How Europeans Can Help Defend US Democracy

Marshall Plan
Europe broke it, America fixed it.

Europe has always been the world’s most divided and war-torn continent (the past 60 years of relative peace have helped us forget this inconvenient truth). In the 20th century, we decided to finally finish the job by tearing ourselves (and much of the outside world) to pieces in the two biggest wars ever seen. Although the Americans tend to overestimate US involvement in the European part of World War II, it’s undeniable that we owe America a huge debt of gratitude; firstly for joining the war in 1942, but perhaps even more significantly for the huge bail-out Europe received afterwards – better known as the Marshall Plan. Yes it’s true, the USA itself reaped huge rewards by holding Western Europe away from the Soviet Union; the bail-out kept America in the game as a global superpower – and after 1990, THE global superpower. But to deny US generosity would be wrong: to put it in American terms: they saved our asses.

The bail-out had far more than financial consequences. It allowed Europe to escape a spiral of poverty and bankruptcy, and implement a continent-wide social democracy, providing freedom, prosperity and a generous safety net to all Western Europeans. With universal healthcare, our life expectancies rocketed, and Europe’s workers became healthier and more productive, yielding economic gains. Generous welfare safety nets enabled people to take more risks, and thus encouraged entrepreneurialism. Social mobility rocketed.

Meanwhile across the Atlantic, America was heading in the opposite direction. The military-corporate war machine didn’t want to be closed down, and found an excuse to turn the short-term war into a permanent one: the “Red Threat”. So long as Americans could be kept ignorant and afraid (a condition which requires endless warfare), the corporations and military could endlessly undermine freedom and democracy, and grab power away from the people. To their own surprise, the US corporatocracy won the Cold War; this wasn’t the plan. Without war, the American people would demand a smaller military and greater freedom. New “threats” needed to be found (and, as we know, they were).  As George Orwell wrote in his classic Nineteen Eighty-Four:

The war is not meant to be won, it is meant to be continuous (full quote)

In WWII, American troops arrived in Europe to discover that they were better fed and taller than Europeans: now that has reversed. Europeans are now more likely to progress through the social hierarchies than Americans. The American Dream is still alive and well… but in Europe, not America.

Sooner or later, as Eisenhower warned in 1961, the power of the military-industrial complex would come to outweigh elected government, at which point democracy will be under mortal threat. That time may have now arrived. The 2000 Presidential election was clearly rigged by corporations working hand-in-hand with the Republican Party in Florida. The 2003 Iraq War was fought with the money and lives of ordinary Americans, for clear corporate objectives. In the 2010 Citizens United case, the US Supreme Court decided that free speech entailed allowing corporations to spend as much as they liked to influence election outcomes – effectively abandoning the principle of “one man one vote”. Money has always played a huge role in US elections; now it is the only thing that matters. The corporate aristocracy warned of by Thomas Jefferson in 1816 now truly holds the power in America.

Chief among those corporate aristocrats are the Koch Brothers. They are chiefly responsible for turning the Tea Party movement into a force which in turn drove out right-of-centre conservatism from the Republican Party, and transformed the party into a nakedly pro-corporate force. The brothers lobby heavily for their oil, gas and chemical interests, and spend big to ensure that right-wing Republicans who support their aims will win elections. From a British perspective, the activities of the Kochs are simply staggering: our democracy may have flaws, but buying elections in this brazen way would be, quite simple, illegal.

The US could easily improve its democracy by borrowing from Europe’s older and and more democratic systems: restrict lobbying and bar politicians from accepting donations from vested interests; restrict political advertising to political parties only; impose spending caps as well as donation caps; adopt voting systems that allow new parties to enter the arena; take easily-rigged electronic voting systems out of corporate hands; make registering to vote as easy as possible; extend democracy into the corporate boardroom. But while corporations can own US politicians, and buy elections, none of these things will happen.

In the shorter term, individuals can target the Kochs by boycotting their products. Shoq Value (@Shoq on Twitter) breaks down the Koch products and brands that Americans should avoid.

Koch products also reach us in Europe via their company Georgia Pacific EMEA, which provides a handy brand list on their website. European believers in freedom and democracy can ensure that they and their friends and families avoid the Koch brands listed below. OK; it ain’t the Marshall Plan, but it’s a start. America once saved our asses from fascist rule – let’s return the favour.

Boycott Koch:

  • Colhogar
  • Delica
  • DEMAK UP
  • Inversoft
  • Kittensoft
  • Lotus and Lotus Professional
  • Moltonel
  • nouvelle soft
  • Okay
  • Thirst Pockets

A Very American Coup

On or around 2nd August, without an increase in its debt ceiling, the US will begin to run out of money, and be forced to begin defaulting on its payments (in fact, the ceiling was hit in May, at which point the US began deferring pension fund investments). Raising the debt ceiling is usually a fairly routine affair – it’s happened 74 times since March 1962, including 10 in the past decade. It has to happen when the government needs to borrow more money; of course, the raise tends to be accompanied by standard complaints from opposition politicians about mismanagement of the country’s finances, but it gets lifted anyway. Not to do so would be catastrophic, and neither party has been prepared to get blamed for a potential financial and economic meltdown.

Until now.

Something’s shifted in recent US politics: the birth of the Tea Party movement, ostensibly a grass-roots campaigning body that believes in lower taxes and “smaller government”. In reality, even if the Tea Party began as a popular movement, it was quickly hijacked by far-right interests, in particular Americans For Prosperity, which is funded by the billionaire Koch Brothers. Last November, around 60 Tea Party-backed candidates were elected to the House of Representatives, forming a caucus under the chairmanship of the gay-hating, genuinely moronic Michele Bachmann. Bachmann seems to have displaced Sarah Palin as the natural leader for American morons, and is standing to be the Republican candidate to oppose Obama in the 2012 presidential elections.

Previously, while extremism was prevalent in the Republican Party, and stupidity was fairly widespread in both parties, no significant group of people was ideological (or just crazy) enough to allow the US to contemplate its first ever default. The realistic deadline for agreeing a deal came and went last Friday, and all attempts at deals have fallen through. While (of course) the Republicans have tried to paint the situation as intransigence on both sides, the blame falls squarely on them; they refuse to contemplate a penny in tax rises, a stance which has been branded economic illiteracy by The Economist. If there’s any criticism of Obama, it’s been for his over-willingness to compromise without receiving the same from the other side.

This creates a puzzle; are there really people in Congress who are prepared to see huge damage done to the US economy by their obstinacy? Bachmann and a number of others made clear that they would oppose a ceiling increase regardless of any deal; in effect voting for an economic calamity. I wrote a post on the crisis last week, in which I suggested three reasons why the more extreme individuals may contemplate a default, as follows:

  1. Somehow the US electoral system really did allow genuine, semi-literate morons to be elected. They simply don’t understand the implications of what they’re doing, and believe the “we don’t need government” nonsense that they spew out.
  2. Some of these people are religious nuts; they live for Armageddon, and have got themselves into a position to bring it forward by crashing the global economy. Think I’m joking? Sadly, no.
  3. This one is a guess on my part: The suicide-bomb theory. The US owes China vast amounts of money – that’s part of the source of China’s growing economic power. Perhaps the morons think that if the US defaults on its debts, China would suffer enormous damage too. Of course, the only problem with suicide bombing is that the US (and Europe) would go down along with China. Perhaps these crazies think the US could recover quicker, and postpone the day when China inevitably takes over as the world’s largest economy.

I think all of these do apply, but I missed something bigger: a deliberate default by these corporate-funded individuals represents an effective coup against the democratically-elected Federal government, and against the US Constitution itself. While this has become increasingly obvious over the past few days, all doubt was removed by an interview with Senator Mike Lee, a member of the smaller Tea Party caucus in the Senate, in which he openly threatens the US with economic mayhem unless the Constitution is amended to meet Tea Party demands. It’s worth reading it carefully and contemplating its implications. Here we have a group of elected individuals, bought and paid for by far-right corporate interests, helped into office by Murdoch’s Fox propaganda channel, who are in a position to do major (perhaps unprecedented) damage to the global economy, and appear willing to do so.

America’s elected government was painstakingly set up by the founding fathers, backed by the US constitution, to defend the interests of the American people against the power of unelected vested interests. At the time, the the risk to democracy came from European royalty and super-wealthy aristocrats; but those powers have faded to near-insignificance, and been replaced by a new “corporate aristocracy” who are every bit as much a threat to democracy as the old aristos were. Without government, there is no democracy; if the government is brought to impotence by the Tea Party’s actions, democracy takes a huge hit (at the expense of an economic earthquake). Those best placed to move in and take advantage (both financial and political) of the chaos are the very people who back the Tea Party and other extreme members of the Republican Party.

Unlike the original Boston Tea Party, which challenged power on behalf of the people, the new version attacks the people on behalf of power. This is no revolution – it’s looking increasingly like a coup.