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Published: Sunday, 1/5/2003

World wakes with a hangover from 2002

The New Year began with a hangover. Actually, it began with a whole bunch of hangovers from 2002 that no amount of aspirin could alleviate. The headaches yesteryear produced gave 2003 a pounding pain even before the parties broke out the champagne. When Father Time passed the torch to the new kid on the block, he tried desperately to think of something positive to impart about the recent past. All that came to mind was at least Davis-Besse didn't blow up. Could be a long year.

It begins with nary an optimistic indicator that happy days are here again. Best bet is to pull the covers up and hibernate until spring. It's just too crazy out there. The world is spinning out of control. What was up is down. What was black is white. There's no making sense of the wild upheavals jolting the planet from financial markets to pick-your-protest mayhem in the streets.

Aging, arrogant, hatemongers still hold a firm grip on many polarized regions of the globe from the Middle East to Southeast Asia, taunting the gods of fate with every provocation at gunpoint. But that's just the tip of the terror. Nuclear annihilation has moved from a Tom Clancy premise to a surreal probability as fundamentally warped leaders play increasingly fast and loose with weapons of mass destruction. The more unstable the government the more imminent and frightful the nuclear menace.

Speaking of fundamentalists playing with fire, how about those compassionate conservatives in the Bush Administration itching to use the full range of America's weapons of mass destruction to eliminate an old nemesis who presents no clear and present danger to U.S. national security? It's Iraq or bust. While U.N. inspections of Iraq's suspected weaponry continue with few earthshaking revelations, North Korea is brandishing big, neon, Nuclear Weapons R Us signs to get Washington's attention - with frustrating results.

At the moment the White House simply prefers one rogue nation to the others and has its heart set on bombing Baghdad. Pyongyang is more of a pest to be contained than a looming nuclear peril to be thwarted despite the communist nation's ambitious acceleration of its nuclear weapons program. But it's not the first time the Bush Administration has worn blinders to avoid being distracted by the facts.

Nor will it be the last.

The collective mindset of all the President's most influential men is as narrow and as self-righteous as they come. The Cheney, Rumsfeld, and Rice triangle likes to simplify the world into a two-column balance sheet divided into good and evil. The White House alliance believes only a superpower with a super military can fix the imbalance. With almost evangelical fervor, they proclaim theirs the one, true agenda, summarily dismissing dissent as unworthy of comment, let alone reflection.

Which is why we're barreling down the road to a war that defies reason in the early days of 2003. The administration is rapidly moving troops and weapons of mass destruction into strategic positions in the Persian Gulf. Saddam Hussein, the No. 1 Bad Guy who has bedeviled the Bush clan for years, must go even if the instant gratification mission comes with disastrous diplomatic and financial consequences for Americans.

Just anticipating the war has depressed an already depressed U.S. marketplace causing the financial security of many to be all the more shaky, especially after last year. But while the economy teeters, investors put their bets on hold, unemployment inches upward, health care and prescription drug costs careen out of reach of ordinary Americans, and states weigh tax increases to pay for even basic government services, the Bush Administration fiddles with a war of its own making.

The untold billions it will cost, compounded by the runaway deficit spending habits of Congress and the administration's myopic tax-cut proposal, portend fiscal catastrophe in short order. To be sure there are cures for the hangovers that 2003 woke up with, but finding the courage to administer the necessary remedies to fiscal and foreign folly will be the most difficult challenge of the New Year.



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