The American middle class is free to pursue its life, liberty, and pursuit of happiness""at a steep price. If they behave reasonably enough, they will qualify for loans, mortgages, and credit cards whose interest rates benefit the wealthy. By greasing the "regular Americans'"""the 90% of the population earning 20% of the income (source: World Banks reports)""with the power to consume, the wealthy business owners or shareholders enable regular citizens to find just enough consumer gratification to tolerate their economic inequality, and so goes the unwritten economic law in America.
Exaggerated to an extreme under the eight long years of the radically right-wing administration of President G. W. Bush, Regeanomics has allowed the super-rich""the 10% of the population owning 80% of the wealth""to undermine the pillars of our democracy under both""Democratic (e.g. Clinton) and Republican presidents. As radical capitalists have operated over the last 30 years without much regulation, they have pushed the economy, already favoring the wealthy, beyond its own capacity and thus destroyed a large part of the middle class (more than a million unemployed today). More so than even President Reagan, the Bush administration unleashed big business to dig their claws into the pocket books of middle-class Americans, stirring up a feeding frenzy of mortgages, credit cards and stock market bubbles, distracting regular Americans by their delusional consumer borrowing and spending and with hardly any consumer protection from the wolves of corporate marketing pushing for greater profit margins.
Just as the Haciendas have been gorging on the wealth in Mexico by taking land from peons for centuries, corporations like Exxon, JPMorgan, Goldman Sachs, Merrill Lynch, and AIG have been sacking the coffers of the short-lived American empire for decades. These unbridled companies, ingratiated with government, have become America's version of Mexico's Haciendas. The greatest advantage American businesses hold over their Mexican counterparts, the old Haciendas, is their marketing and PR departments, which paint their image as America's pillars of prosperity for all. They have rebuilt a modern day Gilded Age. After all, insurance companies like AIG collect billions of dollars in payments from hard-working Americans and, while denying boatloads of legitimate healthcare claims, they invest the cash in other financial sectors, such as the Internet IPOs of the "90s or, more recently, mortgage derivatives, creating unstable economic bubbles destined to burst. And when the bubbles explode at the expense of homeowners, the likes of Goldman Sachs always find innovative financial instruments such as high interest rate loans to profit from the losses of the taxpayers. At the same time, taxpayers pay for the bailouts of these modern-day carpetbaggers who continue to profit from the misfortunes of taxpayers after they had created and profited from those misfortunes in the first place, and while rewarding the managers with billions of dollars in bonuses.
With hardly any regulations on lobbying, the likes of these corporations pay "campaign contributions," otherwise known as bribes, to both Democrats and Republicans in order to assure their free-wheeling deals and status quo in industries like healthcare, banking, and petroleum. The petroleum industry lobbied the U.S. government and influenced G. W. Bush to invade Iraq""by using a series of pretexts such as WMDs, terrorism, imposing democracy and freedom""in order to retake control of the oil fields after Saddam Hussein had nationalized them. The Republican plan to repossess the Iraqi oil fields was not a stellar success because the Iraqis were not as docile as hoped, though the companies landed contracts from the new Iraqi government which, with support of the U.S. government, hung Saddam Hussein, a slightly less cannibalistic punishment than beheading.
Like most other countries whose upper class benefits from a high concentration of wealth, Mexico has never allowed so much delusional social freedom as America's free-reigning capitalism. Like many other societies that exploit religion to control their populations, Mexico's ruling class has often succeeded for the most part in controlling its pious citizens by the authority of God rather than by consumer credit.
Despite the paternalistic attitude of the Catholic Church and the thuggish, corrupt Mexican Army, Mexicans have revolted numerous times since their independence from Spanish oppression. At the end of the 19th century, the War of the Reform became one of the fiercest attempts to reform the Catholic Church and the government. A large and popular group of young liberals led partly by Ocampo revolted against the conservatives, mainly the wealthy landowners, and the Catholic church, which owns large properties, and the older members of the Army who protected the status quo by massacring "all their prisoners""commanders, officers, soldiers, even the doctors and medical students who were caring for the wounded" (Krauze).
Two important legal decrees, though entirely unenforced, resulted from this civil war: the Law of Disentailment""which attempted to redistribute some of the Haciendas' and the church's lands to the peasants, and the "sanction of freedom of conscience"""which tacitly implied and tolerated freedom of worship. Yet in the same breath, the conservative government "voted to particularly "care for and protect' the Catholic Church with "just and prudent laws'" (Krauze).
Centuries of Religion and Patria
Against this historical backdrop religion y patria, the Army and the Catholic Church represent the power structure that carries on the traditions today. When G.W. Bush approved the Merida Initiative, during the end of his administration, giving $1.4 billion of U.S. tax money to the Mexican Army, he most likely had no clue that there are two Mexicos. Alternatively, if he did understand Mexican history and culture, he intended to enforce neocon policies by supporting conservative Christian theocracy and its status quo. After all, Mexico's conservative theocracy seems to be the ideal for the right-wing, Bible-thumping Republican agenda in the U.S.
The Mexico most American tourists and viewers of mainstream media see is the Disney World view""one where "the Mexican president is fighting a valiant war on drugs, aided by the Mexican Army"," as Charles Bowden reports in his article in Mother Jones magazine (August 2009), We Bring Fear. This Mexico has a free press, a fair justice system, rule of law, and an effective government.
Though we can see in its long history Mexico, in its current state, is teetering on collapse, the tourist version of Mexico continues to exist in the zombie minds of TV viewers and spring-break Cancun hotel dwellers. The real Mexico operates on bribes in an economy that has been flat lining for decades, if not centuries. Aside from its natural energy reserves and tourism, its most lucrative source of national income now arises from the illegal drug industry""the only thing propping up the country from its decades-old recession that NAFTA and the maquiladoras never resolved, despite one of Mexico's greatest resources being its cheap labor force.
In the real Mexico, the war is for drugs "where the police and the military fight for their share of the drug profits, where the press is restrained by the murder of reporters and feasts on a steady diet of bribes, and where the line between the government and the drug world has never existed (Danish Brethern, dailykos.com).
Like the twisted fundamentalist versions of Islam among certain groups in places like Saudi Arabia, Mexico too has a long history of carrying on seemingly distorted versions of religious traditions, many of which have become subcultures of modern versions of ancient Aztec faiths.
Especially popular among a huge and growing part of the Mexican people, the poor and alienated""those excluded from the wealth modern globalization""Santa Muerte is a faith not likely to go away any time soon. It may have arisen as a reaction to Vatican II or simply as a longstanding tradition based on the popular "Thin Lady," Mictecacihuatl, the Aztec queen of the underworld, a part of Mexico's native religion.
On the American taxpayers' dime, the Mexican Army is using funds from Bush's Merida Initiative to carry out the wishes of the Catholic Church condemning Santa Muerte as devil worship because some drug traffickers wear tattoos of the Thin Lady. But drug traffickers more often wear images of Christ and the crucifix as well. So, why isn't the government seeking to destroy Catholic churches by this same logic? The government claims that the Santa Muerte sect is part of the narco subculture, a justification for the Army to demolish "dozens of shrines to Santa Muerte, claiming that the worship of this skeletal woman in a white cloak is a "narco-cult.' As resistance grows, so does this new religious movement" (US/Mexican Narco War Targets Religious Sect, by Danish Brethern, DailyKos.com). This represents another variation of how the Mexican people can rebel against their authoritarian, conservative government and its official church by worshipping the Holy Death, a spirit who cares for the poor and the marginalized.
In another form of rebellion against Mexico's economic inequality, today's drug cartels continue the traditions of the caudillos and have seized control of large regions of the country. They are overpowering or buying out the Mexican Army, which is weakened by a bad economy, one that does not engage and motivate a middle class. Like the police, the Army is so poorly paid that its soldiers desert the government and use their skills, including those gained from Special Forces training in the U.S., to join the higher paid caudillos, or what the mainstream media calls the drug cartels.