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Democracy for the Few
Parenti (151), in the book Democracy for the Few, outlines his views of the U.S. And the world. At the heart of his view is that the United States is ruled by corporations, specifically a corporate plutocracy. At the outset of Chapter 10, he writes "the corporate-dominated state," essentially confirming his views with respect to this. He notes several instance where he believes that corporate interests have passed laws that place them above citizens (Parenti 119). His logic is certainly debatable at times -- Lloyd Corporation v Tanner simply affirms what had already been written in the First Amendment and noting a lack of such speech protections under the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and similar human resources acts -- the Supreme Court doesn't make the laws; the evidence is in the fact that there have been no changes to the First Amendment passed, and that is a much weaker case for corporate influence (Parenti 120). Parenti's case about corporations ruling America is presumably made prior to Chapter 10.
However, some political repression is described in these chapters. Odd that slavery and women's suffrage are issues not discussed under the rubric of repression -- those seem pretty obvious, and make the case much more strongly than a handful of anecdotes. Parenti checklists a handful of cases of overt political repression by the U.S. government, especially with respect to civil rights conflicts. This part of the argument is far too thin and poorly structured -- he did not mention the war on drugs and the prison industrial complex for some strange reason, despite that being one of the most egregious examples of government repression of alternate views -- break up the poor black communities by putting all their young men in prison, twenty years at a time - for as little as a bag of weed. Regardless, Parenti does outline a pattern of repression of political dissidents, whose speech is theoretically protected, but whose rights are routinely violated. Even to this day, it is hard to protest a globalization meeting without facing down the riot police. The U.S. has a large infrastructure dedicated to "national security" that serves to monitor U.S. citizens and ensure that large-scale resistance to corporatist policies is undermined at every turn.
Parenti argues that globalization undermines democracy. After having already argued that corporations rule America, this is the next step in that line of reasoning. He notes that many of the institutions of globalization help to promote the ability of corporations to extend their influence around the world. Trade agreements are almost always signed by governments without referendum, and therefore the process does not take into account the needs of all stakeholders, only those who have been invited to participate in the policy discussions, typically corporate interests. The problem with free trade agreements, Parenti (158) notes, is that the restrictions in these agreements typically are against governments: "no free trade restrictions are directed against private business; almost all are against governments" and there are enforcement mechanisms within the free trade agreements that create an extrajudicial system for changing domestic laws regardless of domestic support. In democratic societies, laws reflect the will of the people, so when free trade agreements that were not subject to referendum overturn those laws, this explicitly weakens democracy, by removing from the people their ability to set the terms of their citizenship in a country -- they lose their ability to influence the laws by which they are governed.
Parenti is also interested in militarism, noting that the U.S. military often seems to be deployed in actions that specifically support American corporate interests -- or that "national interests" are frequently conflated to a high degree with corporate interests. When the U.S. shifted during World War Two from its non-interventionist international relations stance to finally show up and then take all the credit, it also created an international relations monster. The U.S. had become activist, and since much of Europe was rebuilding after the war, the U.S. took on the lead role in influencing global public relations. Some of this was born out of naked fear of the brutal totalitarian visions of Communism being imposed around the world, but there were less legitimate reasons for the U.S. To persist with its shift towards a highly militaristic view and a desire to influence the world.
The military industrial complex is a term used to describe the network of companies that form America's defense contractors and the Department of Defense. Having been pumped full of money during World War Two, these companies leveraged the fear of communism to continue to receive massive funding. This in turn sparked a need for the United States to continually engage in military aggression around the world. The desire to influence policy in other countries was therefore only part of the problem -- the U.S. had to keep its military sharp and ensure a healthy market for the newly-influential defense contractors. It is at the point now, Parenti (143) notes, where the government -- such as under Bush -- announced intentions to spend $48 billion in new defense spending without having any idea where this money would be spent or why.
The cost of this militarism, is staggering, at some $850 billion per year (Parenti 138). There are high annual debt payments related to this militarism, and then there are special supplementary appropriations to spend on specific wars such as Iraq and Afghanistan -- regardless of whether there revenues to pay for these wars (Parenti 138). The U.S. even helps to provide financing to foreign governments to whom it sells weapons (Parenti 138), basically a subsidy to help provide alternate markets to U.S. weapons contractors. Approximately a quarter of U.S. defense spending is difficult to account for -- not only is the number absurdly high but the tracking of this spending is very poor, opening the possibility of massive corruption and fraud perpetrated on the U.S. taxpayers. Examples of misspending on no-source bids have proven to be comical -- the $640 toilet seat actually exists (Parenti 140).
The U.S. gets a lot for this spending, not surprisingly. The country has the largest military in the world, with the most weapons and the greatest capabilities. It built up the world's biggest arsenal of nuclear weapons, enough to win the Cold War, but as nice as that is for the people of Eastern Europe (at least some of them), Parenti asks what that money could have done for American infrastructure and development. There are also costs, Parenti notes (142) associated with the devastation both at home and abroad of all of this military activity.
The high level of military activity is also tied to economic imperialism. Once the U.S. government figured out what a strong military could do for creating economic opportunity it liberally used the military to advance U.S. economic interests. Consider the ongoing hissy fit with respect to Cuba -- the U.S. policy towards Cuba reflects nothing more than an entitled brat mad because it lost face when it could not use its military to ensure a captive market for its casinos and drug lords. Globalization of economic activity reflects the movement of capital into developing countries. There are often strong negative outcomes of such moves, because governments in those countries are often weak, corrupt or otherwise useless; foreign governments and companies exploit this weakness with glee.
In addition to promoting the same free trade that brings about some questionable outcomes -- Parenti's view is stronger than that but he only looks at extreme downside cases, is biases interfering with his argument -- to people in foreign countries, the U.S. uses aid to influence those nations, also often for the benefit of U.S. companies. The subsidies to foreign countries to buy weapons from U.S. arms manufacturers have…[continue]
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