Montenegrin cigarettes have flooded the Italian market to a degree where Italian tax collection estimates have gone totally askew. Italian has told Montenegro in no uncertain terms that they will no longer tolerate these illegal transshipments. "The Montenegro government, however, notes that southern Italy has been plagued by the mafia for over 100 years and objects that it cannot wipe out smuggling overnight." () However, Montenegro has a rather small economy and the hard dollar sales of cigarettes to the Italians are, for the moment at least, putting bread on the table.

 

 

 

 

Hadrian’s Wall

 

Let us march back in time to when Rome was proud, in control and on the march. The Roman Army, the best and most disciplined in ancient history, and the Roman maniac who led them to the edge of the world was Hadrian. He was Roman, but that was a misnomer because he was really Spanish, but a hairy Spaniard nicknamed "Graeculus" (the Greekling), perhaps because he of some Greek in his otherwise Roman background (the Spaniards of today are a far different breed from Roman times, since the Vandals, Goths and so many other marauding barbarians who claimed Spain during the Dark Ages had yet to arrive).

 

Hadrian was marching though England, leaving his thirteen-year old wife Sabina to take care of the home. Sabina was Trajan’s niece, the preceding Emperor of Rome, and she came to really despise him at an early time in their relationship. This was probably because Hadrian liked young boys even better than young girls. His particular favorite was Antinous, who was the same age as his wife and caused Hadrian substantial anguish when he drowned on an excursion up the Nile. Hadrian erected statutes, cities and monuments to his memory and deified him. He never missed a beat, though, and the army was the place he found whatever satisfaction could be garnered from life after that. It seemed to be alright with Hadrian and Sabina, since she seemed to like women more than men, and historians of the day indicate she was certainly up to a perversion or two in her own right.

 

However, in an early architectural triumph, Hadrian built a temple in the honor of Matidia, who was Sabina’s mother, and if it were not for his friendship with young men, she certainly would have been on his hit list. Hadrian led an active life, and one of his crowning achievements was the rebuilding of Jerusalem that had been destroy by one of Hadrian predecessors, Titus, when he defeated the Jewish rebellion. At first, the Jews rejoiced to see a marvelous new city being built by the emperor, only to have second thoughts when he renamed it Aelia Capitolina and bared all Jews from entry. As if that hadn’t been enough, he promptly followed up this order with one banning circumcision. The Jews who were into self-mutilation were quite annoyed at this turn of events, and to this day Hadrians name is an anathema.

 

Hadrian had a tendency to be argumentative, and he didn’t like to be shown up in a debate. In a dialog with the philosopher Favorinus, although Hadrian had argued an absolutely untenable position, Favorinus capitulated. The philosopher’s friends were furious at his surrender, but his rejoinder was the best philosophy of all, "You advise me badly, friends, since you do not permit me to believe that he who commands thirty legions is the most learned of all."

 

By this time, he had enough of barbarians coming across the border to pillage; burn and rape, and he decided he had to figure out a way to keep them out of his territory (which he believed to encompass the known universe) forever. He arrived in England late in the Spring, and he thought the countryside to be marvelous and even recommended it to his generals as a place to vacation. Everything was green, and the only thing he found to be somewhat disconcerting was that the land seemed to be rather sparsely populated, considering its great beauty. Everyone concurred with the Emperor, which was quite normal in view of the fact beheading was the only popular alternative for dissent. One of Hadrian’s generals, in an effort to please his boss, went so far as to say that a great tourist mecca could be created on this land and much wealth could be garnered for the royal coffers by charging a substantial fee for admission. All that had to be done was insure the pesky Scottish tribes would not come down to this playground and start killing people.

 

Hadrian was ecstatic, and he began work on a gigantic 73-mile long wall, over 10-feet wide and 12-feet high, complete with three observation towers every mile and a large ditch on the Scottish side, where the barbarians lived. Hadrian’s plans proved somewhat too grandiose, but within certain limitations, the wall was hastily constructed to get everything ready for the tourist season, which was rapidly approaching. Small villages were built near the observation towers to house the tourists, and attractions were constructed to lure them to the property.

 

History tells us that the first season was a wash out because just as the construction ended in early fall, the weather turned frightfully cold and rains soon swept the region, followed by foul weather, snow, sleet and ice storms. The land was paralyzed until late the next spring when the weather turned slightly more clement. Hadrian was in despair, but he predicted that, since the land was so green, the season must be more kind than what had just been endured and the next holiday season would be a major success. Sadly, one season passed to the next, and the weather continued to remain abominable. Roman soldiers were belatedly asked to poll the population relative to historic weather trends, and they were told that the weather had always been this bad as long as anyone could remember; also, they thought the Romans had built the walls to keep them in, as the primary occupation for centuries in the region had been emigration.

 

The Centurions then asked about the beautiful shade of green that surrounded everything and were advised that this was due to a cold weather fungus brought into the area by migrating Artic Reindeer. The inhabitants informed the Romans they had been trying to get rid of the fungus for years, because it had destroyed all of the plants in the region. Things were so bad that many Brits had recently been volunteering to become gladiators, which was usually something didn’t volunteer to do. When asked about this strange lemming-like response to adversity, these denizens of the British Isles simply stated that it would be nice to be killed and be placed in the warm ground around Rome, rather than England’s all-weather permafrost.

 

The Romans, feeling humiliated by their stupidity, retreated and let the Scottish barbarians take over the landscape. Roman Generals were universally afraid to tell Hadrian that he was an idiot, so they rerouted gold tithings from all over the Empire and told him it was from the English tourist business that was thriving. Hadrian was by this time was well into wall building, and shockingly, he even erected a wooden wall that traversed the entire area between the Danube and Rhine rivers.

 

This was something that Hadrian firmly believed would stop the seemingly relentless march of the Huns, a very capable tribe of horsemen who were visibly salivating over the Roman Territory. Hadrian had to destroy the forests of several countries in order to build his fabled wooden bridge. The day after the holiday called by Hadrian to celebrate this wall’s successful completion, a Hun enlisted man placed a burning twig next to the structure in order to roast a pig, and a strong wind caused the flames to set fire to the wall. This rapidly fanned the flames down the structure’s entire length, burning most of it to the ground.

 

Rome eventually gave up the concept of building walls and chose natural barriers, such as rivers and mountain ranges. This strategy was as successful as Hadrian’s was a failure, and it allowed the Roman Empire to deflect most invading tribes for several hundred years.

 

 

The Appian Way

Very early on, Rome realized that its destiny was to rule the civilized world. With that in mind, the powers that ruled Rome determined that in order to be successful, they would have be able to quickly transport their highly trained, but limited numbers of troops from here to there. At it’s meeting in 312 B.C., the Roman Senate argued that roads should be built to points of potential military conquest. The ensuing debate ran something like this: "Why do we need roads? People like Alexander the Great, who is tearing things up over in Persia, didn’t build any roads, and he seems to be doing just great!" Besides, won’t they realize that we’re going to conquer them when they see us building a road in their neighborhood?" Or like this: "Why don’t we just buy a fleet of elephants? The army can travel the way Hannibal did, making its own roads as it goes. Nah, there’s no place to stable an elephant herd in Rome. Anyway, who besides you could afford to feed them, Gluteus Maximus?"

 

Another idea that had some merit was to build a lot of ships and only attack countries that had ports (something like what the Vikings would do a thousand years later. This motion was soundly trounced because it would have eliminated most of central Europe, and besides, no one in the Senate had any thoughts of traversing any pond larger than the Mediterranean. If the God Jupiter had wanted the Romans to go sailing around the planet, he certainly would have made Rome a port. Everyone thought this addressed the issue succinctly, but not before a vote was taken and a small version of the Appian Way was ordered built as a test model.

 

The original experiment would consist of a segment running 140 miles from Rome to Capua. The Appian Way was originally known as the Regina Viarum, or the "Queen of all Roads." The legislator who had proposed the initiative was Appius Claudius Caecus, and in typical Roman fashion, he named it The Appian Way after his first name. Incidentally, the road going from Rome south was called the Appian Way, the road constructed around that same time going north was called Flaminian Way.

 

The finished road stretched 350 miles from Rome to the southern most point in mainland Italy, then called Brundisium. The road became a work in progress, and slaves labored fiercely over its construction for the next two centuries. The road was uniform in width, exactly 20 feet across, the distance that the Roman architects had estimated would be the optimum space necessary for two luxury chariots to be able to comfortably pass each other from opposite directions traveling at posted speed limits. The other yardstick that was also taken into consideration was how wide the road needed to be to allow six soldiers carrying full equipment to march in one direction.

 

Constructed alongside of the road were sidewalks, one on either side the roadway and once again the Roman engineers took exact measurements which allowed them to come to the conclusion that two people heading in opposite directions could pass each other comfortably on a four-foot wide structure. Naturally, horse-changing stations were constructed along the way every ten miles or so, and all of the necessary accoutrements for comfortable travel, such as taverns, shops, rooms, Roman latrines and camp followers, were put in place. There were inns (mansions), which would provide accommodations and meals similar to our motels, and these were located at approximately 25-mile intervals. The Pony Express in the early American West was patterned after the Appian Way in that it had horse changing stations and camp followers (but no paved roads).

 

"The principles of firm road construction arose because unmetalled paths and tracks could not withstand passage of large number of horses, carts and infantry. Such routes soon disintegrated, particularly in wet weather, into deep mud, which seriously impeded a unit’s movements. Accurate staff movement calculations could therefore not be made, and campaign planning was impeded. Firm, paved roads, however, resolved these problems and guaranteed movement of very heavy traffic. As a result, armies could progress twenty-five miles a day, even in inclement weather conditions, rapidly reaching distant areas in which unrest had been reported. Knowledge of the army’s ability to achieve this was itself often a major deterrent to the development of hostilities."

Anyone who has walked the Appian Way knows it could not have been any fun to travel this road by either foot or chariot, but it was certainly a lot better than the alternative. The road was paved for the entire distance with unequal sized cobblestones that were not smoothed or held in place with mortar. There was rock down to a substantial depth, which is the reason for its longevity; but the cracks between the cobblestones soon became depressed relative to the roadway, and the walk or ride became a real stomach churner. Picture trying to hit the cobblestones square in the middle if you were a soldier marching with full gear. The soldiers of that time must have suffered a lot of sprained ankles and bruised knees.

 

So the foot soldiers that were unlucky enough to not to get a chariot ride to the front had to go by foot from Rome to Brundisium, where they boarded ships taking them to the eastern part of the Roman Empire. This foot-trek took about 20 days and the men arrived with blisters and sore backs and needing a little R&R before being able to pillage and plunder the proper Roman way. In the meantime, the soldiers had another job as well, because if they were not on a military mission, they became a road repair crew. While slaves were used for the most part in the road’s original construction, maintenance was a job for the army, which was well equipped to handle it.

 

However, the road wasn’t just for the army. Merchants and tourists sometimes clogged the thoroughfare, especially during the holiday season, which complicated the army’s logistics. While the army certainly had first right of passage, the Roman leaders were always throwing big parties at the Coliseum, and that required the bringing in of endless streams of animals and gladiators for the their rituals. In most cases, they would enter the Appian Way through the port at Brundisium and take the long route up from the heel of Italy. Sometimes accidents occurred that sent wild, man-eating animals scurrying from their cages. This also caused substantial delays, especially if some of the weary tourists on the road had become the animal’s dinner.

 

"Private individuals were allowed to travel by the Imperial Post (Appian Way) only if they had been issued a special permit. The seriousness with which this rule was enforced is illustrated by letters between Trajan (Emperor from A.D. 98 – 117) and Pliny. Pliny wrote from Bithynia inquiring if outdated permits could be used, as he was anxious not to hold up important dispatches. The Emperor’s response was short and curt; he stated: "It is my invariable rule to have fresh permits sent to each province before the dates are required."

When the road was available, which was most of the time, all kinds of methods of travel and numerous kinds of beasts of burden were used. There were mules, oxen donkeys, horses and at times even camels that would in turn pull carts, carriages and chariots. "Heavy loads were often moved in a slow, but sure way, on large wagons pulled by oxen or mules. A light cart drawn by one horse could cover about fifteen miles a day. Imperial messengers traveled by horse, or light carts drawn by one, two or even three horses. Larger carriages, pulled by two or more horses or mules, could cover up to seventy-five miles a day."

 

However, the Appian Way was a masterpiece of construction, for it extended in almost a straight line from Rome to Brunisium. Anything that got in the contractor’s path was summarily destroyed and carted off. Hills were flattened so the road’s grade for loaded chariots and commercial vehicles would not be to steep, either going up or down. The roadbed was elevated so that it could not be flooded, and for this reason, it was only during exceptionally bad weather that any delays relative to inclement conditions ever occurred. Bridges were built and marshes were drained as the Appian Way wended it way from central Italy to its mainland southern extremities. Moreover, maintenance was done early and often.

 

An "Appian Consul," who was usually appointed by the Emperor himself, was in charge of insuring that the road was always in tip-top shape for military purposes. In addition, the road provided a high-speed source of information from the battlefield, indicating whether the current conflict was going well or poorly for the Romans. Logistical information found the highway the fastest means of delivering the "coals to Newcastle." Thus, the road also became known as the first "information highway." Most of the information that traveled up and back on the road was military in nature, but milestones (tall, round stones) were constructed every so often on the highway, but most certainly where two or more roads came together. These milestones would give the news of the day, the directions to the villages ahead and how far away they were in Roman miles.

 

By the time the Roman Empire had reached its zenith, its point of maximum geographical expansion, 55,000 miles of primary and secondary roads had been built. Unfortunately for Rome, this marvelous system of roads worked two ways; it represented a fast way of putting down an insurrection wherever it occurred, and on the other hand, it allowed Rome’s enemies the same access when the Praetorian Guards had to retreat from indefensible positions. The road system both allowed Rome to expand dramatically, but it also hastened Rome’s collapse.

 

Early in the history of the Appian Way, it was used to subdue and bring under Rome’s control non-conforming people within the south-central parts of Italy. As these early plans for conquest expanded, the Appian Way was lengthened and soon Rome had extended its dominance to the entire southern part of the country. Just as on all roads, commerce started to gravitate to the new structure, especially in the area around Rome itself, where the Appian Way became the place to live and also to die. First of all, Roman regulations did not allow the burial of anyone within the city proper, and thus when a Roman of stature died, they usually liked to be laid to rest in a quiet spot. By the same token, they also were not interested in being totally forgotten. A nice spot on the Appian Way, below some overhanging cypress trees, was the choice of many of Rome’s most senior politicians and generals. Their above ground crypts became magnificent sights to behold, as splendid mausoleums were constructed with the intention of catching each traveler’s attention. The middle class would go through the cremation process and have an urn placed on the Appian Way, where it too would be seen by the passing throngs.

 

A short travelogue is in order at this point:

 

"The most historic and scenic stretch (of the road) is just south of the city. From the Roman Forum go past the Coliseum and the Arch of Constantine. Take the road to the right. Via San Gregoria. In a few blocks, you’ll be at the Porta Caena where the Appian Way began. A mile away, past the Baths of Caracalla, is the Porta San Sebastiano. Here begins the grandeur, the history, and the scenery. The St. Sebastian Gate, an opening in the old city wall is a massive two-towered structure that looks sturdy enough to hold off an army. The wall was built by Emperor Aurelian in the 3rd Century, and a gate was constructed for the Appian Way. This gate led out of Rome. Because the monuments and archeological sites start here, many people consider this the real beginning of the Appian Way. About half a mile on, beyond a low all on the right, is a round tower covered with ivy. It is the tomb of the wife of Domitian, emperor in A.D. 81."

"Just where the road makes a turn to the left is a small building with a plain front, the church of Domine Quo Vadis where St. Peter, fleeing from Rome, is said to have seen a vision of Christ and asked him "Lord, where are you going?" Christ replied: "I go to Rome to be crucified again." This strengthened Peter, and he returned to Rome, where he laid the foundations of the Christian church and was martyred by Nero. Another kilometer takes you to the Catacombs of St. Callistus, where early Christians buried their dead. You get a chill, knowing that almost 2,000 years ago worshipers walked in these eerie tunnels. Just beyond the Catacombs of St. Sebastian are the remains of the best-preserved Roman circus in the world, built in the 4th Century by the Emperor Maxentius."

"Today it stands silent, but in ancient times charioteers whipped their horses down the 500-yard straightway as 18,000 spectators screamed them on..…You stroll a past high wall of stone or poplar or cypress edging the estates….At the end of the long flower-lined drives are the houses: sedate, imposing mansions that fit the classical surroundings. On the way is the tomb of Cecilia Metella, bordered by homes and meadows and towering pines of Rome. A rounded structure several stories high, with a battlemented crown, it is crumbling because throughout its 2,000 years it has been left to the weather and vandals."

The scene is surreal today, with the overhanging trees forming an arch over the road and magnificent buildings and monuments abutting either side. Can we picture victorious Roman soldiers returning home from battle and enjoying what they had been fighting for. This indeed exemplified the glory that was Rome.

 

Finally, the Appian Way has granted a major facelift, and the modern bureaucrats say that it will be restored to its former magnificence. We are not so sanguine, based on the eternal bickering that has gone on between corrupt bureaucrats and wealthy landowners for the last several hundred years. Over time, the elements and robbers have taken their toll on the glory of the Appian Way. Many of the cobblestones that made up the roadbed were dug up in the early 18th Century and used for the streets of downtown Rome. The magnificent villas and mausoleums have been thoroughly pillaged over the years, and much of their brilliance has been tarnished.

 

Part of the road has been paved over with asphalt, and speeding traffic and toxic fumes are taking a major toll in polluting the road and surrounding environs. Traffic has also lent a hand in destroying both the Christian and Jewish Catacombs that line the road and are over two thousand years old. The Appian Way is also traversed by a Superhighway that cuts directly through the road at one of it’s most critical points. Substantial talk about an underpass to avoid this desecration never really got off the ground.

 

Parts the road have been used as a dump, and because maintenance of the road is negligible, garbage, tires and other wreckage have become a part of the historic landscape. However, in spite of that, many of the buildings that had been constructed of marble along the Appian Way , have remained in good condition, even through World War II. More recently, even those monuments have been cut up and crated off in exchange for a few lira. "Stolen are not just small decorative pieces, such as heads, statues, boundary markers, altars – but also columns, inscribed stones, cornices and friezes that, for their dimensions and weight, certainly required the use of cranes and heavy-duty vehicles. Today there is less of a collective conscience to respect our cultural patrimony....Today everyone wants a piece of marble in his villa." ()

 

"All the roads they built, including minor ones, would encircle the Earth ten times, and many of these lasted without repair for 1,000 years." ()

Over the years, restoration of the highway has been strongly urged by many political and religious leaders, and work was even initiated on several occasions. For a time, this made an impact, but everything has gone downhill since. Most recently, living on the Appian Way near Rome became most fashionable, and a number of famous actors and artists built residences along the road. Thankfully, this is no longer allowed, but the damage had been done.

 

It is about time that something is done about restoring the Appian Way to its former magnificence, but Roman projects have often been measured in centuries, rather than years. We are afraid that time may already have run out on this wonder of civilization.

 

 

 

 

The Politics of Oil

 

Crude oil is a substance that appears throughout the world in differing quantities. It is derived by the decomposition of organic matter, and the fact that such large quantities of it have been found in the Middle East would probably indicate that in any number of previous ages, the climatic conditions in that era were capable of supporting numerous forms of animal life. The ocean is much more universal, and in spite of the fact that a substantial quantity of hydrocarbons have been found in the North Sea (since deep water drilling is so new), there are probably substantial finds just waiting to be discovered.

 

Naturally, the easy places to drill have already been looked at, so that the process is becoming ever more technically challenging. Because of this, converting the low-tech drilling business into the one of the most complex challenges known to man has not come easily. Today, attempts are being made to chart the earth’s interior, and as new breakthroughs by radar-like instruments positioned in outer space are utilized, we are able to peer deeper and deeper into the earth’s opaque surface.

 

By products of oil have taken many forms, each of which are capable of substantially different uses. Asphalt is used for road building, oil is used for energy and the manufacture of plastics -- and it even acts as a liniment, a laxative and a glue, along with a host of other uses. The ancient Egyptians considered it critical for their embalming process. Oil is much more environmentally friendly than is its close relative coal or the newly harnessed atomic energy. An oil derivative product, gas, is even friendlier than oil, and great strides have been made recently to harness its energy for vehicles and for heating.

 

Oil and its byproducts have been used by humans since they appeared on earth. Bitumen, a substance that is a very heavy form of oil, was used by hunters in pre-historic times to attach their arrowheads to the wooden pools they had created to keep larger animals from making them a meal. It was also used by hunters to kill smaller game. Boats were made waterproof through the use of this substance dating back seven thousand years:

 

"In historic times, the Sumerians, Assyrians and Babylonians each used bitumen from important seeps at Hit and other nearby sites on the Euphrates: Ain Ma’moora, Ain Elmaraj, Ramdi, Jebba and Abu Gir. It served in the construction of irrigation systems, as caulk for ships and as both an additive to strengthen fired clay bricks and a mortar to hold them together. These large-scale civilizations used bricks by the millions and bitumen by the ton – used them, in fact on a scale we would have to describe as industrial.

We think of the petroleum industry as a 20th Century phenomenon, and certainly more oil is used now than ever was in the past, even on a per-capita basis. But there were genuine oil industries in the ancient Middle East and surrounding areas employing large numbers of people that made standardized products and whose workings had international economic and political ramifications."

 

The world’s oil reserve are more than adequate for now, but eventually either more will have to be found or our scientists will have to come up with viable alternatives. In the 1970s, somewhat after the first atomic energy installations were put into place, people began to believe that the world’s dependence on hydrocarbons as an energy source was coming to an end. It was only a small stretch to go from atomic to hydrogen reactors, and for our vehicle and homes we eventually would be using solar or wind power.

 

Sadly, each of these concepts failed for their own reasons. Atomic power literally proved too dangerous when this fact was brought home by the Three-Mile Island and Chernobyl disasters. The price for Chernobyl will be paid well into the middle of the 21st Century. At the present time, the United States has no atomic reactors on order, and within the next twenty or so years, atomic energy for non-military purposes will be dead. Even more logically would be the use of, which is basically the way the sun generates heat and light. In spite of how furiously the sun burns, it will not run out of power for another 5 billion or so years. The United States and Russia were able to control the fusion reaction long enough to build some very destructive weapons of war, but the dream has never been harnessed, and research into that field has slowed appreciably.

 

Solar power worked, and it was an unmitigated success. However, the minor problem with solar power is the fact that it won’t do the job where you need it, while it will do it where you don’t. For example, the logical this site for a solar power plant is where the sun shines longer and the more direct its rays are on a particular spot. Probably it would be an enormous success along the equator in dessert conditions in countries like Saudi Arabia, Iraq and Iran.

 

On the other hand, those countries have all of the cheap energy they need from oil wells costing them less than a dollar a barrel to take out of the ground. We may be paying over thirty dollars a barrel in the United States, but the regions where the sun shines long enough and directly enough are few and far between. There is no question that there are savings to made in this area, but when you consider the capital necessary to create the installation and the fact that at any given time, the price of oil can drop under your breakeven, it may not be a sensible play. The more that the oil cartel becomes successful in managing the price of oil, the more logical solar power will become.

 

Another harnessable phenomena is wind. Wind farms, as they are called, can be erected in areas of the world that -- for whatever naturally occurring reasons -- the wind seems to never stop. There are a few spots in California where these space-age windmills are generating substantial energy, but, sadly, the places that produce levels of wind capable of turning these massive fan-like generators are few and far between. While we will be seeing a lot more wind farms in the near future, they will not even make the smallest of dents in our future energy needs

 

It should be recognized that historically all of the imperialist countries had their arms around all of the natural resources their people needed. After World War II had ended and freedom had been given to what were previously vassal states, the prices of natural resources were kept particularly low by Western Governments. It is possible there was an oversupply anyway, and no one really considered the geo-political implications of oil until the Six Day War ended.

 

The Arabs were smarting after getting soundly trashed. They needed someone to blame and picked on the West by raising oil prices through the roof. At that time, the Arabs did not represent a significant enough percentage of global production to control prices themselves, but the non-Arab oil producers such Venezuela, Indonesia and Nigeria, were only too happy to join in.

 

For the first time, the oil producers had become the imperialists, and the West started to become the beggars. The Arabs were missing several elements that were necessary to make their cartel work: one, they had the oil, but they didn’t have the power and they didn’t have the food. When stories started hitting the non-agricultural oil producers and realized they would soon have to exchange a barrel of oil for a barrel for a barrel of wheat, they did not like what they heard. However, soon cooler heads prevailed. From time to time, the cartel made noises about raising prices, but each time it began to look as though they would be successful, another elephantine oil or gas field seemed to come on line. Alaska and the North Sea fields were two humongous discoveries that pulled the Western fat out of the fire.

 

Cartel members were not necessarily friendly to each other, and in spite of a common heritage, some coveted what other had. Thus, Iraq’s despotic ruler got it into his head that Kuwait had erected diagonal ("horizontal") drilling pipes under their borders and into Iraq, where they were sopping up Iraq’s production like a blotter. No one outside of Iraq really believed that, but when Iraq captured Kuwait and took over the whole place, the West became a trifle disconcerted. A lunatic like Saddam Hussein could not be allowed to control the oil spigot, and since from Kuwait it was an easy drive to the Saudi Arabian oil fields, the game would be over if he continued. Led by the United States, 32 nations took to the field and did a credible job of destroying Iraq’s frontline forces. Wisely, Saddam had kept his elite Republican Guards hanging back in the rear, and the U.S. called a halt to their advance just before the Republican Guards ran out of running room. Naturally, as a parting shot Saddam Hussein gave the West a farewell present: he set fire to every oil well in Kuwait.

 

The environmental damage was severe, but the day had been saved.

It does not take one country at war with another to do things, which would be inconceivable under other circumstances. Oil makes people rich, and rich people like to be even richer. Getty Oil, a major independent oil producer, determined to sell out and attracted substantial interest in its industry. Pennzoil, after evaluating the assets, potentially penned a deal which contractually bound it to acquire 40% of the company. Not to be dissuaded by the facts, Texaco unconscionably inked a contract acquiring 100% of Getty, who at this point had sold off 140% of itself in one of the most bizarre transactions in business history. Pennzoil was not what you would call a good loser and took Texaco, a New York company, to court in their home territory, Texas, where everyone is a "good ole boy."

 

In a contest pitting the favorite son against the eighth largest company in the United States, the stage was set for a typical David and Goliath finale. Texaco, obviously in the wrong, but much wealthier than Pennzoil, treated the case frivolously, and its lawyers botched an already ghastly situation. At the conclusion of a trial, each party usually produces an estimate of the damages that they believe were caused by their opponent’s abuse of the legal process. Pennzoil’s "all-world legal team" spent almost five months giving chapter and verse on how the Eastern Oil Monolith had defrauded them. Texaco declined to participate in this stage of the trial, as was their right. The scene had now been set for a self-fulfilling disaster.

 

Whoever dreamed up this "turtle defense" got a rude awakening when the judgment was handed down. The ruling from the Court was that Texaco could pay Pennzoil $10.53 billion in cash or Texaco could put up a bond in that amount while they appealed. The decision took this form because the Court had no other evaluation of loss to fall back on and legally could only rely on what had been submitted, in this case, Pennzoil’s estimate. Texaco, faced with two impossible choices, could do neither, as they obviously didn’t have the cash and nobody would write the bond. All that was left to do was for Pennzoil to extract assets from Texaco until they had recovered the amount of the judgment.

 

Texaco became an immediate pariah. Their credit was cut off; companies like Citgo and Occidental Petroleum demanded cash in exchange for crude oil and historically patient creditors demanded cash on the barrelhead. Texaco’s stock collapsed. Its lawyers were stunned at the legal dead end game they had created and started moving quickly in circles trying to figure out what to do next. Texaco did the unthinkable: they declared bankruptcy. Interest payments ceased, dividends stopped and payment of debts were suspended. This was a first in American economic history: a company going belly up that only weeks before had been in magnificent financial condition.

 

Consider the implications of such an action by one of the largest companies in the world, if it had occurred a decade latter in an electronically wired society. The results would have been catastrophic, and the ripple effect could well have caused economic chaos. Transactions would have remained unsettled, debts would go unpaid and many creditors would go out of business while waiting to be paid by the court. Pennzoil realized that Texaco, having succeeded in its peculiar grandstand play, was now back in the game. Pennzoil was forced to settle.

 

Although Texaco was by far the largest corporate bankruptcy in history, other multinationals have used court protection to hide from their creditors. Continental Airlines made valuable use of it’s the bankruptcy provisions by being able to strong-arm the unions for wage concessions, and Manville Corporation was able to get out from under an avalanche of asbestos-related litigation.

When the smoke had cleared, everyone got something for his trouble, but the price of this poker game had risen to literally unacceptable proportions. On the other hand, we are talking about oil, and he controls the oil is sitting the catbird seat.

 

While Texaco pursued a dangerous course to control more of the oil industry, many traditional players in the game of "black gold" have also tired to put their pinky in the water to test its temperature. The dangers become more critical the closer you get to playing the other guy’s game. Metallgesellschaft Refining and Marketing ("MGRM"), the American subsidiary of Metallgesellschaft AG ("MG") actualized a loss of nearly $2 billion. MGRM created this fiasco as a result of a basically sound business concept that, because of its complex nature, had to be converted into a derivative to function The sheer complexities of the transaction became unfathomable to the participants, who prematurely unwound positions that have been characterized by some as unassailable. ()

 

The scheme was simple:

 

"In 1992, MGRM began implementing an aggressive marketing program in which it offered long-term price guarantees on deliveries of gasoline, heating oil and diesel fuels for up to five or ten years. This program included several novel contracts, two of which are relevant to this study. The first was a "firm-fixed" program, under which a customer agreed to regularly scheduled monthly deliveries at predetermined prices. The second, known as the "firm-flexible" contract, specified a fixed price and total value of future deliveries, but gave the customer some flexibility to set the delivery schedule. Under the second program, a customer could request 20% of its contracted volume for any one-year period, with 45 days’ notice. By September 1993, MGRM had committed to sell forward the equivalent of over 150 million barrels of oil for delivery at fixed prices, with most contracts for terms of ten years." ()

 

Two additional elements of the program were that MGRM had received a premium of $3 to $5 per barrel over the then spot price and prices, which at the time were statistically, historically low. Management of MGRM and its customers were convinced that prices would rise in the ensuing years and that the premium represented a small insurance premium on future prices. MGRM insured its ability to make delivery by purchasing oil in the forward markets in quantities comparable to its customer purchases. MGRM was thus in a position to acquire a large clientele on a very profitable basis, while insuring that it had optimized its total return.

 

The Company’s optimum scenario failed for all of the wrong reasons: oil did not immediately rise, instead it collapsed. MGRM’s poorly constructed hedge positions contained dissimilar elements, and when liquidation of the position was commenced, the derivatives () lost their collateral value. Margin calls were issued, and it was the determination of MGRM’s parent corporation, MG, and its board of directors determined that unless the positions were immediately unwound, the company would go bankrupt. The end result was the largest loss ever suffered by a business to that point in time, the near dismantling of Metallgesellschaft AG and the disorientation and collapse of the oil markets as the hedge positions were liquidated in disorderly fashion. This occurred in a situation that only became calamitous because it could not be understood.

 

So, the beat goes on, and everyone wants to be in the game. They all want more of the liquid gold, and their appetites never seem to be satiated. But what about a poor country with starving people that suddenly strikes it rich. This can’t be a case for the accumulation of additional wealth, rather it is just a logistical problem making sure that these poor, homeless people are feed.

 

Nigeria

 

Nigeria has not only the largest population Africa but one of the largest populations in the world. It is the largest oil producer in Africa, and as such, oil accounts for 90% of the country’s export revenues. The country also has substantial commercially exploited deposits of tin, coal, iron ore, zinc and natural gas. Timber and livestock are abundant and are becoming major industries within Nigeria’s borders. In addition, textiles, pharmaceuticals, paper, cement, food processing and vehicles are produced in Nigeria. Although the country is not food-independent, it has the resources to be self-sufficient and produces cocoa, palm oil, rice, maize and sorghum, along with other agricultural products. Nigeria has been blessed with resources beyond its needs, but in spite of this, is hopelessly in debt, has an ever declining standard of living and has produced easily the most corrupt government in the world

 

Nigeria has set a world standard with its back-to-back victories in the "Global – Most Corrupt" competition sponsored by Transparency International. When the proclamation was made, General Sani Abacha, the then Nigerian President, declared in a public statement that "while winning the award for the second straight year was a humbling experience, other nations will not stand idly by and allow Nigeria to continue to maintain this distinction year after year without a fight. There will be a concerted international effort by many nations in an attempt to dethrone Nigeria. A jealous world will attempt to establish corrupt practices far more complex than what we have been able to devise." Robert Young Pelton in his book, The World’s Most Dangerous Places put Nigeria into perspective:

 

"As OPEC’s fourth-largest oil producer, Nigeria is oil-rich and human-rights poor, the scam capital of the world, a boot camp for fatigue-clad banana dictators, and the Bermuda Triangle of currency. For all but 9 of its 40 years of independence, Nigeria has been ruled by the military but in May 1999, army general and former Nigerian strongman Olusegun Obasanjo became Nigeria’s first elected president since 1979, replacing the boys chomping on stogies behind Ray-Bans working for General Sani Abacha and later General Abdulsalmi Abubakar after Abacha died in mid-1998. ."

 

As a nation with few technical resources, it is important that the people of Nigeria continue to diligently work toward redefining global corruption standards, and it’s been predicted that the country would again lead the world next year. "It was a national effort," claimed one government official, "from the time a traveler from abroad arrives in our country until the time he leaves, our people attempt to demonstrate why this small country is the unchallenged world leader in business corruption, and as such, all others must be judged by the standards that we create. We must rededicate ourselves to our mission and have our actions speak for us, not our words." In a related development, the National Government set aside the day as a national holiday and implored that every citizen continue to redouble their efforts on the nation’s behalf.

 

Conditions are so bad in Nigeria that it almost would seem like the foregoing is authentic. The country appears to be putting forth a superhuman effort to maintain their reputation as a nation of shakedown artists, petty thieves and criminals. It is so much a way of life that no apologies are offered for conduct that has achieved new lows by any civilized standard. Let’s take a look at the record.

 

1. Commonwealth leaders have continued Nigeria’s suspension from the organization, based on the country’s continued human rights violations.

2. Nigeria increased their external debt $10 billion in the last 3 years (per the World Bank).

3. Nigeria has been unable for the last several years to account for its earnings from its oil exports (per the World Bank).

4. Nigeria is $17.4 billion in arrears on its external debt.

5. Nigeria has "Pervasive Mismanagement" (Donors’ Meeting, Washington D.C.).

6. External debt is $34.7 billion, over one half of which is in default, and this is after several write-downs.

7. Export and Oil earnings continue to rise but the country defaulted on $3.5 billion in just the last 12 months.

8. Substantial evidence exists that 200,000 barrels of oil per day are diverted into the hands of military leaders for their own "use."

9. The report calculates Nigeria’s gross national product per capita has declined from $1,160 in 1980, during the country’s oil boom, to $240 in 1996, placing it "among the 20 poorest countries worldwide."

10. Nigeria dominates the World’s the worst postal system with phony deals by mail. Confidence games by mail are the country’s third largest source of revenue.

The U. S. Department of State has issued a number of warnings to American citizens thinking of traveling to Nigeria. They are warned that starting at the Airport upon arrival until the time they leave, they will be subjected to theft, murder, arrest and shakedowns. The Department of State further advises that they could be held by the government itself incommunicado for lengthy periods of time and possibly they could vanish and not be seen again.

 

The third largest industry in Nigeria is mail fraud. The government has done little to shut it down, as so many people are supported from its efforts. Fraud is the largest customer of the Nigerian Post Office as well. Some of the scams are being conducted directly through Nigerian Government offices with the direct participation of Government officials.

 

Usually the swindlers propose to transfer substantial sums of American Dollars to an overseas bank account (American). The account will receive a substantial proportion of the transferred funds. Usually these funds are described as overpayments from government contracts or as advance payments awarded to an American company.

 

Nigerian’s are also adept at real estate scams, charity scams, will scams, fraudulent order scams, crude oil scams, advance fee scams, letterhead scams, death threat scams, Nigerian tax scams, U.S. visa scams and sample scams, to name just a few of the rip-offs the fertile minds of the Nigerians have thought up. Recovery is literally unheard of, and the scams continue unabated in spite of the entry of the U. S. Secret Service Financial Crimes Division into the investigations. The problem for Americans has become so severe that the Department of Commerce has suspended distribution of Commercial News USA in Nigeria to withhold potential contact information on American firms from swindlers.

 

"Crime in Nigeria rose in the mid-1990s as a result of unemployment, economic decline, and social inequality, which are abetted by inefficient and corrupt police and customs forces. More than half of all offenses are thefts, burglaries, and break-ins, although armed robberies are also prominent. Nigeria is a major conduit for drugs moving from Asia and Latin America to markets in Europe and North America. Large-scale Nigerian fraud rings have targeted business people in other parts of the world. The business people are invited to help transfer (nonexistent) large sums of money out of Nigeria, with the promise of a share of the transferred money. Advance fees are requested to expedite this transfer, but the advanced money routinely disappears. Although there have been periodic campaigns to root out corrupt politicians and attack crime, they have had little lasting effect." ()

 

Nigeria, April 7, 2000,the Department of State warns U.S. citizens of the dangers of travel to Nigeria. Nigeria has limited tourist facilities and conditions pose considerable risks to travelers:

 

Violent crime, committed by ordinary criminals, as well as by persons in police and military uniforms, can occur throughout the country. Kidnapping for ransom of persons associated with the petroleum sector, including U.S. citizens, remains common in the Niger Delta area.

Use of public transportation throughout Nigeria is dangerous and should be avoided. Taxis pose risks because of the possibility of fraudulent or criminal operators and poorly maintained vehicles. Most Nigerian airlines have aging fleets, and there are valid concerns that maintenance and operational procedures may be inadequate to ensure passenger safety.

Nigerian-based business, charity and other scams target foreigners worldwide and pose a danger of financial loss. Recipients pursuing such fraudulent offers risk physical harm if they come to Nigeria. Persons contemplating business deals in Nigeria are strongly urged to check with the U.S. Department of Commerce or the U.S. Department of State before providing any information or making any financial commitments. No one should provide personal financial or account information to unknown parties. An invitation to enter Nigeria without a visa is normally indicative of illegal activity. Under no circumstances should U.S. citizens travel to Nigeria without a valid visa. Furthermore, the ability of U.S. Embassy officers to extricate U.S. citizens from unlawful business deals and their consequences is extremely limited.

The Central Bank of Nigeria, where numerous fraudulent transactions allegedly are finalized with senior bureaucratic participation, purchased full page ads in a number of newspapers throughout the world and said, among other things, when referring to mail fraud:

 

"Unfortunately, the scam has continued unabated, even with increasing sophistication, because of the criminality, avarice and greed of the so-called victims of the scam, who are also villains. The bogus "business" proposals/deals which run into millions of US dollars manifest fraudulent intentions ab initio, which should ordinarily put any responsible and law abiding person on inquiry. However, driven by fraudulent tendency, greed and the urge to make quick and easy money at the expense of Nigeria, many of the so-called victims have continued to ignore the warning of the Central Bank of Nigeria, to the effect that such transactions are bogus and fraudulent." Central Bank of Nigeria, Samuel Ladoke Akintola Way. New York Daily News, September 4, 1997.

Naturally, when you have been caught "red handed" with your hand in the cookie jar, there is nowhere to turn but to blame the victim. Numerous lawsuits filed in the United States have indicated that the Central Bank of Nigeria was an active participant in these frauds and that without their total cooperation and endorsement, they could not take place. High officials of the Bank appear at closings, which have taken place within the confines of the Central Bank itself, giving the transaction credibility that it would not otherwise be able to generate.

 

Amnesty International also rates Nigeria at the bottom of the barrel when it comes to Human Rights activities regarding their own citizens. Amnesty has accused the Nigerian government of inventing pseudo revolutions in order to imprison dissidents and journalist whose views differ from that of the Government’s. They further accuse the administration of conducting trials of the prisoners in secret, not allowing visitation, not allowing access to doctors or lawyers, medical neglect and inhuman treatment.

 

Locally, those who stand up to the government seems to vanish from sight. The most vocal group historically has been the journalists, and last year alone, 40 of them were arrested by Nigerian Security forces. Media Rights Agenda, a Nigerian civil rights group, stated: "More journalists were arrested and detained or harassed and intimidated in other ways during the year, than any other in the history of Nigerian journalism."

 

And what has been done about the situation in Nigeria? Has the United Nations banished the country from its rooster of nations? Has the United States stopped buying oil from Nigeria? Has Britain stopped issuing Visas for its citizens to visit the country and run the risk of muggings and murder? Nigeria’s constitution requires free elections, but has any world organization demanded that they live up to their charter? Has the IMF called their loans, which are in default, and demanded payment of interest and principal? The answer is no to all of the above.

 

There are logical answers to each question; for example, the United States has embargoed oil from so many rogue nations that it does not want to further restrict its purchases. Additionally, Nigeria is well located logistically and is closer to the United States than other alternative sources. Nigeria was a member of the British Commonwealth of Nations, and as such free egress has been a historic right. Britain, in spite of suspending Nigeria from the Organization of Commonwealth Countries, is the largest exporter to Nigeria and does not want to jeopardize the foreign exchange that emanates from that country.

 

The United Nations is faced with countries that invade their neighbors, stockpile chemical weapons and build atomic bombs. Nigeria, a nation primarily inhabited by white-collar criminals, represents a refreshing relief from the day-to-day physical damage that countries inflict upon each other. Additionally, the United Nations is a strong believer in keeping dialog active and does not believe that banishment is an option. The IMF does not want to punish the citizens for acts of their government.

 

So we see that there are good reasons for letting this criminal element continue to rob, pillage and destroy innocent people. There will not soon be an end to Nigeria’s errant ways as the world nations have other fish to fry. An interesting epilogue to the Nigerian saga will not be written by its neighbors rising up in anger over the criminality, starvation and poverty found in one of the richest nations in the world. It will be the overthrow of the government by the country’s own military who feel that the 200,000 barrels of oil per day, diverted by the government to them is not an equitable share of the corruption pie. When the military rises up to throw out the present corrupt government, then and only then we will see the world take action.

 

Nigerians are very creative in originating unique methods of separating tourists from their money. One of the more common ploys is for criminals to don police outfits or in the alternative, military uniforms. They are approached and told varying stories depending upon the circumstances but they all tend to end the same way. One of the more rewarding stories for the criminals is the one that tells the unsuspecting travel that his documents are not in order. The traveler is further told that this could result in substantial jail time for illegal entry and that he was under arrest. When the tourist pleads for latitude, a price is worked out and the documents suddenly are once more in good shape. However, variations of this game are also played by legitimate police officers trying to make ends meet.

 

When asked whom they feared most in next year’s run-off for corrupt nation of the year, one Nigerian wag indicated that the country was Pakistan. He went on to say:

 

"It is difficult to make the judges understand that there is a difference between corruption and stupidity. We run a tight ship and work hard staying at the top of the heap relative to corruption, we run training programs from new people coming up the corruption ladder, and with our annual rectification program we are able to consistently weed out those that are not up to our high standards. Because those guys can’t get anything right, they get a lot of publicity for bungled jobs with no payoff. We don’t like to give them any more encouragement, but in spite of everything, they are tough competition, and we’re scared to death. They came up four places last year, and only Russia, Columbia and Bolivia stand between us now. These guys are rank amateurs when it comes to global corruption. What they do best is destroy their own country when we are attempting to cause damage on a global scale. They just aren’t in the same league, but yes, we’re plenty worried."

 

Last year brought incontrovertible good things to Nigeria in the award department. Not only were they awarded the equivalent of the Nobel Prize for Graft and Corruption, but late in they year they moved from the middle of the pack into first place in the run for the annual Hubris award. Britain banned Nigeria from the Commonwealth Meetings until they straightened their act out. Nigeria, not a shrinking violet, counterattacked with a demand for reparations from Britain for over 500 years of exploitation. Nigeria’s Minister of Information and Culture, Walter Ofonagoro, put their position in concise terms when he states, "Britain is known as a major dealer in slave trade, those who colonized us by force can not accuse us of human rights violations. They should hide their faces in shame." We don’t know how they are going to assess or collect damages, but that same day another event occurred.

 

Jenkins Alumona, the editor of a new Nigerian magazine was picked up after he broadcast a sports program. He was the editor of an opposition weekly magazine and was hauled off to jail without charges by Nigerian security police. He will probably find good company in his jail in the person of Moshood Abiola, who was a presidential claimant in 1993 and almost caused a revolution with some of his anti-government statements, or Soji Omotunde, Editor of the African Concord, who was hauled away in the dead of night by government security agents for reasons that have not been made public. For some unknown reason, his wife was shot to death while campaigning for his release. In a symbolic gesture, a New York Street on which the Nigerian Embassy is located was renamed after Abiola’s murdered wife. Lagos was not to be outdone and renamed the street on which the American Embassy sits after Nation of Islam leader, Louis Farrakan.

 

Neither we, nor Britain, would disagree with the statement that the British were in the slave trade, which undoubtedly created substantial dislocations and worse among those that lived in Nigeria at that time. It is hardly tit-for-tat when you arrest your own citizens in revenge for what happened over 200 years ago. But then again, in today’s Nigeria -- as it was in Alice and Wonderland -- anything goes and time just doesn’t matter, because it is never what you think it is.

 

The day that Nigeria came out with their vitriolic rapprochement of modern day Brits for things their ancestors did no less than 10 generations ago, Saudi Arabian Airlines suspended flights to parts of Nigeria because of armed assaults on its company officials at those locations. Incredibly, these people are fellow Moslems! What is the world coming to when there is no respect for one’s own religious brethren?

 

In spite of Nigeria rising ever higher in the listings of the rogue nations of the world, Nigeria is throwing a small party to celebrate the 4th anniversary of the current government’s illegal assent to power, the "World Conference of Mayors." Reports out of Nigeria state that mayors will be coming from all parts of the globe, including the United States and China. General Sani Abach, Nigeria’s despotic leader, has set up the meeting at more than 350 mayors are slated to attend. Neither the agenda of the conference, nor its purpose were disclosed to outsiders.

 

The only way these folks could get 350 mayors to set foot in Nigeria would be to give them body armor suits, an armored personnel carrier for transportation and the Swiss Guards for protection. Furthermore, the government would have to be willing to pay all of the expenses and have enough gold deposited in an offshore bank to set the attendees up for life before any politician would want to committee political "hara-kiri" just for a trip to Africa. Can you image the local mayor returning to his hometown and trying to explain what could have possibly learned in Nigeria? "Well, we learned how to increase the city’s revenue base by offering a tax abatement to criminals to induce them to operate their scams right here in downtown Gotham, in exchange for a percentage of their take."

 

Sadly, it all had to come to end one way or the other it seems that Nigeria’s President General Sani Abacha, a Christian, had a bad habit of hanging around with women of the night. He kind of hung around and hung around and hung around. Some in the know say that his wife became infuriated with his hanging around and did him in with poison, which is the story our sources tell us is the fact. On the other hand, some people say that it was his political opponents who poisoned him, and some are naively stating that the poor man died of a heart attack. In spite of all these contradictory stories, the man was with three young women who were in the business of selling their bodies for a price when he died after drinking a glass of orange juice that had been laced with some very strong stuff. There was no outpouring of grief at his demise and the authorities announced no national holiday. In the we couldn’t have said it better department:

 

"Yeah, he’s dead, but his legacy lives on. As Nigeria’s seventh military dictator, Sani Abacha took destitution, murder, repression, corruption and greed to a new stratosphere. This guy made Idi Amin look like a bona fide Berkeley philanthropist. The fat man was unscrupulous, power mad and paranoid. He rarely left Nigeria (who the hell would have him over for a state dinner anyhow?) and was involved in the last three coup attempts before finally taking the government’s reigns on November 178, 1993. His first act was to abolish all democratic institutions, including the senate, the national assembly ad the state councils. As well, he banned all political parties. He swept in military rule and purge the government of all civilians and the army officers loyal to former president Major General Ibrahim Babangida, who himself seized power through a coup in August 1985. Without any political or ideological agenda at all, Abacha, busied himself stuffing his pockets with embezzled cash – and ling those of the brown-nosing northern primroses – and executing dissidents. On March 22, 1999, $75 million in missing state funds was located and recovered from former state ministers, cronies and relatives of Abacha. Those seizures brought the total amount recovered to date from Abacha’s heist to just over $760 million. This guy may have been no Suharto ($15 billion) Mabuto Sese Seko ($5 billion), Haile Selassie ($2 billion) or Marcos ($10 billion) but Abacha could definitely get invited to the same blackjack table as Baby Doc Duvalier – who ripped off Haiti for $500 million." ()

Strangely, Moshood Abiola, a man who had won the Nigerian Presidency in 1993, only to be denied office by the army, also passed away about the same time, and the rioting caused by his death’s suspicious nature has not stopped. Many have died in the aftermath of both incidents, but there was a great difference between the two. Abiola was a Muslim from the south of Nigeria whose family had a great deal of wealth; he died in prison, where he had been held since his aborted run at the presidency. Although he had been terribly mistreated while incarcerated, it is more likely than not his was a case of a heart attack. This is not going to appease the populous, which will not believe the results of the planned autopsy. We can only hope that -- in spite of the untimely death of Abiola -- someone else arises to take charge of this racially divided country of immense potential, but incomprehensible record of underachievement.

 

Of the immense oil riches extracted from this country, one can ask how much of that has filtered down to the country’s poor; the answer is literally none. The standard of living in Nigeria does nothing but recede every year, and what is most amazing about this country is the fact that no one has enough oil to provide the energy to keep themselves warm or to even cook their food. However, vast oil pipelines run throughout the country, sending the oil pumped by Nigeria’s wells to tankers waiting at the docks to deliver their cargo for transshipment to oil-starved countries abroad. Because these pipelines are ubiquitous, they seem to offer a deadly alternative to the inhabitants; cut a hole in the pipeline, drain out some oil and take care of one’s family.

 

Not so easy, for more often than not, the severing of the pipeline causes sparks which ignites the oil. Usually, many people are killed as the explosions rock the countryside up and down the pipeline from the point of explosion. Whole villages have been annihilated, and in most cases the bodies are so mutilated and charred they cannot be identified. The only loss the government seems to feel is that of the liquid gold. The people are not worth a second glance.

 

"Vandals, youths and "rebels" routinely tap Nigeria’s fuel pipelines for the much needed gasoline they can’t find anywhere else. On October 17, 1998, at on brick pumping station in Ataiworo, a valve some of the vandals were siphoning from got stuck open. Gasoline came gushing from the pipeline, drawing entire villages packed down with pop bottles and buckets to collect the bounty. Then some idiot decided to play Marlboro Man and lit a fag. In Nigeria’s biggest human disaster, more than 700 people were killed in the ensuing fireball. A thousand more, barely alive, lay hideously charred in the local hospital. Their families snatched them from their beds as rumors spread that the pilferers would be arrested." ()

Abacha’s demise brought surprisingly brought what many called a better life to one in six Africans (). Olusegun Obasanjo became the new president in May of 1999 and got off to a poor start when during the inauguration of the brand new House Chamber the roof collapsed sending asbestos showering down on the entire legislature. However, in spite of the government’s inauspicious beginning, Obasanjo ran a reasonable uncorrupt government, at least for Nigeria. The country was being led toward democracy by an increasingly free press. One is now seemingly setting Nigeria apart from many of her neighbors is the tremendous interest of her people in what is going on. Historically, in Africa and elsewhere for that matter, the press is only a tool in the government’s hand, which is used to convey the particular "truth" being espoused by the government in power. Newspapers have become an awesome propaganda weapon, which is used to keep the people, confused, afraid and docile.

 

People in Africa have learned the sad lesson that on that continent, at least, for the most part, these so called newspapers are mere propaganda documents, issued by the government to state a particular point, the truth of the statement is not an issue. The ability of the press to operate freely has become the best signal that things are changing dramatically, and in Nigeria, in spite of the fact that there seems no abatement in their schemes to separate foreigners from their money from their money. Moreover, this is a far cry from what was called "guerrilla journalism" which was practiced during the reign of Abacha. Printing presses were destroyed by Abacha as quickly as they could be located so that different presses were used nearly every night.

 

"Before, the goal of newspapers was to fight against the military, and journalism, facts even, were often secondary." Said Ide Eguabor editor in chief of the National Interest, a daily. "Now we must change. We must get back to the basics of journalism. We must get away from political motives. Our newspapers must be allowed to mature." ()

 

Today may well be the brighter tomorrow that Nigerians had dreamed about, but there are still so many problems in the country that it could easily slip back into military rule at any time. Poverty is ubiquitous, health care is only for the rich in the large cities, and good food is only available for a price. Now that the people have achieved a modicum of freedom, they may soon be wanting financial health, and that may be easier said than done.

 

Brunei

 

The 56-year-old Sultan of Brunei, Hassanal Bokiah, a man that is known in these parts only as "His Majesty" rules the country both benevolently but with an iron fist. His yearly income from oil produced in this tiny country, which is located on the Island of Borneo, is almost incomprehensible and shows no particular signs of slowing down as oil prices have recently gone through the roof. His family has been ruling this Delaware sized country of about 300,000, for six centuries, and is probably the longest reigning dynasty on earth. The country is so small that it does not even have a central bank but that hardly seemed necessary when the royal family kept most of their assets in cash. The government is supposed to be a constitutional monarchy but that is hardly the case. While "His Majesty" is not a bad sort, he suspended the country’s legislature in 1962 because of revolutionary fears and neither the legislature nor the country's constitution has ever shown the slightest sign of reappearing in the almost 40-years since.

 

Because of this suspension of various governmental activities, the overworked Sultan of Brunei has had to take on new responsibilities on a regular basis. When one of his lieutenants dies, there is no government in place to a name a successor and naturally, the job falls on the broad shoulders of Hassanal himself. "He has become the self-appointed prime minister, finance minister, defense minister, police superintendent and chancellor of the national university. However, autocracy has been good to Bruneians. They pay no income tax. Education and health care are virtually free. And despite its generosity, Brunei’s government has no debt." () This is an amazing statistic when you add to that, the fact that fully one-half of the employed people of Brunei work for the government.

 

The royal family’s fortunes had a major uptick when oil was discovered here in 1929. Since that date, the flow of approximately 207,000 barrels of oil a day () has been unceasing and many had believed that it would continue forever. This will certainly not be the case, and as time runs out, alternatives are hurriedly being sought to replace that dependence. However, the Sultan has seen to it that his people have been benevolently taken care of from the substantial amount of oil that the country’s wells are still producing. With that kind of income, if a little slips through the cracks now and then is not a major concern. A wise ruler knows there is always plenty more behind that and what’s the big deal about some falling between the cracks every now and then? The oil riches provided the good life for the king as well as his polo playing, loyal brother Jefri and their families -- and when we say the good life, we really, really mean the good life. The brothers are not beyond importing top Hollywood female stars, models and actors like Michael Jackson for semi-private sessions, both for bedroom and ballroom activities.

 

Among other recent sexual imports was a former Miss USA who was flown in along with a cadre of other pretties, each better looking than the next. However, it appears that they were not told what they would be doing in Brunei and whom they would be doing it for. Apparently, these unsuspecting girls believed that they were being flown to Brunei and paid fantastic salaries for their sterling abilities at conversation. Officials who were paying the ladies the big bucks expected that they understood the fact that they would be performing sexual gymnastics for both the Sultan and his brother, but that was somehow, those facts got lost in the fine print in the contract and the American girls promptly filed a lawsuit on returning to this country, charging that they were being held in Brunei as sex slaves. The lawsuit was naturally dismissed because all of the named parties claimed diplomatic immunity. Beside his regular assortment of beautiful imports, the Sultan has two wives, each with a magnificent castle to keep them warm on nights when "His Majesty" is out with the boys or the girls as the case may be. One of the castles is a small item of 1,788 rooms that is larger than the Vatican.

 

Beautiful women were not the only substantive import that regularly arrived in Brunei. Argentina had created a literal shuttle of magnificently expensive polo ponies that seemed to satisfy the royal families taste for the best in everything including their love of the that game. The Jerudong Park Polo Club with its immaculate landscape, its exotic stables and magnificent clubhouse looked more like a castle than a playing field. The six hundred-room hotel that is located within the Jerudong complex cost a cool billion dollars to build and the gold leaf that is on its wall is the real McCoy. Other odds and ends that adorn the polo complex are a massive saltwater lagoon; a Jack Nicklaus designed gold course and one of the highest-tech amusement parks on earth. All-important toys for the Sultan when he needs a change of pace from his busy schedule.

 

Moreover, the country has an infrastructure that just does not stop. You see, the King’s loyal brother owned this construction company, Amedeo and that company employs nearly 10% of the people in the country all by itself, and it built and built and built without any sign of slowing down. But hark, the King has closed the company, leaving unpaid bills of almost $1 billion and unfinished construction of nearly $3 billion. Worst of all, the people who were once working for the King’s brother are now out of work, which takes Brunei from the nation with the lowest unemployment up to the level of the socialized Europeans, like Germany and France, in one fell swoop. Moreover, Royal Brother Jefri, the First Brother who had always been so loyal and built the infrastructure, well, nobody has heard from him for a long time. Then there are the ugly rumors that, having stolen about $30 billion; he had taken off to start his own country. It’s just a business.

 

Recently it came to light that in addition to the almost $4 billion hole in the dike at Amedeo, there is also a short fall of somewhere between $3 and $4 billion dollars at the Brunei Investment Agency and another $5 billion loss on the family’s investments in Asia. These companies were also under the aegis of good prince Jefri. The First Brother also helped out various regional governments in what appears to be a non-refundable loan of $2 billion and oversaw Brunei’s foolhardy attempt to stabilize local currencies, including those of Malaysia, Thailand, Indonesia and Singapore, with almost kamikaze like tenacity.

 

We really can’t comment on that one, but on each plane arriving in Brunei, it seems as though is the only ones getting off the airplanes are accountants carrying their ever present black bags that contain ominous accoutrements such as paper, pencils and adding machines. Brunei it seems, also has another mysterious company whose workings were unknown to the general public. This company was known was the Brunei Investment Agency, (BIA) which is in charge of investing the money from the country’s oil income and run by the King’s loyal brother, Jefri who was also in charge at Amedeo Development. While the Sultan may have enjoyed Jefri company at sexual festivities, as a person anointed to handle the country’s finances, Jefri was an unmitigated disaster and much of Brunei’s oil income mysteriously found its way in his pockets.

 

Moreover, Jefri had indeed been making a bunch or really bad investments while simultaneously pocketing a substantial amount of green. However, eventually the men with the black bags were able to determine where the money had gone and when his big brother got the appalling news, he was told that the party was at end. A deal was eventually worked out between the brothers that Jefri would give back all of the money he had slipped into his pockets in a reasonably constructed exchange for a combination of not being executed and the small allowance of $300,000 per month. A big comedown for the hard charging Jefri, but on the other hand, the alternative would have been even worse.

 

These acts are estimated by the accountants with their black bags to have cost a country that many of them had never even heard of, something on the order of tens of billions of dollars. Add to that, the futile cost of the peg that the Brunei was continuing to protect, between Brunei’s currency and the Singapore dollar. As Senator Everett Dirkson said many years ago about the U.S. budget, "A billion here and billion there, and soon you are talking about real money." When the accountants finally gave the Sultan, the news of how bad things had gotten, he was literally reduced to tears, but naturally, he was unwilling to give up none of his toys and certainly cannot be blamed for that. Instead, he came up with the fabulous idea of giving tourists rides on his fabled polo ponies for $20 a pop.

 

This he indicated would replace the treasury’s shortfall in no time at all. (The Sultan obviously never studied mathematics economics. When the accountants explained to him that it would take upwards of three-thousand millennia to balance the country’s books with that scheme, he wondered out loud that if also allowed them to have tours of the palace, the polo grounds, and the castles, maybe this would make ends meet. Worst of all, the country was forced to issue bonds for the first time in its history along with allowing tourists to play golf at Sultan’s own fabled Jack Nicklaus course and take in the rides at the Sultan’s personal amusement park.

 

"His Majesty" believed that the world had come to an end and blamed his brother for the whole catastrophe. The Sultan had come to the conclusion that tourism was a viable alternative to the black gold that the country had been pumping for over 70-years. After all, the Sultan said, we are right next door to the Borneo Rain Forests and after the tourists get all wet trumping through the mud, they will want to relax in our billion-dollar hotel and play golf on our first-class Jack Nicklaus Gold Course. "Not so fast," said the tourism consultants. First of all, the prices here in Brunei are sky high, this country can certainly not be sold as a bargain resort and in the meantime, what about the fact liquor is totally banned in this country, which probably eliminates any chance of attracting a substantial number of the world alcoholics, a significant population in itself.

 

It was further pointed out, that the country was probably 17 hours by plane from any location on the American continent, a long drink of water not to be able to at least get a glass of wine. One of the tourism consultants suggested that if the King wanted to provide sex shows to visitors, the country could become a sexual Disney Land. This suggestion was immediately quashed because of Muslim law, which bans this type of activity. Another idea that was immediately vetoed was to tell the world of a delicacy that can only be found in Borneo. This extraordinary dish consists of "Sago worms (actually big fat beetle larvae)…These larvae are creamy white and usually fried so that they are crispy outside and creamy soft inside." () Although the Sultan found it hard to believe, his public relations people indicated that tourists would not be enthusiastic to know that the Sago worms were considered tasty in Borneo. Another idea of the Sultans that was rejected equally out of hand was the fact that Brunei restaurants serve the best Monitor Lizard soufflé on the entire island of Borneo.

 

A trove of other formerly inconceivable concepts were put on the drawing board. These included a massive series of privatizations including the country’s telephone system and airport. This proposal although seemingly logical was temporarily dismissed because the country has no facility to act as a sales agent for such a grandiose scheme. It was pointed out that first, however, Brunei has to develop its own stock market to facilitate these transactions. Discussion had reached the point to frenzy and an unheard of concept, toll roads was put on the table and unanimously accepted by the planning board. In spite of many roads not going very fair and leading nowhere, construction of the nation’s first is expected to be started soon.

 

The Brunei Government, employer of last resort, has given up that role and has frozen hiring. "The government has replaced its pension plan with a national fund that applies to non-government workers as well, all to encourage more civil servants to take the plunge to the private market. In another move intended to bring the country some independence from oil, the government is pushing shrimp and poultry farms along with dot-coms and pharmaceutical research, according to Matdana Jaafar, director of the ministry’s planning and industrial promotion department." () The Sultan indicated that the people of Brunei were both industrious and highly educated, and if fired from their jobs with no unemployment insurance available, they would be resourceful and start building private industries, which would eventually become meaningful.

 

Recessions and theft are things that sometimes occur at the worst of all times, this all happened during a period that the oil market was about as low as it had been since before the Ten Day War. The country was already called a "Shellfare State," after the Western oil company that was so important in bringing so much bacon home to Brunei, Shell Oil Company. Maybe now the Sultan will sell the Plaza Hotel in New York, the Beverly Hills Hotel in Los Angeles or better yet the Dorchester in London, and use the money to bail out the country. However, at last report, while tourism has laid an egg, oil prices have risen substantially and many of these projects have been put on hold.

 

The Hunt Brothers

 

Now that we have seen some really greedy and powerful people in action, and we are going to take a quick look at must be considered by any reasonable act of abject stupidity. Occasionally we find a group that is so guilty of criminal stupidity that they deserve special attention. This is the twisted story of the bizarre Hunt Brothers from Texas, Nelson and Bunker, already extremely wealthy from vast oil holdings inherited from their father, who came up with the theory that they could corner the global silver market.

In their anxiety to move the scheme along, they failed to take into consideration any of the economic factors that determined the precious metal’s price. Material elasticity is defined as the fact that their are enormous amounts of silver everywhere on the globe that do not have to mined, but can simply be melted down if the right price; this silver is not just in the ground and bonded commodity warehouses, but is also in candle holders, silverware, tea servers, coins and countless other things that -- once above their intrinsic value in price -- become prime candidates for the metal pot.

 

Not knowing that their plan was doomed before it got off the ground, the Hunt dynamic duo failed to consider that, as the price rose, there would became alternatives to silver. For purposes of the future’s market -- where the Hunt’s were primarily making their bets -- silver could easily be de-converted and delivered against the futures purchases the brothers had made. They also did not count on the fact that at certain prices, there were people just as rich as they were that would start betting that they were very mistaken in their quest. In addition, while many of the world’s silver mines could not operate profitably at the prices that silver had been selling at, when the Hunts got finished manipulating the price, they could all reopen and operate at a profit. The Hunt’s ultimately lost their gamble and declared bankruptcy in one of the most peculiar court cases in judicial history. When the smoke had cleared, an enormous transfer of wealth had occurred from the pockets of the Hunts to everyone that had made a bet that they would ultimately fail.

As the price of silver reached stratospheric levels, people started collecting their valuables, coins, candle sticks, sterling silverware, medals -- anything that could contain even traces of the metal. They would line up in front of the converters, such as Handy and Harman, a company that could melt down the family heirlooms, to exchange such decorative items for cash. Silver continued its climb as the brothers pursued their Quixotic quest. It seems that the brokerage firm Bache & Company (now Prudential Bache), which was then the second largest investment banking firm in the United States, had lent the brothers $200 million, using the silver contracts they had purchased at higher prices as collateral.

 

Bache informed the Federal Reserve that if silver declined further, the brokerage firm would collapse, bringing down their customers’ accounts as well. The failure of a firm of this size would have been enough to throw the financial markets into disarray on its own, but even worse news was on the way. Sixteen American and foreign banks and five brokerage firms had loaned $800 million to the reckless Hunt brothers. An additional drop in the price of silver could close the doors of at least three of the five largest broker dealers and several of the major banks.

 

Not having caused enough damage, the Brothers Hunt also purchased options on almost 20 million ounces of silver from Engelhard Corporation for future delivery. Had the Hunts not paid $665 million dollars immediately, they would have defaulted, and Engelhard would have been forced to liquidate the unpaid contracts in the open market, without a doubt causing absolute free-fall. Picture the scene: twelve banks, five investment brokers and Engelhard all trying to unload about $2.5 billion dollars of silver simultaneously, while trying to get out without its value – since that was their collateral.

 

If it wasn’t ultimately so tragic, it would have been a funny scene to witness. Unfortunately, at that point in time, there probably wasn’t enough buying power in the world to purchase that much silver. Faced with the insolvable and with full knowledge that the American financial system could collapse if the situation was mishandled, the Federal Reserve stepped in and forced the parties to negotiate in round the clock negotiating sessions. Ultimately, with the Fed.’s blessing, the banks were allowed to extend their loans to the Hunt Brothers over an additional ten years, and they were allowed to borrow enough additional money to pay of Engelhard.

 

Although the economy was saved and many people profited substantially at the deadly duo’s expense, it became one of the most unpopular actions ever taken by the Federal Reserve, due to the fact that most of America believed the Hunts should do substantial penance over their stupidity. Why should the public be a party to a bailout of two rich guys that were attempting to hold the world’s silver supply hostage? Why should the American People bail out six brokerage houses dumb enough to make one of the worst bets in American financial history and why should the American people bail out the banks that were told by the Fed only weeks before to, "not to make speculative loans."

 

Had the Hunt’s won, a commodity that is used in many of our day-to-day pursuits, such is in film and in filing dental cavities, would become so costly that unacceptable substitutes would have been required. Had they lost and the Fed not forced a settlement, the financial markets would be forced into chaos. In any event, the Fed stepped in because part of the requirement to help bail everyone out involved bending banking regulations for (i.e., the villainous Hunt Brothers) that the public deemed not saving.

 

The sequel to the story is that even with these better terms, the Hunt Brothers could not repay the loan, and they were forced in bankruptcy. Silver has never recovered to anywhere near what it sold for during that short period in global financial history, and it probably will never reach those heights in the lifetime of even the youngest reader of this missive. The Hunts, who probably never had a useful idea in their lives and whose reputations were totally built on their father’s oil prowess, showed everyone that cared how easy it was to fritter away billions of dollars and destroy an empire that took a lifetime to create.

 

Spills and Chills

 

Environmentally, oil is better than many of its alternatives, but for the most part, this liquid gold has to be transported great distances by sea and at best, accidents will sometimes happen. You can remember in both the case of the Santa Barbara oil spill and the catastrophic problems created by the Exxon Valdez disaster the pictures we saw on television of oily birds that could not fly and black oil balls all over pristine beaches were appalling. What a mess, and what a public relations disaster for the oil companies and the shippers.

 

An interesting list of world-class oil spills appeared in article by Infonautics Corporation entitled World’s worst oil disasters written on 2/21/1996:

 

    1. The biggest oil spill in history occurred in July 1979, when a collision off Tobago between two supertankers – the Atlantic Empress and the Aegean Captain –released 250,000 tons of crude.
    2. On March 1967 the Torry Canyon ran aground off Land’s End, leaking 120,000 tons of crude. The damage inflicted on wildlife and beaches awoke the world to the hazards of tanker transportation.
    3. On March 1978 the Amoco Cadiz discharged 223,000 tons of crude, polluting 186 miles of Brittany coast.
    4. On March 1989 the Exxon Valdez struck a reef at Port William Sound, Alaska, and leaked 38,000 tons of crude, causing $15 billion in damage.
    5. On January 1993, the Braer spilt almost all of its 85,000-ton cargo into the seas around Shetland, Great Britain.

 

Attempts have been made to avoid such problems by making the ships that carry oil more responsible, building them with protective double-hulls, increasing the insurance they have to carry and a whole raft of other things that -- when all is said and done -- will just not work. More and more oil is shipped every day to an energy hungry world, and as the shipping lanes become more clogged, the chances of disaster increase geometrically. Although the damage that is done by these spills is righted by nature over an extended period of time, the sea is somewhat like a blotter, that when it can hold no more, it can hold no more. We will soon reach that point.

 

"The Exxon Valdez spill was the event that tipped the balance in favor of more stringent oil spill legislation. Perhaps the most spectacular outcome of the Exxon Valdez spill was the House’s shift to adopt the Senate’s protection of state liability systems. As a concession to those supporting uniform international liability and compensation systems, the final act did endorse the United States’ participation in oil spill conventions, but the law was passed with the knowledge that state liability regimes did not confirm with international liability regimes. With the preemption issue settled, the legislation passed and President Bush signed the Oil Pollution Act of 1990 into law on august 18, 1990. APA provides for tougher penalties and liability for oil spillers, allocates more resources for dealing with spills, and places more responsibility on the executive branch to respond to oil spill incidents promptly….OPA 90 also created a spill cleanup fund by consolidating three smaller funds that were financed differently and served different purposes. It also created a $1 billion fund, which, while smaller than needed in an Exxon Valdez-size event, at least approaches the costs of clearing up large spills." ()

 

 

Norway

 

Norway’s history goes back about 14,000 years, to a time when it was inhabited by a Paleolithic culture that were able to survive through their expertise in hunting and fishing. As the years progressed, the country began to be colonized by people from neighboring Denmark and Sweden who put down their roots and farmed what little land there was that was tillable. It was from these settlers that the Germanically oriented language of Norway was derived. Early on, Alexander the Great sent an exploration team headed by Pytheas of Massalia, who took a glance at Norway with a view toward inventorying their assets, and was not excited about the country’s prospects. Norway provided excellent protection for the settlers, from roving bands of invaders due to its rugged geographical makeup, containing defensible positions between steep mountain ranges and the sea. Because of the convenient security parameters, a large number of fiefdoms sprung up in the country, and for the most part, there was little communication between the thirty or so individual kingdoms that made up the population of the country by the fifth century A.D.

 

One third of the country lies inside of the Article Circle and its ratio of coastline to total landmass places it in first position in the world in this category. In spite of its northern location, the warm waters of the Atlantic that pass close to its coasts keep the temperature in the country moderate. The population for the most part is homogeneous and small, being that less than 4 ½ million people live here. Norway has no really large cities, with Oslo the capital having about 500,000. The next largest city, Bergen has only half of that population. Almost everyone in the country is Evangelical Lutheran, but in spite of that fact, the country allows total religious freedom and is non-sectarian. Norway has no illiteracy as children are obligated to go to school until they are at least 15-years old.

 

Norway is geographically, a narrow country bordered on one side by high mountain ranges and on the other by the sea. Not illogically, most of the country’s population gravitated life within a stone’s throw of the sea. The people soon became prodigious sailors, learning quickly in the perilous fiords that offered excess to the sea, or they perished. Eventually, there was some amalgamation of the petty kingdoms that comprised Norway and shipbuilding, exploring and plundering neighboring peoples became the order of the day. The growing of agricultural products is almost impossible in this country with its rocky landscape and currently this industry comprises only 2% of Norway’s gross domestic product. However, fishing is almost four times as economically important as agriculture and the Norwegians are prodigious consumers of fish products.

 

Their ships were exceptional structures for that time and it allowed the Vikings, as these people were now called on to extend their reach dramatically. They explored great distances and were the first to visit North America. In addition, their sailors even visited places as far away as Russia. Viking men were allowed to be polygamous if they were rich enough to afford it and this practice was carried on through the 13th century. Marriages were arranged, nevertheless, if the bride was exceptional, there had to be a substantial bonus paid her parents. Moreover, God save the woman that married without parental permission, the husband was declared a criminal and became a free target for anyone in her family to assassinate without fear of retribution.

 

Divorce for men was simple, being only a matter of stating that they were no longer married, however, unless they had good and sufficient reason, this action could also became fair game for the bride’s family. Nevertheless, no one seems to know on what basis and by whom, good and sufficient reason was determined. Cross-dressing or anything close to that was ample reason for divorce and if a wife was caught in an affair, her paramour also became potential cannon fodder, however, in many places on earth, this is still true today. These people were settlers as well and their descendents were the Normans that ruled extensive parts of France. In addition, they settled in Ireland (), Iceland and Britain. King Harald the first in the 9th century, ascended the Norwegian Throne as a child was eventually able to unite the entire country under his banner.

 

"In 800 Norway was a conglomeration of thirty-one principalities, separated by mountains, rivers, or fjords, and each ruled by a warrior chief. About 850, one such leader, Halfdan the Black, from his capital at Trondheim, subdued most of the others, and became Norway’s first king. His son, Harald Haarfager (860 – 933) was challenged by rebellious chieftains; the Gyda whom he wooed marry him until he should conquer all Norway; he wooed never to clip or comb his hair till it was done; he accomplished it in ten years, married Gyda and nine other women, cut his hair, and received his distinguishing name – the Fair-haired…"( )

However, a united Norway only survived for a concise period of time as Harald’s sons were a rancorous bunch and couldn’t agree on even the smallest concept. This warring faction subdivided the country in 940 and each came away with a piece. Even this division did not make anyone happy and it initiated a period of unrest as each of the country’s fiefdoms went their individual own ways. In addition, some of these small political subdivisions became extremely territorial and attempted to attempted to expand their reach. Simultaneously, both Sweden and Denmark, noticing the chaos started to carve out small pieces of the choice parts of this disunited country for themselves. However, Olaf the first who was a great-grandson of Harald the first eventually grabbed the Norwegian thrown and attempted to do two things, the first was to turn this land of heathens into proper Christians and the second item on his agenda was to unite the country. To a substantial degree, he was highly successful at both. However, Olaf was a hot head and he got into a bitter argument with neighboring King Sweyn of Denmark and went to war with him. That impetuous action turned out to be Olaf’s last mistake, as he became one of the first fatalities of that action.

 

"Olaf son of Tryggve, was a great grandson of Harald of the Fair Hair. He was a "very merry frolicsome man," said Snorri of Iceland, "gay and social, very generous, and finical in his dress… stout and strong, the handsomest of men, excelling in bodily exercises every Northman that ever heard of." He could run across the oars outside his ship while men were rowing; could juggle three sharp-pointed daggers, could cast two spears at once, and "could cut equally well with either hand." Many a quarrel he had, and many an adventure. While in the British Isles he was converted to Christianity, and became its merciless advocate. When he was made King of Norway (995) he destroyed pagan temples, built Christian churches, and continued to live in polygamy…" ()

Norway was getting a reputation for regularly coming apart at the seams every time a small war broke out or one of their leaders died. Moreover, they soon found themselves in that position once again until Olaf’s offspring, Olaf II was able to anoint himself the boss. This fellah was a real zealot and firmly believed that the only good non-Christians were dead ones and soon went on a mission to show one and all that he practiced what he preached. Olaf II was able to carve out some important pieces of real estate for Norway, but he was an early over-reacher who couldn’t ever seem to cross the finish line and soon had his head handed to him on a platter. You see, at that time, not everyone in Norway believed that Christianity was what it was cracked up. Additionally, they certainly weren’t interested in being proselytized by Olaf II who they considered to be a barbarian. Olaf II was summarily dispatched by the people to far away Russia, along with some of his fanatical religious cohorts.

 

However, Olaf II didn’t really know when he was well off. While pleasantly ensconced in Russia he began brooding over his lost empire and then began to think about all of the heathens that still needed conversion. In his last disastrous move, he raised a small army and returned to Norway, believing that there would be no problem reascending the throne. Wrong, Olaf! It turns out that both England and Denmark were united at this time under the leadership of a guy with the strange name of Canute II, the Great. He insisted that everyone call him "the Great" in spite of the fact that no one really knew what if anything he had accomplished. However, Canute II, the Great, had a very large army that for some reason was extremely loyal to him and for that reason the people deemed it imperative to label with any name he wanted.

 

"Social order among the Norse, as elsewhere, was based upon family discipline, economic co-operation, and religious belief. "In him who well considers," says a passage in Beowulf, "nothing can stifle kinship." Unwanted children were exposed to die; but once accepted, the child received a judicious compound of discipline and love. There were no family names; each son merely added his father’s name to his own: Olaf Haraldsson, Magnus Olafsson, Haakon Magnusson. Long before Christianity came to them, the Scandinavians, in naming a child, poured water over him as a symbol of admission into the family." ()

Well, it turned out that Olaf II had disrespected Canute II at a fancy dinner party in Saxony and Canute never got over it. Moreover, when Olaf returned to Norway with his small army in 1028, Canute was there to greet him with his large army and he was soon dispatched. It was in this way that Canute became the unbridled King of Norway, Denmark and Britain simultaneously. The rest is history, Canute had done him in, but the deceased Olaf really got the last laugh. The people of Norway believed that he had put up a bully effort and the Church concurred. Olaf was canonized for his efforts and literally became a religious icon in that country. Canute, having dispatched Olaf, returned to Britain and died. This gave Magnus I, Olaf’s son, who had been left in Russia to cool his while daddy fought the bad people, the opportunity to run the country. He did a credible job and was able to unite both Norway and Denmark under his rule () in 1035 when Canute died.

 

In any event, things became peaceful for a change in Norway and for the next three centuries a series of kings ran the country. This is not to say that during this time, there wasn’t a lot of dissention. The local bureaucrats running Norway were just like a bunch of peacocks strutting their stuff whenever they had a chance to prance around the barnyard. These folks who always were feeling much more important than they were, caused everyone a lot of grief, but eventually this annoying pretence was put to bed. The people finally got the demons out of themselves and became Christian and during the middle of the 11th century Harald III ascended to the Norway’s throne. One of Harald’s buddies was William the First, Duke of Normandy. In reality, they were probably distantly related. In any event, Bill had been the England and had really enjoyed a summer there.

 

He called Harald, who was always willing to get involved in fun things, and asked him if he would like to help with the invasion of England that Bill was planning if he was given the thrown if successful. Bill advised Harald that he had already secured the Pope’s blessing for the invasion and that seemed to seal the deal, at least in William’s mind. However, in all candor, Harald was a trifle bored and jumped at Bill’s offer. In a pitched battle at Tostig, in 1066, William conquered England and Harald died. For the Norman’s it was a good year, but it wasn’t so great for the Norwegians. When they asked for their share of the plunder, William said they had nothing coming because it was all promised to Harald. If he could arise from the dead, he could do what he wanted with it. In spite of many incantations, that did not happen, and the Norwegians felt that they had been cheated by the new English King, that could no even speak the language.

 

This must have been some battle in which Harald was killed and because warfare of that time was so violent we are enclosing a small taste:

 

"Harold was appointed Earl of Wessex, and succeeded in some measure to his father’s power. He was now thirty-one, tall, handsome, strong, gallant, reckless; merciless in war, generous in peace. In a whirlwind of bold campaigns he conquered Wales for England, and presented the head of the Welsh Chieftain Gruffyd to the pleased and horrified King (1063)…Harold (the then ruler of Britain) moved south with a diminished force far too small to pit against William’s host, and every adviser bade him wait. But William was burning and harrowing southern England, and Harold felt bound to defend the soil that he once had ravaged but now loved. At Senlac, near Hastings, the two armies met on October 14, 1066, and fought for nine hours. Harold, his eye pierced by an arrow, fell blinded with blood, and was dismembered by Norman knights: one cut off his head, another a leg, another scattered Harold’s entrails over the field. When the English saw their captain fallen, they fled. So great were the butchery and chaos that the monks who were later commissioned to find Harold’s body could not discover him until they led to the scene Edith Swansneck, who had been his mistress. She identified her lover’s mutilated body, and the fragments were buried in the church at Waltham that he had build. On Christmas Day, 1066, William I was crowned King of England." ()

With Harald’s death, things were once again up for grabs in Norway. The politicos thought that the Church was getting a tad to pushy and relegated the institution to a lessor role for the next several hundred years. Although, we can’t say for sure, Norway prospered during the time that the church had been muted and did not suffer as badly during the Dark Ages as did others. As a matter of fact, during that period, the Norwegians attacked an unpopulated Iceland and were victorious in a pitched battle. Their victory, the first since the Vikings a number of centuries earlier was widely heralded as tidings of good things to come. However, no additional "good things" happened for a substantial period of time and Norway went into a swan dive. The Hanseatic League, a combination of the large cities in Europe, took over all commerce and left Norway out when they found that they didn’t have any. Things soon went from bad to worse, and the country soon became a land of peasants and worse.

 

Sweden’s, their next-door neighbor had long coveted the country along with its nifty geographic position on the Atlantic Ocean’s warm water ports, and took over the country in 1319. However, they soon lost interest when they found out that they would have to feed the Norwegians and left. Denmark stepped into the void, which had occurred as a direct result of Hakon V’s death and the ascension of the three-year old son of Hakon’s daughter, Magnus II. He had presented powerful arguments persuasively pointing out that he could do a superb job running both countries. However, because Magnus was still cutting new baby teeth and was unable to personally debate at that time, mom ably took over the job by reading from a complicated script that Magnus II had prepared. Mom, Margaret I, also saw to it that Magnus went to the bathroom regularly. Magnus, through his agent, had raised some strong philosophical arguments in favor of the combination and Norway did not have anyone that could both refute the philosophy or take on Sweden’s strong army simultaneously .

 

As if the reign of Magnus II wasn’t hard enough to follow, things soon got even stranger still. Margaret I, the mother of Magnus II, grabbed the throne when her soon died and ruled Denmark, Sweden and Norway. However, not everyone was excited about this turn of events and when faced with insurrection went to her German relatives who suggested that they would help but she had to resign. Having been left with the choice of resignation or being beheaded by the revolutionaries, left the thrown to her grandnephew, Eric of Pomerania, a German national. Under his fearless leadership, Norway was relegated to becoming a vassal state of Denmark. Everybody lost interest in Norway, which became devastated by a disease called the "Black Death" which savaged all of Europe. Norway was defoliated and with no people to handle the country, Norway soon descending into the ranks of a fourth class country ().

 

The Union between Denmark and Sweden with Norway playing the role of "odd man out" continued until the time of Napoleon. Denmark chose the wrong side in a series of wars that Napoleon fought and as a result, control of Norway was ceded to Sweden. You kind of get the feeling that Norway was treated like a ping pong ball during this period and was used as a throw-in when someone one a war. Kind of like the player-to-be-named later in baseball. However, Norway finally rebelled against this role and indicated that they were now fiercely independent of everyone. This attitude was frowned up, but Norway backed it up by naming Danish crown prince Christian Frederick or Christian VIII to their thrown thinking that this move would cause so much confusion that maybe they could get away with it. This was not to be the case, but for the first time in centuries, they were given some independent rights and for the time, this seemed to satisfy them. They even had the right to have their own army and navy, important things in a military environment.

 

However, Sweden tried to keep their nose well into Norway’s business for year to come and it wasn’t until years later that they really had thrown off all of the bonds created by their overly friendly neighbors, Sweden and Denmark. Sweden eventually indicated that if the Norwegians would hold a plebiscite and voted in favor of total independence that would be granted. The vote was overwhelming and in 1905, after numerous centuries, Norway ran its own show. Having had the their resources pruned for centuries by the neighbors, the country had no industry, no substantial military, no resources and no infrastructure. Therefore the decision was made to remain neutral during the First World War. This tactic worked and during that period, the country was able to substantially build up its industries and became a suppler to both camps engaged in the conflict.

 

Norway got out of the First World War unscathed but the "Great Depression" had no neutrality and the country was once again sent back to the Stone Age. The people became disheartened and strongly desired a pick-me-up. In the meantime, the Norwegian Government renamed their capital of Christiana; Oslo, the name originally given in 1048 by Harold Sigurdsson. Oslo was located within a magnificent countryside but was continually burning down because of fires. In 1624 after the city of Oslo had been decimated once again, a frustrated King Christian IV thought the name unlucky and renamed it after himself, Christiania.

 

As Germany rearmed, Norway liked what had happened during the First World War and immediately reported to all concerned parties that they were neutral. However, Germany had a man named Hitler running the show and he didn’t know the meaning of neutrality. Almost every country that he overran declared itself neutral so he interpreted the word as meaning conquest. This exercise was set off when France and Britain mined the water along the Norwegian cost to impair German shipping. Hitler was aware that Norway was critically located along their shipping channels and also possessed substantial natural resources and factories. Germany seeing that this country was unquestionably invaluable, invaded the Norway and after a short period of time emerged firmly in charge. Norway was considered so critical by Hitler, that at war’s end, he still had four hundred thousand troops stationed there that could have well been used on the Eastern Front or in Western Europe.

 

Norway suffered for a time after the war ended as did everyone else in Europe. They were greatly aided by American aid and soon started a recovery. The country became increasingly democratic and elections were held in 1945 in which the newly formed Labor Party grabbed the gold ring. With able management, a badly desecrated country, totally demolished by the departing German Army had recovered to its pre-war vitality. In ensuring years, Norway became a member of the United Nations. () In addition, while Norway had given considerable thought to entering the European Community (EU), it decided against that choice when people at home began to riot. They determined that membership in the European Free Trade Association, in 1959.

 

"Norway has long been a great fishing country. Its total catch is about 4 billion pounds (1.8 billion kilograms) a year. Norwegian fishing crews bring in large numbers of cod, haddock, herring, and mackerel. Much of the catch is processed for export. Norway's once-great whaling industry declined sharply during the 1960's. Large catches by Norway and other major whaling nations made many kinds of whales increasingly scarce. In 1987, Norway joined an international moratorium (temporary halt) on commercial whaling. It continued to take some whales for research purposes. In 1993, Norway resumed commercial whaling of minke whales, claiming they were no longer in danger. " ()

Oil and gas were discovered off of Norway’s coast in the late 1960s and everything else became mute. The country’s government waxed and waned, with political parties gaining and losing power as the Norwegian’s became as fickle as a teen-aged girl on her first date. However, who was in power, no longer mattered as the black gold started supplying the Norwegian’s with untold riches. The country became big brother and literally supplied its small population with whatever they needed. Health care is provided freely to all citizens and Norway has one of the best doctor to patient ratios in the world at one in 326. Pensions are more than adequate and everyone is covered. Maternity leaves are also part of the social plan and women can take a year off of work with full pay while expecting.

 

When talk of the oil fields in the North Sea eventually running dry, new oil was discovered and the country probably has greater reserves today than at any time in their history. The only problem is that they are just a little further offshore and a little deeper in the ocean. Technological advances are seeing to it that Norway remains oiled up and things look particularly rosy for at least the country’s immediate future.

 

 

Troll

 

As we have pointed out earlier, the easy oil has already been found, and in order to make further discoveries, any number of high-tech ideas have the subject of experimentation. In certain cases, locating and drilling for oil has become so sophisticated that one can be almost certain of how much oil is going to be there, exactly where it is and how much will be recoverable before even drilling the first hole. This is no longer a business for wildcatters; it is a big money play, and only the major multinationals have the vast resources that enable them to complete. As more and more oil is drilled in hard to get locations, we will be seeing innovations that will be mind-boggling. Take for example, "The tallest man-made structure ever moved on the surface of the Earth is Norway’s Troll gas platform.

 

The structure was so immense that it took ten of the world’s most powerful tugs in the world over a week to tow the hundred-story structure, weighing over million tons, onto its ultimate production site. It is taller than the world’s tallest building and is the heaviest object ever transported by man. At times, their speed was less than ½ knot for the 180-mile journal, but for the most part the tugs were pulling their cargo at about 2 knots. "The tow-out alone will go into the Guinness Book of Records as the heaviest man-made object to move on the surface of the earth, displacing the previous record holder, the tow-out of the Ninian (another drilling facility) central concrete platform." "The greatest challenge of all was moving it safely from its construction site to its deep-water location 80 km off the Norwegian coast. Its sheer size and weight made its transportation extremely difficult. Yet several novel marine operations were successfully achieved."

 

The hydrocarbon field that the Troll rests over is the biggest in Europe, and the estimates are that it will be pumping oil for many decades. The Troll contains the first-ever fully automated drilling rig, which has been installed on the platform to drill the 40 development wells. The structure was constructed to last no less than seventy years, a great accomplishment in itself when you consider the dismal weather conditions that are common in it’s the North Sea location. The project cost over $5 billion to build and took six years, and it is the fourth largest man-made structure in the world.

 

There were other nightmares waiting for the construction people on the Troll project. For example, the depth of the water that the structure was placed in is over 300 meters, which makes it the deepest construction project ever undertaken, but even more deadly was the fact that where the Troll was placed, the seabed had the consistency of a rotten pancake. Thus, pilings had to be sunk deeply into the ocean to insure the structures stability. The weak soil at location meant that the platform penetrated to a depth of nearly 36 meters. The skirts are sunk to this depth to obtain sufficient stability for the production phase. They consist of 19 concrete cylinders, each 32 meters wide, joined together.

 

The concrete is between .5 meters and .7 meters thick. The skirts were cast in one continuous slip-forming operation with a lifting rate of 1.7 meters per day. The weight of the platform is supported by a combination of friction along the skirts and soil pressure at the lower domes and tips of the skirts." In addition, a record was set when 36-inch diameter heavy-walled pipe was laid in water depths down to 350 meters. "To avoid the rocky shore approach, the pipelines have been laid through a tunnel into land. Construction of this landfall tunnel included vertical piercing in 170 meters of water, another record."

 

Moreover, 120,000 tons of cement and 100,000 tons of reinforced steel went into the structure. The concrete platform built by Norwegian Contractors was the largest single contract issue in Norwegian history. The facility is linked to the shore through a fiber-optical cable as part of an integrated offshore-on-shore control system. Thus, the Troll Platform became the first system in this part of the world capable of remote operation from onshore. This makes the platform a kind of super failsafe operation, in that should its control room short-circuit or the platform catch fire, then whatever could have been accomplished on the platform can be adequately handled from the shore.

 

Environmental conditions were a nightmare for a project of this magnitude:

 

"The onshore processing plant at Kollsnes on the bleak coast of Oygarden, north west of Bergen, is the "brains" behind Troll. From here, up to 100 million standard cubic meters of gas per day will be sent by seabed pipeline to Zeebrugge and Emden for distribution across Europe. Developing new technology to enable wet gas to be piped 65 km from the platform to an onshore processing plant was a real engineering challenge. The Kollsnes site houses the largest gas processing plant in the world. It features the largest compressors and variable speed electric motors ever built. The lasting of tunnels 3.7 km out to sea to link Kollsnes with the Troll platform demanded some of the world’s most advanced tunnel engineering technology."

"The Kollsnes site was subject to strict environmental restriction to preserve the character of Oygarden, the first area settled in Norway after the Ice Age 12 – 15000 years ago. The Plant may not emit sound above 40 Decibels. The natural shoreline has also been preserved. As a result, the plant goes virtually unnoticed from a distance. Other environmental restrictions include a ban on the release of heated water and other pollutants. Uniquely for a gas processing plant, Kollsnes is powered by hydroelectricity, not gas, says Jonassen. An innovative virtual reality, multimedia-reporting system has therefore been developed using ROVs attached to a 4 km umbilical. The system has the potential to be adapted for any remote site inspection, hazard prevention and verification."

Because it was felt that the field of hydrocarbons that the Troll was harvesting was enormous, the Platform had to be built with longevity in mind. It has been constructed to withstand the fierce weather that is normally served up in that area, which includes, gales, snowstorms, below zero temperatures and ice flows. This is not exactly a stroll in the country. From an environmental point of view, the structure had to built in such a way that it would be environmentally sound during its useful working life, in spite of the fact many obstacles had to be overcome. From the success of the operation of the Troll, appears that the engineers have done an admirable job protecting the environment.

 

"The 369-meter structure now stands in water 302 meters deep and is sunk into the seabed to a depth of 35.7 meters. The whole structure, including the topsides and the flare tower, is 472 meters high. As such, Troll A is the world’s tallest and heaviest concrete platform and the heaviest man-made object ever to have been moved across the surface of the earth. In addition, the Troll is considered by many to be the safest facility of its kind in the world. "…On the new Troll platform in the Norwegian North Sea, Shell has installed what it claims to be world’s first fully-mechanized drilling rig. If personnel are not needed on the drilling floor or on the pipe deck, then they are excluded and therefore cannot be injured in any accidents. The personnel requirement for drilling has been reduced from the usual fifteen or so to just five, who are housed in a safe module outside the hazardous area.

 

"The key to the mechanized handling is a novel "javelin arm" mounted on the drilling floor, which extends out to clasp the pipe section raised by the gantry crane. The javelin arm brings the pipe onto the drilling floor and "stabs" it into the drill string. The top of the pipe is picked up by the top-drive and the pipe section is tightened by the "iron roughneck." The whole process is automated, with all components having a "space-sensing" ability, so that crashes are avoided. Automation extends to the blending and delivery of drilling mud and cement, in modules just below the drilling floor. The whole process is controlled by three operators, working in the soundproofed, safe, control room." ()

 

The facility was fit for a king when finished and none other than His Majesty King Harald V of Norway presided over opening day festivities that took place on June 19, 1996. He was rightly proud of this literally "all Norwegian" project that set records in so many areas that haven’t even been counted them. This little known structure has set the pace for innovation in deep drilling techniques. But they also have set the standards in safety, environmental considerations and drilling techniques. This structure is truly a monument to man’s ingenuity. When it was announced in 1986, it was called the "Norwegian Man on the Moon Project." The Economist Magazine dubbed the Troll as one of the 10 technical wonders of the modern world, along with moon landings, the first heart transplant and the jumbo jet. Not bad company.

 

 

 

The Low Rent District

 

Afghanistan

 

 

Travel Warning:

 

The Department of State warns U.S. citizens against travel to Afghanistan. We continue to receive threats from terrorists, including Osama bin Laden, who is based in Afghanistan, who do not distinguish between American military and civilian targets. U. S. Government reserves the right to retaliate against the facilities of those who harbor terrorists, as well as the terrorists themselves.

 

The Department of State urges Americans who decide to remain in Afghanistan in spite of this warning to exercise extreme caution, to monitor their security situation closely, and make plans for responding to a sudden deterioration in security conditions. All U.S. personnel at the U.S. Embassy in Kabul were evacuated in 1989, and no other diplomatic mission represents U. S. interests or provides consular service.

 

In addition, frequent military operations continue in various regions of Afghanistan, sometimes involving intense fighting. Americans remain vulnerable to politically and criminally motivated attacks and violence, including robbery, kidnapping and hostage-taking. The estimated 5 - 7 million landmines scattered throughout the countryside pose a danger to all residents and visitors to Afghanistan.

 

U.S. citizens who decide to enter Afghanistan in spite of this warning are strongly urged to register and obtain updated security information at the American Embassy in Islamabad, Pakistan, or the U.S. Consulate in Peshwar, Pakistan. ()

 

The United States and its perceived enemies often meet under the strangest of circumstances and in some of the most bizarre locations on earth. Such was the meeting between the United States and Russia in Afghanistan during the "Cold War" when the two countries used Afghanistan as a place to test their weaponry. This hot spot caught fire in 1978, when Noor Taraki and his successor Babrak Karmal, both ardent communists, had assumed some power in Afghanistan and then were besieged by Moslem fanatics. They invited the Russians to assist their undertakings.

 

The Russians, who shared a border with Afghanistan, came fully prepared to move into the neighborhood with almost 100,000 troops and modern weapons. The people of the third poorest country on earth welcomed the Russians with open arms; well, maybe not all the people, but at least some of the people. The Russians considered Afghanistan just another step in their manifest destiny, and they installed a corrupt communist puppet regime that had little regard for the citizens' social and religious customs.

 

Most of the population consists of highly religious Muslims, and the communist puppet masters were typical communists, atheist to the core. Although there was a diversity of belief, Russia soon become enmeshed in some serious problems while trying to maintain control. Someone in the foreign language department of foreign affairs in Moscow made a fatal flaw in translation of the Afghanistan language. For some odd reason, this intelligence genius determined that "mujahedin" meant mixed green vegetables, not "holy warriors of great tenacity, guts and resourcefulness of a nature not found anywhere else on earth." When this intelligence error was uncovered by a more literal translation, it was already too late. In retrospect it is easy to see how Russian soldiers stationed in Afghanistan grew very confused, then very depressed and then very often very dead.

 

The mujahedin takes military culture to a new dimension; they worship their arms almost as much as they worship their God. From a logistical point of view, the Russians controlled only the cities, while the armed peasants reigned supreme in the countryside. For the most part, the rag-tag partisans controlled the roads, while the Russians controlled the airports. Those in the countryside represented various religious and social orders with no particular fondness for one another. This alliance of religious fanatics was implausible and its longevity questionable. Petty jealousies led to only intermittent cooperation, and between blowing up Russian helicopters and soldiers, in their free time these various factions turned their guns on one another. The United States for once picked the right side, but as we shall see, it was "right" only for a short time.

 

Competition between the rival Afghan factions promoted a constant game of "king of the hill," in which the groups would take turns dominating the country. Whenever that occurred, the other factions would go home for some rest and relaxation, not wanting to fight the other guy’s war. The Russians were unquestionably a match for any individual tribal group, so that when a bunch of tribes went on vacation, the Russian Army would go on the offensive and punish the dominant faction. This brought matters back into equilibrium, and the others, energized by their R&R, would pick up their weapons and go back to war. In spite of these anomalies, the Afghan people were unquestionable fierce fighters; if nothing else, their bravery caused the Russians substantial pain and suffering.

 

The battle waxed and waned for a time, with neither the Russians nor this hodge podge of disparate armies, actively backed with arms and money by the American government, getting the upper hand. The Americans, in uncharacteristic fashion, donated almost stone-age weapons to their side because the Afghans were conducting a guerrilla war, while the Russians were forced into fighting a high-tech war with helicopters, guided missiles and observer satellites. The Afghans always knew where to find the Russians, who were always in the cities, but the Russians could never really fathom what the partisans were doing or where they were based.

 

This motley group of warlords, drug dealers, tribal leaders, religious fanatics and mujahedin played cat and mouse with the Russians in a constant game of attack, capture and withdraw. These "Freedom Fighters" did not have the firepower to sustain their success, even with substantial supplies from the Americans, but they were able to inflict awesome damage on their oppressors. This expensive stalemate terminated only when the United States grew weary of the game. The United States had never quite had the courage to give the fierce Afghan warriors tools sophisticated and efficient enough to win the war because the U.S. was anxious to control the spread of highly sophisticated armaments throughout the Islamic world. On the other hand, the American people were growing weary of another interminable war, and a national election was forthcoming.

 

The CIA, ever the strategist, played its trump card; it had a little weapon in its arsenal called a Stinger. It was a portable, shoulder-fired heat-seeking missile that could bring down a helicopter from some distance with the extra benefit of being extremely accurate. More important, it was lightweight and could be carried great distances by one man. With this kind of weapon, the Afghans could spread terror throughout the world – and this was exactly what the Americans were worried about. Making matters infinitely worse, the Afghans were better at copying weapons than the Japanese were at copying electronics.

 

Ultimately, the U.S. State Department, also desperately needing a victory, instituted some ludicrous controls over the Stingers, and the American government decided to allow these awesome weapons to be given to some of those fighters, but only those who traveled with the American Cadre. The Stingers started to disappear, and the handwriting was clearly on the wall, for the Afghan fighters had already set up production lines to manufacture the mighty mite. Pandora's box was breached and the black furies released.

 

That was the American Government's first mistake in the region; the second was destroying its historic relationship with Pakistan, an American proxy in the region, which had been willing to carry out U.S. wishes for a price. American fondness for Pakistan was realistic and based solely on their constant wars with India, then a Russian client. Pakistan during that time was the best friend the Americans could buy in the region, and as such was authorized to distribute CIA largesse to the Afghans of its choice. This funding indirectly facilitated the Taliban's (composed mainly of religious students of the extremist kind) rise to power.

 

Russian casualties soared from the minute the Stinger came into the war zone. Worse yet, the Russians’ Afghan client cities, which were armed fortresses, could no longer be reliably re-supplied. Without arms, food and medicine, Afghanistan quickly became to the Russians what Vietnam had been to the French and the Americans: a place to declare victory and leave as quickly as possible. This is exactly what they did. The New York Times, wrote of the state of Afghanistan at that time: "… Afghanistan was virtually obliterated as a functioning state, with thousands of villages in rubble, at least a million people dead, and another five million living abroad as refugees, mostly in Iran and Pakistan."

 

In September 1991 the United States and Russia signed an agreement to stop meddling in the affairs of Afghanistan. However, both signatories to the accord broke the agreement within days. The United States never stopped supplying money and armaments to Afghanistan, including Soviet rifles that had been supplied to Egypt when it was a client of the USSR. The CIA cleverly assumed that the continued American involvement would go unnoticed. Apparently neither side was serious about the agreement, and the Soviets continued to support the Communist Movement in Afghanistan as well. However, by this time it was deader than the proverbial Dodo Bird.

 

The insurgent Afghan victors could no more agree on how to carve up their country than a guy with a plastic knife trying to carve up a Thanksgiving Turkey. A number of lackluster leaders stepped to the plate, but all had been weakened during the battle for independence, and were unable to maintain control. A new party appeared out of nowhere and began an extensive public relations campaign, informing everyone who had an interest that it was the logical successor to Afghanistan’s leadership. It was led by Mullah Mohammad Omar, a young religious zealot with one eye and 29 followers. His group was originally funded with nickels and dimes collected by the Saudi's and the Pakistani's.

 

Their message was classic: join us or die. This tart point soon evolved into one of the world’s greatest public relations coups. The Taliban quickly succeeded beyond its wildest aspirations by selectively maiming, bombing, beheading and poisoning its enemies, as well as a few friends. This was a powerful message to the people of Afghanistan, who if nothing else, understood the power of logic.

 

On the other hand, card-carrying members of this alliance would gain community, religion, safety, family and God, along with the right to bear arms. Everyone was free to join, if they would just follow the rules. This seemed to be Nirvana, at least when compared with the alternative, and the Taliban ("seeker of truth") quietly filled the leadership void that had existed since the Soviets’ hasty departure. The pre-existing factions were forced back into the countryside and everything continued as it had. The Taliban were now fighting their former allies for control of the entire country, but this time they had the advantage.

 

In early times, the Afghan villages had strict social and religious rules, thought to have evolved from the necessity for each village member to have a strict responsibility toward each other and the outside world as well. Violations of this code included amputation for thieves, blasphemers and adulterers, and the reasoning was simple and straightforward. If you stole from your neighbor, slandered him or had an affair with his wife, you would be unable to work well with him or might end up in a fight with him. Such behavior was censured because these early village states were at war with the rest of the world. In a country that had been totally annihilated with considerable help from the outside world, many Afghans concluded that things couldn't get any worse, so why the crazies from the Taliban might as well have their turn at running the nut house.

 

Some of the more educated Afghans, weary of war, looked the other way when women were sent home from their jobs, as demanded by the new regulations. Were permanently expelled from school, because the Taliban thought that female education was unnecessary and a negative social influence. Dancing was banned, as was the trimming of men's beards. Women were forbidden to wear nail polish, jewelry, sheer stockings, high-heel shoes, short hair and colorful or stylish clothes. Couples were not allowed to attend picnics or wedding parties. They could not buy children's toys, or read or publish magazines, newspapers and most books.

 

The Taliban also banned applause, New Year’s Celebrations, television (), kite-flying, bird keeping, music, VCR's, liquor, satellite dishes, photography or the painting of living things, gambling, viewing women's faces and legs, leather jackets, brown paper bags, pigeon-flying, dog-racing, unaccompanied travel by women, card playing, computers and phonographs, and a host of other activities that they considered sacrilegious. Technically, manufacturing activities were banned as well. If you are traveling to Afghanistan and want to keep current on what you can't do, additional things that the Taliban are against can be seen by going to their Website (would you believe?), www.Taliban.com. A few examples are listed below:

 

"Drive of Kandahar Police Against Antisocial Elements: The Kandahar police in a drive against antisocial elements yesterday, rounded up different criminals from around the city. They arrested a man and sized …240 song cassettes and packs of playing cards from his possessions. All the things were then set on fire while the culprit was handed over to the police."

"Television Seized and Smashed in Kabul: The religious police have started their country-wide campaign of destroying televisions, VCR's, satellite dishes, etc…. On Tuesday, here in Kabul, hundreds of television sets and other instruments of immoral pastimes were seized from markets and work places and then destroyed. These means of corruption were, in some places, even thrown out of the windows in high buildings to smash on the streets below. A source revealed that the campaign would be carried on with the same fervor and zeal until the time of the complete destruction of these instruments of moral depravity. Aug 9, 1998."

These guys were just warming up and sending out a message when they unloaded this one:

 

"Punishment on Trimming Beard and Keeping Un-Islamic Hairstyle: The religious police…arrested several people in different crimes during several raids in different parts of the city. They arrested and gave sharia punishment to 13 shopkeepers for not offering congregational prayers….Similarly, dozens of people were given punishment for trimming their beards….Meanwhile, the religious police gave hard sharia punishment to three taxi drivers who had allowed unescorted women to sit in their taxis and issued an order according to which no women could go the doctor even for medicine unless accompanied by a male relative. Similarly, some private schools for women were also ordered to be closed, which were open in homes….According to an official of the religious police…some weak elements were trying to pave way for indecency and dissension among women under cover of education; therefore, all such schools have been order to close down. July 19, 1998."

Can you image the International Red Cross doing the following? Maybe they were just fortifying themselves for life in Afghanistan:

 

"Liquor Seized at Kabul International Airport: A large amount of liquor was seized from Kabul International Airport. This liquor was being smuggled by the officials of an international welfare organization, and it was shipped from Islamabad, Pakistan to Kabul, when it was seized by the Taliban security forces. Later, liquor is burnt in fire…previously also; liquor bottles were recovered from the officers of Red Cross International organization during search Kabul airport. July 26, 1998."

You know how difficult things have gotten when the Red Cross is determined to be a subversive organization. They were probably going to attempt to bribe officials in order to get permission to supply sick people with medicine and to give starving people free food. Can you imagine the officials in Pakistan, who might be the only friends the Taliban ever had, allowing subversive organizations such as the Red Cross to transport contraband across the border?

 

"Prohibition of TV, VCR Essential to Save Society from Destruction: An edict was issued by the religious police ordering the destruction or disposal of all TV sets, VCR's, videocassettes, etc. in the country within 15 days. ’No one is allowed to keep these things in their home or shops. Selling or dealing in such goods is strictly prohibited from now on. Restriction is imposed upon mechanics of corruption and depravity,’ the order maintained."

In an interview, the deputy head of the Taliban's religious ministry said that they had no other option but to cleanse the society of corruption and moral depravity. "We had banned all television, videocassette recorders, videos, satellite dishes, audio cassettes of recorded songs and music from the country when we took control. But the ban had not been strictly imposed, and taking advantage of our leniency, people are watching TV in their homes. So we have decided to remedy this." July 19, 1998

 

This war was the kind the Taliban knew how to fight, and they have been able to totally control the people through religion, something the Russians were never able to do. There were no helicopters to knock out of the sky with sophisticated weapons; there were no aerial transports to destroy as they lumbered fully loaded in airports around the country resupplying the enemy. There were no Russian troops longing to go home in a country that they could never subdue. This was an enemy that could fight by the old rules, but also made new ones as needed in order to maintain a tight grip on the overall situation. This group started with only a handful of followers, and when they took control of most of the country, the Taliban forces numbered less than 3,000. The difference was that these 3,000 were organized and dedicated, whereas their opponents seemed to be out to lunch.

 

To make matters even stranger, the Iranians, who shared the Taliban’s fundamentalist Muslim orthodoxy, do not support their co-religionists’ Islamic religious zeal. They supply weapons and money to Ahmed Shah Massoud, just one of a group of many pretenders to the crown of Kabul. The Iranians have formed some sort of convoluted alliance with the French to re-supply Massoud, who has been fighting the good fight in Afghanistan for over 30 years. You would think that by this time, the guy would be getting tired.

 

When the smoke cleared, the Russians realized that their defeat did not end their encounters with the Taliban. According to the Russian Foreign Ministry, "Russia considers the stepped-up military activities by the Taliban in northern Afghanistan as a real threat to the commonwealth's southern borders." The Russian government, no longer the monolithic Soviet Union, but the newly "democratic" Russia, was particularly concerned that the Taliban would start exporting its strange theocracy to the Muslim dominated former Russian states of Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan and Tajikistan. One cannot blame the Russians for opposing the delivery of this type of fanaticism to their back door, but you can also understand their reluctance to engage in military action against their own people. The Russians couldn’t even subdue Chechnya.

 

The Taliban are not known for their command of the social graces. In spite of the fact that they unquestionably control the largest slice of Afghanistan, very few countries have recognized the Taliban regime, including the United Nations. The United Arab Emirates, Pakistan and Saudi Arabia are the only nations willing to acknowledge their existence. Maybe the Afghans believe they can invite visitors to their Kabul National Stadium (constructed by the United Nations) on Fridays at 3:30 in the afternoon for a little entertainment, they will rise to the top of the social five hundred. Imagine the surprise when the invited audience, instead of an exhibition of dressage, witnesses mujahedin amputating the limbs of thieves, and flogging and killing others. An experience that Nero would have found to his liking, but not exactly the key to admission to the horsy set.

 

Nevertheless, the Taliban demonstrated their absolute control by quickly altering the national flag and raising it in front of a national audience at an important event. They had chosen their weekly "Friday Wall Collapsing on Robber When Tank Crushes It" as the entertainment. This was always a big event and an ideal time to unveil the new flag, since everyone’s eyes would be fixed on the arena floor. The audience gasped as it was raised over the main coliseum in Kabul, for the new flag was just a piece of plain white cloth, yes, just a piece of plain white cloth. One of the startled spectators remarked that in case of renewed hostilities it would double as a bandage or the willingness to surrender. However, this was not exactly what the ever-resourceful Taliban had in mind. To them the piece of cloth represented peace and purity, and they were stunned when audience did not seem to fathom the significance of this surreal design masterpiece. But this was only the first day of the Taliban era, and things quickly went downhill from there.

 

The Taliban were convinced that men lusted after women, and that a woman who revealed any part of her anatomy affronted Allah by unleashing men’s baser instincts. Soon after taking control of most of Afghanistan, they established rules that would prevent man's natural lust from interfering with either his work or his religion. While this kept the noses of Afghan males to the grindstone didn't do much for the women, who became virtual cult hostages.

 

The Physicians for Human Rights ("PHR") stated:

 

"The extent to which the Taliban regime has threatened the freedoms and needs of Afghan women is unparalleled in recent history. Taliban policies of systematic discrimination against women seriously undermine the health and well being of Afghan women. Such discrimination and the suffering it causes constitute an affront to the dignity and worth of Afghan women, and humanity as a whole....To our knowledge, no other regime in the world has methodically and violently forced half of its population into virtual house arrest, prohibiting them on pain of physical punishment from showing their faces, seeking medical care without a male escort, or attending school…"

The report indicates that in their opinion the Taliban emerged from a group of educated rural Pashtun youths mostly recruited from refugee camps and religious schools in neighboring Pakistan. It further found fault with the Taliban interpretation of the Sharia (Islamic law), but after so many years of killing and with so many regimes coming and going before the Taliban took over, there really had been no laws, no courts, no judges, no nothing. Who was to say whether the Taliban analysis was true to the Muslim Religion or not.

 

But that hardly mattered, and the Taliban kept upping the ante:

 

"In public, women must be covered from head to toe in a burqa, a head-to-toe cloth covering with only a mesh opening to see and breath through. Women are not permitted to wear white (the color of the Taliban flag) socks or white shoes, or shoes that make noise while women are walking. Also, houses and buildings in public view must have their windows painted over if females are present in the household."

The Physicians for Human Rights were so offended by the Taliban that they proposed a number of measures to get them to change their minds. Among those suggestions were the following: the re-evaluation of aid to Afghanistan, recognition of women seeking escape to other countries as refugees permitted asylum, foreign investment to be curtailed and that the Taliban should not be given the Afghanistan Seat at the United Nations until they change their act.

 

This action only angered Taliban leadership, and the religious army immediately ordered bus drivers to put up curtains on their buses so that women could not be looked upon by even the driver himself. As if on a roll, they then ordered separate buses for women and men and made it illegal for women to drive. Bus drivers should hire prepubescent boys to collect fares from women passengers, as no mature man should look at them. As a warning to bus drivers to adhere to orders to the letter, the Taliban declared that any bus driver wearing long hair or shiny clothes or playing music would be subject to a severe beating. In addition, the drivers were charged with insuring the boys collecting fares avoided looking at the women passengers. Should the boy look at the women who were depositing their fares, the driver would be flogged. The flaw in this concept was the driver’s location behind a screen. He couldn’t see either the boy or the women. This problem did not phase the Taliban religious leaders, who indicated that God, would indeed know, and would send them a message.

 

Moreover, even if a woman were to go outdoors with a close relative, she must wear a burqa covering her body from head to toe. If that wasn't bad enough, the prescribed burqa costs six months salary, and for women who are not working, it is terribly difficult to come up with the price. Thus, all of the women in the neighborhood are forced to share the same garment, and even if a woman has money to buy food and has none in the house, if her time to use the garment has not arrived she must go hungry until the burqa becomes available to her.

 

It is also illegal for either men or women to have sex if they are not married. The penalty for not complying with this edict is 100 lashes in public for both the offending man and woman. If both the man and women engage in this unbelievably irreligious act, and both are married to others and found together, under any circumstances, the penalty is a bit more severe. The offending couple is to be stoned to death. But they are not talking about just being caught in bed with someone, for walking down the street with someone that was not a relative also qualifies.

 

On April 23, 1999, the UN Human Rights Commission condemned the Taliban’s misogyny. The United Nations Commission indicated that women had been discriminated against beyond contemplation. The Commission's report indicated that the Taliban should cooperate in an "urgent investigation of these heinous crimes, with a view to bringing those responsible to justice." By consensus, the Commission determined that the Taliban had committed, "widespread violations, including the rights to life, liberty and security of person, freedom from torture and other forms of cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment."

 

Women are not the only ones ordained to a life of misery under Taliban rule. Many years of fighting in and around the City of Kabul, have orphaned hundreds of children. There is no one to care for them, and orphaned girls come in for a particular kind of hell. As we have discussed before, members of the female gender are not allowed to go to school. Therefore, what does a child who has neither a home nor parents do by themselves?

 

Orphaned boys, at least, are sent to a school paid for by an international agency, ASHIANA, a Swiss based charity, but the girls just live in the streets and are left to fend for themselves. Most spend their days collecting garbage and wood to sell and burn. If the girls are lucky, they will be housed in an orphanage at night, but there is a scarcity of medicine and what little heat there is, is supplied by the International Red Cross. There is no money for clothes and less for doctors because all of the other relief agencies have left Afghanistan in protest over Taliban policies. Even the usually taciturn International Red Cross was recently ready to pull up stakes over the abduction, beating and robbery of 10 of its workers in Afghanistan.

 

In addition, the Taliban don’t make going to classes too appealing for the children; between the harsh discipline they receive and a heavy quotient of religious training, it is not exactly fun. Moreover, previously, young male children going to school were obliged only to wear caps in deference to their religion. Apparently, Mullah Mohmmed Omar, who many have indicated had no toys when he was a child, has indicated that school children will now be obligated to wear uncomfortable turbans. It is not just the fact that the wearing one of these "fashion statements" is extremely uncomfortable, but moreover it is expensive. In a country where the average wage is about $10 per month, a turban that costs between $1.50 and $15.00 can become quite a budgetary problem. However, when compared to the fact that women must wear burqas that cover them from head to toe, the boys actually get off extremely easily. Interesting enough, mature men are only obligated to where these turbans only if they work for the government, all other men need only cover their heads, which is what the schoolboys were doing in the first place. I guess it all boils down to the mode, Mullah Mohmmed Omar is in when he gets up in the morning.

 

Another Taliban gift to the children of Afghanistan is the plethora of land mines that are liberally strewn around the countryside; any where between 5 and 10 million to be inexact. The United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Assistance to Afghanistan (UNOCHA) put the figure at between 5 and 7 million, made up of fifty varying varieties, ranging from the anti-tank specials to the anti-personnel variety or what would be called in the nomenclature, the human killers. The Human Rights Organization, Halo Trust, said the number of mines of all types was over 6 million, and the United States Department of State Bureau of Political-Military Affairs sets the number closer to 10 million, they and the Russians should know, best as they know how many they shipped there. Thus, Afghanistan ranks as one of the deadly dozen most heavily mined countries in the world, joining the ranks of such highly desirable vacation hideaways as Angola, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Cambodia, Croatia, Eritrea, Iraq, Mozambique, Namibia, Somalia, Nicaragua and Sudan. If you took all of the mines in the ground in all of the world's countries, half of them could be located within the narrow list of these 12 countries. A terribly dubious honor.

 

Landmines create two major classes of people in Afghanistan, the first being refugees (over two million Afghans have left for Iran and Pakistan alone), almost solely because of mines. One of the most startling statistics we have ever analyzed is that fully 17% of all Afghans are disabled, a staggering 3.5 million people. The actual number of disabled people is actually twice as high, because the 17% figure only counts those people who require some sort of ongoing treatment or the addition of artificial limbs. The other class of people denominated in this "land mine based" culture is Afghanistan’s astounding orphan population. Although there are no hard statistics, the United Nations Children's Fund found that two of every three children interviewed living in the Kabul area (not a place that is known for mines) had witnessed someone being killed, mostly by mines. Moreover, seven out of 10 children had lost a close relative from the disastrous cause.

 

A piece that appeared in The News International, November 6, 1998, by Ismail Khan deserves special attention:

 

"…The continuing civil war, it (UNHCR) said had severely affected the economy of Afghanistan. Its Gross Domestic Product (GDP) has fallen substantially since 1982 because of the loss of labor and capital and the disruption of trade and transport. The UNDP now rates Afghanistan as 171 out of 173 countries in terms of greatest poverty and least development. According to ICRC statistics, the most dangerous activities to rural populations are tilling fields, herding livestock and foraging for wood and food. Overall, national figures on the rate of landmine-related injuries and death are not available, but casualty estimates indicate that landmines and unexploded ordinance (UXO) cause an estimated 10 to 12 civilian casualties per day. Recent MSF and ICRC surveys suggest that this figure is too low, since many victims never get to treatment centers because of lack of transportation, significant distances, or impassible roads."

The Taliban has a vendetta against just about everyone, and recently they went out of their way to really irritate their once-friendly neighbor, Iran. Some genius in Kabul came up with a new method of killing people on the cheap by herding men, women and children together, stuffing them live into a shipping container and then letting it bake in the sun for about a week. When the container is dumped at the local garbage site, a substantive number of people will have been murdered without the expenditure of one nickel. This particular type of genocide has been reported by the Human Rights Watch as a result of a particular incident in the northern Afghan city of Mazar-e-Sharif:

 

"The scale of violations in Afghanistan and suffering of the civilian population warrants the urgent attention of the world community. The special rapporteur is horrified by the latest reports from Afghanistan, which are profoundly disturbing and indicate a worsening pattern of grave human rights violations. Even animals, such as donkeys, goats and sheep were killed, and since the streets were crowded with people going about their normal life, numerous shopkeepers, beggars and 35 boys selling soft drinks in the street were killed in this manner." ()

 

Recently, the Taliban lost some men in a pitched battle, and held the town in which their death occurred accountable. The Taliban army went into a killing frenzy, and in so doing made a serious miscalculation. In their anxiety to containerize the entire town as rapidly as possible, they rounded up ten diplomats from neighboring Iran and containerized them along with the locals. Tehran really became upset about having their high ranking officials baked alive; wouldn't you just know it, before you could blink an eye, 200,000 armed Iranians were standing on the Afghan border looking very mean. Eventually, very high level discussions between the two countries cooled emotions down a bit, but Iran no longer views the Taliban as a pet puppy dog.

 

Nearly going to war with Iran created a gloomy feeling in Kabul, and the clergy invited the citizens to the Olympic sports stadium for some excitement to improve everyone’s disposition. They drove two thieves were into the stadium and summarily dumped them into the clutches of Taliban physicians with surgical scalpels. Faster than you say Jack Robinson, the right hands of the crooks were severed and displayed to the adoring crowd of 30,000. The crowd jeered as the thieves were thrown into the back of a jeep, sans one hand.

 

The signs on walls all over Kabul proclaimed next week's event, which would be much bigger and more grand. The supreme leader of the Taliban, Mjullah Mohammad Omar was going to give the crowd a particularly good show. Three men accused of "buggery" would be partially buried alive and a bulldozer would then bulldoze a wall onto their heads. Everyone in the country was well aware that Mohammad Omar was ingenious when it came to dealing with criminals, but this was his most imaginative idea yet – and he is only thirty-six years old, with little experience at this sort of thing. A quiver went through the throngs as they contemplated their leader coming up with bolder and more entertaining ways of killing people as time went on. Mohammad certainly had taken the edge off of the Iranian problem.

 

Moreover, there was a down side to this entertaining diversion. No one could believe that anything could top this event, and the government did not want to disappoint the people. After all, there was little the people were able to do under the barren Taliban regulation, and an occasional maiming at the stadium seemed to pick up everyone’s spirits. And yet, tickets weren’t moving quickly enough and concerns were becoming evident. In order to keep clientele coming to the stadium, the government would have to come up with something extra special.

 

Well, the ingenuity of these guys is amazing, and they came up with an new spectacle: a multiple simultaneous lashing. In Afghanistan gambling is punished by a mandatory sentence of 39 lashes, with police officials holding the offender’s arms and legs. In this particular instance, a small private card game was raided by the Taliban religious police. It was a stroke of luck that so many players could be lashed at the same time. Unfortunately, the overall turnout was not satisfactory to the Taliban leadership. A government wag pointed out that a woman could be sentenced to 100 lashes in public for doing just about anything, so why would the general population get excited about a couple of guys in a card game getting 39. Clearly the Taliban leadership would have to come up with something better than that if they want to keep the crowd happy.

 

The Taliban leadership tried again, and this time they picked up a guy for sexually assaulting a boy of twelve. In this particular punishment, the Taliban decided to have a tank knock down a wall, which would collapse on the hapless prisoner breaking every bone in his body, and therefore justice is considered done. In this case, it didn’t turn out exactly the way the Taliban had intended. While the tank gave the wall a good push, and the whole thing collapsed on the guy, burying him beneath the ruble, things didn’t work out according to expectations. The crowd cheered ecstatically when he was pronounced dead on the spot, and some in the multitude indicated that this was finally the kind of thing that made everything in Afghanistan worthwhile. Imagine the disappointment on the following day when security officers announced that the child molester was still alive. In the normal course of events, they had taken him to the hospital after he was crushed by the wall and doctors there, found a pulse, and soon thereafter he sat up. After thorough tests were run on him, it was determined by the medical staff that he was really none the worse for wear.

 

Moreover, he could not be punished further, because under Islamic law, if a criminal survives his punishment, he must be allowed to live. Imagine the shock when the crowd – who were convinced that the guy had died – found out that the pervert was in reality an 84-year old married man who had even given up sex with his wife because of his advanced age. "I was wrongfully convicted for sodomy. And God has proven my innocence. My whole body aches with pain, but thank God I have returned from the jaws of death," said Shuma Khan. Taliban extremists retorted that no one is perfect with the exception of God. Besides, if they were more careful with their convictions in the future, what would the people do on Fridays? This was truly a conundrum.

 

Second offenders always allow the ticket scalpers to increase prices for stadium tickets, and these guys really rake in the money when a public amputation is held at the stadium. In this particular case, the double amputations took two forms. first was for six unlucky guys out for a good time who made the mistake of disguising themselves as Taliban Military Personnel and robbing a few passengers on a downtown Kabul bus. For this act they were relieved of their right hands and left feet. However, the crowd was really waiting to see a thief who had already lost his right hand lose his left for stealing $200 worth of carpets. He was forced to parade around the circumference of the stadium showing his newly stumped left hand while the crowd roared its appreciation. What an event! These Taliban guys sure know how to put on a party.

 

This kind of entertainment, though, is not confined to Friday afternoons at the stadium. For instance, the Taliban leadership castrated and hanged the former communist president of Afghanistan and his brother and then left them swinging from a lamppost in downtown Kabul for three days. They would have left them up longer, but the bodies were attracting flies and starting to smell.

 

Everyone really got it on in downtown Kabul recently when a mother, home alone, determined to rush her critically ill child to the doctor. She left the house correctly clothed for the occasion, but a teenage Taliban guard determined that a woman's place is in the home and fired his Kalashnikov machine-gun at her. Luckily for her, she did not die on the spot, and others in the crowded marketplace intervened. Taliban religious authorities, when questioned regarding the incident, indicated that the affair was entirely her fault, as "she had no right being out in public in the first place."

 

When that didn't sell to well with the crowd, the Taliban needed a patsy and so arrested all of the butchers in Kabul, taping their butcher knives to their heads and loaded them in open trucks for a parade. It seems the butchers had raised their prices higher than Taliban religious leaders thought necessary, so Taliban soldiers paraded them through the town, beating them as they cried out admission of their crime of overcharging. A great time was had by all. Many of the people on the crowded thoroughfares remarked that this was even better than the previous day, when a petty few thieves were paraded down the streets by the soldiers with blackened faces and Afghani money shoved so tightly in their mouths that they were barely breathing.

 

Kabul is not popular with tourists for obvious reasons: "Packs of rabid dogs roaming parts of war-ravaged Kabul have been attacking people and infecting them with rabies. In the last five days, 24 people, many of them children, have been treated at the hospital for rabies. In nearby Ghazni province, treatment has not been available, 90 people died of rabies last month." "The rich people can go to Pakistan for treatment, but the poor people have no choice….All they can do is stay here and wait to die." Officials at the Ministry of Public Health in Kabul are calling it an emergency. They didn't have figures, but they said that many of the bite victims have died, either because they arrived at hospitals too late for treatment or were unable to buy the medicine. "

 

So as we bid adieu to beautiful downtown Kabul and head off into the sunset, we are concerned about some of our remembrances. This is a truly religious land that believes in purity for its own sake, and yet while they say they protect women's rights, they keep them uneducated and literally hold them under house arrest; that is, unless they are the wives or female relatives of senior Taliban Officials. These women are being sent to the finest schools in Europe.

 

Drug addicts, dealers and manufacturers are put to death in most horrible ways, while Afghanistan produces and sells to the West more opium and heroin than any other country in the world. The Taliban has banned the use of Internet and computers in the country, but you can check out the Taliban’s own "home page," where they proselytize the global hackers and viewers. They make large waves when punishing criminals and murderers and yet, very often, their verdicts are faulty because the judicial infrastructure has been decimated and there are no secular courts. However, they fervently believe that when an innocent person is punished, it is God's Will.

 

Afghanistan always had enough food for all of its people under previous regimes, but today cannot feed even a fraction of it population because the women who used to join their men in the field to pick the crops can no longer go outside their homes. The result is that much of the crop rots. Starvation, especially among the young, has become the rule, rather than the exception. According to the most recent United Nation's statistics, 40% of Kabul’s population now exists on handouts of food, either from charitable agencies or from begging.

 

The Taliban have offended their friends and enemies alike and have fashioned a country that will soon have the lowest standard of living in the world. These religious fanatics have driven out of Afghanistan every relief agency that sought to provide help to their people, except for the International Red Cross, and are now an inch away from losing them. The Iranians were early supporters of the Taliban form of literal Koran interpretation, and Afghanistan received substantial assistance from them. The fearsome armies of the Iranians now sit on the border with Afghanistan, geared up to invade at a moment’s notice. The Taliban have also embarrassed their Pakistani brethren. The Saudi's, who support the Taliban only because they don't want the dubious distinction of having the world's worst record regarding women's rights, are also about to pull the plug.

 

The Taliban are outdoing the Nazi’s in their sadistic religious rule. Even Hitler had the courage of his convictions and never brought the name of God into the equation when serious killing had to be done. He did he work in the name of ethnic cleansing, a sadistic and bizarre conception. When the Taliban put someone to death or cull out those of another race, it is always being done in the name of Allah.

 

In any event, a new word has crept into the vocabulary of the countries surrounding Afghanistan: "Talibanization," meaning the export of religious destabilization in the form of Islamic fundamentalism. The Pakistanis have already seemed to been overcome by this form of religious stupefaction through their porous borders with Afghanistan. The active participants at the moment in this passive war are now, Afghanistan, Pakistan and Saudi Arabia matched up against Russia, India, Iran and the four former Soviet Republics that border on Afghanistan, the home base of the Taliban. Why on earth, you ask, would the Pakistanis, living right next door to these nuts, want to have anything to do with them. The answer is uncomplicated, since the Pakistan Government is far more concerned with their border with India then they are with their Afghan border. Pakistan does not have a lot of friends since the Cold War ended, and they have seemed to have used up their international usefulness. They don’t have anyone interested in coming to their aid, should India decide that all of Pakistan really belongs to them. Hence, the Pakistanis hope centers around the possibly that India wouldn’t want to get involved in a war with Afghanistan.

 

In any event, during the Cold War the U.S. chose both Pakistan and Afghanistan as allies. Russia’s friends were America’s enemies and vice versa. While this may well have been appropriate at the time, the United States had unleashed a gigantic plague. The Afghanis set up camps around their country that:

 

"Became virtual universities for promoting pan-Islamic radicalism in Algeria, Egypt, Yemen, Sudan, Jordan, the Philippines and Bangladesh. Americans woke up to the danger only in 1993, when Afghan-trained Arab militants blew up the World Trade Center in New York, killing six people and injuring 1,000. The bombers believed that just as Afghanistan had defeated one superpower, the Soviet Union, they would defeat a second. One of the main recruiters of Arab militants for the Afghan jihad was bin Laden. As the richest and highest-ranking Saudi to participate in the struggle, he was heavily patronized by the ISI and Saudi intelligence. Bin Laden left Afghanistan in 1990, but returned in May 1996. Soon he turned on his former patrons and issued his first "Declaration of Jihad" against the Saudi royal family and the Americans, whom he accused of occupying his homeland….Kenya, Tanzania and the United States accused bin Laden of financing terrorist camps in Somalia, Egypt, Sudan, Yemen, Egypt and Afghanistan. A few days later, America fired cruise missiles at bin Laden’s camps in eastern Afghanistan, killing nearly 20 militants, but leaving his network unharmed. Washington demanded bin Laden’s extradition; the Taliban refused to comply." ()

The Taliban are so mysterious and circumspect that hardly anyone in Afghanistan even knows what the leader, Mullah Muhammad Umad, even looks like. He will not allow pictures of him to be taken because of Muslim law, and as we have pointed out previously, the country has a ban on television. The only generally known fact about him is that he has only one eye. What is known is that Umad is not a city dweller and is content to make his decisions from afar. Even with little inter-reaction between the leader and the people, the autocratic nature of the government and the severe penalties for disobedience to the religion or government, or maybe because of it, the people in power command more than a modicum of respect.

 

Guess which country produces 75% of the world’s illegal opium? Guess who is the world's biggest opium exporter? Guess which country considers it a crime to grow, cultivate, sell or use opium? You get the prize if you guess Afghanistan is the correct answer to all three questions. If you ask, "How can that be?" you ask a question where the answer isn't at all simple. First of all, the country is really poor, and the stuff that is grown and later manufactured, upgraded and exported has been estimated by the United Nations Drugs Control Programme (UNDCP) to have a street value of just over $10 billion. That's up a resounding 16% over the previous years harvest.

 

"Around Kandahar, poppy fields stretch as far as the horizon. In Herat, the Taliban have set up model farms where farmers learn the best methods of heroin cultivation. The U.N. Drug Control Program reports that Afghanistan produced 4,600 metric tons of opium in 1999 – twice as much as in the previous year. Afghanistan now produces three times more opium than the rest of world put together. Ninety-six percent of it is cultivated in Taliban-controlled areas, making the Taliban the largest heroin producer in the world. The Taliban collect a 20% tax from opium dealers and transporters – money that goes straight to the Taliban war chest. The Northern Alliance imposes a similar tax on opium shipments crossing into Uzbekistan and Tajikistan. Drug dealers operate the only banking system in the country – offering farmers credit in advance of their poppy crop. This criminalized economy has weakened states throughout the region."

"Whereas Afghan opium was exported to the West through Pakistan in 1980, there are now multiple export routes through Iran, the Persian Gulf states and Central Asia. As these routes expand, so do the beneficiaries. U.S. officials claim that, with most of his bank accounts frozen, bin Laden now finances his operations through opium. Chinese officials report that drug smuggling from Afghanistan is similarly funding the Uighur opposition. Uzbekistan’s government has drawn a direct drug-smuggling link between Afghanistan and the Ferghana Valley, where the IMU is based. The civil war in Tajikistan was partly fueled by Afghan drugs, and Pakistan’s economy has been crippled by them. Furthermore, according to governments in the region, heroin addiction is growing, there are now five million addicts in Pakistan, three million in Iran, and one million in China, largely in Xinjiang."

"We have not tried to separate poppies from other crops when it comes to collecting taxes. Most of our energies are currently spent on the war in the north, not accounting procedures," said the governor of Qandahar. "We hope to eliminate the poppy fields in the future. We will not then have to worry about which crops are being sold or taxed after they are eliminated." ()

When approached about the situation, the Taliban did not even think of denying the facts. They didn't want to talk about all of the drug addicts and sellers in their own country whom they had for being involved in opium commerce. They would only talk about what they would do if the United Nations recognized the Taliban as the legitimate government of Afghanistan and turned over that seat to them. "If the Islamic Emirate (the Taliban) is accorded recognition without condition by the U.N., the Emirate will seriously ban unconditionally cultivation of poppy throughout the country," stated Mullah Mohammad Omar, the Taliban Islamic militia leader, in what must be considered a definite maybe.

 

"Poppies are grown in 10 of Afghanistan’s 29 provinces, and 8 of those 10 are under strict Taliban control. The UNDCP estimates that 96% of the raw opium produced in Afghanistan comes from Taliban-held areas. The Taliban have stated that cultivating, producing and selling illicit drugs is strictly forbidden by Islamic law, ’growing a crop that will produce an illicit drug is evil and against Islamic law, just like using an illicit drug,’ declared the governor of Qandahar province, Mullah Muhammad Hassan. ’This is written in the Koran.’"

"The suspicion is that the Taliban militia is benefiting handsomely, financially, from the opium industry, with funds going towards supporting their war effort. They freely admit to collecting taxes on poppies and opium, which, they say, is done under the terms of Sharia, or Islamic law. The assistant director of Pashtani Tjarati Bank, Taliban’s Central Bank in Qandahar, which includes the tax department, explained that a landowner must pay 10% on whatever amount he makes on his crops over the course of a year. This tax is called usher, meaning tenth. He must give five per cent of usher to the poor directly, then have the remaining five per cent divided between the local mullah and the central Islamic government, the Taliban."

"As for the opium merchants, they must pay two and a half per-cent tax, known as zakat, from their total assets which is also distributed to the poor. When it comes to government expenditures and supporting the war effort, the bank’s assistant director says the Taliban are only using money coming in from import duties, collected at Customs Houses based in cities near major border crossings, such as Qandahar, Jhalabad and Heart." ()

Iranian’s security forces are always finding drug smugglers trying to get through their rather porous borders with Afghanistan. In this war against drugs, Iran estimates that it has spent over $900 million fighting the drug trafficking. "Some 200,000 soldiers and members of Iran’s elite Revolutionary Guards have been mobilized across Iran’s entire eastern border to wage war against drugs coming from neighboring Afghanistan and Pakistan on their way to markets in Asia, Europe and the Persian Gulf. Late last month, the governor of Iran’s southeastern border province of Sistan-Baluchistan, Mahmoud Hosseini, told AFP that in recent years, 2,800 Revolutionary Guards, soldiers and police had been killed in clashes, 1,240 in his province alone, despite the strengthening of border defenses." ()

 

Already, the people that lived in the countryside and produced agricultural and dairy products, which had originally had made the country self sufficient, have pulled up stakes and moved into Iran and Pakistan. As a result, Afghanistan no longer produces any hard currency products, () nor has any realistic method of feeding their own people. In a momentous decision, the Taliban ruling council determined that the best dollar per acre cash crop available was the growing of poppies for opium or heroin production. Farmers were given inducements to begin production and laboratories were set up at key points throughout the country to turn the innocent flowers into the deadly, but profitable drugs. Trade routes were laid out, and drug-marketing associates were enlisted in Pakistan, Iran along with Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, Turkmenistan and Tajikistan. () Afghanistan, already faced with having the third lowest average income in the world and having been wracked by incessant wars over the last two decades, didn’t really give a damn what the rest of the world thought about their new cash crop.

 

Afghanistan lies on all of the critical trade routes in that general region, being at the crossroads between Iran, Central Asia, the Arabian Sea and India. Because of its strategic importance, almost every country in that part of the world has taken a crack at dominating the country; and every single attempt has been unsuccessful. From a military point of view, unbelievably, Afghanistan has not lost a war since Alexander the Great marched through laying waste to everything in sight. However, this victory was phyrric for Alexander, who had to marry a local princess to get out of the place alive. The people of Afghanistan remained highly independent, having no particular friends or alignments and a host of potential enemies.

 

Under these conditions, the Taliban have been able to institutionalize their massive movement of drugs across the borders without any particular fear of being ostracized or retaliation. "Opium is our only gold," explained one poppy farmer from Lashkargah, the capital of Helmand province, the country’s leading opium production province which provides 57% of Afghanistan’s total production. "For many years, it has been very difficult feeding my family. I know that opium is bad thing, but through selling it, I now have enough money to feed and clothe my family and I have also been able to rebuild our house, which was destroyed by the Mujahadeen several years ago." ()

 

The Taliban are purists in their fashion and for the most part, they practice what they preach. So why drugs, they are an exception to their fervent religious beliefs? The truth is, there are three excellent reasons for what is currently going on in Afghanistan. The first is that the Taliban, who now control over 95% of the country, () have not been accepted as the true government by anyone of any importance in the world. The Taliban leadership feels that it is imperative that they be accorded the respect as the government of a sovereign nation, the same way that every other nation on earth is treated, no matter what their political views. The Taliban, although other pariah type nations exist all over the globe, believe that they have been singled out for censure and are not into masochism. The second point is even more important, the fact is that superpower induced conflicts have decimated the country, reducing manufacturing to almost its most rudimentary elements and, for the most part, the farmers who were able to pack up, have left for greener pastures. What then does Afghanistan have left, since it has no manufacturing, no agriculture, no infrastructure and no service industries any more? The third reason is a combination of the first two, if they have no manufacturing, they have nothing to export which will bring in hard currency, when they export drugs they are being ostracized by countries that do not recognize their existence. Therefore, what is the difference, their leadership contends?

 

It is not illogical to expect that they would become a well-paid haven for terrorists like bin Laden and that in addition, they would work to achieve the position as the leading wanabee drug supplier to the world. We believe that all of the outstanding issues regarding terrorists and drug dealing are extremely negotiable in the Taliban mindset. If they could only get large enough subsidies that would offset their losses in giving up smuggling, drug harvesting and terrorism, they would probably opt for a change of pace and go reasonably legit. On the other hand, they might not want to give up being a haven for terrorists and drug smuggling simultaneously, since that would leave them with any bargaining chips. For whatever it is worth, the Taliban did ultimately try to muzzle bin Laden and for a while he behaved like a good little boy. After all, these folks really had no friends in the world other than maybe the equally destitute folks in Pakistan and why stir up any more trouble than was necessary? However, bin Laden just couldn’t keep his mouth shut and without his handlers permission, he went on Qatar’s Al-Jazeera television station, which is watched all over the Mideast and read a poem that indicated that he had composed, which praised the suicide bombers who had attacked the destroy USS Cole last year.

 

While this didn’t make the Taliban any new friends in the Western World, it embarrassed the daylights out of the Taliban who were trying to show everyone how good they were being, they apparently lost control of their emotions and Mullah Omar declared that any Muslim that converts to either Christianity of Judaism must be killed. Not knowing when to quit, they next declared that the celebration of Nauroz or the Afghan New Years was being eliminated because it was a totally frivolous and unnecessary western decadent holiday. On a roll they rescinded Mullah Mohammed Omar’s orders to treat their giant Buddhas () "with serious respect" and when Mullah Turabi impassively signed their death knoll, his army rolled out their Howitzers and blew one of the great historical and archeological treasurers’ to Kingdom Come (). "We have obeyed the order of Allah by destroying the idols," he proudly said.

 

However, the former director of Archaeology in Afghanistan, Zemar Tarzi, saw things a tad differently, "I am devastated by the decree and what they have done the act will go down as a global cultural catastrophe. We must urgently alert world public opinion to this unacceptable decision. " The decree read as follows:

 

"All the statues in the country should be destroyed because these statues have been used as idols and deities by the nonbelievers before. They are respected now and may be turned into idols in the future, too…Zealous officials among the ruling Islamic militia recently destroyed several ancient relics in Kabul Museum, including the an exquisite Buddha statue about 2,000 years old, reports have said. Taliban officials have denied the reports but have refused journalists’ requests to visit the museum." ()

In the meantime it also occurred to the Mullah that they were rather late in discovering the oversight of getting rid of these gigantic graven images; in order to rectify this situation, they brought out a large herd of cattle and slaughtered them on the spot in hopes that God would forgive their much delayed actions. "When the Taliban opened the National Museum () last week for journalists, little remained of the country’s cultural collections but some ancient pots and clay shards. "I knew that there was no future for us in Afghanistan," one former Afghan official lamented. "But now we don’t even have a past." () However, other Muslims didn’t see things the same way that the Taliban did in spite of their pedantic statements that they were the only ones knowledgeable enough to interpret the Muslim doctrine accurately.

 

The head man at Unesco, Koichiro Matsuura, knows something about historic landmarks and thinks that the Taliban are crazy (). "They are destroying statues that the entire world considers to be masterpieces, and this is being done in the name of an interpretation of the Muslim faith that is not recognized anywhere else." Unspeakably, senior members of the Taliban added their voices to the torrent, but in a low whisper, "the act was surely that of a man possessed", many said, however, by this time it was already to late. After the horse had already gotten out of the barn, the anticipatory folks at stated that "Unesco is seeking funds and a site to build a replica of the larger 53-meter (174 foot) statue and said on Wednesday, it was assembling a team of archaeologists for the project…Many small status were also destroyed under the Taliban order to rid the country of all images of animate objects." ()

 

Now they think these things were worth something. These guys a Unesco make the bureaucrats at the United Nations look like an overachievers. If these reactive folks at Unesco think that they can instantaneously recreate a monument that had stood for almost 2,000 years with little or no wear because it was delicately carved right into the face of a mountain, protected for centuries from the elements, they are crazy as fruitcakes. Copies are not the original and the whole concept is more than a total waste of time. Better efforts could be put forward by trying raise addition money to save other structures of this kind being currently attacked by war, environmental conditions and misuse, not works of art that have already become diseased because of man’s continuing stupidity.

 

Substantial after all the damage had been done, and it was becoming clear to the Taliban that their actions had only diminished their remote chances of becoming the designated members of the United Nations from Afghanistan. They then started think up logical reasons for their indecent actions. However, the first thing that came to their community mind was the fact that Unesco itself was to blame for the Statue’s destruction. Moreover, the reason that was espoused was the fact that the organization, with the international mandate to preserve landmarks had offered a substantial amount of money to help in the preservation of the Buddha’s. In the minds of the Taliban, this was a gigantic insult, due to the fact that of the millions of children were going to be starving in their country because of the extremely cold winter and a lack of warmth and food. How could the international community, along with Unesco be so callous as to stand idly by when their children were dying? Being highly insulted with the potential death of their children, they determined to send the rest of the world and object lesson in the form of the Buddha’s destruction.

 

This argument hardly works, when you consider that the offer of money for the preservation of the Statues was not even considered until after the Taliban had announced that they would be destroyed and that the children were hardly dying from malnutrition because of the inclement weather supposedly crippling agricultural production because the Taliban crop’s had not even been planted yet. Moreover, it was the Taliban itself that turned the country’s agricultural production toward the direction of harvesting opium, which is hardly edible. In addition, the lamest excuse of all was the fact that the territory that the Statues were located was being highly contested by their enemies and they did not want these monuments to be captured by idol worshipers. A kind of, "if I can’t have them, nobody can have them argument", which usually is uttered by small children that have no emotionally matured enough to be left outside on their own. In addition, 24-year-old, Sayed Rahmatullah Hasimi, indicated that if the Taliban had wanted the Statues destroyed they could have done it years ago. This logic makes more sense, however, the Taliban have destroyed just about everything in their country and obviously had just not gotten around to the Buddhas at that time. Rahmatullah finally to the point; ‘you don’t recognize their government, it is a kind of resentment that is growing in Afghanistan."

 

The destruction of the Buddhas enervated Russia and India to do something publicly that, at least they were previously not overtly talking about. They openly began to supply massive amounts of armaments to the Taliban’s opposition in order to get rid of these religious zealots once and for all, while dramatically increasing the country’s overall destruction. The sad part of this whole state of affairs is the fact that Afghanistan was strategically located as an important stop on the "Silk Road" and in order to conquer the known world at that time, you historically had to take the "Silk Road" first. There were a lot of people that had an interest in being king of the hill and all of them were obliged to travel through Afghanistan to address the military necessity of world domination or even something slightly less. As a result, many of those wannabe and for-real conquerors that visited Afghanistan on their way to glory or death, left a striking memento of their visits. A startling number of these archeological treasures were left behind, but today, thanks to our Taliban friends, there is literally nothing left.

 

Meanwhile the battle was raging between the Taliban and an organization called the United Front, which is a rag-tag operation headed by folks almost as bad as the Taliban are, but come from a different background. This organization is run by its President Burhanuddin Rabbani, out of the city of Faizbad, the largest city in the Badakhshan Province, which only has 100,000 inhabitants. However, the United Front which controls almost no territory in the country is recognized as Afghanistan’s legitimate government by just about every country in the world. The fact that they only control 5% of the total land mass of Afghanistan has literally nothing to do with recognition. However there are a few notable exceptions of those countries that seem to be in bed with Rabbani, such stalwarts as bin Laden and Pakistan think that the Taliban are just super. The United Front, who, as Afghans go, are not really great fighters. They have lost just about every battle that they have fought and have now been painted into a tiny little corner as the Taliban have gone about efficiently eliminating all opposition since they took power.

 

However, every once in a while, the United Front comes out of its comatose state and is able to kill or maim a few random Taliban soldiers with lucky shots. However, this is not a good thing as far as the Taliban are concerned. They consider that this is an evil act that must be immediately punished or they will incur the wrath of God and usually assuage themselves by arresting a few hundred local villagers in the vicinity of where the encounter took place, getting together an ad hoc firing squad and eliminating these pitiful souls to make up for their military losses. However, sensing that something was wrong about this, The Human Rights Watch went berserk over these actions and called in the United Nations. The scope of recently reported killings, the rights organization said, "could not have been carried out without the consent and knowledge of senior Taliban commanders." () It appears that the Taliban, have once again stepped in a bunch of doo doo.

 

Moreover, one of the regions main problems is that the country of Pakistan, () is the Taliban’s only real ally in the region, and they are particularly anxious to see Afghanistan join the world community. Keeping the Taliban dependent on them suits Pakistan just fine, and if the chips are ever down in their conflict with India, Pakistan is going to really need a friend. The Taliban also make a strong case that their farmers would starve to death in about a month if poppy growing really were to become a crime. "We would like to stop opium production and drug trafficking in our country," explained Deputy Foreign Minister Sher Muhammad Stanakzai, "but poppies have been the crop providing an income for many farmers. When we can find a substitute crop that will allow them to earn a good profit, we will have them switch to it. However, we are not able to do so at this time."

 

The economics the Taliban leadership are dealing with are extremely simple. Forgetting what the public relations statements say, the Afghanistan government is probably collecting about 20% of the poppy growing farmer’s gross income in taxes. If that same farmer were growing wheat, cucumbers, grapes or cotton, his income would be 80% less, thus even further diminishing the government’s tax collections. In addition, poppies do not require the large amounts of water or fertilizers to survive that other crops would require. In addition, the extensive irrigation systems that once ran the length of the country are now just pieces of scrap, and fertilizer has to be paid for in cash money that is not available. Hence, you don’t have to look too hard too see the Taliban’s motivation behind their change in crop allocation. As they see it, the government wins by their current agricultural output in increased taxes, in addition the farmers win and are able to better care for their families, reducing the need for governmental assistance. Moreover, today, other nations now come calling, at least attempting to cut down on the Taliban’s strange form of agriculture, something no one ever did before.

 

The United Nations has estimated that over one million people are employed in the poppy growing, harvesting, manufacturing and transshipment business, and almost all of them are supporting families. The Taliban say that this is a whole lot better than they were doing before. Furthermore, U.N. officials indicated that Afghanistan’s opium production in 1999 reached the highest-level ever-recorded anywhere on earth. The UNDCP released these findings following the completion of their annual Opium Poppy Survey, conducted by 90 surveyors nation-wide, believe it or not, thanks to the support of the Taliban Authorities. Statistics released by the United Nation’s Agency showed that the area under cultivation increased from 64,000 hectares in 1998 to 91,000 hectares in 1999 – a 43% increase of the area currently cultivated. "With 4,699 metric tons, Afghanistan accounts this year (2000) for a production three times larger than the rest of the world put together. The second largest producer, Myanmar, is now no longer a legitimate competitor, coming in a distant second with 1,200 metric tons, while another 300 tons are the combined output of Laos, Thailand, Columbia and Pakistan." ()

 

Should Pakistan lose its fragile ability to dangle the Taliban by the puppet strings, they could potentially lose an alliance that gives them a modicum of additional insurance against India. Time is getting short, and tempers are starting to flair. Neighbors are not going to allow the Taliban to continue transporting their brand of orthodoxy, their drugs and their smuggling across neighboring borders for too much longer. It appears that the Taliban has pushed the envelope to far and to fast. Should Russia and Iran along with possibly, India, decide that they have had enough of these folks, the Taliban, no matter what their fighting skill, would become chopped liver in about a minute; well, okay, two minutes cause they are really good fighters. Or as some say, better fighters than lovers because they really don’t have much to do with women.

 

In the meantime, the people’s lives have degraded so deplorably in that country that a new phrase had to be coined to describe the current situation in Afghanistan relative to the view of the world at large. "Donor Fatigue Syndrome." When the American and Russians first began using Afghan citizens as their proxies when they brought their arguments in the Cold War to that country, it appeared that assuredly, Afghanistan was where Armageddon must absolutely be fought, the world was sympathetic. Not only did international relief agencies feel dreadful for those on both sides of the conflict that were being debilitated, displaced and debauched, but they wanted to help and they chipped in with clothes, medicines and money for shelter for all of the combatants on both sides of the conflict.

 

When the war ended between the major powers in Afghanistan, due to the use of the American made "stinger", relief agencies dug down deep once again and poured in aid by the basketful. When, the victorious tribes of combatants went after each other with a vengeance after the communists had been thoroughly vanquished, causing dislocation, disease and death, the relief agencies were first on the scene and helped out once again but were now receiving far less kudos for their efforts, as it appears that this debilitation was not going to stop anytime soon. People, it seems, want to give aid to causes where results are readily achievable, not those that drain on and on without hope or cure. Global donors were growing weary of what was going on in Afghanistan. Its relentless outrages were no longer headline news.

 

When the fighting had ended, leaving the religiously fanatical Taliban, victorious, it left decapitated, diseased and desolate people strewn all over the cratered countryside; those same agencies reached way down deep into their pockets once again but came up only with a few coins because they had already been back to the well so often. It seems that each time they reached into their pockets, there was less money there. The aid organizations had eventually been exposed to the highly dreaded "donor fatigue" symptom. The scenario or horrors here had been unfolding for decades and if anything, no matter what anyone did, it just kept getting worse. This had originally been the most grisly soap opera on earth, but no amount of aid seemed to make a damn bit of difference. People believed that they were now only seeing television reruns of a horror to immense to comprehend.

 

The scene had become almost surreal and appeared almost as rhombus strip, endlessly following the same road, leading ultimately back to where it had begun. The donors began to envision no conceivable benefit accruing to anyone over the long term in exchange for their largess, and it became readily apparent to all, that charity in Afghanistan was tantamount to pouring money down an enormous rat hole. Do gooders became convinced that the end-result would not never change, it could only be deferred for a short period and sadly, that became the hew and cry of the international relief agencies, who had become weary from their efforts and browbeaten by their Taliban hosts. However, the worst was yet to come and the Taliban initiated their torturous reforms, causing derision, detainment and mandatory devotionalism. Their ardor only succeeded in sending the entire this tottering country back into the Stone Age from whence it had emerged only decades earlier. Moreover, the donors were appalled but by this time, non-plused.

 

Nothing they seemed to do meant a difference here and knowing that this was indeed the case, they had just run out of patience and funding for this Alice in Wonderland country where up is down and right is wrong. The mad-hatter seemed to be in charge and the queen of spades had disgustedly left for whatever horrors await in Pakistan. "…In Afghanistan it is often hard to distinguish between the bad times and worse. Even without famine, more than on in four children die before the age of 5 and the average life expectancy is 44. Hunger has become a helpmate to other causes of death." () Relief agencies have been reduced to paying bribes to Taliban officials in order to distribute what little aid they have available to what they believe are the preeminent recipients. Only in Afghanistan does altruism exact such an enormous toll. There is no glory, no satisfaction, and no respect. This appears to be the only land in the world where the devil himself has decided to pull up stakes, if even he can’t stand the pain anymore how can they?

 

In the meantime, we want to give our "Dubious Distinction Award of 2000" to the Taliban for not only talking out of both sides of their mouth at the same time, but also being able to totally transform a country’s agricultural demography within a four-year period. To be able to take a country that was into growing corn and cucumbers into largest producer of illicit drugs in world is one of the all time bait-and-switch moves the world has ever seen. Nowhere in world history has this kind of transformation occurred, where a country knowingly opted for agricultural dependence, as opposed to political independence. Historically, agricultural products that are produced in a particular area vary little over the years, and only serious and permanent weather variations have ever effected production. There seems no question that the Taliban have converted a law abiding country into a band of drug smugglers and bandits, knowingly and with malice aforethought, and they did so in less time then it takes to issue an edict.

 

 

The Giant Bamiyan Buddha’s

This chapter has been canceled due to the fact that while it was in preparation, the Taliban Military blew up these magnificent statutes on orders from their Muslim Religious leaders. No reasonable rationale has been given for these appalling actions.


Sudan

 

Sudan is one hell of a mess and because of that fact, we will spend a tad more time looking at what is going on here. The fact is this, a civil war has been raging in this country for years that is particularly harsh. It is because of this war that this country has the world’s largest population of internally displaced persons. Currently almost a 100,000 people are in immediate need of food or they will probably starve to death. Almost 2 million people will need help shortly or they may possibly join the ranks of those above. Even if the food was readily available, aid workers have been prevented from reaching at-risk groups due to the fighting. Sudan, once thought of as the future breadbasket of Africa has suffered additionally from drought, poor crop rotation and lack of good planting techniques. These statements are particularly disturbing because the country at one time had so much going for it:

 

"Sudan’s beauty piques the imagination. It is a combination of a natural beauty that is complemented by man-made monuments that testify to the achievements of its inhabitants over the centuries. The majesty of Sudan is exemplified in the coming together of the two Nile Rivers. The Blue Nile and the White Nile rivers unite in Sudan’s capitol city of Khartoum. The little known ancient pyramids, reportedly older than the pyramids in Egypt, are in the arid Sahara Desert of northern Sudan." ()

Sudan is one-quarter the size of the United States and is equal to the dimensions of this country east of the Mississippi River. Moreover, Sudan is the largest country in Africa, having a population of 35 million, which includes over one hundred different tribes and sub-tribes. Only 20 percent of Sudan's people dwell in its cities. Although a full census has not been taken in over forty years, at that time forty percent of the population was comprised of what might be loosely called Arabs. The country has been engaged in a violent civil war for fifteen years with the northern part of the country being accused of engaging in substantive anti-Western activities. It has served as a home away from home for such noted international gadabouts such as Sheik Osama bin Laden and Carlos "the Jackal".

 

In addition, ever-friendly Iran leases bases in both Port Sudan and Suakin, Sudan, where it stations and trains its soldiers while operating a radio station that broadcasts an Iranian brand of Islamic propaganda throughout the region. Libya, Iraq, China and Malaysia all consider Sudan a client state, through which they are able to deliver dogma, test weapons and create strategic footholds in a critical area. The opposing forces in the south are aided by a peculiar combination of allies, Uganda, Eritrea and the United States.

 

Sudan is the country where the United States destroyed a pharmaceutical facility suspected of harboring a germ warfare manufacturing plant. Since that time, American Diplomats have deserted Khartoum and set-up residences in nearby countries; in the meantime, they occasionally visit Sudan on diplomatic issues. Sudan persists in being the world's greatest humanitarian crisis, but tends, due to a growing number of disasters, to be what has come to be called a "forgotten tragedy". Brian Atwood, USAID's administrator, so characterized Sudan before the United States’ sub-committee on African affairs, without regard to the country's anti-American activities.

 

However, the fate of under-developed countries seems somewhat unimportant to the United States. Sudan, whose name literally means "Land of Blacks", wins our vote for the most dismal place on earth. If the country has a redeeming feature, we have yet to ascertain it. The country’s total gross revenues are an astounding, $482 million, while its expenditures are $1.5 billion. Its external debt hovers at $25 billion. If one were to do a mathematical computation and allowed Sudan to pay down their debt with their entire gross domestic product and if you simultaneously assigned a 5% interest to what it already owes, the company would never get out of debt or pay off one nickel of its principal. Both Egypt and Kenya are its neighbors and its relations with them as with most countries are very poor to say the least. Sudan leads the world in unemployment with it hovering around 30% and rising; agricultural production is dropping like a lead balloon while its per-capita income scrapes the bottom of the world’s barrel, at a dismal $330.

 

The civil war continues to be fought with vigor, and there are no niceties among the combatants. Hospitals are randomly bombed, food supply depots are considered a military targets, and starvation is a typical military tactic. To make matters even more confusing in this land of desolation, the American Central Intelligence Agency runs the various southern armies, which are ethnically diverse and the people often hate each other as badly as they hate those that they are fighting them from the north. However, this is easy to understand when you take into account the fact that these are the people who sold their ancestors into slavery. Carol Bellamy, head of the United Nations Children's Fund charged on March 16, 1999 that the practice of slavery as related to women and children was continuing in Sudan and if anything is expanding at an accelerated pace. The northern military armies are trained a led by the Islamic Militant States, directed by Iran.

 

In reality, when push had come to shove, the United States and Iran have chosen to air out their grievances on this little known battlefield, virtually using these pathetic people as pawns. The stakes of the game vary dramatically; one million people have already died of starvation, with apparently millions more to come. Almost another million have died of war injuries, and six million people have been uprooted from their homes.

 

U. S. Senator Sam Brownback said, "tens of thousands of non-Muslim Sudanese live as slaves and are branded, beaten, starved and raped at their masters' whim. At the same news conference, Congressman Frank Wolf indicated that in addition to many of the problems that Brownback had been referring to many of the same problems that Brownback had been referring to, he said that two-million Sudanese have been killed in the 16-year-old civil war going on in this country. Under-paid northern soldiers were given whatever women and children they captured as booty; they were allowed to either kept them for whatever use they could find, or in the alternative, they could sell them. These senators were protesting Presidential Orders that stopped most trade with Sudan, tied up its assets in the United States, and bombed suspected Sudanese military targets. They did not mention, though, the all out war that the CIA was running in the South in an effort to overthrow the pro-Iranian, pro Iraqi and pro Libyan regime. Organizations such as NBC News, Christian Solidarity International of Geneva, the State Department of the United States and the United Nations have all accused the Sudanese government of directly, either condoning or participating in the slave trade. The State Department has publicly announced that members of the Sudanese militia kidnap both women and children for use in either the northern part of Sudan or in other countries including Libya.

 

"Two years ago, Anisia Achieng Olworo, a Sudanese Christian, told Catholic New Times of Toronto that women and children were being sold at $35 a head. Last year, Gaspar Biro, the UN’s special rapporteur on Sudan, informed the UN Human rights Commission that slavery was one of Khartoum’s weapons of war and that children were being sold for as little as $15. At the same time, bishop Macram Max Grassis, a spokesman for the Catholic bishops’ conference of Sudan, confirmed that 30,000 people from his own diocese in the Nuba Mountains had been enslaved. And last year Kevin Vigilante, a physician at Brown University who had led a fact-finding trip to Sudan for the Puebla Institute, told a U.S. House joint subcommittee that slavery in Sudan is "one of the most shameful if hidden atrocities of our times." ()

"… the government has engaged in a campaign of "cleaning up" city streets by rounding up alleged street children and sending them to special, closed camps. Many alleged street children were not street children at all, but were actually living with their families, and were captured while they were running errands such as going to market. These children were, nevertheless, packed off to the closed camps, without any government effort to find out if the child had a family, where it was, and what if any problem caused the child to be out on the street. Thus children have been separated for years and many remain separated from their families."

"There are at least three basic human rights problems with the Sudan government's program for street children: 1) the government arbitrarily removes the children from their families without any legal process and holds them in camps for years, usually without notifying their families. Families search for their missing children without any help from authorities; 2) the government does not respect the religious freedom of the children in that it gives them an Islamic religious education whether or not they or their families are Muslims; and 3) the government violates the children's right to their own identity, including their name, when it gives some children new names in Arabic and denies their heritage. These practices, which have been going on for years, violate the United Nations (U.N.) Convention on the Rights of the Child, the African Charter, and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights."

"Some children have been captured in military raids on their villages and taken into household slavery by their captors. Dinka and Nuba children have predominated among those seized and exploited in this way. The government denies the existence of the problem and has made no effort to stop the practice or to punish those who treat Sudanese children as slaves. In addition, underage boys are forcibly recruited into the army or government-sponsored militias, while at the same time the government attempts to focus world attention on the SPLA's use of child soldiers. ()

The United Nations considers Sudan a rogue state and has imposed travel sanctions on the government. Fielding's DangerFinder does not mince any words about how it sees this strange country:

 

"Sudan is a big, bad, ugly place with a belligerent, extreme Islamic government hell-bent on choking the entire country under Islam's shroud. Khartoum is Terrorist Central. The country is one massive training camp for suicide bombers, hijackers, assassins, car bombers, grenade chuckers and synagogue saboteurs. Three guys who were involved in the plot to assassinate Egyptian President Mubarak are in Sudan getting their hair cut and nails done and watch the V Channel, despite an OAU call for the government to hand over the thugs. In all, there are an estimated 15,000 militants living or training is Sudan."

"The Ethiopians have had their hands in the pie since 1987. Khartoum has also sought the assistance of Iran and Libya, including MiG-25s flown by Libyans. Even Iraq and the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) lent a hand by flying bombing missions over the south."

Oddly, in spite of the assassination attempts against Egyptian President Mubarak by Sudanese radicals, which has caused antipathy between the countries for years, even worse news was on the horizon. It seems that Uganda believes that both Egypt and Sudan should be paying a toll to use the waters of the Nile, which originate in their country.. This could cut off any possibility of restoring agricultural production to either country and the prospects of this happening are considered not beyond comprehension, after all, Uganda is and has always been Uganda.

 

Starting with location, the Sudan never had a chance. Maybe it is only the fact that is geographically located close to what well may be the "cradle of civilization" that has contributed to its getting old before its time. After all, man or his predecessors could be found in this region over nine million years ago. From early times, to this day, this pathetic country has exported slaves. Moreover, even in Homer's time, they were traded for trinkets, and on occasion, some table wine. Kidnapers from northern Sudan delivered their hapless victims from the south to their foreign clients on consignment. This system made sense in those days; as people lacked a way of examining the merchandise first hand; after all, this product was highly perishable. Rejected goods were eradicated, and new merchandise delivered forthwith; so to avoid annoying legitimate flesh buyers, northerners referred to their southern brethren as "slaves".

 

Since slaves were the nation's only export, the land was not highly coveted by others, and for the most part, nothing to dramatic occurred within the country’s borders until the late 1800's when maps started recording the existence of Sudan. Being highly competent in geography, the British noticing that Sudan was close to Egypt with whom they had a relationship, invaded the country. They were lead by the vainglorious British General, Herbert Kitchener. Victorious, they struck a deal with Egypt and let them run the country as sort of a joint venture between the two nations. Sudan became a pet rock lovingly cared for by the dynamic duo. The Sudanese were given everything to make the country be successful except capital, markets, scientific know-how, a middle class and most important of all, industry. In spite of these deficits, things worked out amazingly well until a well-intentioned Egyptian Nationalist, assassinated Sir Lee Stack, Governor-General of the Sudan in downtown Cairo. This incident was particularly annoying to the British, known at the time for their administrative talents; clearly a taint on an unblemished record.

 

From that time forward, until 1955, the British barred the Egyptians from Sudan, and that year, the country was granted its freedom. A democracy existed in name only for a few years, when it was formally suspended in the name of "honesty and integrity" by General Abboud, who led an army junta that had taken over. Strangely, there were those in Sudan who regretted the loss of a democracy that really never even existed. The Southern Regions of Sudan became bases for revolutionaries of every shape and size. In July 1976 two of the revolutionary leaders infiltrated Khartoum and Omdurman, killing and maiming more than their fair share, before the Sudanese government recovered long enough to put the conspirators out of their misery with multiple mercy killings.

 

Islam broke upon the scene with a rush in 1983, when President Jaafer Mohammed al-Numeiry announced with great pomp and circumstance that henceforth the penal code would be linked both "organically and spiritually" to Islamic Law. Thus, the good things in life such as alcohol and gambling would henceforth be banned and that was sad because that was all the people had. Sudan, which was not exactly an real exciting place to begin with, soon became dullsville personified. The biggest event of that year was the President's attempt to turn the Nile into a beverage by dumping the country's entire liquor stock into the river in one fell swoop. The excitement was more than many on the banks of river could bear. A number of the observers, needing medical treatment, threw themselves into the river in search of its curative properties. However, others said that it was the joy of seeing the "Devil eaten by the Nile"; others could not stand the pain of all that good booze being taking out of circulation and groaned in total disbelief.

 

Nevertheless, at that time, Sudan was running an massive food surplus and for that and other inexplicable reasons, displaced people in the general vicinity seemed to think that Sudan was would be a fabulous place to live. Countless displaced people headed for the border but for some odd reason, Sudan did not believe in the Islamic custom of welcoming refugees, who were dubbed "Guests of Sudan". The so-called guests arrived in such enormous numbers in Sudan that the United Nations called the situation "a disaster of major proportions", and goodie two-shoes agencies around the world started bringing in relief supplies by the planeload. Poor weather and overgrazing had by this time annihilated the country's food surplus and turned the nation into a pathetic hoard of international beggars.

 

For the people that worked the land, it didn't much matter one way or the other, as most of their property had been sold to various absentee cartels that had little interest in sustaining topsoil or preserving water. The Unregistered Land Act in 1970, mandated that eminent domain meant less than nothing. A dirt farmer who worked the land for his entire life could continue to work the land but would not be allowed to ever own it; the profits would accrue to the Northern Government or its nominees. Less than 1 percent of the total grazing and farming land available in Sudan is owned by the indigenous population. Professional carpetbaggers abused these agricultural assets and transmitted the profits to their overseas homes, leaving the land hopelessly scarred and desolate. Thus, as the land continued its deterioration, cartels lost interest when they could no longer profit and with little else to do for a living, the people began migrating to urban areas to beg. Strangely, in this forlorn land, the food only existed in the cities rather than on the farms, as urban areas were the centers of distribution for the world's charities. Believe it or not, much of the food that was distributed in the north was resold to other countries at a profit rather than trans-shipping to the starving people in the south.

 

Another unique cause of famine in Sudan were the large numbers of animals grazing on each acre of land. Overgrazing and exhaustion of natural resources creates a never-fail scenario for agricultural disaster. However, if the state of affairs could be made worse, it soon was; the forests in the north were being burned down to create attempt new land to supply food for the local populations. This land in turn was also destroyed, removing most of the indigenous forage that had been used to feed livestock, produce the gum Arabic that brought in hard currency and the fuel that was used by the population for heat and energy. The northern land that was being cut out of the forest was never meant for agricultural production as the soils are extremely fragile. Yields have been abysmal and world agencies predict that all forests in Northern Sudan will be denuded by the end of the year 2001 according to experts.

 

In M. Suliman's "Civil War in Sudan: The Impact of Ecological Degradation" he puts things in absolute perspective. "All the following disastrous factors have descended on the country within the life-span of one generation:

 

1. Micro-and macro-climatic change (the practically continuous Sahel drought since 1967)

2. Diminishing and erratic rainfall and accelerating desertification (the floods and torrential rains of 1988)

3. Near doubling of population in less than a quarter of a century (15.4 million in 1970 to 25.4 million in 1990)

4. Displacement - Both internal and external - of some six million people

5. Doubling of livestock numbers within 20 years

6. Deforestation on a massive scale

7. Renewed civil war in the South, which is now encroaching on the west and east

8. Aggressive expansion of legal and illegal rain fed mechanized farming from 0.42m ha (1 m feddans) in 1967 to 7.5 m ha (18m fed.) in 1989"

Meanwhile, the Christian-African minority, chaffing at Islamic-Arab rule, started a miniature uprising, which rapidly spread, creating logistical havoc on food distribution points set up by numerous relief agencies. Fuel was added to the fire when leaders of the revolution in the south were able to point to the fact that what little infrastructure that existed in the country was being constructed in the North. Southern resources were systematically being diverted and what little still existed when the vicious circle began, soon diminished to almost nothing at all. In spite of the fact that oil was found in some abundance in the south, the country's only refineries were strangely located in the north. When the people in the South realized that they would not benefit from the black gold discovered on their lands, they attacked the driller's (Chevron) facilities, destroying an asset that could ultimately have helped the entire country. But then again, this is Sudan.

 

This disturbing theme recurred when the Sudanese Government announced the construction of a canal to drain the Sudd Marshes of the White Nile. According to the misguided Northern rulers of Sudan, the drained land could be reclaimed and made suitable for agriculture, the water could be stored for the irrigation of both the drained area and lands in the drier north and lastly, any remaining water could be sold to Egypt who would pay dearly for the resource. Seemed like a decent plan. However, once again, the people in the south, not have reason to believe that they would benefit from these changes, attacked the infrastructure and destroyed any hope of the project reaching fruition. Once again, they felt that the major beneficiaries of this project would be those in Northern Sudan, possibly the Egyptians but certainly not themselves, and they weren’t far wrong..

 

Of the 800 bureaucratic posts held by the British in Sudan when they pulled out, only four were assigned to the south with the suggestion having been made that the illiterate of Sudan "down-under" were neither mentally or emotionally fit to manage anything but their local dirt farms and there was even a question about that. On the other hand, those in Southern Sudan could not stomach being ruled by the very same people that had sold them into slavery and who had belittled even their mere existence. Local rivalries were not aided by the fact that there was literally no secondary education in Sudan schools. Propaganda was the only education that many of new generation of Sudanese ever received; deep-seated prejudices died harder then ever before.

 

This quickly led to a new government, which suspended whatever constitution existed in Sudan and dissolved the National Assembly and all political parties. This in no way palliated the acute hunger pangs of the people, the drive of the revolutionaries or the felicities of the do gooders around the world. Everyone came to worship Sudan; here was a place where there was enough misery to go around. What started out as a uncomplicated battle between the Black Christians and the Islamic Arabs aided by their Turkish and Slavic mercenaries, soon became a game of "who can capture the economic high ground and starve the other side to death".

 

In addition, where these warring partners were able to bid for assistance from diametrically opposed governments. During the Cold War, any form of aid was resold to highest bidder, and eventually, when the Cold War ended, the that form of aid dried up like a prune. Egypt once again cast envious eyes at the water resources abused by their Sudanese neighbors. Worst yet, Islamic militants, seeking to replenish the beneficence of the cold war years, made a pact with the Iranian Government. In short order, the Iranians immediately began supplying military equipment that was far in excess of Sudan's capacity to understand or handle it. Moreover, this tended to fractionalize the situation even further and English became the language of choice in the south and Arabic in the north.

 

Even organizations such as the World Bank and the IMF came in for their share of blame. Both organizations were passionate believers in the theory that the Sudanese economy should be built around potential western exports rather than infrastructure enhancements that would benefit the masses. Thus, when crops were selected for their export value, little thought was given to whether this was advantageous for the land or even whether it would be beneficial for the people. The only thing that these organizations seemed to realize, was the fact that per-capita income in Sudan was in the toilet and the only way to flush it out was to begin a campaign aimed at raising export earnings.

 

When the this game plan was put into motion, it gave the impression of being a workable idea, but as prices simultaneously plummeted on international commodities, the plan requiring an ever-greater amount of production just to maintain the status quo. However, just when things began to look up a tad, the land deteriorated from a combination of ongoing drought and over production. Moreover, loans to these international organizations could not be repaid and a greater percentage of gross domestic product had to earmarked for interest on these borrowing. Sudan tried hard to play catch up, nevertheless, the people were falling ever further below the poverty level. As of this writing, unless Sudan receives massive loan forgiveness, the country's ultimate economic collapse is absolutely irreversible.

 

Again we can look to M. Suliman’s, "Civil War in Sudan: The Impact of Ecological Degradation" for guidance on what affects just the loans of the World Bank had upon the country.

 

"It is noteworthy that the Mechanized Farming Corporation (MFC), was established in 1968, upon request from the World Bank to secure its first loan for the so-called supervised sector and to facilitate credit to private farmers.

The MFC supervised the expansion of mechanized agriculture into southern Kordofan, White Nile and Upper Nile Provinces. By 1975, the World Bank provided half of the total loans for the agricultural sector, specifically for private rain fed mechanized farming.

The ecological and social stress caused by large-scale mechanized agriculture is well documented, and can be held responsible for three types of conflict:

Conflicts between traditional farmers and owners of the big schemes, as documented by Ahmed:

"Cultivators are forced to sell their labor cheaply, pastoral nomads are driven out of the best areas of their traditional pasture…and agro-pastoralists are forced to abandon one of two activities and change over to agricultural labor for low wages and a lower standard of living.

Conflict among local people in the vicinity of the schemes, because of scarcity of cultivable land, obstruction of animal herding routes or in the search for fresh grazing land.

Conflict between the state, as a major backer of the scheme owners, and the small farmers and pastoralists. This is the most serious of all as the state has often opposed the spontaneous resettlement of such people when stricken by drought.

The International Monetary Fund, (IMF) also came in for their share of the criticism. The IMF literally forced the production of cotton in Sudan in exchange for an "adjustment program" in which interest or/and principal would be forgiven in exchange for the adoption of IMF policies. Thus, sorghum and wheat suffered and cotton became the cash crop. Sadly, agricultural production dropped to even more dismal levels than before, prices declined and the Sudanese had exchanged their heritage for a lot less than a bowl of porridge. Many said, "we can’t either eat or sell the cotton, we were substantially better before we grew the "Devil’s own crop". So, the IMF had turned what began as a dismal situation into a real catastrophe and they literally are now stultified in knowing what to do next. These guys historical always seem to know the answers before they create the disaster, but after it has happened, somehow, they seem to lose their sense of reasoning. A major number of Sudanese deaths from starvation can be directly attributed to the good thoughts and ideas prescribed as a cure by the IMF. Moreover, as if to add insult to injury, while the prices of all agricultural products declined even further, the bottom literally dropped out of cotton due to global overproduction. Thus the name, "The Devil’s own crop."

 

However, as if not enough had gone wrong, in this biblically, Job-like" country, matters soon became infinitely worse, hyperinflation gripped Sudan and the price of almost all goods skyrocketed. A population that didn’t have any money to at the beginning, now found even the barest of necessities substantially out of reach. Aggravating an already horrendous situation was the fact that Sudan had gone to the head of the class in 1990, by being declared "non-cooperative" by the International Monetary Fund that had buried them to begin with. I guess we can understand that, the people apparently had been feed enough of the snake oil that they being sold and just upped and said no thank you. However, this move made history, being the first time a nation was "deemed to be non-cooperative" by the socially correct IMF. Moreover, things got even worse in 1992-3 when the IMF upped the anti by threatening to expel Sudan from the fund altogether for deception. A last minute reprieve was granted when Sudan made some minor concessions, that to some miniscule degree they have been able to honor.

 

During this period though, Sudan's inflation was increasing at an astounding rate 163 percent a year and the country’s money supply was growing even faster. In order to pay bills, eventually the Sudanese Government was obliged to get into the printing business which soon had the effect of making their currency totally valueless. In addition, the Government's policy of continuously borrowing from the central bank to pay salaries and to finance projects without any aim to repayment or any attempt to balance the budget was not helping balance the budget either. Knowing that something had to be done and yet not knowing what to do next, the government did the best they could when they jailed more than 50 people and closed eight foreign exchange houses. A court imposed prison terms ranging from six months to three years for hard currency brokers and sellers, palliating some people. The government’s public relations mill announced these moves with a flourish and many were heartened that the government had at last taken a positive step. However, none of those arrested was ever charged with anything, because no one could figure out what crime had been committed, yet, liquidity throughout the country has taken a severe pounding in that these happened to be the only people ever willing to take a position, one way or the other on the Sudanese currency.

 

We say, "another job well done".

 

Sudan News and Views reports that the : "The price increase on fuel announced by the new Minister of Finance, Abdel Wahab Osman, had sparked widespread outrage and protests. The price of a gallon of petrol shot up to 2,500 Sudanese Pounds from 1,700 and Diesel prices went up 60 percent to 1,200 S. P. from 750 pounds. Petrol has risen six-fold since April 1994, when it was just 400 pounds per gallon. The new fuel prices were quickly condemned by the pro-government Workers Federation, which demanded there immediate cancellation or a comparable rise in worker's wages. The leader of the Farmers Union also denounced the increases and said farmers would strike unless it was rescinded. Even the members of the newly-elected, National Assembly expressed their protest and called for the reversal of the decision." Well at least in the Sudan, everyone seems to be in agreement as to how bad things have become.

 

The Sudan News and Views, then reported the government's position in the foray: "The Finance Minister told the assembly that the increases are a result of a budget deficit. He said the deficit had reached 9 billion Sudanese pounds and would rocket to 200 billion Sudanese pounds at the end of this year if fuel prices were not increased. He also said his government had subsidized fuel by borrowing from the Bank of Sudan. This in turn pushed inflation up another 102 percent. He said fuel prices had to be increased to raise funds to pay the salaries of government employees and to finance the costs of the civil war in the south. …Turabi sent assembly members on a long summer break for ten weeks starting from the first of July, apparently to avert the imminent confrontation."

 

If you were granted a two and a half month vacation with pay, you would be grateful, would you not? Well, in spite of Sudan's problems these nervy characters demanded a huge increase in monthly salaries. They had been getting $30 per month, certainly a fair wage, at least in Sudan, to provide the necessities for their families, but these ungrateful legislators demanded in increase to the unimaginable figure of $200 per month. For shame. We say look at what civil servants earn, $7 per month, look at what private sector workers earn $12 per month and even university professors only get $30. Who do these folks think they are? To be fair, they are just like bureaucrats everywhere in the civilized world.

 

We soon received the answer to our question, one of the Members of Parliament (MPs) piped up say that it was dangerous for them to take public transportation because of death threats and that they had no transportation allowances; "We fear assassination attempts on our lives in the public transport. Although Sudan is a peaceful country, it has a strong opposition both at home and abroad. Something should be done to protect our lives and person as MPs'." Well, we couldn't disagree more, with rebels in the south and east, millions of exiles that sit in border countries wasting away in refugee camps while they wait for the war to end, we wouldn’t want to be an MP. And what about the unfriendly Egyptians in the east, the American Cruise missiles in the west, in the north Ethiopia, along with the kind of neighbors everyone desires, Eritrea and Uganda. Incidentally, these are the front line states, which are currently being supplied literally unlimited military equipment by the United States, to begin the overthrow of the Khartoum Government, in the west and the mafia downtown. Now that Eritrea and Ethiopia may have settled their differences, both of them may want a piece of Sudan.

 

The National Democratic Alliance (NDA) has recently announced that it plans to intensify its military campaign against the government along Sudan's borders, this group was formed along with the Beja Congress to plan and carry out military operation against Sudan in the region under which they have control. The SAF is claiming that it is now engaged in a war to bring down the government of Sudan and replace it, forces from Eritrea, a home to other dissident groups have been conducting regular raids on the Sudan border. Confirming these concerns, the Sudanese government itself announced that troops from Ethiopia, Eritrea and Uganda are poised to invade Sudan across its southern and eastern borders while the GOS is carrying numerous bombing raids in southern Sudan. We would have to take some variance with the position that Sudan is the safest spot on earth, but from our point of view, if the MPs were to get their raise, I would think that the people would probably want to rise up and tar and feather this ungrateful bunch, no wonder the Sudan has so many problems.

 

On the other hand, the MP's were so distraught over their low pay that it was suggested by many that all they really wanted to get even with the people who they felt were disrespecting them and the job they were doing. However, they were not far from wrong in this thinking. But a solution was at hand; it was determined that the government should resume the practice of amputating the right hand of convicted thieves in accordance with Islamic law. They were firmly convinced that the country's thieves should be held responsible for the trouble in Sudan and before you could shake a stick, the General Director of Sudanese Prisons indicated that he was carrying out the edict as fast as was humanly possible under the circumstances, but there were so many thieves and there were not enough skilled amputators. It didn’t take long before a call for new amputators went out and the resources were satisfactorily replenished.

 

Nevertheless, in spite of this amazing progress, the still agitated legislators were not satisfied with what had been accomplished vowed more and stronger measures to get their pay scale increased. It was suggested that the Taliban had some great laws based on Islamic practices that would really be good for the country and good for the people at the same time. If everyone became happy again, it then made sense that they could get a raise in salary. The legislatures started putting through a series of rules designed to improve everyone's disposition a breakneck speed;

 

1. In public transport , woman would be separated from men and must use different entrances.

2. Women may not sit next to drivers

3. Buses should display a verse from the Koran asking Muslims not to look at members of the opposite sex

4. Men and woman will walk in separate groups on marches

5. At public gatherings, theatres, cinemas, weddings, parties and picnics, a curtain must divide the men from the women.

6. Men may not watch women playing sports.

7. Sportsmen cannot wear tight or short clothes, which expose the body.

8. Co-education in schools is banned.

9. In higher education men and women students must sit apart

10. Women cannot go out after 7 PM except in the company of their husbands or other close male relatives.

11. Men must have good reason for walking along streets leading to schools for girls or places where women gather.

12. Card playing is prohibited in public.

13. Women performing Sudanese folk dances must wear long, loose-fitting costumes.

Well, from our point of view, these are extremely constructive changes and we can see that a lot of thought went into the creation of this list. We firmly believe that these types of beneficial changes are going to make the population much more contented and more responsive to the legislature. With new laws such as those on the books, there doesn’t seem to be much question that the politicos will soon be seeing a raise in pay.

 

If you look much deeper into these new Sudanese adjustments without the proper background information you could, well draw the wrong conclusions. In spite of how it appears, this was not strictly a religious decision. It was discovered during a two-day workshop on law-breaking, held in recently in Khartoum, that there was an ever-increasing crime rate among Sudanese women. Some of the statistics are so staggering that we will quote exactly from the report, which appeared in Sudan News and Views.

 

According to the director of the federal police, women are involved in drug operations, financial mismanagement, murder, illegal abortions, looting of cattle, as well as being involved in tribal conflicts and armed robbery in western Sudan. Police records for 1995 show that 1,122 people died as a result of crimes committed by women compared to 900 deaths due to crimes carried out by men. We can only say that we found this a tad difficult to believe.

 

The fact that women increasingly resort to a life of crime, we believe is primarily due to the Sudanese authority’s lack of concern for women's rights and more generally the harsh economic conditions within the country, which drove many women out of their houses and literally forced them into work as street vendors. Vendors are often harassed by the police and security forces, which carry out regular sweeps to physically remove them from the streets. Women vendors in the streets of Khartoum now reportedly carry knives, axes and sticks to protect themselves and to use them as weapons against the police who are rigorously trying to prevent them from earning enough money to feed starving families.

 

According to police statistics, there are about "40,000 women who earn their living selling tea on the streets of Khartoum, and if the authorities continue to prevent them from working, they are bound to react violently." Under Muslim law, not only should these women not be working but, in effect they should be in their houses starving to death, if that is their only recourse. Earning a living is not provided for the female element in this male oriented society.

 

However, it turns out that almost every one of the people that died from those crimes were the women themselves due to the fact that the crimes they are talking about are nearly all almost universally abortion, which is considered against the law in Sudan. As to drug operations, no one was officially able to inform us as to any women in the country that had ever been convicted of a drug oriented crime, but bureaucrats were quick to point out that in such a large nation, this inevitably would occur. You certainly couldn’t find an argument against logic such as that. In terms of women’s financial mismanagement, it appears that in some cases, the "tea women" had not given purchasers of their products the correct change, sometimes to little and sometimes to much, certainly indicating that some of these women did not even know how to count. This is certainly conceivable in a country where the education of women is far down on the list of government concerns.

 

Looting of cattle is a serious charge and it was carefully pointed out by Sudanese legislators that in a particular instance, a cow that was not under tether had walked off of its feeding lot and had grazed on a plot belonging to a neighboring lady. Naturally, she was charged with robbery and convicted on highly circumstantial evidence. Lastly, the issue of instilling and being involved in tribal conflicts; we can certainly appreciate why these would be reason enough to conduct a major crime seminar, however neither the legislators nor anyone else in the country seemed to be able to determine what the charges meant. Considering all of the other problems facing the Sudanese legislature, we can see that the women of the country seem to be making a concerted attempt to add new problems to an already overburdened legislative work load. However, we can well appreciate that the government could be totally undermined by these women selling tea in broad daylight right in the central part of downtown Khartoum, The shame of it.

 

Talking about freedom of speech in Sudan, Al-Rai Al-Akhar, The Other Viewpoint, a newspaper has recently been banned by the Sudanese "Press and Publications Council" because it had failed to name a new chief editor, in place of Mohi El-din Titwi, who suddenly left the country after receiving what appeared to be serious threats on his life. There is not a question that this alone would have been more than enough cause for the closure of a newspaper, but informed sources tell us that the tabloid called for a referendum on the Southern Sudan self determination issue. This make the fifth newspaper closed this year and only are few are left. Well, we don't think much can be accomplished by free speech anyway. If the papers can’t print what the government requires, they probably should be closed down.

 

An endless migration has occurred within the country, with the starving populous moving to the cities where they can at least beg. The local police are quick to round up these starving nomads and straightforwardly send them back to the utterly non-productive lands from which they came. The migration process seems unending, with the constant traffic coming and going in both directions reeking havoc among the local population. No one seems to know which direction to go in this country, creating a maelstrom on the Sudanese roads. People going in one direction tell those going in the other, that they are heading in a bad direction, those going the other way say exactly the same thing, causing any number of nervous breakdowns along the way. Sometimes the people have been known to "go circular" over the problem; continuing to walk, but only in a wide circle so that they do not have to deal with life in either direction.

 

Things have gotten so grave that these people have started consuming the seeds that have been donated by the world's relief organizations for their next harvest, just to be able to live that long. However, that does not answer what will happen then, without a harvest these people will certainly not have an extended life expectancy. And if things could get worse, in Sudan they do, logically, the donated seed is treated with chemicals to give the plants resistance to indigenous parasites and diseases. The chemicals make anyone eating the seed dreadfully sick, but in spite of that fact, the natives who are aware that this will happen, devour the seeds just to get something to fill their empty stomachs. Relief agencies have smartened up and have given to distributing the seed and food rations simultaneously in order to avoid the losing the next harvest altogether

 

Talk about getting sick, the International Medical Aid Agency, Medecins Sans Frontieres,(MSF) reported that a cholera epidemic is sweeping southern Sudan and has killed at least 700 people in the last seven weeks. In the first week of June, 25 cases were recorded in Khartoum Hospital along with 40 in the Eastern Province. Still in denial, the First Undersecretary at the Ministry of Health indicated that the esteemed medical association had been inaccurate in their assessment and Cholera did not exist in Sudan. In addition, he remarked that Ministry of Health report was "totally misleading and false and aimed at ‘tarnishing the image of Sudan abroad’". You can see his point, cholera is a serious problem but unless there are a more substantial number of deaths from any individual source, why upset anyone. It was this official’s belief that more than 700 people die every day just because they get run over by oxcarts on roads leading in and out of the capital just because they can’t walk anymore because of their hunger induced weakness.

 

The Minister of Health did what any other organization would that had been blasphemed by a world renowned scientific and charitable organization; the Minister announced that, all medical aid organizations henceforth would be under the direct supervision of the Ministry of Health and that only the Ministry has the right to report on the health situation in Sudan. All aid organizations, were also asked to provide a list of their staff and details of their entire programs and budgets. In this case, once again, we are forced again to agree with the actions of Minister of Health, you can’t be expected to run a tight ship and still have all these do gooders running around trying to treat your people for all kinds of diseases without some authority.

 

While no one denies that an outbreak of Cholera would represent a potentially major problem for the country and could eventually cause death to a very substantial percentage of the population, this disease along with others must be carefully analyzed before action should be taken even if it takes scores of years. The Minister of Health went on to explain that the public reports of the epidemic were not only overblown but totally misleading. He stated that the real fact was, that a number of people had somehow gotten acute diarrhea, probably caused by stomach infection or slightly contaminated water or even a small case of Malaria. The number of those that had died from the outbreak were being carefully held in check by a series of prayers and that senior religious officials in Sudan had the matter firmly under government control. That’s better than medicine every day of the week. We must commend the government for its effective use of modern methods to care of its population.

 

The Sudanese government remained diligent and also determined, that by raising the country’s living standards and providing education for all of its people, all of the problems that they are currently facing could be solved internally. Just facing up to this problem was a high-quality beginning and Sudan immediately began building Universities and Colleges to upgrade the education of its young people. However, while this was a excellent idea in concept, it was abysmally flawed in practice. The critical issue that the legislators failed to address is the fact that there are only a small number of teachers capable of handling advanced students in the entire country. Apparently, anyone with a brain would not want to live in this country and its best minds had sought asylum elsewhere and had been accepted.

 

The cadre of academics that remained were a motley lot, many of which had not completed even close to the required courses to be teaching college. Moreover, even with these, the law of diminishing returns soon went into effect as more universities were constructed, teachers were pulled from understaffed schools and placed in more understaffed schools until the overall country average for their teaching shortage rose to 80% relative to higher education. The end result was sadly, that In a country that was once capable of graduating some qualified people, now cannot reasonably grant a higher degree that is meaningful to anyone. However, the campuses are new and dormitories are provided, at least giving students and faculty, a place to live and some food to eat. Something not available to many others.

 

When senior government officials were informed of the worsening situation relative to education, they became outraged by this turn of events and by the school board’s obvious complete lack of planning. The Minister for Higher Education and Scientific Research, Dr. Abdel Wahab Abdel Rahim Al-Murbarak was summarily relieved from duty by none of than the President of Sudan, Omer al-Basher. You see he had made the small mistake of criticizing the polices of the higher education revolution, especially the proliferation of universities that had no teachers, no classes, no books and no courses. He had gone on to add, that people in Sudan that were earning higher educational degrees were less equipped than those that had only completed grade-school a short number of years before.

 

The minister explained his position in gallant form; "The expansion in the universities was not accompanied by an increase in the qualified members of the staff. This led the universities to relax the required academic qualification for staff and increased the use of part-timers from other universities and government operations, which in turn resulted in the lowering of academic standards. The infrastructure of the universities did not develop, in keeping with the increased number of students, and the opening of new universities did not take account of academic and distractive requirements." Well, if anything, you have to give the government credit for trying, they were just going for quantity rather than quality.

 

Well we can see what was going on here and certainly, there is little question that Dr. Abdel Wahab Abdel Rahim Al-Murbarak had not endeared himself to the government when he stated, upon being appointed his office that the government was destroying higher education in Sudan with their obtuse theories. His next move was to unilaterally appoint a committee to ruminate over what could be done about the situation. The committee reached a momentous decision, they determined that almost all of the universities and colleges should be merged so that the few remaining competent professors could at least grant legitimate undergraduate degrees. The ruling political leaders were not happy with any of this and rejected the proposal out of hand with the statement, "the recommendations are the reversal of one of the most important policies of the salvation revolution" It certainly makes sense to leave the buildings standing, when visitors arrive in the Sudan, the leadership will still be able to point to these structures showing their guests in what high regard the country views higher education. You have to admit this was quite a dramatic public relations victory for the Sudanese Government.

 

Well you have to agree that they have a point. I mean to have a bunch of pretty buildings with grass around them is always a delight. The fact that no one in the country is getting a decent education is really a secondary consideration and if we were asked, I think that we would have to go with the unity of advanced aesthetics as opposed to that callousness of education. People could just hang around the campus, take in the sights and sit under trees while talking about very serious matters, thereby improving themselves dramatically through this restful thought process. One of Sudan’s senior ministers compared the dialog that was going on under the boughs of the various university’s trees. He indicated that the situation reminded him of Greece in the days of Socrates and that if things continued in this vein, it would not be too much longer before Sudan rose to the same heights as Greek had, centuries ago. Sterling logic, we say.

 

To make matters worse, Sudan's top wage of $35 per month was not quite enough to attract prominent educators to their handsome university buildings. When there were no takers, the government started to raise the ante to attract foreigners and offered them as much as the inconceivable sum of $1,000 a year to teach in Sudan. Can you image what that would buy in Sudan, if there was anything available to purchase that is? Well, it turned out that in spite of this overly generous offer there was still no interest in teaching in Sudan among academics making geometric multiples of this amount. The government carefully had planned for this occurrence and were well ready for it, they laid the blame totally on the United States.

 

Meanwhile, the sparse number of indigenous academics that had joined the university teaching staff’s primarily due to the fact that they were interested in helping young people get the education that would give them at least some chance of survival, now saw that this just wasn’t going to work out and they began leaving the teaching profession in droves. Now these folks didn't just leave the universities, they left the country as well, creating a substantial brain drain. The number, so impacted the entire educational process throughout the country that special meetings were called for by the government to come up with yet another plan to resolve the problem. Officials say they still are taking the mater under advisement and believe they will have the matter resolved within a short number of years. We are hoping that this solution does not drag on longer than that.

 

Wau is a town controlled by the Sudanese Government in the south, which acts as a distribution point for food contributed to the starving, by the United Nations. The United Nations, World Food Programme (WFP) stated that, "Starving Sudanese arriving in the southern town of Wau are too weak to stand after walking for weeks to escape drought and civil war. Many continue to arrive in horrific physical condition having walked for weeks eating the few greens and wild foods they've been able to get their hands on. Most have no possessions, arriving severely malnourished and empty-handed with only the clothes they're wearing hanging from their thin frail bodies."

 

"Some of these people are so thin and malnourished when they arrive they don't even have the energy to stand in line for food, never mind attempt to cook a meal," stated Tesema Negash, WFP's Deputy Director for Africa. She added that; "We're providing special foods and makeshift kitchens are being set up around the town so that these people can receive two cooked meals a day until they're strong enough to look after themselves." Nina Galbe, regional spokeswoman for the International "Committee of the Red Cross added, the situation in Wau is beyond desperate. There are people dying every day. More and more orphans are coming into Wau. Their parents have died on the way.

 

However, with food is coming in by the ton on planes that take off and land almost hourly. How is it that there can be so many people starving when so much has been donated? The United Nations came up with the answer, "tayheem" an enforced taxing system in which families are obligated to give a percentage of their food to officials of the Sudan People's Liberation Army. The percentage is totally arbitrary, nevertheless, if a man with a loaded gun asks you for your food, the odds are highly in favor of your turning over whatever amount he asks for. In addition, roving gangs prowl the areas just after the food distributions are made and in a land where life is cheap at best, who can say how many people fall victim to these organized raids. The soldiers and the gangs eat what the UN provides and the people live mainly on grass and seed hoping they will survive until the next harvest. As usually, the United Nations has shown once again that the people that are in charge of logistics at that organization probably got their higher degree from a Sudanese University.

 

Meanwhile just as in Voltaire’s "Candide", in spite of a hopeful outlook, Sudan’s tragedies seemed to beget more tragedies and their was no Dr. Pangloss around to loss over the continuing string of disasters. Now it turns out that a killing epidemic of meningitis has broken out in the country causing a death toll of nearly 1,500 people per week and these figures could well be low because many of the dead are presumed to have died of starvation or the numerous other causes that regularly effect the population. With medical treatment either not available in most areas, or spotty at best there is no way of making an exact estimate of who is dying from what in this country and if the truth had to be told, no one seems to care anymore anyway.

 

The cause of the recent major outbreak of one of the world's most virulent diseases is simply the fact that medical systems formerly in place have broken down because of the Civil War. Inoculations had previously been provided for the prevention of meningitis to the population as a matter of course, but today, the British Red Cross is estimating that more than 1 million people in the eastern Sudan run the risk of coming down with that disease. Furthermore, meningitis is fatal in up to 80% of the non-treated cases. In Sudan, non-treatment is the rule rather than the exception. This country, where the meningitis bug is as common as the common cold is in the rest of the world, has left over 5 million people un-vaccinated and they are all at substantial risk. On the other hand, black market vaccinations are available for $2 a dose. In a country where the per capita income is just over $300, $2 is a lot of money.

 

As we stated earlier, the Sudanese with help from international organization made a number of poor choices in terms of what crops should be planted in the country. To make matters increasing worse, inferior methodology was used and when that was coupled with overgrazing and rapid deforestation another naturally disaster was just waiting to happen; boggling flood damage. With no topsoil left to drain the land or trees to absorb the moisture, in the rainy season, the banks now overflow with reckless abandon, inundating the countryside. Moreover, this flooding has washed away a substantial chunk of what little producing farmland that was left and hung it up to dry. That was only the beginning; the railroad linking Khartoum with its ocean port was washed away along with over 100,000 homes and many of the bridges and highways that were located in this part of the country. Hospitals, schools and farms could be seen floating rapidly downstream toward the sea, many with their inhabitants still in them. This little publicized catastrophe left hundreds of thousands homeless and the Sudanese Government once again begging for aid from even their archest enemies.

 

As we bid adieu to downtown Khartoum, still covered by flood waters and slowly wend our way through the impoverished country side where nothing green can be seen for miles we can only think of the total sadism that this country bestowed upon itself. We can hear the roar of guns barking in the distance and know that this is just going to be another day in Sudan. It is simply amazing, that a country so formerly blessed with nature’s resources and that held such an abundance of agriculture and forests, could become a desolate wasteland in literally one generation. Much like the recent events Yugoslavia, it was more an issue of hatred and mistrust that just could not be overcome after so many years festering like a boil. It is readily apparent that the southern part of Sudan will never again allow leaders from the north to control their destiny, while the powers that be in Khartoum are no longer able to dance to their own drummer. They dance to the beat of the Iranians, the Iraqi's, the Libyans and the Chinese.

 

Sudan receives little to cheer about, but like the guy who hits himself in the head because it feels so good when he is done, they try and grab their 15 minutes of fame where-ever they can find it. We all recall that great international philanthropist, Osama bin Laden. Well, for awhile he was just hanging around innocently in Sudan, waiting for something to happen. It did, a couple of American Embassies were blown sky high in Africa, causing substantial loss of life and one of those Embassies was located in Nairobi, Kenya. Well it turns out that not only did the Americans suspect bin Laden of being behind the affair but soon after the explosions, two suspicious looking guys soon arrived in Khartoum from Nairobi. Moreover, it so turned out that they were carrying false Pakistani passports and they for that reason, they were taken into custody.

 

Well, Khartoum jails are not like a Welcome Wagon visit and before too long, one thing lead to another and guess what? The two guys before too much time had elapsed started to talk about their participation in the embassy bombings. Now the United States at this time was unaware that friendly Sudan had the bombers in custody and determined to launch a few cruise missiles in an attempt to de-materialize bin Laden who they were convinced was behind the bombing. However, who at this point was rumor had it that he was sunning himself at a Pakistani opium producing facility. Simultaneously, Clinton, was having big problems with Congress over his sex-life, determined it would also be a good idea to drop a few big-ones on the al-Shifa pharmaceutical plant in Khartoum.

 

Clinton who was more interested in solving his own problems at that time, didn't bother to check to closely when he was told that this particular plant in Khartoum was involved in bin Laden's efforts to produce and transport nerve gas (VX) to folks that he didn't like. However, it turned out that a guy by the name of Salih Idris owned the plant and after substantial investigation, the facility and Idris seemed to be only guilty only of living on the same continent at the same time as bin Laden. Mind you, not that this wasn’t an extreme mistake, but, you can’t blame Clinton either, he had to do something to distract the American taxpayers from thinking too much about his sexual misdeeds. Now they certainly had been given a lot to think about, American Embassy’s blown up in Africa with very substantial loss of life, an American President playing footsie with a young girl from his office, an ICBM blowing apart an innocent factory in Sudan and who incurred the American President’s wrath was half a continent away when the attempt to dematerialize was made.

 

Sudanese officials were really annoyed at the callousness of the United States Government so without saying anything to the American's about the two guys that they had in custody, they pack them off and send them to the same resort that bin Laden is staying at in Pakistan. On August, 20, 1998, the American's attacked both Afghanistan and Sudan, but it wasn’t until July 29, 1999 that the Sudanese officials told the world that they had grabbed these guys and were about to turn them over to the American's when Khartoum was bombed.

 

So the question of whether the United States dropped their cruise missiles on an innocent pharmaceutical plant is not the issue, the issue is, whether Sudan was harboring an international terrorist bent on destroying the United States. The issue is, where is he now? Everyone seemed to be confused very confused. The Sudanese government announced that it had deported Bin Laden, however, the NIF stated that Bin Laden had left voluntarily for Afghanistan by way of Pakistan, Arab press said that Bin Laden left after being involved in a shooting incident, in which he shot and severely wounded one of his aids, Afghanistan denied that Bin Laden had entered the country and their buddies in Pakistan also denied that Bin Laden was their. Many countries had became concerned that if Clinton was found with another woman, he may be just capable of dropping an atomic bomb. No one wanted to be the object of his distractive sexual policies anymore.

 

The American Central Intelligence Agency, has bin Laden leaving Sudan everyday for four months and then returning. Sudanese opposition sources claimed that Bin Laden flew out of Khartoum airport only to land in Wadi Saydna airport, a few kilometers away and then moved to a secret location in western Sudan with bin Laden's family staying in Khartoum. Egypt's state-owned magazine Rose al-Yousef said he was in London where they had interviewed him in a house in Wembley. He was carrying a Sudanese diplomatic passport with a false name. Bin Laden indicated to the Egyptian press that he was working on an assignment with the United States embassy in London and was quoted for attribution saying, "Sudan needs me more than I need Sudan and I say that my leaving Sudan will lead to the collapse of what's left of the economy in Sudan. He finished with a flourish indication the political situation in Sudan is a "mixture of religion and organized crime."

 

Well at least we now know that the whereabouts of Bin Laden, this is most comforting. What troubles us is the fact that organized crime exists in Sudan. With all of their other problems, they certainly don't need organized crime to take what little the people and the government has left. We are optimistic that Bin Laden can return to Sudan in time to save the country. Without the Bin Laden's of this world that are willing to sacrifice their own comforts for the sake of others, where on earth would we be?

 

 

 

The High Rent District

 

Hong Kong

 

Hong Kong’s history goes back over 5000 years. Among the earliest civilizations that can be identified as having lived in this area would be the northern Chinese Stone Age cultures. However, civilization as we know it didn’t arrive in Hong Kong until the seventh century A. D. and even this was a mere toe in the water type of encroachment. It wasn’t until the Ching Dynasty in the 10th through 13th centuries that migration from China began in earnest. Britain found Hong Kong to be a friendly territory and invested substantial monies in advancing its then mushrooming heroin trade. The Chinese were against this form of illicit commerce, and as a result, the First Opium War ensued, during which time China was soundly thrashed. As a direct result of China’s loss, Hong Kong was ceded to Britain in 1842 under the Treaty of Nanking.

 

However, below the surface, tensions were always high between China and Britain and in 1856 a "Second Opium War (Lorcha Arrow War) began primarily as a direct result of the Chinese illegally boarding a British ship, the "Arrow." China, not learning much the first time, was defeated once again and Britain was given a perpetual lease on the Kowloon Peninsula as part of the spoils of war. Moreover, British military tacticians determined that Kowloon was indefensible by itself, and a 99-years lease of the "New Territories" was successfully negotiated between China and Britain in 1898. This brought Hong Kong to its contemporary position. The major increase in Hong Kong’s population growth occurred after the end of World War II, when the communists took over China and hundreds of thousands of Chinese immigrated to Hong Kong.

 

Hong Kong’s rapid growth was attributable at least in part to Captain Charles Elliot, its first British Governor, who declared that Hong Know would be tariff free. While much of the Pacific Rim was still stifled by feudal leadership that had no interest in outside pursuits, the British brought a refreshing opportunity to residents of Hong Kong and a wonderful, laissez-faire atmosphere. "Hong Kong’s prosperity under British administration rested on the underlying foundations of its institutions and economic policies: private property, the rule of law, limited government, low taxes, balanced budgets, sound money, and sensible regulation brought prosperity heretofore unseen in the region. Budget deficits, commonplace in Western democracies, rarely occur in Hong Kong. Since 1949, the Government’s budget has been in surplus nine of every ten years. Accumulated surpluses are so large that the government can pay all of its bills for months and months without collecting a penny in new taxes."

 

"…Along with free trade, limited government, low taxes, and sound money, the Hong Kong government has scrupulously kept out of private business and personal affairs. The playing field was level as the government gave no subsidies to particular firms, sectors, or individuals. It did not favor importers over exporters; manufacturing over commerce, finance or construction; management over labor; or labor over business. It did not impose a minimum wage. It neither encouraged nor discouraged unions. The government did not favor Hong Kong citizens over foreign investors, not did it grant special preference to foreign business. It did not own or operate the bus companies, the power companies, the trams, the ferries, the cross-harbor tunnels, or the telephone company – all were private, profitable ventures." ()

 

Moreover, Hong Kong soon became an entrepreneur’s paradise, or at least it was until the Chinese resumed control of the city-state on July 1, 1997, ending 150 years of British colonial rule. "Hong Kong is designated a Special Administrative Region of the People’s Republic of China with a high degree of autonomy in all matters except foreign and defense affairs. According to the Sino-British Joint Declaration (1984) () and the Basic Law (), Hong Kong’s mini-constitution, for 50 years after reversion, Hong Kong will retain its political, economic and judicial systems and unique way of life, and continue to participate in international agreements and organizations under the name, ‘Hong Kong, China.’ Although concerns about the continued independence of the judiciary arose suddenly when, after the Court of final Appeal issued a controversial judgment (the Right of Abode case), the Hong Kong government sought interpretation of the Basic Law from the National People’s Congress. Nevertheless, Hong Kong’s courts remain independent and the rule of law is respected. Hong Kong remains a free and open society where human rights are generally respected." ()

 

The country has historically been an interesting mix of both industrial and marketing-oriented businesses. Hong Kong was a small country was soon credited with an extreme flair for exportation. It is one of the smallest nations on earth, with a land area of about 400 square miles, less than that of the City of Los Angeles. In addition, the country is extremely hilly with many steep slopes and mountains. This is hardly the environment in which would one would expect to find la population of almost seven-million highly educated inhabitants who historically have made their living primarily by staying one jump ahead of the competition. The population is almost entirely made up of ethnic Chinese having a life expectancy of almost 80 years and a literacy rate of 92 percent.

 

The country’s industry is divided between tourism, which is by far its most important segment, followed by services, manufacturing finance and construction. In 1998, the country’s per capita income was $24,653, placing it among the premier countries in the world in that category. The most important facet of Hong Kong’s ability to become a ferocious international economic competitor is the people’s industriousness, it has one of the great harbors of the world, where indigenous products can be shipped throughout the world along with a transportation system them binds the territory together like crazy glue, in addition to having a world class airport which will be addressed at great length below.

 

"Hong Kong has little arable land and virtually no natural resources, including water for agriculture. Agriculturally, it is less than 20% self-sufficient, with shortages of rice and wheat. However, its magnificent harbor has facilitated rapid development of foreign trade. Hong Kong’s principal trading partners include China, the United States, Japan, Taiwan, Germany, Singapore and South Korea. With its modern communications, transportation, and banking facilities, as well as extensive expertise in trade and investment with China, Hong Kong has joined the front ranks of East Asia’s newly industrialized economies. In 1998, Hong Kong’s gross domestic product was $165 billion. Hong Kong has enjoyed economic growth in the past because of its strong manufacturing sector, but in recent years, the service sector has surpassed it in importance, accounting for 85% of GDP in 1998. " ()

 

Nations that depend upon international trade for their existence must endeavor to create a stable currency. Transactions have become increasingly complex as the world has become technologically more challenging with multiple layers of interrelated transactions. For example, people buy apples when they need bananas because they know someone else who has excess bananas but is in need of rice. An apple for rice transaction is entered into followed by a rice for bananas trade. If you add complex currency distortions to the mix, the transaction may never be resolved. To prevent currency adjustments from overcomplicating the picture, these transactions are usually denominated in U.S. Dollars or in a currency tied to U.S. Dollars such as Yen or Euros. As a matter of fact, the Hong Kong currency is pegged to the United States Dollar.

 

Countries that do not have these hard currencies available in their Central Bank’s holdings are forced to exchange local currency for world currency, sometimes at a fearsome cost. During the recent Pacific Rim recession, countries such as Indonesia, Thailand, Korea, Philippines and Malaysia were unable to interest currency dealers in their money at almost any price. Moreover, this in turn caused raids into the country’s, hard currency reserves and attracted hedge fund shorting of local exchange. If it were not for The International Monetary Fund’s stepping into the breech, the entire region might well have fallen into an economic abyss. Even Japan’s yen took a substantial pounding under the economic pressures in the Pacific Rim.

 

Before the Pacific Rim debacle, a number of countries in the region had entered into joint currency defense agreements, a move more macho then economically feasible. Moreover, when various regional excesses caused economies in the area to disintegrate, these regional currency defense alliances proved fruitless as well as debilitating, only making a ghastly situation worse. In addition, while the IMF-imposed solutions were not always correct, they restored a degree of discipline to an area that was being flooded with financing by suicidal Japanese banks who effectively were lending people that had no logical use for the funds. Worse yet, no one could figure out how the loans would be repaid, not even the lending banks. Thailand was particularly hard hit by irresponsible lenders who probably felt that both God and the Emperor would see that they were repaid. This has not necessarily been the case, and the banking system in Japan is currently tottering on the brink of collapse for this and other illogical banking practices.

 

As this negative economic trend spread through the region like a plague, currency speculators were able to attack particular currencies in shark-like fashion, insuring the collapse of the currency and generating substantial profits for the speculators. First it was the weakest country in the region, Thailand, then Indonesia, The Philippines, Korea and then even Taiwan and Singapore eventually succumbed at lest to some degree to the massive currency selling. The speculators were cleaning up; only three bastion countries continued to hold out against the attack. Malaysia, in snail like fashion, stopped doing business with the rest of the world and literally decertified their own currency and refused to let offshore currency holders become owners in due-course.

 

Many economists at that time, thought that the old ostrich in the sand trick would not work, but in the end, the Malaysian Government stuck to its archaic monetary tactics, withdrew from the rest of civilization, and weathered the storm. However, this type of strategy is not designed to gratify the multi-nationals. Due to the fact that this strategy creates a non-transferable currency, and it has not fostered Malaysia’s long-term interests as exemplified by the tortoise like start of the country’s vaunted electronic corridor. Moreover, the currency crises moved west and to all intents and purposes decimating the economies of Russia and its former republics. Only last minute action by international regulators prevented the collapsing of the governments of both Brazil and Argentina. In addition the currency crises wrecked havoc on the securities markets in Europe, the United States and Japan. In the end, Malaysia succeeded in defending their currency, but so angered their multinational clients with their illogical fiscal policies and their foolish infrastructure developments that the country is economically, once again sliding gradually into the surrounding ocean.

 

The other two countries’ that held the line relative to protecting their currencies were China and Hong Kong. Moreover, it was during this period that China was in the process of absorbing Hong Kong after a hiatus of 150 years and it was clear that Hong Kong, a country with the fourth largest foreign exchange reserves in the world, backed by China with the second largest hoard of hard currency would be more than a match for currency speculators. In spite of the fact that both countries were in a strong position to fight the hedge funds, their currencies wavered but unbelievable did not collapse. However, Hong Kong initiated very strong protective measures to stave off speculation.

 

Why do most countries have so much concern as to at what level their currency trades relative to that of the currencies of other countries? Why do those countries that have expressed concern, usually believe that their currency should be valued at a higher rate than others? The most apparent reasons are (a) national prestige (b) their ability to be able to purchase other country’s goods at appealing prices (c) debt repayment increases as the indigenous currency drops in relationship to that of others. However, there is a downside, as currency rises, exports are no longer competitive dropping the central bank’s cache of foreign exchange. An interesting, very recent example of our ego/self-image versus brains scenario, has been the recent uneven trading in the hapless Euro which opened to great fanfare but started sinking on its first day of trading and has never looked back. In effect, the fact that its collapse caused bruised egos all over the continent has little to do with the multiple benefits the Europeans derived from the joint currency’s collapse.

 

The collapse of the Euro caused Imports to became more expensive, as a result, people cut back on purchasing more expensive foreign goods, exports became competitively cheaper and those rose, unemployment started to sink and things were looking pretty good until oil prices, which are historically based on American dollars went through the roof. If it were not for the rise in the price of oil, European’s would have been decidedly better off with their weaker currency than the other way around. As it is, they are no worse off, yet everyone else in the world that is an oil importer, many of which have had stronger currencies, are now in economic trouble. OPEC became so concerned at the disaster that they were creating in the world’s economies that as a stopgap measure, they added two million barrels per day to total oil production.

 

One of the methods that some nations have adopted to protect their currency is to peg their exchange rates to the U.S. Dollar. This gives them a constant target to shoot at and avoids the necessity of complicated repurchase agreements, derivative transactions, speculation dampers and manipulation of forward currency contracts. While the rewards of pegging against a more stable currency are substantial, the risk of being able to hold the peg in times of recession or internally difficult economic conditions becomes critically important. In order to play in that game, a country must have enormous liquid foreign exchange reserves or an alternative that is just as good. Argentina may have found a methodology that fits the bill when they converted all of their foreign exchange into dollar denominated United States Government Bonds. Moreover, by doing this, not only had they created an in-kind reserve of dollars but they were also receiving interest on their money to boot. A double benefit, and in spite of rough economic going, the country has kept its inflation in check in far more satisfactory fashion than at any time in its recent history. However, thinking that they had permanently solved their historic economic problems with a band-aid, continuing fiscal improprieties eventually caused the peg to fail. In the global economic fraternity, you are only as good as you are perceived by your trading partners no matter what methods that you employ to stabilize your currency.

 

Hong Kong established their "U.S. peg" in 1983 and set it at a rate that has held all these years, 7.8 Hong Kong Dollars to one U. S. dollar. Moreover, while this was an extraordinarily logical thing for them to have done at the time, Hong Kong was nowhere near the world power they had become more recently. Nevertheless, this type of action abrogated the colony’s right to set its own monetary policy and totally tied Hong Kong’s economic process to that of America’s Federal Reserve Board. In reality, this peg would forfeit any right Hong Kong would have to an independent monetary system. In reality, if Hong Kong chose to have loose money while the American "Fed" went with tight money, Hong Kong would soon be fried, with an unsupportable currency. This action by Hong Kong showed amazing faith in the American Federal Reserve’s system of managing the American economy. Nevertheless, only time will show if their decision was correct.

 

Moreover, at times when American Rates are low and money is freely available, Hong Kong, having a stable currency and higher interest rates becomes subject to substantial monetary inflows, which, considering the size of the economy, can create both inflation and economic bubbles. In particular, the Hong Kong real estate market’s health can usually be measured and buffeted by the lending policies being employed by the American Federal Reserve at any given time. Thus, Hong Kong’s "boom and bust" cycles may be more subject to external influences than those of any other country on earth.

 

As an interesting aside, I can remember the days when Hong Kong’s first peg went into effect; I was in the country at that time. As I recall it, I was on an elegant yacht with a number of Hong Kong billionaires when one of the small party on the yacht turned to me and pointed at Hong Kong from Kowloon Harbor and made the startling statement, "everything that you can now see belongs to my company." (He was literally pointing at downtown Hong Kong) I said, "What is the name of your company?" His response was, "Everbright." To say the least, I was stunned and looked to the others on board the yacht for a sign as to whether this guy had just escaped from a mental institution. The others treated everything he did and said with great reverence and there seemed no question that what he had said, although sounding bizarre was at least, for the most part, true.

 

As it happens, Evergreen was a company owned by the Mainland Chinese Government, and considering the fact that the Hong Kong real estate market was in free fall, mainland China was concerned that if it fell much further, the banks would also have been dramatically been effected. This, in turn would have sent the territory into a depression, which might have been near impossible to recover from or in the alternative, would have required substantial Chinese assistance. The Chinese Government not wanting this to happen and using Everbright as a vehicle, stepped into the breach, bought just about all of the real estate that wasn’t tied down and continued doing to until they were convinced that they had stabilized the market. I later learned exactly who Everbright was.

 

"The China Everbright Group, the parent company of China Everbright is an enterprise directly under China’s State Council. It controls four Hong Kong Listed companies, including China Everbright, China Everbright Technology, China Everbright International and Hong Kong Construction. During the reign of Zhu Xiaohua, the group acquired stakes in several listed companies including Theme International, Frankie Dominion International, International Bank of Asia and Wah Lee Resources." ()

 

At that point they took their inventory home and as the recovery commenced they were gradually able to liquidate their "forced" investment at what was probably a substantial profit. A stunningly important and yet under-publicized event. I remember being very confused by what had occurred and running back to the economic books trying to find something about Evergreen in print. My hosts assured me that it was unnecessary, this man indeed ran Evergreen and he at the time at least, was the savior of Hong Kong.

 

Moreover, because of its American dollar peg, Hong Kong does not really have or need a Central Bank. Because they don’t make economic decisions, the institution does not even exist in this country. However, The Hong Kong Monetary Authority (HKMA) under whose aegis, the economic system operates does consistently reevaluate other options that possibly would better reflect Honk Kong’s enlarged economic status along with their combination with China. On the other hand, "To do so successfully, however, would require that the HKMA become a real central bank like the U.S. Fed, endowed with the full spectrum of monetary policy tools that can be used to adjust liquidity, that is, (1) bank reserve requirements, (2) discount window and (3) open market operations. But, unlike the Fed, the HKMA does not yet have all of these necessary monetary policy instruments to achieve healthy growth in the money supply, and ultimately, stable domestic economic growth." ()

 

During the same period, excessive lending in Thailand by the half-witted Japanese bankers created a regional disaster called the Pacific Rim crash. As the plague it created spread from country to country, this rolling fiasco seemed to uncover the worst in each of their economic systems. To coin a phrase, it showed that the "king was wearing no clothes". In Malaysia it evidenced the prejudice and egocentrism in a bigoted government, in Korea, it showed that the country was unwilling to bite the bullet and allow failed companies to close up instead of forcing them to stay open just to provide full employment, in the Philippines it illustrated the cronyism and corruption that had firmly taken hold, in Thailand, it had showed the weakness in a pay to play political system that was the most corrupt in the universe, electing candidates based on their ability to repay their friends who by and large didn’t have a clue of how to run and economy much less a government, in Indonesia it uncovered nepotism, cronyism and massive institutional theft by the overreaching family of the country’s president. In those countries that did not bend or break, it proved that the system was working and in good health. In short, it visually made horrendously transparent the flaws in differing economic systems in the region. The crises gave economists around the world a visual lesson in what to do and what not to do in a critical economic environment.

 

During that difficult period, the HKMA continued to maintain the "peg" in spite of the fact that their stock market was already down substantially, interest rates were climbing skyward and the value of real estate in the former colony was dropping like a lead weight. On the other hand, the currency board had few options, Hong Kong banks do not have reserve requirements imposed on them by the government, thus, HKMA has no way controlling when the banks should be pulling in their belts or lending more freely. Because of this situation, at times, the board finds itself in a position of being a beggar at chef’s feast. In addition, some of the functions that are normally performed by the Fed, totally obviate the necessity of the currency board following suit. By purchasing and selling government securities, the Fed is able to cause rates to rise and full, money supply to increase and decrease and perceptions in general to adjust, mirroring more closely the Government’s current position. Because of the fact the Hong Kong Government has little debt itself, this totally eliminates the generally available tweaking process and eliminates much of the day-to-day influence that other central banks are granted.

 

Although currency values are more perception than reality, it is obvious that the current value of any currency is a function of the issuing country’s perceived future economic viability. With the other currencies in the region imploding, it became readily obvious that one of the negative results of illogically defending a currency that is mortally wounded from devaluation and economic distortions is that the country will ultimately suffer a substantial competitive disadvantage for a period of time as their neighbors, who floated their currencies now seek to export their way out of a financial morass.

 

Knowing that it will cause them substantial pain, why then did Hong Kong insist on holding the peg? However, there was more to Hong Kong's strategy then met the eye. Their currency-trading band is a reflexive system, which automatically raises interest rates as long as the currency is being attacked, thus, the currency theoretically should strengthen as interest rates increase, automatically stabilizing the currency when the higher rate begins to attract investors. This practice in theory is rather intriguing, the higher the interest rate an investor can obtain in Hong Kong, the more likely it is that he will leave his money there. This brings a flow of hard currency into the system, almost mindlessly during a currency attack. Effectively, this seems to be the ultimate game of chicken, with the stakes being involuntarily raised and lowered as the game progresses. Moreover, in this instance, the Hong Kong Government became the "House" in one of the biggest crap games in global economic history.

 

On the other hand, this involuntary system, at times can make it more expensive to pay off loans within the Colony. However, the scenario’s alternative creates the additional problem. The fact is that Hong Kong developers, who owe significant amounts of money to offshore lenders, would find those loans more expensive to repay if the Hong Kong Dollar was allowed to float. The Wall Street Journal on January 27, 1998 simplified the answer, "a) a credible monetary policy, b) low inflation c) predictable exchange rate d) enhancement of trade because of the predictable exchange rate e) low interest rates." These are the elements that Hong Kong believed would aid them in building an empire. Government officials wanted to do it from a credible position and although currencies in the region fluctuated throughout the pegged years, there was never such an abrupt and catastrophic experience as we saw during the collapse created by the Pacific Rim Bubble.

 

Early in the crisis, Independent Strategy a London financial consulting firm, not illogically predicted that China would devalue the Renminbi by 30% to 40%. (Interestingly enough, although China’s currency was not officially tied to the dollar as well, it was maintained at a rather standard 8.3 to the dollar) They went on to say that "when it does, the Hong Kong dollar-U.S. dollar peg is doomed and serious damage will have occurred to one of the pillars of the global financial system." () Therefore it was not illogical for the currency speculators, after cleaning up in the rest of the region, would then concentrate their focus on Hong Kong, which had stood tall while all else around them had collapsed. Stock markets elsewhere had lost nearly everything that had been gained during last decade and all of the currencies in the region including Singapore’s was feeling large doses of severe pain. As the stock market "bears" and the currency "vultures" turned their attention to Hong Kong, even Taiwan with their massive foreign currency reserves succumbed, and now the pack-descended en mass determining to bring Hong Kong to its knees as well, because they were literally the only country left that had not capitulated.

 

The logic was inescapable, hadn't Taiwan given in when they still held all of the financial cards? Obviously, the considerations were market oriented. If all of their neighbors had devalued, Taiwan's products would have been at an enormous competitive disadvantage. Competition had reached a stage where many of the Pacific Rim Countries could produce products of equivalent quality, using mass production at similar prices. Moreover, recently competition had become so intense that when it came time to give quotes to buyers, variations were registered in fractions of a cent. Currency levels had become critical and Taiwan's was now hopelessly out of sync with the rest of the region. Logic dictated a change of venue and change they did.

 

As the crises in the Pacific Rim continued to worsen, the currency speculators led by American hedge-fund operator George Soros made the logical leap of faith that Hong Kong would be the next easy target for an economic attack. (Hadn’t he recently brought England to its knees?) While they smelled blood, they had not stopped to fully analyze the differentiations between Hong Kong and their neighbors. Hong Kong had become a service-oriented economy and was farming out production elsewhere. In a short period of time they had become the purchasers, not the manufacturers and as such, the higher their currency could be pegged against those of their suppliers, the more substantial would be the profit they could make. That argument, although unassailable is mere child's play in comparison to the fact that Hong Kong's treasury was awash with hard-currency and the government had made a solemn pledge to hold one dollar of foreign currency reserves for every dollar of their own currency that was outstanding. A powerful position to be playing poker from. In addition, Hong Kong had taken the position that they would not devalue and would have been a substantial loss of face should they deviate.

 

Thus, an another interesting economic conundrum had appeared on the horizon, attacking the Hong Kong dollar would only cause there to be a diminishing supply of outstanding Hong Kong currency, but would have no effect at all upon the peg. Simplistically put, as the government bought more and more Hong Kong dollars, there would be less of them outstanding, making a defense geometrically easier as time went on. Strangely put, the worse things got, the better they would become. Most importantly though, in this region, there is the omnipresence of "face", an indefinable position that is often hard to read. However, as you are well aware, "face" must be maintained in this locale with near religious zeal. Picture the results of China caving in to the currency speculators, only a short time after recovering their prized possession that had been lost for a century and a half.

 

However, how can it be that when speculators sell-short Hong Kong dollars, this magically has effectively decreased the overall currency float? When a sale of currency takes place, it is the similar a stock trade taking place. Using securities transactions as a model for our example; there is a buyer and seller of a particular stock, the two sides understand that once the transaction has taken place, delivery of the security must be made at a time certain. At that time, the cash must be put up to pay for the shares.

 

Clearing firms act as agents for the brokerage firms to get the securities settlements out of the way, while in the world of currency speculation, banks not only play the role of the clearing firms but the larger institutions also act for their own accounts. If a speculator sells something he doesn’t own, delivery still must be made and it is accomplished by borrowing the currency from somewhere else, most probably another account at the bank that owns that particular currency. If the currency is difficult or impossible to deliver, either the transaction cannot take place or the seller will have to pay a substantial premium to enter into the trade. As more and more Hong Kong dollars were sold short, the more that would have to be delivered by speculators, thus dramatically contracting the float. (Available supply)

 

As the float continues to contract, the lender's ability to sell more contracts short or even maintain the contracts outstanding, diminishes as well. Thus, if enough currency traders simultaneously attacked the Hong Kong dollar or for that matter, any other currency where the underlying country had substantial foreign exchange reserves, theoretically, there would eventually be no Hong Kong dollars left in circulation and all loans made by the banks in that currency would have to be called. The stakes could become even higher, should the government of the attacked currency determine to defend it and simultaneously block the currency’s negotiability as well. Malaysia did just that by virtually transforming their currency from freely trading to blocked overnight. While this wouldn't be cricket, not that many people play cricket anymore. (When you block foreign exchange you are affecting the businesses that operate internationally in your own country as well, potentially inflicting substantial pain to that group.)

 

Thus, in China’s terms, an attack on Hong Kong by currency speculators would be looked at by those that live in the "Forbidden City" as a declaration of war. Not the kind where troops move up and down the battlefield, but the kind that attempts to subvert a country’s ability to be the master of their own economic fate. Obviously China would construe any attack on Hong Kong as one on China itself, thus substantially raising the economic stakes in the region. Moreover, it would seem obvious that when push ultimately came to shove, China would throw their immense resources into the battle and create a currency buffer that would become virtually impenetrable to currency speculators.

 

Between Hong Kong and China, they could defend the Hong Kong dollar and the Chinese Renminbi until the cows came home and not have to look back. "Face" is not just important, it is everything. It is hard for Westerners to understand the Oriental mind and no amount of analysis is going to differentiate where sound economic practices begin and "face" ends. Moreover, power doesn't make right and showing machismo doesn't put any money in your pocket. Moreover, while at the time it made sense for the Hong Kong currency to be re-pegged at a lower rate, it was not a politically acceptable decision. With China about to take control of Hong Kong, the speculators and others began spreading various rumors about what changes China would make once they were in control. In order to offset these statements China in an unusual statement indicated what they would not do and publicized it internationally:

 

    1. China would not use the huge Hong Kong foreign exchange reserves for its own benefit.
    2. China supported the peg between the Hong Kong Dollar and the American Dollar.
    3. Hong Kong would be allowed to maintain its own currency after the takeover.
    4. China would exercise no foreign exchange controls even though China’s currency is not fully convertible.
    5. China’s currency will be treated as foreign currency if used in Hong Kong and the Hong Kong dollar will remain a foreign currency in China’s interior. (Interior really means Mainland China)
    6. China’s interior will not use any of the assets of Hong Kong for its own benefit.
    7. China’s central bank will not set up branches in the territory where monetary affairs will be regulated by the Hong Kong Monetary Authority.
    8. China’s financial organizations will have no special privileges in Hong Kong and must abide by local laws and regulations
    9. Financial affairs between China’s inland areas and Hong Kong will be conducted according to international financial practices. Debt and credit between banks and enterprises of the two places will be treated as foreign debt and credit.
    10. Chinese enterprises listed on the Hong Kong stock market will continue to be treated as foreign listings subject to rules and laws of the territory. ()

 

As banks and financial institutions started to close and workers began to be laid off, the ex-British Colony became rife with rumor. Just as in the Great American Depression, so many banks were in trouble that people began responding to rumor and innuendo. Lines appeared at banks that were rumored to be in trouble as people wanted to be the first to withdraw their funds. Panic set in; there were a substantial number of failures, tourism dropped off the map and the real estate market collapsed. Heavily weighted with Chinese mainland issues, The Hong Kong Stock Exchange collapsed () and there was substantial unemployment in the country for the first time in history. In spite of this set back, Hong Kong held firm.

 

An illustration of how hot things were getting can be best demonstrated with the story of Peregrine () Investment Holdings; probably the most prestigious investment-banking firm in Hong Kong and at time, the largest independent investment bank in Asia. Peregrine had appeared as strong as the "Rock of Gibraltar" and the people behind it, such as Li Ka-shing of Cheung Kong, Gordon Wu of Hopewell Holdings and Citic’s Larry Yung () were among the most influential people and wealthiest people in the region. The Peregrine principals were Philip L. Tose and Francis Leung, both Citibank alumni having excellent backgrounds and sterling reputations. However, Tose really came into the business by accident, after piling up a race car on a wet track and winding up in the hospital for four-months, he eventually made the transition from the racing world to the securities industry, not a giant leap. "Tose, 52, is a familiar face in the territory, starting out from local society pages with the icy charm of a James Bond villain. (And according to many, the same quotient of humility) ()

 

His alter ego, Leung credits himself with "inventing the concept of red chips, the shares in mainland China-backed companies incorporated in Hong Kong and traded on the stock market there. These were all the rage until the Pacific Rim Crisis killed everything in sight, many lost half their value in a week after more than doubling the year before." () "In the meantime, Francis Leung is a stout, religious man with a serious face. A crucifix hangs in his small, windowless office; he prays in the morning at a Catholic church opposite the Happy Valley horse-racing track. Few people exemplify Hong Kong’s ability to reinvent itself as well as Mr. Leung. The son of immigrants from southern China, he grew up in a tiny stone shack near a Hong Kong industrial site." ()

 

Both Tose and Leung were smart, aggressive and tough and soon developed a reputation as the most ruthless guys in the securities industry. They were also politically, totally incorrect as the firm had opened offices in "North Korea and Burma at a time when other big banks held off because of those countries’ spotty human rights records. Ever the maverick, in 1992, he (Tose) criticized Chris Patten, Hong Kong’s last British Governor, for trying to push for more democracy in the territory. What Asia needed, Tose said, was "economic democracy," not lectures from, "do-gooders". () However, it was somewhat apparent that the firm was not running the tightest economic ship. In 1993, Hong Kong regulators censured the firm for trading irregularities. In spite unlimited arrogance and these constant run-ins with local government, "In 1996, Peregrine became Asia’s no. 1 equity underwriter – up from No. 20 the year before – and in the first quarter of that year pulled in more business than any other investment bank in the world." () However, Tose still had the chutzpah to ask Hong Kong to bail him out when Peregrine tanked in 1998. We don’t wonder why they didn’t.

 

Most thought that Peregrine was financially sound; too big to fail and a company with extremely fine management. () Peregrine was supplying funds for the entire region while offering currency derivatives for those that wanted to hedge their bets. One morning early in 1998, the doors at Peregrine; just did not open. All those hedges that their customers had purchased, which had been so costly, yet at the time they seemed the only way out of the Pacific Rim morass were now in limbo or worse. Holding the bag were "First Chicago, which was thought to be one of Peregrine’s biggest creditors. Other creditors were thought to include HSBC Holdings, Deutsche Bank, Standard Chartered, Societe Generale, Citibank and Credit Suisse First Boston." ()

 

Peregrine’s demise, particularly came as a blow to China because Peregrine was the principal underwriter for their issues, the ones that ultimately became listed on the Hong Kong Stock Exchange. However, using extremely poor judgment, Peregrine had made the blunder of lending a substantial part of its capital to a rinky-dink company by the name of PT Steady Safe, an Indonesian taxi and bus company. The only conceivable allure that the company could have possibly have had was the fact that one of President Suharto's (the head of Indonesia) daughters was a major stockholder.

 

‘In 1994 Steady Safe founder Jopie Widjaja took his taxi company public to diversify into the infrastructure businesses. Steady Safe’s stock climbed, and in 1996 Widjaja formed a connection with Siti Hardiyanti Rukmana, nicknamed "Tutu", the eldest daughter of President Suharto. Such links to the Suharto family have been the key to success in Indonesia for years, and in May Peregrine agreed to lend Steady Safe $350 million (At last week’s press conference Tose said his firm had planned to raise those funds from the bond market, but the financial crisis finally made that impossible.) Widjaja revealed that $265 million changed hands last summer, and Steady Safe spent $145 million to buy 14% of a road-building company owned by Tutut. Suharto’s daughter was then named to Steady Safe’s board. By that time, the Thai baht was already under pressure and the tumble of Indonesia’s currency was soon to follow. A 65% drop in the Rupiah from August to last week proved that even the most golden of connections can turn useless when economies tank. "

It was the investment in PT Steady Safe that eventually was to become Peregrine’s undoing and yet many of Peregrine’s principals deny that they had ever heard of the company. PT's collapse created an untimely end to its own dream of turning the small company into the major builder of toll roads and ferries for the country of Indonesia. Peregrine and Steady Safe literally went down the tube in tandem, when the financial hole created by the Steady Safe investment, on the Hong Kong investment bank's balance sheet, could no longer be explained away. Peregrine had been a Chinese window into Hong Kong and although repeated attempts were made to get the Bank of China to bail them out, the efforts were of no avail.

 

How could a company doing so well have crashed and burned so suddenly? A young man by the name of John Lee was the supervisor of risk control at Peregrine. It would have seemed that having such a distinguished title he would have intimately analyzed the dangers of investing such a substantial portion of the firm’s capital into an Indonesian Taxi Company. Peregrine had been unique among Hong Kong Investment Bankers, and it was due to that significant differentiation that Peregrine was able to annex such a high a percentage of the business written in the former colony. You see, as opposed to their competitors, when Peregrine bid on a transaction, they always agreed to take the whole deal (bought deals) whether or not they could place them. This was as opposed to their competition that would only bid on what they knew they could place. Naturally, this caused Peregrine to maintain an increasingly greater number of loose investment, odds and ends in their portfolio that had little value and worse yet, obviously were not particularly liquid.

 

As time passed, the number of the "loose ends" at Peregrine unrelentingly increased and these nearly worthless strays were always carried on the Peregrine books at the price of the last sale to a customer, if the company wasn’t public. While this wasn’t an entirely illogical thing to do, in an imperfect world, Peregrine was totally aware that these investments were valueless and yet their balance sheets showed them to be in good fiscal health. This turned out to be Peregrine’s Achilles Heel and it is the reason that when the smoke had cleared, they were left with a portfolio of $1.1 billion of mostly remnants or parts of deals that couldn’t be disposed of at any price especially in an imploding marketplace.

 

It is an inherent risk in the investment banking industry to maintain a portfolio of deals that couldn’t be moved during the time of an offering. These are held for a time and when the opportunity is ripe, they are unloaded on some poor unsuspecting soul. As surely as night follows day, when Goldman or Morgan gets stuck with a deal, you can be pretty sure that they will find a way to jettison it at the first available opportunity. What made Peregrine so atypical, was the fact that while most other global banking firms would get rid of the trash and keep the blue chips, Peregrine did exactly the opposite, it got rid of its quality merchandise and kept paper that was literally worthless. Thus, when the doors were closed for the final time, they were left with this worst of all economic scenarios. The deals that were un-saleable are obviously the ones that no one wants and usually with good reason. Thus, the remaining portfolio has become all but worthless.

 

Meanwhile, back to John Lee, if he were indeed the person in charge of credit risk management, was he having forty winks while the Pacific Rim was collapsing? "Not so", he says, in answers to a series of questions raised by the Wall Street Journal, January 23, 1998, he stated, "I did not know about the Steady Safe deal and I did not approve it." Well if John Lee didn’t do it, could it have been Andre Lee (), a Korean American youngster that had taken over the Peregrine debt division in 1994 and proceeded to rack up an amazing $38 billion in placements during his short watch. Lee was a supposed financial wizard out of Lehman Brothers who "floated foreign-currency-denominated bonds for cash-hungry companies; the firms had to pay higher interest rates than those offered local blue chips, but the money was still cheaper than what they could get from their commercial banks…The risk all around was that the currencies of those countries, (Thailand and Indonesia) which were linked to the U.S. dollar, would be devalued and the companies couldn’t repay in dollars, but the cost of "hedging" loans against a currency devaluation – usually by buying forward contracts – was an additional 6% to 7%, and the dollar links seemed secure. So few companies bothered." ()

 

According to John Lee, his namesake was able, by buying bits and pieces of deals over time to build up large positions without alarming or even perhaps acquainting other departments. As you might well have expected, Andre Lee has hired counsel who has indicated that he won’t be talking to anyone for a substantial period of time. However, under the murky circumstances that Peregrine has found themselves in, we do not believe that this will long remain the case. On the other hand, one of Peregrine Investment Holdings founders, Francis Leung "claimed that he never heard of the massive loan (Steady Safe), that ruined his firm…" () It would appear that no one at Peregrine had either been involved in the transaction or had heard about it, yet it represented fully 25% of the firm’s capital. However, when things tend to go bad, people’s memories often grow short.

 

In spite of the fact that obviously, someone on the inside at Peregrine wasn’t paying attention to their own finances, it would seem that the $300 million financial hole that Steady Safe created on Peregrine’s balance sheet would have been a small price to pay for the Government China to keep them afloat. It would have kept the Chinese window to Hong Kong’s markets open and precluded the closure of what had been Hong Kong's most prestigious investment bank. Furthermore, it should have been obvious to anyone in Hong Kong and China that Peregrine’s collapse would put even more pressure on both the Renminbi (Chinese currency) and the Hong Kong dollar during a period when they were both being attacked by currency speculators. However, the officials that made the decision not to support Peregrine were hopefully, not mindless bureaucrats, they were high ranking Chinese and Hong Kong executives, worried about the currency crisis and totally committed to maintaining the peg. These government officials were totally cognizant of the substantial price differential that the two entities would have to pay to maintain the peg with Peregrine alive and the much higher price they would have to pay with it dead. This became a simple mathematical formula, and obviously, the authorities in adding up the numbers found it far cheaper to let Peregrine die. Obviously, they were aware of something that the rest of us did not know at that time.

 

China and Hong Kong weren’t the only countries in the region that were economically effected by the Peregrine failure. Probably the most successful part of the investment bank’s business was the repackaging of Thai and Indonesian debt, for resale to South Korean and Japanese Banks. These folks were looking for high returns on their money and apparently were not particularly mindful of the inherent risks involved in buying the sub-junk merchandise being peddled by the high-octane sales force working for Peregrine. However, under the extremely slim circumstances that some of these companies are still in business, you can bet your last farthing that they aren't going to be able to pay back that debt anytime in this millennium.

 

The collapse of most of the region’s currencies had taken care of that. Moreover, these transactions had been set up to be repaid in dollars or yen and on a relative basis, the two currencies soared no less than 30% against most other currencies in the region. Additionally, the currency's price differentials were substantially more in the cases of Korea, Thailand and Indonesia. In the case Korea and Thailand some recovery was evident after the 1997 Pacific Rim crash but they apparently did not learn a thing from the debacle and soon went back to their old ways. This caused them to take the gas pipe for a second time in four years. Indonesia, was in reality a highly publicized fraud perpetrated on the region by the World Bank. The World Bank held out that country as an example for everyone else in the region to follow even though they were aware of the fact that the country was one of the most corrupt on the face of the globe. They never came close to having it together in the first place and between crony capitalism and graft, the country could no maintain the illusion of success. Because of this, Indonesia never came back, and when if it does, it will not be the same country for more reasons than one. Revolution, discontent and sectarian violence taint an economically disastrous scenario.

 

As the Peregrine story continues to unfold, we anxiously await the list of the customers of that debt so that we can predict where the next shoe will drop, but in the meantime we can let you in on a not so big secret, several very large American Banks acted as guarantors of Peregrine’s paper and with the companies that they made their commitments to no longer in business, you can well believe that these banks are ultimately going to be taking major charge offs. Because of the fact that these transactions will be placed in the derivative column, you may never know which banks they were or how bad they got hit. This is one of the sadder parts of the American GAAP system which seems still to be a hostage to both the banking and brokerage industry. Or could it be that things in the United States are not much more transparent than they are in Japan?

 

But the story doesn't come to an end there, Peregrine will ultimately go down in history as one of the world most startling economic events should the true story ever be told; the folks that ran the company are former executives with Citibank and they were underwriting highly controversial counter-party risk. Effectively, what this means is that when Peregrine sold Korean and Japanese customers Indonesian Rupiahs and Thai baht denominated debt, in order to clinch the deal, Peregrine was obligated to assume the foreign-exchange risk, something that their own customers were unwilling to do. In reality, Peregrine was an investment bank go mad, great salespeople, no controls, no investment strategy and if their was an executive committee watching the store, no has heard a word out of them.

 

In reality, there could well exist additional hundreds of millions of dollars of losses within Peregrine due to the collapse of these currencies. Peregrine will not be able to make those losses good, therefore the entire weight of the transaction will fall upon the Japanese and Korean Bank Investors. Until the collapse of Peregrine, there would have been no need to write down the currency loss attached to the transaction because that was not yet the investor bank’s problem and it was undoubtedly carried off the bank’s balance sheet as a form of derivative. With the demise of the guarantor (Peregrine), the loss now returns to the books with a vengeance. You say, that this stuff is all news to you. You bet it is, however, its at least 8 to 5 odds that the true story of what happened here will never see the light of day, investigations will never be completed. There are too many countries and politicians that screwed of something fierce in this disaster to let the world know what really happened here. However, the losses are real and act as just another "time bomb", ticking merrily away and ready to explode at the most in appropriate time right into the face of the highly exposed Japanese Banking System.

 

Moreover, even that isn't the end of the story; more often than not Peregrine would find a major bank to front its currency guarantees for a fee. Peregrine was the guarantor of last resort for most of the Pacific Rim and as hysterical merchants throughout the region got stuck with currencies that had either gone south or were no long fungible, they took a tremendous thumping. When the merchant’s exposure became too great, they just closed up shop rather than fight the inevitable. The amounts of these guarantees fronted by American and Japanese banks are probably astronomical and it is these banks that will ultimately have to make good on a massive amount of debt. Once again, the accounting for these losses is opaque and even a thorough investigation into the matter may not be able to identify the victims.

 

What this amount will be and the names of the unlucky banks that have gotten stuck, we may soon learn as the game of musical chair sorts out the losers for all to see... But there was much more, Peregrine gave all of its fortunate patrons the opportunity to purchase millions of dollars worth of its floating-rate notes and commercial paper, allowing Peregrine to add to its huge portfolio of Asian Junk bonds. Now friends, these bonds were called junk bonds even before the various country's economies collapsed, we are no longer certain what category that you would place this junk debt into now that most of the companies are bankrupt, but if I was holding any of this paper, I wouldn’t be waiting for the postman to be delivering my interest check everyday. Drexel Burnham and Michael Milken would have been horrified with the kind of paper that Peregrine had lovingly accumulated. I guess that the best you could call this collection of debt would be a "write-off".

 

Eventually, this story is going to play out like a grade "B" movie and we are convinced that it will turn out to be one of the great economic calamities of all time. There is no secret about the fact that Kongbang Peregrine Securities Co., the 44% owned Korean affiliate of Peregrine Investments Holding Ltd. was purchasing debt securities of the parent, Peregrine as fast it could be printed by the in-house press. The hapless Koreans had purchased tens of millions of the now worthless paper when authorities ordered the Peregrine press shut down for the last time. To add insult to injury, Kongbang Peregrine Securities purchased in excess of $700 million in Indonesian bonds as just before the country defaulted on everything in sight.

 

Unraveling the mess became so complicated that Price Waterhouse was hired to figure out who did what to whom and they soon uncovered the fact that its currency guarantees were much more extensive than previously believed. Price Waterhouse came up with over 2000 trades having 300 counter-parties that had not previously been booked. Pity the poor Thai and Indonesian companies that had the foresight to insure their currency exposure and still went bankrupt because Peregrine had lead them down the garden path. It appears that most, if not all of these transactions will become invalidated because of Peregrine’s demise and a substantial number of entities that under normal circumstances could have weathered Asia’s problems will now totally disappear from the landscape in spite of having had the foresight to hedge their bets. I guess you could say that they literally made the mistake of taking their business to the wrong bookie.

 

Naturally, Peregrines’ shutting down their shop added to the panic in the entire region and local politicos talked about investigating and prosecuting everyone remotely involved with this catastrophe. As the regulatory process proceeded with the speed of a stalactite growing in the desert, Commerzbank of Germany in an brazen attempt to break the bureaucratic logjam by filling a lawsuit against just about everyone even remotely connected with the now sorted affair. The bank charged that the enchanting people working for Peregrine had taken $41.2 million of the bank’s money almost simultaneously with the closing of their doors. In order to get everyone’s attention, the bank is arguing that the directors are totally responsible and wants discovery on the matter commenced the day before yesterday.

 

However, it was also readily apparent that a number of people are already coming to the conclusion that the powers that be, just don’t want the seamy details of what transpired to emerge and to add insult to injury the Hong Kong Society of Accountants have audaciously stepped into the breach by organizing a "lets muddy the waters even more" investigation of the Peregrine liquidators, Price Waterhouse. Now that Commerzbank has lead the charge, everyone else will be soon joining in with writs and discovery, thus indefinitely prolonging the transparency that they were seeking in the first place. Eventually, many of the pieces of the Peregrine Empire were sold off but almost all of the sales were seem to be open for question. Part of the collapsed firm, Greater China Equities, was sold to Banque Nationale de Paris, but the judge in the case indicated that Price Waterhouse had made any number of mistakes and while they were at it was involved in a serious conflict of interest:

 

"High Court Judge Anthony Rogers criticized Peregrine’s liquidators, Price Waterhouse, () and their employee who handled the deal, David Hague. Rogers questioned Hague’s calculation of $17.3 million for the acquisition price. He also questioned whether $7 million in bonus payouts to former Peregrine employees was excessive. He criticized Price Waterhouse and BNP for what he said was a "prima facie breach" of a confidentiality agreement for holding a news conference announcing the sale, which was also attended by Francis Leung, who founded the Greater China equities unit. Rogers also questioned Price Waterhouse’s transparency, saying he was concerned about a possible conflict of interest because the accounting firm also served as the auditor for BNP units. "The failure to disclose that conflict is inexcusable and a blot on the conduct of the provisional liquidators and their advisers," Rogers said. Rogers said he was concerned that Price Waterhouse didn’t approach the court for approval of the deal before it was concluded. Had it done so, he said, it was quite possible a better deal for creditors could have been reached. He said he was essentially presented with a fait accompli which would be extremely complicated to unravel fast enough to allow another deal to proceed."

 

 

Among those that were given large pieces of the $7 million was none other than Francis Leung, one Peregrine’s founding partners, and this was only a month or two after he was responsible for helping to destroy Peregrine. It is clear that the Bank Nationale De Paris thought that he was superb at what he did, so they gave him a salary, which was double the highest he ever earned while working for Peregrine. In addition, this whole scenario occurred in spite of the fact that Banco Santander, of Spain was sitting in the wings with a higher offer. Many say that in order to quiet Banco Santander, they were given much of Peregrine’s non-China equities business. BankBoston also hired a number of former executives from Peregrine to sell high field Latin American and U.S. debt into Asian markets.

 

On the other hand, Leung’s so-to-speak, partner in crime also got a job soon after he was almost responsible for causing what was left of the Pacific Rim to collapse. He was put to work at Templeton Emerging Market Fund in Hong Kong where he acted as a consultant and lasted at the job for about 16 months. "Tose, once a regular on Hong Kong’s social circuit, is now scarcely seen, moving between his homes in Hong King, London and Scotland." ()

 

Everyday the predicament appeared to become graver. Peregrine, it seems was totally out of control as far as their books and records were concerned. As the mess gradually began to unravel, it soon became apparent that the Indonesian Companies with whom Peregrine was doing business were carrying as much off the balance sheet as they were on it. It now turns out that Peregrine alone had over $9 billion in derivatives written with Indonesian Companies and the popular notion that the original number of $80 billion of debt run up by Indonesian Companies will pale in comparison with the humongous amount that will come out when the investigation is completed; that is if it ever is allowed to happen. We are convinced that this amount will be so large, that banks in both the United States and Japan will suffer substantial repercussions from its fallout. Moreover, some of these companies may have been affiliated with Suharto interests in Indonesia and thus may lose the most important thing of all, their licenses to freely engage in additional pillaging.

 

Many lenders who had been sanguine about getting their money back are now visualizing the situation in a much different light. A large number of Peregrine’s former managers have already run for cover. What happens next is that some of those financial institutions that were so sanguine about ultimately getting their money back, because they knew that if "push came to shove" the Hong Kong Government would step in, now find themselves permanently out of luck. We are convinced that unless a massive cover-up takes place, enormous dislocations will take place in the near future. The Peregrine situation "raises questions about how much progress Hong Kong has made in promoting good corporate governance and transparency. Indeed, a government investigation into the collapse of Peregrine Investment, launched 16 months ago, is apparently stuck somewhere between the Justice Department and the office of the Finance Secretary. The government has not said when the report will be released." ()

 

When some of the smoke had finally cleared, the damage estimates were made. "The Peregrine Group Collapsed having an estimated $35 billion in gross liabilities last year and left a trail of dissatisfied investors and creditors." () It has been estimated that at best Peregrine had $900 million in capital and that at least in the derivatives area; unsecured creditors would be receiving between 20 cents and 35 cents on each dollar they had invested. Using a figure of 30 cents we can get some inkling of the damage that Peregrine’s demise has caused. Thus, in a general sense, creditors and investors will probably ultimately recover $10 billion leaving them with a net loss of $25 billion. This will place Peregrine up there with BCCI and Banco Ambrosia as among the greatest financial rip-offs in history.

 

"The liquidation of Peregrine Group of companies is one of the largest and most complex of its kind in Hong Kong’s history. At the time of its collapse, Peregrine Group owned more than 200 individual firms in 29 offices in 15 countries." () As to any follow up investigation, because of the overall problem in the Pacific Rim, the Hong Kong Government could not address the particular problem of Peregrine immediately and the investigation hung in limbo for several years. When the smoke had cleared, the Secretary for the Financial Services, Rafael Hui Si-yan indicated that the report on the matter was voluminous and would take a substantial time to absorb, that the investigation would probably cost 10s of millions of dollars and that much of the evidence involved in the case was already permanently lost due to a lack of controls on the material.

 

"Since the default on a massive loan to an Indonesian taxi company caused the investment bank to collapse early last year, the process of investigating Peregrine could be hampered by the fact that former key managers had moved offices and documents had been packed up and stored away, he said (Edward Chow Kwong-fai, chairman of the HKSA corporate governance committee)" ()

Just as everyone in Hong Kong was finishing digesting the demise of Peregrine, government authorities also shuttered C A Pacific Securities. Concerned that this, coming so rapidly on the heels of Peregrine could likely set off a panic, the government announced a substantial increase in the compensation fund for investors. Worse yet, due to the fact that a series of rather strange complaints were being lodged with Hong Kong Police Department by no less than 1,300 people complaining about weird goings on in their securities accounts. The word had spread that C A Pacific was using customer cash accounts as collateral to prop up their own stocks on margin, this caused a major withdrawal of funds from people’s accounts at all of the other stockbrokers in the colony. Part of this problem stems from a lack of cohesive legislation governing borrowings in the securities industry from all sources.

 

Yet China, the new masters in waiting of the Far East determined that the best ploy would be the old, if you don’t know what is going to happen next, first muddy the waters trick. The Chinese Government proceeded to lay blame everyone in sight for their own problems. Potentially setting the potential stage for a devaluation in China, which never occurred and the creation of either a new peg or a freely floating Hong Kong dollar, Beijing took off after the United States for purposely generating the miseries that had infected the orient. They went on to indicate that a nefarious economic plot was behind all these economic catastrophes and that it was a move by the United States to gain substantially more power over the region.

 

Taking a gold leaf from the Malaysian book of blame, () China concluded that the United States had literally caused the entire economic problem that was occurring the Pacific Rim. The Government announced in its "People's Daily Newspaper" on January 6, 1998 that, "By giving help, it is forcing East Asia into submission, promoting the U. S. economic and political model and easing East Asia's threat to the U. S. economy." The article's meaning indicated that with substantial fanfare, that the United States was attempting to force the Pacific Rim into submission in an economic war far more devious than what the Japanese war-machine had visited upon the region in earlier times.

 

In this instance, they said that the United States was economically devastating the region while hiding behind their agent, the International Monetary Fund. China further indicated that the only reason that the United States was willing to help at all was the fact that the situation had become so grim that their was concern among American bureaucrats that without assisting Asia, the United States would suffer from the economic chaos it had wrought as well. Chinese authorities went on to state that the United States had allowed Thailand to sink, but when the contagion spread to Indonesia, Americans became concerned that it too would be drawn into the morass.

 

At the same time, the Hong Kong Government started purchasing many of the highly deflated shares on the Hong Kong Stock Exchange in an effort to restore investor’s confidence. Interestingly enough, this move had the effect of trapping the shorts (those that were betting that shares would fall even further) and the psychology of the action had the effect of propping up the market. However, this did not come without a price and took a deep cut into Hong Kong’s reputation for free trade. On the other hand, it had the desired effect having stopped the speculation in its tracks. In taking this direct action, Hong Kong had avoided what is called a "double bite at the bullet", continued weakness in their currency causing the automatic valve at the currency board to increase interest rates. Higher rates, in turn would drive down stock market restarting the entire mechanism all over again into it turned into what ultimately could have become a death spiral of ever increasing interest rates and ever declining stock prices. When the tally was completed, the Government had purchased $15 billion of securities, which they later happily unloaded at a substantial profit. . Albert Ho, in speaking for the Democratic Party put it best when he said that the move was "unwise and unrealistic to attempt to manipulate the market, Hong Kong is a free market and speculation is a part of life."

 

The Hong Kong Government defended its action indicating that currency speculators were spreading vicious rumors about the Colony's economic state of affairs, and indicated that in order to put a stop to the matter once and for all, the government would purchase shares until the cows came home in order to punish the perpetrators of these actions. However, unemployment figures released almost simultaneously showed that the number of people out of work rose to historic heights. A public opinion poll also released at the same time showed that people’s patience with the new regime was fraying and that confidence had sunk to a new low since China began its administration.

 

For a Government to go into the open market and purchase shares of stock is highly unusual to say the least. Many said that it was critical that Hong Kong take a massive stand against currency speculation or the entire region would suffer a colossal economic collapse. "For Asia and elsewhere, a break in the region’s most robust currency mechanism – in which domestic money supply is fully backed by hard currency reserves – could trigger a further round in the vicious downward spiral. Contrary to the commonly held view, a fail in Hong Kong’s peg could trigger a devaluation of China’s Renminbi rather than the other way round. And economists believe the shockwaves would travel as far as Brazil." ()

 

However, the Hong Kong Government believing that the end justifies the mean, took one more big bite into laissez-faire economic policies by changing the regulations regarding the trading of futures contracts. The new rules made the price for selling short, both much more expensive and increasingly more difficult. While this placed a strain on contracts that were already outstanding, the government indicated that the regulations were for the greater good and if a few people happened to suffer because of the new regulations, it would not be as important as what would could happen to the country as a whole if the new regulations were not put into effect.

 

In spite of this, it was not beyond many people’s comprehension that Hong Kong as a last line of defense could dollarize their economy altogether. In spite of protestations to the contrary, this concept had never been completely ruled out. "In April last year a government report examined the possibility of Hong Kong dollarizing, but concluded that it would be "draconian" and "may contravene" the Basic Law, the Hong Kong mini-constitution that governs its relationship with Beijing. The Basic Law says that "the Hong Kong dollar, as the legal tender shall continue to circulate." The report also highlighted that "huge legal problems" could arise as some contracts signed in Hong Kong would automatically become invalid.

 

Mr. Tao (senior economist at Credit Suisse First Boston Hong Kong Ltd) and other analysts say that and other technical problems could be circumvented by a gradual phasing out of the Hong Kong dollar, giving time for laws and contracts to be rewritten." () That did not stop a government spokeswoman from stating, "We have examined the issue (of dollarization) and we find it is not to be pursued in Hong Kong." In spite of these kind words, if things got really rough, this was an option that had been well considered as a reserve methodology that would absolutely prevent currency raids on Hong Kong’s currency. On September 7, 2000, the Hong Kong Monetary Authority announced that the official currency reserve assets of Hong Kong amounted to US$100.4 billion at the end of August 2000 allowing them to maintain their position as holding the fourth largest cache of foreign currency, muting whatever addition discussion that may have been needed relative to defending their dollar.

 

Moreover, the plagues continued to manifest themselves in the former British colony. For ushering in New Year’s, 1999, Hong Kong’s most festive holiday, traditionally a holiday in which chicken is usually served at every family diner; this year the colony’s residents will have pig because of the "bird flu" which has already taken a number of lives. People see that as just another omen of what the coming year is likely to bring and instead of the year of the Tiger, they are already calling it the year of the pig. Even the usually upbeat, Tung Chee-hwa, Hong Kong’s Chinese administrator said, "The present situation will, I am afraid, continue for some time."

 

And things didn’t get much better as time went on. We all know that Hong Kong is rated as the knock off capital of the world. Well it seems that someone finally turned the tables on them. The Moscow Philharmonic Orchestra was to appear at the magnificent Hong Kong Performing Arts Center and when the news hit, it seemed like everyone in Hong Kong wanted tickets. The entire series was sold out and went off without a hitch until someone pointed out that the Moscow Philharmonic was appearing in Europe at the same time people in Hong Kong were paying big bucks to see them perform there. Everybody became very embarrassed but mostly the Hong Kong government’s Leisure and Cultural Services Department, which booked the orchestra. It appears that a number of out of work musicians were enlisted for the gig and before anyone was any the wiser, stole off into the night with a healthy paycheck.

 

In the meantime, the reason that China wanted Hong Kong is pretty much a matter of ego, after all, the whole place is only about 400 square miles and its population is barely ½ of 1 percent of China’s. "The people are excellent intermediaries and skilled at trade and negotiations", you say. Well, that may certainly be true, but if that is the case and it is indeed important to China to have Hong Kong for the purposes of acting for China in those transactions, then why does China want to join the World Trade Organization and act for itself after going through all of the trouble to get Hong Kong back. Time Magazine did a piece on the puzzlement:

 

"Little Hong Kong grew into prominence as a middleman, an intermediary between a befuddled West and a mysterious China. But the People’s Republic’s likely accession into the World Trade Organization may make Hong Kong’s lucrative role obsolete. As Beijing is forced to open up its markets and adhere to international trading standards, foreign investors who once stopped off in the former British colony for advice and financing may find it easier just to head straight to the mainland. ..Within a few years, as China is forced by the WTO agreement to liberalize its markets, Hong Kong could by out of a job. "There may be a lot of expertise here, but Westerners are increasingly going to bypass Hong Kong," predicts Shamus Mok, chief economist at the Bank of East Asia. Compounding matters is Taiwan’s proposed entry into the WTO, a move that’s likely to follow a PRC accession. Domestic regulations have kept Taiwan from directly investing in the mainland, so many of the island’s businesses have instead funneled money through Hong Kong. Two years ago, to cite one high-profile example, Taiwan’s Core Pacific Group acquired the Hong Kong branch of bankrupt Yamaichi Securities in order to expand its mainland reach. But WTO member ship would likely mean that Taiwan no longer has to play these elaborate money games, leaving Hong Kong out of the equation." ()

Talk about harrowing experiences, having the regional economy collapse, the country’s markets tanking and unemployment rising coupled with a take over by an unwanted government whose intentions were not apparent was just about more than anybody in the colony could bear. On January 16, 1998, Dai Xianglong, the new Governor of the China’s Central Bank announced the imposition of American Style banking on that country. A trimming down of the fat in the system by decreasing the number of provincial offices, a decreasing role for local bureaucrats and therefore less chance for cronyism, the addition of international asset classification for loans and stepped up right-offs on uncollectable bad debt.

 

Furthermore, the government would give more autonomy to the four state-run commercial banks by allowing them substantial flexibility within pre-set perimeters. It is interesting that for public consumption at least, the Untied States had become the Devil Incarnate and was supposedly using every power at its disposal to subjugate the Citizens of Hong Kong, yet the Chinese seemed to believe, that the American Banking system would work for them. Some people suggested after hearing this contradictory rhetoric that maybe the Chinese wanted to form a joint-venture with the United States in economically subjugating the world.

 

While Hong Kong is replicating American banking practices, in terms of their legal system, politically, the bureaucrats seem to be heading further north, towards China. China, long a proponent of the old saw, that if you are well connected, you can do no wrong, seems to have brought that branch of political cronyism to its former colony. Politically connected Sally Aw, a newspaper publisher in Hong Kong, illegally inflated the circulation figures for her daily, and in spite of the fact that three of her underlings were prosecuted for fraud, she took a walk thanks to some very influential friends in Beijing. Simultaneously, Mainland China’s "New China News Agency (Xinhua) blatantly violated Hong Kong’s long standing privacy statutes. They joined Sally in getting preferential treatment in Hong Kong Courts.

 

There are major differences between the way China is ruled and the manner that Hong Kong has been governed. The following explanation may help to explain the problems that people saw in the merger between to the two countries.

 

"The rule of law in Hong Kong has been distinct from and contrasts with the rule of man I China. China’s history has little experience with constitutions, parliaments, and courts of law. Its history is that of autocratic emperors, dictators, warlords, and ruthless Communist Party officials. This important difference between British Hong Kong and China cannot be overstated. Put as bluntly as possible, words in treaties, constitutions, and laws do not mean the same thing in Chinese to the Chinese as they do in English to the British, Americans, and other who reside in the West. There is no common ground for a similar understanding of the "rule of law" between Hong Kong and China in light of their different political histories….The Chinese constitution has gone through five major revisions. No matter. The words do not mean what they say in the Western political tradition. Chinese citizens are granted rights of free expression but are locked up if they speak freely. They enjoy every other right that appears in any Western country’s bill of rights or constitutions—unless, that is, they try to exercise them. "

Because the Chinese had moved so slowly in activating changes, many of the people in Hong Kong had become complacent. However, as these changes gradually started to take hold the sanguinity soon vanished. These substantive, but gradually invasive changes caused considerable rumblings and many among the people became restive. The new Solicitor General, Daniel R. Fung, unsurprisingly indicated that, "I would not accept that there has been an erosion in the legal system." Other voices did not agree, Martin Lee offered a contrary view when he said, "The fairest conclusion one can draw is that the government has no respect for the rule of law, if today you can treat Xinhua more favorably than others, does that mean that tomorrow you can treat me less favorably?" Although this represents only a small leak in the dike, many fear that putting a finger in to stop the leak won’t be of any long-term benefit for the Colony.

 

However, with rumbling already widespread, this turned out to be on the beginning. On March 30, 1998; the Hong Kong Government announced that they were introducing new legislation that would exempt the government from many current laws. No was sure what that statement meant when it was originally released but As more information leaked out, it seems that, not only would the Hong Kong Government be exempt from much legislation but also so would Chinese State bodies. "This...signals the beginning of the substitution of Hong Kong’s "rule of law" with Beijing’s rule of man. The potential for abuse and corruption in these circumstances is enormous and indeed invited, " stated Martin Lee, head of the Hong Kong Democratic Party. Those who thought the former colony would be left to its own devices were rapidly learning that this is not exactly what the Mainland had in mind.

 

However, the Chinese were far from finished tinkering with the system. In 1995 when the last Hong Kong vote was held under British Rule, there were 2.7 million eligible voters out of a population of just under 7 million. In first election under Chinese rule, that number surprisingly had inconceivably dropped to about 140,000 and the way in which the election was administrated created more of an air of resignation than real apathy when only a small fraction of that number people even bothered going to the polls.

 

The Chinese had put into place a voting scheme that had seemingly disenfranchised and frustrated the Hong Kong population. This bizarre method of voting, divided the country for electoral purposes, into three distinct groups, the popular vote will elect 33% of those running, 17% will be chosen by committee, having no bearing on how any votes are cast and 50% will be elected by the corporations. Pro-democracy politician, Emily Lau indicated that this whole situation was "A farce. Only a very small number of people had the right to vote. So it was not really an election. Many said that it was just a process to further entrench in power in the people who were already in charge. When the smoke started to clear on what these various political moves meant, it soon became readily apparent that the vast majority of Hong Kong people were left with no say whatsoever."

 

Emily Lau did not finish just by knocking the Chinese election system, she and another activist thought it would be a good idea to stick it to the Chinese and she organized a flower-presentation ceremony at the Hong Kong’s historic clock tower landmark. They and their supporters laid chrysanthemums in front a hastily constructed mausoleum in honor of all that had died in Tiananmen Square. Emily, ever the orator stated, "They have not died in vain. We will continue to struggle for a democratic Hong Kong and a democratic China." However, because of her actions we have some fears about Emily disappearing sometime soon if she keeps taunting the Chinese. As she herself has stated, it has happened before.

 

So far, the Chinese who had publicly stated that they were going to let well enough alone seem to have taken away civil rights and the people’s right to vote. God only knows what their next move will be. As the rights of Hong Kong Citizens are being stripped, one at a time, more people recognizing the warning sign are buying one-way tickets out of town. "Among the most controversial actions were restrictions the return of children from Mainland China, repealing of labor laws passed under British rule, restricting direct election and placing some China entities above the law." () Even the U.S. State Department was not happy with what was going on in Hong Kong under Chinese rule: In speaking about trends, they stated that: "to some degree, harassment of dissidents and a legal system that may favor those closely aligned with China." (Is evident).

 

Well, the election was held with an announced, huge turnout; the people proposed by Mainland bureaucrats were not surprisingly elected but they had run on a plank, promising to halt the erosion of the Hong Kong Citizen’s rights. While many view this as a startling victory for democracy in the former colony, we view it as a prelude to disaster. The next move will be a legislative war over who is really running things and the Colony will lose. This will ultimately lead to repressive tactics by Chinese in order to maintain control. Although we applaud the courage of the dissidents and we feel that they have only begun a long travel over a short road and the best that can be garnered will be some sort of compromise.

 

In addition, a causing the differential between the parties to widen every increasingly, the DAB (The Democratic Alliance for the betterment of Hong Kong, is the political party in Hong Kong backed by the Mainland Chinese Government) is in motion consistently, proselytizing the opposition from every conceivable direction. Furthermore, the DAB has all of their political materials inexpensively produced in the Mainland, allowing them a tremendous advantage over competing parties who do not have that economically beneficial relationship open to them. Moreover, China has ruled that political parties are not allowed to receive foreign donations. On the other hand, the DAB, being an arm of the Chinese government is exempt from this regulation and donates whatever is necessary to swing elections to candidates of their choice. In addition, the Chinese denominated government has disbanded the "’Urban Council’, the oldest elected body in Hong Kong and the only independent policy-making council" ()

 

Today, in Hong Kong, demonstrations of over thirty people have to be approved by the government. Naturally, pro-DAB demonstrations are always granted permission while those of opposing political views are summarily denied these rights. So that opposing political parties can not use the fact that China is exerting undo influence within the DAB, China passed a law that states "China’s interpretation of press freedom bears little resemblance to Western norms. Lu Ping head of the State Council’s (China’s cabinet) Hong Kong and Macao Affairs Office, stated that firm limits will be imposed on press freedom. He said that China would regard any published statements that incite action as unlawful and punishable, that it would not permit criticism of China, and that it would not tolerate any Hong Kong publication advocating independence for Taiwan or Tibet. China’s view is that press freedom will be a concern only for those papers holding biased or hostile views toward China, of which Chinese officials will be the judge." ()

 

As the DAB has gained strength through a combination of hard campaigning on a year around basis, economically beneficial help from the mainland and invitations to influential Hong Kong residents to meet with high-ranking government officials, the handwriting on the wall became much clearer. It is the DAB that will eventually totally control Hong Kong politics and for that reason, much of the Hong Kong wealthy class has reluctantly jumped on their bandwagon. Furthermore, because of the fact that Hong Kong voting is now divided into "Functional Constituencies" (They control 24 of the 60 seats in Congress) the DAB by concentrating on those "Constituencies" that are under-represented in terms of the number of people in their membership, can control more votes through less people. Clearly, the vote in Hong Kong has nothing to do with the will of all of the people. The bottom line seems to be that China set up a system in which there would be free elections, but they could manipulate the system without too much trouble, thus always being able to control the situation.

 

There also seems to be a push by the Mainland Chinese to increase the value of their own shares listed on the Hong Kong Stock Exchange. This includes arranging for the dismissal of any of the securities analysts, which promote negative feelings towards that group of stocks. "The South China Morning Post reported in its February 27, 1997, edition that locally employed financial analysts were being attacked and fired by their bosses and clients for negative reporting on Mainland Chinese companies. As an example, the head of China research at CEF Securities criticized the cabin service of mainland-owned China Eastern Airlines at a stock-listing road show and lost his job. He had been previously warned by his boss, according to Fortune, not to comment on political matters in China, even though airline service is an economic matter." ()

 

The tinkering that was going on unnerved many of the people that made their living in the stock markets, but worse yet, the economy had started to unravel and the people who under better economic conditions could have put up with some government hanky panky were no exactly in the mood. Retail sales dropped 18 percent in Hong Kong in February 1998 alone and unemployment soared to a fifteen year high. The smog, which killed tourism the previous year, is expected to do even worse this year causing the bottom to drop out of tourism; foreign arrivals being down over 20 percent in May alone. The budget is in chaos because the Government was forced to suspend land sales due to the collapse of the real estate market. The real estate market in Hong Kong at this point was off 50 percent in just a few months. Worse yet, "An Economic Intelligence Unit report released last week demotes Hong Kong from the best place to do business in the world to the sixth position because of what it calls, ‘political interference’" ()

 

Due to the fact that so much property is financed through the Hong Kong banking system, fears have already been examined about its ultimate demise if the deterioration had continued much longer. If anyone had any doubts as to the seriousness in which these events were perceived, they only had to listen to China’s designated hitter to understand the facts. Tung Chee-hwa expressed his concern when he said, "Property prices have dropped heavily and if this situation continues it would certainly jeopardize the financial and banking system."

 

The real estate collapse also meant that instead of a surplus of HK $10 billion, which had been projected just a short time earlier, the actual numbers came in at a deficit of around HK $21.4 billion. All in all, things were not looking up for the colony, When the data was all in, the first quarter of 1998 showed a contraction of 2 percent and government estimates looked for more of the same to come. Government head, Tung Chee-hwa stated the obvious, "We fully understand that our economic situation now is very critical." Chinese influence along with economic contraction and uncertainty caused a mass exodus of corporate headquarters. "Fully 60 percent of Hong Kong’s publicly listed firms, which trade on the Hong Kong Stock Exchange, have moved their domicile to Bermuda; some have relocated in the Cayman Islands; and even the venerable Hong Kong and Shanghai Banking Corporation, whose name is synonymous with the territory, moved its domicile to London. This trend of offshore domicile is especially prevalent among new incorporations and listings." ()

 

In 1999, China made another innovation, which did not sit well with those in Hong Kong. They created what is called a "Press Council". China indicated that the media was totally out of control and did not respect the rights of citizens. Professor Raymond Wacks, the chairman of the Law Reform Commission’s Sub Committee on Privacy stated that the press had shown "flagrant disregard for privacy had been shown be the Hong Kong media." Margaret Ng Ngoi-yee, stated that "criticism of the press may well be justified,… but take away that freedom and the freedom of speech is practically meaningless. We should not be looking at ways to undermine that freedom."

 

China was taking a little bit here and little bit there and it was becoming more than obvious that soon there would be few rights left. "Resignations have become a barometer of the changing atmosphere in Hong Kong. In November, Willy Wo-Lap Lam, a prominent columnist specializing in China, left the South China Morning Post after he was stripped of many of his duties. In 1999, the outspoken head of the government-run Radio Television Hong Kong, Cheung Man-yee, was abruptly transferred to Japan." And on January 12, 2001, The Number two official in Hong Kong’s government, a recent target of criticism by the Chinese government, resigned unexpectedly today, 18 months before the end of her term. …The official, Anson Chan, who had been appointed head of Hong Kong’s civil service by the British governor, was widely viewed as a symbol of this former colony’s determination to retain a measure of autonomy under Chinese rule." ()

 

On the other hand, it was Anson Chan that had presided over the near demise of the Hong International Airport when because of political pressures it opened under her aegis, far to early and before all of the systems had been shaken down. At the time it had been suggested that she had just blown any opportunity to ever run Hong Kong in spite of an illustrious career.

 

"Analysts said that Hong Kong International airport, which opened on July 6, 1998, had damaged the reputation of the civil service and could end up dashing any chance that Anson Chan, the most senior civil servant in the territory, will someday run Hong Kong. She is responsible for the airport as head of the government’s airport Development Steering Committee, and at the opening ceremony she was the only official to thank Britain for deciding to build the airport and to persevere in the face of time-consuming objections by China over financing it." ()

It has been pointed out the Hong Kong’s civil servants headed by Anson Chan had become close to the highest paid bureaucrats anywhere on earth. However, the reason that they had been treated so well was because they continued to deliver. Ultimately, they had a failure and that was a monster. The Hong Kong International Airport was one of the must severe problems in Hong Kong history. In the meantime, some of the more serious problems generated under the Chinese appointed, Chief Executive Tung Chee-hwa leadership seem to be, "… policy changes are reducing job security for civil servants, restructuring promotion prospects and benefits for public doctors, cutting funding to social welfare organizations, making teachers sit compulsory language-proficiency tests, and changing the compensation scheme for residents of urban slums due for redevelopment. Thousands of middle-income class families are still struggling with income cuts, heavy mortgage loans and much lower values for their property as Hong Kong’s economy has not fully recovered from the Asian financial crisis and the property market continues to slump…Failing to map out a clear strategy and direction to address the widespread public discontent, Tung and his administration have been rated poorly in various opinion polls." ()

 

For a truly Western Style economy such as Hong Kong’s, the people are zealots though, when it comes to "feng shui", the four thousand year old art of predicting the future. Apparently everyone in the former colony is on the lookout for good karma, but according to those revered in the practice of feng shui, things have happened exactly the way they had been predicted. Even Hong Kong’s Chinese boss, Tung Chee-hwa was such a fervent advocate of the science that he would not move into the British Governor’s home claiming that it had bad feng shui. As a matter of fact he would not move anywhere until his own expert picked a place that had good karma.

 

The banks in Hong Kong regularly issue feng shui reports and as an example, Credit Lyonnais Securities Asia issued the following just about the time when the British turned the colony over to China, "People will begin to express their dissatisfaction with the continued deterioration in the local economy and living standards after the hand over." With so much riding on these predictions, people have been asking, "when will things get better?" and almost to a man, the feng shui has predicted that when the new airport opens, things are sure to improve.

 

In spite of maintaining their peg, Hong Kong has managed to survive the Pacific Rim crisis in incomparable fashion. In spite of concerns about what China would do next, the omnipresent currency speculators and the harrowing regional economics, there are now more than 1,100 companies that call Hong Kong their regional headquarters, even more than archrival, Singapore. In spite of the fact that costs in Hong Kong remaining substantially above that of other competitors in the region because of their continuing peg to the U.S. dollar, a report written by Michael Enright, and Edith Scott showed that, "When choosing a location for regional headquarters, Hong Kong’s top selling points are closely aligned with what companies regard as their most important criteria: political and legal stability, good infrastructure, professional services and quality local management. Cost and quality-of-life issues came further down the list. () Respondents indicated that the city will further benefit as China, Japan and South Korea continue to welcome foreign investment – meaning many firms will find it essential to have their headquarters in North Asia. With the center of gravity shifting toward the North, respondents said Singapore may increasingly be relegated to becoming headquarters for Association of Southeast Asian Nations only, where investment flows are smaller." ()

 

Interesting enough, most managers when comparing Japan and Hong Kong, found that Japan was too Japanese (rigid) and Singapore was continuing to be effected by the fall out from the Indonesia economic and political disaster. This shift toward Hong Kong has taken place in spite of the fact that the Chinese control of the former territory has grown ever more omnipresent. Although there is certainly a large degree of independence in the otherwise biased elections, the Democratic Alliance for the Betterment of Hong Kong (DAB) party (Pro-China) has taken to furthering their advantage by what is called in the region, "snake soup tours". The term "snake soup" has little to do with the fact that basically, these are basically the same kind of political dinners, lunches and breakfasts that are regularly held at the White House in the United States for the benefit of friendly donators and politically influential associates. This theme has become an increasingly important methodology used politically in gaining votes. It brings the voter and the political party closer together and has proven as effective in Hong Kong as it has been at the White House.

 

 

Chek Lap Kok Airport

 

In the midst of a major economic downtrend, the Chinese takeover of Hong Kong, massive unemployment and currency assaults, the Chek Lap Kok Airport was launched with great fanfare. So convinced were the locals that the new airport would function as advertised that they took the unusually steps of removing all of the backup systems (Which under normal conditions would have been kept in place). Effectively, Hong Kong virtually closed the airport that had served them well for so many years and opened a new one simultaneously; the end result soon became a logistical nightmare.

 

In addition, officials were so confident that they had covered every eventuality, that it would not be necessary to take the normal precautions of converting flights gradually over a shakedown period to insure that there were no remaining glitches in the system. Well, they were very wrong; were they ever wrong. The new computer that was getting its first test, developed "bugs" and wouldn’t cooperate no matter what technicians attempted to do. "The smooth-running status of the Hong Kong International Airport, also known as Chek Lap Kok, is now far different than it was during its opening week.

 

Then, passengers waited an average of two hours for bags, thousands of which were lost. The operation of the flight display system, which serves as the communication center , was so spotty that neither passengers nor ground crews alike were sure where their planes were. Sometimes, passenger escalators simply stopped." () Cargo handling became impossible and goods could not be moved out or into the new $20 billion facility. Escalators didn’t work, toilets were either backed up or in a constant state of overflowing and information displays seemed to be written in Esperanto. This all had the compounded effect of creating interminable flight delays. "Ticket machines are still not fully operational. Some train doors are broken. And automatic barriers will take your ticket, but not always let you pass." ()

 

Even more regretfully, an arriving Cathay Pacific Airways plane from France fell victim to a malfunctioning automatic guidance docking system and rammed into an air-bridge and collapsed it. That turned out to be the last straw and officials, hysterical over the event, canceled the systems use, making it available only manually. This action even further backed up the endless line of planes waiting to take off and land. It was then discovered that the foundation work for the airport’s railroad was substantially inferior to the specifications and faster than you could blink an eye, sixteen people were arrested and officials were busily testing the concrete to see if the train was going to fall of the trestle and into the ocean below. () The throwing oil on a smoldering fire occurred when tour operators, viewing the airport as a means of obtaining some fast cash, illegally started selling tickets to Hong Kong residents and in depth review of the multi-billion dollar structure. Moreover, unexpectedly, when the Hong Kong residents turned out by the thousands, the already strained airports amenities were stretched beyond the breaking point.

 

Much of the cargo that goes in and out of Hong Kong is animate; import and export items include live seafood, fresh cut flowers and even highly desired bull frogs; they all had to be returned to the old airport for handling and during the delay, substantial amounts of cargo was lost. The passengers fared almost as badly, the order of the day became "hurry up and wait" as long lines appeared everywhere and 80,000 literally stranded people speculated at what to do next. As for the future, the airport’s chief, Anthony Charter seemingly did not check his "feng shui" () and stated, "operations were likely to suffer for the foreseeable future and that imports were likely to face 24-hour delays". Airports in Macao, Shenzhen and other Southern China were asked to help with the arrivals and during that period of time, bad karma abounded.

 

Logically, bureaucrats immediately started searching furtively for a fall guy and Hong Kong Air Cargo Terminals LTD (HACTL) obliged by imprudently speaking their minds. You see, HACTL is the company that handles 80 percent of the air cargo going in and out of the former colony. HACTL, after things started going wrong at the airport, not unreasonably instituted a ban on almost all inbound and outbound air freight traffic. It has since indicated that full service could not be restored until for quite some period of time, and then, only by reopening the old airport for traffic for a second time. Upon hearing the news, Chau Tak-hay, the Secretary for Trade and Industry stated, "The Company should be reprimanded. I’m saying it without reservation, I am very angry, as a citizen of Hong Kong, I feel like every other citizen, very disappointed." And we can understand where Chau is coming from, Hong Kong handles air cargo valued at HK$40 billion per month and if you don’t think that this kind of slowdown isn’t going to cause a real financial problem for a place that already had its hands full of predicaments, you are delusionary.

 

Many of the problems could be chalked up to Hong Kong’s history of getting everything precisely right for so long that the bureaucrats in charge, convinced of their infallibility thought that they would be bullet proof. In reality, what the bureaucrats had accomplished pushed the airports envelope by opening it too early; in the first instance, to accommodate the one-year anniversary of China’s takeover of the former British Colony and in the second, for Clinton’s visit to the Pacific Rim. Hong Kong’s ragged edges started to show their grim side to the outside world.

 

In spite of the problems involved in opening the Hong Kong International Airport, there can be no question that all new developments when first attempted require a learning curve; especially when they are dealing with new and highly technical equipment. Airports are no different than anything else in this regard, and the grandest and most complex human structure ever built, could not have been expected to get this highly intricate package of mutually exclusive electronics totally correct, the first time out. One of the airport’s principal early problems was its state of the art automated cargo handling facility, a $1.2 billion expense that is ranked as easily the biggest of its kind in the world. When the airport opened, the rush of traffic was so immense that the computers were just not finely tuned enough to cope with the massive inflow of traffic. The computer overloaded, went down and the cargo disappeared.

 

The problem that Hong Kong was having with its original airport, was primarily the fact that the Island Colony was only so big. Its skyscrapers kept getting taller and taller and when passenger aircraft tried to land, it was as though they were constantly running the gauntlet of high rises causing a series of near catastrophes. In addition, the near-in-airport was no long capable of logistically handling the amount of traffic that was going through its hub. Hong Kong had indeed become a global hub and the only logical way to travel there was by plane. Airport congestion was also beginning to effect tourism, which in reality had become the country’s life’s blood. In addition, time sensitive materials were delayed at the airport because of logistical backups and in time it became readily apparent that the colony was effectively losing substantial industrial and tourist dollars because of the airport’s insufficiency.

 

Sir Norman Foster, a British architect who had been knighted for his architectural genius, had been brought in to design the airport and his work product was magnificent. The terminal had been created in the shape of the Concord Aircraft. Earlier, Foster had also been involved in designing the London, Stansted Airport, which was considered by many to be a work of art. The Chek Lap Kok facility has been termed by its builders to be the largest civil engineering project in history and it cost the colony over $20 billion to complete. Its terminal building has become the largest covered space in the world even eclipsing the Boeing Airplane facility in the State of Washington, which held the title for decades. "Apart from the gigantic platform itself, the most impressive structure on Chek Lap Kok is the eight-storied air-terminal building, 1.27 kilometers long, with a total floor area of 560,000 square meters or over six million square feet and an enormous, aerodynamically shaped roof that can resist typhoons. There must be no massive settlement of the supporting structure, nor must it begin to float in the heavy monsoon rains. Though it is built on Chek Lap Kok’s bedrock, piles up to 50 meters long have been rammed into the sometimes weathered rock and steel anchors fixed at many points, as the only way to ensure that the large structure will stand up to the tremendous forces of compression, lift, suction and shear to which it will be exposed." ()

 

"The roof of the Chek Lap Kok terminal is formed by steel shells, 118 feet wide, curving longitudinally to give a rise of 20 feet at the center. Each shell was assembled on the ground and hoisted into lace in one piece onto a concrete substructure, to which it is anchored to ensure that there is no lift-off during one of the typhoons that are regular feature of the Hong Kong climate. Continuou8s central skylights bring daylight to the middle of the roof, supplemented by electric lighting as necessary. An interesting feature of the terminal – and an essential adjunct to a large modern airport – is the Meeters and Greeters Hall, which runs through three stories along the entire length of the building."

Hong Kong International Airport also became known as Chek Lap Kok Airport, which was the name of a small island, a part of Hong Kong, but a substantial distance away, at the time, by road. By flattening the mountainous island, its area was increased over 400% by dedicated use of the debris. A suspension bridge, which was designed to carry both rail and highway traffic at high-speed was connected to Chek Lap Kok and in so doing, the largest suspension bridge in the world was created. In addition, during construction an adjoining island, Lam Chau was joined by landfill to Chek Lap Kok and that island now makes up the eastern third of the airports first two runways.

 

In the course of completing this construction, 340 million cubic meters of land was blasted away in order to trim the islands into harmonious and leveled heights. However, even when this was finished, it was discovered that there was still not enough gravel to fill the seabed making up the airport, to the necessary depth of 50 feet. However, there were two more islands in the general vicinity called "the brothers", because of the need for landfill, they too were blasted apart and another and seven million cubic meters of additional fill was derived from their remains. In addition, two flight-radar stations were built on what was left of the "brothers" to insure addition flight safety. When the airport was completed it was noted that it had required 35 million cubic feet of concrete, 572,000 square feet of glass cladding, 3,100 miles of low-voltage cables and 248 miles of pipe-work. ()

 

During construction of the airport it was estimated that fully seventy-five percent of all dredging equipment in the world was involved in this project. "It took 30 months of 24-hour-a-day dredging and quarrying activities to complete the project…" () The reason that so much equipment was needed was simply the fact that land surrounding the islands was far too unstable to lay fill on top of and thus, the sludge, marine deposits and limnic chalk, first had to be removed. When all was said and done, it took 121 million cubic meters of rock and 76 million meters of sand to finish the island airport while 142 million cubic meters of waste material had to be removed and deposited elsewhere. When all of that was finished, two meters of crushed granite were laid on top of the subsurface, this action alone required yet another seven million square meters.

 

"The project is recognized as one of the largest earthmoving and dredging operations ever undertaken. Contractors moved more than 10 tons of material every second, 367 cubic yards every minute and more than 524,000 cubic yards every day…An even bigger and more costly project was the Mass Transit Railway Corporation system (MTRC) rail and road link incorporated the world’s longest double-decker road and rail suspension bridge. A structure that carries a six-lane expressway with mass transit railway tracks below it, and enclosed emergency roads on either side for use during typhoons." This combined roadway and rail system was constructed to move passengers and visitors from the Hong Kong mainland to Chek Lap Kok Airport in less than a half hour travel time.

Furthermore, the airport is located within five hours flying time of fully one-half of the world’s population, something that could only occur in the orient. The airport’s air-traffic control center stands almost 30 stories high and is ranked as the tallest control tower in the world. Oil for the airport is contained in nine giant fuel-storage facilities and although the tanks are a narrative in themselves, of even more importance to the airport’s builders was the livelihood of the rare white dolphins that inhabited the surrounding area. The fuel-storage facilities had to be constructed in such a way as not to endanger the habitat in which the dolphins lived and at the same time, to create a refueling center that was opaque to the sea creatures in every respect. This was accomplished by using state-of-the-art noise reducing devices while simultaneously creating a literal wall between the sea life and the facility itself.

 

"The Government of Hong Kong has taken several mitigating measures to keep the loss of wildlife and habitats at a minimum. Ecological studies of wetlands, sea grass beds, and mangrove communities were taken, resulting in the replanting of mangroves and woodlands and the relocation of a colony of Romer’s Tree Frogs."

Its size is obviously immense and the airport is designed to accommodate over 80 million passengers a year, putting it into a class with such goliaths as the O’Hare International Airport in Chicago and Hartsfield in Atlanta, Georgia. As it is, Chek Lap Kok can handle more passengers than London’s Heathrow and New York’s JFK combined. It has 140 restaurants and retail shops and has become a first class tourist attraction. While it is located 24 miles from downtown Hong Kong, the roads are first class and for the most part non-access, making the ride both comfortable and fast. As many as fourteen thousand people worked on the airport’s construction.

 

The giant seawall surrounding the airport is was one of the more massive construction jobs facing the builders. "A 13-km-long seawall surrounds the leveled airport island, which by now had grown to four-times its original size. Great blocks of granite weighing one, three, and five tons apiece form the protective seawall. They have been blasted out of the island’s rock to the seawall’s specifications, and are made to interlock tightly with one another in open fashion, to dissipate the wave action of the sea." ()

 

The new airport did not solve all of the logistical problems that the builders would have liked but there was just no other place else to construct this monolith. It is centrally located between the Lantau Island’s twin peaks, which rise over 3000 feet above sea level. This can result in potentially damaging wind shear and turbulence. Moreover, due to the fact that the airport was created for the most part on reclaimed land, the fact that the runways were constructed before the land had fully settled soon created cracks that had to be corrected. Probably for this same reason, the glass cladding in the main terminal started shredding and had to be replaced.

 

In addition, Hong Kong experiences numerous thunderstorms a year. Because many of these storms seemingly appear out of nowhere and without warning, an advanced system had to be created. In order to create a suitable early warning device. For this reason, an advanced Terminal Doppler Weather Radar system was installed. "The system at Chek Lap Kok can determine the location and intensity of terrain-induced turbulence. Instruments all around the airport, continuously gathering data on wind direction and intensity. The information is then fed to a computer, which produces an up-to-the-minute picture of wind conditions, including areas where wind shear is likely to be present. This information is then displayed on a monitor in the airport control tower. Controllers can at that time advise the pilots of incoming and outgoing aircraft so that they can compensate for gusts or delay until conditions improve. The system has an expected accuracy rate of 80%." ()

 

Nevertheless, nothing can ever go smoothly when three nations are all involved in a gargantuan project. Politically, the airport found itself in difficulty early on when the Chinese and British got into a political scrap over its construction. In spite of the fact that "In 1991, an agreement between the People’s Republic of China and the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland (United Kingdom) signed a memorandum of understanding recognizing the need for a new airport and requiring the Hong Kong Government to complete the facility "to the maximum extent possible" by June 30,1997." () Agreements are made to be broken and as with all contracts the parties to this one soon started thinking the worst about each other.

 

The ever-paranoid Chinese soon came to believe that the entire project was only a ploy on Britain’s part to drain Hong Kong’s currency reserves before the Chinese could effectuate their take back of the territory. These squabbles eventually resolved themselves when it became apparent that the old Hong Kong Airport could no longer do the job. When delays prolonged construction, at the time Chek Lap Kok was finished, it was completed under the Chinese reign in Hong Kong, not that of the British. This took all the glory away from the British who had seen the airport as a memento of their years of domination of the territory. They started to whine about the matter but then when things suddenly went wrong after the opening, the opined that the Chinese were entirely responsible for the fiasco.

 

Upon its completion, Chek Lap Kok Airport was named one of the top 10 construction achievements of the 20th Century by the Conexpo-Con-Agg ’99, a group comprised of the Construction Industry Manufacturers Association, National Aggregates Association and the National Ready Mixed Concrete Association, the National Stone Association and the Associated General Contractors of America. The immensity of the project can be best garnered by analyzing the following data:

 

"Chek Lap Kok International airport has been built in one of the biggest operations in the industry. The Airport Core Program cost more than $20 billion, involved four major sponsors, ten separate projects, 225 construction contracts, and over 1,000critical interfaces. A news transportation corridor stretches 34 kilometers from Hong Kong Island to the site of Hong Kong International Airport. A high-speed rail system, two tunnels, two bridges, and a six-lane expressway. Designed for the rapid movement of millions of passengers, the airport has 288check-in counters, 200 immigration desks and 80 customs positions. The new airport boasts 2.5 km of moving walkways and around 120 shops. Operations were moved from the existing Kai Tak Airport to Hong Kong International during one night, in July 1998, a task that required co-coordinated operation of some 1,200 vehicles and convoy of barges. This followed a long series of testing and trial procedures…"

Add to those figures, 3,100 parking spaces, 12,530 lounge seats, 5,600 luggage trolleys and 2,000 flight information boards. Amazingly, in the short period of its existence, statistics from Airport Council International show that Chek Lap Kok had quickly become the world’s second-busiest air cargo hub with more than 1.98 million tons of cargo. () With increases in use rising yearly by double digits, there is already some concern that with the opening of Disneyland in 2005 along with "Cyberport" a high-tech development at about the same time, the airport will have surpassed it ability to handle the flood of traffic.

 

The airport’s credit rating after the initial problems has gone straight up, now being as high as that of the former colony itself, A+, the only airport in Asia to come even close to this designation by Standard and Poors. In giving the airport top honors, S&P pointed out the Hong Kong International Airport is now ranked as the number one airport in the world relative to International cargo and fifth in the world in international passengers. S&P further cited a "robust service area, a diversified carrier base, a strong financial position, a new facility with capacity for expansion, and support and ownership by the Honk Kong Government, the sole owner of the Airport Authority." ()

 

In addition, The Hong Kong International Airport has also been awarded the title of "Best Airport" by the US-based Travel and Leisure Magazine and has been praised by the US Federal Aviation Authority for the high level of security at the airport. () OAG Worldwide gave it the Journalist’s Choice Award. Those giving kudos to the airport indicate that its strengths are plentiful luggage carts, the ability of travelers to clear immigration in 15 minutes and no more than a 10 minute wait for baggage. Additionally, the shops at the airport are obligated to charge no more than they would in Hong Kong proper, the express train which is clean and efficient, drops passengers in downtown Hong Kong in under 25 minutes and costs less than $10. And get this, a passenger can check in for flights at the train station at which point all of his luggage can be checked all the way through. ()

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