Watch the peels: We’re living in the Banana Republic of America

It’s hard to be anything but happy on the gorgeous autumn days we’ve been enjoying recently, especially considering we’re lucky enough to live in Montana. Our hills are full of game as hunting season commences, people are still kind and considerate to each other, and our Big Sky is still clean and blue. But that’s here. In the parallel universe of Washington, D.C., things are getting so weird so fast that it wouldn’t be much of a surprise to wake up one day soon to find that Congress or the White House, on the eve of the coming elections, have renamed our once-great nation the Banana Republic of America.

Let’s start with the basic defining characteristics of a Banana Republic.  First, it’s probably headed by an isolated but powerful dictator who sees the nation’s resources primarily in terms of personal enrichment for himself and his friends. That description would fit our boy George W. Bush perfectly throughout his eight years in office.

Eventually, faced with an overthrow by an enraged populace that has borne the brunt of personal suffering while the dictator and his pals enjoy champagne and caviar, the dictator loots the Treasury during his final days in office. And boy, oh boy, does that sound familiar or what?

After our clueless and spineless Congress rolled over for Bush’s so-called bailout plan and ceded their constitutional powers of appropriation over nearly a trillion dollars to a single individual picked by—wouldn’t you know it—the dictator in the executive branch, the “plans” suddenly changed. Instead of buying up bad mortgages, as the people were told would happen, Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson announced early this week that the money would be used to invest in the largest banks in the nation in an attempt to get them to consolidate their power even further.  How does this address the problem of bad mortgages, exactly? Well, it doesn’t. In fact, news reports say the banks are actually using the billions in taxpayer dollars for such things as executive bonuses, employee raises, dividend payments and acquisitions. In simplest terms, enriching themselves at the expense of the already suffering public. As the Associated Press reported this week: “Neel Kashkari, head of the Treasury’s financial stability program, told Dodd’s committee this past week that there are few strings attached to the capital-infusion program because too many rules would discourage financial institutions from participating.”

Unfortunately, the parallels don’t stop there. In most Banana Republics, the military is actually the enforcement arm of the dictator and not under control of whatever façade of public representation may exist. In our case, that façade would be Congress, which is supposed to be elected by and accountable to the people—and keep its hand firmly on the tiller to steer national policy and the use of military force. Just this week our military generalissimos decided, apparently on their own, that they could simply send armed forces into Syria, a sovereign nation with whom we are not at war, to kill targeted residents of that nation. That some “collateral” damage occurred and that women and children were also killed is so normal in these days of reduced national conscience, that the press barely even covers it.

So how is it that the military generals can simply decide to invade other countries without congressional approval? Or maybe a better question to ask is why Congress doesn’t immediately shut down such open defiance of international law and the perpetration of what, in any other case, would be considered war crimes. Those expecting an answer based on law or logic had best go looking elsewhere, since those standards no longer exist in the Banana Republic of America. In fact, the generalissimos are so out of control that while the rest of the nation is in shock at the loss of personal and business wealth, the military has the audacity—despite its record appropriations—to demand hundreds of billions more.

Or what about the upcoming elections? In a Banana Republic, the elections are routinely fixed. Ballot boxes disappear, voters are intimidated and the results are suspect, at best. Just this week, news comes from various locations across the country where Election Systems & Software’s iVotronic touch-screen voting machines are routinely flipping results from straight Democratic to straight Republican. In Mineral Well, Texas, it actually happened to an election judge—not once, but three times, until she demanded to use a different machine.  

Similar vote-flipping incidents have been reported in West Virginia and the problem is getting so out of hand that CNN is now asking voters to report any problems they’re having directly to the news station. Given that we are still a week away from the general election, such problems are hardly encouraging for a nation that considers itself a model democracy—even one in which Bush’s presidential election was decided by a thin majority of the U.S. Supreme Court’s members instead of a legitimate recount.

All of this is having a direct and extremely negative effect on our national psyche. What happens when congressional promises are broken, when the military appears to be out of control, when the Treasury is looted and the voting machines don’t work? Well, the answer just might be found in the confidence rating of consumers, which, just this week, set a new historic low of 38, almost half of what it was a month ago at 61.5 and a third of the 95.2 level a year ago. Remember the saying, “What’s good for General Motors is good for the U.S.A.”?  Just this week Moody’s Investment Service, which rates companies, stocks and bonds, listed General Motors at “junk” status, meaning they are no longer investment grade. Doesn’t that just about say it all?

We’re lucky to be here in Montana, where there’s still some ability to be self-sustaining. But as for the rest of the nation—and especially Washington, D.C.—it’s definitely time to pass the bananas.

Helena’s George Ochenski rattles the cage of the political establishment as a political analyst for the Independent. Contact Ochenski at


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