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.