Thursday, November 12, 2009

Mexico: Land of Dire Straits and Reaganomics

For more than the last four decades Mexicans have been risking their lives to migrate in larger numbers every year into the United States, escaping life below the poverty level and seeking better pay. Why has Mexico failed to develop its own people?

On September 23, 2009, according to the Los Angeles Times, a convoy of three vans packed with at least 76 Mexicans sped through the San Ysidro, California, border crossing, prompting police to open fire at the overloaded vehicles, making them crash. Police shut down the nation’s largest border check point, calling it a crime scene. All 76 immigrants were detained or arrested. Most of them will probably find a better method to enter the U.S. next time.

Every year, some half million Mexicans leave their families, communities, and towns to risk their lives trying to enter the U.S. Mostly they seek, at best, the U.S. minimum wage, which can mean as much as 40% more than what they might make in Mexico if they are lucky to find a job in their own country. Per year, they send more than a billion dollars back to their families in Mexico, who depend on the remittances to survive.

Is the U.S. to Blame for This Failure in Mexico?
Is the U.S. at least partly to blame for Mexico’s political and economic disaster? Or is America’s recent economic and military catastrophes the fault of some other country, such as Saudi Arabia or even Mexico? Who is the victim? Is Mexico some passive roadkill on the global highway? Not completely. Each country has its element of self-determination, otherwise what’s the point in calling it a sovereign country? But U.S. policies have pushed Mexico to the brink—and Mexico has returned the favor. The two countries dance to the same macabre song taking them both down.

How Could the U.S. Possibly Contribute to Mexico’s Failure?
The powerful forces of financial institutions, mostly influenced by the U.S.—like the World Bank, the Inter-American Bank, and the International Monetary Fund (IMF)—have imposed neoliberal—Reaganomic—policies on third-world countries like Mexico. This argument stands on some solid ground, especially in light of cases like Chile, where the CIA supported a coup against the popular Allende regime in 1973 in order to prop up a government sympathetic to U.S. corporate interests.

The U.S. has applied such neoliberal colonizing tactics in many countries, though, without much success. Most recently, this process failed miserably in Iraq after an unprecedented preemptive bombing and invasion—motivated by the prospect of gaining access to the oil reserves (and justified falsely by claims of WMDs, terrorism, dictatorship, and other lame excuses). In carrying out these bellicose acts, the Bush-Cheney administration took neoliberal policies to a new extreme, what Naomi Klein calls the Shock Doctrine.

The term “neoliberalsm” can be confusing and misleading. Political strategists have presented economic liberalism, or neoliberalism, to the middle class in branding terms like “Reaganomics” or “Coca-Cola,” as if it were some friendly, good-tasting sugar-water as compared to “rightwing.” However, economic liberalism—neoliberalism—is rightwing and not friendly to the working class. Over the last forty years, it has shifted the distribution of wealth from the middle class to the elite wealthy class.

In some ways, the largely U.S.-promoted NAFTA program—a neoliberal policy—ultimately affected Mexico negatively as early as its first year, when wages dropped 40 to 50% while the cost of living rose by some 80%.

Likewise, NAFTA also affected the U.S. negatively by moving U.S. manufacturing jobs south of the border. At least in the short term, the cheaper blue collar labor in Mexico did help to maintain U.S. industry status quo and profits, especially the automobile sector. In the long run, though, cheap labor in Mexico was not enough to prop up a lagging, stogy industry that failed to innovate.

On the other hand, Japanese automakers now dominate the U.S. market because they constantly change. Japanese improvements and innovations (kaizen) include government supported developments of their own work force and adapting to market needs such as fuel-efficient vehicles.

The key determining factor is how U.S. policy makers –mostly neocons—drank pitchers full of Reaganomics (neoliberalism) like Kool-Aid. Japan did not implement neoliberal policies, which include relying on the notion of wealth trickling down from the rich and allegedly wise elite. Many of Japan’s industries are supported and guided by its government’s MITI (Minister of International Trade and Industry), which ensures that certain industries (keiretsu) dominate. Likewise, in Germany and France, government plays a key role in maintaining the social infrastructure (transportation, education, healthcare), and in maintaining a stable economy. On the other hand, in America, many political leaders present this type of policy as an evil socialism to be avoided like Satan.

Mexico Especially Vulnerable to Reaganomics
Reaganomics is merely a clever name for an economic policy that is much larger than the B-grade movie actor. Witty political strategists rebranded neoliberalism with the name Reaganomics because, during most of the 1980s, Reagan gained immense popularity among gullible groups of the American middle class. Using his name seemed like a great marketing ploy to promote policies that had little to do with benefiting the working classes. Little did many of Reagan’s fans know at the time that Ronald Reagan used his actor’s shoeshine-and-smile charm to sell an ideology that later would prove disastrous to the American people and cause the worst economic crisis in 2008 since the Great Depression, far surpassing the recession of 1979.

Although the mainstream media rarely uses the word “neoliberalism” in the U.S., anyone can see the effects of its policies today, which became widespread over the last thirty years. It is the direct cause of the massive failures in the U.S. financial system as well as extremely high rates of unemployment, bankruptcy, and foreclosures. Because of neoliberalism, we have seen drastic erosion of the middle class’s standard of living since the post-war boom, while the upper five percentile of the population, the elite plutocracy—CEOs, Senators, Congressmen—has greatly increased its wealth. In short, the rich became richer, the poor, poorer.

Conservative politicians—predominantly Republicans but also some Democrats—might say they hate “liberals”—the political liberals—while they love economic liberals or neoliberals. By using the word liberal in economics—the Milton Friedman type—political strategists manage to dupe many people with the confusing label.

The main tenets of neoliberalism are:

  • Reducing or eliminating social services like education, healthcare, and other programs to avoid government involvement in maintaining a social infrastructure or the development of the middle class—and doing so while financially favoring large business entities. This destroys any sense of citizenry and civil rights as pressure is placed on the individual to “pull yourself up by your own bootstraps.” The U.S. culture now has little sense of civility as many individuals believe that our society has to be a dog-eat-dog environment where they can become millionaires by working hard at Starbucks or in a cubicle and by aggressively and rudely competing in the workplace.

  • In the 1980s Reagan became the poster boy of neoliberalism by cutting taxes and social benefits while loosening government regulations. At the same time, he increased defense spending by more than 40% during a rare period when the U.S. was not waging a war, although he could have invested that same 40% in education or healthcare and still stimulate the economy out of the recession. Reaganomics—neoliberalism—is socialism for the wealthy. Reagan’s policies to cut social services while financing the military-industrial complex only provided a huge government subsidy to defense contractors, infamous for their waste of tax money—the F-22 fighter jet being a more recent and blatant example. In doing so, Reagan gained credit for the fall of the Soviet Union, despite the fact that the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan pushed the communists over the edge. The mastermind behind U.S. support of the Afghan mujahideen’s resistance was Jimmy Carter’s National Security Advisor, Zbigniew Brzezinski, as humorously portrayed in the movie Charlie Wilson’s War.

  • Avoid government involvement in the social infrastructure. This is most blatant in how the Bush-Cheney administration granted no-bid contracts to private contractors, including Halliburton and, notably, Blackwater, whose mercenaries were sent to Iraq rather than doubling the number of U.S. military. This served to soften public opinion against the war by using uncounted, stealth soldiers. Today, we see how both Republican and Democratic Senators and Congressmen (e.g., Lieberman and Bayh), motivated by lobbyists and industry money, despise healthcare reform, especially the public option—a threat to the oligopolistic industry of private health insurance.

  • Liberating private enterprise from regulations. The government could impose regulations in order to maintain the highest social benefits but instead, neoliberalism encourages hoarding profit among the lords of capitalism—the CEOs who garner millions in compensation—as was common during America’s Gilded Age at the end of the 1800s. The most recent example of this economic policy is allowing banks free rein to sell confusing balloon mortgages, which increased their profits in the short term while increasing costs over time to homeowners forced into foreclosure. This is the type of laissez-faire economics that was pervasive during the monarchies in Europe, benefiting mostly the royalty, feudal lords, and aristocracy. It was the main reason for the American Revolution, when “taxation without representation” was an operative slogan aimed against the ruling elites who collected the wealth while the workers toiled without any means to determine social policy through election. Today’s oligopolistic corporations in certain industries—such as petroleum, healthcare, banking, and defense—are merely the new fiefdoms of the feudal lords of our global economy.

Mexico has been particularly vulnerable to economic liberalism because monarchy ruled the country for centuries once the Spanish colonized the territory. The monarchy maintained a type of feudal economy in which many peasants worked the land and only the elite Spanish aristocracy owned or managed the land for the royalty. There was little or no social infrastructure for the peasants, the mixed bloods, or the native Indians.

In the last decades, Mexico’s government has implemented several neoliberal policies by privatizing many industries such as telecommunications, which has only allowed large corporations to grow into monopolies and their owners to become multibillionaires—a prime example being Carlos Slim Helu, owner of Mexico’s telecommunications, the world’s third richest man— while the middle class is left with few options other than to immigrate to the U.S. in search of sustainable wages. We can draw many parallels between old Mexico’s feudal economy and its more modern, large haciendas, where wealthy land owners profit from field workers and where large, unregulated corporations benefit at the expense of the greater social good.

Today’s neoliberalism has all the same economic policies as in old Mexico, where there was practically no social infrastructure to develop the poor, to educate them, to provide them with healthcare or programs to give them skills to expand the national economy and create a middle class or, at least, to help them plan their families—the number of children they can afford, despite the Catholic Church’s dogma prohibiting contraception.

Today, although Mexico benefits from some version of democracy with elected presidents, the government has become weak almost to the point of a failed state, especially since the drug lords operate much like the caudillos, regional leaders, whose centuries-long rule resembled the earlier Spanish feudal leaders.

Mexico’s first federal constitution was drafted in 1824, and the first president was elected. Nevertheless, just after Mexico first attempted to gain its independence from foreign monarchs, presidents appointed themselves into office, from Iturbide (1822, Constitutional Emperor) to Juarez (1867), who overthrew the empire that Emperor Napoleon III had established. “It was there that the future of the country would be determined, through military conspiracy, bribery of deputies, the rigging of elections, and the use of public money and institutions to back electoral campaigns” (Mexico by E. Krauze, p. 130). These traditions of corruption continue to the present, and the large haciendas of the old Mexico still exist like remnants of its feudal past.

Neoliberal policies carry on many of the same practices of the monarchy and the hacienda—based economies. Mexico’s President Calderon recently moved to privatize the central electrical utility in Mexico City, breaking up the labor union, a tactic to reduce labor costs and to increase profits for private investors.

"There's no doubt that Light and Power is an inefficient company," said John Ackerman, professor at the Institute for Legal Research at the National Autonomous University of Mexico. "But the fact that he has decided to go against the union that historically most clearly represents the achievements of union rights and the left in Mexico is very much a political decision."

In explaining the company's losses, Ackerman pointed out that Mexico City and its surrounding areas are the most industrial in the country but harbor a huge informal economy, in which pirating electricity is common.

“The revolutionary intent of the Mexican people, now as then, has not changed. It is a desire for the distribution of the land and resources of Mexico among the Mexican people.” This is one of the observations John Steinbeck made in the 1950s when he researched the story of Zapata for his first and only movie script—a 20-year project. Despite a dramatic history of attempts to revolt against oppressive traditions in Mexico, little progress has been made.

So long as Mexico remains stuck in its feudal, plutocratic traditions, it will never develop its people and pull itself out of its own trap of greedy caudillos, be they church leaders, politicians, drug lords or entrepreneurs and military generals.
Something similar can be said of the U.S., which too often slips into its own self-destructive periods from the Gilded Age to today’s Bailout Age.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Choice Resort Opens the Sanford Juarez Vacation Exclusive

Press Release—for Immediate Distribution

Choice Resort Opens the Sanford Juarez Vacation Exclusive

JUAREZ, Mexico, Choice Resorts Mexico continues to bring exceptional and charming lodging options to U.S. travelers with the opening of the former South Carolina Governor Mark Sanford’s new resort in Juarez, Mexico—the Sanford Suites Pavilion Resort.

Former Gov. Sanford, who separated from his wife in the wake of his affair with an Argentine woman, has opened a new luxury resort hotel here in Juarez, a franchise with Choice Resorts Mexico. Sanford built a political platform in the U.S. based on staunch religious, family values while fiercely attacking his Democrat opponents as immoral.

 “The Sanford Suites,” explains the former governor, “offers 35 Spanish-style guest rooms by designer Alberto Gonzalez, the former Attorney General who resigned his post to pursue a new career. Guests can take advantage of the resort’s tranquil lounge bar, decorated with religious artifacts dating back centuries, while attractive waitresses and waiters cater to your every need in a Christian atmosphere.”

The resort represents the perfect place for both business and leisure travelers visiting the border town. “It’s ideally located in the center of town,” Sanford says, “close to where the action is and near the Cathedral, dedicated to the Virgin of Guadalupe, patron of the cities.” When asked why the former Governor moved from Columbia, South Carolina, to Juarez, Sanford explains, “Mexico is one of the freest countries. No matter what people say about the drug lords, they have eradicated the government here. And as Ronald Reagan often said in his speeches, and I quote, ‘government is not the solution, government is the problem.’ And,” continues Sanford, “whatever you may have heard, Juarez, Mexico, is full of good people, interesting attractions, fine restaurants, a fascinating history, and very impressive shopping values. Cocaine is less expensive here and so too are the exotic, Latin women who are not only less costly to date, what with the reduced prices in the restaurants, but they also add a spicy twist to an otherwise boring marriage. The women here understand that man holds dominion over them, as laid out in Genesis 1:28. None of that women’s liberation nonsense here. The Church has engrained this as truth in Mexico’s cultural DNA. No need to debate it.”

Sanford notes that, like extended stays, a permanent move to Mexico is financially advantageous for a business owner because the higher the income bracket, the lower the taxes.  Plus there are few labor laws and minimum wages, which can sometimes amount to a couple bucks a day to keep the servants happy. “That means higher profits,” says Sanford, who was known, during his political career back in the U.S., for letting loose a group of live pigs in the state house chambers as a visual protest against the Democrats’ ‘pork projects.’ Here, favors can be bought,” he quipped, “without the hassles or having to qualify them as campaign contributions. In fact, there’s hardly any regulation here to speak of. It’s truly paradise for plutarchy, where the wealthy elite rules and can even buy the best men from the military. You think the United States is the purest form of capitalism, look again.”

Sanford adds, “Although there has recently been a spike in competitive struggles between the various entrepreneurs in the drug industry here, the economy is robust. In fact, the drug industry is one of Mexico’s most competitive, innovative, and lucrative, giving a vibrant boost to exports and fueling the overall well-being of a stable GNP. Even the little man on the street has a chance to make a buck by trafficking.”

“I want to clarify also,” says Sanford, “that, despite rumors, this resort has no affiliations with the C Street group or the Family. But like the Family, at the resort we focus on Christian values. Mexico is a God-chosen country where its people, though mostly down and out, take pride in their nation, where the wealthy are the privileged few, chosen by God. Mexico is a Christian nation, ruled mainly by Christian-based laws and centuries of tradition, where the peasant understands the dominion of God’s selected few. The wealthy are tasked with the duty to shepherd the flock. This understanding is in everyone’s blood, as taught by the authority of the Catholic Church that stretches back to the Spanish monarchy whose power originated by divine intersession. Fortunately for Mexico, its founding fathers were disciples of the Baroque era and not the Enlightenment, unlike those agnostic, deist fools who founded the United States.” 

To celebrate its opening, the resort is offering an enticing “All in One” package for services. Guests who book this limited package will receive a welcome glass of champagne, complimentary access to the resort’s breakfast buffet, and an invite to a special evening buffet that includes two lines of blow, three hand-rolled marijuana cigarettes, and one free hour of Wi-Fi access.

“I want to stress that the Sanford Suites welcome not just Republicans, but Democrats as well,” says Sanford. “In fact, last month, Congressman Mike McIntyre, a North Carolina Democrat, stayed here. Mike is a good ‘ol boy, believes that the Ten Commandments are ‘the fundamental legal code for the laws of the United States’ and thus ought to be on display at schools and courthouses.”

The Sanford Suites is fast becoming a meeting place for influential U.S. elected officials, the perfect spot where high-powered CEO’s and international business professionals can find a sympathetic ear and broker the kinds of deals that require complete privacy and discretion. Recently, prominent men of influence have taken extended stays at the Sanford Suites, such as John Ensign, Republican Senator from Nevada, who needed a time-out after the media portrayed him as having an extramarital affair.

Other very important people to frequent the resort are Republican Congressmen and Senators Larry Craig, Mike Foley, David Vitter, John Boehner, and Richard Curtis. And, of course, Oliver North, who is well known for brokering deals south of the border. Current prison inmates, Jack Abramoff and former Congressman Duke Cunningham are both planning a visit as soon as their time is freed up. Scooter Libby has leased a permanent suite here where he is free to make a new start. In the eventuality that an indictment might actually be issued against him for war crimes, former Vice Pres. Dick Chaney has bought one of the suites. 

About the Sanford Suites
For more information on the Sanford Suites or to book your stay today, visit

Choice Resorts, Choice Resorts Mexico, and Sanford Suites International are proprietary trademarks and service marks of Mark Biskeborn’s fictional imagination. Many of the prominent men named here have been involved in public scandals regarding sexual crimes or bribery and other forms of corruption—and many of them are convicted felons. Some of them have been pardoned.

2009 Choice Resorts Mexico International, Inc. All rights reserved for the Foundation of a More Equitable Democracy.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Mexico: the Model Country for Today’s Republicans

If you like the U.S. right wing and want to see its ruling philosophy in action in its purest form, look no further than the cruel, failing state of Mexico.

The Republican-style, conservative government in Mexico has always favored the wealthy ruling elite, with no real policies to improve its almost nonexistent middle class. The salient characteristic of the Mexican economy is inequality. “Mexico contains one of the greatest, most obscene gulfs between its wealthiest and most destitute citizens of all the nations on the planet,” (Mexico Unconquered, John Gibler).

This gap between the haves and the have-nots has a past reaching back through centuries of history. It’s a tradition where a ruling Spanish elite took power and forever retained its conservative, right-wing reign over the country, much to its detriment. The Mexican ruling class with its authoritarian theocracy, like the Republican Party in the U.S. today, has always been populated with the privileged making policy decisions, those who, for their own profit, widened the economic gap intentionally and continue to push its divide.

“The privatization process created a new class of super-rich in Mexico. In 1991, the country had two billionaires on the Forbes list. By 1994, at the end of Mr. Salinas’s six-year term, there were 24,” (“The Secrets of the World’s Richest Man,” D. Luhow, The Wall Street Journal, August 4, 2007). In the U.S. the Republicans would prefer to privatize practically every aspect of the government, including even the military, as is shown in their penchant for billion dollar contracts with Blackwater, and their disgust for public healthcare.

In Mexico there have always been those who rebelled against the conservative choke hold that represses dissent from groups like the recent Zapatista Army of National Liberation. The on-going desperation of the vast majority of the Mexican people who live in poverty has made the drug trafficking business extremely popular. In many ways it serves as a new platform supporting an ongoing popular revolution for equality. A risky business on the streets, pushing dope helps elevate the poor to some semblance of a middle class where social mobility is otherwise impossible, except for those already in a position of wealth. In today’s Mexico, the rich get richer and the poor learn to make money by selling drugs—though, even in the illegal drug business, the bosses at the top of the Mexican Mafia, the drug lords, or what the media likes to call drug cartels, are making billion-dollar profits.

Sow’s Ear Policy
Mexican drug trafficking has grown to an enormous industry and a force that outstrips the country’s military, with revenues exceeding $40 billion per year and rising. It’s the country’s top export. Mexico’s drug business is one of the most important economic generators. Were the drug trafficking shut down today, it would contract the Mexican economy by at least 63% by some estimates. The same study found that the U.S. economy would shrink by 19% to 22% without the illegal drug business (Down by the River, Bowden).

“A 2007 U.S. government study found that Mexican drug cartels earn about $23 billion in revenue, making illegal drugs Mexico’s number-one export, bringing in more money than either oil or the remittances sent home by Mexicans living in the United States,” (Mexico Unconquered, John Gibler, pg. 54).

Considering its history and economic impact, the so-called “war on drugs” is not a war at all—it is the use of law enforcement agencies, and the military, to regulate an overwhelming underground market which operates as one of the purest forms of free market enterprise. The demand for the products is unstoppable. The drug industry in Mexico enables millions of people to survive and to crawl out of the abject poverty that the conservative, right-wing Mexican government created for them by economic policies enriching only more millionaires in the elite, ruling class than ever before. The illegal drug lords prosper so well as to afford employing not only the Mexican police as well as the army but also the Special Forces units, luring them with higher salaries than their meager government paychecks.

The greed that motivates the drug merchants resembles the “sow’s ear,” a phrase that Adam Smith coined to characterize the worst aspects of capitalism for which he, and later John Keynes, called for government intervention “to transform the sow’s ear into a silk purse.” In the case of illegal drug trade, there is no such “silk purse,” a metaphor for how government regulation tames humanity’s bestial greed to yield the highest benefits for all of society. The obvious result of this “sow’s ear” policy, favoring the wealthy, is the currently failing state of Mexico.

We read news reports daily about criminal, violent avarice in most every aspect of Mexican society, including more casualties in the drug wars than the fallen U.S. soldiers in Iraq. And this extreme self-interest has also become a prominent feature in U.S. culture, where high-ranking political leaders such as G.W. Bush and Dick Cheney lied to the American public in order to wage a preemptive war where they granted no-bid contracts to select corporations (e.g., Blackwater, Halliburton, and others) that returned the favor with lavish campaign contributions.
Bestial Greed Not Contained at the Mexican Border

One of their favored CEOs was Bush’s former classmate at Yale, Steve Schwarzman of the Blackstone Group, who paid Bush $1.2 million in campaign contributions as tribute for Bush having brokered a $4 billion investment in Schwarzman’s Group.

For their own benefit, Bush and his GOP lied to allow banks complete freedom to sell high-interest-rate mortgages and push consumer credit to middle-class Americans who obviously could not afford them. Ameriquest, one of the nation’s largest mortgage banks, paid Bush and his GOP $7.8 million as tribute for having promoted the Ownership Society initiative, marketing it as a means for poor people to own their own home. Despite its lofty title, the policy only enabled Ameriquest and the rest of the mortgage industry to act like sharks in a collective feeding frenzy, selling more loans that increased the prices of homes, inflating the housing bubble until it burst into a national financial failure with unemployment and foreclosure rates higher than those during the Great Depression of the 1930s.

Meanwhile in television news interviews, Dick Cheney often said, “Our economy is robust,” the strongest in the world because of its free enterprise system. In the U.S. the Republican Party has made it clear in its unified, well coordinated messages that it calls for small or no government intervention, except in military matters that benefit large defense contractors.

In step with the GOP policy, Bush cut tax revenues by $1.3 trillion in a war-time economy, creating a rapidly deepening deficit while 33% of those tax cuts favored the top 1% of the wealthiest people. The result of these policies merely allowed that top 1% to become richer without benefiting the larger part of society. This “sow’s ear” policy is based on the theory that if government allows more wealth to rich capitalists, they will use the money wisely to benefit the general well-being of the country. As Dick Cheney explained during a television interview:
“We are generally not enthusiastic about big tax increases. Big tax increases impose burdens on the economy, and the money being taken out of the hands of private citizens and spent by government, and government oftentimes doesn't spend it nearly as efficiently or as effectively from the standpoint of long-term economic growth and the creation of jobs and so forth as will the private sector.”

This theory has been proven false over and over again in history and in third world countries like Mexico.

Presidents with Sow’s Ears
“Twenty days after Salinas left office on November 30, 1994, the Mexican economy crashed; on December 22, the peso fell by 20%, $5 billion left the country in forty-eight hours. By the time the benefits of Salinas’s economic design had time to trickle down, two million farmers had left their land, poverty had risen from 45 to 50% of the entire population, and some 3.3 million children under the age of 14 had been forced to work,” (Mexico Unconquered, John Gilbert).

Despite the destitution, malnutrition, and total lack of affordable healthcare, the theocratic culture that reigns over the spiritual state of virtually all Mexicans still promotes large families and condemns the use of contraception. Little wonder now that many Mexicans living in poverty rebel even against the Catholic Church to worship their own Santa Meurte, patron saint of those who struggle outside the law to survive.

Similar to Salinas’s legacy, a striking parallel of disaster occurred when G. W. Bush left office in the U.S., having squandered trillions of dollars on an unjustified war. Where once there was the largest economic surplus in U.S. history, now the deepest deficit falls lower than ever before. The financial industry’s collapse caused millions of middle-class workers to lose their homes to foreclosures, to lose their jobs by the millions (over 7 million unemployed to date), and to lose their healthcare, if they even had it to begin with, while the rich became wealthier than ever before in American history.
G. W. Bush is responsible for an economic inequality in the U.S. surpassing even that of the Roaring '20s:
“In 2007, the top .001 percent of American earners took home 6 percent of total U.S. wages— about twice the figure for 2000,” notes Emmanuel Saez, an economics professor at University of California—Berkeley. Saez also found that the top 10 percent of American earners pulled in 49.7 percent of total wages: a level "higher than any other year since 1917 and even surpasses 1928," (“Another Legacy of G. W. Bush,” Peter Cohan, DailyFinance, August 14, 2009).

Following the Mexican tradition of running a country into ruin, the Republican Party used the public treasury to feather their own nests over the last eight years and sent the bill to the American middle class to pay for generations to come while bailed-out banks continue to pay million-dollar bonuses to their employees. The sow’s ear policies of the GOP make the drug wars in Mexico pale in comparison. But the worst of this is that an unusually high percentage of the American middle class believes in the policies even when they work against their own interests.

The GOP has applied powerful consumer marketing techniques effectively to American consumers. Many Americans believe that national healthcare is socialism. Few people consider the fact that the industrialized countries least harmed by the current economic collapse are places like Germany, France, and Japan. The ones hardly engaged in the preemptive Iraq war. The ones with more stable economic policies. The ones where citizens enjoy efficient national retirement pensions, healthcare, education, and transportation.

Despite their so-called socialism, Japan and Germany own the global automobile industry. Toyota could acquire GM and Ford in a heartbeat, if the company decided it was a good investment. Probably not.

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Mexico: Heads Will Roll

These days we see news reports on a regular basis describing how members of one Mexican drug gang behead members of another gang or the police. “Mexican President Felipe Calderon hailed eight soldiers who were decapitated in Guerrero state as heroes who died at the hands of criminals growing increasingly desperate amid his government’s crackdown on drug cartels,” reports Andres Martinez (LA Times). Yet, throughout most of Mexico’s history, heads have been rolling as a tactic among battling factions.

“The heads were displayed in cages on the four walls of the Alhondiga de Granaditas, where the Spaniards of Guanajuato had been massacred. There they remained for ten years until Mexico won its independence in 1821” (Krauze, Mexico, Biography of Power). Hidalgo led the first battles in Mexico’s war of Independence until Spaniards captured and killed him, and then placed his head along with those of his three closest aides in public display as a message to terrorize the insurgents. Despite the buzzing flies swarming around the decaying caged heads hung on the city walls, the War continued under the command of Morelos and his ragtag groups of parish priests, mostly mestizos.

By leading the earliest revolts, Hidalgo became the George Washington of Mexico. These two revolutionary giants shared courage and leadership, yet their differences shine brightly on how the foundations of the two countries contrast in culture and ideologies.

Once Hidalgo gained popularity, he allowed his followers to treat him as royalty. “He lavishly made official appointments; he lived surrounded by guards; he would walk arm in arm with a lovely young woman and allow himself to be addressed with the title Most Serene Highness” (Enrique Krauze, Mexico, Biography of Power).

Hidalgo replaced the pomp of King Joseph Bonaparte (one of the last Spanish kings to rule over Mexico) with his own. Many considered him the Sun King. Hidalgo showed a dubious interest in religion despite his being a priest. Nevertheless he used the image of the Virgin Mary, the most powerful religious symbol in Mexico, as his military standard in an opportunistic ploy to garner a fervent militia, ready to die for their ardent devotion to Her Lady.

Hidalgo’s military successor, Morelos, was a passionate believer in the Virgin as protector of his cause, attributing his victories to the Empress of Guadalupe, as the Zappatistas would do a century later. He used the emblem of the Virgin of Guadalupe as the seal of the Congress of Chilpancingo to which he stated: “New Spain puts less faith in its own efforts than in the power of God and the intercession of its Blessed Mother,…that had come to comfort us, defend us, visibly be our protection.” As they did to Hidalgo, the Spanish crushed Morelos, forcing his crumbling rebellion into guerilla warfare.

As a sign of hard times, today’s downtrodden peons are showing more faith in the Holy Death (Santa Muerte) than in the Virgin for the same sort of intercessions, only more tailored to fit the needs of the poor, the alienated, the street hookers, criminals, and drug traffickers.

Mexico Founded on Conservative Religion—U.S. Founded on Progressive Elitism
A half century earlier, George Washington led an insurgency similar to those waged by Hidalgo and Morelos, but with a much different philosophy. Like Hidalgo, many of Washington’s admirers expected him to take the role of king or emperor. He refused for the higher purpose of establishing a constitutional democracy, and when asked to serve a third term as president, he set the custom that a president serves only two terms (later ratified as the 22nd Amendment).

An enthusiast for Thomas Paine’s deistic treatise, The Age of Reason, Washington had little interest in any one religion, although baptized at birth in the Church of England, the official church of Virginia before the revolution. He strongly supported the separation of church and state.

“Of all the animosities which have existed among mankind, those which are caused by difference of sentiments in religion appear to be the most inveterate and distressing, and ought most to be deprecated. I was in hopes that the enlightened and liberal policy, which has marked the present age, would at least have reconciled Christians of every denomination so far that we should never again see the religious disputes carried to such a pitch as to endanger the peace of society.” (George Washington, letter to Edward Newenham, October 20, 1792; The Great Quotations, G. Seldes, ed.).

Like many European and American philosophers of the time, Washington, a deist, had learned how religious dogma could be exploited to serve nonsense (consider today’s creationism) such as the divine right of kings, against which the United States had waged a bloody revolution. The revolutions in France and the United States, however, arose as much from disgust for the whimsical laws of religious faith as from a growing bourgeoisie, educated in empirical philosophy and science. They wanted the entrepreneurial and financial freedoms that were otherwise greatly limited under the British monarchy, whose very authority rested with its assumed privileged communion with God. Frenchmen invented the guillotine as an efficient way to behead the royalists, tyrannical gluttons of financial and political power.

Freedom and Democracy? Or Financial Interests?
Most of the leaders of the American Revolution lived as members of a liberal bourgeois class. For many years only the white male landowners enjoyed privileges such as the right to vote. After the revolution the “Founding Fathers” and their class of mostly nouveaux riches enjoyed the benefits of social, financial, and religious freedoms, including ownership of slaves. For as much as possible, the fifty white men who were signers of the Constitution, mostly deists, took their destiny into their own hands and relied less on God for whatever providence they might eke out by praying.

“In short, said Beard [an historian] the rich must, in their own interest, either control the government directly or control the laws by which government operates. Beard applied this general idea to the Constitution, by studying the economic backgrounds and political ideas of the fifty men…to draw up the Constitution. He found that a majority of them were lawyers by profession, that most of them were men of wealth, in land, slaves, manufacturing, or shipping, that half of them had money loaned out at interest” (A People’s History of the U.S. by Howard Zinn). These fifty “Founding Fathers,” were mostly men who took charge, made things happen, and if obstacles arose, they nevertheless found ways to create the country they wanted.

Washington and his American colleagues were disciples of the Enlightenment. In contrast, the people of Mexico, as Morelos explained, placed less faith in their own actions than in the power of God and the intercession of the Blessed Mother. The popular revolutions in Mexico lasted at least a century (from the 1820s to the 1940s) and, in many ways continue to this day. Current struggles take the form of sporadic guerilla warfare, in the guise of underground movements against the mechanized modern state: guerilla insurgency—Zapatista Army of National Liberation; religious resistance through anti-Catholic cults—Santa Muerte; and the power struggles among the so-called drug cartels.

This devotion to religious faith in providence as the cause of events, as Morelos revealed long ago, undermines free will and tends to knock the wind out of a person’s lungs. To fill that void, the Catholic Church plays an authoritarian role in Mexican culture to this day, determining almost every aspect of the individual’s life, as does the government. A ruling class has always subjugated the working class to such an extent that hardly any middle class has ever existed, while the poor struggle against the elite’s status quo.

The colonizing Spaniards took possession of valuable land and later the Haciendas made land grabbing from the peasants a Mexican tradition. The Catholic Church became one of the largest landowners and had no charitable scruple to loosen its grip on its assets for the poor. “The Conservatives were supported by the onerous bureaucracy of the capital city, by the ‘respectable people,’ and of course, by the clergy” (Krauze).

Like the new American aristocrats, the Catholic Church and the landowners in Mexico owned the poor as indentured slaves. The situation created a complicity between the landowner and the priest, at the cost of the peon. As Ocampo wrote, “As in the times of Abraham, the peon and the workers born in the haciendas belong to them and are bartered or claimed and exchanged and sold and inherited as are herds, tools and lands” (Krauze). The forces of the Catholic Church continue to make a large part of the Mexican people docile. Today’s peons tolerate their economic plight by the soothing belief that things will be easier in heaven.

Most of human history is a saga about how those in power constrain personal and economic freedom so they can gain more control of wealth, enabling only a few to benefit. The revolutions in Mexico, as anywhere else in history, were motivated not so much by the ideals of democracy and freedom, as by the lack of economic opportunity. The rebellions in both the United States (1770s) and in Mexico (1820s) for independence were motivated by an uproar against economic tyranny. The popular phrase “no taxation without representation” expresses this sentiment.

When Mexico finally did attain independence, it anointed and elected Iturbide as the “Constitutional Emperor of Mexico,” meaning that with his coronation on July 21, 1822, he ruled the country by authority of the Catholic Church as well as of the Congress. During his military campaigns, Iturbide gained a reputation of extreme cruelty. He ordered the beheading of women of disloyal fathers, husbands or brothers in order to gain control of the many groups of insurgents by sending a terrorizing message to the entire population. The new and independent Mexican government merely continued Spain’s conservative and theocratic position.

Beheading as a Tradition
Throughout Mexico’s history, the conservative government and its continuously rebelling groups have often beheaded their enemies as a means to send graphic messages about who is in charge or wants to be. Today’s news is filled with reports of police increasingly finding severed heads more frequently in the wake of battles between Mexico’s powerful drug cartels and the government. Bloody battles for wealth and power had long ago become a Mexican, and Latin American, tradition. If the United States has become known for its high rate of incarceration, violence, and free trade of assault weapons, Mexico is known as being even more violent, with the help of purchases from unfettered American arms dealers.

Even after Mexico had gained independence from Spain in the early 1820s, it did not form any national order. It remained an assemblage of villages and provinces isolated from one another and controlled by the strong men of each region. These warlords gained power throughout Mexico and were validated by their personal strength and by the terror they inspired in their communities as much as by the benefits they provided, much like the so-called drug cartels today.

“The name for them in Mexico—cacique—was an Indian word for chieftain. Since the earliest period of the colony, it conveyed the idea and was clearly rooted in indigenous tradition. Though the caciques were local, while the typical Mexican caudillos, those military chieftains had ‘risen with and seized the kingdom’…extended their activity to the entire country and sought power over the entire nation” (Krauze).

Today’s so-called drug cartels are the continuation of a centuries-old Mexican tradition. They are motivated by the same lack of any economic structure that might otherwise enable a middle class to grow and prosper. Popular hatred of the economic inequalities has driven the rebel groups that have always existed in Mexico at least since the Spanish arrived. For this same reason, Mexico’s cartels or caudillos have always operated in opposition to the official government. Unlike popular ideals and fairytales, freedom and democracy have almost never been the engine of rebellions. Revolutions arise when a small percentage of the population—such as the Mexican Haciendas of Cuahuixtla, Hospital, and Mapaztlan—own an overwhelming part of a nation’s wealth—property or other means of production—and use it to control the population.
“In 1878, Manuel Mendoza Cortina, the owner of the Hacienda of Cuahuixtal, affirming that ‘justice for the poor has already gone off to heaven,’ made another move to dispossess Anenecuilco, this time of their water. One of the village leaders, Manuel Mancilla, began talks with him, in secret, trying to reach a mutual agreement. When they discovered what was going on, his neighbors cut off his head. They threw the corpse on the road, near the Hill of Flints” (Krauze).
Rebellion against Constraints
Revolutions can take on various forms of subversive activity. In even more extreme states like Saudi Arabia, partly thanks to U.S. support, the royal family of Saud (like the Mexican Hacienda) owns the biggest piece of the country’s wealth (oil reserves) and its governing religion is used to control the behavior of its citizens. As in Mexico’s theocratic rule, the Saudi justice system calls on God’s authority to apply justice. To this day, Saudi Arabia’s religious Morality Police, the mutawa, swing a sword to behead people in a public plaza when they misbehave. Though, when a large part of the country’s population falls into desperate poverty, even the religion takes on extremist twists. Such is the case with the jihadists groups in Saudi Arabia. No secret: fifteen of the nineteen hijackers on 9/11 were Saudis from the Hijaz and Astha regions where resentment rages against the regime in Riyadh. They were alienated and grossly underemployed, although well-educated. The radical rebels in Pakistan, Afghanistan, and now in U.S.-occupied Iraq share similar groups of violent subculture “cartels” led by warlords and mostly financed by drug trafficking.

In the case of Mexico, the aristocratic class (Haciendas) owns the highest concentration of wealth, measured by the Gini coefficient of 0.49 (What’s a Fair Distribution of Wealth? by Joel S. Hirschhorn). The Gini coefficient is an economic measurement where 1 represents one household owning all the country’s wealth. With a Gini coefficient of 0.37, the United States has the second highest in the world, just below Mexico. This high level of wealth concentration among the ruling class in Mexico explains one of the strongest forces behind the failure of the country, in terms of indicators like its inflation, slow growth rate, and high percentage of poverty—over 40% of the population makes less than $1 a day (World Bank). “There are over 85,000 millionaires (in U.S. dollars) in Mexico, while fifty million people live in economic destitution on less than a few dollars a day. According to the Mexican national daily, El Universal, the thirty-nine richest families in Mexico own 13.5% of the nation’s wealth, about $135 billion” (Mexico Unconquered by John Gibler).

As in Columbia, so too in Mexico—more and more people have entered the illegal drug industry because it is the surest way to improve their financial situation. Many other Mexicans flee their own country and risk everything to work in the U.S., whose economy offers just a little less concentration of the wealth among a small group of superrich.

American Conservatives Adopt Mexico’s Theocratic Model
Since its foundation, the U.S. has also maintained a high level of concentrated wealth among a blue-blood class while it operates on a somewhat unique capitalistic principle. Unlike extremely theocratic societies—like Saudi Arabia, Afghanistan, and, to a lesser extent, Mexico—the U.S. allows its citizens to enjoy a broad social freedom and civil rights, and this soothes the tension of the otherwise staggering economic inequality. Since the 1960s contraception was legalized and African-Americans were permitted equal rights, although the latter required bloody riots. In Mexico, the Catholic Church still refuses the use of contraception, despite the country’s overpopulation in proportion to its economic production.

The American middle class is free to pursue its life, liberty, and pursuit of happiness—at a steep price. If they behave reasonably enough, they will qualify for loans, mortgages, and credit cards whose interest rates benefit the wealthy. By greasing the “regular Americans’”—the 90% of the population earning 20% of the income (source: World Banks reports)—with the power to consume, the wealthy business owners or shareholders enable regular citizens to find just enough consumer gratification to tolerate their economic inequality, and so goes the unwritten economic law in America.

Exaggerated to an extreme under the eight long years of the radically right-wing administration of President G. W. Bush, Regeanomics has allowed the super-rich—the 10% of the population owning 80% of the wealth—to undermine the pillars of our democracy under both—Democratic (e.g. Clinton) and Republican presidents. As radical capitalists have operated over the last 30 years without much regulation, they have pushed the economy, already favoring the wealthy, beyond its own capacity and thus destroyed a large part of the middle class (more than a million unemployed today). More so than even President Reagan, the Bush administration unleashed big business to dig their claws into the pocket books of middle-class Americans, stirring up a feeding frenzy of mortgages, credit cards and stock market bubbles, distracting regular Americans by their delusional consumer borrowing and spending and with hardly any consumer protection from the wolves of corporate marketing pushing for greater profit margins.

Just as the Haciendas have been gorging on the wealth in Mexico by taking land from peons for centuries, corporations like Exxon, JPMorgan, Goldman Sachs, Merrill Lynch, and AIG have been sacking the coffers of the short-lived American empire for decades. These unbridled companies, ingratiated with government, have become America’s version of Mexico’s Haciendas. The greatest advantage American businesses hold over their Mexican counterparts, the old Haciendas, is their marketing and PR departments, which paint their image as America’s pillars of prosperity for all. They have rebuilt a modern day Gilded Age. After all, insurance companies like AIG collect billions of dollars in payments from hard-working Americans and, while denying boatloads of legitimate healthcare claims, they invest the cash in other financial sectors, such as the Internet IPOs of the ‘90s or, more recently, mortgage derivatives, creating unstable economic bubbles destined to burst. And when the bubbles explode at the expense of homeowners, the likes of Goldman Sachs always find innovative financial instruments such as high interest rate loans to profit from the losses of the taxpayers. At the same time, taxpayers pay for the bailouts of these modern-day carpetbaggers who continue to profit from the misfortunes of taxpayers after they had created and profited from those misfortunes in the first place, and while rewarding the managers with billions of dollars in bonuses.

With hardly any regulations on lobbying, the likes of these corporations pay “campaign contributions,” otherwise known as bribes, to both Democrats and Republicans in order to assure their free-wheeling deals and status quo in industries like healthcare, banking, and petroleum. The petroleum industry lobbied the U.S. government and influenced G. W. Bush to invade Iraq—by using a series of pretexts such as WMDs, terrorism, imposing democracy and freedom—in order to retake control of the oil fields after Saddam Hussein had nationalized them. The Republican plan to repossess the Iraqi oil fields was not a stellar success because the Iraqis were not as docile as hoped, though the companies landed contracts from the new Iraqi government which, with support of the U.S. government, hung Saddam Hussein, a slightly less cannibalistic punishment than beheading.

Like most other countries whose upper class benefits from a high concentration of wealth, Mexico has never allowed so much delusional social freedom as America’s free-reigning capitalism. Like many other societies that exploit religion to control their populations, Mexico’s ruling class has often succeeded for the most part in controlling its pious citizens by the authority of God rather than by consumer credit.

Despite the paternalistic attitude of the Catholic Church and the thuggish, corrupt Mexican Army, Mexicans have revolted numerous times since their independence from Spanish oppression. At the end of the 19th century, the War of the Reform became one of the fiercest attempts to reform the Catholic Church and the government. A large and popular group of young liberals led partly by Ocampo revolted against the conservatives, mainly the wealthy landowners, and the Catholic church, which owns large properties, and the older members of the Army who protected the status quo by massacring “all their prisoners—commanders, officers, soldiers, even the doctors and medical students who were caring for the wounded” (Krauze).

Two important legal decrees, though entirely unenforced, resulted from this civil war: the Law of Disentailment—which attempted to redistribute some of the Haciendas’ and the church’s lands to the peasants, and the “sanction of freedom of conscience”—which tacitly implied and tolerated freedom of worship. Yet in the same breath, the conservative government “voted to particularly ‘care for and protect’ the Catholic Church with ‘just and prudent laws’” (Krauze).

Centuries of Religion and Patria
Against this historical backdrop religion y patria, the Army and the Catholic Church represent the power structure that carries on the traditions today. When G.W. Bush approved the Mérida Initiative, during the end of his administration, giving $1.4 billion of U.S. tax money to the Mexican Army, he most likely had no clue that there are two Mexicos. Alternatively, if he did understand Mexican history and culture, he intended to enforce neocon policies by supporting conservative Christian theocracy and its status quo. After all, Mexico’s conservative theocracy seems to be the ideal for the right-wing, Bible-thumping Republican agenda in the U.S.

The Mexico most American tourists and viewers of mainstream media see is the Disney World view—one where “the Mexican president is fighting a valiant war on drugs, aided by the Mexican Army…,” as Charles Bowden reports in his article in Mother Jones magazine (August 2009), We Bring Fear. This Mexico has a free press, a fair justice system, rule of law, and an effective government.

Though we can see in its long history Mexico, in its current state, is teetering on collapse, the tourist version of Mexico continues to exist in the zombie minds of TV viewers and spring-break Cancun hotel dwellers. The real Mexico operates on bribes in an economy that has been flat lining for decades, if not centuries. Aside from its natural energy reserves and tourism, its most lucrative source of national income now arises from the illegal drug industry—the only thing propping up the country from its decades-old recession that NAFTA and the maquiladoras never resolved, despite one of Mexico’s greatest resources being its cheap labor force.

In the real Mexico, the war is for drugs “where the police and the military fight for their share of the drug profits, where the press is restrained by the murder of reporters and feasts on a steady diet of bribes, and where the line between the government and the drug world has never existed (Danish Brethern,

Like the twisted fundamentalist versions of Islam among certain groups in places like Saudi Arabia, Mexico too has a long history of carrying on seemingly distorted versions of religious traditions, many of which have become subcultures of modern versions of ancient Aztec faiths.

Especially popular among a huge and growing part of the Mexican people, the poor and alienated—those excluded from the wealth modern globalization—Santa Muerte is a faith not likely to go away any time soon. It may have arisen as a reaction to Vatican II or simply as a longstanding tradition based on the popular “Thin Lady,” Mictecacihuatl, the Aztec queen of the underworld, a part of Mexico’s native religion.

On the American taxpayers’ dime, the Mexican Army is using funds from Bush’s Mérida Initiative to carry out the wishes of the Catholic Church condemning Santa Muerte as devil worship because some drug traffickers wear tattoos of the Thin Lady. But drug traffickers more often wear images of Christ and the crucifix as well. So, why isn’t the government seeking to destroy Catholic churches by this same logic? The government claims that the Santa Muerte sect is part of the narco subculture, a justification for the Army to demolish “dozens of shrines to Santa Muerte, claiming that the worship of this skeletal woman in a white cloak is a ‘narco-cult.’ As resistance grows, so does this new religious movement” (US/Mexican Narco War Targets Religious Sect, by Danish Brethern, This represents another variation of how the Mexican people can rebel against their authoritarian, conservative government and its official church by worshipping the Holy Death, a spirit who cares for the poor and the marginalized.

In another form of rebellion against Mexico’s economic inequality, today’s drug cartels continue the traditions of the caudillos and have seized control of large regions of the country. They are overpowering or buying out the Mexican Army, which is weakened by a bad economy, one that does not engage and motivate a middle class. Like the police, the Army is so poorly paid that its soldiers desert the government and use their skills, including those gained from Special Forces training in the U.S., to join the higher paid caudillos, or what the mainstream media calls the drug cartels.

Sunday, June 7, 2009

Mexico: U.S. Is Borderline to Third World?

"There is an arms race between the cartels," said Alberto Islas, a security consultant who advises the Mexican government on the current drug wars, as reported in the Los Angeles Times. "One group gets rocket-propelled grenades, the other has to have them."

Since January 2007, when the Mexican war on drugs was officially declared, more than 9,700 people have died in the conflicts, more than the official count of U.S. soldier causalities in Iraq.

When looking at Mexico's history and its current economic and civil predicament, we gain insight into how our own American government is so vulnerable. Only our values and distinguishing principles designed into our system by its founders will save us. If we lose these, we fall into the abyss.

To some, comparing the U.S. to Mexico, or the Third World in general, sounds shocking. Yet, is this comparison really so far-fetched? With our constitutional form of government in jeopardy, the U.S. teeters on the edge of emulating Mexico's dismal style of democracy.

In my previous two articles in a series of essays examining the similarities between Mexico and the U.S.A., Mexico: a Theocratic Model for Republicans and Religious Morality Is Problematic, I consider how certain leaders in Mexico, as in so many countries south of the border, have seized political power through the use of the authoritarian religious traditions that are pervasive in the culture. More than ever in U.S. history, the Republican Party has pursued this model during the G.W. Bush administration's eight long years.

In the U.S. under the G.W. Bush administration, the Republican Party took a page from Mexican history and followed this same process as Mexico's leaders to:

  • Bridle the Horses-Concentrate power in the executive branch.
  • Use Loopholes-Alter the U.S. Constitution for more control.
  • Leverage the Ol'Boy System-Diminish federalism in favor of executive power.
  • Burn the Bodies-Oppress the press and thus avoid transparency.

Bridle the Horses: President as King

During Porfirio Diaz's presidency, the time was ripe in Mexico's history to "bridle the horses." Diaz's phrase reveals his "all-encompassing program of political control and centralization," as historian Krauze explains in his book, Mexico, Biography of Power. In Mexico the liberal Constitution called for a "representative, democratic and federal Republic," reflecting the ideals of the U.S. Constitution. But Diaz flouted the Mexican Constitution and took control by diminishing the three branches of government and concentrating power in the executive.

As Krauze writes,

"To contain the overwhelming pressure, he would assert the sanctity of the presidential position more than any other twentieth-century President. He [Diaz] would speak...of the 'majesty of the office.' His concept of the position was almost explicitly theocratic....The new style of power took effect immediately...only pure and naked application of power."

As advisor to President G.W. Bush, Karl Rove could have written his playbook straight from the history of Mexican Presidents from Diaz to Calderon, from the 1960s to the present. What this sequence of Mexican presidents accomplished in more than fifty years, the Republicans did in eight.

The parallels are astonishing as explained in the Cato Institute reports by Gene Healy and Timothy Lynch:

"Unfortunately, far from defending the Constitution, President Bush has repeatedly sought to strip out the limits the document places on federal power. In its official legal briefs and public actions, the Bush administration has advanced a view of federal power that is astonishingly broad, a view that includes
    • a federal government empowered to regulate core political speech-and restrict it greatly when it counts the most: in the days before a federal election;
    • a president who cannot be restrained, through validly enacted statutes, from pursuing any tactic he believes to be effective in the war on terror;
    • a president who has the inherent constitutional authority to designate American citizens suspected of terrorist activity as "enemy combatants," strip them of any constitutional protection, and lock them up without charges for the duration of the war on terror- in other words, perhaps forever; and
    • a federal government with the power to supervise virtually every aspect of American life, from kindergarten, to marriage, to the grave.
President Bush's constitutional vision is, in short, sharply at odds with the text, history, and structure of our Constitution, which authorizes a government of limited powers."

Like Diaz, Bush used religion to establish his sense of moral and political authority and was supported by American right-wing Christian groups, the progeny of extremists forged by the fundamentalism of Pat Robertson, Bill O'Reilly and his ilk.

Loopholes & Dirty Tricks-Alter the Constitution to Undo the Legislature and the Judiciary

In doing so, the Republicans weakened the values by which the U.S. distinguishes itself from the Third World. They used religious fundamentalism-superstitions-to replace rational thinking. They disregarded constitutional law which the president's sworn to protect. They ignored laws enacted by Congress with "signing statements" issued by President Bush. With these signing statements, Bush was able to interpret laws as he saw fit, thus further deteriorating the U.S. constitution. Over the last eight years, the Republican Party transgressed the Constitutional form of government for the sake of an ideological vision that included unbridled, free-wheeling capitalism.

As Elizabeth Drew says in her article in The New York Review of Books,

"This power grab has received little attention because it has been carried out largely in obscurity. The press took little notice until Bush, on January 5 of this year [2006], after signing a bill containing the McCain amendment, which placed prohibitions on torture, quietly filed a separate pronouncement, a "signing statement," that he would interpret the bill as he wished....The public scenes of the President surrounded by smiling legislators whom he praises for their wonderful work as he hands out the pens he has used to sign the bill are often utterly misleading. The elected officials aren't informed at that time of the President's real intentions concerning the law. After they leave, the President's signing statements-which he does not issue verbally at the time of signing-are placed in the Federal Register, a compendium of US laws, which members of Congress rarely read. And they are often so technical, referring as they do to this subsection and that statute, that they are difficult to understand."

Again, one of the distinguishing values built into the U.S. Constitution is the division of power that creates a system of checks and balances. However, by using the signing statements and other loopholes asserted in devious arguments, such as the unitary executive power, Rove, Cheney, and Bush found ways to annul the legislative branches in more ways than one. Unlike the Democrat Party, the Republicans enforce a strict code of loyalty and, at least during the reign of Karl Rove, they spoke only according to the party line of well-rehearsed "talking points."

This mirrors another aspect of Mexican history that brought that country into its current plague of corruption, violence, and chaos.

Krauze tells us how:

"Diaz had weakened and corrupted the Legislature by making it a mere adjunct of the Presidential Chair. The bothersome business of electing candidates was conveniently overcome by appointing them. No presidential initiative was ever questioned, and nothing moved in the Legislature without the consent of 'the Great Elector.' A similar process of servitude neutralized the judiciary as Don Profirio [Diaz] freely appointed and removed judges."

And this became a tradition for most all subsequent Mexican presidents. Similarly, the Bush administration transformed the role of the president into 'the Decider' partly by neutralizing the judiciary-appointing only right-wing extremist judges who would serve the president's agenda. As Drew points out:

"As for the judicial branch, the Bush administration, like previous administrations, has tried to appoint judges compatible with the President's views. But Bush has been strikingly successful at putting extreme conservatives on the bench, and probably now has four votes on the Supreme Court for his 'unitary executive' rationale for executive authority over what the other branches do."

The Ol'Boy System: Federalism as Myth

Under Don Porfirio Diaz, like most subsequent Mexican presidents, state governors tend to be extremely loyal to the president who kept an eye on them. As Krauze tells us, "Bernardo Reyes, the governor of the state of Nuevo Leon and a true proconsul for Don Protfirio in the northeast, received daily instructions, reports, and suggestions from the President concerning issues as varied as elections for the Legislature and the judiciary; pardons...."

Knowingly or not, the Bush administration followed this model closely and raised it up a notch in many ways. G.W.Bush's initial election to the presidency was tainted by the chaotic voting methods in Florida, where his brother Jeb pulled strings with the Republican Party to assure obstacles were placed in the path of Democrat voters. Ultimately, it was not the voting public of the nation that elected the president. It was the right-wing judges in the Supreme Court who appointed G.W. by using obscure technicalities.

Likewise, many Mexican presidents appoint their successor president-for example, as Krauze points out several times, in the case of President Mateos: "He would later confess that it was at that moment he decided that Gustavo Diaz Ordaz would be his successor."

By extending this ol'boy system to the state governments, the president maintained greater control of the states.

In an essay in The New York Times, Franklin Foer reveals how the W administration imposed federal policies over the States.

"Prodded by a Republican Congress and a conservative Supreme Court, Clinton actually presided over the revitalized federalism.... Federalism suited his declared ambition to move beyond the era of 'big government....' George W. Bush didn't give Clinton much credit for these achievements. Like many of his predecessors, he entered office promising to rescue the states from federal pummeling. Yet his administration has greatly expanded federal power, and some conservatives have been complaining. Writing in National Review two years ago, Romesh Ponnuru observed that ''more people are working for the federal government than at any point since the end of the cold war.'' State governments have their own version of this complaint. They say the Bush administration has imposed new demands...without also providing sufficient cash to get these jobs done."

Burn the Bodies-Freedom of the Press and Public Transparency

From Krauze's history, we learn of events like the Corpus Christi Thursday (1971) in the neighborhood of Tlateloco where President Echeverria planned (while he was Minister of the Interior under President Ordaz) to deploy Los Halcones to kill the liberal students demonstrating for political reform.

Just as we find among our own recent politicians in the U.S., Mexico's President Echevirria "would be able to throw the blame on others, as far away as he could from himself, for Tlateloco and the rest of the actions he supervised...." Krauze tells us that "Echeverria had snapped out an order by telephone to burn the bodies."

During the three years after the 9/11 attacks, a period when the American public gave all their trust to Bush-Cheney, the administration moved to intimidate the press by calling journalists unpatriotic if they voiced the slightest word of dissent. The most obvious example of this arose when Ambassador Joe Wilson wrote an article in The New York Times revealing how Bush and Cheney were using trumped-up stories about WMDs in Iraq to justify their long-time neocon plan to invade. Bush-Cheney retaliated by destroying the career of Wilson's wife, Valerie Plame, in the CIA. And they were able to throw the blame on others, such as Scooter Libby, who was convicted of felony federal charges of obstruction and perjury but never served a day in jail, because Bush pardoned him.

Yet this example pales in comparison to how Bush-Cheney secretly enabled torture to be used as a covert means to create a link between Saddam Hussein and al Qaeda, not to mention how they manipulated intelligence documents to justify bombing a country into rubble and killing a large part of its citizens, women and children included.

Unlike Mexico's President Echeverria, Cheney did not need to burn the bodies. The dead Iraqis, estimated in the hundreds of thousands, were killed in places where journalists were not allowed to go. Fortunately, Lawrence Wilkerson, the retired Army colonel and former senior State Department aide to Colin Powell, spoke the truth behind Cheney's lies, exposing how the former VP used torture to force prisoners to link al-Qaeda with Saddam Hussein.

During the Bush administration, the government intimidated journalists' freedom of the press, which was, and still is, already weakened by the pressures of corporate sponsors. Almost every policy Bush-Cheney carried out, they did so as covert operations, from forbidding photographs of the soldiers returning from war in caskets to concealing how torture was authorized, how intelligence was manipulated, and how dissent was squelched, as in the case of Valerie Plame.

We think we are free. That's what we want to believe, and it seems we are because we can choose among 8 types of blue jeans and 21 flavors of ice cream. Now, though, our political leaders have shackled us in the chains of extremist ideology and religious superstitions. These same dismal shenanigans and outright crimes characterize the history of Third World countries as we see in places like Mexico.

Tragically for America, we have become extremely tolerant of political leaders who have taken ownership of our own government and our guiding principles, our only saving virtues. If the new administration under Obama, including Congress, do not willfully and aggressively undo the aberrations created by the Bush administration, then we will continue to roll down the rails, heading closer to a corrupt and failing government-one that no longer finds the courage to correct itself.

Friday, May 22, 2009

Mexico: Religious Morality Is Problematic—A Failure in Mexico & in the U.S.

"To say that Mexico is a failed state is absolutely false," said Mexico’s current president, Felipe Calderon. "I have not lost any part—any single part—of Mexican territory."

Maybe Calderon should reconsider his claim. What about Ciudad Juarez? Calling in 5,000 troops sounds like an offensive mobilization of the Army to regain the territory lost by the local police.

“President Felipe Calderon said Thursday he wants to defeat the world's most powerful drug gangs before his term ends in 2012, disputing U.S. fears that Mexico is losing control of its territory, though his government plans to send thousands of soldiers and police officers to one city to try to control drug violence there.”

How did Mexico come to the edge of being a failed State? The history of the country shows us how its political officials, from the lowest to the highest ranks have used any means possible—mostly illegal—to gain personal power and wealth. We learn from historians such as Enrique Krauze, in his book, Mexico: Biography of Power, how Mexico attempted to establish several constitutions over the last century while groping for its core guiding values. At the same time, the Catholic Church, in its struggle to retain control, varied its policies and values to assert its own slithering agenda.

Loss of Rational Core Values

As in other theocratic countries, in Mexico leaders constantly govern in arbitrary ways—void of core, rational values—in order to benefit themselves and the powerful wealthy who are most likely to support these leaders in return. Rolling Stone magazine recently revealed how Mexican officials, from the highest to the lowest ranks, benefit from revenue sharing in the Columbian cocaine industry.

As in Columbia, now too in Mexico, government officials at all levels collaborate with drug lords like El Chapo, a man made extremely wealthy from cocaine and marijuana, who is most likely to support these leaders in return for their favors, such as letting him out of a high security federal prison before his extradition to the U.S. Officials in the Bush-Cheney administration are not unfamiliar with these practices. Bush oil industry regulators spent American tax money on Columbian blow, and we have learned how their stimulating high aided in their sex parties with oil industry lobbyists.

Despite Bush’s claims of high moral standards as a born-again Christian, he and Cheney whittled away at what was once America’s moral high ground, once one of the touchstones of American world leadership. The Bush administration has inculcated the type of hypocritical immorality typical of popular religions that enforce ethical rules arbitrarily, depending on the situation and political needs.

Clothed in the image of Christian righteousness, the Bush-Cheney administration authorized torture as a means to obtain testimony—ultimately revealed to be false—to support the lies used to justify bombing Iraq and killing thousands of innocent civilians. Many reports have shown that the previous administration intentionally invaded Iraq, not for any alleged links to al Qaeda but for access to its oil reserves. Succeeding in this well-documented, premeditated plan would have benefited large oil companies, the wealthy who are most likely to support these leaders in return for the favor.

Political Use of Religion

Politicians often use popular religion to justify the abuse of power and force, degrading a nation into third-world status like Mexico. Unlike any other presidential administration in the U.S., the eight years of Bush-Cheney solidified a culture of corrupt favoritism for the wealthy, leaving the middle class to pay for our current financial and moral disaster. The financial catastrophe may be the result of decades of disastrous deregulation policies but, like the 9/11 attack, Bush-Cheney ignored all the warnings. So many disasters befell W’s administration as if he were the victim, a bystander struck by a MAC truck, not a leader in charge of the traffic, not really the decider.

Like the Bush-Cheney administration over the past eight years with its favoritism to big oil and its no-bid contracts with Halliburton, Mexican presidents have used similar means for centuries to use the resources of the many, the middle class, to benefit the few, the extremely wealthy and powerful.

This dismantling of the middle class in the U.S. has already begun to eat away at American core values. The more middle class Americans have to struggle to keep a roof over our children’s heads, the more we have to compromise our ethical standards. We are more willing to tolerate a preemptive, unjustified war if our leaders tell us it might make us safer and lower the prices at the pump. We are willing to tolerate the torture of prisoners if it means maintaining our standard of living.

The American voting public became aware of this by the end of the last Republican administration. They voted for change. As President Obama says in his statement about the release of Bush administration torture memos, “A democracy as resilient as ours must reject the false choice between our security and our ideals, and that is why these methods of interrogation are already a thing of the past.”

America’s ideals were founded by the rational, clear thinking of the Enlightenment, when obscure religious thought was ignored for the sake of moral values based on logical reasoning, as in classical Greece.

Mexico’s leaders, in contrast, have been inspired by the inquisitions and superstitions of the Baroque era. The leading architects of American government were not religious men at all. They were deists, inspired by the European Enlightenment. America’s ideals were founded not in arbitrary, popular religious dictates that deceptive politicians use to abuse power.

Yet this is exactly how the Mexican government has favored the wealthy in Mexico (and in the U.S.), at the expense of Mexico’s middle class. The drug industry in Mexico has become the most attractive means to stay in the middle class because the corrupt economic and political system has not enabled the middle-class families in Mexico to build a life by more legitimate and respectable means. They have compromised their ethics in order to keep a roof over the heads of their children.

Many Mexican citizens have lost all trust in their government. The Zetas, the Special Forces soldiers of the drug lords, routinely recruit Mexican soldiers into their ranks. Rolling Stone reporter Guy Lawson quotes the rationale of one such recruit.

"Chapo came to my village in a helicopter and gave out money to plant marijuana," Julio says. "He did this for the whole town. If I wanted to start a business of some kind in the city, he would provide me the money to start. He uses his money for his people, to help us progress."

As the Mexican political system fails, the more the middle-class Mexican has to tolerate immoral means of survival. In most of central and south America, the illegal drug industry has become the most effective means to increase a regular person’s income. For this reason it has gained overwhelming popularity, despite its dangers.

Likewise, the eight years of the Bush-Cheney administration has led middle-class Americans to sacrifice our core values, with the hope that the unjustified destruction of a country, the torture of prisoners, and the free-wheeling, deregulated capitalism would somehow save the standard of living for us and our children.

As Mark Danner comments on this line of reasoning
“from Dick Cheney on down have been unflagging in their arguments that these ‘enhanced interrogation techniques . . . were absolutely crucial’ to preventing ‘a major-casualty attack.’ This argument, still strongly supported by a great many Americans, is deeply pernicious, for it holds that it is impossible to protect the country without breaking the law. It says that the professed principles of the United States, if genuinely adhered to, doom the country to defeat. It reduces our ideals and laws to a national decoration, to be discarded at the first sign of danger.”

The lessons we learn from Mexico’s failures illuminate our own down fall in the U.S. during the last eight years. The damage done was so severe that we must remain vigilant, despite Obama’s Herculean leadership. We must pull ourselves out of a dire situation where our own political system failed and now teeters on the precipice of collapse.

Friday, May 8, 2009

Mexico: A Theocratic Model for Republicans

Here in Los Angeles, Sepulveda Boulevard serves as a main traffic artery for over 42 miles, from the San Fernando Valley in the north to Hermosa Beach in the south—the longest road in Los Angeles County. Few Angelinos probably know what history lurks in the name, even if the name of the road was intended for some other historical person. 
Sepulveda, a militant racist, a fascist? A study of Mexico’s history reveals that Juan Ginés de Sepúlveda (1494 - 1573) wrote that the natives are "as children to parents, as women are to men, as cruel people are from mild people.” A Second Democritus: on the just causes of the war with the Indians was his most important book, shaping the course of Mexican history.
In his book, Mexico, Biography of Power, Enrique Krauze tells us: “The imperialist interpretation of the Conquest (stridently represented by Juan Gines de Sepulveda) justified the war against the Indians on the grounds of their allegedly natural vices and defects: they were subhuman, sodomites, barbarians, cannibals, cowards, idolaters, liars and depraved idlers. Their backwardness prevented them from freely submitting to the law; they were ‘slaves by nature.’”

Religious Doctrine--Political Policy
This fervent, Catholic, political ideology represented in Sepulveda’s writings resembles much of the North American Protestant justifications to decimate most of the American Indians. Sepulveda’s view sounds like a line straight from one of today’s Republican propaganda writers (Ann Coulter, Bill O’Reilly, Glenn Beck, Bill Kristol, etc.) who brutally attack anyone of a dissenting opinion about torture, preemptive invasions, or any of their other policies.
We might excuse Sepulveda at least a little if we consider his own historical context during the end of the Dark Ages, a period of cultural decline and societal collapse, even though several of Sepulveda’s contemporaries advocated respect and tolerance for human rights. The Jesuit humanist Francisco Javier Clavijero “ascribed to the civilization of the Mexicas a classical rank equal to that of Greece and Rome.”  
Despite Sepulveda’s disadvantage of being born into the Dark Ages, the neocons and other Republicans cannot use any such excuse for their medieval views. When reading Sepulveda’s theocratic ideology, we find the same twisted logic and bellicose policies, supported by claiming it’s God’s will. Referring to God as support for a political policy was a hallmark of the Dark Ages, when reason was left twisting in the wind. The use of trumped-up religious authority as a justification for a political doctrine reveals the weakness of that doctrine. Instead of using rational thought and logic, theocrats lean on so-called sacred text, dictated by God, as the basis of policy.

Religion as a Political Platform 
It’s as though the Republicans ripped their policies out of Sepulveda’s pages and used them as their playbook. Sepulveda’s words contain the sounds of the same strand of blind theology that the W Administration used to manipulate the general public into a frenzy after the 9/11 attack, calling for a “crusade” and using it to justify the implementation of their long-planned, extreme, right-wing policies.
Bush often used religious terms in grandiose statements. "This crusade, this war on terrorism is gonna take awhile.” “We will rid the world of the evil-doers." His use of religious expressions gained him popularity among gullible groups of born-again Christians throughout his career. W’s born-again Christian fundamentalism helped him to become governor of Texas. “But I feel God wants me to do this, and I must do it.” It was the right-wing members of the U.S. Supreme Court who made him president.
Once in the White House, W’s unreasoned policies fell straight into the greatest wishes of the likes of Osama bin Laden whose goal was to cause confusion and terror. What fundamentalist plans Osama bin Laden instigated, W unwittingly fulfilled. Leaders like these rely on traditionalism, meaning that they claim their authority derived from a religious text. In his essay, Fourteen Ways of Looking at a Blackshirt, Umberto Eco explains how this style of leadership is an early form of fascism. 

Religious Doctrine--Traditionalism--Dangerous PoliciesIn its recent eight-year reign, the Republican Party took the U.S. from peace and prosperity to a historic deficit, unbridled financial disaster, preemptive war justified by lies to the public, and corporate corruption, especially among the oil titans which only expedites the looming environmental breakdown. Most born-again Christians believe that environmentalism is futile since the End Days are soon approaching for the Rapture and Christ’s second coming. Why bother trying to save the planet if God is going to snatch up the righteous to heaven and leave the rest of us sinners here to face the apocalypse?  
Such painful incompetence, irrational policies, and corruption once were the mark of third world countries like Mexico—until now. Given another Republican administration, the U.S. would have become a failed state, like Mexico today. Driven by a religious ideology that influenced every aspect of policy from economics to the judicial system, W’s presidency is an example of how religious fervor can bring a peaceful and prosperous nation into war and financial collapse.
If Republicans had remained in power, they would have gleefully transformed the U.S. into a born-again Christian theocratic government, run by and for the wealthy and justified by God’s will. Certain traits create the third-world conditions of Mexico, and they reflect closely the fundamentalist policies of the Republican Party in the U.S. today.
Like most Central and South American countries, Mexico has been under the yoke of the Catholic Church since before Cortés. For most Mexicans the Church still is the main source of culture and education. Krauze writes, “It was in other areas, like education, where the influence of the Church was clearly harmful.” He notes that the Church was responsible “above all, [for] the intolerant strain in Mexican thought, evident in 1910….”

Church + State = Third WorldOne church, one god, one dogma, one catechism, one way of thinking—this narrow mindedness is what fuels theocratic regimes. This holds true for Mexico today as it does for many other third-world countries like Israel, Palestine, Syria, Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Saudi Arabia, where reason flutters in the wind like a battle-torn flag, and where people view the world in terms of what God wills. They do this without realizing that God can be quite different from one tribe, gang, or congregation to the next.  They result is endless wars in the Golan Heights, the West Bank, or on the streets of Juarez.
Theocracies most often resemble fascist regimes, with their dogmatic control over every life. At different times and places, the degree of tyranny varies but the underlying characteristic of centralized command remains, just as it does in right-wing regimes, like Iraq under Saddam Hussein, or Panama under Noriega, or Saudi Arabia under the Saud Monarchy, or Israel under Benjamin Netanyahu.
Or Profirio Diaz, like many other Mexican presidents all the way to recent ex-President Vincente Fox, who “ran an ‘integral’ or ‘total’ government…by integrating into the person of the President the real powers—national and local politico-military leaders and army generals…and by neutralizing dissident voices.”
In the aftermath of 9/11, W’s administration muzzled dissident voices for several years by calling them unpatriotic, a claim that could ruin the career of a journalist like Dan Rather and former Ambassador Joe Wilson who published an opinion piece in the The New York Times, revealing how W twisted intelligence reports to justify the invasion of Iraq.   
Like most third-world countries, Mexico escaped the influence of the century of the Enlightenment. For Europe and the United States, the Enlightenment meant that facts, scientific method, and reason reemerge from antiquity as the measure of truth and sound ideas. It was a time when revolution tore down the arbitrary and whimsical “divine rights” of kings and other nutcase right-wing manipulators. As in France, the “Founding Fathers” of the U.S. fortunately had embraced the Age of Reason with its ideals of human rights, rational justice, and democracy.

Age of Enlightenment Revisited
Contrary to claims by members of the Republican Party, most of the Founders were Deists, hardly interested in any religion. They thought the universe had a creator, but one not concerned with the daily lives of humans and not in direct contact with them, either by revelation or by sacred texts. No, the Republicans are horribly wrong in their claims that America was founded as a Christian nation. As usual, when they make statements in the mainstream media, they revise history according to their own mythologies. Jefferson, on the contrary, believed that America’s strength arises from free thinking, critical citizens, unfettered from the chains of religious nonsense.

Eco writes that right-wing traditionalists see “the Enlightenment, the Age of Reason…as the beginning of modern depravity. In this sense Ur-Fascism can be defined as irrationalism.”Krauze points out that the values of the Enlightenment “affected only the topmost level of society, and despite the historic breakthroughs of that period, Mexico held tight to the culture of the Baroque with centralized power in a monarchal-type president or a despot and religious superstitions in the place of science. Mexico remained resistant to the political and intellectual currents of the European Enlightenment.” The Republican Party ignores any type of rational system of justice and instead attempts to transform the U.S. justice system into an extension of its own arbitrary policies. Like Islam and Judaism, Christianity has been used as a propaganda channel for unified political power ever since it was accepted by political authorities, such as Constantine.

Today, the Republicans use religion to legitimize their own goals, such as to ignoring the habeas corpus and due process of the law in order to imprison and torture people without trial. Motivated by personal gain and fueled by favoritism for members of their own religious tribe, they appoint religious extremists to the Supreme Court and make deals with lobbyists of large corporations against the best interests of the people and the greater welfare of the country. As Octavio Paz describes Mexico in his book, The Labyrinth of Solitude, “ours is the Counter-reformation, Monopoly and Feudalism….”

By shifting power to a centralized executive branch, by favoring corporations that become monopolistic, by legislating religious superstitions like creationism as part of the educational curriculum in public schools, and so encouraging citizens to lose their grasp on clear thinking, not to mention science and reason, the Republican Party sought the dumbing-down of the  general public. The dumber citizens are, the easier it is to beguile them. The right wing is continuing its quest to bring the U.S. closer to the Dark Ages of feudalism, monopoly, and ignorance—and shared status, with Mexico, as a failed state.