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TM, ®, Copyright © 2010 Piero Scaruffi All rights reserved.

Articles on the USA published after 2010
Education and the future of China and the USA
The WikiLeaks effect
How to cause another economic crisis
The odd alliance
Did Obama really lose?
The irrational empire
The Pacific boom
The enemy is us
Fixing the trade deficit
Double dipping
The USA towards same-sex marriage
Is democracy the right system for the USA?
The wars of the United States
The Taliban among us
Two governments' visions on transportation
Kidnapping children is bad
The case for a VAT
Which is more likely to collapse, the European or the American Union?
The State of the Union
What went wrong?
USA-style justice
How to lose a war
Articles on the USA published before 2010

  • (december 2010) Education and the future of China and the USA. The USA became a world power at a time when its schools were providing children with one of the best education in the world. According to a recent study (see this article), it is now mainland China ("communist" China as its American detractors call it) that provides its children the best education in Reading, Science and Math. US schoolchildren lag far behind most countries in Reading and Science, and they rank almost last in Math.
    While Republicans fight to get the rich a tax cut, and the Democrats fight to make sure that the government spends money it never had (both actions contributing to turn the USA into the biggest debtor on Earth), mainland China has been investing in the education of its citizens. While the USA was squandering its deficit by giving money back to rich people and fighting wars that it could not afford, mainland China taxed the hell out of its citizens and used the money to provide the best education in the world. Who do you think has a brighter future now, the country that made its rich people richer and let its schools decay, or the country that made everybody poorer but created the best schools in the world?
    It might be ironic or enlightening that the biggest dictatorship in the world is doing a better job of educating its citizens than the biggest democracy in the world.
    TM, ®, Copyright © 2010 Piero Scaruffi All rights reserved.
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  • (december 2010) The WikiLeaks effect. WikiLeaks keep releasing more and more top-secret material. Now that its credentials are well-established, it is likely that the sources will spread worldwide. We might be soon reading confidential reports by the Russian and Chinese government, not to mention European and Latin American ones.
    Whether WikiLeaks provides a service to the citizens of the world or a service to the terrorists and rogue states of the world is debatable. What is not debatable though is what WikiLeaks is revealing: not the specific secrets but the sheer quantity of secrets that provide the backbone to a modern democracy's policies. In a sense, WikiLeak is an effect, not a cause. Over the last two decades the number of top-secret documents has increased dramatically, the number of government employees who have access to them has increased dramatically, and the ability of the Internet to broadcast leaks worldwide in real time has increased dramatically too. Combine the three processes and you get WikiLeaks. It was inevitable that it happened. It just took someone irresponsible enough not to be afraid of the consequences (both for himself and for all the secret operatives whose identity he is disclosing).
    The real news for ordinary citizens is that a lot of what governments know and do is top-secret.
    TM, ®, Copyright © 2010 Piero Scaruffi All rights reserved.
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  • (december 2010) How to cause another economic crisis. After Bush enacted the $1 trillion tax cut in 2001, i published an articled titled How Bush started the longest world-wide economic crisis of modern times. I was wrong to write "world-wide": i should have written just "US". Most of the world enjoyed a boom triggered by Bush's policies. Meanwhile, the US economy got weaker and weaker, with millions of jobs exported to Asia, a skyrocketing trade deficit with the whole world, and a runaway government debt. I was right about the USA though: Bush's tax cut crippled the US economy for at least a generation. It gave rich people enough money to buy villas in Spain but took away the money that was needed for the spectacularly expensive wars that Bush started in Iraq and Afghanistan.
    Fast forward to 2010, after the biggest recession of the last 80 years, and Bush's party (the Republican Party) wins an election and guess what idea comes to their mind? Let's keep Bush's tax cut, since it worked so well that it caused the great recession.
    You would think that only a suicidal idiot would repeat the same mistake twice. Not quite. There is another category of people who would repeat the same mistake: the few who benefited from it. Rich people got richer throughout the Bush years. Big corporations are posting profits, not losses. Wall Street has sacrificed one big bank to the great recession but all the other financial companies are doing just fine, distributing six-digit bonuses to the very people who messed up the economy. The top 1% of US taxpayers just keep getting richer, while the rest of the country goes down the proverbial tube.
    Republicans won the 2010 elections by promising people to balance the budget. Their way to balance the budget turned out to be this: let the government give rich people a trillion dollars, and in exchange let president Obama give unemployed people an extra year of free salary. How can voters be so dumb not to see that the net effect will be a massive increase in government debt?
    These is how much the main supporters of the tax cut for the rich will earn from that tax cut:
    Rush Limbaugh: $2,689,135.
    Glenn Beck: $1,512,352
    Sean Hannity: $1,006,352
    Bill O'Reilly: $914,352
    Sarah Palin: $638,352
    The average person, including the naive people who watch and listen their shows, will earn $300. They literally throw a bone at you to keep you quiet while they rob the safe.
    Now the rich can use this trillion dollars to buy more villas in Spain. Corporations can use it to open new factories abroad. Meanwhile, the national debt will increase to the point of reducing the USA to a third-world country.
    The supporters of the tax cut for the rich, to put it mildly, are crooks. To put it bluntly, they are traitors directly contributing to the decline and fall of what used to be the greatest country in the world. Osama bin Laden did not cause as much damage to the future of the USA as these people did and still do. If one is considered a "terrorist", why aren't we calling these other enemies what they are?
    TM, ®, Copyright © 2010 Piero Scaruffi All rights reserved.
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  • (november 2010) Hyper-inflation.
    The media, especially the anti-Obama media, have been predicting hyper-inflation in the USA for a while. They blame both government spending and the Federal Reserve's loose monetary policy (i.e. "printing money") as the immediate causes. While both contributes to the chances that inflation will pick up, neither would be too worrying without the fundamentals that indeed point towards inevitable inflation.
    The first factor (one of those factors that is so visible it is hard to believe so many people ignore it) is that the emergence of India and China and many other "tigers" keeps increasing the demand for materials, way faster than new reserves of such materials are discovered. Countries ranging from Angola to Bolivia are experiencing mining booms because their minerals are suddenly important for the booming economies of Asia. This demand won't go away any time soon. In fact, it is likely to increase. Hopefully, the West will also get out of its economic woes and the West consumes ever more than China and India combined. It is inevitable that some of these resources will become scarce and therefore their prices will skyrocket. If the price of a commodity increases, it is hard to imagine that the price of goods made with that commodity would not increase.
    The second factor that should be very visible to everybody is the pressure on the currencies of third-world countries to revaluate. The West is asking China to let its currency fluctuate because it is creating trade imbalances, but the West is not telling the whole story: that undervalued currency is the very reason that the West has not had inflation for two decades. Cheap Chinese goods helped the middle class in the West. When China revaluates its currency, everything from shoes to toys will increase in price. At the same time, cheap labor in India helped countless USA corporations survive in a highly competitive environment. When India revaluates its rupee, many services will increase in price, forcing those USA companies to increase the price of their services or the price of the goods serviced through those services.
    A sudden spike in inflation is inevitable, but not for the reasons that are usually mentioned. The ultimate reason is the economic boom of the third world. Should that come to an end, we would have the exact opposite of inflation.
    TM, ®, Copyright © 2010 Piero Scaruffi All rights reserved.
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  • (november 2010) The odd alliance. For a party that has traditionally scorned foreign advice, it must be odd for the Republican Party to be on the same side that Germany and China are. The Republican Party won the mid-term elections of 2010 largely on the issue of the budget deficit: their mantra has been "let's cut spending". Surprisingly, that's precisely what Merkel of Germany and Hu Jintao of China told Obama during the G20 meeting. Both Western Europeans and Chinese feel that the current economic crisis needs to be solved by cutting spending, not by stimulating demand (as Obama's "stimulus plan" meant to do). Both Germany and China view the USA as an unrepentent drunk, an addicted drug user and an irresponsible child who cannot stop spending even when running out of money. Additionally, this drunk/junkie/child is also the world's largest economy, which means that everybody pays the consequences for what happens to the USA. Thus the foreign powers agree with the domestic critics of the president's policies. The Republican Party and "old Europe" (as the neoconservatives used to mock it) and even "communist China" (as the right-wing calls it) are on the same page: the USA should cut spending and balance the budget.
    Ironically the Republican Party and the foreign powers want two completely different things: the Republicans want a USA that is stronger than the rest of the world, whereas the Europeans and the Chinese want their regions to the stronger than the USA. Hence either the Republicans or the foreign powers are making a colossal mistake. And we know who made colossal mistakes in the previous decade: not the Chinese, for sure, that hasn't had a recession in two decades, and not Germany, that hardly suffered during the recession and came out with the strongest recovery of any Western country.
    The Chinese and the Germans are right that Obama is basically waging war on the rest of the world. The president and the Federal Reserve inherited a failed economic policy and know only one way out of it: make the rest of the world for the damage that the Republicans caused during the Bush era. Thus Obama is creating a huge budget deficit trusting that the big exporting economies of Asia will be willing to buy USA government debt in exchange for all the imports that the USA buys from them. Thus the Federal Reserve is printing money to devalue the dollar so that that government debt is worth a bit less every day. (After all, it was Asia, and not only China, that started the "currency war" when all those exporting countries kept their currencies artificially low).
    The best news for Obama is that Congress is now virtually in a gridlock: the Left does not want to touch the entitlements and the Right does not want to raise taxes. This makes it virtually impossible to cut spending. Obama has to do absolutely nothing and his policies will de facto continue to be in place for the next two years. Germany and China can scream as much as they like that the USA is acting irresponsably, but there is nothing they can do about it. If they thought that Obama was a better (softer) partner than Bush, they must be deeply disappointed.
    TM, ®, Copyright © 2009 Piero Scaruffi All rights reserved.
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  • (november 2010) Did Obama really lose?
    With the Republican Party winning a large number of races, one would think that the midterm elections of 2010 sent a clear message: the USA does not like what Democratic president Obama has done so far. However, when one analyzes the exit polls, that conclusion is hardly self-evident. The country is still divided, with about equal number of voters saying that it is wrong and right to overspend as Obama as been doing. The vast majority of voters blame George W Bush and not Obama for the current mess, and they are far angrier at Wall Street than at the presidency. Exit polls also show that voters still blame the Republicans more than the Democrats for the pitiful state of the nation. Some of the most controversial Democratic candidates (from California governor Jerry Brown to Nevada senator Harry Reid) actually did win their races against well-funded and much-hyped conservative contenders. Coming to the most controversial of Obama's projects so far, only 18% of voters said that they cast their vote based on health-care legislation, and voters were equally split on whether "Obamacare" was good or bad. Some of the Democrats who lost their seats were actually among the "moderates" who distanced themselves from Obama's "socialist" policies. (The real loss for Democrats, which could have far-reaching consequences in future elections, is that women turned to the Republican Party in record numbers). Obama promised change and was elected with a clear mandate to implement change. He delivered. Maybe the electorate didn't quite want change: people correctly blame Wall Street and the Republican Party for the big mess but then they feel more comfortable with a corrupt failed system that they know well than with trying to reform the system. Maybe people voted against themselves.
    The Tea Party and, generally speaking, the "vast right-wing conspiracy" takes credit for confusing the issues and misleading people on so many issues. For example, very few people have realized that half of the Obama's stimulus package was made of tax cuts, and that the vast majority of professional economists think that Obama's stimulus package averted a much worse economic collapse. However, almost everybody is aware that it cost $700-800 billion. One propaganda machine worked very well, while the other didn't work at all. But this doesn't mean that people fundamentally disagree with the policies and agree with the Tea Party's proposed policies (which are vague enough it would be difficult anyway to know what we're supposed to agree with).
    If it was a referedum, it is not clear who won it; and why. If it was something else, then the Republicans still have to understand what it was and what it means. More importantly, this could be a Pyrrhic victory for the Republicans if it ends up relieving Obama from the responsibility of what happens in the next two years, which most likely will not be too happy for a lot of citizens.
    TM, ®, Copyright © 2009 Piero Scaruffi All rights reserved.
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  • (october 2010) Apologize.
    In 1988 a missile fired by a USA warship downed an Iranian civilian plane and killed all 290 passengers aboard. The USA itself admitted that the plane only carried civilians. It was an ordinary airliner on a routine flight. 290 families mourned the fathers, mothers, sons, daughters, sisters and brothers who were killed by that USA missile.
    In august 1998 president Clinton authorized a strike against a pharmaceutical factory in Sudan, wrongly claiming that it was used to manufacture nerve gas for Osama bin Laden's Al Qaeda terrorist organization. Every independent investigation has confirmed that no chemical weapon was being made there. Not only was it a harmless factory but it was making medicines that are desperately needed in Sudan. Not only did the USA kill a few innocents in that bombing, but it probably caused the death of many other people by making those medicines unavailable.
    I do not doubt that the USA had no intention of killing civilians in either case, but it did. The USA is employing deadly weapons that take no prisoners: they kill and devastated. When the intelligence is wrong (as it has been the case with the CIA way too often), the price paid by civilians is colossal.
    There were dozens of civil wars and major wars in which the USA played a role and indirectly helped atrocities of all sorts, but one can always argue that it was done in the grand scheme of the Cold War (and now in the name of the "war on terrorism"). In the case of that airplane and of that pharmaceutical factory, though, there was no grand scheme: just a deadly mistake that suddenly destroyed the lives of ordinary families. Imagine if Mexico bombed by mistake an important medical facility in the USA or downed by mistake a USA flight.
    What made matters worse in both cases is that the USA never apologized. Even though it has indirectly admitted that both strikes were mistakes, the USA never formally apologized to the countries of Sudan and Iran and, in particular, to the families of the victims. The people responsible for causing the incidents have never been punished. The USA has never explained what measures it has taken to make sure that such incidents would never happen again.
    In 1984 a leak at the Union Carbide pesticides plant in Bhopal causes 14,000 deaths. Repeat: fourteen thousand. The USA has always refused to extradite the managers responsible for that accident. When a few Toyota cars caused accidents that killed a handful of people in the USA, the USA demanded that the CEO of Toyota came in person to apologize. Imagine if something caused the death of 14,000 USA citizens.
    The arrogant attitude has probably hurt more than the incidents themselves. If you kill 290 men, women and children and don't even apologize, you are pure evil. Imagine if Mexico bombed by mistake an important medical facility in the USA or downed by mistake a USA flight and didn't even apologize: how would you feel?
    TM, ®, Copyright © 2009 Piero Scaruffi All rights reserved.
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  • (october 2010) The irrational empire.
    (Report from a trip to the Pacific region)
    Future historians will be puzzled by the foreign policy of the USA, and particularly in the Far East. Basically, the USA has maintained military bases and warships throughout the Pacific Ocean, Japan, Taiwan and South Korea in order to protect the trade routes that allow those countries to export goods to the USA and to import the natural resources that they need from the rest of the world. By definition, the net beneficiaries of the USA strategy in the Pacific have been Japan, Taiwan, South Korea, Singapore and the other "tigers", each of which has experienced an economic boom with no equals in its history. Most of these places were starving or destroyed at the end of World War II. Several of them are now as rich as Western Europe and a few are likely to surpass the old colonial powers (Britain, France, Holland, Spain, Portugal) that used to rule them. Meanwhile, the USA has built up a colossal trade deficit with this part of the world.
    One can even speculate that mainland China itself has benefited from the "pax americana". Without the peace guaranteed by the USA fleet and by USA missiles China would have had to spend a lot more money in warfare than in infrastructure, and it would have not been able to import natural resources and export goods as easily as it does.
    What is less clear is what the USA got out of it. Its engagement in Asia began during World War II when it was fightin the Japanese empire; but that empire has been destroyed and Japan is now a peaceful and faithful ally. Then, during the Cold War, the USA decided to stay in order to counter Soviet influence in the region; but the Soviet Union is gone too, and all the communist regimes have either collapsed or turned capitalistic (even China and Vietnam) with the only exception of North Korea.
    The USA has basically replaced the British empire as the peace maker of the region but without obtaining the benefits that the British empire used to get (starting with a trade surplus that fueled economic growth not in the colonies but back at home)
    TM, ®, Copyright © 2009 Piero Scaruffi All rights reserved.
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  • (october 2010) The Pacific boom.
    (Report from a trip to the Pacific region)
    It is a different world. From China to Australia (with the single exception of Japan) economies are booming, people are getting richer by the day, currencies are going up, housing is not enough to keep up with demand, employment is going through the roof. While the USA is experiencing the worst economy in almost a century, with a rapidly declining dollar, record unemployment, housing-market bust and falling household incomes, the Asian-Pacific region is living in a parallel universe of 5-10% yearly GDP increase. Fifty years ago a USA citizen could travel virtually anywhere in the world and spend pocket change for hotels and restaurants. Now USA citizens are the ones staying at hostel dormitories and eating sandwiches on the sidewalk. That the transition happened while the USA was the world's superpower makes it even more mistifying. Historians will look back at this age and wonder "what were they thinking". The USA won World War II against Germany and Japan: the net result was that Germany and Japan became the USA's main economic competitors on the world scene. Half a century later the USA also won the Cold War against communism: the net result is that Russia, India and China have become fast-rising economic juggernauts that created a huge trade deficit in the USA. The USA is also largely responsible for the demise of the European empires, i.e. for the world-wide process decolonization that created dozens of new countries in Asia and Africa: the net result is that many of those countries are getting richer by selling expensive minerals and cheap labor to the USA at the expense of the USA's standard of living. In other words, the USA is a failed empire not because it lost the wars (it won most of them, all the important ones) but because it has failed in administering its victory in an unprecedented manner. It used its enormous influence to establish and maintain a geopolitical order that made the USA more (not less) dependent from the rest of the world at a time when it should have been the opposite. The USA imports oil from the Middle East, imports goods from China, exports capital to the third world and exports jobs to India not because evil foreign powers force it to do so but because this is the world that the USA itself created and maintains (through an expensive military investment). This world is causing a rapid decline in the purchasing power of the average USA family through dollar depreciation and economic crisis. The rest of the world enjoys the nice life.
    TM, ®, Copyright © 2009 Piero Scaruffi All rights reserved.
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  • (september 2010) The enemy is us. Every USA politician keeps repeating that the USA army is very disciplined and that its soldiers are the best in the world. Whenever the press discovers cases of atrocities (and those are probably just a tiny percentage of all the atrocities that are committed by USA soldiers), the reaction from Washington is to categorize them as episodic cases by deranged individuals. One of the problems that the USA refuses to admit is that its forces are out of control and those very soldiers sent to solve problems are creating them. Deliberate massacres of civilians in both Iraq and Afghanistan have caused the USA military to be widely distrusted and despised. USA soldiers have committed unspeakable crimes against harmless population. Women have been raped and burned (most famously by James Barker in Mahmoudiya). A captain (Jeremy Morlock) directed random killings of civilians for fun (see this article). Soldiers themselves have testified that countless "rednecks" joined the army simply for the "fun" of killing people, no matter whether armed or unarmed.
    The USA is creating an army of thugs and psychos who are feared by the "liberated" people as much as their former dictators. Too many of these soldiers are trigger-happy members of the NRA (National Rifle Association, de facto the largest terrorist organization in the world) who enlist to Iraq or Afghanistan because those are the places where a USA citizen can kill human beings with impunity.
    The USA refuses to admit that it has created an army of mass murderers. It is pointless to keep repeating that the majority of soldiers are honest and obedient. Maybe so, but the ones who are not honest and obedient constitute a mini-army within the army, and that mini-army is hurting the USA in every possible way. As it stands today, there is no more powerful creator of enemies of the USA than the USA military.

    Addition of april 2011: The USA kill team in Afghanistan (Rolling Stones)

    TM, ®, Copyright © 2010 Piero Scaruffi All rights reserved.
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  • (august 2010) Fixing the trade deficit. It is a popular notion that the USA trade deficit is due to the fact that foreign goods are cheaper. There is now political pressure on China to increase the value of its yuan to help balance the trade deficit with the USA. That is a theory that does not hold water. Japan's yen started rising in 1971 and has done so with almost no exception for 40 years. The result is that the USA trade deficit with Japan has mushroomed from a little over $1 billion to $90 billion. The euro has been rising against the dollar for a decade, almost doubling its value since its introduction. Since then Germany (the main euro economy) has become the world's top exporter, passing both Japan and China. Obviously the value of a currency is not the main factor in determining what the world will buy. It is more likely that Germany and Japan simply make good products that the world wants, no matter how much they cost. In fact, if they become more expensive, the deficit will probably grow. The same is true of the trade deficit with China: if Chinese shoes and shirts will get more expensive, the USA consumer will still buy them, just paying more for them and therefore increasing (not decreasing) the trade deficit. Put it this way: if the Chinese currency collapsed to 10% of its value, most likely the USA would still buy the same number of shoes (one can only buy so many shoes in one year, and we're already buying all of them from China) but China would make 10% of what it makes now, i.e. the USA trade deficit would shrink, not increase. The problem is that the USA has lost the ability to make many of these products. If the USA were making them, then the argument would hold water. The question therefore is not the value of the yen, but how can USA car manufacturers return to making the best cars in the world and how can the USA textile industry return to making shoes and shirts that people actually want to buy. If one simply changes the value of a currency, the result might be exactly the opposite of what desired.
    TM, ®, Copyright © 2010 Piero Scaruffi All rights reserved.
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  • (august 2010) Double dipping. A number of factors are about to converge to cause another recession and possibly a worse one.
    1. Obama's stimulus package accounted for the little recovery that the USA posted in 2010. Unfortunately it simply masked the fact that there was no recovery. Besides, m of that money went to other countries as the USA trade deficit returned to record level: give money to USA consumers and they are almost certainly going to spend it buying foreign goods, a fact that hardly helps the USA economy in the long term. The stimulus did not help change habits, which instead should be the number-one priority.
    2. The large European countries have decided that their priority is to pay down the national deficit. That might be a good idea but in the short term it means that they will inflict further punishment on weak economies. Their hope is probably that the USA consumer will keep buying their products and therefore compensate for the lack of stimulus from the governments.
    3. The government of mainland China announced a while back that it intended to slow down the economy. When China's economy slows down, all the economies in the region will also slow down. China cannot be easily convinced by the West to contribute to a global recovery: after the global recession caused by Western capitalists, they are now convinced that they are better at handling a capitalist economy than the capitalists themselves.
    4. Consumerism was born the day that Western governments enacted entitlement programs such as pension systems and universal health care. When people did not need to save anymore, they started spending. Countries such as China where these programs do not exist are also the countries where people do not spend, no matter how much they earn: they need to save because their future expenses are unpredictable. Western countries are now moving towards reducing pensions and health care benefits. This will inevitably push their citizens to save more and therefore reduce their willingness to spend.
    5. The last straw might be the coming elections in the USA: the Republicans are expected to win them, thus creating a total impasse in the USA. The Republicans (who caused this recession in the first place) do not have any plan on what to do. Their policy has been simply to criticize and oppose any action proposed by the president. That is likely to remain their strategy when they gain control of parliament. At that point the USA will not be able to enact any significant law anymore.
    The outcome of these factors is almost certainly going to be another recession, at least for the West. The worst scenario for the West is one in which the West enters a recession while the developing world is still growing. That would mean that for the first time prices of commodities (starting with oil) would keep increasing while demand from the West is slowing down. That would cause inflation at a time when Western consumers are bracing for a recession. Prices would go up while people cannot even afford the old prices. It is a scenario that the West has never lived before.
    TM, ®, Copyright © 2010 Piero Scaruffi All rights reserved.
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  • (august 2010) The USA towards same-sex marriage. A federail judge deemed the ban on same-sex marriage as unconstitutional in California. His arguments are interesting. "The exclusion" he writes "exists as an artifact of a time when the genders were seen as having distinct roles in society and in marriage. That time has passed." Yes, it has. But one wonders why polygamy is still illegal. What is wrong with several men and women joining in marriage, as opposed to just two persons? What makes the number two so special (*if* it is not the fact that they can make children)? The time has also passed when teenagers did not have sex. Statistics show that the vast majority of underage teenagers are sexually active. Nonetheless, it is still illegal for an adult to have sex with an underage teenager (a 19 year old goes to jail if s/he has sex with a 17 year old). Isn't that time passed too?
    Furthermore: "The tradition of restricting marriage to opposite-sex couples does not further any state interest". I fail to see what state interest is defended by forbidding adults to have sex with underage teenagers who are already sexually active. We just force them to have sex only with other immature teenagers, which is probably the main cause of so many tragedies (from teenage pregnancies to AIDS). And what state interest is protected by banning incest? Prostitution? It would be difficult to find an adult woman in California who hasn't had sex with many men, and some sexual relationships are clearly influenced by the wealth of the man: why is it illegal to just make it a profession? Hasn't the time passed for this discrimination too? What state interest does it serve to prohibit prostitution?
    Same-sex couples have been very good at portraying the opposition as religiously motivated. The truth is that the vast majority of opponents are not religious at all: they simply use their brain in an age in which the masses tend to be more influenced by money spent on marketing than by logic.
    The economy is in miserable state. The USA is declining compared with emerging powers. We are told of impending environmental apocalypses. But somehow it is important and urgent to call it "marriage" when same-sex couples live together. The whole world looks at the USA and is puzzled: is this really the country that has to save the world? Or is this a country where the rule of law is abolishing common sense?
    See also Why i voted against "gay" marriage
    TM, ®, Copyright © 2010 Piero Scaruffi All rights reserved.
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  • (july 2010) Is democracy the right system for the USA? The USA needed an energy policy in 1973, when the first oil crisis erupted, causing recession, high inflation and international crises. Four decades later (and countless more oil-related problems) the USA still does not have an energy policy, while its domestic sources of oil have greatly decreased and will continue to greatly decrease. The USA Congress finally worked out an energy bill, but its approval is unlikely because of the usual bickering between the two parties that dominate politics in the USA. Republicans would rather cause the downfall of the USA than approve a good law while the Democrats are in power, because it would make Democrats more popular and therefore decrease Republican votes in the next election. Democrats themselves are divided, with many members of the party demanding favors in return for their vote. The bottom line is that the bill is likely to fail, and the USA is likely to remain without a modern energy policy. At the same time China, where policies don't need to be approved by bickering parliaments, has rapidly been investing in new energy sources, and is becoming the main world producer of solar energy, besides building more modern and efficient nuclear reactors.
    This amounts to mass suicide for the USA. Democracy is likely to cause what Japan in World War II, the Soviet Union during the Cold War and now Al Qaeda failed to achieve: the destruction of the USA. Meanwhile, a totalitarian regime is likely to achieve in mainland China what the USA democracy aimed for: peace, prosperity and progress. Meanwhile the USA is becoming one of the most corrupt societies in the world, if one considers lobbying as a form of corruption.
    At this point one has to wonder if democracy is the right system for a country in which getting elected has become the paramount concern for the politicians who are supposed to represent the people (and in fact only represent their own political career) and for a country in which money can buy just about any law (for example, the NRA routinely buys laws that kill citizens at a rate much higher than any terrorist organization ever did, the Arabs buy laws that indirectly fund Islamic terrorists, and the Jews buy laws that directly fund Israel's state terrorism which in turn is the number one cause of anti-USA sentiment in the world). It appears more and more obvious that no politician in her/his own mind will ever look after the interest of the country since that means losing the next election. If you want to win the next election, you have to oppose whatever policy is being proposed by the incumbent candidate and you have to please the big lobbies that will finance your campaign. Otherwise why and how would the voters vote for you? Competence, honesty and integrity don't win democratic elections anymore.
    TM, ®, Copyright © 2010 Piero Scaruffi All rights reserved.
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  • (june 2010) The wars of the United States. At the end of may the USA observed a national holiday to commemorate soldiers who died in war. The USA has fought a dozen wars (without counting minor military interventions). People tend to forget that the civil war is still the one that caused the highest number of casualties (622,000). World War II killed 403,000 USA soldiers and lasted almost four years. World War I killed "only" 116,000 but lasted only one year for the USA. By comparison, the subsequent wars killed very few soldiers: Vietnam killed 58,000 but over a decade; Korea killed 54,000 and was therefore bloodiers (because it was shorter); the first war against Iraq killed only 383 soldiers (many killed by friendly fire) and the current war in Iraq has killed a little over 4,400; only 1,076 USA soldiers have been killed in Afghanistan in nine years. The Civil War still remains the great tragedy in the history of the USA.
    TM, ®, Copyright © 2010 Piero Scaruffi All rights reserved.
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  • (may 2010) The Taliban among us. A Pakistani Taliban tried to blow up the crowds of Time Square. Nobody got injured, but the panic is escalating. Meanwhile, about 20,000 USA citizens are killed every year thanks to the most successful terrorist organization in the history of modern Western civilization: the National Rifle Association or NRA (See Defend the USA against terrorists). They are the ones responsible for the 140 million guns that have spread throughout the USA, many of which are what used to be called "machine guns", hundreds of times more powerful and deadly than the arms used at the founding of the USA. They are much more powerful than Al Qaeda and consistently manage to influence what Washington decides in the matter of guns. The result is a terrifying massacre of innocent civilians. While the Pakistani Taliban was trying to kill a few people in Times Square, the NRA was lobbying to make sure that the terrorists on the watch list (the ones who are not even supposed to board a plane) would get the right to bear arms. In the last six years the FBI estimates that people on that list have purchased more than one thousand guns: does anyone need any more proof that the NRA is a direct supporter of Al Qaeda? Meanwhile, senator Joseph Lieberman, a strong supporter of the NRA and not exactly a model of honesty, proposed a bill to revoke USA citizenship from anyone suspected of supporting terrorism. Dear senator, that's a great idea, but shouldn't you be the first one who gets the USA citizenship revoked? You are a supporter of the NRA, and you are a supporter of Israel, that has killed a lot more civilians in Lebanon and Gaza than Al Qaeda ever dreamed of and whose foreign policy is hurting the USA a lot more than the Taliban ever dreamed of (See Bomb Israel?).
    TM, ®, Copyright © 2010 Piero Scaruffi All rights reserved.
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  • (apr 2010) Kidnapping children is bad. After a strong earthquake devastated Haiti and killed more than 200,000 people, a group of USA missionaries led by a Laura Silsby tried to smuggle out of the country 33 children. Caught in the act, they defended themselves by saying that the children were orphans. It turned out the group had never tried to locate the relatives of the children (even some of the parents were still alive), and had not even tried to inform the authorities of its unilateral decision to ship presumed orphans out of the country. If this is not a case of the widely publicized illegal child trafficking, one wonders what it takes to qualify.
    Imagine if a group of Haitian members of a voodoo group tried to kidnap 33 USA children, taking advantage of a Katrina-style moment of chaos. I suppose most USA citizens would ask for a public lynching of the despicable "missionaries".
    USA justica is funny, though. Instead of asking Haiti to sentence these despicable human beings to the punishment allowed by the law, the USA has been quietly manouvering to get them released. Only the leader, Laura Silsby, remains in custody.
    Of course there are obvious questions. How many times did this group and/or their associates in Idaho kidnap children from poor countries? What has happened to them? How many such "religious" organizations are active in the USA? Obviously they don't get punished, so their motivation to continue kidnapping children from poor countries must be high.
    The happy ending, of course, is that the children were reunited to their families. It is scary, though, to think that this could become yet another case in which a USA citizen gets away with a heinous crime committed abroad, just like the marines who raped a girl in Iraq and burned her entire family.
    TM, ®, Copyright © 2010 Piero Scaruffi All rights reserved.
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  • (apr 2010) Two governments' visions on transportation. The vision of future transportation that the USA government has can be summarized by viewing what it is like today. The USA government promises more of this.
    Pretty much the only way to get from a city to another city is to fly. In order to fly, you have to go to a place called "airport". You have to get to the airport hours before your flight, and the airport is located far from the city and rarely served by decent public transportation (especially at night, when taxis are a lot more expensive and a lot more dangerous).
    Then you have to stand in a long line to "check in", even if you already bought the ticket and picked a seat. While you are in line, you are intimidated by countless signs telling you what you cannot take with you on the plane. Eventually you resign yourself to have your luggage separated from you ("checked in"), which obviously is a recipe for disaster. There is also a charge for every piece that you check in, even if you didn't really want to check it in. All of this is done in front of a machine that cannot reply to simple questions such as "is there an earlier flight?"
    Now that you have your boarding pass you can (must) proceed to the next line, where they want to see your passport or driver's license and your boarding pass. If you already put them away, you have to look for them. Once the officer marks your boarding pass, you proceed to the next line, which is a grotesque search for illegal items. You have to put your laptops, your coats, your shoes, anything metallic (watch, trousers belt, coins) as well as your remaining bags into a machine that will scan them, while you walk barefoot through a metal detector. Once on the other side, you can put your shoes on and try to get your luggage reorganized. Any drink that you carefully packed for the flight has been confiscated but you can buy it at any of the airport stores for just about four times it's running price.
    Then you can proceed to the gate of your flight. While you wait for your flight to be ready, you have to fight with thousands of passengers for the few electrical outlets that allow you to recharge the batteries of your electronic devices.
    The next line is when they call your flight. You are not allowed to board a plane just because you are ready to board it. You have to wait until an airline employee tells everybody to do so. Once inside, hysterical flight attendants instruct you to store your belongings under the seat in front of you. If it doesn't fit there, you have to store your luggage in a overhead compartment that is basically out of reach for the rest of the flight.
    Enjoy your flight in your narrow seat hoping that they didn't sit you next to an overweight person or an alcoholic. And don't forget to fasten your seat belts, and remember that the airline doesn't really like that you walk around.
    To make things worse, the captain dumps on the passengers silly data such as altitude and speed. Recline your seat and close the table in front of you.
    When (if) you arrive at your destination, you are actually not at your destination at all: you are at an airport that is far from your destination. Before you exit the airport and continue your adventure, you have to pick up your luggage that was separated from you at departure, and chances are that someone made a mistake and it was sent to another city.
    If someone is supposed to pick you up, that person cannot park in front of the terminal. Your friend must park at a very expensive parking garage or keep driving around the airport.
    The USA vision of transportation in the 21st century is: all of this and more of it. There will be more checks, there will be more limitations on what you can take with you, airports will be moved even further out.
    Now let's check what is happening in China. The USA is not capable of building a fast railway from California to Chicago (or, for that matter, even between Los Angeles and San Francisco) while China has just opened a high-speed railway from the mainland to the plateau of Tibet, a slightly more complicated engineering problem. Meanwhile, the train from Shanghai to Pudong takes about seven minutes and reaches a maximum speed of 530 km/h (if you are a USA citizen, you'll think this is a typo). The Chinese government has plans to link all its major cities with trains that will run at 200 km/h or faster. The Chinese government has already approached all of its neighbors to propose a network of high-speed railways that will conneect all Asian cities, including even a tunnel to Taiwan. There will be high-speed railways to Nepal, Kazakstan and several places in Russia. While USA citizens will be taking their shoes off at the beginning of their hour-long odyssey to board a plane, their Chinese counterparts will be comfortably stretching and strolling on a high-speed train. The Chinese government is even approaching European countries to bring its railways all the way to Eastern Europe. Ironically, it has also approached California and other USA states to help this backwards regions with its superior technology.
    Last but not least, note that one country is talking kms while the other country is still stuck with Roman miles.
    TM, ®, Copyright © 2010 Piero Scaruffi All rights reserved.
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  • (mar 2010) The case for a VAT. Countries that don't have debts can live without taxes on added value. Countries that have debts find that taxes on added value are useful tools. Countries that are at war find that taxes on added value help make people more patriotic. Countries that have a long-term policy problem can use VATs to steer economic growth in a safer direction. Countries that are engaged in two wars, accumulated colossal debts to rescue banks and industrial conglomerates, and have a long-term energy problem should be jumping on VATs the same way that the passengers of the Titanic jumped on the lifeboats.
    A properly balanced series of VATs could be used to offset the colossal budget deficit of the USA and to encourage growth away from the suicidal oil policies of the Bush era and from te ridiculous bad habits of USA drivers. Slap a 50% VAT on gasoline and a 100% VAT on SUVs, and the USA will have created a whole new market for car manufacturers and done more for the environment than the whole Kyoto protocol ever dreamed of.
    Last but not least, a just Congress (hopefully not an oxymoron) would use the revenues from a VAT to simply abolish federal taxes on the lower middle class. The total income tax (after credits) for the bottom 50% of the USA population amounts to just $32 billion. Is it worth maintaining the obnoxious and terrifying bureaucracy of the IRS just to cash $32 billion when you can cash much more by imposing a VAT that will be paid to you directly by businesses whenever they sell something?
    TM, ®, Copyright © 2010 Piero Scaruffi All rights reserved.
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  • (mar 2010) Which is more likely to collapse, the European or the American Union? At the time of the big blue-red split (liberal versus conservative states), i wrote an analysis of what would happen if the USA split in two: What if the USA split in two?. Since then, the only thing that changed is that more and more of the USA citizens realized how badly they had been fooled and robbed by the Republicans. Therefore the Democratic Party won one election after the other. However, not much has changed: the USA is still a divided and polarized country on health care, retirement, foreign affairs, etc.
    There are many who are predicting a crisis in the European Union, as its most reckless economies threaten to upset the more disciplined ones. However, the European Union rules over a vast majority that holds homogeneous views on health care, retirement, foreign affairs, etc.
    The European Union is also a relatively recent political invention, while the USA is the oldest extant federation after Switzerland.
    A break-up of the USA is therefore more likely (and perhaps overdue) than a premature break-up of the European Union. You can't hold a country together when its two halves fight on just about everything, and thoroughly despise each other. When the Rush Limbaughs and Michael Moores represented small fringes of angry conversatives and liberals, the political discourse was feasible. Now that they represent huge sectors of the electorate there is little hope that the country can be ever governed again in an efficient way.
    Maybe it would indeed be better if the blue and red states split. The red states would become a right-wing midsize power that could be contained by an alliance of the other powers. The blue states could happily unite with Canada, Australia and Britain and create some kind of United Anglo-Saxon nations, incidentally also relieving Britain of the duty to behave like a European state.
    It is not Europe, nor China, that could break up at any moment. It is the USA that is risking the most at this point in time.
    TM, ®, Copyright © 2009 Piero Scaruffi All rights reserved.
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  • (feb 2010) The State of the Union. Obama's domestic policy faces a number of significant problems. The mother of all economic problems was a decision by president George W Bush in 2001 to cut taxes. He later started two wars (Afghanistan and Iraq) but still refused to raise taxes or even to undo the first tax cut. For the first time in recorded history, a country was at war but its citizens were not paying a penny to support the war. (See my 2001 article, yes 2001, titled How Bush started the longest world-wide economic crisis of modern times). Obama has inherited the taboo of not raising taxes. His initial solution was to bring the troops home and shut down both wars. Alas, reality has taught him that it is easier said than done. Hence he is still living in Bush's dream world of multiple wars and no new taxes.
    The other major source of the economic crisis is Wall Street (the immediate cause of the recession). The USA is de facto ruled by a "Wall Street dictatorship" (see my article Can the USA get out of the crisis?). Wall Street forced the government to bail out the banks and then proceeded to accumulate billions of dollars in profit that are now being distributed to bank executives. Whenever Obama tries to strike down on Wall Street, Wall Street reacts by sending the stock market down, something that hurt millions of voters. The blackmail is more than obvious. Obama needs to cripple the evil octopus of Wall Street, and the best way would have been to let all the major banks to go down. (There are countless small banks that were perfectly solvent and, in an ideal free market, would have simply taken over the market).
    Another major source of economic doom is the fact that the USA chronically imports a lot more than it exports. This will not change for as long as some trading partners are allowed to keep their currencies artificially low. De facto the USA has been funding the economic boom of Asia. This is resulting in a dysfunctional global economy (a pyramid scheme based on the ability by the USA consumer to borrow money from banks) and in the deindustrialization of the USA. (See my article China's unfair trade war). What the USA industry needs is simple: customers. Both small, medium and large businesses need USA customers and foreign customers. USA businesses are instead faced with a USA public that buys more and more non-USA products whiled the foreign world is buying less and less USA-made products. If the dollar went down compared with the Asian currencies, both trends would be reversed. The longer the USA waits to do so, the more difficult it will be to reverse the trend (because the USA will physically lose the ability to manufacture many of the goods that are increasingly manufactured abroad).
    Everything else that Obama wanted to do (health care reform, climate change bill and so forth) faces a meta-problem: the Republican Party is saying "no" to anything that the Democrats propose, no matter what. The Republicans are clearly determined to sink any bill of any kind for as long as the president is a Democrat. The polarization of USA politics is a consequence of the end of the Cold War. During the Cold War the enemy was the Soviet Union. After the end of the Cold War the enemy is the other party. A multipolar world like the one that China and Russia dream of might not be such a bad idea after all.
    See also this article by Gar Alperovitz. Quote: "With high-paid lobbyists contesting every proposed regulation, it is increasingly clear that big banks can never be effectively controlled".
    TM, ®, Copyright © 2009 Piero Scaruffi All rights reserved.
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  • (january 2010) What went wrong? In 1999 USA was at peace with the world. It was the only superpower, with Japan as a distant second in economy and Russia a distant second in military power. The stock market had been booming for several years. The USA was enjoying the longest economic expansion in history.
    Ten years later the USA is fighting two failed wars, it has lost its sheen as the world's superpower, China and Russia have become serious military antagonists while just about everybody has had faster economic growth, the dollar is one of the world's weakest currencies, the stock market is pretty much where it was ten years ago, and the USA's main reputation is that it is a country of debt: $1 trillion in credit-card debt, $11 trillion in mortgage debt, $12 trillion in government debt, 17 trillion in financial sector, 11 trillion in business sector.
    It would be too simple to answer that USA voters only have themselves to blame for electing in 2001 an incompetent for president who in turn assembled an administration of liars and crooks that for eight years caused massive devastation to the prestige and the power of the USA. That certainly exacerbated the problem, but the problem was already there, as proven by the first major stock-market crash (the Nasdaq in 2000), as proven by the first major terrorist attack (against the USA embassies in Kenya and Tanzania in 1998).
    The main factor to keep in mind is, of course, the financial Ponzi schemes that fueled the USA economy in the 2000s. The idea is largely that banks lend money to consumers who then spend the money. The result, of course, is that USA citizens enjoy a high standard of life but it's a lifestyle that they cannot afford. It will last only for as long as the banks are willing to lend. The opposite model is the one you find in developing countries, where banks are very reluctant to lend money to ordinary citizens: ordinary citizens buy only what they can afford to pay for. Now we live in a dysfunctional world in which USA citizens, whose net worth is negative, enjoy iPhones, SUVs and air conditioning, while the citizens of developing countries, whose net worth is positive, can buy food only when they get their salary cheque. On the other hand the developing countries tolerate and support this system because their economies are fueled by exports of all sorts of goods to the USA, which rely on USA banks lending money to USA consumers.
    Growth was driven by a housing boom and consumer spending, both sponsored by easy credit. Despites the bust, the fundamentals have not changed: USA consumers are still spending money that they borrowed from banks.
    How long this situation can last is anybody's guess. The financial sector has mainly mass manufactured smoke and risk. No wonder that a financial crisis erupted.
    The reaction to the financial crisis is not reassuring at all. Faced with a financial crisis similar to the one that struck Japan in 1990, the USA did exactly what Japan did. Hence the USA should have the future that Japan had: 20 years of stagnation, with zero interest rates and mild deflation. The big difference is that Japan was and still is a net creditor whereas the USA is a net debtor. Japan's currency kept going up while Japan's economy stagnated, and the average Japanese is now richer than 20 years ago. The USA dollar might instead go down and the average USA citizen might become quite poorer in the next 20 years.
    A second problem has to do with the "Wall Street dictatorship" that i discussed in Can the USA get out of the crisis?. The financial institutions that control this debt-based economy have become so influential that they undermine the very foundations of capitalism: the production of goods. Innovation and production have shifted from innovation of technology and production of goods based on such technology to innovation of financial instruments and production of Ponzi schemes based on such financial instruments. They are transitioning us from the old "reality-based" market economy into a "fiction-based" market economy that is ideologically, morally and economically a different beast altogether, although still nominally a market economy.
    20% of the USA population works in banking, insurance and real estate, i.e. non-productive activities. MBAs, stock brokers, realtors, insurance agents, etc are all jobs that require very limited skills and education. The USA is transitioning towards a low-knowledge economy.
    This is also reflected in the education and immigration policies of the 2000s. De facto, the USA is creating an aristocracy of rich families that can send their children to good universities, while an increasingly impoverished middle class (squeezed between rising health-care costs and decreasing income) cannot afford it. That's the exact opposite of meritocracy. To make matters worse, obsolete immigration laws favor relatives of USA citizens over skilled workers. Those relatives tend to be uneducated and very often just a burden for society, while tens of thousands of bright foreign students return to their countries because it's too difficult for them to obtain a green card in the USA. Instead of recruiting highly-skilled people from around the world, the USA is even sending away the ones who studied in USA universities. The policies on education and immigration are de facto creating a dumber society.
    The inequalities created by the old Reagan policies (see The 13 most feared words in the English language) have never been undone. The wealth gap continues to haunt the USA economy, forcing the middle class to get deeper and deeper into debt. Politicians keep talking about tax reform, but every tax reform simply makes the tax code more complicated (how about just exempting the middle class from paying taxes?)
    This is connected to the third problem: the de-industrialization of the USA. The rapid deterioration of the USA's manufacturing power (as a percentage of world's manufacturing) is well exemplified by the decline of the car industry, but it is much more widespread than that. The car industry declined because of bad decisions. Other sectors did not make bad decisions: they simply could not and cannot compete against competitors from China and other parts of the world where labor is infinitely cheaper. The USA has created tens of millions of manufacturing jobs: it just didn't create them within its borders. USA-based manufacturers had a simple choice: shut down or move factories abroad. The net result is that there is hardly any object in a department store that could be produced in the USA: everything now incorporates parts made abroad, and parts that nobody in the USA remembers how to make. The USA has lost the skills to produce the very things that made it an economic superpower.
    Exporting instead of importing goods would be crucial to the resurrection of the ailing USA economy, that has relied too much on financial artifices instead of real production; instead, exports have been hindered by China's unfair trade war. (See my article China's unfair trade war).
    Inevitably, this deindustrialization is being followed by a process of demilitarization. Russia objects to the USA missile shield, China conspires against the USA bases in Japan and Korea. All the booming economies in the world are very happy that the USA acts like the policeman of the world, but they literally want the USA to be a police officer and not a soldier; an enforcer of public order, and not a potential enemy. China is particularly opportunistic at establishesing commercial relationships in all the regions where USA troops are fighting a war to stabilize the governments (see for example this article about China investing in Afghanistan while the USA fights the Taliban.
    The decline and fall of the USA becomes inevitable if the USA continues on the path towards deindustrialization. The USA is becoming just one colossal Ponzi scheme of Ponzi schemes. Economists such as Paul Krugman are calling for more stimulus from the government: it will keep the patient alive but it won't cure the disease.
    TM, ®, Copyright © 2009 Piero Scaruffi All rights reserved.
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  • (january 2010) How to lose a war. When George W Bush was still president, i wrote an article titled Losing in Afghanistan, after losing in Iraq. Quote: "In august 2008 a USA bombing strike killed 90 civilians in the Herat region of Afghanistan, including 60 children. One wonders what the average USA citizen would think if a foreign country killed 60 USA children who are asleep."
    While the USA press is awash in reports about a Nigerian who tried to blow up a USA plane, several Afghan families are mourning because more of their relatives have been killed by NATO strikes: within just a week at the end of december 2009, NATO bombings killed eight schoolchildren in Kunar and seven civilians in Helmand province (See USA bombing kills eight children (Canadian Press) and Another masscre of civilians by NATO forces). And that's in one week. But USA readers are more likely to know that a suicide bombing killed seven C.I.A. officers in the Khost province of Afghanistan. No wonder that it's so easy for the Taliban to find a suicide bomber to kill USA citizens. All told, more than 400 civilians have been killed in 2009 by NATO operations in Afghanistan. Given that Afghan families are large, this probably means 5,000 to 10,000 new enemies for the USA to fight again. The USA has a new president, but an old (failed) strategy.
    TM, ®, Copyright © 2009 Piero Scaruffi All rights reserved.
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  • (january 2010) USA-style justice. Nobody is serving jail time for the atrocities of Abu Ghabri. Nobody has ever been indicted for the torture at Guantanamo, and the Supreme Court pretty much granted immunity to the members of the Bush administration from future prosecution (while at the same time pretty much admitting that what they did at Guantanamo did qualify as torture). Now a USA court has sent free the Blackwater security guards (better know around the world as serial killers) who shot on a crowd in Baghdad in september 2007, killing 17 unarmed civilians. There are no words to describe how this decision is reverberating around the world, and in particular around the Islamic world.
    TM, ®, Copyright © 2009 Piero Scaruffi All rights reserved.
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