Now, as Bush threatens war on Iraq, he's working with a team of people who made their fortunes there, both as politicians and as private executives. Before serving as Halliburton's CEO, Cheney of course was secretary of defense during the elder Bush's Gulf War. Under his leadership, Halliburton used two foreign subsidiaries to do $23 million worth of business with Iraq, more than any other U.S. company. The UN sanctions made the first Bush administration appear to still be playing tough with Saddam, while in fact they seem to have worked as a kind of pipeline for Americans to do business with Iraq through foreign partnerships.

Since the setup has been working so well, it seems surprising that Bush now wants to do away with Saddam, a move that would surely ignite fundamentalist rage. At the same time, Bush is attacking Iran, which fires up the religious extremists there. They have been much in decline over the last few years as the moderate president has sought to restore a modicum of civil society. Suddenly Khatami finds himself cut off by Bush, and the religious wackos are again jumping into the limelight.

Bush also stands to lose favor with his big patrons, the oil barons who stand to lose not only trade with Iraq but progress in gaining access to Iran's ports and pipeline system.

Yet Bush is willing to risk all this, for reasons that aren't hard to understand. Three straight administrations have quietly tried to manipulate Saddam to their own advantage, while pulling for any improvement in dealings with Iran. After September 11, it became clear the U.S. didn't really have control over the region. So it projected power in Afghanistan, got a taste of military victory on the eve of an election season, and, not having caught bin Laden, decided to let the troops keep on rolling. And why not? War has been good for Bush's approval ratings, and if the U.S. can knock off Saddam and keep Iran in line, there's more business for Texas. You can chalk the politics up to Bush's handlers, but the underlying thrust comes from Cheney and big oil.

This Land Is Their Land
Poor Like Ken Lay

A survey of public records and private advocacy groups yields the following financial portrait of the American recession:

Number of millionaires: 2.5 million

Number of billionaires: 298

Richest family: the Waltons

Size of their Walmart fortune: $85 billion

Second richest: Bill Gates, $63 billion

Annual take for Enron's Ken Lay: $49.8 million

Percentage of Americans without pensions: 53

Average percentage lost by a 401(k) last year: 10

Number of people without health care: 43 million

Highest-paid CEO: Michael Dell

His total annual compensation: $235.9 million

Dollar ratio of CEO pay to that of minimum-wage workers: 728:1

People filing for unemployment: 390,000

Number of people who go hungry every day:31 million (including 12 million children)

People spending more than half their income for housing: 5.4 million

Percentage of people who own their own homes: 68

Number of properties owned by Ken Lay: 18, valued at $30 million

Rescue Mission Impossible
Let's Roll

Despite all the talk about our ready response capabilities in the face of a Soviet nuclear strike during the Cold War, it turns out that today the United States operates one school with the goal of teaching 11 million "first responders" (police, fire, EMS) how to deal with a nuclear or bioterror attack. This school, headquartered in Anniston, Alabama, can turn out 10,000 students each year. At that rate, it would take the U.S. 1100 years to be prepared.

Additional reporting: Adrian Brune,

Michael Ridley, and Gabrielle Jackson

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