James Clay Fuller

Things We're Not Supposed to Say

Monday, November 29, 2010

In the land of the supine

Most European governments, if not all, are pushing austerity programs that range from harsh to extreme.

All of those plans will result in massive loss of jobs, lowered incomes for those fortunate enough to retain their jobs, lost homes, and even genuine hunger for large portions of European populations.

None of the plans will adversely affect the very rich who caused the western world's present economic stress; even the most blatantly criminal among them -– Ireland's top bankers come to mind –- will retain their positions. Their wealth and power will be, if anything, enhanced.

Here in the United States, Congress crept home for a Thanksgiving holiday without extending emergency unemployment benefits for the millions who are about to lose their last source of income and who are facing homelessness and worse. At this writing, the odds are against their extending those payments in the day or so they have left to do so. Most members of Congress spent much of the holiday break nuzzling big-buck supporters.

My local rag, the Star Tribune, had a front page story the day after Thanksgiving that mentioned the Congressional inaction and, as a means of explaining the hardships on the victims of that negligence, told the story of a woman, once a six-figure executive, who now tries to scrape out a living cooking for others and who probably soon will be living in her car.

Interestingly, the same edition of that increasingly feeble publication had an article at the bottom of its op-ed page which correctly pointed out that “The rich get richer, with government help.”

The Strib's front page story noted that nominal Democratic Congressman Collin Peterson –- one of the original Blue Dogs –- joined the state's Republicans, led by Minnesota's major embarrassment, the dimwitted but loud Tea Party darling Michele Bachmann, in rejecting any extension of unemployment benefits.

Those same people strongly favor extending the extra Bush tax breaks for the very rich and even greater spending than at present for the Pentagon and war industries.

The Strib did not mention the plain fact that continuing the emergency unemployment benefits would help our struggling economy, because that money is spent (mostly on necessities) almost as soon as it is paid. Nor did it point out that it has been demonstrated beyond doubt that the tax cuts for the wealthy add little or nothing to economic activity.

The extreme austerity programs around the world are being pushed hard by the European Union's top money people and by the International Monetary Fund, as well as the more obviously political right.

Both of those organizations are led by economic aristocrats whose obvious, passionate focus is on preserving and increasing the wealth and power of the world's richest corporations and individuals. They never have demonstrated any interest in the welfare of those who work for a living.

(They would claim otherwise, but not once have they offered a proposal that would benefit the larger population of any country if that proposal would even slightly and momentarily reduce the riches of the world's wealthiest people.)

Throughout Europe, sizable portions of the citizenry have demonstrated that they understand that they're being screwed, and by whom.

In Ireland, tens of thousands of citizens took to the streets in recent days to protest what is being described as the “toughest austerity program in Europe.” That program is creating massive unemployment, and at the same time drastically cutting social welfare programs; it is causing loss of homes and even severe hunger. It does not punish bankers for their blatantly fraudulent schemes, nor even place a financial burden on them.

Worse: Ireland has one of the lowest corporate tax rates anywhere in the world, and the country's government refuses to raise those taxes even slightly.

In France, citizens and especially students, continue to protest government austerity measures forced on the country by the government of Nicolas Sarkozy, under the approving eyes of the EU and IMF, to counter the economic problems brought on entirely by the crooked games of bankers, brokers and corporate bigwigs, who will not suffer under the otherwise drastic cost cutting.

In Portugal, protests of similar measures by government have involved hundreds of thousands and have continued for weeks.

In Spain there have been large public protests even before the harshest likely measures are put in place, and a considerable portion of the population has signaled that it is nearing its limit of tolerance for paying for the sins of rich swindlers. The same is true in several other countries.

In Italy, students, especially, have taken to the streets by the tens of thousands in recent days.

In England, tens of thousands of students, who quickly recognized that austerity measures will drive them out of colleges and universities and literally destroy their economic futures, have raised hell to the point of occasionally doing some minor damage to property in the past couple of weeks.

(I've never favored violence for any reason but, frankly, at this stage of my life, my mid-70s, I have a hard time seeing how some broken windows, a torched police van and spray paint on walls are more terrible than literal economic ruination of hundreds of thousands, or millions, of human beings. The elite and governments insist, however, that those who are being pushed into abject poverty must go quietly and politely.)

In the United States of America, where the Census Bureau just reported that the poverty rate has risen to 14.3 percent, the highest in more than 50 years, and where U.S.-based corporations just reported the highest profits in history, and where real unemployment is above 20 percent now, the only sound to be heard from the public as Congress crawled out of town for Thanksgiving was a soft and distinctly ovine bleating.

Americans have shut their eyes and their minds to the fact that they've been robbed; bankers, brokers and hedge fund managers continue to live high and to receive public respect, if not adulation.

The “land of the free and home of the brave” indeed.