Europe is becoming the Third World, doesn’t like it; USA already halfway there, just now waking up
“The maid resisted. What do we do?”
The slogan is from signs carried by people in Greece’s aganaktismenoi or “outraged” movement, a widespread protest against austerity policies that has taken the form of rallies, riots, general strikes, and direct democracy meetings similiar to Occupy Wall Street’s General Assemblies. The reference is to Dominique Strauss-Kahn, former head of the International Monetary Fund (IMF). Last year his political career was tanked when a maid at NYC’s Sofitel hotel accused him of forcing oral sex on her. She was smeared in the press as a habitual liar and the charges were dropped, but since then more allegations have come out and are being investigated by the French police: attempting to rape a journalist and several prostitutes, setting up orgies with prostitutes in France and the USA–he referred to these last women in text messages as “equipment”.
There is a profound sickness here. It is not simply a matter of powerful men’s sexual appetites, but of a culture of impunity that finds its way just as much into the policies they write. The problem is not “testosterone poisoning”–there are plenty of men who are aggressive as you like both inside and out of bed but don’t do anything like this. And who, right now, are two of the main pushers of austerity on Greece and other debt-plagued European nations? German chancellor Angela Merkel and IMF head Christine Lagarde, both women.
This is how the IMF rapes countries: they approach a nation that is in debt and has recently been hammered by financial speculators betting against it. They say: we will give you the bailout loan you need to keep your government running, but first you have to implement some policies we dictate. These policies are called “austerity” policies. They consist of tax increases, cuts to social safety nets, union-busting measures, and forcing nationalized industries to be sold cheaply to private foreign companies. The cover story is that these measures will increase government revenues which then go towards paying off the debt faster, but in fact, they destroy economies, making it more difficult for the impoverished countries to pay back anything. They are good for transferring wealth from the majority to the investment banks and multinational conglomerates, though. The mechanism is similiar to that of the worst brothels, the type where girls (also sometimes boys) are bought from their families and then forced to work to pay back the debt incurred by the original sale, plus normal living expenses supplied by the brothel at an inflated cost. It has already been done in Africa, Asia, Latin America and the Caribbean, and is now being done in Europe.
This is what Greece’s “outraged”, Spain’s “indignant” (indignados), and the USA’s “occupiers” have in common: they are all essentially anti-austerity movements. Hammered by policies that destroy jobs and lower wages in the remaining ones, they hold large public protests while taking over public squares and creating there just future societies in microcosm, providing free food and making decisions through direct democracy. Their demands are too many to be reduced to a simple “realistic” list, but all have to do with ending corruption and economic inequality. They want policies dictated by the majority’s human needs, not the demands of large financial speculators, aka “the markets”.
In Europe, recent elections have had the mainstream media running scared, delivering ominous warnings of punishment from “the markets”. The Greeks have rejected their mainstream incumbent parties in favor of “radical” anti-austerity parties on both right and left. Most notable was the rise of the left-wing Syriza, which came in second on a strong anti-bailout platform. Second most notable was the rise of Golden Dawn, an anti-immigrant party that called for land mines placed along Greece’s borders and got 7% of the vote. Greece is right now struggling to form a governing coalition, and will have to hold new elections if no agreement is reached. In France, voters tanked the incumbent Sarkozy, a major pusher of austerity policies throughout Europe, in favor of Francois Hollande, who is basically a mainstream center-leftist but who made campaign promises to push the European Union (EU) for policies oriented towards “growth” rather than “austerity”, and for protection of public services.
Will the elections matter, though? Alexander Mizan of the Huffington Post and Diana Johnstone of CounterPunch argue that the people of Greece and France respectively are powerless to end austerity policies, partly because old left/right divisions are making it impossible for anti-austerity parties to work together despite collectively gaining the majority of votes in both countries, and partly because the “markets” and the EU bureaucrats who serve them are the ones with all the real power. I’m not sure if it’s as hopeless as that–Sarkozy’s exit leaves Germany’s Merkel as the only European head of state still calling for austerity, and the German economy is of course still deeply intertwined with the rest of Europe’s, surely that’s got to count for something? Only time, and the political will of the people, will tell.
In the USA, the situation is a bit different–on the surface. There, nobody uses the word “austerity”. But right-wing politicians are cutting state and local government services, increasing interest rates on student loans, restricting union bargaining rights, and seeking to privatize the country’s retiree and disability benefits system (Social Security), all in the name of deficit reduction. It is basically pre-emptive austerity, with only a few major differences from the kind in Europe. One is that right-wing politicians in the USA have made it their “brand” to be against any kind of tax increase. That rhetoric is changing, though, with up-and-coming rightists arguing that the USA needs to broaden the tax base, that is to say, to make taxes currently applicable to only the higher-earning half of the populace applicable to all of it, and/or to impose a flat tax system where rich and poor pay an equal percentage of their money to the government. In other words, shifting from “all taxes are bad” rhetoric used to push tax cuts for the rich, to a “those lazy people need to pay their fair share” rhetoric used to increase taxes on the poor. The other difference from Europe is that the USA has a large military budget which it is very reluctant to cut, and the same right-wingers who are now so supposedly anti-deficit were the biggest expanders of the military budget in the past decade. In fact, nobody in the USA is openly in favor right now of deficit spending. The right wing (Republicans and the Tea Party) wants to reduce taxes on the rich, and argues that the deficit should be reduced by reducing government spending on things that benefit the poor and middle class, like healthcare and unemployment insurance. The center-left (Obama and the Democrats) want to keep these things and reduce the deficit, but are mostly unrealistic about where the money will be found to pay for this. The left wing (Occupy), says “How do we end the deficit? End the wars, tax the rich!”
Large corporations and international financiers would like to see a world where they, rather than majority of human beings, dictate laws and policies. A world where money is funneled towards them, rather than towards things like education and healthcare for everybody. A world where they are free to bid up prices on staples like wheat and rice and oil, pollute the air and water, and sell products that kill people, without having to pay for the messes created. A world where they hold the rest of us in debt bondage. This has historically been easier to do in “developing” countries, which is why I say that Europe is headed towards the same fate as the Third World. I say the USA is halfway there because of its gross disparities in income (caused by the decline in union power), in healthcare (caused by the lack of a unified healthcare system that makes Americans dependent for healthcare on employers, who may or may not offer health benefits, and to some degree by pollution and food insecurity in poor areas), and in education (caused by the gutting of public universities, and the funding of schools by local property tax revenues, which vary wildly depending on how rich the neighborhood is).
All over the world, people are waking up and saying no to the funneling of public wealth from the majority to the rich and well-connected, no to the conditions of debt bondage. The question is, how much power do we really have? And how far are we willing to go in order to take power?
I welcome your thoughts.