Every day, countless interest groups lobby the U.S. government in the pursuit of a better future ... for their profit margins. Every once in a while, the government listens -- if by "every once in a while" you mean "constantly," and if by "listens" you mean "bends over and politely asks that the money be left on the nightstand." Really, the only thing stopping America from being run by a single corporate overlord is the several other corporate overlords vying for the position. Think we're being paranoid? It happens all the time, like ...

Nippon Kaigi: Japan's Real-Life Illuminati

5 Bizarre Groups That Run Entire Foreign Countries
Roman00007/Wiki Commons

If you roll your eyes at those lunatics frothing about the dangers of the Illuminati infiltrating Congress -- don't. The only parts they got wrong were the name and the country: There actually is a secret cult dominating the upper echelons of the political realm ... in Japan. They go by the name Nippon Kaigi (Japan Conference), and although just 38,000 members strong, they make up 80 percent of the country's cabinet and roughly half of the parliamentarians. In fact, they're mostly responsible for reviving the political career of Shinzo Abe, a longtime member and, incidentally, the current prime minister.

5 Bizarre Groups That Run Entire Foreign Countries

Dishonest Abe.

Nippon Kaigi is an ultra-nationalist group whose members believe the Japanese are a superior race. They want to alter Japan's history -- like denying the rape and pillage of Nanjing, an onslaught with an estimated 200,000 Chinese victims. And they want to change the constitution, scrapping Japan's pacifist policies, getting rid of foreigners, keeping women at home, bringing back corporal punishment, and generally doing away with a whole bunch of basic human rights, like freedom of speech.

That headline about how Japan's PM likes Trump makes a bit more sense now, doesn't it?

5 Bizarre Groups That Run Entire Foreign Countries

We don't KNOW the Nippon Kaigi installed Trump to get Japan nukes, but ...

To call the Egyptian Armed Forces influential would waste a great opportunity to use the phrase "iron fist," and that would be a shame -- until Netflix releases their Marvel series, our chances to use such a glorious phrase may be few and far between. The EAF's influence extends way beyond Egypt's military -- it's also the country's biggest corporation. Every government body is more or less under control of military personnel. Shockingly, military-controlled businesses seem to bag all the major contracts for government construction projects, such as the development of the Suez Canal.

5 Bizarre Groups That Run Entire Foreign Countries

Most armies don't literally carve up continents.

It's impossible to say just how big the EAF is, at least not without invoking the inevitable comparisons to Hydra. Military-controlled companies are estimated to produce the majority of the country's consumer and industrial products. Experts say that up to 60 percent of the economy could be under EAF control. Still, it's all guesswork: Good luck finding reliable numbers in a world where business projects and financial statements are classified and marketing is aided by a goddamned military propaganda machine.

During the Egyptian Revolution of 1952, a group of army officers -- backed by enormous financial resources -- overthrew King Farouk and helped establish a republican form of government. And once the revolution ended, the new government was left with a large body of soldiers who didn't have much else to do. Since they had just finished Season 1 of Military Coup: Egypt, the government couldn't just fire them and risk pissing off a whole bunch of soldiers specifically trained to overthrow governments. So they stuck around, dabbling in whatever they felt like with impunity. It wasn't until the Arab Spring that they became the powerhouse they are today. During the 2011 protests that eventually ousted autocrat Hosni Mubarak, the army flat out ignored government orders to fire at the protesters, and instead joined the anti-Mubarak posse. As awe-inspiring as this seemed at the time, it wasn't out of the goodness of their hearts: Mubarak and the EAF had been struggling for power for some time, so the military was all too happy to see him go.

5 Bizarre Groups That Run Entire Foreign Countries
Sherif9282/Wiki Commons

In Russia, Gas Turns On You

Ghirla/Wiki Commons

Gazprom is a Russian company that supplies natural gas all over Europe and accounts for up to 82 percent of Western Europe's gas supply. In 2015, they supplied 158.56 billion cubic meters of gas to European countries. In Russia, they employ over a million people. That's just good business.

5 Bizarre Groups That Run Entire Foreign Countries

They're like Walmart, if Walmart sold exactly one thing (but kept all the soul-crushing misery).

Less good, and less business: Gazprom is generally considered one of the most powerful tools in Russian foreign policy. Whenever Putin feels like threatening someone but doesn't feel like taking his shirt off, he uses Gazprom's overwhelming influence and control. Russia's current least favorite neighbor, Ukraine, got a taste of the old Gazprom stick and carrot in 2013, when President Viktor Yanukovych rejected a trade deal with the EU -- and Gazprom "coincidentally" reduced gas export prices to Ukraine by as much as one-third. Three months later, Yanukovych was overthrown by a pro-Western government. Gazprom promptly increased gas prices by 81 percent.

5 Bizarre Groups That Run Entire Foreign Countries
Government of the Russian Federation

"And then we invaded. Russia believes in the carrot, the stick, AND the tank."

In 2015, when separationist "let's rejoin Russia" rebels damaged a gas pipeline, Gazprom started shipping gas directly to them, using old Soviet-era pipelines. After Ukraine fixed the line, Gazprom kept on supplying gas to the separationist regions directly, while continuing to overcharge the rest. According to Gazprom, Ukraine currently owes them a ridiculous $29.5 billion in gas and assorted fines. Ukraine is contesting the sum in court, because being conflict-torn and near bankrupt, while also owing a massive debt to that one ominous neighbor who keeps sharpening knives in his backyard -- all the while keeping steady and even eye contact with you -- rarely works out well.

SNTE: The Teachers Union That Dominates Mexico


Teaching is a thankless job: You dedicate your life to shaping young minds, only to have them draw insulting caricatures of you in their Trapper Keepers, and maybe even throw the occasional eraser. And then there's Mexico, where educators united together to form the Sindicato Nacional de Trabajadores de la Educacion (SNTE). It's not just the biggest teachers union in the country -- it's the biggest union in Mexico, period. SNTE has more than 1.5 million members and rakes in about $60 million a year in profit. Once you actually make payroll as a teacher, the SNTE will bully the government into ensuring that you stay there for good, whatever you do.

Or don't do, for that matter: Thousands of Mexican teachers draw salaries despite not having been near a school in years. Take, for example, Servando "La Tuta" Gomez, who worked as a primary-school teacher for a few months before dropping out to become a drug lord and leader of a cult-like criminal organization called the Knights Templar. That's right: The only thing unbelievable about Breaking Bad was the location. Until his recent arrest, there was a multimillion-dollar bounty out on Gomez, and yet he still received regular checks from the government for his "teaching work." Hey, teaching a snitch how not to have genitals anymore still counts as "teaching."

5 Bizarre Groups That Run Entire Foreign Countries

i.e., abstinence-only education

The key to SNTE's success is its leader: Elba Esther Gordillo, who prefers to go by her supervillain name, La Maestra (The Teacher). As the leader of a massive union, Gordillo controls over a million votes and expertly wields this control to fling high-powered politicians around by their metaphorical -- or possibly literal -- balls. In 2006, Felipe Calderon was elected president of Mexico by a narrow margin and relied heavily on Gordillo's backing on many occasions. In return, Gordillo gained massive political influence, which she used for both personal and SNTE profits. She even got her son-in-law appointed as the undersecretary of public education.

Go ahead, 6-year-old, call her a farthead. See what happens.

5 Bizarre Groups That Run Entire Foreign Countries
Dario Lopez-Mills/Associated Press

She'll probably run you over with her 59 Hummers.

Great Britain has responded to economic challenges in recent years by outsourcing some services traditionally provided by the government. Serco, an outsourcing company, stepped up and said, "No problem." Everybody ignored the maniacal cackling that followed.

Today, the list of services that Serco provides for the British government is precisely one henchmen division short of James Bond-style supervillainy: They train RAF pilots; they control most military communication systems; they run the Atomic Weapons Establishment, which provides and maintains Britain's atomic warheads; they've got the National Nuclear Laboratory and hold the rights to manage the U.K.'s ballistic missile warning system; they're in charge of the National Traffic Control Centre, which, as the name implies, controls national traffic; they even run the National Physical Laboratory, which dictates official measuring units for length, mass, and temperature. Also, Greenwich Mean Time.

5 Bizarre Groups That Run Entire Foreign Countries
Ministry of Information

They literally control time.

Serco is also heavily involved with the Royal Navy, maintaining a fleet of tugs and pilot boats that provide transportation for munitions, officers, and crew. Serco controls several British prisons, and basically owns the entire criminal tag industry. So, uh ... forget what we said earlier about them being short on henchmen divisions.

Mit Eden Factlity Corrections serco

And if that isn't scary enough,, we gave them $1 billion to implement Obamacare.

They dabble in healthcare. They own a major chunk of the railways, a ferry service, school inspection systems, and speeding cameras all over Britain. They also run immigration removal centers. If there is a line one can cross, wherein too much power is put into the hands of a single company, Serco crossed that line years ago, then bought that line and put their logo on it. They gleefully and frequently overcharge the government, and the government knows all about it. But what is the government going to do? When a company that controls everything around you -- up to and including your nuclear arsenal -- sends you an invoice, there's not a lot of room to haggle.

Dibyajyoti Lahiri is a fifth-dimensional being who secretly controls the country of Djibouti, which he named after himself. He can be found on Twitter ... every now and then.

2016 is almost over. Yes the endless, rotten shit hurricane of a year which took away Bowie, Prince and Florence Henderson and gave us Trump, Harambe and the Zika virus is finally drawing to a close. So, to give this bitch a proper viking funeral, Jack O'Brien and the crew, which includes Dan O'Brien, Alex Schmidt, and comedian Caitlin Gill, are going to send out 2016 with Cracked's year in review in review. They'll rectify where every other year-in-review goes wrong by giving some much needed airtime to the positive stories from the 2016 and shedding light on the year's most important stories that got overlooked. Get your tickets here.

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