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1998-06-01 12:12:49


John Birch Society Is Ultra Optimistic: Sets Standard for Y2K Denial



The nation's most famous exposer of conspiracy says, "No big problem."

Read this. Remember, it comes from the John Birch Society, which, beginning in 1958, began warning people of international Communism and, in 1964, the machinations of the New World Order. Well, no more of that. Anything that warns people of bad events is simply cashing in on fear. This is the Party Line at the new, improved John Birch Society:

"One of the challenges which individuals have in evaluating the claims of Mr. North and several others is that they obviously stand to gain from creating a measure of fear. . . . Creating fear and offering a product to solve the fear is not a new sales technique nor does it imply anything improper so long as the fear is based on fact. But the prudent buyer will recognize the bias of the salesman in the claims that are made."

This was the standard Party Line of the conventional media-in-denial until early this year: "Anyone who warns you about Y2K and then offers to sell you more information is a sham, a scam artist. Don't listen to him." It was this standard Party Line that the establishment used against the John Birch Society for 35 years. "Scaremongers! Profits of doom!"

There is no mention of any of my arguments. There is no mention of this free web site, fiunded by 20-30 hours a week of my donated time. There is no mention of my months of y2k research work for free through the Institute for Christian Economics. No, there is only excoriation based on the evil of capitalism: the profit motive. This is the Marxist line, and it's big at the John Birch Society these days.

When hack journalists cannot respond intellectually to another person's arguments, they often cite capitalism as the evil. "He's in it for the money!" As if the hack journalist isn't on a salary from a magazine whose advertisers hate the position. Advertisers do not like the y2k story. If believed, it reduces sales drastically.

In early 1998, the conventional media began coming out of its denial. Not the John Birch Society.

Reporters who keep pointing to the boogey man of the "extreme right's" fears of y2k now have an answer: the John Birch Society. Lo and behold, the number-one spokesman of the "extreme right" is even more complacent that the conventional media's reporters. (SPOTLIGHT has also pooh-poohed y2k.) This article will help take the heat off me. The John Birch Society has now joined the mainstream media -- of 1995. Its "forward-looking reporting" is based on the happy-face press clippings of the pre-1998 establishment media.

Notice how the author relies on government bureaucrats' assurances that the U.S. government is OK. He even quotes lawyer Sally Katzen, but does not mention that she had been the Clinton Administration's PR person on y2k. Sally Katzen is taken seriously as a reliable source at the John Birch Society!!! Even y2k-denier Harry Browne admits that the government may have a major crisis on its hands. Not the John Birch Society. Here is the new Party Line at the JBS: "We can trust our Federal Government's PR flaks! They wouldn't lie to us."

Scott Stanley, Where are you now when we need you? (I know: at INSIGHT.)

John Birch Society, RIP.

* * * * * * * *

Today, as we face the dawn of a new millenium, innumerable modern seers foretell of momentous events coming with the dawning of the year 2000. These forecasters are predicting the destruction of modern man based on the perception that our dependence on computer technology is also our Achilles’ heel. According to these prognosticators, a problem known as the millenium bug (Y2K) will plunge our high-tech society back into a period of darkness the likes of which the world hasn’t seen since the fall of Rome. Their arguments seem well-reasoned and completely plausible to many in our technologically advanced, yet still technophobic, modern society. Closer examination of the Y2K situation, however, leaves plenty of room for hope. . . .

More good news comes from Apple Computer. The estimated 55 million or so users of that company’s Macintosh will be, on their own computers anyway, unaffected by the date change. According to Apple’s Technote: Approaching the Millenium: The Mac and the Year 2000, "All Mac OS date and time utilities have correctly handled all issues related to the year 2000 since the introduction of the Macintosh."5 The original Macintosh can recognize dates successfully until 6:28:15 a.m. on February 6, 2040. All newer Macs cover dates from 30081 B.C. to 29940 A.D. Of course, while Apple’s hardware and operating system is completely compliant, this fact alone is no guarantee that third-party or custom software will be compliant.

Another batch of systems that may be adversely affected by the change to 2000 are those commonly referred to as "embedded chips." These are small chips that help make a great number of consumer and industrial goods function. They are in cars, VCRs, televisions, and industrial equipment. According to a recent article in The Economist, "Giga Information Group, a Massachusetts consultancy, reckons that 5% of all embedded chips—which could amount to millions of devices—will fail the date test." The article goes on to note, though, that experts in such chips don’t consider this to be much of a problem:

They say that most such chips track not the date, but rather the time elapsed since an event. And even when embedded chips fail, it is rarely a disaster. Video players flash "12:00" most of the time anyway. The worst a security system or lift is likely to do is go into hibernation until fixed. Voice mail may give the wrong time-stamp, as might a fax machine.

This was also the conclusion reached by Jim Wilson, science and technology editor for Popular Mechanics magazine, in his recent article, "I’m Okay, Y2K." . . .

It seems reasonable to conclude, then, that failures in embedded systems will prove to be simply annoying in most of the situations in which they fail and therefore will not likely cause the downfall of mankind. . . .

In summary, Mr. North, maintains that computers will fail, resulting in the stoppage of goods and services in the market as well as the stoppage of government services. A key point to be drawn from the above quote is the certainty that most Y2K problems cannot be averted. Some computer software experts, however, are much more optimistic than Mr. North. Nicholas Zvegintzov, a software management consultant, is one of these. He minimizes the problem:

Dealing with the Year 2000 problem is a simple software task. It is clear when the problem arises (at the end of the century). It is clear what it will do (confuse calculations performed with dates). The places where the problem arises are easy to find in software code (places where dates and times are represented and manipulated, places where fields of two decimal digit are used). The corrective action to be taken is straightforward (substitute a time and date representation with a longer horizon). Solving the Year 2000 problem is an exercise for the software novice. . . .

One of the challenges which individuals have in evaluating the claims of Mr. North and several others is that they obviously stand to gain from creating a measure of fear. . . .

Gary North is not the only forecaster to see serious Y2K trouble ahead. Mr. Donald S. McAlvany also predicts that the Y2K bug will have disastrous consequences. "…the year 2000 represents the meltdown of our high-tech computerized world—a cyber-nightmare that could crash the global financial system and throw governments, economies, transportation, power generators, and our entire high tech civilization into total chaos and gridlock." In fact, he is quite sure of his predictions: "Of all the year 2000/millennial scenarios, the one that is guaranteed to occur [emphasis added], beginning at midnight on December 31, 1999 is the coming computer crisis."

To help people overcome the problems he predicts, Mr. McAlvany, like many others, provides certain products and services. . . .

North and McAlvany are not alone in trying to profit from fear over Y2K. There are numerous information technology consulting firms that also stand to gain tremendously. One of these, the Gartner Group (a consulting group whose research services cost corporations $20,000 per year), has said in an oft quoted estimate that the millennium bug could cost more than $600 billion to fix.17 "Systems integrators, software companies, and consultants shift into salivary-gland overdrive at the mention of that kind of money," says Scott Kirstner writing for Wired News.18 This figure serves to reinforce the notion that the world is at tremendous risk and, consequently, it heightens the sense of panic felt by all those individuals and entities that could potentially be affected. It is, therefore, part of that positive feedback loop that seeks to drum up business for those people and groups that stand to make a profit. And so, Gartner Group, McAlvany, North and countless others stand to gain revenue by garnering publicity for their claims. "Thus, it should come as no surprise that many of the ‘industry analysts’ who foretell Y2K doom also sell Y2K ‘solutions,’" says Rebecca L. Eisenberg in her column in the San Francisco Examiner. Nicholas Zvegintzov agrees and calls the hype over Y2K a "racket." "The racket treats the Year 2000 problem as huge, difficult, dangerous, and unique," says Zvegintzov. "There are doom-laden articles in the newspapers, expensive conferences, collections of articles such as the one you hold, service offerings by consulting groups, special software tools, internet news pages. This is the Year 2000 racket—the problem is free, but the solutions are for sale." Since it is evident that those forecasting the worst outcomes for the year 2000 and the individuals and groups that have the most to gain from creating hysteria are one and the same, it seems reasonable and prudent to question their claims. . . .

How Are We Really Doing On Y2K Preparedness?

Any organization utilizing computers could be affected by the date change. But certain industries are more prone to problems than others. Which ones are in the worst condition?

The electrical utilities have been accused of being seriously in danger of disruption at the beginning of the year 2000. An example of this allegation comes from Don McAlvany: . . .

The article "8 Myths About the Millenium Bug," by Matt Rosoff in c/net, serves as one useful counter to such assertions. Rosoff notes about the electrical companies that power would continue to flow, but "If the bug were left untouched, problems might occur with billing systems, regulatory compliance schedules, and maintenance schedules…" To support this claim, Rosoff talked with Leonard Anderson, the spokesman for Pacific Gas & Electric’s Y2K team. "To try and tie the flow of power into the year 2000 effort is pure speculation," Anderson told c/net. "Most power is routed manually. Much is being controlled by the systems themselves—if equipment on the lines detects an overload, they’ll automatically shut down to protect the system." This automatic protection of the grid from overload is much like the breaker or fuse that protects a home’s circuitry from overload. These breakers and fuses don’t care what year it is. Other analysts agree that power generation is not at risk. Rebecca L. Eisenberg in her San Francisco Examiner column, "Net Skink," argued that it was unlikely that electric utilities would fail. . . . Considering this, it seems unlikely that the millenium bug will have a serious, long-lasting effect on power generation and distribution.

Of all the sectors of the economy that are susceptible to Y2K failures, the one that is most at risk due to its necessary and extensive use of dates and of computer technology to handle dates is the financial services industry. Furthermore, this industry stands at the center of the modern economy. . . .

A survey of the status of the financial services industry does bring out some good news, however. Senator Robert Bennett, Chairman of the Senate Subcommittee on Financial Services and Technology, discussed some of the results of his hearings on this subject with the House Committee on Banking and Financial Services. He told the House committee that "We found that the larger banks generally are moving forward in a proper fashion to get this [Y2K compliance] done.…" Further, another major component of our fractional reserve banking system, the Federal Reserve, is in fairly good condition relative to Y2K compliance. . . .

Generally speaking, the nation’s largest banking organizations have done much to address the issues and have devoted significant financial and human resources to preparing for the century date change. Many larger banks are already renovating their operating systems and have commenced testing of their critical applications. Large organizations seem generally capable of renovating their critical systems by year-end 1998 and will have testing well under way by then.

More good news from the financial services industry comes from Nick Magri, coordinator for the Y2K project at the Securities Industry Automation Corporation. He told Matt Rosoff of c/net that "The securities industry started on this a year and a half ago. The bigger businesses we see a lot of, and they’re on top of it." . . .

Airlines, like other businesses, will act in their own self interest in this matter and will take steps to make sure that fuel, runway lights, and other needs are met. As far as fire trucks go, it is difficult to imagine fire truck operation being dependent on dates. Other problems could involve scheduling flights with travel agencies and the airlines themselves, but none of these hurdles are going to make 747s crash. . . .

Despite this report, the FAA claims to be doing better than expected. According to a report in the Chicago Tribune, FAA Administrator Jane Garvey told the House Appropriations Transportation Subcommittee that the agency had moved its planned compliance date ahead from November of 1999 to June of that year.49 This alone seems to be an indication that the situation is improving. In fact, according to the Tribune, Garvey is certain that flight safety would not be affected. "I can assure the subcommittee that air-traffic safety will not be compromised in the slightest."

Despite her assurances, FAA has not acted in a timely manner. . . .

Other agencies are further behind than the FAA. The GAO has been especially critical of the Department of Defense (DoD). . . .

Clearly, the DoD is not doing too well in dealing with it’s Y2K problems. This department is not alone. The IRS is also facing problems as BusinessWeek noticed: . . .

If this sounds daunting, it is. John Yost, director of the agency’s Y2K program, told Business Week that the plan was to be compliant but that he’s "not making any promises just yet." But again, as in most cases, the news about IRS compliance isn’t all bad (or good, depending on your position on the income tax). According to the Business Week report, the agency’s older mainframes that are "the backbone of the agency’s data system" should be compliant well before the deadline since they were programmed by IRS employees. Thus, it has been easier for the agency to fix them because there was more documentation left behind by the programmers and some of the programmers may still be on staff. The problem remains with the many IRS minicomputers and PCs throughout the nation that need to be checked. Alas, the IRS, is in better shape than it seems at first glance.

Some other agencies, however, seem to be doing quite well. The GAO found that the Social Security Administration was "a federal leader in addressing Year 2000 issues." Also, the GAO found that a number of other agencies, like the Veterans Administration, the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation, and the National Credit Union Administration, while having much work remaining to do, were, in fact, making progress. So, while the government is probably behind the private sector in achieving compliance and has serious problems in both Internal Revenue and DoD, they are in general progressing surprisingly well. As Sally Katzen, Director of the Office of Management and Budget, told c/net: "We have a high degree of confidence that the important services and benefits will continue through and after the new millennium. It is my expectation that when we wake up on January 1 in the year 2000, the millennium bug will have been a nonevent."

The Rest Of The World

The preceding information concerns only the United States. Unfortunately, computer systems in the rest of the world also may fail to successfully make the transition to the 21st century. There is, though, a lack of useful data in existence from which to gauge the extent to which other nations have dealt or are dealing with this problem. . . .


Despite the dire predictions from many corners proclaiming the advent of a new Dark Ages, a survey of the evidence indicates that no such disaster is about to befall the United States. Certainly, the millennium bug is a real problem. However, it has been and continues to be dealt with in this country to the extent that truly harmful disaster will likely be averted. However, much work remains to be done and it seems reasonable to expect some business and banking failures. The scope of these failures in this country will likely be limited to some smaller financial institutions and other smaller businesses. Fortunately, the most susceptible and important sector or the economy, the financial services industry, seems well along in fixing its systems. The importance of this cannot be overstated: Failure of the major corporations in this industry would have very deleterious effects on the nation; that they are well along in their repairs and updates is a good sign indeed. Further, malfunctions in government agencies, other than in the Department of Defense at a time of war, would likely not cause the destruction of private enterprise. Thus—in the absence of either a precipitated panic or sabotage intended to create disruption leading to authoritarian controls—it seems unlikely that the beginning of the 21st century will be accompanied by a Y2K induced disaster and that the worst that could happen would be an economic recession.

—Dennis J. Behreandt May 29, 1998


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