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This Is What I Know

Truthout Columnist William Rivers Pitt. (Photo: Michael Nashawaty)

A bottle of whiskey, a shot glass, and an article to write.

I'm not going to lie and say this particular combination hasn't come together before on my desk, but it has been rare enough to be considered special, and here we are. You see, something struck me out of the clear blue a while ago: the very first article of mine Truthout ever published happened somewhere in early 2002, so I did a little digging with the help of my Facebook friends, and hot damn, there it was: “Hell to Pay,” published on January 17, 2002.

I missed marking my ten-year anniversary with this extraordinary organization by two weeks and two days. I suppose, by normal standards, the fun of it is ruined to a degree: you celebrate your birthday on your birthday, your anniversary on your anniversary, so running this up the flagpole as a special day two weeks late is kind of a bummer, but I really don't care all that much.

I was busy.

Ten years, a bottle of whiskey, a shot glass, and an article to write.

God a'mighty, how the days go by. For the record, and I don't give a wet damn if you agree or not, but it is my opinion that Stephen King is the best storyteller of the latter half of the 20th century. In “'Salem's Lot,” he wrote, “Ah God and sonny Jesus, Time is a river,” and he was both right and beautiful in the telling. Time is a river; you can never put your foot in it in the same place twice.

Ten years, folks.

Back then, on that day ten years ago, I wrote this:

Whichever part of the nation that never heard of the energy giant Enron Corporation has recently been introduced to the company in odious context. The story thus far is nothing less than astounding: Enron, a company valued in the billions on Wall Street, suddenly filed for the largest bankruptcy claim in the history of the known universe. 4,000 employees were abruptly shown the door after having been barred from dumping the company stock, meant to fund their retirement, while it was worth something. Meanwhile, Enron executives in the know were able to dump the stock, back when it was the gold standard on the Street, for a cool $1 billion.

All this could simply be chalked up as yet another story of corporate greed run amok, until the umbilical political and financial connections between Bush and Enron are illuminated. Enron's capo, Kenneth Lay, was perhaps the best financial friend George W. Bush has ever known. Lay and a number of Enron employees essentially bankrolled Bush's 2000 Presidential campaign, going so far as to lend Bush an Enron corporate jet for trips between whistle stops. Before Bush got White House stars in his eyes, he worked very closely with Enron on energy policy in Texas.

Bush's own dealings within the energy industry carry a disturbingly familiar echo to the Enron situation: once upon a time, he was a high-ranking officer of a petroleum interest called Harken Oil. On June 22, 1990, Bush sold his Harken stock and made $848,560, earning him a 200% profit. One week later, Harken announced a $23.2 million loss in quarterly earnings and its stock dropped sharply, losing 60 percent of its value over the next six months. Bush made a bundle while the other investors lost millions. Harken was Enron in miniature, and might have served as a warning to the American people if the press had chosen to pay any attention to it during the 2000 Presidential campaign.

The connections between Bush and the Taliban became so close that the Taliban went so far as to hire an expert on U.S. public relations named Laila Helms, so as to smooth the way between the two regimes. Meetings between the two nations continued at a high level, the last of which occurred in August, scant weeks before the September 11th attacks. All of these actions were taken to exploit the vast energy reserves in Turkmenistan for the benefit of American energy corporations.

The cozy relationship between Bush and the Taliban frustrated the investigative efforts of former Deputy Director of the FBI John O'Neill. O'Neill was the FBI's chief bin Laden hunter, in charge of the investigations into the bin Laden-connected bombings of the World Trade Center in 1993, the destruction of an American troop barracks in Saudi Arabia in 1996, the African embassy bombings in 1998, and the attack upon the U.S.S. Cole in 2000.

O'Neill quit the FBI in protest two weeks before the destruction of the World Trade Center towers. He did so because his investigation was hindered by the Bush administration's connections to the Taliban, and by the interests of American petroleum companies. O'Neill was quoted as stating, “The main obstacles to investigating Islamic terrorism were U.S. oil corporate interests, and the role played by Saudi Arabia in it.” After leaving the FBI, O'Neill took a position as head of security for the World Trade Center. He died on September 11th, 2001, trying to save people trapped by the attack, when the towers came down on top of him. The irony in this, simply, is horrifying.

It is one thing to coddle and court a corrupt energy company for political and financial gain. It is quite another to coddle and court a murderous terrorist-supporting regime, hindering anti-terrorism investigations in the process, for the purpose of exploiting valuable natural resources. The former cost a number of people their retirement funds. The latter has cost thousands of people their lives. One is criminal. The other is abominable. George W. Bush is deeply implicated in both. There will be hell to pay.

Ten years. A bottle of whiskey. A shot glass. An article to write.

Same as it ever was.

I started writing about these things during the Clinton impeachment, on websites I created with my own two bare hands and a passing comprehension of HTML: the first one was called The Rotten Core, the second was called, both of which have been lost to the intervening years. Truthout asked for my services ten years ago nearly to the day, and I oh-so wisely responded in the affirmative.

Since then? A bottle of whiskey, a shot glass, and an article to write.

And Enron, stupid budget-shattering tax cuts, September 11 and the nonsense behind “No one could have imagined,” anthrax as assassination attempts against Democrats, Mr. Bush standing up at the State of the Union to claim Iraq was in possession of 26,000 liters of anthrax, 38,000 liters of botulinum toxin, 500 tons (which is one million pounds) of sarin and mustard and VX nerve agent, 30,000 munitions to deliver the stuff, mobile biological weapons labs, aerial drones to spray the aforementioned stuff, uranium from Niger for use in Iraq's robust “nukular” program…and let's not forget the outing of deep-cover CIA agent Valerie Plame, who was exposed because her husband dared to tell the truth about the Bush administration in the public prints.

And the idea that Hussein was allied with bin Laden was laughable because Osama wanted Saddam's head on his battle standard for decades, and that the true source of world terrorism is Sunni Wahabbist extremism out of Saudi Arabia, but this all goes completely unaddressed because the Houses of Bush and Saud have been partnered for decades. Oh, and never mind that the people our Iraq war empowered are responsible for killing more than 200 Marines at the Beirut airport in 1983…yes, Iran. We gave them the nation of Iraq on a platter, on your dime, and now apparently the powers-that-be want to bomb them, too. And Katrina. And Haditha. And the NSA tapping everyone's phones. And the new guy, Obama, ducking the health care fight and screwing us by degrees, doubling down on Afghanistan, and, oh yeah, declaring that he has the power to kill Americans “suspected” of terrorism. You might want to duck, because, well, you never know.

Etc. Etc. Etc.

A bottle of whiskey, a shot glass, and an article to write.

These things happened, these things matter, and by God, it has been my job to chronicle these events. It has cost me dearly, in ways I will assume you understand, because you've been here with me every step of the way. My hair is bright white now, and I don't sleep much. It is what it is.

Ten years.

There are days when I take on my keyboard and wonder if that old rage is still there, the rage that drove me to blaze out 15,000 words a week, like I did back when Truthout had a blog I was in charge of, and I was expected to write two articles a week at least on top of that.

And then I read about Mitt Romney saying he doesn't worry (read: care) about poor people. I read about the Komen Foundation abandoning Planned Parenthood to prove their bona fides on the anti-abortion front. Thanks, you despicable frauds, for cutting off cancer-screening programs to prove you are pro-life.

Yeah, we have plenty of work to do yet.

The rage is still there.

I said this a long time ago, many times over, but it is worth repeating: I do not expect to see the things I fight for happen in my lifetime. Matters have gone far beyond that. I expect to fail, to die in defeat. That does not matter to me. The fight is worth waging because these things matter, and I intend to give the years I have left to that fight, no matter the outcome. Sooner or later, we will prevail. Write it down; I just did. I probably won't be here to see it, but victory is its own reward, because a better world is possible, and that is all that matters.

A bottle of whiskey, a shot glass, and an article to write.

Here's to you, to us, to this.

Here's to getting it done.

Here's to the next ten years. May they be better than the last.

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