Today, some 232 U.S.-based multinational corporations are exerting their powerful influence around the world, matched by who-knows-how-many other corporations headquartered in other countries. The way things function today no one can tell which companies are directing other companies of their own.

A positive outcome of all this is that it makes the possibility of large-scale war no longer profitable. One's own investments in other countries just might get destroyed in the fighting.

The negative side of all this is that so many of these corporations are so big and powerful that they often supercede local governments, making decisions and setting policies beyond governmental controls. They have so much money they can even buy the kinds of governments they choose -- and go undetected in doing so. More and more, they will be controlling the direction this world and its people are going.

And who are these powerful people? I know a couple personally but by and large most of us don't know, and we'll never get a chance to vote them out of office.

Yes, every once in a while we get a chance to mail back some stock ballots but how many of us really know the issues well enough to get involved? These people sit on each other's boards and reward each other with astronomical salaries that leave the rest of us behind in the dust.

Drive around California long enough, especially the Central Valley, and you can still see a few of the old signs: "Get the U.S. out of the U.N." Such slogans represent fear of a one-world government -- and like it or not "one world" is on its way in one way or another.

Check any city on the globe: We're seeing plenty of evidence that our world is becoming blended. Some time ago I visited Oslo, Norway, and was surprised to find a large Pakistani population. Pakistanis? In Norway? So many previously colorful lands are losing their traditional cultures.

I am writing this from Düsseldorf, Germany, and spending the summer in Europe. Düsseldorf has become a center for international finance and contains one of the largest Japanese populations outside of Japan. It also has a very large segment of people out of both Turkey and Ghana, more evidence of this world-blending trend. Last week I was sitting in a mall in Budapest, Hungary (a nice city!). Looking into various shop windows, I saw all kinds of familiar signs: Old Navy, Abercrombie & Fitch, Nike and others. People walked around the mall, sipping Cokes and munching on frozen yogurt cones. Most were dressed like we Americans dress; some wore T-Shirts emblazoned with slogans written in English.

For a moment, listening to the American music playing through the mall's speakers, I thought I was back in Bakersfield. Then I overheard some people walking past me, speaking Hungarian, which would be unlikely back home. In the parking lot below the mall were cars very much like the cars we drive around; it could have been a Bakersfield mall's parking lot. Driving back to the place where I was staying I passed a Pizza Hut, Burger King and MacDonalds. One corner even had two MacDonalds, facing each other on opposite corners of the intersection.

There were also outlets for Lidl and Alda, massive grocery chains based in Germany that are also making appearances in the U.S.; in fact Aldi is already in Bakersfield in the form of Trader Joe's.

I am not advocating anything in particular; I just want Americans to recognize what's going on. Understanding where this world is headed, and soon, might give us time to put our heads together to decide what we're going to do about it -- while we still have a chance for our opinions make a difference.

Bob Schwartz of Bakersfield is a retired minister who served behind the pulpit for 40 years in California and Nevada, as well as in Dusseldorf, Germany. Community Voices is an expanded commentary of 650 to 700 words. The Californian reserves the right to edit all submissions for length and clarity.