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The working class and peasants of Thailand were protesting a system that had repeatedly disenfranchised them, most notably in the ouster of populist Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra. Streaming in from the provinces, these men, women and children set up camp in the heart of commercial Bangkok. Disrupting business as usual, they had specific demands. After two months, they were finally routed by troops and armored cars, but not before they could torch Central World, one of the biggest shopping malls on earth, and the Thai Stock Exchange. Through all this popular discontent then bloody crackdown, there was not a peep from Washington, but there’s no surprise, really. Whatever its rhetoric, the U.S. has always backed business interests over human or worker’s rights. Our labor history is proof enough of this.
When Washington does get into a tizzy over a protest overseas, one can assume that it has a hidden agenda, as in regime change, for example. One may also surmise shenanigans from our C.I.A. After the Iranian election of 2009, Washington was frothy with indignation, yet after the Mexican vote in 2006, it looked the other way, though that was right next door. Millions of Mexicans supported Lopez Obrador, including 100,000 who filled Zocalo Square for his unofficial swearing in. Our media, predictably, paid almost no attention. Lopez who? All you need to know about this dude is that he was anti-NAFTA, which meant that Obrador was against big business, apple pie, baseball and probably your grandma. A Commie scumbag, in short.
Washington doesn’t dig small time Commies. It hangs with real Reds. That’s why China is our biggest trading partner. Big business prefers a hard line regime, whether left or right, because it foregoes unions, ensuring cheap labor. Without worries about safety and environmental standards, profits will swell. A non-democratic government also can’t be voted out, which translates into “stability” in empire linguistics.
What’s so bad about NAFTA anyway? Isn’t that “free trade”? It meant we got to dump our subsidized corn onto the Mexican market, bankrupting their farmers, forcing many to sweat inside American owned maquilladoras along the border, until these shut down, leading a bunch to cross into the U.S., where they became the main workforce of our housing bubble. This influx hurt working Americans, of course, including a schmuck like me who house painted for nine years, but it was great for business, and that’s all that mattered from the perspective of Washington and Wall Street.
And why do we subsidize corn? Because it benefits Coke, Pepsi, McDonald’s, Burger King, Taco Bell and Kentucky Fried Chicken, etc. Our livestock are stuffed with almost nothing but corn and corn syrup has become ubiquitous in this land of 30% obesity, highest in the known and probably unknown universe. Maize welfare also fattens Monsanto, maker of Agent Orange, PCBs and rBGH growth hormones, among other toxic goodies.
Current news item: Haitian farmers are threatening to burn 60,000 seed sacks donated by Monsanto. Haiti, one must remember, is the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere, where the most destitute sometimes resort to consuming mud pies. In 2008, Mexico returned a shipment of U.S. beef after too much copper was discovered in the meat, but this copper fortified beef was promptly sold to American shoppers. Isn’t Mexico an increasingly lawless land where drug gangs run rampant? They still have enough sense, however, to respect what goes into their bodies, just like the Haitians, who would rather eat mud than Monsanto, apparently. Who could blame them?
It’s no secret that food in very poor societies is often exceptional, at least to Americans, since we’re so far removed from what’s natural or even sane. We even feed our cattle chicken poop, for Gaia’s sake. The next time you’re in a Third World country, boil an egg just to marvel at that bright orange yolk. Their secret? They don’t resort to factory farming.
Sometimes I wonder if the relative complacency of our working class comes from the fact that most of us have ready access to cheap grub? I mean, just two hours of minimum wage grunting will earn me a tub of Frankenstein chicken, some green stuff and a gallon of fizz. After a dessert Twinkie or two, or maybe ten, I just don’t feel like penning a protest poem or joining the local militia.
Unlike the Thai resistance, recent American protests are more about goofy display than power struggle. Our marches are parades that accomplish nothing. Tired of that, we heckle. In the last Thai election for their House of Representatives, seven different parties won seats. This is not at all unusual for any country other than America. With two parties that serve the same military industrial complex, our elections are more about style than substance, but of course you know that already. As Jesse Ventura observed, our political establishment is no different than professional wrestling.
Failing to connect the dots, many working class Americans are venting their anger at illegal immigrants, when both groups are victims of the same power elites. Our borders have not been porous because of charity or ineptitude, but by design. All bosses, whether CEO or pimp, want the cheapest labor, wouldn’t you? If they can’t get it from down the street, they’ll go to the end of the world, or let the world come in. This ruthless logic of capital has gone global thanks to the availability of cheap oil, but this pipeline is finally wheezing out, and in a horrific mess, too, as is clear. Minimize cost, maximize profit, squeeze, deceive, wreck entire societies at will or through negligence, and should things get too dicey, the cabana boys and girls inside the Beltway will bail you out. Cabinet is in session!
LINH DINH is the author of two books of stories and five of poems, with a novel, Love Like Hate, scheduled for July. He’s tracking our deteriorating socialscape through his frequently updated photo blog, State of the Union.