Perpetual War Against the Poor

From: 1) War Against the Poor: Low Intensity Conflict and Christian                     Faith by Jack Nelson-Pallmeyer (1990)
           2) Unequal Protection, the Rise of Corporate Dominance and                     the Theft of Human Rights by Thom Hartmann (2002)  
           3) When Corporations Rule the World by David Korten (1996)
             4) Take the Rich Off Welfare, by Mark Zepezauer and Arthur                     Naiman (1996)

Professor Eric T. Karlstrom, 2005
We are placing human civilization and even the survival of our species at risk mainly to allow a million or so people to accumulate money beyond any conceivable need.
David Korten

     Jack Nelson-Pallmeyer's War Against the Poor examines the unstated assumptions of the strategy of low-intensity-conflict (LIC) and concludes it is a global strategy of war waged against the poor.  LIC couples the explicit use of terror with rhetoric about “freedom”, “democracy”, and “national interest.”  It is a calculated policy in defense of US privilege.  The author stresses that also at stake are the future of democracy in America as well as the integrity of our faith. 

The use of low-intensity conflict by the US effectively blocks any chance of changing global economic realities.  The poor are considered the enemies.  Low intensity conflict is a comprehensive, totalitarian-like project through which the US seeks to manage social change in the Third World to protect their perceived vital interests.

Low intensity conflict (LIC) is the latest chapter in a long history of US counterinsurgency warfare. 

It is an evolving project that has learned its lessons from past US wars and CIA operations.  It is an effort to manage or prevent social change within poor countries, and LIC relies on integrating economic assistance, cosmetic internal reforms, and training and management of repressive political and military forces within exploited countries.   LIC is comprehensive as a strategy and has broad-based support within military and non-military government.  It involves an unprecedented degree of coordination among the White House, the Joint Chiefs of Staff, each military branch, the National Security Council, the CIA, the State Dept., Agency for International Development (AID), conservative private groups, and shady network of semi-private drug-runners, arms merchants, and assassins.

Redefining the Third World as the locus of US military (LIC) activity has resulted in a shift of financial and human resources to Special Operations Forces (SOF) that can intervene anywhere in the world.  These include Delta Force, the Green Berets, the Rangers, the 160th Army Aviation Battalion, psychological operations and civil affairs units, the Navy’s sea-air-land (SEAL) commando forces, the Air Force Special Operations Wing and Marine Amphibious units (MAUs).    They are America’s experts in guerrilla and anti-guerrilla warfare, sabotage, and counter-terrorism operations. 

LIC involves is as much a war of images, ideas, and deception as it is a war of bullets and bombs.  The ability to create images that obscure reality is a powerful weapon directed at our own people as well as others.

Thus, US leaders called Nicaragua a “totalitarian dungeon” and labeled the contras as “freedom fighters”.  The rhetoric is carefully calculated to serve political ends.  The "contras" were created by the US to inflict terror on civilians in service of US political objectives.  Thus, George Kennan’s 1948 statement…. Still applies.   The acceptability of empire is the unifying principle that shapes US foreign policy. 

But the US always defines itself as “benevolent superpower” which is up against an “evil empire” (the Soviets).  Noam Chomsky states;

US rhetoric is often noble and inspiring… while operative policy in the real world follows its own quite different course, readily discernable in the actual history.  Behind the rhetorical flourishes of political leaders, is a real story of exploitation and terror that is often outlined frankly in internal documents, but which must be concealed from “the domestic population… who would be unlikely to tolerate the truth with equanimity.

The US empire is motivated by its commitment to what Chomsky calls a “Fifth Freedom: the Freedom to rob and exploit”.  Chomsky: “A careful look at history and the internal record of planning reveals a guiding geopolitical conception: preservation of the Fifth Freedom by whatever means are feasible.”  LIC is one component of a strategy to achieve “peace through strength” (Republican rhetoric) which means we don’t have to address the problems of injustice.  In fact we gain “peace through perpetual warfare”. 

The Sante Fe Report of 1980, which outlined Reagan’s foreign policy, states:

Foreign policy is the instrument by which peoples seek to assure their survival in a hostile world.  War, not peace, is the norm of international affairs.  Third World countries must either submit themselves to broad US interference in their internal affairs, including granting the United States access to vital resources, military bases, and markets, or be targeted as enemies and threats to the national security of the Unites States.  If they make the dignified choice of defending their rights to national sovereignty and pursuing economic policies that favor the interests of the poor, they will be subjected to low-intensity warfare… Any movement that rises against an oppressive US client-state is seen as a communist-inspired and -directed attack against “vital US interests… World War III is being fought at the edges of empire, in the third world where the “West’s oil and ore” are to be found.  

LIC is “total war at the grassroots level” (Col. John Waghelstein). It is the integration of military aspects of warfare with “political, economic, and psychological warfare, with the military being a distant fourth in many cases.”  It is total war because it seeks to control all aspects of life.  It is a totalitarianlike strategy.  In Central America, political and economic power is in the hands of an unholy alliance of foreign-based multinational companies, internal economic elites, the military, and often the US embassy. 

Over 700 million people worldwide do not get enough food for an active and healthy life.  Each year 40 million people, or 110,000 each day, die from hunger and hunger-related diseases.  Nearly half of the world’s population do not have access to safe and adequate drinking water.  Each day over 25,000 persons die for lack of clean drinking water.  WHO estimates that 80% of all sickness and disease can be attributed to inadequate water and sanitation and that safe drinking water and sanitation could reduce infant mortality by half. 

Neither the international nor the domestic economies of 3rd world countries are designed to meet the needs of the poor.  Foreign exchange earnings are squandered on luxury consumption.  Land use is geared to the production of coffee, bananas, beef, fruits, vegetables and other export agriculture, and that together with lack of access to productive land, means hunger for the masses. 

Colonial trade gave way to the “free international market” without changing the basic power inequalities of the rich vs. poor nations.  The greatest international scandal of our time is death through international finance.  We quietly tolerate the death of many millions of people each year as a result of the international debt crisis. 

“Under the cover of rhetoric about “freedom”, “democracy”, and fighting the “communist (now read “terrorist”) menace”, the United States is waging a war against the poor and in defense of privilege and empire.  Low intensity conflict is also the strategy of warfare through which the US seeks to maintain a system in which death through international finance is the norm, and poor people- not poverty- is the enemy”.

From Hartmann's Unequal Protection: the Rise of Corporate Dominance and Theft of Human Rights (2002):  The corporate picture as of 2002:

1) The top 200 corporations have more than twice as much money than the bottom 80% of the world’s people. 
2)  Just 200 corporations conduct almost a third of the entire planet’s economic activity and employ less than one quarter of one percent of the world’s workforce.
3)  Among the 100 largest “economies” in the world today, over half (51) are corporations, not countries according to the Inst. For Policy Studies.
4)  The 1999 sales of General Motors was greater than the GDP of 182 nations.  The same is true for Wal-Mart, Exxon-Mobile, Ford Motor, and CaimlerChrysler.
5)  America’s 500 largest manufacturing firms cut almost 2 million workers
 from their payrolls in the US between 1986 and 1994.  

6)  In 1999, Microsoft made $12.3 B but paid no taxes.  ENRON made $1.8 B but paid no taxes in 4 of past 5 years.  In 1999, IBM made $3.1 B and got a tax rebate. 

7)  Corporations paid 35% of all US taxes in 1960, but only 17% in 2000.

8)  These giant corps have moved their plants and money offshore subsidiaries to avoid paying taxes.  These gimmicks cost us the public about $70 B a year.  In fact the US government spends about $450 B a year on welfare for the rich or about 6.5 times more than for welfare for the poor ($70 B).

9)  The average CEO now earns about 531 times more than an average worker (year 2000).

Corporate Crime

1)  The amount of money and property stolen by Corporations is over 100 times greater than that stolen by individuals.  The FBI estimates $4 billion a year is lost to individual crime.  Well over $400 billion is due to corporate crime- the largest single factor is insurance swindles/corporate fraud on health insurance/HMO/hospital billings between $100-$400 billion a year.
2)  The FBI states that about 19,000 americans are murdered by others in 1998.  In that year, 56,000 died from work-related diseases like black lung and asbestosis, and many times that number died from “the silent violence of pollution, contaminated food, hazardous consumer products, and hospital malpractice.  


1)  Family income taxes rose from 17.3% of median income in 1955 to 37.6% in 1998.
2)  The share of all property taxes paid by corporations has dropped from 45% in 1957 to 16% in 1995.
3)  Looking at all U.S. corporations, the General Accounting Office noted that “in each year between 1989 and 1995, a majority of corporations, both foreign and US-controlled, paid no US income taxes”.
4)  The 1981 Tax Act of the Reagan administration slashed the income tax for America’s top 1 percent of families by over 50%. 

The individual Picture- The Rich

1)  The wealth of the Forbes 400 richest Americans grew an average of $1.44 billion each from 1997 to 2000, for a daily increase in nearly $2 million.
2)  The share in after-tax income of the top 1% nearly doubled from 1979 to 1997.  By 1998, the top 1% had as much combined income as the bottom 100 million.  
3) The pay gap between top executives and their average employees in the 365 largest corporations widened from 42 to 1 in 1980 to 531 in 2000.

The Individual Picture- The Poor: 

1) Between 1972 and 1994, the number of Americans living below the poverty level nearly doubled from about 23 million to about 40 million.
2) In 2000, the top 1% of American households have financial weatlth greater than that of lower 95 % combined.

3) In 1976, the richest 10% of America’s population owned 50% of American wealth.  By 1997, they owned 73%.  (I.E., 23% of American wealth shifted from poor and middle class to the very wealthy in 21 years). To put it the other way, in 1976, the bottom 90% owned half the wealth.  By 1997, their share was down to 27%.

4) In 1998, the net worth of one American, Bill Gates ($46 billion) was greater than the bottom 45 % of all American households combined.

5) 44% more people work multiple jobs than they did in 1970 and American workers, on average, are working a full month more than they did 20 years ago.  Hourly earnings of non-supervisory workers in 1998 dollars, fell 9% since 1973, from $14.09 to $12.77.

6)  According the UN Development Program, the difference between the richest and poorest nations in the world was 1 to 3 in 1820, 1 to 35 in 1950, and 1 to 72 in 1992.  The gap has been growing since then.


 The UN Millenium (2000) report:

1)  Over 2.8 billion people, nearly half of the world’s population, live on less than the equivalent of $2 a day.  More than 1.2 billion, 20% of population, live on less than the equivalent of $1 a day.
2)  More than 1 billion people do not have access to safe water; about 848 million go hungry or face food insecurity.
3)  About 1/3 of the world’s children under 5 suffer from malnutrition.
4)  The top 20% of the world’s people have access to 86% of the world’s wealth.  The bottom fifth has about 1%.
5)  The assets of the world’s richest three men exceed the combined gross domestic products of the world’s 48 countries.
6)  In 1998, for every $1 the developing world received in grants, it spent $13 on debt repayment.

U.S. Welfare for the Rich vs. Welfare for the Poor
(from Zepedzauer and Naiman, 1996)

Welfare for the Rich                $Billions/year (1996)

Military Waste and Fraud                   172
Soc. Security Tax Inequiteis                53
Accelerated Depreciation                    37
Lower Taxes on Capital Gains              37
S and L Bailout                               32 for 30 years
Homeowners Taxbreaks                     26
Agribusiness subsidies                       18
Tax Avoidance by Transnationals         12
Tax Free Muni-bonds                           9
Media Handouts                                  8
Excessive Government Pensions            8
Insurance Loopholes                            7
Nuclear Subsidies                                7
Aviation Subsidies                               6
Business Meals and Entertainment          6
Mining Subsidies                                  4
Oil and Gas Taxbreaks                          3
Export Subsidies                                  2
Synfuels Taxcredit                               1
Timber Subsidies                               0.5
Misc.                                                 2

Total                        $ 450.5  Billion per year

Welfare for the Poor

Food Stamps                                      26
AFDC (Aid to Families with
Dependent Children)                            18
Housing Assistance                              13
WIC (Women, Infants, Children,
Food Nutrition Information)                     8
Head Start                                           4
Low Income Energy Assistance                1
JOBS (Job Opportunities and
Basic Skills)                                          1

Total                           $ 71.5 Billion per year

Ratio    =                      450.5/71.5 = 6.3