ECOLOGICAL DISASTER AND POWER POLITICS IN EQUADOR

By Jim Jordal

 Seems it a small thing to you to have fed on the good pasture, but you must tread down with your feet the residue of your pasture? and to have drunk of the clear waters, but you must foul the residue with your feet? As for my sheep, they eat that which you have trodden with your feet, and they drink that which you have fouled with your feet.

God’s charge against Israel’s shepherds who have failed to protect his sheep, Ezekiel 34:18 WEB

Newsweek magazine for Aug. 4, 2008 reports on a lawsuit being brought by indigenous people of Ecuador against Chevron (Texaco) for allegedly dumping billions of gallons of toxic oil waste products into the rivers and streams from which the Indians receive their water supplies. The plaintiffs, many of whom suffer cancer and physical deformities, show up in their native dress in the courtroom, some with painted faces and scanty clothing. Were it not for a group of American lawyers interested in their case, these indigenous sufferers would have little or no chance of ever succeeding in any court in Ecuador, or anywhere else for that matter.

Representing Chevron is a gaggle of high-powered lawyers familiar with Washington D.C. power politics. They argue that Chevron is not only innocent of the charges, but is a victim of corrupt Ecuadoran politics. As one Chevron lobbyist reportedly said: "The ultimate issue here is that Ecuador has mistreated a U.S. company. We can’t let little countries screw around with big companies like this—companies that have made big investments around the world."

Of course Chevron immediately repudiated the statement, claiming that it did not reflect company policy and had not been approved by the company. But the cat is out of the bag: a representative of predatory corporate capitalism finally admits what informed people already know--that corporate greed and power trump human rights almost every time, especially in underdeveloped countries.

But perhaps not this time! A miracle of sorts has occurred: a court-appointed specialist recommended that Chevron be required to pay between $8 billion and $16 billion to clean up the rain forest mess.

However, the struggle is not yet over, since Chevron now is pressuring the Bush administration to rescind Ecuador’s privileged trading position with our nation unless the leftist government forces the tribes to drop the suit.

So the issue breaks down to this: What rights, if any, do indigenous peoples living in a primitive state of existence have against corporate power dedicated to exploiting their natural resources for the benefit of larger nations such as the U.S.? History shows that in Latin America, at least, they traditionally have no rights. Should this case be decided in favor of the natives, it will be perhaps the first time any indigenous group has succeeded in resisting the corporate colossus.

But wouldn’t it be possible to develop Ecuadoran oil reserves without destroying native habitat? Of course it would. But given the nature of rapacious capitalism, any attempt to control environmental damage would lessen profits, and therefore cannot be tolerated. Economists call this "externalizing costs." What it means that because of corporate control over the legislative process corporations have been allowed to dump their waste products into the water or air (externalizing costs), thereby avoiding having to pay for processing their wastes—which ought to be a necessary cost of doing business.

When I read this article I thought of King Solomon’s meditations as reported in the biblical book of Ecclesiastes. Solomon wrote: "Again I saw all the oppressions that are practiced under the sun. Look, the tears of the oppressed—with no one to comfort them! On the side of their oppressors there was power—with no one to comfort them (4:1).

Under several World Trade Organization (WHO) rules, corporations have the right to sue countries in which they operate for "restraint of trade" damages when those supposedly independent countries attempt to enforce ecological and human values such as making laws against pollution or supporting worker rights. In other words, independent nations have no right to protect their own people against corporate power. So what ever happened to national sovereignty and economic justice?

Like Solomon said: "On the side of their oppressors there was power—with no one to comfort them."

SOCIAL BUSINESS: ANTIDOTE TO THE GLOBAL CORPORATE COLOSSUS

By Jim Jordal

Creating a World Without Poverty: Social Business and the Future of Capitalism, by Muhammad Yunus, New York: Public Affairs Books, 2007.

In this paradigm-shattering book, Muhammad Yunus, Nobel prize-winning Pakistani economist, social visionary, and founder of the world-famed micro-credit movement applies the poverty-breaking philosophy and experiences of his renown Grameen Bank to the global corporate world in general.

Muhammad Yunus is a Western-trained professional economist who, upon returned to his native Pakistan after teaching in the West for several years, was struck by the then-apparent hopelessness of the 80 percent of Pakistanis living in abject poverty. He soon realized that the poverty he observed had nothing to do with any lack of skills or abilities of the people, but was due mainly to their inability to retain any significant amount of financial return from their labor. They worked for others who controlled the available capital, reserving for themselves most of the gains from production. What little capital was available to the poor came mostly from moneylenders charging exorbitant interest fees. Under this situation the poor were forced into an existence of permanent wage and debt bondage.

Yunus realized that the people--especially poor women--had great survival and custodial skills and needed only small amounts of capital to allow them to begin home businesses such as weaving, animal husbandry, and making and selling artifacts. He made the first loans using his own funds, but soon the demand for loans multiplied beyond his personal resources. Thus was born the micro-credit concept of pooling group funds in order to make small loans to worthy beginning entrepreneurs. Now the micro-credit movement has spread to most of the world’s poorest nations, and even into parts of the so-called developed world.

The social business concept follows logically from the micro-credit idea since money received through loans is generally used to start small family or community oriented businesses. Once they grow beyond the family stage they become candidates for the larger social business concept.

Social businesses are designed from the beginning to meet social needs. They hope to be profitable, but profit is not their only goal. Rather, profits form the basis for further research, development, and expansion. Founders may contribute money or buy shares if the new business is organized that way, and will receive back their initial investment, but no dividends. Generally social businesses operate on the local level, preferring to remain close to their workers and customers. Thus they minimize transportation costs and the management headaches normally associated with larger concerns. Indigenous women having talent for using money wisely to benefit their families and communities often own them.

Social businesses are aimed, not at destroying capitalism, but at remedying its major flaws. Modern corporations have a fiduciary responsibility to maximize profit for the benefit of their shareholders. Unfortunately, what too often happens, especially in the absence or weakness of government regulation, is that this single-minded requirement to maximize profit takes precedence over all other concerns.

By subordinating the requirement to maximize profits to the higher goal of serving people, social businesses eliminate one chief pitfall of the modern corporation—the need to make profit at all costs. Thus, they become free to pursue on a much wider scale the needs of the community in which they serve.

A second major problem of modern corporations is that in their struggle for efficiency and profits they tend to lose sight of the needs of people. The century-long labor union struggle to gain recognition and a living wage as well as the more current conflict over the exporting of jobs to low-wage countries are symptoms of the problem, as are the sufferings of indigenous people left behind by the new globalization.

Social businesses are able to combine the advantages of free competitive markets with the vast needs for social improvement. Since they work mainly in local markets using local productive resources, they can be small as well as efficient. They are able to profitably fill niches in local economies that are ignored by larger corporations in the belief that there are no profits to be made selling small amounts of goods to local people.

Social businesses offer great promise to finally conquer endemic world poverty by putting both money and organizational ability where the need is. The present system that places often-unneeded loans by the World Bank and International Monetary Fund at the mercy of corrupt dictators and charlatans has mostly failed—poverty is as great as ever. It remains for new concepts like micro-credit and social business to attempt what massive relief institutions have failed to accomplish—end or at least alleviate world poverty.

BONO SPEAKS FOR ECONOMIC JUSTICE

By Jim Jordal

"Is not this the fast which I choose, to loosen the bonds of wickedness, to undo the bands of the yoke, and to let the oppressed go free, and break every yoke? Is it not to divide your bread with the hungry, and bring the homeless poor into the house; when you see the naked, to cover him; and not to hide yourself from your own flesh? Then your light will break out like the dawn, and your recovery will speedily spring forth; and your righteousness will go before you; the glory of the Lord will be your rear guard."

Isaiah 58:6-8, referred to by Bono is his remarks

In February, 2006, Bono, lead singer of the Irish rock band U2, spoke at the annual National Prayer Breakfast in Washington D.C. Members of Congress joined President Bush and other dignitaries in hearing a prominent musician speak forcefully against poverty, disease, hunger, and worldwide economic injustice. Bono also urged the U.S (and by implication other leading nations of the world) to provide immediate, serious action against these curses before they overwhelm rich as well as poor.

Bono made what we might call prophetic pronouncements. Some Christians discount comments of a prophetic nature made by laymen under the mistaken view that only clergy or persons highly educated in matters of faith can make prophetic pronouncements. But if you read the book of Amos and many others, you'll find that God often inspires rather common people to utter his prophetic word.

Continuing his remarks on economic justice, Bono defined several current issues of economic justice: "Preventing the poorest of the poor from selling their products…that's a justice issue. Holding children to ransom for the debts of their grandparents…that's a justice issue. Withholding life-saving medicines out of deference to the Office of Patents…that's a justice issue. That's why I say there's the law of the land, and then there is a higher standard."

Bono also remembered, "A number of years ago, I met a wise man who changed my life. In countless ways, large and small. I was always seeking the Lord's blessing. I was saying, you know, I have a new song, look after it. I have a family, please look after them. I have this crazy idea…And this wise man said: 'stop.' He said, 'Stop asking God to bless what you're doing. Get involved in what God is doing--because it's already blessed.' Well, God, as I said, is with the poor. That, I believe, is what God is doing. And that is what he's calling us to do."

Bono concluded his remarks with a dangerous idea--"I'm on very thin ice…that Christian, Jewish, and Islamic scriptures all require the less fortunate of society to be treated with compassion and justice." Because of this common injunction, he asked that a "tithe" of one percent of the U.S. federal budget be added to the considerably less than one percent already being contributed for relief of poverty, sickness, and lack of education in the developing world.

"What is one percent? One percent is not merely a number on a balance sheet. One percent is the girl in Africa who gets to go to school, thanks to you. One percent is the AIDS patient who gets her medicine, thanks to you. One percent is the African entrepreneur who can start a small family business, thanks to you. One percent is not redecorating presidential palaces or money flowing down a rat hole. This one percent is digging waterwheels to provide clean water. One percent is a new partnership with Africa, not paternalism toward Africa, where increased assistance flows toward improved governance and initiatives with proven track records and away from boondoggles and white elephants of every description."

"American gives less than one percent now. We're asking for an extra one percent to change the world, to transform millions of lives [including] the way they see us. One percent is national security, enlightened economic self-interest, and a better, safer world rolled into one. Sounds to me that in this town of deals and compromises, one percent is the best bargain around."

"To give one percent more is right. It's smart. And it's blessed. There is a continent--Africa--being consumed by flames. I truly believe that when the history books are written, our age will be remembered for three things: the war on terror, the digital revolution, and what we did--or did not do--to put out the fire in Africa. History, like God, is watching what we do."

NOTE: Readers please spend some time considering all of Isaiah 58. God promises national security ("the glory of the Lord will be your rear guard"); recovery of national spiritual and moral health ("Your recovery will speedily spring forth"); answers to prayer ("you will call, and the Lord will answer"). He also offers great national blessing ("and you will be like a watered garden"); and restoration of the foundations of national greatness lost in our disobedience to His word ("those from among you will rebuild the ancient ruins; you will be called the repairer of the breach, the restorer of streets to dwell in").

As Bono says: "One percent is the best bargain around." It's only sad to me that Bono spoke to power the message that should be delivered loudly and continuously by ecclesiastical and business leaders

GLOBALIZATION AS BABYLON

By Jim Jordal

"And the merchants of the earth will weep and mourn over her, for no one buys their merchandise any more: merchandise of gold and silver, precious stones and pearls, fine linen and purple, every kind of citron wood, every kind of object of ivory, every kind of object of most precious wood, bronze, iron, and marble; and cinnamon and incense, fragrant oil and frankincense, wine and oil, fine flour and wheat, cattle and sheep, horses and chariots, and bodies and souls of men."

Rev. 18: 11-13 (NKJV)

The 18th chapter of the Book of Revelation details what many Bible scholars believe to be the collapse and fall of a future world commercial/financial empire, the values of which are in direct antithesis to the Jubilee law of God and the principles of His coming earthly kingdom. The above Scripture sets forth the values and priorities in descending order of this God-defying system: monetization and commercialization of virtually everything, worship of gold and other forms of wealth as the highest expression of human achievement, and the relegation of human welfare to the lowest level of strategic importance.

If you consider these events and trends presently happening in the world, you may wonder if the days predicted by Revelation are not now here:

  • Vast human suffering in the developing world as a result of negotiated trade policies like NAFTA
  • Despoliation of the physical world by giant international corporations intent only on profits
  • Explosive growth of executive compensation as compared to worker salaries
  • Disgusting salaries and bonuses paid to professional athletes and entertainers
  • The boom in luxury goods like multi-million dollar dwellings, executive jets, yachts, and, yes, even luxury submarines for those who have everything
  • Continuing revelations of Wall Street financial manipulations preying upon the poor
  • The leveling and even decline of middle class family purchasing power over the past generation
  • Periodic financial crises and debt defaults in many countries
  • The world-wide nature of the financial empire so that no one escapes when things go bad
  • The persistence of poverty and hunger in spite of relief efforts

Look at the values underlying the above disclosures and ask yourself, Do any of them represent the biblical values of Jubilee justice as expounded by the prophets and the teachings of Jesus?

Some Christians will not even seriously consider what Revelation says for various reasons. Some consider it incomprehensible, while others discount it as the ravings of a wild man. Some think it has already been fulfilled, and others place it all in the future. Others would claim this chapter was fulfilled when the Babylonian Empire was conquered by King Darius of Persia centuries ago. But I'll go along with the view that Revelation is God's disclosure of events to transpire during the Church Age, or the time beginning with the Advent of Jesus Christ and culminating with the establishment of Christ's earthly kingdom.

No matter what view you take, I think it difficult to avoid the truth of what this chapter reveals about world socio-economic conditions today. Every newscast or newspaper adds to the conclusion that what we call Babylon, or world systems in opposition to God, becomes stronger and more aggressive each week. The result is increased suffering for those bypassed in the mad scramble for efficiency and profits, and ecological destruction for the earth.

The remainder of chapter 18 reveals the participation of all nations and rulers in the evil deeds of Babylon, and scolds the merchants of the earth for supporting this system in order to profit from it. Of course there is nothing wrong with buying and selling to make profit; but there is something inherently evil in doing so at the expense of the bodies and souls of human beings. Because of this reversal of Jubilee priorities God declares vengeance upon the Babylonian system and those who have perpetrated her evils.

Jeremiah 50 and 51 also chronicle the fall of Babylon, referring to its evil universal dominance as "the hammer of the whole earth." Jeremiah also blames this system for making the nations "mad" or "deranged."

He then says her consorts would attempt to heal Babylon, but she could not be healed because God had pronounced destruction against her.

With this in mind, think of the many efforts today to ameliorate the evil effects of the world socio/economic system through charity, political action, and religious evangelism. But God says the system is doomed because it is in direct contrast to His Jubilee provisions for human welfare. Therefore, continue your good work to help victims of the system, but remember that the system itself cannot be reformed, and must be replaced by God's Jubilee system.

TROUBLE IN LATIN AMERICA, PART ONE

By Jim Jordal

"For I know your transgressions are many and your sins are great, you who distress the righteous and accept bribes, and turn aside the poor in the gate."

Amos 5:12 (NASB)

The political-big business propaganda machine is again spewing invective against the rise of leftist native leaders in Latin America. This time it's Evo Morales, an indigenous Aymara Indian inaugurated as Bolivia's President on Jan. 22, 2006. Morales incurs American wrath with his promise to increase coca production (something we should oppose, but only as we offer an alternative way for Bolivia to earn foreign exchange). His other major sin is threatening to nationalize Bolivia's natural gas reserves; his country's only other real possibility for earning dollars.

Before Morales it was--and is--Hugo Chavez of Venezuela, who earns American censure because he threatens as an OPEC member to destabilize a significant portion of our oil supply. But what really rattles the cage of the American energy industry much closer to home was his offer (through Venezuelan government-owned Citgo) of cheap fuel oil to poor families in New York City and Boston this winter, something U.S. energy companies refused to do in spite of their massive windfall profits after Katrina. He earns further truculence from the U.S. by making frequent loud statements concerning his nation's resistance to further exploitation by the U.S. and its rapacious multinationals.

Before we label every left-leaning Latin American political leader a threat to U.S. security interests, perhaps we ought to step back and ask what we did to bring this on. The rise of anti-American leaders in nations victimized by U.S. policy is no accident. Nor are their protests against our policies always without merit. Sometimes their only crime is to speak out for indigenous people oppressed by U.S. economic policy and their own self-serving leaders. It seems ludicrous to label lightly populated poverty-stricken countries as threats to U.S. security interests, but that's what we do. But whatever their threat, it is certainly not military or economic. How can economic small fry threaten the American colossus? How can a few untrained soldiers threaten the strongest military power on earth?

But it's another threat we really fear: that these poverty-stricken Latin American nations under bold, committed leadership may somehow escape their economic servitude to giant multinational corporations supported by exploitative U.S. policy. Even worse, they may encourage other oppressed, poor nations to do the same. With elections nearing, it's a possibility that left-leaning politicians may gain power in much larger and more threatening nations like Brazil and Mexico.

Bolivia is--next to Haiti--the poorest nation in the Western Hemisphere. Some 30 percent of its people earn less than $2 daily, and income disparity between rich and poor steadily increases. Bolivia has historically been quite cooperative with International Monetary Fund (IMF) austerity policies aimed at enabling them to pay back their sizable international debt. But now it's clear that these policies, ostensibly aimed at reducing poverty, have in fact done just the opposite as Bolivia remains mired in debt and poverty, with seemingly no way out. And that's why they elect leftist leaders.

So why does Latin America have so much trouble with debt and poverty? We might trace the beginnings of these problems to the early 19th-century Napoleonic wars that so weakened Portugal and Spain that their colonies felt free to declare independence. The Portuguese were expelled from Brazil, and Spain lost all her American colonies except Cuba and Puerto Rico. The American desire to support these newly-independent nations--coupled with a desire to keep Europeans out of the Americas--prompted President James Monroe in his 1823 inaugural address to issue the famous Monroe Doctrine. This doctrine warned off European expansionists by declaring the Western Hemisphere off limits to European colonization, although it did promise that the U.S. would not interfere with their "existing colonies or dependencies" in this Hemisphere. Monroe acknowledged the independence of these new nations, and warned "we could not view any interposition for the purpose of oppressing them, or controlling in any other manner their destiny, by any European power in any other light than as the manifestation of an unfriendly disposition toward the United States." Monroe also stated that "we should consider any attempt on their [European powers] part to extend their [political] system to any portion of this hemisphere as dangerous to our peace and safety."

So the Western Hemisphere became an American preserve and the Caribbean an American lake. But unfortunately (for Latin America), we failed to promise not to meddle in their economic and political affairs ourselves. And so, freed from potential European competition, the U.S. began the mainly economic penetration of Latin American markets.

An unholy alliance of rich and powerful Latin American land barons, American corporations, and U.S. embassies--tolerated, if not supported, by a generally compliant Catholic Church--began the exploitation of South and Central America. Weak Central American countries became known as "banana republics" because of their fiefdom to the United Fruit Company. Others fell prey to coffee conglomerates. Some were victimized because of their rich mineral deposits. But all came to be considered somehow as "economic vassals" to the North American colossus. (Continued next week)