Monday, November 29, 2004

Bananas, in Pajamas...

What do you think of the term "Banana Republic" as a description of the United States? The reason I'm asking is that I came across it twice today in my mindless surfings of the internets. First, Salon argues that our economic policies qualify us for this honorary title:

We're not economists, but none of this sounds very good. Faced with growing deficits, ballooning costs of Social Security, and a fixation on reckless tax cuts, Republicans have apparently devised a new have-your-cake-and-eat-it-too scheme that sounds too smoke and mirrors to be sound fiscal policy. According to the , "Republican budget writers" think they've found a way to cut the deficit and also borrow billions more dollars to overhaul Social Security -- just don't count the billions of additional debt and move them "off-budget."
Democratic senator Kent Conrad calls it "the theater of the absurd, where you spend money, but it doesn't count, you borrow money, but you deny it. Republicans are becoming further and further detached from reality," he told the Post.
" ... Already, there are concerns that foreign creditors in particular are growing tired of the U.S. government's constant need for cash, Conrad said. If lenders are reluctant to finance the president's Social Security plan, interest rates may have to rise sharply to entice them to do so. That could harm the overall economy. 'This is more than political blather,' Conrad said. 'This gets to the markets, and people who are in the markets can add and subtract.'"

Even Paul Krugman, one of my favorite economists (in addition to myself, of course), argues that we have gone all bananas.

Second, the recent presidential elections have made many don their tinfoil helmets (ok, now you are warned) and shout (very quietly) about something not being quite wholesome about the U.S. electoral practises:

The 2004 election has now made it clear for the world to see that the last vestige of American democracy has been destroyed by the criminal cabal: they have put in place a system by which they control election results in all states that use electronic voting equipment. The 2004 election--just like the 2000 and 2002 elections--was STOLEN by the Bush junta! They have seized all power sectors: the executive, legislative, and judicial. America is now a full-fledged Banana Republic.

Seems like the term would fit, doesn't it? But then I realized that I don't actually know where the term "Banana Republic" comes from, except that I assumed it has something to do with bananas, a very benign fruit save for its habit of growing fruit flies in my kitchen.

The story of the "Banana Republic" is fascinating. It has a lot to do with the United Fruit Company and its rule over various Latin American countries:

The capital of the United Fruit Company empire was in Guatemala, in the town of Bananera, where it made its headquarters. From here it master-minded its empire and corrupted every level of government and politics in Guatemala. United Fruit also managed to exempt itself from virtually all taxes for 99 years. UFCO had its fingers in almost every pie in Guatemala. UFCO had the unconditional support of right-wing dictators who maintained their power by terrorizing the people and arresting prominent citizens who were either killed on the spot or tortured in prison to extract confessions. During one wave of repression under Jorge Ubico, hundreds were killed in just two days.

This all happened before 1944 when Guatemala overthrew its then-reigning wingnut dictator. But sadly, the Guatemalans then elected someone the UFCO didn't like at all, so the United States government had to get involved in some politicking on the firm's behalf. Guatemala became a Soviet "satellite" and was returned to the lap of the wingnuts in only ten years:

"It [United Fruit] began with enviable connections to the Eisenhower administration. Secretary of State John Foster Dulles and his former New York law firm, Sullivan and Cromwell, had long represented the company. Allen Dulles, head of the CIA, had served on UFCO's board of trustees. Ed Whitman, the company's top public relations officer, was the husband of Ann Whitman, President Eisenhower's private secretary. (Ed Whitman produced a film, "Why the Kremlin Hates Bananas," that pictured UFCO fighting in the front trenches of the cold war.)

See how the banana motif is everywhere? Of course, it's not very surprising given that I googled for it, but if you were taken by astonishment even for one second I'm truly gleeful! Anyway, what do you think? Can we use the title of a "Banana Republic" here in the Land of the Free and the Brave (who, by the way, are two different groups of people)? Or does it suffice to just talk about the "Banana Republican" party so far?