Friday, January 13, 2006

Democracy Can Save the Planet: but only if you vote for the right folks

What follows is a more complete review of John Perkins’ Confessions of an Economic Hitman which I recently read on recommendation from a couple friends, and also a discussion of the linked issues of economic globalization and environmental conservation. As my previous blog entry summarized, Perkins’ book is an account of the life of an operative who worked for a private company from the 1960’s to 1980. He details the cynical escapades of the US corporatocracy which worked in collusion with the CIA and presumably the Pentagon to inflict capitalist terror on the Third World.

Perkins opines that when simple extortion and bribery failed to convince democratically elected officials in Panama, Ecuador and Chile, the corporatocracy called in “jackals” who exterminated these leaders in order to supplant them with more pliable dictators. No doubt these rumors have merit since such speculation has circulated ever since Mossedegh was removed from oil-rich Iran in 1953 in favor of the US-backed Shah. (For that matter, we can go back to Teddy Roosevelt's "Gunboat Diplomacy" in Central America for a glimmer of extortion and threats for economic gain; or look to Alexander the Great, Genghis Khan, Sir Francis Drake, etc, etc, etc.) Some may leap to the cynical conclusion that all leaders, all political operatives, “all US presidents, except maybe Carter”, have conspired to promote their personal financial interests by using jackals and economic hitmen. In fact, I learned from our discussion, that some feel that the very existence of US economic supremacy is proof that “they’re all in on it.” I tend to be skeptical of persons in power, but even I don't believe that.

My take on this mind-set is that when one realizes (finally!) that the current gang in the White House is made up of corrupt scoundrels, the natural inclination is to throw one’s hands up in surrender and assume that no matter who is in the White House, no matter who we elect, such criminal activity will always be tolerated. Nothing could be further from the truth, but for a Bush voter, this is much easier to do than to admit that you simply voted for the wrong guy in 2000 and 2004.

I maintain that we in the US have an enviable governmental system of self-determination and we have the power to figure out real solutions to the world’s problems, if we choose to take that course. In the last two elections, however, we have chosen tax cuts, pre-emptive wars, financial incentives for oil drillers, environmental deregulation and sell-outs for the drug companies. We have put our trust in the “plantation owner”, as Perkins’ refers to George W. Bush. Whether the US electorate was fooled or caught unawares, we have put into power the very cabal that perfected the idea of economic hitmen.

The discussion of the book devolved into a general discussion of the sustainability of the planet with the increasing use of natural resources and voracious appetite the US consumers have for products made with cheap Third World labor. Perkins himself recognizes the straits the world is in and offers a final chapter designed supposedly to point us on the correct course. Unfortunately this “world class” economist is unable to provide anything more than 1) “discuss my book”, 2) “live simply” and 3) “talk to your friends about living simply.” I don’t know which crime is worse: killing Torrijos or calling that an economic plan for the 21st century!!

So let’s review a real economic plan for the 21st century that was put forth several years ago in a four-hundred page book which the author offered as just the “beginning of the conversation.” The author, I’ll call him Prince for now, outlined the extent of the problem and in the final chapters offered the Global Marshall Plan to ensure sustainability of the planet that included economic, political and technologic solutions. Prince’s five strategies included 1) stabilizing the world’s population, 2) developing environmentally appropriate technologies, especially in energy, agriculture and transportation, 3) formulating worldwide “rules of the road” to measure the economic and ecologic impact of our decisions, 4) negotiate worldwide regulations and enforcement mechanisms to ensure success of the overall plan, and 5) establish a worldwide cooperative to educate the world’s citizens about global environment. These strategies are expounded upon at moderate length as to how we can effect a positive change in “the social and political conditions most conducive to the emergence of sustainable societies.” The details of Prince's vision that connects the politics of global economy with planetary sustainability are too wonkish to pursue in this forum. The premise, written 14 years ago, emphasized the urgency of planning for the future before it’s too late.

Shortly after gaining power in 2001, our current Vice-President said, "Conservation may be a sign of personal virtue, but it is not a sufficient basis for a sound, comprehensive energy policy." Then he secretly met with energy company executives to formulate our "national" energy policy. Yeah, right. More recently we are learning that the Interior Department is superseding legislative fiat and giving private contracts for oil-drilling in the Alaskan reserve. Perkins mentions Cheney by name as one of the instigators of the “hitmen” who enslave the brown people throughout the world by extorting and threatening their leaders in order to extract oil, other natural resources and cheap labor from their countries. Not surprisingly, Prince’s plan does not call for extortion or bribery, but rather economic carrots and sticks as well as internationally determined regulatory structure to ensure population control, fair trade, fair wages and environmental sustainability.

The US needs to play a role in the discussion going forward. We are by far the largest per capita consumer of fossil fuels, producer of carbon waste emissions and consumer of manufactured products. The Kyoto Convention, which has been ongoing since the mid-90’s, is a worldwide consortium of nations looking at strategies to limit greenhouse gases going forward. In 2001, Bush’s emissary at the conference said, Science tells us that we cannot say with any certainty what constitutes a dangerous level of warming, and therefore what level must be avoided." Immediately afterward, Bush withdrew the US from the discussion invoking our “national interest”, but the treaty was later signed by 132 other nations to reduce greenhouse gases to pre-1990 levels. Prince would argue, and did, that despite what the economic hitmen of the Bush administration would tell you, protocols such as Kyoto are the beginning of realizing that our enlightened self-interest as a nation is manifest in just such international consortiums and they should not be ignored. The US needs to be at that negotiating table. Prince says, "Our first step should be to set realistic and achievable, binding emissions limits, which will create new markets for new technologies and new ideas that will, in turn, expand the boundaries of the possible and create new hope. Other steps will then follow. And then, ultimately, we will achieve a safe overall concentration level for greenhouse gases in the Earth's atmosphere.” Unfortunately, we have a longer way to go today than we did when Prince uttered those words in 1997.

The global environment is more than animals and rivers and streams; it also consists of 6 billion people and without proper regard for the lifestyle and well-being of the people or their economic development, then the planet is screwed. When Nike puts a factory in Thailand, the locals rush to the gates for jobs which can pay up to ten times what they make at other jobs in the community. The laws of economics predict that these jobs will be desired because the workers will gain immediate benefit from choosing them. As a consequence, the most able workers are employed by the large western multinational corporations, and any profit from their labor is extracted away from the Third World country. We cannot expect impoverished laborers to go back to the rice patties for pennies a day because "in the long run" tying their wagon to the Nike star may be a failed proposition. Any economist would see that working at Nike for $1.50 per day is immediately better than humping in a rice patty for $0.25 per day.

A previous labor secretary, Robert Reich, outlined in his book The Future of Success, a framework whereby international trade would be governed by treaties that ensured that profits from such endeavors would instead be funneled back into the Third World country. The World Bank and the International Monetary Fund, instead of making usurious loans to poor nations, would provide funding incentives for policies that promoted environmentally friendly practices and worker well-being. Adoption and enforcement of international worker safety standards, anti-sweat shop statutes, child labor laws, etc can only be accomplished with the cooperation of the US and other western citizenries. Embarassingly, Paul Wolfowitz is current head of the US-represented World Bank, so don’t expect any enlightened self-interest any time soon. Tom DeLay is under fire for, among other things, taking pay-offs from sweat-shop owners in the Marianas Islands in exchange for favorable legislation.

Prince's and Reich's econnomic plans are based on moral and ethical principles that are as old as humankind itself. These principles are delineated in Native American practice, Socratic philosophy, Eastern religion and Christian faith; they're universal. Unfortunately, such ideas do not gain traction within our electorate because 1) it’s not in our immediate self-interest to care about brown-skinned people when we are getting cheap microwave ovens and TV’s, and 2) the “plantation owners” and slave-traders whip up the noise machine of pre-emptive war, blow jobs, weapons of mass destruction, fear of terrorism, and on and on and on in order to distract us from the necessary reforms which our leaders further claim are expensive and threaten our sovereignty. Reich's and Prince's enlightened ideas aren’t radical bleeding-heart liberal propositions that will drain our treasury and deplete our standard of living. (Wars do that.) These are moral and ethical principles that will ensure the health of our planet and everyone on it. Whether you're a Christian, atheist, Buddhist, or whatever, isn't that what morality is?

I realize that for a blog article this is becoming a lengthy thesis, so I’ll wrap it up. I would encourage anyone to read Prince’s book for an uplifting positive view of what our future can be. Is there a lot of work to do? Yes. But concrete ideas are out there that can be expanded and molded if we work for them. Is is possible? Only if we can reason with ourselves that our government is of, by and for us and not the plantation owners. We have an obligation to elect honest, intelligent visionaries and hold ourselves responsible to the entire planet. If you feel that none are available, then run for office yourself. Sitting in a basement, fearing terrorism, dream-catching and "discussing" Perkins’ book is not enough. Driving a four-cylinder car and eating sprouts is not enough.

I am not necessarily a religious man, but this situation reminds me of the old schoolyard jokes about St. Peter at the Pearly Gates greeting the newly deceased. When our planet is inundated with water from the melted ice caps, Third World nations rise up in defiance of the west, wars and pestilence take over and the bacteria re-gain their rightful dominion of the earth, we will all be greeted by St. Peter. We’ll say, “But Peter, we believed in God and believed that God would save us from the impending doom. Why did He abandon us?”

Peter would reply, “God did not abandon you. He gave you Reason and Science to figure out solutions to your plight; instead you chose irrational belief and to live in fear rather than work for solutions. He gave you Love and Compassion to promote cooperation among all the people of the world; instead you gave power to the slave-traders who destroyed communities of your brothers and sisters throughout the world. He gave you Leaders with Vision to start you on the path of redeeming your planet. Instead you elected warmongers and ecological rapists whose short-sighted selfish financial interests destroyed your planetary home. You abandoned the gifts God gave to you. You abandoned God.” (You can substitute Earth Goddess, Krishna, Gaia or whatever your favorite flavor is for God. Personally, I'd pick simple Common Freakin' Sense!!, but that's me.)

Oh, I almost forgot… Prince’s book, written in 1992, is called Earth in the Balance.

And Prince? That was Senator, and later Vice-President, "Prince Albert" Gore.

We had our chance.

Tuesday, January 10, 2006

Clinton the Economic Hit Man? Not!

John Perkins’ The Confessions of an Economic Hit Man provides a chilling account of supposedly real-life cloak and dagger escapades involving private US companies and sovereign nations around the world. The account specifically outlines the manner in which the “corporatocracy” strong-arms third-world leaders into ordering goods and services from US businesses and in the process these poor nations build up huge debt which the citizenry must re-pay with cheap labor or by sacrificing their country’s natural resources to US companies. If the leaders refuse, then they are murdered, according to Perkins. He cites specific examples in Panama and Chile where democratically elected leaders (Torrijos and Allende, respectively) refused to acquiesce to the demands of the US companies and met their hasty demise under suspicious circumstances.

Perkins insinuates that these men were murdered so that despots friendly to US businesses could be inserted: Noriega in Panama and Pinochet in Chile. Both of these puppets were militarily backed by the US and their iron-fisted rule ensured that populist memes that promoted social programs and national interest were ignored. Similar activities supposedly occurred in Iran in the 1950’s when the democratically elected Mossedegh was dethroned in favor of the US-backed Shah, who proceeded to clamp down on his people’s liberties in order to provide oil for the US.

Perkin’s scenario follows the money to Republican administration officials, namely George Schultz, Henry Kissinger, Casper Weinberger, Richard Cheney, George H. W. Bush, among others specifically named in the book that were closely allied or employed by US companies such as Carlyle, Bechtel and Halliburton from the 1970’s to the present. Perkins may be inaccurate, but that’s what he says. In each instance, Perkins clearly alleges a cause-and-effect relationship between the extortion and/or murder of a third-world leader, and the profitability of one of those, or another, US companies. Without making any specific accusations, I’ll add that those same companies are currently enjoying record profits supplying war materiel and re-building supplies as a direct consequence of dubious policies set forth by the current presidential administration. Coincidence? Perhaps.

When I read books such as John Perkins’ I do see correlations with Perkins’ vignettes and the foreign policy as orchestrated by George W. Bush’s administration. Not one of us can know if Perkins’ account is truthful or merely self-serving hyperbole, but if we assume his memoir can be taken as face value, then we can see a likely correlation with current Republican administration officials who have very close links to both the “corporatocracy” and our foreign policy. One could even take the baby step to see that perhaps our foreign policy has been “fixed around” the interests of the military-industrial complex which is linked to Bush officials.

One friend of mine has made the grand leap to assume that “all Presidents, even Clinton, but probably not Carter” have engaged in similar activity. This is a corollary to the Starr Principle: If somebody has done something wrong, then Bill Clinton must have done it, too. I respectfully disagree, and further find his logic of accusing one Democrat but not the other an example of speculation in its purest form. I maintain that the onus is not on anyone to prove Clinton’s innocence; rather the onus is on his accusers to provide evidence of his complicity in the barbaric overthrow of foreign nations for his personal gain or the profitability of a company to which he is closely allied or employed, as outlined in Perkins’ book. Perkins does give us his eyewitness account that implicates previous and current Republican White House officials in alleged criminal activity.

Clinton has no doubt committed many sins. We all have. Has Clinton (legally) taken money from lobbyists associated with China? Yes. Has Clinton allowed our nuclear secrets to be stolen by the Chinese? Some say so. Has Clinton perjured himself to a federal grand jury? That was the judgment. But the question at hand is: Has Clinton murdered democratically elected leaders of less-developed countries to line his own pockets? A resounding NO! Not even the wildest wingnut has ever made reputable claims that Clinton engaged in tactics as outlined in the Perkins book. Bill may have killed Vince Foster, but he never laid a hand on Hugo Chavez. Ironically, many of Clinton’s detractors have argued that he was too uninvolved in Latin America. The conservative think tank, American Enterprise Institute, scolded Clinton for his lack of promotion of US businesses and inability to expand NAFTA into Central and South America. (NAFTA and trade proposals figure into Perkins’ theme, but the issue is more convoluted, and may be detailed later.)

So, let’s review our discussion. Perkins makes accusations and names specific people that he claims have conspired to overthrow sovereign nations for personal financial gain. These same people are either currently serving in Bush’s administration, have close ties to current government officials or have financial relationships with US companies doing business with our government. I know of no similarly close ties in the Clinton administration. If someone knows of any, I'm open to references.