James Clay Fuller

Things We're Not Supposed to Say

Thursday, February 24, 2005

Exporting corporatism: lies and facts

"Fascism should more properly be called corporatism because it is the merger of state and corporate powers." – Benito Mussolini, Fascist dictator of Italy, 1930s/’40s.

A few nights ago, I had one of those forehead slapping moments we all experience now and then, a lightening bolt of recognition of something so terribly obvious we should have known it all along.

I’d seen elephant droppings all over the carpet, and choked on the smell, but I’d failed to see the elephant in the room, or at least to see it clearly.

Andy Driscoll, a fellow liberal blogger and a frequent speaker on progressive issues, put me straight during a talk to a small group of peace and justice activists one recent evening. I went primarily to meet Andy, with whom I’d exchanged many emails.

Pretty much in passing, he observed that while the Bush Gang talks about exporting democracy to suffering countries, it really is trying to export capitalism.

Of course. Everybody else in the room took that as a given, and it required no explanation. I gave myself a mental slap on the head.

When I thought about the neocons’ goals abroad, I thought generally in terms of the power to manipulate or command other governments and to milk the economies of other countries, but I hadn’t distilled that down to its basic component.

One has to take it one step further, however, as was clear in just a few seconds of thought. (And, I’m sure, has been clear to most thinking adults since the little prince ascended to the throne.)

It isn’t just capitalism the Bush Gang is trying to export, of course. Many of the places they’re looking at so greedily already have some form of small-enterprise capitalism and entrepreneurship, with perhaps a few larger and probably foreign-owned companies running the oil fields, and/or utilities and such.

What the Bushies so obviously want is to install their own brand of capitalism, in which a tiny handful of very rich people own everything of real economic value, and the other 99 percent of the world’s people are peasants whose lives have value only to the degree that they contribute to the wealth and comfort of the elite. The elite may include a very few natives of the countries to be exploited. The multi-billionaires club is quite egalitarian on that score. If you have real wealth, say $6 billion or more, you can even be black or brown and be accepted – except perhaps into the family.

A brief explanation here: Like most Americans who grew up in the 1940s and ‘50s, I was raised a believer in capitalism, although it was a Franklin Roosevelt sort of capitalism, in which a few key industries – electric and gas utilities, telephone companies, railroads and the like -- were fairly tightly regulated by government and other businesses were required to adhere to government-imposed rules. There was a rule against unregulated monopoly, for example, and publicly held companies were required to make timely disclosure of essential information to shareholders.

I remain pretty much the same kind of capitalist I was then, but decades of studying and reporting on economics and business led to my current belief in closer government watch on all the high-dollar crooks out there, and stricter rules of operation for corporations. I’ve also long believed that certain essential services, such as medical care and facilities, should be owned and operated by the federal government, as they are in more rationally governed countries. I remain adamantly opposed to monopolies, including the quasi-monopolies the Bushies are encouraging, in which three or four giant corporations, in barely-concealed collusion, control an industry.

Small, privately-owned businesses? You bet. Go for it. Make a couple of million bucks and I’ll applaud -- that is, if you pay your taxes and don’t cheat your customers or your employees.

That said, I would very much enjoy seeing the Bush clan and all their sociopathic billionaire buddies exiled to small and low-lying islands far from major land masses, so that they can closely observe the environmental effects of their greed while they forage for food. They are not capitalists in any acceptable sense. They are robber barons and war lords.

Aha, asks the gnarly conservative, where is the evidence to support your condemnation of our beloved political and business leaders?

It is a fair question, so I’ll provide some – just a sampling of what’s available, in no particular order, but just as it comes to hand from the stacks in and around my desk:

* The Bush Gang and its congressional puppets are about to give us what they call tort reform. As with all things they label "reform," it is a gift to corporatations at the expense of the public. It is, in fact, close to being a catastrophe for employees and consumers. It is based on the demonstrably false claim that a "flood" of frivolous lawsuits has endangered the very existence of many businesses.

There is no flood. The legislation was marketed by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, and other corporate-back organizations and the Bush administration, which displayed their usual disdain for truth. Employees who have been injured or mortally sickened by careless employers, and consumers who have suffered terrible harm from badly designed or produced products will find it difficult to mount class action lawsuits. Many legal actions now brought in more reasonable state courts will be taken away from those courts and put before federal judges appointed by the Bush Gang. The law will greatly limit damages one can receive even if an employee or consumer wins a case – limit the awards to less than the actual damage in many cases.

* Tom Ridge, recently resigned secretary of the Department of Homeland Security, holds stock in seven corporations that have contracts with that department. (That information comes from the department.) Within days of leaving the Homeland Security job, Ridge was made a director of Home Depot, which is a major corporate contributor to the Bush administration and the Republican Party. It is a typical corporate reward for political work well done.

*William H.T. Bush, youngest brother of the first President Bush and "Uncle Bucky" to the reigning Bush, is a director of Engineered Support Systems, Inc., a St. Louis-based defense contractor. Uncle Bucky got the job eight months before the 2000 election.

The stock of Engineered Support Systems, a maker of armor and other war materials, has sailed to new heights since the invasion of Iraq. In mid-January, Uncle Bucky exercised some stock options and realized a modest gain -- about $450,000. The company's profits are still rising rapidly, and Bucky has more options. But, of course, he said he never uses family connections to benefit the company. No, no. Not him.

A company vice president, Dan Kreher, did admit that "having a Bush doesn't hurt" the company.

*You know how Prince George labeled Iran part of an "Axis of Evil?" Halliburton, Vice President Dick Cheney’s company, which is gobbling up billions in Iraq from government contracts – and has had a few billion dollars from those contracts "disappear" without an accounting, according to government auditors -- also had revenues of $63.5 million last year from subsidiaries’ operations in Iran. It’s in the corporation’s financial reports.

* And in Iraq, which we are trying just ever so hard to present with democracy, the current puppet government intends to enforce laws put in place by our previous occupation government that will do terrible lasting damage to Iraq’s farmers and the country’s food supply.

The situation is too complex for one-paragraph explanation, but, very briefly, the U.S.-imposed law forbids Iraqi farmers from using "farm-saved" seed and exchanging seeds among farmers; saving seeds now will be illegal and farmers may sell key grains only if they are produced from seeds purchased mostly from U.S. agribusiness corporations which have been granted 20- or 25-year monopolies. There are similar provisions for tree and vine crops. The Iraqis have, over many decades, developed crops suited to their land’s harsh conditions, and most of their crops to date have been produced with farm-saved seed. The corporate-produced seed doesn’t measure up. Food production is going to get much worse, but outfits such as Dow Chemical, Monsanto and Cargill are going to clean up.

* Bush Gang and its congressional allies are continuing to work at removing all obstacles to the export of jobs by corporations. Between 1989 and 2003, imports from China alone displaced more than 1.6 million U.S. jobs, while exports to China from the U.S. generated just 199,000 jobs in this country. Of course, similar stories can be told about India, Pakistan and a couple of dozen other countries.

* Three years ago, the Bushies were touting – oh the splendor of their program names! – their Jobs and Growth Plan. The plan would created 5.5 million jobs by the end of 2004, they said.
The big tax cuts for the rich were going to produce about a million and a half of those jobs, you betcha.

Turns out, the number of new jobs was a teensy bit lower than the estimate – 3.1 million jobs lower. They didn’t even keep up with the number of new people entering the work force. It was, in fact, the worst record of job growth in this country in a century. Oh, yes: The typical U.S. household in which people are working has experienced a drop in annual take-home pay of about $1,500 during the past three years. All of which means, according to the Bushies, that more tax cuts for the super rich are needed. (Information from the Economic Future Group.)

* Oh, those tax cuts. An amazing 54 percent of the big tax cuts pushed through by the Bush Gang went to one fifth of one percent of Americans – those who pull in more than $1 million a year. Put another way, 97 percent of the tax cuts went to just four percent of the population – those with incomes above $200,000 a year.

* The Bush people in the White House and Congress have done great work to clear the way for corporate mergers and the march toward effective monopolies in many industries. This has not done great things for American workers. One very recent example: The merger between Gillete Co. and Procter & Gamble Co. will result in the loss of 6,000 jobs. That is offset, of course, by the fact that Gillete’s chief executive, who has labored for the company for four long years, will walk away with $185 million in stock option gains and a one-time payment for "change in control" of the company. Oh yeah, he also will receive a pension of $1.3 million a year for the rest of his life.

* Any American with a functioning brain already knows that the Social Security privatization scheme is a con that will hurt all working Americans but enrich the Wall Street companies that feed so many dollars to the Bush Gang. Remember that the gang includes the Wall Street Branch and a whole lot of other big business groups.

More as a warning than anything else: Molly Ivins reported a few days ago that more than $200 million in corporate money, much of it from Wall Street, will be spent in coming months on advertising to sell American citizens the bald-faced lie that Social Security is in crisis and that privatizing some portion of Social Security – investing it with the companies selling the lie – will save the program. Well, not quite $200 million. Some of the money will go to tell us that class action suits are bad.

Even members of the Bush administration have admitted to reporters that there is no crisis, that privatization will not in any way help Social Security and that, in fact, private investment accounts are more likely to result in reduced income for retirees than they are to improve that income.

Again, $200 million in advertising!

As Ivins noted, the insurance industry spent only $10 million to kill the Clintons’ health insurance plan in 1993.

The piles on and around my desk aren’t noticeably smaller, but this piece is long enough.