Born Under Punches: Ryan Social Security Ideas Pioneered by Brutal Military Dictatorship
[image, left: Gen. Augusto Pinochet (bottom) and fellow Chilean military officers whose 1973 coup launched a dictatorship that pioneered both a pension privatization approach favored by Paul Ryan, and also cutting-edge torture techniques later used at Abu Ghraib, in Iraq]
"The victims were humiliated, threatened, and beaten; exposed to extreme cold, to heat and the sun until they became dehydrated; to thirst, hunger, sleep deprivation; they were submerged in water mixed with sewage to the point of asphyxiation; electric shocks were applied to the most sensitive parts of their bodies; they were sexually humiliated, if not raped by men and animals, or forced to witness the rape and torture of their loved ones."
-- From the Valech Commission Report, on torture under the regime of Augusto Pinochet
While the Republican Party and its wealthy plutocrat backers have been accused of waging an elitist virtual war against the American majority, both Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan have financial and ideological ties to rich Latin American elites who have waged real wars against average citizens in their countries.
The anti-democratic ethos of today's GOP, displayed in Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney's apparent contempt for 47% of U.S. citizens, is reflected in the origins of Mitt Romney's private equity firm Bain Capital, which was founded with money from Central American financiers linked to government-backed death squads in El Salvador. Paul Ryan's budgetary ideas have a similarly dark origin, in the paradigmatic case of what author Naomi Klein has dubbed "The Shock Doctrine".
In August 2012, Republican political consultant Roger Stone made the accusation that the billionaire libertarian Koch Brothers had bought Mitt Romney's selection of Paul Ryan as a running mate, by offering to kick in $100 million more for "independent expenditures" in the 2012 presidential election.
While the charge may never be substantiated, Paul Ryan is one of the few elected officials allowed into the inner sanctum of the Koch brothers and their fellow libertarian big money donor circle.
It is also the case that Paul Ryan's Social Security privatization ideas closely track Koch Brother schemes promoted from the Koch-funded libertarian Cato Institute since 1980, over three decades ago - before Ryan had even hit puberty. Cato's website currently features the ringing endorsement of Paul Ryan,
"Ryan is an articulate defender of free enterprise, and he consistently argues not just for the practical advantages of smaller government but also about the moral imperative to cut... if the next administration is Republican, and if it decides it wants to push major reforms, Paul Ryan is uniquely qualified to lead the charge."
In 2005 Congressman Paul Ryan led a failed Republican legislative push for a Social Security privatization plan that also later popped up in Ryan's 2010 "Roadmap For America’s Future". This centerpiece of Ryan's budgetary vision traces back to a vicious war on the poor and middle class that was waged over three decades ago by a South American police state.
The conceptual basis of Ryan's Social Security privatization approach was hatched as the Piñera plan that was implemented under the radical right-wing Chilean torture regime of 1973 military coup leader Augusto Pinochet.
The Pinochet regime honed many of the techniques later used at the Abu Ghraib prison, in Iraq, was known to dispose of its unwanted citizens by throwing them out helicopters into the sea, and ran a transnational terrorism syndicate that murdered thousands and has been accused of a 1976 car bombing assassination in Washington D.C.
While the Piñera plan sought to eliminate wealth redistribution under the old pre-Pinochet Chilean pension system - by jump-starting a new pension system under which Chileans began investing in private sector pension accounts - by 2006, by broad Chilean public consensus, the original Piñera Plan was considered to be a failure and in 2008 it was substantially modified by new legislation.
A report on the Chilean pension reform from the U.S. Social Security Administration explained, "The cornerstone of the new law sets up a basic universal pension as a supplement to the individual accounts system." As the the New York Times described in an April 2008 story, Chile's new law was a dramatic move away from radical libertarian privatization:
"Chile is undertaking its biggest overhaul ever of its pioneering private pension system, adding sweeping public payouts for the low-income elderly.
The new $2 billion-a-year program will expand public pensions to groups left out by private pensions - the poor and self-employed, homewives, street vendors and farmers who saved little for retirement - granting about a quarter of the nation's work force public pensions by 2012."
Even as political pressure to overhaul the Chilean pension system was building, in 2005 under the George W. Bush Administration Paul Ryan spearheaded an attempt to pass legislation that would have imposed a modified version of the Piñera Plan on Americans.
A Long-Expected Birthday Party
On February 2, 2005, at a Washington, D.C. celebration of the 100th anniversary of libertarian guru Ayn Rand's birthday, held by the Rand-devoted Atlas Society, Wisconsin Congressman Paul Ryan declared his fealty to the guiding principles of Rand, founder of a cultic school of thought known as Objectivism, which holds up selfishness as the highest moral virtue.
Ryan was introduced by Atlas Society Director of Advocacy Ed Hudgins, who told the audience of Ayn Rand admirers,
"He is best known for his efforts in the fight to reform Social Security by allowing the expanded use of individual retirement accounts. Now, I don't know whether you [Ryan] use the 'privatization' word. We here have no problem with that [Ryan overheard laughing] but sometimes you have to do a little bit of a soft sell up there, because many members of Congress are not quite as as far-thinking as Congressman Ryan."
In his speech to the Atlas Society Ryan confessed to the assembled true believers, "The reason I got involved in public service, by and large, if I had to credit one thinker, one person, it would be Ayn Rand." Then he addressed his 2005 attempt to pass legislation privatizing Social Security.
In Ayn Rand's view, the paramount good is individualism, the paramount evil collectivism. Ryan told his audience,
"The fight we are in here, make no mistake about it, is a fight of individualism versus collectivism... when you look at the fight that we’re in here in Capital Hill, it’s a tough fight... there is no more fight that is more obvious between the differences of these two conflicts than Social Security. Social Security right now is a collectivist system, it’s a welfare transfer system."
Moments later, as he declared, "what’s important is if we actually accomplish this goal of personalizing social security", Ryan could be heard laughing while the Atlas Society's Ed Hudgins, also laughing, interjected, “personalizing”.
After the mirthful outburst, Ryan continued, "personalizing social security," (to laughter and applause, this time from the audience,) "think of what we will accomplish. Every worker, every laborer in America will not only be a laborer but a capitalist."
"Personalizing", it was clear, was a thinly veiled code word for "privatizing" and later,
during a question-and-answer period, the specific model for that project became clear: it was privatization under the vicious, bloody Latin American military dictatorship of General Augusto Pinochet.
As the Atlas Society's Ed Hudgins told the audience, with Paul Ryan enthusiastically interjecting,
"By the way, I just want to add real quickly, and I know the Congressman has I’m sure said this. [General Augusto Pinochet’s Secretary of Labor and Social Security] José Piñera, who helped privatize Social Security in Chile, who also was by the way an Ayn Rand fan--José points out the moral revolution that occurs with privatization, that is, people in Chile, you know, who thought of themselves as Marxist suddenly feel that they are owners of property [Ryan “Yeah”] and, you know, they literally get up and they start reading the Chilean equivalent of the Wall Street Journal [Ryan interjects, “That’s right”]."
After his talk, during a question-and-answer period, Ryan coached the libertarian audience on how they could best lobby Congress in favor of the 2005 legislative effort, which failed after meeting stiff Democratic Party opposition, to begin privatizing social security along the lines of José Piñera's Chilean Model.
The Chilean Model
There was more to the "moral revolution", that Ed Hudgins and Paul Ryan agreed had followed in the wake of pension privatization in Chile, than petite bourgeoisie pension fund investors reading their Chilean "Wall Street Journals".
In 1970, Chilean physicist and politician Salvador Allende, a professed marxist, won Chile's presidency in a close three-way race. Recently declassified documents reveal a massive campaign of economic sabotage was soon initiated at the command of U.S. president Richard Nixon, who ordered his operatives to "make the [Chilean] economy scream". By 1973, amidst economic disruption and growing public protest, the Chilean military took action.
On September 11, 1973, in an U.S.- encouraged military coup, Chilean Air Force warplanes began bombing and strafing the National Palace, Allende's governmental headquarters; amidst a firefight, as coup forces moved in, president Allende committed suicide to avoid capture.
A military junta, led by General Augusto Pinochet - who considered himself to be guided by the hand of God, commenced; over the course of his regime thousands of Chileans suspected of socialist or leftist leanings were rounded up and executed.
And, in over 1,000 secret detention facilities across the country, tens of thousands of men, women, and children (by some scholarly estimates between 1.5 and 3 percent of Chile's population) were subjected by authorities to brutal beatings, sexual abuses (sometimes involving animals), electroshock, psychological torture, and even medical torture, in a pattern that foreshadowed abuses at the American-run prison at Abu Ghraib, in Iraq. It was especially hard on women; years later, a governmental commission would report that female prisoners were routinely, repeatedly, raped*.
Meanwhile, American-trained economists, dominated by the privatization-obsessed "Chicago School" moved in. In Chile after the 1973 coup, the nation would become a forced libertarian experiment, imposed at gunpoint, in neo-liberal, free-market privatization. Leading the charge was José Piñera, now Co-chairman of the Project on Social Security Choice at the Libertarian Cato Institute.
The "Chilean model" has been showcased so aggressively by libertarian economists and think tanks such as the Cato Institute, as a shining example of privatization, that it's difficult to find analysis even mildly critical of the torture regime-backed experiment amidst the copious pro-privatization propaganda that populates Internet searches on the subject.
And José Piñera - who has built an international career advising governments, such as South Korea, on how to privatize their pension systems - vigorously denies the documented extent of the the shocking human rights abuses that went on in Chile while he treated the nation as a personal privatization laboratory.
In an article posted since 2005 on his website, Piñera claimed that General Pinochet's bloody coup - which is now acknowledged to have begun with a mass execution of Chileans held at Santiago's national sports stadium - was necessary because President Allende had violated the Chilean constitution, and because, alleges Piñera, socialist and communist factions backing Allende were planning a campaign of political violence.
In a 2005 Mother Jones story, writer Barbara T. Dreyfuss adds, 'In another piece, he [Piñera] claims that "there was not a systematic policy of eliminating political opponents. Most of the casualties were people using violence to oppose the new government." '
But Piñera's desperate public relations bid was overwhelmed by horrific facts that emerged as Chile sought to wrestle with its dark, recent past In 2003, Chilean President Patricio Aylwin established Chile's National Commission for Truth and Reconciliation, to investigate and document the Pinochet regime's human rights abuses and, in November 2004, the Valech Commission released its first 1200-page report, which stated that during the Pinochet regime,
"[torture was] used as a tool for political control through suffering. Irrespective of any possible direct or indirect participation in acts that could be construed as illegal, the State resorted to torture during the entire period of the military regime. Torture sought to instill fear, to force people to submit, to obtain information, to destroy an individual's capacity for moral, physical, psychological, and political resistance and opposition to the military regime. In order to "soften people up"--according to the torturers' slang--they used different forms of torture.... The victims were humiliated, threatened, and beaten; exposed to extreme cold, to heat and the sun until they became dehydrated; to thirst, hunger, sleep deprivation; they were submerged in water mixed with sewage to the point of asphyxiation; electric shocks were applied to the most sensitive parts of their bodies; they were sexually humiliated, if not raped by men and animals, or forced to witness the rape and torture of their loved ones."
Also in 2004, the government of Chile officially announced a policy of paying reparations to victims of the Pinochet regime and a Chilean judge indicted Pinochet for crimes that included murder and kidnapping.
A February 7, 2007 Harvard Crimson story, Torture Under Pinochet, covered more of the horrific details:
The [Chilean governmental] Report of the National Commission on Political Imprisonment and Torture was commissioned in 2003 to create the most comprehensive list possible of those who were imprisoned and tortured for political reasons during the military dictatorship from September 1973 to March 1990...
...The Commission took testimony from 35,868 individuals who were tortured or imprisoned improperly. Of those, 27,255 were verified and included. An unknown number of victims did not come forward to give testimony. Scholars estimate that the real number is between 150,000 and 300,000 victims.
94 per cent of the verified testimonies include incidents of torture. The short list of methods includes repeated kicking or hitting, intentional physical scarring, forcing victims to maintain certain positions, electric shocks to sensitive areas, threats, mock execution, humiliation, forced nudity, sexual assault, witnessing the torture or execution of others, forced Russian roulette, asphyxiation, and imprisonment in inhumane conditions. There are many individuals with permanently distorted limbs or other disfigurations...
For women, it was an especially violent experience. The commission reports that nearly every female prisoner was the victim of repeated rape. The perpetration of this crime took many forms, from military men raping women themselves to the use of foreign objects on victims. Numerous women (and men) report spiders or live rats being implanted into their orifices. One woman wrote, “I was raped and sexually assaulted with trained dogs and with live rats. They forced me to have sex with my father and brother who were also detained. I also had to listen to my father and brother being tortured.” Her experiences were mirrored by those of many other women who told their stories to the commission.
But the crimes of the Pinochet regime were not limited to the sort of horrific domestic human rights abuses chronicled in the over 27,000 confirmed cases of imprisonment and torture documented in the Valech Commission report; as described in a 2005 story by Peter Kornblah, writing for The Nation, on December 13, 2004, at a press conference, Chilean judge Juan Guzmán,
"announced that he had ordered Pinochet placed under house arrest and indicted for nine disappearances and one murder relating to Operation Condor--a Chilean-led consortium of secret police agencies that conducted hundreds of acts of state-sponsored terrorism in the Southern Cone and around the world in the mid- and late 1970s. Gasps echoed through the hall, then a ripple of applause, and then the sound of shrieks and tears as those who had lost husbands and wives, fathers and mothers, sons and daughters, during Pinochet's seventeen-year regime reacted."
Within a few years of the initial coup, Pinochet's Chile had launched a United States-assisted transnational terrorism syndicate, operating across Latin America's Southern Cone but with operations on other continents as well, known as Operation Condor.
Under Condor, citizens from countries in South America's Central Cone region were abducted, secretly imprisoned, tortured, and murdered or "disappeared" - sometimes by pushing the drugged victims out of planes and helicopters into the ocean. Condor's reach extended even into the domestic United States. The program has been credited with the notorious 1976 car bombing assassination, in Washington D.C.'s Sheridan Circle, of former Chilean ambassador Orlando Letelier.
According to an Operation Condor internal document archive discovered in the early 1990s, by its own accounting the terrorism syndicate, secretly backed by the United States, may have murdered an many as 50,000 people, "disappeared" 30,000, and imprisoned 400,000 others.