Ain't Nobody's Business If You Do

PART IV:
SIX CHAPTERS IN SEARCH OF A SHORTER BOOK

PUTTING THE "PROBLEM" IN PERSPECTIVE


Drugs are murdering
our children.
PRESIDENT GEORGE BUSH
1989
EVER SINCE THE UNITED States declared war on drugs (poor drugs), "the drug problem" has scored in opinion polls as one of the top five concerns of the American public. During the decade preceding the official declaration of war in 1982, however, America's concern about drug use hovered around #20.[*FN] Interestingly, it was not that public concern grew and a war was declared; rather, a war was declared, wartime propaganda grew (at an alarming rate), and the public concern rose. It's like William Randolph Hearst's reply to the newspaper illustrator who cabled, "NO WAR IN CUBA." Hearst cabled back, "GIVE ME THE PICTURES; I'LL GIVE YOU THE WAR."

[*FN] For example, in 1974, Dr. Peter Bourne, who later became President Carter's drug policy advisor, called cocaine "the most benign of illicit drugs currently in widespread use." Today it is widely belived that if you come within even a three-mile radius of cocaine, it will do such immediate and irreparable harm to your mental functioning that you will become one of those people who actually believe that those little buttons you push to change the light at a crosswalk are connected to something.

It's as though someone looked at the deterioration of Soviet communism (a perennial top-five concern) and said, "We need a new war here; let's find a problem." In fact, many of the anti-drug warriors are the same people who were, just a decade ago, fervent anti-communists. They attack drugs with the same rhetoric they used attacking communism.
On another front, gays have served in the United States military ever since General Von Steuben arrived at Valley Forge in February 1778. He was recommended to General Washington by Benjamin Franklin. Von Steuben turned the rag-tag troops into a fighting army by spring; Burke Davis pointed out in his book, George Washington and the American Revolution, "the value of Von Steuben's service could hardly be overestimated." Von Steuben was gay. More than two hundred years later, President Clinton took office and, of all the problems facing the country and its new president, what got most press (and, therefore, seemed most pressing)? Would Clinton honor his campaign pledge to stop throwing people out of the military simply for being gay? You would think he was trying to give Maine to Canada—oh, the furor, the furor.

AIDS is not just
God's punishment
for homosexuals;
it is God's punishment
for the society that
 tolerates homosexuals.
JERRY FALWELL
1993
And so it continues down the list of consensual crimes: Los Angeles seems more concerned about fighting prostitution than pollution; the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms ignores the 22,000 alcohol-related traffic deaths, the 500,000 cigarette-related deaths, and the 10,000 handgun deaths in 1993, and instead waged war on 100 Branch Davidians in Waco, Texas; authorized medical practitioners overbill insurance companies to the tune of $80 billion per year while the Food and Drug Administration (the federal agency assigned to watch over the medical community) sees to it that dying people cannot have the most effective painkilling medications, launches armed raids on healers doing anything "unorthodox," and wants to require a prescription for doses of vitamin C larger than 60 milligrams.
We have lost our perspective.
This chapter is a list of our dirty laundry. We have a lot more pressing concerns than putting people in jail for activities that do not physically harm the person or property of another.
When I say "we," I do not refer to the governmental we, but "we the people" when "they the government" stop taking our money in taxes and then wasting it. But, that's another book.

All casual drug users
should be taken out
and shot.
DARYL GATES
Los Angeles Police Chief
This chapter is not designed to support the predictions of doomsday theorists. It also does not purport to offer solutions to any of these problems—this book offers a solution to only one problem, the problem of consensual crimes. Solving the problems in this chapter is going to take commitment, creativity, money, and a lot of work—precisely the resources currently squandered in the futile attempt to regulate individual morality.
In this chapter, we will use two words that have become increasingly popular in recent years, billion and trillion. Because million, billion, and trillion rhyme, we often think of them as roughly the same amount of money: "Oh, a billion is more than a million, but not a whole lot more."
A billion is a whole lot more.

If a million dollars in hundred dollar bills were laid end to end,[*FN] they would stretch approximately 97 miles—roughly the distance from New York to Philadelphia.

One billion dollars laid end to end would circle the globe at the equator nearly four times; alternatively, they could go two-fifths of the distance to the moon.

One trillion dollars in one hundred dollar bills, laid end to end, would circle the equator 3,900 times. Or, if you don't want to go around the world that many times, one trillion dollars in hundred dollar bills, laid end to end, would extend from the earth to the sun, and, once there, you would still have $41 billion to burn.

[*FN] Every time I hear these end-to-end analogies, I think of Dorothy Parker's remark, "If all the debutantes in New York were laid end to end, I wouldn't be surprised." Or, as Will Durst asked, "Did you know that if you took all the veins and arteries out of a man's body and laid them end to end, that man would die?" More to the point of this book, Arther Baer said, "If you laid all our laws end to end, there would be no end."


Any company executive
who overcharges the government
more than $5,000,000
will be fined $50
or have to go to
traffic school
three nights a week.
ART BUCHWALD

If you had a million dollars, and spent $1,000 per day, you would run out of money in two years and nine months. Sad.

If, however, you had a billion dollars and spent $1,000 per day, it would take you 2,737 years, 10 months and 1 week to run out of money.

If you had a trillion dollars and spent $1,000 a day, you would be destitute in 2,739,726 years.

Speaking of trillion, let's begin our list with the national debt.

The National Debt. Forty-five years of fighting the cold war had devastating economic effects on both the Soviet Union and the United States; the only difference is, the United States had better credit than the Soviet Union—the Soviet Union is bankrupt; the United States is merely in receivership. As a nation, we (as of 1996) owe more than $5 trillion ($5,000,000,000,000.00); that's $19,200 for each man, woman, and child in the United States. The average American family owes more to "the company store" than they do on their house. (The share of the national debt for a family of five is $96,000. If they have a cat, it's $98,000. If they have a dog, it's $99,000. If they have a large dog, it's an even $100,000.) The interest alone on the national debt is somewhere between $240 billion and $355 billion per year (depending upon whom you listen to—the government [$240 billion] or balanced-budget advocates [$355 billion]). More than 40% of personal income taxes go just to pay the interest on the national debt.[*FN]

[*FN] Although I said I wouldn't offer any solutions, here's a fairly obvious one: between the money we spend every year prosecuting consensual crimes and the revenue lost by not taxing consensual activities, if we did nothing else, the elimination of consensual crimes would wipe out the national debt in twenty years. As it is, our current policy on consensual crimes will add a trillion dollars to the national debt in the next five years, which will cost us about $6 trillion in interest over the following 20 years.


I am concerned
about the national debt.
I am concerned
about international terrorism.
But, I'm scared to death
about drugs.
WILLIAM VON RAAB
Commissioner,
U.S. Customs Service
It's too bad that we didn't take Cicero's advice, given around 63 B.C.:

The budget should be balanced, the Treasury should be refilled, public debt should be reduced, the arrogance of officialdom should be tempered and controlled . . . lest Rome become bankrupt.

We also didn't take the suggestion of Thomas Jefferson when in 1789 he warned the electorate: "The principle of spending money to be paid by posterity, under the name of funding, is but swindling futurity on a large scale." Well, futurity, do you feel swindled? (Futurity. Sounds like one of those prototype automobiles from the 1950s. "Drive into the '60s with the new Ford Futurity.") As Sid Taylor, research director for the National Taxpayers Union, put it, "Deficit spending is bankruptcy pending." But not all world leaders believed that a large national debt was a bad thing. One of the most famous national leaders in this century said, "No country has ever been ruined on account of its debts." The year was 1940. The economic expert: Adolf Hitler.
The Savings and Loan Debacle. It cost the federal government (that is, us) more than half a trillion dollars to bail out the savings and loans. That's an amount equal to all federal, state, and local government spending on education for the next four years. Dave Barry calls the S&L bailout the "964.3 hillion jillion bazillion dollar" scandal. Where were the regulatory agencies? Rather than regulating private lives, shouldn't the government spend its time regulating the institutions it is charged to regulate? (Or at least let us know it is no longer regulating them so we'll read our Consumers Reports more carefully?) As Linda Winer pointed out in New York Newsday, August 9, 1991,

Texans have the U.S. Justice Department task force on obscenity to thank for its 18-month sting operation, which included setting up cloak-and-dagger agents in a phony video business called "Good Vibrations," reportedly with the intention of making an example of the porno devils. Nice work. We certainly could have used some of that federal enterprise when the S & L executives were stealing the country away.


I hate mankind,
for I think myself
one of the best of them,
and I know how bad I am.
SAMUEL JOHNSON
And where are the crooks who committed the real crime of "misappropriating" all that money (an average of $2,000 for every man, woman, and child in the United States)? We go to Panama to drag "drug lords" to "justice"; where are the indictments against the "S&L lords"? As Senator Richard C. Shelby complained, "The taxpayers are on the hook for hundreds of billions of dollars, and yet, criminals are still playing golf at the country club."
Other Supposedly Regulated Delights. The same federal regulatory agencies that let the S&Ls get away with financial murder apparently let another endearing financial organization get away with genuine murder. I am referring to that billionaires' social club, the Bank of Credit and Commerce International, or BCCI. This multinational "bank" was, in reality, a clearing house for crooks. Here's an excerpt from Senator John D. Kerry's congressional testimony on August 8, 1991:

You need a Mirage jet to go to Saddam Hussein? BCCI could facilitate it. If you wanted weapons in the Mideast, and possibly even atomic weapons? Who do you call? BCCI. You want drug money to move from cartel to safe haven? BCCI. It gave new meaning to the term full service bank. . . .

What strikes me particularly is the degree to which this bank thought it could steamroll any obstacles that lay in its path. Certain laws and standards were no barrier. Why? Because BCCI thought it could buy everything. Buy lawyers, buy accountants, buy regulators, buy access, buy loyalty, buy governments, buy safety, buy protection, and even buy silence. . . .


JON WINOKUR:
How did you react
to winning a Pulitzer?

DAVE BARRY:
I figured it was just
one more indication
of the nation's drug problem.
With purchased endorsements from more elected officials than you could wave a laundered checkbook at, BCCI was able to illegally take over several American banks with hardly an investigation. What about murder? It is said that murder (under the more corporately acceptable title, assassination) was part of BCCI's stock in trade. Whereas most banks have departments such as Trust, Savings, Money Orders, New Accounts, Safety Deposit Boxes, and Loans, BCCI had Assassinations, Coups d'tat, Money Laundering, Arms Trafficking, Nuclear Weapons, and Political Destabilization. The BCCI. Lovely people to be in business with; and, while the federal regulators were out regulating consensual crimes, it made American banks part of its empire.[*FN] And what is the next scandal in a supposedly government-regulated industry? I nominate . . .

[*FN] This scandal involved so many people in Washington, and was such a truly bipartisan effort, that we don't hear anything about it anymore—or about all the people running it, who have no doubt set up shop under another name. When Washington as a whole wants to cover up something, they usually (a) find a scapegoat and (b) step up the "war" on some consensual activity (now that we don't have Russia to kick around anymore). The scapegoat was Clark Clifford, who arranged poker games for Truman and Vietnam for Johnson. For his influence peddling, his law firm over an 18-month period received $33 million from BCCI. Congress (mostly lawyers) can only respond with horror—and envy. Meanwhile, the American public knew more about David Koresh's cult of 100 than how (and who in) the federal government looked the other way while BCCI illegally bought up American banks. Nice spin control.


While Congress
was snoozing,
the American taxpayers
were losing.
SENATOR BOB DOLE
Health Care Fraud. Insurance fraud is the biggest white-collar crime in the nation, second only to income-tax evasion. Each year, $80 billion is stolen from health insurance companies, Medicaid, and Medicare by the medical establishment. It uses cute terms like "overbilling," but it's really stealing. And much of it is done by doctors and hospitals, the very people and institutions we are supposed to trust with our lives. Overbilling also jacks up medical insurance premiums so that millions of people who otherwise would have health insurance, can't afford it. The average American's share of this real crime last year: $320. However, according to the House Subcommittee on Human Resources, "In some jurisdictions, federal prosecutors may not accept criminal health-care cases involving less than $100,000 because of limited resources. . . . Prosecutorial and judicial resources are limited, necessarily restricting the number of cases that can be legally pursued." With well over half the prosecutor case load made up of drug offenses, it's not hard to guess what's limiting those resources. (From 1982 to 1990, drug-related cases in federal courts increased by almost 400%.) The congressional report goes on to say, "The deterrent and financial benefits of pursuing fraud must be weighed against the considerable legal and administrative costs of doing so." If only the government would use on consensual crimes the logic it applies to the real crime of fraud.

LARRY KING:
Don't you think it would be better
to legalize victimless crimes like
drugs and prostitution and divert
the resources to more important
things like the rapes and assaults
and things like that?

SENATOR TOM HARKIN:
No, I don't agree with that at all.
LARRY KING LIVE!
CNN, 1992
Automobile Insurance Fraud. More than $17.5 billion a year is paid in inflated auto insurance claims. Who pays? Everyone who buys auto insurance—and everyone who can't afford to. Car insurance fraud adds 10 to 30% to every car insurance bill. And what is the government doing to end this crime? Not much. According to a journal of the insurance industry, Insurance Review,

With law enforcement officials mired in murder and drug cases,[*FN] and industry investigators focused on costlier and more sophisticated scams, the odds that an otherwise law-abiding citizen will be caught, much less prosecuted, for his misdeeds are minuscule. The Florida study concluded that as long as policy holders are knowledgeable, and not too greedy, they can "commit fraud with impunity."

[*FN] While I certainly don't think that law enforcement time should be taken away from murder investigations to track down insurance fraud, more law enforcement time is spent on drugs than murders—a frightening thought in itself. Here's one example of the ratio between "murder" and "drug cases" in the United States: In 1991, there were fewer than 25,000 arrests for murder and more than 1,000,000 arrests for drug violations. Of these more-than-1,000,000 arrests, 672,666 were for simple possession. Here's an even more frightening statistic: In 1990, the average sentence at U.S. District Courts for first-degree murder was 12.8 years; for "other drug-related statutes," 20.4 years. The drug terms are usually mandatory; by law they must be served. Murderers, on the other hand, can be paroled at any time.

Real Crime. In addition to paying more than you need to for insurance due to fraud, or watching your tax money (which you must pay) bail out savings and loan mismanagement and embezzlement, there are other real crimes to worry about. On the average, every four years you or someone in your household will be robbed, raped, or physically assaulted. (That once-every-four-years statistic does not include murder, manslaughter by drunk drivers, kidnaping, child abuse, or other violent crimes.) Five out of six people living in the United States will be the victims of violent crimes during their lifetimes. For every 133 people you meet, one of them will be murdered. (If you live in a household of five, the chances are 1 in 27 that one of you will be murdered.) Then there are embezzlers, shoplifters, and other "white-collar criminals" who add to the price of everything we buy; a dramatic increase in "hate crimes" (that is, violent crimes against people just because they happen to belong to an ethnic, national, religious, or sexual minority); and so many others. And where are the police? Crimes with real victims (us) are out of control, yet roughly half the law enforcement time is spent investigating consensual crimes. Eliminating consensual crimes would effectively double law enforcement personnel and easily halve the number of real crimes almost overnight. (There I go again: offering solutions.)

Patience, n. A minor form of despair,
disguised as a virtue.
AMBROSE BIERCE
Abducted Children. According to the United States Department of Justice, 400,000 children are abducted every year. There are currently 1.4 million missing children in this country. Of the 1.4 million, some of them are runaways, some were abducted by family members, some are simply "missing" (the "lost, injured, or otherwise missing" category lists 440,000). Some children are kidnaped—primarily for rape and torture. When they are no longer young enough to be interesting, they are killed.
Although there is a central clearing house to report all missing children, there is no federal law instructing local law enforcement personnel to send information to this clearing house. Many law enforcement officials don't even know the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children exists. The FBI does not get involved in kidnapings unless a ransom is demanded (which almost never happens anymore) or unless the parents can prove that, after abduction, the child was transported across a state line (good luck proving that). When Project Alert was formed in 1992 to help locate missing children, it had a whopping initial budget of $200,000. This is .0015% of the federal drug enforcement budget, or .0004% of what is spent prosecuting consensual crimes in this country each year.

The Department of Justice
estimates that there are
over 400,000 children
abducted every year.
Add to this 450,000 runaways
and over 100,000 lost, injured,
or otherwise missing.
NICHOLAS BRADY
Secretary of the Treasury
Those who say that consensual crimes really do have victims—that consensual crimes are a bad influence on children—might want to consider whether the time, money, and effort spent keeping children safe from "bad examples" might be better spent reuniting abducted children with their parents and putting behind bars some of the worst imaginable criminals—people who abduct small children for rape, torture, and murder. Perhaps the people who want to make the entire world as wholesome as Disneyland should consider the anguish of hundreds of thousands of parents who are not only physically separated from their children, but are also tortured by thoughts of the horrors their children are being subjected to.
Terrorism. We don't hear much about terrorism in this country because if we really knew what was going on, we'd all be, well, terrorized. The car bomb (or, more accurately, the mini-van bomb) explosion at the base of the World Trade Center in March 1993 was not only an act of terrorism—it was a warning. "Imagine if this were a nuclear device . . ." If it had been a nuclear bomb, there would be no more Manhattan (an irony, since the code name for the invention of the atom bomb was the Manhattan Project). With Manhattan goes the financial center of the world, the communications center of the United States, and the corporate headquarters of more major U.S. companies than you can rattle off in the time it takes a physics professor to explain E=mc2. One atom bomb in Los Angeles would wipe out the movie industry, what was left of the television industry (much of which went with Manhattan), and could create enough seismic vibrations to set off The Big One. Another atom bomb in Washington, D.C., would wipe out the federal government. And one in Chicago would eliminate the idea that the Midwest was somehow immune to attack. Four atom bombs, and the United States as we know it would cease to be. (I haven't even discussed the lasting effects of radiation, especially if they happen to be "dirty" bombs—which terrorists' bombs almost certainly would be.) The remainder of the country would, however, have 24-hour news coverage of the death of the United States: CNN is located in Atlanta.

Patriotism is your conviction
that this country is superior
to all other countries
because you were born in it.
GEORGE BERNARD SHAW
The international underground originally set up to sell drugs has decided—with typical big-business logic—to sell anything the customer wants to buy. One of these organizations, the previously mentioned BCCI, has come to light. Many have not. Underground organizations are perfectly willing to sell the parts necessary to make atomic bombs. As Senator John D. Kerry reported during a Senate investigation of the Bank of Credit and Commerce International,

The spread of nuclear weapons, needless to say, creates even greater risks for confrontation and of destruction. When a bank like BCCI moves drug money and big-dollar weapons money and helps terrorists acquire the material to make nuclear bombs . . . while political leaders who are supposed to be protecting them move aside, then governments themselves wind up becoming partners in the enterprise of those criminals.


Trying to determine
what is going on in the world
by reading newspapers
is like trying to tell the time
by watching the second hand
on a clock.
BEN HECHT
The only thing Russia had that, for example, Saddam Hussein or the Ayatollah Khomeini did not was a delivery system for its atom bombs. Russia had missiles. With the World Trade Center bombing, however, terrorists proved that, although they don't have missiles, they can rent mini-vans.
The 1995 Oklahoma City bombing proved that terrorists don't need an atomic bomb to make their deadly point, and that the terrorism we need fear is not only foreign inspired. All it takes is someone with a grudge, some fertilizer, some fuel oil, and some way to ignite it.
Meanwhile, what are the FBI, CIA, and United States Customs—our only realistic defense against terrorism—up to? You guessed it: defending us against consensual crimes. Drugs, of course, head the list. Terrorism is a footnote.
And what are customs officials trained to find? Drugs, of course. Do you think one in a thousand customs officials knows what the components of a nuclear bomb look like? But how many know what cocaine looks like or how marijuana smells? And then there are all those drug-sniffing dogs. How about a few plutonium-sniffing dogs? (Some 9,600 pounds of plutonium and highly enriched uranium are missing from U.S. inventories. It takes only 15 pounds of plutonium to make an atomic bomb.)
And where are J. Edgar's best? After an investigation that lasted several years, on June 30, 1992, more than 1,000 FBI agents simultaneously swooped down on doctors and pharmacies in fifty cities, making arrests and confiscating everything in sight, in an attempt to stop prescription drugs from ending up "on the black market." It was called Operation Gold Pill.

It's time to stop living
with the paranoia of "what if"
and start facing
the reality of "what is."
"What is" is a real crisis in education,
in health care, in the economy.
"What is" the real national security,
is the need for a nation
to feel secure.
BARBRA STREISAND
The FBI, however, does not just protect us from purloined prescription drugs. On June 23, 1991, after extensive investigation, 150 FBI agents invaded the bankrupt mining town of Wallace, Idaho, and confiscated every video poker machine from every bar in town. It wasn't that these video poker machines accepted bets, like the Las Vegas versions, but that people would bet each other and sometimes the bar owner on who could get more points. Horrors! According to a New York Times article, August 20, 1991,

Federal lawyers are moving in court to take control of the places that were raided, a move that would make the Government owner of every bar in Wallace.

To a community that considers itself on its knees, racked by a series of economic and environmental calamities, the raid has provoked protests and stirred old animosities.

In an age when banking scandals have cost the nation's taxpayers billions of dollars, many residents here say the Government has spent far too much time and money on video poker machines in a crippled mining town.

Meanwhile, on September 28, 1992, the Office of the Attorney General and the Office of the Drug Enforcement Administration revealed "a truly unique joint effort involving the participation of law enforcement agencies on three continents." Was this "truly unique" two-year international effort designed to track down and uncover terrorism? No. Known as Operation Green Ice, its purpose was to terrorize drug dealers. "Operation Green Ice has a message for drug dealers everywhere: the world is mobilized against you. U.S. law enforcement will continue with our colleagues around the world to defeat these purveyors of human misery."

The current environment is
so polluted with hysteria that
nothing rational can happen
to solve the drug problem.
Until we're able to get
the facts into perspective and
debunk the myths, we're just
not going to make progress and
effectively deal with these issues.
GEORGETTE BENNETT
Couldn't all of this intelligence be used more intelligently?
Environmental Disasters. One might expect the flashing electronic billboard above L.A.'s trendy Hard Rock Cafe to provide information about either music or food. Instead, it has two rows of numbers. One is labeled POPULATIONOF THEWORLD and the other, ACRESOFRAINFORESTREMAINING. At a rate of roughly one-per-second, the population number grows, while the rain forest number shrinks. It's a graphic illustration of the collision course we are on: both population growth and the destruction of the rain forest are out of control. The population of the world surpasses six billion. By early in the next century, it will double. Overpopulation is the basis of most environmental problems. The rain forests are not only the lungs of the earth—producing oxygen and removing impurities[*FN]—they are also the medicine chest. Eighty percent of all pharmaceutical drugs come from plant products. Less than three percent of the plants in the rain forest have been identified. Whole species of plants that might contain the cure for current and future diseases are being destroyed forever. Yet, instead of tying U.S. foreign aid to reasonable population growth or preservation of the rain forests, to what do we tie it? The elimination of drug production and trafficking. We are far more concerned about destroying poppy fields in Thailand or cocaine farms in Colombia than preserving the rain forests in Brazil.

[*FN] More than 40% of the earth's oxygen is produced by the Amazonian rain forests. Each year, an area of rain forest the size of Ohio is destroyed. Eighty percent of Amazonian deforestation has taken place since 1980.


The United States spends
half again as much
on the drug war
as it does on the
Environmental Protection Agency.
DAN BAUM
The Nation
1992
Then there's the ozone. In his 1993 Pulitzer Prize–winning play, Angels in America, Tony Kushner describes the ozone layer:

When you look at the ozone layer, from outside, from a spaceship, it looks like a pale blue halo, a gentle, shimmering aureole encircling the atmosphere encircling the earth. Thirty miles above our heads, a thin layer of three-atom oxygen molecules. . . . It's a kind of gift, from God, the crowning touch to the creation of the world: guardian angels, hands linked, make a spherical net, a blue-green nesting orb, a shell of safety for life itself.

The ozone layer filters out the harmful rays of the sun. If the ozone layer ceased to be, so would we.
A few random environmental disasters: During the summer of 1992, 2,000 U.S. beaches were closed due to toxic levels of water pollution. In the fifteen major urban metropolitan areas, from 1987 to 1990, there were 1,484 "unhealthy" air days (more than half of them were in Los Angeles). Acid rain—precipitation containing sulfuric and nitric acids—continues to reign, destroying lakes, forests, and crops. Global warming—caused, in part, by burning fossil fuels—may melt the ice caps, raising ocean levels and flooding coastal areas. More than 53% of the U.S. population live in coastal areas. Our planet loses three species per day. By the year 2000, 20% of all species could be lost forever. An Environmental Protection Agency review of the 1,000 worst hazardous waste dumps revealed that 80% were leaking toxins into ground water. Due to lead plumbing, one in six Americans drinks water with excessive amounts of lead. We are running out of landfills. The average American disposes of four pounds of solid waste every day. In a lifetime, the average American will produce 600 times his or her adult body weight in garbage. In 1988, Americans disposed of 14 million tons of plastic, 31.6 million tons of yard wastes, and 180 million tons of other wastes. In addition, there are also tons of nuclear waste, which remains deadly for centuries. How do we dispose of this? Where do we put it? What kind of containers can we store it in? These questions have not been adequately answered, and yet we continue to produce nuclear waste.

We shall never understand
the natural environment
until we see it
as a living organism.
Land can be healthy or sick,
fertile or barren, rich or poor,
lovingly nurtured or bled white.
PAUL BROOKS
The United States is the pollution capital of the world. We are 6% of the world's population, but consume 70% of the world's resources. We also produce far more than our share of the pollutants. The world is not happy with us about this.[*FN] Alan Watts once said that, from the earth's point of view, the human race could be considered nothing more than a bad case of lice. If that's an accurate analogy, the United States is the breeding ground. There is simply no way the entire world can support the lifestyle of even an impoverished American. If every family in China wanted nothing more than a refrigerator, the escaping fluorocarbons just to manufacture them would destroy the ozone. The American dream, infinitely exported, would be a nightmare. Our 6% of the world's population pollutes more than the other 94% put together. Americans, for the most part, are benignly unaware of this, but the rest of the world is not. In the world view, the Ugly American of the 1960s has been replaced by the Arrogant American of the 1990s.

[*FN] This is an understatement comparable to that of the NASA spokesman who deemed the Challenger explosion, "Obviously a major malfunction."


God has a strange sense of humor.
He guided the Chosen People
to the only spot in the Middle East
without oil.
GOLDA MEIR
Oil Addiction. America is, quite simply, addicted to foreign oil. Although Nixon, while president, declared that the United States should be energy independent by the end of the decade (which decade was the Nixon decade?), and although Carter gave an executive order stating that the average fuel efficiency of automobiles sold in 1990 should be 40 mpg, Reagan—succumbing to the pressures of the petroleum and automobile lobbies—progressively reduced that minimum standard each year he was in office. Today we have, on average, 27.5 mpg cars. If we had gotten to 40 mpg in 1990, there would be no need to import oil today. We could, in fact, become an oil-exporting nation. The direct result of Reagan's policy came to visit his successor, Bush; it was called, appropriately, the Gulf War. Although Bush was properly outraged when he spoke of one small sovereign nation being overrun by an imperialist, nasty, larger nation, everyone knew the war was about oil. In the words of tell-it-like-it-is Ross Perot: "Does he really want us to believe that we're going in to defend a nation [Kuwait] whose leader has a Minister of Sex, whose job it is to get him a new virgin to deflower each Thursday night?" Although the Gulf War cost us "only" 390 American lives, it could have been far worse; and the anxiety suffered by the troops and their families in the early days of deployment, with rumors of poison gases and prolonged desert fighting, was torture enough. Unnecessary torture.
Our dependence on foreign oil and the hundreds of billions of dollars paid to the Middle East have given enormous power to a group of people who are profoundly anti-American and politically unstable. If it weren't for our dependence on foreign oil, could an Ayatollah afford to casually put a $2 million price tag on the head of Salman Rushdie? Would Israel need $3 billion of U.S. foreign aid per year in order to play keep-up-with-the-Joneses-in-military-equipment with its neighbors? We are also burning a limited resource—petroleum—which we would be better off using to make certain plastics, synthetics, lubricants, and solvents that are derived best or exclusively from oil. The irony is that America is rich in energy resources—both natural in the form of wind, water, and sunlight, and renewable through plant-based ethanol, methane, and diesel-grade vegetable oils. (See the chapter, "Hemp for Victory.") Our oil addiction is unnecessary.

According to a 1993 survey,
39% of high school seniors
did not know
what the Holocaust referred to.
TIME MAGAZINE
Illiteracy. What on earth is going on in our schools? More than 100,000 high school students take guns to class every day; 5% of the population cannot fill out a job application; 13% are considered "illiterate"; 20% are considered "functionally incompetent"; 34% are considered "marginally competent"; and 80% cannot look at a bus schedule and determine what time the next bus arrives. (Based on some of the bus schedules I've seen, I may be among that 80%.)
Any number of other practical matters aren't directly taught in twelve years of schooling: how to sew on a button, how to diagnose basic automobile problems, how to set goals and achieve them, how to budget money, how to budget time, what the police will and will not do to protect you, how to file a case in small claims court, how to find an apartment, how to fill out a credit application, how to do one's personal income tax. Junior high school and high school are designed to prepare one for college—which is good for those going on to college; but those who aren't would benefit more by learning a trade. The school system's inability to teach the basics of life and how to make a living leads directly to . . .
Poverty. We have somehow numbed ourselves to one of the greatest tragedies in our midst. There are 49.2 million people living below the poverty level in the United States. That's 19.4% of the total population. More than 20 million of them are children. From 1978 to 1990, 20% more Americans fell below the poverty level. (I guess trickle-down economics just didn't trickle down far enough.) Meanwhile, the ratio of the average CEO's salary to that of a blue collar worker in 1980 was 25 to 1; in 1992, it was 91 to 1.

German soldiers were
victims of the Nazis
just as surely as the victims
in the concentration camps.
PRESIDENT RONALD REAGAN
1985
AIDS. There is a myth that AIDS is limited to homosexuals, intravenous drug users, and prostitutes. This myth may end up killing millions of heterosexual, drug-free men and women who wouldn't dream of visiting or becoming a prostitute. The fact is, worldwide, there are more heterosexually transmitted cases of AIDS than all other cases combined. The World Health Organization estimates that, by the year 2000, more heterosexual women in the United States will be newly infected with the AIDS virus than any other group. The Center for Disease Control reports that, in the United States, "the percentage of AIDS cases attributed to heterosexual contact has increased 21% from 1990 to 1991." And yet many continue to believe that, if they avoid sex with homosexuals, intravenous drug users, and prostitutes, they will be safe. The spread of this disease into the heterosexual world in the United States is a direct result of the centuries-old prejudices held against homosexuals, drug users, and prostitutes. It will be a sad irony to watch this prejudice turn, bite, and perhaps devour its keepers. The disease is being spread through the heterosexual world due to the belief, "it can't happen here." Heterosexuals still seem to think the simple advice, "Use a condom when you have intercourse," only applies to "them."
Other Problems. In case you're interested, the Union of International Associations has published a 2,133-page book entitled Encyclopedia of World Problems. In eight million words—enough for 80 to 100 normal-sized books—the Encyclopedia describes 13,167 problems. This is up from 10,233 problems in 1986 and a considerable jump from the 2,560 problems listed in 1976. This may be the beginning of a new science—problemology.

On May 31, 1987,
President Ronald Reagan
made his first speech on AIDS
after a six-year public silence
on the issue.
TONY KUSHNER
Please understand I am not a great believer in throwing problems at the government, sending in my income tax, and crossing my fingers.
Again, this is not a chapter of solutions or even an indication of which direction solutions may lie.
This chapter simply asks the question: don't we have more important things to worry about than legislating individual morality?

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