"Choosing between AIDS and cancer"So maybe not every democratic election is as bad as that in Peru. According to Mario Vargas Llosa, these were the alternatives facing Peruvians as they decided where to mark their ballot in last Sunday's presidential election. Yet, a closer look at the state of democracy around the world reveals an unsettling picture. Not only do most voters usually face a choice between bad and worse but those who we select seem to be wielding ever decreasing power. While disenfranchised peoples across much of the Middle East are dying for the opportunity that we take for granted, many of us are waking up to the realization that we really don't have any choice either. As elected politicians lose power to our unelected corporate masters, democracy is more and more resembling the pancurium bromide anesthetic in the lethal injection which paralyzes the condemned inmate before the potassium chloride of debt slavery stops the heart of the hitherto free people of the world.
Perhaps we should save a little room at our Peruvian pity party for the poor Portuguese. At least the voters in Peru had a choice, albeit a rather unappetizing one, between a fascist and Chavista (they went for the Chavista); the voters in Portugal on Sunday could vote for the incumbent PS, the "socialist" party to implement the austerity measures commanded by the troika, or the Social Democrat Party to, um, implement the austerity measures ordered by the troika. In case you missed it, the troika isn't a new Russian vodka, but the frontmen for the sovereign debt holders, the European Commission, European Central Bank and International Monetary Fund. They dictate the terms of the austerity reforms that the overly-indebted nations must abide by in order to qualify them for more debt. Yep, the program that's working so well in Greece and Ireland has come to Portugal. Half a million people marching the streets to protest the program in March were ignored much like the millions who screamed their disapproval of the Iraq war in 2003. Our voices no longer matter as much as the bomb makers or the bond holders.
Portugal's Geração à rasca (or "generation of junk") proved no more effective in getting their message out and attaining their goals than Spain's Indignados last month. Real Democracia Ya! demanded political reform that would break the two-party rule and convinced much of the youth to withhold their vote in May's regional elections, votes that normally would have gone to the "socialist" PSOE party, to show they don't support the austerity program being installed there. Over 20% unemployment (43% for those aged 18-25) should be the priority of a government that calls itself socialist. The result? A near clean sweep for the PP, or Partido Populaire, the descendants of Franco's fascist regime. Fittingly, the righwing Social Democrat Party won in Portugal as well. It's the slow creep towards complete loss of autonomy that has lulled the majority to sleep. One step at a time, one country after another, eventually we will all wake up to a reality in which our future has been monetized and securitized in order to keep the interest payments flowing to the banks who own us. Organize and the government will declare it illegal. Protest and the state's security apparatus will be deployed against you.
Choice? When the Harper regime was forced to call a national election in Canada last month after being found in contempt of parliament, many Canadians decided to try to break the Conservative-Liberal duopoly by voting for the NDP or Greens. The result? While the hardcore rightwing voters remained faithful to the Conservatives, the leftwing vote was scattered which allowed the Conservatives to claim a majority 52% of seats with just 39% of the vote. The hocus pocus of the first to the post voting system stuck it to the UK just as bad last year. Many voters, fed up with more than a decade of Labour rule but unable in good conscience to vote Conservative, opted for the Liberal Democrats. The result? A Cameron Conservative minority government which asked Nick Clegg's Lib Dems to join a coalition, and presto change'o' - ConDem'ned to a failing austerity future. Woohoo, at least Vodafone and the banks are happy!
But it's that great bastion of liberty and freedom that is proving once and for all what a failure democracy can be. Anyone who didn't become disillusioned by the Barack Obama hope and change candidate turned corporate war monger president just isn't paying attention. Branded as a man of and for the people, few noticed that his biggest campaign donors were in fact Goldman Sachs et al who have got more than they paid for. What happened to single payer/public option health care? Remember financial reform, foreclosure protection, bank bailouts, and jobs-jobs-jobs? Remember Guantanamo, the Patriot Act, civil liberties, ? Remember global warming, offshore drilling, clean coal, and nuclear energy? Remember immigration reform, the Pentagon budget, repair of the infrastructure, military commissions, the suppressed torture photos, education reform, the US-enabled coup in Honduras, the continuing Cold War sanctions on Cuba, the Palestinian situation and the Obama wars, wars, wars? Remember restrictions on abortion, the Employee Free Choice Act, the Bush-Obama millionaire tax cuts? Me too. Well, after all, he was the lesser of two evils, right?
It gets worse as no longer will children want to grow up to be firemen or teachers as their unions will be broken and their professions downgraded to rent-a-cop status. No, they'll dream of being corporations when they grow up. After all, corporations are people, so why can't people be corporations? The Supreme Court's Citizen United decision was the final nail in the coffin for electoral fairness as the floodgates were opened wide to corporate sponsorship of candidates. We've made fun of the farce that is the Republicrat-Demopublican duopoly that is the American coin toss in the past but it's sure to get worse. The race for the White House in 2012 should more appropriately be called the race to a billion. As in, who can raise a billion dollars first, Obama or whichever monkey the Republicans manage to pick. Seriously, it seems the party of Lincoln is throwing out clowns like Bachman, Santorum and Gingrich in a vain attempt to make Sarah Palin look electable. Good luck with that America.
There's much to like about democracy in theory but we have to wake up the fact that it needs an overhaul or at least a tuneup as the cons begin to outweigh the pros. A misinformed electorate, abstruse voting systems designed to confuse and favor the incumbent alongside a devolution of powers to unelected bodies to name but a few. More dangerously, in many people’s eyes, certain government functionaries may legitimately take actions that would be condemned as criminal if anyone else were to take them. If I were to send a private Predator drone to Pakistan to fire explosive missiles into villages, killing women, children, and other innocents, I would be seen as a monstrous mass murderer. How did Barack Obama come by the right to kill innocent people? By democratic election to the presidency of the United States, of course. "When the president does it," Richard Nixon insisted, "that means that it is not illegal." Most people actually believe, and act on the belief, that mere election to a political office can endow a person with standing to disregard the moral requirements applicable to people in general. And not only the elected official, but all those officials beneath him in the chain of command, nobody demands that the technician who sits comfortably in the United States and directs the lethal drone be brought to justice; he, as the saying goes, is "only following orders."
As much of the west heads for the austerity inspired double dip recession, spin control will go into overdrive. This time will be worse than 2008 as government debt loads have exploded everywhere leaving little fiscal policy maneuvering room, so in order to keep the bond holders happy and the interest payments flowing, more cuts will be demanded, leading to further slowing of the economy leading to, more cuts and, well, you get the picture. The corporate controlled media will dutifully report deceptive economic statistics about green shoots or some such nonsense all the while ignoring the one way out - actually asking the people what to do like they did in Iceland. Yep, home of Bjork and unpronounceable volcanoes that erupt whenever Obama comes to Europe, was also the first country to guarantee its banks debts back in October of 2008. Virtually unheard of in the west thanks to a media blackout, the Kitchenware Revolution, so-called because of the pots and pans used by protestors, forced the fall of the government.
Then Iceland did the unthinkable and asked her people if they really wanted to spend the next 15 years paying back $3.5 billion at 5.5% to British and Dutch banks thanks to the gambling losses of a few bankers. In American and the UK they turned on the printing presses, in Iceland they had not one, but two referendums in which they voted not to force every man, woman and child to pay back over $10,000 each. Instead, they voted in a new government, now led by the first openly gay Prime Minister, (Saint Jóhanna Sigurðardóttir), convened a constitutional assembly made up of non-politicians to draft a new constitution and most importantly, began arresting the banksters who caused the crisis.
Democracy gives a free pass to those who rape and pillage African, Asian, South American and now European nations, in fact we call them socialists and wait until they rape hotel maids until we finally decide to prosecute them for their crimes. Until being caught with his pants down DSK, Dominique Strauss-Kahn, was the leading candidate to run for the presidency of France under the socialist banner. When democracy offers the choice between a neoliberal right winger in favor of cutting corporate taxes, services, pensions and regulations to support the gilded class and their banking buddies or, well, the same but with a different name, like socialist, no wonder much of the world is in fact turning away from democracy. Yep, the last five years has seen the world become less democratic. It's not hard to see why. While those who have languished under authoritarian regimes for decades fight for what they think will be a brake on unbridled greed and power, democracy in fact is fulfilling the iron law of oligarchs and doing the opposite. As Robert Michels stated, all organizations, no matter how democratic or autocratic inevitably develop into oligarchies, in the case of western democracies, one formed by the corporate class, the corpocracy, controlled by a sociopathic elite.
The best argument against democracy is a five minute conversation with the average voter.
Meanwhile, so sure of the superiority of our democratic values we've spent much of the past decade (ok, maybe a little more) justifying bombing and killing brown people by claiming the moral high ground of spreading democracy. It's a useful fiction as many are duped into believing that somehow their quadrennial ballot box charade lends consent of the governed and thus legitimizes government when in fact it is the corporate overlords and their lobbies who write the laws for the governed. Strategic voting along with voter apathy, stupidity and cupidity are minor problems when compared with the damage done by those given the moral pass to commit the crimes they do once elected. Sadly, democracy, "rule of the people" has become "ruling the sheeple". I wonder if we were warned this would happen?