The State of America through European eyes : a “Billionaires’ Coup” and U.S. is no longer a “Western” nation

by on August 4, 2011 · 17 comments

in American Empire, Economy, Popular, World News

Editor: Here are two articles from Europe about the state of America today – since the so-called “debt crisis” was resolved. One is from Der Spiegel – one of the most well-respected German newspapers -, and the other from the Guardian in Britain.  The pictures of our country that these articles paint is extremely terrible : the German believes that the U.S. is no longer part of the “West”, and the British view is that there’s been a “billionaires’ coup” in America.

Once Upon a Time in the West

by Jakob Augstein / Der Spiegel (Germany) / August 4, 2011

Hate has become a part of the everyday culture of American politics.

This week, the United States nearly allowed itself to succumb to economic disaster. Increasingly, the divided country has more in common with a failed state than a democracy. In the face of America’s apparent political insanity, Europe must learn to take care of itself.

The word “West” used to have a meaning. It described common goals and values, the dignity of democracy and justice over tyranny and despotism. Now it seems to be a thing of the past. There is no longer a West, and those who would like to use the word — along with Europe and the United States in the same sentence — should just hold their breath. By any definition, America is no longer a Western nation.

The US is a country where the system of government has fallen firmly into the hands of the elite. An unruly and aggressive militarism set in motion two costly wars in the past 10 years. Society is not only divided socially and politically — in its ideological blindness the nation is moving even farther away from the core of democracy. It is losing its ability to compromise.

America has changed. It has drifted away from the West.

The country’s social disintegration is breathtaking. Nobel economist Joseph Stiglitz recently described the phenomenon. The richest percent of Americans claim one-quarter of the country’s total income for themselves — 25 years ago that figure was 12 percent. It also possesses 40 percent of total assets, up from 33 percent 25 years ago. Stiglitz claims that in many countries in the so-called Third World, the income gap between the poor and rich has been reduced. In the United States, it has grown.

Economist Paul Krugman, also a Nobel laureate, has written that America’s path is leading it towards the “status of a banana republic.” The social cynicism and societal indifference once associated primarily with the Third World has now become an American hallmark. This accelerates social decay because the greater the disparity grows, the less likely the rich will be willing to contribute to the common good. When a company like Apple, which with €76 billion in the bank has greater reserves at its disposal than the government in Washington, a European can only shake his head over the Republican resistance to tax increases. We see it as self-destructive.

The same applies to America’s broken political culture. The name “United States” seems increasingly less appropriate. Something has become routine in American political culture that has been absent in Germany since Willy Brandt’s Ostpolitik policies of rapprochement with East Germany and the Soviet Bloc (in the 1960s and ’70s): hate. At the same time, reason has been replaced by delusion. The notion of tax cuts has taken on a cult-like status, and the limited role of the state a leading ideology. In this new American civil war, respect for the country’s highest office was sacrificed long ago. The fact that Barack Obama is the country’s first African-American president may have played a role there, too.

The West, C’est nous

There’s no deliverance in sight. One can no longer depend on politics in America. The reliance of Congress members on donations from the rich has become too great. Nor will there be any revolutionary storming of the Bastille in America. Popular anger may boil over, but the elites have succeeded in both controlling the masses and channeling their passions. Take the Tea Party, which has enjoyed godfather-like bankrolling from brothers and billionaire industrialists David and Charles Koch and found a mouthpiece in Rupert Murdoch’s populist, hatred-stirring Fox News.

From a European perspective, it all looks very strange: it’s a different political culture. There are other rules at play, different standards. More and more we view America with the clear notion that we are different.

Still, America’s fate should serve as a warning: We must protect our political culture, our institutions and our state. The success of Thilo Sarrazin, with his anti-Muslim message, shows that even Germany isn’t free of the kind of cultural coldness that can eventually ossify the vital functions of the political system. Our society has already made significant and deplorable steps on the path towards growing inequality and de-democratization.

Nevertheless, at least one good opportunity springs from America’s fate: The further the United States distances itself from us, the more we will (have to) think for ourselves, as Europeans. The West? That’s us.

__________________________

Anger, Deceit and a Billionaires’ Coup

 By George Monbiot/ Guardian UK (Britain) / August 2, 2011

Anger and deceit has led the US into a billionaires’ coup. The debt deal will hurt the poorest Americans, convinced by Fox and the Tea Party to act against their own welfare.

here are two ways of cutting a deficit: raising taxes or reducing spending. Raising taxes means taking money from the rich. Cutting spending means taking money from the poor. Not in all cases of course: some taxation is regressive; some state spending takes money from ordinary citizens and gives it to banks, arms companies, oil barons and farmers. But in most cases the state transfers wealth from rich to poor, while tax cuts shift it from poor to rich.

So the rich, in a nominal democracy, have a struggle on their hands. Somehow they must persuade the other 99% to vote against their own interests: to shrink the state, supporting spending cuts rather than tax rises. In the US they appear to be succeeding.

Partly as a result of the Bush tax cuts of 2001, 2003 and 2005 (shamefully extended by Barack Obama), taxation of the wealthy, in Obama’s words, “is at its lowest level in half a century.” The consequence of such regressive policies is a level of inequality unknown in other developed nations. As the Nobel laureate Joseph Stiglitz points out, in the past 10 years the income of the top 1% has risen by 18%, while that of blue-collar male workers has fallen by 12%.

The deal being thrashed out in Congress as this article goes to press seeks only to cut state spending. As the former Republican senator Alan Simpson says: “The little guy is going to be cremated.” That means more economic decline, which means a bigger deficit. It’s insane. But how did it happen?

The immediate reason is that Republican members of Congress supported by the Tea Party movement won’t budge. But this explains nothing. The Tea Party movement mostly consists of people who have been harmed by tax cuts for the rich and spending cuts for the poor and middle. Why would they mobilise against their own welfare? You can understand what is happening in Washington only if you remember what everyone seems to have forgotten: how this movement began.

On Sunday the Observer claimed that “the Tea Party rose out of anger over the scale of federal spending, and in particular in bailing out the banks.” This is what its members claim. It’s nonsense.

The movement started with Rick Santelli’s call on CNBC for a tea party of city traders to dump securities in Lake Michigan, in protest at Obama’s plan to “subsidise the losers.” In other words, it was a demand for a financiers’ mobilisation against the bailout of their victims: people losing their homes. On the same day, a group called Americans for Prosperity (AFP) set up a Tea Party Facebook page and started organising Tea Party events. The movement, whose programme is still lavishly supported by AFP, took off from there.

So who or what is Americans for Prosperity? It was founded and is funded by Charles and David Koch. They run what they call “the biggest company you’ve never heard of”, and between them they are worth $43 billion. Koch Industries is a massive oil, gas, minerals, timber and chemicals company. In the past 15 years the brothers have poured at least $85 million into lobby groups arguing for lower taxes for the rich and weaker regulations for industry. The groups and politicians the Kochs fund also lobby to destroy collective bargaining, to stop laws reducing carbon emissions, to stymie healthcare reform and to hobble attempts to control the banks. During the 2010 election cycle, AFP spent $45m supporting its favoured candidates.

But the Kochs’ greatest political triumph is the creation of the Tea Party movement. Taki Oldham’s film (Astro)Turf Wars shows Tea Party organisers reporting back to David Koch at their 2009 Defending the Dream summit, explaining the events and protests they’ve started with AFP help. “Five years ago,” he tells them, “my brother Charles and I provided the funds to start Americans for Prosperity. It’s beyond my wildest dreams how AFP has grown into this enormous organisation.”

AFP mobilised the anger of people who found their conditions of life declining, and channelled it into a campaign to make them worse. Tea Party campaigners take to the streets to demand less tax for billionaires and worse health, education and social insurance for themselves.

Are they stupid? No. They have been misled by another instrument of corporate power: the media. The movement has been relentlessly promoted by Fox News, which belongs to a more familiar billionaire. Like the Kochs, Rupert Murdoch aims to misrepresent the democratic choices we face, in order to persuade us to vote against our own interests and in favour of his.

What’s taking place in Congress right now is a kind of political coup. A handful of billionaires have shoved a spanner into the legislative process. Through the candidates they have bought and the movement that supports them, they are now breaking and reshaping the system to serve their interests. We knew this once, but now we’ve forgotten. What hope do we have of resisting a force we won’t even see?

 

 

{ 17 comments… read them below or add one }

avatar jettyboy August 4, 2011 at 12:56 pm

If only the Tea people, and un-informed Americans were smart enough to read and understand this. They of course will simply say the Europeans don’t know anything, & they are stupid. This should be required reading before the next round of voting, but alas it will just be ignored with all the other information about the Tea Party, and the completely fooled idiots who make it up.
Sad, very, very sad.

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avatar editordude August 4, 2011 at 5:43 pm

Dear Reader: I suggest you give these posts a try, as it’s important to get perspectives from across the Atlantic lake. They are sobering and refreshing at the same time.

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avatar barbara August 4, 2011 at 6:27 pm

In 2005, I was in London for an international peace conference. I know, how quaint. I lost track of how many times some furriner would come up and say, “you know there was a coup in 2000, right? America not perfect but before we could trust that you would end up doing the right thing. The world is unstable now because we cannot trust the US” Paraphrased; but it was a given way back then they we did not own or control our country any longer.

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avatar tj August 6, 2011 at 6:57 am

Sad, but true.

Too bad the USA “news” media (liberal/progressive, libertarian/TEA, & conservative) is largely owned by the offending parties – so this kind of honesty isnt widely reported, generally known, or even slightly understood here.

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avatar Greg August 7, 2011 at 12:20 pm

It is my earnest hope, Germans and Britons, that when the wealthiest parasites have finished ravaging this country, and destroyed it to the point where they need to flee to some place more habitable, you will deny them access to your nations. Don’t let them do this to you, too.

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avatar Miranda August 8, 2011 at 6:30 am

I am an American and this is what I’ve been saying all along. Lots of us do know the truth. The problem is that those of us who know and care about the truth have no power and no money. The only thing we can do is vote, which is a choice of rotten apples; and send letters to our so-called representatives, which we do send but I’m sure they end up in the trash unread.

I work three jobs just to keep my head above water. I’m getting older and don’t know how long I can continue this way. This place is going to hell in a handbasket.

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avatar Brandon George August 8, 2011 at 9:48 pm

Miranda let’s move to Australia

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avatar editordude August 8, 2011 at 9:35 am

This post of the two articles about America from Europe has gone viral. Last we looked – from this morning – it had over 2500 hits. So, if you haven’t checked it out, you need to do so.

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avatar Dan Clements August 8, 2011 at 11:52 am

I for one do not allow people to define me, let alone Europeans! I thought we broke away from their ideology over 200 years ago? America is in the world, but should not be of the world!

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avatar Paul August 8, 2011 at 5:04 pm

Partisanship is a major problem. Many people follow their party to the detriment of country as a whole, and there is a lot of misinformation being passed around. Communication is key to problem solving, and it seems that liberals and conservatives are afraid of debating, working together toward compromise or agreeing on anything that bears the others’ label — they either don’t talk at all or they come to complete deadlock when they do talk. It also seems that not many people take the time to look up hard data or trustworthy information, so there’s a lot of hearsay floating around that gets used to fuel debate. For example, conservatives against upper-crust tax raises claim that 50% of Americans pay no taxes and the problem lies with their lack of contribution, this is clearly not true if you look at income by household percentages on the census and the tax bracket cutoffs – the exemption cutoff for a lone-breadwinner head of household is $17,000. (Head of household means the person supports more than just themselves and it’s the highest exemption number. The cutoff for individuals is $8,500.) Clearly far less than 50% of households make less than $17,000 a year. Liberals make a variety of claims regarding the amount of taxes avoided by the rich and the amount the very rich make in income each year — hard data about this is difficult to obtain and it only serves to alienate the wealthy, as many honest people may reasonably feel they are being accused of not paying their fair share without any proof. Wealth itself is not criminal.

Anybody can use the US census website, the government spending website and the IRS website to put together the spending vs. taxation problem. Looking at that data, it’s clear something needs to change. because revenue and spending don’t match. After looking at it myself, I concluded that they are going to need to cut spending AND increase taxes if they want to move toward getting rid of debt and reliance on continued borrowing. At the rate that they spend (3 trillion a year), the tax rates for everyone would need to be prohibitively high (40-50% including Social Security tax but not including State tax) to cover the costs without borrowing or changing spending. Compromise is not just the best solution, it’s nearly the only solution.

I do understand the argument for a free enterprise system and I understand the sentiment behind allowing businesses to run without too much governmental interference. However, businesses have always needed to be regulated. Businesses behave logically and there need to be logical reasons for them to behave responsibly and ethically, not just ideals. They need to be regulated, otherwise we head toward rule by business. Think of a world without anti-trust laws, unions, etc. Effective business regulation is an extremely important part of government. The logic of Bush’s tax cuts (supposedly) was that the rich would create more jobs for everybody with the money. However, giving businesses/wealthy individuals money with no stipulations on how they use it doesn’t make sense if you want a specific result. Businesses do what makes the most sense with regards to their own success. For example, logically, if there is no hard reason not to move labor overseas and pay less for it, why wouldn’t a business do it? It is in business’ best interest to pay less for production and get the same or more on the return. Businesses cannot realistically be expected to independently inhibit their own success for ideals about the “public good.” That would not be good business. Businesses acting against their own interest would lose to those who did not. It is the job of lawmakers to find motivating reasons for businesses to act in ways that promote the health of the country (while not limiting them too much. That doesn’t promote the health of the country, either.) Businesses are not evil by nature as they are sometimes painted. It is simply the object of a business to grow by whatever means are practically, logically possible. It is a government’s job to regulate business so that those means remain ethical and responsible with regards to the rest of a nation and it’s population.

While it’s unrealistic to expect that people will not subscribe mostly to one party or another, I think it is important that people work together to be solution-based rather than ideologically-based with regards to problems of government — that’s elected officials’ purpose: to make decisions and solve problems. Approaching each problem independently, carefully examining information and exploring options is generally the best way to come up with the best solutions. Differing ideas generally aid this process by providing logical checks. So, good partisanship funnels ideas toward effective solutions. However, deadlock refusals to communicate on a problem halts progress on finding a solution, and solutions developed solely by one side’s ideology are generally less effective because they do not benefit from logical checks. Most importantly, officials should be examining data and using their differences in perspective to work together toward logical, effective solutions.

I suppose this way of problem-solving is logical/scientific-method based: 1. examine the concrete, known data… 2. draw conclusions and… 3. make logical decisions based on those conclusions. Being ideologically open to all possibilities and options for consideration is also part of the process. While I am wary to call this way of thinking “Western” as opposed to “Eastern,” because I think those labels are misleading, I do agree with the author of this article that the US political environment has recently lost some of its tendency to practice it.

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avatar Paul August 8, 2011 at 5:09 pm

A disclaimer on math :-) … please feel free to check my numbers and develop your own conclusions.

census.gov
moneychimp.com
usaspending.gov

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avatar JC August 8, 2011 at 7:13 pm

“Billionaires’ Coup”

Ya think!

All Hail to the King, Price and Lords……………..Sad

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avatar JC August 8, 2011 at 7:32 pm

God Blessed America………….One time.

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avatar mr.rick August 8, 2011 at 8:43 pm

Pauls theory sounds alright as far as I can decern in one quick reading.But he fails to take into account the “Religous” element. When GOD tells you to do something your salvation depends on your compliance.If your souls damnation is at stake,you cannot compromise. For any one who is an “Evangelical” republican these are the facts.Regardless of the “Sermon on the Mount”.

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avatar Michael August 10, 2011 at 9:18 am

It is this attitude right here that is a major cause of the problem. You subscribe to this ancient superstition while the rest of the world advances. You are dragging this country down with your voodoo bullshit. Not everyone shares your opinion about religion. Keep it in church and keep your religion out of politics. If you don’t like marijuana, don’t smoke it. If you don’t like abortions, don’t get one. If you don’t like gay marriage THEN DON’T GET GAY MARRIED. This isn’t the fucking middle ages anymore. Stop forcing your backwards beliefs on everyone else.

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avatar mr.rick August 8, 2011 at 8:44 pm

Also a friendly reminder, Buy some damn T-SHIRTS.

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avatar barbara August 10, 2011 at 3:33 pm

I think he was not advocating religion but saying that many republicans do and base their decisions on it.

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