Thursday, August 20, 2009

The US Corporatocracy, part 1 (Why the world hates us)

I've discovered the primary catalyst of global poverty, terrorism, drug wars, and governmental oppression. And why the rest of the world hates us. Moreover, I've discovered the first few steps to change that. It's not that hard; once we sit down and think about world events logically, the answer is elementary, and can be summed up in one word.


This Summer, at one point I became somewhat baffled at what I could possibly teach in one month that would stick in the kids' minds. One can't possibly hope to make teenagers with short attention spans fluent in Spanish in such a short period of time. No matter how good of an educator I thought myself to be or how much those kids enjoyed my class (and they did), no amount of conjugated verbs or sample sentences scribbled on an overhead transparency would be any different than the stuff the state teaches them throughout their secondary school years.

So I thought to myself, how about I teach them something interesting for a change? How about instead of just the Spanish language, these kids learn the history and culture of Central and South America? More importantly, how do I make that interesting as an educator, and make sure that new knowledge sticks with them?

Thus, I began my classes on one particular day by closing the door, and commanding their attention with one simple sentence--

"I can guarantee you that what I'm going to teach you today will shock and offend you."

The kids would immediately grow quiet and sit up straight. I now had their attention. Before I started, I'd add on this next sentence--

"I can also guarantee that you'll never hear any of this in any of your other high school Spanish classes, because the state won't allow any teacher who wants to keep their job to teach you the things you'll be learning in the next hour."

By now the kids were at the edges of their seats, eyes wide open, minds cleared, ready to absorb like a sponge the shady history of post World War II US foreign policy in Latin America and elsewhere in the world. And in the final I assigned all five of my classes, the only section where nearly each student consistently excelled was the History section.

That was a couple of month ago, back when I thought I knew what few others did. That was before having my mind blown by a book I had bought on a whim. That book was "Confessions of an Economic Hit Man," by John Perkins. I realized after finishing the book that I had barely glossed the surface of the evil we had unleashed on Central and South America--this evil was perpetuated by the unholy trinity of US-funded financial institutions (World Bank, IMF, USAID), private contractors (Enron, Halliburton, Bechtel, Stone and Webster, etc.) and American elected officials. These elected officials spanned across both party lines, and their corruption knew no bounds; From Eisenhower to George W. Bush.

And looking back, I wish I had conjugated less verbs and focused more on giving these kids the truth about 20th century American history. Coincidentally, this was the only century conveniently left out of the curriculum public schools taught me in the early part of this decade, and I'm sure the case was similar in public schools across the state. Perhaps across the nation.

So I'll say to you, the readers, what I said to my disbelieving kids last July: The events I'm about to describe will undoubtedly shock and offend you. Your initial reaction will be highly skeptical. This is good; I want you to be skeptical, and research these events on your own after you finish this essay.

The information used to write this piece is all mostly recent knowledge gained by reading "Confessions." As in other recent pieces, I'll cite and paraphrase from the book frequently, as the author says it much better than I could.

Slavery 2.0
We finally ended state-sponsored slavery in the United States in the 1860s, but we continued to perpetuate it elsewhere to better suit our economic self-interests. We still have slave traders today. They no longer have to go into the jungles of Africa or the Amazon to find natives to put on auction blocks. These modern-day slave traders simply have to employ desperate people to build sweat shops and factories that manufacture the jackets, jeans, shoes, computer parts, auto parts, and thousands of other goods we find necessary to live our lives here. They can even find a local willing to run the facility so the dirty work will be out of their hands.

As in the slave trading days, these men and women are considered upright citizens by both themselves and the rest of us, through the media that they own and the school boards over which they were elected to preside. They come back with photographs of ancient ruins and quaint villages, and attend seminars and free trade summits. They pat each other on the back and exchange pleasantries about the cultures of the far-off lands they exploit. Their companies have lawyers that tell them what they do is good for the country and the economy. They have therapists that assuage their guilty consciences, who convince them that what they're doing is for the best.

Slave traders convinced themselves that they were helping to Christianize their not entirely human slaves, and to indoctrinate them with civilized Western culture. He understood that slaves were essential to modern society, and the foundation of the economy. They tell themselves that a dollar a day is better than no dollars a day. They understand the work that they do provides the foundation for modern society. Moreover, they never stop to consider the consequences their actions have across the globe, and on the world their children will inherit.

As you can see, the similarities between plantation owners of yesteryear and the corporate executives, international bankers, and elected officials of today are both numerous and striking. In this piece, I'll outline the meaning of corporatocracy, its implications on us and the rest of the world, and what we can do to stop it.

The Subtle Climb to Global Empire
Yes, I'm aware "global empire" causes one to stop and say, "wait a minute, now." But consider the meaning of the phrase. While empires used to be built with military might and wars, new technology and well thought-out corporate skullduggery have enabled the most powerful to exploit the world in ways never thought possible, with unprecedented quiet subtlety. John Perkins, as a former economist for the private consulting firm Chas T. Main (MAIN) lays it out quite aptly in "Confessions." Here is how empires are now built-

First, third-world countries must have leaders capable of corruption. If a leader proves incorruptible, he is overthrown by what Perkins calls "jackals," or CIA-orchestrated coups. If the jackals fail, then we finally send in our sons and daughters to fight and die in military campaigns (Panama in 1989, Iraq in 1990 and 2003). Once a corrupt puppet government is installed, private consulting firms like MAIN send in teams of economists and engineers to places like Columbia, Iran, Venezuela, Bolivia, Ecuador, Iraq, Saudi Arabia, and Panama (just to name a few) to lay down the foundations.

As an economist, Perkins' job was to make forecasts of the Gross National Product (GNP) growth if large-scale infrastructure projects were laid out in those countries. Perkins reminds his readers that GNP growth is the measure governments usually take in judging the wealth of a country. We are taught to assume that if a country's GNP is high, then its people are better off.

Perkins points out that this is faulty reasoning. It is wrong to believe the idea that all economic growth benefits all of humankind, and that the greater the growth, the more widespread the benefits. We are taught to believe that those who excel at stoking the fires of economic growth should be exalted and rewarded, while those born at the fringes are available for exploitation. Just because a corporation can turn out large profits doesn't make the populace wealthy, just the wealthy few who benefit from those infrastructure projects and GNP growth. For example, if transmission lines were built to carry electricity throughout a nation, the only beneficiary would be the owner of that electric company. While GNP would grow, millions would lose their homes and livelihoods as forests were leveled, streams were filled with refuse, rivers were dammed, and land was polluted.

In his forecasting, Perkins says he was under tremendous pressure to inflate his forecasts with growth rates at much higher percentages per annum than were actually true. He recalls a colleague named Howard Parker who was fired as chief economist because he refused to swallow the company line and inflate his forecasts with untrue numbers. John Perkins received Howard Parker's job and his subsequent promotions by doing what the company wanted him to do, not tell the truth. It was understood that if he didn't make the predictions MAIN wanted him to make, then he, too, would be replaced.

Perkins' forecasts were key, as these studies were taken to local elected officials and heads of state in order to justify huge loans from international bank cartels like the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the US Bank of International Development (USAID). Once these loans of billions and billions of dollars were accepted, engineers went to work on designing everything from electricity grids to telephone lines. However, the people wouldn't benefit from these contracts, as American engineers and contractors would get all the jobs associated with these projects, and that these projects were designed only to help the wealthiest families. Essentially, the money used for these projects never really leaves the United States, it just gets transferred from an international banking office in Washington to an American contracting company in San Francisco. It was required that these loans be paid back in full, principal plus interest.

Mind you, international financiers knew these debts could never be repaid. Eventually, countries would eventually have to default on these loans. Once this happens, they are essentially indebted forever to US-owned institutions. And like every Mafioso, the United States comes to extract its pound of flesh once immeasurable debt was shackled to the nation. This can mean everything from oil drilling contracts to the building of military bases, UN votes, or control of the Panama Canal, for example. And when a country must always answer to another country either politically or financially (in most cases, both) then that is the very definition of empire.

However, this spread of empire is conveniently much more subtle, and much less violent. It makes it to the corporate press as acts of philanthropy; the World Bank lends a country money for infrastructure. These stories never take into account the damage done to the environments, cultures, and the livelihoods of indigenous people.

Meanwhile, we are taught in public schools and through the corporately-owned media (Rupert Murdoch and FOX news, General Electric's ownership of NBC, AOL-Time Warner's ownership of CNN, Disney's ownership of ABC, Viacom owning CBS) that economic growth equals individual prosperity, and to venerate wolfish capitalism, insatiable greed, and "The American Dream." The American Dream has come true, and it is the secret ingredient to global imperialism.

Our global culture, as described by Perkins (who initially helped perpetuate it) is a monstrous machine that requires exponentially-increasing amounts of fuel and maintenance; so much so that in the end, it will have consumed everything in sight and will have nothing else to do but devour itself in its own greed.

Perkins observes that when men and women are rewarded for greed as he was, then greed becomes a motivating factor. When we equate the wanton, gluttonous consumption of the Earth's resources with a status approaching sainthood, when we teach our children to emulate those who lead trite and unbalanced lives, and when we define huge sections of the world population as subservient to an elite minority, we ask for trouble. And trouble we get; just look at what happened on 9/11.

The US's First Empire-Builder
As Eisenhower sought to further quench our neverending thirst for oil in 1953, he looked to Iran. Their people had just elected Mohammed Mossadegh as Prime Minister. While we wanted our hands on Iran's oil and influence, we knew military solutions were no longer an option. Korea (along with Vietnam and Iraq) was an experiment to see if non-nuclear warfare could still advance the interests of global empire, and had failed miserably. We also knew that our Communist enemies in Russia had nuclear capability, and that they sponsored other enemy regimes. War was just too costly and risky. We needed another way.

Thus, Eisenhower deployed CIA operative Kermit Roosevelt (Teddy's grandson) to Iran, and he forever paved the way for what John Perkins refers to as Economic Hit Men, or EHMs. Roosevelt helped incite false protests and public revolts to make it look like Mossadegh was inept and corrupt, and not in control of his people. (For contemporary examples, look to Otto J. Reich's work as US ambassador in Venezuela against Hugo Chavez. One could also look to Dick Armey's work in organizing the teabagger effort that dominates the mainstream media and blogosphere.)

Before long, the premier was overthrown in a coup with the help of the CIA and his own son, who became the Shah of Iran. Despite the Shah's brutal authoritarian tactics and tyranny (secret police, torture chambers, death squads) he was cooperative with the US in giving us the oil its people demanded to drive their cars and build their suburbs. Iran was now a puppet government of the US, and that lasted until the Mullah revolution in 1979.

However, this was a risky step for the US government. Had Roosevelt been caught, the US's imperialistic ambitions would be exposed to the international community. The accountability factor had to be shifted to the private sector. Thus, the US Departments of Commerce and Treasury can cooperate with private firms like MAIN in deploying economic hit men to countries like Iran in order to further its cause of global empire. US interests would be served first and foremost, but it would now be done by private contractors paid salaries by the private sector. Government projects no longer needed congressional approval.

The School of the Americas
John Perkins mentioned leaders needed to be corruptible in order for imperial interests to be advanced. Thus, if leaders were incapable of being corrupted, they were overthrown in a coup like the one in Iran, and a puppet regime was instated. We repeated the Iran example by ousting many heads of state in third world countries across Latin America and the Middle East. This is where the School of the Americas comes in, otherwise known now under the euphemistic title, "Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation," or WHISC. The school's main campus is at Fort Benning right here at home, in Georgia.

The School of the Americas also was located in Panama's Canal Zone where right wing death squads and paramilitaries were directly trained and supplied. Training was readily given by US Army personnel. Some of the school's more notorious graduates include brutal right wing dictators Augosto Pinochet (Chile), Roberto D'Aubisson (El Salvador) and Guillermo Rodriguez (Ecuador), just to name a few. Here is what the SoA's training accomplished in just these countries alone-

In Chile, Augosto Pinochet, with help from the CIA, ousted democratically-elected populist president Salvador Allende. Allende was the first Marxist to be elected president, and posed threats to US global empire by nationalizing Copper reserves. He was also known for nationalizing the nation's health care system and dividing up large land ownerships by private companies to peasant farmers. The CIA and Pinochet removed Allende from office in 1973, and the new regime lasted all the way to 1990. Pinochet ruled with an iron fist, killing over 3,200 political dissidents, jailing 80,000 without trial, and subjected 30,000 of those prisoners to torture. He is also known to have exiled close to 200,000 political refugees to Argentina and Peru.

In El Salvador, right wing dictator Roberto D'Aubisson was known as "Blowtorch Bob," as per his favorite torture device. He commanded death squads between 1978 and 1992, before and during the civil war in that country. He regularly condemned his political opponents on the right wing state-owned television channels, who were summarily executed after the broadcasts. The Washington Post quoted him in saying that he wanted to kill 200,000 to 300,000 people in order to restore peace to El Salvador. In 1984, a closed-door dinner held by 120 conservative lobbyists presented a plaque to D'Aubisson for "continuing efforts for freedom in the face of Communist aggression, which is an inspiration to freedom-loving people everywhere." The dinner's attendees included representatives from Free Congress Foundation, the Conservative Caucus, the Conservative Alliance, Viguerie Co., Gun Owners of America, Western Goals Endowment Fund, Washington Legal Foundation, United States Defense Committee, American Foreign Policy Council, Public Service Research Council, The Moral Majority, The Washington Times, National Right-to-Work Committee, National Pro-Life Political Action Committee, Intercessors for America, the Young America's Foundation, and Young Americans for Freedom.

Ecuador's SoA-trained dictator Guillermo Rodriguez served as an excellent puppet for US oil interests, as he opened up sections of the country's treasured Amazon rainforests for oil drilling. Perkins, as a former Peace Corps volunteer in Ecuador for 3 years, claims these forests were home to hundreds of species of rare and endangered birds, plants, and insects, many of which could possibly contain cures for disease. Trees there helped produce the country's fresh water reserves.

The indigenous Quechua, Achuar, Zaparo and Shuar tribes had lived in the Ecuadorian rainforests for years, using the land and its resources to sustain their culture. Perkins recalls meeting with members of these indigenous tribes in the military base/oil drilling town of Shell (named after the oil company), who had angrily claimed they were going to war with the oil companies. They had vowed to fight until the last man. When asked why, the tribes told Perkins that soldiers from Shell's base had shot and killed rare birds for sport and food, that they had raided family gardens, manioc fields and banana groves, destroying sparse topsoil. They told Perkins soldiers had used explosives in the rivers for fishing, ate family pets, built improper latrines, polluted waters with waste and refuse, sexually molested women, and left garbage everywhere, which attracted mice and vermin.

The School of the Americas has trained dictators in 17 Latin American countries, from Haiti all the way to Argentina. Congressman Joseph Kennedy himself said the US-funded school trained more right wing dictators than any other country in the history of the world.

The Lasting Effects of Global Imperialism
Perkins aptly states that a country which perpetuates such a ruthless and oppressive system, that props up and supports brutal authoritarian dictators, that subjects others in foreign countries to corporate slavery, goes against everything the Founding Fathers had stood for. He compares our contemporary American empire to the British Empire of the colonial days. Back in the 18th century, the British government had convinced the colonists in New England that its form of government and commerce was the most righteous and fair in all the world, and that colonists should be so lucky to be a subject of the king. While the colonists were exploited daily, they were convinced that they still should support the king. When the revolution started, our Founding Fathers had a dream of a land where everyone lived freely to escape a vastly corrupt global empire.

Here are some statistics that readily show the harmful effects of modern-day Colonialism-

24,000 people die every day from hunger. The pharmaceutical industry denies live-saving cures to African countries, where people die every day from preventable diseases (the same industry which funds lobbyists to fill the media with lies and deception about universal healthcare). According to Perkins, the income ratio of one-fifth of the world's population in the richest countries to one-fifth in the poorest went from 30 to 1 in 1960 to 74 to 1 in 1995. I imagine the figure is even more starkly contrasted today. For less than half of the $87 billion we used to initially go to war in Iraq (our spending has since greatly surpassed that mark) the UN estimates we could use to feed, water, clothe, educate, and provide basic health services to every person on the planet.

In Ecuador, for example, during the period known as the "Oil Boom" (since 1970), poverty there grew from 50 percent to 70 percent. Unemployment skyrocketed from 15 percent to 70 percent, and public debt increased from $240 million to $16 billion. The share of natural resources designated to help the poor went from 20 percent to 6 percent. While oil executives enjoyed record quarterly profits from exploiting Ecuador, her people languished in poverty. In fact, the only way Ecuador can pay off her national debt is by opening up her Amazonian Rainforest reserves to American oil companies. Seismologists have predicted that Ecuador sits atop oil fields rival to those in Saudi Arabia. According to Perkins, for every $100 of crude oil extracted from Ecuador, $75 of that goes to the oil company. Of the remaining $25, 3 quarters of that must go toward the national debt, while most of the remainder goes toward paying for military and other government expenses. This leaves about $2.50 for helping the poor get education, food, and health care.

Ecuador is just one example. Perkins notes nearly every country brought under the thumb of our global empire ha suffered the same fate. Third world debt has since grown to $2.6 trillion, and the cost of paying off that debt has grown to more than $375 billion per year as of 2004. This number is more than all third world countries spend on health and education, and twenty times the amount developing countries receive each year in foreign aid. More than half of the world's people live on less than two dollars a day, roughly the same amount they lived on in the early 1970s.

As such, the top 1% of third world households account for 70 to 90 percent of all private financial wealth and real estate ownership in their respective countries. Essentially, the infrastructure projects based on the economic forecasts of John Perkins are meant to help only the fabulously wealthy families of the third world countries we exploit daily.

Thus, millions of desperate, exploited people around the world are potential "terrorists." Not because they are Communists or radical Islamic extremists, but simply because they are desperate. When rivers are dammed, land polluted, and forests leveled, livelihoods of millions are destroyed. This can lead those farmers and fishermen to selling drugs, and using that money to purchase weapons they use to take oil workers hostage or to terrorize American corporations working in third world countries. If we simply lived by a different mindset, if we stopped venerating wolfish capitalism and stopped rewarding the greedy for their greed, we could alleviate most, if not all of these problems.

Stay tuned for part 2 of this series, where I'll describe in detail the actions and consequences of global imperialism in different countries around the world.

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